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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 12-3-10

 

The Regulator clock was loud in the nighttime stillness.
Angela had long since begged a bedtime story and as usual I had got less than a half dozen quietly voiced sentences before she was sound asleep.
I know she was asleep because she rolled up on her side, the way she always did, and I pulled the covers up around her and she never moved.
If she'd been awake she would have giggled.
I'll swear, once that child's head hits the pillow, set your watch, a minute and a half and she's so sound asleep you could fire a cannon outside and she'd not stir!
Esther tells me I sleep like that.
I didn't think so until the time I had to spend a night over in Carbon, and I didn't figure I slept a bit until I went to throw the covers off and roll out of that lumpy back breaker bed, and found the plaster ceiling had fell in on me during the night.
I went back downstairs and had a good long drink of water, and then set to scribing in my journal.
Night time was the best time for me to write.
I am better able to order my thoughts, to marshal them in neat ranks so they flow well from the split tip nib of my favorite pen.
I took a thoughtful sip of brandy, worked it around my mouth, feeling it sear my gums the way it always did: I dipped the nib in good India ink and began writing again, the pen noisy and scratchy on good rag paper.

I was halfway to town when I realized I just might have messed up.
Bruja stopped and swung her ears back when I set straight up in the saddle and uttered a sound of distress: I lifted the reins and said "Yup, girl," and she stepped out again, and I thought long and hard all the rest of the way.
Sarah has been out at Charlie and Fannie's, I thought.
How much you want to bet they are already planning on teaching her to shoot?
I kicked myself and cussed myself for seven kinds of a short sighted scoundrel.
Charlie is more brother than friend and the absolute last thing in this world I wanted to do was step on his toes and here I might have done just that.
I figured to go out and make my apologies to the man, but I had too much on the hook to do it that day.
Next day bright and early I went out and seen them out back.
They two of them were laughing and Sarah had that ivory handled revolver in a second hand gunrig around her slender middle, and I must have stared a little, for she was wearing canvas britches and I'm used to seeing her looking like a lady.
She didn't see me stare and I'm glad for it.
The military allows a man to be out of uniform if he is attired for the activity in which he is engaged, which is how one of the general officers avoided a court martial when he got caught running buck naked down a hallway chasing a giggling floozie one night. Matter of fact it was the only time I ever recall a court-martial falling apart in undignified laughter, and the consensus was that if the man had brass enough to stand before the board and say with a straight face that he was indeed properly attired for that particular activity, why, they had no choice but to return him to command!


I leaned back and smiled a little.
I didn't think much about the War these days, but every now and again something funny from the past would slip through cracks in the wall I'd built, and this was one of them.
I took a long, deep breath, had another sip of brandy, dipped my pen again and wiped the excess on the inside of the ink bottle.


"Charlie?" I called, and he wasn't surprised at my hail.
I think that man could hear a flea sneeze at a hundred yards.
Charlie turned and gave me a wise look and I figured well hell, stand for your chewin' out, you've earned it, but no such thing.
"That is lovely engravin' work," he said as I dismounted.
"Charlie, I --" I began, and Charlie raised a finger.
"We've about emptied that box of .22s," he said. "The girls had to try out Sarah's new birthday present."
I nodded, fumbling with the straps on my off saddlebag. "I got two cartons right here."
I hefted a thousand rounds of rimfire, one carton in each hand.
Charlie's eyes smiled.
"I don't believe we'll shoot that many today," he drawled.
"No," I agreed.
Sarah and Charlie shared a look and my heart sank a little lower.
He's been teaching her already, I thought, and now I'm hornin' in --
"Charlie," I said, "I believe I owe you an apology --"
Charlie's eyes were quiet.
He was hiding something.
I've seen that look when he set at a poker table and run a bluff on a river boat gambler. He had two pair -- deuces and treyes -- the gambler's hand bettered his considerable, but Charlie's veiled silence so unnerved the professional that the gambler folded, defeated.
I cleared my throat and tried to start over and Charlie said, "Sarah, show your Uncle Linn what you can do." He stepped toward the row of tin cans hung from string off the fence rail and set a number two size can about twenty feet out.
Sarah waited until Charlie was back beside her.
"I'll need some more rounds," she said, and Charlie grinned -- he's up to something, I thought -- and he dumped the rest of the pasteboard box into Sarah's upturned palm.
She poured them into her vest pocket and nodded.
Sarah made the slickest, smoothest draw I have seen in a very long time.
She had that ivory handled Colt in a two hand grip and slip hammered five rounds into that tin can fast and slick and I just stood there with my teeth in my mouth.
Sarah punched out the empties, reloaded, holstered.
She did it again.
This time the can fell over.
Those little lead slugs howled into the empty distance beyond.
Sarah unbuckled that second hand gun rig and thrust it at her Uncle Charlie.
"'Scuse me," she said in a little-girl voice, and threw me an impish glance: she scampered off back toward the shed and Charlie turned, slowly, and I stood there opening and closing my mouth and blinking like a man who'd just seen a fish sprout legs and walk down the main street reciting Shakespeare.
I pointed at the tin can, then toward the shed, then back to the can.
"She -- you -- it --" I stammered, nonplussed.
Charlie's eyes tightened a little at the corners and the bare ghost of a smile pulled at the rest of his face.
Right about then I turned.
Hoofbeats, fast and coming towards us: it was Sarah's favorite saddle horse at a dead-out gallop and Sarah wasn't on it -- but --
I blinked hard, and my chin sagged some more.
Sarah was hanging on the side of the horse, one heel hooked over the saddle and her hand tangled up in its mane, she was screaming like an Apache, riding like a Mexican and she had one eye and an arm hung out from under that mare's neck -- at a dead out gallop! -- and hammered five fast shots at the tin cans hanging from the fence rail.
That warn't no .22 she was shooting, neither.
By this time my chin had descended to about the level of my belt buckle.
I reckon my eyes was the size of tea saucers as I looked over at Charlie.
The man could not contain himself any longer.
He started to laugh.
So did I.
Sarah had sailed right on by and I reckon she made a wide swing to burn off that speed and by the time she got back I had taken a two hand grip on my hanging jaw bone and levered it back up into position.
Charlie was pointing at me and laughing: his face was red and there was wet at the corners of his eyes and I took a staggering step toward him, for I too was starting to chuckle: I clapped a hand on his shoulder and bent over a little, my off hand on my left knee and I begun to guffaw and chortle and if he hadn't been there to lean on some I would have fell over I was laughing so hard.
The two of us kind of coasted to a stop and I wiped my eyes and blew my beak and looked over at where one of them strings was still swinging from the fence rail and I pointed at it and started to laugh again and we were both off.
It probably sounded like a couple of damned fools but I did not care.
Charlie had got me and got me good, the joke was on me and by God! it felt good to laugh!
Sarah rode up, smiling uncertainly, and I looked at her and looked at Charlie and I pointed at that carton of .22s and started to laugh again and this time I kind of folded up double and leaned both palms on my knees and Charlie pounded me happily on the back exclaiming, "Breathe, old hoss! Breathe now, you're turning funny colors!" and we were both off again!
It has been a very, very long time since I laughed that well and that long.
I straightened finally, blew my snot box again and managed to find a dry corner of the wild rag to mop the moisture from my eyes, and I looked at that number two tin can laying there with them little bitty holes in it and I looked at Sarah and motioned her over.
Sarah dismounted and came over very tentatively.
In those days people didn't smile much and portraits generally showed severe expressions: a smile was seen as a sign of weakness, and Sarah had likely not seen that much mirth and merriment from two strong men in her life.
I ran one arm around Sarah's shoulders and the other around Charlie's and said, "You two are standing in the presence of the damndest fool God ever poured into boot leather!"


I leaned back, shifted in my seat: my tail bone had been broke some years before and ached with a change in the weather and it was aching now, but as I capped the ink bottle and wiped the pen clean, as I watched gleaming-wet ink dry on the journal's page, I grinned, and I chuckled a little, for Charlie and I have shared many things over the years, and I believe that was the longest and the best laugh we have ever had together.

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Linn Keller 12-4-10

 

The Sheriff's eyes snapped open.
It was yet full dark.
His eyes narrowed as he puzzled at the meaning of the dream.
He'd dreamed he was a very young man, back in Ohio, back at an old and dear friend's home place: he and the man had grown up neighbors and they were more brothers than friends: his bosom chum had died while still a young man, died of the sugar they said, blind and not in his right mind, but in the dream, in the dream, in the dream ...
It wasn't uncommon for him to wake with an idea fully formed, or with the solution for a problem that he'd been studying on, whether motive for a crime, method for a crime's execution, the right argument to present in court ... but this was different.
His dear friend was alive again in the dream, alive and talking and young and strong and healthy, the way he used to be ... only he lived in a bedsheet hung on the line, like he was projected there from one of those magic lantern things.
They talked a while and the Sheriff was directed to look up, look up at the sky, and it was like looking at the water's surface.
Like looking at its surface from underneath.
A tree that never existed, now stood beside the farmhouse, the solid old homestead built by the ancestral Hugh Beymer, who'd sailed the blue Atlantic with his worldly goods and kinfolk: the highest branches, the tiny delicate topmost twigs penetrated the sky and disappeared.
He turned and his friend was gone, only an empty bedsheet waving in the summer's breeze, and he saw a number of mausoleums in the back yard ... he walked among them, peering between the locked bars, and the dead glared at him from their oval, walnut-framed portraits, glass-covered and sealed behind confining steel.
The Sheriff lay still, unmoving, listening to his wife's regular breathing: his hand was loose, relaxed, and hers was as well, but they lay within one another's grip, warm, reassuring.
The Regulator clock downstairs was loud in the nighttime silence.
It was nearly an hour before the Sheriff gave up puzzling the dream, and relaxed, allowing his thoughts to immerse once again in the dark ocean of slumber.

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Linn Keller 12-5-10

 

Jacob, like his father, was a robust and full-blooded man: he fairly strutted as he made his way to the barn, he whistled through the morning's chores, smiled quietly as he saddled his stallion: he tied Apple-horse to the hitch in front of the house, and went back inside for a little.
Annette was feeding young Joseph.
The lad was weaned from the breast, to Annette's considerable relief: Jacob had thought her efforts premature until the lad had tested a newly erupted incisor on his Pa's finger, and Jacob offered no further thought on the subject, for he imagined that strong bite on a particularly tender and sensitive part of his wife's anatomy, and the thought brought a distressed expression to his lean face.
Now, though, his expression was anything but distressed: Annette, too, had a look of pleased contentment on her own visage, and rose as her husband re-entered the house.
Jacob, lean and strong, took his wife in his arms: his desire was plain, but not demanding: had Annette demurred, he would have understood, for a young son took much of a mother's time, and she was not yet done feeding the lad.
Annette's hands caressed Jacob's back and the back of his head, and she tilted her head back, her breath coming a little more quickly.
Jacob's eyes burned, as did his soul: he was a man much in love with his wife, and she with him, and his passion was declared wordlessly, but very plainly, and when he made his statement, both were somewhat short of breath, and a little flushed.
Annette's eyes promised much; her complexion was flushed, her lips parted slightly: she licked her bottom lip, slowly, then turned, carefully and methodically fed young Joseph the last few teaspoons of his breakfast.
Jacob noticed his wife's normally steady hand was shaking a little.
"Now let's get you undressed," she murmured to Joseph as she picked up their drowsy little boy, to which Jacob replied, "Here, in the kitchen?"
Annette turned quickly, eyes smoldering.
"Mr. Keller, if you keep that up, I will undress you here in the kitchen, and that is a promise!"
It was rare that Jacob allowed his feelings to overtake him, but he allowed them free rein that morning, and when the sun was a bit higher, and he finally rode into Firelands, it was with the feeling that he could whip the world, mount it on a fine gold ring and give it to his wife as a bauble to wear on her lovely, slender hand.

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Linn Keller 12-7-10

 

Maude saw Jacob coming down the street, and smiled to herself.
There is something about a handsome young man sitting tall in the saddle, riding a fine stallion, with the morning sun glowing as it touched him: Apple-horse fairly shone, and Jacob's cheeks were bright red.
The cold, she presumed.
Mrs. Trout muttered darkly as she stacked several cans of fruit on the counter: she was not gentle, and Maude wondered which can would shatter the thick glass top.
None did, but it seemed not for want of trying.
"Your prices are too high," the peevish old woman complained, then shook a can of tomatoes at Maude with a scowl. "And another thing," she said loudly, "that Rosenthal woman should be ashamed of herself!"
Maude's eyes flicked to the front door.
Bonnie Rosenthal -- or, rather, Bonnie McKenna -- had just come in the door.
She froze when she heard Mrs. Trout's declaration, then she turned and closed the door behind her quietly, carefully.
Maude tasted copper and knew that something unpleasant was about to transpire.
Maude looked at Mrs. Trout, who was still shaking the can at her, almost in her face, and Maude decided that whatever Mrs. Trout was about to inherit, was of her own making, and the old bat could very well reap the harvest she was so enthusiastically sowing.
"Now one day of mourning! Not one!" Mrs. Trout snapped. "Why, a decent woman would not show her face in public for a month, and then only in black! And that daughter of hers! Murderess!" She shuddered. "Why she wasn't hanged with those other murderers is beyond me!"
"
Mrs. Trout!" Bonnie snapped, her voice icy, cold: the chill vapors nearly formed a mist-cloud at her lips, and her eyes were hard as polished agate.
Mrs. Trout froze in mid-scowl, then turned and opened her mouth as if to say something hypocritcally sweet, as was the old gossip's habit in such moments.
She never had the chance.
Bonnie Rosenthal was a genteel woman.
Bonnie Rosenthal was a woman of gentle upbringing and cultured demeanor.
Bonnie Rosenthal also had her good right hand drawn back just past her left shoulder, and uncoiled a backhand slap that staggered the gossip to her high button heels.
Cans clattered to the floor and Mrs. Trout, gossip and troublemaker, put a trembling hand to her wounded cheek.
She looked at Bonnie with eyes like boiled eggs, then her eyes narrowed and her lip curled as she prepared to hiss some verbal venom.
She never had a chance at this either.
Bonnie was not a fencer; she was, however, a dancer, and rather a good one: the movement of her arm was fluid, continuous; the backhand came around into a forehand, and Mrs. Trout's other cheek received the benefit of Bonnie's palm, swung almost as hard as she could.
Bonnie was not done.
Bonnie was also not herself.
There is that about a woman that will respond with anger when wronged, but there is a fierce and abiding anger about a mother whose daughter has just been wronged.
Bonnie McKenna seized Mrs. Trout about the throat and lifted her to her tip-toes, drawing her closer and looking down her nose at the old woman's bulging eyes and reddening face.
"Hear me, witch," she hissed, and Maude had never in all her years in Firelands heard Bonnie speak to anyone in any but a pleasant and ladylike tone -- "I parade not my grief for your entertainment." Her fingers bent and she pressed them, clawlike, into the old woman's windpipe.
"As for my daughter," she continued, lowering her head and bringing her nose an inch from Mrs. Trout's beak, "if you ever lay your tongue to her name I shall finish ripping your throat from its poisoned roots." She relaxed her grip, as the woman's complexion was becoming somewhat enpurpled.
The bell on the door dingled merrily as Jacob thrust it open.
Bonnie released Mrs. Trout and the old woman fell back, gasping noisily, one hand seizing the corner of the counter, the other to her wounded wind: she blinked the tears from her eyes, then seeing Jacob, raised a palsied hand:
"Deputy," she rasped, "arrest her! Arrest her! She tried to murder me!"
Bonnie lifted her chin, contempt in her expression and in her voice.
"If I intended to murder you," she said icily, "you would never be found."
"There, there!" the crone screeched, eyes bulging, backing away from Bonnie as if from a leper. "She said it, she said it! She's going to murder meee!"
Jacob looked at Bonnie and raised one eyebrow.
Bonnie raised her chin, defiance shining in her eyes.
"A word, if I may?" he asked gently, and approached Bonnie: he offered an arm, and Bonnie lay her gloved hand gently on his: they went out the door together.
Maude and Mrs. Trout watched through the wavy glass as the two spoke.
Jacob raised a hand, one finger extended, and came back inside.
Mrs. Trout pointed an accusing finger at the door, shaking with indigination.
"Aren't you taking her to jail?" she screeched.
Jacob's pace was slow, measured, his eyes pale.
"Mrs. Trout," he said quietly, "I do not hit old women, but if I did, I would knock your nasty face through that wall." His hands closed, opened.
"I am going to give you some free advice.
"Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth if you want to live a long and happy life. If you say one more word -- one more word!" -- his voice dropped to a whisper and he towered over her, mesmerizing her like a snake hypnotizes a bird just before crushing it -- "I will visit myself upon you, and I will make you suffer." He stood over her, trembling a little with anger.
"And remember, Bonnie and I are blood, her daughter is my cousin and the Sheriff's niece."
Mrs. Trout's mouth opened and closed a few times.
"Mrs. Trout, you are overwrought. Let me walk you home."
Jacob reached for her arm and Mrs. Trout blinked.
The spell broken, she bolted for the door, screaming.
The door banged open, swung a little, its bell dinging merrily, as the disagreeable old bat ran down the street at the top of her lungs, arms waving, mouth wide.
Bonnie stepped back inside, closed the door gently.
"Good morning, Miz McKenna," Jacob greeted her formally, hat in hand. "And you are looking lovely this fine morning!"
Maude decorously wadded up a big handful of apron and held it against her face, the better to muffle her laughter.
She'd never liked that old witch and it was worth paying the price of admission to see the old bat get her comeuppance!

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Linn Keller 12-8-10

 

Mrs. Trout's description of the event was accompanied by a high and screeching voice, grand gestures, a kerchief that trailed her flying hand: the Sheriff considered it a good thing that the firehouse cur had been returned to his own bailiwick, for the woman's voice would surelyl have brought the poor dog to its haunches with muzzle in the air, howling.
After another minute of listening to the old woman's histrionics, the Sheriff felt rather like throwing his head back and howling himself.
"Mrs. Trout," he said mildly, to which the woman paid absolutely no attention.
"And that deputy!" She stopped for breath, shaking her head and setting the wattle under her chin a-wobbling -- "that deputy as much as threatened to hit me! He is a public servant! A public servant!" One bony, crooked finger described a corkscrew toward the ceiling. "I will not stand for this, I won't! I want you to do something!"
"Now why is it," the Sheriff said quietly into her huffing lull, "that you expect me to read your mind, Mrs. Trout?"
The old spinster's eyes widened, then narrowed and she opened her mouth to reply: the Sheriff was across the room and had her by the elbow with one hand, reached for the door with the other.
"Mrs. Trout, leave this matter to me," he said reassuringly, and opened the door.
Mrs. Trout found herself on the boardwalk, wondering quite how she got there, for she had gathered a good lungful of air to blast the Sheriff with another lengthy diatribe of spiteful invective: blinking, she shrugged her shawl more tightly across her shoulders and glared up the street, toward the Mercantile.
"Hmph!" she sniffed, hoisting her nose and turning her back: she marched with resolute step down the boardwalk, but with her nose in the air she failed to note that she had come to the end of the walk, and rather than descending the steps in some semblance of order, she ended up in a rather undignified posture in the alleyway instead.
A boot appeared in front of her face.
At one time it had been a new and well-tended boot, and indeed there were traces of polished leather left on it: time, dust, abrasion and weather had taken their toll, leaving only the substantial structure for the most part, and only those traces of a fine finish.
The owner of the boot squatted down and brushed the old woman's hair gently aside.
"Ma'am," the boot's owner said, and his voice was not entirely unpleasant, "may I help you up?"

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Linn Keller 12-9-10

 

Mr. Baxter was a pretty fair judge of character, as was Tom Landers: both studied the stranger as he sauntered into the saloon.
Tom Landers did his best to look inconspicuous, leaning against the bar, a mug beside him and the dregs of a beer foamed in the bottom: he looked almost drowsy, a most deceptive appearance to be sure, and though not fooled, the stranger held his counsel.
Mr. Baxter buffed the gleaming mahogany with industrious strokes of his ever present bar towel.
"What'll it be, stranger?" he asked, perpetual good humor showing in his eyes, and the stranger's expression showed a similar good nature.
"Beer," he said quietly, "and a bite. What's good?"
Mr. Baxter chuckled. "That's the trouble, friend," he said, patting his middle affectionately -- none could say it was protuberant, portly or paunched, for though he took care of the Silver Jewel's thirsty customers, he was no stranger to honest labor, and odd moments had found him tending other duties out and about.
With a hand rubbing his middle he said "If it comes out of Daisy's kitchen it's good!" and the stranger nodded, accepting the beer: "That's good enough for me," he said.
Taking a long, savoring drink of beer, he swallowed slowly, feeling the cellar-cooled beverage sparkle all the way down, until it sloshed contentedly around the bottom of his belly, somewhere ten foot or so below his boot soles or so it felt.
"Reckon I'll have the special, then," he said, and looked at the high chair with the foot rests. "You got a boy that does boots?"
Mr. Baxter chuckled. "We've had that young fellow for some time now." He resumed his polishing, looking off to the right, toward the Jewel's desk. "I believe he's in school right now --"
As if magicked from a rubbed lamp, a grinning lad appeared, wood box in his left hand and a brush in his right.
"I thought you had school today," Mr. Baxter said, frowning a little, and got a big boyish grin in return.
"I seen a stranger come up the street," he said in his little-boy's voice, "and thought he might like a bath and if he wanted a bath he'd want his boots blacked an' maybe he'd want a new suit an' Maude just might have his size an' he'll want a meal an' while he's waitin' I can make a nickle!" he said, all in a rush, and the stranger and Mr. Baxter exchanged a look.
"Well now," Mr. Baxter said, and the stranger chuckled.
"Do you reckon the kitchen could hold off that meal until this young fellow and I transact business?" the stranger asked.
"Oh, I'll see what I can do," Mr. Baxter drawled in a fair imitation of a peevish old man, and both laughed. He gestured with his bar towel.
"There's a shelf on yun side of that chair for your beer."
"Obliged." He took another sip, sauntered over to the chair.
"Y'know, son," he said as he settled himself in the chair and set his hooves on the cast iron foot plates, "it's been a while since I had a good polish on these boots."
"Oh, don't worry, mister," the lad grinned. "I'll do ye a good job!"
The stranger leaned back and he felt tension, an old and long standing tension, start to unwind from around his belly.
Something told him he was safe here.
He hadn't felt this in a very long time.

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Linn Keller 12-9-10

 

Bonnie drew her hem delicately upward and stepped carefully as she walked into the barn.
She knew what she was looking for and quickly found it.
She had thought about this for quite some time, and she had examined herself closely, scrutinizing her soul as she would a bolt of cloth before undertaking an important commission.
Her eyes fell on the stump that served as a small workbench, anvil and pounding block, and above it, hung from two pegs, the maul.
She reached up and plucked the maul from its woody home.
Bonnie hefted it, nodding; she turned, swinging her skirt behind her to get the stump between her and the door.
She'd left the double doors open to admit as much light as possible, for she wished to see what she was doing.
Bonnie placed the maul on the stump, then lay a small, cloth wrapped bundle beside the maul.
On impulse she unwrapped it.
Her jaw muscles tightened and her lips pressed together as she saw the monogram in the corner of the handkerchief: CR, it read, embroidered in a fine, looping script: Bonnie had sewn those very initials in her husband's kerchief, as a matter of fact, the night before she learned about that ... that tart, that trollop with whom he'd been consorting.
She opened the spotless white kerchief fully, exposing the ornate glass bottle.
It had been a gift, given her the morning after her husband's death: a lacrymatory, a testament to the glass-blower's art; even the rubber-lined stopper was beautiful, and gleamed in the indirect light.
A widow would catch the tears of her mourning in the lacrymatory, and one year later, would pour them out on the grave of the loved one, to signify the year of mourning had ended.
Bonnie picked the bottle up, turned it slowly.
It gleamed as she turned it, rainbows sparkling in the twisting prism that spiraled around its length.
The bottle was empty.
Bonnie had thought long and hard after her encounter in the Mercantile.
She considered her motive in refusing to wear widow's weeds.
Her chin came up and hard eyes shone with defiance.
"I will not mourn that man," she hissed, and lay the tear-bottle in the center of the kerchief.
Bonnie folded the kerchief, carefully, precisely, the last fold turned back to exposed the embroidered initials.
She picked up the square-headed maul.
It had been made from Osage orange root: the twisted, tortured grain was so convoluted that when it cracked and split from drying out, and from pounding, it would not fall apart: this was not yet dried nor pounded, and was like swinging a small block of iron.
Bonnie looked at the initials on the kerchief, raised the maul overhead.
Her knees bent a little with the effort of her swing: she fully intended to drive the maul at least halfway through the stump.
All the grief, all the loss, all the anger, all the betrayal, all the fury, all was focused in this woman's two-handed swing.
The sound of the tear-bottle's crushing was lost with the slam of wood maul into smoothed stump.
One mighty blow was all she needed; one mighty blow destroyed any grief she may have had.
The kerchief was soiled now, stained with dirt from the maul, and from the stump, and the cloth was lacerated from the impact and from the crushed glass it held.
Bonnie picked it up and carried it outside, holding it between thumb and forefinger, at arm's length, as if it were diseased, or unclean.
She carried it into the house.
She used her apron as insulation and opened the door of the stove.
She tossed the refuse within, and closed the door.

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Linn Keller 12-10-10

 

About half way through his beer, he set the bottom of the mug on his right thigh.
The lad working on his boots was setting up a regular rhythm.
It felt kind of good.
It was warm within, and his belly was happy to get something in it, and in spite of not having eaten yet, he began to relax.
When a man's fist is upright and he relaxes, it rotates inward, and his did.
His was also wrapped around the handle of that beer mug.
Tom Landers saw the man's eyes drift shut and his head tilted forward very slightly, then he saw the mug begin to rotate.
The fellow woke when he felt the mug twitch in his hand.
He opened his eyes.
Tom Landers was leaned over the lad and had the mug in his grip, keeping it from dumping its remaining contents right in the fellow's lap.
They looked at one another for a long moment.
"Hello, Tom," the fellow said agreeably, the ghost of a smile in his eyes.
"Hello, Brown," Tom said. "What brings you here?"

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Linn Keller 12-11-10

 

Brown bit happily into another warm light roll.
"You don't get these over'n Cripple," he mumbled through a mouthful.
"No, reckon not," Tom Landers agreed, the corners of his eyes crinkling along old and well-established wrinkle lines.
"Phmp," Brown grunted as he gulped some coffee and washed down his current mouthful while buttering what was left of the roll.
"Yer manners are as delicate as ever," Tom observed dryly.
Brown laughed, the easy laugh of someone more than familiar with his dinner partner.
"Never did tell me what you're doin' out this-a-way."
"Me?" Brown chewed the last of the sweet roll and picked up his fork, happily regarding the taters and gravy steaming fragrantly in front of him. He scooped up some taters, sloshed it through the gravy and leaned forward a little, shoveling the tinesful of cargo into his mouth, savoring the taste as he swallowed, slowly, slowly.
Brown looked left, looked right, then leaned toward Tom, speaking in low voice, as if divulging a State secret.
"I'm lookin' for a wife," he confided with a wink and a nod.
"A wife," Tom repeated skeptically.
"Yep." Brown nodded rapidly. "I got me a notion to marry me some nice lookin' widda-woman."
"Mmm-hmm," Tom said quietly, leaning back and crossing his arms skeptically.
"I thought they was one over t'other side o' Cripple," Brown said in a disappointed tone. "I'd heard she was a widda anyhow but 'tain't the case." He frowned sadly. "Right shame, too. She plays fiddle real nice."
"Fiddle?" Tom Landers' ears twitched.
"Oh, ya." Brown sliced off a chunk of beef and chewed happily. Once he had enough room to talk he continued.
"She's crippled up or so I heered, layin' in bed healin' up an' all. I reckon she gets tired of just bein' in that-there room. Fell of a horse or somethin' an' broke her leg pretty bad or so I been told. They daggone near t' sawed it off when they saw how bad 'twas. Turns out she ain't no widda woman but ever' aft'noon, set yer watch by't, she'll have someone throw open attair winda an' she'll play violin." Brown's eyes grew distant, softer with the memory.
"Tom, you would not believe it less'n you seen it. Miners -- hard rock miners, hard knuckle brawlers, men that would ruther get drunk an' fight than annythin' ... why, they'll gather under attair winda, all silent-like, an' they'll stand there an' listen to that poor woman play."
Tom Landers nodded, silent.
Brown blinked, looking at the memory, fork forgotten in his hand.
"It's somethin'," he said softly. "She always ends up playin' Shenandoah. Ever' time." He blinked and returned to the here and now.
"And y'know somethin'?" He leaned over toward Tom again. "Them-there hard men generally has to wipe their eyes, 'specially when she plays Shenandoah. Hard men, Tom! Hard men, water runnin' outta their eyes for t' listen to it!" Brown stabbed his beef, sliced off a chunk with vicious thrusts of the knife. "I would never," he mumbled around a fresh mouthful, "I'd never ha' believed it had I not stood there with 'em an' listened."
Tom Landers nodded.
"Well, if she ain't a widda, where d'ye figure to find one?"

Bonnie had come into the Jewel through the back door so she could stop and talk with Daisy: she knew the woman had suffered a loss here of late and had no chance, with her own difficulties, to express her sentiments: the two spoke briefly, Bonnie laughing quietly as Daisy described the antics of her men.
Bonnie made it into the Jewel proper just in time to hear a stranger at a table state that he had his hat set on "that Widow Rosenthal," and she stopped for a moment.
Tom Landers looked at her and winked, and she winked back, then proceeded to a table not far away.
Tea and a light lunch arrived momentarily, and as Bonnie ate delicately and sipped daintily, she listened as this stranger built castles in the air, allowing as he intended to just plainly charm his way into the new widow's heart and sweep her off her feet.
"Now," the man said to Tom, "I ain't seen no women aroun' here in widow's weeds. Where do you rekcon I might find this Rosenthal widow?"
Bonnie smiled into her teacup, then on impulse stood.
"Perhaps I might be of assistance," she said pleasantly.
Brown stood abruptly; Tom Landers rose a bit more slowly.
"You're asking about the ..." Bonnie paused. "About the Widow Rosenthal."
"Yes, ma'am," the stranger said eagerly, thrusting out his hand. "Name's Brown!"
"Bonnie McKenna," she replied, taking his hand.
"Where might I find this poor soul?" he asked, his expression so sincere and so open that Bonnie had difficulty keeping as much of a poker face as she could.
"Mr. Brown," she began, and she felt her ears redden: "Mr. Brown, you know these widows. Mr. Rosenthal was taken back to Chicago to be interred with his family, and it's very likely that she rode beside the coffin, grieving every foot of the way."
Brown affected a dolorous expression and nodded knowingly. "Yes, ma'am, that's likely so," he agreed.
"Then there would be visitation, services, interrment ... she might be staying with family back East," Bonnie added with an absolutely big-eyed and innocent expression. "Of course, for the first year, a decent woman wouldn't be seeing any ..." She hesitated. "You understand. for the first year of mourning."
"Oh, yes ma'am, yes ma'am," Brown agreed, his expression changing to that of a man disappointed. He looked down at the table, then back up.
"So she ain't here?"
Bonnie turned, looking toward the bar and the front door, and saw Daisy leaning against the corner, arms folded, a knowing smile on her lips: Bonnie turned and looked right, then back to Mr. Brown.
"No, Mr. Brown, I'm sorry, I don't see any women in mourning here."
Mr. Brown sighed, looking like a deflating balloon.
"Well darn," he said quietly, then rallied.
"Ma'am, I do thank you."
"Where will you go now, Mr. Brown?" Bonnie asked, and Tom Landers listened carefully, for a man who might be reluctant to speak to another man, will often spill his guts for an attractive woman.
"Oh, reckon I'll head back down Kansas way," Brown said. "I used to push cattle down yonder." He chuckled. "On t'other hand, might go back to Alabama. Got a brother down there an' he says winter ain't near so bad there."
Bonnie dropped a curtsy and turned: she had to get away from the table, get away from Brown, get out of the public eye: Daisy took her upper arm and thrust a dishtowel in the woman's hands.
"You're a wicked, wicked woman," Daisy whispered as she hustled Bonnie down the hallway.
Bonnie crushed the towel quickly into a ball and pressed it against her mouth, desperate to stifle the giggles that were shouldering their way past her wards.
The two women went out the back door and fell into one another's arms, laughing.
"Ye're a wicked woman," Daisy repeated, her hands on Bonnie's shoulders, "but I'm proud o' ye!" and the two were off again.
As a matter of fact it was several long minutes before they got themselves under some semblance of a decorous demeanor.

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Linn Keller 12-12-10

 

Sarah was standing in shortened stirrups, knees bent, leaning out over her late Papa's race horse's neck, the brim of her hat turned up in front and the wind of her passing cold on her cheeks.
Sarah had never overworked the chestnut: she knew the thin air was hard on horses from back East or from the low lands beyond, and she'd patiently increased the big mount's capabilities, until today when to their mutual delight, they galloped together across the high meadow, not so much a horse and rider as one magical creature, riding the wind itself.
Sarah wore the canvas britches that caused her Uncle such dismay, and found them to her liking: "For all things there is a season," Parson Belden had said in a sermon one time, and Sarah seized upon that as justification: it was her season to ride as she loved to ride, and somehow she could not be as free with her skills when wearing the skirts of a lady.
Even the divided skirts of a riding dress.
Sarah and the chestnut drew up on a knoll, looked out over Firelands: it was maybe two miles distant, yet clearly seen in the crystal air: the chestnut was restless, anxious to run more, but Sarah patted the mare's neck and spoke to her and told her she was a good girl, we were going to walk for a little bit.
The mare was not content walking and they compromised on a slow trot, back toward town.
This lasted maybe fifteen minutes.
The Sheriff looked up at the sound of approaching hoofbeats: he could tell from the sound the horse was galloping, but galloping easy, not being pushed, and not fatigued.
He patted his own mare's neck and she thrust her nose against his ribs, begging for attention, and he chuckled and petted her velvety nose.
"You bum," he said affectionately, and she lipped a few shavings of plug tobacco from his hand.
"Uncle Linn!"
The joyful shout carried well in the chill air.
The Sheriff turned as Sarah drew up, throwing the mare's reins over her head and vaulting out of the saddle: she ran two steps and threw herself at the Sheriff, laughing, and the two embraced, though in fairness the Sheriff was obliged to take a step back and turn half-around to keep the pair of them from going over the hitch rail.
The Sheriff could not help but laugh, and he felt Sarah, solid and so very alive in his arms, and she drew back a little to look at her Uncle.
Her eyes were bright, shining, her teeth white and even: her complexion was flushed, wind-kissed and healthy, and wisps of hair peeped out from under the hat where she'd piled and hidden it.
Sarah pulled off her hat and shook her head, her hair falling down her back: she replaced the Stetson, tightened the storm strap.
"Uncle Linn, she's a jumper!" she exclaimed, throwing an arm at the chestnut.
The Sheriff nodded.
"I'd heard you cleared the fence back at your place," he said, approval in his voice and a smile drawing up his face.
"You should have seen us!" Sarah said in a rush, obviously excited at the memory: "We came up on that gully wash behind the Michael cabin, the one that burnt down two years ago, and I forgot it was there and she just gathered herself and we flew over!" She described a diver's thrust with her arms, as if leaping off a tall rock into the waters below, and her voice lifted a little as she enunciated "flew" ... he saw her pupils dilate a little with the memory, and he knew the feeling she had in her belly as she remembered, for he knew what it was to run a good horse, and to jump a good horse.
He understood what it was to be young, but he was not young anymore: with age comes many things, and his was a protective nature.
"Sarah," he said softly, and she felt his fingertips under her chin.
Sarah turned her face up to her uncle.
Mein Gott, she's becoming a beauty! he thought, and wondered for a moment whether he should take to sleeping in a rocking chair on Bonnie's front porch with a double gun across his lap, just to keep marriageable men at bay! -- but just as quickly, the thought was gone, and he realized he was just a greying old granddad with a great affection for this young and lively niece before him.
Sarah blinked at his touch, suddenly uncertain, at least until she heard her Uncle's voice.
"Dear heart," he said, "be careful when you jump."
He brushed the curve of her glowing cheek with the back of his finger.
"Sarah, in all of creation, in all of eternity, there is only one of you."
Sarah nodded, eyes big, listening.
"You are unique and you are special and you cannot be replaced."
The Sheriff smiled sadly.
"But then I'm just an old softy, eh?"
Sarah blinked and hugged her old softy uncle again, and he hugged her back and laughed a little.
"You're still out at Charlie and Fannie's?"
She nodded: he felt her head move, still pressed against his front.
"They'll teach you right, dear heart."
Sarah nodded again, the rasping of her sandwiched hair loud in her ear.
"Sarah." The Sheriff's arms loosened, and he held her shoulders lightly, carefully, drawing her away from him a little so he could look into her eyes again.
"Yes, Uncle Linn?"
The greying old lawman blinked a couple times and swallowed hard.
"I am very proud of you, Sarah," he said, and Sarah heard something funny in his voice.
It was her turn to swallow hard.
Tears stung her eyes and she didn't know why and it made her angry: she dashed them viciously from her with hard thrusts of her knuckles.
More replaced them, hotter, wetter, and she felt her face start to screw up the way it did when ... when ...
Sarah realized she was about to cry.
"I wish you'd been my Papa!" she said brokenly, and the Sheriff knew a dam had just broken, and he did the best thing an uncle could do in that moment.
He held his girl and let her muffle her grief in his shirt front.
Sarah had held in all the conflict and all the resentment, all the loss and all the fear, everything that she'd kept hid from the first time her Papa came staggering home drunk and smelling of cheap perfume and conquest, from the first time he'd cursed her and thrown a glass at her, the first time he'd backhanded her and then fell over, too drunk to stand: she'd held in all the confusion and loss and misery from knowing her Mama was hurt, and her Papa, bad though he was, killed: her Mama refused to grieve, and so Sarah refused as well, but she did not realize strong feelings, bottled up, will ferment and eventually will break free, for good or for not.
Sarah did not know these things, at least not with her conscious, thinking mind.
She did know that as long as Uncle Linn held her, she was safe, safe as if she were in a loving Papa's arms.
Sarah, a strong young woman, needed to be a young girl again, a young girl who could cry out her fear and her grief and cry for the Papa that used to be.
Uncle Linn knew what it was to be blindsided by the rogue wave of unresolved grief.
A loving uncle held his sorrowing niece on a sunny street, held her while she cried herself out.

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