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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 7-5-12

 

Sarah's eyes were pale as she turned and accepted the telegram.
She opened it, for it was not sealed.
The message was lengthy:
Dr. Van enroute. Rose 72
She folded the flimsy, reinserted it into the envelope: she turned, stepped through the open door and waited for a gap in the conversation before handing the envelope to her Aunt Esther.
Sarah looked over at Dr. Flint.
The quirk of her left eyebrow was as plain a question as if it were formally couched in the King's English.
The minute drop of his head, then its rise, was an equally plain affirmation.
Sarah turned as the adults proceeded into the parlor; she ascended the stairs, steadily, silently: she tapped at her father's door, opened it.
The Sheriff opened his eyes, raised a hand: Sarah closed the door carefully, silently, picked up a chair, brought it over beside the bed.
She grasped her father's hand.
The Sheriff's hand was warm as it usually was: she knew a mountain witch once seized his hand and pressed it between hers before peering closely at him and cackling, "You have hot hands, a Healer's hands," and Sarah never knew the man's hands to be anything but surprisingly warm.
They were warmer than normal.
Sarah pressed the backs of her fingers against his cheek, his forehead, the way her Mama had done her, the way she'd seen done: the Sheriff was warm ... too warm.
"My little girl," the Sheriff rasped.
"I'm here, Father," she whispered back.
"I am so very proud of you."
Her hands tightened on his.
"You need to know that."
"I am proud of you too."
The Sheriff's eyes tightened a little at the corners, but his smile traveled no further ... it was as if the effort of smiling was too much for the man.
"Am I fevered?" he asked.
Sarah nodded.
"Thought so." He took a breath, another. "Started to chill." He looked to the window, then quickly to Sarah: "Bear Killer?"
"He's fine," Sarah soothed.
"He ran up the stairs yammering and I grabbed up the Greener and went with him." He tried moving his left arm, winced. "Fell."
"He ... he's fine, Father. All is well. Please ..."
"Just relax?'
Sarah nodded, biting her bottom lip.
"Come closer."
Sarah slid the chair further to the head of the bed.
The Sheriff lay a gentle hand against her cheek: Sarah felt his unnatural heat, the tremor in the man's hand.
"You are as lovely as your mother," he whispered. "You need to know that, Sarah. You are a fine looking soul."
Sarah closed her eyes, hard, nodded.
"There is a sign," he whispered. "If you wake and there is a rose beside your bed ..."
His voice trailed off; his arm seemed to lose strength.
Sarah caught it, eased it under the covers, stood and tugged the cover up around his chin.
Sarah's eyes were bright, bright and pale, and she whispered to the still figure, "You heal up, Father. Do you hear me? Damn you, sir, you heal up and live or I'll never speak to you again!"
Something hot and wet spattered against the Sheriff's cheek.
Sarah's heart shriveled and she swallowed hard as the man gasped, choked, seemed to convulse, very weakly.
Her father opened his eyes, gasped, choked again.
It took Sarah a little bit to realize what was happening.
Her father was laughing ... very weakly, but he was laughing.

Hall regarded the tall, slender lawman skeptically.
"You're Sheriff Keller?"
Jacob regarded him with pale, quiet eyes.
"Why?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing, I just ..." Hall looked at Drake, back to the Sheriff.
"I, um, pictured you as ... older."
Jacob grinned, the relaxed, easy grin one might imagine on a great cat faced with the possibility of toying with a fat mouse.
"Why, hadn't you heard?"
"Heard ... I, uh ... heard what?"
Drake took a noisy pull on his beer.
"My mother was a Seer, a Wise Woman. My father is descended from Highland Scots seneschae. Some say he was a priest at the building of King Solomon's Temple."
"Of King Solomon's ..." Hall peered closely at the deputy. "I don't ... you're pulling my leg!"
"Oh, no," Jacob said sincerely. "You see, the men of my line don't just grow old. Once we get so old, we get younger, until we get so young and then we get older again. We just go back and forth like that for a while."
Mr. Baxter pretended not to be listening, but he couldn't help but smile inwardly at the exchange. It wasn't often that Jacob spun a yarn, but when he did, it was worthwhile.
Drake frowned and set down his beer, looked over his saddle partner's shoulder.
"Just how old are you, anyway?" he inquired.
"Oh, you know how it is, once you get so old you tend to forget," Jacob said, his face thoughtful: he cast a squint toward the ceiling and appeared to be ciphering in his head, then said "Near as I can reckon ... this year I'll be four hunnert and fifty two years old."
"Four ..." -- Hall looked at Drake, and Drake looked at Hall, and both of them looked at Mr. Baxter.
"I've never known the man to lie," Mr. Baxter said, polishing the gleaming mahogany bar-top.
It took all the man's self control to keep from pounding the bar with a flat hand and howling with uncontrolled laughter.

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Linn Keller 7-6-12

 

Jacob was busy that first day.
He'd swung by his Pa's place and spoken with his mother, and briefly with his father; when he came out of his Pa's room he was pale and looking half sick, and that is not to be wondered at.
The Grand Old Man is a constant, an anchor, a foundation-stone on which the entirety of the universe is built.
It is a terrible day when the son realizes the feet of the father are made of the same clay as his own; when the son looks around inside his own carcass and sees all the flaws, and then realizes the Old Man is just as flawed; it is a fell day, one in which the universe shivers and suddenly becomes a very uncertain place.
It shivers the son's soul to an equal degree to see the strong, confident, competent, capable man he's always known, suddenly rendered invalid, and quite possibly with an uncertain future -- both in outcome and in duration.
Jacob rode out, rode west, then south, down to where three counties cornered: there was word of rustling and he had work to do.
He'd worn his father's badge before but now ... now he was too aware of its presence on his lapel.

"Rider," Victor said, straightening.
They straightened and watched the man approach.
"Nice lookin' horse," Matthews muttered.
"I know that horse."
"Yeah?"
Matthews looked at his partner.
"It ain't good."
"Lawman. I see the badge."
"It ain't just a lawman."
"No?"
"That's Keller's boy."
The two looked around, grateful they'd got a late start, grateful they'd no calves hogtied, ready for the running iron.
Jacob knew there were two outriders, knew they hadn't seen him, knew they were still on the scout for dogies to chivvy in to the fire.
He knew he had this pair to take care of first.
Jacob rode right up to them, dismounted: he dropped Apple-horse's reins over the saddle horn and walked up to the fire.
His eyes were pale as he looked around, took in their little encampment.
"You can get out of my county," he said quietly, "or I can kill you now. Your choice."
Victor looked at Matthews, his eyes widening.
It was not the exchange they expected.
"We, uh, was expectin' the Sheriff."
"You're lookin' at him."
"You ain't but a boy!"
Jacob made no reply, but his eyes were pale, pale and half-lidded.
They backed up a little.
Matthews looked a the rifle leaning against his saddle.
Victor licked his lips.
"Don't try it," Jacob said, his voice never raising: he stood loose, relaxed, untroubled.
"What happened to the Sheriff!" Matthews demanded.
Jacob looked from one to the other, back again, his eyes never still.
"He's drinkin' red whiskey and chasin' pretty girls, same as always!"
Victor shook his head.
"Nah," he said. "Nah, he'd not do that. That man's a straight arrow. What happened to 'im?"
"You're awful concerned for a man heatin' up a runnin' iron."
Matthews took a step toward the rifle.
Jacob's eyes flicked toward the movement and Victor drew.
It was the last mistake Victor ever made.

Matthews held very still and stayed very quiet.
He had no choice.
Jacob had him in irons, stuffed in between two rocks where he was out of sight; Jacob built up the fire, threw some green stuff on it to make a smoke, knowing it would bring in the others.

Sarah sipped tea with her Mama and her Aunt Esther, listening with more than her ears: they'd gotten the word that the mountain was coming to Mohammed, so to speak, that this Dr. VanSchoor was on his way to Firelands, and in the meantime, the Sheriff would remain in his own bed and under his own roof.
They spoke in quiet tones.
Angela came out, clutching her ever-present rag doll: she wore a little-girl dress that would have been at home in any fine household, her hair was curled and styled, she was obviously a child of wealth and privilege, but she was also a worried little girl, and in an era where children were seen but not heard, it was not characteristic for the junior child to wander into the adult conference.
Little girls, however, have a wonderful way of ignoring conventional custom when need be.
Angela was not entirely unintelligent when it came to such proprieties.
Though she wished heartily for Mommy's lap and Mommy's arms around her, instinct steered her for her beloved Sawwah.
Angela walked up beside Sarah and stared at her with big eyes.
Sarah put the teacup down, scooted back just a little and patted the tops of her thighs.
Angela smiled and Sarah picked her up, hauled her up on her lap, wrapped her arms around her and gave her a big-sisterly hug.
Angela sighed and leaned her head back against Sarah's front.

"WE'RE LOOKIN' FER DEAD MEN!" Sean boomed, setting his son down.
The lad scampered for the bunk room and bellied down on the gleaming floor, crawled under the bunks, making remarkably good time as he willy-wormed under each, emerging from the end of the row to leap to his feet and announce loudly, "No, Pa, ain't nobody dead under there!"
The Brigade -- what few were not busy tending the horses, cleaning the firehouse or polishing their beloved, brass-trimmed Ahrens steam engine, rolling hose or otherwise tending housekeeping duties -- regarded Sean's grinning, big-eared little boy with curiosity.
Sean then explained the lad's declaration to his beloved Daisy.
"From dust we come," the Welsh Irishman said, his eyes bright with merriment, "an' t' dust we return ... an' ye said what t' yer Mama?"
Laughter was a frequent guest with the Brigade, and today was no exception.

"Yes, sir, there's an express waiting on you," the ticket agent nodded, wondering at this nattily-dressed Easterner standing puzzled in front of the grilled window. "If you'll go out that door" -- he pointed -- "turn left on the platform, you'll see an engine, its tender and a private car. The engine has white flags on the front. It's an express and you are the passenger."
"Oh, my," Dr. VanSchoor murmured. "I hardly expected this!"
"Nothing but the best, those are our orders," the ticket agent nodded. "Next stop, Firelands!"

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Charlie MacNeil 7-6-12

 

Charlie's eyes snapped open, long before he was ready for that event to occur, and he stared at the ceiling in an attitude of listening and concentration. At the very furthest boundaries of audibility, the last quavering tones of full-throated wolf song faded to silence. Beside him, his lovely bride slept on. The couple had been up most of the previous night with the red and white mare, helping her through a most difficult but ultimately successful foaling, and exhaustion dragged at him. But the howl of the wolf held its own imperative, so he forced himself to move the light blanket aside and gingerly lower his feet to the floor...

Sunlight flooded the kitchen. "Nine o'clock. Damn, I overslept. Got things to do," he grumbled to himself as he blew the fire in the Monarch range back to life. When the flames were licking merrily at the pitchwood he'd placed there he slid the graniteware coffeepot onto the heat then went back to get dressed.

The wolf howl sounded once more, closer this time. A sudden sense of overwhelming urgency flooded through his very core and he strode to the chair in the darkened bedroom where his clothes from the day before were piled. Pulling a clean shirt from a dresser drawer he dressed as silently as possible in a vain attempt to keep from waking his wife from her well-deserved rest. He should have known better.

"Wouldn't that be easier with some light, Sugar? And why are you even up, anyway?"

"I was trying not to wake you up. And I heard a wolf howl."

"And because of critter noises, you're doing your best bull in the china closet imitation?"

"I don't think it was a wolf. I think it was the wolf. I'm headed for town, soon as coffee's ready and I can get a horse saddled." While he was talking, Charlie had been pulling on various articles of clothing. Now he stamped his feet into his boots and stood up. "I sure miss that roan. I guess I'll take that buckskin." He bent to kiss his sleepy wife. "See ya, Darlin'." He strode from the room just as the hiss of Arbuckle's boiling out of the spout of the coffeepot onto the stovetop could be heard.

"Kinda hard ta saddle a horse one-handed, ain't it?" Cat Running's soft-spoken comment startled Charlie so that he nearly dropped his saddle in the dust of the barn floor.

"I reckon. But I didn't see the hostler around anywhere, so I figured to do it myself, since this here horse ain't very tall." He looked at the old man over the buckskin's back. "Less of course you might be so inclined as to help me a little."

"Nah. Too funny watchin' you."

"Then get ready for some more laughs, 'cause I'm gonna give it my best shot." Despite his words, Charlie swung the saddle onto the gelding's back, got it settled then bent to reach under the horse's belly for the cinch.

"Ha! Din't think you could do it," Cat Running said with a grin. He stepped around past the buckskin's rump. "Now git outta the way. I'll do the rest." As he was snugging the cinch he looked over his shoulder at Charlie. "Heard the wolf, eh?"

"Yeah. I'm headed for town. We've been worried about Linn ever since he was out here the other day, and I've got a feeling something's gone really wrong." He reached for the reins to lead the buckskin out of the barn.

"Hold up 'til I saddle my horse. I'm goin' too."

"Why?"

"That doctor might need some help."

"What doctor?"

"The one the wolf's singin' about."

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Linn Keller 7-2-12

 

"As I live and breathe!" Dr. VanSchoor exclaimed, grasping the big Navajo's hand and pumping it heartily. "Dr. Flint, you have not aged a bit!"
Dr. Flint's normally impassive eyes glowed with pleasure.
"Is the patient still alive?"
"He is."
"Take me to him."
Dr. Flint nodded, once; Dr. VanSchoor had considerable luggage when he left Chicago, but chose a valise and a black leather bag for his Firelands journey, sending the rest on ahead to the seaport where he intended to accept a partnership.
Dr. Flint took the valise, Dr. VanSchoor his slightly outsized physician's black bag.
"Is that the bag I remember?" Dr. Flint asked quietly as they descended the two steps to the ground.
"You have a good memory, Dr. Flint," Dr. VanSchoor replied.
Dr. Flint stepped easily into the physician's surrey; Dr. VanSchoor climbed with a little effort into the other side, and Dr. Flint clucked to the mare.
"We will have some help," Dr. Flint said as they turned onto the main street and headed for the Sheriff's house.
Dr. VanSchoor looked curiously at his former student.
"He is not in hospital?" he asked carefully.
"He is at home."
"Mmm." Dr. VanSchoor considered this, eyes busy.
"We will have need of the others, Dr. VanSchoor. Do you remember the times I told you of this?"
"Ye-eees," Dr. VanSchoor said slowly. "I do remember ... and I remember the patient on whom you operated, with two others there ... you called them assistants ... and their presence was most ... unorthodox."
Dr. Flint's eyes tightened a little for he, too, remembered.
"As I recall, the patient required no anesthetic ... fortunate, for one does not wish to anesthetize in such a case."
"Yes."

Charlie Macneil glimpsed the white wolf, looking over its shoulder at him, then going on ahead.
"I'm coming," he growled, his arm clamped firm down against his ribs: "I'm coming!"
Cat Running saw the wolf, too, raised his head, as if listening to a distant voice.

Sarah hugged Angela to her: Angela was in Sarah's lap, leaning back against her beloved aunt, or sister: Angela was not terribly concerned about titles right at the moment, and her beloved "Sawwah" held her in a comforting hug.
Sarah leaned her head down and kissed the top of Angela's head, holding for a long moment with her face in the little girl's hair.
Bonnie noticed when Sarah raised her head and opened her eyes that they were pale.
Very, very pale.

Heavy glass beer mugs clanked into one another as voices raised in half-drunken, almost-harmony: blue clad arms raised drink in salute, precious amber sluiced down dust-dried throats, and the Colonel stood, raised his mug in the darkness.
"Hand it over here, Cunnel," a voice said from the darkness, "I'll fill ye up!"
"Only if there's enough for all," the Colonel said, and true to his word he waited until every mug was filled before allowing his own to be filled.
"We're gonna die tomorrow, Cunnel," the voice said. "Whattaya say ta that?"
The Colonel took a long drink, came up for air and cleared his throat.
Shadowed, firelit figures stilled, listening.
The Colonel raised his head and looked to the lighter streak that marked the western horizon.
He recited the first thing that came to mind.
"The road to hell, the poet said,
"Is a wide and easy street,
"The cobblestones they are echoing
"To booted, marching feet.
"Of all that tread that dreaded road,
"Of Army and Marines,
"None can stop but Cavalry
"And rest at Fiddler's Green."

The Colonel took a drink, took another, continued.
"The water there is cool and sweet
"And soft and sweet the grass,
"The shadows cool they form a pool
"'Neath boughs so leafy fast.

The Colonel frowned.
"I don't recall how the rest of it goes, I'm sorry, but I do recall what it said.
"If you're right up ag'in it and there is no hope, take a long pull on your canteen then dump it out and use your last bullet on yourself.
"As long as you need water you can stop at Fiddler's Green and stay forever.
"Everyone else goes on to hell but the Cavalry does not."
The scene changed, shifted: smoke hazed the field, eddied between trees; Brobdingnagian bees hummed viciously past the Colonel, smacked into trees, when the messenger ran up, saluted, handed a note: the Colonel read it, read it again.
"BUGLER!"
His voice, raised to a shout, was strong, steady, confident: he knew he must be so, to maintain his men's strength of spirit.
"BOOTS AND SADDLES!"
The bugler took a breath, blew: the notes were sharp and bright, cutting through the sounds of battle to the Ohio cavalrymen, held in reserve.
The Colonel mounted, drew his sabre, rode in front of his men's rapidly forming rank.
He sat and looked at them, looked each man in the eye, sweeping down the entire line: wordlessly, he picked up his canteen, took a long drink, then he held his canteen out at arm's length, turned it over, poured it out.
To a man the entire Third Ohio Volunteer Cavalry company drank from their canteens, then dumped out what was left.
"RIDE WITH ME NOW!" the Colonel shouted. "WE RIDE TO VICTORY! TONIGHT OR AT FIDDLER'S GREEN, RIDE WITH ME NOW!"
Steel hissed from sheaths, honed steel gleamed in the strained sunlight, and the line of cavalry stepped out as if on parade.

"My word," Dr. VanSchoor murmured. "Dr. Flint, I say, is that ... that's not a white dog ahead of us, is it?"
"It is a wolf," Dr. Flint said, as if affirming that yes, the sky is blue today.
Charlie Macneil, too, saw the wolf, and he saw that he and the wolf and the physician's surrey were all converging on the Sheriff's house.
Charlie's head lowered a few degrees and he felt an old and familiar surge in his rangy frame, the surge of strength that comes to a veteran warrior right before he steps into a desperate fight he knows will be hard won ... if won at all.
Angela tilted her head waaaaay back to look at Sawwah.
"They're coming," she whispered.
Sarah's hands tightened on Angela's upper arms.
"I know," she whispered back, standing and easing Angela to a standing position.

The Sheriff opened bright and fevered eyes.
The maid stood, pressed a cool, wet cloth over his forehead.
The Sheriff's hand shot from beneath the covers like a striking viper: he seized the woman's wrist.
"Bugler!" he hissed. "Boots and Saddles!"

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Linn Keller 7-8-12

 

In an era where propriety and decorum was the rule and guide, one would customarily send one's card ahead: when reply was made that a visit was acceptable, one would present at the appointed hour and be received first by the maid, who would receive one's coat, hat and gloves; one would be formally received by the head of household, or the acting head of household, and made comfortable in the parlor: drinks would be offered, the social amenities observed, according to a fairly strict, universally accepted and mostly unwritten procedure.
The doctors Flint and VanSchoor, Charlie MacNeil and Cat Running did none of this.
The four men threw the door wide and made entry as if they had every right, every business, every purpose to be there: as one they swarmed up the steps, the furred bulk of the Bear Killer preceding.
They had not knocked upon the outer portal; they did not knock on the bedroom door.
The Bear Killer crowded past Dr. Flint's legs, leaped onto the bed and began washing the Sheriff's face with the thoroughness of a worried Dawg: the Sheriff released his grip on the maid's wrist and reached for the Bear Killer's ruff, and the maid withdrew her hand, clutching her wrist, rubbing it a little as the man's fingerprints in her skin went from fishbelly-pale to normal flesh tone.
The man had a good strong grip.
Dr. VanSchoor went to the window side of the bed, seized the bedcovers and snapped them off the limp, fevered figure: his examination was swift, practiced fingers exploring the Sheriff's head, jaw, neck: he felt for the pulses, assessed the man's color: frowning, he turned his black bag, thumbed the spring loaded release and threw back the broad retaining strap.
Charlie came up to the side of the bed, his face carefully neutral: as his hand neared, the Sheriff's rose, and the two men's calluses met with a small impact: each gripped the other, determined not to let go.
Dr. VanSchoor laid out a clean linen napkin and began ranking his working-tools upon it.
He looked up momentarily as Dr. Flint struck flint and steel into a bunch of something that looked like dried vegetation, bundled and held in another man's blunt, sun-weathered hands: Dr. VanSchoor realized with a distant part of his mind the distinct similarity between the two men, despite one wearing a range hand's clothes, and the other wearing a white man's suit.
Dr. Flint grunted as a spark took hold in the sage smudge.
He reached in his coat, brought out an eagle-wing fan.
"I need him turned, please," Dr. VanSchoor said, his voice that of a man used to getting his way: "I need him sideways on the bed, with his head toward the window."

Angela seized Sarah's hand, pulled her with a little girl's urgency toward the open front door.
Sarah went with her.
Angela stopped at the threshold, looking at something only she could see.
She stood and stared for the longest time, not afraid, just ... watching ...
Sarah looked at the open door and saw the yard, the physician's surrey being led away by one of the hired men; she saw the mountains beyond, clouds and snow and tall pines; she saw the apple trees planted along the curve of the creek, and smiled a little as she remembered riding her father's Cannonball one glorious morning, a morning when horse and rider alike are more alive than they've ever been, a morning when she rode to the left on one tree and the right of another, weaving between them, hard a-gallop: coming to the little gully at the end, Cannonball gathered herself and jumped the gully and it felt like she threw out a set of wings and Sarah screamed in delight as she and her father's red Cannonball mare shot into low Earth orbit and hung for a small eternity, suspended between Heaven and earth, before sharp-shod hooves skimmed the sod ever so lightly and they continued without breaking stride across the back pasture.
"You can come in now," Angela said, then she smiled broad and bright and breathed, "Mama!"

"No, no, the old man might be gettin' ready to get younger now," Jacob said solemnly. "I know he's gettin' old and slow now."
"Him, slow?" Hall asked skeptically, recalling the several reports he'd gotten over campfires and in bunk houses about that pale-eyed Sheriff with the quick grin and the lightning draw.
"Yeah," Jacob said sadly, shaking his head. "He walked into a nest of rattle snakes last week and had to shoot one of 'em."
"He, ah, hold hard! -- a NEST of 'em, you say?"
Jacob nodded, sampling his beer.
"These was the Rocky Mountain rattlers, now," Jacob said quietly, "not them slow and clumsy diamondbacks we get on occasion. We turn them into sausage and hat bands. Most times we don't even shoot 'em, just grab their tail and pop their head off like you'd crack a whip.
"My Pa waded into a nest of 'em up yon mountain." He chin-thrust toward the far wall. "Nest was about ... oh, big across as two tables and about as deep as one table tall, and it was nothin' but rattle snakes all wove in amongst one another and balled up, for it was cold yet.
"Pa, he commenced to grab tails and snap off heads and' it sounded like a half dozen men crackin' whips in the distance. What with all those fresh-popped snake heads a-flyin' through the air, why, they was snappin' their jaws fit to sound like castanets. One of 'em hit a lodge pole pine an' bit into it an' that tree, why, it just died on the spot. Laid down like a wet rag, it did."
Hall's jaw hung slack and his beer, forgotten, drifted down until it rested on the mahogany bar.
"He went a-wadin' through the bunch til he figured he had enough for a good mess of rattle snake sausage, then he quit. No sense in killin' too many of 'em, y'see. He's like that." Jacob took another swallow of beer. "But one of 'em r'ared up and allowed to take a bit out of Pa's shin bone so he had to shoot its head off."
Jacob nodded, solemn as the old judge.
"That-there snake was just under twenty foot long. Pa took it right between the lug an' the horn an' he fetched it back here so I could have the horns."
"Horns?" Hall exclaimed.
"Oh, yes," Jacob said. "These is Rocky Mountain rattlesnakes. This'un had a set of powder horns on it" -- he held his palms about two foot apart -- "this wide, tip to tip!"

I won't let ye go, Colonel, the trooper said, his grip crushing my hand: willing hands blanket-slung me and I knew I was being carried quickly to the field hospital.
It felt like I was floating.
Floating, with my entire side kicked in by a Missouri mule.
The trooper stayed at my side as the surgeon hacked off my uniform coat and blouse and quickly destroyed my long handles to bare the mass of ruined flesh and protruding ribs, the result of a cannon explosion.
I knew all this, though I stared at the blood-flecked ceiling of the lamp-lit surgery tent: I knew it as if I stood beside myself, watching as a spectator.
That trooper's hand held me there, anchored me to the earth, even through the intoxicated haze of the mask the surgeon put over my face and dribbled something onto the gauze screen, and the pain washed away and I kind of floated for a while, hearing voices distant, distant, while something tugged at my side.


"Doctors, your work thus far appears exemplary," Dr. VanSchoor said quietly as he incised the Sheriff's scalp and began reflecting the bifurcated flesh back from the clean cut: "I have every confidence we shall ... oh, this is interesting ..."
Dr. VanSchoor turned, looked over his shoulder.
"Could you bring that chair over here, please? Yes, thank you, and draw those curtains back more fully. I shall need a bit more light."

Sarah squatted beside her little sister, who appeared to be watching someone, or something, visible only to her young eyes ... watching as if someone came into the house and turned to go up the stairs.
"Angela," Sarah whispered, "what do you see?"
"I see my Mama," Angela whispered, her eyes bright, "and lots of men."
"What do the men look like, Angela?" Sarah asked urgently.
"They look like Mick and his twoopers."
"Show me," Sarah said, dropping her head behind Angela's looking over the ribbon in the little girl's hair, her hands on either side of Angela's head.
"Show me what you see."

Faintly, faintly, as if from a great distance, MacNeil heard a bugle, recognized the notes.
Boots and Saddles, he thought.
Suddenly he was very thirsty.

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Linn Keller 7-8-12

 

Angela looked solemnly at the trooper that squatted before her.
He had a few days' whisker-stubble, his clothes were dirty, torn at one knee; she could feel how tired the man was, but she felt his wonder as well as he extended a gentle finger and stroked her cheek.
Angela giggled.
"You're the Colonel's daughter," he said, wonder in his voice, and Angela bounced a little and said bashfully, "Yes, sir," and put one finger uncertainly to the corner of her mouth.
"Don't you worry none, darlin'," the trooper said in a reassuring Daddy-voice.
"We're not going to let him come to any harm."
Sarah looked over the ribbon, tied in a bow, atop Angela's hair.
She could see nothing, but she felt ... something ... she did not have the least idea what, but when Angela said "Yes, sir," and giggled again, it felt like someone trickled half a dipper of cold well water right down her spine.

"We have you to thank, Colonel," the trooper said, saluting.
The Sheriff stood, tall, straight, free of pain, free of the confusion and fever that plagued him so for the past several days.
He returned the salute.
"You kept us alive, sir, and every man Jack of us lived to see ripe old age." He gestured to a grinning, blond-haired trooper who was restlessly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Except for Dennis yonder. He got home just in time to get run over by a milk wagon."
The Colonel looked curiously at the trooper with the broad and bashful grin.
He remembered the man, remembered how badly he played the harmonica at night, how quick he was to help officer or enlisted alike, whether it was shoveling dirt, hauling wood or helping write a letter to someone back home.
"You were run over with a milk wagon?" the Sheriff asked curiously.
"Yes, sir," Dennis laughed, nodding. "Hell of a note, ain't it? Turns out 'twas a fire horse they'd sold an' whoever bought it didn't know when the horse heard the fire bell it would take out a-runnin'!"
"NOW WHAT'S THIS ROT ABOUT THE MARINES GOING TO HELL!" an angry female voice declared, and a figure in a wrinkled uniform of some kind elbowed her way to the front.
Troopers drew back deferentially; the woman was wearing something that looked like a round bottom chamber pot on her head, only painted the same speckled brownish grey as her blouse and drawers, with a big cut out for the face.
The woman glared at the Sheriff, yanked off the helmet, thrust it without looking into the blond haired trooper's belly.
"I'm not sure," the Sheriff said curiously, "quite what you --"
The woman paced off on the left, stepped squarely up to the Sheriff, seized his shirt front left-handed: surprised, he said nothing as she wound up a good hand full of material, fetched him off his feet and brought him nose to nose with her blazing, ice-blue eyes.
"YOU LISTEN TO ME, MISTER!" she shouted, her voice tight, controlled, the voice of an officer giving a subordinate either a dressing-down or orders that were going to be obeyed whether the recipient liked them or not: "I AM YOUR GREAT GREAT GRANDDAUGHTER AND I AM NOT GOING TO STAND FOR ANY FOOLISHNESS HERE! DO YOU READ ME MISTER!"
It was not a question.
She shook him, a quick snap, and she drew breath and began again.
"I DO NOT CARE HOW TIRED OR WORN OUT YOU MAY FEEL, I DO NOT GIVE A HANDFUL OF HAPPY DAMN WHAT YOU MAY WANT OR NOT WANT. THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS IS NOT GOING TO THE INFERNO JUST ON THE SAY-SO OF SOME CAVALRY OFFICER WHO DUMPS OUT HIS CANTEEN BEFORE BATTLE!"
The Sheriff saw through another set of eyes another battlefield, with warriors riding inside steel boxes instead of horseback; he saw this same Colonel, at the head of a line of wheeled boxes, take a long drink from her canteen, then hold it out at arm's length and dump it out.
"That's right," she snapped, shaking him again to return him to the here-and-now. "I did that because you did that and for the same reason! My men would have followed me to HELL if I'd charged it with a bucket of WATER! JUST LIKE YOUR OWN MEN DID!"
He looked around.
He was in his own bedroom again; a stranger with a tightly-waxed mustache and a serious expression was doing something at the head end of some long tall fellow laying crosswise of his own bed.
He saw blood, saw surgical instruments laid out on a linen napkin; he half-heard words being spoken, saw ... he saw familiar faces ... several, all present ...
That fellow on the bed needs a good square meal, he's just dreadfully thin, the Sheriff thought, then he blinked and realized: "That's me!"
"Yes," the woman said, setting him back down on his boot heels, and he realized with surprise she was shorter than he.
How did she pick me up to nose level with her ...? he wondered, then dismissed the thought.
"Colonel," a young lieutenant said, and the Colonel recognized the man who'd been killed when the side blew out of that bronze cannon, the cannon that caved in his own side ribs: "Colonel, you've done more good in this lifetime than most men do in ten. You can quit now if you'd like."
The Sheriff looked around.
He looked at the physicians, the doctors Flint and Greenlees, and considered the hospital had been built partly with his money and mostly due to his influence.
The Irish Brigade, the firehouse, the fine Ahrens steam firefighting engine, were due to his efforts.
The schoolhouse, in part, the church in part, the Silver Jewel for the most part, the fact that Firelands was decent and respectable ... he looked over what he'd done in his years there and nodded, realizing he'd done a great deal of good.
The woman in the speckled uniform spoke.
"You can quit, yes. You can go rest now if you wish."
Her voice was carefully neutral.
"You have done much good, but much remains to be done."
Haven't I done enough? he thought.
"Come over here."
He walked with the woman, walked around the bed as if the bedroom were much larger.
Charlie set on the edge of the bed, twisted a little, but not letting go of the Sheriff's hand.
The Sheriff saw the cords standing out in Charlie's arm and he saw the cords in the arm whose hand Charlie held and he realized that long skinny fellow on the bed was himself.
"Yes, that's you," the woman said, her voice soft, quiet.
"You can stop now and you'll never see the child your wife carries.
"You'll never know the concert violinist, blood of your loins, who goes to Europe and dies there, and he will never know he's of your blood.
"You can quit, and your daughters --"
She seized the Sheriff's shoulder, turned him to face her.
"You fool," she hissed. "You damned fool!"
He frowned, beginning to allow himself some irritation at this woman -- this stranger, who took liberties he never allowed his close friends!
"Your daughters have you so far up on a pedestal it's a wonder you don't have NOSEBLEED, and your SON is telling lies and laughing to hide that he's worried SICK!"
The woman's voice was sharp now, honed against her anger.
"Yes, you can quit, you can give up, but you're not going to!"
The Sheriff looked around.
He looked at MacNeil.
From a long way off he heard MacNeil's ... no, not his voice, his thoughts ...
"Don't you dare go, you long tall drink o' water," he heard.
"That's right," the woman said. "Don't go."
The Sheriff looked back at the woman.
She was wearing a dress now, scandalously short, something not even a dance hall girl would wear: it was a rich blue, and a six point star shone on the lapel.
He looked closely at the badge.
SHERIFF, it said, the letters were hand chased.
It was his badge.
"Take a good look," the woman said, adjusting her coat: he caught a glimpse of a sidearm, in a trim, contoured gunbelt about her tight, slender waist.
"Who are you?" the Sheriff asked.
She raised a hand and he felt her caress, saw her eyes darken.
"I'm Willamina," she whispered. "I'm your great-great-granddaughter."
The Sheriff looked around.
His lieutenant nodded slowly.
"We knew you might not stay," he said, "if we didn't show you."
The Sheriff looked at MacNeil's face.
"You ain't leavin' yet," he heard the man whisper through stiff lips, and he felt MacNeil's hand gripping his own, holding him to this earth.

"Doctor Flint, if I might ... yes, thank you. That's ..."
A fragment of bone gleamed wetly in the curved, toothed jaws of his surgical forceps.
"My goodness."
Dr. VanSchoor explored gently, then nodded.
The Sheriff's body convulsed; they heard his jaw click together and he began to tremble, then his limbs began beating in an uncoordinated, violent thrashing.
Dr. VanSchoor seized the Sheriff's head between his hands: strong men seized the Sheriff's limbs, sought to hold him still.
The seizure was brief; Dr. VanSchoor inspected the bone window, nodded, then carefully removed the excised cranial portions from the sterile saline bath in which they waited.
"Now let us close," he said. "I should speculate we have seen the worst of it."

"My son will open a factory," the Lieutenant said, "and he'll make grain drills and quite a fortune."
The man grinned, the proud expression of a father telling how his son made good.
"My children will never make the history books but they'll be decent and honest," another trooper offered.
"Mine will die in another war," a third troop offered. "He'll be on an iron ship halfway across the world and he'll get a dozen men out after an explosion before he too is killed."
The Sheriff nodded, looking from one to another, listening to their words, realizing that life goes on even when we don't.
Finally he looked at the woman in the dark blue suit dress.
"And you?"
She smiled impishly, the same smile he saw in Sarah, and she kissed him quickly on the cheek.
"I will sit at your desk and live in your house, I will carry your name and wear your badge," she whispered. "Your line will continue."
The Sheriff looked around.
"Colonel?"
The Lieutenant consulted a watch, slipped it back into his pocket.
"Colonel, it's time, sir. You can let go, and come with us, or you can stay, but you have to choose now, sir."
He looked around.
He smelled sage smudge, saw the wave of the eagle-wing fan, he felt Charlie's grip tight on his own and he thought of his beloved wife and how little Angela giggled when she stroked his muts-tash and he thought of riding Cannonball and he turned to his great-great-granddaughter.
She was wearing that wrinkled, speckled uniform again, and the sidearm was worn openly now, in a speckled flap holster.
She settled the chamber pot on her head and regarded him with pale eyes.
"How much of this will I remember?" he asked.
"Nothing," Willamina said crisply. "You will remember nothing of this."
She looked at MacNeil.
"Except that."
The Sheriff looked at MacNeil, sitting half twisted, knowing the man must be pretty damned uncomfortable like that, knowing his old friend was doing his level best to keep the Sheriff from leaving.
"You will remember this and this alone."
The Marine colonel saluted the Sheriff, as did every trooper, and the Sheriff fell back into his own body, fell as from a great distance, gasped as he thrust back into his long tall carcass.
Everyone was gone now, everyone but Charlie Macneil and Cat Running.
The Sheriff woke with a surprisingly clear mind.
"How long?" he whispered through a dry throat.
"Long enough," MacNeil growled.
The Sheriff reached up with his free hand, wrapped it over Charlie's.
"Thank you," he husked.

Willamina stood beside the Lieutenant, head bowed.
The Lieutenant rested his hand on her shoulder.
"He's a good man, ma'am," he said quietly.
"I know."
"He held me when I was dyin'."
She looked up at the Lieutenant, her eyes bright.
"I know," she whispered. "He held me too."
The Lieutenant's eyes drifted over to the bed, nodded as he looked at the man setting on the edge of the bed, holding the Colonel's -- the Sheriff's -- hand.
"He held me like I was his own son," the Lieutenant whispered.
Willamina blinked, wiped at her eyes.
"I was his little girl," she whispered back. "I was two years old when he came back from the War."
She swallowed, leaned against the Lieutenant, shivering, and he put his arm around her.
"He came home in time to see me die."

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Linn Keller 7-9-12

 

I woke up.
I don't know how long I was out.
I looked around.
My hand was tight around Charlie's and his was tight around mine.
He was settin' on the edge of the bed, leaned back against the head board, asleep: he looked tired, drained, but his hand was tight on mine and glad I was for it.
I felt like he'd drug me back from t'other side of the Valley single handed.
Cat Running was awake, looking at me with those dark and knowing eyes.
I don't think that man ever slept.
I looked around.
I was in my bedroom ... under my own roof and in my own bed.
My head hurt but it hurt different.
It didn't feel like it was going to bust open from the inside.
I had no more pressure on my ears or behind my eyes and it was easier ... it was easier to think.
I swallowed, or tried to, only I had no spit and my throat was stuck together.
Cat Running came over to the other side of the bed, set down in a chair.
"You damn near left," he said quietly.
"What happened?"
My whisper was dry, barely audible.
"Spirits come," Cat Running replied. "You left body."
"I died?" I rasped.
Cat Running shook his head.
"How am I here?"
"MacNeil wouldn't let you go."
I passed a hand over my eyes trying to remember ... remember what?
"Wouldn't let me go."
I could have sneezed and blown dust.
"Spirits," I said. "What spirits?"
"Men you knew. Soldiers. Someone else too."
"Who?"
"Can't say."
Unable to say, don't know or not allowed? I wondered, then I tried to swallow again and frowned.
"What time is it?"
"Sunup. MacNeil been here two days now."
I looked at Charlie, alarmed.
Two days?
Good God, I thought, no wonder the man's wore out!
"Esther worried sick," Cat Running continued. "She sleep with girl." He thrust a chin toward the bedroom door, presumably indicating Esther was bunking with Angela.
"Let her know I’m all right," I rasped, experimentally moving a little. My back ached abominably and I really, really had to head for the back house.
"You not all right, dammit," Cat Running said: his voice was always quiet -- the man never had need to raise his voice, but I heard him sharpen an edge to it -- "Doc say you not look at no bright flash, not no loud nor sudden noise."
I pulled on Macneil's hand, trying to roll over on my side.
Charlie's eyes snapped open and his free hand came over to grasp my shoulder.
"Whoa there, hoss," he said, instantly awake: the man was a marvel, he could go from dead alseep to wide awake and clear headed in a tenth of a second or less and not have the least trace of the foggies a-doin' it.
"I gotta get up," I said. "I ain't wet the bed since I was a younker an' I don't figger to start now!"
"You'll use the chamber pot --"
"You'll wear the chamber pot and be damned!" I snapped, hooking my heel over the edge of the bed. "I am a-goin' to the back house" -- I paused for breath -- "peacefully or otherwise" -- I gripped the edge of the bed and pulled -- "and I don't much care which!"
I tried setting up and it didn't work a'tall, the bed rolled under me and Charlie's off hand clamped hard on my upper arm and one way or another that settled the bed down some, I ain't sure how.
Cat Running stood, took me under the arms: he and Charlie got me on my feet and we took a few wobbly steps toward the bedroom door.
"Damn hard headed lawman," Cat Running muttered. "You contrary as MacNeil."
"I'm that bad?" I mumbled.
"You're that bad," Charlie replied.

I reckon we made quite the little parade as we headed down stairs and right glad I was I had that stair case made wide enough when I had it built: Cat Running went ahead, walking backward, his hand gripping the front of my night shirt; Charlie was beside me, still lock gripped on my hand, his other arm around behind me.
I don't reckon I could have fallen if someone kicked me between the shoulder blades from behind.
The Bear Killer preceded us, flowing down stairs like an inky waterfall, smooth and absolutely silent -- he turned to watch our approach, then waited to see which direction we headed before slipping past us and running to the back door.
I recall how good breakfast smelled.
It was early enough nobody had eaten yet; the maid was rattlin' them pots and pans and my stomach growled at me and allowed as it was a-gonna chew on my back bone if I didn't send it down somethin' to work on right shortly.
The maid looked up and I saw she looked kind of alarmed.
At the moment I did not much care how she looked nor what she thought, for in spite of my appetite I had other, pressing needs.
I don't know who opened the back door but I do know it was cool out and kind of foggy or misty and it felt good and it smelt good.
I won't elaborate on the rest of the journey save to observe that my purposed mission was successful, the relief was immense, and I was not a'tall bashful to come back inside and soak my long tall carcass in a nice hot bath.
I felt weak but I felt better than I had in some time.
About the time I gripped the sides of the tub and started to work my feet under me it hit me.
My head didn't feel like it was gonna split in two and fall off my shoulders now.

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Charlie MacNeil 7-10-12

 

He stood to one side, watching. His battered mail shirt, links nicked and tarnished from past battles, and the ironbound oaken shield dangling from his leather-gauntleted left fist stood in sharp contrast to the great broadsword sheathed behind his right shoulder. The sword's sharkskin grip was dark with stains of blood, sweat and even a few tears, but its blade, when drawn, shown with a cold, ethereal light all its own. His heavy black cloak was wrapped about his shoulders, a gold cord at his throat holding it in place. His weathered boots were planted solidly, his right fist wrapped tight around bone and flesh that he could not see, only feel. He was prepared to stand his post for an eternity if such was demanded of him, knowing all the while that he would be unable to defend himself should some of the more unsavory denizens of this world appear. He prayed that for his friend's sake such would not occur.

He watched and listened to the woman harangue his friend, her words sharp and commanding, demanding even, demanding the same thing of the man as he himself desired: that the man return to the land of the living, difficult though that might be. His work in that land was not yet done.

The woman at last released the man and stepped aside to confer with those others who had gathered to state their case for one side or the other. His friend looked bewildered, torn by the desire for surcease of pain yet knowing the pain that his leaving would visit on so many others in that other world. Charlie tightened his grip, working the soles of his boots deeper into the coarse sand underfoot, projecting his own thoughts, commanding in his own way, willing his friend to make the decision that was best for not just his present family but for those not yet born whose lives would be profoundly affected by the coming decision.

Time passed. He was hungry, he was thirsty, he craved sleep, yet still he stood his post, unwilling to give an inch, determined to be the anchor he knew his friend must have to his own world. Then, suddenly, he felt the tension ease and he knew the decision had been made. He slumped to his knees then eased himself to a sitting position, back against a slanting stone, that ethereal hand still clasped in his own, and at last he slept. It was time for his own return...

 

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Linn Keller 7-10-12

 

"Perhaps, gentlemen, if I explained the possible sequelae," Dr. VanSchoor suggested.
"I realize you are both well known and well trusted by the family, but there is the very definite chance of a relapse. Should that occur, should a vigorous and aggressive exploration of brain tissue be the only option, there would be no hope, for with such a dissection there is always damage."
"So you are saying ..." Dr. Greenlees said slowly, his mind following Dr. VanSchoor's projection to its unpleasant termini.
"I suggest that I explain to the family all that can go wrong, all that can happen that ... what I am saying, gentlemen, is that I am the stranger here. Should the patient not recover as the family hopes he will, they will blame me, for it was I who operated. You two will have your reputations intact."
"You are making yourself a disposable commodity, then," Dr. Flint said slowly.
"Exactly."
"As much as I dislike the idea," Dr. Flint began, "I must concur, and for the reasons given." He looked sharply at his old teacher and mentor. "Dr. VanSchoor, your work is nothing short of exemplary and I have every confidence --"
Dr. VanSchoor raised a forestalling hand, closing his eyes and shaking his head sadly.
"Dr. Flint, thank you for your kind words, but we must face reality."
Dr. VanSchoor hesitated, then continued.
"We were lucky, gentlemen. The infected splinter was in the sulcus. It had not actually penetrated the mater; had it driven into the grey matter the man would be dead by now. As is, he will have a difficult enough time fighting the infection in his system. As with any head injury we are looking at probable -- not possible, probable -- personality changes, there may be partial paralysis on one side, the infection alone could compromise taste, hearing, eyesight, coordination, mentation.
"Or" -- Dr. VanSchoor took a long breath -- "or there could be very nearly no sequelae."
Dr. Flint looked over Dr. VanSchoor's neatly barbered head.
"Gentlemen," he said, "may I present Mrs. Esther Keller, wife of our patient, and a leading citizen of our fine town."

Esther sat very straight, her hands folded properly in her lap; her attention was wholly on the neatly-tailored, immaculately-barbered surgeon who sat uncomfortably before her.
"Doctor, please feel free to speak frankly," Esther said in a pleasantly modulated voice. "I assure you, sir, my head will not split in two and reveal a fanged and scaled man-eating dragon."
Dr. VanSchoor, surprised, blinked, then chuckled politely.
"No. No, of course not," he murmured.
"Dr. VanSchoor, you have already warned me of the possibility of ... I believe your term was, 'personality change.'" Esther tilted her head a little, regarding the surgeon with lovely, bright-green eyes. "I have seen such happen, sir, from falls from a horse and from ..." she hesitated -- "from other causes."
Dr. VanSchoor closed his eye and bowed accession to the matron's words.
"Can I expect to see any ..." Esther hesitated, looked at Dr. Greenlees and Dr. Flint, seated on either side of the surgeon -- "any physical ... changes?"
Dr. VanSchoor steepled his fingers, considering his answer.
"The brain," he said, as if beginning a classroom lecture, "is so marvelously complex ... if it were possible to inflict the identical injury to three brains, there would be three differing results, simply because of the individualistic development of each organ, and to its complex construction."
Dr. VanSchoor frowned a little, then continued.
"The bone splinter which infected was driven down between the left and right hemispheric lobes ... imagine, if you will, rolling two watermelons together and laying a small stick between them. The invading component is where it should not be, so the body infects it to try and sweep it away, yet it has not penetrated the tough covering adherent to the brain itself."
He weighed his words carefully, not wanting to talk over his hostess's head, yet not wanting to speak as if she were uneducated.
"Given its location, there may be weakness or paralysis on one side or the other. Given the infection, other areas of the brain may be affected. There may be a weakness in vision or hearing, coordination or even reasoning ability."
Esther nodded.
"There is one more thing you must consider."
"And that is, Doctor?"
"Your husband has had a head injury. He may possibly be seized by epileptic fits. I cannot say without a lengthy study of the man whether this will prove to be so."
"Is there anything we can do, Doctor?"
"Yes." Dr. VanSchoor nodded. "A darkened room for the first few months, absolute quiet, no sudden noises, no flashes of light. No surprises. Not even a slamming door."
Esther nodded, digesting this newest information.

The Sheriff threw back his covers, impatient to be out of bed.
His head still hurt, he still felt like he'd been run over by a freight wagon, but he was tired of lying in bed.
He sat up -- carefully -- gripped the side of the bed as a precaution.
For a miracle, the room stayed where it belonged: it neither rolled, pitched, nor did it yaw; he stood, cautious, careful, then grinned.
He stood up straight.
"I can not believe," he said quietly, "just how good I feel."
He took a step, took another, raised his hand, lowered it.
His grin was slow and broad as he walked around the end of the bed, over to the window, looked outside.

"I removed a panel of bone from the top of his skull," Dr. VanSchoor concluded, "and it will need to knit; I can't imagine it will be weak -- a fracture will heal stronger than the original material -- but out of respect for the underlying injury, he should avoid blows to the head."
Esther sighed.
"Dr. VanSchoor," she said patiently, "I have told him that very thing, time and again."
Esther looked at the surgeon almost mischievously.
"As a matter of fact, I have told the Sheriff more than once he really needs to consort with a better grade of criminal."

The Sheriff buttoned his shirt, knotted his tie: he drew on his drawers and socks and thrust into high, stitch-top boots, slung his gunbelt around his trim waist and reached for his hat and his coat.
He hesitated; a moment's dizziness advised caution, then passed as if it were never there.
The Sheriff spun his coat around his shoulders, ran his arms in the sleeves, grinned at the fellow in the mirror, then winked: the reflection winked back, and he reached for the doorknob.

Esther closed her eyes, bowed her head, considering all she'd just heard.
"Gentlemen," she said at length, "I thank you for your many kindnesses, and for your frankness. Difficulty is less ... difficult ... when one speaks frankly."
She looked up, from one man's eyes to the next, to the next.
"Dr. VanSchoor, you have gone to personal inconvenience to tend to my husband. I am a businesswoman, and I believe in conducting oneself in a businesslike manner. Let us discuss your fee."
Dr. VanSchoor blinked, surprised, then looked a little to his right.
The surgeon's jaw hung slack, his eyes widening.
"I presume," the Sheriff asked, grinning, "there are wound care instructions?"

Esther waited until the physicians were departed before turning on her husband.
"Do you know what you're risking?" she hissed, her eyes snapping with anger; her husband laughed, reached for his wife, and Esther twisted away, her back stiff.
She whirled, glaring.
"Do you know how close you came to dying?" she demanded, her voice sharp.
The Sheriff blinked, his expression innocent.
"Dying?" he asked, feigning surprise. "Me?"
"Yes, you --" Esther surged toward him, seizing the lapels of his coat, her nostrils flaring: Linn ran his arms around his wife and pulled her close.
"You listen to me, you -- you --"
Linn blinked innocently, looking down into the furious eyes of his beloved bride.
"Don't you look at me like that!" Esther snapped. "I'm trying to be mad at you!"
"Yeah, Daddy," Angela admonished, shaking her Mommy-finger from the doorway, "Mommy's trying to be mad at you!"
The Sheriff threw his head back and laughed, then wobbled, grabbed for the doorway and missed: Esther steered him toward a chair and he landed in it with all the grace of a dropped anvil.
"Maybe I'll just sit here for a bit," he said, looking up at Esther: she saw his eyes change, and he held out his hand, palm up.
Esther took his hand, settled onto his lap.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I had no call to worry you so."
Esther brushed his thinning hair back from his forehead.
"You realize," she said softly, "if you'd died, I never would have spoken to you again!"
The Sheriff began to laugh, and Esther turned red as she realized just what she'd said.
"Why don't we get you back upstairs and back in bed," she said quietly.
"Why don't we have something to eat first," he replied. "I smelled biscuits and gravy sometime, just don't recall when."
Angela walked up to her Daddy, looking curiously at the man.
"Daddy, what happened?" she asked.
Linn looked at Esther, blinked; it was Esther's turn to look innocent.
"She's your daughter," Esther said, to which the Sheriff declared, "You're damned right she is! Come on up here, honey!" -- and so saying seized Angela under the arms and hoist her up onto Esther's lap.
Esther's expression was alarmed; Angela's, delighted: Linn wrapped his arms around his ladies, hugged them tight, then looked from one to the other and said, "I need to ride out to Charlie's."
Angela slid off her Mommy's lap, and Esther very carefully got up from her husband's lap: Linn leaned forward, pushed up from the chair arms and stood, then wobbled and sat down again.
"Maybe I'll rest a little first," he said uncertainly.

Jacob and Sarah rode out later that evening.
Jacob threw Angela over his shoulder like a sack of taters -- a giggling sack, to be sure -- and Jacob embraced his mother one-armed.
"How is he?" Sarah asked anxiously.
"He's resting, but I think he'll be fine," Esther said. "He's eaten and he's back in bed where he belongs."
Jacob's ear twitched as he heard that tone of voice, something he'd heard his mother use, but not often.
Sarah's eyes looked toward the staircase, then back to Esther.
"Charlie looked worn out," she said tentatively.
Esther nodded, biting her bottom lip: she looked quickly away, turning her head.
Jacob looked at Sarah, cleared his throat.
"If he's resting, then, and you've had enough company for one day," he said, "why don't we come back when it's handier."
Esther nodded, still turned away from them.
Neither Jacob nor Sarah hesitated.
They bundled Esther into a hug and held her for a long, long moment.

Sarah seized the brass handle on the heavy door, hauled it viciously open: tearing the hat off her head, she stormed into the building with all the subtlety of the herd bull heading off a rival.
Sarah's boot heels were loud in the darkening stillness; her rifle was gripped tightly in her off hand.
Sarah threw her hat to the floor.
Pale eyes hard and bright, she spoke her piece, her voice as hard as the octagon barrel she held.
"I CAME TO TELL YOU SOMETHING!" she declared: her voice was pitched to cut, to slice, to penetrate.
She raised her head, glared at the altar in the front of the little whitewashed church.
Swinging the rifle up and going to one knee, she drove the crescent butt into the floor: she bowed her head, then raised it, looked at the altar, two wet streaks running down her face.
"I came to say thank you," she whispered, her lips quivering: "I was scared ... I was so scared!"

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Linn Keller 7-11-12

 

Jacob was waiting for her when she came out of the church.
He stood patiently with the horses; they were both ground reined -- or, rather, Jacob's was ground reined.
Snowflake wasn't even wearing a bridle.
Snowflake was, however, bumming an ear rub, and as Apple-horse was jealous in these matters, Jacob was caressing one horse with one hand, and massaging the other horse with the other hand.
Sarah flipped her black, broad brim hat on her head as she crossed the threshold, and carefully closed the door behind her: her steps were loud and hollow on the wooden step as she came down to dirt level with the acting Sheriff.
Jacob let off loving on the horses and took a step toward Sarah.
She stood, a little uncertain, rebellion in her eyes and wet streaks on her cheeks, and Jacob took her in his arms: he ran his arms under hers, picked her up and set her on the church step so their height would not be quite so disparate, and he held her for a long moment.
Sarah hugged him back, rubbing her face in his shirt front like she was trying to bury herself in a child's rumpled bed-linens after a bad dream.
"How you doin', Little Sis?" Jacob whispered.
Sarah stiffened, then pulled back.
"How did you know?" she whispered, her eyes big.
Jacob rested his hands on her shoulders.
"I'm a lawman," he said simply. "I find things out."
"Who else ...?"
"Who else knows?" Jacob smiled a little. "I reckon Charlie and Fannie know. Pa and Mother know, of course. I don't reckon many more folks ... well, your Ma and the Judge of course, they-all -- we-all -- were at your place when Pa handed you your Mama's Bible, and that's when we-all found out."
Sarah pushed back from her big brother, pushed back to arm's length, glared at him with big, round, vulnerable eyes, then she leaned against his front again, hugging him hard around his strong young ribs, her left ear pressed against shirtfront linen.
"That's right," she mumbled into his shirt front. "You were there. I forgot."
"You've been worried," Jacob said softly.
"I kind of like having a big brother," she whispered.
"I kind of like having a little sis," Jacob murmured, laying his cheek over on top of her head.
"Papa --" -- Sarah pulled back abruptly, the flat of her hand on Jacob's breast bone -- "will he be all right?"
"I reckon he will," Jacob said reassuringly. "He's a tough old bird."
Sarah fisted her hand and thumped him not ungently in the middle of the chest, her eyes lightening noticeably. "He's our father!" she hissed.
Jacob paid no attention to the sudden temper, nor to the temperamental, sisterly slug.
"Here, have a set." Jacob turned around, parked his backside on the church's front step.
Sarah frowned, looking around: even in this private, personal moment, her eyes were busy: she watched her Snowflake and the Appaloosa, watched their ears, knowing their senses were sharper than hers: satisfied, she, too, sat.
"Wily as a curly wolf, aren't you?" Jacob asked quietly.
"Or a white one."
Sarah parked her setter, set the rifle's steel crescent between her black cavalry boots, the barrel projecting between her knees and thrusting toward the darkening zenith.
"You saw the white wolf."
"Which time?"
"You, too."
Sarah nodded.
Jacob looked around.
"Wonder where the Bear Killer is."
"Angela was putting a new bow around his neck."
Jacob chuckled.
"Hasn't she learned the Bear Killer eats those things?"
Sarah's elbow pressed slowly into Jacob's ribs and he froze, turning his head dead slow to the left, following his little sis's gaze.
Silent, glowing a little in the evening's dim light, the white wolf stood and looked at them.
It was less than twenty feet from them.
Sarah swung her eyes -- just her eyes -- to the horses.
They stood, hip-shot, relaxed, unconcerned.
She looked back.
The wolf was gone.
"There's your answer," Jacob whispered.
Apple-horse's ear swung toward the labiodental sibiliants.
Sarah looked curiously at him.
"He's not leading us toward something, that doesn't feel like a warning, he's not singing of death to come.
"I reckon that was to let us know Pa will be all right."

The Sheriff managed to put up a good front for his worried bride.
Esther was a wife and a mother, a successful businesswoman and a respected member of Firelands society.
As such, she could put on a good face when need be.
The Sheriff knew she was worried; he knew he needed to reassure her that he would be fine, that all would be well, and the best way was to be as normal as possible.
He did so.
Until he just plainly ran out of steam and his green eyed bride took him by the elbow and said quietly, "My dear,you look tired, perhaps you should rest," and Angela stood with her lips pressed together and shook her Mommy-finger at the man.
The Sheriff laughed and ran an arm around Esther's shoulders.
"My dear," he said in that familiar, reassuring voice, "I have profited many times by listening to the good advice of my wife. I believe I shall take your sound advice and thank you for it."
Esther gave him a knowing look, as if to say he was full of second hand horse feed and she knew it, but being a Lady, she did not speak the words.
Her look was enough, and they both knew it.

Later that night, as Esther finished her ledger and removed her spectacles and rubbed her eyes, she realized she hadn't seen the Bear Killer in a little while: he'd been curled up on a rug not far from her, as he not infrequently did when visiting.
Curious, she got up and went back into the parlor.
Esther stopped, tilted her head a little, smiled.
Mary, the maid, glided in behind her; Esther raised a hand, put a finger to her lips, shook her head: she pointed to the door, and both ladies walked carefully, quietly, into the hallway, and Esther leaned her lips near to the maid's ear.
"Let them rest," she whispered, and the maid nodded, then both women looked back into the room.
The Sheriff had managed to slip cat-foot down the stairs, Angela with him, apparently: the Sheriff was in his nightshirt, Angela in her flannel nightgown; the Sheriff lay on the floor, Angela lay sprawled over his chest, her head resting on his breast bone and one arm thrown over his ribs: the Bear Killer lay beside him, his big head on the Sheriff's belly, and Angela's draping hand just touched the Bear Killer's big, black-furred head.

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Charlie MacNeil 7-11-12

 

Coarse sand, glittering ebony and crimson in the guttering light of distant fires, grated beneath the soles of his boots. The rough sharkskin grip of the gleaming broadsword was clenched tight in one gauntleted fist, oaken shield held tightly in the other, both weapons raised and ready for defense or attack as circumstances required. His heavy black cloak, clasped with gold cord at the throat, swirled in the fitful, sulfurous breeze that surrounded him, teasing with molten fingers as he stood glaring his defiance at the shadows confronting him, shadows whose glowing eyes burned crimson and orange in the darkness. Behind him stood an opening in the rock, the beginning of a passage to a world much more hospitable than this, a passage which he would defend to the bitter end of life itself should such be necessary...

Charlie lunged awake with a gasp, his eyes wide, lips curled in a snarl that would have done the Bear Killer justice. His startled gaze took in the familiar surroundings of his room at the Silver Jewel and he settled back onto the pillow, shaking from the mass of adrenaline surging through his bloodstream. "You can't have him!" the ex-marshal growled deep in his throat. "You can't have him!"

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Linn Keller 7-12-12

 

"Charlie."
Charlie's knees bent, he turned, twisting on the balls of his feet, boot leather whispering as his weight ground them into the sand: he dropped his center of gravity, feet spread slightly, shield hard against his body, ready to take a blow, sword cocked over his shoulder, ready to give one.
The figure was in black, its coat open, waving a little in the hot breeze; the broad black hat brim was pulled low.
The figure pushed the brim up with one finger and looked at him, but made no other move.
Hot ... it was hot ... what little wind caressed him, sucked the moisture from the man's hide, from his tongue, made his eyeballs feel gritty ...
Charlie blinked, swallowed: adrenalin sang power in his veins, a warrior-surge rolled like ocean's waves through him, he was ready, he was ready, he was ready ...
The figure took a step, another, black cavalry boots almost soundless in the obsidian sand.
Behind her, sunset seared scarlet bands across the horizon, stacking one above the other, clouds burning in the distance.
He could see every detail about her, sharp, clear, hard relief, distinct: the black belt buckle, the black belt, the black coat and shirt and black buttons, the black vest, the braids wrapped around her fair throat ... hands and face were ivory, pale, barely limned with pink, the lips were a rich, dark red, the eyes bright, bright, and ...
and blue, a distinct blue ...
"You held," she whispered. "Against all odds, you held."
She stopped, nodded.
"Thank you."
Charlie's eyes opened again.
The whisper, the disyllabic sibilant, echoed in the bedroom's silence.
Against all odds he'd fallen asleep again -- not a thing he would have thought possible, given the ready-to-fight charge that woke him earlier ...
Charlie lay still, eyes busy, tracking in the dark: it was near to dawn and certain persistent aches and pains told him it was near enough to get-up that he'd ought to get up.
He lay still a moment longer, considering ...
She's never been there except in a silk war-gown, he thought.
No lance, no horse, no hell-dog ... no war-ice in her eyes ...

Sarah shivered, hard, staring at the night-dark ceiling of her upstairs bedroom.
She swallowed, tasting sand, feeling grit in her eyes as she blinked.
Tossing back the covers, she cradled her forearm for a moment, willing its old ache to go away, then sat up and looked out her window.
In the distance, dawn was reddening the horizon in broad horizontal bands, level cloud-streaks stacked one on top of the other.
"You saw my dreams," she whispered.
"Now I have seen yours."

 

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Linn Keller 7-15-12

 

About the time Sarah's bare feet pressed down on the hook rug beside her bed, the Sheriff's pressed down on the stiff-haired deer hide beside his own.
Jacob swung his legs out, hit the floor and stood in one smooth move: peeling out of his night shirt, he strode buck naked for the bedroom door, for he had an urgent matter to attend.
Sarah rubbed her forearm, remembering the old hurt that caused its deep ache: Rain a-comin', she thought, looking at red clouds in the distance.
Not long after, the Sheriff sat down at his own kitchen table, looking around with a little wonder and a great deal of satisfaction in his expression: he leaned back a little as the maid placed his warmed plate in front of him, and he leaned forward to sniff up a good snoot full of bacon and eggs and good steaming fresh sliced hot out of the oven bread.
Sarah, her cheeks glowing from her morning's cold-water ablutions, seated herself gracefully at her place at the kitchen table, smiling a little as the twins laid immediate claim to the chairs on either side of her.
Annette paused after pouring Jacob's coffee, leaned down and whispered to her husband that he really should not go charging outside buck naked, it sets a bad example for little Joseph -- "You know how much trouble I had keeping his clothes on him!" she hissed, trying to look stern, and Jacob set down his just-filled white-glazed mug of steaming-hot Arbuckle's and took up his wife's hand: kissing her knuckles, he said in a quiet voice, "My dear, you are the loveliest thing I've seen yet today!" -- and in his Joseph-sized chair, their little boy regarded them with big, watchful eyes, learning from his father as little boys do, the proper way to treat a woman, a wife.
Angela watched her Mommy and Daddy with bright and curious eyes: she lacked the vocabulary to put words to her observations, but she recognized an absence of the tension, the unspoken stress she'd noticed in the month or so preceding.
The maid lowered her eyelids and looked away, approval in her expression, pretending not to notice as the Sheriff took his green-eyed bride's hand and smiled.
"My dear," he said in a deep and rich voice, "I can not believe just how much better I feel!"
Esther's eyes smiled.
Angela's whole face smiled.
So did the Sheriff's.

Annette boiled up a big batch of corn meal mush: both Jacob and Joseph loved the stuff, and Annette had ground cinnamon and brown, raw sugar in a covered milk-glass sugarbowl, and a sweating-cold pitcher of milk: she sliced fresh sourdough bread into thick slabs, piled up on a plate, a saucer with a lump of butter on it the size of Jacob's fist: she had tea for herself, coffee for Jacob and milk for Joseph.
Joseph, of course, was not content with his repast, and begged coffee from his Pa: Jacob raised and eyebrow and leaned confidentially toward his offspring: "You don't want this stuff," he stage-whispered. "It'll stunt your growth. Why, look what it did to me!"
Joseph giggled and then laughed, swinging his legs happily.

Sarah chose a riding dress and matching hat and gloves; she wished to see her "Uncle Papa" the Sheriff, and to inquire if he knew whether Brother William would be about next.
The Sheriff knotted his tie and settled his hat carefully upon his head, for his scalp was still rather tender from the recent surgical incision and suture: it itched, which meant it was healing, but as he regarded the repair in the mirror, he muttered, "So much for my youthful good looks. I'll wear a hat!"
Jacob, too, dressed and settled his hat on his head; he kissed his bride, hugged his son and stepped into the saddle, and little Joseph laughed as Apple-horse bucked out for a vigorous minute: satisfied, the Appaloosa stallion shivered all over, then set out as calm and steady as if nothing happened.
Annette returned to the kitchen and began scooping the left over mush into shallow pans, intending to cool in the spring house.
I will slice them and fry them up in the morning, she thought, at least until little Joseph's delighted laugh reached her.
Annette's mother's instinct prompted her to put down the pan she held and head for the front door.
She opened the door just in time to see little Joseph, buck naked, laughing and chasing happily after one of the chickens.

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Charlie MacNeil 7-15-12

 

"Sarah!" At the sound of her name Sarah drew the Morgan to an instant halt to spend a half second on weapons inventory before turning to face the speaker. She saw Charlie standing on the steps of the Jewel with his right thumb tucked into his belt. He's still favoring his ribs here, but not there, she thought. Interesting.

"Uncle Charlie." Her tone held a quiet reserve that led him again to the thought that the tomboy of last summer and fall, gutting elk and deer in pants and hickory shirt, was no more. Or was well hidden...

"We need to talk, girl. There's things you need to know."

"I think I know what..." she began.

"That's just it!" he growled, interrupting. Sarah felt herself bristling at his tone; bristling, that is, until his next words dashed ice water across her nervous system, reminding her of where she'd last seen him. "You think you know!" he went on inexorably, his voice rumbling from his chest with the sound of an avalanche. "And what you think you know can kill you before you know it's coming! We can't afford to lose you, girl! You didn't see what I saw the last few days..." His voice trailed off as his stoney gaze lanced into her. For a moment she was at a loss as to how to answer.

"But I saw, uh, well, I, I mean I've beaten..." she stammered, angry with herself for losing her composure, even angrier at him for forcing it to happen. Sarah had the pride of youth, the pride that she was always in control, always knew the right way to go, the right thing to do, what was best, but Charlie had a talent for turning all her preconceptions of herself on their collective ear. With a visible effort she reined in her temper, returning glare for glare, willing herself not to look away from him.

"You've beaten nothin'! You've been damn lucky, is what you've been. Your pride, and your temper, will kill you yet! I know! I've been where you are, and I've paid a dear price for it!" His voice softened. "I've warned you before, girl," he said, his tone one of love and pride. "You're young and proud, and you've accomplished some pretty impressive things for one of your years, but there is so much more ahead. Don't let it end here, Sarah. Instead, build on it, make it yours, and go on. Don't let it end here..." His words faded into the sounds of the early morning street and both were silent for a brief period. "We most definitely need to talk," he repeated. "Soon. Now go on and see your father. He misses you more than you know." He ticked the brim of his hat with his left index finger then turned to grasp the cut glass knob of the Jewel's left-hand door.

"Uncle Charlie."

"Yeah?"

"How did you know?"

He grinned back over his shoulder. "I'm an old guy. We know stuff." He stepped into the Jewel and pushed the door closed behind him. Sarah stared after him for a moment then shook her head and clucked the Morgan into motion toward the Sheriff's office.

"He's right, he knows stuff. I just wish I knew how he does it," she murmured softly.

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Linn Keller 7-15-12

 

"Red sky in the morning," my hired man said as he led Cannonball out for me, saddled and ready to go.
I thrust my engraved '73 rifle in the scabbard, patted Cannonball's neck, took the reins, then I stopped and took a long look toward the eastern sky.
"You're a Navy man, if I recall right," I said, taking a long breath of the damp morning air.
"Aye, sir, that I am!" he said, grinning, and I detected a trace of a Scots accent in his words.
Many in the West had an interesting voice, generally flavored by where-they'd-been, but together they made up where-we-are.
Boom towns were an interesting mix of languages, accents, verbal intonations ... I always had a quick ear for such things and it's come in handy a time or three as a lawman.
Hell, was I not a lawman, I'd still be quick to pick up on 'em.
Always have been a curious sort.
I nodded, looked at Gilbert and then back toward the horizon.
"I'll not be whistlin' in the saddle," I nodded, and Gilbert nodded, grinning.
"Don't want t' be whistlin' up a storm," he agreed.
I run my hoof into the stirrup, grabbed hold of the horn and stepped on board: Cannonball danced a little under me and I laughed, patting her neck.
It felt good to feel good again.
"Come on, girl," I murmured, slacking the reins and giving her the knee, and she turned just pretty as you please and stepped out lively, like we were on parade.
I need to see Jacob, I thought.
Like as not he's doing just fine.
Cannonball pointed her nose down the road and the rest of her followed at a good pace, and me with her.
If he's doing just fine, why do I need to check on him?
Will he think I don't trust him?
No.

I felt a little uncertain at my own reply.
I hope not.
There. That was the more honest.
Will he think I'm taking over?
He has to realize when I'm healed I'll be back in my rightful place.
I could retire.

The thought took me by surprise.
I've got money enough saved and invested.
I don't need to work for a livin'.

I considered that for a bit.
Cannonball was moving easy under me, and I with her.
Few things are as fine as a good horse under the backside, especially of a morning: the sun was long and red and the rays seized color in the mountain rocks and pulled them to the surface, colors secret and hidden except under these exact conditions.
I knew it was threatenin' rain -- my own aches and pains, but also those long sun slants were shooting under neath the clouds.
Didn't look like it was gonna be a toad strangler, but it did look like it would be here for a bit.
Long slow soaker, I thought. That's what we need.
I could retire.

I think best either a-horseback or on my feet, pacin' ... if I have to present in court I do better if I'm standin' in boot leather instead of polishin' my bottom on that-there hard wooden witness stand.
I gave retirin' some hard thought, with my back side polishin' saddle leather, least until I saw Sarah in the distance.
She was headed toward me, and I toward her, and I began to grin.
I wished to speak with my daughter, and now she was a-headin' toward me.

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Linn Keller 7-16-12

 

I waited until Sarah was close before lifting my hat in greeting.
I'd leaned back and ho'd and Cannonball ho'd, and stood there, swinging her tail and shivering her hide against the occasional fly.
I managed to grab one out of mid air and smack it against my thigh and roll it -- I hate those biting flies -- before Sarah got there.
Sarah drew to a stop and gave me a concerned look.
I tilted my head down a little to give her the full benefit of my overhauled scalp.
She stood up in her stirrups, side-walked her Morgan over ag'in Cannonball and raised a hand, wanting to touch but afraid to: finally she eased back down into saddle leather and nodded.
"You're bruised, scabbed and stitched up," she said frankly. "I know open to air will heal best, but ..." she made a nose-wrinkled face -- "wear the hat!"
I laughed and settled the skypiece back into place.
As long as I set it on easy, it didn't hurt.
"How did Charlie know you wanted to see me?" she blurted, and I knew something was up.
I looked down at her Morgan's gleaming black hooves.
"Doesn't take a genius to know a father enjoys seein' his daughter," I replied quietly.
Sarah gave me a long, considering look, then nodded, looked away, along my back trail.
"What happened?"
Sarah looked at me with big, almost frightened eyes, her mother's eyes -- God, I remember your Mama, she was beautiful and I see her in you --
Sarah lowered her forehead into her splayed thumb-and-fingers, then looked up at me again.
"'The fool hateth reproof,'" she quoted, "and I don't want to be a fool ..."
I nodded, slowly, making it plain she had my full attention.
"I ... don't know what to call you," Sarah blurted, looking suddenly toward the horizon.
"Call me anything but late for supper," I said mildly, and normally she would have laughed, but she looked at me and her bottom lip was a-tremble and I knew an easy answer would not do.
I tossed Cannonball's reins over her head, swung down.
"Dismount," I said, and Sarah obediently dismounted.
I looked down at her, then I bent over a little and picked her up, walked over to a handy rock and stood her on it so we were within two fingers of eye level to one another: her hands were on my forearms and she gave me those big lovely eyes again and I leaned into her and wrapped my arms around her and held her, and she grabbed hold of me and we just stood there for the longest time.
I think that's the longest I ever held her.
Some things are best said without words and I reckon I was speech makin' that day: I have had women tell me the greatest comfort they ever had was when their Daddy held them, and I held Sarah, and she held me, and I was content.
Finally -- after several long moments, or a year later when my back got to giving me grief again -- we un-hugged and taken up our horses' reins, and walked slowly together.
"There's somethin' on your mind," I said.
Sarah gave me a sharp and knowing look.
"Am I that transparent?"
Good Lord, she sounds like a grown woman, I thought, surprised: it did not surprise me she sounded so grown up, it surprised me that I thought the words: Sarah was marriageable and had been since she turned thirteen, she was a capable young woman and able to run a household on her own ... but here I was thinking in terms of Daddy's Little Girl, and now realizing Daddy's Little Girl was growing up and near to grown, and that's what taken me by surprise.
"It's Charlie," she said, not looking at me, and my right ear pulled back a little like somebody tugged on it.
Not Uncle Charlie, I thought. This is different.
"Go on."
Sarah looked at me now and her eyes were lighter.
"I know he means --" she blurted. "He doesn't want --" Again the abrupt start, the grinding halt, the inner conflict.
I waited.
Sarah looked down, considering; I knew she felt safe, looking down, for normally her eyes were busy looking around her, along rooflines or into alleyways, looking for a Sunday punch, watching peoples' hands.
"I still don't know what to call you."
"Jacob calls me Father or Sir."
"You don't look like a priest."
"I've been Chaplain, father confessor and reader of the Word when we buried the dead," I said quietly. "A man becomes what he must when the time comes."
"You'd look funny in a Roman collar."
"You're avoiding the subject."
"Very well, Father." Sarah raised her chin and I expected her to toss her head like a spirited mare: was she not wearing that fine little riding-hat, was her hair long and loose, she might have.
"Do you remember telling me that you prefer to be corrected when you are wrong, but my God have mercy on the soul of anyone who said you were wrong, when you weren't?"
I nodded.
"Yes. I recall."
"Charlie just called me down and I don't see where I was wrong."
I stopped, looked squarely at her: she most definitely had my undivided.
I figured there was something mis-understood here and I knew I had to get it figured out, for Charlie is a fair and reasonable man and probably the one most honest man I've ever known, and he would not have spoken correction without need.
"Tell me the words."
It was a game I'd played with Sarah when she was younger: I would have her recite a conversation, both sides of the conversation, word for word: like anything else, her skill improved with practice, until she could recall a conversation flawlessly two days later.
Sarah closed her eyes and I could almost hear oiled gears chuckling behind her eyes, then she began her recitation.
I had to admire her skill: when she spoke Charlie's words, though the voice was hers, the accent and intonation was Charlie's: when Sarah was finished, I raised a finger, for she was about to speak of how she felt, and I wished to first know facts.
I had her recite it again.
Sarah did so.
I knew this ability would stand her in good stead on the witness stand, or in a preliminary hearing, a situation where she may have to convince a skeptical judge to issue a warrant, or to show a jury of twelve good burghers what preceded a killing.
Finally I stopped, nodded, considering.
The wind started again, cool, damp: I looked up at clouds I hadn't noticed and Sarah did too.
"Let's head for shelter," I said slowly, "else we'll get our tail feathers wet."
We swung into saddle leather and headed back along our back trail and I smelled ozone and I knew this was not a good thing.
It held off raining long enough to get us into the Rosenthal barn, but just barely: the first fat, cold drops started to pelt the brim of my Stetson as we came through the decorative, cast iron archway at the end of their gravel drive, and I waved at Clark as we galloped by: Clark and her partner, too, were heading in for shelter.
Sarah and I dismounted and unsaddled, we brushed down our horses and I thought as I worked, considering what Sarah told me.
I doubted me not her account was accurate.
I also did not doubt she was not done talking.
I was right.
Sarah came around Cannonball, ducked under her neck, her eyes bright.
"Father," she said, and her voice was not that of a strong and confident young woman, it was the wounded voice of a little girl with hurt feelin's, "I didn't do anything wrong."
I gathered her up in my arms again.
"I know, sweetheart," I whispered, then I set down on a hay bale and set her on my lap like I would Angela.
"Charlie," I said carefully, "loves you like his own daughter."
"I didn't know he has a daughter."
"He used to."
I saw understanding in Sarah's eyes.
She'd hear me speak in an unguarded moment of losing Dana, those long years ago: I knew Charlie's wife and little girl died of the cholera, and it near to broke the man's heart, but like many of us -- me included -- we buried our broken heart in a church yard and pointed our faces West and started over.
"Charlie was not correcting any wrong things you'd done," I said slowly. "He is a man who finds things out, but he can see things ... he can see what is likely to happen."
"He is a Seer?"
I shook my head. "No. No, he is not a Seer, nor is he a mage, but he is one of the wisest men I've ever run into. He can look at a situation and figure out how it's most likely to play out, and damn neart every time, he's right!"
"He said my pride and my temper would get me killed."
I nodded.
"He said I think I know things and what I didn't know would ..."
Her voice trailed off.
"I don't understand what he meant about building on what I have."
I took a long breath, caressed her cheek: it was soft, pink, flawless, and I remembered Bonnie's cheek: bruised and cut, the first night I saw her, when Sarah was but a little girl walking beside her, and I took them that night as mother and daughter.
"Charlie ... has been tried as metal in the forge," I said. "He knows what it is to be young and full of fire and he knows what it is to be confident and competent and able ... and to know it, until something comes in that knocks all that capable and able into a cocked hat."
"It stung," she admitted. "It felt like he was giving me hell."
I shook my head slowly.
"Charlie wants the same thing I do," I replied, taking her hand in mine: "He wants you to live a long and outrageously happy life.
"I'm not that happy with His Honor asking you to be an Agent.
"You are good and pretty damned good at what you do.
"You have matured and your skills improved steadily and still do, and" -- I grinned -- "it surprised a number of folks that you brought back the folks you did, alive and breathing.
"You are blood of my blood." I cupped my hand on her cheek and she leaned her head a little into it.
"Jacob carries my name but not my blood.
"Sarah, I don't know how I know it, but it's important that my line continues.
"You carry my blood line, Sarah."
I stopped short of telling her she had to settle down and be a married woman and bear a passel of young, for she was young herself and she should see as much and do as much as she could before she set herself down on a nest and began hatching out young.
"You've done nothing wrong, Sarah. Understand that first." I turned my hand from her cheek to her shoulder. "You, did, nothing, wrong."
Sarah nodded.
"Charlie spoke as he did because he wants to see you to live to a ripe and happy old age, surrounded by family and friends, alive and well and in one piece."
I tightened my hand slightly, very slightly, on her shoulder.
"I still go up in the graveyard and look at tomb stones, names I knew, graves where I buried part of me with each one of them.
"I don't want to do that with you, dear heart, and neither does Charlie."
"He said he'd been like me."
"Hell, we all have," I said tiredly. "At one time I was able to whip the world and set out to do just that." My smile was humorless. "Then that damned War come along and I couldn't whip a thing."
Rain rattled on the hand split shakes overhead; we felt cool, damp air.
I closed my eyes, leaned back against a post.
I felt tired ... tired, of a sudden, more so than I should have, but then I was still healin' up.
Sarah leaned against me and I run my arm around her and we set there on a saddle blanket on that hay bale, listening to the rain, and we fell asleep, my little girl safe and warm in her Daddy's arms, and me feelin' like this was the grandest thing in the world, having my little girl warm and alive ag'in me.
At some point Clark come cat footin' in and draped a blanket around the two of us: I remember waking up and smiling a little and whispering "Thank you" and Clark nodded, smiling a little, almost sadly as she covered us.

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Linn Keller 7-17-12

 

I woke up regretting I'd ever pulled Sarah onto my lap.
A hay bale with a blanket over is normally not an uncomfortable seat.
A thirteen year old on the lap, leaned up ag'in my chest so all the weight was on my backside ... for the short term it's not at all uncomfortable and I reckon she was just fine.
I wasn't.
It was near to noon or so my belly said and I was kind of dry, and I opened my eyes and Levi was looking down at us and he had kind of a soft expression about him: he raised a finger to his lips and I wished for a moment to see Sarah and I from his perspective.
Levi squatted and put his lips to my ear and whispered, "Don't move," and I turned my eyes toward him.
He drew back a little to see my reaction.
I raised one eyebrow -- a question -- and Levi bent close again.
"She has not slept well for some nights now," he continued. "This is the most peaceful I've seen her."
I could smell vittles eddy in behind him and I figured that's why my stomach was threatening to take a crosscut saw to my back bone.
Sarah had the blanket pulled down to her own lap level, pulled it down in her sleep: my hands were around her middle, my fingers laced together, and her hands were on mine: I don't know if it was realizing the proximity of another warm body, or good smells from the kitchen, but she took a deeper breath, then I felt her stiffen, then relax.
Levi laid his hand on hers and I don't recall ever seeing such a soft and fatherly look about him ever before.
"Come and eat," he said softly, then winked: he got up, smiling, and turned to head out the door.
Sarah got up easily, threw her left leg over her right and turned, landing on her feet: I struggled to sit up and as the blood come back into my back side, my hinder commenced to utter less than sterling opinions of my previous posture.
Sarah's eyes widened and her hands were quick to grab me under the arms, for my legs did not want to work right: I got my pins under me and ordered them most sternly to work, and they did, though will ill grace: my hand went to her shoulder and I was kind of wobbly, but the longer I stood the more circulation I got back and the more my miscellaneous parts reminded me of the folly of my actions.
"I set too long," I muttered, picking up my hat and setting it on my bruised scalp.
Sarah charitably said nothing, just stood there looking at me with those big and lovely eyes.
She stood there and looked for all of six seconds.
"Think I could take you in that foot race now?" she said, trying hard to look innocent and actually succeeding.
I nodded and took a tentative step.
"Yeah," I gasped.
Sarah's hands came up and she wasn't quite sure where to grab me to keep me from goin' down, but I was not going to go down: if I had to pinch my nose and blow hard and inflate my head like a Montgolfier balloon to keep me upright, I was NOT going to go down!
I took another step and managed to wink.
"My belly thinks my throat's been cut," I said. "Let's go eat."

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Linn Keller 7-17-12

 

Jacob's eyes were very pale and he was breathing heavy.
The other man was on the ground, bleeding, trying to move.
Jacob looked around, half-crouched, teeth bared: he turned in a slow, full circle, perfectly willing to rip someone's head off and stuff it down their bloody neck backwards.
He turned back to the man laying crosswise of the trail.
Jacob slammed the heel of his hand into the man's breastbone, hard, grabbed a good twisted-up handful of shirt front and hauled the choking offender to his feet: turning, he slammed him into the trunk of a nearby pine tree, hard, bouncing the man's head against the bark.
A few odd needles rattled off Jacob's shoulders and landed in his hair.
The man that decided to resist arrest was resisting no more.
Jacob's blood was up.
Right about now he could have picked up the man's saddle horse and packed it off, had he a mind to do so, but instead he walked over to the man's mount, caressed its neck and its nose and took its reins: still carrying the now-unconscious offender left-handed, he turned the horse so its flank was up against the same tree he'd used to pacify his prisoner, then with a quick thrust, heaved the man over his own saddle, belly down.
Another few moments and he had the offender's boots off, then tied wrists to ankles: Sarah gave him the idea of divesting the prisoner of his boots, and Jacob was never one to throw away a good idea just because a girl give it to him.
Jacob wiped at his dripping nose; the back of his hand came back red and wet.
He tied off the offender's horse to a branch, stomped over to the stream and looked around again, cold eyes glaring: seeing nothing, he knelt quickly, scooped up a double handful of water, washed his face, sniffed some up his nose: he frowned, for his bashed beak was still tender, and a quick exploration showed his teeth intact, his lip bruised and tender and a small cut under one eye.
Jacob glared at the unmoving figure bent over his own saddle.
"Mister," Jacob said, his voice full of menace, "you made a big mistake."
Jacob scooped another double handful of water, took a sip, took another: he rinsed out his mouth, spat blood; rinsed again, swallowed.
He stood, his hands going to the bullet gouge at his right hip.
The man tried to gut shoot him, close-up, rather than submit to the arrest warrant: Jacob's fingers explored the 44-caliber ditch gnawed out of his belt just above his right hand holster.
"I hate hangin' folks," he muttered, "but by God! you earned it, mister!"
So saying, he gathered his Appaloosa stallion's reins, mounted: untying the attacker's reins, he pointed their noses toward Firelands and the county lockup: though Jacob's eyes were busy, his mind was beginning to formulate the wording of his report.
His Honor the Judge liked a concise, well written report.
A stray thought wandered in from someplace unrelated.
I wonder how Pa is feelin'.
Poor fellow, he's probably layin' in bed feelin' like someone's tryin' to hammer their way out of his skull from the inside.


Brother William leaned his staff into the corner and bowed a little to Mr. Baxter.
"Might I trouble you for a beer," he asked quietly, "and perhaps a sandwich."
Mr. Baxter drew a beer for the cleric, sliding it across and accepting the coin: Daisy's girl was at the man's elbow in a moment, and Brother William stood at the bar, one sandaled foot on the gleaming, polished and somewhat scratched up brass rail.
There were a few glances, an elbow pressed into a neighbor's ribs: it was not often the clergy visited such a place of sin, vice and shameful deportment, but the man was obviously enjoying his small meal and a beer, and not a man there but didn't appreciate the value of both -- not only for nutrition, but because everyone there at one time or another had been hungry enough to chew on an old boot top, and dry enough to drink out of a cow track.
Matter of fact, most there had done the latter and threatened the former.
Brother William savored the beer, letting the cool amber rehydrate his dry throat: he'd been some time on foot, having walked most of the way from the monastery: he could have ridden, or driven; a passing teamster gave him a ride for several miles, shamelessly entertaining the dusty, white-robed monastic with several bawdy, off-color and equally off-key drinking songs.
Brother William, laughing with the man, pounded him happily on the shoulder.
"My friend," he declared in a loud voice, "one should never place one's immortal soul in danger by singing songs of this kind," and so saying, began singing in a fine tenor a particularly naughty marching song, one the teamster recognized and in which he enthusiastically joined: when they finished, the teamster smote Brother William a companionable blow on the back and declared, "Father, I didn't know ye were Irish!"
Brother William laughed, his hood thrown back, and sunlight shone off his gleaming, bald tonsure: "Didn't ye know, lad, only an Irishman can carry a proper tune!"
The teamster saved Brother William at least a day's travel; at the roadway's fork, the two shook hands and the teamster said, "Father, it's only a good Catholic priest that understands us poor workin' men!"
Brother William jumped from the wagon, landing easily; he planted his staff, turned and nodded.
"It helps," he said, "if the sky pilot was a workin' man a' some time i' his life!"
Now, in the welcome hubbub of the Silver Jewel, Brother William finished his sandwich and drained the last of his beer, feeling the liquid soak into his soul.
He set the mug down, declined a refill: he leaned a little toward Mr. Baxter and admitted, "I think I'll live now," bringing a laugh from the barkeep, then he turned, nodded toward Dolly just stepping onto the stage, and headed for the front door.
He wished to see his old friend at the Mercantile before making his usual visits.

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Linn Keller 7-18-12

 

Sarah was quiet through the noon meal.
Bonnie was over from the dress-works and Levi had finished his own work; the Sheriff was clearly less than comfortable, but he tried to hide his discomfort, and his hosts were kind enough to ignore the signs he was attempting to conceal.
The meal was simple but satisfying; the Sheriff ate ... carefully, Sarah thought, analyzing the man and his injury.
The twins, bright-eyed, ate with a ladylike decorum; what little conversation they offered was carefully polite, because they had Company, and they wished to be praised for being Proper Young Ladies, as the Sheriff invariably did.
Polly was the more restless of the two, swinging her legs unseen under the table.
Finally Sarah broke her silence.
"I am invited back to Denver," she said without preamble.
Five sets of eyes were on her instantly.
The Sheriff set down his fork and picked up his napkin; blotting, then stroking his mustache, he swallowed, replaced the napkin in his lap.
"Go on," he said in the voice he reserved for discussing a case.
Bonnie blinked, looked quickly at Levi: Levi's head turned a few degrees so he could regard the greying lawman seated directly across from his daughter.
"I am to be presented with the key to the city."
There was a hint of irony in her words; the Sheriff listened closely, searching for any trace of pride.
There was none.
He heard ... almost ... resignation?
His eyes raised to hers and he nodded, once.
Bonnie saw her husband's head turn a few degrees: his eyes were serious and she knew that he was less a husband and father in this moment as an agent -- one who knew the ins and outs, the political winds and currents, that infested Denver.
"I was sent several editions of their newspaper," Sarah continued. "I am called the Angel in Grey, the Avenging Teacher, the Mountaineering Miss.
"I have, to date, received no less than four proposals of marriage, three offers of a speaking engagement, and two requests for personal appearance at their lecture-hall."
The Sheriff weighed her words, as did Levi.
Sarah, herself, weighed her heart.
"I take no pride in this," she continued, and the Sheriff's ear drew back a little as if pulled by an invisible thumb-and-forefinger: "I did no more than any would do."
Both the Sheriff and Levi each raised an eyebrow; their eyes met, and had each man lacked years of practice at suppressing an expression, they might have burst out laughing at her pronouncement.
"Your intentions?" the Sheriff asked quietly.
"I shall go there and be invested with their proclamation," she said, raising her chin: "I shall then come home."
"You are not going alone," Bonnie said after a moment.
Sarah's eyes were a noticeable shade less blue.
"Going alone would be most unwise," she agreed. "I shall need suitable escort, and if it is not too great an imposition, I would have both my fathers with me."
Levi looked at the Sheriff.
"Are you up for this?" he asked.
"We're talking about my daughter," the Sheriff replied. "I'm up for it."
"Your daughter?" Levi asked, a dangerous tone in his voice. "I believe I may have claim."
Bonnie's lovely eyes widened in alarm.
Of all the possibilities she'd considered, she never considered her husband and the Sheriff becoming adversaries.
"All the more reason we should both go," the Sheriff said flatly.
"I agree."
"You expect trouble."
"I always expect trouble," the Sheriff grinned ... a lean, wolfish grin, one that chilled Bonnie enough to make her shiver a little.
"I always expect trouble. If it comes, I am ready, and if it does not, I am pleasantly surprised."
"Ben Franklin," Sarah said, her schoolteacher's voice matter-of-fact.
The Sheriff's wolflike grin softened into the smile they remembered.
"Yes, ma'am."
"And just when," Levi asked, "do they crave the honor of your presence?"
Sarah turned her head to look directly at Levi.
"I received their missive this morning," she said, "with the most recent newspaper. They wish to bestow this honor tomorrow at noon."
Sarah felt the ghost of a cautioning weight on her shoulder, as if an ethereal hand, placed in warning, then it was gone.

Sarah examined the documents with satisfaction.
She was on her way to being ... not wealthy, but well enough off to be independent, should the need arise.
She hoped most heartily that the need never arose.
Sarah arranged to invest in a number of mercantiles, a number of dry goods suppliers and hardware stores, almost all in gold camps or gold mining areas: these were by their very nature short lived investments, as boom towns and gold camps never lasted -- well, a few did, but pitifully few -- still, she examined her bank statement with satisfaction.
I listened to you, Uncle Charlie, she thought. Your advice is bearing fruit.
Sarah folded the statements, replaced them in their envelopes, placed the envelopes in her desk, locked the desk: her mother knew where she kept the key, but the twins did not, and Sarah had no wish for the twins to play Post Office or Schoolteacher with the contents of her desk.
She chose her outfits carefully.
She would need the grey schoolmarm's attire for the presentation, for they knew her as the Schoolteacher. Perhaps a spare, just in case.
She would need a gown for other functions: dinner, the theater or the opera.
And she would need her black outfit, in case there were need for ... other situations.

"Sheriff?" Levi asked as the two men investigated brandy in Levi's new office.
"Hm?" The Sheriff looked up from whatever profound revelation he'd found in the bottom of the snifter.
"Sheriff, let me ask ... the advice of a father."
The Sheriff nodded.
Both men seated themselves, settled into comfortably upholstered chairs.
Levi stared into the fascinating depths of the rippling brandy as he swirled it slowly, considering.
The Sheriff sipped his, watching Levi through concentric ripples in the hand blown glass.
"How did all this happen so fast?" Levi whispered, spreading his hands.
The Sheriff leaned forward, elbows on his knees.
"Levi, here's how it looks."
He took a breath, pursed his lips and thrust out his jaw.
"My little girl died on her second birthday and I tried to keep her -- here" -- he tapped his breast bone. "I tried to keep her forever healthy and beautiful and two years old.
"Didn't work.
"Little girls don't stay two years old, Levi." The Sheriff took another sip, savoring its sting, its burn, its bouquet. "Little girls become bigger girls and big girls and finally young ladies and then ladies, but they don't stay two years old."
The Sheriff took a longer drink, set down the empty snifter.
"Sarah taught me that.
"She helped me let go, Levi. She helped me heal.
"Your twins are growing and fast and so did Sarah. How did it happen so fast, I couldn't tell ye, but I can tell you this."
He raised a finger for emphasis.
"Sarah helped me heal.
"Not with any wisdom or philosophy, not with any profundities or insight or glimpses of Eternity or divine lightning bolts of knowledge.
"She did it just by being Sarah.
"She helped a grieving father heal."
Levi picked up the brandy-bottle; the Sheriff shook his head, smiled his thanks.
"If she never did one more thing in her lifetime she would have that crown in Heaven."
Levi nodded.
"What can we expect in Denver, Levi?"
Levi drained his own snifter.
"Perhaps nothing, Sheriff. Perhaps nothing but the presentation, a boring speech, a mediocre dinner, a parade, the key to the city, a brass band and a restless night's sleep afterward."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Perhaps you're right."
The Sheriff stood.
"I'm going, Levi. I dare not do otherwise."
Levi stood. "I as well."
The Sheriff stuck out his callused paw.
"From one father to another."
The two men solemnly shook hands.

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Linn Keller 7-19-12

 

To His Excellency the Mayor --
I thank Denver for the great honor which is bestowed upon me by your kind invitation, and I am most humbled by your most generous words: I very much regret that my several responsibilities preclude my accepting on such short notice.
If I might beg a week's indulgence I would be very much in your debt.
I shall accordingly plan to be very much at your disposal one week from the appointed date.
Sarah


"Do you think this will pass muster?" Sarah asked, handing the note to Levi, then to the Sheriff, and then to her mother.
The three read her exquisite penmanship, her carefully chosen words; all three nodded: the Sheriff's eyes were light when he looked up.
"Just right," he nodded.
He and Levi exchange a look; both men nodded, once.
Bonnie, too, expressed her approval: no lady -- no Lady -- wishes to have short notice on a matter of such import, especially when the Lady will be in the public eye.
"Sarah."
Sarah looked at her father.
"Start writing."
Sarah quirked an eyebrow, and Levi stifled a smile, for the involuntary twitch was so very much like her father.
"We want every one of your students there.
"We want Emma Cooper and Parson Belden there with his wife.
"Were it possible we would empty the town to be there with you.
"Could we arrange it, Birnham Wood would most certainly to high Dunsinane Hill march!"
The Sheriff shifted his weight in his chair; at Levi's concerned look he grinned, "Mileage."
"But of course that's not possible."
"We may not have to," Levi murmured, and the Sheriff could see the gears turning behind the good looking agent's dark eyes.
The Sheriff smiled his wolflike smile.
"I like the idea," he said quietly, and Sarah looked from one man to the other, knowing some subtle communication had just passed between the two, and she had no clue what it was nor how it was transmitted.
"For this occasion, let Denver see that Firelands is proud of its first daughter! Emma Cooper and your students, then, and anyone the town can spare."
Sarah smiled a quiet little smile and opened a drawer, took out a half-sheet of foolscap: placing it precisely on the felt writing surface, she dipped her pen, wiped the excess on the inside of the ink-bottle's narrow neck.
She knew without hesitation to whom her first invitation would be written.

My dear Uncle Charlie,
Might I beg your and Aunt Fannie's presence in Denver, one week from tomorrow, where His Honor the Mayor wishes to bestow upon me their recognition for my Efforts in the recent Fire which destroyed the Professor's Academy building.
You have taken pains with my Education and you deserve to know some of the fruits of your Effort.
Sarah


She placed this first sheet aside to dry, withdrew another, dipped her pen again.

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Charlie MacNeil 7-20-12

 

"Darlin', we're goin' back to Denver for a couple of days." As he handed Sarah's note to Fannie, Charlie's tone was that of someone being sentenced to torture. He'd had enough of Denver to last him a lifetime before he retired from the Marshal's service and he was overwhelmingly happy to live as far from so-called civilization as he currently lived. On the other hand, he knew that his lovely bride occasionally missed the bright lights and the hubbub of the city, the hustle and bustle of busy humanity. Consequently, he was resigned to the fact that Fannie would be shopping; he planned to hide out somewhere dim, quiet and sociable as much as possible as shopping, except for necessities such as powder, bullets and such, was not exactly his forte`.

Charlie's reply to Sarah's invitation was brief and to the point: "Try and stop us."

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Linn Keller 7-21-12

 

The Sheriff sat with his wife; Sarah, beside the Sheriff, and Levi beside Sarah.
The Sheriff felt a quiet pride as he listened to Jacob's succinct account of the events that brought the accused before the Bar of Justice: the Sheriff noted the gouge in Jacob's gun belt, nodded on occasion as his son's words brought the unhappy event to life for judge, jury and everyone else.
His Honor remarked on the irony of the situation, observing that if the accused had submitted to the warrant, he would have been assessed a fine and sent on his way: instead, he was to be held until the next morning, when he would be invested with a hempen necktie and introduced to the life to come.
Jacob's eyes were quiet as he escorted the prisoner from the courtroom; he looked briefly at his father, and the Sheriff nodded, once.
Sarah could almost hear the man's thoughts.
I know what he's thinking, she thought: dollars to doughnuts he's telling himself to tell Jacob, "I kinda proud of you."
Sarah remembered the man's quiet words of approval, and how good it felt to hear them, to know she had the approval of someone she admired and respected.
She remembered Charlie speaking to her in the same manner.
It felt just as good when he spoke thusly.
Sarah's eyes moved, but nothing else: she did not nod, shift, fidget; with the lull in the proceedings, her thoughts went to Charlie's unexpectedly critical words, those sudden shocking syllables that hit her like a blast of winter snow.
Sarah examined herself dispassionately, searching herself for resentment, considering again every word Charlie spoke, there in front of the Jewel's ornately frosted doors.
He loves you like a daughter.
She heard her father's words again, a whisper this time, but no less powerful.
A fool hateth reproof.
Parson Belden, in his rich, preacher's voice, from behind the pulpit one Sunday morning.
Sarah's eyes focused on the hear-and-now, swung to the right.
The prisoner's shout, the sound of a struggle: heads turned, His Honor looked up, the bailiff hesitated: Sarah's hand closed about the handle of her bulldog .44 and she felt her father's hand move similarly.
Levi twisted in his seat, half-rising.
Jacob, on one side of the struggling, swearing prisoner, Jackson Cooper on the other, fought their way back into the courtroom, mostly at the top of the prisoner's lungs.
"YOU AIN'T GONNA MAKE ME WAIT LIKE THAT! YOU WANNA HANG ME HANG ME NOW! I AIN'T GONNA WAIT TIL NO DAYLIGHT, DAMN YOU! I'LL KILL MYSELF IN THAT JAIL CELL FIRST!"
His Honor swung his gavel, hard, glaring at the commotion.
The prisoner stopped, snarling, nostrils flaring: Jackson Cooper had the man's right arm, Jacob had the prisoner's left arm cranked up behind him, the other hand gripping the man's drawers, hoisting him most uncomfortably up on tip-toe with both.
"ORDER!" Judge Hostetler barked.
The prisoner continued to struggle, but quit shouting.
"The court will grant this last request," he snapped. "The prisoner will be taken to the place of execution immediately and hanged by the neck until dead!"
BANG! and the gavel smacked the plank.
Sarah rose and followed Jackson Cooper and her brother and the kicking, swearing prisoner.
The Sheriff, curious, looked after them, then rose and followed.

Sarah was in black for court, in britches and boots and unadorned black vest; the burnished bronze shield glowed dully on the lapel of her long black coat as she climbed up into the wagon bed.
She'd kept her hat brim pulled down, her braids were wrapped around her neck; she walked up behind the prisoner, still held by the two lawmen, and slapped the noose down against his collar bones, jerked the long knot viciously tight, then turned it so the knot was behind his left ear.
"Let him go," she said coldly.
The lawmen released his arms, swung off the wagon bed, landed easily on the hard ground.
The prisoner, puzzled, turned and looked at Sarah.
"You're a girl?" he asked, frowning.
"You tried to kill my brother," she hissed, shoving the man off the end of the wagon.
The wagon was at the edge of a drop-off; the prisoner fell a few feet, and the rope twanged as it came suddenly taut.
Jackson Cooper's eyes were not for the man, shivering and kicking and dribbling his last: no, he was looking from one set of cold-blue eyes to another set of cold-blue eyes, two hard, unforgiving, orbs of winter ice.
Neither pair of eyes showed the least kindness or warmth, and neither set of pale azure showed the least regret.
Jackson Cooper was a hard man, a strong man, a man who'd survived things that would have killed ten weaker men, but this ... this shivered his bones, this chilled his very soul.
Neither brother nor sister felt the least regret at this taking of a human life.

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Linn Keller 7-23-12

 

Bonnie looked in on her daughter from time to time.
The twins, of course, wanted to help their beloved "Sawwah," and Sarah patiently tolerated their interference and their scribbles as they "wrote" invitations as well, but when Sarah had to snatch at the spilled-over ink bottle to keep it from dumping all over the floor and ended up with an India-black hand and sleeve, the twins' assistance came to a halt, Sarah repaired to the wash basin, and Bonnie despaired of ever getting the sleeve free of the staining ink.
Sarah worked into the night, patiently scribing the invitations; she wrote, folded, stacked; once she got a stack, she would heat sealing wax, seal and stamp, and stack again: Bonnie smiled a little as she peeked in, once with a cup of hot tea, and once just to watch her daughter write.
Sarah wore the schoolmarm spectacles solely because she knew her mother would be looking in on her, and she knew the value of appearances; spectacles lent a scholarly air, a studious air, lent the look of an industrious scribe: Sarah was the very picture of a proper young lady, erect of spine, flawless of posture, and Sarah waited until Bonnie withdrew and very quietly, very carefully, very noiselessly drew the door shut, before she snarled, drew her arm back and came very close to throwing the pen like a dart at the opposite wall.
She didn't.
Her hand was stained; her sleeve, ruined; she had no wish to clean ink off her bedroom wall, so she very carefully, very delicately, wiped the nib clean with a damp cloth she kept for the purpose, stoppered the bottle, examined the area she'd wiped up earlier (her desk top would be forever marked, she knew, but that was the cost of having sisters) ... and as she persevered at her task until every last invitation was written, she stood, nodded once, and reached for her gunbelt.
She'd been cooped up long enough.
Sarah decided she was going for a ride.

Joseph regarded his father with wide, bright eyes.
"Oh yes," Jacob assured him solemnly. "The Slimy Monster from the Sulfur Crick lives in Denver and eats people." He nodded, indicating a figure well taller than himself. "He come from coal country back East a-lookin' for Western coal and didn't find none so he lives in Denver instead."
"Oooo," Joseph shivered, looking fearfully toward the window.
"No, you needn't worry none about that," Jacob said in a reassuring voice.
He looked left and looked right, then winked at his little boy, and little Joseph took a few quick steps toward his father.
Jacob reached in a vest pocket and pulled out three cylindrical tubes with stiff string things sticking out their ends.
"That there monster can't stand magic," he whispered.
"Magic?" little Joseph whispered back.
"Oh, ya," Jacob nodded, straight-faced. "That's why every window sill in the house and every threshold is made of apple wood."
"Appoowood?" little Joseph said curiously, frowning.
Jacob nodded. "Dragons can't cross apple wood nor running water," Jacob said. "An old Chinaman told me and he knew, he used to raise dragons."
"Dwagons?" Little Joseph's eyes were very big: he knew what dragons were, his Pa showed him pictures in a book one time.
"Oh, ya. They raise dragons over in China like we raise cattle."
"Oooo," little Joseph grinned, then giggled, because he always thought it would be fun to ride a dragon.
"And these" -- Jacob held up the cannon crackers -- "this one is red, this is green and this is yellow."
Little Joseph blinked, never taking his eyes off the firecrackers.
"The Slimy Monster from the Sulfur Crick can't stand these neither, but they have to go in order -- red, yellow, green."
"Wed, yewwow, gween," Little Joseph repeated, nodding emphatically with the pronouncement of each color.
"Now maybe we oughta make sure that scoundrel don't come around here."
Little Joseph nodded briskly.
Jacob got up and walked easily toward the front door.
Slipping the cracker boomers in his pocket again, he picked up his rifle, eased the door open a crack, looked out.
"Joseph," he whispered, tilted his head in a come-here.
Little Joseph came forward, half-fearful, half-excited.
Jacob slowly squatted.
"Take a look," he whispered. "Tell me if you see that slimy mon-a-strol."
Little Joseph leaned waaaaay over his Pa's lap to look out the cracked-open door, then he drew back, shook his head.
"Good," Jacob whispered. "He couldn't cross the apple wood anyway but let's make sure he runs off and gits gone!"
Little Joseph nodded, hugging himself with excitement.
Jacob stood, eased the door open, looked around: little Joseph looked around, between and around his Pa's long legs.
Jacob took a careful step outside, rifle up and ready.
Little Joseph looked cautiously around, studying the sides of the house, paying attention to the corners.
Jacob looked around, squatted: he set the big fifty's crescent on his boot, leaned the rifle against him and brought out the cannon crackers.
He fetched out a Lucifer match.
"You ready?" he asked little Joseph.
Little Joseph looked around, nodded.
Jacob scratched the match to life: it flared brightly in the gathering dusk: then reaching quickly to the side, he picked up a skyrocket and touched match to the fuse, held it loosely and it shot skyward with a great and sudden SWISH and a cloud of rolling smoke!
Little Joseph's face tilted back and Jacob could not help but grin to watch his little boy instead of the skyrocket's display: as the bright balls burst well overhead, little Joseph's expression was one of unadulterated wonder.
Jacob lit the cannon crackers and tossed them, one, two, three, and Little Joseph clapped his hands to his ears and jumped up and down, laughing, as the three cannonboomers burst in brightly colored detonations.

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Linn Keller 7-25-12

 

The diminutive, grey-dressed schoolmarm thanked the skinny, wrinkled Kentucky carpenter quietly and paid him twice what he'd asked.
The old mountaineer frowned and glared at the pretty schoolteacher, about seven-eighths irritated: honor is a touchy thing and he would have nothing to do with anything that smacked of charity.
"You did me a kindness years ago," she said quietly, before he could utter the syllables that pressed against his thinning lip, "and that kindness has borne fruit."
She laid a warm hand on his, looked the man squarely in the eye and spoke, low-voiced.
"Had it not been for you," she whispered, "I would be dead, and my mother as well. You kept us alive. For that, you have my thanks."
She nodded to the coin she'd laid on his work bench.
"I have other things in mind, other items I'll need built. That" -- her eyes went to the coin, and his followed hers, then back -- "is called a retainer. It means I will have need of your skill again."
Old man Daine still glowered, not quite convinced, and Sarah continued without hesitation.
"Besides" -- and here both her voice and her eyes showed a quick demon-gleam of orneriment -- "I missed your birthday last year. Take that for your birthday present."
The old mountaineer grunted.
Sarah held up the ruler.
It was exactly twelve inches long; it was a regulation size and shape, the marks and numbers precisely inscribed, blacked with India ink, shellacked and varnished, waxed and polished: perhaps twice as thick as a regulation ruler it was, but this is as she wished.
She slid the ruler carefully into her sling.
"I shall need another," she said, then looked at the mountaineer, "of the pattern we discussed last week."
"It be dangerous," he warned.
Sarah's eyes were pale behind her round schoolmarm spectacles.
"I know," she replied. "That's why I want it."
The grey-bearded old Kentuckian grunted.
"That much again" -- Sarah nodded at the coin -- "upon delivery."
The mountaineer opened his mouth to protest and Sarah added, "With as much moon likker as the difference will pay."
The mountaineer's scowl brightened into a delighted grin.
"Wa'l now why didn't ye say so!" he exclaimed, for as much as he loved to coax the useful implements of daily life from good, close-grained wood, he loved more to coax the essence from fermented fruits and grain.
"If you would have anything peach or cherry ...?"
Sarah left the question dangle.
"I got peaches," he nodded, "but they is fixin' t' can them'uns up."
"Cherries, then?"
He chuckled.
"I got cherries."
Sarah cradled one arm with the other; she'd tried to ease the ache by wearing her sling again.
Old man Daine reached down and fetched up a stone jug, pulled the corn cob stopper: he ran his finger through the ring, laid the jug back along his forearm, tilted up his elbow and took a good tilt.
Sarah smiled as his skinny chicken-neck adam's apple bobbed twice.
The old man came up for air, closed his eyes and sighed with satisfaction, then he looked with kindly eyes at the patient young woman in the mousy-grey dress.
"Would ye like some pain killer?" he offered, turning the jug so the ring was toward her.
Sarah hooked a finger through the ring, spun the jug over her forearm, hefted it once and took a good tilt.
To her credit, she neither coughed, spat nor dropped the jug.
In a later moment she confided to her Papa that it went down like Mama's milk and near to blew the shoes off her feet, and she kind of floated back to the carriage, and she didn't have much memory of the ride home, but her arm did not give her the least little bit of pain for a good long while.

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Linn Keller 7-27-12

 

"Rat nuts."
Levi looked with amusement at the Sheriff's irritated expression.
"It was a good idea."
"Yes it was."
The Sheriff sighed, sat down, leaned back against the wall.
"I don't pa'tickelar care to go to Denver."
He took a long breath.
"I know the women like it but I don't care for the place a'tall."
Levi withheld comment; he'd grown up a city man,and Denver was ... well, not home to him, but it had been home for many years, and he had no qualms about immersing himself again in what the Sheriff saw as a dirty pond full of soiled fish.
"I know a place right near here" -- the Sheriff raised a hand, one finger extended, as he made a thrusting curve in the air -- "natural amphitheater. Back side of town. Do you recall when the mine collapsed a boarding house here not too long ago?"
Levi shook his head.
"On back behind that. It's a naturally curved rock face, the stone overhead is solid -- nothing rotten, nothing likely to come down unexpectedly -- had we been able to get those High Mucky Mucks from Denver out here for their presentation ceremony, why, we could build a platform and have everything here, where it's handy for us!"
Levi shrugged, nodded, looked away.
"We tried."
"Aye, we did that."
"How's the head?"
The Sheriff passed a hand over his healing scalp and grinned.
"Ugly."
Levi chuckled: even his neatly-trimmed mustache curled up as he smiled.

Sarah submitted patiently to measuring-tapes and cloth swatches, to try-fits and re-lacing of her corset, to changing shoes with heels a little higher or a little lower; she offered no word of protest as her hair was brushed out and piled up, then taken down and brushed again: she was the hub of discussion and of talk and of a constant, tiring chatter, something which she'd learned to tolerate, but she'd never grown to enjoy.
Bonnie was in the thick of it, happily designing on the fly, joyfully fitting her daughter with the finest gown the McKenna Dress Works could produce -- and another, and a third -- after all, she was going into the City, and for an award, given by the Mayor: there would be speeches and presentations, dinners and introductions, and a proper lady needed proper attire --
"Mother," Sarah said, turning to look at her mother.
Bonnie had a half-dozen straightpins between her moist red lips and a little frown on her brow: she pulled a tuck in the material at the side of Sarah's bodice, pinned.
"Rrrss yrr rrm, hnnmmm," she said, or tried to say, without losing the precious pins: Sarah had to translate this with the help of Bonnie' hand, which gently lifted Sarah's arm and she realized she'd been asked to "raise your arm, honey."
Sarah obligingly raised her arm.
"Mother," she said again, her voice gentle, as befit a daughter addressing the mother who was going to great effort on her behalf.
Tuck, pin, tug, frown, tug and pin again, a nod, a step back, an assessing look.
"Mother," Sarah said again, a hint of fatigue in her voice.
Bonnie withdrew the last two pins. "Yes, sweets?"
Sarah closed her eyes and felt a moment's warmth.
Bonnie often called her Sweets when she was a little girl; it was her pet name when Sarah would sit on her Mama's lap, safe in maternal arms: it was what Bonnie called her when Sarah would shiver and cry at night, tormented by nightmares: it was what she called her when she was ... a child.
"Mother, is this really necessary?" Sarah asked tiredly.
"But of course, dear," Bonnie murmured, dropping her head to look over her half-spectacles as she took another tuck in the rich material: "we must look our very best when we're on stage, mustn't we?"
Sarah's mind was running in multiple directions at once.
She realized Bonnie was operating on delight -- what mother wouldn't be proud that her daughter was being recognized by the highest officials in Denver, and for a most heroic effort?
She realized Bonnie was Doing Something Good for her Daughter, and Sarah knew this was important to her mother.
Sarah also knew that she was getting increasingly impatient and if she didn't throw a bridle on her own feelings, she would very likely say things that would cut stone and make it bleed -- and she absolutely, positively did NOT want to do that.
Instead, she sighed, a long, slow in-and-out.
"I know it's tiring, dear," Bonnie said sympathetically, her hand gentle and warm on Sarah's cheek: Sarah looked at her Mama and laughed a little, her eyes a distinct blue.
"I'm sorry, Mama," she said in that little-girl voice Bonnie remembered so well: "it's just that they are not presenting to Sarah Rosenthal."
Bonnie blinked: "Oh?" and Sarah smiled tiredly as her mother fussed with Sarah's hair again.
"Mother, they are expecting the Schoolteacher."
"Mm-hmm." Bonnie's lips were rolled together as she experimentally pulled Sarah's hair on top of her head in a broad, gracefully curved pile, picturing it held with a scarlet ribbon at the very peak.
"Mother, are you listening to me?"
"Of course, dear," Bonnie said absently. "I think I have some red satin ribbon --"
Sarah put two fingers to her lips and whistled.
The sound sliced through the busy hum of the McKenna dress works like a scalpel through an oil-painting's canvas.
Bonnie pulled her hands back to her shoulders, stepping back, eyes wide: the ladies surrounding Sarah also stopped, eyes big, wondering.
"Mother," Sarah said, her voice patient, precise in the shocked silence, "the Powers that Be know me as the Schoolteacher.
"They do not know my name.
"They don't care what my name is.
"All they know is, I am the Schoolteacher.
"For that I shall wear my dull, drab, uninteresting, boring, plain, unadorned, dowdy schoolteacher's dress and its matching hat."
Her words were quietly spoken, precisely enunciated.
"And a matching sling, for my arm aches abominably."
"Oh, dear, you can't wear that dreadful sling!" Bonnie groaned, folding her hands and tilting her head the way she did in such moments.
"Mother," Sarah sighed patiently, "they are used to seeing me wear it. I would be ..." she smiled and laughed quietly ... "I would be out of uniform without it, and besides, where else shall I conceal my most potent weapon?"
"Oh, my dear, you don't need --"
"Mother," Sarah interrupted, her eyes suddenly very pale, "the world is a dangerous place and I have kept myself alive by having something persuasive in easy reach. I will not be without such even at an august ceremony such as Denver is planning."
Her eyes were hard, unyielding, but Bonnie, with a mother's discernment, saw something more behind flint-hard, ice-pale eyes... something of mischief, something planned, and in spite of herself, she started to smile.
"Where else can I carry that most potent weapon in a schoolmarm's arsenal, that scepter of office, the ever-present, ever-dreaded, knuckle-cracking ruler?"

Jacob sorted through the wanted dodgers; none of the looked familiar, and so he picked up the stack -- all two of them -- and opened the door to go outside and nail them on the side of the Sheriff's office.
A fellow was just dismounting from a worn looking line back dun that had obviously seen better days: his tack, his clothes, his hat all attested to hard use and a hard life, and the man himself looked wrung out, worn to a nub and used up.
"Howdy," Jacob grinned.
The man looped his reins loosely over the hitch rail and nodded.
Jacob proceeded to tack the first poster in place.
The stranger came up beside him, squinted a little to read it.
"Mactavish," he read. "Dead or alive."
Jacob nodded, tacking up the second poster.
"Worth more alive than dead."
"I see that." The man coughed, turned and spat; Jacob heard the ejecta hit the ground with a wet sound.
"You don't look too good, Mister," Jacob observed. "You needin' looked at?"
The stranger turned, looked long at the wanted dodger.
"Kin I have that'un?" he asked.
Jacob tapped the last tack into place, hung the hammer back on its peg: he kept the little hammer up against the roof over the board walk so it would be handy for him, and nobody bothered it.
"You a bounty hunter?"
"No," the man said, his voice husky: he coughed again.
"I'm Mactavish."
The man felt a subtle change and he knew Jacob just lit up like a bird dog on a hot scent.
Jacob frowned.
"Mister," he said, "I'm the county Sheriff. You can see that."
"I see it." Mactavish leaned a shoulder against the log wall, closed his eyes.
Jacob's belly tightened.
Trick, he thought.
He's trying to gull me so he can gut me or out-draw me --
"Figured it would make a good souvenir."
"Souvenir."
Mactavish opened his eyes.
"I'm dyin', sonny."
"Sorry to hear it."
"Don't be." His breathing was not good and neither was his color.
"I done things I ain't proud of but I done some good too."
Jacob nodded.
Mactavish looked down, ran thumb and forefinger into an inside coat pocket.
"Could ye send this along I'd be obliged," he said quietly.
Jacob took the envelope with his right hand.
Jacob's nerves were wound up like an eight day clock.
The expected draw didn't happen.
The man nodded once, closed his eyes.
"I think I'll set down," he said; he turned, staggered a little, then sat on the Deacon's bench in front of the Sheriff's office.
Jacob watched as the man's face darkened; he saw his shoulders sag and he looked almost to collapse in on himself, ever so slightly, and Jacob realized he was not breathing anymore.
Jacob waited patiently, then after a few long moments he reached up and tore down the wanted poster, slowly, rolled it up, then he took off his hat, for it seemed the decent thing to do.
Not long after, Jacob handed Digger the wanted poster.
"He wanted it as a souvenir," Jacob explained.
"Plant it with him."

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Linn Keller 7-27-12

 

Jacob set down, smiling: his Mama fussed over him like she always did, only now it was a bit different: she took his jaw in her hand, turned his face one way, then the other, she reached down and patted his flat belly with the backs of her fingers, then pinched his bicep gently.
"At least Annette is feeding you," she said in a peevish old-woman's voice, so out of character that she and Jacob both laughed: Esther took his face between her hands, tilted her head and regarded her son proudly.
"Tell Annette she's taking good care of you," she whispered.
Jacob laid his hand gently over his mother's and nodded.
"She knows."
"You have to tell her," Esther whispered again, then winked: "Women need to hear you say it, even if we know it."
Jacob's eyes flicked to his father.
"Yes, that's the reason," his father nodded, and Jacob knew the man was responding to the unspoken thought he'd had barely a moment before:
Is that why you tell Mother so often that you love her?
Jacob ate with a good appetite that night, there at his parents' table: he reported to his father the goings-on of the Sheriff's office, reported on the trials, the hanging, and the Sheriff finally got a good first hand account of what happened when Jacob come near to gettin' gut shot.
"Had you not showed me," Jacob said, "and had we not practiced like we did, I'd be gone beaver by now."
The Sheriff nodded, thoughtfully, remembering a time when he too went back to his own father to report that something he'd taught his son, worked.
Matter of fact the Sheriff reported to his father, back in Perry County, "Sir, I used what you showed me, and it kept me alive," and then he detailed what it was, and he remembered the look of quiet pride in the Grand Old Man's eyes at the telling of it.
The Sheriff knew that he'd become his father, and it was his turn to show that quiet pride as his own son reported that what he, the father, taught him, the son, had kept the son alive.
"How soon will all y'all be headed for Denver?" Jacob asked.
"A couple days yet. I can stay and cover."
Jacob shook his head. "No, sir. This means too much to Sarah. You should be there, and near enough she can see you plain."
"It would mean something if you were there."
"Someone's gotta cover here."
The Sheriff nodded.
"I do thank you for thinkin' of me, though," Jacob continued softly.
The Sheriff smiled.
He heard his own voice, his own words, coming now from his son.
Maybe I am gettin' old after all, he thought.

Sarah's face was grey and beaded with sweat.
She was just over half way up the rope.
Her arm ached and she was nauseated with the pain but she did not slow down.
Sarah continued, hand over hand, climbing the knotted rope, until she was finally at the rafters: she gripped the rope with her left hand, reached up and slapped the pine with her right, then began her descent.
Daciana was waiting at the bottom, her face serious.
She steadied Sarah as she landed, dropping the last three feet as she usually did, only this time her knees nearly collapsed.
Daciana steered her over to a board seat and set her down.
Sarah cradled her forearm to her belly, clenching her teeth together and shivering; she heard water trickle and a moment later raised her head and Daciana washed off her face, her neck, then took her hand and extended her right arm, her left, and wiped each down in turn.
Sarah was half sick.
I should not have pushed myself, she thought, then the rest of her rebelled against the thought: she stood, walked over to the iron weights -- cannonballs, with luggage handles, they looked like -- and hefted the kettlebells, one in each hand, and began to swing them up, then push them up to arm's length like a dumb bell.
Up, swing, thrust, lower, swing, down: she worked herself mercilessly, ignoring the pain, feeding off the pain, embracing the pain, pushing through the pain, fighting gravity and mass until her arm screamed with exhaustion.
Only then did she lower the kettlebells to the straw covered floor and stagger, shaking, back over to the board seat.
Daciana seized the rope: thrusting her legs straight out in front of her, toes pointed, she climbed the rope using Armstrong power only: gracefully, smoothly, she swarmed to the top, slapped the beam, came back down, hand over hand: she stopped six feet from the floor, flipped inverted, then did a back flip, landing on the balls of her feet, crossed her legs and gave a graceful, showy, ballerina's bow to an imagined audience.
"Oh no you don't," Sarah muttered through clenched teeth, and stood.
She walked determinedly toward the rope.
Daciana's eyes widened with alarm.
"Sarah, no, must not you climb --"
Sarah seized the rope, snapped her legs straight out in front of her and began ascending the rope, using only her arms.
She got three knots, up, four; her fatigued arms gave out and she fell to the floor, landing awkwardly on her bottom and her back, knocking the wind out of herself in the process.
She lay there for a long moment, eyes closed, suffocating: she was too busy fighting for breath to call herself the several unkind names that came to mind in the year and a half it took to fall six feet.
She opened her eyes and Snowflake was standing over her, regarding her solemnly, as only a horse can.
Sarah struggled for enough breath to say something, anything; Snowflake grunted and wandered off before Sarah had wind enough to speak, and it was just as well: Sarah never swore in front of the circus pony and she did not really want today to be the first.
Daciana came over, took Sarah by the forearms; the two gripped each other's arms and Daciana pulled Sarah to her feet.
Daciana took Sarah's elbows and drew them out, straight to the side.
"Inbreathen you, ja, makes it easier," she said in her quiet, pleasantly accented voice: "und inbreathen again" -- she lifted Sarah's elbows again -- Sarah was not sure if it really helped or not, but she was getting air into her burning lungs, and at the moment she did not care if it was because of Daciana's efforts, or in spite of them.
Daciana released Sarah's elbows and knuckled her hips, frowning.
Turning her head, she muttered something in Romanian, then she thrust her finger under Sarah's nose and said something harsh, trilling her Rs and drawing other syllables well down into her throat until it sounded like she was going to hawk up a lung: Sarah did not have the least idea what Daciana was saying, but she was sure it was not kindly.
Finally Daciana stopped and took a long breath.
"Hard headed you are," she declared, "like father" -- she fluttered her hand, frustrated, unable to quite find the words she wanted, and Sarah nodded.
"Yeah," she gasped.
"You haff a performer's heart," Daciana said. "Hurt you are but climb you do. Few do that."
"Yeah."
"Komm. Tea ve must haff."
"As long as it's at least a hundred proof," Sarah muttered, following Daciana toward the house.

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Linn Keller 7-28-12

 

Normally, the men would have retired to the Sheriff's study for brandy and conversation.
Tonight they did not.
Angela was delighted that her big brother came home, and climbed all over him: he picked her up and flipped her upside down, to her shrieks and giggles, tossing her in the air and catching her, then leaning waaaay down to very gently bump her head on the floor, and stretching waaaay up to very gently bump her head on the ceiling: it was a game they played, one they'd played for years, and in an era when children were seen but not heard, the Sheriff grinned broadly to see it and Esther gave her husband a look of patient, tolerant amusement.
Finally, after Angela stroked Jacob's muts-tash and asked why his was soft and her Daddy's was bristly, Jacob sat back down, Angela on his lap, and he frowned as he worked an envelope out of an inside pocket.
He handed it across the table to his father.
The Sheriff frowned at the penciled scrawl across its front.
Sheriff Snow Eyes, it read.
It was not sealed.
The Sheriff looked up, raised one eyebrow.
"This morning," Jacob said.
The Sheriff nodded, withdrew the paper, unfolded it.
"I was tacking up the wanted dodgers," Jacob continued. "A fella came up beside me like they often do. He did not look good a'tall."
The Sheriff's eyes scanned the paper: he leaned back, blinked, re-read the sheet, nodded.
"Mactavish?" he asked.
It did not surprise Jacob that his father knew; the man had an uncanny way of finding things out.
"Yes, sir," Jacob nodded as Angela cuddled into him, relaxing: his arms were around her, the way they went around little Joesph, only Angela was longer by a considerable amount, and heavier, and not nearly so bony.
"Go on."
"He asked if he might have that wanted dodger I'd just nailed up.
"I asked if he was a bounty hunter.
"He read the wanted dodger out loud and stopped when he come to the reward.
"I said Mactavish was worth more alive than dead and he nodded and said he was Mactavish.
"He was in arm's reach and I figured he was sizin' me up for a blade or a gut shot, but he didn't. Matter of fact he looked bad and his breathin' was not good a'tall and he handed me that letter you hold."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Did you read it?"
Jacob nodded. "I did, sir."
"'Sheriff Snow Eyes'" the Sheriff said thoughtfully, then looked at his son.
"That could fit either of us."
"Yes, sir."
"You never saw him before."
"No, sir."
"I remember the man."
"Yes, sir?"
"Law and Order Harry Macfarland and I were lookin' for a fella. Harry run across Mactavish and tried to spook him into admittin' something ... what, I don't know ... but Harry lied like a blue tick hound in front of a winter fireplace."
Jacob nodded, slowly, feeling Angela relax into him.
The Sheriff re-read the single sheet and nodded.
Esther looked at him curiously.
The Sheriff looked at his little girl and smiled: dropping his head a little to the side, he closed his eyes, then opened them and grinned, nodding to Angela: she was asleep, and Jacob gave a shallow nod of understanding.
The Sheriff looked at his wife.
"The message is lengthy, my dear," he said quietly, then read it aloud.
"'You are the only lawman what never lied to me,'" he read.
Jacob saw the look of quiet approval on his mother's face as she heard the words.
"You'll be going to Denver with us?" the Sheriff asked.
Jacob shook his head, carefully so as not to disturb his sleeping sister.
"No, sir," he said softly. "Someone has to stay and cover."
The Sheriff nodded.
"It would mean much to Sarah if you were there."
Jacob's smile was understanding.
"It'll mean more to have you there, right in the front row, where she can see you plain, you and Mother both."
The Sheriff nodded again.
"You're doing a fine job as Sheriff, Jacob."
"Thank you, sir."
"I am proud of you."
Jacob blinked, looked a little uncomfortable, and Esther saw his ears darkening, then his cheeks.
"Thank you, sir," he said, then cleared his throat. "That ... means something, to hear you say it."

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Linn Keller 7-30-12

 

Sarah hit the ground hard, rolled.
The bull calf was coming for her again.
Sarah came up on all fours, her eyes pale, teeth bared: snarling, she scrambled toward the charging bull calf.
Part of her mind regarded the scene as a dispassionate observer, quietly laying odds that she would either be driven against the nearest fence and flattened into paste, or trampled beneath hard hooves and killed on the spot.
Part of her remembered the illustration of the Grecian vase in a schoolbook.
To think was to act.
Sarah saw the world in shattered splinters of time, each one thinner than a tenth of a second: she moved at top speed, her young body screaming with effort, yet moving through cold, clear honey: she saw in angles, in vectors, and as the bull calf's head bobbed through three-dimensional space, she timed her grasp, knowing that when he was just so close his horns would be on the rise --
Sarah's hands were open, grasping; they hit the horns near their base, locked on, as her strong, muscled legs thrust hard against the earth.
The bull calf, surprised at this turn of events, reflexively threw its head up.
Sarah sailed high above the bull calf, tucking to accelerate her rotation; she spun twice, straightened, landed awkwardly on her feet, then on all fours: she threw herself to the side, rolling, just as something huge and black sailed over top of her.
Snowflake was in full go-to-war mode: the war-bred Frisian's blood was up: she bore down on the bull calf and hit it broadside, before it could recover, spun and drove a kick at its flank: she caught it on the rear ham with one hoof, missing with the other: spinning, she windmilled her hooves, screaming, then came down on the calf.
The bull calf was a yearling, and strong: it grunted and went to its knees with the impact, Snowflake's steel-shod hooves tearing the skin at its shoulder and ribs.
"SNOWFLAKE!" Sarah snapped, her voice not quite a scream, but most definitely a shout: the Frisian seized the bull calf by the hide of its neck and hauled the bawling bovine off its hooves, throwing it to the side.
"SNOWFLAKE! TO ME!"
Sarah seized up her skirts and sprinted for the teeth-bared, ears-back war-horse: she stepped in front of it, barring with a thrown-out forearm.
Sam was running, as well, running up with rifle in hand, and she saw Sarah's arm in front of the screaming, rearing Frisian, as effective as a broomstraw before a locomotive.
The bull calf wobbled to its feet, limped away, bawling: it had had enough.
Snowflake lowered her head, pushed against Sarah with her forehead.
Sarah ran an arm around Snowflake's neck, gritting her teeth.
Clark slowed, then stopped: the bull calf was showing no signs of a return visit, Snowflake was standing still -- ears back, showing every sign of being perfectly willing to kick anyone or anything over the nearest mountain -- and Sarah ...
Clark could see her skirt; she was apparently upright, one arm was over the shining black Frisian's mane: the Frisian turned its head, grunted, then knelt, and Sarah laid herself over on the horse's back.
Clark could see she was in some pain.
The Frisian came upright, turned around and paced back toward the barn just as nice and easy as you please, as if nothing at all was wrong with the world.
Clark stood there with the rifle muzzle pointing down beside her boot and her jaw hanging open.
"You see the damndest things sometimes," her partner offered, quiet voiced, from behind her right shoulder.
"Yeah," she replied, her throat dry.

Sarah held very still as she rode, or as best she could.
Pain-hazed, she steered Snowflake toward the railroad tracks, and across them, and along a path on the far side, coming into Firelands via a less traveled route, one where she was much less likely to be seen.

Daciana looked up, listening.
Daciana's hair was put up, as it usually was, her dress was immaculate, her kitchen painfully neat, absolutely nothing out of place ... even the flour scattered on the kitchen table where she was kneading bread, was scattered in a symmetrical splotch.
Order and tidiness was the rule and guide of her household; only a smudge of flour on one healthy-pink cheek marked any asymmetry, and this could be forgiven, for Daciana was a good looking woman, and the streak of flour marked her a home-maker in the process of making bread, and such will only enhance a woman's beauty in her husband's eyes.
Daciana let up from kneading bread dough and wiped her hands on a convenient corner of her apron: frowning a little, she went to the back door, looked out, then snatched at her skirts and skipped down the covered passageway to her spacious barn.
Daciana slid the big door open and Sarah's huge, black Snowflake walked in, Sarah sitting upright,and in obvious discomfort.
Daciana slid the door shut.
The barn was still illuminated, though diffusely; Sarah's eyes were closed and she was apparently gathering her strength.
Daciana waited.
Sarah took a long breath.
Daciana recognized the expression and hoped Sarah was about to dismount on her side.
She did.
Sarah threw a leg up and over Snowflake's head, slid down and landed on her feet: Daciana seized her under the arms, staggering a step back as Sarah's knees bent deep.
"I landed wrong," Sarah husked.
"Earlier, ja?" Daciana asked, frowning a bit. "Stand, ja, no movensie."
"Ja," Sarah gasped in reply.
"Oh, how you say," Daciana muttered as she looked overhead, then looked again at Sarah.
"How you landt?"
"The bull calf charged me," Sarah gasped, hands fisted at her side. "I grabbed his horns and flipped over his back. Landed on my feet then went down on my hands."
"Ist your back, then."
"Yeah."
"I fix." Daciana came around behind Sarah.
Snowflake reached her big head around, sniffed loudly at Sarah, then at Daciana's hair.
"Cross ze arms in front like prayer," Daciana instructed, grasping Sarah's elbows.
"Handts on der collar bones, ja."
"Ja."
"Undt chust relax."
"Easy for you to say," Sarah muttered, taking a long, slow breath in, then out.
Daciana's hands cupped Sarah's elbows: circus-trained, working every day with weights, with her own Buttercup-pony, with trapeze and climbing ropes, plus all the stall mucking, hay throwing and everything else, Daciana was very definitely stronger than her slender frame showed: she picked Sarah up, held her for five seconds, then gave her a careful, wiggling shake.
Sarah's spine crackled for nearly its full length.
"OWWWWW, that feels good," Sarah howled and then gasped, and the relief from the pain she'd been experiencing was almost as bad as the pain itself: Daciana held her another several seconds, then slowly, slowly eased Sarah's weight back on her feet.
Snowflake laid her big head over Daciana's shoulder.
Daciana stroked the big Frisian's nose. "Ist okay, girl," she whispered.
Snowflake muttered something and turned toward Buttercup's stall.
"Now. I fix you nice cup of tea and you visit, ja? I making bread, my Mama's recipe."
Snowflake and Buttercup greeted one another and together began a happy klatsch on a pile of hay, and Sarah took a tentative step, then another, her eyes widening with delight.
"It doesn't hurt now," she said in a wondering voice.
"You knew I couldt fix," Daciana said with a knowing look.
"Ja."
Komm. Ve haff tea now."

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Charlie MacNeil 7-30-12

 

The corral was just barely big enough for the yearling, two horses and two ropes. Clark's dun held the heel rope taut, stretching the young bull between the dun and Clark's partner's bay, which held the horns. Clark had tied the front hooves together, but because of the nature of the wounds hadn't stretched the calf by the front legs. She knelt on the bull's ribs.

"Hold still now, this is gonna hurt you a whole bunch more than it will me," she told the young bovine in a matter of fact tone, just before she poured a sizeable quantity of the Daine brothers' corn squeezin's into the gaping slashes in the bull's hide. The ground-shaking bellow that resulted let her know the alcohol was doing its intended job of disinfecting the wounds. She spent the next thirty minutes repairing the damage from the big Frisian's hooves and teeth then smeared the stitched areas with axle grease to prevent flies from getting into the tears in the bull's hide.

"Okay, slack!" she ordered after the front hooves were untied. The bay horse stepped forward a half step as the dallies came off the saddlehorn; Clark slipped the loop off of the bull's horns and stepped back toward her dun, which had moved forward enough to slack the heel loop. The bull staggered to his feet as Clark stepped smoothly into the saddle. "We'll leave him in here for a couple of days, see how he gets along," she said. "There's water in the trough, and we can throw him some hay." They exited the corral carefully, ready to slam the gate in the bull's face, but the young'un was more interested in his own troubles than he was in escaping the confines of his temporary home.

"Methinks it might be a good idea to discuss these shenanigans with young Sarah when she gets home," the partner commented drily as they went back to work.

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Linn Keller 7-31-12

 

It was a contrite and quiet Sarah with whom a multiple of discussions were held.
It seems her shenanigans were not well received by her mother, by Levi, by Clark (her partner Sam remained silent, as was his wont) ... about the only ones who did not speak to Sarah on the matter was the maid and the chamber pot.
Sarah eased slowly into the steaming-hot tub, genuinely regretting ever getting out of bed that morning.
She hadn't set out to tussle with the bull calf.
She didn't set Snowflake on the creature.
She honestly didn't intend to get her dress filthy, nor herself skinned up and stoved up, and she most certainly did not intend to cause the several aches that plagued her young frame.
Sarah bit her bottom lip, squeezed her eyes shut, dunked her head underwater to hide the water that ran from her eyes ... even though nobody was there to see her cry, she didn't want to let it show.
She came back up for air, baring her teeth as her shoulder and her arm called her unkind names, again.
I can get in trouble just sitting in an easy chair, she thought bitterly.

"Shall I pack her sling, then?" the maid asked quietly.
"Yes, pack it," Bonnie said crossly. "I wonder if she didn't do that deliberately. She knows I don't like it when she ..."
Bonnie folded her hands and sat down, shaking her head.
"No. No, I don't mean that. She wouldn't ..."
She lowered her face into her hands.
"Oh, God," she moaned. "She's only thirteen. What am I going to do with her?"
The maid came over, squatted, laid an uncertain hand on Bonnie's back.
"She is a fine child," she whispered, "and she's done things you're proud of."
"I know," Bonnie moaned. "I know, but she does things ..."
Bonnie looked up, her eyes haunted.
"Mary, I've seen too much ..."
She looked at the maid, eyes bright, wide, frightened.
"I'm afraid she'll get herself killed."
The maid took Bonnie's hands in her own.
"Now you listen to me," she whispered fiercely. "I've known her for some time an' I know you, and I know you two are one of a kind!"
Her hands tightened on Bonnie's.
"Ye both have a spine of whalebone wi' rawhide bracing, an' aye she may be killed, but so may we, an' at any time! Why, th' moon could fall from th' sky an' crush this house as we sit here!"
Bonnie looked at the maid's dead-serious eyes, blinked in surprise.
"The moon?"
The maid nodded.
"The moon."
"Death stalks us all. Disease, injury, bad watter, bad meat, infection, female problems, putrid quinsy, measles, death rides th' air we breathe! Nobody leaves this earth alive!
"D'ye know wha' yer daughter has done?"
Bonnie shook her head.
"Yon child has lived! She's lived more in her ... what, thirteen years? -- than most adults live i' a lifetime! An' so ha' you!"
The door opened slowly.
Sarah stood there, her hair wet, stringy, her robe wrapped around her damp carcass.
Bonnie rose, rushed to her daughter and seized her in an enveloping hug.
Sarah bit back a groan as her arm protested, but she still ran her arms around her Mama, held her in a fierce embrace.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"I love you, sweets," Bonnie whispered back, her cheek against Sarah's head ... very near her ear, for Sarah was growing and faster than she realized ... barefoot, her child was now almost as tall as she.
Bonnie drew back a little, looked at Sarah, stroked her wet hair.
"I was so scared," she said in a small voice.
Sarah's eyes were large, large and very blue.
"You were scared?" she said. "Try getting away from a bull calf in a full skirt!"
The maid came up beside them, laid a cool hand on each of their shoulders.
"You're soaking wet," she said in a disapproving voice. "You'll catch your death of the live-forevers at this rate, an' then what'll your puir mother do! An' what's this about a bull calf in a full skirt? What's a bull calf doing in a skirt anyway? Such nonsense! Why, I never --"
Still muttering and exclaiming, the maid bustled over to the cupboard.
"Not a towel to be had! You'd think people here never took a bath! I'll be right back!" -- and so saying, swept out the door, drew it shut behind her to give mother and daughter their privacy.
Sarah ran her left arm under her aching right arm.
"You're hurt," Bonnie said, eyes bright with concern.
"I'll live," Sarah muttered. "But I'll need that sling for Denver tomorrow."
Bonnie took Sarah by the shoulders and steered her toward her vanity.
"Let's get your hair combed out," she murmured. "We'll need you looking proper for your award."
"I need to look like a dowdy, dull schoolmarm," Sarah reminded her mother.
"But, dear, what about dinner, the theater, the opera?"
"Opera go hang," Sarah replied, making a sneering face of distaste at the mirror, like she'd bitten into an unfrosted persimmon: "operas sound like someone is torturing the singer!"
Bonnie withdrew the comb and set her knuckles on her hip.
"Finally!" she exclaimed. "Someone who shares my opinion!"
Surprised, Sarah looked at her mother in the mirror, and then the two shared a good laugh.

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Linn Keller 8-1-12

 

Butter moved at an easy trot.
It was morning -- a fine morning, the kind you have in the mountains -- the air was like crystal, it seemed one could see a thousand miles, or at least the sixteen miles someone told Caleb it was to the horizon -- it did not matter: he had on his good suit and hat, he was sitting with his beautiful bride and his beautiful daughter, and they were headed for the depot as a family.
Mary, their maid, had gone ahead the evening before; the twins were big-eyed, silent, in the back seat, each clutching a newly-sewn rag doll.
They'd heard of Denver, but in their young imaginations, it was a place where buildings caught fire and girls had to slide out of windows on ropes, and neither of the twins were really certain they could do this, but their Mama was with them and -- again -- imagination being what it was -- each imagined clutching their Mama's skirt in one hand while clutching their new rag doll in the other, while their Mama slid down the rope.
Sarah was a little pale, and very quiet.

"You sure this is a good idea, sir?"
The Sheriff looked at Jacob, and the son could see the devil of merriment gleaming in his father's eyes.
"Not really," he said, "but it's expected."
"Yes, sir."
Jacob, as was his habit, wore his suit: the Sheriff's star shone on its lapel: its twin, which also said SHERIFF, was on the under side of his father's lapel, as the Grand Old Man knew he just might need to throw his official weight around.
Having that tin star or not having that tin star never slowed him down once the notion struck him.
Annette and little Joseph waited patiently, standing beside Jacob: Annette looked worriedly at the brass band, wondering how little Joseph would react to it: he'd never heard aught but voice or piano, never a wind instrument, and she wondered how she would silence him if he reacted badly to the sudden noise.
The Irish Brigade was ranked, their gleaming, smoking engine hissing quietly; the engineer stoked the boiler until she was barely up to pressure, to guarantee the whistle would work and work well: red shirted Irishmen stood shoulder to shoulder, boots gleaming, mustaches curled, shirts and trousers immaculate, the Maltese cross at the center of their breast black as a sinner' heart.
A boy in knee pants pelted down the alley, skidded around the corner of the depot building, one hand on his hat to prevent its escape: "They're coming!" he shouted, lost his footing, rolled: he came up, one palm skinned, the other hand still fast on his flat-brimmed hat, grinning and shaking dirt off his jacket.
The German Irishman's hand tightened on the fire engine's steam whistle.
Bandsmen raised their instruments, licked their lips, controlled their breathing; the band director looked over his shoulder, where the Rosenthal carriage was expected to appear.
His baton wavered in the air --
Charlie grinned in spite of himself, laying a callused hand on his bride's gloved hand: Fannie's hand tightened on Charlie's forearm, and he glanced over to see that quiet smile he so loved.
Levi heard Sarah grunt like she'd been punched, and he looked down to see something he'd not expected to see.
Sarah, his strong and capable daughter -- Sarah, horsewoman, warrior, Agent of the Court -- Sarah, rescuer and survivor -- Sarah, looking like a lost little girl, with eyes as big as saucers, her jaw hanging, and absolute, utter, complete, astonished surprise all over her pretty young face.
The conductor's baton came down, the steam whistle blew and a general cheer went up as most of the town waved hats and shouted their greeting.

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Linn Keller 8-2-12

 

Mr. Baxter beamed as a dynamite box was dragged up for his use.
The end of the depot platform was a natural, raised podium from which the assembled could be addressed: it was natural, the, to make use of this bully pulpit, especially as all of Firelands, or the greatest percentage of Firelands, was turned out for this occasion.
Sarah was brought forth from her carriage and escorted to the end of the depot’s smooth board stage: she found herself with a lumped-up throat and a rock in her gut as she was hit with brass band and steam whistle, yells, whistles and cheers: the entire student body, as near as she could tell, was present, with a beaming Emma Cooper; the butcher, the baker, even the undertaker, all in their finest, waving hats and handkerchiefs, the Irish Brigade, neatly ranked and solemn-faced, at least for a few moments, until grins broke forth under curled black mustaches and they, too, added their voices to the general and approving hubbub: Sarah found her hand held, her elbow grasped, and she was steered to the edge of the platform and up onto the dynamite box beside the grinning barkeep.
Raising his hands, Mr. Baxter waved for silence, and was obliged to gyrate flat palms multiple times in a vain attempt at quieting the voiced approbation: he went fairly quickly from “My friends, thank you, thank you now,” to “A little less, now, if you please,” to an aggravated “Will you all just SHUT UP!!!” – all of which had the same effect, that is to say, none at all.
One of the grinning lads broke away from Emma Cooper’s shepherding and ran forward, slipping between the crowd, avoiding hips, elbows and hardware (for every man was armed, as was usual, and the ladies generally had something metallic in their reticules as well, which could raise a nasty knot if he ran into one) – he stopped directly under the uncertain icon on the elevated pedestal and yelled “Miss Sarah!” and tossed something up to her.
A bell sailed up into the air, a belt with a bent handle, a bell a little dented yet despite the best effort at having it straightened: Sarah reflexively reached out and caught it, neatly, gripping its familiar handle: the clapper fell against the bell’s mouth, and Sarah laughed, breaking the anxiety that gripped her belly in its constricting bands.
Sarah raised the bell and rang it briskly, in its familiar cadence, and her students and Emma Cooper, delighted, looked at one another, and then at their beloved Miss Sarah.
Even Charlie and Fannie were grinning.
The bell’s clear, cheerful summons cast its bright brass spell over the crowd; the hubbub fell quickly, to be replaced by an expectant and surprisingly loud silence.
“Thank you, my friends,” Mr. Baxter called happily, arms raised: he lowered them slowly, beaming proudly, and looked at Sarah, beside him, displayed like a fine trophy cup on a pedestal.
Sarah looked uncertainly at the barkeep, lowered her arm, and with it, the bell.
“HELLOOO, FIRELANDS!” Mr. Baxter roared, and the crowd roared with him, their cheers and whistles loud again: this time their hubbub lowered as Mr. Baxter’s arms were lowered.
“We are gathered on this fine and happy day to travel with our own Miss Sarah” – again the cheers and whistles, and Sarah felt her cheeks flame, and she bit her bottom lip, looking quite abashed and self-conscious – “to travel with her to that cesspool of sin, that iniquitous capital of scoundrels and skunks, slickers, shysters and slugs, to venture with her from our fine little town into that shabby city” – his tones were so doleful, his expressions so exaggerated, his pantomime that of a pulpit thumping preacher at revival, so much so that none could help but laugh – “in short, my friends, we travel with our own Miss Sarah to witness her award, to share in her certification, to witness their recognition of her bravery, her valor, her fortitude: we bear witness that their recognition of these excellent qualities is right and proper, for we here” – his arms made an inclusive sweep of all present – “for we here have long known of her intelligence, her acumen, her skills and abilities, and it comes as no surprise at all” – his expression was serious, his upraised and emphasizing finger punctuating his words – “no surprise at all that she should be so honored.
“You may not know the entire story of why she is so summoned on this fine and lovely day.
“Sarah, having been matriculated through our school with honors, was recruited, as you already know, to help teach our young.”
Murmurs, nods, sounds of agreement.
“Sarah, not satisfied with what she had, wished to know more, and so she pursued further education in Denver.
“She was attending an Academy of which we have heard good reports: she proceeded to distinguish herself and to earn the respect of Professors and pupils alike.”
Again the murmurs, the nods; the assembled either knew this, or took it as no surprise.
“Sadly, there are those who destroy instead of build, reave instead of construct: a criminal fired the basement of the Academy in which Sarah was studying.”
Silence, this time: no sound was heard save the quiet sizzle of steam from the Brigade’s steam engine, and the patient breathing of The Lady Esther, waiting on the tracks.
“Sarah recognized the threat.
“Sarah was prepared for the threat.
“Sarah knew that when the man in the green eyeshade turns over the last card” – Mr. Baxter grinned – “the only one she could depend on in that moment was her – knowing this, she made due preparations ahead of time against such misfortune as may occur.”
Mr. Baxter hooked his thumbs behind his belt, bounced a little on the balls of his feet, the very image of a successful orator.
“She burst forth from her classroom at the top of her lungs and gave alarm to the building.
“She could have saved herself.”
He paused for effect.
“She had time. She could have run. She could have fled to safety, and none to blame her for it!.”
Mr. Baxter took off his hat, cocked his head to look at the fiercely-blushing Sarah, who shyly looked sidelong at the beaming speaker, her hand still grasping her famous (or infamous) bell and drawn up to hold the fingertips of the other hand, barely peeking out the end of her sling.
“She could have scampered to freedom, run into the open air and to freedom, to life, to living, to leading her life as she had before.
“SHE CHOSE TO SAVE LIVES!
Mr. Baxter’s fist punched the air before him, aggressive finger stabbing his shouted words home.
“She swam through smoke so thick you could walk on it, beat on doors and got people out, at her own life’s peril!
Mr. Baxter’s jaw thrust out aggressively as he paused for breath.
The Brigade leaned forward a little: every man there knew what it was to breathe smoke and hammer on doors and shout an alarm, to get people out, because it was their profession.
Every man knew what it was to fear burning to death.
Hard-eyed firemen looked on this slip of a girl with a new depth of an already healthy respect.
“She was not satisfied with this. No!”
Mr. Baxter’s finger chopped the air.
“Our own Miss Sarah – our diminutive educatrix, our own daughter of the mountains – made absolutely certain EVERYONE was out of the building, before giving ANY thought to her own escape!”
Sarah shivered a little as the beloved barkeep’s words resurrected the memory.
“I never knew the man could speak so well,” Charlie murmured to Fannie.
Fannie swatted lightly at his arm with a quick “Shh!” and fanned herself, anxious to catch the man’s next words.
“The only escape from that brick deathtrap was a wooden staircase that collapsed as she and the last man within, began their final descent!
“Imagine this my friends! You are standing on a wooden casement that is rapidly becoming a chimney! Glowing fingers of flame rising beside you, the hot breath of Inferno itself singeing your hair! Life is about to be snuffed, grilled, burnt away, and you have no escape!
“What do you do?”
Mr. Baxter’s voice was raised to a near-shout, pitched to carry to the furthest listener: his impassioned syllables echoed from buildings, reached into the distance.
Not a word was heard; men leaned forward, anxious to hear every word, women fanned themselves, children gazed, enraptured, at their beloved figure, now elevated to hero status before them.
“Our very own Miss Sarah, had planned ahead!
“She availed herself of good planning, of forethought, of preparation in the face of adversity: knowing she might have need, she readied not one, but two other ways to escape the building, should dread need arise.
“Not only did she have a mountaineer’s ladder ready to deploy from the floor above – which, by the way, saved a multitude of her classmates’ lives – when panic and overload broke this last means of escape, she had yet one more card to play.
“She and her instructor made their escape by belaying down a rappelling line, much as Swiss mountaineers have done, sliding down a braided length of silk rope: yet did she send herself first, did she think first of her own life?”
Mr. Baxter looked over the crowd, his expression that of an eagle on its perch.
“NO!”
Mr. Baxter whipped off his hat, slapped it against his thigh.
“It was not until this last man was out, not until the building was evacuated, not until every soul was saved, that Miss Sarah here made good her own escape!
“Not until the fires were washing the underside of the floor upon which she stood – not until Hades’ caress could be felt through her shoe soles – not until smoke began to reach with deadly fingers from between the boards, only then did she wrap herself in leathern embrace and make good her own descent – and even then, my friends, even then it was a near thing!”
The assembled let out a collective hiss, a sighing out of pent-up breath as the orator’s impassioned words washed over their hearts.
Mr. Baxter nodded, once, firmly, emphatically.
“The fires reached her classroom and burst forth from the window’s casement! She herself was but halfway down the building’s side! Heaven above and stone pavement below, and her climbing line snapped!” – he snapped his fingers, the sound loud in the hush following his bitten-off word – “like rotten string!
“Who is to say, what were her final thoughts what her final words might have been? None were there to hear – none to give reassurance or succor as she plummeted the deadly distance – not until she landed on the canvas life-net, held in strong Irish hands, supported by Denver’s own Irish Brigade” – here the Irish Brigade elbowed one another and grinned, for most of them had been to Denver at one time or another, and knew their comrades in arms – “not until that final moment did she realize her alarms had not gone unheeded, her shouts, not ignored!”
Emma Cooper’s hands were clasped over her high stomach; she felt a little light headed, for this was the first account, the first complete account, she’d heard of Sarah’s time in Denver.
“THIS IS WHY WE MEET HERE TODAY!”
Mr. Baxter spread his arms dramatically.
“THIS IS WHY WE ARE GOING TO DENVER!
“THIS IS WHY WE WILL WITNESS THIS DUE RECOGNITION FOR THIS HEROINE, THIS SAVER OF LIVES, THIS REPRESENTATIVE OF THAT WHICH IS GOOD AND DECENT AND NOBLE AND HONORABLE!
MY FRIENDS” – Mr. Baxter’s voice reached its crest – “I GIVE YOU, OUR VERY OWN, MISS SARAH!

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Linn Keller 8-5-12

 

Sarah sat cross-legged on the floor in the front of the passenger car among a knot of schoolchildren and a surrounding wall of adulthood, all hanging on her every word: she answered question after question after question, as best she could, her voice soft and a little uncertain.
Sarah had done many things in her life, Sarah planned to do many things in her life, but the one thing to which she'd never aspired, the one thing she never attempted, was being a hero.
The longer she was adored, the more thorough the adulation heaped upon her, the more people who gawked and murmured and stared, the more thoroughly she was convinced that someone else could be a hero and she would rather be just Sarah, thank you very much.
Reality, unfortunately, is often very different from what one would wish, and Sarah found herself describing time and time and time again how she measured the windows and had the metal brace made to fit in the window-frame, how she wound and wrapped the silk line so it could be simply tossed out the window and it would fall free, limp and loose, without knot or tangle; how she stashed a ladder belt, sized for her slender waist but able to accommodate a larger if need be, and how all these were concealed in a false compartment of the cabinet she knew was in her classroom: she verbally sketched the quick release mechanism of the rolled-up rescue ladder, and how she had it mounted in the window-casement one floor above, and how she freed it with a tug of the cord; she saw Charlie Macneil step up between two men and look squarely at her as a little boy with big eyes and a soup bowl haircut regarded her with shining eyes and asked "Mith Tharah" -- he'd lost his front teeth two days before -- "Mith Tharah, weren't you thcared?"
Sarah's eyes stung a little and she bit her bottom lip.
She looked up, looked Charlie Macneil squarely in the eye.
"I was scared," she said, her voice quivering a little. "I was scared, all right."
She looked at the towhead and smiled a little.
Tilting her head the way she did sometimes when addressing a student, she reached over and brushed the hair out of his eyes.
"You know something?" she asked softly.
"Sometimes when you're scared, you can see things very clearly.
"You can see that you want to run away.
"Maybe you can, so you decide, do I run away or do I do what I am supposed to do?
"And if you can't run away, then you do what's right, because that's the only thing that matters."
She looked up at Charlie.
"A wise man taught me that."

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Charlie MacNeil 8-5-12

 

"She's right, Buster," Charlie reached down to ruffle the boy's hair himself. "Or at least half right." He knelt, knee joints crackling, left knee on the floor, to look the young'un in the eye. "Can you tell me what courage really is, my friend?" he asked gently.

"It'th not bein' thcared when bad stuff'th happenin'," the boy answered quickly, sure he had it right.

"Not exactly," the ex-Marshal replied.

"Then what ith it?"

"It's being scared spitless and still getting the job done," Charlie answered. "Being courageous doesn't mean you never get scared. Being courageous means you get scared and still do what needs to be done." His gaze went to Sarah. "And sometimes running away is what needs to be done. A dead hero never solves anything." He pushed himself upright and brushed the knee of his trousers free of a few small flecks of dust. "Remember that, son. Sometimes you have to run." He could feel Sarah's eyes boring into his back. "But not always," he finished with a chuckle. He picked his way through Sarah's mesmerized audience to the far end of the car and dropped onto the horsehair-stuffed cushion of the seat across from Fannie's.

"What exactly have you been up to, Sugar?" his bride asked suspiciously. "You've got that 'cat that ate the canary' look on your face."

"Hero lessons." He slid down in the seat, stretched his legs out and tilted his hat down over his eyes. "Wake me up when we get to Denver, would ya please, Darlin'?"

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Linn Keller 8-6-12

 

Sarah heard her Aunt Esther's words again, a whisper, from far away in her memory:
The secret to successful administration is delegation.
As much as she wanted to jump up and grab Charlie and demand that he explain himself and how dare he speak thusly and as much as she wanted to shake the man until his teeth rattled, the rest of her grabbed the peevish child, smacked it across the face and shoved it back into its dark little room.
She managed no more than a glare before closing her eyes and nodding, willing herself to calm.
The fool hateth reproof.
Sarah's spirit smarted at Charlie's quiet words.
She set all this aside to examine at a later moment.
Delegate, she heard the memory-whisper.
I will delegate a closer study of his words, and of my feelings, to a later time.
She opened her eyes again and smiled at the little boy looking after Charlie.
He turned and looked, big-eyed, at Miss Sarah, and Sarah opened her arms,
Grinning, the little boy took two steps to her and Sarah took him in a schoolteacher's affectionate embrace, ignoring the pain in her arm as he pressed unintentionally up against her sling.
"He's right," she whispered. "He's right."
No he's not! How dare he say that! I was right! I did the right thing! He said I was wrong! I wasn't wrong! He always tells me I'm wrong!
The outer Sarah sighed and squeezed the young schoolboy, and he hugged her happily back.
The inner Sarah folded her arms and regarded her impatient self like a disapproving schoolmarm addressing a naughty student.
The outer Sarah released the lad and tilted her head a little, smiling quietly: the boy grinned a little-boy grin, all the more endearing for his lost baby teeth, the car rocked beneath them and The Lady Esther whistled happily into the clear mountain air.
Sarah shifted her hips and frowned a little: looking around, her expression distressed, she lifted her left hand and said plaintively, "I'm still kind of sore and stove up, and I don't think I can get up myself. Could one of you big strong men give me a hand?"
Instantly a half dozen fellows shoved ahead, offering their hands and their gentlemanly assistance: Sarah's hand and elbow, waist and ribs were seized, the diminutive schoolmarm hoisted quickly to her feet: Sarah's lips pressed together, but not before a little squeak of distress.
"Miss Sarah?" a voice asked: she recognized the Welsh Irishman's accent, but at the moment, the pain in her hip and her flank locked her jaw shut: the cords stood out in her neck and her breath was quick, panting, hissing through her nose.
"Miss Sarah, are you all right?"
Sarah's eyes were squeezed shut: she opened them, and the Welsh Irishman saw her eyes, free of the walls and the guards and the hard, icy look they usually wore.
"No," she said in a small voice, closing her eyes against the pain.
"Mith Thara, what happendth?" a little boy's voice asked.
Sarah swallowed.
"Help me to my seat," she whispered, and the several strong but gentle hands guided her to the passenger car's smooth, varnished, waxed seat: a pillow appeared from somewhere and was spun under her descending backside.
Sarah gasped again and shivered a little, panting, willing the pain away without much success.
"I shouldn't have set on the floor," she whispered.
"Then how could we have heard ye?" the Welsh Irishman asked, his voice gentle, and she felt the back of a finger brush her cheek.
Sarah opened her eyes and a worried little boy with a soup bowl haircut was regarding her, worry on his face and the Welsh Irishman's hand on his shoulder.
"You asked me what happened," she said quietly.
Both the little boy and the Welsh Irishman nodded.
"I went out into the side pasture.
"We have a bull calf."
Two or three of the men groaned and exchanged a knowing look.
"He disagreed," Sarah said in a strained voice, hesitating for a moment: "as to my right-of-way," and she paused again, taking a couple breaths, "and I'm afraid I came out in second place."
Sarah's attempt at a laugh failed and she gasped again.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, tears squeezing through her tight-shut eyes.
"I'm afraid I don't feel very heroic."
The Welsh Irishman knelt before her and took her shoulders in his big Irish hands, and Sarah leaned into him, resting her face on his shoulder: her left arm quivered a little as she ran it around the man's ribs, and he rocked her a little as the dams she'd built crumbled and fell and washed away in a great flood of saltwater tears, broken down and flooded from their foundations.
In that moment she was not Sarah the Heroine, she was not Sarah the Warrior, she was not Sarah the Strong: she was just Sarah, overwhelmed by everything that happened, finally letting go: the German Irishman would later compare it to the pop off valve on a steam boiler, preventing a catastrophic explosion, a rancher recalled taking a stick of stovewood and beating merry hell out of a fence post rather than beat the dog-stuffing out of someone who'd managed to genuinely, absolutely make him pig-biting mad.
The Welsh Irishman rubbed her back, whispering in his native language, soothing Sarah like he would a grieving child: Sarah cried silently, her young body almost convulsing with the repressed sobs, and he felt her tears scald through the wool of his good red shirt.
He wished in that moment for his shirt to stain, considering a maiden's tears to be as potent an award as any medal the Governor himself could hang on the man's chest.
People looked at one another, shifted uncertainly, then returned to their seats.
They hadn't seen a great and powerful figure crumble into clay.
They'd just seen one of their own, tried to her limit, finally able to let go of the horror she'd been keeping corked up inside her.

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