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Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 9-4-07


Doc Greenlees dropped the soiled bandage in the bucket, drew up a wheeled stool. "Raise your arm above your head."
I did.
He probed gently around the wound and made some "hmmm" and "umm hmm" sounds like doctors always do.
"This may hurt some," he warned, and I clenched my teeth, for he was exactly right.
A slice, a tug, a tear, and he was wiping at my side with a wad of gauze.
"I think we found the problem," he murmured, holding up another chunk of metal. "This was working its way out the new wound channel. Looks like your body was tired of carrying it around."
I heard something splat into the bucket and there was more pressure on my side. Doc massaged the wound and wiped it with something, then reached for a small bottle. I stiffened. This generally meant it was going to hurt more, and I was right.
I was sweating now.
"Almost done." Doc's voice was hardly ever raised above a murmur. Don't recall as I'd ever heard him speak in anything but a quiet and gentle tone. At the moment I was enjoying all the subtle delights of the liquid version of a red hot poker applied to my side.
"There was quite a pocket of infection broke free. I had to go in and wipe out the corruption. I don't suppose the carbolic felt very good."
"No," I gasped.
Doc looked at the bottle of whiskey on the side table, untouched since we five shared a couple fingers' worth. "Need a shot?"
I shook my head.
"You should heal up now. Unless I miss my guess, this little fellow here" -- he held the shrapnel up between thumb and forefinger -- "was causing you all that trouble."
I heard him washing up.
There was a tap at the door. Attorney Moulton leaned in. "Sheriff? You receiving visitors?"
"Come on in." I'd remembered a matter, after he'd left, and wanted to get it taken care of.

I'd just signed the necessary papers, and Moulton had affixed his seal to them,when Daisy shouldered the door open. She carried a tray with enough of a meal to feed any three men.
My stomach growled.
Attorney Moulton sniffed appreciatively at the smell of good food and made a mental note to take an early lunch; he smiled, nodded to Daisy and then to me, and pulled the door to behind him.
"Let's get you set up some," Daisy said without preamble, making room on the sidetable for the tray and then slipping an arm behind me. She did most of the work, getting me almost upright, and stuffed two pillows in behind me to hold me there. My side reminded me it was still unhappy with me, and I ignored it. I hadn't eaten in far too long, and I could have probably eat a Missouri mule, all but the shoes and the bray. Hungry as I was, if you'd put gravy on 'em I'd give 'em a try!
"Start slow, Sheriff," Daisy cautioned. I nodded, savoring my first bite, of bread, still warm out of the oven, with butter from her spring house.
I closed my eyes and sighed.
Daisy laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Now Sheriff," she said quietly, "you heal up good for us, hear? We're dependin' on you."
I looked at her in surprise. She had a tear rolling down her cheek.
"Jacob is worried about you. He needs a father. You're all he's got. He needs you."
I set down the bread. "Daisy, unless you know somethin' I don't ... this ain't goin' to kill me."
"No, it might not, but it looked pretty spotty for a while. We thought you was kilt." The more agitated she got, the more she reverted to her native dialect.
I reached for her hand, ignoring the agonies in my side. "Daisy, I've no intention of leaving."
"I'm goin' to hold you to that," she said, producing a kerchief from somewhere and pressing it to her eyes. "Now you take Miz Esther. I've not seen her any busier, nor any happier, since we met. She's on top of the world. Don't you make her a widow-woman before she's even married to you!"
"Daisy," I said, concerned now, "what's going on? Why are you suddenly worried whether I'll live?"
She crushed the kerchief in her hand. "I've been listening to the troopers and watching them come in all tired and sweaty. Word is we'll be attacked and burned out!"
"Daisy," I said sternly, using my Daddy-voice, "I will not allow any such thing to happen!"
Daisy leaned over and hugged me. "I'm scared!" she whispered. "I'm so scared!"
I wrapped my arms around her and held her. She needed held more than I needed relief from the pain and right then I did not care about my side, not one bit. For a long moment Daisy was a scared little girl who needed her Daddy, and I rocked her a little, and made the soothing sounds a father makes for his little girl when she's scared of a summer storm in the night.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-4-07


Charlie waited until Daisy left then went in to see Linn. "I reckon you've heard there's lots of sweating taking place the last little bit," he said right off.

Linn nodded with his mouth full of food. "Well, here's the plan so far. I borrowed a few of Mick's boys, and we've been hauling sand and filling sand bags. Right at the moment, dang near all of the buildings on the main street are lined inside with sand bags right up to window level." He grinned. "Any old boys who come blastin' into town are gonna be in for a rude awakening. Folks are stashing ammo and guns and are actually looking forward to a fight. This'll be the most honest excitement this town's had in ages. And it helps that they're protecting their homes and businesses."

"What about the roof tops?" Linn asked.

"Any building that's got a strong enough roof has got sandbags up there, too. And the preacher has got a Sharps and a Winchester up in the bell tower of the church."

"But what's to keep the raiders, whoever they are, from just blazing through town and out the other side?"

"Well, WJ over at the store just happened to have a few rolls of Mister Glidden's finest barbed wire in his back room. We built gates to swing across all the alleys except the ones at each end of the main drag. Those have got freight wagons set to roll across the street at each end." He grinned somewhat evilly. "And those have got some of that nasty wire spread all over them, too. Mick's boys'll push the wagons out and chain 'em together. So, what do you think? Think it'll work?"

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Linn Keller 9-4-07


I nodded, taking a sip of coffee and swallowing.
"Sounds good to me!" My eyes drifted up to the corner of the ceiling, wandering across the trim strip as I considered. I nodded.
"You figure to sucker them into town and crossfire 'em."
"I do."
"They won't expect that."
Charlie chuckled quietly. "I know."
"Bobwarr gates, sandbagged firing positions, command of the high ground. That ought to do fine."
I picked up my fork, still hungry. "Like some beef? Got plenty."
Charlie chuckled, held up a hand. "Daisy has been cooking like she's feedin' a crew of thrashers. No, you go ahead and finish that, you'll need your strength." He stood.
Charlie stopped, turned to face me.
"I'd be honored if you'd stand as my best man."

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Linn Keller 9-4-07


Recruiting had been slow.
Even with the Easterner's money they had only about a dozen outlaws hired.
One of them showed promise. He dressed well, unlike the others, but he'd bested the biggest, dirtiest Irishman among them with three well placed punches, and out-drawn another who took exception to his skill. To further establish his place among them, this well-dressed stranger had one of the outlaws push an ace of spades in a crack in the fence post, and cut the heart out of the ace with all six shots. To finish his performance, he turned to the recruiter and demanded double pay, for himself and for the others as well.
Impressed, the Eastern dandy paid each of them, in gold, half now, half when the job was done.
The well-dressed stranger smiled and consulted his watch. The Eastern dandy was too busy thinking about his long-lost, dear cousin Bonnie to notice the stranger's watch fob was in the form of a triangle-and-cross, and even if he'd noticed, he would not have known its significance.

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Mr. Box 9-4-07


Nelly plods aimlessly along as she draws my buckboard. We left Lincoln a few weeks ago with a few belongings. Town was just getting too big and it was time to move on so we headed west. We'd stop along the Platte River whenever we felt like it so she could water up and graze. I'd pick off an occasional rabbit or squirrel. Pickins got a little lean a couple of times. I thought about a possum I'd seen, but decided to pass. Got a couple of quail out of a covey once. They were tasty. Fish were plentiful in the river. I had som bream and a few nice sized catfish.
When it come to navigation, I generally let Nelly pick the fork in the road. We had to back track a couple of times because of a dead end.
This morning we were near the railroad and I could hear a train coming in the distance. As it neared, I saw a small herd of deer run across the road and jumping the tracks. As the train got there a couple of straglers were scared back by the huge engine with all the clatter and roar. Suddenly they tried to join the rest of the herd, only to be knocked back by the cow catcher crippled. I picked up the reins and coaxed Nelly to pull us off the road a little closer to the tracks. I was able to get to them before the regained their senses and limp off. I dressed them both out. I lost the meat off the front quarter on one and most of the neck of the other. I had plenty of room on the buck board for them, and I led Nelly back up to the road before getting in. I didn't want to make her work too hard.
As I got in I heard a rumble of thunder off in the distance. I looked in that direction and there was a big black cloud rolling our way. I flipped the reins and said,"Come on, Nelly, we gotta find someplace to stay dry." She obliged with a nice steady canter. The storm kept coming closer. We came over a gentle rise and I could see some buildings. It looked like a town. We were in luck! Things looked pretty quiet. Just as we pulled up in front of the livery, Crack, Kaboom! A man came running from the back of the livery yelling "FIRE!"
People started pouring out of everywhere with pails, pots, and pans, anything that would hold water! We were right next to the water trough so I rolled the two deer off on the ground and put the first half dozen pails of water on the buck board and had Nelly quick step around back. There I saw a man franticly beating at a pile of straw that had been cleaned out of the stalls. Lightning had set it ablaze. The first buckets of water were imediately put into use with good results. By then the fire brigade was beginning get water there. A quick shower helped get the upper hand on it, too! Soon it was just a smoldering pile of straw and manure. The stable man was sure happy he had taken time to carry it out away from the stable before he piled it up.
As things were settling down, a lady asked "What are those deer out in the street?" I told her it was some fresh road kill I'd found out by the railroad tracks. She asked, "What are you going to do with it?"
"It's more than I can eat."

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Linn Keller 9-4-07


Clara simpered into the mirror. Her hair was perfect, her dress fresh and well-fitted, her perfume carefully chosen; she wore a cameo locket and an innocent expression.
She was immensely pleased with herself.
Men were such fools, she giggled, fluttering her eyelashes at her mirrored image: no man ever loses the ability to believe himself irresistible to the ladies, especially when it is a young and lovely lady, and the man has had a few relaxing libations in the saloon car.
She picked up her purse, weighed it with satisfaction; the old fool had gotten off at the last station, dazed with the memory of a passionate kiss, and unaware -- at least she didn't believe him aware -- that he'd just been relieved of his coin. Several of them, as a matter of fact, not to mention a wallet.
Men were such fools.
It was getting dark. She could probably seduce a lusty young adventurer, but it wasn't likely she would find someone interested in the adventuring she'd come to prefer. The memory of Liam's chastisements brought a wicked smile to her carmined lips.

Liam was already asleep.
He was dreaming of swimming in fields of gold, of being a fine laird in a mansion, surrounded by lovely servant girls who were not able to escape his ... desires.
Liam smiled in his sleep.
Three days to go.

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Linn Keller 9-4-07


Doctor John Greenlees, M.D., stood frozen, his hand on the door knob.
I looked at him, soap in one hand, cloth in the other. "What's wrong, Doc?" I asked. "Never seen a man taking a bath?"
Doc stepped in the room and closed the door behind him, leaning against it in apparent dismay. "You're on your feet."
I looked down. "Yep."
He blinked and shook his head. "Well, long as you're up, let's take a look at your side."
He dismounted the bandage, wiped the wound delicately. He retrieved another cloth from the chest and wet it in the basin, and gently cleansed the area around the wound.
"Don't get it wet," he cautioned, "it's not completely closed up."
"Why do you think I'm washing here, instead of getting into a tub over at the hotel?"
"Because you don't have any clothes?"
"Doc, I've got my hat and my gunbelt. If I had my boots as well I'd be fully dressed."
Doc's eyebrows raised to an impressive height and he sighed. "Well, you're out of bed. I suppose that's a good thing."
I finished my ablutions, felt my stubbled face. "You wouldn't have a razor a man could use, by any chance? I could use my knife but I'd have to strop it to get a good shaving edge."
"I've got an extra."
"Haven't seen Jacob this morning, have you?"
There was a knock on the door. Jacob poked his head in.
"Pard me, -- oh, 'scuse me!" He pulled back and pulled the door to.
"Come on in," I hollered, then winced.
"Ah," said Doc, and I silenced him with a glare. My side had remonstrated better than any fine language.
"Pardon me, sir, I'm terribly sorry," Jacob said, face absolutely aflame; I thought he was going to try and hide behind the suit he was carrying. "I've got your suit, sir."
"Good man, Jacob!" I was delighted. I'd gotten my suit.
"Sir, Miz Bonnie hasn't had a chance to clean it yet. Would you want me to get you something else, sir?"
"Jacob, you are a fine and thoughtful young man," I said. "Yes, thank you. Bring me everything from the hide out. Including my boots. Oh -- and Jacob --" he poked back into the door, having disappeared like a jackrabbit -- "thank you for my hat and my gunbelt. I do appreciate that kindness!"
"Yes, sir!" -- and he was gone.
Doc brought me a straight razor and a strop, and I happily touched up the edge of the already sharp blade; my face was already soapy, I kept it wet, and the whiskers cut cleanly. Had a beard one time, but when it started to go to gray a young lady said I should try shaving it. I did; it took ten years off my visage.
Doc had parked himself on his favorite stool and was regarding me with a critical, or at least a medical, eye.
I wiped off my face, rinsed and dried the straight razor, and laid it out to dry.
"Stand up straight," Doc said. "Hmm. Now turn to face me." He frowned, bobbed his head from side to side just a little, like a hawk sizing up how far the prey was. He stood and with fingertips on my upper arms, leaned me a little more to my left.
"There. That's straight. You're guarding."
Doc clamped his right arm to his side and bent a little to the right. "You've done it long as I've known you. Probably that iron between your ribs. It's become a habit. If you're going to stand up in front of God and everyone and marry that fine woman, I'd like to see you standing up straight to do it."
I nodded. "So would I."
Doc pressed around the wound. I set my jaw and determined not to flinch.
Doc pressed here and there, checking for lumps that would indicate infection, and found none. He listened to my chest some, told me to breathe in, breathe out, and finally shook his head.
"When I was back East, a wound like that would have killed a man on the moment." He sat back down, leaned his chin on his thumb. "Out here a man's head would have to be cut off and cut up before he'd die, and then if you got most of the parts wired back together he still might live."
"I've seen worse," I said briefly.
"You were in the War, I believe."
I nodded.
Doc sighed. "You've seen worse."
There was a tap on the door. "Sir? Got your clothes." Jacob was just a little out of breath: apparently he'd run all the way there and back.
"Come on in, Jacob. Thank you for this. Had breakfast?"
"No, sir, not yet."
"Hungry?" I knew the answer before I asked the question. He was growing. Of course he was hungry. "How about you, Doc?"
Doc held up a hand, smiled. "I've eaten already, thank you, but I'm sure Daisy will be happy to see you on your feet."
I got dressed with some effort. Getting into my boots was the hardest part.
"Don't hold your breath," Doc cautioned. "I don't want you to strain on something and bust a lung."
"How about shooting a rifle?" I asked. "That going to hurt anything?"
"Shoot it left handed," Doc suggested. "At least until you get healed up more."
Doc motioned me to open my shirt and he put a much smaller, folded pad on the wound. "Just in case you leak," he cautioned.
I gave him my best innocent look, not that it would work. I'd been practicing that innocent look for better than half a century and hadn't fooled anyone yet. "Why, Doc! I don't figure to eat THAT much!"
He chuckled. "Get outta here, you're not sick, quit taking up room in an honest doctor's sickroom!"
"Thank you, Doc." We shook. I turned to Jacob. "Let's go eat!"
I pulled the door to behind me and heard Doc mutter something about a damned fool.
Couldn't have been talking about me.

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Lady Leigh 9-4-07


"Oh, Duzy! I just don't know what to make of this!" Bonnie exclaimed.

"Looks like the town is preparing rather well for this ... impending danger."

"Yes, but doesn't it seem to you there is 'impending danger' alot these lately? I mean really .... what are you exact feelings pertaining to this?" Bonnie was hoping Duzy would pick up on the word 'exact' and maybe imply to her perceptiveness.

Meanwhile, Caleb was helping the men in town secure the various building. Primarily he wanted to make sure the 'House of McKenna' would be alright, as he and Bonnie had spent many hours preparing for its opening. He was working along side Jake on securing the 'Silver Jewel', "Jake? You're new here, too ... is it always this hectic?"

"By what I've seen, yes ... but I am thinking that it has been like a snowball effect, and we are caught on the bottom of the down hill part of it."

"Well, I'll be frank, I'm worried! Worried about Bonnie and Sarah. Bonnie's worried about Sarah and the others ... Actually, Bonnie is taking this whole thing personally. If it weren't for mining shares, there may not be this problem. SHe does not want anyone hurt ... the Sheriff down, as he is, has worried Bonnie terribly."

"I would be lieing if I didn't have my frets of worry as well, Caleb." Jake's thoughts ran to those dark eyes that he'd like to get better aquainted with.

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Mr. Box 9-4-07


"I didn't catch your name, Mister." Said the stable man. "I didn't throw it, heh heh," I said. "I'm Fred Baxter. I just got in from Lincoln"
"They call me Shorty." as we shook hands. "I appreciate the help there. It could have gotten out of hand pretty quick."
"I promised Nelly I'd find her someplace dry if she kept me ahead of the rain."
"Well, let me put her up for doin' such a fine job." I reached in my pocket, but he said, "It's on me tonight." The shower was letting up. The air smelled fresh.
Back around front, a lady was asking "What are these deer laying here?" I said they were some fresh road kill I'd found out by the railroad track.
"What are you going to do with them?" she asked. I said "It's more than I can eat."
"I'm starting a restrurant and I could use some extra meat. It's over there. How much ......" As she pointed toward it, a young lady popped her head out the door and yelled "Aunt Ester?!" She turned and ran.
I yelled, hoping to be heard "I'll bring them over and skin them out, Mam."

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Charlie MacNeil 9-4-07


Charlie was taken by surprise by Linn's question. He'd never been in any wedding party in the past, other than his own, let alone being best man at someone's wedding. The only things they truly had in common were a rose and a cross, and a lawman's star. But just maybe that was enough. Linn was waiting for an answer, and Charlie gave him one. "Yes. I'd be more than happy to stand up for you."

"Thank you. I really don't have anyone else."

"So when's the wedding?" Charlie asked.

Linn reddened. "Well, it's not official yet. I still need to propose. But it's a done deal, I swear."

"Well, I reckon I'll be here, providing it's not too long in coming, and I don't get shot up when the raid happens." Charlie grinned. "I'm still headed for Wyoming, you know." Charlie picked up his hat from where it sat crown down under his chair and put it on then stood up. "I'd best go check on the fortifications," he said. "I wouldn't want anything to tip them boys off when they get here. See ya." He went out the door and Linn heard the outside door close behind him.

Charlie stood looking down the street at the Silver Jewel. That one was going to be hard to protect, but he was determined to do the best he could, because the future of a large part of the town's population depended on it. He would need to talk to the ladies some time right away and see if they had any ideas he hadn't thought of.

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Linn Keller 9-4-07


Jacob and I discussed tactics over breakfast.
I was cautious at first, like I had been when Daisy brought me supper the night before, but soon ate with a good appetite. I don't know what Daisy did to food but it was nothing short of excellent. Jacob, of course, ate twice what I did with little effort. Come to think of it, at his age, I ate like that my own self.
"When the shootin' starts, where will you be?" I asked, forking up another bunch of pancakes and honey.
"I'll be in the bell tower, sir, with the parson. He'll have a Sharps."
"Good combination. Room to sand bag that bell tower?"
"No, sir. It's a bit tight."
"Which rifle will you be using?"
"I've got a Winchester, sir."
"Shoot a rifle much?"
He smiled, remembering. "I was a right fair shot with a flint rifle back home."
I grinned. "I used to shoot a flint rifle, when I was your size. Of course that was a long time ago, and General Washington kept me busy running messages for him."
Jacob knew a tall one when he heard it, but said nothing.
"You'll be shooting down hill and the bullet will strike just a bit high. Too bad we don't have a water tower some distance off to try it from."
"Reckon I'll just hold a wee bit low if I have to, sir."
"Shouldn't make that much difference." Another bite of pancake. "The Parson likes a Sharps." I nodded. "See him shoot yet?"
"No, sir."
I took a swig of coffee. "Lay yourself in several boxes of shells ahead of time. We don't know exactly when these fellows are going to come screamin' in here. When they do, Charlie's trap ought to hold 'em long enough to cut them to doll rags."
Jacob was silent for a bit; then, finally: "Sir?"
"Yes, Jacob?"
"Where will the women be?"
I considered. "Western women are made of stern stuff," I said. "I don't reckon they'll take kindly to being told to hide in the church."
"No, sir. I would reckon Miz Esther will likely be in that doorway with her double gun."
"Double gun?" I asked, surprised.
"Yes, sir. When you was shot she came screamin' into town on that good lookin' mare with a twelve bore across her saddle and fire in her eye."
Well, I'd be damned, I thought, and of a sudden I felt kind of funny.
A man normally thinks of keeping his women safe, and when need be, fighting to keep them safe.
Here was a woman who was coming in to keep me safe!
I already had Esther on a pedestal. I commenced to slide a jack under her pedestal and hoist it up several more notches.
"Sir? When do you figure to ask her?"
"Hm?" I came back to the here and now. "I'm sorry, Jacob. What was your question?"
"You're going to ask her to marry you, aren't you, sir?" Jacob looked almost anxious, as if fearful it wouldn't happen.
I smiled and studied my coffee cup. "Jacob, I don't know much about women, but a little bit I do know." Daisy appeared out of nowhere, refilled my cup, winked at Jacob and disappeared.
"Women love to be showed off. A man can ask a woman to marry him, but they like it better when you ask them when you're in some place important."
Jacob listened intently, leaning forward a little.
"Esther is going to open the Ruby Room here directly. Opening night is going to be a fine affair. If she is agreeable to my asking her, I will propose to her in front of everyone, when we're all dressed up and everything is shining and lovely."
Jacob nodded, emotions chasing themselves across his face. He looked up. "Sir? Will I be there?"
"I would like very much for you to be there, Jacob."
He grinned, eyes shining, then his face fell. "It will be a fancy dressed up affair, I reckon."
"It will."
He looked absolutely crestfallen and he looked down at his rather plain garb.
I leaned over and laid my hand on his arm. "You'll have a suit for the occasion."

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Linn Keller 9-5-07


The morning was cool, and the air damp after the rain storm. Edi breathed easy as she and Esther galloped across the prairie.
Esther did so love to ride, and the paint mare did so love to run.
A rabbit took off and Edi took off after it. Esther shouted in delight and urged Edi to greater speed.
The rabbit cut and dodged, Edi cutting and dodging to match, Esther laughing. "Go, girl!" she shouted, and Edi did, with a will.
Finally the rabbit took refuge under a rock, and Edi jumped the little ravine, and for a moment, for a long moment, Esther was flying, she was flying, and then they landed, and Esther laughed again, and they turned in a wide circle and headed back towards town.
The morning sky was streaked with color stacked on color, and Esther took a deep breath and marvelled.

The Sheriff was up early. He was sleeping at the Sheriff's office again, in spite of being stove up and sore; he too was regarding the sunrise with admiration, coffee in hand, Navy Colt on his belt.
Town was quiet, holding its breath.
He sipped his coffee.

Esther leaned back in the saddle, and more with saddle and knees than reins slowed Edi. "Ho, girl," she murmured, and they stopped in the middle of a thick carpet of wild flowers. Bees were busy in the blossoms, gathering honey against the latening season.
"These would make a fine bouquet," Esther whispered to Edi, leaning forward and patting Edi's smooth neck. "But don't tell anyone! I haven't given him my answer!"
Edi taste-tested the blossoms, and found they met her approval.

In among the blossoms there were bees, and there were other small creatures; hunting these miscellaneous insects were the occasional spider; and hunting these were hornets, wasps that preyed on spiders. Their liking was for their chosen prey. Neither horse nor rider troubled them, and they in turn troubled not the feminine pair departing the field of blooms.

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Lady Leigh 9-5-07


"Duzy? Do you mind if I talk to you ... about Esther, that is?"

"Goodness, Bonnie, of course!"

Bonnie thought the world of Sheriff Keller... She thought the same for Esther. This was going to be a difficult discussion for Bonnie. She knew her feelings were personal ones, not a reflection to the two she cared for.

During the night, Bonnie woke up thinking about what Esther had told them ... a pending wedding. "What's all the hurry?" Bonnie found herself thinking. "On one hand, if two people are in love, why wait? On the other, is it fair to marry when extra ordinary feelings may be the basis? Would this be a marriage based off of the thoughts that someone may die, so let's just hurry up and make wedding plans due to an emotional upset? And what about Jacob? What does Esther really think or feel for him? Of course she cares for him! She cares for everyone ... very few people are exempt from Esthers care. Does she want to adopt Jacob, because it looked at is Linn would."

These where the thoughts Bonnie shared with Duzy. Thoughts that kept her up a good long while the night before.

"Duzy ... my questions may be clouded by my own, rather obstructed view, of relationships right now. I don't know Esther the way you do. I suppose that just because I don't know what to really make out of the notion of romance, doesn't mean that everyone else is feeling the same way. Does this pending wedding seem remotely quick to you, Duzy? Or is it just me, and I need to calm down and get a grip?"

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Linn Keller 9-5-07


I opened the door cautiously. "Howdy, WJ."
WJ looked up from his perpetual list and smiled. "Morning, Sheriff. Careful you don't trip over my new decorations."
I looked at the sand bags, neatly ranked against the wall, coming up just to window height, with some extras piled up ready to hand. I nodded.
"The weak point will be the door," WJ said. "Don't quite have that one figured out yet but I'm working on it."
I leaned on his counter, still a little short of breath.
"You supposed to be up and about this early, Sheriff?"
I cocked an eye at him and grinned. "WJ, I've seen folks in this shape live a week or more!" I started to laugh but it hurt too much.
"Yep, figured so," WJ nodded. "You better take things just a bit easier, Sheriff. Folks hereabouts have taken a likin' to you and we don't want to go losin' you just yet."
"That's reassuring." I took a couple slow breaths. "Anything come in for me?"
"Oh, yes, just yesterday morning, as a matter of fact." He went in the back room and brought out a wooden crate, set it up on the counter.
I paid the man, and for the bobwarr that he'd kindly donated to our needful cause. He wouldn't take anything for the sand bags -- said he'd bought them up on impulse and they were taking up room in his store room and he was glad to get rid of them, as burlap made poor aprons and he didn't know what else to use them for. I had to twist his arm to get him to take my gold for the bobwarr.
"Say, there's one more package here for you. Came in the day you got shot and I didn't have the heart to trouble you with it." He handed me a smaller package, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.
I looked at the wooden case. "WJ, I don't reckon I'm up to packin' this around quite yet. Could you have that taken to the Sheriff's office for me?"
"That I can do, Sheriff." He hesitated. "Understand you were a colonel."
"I was."
WJ nodded, then smiled, eyes twinkling behind his spectacles. "You ain't half bad for a damned Yankee."

I left WJ's with the paper wrapped package under my arm and a smile in my eyes. I'd noticed the CS belt buckle hanging off a peg, in a back corner, and kind of figured that might be the case.
I went across the street and down to the House of McKenna. Bonnie was just opening up.
She took one look at me and swept a chair under me. "Sit down before you fall down," she said briskly, "you're pale as a ghost!"
I didn't argue.
Bonnie pulled up another chair and regarded me levelly. "Sheriff, what's on your mind?"
I handed her the package.
"For me or for Esther?"
I pointed to her and nodded. It was easier to breathe but my side hurt.
Bonnie nipped the string with a pair of shears that lived in her apron pocket and unwrapped the crinkly brown paper. Her serious mien turned to delight and she put a hand to her mouth.
I'd ordered her two dolls.
Women's fashions in that day were illustrated with copper engraving prints, but dressmakers like to look at something that's not just flat: they like to walk around it and look it up and look it down, and dolls were used to model fashions, in miniature.
I'd ordered her two of the latest styles, from New York.
"Figured you could use those," I said quietly.
Bonnie looked down, her eyes swinging hard left as she remembered, hard right as she thought, and if her mind was gears they would be fairly singing as they whizzed about processing what she was thinking, holding those dolls and contemplating how to size up the fashion she was seeing.
She looked up, smiling quietly. "Thank you, Sheriff. I didn't expect this."
I nodded.
She spun about with a feminine rush of rustling skirt and put them on one of her several work tables.
She came back and sat down.
"Bonnie, I need your advice."
Bonnie folded her hands and leaned forward, elbows on her knees.
"Esther is a fine lady and the dearest thing I know." I paused, herding my thoughts. This was more difficult than I'd thought. "In another time I would be in a parlor, having brandy and cigars with her father, asking his permission to call on his daughter; in time I would ask for his daugher's hand in marriage -- then I would ask her for permission to ask her for her hand."
I paused, caught my breath.
Bonnie listened, those great liquid eyes never leaving mine.
"The only one I can ask is Esther, and I may have been too forward."
Bonnie nodded, a small, encouraging nod, and I continued.
"I told her to think about what dress she'd like to get married in, and I told her to figure where she'd like me to propose to her. I want the world to know that I want her beside me for the rest of our lives. I want to be seen with her in the finest places. I want to show her off and spoil her and make her an absolute queen." I let my breathing catch up with me and continued. "Bonnie, I sure did not plan on getting shot, and I don't want Esther to think I am about to die for I am not. I have too much to live for, and she ..."
I felt myself getting sentimental. I should have shut up but it just kept coming.
"Esther is the reason I get up in the morning. She's the reason I stay here. She's ... she's the dearest thing I know." I looked at Bonnie. My expression was haunted. "I felt like this one time in my entire life. Once. I'm almost afraid to feel like this again. Connie was taken a week before I got home from the War, and that almost ended me right there. On the one hand I want this more than anything I've ever wanted in my entire life! -- but on the other hand I'm ..." I looked down at the floor. "I'm scared," I whispered.
Bonnie was honestly surprised. "Scared?" She shifted in her seat, laid a hand on mine. "Sheriff, I don't think you'd be scared of the devil himself!"
I closed my eyes, dropped my head.
"Bonnie, I got to think on this. I wouldn't hurt Esther's feelings for the world. I sure as hell don't want to crowd her into anything. I don't want to rush her into marriage. She's been hurt before. I don't ever want to see hurt in her eyes." I stood. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't burden you with this."
Bonnie patted my arm. "Sheriff, it's not a burden. You are a decent and honorable man. Now you think on it and I'm sure Esther will too, and if it's right, it will happen. Sleep on it. Let it sort itself out."
I smiled. "Pappy used to tell me, 'Hurry up is brother to mess it up.' I've proven him right a number of times."
"Your Pappy sounds like a wise man."
I nodded.
"Hope the dolls will do you some good." I put on my hat and left, feeling like I was carrying a wagon load of freight on my back.


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Mr. Box 9-5-07


I stepped out of the hotel after a better night's sleep than I've had in a while, following my nose toward hot food. I didn't get far before I met the marshal. "Mornin, new in town?"
"Yeah, I just rolled in before that shower yesterday. I'm Fred Baxter."
"I'm Charlie. Will you be staying long?"
"I thought I'd hitch up Nelly after breakfast and see where she takes me." I said. "Looks like you're expecting some trouble around here."
Charlie said "We haven't seen it yet, but there seems like there's something on the wind."
"Good luck." As I continued on.
Breakfast was hearty and coffee was very tasty. I went over to the livery and Nelly was all brushed down and feeling frisky. "Much obliged Shorty, It looks like she approves of your services." Shorty nodded, as he was busy feeding. I hitched up Nelly and we headed out the same way we came in. Down the road apiece she took the fork to the left this time. "Want to see some new country, eh girl?"

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Duzy Wales 9-5-07


Duzy listened to Bonnie, happy that they had finally gotten together, as they both had things they needed to discuss. Duzy realized she had not talked to Aunt Esther in quite a while. So many things had happened in such a short time! Duzy and Aunt Esther had not discussed the upcoming nuptials and how her Aunt felt.

“I will talk with Aunt Esther, Bonnie, as I haven’t taken the time to think of that before. Usually my Aunt would not do anything hastily, but would plan it out carefully. I shall talk to her tonight!”

Duzy felt a little awkward, but persisted to have that talk she had needed with Bonnie. “Bonnie, how do you know if you are in love, or if what you feel is, well…..just physical attraction? I know I must sound like Sarah, with that question, but the feelings I have for Jake Thomas have me confused.” It was hard for Duzy to talk about, but she continued, “I mean I feel special when I am with him, he treats me like a lady should be treated, and to be honest, he makes me want to let him…..well you know, let him make love to me, although I had always planned to wait until I was married. And yet, I look at him, and I want him, I want to be in his arms, I want the feeling of security he gives me, I want him to kiss me, to hold me, to make me a woman!”

Bonnie listened carefully to what Duzy was saying and then said, "Just do not make any hurried decisions. You will know when the time is right and as long as you are questioning yourself, that time is not yet here."

Bonnie had some burning questions of her own. "Duzy, do you have any idea what Sheriff Keller and Marshall MacNeil are expecting to be taking the precautions in town the way they are? Have you had any "premonitions?"

"No, Bonnie, I haven't had any premonitions about what is coming and that concerns me, as I usually do....I only know that it seems the smell of roses means something....that it makes me more calm and make me feel that everything will be alright. I am sorry I cannot help you more. Perhaps tonight, I will dream something that can give us some insight!"

The ladies hugged as they parted, each going to check on their businesses, and Duzy to see if any word had come from the wires she had sent.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-5-07


Art Parlan rode into the outlaw camp followed by twelve of his riders. "I hear somebody's payin' good gold money to have a town burned out," he said to the first man they came to. "Where do we sign up?" Steve Haggerty had done his share of killing and other mayhem, but he took one look at Parlan and his crew and pointed wordlessly to the center of the camp. Parlan rode on.

Parlan dismounted and tossed his reins to his second in command, Jack Malone. He swaggered up to the man who looked to be in charge and said, "I'm here. We can start plannin'."

"I can see you're here, but just who the hell are you?" the gunslick demanded. "I don't recall that we were waiting for anyone in particular."

"My name's Art Parlan, and these are my boys." He gestured to the heavily armed group who still sat their horses, waiting. "We tear down towns for fun."

"This town won't be fun, I don't imagine," the answer rang out. "They've got a couple of pretty savvy lawmen there."

"Pshaw," Parlan said. "They won't stand a chance."

"We'll see. For now, put your horses in the corral and find a place to plant yourself. We're not quite ready to move yet."

Parlan and his men did as instructed and settled in to wait. Several bottles of whiskey surfaced from somewhere and the men set to drinking with a will.

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Linn Keller 9-5-07


I put aside thoughts of Esther the moment I crossed the threshold of the House of McKenna. For one thing, I nearly ran into Mick. He snapped a salute and I automatically returned it.
"Colonel, sir, good to see you this fine mornin'," he greeted me in his great booming voice.
"Mick, did you see the sunrise today?"
"Aye, sir, that I did, and look at what I saw in that glorious first light." He turned and whistled sharply, and a good looking chestnut mare came trotting up ... saddled, bridled, and dancing.
I admred her lines. She was a good looking mount.
"Ye like her, sir?" Mick asked as she nuzzled his palm. He'd picked up a handful of little bitty apples, the kind that are unbelievably sweet and no bigger than a fifty cent piece.
She leaned over and sniffed at me. Mick dropped a few apples in my palm, and she took them as delicately as Sam ever took tobacco. I rubbed her ears, stroked her neck.
"Why don't ye try her, sir? I believe ye'll find the saddle familiar."
I took another look. It wasn't Sam's saddle; that one was a custom job, made for Sam's massive barrel. No, this was a cavalry saddle, the kind I'd been quite familiar with, when I was a younger man.
"What's her name?" I asked, turning the stirrup so I could get my hoof into it.
"Rose o' the Mornin', and she's of good stock!"
I stepped into the saddle. Rose o' the Mornin' danced a little under me.
"Try her, sir," Mick encouraged me.
Rose turned with just the pressure of reins on her neck and my knees. On a hunch, I knotted her reins together and dropped them and, hands on my thighs, steered her with my knees.
She turned and paced down the dirt street.
I leaned forward. "Go, girl," I whispered, and she went a little faster, until we got past the last of the buildings.
I leaned back and she slowed.
We paced back to where Mick stood, grinning.
"D'ye like her, sir?"
I patted her neck. She shook her head and blew. She wanted more.
She wanted to run.
I brought her about, touched her with my heels.
She ran.
I thought Sam could run. Well, he could, and for all his size and reach, he was a big horse, and ponderous. I'd ridden him so long I'd forgotten what a good mare can do.
Rose of the Morning, I thought. How about Rosy Bolt of Lightning? I leaned forward and she thrust faster. Her shadow had trouble keeping up.
We came back, shortly, and if it's possible for a mare to strut, she did.
My dismount was not entirely painless, but my blood was up, like it always is after a good ride.
"Me father sends his greetings, sir, and this horse. He'd sent her thinkin' I had a grand stable to keep her in, but I'm just a poor old horse soldier, and all I have is what Uncle Sam has given me."
"Is she gun shy at all?" I asked.
"Nae, sir, she's no' that." He stroked her fondly under the chin. "Trained her meself."
I remembered Mick's father. We'd served together, back when, and he could work magic with horses. It was his mare that got me to safety, that night when the cannon blew up, and our position was overrun.
If Mick trained this horse, I reasoned, he likely was taught by the best, and that was his Pa ... this, then, was a horse worthy of the name!
Only then did I notice the decorations on her bridle.
Roses, engraved into the metal work.
"Thank you, Mick," I murmured.
"Now, sir, let's be plannin' the defense o' this fine little town o' yours. When yon rendegades ride in they'll be lookin' to kill who they can an' run off the rest, so they'll likely hit the hotel hard, and the businesses, knowin' a storekeeper normally lives o'ertop his store. They'll use torches to flush out any they can't see, and if they're black hearted enough, they may likely just kill anyone they find. Unless, o'course, they want to carry off the women."
I stroked Rose's neck, remembering a time when I saw that happen.
I could not help myself. I thought of Esther, and a cold rage started to build in me.
Mick was saying something, but I did not hear him.
In my mind's eye I saw riders in the street, and the firing points along the rooflines. The doorway to the hotel and the Ruby Room would be inviting and they would have to be met with stiff resistance from within.
The Ruby Room was Esther's dream.
The hotel was Tillie's.
The House of McKenna was Bonnie's.
A fire in any of them would destroy them all.
"I won't let that happen," I whispered through tight lips.
"Sir?" Mick asked.
"Hm? Oh. Sorry. My mind was elsewhere. You were saying?"

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Linn Keller 9-5-07


Liam smiled, exhaling a great cloud of blue smoke. He flicked the ash off his excellent Havana and helped himself to another drink.
The terrain was flatter and less populated, but Liam did not care.
He'd gotten word that his forces were growing. Gold was a powerful incentive, especially among the lawless, and the outlaws attracted to his purse were increasing.
Dear, sweet Bonnie, he thought. Let me relieve you of your anxieties. You will be terrified, and I can offer you relief from your fear. Just sign this paper, dear sweet cousin, and I will protect you ...
He laughed out loud. "Two days, my sweet," he chuckled. "Two days."

Clara flirted with every man in the dining car, from a smodering glance, to a flutter of eyelashes, to a blown kiss to a lad that hadn't seen his first shave yet. Men are such fools, she thought, and smiled with a charming innocence at the well-dressed rancher seated across from her.
She hadn't had to buy a meal yet.
She was satisfied that, before the night was out, most if not all his coin would be in her safe keeping, and -- who knows? -- he just might like some of the same things as she.

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Charlie MacNeil 9-5-07



Abraham woke suddenly, once again convinced that someone had called his name. This time he didn't lay back down, but rose from his bed and knelt beside the bedframe with his head bowed and his hands folded.

"I'm here Lord," he whispered. Chills ran up his spine and he felt the presence of a higher power in the small room. All around him, golden glimmers ran like quicksilver along the edges of the furniture and the window frame, and he could feel a warmth and a peace like he'd never felt before. And he felt that a message had been passed.

As suddenly as it came, the quicksilver shimmer dimmed and winked out, and Abraham became aware of the hardness of the floor against his knees through the thin cloth of his drawers. He got to his feet and lit the lamp that stood on the bedside table. He picked up his Bible, sat in the rocking chair that stood nearby, and began to read from Ecclesiastes Chapter 9:

11 I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

12 Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so men are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.

As he read, he knew for certain that "evil times" were coming to Firelands. And he knew just as certainly that he would be standing by to do what he could to thwart that evil. It was coming to a time for the wicked to harvest what they had sown.

There was coming "a time to kill and a time to heal" and "a time for war and a time for peace." Abraham Belding was just as capable at war as he was at peace and he fully intended to be there to do his part when the time came. Misters Sharps, Colt, and Winchester had made sure of that.

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Linn Keller 9-5-07


I raised my fist to knock, then hesitated.
Last time I'd knocked on this door, the Reverend Sopris answered.
I shook my head and took a breath. His duties had him elsewhere, I reminded myself, and I had business with the parson.
Thus fortified, I rapped, twice.
Parson Belding opened the door, a smile on his face and the Book open in his hand. "Come in, son," he said kindly. "I was just thinking about you."
He gestured me to a seat, and sat down himself.
"Parson, there's two things," I said, "and neither of them is a small matter."
"Lay it before the Lord, my son. He can pack it even when we can't."
I nodded. "I'll work on the easier one first." I took a long breath, at least until my side reminded me of the folly of such an exercise. I swallowed hard.
"Somehow I don't think that was a painful memory I just saw."
"No, sir, it wasn't, but I'm gettin' better."
Parson Belding got up and laid his hand on my side. I moved my arm so he could put his hand flat on the bandage. He pressed; it was warm, even through the bandage. He closed his eyes, and I could barely hear his words as his lips moved.
In a moment he sat back down, apparently satisfied. "And the matter that concerns you so?"
"I wish to ask a woman's hand in marriage."
The Parson nodded, rocking a little. "Marriage is an ancient institution," he said slowly, "ordained of God before men cared to record history. A wife is a blessing and a help meet." He smiled a little wider. "Did you know, my son, the first of Christ's miracles was at Cana of Galilee?"
It was my turn to smile. "He turned the waters into wine. At a wedding."
The Parson nodded in approval. "Is she a good choice?"
"An excellent choice."
"Smart? Good looking?"
"She is both."
"Yet your heart is troubled."
I looked to the floor. "Parson, she is a lady in the finest sense of the word. I may have over stepped myself."
"I was shot recently, and some believed I would die of it."
The Parson nodded, once.
"Esther was in the sickroom and I made so bold as to tell her to think about selecting the dress she'd like to be married in, and to consider where she would like me to propose to her."
The Parson frowned a little, considering this. "You asked her to think about selecting a dress."
"Yes, sir."
He smiled, and there was merriment in his eyes. "My father is Sir, my son. I'm just plain old Reverend Belding, a humble servant of God and a fellow sinner like unto yourself." He considered a moment. "So far I don't see a fault in your actions."
"I haven't her permission to ask her hand in marriage."
"I see." He looked somewhere far away, remembering. "You are considering the elaborate manners of a Southern gentleman, asking for a lovely girl's hand."
"I am considering a perfect lady, raised in the South and deserving of every courtesy and of a romantic courtship."
The Parson steepled his fingers. "You've not asked her yet."
"I have not."
"To be real honest, son, I can't see where you've overstepped yourself at all."
I nodded. "I would not hurt her feelings for the world," I said softly, "nor would I offend her in any way."
"But you figure to marry her."
I looked the man square in the eye. "If she will have me, that is my intention!" I declared stoutly.
"Let me know when you decide the deed. And the other matter?"
I took a deep breath, relieved at his words; it was as if a weight were off my heart.
"Parson, you already know hell's a-comin'."
"I know, my son. I was talking to God about it a little bit ago."
"They will want to kill who they can, they will likely despoil our women and carry us off, and it is certain they will fire the town."
"I know."
"We've been making ready to receive them."
"And a fine preparation it is." The Parson chuckled. "I will be joining your son in our bell tower."
He must have seen the surprise I tried to hide.
"He's a fine lad, and growing into a man. He has the greatest respect for you, Sheriff. If he had you any higher on a pedestal you would have nosebleed."
"He is a fine lad," I agreed. "I could not ask for better, were he seed of my own loins."
"You are troubled over what is to come."
"Any man would be."
"Have you doubts about the outcome?"
My look was haunted. "Parson, I was in the War. I have seen battle at its worst. I have waded in blood up to my ankles and I held my best friend as he drowned in his own blood. I doubt me not the outcome will be slaughter, pure and simple, both we and they. What troubles me--" I turned my hat over and over a couple times in my hands -- "I may not be able to keep them safe. My people. I am the Sheriff. I have good people with me, and we will be fighting for what is ours ... but, Parson ... it is a burden. I cannot let them past me. I must stop them!"
Parson Belden nodded. "I've known men like you, Sheriff. Most of them saw war, just as you have, and most of them lost people in the War they care dearly about. Most of them went into some helping profession, whether they became physicians, or lawmen, or went back into the military, but they have one common thread." He looked at me sharply.
"They actually give a damn about what they do."
He let me consider that for a minute, then continued.
"Don't take on more than is your share to carry. We are not burdened with more than the Lord knows we can bear. He will see you through this, according to His will. More than that we cannot ask."
I nodded. "Thank you, Parson."
"My son, you will not be alone," Parson Belden said as he shook my hand. "I will be in the bell tower with my Sharps, and Jacob will be beside me with his Winchester. He is a fine shot and a steady lad, and he will make you proud of him."
"I am already proud of him," I said, surprising myself with the pronouncement.
I turned to leave.
I turned back.
"One last thing. Would you do me the honor of giving the guest sermon Sunday?"
I blinked, surprised. "You heard about last Sunday's sermon, I take it."
He laughed easily and with genuine good humor. "I did, and I would have paid good money to have seen it."

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Linn Keller 9-6-07


"Mick, your and men have done good work."
"Aye, sir, that we have," Mick said with justifiable pride. "I'd no' let them hear me say it, though!"
We laughed together at that.
"Mick, I need some more work, but I'd say we're nearly finished."
"And what'll that be, sir?"
"I'm expecting a box car full of buckets."
"Buckets, sir?"
"Leather fire buckets. I want them distributed among all the buildings, all filled with water."
"Aye, sir. A wise precaution."
"Mick, what do you know about fighting fire?"
"Fire, sir? I've run like hell to get away from a prairie fire, sir, and I've seen fire destroy an entire town, but I've no' much fought it. Other'n yon straw fire when lightning hit near th' livery."
"I'm bringing in a steam powered, fire fighting engine and a crew to run it. Sent off to Cincinnati and rented their services for a week."
"A week, sir? Will that be enough time, do you think?"
"I hope so, Mick. I'll need a shed built, more to hide the engine than to keep it out of the weather."
Mick mulled this over. "Have we the lumber, sir?"
"It's on the train as well."
"Aye, sir, we can do that."
"Good." I took a deep breath. My side didn't hurt, and hadn't for some time, I noted with surprise.
"How's Rose o' the Mornin' suitin' ye, sir?"
I could feel my smile starting behind my ears and spreading all over my face.

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Duzy Wales 9-6-07


Evening came, and Duzy and Bonnie decided to talk to Aunt Esther. They spoke of the upcoming marriage and the questions in their minds. “I have been wondering how long it would take for you to bring this up. I know you thought, with Linn being shot, that you should not worry me; however, I always have time for either of you, as you should know.”

“I was in love once before, and lost that love, thinking it would never happen again in my lifetime. I love Linn Keller, and I do plan to marry him. I will accept his proposal and have already bought his betrothal gift. I have not promised when the wedding will take place nor have we discussed a date! The engagement will give Linn and I time to be together, to learn of each others quirks, what delights the other, to plan where we are to live, to get “The Ruby Room” opened,” and then looking at Duzy, “and to see Duzy settled.”

“Oh, Aunt Esther, you shouldn’t worry about that, as you will still be here in Firelands! You cannot be expected to watch my every move, as I am no longer a teenager!” Duzy was thinking of Jake and was hoping her Aunt had not seen everything!

Aunt Esther continued, “As far as Jacob is concerned, Linn loves the boy, whether he realizes it or not, just as I do, both of you. I would do anything in my power to help either of you, and I will do the same for Jacob, he seems like a fine young man, which is good enough for me. I know Linn tends to get excited and thinks things should run like clock work when he gets an idea, but he will have to learn a little patience, Aunt Esther said smiling, although I do hope to have plenty of time in bed with that man before I die!” Duzy and Bonnie looked at each other and laughed aloud. It seemed their questions had just been answered.

Esther did not stop at that; however, “You are both young in the ways of love. No, Bonnie, do not go there…..the things that happened to you were not love and you have no reason to be ashamed, as it was not your choice what happened! “So, now tell me, Bonnie, how do you really feel in your heart about Caleb, and Duzy, what do you feel when you are with Jake?”

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Lady Leigh 9-6-07


The gambet of emotions Bonnie was experiencing were definitly evident. Shame? Guilt? ....Love?

Love ....

Esther asked a question ... Bonnie wondered if she expected an answer.

"Bonnie?" Srre enough! Bonnie had to answer .... but how?

"Esther ... Caleb and I have not spoken of how we are feeling. Promises made were made by children. As a child, Caleb was my best friend. That friendship has always been there .... something that I was always able to count on. Even now! He's here!

"But?" Esther questioned.

"But we've not discussed anything ..." Bonnie paused, collecting her thoughts. "Sometimes he looks at me with such sorrow ... pitty. I don't want the pitty, and I hold enough sorrow within myself to not exactly want someone elses.

The people in this town are handling things better when it concerns me, and I am grateful. I owe a debt of gratitude to Rev. Sopris. He made it very clear there was an injustice done where I am concerned. But people still look at me sceptically, and I can't blame them ... it's human nature. I feel like I am on some kind of trial basis in their eyes ... especially the women. I still see some of them set their jaw and hold onto their husbands, or sweethearts arms, as if standing gaurd over them. I have had some women approach me on items they want made, but 9 out of 10 times, there are underlying comments made ... comments in hopes to hear gossip ... comments like how happy they are for me that a new life is being experienced, but they still look at me out of the corner of their eyes.

Those are things that Caleb sees, and on occasion, has heard. Do I expect him to be able to digest it? No! Do I even want him to?" Bonnie shrugged.

"I was raised by wonderful, loving people. They instilled in me certain aspects ... conditions, and regardless of what transpired, I can not let go of those tools they gave me. Love was unconditionally delved out to myself and my brother and sister. Love was sacred. With love, all was possible, and when it came to learning love and it's understanding, we were taught to share it in its various forms. We were instructed to do good for our neighbors, for example, but when I was in trouble, no neighbor came to my aide. No one questioned that what was happening to me was not the Bonnie they knew, and as a result, they did nothing!

So now you ask me about Caleb .... well, until I can regain something of myself and feel comfortable with this, I do not feel I can extend those feeling any farther than what is felt for Sarah, Duzy and you, Esther. And until the looks of pitty and sorrow subside from peoples eyes ... Caleb included ... I don't think the next level is something I am ready for."

Esthers face expression was thoughtful, but Bonnie was not anticipating the remark she made, "Bonnie, my dear .... stubborness is just as ugly as pitty. You my dear had best get past your own self pitty, because if you let it continue, no one will look at you any differently! Furthermore, I believe you are misconstruing the look you see in Caleb's eyes, for I see a man who would probably like to discuss with you his feelings, but doesn't dare. I see him look at you with admiration, not condemnation OR pitty. You give Sarah wonderful advise, you tell her school will be fine, that she will be fine, that she is loved, but you won't follow your words of advise. Bonnie? You will be fine! You are loved! Now start loving yourself." With that Esther stood up, laid her hand on Bonnies shoulder, pulled Duzy up gently by her elbow, and the two left Bonnie ... alone.

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Linn Keller 9-6-07


I don't know which made the most noise when the train arrived, the machinery or the passengers.
A half-dozen red-shirted, quarreling, laughing firemen in suspenders and leather hats boiled out of one of the cars, looking around and speculating loudly on the availability of beer, ladies and good beef, in that order. They went back to a flat car, removed a canvas cover, set a ramp in place and by dint of sheer muscle and language that would blister paint off a barn door, rolled a shining, polished, wheeled steam fire engine down to street level.
I grinned.
These fellows were loud, boisterous, swaggering, strutting braggarts. Now to see if they were what I wanted.
I walked up to the biggest of them and, palming my badge into a vest pocket, inquired mildly. "Pardon me, sir, have you any bog trotting Irishmen among you that I might pound into the dirt?"
The fellow was big. I am not a small man, two fingers over six foot in my sock feet, and this fellow looked me squarely in the eye: where I am tall and rangy, he was tall and blocky, and his arms looked like he'd been a blacksmith most of his life.
"I am Sean Connally, and I am an Irishman," he said. "If ye think yerse' man enough, stack your duds and grease your skids and we'll see what you're made of!"
I scaled my hat onto the depot platform. A half-dozen hangers-on joined the whistling, shouting redshirts as Sean and I peeled down to the waist.
I sized this fellow up and tucked my elbows.
I have long thought myself an accomplished boxer and a better out and out brawler.
This fellow was better.
I gave as good as I got, and I got plenty. His first punch caught me in the ribs on the left side and my first punch caught him in the wind, and we both stepped back and took the other's measure.
After that it was a fast exchange of hard punches, two well muscled men brawling in the sun, and finally a hooked punch I did not even see caught me over the left ear, and my feet came off the ground, and that time I did see stars.
Terra firma was a big more firma than I wanted.
I blinked a few times to clear my vision, shook my head.
I raised up.
"You had enough?" I asked, then squinted. There was more than one of him in front of me, and I wasn't sure to which I should address myself.
He stepped forward and extended his hand.
I took it.
He hauled me to my feet and roared, "Ye're the game one, all right! I've no' been hit so hard by a skinny man in all me life!" He rubbed his jaw with appreciation.
"You carry an anvil in your knuckles?" I returned the compliment.
The five other red shirts were still voicing their appreciation for the contest when there was a roar from behind me. "You plug-ugly son of an Irishman, who said ye cuid come int' my town and pick a fight?"
Sean, not to be outdone, spit on his hands, put up his dukes and roared right back, "You bog trotting blue coated son of an Irishman, I can come and go where I please!"
Mick stepped up to him, jaw set and glaring.
Sean set his jaw and glared right back.
"Come on, Mick! Pound him!"
"Sean! Sean! Sean!"
The two tried without success to hold a straight face, then lunged for one another with a mutual roar, back slapping and profaning one another with utter and absolute joy.
"Sean, me boyo, whate'er ye doin' clear out here?"
"We been hired, bucko! Some fella wanted a brand new steam fire fightin' engine and a half dozen good men to run it, an' here we are!"
"And who in his right mind would hire a bunch of wild haythens like yerselves?"
"Some fella named Keller. Sheriff, I think."
Lightning had come out to watch the fun; he'd been kind enough to take a towel and wet it in the rain barrel and clean off my back, where I'd fell back into the street, before I put on my shirt. I buttoned and tucked in and buckled my gun belt, then shrugged into my vest and replaced the badge.
I stuck out my hand.
"The name's Keller. Welcome to Firelands!"

They made a fast check of the engine, their hoses, nozzles, harness and horses; Shorty took the three-horse hitch down to the livery, and we made a noisy troop as we headed for Daisy's. This bunch of firefighters, like the army, marched on its stomach, and I'd promised them Daisy's finest.
"That was a beatin' ye took, lad," Mick muttered to me. "How's yer side, boyo?"
I twisted a little.
I looked at him, surprised.
It didn't hurt.
Mick misinterpreted my look. He seized my shirt, yanked it out of my pants, pulled it up to look, seized the bandage and pulled away.
"Jaysus, Joseph an' Mary," he breathed.
Sean stopped, came back and shoved his head down for a closer look. "Yon's a nasty scar, Sheriff," he roared. "Wha'd ye do, lose a fight?"
Mick drew himself with an air of affront. "I'll ha' ye know he took on a dozen Englishmen, an' they wi' bayonets. He was shot and run through and he still managed to vanquish the enemy wi' nothing but the pen knife in his gentleman's vest!"
Sean threw back his head and laughed. I don't think the man did anything quietly. "Aye, the way he can hit, I believe it!" They stomped happily into Daisy's and argued about where they would sit.
Daisy came out, frying pan in hand, to see what the sudden racket was.
As one, the half-dozen Cincinnati firefighters turned.
Six leather helmets came off on the moment.
I have never heard a more complete silence in all my entire life.
"Daisy?" Sean whispered, his voice absolutely gone in his astonishment.
The frying pan hit the floor and Daisy's hands went to her bosom.
"SEAN!" she screamed, sprinting for the big Irishman and tackling him to the floor with the force of her impact. She landed astride his belly, pounding him with both her delicate little fists, yanking his hair and screaming something in a language I could not quite understand, but her meaning was clear, as she was crying so hard she could hardly utter the syllables she was trying hard to utter. She finally collapsed on top of him, hugging him and crying so hard she started to choke.

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Linn Keller 9-6-07


Bonnie had just tethered Edi in front of the House of McKenna when she heard the clang of metal hitting the floor, followed by Daisy screaming something.
Bonnie looked around. No sheriff, no marshal, no Dawg.
She pulled the rifle from its scabbard, kicked out of her right-hand stirrup and rolled out of the saddle. Cranking a round into the chamber, she came to the door.
Daisy was crying and hugging some big fellow in a red shirt who was laying on the floor, and a handful of other fellows in red shirts were looking at one another like they didn't quite know what was going on. Mick nodded gravely at Bonnie's timely arrival, as did the Sheriff.
The big fellow on the floor sat up, got his arms around behind Daisy's knees and behind her back, and stood, whispering to her like she was a dear child, afraid of the storm.
Bonnie eased the hammer down to half cock and got her back to a wall.
The big fellow set Daisy down, gently, and she fished a kerchief from her apron pocket, and dried her eyes, and blew her nose, and looked at Sean, and started crying all over again. He wrapped his huge arms around her and held her, rocking a little.
"Daisy?" Bonnie asked. "Are you all right?"
Daisy nodded, pressing her kerchief to her nose and drawing back a little.
Daisy looked up at Sean.
"They told me you'd been drowned," she sobbed, and collapsed back into him.
His voice was as gentle as his strong and capable hands. "No, lass, they couldna' drown an Irishman, though they did try."
"They couldn't find you!"
Sean sat down and took her hand, placing it on his auburn hair. "Feel that."
Daisy worked her fingers through his thatch, surprise on her face.
"When the boiler blew, somethin' hit me hard. I remember bein' in the water, an' someone draggin' me out ont' the bank. Turns out I was miles downstream, an' no idea how I got there." His expression was gentle. "I had no memory for th' better part of a year. It came back over night. I woke and knew who I was, and where I should be, and by the time I got back home, you'd gone."
She stroked his face. "I thought you were dead!"
I rubbed the side of my head. "Oh, he's not dead, Daisy, believe me! A dead man can't hit like that!"
Bonnie went in back, picking up the frying pan on her way. She parked her rifle in the corner and, looking around, had a pretty good idea what Daisy had been getting ready.
Six hungry men sat down to an excellent meal, and Bonnie sat with them.
It seems Daisy and Sean had been engaged, and they'd set the date of their marriage, and Sean disappeared when the boiler blew on a steamboat; after diligent search failed to turn up his body, and she'd been given word that he'd been declared dead, she headed West with a broken heart and no plans to continue living.
"But live ye did, and here ye are," Sean declared stoutly. "And if they have a preacher in this wee spot of a place, I'll make ye ma bride this very day!"
Bonnie laid a cautioning hand on Sean's beefy arm. "Let's get used to your being alive first," she said gently. "This has been quite a shock. You understand."
"Aye, that I do," Sean agreed quietly. "'Twas a bit of a shock to me as well."

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William A.A. Wallace 9-6-07


Bigfoot Wallace had been absent from Firelands for many days. As was his wont, he dissappeared into the wilderness for days, weeks, sometimes months on end. Hunting, trapping, scouting...these were the ways of his kind, fearing no one and no thing, enjoying the wanderlust and the adventures that came with the dawning of each new day. Wallace had never been much for "town" living, but the folks in Firelands had made him welcome, even though he was sometimes uneasy around more "genteel" folks.

Making his way back towards Firelands, he spied a gathering of men in a lightly wooded area. Moving with the stealth of the great panther, he got into position to see what they were up to. There were no cattle in the area and these fellows didn't appear to be of the true "cowboy" type. The group had a mean spirited air about them. Some appeared to be professional gunslingers and the majority looked like ruffians and outlaws. They were drinking and fighting amongst themselves and Wallace overheard several references to the town of Firelands. Deeming this information to be of some importance, Bigfoot decided to make his way back to the good folks of Firelands and inform them of what he had seen.

It would be good to see the Preacher again...

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William A.A. Wallace 9-6-07


It was early evening whe Bigfoot crested the hill above Firelands. He looked down upon the now familiar town and noticed that things had been changing, there were new buildings and the town seemed to be prospering. Wallace silently slipped into town, not wanting his presence to be known until he had a chance to speak to Preacher Sopris. He'd made a good friend in the Preacher....

Coming upon the church, Wallace noticed that there was something different about the scene...this time of evening would normally find the Preacher sitting in his room, reading his bible and meditating on the day. Something just wasn't right...the hairs on the back of his arms were tingling...

Quietly approching the church, Wallace hears the unmistakable clicking noise of a Sharps rifle being cocked...freezing in place, hidden from view, he hears "Who's out there?"

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Charlie MacNeil 9-6-07


 Abraham didn't hear so much as feel the big man approach the church. He eased to his feet and crossed the room in his socks and lifted the Sharps. He waited, listening intently, then decided to push the issue. He drew back the hammer on the big rifle then said quietly, "Who's out there?"

There was no sound but he knew there was someone there. He moved through the church and once away from his quarters he let the hammer down on the Sharps, slung it over his shoulder, and quickly climbed to the bell tower. Perhaps he could see something from a higher elevation.

Abraham quietly pushed the trap door aside and climbed up onto the bell platform. He eased up high enough to see all around the church then turned slowly, looking keenly into each patch of brush and clump of trees within view. He had nearly convinced himself that no one was there when he saw the faintest hint of a shadow in the edge of a thicket of gooseberry brush. He waited, and the shadow moved just the slightest bit and turned from shadow to one of the biggest men he'd ever seen. The man seemed to be listening and watching and appeared to be a bit perplexed, as if he'd been expecting to see one thing and was seeing something else entirely.

Abraham watched for a moment longer then came to a decision. He rose to his feet with the heavy rifle in the crook of his arm and said in a voice that carried no further than the man's place of concealment, "Can I help you, brother?"

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Linn Keller 9-6-07


The half dozen Irish firefighters did nothing quietly, or by half measures.
They ripped up a section of board walk squarely in front of Ruby's Room in order to get access to the sizeable cistern underneath. They installed a length of hard-suction hose, replaced the boardwalk -- improving it considerably in the process -- and then helped the soldiers lay out the dimensions for their temporary quarters. They'd modified the factory-new engine to accept a three-horse hitch.
"It's called a troika," Sean boomed, "at least that's what Piotor calls it." Piotor looked up and grinned, then went back to measuring and cutting lumber. "Piotor's from Georgia. Not the one the Yankees marched through, the one over in Europe somewhere."
"Russia," Piotor said briefly through a mouthful of nails.
"Aye, that's right. Russia! Piotor is our Russian Irishman!"
Jacob looked puzzled. "A Russian Irishman?"
"Aye, lad!" Sean wrapped his huge arm around Jacob's slender shoulders and gestured. "George yonder is an English Irishman. God'll forgive him f'r that. Dutch here is a German Irishman." He pointed to each in turn; each waved if his hands weren't full of lumber or hammer or saw, and each at least nodded. "Then we've got Lew, he's a Welsh Irishman with some unpronounceable name. He's a good enough fellow but kind of small."
Small, Jacob thought. Not a man among them was less than six feet, and each looked like he could pick up the front end of a steam locomotive unaided. "John, yonder, is under dispensation. He's New York Irish, and we've no' decided whether the Almighty will forgive him from being from New York or not."
"How can you be Welsh Irish?" Jacob asked, puzzled.
Work stopped. As one man they stood, threw their heads back and chorused in a great voice, "WE'RE FIREMEN! THAT MEANS WE'RE IRISH!"

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William A.A. Wallace 9-6-07


Bigfoot was perplexed...hearing a small door open above him, he remained very still in the shadows...moving ever so slightly to get a better vantage to see up to the bell tower with his excellent hawk-like vision he hears a voice..."Can I help you, brother?"

Knowing it to not be the voice of his friend Preacher Sopris, Wallace was hesitant to answer. But the voice spoke in the tone of one that ministers to others and he answered back, "I have urgent information for Preacher Sopris...I am Bigfoot Wallace, a personal friend of the Preacher's...who might you be and where can I find him?"

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Linn Keller 9-6-07


The doors swung open easily on new, greased hinges, and the three veteran fire horses danced in their harness. They did one thing well, and they loved doing it, and that was drawing a fully-loaded steam fire truck at a gallop.
Sean stood, reins in his left hand, as he always did. The driver's seat was comfortable, and mounted on springs, but Sean disdained to sit, preferring the slight advantage he had when standing. Besides, he reasoned, he cut a fine figure for the ladies, standing as he did.
He gave the reins a flick and the three matched mares leaned into their harness and brought the rig out of the newly built horse house.
Sean looked over his left shoulder, his right. His lads were all on board, grinning.
Sean uncoiled the blacksnake whip, spun it overhead, popping it three feet above the horses' heads.
With the whip's sound of a pistol shot, the three mares thrust hard into their collars. The gleaming apparatus with its half-dozen red-shirted, leather-helmeted Cincinnati firefighters accelerated at an astonishing rate, and they were at a full gallop, headed down the dirt street. The Russian Irishman yanked the bell lanyard, the Welsh Irishman gave the whistle lanyard an experimental tug, children shouted and ran along behind, and they shouted and laughed their way to a fast stop in front of Ruby's Room. Sean set the brake while the German Irishman landed on all fours, seizing the end of the coupler. The Welsh Irishman yanked the valve handle, reached up and rapped the pressure gauge with a knuckle and began feeding the boiler. Nozzles were seized, two hose lines stretched at a run and doubled back. The Russian Irishman and the English Irishman yelled "READY!" and Sean roared, "Gi'em some water, lad!" and the steam pump began to hiss and shake, and valves pounded, and the hoses swelled, and water shot in shining arcs from the gleaming brass nozzles.
They drilled several more times that day, always to the same spot in front of Ruby's Room, the only place in town they could connect to a sizable water source. Anyone in town who was not otherwise occupied watched the spectacle.

Rose o' the Morning danced under me as we watched six Irish firefighters make their first run up the street. Admittedly, I don't know a single solitary about running one of those steam buggies, but these fellows apparently did, and by the look of it, they'd done this a number of times. There is a smoothness that comes with working together and a confidence that makes a complex task look easy. These fellows had both.
Rose and I turned and headed out of town.
I'd hoped to catch Esther during her morning ride, but hadn't gotten out as early as I wanted. It was well late in the morning -- probably too late, I thought, but I honestly didn't care. It was good to get a saddle under my backside again.
Esther must have had the same idea, for she came my way at a gallop. Duzy's mare loved to run, and Esther loved to run her, and Rose and I slowed and stopped, and I leaned up in the saddle a little and admired Esther's ride.
Her cheeks were flushed as she reined up. I swept off my hat.
"Miz Esther, you do make a fine sight this morning," I greeted her.
"As do you, Mr. Keller," she replied. "I see Mick found you."
I patted Rose's neck. "Aye, he did that!"
"How do you like her?"
"She's fast," I admitted, "and it's been so long since I'd ridden anything but Sam, I'd forgotten how fast a good cutting horse can turn!"
Esther smiled. "Please tell me you didn't find out the hard way!"
I laughed. "No, no, I kept my seat, but it did surprise me!"
Her mare, Edi, chewed at her bit and danced a bit. Her blood was up and she wanted to run some more.
"Esther, I may owe you an apology," I said carefully, feeling like I was walking out on a newly frozen lake and not knowing how thick the ice was. Esther tilted her head a little, giving me those lovely eyes.
Mein Gott, I thought, what a fine woman!
"Esther, I said for you to give thought to the dress you wished to be married in, and to where you wished me to propose to you. I may have overstepped myself, and for that I am truly sorry."
Esther tried to hide a smile. She pursed her lips slightly, and looked down.
The she looked back up.
"I have selected my dress," she said, her hair shining auburn in the morning sun, "and we will be opening Ruby's Room very soon. On opening night, when we will have the whole town there in their finest, with the very best meal prepared, with lamps lit and music playing, I will accept your proposal of marriage."
"Then I shall give it there, on bended knee, as a gentleman should when proposing to a lady."
She almost looked sad, for a moment, and she said softly, "I wish Papa were here. He would approve of you, and he would have loved having brandy and cigars with you."
I nodded. "If it were up to me, I would have you put on your finest dress right now and we would take the steam train to a place I know, and we would be married before we left Firelands. I would carry you onto a steamboat and I would shower you with luxury, and we would dine on fine china tonight, and we would tour the great river and the cities of its confluences." I took a long breath. "If it were up to me. I don't believe the town would forgive us if we weren't married here, with our friends and family beside us and in the church with us."
"No, they would not forgive us," she murmured.
"Thank you, Esther," I said simply. "You are looking at a happy man."
"And you are looking at a happy woman."
The shrill sound of a steam whistle shivered in the distance.
"Sounds like your wild Irishmen are working hard," Esther nodded. "Are they all you hoped for?"
"Well, they look good so far, and their steam buggy throws water," replied, turning Rose so we both faced toward town, "and I really, really hope I've given a half dozen men an expensive vacation and bought the town a steam engine they will never have to actually use."
Esther's expression was haunted, remembering a fire in her past. "I hope so, too," she whispered.
I looked at her, beside me, mounted astride and as regal as any queen on a throne.
I reached out my hand.
She took it.
We sat there a long time, holding hands, at least until Edi and Rose got tired of just standing there.
"Daisy," Esther said, as the thought came to her. "Daisy is to be married also, I take it."
"So I gather," I replied, "though just when, I'm not sure. They haven't said."
"Your Irishman -- Sean, is that his name? -- is a full-blooded and passionate man. I should imagine he'll want to be married yesterday if not sooner."
I nodded. "Bonnie counseled them to get used to the idea that they were both alive, first."
"Wise girl." Esther thought for a moment. "Who will run the restaurant? I'm sure Sean won't want to stay out here in the howling wilderness."
"We'll worry about that tomorrow, Esther. It'll work out. Fear not, I don't think the Ruby Room will be losing its chief-cook-and-quartermaster just yet."
Esther gave me a look that would melt the heart of a stone statue.
"Until later, my dear?" I asked.
"Until later, my dear."
I nodded, smiling. Rose began walking toward town.
She could have been crow-hopping every step of the way. I'd never have felt it.
I was flying.

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Lady Leigh 9-7-07


"But I want to go to school!"

"You'll be there by yourself, Sarah! School has been cancelled for a little while." Bonnie was trying to reason with Sarah.

"For how long?"

"I don't know, Sarah. Hopefully not long."

"Well, Mama, how did Sheriff Keller find out about this," Sarah moved her arems up and out into the air, as if describing a bomb. "Mama, we were doing fun things at school! We were learning was that made it easy to learn adding the numbers together ..."

"Come here Sarah," Sarah walked over to her Mother and climbed up on her lap, "Let's read this togther."

Sarah place her finger over each letter while sounding out the words, "T..O..M..S..A..Y..E..R..," she looked up at Bonnie, "Tom Sayer? WHo's that?"

"It's a book about a boy ... maybe just a little older than you, who has a very good imagination. It a good book, Sarah. I believe you will like it! I thought we could read it together .. maybe a little of it everyday?"

Sarah opened the book and paged through it, "There aren't very many pictures ..."

"No, but this where the man that wrote this book .... Mark Twain is his name ... is an expert at painting a picture in our minds with the words he wrote ..."

"May I come in and interupt?" Caleb was at the open dorr way of the house. He actually stood there for some time before he knocked on the door jamb to announce himself. The sight he saw was pure bliss with Sarah perched up on Bonnie's lap, both heads turned over the book.

"Sure, Mr Rosenthal! You are in time to listen to this book Mama bought! It's about a boy with magination."

"I over heard a little of what you Mother said ... actiually, would you mind if I started reading it out loud?"

Caleb took the book from Sarahs outstretched hands, opened it, and began reading. Sarah wasn't the only one enchanted by his readiing, boonie was, too.

"Esther was right," Bonnie thought, "I need to work on myself."

After an hour or so of reading, Bonnie sent Sarah off their bedroom so that she and Caleb could talk. "Caleb, do we really know what is going on? I mean, is the Sheriff convinced there is trouble coming?"

"I don't really know more than you do, Bonnie .."

"I just want it over with, Caleb! I want to get back to living! Get back to working the shop ... to get it's doors open. Duzy was saying the same thing. SHe just wants to get the Silver Jewel open."

Caleb reached out and put his hand over Bonnie's. At first Bonnie's reaction was jerking the hand away, but Calebs touch was heavy on her handm but gentle, too. "Bonnie, I would like all of this to be over with to ..."

Bonnie looked at his eyes, maybe she was reading into them something that wasn't there as she had thought.

Caleb, too, noticed a change in Bonnie this morning ... a good change.

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Linn Keller 9-7-07


I let Rose have her head and she settled into an easy gallop. She headed back toward town, and I laid plans.
It's a good thing Rose had her head about her, for I was so busy thinking about the future I didn't notice we'd come around behind the church, and Rose was slowing.
"Ho, girl," I murmured, and she ho'd. I squinted up toward the bell tower and saw the barrel of a Sharps.
Now I'm not the smartest man in the world, but I was willing to bet the Parson was upstairs looking things over, so I hailed him: "Parson, what do you see?"
"I see a fool on a horse, perilously close to where I nearly turned loose," Parson Belden sang back, leaning over the edge.
Something big moved at the edge of my vision, and I turned, and Bigfoot Wallace stood up from nowhere. I blinked in surprise. Didn't bother Rose any.
Now I've seen men hide, and hide well, and I've been jumped at and ambushed a time or three, but never in my entire life have I seen a man stand up from nowhere a'tall, let alone someone Bigfoot's size. He genuinely startled me.
He was also grinning broadly at my expression.
"How'd you do that?" I blurted.
"It comes natural, I reckon," he replied, then sobered. "Lookin' for the Reverend Sopris."
"He's around, but I honestly don't know where," I said. "Turns out he's not just a sky pilot, he's an agent sent here to keep an eye on things."
Bigfoot nodded. He'd known there was more to the man than met the eye. He also knew he liked the man, and respected him greatly, and had come to trust him. Like me, he wasn't a man to give his trust lightly.
"There's some outlaws nearby sound like they're planning to raid the town here."
I nodded. "Last I heard from Sopris, they numbered near to thirty or so. Dirty bunch, undisciplined, only one natural leader in the group. They figure to kill who they can, run off the rest and burn the town so there's nothin' to come back to." I considered a moment. "Whereabouts are they, and how armed?"
Bigfoot's eyes were on the horizon. Ever a watchful man, his vision was outward, even when turned inward. His outer eye took in his surroundings, while his inner eye saw the Jewel, and how it had improved, and the ladies, and his big hands slowly balled into fists.
The door to the church opened. Reverend Belden came out with the Sharps over the crook of his arm and his hand extended.
"Bigfoot Wallace," I introduced, "this is the Reverend Belden, our sky pilot."

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Linn Keller 9-7-07


Dawg groaned in pure, unadulterated bliss. His chin hung over the edge of the wooden tub, warm water relaxed his massive muscles, and the busy pink fingers of a busy little girl worked sweet smelling soap suds into his thick black fur.
Sarah had set about giving Dolly a bath. She'd taken advantage of the wooden tub half filled with water on the back porch, shaved in a quarter of a cake of soap, threw in two handsful of bath salts and a tea kettle of hot water -- she'd dragged the stool over to the cast iron stove to get it, and had to stretch a little, but she got it -- and heated up some more water, like a big girl. The tub was pleasantly warm when she swirled it vigorously to make suds, then stuck in her little pink finger to check the temperature.
By this time the soap suds were deeper than her finger was long, so she ended up running her finger into the water up to her elbow.
Dolly was first in the tub. Sarah scrubbed her slick, glazed porcelain face, then her hair, then her clothes; she hung Dolly by one foot from the porch rail, as she could not reach the clothes line.
Dawg came up on the porch to say hello.
Delighted, Sarah persuaded him to jump in the tub.
Most of the soap suds jumped out in the minor tidal wave that followed.
Sarah squealed with delight and began working the warm, soapy water into Dawg's fur.

Bonnie came around the house, looking for Sarah, and heard her chattering happily with Dawg, and saw Dawg's muzzle hanging over the edge of the tub, a great crown of soap suds on top of his massive black furred head, and a happy little girl who was almost as wet as her contented customer.
Sarah looked at Bonnie and laughed. "Look, Mama! Dawg needed a bath!"
Bonnie was dismayed for a moment; she'd planned to do some washing, and so had the tub of water waiting on the back porch, but she had not the heart to scold a happy little girl who was so obviously pleased with herself.
Dawg sighed.
Life was very, very good.

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