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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 10-14-12

 

Bonnie’s slap caught me completely by surprise.
I remember Levi’s shocked expression was and I reckon mine must have been the same.
Bonnie’s eyes were red, her complexion was mottled – I could tell she’d been through a terrible moment, and looking at what was left of her house, and now Sarah on the cot, looking like she’d been through a war, I could see why Bonnie was distressed – but a faceful of her palm was absolutely the last thing I expected.
It didn’t get any better when Bonnie reared up on her tiptoes, punching her finger into my necktie, screaming something about it being all my fault, if I hadn’t filled Sarah’s head with idealistic nonsense about having a table to hide some money and a chest behind a kick-out panel and Sarah worshipped any idea that I had and Sarah wanted so badly to fill my manly boots that she ran into a fire to get that worthless table and that idiotic chest and I should be ashamed of myself and I nearly got her little girl killed – I recall how Bonnie’s face went from kind of wheat-paste-mottled to flaming-mad-as-hell-red, and she kept punching me in the chest with that stiff finger and fist and finally she kind of wound down and sagged and I put my arms around her and held her and she laid her head against me and groaned and coughed some and started to cry.
I make no pretense about being intelligent.
Some things I do know for a fact, others I’ll admit I am not terribly smart, but I will admit with my right hand a-wavin’ in the air that women are one thing I just don’t have figured out.
Now somewhere in the middle of Bonnie’s screaming fit, Doc slipped in and he was on one knee with Sarah, and I don’t know what-all the man was a-doin’ and at the moment I kind of had my hands full.
I’ll admit I fell in love fast, hard and clear to my eyebrows the first time I laid eyes on Bonnie, there on the board walk not far from the front of the Jewel, her and little Sarah when Sarah was just a little bitty thing, and I don’t reckon I’ve loved her much less over the years, for all that she was young enough to be … well, not my daughter, she’s not that young, though sometimes I feel old enough to be her granddad … but to this day I would move Heaven barehand and grab a long enough pry bar to crank Earth to one side if she wanted it.
There are different grades of love and I reckon what I felt for Bonnie was the kind when a man puts someone way up on a marble pedestal because he knows he can never have her, and he is content with that knowledge, and when this High Pedestal Goddess reared back and belted me across the chops … well, it stung more than just her hand a-beltin’ me.
That didn’t matter.
A woman’s tears will melt the hardest man’s heart, and any resentment I might have felt when she smacked me a good one, was washed away by her tears like a lump of sugar dropped in a mountain stream.
Levi was squatted down with one arm around Polly, the other around Opal, and the little girls were looking at their Mama and me with big and frightened eyes.
“Your Mama was very frightened,” I said gently, “and she had to get it out before she blew a cork.”
Levi stood, the twins in his arms: “Come, children,” he said, and I believe that’s the first time I ever heard Levi use such a gentle, reassuring Daddy-voice, “let us go outside.”
I looked over at Doc.
Sarah was sitting up now; I could see the ends of her braids were singed, and I realized I smelled smoke and singed hair: part of it was from Bonnie, and I put my hands on her shoulders and started looking at her.
“Bonnie?” I asked. “Bonnie, are you hurt?”
Bonnie shook her head, coughing again: she put her wrist to her mouth when she coughed, then her hand to her throat as she harrumphed and shook her head again.
“I’m fine,” she rasped. “I’m fine.”
I raised a hand, touched her hair: she always had her hair styled – invariably, every time, without exception – and I remember thinking she didn’t have anything scorched, but she sure smelled of smoke.
Sarah coughed again, grimacing, produced a hankie from somewhere and spat in it: Doc examined it, looked at her eyes, then her fingernails, I don’t have the least idea what he was looking for but he’s the doctor and he knows what he’s doing.
“Just sit there,” he said in his quiet, I’m-the-doctor voice, and Sarah nodded and accepted the glass of water from their maid.
Sarah tilted the glass up and drank thirstily.
Doc was looking at her like a starving hawk looks at a field mouse.
Now I said before I’m not the brightest candle in the chandelier, but I knew Bonnie had to get some things off her chest, so I set her down and it was my turn to go to one knee: I held her hands in mine and said “Bonnie, tell me what happened.”
Her eyes swung hard to the right and I could tell she was thinking about her house afire, for that was the direction of the smoking shell: she looked over at Sarah, then closed her eyes, shook her head.
“Bonnie, what do you first remember?”
She lowered her face into her palms, shaking her head.
“Bonnie, when did you first realize there was a fire?”
It took patience and it took persistence but I finally got her to talk.
I walked her through her memory, and I found the one worst moment of the whole thing, and I asked her what followed, and what came after that, and then what happened, because I knew if I didn’t, this time tomorrow she would never, ever be able to get past that one worst moment.
I listened to her words and I felt Levi’s arm around her, pulling her down the stairs and out the door.
I listened to her voice and felt the shiver in her words as Levi moved to block Sarah and Sarah drove a shoulder into his belly and knocked him back on his bottom, and streaked into the house, wrapping a wet cloth over her mouth like some kind of bandit.
I looked through Bonnie’s eyes at Sarah, hanging out the window up to her belt buckle, and I heard Sarah screaming for her Mama, and I saw Polly hanging from Sarah’s hands, and Levi under yelling for her to drop the child, and I felt Polly, real and solid and shivering in her arms as Levi handed her off and raised his arms to catch Opal.
I felt Bonnie’s heart stop as the top pane of the window crumbled from the heat and a gout of flame rolled out above Sarah’s head as she hung from her fingertips and then kicked hard against the clap board siding and fell through space and I saw her hands raise toward Heaven and her pigtails as well and I heard the Welsh Irishman yelling “SAINT FLORIAN, WITH ME!” and then his grunt as he caught Sarah and fell back, landing hard, his arms around Sarah and her on top of him, and then they were up again like twin corks released underwater.
I went over it with her again, from the beginning, and the second go-round I saw Bonnie running around the house, screaming for Sarah to get the twins, right before the legless table came blasting through the window, then the chest, and I felt the ground hard under her foot as Bonnie stamped in anger and shouted “THE HELL WITH THE CHEST, THE TWINS ARE UPSTAIRS!”
Dr. Greenlees stood and cleared his throat.
I released Bonnie’s hands and stood as well.
“See that she drinks plenty of water,” he said quietly, “and I’ll send some powders to mix with water that she should take twice a day for two days. If her eyes remain red and irritated more than 24 hours, please bring her to see me. No hard exertion for two days, though riding is fine.”
Doc’s eyes went to the window.
I know he was looking at Levi and the twins, and I could tell he was remembering.
“You have a very brave daughter,” he said to Bonnie. “You should be very proud of her.”
There was something in Doc’s voice that told me he, too, had lost a child, and I suspected it was to a house fire, and he told me some time later that he’d lost his wife and two children, which is why he picked up his broken heart and headed West, like I had.
Bonnie looked out the window at the twins.
Opal was bent over, watching a butterfly slowly opening and closing its wings as it sampled a blossom, and Polly, curious, tilted her head and came over to see what her sister was studying.
I looked back at Sarah.
Sarah was shivering a little.
“Mama?” she said, and Bonnie turned, and Sarah rose, weak and shaky, and reached for her mother.
I opened the door as quietly as I could and slipped out.
There are times when a mother and daughter need time to themselves and I reckoned this was one such.

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Linn Keller 10-15-12

 

Esther smoothed the fine hair on her little boy-baby's head, humming quietly; the little boy was freshly bathed, had a clean, warm, dry diaper and a full belly, and like most men, clean, fed and content, was falling asleep.
"You're just like your father," Esther whispered, smiling at the wrinkled little pink bundle of wiggle and yawn: "and he's like an old bear: he gets warm and gets his belly full and he goes to sleep."
Esther looked up as her husband hesitated at the doorway: he looked long at the scene, at his wife and the two little babies, wiggling slowly, the little girl-twin raising an arm, if not in greeting, perhaps in a pediatric declaration of her presence.
Esther cuddled the yawning little boy baby to her and her husband the Sheriff picked up the little girl baby and held her close against him, and sat down beside his wife, in the rocking chair he favored.
"They're so tiny," he whispered, and Esther smiled again, for his expression and his embrace of the wee child were those of a man afraid the child would break.
"So is an idea," Esther whispered back, and the Sheriff nodded, his face serious.
Esther was quiet for several moments.
"I smell smoke," she said finally, looking at her husband: she recognized the odor as something he carried in, and not an active condition.
The Sheriff nodded, looked at his wife, thrust his jaw out.
"The Rosenthal house burnt this morning."
Esther's stomach fell, her mouth opening, then she swallowed and composed herself, nodding.
"Nobody was hurt. Sarah was hurt some ... she got some smoke but that was about it. Everyone got out."
"Oh, no," Esther whispered, cradling her little boy-baby a little tighter.
"They're going to be living out of the dress-works. It looks like Bonnie had supplies in a room in case something like that happened."
"The dress-works is brick," Esther nodded, then looked at her husband.
"My dear, if you could approach Levi and offer our bricks. I shall have the brick-works make them a special run."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Sean told me once chimneys were a special danger. We'll need to make sure we have fire brick for the chimneys and fire clay for the mortar ..." The Sheriff's eyes were haunted, then he shook his head.
"I don't know," he muttered, then looked at his wife with a sardonic smile, a smile that pulled only half his mouth as he continued wryly, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and I know just enough about that to get in trouble. I'll ask folks who are younger, smarter and better looking than me."
"The house," Esther groaned. "She had such a lovely house."
The Sheriff reached over, laid his hand gently on his wife's back, looked at her with a serious expression.
"The hell with the house," he said, his voice low: "and the hell with this house. As long as I have you -- as long as we have the children -- we have everything."
He leaned over and kissed his wife, carefully, a little awkwardly, for he still held a sleeping little baby girl.

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Linn Keller 10-15-12

 

Sarah's throat felt like someone ran a brass bristle brush its length a time or two; her chest hurt, her head pounded and she never felt so wrung-out exhausted in her entire life.
She lay on the cot in her Mama's office, coughing occasionally, listening to her breath wheeze in her throat.
She blinked slowly, her eyes wandering across the ceiling, seeing again the dirty billowing fire-blobs flowing like burning water: she almost, almost felt the heat on her face.
Sarah raised trembling fingers to her face, carefully pressing her cheek bones, then running her finger tips along the skin, expecting to feel blisters.
Other than a little warmer than usual, her face felt ... well, a little dry, but that was all.
Thirsty, she thought, and swung her legs over the edge of the bed: she leaned the heels of her hands against the canvas-covered edge, resting her weight on her arms, her head heavy, almost too heavy to raise up.
Sarah shivered a little, remembering how burning-hot wind sighed past her when she opened the window, seeking escape, and how the fire-flowers on the ceiling flowed toward her as she thrust her fair-haired little sister out the window.
Sarah knew Levi was down there, but in that moment she was feeling something she didn't like to admit to herself, something she didn't like to look at.
Sarah was scared, and scared to her very core, scared down to her naked, trembling soul: she felt heat sigh across her back and she knew she was scared, and she froze, and she did what any scared little girl is going to do in a moment of I'm-going-to-die-here desperation.
Sarah screamed for her Mama.
Sarah screamed for the one soul who loved her, she screamed for the one person in all the world who pulled her out of a living hell, she screamed for help from absolutely, positively the only living being in all the entire world who would do anything, go any length, move any mountain, to keep her safe.
Levi appeared, and Sarah knew he would keep her little sister safe, and Sarah let Polly go, let Polly fall into strong and waiting arms, and she saw her Mama, she saw the one thing she wanted more desperately than any else, she saw her Mama take Polly and Sarah knew Polly was safe.
Sarah pulled back in and she seized Opal and she grabbed the thigh of a pale haired waif with red eyes, a little child that looked lost and very sad, and she threw herself out the window again, held the pallid, twisted little thing out the window and she felt her voice screaming raw and tearing at her throat and she heard the fire, she heard the fire whispering come to me, come to me, let me touch you, you can rest, and she saw Levi's mouth open and Sarah opened her hands and Opal fell into his arms and Sarah knew she was safe, she was safe, and Sarah fell back into the burning room and collapsed, sobbing, for she'd done it, she'd gotten them out, she found them, they were safe ...
It would not be the first time, and certainly not the last, that Sarah would relive the fires of hell, but every time she did, the pale haired waif was in the room with her, looking at her, and then the waif's strong hands seized her as she became a woman with pale eyes that yanked her to her feet, a woman with hair the same color as hers, a woman in a rich, royal blue coat with a six pointed star on its lapel, a star that said SHERIFF, and her coat opened to reveal a Colt revolver with ivory grips, yellowed with age but unmistakable with a Masonic scrimshaw-work square-and-compasses, and then the voice, that voice that said "You're not done yet, sister," a voice she'd heard before, just before one of those strong hands smacked her backside, shocking her out of her psychic surrender, and Sarah found the strength to grab the windowsill and swing her legs out --
"I have to know," she gasped, standing on shaky legs: she found her boots, pulled them on, leaned against the door frame, panting: she staggered a few steps toward the sideboard, picked up the pitcher, drank directly from the heavy glass ewer, spilling water down her front and not caring.
She drank deep, desperately, barely able to muscle the pitcher back onto the sideboard; she wobbled toward the door, looked out --
Nobody.
I have to know.

Sarah moved with the stealth of a wounded animal, made her way to the door of the dress-works, then outside.
She put her fingers to her lips, whistled; she heard heavy hoofbeats as Snowflake paced toward her.
Sarah stroked Snowflake's foreleg and whispered "Down," in a dry voice.
Snowflake knelt.
Sarah wallowed into the saddle, breathing hard.
"Up, girl."
Snowflake thrust upright, turned.

The Sheriff's head came up, frowning.
He stood, still holding his little baby girl.
Esther raised an arm, reaching for the child; the Sheriff invested his wife with the precious bundle, and cat-footed for the door, then downstairs.
The maid stood aside and the Sheriff's mouth opened.
"Sarah?" he said. "Good Lord, girl --"
Sarah's eyes were wide, her face pale; she reached for her Uncle Papa, and he bent a little to catch her under the arms.
"I have to know," Sarah muttered, pushing at his arm. "I have to know."
"Know what, Sarah?" the Sheriff whispered.
"Let me go," Sarah said, her eyes fever-bright, shaking as if at the very spent limit of her strength.
The Sheriff reluctantly released his hold on the wheezing, swaying girl, and she grabbed his coat and pulled it open, leaned one way, then the other, looking ...
She's looking at my revolvers? he thought.
Sarah looked into the Sheriff's eyes and she opened her mouth to say something, right before he caught her as her eyes rolled up and her strength failed altogether.

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Linn Keller 10-16-12

 

I picked Sarah up and got my right arm under the backs of her thighs and stood up.
Arms, legs, head, all lolled back; her eyes were mostly closed, her mouth was open and she was breathing, at least, but other than that the poor little thing was still as death and just as pale.
I looked at the maid as my stomach fell down a long deep mineshaft and now I know how my own Pa felt the time he tunked me on the cheekbone with the back-swing of a weed cuttin' scythe and knocked me bootheels-over-tincup down over the bank and he come carryin' me into the house and his face the color of wheat paste and he said "Maw, I've kilt him."
My Mama wiped the blood off my cheek with one swipe of a wet rag and I woke up and let out a screech and she said "Set him down, Pa, you can't kill a kid!" and other'n a blue cheek bone for a while I was just fine.
Sarah, now ... I don't think a wipe with a wet cloth was going to bring her back to good health quite that quick.
I thought fast.
Sarah smelled of smoke and lookin' close I could see her hair was singed at the ends and I lifted her up and sniffed at her head and yep, she smelled of singed hair.
Mary and I looked at one another and I whispered "God Almighty, what did this poor girl go through?" and Mary, bless her heart, took me by the arm and steered me toward the parlor and said briskly, "Set her down there, I'll fetch some water," and while I was easing Sarah down gentle-like on Esther's good upholstered settin' couch, the maid fetched her helm hard about and set a full spread of canvas and steered her course toward the kitchen.
I arranged a pillow low behind Sarah's head so as not to run her chin into her chest -- I wanted her to keep a-breathin' -- breathing is good, I thought, and when I drew my hands back, I saw they were just a bit shaky, so I took a long breath and thought Stop that, and it didn't do a bit of good a'tall.
Now my knees tend to call me unkind names if I squat too long, so I reached over and drug over a chair and parked my backside and set there hunched over with my elbows on my knees and I held Sarah's right hand between both of mine, and I just set there watching her breathe for a while, and the maid come in with a little folding tray sort of a thing and she set it up, then she come back with a tray and a pitcher and glass and some of those little tea cake things women-folk set out when they're entertainin', little things about big as a postage stamp -- it would take fifteen of 'em to make a dozen -- but I figured she was smarter than me when it come to dealin' with women folk, and Sarah was women folk, just kind of young.
Besides, I knew she was get of my loins, and I loved her as dear as I've loved Bonnie, only Sarah wasn't up on a pedestal.
Sarah was too restless, too fast-moving, to stay on any pedestal.
I set there with her hand in mine and I hung my head and remembered Sarah as a laughing little girl, running on chubby little legs and I marveled at the sight for she'd been such a dreadfully skinny thing when Bonnie first took her as her own, and I recalled Sarah frowning a little and studying a single wild flower as if it were the most interesting thing in the world, and how the wind blew a few stray hairs back from her face and her pig tails swung a little, and she looked up at me and smiled, and that smile I'd swear would melt a stone statue's heart.
I recalled how she'd taken to horseback like she was born to it, and marveled at how many and how fast my memories were, until now, now when she was showing ... when womanhood was a-bud under her clothes, and I didn't really want to see it, for Daddies always want their little girls to stay little girls, only they don't ... and much as I might have wanted it, Sarah wasn't my little girl ... hell, I didn't even know she was my blood until Christmas last, when I started looking close at that Bible dirty old Sam took in for a drink ... the Bible that belonged to Sarah's late Mama ...
I shook my head and bit my bottom lip.
I dismissed my thoughts.
They were without purpose or destination and therefore of no use, I told myself, and so looked again at Sarah's pale, relaxed face.
She's a beauty, I thought, just like her Mama, then I raised my head a little and saw Bonnie's face in my memory and smiled a little, and thought Yep. Just like your Mama.
I lowered my forehead and rested it on the back of my hand, the hand that still held Sarah's a-sandwich between my own, and I heard a step, and felt Esther behind me.
She laid her hand on my shoulder and I felt her bend closer.
"The nurse has the twins," she whispered. "How is she?"
I straightened and realized I felt old, very old, and I laid my hand on my wife's, my other hand still holding Sarah's.
I raised my face to my bride's and whispered back, "She come in and collapsed on me. We fetched her in and laid her down. I don't ..." I shook my head. "I don't know what's going on at her place."
"We should find out," Esther said decisively. "You ride over and see what we can do to help." Esther's voice was quiet but it was the voice of a business executive, it was the voice of someone in charge who was used to making important decisions, and I nodded.
I eased up out of my chair and Esther slipped in, I eased Sarah's hand into Esther's, and Mary came back in, bent and whispered something in Esther's ear: Esther smiled a little and shook her head and whispered back, and I walked quiet as I could toward the door.
Something told me Sarah had come through a difficult time, and I reckoned she needed some rest.
I unsaddled Sarah's Snowflake-horse and petted her neck and called her a good girl and fed her some shavings of molasses cured tobacker twist, and marveled, for she was bigger than my old Sam-horse, the plow horse I'd rode into Firelands lo those many years ago, and then I turned her into our pasture and whistled for Cannonball.
"Come on, girl," I murmured as I spun the blanket and swung up the saddle, "we have some travelin' to do," and Cannonball blew and threw her head a couple times.
I laughed and shaved her another bate of tobacker and then we pointed our noses for the Rosenthal hacienda.

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Linn Keller 10-16-12

The week or two that followed were lively.
I didn't particularly care for lively.
I've known lively and to be real honest ... I enjoy quiet and boring.
Oh don't get me wrong now, I like a good laugh same as any man, but drunks tarryhootin' into town shootin' at gas lights just does not strike me as entertainment, especially when I tell 'em to stop it and one fellow lowers the muzzle of his Colt towards me and he inherits a gut full of buck shot for his trouble.
I stood there and tasted wood ashes and shouldered the double gun and barked "DON'T!" right before I mashed the rear trigger and
dropped a second one who was coming around with a cocked pistol and Jacob cleaned two more out of their saddles and that just did not make me happy a'tall, for I was the one that had to ride out to the ranch and tell the owner -- a friend of mine, at that -- that we'd just shot every one of his hands.
He warn't happy a'tall, and how I felt about the matter did not enter his thoughts.
He raised seven kinds of Hell and accused me of being anything but decent, he called me a liar and a shyster and a teller of tales, so I fetched him back into town and had him discuss matters with the witnesses we knew of, and we put the word out, anyone else saw the fracas, step up and speak your piece, and the man could not deny that my account agreed with every witness's account, and when he allowed I shouldn't have started killin' his men for somethin' so petty as shootin' out a few lights -- gas lamps can be bought out of the Sears and Sawbuck catalog -- I allowed as he was exactly right, but when his man points that-there gun barrel at my brisket that changes things, and he could not counter that argument either.
Matter of fact he got hot and loud in court two days later and Jackson Cooper ended up donating the fellow a face full of knuckles to calm him down, and after a dunk in the water trough, why, he was less prone to argue.
Some men just can't abide being wrong even when they know they are, and he was one such, and rather than admit he was wrong and his men done wrong, why, he burnt every building on his place, shot every cow and every horse and he even wrung the neck on every chicken running around the cook shack, and his cook showed remarkable good sense by stealing a horse and riding the hell into town to fetch me when the man was screaming and shooting his saddle stock, and by the time I got out there, this man I'd called friend blowed the top of his head off with a .44 slug.
No, I didn't much care for lively that week.
I reckoned it was going to take longer than we had time to get the Rosenthal house raised, what with the lateness of the season and winter comin' on and all, but them brick masons Levi hired in was a-makin' the fur fly, and with some of them-there Eye-talian stone masons, why, they had a good solid quartz foundation dug deep and laid up firm, with the first stone laid in the north east corner, with due ceremony: every Master Mason from the Firelands lodge and a few other Lodges round about, was there in gloves and white aprons, and we made a proper show of it, and the ladies had tables set up and fed everybody.
Angela asked about one fellow who wore a particular jewel on his breast and a funny hat and a sword, and I squatted down beside her and said he was the Grand High Thief, and Angela put her knuckles on her hips and gave me That Look (just like her mama!) and said "Dad-dee!" and Charlie looked at her and chuckled, as if to say She knows you, and I replied in spoken words, "Yes, she does," and he and I exchanged a look, for that happened sometimes ... one of us will think a thing and the other of us will speak the answer.
I noticed Sarah kind of hung back and did her level best to turn invisible.
Oh, she was there, and she was smiling and chatting with the ladies, and she was paying attention to the young, and riding herd on a passel of young ones and doing a fine job, but she was ... I reckon the word was subdued.

Joseph and the Blaze Boys eyed one another uncertainly.
The Blaze Boys were angling for another slice of pie, unless they could get more cake, and if they happened within reach of something else edible, that too would be added to their take.
Joseph, for his part, was happily chewing on something he recognized as pie dough and cinnamon, when he came around the end of the table and nearly run into the pair of grazing scavengers.
Little Joseph looked at the Blaze Boys, and the pair froze in mid-reach, and little Joseph grinned and exclaimed "Good!" and the Blaze Boys looked at one another and relaxed, and whisked a whole pie off the table.
Using a passing lady's skirt as camouflage, they managed to make off with their loot without getting caught.
For his part, little Joseph tilted his head and squatted, for he'd just spotted a grasshopper, and to a curious little boy, why, this was worth a closer look.
Jacob came up beside his father, nodded to Charlie.
"Sir," he said without preamble, "I am curious."
Charlie raised an eyebrow: it wasn't unusual for him to be included in discussions between the father and the son, but it was rare for Jacob to initiate such a conversation while Charlie was there.
Charlie understood this was out of respect, and he appreciated that; he also understood that Jacob did nothing without reason, and there was a reason he was including the scarred, hard-handed, retired US Marshal in his interrogative.
The Sheriff turned and Charlie saw the smile in the grey-mustached lawman's eyes; he nodded, and Jacob's eyes shot a glance across the assembly, there on the side yard of what was going to be the new Rosenthal ranch house.
"Sarah," he said.
The Sheriff's eyes flicked to Charlie, then back to Jacob.
"She isn't ... herself," Jacob said, his hesitation planned, intentional.
The Sheriff nodded, once.
"The Marcellus brothers got into it at the schoolhouse yesterday."
Charlie's eyes were quiet, his appearance relaxed, which meant he was more than aware of every one and every thing surrounding him: when the man looked like a sleepy cat relaxing in a sunny window, was when he was the most ready for something unexpected: it was old habit, carefully cultivated, and had kept him alive, even in peaceable assemblies like this one.
"I would have expected Sarah to take them in hand," Jacob said quietly, his voice pitched so only they three could hear: "she didn't, she let them get it out of their system and then she spoke quietly, and one of them told her to go to hell, and she didn't belt the face off his skull."
Charlie and the Sheriff looked at one another, and Jacob felt a moment's jealousy: there was clearly some communication here, but it was something he could not hear and could barely realize ... kind of like a silent dog whistle, just at the bare edge of hearing, almost there, but unrecognizable.
The Sheriff cleared his throat, his eyes following Angela's purposeful step as she worked her way easily through the crowd.
"It might be," he said carefully, "that she ... might be she's growing up?"
Jacob's eyes narrowed a little as he considered.
"That could be," he admitted, "but after all she's survived ... after Denver and all that ... " He shook his head, thrusting his jaw out, to Charlie's silent amusement, as he looked from father to son and back again, seeing the same expression, almost hearing the same gears turning between their ears.
"I don't know, sir. There's something more."
Annette came smiling up to the three, managing a tray with four plates: the men each took one, and across the yard, the oldest of the Daine boys spun a single, silken note from his fiddle, a magical thread of promise that floated like a fairy ribbon over the heads of the assembled.
Heads turned, men and women alike smiled; there was a general move, and Angela took little Joseph by the wrist and pulled him to safety under the table.
"Shhh," she said, her scrubbed-clean-and-pink finger against her lips: "they're going to dance now," and little Joseph waved the cookie in his free hand and declared "Good!"

The Welsh Irishman stopped, disappointed, as Jacob stopped and spoke with Sarah: disappointment claimed the red-shirted fireman as Jacob put Sarah's hand around his arm and started to walk with her, away from the crowd, just before the Parson's wife seized his arm and spun him about, and he found himself whisked into the Texas Star; in an instant he was part of he square dance, expertly called and steadily cadenced, and as the Welsh Irishman went hand-over-hand, partnering momentarily with every lady in his set, his disappointment whisked itself away.

"I know I haven't been much of a brother," Jacob began, and Sarah turned, pressing her hand firmly over his mouth.
"Don't," she said, her eyes dark and sad: "you sound so much like our father, I -- no -- just --"
Sarah's face paled a little and she shivered, seeing something only she could see, then she looked again at her brother.
Sarah opened her mouth, looked away, swallowed; she licked her lips, then looked at Jacob again.
"Walk with me," she whispered urgently.
Jacob walked with her, knowing there was some turmoil, some confidence she needed to resolve.
Sarah stopped at the board fence, turned, leaned back against it.
Jacob's eyes widened a little, alarmed: Sarah's face was wet, her eyes bright and glittering, and she was breathing fast.
He took her hands, stood a little to one side so as not to make her feel that he was trapping her in place.
"I'm scared," Sarah whispered. "Jacob, I'm so scared!"
Jacob released her hands and wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight: "I'm here," he murmured, leaning his cheek against the top of her head: "I'm right here, you're safe. Nothing can harm you now."
Sarah's arms were doubled up in front of her: she leaned into Jacob's embrace, shaking her head.
"It didn't matter before," Sarah said, her voice tight. "It didn't matter. Now it does. What I do, matters ... it matters now and it matters in a universe unseen."
Jacob looked at his sister, puzzled.
"You didn't know that?" he asked, and she looked at him, surprised.
"You did?"
Jacob nodded.
"Did you go through the mountain?"
"What did you see?" Jacob asked quietly, his eyes serious.
Sarah closed her eyes. "Darkness," she said. "Eyes, round about, watching. A little girl -- she was pale and twisted -- but she was me, and Charon the boatman and the river Styx and the fires of hell, a long bridge, a waterfall ..."
"That flows up."
Sarah's eyes were wide.
"You've seen it!"
"Your journey was not my journey," Jacob cautioned.
Sarah leaned back against the fence, covered her face, groaned.
"I was such a fool," she whispered.
"And I wasn't?"
Sarah looked between her fingers at her brother's gentle expression, his quiet smile, and she laughed a little.
"I can't see you being a fool."
It was Jacob's turn to laugh, and Sarah's heart sang to see the young man throw his head back and give vent to honest amusement.
"Dear heart," he said, "I suffer hoof in mouth disease and it plagues me at the worst times!"
Sarah nodded, smiling.
They walked a little more, along the fence this time; the lively fiddle and the caller's song faded a little with distance.
"I was given a lesson," Sarah said slowly. "And I think I ignored it."
"I've been known to do that," Jacob agreed.
Sarah shook her head. "I'm supposed to be a lamp, a beacon, an inspiration so men can do great deeds."
"Is that so?"
Sarah nodded.
"Sarah, what if a house is afire and there's nobody else to go in and get your sisters out, what then?"
Sarah hung her head.
"The Irish Brigade was on its way and Levi just brought out Mama and the maid."
"Was he in any fit shape to go back in?"
Sarah stopped, leaned against the fence again, swallowed.
"I tore Mama's apron away and wet it so I could go in."
"You didn't just run in as you were?"
Sarah shook her head.
"What did you do next?"
"I knew we were going to lose the house," Sarah said. "I had to get ..."
She colored a little.
"Jacob, if you ever see a table in Mama's office, it will be a gift from me.
"I had one made with a thick top, and Mama and I bundled money and securities and stacked them under the table top, and fitted sliding panels in place.
"The table legs will be weakened so they will break if they're kicked.
"I ran in and kicked the legs off and threw the table through the window, then I kicked out a panel and threw out the chest."
"Chest."
Sarah nodded. "Gold coin," she said.
"Let me understand you," Jacob said, tilting his head a little. "You ran back into the house so you could throw out the means of rebuilding the house, the means of ensuring you all would have a roof overhead, meat on the table and clothes on your back."
Sarah nodded.
"You were acting to keep all of you alive."
She nodded again.
"Then you ran upstairs."
She nodded a third time.
"You found the twins."
Sarah's eyes were wide and her breath was quickening.
"You got them out."
Sarah nodded: her eyes were wide, unseeing, and Jacob rested his hands on her shoulders.
"You got your sisters out. Nobody else could have done that."
"The Irish Brigade was just entering when I ran up the stairs."
"Could they have gotten the twins out?"
Sarah's hands were pressing her high stomach, under her bodice.
"It's what they do."
"So they knew where the twins' bedroom was, and they knew where to look."
Sarah looked at Jacob with a confused expression.
"Were you supposed to stand there and look like a marble goddess on a plinth? Were you supposed to shake your fist and shout 'Go get 'em!' and be an inspiration?"
"But --"
"Sarah." Jacob squeezed her shoulders gently. "Sometimes a hot potato lands in our lap and we have to grab it and get burnt just to get rid of it.
"Don't you realize what you did?
"You laid your life on the sacrificial altar and said I am a worthy sacrifice, take me!
"And you were found worthy!"
Sarah blinked again.
"I -- don't --"
"Had you been just a sacrifice you'd never have come out of that house alive," Jacob said, his voice serious. "You were found worthy and sent the means to get the hell out of Dodge!"
"Oh," Sarah said in a tiny voice.
Jacob brushed Sarah's hair with the backs of his fingers.
"You are my little sister," Jacob said quietly, "and I have never said this, so listen close, I don't know when I'll say it again."
Sarah nodded, blinking.
"There's only one of you has ever been made. In all of Eternity, all of Creation, all of the infinity them mathematician sorts talk about, only one of you has ever been made. You are unique, you are special, and you cannot be replaced!"
Sarah leaned against her big brother's front and this time she ran her arms around him and squeezed, and Jacob was surprised at how strong a girl's arms could be.
Sarah laughed and Jacob could feel the tension run away from her like water running off a glass pane.
"Come on," Sarah said brightly, taking Jacob's hand and pulling him toward the music. "I want to dance!"

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Linn Keller 10-17-12

Jacob and Sarah slowed, stopped; Parson Belden and Brother William were standing shoulder to shoulder: the robed, hooded cleric's head was bowed, his hands folded and the green-glass Rosary draped from his grip as the Parson removed his cover and bowed his own head.
Jacob's hat was in his hand on the moment, and Sarah bowed her own head, still holding her brother's hand.
The Parson's blessing was mercifully brief, and Brother William's as well: they gave due thanks for the saving of lives and the gift of a new home, of many hands and plentiful material, and when the collective "Amen" rippled through the crowd and hats were being returned to crowns, Sarah released Jacob's hand and stepped up between the two clergymen, took their arms and declared loudly, "While you're still here, I have something as well!"
A voice from the back called "Can't see you!" and another "What say?"
Sarah looked at the table beside her, tugged at the clergymens' arms. "Boost me up," she said, and Parson Belden and Brother William, surprised, looked at one another and grinned, then the seized Sarah and hoisted her up in the air.
She kicked out of her pumps in mid-air and stood stocking-footed directly over a sawhorse, so her weight would not over-stress the plank table.
Emma Cooper handed her up the school bell and Sarah swung it, that familiar look in her eyes, half-mischief, half-anticipation, and the crowd knew Miss Sarah the Schoolmarm was presiding.
Sarah swung the bell in her morning cadence -- cl-clang, cl-clang, cl-clang -- then she held it before her like a bride holds a bouquet, bell end up, looking around.
"Thanks are due, and more will be due, but let me get started," she announced, pitching her voice so she could be heard to the furthest celebrant.
"First of all I am going to embarrass a good man right here in front of God and everybody," she declared, "but not right now. Right now I am going to thank the Irish Brigade, because they deal wholesale in the worst losses a family can know. Brigade, you have my respect and my admiration, and my thanks!"
All of Firelands assembled cheered, hands pounded enthusiastically together, adding their approbation to her words.
"Next, the Masons, both operative and speculative.
"Gentlemen, you have my admiration and my thanks.
"It is no easy task to work in stone: it is hard work and heavy work, it is exacting work, and yet you manage to bring your work plumb, square and level. We use the phrase 'Tried and True' everyday but we don't realize quite where it comes from." She looked around, smiling, making sure her words were addressed to everyone, left, right and center.
"If I understand rightly, corners are tried with the square, and horizontals with the level, verticals are tried with the plumb-line, to see that these are all true -- that is, that they are good and workmanlike.
"To the Italian stonecutters whose labors have already given us a broad and stable foundation" -- here she dipped her knees, snatched up a long necked winebottle, hoisted it high above her head -- "Grazi!"
The Italian contingent, with their limited command of the local lingua franca, understood what she was saying: their applause was enthusiastic in return.
"Now I promised to embarrass a good man." She still held the school bell before her; she freed up one hand, pointed.
"You."
Heads turned, eyes searched, and the Welsh Irishman turned a remarkable shade of red.
"You know me as a schoolteacher," Sarah declared, her voice clear and ringing and carrying to the furthest ear: "a teacher must first be a student, and I have learned an amazing amount just by listening.
"I prefer to listen to people who know what they're talking about.
"When the Brigade discussed their craft, one morning in the Silver Jewel, I listened, and I learned that children -- young children -- often hide from a fire.
"They hide under beds and they hide in closets and they hide in cupboards, and they die.
"I heard the grief in a man's words because he found a little girl on overhaul.
"The child managed to drag the mattress off her bed and tried to hide from the fire but she suffocated from the smoke.
"He found the child by stepping on her leg.
"He seized the mattress and threw it free and he saw a child the same size as his own daughter, about the same age as his own daughter, with the same color hair as his own daughter, and for a year he had nightmares that his own daughter was being killed in a house fire.
"I took that lesson and I remembered it, and that's why Opal and Polly, my sisters, are alive today.
"A man that knew what he was talking about, spoke from his experience, and I listened to him and I remembered."
Sarah looked directly at the Welsh Irishman.
"You, sir, saved my sisters' lives.
"You saved them with your words, and without knowing it when you spoke them."
Sarah bit her bottom lip and something wet ran down her cheek and she had to take a long moment to swallow hard and pick up and start again.
"Thank you," she said, then she harrumphed and smiled and shouted, "I'm hungry! Let's eat!"
Willing hands reached up to help her down, she was hugged and congratulated, somehow she found her shoes and got them back on, and the crowd cheered her words, then crowded the table and proceeded to put a serious dent in the generous provender laid out for their approval.

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Linn Keller 10-17-12

Little Joseph was sound asleep, sandwiched between his Mama and his Papa, his hat on his lap and his head lolled over against Annette's ribs.
Jacob looked down at their son and grinned.
Annette looked down, too, then the two of them looked up at one another.
Jacob held the reins more as a formality than anything else; the mare knew where home was, and was making steady progress that-a-way; Jacob's Apple-horse was tethered to the back of the carriage and followed patiently, head bobbing a little.
Annette's eyes were bright and her complexion rich and healthy in the long red rays of the evening sun.
"Mrs. Keller," Jacob said softly, "have I told you lately you are a good-lookin' woman?"
"Mr. Keller," Annette smiled back, "you said as much this morning."
Jacob leaned a little, and Annette leaned a little, and they shared a kiss, a promise of things to come, once they were back home and under their own roof, once the mare was unhitched and rubbed and grained a little, once their little boy was packed in and laid down in his own bunk and divested of boots and britches and his other duds, and once Jacob carried the drowsy lad outside so he could salute a particular rock the way little boys have to do before they go to sleep.
Little Joseph hadn't wet the bed for some time and Jacob intended to keep it that way.
Meanwhile, the carriage, the mare and the mountains, a little movement and a little sway, worked their magic on a tired little boy with a comfortably full belly, and little Joseph snoozed, warm and safe and content between his parents, too tired to give voice to his little-boy's dream of looking at the giant grasshopper handing out pies to the Blaze Boys, and little Joseph laughing and declaring, "Good!"

The Sheriff and his bride drove back to their place, Angela between them, bright-eyed and attentive and very content to be between Daddy and Mommy.
"Angela," Esther said approvingly, "you conducted yourself very well today. I am pleased."
Angela looked innocently at her Mommy and said "Thank you, Mommy," in her little-girl's voice.
"You did all right at poker, too," the Sheriff said quietly, and Esther looked at her husband's profile: the man was trying hard to keep a straight face and not having much success.
"Linn Keller, you're the one who got her into that game," Esther declared.
"Why, so I did," he replied. "Angela, how much did you win?"
"Two marbles, a grasshopper and a slice of peach pie," Angela said, kicking her legs happily and watching her skirt flip with her efforts.
"And what did you do with them?" the Sheriff continued, giving his wife a sidelong look.
"I traded the grasshopper for another marble and I won six marbles with them," Angela declared with an emphatic nod of her head.
"Not bad," the Sheriff murmured. "I could never play marbles to save my butt."
Angela's bottom lip pouted out. "I can't either, Daddy. I lost 'em all."
"Don't worry, Sweetheart," the Sheriff said, hugging his little girl close to him. "You're still a crackerjack poker player." He hesitated. "Say, what about that peach pie?"
"It was vew-wy, vew-wy good," Angela said, nodding again.
"Remind me never to play her with peach pie in the pot," the Sheriff said, looking wide-eyed at his wife, and Esther laughed.

Sawhorses were stacked, boards piled, tablecloths folded: the ladies made quick work of cleanup, and though the brick-masons lost a half day's work to the celebration, they lost none of their wages, and besides, they got their bellies full and they got to dance with some of the prettiest ladies in Firelands.
The Rosenthal house had yet to rise to its first-floor level; it would be a two-story when done, and the plan was to get it shelled and under roof before snow, and finish the inside when they could heat the inside if need be.
Until the house was livable, the family Rosenthal lived in the dress-works, the twins had an attic room, as did Sarah; Levi and Bonnie had their bedroom, and a hasty kitchen was built as a wooden wing, which delighted the seamstresses, for Bonnie announced quietly that the kitchen was now a permanent part of the dress-works.
Quarters were crowded out of necessity; after the day's work was done, Sarah and the twins would occupy what was otherwise work area, but they did so very carefully, for none wished to disturb the work in progress: young though the twins were, they were being schooled in fabric and its uses, and Sarah was an accomplished dressmaker herself; each knew how difficult fabric could be to bend to one's will, and none wished to interfere with work partially finished.
After supper, Bonnie asked if she might speak with Sarah.
Sarah's stomach tightened.
It was her observation that good things seldom came of such a request.

Tom Landers watched unobtrusively as the Jewel livened for the evening.
There'd been a few rather loudly played poker games; money was won and lost, no great amounts, enough to keep everyone's interest: dice clattered, the roulette wheel spun, its polished arms gleaming, flashing in the Aladdin mantle light: Dolly started her day late so she, too, could to to the Rosenthal celebration, and in a modest gown and bereft of face paint, with her hair done up, why, she bore little resemblance to the short-skirted, painted temptress that disported herself so shamefully on the Jewel's little stage.
Tom Landers had a good overwatch point.
He preferred to remain invisible most of the time, appearing only if there were trouble; generally his sudden presence was sufficient to calm a tempest.
Tonight, to his gratitude, there were no storms to calm, which suited the retired old Sheriff just fine.
Mr. Baxter polished his bar and drew big mugs of beer, weighed gold dust and took coin and dispensed either a good grade of whiskey, or a really good grade -- the Silver Jewel was a class joint, you see, and they didn't deal in the bottom shelf rot gut -- and the smells from Daisy's kitchen tempted more than one growling gut.
And, of course, if a man has a meal, he's going to have a beer, and if he has a meal and a beer he might be inclined to sit for a bit and watch the dancing girl, and that would mean more beer, as would a friendly hand or three of whatever flavor of cards were being played.
Mr. Baxter and Tom Landers winked at one another.
It was going to be a profitable night.

"Sarah," Bonnie said, and Sarah's quick ear caught something out of the ordinary in her Mama's voice.
"Sarah, I am ... pleased ... that you spoke as you did today."
Sarah tilted her head a little, blinked, listening closely.
"It is ... important ... that we recognize ... and give our thanks."
Bonnie looked sideways at her daughter.
"I almost lost you, Sarah."
Sarah's expression went from attentive to puzzled.
"I'm sorry?" she said, her voice deflecting up on the last syllable.
Bonnie's eyes went to the ceiling, her hands twisted up her skirt: she took a long breath, looked at the floor.
"You could have died in that fire."
Sarah opened her mouth to reply, then closed her mouth, nodded.
"Levi could have gone back in for the twins," Bonnie said, her voice hardening.
Sarah thought of the table, of the chest: a voice whispered, Say nothing, and Sarah held her peace.
"The Irish Brigade was arriving. You had no need to go into a burning house!"
"Mother, I had to," Sarah said quietly. "I had to throw out the table and I had to get the twins --"
Bonnie turned on her daughter, her face tight, pale: "I don't want you riding horses or chasing outlaws or running into burning houses or going to detective school ever again!" she shouted.
"Mother!" Sarah exclaimed, dismayed. "Mother, I --"
Bonnie backhanded her daughter across the face, the sound sharp in the quiet of her office.
"Don't you ever backtalk me!" Bonnie shouted.
Sarah blinked the sting from her eyes, rubbed her cheek with the back of her hand.
Sarah turned to face her mother, turned slowly, and Bonnie saw Sarah's eyes go very pale.
"Mother," Sarah said, "I love you and I respect you, but don't you ever hit me again."
Bonnie's hand rose almost to her mouth: shocked at what she'd done, Bonnie started to blurt an apology, but Sarah's words stopped her and she realized that the daughter was challenging the mother, and her instinct, her life's training, was that the child must not ever challenge the parent, the parent must never allow a child to challenge --
Sarah shifted her weight, set her feet shoulder width apart: her weight was on the balls of her feet, she was waiting for the return strike: she'll strike me with her right palm, Sarah thought, I'll drop back a half-step, strike the back of her arm, seize her wrist and turn, break her elbow --
Wait.
I have a choice.
I don't have to do this.

Sarah hesitated just as Bonnie swung again.
Bonnie did swing her right palm, just as Sarah divined; Sarah, instead of breaking her mother's arm, faded just far enough back to miss being hit.
Sarah brought her hands up.
"Mother," Sarah said, her voice quiet, "nothing good can come of this. I don't wish to hurt you but I will not let you hurt me. Stand down and we will talk, because if you take another swing at me --"
Bonnie picked up a yardstick.
"Bend over the table," Bonnie said, her face pale.
"No."
Sarah folded her arms, glanced to the door, looking for Levi.
He was nowhere in sight.
Bonnie came around the table, reached for Sarah.
Sarah seized Bonnie's wrist, pulled, twisted: she drove her knee into Bonnie's gut, hard, then hit the back of Bonnie's head with her elbow as Bonnie doubled over.
Her mother hit the floor and Sarah drove her knees into her mother's kidneys.
Sarah's eyes were pale, as was her face: she moved to her mother's roll top desk, raised the cover and opened a drawer: she wrote quickly, left the note where her mother could find it easily, then she went to the little cloth draped table and lifted the linen.
Sarah pulled out the chest, opened it: she pulled out three cloth sacks, heavy sacks that clanked a bit when she set them on the floor: she closed the lid, replaced the chest, picked up the bags.
Sarah slipped out of her mother's office, looking back at the unmoving figure on the floor: she bit her bottom lip, then whispered, "I'm sorry," and turned toward the dressmaking floor.

Levi looked up as Bonnie staggered into the bedroom.
His expression turned instantly to concern, then to alarm: surging to his feet, he seized his wife, guiding her to a chair.
Bonnie was crying, one hand to her back, the other trembling, clutching a half-sheet of paper.
Bonnie looked at the sheet and then at her husband.
"My God," she choked, "what have I done?"
Levi blinked, puzzled, then reached for the note.
Opening it, he smoothed it, turned it to catch the lamp light.
He looked up at his wife, shocked, the note slipping from suddenly numb fingers.
Levi looked toward the window, toward the gathering dusk.
He looked down at the dropped note, at Sarah's regular, legible hand:
You are wealthy indeed if you can afford to throw away your daughter.
Bonnie clutched at Levi, collapsing into him, shaking her head, looking more lost than she had in many long years.
"Oh my God, Levi," she gasped. "What have I done?"

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Linn Keller 10-18-12

"I need your help."
Daciana gave a little squeak of surprise and turned, her eyes big and frightened as she looked into the shadowed areas of her big barn's arena.
"Sarah? Wo ist du?" Daciana called softly, her eyes busy, and an indistinct figure rose and stepped into the light.
"Sarah, mein Gott," Daciana breathed, her expression going to fear as she rushed to her friend: "vas ist? -- vat happendt?"
Sarah looked at Daciana with the eyes of someone who'd just lost everything in her life: clutching her friend's arms, Sarah said in a hollow little voice, "I think I killed my Mama."

"You'll live," Dr. Greenlees said bluntly, "but you'll pass blood for a week." He went to a glass front case, frowned a little as he pulled out a glass bottle and a small wooden box; he rose, laid a square of waxed paper on the gleaming round pan of a scales, opened the box and selected a fat, cylindrical weight on the opposite pan, and carefully turned the bottle to dispense a white powder onto the waxed paper.
He tapped the bottle a little with a fingernail, until the swinging needle settled in a small arc at bottom dead center.
"I'll put this up in individual envelopes," he said, picking up a small steel spatula: putting the weighed square of powder on the counter, he divided it in half, then half again, each small quadrant of powder carefully introduced into the brown-paper envelopes: folding the tab over on each envelope, he stacked them in another envelope and handed this to Levi.
"One of those in a glass of hot tea, twice a day, for pain. I want you to drink enough water to pass your water twice daily at minimum. If you aren't watering twice a day, come see me immediately. I'll send more powders this afternoon."
He replaced the large bottle, withdrew a small one; dispensing its oily-yellow content into a teaspoon, he turned and said gently, "Open up," and Bonnie opened her mouth to accept the dose.
Nurse Susan appeared as she usually did, silently, as if by magic, with a steaming, fragrant cup of tea: Bonnie swallowed the dose and made a face, then sipped gratefully at the tea, not knowing the compound she'd just been given was only marginally effective, and the real painkiller was dissolved in the sweetened tea.
Dr. Greenlees pulled up a chair and sat down in front of Bonnie.
Taking her hands in his, he patted her hands gently and said, "Now tell me how this happened."
Levi drew breath to give answer and Dr. Greenlees raised a cautioning finger, then raised his eyebrow.
"I threw away my daughter," Bonnie whispered huskily.
"Hm," Dr. Greenlees grunted. "Mrs. Rosenthal, I've known you for some long time, and you're too good a businesswoman to just throw away a long-term investment." He frowned a little, tightened his grip gently on her trembling hands. "These things often work themselves out. Your daughter ... Sarah?"
Bonnie nodded, dropping her eyes and turning her head a little.
"She's at an age where feelings run high and hot." He tilted his head a little, laid the backs of his fingers against her cheek bone, frowned.
"Bonnie, look at me."
Bonnie looked up at him, then looked away.
Dr. Greenlees very gently placed his hands on either side of Bonnie's face.
"Bonnie," he said, "look at me."
Bonnie reluctantly looked at the physician.
Dr. Greenlees frowned, pulled her bottom eyelids down slightly.
"Look up."
Bonnie looked up.
Dr. Greenlees looked over at Levi, one eyebrow hoisted sharply, then he looked back at Bonnie.
"How long have you known of your pregnancy?"
Levi's jaw dropped and his own eyes went big and round.

"You are not a childt," Daciana said as she poured tea.
Sarah rested her elbows on the table and her forehead on her hands.
"I killed her," she whispered.
"No," Daciana said. "I know you, Sarah. You are Sturmbringer, you are Walkyrie, you are Krieger, but you are not ... not murderer."
Daciana set the teapot down, whisked her skirt under her, sat: she laid gentle fingertips on Sarah's arm. "Vhat happendt?"
Sarah picked up her teacup, drained it, set it down with an exaggerated care.
Sarah stared at the teapot, seeing it all happen again, and she spoke as if narrating a play, only her voice was flat, heavy, without expression or inflection, other than the heavy payload of guilt.
"My Mama told me I should not have gone into the burning house," Sarah said woodenly. "I said I had to, I got out the twins and I got out the money we secreted against disaster, and Mama slapped me and said never to back talk her."
Daciana blinked, studying Sarah's cheek, then dismissed the effort; a blow given the previous evening would be bruised, perhaps, but an open handed slap would bruise little if any.
"I went all cold and I swore no one would ever hurt me again and live, and I told my Mama never, ever to hit me again and she tried."
Sarah looked as sick as Daciana had ever seen her.
"I drove my knee into her belly and she folded up like a bedsheet.
"She went down and I went down with her and drove my knees into her kidneys.
"I hit her hard and I hit her meaning to put my knee caps out the front of her dress.
"She just laid there and didn't more than grunt when I came down on her.
"I think she passed out from the pain.
"I went to the chest -- the chest I threw out of the burning house -- I went upstairs and I got the twins out, Daciana --" Sarah looked at her friend, her eyes brimming -- "I got my sisters out. They were hiding from the fire, Daciana, the Irish Brigade would not have known where they were, they would have died and Mama told me I should not have run into the burning house -- I got them out --"
Sarah pulled her hand back as if stung, bit down on her own fist, squeezing her eyes shut: she took a long, shivering breath, then stood, quickly, seized the teapot and poured herself another steaming cup.
Her hand shook as she set the china teapot back on the table.
"I got them out," she whispered hoarsely. "They're alive, because I went back into the burning house after them!"
"You did the right think," Daciana said firmly.
"Then why did my Mama hit me?" Sarah squeaked, grief carving her pretty young face, and she lowered her forehead onto her crossed forearms.
Daciana rose, then knelt beside her friend, put her arms around her: sometimes more is said with an embrace than can ever be said with words, and this was one such time: she waited patiently until Sarah's breathing steadied.
Daciana stood, took Sarah's wrist.
"Komm," she said. "Komm mitt."
Sarah stood, sniffed; she wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her dress.
Daciana led Sarah outside, out around her huge barn, to a path that wound up behind the barn, up the side of the cliff: the air was cool, their breath steamed in the sun's first rich, orange rays, and the two women climbed to the top of the cliff overlooking the dead end of the side street.
Daciana stopped, looking to the east, folded her arms with satisfaction.
"I luff zis," she said. "Sunrisze, hier, ist beautiful."
She turned to Sarah, smiled a little: she raised a gentle hand, caressed the healthy pink curve of Sarah's cheek.
"A mother may hit a childt if needt be," Daciana said gently, "but Sarah ... a childt you are not." She looked pointedly at Sarah's bodice. "A voman you are now, undt if a voman hits a voman ist at her own risk."
Sarah saw amusement and understanding in her friend's shining eyes.
"Effen if der udder voman ist a daugher."
"But I killed --"
"Ve do not know zat. Ve findt oudt."
Sarah's eyes tracked down left, swung right, then left again.
She looked up at Daciana, puzzled.
Daciana pointed. "I tink she ist not deadt."
Sarah followed Daciana's pointing finger: she pressed her hands against her belly and took a sudden, sharp breath.
Levi and her mother were walking out of the hospital.

"I see no sign of fetal distress," Dr. Greenlees said at last. "The child is not far enough along for me to hear the heartbeat, but as near as I can tell, you are still carrying." He removed the silver trumpet-like device from his head, smiled.
"I'm sorry the bell is cold," he said. "I keep forgetting to warm it before placing it against a mother's belly."
Bonnie sat up, Nurse Susan's hands warm and reassuring on her shoulders: Dr. Greenlees took Levi aside and spoke quietly to the tall ex-agent.
"Now, Father," he said in his best father's voice, "I want you to see to it that this woman gets plenty of good red meat and plenty of rest. She carries your namesake, she carries your future, she carries your legacy."
Levi looked over the doctor's shoulder toward the closed door; behind it, he knew, his wife was getting dressed, and probably was being told similar things by the physician's affable and somewhat portly wife.
"Good air, good food and good water," Dr. Greenlees continued, "and a quiet family life. I would say ... I would say that your wife may have been somewhat ... precipitous ... in her actions?"
Levi nodded, clearly torn on the subject.
Dr. Greenlees nodded. "It is to be expected. She may well become stubborn, unreasonable, prone to temper or outbursts. It's the pregnancy, it's not her."
Levi nodded again.
"Tell me, would you favor a son or a daughter?"
Levi's reserve cracked and the doctor got a peek at the inner man, the man he tried to keep hidden behind a sometimes brittle facade.
"A son," he said. "I would like a son."
Dr. Greenlees slapped his arm companionably. "Good man!" he declared. "A man should have fine, tall sons, strong young men to carry on the family name!"
Bare minutes later Bonnie stepped carefully over the threshold as her husband held the door for her, and she stepped into the morning sunlight, stopping to take a long, deep breath of the fragrant, cold mountain air.
Sun was rising and the mare's breath fogged out, a little orange in the sun's early light; Levi settled his townie hat on his head and held his wife's hand as she stepped up on the mounting block.

Sarah sagged.
Daciana watched carefully, planning how to seize her, how to throw her to keep her from going over the rim of the cliff, but Sarah did not collapse: she went to her knees, then thew her head back and spread her arms.
"Thank You," she whispered.
Daciana leaned a little so she could see Sarah's other cheek.
There were four distinct finger marks purpling the side of Sarah's face.

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Linn Keller 10-18-12

 

"I have to file charges, Bonnie."
"No you don't," Bonnie said quietly.
"I'm going to go to the Sheriff's office and file charges of assault," Levi saied firmly. "You are with child, you are my wife and you could have lost the baby." He glared at Bonnie's pale features. "I could have lost you!"
"And I could have lost all of you," Bonnie said, her voice low but just as firm as his. "Sarah got the twins out. Did I thank her for that? No. The twins are alive because of my daughter, and what did I do?" Bonnie's eyes stared straight ahead. "I did not even thank her."
Bonnie raised her chin.
"I should not have spoken as I did."
Bonnie glared at Levi. "I was wrong, Levi. I said things I should never have said, and then I hit her. I should never have hit her, Levi. I was in the wrong to hit her!"
"You are her mother."
"I am," Bonnie agreed. "And she is my daughter, but she is of an age ..."
"She attacked you, Bonnie. She hurt you."
"After I attacked her and I hurt her!"
"Keep your voice down, Mrs. Rosenthal, people are staring."
Bonnie stood, arms stiff at her side, and glared at her husband.
"Don't, you, dare, tell, me," she said, spacing her trembling words for emphasis, "to keep, my, voice, down!"
Levi grabbed his wife's arm and pulled her down into the seat.
"Why don't you hit me?" Levi hissed, instantly regretting his words.
"I made that mistake once already," Bonnie snapped, "and a little girl put my face in the dirt!" Shaking a stiff finger in his face, Bonnie snarled, "I know where you live, mister, and don't you think I won't take a rolling pin to you in your sleep!"
Levi took his wife's hand by the wrist and kissed the tip of her finger.
"Promise me you'll sprinkle some flour on me first?" he whispered, and Bonnie blinked, and the evil spell of her ill temper was broken: she groaned and dropped her forehead against Levi's shoulder.
"I am such a fool," she moaned, her words muffled a little, and Levi ran his arm around his wife and rubbed her shoulder as he held her close.
"No more a fool than I," he said softly, drawing the mare to a stop in front of the Sheriff's office.

Sarah ran, her skirts pulled up; she ran from Daciana's house up the side street, turning to run up the main street --
Sarah stopped, skidding a little, and pulled back, peeking cautiously around the corner of the weathered clap board.
Sarah's breath came fast; she panted, open mouthed, watching, straining to hear what was being said.
Her parents were just pulled up in front of the Sheriff's office.
Her Uncle Papa was raising a hand in greeting, a smile on his face, and something was said, and Sarah saw the smile fall from him like a dropped coffee cup.
Sarah drew back, flattened herself against the building.
They're going to file charges, Sarah thought, feeling the first tickles of panic in her belly. I have to head this off. I have to be valuable to --
Valuable, hell.
I have to move fast, really fast now!

Sarah sprinted back to Daciana's house, dashed into her barn, snatched up the sacks of gold coin she'd taken from the chest under her Mama's office table, the same chest she'd thrown out the window of their burning house.
They will charge me with assault at least, Sarah thought. They can't charge me with attempted murder, I did not use a weapon. If I am caught I can argue that I was attacked --
Oh, yes, that will play so very well in a court of law
, she thought bitterly.
Sarah leaned against a rough cut roof brace, breathing hard, trying to calm her screaming nerves.
I'm an outlaw now.
Sarah looked back down the alley.
She could barely see the corner of the tidy little clapboard schoolhouse.
I'm going to miss teaching, she thought, and closed her throat to the groan that began squeezing its way past her vocal cords.
Sarah squeezed her eyes tight shut, wiped at them with her dress sleeves, then opened her eyes.
They were very pale.
I don't have much time, she thought.
Mama may not know I took this -- she looked down at the sacks she held -- I'd better stash one ... no, two ... and use just this one for traveling money.
Sarah looked out the door.
I can get to the Mercantile by this alley, she thought.
If I can get inside I can act like nothing is wrong, and that one-armed fellow won't know any different.

The Sheriff's face fell about a mile and he stood there staring as Bonnie laid a hand on her belly and said "I'm going to have a baby."
"Oh dear Lord," the Sheriff breathed, then he started to grin, and Levi came around back of the buggy and the Sheriff seized his hand and pumped it briskly: "Well done, old man! Congratulations!"
Levi's expression was uncertain; he reached up and Bonnie took his hand and stepped down from the carriage.
"We need your help," Bonnie said, and the Sheriff did not miss that the look she gave Levi was troubled.

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Linn Keller 10-18-12

 

"I'm sorry, Miss McKenna, I didn't see you come in," the proprietor apologized. "I must have been daydreaming. Can I help you find something?"
Sarah looked up, smiled gently.
Defeating the lock on the back door was a simple matter; slipping in unheard was not difficult; she waited until the right moment to tiptoe out into the store, where she assumed an air of utter normalcy.
"We have a special project, and my mother needs some particular, very simple material. Linen if you have it, eight yards of black, and ten of white linen as well."
"I have some ..." The proprietor came over to the bolts of cloth, stacked in a pigeonhole rack beside a long table. "We have ... here, and here ... are these what you had in mind?"
Sarah looked at the bolts, chose one, brought it out: she made a swift calculation, unrolled the correct yardage, marked by brass tacks in the tabletop: she sliced easily through the material, then looked up and smiled.
"Thank you for a sharp scissors," she said. "I had to murder through some cloth yesterday and it made a terrible cut!"
The proprietor laughed politely.
"Now ... let me just roll this back up ..." Sarah replaced the bolt of black cloth in its pigeon hole, picked up the white linen, felt its tag end between thumb and forefinger: frowning a little, she put it to her lips, blew strongly.
Sarah nodded approvingly.
"A good tight weave," she said quietly. "Is this what the Daine boys buy for rifle patching?"
"Yes ma'am, it is," the proprietor grinned, turning as the bell tinkled cheerfully. "Please excuse me."
Sarah glanced up, looked back at her work: she unrolled the white linen, sliced it free, replaced the bolt, then re-measured the cloth to make sure and folded it.
She went to the notions and picked up two papers of pins, a paper of sewing needles and four spools of thread.
Stacking these at the end of the table, she looked around.
The proprietor was going through the mail with one of the local ranch hands; the hand kept looking at her and smiling, and Sarah smiled back: the hand turned red, looked away, and paid careful attention to the one-armed storekeeper.
Sarah slipped over to another display, snatched up a broad brimmed, round crown hat -- a Joe Crane, she'd heard it called -- then she looked over the boots, found a pair of cavalry boots, found another: she slipped out of her pumps and into the boots, trying them for fit: she tried the other pair and nodded, added to her pile.
She glanced back at the men: they were looking over a recently arrived paper.
Sarah slid behind a display, pulled up her dress and tried on a pair of black britches, tried another, found a pair that fit and added it to her stack.
Shirts were easy: she was able to slip a black one on over her dress,then take it off, fold it and stack it, then a second one.
Sarah looked under a shelf and saw a used valise, a common, nondescript grip that any traveler might use.
She smiled.

Sarah rocked the treadle of Daciana's sewing machine, running a smooth, straight seam along the folded edge of the material: Daciana was a willing co-conspirator, and together they sewed two black dresses, then an identical dress, white.
Sarah worked from memory: she had a good eye for fashion, she had a gift for turning an idea into cloth, and she had taken a good look at the exemplars, for she knew what she saw just might come in handy.
Daciana had a length of drapery cord of the right color; Sarah whipped the ends with thread, running the needle through the neat turns of thread, then tying it off: satisfied, she returned pins to paper, ran the tag ends of thread through the little slot in the rim of the wooden spools, gave the surplus to Daciana, and shimmied out of her dress.
Sarah dressed in front of the mirror, Daciana giggling like a mischievous schoolgirl: she raised a finger and whispered, "Vait, I haff," and ran upstairs: a moment later she scampered back down, pressed something in Sarah's hand ans whispered, "I giff to you. My Grandmere said I vouldt know vhat to do mitt."
Sarah looked at the gift, closed her hand, biting her bottom lip.
"Thank you," she whispered, and hugged Daciana.
"Here, ve must attach," Daciana said, and it was quickly made a part of Sarah's attire.
Sarah looked in the mirror, and Daciana looked with her.
"Sair gut," Daciana nodded. "You look like."

Brother William crossed himself, rose slowly from his kneeling position.
Surprised, he looked at the nun beside him, waiting patiently with folded hands and bowed head.
"Forgive me," he said, "I did not hear your approach."
Sarah raised her head and smiled sadly.
"Brother William," she said, "I need your help."

The Sheriff leaned back in his chair, considering.
"You don't wish to press charges after all."
"No."
Bonnie's hand tightened on Levi's and she whispered, "Thank you."
"You do wish to find her."
"Yes."
The Sheriff nodded slowly.
"Did she give any idea where she was headed?"
"None."
"Have you the note with you?"
"No."
"Did it say anything else at all -- anything, no matter how insignificant -- other than the words you spoke."
"None."
"No sketch, no map, numbers, letters, a child's drawing, anything?"
"No."
The Sheriff blew out a long breath, his cheeks puffing a little.
"She could hide out in the high lonesome," he said slowly. "Disappear into the mountains. Cold weather a-comin' but she knows how to hide and she knows where to shelter."
"I know," Levi said miserably.
"Or she could get lost in a crowd."
"Denver?" Bonnie suggested.
"Could be. It's probably an insult but let's check first at the hotel where you have your fashion shows. She's most familiar with it, she would be more comfortable there than anywhere."
"The train?"
"That'll be part of the check. Stage coach is not due for a few days. Her mare is still at my place."
The Sheriff frowned.
"When she's found ... what do you want us to tell her?"
"To come home," Bonnie and Levi said in one voice: they looked at one another, surprised, then Levi looked at the Sheriff.
"Tell her come home, all is forgiven ... "
Levi looked at Bonnie.
"We want our daughter back, Sheriff. It doesn't matter what she's done. Tell we love her and we want her to come home."

It was not unusual for Brother William to travel alone; it was not unusual for him to travel with other clergy; that he was driving out of town in a second hand buggy with a tired old mare, and that he was traveling with a nun, was regarded simply as the good man traveling with a fellow religious.
Nobody seemed to notice that the nun wore cavalry boots with her long-skirted black habit.
No one was near when Brother William made the sign of the Cross, blessing the slender little nun as she hoisted her valise out of the back of the buggy, and thanked him in a quiet voice for his kindness: nobody saw Brother William reach into his traveling bag and draw out a black-bead Rosary, and hand it to her with a wink.
Nobody noticed that Brother William continued on alone, and the nun walked quickly up a mountain trail, continuing uphill until she came to the railroad tracks, where she stopped beside a boulder, put her valise on a clean, dry, bare section of rock, and sat down on it, hidden from view save only from directly to her right, and directly to her left.
Sarah ran the drapery cord through her fingers; it made quite an adequate belt, and Daciana's gift, her grandmother's heavy silver cross, gleamed as it swung at the belt's terminus.
Sarah's head came up and she smiled as she heard the approaching chant of a steam engine on a hard pull.
The Lady Esther labored steadily up grade, but slowly, slow as a man can walk; Sarah stood, picked up her valise, slipped out behind the last car and grabbed the ladder rail, stepping easily onto the cast-iron step.
She swung up onto the platform of the Judge's private car, peeked inside, rapped on the glass.
His Honor the Judge looked up, surprised, then rose to his feet.
Opening the door, he blinked, unsure quite what to say.
Sarah raised her head, favored him with a smile.
"May I come in?"

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Linn Keller 10-19-12

Digger rubbed his eyes, sat up.
The bell rang again.
Digger swung his bare legs out from under his nice warm covers, thrust bare feet into fleece lined slippers and reached for his robe; his night cap was somewhat askew,so he reached up and pulled it back down over the tops of his ears.
The bell rang again, an urgent summons, and at the side door: he had three bells, one for the front door, one the side door, and one at the rear: this one was used only by customers who knew him, customers like the local lawmen, or the physicians' representatives.
Digger rubbed his eyes again and opened the door.
A slightly built nun stood in front of the door, her face shadowed by her overhanging coif and veil: her hands were in her sleeves.
After a long moment the unmoving black figure bowed, then straightened.
Digger saw a man's body tied over his saddle; blood stained the back of the man's brown leather vest.
The nun's hands slipped out of her black sleeves; Digger saw the gleam of silver on her left ring finger as she handed him an envelope, just before she turned and flowed silently down the alley.
Digger sighed and shook his head, then looked at the envelope.
Sheriff Keller, it read in a flowing, graceful hand.

The hour was late; the Silver Jewel's lights were on, outside and in, a beacon to travelers; none were out when the figure in black glided ghost-like and silent down the dirt street, stopping in front of the Sheriff's office, and none saw small, careful hands emerge from black sleeves to carefully, delicately tear down three wanted posters, and roll them up, and slip them up one sleeve.
None saw where the black figure went, for when it tore the posters free and secreted them up its sleeve, the silent little nun turned, and glided back into the street, and into a shadow, and was gone.

The Sheriff unlocked his office door, smiling a little to himself.
As usual, the wanted dodgers he'd tacked up the day before, disappeared; he didn't know who took them, but he had extras, and they would go up where the first ones had been.
I hope whoever took 'em is either fast, good or changes his mind, he thought.
The fellows on those dodgers are bad actors.
I'd hate to go up ag'in 'em!

He looked to his right, down the street, as the Irish Brigade came laughing and coughing and singing and swearing out of their firehouse: they not uncommonly came to the Silver Jewel for breakfast, and when they did, they did so as lively as ever, and the Sheriff grinned to hear it.
Of all the men he knew, this bunch of wild bog trotting fire eaters lived life just as full as they could.
I can't blame 'em, he thought, then he stopped and focused on one of the Brigade, a man named Llewellyn, the Welsh Irishman.
He's sweet on Sarah.
I've got me a suspicion she might be sweet on him as well.
I'll ask him if he knows aught --

The Sheriff heard a door, a quick step; he looked to his right.
Digger came hustling down the boardwalk and down the three steps to the alleyway, waving an envelope: "Sheriff! Sheriff, you might want this!"
The Sheriff stopped, frowned.
"You takin' the mail nowadays, Digger?" he asked.
Digger gave the Sheriff a stern look and thrust the envelope at him.
The Sheriff's left eyebrow went up as he recognized the handwriting.
"Where did this come from?" he asked slowly, holding the envelope at its corners only.
"That's why you might be interested," Digger said, his words quick and clipped. "This mornin' -- I was resting well, Sheriff, I was resting very well" --Digger swept off his black silk topper, ran agitated fingers through pomaded hair -- "the bell rang, the side door bell and I thought it might be you" -- he looked sharply at the Sheriff -- "because it was the side door bell, you see, so I came to the door --"
"And it wasn't me," the Sheriff suggested, staring at the envelope's brief address.
"No, sir, it most certainly was not!" Digger snapped. "It was a nun!"
The Sheriff stopped, looked closely at Digger.
"Maybe you'd better come inside," he said slowly, and he and Digger entered the Sheriff's sanctum.
"Have a set. I'll get the stove going."
"It's chilly this morning, Sheriff. A man could catch his death in an unheated room like this!"
"We've no prisoners to keep warm, Digger. No need to waste good wood on an empty office." The Sheriff scratched a Lucifer into sizzling life, touched it to wood shavings in the firebox, waited until the fire was lively enough to feed some more, then carefully closed the door and walked over to his desk, looked long at the envelope and then opened his bottom desk drawer, pulled out a bottle and two glasses.
Digger took the offered libation and downed it with all the delicacy of a starving dog gulping a chunk of meat.
"Digger, there's not much gets you spooky," the Sheriff observed.
"Sir, I am not spooky," Digger protested, drawing his affected dignity around him like a cloak: "it was ... unusual, that's all."
The Sheriff held out the bottle and Digger held out his glass.
"It ... it was just ... unusual, like that. A blessing on the good Sister for fetching this poor fellow in for a good Christian burial, but she didn't leave any funds for planting him --"
Whiskey gurgled in the glass; Digger downed the second libation as delicately as he had its predecessor.
"How much was in his wallet?"
Digger grimaced and reached into his coat, pulled out a flat leather case, tossed it on the Sheriff's desk.
The Sheriff opened it, pulled out a few bills, dumped out two coins, then picked up a letter, read it, read it again.
Digger watched the man's expository eyebrow climb up his forehead yet again.
"Well."
The Sheriff stood and went over to a side table, began going through a stack of wanted dodgers: most had a notation in one corner in his precise hand: Prison, and a date; Hanged, and a date; Innocent, case dismissed, and a date.
He riffled through the stack, came up with one that lacked any handwritten subscription.
The Sheriff held up the poster.
"Is this the man?"
Digger stood, took a few steps toward the lawman, studying the printed poster and nodded.
"I believe you will want to see for yourself," he said.
The Sheriff nodded. "Yes. I believe I will."
He rolled the poster up; as it assumed a cylinder, Digger's quick eye caught the header, REWARD, and the last line, DEAD OR ALIVE.

A figure in black britches, black boots and coat and hat, slipped out of town, moving silent, moving fast: an active boy, perhaps, or a small man of slight build: once across the tracks, down a draw, through trees and up a trail, it withdrew something flat and folded from its shirt and thrust it into a black saddlebag, then the figure, the round brim of its round crowned hat low over its face, mounted a black gelding and rode at a slow trot, away from town, into the mountains.

"Dearest?"
Bonnie looked up from brushing Opal's hair.
Levi saw the strain on his wife's face and he knew she was still terribly worried about their missing daughter.
"Her black gelding is gone."
Bonnie blinked.
"Her saddle is gone as well."
"She was here," Bonnie whispered hopefully.
"We don't know that," Levi said cautiously. "The horse may be in a back pasture and sunning itself between some rocks or something, the saddle could be away on repair."
"She was here," Bonnie nodded slowly. "Look where she kept her saddle, Levi. Perhaps she left a note."
Bonnie turned and brushed Polly's hair with long, even strokes.

Sheriff --
I regret to inform that the deceased was face down with a hole in his back before I arrived.
The rest of his gang left for Mexico.
By now you have heard of my familial difficulties.
I am functioning as an Agent of the Court and will continue to do so.
Recent events cause me to believe my absence is required.
I will contact you again.
S. L. Rosenthal
Agent, Firelands District Court


The Sheriff pressed his lips together, reached up and stroked his iron-grey mustache with the back of his index finger, nodded.
He folded the letter and returned it to its envelope.
Reaching for his hat, he started for the door, already formulating what he would say to the dignified old jurist he'd come to respect and admire.

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Linn Keller 10-19-12

Sarah drew her gelding to a stop beside a boulder, listening to the mountain.
Sarah loved the mountains and the wild places, she loved the wind and the secrets it carried, and she loved that she could learn more than she ever imagined here, away from people, away from men.
Even if it was men she pursued.
Sarah read the trail as a townie might read a newspaper, and it was more informative in many ways: the news here, at least, was current, and meaningful, two qualities often lacking when newspapers were weeks, or months, between their print and their reading.
Two riders, she thought. Pushing hard. This high up they’ll tire fast. I should catch up with them in half a day’s time.
Sarah smiled, her eyes pale beneath the black felt brim of her round Joe Crane.
Four, plus the dead man. Two went south, two went this way, she thought.
No way in the cotton pickin’ I can take these two and then run south and get the others.
Her smile was grim.
I’ll just have to let the wanted posters do my work for me.
She lifted Shadowfoot’s reins, raised her chin, sniffed at the light breeze.
“I do love it up here.”

The Sheriff's eyes were pale and quiet as he regarded the Welsh Irishman.
There was no mistaking the genuine worry in the man's face.
The Sheriff asked if he might borrow Llewellyn, and Sean agreed immediately, though the big Irish chieftain was of course curious: Linn would confide in him, of course, just not yet.
The two men walked slowly around the firehouse, talking quietly; the Sheriff explained that what he was about to divulge, was a matter of confidence, and that it involved the lovely Miss McKenna, and he had to know that he could depend on the serious-faced fireman's silence.
The Welshman stopped dead and took the Sheriff's arm in a firm grip.
"Sheriff," he said, "I would as leave rip out ma beatin' heart an' cast it t' th' ground as betray yon lass."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Here's what happened," he said: "Sara and her mother had a fallin' out, as often happens when a lass gets some size to her."
"Aye," the Welsh Irishman sighed. "I did wi' me feyther. Knocked th' dog stuffin' outta one another, we did, an' after we were grand friends ... but f'r a week neither of us could look a' th' other wi'out bristlin'."
The Sheriff nodded.
"I reckon women must bristle more than we do," he speculated. "Sarah took off and I don't know which way she went. Any ideas?"
The Welsh Irishman blinked, considering.
"No ... I don't," he said slowly, "but le' me ask m' rival f'r th' fair maid's hand. Fritz!" -- and at his shout, the German Irishman looked around the corner, glaring.
"I told ye ne'er t' call me that!" he shouted. "I'll knock yer block off yer shoulders, I will --"
"Ye'll do nae such thing, 'tis Miss Sarah we're needin' yer help wi'!"
The German Irishman's face fell about three feet: dismayed, he too admitted he knew nothing of her probable, or even possible, line of march.
The Sheriff thanked the two for their kindness.
I'd best let Sean know, he thought, then I'll start tryin' to cut her trail.
Too bad she's not riding Snowflake.
That horse's hoofprints would stand out if she rode it across water!

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Linn Keller 10-20-12

Rob hated his nickname.
He’d been Robert at one time, back when he was young, back when he beat a boy near to death for calling him Bobbykins; he spent a year in jail back East for that one, and when he got out he beat the boy again, this time with a club instead of fists and feet and throwing him against a stone wall: he didn't stick around to see if the kid survived or not, he stole a horse and ran.
He learned to hold up a bank or a stage and then run, run faster and farther than anyone else, run in places where civilized men didn’t go; he was known in the Nations, he was wanted there now, and he was the one who back-shot the fellow who headed their gang.
The others descended on the carcass like vultures, stripping it of anything valuable, leaving the bloody clothes – they weren’t worth taking – nor were his cracked, filthy boots, rotten on the inside, just like the dead man’s feet – while Rob discreetly pilfered from the deceased man’s saddlebags.
Now he and the Sailor were cutting to the west, unsure of their ultimate destination – Oregon, maybe, or Canada – they weren’t planning too far ahead as yet, their main goal was distance, and fast.
Their horses were worn out, spent; they knew they had to get remounts, and they knew ranches hereabouts were scattered, and likely word of their approach hadn’t preceded them.
When they came to the little homestead they looked at one another and smiled.

The girl staggered a little, her head wobbling as if her neck were weak; she wore dark glasses and a bonnet and she staggered like a drunkard as she carried a pail, singing “Here, chick chick chick, here, chick chick chick,” reaching into the pail and dribbling little handfuls of gravel around her.
Sailor was dismounted; his horse went lame a mile back and now he was almost that-a-way himself: Rob’s horse was wore plumb out and would not take two riders without breaking in two, and so the two looked at the little farmstead with lustful eyes, for it meant food, it meant rest, and hopefully it meant horses.
Sailor stopped as the little girl staggered toward him.
“Hello there, missy,” he said in a friendly voice.
The girl looked up, her head wobbling, her mouth hanging open, her expression vacant.
Sailor looked up at Rob; Rob shrugged, tapped his forehead and pointed to the girl.
“Peter,” the girl said, drool starting from the corner of her mouth, “Mama said I can start school next year.”
Her voice, her enunciation, were those of a child many years younger.
She reached into the pail, picked up some more gravel, scattered it: “Here, chick chick chick, here, chick, chick, chick.”
Rob looked at Sailor again, pantomiming the girl’s scattering, spreading his hands and shrugging: what is she doing, there are no chickens!
Sailor shook his head, spread his hands, pointed ahead and nodded.
Rob frowned, looked at the girl, as Sailor reached down and plucked the dark, round-lensed spectacles from her face.
The girl blinked painfully: the pallor of her eyes surprised them: Sailor stepped back, looked at her, looked at Rob.
The girl staggered ahead, reaching, found the horse’s nose, patted it.
“Hi, Peter,” she said. “Wanna feed the chickens?” – then she walked past the horse, scattering gravel and calling “Here, chick chick chick.”
“Honey, where’s your Pa?” Sailor called.
“He’s asleep,” the child said, turning around three times, swinging the bucket away from her: she stopped staggered, turned her blind face toward the sun: she swung back and forth, then pointed: “There’s the sun!”
She turned around, her head wobbling, and Sailor stepped in front of her.
“Hold still, honey,” he said in a surprisingly gentle voice: he slipped the spectacles back on her face, hooked them behind her ears.
“Papa is asleep,” the girl whispered, and put her finger to pursed lips: “but he talks to me!” – and so saying she fumbled for Sailor’s sleeve and tugged at it.
Curious, Sailor followed the little girl as she staggered, head wobbling, down beside the low cabin.
The girl tripped on a rock, fell flat: she got up, rubbed her elbow and said “Ow,” then she reached out with her left hand and found the cabin wall: fumbling along the smooth, barked-bare log, she halted at a knot, then turned with her back to the wall and pointed straight ahead.
“There,” she said. “Papa is asleep but he said I should be hop-spit-able.”
Sailor and Rob looked in the direction of her pointing finger and saw a pair of gravestones.
“Asleep, huh,” Sailor grunted. “Little lady, you got anythin’ to eat?”
“I got sumpin,” the girl smiled, clasping her hands in front of her and swinging back and forth like a little girl. “Wash your hands like a big boy and I fix you supper.”
Rob looked at Sailor; Sailor looked at the well and back to Rob.
“You heard the lady,” he said. “Let’s go wash up.”
Sailor took a few cautious steps around the cabin, looking around; it didn’t appear to be inhabited, but he was a wanted man, and he was taking no chances: he peeked inside, past the broke-loose door, came out, spread his hands and shook his head.
Sailor nodded toward the well, and the two outlaws plodded toward the welcome prospect of cool, clean water.
Rob heard a horse whinny and saw a black gelding in the corral.
He smiled.
Maybe the pickin’s weren’t quite as bleak as he’d thought.

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Linn Keller 10-20-12

 

Daciana was curious.
She hadn’t ordered anything, but here was a package, addressed to her: she took it home, opened it.
It contained a heavy silver crucifix on a cord and two cleverly made wire hooks, and a note.
From Brother William, with hopes that you are well.
Please hold these for our mutual friend.
The cross is properly worn about the neck, and the rosary on a belt hook.
Let our friend know that her refuge here is guaranteed, any time, day or night, no matter the circumstance – or the attire.

Daciana looked up, looked toward the front door as if hoping her friend would come gliding through it.
She smiled at the memory of seeing Sarah for the first time, in her black and white habit, looking most convincingly like one of the good Sisters: Daciana remembered her grandmother’s cross, and how the woman told her she would know what to do when the time came.
“Be safe,” Daciana whispered, closing the box and placing it on the mantle.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Sailor whispered.
The little blind girl – in spite of her jerky moves, in spite of staggering instead of walking, in spite of a head that wobbled like it was going to fall off her neck – had laid out three plates (clean plates at that!) and had a fragrant and steaming pot of coffee on a woven reed mat in the middle of the table: she had a loaf of bread on a clean cutting board, a plate of steaming meat beside it, and on each plate, thick sandwiches made with good fresh bread and still-warm beef.
There was even a salt cellar on the table.
Neither man cared that the table cloth was askew and wrinkled: neither marveled that a child so impaired could manage to lay out a meal: hunger sharpened their focus, and each seized a sandwich and took one huge bite when the blind girl folded her hands and said in her little-girl voice, “Peter, will you say grace?” – and while the pair chewed and looked at one another and the girl, watched as she smiled, then frowned, and shook her finger and said “Peter, you bad little boy, you say a proper grace now!” – the men swallowed, took another bite, watching the little girl wobble her head and then say “Aaa-men!” and reach for her own little sandwich.
The men made themselves another sandwich, sprinkled generous pinches of salt on them, poured themselves coffee.
“Peter,” the little girl said, “are you pouring our guests first?” – then she frowned and shook her head and said “You naughty boy, you’re supposed to pour the guests first! Now you apologize!”
Rob and Sailor looked at one another, then at the girl.
This was very definitely one of the strangest meals they’d ever had.

The nuns marched into the cathedral as they did every afternoon; they marched down the sides of the grand church, then up the center aisle: at the altar, they split left and right, crossed themselves, and began to sing.
It was not at all unusual for residents to avail themselves of this experience; voices raised in reverent chorus touch the heart on a very deep level.
Nobody counted exactly how many nuns there were, not the visitors, not the priests, not the nuns nor the Reverend Mother who led them.
Bonnie was not Catholic, but she was devout; she knew Sarah visited this cathedral, and Bonnie studied its interior as she would study a new dress: an artist herself, she could truly appreciate the skill it took to create the art, the beauty, of this sacred place of worship.
Bonnie listened to voices raised in song; she remembered Sarah’s voice, how it soared like a dove in their little church, harmonizing with the others’ song at Easter: Bonnie remembered Sarah, wrapping the wet apron around her face and charging into the throat of Hell’s vent to get her sisters out; Bonnie remembered Sarah, standing quiet and composed, so grown-up, unshed tears bright in her eyes as she said “Don’t you ever hit me again,” and Bonnie slid from the pew to the padded kneeler and crossed her arms on the back of the pew in front of her, and rested her forehead on her crossed arms.
She watched as crystal tears fell in slow motion, gleaming as they fell, striking the varnished wood floor and spattering in a shining crown.
Bonnie lost track of how long she knelt; she had no words for prayer, but there is that part of the human heart which communes with its Creator without words: tears themselves are a prayer, when shed in supplication and in grief.
Perhaps this mother’s prayer was heard and understood; someone sat gently beside her, Bonnie felt the kneeler shift ever so slightly as another set of knees bore upon them.
A gentle hand rested on her shoulder; a gentle voice whispered, “Share your grief. I will help you carry it.”
Bonnie shook her head.
“You are a mother.”
Bonnie never raised her head, just nodded.
“Mary was a mother.”
Bonnie raised her head, looked toward the ornate altar, her voice harsh with self-accusation.
“Mary didn’t slap her daughter.”
“Mary was human, just as we are. She knew sorrow and she knew anger, and surely she knew regret.”
The whispered words were lightly accented – Irish, perhaps – and Bonnie looked at the young nun in novice white sitting beside her.
“I don’t know if Sarah will ever return,” Bonnie whispered, her throat thick. “Not after the things I said.”
“A mother’s love covers all sins,” the novice whispered. “And a daughter’s love for her mother is without limit.”
The novice looked at the altar and Bonnie felt her hand, warm on her shoulder, press just a little more, then the novice crossed herself and clasped her hands together.
“I know what it is to lose a mother,” she said, “and I would give all I have to feel her hand on my cheek.”
“I slapped my daughter,” Bonnie rasped.
“And it can be forgiven. A daughter’s heart is just like the mother’s heart, and I can see yours.”
The novice blinked, continued. “You miss your child. That tells me your daughter misses you. How can she not come back?”
There was an impatient har-rumph: Bonnie looked up and an older nun, scowling, glared at the pair.
The novice crossed herself, rose, bowed her head penitently and filed out of the pew: the Mother Superior glared an additional moment at Bonnie, then turned and followed the marching file.
Bonnie lowered her head to her arms again, then raised it and looked at the Madonna.
“You lost a child,” she whispered. “Now help me find mine.”

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Linn Keller 10-21-12

 

Sailor downed his coffee, slabbed off another slice of bread: not to be outdone, Rob drained his cup, then he poured for them both.
“Cut me off one too,” he said, and Sailor did.
“Not so thin, you tight fisted –“
“Who you callin’ tight fisted?”
“I said you’re – hey, what’s that?”
Both men looked across the room.
“Well now, my lucky day,” Sailor grinned.
“Your lucky day? I saw it first!”
The pair glared at one another, then jumped up, overturning their chairs in their haste to be first to the pint bottle of amber whiskey on the shelf across the room.
Both men got halfway across the little floor when they realized their legs weren’t working the way they’d ought, and when the floor came up to meet them, they wondered why the world was turning slowly around them like a child’s carousel.
Sarah stood up, took off the child’s bonnet and gown: she stripped down to very little, then got dressed, all in black now, and slung her brand new gun belt around lean hips, tied down the brand new, unadorned black holsters, checked the brand new, plain, undecorated Colts to make sure each had five beans in the wheel, holstered.
Sarah turned to the fireplace and looked at the faded glass plate photograph hung over the mantle.
It showed what she presumed was a married couple and a little girl.
Sarah looked at the clothes she’d just taken off; she picked them up, folded them carefully, put them back in the bedroom where she’d gotten them.
She looked at the desiccated body in the bed, still covered with a handmade quilt.
“I don’t know your name,” she said, “but thank you. I borrowed your clothes and I caught two more of them.”
Sarah looked out at the still figures on the floor, then looked back at the figure on the bed.
Tossing a little bottle up in the air, she caught it, considered it, then thumbed the empty little brown-glass vial in her vest pocket.
“They won’t be going anywhere now. If it’s all right with you I’ll bury you with your Mama and your Papa.”
Sarah’s eyes began to sting and suddenly she was hanging out the twins’ bedroom window again, holding her little sister by the hands, screaming for her Mama, screaming her desperation and her fear, screaming every horror that she’d ever known.
Sarah staggered back a step, gasped.
She blinked, took a long and shivering breath.
“Mama,” she whispered, and almost started to cry, but she took her feelings harshly in hand and shoved her emotions down into a dark bottle and stoved a cork in on top of them.
There would be time for feelings, later, but now there was work to be done.
“A promise is a promise,” she said to the still form under the quilt. “Let me get these two ready and I will be right with you.”
It was near to dark when Sarah was finished.
The two outlaws were hogtied in the back of the wagon: they were stripped to their long handles, gagged with one sock, blindfolded with the other, the folded socks tied in place with a length of piggin string: the two were brutally hogtied, bent backward like a drawn bow, and tethered to the wagon by their necks.
The horse belonged to the homestead, as did the wagon, but Sarah figured it was a fair trade, for she’d given the dead girl a decent burial and even read from the Book over the mounded up dirt when she was finished.
It was long dark and nearer sunup when Sarah came finally into Firelands.
Sarah drew up in front of the Sheriff’s office.
She set the brake on the wagon and unhitched the mare, she stepped into Shadowfoot’s saddle and led the mare to the livery, where she turned it into Shorty’s corral, then she turned the black gelding toward the Sheriff’s house.

The Sheriff launched out of bed like a stung cat: he hit the ground in a crouch, his left hand snatching at the double gun he kept at the corner of the bed: he slipped quickly downstairs, motioned the maid back, eared back both hammers and kept the front door covered.
Cautiously, slowly, he advanced on the door, keeping to one side in case someone shot through it.
He’d been brought out of bed by three distinct knocks – they sounded like someone hit the door with a hard fist, three times, then the sound of rapidly retreating hoofbeats – but he was a cautious man and intended to stay alive for some time yet, so when he drew the door open, the first thing to look outside were the twin barrels of his shotgun.
He hesitated before opening the door further.
Something was tacked to the door, lightly tacked: he looked around, strode to one end of the porch and looked down, around, and around the corner of the house: he ran back, did the same on the other side: finally, still scanning the dark, he backed into his own front door, pulled the tacks and the wanted posters loose, and closed and fastened the door behind him.
He carried the posters into his study and struck a light: he saw something was written on them, then he took a long breath, turned and went back upstairs two at a time.
He recognized Sarah’s handwriting.
She’d written on each of the dodgers.
These two are wanted dead or alive. They are alive and hogtied in a wagon in front of your office.
SLR, Agent

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Linn Keller 10-21-12

 

His Honor the Judge drew on his Cuban, savoring the smoke as it warmed his tongue.
His tobacco smoke drifted on the breeze, and sunlight warmed his legs: the monastery infirmary’s solarium was pleasant in the afternoon.
The infirmary itself, he knew, smelled of sunlight and sun-dried linens; it was painfully, scrupulously clean, and staffed with nuns in white nursing habits.
Here, in the open-air solarium, patients could take the air, sun themselves, look at mountains and hear children at play.
Sarah sat in a wicker backed wheelchair opposite, a blanket across her lap.
Seven days after being shot, seven days after having the bullet cut out of her back where it bulged like a blue lump under her fair skin, seven days after her lung collapsed and her life was despaired of, she was still pale and weak, barely strong enough to sit upright in the chair.
The Judge looked at Sarah with something between sorrow and admiration.
“My dear,” he said gently, “you never fail to surprise me.”
“Thank you, sir,” Sarah said quietly, her eyes half-lidded; she was pallid yet, and dark under the eyes.
“I’ve never heard that phrase before … ‘speaking writtenly.’”
“One of, my students, sir,” Sarah replied, her voice tired, her phrases spaced out to allow her a breath between each. “He has a gift, for mangling, the King’s English.”
Judge Hostetler nodded.
“Your Honor,” Sarah said carefully, pausing a few breaths before continuing, “I am, weighing, my words. I don’t, want, to say, the wrong thing.”
Sarah spoke slowly; her expression was apprehensive. “I still, reap, a bitter harvest, from” – she hesitated again, breathing with exaggerated care – “from words.”
“Fear not, my dear,” the Judge said candidly. “No matter how you try, it will still come out wrong. It certainly does with me.”
His expression was quiet, the look of a grandfather sharing an amusing confidence, and Sarah laughed, then coughed: the nurse behind her bent, alarmed, a hand on Sarah’s shoulder.
Sarah reached up and pressed her hand on the nurse’s, shook her head, and the nurse relaxed, resumed her watchful station behind and beside the chair.
The nurse did not miss that Sarah’s normally-pink nailbeds were a little dusky.
Sarah nodded and said “Yes, sir, I suppose, that’s right.”
“Now let us dispense with this morbid fear of hoof and mouth disease,” the Judge said briskly, squirting second hand Cuban smoke toward the ceiling. “First of all, thank you. Your performance in the past week has brought an even half dozen malefactors to the heel of justice.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Frankly, I could not ask more of a team of Rangers.” He fixed Sarah with a sharp look. “Why do you suppose that is?”
“I would, have to say, pure, dumb, luck,” Sarah said with brutal honesty. “There are, none better, than Rangers.”
Sarah paused again, breathed a few more times before continuing.
“I was lucky, pure and simple.”
“Hm.” His Honor tasted his cigar again, puffed briskly, studied its tip, frowned. “At least you’re honest about it.”
“Honesty, is a, bad habit, I inherited, from my, father.”
The Judge looked from under drawn-together eyebrows.
“You probably don’t know just how accurate that is,” he said slowly.
“I know, how honest, the Sheriff is, sir. To be, compared, to him, is an honor.”
“Hm.” The Judge considered his cigar-ash again. “Now let us discuss your latest … conquest.”
“Yes, sir.” Sarah leaned back in the chair, closed her eyes for a moment.
“Much of your work is in disguise.”
“Yes, sir.”
“I take it your current appearance is not?”
“No, sir.”
“Hm. Pity, that.” He leaned back, extending the cigar toward the gleaming, unused ashtray on the nearby stand, flicked off the ash.
“Please. Tell me just how you managed to come to the attention of the Cardinal himself, how you came to kill a man in a Catholic church, and most especially –“ His Honor leaned forward, eyes gleaming – “most especially, my dear, please tell me just how you put the fear of God into the Mother Superior!”
Sarah smiled as the Bear Killer laid his great, square muzzle in her lap, tail wagging hopefully. She caressed his head and his eyes closed as he groaned in pleasure.
“It was after, the Adventure, of the Little, Blind Girl, as the, reporter, called it,” Sarah began with a grimace.
The nurse blinked, surprised: she’d read that newspaper report that very morning, but hadn’t realized that Sister Sarah was involved.
She looked down on the laboring nun’s shoulders, her eyes big.
“I don’t, like, those newspaper, adventures, sir.” Sarah paused for a few breaths, then gave the Judge a wry look. “ At least, they got, my name, wrong. At least, they did, that, much, right.”
His Honor nodded. “Yes, they have a gift for that,” he agreed.
“My Uncle Papa – the Sheriff” – Sarah looked at the Judge, and he nodded, go ahead, and she did – “the Sheriff, taught me, the value, of preparation, of having, people, you can, call upon.
“I knew, that, of the four, I pursued, two, went south.
“I could not, go, after, both pair, so, I went, after, the nearest pair. The little blind girl pair.” Sarah made a face; the Judge chuckled. “From there, I hit, the nearest, telegraph office, and made sure, the wanted, dodgers, made it south, and they had, and then, I received, a telegram, that said, that the pair, I wanted, went, to Denver.”
Sarah’s voice was quiet; she was obliged to pause often for a breath.
“To Denver,” the Judge nodded. “ Yes, I remember.”
“You were, kind enough, to order, that telegram, sent to, my last, known, location.”
Sarah swallowed, sagging visibly: it was several moments before she gathered strength enough to continue her recitation.
“The telegram, was relayed, again, and I received, within an hour.” Sarah smiled, marveling, shaking her head slowly. “This modern age. It is amazing, how rapidly, we communicate.”
“It is amazing,” the Judge agreed. “Pray continue.”
Sarah rubbed the Bear Killer’s ears, looked down at the floor.
“When I thought, myself outlaw, I made, a disguise,” Sarah said quietly. “I traveled, as a nun.
Behind her, the nurse smiled, as if sharing a secret.
“It worked, too. Once, I got, distance I changed, into britches, and boots, and I, suppose, I looked, like a boy.”
“If you wear a coat, yes,” the Judge said, nodding.
Sarah looked down at her bodice and a little color rose in her ashen features, then she continued.
“I still thought, myself, outlaw, but, my intent, was to make, myself, too valuable, to be arrested, for simple, assault.”
Judge Hostetler nodded.
“I needed, to do, something, spectacular, to guarantee, my freedom.
“I think – I think, I actually, needed, some focus, because, I was scared.”
Sarah barely had strength to raise her head and look at the Judge.
“Scared, to death, to face, everyone, in court.” Sarah’s face colored again.
“I understand.” The Judge’s voice was reassuring, gentle.
“I went, to Denver, after, the pair, and did, my best, to be, invisible.
“I found, where, they stayed, and set, my street Apaches, after them, watching, reporting, back to me.
Sarah’s head dropped back, her face lined and grey now.
“We need not continue,” the Judge said, rising, but the diminutive nun in the wheelchair raised a commanding palm, and the Judge settled back into his seat.
“When I found, that they went, to the cathedral, every afternoon, to listen, to the nuns, sing, I assumed the habit, again, and marched, with the good Sisters. I saw, where the pair, sat, and I marched, out, with the Sisters, afterward, and slipped, away, from the column, rather easily.
“Two more afternoons, I did this, and the two, men, always sat, in the same, place.
“I took, a chance.” She looked at the Judge with heavily fatigued but unflinching eyes. “I sent, a telegram, to brother Jacob, and told him, where I was, and could, he come, and bring, the Bear Killer, and be in, the cathedral, before, afternoon service.” She smiled wryly. “I told him, to notify, Denver police, and wear, his badge, I would need, his help.”
“Go on.”
“The Mother Superior, was … unpleasant,” Sarah said, “and, she dressed down, a novice, pretty badly.
“I had, white, material, suitable, to make, a novice, habit, but it, was not, at hand, and I needed, to get, into the march, again, so I” – Sarah’s shoulders sagged again and she bent a little at the waist, clasping her hands to her belly: the Judge gave the nurse a concerned look, and the nurse spun about, kneeling before the little nun in the wheelchair, her hand on the ailing little nun’s cheek.
“I’ll be, all right,” the Judge heard Sarah’s whisper. “Please. Fear not.”
“My dear,” the Judge said uncertainly, “I believe –“
The nurse stood, hands folded; she resumed her position behind and beside the wheelchair, and Sarah smiled sadly.
“Please, Your Honor,” she whispered. “Let me, finish.”
Judge Hostetler frowned, then seated himself slowly.
“I drew aside, the novice, the Mother Superior, chewed on, and I said, she didn’t, look well, did she wish, to remain, behind, and I, would take, her place?
“She said, she couldn’t, do that, but thanked me, most graciously.”
Sarah closed her eyes, laying her head back against the thin pillow, waiting for her wind to catch up with her.
“I said, the Mother Superior, was uncalled for, and I, was afraid, she would go, after, her again … and I, could stop it.
“I don’t know, why I said that, Your Honor.” Sarah’s eyes were wide, frank, uncertain. “I’m not, sure why…
“We were near, the same size, and she traded, quickly, with me.
“I kept, the white coif, in place. We traded, black for white, we formed ranks, and marched, she in black, with my silver ring, just behind, the other, confirmed nuns, and I, with the novices, at the rear.
“When we turned, and started, up the main, aisle, I saw, the pair, I wanted, were in, their usual, seat.
“I saw, my mother, in the pew, behind them.
“I, was not ready, to face, my Mama.” Sarah’s voice dropped to a whisper and she shivered. “We both, said, things … “
Sarah looked up at the Judge.
“Your Honor, the most, terrible weapon, known to man, is the tongue.
“We can say, words, that scar and cut … and those same words can be written, and they hurt just as deeply.
“When my Mama hit me and I hit her back …”
Sarah lowered her face into her palms and rocked a little, the image of misery: the nursing nun behind her laid a gentle hand on her shoulder, and Sarah straightened.
“I’ll be fine,” she whispered, patting the nun’s hand reassuringly, and the nun pretended not to see the tears on Sarah’s face.
Sarah threw her head back, breathing open-mouthed: eyes closed, she breathed, “Make me strong. Please, make me strong!” – then she took a long, deep breath, opened her eyes and looked at the Judge.
Her eyes were pale, now, and she spoke in a normal voice.
“Your Honor, I wrote my Mama a note while she lay unconscious on the floor. I wrote that she must be wealthy indeed if she can afford to throw away a daughter, and I left.”
Sarah looked more than half sick.
“I don’t think I ever intentionally hurt anyone that badly in my entire life.
“When I saw Mama in that pew I knew she was there because I used to go to that cathedral when we … when she had me model her gowns.”
Sarah’s voice was as hollow as her eyes.
“I also knew the two men … I also knew I was going to capture them.”
“Capture them?” His Honor asked, turning his head a little, clearly interested.
“Yes, sir. I did not kill the first man I brought in – he was dead when I got there, shot in the back – the others I got through trickery and surprise – and this pair I intended to take by surprise, with the local police providing the net for their capture.
“I learned after the survivor was interrogated that they discussed between themselves how much fun it would be to grab a nun, because nuns are vowed to silence and would not dare make a noise.”
The Judge saw the color drain out of Sarah’s face, saw her knuckles whiten on the wheelchair’s curved wood arms.
Sarah looked at the Judge, not seeing him.
“They grabbed me.”
Sarah was in the cathedral again, frozen, her right arm in the man’s two-handed grip; the Mother Superior was already past her.
Sarah’s left hand was free and she snapped her fingers, twice, then she ran her hand in the man’s coat and grabbed at his shoulder holster.
His partner’s eyes went wide when she made a stab for the hidden revolver: he started to rise, fumbling for his own gun, and the two loud finger-snaps were echoing in the reverent silence of the Catholic cathedral, and something black and fast moving that a moment before had been just a skulking shadow at the side of the pew, let out a bay like ravening death itself and launched, red-eyed and white-ivory-fanged, and Sarah brought the revolver out and the other fellow pulled his free of his waistband and Sarah raised her hand and the fellow’s left eye disappeared as the Bear Killer soared over Bonnie’s right shoulder and seized Sarah’s attacker’s arm and drove him hard into the back of the pew and Sarah’s hand came up in recoil and her thumb wrapped around that stand-up Colt hammer and fetched it back to full stand as she brought the barrel back down to level and the second shot was muffled as if from a long way away and the man’s other eye disappeared and more red spray blew out from back of his skull and the man let go of her arm and she stepped back and brought the pistol down to level and Jacob knocked her arm up with one hand and drove his fist hard into the first man’s jaw and Sarah saw his jaw distort and swing to the side and Jacob was bellowing and the Bear Killer was snarling and shaking his head and something hit Sarah in her left chest and it felt like she’d been punched hard and it hurt deep and it burned and Sarah’s arm went numb and she dropped the revolver and fell back and Bonnie’s eyes went big and round and her mouth was open as she screamed SARAAAHHHHH! and everything was moving so slow, so slow, and Sarah fell back and hit something soft that grabbed her and the earth tilted and she was laying on a wall but it wasn’t a wall it was the floor and Bonnie was in front of her and Sarah saw her Mama’s mouth move but she couldn’t hear anything and Sarah reached up and caressed Bonnie’s face and the strength ran out of her like water and she heard the waterfall again and it got louder and she felt herself falling, falling, falling –
Sara’s mouth was open as she gasped, then fought for breath, her hands locked on the arms of the wheel chair, her eyes wide, frightened.
The nurse drew Sarah back, then pushed her out of the Judge’s line of sight, and one of the nurses glided over to him and curtsied, a quick dip of the knees.
“With your permission, sir,” she said, “Sister Sarah is … she needs to rest now.”
“Yes,” the Judge stammered. “Yes, of course. I did not … I had no intention –“
“Your Honor,” the nurse said in a gentle voice, “I can clear up a few things.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I was there,” she said, “and I saw Sister Sarah stand up after she was shot and after she fell.
“You see, another novice was shot as well.
“Sister Sarah stood up and spread her arms, raised them to Heaven, then brought them down with her hands together, as if in prayer.”
The nurse’s eyes glowed as she continued.
“She brought her hands apart and it was as if she had a shining silver cloud between them, a perfect sphere, like the Orb borne by the Christ Child in the statue at the front of the Sanctuary.”
“I see,” His Honor said, his expression serious. “Go on.”
“She knelt by the novice and held out the silver cloud.
“She lowered the silver cloud and it went into the novice, and she was healed.”
“My dear,” the Judge said seriously, “this sounds like a rather fantastic story.”
“You asked why the Mother Superior ran screaming from the scene?”
The novice wrapped her fingers around the edge of the cape that descended from her shoulders, down her front, to her hemline: drawing it aside, she displayed a bloodied hole, a red stain around it the size of a tea saucer.
“I am the novice she healed.”

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Linn Keller 10-22-12

 

The Sheriff allowed himself to relax a little.
He’d rearranged furniture in the roofed, open-to-air solarium so he could sit with his back to a wall; part of him wanted to consider a monastery, especially the infirmary, as a safe area, sacred ground where evil would never attack, but he’d seen too much of the world to believe any such thing.
His Honor the Judge visited Sarah yesterday, and afterward, in the comfort of his private car, with brandy and cigars and quiet words, he revealed to the Sheriff the information he’d been given by the pale girl in a wheelchair.
The Sheriff nodded, listening without interruption, using the Judge’s narrative to fill in what few thin spots existed in Jacob’s report.
Now he waited, listening to the harmonious chant as the black-robed brethren recited the 150 Psalms in Latin.
The Sheriff smiled, listening, for the brethren more sang than spoke; he knew if he looked over the thick adobe rim of the solarium’s low wall, he would see a handful of people, Rosary in hand, and as the Brethren began another Psalm, the common folk would advance one bead and pray with them.
He heard a door open and rose, hat in hand.
Sarah sat in the woven wicker wheelchair, pale, looking very tired: her eyes were dark and her color was not good, and her lips were … her lips were a little dark, not a good healthy red.
Sarah wore a nun’s black habit instead of the patient’s loose robe, and this made her look smaller, more vulnerable.
The heavy silver cross on a black cord around her neck only served to draw her bowed head down a little more.
The white-habit nun behind her looked up at the Sheriff, her expression carefully neutral.
Sarah raised her head, raised her eyes, smiled a little.
“Hello, Sarah,” the Sheriff said gently.
Sarah raised her hands, opened her arms, and the Sheriff walked slowly over to his little girl, swallowing hard as he stopped: he turned a little, scaled his hat into the seat he’d just vacated, then he went down on one knee and took Sarah’s hand in both of his.
Sarah’s eyes were so very sad, for her father looked so very worried: Sarah reached over with her other hand and laid her fingertips against his cheek.
“Hold me, Papa,” she whispered, then bit her bottom lip: “Hold me, Papa. I’m scared.”
The Sheriff did what any father would do.
He ran his arms under his little girl and picked her up.
He walked slowly over to one of the chairs in the sun, then sat down with his little girl on his lap, and Sarah leaned against her Papa’s warm, solid chest, his big, strong Daddy-arms around her, and in that moment she was not an Agent of the Firelands District Court, nor was he the Sheriff of Firelands County: she was his little girl, hurt and scared and trying to heal, and he was a worried daddy, holding his little girl, each of them reassured by the feel of the other.
“I’m scared,” Sarah whispered again.
“I’m right here, sweets,” the Sheriff whispered. “I don’t care what it is. We’ll get through it.” His voice roughened a little. “I don’t care what it is, sweetheart. You are my little girl, and I will take care of you!”
The nurse backed the wheelchair in beside the Sheriff’s sunlit seat, stood quiet and unmoving behind it, watching.
“I need this,” Sarah whispered, shivering a little. “I need my Daddy.”
She shook a little and made a little choking noise and then she turned to bury her face in her big strong Papa’s chest.
Beside and behind them, unseen, the nurse pressed a kerchief to her own eyes, for she knew what it was to need a Papa’s strong arms around her in a very difficult time.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah whispered. “I am so sorry!”
“You’ve done nothing to be sorry for,” her Papa whispered, rocking her a little. “You’ve done more than anyone could ever ask, dear heart.”
He kissed the top of her head.
“Did I ever tell you,” he said softly, “how much you look like your mother?”
Sarah shook her head a little, shivering like a frightened little rabbit alone in an empty burrow.
“She was a fine looking woman,” the Sheriff said softly. “Just like your Mama.”
Sarah’s head sagged a little, for all that it was leaned against her Papa’s chest, and he felt the change.
“I remember when I first met her. There was a storm, and she was terrified of a tornado.”
Sarah sniffed and she lifted her head.
“Kansas it was, and flat,” her Papa said softly, almost whispering, for the air was quiet, and anything more would seem harsh and intrusive.
“Tornadoes walk hard across that flat ground.” His eyes looked deep into the past, into the days when he was a young widower, riding a plow horse toward the setting sun, his broken heart shoved down in the bottom of his saddle bags.
“What was she like?” Sarah asked, lifting her head, tilting it back to look at her Papa’s face.
Linn kissed her forehead and smiled … sadly, she thought.
“Her hair was just like yours,” he said, “beautiful … I remember it glowed in the sunlight, just …”
His arms tightened a little as he laid his cheek down on Sarah’s black mantle, feeling its warmth in the sun, smelling soap and clean linens.
“Just like yours,” he choked, and Sarah knew her Papa was trying to contain some powerful feelings, trying to stifle them in a manly fashion, and just on the teetering rim of catastrophic failure.
“Jacob told me you were in Denver,” he whispered, “and we went together. I was delayed but sent him on ahead with the Bear Killer.”
“Bear Killer,” Sarah whispered. “He remembered.”
“Of course he remembered,” the Sheriff said, and Sarah heard the smile in her father’s voice. “I work with him almost every day. He’s got that finger-snap down cold!”
Sarah nodded, leaned her head against her Papa again.
“So tired,” she whispered.
“Do you want to go lie down again?”
“No.” Sarah took a shivering breath, let it out. “No, I like it here.”
“So do I.”
They were quiet for several long minutes, until Sarah said, “Papa?”
“Yes, Sweets?”
“Papa, I … did a very bad thing.”
Sarah sounds so much like a contrite little girl, he thought.
“Tell me,” he whispered.
“Papa … I hit my Mama … and I wrote things … terrible things!”
“Go on, sweetheart.”
“I ran away,” she squeaked. “I … I ran, and I … saw they were talking to you and I knew they were pressing charges and I had to make myself too valuable to arrest on a minor charge and so I went out and found the highest dollar outlaws nearby –“
“You brought in some of the worst we’ve seen in quite a while,” the Sheriff agreed.
“It didn’t work.”
“How’s that, sweetheart?”
Sarah groaned.
“The two in the church. I thought they would surrender. I thought”
Sarah took a quick breath, shivered.
“I … if he hadn’t grabbed me … I knew I couldn’t wait. He grabbed me, Papa, and I had to do something –“
“It sounds like you did the right thing,” her Papa murmured.
“I had to kill –“ Sarah blinked.
“Sarah? What is it?”
Sarah’s eyes were wide, staring.
“Sarah, Jacob told me the other fellow was going for his gun. You had to shoot him before he shot you.”
“Papa …” She looked at her father, confused. “Papa, I shot him before he got his gun up. It never fired.” Her hand went to her ribs. “How …?”
Sarah's hand pressed protectively over her wound, hidden beneath the black habit.
"Who shot me, Papa?"
“You weren’t the only one firing shots, sweetheart.”
“Who …?”
The Sheriff took a long breath, stroked his daughter’s hair.
“You were shot by a policeman,” he said. “One of Denver’s finest put a .38 through you. Shot one of the novices, too.”
Sarah’s eyes went big and round and what little color was in her face drained out, even her lips were bloodless and pale.
“No,” she whispered. “No!”
“She’s fine,” her Papa said reassuringly. “It’s like she was never hurt.”
“She … it only grazed her?”
“Oh, no. No, he got her with a solid body shot. Almost the same place you got hit.”
“But … Papa, what … she’s all right? How?”
“You don’t remember?”
Sarah shook her head.
A familiar voice spoke, and the Sheriff looked up and smiled a little.
“Is this a private party, or can anybody come in?” Levi asked from across the solarium.
Sarah looked at Levi with big, frightened eyes, and the Sheriff felt her shiver again, and he heard her gasp as Bonnie came in behind him.
Sarah’s hands went to her mouth and she gave a little squeak and all she saw was her Mama, and her Mama’s hands reaching for her, and she reached for her Mama, and the two embraced and the Sheriff stood and helped Sarah stand.
Sarah was weak, and she was shaky, but she stood and held her Mama with a power born of desperation.
The Sheriff looked to his left, stepped aside; the nurse silently moved the wheelchair in behind Sarah, braced the small dolly-wheels in back with her feet, and waited, for she knew Sarah’s strength was still quite limited.
Brother William glided in, his hands in the voluminous sleeves of his Cistercian-white robe: he bowed to the Sheriff and Levi, and asked quietly if he might have a word.
The men withdrew to the other side of the solarium.
“Gentlemen, the Cardinal himself has taken an interest in the proceedings at the Cathedral. It was his wish that an inquiry be conducted, that certain facts may be established, and this has been done.”
The Sheriff looked toward Sarah.
“We already know that she has no knowledge of all that transpired,” Brother William said quietly. “We are also aware of the sum total of her recollection. Your son” – he bowed slightly toward the Sheriff – “was good enough to allow himself to be deposed, for the benefit of a more complete account.”
The Sheriff nodded, slowly, frowning a little.
“It is the Cardinal’s wish that Sister Sarah be conducted to the main chapel, that the pronouncement of findings might be made.”
“Sister Sarah?” Levi asked, frowning.
Brother William smiled.
“It seems that she has been … it seems that a rather unusual …”
Brother William laughed nervously and started over.
“It would seem that she has been accepted as one of the Sisters, without question.” His eyes were amused now, as if he held a somewhat amusing secret.
He looked at Bonnie, who was easing Sarah down into the wheelchair; the nurse, as well, was assisting, and Brother William noted both the concern on the nurse’s face, and the fatigue – and the pallor -- on Sarah’s.
The nurse looked up at Brother William, tilted a hand, palm angled: the monastic nodded, slowly, once, and the nurse nodded in return.
“Gentlemen, your presence is requested in this assembly,” Brother William said formally: he bowed to Bonnie as she turned toward them.
“Preparation will take some few minutes yet,” Brother William said. “I am instructed to offer you refreshment, and then to conduct you to the chapel.”
“The chapel?” Bonnie asked.
“Our presence is requested,” Levi replied, looking uncertainly at Brother William. “I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen, but I think we should be there.”
The Bear Killer trotted toward them, apparently having emerged from whatever door Sarah was taken through; sniffing the several hands that hung down in reach, he licked the Sheriff’s in greeting, then leaned his big, blocky head against the lawman’s leg and groaned with pleasure.
“The Bear Killer is invited as well,” Brother William smiled gently, “as he too played a part in the little drama that so upset an otherwise decorous afternoon.”

The Bear Killer sat with his bottom jaw on the Sheriff’s thigh, looking at the lawman with shining, button-black eyes, wagging his tail and giving an occasional, hopeful groan: at such moments, the Sheriff laid a hand on the big canine’s neck, rubbed him a little, and the Bear Killer polished the already-gleaming floor with his great brush of a tail.
“This is gorgeous,” he murmured to Levi as the two men looked around, to which the tall agent nodded: they sat together in one of the frontmost pews, the “chapel” being nearly as big as a church, and considerably larger than their little whitewashed church back in Firelands.
There was a rather harsh sound as the great doors at the back of the church opened: the Bear Killer’s ears and head came up and he groaned a little, his tail picking up speed: black-robed nuns marched slowly up the aisle, side by side, singing as they marched, just like they did in Denver: five passed the Sheriff’s pew, then a white-robed nurse, pushing a wheelchair, and in the wheelchair, Sarah, as she was in the solarium, pale, almost grey-faced, in the black habit of a nun.
They were followed by more, both black-robed nuns, and the white-robed novices, singing; they split off before the altar, and in unison, knelt and crossed themselves: Sarah alone did not kneel, but sat with bowed head, Brother William’s heavy silver cross about her neck.
Bonnie’s hand tightened on Levi’s: her mouth was open, her eyes wide with dismay, she looked, alarmed at her husband, then at the procession, bearing her daughter – Sarah, a nun? – up the aisle.
Levi started to rise, his face set, until the Sheriff’s hand on his shoulder bade him sit.
Linn looked at Bonnie, laid his hand on hers and whispered, “All is, as it should be. Wait, and watch.”
Bonnie’s mouth closed and opened and she leaned across her husband to say something and the Sheriff raised an eyebrow and a finger: “Trust me,” he whispered.
In another setting, Bonnie might have spoken sharply in reply, but here, with stained glass windows and painted, lifelike statues, with frescoes and the trappings of a lovingly furnished Catholic church, Bonnie sat back, subdued – dissatisfied, but subdued.


From the written record of the Monastery of St. Mercurius –

And it came to pass, on the appointed day, with the blessing of God and our Holy Mother and all the Saints, that she who was known in the vulgar as Sister Sarah, was revealed to us as more than she appeared.
Sister Sarah was brought to the Chapel in a wheelchair, owing to her weak Condition: The Cardinal called for the Spear of St. Mercurius to be brought forth: it was borne by the honor guard in full regalia and drawn Swords, and presented before the Altar with due ceremony and reverence.
The Cardinal did then take up the Spear: he turned, and presented it to she who is now known to us as Sister Mercurius, that she may touch the holy Relic.
We did then witness that which was described to us by those present in the Cathedral: that there was indeed much remarkable about our good Sister: for no sooner did she raise weak and palsied hands to grip upon the Spear, than her grip became strong, as did her body: she rose easily and withdrew the shaft from the hands of the Cardinal: Sister Mercurius did spin the Spear as easily as a child might spin a Broom Straw, first in a vertical Circle before her, and then with a Dancer’s Step, did she bring the Spear round about: so skillful were her moves that it seemed a web of liquid silver Light spun from the spearhead, and grew into a globe about her: there was a Humming from the rapid passage of the Spear through the still air of the Sanctuary, whereupon Sister Mercurius did drive the butt end of the spear into the stone Floor, causing the stone underfoot to Tremble, and bringing forth the sound of Thunder, which echoed for some minutes.
So did she stand for the span of ten heartbeats, carved of obsidian and marble, with the shining silver Cross of the Spearhead radiating above her: then did she turn, whirling the Spear about and kneeling with bowed Head, presenting the Spear back to the hands of the Cardinal: and as she knelt with piously bowed Head and uplifted Hands, the Cardinal did thrice make over her the sign of the Cross, blessing her, and declaring by the signs just witnessed, that her tasks among us were complete, and she was free to proceed.
The Cardinal, having so spoken, took up the Spear of St. Mercurius and placed it again in the care of the good Knights, who returned it to its requilary case with due ceremony.
Sister Mercurius did then Stand, her face shining with good Color, and showing no trace of the Weakness with which her features were earlier Seen, and did raise her Eyes and Hands to Heaven, and in a clear and full voice, a strong voice full of health, declared our Monastery a Refuge and a place of Safety and of Healing, and that she would Return: that upon her Return, she may not be Recognized, but that she would make herself Known: she did then call forward one of the Novices, and placed upon her finger the silver Ring of Confirmation, and kissed her: by this Sign were the final Vows of the Novice confirmed, and the Novice took her place with the ranks of the Sisters of St. Mercurius, and the Novice took for herself the name of Sister Sarah.
Sister Mercurius is known to us to have a mission beyond these sacred walls, a mission known but to herself, and so departed our company, accompanied by family, and surrounded by the holy Angels and watched over by the Saints, especially that martyred namesake whose name she so honorably bears.


the newly-named nursing nun, Sister Sarah, leaned back, placed the whittled quill carefully in the glazed-pottery pen holder and rubbed her eyes.
She stretched her arms, the nursing white of her habit’s sleeves catching the sun and reflecting brightly against the scriptorium’s smooth walls, the silver ring on her left hand shining as it passed through the slanting sun-shaft.
She arched her back, shifted in her seat, then opened her eyes and re-read what she’d just written, smiling gently.
Sister Sarah knew the little nun she’d taken care of was very special: she was much more than she appeared, and though the diminutive Sister spoke of matters the nurse did not entirely understand, she knew her understanding was neither necessary nor even important: in spite of her few years, she was already privy to many secrets, to confessions she would carry to her grave, for this was the sacred obligation of a Religious, one who had taken the Vows, and dedicated herself to be a Bride of Christ.
The nurse re-read her words, debated, then dipped her pen in ink once more and added a post-script:
It pleased the Lord to have the Reverend Mother receive an earthly chastisement, that her soul may not linger over-long in Purgatory: for the sins of her harsh tongue, the Spear of St. Mercurius laid its mark upon her lips, searing them with fire, and taking her voice: the throat of the Reverend Mother is now without Voice, that her lips may sin no more.

The nurse slipped a hand under the white front of her cape, feeling again the stiff circle of dried blood, her fingertip caressing the bullet hole.
She knew the flesh beneath was smooth and unmarked, healed as if never hurt, and she marveled again at the memory, the memory of lying on her back as she looked up at a pale little girl with hair like white straw and eyes that burned like coals, a twisted, sickly little girl that became Sister Mercurius, the slight-built Sister with pale eyes and gentle hands, just before the world turned silver, and the deep-stabbed-sickness dissolved and she relaxed, and fell peacefully asleep, and when she woke, there in the middle of the grand Denver cathedral, she was uninjured and whole.

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Linn Keller 10-22-12

 

I noticed the ladies didn't talk much on the train ride back from Rabbitville.
I don't reckon they had to talk much.
They just set there and held hands, and at times Sarah leaned her head over against her Mama, and when she did, Bonnie laid her other hand on their conjoined hands.
Levi and I looked out at the countryside, we talked a little, we napped some, much as we could: this was a branch line and the passenger car was not Z&W stock, so the seats were not nearly as comfortable as what we were used to.
At one point I told Levi I should have brought my saddle, I'd have set on it, and he shifted uncomfortably and allowed as he'd give a week's pay for a whorehouse pillow, and we laughed quietly.
I don't believe the ladies heard us.
Levi and I walked to the Jewel, he with Bonnie on his arm, and I with Sarah, on mine: she was the Sarah I knew once again, in a fine McKenna gown and hat, and when we climbed the steps to the Jewel, Sarah turned and said "Uncle Papa, forgive me, I must speak with the woman across the way," and was away on the instant: she skipped along with the haste of ... well, she could have grabbed up her skirts and sprinted, I've seen her do that before, but she ...
I stopped and shoved the hat back on my head and considered.
"She's growin' up, old hoss," I said out loud, and it occurred to me that maybe that's why she didn't run like a girl: I saw her in conversation with a young couple, and she bent and talked to their little girl, and I could not help but smile, for the child looked much like Angela when first I saw her.
I waited patiently, and Sarah eventually came back across the street with considerably more decorum: she mounted the steps, took my arm and tilted her face up toward me.
I'd have to say she looked satisfied with herself.
"They're new to the territory," she said, "and they had a question about school."
"You know them, then," I said.
I hauled the door open for her and she turned to me with an impish expression and said "No, Papa, I never saw them before in my life," and then she swung in and followed Levi and Bonnie back toward their table, and I stood there with my teeth in my mouth wondering what in Sam Hill just happened, before I too went on in and joined them.
Good thing, too.
My belly was beginnin' to chew on my back bone it was so hungry, and the smells out of Daisy's kitchen would tempt a wooden Indian.

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Linn Keller 10-23-12

 

Sarah didn't have much appetite.
Levi and I, now, we did right and proper justice to our plates.
Matter of fact I reckon we ate our share and theirs, but travelin' is hungry work and I'm still a growin' boy, for all that I'm old and grey and a grandfather to boot.
Bonnie kind of picked at hers as well.
"Bonnie," I said, "you'd best eat somethin'. If you turned sideways you'd not cast a decent shadow!"
Bonnie gave me a long look and I felt my ears turning red.
As usual, open mouth, something stupid falls out.
Sarah looked up at them and then looked at me and blinked and said "Don't look at me!" and then put her face down and pretended to pay attention to her plate.
Levi and I as usual were set so our backs were to the walls: we'd gotten my usual table in the corner, Sarah was set on Levi's right and Bonnie was set in a chair at the end of her table: when the door opened, the lot of us could look and see who it was, and it was Jacob.
He had a grin on his face and he was movin' easy the way he always did, and Sarah was out of her seat and heading across the floor with purpose in her step and a linen napkin still in her hand, and she stopped long enough to say something to Daisy's girl before she turned and seized Jacob's arm and turned him toward the front door.
They didn't go outside; they crossed over in front of Tilly's counter and Sarah and Jacob stopped at the foot of the broad stairway, Jacob leaning casually against the wall, Sarah worrying the napkin between her hands: I could see her lay gloved fingertips on Jacob's arm, then she tapped a bent foreknuckle gently on his chest and her face was most earnest: I don't know what she was a-sayin' but she wanted to make a point: Jacob nodded, his face serious, and finally he reached out and took her by the shoulders and said something, and I saw Sarah's face wrinkle up some and she put that-there napkin to her mouth and then she fair to threw herself into Jacob's arms and squeezed him tight enough he'd need to notch his gunbelt down a couple more holes in the tongue for I'm willin' to swear she shrank his waist by about a foot from that bear hug she give him.
Daisy's girl came around the hallway corner about that time with pie in hand and I began to grin.
Sarah came along behind Daisy's girl, and she had a thin slice of pie for dessert.
Me?
I had a slab of it too, and mine warn't thin.

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Linn Keller 10-23-12

 

Brother William, in Cistercian white, and Father William, in Benedictine black, sat together in the patio, leaned back in their chairs, savoring the local wine.
Silence grew long between them, the way it does between good and trusted friends and colleagues, until finally jFather William asked, "You did go to the Denver inquest?"
Brother William nodded slowly.
"I take it you were obliged to go."
Again the slow, planned nod.
"Did you go back to Firelands?"
Brother William smiled gently.
"No, Father, I did not." He considered the color of the wine as he tilted his glass, examining it minutely: "I would only have been in the way there."
Father William nodded.
"Mother and daughter may commune without my interference. I fear my mere presence might interfere with what they must say, one to the other."
Father William frowned a little.
"What must be said between them?"

"Mama, I --"
"No, I must --"
"But Mama --"
"No, Sarah, I --"
They both stopped, uncertain, then blurted in unison, "I have to tell you something!" -- and stopped again, their eyes going big and round.
"You go first," Sarah said with a nod of her head.
"No, you go."
Sarah hesitated again.
Mother and daughter screwed up their courage, took a breath, closed their eyes, then chorused, "I'm sorry!"
They opened their eyes, surprised; both mother and daughter stood their with open mouth and uncertain expression, until they both started to laugh, and the tension between them began to thaw, a little, and trickle away from them like snow-melt in thaw.

"Chief Deputy Jacob Keller gave the clearest account of all," Brother William said, then thanked the silent lad in white shirt and pants who materialized at his elbow to refill his glass.
"His account was unemotional, detached, clinical; his account was chronological, succinct and precise."
Brother William sipped the cool wine.
"Until he began to describe how his ... how Sister Mercurius and the novice were shot."
"I see," Brother William said as the boy refilled the blackrobe's glass.
"It seems that Jacob called a hold-fire after Sister Mercurius's second shot. The bullet that struck the good Sister very nearly hit the deputy. Indeed, the officer testified his belief that he had shot the deputy as well, so rapidly did the man go down."
Father William frowned. "What did happen in that moment?"
Brother William placed his long stemmed wineglass on the table, leaned back and steepled his fingers.
"Deputy Keller knocked Sister Mercurius's arm up as he drove his fist into the first criminal's jaw. Broke the jaw, by the way. Very nasty break. I believe the Deputy said he heard the bullet his our Sister and she grunted a little, so he seized her and bore her to the floor, attempting to use the pews as cover until his cease-fire order was realized."
"I see."
"The policeman who fired the shots was stripped of badge and gun and very nearly beaten by two sergeants and a lieutenant. I understand they had the fellow by the scruff of the neck and the belt and were kicking his behind every step of the way to the doors of the cathedral.
"They were going to throw him out the doors but then they realized that would look bad, if they threw a uniformed officer out into the street, so they waited until they were back at station to strip him down to his red woolies before tossing him out the door."
"I do hope they opened the door first."
"They did, on the second try."
Father William made a face, flinching at the idea of being thrown into a closed door.
"What ... Brother William, I understand reporters were excluded from the inquest?"
"They were."
"Did this not set well with the yellow press?"
"It did not." Brother William picked up his wineglass. "As a matter of fact, I shall have to do penance."
Father William, alarmed, looked at his old friend, his eyebrows shooting up to a remarkable degree.
"One of the reporters came here and demanded to speak with the miraculous nun who could shoot a man's eyes out, left handed, while beating the stuffing out of a wanted murderer with her right, while commanding a black hound from hell and singing Ave Maria without missing a note." Brother William smiled sadly. "I hesitated and then told him in a sad voice that the good Sister was no longer ... with us."
Father William's mouth sagged open.
"And when I said it, I allowed my eyes to turn toward our graveyard, and then look down."
Father William's mouth closed, opened again, and he started to laugh: his face turned the most remarkable shade of red as Brother William continued with an innocent expression, "I did not lie to the man, Father. Sister Mercurius is not with us; she has gone into the profane world, where her work yet awaits her. To say she is gone from us is not ... a lie."
Father William chuckled, hoisting his glass.
"If I may have the honor of being your confessor," he said, "I believe our Holy Mother would understand what it is to protect Her children."
Brother William raised his own in salute and the two clinked their wineglasses delicately together.
"I thought you might think that."

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Linn Keller 10-23-12

 

Jacob lay still, looking at the ceiling.
Annette rolled over, laid a gentle hand on his chest.
Jacob gave a quiet “hmmm” and laid his hand on hers: she was rolled up on her side toward him, warm and all woman.
“What is it?” Annette whispered.
“What’s what?” Jacob murmured.
“Something’s bothering you.”
Jacob patted Annette’s hand.
“I can’t fool you, can I?”
“No.”
Jacob took a long breath, sighed it out.
“It’s Sarah.”
Annette nodded a little – Jacob knew she did, for he could hear her hair crackle a little under her head in the nighttime silence.
“She thanked me today.”
“That was nice of her.”
Jacob stared at the night-dark ceiling, seeing little constellations as his eyes objected to a lack of light.
“She thanked me for being a harsh and demanding taskmaster.”
Annette laughed a little. “I doubt that,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
It was Jacob’s turn to nod.
“I taught her to shoot left handed,” he said.
Annette waited; she knew Jacob was not through talking.
“What I taught her, kept her alive.”
“Denver?”
“Yeah.”
Annette was silent for a long moment; Jacob felt her stir a little, felt the warmth of her leg against his.
Jacob weighed whether to tell his wife that Sarah was nearly killed.
He remembered what he'd seen ... he remembered seeing Sarah's shot go true, he remembered knocking her arm up out of the way so he could drive a hard fist into the jaw of the fellow who'd grabbed the little nun Jacob knew had to be his little sis -- he remembered the impossible things that followed ... things that just couldn't happen, things that beggared the sanity of a rational man.
Jacob remembered how shocked he was when Sarah came across the floor of the Jewel to him, apparently in perfect health ... she was supposed to be dead or near to it, and likely would be a year or more healing up ...
“I don’t think,” he whispered, “I’ll ever understand women.”
“Denver?”
“Yeah.”
He rolled up on his right side and ran his arm around his wife's shoulder blades, drawing her in closer.
Each was a comfort to the other that night.

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Linn Keller 10-24-12

 

Sarah and her Mama had their long talk that night, after they had supper at the Jewel, after Sarah skipped across the floor and talked quietly, urgently with her big brother, after she looked long at her Uncle Papa, seeming to try and find some particular words to fit her thoughts, and finally just getting up and throwing her arms around him and holding him tight, her face buried in his shoulder: surprised, the skinny lawman with the iron grey mustache held his little girl tight in return, rubbing her back with his big flat open hand, and then, curling his fingers, began scratching her back: Sarah giggled and lifted her head and said "Purrrrrrr," and the Sheriff laughed and said he'd taught Jacob to be a champion back scratcher too, and finally when Sarah whispered "That's good," he stopped, and Sarah came upright and took her Uncle Papa's scarred fingers in her hands and whispered "Thank you," and he nodded, once, with a wise old Daddy-expression on his face.
Behind the face, of course, he felt genuinely old and not at all wise, but the expression, he knew, would have to suffice.

"The house," Sarah said hesitantly as they drove out of Firelands, "... I don't suppose it's finished."
"Not yet, dear," Bonnie said, "but soon."
Sarah nodded.
"We found the furniture we want: some is being shipped in from St. Louis, and we're having quite a bit built locally."
Sarah nodded.
"We asked the Daine carpenters to build you another rolltop desk, just like the one you lost in the fire. I believe they made that one."
Sarah nodded.
Bonnie lay a gentle hand on her husband's forearm.
"Levi, stop."
Levi "whoooa there, hooo,"'d at the mare, drawing gently on the reins: the mare whoa'd and Levi hauled back on the brake lever.
Bonnie turned to face Sarah more directly, instead of just turning a little and talking over her shoulder.
"I know you lost several things in the fire, dear, as did we, but we did not lose you, nor did we lose the twins."
Bonnie reached back and Sarah reached forward.
"We have you to thank for that."
Something under an English ton lifted off Sarah's shoulders when Bonnie said those words.
Bonnie felt Sarah's gloved fingers tighten on her own, and Sarah bit her bottom lip and nodded.

The twins met Sarah in the receiving-parlor of the dress works, with dignity and reserve, for all of ten seconds, then they giggled and squealed and hugged her as she squatted quickly to receive their charge and all three ended up sprawled on the floor in a tangle of legs and petticoats and giggles and with an absolute lack of decorum.
Bonnie smiled quietly and tugged Levi by the arm, and they pretended not to notice, for the girls were getting up off the floor and sometimes there's just no dignified way to get back on your feet after being mauled by a happy pair of little sisters.
The twins were quick to wear out, and were soon abed, tucked in, and almost as quickly asleep.
Levi excused himself as well, pleading fatigue, leaving the ladies to themselves.
Bonnie and Sarah retired to the newly-added kitchen, the maid following; they seated themselves at the plain but serviceable table, Bonnie looking a little uncertain, Sarah looking a little apprehensive.
The maid was a ghost, nearly invisible, keeping water hot for tea, making sure there were finger-sandwiches and tea-cakes ready; silently, on felt-soled slippers, she would float over to their table, refill teacups as noiselessly as possible, then drift away with as much fanfare as a wisp of vapor.
Mother and daughter talked for a long time that night, and each said things that had to be said: there was hesitancy and uncertainty, there were admissions and apologies, there were long silences where communication was done more by just being with one another, and being comfortable with that.

Sarah lay on her cot in the attic room, clean, warm, safe: her flannel nightie smelled of the outdoors, of the sun, her bed-linens were as flawlessly clean as those in the Infirmary -- though thankfully without the lingering odors of iodoform and soured milk that seemed the common scent of the sickroom -- and Sarah stared at the ceiling, listening to the night.
Sarah closed her eyes and relaxed her body and willed herself to a place in the mountains, a place where she ran her hands over the featureless rock wall, a wall that once contained a hole barely big enough for her to slither in.
She turned; it was full dark, but she could still see, and she walked slowly, confidently, moccasins silent in the night: the rocks parted, opening to the rim of a cliff, a solitary tree Sarah knew.
Sarah lowered her hand and felt fur, warmth, muscle and sinew: she did not have to look to know its owner: together, the pair paced over to the tree, and Sarah sat, leaning back against its bark and crossing her legs.
She leaned her head back against the tree and relaxed.
It felt good to be home.

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Linn Keller 10-25-12

 

Aunt Beatrice Dean smiled a little and smelled the rose she'd been given.
She usually took her lunch at her desk, but this day she walked up to the Silver Jewel and dined in the back room, away from the usual crowd; she did this occasionally, and on this day, instead of eating alone, she had an unexpected visitor.
She looked up as a slender figure in a mousy-grey dress swept into the seat opposite her: Sarah, eyes bright behind he round spectacles, leaned over and laid a single red rose, with a ribbon tied on its stem, in front of the surprised Beatrice.
"I wanted to say thank you," she said quietly. "Some things need said and that is one of them."
Beatrice blinked, surprised, and smiled: she picked up the flower, sampled its delicate scene and looked at Sarah. "You're welcome, I'm sure," she said, puzzled, "but ... what happened?"
Sarah's smile was a little sad.
"You already know about our house."
"Oh, yes," Beatrice said, nodding: she knew what it was to lose a home to fire, she'd seen it too many times in her years on this earth.
"We are rebuilding with brick," Sarah said. "I understand there will be fire stops built into the structure to prevent it from burning out and leaving a brick shell."
Beatrice nodded, looking directly at the diminutive schoolteacher.
Sarah reached across the table, took Aunt Bea's hand in a surprisingly firm grip.
"You took care of all of us," she said, "consistently, reliably and dependably, for years, and you are still doing that." Sarah's voice was almost a whisper. "When things go right, people don't give it a second thought but let one thing go wrong and it's being shouted from the rooftops!"
Beatrice laughed a little. "Don't I know it!" she smiled.
Sarah released her grip, leaned back.
"Thank you for taking care of us," she whispered, biting her bottom lip.
"Thank you for being our banker!"
Beatrice was surprised to see how bright Sarah's eyes were.
Sarah stood suddenly, left quickly, almost if she were fighting to to break into a run.
Puzzled, Beatrice raised the rose to her nose again, closed her eyes, savoring its scent.

"Miz Sarah, how come you're always gettin' hurt?"
Sarah froze in mid-letter: she was writing on the chalk board when Billy's question sailed in and smacked her between the lug and the horn.
Sarah turned slowly.
Every eye was upon her, even Miz Emma's, and nearly every eye was big and round, and the shocked silence in the wake of Billy's blurt was sudden, oppressive and quite complete.
Billy's face turned red and he dropped his eyes, instantly regretting the thought that fell out of his opened mouth.
Sarah carefully placed the chalk in its trough, dusted her hands together and looked at the floor, thinking, then she looked up and smiled a little.
"I will need your help," she said decisively. "If the Blaze Boys could step into the center aisle, please, and .. Lucretia, could you stand in the center aisle also."
The Blaze Boys looked instantly guilty, looked at one another, then shot a beseeching look at Miz Emma: with one voice, they chorused, "What did we do?"
Sarah laughed, and the general tension melted a little.
"You two can help me out." She walked slowly down the wide center aisle.
"Stand -- you, here, and you, here ... turn, face one another, yes, just so. Now" -- Sarah looked from one to the other -- "put up your dukes!"
"Huh?"
Juvenile expressions of puzzlement were not restricted to the Blaze Boys; even Miz Emma tilted her head, interested, for she knew Sarah was teaching a lesson not found in any textbook.
"Put 'em up." Sarah raised her fists, bounced a little on her toes, looking every bit as mischievous as a schoolgirl herself.
Somewhat uncertainly, the pair did as they were told.
"Now. Extend your fist -- slowly, just like that, both of you -- now step back a little, a little more. Okay, draw back. Extend again."
Young knuckles pushed slowly through the still air in response to her command.
"Now. As one fist goes forward, the other fist goes back, like this. Watch me." Sarah extended a fist, drawing its opposite back to her belt; she extended the second fist, withdrawing the first. "Like this. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Now you try it."
"Tick."
The Blaze Boys extended a fist.
"Aim for just beside the other fellow's ear. You are far apart you won't hit. I want to illustrate something. Tock."
The extended fists were withdrawn, the symmetrically opposite knuckler extended.
"Just like that. Tick ... tock. Tick ... tock."
Sarah slipped between them, went to the back door, whistled.
There was the rapid patter of claws and paws on the steps and The Bear Killer danced into the schoolroom, tail wagging, tongue hanging out.
Sarah raised a finger and The Bear Killer sat and gave a happy woof, his great brush of a tail polishing the smooth boards beneath his bottom.
Sarah turned to the little girl standing behind her.
"Lucretia, I believe you know The Bear Killer."
Lucretia put a finger to her lips and giggled, swinging back and forth the way a little girl will: The Bear Killer, for his part, stood and woofed and his tail threatened to break his hind quarters free of his back bone.
Miz Emma found the first day there were three things of which little Lucretia was not utterly terrified.
The schoolmarm herself was one.
Miz Sarah, the other schoolmarm, was the second.
The Bear Killer was the third.
Lucretia ran over to The Bear Killer, her little flat-soled shoes loud in the hushed schoolroom, and she grabbed the massive, muscled canine around the neck, hugging him desperately: The Bear Killer sat and gave a quiet moan, his tail expressing his complete approval of the situtaion.
Sarah said "Lucretia, I need your help too, yours and The Bear Killer's."
Lucretia nodded, her arm around The Bear Killer.
As long as she was in very close proximity to her furry friend, she was fine with anything.
"Now." Sarah walked back to the front of the room.
"Gentlemen, your fists, please," Sarah said; "Tick ... tock ... tick ... tock."
She nodded at their regular, careful cadence.
"Just like that, thank you. Now Lucretia, if you could back up, back up, a little more, a little ... right there, stand fast."
Sarah made a kissing sound and The Bear Killer looked at her, ears up, tongue out.
Sarah made a snarling face.
The Bear Killer dropped his head a little, bristling.
Sarah bared her fangs and brought up her claws.
The Bear Killer bared his own teeth and snarled.
Sarah snapped her jaws and snarled back.
The Bear Killer came to full height, a ridge of hair running the length of his back bone, jaws snapping, looking like he wanted to rip the leg off a Missouri mule.
"Now class," Sarah said, clapping her hands for their attention, for the sight and sound of a war-dog at challenge will command the attention of the most lethargic student, "let us say that Lucretia were in danger, and needed my help."
Lucretia looked at the bristling Bear Killer and laughed.
"If I intend to get to her, I must go through two men who are intent on causing one another great harm."
The Blaze Boys laughed nervously, their faces red, but their thrusting arms never lost their rhythm.
"Billy."
"Yes, Miss Sarah." Billy stood to reply, his face red with embarrassment.
"Billy, you asked why I keep getting hurt."
"Yes, Miss Sarah."
"The best way not to get hurt, is to avoid people that can hurt you. Avoid the places those people go or stay." Sarah smiled. "And avoid those places where two fellows are trying to knock each other's block off."
Sarah stepped up to the Blaze Boys.
"Sometimes you have to go through a place like that, or go among people like that, because somebody" -- she looked at Lucretia" -- "somebody needs help, or somebody is in danger" -- she looked at the bristling Bear Killer -- "and so you go through danger to help them
"Sometimes" -- she turned, hesitated, turned again, slipping neatly between their thrusting fists, going back to The Bear Killer, raising a finger; he dropped his bottom on the floor, tongue hanging out, his tail happily swishing back and forth; she nodded, smiling to Lucretia, and Lucretia again giggled her way over to the big dog and hugged him tight -- "sometimes you can get through without being hurt."
Sarah turned, slipped past the first fist, stopped intentionally in the path of the second.
The fist froze a half inch from her nose, its owner suddenly big-eyed with surprise.
Sarah snapped her head back, let out a loud "OUCH!" and dramatically threw up her arms, spinning and going to all fours: she rose, shaking her head, put the heel of her hand to her forehead and said in a quavery voice, "Has anyone seen my head? I think it went flying!" -- then she smiled and ran her arms around the two boys' shoulders, and thanked them for their help, and bade them return to their seats.
"So, Billy," Sarah said in the voice of a teacher summarizing a lesson.
"You asked why I keep getting hurt."
She smiled, then laughed a little and turned a delicate shade of red.
"Sometimes I'm not fast enough to get out of the way!"

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Linn Keller 10-26-12

 

Jacob laid the reins against Apple-horse's neck and kneed him gently into a slow turn.
He didn't know the man he was after but he knew of him, and there was doubt in his mind.
Something didn't add up.
Jacob let Apple stand for a minute.
The man he was after had a warrant for murder, but there were conflicting reports on that murder, or whether a death was actually involved.
Jacob knew the trail he followed was the man he wanted, but the fellow had shown some craft earlier and now the trail was too plain, too distinct.
Jacob's eyes narrowed.
He saw Apple-horse's ears swing left and shucked his left-hand Colt.
Cold metallic clicks were loud in the mountain stillness as he thrust the blued-steel barrel toward a whiskered face.
The man didn't have his rifle to shoulder yet.
Jacob's pale blue eye was steady and unblinking over the Colt's front sight.
"You coulda killed me three times so far," Jacob said quietly. "You are not a murderer."
The man raised his Henry's muzzle and eased the hammer down to half cock.
"So far," he said, "two people believe that, and here we are."
Jacob lowered the Colt's hammer and holstered.
"Mister," he said, "I am hungry, and I have enough for two. Would you like to share a meal?"

Jackson Cooper was a man bigger than most men.
That is like saying a Clydesdale is bigger than most Shetland ponies.
Jackson Cooper had to duck to get through the doorway of the Sheriff's office, and the Sheriff almost had to duck if he wore a hat: Jackson Cooper was broad enough across the shoulders to plumb fill a doorway, and his usual means of transporting a prisoner to the hoosegow was to grab them by the back of the belt and pack them along like luggage.
Jackson Cooper could move with surprising stealth; for a big man he was both fast -- faster than most -- but he was also capable of moving with an almost complete silence.
Today he didn't.
For all things there is a season, he knew, and a time and a purpose to every thing under the heavens.
Now, he knew, was the time to let the miscreants know that retribution was on its way, that justice was on approach, that the means of their apprehension was at hand.
Jackson Cooper's gait was heavy, his tread ponderous; the board walk shivered under his tonnage, and the sound of his measured tread was that of distant cannon fire, or perhaps thunder.
Jackson Cooper was a man who appreciated efficiency.
He knew with three men knocking the dog stuffing out of one another, if he could diminish their numbers before his arrival, there would be less work, and so his tread was intentionally not stealthy: unfortunately for those about to receive his tender mercies, his good intention went without heed: when Jackson Cooper reached into the whirling cloud of fists and feet and rising dust, their number was not shrunk, though a small and appreciative crowd watched from a safe distance.
Jackson Cooper ran in one long arm and seized the nearest by the back of his vest; a pull, a toss, and the first of three landed in the horse trough, face first.
For the moment, one was out of the fight, and Jackson Cooper reached in with both hands and pulled the other two apart, one by the back of the belt, one by the hair of the head: the former he swung casually at arm's length, the latter he lifted up and examined at eye level, as one might curiously examine a bug.
"Lemme go!" the scratched, bleeding, dirty, bruised and thoroughly infuriated woman snarled. "Lemme go, I say!"

It was not uncommon for a cowboy to ride two and three hours to a settler's cabin, then sit and just watch as the settler's daughter sat on her front porch and knitted, or sewed: the cowboy often did not make a close approach, nor even speak, but just sit and drink in the sight of an ideal, that for which his heart yearned, a virginal, pure, decent, clean woman; the daughters so observed would generally blush furiously, but in an age of propriety, would neither be so crass as to run them off, nor so forward as to speak without an introduction: and so, as Sarah sat under the porch-roof of the dress-works, she knew the cowboy watching her was drinking in the sight of that which his heart most desired, and that was a young woman, at a domestic activity.
It is said (and rightly so) that a woman is seen as both more feminine, and as a good home maker, if her intended observes her in the act of sewing.
Sarah was intent on the work on her lap.
The dress-works employed a number of ladies, and so the sight of a woman on the porch was not at all uncommon: Sarah, slight built and but thirteen years of age, in one of the House of McKenna gowns, and with her hair properly styled, sat in a rocking chair, both feet properly flat on the floor, bent over a little, intent on the work on her lap.
The cowboy was dusty, from the trail; he was tired, for his work wore him out; he slouched a little in the saddle, for it was the most comfortable position for just sitting: his nag cropped grass, swinging its tail, content to rest, to gather its strength, for it too was worked hard every day: tough and capable, like its rider, the nag rested when it could and ate when there was graze, and for the moment, was content.
Sarah patiently tended her hand work there on her lap, fingers busy: her work was precise, careful, and it showed in the quality of the three pieces she was so attentively finishing.
The cowboy considered the angle of the sun and realized how long he'd been sitting: regretfully, he lifted his hat, and Sarah looked up and smiled, and the man rode off, back to his ranch some hours distant.
Sarah carefully put her work away, then stood, carrying the leather pad to the edge of the porch and flipping flint flakes out into the sparse grass.
The cowboy, she mused, might not think her quite so domestic if he knew she was working on flint spearpoints.

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Linn Keller 10-27-12

 

Jackson Cooper put another couple chunks in the stove.
One of the men sat, crestfallen, in a chair; the other, stripped down to his long handles and bare feet, shivered beside the stove, gratefully soaking up all the warmies that came his way.
Back in the cell block, the woman screeched and shook the door of her cell.
The fellow in the chair spoke first.
"Had I known then what I know now," he said, "I would have just shot her."
The fellow shivering in his soaking wet red woolies turned his chilled back side toward the stove; he was close enough steam rose into the cool air of the Sheriff's office.
"Had I known you were willin' to shoot her," he chattered, "I would have let you!"
"I heard that!" the woman screeched, rattling her cell door again. "You let me out of here! I'll scratch your eyes out! I'll pull your tongue loose! I'll --"
Jackson Cooper closed the door of the wood stove and sighed patiently: he went across the room and ratted around a little until he came up with some rag, then he went to the Sheriff's desk, opened a drawer, another, came up with a set of cuffs : finally he reached up, plucked the key to the cells off its peg, and drifted back into the cells, moving quiet like he generally did.
"You'll keep quiet," he said gently, "or I'll help you keep quiet."
"And just what do you plan on --" the woman snapped.
There was the sound of key in lock, of the lock opening, then the door being drawn open.
The two men looked at one another, then looked uncertainly back toward the little hallway that led along in front of the cell doors: there were indistinct sounds, sounds of a struggle that ended almost as soon as they began, then a few more muffled snarls: there was the sound of the cell door closing, the lock being turned, the Marshal emerged and hung the key back on its peg.
"Now," he said nonchalantly, sitting on the corner of the Sheriff's desk, "suppose you two tell me what happened."

"Coffee, if you'd like," Jacob said quietly.
The man nodded, hung his hat on the muzzle of his Henry rifle: the rifle was leaned against the log he sat on, and the fellow bent forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his forehead on the heels of his hands, the picture of dejected defeat.
Jacob dipped up a coffee pot of good cold creek water, brought it back; it was the work of but a few moments to assemble wood enough for a little fire, and not much more to get the fire lit: two chunks served to both contain the fire, direct the draft and support the coffee pot, and Jacob dunked the little cloth bag containing one coffee pot's worth of grounds, in the water, and let it sink.
"You're him, ain't you?" the man asked, addressing the ground between his set-apart boots.
"Might be," Jacob said mildly, stacking more wood near to hand. "Which him do you mean?"
"You're the one they call Pale Eyes," the man said, his words almost a groan. "You're the one that rides that red horse. You don't never give up. You're like a bloodhound. No one can hide a trail from you and you never miss when you shoot."
"Flattery," Jacob said, "will get you everywhere." He picked up the coffee pot, added another two sticks to the little fire, set the pot back down.
"For now I'm just some fellow who hates to eat alone."
Jacob's smile crept out from behind his poker face.
"If you think I'm a bad man you'd ought to meet my baby sister. She makes me look like the Tooth Fairy."
The stranger nodded, then looked up, his face a couple shades whiter.
"Good Lord," he whispered, "not her!" -- then, his eyes big, "You're ... related?"

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Linn Keller 10-28-12

 

"Did you kill that man?"
Jacob's words were quiet, his voice gentle; his eyes were very pale, over the rim of his blue granite cup, and the stranger shivered, for he'd heard how those cold eyes never changed, ever ... didn't matter of the man was loving his wife, he'd been told, or skinning someone alive, those cold, hard eyes never changed.
"Yeah," he said through a half chewed mouthful of sandwich: he took a slurp of coffee, swallowed: of a sudden, that good woman-made sandwich tasted like sand.
"What happened?"
The stranger hung his head.
Jacob watched him closely.
Everything about the man's appearance told Jacob all the fight was plumb gone from him; this was not a ravening murderer, this was not a wanton killer, this was a man of conscience trying to survive with the dread knowledge that he'd taken another's life.
"We was at poker," he said, setting down his tin cup and balancing the half a sandwich on top of it. "I had a run of luck and he called me a cheat."
Jacob nodded.
"I am not a cheat." Eyes full of misery looked up at the quiet young lawman. "I ain't smart enough to cheat.
"He said it loud and he said it mean and I just let it go but he didn't.
"He stood up and said I was a liar as well.
"I looked up at him and told him he'd had too much to drink, to set back down and I'd buy him one for the road.
"He grabbed at his waist band -- he had a Lightning stuck in his belt with the loading gate open -- I knew I could not beat his draw so I pulled my legs up quick-like and kicked the table into him.
"I fell over backward and landed on my back and there was nowhere to go.
"I figured he might still want to take a shot at me so I pulled my Smith.
"He staggered back a few when that table come up at him and he pulled that Lightning and I remember my hand come up and I heard BOOM and --"
He shook his head, a sick look on his face.
"I didn't want to do that," he whispered.
Jacob picked up the coffee pot, held it out.
The fellow picked up his sandwich with one hand, held out his blue granite.
Jacob could see his hand shaking.
"I reckon you got to take me in now."
Jacob considered.
"No."
Several thoughts, none of them good, ran through the man's mind: he pictured himself hanging from a handy branch by a noose, or laying on the ground with a hole between his eyes, skinned alive and screaming --
"You can ride in with me."
"What?"
Jacob took a bite of his own sandwich, eyes busy, looking around.
"You can ride in with me and we'll straighten this out."
I'll be back shot on the ride in, he'll give me to a lynch mob, he'll stove my head in with a rock --
"All this happened in Carbon, didn't it?"
The man nodded.
"Finish your sandwich. My Mother, bless her, taught me waste is a sin, and I try not to be a sinful man."
He watched as the man chewed fearfully on the last of the sandwich.
"I know Law and Order Harry Macfarland. I believe we can talk with the man."

Sarah ran a long, straight seam, rocking her Singer's treadle gently, steadily: her head was tilted a little to the side as she lifted the foot, snipped the thread, then picked up the material and let it fall.
She nodded.
Another hour, she estimated, and the gown would be finished.
In the meantime her back was tired, her eyes were tired, and she needed a breath of air.
Sarah stood, twisted a little; she saw her mother disappear quickly out the front door -- quickly, as if something were wrong.
There's quickly, I wish to greet a friend; there's quickly, I'm just in a hurry; then there's quickly, something isn't right, and Sarah skipped across the dressmaking floor, turning to avoid collisions with the other ladies.
Sarah stopped and poured a glass of water from the pitcher they kept filled and ready, and slipped out onto the dress-works' front porch.
Bonnie was bent over the railing.
Sarah waited until her Mama emptied her stomach before coming up beside her; she laid a hand on her Mama's back, handed her the glass of water: Bonnie took a sip, took another, managed a third before her stomach rebelled.
"A boy," she groaned, panting, her face red.
"It has to be a boy. Nobody gets this sick with a girl --"
Sarah held her Mama's hair back as her mother bent and heaved again.

Angela marveled at her treasure.
She was just discovering the magic of a magnifying glass.
Esther watched, smiling quietly, as Angela looked at her own fingers under the lens, delighting at the look of discovery, the fascination, on her little girl's face.
The twins were feeding -- when weren't they? she thought, looking down at the pair, feeling that rush of protective, possessive motherliness that comes of nursing one's own child -- then she looked up at the nurse.
Alfdis saw a woman who was utterly, absolutely, completely delighted with her life, and Alfdis felt an ache: that could be me, she thought, and remembered her own Hrald, descended from Viking warrior-kings, a fine, well formed lad who died one night for no apparent reason: the doctors could not tell her why he stopped breathing in his sleep, the priests said it was the will of God, other mothers offered sympathetic words and their own theories, and Alfdis was left with an empty heart and no answers, and so took her small inheritance and sold her late husband's holdings and headed West.
Alfdis was a young woman of breeding and of education; she was also a woman full of sorrow, but here ... here she was finding a solace, and in helping another mother care for twins, she was managing to heal, at least a little.
"Alfdis," Esther said quietly, "I do not know what I would do without you."
"Thank you, ma'am," Alfdis said in an equally quiet voice.

Jacob carefully drowned what was left of their fire, making double sure it was absolutely dead before putting the coffee pot away.
"Saddle up," he said. "Let's go talk to good old Law and Order Harry Macfarland."

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Linn Keller 10-28-12

 

Sarah was immersed in a sea of money.
She leaned forward just a little, one foot up on the little stool under the standing desk, her mind busy: she skimmed down the column of numbers, her pencil made a quick sketch at the base, she skimmed down the second column; Sarah was quick and accurate when it came to the ledger book, and she made short work of her task.
She leaned back, took a breath, considered the sums she'd just calculated, nodded.
Under the expert care of Sam and her partner Clark, their cattle continued to make a steady profit; the dress-works, in like wise, shipped a steady supply of fashionable attire; there were expenses, of course, but so far they were in the black.
Sarah pinched the bridge of her nose, closed her eyes; she switched feet, turned a page in the ledger, consulted the sheets beside the ledger and began transferring figures.
She was of a mind that their investments were also profitable.
She smiled a little.
She was about to calculate just how profitable.

Jacob spoke quietly to the man: "Stay here," he said, "crowd in between those rocks and don't move!" -- and so saying, slid his rifle out of its scabbard and walked Apple-horse forward, cautiously.
The man waited, damning the adventurous spirit that ever persuaded him to leave farm and family back East: his panic rose but he held it down, down, waiting with no patience a'tall about him, until Jacob came back, put a finger to his lips, beckoned.
The two men walked their mounts along the trail, halted: Jacob turned up a faint track and the man followed, and they rode almost straight uphill for some time, until the man's horse was winded and laboring.
Jacob turned into a thicket, made a hand-motion -- wait -- and dismounted.
He cat footed to the edge of the thicket, leaned out from behind a tree, looked down: the man hadn't realized there was a cliff edge so near.
Jacob watched four men ride past, looking ahead of them, but not down.
They're not tracking, he thought, nodded: he waited until they were out of sight before coming back to his horse.
He winked at the man, mounted, and they rode down hill now, slowly, quietly: they worked their way back to the trail the four men following took, and while the four were going up hill, Jacob and the stranger were going downhill, every step taking them two steps away from the pursuers.
It was evident the pale eyed deputy knew the territory: every stop they made to rest their horses, was in a sheltered and defensible location: every time they started out, Jacob's eyes and ears and nose agreed the way was clear.
They made a cold camp that night, ate what was left in Jacob's saddlebags: neither man was satisfied with the meal, but both were grateful, and both had known want in the past: Jacob bade the fellow rest, he would take first watch, and in spite of his apprehension, the man managed to sleep, and knew nothing more until Jacob's hand squeezed his shoulder.
It was just coming to light and the man realized Jacob hadn't wakened him to stand watch.
He doesn't trust me, he thought.
He trusts me a little, he didn't tie me.
"We should make Carbon by noon," Jacob said quietly as they saddled their mounts.
The man nodded.
They stepped into leather and Jacob turned his Appaloosa stallion, his eyes pale and hard.
"You might want to keep that Henry in hand, mister. If they cut our trail they'll be all hot to catch us."
The man swallowed hard and nodded, then he grasped the wrist of his Henry.
His hand was shaking again.

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Linn Keller 10-29-12

 

I looked at our little whitewashed church and considered.
My eyes traveled up the steeple to where that cast bronze bell hung.
At this distance you could not see the gouge marks but in my mind's eye they were fresh and raw.
I stood and looked and remembered Parson Belden leaning over the clap board with his buffalo rifle and remonstrating the sinners below, and Jacob beside him, his rifle fire precise and deadly: he fired steadily, without hurry, picking his shots, ignoring wood splinters shivered from the timber surrounding, until he himself was hit.
I closed my eyes, shivering: that was the night reavers rode into Firelands with intent to kill the men, savage and murder the women, burn the town to the ground and carry off anything -- or anyone -- they damn well pleased.
Charlie Macneil engineered the slickest trap I ever did see: he turned town into a killing field and it worked very, very well.
Jacob was nearly killed that night.
I had him climb that bell tower because I thought he would be safe.
Hell, I thought Bonnie and Sarah would be safe, there in the Silver Jewel.
I looked over toward the Jewel, shining with fresh paint, windows trimmed up nice and neat, washed off and clean, with clean curtains inside ... a far cry from the hole it used to be ... and I thought of what it must have been for Bonnie, with two pianos turned back to back and little Sarah in between them with her rag doll and with Dawg, and Bonnie turning to see a reaver grinning at her from just inside the back door.
I knew Bonnie had my Navy Colt that night, and I knew she made a good account of herself, and in that moment I knew she was going to be the very best mama for Sarah.
I looked again at the church's belfry, then I turned a little and looked at the mountains beyond.
Jacob was up there, somewhere, I knew, tracking a man with intent to bring him back to face the courts, a man wanted for murder.
Going after a man on the dodge is kind of like asking how big is a rock, or how long is a stick: you don't know how far or how fast a wanted man will run, how crafty or dodgy or how likely to set up a bush whack.
I did not know how long Jacob would be after this fellow.
Part of me wished to be with him, part of me kept telling myself he's a grown man, he runs one leg at a time into his drawers, he'll do just fine ... and part of me looked at myself with the expression of a man looking at a manure spreader.
I laughed and shook my head.
Jackson Cooper come around the corner, looked up and smiled a little.
"I reckon that's a good sign, when the Sheriff laughs of a mornin'," he said quietly.
I nodded, tilted my head toward the open door of my office.
We both heard that woman prisoner screechin' again.
"Did you ever make heads nor tails of that-there three way cat fight that landed her in the hoosegow?" I asked, and I felt my forehead wrinkle upward with my question, and Jackson Cooper nodded.
"His Honor allowed as she ought to enjoy our hospitality for about a week," he said, "as she committed assault on her brother-in-law, her brother, her husband, her sister-in-law and two or other three miscellaneous folks."
The woman's voice resembled a chicken drawn out thin and played with a crosscut saw like a rosined bow on a fiddle string; the gentlest of her words were like running your finger nails down a schoolroom chalk board, and she seldom spoke anything gently.
"Does the Judge realize how unpleasant this week is going to be?" I wondered aloud.
"He said she had to be locked up," Jackson Cooper shrugged. "Didn't say she had to be locked up in our jail."
"Salvation!" I exclaimed, raising my hands like a Revival night preacher. "Now where do you have in mind?"
Jackson Cooper's shoulders sagged. "I don't," he admitted.
"Tell you what," I said, "why don't you have His Honor stop over for a sociable drink. I'm sure Her Nibs will spoil his appetite even for our fine spirits!"
We looked toward the open doorway and we both shook our heads as she condemned us, individually and severally, to varying layers and levels of Perdition.
I tilted my head toward the Silver Jewel: Jackson Cooper nodded, so I stepped back to the doorway, pulled the heavy door to and locked it, and we went diagonally across the street to where the company was considerably better.
I paused in front of the fancy frosted glass doors and looked back toward the mountain.

Jacob and the man rode for half a day; they made good time and came into Carbon Hill from the back side.
Carbon Hill never amounted to much and coming into it from the hinder made it even less; a couple mines, a tipple, the depot, the saloon, what passed for a company store, a seedy boarding house and of course the funeral parlor, and that was about it, other than the house of horizontal refreshment.
You could take in town with one sweep of your eyes and not miss a thing of value.
Jacob and the stranger rode up to Law and Order Harry Macfarland, who was busy holding down the Deacon's bench and whittling.
Jacob motioned the stranger to the other bench; the man slid his Henry into its scabbard and came over and set down, clearly uncomfortable.
Jacob sat beside Harry, leaned back against the log wall, hung his hat on an over head peg.
Harry considered the stick he was whittling, turned it a little, made a delicate slice, nodded.
"You got him," he said, then spat tobacco juice into the dirt street.
"Nope."
Jacob picked up a stick, turned it, considered it as if it were the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen.
Jacob's Apple-horse hung its head, looking like it was wore plumb out: it looked like it felt utterly worthless and if a red ant stomped too hard, why, it would fall apart like a rack of bones in a sewed shut horse hide.
Jacob brought a short bladed knife out of someplace and carefully peeled away a curled shaving from his stick.
"He's the one."
"Nope."
Harry turned his stick, worked the tip of his blade into a thin spot: another few strokes and he had a single chain link growing out of the end of the stick, and a second one incomplete dangling from it.
Jacob looked at it, nodded.
"I got witnesses."
"Bring 'em," Jacob said evenly. "I want to talk to 'em."
Harry nodded.
"I'll want 'em deposed."
"Deposed," Harry said, working loose another pine shaving.
"Under oath."
"Under oath."
"Before the Judge."
Harry stopped whittling, looked squarely at Jacob.
"You're serious."
Jacob stopped whittling and looked squarely at Harry.
"Yep."
Harry nodded, looked at his whittling, spit.
"I'll fetch 'em over tomorrow."
"Good enough."
"He stays."
Jacob nodded, turned his knife, another shaving spiraling to the boards underfoot.
He looked over at the stranger, who had turned a shade more pale, hearing Harry's pronouncement and Jacob's agreement.
"I trust him with my life," Jacob said. "You can do the same."

The maid laid a finger against her lips, her eyes sparkling: both the wet-nurse and Esther rose, following the maid across the hall and into Angela's bedroom.
Angela was sound asleep, curled up on her side, rag doll cuddled to her, and her beloved magnifying glass still in her hand.
Esther slowly, carefully, drew the magnifying glass from Angela's grip and lay it on the bedside stand.

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Linn Keller 10-30-12

 

Jackson Cooper walked slowly down the main street of town.
He walked easy, relaxed, almost strolling.
A man of his size -- a man as tall, as broad shouldered and lean waisted, a man as undeniably strong as he -- could walk any way he darn well pleased, and it pleased Jackson Cooper to walk quiet and smooth.
Blued steel whispered out of gunleather; there was a BANG and a cloud of smoke and a splinter of wood flew from the clapboard edge of the church's bell tower.
"Now it's my turn!" one of the pair declared as the other holstered: his draw was not as fast, his aim more deliberate; at his pistol's report, the church bell gave a clear, sharp note.
"I think you boys have had enough fun for one night," Jackson Cooper declared in a voice that clawed its way up twenty feet of gravel filled, stone lined, hand dug well.
"Who in the hell do you think you aaaahhh yeeeaaaaahhh," one of them snapped, his final syllables drawled out in surprise; he swatted the shoulder of his partner's coat with the back of his hand, turning to face the town Marshal.
"Now what in two --" the other fellow shouted, turning, and Jackson Cooper smiled.
It wasn't a big smile, it wasn't a toothy smile, it was the quiet smile of a big man with a red beard, a man who could pick up an anvil and pack it off under his arm if he took a notion; it was a man who stood loose and ready, a man equally at home with quiet conversation or with taking these two by the necks and banging their heads together.
"We, ah," the one said, "we was just, ah, havin' fun, that's all" -- he was almost whining -- and the other fellow started to back up, nodding.
He started to back up, that is, until something hard caught him across the shoulder blades and he turned to face the cold eyes of a skinny fellow with an iron grey mustache and a double twelve in his hands.
"You boys aren't very good shots," Jackson Cooper said, his voice still quiet, still working its way through the stone fill in his throat; as his words crowded out through the loose-dumped rock, it ground rocks against one another and added a harsh, deep note to his words. "I watched you take five shots apiece and you put several holes in the clap board yonder, not to mention the damage you did to that bell."
"You cain't hurt a bell," the one blurted, his voice rising a register.
"I do believe such lack of respect for our church must be addressed," the Sheriff said; his voice was as cold as the Marshal's was gravelly. "Now you two just unbuckle your gun belts and let 'em drop."
"Who in the hell do you think you are, mister!" the one facing the Sheriff flared.
It was the Sheriff's turn to smile.
"My name is The Law," he said, "and you can drop those gun belts or I will drop you." His cheerful expression never changed; he looked like a man who enjoyed the thought of introducing their souls to the Hereafter. "Your choice."
Slowly, carefully, the two unbuckled their rigs, let them drop.
"My office is yonder," the Sheriff said. "I believe you two are my guests tonight."

Sarah tugged at the skirt, twitched the bodice, drew the cuffs down, stepped back.
The dress she'd placed on the dummy hung just right; she'd cut the material on the right bias, it hung perfectly, she'd re-examined her seams, her stitches, making sure they were to her satisfaction; she walked slowly around the dress, her eye critical: finally, satisfied, she removed it, folded it, placed it with the others for shipment.
Bonnie watched silently, trying not to be seen.
It didn't work.
"Hello, Mother," Sarah said; she spoke softly, but in the nighttime hush of the dress-works floor, she was very easily heard.
"That dress is beautiful," Bonnie said sincerely.
"It should be," Sarah said with a quiet smile . "It's your design."
Bonnie nodded, glided forward.
"Your bookkeeping is immaculate," Bonnie added. "As a matter of fact you found two errors our professional bookkeeper missed."
"They are easy mistakes to make," Sarah admitted: "I nearly did the same myself!"
Bonnie tilted her head, frowning a little; Sarah knew the signs and folded her hands in her apron: standing, she debated whether to take a schoolmarm's tone of voice, decided against it, and instead asked, "When did he ask you?"
Bonnie's head came up, her eyes big.
"It's no surprise, Mother," Sarah said gently. "Mr. Llewellyn's arrival, the flowers, his carefully worded questions ..." Sarah blinked, looked away. "It is the stuff of gossip, you know. Dramatic rescue, public pronouncement, the boss's daughter is suddenly the subject of a brave and fine looking man's affections ..." Sarah tilted her head and in the moment looked very much like her Mama.
"It's like a story in a dime novel."
Bonnie looked a little less than convinced; still, she had broached the subject, and perhaps it would be best if she carried it through.
"He did ask me, yes. He asked if he might have the ..."
Bonnie tilted her head back, considered something on the ceiling.
"The honor of calling upon you ... with proper chaperone, of course," she added, her voice so close to that of a cautiously stammering young man that Sarah laughed.
"And your answer?"
"I wanted to talk with you first."
With, not to, Sarah thought: she refrained from an approving nod.
"The flowers he brought are quite lovely. I put them in fresh water, would you like to see them?"
"I would like to have some tea," Sarah said.
Bonnie blinked, opened her mouth, and Sarah interrupted.
"Perhaps not. I don't want to wet the bed."
Bonnie's eyes widened, shocked, but only for a moment; she laughed, then sighed.
"Tea," Bonnie nodded. "I don't believe I will be getting much sleep tonight."

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Linn Keller 10-30-12

 

It was chilly enough coffee suited my taste, and Jackson Cooper had the same, but I'll admit the same size mug in his big mitt looked kind of puny compared to the same size mug in my paw.
The mugs weren't that small, and I am anything but a small man, it's that Jackson Cooper is that big.
Daisy's girl set a slice of pie in front of each of us: I smiled at her, and Jackson Cooper managed to look bashful -- I don't think the man could be forward if he had to, other than in his official capacity.
Jackson Cooper picked up his fork and looked at his pie, then he set it down and looked at me.
"You," he said, "are a cruel man."
My own fork stopped half way to my open yap.
I blinked, set down the untasted bite and leaned back a little, looking carefully at my old friend.
"How's that?" I inquired mildly, and I was real close to laughing, for Jackson Cooper never looked that serious unless he was about to pull a man's leg.
Jackson Cooper shoved his jaw out and glanced at the front wall and I knew he was thinking of the calaboose and how we'd just locked up that pair that were taking pot shots at the church bell.
"See here," I protested, "we put 'em in a cell together so they'd be able to play cards and lie to one another, we left an empty cell between them and Harriet the Harridan ... why, we even hung a sheet so they wouldn't have to look at her loveliness!"
Jackson Cooper looked at me over a set of non existent spectacles, glaring fiercely, and I assumed my most angelic and innocent expression possible; we each held our faces long as we could and then we both laughed.
Jackson Cooper sighed and picked up his fork.
"Sheriff," he said, "I believe there is something in our Constitution prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment." He stabbed at his pie, fetched off a bite and chewed thoughtfully, savoring the taste; I did the same, and as usual, the pie was well worth the savor.
"Figure it this way," I said, chunking off another forkful, "over night listening to Her Majesty singing a harpy's tune all night long, and they'll walk the straight and narrow so professionally a tightrope circus walker would have a hard time doing as well!"
"Cruel," Jackson Cooper said sadly, shaking his head. "Cruel."

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Linn Keller 10-31-12

 

Court was involved.
Court was interesting.
Court was one of the local entertainments; court was generally well attended; court, in this case, was ... well, the actors played to a full house.
Law and Order Harry Macfarland managed to slouch against a non-existent fence post even while seated; his fingers moved restlessly, as if remembering what it was to whittle, and missing knife and stick even as he sat relaxed: he looked quiet and unassuming, which he was, but when Jacob said he wanted to depose the witnesses against his prisoner, and Harry said they'd be there, why, he was good as his word.
Jacob knew it could not have been easy, but somehow Harry had managed to wrangle eight ... no, nine fellows ... one of whom had a lump on his head and a sour expression, not to mention a little dried blood still in his hair line.
The pair who thought it entertaining to bounce lead off cast bronze, received a lecture from His Honor, to which one of the pair lectured the man right back, expressing his displeasure at being locked up with a harpy whose sole voice was that of a wood rasp drawn down sheet metal, a woman whose vocabulary was born in Billingsgate, refined on the docks, purified in a thousand profane throats, distilled into her black and wicked soul: His Honor listened patiently to the man's outburst, offering no interruption, and indeed raising a forestalling hand as the Bailiff stood with apparent intent to order the speaker, silent.
When the man wound down, His Honor frowned, rubbed his chin, then he picked up his gavel, held it thoughtfully between his hands and nodded.
"You realize," he said thoughtfully, "that your own actions placed you in proximity to such sweet singing, and that further transgression will most certainly put you right back there for a prolonged period."
The pair looked at one another with something little short of panic.
"It is the judgement of this court," the Judge finally said, "that the two of you should either pay for repairs, or make the repairs yourselves. Parson Belden?"
The Parson rose; he was among the spectators. "Yes, Your Honor?"
"Parson, did you take a look at the bell?"
"I did, Your Honor."
"Is it cracked, broken, damaged in any way?"
"No, Your Honor. Just a slight dent and a lead smear."
"Parson, have you a price on a new bell?"
"I have, Your Honor," the Parson replied, to which the two prisoners paled: a bell was well outside their pocketbooks' range.
"Parson, is there a need to replace the bell?"
"No, Your Honor."
"Parson, have you a price on repair on the other damage?"
"I have, Your Honor," the Parson replied, and named a figure.
The two looked at one another, talked quietly.
His Honor waited until their conference seemed complete.
"Gentlemen?" he said. "Have you decided?"
"We'll pay that amount, Your Honor," the one blurted; the other nodded.
"So ordered. Pay the Bailiff, you will be issued a receipt and you will be free to go."
The pair hurried across the courtroom and were soon in sincere conference with the Bailiff; money exchanged hands, a receipt was written out, snatched from his fingers with the ink still wet, and the pair made a rapid retreat: true to his word, the Sheriff had their horses saddled and tethered outside, and the two wasted little time in getting Firelands well behind them.
"In the matter brought before us at the behest of Deputy Keller," His Honor said, "this is a deposition, and all parties will be deposed, under oath, the same as if they were giving testimony in court." His Honor looked at the group, sitting together, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
"We could try the case here and now. The accused is present, the accusers are present, we have people who are well able to find facts and present them ..." His Honor pointed his gavel at the man with the sore head.
"You."
"Me?"
"You, sir. Tell me, did you see this man commit murder, yes or no?"
"I, he, ah, he shot him, yes sir!"
"Did you see him fire the shot?"
"He killed him!"
His Honor glared at the man.
"Please take the witness stand. The Bailiff will administer the oath."
"Oath," the fellow said, clearly less than comfortable.
"Yes. Oath. You will testify as to what you, yourself, saw. Nothing more."
"But he killed him!"
"Did he?" the Judge asked. "Or was it someone in another corner of the room, firing from concealment? Were you looking there?"
"No ... no, Your Honor, I ..."
"You what? Perhaps you wish to recant your earlier statement?"
"Re... cant?"
"He means take back what you said," Law and Order Harry Macfarland said quietly.
"I, um, didn't see it happen," the fellow mumbled.
"Could you speak up? We need your exact words for the court record."
"I didn't see it!"
"Very well. You are dismissed. Bailiff."
The Bailiff took the man by the arm, hauled him to his feet and escorted him to the door.
"Now. Who among you actually saw all that transpired?"
The remaining eight looked at one another.
One fellow raised an uncertain hand.
"One?" His Honor said, raising an eyebrow. "Just one? Nobody else?"
Glances were exchanged, with two or three shamefaced looks at Harry's prisoner.
"You, sir, will take the witness stand, and the Bailiff will administer the oath."
"I ain't a-gonna lie, Your Honor," the fellow blurted, standing. "I seen it. The one fella said this one here" -- he pointed to Harry's prisoner -- "he said he cheated an' lied to boot. This fella here said the man was drunk, set down and he'd buy him one for the road, so what does he do but he gits up an' tries t'get the Lightning out of his belt.
"This fella kicked the table over into him an' fell back in his cheer an' he didn't have no choice, Your Honor. That other fella was sure-enough gonna plug him 'cause he had a run o' bad luck an' no cheatin' to it!" The witness uttered his declaration with an increasingly red face and finished with an emphatic nod, shifting his weight restlessly from one foot to the other.
"And how," the Judge asked mildly, "do you know he wasn't cheating?"
The fellow swallowed and looked terribly guilty before admitting, "'Cause I was a-playin' too an' I was cheatin' an' if he was I'd'a seen it. He warn't. The luck was a-runnin' his way, that was all."
"You were cheating."
"Yep. I'm good at it too!"
His Honor leaned back in his chair.
"This court hears some interesting statements," he said, "occasionally a shocking admission, but this is a new one." He leaned forward. "I never met a man honest enough to admit he was a cheat."
He nodded.
"Are there any others who actually saw what happened, and can lend their voice to these proceedings?"
The Judge waited for the space of several heartbeats, looking slowly from eye to eye among Harry's group of compelled witnesses.
"Very well. This Court sees no choice but to dismiss all charges against the accused."
The gavel's sharp note echoed in the quiet of the room.

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Linn Keller 11-2-12

 

Sarah ached.
She wiped the sweat off her face and neck; she knew her face was flushed, and she was breathing heavy, but she seized the kettlebells and began to hoist them, curling with a hard upward thrust before letting them down with a swing between her legs and back out.
Daciana was casually swinging an 80 pound kettlebell: she stood bow-legged, as if straddling a horse; she swung the D-handled cannonball between her legs, back up, released it; it turned once, she touched it with her fingertips, then seized the handle and swung it down again.
Sarah did not have strength enough to shake her head.
Daciana was as slender as she, as lithe, she showed no sign of muscle-bulk like men gathered, and she was swinging not much shy of a hundred pounds with little more effort than Sarah was putting into a pair of twenties.
Daciana swung her Russian weight down, dropped it one inch to the straw-covered floor and reached daintily for her towel: dabbing at her face as if loath to disturb a careful application of face paint (which Sarah never knew her to wear, save only for a circus performance), Daciana tilted her head and smiled.
"Komm," she said quietly. "Ve haff tea."

Bonnie gave Levi's necktie a final tug, brushed his lapels with the backs of her fingers and smiled.
"You are a handsome man, sir," she said quietly.
"And you are a fine looking woman, my dear," he replied.
Bonnie's eyes were big and soft as she regarded her husband.
"You'll be gone three days?" she whispered.
"At most. The bank has an investigation and they wanted someone ... disinterested."
Bonnie laughed quietly. "Disinterested," she echoed.
"You know what I mean."
She nodded.
Levi hesitated.
"My dear ..."
Bonnie looked up at Levi, looking absolutely lovely: she was a woman who knew how to use her eyes, and she was using them now.
"Sarah ... " Levi began uncertainly.
Bonnie blinked, her long lashes sweeping the air.
"Sarah ... isn't ... what ... I'm ..."
Bonnie nodded.
"Isn't it wonderful, though?" she whispered. "She's not tearing across the countryside, chasing down criminals --"
"That's what worries me."
Bonnie's expression changed instantly; Levi's eyes widened, for she had the look of a woman who'd just been slapped.
Levi took a breath, considered his words carefully.
"An investigator looks for changes, looks for the unusual," he explained. "One of the most significant clues I ever found was that of a missing bank teller under most suspicious circumstances." His hands were firm on Bonnie's upper arms. "The teller's books were perfectly balanced and the teller's drawer was accurate to the penny."
Levi saw the smile start in his wife's eyes.
"I'm seeing a change in Sarah. Something ... out of her ordinary."
Bonnie nodded, looking down. "I understand." She looked up and smiled hopefully.
"Still ... isn't it ... responsible ... that she prepared supper, herself, from beginning to end ... prepared, served, ate with us and cleaned up afterward?"
"Yes," Levi whispered, bending to kiss his wife. "Yes, it is responsible."
"She can budget, Levi. She has been quietly practicing, when you weren't looking. She can budget a household, she can ... she makes dresses as well as I can."
Levi whistled. "As well as you?"
Bonnie swallowed, nodded, and Levi saw her eyes glitter.
Oh good Lord, what did I do now? he thought, snatching the kerchief from his sleeve: Bonnie pressed it delicately to closed eyelids and smiled bravely, if uncertainly.
"Oh, Levi," she whispered, "our little girl is growing up ... and a young man asked if he might have the honor of calling upon her ... with proper chaperone, of course!"
Levi's mind was still turning all this over when he closed the door behind him and took one step toward the waiting carriage.
Sarah was just descending from the carriage; she missed her her step-down and started to fall, and Levi took a long step toward her and caught her as she fell.
Sarah grunted a little, clutching him: Levi picked her up and set her carefully on the dress-works front porch.
"Thank you," she whispered.
Levi gave her a long, strange look, as if he'd never seen her before.
Sarah's expression was apprehensive: like Levi a few minutes before, she wondered what she'd just done.
Finally Levi took off his hat and bowed, raising her knuckles to his lips.
"I have said it far too little," he said solemnly. "You are a Lady worthy of the name, and I am proud of you."
Sarah's mouth was still hanging open as she watched him drive off.
That afternoon Bonnie came into her office, intending to lie down for a bit, and found Sarah standing at a window, looking out, a glass of water forgotten in her hand.
Sarah did not turn when Bonnie came in: the door-latch clicked quietly behind her as she closed the door.
Tilting her head curiously, Bonnie said, "Sarah?"
Sarah turned and looked at Bonnie, then looked down at the glass she held: she smiled a little as she realized she'd forgotten it: tilting it up, she drained it, replaced it on the tray with the pitcher.
Sarah crossed the office, her hard little heels loud in the quiet, and she took her mother's hands, then raised a hand to Bonnie's cheek.
"You glow," she whispered, smiling a little. "Motherhood agrees with you."
Bonnie lowered her head, looking at Sarah over a set of nonexistent spectacles.
"Wait until I'm big as a whale to say that," she murmured, and they both laughed.
"Come, sit down," Sarah said. "I think you should put your feet up."
Bonnie settled on the cot; she got herself stretched out and Sarah tossed the light blanket over her, turned to go.
"No," Bonnie said gently: "please, stay with me."
Sarah stopped, her hand on the door knob.
She turned to look at her Mama, then turned and drew a chair over to the cot and sat.
"I would like that," she whispered, and Bonnie raised her hand and smiled, and Sarah pressed her Mama's hand between both of hers.
"Mama, I think ..."
Sarah turned a little more, set her elbows on her knees and her forehead on the hands that clasped her Mama's.
"I think I want to sit right here for a while."

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Linn Keller 11-3-12

 

"Rain's a-comin'."
Jackson Cooper nodded, slowly, the way he generally did.
Clear and potent gurgled into two glasses, and Jackson Cooper nodded again.
"Your back?"
It was the Sheriff's turn to nod.
"You ain't the kind to reach for that-there bottle in any kind of a hurry."
The Sheriff looked at his old friend but made no reply: he corked the bottle, set it carefully back in the desk drawer.
Jackson Cooper did not miss the care with which his old friend stood.
The Sheriff brought over the glasses, handed the Marshal one, sipped at his and set it back down on his desk: he turned, careful to move his back as little as possible, and dollied his office chair over close to the stove, turning it so its back was to the stove and he was facing both the Marshal and the front door.
The former, the Marshal knew, was out of politeness.
The latter, the Marshal knew, was out of a hard headed intent to die of ripe old age, at home in his own bed and under his own roof.
"That there," the Sheriff said as he very carefully bent over and picked up a chunk of stove wood, "is what you call a good vintage."
Jackson Cooper sipped tentatively at the distilled detonation, savoring its smooth and silky slide down his swaller pipe, and nodded.
The Sheriff added the chunk to the stove, shook down the ashes -- Jackson Cooper did not miss the care with which the old lawman tended that particular detail -- and then the Sheriff straightened, slowly, carefully, and set himself down in his chair again.
"You ought to get yourself a seat cushion," Jackson Cooper observed.
"Levi said the same thing when we come back on the train this last time," the Sheriff nodded, easing his weight down carefully, for his tail bone hurt like homemade hell. "The particular cushion he talked about sounds like a good idea."
"I'll have Emma make you one if you like."
The Sheriff looked at the glass on his desk, well out of arm's reach, and Jackson Cooper saw the disappointment in the man's eyes.
"Stand fast," he rumbled, rising: Jackson Cooper plucked up the thick, heavy, squatty glass and swung it carefully over to his old friend.
"Thank'ee kindly," the Sheriff murmured, experimentally bending out his lower back and frowning as he worked back and forth, trying to find something comfortable.

"It may even snow," Sarah smiled as she signed the slip: the one-armed proprietor could not help but smile, for Sarah was like a miniature sun, bright, cheerful and warm: there were other customers in the Mercantile, and when Sarah came in and stopped to talk to each, the proprietor saw her good nature spread like contagion.
The proprietor liked it when Miss Sarah came to make purchases: if anyone else at all was in his Mercantile, it meant they would be in a better mood, and a better mood meant purchases.
"Yes it may," he agreed. "I would not want to see rain."
"Nor would I!" Sarah laughed. "I hate mud!"
The proprietor raised a finger, then reached under the counter: he pulled out three striped candy sticks, laid them on the scratched glass counter top, reached over and pulled free a sheet of wrapping paper.
"Your sisters would like you to bring them something," he said in a quiet voice, winking as if sharing a conspiracy: "and if there's still a little girl in you, why, you might like one too ... or you can stir your tea with it."
Sarah's smile was bright, her eyes merry.
"Why, thank you, that's so kind," she said as he wrapped the candy sticks one-handed: she accepted the sticks with one gloved hand, took her package in the other, dipping her knees a little as she drew it into her: she paused and looked the man very directly in the eyes.
"Thank you," she whispered, and the one-armed proprietor melted a little, the way a man will when a woman pays particular attention to him and him alone, and Sarah headed for the door, nodding to one of the women who turned, a stack of canned peaches in her hands.

"I want to move this wall four feet in this direction."
The long, tall Kentucky carpenter considered the construction, nodding: he walked back and forth, thumping on the wall with the heel of his hand, sounding its makeup.
"Show me where you want it moved to."
They opened the door and stepped into the large and mostly unused room.
The carpenter studied the boards overhead, read the story told by rows of nails, divined the direction of overhead construction and nodded.
"You don't want to tear out that wall yet," he said, "let me get the new one set here, enough to carry the weight before I pull that one out."
"However you want to do it," Doctor Greenlees said, giving the grey bearded mountaineer one of his infrequent smiles. "I can set a broken bone or stitch up a cut but when it comes to wood --" he chuckled -- "you might've heard that old saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing?"
The Kentuckian nodded, his eyes bright, knowing he was in the presence of a man who liked a jest as much as the next man, a man he knew seldom expressed it.
"If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing," Dr. Greenlees admitted, "then I know just enough about carpenter work to get myself into a great deal of trouble!"
The Kentuckian grinned. "Let me start with that wall. I want to take a look inside of it. I'll save as much material as I can, Doc, reuse as much as I can." He favored the slender sawbones with a wink.
"Don't know about you, but I am a tight fisted man, and if I can reuse lumber instead of buyin' new, why, I'll do that!"
Dr. John Greenlees nodded slowly.
"That will do just fine."

The Welsh Irishman was sweeping out the bay; he carefully plied the broom, raising as little dust as he could while still getting the floor clean; he worked the window of dirt and chaff in a somewhat irregular row toward the door, then went to its ends, swept toward the middle, and finally had a furrow of filth as wide as his foot was long, and as long as he was tall: he set the flat bottom shovel down and carefully, meticulously, swept dirt into the shovel, then carried it out the man door beside the big double doors, carried it into the middle of the street and slung it in a careless arc.
Fortunately the wind was carrying from his back and the dust went away from him.
He went inside for another spasm, turning as he heard a commotion up the street.
The Welsh Irishman frowned, then his mouth opened and he dropped the shovel.

"I really don't want to get out of this chair," the Sheriff admitted after a long silence: he took another sip of the distilled anesthetic, savoring the warmth soaking into his abused spine.
"Then don't," Jackson Cooper offered.
It was quiet; the Sheriff was allowing himself to relax: he finally found a position that didn't hurt too much, and maybe it was the Daine boys' water clear that was helping him along, he wasn't sure ... but he did know it felt really good not to hurt near as much as he'd been hurting.
He looked up at his old friend and opened his mouth to say something when they both frowned and turned their heads a little, listening.
The Sheriff's eyes started turning pale.

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Linn Keller 11-4-12

 

Emma Cooper's scream was loud and shrill in the morning hush.
Sarah froze at the front door of the Mercantile, looking out through the window: her hand went to her belt, for the revolvers she wasn't carrying: she wasted no time damning her choice to be a lady instead of prepared, and instead skipped back to the counter, swung around and beside the proprietor and snatched a Sharps off the rack.
She grabbed a pasteboard box, crushed it in her hand on top of the heavy glass counter top, seized three rounds between her fingers: she yanked the set trigger back with her middle finger, rolled the hammer back with her thumb, then dropped her thumb and hooked the Sharps lever, dropping the breech block.
Thrusting a brass panatela into the cavernous chamber, she slammed the action shut, glared at the shocked shopkeeper and snapped "I'm buying this too!" and surged for the front door, her octagon barrel justice dispenser at high port.

Emma Cooper grabbed up her skirts and ran into the street at the top of her lungs.
The youngest of her charges was just getting up from a panicked fall and a bucking, riderless horse was hoof-chopping its way toward the child.

Jackson Cooper hauled the heavy door open and powered into a long-legged run just as the Sheriff came to the same portal.
Two men at battle speed collided, each men rammed the other against his respective door frame, and both men kind of squirted through, no longer under good control of either trajectory, heading or velocity: the Sheriff fell, rolling, managing to miss braining himself on the hitch rail, while Jackson Cooper twisted and landed flat on his back.
Cannonball shied and danced back, pulling her loose rein-wrap free: she blew, walling her eyes, but stopped after a few steps.

Sarah looked at the bucking horse's ribs, saw in her mind's eye where every organ was located: she'd cleared the board walk in a jump, ran to within forty feet of the horse, saw the child in danger, the schoolteacher streaking from the schoolhouse steps toward the big-eyed little boy.
The Sharps came to shoulder of its own accord, 70 grains of soft coal detonating in its heavy steel throat and driving a lead locomotive through the air.
The horse turned and caught the blue whistler aft, so to speak: the ball traveled the length of the bucking horse, parted company with its breast bone at a fair velocity, and sailed off to parts unknown.
Emma Cooper dove for the boy, seized his shirt and rolled just as the horse hit her.
Sarah turned to the proprietor.
Her face was the color of a bed sheet and her eyes the shade of winter ice as she handed the man the rifle.
"I'll take it," she said. "And a case of ammunition."

The Welsh Irishman dug into a sprint, running hard, running desperately, knowing he would be too late, too late, but not willing to give up when he hadn't even started.
He saw the horse collide with the schoolmarm, saw her go flying, saw the horse roll over and collapse, kicking, and he saw the little boy raise his head.
The Welsh Irishman saw Jackson Cooper at full charge, moving faster than a man could possibly run, and part of the fireman's mind marveled that a mountain could rip itself from the earth and grow legs.
He saw Sarah, behind, advancing stiff-armed, looking like she wanted to cheerfully rip someone's head off their shoulders and stuff it back down their neck upside-down: Jackson Cooper grabbed the dying horse by a leg and rolled it off his wife, stopped, then collapsed on all fours beside the unmoving figure.
The Sheriff calmed Cannonball, soothing her with hands and with voice, trying to ignore the agony of being crushed into the unmoving door frame: he saw Jackson Cooper grab the horse and pick it up overhead and throw it a hundred yards -- then he realized he was reading the man, not the action -- Jackson Cooper rolled the horse away and the Sheriff seized Cannonball's saddle horn as his knees went weak.
"Oh God no," he whispered as Jackson Cooper went to all fours beside his wife.
Shocked, frozen, the Sheriff watched as Jackson Cooper reached a trembling hand for his wife's cheek: he drew it back, swayed, then raised both fisted hands to Heaven and roared "NOOOOOOO!!!!!" in a voice that came from a mile under the nearest granite peak.
Something in a burgundy gown streaked in from up the street and skidded to a stop, grabbing Jackson Cooper by the shoulder: Sarah took his face in both hands, spoke something, the Sheriff could not tell what: she bent, titled her head, her hands busy, and nodded: she looked at Jackson Cooper and said something, then grabbed his face again and said louder, "JACKSON COOPER, SHE IS ALIVE!" and the Sheriff felt something tighten around his belly and he laid his other arm over the saddle.
A man distilled in the limbeck of war, rendered in the furnace of battle, carries memories, and sometimes they come back at the wrong time: this was one of those times, and every horror, every loss, every grief he'd ever known, crushed down on him, until he physically shook them off and turned.
His friend needed him.
His friend needed him NOW.

Sarah turned to the Welsh Irishman, pinned him with a pointed finger like a butterfly on a cork board.
"Get over to the hospital. Tell them Emma was hit by a horse. We need a stretcher. MOVE!"
"SIR!" the Welsh Irishman shouted, launching from a squat to a sprint.
"Jackson Cooper," Sarah said, "you need to talk to her."
"What?"
Jackson Cooper's voice was a strangled whisper; tears ran down into his red beard.
Sarah's hand was firm on the muscled marshal's shoulder. "Jackson Cooper," she said, her voice low and urgent, "you are the one person in all the world she loves more than any. Hearing is the last sense to be lost and chances are good she can hear you even if she can't respond yet."
"Emma."
Jackson Cooper's voice was dry, as if he'd not had water in ten years.
"Emma," he tried again, cleared his throat, laid a big, callused hand on her cheek.
Emma Cooper was pale, she was bleeding from a hoof-cut above her ear, she lay awkwardly, twisted; Sarah did not know how badly she was hurt but she did know that until the litter arrived, Emma should not be moved.
"Ma horse!" a voice shouted. "What did ya do to ma horse?"
Jackson Cooper stood, slowly, turned: for a big man he moved fast, and he seized the speaker by the throat, hauling the man off his feet.
"You," he said quietly, his voice low and full of murderous menace, "you, killed, my, WIFE!"
The Sheriff's hand clapped hard on Jackson Cooper's arm: "JACKSON, STAND DOWN! JACKSON, STAND DOWN!"
Jackson Cooper slashed his arm viciously back and out and the Sheriff went off his feet, landed on his back, rolled.
The Welsh Irishman ran up with the litter, both physicians and Nurse Susan with him.
Sarah stood up, walked calmly in front of the purple-faced Marshal and the equally purple-faced man he held.
"Jackson Cooper," she said in a schoolmarm's voice.
Jackson Cooper's teeth bared, his eyes bulged: there was murder in his eyes and hatred in his soul, for the man whose life he was squeezing away was the one who took the only good and decent thing he'd ever known.
Sarah grabbed Jackson Cooper's shoulders, jumped up, clamped her legs around his waist, slapped him hard and seized his head with both hands: she pulled her head up to his, his down to hers, and she screamed, "YOU RED BEARDED PILE OF ROCK HEAD STUBBORN MULE EARED IDIOT! YOUR WIFE IS CALLING YOUR NAME!"
Jackson Cooper blinked; his hand came open and he dropped his prisoner.
Sarah let go with her legs, dropped back down: Jackson Cooper turned: Emma was just laid out on the cot.
Doc Greenlees pulled her hands across her belly and held them.
"Carefully, now," he said, "lift," and the Welsh Irishman and Dr. Flint raised the litter: the Welsh Irishman facing away, facing the hospital.
"Route march, ho," Dr. Greenlees said, and Jackson Cooper followed, staggering: halfway there he stopped, bent over with his hands on his knees, breathing hard.
The Sheriff, bent over with his arm across his belly, laid a hand on Jackson Cooper's shoulder.
"She lives?"
"Aye."
Sarah came up beside her Papa.
"I'll take over at the schoolhouse," she said. "Papa" -- she ran a hand under the lawman's chin, raised his face, looked closely at him -- "Papa, are you well?"
"Never better," the Sheriff grunted.
"Liar." Sarah dropped her hand away, snatched up her skirts and hoisted her chin.
"Children," she called, then stopped and clapped her hands for attention. "Children, into the schoolhouse, please. We have work to do."

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Linn Keller 11-5-12

 

I set there in the waiting room.
That's all I did.
Just set.
It hurt too much to move.
Few men can belt a lawman and live to tell the tale.
Jackson Cooper was now one of that rare breed.
I'm here to tell you he did the job up right, too.
I ain't hurt this bad in some time but I hid it as best I could because Jackson Cooper was just plain sick with worry.
The Welsh Irishman was staying with him: had on his shoulder, talking to him, constantly, I don't know as he was saying much, really, but he was letting Jackson Cooper know he wasn't alone.
Finally Jackson Cooper turned like a striking rattler and somewhere between a snarl and a roar allowed as the damned Irishman should keep his mouth SHUT so he could THINK!
The Welsh Irishman drew himself up to full height and bristled like a Banty rooster, he fetched up his fists and allowed just as loud as if the big lug of a pea brain Marshal thought he was man enough t' do it, he'd be pleased t' take th' man down an' make him regret it!
Now the sight of the two of them -- the Welsh Irishman isn't small but he's half a head shorter than me, and Jackson Cooper is taller than me by a full head, and near half again as big at the shoulders -- well, the sight of the two of them squarin' off was honestly funny.
There was a moment of silence in the waiting room and I laughed.
The two of them stopped and looked at me and I don't think Jackson Cooper knew I was anywhere in the territory let alone hurt, and his face fell about three feet.
The silence was sudden and I saw Jackson Cooper's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard and then we heard something that I know ran the color out of my face like squeezing red ink out of an eye dropper.
My stomach turned over at the quick, rasping sound, and I smelt blood and men's bowels and I saw the inside of the field hospital, the work tables washed red with men's blood, I heard screams and pleas and men crying like lost children, I saw the surgeon's red hands with the fine-toothed bone saw and I heard that gut-twisting sound as he hacked through a man's leg bone.
"Good God," I gasped, "they're cuttin' her leg off!"
Jackson Cooper's mouth fell open and he turned and seized the door and yanked it open, fully expecting to see his beautiful bride being sawed apart by a grinning lunatick.
He saw one of the Daine boys cutting a strip of wood trim, a long thin piece that vibrated as he cut.
The long tall mountaineer looked up and regarded the bulge-eyed Marshal.
"You wanta hold the tag end there, Marshal?" he asked. "I don't want it to break off and splinter."

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