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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Mr. Box 2-16-09

 

I saw Sheriff Keller come in with a young man that could barely stand. I headed on back to his table and pulled out a chair since it looked like he was pretty busy keeping the younger man on his feet. The weather was still pretty foul outside. They both looked like they needed something to warm them up. I stuck my head in the kitchen and announced, "Sheriff's here" on the way back to the bar.
I've been thinking about getting out and getting some fresh air but not just now! I need to get up to my claim after the snow melt and spend some time. There should be some good water flow this spring. I always liked it when the creeks were full and the fish hungry.

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Linn Keller 2-17-09

 

Tom Fraser -- if that was his name -- was weak and shaky by the time we'd slogged through the deepening snow and made it to the Jewel. Matter of fact if I hadn't been there to steady him he'd likely have not made it up the three steps onto the board walk.
I saw Jacob coming down the street. His Appaloosa was feeling good and fairly dancing in the snow, playing in the white stuff. I took off my hat -- it was heavy with snow, I realized -- swatted the white stuff off against my leg and waved the Stetson at Jacob. He waved back.
I borrowed Tom's hat and knocked the snow off it as well, then replaced it on his head. He was wearing kind of a townie hat, not much of a brim to it, but it had gathered an impressive amount of snow in our short walk.
I kicked the snow off my boots and Tom did too, but his kick was not terribly strong: he put a hand against the door frame and stood there for a long moment with his eyes closed.
I said quietly, "You gonna be all right?"
"Yeah," Tom gasped.
I don't believe the man was faking.
We stood in the cold for several long moments, and finally he drew his hand back: I opened the door to the Jewel and we went inside.
Mr. Baxter looked up as we came in: he'd seen men of all kinds come and go, and he normally sized up folks coming into the Jewel, and I knew from his expression he'd recognized this young fellow wasn't at his very best.
Tom and I headed back for my usual table. He was moving and I knew if we stopped that would be the end of his travels for a little while at least.
It took me a little while to get poor old Tom back to the Lawman's Corner, and set down: somewhere along our travels I heard Mr. Baxter's footsteps, just a bit quicker than usual, and by the time I got my coat off Tom's shoulders and his hat hung on a peg, Daisy was setting down two tall coffee cups and getting ready to pour us both a good warmin'-up.
She looked at Tom, chilled and shivering, at my coat draped over the chair-back beside him, and she laid a hand on my snow-wet shoulders.
She set the coffee pot down and put her hands on her hips and I knew from the set of her lips she was going to give me hell, and I was right.
"Now it's not only yer wife ye're neglectin'," she scolded, "it's yerself as well! Look at ye! Cold an' wet an' yer puir wife is upstairs, great wi' child, an' you make her work! A woman o' her quality should be a' home in bed iw' her feet up an' servants t' take care o' the work! Men!" She hoisted her nose in the air and sniffed.
"I love you, too, Daisy," I said mildly, offering Tom the cream pitcher.
"An' that's another thing!" Daisy declared, shaking her finger at me. "Ye're forever flirtin' wi' the women folk! Do ye realize ye put the men t' shame, Sheriff? Why, me dear Sean doesn't act as forward toward me, his own wife, as you!"
The front door banged open and Sean's heavy tread shivered the floor as he strode the length of the Jewel's dining room. "Daisy me dear!" he boomed, "How's the loveliest wife in all the world?" Seizing Daisy under the arms, he snatched her off the floor, spun her around like a child's doll and planted a good solid kiss on her lips.
Daisy wrapped her arms around his neck and replied in kind, and when Sean set her down, she swatted at him with the towel she kept draped over one shoulder.
"You were saying?" I needled her in a gentle voice.
"All right, then, maybe he does," Daisy admitted, giving her black-mustachioed husband a smoldering look of sheer womanly desire.
There was a rapid patter of short-legged enthusiasm and a little boy's voice called "Da!"
Sean turned in time to squat and catch Little Sean in mid-gallop, and both Daisy's Irishmen laughed as Little Sean rocketed toward the ceiling. His head was probably a half inch from hitting the ceiling as Sean tossed him up and then caught him.
I don't know who was laughing harder, Little Sean or Big Sean.
The Irish Brigade followed maybe a minute later, coming into the Jewel with their usual laughing confusion: they swarmed back to our corner and Little Sean squealed with delight as he was passed from hand to hand to hand, each of the Irish Brigade demanding to be the next one to hoist the lad and weigh the lad and offer their opinion on how much bigger he was than last time they saw him. It was a favorite game of both Little Sean and every one of the firemen, and even poor old Tom smiled at their antics.
Jacob slipped silently into the Jewel's back door, as was his habit: he usually stabled his stallion, then came up behind the Jewel and quietly into the back door, by Daisy's kitchen. He could slip in unobserved, listen from an advantageous position, and make himself known only when he wished his presence known.
I saw him look around the corner and waved him back to us.
The Irish Brigade was still assessing Little Sean's height, his weight, the state of his teeth, and debating loudly how soon he would be smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and chasing women like his Pa, how soon he would be big enough to hold a fire nozzle, swing an ax, drive a team: I saw Daisy lay a hand on Jacob's shoulder, and I knew she would be berating the lad for not eating enough, for being too skinny.
She knew he walked on two hollow legs, and that he could sit down and out-eat any grown man, but she fussed over him anyway.
Jacob came back, hung his damp and glittering hat beside Tom's, and parked his carcass in the remaining empty chair.

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Charlie MacNeil 2-17-09

 

"There's someone here to see you," Charlie's secretary said timidly from just outside his office door. She knew he was working on the monthly reports, and paperwork generally made him as cranky as a spring grizzly with a porcupine quill festering in its paw. He irritably pushed his spectacles back up onto the bridge of his nose with an ink-stained finger as he looked up at the slender brunette.

"I reckon you'd best send whoever it is in here, so I can get back to my paperwork," he grumbled. His lips curved up slightly under his gray-tinged mustache. "Unless you want to finish up this report for me."

"No, sir!" the young lady declared firmly as she turned away. "You can come in now," she told Charlie's visitor.

"Thank you," the newcomer answered politely as he stepped past her into the office. The visitor was a burly Irishman, dressed in the dark blue wool uniform, brass buttons and gold badge of the Denver police department. His stiff-crowned uniform cap was in his left hand as he held out his right. "Sergeant Malone, Denver PD, at your service," he introduced himself. Charlie reached across the desk to shake the offered hand.

"Marshal Charlie MacNeil," Charlie told him.

"Yer reputation precedes ye, Marshal," Malone assured him jovially.

"I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing!" Charlie declared.

"It's a good thing," Malone answered with a smile. "Now I'm bettin' ye're wonderin' what I'm needin' from the marshal's service, eh?"

"You could say that." Wordlessly, Malone reached into a pocket of his uniform tunic, brought out a telegraph flimsy and handed it across to Charlie, who quickly read it then handed it back.

Man identified as Denver PD found near death in Firelands Stop Officer Tom Fraser carrying large quantity of stolen money from Denver bank Stop Please advise as to whereabouts and possible identification of Officer Frazer Stop
Signed
Keller, Sheriff, Firelands, CO


"Would ye be knowin' this Sheriff Keller?" Malone rumbled.

"That I do, Mister Malone," Charlie answered with a smile. "In fact, I count Sheriff Linn Keller as a brother. Is that all you needed to know?"

"No, indeed, Marshal," Malone assured him. "Ye recall the robbin' of the bank a week or so back, I assume?"

"I offered the assistance of this office to your chief and was turned down!" Charlie declared with some heat.

Malone held up his hands in a placating gesture. "Aye! And the vinegaroon who made that decision is walkin' a beat on Larrimer Street just now! Me new boss has sent me here to ask if ye'd be willin' to work with us on the case."

"It sounds like Sheriff Keller has already solved it," Charlie said stiffly.

"I think not," Malone answered quietly. "Officer Tom Fraser was found in a snowbank with his head bashed in just this mornin'"

"Are you sure it was Officer Fraser?"

"Aye, the dead man was wearin' Tom's uniform and carryin' a badge."

"Tom?"

"Aye, he's me brother-in-law."

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Linn Keller 2-18-09

 

I raised my hand, index finger half bent, as if to command Jacob's attention.
He recognized the gesture.
We had used it before, in different situations: I brought the tip of my finger back alongside my nose, as if undecided whether to make a confidential pronouncement. Jacob watched my eyes and saw them shift left, toward Tom Fraser, and Jacob's right eye closed.
He knew something was rotten in the wood pile.
I held my gesture and spoke: "Jacob, this is Tom Fraser, Denver Police. He's healin' up from ..." I turned to Tom. "Tom, how did you get that big nasty on your scalp?"
Tom was looking at the table as if he wished it wouldn't tilt quite so much, but he didn't look near as uncomfortable as he did leaning against the door post outside.
"I don't recall too well, Sheriff," he admitted. "I know I fought some fella for the money bags. Least I thought he had 'em."
Jacob's eyes narrowed a little. He didn't like the way this story was shaping up, but he waited, waited like a cat at a mouse hole.
"Do you know the other fellow?" I asked.
Tom hesitated, looked at me, and I saw something in his eyes I hadn't seen before.
I seen guilt.
"I ain't feelin' too good," Tom said and made as if to rise.
My left hand shot across the table and seized his right wrist. "I think you'll stay set down," I said firmly. "Daisy is bringin' us a meal and it would be impolite to run off."
Tom looked at my hand on his and looked up at me and I saw trouble in his eyes.
Tom was right handed, least he wore his gun on the right side, and I cussed myself for not arranging to find a hideout before he got dressed.
I had eyes for Tom. I durst not even glance away, for he was looking, looking at my eyes, waiting for a chance, a momentary inattention, a shift that would tell him my attention was elsewhere --
I felt the first distant precursor of movement and I yanked, hard.
Jacob's hands shot out like a striking viper and seized Tom's left hand.
The knife shone in the lamp light.
Tom wanted to bring it down into my wrist, wanted in the worst way to impale my good left hand with his blade: he'd intended to stab like an ice pick, and Jacob helped him along, only he kind of steered the blade to the middle of the table, hard.
Between my pull and Jacob's yank, Tom ended up face first on the table.
Now Jacob and I have worked out a few things over the years. We've practiced knife fighting in back, using knife shaped but carefully dull edged "knives" to find out how a knife is used, and how to defend against when you're too close to go for your belt gun, or if the situation won't lend itself to a shooting defense: we'd set up a table in back and practiced different situations, and now and again we'd recruited Jake or Charlie or Jackson Cooper to help out.
That practice came in real handy right about now.
Jacob's forearm came down across the back of Tom Fraser's neck and my leg kicked his right foot back out from under him and we drug the fellow to the floor, none too gentle, and he ended up face down and in considerable pain and with the wind knocked clear out of him.
The Irish Brigade had been seated for a few moments; now they were on their feet, yelling, cheering, eager spectators hoping for a protracted bare-knuckle match: they seemed almost disappointed when I fished a set of irons out of my coat pocket and secured "Tom Fraser"'s wrists behind his back.
Jacob and I got him to his feet and relieved him of his gun belt and we grabbed hands full of material, crushing them to feel for any hardware he may have hid about his person.
I unfastened the badge from his shirt, dropped it in my shirt pocket.
"I don't reckon this is yours," I said.
"Now what might your name be?" Jacob asked.
I did not have to look to know Jacob was standing with his leg behind this fellow's, knees bent, ready to throw him to the ground again, or to apply a particularly painful joint lock if need be.
He tried to snarl defiantly but it didn't work too well: we felt him wobble a little in our grip, and he got kind of pale again.
"Outside," I barked, and we half-carried, half-dragged the man out the front door.
I wasn't about to hold his weight, for I knew what was coming -- I'd seen enough head injuries to know -- so we bent him over a hitch rail and let him heave himself dry.
"You reckon he'd want to wash out his mouth?" Jacob asked.
"I reckon so," I replied.
"You want to bust ice or do I?"
"Be kind of mean to make him do it."
Jacob looked around, scared up a rock just under the edge of the board walk and not hid by the snow: he busted a good hole in the horse trough and I fetched this fellow over and shoved him face first into the freezing cold water.
I brought him back out by the hair of the head.
"You have a police badge," I said coldly. "How'd you get it?"
"My badge!" he shouted. "I'm a Denver police --"
I shoved his face back into the water, held him for maybe half a minute.
"You want to try that again?" I asked when I brought him back up.
His voice was hysterical, between gasps and coughs and choking noises: "I am Tom Fraser, Denver Police Department --"
I dunked him again, held him until he started to bubble pretty good, then fetched him out.
"You know, I'm gettin' kind of tired," I said. "I just might not want to pull you out near so soon next time."
I looked at Jacob. "Why don't you go fire the stove over in the jail. I'll be along here directly."
"Yes, sir." Jacob's face was impassive. He knew something was up, he did not know the whole story, but he was willing to back my play anyhow.
I brought the fellow around, held him by the front of his light coat. "You ain't from Denver," I said. "I smell a lie a mile off and you stink of it! Now there's nobody here but you and me and no one will care if I drown you. Suppose you tell me what I want to know, and we can both go get warm, otherwise I'll just toss you in and let you drown!"
So saying, I picked him up off the ground.
There is something intimidating about being brought off the ground.
I saw fear in his eyes for the first time.
He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times.
"Tell you what." I set him down on his feet again, shoved him back against a post to hold him upright. "Why don't I lock you up in our jail and start comparing your face to a stack of wanted dodgers I keep in the desk. Just might be a reward for you."
"Valspar," he blurted.
My eyes narrowed. "Valspar?"
He nodded, shivering. He was wet clear down his front and I reckon the cold was starting to work on him. It was still snowing, and snowing hard: my bare head was chilled and I could feel melted snow trickling down my thinning scalp, and both of us had snow layering on our shoulders.
"Valentine Spargo. Everyone calls me Valspar."
I shook my head, pulled him toward the jail.
"It's true! I swear! My name's Valspar!"

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Linn Keller 2-18-09

 

The Lady Esther had no trouble with the snow, and wouldn't, unless there were an avalanche, or an unholy snowfall.
So far there had been neither.
Lightning sorted out the deliveries from the express bag: there were always wanted dodgers, there were occasional drummers' posters, selling patent medicines, boot black, drink or hair tonic or farm equipment of all kinds.
There was an envelope addressed to the Sheriff.
Lightning set it aside. His boy would be along soon as he finished sweeping off the platform -- again -- and knowing his boy, he'd take the opportunity not only to deliver the envelope, but to visit the Jewel.
Lightning had heard about the Sheriff's designated pie testers, and he doubted himself not one bit that Daisy's pie was up to its usual standard.
He was equally certain his long tall son would be checking on its quality the moment he freed up from delivering this express letter.
Sure enough, in about two minutes, the door opened and closed, to the accompaniment of stomping feet: his boy had kicked the snow off his boots outside and was now knocking the last of it off his boot soles, on the rug kept at the threshold for that purpose.
Lightning indicated the stack of wanted posters and the express letter, and his son grinned, snatched up the stack and was gone.
Lightning shook his head and reached for the fire door on the stove: taking a folded cloth to keep from getting burned, he opened the door, tossed in a couple good chunks, then closed the door and shook down the ashes with the cast iron crank.
A few minutes later -- a very few -- the Sheriff broke the seal on the letter, opened it and sat himself down.
Jacob struck a light and tended the front stove.
In spite of the noise he made opening the cast iron fire door, in spite of the sound of wood slinging into the fire box and landing on the hot bed inside, in spite of the clatter of dried wood cascading from the fire box, Jacob could not help but hear the resounding silence from his father's side of the office.
He knew this was probably not a good thing.
Lightning's boy was hesitating, as the interior of the office was going to warm up soon; he was balancing the chance of a return reply with the urgent summons from behind his belt buckle: Daisy's good pie was calling his name, and he was anxious to tend that detail, but he was to polite -- and too willing to accept any offered coin -- to simply bolt.
The Sheriff looked up, raised his chin.
"Head on over to Digger's, if you would," he instructed the waiting lad, "and pick up the sketch Fiddler Daine left for me. If Digger gives you any grief tell him to drown himself in the nearest spittoon."
Lightning's boy grinned at the mental image this produced.
"While you're at it, if you see Fiddler Daine, send him around. I'll need his services here."
"Yes, sir!"
A coin spun through the air, was snatched, bit and pocketed, and there was but the briefest of drafts as the door was opened, and closed.
Jacob approached the desk, drew up a chair.
The Sheriff frowned at the letter, pulling at his mustache and twisting its ends. His mustache had never been thick enough to curl into a villainous handlebar -- Sean's was probably the best handlebar he'd seen in quite a long while -- but it didn't keep him from twisting his own gray lip fur when meditative.
He handed Jacob the letter, leaned back in his chair.
Jacob read the letter, read it again: he looked back toward the cells, then looked at his father.
"Sir, I don't know what-all happened here. Could you start me at the beginning?"

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Linn Keller 2-20-09

 

Sheriff Keller, Firelands, Colorado, the letter read: hand written, as communications routinely were, and in a distinctly feminine hand.
The Sheriff curled his lip. He had little respect for a man -- chief of police or not -- who had someone else write his correspondence. It struck him as dandified.
"Dandified" was the mildest and most polite of the terms he actually considered.
Officer Tom Fraser is to be given all aid and assistance possible but under no circumstances will you delay or detain him. We professionals know what we are doing and your well-meaning interference will only hinder our investigation and recovery of stolen goods.
Jacob read the letter with his father.
"Signed by some fellow as Chief of Police," the Sheriff sneered. "Jacob, take a lesson from this. I doubt me not the man wouldn't look me in the eye and speak in that manner!"
"No, sir," Jacob replied, considering the Sheriff would likely run his hand down the man's throat, reach clear down to his ankle, grab him around the boot top and jerk him inside out if he were to address a fellow lawman in such a way.
"This fellow" -- the Sheriff hooked a thumb toward the cells -- "rode into town on a dying horse. He was used up and near to froze himself, with a laid open scalp as if someone peeled him a good one with a club."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said, leaning forward a little.
"I fetched him down to see Doc and they got him thawed out and sewed up. I saw the badge on his shirt" -- the Sheriff reached into his own breast pocket and drew out the round badge, turned it over, handed it to Jake -- "and considered this is silver, and Denver wears gold."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said thoughtfully, filing that bit of information away in his mental Book of Useful Things to Remember. He handed the badge back to his father.
"I sent a telegram to Denver to inquire as to this fellow's bona fides." He smiled a little, around the corners of his eyes, the smile sagging no further south than the weather-wrinkles at the corners. "I also remembered they wear blue wool coats and their badge never leaves the coat."
"Yes, sir." Jacob considered this as well.
"I've been fooled before, Jacob. Anyone can claim to be anything. Hell, in the War some fellow claimed I was blood brother to Useless Grant. Another said I'd run off and left a Boston socialite and a half dozen young behind." He chuckled wryly. "Had it not been for the marvel of rumor, I would have gone the rest of my life without knowing these important things about myself."
Jacob grinned, rubbed his palms together meditatively. He was listening, but he was thinking, and thinking hard.
"Now I challenged this fellow" -- the Sheriff inclined his head toward the cells -- "and he did like I was afraid he might: he tried to cause harm so he could get away."
"Yes, sir."
"Jacob, did you notice which side he wears his pistol?"
"On his right, sir."
"Correct." The Sheriff winked confidentially. "And on which side of him did I sit myself down?"
"On his right, sir."
The Sheriff laid his forearm on the desk top. "Take my wrist, Jacob."
Jacob laid a skinny, big-knuckled hand over the Sheriff's wrist.
"Pay attention to what you feel. If I try to draw a knife --" the Sheriff reached to his belt, pulled his blade free -- "did you feel that?"
"I did, sir. When you first began to move, I could not see movement but felt it."
I nodded. "Just like when we were in the back field practicing."
"A man drops his shoulder before he grabs, punches or lunges," Jacob said thoughtfully, looking down at my wrist in his grasp. "I see, sir!"
"Our guest had these in his saddlebags. Matter of fact" -- I opened the desk drawer, extracted the contents -- "these are the saddlebags themselves."
I set the saddlebags on the desk top, opened each in turn, handed Jacob the money bags.
He whistled, handed them back.
"Now if he'd peeled some other fellow and had the money bags, I could understand it, but with that kind of an injury he would have come out in second place. How did he end up with these if he was dizzy and blinded with his own blood?"
Jacob nodded.
I replaced the saddle bags. "Jackson Cooper helped me with a subterfuge. We took the locked strongbox to the bank in case anyone was watching. Looks like somebody was." The Sheriff's eyes were troubled. "Pete and Johnny -- you remember them --" Jacob nodded. -- "were the ones who found the money bags. They brought the saddle bags over here. Some fellow was watching. He tried to grab the boy and near to got away."
"Near to?"
My smile was not pleasant. "I persuaded him to stay. Fiddler Daine ought to have him sketched out for me by now."
"Digger's?"
I nodded.
Jacob leaned back in his chair, tilted it back on its hind legs, thinking.
His eyes went to the letter.
"Now why would the chief want you to keep your hands off, knowing you are the jurisdictional lawman?"
There was a knock at the door and Lightning's boy came in with yellow slip in hand.
The Sheriff read it twice, nodded.
"Jacob, the woodpile is rotten to its core. It seems Tom Fraser is murdered."
"Then the chief is in on it?"
The Sheriff smiled and his expression was wolflike.
"I don't know, Jacob, but Charlie is on the case. He'll find out, peacefully or otherwise."

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Mr. Box 2-20-09

 

Lightning's son came sailing in here proclaiming to be an official pie taster, too! I'm going to have to get me a slice of pie pretty soon before they get tasted all up! Maybe I can eat it while I smooth out the table top that just got the knife jammed into it. It didn't take Sheriff Keller long to drag that feller out of here after that! I'm sure this newest pie taster is going to be busy running telegrams back and forth while this is being figured out.

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Linn Keller 2-21-09

 

There was a knock, and the door swung open.
I stood, grinning.
"Hiram!" I declared. Come on in!"
Hiram stepped in, shut the door quietly behind him, then strode over and shook my extended hand.
"You remember my son, Jacob," I said as Jacob rose.
Hiram's blue eyes were merry. "I do," he said in a voice that sounded like it hadn't had much use in some time.
"Jacob, toss another chunk on the stove if you would, and see if that coffee pot is anywhere near warm."
"Yes, sir." Jacob gestured to his chair, offering his seat to Hiram: the mountain man nodded, set the crescent butt plate of his Sharps on the floor and eased himself down into the seat.
"Looks like you're busy," he commented, looking back toward the cells.
I nodded. "Something is going on and I aim to find out what."
Hiram looked at the money bags on the desk, grunted. "Murder for one," he muttered.
"How's that?"
His eyes weren't quite so merry. "Kind of figured you'd want to know. That fellow back yonder" -- he gestured with his chin -- "got into it with another fellow back a ways. He put a knife into the man about the time the other fellow peeled him a good lick with a chunk."
I nodded. "I ain't surprised. The carcass still back yonder?"
Hiram hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Brought it in. Figured you'd wanta see it before it got et."
"Kindly of ye." I found myself slipping into the same speech pattern as my guest. Hiram's method of speaking was unique, and indeed sounded much like my hill country compatriots from back East, back while I was still young.


Over in the Jewel, Angela stood, her head cocked curiously a little to the side. Bonnie was bent forward, her hand on Esther's; Esther had her hands in her lap, and she was quiet, very quiet, her eyes closed, as if concentrating.
Angela walked up to her and tugged on her sleeve.
Esther trembled a little, then opened her eyes, smiling.
"I think we may be near," she said, and Bonnie regarded her with the knowing combination of delight, distress and shared knowledge that only mothers can have.
Bonnie carefully placed her teacup and saucer on the sideboard: standing, she reached for her wrap and said in a brisk Mommy-voice, "Sarah, get your coat. I have an errand for you and it's very important!"

Jacob, have Digger lay out this other fellow as best he can."
"Yes, sir." Jacob rose and turned, reaching for his hat and coat.
I studied for a moment. "Hiram, I believe that coffee might be close to warm."
"It is, sir," Jacob volunteered, reaching for the door latch. "It'll scald the hair right off your tongue."
Hiram smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling with pleasure. "Genuine coffee?"
"Not a bit of chicory in it."
Hiram grunted. "Be surprised what I've drunk that fellows have called coffee."
I nodded, walking over into the welcome warmth radiating from the stove. "I got sick full of boiled chicory myself," I admitted. "Can't wait for spring and some good fresh-dug sassafrass root."
Hiram accepted the cup, wrapping his long-fingered hands around the blue granite and inhaling the vapors, eyes closed with pleasure.
There was a quick little step outside and the door opened a little.
Sarah slid inside, Twain Dawg with her.
"Uncle Linn? Mama says Aunt Esther is close and you'd know what that means!"

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Linn Keller 2-23-09

 

The Sheriff's eyes were half-lidded and he set down on the edge of his desk, his own hands cupping a blue granite cup.
Hiram took an experimental sip and found the brew to his liking.
Sarah regarded her Uncle Linn with a feminine tilt of her head, her little-girl eyes bright and curious.
Twain Dawg dropped his square bottom on the floor and yawned, showing an impressive array of dental danger and a startlingly-pink tongue.
Hiram frowned at the furry canine. "Ain't that the b'ar killer?"
Twain Dawg's ears came up and he grinned, furry tail thumping happily on the floor. He regarded Hiram with button-bright, absolutely-black eyes and came up on all fours, dancing a little, positively wiggling at the approval in the man's voice.
"His name's Twain Dawg," Sarah declared with a positive nod of her head.
"Bearkiller sounds better," the Sheriff said, his voice far away.
He looked at Twain Dawg and made a kissing noise.
Twain Dawg wrinkled the flesh up between his ears, tilting his own head much like Sarah had a moment before.
The Sheriff grinned -- or rather, grimaced, drawing his lips back from his own teeth and opening his mouth a little.
Twain Dawg did too.
The Sheriff made a growling noise.
Twain Dawg growled happily in reply.
The Sheriff leaned down a bit and growled louder, opening his jaws just a bit more.
Twain Dawg furred up and advanced, stiff-legged, his hackles standing up, the very picture of death on four feet.
The Sheriff relaxed his face and winked. "Good boooy," he said softly, and Twain Dawg changed in an instant, tongue lolling out, his tail brushing the floor, the very picture of a pleased pup having pleased someone greatly.
The Sheriff stood, snapped his fingers, and headed back into the cell block.
Twain Dawg followed.
The Sheriff stopped in front of a cell.
Sarah, curious, leaned over a little and looked down the short hall.
Hiram, curious, looked over top of Sarah.
They saw the Sheriff pick up a stick of firewood and smack the bars of a cell.
There was conversation; they could not quite make out what was said, but they could not mistake the threatening growl of the black, bearkilling Son of Dawg, nor could they help but note the Sheriff's words were louder, and it was evident some bargain were being struck -- or an understanding reached.
There was the sound of the stove door opening, the stick of firewood introduced into its red and glowing interior, followed by a few more, the scrape of the draft being adjusted, the snap of the Sheriff's fingers.
The Sheriff rejoined his guests, Twain Dawg neatly at heel.
"Hiram," the Sheriff said, "I believe my lovely bride may be going into labor. Might I offer you the hospitality of the Jewel? You are my guest, and if we have it, it's yours."
Hiram took another sip of coffee. "You wouldn't know if there's any pie this season?" he asked hopefully.
The Sheriff laughed. "Hiram, if I know Daisy, she's got at least one set back for special occasions. If she doesn't have one, she'll pull some Irish magic out of her pocket and make one!"
Hiram stood and set the granite cup down, then thrust out his callused hand. The Sheriff took it. "Thank'ee kindly," Hiram said. "It's been some time since I et a woman-cooked meal."
Sarah worried her hand in Twain Dawg's fur. "Uncle Linn," she said in a small voice.
The Sheriff reached for his hat and his coat.
"Let us went," he said, and Twain Dawg jumped up and trotted for the door.

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Linn Keller 2-23-09

 

Twain Dawg bounded happily through the deepening snow, taking a few long jumps, then turning to regard our little party and its sedate progress. Not satisfied with our lack of velocity, he put his head down and rushed us, running around behind, throwing up snow as he went, coming up beside me and brushing my leg, spinning, nipping at my hand, running away up the street and then back and around behind us again.
Sarah stopped and put her hands on her hips and then shook her Mommy-finger at her speeding companion. "Twain Dawg, you stop that," she scolded, "that's not nice!"
I reached down and snatched Sarah up, taking her under the arms and swinging her 'way up in the air. She shreiked, first with surprise and then with delight, and I took her by a wrist and an ankle and, stepping away from Hiram so I'd have room to work, I spun her about so she flew horizontally, like a bird.
Sarah screamed with delight, her other arm waving like a wing.
"Faster, Uncle Linn! Faster, Uncle Linn!"
I laughed and spun her about once more, Twain Dawg galloping along under Sarah, bouncing and trying vainly to reach her fluttering hand.
Finally I drew her into me and slowed, trying to keep my balance, but whether it was Sarah's weight all to the front of me, or Twain Dawg coming up behind and catching me right behind the calves of my legs, or the fact that the snowy street beneath me was suddenly tilting underfoot, I wrapped my arms around Sarah and fell flat on my back in the snow.
Sarah lay on top of me giggling and sat up, straddling my belly like she were astride a horse, her little white teeth shining and her cheeks pink with cold.
I remember well how her bright her eyes were in that moment, and how the indigo in her coat brought out her eyes, and how she looked in that moment, silhouetted against the snowfall, with big flakes of snow in her curls.
I would not see that again until the day she married, but that was some years in the future, and we don't want to tell tales until their time.
Twain Dawg snuffed loudly in my ear and began washing my face with his tongue and it was my turn to laugh.
Hiram regarded us curiously, smiling with some memory of his own; he reached down, offered a hand; I took his forearm, he took mine, and with Sarah clinging to me and my arm around under her thighs, Hiram hauled me to my feet.
Twain Dawg clamped down on the crown of my hat and bore it triumphantly along behind as we advanced toward the Jewel.

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Linn Keller 2-24-09

 

Bonnie was the picture of composure.
Esther was the very image of dignified calm.
Angela regarded her mentors with bright and curious eyes, one finger to the corner of her mouth, her rag doll tight in the bend of her left elbow.
Esther's hands betrayed a fine tremor as the contraction peaked, then eased off, and she took a long, almost steady breath.
Esther opened her emerald eyes, slowly, slowly, controlling her feelings as completely as she controlled her railroad.
"Bonnie, dear," she said, and Bonnie's eyes widened momentarily at the quavering unsteadiness in the older woman's voice, "give me your arm, would you?" -- and Bonnie turned, for there was a brisk drumming of feet on the stairway.
Angela's finger dropped from her chin and she looked with delight at the door, knowing her Daddy was without: she took a few quick steps toward the door, stopping and bouncing a little on her toes as her Daddy came in, bareheaded, Sarah just behind him, and Twain Dawg following, her Daddy's hat in his mouth.
Angela stood back, eyes luminous, as her Daddy went to one knee before her Mommy and took her hands.
"My dear?" he asked in the gentlest of Daddy-voices, a voice Angela knew well, for it was a voice he used when he soothed his little girl after a nightmare, or after a fright, and Angela hugged her rag dolly with delight as her Mommy reached up and stroked her Daddy's thinning hair and smiled.
Mommy's smile could fix anything.
"Yes, dear," her Mommy said, and her voice sounded a little funny, a little tight. "I believe it's time."
Her Daddy grinned, a big Daddy-grin, and he stood. "Stand fast," he said, "I'll fetch a carriage," and Mommy said "I don't believe there's time," and her face twisted funny and she bent a little again, kind of hunched over in her seat.
Angela blinked and tilted her head sideways, a little, curious.
Twain Dawg came up beside her, still carrying Daddy's hat.
Angela giggled and put an arm around Twain Dawg's neck, marveling as she always did how solid the canine was. "I wuvs oo, Twain Dawg," she said, and Twain Dawg dropped Daddy's hat and he snuffied under her chin and in her ear, loud and wet and cold the way he always did, and Angela giggled as Twain Dawg's tongue explored an amazing square footage of the side of her face.
Angela picked up her Daddy's hat and put in on her head, and giggled as it came 'way down over her ears.
Twain Dawg sat down on his broad bottom and tilted his own head a little, and made a curious-dog sound, for Daddy had just picked up Mommy and was carrying her.
Angela pulled off her Daddy's hat and blinked in surprise, for Aunt Bonnie had opened the door wide, and Daddy was carrying Mommy out the door, and this was unusual.
Daddy had carried Angela many times, and Angela always felt safe in those big, strong Daddy-arms.
This was the first time Angela saw Daddy carry Mommy that way.
Angela decided this was a good thing.
Mommy must want to feel safe in Daddy's big strong arms.
Sarah beckoned with a quick wave of her hand. "Come on, Angela!" she said with a nod, and Angela giggled and followed, her steps light and quick on the polished wood floor.
Twain Dawg trotted after her, slowing his pace to accommodate the heavier tread of the man bearing his wife down stairs.

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Linn Keller 2-24-09

 

Hiram was not one to stand idle.
Lightning's boy had managed to coax Hiram's mule over to Digger's establishment; the mule was tethered there, and seemed content, for the moment, to gather snowflakes and drowse.
Hiram went on out and shut the Jewel's ornate door behind him.
Hiram was a Mountain Man, lean and strong, his age a little hard to tell, thanks to weathering and time and sun and wind; he moved like a man many years his junior, crossing the street in long, unhurried strides that still covered ground with a deceptive speed.
He unhitched his saddle mule and brought her across the street, wiping snow off the saddle.
Hope she don't mind riding astride, he thought.
He had not long to wait.
The Sheriff came out the door of the Jewel, bearing his bride before him.
"Set her up here," Hiram said, and the Sheriff grinned.

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Linn Keller 2-27-09

 

Esther was no stranger to riding a mule.
One of her favorite mounts as a girl back home had been a mule. It had proven sure-footed, steady, and much more sensible than the blooded stallions her father favored.
Esther was an accomplished rider.
When mounted, she was the picture of propriety, head and shoulders back, chin up, back straight, modestly yet attractively attired.
At the moment, though, her hands were wrapped around the saddle horn, and she was hunched forward a little.
Esther put aside any thoughts of propriety: indeed, such were far from her mind: she had drawn far within herself, finding a calm certainty as some laboring women will.
Esther had midwifed, a time or two, when the need arose; she had observed, she had assisted, she knew about childbirth: now she willed herself to calm, knowing her body was readying itself for the greatest exertion it had known so far in her lifetime.
Her husband walked beside her, bareheaded, his hand holding a great twist of material in the small of her back: Hiram led the mule, Bonnie and Sarah waded through the snow on her right side.
Esther took a long breath, straightening as the contraction eased off.
Esther looked down at her husband, at their daughter.
Angela was happily tromping through the snow, holding her Daddy's hat just far enough off her head so she could see.
Esther smiled and opened her mouth to say something, and another contraction commanded her attention.
The riding mule felt her knees tighten against the saddle-skirt, and picked up her pace.

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Linn Keller 2-28-09

 

"Sarah," Bonnie said with a little upward lilt on her last syllable.
"Yes, Mama?"
"Sarah, run ahead and let Nurse Susan know we are coming."
"Yes, Mama!"
Twain Dawg began gallumphing happily through the snow alongside Sarah, running ahead of the long-legged girl, doubling back and pounding past her, spinning in a great spray of snow and rushing past her again. He did not know why Sarah felt the need to scissor her slender legs so quickly under her skirt, but he was enjoying the romp.
Sarah's sprint took her perhaps thirty seconds ahead of the rest of the party: her quick knock was met with Nurse Susan's inquiring look, peeking out the partly-opened door, then Nurse Susan opened the door wide and reached for the hidden bell-pull.
Dr. George Flint and Dr. John Greenlees had just finished their meal; Morning Star was busy in the next room, when the hidden bell rank briskly, rang again: it was Nurse Susan's signal that a matter required their attention.
Dr. George Flint looked over at Morning Star, quirked an eyebrow.
Morning Star's expression never changed, but her hands moved quickly, concisely, in the silent speech they used from time to time.
Morning Star saw the slight tightening of the flesh at the corners of Dr. George Flint's eyes, and she knew he felt at once approval, and pleasure, and anticipation.
Dr. John Greenlees stood, dropping his napkin and taking two long steps toward the door: as he opened it, he heard the heavy tread of a man burdened, the light, quick step of a child, the tik-tik-tik of canine claws on the spotless wood floor.
Dr. John couldn't help but smile.
Such footsteps, without shouts of distress or cries for help, meant this was not an injury, and he was right.
The outer door opened and through the opening poured a Mountain Man, the Sheriff bearing his wife, their little girl holding a way-too-big Stetson overhead, a bear-killing Twain Dawg (well dusted with snow), Bonnie, and Sarah.
Nurse Susan sailed in behind them like a man-of-war under full sail: briskly, clucking in her no-nonsense manner, she took the Sheriff by the arm and steered him toward an examination bed, then she released him, sailed in a looping orbit to seize up a portable curtained wall and placed it beside.
"Now be off!" she declared, "shoo! Shoo! We'll take it from here, Sheriff, and when we need you we'll send someone!" And so declaring, Nurse Susan, eyes smiling over her slid-down-the-nose spectacles, effectively brushed the Sheriff, the Mountain Man, the bear-killing Dawg, two little girls and a best friend out the door: with a smile and a reassuring nod, she closed the door behind them, then turned and sailed at flank speed back to her patient.
Several hands descended gently: some to her hand, some to her cheek, some to her belly: then the delicate dance began, where the patient was divested of her garments, invested with a loose gown that would allow room for the work at hand; the acetylene examination light was charged, lighted, adjusted.
Outside, the Sheriff stood for a long moment, looking through the front door, stilling the whirling in his mind.
Finally he raised his head a little more and smiled a quiet smile.
"Angela," he said, "I promised Hiram some pie. Would you like to help us eat a piece?"
Angela, still holding her Daddy's hat overhead in both hands, nodded.
"Pie?" Bonnie squeaked. "PIE?" She waved her arms and marched the length of the waiting room. "PIE! That poor woman is laboring and you're having PIE? She's bringing YOUR CHILD into the world, and you're going to run away and have PIE?" She thrust herself into the Sheriff's face, her finger stiff under the man's chin. "YOU did this to her! That poor woman is birthing YOUR CHILD and it's ALL YOUR FAULT!"
The Sheriff tried to keep a straight face.
He tried.
Really.
His eyes betrayed him first, wrinkling up in the corners, then his cheeks rounded and turned pink, and finally he began to chuckle, and to laugh, and he wrapped his arms around the indignant seamstress and laughed and picked her up and spun her around.
Twain Dawg circled them, dancing up on his hind legs, not at all sure what was going on, but knowing the Sheriff's laughter was always a good thing.
Sarah marched up to the Sheriff and kicked him squarely in the shin.
The Sheriff exclaimed "OW!" and set Bonnie down, and Bonnie looked down, horrified: "Sarah!"
Sarah shook her Mommy-finger at the Sheriff, but the laughter in the graying old lawman's eyes was more than she could bear, and she too began to smile.
The Sheriff retrieved his hat from Angela and, sweeping the little girl up into his arms, opened wide the front door and led the delegation to the Jewel for their promised conference.

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Linn Keller 3-3-09

 

I dipped the quill in the ink-pot and considered my words.
Charlie, I began, and considered again.
Angela was sitting contentedly in a chair beside the hissing stove, over where it was warm; she swung her legs a little, happily arranging the skirt on her rag doll, while Twain Dawg -- or Bear Killer, as Hiram insisted on calling him -- yawned prodigiously and curled up under her chair, close to the heat and to the child.
I'd set up the cot and put a clean blanket and pillow on it: Sarah was stretched out and asleep already, the quilt drawn up around her chin. Bonnie was returned to the hospital, and I to my work place, for I had need to draft a note to my friend and Brother.
I sit here with full belly and a bear killing dawg, I wrote, smiling a little: Twain Dawg looked more like a young bear than a bear killer, at least until he yawned again, for he'd inherited all his sire's dentistry: Dawg's muzzle was a bit more blunt and probably the stronger for it, but Twain Dawg's warn't no slouch.
I dipped the quill again.
Received enclosed letter purportedly from Chief of Police Denver, I continued, looking at the folded paper to my left.
Is the Chief dirty, maybe in on the robbery?
I dipped the quill after every few characters, wiping the excess on the inside of the inkwell's neck.
I wish to arrange return of bank's proceeds. I believe if we send the locked strong box with Jacob it should arrive safely.
If a different course of action is warranted, please advise.
Our love to Miz Fannie, and Esther is in labor. Angela is beside me as I write, and Sarah on the cot. I go now to check on my dear wife, and probably elsewhere to dispel my restless energies.
Linn

The steel nib pen on good rag paper was surprisingly loud in the utter quiet of the log office. Snow without and full bellied contentment within added to the hush.
I folded an envelope and inserted the sheets, lit a candle so I could heat my lump of sealing wax: I passed the working face of my personal seal over my forehead, picking up skin oil to act as a mold release, and pressed the cool, oiled seal into the hot, still-plastic sealing wax. I'd made it myself and it was a good batch, sticking like glue but brittle enough to break when it came time to open the envelope.
The impression was clear on the dark-red wax: the seal of Solomon and the Christian Cross, superimposed.
I turned it over and addressed it, carefully, precisely, as I always did.
A quick tread on the board walk outside, a knock on the door: I looked up, tossed the envelope on the desk.
"Sheriff?" It was Lightning's boy.
I motioned him in.
"I'm sorry, Sheriff, there was a second letter for you and we missed it." He handed me the missive. "Does this one go out?"
"Yes, thank you," I said quietly, glancing over at Sarah.
His glance followed my own and he flinched a little at the sight of the sleeping child, and the other contentedly playing with her doll, for his entry had been less than stealthy.
"You want this sent too, Sheriff?"
"Yes, thank you." I handed him a coin. He winked at me, the coin disappeared, and he was gone, the door drawing quietly to behind him.
Angela, curious, slid off the chair and came padding over to me.
The bear killing Twain Dawg snored quietly into his tail.
I picked Angela up and set her on my lap.
She giggled and cuddled into me with a little sigh.
I bent the seal and it snapped, a little piece of dark blue wax dropping onto the desk top.
I looked at the hand writing, frowned, then opened the envelope and drew out the single folded sheet.
A silver coin fell out.
I picked it up.
It was big, heavy: holding it angled into the lamp light, I saw it was Mexican, or Spanish.
Eagerly unfolding the paper, I read:
To Sheriff Linn Keller, Firelands, from Firecracker Mel, on the Tejano border:
The sun is warm and welcome after the Blue Norther we just had. Our horses frolick in the bright sun and the incautious might get a sun-burn on winter pale skin, or would if the air held less chill.
I enclose a silver
real to bind your son's belly-button. Your Esther will know its use.
I know your firstborn will be a son, for you are a healthy man who deserves a son to carry his blood and his name through time and years to come: surely
El Senor Dios would not deny you this favor!
I am reminded to send you silver for your son's belly, for your dear Rose o' the Mornin' has foaled, and a fine colt she has! A lighter red, not quite gold: the sun and wind will bleach it and time may darken it, but his father's hot blood is evident.
My father-in-law is most pleased, and may beg your indulgence for another colt. He has an eye for good horse flesh and has pronounced your Rose to be the best Kentucky blood he has ever raced.
I should be reluctant to tell you, but it was not my father who raced her.
I raced her, and won.
May
El Senor Dios smile upon you and your family!
Firecracker Mel

I leaned back, one arm around Angela, the other holding the letter, and a big idiot grin on my face.
Angela giggled as my belly jiggled behind her as it always did when I laughed.

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Mr. Box 3-3-09

 

The door swung open and Sheriff Keller entered with two young ladies, one in his arms and one in tow. "Couldn't help notice Y'all tearing out of here in a big hurry. How's Miss Esther?"
"She's in good hands. They told me to scram! Has Daisy still got any pie?"
"Oh, I think she's been running a little short of pie lately. I hope she still has a slice for me!"
"Mr. Baxter, what is it I hear ye tellin these poor lasses? Can't ye see the disappointment on their faces?" "Come with me, Sweethearts!" "MEN!"
The girls knew the racks would be near full if not overflowing. "What flavor do ye like?" Daisy asked.
"Umm, you got'ny berry pie?" asked Sarah.
"Just used the last jar we canned up last summer. Here it is. Maybe I'll have a slice with you. It'll be a while before we have it again! Maybe ye can help us pick some more this summer." Daisy suggested. Both girls nodded as their forks broke thru the crust.

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Linn Keller 3-3-09

 

Jacob waved as Caleb and his ladies jingled down the street. Bonnie had picked Sarah up just the very moment school had dismissed; after visiting Esther, and all that followed, they eventually returned to their own home, their sleigh swift and silent on the new snow.
The evening, he decided, had been quite busy; his father had entertained the young ladies, after safely delivering Jacob's mother to the good hands of their fine stone hospital; there had been the prisoner to tend, his own detail to fulfill -- finding the elder Daine had been a task! -- then securing the sketches with which he had been tasked, and reporting back to his father for further instruction.
Jacob had found the elder Daine after some effort, and helped him finish a project; grateful for the help, Daine had gone into town with Jacob, sketched out both the deceased, and the prisoner.
Jacob consulted briefly with his father, folded an envelope as he'd seen his father do -- not quite as precise, but adequate -- he'd included a note to Charlie, with both sketches; sealed the homemade envelope with the same red sealing-wax his father used, but stamped it with the base of a .40-60 cartridge.
He grinned. Charlie would know it was from him.
He took the envelope to Lightning's office. Using his father's envelope as a master, he copied the address onto his own, then left both with Lightning for inclusion in the mail-sack. Lightning would hang the heavy canvas bag on the forked arms of the mail post, the conductor would lean out of the passing railcar and snag it on the way past, what little mail there was would be sorted on board the train, bundled, and delivered to the Denver post office.
Charlie should get it in a day or two, Jacob thought.
His back side was toward Lightning's faithful stove.
Heat feels pretty good, he thought, and straightened.
"Mother is in labor," Jacob murmured as Lightning stacked the mail.
Lightning's hands stopped. He leaned back in his chair, shoving his hat back on his bald head and looking at Jacob over his round-lensed spectacles.
"Do tell," he said, pleased. "It's about time, I say! She's looked ripe for a month and a half now!"
"Yes, sir," Jacob grinned, suddenly awkward.
"Boy or a girl?" Lightning's boy came from the adjacent room, broom in hand.
"We won't know for a bit," Jacob admitted, "but Bonnie did try a broom straw."
Lightning and his boy both nodded. The were familiar with using a broom straw to test a melon's ripeness, or to divine the sex of the unborn.
"What did she say?" Lightning and his boy asked with one voice.
Jacob could not help but laugh. Had Lightning not put his stamp on the boy's face and hair and build, the voice alone would pronounce them father and son.
"She wouldn't tell me," Jacob admitted, "but I over heard her tell Daisy it would be a boy!"
Lightning rose from his chair, clasping Jacob's hand warmly and pounding his shoulder in good-fellowship. "Now that's right proper!" he declared. "You'll have much to teach the young lad!"
"Yes, sir," Jacob said, at once thoughtful and a little afraid.

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Linn Keller 3-5-09

 

Angela was warm and relaxed on my lap, sound asleep again.
Bonnie and Caleb had come in, shaking snow off their coats: Caleb put his finger to his lips, motioned me to remain seated: he looked down at their daughter, relaxed and asleep on the cot, and he looked over at me, a question in his eyes.
I nodded and made a twirling motion with one finger: go ahead and take the quilt, I signed, and he understood.
Bonnie nodded with approval as Caleb carefully tucked the quilt in around their daughter before picking her up and drawing her into him.
Sarah was getting some size to her, but a Daddy's love makes even a growing girl-child a light burden, and there is always something comforting about Daddy's arms.
Bonnie came over, biting her bottom lip a little and looking kind of uncertain.
I figured I knew what she was going to say, and I was right.
"I'm sorry --" she began, and I held up a forestalling hand.
"My dear," I said quietly, "you spoke with the easy freedom of a friend. I would not have it any other way."
My voice was gentle, for it was still quiet in our little office, but my lips were near Angela's young ears: she woke, taking a long, sighing breath, then a yawn twice as big as she was. She wiggled a little in my arms and I loosened my hold.
Angela turned a little. "Hi, Aunt Bonnie," she said, and Bonnie stroked her cheek with a gloved finger.
"Hi, Precious," she said. "Your Mommy is having a baby!"
I could not see Angela's face, but I knew her eyes grew big and her mouth went round with delight. She went instantly from contented and relaxed, to bouncing with energy and excitement: she fairly levitated from my lap and landed flat-footed on the floor, bouncing like a spring and clapping her hands.
Caleb was outside by this time, and settling Sarah into the wagon. I could just see him investing her with a buffalo robe and brushing big fluffy snow flakes off the upholstered seat.
Angela turned, her hands urgent on my own. "Daddy! Mommy's having a baby!" she exclaimed, her eyes shining and her hair fairly crackling with excitement.
"I know, Sweetheart," I said. "Would you like to go see how she'd doing?"
Angela stopped and blinked. She turned to Bonnie, tilted her head and considered Bonnie's trim waist.
"Mommy was very big," she said, her little hands describing a routund belly.
"Yes, Pumpkin, that's right," Bonnie nodded.
Angela's expression was serious. "How do they get the baby out?"
Bonnie looked at me, dismayed, and I looked at Bonnie, and I leaned a little to look out the door. "Caleb looks to be about ready," I observed, and Bonnie seized the opportunity to extricate herself from an awkward explanation.
I stood and plucked my coat from its peg, and Angela's as well.
Caleb whistled, a quick, sharp note.
Twain Dawg's head came up and his tail thumped happily on the floor, then he flowed like an inky shadow across the floor, and into the snowy darkness without.

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Linn Keller 3-5-09

 

Tom Landers leaned against Mr. Baxter's bar, a steaming mug of coffee in hand. He'd been quietly overseeing the gambling tables all night, and he was tired.
The Sheriff had been in earlier, looking less like a Sheriff and more like a happy grandfather: his daughter on one arm, Sarah by the hand, he'd gone back to Daisy's kitchen, where he was duly scolded by the Irish cook, where his ladies had joined Daisy in eating the last of the berry pie -- good pie, too! Tom thought, smiling into his coffee -- and the Sheriff had tarried a bit over coffee.
Tom shook his head.
Mr. Baxter looked up from rearranging the bottles under the bar. There was very little he missed, and he didn't miss Tom Landers' stray thought, expressed by that telling shake of the head.
"Penny for your thoughts," he offered, plopping his ever-present polishing cloth on the gleaming, spotless mahogany.
Tom grunted, turned his head, then turned and leaned heavily on the bar.
"The man's made of better stuff than I am," he muttered.
Mr. Baxter's raised eyebrow was query enough.
Tom continued.
"If that was my wife in labor, it wouldn't be coffee in my cup!"
Mr. Baxter tipped him a knowing wink.
"Now who says it was all coffee?"

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Mr. Box 3-5-09

 

After talking with Tom Landers a few minutes, I decided to join them in the kitchen and taste some pie myself. I saw the smears on their plates and said, "I'll have what they're having!"
"Well, you're a little too late, Mr. Baxter! That's the last of the likes of them till next season!" snapped Daisy.
"And we're going to help pick some more!" added the little purple mouthed girls. Their grins were so big I can hardly imagine how they could have ever missed their mouths!
"And what business you got taking stock of my pantry?" Daisy glared!
Now WHAT have I done, as I noticed Sheriff Keller's eye cocked at me. "I hope you've got some apple. Are you young ladies going to need some help picking all those berries?"
"You bet your boots they will, Mr. Baxter!" Daisy said before the girls had even thought about what to say.

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Linn Keller 3-6-09

 

Sean’s head came up and he frowned at the front door.
He glanced out the window. Snow was falling, heavier now: the sky had been the color of lead all day, snow had piled upon snow, until it was almost knee deep on a man. He and his boyos had been busy keeping the area clear in front of their horse house, and they’d taken their steam engine out for test runs in the deep snow.
Better to know how she’ll drive ahead of time, he thought.
The German Irishman suggested mounting their fine steam engine on a sled, and Sean considered it, then realized the idea was impractical: “With this much weight,” he mused, “the wheels will cut through to solid ground. Nah, let’s no’ fix what’s no’ broken!”
Now, fairly late in the evening, there was a tap on their front door.
Sean’s quick mind weighed possibilities. It was not the thundering summons of urgent fists, with voices screaming for the Irish Brigade; it was not the sharp knock of a woman’s worried knuckles, nor the manly pounding of the Sheriff: no, he thought, this is a boy … but who? In this snow?
Sean rose. He’d been studying the plans for their fine new fire house, a house built of bricks; a house heated by gas, newly drilled in the area, and firing the boiler, a boiler they could connect to their steam engine, that it may be hot and ready instead of cold, and waiting the five minutes to bring her to steam.
The door opened and a stranger shivered without, a lad not much taller than Sean’s belt buckle. Sean drew back to let the boy in, shut the door against the flakes that blew in around him.
“Ma name’s Samuel Kolascinski,” the lad announced, stamping the snow off his boots, and held out a package. “Ma wanted me to give you this.”
Sean accepted the paper wrapped package, turning it over.
“Draw near the stove,” Sean invited, “for you’re chilled, lad.”
Samuel did so, gratefully, spreading his palms before the cast iron wood stove and tilting his head back, eyes closed with pleasure.
Sean untied the string and carefully unwrapped the brown paper.
There was a note.
St. Florian and the Virgin watch over you, it began, and Sean smiled a little, for the handwriting was delicate, a woman’s hand that reminded him of his dear Daisy’s script.
He read on.
The Sheriff’s wife is near to delivering their child, he read. Please give them this, for the child, with our blessing, and our thanks.
Sean picked up the note, laid it aside, and blinked.
His eyes stung a little, and he swallowed hard at a lump that started in his throat.
It was a Rosary, of blue glass: a Rosary he recognized, given once in love, given again in love, and now again.
He dashed his knuckles savagely at a drop of moisture that crept, unbidden, from the corner of his left eye.
Sean stood and wrapped the package neatly along its original folds, spun the string around it, tied in a quick bow-knot.
“Come wi’ me, lad,” he said in a strangely husky voice. “Ma Daisy will be home tendin’ to young Sean, but her kitchen ne’er closes, fear not! We‘ll get a good meal behind your belt buckle and see about a bed for the night!”

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Linn Keller 3-7-09

 

Dr. George Flint lay still, relaxed, not asleep yet not awake.
His mind wasn’t quite so restful.
Dr. John Greenlees was tending their patient: there was but one other in the hospital that night, a miner whose indiscretion had led to his near-death at the hands of one of the ladies who objected to his placing his hands on her bottom. He didn’t know the whole story, only that she’d been asked to deal cards for one of the poker tables; there had been a shriek, a slap, a punch; the miner had attempted to force himself upon the woman, there on the floor of the gambling-hall, and she had availed herself of the knife he kept in his boot-top. Flat on her back and with a woman’s deadly instinct, had aimed a thrust at the very maleness with which he wished to intimidate her: the thrust was not entirely accurate, and had transected his femoral artery instead, and it had been a bit of quick and brutal surgery to evacuate the retracted arterial stump and tie it off: even then, the man was the color of putty, having lost most of his blood, and would very likely never see the sunrise.
Still, they had tried.
He put the recent surgery from his thoughts, let his mind drift.
Dr. George Flint found his duties in Firelands to be less than taxing, which suited him.
He had interned back East, in Boston and in New York, and had discovered to his dismay that invented illnesses occupied an alarming amount of a physician’s time; that patent medicines, peddled as a cure for the real and the imaginary, were mostly alcohol, laudanum, opium or herbed water, bitter, ineffective and often contaminated: here, though, he found the population honest, imaginations here were not given to fanciful ailments, and the high, clean air was in and of itself, if not a curative, at least a tonic which prevented many of the diseases he’d seen.
There had not been a single case of tuberculosis in their waiting room, as a matter of fact, which delighted the Navajo physician greatly.
He and Morning Star had assessed the Sheriff’s wife together. He knew his partner in practice had assessed her with Nurse Susan, but they both knew a woman’s first labor and delivery is often lengthy, and so they were agreed that one pair would dedicate to the gravid Mrs. Keller, and the other would rest, or tend other duties as necessary.
Dr. Flint had checked on the miner before lying down himself. The man was not yet awake; he was cool, his fingers were starting to turn dusky, and the pulse at his throat ran weak, rapid, thready.
There was a fine sheen of moisture on the man’s forehead and Dr. Flint knew the shadows held a silent messenger, one who waited patiently to escort a soul to the afterworld.
Your wait will be brief, he thought.
The miner had shivered, gasped a little; his eyes opened just a slit, then his jaw opened and his body relaxed, seeming almost to collapse into itself as life flowed from the husk like a thin trail of vapor.
Dr. Flint waited several minutes, silent, unmoving, obsidian eyes impassive: then he felt for life, his surgeon’s sensitive fingers at the neck, then the flat of his hand on the man’s breast: finally, slowly, he drew the sheet up over the still form, waiting a moment longer, a final gesture of respect.
Dr. George Flint turned off the carbide generator, puffed out the pure-white acetylene flame, and wheeled the narrow bed out of the treatment room and down a short hall, into an unheated room built for that purpose.
Dr. George Flint closed the door and glanced momentarily at the neatly lettered MORGUE on its frosted glass pane.
Now, lying in his own bed, he stilled his mind, relaxing his body, knowing he would need to be rested if summoned.
Childbirth, he reflected, generally went very well, or very badly.
Seldom did it ever have a middle ground.
Before he submerged in the black lake of unconsciousness, he hoped most sincerely that the morgue would not have two tenants before the Sheriff’s wife was delivered of her child.
Or more.

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Linn Keller 3-7-09

 

The chair was solid and well built and hit Tom Landers across the back like a freight wagon. The graying ex-sheriff went belly-first across a table, scattering cards, chips and drinks, and rolled off, scrambling to make his feet and landing on his side.
He grimaced as he hit the floor, rolled as boots came at him.
A tan torpedo shot through the air and tackled the drunken mine foreman. There was another crash, a pained grunt, the sound of fists on flesh, and the Sheriff fell back, spitting blood and coming off the floor with war in his heart and blood on his lips.
Tom struggled painfully to his feet and hesitated as the Sheriff feinted a punch to the man's face: his left snaked in and hammered the man's soft ribs twice, then he grabbed a hand full of shirt and drove his knee into the foreman, hard.
The foreman folded like a losing poker hand and they both hit the floor again.
The Sheriff came up slow, gagging, one arm across his belly: the foreman was curled up, teeth clenched, and tried to cock a fist yet again.
The Sheriff seized a double handful of the man's coal-black hair and drove the back of his head into the floor three times, hard, then came up and dropped both knees into the man's gut.
The foreman curled up like a worm on a hook and rolled over on his side.
Mr. Baxter parked his mop against a handy chair and strolled unhurriedly to his exclusive domain, rounding the end of his polished mahogany bar top, and reached under for the abbreviated Greener he kept there for unpleasant moments. He strolled back with an equal lack of haste, for he'd learned the value of approaching most situations thoughtfully and without wasted motion.
Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, he'd heard once, and knew it to be true: before the room could recover, he'd established his authority over the scene, the double barrel hearing aid pointed casually at the floor, as the Sheriff gained his feet.
The ladies had taken their distressed co-worker into a back room, and were soothing her distressed nerves: she'd been grabbed, decked and put-upon by a miner; the snow was deep, it was payday, the hall was full, crowded with thirsty souls, the tables full of gambling men, betting wages present and future on a lucky fall of the pasteboards: the lady, recruited at random from those employed at the Jewel, was a surprise, a diversion: when she used her attacker's own boot knife to preserve her virtue, she was instantly surrounded by a yelling, cursing, cheering crowd, quick to lay bets on the extent and nature of the injury and whether the man would die sooner or later.
Her feminine cohorts insinuated themselves quickly through the crowd and drew her to safety. Tom Landers was not as quick as the situation had been, though he did see what happened, and was just as quick to assure the poor soul that she had acted in her own defense; that yes, the miner was a hard man, with hard muscles and hard fists, and might well have beaten her to death -- such things had happened, in fact the day before the very thing happened in Cripple Creek -- and no court in the country would convict a woman for keeping herself safe.
His manner was reassuring, his eyes were without guile, and he'd held her for several long moments as she fell apart in his strong, reassuring arms.
Now Tom came limping over to the Sheriff. This situation, too, had developed quickly, unexpectedly; he borrowed Mr. Baxter's Greener and laid a gentle hand on the graying lawman's shoulder.
The Sheriff tentatively touched a swelling, discolored cheek bone.
"Damn, he can hit," he gasped.
Tom Landers assessed his friend's slumped-over posture, the arm protectively across an obviously painful belly.
"Ribs?" he asked, looking around.
Bets had been laid on this fight as well; the table Tom had unwillingly cleared was back in operation, cards dealt again, chips redistributed; probably due to the proximity of the double barrel persuader, there were no disagreements on who had how many chips.
The two lawmen retired to the bar.
Mr. Baxter dipped a clean rag in a bucket of cold, just-pumped water, and handed it to the Sheriff. He drew two beers, poured a shot of water-clear in each, slid them across the bar.
The Sheriff wiped his face carefully, exploring teeth with tongue, then the inside of his lips: his eyes narrowed a little and he took a tentative sip of his beer, flinched.
"Mr. Baxter, could I have a shot of the Daine boys' best?" he asked, looking decidedly pained.
Wordlessly, eyebrows raised, Mr. Baxter poured a double shot of Kentucky distillate.
The Sheriff took a sip, squinted his eyes in obvious pain, held the liquid inside puffed-out lips, then swallowed.
He gasped, took a few breaths, and downed half his beer, then the rest of the Kentucky.
Tom Landers stood, his back to the bar, one foot up on the polished brass railing, elbows resting on the mahogany. He was not entirely comfortable but neither was he going to stand with his back to the assembled.
"Tom," the Sheriff husked, "you hurt?"
Tom's eyes scanned the crowd. The buzz of voices had returned to normal, cards crackled and hissed as they were shuffled and dealt; there was the metallic clink of coin, the dry rattle of poker chips; exclamations of delight, of dismay, as cards were turned over.
"Not bad," Tom said. "You?"
The Sheriff looked at his old friend. One eye was nearly swollen shut, one cheek bone was turning some glorious colors and his lips were swollen.
"Nah," he lied. "Not a'tall."

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Linn Keller 3-7-09

 

Morning dawned, thin and cold: it had quit snowing, for which the populace was grateful, especially those ladies whose business it was to succor one of their own.
Women tend to gravitate to one another in time of bad news, and good: at the news that Esther was in labor, the ladies of Firelands began doing what ladies do in such times.
Baby clothes had been sewn and saved, kept carefully out of sight in case the pregnancy ended prematurely, or in a stillbirth: dress-like garments that allowed free access for diapering, and to ensure warmth; meals had been planned, schedules assigned, and a trustworthy maid was recruited from among Bonnie’s seamstresses -- to Daisy’s complete approval, it might be added: she had tossed her Irish-red mane and declared, waving her wooden spoon for emphasis, that a woman of Esther's quality had no business -- no business at all! -- keeping house or tending chores at such a time! Why, that poor Annette had near to worked herself to death, keeping care of her own handsome husband and her own home as well as her mother-in-law’s!
Feminine heads nodded in agreement at her stout declaration; nearly every woman there had thought the same thing herself.
Maude had brought Daisy a paper wrapped bundle, flexible and soft when squeezed: a generous pile of diapers, and a smaller package of safety pins; a cupboard in Daisy’s kitchen had been detailed to hold the goods, and was rapidly filling: booties and bonnets and towels and washcloths, there was a fine perambulator ordered in from Chicago by the Rosenthals, a baby bed to match, there were items of small furniture crafted by the Daine brothers, all hidden away in a back room of Maude’s mercantile.
At word that Esther had been borne in good health to the hospital the afternoon preceding, the ladies’ network began to crackle: one, then another, dropped in at the hospital, despite the snowfall, despite the cold: some few were admitted, to press Esther’s hand, to blot her brow, to share womanly words and feminine support, and to grimace in sympathy when another contraction clicked Esther’s teeth together and set her lips in a firm line.
Even Sarah had been admitted into this feminine sanctum: she recognized this as a signal moment of womanhood, this business of birthing a child: still, her Aunt Esther had always been a tidy and fashionable woman, and now was lying on a bed, sweating, tired.
Morning Star excused herself between the ladies gathered about the bed.
Esther’s left hand was laid across the great mound of her belly.
Morning Star laid her hand on Esther’s, tilting her head as if listening, smiled a little.
Sarah looked at Morning Star and saw a knowledge, and divined that she was gauging how near Esther was to being delivered of her child.
Morning Star reached into her simple brown dress and drew out a knife, held it in both hands over Esther’s middle, as if presenting to someone taller than herself: she spun the knife in a quick circle, then moved to Esther’s head, and, raising Esther’s pillow with her left hand, placed the knife very precisely with her right, such that when she replaced the pillow to its place, the blade lay exactly transverse to Esther’s third cervical vertebra.
Morning Star did not know the white man’s name for this anatomic landmark.
She only knew that a knife under the pillow cuts the pains of labor.
Esther, too, knew of this, and the contraction was suddenly less uncomfortable.
“Thank you,” she whispered, took a deep breath, set her teeth and began bearing down, hard.

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Linn Keller 3-8-09

 

Jacob grinned as his stallion hobby-horsed through a drift, playing in the snow: he was headed for town, but not in any particular hurry. It had quit snowing, the sky was a glorious, clear blue, the air was cold, clear, his breath steamed as he laughed with delight.
A young man rejoices in such mornings.
It took Jacob longer to get down off the mountain than it did from the bottom into town; trees and hollows had sheltered against drifting down below, and the stallion had little difficulty breaking trail.
Town was quiet this lovely morning. The sun was red in the east, throwing Jacob's shadow far down the main street; he stopped at the Sheriff's office, tied off the Appaloosa and stomped the snow off his boots before opening the heavy door.
He stopped a few steps inside, staring.
"Sir?" he asked, dismayed at his father's appearance.
The Sheriff was just getting up off the cot, slowly, painfully: his face was swollen, bruised, one eye shut, lips puffed: there was a small cut over the cheek bone and his movements were slow and obviously uncomfortable.
The Sheriff's teeth were set against the pain.
A man does not like to show weakness, especially in front of his son.
"Tend the prissonerss," the Sheriff hissed through a clenched jaw.
"Yes, sir," Jacob said, and paced back to the cells to tend the morning's work.
Jacob pretended not to notice the difficulty with which his father struggled into his shirt, into his boots: still, he noticed, as he passed by with slop buckets, back inside with firewood, back out to cross over to the Jewel for breakfasts, and the return trip, bringing the prisoners' meals.
Jacob fed the stove back in the cellway, then the one in the office itself: he shook down the ashes, scooped the ash out slowly, carefully, with the fire door open to suck in the dust that was raised. He carried both ash buckets out and dumped them in the street, scattering them slowly, widely.
Jacob came back inside, both ash buckets loaded with fire wood: he stacked this wood, set the ash buckets in their place, and drew a chair up in front of the stove, near the cot.
His father was sitting on the side of his cot, breathing ... carefully, Jacob decided. Carefully was the word he wanted.
"Sir?" he asked. "Are you well?"
The Sheriff looked at his son, knowing full well he looked a fright.
"Never better," he lied.
"Sir, why don't you just stand fast," Jacob offered. "I'll fetch over your breakfast."
The Sheriff shook his head slowly, carefully, seizing the edge of the cot and closing his good eye.
"Esther is in labor," he groaned. "They ran me out. First child, they said. Long labor. Go get some rest." He chuckled, coughed. "You see how well that worked out."
"Yes, sir," Jacob blinked. "That would be the stove-up and sore fellow in the second cell?"
"Yeah."
"Have you written the charges, sir?"
"Log book."
"Sir, if you want to head for the hospital, I'll finish the reports and get it ready for court."
The Sheriff took a careful breath.
"Okay." It wasn't quite a groan, but it was close, the sound of a man surrendering to the knowledge that he couldn't do much at the moment.
"Sir?"
The Sheriff looked up at his son.
"Sir, maybe I should go see Mother. If she is in labor, do you want her to see you like this?"
"I musht look fritty badt."
"Yes, sir, you do."
The Sheriff closed his good eye, sighed, opened it.
"Yer right. Giff her my luvf but don't tell her..." He raised a slow, tentative hand to his face.
"Yes, sir. I mean no, sir. I'll not tell her, sir."
The Sheriff hesitated, then laid back down.
Jacob drew the blanket over his father.
The Sheriff reached up and laid his hand on his son's.
"Shank you, Chacob."
Jacob's jaw was set and hard, and water glittered in his eyes.
"Yes, sir," he said quietly.
The Sheriff closed his good eye.
Jacob's boots sounded hollow as he paced across the office, then he turned down the cell block.
The mine foreman was lying on his cot, curled up as best he could.
Jacob's face was graven in stone.
"Mister," he said, "you hurt my father. If he dies, if he is crippled, if he loses that eye, I will hang you."
The mine foreman's face was marked; he had a cut on both his cheek bones, his nose was still laid over to one side, and he could not straighten his legs quite yet. Normally he would have barked a laugh and swore out an obscene challenge, but somehow it hurt too much to even think about.
The Sheriff had given better than he'd gotten.

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Linn Keller 3-9-09

 

Samuel woke to the smell of frying bacon and fresh baked bread.
Had he stopped to consider the contest, it would have been a dead tie as to which brought him out of the bunk any more quickly: his bladder or his growling gut.
He stopped and blinked, momentarily confused, then he remembered he wasn't at home, he was a guest in the great Irishman's house.
He wore a flannel night shirt, much too large for him; his clothes were clean, folded on a chair near the bed: rubbing his itching head, he remembered a good meal and laughter, Irish voices and song and a bright-eyed little girl's laughter, and a great, furry dog, black as the secret heart of midnight itself and a tail that threatened to polish the painfully-spotless floor to a glass finish.
Samuel dressed quickly, as quietly as he could, and tentatively opened the bedroom door.
"Well, lad," Sean boomed, "I hope yer appetite woke with ye, breakfast is about ready!"
"Yes, sir," Samuel stuttered, eyes wide.
"Ye'll be wantin' the back house," Sean stood, pacing over to the back door. "Out the path, lad, an' we've cleared the snow."
"Thank you, sir," Samuel said in a small voice, for he was not much older than the giggling little girl swinging her legs happily in a chair at the table.
Sean opened the back door and Samuel sprinted for the little wooden building with the crescent moon in the door. Thanks to the frosty nature of the sanded-smooth seat, his stay was not lengthy.
He paused and splashed in the wash pan, just inside the back door, for his mother had ever encouraged him to be a cleanly lad, and he felt it wise to follow his dear mother's instruction, especially as he was guesting in such a great man's house!
Daisy had a great stack of hot cakes and was happily basting hot bacon grease over whitening eggs; she sprinkled pinches of spices, a bit of salt, a shake of pepper: even her eggs were works of art, far from ordinary, a fact which Sean had never, ever taken for granted.
Angela had been in Daisy's kitchen, nibbling daintily on a light roll as her bear killing Twain Dawg snarled happily as he gobbled a plate of biscuits and gravy. When the Sheriff went flying through the air and exchanged fisticuffs with a mannerless ruffian, Daisy insisted that little Angela should guest with them: her dear Mama was laboring in childbirth, her father had disappeared into the Sheriff's office with a prisoner -- barely able to walk, he was, but still managed to haul the struggling miscreant by collar and belt! -- Tom Landers had spoken of the beating each had taken, and the Sheriff had not emerged from the jailhouse since.
"Angela," Daisy said, "I think you should stay the night with us," and offered her hand.
Angela, giggling, took Daisy's hand and looked happily up at the muscled mountain of an Irish chieftain and laughed with delight, which melted the great Irishman's heart instantly.
Now, at breakfast the next morning, Samuel sat beside Sean, a little afraid, thorougly intimidated, but at the same time proud: This great man took me to his house! he thought, with a reverence normally reserved for sitting beside a US Senator.
Picking up his fork and taking an experiemental bite, he discovered to his amazement that Daisy's hot cakes put his dear Mama's to shame.
Samuel was young, but Samuel was not stupid; he made a mental note never, ever to tell his Mama anything of the kind.

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Mr. Box 3-9-09

 

Cleanup took a little longer at the Silver Jewel last night. There was a little broken glass to be sure was swept up and a chair that didn't look like it would serve well any longer. Also some spatters and small pools of blood to get mopped up. I haven't seen Sheriff Keller or Tom Landers yet this morning. There haven't been many people out yet this morning. There should be word from the hospital about Miss Esther anytime.

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Linn Keller 3-10-09

 

Miz Emma gathered her books and slid them neatly in the book case beside her desk. She nodded in approval at the genuine slate chalk board, carefully erased and washed off by willing young hands; the lumps of chalk were arranged in a row on the little board trough at the base of the slate board.
Miz Emma fancied she could see little dust-devils eddying near the door, where her young charges had run out into the snow: school was out for the day and their youthful energies were too long contained in the simple clapboard building: they longed for release, and when Miz Emma bade them a good evening, as she always did, there was a general stampede for coats, cloaks and wraps.
"One of these days," she sighed, "the door will come off its hinges with their departure!"
Miz Emma knew her husband would be relieving Jacob later that evening, but as he always did, he would meet her, just inside the door.
Miz Emma sighed with pleasure and anticipation, for her husband was a physically large man, a strong man, a ... a manly man, in the finest sense of the word.
She had never doubted for her safety, nor had she ever doubted her femininity, in his presence: for as masculine as her husband was, he made her that much more a lady. She did not entirely understand it, she only knew it to be so.
This night, as she paced back to the back of the little building, the door opened, and Jackson Cooper's form filled the doorway: his hands were strong and welcoming as he gathered her into his arms, his body strong, firm, against hers.
Emma closed her eyes and tilted her head back, welcoming his greeting, and he did not disappoint.
After Emma's knees had regained their strength, she laid her hand gently on his arm, as she always did, and they left the building together.
By an unspoken but mutual consent, Jackson Cooper drove their carriage through the near hub-deep snow to the Firelands hospital.

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Linn Keller 3-11-09

 

Tom Landers was moving just a bit stiff and sore.
Being thrown across and off a table, landing on the hardwood floor, is not particularly beneficial for a young man, and Tom had not landed well: still, with the hard headed contrariness that was the hallmark of the Western man, he decided to throw back the covers and bounce out of bed.
He got as far as throwing back the covers.
The ladies of the Jewel, or at least most of them, had worked under the privations of a previous administration: virtual prisoners, forced into white slavery: when the current Sheriff came in and ungently changed ownership and policies, about half of the "Working Girls" moved on.
About half stayed.
Daisy had never been a "Working Girl," by virtue of her mercurial temper and a hard-swung frying pan; Tilly was, but never since those dark days, and indeed had married well -- to the dismay of certain old hens in town, who lived for gossip, slander and malice.
Tom Landers' feet rested on the rag rug beside his bed and he grimaced, willing himself to his feet.
He made it to the dresser, contemplated his lined visage in the mirror.
A lined face was not necessarily the mark of age; weather, sun, wind all worked their ravages on the tender flesh of a man's face, and Tom had never been a slacker or a townie. Much of his own life had been spent in the saddle, or at the end of working-tools of various kinds.
Still ... he contemplated the silver gleaming in his otherwise-black and thick head of hair, and considered that being thrown across a poker table wasn't quite so painful the morning after as it had been when he was Jacob's age.
There was a tap at the door.
"You'll feel better with a bath," a pleasantly modulated voice said, and Tom nearly declined, but as he turned to address the maid, his back and belly muscles suggested he listen to her, and listen he did.
After scrubbing himself with hand pressed lye soap and then relaxing for a good long hot-water soak in the same tub Hiram had occupied -- but with fresh water! -- Tom was limber enough to tend his morning's ablutions and get dressed.
He was delicately scraping the whiskers off the left jawline with a straight razor when the thought drifted through the shaving cream that maybe he'd best go say howdy to the sheriff, for the man had taken quite a beating at the fists of a hard rock miner.
Miners, Tom knew, tended to be pretty stout fellows.

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Linn Keller 3-11-09

 

"Jacob!" Esther's eyes were bright and her hands welcoming, despite her supine position in the hospital bed.
"Mother!" Jacob said quietly, fondly, pressing her hand in his. He bent down and kissed her on the forehead, swept a curl of rich red hair out of his way. "Are you well?"
Esther laid a hand delicately on her belly. "We seem to be between ... labors."
"Yes, ma'am," Jacob said, feeling suddenly awkward.
"Angela and your father?" Esther asked, her voice almost steady; a layman might have missed the catch in her voice, but Jacob's was the quick ear of a lawman.
"Angela stayed with Sean and Daisy," Jacob said, feeling his ears turn red. "They insisted."
"Little Sean will like that," Esther whispered, shifting slightly.
Jacob tensed.
Esther managed a little laugh. "Jacob, don't look so frightened!" she said, squeezing his hand. "The first child is always the hardest."
"Yes, ma'am," Jacob mumbled, ducking his head.
There was a gentle hand on his right shoulder. Despite his lawman's ears, he had not heard Morning Star come in.
"The water is not broken," she said. "She prepares."
Jacob brought his left hand up and across and laid it on Morning Star's.
"How soon?" he asked, eyes for his mother but question for both.
"Not tonight," Morning Star said, squeezing his shoulder a little. "Tomorrow sunrise or just after."
This time Jacob did hear the approaching step. "Stuff and nonsense!" Susan declared. "She could pop just any time! I'm surprised she hasn't delivered already!" Susan laid a hand on Jacob's left shoulder. "I wouldn't be surprised if she had the child under the covers with her right now!"
Esther took a long breath, blew it out.
"If men had to do this," she grated, arching her back a little, "they wouldn't be so quick to get us in bed!" She turned quickly over on her left side and groaned, her hand tightening on Jacob's.
Nurse Susan shifted her weight, ready to move.
Jacob noted the difference in messages sent by each woman's hand: Esther's was steady and unchanged, but tight; Susan's fairly vibrated, ready to spring into action on the moment; Morning Star's was steady, still, reassuring.
Jacob stood.
"I'm just in the way here," he muttered, bending and bringing Esther's knuckles to his lips.
Esther's hand tightened on his. "Just a moment, young man," she said.
Though she said it quietly, there was no mistaking the steel in her voice.
"Your father. How bad is he?"
Jacob hesitated, looked at Morning Star.
Morning Star's black eyes were bright and absolutely unreadable.
"How -- how did you ...?" he stammered.
Esther released his hand, tried to find a more comfortable place on the mattress. "You lawmen aren't the only ones who find things out! Now out with it! You're hiding something!"
Jacob was honestly surprised. His mother had always been so ladylike, preferring persuasion to command.
This was a facet of her life's gem he'd never seen.
"He is stove up and sore," he admitted. "He took some hits to his gut and ribs and his face is a fright."
"Did he lose any teeth?" Esther's head arched back a little.
"No, ma'am, none as I could see."
"We need a dentist in town," Esther gasped. "We are getting a fine brick fire house and the new City Hall building is going up where the newspaper was. We will have to wait until warm weather to fire the brick, of course, and mine the clay, but it will happen! --"
Esther's urban planning ended with a groan. Her hand found Jacob's again, tightened with a surprising strength.
Esther's contraction lasted a good long time, about a year and a half by Jacob's estimation: Nurse Susan discreetly timed it with the watch pinned to her white-frocked bosom, nodding as the contraction eased off.
"Mother, can I help?" Jacob said, concern in his voice and distress in his eyes.
"Yes," Esther husked, taking several long breaths and curling up a little, then straightening, restless under her covers. "See that your father gets breakfast. If I know him he'll be trying to heal up all by himself, the way he usually does!" She gave his hand a final squeeze. "You got your hard head from him, you know!"
"Yes, ma'am," Jacob said, not sure how to take that final sentence, but pleased nonetheless.
Jacob released his mother's hand and backed toward the door, then turned and reached for the knob.
He drew the door open and hesitated at the threshold.
Nurse Susan made little shooing motions, but gentled her admonition with a reassuring smile.
Jacob stepped out and drew the door shut behind him.

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Linn Keller 3-11-09

 

"Sheriff, this is Michelle."
Bonnie introduced the new maid with the easy grace of a woman of breeding, a woman of society, giving no indication that she even noticed the Sheriff's swollen eye, discolored cheek and split and puffy lips.
The Sheriff bowed his head a little, a move Michelle recognized as the cultivated and civilized greeting of a man who was too stiff and sore to do better. She had an instant sympathy for the graying old lawman.
"Esther will be tending her child," Bonnie continued in gracious and cultivated tones, "and has no business keeping house for some time to come. In fact, Sheriff" -- her glance was at once sharp and admonishing, and yet the friendly and almost amused look of someone whose long acquaintance permitted such liberties -- "I think you and your wife should have a full-time maid!"
The Sheriff nodded shallowly, cautiously. "Talked me right into it," he agreed quietly.
Jacob turned the Sheriff's stallion loose in the back pasture. He would come quickly enough if whistled up, he always did; there were no fresh mares anywhere near to distract him away, or encourage some fence-jumping.
Jacob knew the stallion could jump any fence on the property -- hell, that horse can jump any fence in the territory! he thought, and grinned, for at one time or another he'd tried every fence he'd come to, and his father's golden stallion was one of the fastest, most powerful, and best-jumping horses he'd ever ridden in his life!
Jacob kicked the snow off his boots and came in the back door. Bonnie was acquainting Michelle with the kitchen; she planned to tour every room, every cupboard and clothespress with Michelle, for as their live-in maid, Michelle would be part of the family, and responsible for much.
"Jacob?"
"Yes, sir?"
The Sheriff raised a summoning hand.
Jacob went into the front room, then followed his father into his study.
"Close the door, Jacob," the Sheriff said, his breathing painful.
Jacob drew the door shut behind him.
The Sheriff's eyes were gentle. He rested his hands affectionately on Jacob's shoulders, noting with approval that his son now looked him in the eye.
"I am an old man, Jacob," the Sheriff began. "I want to show you something."
He turned and walked slowly, painfully, over to his roll top desk.
Jacob turned his hat restlessly in his hands, then glancing over, saw a convenient peg was unoccupied, and hung his Stetson.
"Jacob," the Sheriff asked, "how do you feel about having a younger brother?"
Jacob grinned.
"I like it fine, sir!"
"Are you afraid the child will replace you in my affections?"
The Sheriff phrased the question casually, paging slowly through a book Jacob had never seen. It looked to have been through a war: its soft leather cover was worn, dead soft; the pages were wrinkled, stained, as if rained on, or perhaps immersed in dirty water and then dried as best someone could have.
"Well, sir," Jacob admitted, "yes. I had wondered."
The Sheriff casually tossed the book into his open roll top desk -- then strode across the room, seized Jacob by a double handful of shirt and vest, lifted him off the floor and drove him back into the wall, hard.
Jacob's teeth clicked together and he made a startled little sound.
The Sheriff's eyes were pale, now, the color of winter ice, the color of a glacier's heart. His teeth were set and his voice was a hiss Jacob had seldom heard.
"Don't," the Sheriff hissed, "don't you EVER doubt that you are MY SON!"
Jacob was too nonplussed to even offer a word.
The Sheriff released Jacob and turned, striding across the room.
He seized up the worn, soft looking book.
Shaking it in front of him, he came back over to the tall young man.
"Do you know what this is?" he asked, his voice low, menacing.
"No, sir," Jacob said. To his credit, his voice was steady.
"Come to the window."
They went to the window where there was good light and the Sheriff opened the book, turned a few pages, stopped.
Jacob's in-drawn breath hissed between his teeth.
The Sheriff's fingers were splayed, holding the pages wide open, flat against the polished, inlaid tabletop.
Jacob saw a pencil drawing, slightly smudged with time, with wear, but clearly recognizable.
Jacob sat down in the chair adjacent, sat down hard.
His eyes were large and he looked up at his father.
"Do you recognize her?" the Sheriff asked, his voice tight.
"Yes, sir," Jacob said in a small voice.
The Sheriff closed the book. Resting his palms on the table, he rested his body's weight on his arms, head bowed as if too heavy to hold up.
"I failed her, Jacob," he said.
Jacob's thoughts were all stirred up, confused.
"How?" he asked, shaking his head. "Sir, I don't --"
"Sopris knew."
"Knew ...?"
The Sheriff picked up the worn book, shook it at his son. "Jacob, this book is my life before I came here. All the nightmares, all the loss, all the grief, here it is. Everything from shooting my own men to hanging my own men, from losing my wife and baby girl, to falling in a weak moment for the comforts of a grieving widow who was in need of comfort herself."
"My mother," Jacob whispered. "You ..."
The Sheriff nodded.
"You are my son, Jacob. Blood of my blood, seed of my loins."
Jacob felt as if the floor had just disappeared under him.
The door opened and Bonnie bustled in, Michelle close behind, like a tug towing a smaller vessel.
"And this is the Sheriff's study," she said. "He often entertains here and as you can see, he has a library of --"
Bonnie's brisk discourse ground to a halt and she realized she'd just interrupted something.
"Excuse me," she said courteously, "I should have knocked --"
Jacob stood, his eyes strange, then he shook his head and crossed the room, swinging in behind Michelle and reaching for his Stetson.
He stopped and gave his father a long look, and without a single word, left.

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Linn Keller 3-12-09

 

Daisy dusted her hands off and turned to the huge lump of bread dough.
Tilting her head a little, she closed one eye and planned her attack like a general plans a battle.
Gathering her energies, she formed her right hand, tensed the fingers and delivered what was known in certain fighting circles as a shuto, or sword-hand, and chopped the dough, hard, in its middle
Daisy nodded and gave a little "Hmph!" of satisfaction, then proceeded to separate the dough into two halves; she halved these again; smoothing and shaping them, she formed loaves, and the loaves went into greased loaf-pans, and the loaves went into the oven.
Daisy used the folded corner of her apron to check the fire box of the stove -- she'd gotten it up to working temperature and wanted to make sure it stayed there -- she added a few chunks of firewood, set the draft and turned.
Daisy's moves were smooth and graceful, coordinated and efficient: not a move was wasted: as she turned from closing the firebox door, her right hand dipped down to pick up the stirring spoon, which went into the stew pot at the rear of the stove; she explored its bottom, making sure nothing was scorched or sticking, she worked its contents, rolling top for bottom, distributing the contents to ensure the spices and components were uniformly distributed in the tasty, bubbly gravy, while distributing its delightful smell throughout the kitchen.
She turned a little more, picking up the coffee pot and dispensing its remaining volume carefully into a half-dozen coffee cups, large and heavy and ranked in a neat row on the shelf over the stove: they were warm enough to be just warm, so the freshly poured coffee would not chill, but not so warm as to distress the hand that picked them up by their heavy, slick-enamel handle. These went in a neat circle on a serving tray, a basket of light rolls descended the center formed by the gleaming ceramic, and Daisy picked up the tray and turned.
As if by magic, the same girl from upstairs who had so delighted Hiram, and who had generously prepared Tom Landers' bath and laid out his clean clothes while he was thus occupied, appeared as if by magic, a clean apron neatly tied about her trim waist, a quiet smile on her face and her hands extended.
Daisy turned, placing the tray in the waiting hands; each woman turned, dancing their well-practiced gustatory ballet, Daisy reaching for the flour-bin and the tray being spirited out the door and down the hallway.
There was the sudden thunder of work brogans on the board walk outside and Daisy smiled.
By the time the Irish Brigade stormed the castle, and Sean came striding down the hall to snatch her off her feet and buss her soundly, the coffee and light rolls would be safely in the lee of the second table, ready for the Irish Brigade to park themselves and begin their ravening raid on this first stage of their meal.
Daisy measured out flour for pie dough and set the tin measuring cup down on the back of the table; she had not stopped moving: her hand floated in mid-air, hesitating before seizing a stack of deep, capacious bowls.
It was stew for supper and she was not going to serve her beloved Irish Brigade with anything less than the man sized bowls they deserved!
By the time the empty coffee tray returned, four bowls were dipped up and steaming, ranked on the edge of the flour-whitened, heavy oak table, and Daisy was dipping the fifth.
Only the fact that she had a bowl in one hand and a dripping ladle in the other kept a broadly-grinning Sean from seizing his red-headed wife.
Little Sean drew back, Irish-blue eyes sparkling, learning from his Da the way a man ought to treat his wife: Sean waited until she'd ladled and set down the last bowl before he took his dear wife under the arms, and spun her carefully around in her organized and efficient kitchen, laughing in his great Irish voice, and Little Sean laughed as well as his Mama's head tilted back and her white, even teeth flashed, and her hair bounced a little the way it always did, and even her "You great Irish oaf, put me down!" was lightened with a laugh and a caressing hand, stroking the side of her Celtic giant's face.

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Linn Keller 3-12-09

 

Morning Star's face was calm, her voice steady as she walked into Dr. George Flint's little room.
Other than having taken off his shoes, he'd laid down on top of the covers, fully dressed.
His eyes opened as her hand touched his shoulder.
"It is time," Morning Star said in their native tongue, and Dr. George Flint swung his legs off the bed and thrust his feet into a pair of Navajo moccasins he kept there.
Dr. George Flint struck the acetylene flame into life: he'd added a little carbide to the generator, checked the water reservoir, and now directed the focused light to the lower half of the delivery table.
The table was of the latest design, but modified: there was padding, and a thin blanket; an oilskin strategically placed: Dr. George Flint wheeled a tray of instruments into reach, but not too close.
Dr. George Flint regarded the whole patient in his practice, and both he and Morning Star had concurred that, while Esther was a lady of the finest quality, she was also Irish, Southern, strong and hard-headed, in excellent health, but best of all, her bone structure favored a less difficult delivery.
Not an easy delivery, Dr. George Flint thought, smiling to himself: no woman's delivery is ever easy, at least to her! -- but he had known difficult deliveries in the past, and had sewn small women who had torn terribly birthing their young.
Dr. George Flint took the time to wash his hands with his usual thoroughness. He was a fastidious and tidy man about his person and well knew the value of cleanliness and, where necessary, sterility.
Too many physicians of the era disdained the germ theory of infection.
Dr. George Flint embraced it and, as a result, had significantly fewer patients ill or dead after a procedure.
There was some necessary cleansing due to the strains of the birthing process, which Morning Star tended with a quick efficiency.
Dr. George Flint was not above such a detail, but he felt that, whenever possible, a woman's modesty should be respected.
In the delivery itself he would, of course, dispose of unnecessary prudishness, but until then, he preferred to remain ... discreet.
Esther was between contractions. Though tired, she was still quite lucid.
She raised a hand, extended it toward the broad-shouldered Navajo.
"Doctor," she said quietly.
Dr. George Flint took the extended hand and smiled, kindness beaming from his obsidian eyes.
"Thank you," Esther whispered.
His eyes smiled a bit more.
Esther's eyes widened and she took a deep, gasping breath, releasing her doctor's hand and placing hers on the side of her belly, a surprised look on he face.
"Oh, my," she grated, and set her teeth, and her face turned red with the effort of the contraction.
Dr. George Flint nodded to Morning Star.
Morning Star reached for the bell-pull, tugged it twice, then twice more.

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Linn Keller 3-12-09

 

Jacob paced the waiting area.
It was the only place he could think of where he could be alone, to think.
His father had told him that he was his father.
His real father.
His mother ... that was his mother's face, drawn in his wartime journal ... he remembered her face clearly, remembered her voice, her hands, the way she smelled ...
Jacob sat, leaning back in the padded wooden chair, looking through the opposite wall to a summer's day, a mother's laughter, a gourd dipper of cold, clear well water that tasted so very good ...
Jacob tried to blame his father.
You seeded her and ran away! he thought accusingly, then just as quickly, He could not have known.
You should have stayed!
He was passing through and they both knew it.
You should never have taken advantage of MY MOTHER!!
She was a widow, seeking comfort, the voice countered.
Jacob shook his head, trying to sort himself out.
He heard a bell, distant, knew it to be a signal of some kind.
He frowned. He knew there was a bell-pull by the front door, but ... the front door was just here, to his right, and nobody ...
Jacob blinked, looked at the other door, the door that entered the hospital proper.
He heard a hurried step, the quick twist of the door's knob.
"Jacob! I thought you might be here!" Nurse Susan's pink face was a mixture of excitement and delight. "Get your father, it's happening!"
Jacob fairly leaped from the straight backed chair and snatched open the door. Turning sideways to slip past Nurse Susan, he swept into the delivery room, boot heels loud on the polished floor.
Esther turned her head, smiled and took his hand. She was sweating now, the sweat of a new labor, the sweat of the last leg of a hard journey.
"Jacob," she said, and there was something different in her voice: tired, yes, but a satisfaction, an excitement. "Jacob, thank you for coming!"
"Mother!" Jacob husked, afraid to say more.
Esther reached up with her other hand and Jacob bent over a little.
Esther caressed her son's cheek. "Tell your father it's time."
"Yes, ma'am!"
Jacob bent a little more, kissed her awkwardly on the forehead, then dropped his lips to her cheek: he whispered, quickly, "I love you, Mother," and Esther whispered "I love you too," and Jacob whirled and was gone.
Esther took a few quick breaths and a long breath, and then she curled up a little, just a little, and her delicate, slender, artist's fingers curled tight, tight, and she fisted both hands and set her teeth and squinted her eyes and groaned, groaned, her face turning a remarkable shade of red.

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Linn Keller 3-12-09

 

The Sheriff was reading from a small book, a book with a gold Square and Compasses embossed on its cover.
The words were familiar. As a matter of fact, the page he was reading was part of a lecture he'd long ago memorized.
He wasn't sure quite why he turned to this book, nor to this page, only that there was a reason, even if he wasn't willing to look squarely at it.
"Avoiding private piques and quarrels," he read aloud, thoughtfully, then looked up from the book, that simple move aggravating his several aches and pains.
On top of the beating he'd exchanged with that drunken mine foreman, he'd let his temper out of his grip when he seized Jacob and picked him up like he did.
He shook his head.
Stupid, stupid! he thought. Of all the times when I should have trod carefully, and I had to do that!
I wonder if he'll forgive me?
Would I have forgiven me?
What must he think of me now
?
There was a whistle, high and piercing, the drumming of hooves, muffled by snow.
Frowning, the Sheriff placed the officer's ritual on the open roll top desk, walked over to the window.
"Bonnie!" he barked, jerking open the door to his study and clapping the Stetson on his head. "Bonnie!"
Bonnie turned, surprised; she had seldom heard the Sheriff raise his voice -- but when he had, the reasons had been compelling.
Michelle was behind her, trying to turn invisible.
"Get your wrap and meet me out front!" the Sheriff barked, and was gone out the front door, his coat tail swinging wide with the force of his move.
Jacob flipped open their barn door with his foot, grabbed the edge of the door and backed his stallion.
The door opened easily. Jacob ducked and kneed the Appaloosa inside.
The Sheriff's stallion had heard Jacob's summoning whistle, and had come pacing into the barn.
Jacob threw the Sheriff's sadddle blanket over one arm. Tossing his stallion's reins, he let them trail, and the Appaloosa took the opportunity to investigate a nearby feed box.
"You bum!" Jacob muttered and tossed a quick scoop of grain into the bin to keep his mount nearby and happy.
The great golden stallion muttered, ears back; though there was no outright enmity between the two horses, they were both stallions, there were mares in the barn, and Jacob knew he had to get the two separated before hostilities developed.
He tossed the saddle blanket on Hijo del Rey and, saddle on one shoulder and Hijo's bridle in the other hand, walked his father's horse out front.
The Sheriff was laboring through the snow. He hadn't known where Jacob was bound, and was surprised that Jacob had not come to the front door.
Jacob swung the saddle over Hijo, secured it quickly, with the ease of long practice: his father's golden mount was the one horse, the only horse, he'd never had to worry about swelling the belly to prevent a snug girth.
His father paused to stroke Hijo's neck, feed him a wizened apple from the bin.
Jacob straightened. "Sir," he said, "it's Mother. She said it's time!"
The Sheriff pointed to the second door. "The buggy, for Bonnie," he said, and the two men turned to the second door.
Bare minutes later, Bonnie clucked to the mare; the buggy was following tracks cut in the snow, but the two mounted riders had galloped on ahead, snow-clots tossing high in their wake.

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