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Charlie MacNeil 4-16-10

 

Charlie wasn't the only one amused by the antics of the Sheriff and the golden mare. The sorrel mule that had belonged to the Sharps-armed bushwhacker had been comfortably esconced in the car the Sheriff was trying to drag his mount into. The innocent expression on the long-snouted face, combined with Linn's predicament, had almost been more than Charlie could handle. When at last all the mounts were loaded and the train was moving, Charlie went to find Linn. They had a bit to discuss.

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Linn Keller 11-22-07   Jacob and I took turns out back, splitting wood and hauling in kindling and fire wood, for the days were chll and the nights more so, and a November mist had started:

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

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Linn Keller 4-19-10

 

Golden-yellow eyes stared fixedly at the girl.
Wild-yellow orbs, unblinking, studying this new creature as if studying some new prey.
Muscles inherited from a thousand generations of moon-howling, mountain roaming wolf lay half-taut, deceptively relaxed, less than a tenth of a second from full-out exertion, whether it was charge, bite, jump or flee.
Sarah, for her part, had no idea she was the object of this silent observer's attention.
Her hands were busy in Twain Dawg's ruff, and Twain Dawg's eyes were opening and closing slowly, his great black brush of a tail indicating his utter pleasure in the moment.
Ivory fangs gleamed in the high mountain morning as canolupine lips drew back in a silent snarl, as if ready to close about the soft flesh it saw.
One silent step, another, furred paws placed with a sureness, a certainty that its moves would be neither heard nor noticed.
Twain Dawg sighed and leaned his blocky head against Sarah's knee.
Twain Dawg, Sarah and the newcomer all saw each other at the same moment.
Surprised, Sarah blinked, tilted her head curiously.
The silent creature of the wild snarled.
Twain Dawg's reflexes were those of his sire.
Sarah did not realize he was gone until her fingers closed on empty air and she heard an odd noise, as if a yip were cut off.
Twain Dawg, for his part, had the interloper pinned to the ground with one paw and was vigorously washing the fur of the half-Dawg, half-wolf.
Sarah wisely did not approach: instead, bending a little, she folded her hands between her knees and watched.
The wolf pup snarled as if intending to rip her, Twain Dawg and anyone else within a couple of statute miles into bloody shreds.
Twain Dawg snuffed loudly in the pup's ear and plied his startling-pink tongue.
Sarah smiled and held very, very still.
Finally Twain Dawg nosed the pup over, showing it who was boss, and the pup licked Twain Dawg's muzzle with ill grace, snarling constantly.
Twain Dawg rolled it over again, taking it by the nape of the neck and giving it a quick shake, rumbling dangerously in his own great chest.
Only then did the pup hush.
Twain Dawg trotted proudly over to Sarah, holding up the pup for her examination.
"Hello, pretty thing," Sarah said very softly, extending her left hand, the back of her left hand, for the pup to sniff.
The pup snarled, baring its fangs, until Twain Dawg gave an answering snarl.
Sarah stroked it carefully, gently, with the backs of her fingers.
The pup's muzzle wrinkled as it bared tiny white-ivory fangs.
"Are there more?" Sarah asked her hard-muscled protector.
Twain Dawg set the pup down between his forepaws, planted a paw between the pup's shoulder blades, looked toward the edge of the clearing and whuffed.
A coal-black pup with tan feet poked its head up, showing very strongly the ancestry of his sire.
"Twain Dawg," Sarah said softly, rubbing her companion's ears, "you have been busy, haven't you?"
Twain Dawg gave a happy yow-wow-wow, nudging Sarah's hands.
He wanted his ears rubbed some more.

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Mr. Box 4-19-10

 

With the train climbing on up the grade there was nothing left for me to do but head on back to the Silver Jewel. I just started following the tracks back and enjoying the scenery. Kind of reminded me of when Old Nellie and I would wonder thru the countryside aimlessly along. This time I had somewhere to be and this horse set a little more deliberate pace than Nellie. It didn't take too long at that pace. I gave Shorty a little coin and said, "He's going to want a little rub down and a little something in his stomach."
Shorty nodded, "I'll take care of that. Looks like you lathered him up pretty good."
"Yeah, I was trying to keep the other guys in sight. They got a pretty good start on me."
"Your horse do OK?" inquired Shorty.
"Not bad at all. Wouldn't hurt him to get out more often though."

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Linn Keller 4-20-10

 

If Esther were to approach the problem, it would be with big, liquid eyes, a gentle voice, her hands folded delicately in her apron and perhaps her head tilted a little to one side. She would seem most ladylike and genteel and there would probably be the plopping sound of the man she was addressing as he laid his beating heart at her feet.
Daisy, on the other hand, came storming out of her kitchen, waving her wooden spoon for emphasis, snapping a few choice terms in Gaelic and addressing the cavalry sergeant in tones more suited for an irritated washerwoman.
Daisy had never lost the hard edge she'd acquired years ago, back when she was a lovely young lass with high hopes and but a shilling to her name: she'd arrived in Firelands, for that's all the father her money had taken her, and she'd been promptly recruited by that evil Sam for purposes nefarious.
Daisy was -- at that time -- a young woman with a broken heart, for her Sean, her intended, had drowned (or so she thought) and was gone forever; but vulnerable or not, Daisy was not without good sense: she'd insisted on looking at the kitchen, for she said her strength was in cooking, and when Sam decided to sample wares of a non-comestible variety, Daisy had fetched up a frying pan and belted him solidly across the gourd.
It only took three more ringing gongs with the cast iron cookery over the next week to persuade the man that she was best left alone.
Besides, Daisy turned the Jewel from a dirty beer joint and house of ill repute into a dirty beer joint and house of ill repute with really good food.
Sam, though a letch and a scoundrel, knew a good thing when he tasted it -- and realized an increase in profit -- for men have two appetites: ladies, and edibles.
Sam realized he could now provide both.
Daisy hardened quickly in the high Colorado air and became a woman who absolutely would not be trifled with by anyone, and that hard edge was still there, though veneered over with the appearance of a happily married woman.
She still had her temper.
She'd whacked her giant of a husband, Sean, the wild Irish chieftain of the wild Irish Brigade, those firefighters imported from Porkopolis when the Sheriff bought the town's very first steam fire fighting engine: her wooden spoon had made an impressive noise when she swung it hard and caught her husband's head: instead of taking offense, Sean laughed.
This made Daisy even madder.
Daisy began to swear in Gaelic, then she began to screech in Gaelic, and she began fairly raining wood upon Sean's great frame, which only made the red-haired fire chief laugh all the harder.
Daisy's spoon stopped at the full-cock notch when she looked past her husband at their oldest son, Sean.
He was standing in the doorway with a look of stark, unadulterated terror on his face.
Daisy had seen this look before, but never on her son.
Wooden spoon fell from nerveless fingers and her free hand went to her mouth as she realized just what she had done to her innocent and blameless child.
Sean, for his part, was still laughing: he gathered his wife in his hard-muscled and sleeve-bulging arms: picking her up, he whirled her around, kissed her soundly, pressed her up at arm's length and declared loudly, "Daisy me dear, ye are the finest lookin' woman this side of the Atlantic!" and kissed her again.
That had been this morning, before she came to the Jewel to supervise her kitchen.
Now she was like a sternwheeler with the ship's telegraph rung over to "Ahead Full": her progress down the hallway could not have been stopped with a brick wall unless it was of really good contruction, and her progress was preceded by her trusty and favored weapon, the infamous wooden spoon.

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Linn Keller 4-20-10

 

"Sergeant!" she snapped, and the Irishman turned and came to attention, for though the voice was female in gender, it carried the crack of command.
"Yes, ma'am!" he barked, and the rest of his tired, dusty cavalrymen came to their feet.
"Sergeant, we need your help!" Daisy declared, fisting her hands on her hips and glaring at the troopers.
Mick whipped off his cap and bowed. "My lady, anything!" he said, his Irish accent plain to hear.
"Straighten up, man, you'll hurt your back!" Daisy scolded, and as Mick did he could see the pleasure in her eye that a woman gets when she is recognized by a man.
She laid a hand on his shoulder, the wooden spoon in the opposite fist, still on her hip.
"Mr. Baxter isn't back yet and we are nearly out of beer," she said, looking the man squarely in the eye.
There was a general groan from the troopers, for riding is thirsty work, and they had ridden a distance.
"The beer arrived on the morning freight and waits for us down at the depot."
There was an encouraged murmur from the blue and dusty.
"And we've no way t' get it up here."
There were general statements of encouragement, offers of assistance, and Daisy raised her hand for silence.
No one missed the wooden spoon still clutched therein.
"And there is another matter."
Mick looked at the diminutive woman with an amused expression.
"We don't know what condition the beer is in."
Troopers looked at one another, then at this remarkable Irishwoman who could stop an Irish sergeant in his tracks.
"I may need some help in making sure it's fit t' drink."
Merriment shone in her Celtic-blue eyes and the Sergeant's grin was broad, and broadening steadily.
"I believe," he said, clearing his throat, "har-rumph! ahem! -- that we may be able to assist you with, ah, both yer situations, Milady."
"Sergeant, you are a man of authority."
Daisy patted the front of the Irishman's uniform blouse.
"Ye say to this man Come, and he comes, and to this man Go, and he goes, and to this man Do this, and he does it."
Daisy looked over at the troopers and gave a conspiratorial wink.
"If ye would detail a detachment to the livery, Shorty will ha'e a team an' wagon ready for this fine duty, and upon their return, if I could enlist willing volunteers t' make sure it's fit t' drink, I would be very much obliged to ye!"
The Sergeant turned to his grinning troopers.
"Lads!" he barked, and there was a general stampede for the front doors.
One trooper stayed behind long enough to right the half-dozen chairs that had been knocked over in the rush, then he, too joined his fellows in a sprint for the livery.
"Mick, ye great Irishman, it's good t' see ye again," Daisy said, a little more softly. "Sean will be delighted t' share a cold one wi' ye."
"And I wi' him," the Sergeant chuckled. "I do miss him!"
"And he misses you."
The Sergeant chuckled, shaking his head.
"Ye know," he said, "had Sean no' beaten me that night, it would ha' been me on one knee before you, proposin' marriage."
"I know that, Mick." Daisy patted the front of his blouse again. "And had ye been my husband, I could have wanted for no better."
"Even as an Army wife?"
Mick's voice was uncharacteristically gentle.
Daisy nodded, looked the man square in the eye.
"I would have been the proudest damned Army wife in the entire damned world," she said. "Now upstairs wi' ye an' out o' those clothes! We'll ha'e them washed an' dried in jig time an' ye need a bath, ye great Irish oaf! What d'ye mean comin' in here smellin' like a man?"
Daisy shook her head, turned back toward the kitchen.
"Men! They ride to an' fro an' come into a fine an' respectable house trackin' in dust an' expectin' t' be waited on hand an' foot! I've never seen the like!" And so muttering and shaking her head, she turned the corner and into her kitchen.
Mick turned and leaned his forearms on the bar and set one dusty, booted foot up on the gleaming brass rail.
If any were there to see it, they would have seen a grin as broad as any two counties in Texas, and ears as red as coals in a fire.

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Mr. Box 4-22-10

 

Shorty, I see several Calvary horses in town. Maybe I'd better get a wagon and haul the fresh kegs in from the depot."
"Don't worry, Mr. Baxter, Daisey sent a bunch of them Calvary boys over here for a wagon to get it already. They's so fired up they didn't even want a horse!"
"Well, let's get this horse put away and get over there before it's all gone, Shorty!"
"Them boys take care of their own horses anyway. Maybe I will, Mr. Baxter!"
We put the tack away and brushed the horse down quick and gave him something to eat and headed over to the Silver Jewel. The bar was full of Calvarymen and plenty noisy. Shorty and I worked our way up to the bar and each put a foot up on the rail. There was the big Irish Sergeant behind it with a corporal running the tap. When the foam ran over the top of the mug Mick would take it and slide it up or down the bar where ever he'd see an empty hand. The mug would cut a wake thru the foam already on the bar.
I yelled, "What do you gotta do to get a beer around here?"
Mick bellowed, "It's on the house!" and turned my way, "Oh Lord, Mr. Baxter!"
The place got quiet until I said, "Well, give us a couple!"
"Coming right up, Sir!"

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Linn Keller 4-24-10

 

There are times when a respectable Western establishment such as the Silver Jewel is the epitome of decorum and social elegance.
There are times when it ain't.
About the time Mr. Baxter tilted his mug back and took the first long, refreshing draft of his own beer, there was another loud commotion at the doors of the Jewel and Mr. Baxter recognized -- without lowering his mug -- both the step, and the happy roar, of the Irish Brigade's massive chieftain.
This manifested itself further with the sound of bulls bellowing a challenge, the meaty sound of heavy bodies in collision, rowdy good-fellowship turning to shouts of encouragement, and sounds more felt than heard as hard-knuckled fists drove into lean, hard-muscled bodies.
Mr. Baxter lowered his mug and smiled benignly as Mick and Sean squared off with their fists up, having each taken the other's measure: then with a mutual grin and a laugh they launched themselves into one another's bear hug and each hoisted his old friend off the floor in turn.
More back-pounding, more shouts and more laughter meant more beer.
Mr. Baxter took his time finishing his.
It was kind of nice to be a spectator on this side of the bar for a change.
Especially, he thought as he felt the note in his pocket, since Mrs. Keller let me know the Cavalry would be in town today, and that she had arranged for a second delivery of beer.
The afternoon freight would not be through for a couple of hours
, he reasoned.
Plenty of time to relax and catch a meal, shake off the dust and arrange for another trip to the depot.
The troopers raised another hearty cheer as the first heaping, steaming platter was borne triumphantly from the kitchen and brought to the centermost table.
Upstairs, Esther smiled, removing the pince-nez spectacles and laying them aside.
The owner and president of the Z&W Railroad rubbed the bridge of her nose and stood, working the bend out of her lower back.
Not another word had been said about buying Angela a new Mommy at the Mercantile; Angela, as a matter of fact, had forgotten her pique by the time Esther was ready to tend her business matters, and indeed was quite happy to spend the day with Sarah and Opal and Polly.
Esther decided a nice cup of tea was in order.
Somehow it did not seem at all out of place that this respected businesswoman, this fixture of local society in a tailored emerald gown, should descend into the happy malestrom of beer-drinking, laughing, swearing troopers, nor that she should stop and greet her favorite Irishmen like the old friends they both were.
Esther continued on to the kitchen, where Daisy was just pouring tea into two bone-china cups: their little table, in the back corner, was out of the way and yet allowed Daisy an unimpeded view of her suzerainty.
Daisy's face was flushed as she leaned confidentially over the steaming, fragrant, orange-spiced oolong.
"Did I tell ye," she began as if picking up the middle of a conversation, "did I tell ye about that man? -- that great Irish oaf, provokin' a good an' gentle soul like me own t' anger!" Daisy fairly bristled with indigination and Esther hid her gentle smile behind the rising rim of her fragile vessel.

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Linn Keller 4-26-10

 

Sarah was drawn back a couple of yards and found a convenient bucket to turn over and sit on. The bottom was mostly clean and she gave it a quick wipe-off in a convenient tuft of grass, swept her electric-blue skirt under her and perched herself on the inverted container.
Setting her feet wide apart, she propped her elbows on her knees, her cheeks in her hands, and just watched.
Bear Killer snarled quietly, looking at a patch of something that was about enough to hide an underweight field mouse. His plate of biscuits and gravy steamed in front of him; he'd sniffed it, licked his chops, then looked back at Sarah as she backed slowly away and prepared her seat.
It took another muttered command and a chop of his massive jaws, but the Wilding (Sarah named everything, and Wilding was a natural choice for this little spitfire) sent a tentative thrust of his black, shining nose toward the plate.
Sarah held very still.
The dark-furred Wilding crept out from behind the little clot of weeds and stood -- slender, rangy, almost raggedy, darker than the wolf but much lighter than its sire -- the Wilding glared at Twain Dawg while carefully, elaborately ignoring Sarah.
Sarah's breathing was shallow, controlled, her eyes half-lidded.
Her Uncle Linn taught her about the eyes, how ducks could feel you watching unless you veiled your eyes.
Sarah did not like duck -- she disliked its oily, dark meat -- but she delighted in her Uncle's instruction, and this day used some to her advantage.
Wilding crept the few feet to the plate, sniffed its inviting vapors, looked up at the regal, aloof, menacing Bear Killer.
Sarah's lips pressed together to suppress her smile and giggle as Wilding attacked biscuits and gravy as if it were an edible enemy, and he were eaten with vengeance and starvation both.
Bear Killer sadly regarded his ravenous get's lack of manners and sighed, looking back at Sarah.
It's okay, Sarah thought. I'll get you some more.

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Linn Keller 4-27-10

 

"Well, give an account of yourself, lad!" Sean boomed, happily pounding Mr. Baxter's shoulder blades, with the net effect of sloshing at least half his beer mug's contents to the floor.
Most of it missed his shirt front.
Mr. Baxter coughed, grateful he'd taken the mug from his lips -- he might have chipped the glass and broken a tooth elsewise -- and blinked the tears away: beer down the wind pipe is not a pleasant sensation, and he set his mug down on the wet-streaked bar top.
"I saw ye ridin' out like the De'il himself was after ye," Sean continued, and Mick, interested, leaned casually against the bar, sampling a freshly refilled mug. "An' I don't often see ye wi' a gun belt wrapped around yer middle, neither!"
Mr. Baxter harrumphed to try and gain some control of his vocal cords; experimenting with their function, he found to his surprise that they actually worked, and he blinked again, coughed tentatively and arranged his thoughts.

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Linn Keller 4-28-10

 

A big man can often move with surprising speed and stealth.
The Sheriff had known one such, back East: Robert Beymer, as he knew him, could move with all the thunderous noise of a flying owl, and had the fastest hands of any man he'd ever known, and Linn had the studied opinion that Big Bob, as he was known, could walk up to and pick up, and walk off with, anything he pleased.
The man had died the year before, of the sugar, and his passing had left a hole in the old lawman's life that he would feel long years after his old and dear friend was planted.
Dawg had those same gifts of stealth and speed and strength.
Sizable as a young bear, muscled like a plow horse, deadly as a poisoned blade, Dawg had waited until the Sheriff's undignified dangle from the mare's bridle: about the time other eyes were occupied, watching with amusement as the good greyhair's boot heels were swinging in wide arcs, Dawg flowed unseen like poison from a bottle up the ramp and into the stock car.
The other creatures therein were quiet at his passing: some recognized him, some were terrified of him, but all knew enough not to trouble him: should any doubt his authority, a deep rumble, a display of deadly dentistry, and none would dispute his rule.
Monarch over a minor kingdom, Dawg settled himself on a convenient, blanket covered hay bale.
Like any other intelligent creature, Dawg had learned the benefit of forethought: it was easier to ride than to run, and his appetite was for biscuits and gravy, and he knew the train would arrive in Firelands in due time, where he could indulge in that taste of civilization.
Like the blanket on a bale of hay, there were some facets of civilization he found very much to his taste.

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Charlie MacNeil 4-29-10

 

The sorrel mule was an animal of vast patience and stable personality. Though only three years old, as part of an outlaw band it had seen much of mayhem and was unflappable in the extreme. Gunshots, the scent of blood, things that might have driven most equines into headlong flight were mere annoyances to the mule, to be met with a flip of long, hairy ears and a yawn. The great black Dawg was the same.

When Dawg appeared in the car doorway, several of the horses snorted, eyes rolling to show the whites. The mule merely turned its long-snouted head curiously to examine the new arrival, then went back to the small mound of hay at its feet. Dawg's selection of the nearby hay bale as his throne elicited no response at all until the sorrel had its mouth full of hay, at which time it turned, munching, to level its gaze on its new neighbor.

The mule shifted its hind feet to the side and swung its nose to Dawg's for a sniff of greeting. Dawg's upper lip lifted to show ivory white; the mule yawned in his face, bits of masticated hay dropping to the floor. The big dog was shocked and surprised, the snarl fading as the mule yawned again then went back to its fodder. Dawg, his brow furrowed, turned to look at Charlie, who had stepped inside the car with his saddle just in time to see the confrontation, such as it was. "Don't look like you overawed that critter, does it, pardner?" he asked Dawg with a chuckle. "That's good, 'cause I think that mule just became part of the family."

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Linn Keller 5-1-10

 

I shook my head.
"I think I will have a talk with some folks," I muttered.
Charlie looked at me, half-serious and half-amused.
Charlie has seen men of all kinds in all states of emotion, and for whatever reason, he seems to get half amused when he sees my steam gauge start to wind up.
That's really not a bad thing.
Time and again I got to takin' myself too serious and Charlie's quiet look, and that ornery grin that was hid somewhere behind his face, was enough to prick the balloon of my self importance and let out the hot air.
This was one of those times.
For a moment, for just a moment, I reflected that I should already know this; both he and I had seen enough of life and of death to know not to take myself too serious.
I should know this already.
Sometimes, though, a friend's word -- or just that quiet look -- is a good thing.
I looked to the back of the car, back to where Jacob set with the dead and the confined.
I reached up and scratched the back of my head, tilting my sombrero forward a little with the effort.
"This here was supposed to be so damned secret. Nobody told me, nobody told the railroad, nobody told no one they was supposed to, hell, the bank was surprised they got the gold when they did -- it wasn't supposed to come through for two days --" I shoved my hat back to where it normally set -- "and these fellas find out in time to lay ambush, figure out just where to hit without havin' to go to the work to build a breastwork across the tracks ... "
I looked sharply at Charlie.
"All because someone on the far end was sweet on a girl, and the girl was sweet on someone else, and he told her and she told them and they told these fellas?"
I reached up and brushed my cookie broom with the back of my trigger finger.
"Well, hell, you can't keep secrets in wartime, why should we think any different here?"

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Linn Keller 5-4-10

 

Daisy's normally cheerful face was darkened with irritation -- it was not outright anger, at least not yet, but her determined step and her regular, military pace bode ill for the pursued.
For his part, the pursued was happily running right up the middle of the main street of town, laughing, the picture of apple cheeked innocence: indeed, had he but wings and a bow and arrows tipped with valentine-hearts, he could have been a Valentine's cherub: but young Sean had none of those things, nor had he the least stich of clothing on his glowing pink, clean-scrubbed carcass.
"Sean Michael Fitzpatrick Joseph Finnegan," Daisy muttered, "when I get my hands on you, you'll wish you'd ne'er run out that door!" -- and so saying, Daisy took a vicious grab at a nearby hedge, tearing loose a good switch.
For his part, young Sean, unaware that his name had been expanded somewhat by a mother's temper, continued his slow, happy, giggling trot up the main street.
Jackson Cooper was coming out of the Mercantile just in time to behold this remarkable sight, and to his credit, he did not stop and stare.
Instead he set down his package and walked casually down the board walk, and from there to the street, where he moved with two long strides and the speed of a sprinter to intercept this warm, wiggling, laughing, apple cheeked cherub, this fine Irish child with laughter on his lips, merriment in his eyes and absolutely no idea the retribution that was approaching at flank speed.
Jackson Cooper fetched the lad off the ground, his big hands wrapped nearly around young Sean's rib cage, and he hoist him well overhead, his lined and weather tanned face broadening into a delighted grin, and young Sean squealed with delight, at least until he beheld the thunder written on his pursuing mother's brow.
Jackson Cooper, like most Western men, was fond of the dance.
Like his good friend the Sheriff, few things pleased him more than to turn a waltz with his beautiful bride: though he was considerably larger than most men, he moved with the grace of a swordsman, and in this instance, he spun neatly, plucked at the tag end of Daisy's apron, and triumphantly whipped the ruffle-edged implement into the air, neatly settling it around young Sean: with a bounce, a toss, a catch, he soon had the lad modestly wrapped, his Adam's assets concealed in good flour sack, and presented this apprehensive package to his mother's arms.
"My dear," Jackson Cooper said in the gentlest of voices, lifting his hat deferentially, "if you would do me the honor of waiting until I am off the street before you begin your necessary duty," and Daisy saw both understanding, and laughter, and a little sadness, in the big man's eyes.
Her own expression was unforgiving, her own demeanor was one of controlled anger, but she softened a little as she turned her protesting, kicking bundle over her hip, head to the rear and flailing legs to the fore, his backside -- though covered -- presented for her attentions.
Daisy nodded, turned.
Jackson Cooper returned to the board walk and picked up his package, returned to the Mercantile, and carefully closed the door behind him.
Maude looked curiously at the Marshal as he put the back of his hand against his mouth and began to snort, and to chuckle, and to make a variety of sounds that somewhat resembled a choking hippopotamus, while outside, there was a sudden burst and howl of juvenile anguish, punctuated by a slow, regular rhythm of sharp smacking sounds.

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Linn Keller 5-5-10

 

Just how the feat was accomplished is unclear: whether a winsome child wheedled the hired man into performing the task (a likely thing, that) or whether little Angela climbed the side of the stall and managed to sling the saddle-blanket in place, smooth out the wrinkles, wallow her fine Mexican saddle off the plank and onto her mare's back, then climb down while the mare waited patiently for the little child to cinch up the saddle and apply the bridle (rather unlikely, but not entirely outside the realm of possibility) -- but however the task was accomplished, little Angela finished this first phase of her adventure by patting the mare on the leg and piping in her high, little-girl voice, "Down, horsie."
The little mare knelt and Angela mounted up, working her high-button shoes into the stirrups and picking up the reins.
"Up, horsie," she said, and the mare lurched to her feet.
Once aboard, Angela was as one with her mount: when the Conquistadores came to the American shores and were beheld by the natives, they did not regard them as men on mounts: they regarded them as a single, magical creature, and perhaps that is the best description, for when a horse and rider are compatible, there is indeed a magic, a mystery there: each knows the other's wish and intent, and together they can accomplish so much more than either, separately.
Angela had a purpose for her ride this midday.
Normally she would ride with her Daddy in the fragrant coolness of the mountain morning.
Lacking that, she went looking for her Denver Bup, intending to heap some unknown indignity upon the poor pooch: whether it was to attire the poor companion in ruffles and a sun bonnet, to plunk it ingloriously into a perambulator and wheel it about (a humiliating experience, to be sure!) is not known, as said member of the family was not in his usual place on the back porch.
Angela did not know where to look, nor how to mount an effective search: she knew, however, that her horsie could move faster and farther than she could, and so she laid the reins on her horsie's neck and pressed with her knee, the way her Daddy taught her, and she went looking.
Twain Dawg was nowhere near the barn, nor the chicken house, he was not in sight around the apple trees: Angela turned toward the road and followed it towards town, searching, but not calling out.
She was satisfied she would find her boon companion, and saw no need to sing his name.
Angela's mare paced easily and steadily, a good relaxed gait that could cover a surprising distance in a little time, and Angela found herself circling the livery, then riding to the left, up behind the Silver Jewel and the fine new city building, then around and down the main street, past where the library was to be rebuilt, past the Mercantile (she wondered why Daisy was packing little Sean and why little Sean was making such distressing noises) and she reined in between their whitewashed church with its tall steeple and the schoolhouse, and she frowned.
"Horsie," she said, and the mare's ears twitched.
"Where is Denver Bup?" she demanded.
The mare shook her head.
Angela dropped the reins -- they were knotted, as they always were -- around the saddle horn and put her hands on her hips.
"I asked you a question!" she said seriously, giving an emphatic nod, making her finger curls bounce.
The mare blinked, swung her head to the right.
Angela followed the mare's lead and looked off to her right and up hill a bit.
"Denver Bup!" she exclaimed, a delighted smile spreading like sunrise across her face. "Booha! There's Denver Bup!"
Bruja felt her rider's change of posture and responded, trotting slowly up the grade toward the town's graveyard.
Angela rode into the graveyard like she owned the place.
Denver Bup was lying on one particular grave, rolled over on his side, asleep.
Angela tilted her head, curious, for Denver Bup was cuddled up with something.
"Down, Booha," Angela said, patting the mare's neck, and Bruja knelt.
Angela stepped out of her stirrups and onto the new spring grass. Bending a litle, she rubbed Twain Dawg's head, and Twain Dawg opened one eye and licked her hand, then got up, shook himself and picked up what he'd been half-laying on, half-cuddled with.
It was a rag doll.
"Thank you, Twain Dawg!" Angela exclaimed, delight in her voice, and she hugged her long lost rag doll to her.
Neither she nor Twain Dawg bothered to read the stone at the end of the little grave, the stone with the kneeling lamb carved on its top: nor did they pay any attention to the shrapnel damage from two shot the size of pistol balls that had damaged its surface:
Joseph Keller
Infant son of Linn and Esther Keller

Angela did not consider it at all out of the ordinary, nor did she wonder at the little voice, that almost-heard Thank you as she swung a leg over the saddle.
"You're welcome," she giggled, hugging her beloved rag doll to her, for it was polite to acknowledge a thanks.

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Linn Keller 5-6-10

 

I jumped a little as the jail door slammed shut.
Jacob preferred to SLAM it shut, he said it set the idea in the prisoners' heads that they were indeed PRISONERS and LOCKED UP and he said once they got that notion they were easier to handle.
I'd seen how he handled some fellows who didn't want to accept their new status.
Not that I have anything against educatin' the sinful man, but those who were foolish enough to sin against Jacob by word or deed generally came out in second place.
It was easier for all concerned for the prisoner to accept his lot. The town didn't have to pay Doc for a jail call that-a-way.
I heard the bolt throw in the jail door and the jingle of keys and Jacob paced down the hall, his boot heels loud on the smooth, oiled wood floor, and he spun the key ring on one finger, hooking it neatly onto its peg.
Jacob stopped at the end of the hall, just shy of setting foot into the office proper.
I was parked in my swivel chair, trying to ease the ache in my leg, when his measured tread ceased abruptly: not the military man's one-two of a halt cadence, but the sudden cessation of noise, and I knew his off foot was coming down with cat-like silence, and in my mind's eye I could see him, turning his head a little, listening.
Charlie was parked in the chair opposite my desk, tilted back to lean against the smoothed log wall. He raised one eyebrow and looked at Jacob, then at me, his face unreadable.
I'd pulled open the bottom desk drawer and had fetched out that pint bottle of the Daine boys' latest run, some amber single malt they'd put up in charred barrels the year before. It was right good, genuine sippin' likker, and I figured a touch to ease the ache would be in order, and of course it's always pleasant to share a tilt with kindred: three tin cups set on the edge of the desk, though I knew Jacob would decline: I froze, for something had attracted the attention of these two.
Jacob had the hearing of a young man, and Charlie had the intelligence to pick up on that, and I had the intelligence to pick up on his -- I'm not as dumb as I look, which as Charlie had dryly observed in the past, proves the Lord's mercy -- and then I heard it too.
A slow smile started stretching my face and I uncorked the pint, poured two fingers' worth in two of the tin cups.
"Jacob?" I asked, and Jacob leaned forward a little, grinning, and shook his head.
"No thank you, sir," he said quietly, almost inaudibly, and then I heard the sound of little flat-soled shoes on the board walk outside the door.
Charlie got up and opened the door for Angela, who strutted into our domain, the ever present rag doll locked in the bend of her left elbow, her little riding-skirt swinging with the briskness of her step.
"Hi Daddy Ibinriden!" she exclaimed, bouncing a little on her toes, and I got up and went over to my little girl.
I took her under the arms and felt the coolness of the air on her clothes, and smelled the mountain-clean scent that clung to her, and I hoist her up in the air, ignoring the protest in my chest and the weakness in my arm: Angela giggled, and I brought her down just far enough to kiss her forehead, and then pressed her up toward the ceiling again.
Angela's giggles showered down on me and her face glowed pink with delight.
I swung her down and squatted, my hands light on her elbows.
"Did you come all this way just to find me?" I asked, and Denver Bup looked in the door, pink tongue out and pulsing as he panted. He withdrew the tongue and closed his mouth, surprised, as Dawg raised his massive head and muttered.
Denver Bup pulled back with a little sound of distress.
Dawg rested his blocky head back down on his paws and closed his eyes. He was in his favorite place beside the stove, warm, comfortable and relaxed, and he saw no reason to change.
"Daddy, I wanna wide," Angela wheedled.
I took a look at her riding dress, then leaned over and looked at her mare.
Bruja was still folded up on the ground, blinking sleepily.
"It looks like you've been riding already," I said gently.
"Dad-deee!" Angela exclaimed, fisting her little hands on her belt. "I wanta wide with you!"
I took her hand, stood.
My leg was calling me unkind names.
I ignored it.
"Jacob," I said, "could you tend the paper work for me? I seem to have an appointment."
"Go on ahead, old son," Charlie encouraged me, swirling the amber in his granite cup. "Enjoy her while she's small, she's growin' fast!"
Jacob nodded. "Can do, sir."
"Yay!" Angela bounced again, clapping her little pink hands with delight.

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Linn Keller 5-7-10

 

"Your move."
Mac frowned at the checker board, then across at his partner.
Bill sat as he always had, knees spread, almost embracing the barrel that supported their red and white battlefield: left hand on his left thigh, right hand over his mouth, elbow on his knee, and leaning forward as if to survey the conflict from a great height.
Mac had wondered several times whether the man was asleep and would fall down on their checkerboard, spoiling the game, but so far Bill had never drowsed.
Come close a few times, but only when Mac was sleepy as well, and today Mac was very much awake.
That Bill wore the robes of a priest mattered not to Mac: though he was formally known as Father William, or to some as Brother William, he would always be Bill to his old and dear friend: they had seen too much together, and survived much together, and a bond of that kind assigns formality a secondary value.
Bill inhaled noisily through his nose, blinked twice.
Uh-oh, Mac thought, for this generally meant he'd just seen an opening.
Mac quickly studied the board.
He'd gotten into an ideal position, or so he thought: he tucked his chin into his chest, shoving his jaw out as Bill reached carefully for a black checker, hesitated, drew his fingers back into a relaxed claw, then extended them again, hovering over the checker.
Mac looked up at him.
"Well, ya gonna move or ya gonna kill me from boredom?" he snarled.
Bill withdrew his hand, shifting his gaze to the right side of the board.
"Hel-lo," he said with a quiet smile, and Mac's heart sank.
There was the woody click-click-click of a black checker jumping red, and the triumphant, "King me!"
Mac blinked.
"How'd you do that?" he demanded -- "never mind, I seen it an' I still don't believe it! Why you swindlin' scoundrel, you hadn't oughta take advantage of a man like that! How'd you see that? I been studyin' this board for an hour an' never saw it! It warn't there!"
Bill drifted his hand over the board, picked up another checker, slid it one square.
"I jus' don't know about you," Mac muttered. "Takin' advantage of a man like that! You oughta be ashamed!"
"Wouldn't you do the same thing?" Bill said quietly, his smile hidden by his clasped hands in front of his mouth.
"You're darn tootin' I'd do it! Why, I'd skin you right out'a your socks! I done it too a time or three! Speakin' of which why don't you pay up what you owe me! I want my winnin's!"
Bill looked over at the window sill, where he and Mac kept a running tally of wins and losses: vertical lines scratched in with the point of a nail, four in a group with a diagonal across them: Bill quietly totted up his triumphs, then Bill's.
He raised one eyebrow and looked back at his flannel shirted partner.
"You really sure you want to play that card?" he asked quietly.
"I know, I know, it's me that owes you," Mac muttered. "But not much longer! Double or nothin'!"
"Mac, ain't that your lucky dollar?"
"Yes that's my lucky dollar!" Mac flipped it in the air, the silver ringing and spinning in the shaded light. He caught it, smacked it onto the back of the opposite hand, kept it covered. "Double or nothin' whattaya say?"
Bill looked at Mac over a set of non-existent spectacles.
"I say that's a fine way to dig yerself into bankruptcy."
"Double or nothin'! Call it!"
Bill sighed.
"If it's heads, you owe me. If it's tails we cancel the debt and I pay you a twenty dollar gold eagle."
"Now that'll do fine!" Mac thrust his hands forward, over the center of the board. "Read 'em and weep!"
He removed his hand.
Bill and Mac looked at the coin on the back of the browned hand.
Mac's shoulders sagged.
Bill reached over and thumped his old and dear friend on the shoulder.
"Buy me a beer when I'm 99," he said, "and we'll call it square."
"You sanctimonious son of a sailor, you ain't doin' that to me! One more game!" Mac's quarreling voice echoed off the opposite buildings and more than one face smiled, for the two had long been a fixture in front of Maude's mercantile, and the two of them provided good natured entertainment for the locals on many an afternoon.
Checkers were replaced, rearranged, the players resumed their competitive slouch.
"Your move."

 

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Linn Keller 5-12-10

 

I needed that ride more than I realized.
Angela and I rode back to our barn and we turned the Sun-Witch out into the back pasture, and I saddled the black gelding.
Angela tilted her head and asked "Daddy how come for why cause you ride Black horsie?" in the rapid-fire patter of a little child.
I swung the saddle up onto the black, landing it neatly on the saddle blanket, and as usual the near stirrup fell off the horn and hit my revolver right on the hammer spur.
It was not the first time I was glad I did not keep a round under the hammer.
"Dearest," I said, bending to reach for the dangling leather, "you'll have to speak a little slower so I can understand you."
"Oh," she said.
I looked sideways up at her.
I did not have to look at what I was doing.
Long habit gave my hands eyes of their own, and the black horse and I had an understanding: when I pressed my shoulder into his ribs, I didn't have to use my fist to keep him from swelling up a big charge of air.
Sure enough, the black horse sighed out and I cinched up and fussed over the saddle and the bridle and finally fetched out a short twist of molasses soaked chawin' tobacker.
I was out of apples.
That black horse, though, liked tobacker as well as anything and it tickled my palm to feel him whisk every last bit off my hand.
The black horse stood like a carven statue as I swung aboard.
I turned my head so Angela could not see the face I made, or more properly, so she could not see how hard I bit down on my lip.
That leg still give me grief.
I knew it would not heal unless I worked it and I knew that golden witch-horse rode easy enough I didn't work much riding her, but this black horse wasn't quite so pleasant.
We turned and I paced the Black up beside Angela.
"What was your question again, Princess?" I asked gently.
Angela giggled and leaned over, just grazing the Black's mane with her pink, chubby fingers.
"How come you ride a black horsie, Daddy?" she asked.
"Come with me."
Angela lifted her reins and her Little Witch kept pace with the black.
"Did you know," I said, "the Sun-Witch used to be a black horse?"
"She did?" Angela said, eyes wide and wondering.
"Oh, yes," I assured her solemnly. "Matter of fact she turned so pale because nobody rode her. They kept her in a dark barn and rubbed her down and just rubbed all the color out of her."
"Oh," Angela said, blinking as she digested this.
"Now your horsie here" -- I gestured toward the palomino that so far had at least fifty names -- "was born this shade, because my horsie was already paled out from not bein' rode."
"Oh." Angela cocked her head, regarding the black horse's neck.
"Daddy?"
"Yes, Princess?"
"If we kept your black horse in the dark an' rubbed him down a lot, would he turn pale too?"
I laughed. "No, Princess," I said, "that only happens to Mexican horses."
"Oh."
I was trying my level best to look innocent.
I knew I should not pull her leg so badly but I couldn't help myself and I did laugh a little, for I considered how badly my explanation would be mangled by the time she recited it to whoever would listen.
It was a fine day for a ride, and my conversation with certain persons in authority about a certain gold shipment would wait for another day.
I was enjoying clean air and sun warm on my back and a little girl with red cheeks and bouncing curls keeping easy pace beside me.

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Linn Keller 5-15-10

 

Chickens and rabbits have eyes on the side of their heads to better spot the approach of predators.
Predators have eyes on the front of their heads to afford them binocular vision, the better to gauge the distance between themselves and the prey with eyes on the sides of its head.
Only one of the actors in our little play had eyes on the side of its head: well, only one variety, for there were a half dozen of its feathered ilk, all scratching and cut-cut-cutting and pecking at the ground.
Chickens are omnivorous, eating animal, vegetable and mineral without prejudice and without hesitation.
This group was happily scratching in the gritty ground, pecking up the cracked corn and miscellaneous insects they found.
Wolf-yellow eyes, slitted menacingly, focused on the nearest prune-colored hen. Wolf-lean legs tensed, nostrils tested the wind one last time.
Another set of eyes, just as yellow, but surrounded by absolutely black fur, saw the get of Dawg and wolf preparing to make a meal of the forbidden.
Twain Dawg, called Bear Killer, had been soundly swatted the first time he playfully romped among the chickens, and had been given very quickly to understand they were not his to play with. Given his pack instinct and his quick intellect, he soon realized these creatures were to be herded when straying, protected when menaced, but otherwise left alone.
A pair of hazel eyes narrowed, regarding the first two dispassionately.
If we could look into the hearts of the predators, we could see in the first, an honest and uncomplicated equation: I hunger, therefore I hunt: this prey is an easy meal, therefore I will feast upon its hot blood and meat.
The second predator, disciplined, unexcited, prepared to chastise the first most severely, for it had proven itself unreliable and a threat to those things that it cherished.
The third predator raised the octagon barrel of her Papa's rifle and took a careful sight through the rear peep, setting the bright-brass bead on the wolf-dog's near shoulder.
And a darker pair of hazel eyes regarded her daughter sadly, for Bonnie had managed to hope against hope that her little girl would grow up a lady, sheltered, protected, without the need to participate in life's harsh realities.
Several things happened at once.
The wolf-dog Sarah had called Wilding began its pounce.
The sear broke on the rifle, dropping the hammer onto the gleaming silver primer in the base of the shining bottleneck cartridge.
And the Bear Killer began his own leap.
The chicken, however, remained oblivious to all of this.
Not until the Wilding reared up and then sideways, not until the Bear Killer seized it by the head and snapped its neck with one fierce shake, not until the crescent butt plate of the single-shot rifle thrust back into the girl's tight-muscled arm, did the chickens react to the sudden, unexpected explosion of noise and activity.
The chickens began to screech and cackle and fly a short distance, their collective expressions that of surprise and indignation.
Bonnie's eyes tightened a little at the corners and she looked rather sad, for her little girl was no longer a little girl, all curls and sweetness and innocence.
Her little girl was a predator, too.

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Linn Keller 5-16-10

 

Winter's surrender had been swift, even here in the high country: the air was clean and smelled of spring, of a thousand green growing things, and with blossoms promising new life.
Schoolboys with clean-scrubbed faces and painfully-clean shirts trudged to their little whitewashed schoolhouse, careful to keep clean, or as best they could: parental admonitions were stern, for clothes were not easily had, hand-me-downs were a way of life, the rule rather than the exception, and when Mama had to scrub clothes on a washboard ... well, the young were most strictly enjoined to stay clean, and this instruction was enforced.
Occasionally little boys, and sometimes not so little boys, would take exception to a word, a gesture, a real or imagined slight, and they would happily roll around in the dirt, pummeling one another with vigor and a lack of expertise.
This morning, fortunately, there were no such encounters.
There were -- as there always were -- admiring little boys, and not so little boys, watching the Irish Brigade in their morning routine.
Their mustachioed, red-shirted, well-muscled heroes knew they were the subject of youthful adulation: like men anywhere, it was flattering to know the young adored them, and so they took pains to show off, without showing off, for their youthful audience.
This morning they had their scheduled, regular, routine drill: they had thrown the doors of their fine brick firehouse wide, and in casual view of the nudging, pointing audience, casually sat with feet propped up on a table, or yawning in feigned inattention.
Even Sean, the great Irish chieftain, sat on a nail keg outside the station, a pup on his lap: the mixed breed cur was no more than three months old, all wiggle and yap and right at the moment was rolled over on its back, kicking happily and chewing at Sean's knotty knuckles as the big Irishman tickled the pup's belly.
A yell, a whistle, and the entire Irish Brigade jumped to action.
Their intent was to drill as if having just received an alarm.
This morning was different.
Just as the whistle and yell screeched and echoed in the brick firehouse, the ground underfoot shivered a little and something -- something more felt than heard -- brought every man Jack of them to a full stop.
Sean froze, having come to his feet with the suddenly-motionless pup in his big hands.
"ALL HANDS ON DECK! NO IRISH NEED APPLY! TURN TO, LADS, I DINNA KNOW WHA' THA' WAS BUT IT'S NO GOOD!" Sean roared, carefully setting the pup just inside the door.
The pup shrank back against the wall, whimpering.
The schoolboys drew back a little, suddenly silent and big-eyed: they didn't know what was wrong either, but they knew whatever it was, wasn't planned.
Young Peter looked around, wondering about what he'd just felt, and suddenly thrust out an arm: "There! There! I see smoke!"
A whistle, a yell, the crack of a black snake whip, and the Irish Brigade stormed out of their fine brick firehouse at a dead gallop, the three mares thrusting hard against their collars and Sean standing with reins in one hand and whip in the other.
The Irish Brigade swung clear of the station and into the street and Sean reined in the lunging mares: "Ho, ladies, hold there! Let's see where 'tis!"
Peter was fairly jumping up and down, pointing and shouting: "There! There! There!"
"Jaysus, Mary an' Joseph," the Welsh Irishman swore, "it's the distillery!"
Sean pointed the whipstock at young Peter. "Lad!" he shouted, "run ye an' get th' Doc, tell him t' set up for burns! Be quick now!"
Peter spun and shot off at a diagonal, away from schoolhouse and firehouse, angling for their hospital and pelting as fast as shoe leather would carry him.
The whip circled Sean's fiery thatch, reached out over the mares' heads with the sound of a pistol shot: "SAINT CHRISTOPHER, SAINT FLORIAN AND BOUADICCEA! RUN, LADIES, RUN!" -- and the mares, dancing with impatience, shouldered into their load.
The Irish Brigade went from dead stop to full gallop in a tenth of a second or less.

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Linn Keller 5-17-10

 

The German Irishman was their engineer: he laid hard on the whistle's lanyard, screaming a shrill alarm as the smoking, thundering steam buggy and team pounded up the street, its rumble and clatter punctuated with the precisely-swung whip and Sean's fine Irish tenor, singing an Irish war-song, completely in his element, steering their "Masheen" with all the panache of a Celtic warrior standing and driving a chariot into battle.
Little boys ran yelling after them; curious heads turned, wondering at the alarm: people hurried to windows with a sense of dread and a thrill: the Irish Brigade always prided itself on appearance, and their "Masheen" was gleaming, bright, polished, their wagon spotless, pin striped, immaculately maintained: even the ladder was kept wiped down, sanded smooth, oiled and free of dirt and wear.
The mares had hit their stride and were breathing easy, having years before become acclimatized to the thin Colorado air: they took the turn just past the last building beyond the Mercantile's outbuildings, slowing but little: the steam engine, designed with a low center of gravity, turned with them, remaining upright: only the ladder wagon, trailing behind, skidded a little.
The mares fought their way up the grade and on up the mountain toward the Daine boys' distillery.
True sons of Kentucky, at home in woods and hills, they had taken to the Rocky Mountains as if they were their native Appalachians: they settled in the heights, established their distillery where cold, sweet water provided cooling for their stills and the best quality water to set their mash.
Now one building was collapsed and afire, another close by was smoking from the intensity of radiated heat: some brush had ignited but the wind was still, at least for the moment.
Sean and his Irishmen had drilled and practiced and pre-planned an attack on every last building in Firelands: they set the engine on a level spot and unhitched the team while other hands coaled the boiler and still others ran leather suction line through the hatch in a wooden cover, a cover that concealed a few thousand gallons of water.
The pop-off valve sputtered and then hissed, hose was stretched, leather gloves were pulled on, axes and medieval-looking pike poles were seized from their mount on the side of the ladder wagon, and the attack on the burning structure began.
The shining, painted, pinstriped flywheel spun, the gleaming brass flyballs spun a golden ring around themselves, the steam wagon shivered a little as the twin double-action pistons chuckled and forced water against the pressure dome, and water surged and swelled the fire hose, finally hissing out the burnished brass straight tip nozzle.
The hose team yelled defiance as they shot water down the throat of the devil itself.

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Linn Keller 5-18-10

 

The fine brick firehouse looked almost forlorn, standing with its big double doors swung open and forgotten.
No curious horse heads were looking around the door frame at the outside world; no red-shirted Irishman was busy with his tasks, with polishing the "Masheen" or stretching, hanging, arranging, rolling or cross-laying hose.
Indeed, with the doors open, two very contented cats were curled up in the sun, eyes mostly closed, enjoying the unusual lack of commotion.
We will not discuss cats at this time, save only to recognize that they are regal, aloof and independent, and have a royal blood which allows them to steadfastly ignore the common, such as people and pups.
The little cur dog summoned courage enough to put its nose down and snuff about on the floor, then it wandered into the Irish Brigades' inner sanctum.
Their kitchen.
A partly eaten meal was on the table, and still warm.
Biscuits, taters and gravy, meat, all still steaming in the still air.
The little cur's nose twitched and it licked its chops, its tail brushing the floor noisily: it looked about, whining a little, then gathered itself and tried jumping onto a chair, without success.
The cur's short-haired flesh wrinkled up between its ears and it tilted its head a little as it contemplated the problem.
A nearby stool was near enough to the chair to afford a solution.
The pup managed to gather himself and leap to the stool: a quick scramble to keep from falling off, then a tensing of the haunches, a second leap, and he was into the chair so recently vacated by the Welsh Irishman.
From the chair the little cur could reach the plate.
It is not for this writer to judge the relative speed, either of the pink tongue which made swift work of taters and gravy, or of the tail, save only to observe that if the tail were a propellor, the cur could have made ten knots against a stiff head wind.
A bit of a stretch and the meat, too, was his: the cur could not really appreciate the careful spicing that had gone into its preparation, but he was able to do full justice to the slab of beef.
Sated, he looked around, forepaws on the table, then he turned and drew back onto the seat of the well-made Daine chair.
The cur whined a little, considering the distance from chair to floor.
Perhaps it was the unusually bountiful payload just aft of his figurative belt buckle, or maybe it was a ripple in the earth's gravity: whatever the cause, the cur over balanced: rather than an uncontrolled fall, he chose to leap, landing with a yelp and a grunt: after a moment, finding himself unhurt, he started exploring again, disappearing into another room.
Not many minutes later he emerged, dragging a red fireman's shirt by the sleeve.
The cur dragged the shirt up beside the stove, where even the floor was warm, then he turned around three times on the shirt, curled up, and gave a contented sigh.
The long haired calico blinked sleepily in the sunlight, regarding the relaxed pup with all the affection of a crowned Royal beholding an unwashed, smelly peasant.

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Linn Keller 5-20-10

 

Bruja had the bit between her teeth, fire in her veins and her eyes locked on the twisting tail of the black horse before her.
Angela, for her part, threw back her head and laughed with the joy of a child engaged in her mostest favorite thing in the world!
I looked over my shoulder and thought, If Esther EVER finds out about this, she'll drive me through the floor like a fence post, then I turned my attention to the road ahead.
One thing I can say for that black horse: he could run! -- and run he did, down the hollow and through the creek, up the other side and along the bench running along the hillside, across the high meadow, hooves loud and muffled and sharp according to the underfoot, and all the time, that golden mare and my laughing child hard on his tail, intent on bending Heaven and if need be Hell itself to keep up with this leading horse: Bruja's racing blood had caught fire, and she fairly steamed with determination not to come out in second place!
I'd seen the Irish Brigade pounding up the main street and watched the ladder wagon fish tail in their turn up hill, I'd seen the smoke on the brow overlooking Firelands, up where the Daine Distillery stood: I had not hesitated:
"Angela!" I barked. "With me!"
"Go, Daddy!" was her unhesitating shout in that high, little-girl's voice as she bent over Bruja's neck, standing in the stirrups, hands flat on the mare's neck, ready for a run!
Run we did!
I reckon the outlaw that had no more use for this black horse had need of its speed a time or three and may be he'd picked (or stolen) this black for that very reason.
I didn't care.
All I knew was that magic that comes over a man when the horse under him is right, and we were no longer a horse and a rider, but one magical creature, riding the wind itself.
It took us several long minutes to get to the road that turned off the main road running from Firelands, and it took some work to slow the black gelding.
Bruja, for her part, was content to shoot past us, then skid and dance to a stop, turning and showing her teeth with a rude sound and nipping my leg as we coasted past.
She'd won and she wasn't bashful about letting us know it.
"That was fun, Daddy! Do it again!" Angela crowed, her cheeks bright and pink in the sunlight, her bonnet fallen back between her shoulder blades, held by its chin ribbon pulled up against her throat.
The black horse wasn't near run out, in spite of the altitude and the thin air, and we danced up to the steam wagon.
I watched the hose team attacking the burning ... well, it used to be a building -- they and two others were ... well, attacking is the right word.
They used that water stream like a weapon, they had axes and pike poles and they were tearing into it like it was a personal enemy.
Watching them fighting this fire was like watching four men rip into the fight of their lives. There was no hold-back to any of them.
"I got one alive!" came the yell and Sean strode over to the pair: boards and debris were thrown aside with strong, leather-gloved hands: a flannel-shirted arm thrust up from between them, followed by the torso of one of the younger Daine boys.
Before all this started the man had a fine beard that ran half way to his belt buckle.
It was less than half that now, and by his gestures and what oaths I could make out over the distance involved, he was not at all happy at his abbreviated pelage.
One arm was not right, he held it at an awkward angle across him and I reckoned it was either broke or stove up some.
From the look of that building they just dug him out of I was surprised he wasn't busted all up entirely.
I heard a hail and looked off to my left.
The creek ran down out of the high country and made a bend, then ran narrow and deep right on the far side of the ruined, burning building.
A muddy figure struggled to its feet, spat, coughed and bend down to wash its hands off in the running water.
Cupping his hands, he splashed his face and beard, wrung out the length of chin whiskers and sloshed down the creek bed toward us.
He squinted at his younger brother.
"You hurt, you long tall drink 'a' water?" he inquired in an unusually loud voice.
"I ain't hurt, you ugly son of a bank mule," came the cheerful reply.
"Why for two cents I'd just whip you right here!"
"I'd have ta whip ya one handed," the other observed sadly, "ma arm's busted!"
"Well hell!" the older Daine declared, "it blowed me clean up hill an' knocked the wind outta me!"
"Now that I gotta remember!" the younger Daine shouted. "You run outta wind? Good Lord, take me now, the impossible has arrived!"
Sean shook his head, laid a hand on each of their shoulders.
I had rode up close enough to hear better.
"Is there anyone else in here?" he asked.
"Nah," they chorused.
"Wha' happened?"
"They was a leak amongst the kags," the younger explained, "an' bafore I could stop 'im, why, long tall an' skinny here --"
"Skinny! Who you callin' skinny?"
"Why a grasshopper looks fat beside ye! Had ye not struck that daggone Lucifer we'd not ha' lost the buildin'!"
"Lucifer my foot! You sayin' I blowed up the buildin'?"
"You sure as perdition did, an' it burnt off ma beard!" He seized the remnant of his whiskers with his good hand. "That was a good woman ketchin' beard too! Wimmens likes a man with a good beard!"
"Well then I ain't got nothin' to worry about now, do I?"
Right about then he jumped and started to dance and howl, and made a long legged, twisting leap into that creek.
I could see his boots was starting to smoke and his pants legs was afire.
His brother looked around, puzzled, then he too let out a howl and joined his brother in shin bone deep water.
Sean backed quickly away, looking around, then he too leaped for the creek: unlike the Daine brothers, though, he landed flat footed instead of headlong.
I looked at where they had been standing.
Invisible in the daylight and barely seen in the shadowed places, blue flame rippled and searched, hungry for fuel.
Sean waded out of the creek, stood.
"Lads!" he shouted. "Flood this here! It's alcohol, afire!"
The hose team waved signal to the engineer, who shut off the pressure: the hose lost its turgidity and they dragged its linen-jacketed length over to where their Chieftain had been standing.
"By the Faith!" one declared as the other spun a hand overhead, then they turned their efforts to holding the straight stream on the blue fires that had so inconvenienced the brothers Daine and their own Irish Irishman.
"Bloody hell," Sean sighed, shaking his head and regarding his boots sadly. "This was ma good pair, too!"

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Linn Keller 5-22-10

 

Jacob tried the trigger on the dead man's pistol.
Light, he thought.
Just the way I like mine.
He cocked the shiny-new Colt, drew back, tossed the pistol with a gentle, roundhouse swing of his arm.
The pistol flew level, spinning but little: it hit halfway between the outbuilding and the corral and went BANG, jumping with its own recoil.
There was an immediate fusillade of return fire, all directed at the unexpected shot.
It was the break Jacob needed.
He ran from behind the shed and dove: rolling twice, he threw his legs wide and came to a stop beside a water barrel: he snapped a shot, rolled, shot again.
There was a yell of pain and he was on his feet.
There wasn't much choice, at least in his mind: he'd gone to the ranch to serve a warrant and the foreman had blocked his way, stepping in front of Jacob as he approached the ranch house's front door.
"You ain't but a boy," the foreman sneered. "You run on home, sonny, before I box your ears."
Jacob smiled a quiet smile, reached in his vest pocket, withdrew a folded Yankee greenback of a significant denomination.
"Might be you'd like to see my credentials," he said, offering the cash with extended index and middle fingers.
The foreman's eyes went from hostile to greedy and he took a step forward to snatch the bribe.
His eyes went wide and pained when Jacob's knee caught him in a very tender place, hard: Jacob fisted the bill into his palm and drove his knee into the foreman three more times as the man folded over: gut, ribs and chin, and drove his elbow into the back of the man's neck as he went down.
The ranch hands froze, seeing their boss gone from a sneering bully to a groaning casualty.
Another hand snatched up an ax handle and Jacob shot him in the belly, grabbing the descending ax handle and kicking the man in the belt buckle, as a bullet hit near his head and spattered splinters from the front wall of the ranch house.
Jacob fired twice more, fast, aiming low and running: he wanted to make his mount, for his horse meant his rifle and he wanted a Winchester if at all possible.
A bullet tugged at his coat's collar as he approached his stallion; he snatched the rifle with his left hand, yanking it free, running his other hand under the flap of the saddlebag and seizing the pasteboard box of cartridges before swatting the stallion across the backside with the flat of his gunbarrel.
The stallion reared its head, galloped for a little distance, then circled back to the water trough and took a short drink.
Jacob ran around the corner of a shed, just in time to meet a fast moving fist in the face: he swung the rifle barrel and caught his unseen attacker someplace, hard: staggering, he thumbed back the hammer and punched the rifle's muzzle into the man as another fist caught him over the right eyebrow.
The rifle's muzzle was buried in something firm and flesh when Jacob yanked the trigger.
The report was muffled, most of its muzzle blast driving into the ranch hand's middle, and the man fell back against the shed, slid to the ground.
"Rafe?" a voice called.
Jacob shook his head, jacked the lever of his Winchester, thrust his back hard against the plank wall and looked around.
His mouth was open, he was breathing hard, and he was suddenly very, very thirsty.
"Flank him!" a voice yelled and Jacob squatted.
A figure took a quick peek around the corner of the building and inherited a .44 in the face.
Jacob turned, snapped a shot at an anonymous hand that threw a wild shot around the corner at him.
Footsteps, fast and departing, then silence.
Jacob looked around again, found the dropped box of cartridges, reloaded his rifle.
Hesitating, he parked the rifle against the building and reloaded his revolver as well, then he checked his other revolver and holstered.
"MY NAME IS KELLER!" he yelled, pitching his voice to be heard at distance. "I AM A DEPUTY SHERIFF OF FIRELANDS COUNTY, AND I HAVE AN ARREST WARRANT FOR DANIEL HINKLE! ALL WHO RESIST WILL BE EITHER KILLED OR PLACED UNDER ARREST! YOU'VE LOST TOO MANY MEN ALREADY, DON'T MAKE IT WORSE!"
The reply was both impolite, anatomically impossible and punctuated by lead.
Jacob judged there to be two guns firing, maybe three.
He looked down and smiled.
He reached for the dead man's revolver, tried the trigger.
Light, he thought.

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Linn Keller 5-23-10

 

Jacob looked above him, looked around.
The shed had a flat roof and the lower edge was above him.
Jacob was tall enough he could stand flat footed and grab the edge easily: a barrel provided a handy step: if need be he could swarm up onto the roof.
It would provide an elevated firing point.
It could also strand him, unable to maneuver in the face of an enemy advance.
"HINKLE!" Jacob shouted, his voice strong and confident. "YOU'VE LOST TOO MANY MEN ALREADY! DON'T MAKE IT WORSE! SURRENDER NOW AND NOBODY ELSE HAS TO GET HURT!"
There was a long silence.
Jacob's breathing was fast and his tongue felt like leather. He felt sweat at the small of his back and he wished he'd not worn his suit.
Like his father, Jacob had a number of suits: his two good suits, tailored to his long, tall, skinny frame, were for Sunday-go-to-meetin' and other important and formal functions: his two working suits he wore for the same reason as his father: they were Lawmen and they represented the Law, and if a man looked dignified, there was that much more a chance he, and the Law, would be respected.
It didn't always work.
Jacob, like his father, practiced various less than gentle methods of pacifying thy neighbor, all while wearing the suit they worked in, or an older version thereof: Jacob's older suits were relegated to this practice alone, and showed the wear of strenuous and vigorous practice, but as a result Jacob was perfectly at home in them, perfectly able to run and jump, dive and roll, grapple and clinch and punch and slice and stab and shoot -- whether in the suit,or in a shirt and vest and jeans.
Now, though, he listened, willing his breaths to slow, placing the iron claw of self control on his emotions and squeezing his feelings down into the Genie bottle from whence they came.
Jacob became cold, cold, and his heart shriveled into a hard walnut, utterly without mercy, utterly without compassion, utterly without anything but the single minded intent to bring a man to the bar of justice.
"HINKLE!"
Jacob heard chickens cackle and quarrel, as they did at every ranch he'd ever seen. Somewhere a horse whinnied, and in the distance he heard birds sing again.
A fly buzzed near his face, landed.
Jacob swatted it, felt it crunch as he rolled it, wiped it on the shed wall.
Jacob looked over at his stallion.
The stallion looked at him, drowsing in the sun.
At least I've got shade here, Jacob thought.
"DEPUTY!"
The word shivered on the quiet air and Jacob jumped a little.
He blinked. He'd allowed his thoughts to wander.
This was very unlike him and he disciplined his mind sternly to the task at hand.
"HINKLE!" he barked in reply.
"DEPUTY! I'LL SEE YOU HANG!"
"HINKLE, I HAVE A WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST! YOU WILL SURRENDER AND YOU WILL SUBMIT TO MY DUE AUTHORITY OR YOU WILL BE TAKEN IN ACROSS A SADDLE AND I DON'T GIVE A GOOD DAMN WHICH! TAKE YOUR PICK!"
Jacob's heart was utterly without compassion. He did not consider the right or the wrong of the man's actions, or how utterly without need the several deaths so far had been: he knew only that he would accomplish this lawful action with which he had been tasked, and any who sought to harm him would likewise suffer the just penalty of law.
Even if that law was dispensed from an octagon barrel.
"LOOK OUTSIDE, HINKLE!" Jacob challenged. "COUNT THE CARCASSES. YOUR MEN ARE DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU! EVERY MAN JACK LIES BLEEDING AND HIS BLOOD IS ON YOUR HEAD! HOW MANY MORE ARE YOU GOING TO KILL BY YOUR CONTRARINESS?"
"ARE YOU CALLIN' ME A COWARD?"
"I'M CALLIN' YOU A WANTED MAN! SURRENDER NOW OR BUILD MORE COFFINS!"
There was a long silence.
"HOW DO I KNOW YOU WON'T KILL ME?"
"YOU WILL COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS EMPTY AND NO WEAPONS AND YOU WILL BE TAKEN TO FIRELANDS FOR TRIAL! ON THIS YOU HAVE MY WORD!"
There was a long silence.
"HINKLE, DON'T MAKE ME COME IN THERE AND GET YOU!"
Nothing.
Oh, lovely, Jacob thought. He's gonna rabbit --
"ALL RIGHT!"
Jacob looked around, hands tight on his .40-60, hammer back to full cock.
"I'M COMIN' OUT!"

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Linn Keller 5-23-10

 

Jacob was not a trusting man.
He knew that would be the ideal gull to get him to step out in view and get shot.
If I go to the right side so I can shoot right handed, he thought, they'll expect that.
If I go to the left side, he thought, most of them are likely right handed and they'll watch the right side more than the left.
He looked over at his Appaloosa.
Jacob's eyes tightened a little and his eyes were a very, very pale blue, an ice blue, the color of winter's light filtered through an icicle shining across the mouth of a north facing cave.
Jacob eased to the right side of the building and took a long breath.
Putting two fingers to his lips, he whistled, then spun around the corner, down on one knee, rifle covering the ranch house.
Sure enough it was a trap: a shotgun boomed from an upstairs window and two men on the front porch punched lead with the speed of desperation.
Hinkle was nowhere to be seen.
Jacob fired coldly, precisely, methodically: he took the upstairs window first, then dropped his rifle's muzzle and fired once, twice.
Something like a fist punched him low in the gut, but deep, deep, and he was instantly sick to his very soul.
Jacob thrust the feeling from him like he thrust the rest of his feelings from himself.
He stood.
The time for talk was over.
Jacob's heart was as cold as the color of his eyes and he walked steadily up toward the ranch house.
He turned to the left and shot the man waiting for him to clear the corner of the shed, shucked another round into the Winchester and never broke stride.
There was the sound of a horse at gallop, the crack of reins laid hard across the mount's rump.
Jacob walked up to the ranch house.
The front door was open about an inch.
Jacob kicked it, hard.
The door swung open and Jacob walked in like he owned the place.
"HINKLE!" he yelled, his voice echoing in the silence. "I'M COMIN' FOR YOU!"
Distantly, almost as if it were someone else, he felt something wet down the front of his leg.
He ignored it.
"HINKLE!"
There was movement; Jacob's eyes flicked away -- a woman, hands empty -- he turned left, quick-like, punched his rifle's muzzle toward a brown vest with a bright blue shirt beneath, slapped the trigger.
He jacked the lever, the smoking bottleneck cartridge ringing as it spun in mid-air.
The woman drew herself up with an attempt at dignity.
"Ma'am," Jacob said evenly, "I have no quarrel with you."
"You are after my husband."
"I am a lawman, ma'am, and I have a warrant."
"Let me see it."
"No, ma'am."
"Then you will not pass."
Jacob had not slowed his metronomic pace.
His boot heels were loud on board floor and on hook rug, and he walked up to the woman and backhanded her hard across the face.
She fell back, eyes wide, blood starting to trickle from her nose, her hand in front of her face as she shrank back against the wall.
Jacob stepped into the room and saw a man cowering in the cupboard.
"You're Hinkle," Jacob said. It was not a question.
The man had been a successful rancher, once, before he started cheating and stealing by forged deeds and crooked lawyers: his ways had been found out and Judge Hostetler had issued a warrant for his arrest.
Jacob advanced, the black eye of his .40-60 unblinking as Hinkle stared at octagonal death approaching him.
"You can come out peaceful and your wife can see you ride off with me, or I can reduce you to posession and she'll see you drug out of here in irons."
He saw the man's eyes change and spun.
The cast iron frying pan clanged loudly as Jacob punched the rifle's muzzle against the hard-swung utensil: he tried to kick, like his Pa had taught him, and his leg wouldn't raise like it ought: Jacob fell to the side and fired once, then brought his muzzle to bear on Hinkle.
Hinkle's wife stood for a long moment.
She dropped the frying pan, looked down at her belly and the reddening hole in her white linen blouse, and made a little noise as her hands covered the wound, as if to stop her very life from leaking out: then she collapsed as if suddenly boneless.
"See what you've done, Hinkle?" Jacob said, his voice brittle. "You killed everyone out there. You killed your wife. You know how? By refusing to obey my lawful summons.
"They were willing to kill for you and they died for you, and now you'll hang for them. Step out here before I beat you to death with your wife's skillet."
Jacob got up, slowly, carefully, his rifle held one handed, the other hand using a chair as a crutch to come to his feet.

The Sheriff arrived a half hour later, just as Jacob was finishing his note taking.
Jacob had sketched the scene, noting the position of each body, marking their names beside the crude figures drawn in his note book, giving approximate distance from the ranch house's porch, or in the house, or from the shed: he didn't have to belt Hinkle more than a few times to ensure his cooperation.
Jacob remembered his Pa taking the notebook from his hand and Jacob remembered giving his Pa an account of what had transpired, and Jacob recalled his Pa setting him down in the shade of the front steps while he chained Hinkle's wrists to one of his own porch posts: things got kind of fuzzy and he remembered his Pa picking him up and laying him down on something that felt soft, soft as a mattress, and the rattle of a wagon.
He remembered his Appaloosa looking over the tail gate of the wagon at him, and his Pa's black horse beside it, and he remembered thinking how much better looking his stallion was, and then he didn't remember much for a while.

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Linn Keller 5-24-10

 

My jaw ached.
I reckon that's because I had it clenched tight while I wrote.
It had taken me some time to sort out what-all happened out at Hinkle's place.
Had Jacob not made the notes he had, and told me as he had before he plainly passed out a-standin', I never would have gotten the straight of it.
One of these days, I thought, I'm a-gonna write me a book on how to be a lawman. I'm a-gonna tell them young fellers comin' up behind us how to sketch like Jacob did so if you're killed before the court can find out what happened --
My pen stopped and so did my thoughts.
If you're killed.
I looked up at the closed door of our little log fortress that was the Sheriff's office and I recalled how Jacob's teeth clicked as he snapped his jaw shut when I picked him up.
I recall how ugly and wet his leg was and how it smelled, the smell of blood, hot and fresh, and for a moment, just a moment, I remembered a young soldier I carried back to the surgeons' tent, a young soldier not as tall as Jacob but just as skinny, and I recalled Jacob's head falling back and his eyes rolling back in his head until just the whites showed.
O Lord, Thou Who knowest our down-sittings and our up-risings, I thought, and then I raised up one leg to carry his weight while I reached for the bell-pull.
Hinkle was still sitting on the wagon seat when I packed my boy into the hospital.
He wasn't there when I came out.
It hadn't taken much to find him.
I was kind enough to walk him down -- he'd made it to the livery and had begged Shorty to strike the irons from his wrists, he would make it worth the man's while -- and when I got there, Shorty was telling him what kind of a yellow backed coward he was and how a man grown would not whine nor beg like he was doing.
Shorty finished up with a cold glare and a hawk and spit.
I don't reckon I've heard a better political speech in my life.
I laid a hand on Hinkle's shoulder and spoke quietly, for we were in the livery and I did not want to spook the horses.
Hinkle grabbed for the hammer on the anvil, least until I yanked him hard and he fell down.
I did want to drive my fist so far into his gut I could grab his tonsils and yank them down to his belt buckle, but it was not the time nor the place.
Later, perhaps.
He'd hurt my son.
I screwed up a good hand full of his shirt front, left handed, and fetched him off the ground and off his feet, and I doubled up my arm and held him, just held him like that, looking him square in the face while the color ran out of his cheeks like red ink out of an eye dropper.
I set him down easy and never said a word.
Didn't have to.
We walked in silence back to the jail.
As we passed between the Silver Jewel and the new boarding house, Hinkle spoke up.
"He didn't have to kill my wife!" he gasped.
"Tell it to the judge," I said coldly.
My hand tightened on his upper arm and he quit talking.
Once I got him locked up I rode across the street to the Silver Jewel, and upstairs to Esther's office.
She was standing and waiting for me when I knocked and opened the door.
I held her for a long time.
Esther is a strong woman and a capable woman and the most efficient and businesslike woman I have ever known in my entire life, but in that moment she was a mother afraid for her son, and neither of us were the least bit ashamed that she left damp places on my shirt front.
Once she got herself cried out some she wiped her eyes and we went to the hospital.
Nurse Susan came out into the waiting room.
Her apron was red-streaked, her lips were pressed tight together and if looks could kill I would have been skewered on a spit and roasted over slow coals.
"He's in surgery," she snapped, her voice brittle. "It's a good thing he's as hard headed and contrary as you are! Men! He's made of whalebone and rawhide and you couldn't kill him with two cannon and dynamite!" She threw her hands up, shaking her head and muttering. "Esther, wait here. You -- she turned, thrusting a finger at my face -- "you had better get his wife before she finds out and beats you about the head and shoulders with a mule!"
"Yes, ma'am," I said gently, doing my best not to laugh: in spite of the gravity of the situation, she reminded me of nothing more than a Banty hen raising Cain with the rooster that wanted to inspect a newly laid egg.
I did ride out and fetch Annette, and she bore up under the news better than I'd hoped: she turned pasty and sat down hard in a kitchen chair, one hand on the little mound of her gravid belly: after a moment to collect herself, she raised her chin, looked me square in the eye and snapped, "If he dies I'll never speak to him again!" -- then she realized what she'd just said, and started to giggle, and then started to cry, and I held her for a while too.
Once I got all that taken care of I rode back out to the Hinkle ranch and made some sketches of my own, and talked to the only two people still there, and arranged for Digger to come out for Mrs. Hinkle's body.
Mrs. Hinkle may have tried to brain my son but she was a man's wife.
The others could be wrapped in their blanket and planted.
We went through the dead mens' effects and bunk rolls and I was able to get next of kin on all but one, and he was a known orphan, so I went back to Firelands to write this all up, and to write those letters I hate so much.
I took a ruler and neatly scribed a line along the edges of the page, then I dipped a wide nib in the India-black ink and bordered each letter.
Letters edged in black.

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Linn Keller 5-25-10

 

The cur pup raised his hinder, his muzzle down on the floor between his forepaws, and gazed fixedly at his prey.
The black gutta-percha ball seemed rather unimpressed.
The pup pounced on the ball, bowling it over and chewing at its smooth surface: the ball managed to get the better of the pup, and the pup flipped over on his back: rolling, he came up on all fours and barked threateningly at the ball, and leaped again.
The calico angora, enthroned on her sun-lit bale of fragrant, clover-rich hay, regarded this low-brow and undignified behavior with disdain: she turned her face away from the scene, blinking in the sun, and contemplated something more in keeping with her royal stature.
The pup, meanwhile, decided there were pressing matters to tend, and so hobby-horsed out the open bay doors and a little distance around the side of the building, where he did what all little pups do after getting their belly full, taking a nap and romping a little.
Fortunately, and entirely by accident, his deposit of second hand breakfast was in a place not commonly trod, and so posed a minimal chance of misunderstandings in future.

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Linn Keller 5-26-10

 

"He's snoring."
Dr. Greenlees removed the chloroform funnel.
"I agree." Dr. Flint extended his hand. "Scalpel."
Nurse Susan slapped the polished, gleaming steel handle of the surgical scalpel into the surgeon's palm.
The operation began.

Esther had gathered Annette into her bosom: the younger woman was trying hard to bear up, but when a pregnant woman's husband has been gut shot and is being whittled on by the local sawbones ... well, Annette had heard too many tales of medicine during the War.
She had also lost two friends in childbirth to doctors' unwashed hands: as a matter of fact, her best friend died not long after childbirth because the physician had not washed his hands after performing three autopsies.
Sadly, such was the norm and not the exception: the physicians and surgeons of Greenlees & Flint were very much the exception: both insisted on cleanliness, both were scrupulous about handwashing and disinfection, and they had a new device that hissed like a snapping turtle: something called a Steam Autoclave, and they would not use a surgical tool until it had been duly sterilized in the gleaming, weighty device.
Annette was a woman in her own right; she was a wife, and she was to be a mother, and she was happily married -- outrageously happy, which anyone could see, just looking at Jacob, with Annette on his arm -- Esther, too, had known too many losses in her own life, and now she was comforting a younger woman, someone whose fears threatened to stampede over her delicate soul.
The Sheriff, for his part, knew he could do little real good until the medicos had finished their labors: he could neither help nor hurt, and so he got out from underfoot, at least for a while.
He busied himself with composing a comprehensive report, complete with sketches and footnotes, until he realized the last paragraph he'd written had been utterly without conscious thought.
He placed his pen carefully on the desk top, exactly aligned with the left margin of the sheet on which he'd just written.
He reached down, to the bottom right hand drawer, and reached in for the bottle he kept there.
He pulled it out and looked at it for a long, long moment, then he replaced it, just as carefully, just as deliberately.
He stood.
"Who am I kidding?" he muttered.
Setting his jaw, he pulled his hat off its peg and headed for the door, and the hospital.

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Linn Keller 5-27-10

 

Fiddler Daine squinted at the ruin of their store house.
"Warn't big enough," he drawled.
"Nope," his brother agreed.
The Irish Brigade was reloading their hose, rolling it and tossing it on the ladder wagon: once they were back at station they would scrub the linen jacketed line with a push broom and buckets of water, scrub it on the long, flat brickway laid beside the firehouse for that very purpose: the hose would then be hoist into the tower to hang and dry, then once thoroughly dry, would be folded or rolled, carefully laid on the apparatus for immediate use with a good yank and a pull, or rolled and stacked with the other hose, ready to grab and go.
The Welsh Irishman and the German Irishman leaned over the hole in the cistern's cover, lowering a plumb line and feeling it to the bottom: then they drew it out, marked the dark water line and made a quick calculation.
"We had three times our usage in reserve," they announced to Sean, and every man there made mental note of the fact, for each of them had need to know if there was a sufficient fire fighting reservoir in easy reach of a structure.
Fiddler Daine had excavated a half dozen stone jugs and fetched one over to the red headed Irish chieftain.
"I ben savin' this'un fer some time," he drawled. "Set this'un in Kaintuck more'n twenny year ago. Lessee how she's aged."
Grinning, a handful of tin cups were thrust into the knot of men, for the Irish Brigade was an alert bunch, and when one was given a tipple, all wanted a taste.
Fiddler Daine poured little more than one finger's worth into each cup.
"This ain't fer the young," he cautioned, and hoist the stone jug in salute.
As one, the entire Irish Brigade tilted their tins and opened their throats.
The New York Irishman had been nursing a nagging ache somewhere below his eye, or maybe under his nose -- it was vague and less than comfortable -- and the moment this elixr washed over his gums, the pain was gone! -- as quickly as if a genie had snapped his fingers.
The Irish Brigade had almost been offended by the parsimonious portion dispensed into their waiting tins.
The Irish Brigade stood there and each began to smile, a slow, quiet, understanding smile.
"You fellas be careful with this, now," Fiddler Daine cautioned them, pouring another short splash into each tin cup. "It's potent."
Two more rounds later, the Irish Brigade harnessed the mares and turned their collective noses back toward Firelands.
They all managed to sing the same song, but none of them sang in the same key as another, and this time when Sean drove the team, he sat.
Once they got back to the firehouse, once they unhitched the team and resupplied the steam wagon and got the hose scrubbed off and their Masheen clean and burnished and their water tank filld, they each had one final round of this marvelous elixr.
The Irish Brigade spent the next 24 hours gleefully, joyfully, happily, utterly, drunk on their collective backsides.
As Fiddler Daine had explained, "This is Uncle Will's Finest." He took a nip directly from the stone jug and continued, "Uncle Will made moon liker an' homemade wine, and this is his finest work: half and half of each. Goes down like Mama's milk an' blows the socks right off yer feet!"
The Irish Brigade, after returning to a state of sobriety, collectively agreed that Uncle Will's Finest was indeed the best they'd ever had, the stoutest they'd ever had, and the only stuff they'd ever had that did not produce a dreaded morning-after condition that earned most moon whisky the term "Popskull."
That night, the cur pup slept on the warm floor beneath the stove, on the fireman's shirt, and if any had been awake to see it, wagged his tail in his sleep, thumping it happily on the flannel as he twitched and dreamed and made little puppy noises.

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Linn Keller 5-28-10

 

Surgery tended to be a bloody affair and this one was no different.
The physicians were of a tidy nature, a precise nature; they were not parsimonious with their supplies, and so there was a sizable amount of bandage material that had been saturated and discarded.
Their labors complete, they conferred in the verbal shorthand of surgeons the world over on just how to close the abdominal wound: the task was not easy, for Jacob was lean and strong, and muscle, parted, tends to contract: this was minimized by the chloroform, and another brief application was necessary, but finally the two finished their methodical repair.
Jacob lay pale and naked beneath the sheet, but his pulse was strong and steady and his respirations were even and adequate.
Nurse Susan had taken a small pillow, rolled it and placed it under his neck, tilting his head back slightly: she did that with her own husband to ease his snoring, at least before he died of apoplexy several years before: like many, she had gone West with her broken heart, and found a healing there.
Both Dr. Greenlees and Dr. Flint washed thoroughly, then changed shirts and collars and knotted their ties carefully before buttoning up their vests and reaching for their coats.
Only then did they proceed to the waiting room.

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Linn Keller 5-29-10

 

Dr. Flint excused himself with a bow and a smile and a gentlemanly hand-kiss; he had patients to see and his surrey was waiting without.
Dr. Greenlees sat, dark eyes twinkling, and that half-smile they knew so well threatening to slip out of hiding.
Esther took this as a favorable sign and gave Annette's gloved hand an encouraging squeeze.
She also noticed the younger woman's hand was trembling.
"He was shot low in the side -- just here," Doc Greenlees said, opening his coat and indicating a spot on his red-and-silver brocaded vest.
"We were fearful the shot might have penetrated the bowel.
"I don't like to open a man's belly without need. Every move, every step, every time we pick something up, we use our belly muscles."
Annette nodded, quickly, anxiously.
"The bowel is undamaged. There was some bleeding, nothing terribly serious."
His voice was soft, his manner reassuring; what he actually said was, "He nearly bled to death but we got it stopped and he's still alive."
Though Annette was not yet sufficiently experienced in the polite lies the world may tell us, Esther was not fooled: she raised her chin, her face pale, and she said quietly, "Do continue, Doctor," which translated to "I know you're lying to me but please, go on."
Dr. Greenlees cocked one eyebrow -- a wordless acknowledgement of Esther's divination -- and patted Annette's hand.
"He'll be asleep for a while longer. Once he's home where he belongs" -- Esther glanced over at her daughter in law, and saw her eyes widen, hope shining in her face for the first time -- "yes, a man heals better at home. He has a better chef than we."
The Doctor's voice was soft, reassuring, the voice of the kindly old grandfather telling a scared child it's just thunder, it won't hurt you. His voice was like a set of warm arms gathering her in and holding her, rocking her, and for a moment, just a moment, she was a scared little girl again.
But just for a moment.
Annette took a long, deep breath, straightened her spine and squared her shoulders.
"Tell me what I must do."
"He'll need soft foods at first. The first day and the first night, broth and light soup and you'll probably have to help him to the outhouse. He'll be sore and he'll be stiff and he'll chafe and fret and snarl like men always do."
Esther rolled her eyes, snapped her fan open and began fanning herself delicately.
"Oh, how well I know," she murmured delicately, looking out across the room.
Dr. Greenlees looked directly at Esther, the bold look of one of the few men who could do so without offense.
"Yes, ma'am," he agreed. "You do know."
The door opened and the Sheriff froze, taking in the scene, knowing this foretold good news, or bad.
"Once he's made it to the outhouse -- twice -- then you can start him on meat. Tender cuts, now, back strap and the like. Liver if he'll eat it. Beans are a good nutritious food but if he tends to the wind --"
The Sheriff's ears turned red and Esther shot him an amused look.
Like his father, Jacob's system tended monstrously toward the wind, and a good meal of beans was almost as terrible a generator of vile crepitations as a good Scots haggis.
"Let us avoid beans for time, then, shall we? Let him mend for a week or so first. Breads, mincemeat, potatoes, gravies, all should be just fine."
"What should we watch for, Doctor?" Esther prompted.
"You'll want to watch for fever and bloating, discharge from the wound, redness and heat around the wound itself. A swollen rigid belly, pain, all are bad signs. If these happen, come and get me or bring him in."
He smiled crookedly, the way he always did, as if the corner of his mouth did not work well. "I think it would be easier to come and get me or Dr. Flint."
Esther and Annette shared a look, nodded.
Dr. Flint patted Annette's hand again, gave Esther's a squeeze, then stood: turning, he addressed himself to the Sheriff.
The two men shook hands.
"He'll live," Dr. Greenlees said shortly.

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Linn Keller 5-31-10

 

Lightning rested his long, slender fingers on the base of the telegraph key.
He'd sent his son to the Jewel to pick up supper.
He knew the lad had coin in his pocket and that he'd likely be a little bringing back the meal after he had a bite first, for he was a walking appetite on two hollow legs and generally this meant he would have pie and coffee before bringing back their supper.
Lightning smiled, leaning back in his chair, and if anyone had been there, they might have noted a look ... regret, perhaps? ... on his mobile face.
He remembered what it was like to be young, and hungry, perpetually hungry...
He's never known real hunger, Lightning thought with a mixture of pride and sadness.
At least I did that much right.
He's a fair hand on a key.
Oh, hell, he's a better hand on the key than I am!

Lightning smiled with most of his face, and he nodded a little as he noticed his face was getting kind of numb on one side and didn't feel quite right.
When in doubt, son, a voice whispered from the well of memory, follow your gut.
Lightning blinked.
It had been a very long time since he'd thought of that wise old man, the man who taught him the key, the man who'd taught him to distill an idea into the fewest words that would carry the idea completely, and then send it over the singing wire.
He blinked again and his left eye didn't feel right.
It's time, he thought.
My gut said send him out.
I was right.

His hand had a life of its own; his fingers knew the work even without his eyes' attention.
FIRELANDS STATION, he sent, paused.
FIRELANDS STATION, he sent again.
His counterpart at Cripple replied: CRPL RCV FRLNDS GO
It was unusual for Lightning to send the complete word. Normally abbreviated, his current sending was unusual enough to prompt every telegrapher's ear to pay attention.
AM RETIRING TODAY X SON SAMUEL TAKING KEY END
Lightning blinked again and he felt a frown tighten up between his eyebrows.
It shouldn't be getting dark, he thought. It's not but mid-afternoon.
He tried to raise his left hand to rub his nose and his arm did not move, and he realized that he'd been right to send his son to the Jewel.
His vision went grey, but he could still feel the key beneath his fingers and he sent slowly, savoring each make-and-break character that rattled back at him from the sounder:
GBY
END
All up and down the line, his fellow telegraphers smiled, some laughed; two reached for their key to send congratulating reply to his God Bless You, for every man worked for the day his son could take over the family business, and it seemed Lightning had arrived at that happy day.
Lightning did not respond to the first message, nor to the second.

It was perhaps a half hour before footsteps approached, before the whistling of a contented young man could be heard.
"Pa?" he called as he opened the door. "I brought you --"
There was a crash, the sound of broken crockery as supper hit the floor.
The footsteps resumed, this time the rapid cadence of a young man running with the full fire of fear searing his belly, giving for the first time in his young life, full vent to utter, absolute, choking, don't-know-what-to-do, panic.
His first footfalls were loud and hollow on the railroad platform, and afterward muffled as he ran across dirt and gravel and packed street and boardwalk.
Samuel ran with the full speed of desperation, ran for the hospital, ran to get help for his Pa.

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Linn Keller 6-1-10

 

I gripped Doc's hand carefully, squeezing more with my thumb than with my fingers: I'd listened carefully to other surgeons in other times and gleaned from conversations that their handshakes were gentle, recognizing the skill that went into their craft: as a consequence I've been careful to give every saw bones a gentle handshake, though truth be told I could likely break a few bones if I cranked down hard on their proffered paw.
Doc had that ornery look of "I'm pulling off a good one" and I knew why: he'd just spent some length of time telling the ladies what they needed to know, and he told me the same thing, just in two words.
"He'll live."
Hell, even if I'd heard nothing preceding it would have been enough.
About the time we released our fraternal handclasp the front door was yanked open, hard, and Lightning's boy thrust himself into the room.
From the panic on his face, the gasping of his breath and the distress in his posture, I knew he bore fell tidings.
He took a moment, bending over with hands on his knees, almost choking in desperation to get wind into him, keep his gorge down and formulate a coherent message, all at the same time.
He managed somehow.
He stood up suddenly, his look beseeching, first to me, then to Doc.
"It's Pa," he blurted. "I think he's dead."
The lad had to fairly jump backward, for Doc and I both surged for the door: after a three way collision, Doc steadied himself with a hand against the doorframe, then he said "My bag," and powered across the room.
Nurse Susan had appeared from somewhere: if I didn't know better I'd think she was a witch, or a djinn perhaps, a genie of the desert in starched apron instead of dancing-silks, and she held up the good Doctor's black war bag with an expression of "We women have to take care of you men but I'm being patient about it and you'd better not forget it!" -- then I held the door wide as Doc legged it out across the threshold.
I recall Esther's expression: her eyes were big and her gloved hand was just to her lips: I had no time for more than a look before I too was out the door.
"The wagon!" I exclaimed, and Doc swarmed aboard.
I yanked the horses free, backed them into the street.
Lightning's boy was halfway to the depot already.
I snapped the reins, whistled. "Yup there," I called, "yup now!" -- and the mares hesitated, then pulled against their collars, and we clattered rapidly to the depot.
Doc was out of the wagon before it stopped moving: a tall man, he landed awkwardly and nearly stumbled, and was obliged to take three quick steps, but he kept his feet somehow.
I set the brake, dallied the reins and bailed off my side.
Lightning's boy had tried to go back into the telegraph office but he could not bring himself to cross the apple wood threshold.
I remembered when Lightning had asked the Daine boys to use apple wood "so them-there Chinese dragons can't come in."
The Daine boys might not have known what a Chinese dragon was, but they had no objection to working with the fragrant wood: they'd fitted it closely, precisely, as was their habit, and it stood out in conrast to the darker wood surrounding.
Doc and I went inside.
It smelt of good beef and gravy, it smelt of fresh baked bread and death.
Lightning was dead, all right.
His face was drawn up on the left hand side and his head was laid over towards his left shoulder but his hand still rested on the base of his key, his beloved key.
Doc and I looked at one another.
There was no need for an extensive examination.
Once you've seen as much death as he and I have, you know when someone is dead.
The spirit had long since flown and the husk had darkened.
I turned to the little bunk Lightning maintained in back and stripped off the top sheet and blanket. I folded the blanket and laid it aside, then I pulled the folding military cot out a little.
Doc took the legs and I took the upper and together we lifted Lightning out of his chair and laid him out on his cot.
Twice in my lifetime I realized how tall the man was.
Once was when I stood belt buckle to belt buckle with him, when he give me an uncharacteristic bear hug at the birth of our son Joseph: I looked the man square in the Adam's apple.
It ain't many men I have to look up to but he was one.
The second time was now, for we arranged him on the cot, and he hung over both ends.
We got him arranged as best we could and I spied me a board and slid in under him, between his shoulder blades: it reached from his belt up far enough his head laid on it, and we sheeted him over, carefully, considerately, for this man was a friend of ours.
As I drew the sheet slowly and respectfully over the man's face his boy made kind of a strangled sound, then: "No, don't do that, he can't breathe --"
-- then he realized what he'd said, and laid his face in his hands.
The telegraph sounder chattered briskly.
Lightning's boy looked helplessly at the shrouded figure, then looked at the sounder.
I walked up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"I reckon that makes you Lightning now," I said gently.
I gestured toward the chair, toward the telegraph set.
"I can't pound brass and I got a tin ear. You'd best tend that message."
"Yes, sir," he said through pale, wooden lips, and he almost staggered to the chair that had been his father's.
He reached for the pencil, turned the pad a little so it was handy for him, then reached for the key and tapped out a quick series of metallic clicks.
The reply was unusually lengthy.
He read it, he set his elbow on the desk and he rested his forehead on the palm of his hand and shoved the pad toward me.
Doc and I leaned over and read:
"CONGRATULATIONS X LOOK FORWARD TO WORKING WITH SAMUEL X BEST WISHES FOR RETIREMENT X MURPH"
Samuel, I thought.
I never knew his name before.
Hell of a way to find out!

"Sheriff?"
I looked down at a young face filled with more misery than a man had ever ought to face.
"Yes?" My voice was gentle, for I too had lost a father, and remembered that moment with a disquieting clarity.
"I'll need a cot."
I bit my lip, nodded.
"I've got mine in the Sheriff's office. I'll fetch it down for you."
"Thank you, sir."
"Come up to Digger's when you're able. We'll make arrangements. I'll stand with you."
Samuel looked at his father.
"He said when his time come to bury him at sundown that day."
I nodded.
"We'll arrange it."
"I need to send the Silent Key," he gasped, swinging his gaze out the window. "Let me do that and I'll be right up."
Doc and I exchanged a look, then we each picked up an end of the cot and worked our way outside.
I didn't want Samuel to know that I saw the water running down his cheeks as he tapped out the news that his father was dead.

 

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Linn Keller 6-2-10

 

Word travels fast and bad news travels faster.
Near to the whole town knew about Lightning's passing by the time his hole was dug.
Esther brought the railroad to a standstill and the roundhouse turned out, every man Jack of them.
The Lady Esther sat at the siding, her fires banked; the freight locomotive, too, sat still and patient on its track.
The gold mine didn't much like the delay but they knew better than to make an issue of the matter: Lightning had kept things running smooth, and Lightning's hand had sent good news and bad on their behalf any number of times: the only rolling stock in motion was a special that brought a contingent over from Cripple for the evening's burial.
Parson Belden was no stranger to needs of the moment.
He'd spoken the Word enough times he needed no preparation, and I admired him for that.
Maude came up from the Mercantile, and she genuinely surprised me, for she fetched along that two band Enfield rifled musket her husband carried during the War, and I knew she had that LeMat revolver with her as well.
That wasn't as surprising as the worn grey kepi she placed reverently on his box.
When she straightened, she looked at me: unshed tears were bright in her eyes as she husked, "My husband knew him."
Shorty came, too, with hammer in hand, an iron rod in the other: as we assembled, he began slowly tapping the end of the rod with the hammer.
Maude looked at him curiously.
"Drivin' off them evil spirits," he muttered, and I nodded.
I knew that Shorty would strike his anvil three times before beginning the day's work -- that Smith fella had done the same -- and I knew it was to drive away any evil spirits that might try to taint a man's work.
The service was simple and plain spoken, much as Lightning himself was: the Parson spoke of the things they always speak of at such times, and I don't reckon I heard more than one or two words of it.
I watched Samuel, and remembered how it felt to stand where he is now, watching someone speak the words over what was left of Pa, the rock and anchor of a young man's life, now cold and still and about to be planted.
The evening sun was red on the horizon and flanked with crimson clouds, like wings, and we eased Lightning's box into the ground as the solar orb began to sink behind the purple mountains.
Esther's hand was warm on my arm and she leaned her head against my shoulder, and I drew her into me, then she went over to Samuel and laid her hand on his arm.
He looked at her and bit his bottom lip.
I could not hear his words, but I could see his lips:
Thank you, I read.
Samuel picked up a handful of dirt and dropped it into the hole.
Maude handed him the Enfield musket, the rifle her husband WJ had used on board ship when he sailed with the Confederate navy.
Samuel looked at it and smiled, then he eared back that heavy percussion hammer, threw back his head and yelled, "FATHER LEE AND BROTHER JEFF!" and fired the rifle over his father's grave.
He looked at me and handed the rifle back to Maude.
"His real name was Ellsworth," he explained. "His brother rode with Morgan."

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Linn Keller 6-3-10

 

Twain Dawg, alias Bear Killer, patiently suffered the indignities the girls heaped upon his ebony furred head.
The twin girls as infants pulled ears and fur and tail, chewed on paws and legs, laughed and fell against him and curled up to sleep on him -- that is, whenever they could get away with it, for Bonnie was an attentive Mama and tried not to let her little girls wallow about on the floor too much.
It didn't always work.
As the twins grew and learned to walk, they learned with the help of the hard-muscled canine, holding a handful of fur and wobbling a little as they took their first unsteady paces: they would take a tentative step, then two steps, and if they lost their legs and ended up sitting suddenly on the floor, it was Twain Dawg that snuffed their little pink ears and gave an encouraging lick -- which more often than not, changed a pediatric tear-tempest to giggles.
Sometimes, and Bonnie wished for one of those new camera-things Duzy was so fond of -- one twin stood to Twain Dawg's left, and one to his right, and each had hold of their four pawed gait trainer, and together they three would make their slow way across the room.
The twins could walk now on their own, and even ran a little, learning as children do the hazards of running under tables (headache) or running into the table (more headache) and Polly learned the hard way never, ever to pull on the corner of the tablecloth (sudden sugar shower, followed by Twain Dawg's yip as sugar bowl hit him between the shoulder blades, then to the rug underfoot, unbroken for some miracle) -- but always, always Twain Dawg was with the twins, or with Sarah.
Now the twins were in matching gowns and little ruffled pantalettes and fine little bonnets, seated in the leather-upholstered rear carriage seat, between Sarah and Twain Dawg: restless as two-year-olds are, they fussed and whined for about three minutes, and then were quiet.
Bonnie looked over her shoulder to the back seat and smiled, and Sarah smiled back.
The twins were asleep: Polly leaned against her sister, Jade leaned against Twain Dawg: Sarah's arm was protectively around her nearer sister's shoulder, and Twain Dawg's massive head was laid over Jade's lap, steadying her in place.
Bonnie squeezed her husband's arm, then nodded to the placid scene behind them: he turned, smiled, and winked at Sarah.
They were still a distance from Firelands when Caleb noted the assembly in the graveyard.
He and Bonnie looked at one another, for they had not heard of any recent deaths.
"I wonder who --" they said together, then stopped and looked at one another, and laughed, for it was not uncommon for one to finish the other's sentence.

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