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Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 2-2-13

 

"It's no' often we'd need one," the Welsh Irishman admitted, "but 'twas no' handy t' carry th' mon so far. We took turns, aye, an' we got him there but ..." he hesitated, then continued, "Th' right tool f'r th' right job, Sean."
Sean's expression was haunted, for he too know what it was to need the right tool, and not have it.
"Aye, lad, ye're right," he admitted. "Sure an' we'll ha'e t' ha'e th' firehouse enlarged. We'll need a team dedicated to't ... an' manpower ... but 'twill be seen as extravagance an' waste."
"Likely 'twill."
"They'll ask ha'many times hae we needed an ambulance."
"Aye." The Welsh Irishman's voice was gloomy.
Sean sighed. "It'll take somethin' like th' coach turnin' o'er a mile 'r more fra' town."
"Aye."
Sean grasped the Welshman by the shoulders, squeezed gently.
"Ye recall wha' Rogers told us?"
Llewellyn grinned. "Aye," he said. "He said we canna' save th' world an' i' will grind our souls t' know it."
Both men looked up, looked at the front door: there were three distinct knocks, delivered with some hard object, not with knuckles: both men moved, Llewellyn pausing to allow Sean a full stride, deferring to the man's rank as fire chief.
Sean opened the door wide.
"Come in, lass," he said, his voice steady: he stood aside, gestured her in, and Sarah came in and stopped and laid a hand on the big Irishman's embroidered Maltese cross at the center of his shirts' red bib front.
Her eyes were big and her eyes were frightened, but her hand was steady as she lifted her chin and squeaked, "Might I see" -- she stopped, cleared her throat, swallowed, tried again.
"Might I see Mr. Llewellyn?"
The Welshman held station: Sarah asked the Chief, and it would be for the Chief to make reply: he was the authority and he was the law and he was the man in charge, and as Sarah asked of the Chief, it would be a breach of protocol for him to step forward unbidden.
Sean looked down at the diminutive young lady, curling his forefinger under her chin, lifting her face to him -- his touch was gentle, fatherly -- and in the gentlest of voices, this fierce Irish war-chieftain said "Aye, lass," and only then did Llewellyn step forth.
Sarah reached up and took Sean's hand, reached her hand out and took the Welsh Irishman's as well.
"Did you see what happened?" she asked, and the men exchanged a look, for they'd gone only as far as the unconscious shotgun rider.
"You don't know, then," she whispered, tightening her grip and dropping her head.
"We know ye brought in the runaway stage, th' two of ye," Sean said, his expression puzzled. "More than that, no."
Sarah nodded.
"I just needed," she said, her breathing quick, shallow, "I just ... needed ... someplace to feel safe for a moment." Sarah closed her eyes, bit her bottom lip, trembling a little.
Sean tilted his head a little toward the Welsh Irishman: he drew Sarah's hand closer to the Welshman, then extracted his strong, scarred paw from her grip, placed a gentle hand on her back and moved her closer as the Welsh Irishman opened his arms and Sarah shivered into them.
"Hold me," she whispered, her voice trembling. "Hold me."

The Sheriff listened without comment as Jacob gave a cold, factual account of what happened with the stage.
The Sheriff's face was impassive as Jacob described his leap to the wheel horse's back: he was busy enough he did not know what-all his sister did, but he did not hesitate to give her full credit for making a dismount at speed to gain the stage, and then at peril of her own life, down to gather the dropped reins.
The Sheriff already had what little information the passengers could give; none could see forward, most were clinging to the seat or the door frame, anything to give them support in the rocking, bouncing Concord coach.
He considered his son's words for a full minute before making reply.
"Jacob," he said, "your action -- no, your inaction -- saved lives."
Jacob waited, knowing his father was putting words together before he spoke them.
"Had you shot that horse -- you are right -- they would have piled up in a wreck."
"Yes, sir."
"Have you a statement from the shotgun guard?"
"No, sir. He's still out cold."
"The driver?"
"Doc says he will live."
The Sheriff's eyes smiled a little, though the smile did not extend to his face.
"That's not all he said."
"No, sir."
"He made comparisons to buffalo hump, raw hide and whalebone."
"He did, sir."
"The man is predictable."
"Yes, sir."
There was a tap at the door: it was the light sound of feminine knuckles, and both men rose.
Sarah came in, pale, looking almost like a scared little girl instead of the self-assured young woman they were used to seeing.
"Jackson Cooper?" she asked. "Should I go out?"
"He'll be fine," the Sheriff said in a deep, reassuring voice.
Sarah gathered a handful of skirt, crushing it in her fists.
"My report, sir," she said, her voice tight.
The Sheriff nodded.
"Report."
Sarah closed her eyes, her hands clasped in her apron: she took a long breath and started at the beginning.
Like Jacob, her account was factual, consecutive and without varnish: the simple declarative sentence is a powerful tool for communication and Sarah communicated powerfully: she described her leap and how the skirt fouled her effort, how she missed her intended mark and instead had to make a desperate grab for the driver's seat, catching the metal rail at its edge and feeling it bend under her weight: how she struggled to the seat, stood and shucked out of her dress and threw it into the wind, knowing if she lived, she could go after it, and if her effort was unsuccessful she would die and would have no further use for it: either way, she said with the barest hint of a smile, it was necessary to strip down to stop the stage.
She paused before continuing and swayed a little, her stomach turning over as she remembered the view from the driver's seat, and how she fell through space for a year and a day before she landed: the Sheriff listened with the same impassive stillness to his daughter's account as he'd listened to his son's: when Sarah was finished, the Sheriff gestured to Jacob, summoning him over, and to Sarah, crooking her close with bent finger: he stood and put one arm around his pale eyed firstborn and one around his pale eyed second born and said, "I am pretty damned proud of the both of you."
In an era where it was manly and correct to be stolid and undemonstrative, an era where people never smiled for portraits for a smile was seen as a sign of weakness, an era where Spartan stoicism was an ideal for the image of a manly man, Jacob and his father cheerfully tossed convention to the wind: arms around each other, the three squeezed and squeezed hard, and part of Sarah's mind whispered, I have wanted this for so very long!

"I've been a townie all ma life," the Welshman muttered, seated on an overturned dynamite crate. "I willna keep her fra' her horses an' fer tha' she needs a ranch."
"An' who's t' say ye'll no' take a likin' to an estate?" Sean challenged.
The Welshman grinned and his grin was crooked, wry: "Aye," he admitted, "but who's got t' money f'r an estate?"

Mr. Moulton blew out the lamp in his office.
He'd worked late, taking care of one last land transfer.
He smiled as he looked at the envelope, laid with the other documents, remembering its contents:
You should have a proper wedding gift.
Two hundred acres should be a good start.
The house is tight, the barns strong and the land fertile.
Timber and water and good graze, suitable for raising horses and children.
Our blessings on your married union.

It bore the signatures of both Sarah's fathers.

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Linn Keller 2-2-13

 

The Sheriff and Jacob were in the stage's driver's seat, their horses tethered behind: Sarah rode not far ahead, all in black, on her black Snowflake: the big horse looked all the bigger for Sarah's small size, or maybe Sarah looked smaller for the horse's bulk: eighteen hands and more above the ground is a fine and elevated platform, and more times than one the Sheriff eyed the big black Frisian and mentally compared her to his old Sam-horse, realizing she had Sam by a margin ... and old Sam had been a sizable horse in his own right.
The Sheriff drove, Jacob had shotgun in hand and another behind the seat, ready: Jacob's coat pockets held a handful of reloads apiece, but he well knew the value of a second, loaded gun, ready to hand.
Both men rode alert: two pair of pale eyes regarded the territory, and Sarah's as well: she matched her pace to the team pulling the stage coach: their speed was somewhat less than their usual hard-out pace, but that didn't trouble the passengers any.
After a holdup attempt, after the stage was runaway, after they realized their rescue was arrived horseback and with absolutely no idea just how this young pair was going to stop the runaway team, and after the Sheriff himself took the reins and his chief deputy climbed to the seat to ride shotgun -- after all this, the passengers offered no protest at being behind schedule.
There was little if any chance the robbers would remain, after trying and not succeeding; they were right: they arrived at the way station without incident.
The Sheriff had wired ahead; the stage line knew they would need a driver and a guard, that the Sheriff purposed to deliver the stage to the way station; they arrived, the team was turned into the corral, a fresh team stood ready, but with no driver yet, the passengers were offered the station's overnight accommodation.
The three rode back, searching the potential ambush points; the passengers' testimony had been singularly ineffective: not a one of them was familiar with the route, none could give any significant landmark, referent or even estimate; their search on the way back, in the deepening dusk, was utterly fruitless: finally, surrendering to the reality that the light needed to see by, was pretty well gone, they headed back for Firelands.
Sarah rode in silence; father and son discussed the potential ambuscades, spoke their observations when they examined each; Sarah's eyes were busy, but her mouth was closed, at least until they stopped at the last one just shy of the final turn that would let them see the Firelands gas lamps on the main street.
The Sheriff turned his red mare and looked squarely at Sarah.
The dusk did not hide the luminosity of his pale eyes, nor the single, summoning nod.
Sarah walked Snowflake up to her father, stopping when their off stirrups were nearly touching.
"You're finally taller than me," the Sheriff said, and Sarah -- close enough to lean out and touch him -- saw the smile in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said shortly.
The Sheriff raised an eyebrow. "You're sorry?"
"I'm not supposed to be taller than you."
The Sheriff stifled a smile, looked away, looked back.
"I would hear your thoughts."
"We looked at where the ambuscade likely was, but the light is poor. We will see more come daylight. My thoughts are to see to the guard, if he is awake, the driver if he yet lives, and I worry about Emma Cooper."
The Sheriff nodded. "Esther arranged supper to be taken to them."
"Cold comfort," Sarah said, her voice hollow.
"She's taking it out herself."
"That will be a comfort, then. Emma ..."
The Sheriff leaned over, took Sarah's hand gently in his.
"I know. You should stop and see her. It's not far."
"Yes, sir."
"We'll see to the driver and the shotgun. You go on, see to Emma, then get a good night's rest."
Sarah looked hard at her father, then nodded.
He said that to Jacob when there was work to be done on the morrow.
Sarah spoke to Snowflake, and the big black mare cantered down the road towards town.

Sarah strode across the kitchen and put her hands firmly on Jackson Cooper's shoulders.
"Sit," she commanded, and the Marshal sank back into his chair, and Emma could see the amusement in her husband's eyes.
Sarah laid her fingers gently on his cheeks, turned his head a little, tilting her own as she studied his features: she laid the backs of her fingers against his forehead, nodded.
Sarah put her knuckles on her hips and frowned at the Marshal.
"You realize, don't you," she said quietly, "if you get yourself killed, I'll never speak to you again!"
It took a moment for Jackson Cooper to realize just what she said, then another moment for how she said it, to sink in, then he chuckled a little, frowning and pressing his arm against his ribs before daring to chuckle a bit more.
"Jackson Cooper," Sarah whispered, bending a little, one hand on his shoulder, the other on her own knee as she stooped, "we only have one of you. You are rare and you are special and I can't replace you."
"Why, thank you," Jackson Cooper said, his face reddening: he ducked his head like a bashful schoolboy, and Sarah straightened, turned to Emma Cooper.
"I need your advice," she whispered, then cleared her throat, her expression troubled.
Jackson Cooper stood, then turned and headed toward the stairway.
He'd had a busy day and the doc told him to take things easy for a while, and he did: he took the rest of the day easy, he even delegated cleaning the barn and throwing hay to a pair of lads from town: tomorrow, he figured, he'd be well enough to go back to tending his own livestock, but for now, why, the ladies wanted to talk, and it looked like a fine excuse to him, to go upstairs and stretch out in the bunk.
Jackson Cooper got undressed without too much difficulty, and shrugged slowly into his flannel night shirt: his face was impassive as he threw back the bed covers and situated himself in the bunk, careful not to bump into his wife who wasn't there -- habit is a hard thing to break -- and as he settled into relaxation, the cat padded across the floor and launched herself onto his belly.
Jackson Cooper's arms were out from under the covers yet and he caressed the striped grey cat, then slid one arm, then the other beneath quilts and sheets, and the cat curled up squarely on top of where that one rib had been broken, and it was the first time all day -- between her weight, and her warmth -- that his rib didn't hurt.

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Linn Keller 2-3-13

 

Sarah sat unsmiling in front of the Sheriff's house, rifle propped up on her thigh, silent in the light snowfall.
Her black hat was dusted with fine, dry snow; snow lay across her shoulders and in the folds of her black coat, individual dry snow pellets slid down the junction of rifle barrel and magazine tube.
The Sheriff stopped, then closed his front door behind him, walked out onto his front porch, his pace slow.
Snowflake was as still as her rider, her rider was still as death itself, pale eyes regarded the mustachioed lawman from under the hat brim.
"What," the Sheriff said quietly, "is your intention?"
"There is work to be done," Sarah said, equally silently, the steel in her voice at odds with the beauty of her face.
"Yes," the Sheriff agreed, "there is, and it will be tended."
"Orders, sir?"
The Sheriff walked down his front stairs ... one step, two, three.
He looked up at his solemn, unsmiling daughter.
"Change clothes," he said. "You'll look more like the schoolmarm in a dress."
Sarah's cold eyes hardened.
"Emma Cooper is home with her husband and you know that," the Sheriff continued. "You will need to run the schoolhouse until she's back."
Sarah's gloved hand tightened around her rifle's fore end and the Sheriff saw her jaw muscles tighten: the cold-air pink in her cheeks stood out all the brighter as she paled, and somewhere in a realm unseen, the Sheriff's long-dead mother whispered a warning, War on the mountain, and Sarah threw a leg over and slid out of the saddle, free-falling several feet before landing easily, knees flexed: she spun, thrust the rifle in its scabbard, took a half dozen quick steps to catch up with the Sheriff.
Sarah seized her father's coat sleeve, pulled hard, spinning him a quarter turn: her mouth was open a little, her teeth set, and the Sheriff saw the same cold fire in her eyes that he'd seen in his own, in unguarded moments, reflected momentarily in water or a mirror or a window pane.
Sarah's hand seized the Sheriff's lapel.
The Sheriff stopped, waiting, watching, knowing her mind was running as fast as her body was not: Sarah closed her eyes, took a long breath, shivered: she relaxed her grip, laying her black-gloved hand flat on her Papa's chest and whispered, "What the hell am I doing?"
The Sheriff seized Sarah by her coat front: he grabbed her hard, twisted, picked her up, flexing lean muscled arms until Sarah's feet swung well free of the ground and her nose was level with his: he drew her in, their hat brims colliding: two Stetsons fell to the ground and the Sheriff stared hard and unblinking into the pale, hard and unblinking eyes of his little girl.
The Sheriff kissed Sarah's lips, once, lightly, and whispered "I'll tell you what you're doing," and Sarah waited, feeling like cold lightning just seared down through her soul, feeling the life and the absolute power of the bare, delicate touch of father's lips to daughter's.
"You," the Sheriff whispered, "are following," he paused, "your heart."
He held her a few more moments, staring, then tossed her up a little, running an arm around her, then the other: he hugged her, hard, fiercely, and Sarah heard a groan from the man's throat, and felt him shiver.
The Sheriff squatted, pulled Sarah over on his out-thrust thigh, and Sarah sat on her Daddy's lap, and her Daddy brushed a wisp of hair from her cheek.
"You," he whispered, and she felt his hand tremble a little as his thumb caressed her cheekbone, "are so very much like me." He shook his head, blinking. "I could not see it in Jacob -- not at first -- but I can see it in you.
"Sarah," he continued, his voice still at a whisper, "this snow just buried any sign we could hope to find for that bush whack. Dark last night and snow today, what tools do we use to discover the truth?"
Sarah blinked, confused: it was frightening to feel her Papa's strength when he grabbed her, when he picked her up -- she knew he liked the tactic, to take the fight out of someone, there's something very unnerving about losing contact with the earth -- and he'd set her so easily, so effortlessly on his lap, as if she was a little girl -- and now his whisper was gentle, and she knew he was teaching a lesson in a classroom of one.
Sarah blinked, considering.
"We must discover that which has been covered."
The Sheriff nodded.
"A broom will be of little help."
Again the nod.
"What tools ..." Sarah's eyes tracked left, slowly, then right, then back to her Papa's eyes.
"Knowledge," she said. "Discover. Uncover. Find." Her eyes were bright as realization dawned, and she nodded.
"I'll cover the schoolhouse," she said. "If the children ... if anything touched any household I'll hear it. Children go everywhere and hear everything and see everything."
The Sheriff nodded, his eyes smiling a little.
"You will take care of the Jewel and elsewhere ... but I am the only one who could possibly listen at school."
The Sheriff laid a strong hand on her gloved fist.
"My dear Agent Rosenthal," he whispered, "you are the only individual suitable for the assignment. In this, you cannot be replaced. Do you accept the assignment?"
Sarah pulled off her glove, caressed her Papa's clean shaven cheek, blinked.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I was wrong."
The Sheriff straightened, picking Sarah up again, kissed her cheek and hugged her again, then he swung her up and carried her over to the porch steps.
"No," he said. "You were not wrong." He lowered her black-booted feet to the middle step, held her by the shoulders and leaned his forehead against hers, looking into her darkening eyes.
"You are a strong and capable young woman, and you are my blood, and I love you more than my own life. I see your heart and I see my own." He hugged her again, fiercely, the desperate embrace of a father realizing his little girl wasn't a little girl anymore ... that bright and terrible moment when the realization, the knowledge, resided no more behind his forehead, and the realization, the knowledge, migrated down into the man's heart.
"Papa?"
Sarah's voice was soft, that of a little girl, of his little girl.
"Yes, Sarah?"
"Papa, it's snowing in our hats."

Cl-clang, cl-clang, cl-clang!
Sarah stood on the top step, the bell firm in her grip, slinging its brassy tintinnabulations across the street, summoning the few laggards as they ran laughing through the snow: she looked properly prim, standing there, smiling and greeting each student by name.
She looked up and smiled, for a man separated from the small group crossing the street toward the Silver Jewel and stopped, looking at her: he raised a hand and smiled shyly, and Sarah raised her hand and waved at the Welsh Irishman, and not even a swirl of wind-spun snowflakes could diminish the delight in each of their expressions.
Sarah closed the door behind her, nodded approvingly as scarves and caps and coats were hung, as students made their way to their benches, as here and there one or two would huddle in front of a gas heater, spreading cold-pink fingers and shivering a little as they soaked in the welcome warmth of the hissing flames.
Sarah held the bell like a scepter before her: she raised her chin and lifted her skirt and stepped out with her characteristic, businesslike gait, marched down the center aisle and placed the brass bell in its place on the shelf, the bent handle turned toward the left.
Sarah returned to the center of the room, clapped her hands twice; quiet murmurs ceased, with only the occasional restless shuffle of young feet.
"Class," Sarah said, her voice clear and distinct in the respectful hush, "you may have heard. Miz Emma's husband was hurt and so she is home taking care of him." She nodded a little at the end of her sentence, looking and sounding like the proper schoolmarm illustrating the use of a declarative sentence. "You may also have heard that the stage driver was shot. He is still in hospital and his shotgun guard was hurt as well."
"And you saved the stage, Miss Sarah!" one of the Kolascinski boys piped, his seatmate elbowing him quickly into silence.
"Theodoro," Sarah smiled, and the little boy grinned, revealing a new gap where a baby tooth had been the day before, "I helped a little but my brother did as well." She paused, looked closer. "Did you just lose a tooth?"
"Naw," young Theodore complained. "Ma saw it was loose so she grabbed it an' yanked it out!"
The lad that elbowed him looked at him, big-eyed. "Did it hurt?" he asked, and Sarah smiled a little, allowing the exchange for another moment before clapping her hands for attention.
"We will begin with our morning prayer, and we will pray for the safety of the stage, the recovery of the driver and guard, the comfort of the passengers and for the souls of those who shot a good man, and we will pray for the recovery of Jackson Cooper and for the comfort of Miz Emma." Sarah looked her class over, nodded. "Robert. Please stand and lead us in the morning prayer."

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Linn Keller 2-4-13

 

The phrase "A woman's work is never done" was truer in the Firelands era than today: laundry was done by hand, unless you had one of those fancy Sears and Sawbuck machines, or prosperous enough to patronize the Chinese laundry: men, too, labored all day long, and children were expected to work from the time they were big enough to follow Ma or Pa around.
It was a way of life, it was expected, it was accepted; still, there were moments ...
Annette, for instance, found time enough from her constant labors to run out to the board fence and stare in amazement at their bull, contentedly walking about the pasture, with little Joseph astride his shoulders: the bull seemed content to have a passenger, and Joseph had a grin on his face that lit up the countryside like a cloudless sunrise.
Annette watched this sight for a bit, until the bull spotted her and came trotting over for attention and a sweet roll; the big bovine closed his eyes with pleasure and grunted with contentment as Annette petted it and rubbed his ears and called him a fine, big fellow, like she did when he was a cute little bull calf -- "boocaffie," as little Joseph called him then -- and finally Annette reached up and pulled Joseph off, swinging him down and swatting his bottom gently with a, "Back to the house, young man, you have chores to do!" -- at which little Joseph said both, "Aawww, Maaaa," like any little boy, then he slipped behind her to pat the bull's neck: "Bye, Boocaffie!" and he slid neatly between the fence rails and scampered for the house.

"How is he?" Jacob asked quietly.
The Sheriff drew the sheet slowly, respectfully over the still form.
Jacob, still standing in the doorway, hat in his hand, closed his eyes: Doc Greenlees saw Jacob's free hand close slowly into a fist.
"If you mean the driver," Doc said quietly, "he's in the next room, asleep. This was a miner. Took a tamping rod through the gut."
Jacob's eyes opened and he regarded the sheeted form, then the physician.
"Steel rod?" he asked quietly.
Doc Greenlees gestured; Jacob crossed the room, picked up the murderous implement: it was indeed steel, and likely threw a spark when the miner was tamping powder for the next underground shot.
"They usually use wood," he said with a sigh.
Doc nodded.
"How about the shotgun guard?"
"Hunt? He's awake, finally. The man thinks he murdered some girl, knocked her off the side of the stage."
"If he remembers where the bushwhacker hid I'll be tickled."
"Go in and ask him."

It took until noon for a student to screw up the courage to sidle up to Miss Sarah and tug at her sleeve: their conference was in low voice, behind Miss Sarah's big desk. Emboldened, another waited impatiently, then took his turn at divulging what he'd heard.
Sarah nodded, thanking each student in their turn: she waited another hour, hoping for more: getting none, she stepped to the window, the one with a little sun still slanting in it, and looked out.
The Sheriff opened his office door, looked around the way he always did, stepped out, turning to pull the door shut.
Sarah raised a little mirror, the kind women carry to make sure their hair is just so or their face paint is not smeared; she held it up, wiggled it a little, shooting a beam through the window, across the street, across her Papa's eyes as he turned.
She lowered the mirror, waved delicately: the Sheriff raised his hat in acknowledgement, then crossed the street, heading for the schoolhouse.
Jacob, coming out of the hospital, saw his Pa headed across the way.
Jacob thrust his foot into the stirrup, swung easily into the saddle, kneed Apple-horse toward the older lawman with the lean waist and the iron-grey mustache.

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Linn Keller 2-4-12

 

Children in any age and in any land are ... children.
Schoolchildren have a common trait: they are fast -- and never so fast as when school is dismissed.
The Sheriff debated momentarily whether he should clap his hand to his head to keep his hair from being sucked from his thinning scalp, so sure was he that the rapid departure of young humanity would form a spinning slipstream that would strip his head absolutely bald.
He looked over at Jacob, who had a good grip on his hat: apparently something of the kind occurred to the chief deputy as well.
Sarah waved at the few who turned to pipe a departing "Bye, Miz Sarah!" -- then she drew the doors shut and folded her hands primly in her apron.
"Jacob," the Sheriff said, "discovered the location."
Sarah regarded her pale-eyed brother, frowned a little, turned and looked around the tidy little schoolhouse. Her bottom lip pressed up against her top teeth, then she said "Follow me," and headed for the front of the room.
Jacob and his father looked at each other, then followed the self-assured young woman.
Sarah bent, reached under her desk: she pulled out a stool, set it beside the desk and said "Now you two stand there. Just like that, thank you."
Sarah stepped up on the stool, folded her hands again and nodded.
"That's better," she said. "I was getting a crick in my neck, looking up at the both of you." She frowned at Jacob. "You're as tall as he is. Shouldn't you stop growing?"
Jacob and the Sheriff looked at one another, surprised.
"I may be in trouble," the Sheriff admitted, smiling a little: "I didn't hit my full growth until I was ... what, twenty five years old or so?"
Sarah's mouth opened a little as she regarded Jacob with wide and appraising eyes.
"You're ... six foot two now ... and you're ... oh, dear ..."
"Never mind that," Jacob said impatiently, waving his hand: "what did you find?"
"Location, description, identity, cohort, escape route and intended destination."
"Eh?"
"They're long gone."
Jacob and the Sheriff exchanged a hard look; Sarah could not help but consider that not only were father and son equally broad of shoulder, lean of waist and of a like height -- they both bulged their jaw muscles the same when they were not terribly happy.
Both men looked at Sarah and spoke with one voice: "Whither away?"
Sarah waved her hands, stepped off the stool, thrust it back under her desk.
"This, this, this is just too much," she declared, sounding almost like a clucking chicken -- an irritated clucking chicken -- "If little Joseph turns out like the two of you, God help us all!"
"What?" Jacob asked, looking at his father with honest puzzlement; the Sheriff shrugged.
"How much like the two of you am I?" Sarah asked, and Jacob smiled at the distress in her voice: he stopped the laugh that bubbled up in his soul as Sarah thrust a finger at his chin: "Don't," she warned. "Don't you dare laugh!"
Jacob's ears turned red and he grinned and looked at his grinning father and he could not help himself.
He laughed.
Sarah's eyes went pale but her cheeks were red and she stiffened her arms at her side, her hands fisted and her shoulders drawn up; with an "Ooooohh!" of exasperation, she turned away, then turned back, shaking her Mommy-finger at her brother: "I told you not to laugh!' -- at which point Jacob laughed all the harder, leaning down a little, bracing palms on his knees, surrendering himself to an absolute attack of mirth.
Sarah's lips peeled back and she cocked a fist and Jacob's hand shot out, his palm flat on her forehead, and Sarah swung, missing: her arm was too short to hit Jacob, but she tried -- a roundhouse right, a left, a right again, each punctuated by an angry grunt, and Jacob, his arm stiff, laughed all the harder: Sarah tried a kick, with a similar lack of success, and Jacob gave up, gathering his sister into his arms and throwing his head back, howling his mirth to the ceiling -- at least until her sharp little knuckles drove into his ribs.
She didn't really hurt him, she certainly didn't cause any damage, because her anger was dissolving and dissolving fast under the solvent of his honest laughter.
Jacob picked her up, pinning her arms to her sides, then he sat down and Sarah's feet hit the floor and she popped out of his grip like a cork out of deep water: she reached over into the corner and seized a broom, spinning it about its center of gravity, eyes pale, hair fairly a-bristle, and Jacob pointed at her and sagged, beyond all hope of laughter now, his mirth so powerful he could barely make a choking, gasping sound: his face was utterly red, he was crying he was laughing so hard, and he slid out of the seat and to the floor.
The Sheriff was trying without much luck to hide his own mirth behind a scar-knuckled hand: Sarah glared at him, drove the end of the broom handle into the floor with a sharp, woody sound, and glared at the tall, skinny old lawman.
Sarah glared at Jacob, then at the Sheriff, then at Jacob again, and then shook her finger at one and then the other.
"Do you know" -- her voice was harsh -- "do either of you two know how hard it is not to LAUGH??"
Sarah waited, her anger washing away like snow melt, smiling now at the two lawmen as they shared a good laugh, and the sound of father and son in agreeable mirth was good to hear.
"I," Sarah said, "must have looked like an absolute fool." She looked at the broom, parked it back in the corner.
"But a very pretty fool," the Sheriff offered, and this time Sarah laughed as well: she walked up to her Papa, laid a gentle hand on his breast, then hauled off and kicked him in the shin just as hard as she could.
"OOWWW!!!" the Sheriff yelled, jumping back, and Jacob and Sarah laughed just as hard as the two men laughed a moment before.
"Your turns is coming," Sarah warned, shaking her finger at Jacob.
Sarah waited until the Sheriff quit hopping on one foot and Jacob quit sounding like a chicken laying a paving brick, before speaking further.
"Now if you two think you can act like grown-ups instead of silly featherheads, we'll talk about the case at hand."

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Linn Keller 2-5-12

 

The Sheriff sat down on one of the backless benches, Jacob on another: Sarah drew out her high-backed chair, settled herself in it with a smoothing of skirts and a prim folding of hands.
"Good Lord," Jacob said quietly, "she looks the part, don't she?"
"Don't make her mad," the Sheriff warned. "She has a knuckle crackin' ruler and she knows how to use it."
Sarah gave them a patient look over her round lens spectacles.
The Sheriff leaned forward, elbows on his knees, twisting his lower back a little and frowning.
"What do we know so far?" he asked rhetorically.
Jacob stood, paced slowly to the blackboard: he picked up a lump of chalk, wrote quickly, his print regular and clear.
Driver shot. Alive.
Guard fell. Alive.
Ambush --

He looked at Sarah.
"Gobbler's Knob," she said.
"Stands to reason," Jacob muttered, writing the name after the word ambush.
Number?
He looked at Sarah.
"Three," she said, rising.
Jacob wrote the number 3, put the chalk back in its trough, turned.
"Report."
Sarah walked slowly to the chalkboard, picking up a tapered hardwood pointer: tapping it twice against the edge of the chalkboard to punctuate that she was about to speak, she addressed the lawmen as if delivering a lecture.
"Testimony from three children, three separate families. Three strangers were seen skulking at Gobbler's Knob" -- she turned a little, tapped the printed location with the black tip of her pointing stick -- "one holding the horses, one lookout and one laying wait. One shot fired, the stage whipped up and got away, the three swore terribly and believed the shot missed. The stage went west, they three went east, then south."
The Sheriff's eyes never wavered from Sarah, who continued lecturing.
"Children are curious and children are sneaky and children are competitive. Two of the three slithered close and listened as the trio debated their course of action. They were agreed that having shot at the driver, that pursuit would be swift, but as nobody was shot, pursuit would not last long and their getaway would be assured.
"They are for the old trail south, their destination Rabbitville.
"Apparently there was some discussion as to this destination. The measles seem to be likened to the plague and two were reluctant until their leader stated that nobody would come after them with death stalking the streets."
Sarah smiled a little.
"My words, not his. The witness quoted the speaker as saying nobody would come where people are a-dyin'.
"The other two then asked why they should go if people are a-dyin', as they do not wish to die, and their leader laughed and said the measles are long gone but it leaves a bad reputation.
"They three agreed, saddled up and rode off."
Sarah reached into a hidden pocket, withdrew a watch on a length of fine chain, apparently broken from its fob.
"They dropped this."
She paced over to the Sheriff, handed him the watch.
The Sheriff ran the fine-link chain through his fingers, looked at its end, turned the watch over, pressed the stem to open the covers front and back.
He read inside the back cover, looked at something in the front cover, handed it to his son.
"I know the family," he said quietly. "I know where they'll be."

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Linn Keller 2-5-12

 

"I'll get changed," Sarah said, hanging her pointer from the screw eye in its handle end.
"Yes," the Sheriff said. "I want you in that sky-blue gown, the one with a little lace at the sleeves and the neck."
Sarah raised one eyebrow. "Very well," she said slowly. "I ... shall do so, of course."
Jacob's eyes were half-lidded; the Sheriff could almost hear the gears turning between his son's ears.
"Jacob."
"Yes, sir?"
"Jacob, did Mr. Llewellyn not say the cotillion was tonight?"
"He did, sir."
"And did he not ask my permission to escort Sarah to said cotillion?"
"He did, sir."
"And I believe my reply was in the affirmative."
"It was, sir."
The two looked at Sarah.
"You have a rather important appointment," the Sheriff said quietly.
Sarah glared at her father.
"I am not a side of beef, to be auctioned off to the highest bidder," she said quietly, a dangerous edge to her voice, and the Sheriff felt his daughter's anger rise like heat radiating from a cast iron stove.
"At ease," he said gently, raising a forestalling palm: "we cannot sweep down upon them, nor can we seize the guilty, until we know who they are."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said, frowning a little, listening closely.
The Sheriff carefully closed both the watch's covers.
"I believe," he said, "this will be my ticket to the truth."
"They may not wish to be taken," Sarah said, her voice tight: she reminded the Sheriff of a lean and hungry hound, ready to course after its quarry, needing only a word to loose it like a living arrow.
"Of course the won't," the Sheriff said. "Which is why I am going alone."
"What?" Jacob and Sarah blurted: they looked at each other, then both looked at the Sheriff and said in chorus, "I'm sorry, sir, I ... what?"
"You both know I do nothing without planning," the Sheriff explained patiently, a half-smile tightening the corners of his eyes: "I need to plan, and I plan well in the saddle, and I shall ... go take a look at the ... situation. Once I am satisfied of the quarry, then the hunt begins."
Sarah opened her mouth, then closed it.
Jacob blinked, considering that a closed mouth utters no mistakes, and kept his in that wise.
Sarah was not content to let well enough be.
She walked up to her Papa, looking very much the proper young schoolmarm.
"Papa," she said, "please stand up."
The Sheriff looked at her, a wry smile on his face.
"Are you going to kick me in the shin again?"
"Only if you deserve it," she said tartly, and the Sheriff chuckled, for she sounded so much like her Mama when she said it.
He stood.
Sarah glared at him over her spectacles, her eyes bright.
"I was wrong," she said, "and I apologize."
The Sheriff looked down at the young woman before him and raised one eyebrow.
"I am not a side of beef," Sarah continued, "and you did not auction me off. It was wrong of me to say that."
The Sheriff nodded. "Yes," he agreed. "It was."
Sarah raised an admonishing finger, thrust herself against her Papa, shaking her finger at his face.
"If you go and get yourself killed," she said, her voice tight, "I -- I ... I'll never speak to you again!"
The Sheriff tried hard not to laugh.
Honest.

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Linn Keller 2-7-13

 

A dance, a ball, a Cotillion, was always an Event: the men wore neckties and the ladies, fine gowns; faces were scrubbed, whiskers shaved, hair cut, boots polished: much fuss and bother was given over to Looking Just Right: a dance, whether a square dance at a barn raisin' or after a husking bee, or a more formal affair with musicians imported for the occasion, was a short reprieve from the labors of every day life.
Men and women rode in or drove a surprising distance for these times.
Chief among the jewels displayed were the young, single, marriageable ladies: chief among the attendees were the marriageable men, mostly young, but not all.
The Irish Brigade, of course, was there, and among them, one nervous young man with his hair slicked down and carefully barbered, his face precisely shaved (by one of his fellows: his hands shook so that he feared nicking himself), his uniform clean, immaculate, new boots polished to a high shine ... and tucked safely behind his red wool bib front, a small box.

The Sheriff rode unerringly through the evening and into the dark; both he and his red mare had eyes for the dark, and followed the path unerringly as it wound through the mountains.
It would take him until sunup to get to the little ranch; it would not take long after that to transact his business.
He had three sets of irons in his saddlebag and some piggin string besides: he hoped to leave with three prisoners, and no holes in them, but he was not a fool and knew better than to get his hopes up.

Jacob frowned in the mirror.
Little Joseph stood beside him and frowned as well.
Jacob stroked his chin meditatively.
Little Joseph stroked his own in imitation.
Jacob looked down at his serious-faced son.
"Joseph," he said, "I believe we need to shave."
"Yes, sir," Little Joseph nodded solemnly.
"Fetch up that chair and stand up here."
Little Joseph seized the high back chair and pushed it over beside his Pa.
Jacob stepped a little to the side. "Stand up here."
Little Joseph climbed up on the chair, stood.
Jacob spun lather in the shaving cup, looked at the mirror, looked at his son.
"I can't do this face-on," he muttered, sliding the chair squarely in front of the mirror and standing behind Joseph.
Little Joseph faced the mirror.
Jacob situated his head just above Joseph's, took the shaving brush and proceeded to lather his little boy's face, then his own: one cheek on Joseph, one cheek of his own; the other cheek of Joseph, the other cheek of his own; Joseph's under-jaw, then his own; Joseph's chin, and finally his own.
"We won't shave your mustache," Jacob said quietly, and little Joseph grinned, then resumed his stolid mien.
Jacob turned and stropped his straight razor. "I stoned this a couple minutes ago," he said, "but I have to get the wire edge off."
"Yes, sir."
Jacob turned to the mirror, gave his cheek an experimental touch of the blade, leaned closer to the mirror and frowned.
"Joseph," he said as his son frowned as well, "it's important to frown when you make your first stroke." He shaved another half inch of his own cheek and frowned to illustrate the point.
Little Joseph positively glared at the mirror.
"Just like that," Jacob nodded. "Now hold still. We need to get those whiskers off you."
Little Joseph held absolutely, positively, stock still, not out of fear of a razor nick, but because it's what his Pa wanted, and he was determined to please his Pa.

"The heels are higher than what you are used to," Bonnie murmured, "but you are so lovely wearing them!"
Sarah laughed. "If they are so lovely," she smiled, her eyes mischevious, "why do we hide them under a dress?"
Bonnie gave her daughter a knowing look and started to say something when they heard Levi pass by the closed door.
Sarah turned quickly, her gown flowing as she turned: she did not so much walk, as float, to the door: Bonnie knew just how to fix her hair to compliment her face, she wore dangling little ear-bobs and a cameo, her little girl looked so grown-up -- and Sarah seized the door knob, pulled the door quickly open and was gone.
Bonnie blinked, hairbrush in hand, then sighed and turned to her mirror, hoping Sarah's absence would not be too lengthy.
Sarah skipped after Levi, seized his arm, fell in beside him.
Levi stopped, turned: he blinked and regarded this lovely young lady suddenly on his arm: he bowed, raised her knuckles to his lips and murmured, "Forgive me, my dear, I do not believe we have been properly introduced."
Sarah gave him a long look with dark eyes, deep eyes beneath long lashes: she took an uncertain breath and said in an uncertain voice, "I'm scared."
Levi blinked, turned his head a little as if to bring a good ear to bear. "Eh?"
"This way." Sarah tugged at his arm and the pair continued down the hall and into the parlor.
"Levi," she said, "dance with me."
Levi extended a hand, and Sarah took it: they moved, stepped, turned: Sarah was spun, paced out, paced back: they executed the several maneuvers associated with the various dance steps they expected to encounter, and not until Sarah had tried each one at least three times was she ready to nod and change the subject.
"Now I need your advice," she said solemnly, her hand on his arm.
"As I am able," Levi murmured.
Sarah took a long breath, her lashes lowered; Levi saw her bite her bottom lip as she considered.
"Levi," she said quietly, "I have faced up to and faced down large and angry people bearing a variety of weapons. I have been shot, stabbed, cut, run over and run into and I walked the drawbar of a runaway stage in my frillies."
She looked up at the man and he saw her face was a little pale.
"Levi, I knew what to do. Every time, I knew what was right.
"Here ..."
Levi saw her young bosom heave twice before she continued and he thought My God! she's feminine! -- and for a moment he felt the same mental imbalance that any father feels when he realizes his little girl isn't a little girl anymore.
"What if I make a fool of myself?" Sarah worried aloud, her voice quiet. "What if I say something that ... what if he ... Mr. Llewellyn ..."
She looked up at the tall agent, her hand tightening on his coat sleeve, squeezing the lean-muscled arm beneath with her gloved hand.
"I'm scared," she whispered.

I could have wired the jurisdictional county, the Sheriff thought.
Cannonball moved easily at a fast walk; this was plenty fast for his purposes, it did not tire his mount at this altitude, and it gave them both plenty of time to assess the trail ahead.
Cannonball's hooves were loud in the nighttime cold; her breath and the Sheriff's plumed out as they exhaled.
I probably should have let him know I would be operating in his county.
I don't want their interference.
I know the old man and he knows me.
No, better to handle it this way.


"Now pull your mouth over like this. That stretches the skin."
Little Joseph pursed his lips and twisted them 'way off to the side.
Jacob carefully, gently, passed the razor's honed edge down his son's downy-fuzz cheek, scraping off lather and imagination but little else, then he wiped the lather on his towel and made an identical stroke down his own cheek.
It was taking him well more than twice as long to shave, he knew, but he was enjoying himself, and he would get to the cotillion to serve as Sarah's escort -- or one of them -- in plenty of time.
Annette watched from the doorway, leaning against the casing, smiling, for there is something precious about father and son in such a moment.

Sarah waited until the moment was right.
She eased stockinged feet out of her backless shoes, cat-footed into her Mama's room, opened the closet door: There, she thought, bending down: she slipped into another pair of shoes, fastened the instep straps, took a few experimental steps, twirled.
Much better, she thought.
Mama was right.
A higher heel makes it easier to dance.

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Charlie MacNeil 2-7-13

 

"We," Fannie declared tartly, "are going to be late!"

"Not to worry, my love," her husband answered, chuckling. "We're a mere two miles from town, the horses are still fresh, it's a beautiful time of the day, and we have a standing reservation at the Jewel. Life is good."

"That's easy for you to say," she went on. "You don't have nearly as many layers to install on your homely carcass as I do my own," she smiled primly, but there was a saucy gleam in her emerald eyes, "more shapely one."

"And quite shapely it is, my dear," Charlie replied, urging the pair of roan geldings to a faster pace with a shake of the reins. "You know I'm always willing to assist you in such endeavors."

"Your talents lie more in the direction of removal of layers than their addition, Sugar," Fannie laughed. "I'll just have to muddle through on my own."

"The results are always spectacular either way, Darlin'," Charlie assured his shapely bride. The outskirts of Firelands hove into view, their outlines limned in gold by the rapidly setting sun. The couple's buckboard rolled smartly down the main street to the front porch of the Silver Jewel, where Charlie drew the team to halt, stepping down and offering his hand to Fannie. "You head on in, I'll bring your 'bags'," he glanced significantly at the small steamer trunk lashed down in the bed of the wagon, "then take the team to visit their Uncle Shorty while you get started with the transformation." He let his gaze glide the length of her curvaceous form. "Though I'm thinking there ain't much to transform."

"You," Fannie said with a smile, "are a very bad man." She kissed him quickly then turned to take the stairs to the Jewel's broad veranda in measured, sinuous steps, knowing her tight trousers were catching the attention of not only her husband but every other warm-blooded male in the immediate vicinity. Charlie followed her progress keenly until she reached the top step before turning to begin loosening the lashings holding his bride's luggage in the wagon bed. His last thought as she disappeared through the Jewel's elegantly etched glass doors was I hate to see her go, but I love to watch her leave!.

He chuckled as he lifted the trunk from the wagon bed and strode up the steps himself to set the trunk before the hotel's front desk.

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Linn Keller 2-8-13

 

Bonnie watched, but did not interrupt, as Sarah and Levi held their conference.
Sarah was in profile, as was Bonnie's husband.
Sarah's expression was fluid, mobile: one moment, anxious and uncertain; another, and she was beautiful and smiling: her hands clasped his, and for a moment, Bonnie was grateful this was her daughter and not a rival, for Sarah was becoming an absolutely beautiful young woman ... the effect more pronounced for her gown, her coiffure, her ...
Bonnie's eyes stung for a moment as she remembered a similar moment when she too was young and beautiful, back in the Carolinas, before a cotillion, when she too was anxious for the counsel -- or perhaps the assurance, the approval -- of her own Papa.
There was a formal coming-out party, back on the plantation, and Bonnie leaned against the wall, remembering ... she had been the Belle of that particular Ball, and a remarkable night it was ...

The Sheriff made his bed among a few rocks in the middle of a meadow; Cannonball grazed nearby, an alert picket and faithful sentry if ever there was one: he made no fire, for he wished to give the world no signal of his presence.
While Jacob was knotting his necktie, the Sheriff was spreading coarse blankets; while Joseph's hair was being slicked down by motherly hands, the Sheriff pulled of his boots and lay on a hard mattress: and a pair of green eyes gazed through a window into the darkness, looking toward the shadows that blocked the stars, those granite sentinels where Esther knew her husband traveled that night, and she breathed a prayer for the lawman's safety.

The Welsh Irishman frowned at his boots.
They gleamed in the lamplight.
The Welsh Irishman rubbed a restless hand over his cheeks.
They were barbered and smooth, flawless ... he stared in the mirror at the stranger who stared back at him.
He wore his only suit.
It was well made and of good material, it was brushed and clean and quite presentable, and he wondered ... his stomach sank, as many a man's will, as he contemplated all that could go ill ... he wondered whether this daughter of wealth and privilege, whether this lovely creature of whom he dreamed and thought and wondered, and for whom he'd gone to the trouble of getting dressed up and got all clean and sweet-smelling ... might she reject him, a simple fireman, a working man with little to offer, and she with a great and fine house and fine horses and an inheritance!
A big, meaty hand clapped down on his shoulder and Sean's voice, quiet in his ear, growled, "Lad, I know th' expression. 'Tis the same as my own the night I proposed to ma Daisy." He grasped the man's shoulders, turned him so the two faced one another squarely.
"Ye are a good man an' ne'er doubt that. Ye are upright an' honest an' there's no better qualification than that."
Sean grinned, his eyes bright: the rest of the Brigade came crowding into the bunkroom: all were presentable and clean, all were tonsured and barbered and fit to present to decent company: Llewellyn was the only one in a suit, by order of their big red-headed Chieftain, and Sean continued, squeezing Llewellyn's shoulders gently, "An' there's one thing more!"
Llewellyn's eyebrow raised a little and Sean saw the grin start at the man's eyes.
"Ye're one of a handful o' men, an' we here are all there is, who ha'e th' stones t' be FIREMEN!"
The Brigade yelled affirmation behind him, thrusting fists into the air, turning to one another, nodding briskly.
"No' a man i' this town is as much a MAN as are we!" Sean declared, his hand flat between Llewellyn's shoulder blades, guiding him away from the mirror: "Let us go forth, then, for th' quarry tonight is the heart of the fair maid!"
The Brigade surged forward, grinning, pounding their fellow on the shoulders and on his back, yelling encouragement.
Sean raised his hands and roared wordlessly, and the Brigade fell back, and the silence that followed was deafening.
Sean glared for a full circle round about, then turned again to Llewellyn.
"The ring?" he rumbled.
Llewellyn reached into his off pocket, considering, then raised his chin, his jaw hard and set.
"No," he said.
Sean stopped, blinked.
"Eh?"
"I'll no' go like this."
"Ye'll ... man, wha' are ye sayin'?"
"This is no' me!" the Welshman yelled, his face reddening. "I'll no' fly under a false flag!"
He turned and shoved between his fellows, heading for his bunk, tearing at his knotted cravat and muttering.
"Out, lads," Sean said quietly, and the Brigade withdrew, gathering instead in the kitchen.
The Welsh Irishman joined them in a very few minutes, wearing his newest, his best uniform.
"NOW!" he shouted. "BY GOD, SAINT PATRICK AND SAINT FLORIAN, I'LL STAND BEFORE HER AS MESEL'!"
The Brigade formed up and departed the firehouse, heading up the snow packed street to the Silver Jewel.
"Lad," Sean rumbled as they walked, "th' ring?"
Llewellyn patted his bib front, where a little bulge betrayed the presence of its small box.
"Aye," he said, nodding.

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Linn Keller 2-9-13

 

The twins rode in the back seat, eyes bright, hair brushed and curled, matching rag dolls locked in their elbows: they were silent, for they knew with the intuition of the young, that there was something important and very adult in the wind, and they knew they must be quiet and invisible ... yet they giggled now and then, for they too anticipated a happy evening in the Jewel's great room.
Sarah sat, prim, upright, hands folded, eyes forward; her cheeks were a rosy pink, helped by the cold air; she wore no cosmetics, for none were needed: her gown was newly made, of the royal, shimmering blue of which the Sheriff spoke, with lace at cuffs and collar: simple, regal, it was made for this night, for this moment, for this occasion, and it declared to the world the girl was no more, and the woman was arrived.
Bonnie's mouth was a little dry, for she remembered what it was to be a maiden on the cusp of womanhood, that bright moment before she was introduced to Society -- introduced formally and very publicly, knowing all eyes were on her, knowing she was in her bloom of beauty, to be adored by the men and envied by the women, and she looked at her daughter and remembered the skinny, forlorn waif she'd been long ago, so long ago.

Jacob swung the laughing Joseph into their carriage, then helped Annette carefully aboard: he treated her like she was delicate china, though she still worked as hard as any, having steadfastly refused help, refused his offer to hire a girl for the household: after today's preparations, though, she was almost convinced the move might not be that bad an idea.
Jacob hoisted himself aboard with a long-legged thrust, undignified but effective, settled himself and turned to draw the quilt over Joseph, another over Annette: only then did he lift the reins and cluck up the mare and point her wet and velvety nose toward town and the Jewel and his little sister, whose hand would be petitioned this night.
Jacob could not help but grin as he looked at his wife.
"Mrs. Keller," he said, "you are a fine lookin' woman."
"Mr. Keller," Annette said, "I shall soon be as big as a whale, and will you love me then?"
Jacob ran his arm around her and pulled her close.
"Damned right I will," he whispered.

The Sheriff pillowed his head on his saddle and closed his eyes, and willed himself to sleep.
Cannonball cropped grass nearby, the stars over her back bright and hard against the velvet-black sky.

Dolly turned slowly, looking at herself in the full-length mirror.
It wasn't a stranger who looked back at her ... but it was someone she didn't see very often.
She saw a respectable young woman in a modest gown, an attractive woman of means and of fashion, modestly yet richly attired in a McKenna gown, a gown given her by her good friend, a friend whose hand would be sought this night.
There was a quiet knock on her dressing-room door and Dolly bent, snatched up a shoe, then smiled and walked to the door.
She opened it and Tom Landers looked at her with kind and fatherly eyes.
"You are lovely," he said.
"You can't manage your necktie." Dolly reached up, ran her hands around back of his neck to take the twist out of the offending item, then brought the ends down, frowned a little as she gauged which end went how far and where, then with a few quick thrusts and tugs, she had his cravat Windsor-knotted, puffed out a little at the top: she ran two fingers into his vest pocket and came up with a stick-pin, thrust it precisely into the center, secured its back, then unbuttoned his vest, smoothed down the tie and buttoned him back up.
"There," she said, nodding: "Mr. Landers, you are a fine figure of a man."
Tom Landers gave Dolly a long, steady look, then said quietly, "And you are a fine figure of a woman, Dolly," and there was something in his voice that told Dolly his visit was not entirely to tend a recalcitrant necktie.

Inge, too, wore a new gown, though it was the livery of her office, and not the weeds of a lady of society: she was a woman who loved life and loved the living of it, but she loved what she did, and what she did for the Sheriff and his wife, was to nursemaid their young, and so Inge rode with Esther and the children: Esther and Angela wore matching gowns, and of course the twins were but babes and wore the ruffled flannel sacks that were the open-skirted and ubiquitous garment of the infant: the sole concession to tonight's festivities were pink ruffles on Ruth's flannel, and blue embroidery on her brother's.
If one were to peer into a magic glass, one might note that Esther's gown and Angela's, Bonnie's gown and her girls' dresses, and Dolly's gown, were all of the same material, and of the same cut, and one might wonder if this were some coincidence, or if there was perhaps a plot, a purpose, behind this feminine uniformity.
Sarah's gown was unique; Bonnie saw to that: it was original, there were none of its hue or its cut, and that suited Bonnie's purpose, just as it had suited her purpose to prepare the other ladies' gowns that evening.

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Charlie MacNeil 2-9-13

 

"Time to go, Darlin'," Charlie called through the closed door that connected the bathing from the sitting room of their suite. He took a step toward said portal only to see it swing open to present a vision of loveliness clad in a gown whose very simplicity made it seem complex. The hue of the fabric was subdued yet elegant, designed, as the gowns of Esther and company had been designed, to present an air of sophistication that would complement rather than detract from the presence of she who was the planned "Belle of the Ball". In addition, Fannie's gown had been designed to accentuate her best features, from her carefully arranged auburn tresses to her sparkling emerald eyes and beyond...

To his credit, Charlie had managed, after some minutes of effort spent before a mirror accompanied by less than complimentary muttering under his breath regarding the ancestry and potential future of the offending fabric, to knot his tie straight and evenly. His lapels lay flat to his chest and his watch chain described a near perfect arc across the brocaded front of his fitted waistcoat. He had brushed his best hat and sent his boots out for polishing, and altogether presented the picture of the well turned out man about town. He took Fannie's smooth-skinned fingers in his own calloused hand, raising her knuckles to his lips. "You, my dear, look good enough to eat!" he declared with grin.

"And you, my dear," Fannie replied, "are a very bad man. Curb your heathenish impulses, and let's be off to the Ball."

"Your wish is my command, Princess," Charlie answered, smiling, as he released her fingers. He picked a satin-lined stole bordered with fur from its resting place on the settee and spun it about her shoulders, clasping it over her bosom with a silver chased brooch. He held out his arm and the couple stepped out into the hall to make their intentionally slow-paced way down the stairs. In an event such as was to take place this evening, timing was everything.

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Linn Keller 2-10-13

 

Frost sparkled on the Sheriff's blanket as he lay curled up, his head on the folded up wild rag, insulating his ear from the saddle's cold, smooth leather: his Stetson lay unsteadily on the side of his head, holding in a little warmth ... "little" being the operative term.
Even in his comfortable bed at home he slept light; a legacy of a tumultuous and troubled life, he slept light in the best of times, yet here, on hard ground, not warm enough to be comfortable, sleeping less well than he usually did, he never heard the animal's breath, the pad of its footfalls, as it approached.
Feral eyes watched from the moonlit dark; a shadow flowed slowly through the low places, fangs occasionally bared as moist black nose twitched and smelled the man-scent.
Other eyes watched in the dark, but not nearby: these were also preceded by a moist black nose, searching for scent and finding it, and like the other shadow high in the mountains, this one too flowed stealthily, intentionally skulking, intentionally stealth.

"Ho, girls, ho, now," Levi called and the team ho'd: the twins regarded the brightly lit windows, heard violin and orchestrated music instead of the rinky-tink piano tunes: coarse laughter was replaced by a more genteel sound, laughter ... but not the laughter they were used to.
"Polite" was a word in their vocabulary, and if asked, they might have applied "polite" to the laughter they heard.
They held still, waiting, not really certain but thinking they should wait for a cue before standing or making their way from the carriage.
Normally they would jump up and laugh and leap into Levi's hands, or swarm over the side and drop to the ground, but they watched, silent, observant, as Levi offered a gentlemanly hand to his beautiful bride and his suddenly-beautiful daughter: he then summoned the twins, and though they were too short in the leg to be assisted down to the mounting-block as had the grown-ups, he managed to lower them with a greater dignity than the little girls normally experienced.
Bonnie bent and whispered unnecessarily that there would be other children there, in the back room, and the twins would be with them, and she expected them to behave like Proper Young Ladies.
Sarah lay gentle fingers on her Mama's arm and Bonnie saw amusement in her daughter's eyes: Sarah addressed the twins: instead of a motherly admonishment, she spoke in a conspiratorial whisper:
"Tonight you are ladies," she said, taking a small hand in each of her own: "you will have to show the children how to properly behave. Let them learn from your example."
The twins nodded solemnly, eyes bright: Sarah winked at them and both her little sisters screwed one eye shut, happily sharing in this mutual conspiracy.
Bonnie gave Levi one final looking-over in the gas light in front of the Jewel; she and Sarah were one another's mirrors: mother and daughter each took a long breath, blew it out in a fast-moving cloud of steam, turned to the Jewel's double doors.
"Showtime," Levi said, and reached for the door.

Bear Killer thrust a nose under the Sheriff's frost-sparkled blanket.
The Sheriff grabbed the edge of the blanket, raised it; the Bear Killer rolled over on his side, the Sheriff lay his arm across the big, black-furred dog: each one cuddled against the other, there under the single blanket, and each felt a little warmer for having found the other.

Dawg watched from the shadows as Sarah disappeared through the Jewel's doors.
Licking his chops -- for the Jewel was a place for biscuits and gravy and a warm rug to curl up on, near the stove -- he flowed like a river of ink through the shadow beside the Municipal Building, and back toward the back of the Jewel.

The German Irishman shook the Welsh Irishman's hand.
"Ye are the better man," he grinned, pulling a small, square box out of his own pocket, then slipping it back in: "this will serve for the next lass!"
The Welsh Irishman's eyes widened and he gripped his friend's hand all the more firmly: words failed him and he nodded.
Sean slapped Llewellyn approvingly across the shoulder blades: "Well done, lad! Ye need a drink!" -- and thrust a froth-topped mug of bear handle-first at the man.
The Welshman looked up at his Chieftain and shook his head.
"I'll no' refuse a drink wi' ye," he said, "but I must remain clear headed this night!"
"Sensibly said!" Sean declared, tilting the mug up and taking three long swallows, then offering it again to the Welshman.
The Welshman took one swallow and returned the mug.
"Aye, lad, well done!" Sean roared happily, oblivious to the several heads that turned his way; his voice was clearly and somewhat obnoxiously heard over the orchestra and the buzz of conversation.
Mr. Baxter was happily behind his bar, providing liquid refreshment, and he was just as happy to be so: still, he had a grand observation point from which to enjoy the sight of men slicked up and clean, of ladies elegant and beautiful, and though it could be said that if anyone in Firelands knew every living soul, it would be Mr. Baxter, he had to take two looks and rub his eyes to realize the young lady on Levi's arm was Sarah McKenna.
As a matter of fact, Charlie's grin, Fannie's approving nod, Mr. Baxter's shocked expression and the spreading hush that rippled across the crowd like oil over troubled water, clutched at Sarah's heart with unexpectedly cold fingers.
It did not help a bit that, on signal, the orchestra paused, then gave a little fanfare.
Sarah was not sure if her suddenly-red-hot ears would set her hair afire, or she would sink through the floor, die of embarrassment or float away on a giddy cloud of dyspneic happiness.
"Mr. and Mrs. Rosenthal," a stentorian voice announced, then after a pause, "Miss Sarah McKenna."
A cold nose thrust itself into her hand, and she felt a familiar fur-covered form lean against her leg, as if to signal his personal approval of what she did.
Sarah rubbed Dawg's scarred, black-furred head and steadied her breathing.
Sarah raised her head as Jacob stepped up to her and offered his arm.
Sarah took her brother's arm and the crowd parted as they paced to the center of the ballroom floor.

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Linn Keller 2-11-13

 

 The Sheriff was dreaming.
Soldiers sat around their campfire and spoke of matters deep and matters shallow, as men far from home will: one offered the idea that all things were circular, and this was kicked around, cussed and discussed, and ultimately dismissed with an obscene jest.

The Sheriff woke in the darkness, suddenly wide awake, listening.
The Bear Killer, feeling the change in the man's breathing, was awake as well: he too listened, senses heightened, for he was at heart a creature of the wild.
They two rose, slowly, carefully: the Sheriff looked slowly round about, breathing silently: hearing nothing, he rose to a low crouch, his rifle near to hand: it slept under then blanket with him, and so was free of frost: The Bear Killer stood, turned his head, moist black nose working in the cold air, gleaming in the faint starlight.
Cannonball was almost arm's length away and appeared calm.
The Sheriff spun the blanket over the mare's back, then laid down the rifle and picked up the near stirrup, placing it carefully over the saddle horn before hoisting the kak up and over and cinching it down.
Something ... there was something that made him restless, and The Bear Killer shared that restlessness.
The Sheriff was in the saddle in one smooth move.
Cannonball looked around, ears turning slowly; the Sheriff's ears rang in the overwhelming silence.
Overhead the stars turned, slowly, performing their eternal pirouette.

Sarah pirouetted as well.
She'd never studied the ballet, but she'd learned from Daciana, who had: she was naturally graceful and gifted with an ease of movement: she did not so much dance, when she was in a man's arms, as he danced and she floated: every man in the dance hall, and that was very nearly every man in the territory, wished to dance with this lovely Belle of the Ball, and did: and Sarah, for the first time in her young life, abandoned herself to the delightful feeling of being feminine, of being girly, off being ... of being womanly.
The feel of a strong man's arms around her woke something she'd never felt before: intoxicating, alluring, she found something new in herself, and she liked it.
Her first dance was with her brother, who danced in his father's stead: she was handed next to Levi, whose style was more stiff, more reserved: then a rancher of her acquaintance, a man who'd told the Sheriff once that he could happily adopt Sarah but he'd probably put her on a high shelf and put a glass bell jar over her like you would a rare and precious china doll: she did not know the man lost his daughter when she was quite young, and she was passed to another set of manly arms before the rancher's reserve failed, and he was obliged to seek a less prominent place, for he was obliged to wipe his eyes as he said a final goodbye to his little girl, and Sarah lived the rest of her life without knowing she'd helped this man make that final step.
Gas lights and smiling faces, beards and mustaches and chins and jaws, the smell of tobacco and whiskey and leather and soap: as the stars wheeled slowly overhead in the cold and sterile skies, Sarah's universe spun in glorious and bright colors, and sang with rosined strings.
Twice Sarah begged a leave, and retired to a table, to sit and laugh, and catch her breath; she retired to a private room, arranged for the ladies, where they might take their comfort, recently added to the ballroom for this very purpose: there she sipped a little water and listened to the women, but she herself said not a word, for she feared that uttering a single syllable might break the spell, and she did not want this evening to end.
Upon her third return, as if on signal, the crowd drew back from the center of the floor, and she was dancing once again with Jacob: they danced a waltz, slow and stately, and pale eyes looked into pale eyes and Jacob whispered, "I am proud of you, Little Sis," and Sarah blinked and opened her mouth, and closed it, laying her head against his breast: she drew back, sensing Jacob's move, and spun once, and stopped.
Her last spin revealed the ladies, in their matching gowns, ranked in a semicircle behind her, and the Irish Brigade -- a muscled wall of red wool and black mustaches, ranked in a semicircle, and before them, one of their own, and in his hand, a black velvet box about as big a square as the end of his thumb was long.

The Sheriff rode up to the barn, dismounted.
He walked silently along the shadowed edge of the structure, peeked quickly around the corner: he slipped around the edge, then within, where a single lantern glowed, and an old man milked a muley cow.
Milk sighed in alternating streams into the bucket; barn cats miaowed and switched their tails, begging a drink, and on occasion the old man turned a teat and shot a stream of milk at a cat, and laugh as the cat batted and bit at the rich, warm stream.
The Sheriff slipped into the barn, walking silent, looking around; he got behind the old man, then cocked the rifle.
The single click was loud, coming as it did between the swish-swish-swish of milk in the pail.
The old man froze.
"You come for my boys."
It was a statement, not a question.
The Sheriff tossed the watch with the broken chain.
It described a perfect arc, landing beside the bucket.
The old man looked at it and swore.
"I knowed it," he said tiredly, and took a long breath. "I told him not to wear that watch."
He stood, shoulders bowed as if the weight of several centuries pressed down upon him.
"I ain't been a good father," he said. "I tried but it ain't worked." He raised his head, looked over the cow's back, but did not turn around.
The Sheriff squatted, picked up a rock half the size of his fist, tossed it about eight feet to his right, almost behind the muley cow.
The old man spun, fired: his Remington squirted three feet of fire into the dark, the noise deafening in the barn's confines.
The Sheriff's rifle was up and on the old man's heart and the grey bearded old man froze, realizing he'd just been had, the sound he heard was indeed not the man he'd hoped to kill.
"M' boys are all I got," he said loudly, ringing ears screaming in the stillness.
"Drop it," the Sheriff said, his voice harsh.
There was a concussion from outside the barn, the Sheriff felt fire sear across his chest and he fired once, cranked the lever and spun, dropping to one knee: he saw two blooms of fire and shot for each, putting a .44 slug right below each one, then dove, rolling in cow manure and straw, coming up on the other side of the barn.
The muley cow panicked, kicking over the lantern.
The old man coughed blood and reached feebly for it, dragging it into the bare dirt and away from flammable straw; the muley cow pulled loose, her MOOOH loud and nasal as she kicked the old man, trampled him and ran out the open door and into the darkness.
There was a horrible sound of something wild attacking, the sound of a massive and black hell hound ripping a human soul from its body, the terrified scream, suddenly cut off: the Sheriff stood, teeth bared, eyes pale, willing himself not to feel the pain that felt like someone laid a red hot poker across his bare chest.
He went over to the lantern, stomped out what fire there was, picked it up: the glass was broke but the flame was still alive and he walked into the darkness, knowing the lantern made him a target, and frankly not caring.
The Bear Killer snarled quietly, circling round behind the Sheriff, coming up and leaning on his leg.
The Sheriff felt the black hound's snarl as curly-furred ribcage leaned against knee and thigh.
The Sheriff set the lantern down where it would illuminate the two who'd tried a mean old lawman and come up short.
One lay dead, a hole through the bridge of his nose; the other was shot through the dangling tag of his tobacker pouch, but it didn't matter; that one's throat was gone, and the Sheriff knew The Bear Killer would pace over to the horse trough and wash the taste from his mouth, and he did.
"You might as well come out," he called conversationally. "Or I can come in after you. Either way you're coming with me."
"Like hell!" came the panicked reply and the Sheriff kicked the lantern, hard, and dove.
Shotgun pellets whistled through the darkness and the Sheriff pumped three fast rounds after the muzzle flash.
A second detonation and the other barrel's shot swarm rattled through treetops; there was the sound of a falling body, the clank of gunbarrel on frozen dirt, then silence.

Sarah's hands rose slowly to her face as the orchestra hummed a deep note, recognizing the opening bars of Ride of the Valkyrie: the French horn began to sing, spinning visions of Odin's daughters, riding ravens over a battlefield, warrior maidens searching souls of the dead to see who was worthy of Valhalla: the Welsh Irishman stepped forward, slowly, opening the velvet box to expose a gleaming diamond, a shining band.
He went slowly to one knee and the orchestra faded, softening their notes, then halting altogether as Llewellyn did something he'd never done before.
He felt a little weak.
Clearing his throat nervously, he took a long breath, looked up at Sarah.
"This ring," he said, "belonged to my grandmother."
He swallowed something large and sticky and took another breath.
"She was a Welsh princess and she made my mother swear the stone would only go to royalty.
"Since that day it has never been worn.
"I knew when I saw you that you were worthy of this royal stone.
"Sarah McKenna, it's little I have in this lifetime, but what I have I pledge to you.
"Be my Queen, Sarah McKenna. Rule my kingdom as you already rule my heart."
Sarah turned, looking at the wall of womanhood behind her; she turned and looked at the wall of manhood behind Llewellyn.
Sarah lowered her hands, swallowed, took a step forward.
"The royal," she declared, her voice clear and distinct in the hush, "cannot partake of the common."
She extended a hand to the side and a little back, and felt the wire-wrapped handle of a fencing blade placed in her grip.
Sarah raised the blade in salute, the Solingen-made schlager gleaming in the gas light.
She lowered it ceremonially to his left shoulder, then his right shoulder, then again to his left: "In the name of St. Christopher, St. Florian and St. Valentine, martyred by flame."
Sarah drew back a step, swept the blade back up in salute, and extended her hand; the blade was removed from her grip.
She stepped up to the Welsh Irishman.
"Rise, Sir Knight," she said, extending her hand.
His hand met hers, and both felt something shoot through them: a thrill, or electricity; Sarah pulled and the man came to his feet.
Sarah grasped his hand in hers and drew him to the rank of Irishmen.
She placed her hand flat on an Irishman's breast: her voice raised, pitched to carry to the furthest row, she looked at the grinning English Irishman and said, "This man's collarbone aches when the weather changes. Is he -- this man whose hand I hold now -- the one who came to your aid, when you were set upon in a dark street and the odds three to one, and in spite of his broken collarbone, fought in a most manly fashion until you were safe?"
"He is," the New York Irishman affirmed.
Sarah stepped to the next, placed her hand flat on the gold Maltese cross in the center of the German Irishman's bib front.
"Is this man whose hand I hold, the one who held a child the night fire claimed the lad's home and family, and kept him warm and comforted until family arrived from across town?"
"He is."
Sarah stepped to Sean, placed her hand on his gold Maltese cross and asked, "Is this man whose hand I hold, the one you are minded of every time you touch the scar on the back of your head, the man who told the Chief to go to hell when he went against orders and into a fire structure, picked up a beam, kicked a block under it and dragged you out?"
"He is."
Sarah went to the last Irishman, the New York Irishman, placed her hand on his breast and asked, "Is this man whose hand I hold, the one in whom you put your full faith and trust, risking your life knowing he will bear all he has to get you out alive?"
"He is!" came the shouted reply.
Sarah pulled the Welshman's hand, hard, and she turned to Jacob.
"Is this man whose hand I hold, the man who has not once, not ever, told a lie, to the best of your knowledge?"
Jacob hesitated, then grinned, nodding slowly.
"Yep," he drawled.
Sarah turned to the ladies, looked them over slowly, then she sought the hands of Fannie and Esther and Bonnie, and lay them one atop the other, and on these, her own.
"A heart is often blinded by the moment," she said a little more softly, "and so I ask the advice of those who are wiser than I." Sarah closed her eyes, shivered a little, then took a long breath, opened her eyes, and asked, "Does this man meet your approval?"
Bonnie's eyes were as soft as her voice as she murmured, "He does."
Fannie's eyes were bright and merry as she murmured, "Oh, yes," and there was something in her voice to stir a man's heart.
Esther's reply, as she lifted her chin, was a tart, "Yes he most certainly does!"
Sarah turned to Beatrice, the banker, and she nodded; Sarah leaned a little, made a gesture, and the ladies parted: she could see Mr. Baxter, grinning at her and called, "Mr. Baxter, have you known this man to be a drunkard?"
"I'll answer that," Daisy called, snapping a towel and strutting to the fore: she lay a hand on the Irishman's shoulder and said loudly, "He'll ha'e no more than one beer, but he'll eat his weight in pie!"
There was general laughter, even from Llewellyn, whose face turned a bit more red.
Finally Sarah turned to Dolly, taking her hand and asking softly, "Dolly, has this man ever pinched your bottom?"
Dolly put her hands on her hips and declared, "Honey, of every man that's put eye-prints all over me, he is the only one who hasn't! He's never said anything improper, done anything indecent" -- she placed her fingertips dramatically on her bosom, batting her eyes -- "why, he's given me an inferiority complex!"
Again, laughter: Dolly turned a little red, stepped back, and Tom Landers rested his hands on her shoulders, squeezing his approval.
Sarah and Llewellyn took three steps, back to the center of the room.
She stopped and looked at the man, really looked at him, and bit her lip.
"Mr. Llewellyn," she said, "you are a decent man, honorable and honest: you are not given to drink, nor to gambling" -- she looked over at Tom Landers -- "is he, Tom?"
Tom grinned and shook his head.
"I didn't think so. You are not given to wenching nor impropriety.
"Your bravery is unquestioned; your decency is for all to see."
Sarah stopped and swallowed, her hands tightening on his.
"I would be a fool to say no," she whispered, then she looked up and looked the man in the eyes and said loudly, "I would be a FOOL to say no!"
Then Sarah McKenna surprised even herself.
She seized the man's face and planted a good one on him.
Right on his lips.
It's a good thing he had hold of her hand as he slipped his grandmother's stone on her finger.
Sarah, after that kiss, was so dizzy she was afraid she might fall.
Sarah raised her hand, marveling at how the stone glittered in the gas light, then the orchestra began again and Sarah felt the Welshman's strong arms around her, and she danced again.

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Linn Keller 2-12-13

 

Sarah spun from someone's arms and was neatly caught by strong hands: a familiar voice murmured, "My turn, darlin'," and Charlie Macneil moved easily in the familiar steps of the waltz.
Sarah flowed rather than moved -- it was as if there was a subtle link between dancers -- Charlie's every move was mirrored to perfection; Sarah made Charlie look like a far better dancer than he was, and truth be told, Charlie was a right fair dancer.
Charlie felt Sarah's hand tighten in his as they turned; her face was tilted up to his, shining with happiness, and Charlie's tough features softened slightly to see it.
Sarah opened her lips a little as if to say something, then closed them and smiled, and lay her head instead against the retired Marshal's chest.
This, she thought, is the happiest I have felt in my entire life!

The Sheriff clucked up the dapple.
The horse knew the road; the Sheriff knew it would lead down to the coach road, and from there, to Firelands.
He also knew it would be well after sunup before he got back to town with his fell cargo.
Four carcasses lay in the back of the wagon.
He'd taken pains to fold their arms across their bellies, then covered the four with a single bedsheet: he retrieved the watch with the broken chain, slid it in his pocket, gathered the guns and stacked them in the wagon as well: he hadn't bothered to look at the bullet burn across his chest, preferring to ignore it.
Maybe I want to punish myself, he thought, then pushed the thought from him as irrational.
He set the mare to an easy pace.
Neither he nor his silent cargo were in any particular hurry.

Jacob watched silently as the twins looked, big-eyed, up at the black-mustached Irishman as he kissed their big sister's knuckles.
The Welsh Irishman cleared his throat, looked at Bonnie, then at Sarah, and said -- as if admitting to a personal fault -- "The Welsh are singers and fine speakers ... but I can't think of a thing to say."
Sarah lay her other hand over his, her touch warm, light: "I think you just did," she whispered, "and I think you did just fine."
The Welsh Irishman looked from Jacob to Levi and back.
"Tis not a light thing I do," he said. "I intend to do well in this."
Jacob nodded, his eyes tightening at the corners, the smile spreading slowly across his face as he lay an understanding hand on the Welshman's near shoulder.
"I felt the same," he said quietly.
Levi thrust out his hand.
"Welcome to the family," he said.
Polly looked at her Daddy and blinked, curious.
"Daddy, is he living with us now?" she asked, and they laughed.
"We'll see," he said, winking at the Welshman.

The twins fell asleep on the brief ride home; Bonnie and Levi held hands, as they usually did, and Sarah sat between her sisters, an arm around each; she looked down at the stone on her finger, the royal Welsh stone, the Princess ring, remembering the moment it slid on her finger.
Sarah very carefully placed the ring on her dresser when she undressed for the night: she slept little, in the few hours between home-going and sunrise, for she kept seeing the wall of manly firemen ranked behind Llewellyn, and the wall of femininity behind herself, shoulder to shoulder in support of that which was to happen.
Sarah heard Llewellyn's words, his voice, as if he were speaking them again, and as her eyes reluctantly closed, she smiled, for she remembered how it felt to take his face in her hands, to thrust her face into his, to touch his lips with hers.

The Sheriff loved sunrise.
It smelled of sunrise, if such was possible; he maintained it was, and when possible, was outside to greet the sun with a silent, glorious shout: he'd done so as a lad and saw no reason to change as a man.
Now, though, he was riding out of the sun; his shadow preceded him, casting its distorted umbra ahead of the mare.
When finally he reached town and halted in front of Digger's, he sagged in the hard seat: slowly, like an old man, he climbed down from the wagon.
Digger removed his top hat, shook his head sadly.
"Sheriff," he said mournfully, "when you or your son ride in with a wagon, it means a wagon load of work for me."
The Sheriff was too tired to glare at the man.
"Work your magic," he muttered, "I get the effects and Shorty gets the team and wagon."
The Sheriff unhitched Cannonball from the tailgate and swung into the chilly, smooth saddle: rifle propped up on his thigh, he rode across the street to the Silver Jewel.
The Sheriff walked slowly, tiredly, up the steps, as if each step up was almost the limit of his strength: he paused, his hand on the doorknob, then slowly drew the ornately frosted door open.
He paused inside the front door.
The Jewel was nearly empty.
He walked behind Mr. Baxter's bar, picked up a tall glass, uncorked a bottle of something red, potent and distilled, poured the glass within a finger of plumb full.
He paced slowly back to his usual table, boot heels loud and hollow sounding on the hardwood floor -- the floor which saw dancers the night before, and now saw a tired old lawman -- he sat, lay his '73 rifle across the table in front of him and sat slowly, carefully, waiting until Daisy's girl came back and confirmed that he'd like breakfast, before beginning work on that tall glass of Old Stump Blower.
He ate his breakfast slowly, savoring every bite, washing it down with liquid lightning instead of his usual coffee: when he was finished with both, he stood, walked to the bar and squared up his bill: he walked out, mounted Cannonball, apparently unaffected by the load he'd taken on.
The Sheriff rode home, left his soiled coat on the front porch: he kissed his wife, hugged his little girl, smiled tiredly at the twins, then he went upstairs, got undressed and went to sleep so fast he honestly did not recall laying down.

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Linn Keller 2-14-13

 

Sarah sipped her tea, a faraway look about her; the twins sat, silent, watching, as they often did: Levi industriously disassembled his breakfast, fueling his personal furnace with a single minded effort, and Bonnie looked at her daughters, and at her husband, and then looked at Sarah again.
Sarah ate but lightly; she'd nibbled at a little toast, her eggs were cold, she'd eaten half a strip of bacon; now she was lost to this world, or at least to their breakfast klatsch, until Bonnie spoke her name twice and finally Polly said "Sawwah!"
Sarah blinked, looked at her sister, alarmed.
"Mama wants you." She looked importantly at Bonnie, almost like a bossy big sister might.
Sarah looked at Bonnie, eyes guilty: "I'm sorry, Mama, what was the question?"
Bonnie's eyes were big and gentle as she asked, "How are you feeling this morning, dear?"
Sarah blinked, ran a fast inventory of her physical self: "Just fine, Mama. I feel fine."
"You're not ... your feet dont' hurt?"
"No, Mama, not a bit."
Bonnie nodded, letting the silence build.
Sarah immersed back into the invisible lake of her rumination, her eyes drifting down to about mid-table, considering an infinity on the far side of the china platter.
"Sarah?"
"Hm?" Sarah blinked, swam to the surface. "I'm sorry, Mama, what?"
"Sarah, we need to talk."
"Yes, Mama," Sarah said in the voice of a dutiful daughter: Bonnie saw Sarah closing an invisible shell of unseen armor about herself, as if readying her defenses against an unwanted attack.
"We will talk tonight, after you are home."
"Yes, Mama." Sarah's voice was quiet; she dropped her eyes, almost like a chastened little girl.
Bonnie waited until her daughter was ready to go out the door before she stopped her again: she lay gentle hands on her daughter's collar bones, marveling at how tall she'd gotten, and she whispered, "You are beautiful, you know that."
Sarah's eyes were almost haunted and she touched her Mama's cheek.
"I'm getting scared again, Mama," she whispered back, and Bonnie felt the tremble in her daughter's fingers.
Bonnie gave her a wise look, a gentle look, the look of a mother to a daughter, and she whispered again.
"That's why we need to talk." She paused, wet her lips. "There are things you need to know."
Sarah nodded, then suddenly, impulsively, seized her Mama in a crushing hug.
Bonnie felt Sarah trembling and she hugged her back, hard.
"It will be all right, dear," she said, fighting the tears that surprised the inside of her eyes: "It will be all right."

The Sheriff opened his eyes.
A pair of bright eyes framed by curly, honey colored hair were regarding his with an intensity possible only with a child's concentration.
The Sheriff smiled a little.
"Morning, Princess," he murmured.
Angela's nose wrinkled.
"You make funny noises, Daddy," she said with a child's tactless honesty.
"How's that, Princess?"
Sarah climbed up on the bed and laid her ear against her Daddy's flat belly, frowned a little.
"It's not doing it now."
The Sheriff slid one arm out from under the quilt, stroked his daughter's head.
"What's not doing what, Princess?"
"When I shook your arm your belly said 'Rowrowrowrow,'" Angela said solemnly, nodding, and the Sheriff laughed: the air smelled of bacon and of bread and he realized he was hungry enough to chew the end off the bedpost.
"I think that means my belly is hungry," he said softly.
Angela climbed up onto the bed, lay down atop her Daddy and laid her head on his chest: he pulled his other arm free and held his little girl and she said "Daddy?"
"Hm?"
"Can I have a princess ring?"
The Sheriff chuckled, then he slid big strong Daddy-hands around her ribs and pulled her up until they were face-to-face: he tickled her nose with a twiddle of his muts-tash, which made her giggle, and for a moment he saw Angela as she used to be, as a little bitty girl, and he bent his head up until their foreheads touched and each saw a single, huge eye.
"I see you," he whispered, and Angela whispered "I see you too, Daddy," and they both laughed.
The Sheriff rolled over, dumping Angela onto the bed beside him; he sat up, still mostly under the quilts, and rubbed his face.
"What about ringing the Princess bell?" he said, and Angela sat up and laughed.
"No, Daddy," she laughed, flashing even white teeth, "a Princess ring! Like Sarah has!"
The Sheriff rubbed the back of his neck.
"Let me consult with your Mommy," he said. "I don't know about these things."
"Okay." Angela's voice was a little disappointed, then she continued, "A Princess ring is really pretty."
"Just like you are," the Sheriff affirmed. "Have you had breakfast?"
Angela shook her head.
"You'd best get dressed then. I'm kind of hungry."
"Me too!" she declared, rolling over and flipping her legs up, landing on Esther's side of the bed: she scampered around the bed and ran out of the room and the Sheriff chuckled, flipping the covers back.
"You know," he said to no one in particular, "a man just can't wake up in a bad mood when his little girl comes in to say hello!"

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Linn Keller 2-14-13

 

I worked my arm, grimacing now that Angela wasn't there to see it.
I had urgent need to get my carcass out of the bunk, but I was stiff enough I realized I must've been sacked out for some time.
Esther came in the door, closing it carefully behind her: she carried a towel and a bottle and I didn't like the look on her face.
"How long did I sleep?" I asked.
Esther set the bottle on the dresser and gave me a patient look.
I didn't like the look of those patient eyes and I soon found out why.
"You slept the clock around," Esther said. "I imagine you need the outhouse."
My need was more than pressing; the chamber pot was near by, and a good thing, because once I was much less uncomfortable, Esther pulled up my nightshirt, bunching it around my armpits.
"Doctor Greenlees had me pack you with a wet to dry dressing," she explained, unwinding a bandage wrapped around my chest and exposing rolled material packed into what had been a bloody groove cut between nipples and collarbone.
Esther gave me a pitying look as she gathered the surcingle, carefully rolling it and setting it on the corner of the dresser: she opened the bottle and I smelled carbolic and I knew I wasn't going to like what was about to follow.
Esther plucked at the end of the material rolled and stuffed into the groove in my hide, then she gripped it and ripped it out of the wound channel.
It's a good thing I'd used that chamber pot before she yanked that thing free.
I felt the color run out of my face and I know my knuckles stood out bone white as I crushed the edge of the bed in my grip: Esther picked up a bunch of wadding of some kind, dashed carbolic on it and with one smooth swipe down the length of that raw and bloody groove in my muscle meat, just plainly set me right on fahr.
It hurt too bad to yell or even cuss.
If I can't cuss it hurts bad and I couldn't cuss.
Hell, I couldn't hardly breathe when she made that second and third pass.
Her hand was steady; mothers are made of stern stuff, and Esther was doing what she saw as needful.
"Why don't we leave this open to air now," she said quietly, and I blinked at the sting in my eyes, closing my mouth without saying a word.
I recall Esther was still talking, her voice gentle, soothing; she said something about seeing infection in the bloody groove sawed through my shirt and my chest, and so she consulted Doc and he recommended a wet-to-dry bandage to absorb infection and drainage into the bandage, then when the bandage was removed, it would carry away all that dried up corruption.
I don't recall as she said anything about him warning how bad it would hurt.
It took a while before I was ready to come down for breakfast.
I took the chamber pot downstairs with me.

"Mister Llewellyn."
Sarah's voice was quiet; her step was stealthy, and Llewellyn jumped, turning quickly.
Sarah took his arm and steered him away from the bar and toward the front door.
The rest of the Brigade exchanged nods, winks, grins; none spoke, none leered, but they were not far from it, and Mr. Baxter -- ever the astute observer of the human condition -- doubted not that the Welsh Irishman was in for his share of good natured chaffing once they got back to the fire house.
Outside, Sarah steered the Welshman down the stairs, and to the corner, and down the alley between the Jewel and the municipal building.
It was chilly out; Sarah wore a cloak over her schoolmarm dress, Llewellyn was in his red wool uniform shirt -- Sarah knew he would freeze to death rather than betray discomfort, and so determined to have him inside rather soon.
They were past the back corner of the Jewel when Sarah stopped and turned, taking his hands in hers.
"Mr. Llewellyn," she said formally.
"Miss McKenna."
"Mr. Llewellyn, if there is a fire, there is no doubt: it must be extinguished."
Llewellyn waited, knowing Sarah was laying a foundation for the point she wished to make.
"If there is bleeding, it must be stopped; if a child is drowning, the child must be drawn from the water." She looked directly at him and he felt himself falling into those light blue eyes.
"Mr. Llewellyn, in each of those moments, we know what must be done. There is no doubt."
Sarah blinked, swallowed, bit her bottom lip: Llewellyn watched closely, trying to learn what each of this marvelous creature's expressions meant.
"I ... have never ... shared my life ... with anyone," she said, hesitating every few words. "This ... uncertainty..."
She stopped, took a long breath, closed her eyes and gathered herself.
To his credit, Llewellyn waited, his hand warm and reassuring as it gripped hers.
Sarah seem,ed to come to some decision.
"Mr. Llewellyn," she said, "I said at the Cotillion that I would be a fool to say no."
She blinked rapidly, tightened her hands around his.
"I am not a fool, Mr. Llewellyn. I am ... a little scared, is all."
"Scared? You?" Llewellyn whispered, pulling his hand free and brushing her smooth cheek with the backs of his fingers. "I doubt me the Devil himself could scare you."
"It's not the Devil I fear," Sarah said softly. "It's me."
"Then let me carry the fear. I'll be scared for both of us."
Sarah shook her head, frowned.
"Mr. Llewellyn, I can run a household, I can manage a business. My mother saw to it that I experienced both. You know my other ... actions."
He nodded slowly.
"My fear ..."
Sarah took a deep, fast breath -- too fast, it turned out, for she got to coughing -- she shook her head, cleared her throat.
"I'm afraid of disappointing you."
"You could not possibly disappoint me," he whispered.
Sarah leaned into him,shivering a little.
"Hold me," she whispered. "Hold me."

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Linn Keller 2-15-13

 

"I'm not worried, Mister Mayor," Sean rumbled.
"The man ... he was absent without leave, he --"
"Had we an alarm, Mr. Mayor," Sean said, "he'd ha' legged it here an' been fit f'r duty."
"That's not the point --"
"Mister Mayor," Sean said with a patient sigh, turning to face the fellow, "you run your office an' you do a foine job of it. I am no' the grandest thinker i' th' world, but I know enough not t' tell ye how t' run yer office, for I don't know how t' run it well."
He paused, letting this sink in.
"I require th' same courtesy in return."
The Mayor gave the Fire Chief a long, appraising look.
Sean put a companionable hand on the Mayor's shoulder, steering him into the firehouse, talking as he went.
"Th' man was gentleman eno' t' drive th' lass home. Aye, 'twas her buggy, an' aye, she can out ride, out shoot an' out drive him, an' likely out fight him, for she's smart enough t' fight dirty as any cheap politician."
The Mayor stopped and looked squarely at the Fire Chief, and each studied the other's expression; each saw a twinkle of amusement in the other's eyes, for it was a phrase that Mayor Vess used himself.
"No, th' man is bein' a gentleman, an' I'll no' interfere if it harms us not.
"He'll get out there an' be invited t' supper, an' he'll ha'e a guilty conscience about him. She'll offer t' drive him back, an' he'll decline, an' he'll turn red as any poppy flower i' the process, an' he'll walk back kickin' himsel' for not stayin', but knowin' his place is here, at least until he's off."
The Mayor was quiet for several long moments.
"They made a fine couple at the Cotillion," he murmured.
"Aye," Sean agreed. "They did that."
"Took him long enough to do it."
Sean laughed.
"Was i' up t' him," he chuckled, "he'd ha'e been on one knee before th' lass a year ago an' more."
"If I were a single man," Mayor Vess admitted, "I would have been on one knee before her a year ago or more!"

The Sheriff looked up as Jacob came in, then returned to his work.
Jacob's pace was near silent on the hard wood floor.
He tilted his head a little, regarding his father's work: there were three pages of neatly lettered script, and two diagrams, all laid out with his father's characteristic, military neatness.
Jacob knew his father's maps were to scale, or near as he could manage, and his crime scene diagrams were the same: these would be entered into official records, with the Sheriff's written reports, for he was a thorough man.
The Sheriff shifted in his chair.
There was something ... different ... either about the way the man sat, or how he moved, and Jacob wasn't sure which: he knew his father had what he called "the aches and pains of a wild and misspent youth," and Jacob knew there was weather a-comin', but he also knew his father was returned only a day earlier from having brought in four dead men, and he'd not spoken of it ... which meant he wasn't happy with bringing in carcasses instead of defendants.
"Jacob," the Sheriff said.
"Yes, sir."
"Jacob, I am not ignoring you," the Sheriff said absently, his steel pen's nib scratching loudly on the good rag paper: "I am nearly done, if you can wait."
"Yes, sir."

"But I wannago wif Da!" Little Joseph said sadly, looking up at his Mama.
"Your father has work to do," Annette said patiently. "Now come along, we have chores."
Little Joseph's bottom lip ran out for an amazing distance, then he looked back at his beloved Boocaffie, who he'd been riding again, and he looked at his Mama walking back to their fine stone house, and little Joseph began strutting down the road after his Pa.
Boocaffie watched the two of them go, then ... well, who knows what thoughts go through a bull's head?
Boocaffie began walking after little Joseph, walking faster, and when he came to the fence, he put down his head and went through the fence with a little grunt.
Boocaffie trotted happily after little Joseph.
Annette was already in the house and did not hear wood splinter, nor did she hear the quiet exclamation of delight from down the road.

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Linn Keller 2-16-13

 

Bill and Mac slouched comfortably on upturned nail kegs in front of the Mercantile.
Their checkerboard, scratched a little and faded but still quite serviceable, sat between them; red and black wooden disks marked their respective positions, and each man, hunched over with elbows on knees and hand meditatively cupping chin or covering mouth, gave close study to their respective tactical situations.
On occasion -- and happy occasions these were -- Brother William took a hejira from the monastery and came back to Firelands; sometimes on business and sometimes not, and today, in boots and britches and a blanket lined coat, with a slouch hat shoved back on his head, he looked not a thing like his ecclesiastical self.
Even the calluses on his hands were still there, a little more prominent if anything: the monastery prescribed a life of labor, and Brother William, though a ranking officer in the hierarchy, beleived humility was maintained by laboring with the enlisted, and so he pulled rocks and dug dirt, split wood and stacked kindling, shoveled muck and cleaned stables the same as any of the Bretheren, and as a result, had the respect of command and enlisted alike.
Silence grew for several more minutes.
Customers came and went, men stopped to talk, children called out and waved; the game was not solely a contemplative exercise, for there were irregular interruptions, one of which just happened to be a very large, very black, curly haired canine who insisted on thrusting his muzzle under Brother William's forearm.
Mr. Bill straightened a little, feeling his spine crunch slightly with the effort -- he'd been stacking stones the day before, and that morning his bones reminded him it was some times since he was eighteen -- and he rubbed The bear Killer's ears and behind his jaw and marveled at how fast and how vigorously that sizable tail swung back and forth ... why, if an incautious child came up behind The Bear Killer, he'd get himself knocked on his backside by that enthusiastic, fur-covered air swatter!
Mr. Mac looked up and grunted.
The Bear Killer looked at Mac and discovered there were two perfectly good hands that were not paying attention to him, and so abandoned Brother William and jumped up a little, putting his big forepaws on Mr. Mac's thighs and giving the scowling man a good face washing.
Mr. Bill seized the checker board and brought it quickly out of harm's way, for The Bear Killer's tail was putting their game in immediate jeopardy.

Annette frowned a little.
"Joseph?" she called, wiping her hands on a towel and walking quickly to the front door. "Joseph!"
She looked around inside the house, as much as she could see from the doorway, then she stepped outside and looked around, shading her eyes.
"Joseph?"
Annette listened, expecting to hear a happy little boy's giggle, or a piping young voice calling "Here I am!" -- but ... nothing.
Annette looked around, then she saw where a section of board fence looked like it had been exploded outward, and she looked into the pasture and saw Boocaffie was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh, no," she murmured, then she darted back inside to bank the stove, close the draft, cover the bread dough, then she ran outside and to the barn, skirts flowing in the breeze, to harness up the mare.
A moment later she was driving at a trot down the road.

Jacob came back into the Sheriff's office with four small sacks: there wasn't much in each, but true to the Sheriff's instruction, Digger parted out the effects of the deceased.
The Sheriff was satisfied Digger kept something, probably part of the money he found on the bodies; the Sheriff did not officially know, and it did not matter: he didn't think the county paid Digger enough for his efforts, and if a man wanted to make a little on the side ... besides, he had no proof, and he might need a favor from the undertaker sometime.
Jacob put the sacks on the Sheriff's desk.
"That was ... good shootin', sir," he said quietly.
"Thank you." The Sheriff handed Jacob his written account, and the diagrams. "Look those over."
"Yes, sir."
Jacob drew up a chair, spread the pages out, read them carefully, quickly: he nodded occasionally, raised an eyebrow here and there, picked up the diagram, cupped his chin in his off hand and frowned a little, then leaned back in his chair and contemplated the long joint where the wall met the ceiling above the Sheriff's desk.
Finally he looked at his father.
"I take that back," he said in a gentle voice. "That was damned good shootin'. I did not realize you fired for their muzzle flares."
The Sheriff nodded. "I got excited on that one. I meant to shoot just under them but I took that one fellow" -- he raised a stiff finger, thrust it slowly at the bridge of his own nose -- "right between the eyes, or near to it."
"It worked, sir."
The Sheriff nodded.
"Your report refers to an injury."
The Sheriff nodded.
"I thought you might be just a bit stiff and sore."
The Sheriff's jaw thrust out and he took a long, sighing breath.
"Jacob," he said at length, "you're right."
Jacob looked closely at his father, assessing the merriment in the Grand Old Man's eyes.
"Esther keeps telling me, "My dear, you simply must consort with a better grade of outlaw." The Sheriff's words, uttered in a light voice and with a wave of a limp wrist, tickled Jacob's funny bone: he nodded and laughed quietly, pointing at his Pa, and admitted "Now that sounds just like her, sir!"
The Sheriff was silent for a long moment ... several long moments, as a matter of fact.
"Jacob," the Sheriff said, "Esther wants me to retire."
Jacob's eyes were suddenly serious.
"Sir?"
The Sheriff nodded.
"She said she doesn't want to become a young widow."
Jacob looked away, looked back.
"Annette said that same thing to me."
The Sheriff nodded. "I told her no, that would put it all on your shoulders, and damned if I was going to see you killed before my grandsons were grown!"
Jacob considered this for a minute.
"What about you, sir? I sure as hell don't want to see you killed!"
"Neither do I," the Sheriff admitted. "Gettin' killed would just plainly ruin my vacation plans. Why, Esther would likely never speak to me again!"
He and Jacob laughed together; it was a line they both used from time to time.
"I hated killin' 'em," the Sheriff said, his voice tired. "I genuinely hated it. The old man ... he said I'd come for his boys, and he didn't turn around, and that told me he was a-waitin' for somethin' like this, for me to show up."
"That's why you threw that rock."
"Yep. He thought that was me circlin' behind him, it's what he expected ... hell, I was a-gonna do just that."
Jacob chose his words carefully.
"Sir," he said at length, "I am most grateful the rock was there."
"They were ready for me," the Sheriff said, his eyes bleak. "They figured I would come after them and I don't figure they thought I would come alone -- which is why I did."
"Yes, sir."
"I didn't see any sense in givin' 'em any more targets to shoot at."
"No, sir."
"I don't want to see Annette become a young widow."
"No, sir."
"Slide those papers back over here if you would, please."
Jacob stacked the sheets, handed them across the desk to his father.
The Sheriff placed them in a stack in the middle drawer.
Standing, he reached for his hat; Jacob rose, as well.

Those who were on the street marveled to see a long horn bull ambling placidly down the main street of Firelands with a grinning little boy astride its neck just ahead of those lean-muscled shoulders.
Little Joseph caught up with Boocaffie, patting his foreleg and looking back -- fearful of discovery, for his Mama could hear through ten feet of rock and see through more -- and said, "Down, Boocaffie," and whether it was the words, or the hand on the foreleg, Boocaffie stopped and lay down as he'd done many times in pasture and allowed Joseph to scramble aboard.
"Go, Boocaffie!" Joseph crowed, and the bull just lay there, blinking in the sun, contemplating the infinite and soaking up sunshine.
"Boocaffie!" Joseph exclaimed. "Find Pa!"
Boocaffie looked slowly around, calculating the relative velocity of the speed of light, or perhaps mentally constructing a learned treatise on the works of Vivaldi as an allegory for the Garden of Eden, or perhaps he was considering how it must be to have a harem of lovely veiled houris.
We will never know if the broad beamed bull got so far as to wonder how one would maintain a veil on a heifer, for little Joseph threw up one leg and slid off and stomped around in front of Boocaffie.
Perhaps the bull was amused by the fierce expression on the lad's visage, or perhaps the bovine was amused by Joseph's body language: knuckles on his hips, feet apart, bottom lip protruding, brow wrinkled.
Finally the bull showed some sign of restlessness, and Joseph ran around and leaped aboard as the bull thrust up from the earth: having come to some decision, the bull proceeded to trot down the road, sniffing the cool air, blowing out big clouds of steam, looking around at this part of the country he really couldn't see from behind that board fence.

"King me!"
"You cheat!"
"I cheat? What about you slidin' that checker over --"
"I didn't slide no checker!"
"You had two of 'em up your sleeve an' --"
The two quarreled like peevish old men, thrusting fingers at one another, interrupting each other's accusatory diatribe, the the amusement of those listening; finally the checker was crowned -- "There! You satsifed?" -- at which point Mr. Mac crowed, "Now!" -- and seizing the crowned checker, proceeded to click-click-click jump every one of Bill's checkers.
Bill raised his hands to the heavens,shaking his head.
Mac laughed, then picked up their bent, hand-forged nail and scratched another line in the edge of the window sash.
"Set 'em up ag'in! I'll trim your tail feathers this time!"
Bill looked up to see Mac staring at something behind Bill's shoulder.
Bill turned and he stared too.

Boocaffie had never been ridden.
Oxen have been used as tractors for centuries; oxen have drawn wagons, plowed, hauled, dragged -- but bovines in general are seldom if ever ridden.
Horses, aye; to see a man afoot was an exception, especially in the West, where a cowboy would mount up and ride across the street rather than walk -- but the image of a grinning little boy riding a big monstrous long horned bull was just a bit out of the ordinary, even for Firelands.
Boocaffie wasn't in any terrible hurry; little Joseph was laughing, urging his mount to a greater velocity, and his mount was not in much of a mind to pay any attention a'tall.

Annette was not a tracker; she relied on intuition, on hunch, on lucky guesses.
When her carriage came over the rise she ho'd the mare, hauled back on the brake: she stood, shading her eyes again, looking down the road as it meandered a little and then came into the main street of Firelands proper.
"There you are," she murmured.

The Bear Killer had seen cattle and plenty of them.
Boocaffie, on the other hand, never in his young life, ever, had seen a Bear Killer.
Each approached the other curiously.
Joseph slid off Boocaffie's shoulder, landing on the ground and almost falling; he took a quick step to keep his balance, then scampered up to The Bear Killer and seized the big canine around his blunt, muscled neck, and The Bear Killer -- whose first blood (and nearly his last) was a wounded grizzly, who'd seized and sometimes killed man-flesh, who'd never come up against something he just plainly feared -- the fierce, ivory-fanged, deadly-jaw canine gave Joseph a happy ear laundering, right there in the middle of the sunny street, to the lad's happy laughter.
Boocaffie regarded this placidly, making some rumbling comment deep in his bovine chest; The Bear Killer came over, sniffed the big wet nose: satisfied, each proceeded to ignore the other.

Mr. Bill and Mr. Mac, their checker game forgotten, stared unashamedly at the scene; they positively goggled as Annette drove up, dismounted, walked around to the front of the bull and shook her Mommy-finger at it: "You, sir," she declared, "have been a very naughty boy."
The bull gave a subdued, almost calflike mehhh and lowered his head a little.
Annette reached down, ran a hand under his big jaw and pulled: Boocaffie raised his head and Annette shook her finger again: "I am not very happy with you, sir!"
Boocaffie switched his tail and sniffed, suddenly hopeful: The Bear Killer, too, licked his chops: Annette pulled a sweet roll from her pocket, tore it in two, held half out, flat-handed.
"Joseph," Annette said quietly, "get in the carriage."
"But Ma," Joseph protested.
"In," Annette said, "the," and she gave him a stern look, "carriage."
"Yes, Ma," Joseph said reluctantly.
"And you, sir," Annette said, stroking Boocaffie between the eyes with two fingers, "come with me."
Annette was obliged to step well to the side to clear the spread of the bull's left hand horn: she stepped in, ran a caressing hand down his flank, then mounted the carriage and clucked the mare into a U-turn.
Boocaffie fell in behind the carriage, trotting docilely behind Annette.

The two lawmen emerged from the Sheriff's office, looking around as they always did.
Nothing was out of the ordinary as far as the eye could see.

Annette halted the carriage.
"Joseph," she said, pointing to a hedge, "here is a knife. Cut me a switch."

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Linn Keller 2-16-13

 

Joseph's presence was not needed in court and so he rode out to Charlie's.
He knew the scoundrel that put lead into Jackson Cooper's rib would meet with the gavel of justice, and for a moment, Jacob grinned at the idea of the good Judge Donald Hostetler smacking the defendant over the head with said gavel: God knows, he thought, the man's wanted to do that to two or three he's tried!
Jacob rode easy and he rode his horse easy: neither man nor mount were in any tearin' hurry, it was a lovely day, Jacob was of no mind to interrupt that particular state of affairs, for he found it to his liking.
When he finally came to the Macneil spread, he lifted his hat and waved at Cats Running, off in the far pasture, barely visible: Cats Running raised an arm in reply and Jacob grinned.
He had a respect for the old Indian and his way of saying plain ideas plainly and sometimes unexpectedly bluntly.
Fannie was packing a bucket of dirty water out and slung it off to the side as Jacob rode up; water hissed and splashed against cold earth, and Jacob took off his hat.
"Miz Fannie," he greeted her; "Jacob," she replied, smiling up at him and working some magic -- with a bucket in one hand, the other hand on her hip, obviously a working rancher's wife engaged in labors of her own, she still managed to look attractive, saucy and smug, all at the same time.
"Miz Fannie, thank you," Jacob said, looking directly at the woman.
Fannie raised an eyebrow and laughed.
"You're welcome, I'm sure, but what did I do now?"
Jacob turned a little red and Fannie scolded him gently, "Now get down off that horse and talk to me! You should know better than to tease a woman and not let her know what you're thinking!"
Jacob dutifully dismounted, dropping the reins; turning his hat a little nervously, he looked at the ground, and Fannie wondered for a moment if he wasn't going to draw back a boot and kick a dirt clod like an embarrassed and uncertain suitor who didn't know how to talk to a girl.
"Miz Fannie," Jacob said, "I danced with four women the other night.
"I danced with my sister, I danced with my wife, I danced with my mother, and I danced with you."
He looked a little uncomfortable, then cleared his throat as if he'd come to some decision.
"Miz Fannie, thank you for that dance."
"Why, you're welcome, darlin', but it wasn't that much."
"It was," he said flatly, and Miz Fannie saw something hard in the young man's eyes.
"You see, Miz Fannie, any number of women would like to dance with me, but I durst not. Annette gets turrible jealous, but she could not object to my dancing with family."
Fannie's eyes widened a little as two or three puzzle pieces fell into place, things she'd seen or heard or surmised.
Annette is a jealous wife, she thought.
I hadn't expected that
As handsome a man as Jacob is ... she'd better not hold him too tightly ... he'll squirt out from between her fingers like a watermelon seed!

"That was not the only reason, Miz Fannie."
Jacob's eyes were troubled.
"I see things ... I see things and I don't understand them but I accept them as fact.
"You and Mother and Little Sis are of a like kind, ma'am." Jacob frowned a little. "It's not that I dance with any of you, it's like ... you flow like water, you dance like a feather on the breeze." He looked very directly at Fannie.
"All of you do this."
"That's the mark of a good dancer," Fannie smiled.
Jacob nodded. "You may well be right, ma'am."
"And stop callin' me ma'am, I am not that old!" Fannie's sharp words were softened by her smile and her laugh. "Ma'am! Like I was an old woman!"
"Yes, ma'am," Jacob said softly. "I mean no ma'am -- I mean I'm sorry ma'am -- oh, horse feathers!"
Fannie stepped up to Jacob and laid a gentle palm against his cheek.
"Jacob," she said softly, "you're sweet. Annette is lucky to have you."
Jacob closed his eyes almost painfully and nodded. "Thank you ma'am," he murmured, then he opened his eyes and asked, "Would Charlie be around?"

Charlie and Fannie watched the tall, slender young deputy ride back toward Firelands.
"What was it he wanted?" Fannie asked.
Charlie's arm was strong around her shoulders, his work-warmed body comfortable against hers as he drew her into him.
"He came to say thank you," Charlie said quietly. "For teaching Sarah the way I did. He said she listens to me but she doesn't listen to him very well."
Fannie sighed and leaned her head against her husband's chest.
"He thinks she doesn't listen to him?" Fannie echoed, shaking her head a little.
"He still doesn't know her very well, does he?"

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Linn Keller 2-17-13

 

It was Sunday.
Sarah sat proper and prim in her parents' carriage; the twins happily flanked her, cuddled up against her enveloping cloak -- which they knew Sarah would soon readjust by virtue of standing, and then draping over the two of them -- they each wore a matching cloak, just like their big sister's, but they like the feeling of Sarah covering them with hers.
Sure enough, she did, and just before Levi flipped the reins and clucked at the mare.
Bonnie sat beside Levi, the very image of a successful matron and a respected member of their society, and Levi, freshly barbered and shaved, with his neat mustache tightly curled, was the very image of a respectable landowner, husband and father.
Sarah was well enough disciplined that she kept a calm expression about herself, in spite of the restlessness of her thoughts.
Once at church, the ladies waited until they were helped from the carriage; they entered the little whitewashed church en bloc: the Welsh Irishman waited without, and offered his arm to Sarah: he entered the church with them, and sat with the family, instead of with the Brigade.
Uncharacteristically, he wore his good suit: the rest of the Brigade wore their good uniforms, the set they kept hung up, clean, for such occasions: their good uniforms never saw a working fire, nor saw they housekeeping duties, nor anything but Sunday-go-to-meetin' duties: even their boots were gleaming, flawless, burnished: it was a point of pride that the Brigade cleaned up well, and indeed they presented a fine appearance that snowy winter's day, there in the little whitewashed kirk, an island of passionate red wool in a sea of black suits and colorful ladies' gowns.
The twins plopped themselves down beside the Welsh Irishman -- one on one side, one on the other, their shining little faces looking happily up at the reddening fireman, at least until Bonnie, leaning over and whispering, moved Polly over beside Opal, and Sarah settled in between Bonnie and Llewellyn with a whispered "Thank you, Mama."
Sarah turned to the firefighter, laid gloved fingertips gently on his forearm:
"Mr. Llewellyn," she murmured, "I would speak with you after service."
"Of course," Llewellyn replied, swallowing: he cleared his throat carefully, delicately, and looked down at Sarah's other hand, palm-down on her thigh.
Sarah worked the gloves off her hands and made a little slight-of-hand move and the Princess ring gleamed on her finger, the ancient stone winking brightly at the Welshman.
For a moment -- for just a bare moment -- he could smell his Granda's cottage and feel her gentle, wrinkled hands, and hear her laugh ... and he swallowed again, and Sarah's left hand, the hand with the Princess ring, floated through space and eternity and settled on his own, and gave it a gentle squeeze.

Little Joseph strutted into the church, holding his Mama's hand, or rather, Annette held his wrist firmly, for she knew the lad was impulsive and might go scampering off to greet a schoolmate or loudly and happily greet an acquaintance: as it was, the Sheriff was just within, and stooped, and seized the lad under the arms: Annette released her grip and the Sheriff hoisted Joseph at arm's length over his head, grinning, and Joseph laughed, scattering a little boy's happy giggles over the congregation.
The Sheriff squeezed Jacob's shoulder and winked, and then he looked at Annette and said "My dear, I am trying to think of something gentlemanly, proper and mildly amusing, but all I can think of is ... it's a good thing we are both married, otherwise I should be tempted to run off with you!"
Annette laughed and laid a hand on her maternal belly: "Sheriff," she said, "if I were not married, I would do just that!" -- and kissed the man quickly on the cheek, and the Sheriff turned red like a schoolboy: it wasn't often that someone could do something that brought the man to a halt, and he was a man who could generally come up with a smart remark for any occasion, but this one brought him to a red-eared halt, and Esther colored a little: to her credit, she did not laugh, though it was a chore to maintain a dignified silence.
"Gwampa," Joseph said, and the Sheriff grabbed the lad's ankle, held him at arm's length above his head which brought them almost nose to nose -- he reached up with his other hand, grabbed the inverted Joseph by the shoulder and brought him to en face distance -- "Yes, my son?" he said in a dolorous tone, which brought laughter to grandson and firstborn son alike.
"Gwampa I rode Boocaffie an' we went to town!" Joseph declared loudly, wigging, and the Sheriff brought him to horizontal, then set his feet down on the floor.
"Let's go have a seat," he said, "that's hard on an old man's back."
Angela looked up at her Mama and over at Esther.
"Daddy wouldn't do that with me," Angela said with a positive nod, her curls bobbing.
"Oh?" Esther asked, following the Sheriff and the vigorous little grandson down the aisle toward their pew.
"No. I'm wearing a dress."
"I see."
"But he can do that with Joseph because he's wearing pants."
"I see."
Esther slid into the pew as the Sheriff stood aside: he followed them in, sat Joseph on one thigh and Angela on the other.
"Joseph," Angela said, "Daddy won't turn me upside down like that."
Joseph blinked, big-eyed and suddenly solemn, and both children looked at the slender man with pale eyes and the iron-grey mustache, the man with an arm around each child and a look of absolute happiness on his face.
Parson Belden stepped behind the pulpit and nodded to Annette, and the opening bars of the opening hymn brought the assembled to their feet.
Sarah was holding the Welsh Irishman's hand, and the Princess stone gleamed from between their interlaced fingers.
Bonnie leaned forward slightly, looked at her daughter holding a man's hand, and blinked a few times, remembering her own time of turmoil and first, passionate, fall-hard-for-a-man feeling of crushing romance: she gave her head a little shake and retrieved her straying thought.
"Mr. Llewellyn," she said gently, "we would be pleased if you would join us for Sunday dinner."
"Mrs. Rosenthal," the Welshman replied, his eyes wrinkling at the corners, "I am most pleased to accept your hospitable offer."

Parson Belden was a good speaker.
He spoke slowly enough to enunciate his words clearly, separately; he spoke loudly enough to be heard in the back row, but he did not shout, nor was he given to the showy, histrionic, passionate, pulpit-beating show popular with the "Fire and Brimstone" league: he drew his lessons from Scripture, teaching, not beating the congregation over the head with what he had to say.
He also spoke relatively briefly, for he well knew the principle of good public speaking, exemplified in two observations the Sheriff made, when he and the lawman were enduring the histrionics of a circuit ridin' Methodist preacher a year or two ago: at some point the Sheriff leaned over and murmured to the sky pilot, "The mind absorbs until the backside grows numb," and the Parson agreed, noting with surprise that his own hinder went to sleep a half hour earlier and that's the last he remembered a word the pulpit pounder said: less than a minute after, the Sheriff added, "The longer the speaker's wind, the harder these chairs get," and fortunately it was not long after that the travelin' preacher ended his long winded delivery.
Parson Belden tried to learn from everything he encountered, and from this he learned not to speak too long, a fact appreciated by the Firelands community.
The Parson's ministry was not solely preachin' from the pulpit on Sunday; he was busy the week long, whether it was receiving troubled souls, listening while they poured out their hearts, or raged with anger at the unfairness of a life or a boss or a husband or a wife, whether it was to sit with a man as he watched his wife die, or as he held an old woman as she beat her tiny birdlike fists against his chest and cried bitter tears as she realized for the first time her husband of many years was indeed not going to wake up and speak to her as he always had for the past half a century.
The Parson finished his sermon and passed the plate, they sang another hymn and a half dozen announcements were made, during which the sky pilot made eye contact with Jackson Cooper, there in the back row, and smiled a little, and the big lawman nodded and smiled back: the Parson refrained from overt comment, observing in passing, with the other brief mentions, that "Emma Cooper is considerably relieved now," and moving on: those who knew what he was talking about, knew exactly what he meant, and those who didn't, well, they just figured it was part of the messages.

The Sheriff and Esther generally had Jacob and Annette over for Sunday dinner every other week; in the intervening weeks, they dined with Jacob and Annette: the intent was, as Annette went deeper into her pregnancy, they would then have every Sunday dinner with Linn and Esther, and Gwampa an' Gwamma would take care of little Joseph as necessary, for Annette was a strong and capable young woman, but Esther knew what it was to be gravid, and to bear the responsibility of a household, and she knew relief was most welcome.
This week it was Jacob and Annette's turn to accept his father and mother's hospitality.

The Rosenthal carriage rattled back to the Rosenthal ranch minus one passenger.
A second carriage followed the first.
The Sheriff looked long after the rented carriage that bore the Welsh Irishman and his daughter.
Esther laid a gentle hand on his forearm and squeezed.
"I remember," the Sheriff said quietly, "how terrified I was that night I came to your house, with you and the ladies ... you all fixed supper for us ... "
He looked at Esther, raised a gentle hand, caressed her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
"Esther," he whispered, "you are as lovely as the first day I saw you!"

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Linn Keller 2-18-13

 

Sunday dinner was polite, cheerful and almost relaxed, if a little subdued due to the presence of Sarah's almost-overcautious swain.
There were no terrible gaffes, nobody dumped a tureen of gravy in their neighbor's lap, there were no off-color remarks or double entendres that might raise a gentleman's eyebrows or cause a lady to redden and turn her face away: it was almost -- almost! -- as if Mr. Llewellyn had dined with them before, and had proven himself welcome.
Conversation ranged from Firelands' growth, to the Irish Brigade's firehouse and performance of the new gas boilers: from the schoolhouse requiring a new coat of white come warm weather, to the roof on the Jewel, to the recent nuptials arranged by the Sheriff between the lonely widower in distant line shack, and a lonely widow who'd just lost her sister.
Finally the fireman seemed to come to a decision: he looked over at Bonnie and said quietly, "Mrs. Rosenthal, at your convenience" -- he looked at Levi and added, "and with your permission" -- he looked again at Bonnie -- "I would counsel with you."
He looked at Levi, who shared a small smile with his wife, before the pair murmured "Of course," in chorus, as often happens with a well matched married couple.
The maid cleared the table and brought out dessert, a cake baked for the occasion (women seem to know about things ahead of time, and Levi suspected this mysterious messaging women employ informed his household of the suitor's planned presence) -- cake was not a common treat, but it was definitely enjoyed by all present.
Polly frowned a little as she ate hers; Bonnie and Sarah both picked up on her change of expression and her apparent discomfort.
Mother and daughter exchanged a look: Polly pushed her plate back, her cake less than half eaten, and she said in a small voice, "May I be excused?" and Bonnie looked at Sarah and nodded and said, "Of course you may, dear."
Big sister and little sister retired from the dining room.
"Mr. Llewellyn," Bonnie said, her voice gentle, "you wished to counsel with me."
Llewellyn looked a little uncertain, looked at Levi, then at Bonnie.
"Yes ma'am," he said, "I would know more about ... I would ..."
Bonnie's expression, as she looked at Levi, was almost amused, as if she knew, or at least suspected, what he was going to inquire.

Polly's expression was less pleasant.
Sarah mixed up warm saltwater, as warm as Polly could tolerate, and coached her in a vigorous swish-and-spit on the back porch.
"Something is in there and it's making your tooth hurt," Sarah said as Polly inexpertly but enthusiastically sloshed warm saltwater about in her mouth, then shot it over the porch rail.
"It hurts when I eat cake or anything sweet or if I inhale through my mouth."
"Open up, sweets, tilt your head back so I can see ... now point to the one that hurts."
Sarah withdrew a long, round-knobbed pin from her hair, reversing it, holding it by its shaft and following Polly's finger into her wide-open, trembling mouth.
"Okay. I think I see it. Remove your finger."
Sarah reached in and very carefully tapped on one tooth, a second, a third.
On the third experimental knock with the hatpin's round knob, Polly flinched and grunted a little.
"I see," Sarah murmured. "Close up, dear, you'll catch flies."
Polly closed her mouth and looked puzzled.
"It's cold, Sarah. There are no flies."
Sarah thrust the hatpin back into her done-up hair and hugged her little sister.
"Is it better after you slosh out with saltwater?"
Polly nodded.
"You will want to brush your teeth now, brush with salt instead of the tooth powder."
Polly nodded again.
"Rinse with warm water, not cold."
"Cold hurts."
"I know it does, sweets, then there is something we can try that will work but only for a little while."
"What's that?"
Sarah winked, put her finger to her lips.
"Ssshhh," she whispered. "It's a secret compound. I made it myself and it works!"

The Welsh Irishman cleared his throat, then he stood, turned his chair so it faced Bonnie squarely.
Levi sat at the head of the table, just to Bonnie's right, so the fireman faced both parents: this, he knew, was proper, and showed due respect to them both.
"I intend to provide for Sarah," he said, leaning forward and thrusting his fingers into an interlace, his elbows on his knees: "I will take care of" -- he paused, looked Levi in the eye -- "I will take care of your little girl."
Llewellyn swallowed.
"Me dear mither told me once ... she was an only child, an' she told me that her husband was so afraid of failing because when he married her, he as much as told her father that he would take care of his little girl ... and a week after they were married, he was let go from his job, and he felt such a failure.
"I," he continued, "do not anticipate such a thing." He thrust out his jaw.
"I believe my position -- and that of the Brigade as a whole -- is secure.
"My question, if I may ..."
He stopped, took a few breaths, and both Levi and Bonnie waited patiently until the man gathered some composure.
"Mrs. Rosenthal, children are a natural consequence of marital union."
Bonnie nodded, almost smiling; her hand sought Levi's, and his hand hers, and the two looked at Opal, who was taking all this in with bright and sparkling eyes.
"Mrs. Rosenthal, the daughter is much like the mother, and Sarah is a perfect lady. She could only have learned this from you."
"Thank you," Bonnie murmured, lowering her eyes demurely.
"And so it is --" Llewellyn hesitated again, wet his lips.
"Mrs. Rosenthal, children are the natural consequence of -- I said that already."
His hand trembled slightly; this man, whose profession was to stride into the Devil's parlor with a squirtgun under his arm, a man who walked boldly into buildings that sane and rational people were running away from as hard as they could, a man who'd plucked sizzling fuses from sticks of thrown powder and laughed, this man who'd smacked Fate in the chops any number of times and dared Fate to do its worst -- this man's hands trembled a little as he framed the words he wished to speak.
"Mrs. Rosenthal, had you unnatural difficulty carrying or delivering Sarah?"
There, it's out, he thought.
Now she will answer or I will be thrown out and forbidden from ever --
Bonnie considered her answer carefully: she looked down, at the linen napkin on the tabletop, then she looked up at the Welsh Irishman.
"Mr. Llewellyn," she said, "I have had no difficulty with carrying or delivering my children, save only some morning sickness and not much of that.
"I am given to understand from your fellows that you are a longsuffering man, that you are not given to impatience or temper, save only where it is justified."
She paused; Llewellyn nodded, slowly.
"Mr. Llewellyn, one must be patient with a woman who is carrying a child."
She lay a hand on her own expanding waistline, then looked at Levi, and Llewellyn could not but recognize the genuine affection each had for the other.
"A woman's ankles will swell, she will bloat, her rings won't fit, she will whine and cry for no reason, she will feel as attractive as a whale."
Her hand squeezed Levi's again.
"At such times, Mr. Llewellyn, one must be ... patient ... with the woman, for often by giving voice to these several complaints, she will feel better.
"In fact" -- she looked a little uncomfortable -- "I find I must excuse myself. Forgive me, please."
The men rose as Bonnie stood; she swayed for a moment, then lifted her hand from Levi's and walked regally out of the room.
Levi looked at the Welshman; it is to the ex-agent's credit that he did not laugh at the poor man's confused expression.
"Let us retire to my study," he said. "I believe we could both use a drink."

Sarah wiggled the cork from a pint glass bottle, trickled something water clear into a shot glass.
"There is a secret to this," she said. "You take this" -- she held up the double teaspoon of something crystal, liquid and potent -- "into your mouth and hold it on that tooth. Just hold it there. Don't swallow. Your mouth will water but that's okay, don't swallow this. Just hold it on the tooth and the pain should stop."
"What is it?" Polly asked uncertainty as she took the thick-walled shot glass.
"It's potent," Sarah replied, "but it worked for me."
Polly sniffed it, wrinkled her nose, then bravely took the double teaspoonful of distilled lightning into her young mouth, pooled it around the offending tooth: it felt like fire against her gums, but the toothache fell away from her and was gone.
"Just hold it there for a bit longer," Sarah cautioned. "I'm watching the clock." She reached over for the chamber pot.
Polly dutifully held the firewater around the troublesome tooth for one full minute.
At sixty seconds on the dot, Sarah lifted the white-enamel lid from the combinet and said "Okay, spit out."
Polly did.
Sarah covered the thunder mug and slid it back into its cubby, then pulled out a lace-edged kerchief and pressed it delicately against Polly's lips.
"We'll have to have that taken care of," she murmured. "Today is Sunday but I know just who to call on. Get your cloak, we're going to Denver, we can just catch the afternoon train."

Llewellyn cautiously sampled his brandy.
He intentionally refrained from strong drink -- a rarity in that location and in that era -- by choice, he held himself to one beer with a meal, one time each day, and no more.
He'd seen too much ill come of strong drink; he'd known too many good men succumb to the bottle, and he knew distilled spirits were entirely too easy to drink -- and so he refrained, save for occasions like this, where he was a guest, and a guest would be ill-mannered to decline a tipple.
They turned as Sarah's knuckled rapped on the door frame: she wore her traveling-cloak and hat, and Polly was likewise caparisoned.
"I really do beg your pardon," Sarah said with a curtsy, "please forgive me for interrupting -- but I am taking Polly to have a tooth extracted, and we should be home just after dark."
At the knowledge that she was to have a tooth pulled, Polly looked at Sarah with big and frightened eyes.
"Please forgive me, I had wished to discuss a matter with you," Sarah said to the Welsh Irishman, "but I know what a tooth feels like, and I do not believe we wish to wait until tomorrow."
Sarah walked over to Levi and raised up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek, and Levi squatted to hug Polly: Sarah turned to Llewellyn and dropped a flawless curtsy, and the Welsh Irishman bowed formally.
Levi could see the man's mental gears turning.
"Mr. Rosenthal, would it be impertinent if I were to offer to escort the ladies to their destination and back?"
Sarah's eyes widened: half-hopeful, half-fearful, knowing it would be considered improper in some circles for a young girl, unescorted, to travel with a man who was neither family nor spouse: on the other hand, it was gentlemanly to offer an escort.
"Mr. Llewellyn," Levi said, "I would be pleased if you would accompany my daughter on this mission of mercy."
Llewellyn carefully placed his barely-tasted brandy on the sideboard, stepped forward and shook Levi's hand.
Sarah felt the comforting weight of a pistol on her belt, under the cloak, and considered the other implements about her person: she would be perfectly safe, she knew, but it was flattering to have a big, strong man offer to provide escort.
Llewellyn opened the door to Levi's study.
Bonnie handed her a little bundle.
"A check, a pen and ink," she murmured. "You have carte blanche."
"Thank you, Mother," Sarah murmured back, raising up again to kiss her Mama.
Bonnie hugged Polly and whispered something in her little girl's ear, and Polly nodded; the trio was soon headed for Firelands, and the afternoon train.
"It's Sunday afternoon," Bonnie said. "Will she find a dentist open?"
"There's one in Cripple, I know ... that mining town is always open the clock around."
Bonnie's chuckle was grim. "That medieval monster, you mean. Torturer. I've heard horror stories about that man."
"Sarah knows a surprising number of people," Levi said thoughtfully. "If she said she knows someone in Denver, I'm satisfied he'll see her."

Opal, finding herself suddenly alone at the dining room table, pushed her empty plate away from her and looked at her twin's mostly-uneaten slice of cake.
Opal blinked, tilted her head, then reached over and slid the cake in front of her.
Opal was a thrifty child and saw no sense in letting a perfectly good piece of cake, go to waste.

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Linn Keller 2-18-13

 

Polly drowsed beside Sarah, leaning against the warm reassurance of her big sister.
On occasion she would stir, and whimper a little, and Sarah would prime her with another sip of liquid lightning, enough to put the pain to sleep for a while.
Polly was absorbing alcohol directly through her oral mucosa; she did not have to swallow it, to get a good load in her system ... to the point that, when they arrived in Denver shortly before midnight, Polly had to be carried.
Llewellyn wrapped the child in her cloak and picked her up, carried her easily: Sarah led the way, hailed a cab -- though the hour was late, a hack could still be had -- she spoke an address, and the driver nodded.
Sarah frowned as the cab lurched a little; her attention was on her little sister, but something in the back of her mind made her restless, discontented.
When she looked out the window she blinked: the driver was not going where she'd directed.
Sarah surged to her feet, thrust head and shoulders out the window.
"HEY UP THERE!" she shouted. "WHERE IN THE HELL ARE YOU GOING?"
The driver's whip sizzled through the air, seared across Sarah's face.
Sarah thrust a hand under her cloak, came up with a revolver: her eyes were ice-pale and she fired one shot, punching a hole through the driver's plug hat.
"YOU THIEVING STREET APACHE, THROW THAT WHIP AWAY BEFORE I KILL YOU!"
The driver did not throw the whip: he swung it hard against his nag's backside.
Sarah fired, three times, driving a trio of .44 caliber slugs through the driver's ribs: his criminal career ended with a bad case of lead poisoning.
Sarah pulled back in, holstered her pistol with a savage thrust, and fumbled at the ceiling: finding the latch, she snarled, twisted and pushed: the hatch flew open and she seized the edges of the hatch, kicking hard against the floor.
The Welsh Irishman had Polly cradled in his arms, twisted away from the thunderous concussions: he turned in time to see Sarah's feet sail upward, heard her scramble atop the cab, felt the panicked nag slow: Sarah stood up in the driver's seat, bringing the mare about, swinging her back along their former path.
A figure ran out from an alley, clawing at the mare, and Sarah drew the bulldog .44 again: a single shot sent the dacoit scampering and bleating back into the darkness, and Sarah gave the mare her head, intent on leaving whatever cesspit of crime and depravity this scoundrel of a driver was intent on taking them.
She was lost -- utterly, completely lost -- and drove in as much of a straight line as she could, whispering as she went: "Dear God, I got me into this, kindly get me out of it!" -- and she thought of her little sister, unconscious in her fiancee's arms, feeling the terrible weight of consequence pressing on her young shoulders.
She saw lights ahead -- twin round lights -- and she whispered, "Thank You!"
Sarah drew the mare to a stop in front of the police-station; the lights she saw were round, milk-glass spheres with POLICE painted on the front.
Sarah put two fingers to her lips and whistled, loud, shrill, commanding: a window opened and a policeman thrust head and shoulders out: "What's that, what's that now?"
"GET YOUR BLUE COATED BUTT DOWN HERE AND BRING THE REST OF YOU WITH IT!" Sarah shouted, her voice rough. "THIS THIEVING SPALPEEN JUST TRIED TO KILL US!"
Seconds later two men came running out of the station house: one was in the typical blue uniform and flat cap, the other in a suit, half-buttoned, his shirt tail showing from under his coat tail.
He stopped, surprised, one hand holding his brown Homburg against his neatly combed hair.
"By the Lord Harry! Agent Rosenthal!" he exclaimed. "What happened?"
"I'm taking my sister to the doctor and the driver here decided to take us to the graveyard instead!" Sarah snapped. "I'm quite sure he's dead but you might want to check!"
"Mitchell! Harris! On the double!" the detective bawled: blue-coated men were soon climbing the cab, hauling the driver's exanimate clay to the ground.
"Detective, I need your help," Sarah said -- her voice was frank, matter-of-fact, the voice of an agent on a case.
"Yes, Miss -- I mean Agent!"
"I'm lost. I need a native guide."
"Then I am your man!"
"Mind the seat, it's all bloody."
"Spencer! A towel! Two towels, good God, it's like a slaughterhouse here!" The detective curled his lip. "We'll take a carriage. Mitchell! A carriage!"
"Aye, sir!" came the shouted reply; running feet faded, and less than a minute later, a black brougham drawn by a magnificent black mare came rattling up.
The detective reached up to help Sarah down; he opened the door, nodded to the Welshman holding the little girl.
The detective did not miss the fact that Sarah's cloak and the child's were identical, save for their size.
"This way, sir," the detective said crisply. "Mind your step, now."
The detective held Polly while the Welsh Irishman climbed into the brougham; handing the child up, he looked at Sarah, who primed her sister with another sip of something from a silver flask.
"One more, sweets, one more is all we need," Sarah murmured.
The detective climbed into the driver's seat, picked up the reins.
"Whither away, Captain?"
One of the uniformed men ran up with a red lantern, hung it on the off dash-board, marking the carriage as having the right-of-way: the detective flipped the reins, whistled, and the mare was soon at a spanking trot down the nearly-deserted city street.

"Sarah was so much the lady," Annette said, brushing out her thick, wavy hair: she wore her flannel nightgown and a smile, and Jacob nodded, looking out the window.
"I know," he said quietly, his voice muffled a little, his breath fogging the window glass. "She was beautiful, and genteel, and you're right ... a lady."

Sarah's eyes were pale and hard, her lips drawn back in a snarl: she knocked the Welsh Irishman's hand away as he reached for her.
The whip-weal stood out, red and angry, diagonally across her face.
"You're hurt," Llewellyn said quietly.
Sarah's head tilted down slightly, ever so slightly, as if to watch the driver's black soul descend toward the Inferno, and the Welshman saw the set of her white teeth, clenched against more pain than just her lashed face.
You must be patient, Bonnie told him after their Sunday dinner, when he sought her counsel, and Llewellyn knew he was seeing a part of his intended, that he'd never suspected existed.
The detective spoke to the mare, drew her to a halt: they were in front of an office, with a light on upstairs: Sarah thrust open the door, leaped from the carriage, stomped up the sidewalk and seized the bell-pull: she hauled twice, then hammered on the door with the butt of her pistol, three hard blows.
Only then did she think to reload.
The detective held the door as Llewellyn stepped out of the carriage: both men were careful not to block the red lantern's glow: they saw a light moving within, hesitate behind the door: they saw the door open a little.
Sarah was inserting fresh rounds into her Bulldog.
"I need your help," she said, and raised her face, and the dentist raised his lantern, his eyes widening as he saw the angry, red and nearly bloody slash across the pretty young woman's face.
"Dear God!" he exclaimed, "what happened?"
"It's my sister," Sarah said. "I believe she has enough anesthetic. She has a bad tooth."
The dentist looked more closely, his mouth opening in amazement.
"Dear Lord," he whispered. "It's you!"
"You said if I ever needed your help I should ask," Sarah replied. "I'm asking."
The detective waited outside, with his mare: chances of a police carriage being stolen were quite slim, but he did not wish to take the chance.
The consequences ... the chaffing he would receive, the kidding for a number of years about being the only detective whose carriage was stolen ... well, it was something he'd rather not live with, and so he loafed outside while the dentist took care of matters inside.

"Do you suppose Sarah will do well as ... a lady of leisure?" Annette hazarded.
Jacob laughed.
"She'll be as comfortable as a witch at a Puritan picnic," Jacob said gloomily, then laughed: like his father, he could keep a straight face only so long.
"Oh, I reckon she'll get used to a life of leisure and boredom."

Sarah tilted Polly's head back, drawing the purple headed hatpin from her hair: the dentist arranged the light to shine into the little girl's mouth, and Sarah reached in, hesitating, then gently tapped the offending tooth.
Polly flinched, grunted; she was still almost flaccid.
"I don't know what you gave her," the dentist murmured, "but it should be ... let me see ..."
He opened a drawer, touched an extractor, frowned, picked up a smaller one.
"This one," he said, nodding.
"Agent Rosenthal, please hold her head."
He reached into the little girl's mouth.
Llewellyn watched with horrified fascination; he turned his head, but he could not turn his ears away: Polly did not scream, but the sound of her protest seized the Welsh Irishman's stomach, and he turned cold and shivered a little.
The dentist examined the tooth, turning it a little and nodding his satisfaction.
"It's all here," he said. "No broken root."
He busied himself packing the wound; the Welsh Irishman's nose wrinkled at the familiar smell -- he'd had teeth pulled, without benefit of being quite drunk at the time -- but when he turned back, Sarah was wiping her sister's face and mouth.
"How much do I owe you?" Sarah asked.
The dentist shook his head. "A promise is a promise," he said. "I told you if you ever needed help, to let me know."
Sarah laid a double eagle on the side table: it was more than overpayment -- it was way more than overpayment -- but she gave the dentist a long look and nodded, once.
"That works both ways," she said softly. "This is my little sister."
"Salt water rinse four times daily and after meals. Liquids only for twenty-four hours, very soft foods for five days. If the socket infects, bring her back."
He looked at the double eagle.
"You saved my life that night," he said quietly.
Sarah raised an eyebrow, smiled a little.
"I'm glad I did," she said frankly. "We've only got one of you."

The detective looked up as Sarah and the Welsh Irishman came back down the walkway.
Polly lay motionless in the Welsh Irishman's arms.
"I suppose I shall have to write out a report," Sarah said.
The detective smiled a little and lifted his Homburg.
"I believe," he said, "it would be appreciated."
Sarah looked at the Welsh Irishman.
"It's going to be a long night."

The Sergeant and the detective watched the brougham depart, and with it, Agent Rosenthal, an unknown man in a good suit and a sleeping little girl.
"Good God," the Sergeant breathed. "Did you see the welt across her face? It's a wonder it didn't put her eye out!"
"It's a wonder they're alive to tell the tale," the detective murmured. "I knew that murdering scoundrel was back in town but I didn't know he was going to kill a cabman to pick up where he'd left off."
"Good riddance, say I! We've lost enough good folk to that murdering scoundrel!"
The two men looked around, peering into the nighttime darkness, then shivered and withdrew into the police station.

Bonnie was yet awake when the carriage drew up in front of the house.
It was late -- far later than Sarah had estimated -- but when Bonnie saw the trace of blood at the corner of Polly's mouth, and how her little face was swollen on the one side, and when she saw Sarah's drawn, pale face and hard, pale eyes, and when she saw the red welt laid across her daughter's face --
"Sarah," Bonnie said quietly, her voice hard, "who did this to you?"
"Don't worry, Mother," Sarah said, her voice tired. "Mr. Llewellyn kept Polly safe."
Bonnie seized Sarah's upper arm.
"Sarah," she whispered hoarsely.
Sarah stopped, cold eyes boring into her Mama's, then she smiled, the humorless smile of a corpse, her lips drawn back to expose her teeth in a rictus more than a smile.
"I killed him, Mother," Sarah said. "It's what I do."

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Linn Keller 2-19-13

 

Sarah sat down at the kitchen table with her mother and her fiancee.
Sarah wrapped her hands gratefully around the teacup, closing her eyes, feeling its warmth, smelling its fragrant vapors.
"We took the train to Denver," Sarah said, "and arrived on time.
"I kept Polly primed with pain killer.
"I carefully instructed her," she said, opening her eyes and taking a long breath, "I instructed her to spit out after every ... dose."
She took another long breath.
"Polly slept most of the way.
"We hired a cab when we arrived and I gave the driver the address.
"I didn't realize for several minutes we weren't going to the dentist's office.
"I stuck my head out the window and demanded to know where in Sam's hill he was taking us."
Sarah turned to her mother, her eyes big, her finger tracing the diagonal wheal across her face.
"He did this to me.
"I shot the hat off his head and told him to throw away the whip and he didn't, so I shot him three times and went up through the Handsom hatch and took the reins.
"I don't know where he took us, only that there were people who tried to stop us."
Bonnie's eyes were big, serious; she listened carefully to her daughter's words.
"I steered us back and found a police station."
Bonnie looked at the Welsh Irishman.
"He kept Polly safe, Mother," Sarah said. "He shielded her with his body. Had the cab been thrown on its side, or had there been return gunfire, Polly would have been safe." Her smile was faint, as was her voice. "He had the harder task, Mother ... he couldn't move, and he knew it, and he stayed with her anyway."
Bonnie stood; automatically, the Welsh Irishman came to his feet.
Bonnie walked over to the fireman, took both his hands in hers.
"Thank you," she whispered, and the Welsh Irishman was not the first man to suddenly feel as if he was willing to lay his beating heart at her feet.
They each sat again.
Sarah unscrewed the lid from a small porcelain jar, hooked her finger into it: Bonnie smelled something vaguely herbal as Sarah tilted her head back and slowly, carefully, traced the herbal down the welt-line crossing her face.
"The detective ... you remember him, Mother, he was the one who gave you flowers -- said the man I killed was a known murderer who used a Handsom cab to take his victims to that unsavory part of town and kill them, rob their bodies, dump their carcasses in open graves or a ditch.
"He'd apparently murdered a cabman and took his cab just before the train pulled into station."
"If I'd only known," Llewellyn whispered, shaking his head.
"You could not have known. I certainly didn't."
Llewellyn heard bitterness in Sarah's words.
"I should have. I should have seen it. I let my guard down. I was so worried about Polly I trusted." She spat the word as if it were an epithet, her eyes gone pale again: she closed her eyes, took a long breath, opened them again.
"Do I have all the welt covered?" she asked her mother, and Bonnie reached for the little porcelain jaw.
"No, dear, but almost. Here, let me."
Sarah closed her eyes and shivered a little as Bonnie carefully traced a thick layer of the herbal over Sarah's wounded face.
"There. That should do it."
"Thank you, Mother." Sarah carefully replaced the lid on the jar. "Daciana gave me this. She swears by it. This should not even scar."
"Bless her for that," Bonnie murmured.
"The detective whistled up a police-carriage for us and drove us to the dentist." Sarah laid a small cloth-wrapped item on the table, unrolled it: it was the offending tooth, complete with the little dark spot that marked its cavity.
Bonnie made a little sound of disgust and Sarah rolled it back up.
"It came out completely. The root is intact. He packed her jaw with ... whatever it is" -- Sarah closed her eyes, thrust the wrapped tooth back into a pocket, then picked up her tea and took a long drink.
"I had to make report at the police-station, of course."
"Of course," Bonnie murmured.
"Afterward we ... came home."
Sarah leaned her head on her knuckles, then laid her head on folded arms on the kitchen table. Her voice was muffled by folded arms.
"Why didn't I see it?" she hissed, then raised her head.
"Mr. Llewellyn," she said, "you see me as I am. I failed. I did not consider a possibility and you and my sister nearly died because of it."
"We live because you reacted to it," he countered.
Sarah shook his head. "I should have --"
"Should have what?" Llewellyn interrupted. "Pulled out a crystal ball? Scattered chicken entrails? Miss McKenna, have you ever fought fire?"
"Have I --" Sarah blinked, surprised. "N-no."
"A fire cannot be predicted," Llewellyn said, his voice low, urgent. "It can eat the floor out from underfoot wi'out lookin' like i'. It can load up a room wi' smoke an' detonate like a firebomb when a winda breaks an' i' takes a big suck 'a' air. I ha'e said th' same thing you are sayin' -- word f'r word, "I should ha'e seen it, I should ha'e known it" -- he stood, fingertips on the table top, his face lined with hard memories, memories raised like ghosts from a rocky grave by his words -- "but Miss McKenna, I couldna'! I had no' a crystal ball neither an' th' only thing I could do was react!"
Llewellyn strode around Bonnie's chair, resting his hand momentarily on the woman's shoulder, and he knelt beside Sarah, pulled her hand from the tabletop, wrapped it in his.
"Sarah, my dear, ye did th' best ye could wi' wha' ye had. I did my part an' you did yours an' we live t' tell th' tale." His hands were tight on hers.
"We live, Sarah. We live. Because of you."
His voice was reduced to a hiss, a whisper: urgency made his words plain, fervor made them audible.
Sarah turned her head to look at him, tears brimming her eyelids, her bottom lip trembling: she leaned into the Welsh Irishman and each embraced the other.
Bonnie caught a glimpse, just a glimpse of her daughter's face, twisted, tortured with the knowledge of what could have happened, just before Sarah buried her face in the Welsh Irishman's suit to muffle the sound of her grief.

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Linn Keller 2-19-13

 

Sarah considered that Emma Cooper was teaching again, and had been for some days now.
She stared at her face in the mirror.
Another two days of ointment, she thought, and all will be well.
Still ... Emma should know that I am not coming.
Sarah dressed quickly, as she always did; her cloak hung from its peg, its generous hood thrown back as she kept it: this morning, though, she drew the hood up, threw it well forward so it hid her face as much as possible.
She drew up in front of Jackson and Emma Cooper's house and set the brake on her carriage: skipping up to the back door, she raised her knuckles to knock, then lowered her hand as Jackson Cooper pulled open the door.
"Dear heavens," he boomed, "what brings you out here, Sunshine?"
Sarah could not raise her eyes higher than his boot tops.
"I ... won't be at school today," Sarah said hesitantly, and the Marshal knew from her voice that something was very wrong.
"Sarah?" he asked, going to one knee. "Sarah, what's wrong? How can I help?"
Sarah closed her eyes, bit her bottom lip: Jackson Cooper could see her bite her lip, and he saw her chin quiver a little, and he held the door wider and said gently, "Please, come on in. It's cold out."
Sarah nodded, gathered the front of her skirt and stepped up, and into the back porch.
"Why, Sarah!" Emma Cooper exclaimed, sounding for all the world like a pleased grandmother. "How nice that you're here!"
Emma looked up at Jackson Cooper's worried expression.
"Sarah?" she asked. "Sarah, is ... all well?"
Sarah threw her hood back, exposing the angry red line across her face.
Jackson Cooper saw Emma's eyes widen in shock: he swung in front of Sarah, looked at her face, and Sarah saw his face harden and the color darken in his cheeks.
"Who did this to you?" he asked quietly, his big hands closing, and Sarah knew the man was on the moment more than willing to seize the offending scoundrel and twist his miserable body in two for starters.
"I killed him already," she said. "I wanted you to know I won't be in school today ... and this is why."
Jackson Cooper went down to one knee again; his big hands were surprisingly gentle as he took her shoulders, turned her to face him.
"Sarah," he said, his voice grinding to the surface through a mile-deep hole full of boulders, "is there anything I should know?"
Sarah raised a hand and trailed gentle fingers along the man's scarred, clean-shaven cheek, and Jackson Cooper considered that he'd never seen such a sad expression on a girl's face in many long years.
"I killed him already," she whispered, "but Polly and Mr. Llewellyn could have been killed." Her expression was bleak as she looked up at Emma Cooper.
"I should have seen it," she squeaked. "I should have known. I'm sorry."
Sarah hesitated, raised a hand to her face.
"Please don't ... say ... I don't want them to see ..."
Sarah turned and ran out the back door.
Jackson Cooper stood as the back door swung shut; they heard Sarah's carriage rattle down the hard-frozen driveway.
Jackson Cooper took Emma Cooper in big, muscled arms, holding her carefully, as if afraid she might break.
"Dear God," he murmured, "what happened to that poor girl?"

Daciana's response was less gentle.
"Cachorra!" she swore, turned her head and spat: she spun, selected a particular curve-bladed knife, tested the edge and nodded: "Cachorra! I cut off!"
"It's too late," Sarah said, her voice hollow: "I killed him already."
"Good!" Daciana snapped: she drew her arm back, threw the knife: Sarah hadn't noticed the block of wood on the far wall until Daciana's thrown knife drove point-first into it.
Daciana looked at Sarah's face and she picked up two more knives, threw them after the first; all three knives quivered in the throwing-block.
"Face up. I look."
Daciana placed firm fingers under Sarah's chin, pulled her face up: she frowned at the red line, turned Sarah's head to assess the degree of welting, then ran gentle fingers across it at intervals, muttering something Sarah did not understand ... at least not the words ... it was the first time she remembered seeing Daciana genuinely angry.
Daciana shook a finger, her mouth opening, then closing: she frowned, found the words she wanted: "Not move you!" she declared; whirling, she almost ran out of the room, coming back in the space of three heartbeats with a small milk-glass jar similar to the one Sarah used the night before.
"I used what you gave me," Sarah murmured as Daciana precisely, carefully, drew a line of ointment down Sarah's facial wheal.
"Ja, gut," Daciana replied through clenched teeth: she viciously twisted the lid back on the jar, placed it in Sarah's palm, turned again: she disappeared into the kitchen and Sarah heard porcelain being rearranged.
"Inkommen mit du!" Daciana snapped, and Sarah, recognizing a summons when she heard one, rose and walked reluctantly into the kitchen.
Daciana was sorting through several jars, all of which held something vegetable and dried: she put a double pinch of one into a teacup, a pinch of a second on top of that, added hot water and slid the jars back out of the way.
"Sittenzie," she commanded, and Sarah smoothed her skirts and sat.
Daciana pulled a chair up very near Sarah and sat, their knees almost touching: Daciana took both Sarah's hands and looked into her eyes with a fierceness that betrayed her feelings.
"Who did zis?" she hissed.
"I killed him already."
"I NOT CARE! I KNOW WITCH! I RAISE HIM AND KILL HIM AGAIN!" Daciana shouted, her face coloring: her hands were tight on Sarah's -- surprisingly so -- and Daciana leaned toward her friend and said, "If you killed, Sarah, who I haff for friendt? Who? You all I got! You no make-a da fun of da way I talk, I ride, I dress! You no make-a da fun of-a da poor circus girl!"
It was Sarah's hands that tightened now: her eyes shaded a bit more pale and she said slowly, "Who ... dares ... say this?"
Daciana nodded. "I wanta see that. I wanta you mad. You special, you know dat. You see what no one else sees. You ..."
Daciana's hand spun as she sought the words she wanted.
"Gift. You have-a da gift. You Papa, da Sheriff, he can blow fire, you know?"
Sarah blinked, shook her head.
"He knows-a things. He knows-a what no man should know. Nobody but-a da women can blow-a da fire anna stop-a da blood wit-a da Word."
Sarah shook her head. "I ... don't ... what?"
"He blow-a da fire!" Daciana replied angrily. "You burn-a you hand, it hurt. He take-a da hand, he blow-a da hand, he say-a something you can't hear an' da fire it's-a gone!"
Sarah turned her head and Daciana knew from her expression this was new information.
"Only da woman can say-a da Word an'-a stop'a da blood. Only woman!"
Daciana raised a forefinger for emphasis.
"He not-a da woman but he can stop-a da blood wit' da Word.
"You his blood. You have-a da gift I'm-a think."
Sarah shook her head. "I ... I don't ... no, it never --"
"You haff more, much more, an' you children they will haff it too!"
Daciana jumped up, ran around the table -- the long way around, as if to burn off nervous energy -- and stirred the steeping tea.
She balanced cup and saucer carefully, brought it around to Sarah, added a gleaming teaspoon of honey, stirred.
"You drink. It heal from inside, I heal from out."
Sarah drank the tea.
It was good; it tasted -- smelled -- vaguely of clover blossoms.
She drank the entire cup.
Daciana took her cup, placed it upside down on the saucer, lifted the cup, examined the soggy dregs left on the saucer.
She nodded.
"I see three children," she murmured. "I see happiness." She looked up at Sarah. "I see a man dead and you grief and you never remarry."
"When?" Sarah asked, her eyes pale.
"A fire." Her eyes were far away, seeing something not of the here-and-now. "Inside a house. Something fall."
"When?"
"Years ... many years."
Sarah closed her eyes, nodded.
"He gave me a ring," Sarah said quietly, drawing the fine gold chain of a necklace from inside her collar.
Daciana leaned forward to look at the ring, studied the stone.
She looked at Sarah.
"I dreamed you wear a crown," she said, tapping the faceted stone with a fingernail. "This ... " She smiled a little. "You wear crown."
Sarah nodded, felt the hard lump of the ointment-jar.
"Thank you," she whispered, then stood, drawing her hood forward. "I must go."
"Sarah," Daciana said as Sarah turned.
Daciana drew gentle fingertips down Sarah's unmarked cheek.
"You good friend, Sarah," she said softly. "T'ank you." She smiled a little and added, "I know witch. You want I raise chacorra so we keel again? I cut off!"

Sarah paced slowly across the apparatus floor.
The smell of bacon and eggs, pancakes and coffee enriched the air.
The Welsh Irishman came forward at Sean's summons.
"Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah said, curtsying: "Miss McKenna," the Welsh Irishman replied with a half-bow.
"Mr. Llewellyn, thank you for last night," Sarah said: she was not near enough the kitchen to be clearly seen, and she kept her hood up and her head bowed.
"'Twas my honor," he replied gravely.
"Mr. Llewellyn, I fear my ointment has stained your suit. I believe we can get the stain out, if I may."
Llewellyn brought the suit to the apparatus floor; Sarah stood where she'd been, unmoving, like a draped marble statue in a Medieval cathedral.
Sarah reached for the suit, draped it over her forearm, then seized the Welshman's hand.
"Promise me something," she whispered.
Llewellyn leaned his head down a little, stepping close, his hand cupping her elbow.
"Promise me if you're in a burning house, you'll get out before something falls on you!"
"If I can," he replied, puzzled.
"I am holding you to that, Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah said quietly. "I have no wish to become a young widow!'

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Linn Keller 2-20-13

 

The Sheriff closed the door on his cast iron stove.
Straightening, he rubbed his fist against the small of his back: he frowned a little and there were vague crunching sounds as he twisted.
He turned and took a step toward the door; reached, and had it open a foot when he saw a figure through the widening crack.
Sarah hesitated, her upraised knuckles in mid-air, then looked at her father with uncertain eyes.
"How did you know I was about to knock?" she asked, and the Sheriff heard a trace of a surprised little girl in her voice.
Linn grinned. "I'm psychotic," he said. "I mean psychic. Come on in, it's cold out."
"You and Jackson Cooper," she muttered.
The Sheriff closed the door behind her, then turned; Sarah's hood was still up.
He reached up, threw the hood back, regarded her frankly, frowning a little.
"I know a mountain witch --" he began.
"Everyone knows a witch," Sarah muttered, "and no I don't wish to resurrect the man so we can kill him again!"
"Just thought I'd offer."
Sarah gave him a long, frank look.
"Papa, I messed up."
The Sheriff took his daughter's hands in his own.
"My dear, turn around."
"What?"
The Sheriff released one hand, took her shoulder gently, turned her: she felt his hands caress her shoulder blades through the cloak, then he turned her back.
"Just as I thought."
Sarah raised an eyebrow.
"No angel wings."
Sarah frowned, turned her head a little, curious.
"Have a set, dear heart, my back is troublin' me today." The Sheriff grabbed a chair, spun it around, close to the stove and facing the cast iron device: he brought his own chair over, wheeled it up beside Sarah's.
"Now Sarah," he said, his voice gentle but his eyes mischievous, "my Mama worked hard to beat some manners into m -- hak! Kaff! I mean!" -- he harrumphed into the back of his hand -- "my Mama taught me to be a gentleman, and a gentleman does not sit until the lady is seated."
Sarah's expression softened and she caressed the skinny lawman with the iron-grey mustache and sparkling eyes, running her fingertips down his cheek: "Oh, Papa," she said, and he heard the little girl in her voice again, "you're going to make me laugh!" and she leaned against him and hugged him, and he wrapped strong and fatherly arms around her and laid his cheek down on the top of her head.
"Now have yourself a set," he said. "I haven't seen you in, oh, it must be a day or so already! How time does fly!"
Sarah allowed herself a smile: whether it was his gentle voice or the stove's heat, she felt her personal angst melt and trickle away like snow-melt before a fire.
"Now tell your poor old Paw what happened," the Sheriff said in a slow, drawling voice, and Sarah laughed again.
The Sheriff looked closely at her face as she laughed, gauging the symmetry of her features, assessing skin tension on either side of the discoloring line of ointment and the dark stripe beneath.
She wasn't cut, he thought. Not with a knife anyway.
Maybe it's just a welt.
I hope it does not scar, but good God! -- that's right across her eye! She could have been blinded on that side!

Sarah took a long breath and shifted in her seat, straightening her spine, her hands properly folded in her lap: she began a recitation, as if giving testimony in court, uttering facts and describing events.
The Sheriff listened without interruption, leaning forward a little: Sarah knew it was partly out of interest -- he leaned forward when he was interested -- but she also knew his lower back gave him jimmy Cain when he sat too long, and he often bent forward in just such a way to take the bend, and the ache, out of his lower spine.
She spoke steadily, quietly; part of her carefully clove feeling and emotion from her words, the rest of her trembled as those sliced-off parts of her experience piled up and she looked at them again, almost as if her body were a great, hollow shell, she was sitting behind her eyes, and before the words passed her lips, another of her selves took a cleaver and slabbed the offending parts off and let them fall, away and hidden in the cavernous expanse below.
"I feared our lives were in danger," Sarah said, "so I put three shots through his ribs." She leaned forward, reached around her Papa, pressed hard fingers against the approximate area. "About here.
"I swarmed up through the Handsom hatch and took the reins.
"A fellow thug tried to seize the mare's bridle but I changed his mind as well."
"Where did you nail that one?" the Sheriff asked -- the first he'd spoken since she began her recitation.
Sarah's face turned pink and she lowered her eyes.
"I missed," she admitted.
"Did it work?" the Sheriff asked.
"Yes."
"Then you did not miss, even if it hit the ground and howled off into the darkness."
"Yes, sir."
"What followed?"
Sarah resumed her narrative; the Sheriff listened closely, nodding occasionally, steepling his fingers together.
"We got home well after midnight. Mama was awake and waiting.
"Polly was as yet asleep.
"We got her abed and retired to the kitchen and had tea, and Mama helped me apply Daciana's herbal to my face."
Sarah turned her head a little, displaying her wound to her Papa.
"I went back this morning and got another pot of ungent."
"Good," the Sheriff nodded.
"I gave testimony that night, a sworn statement. I do not know if I will be called for the inquest or not."
The Sheriff leaned back, rubbed his face, then twisted his mustache, stroking it out and curling it up again.
"My dear," he said quietly, neutrally, "do you know what you have done?'
Sarah's walls went up; in the space of a heartbeat she went from a vulnerable girl, laying her memory before her Papa, to a hardened warrior who may have to fight her way to freedom.
She felt her heart harden; she was suddenly aware of the several smells: a trace of burnt apple-wood in the air, the smell of the ungent striping her face, of her Papa's mustache-wax and of his shaving-soap; she smelled his boots, recently polished, and she knew if she picked up on these several smells her other senses were keened in the same manner.
The Sheriff stood, slowly, walked around back of his chair: he leaned his hands against the back of his chair and lowered his head a little, looking directly at his daughter.
"You," he said quietly, his voice filling the room with his authority, "did what you had to do to keep your little sister alive, and to keep your intended alive, and to keep yourself alive."
The Sheriff stepped around his chair and took one step toward Sarah, held out his hand.
Sarah automatically took his hand and rose.
"My dear," the Sheriff said, "you amaze me and you make me so very proud.
"You have been handed so many surprises, you have been given so many bombs with a sputtering fuse, and somehow you manage to pluck the fuse or dunk it in a horse trough just in time."
The Sheriff shook his head.
"I wonder if Mr. Llewellyn knows just how much of a prize he is getting."
Sarah ran thumb and forefinger under her collar and tugged at a fine gold chain: she brought a ring into view, held it up: the Sheriff's eyes widened and he ran three fingers behind the ring, holding it out a little: he tilted his head and raised one eyebrow.
He brushed at her hair as if to move a wisp from her forehead and she heard sadness in his voice as he said, "I am so very sorry I was not there to see him put this on your finger."
Sarah took the Sheriff's hand in both of her own.
"You had work to do, Papa. You taught me that. You were Fulfilling your Responsibility." She squeezed his hand, brought it to her lips, kissed his scarred knuckles.
"Papa, when I turned fourteen, you promised to walk me down the aisle.
"You will get to see him put a ring on my hand."
The Sheriff nodded, caressing Sarah's uninjured cheek with the backs of his fingers.
"How did this happen so fast?" he murmured. "You were so little then ... I wanted to pick you up and hold you."
Sarah hugged her Papa again.
"I wish I had been your little girl then," she whispered. "I wish you'd married Mama that day and I wish I had been your little girl."
"I could put you in pinafores and make you play with rag dolls and bounce you on my knee if you like," he said teasingly.
"Dear Papa!" Sarah laughed, and hugged him all the tighter.

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Charlie MacNeil 2-20-13

 

Night. Velvet darkness spread across hill and dale, pierced only by silver starfall blazing from across countless millennia and miles. Wolf song on the night wind, faint, plaintive, demanding, swelling in volume then retreating, imploring, communicating, sending a message of hope and despair, of need. Most of all, need. Need not of body but of soul and psyche. Deep, heartfelt need...

Charlie stirred, his dreams troubled, seeing once again, for the first time in months, the hellish orange light, the glittering black sand, feeling the crush of weathered stone beneath leather boot soles. Feeling worn sharkskin rasping against the calloused skin of palm and finger, the swirl of blood red wool, hearing the muted jingle of woven chain across his shoulders, the weight of iron-bound wood on his left arm. Foolishly, after the last epic battle for his niece's soul, he had thought, nay, hoped and prayed, to never return to this place. He stood solidly, waiting, chagrined at the naivete that he thought he'd purged from his being these many years ago. Determined now to stand firm and fight as he had stood so often in the past...

"You shall not have her!" he challenged, the words coming from his lips with the sound of iron-shod chariot wheels grinding on stone.

"She is ours!" The collective hiss from many misshapen tongues swirled on the fitful, probing breeze, falling on the ear from everywhere and nowhere. "We do not ever surrender! Never!"

"Then you shall all taste steel and death!" His defiant war cry echoed from stone and sand, silencing even the questing wind as the warrior stepped back beneath overhanging stone, placing his back against the solid weight, glittering blade and dark-stained shield rising, leather-booted feet planted solidly. "Come if you dare!"

Sarah sat bolt-upright in her bed, gasping, pale eyes wide, defiant words ringing in her ears. "Uncle Charlie! Wait! I'm coming!" She reached for the quilts to throw them off and scramble into black breeches and shirt. She stopped, the realization that such material trappings would be of no use blazing across her consciousness as the mournful wail of wolf song blossomed in the darkness. She lay back down, closing her eyes and focusing her mind on the dream of moments before...

In a blaze of blinding white the girl appeared at the warrior's side, cross-guarded boar spear in hand. The light radiating from her weapon sent black, misshapen forms scampering away in agony, hideous voices screaming their anger and frustration. "YOU!" she pointed the glowing blade of the spear at the retreating forms, tame lightning flickering from tip to guard. "SHALL!" Her pale eyes blazed with a fire of their own, the red weal on her cheek flaming. "NOT!" Fire made a halo around her hair. "HAVE ME!" Her voice thundered out, scattering the last, the strongest, of the black shapes to the winds. The blazing white light dimmed, flickered, ceased. The girl wrapped her hands around the shaft of the spear, her shoulders sagging. The warrior sheathed his blade, lowered his iron-bossed shield to the sand and stepped forward to lay his calloused palms on the girl's shoulders.

The boar spear dropped from Sarah's suddenly nerveless hand as she turned to press her face against the warrior's chest. "Oh, Uncle Charlie, I listened but I didn't hear," she sobbed. "I nearly let them," her gesture encompassing all that had been surrounding the pair just moments before, "turn me again. I let doubt come in."

"You ain't perfect, girl," Charlie replied softly. "None of us are. There's only been one perfect being in the history of this planet, and it weren't neither one of us. You can't anticipate everything. If you did, there'd be no more wonder, no more surprises, no more of the gifts that come to us suddenly and bring so much joy." He stopped for a moment to lift her chin, his hazel eyes locked on her blue orbs. "AND YOU CAN'T SAVE EVERYONE!" he growled suddenly. His voice softened again. "Some things have to be left in the hands of the Lord, girl. And you ain't Him. So get on with your life, and stop trying to fix everything that's wrong. Go on and be a girl, and a woman. Enjoy the time you have with your man and mourn him when he's gone. But don't try to reshape the world, 'cause it can't be done. The best we can do is to get all the joy, love and laughter we can in the time that we have. And never doubt yourself. You are incapable of doing anything but what is right for you." He held her at arms length. Now go, girl, and live! Live your life to the fullest. Make the most of the years ahead. Go!"

Sarah stared at him in wonder. "How did you know?" she whispered.

Charlie grinned at her, the insolent twist on his lips that she loved so much. "A big puppy dog told me. Now git!"

She got. Charlie opened his eyes, stared up at the ceiling for a moment listening to his wife's gentle breathing beside him, then smiled before mouthing the words, "Thank you, Lord," and closing his eyes again.

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Linn Keller 2-21-13

 

I opened the schoolhouse door and stepped inside.
It was warm, it smelled of chalk and paper and ink, it smelled of soap and children and boot polish the way a schoolhouse always does.
My hat was in my hand, I stood relaxed; several of the young turned as I entered, and I grinned and winked at them, and they grinned back and returned to their studies.
I knew my presence would prove a disruption and I wished to minimize the trouble my presence would cause.
Sarah was bent over, speaking quietly with a lad; I could see little hand-motions as she worked with him on his individual, hand-held slate; I saw the tilt of her head, the patient smile, the flash of satisfaction as she realized her student just grasped what she was teaching him.
I have known such moments and they are good memories.
Sarah straightened, still looking down at the student: he tilted his face up and I saw the look of satisfaction and I knew Sarah just got a big dose of that one rewarding moment teachers live for.
She caressed his unkempt hair, then slid out of that row of benches and paced back the center aisle to me, her heels brisk and businesslike in the studious hush.
More little faces turned toward us.
Sarah looked up at me, looking every bit the efficient schoolmarm; Emma Cooper gave me a concerned look and I smiled and winked at her, and she nodded, satisfied, and went back to the lesson she was presenting to a small clutch of older students in the front of the room.
"I saw your expression," I said quietly. "You were at the window."
"I was looking for you," she admitted.
I looked at the broad stripe of greenish ointment running diagonally down her face.
"How's the whip?"
Sarah gave me a frightened look; she took my arm, pulled me into a corner.
"Last night," she whispered, her eyes big.
"You were the Hellwalker again."
She nodded.
"They tried to get you."
"Not last night. Earlier. They ... "
Sarah looked away, bit her bottom lip, then she looked back and I could see the old Sarah and the anger in her eyes.
"They tried to trick me."
"They always do."
"I can't ... Papa, I can't ..."
"You can't save the world," I completed. "Sometimes you can't even save the one closest to you."
She looked up at me and she was Sarah-the-girl again, biting her bottom lip, a little pale now, nodding agreement.
"You," I whispered, laying my palm carefully on the uninjured side of her face, "do the very best you can but you are finding it's not good enough."
Sarah nodded again and I saw tears starting to pool up.
I plucked a kerchief from my sleeve -- a habit from my days in the Cavalry -- and she crushed it gratefully in her hand, pressing the balled up linen against one eye, then the other, using my bulk to shield her action from young eyes.
"How do you do it?" Sarah whispered. "When that cannon blew up and you blamed yourself for the Lieutenant's death ... how do you let that go?"
"Experience, I reckon," I said tiredly. "Or maybe I just got tired of hurtin' and I quit carin' for a while."
"I don't want to do that."
"I don't think you could. If you did you wouldn't be Sarah."
Sarah leaned her face tiredly into my hand.
"They still want me."
"Hell?"
She nodded.
"They always will, dear heart. Hell rejoices at the soul of an innocent. That's why you were brutalized as a young child. That's why terrible things are done in wartime and behind closed doors. Hell gets a-hold of someone's heart and makes them black inside and they do evil to the innocent and that's like trickling honey into a grizzly bear's mouth."
Sarah's eyes snapped up to mine and they were a shade more pale.
"Your soul is still innocent, Sarah. You have never chosen to surrender to evil. You know the taste of passion" -- I held up a finger, like a teacher making a point -- "what is the definition of passion?"
"Any uncontrolled strong emotion," she replied without hesitation.
"Correct. There is no feeling like having your blood up and knowing you are right. That's where so many lawmen and soldiers both go wrong. They get turned loose with the supreme authority of the land and at first they are operating in the Right, and they know it, and they get drunk on it.
"Getting drunk is a very good feeling at first but it turns dark fast.
"Drunk on power is even worse. It gets dark and they try using more power, more authority, to try and capture that early feeling of glory and it does not work but they find something else.
"They find they can lord it over everyone simply with authority and they decide they like that feelin' and from there on it's down hill.
"You" -- I bent my head a little and burned my glare into her wide-open eyes -- "you have always been strong enough to pull away from that pa'tick'lar fahr!"
Sarah nodded.
"Now I recall you were spanking yourself for not keeping Polly safe."
Sarah nodded.
"And you swatted your own backside for not keeping your fiancee safe."
She nodded again.
"But you told me that Llewellyn kept Polly safe while you took care of the situation."
Again her double nod.
"You have learned the secret of successful administration, which is delegation."
Sarah frowned a little, a puzzling frown, and she tilted her head a little. I knew she was listening, she was digesting this, she was absorbing it.
"You have two very talented hands but only two. There is only one of you. You cannot be in all places at all times. You did what you saw as the right thing for you to do in that moment."
Again her nod, slower this time.
"Hell will always want you, Sarah. They tasted your innocence and they want it back. Hell hates to lose but they've lost. They will do their level best to swindle you and trick you and lie to you and they'll try your spirit time and time and time again because they want to stain it and scorch it and make you as black-evil inside as they are." I leaned down and kissed her forehead. "But you know what?"
"What?" she whispered.
"They will not succeed."
Sarah rolled her lips in, uncertainty in her eyes.
"You have been there. You've seen the place from the inside. You lived for years listening to their whispers and they couldn't turn you then. You've had plenty of chances to go evil here and you haven't." I gripped her shoulders and gave her a fatherly look. "If they could turn you they would have had you take a hotel room instead of coming home late like you did, and likely they would have lit your fire and you would have shared a bed with Llewellyn and ..."
Sarah's eyes were wide and shocked, her cheeks flamed red and her hand went to her mouth, then her eyes grew a little distant and the color drained out of her face like red ink out of an eyedropper.
My hands gripped her shoulders more tightly and I held her against the wall.
Her knees almost buckled and I knew I hit on something she'd just almost done.
"Walk with me," I whispered, running an arm around her, under her off arm, and I steered her toward the door.
Once we were out on the steps and the door shut I picked her up and carried her down the steps and around the side of the building, away from the windows. I didn't want her students to see her as anything but the strong and capable Miss Sarah they'd known.
We sat down on a bench and I held my little girl as she gained her composure.
Sarah covered her face with her hands and she shivered.
"I almost did," she admitted. "I almost ... oh God ... what was I thinking ..."
"You were thinking of the best way to keep your people safe," I said roughly. "You were thinking of what was best for Polly. You were thinking of your people!"
"Papa ..."
Sarah dropped her hands in her lap and she looked at me with darker eyes, frightened eyes.
"Papa, if I ... Papa, I kissed him, but ..."
"But you have done nothing else."
She shook her head.
"And why have you done nothing else?"
Sarah saw through the question, saw it as much deeper than the mere words.
Her eyes followed some invisible trail on the ground, tracking a drunken field mouse or some-such, then she looked up at me and swallowed.
"Papa, you spoke of strong feelings."
I nodded.
"And how they are ... intoxicating."
I nodded again.
"Papa, I feel like ... like a stove with a fire laid ... but no one has touched match to the fire."
I nodded, slowly, taking her left hand in both of mine.
"And if ... when ... a match ... if the fire ..."
Sarah's breath was coming faster, more shallowly, and she looked up at me and I saw that light in her eyes, that moment of realization.
"Papa, if I light that fire it will never go out and I will want to stoke it again and again --"
My hands squeezed hers gently; once again I nodded.
"I must ... the first fire ... it's like that first drink ... that first kiss, that first real kiss," Sarah said quickly, her words almost tumbling over one another in their haste to keep ahead of her thoughts: "that first fire is special and will be ... Papa, it has to be with ..."
I nodded, smiling a little.
Sarah yanked her hand from mine, threw her arms around my neck and I thought she was going to squeeze me til I passed out, so I hugged her back.
Sometimes a Papa gets to feel really, really good, and that was one of those moments.
"Thank you, Papa," Sarah whispered, and we held one another for a long time, sitting there on that bench right out in front of God and everybody.
She finally let go and so did I and I asked her again about that whip-welt and she said, "It's almost healed, Papa. You can barely see it now."
We both turned out heads at the sound of running feet, approaching us from just down the street.
It was the boy from the telegraph office, waiving a flimsy.
Sarah and I looked at one another.
"Denver," Sarah groaned.

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Linn Keller 2-21-13

 

The three of us rode the steam train to Denver.
The three of us rode it back.
I don't recall as we passed more than a half dozen words on the way to.
On the way from we weren't nearly as anxious.
Sarah did a fine job of testifying at the inquest.
She scrubbed off the ointment and made herself look school-marm-ish as she could.
Mr. Llewellyn wore his good suit. Sarah said she'd smeared ointment in it when he held her but I could not see the least sign of a stain so I reckon one of the ladies worked her laundress's magic on it.
Sarah was sworn in and she seated herself, holding a kerchief to one side of her face like it hurt.
"Miss McKenna," the presiding judge said, "could you please tell the court what happened on the night in question."
Sarah nodded, her eyes on the floor.
She looked considerably less comfortable than when she seated herself.
"My fiancee and I," she began, "brought my little sister on the train. My sister -- Polly -- had a tooth ache and I wished to gain her relief as soon as could possibly be done." She closed her eyes, took a composing breath.
"When we ... I looked around from the depot platform and espied a cab.
"I gave the cabbie the address and we boarded and were immediately enroute.
"It was several minutes before I looked out the window.
"It was full dark, of course, but I did not recognize the area.
"I addressed the cabman in a loud voice and demanded to know where he was taking us."
Sarah lowered her kerchief.
The whip-strike stood out, angry and red, the length of her face.
There was a murmur from the assembled, a collective intake of breath.
"The cabbie slashed down with his whip and cut me here, as you see."
She turned her head to give everyone the full benefit of the angry red stripe, even the Judge on his elevated platform: I looked around, reading the audience, and saw shock, anger and sympathy for the slight-built, pale-skinned young schoolmarm on the witness stand.
"I drew my Bulldog pistol and put a shot through the man's hat, intentionally missing the crown of his head, and I ordered him to throw away the whip and stop the cab.
"He did not.
"He whipped up the mare.
"I knew on that moment he wished to bring us to a dark and nefarious end and so I acted to keep myself, my fiancee and my little sister, alive."
Sarah's eyes were bright and glittering; her hands were in her lap, the kerchief clutched in her hand.
"I fired three shots into the man's rib cage, beneath his right shoulder blade.
"We assumed the reins and brought the cab about as another robber ran out to seize the mare's bridle.
"I recognized the area from previous discussions with the Denver Detective's Bureau, and knew this was the place where a notorious murderer was in the habit of bringing fares, where they would be murdered, robbed, their bodies dumped in a ditch or an open grave.
"I fired a shot into the ground and so dissuaded the second robber from any further action, save only his hasty retreat."
Sarah's chin was lifted; her words were calmly, slowly, clearly spoken, that she may be heard to the furthest row: I nodded a little, for it is no easy task to speak thus when one's freedom rides on how the court will view one's actions.
"We steered our course for the nearest police-station, where we enlisted the assistance of the duty Sergeant and the detective whose testimony I believe follows my own.
"With their invaluable assistance -- for by this time I was quite lost" -- her smile was faint, and I saw sympathy in the looks she was given -- "we gained the dentist's office. The man was good enough to see my sister on the moment and she was relieved of the offending tooth."
"And can the detective corroborate the dentist's activity?" the Judge asked.
"The detective remained without," Sarah replied. "I do, however, have the tooth, and should the Court so desire, I can not only produce the dentist, I can produce my little sister, and my fiancee sits not twenty feet from me."
The court was soon satisfied with her testimony; Mr. Llewellyn was sworn, deposed, and dismissed, immediately following the detective; the Judge and the coroner both examined the tooth, and I smiled later when Sarah told me the Judge's words: "Yes, that's a tooth, all right," before the coroner identified it as a baby tooth, and pointed out the cavity which no doubt caused its former owner considerable discomfort.
I spoke with the detective, afterward, and thanked the man for his kindness: he looked directly at the arc-and-compasses stick pin in the middle of my necktie, and I considered the cane-and-two-spheres pin on his lapel, and then we exchanged a grip, and a nod: Sarah saw this exchange, but offered no comment.
Sarah restored the ointment to her face before we left the courthouse; she'd brought a veiled hat, and wore the veil down for the trip home.
I suspected her keeping the kerchief pressed to her face was to keep the wound-line warm and make it stand out; her reveal of the injury, at the right moment in her testimony, was a bit of theater ... one which worked well for her.
We ate before boarding the train for the trip home, and I found Llewellyn to be an interesting fellow, with more about him than his profession, which pleased me: we were on our way home before dark.
I did notice Sarah was considering something carefully; there was thoughtfulness in her eyes, consideration in her brow, and in an unguarded moment I saw her profiled lips, through the hat's veil, trace the words, "... can't save the world ..." and I could see her eyes were busy, which told me she was thinking hard on something.
I was minded to inquire, but decided against it.

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Linn Keller 2-22-13

 

I am a fish.
Sarah stood in the doorway to the schoolhouse, looking out at the rapidly retreating children.
She stood and watched, eyes busy, a thoughtful and almost distant look about her face.
Emma Cooper was at the front of the schoolroom, tidying what little was needed; she and Sarah were both quite neat, and their example carried over a little to the students.
Sometimes.
Sarah stood in the open door, then blinked and dropped her eyes.
I am a fish.
What was it that man from Chicago told me? ...
He was a petty hood and he was in jail and awaiting transport back East, and we conversed through the bars.
Oh, yes.
"Being a big fish in a small pond is dangerous.
"Being a small fish in a big pond can be very profitable."
Profit ... I have no wish ...
... yes I do ... profit is necessary ...

Sarah drew the doors closed, turned slowly, walked thoughtfully up the center aisle.
I am not really a big fish in our small pond ... but I am ... a very noticeable fish.
She brought clasped hands up to her mouth, looked up at Emma Cooper, her eyes bright behind her round-lensed schoolmarm spectacles, and Emma saw a smile in that look.
The older woman smiled.
"Thinking of your beau?" she asked quietly, and Sarah shook her head, smiling into her hands.
"No," she murmured, "but perhaps I should."
Sarah sat slowly on one of the student benches, her eyes drifting toward the window.
A closed mouth gathers no hooks.
"You are taking a very big step," Emma Cooper said, straightening a small pyramid of books on the corner of her desk and walking over to Sarah: smoothing her skirt under her, she sat beside the pretty younger woman with the severe hairdo.
"I know," Sarah whispered.
"It was ... a little difficult when Jackson Cooper and I married," Emma said quietly, and Sarah looked at Emma, surprised.
"Oh, yes," Emma nodded. "I was ... a maiden lady and a woman of my years usually does not marry."
"But you did."
Emma laughed. "Oh, yes, dearie ... and I am so very glad I did!" She gave Sarah a warm look.
"Even if he does snore and hog the covers!"
The two women laughed.
Emma took Sarah's hands.
"When I met Jackson Cooper, I met my best friend." Her hands tightened on Sarah's to emphasize her words. "I married my best friend and that is the very best thing I have ever done in my entire life!"
Enjoy your life, girl, she heard, as if a whisper, and the voice was Charlie's.
Sarah smiled and hugged Emma, quickly, impulsively.
"Thank you," she whispered, then she jumped up and ran, laughing, for the schoolhouse door.

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Linn Keller 2-22-13

 

Sarah snatched up her wrap and fairly flew out the schoolhouse door, laughing.
Emma smiled to hear it.
She has been long indeed since I heard her thus, Emma thought, walking over to the gas heater and reaching down to turn off the valve.
Emma straightened quickly, her eyes widening as a clatter and a yell, a whistle and the snap of a blacksnake whip rushed through the still-open door: she looked out the window to see the Irish Brigade and their steam-wagon galloping up the street, Sean standing in the driver's box, swinging the whip overhead, smoke rolling out the blunt, polished mouth of the steam-machine, and the Brigade holding onto railings and riding the trailing ladder-wagon, and at the foot of the stairs, Sarah, waving like a schoolgirl, kerchief fluttering in her hand: she was bouncing on her toes at the sight of their brave firemen, charging ahead to battle the Devil's own breath!
Emma felt a giggle begin to bubble up from deep in her memory and she remembered what it was to be young and giddy, and to be able to let herself feel giddy at such a sight... what a wonderful freedom that had been!

The Brigade felt their bellies tighten at the sight of smoke surging skyward: like boxers tucking their elbows, they prepared themselves mentally for the fight ahead of them, peering, craning, straining to see the involved structure so they would have an idea how to fight this old enemy that ever presented a new face.
Sean hauled hard on the brake as he profaned the mares to a stop; the engineer flipped open the firebox door and threw in three quick scuts of coal, straightened to tap the steam-gauge, checked the water level.
Running feet hit the ground, Irishmen shedding from the machine like rats from a sinking ship: muscled arms and strong backs hauled the rigid suction line from brackets on the ladder wagon, a callused pair of hands spun the strainer on the end, two Irishmen charged the stone-walled well and thrust the hard-line down into the subterranean reservoir, swearing terrible oaths at their sloth and slovenly brethren who followed with another length, and a third, enough to span the distance between the well and the steam machine's suction.
Hard hands spun the final connection and brazen throats screamed at the engineer: the engineer spun open the valve, then eased open the steam-valve: the pop-off hissed like an angry snake, squirting a pure white plume of steam into the chilly air and the engine began to shiver a little as it always did as it pulled prime into the pump, then the hoses began to swell and Sean swore, "St. Florian, St. Christopher and Aunt Penny's billy goat, LET'S GET IT!" and the Brigade seized hoses and brass nozzles and drove streams of water into the structure's windows, aiming straight-stream lances into the conflagration, shattering the stream against ceiling, then walls, breaking the water into finer particles which then turned to steam in the intense heat, smothering the fire.
"NOW FOR IT, LADS!" and Sean hit the door with his shoulder, shattering its lock: heat drove them back, until they brought a hose-line to the doorway and fought the heat, foot by reluctant foot, back into the house: men in black-rubber-coated fire coats squinted against heat and steam and hot splatter, coughing as they breathed the hot, high-carbon atmosphere, eyes stinging and burning until their watering eyes ran black snot out their nose and down their chins, affording welcome relief from the searing, smoky air.
The Welsh Irishman half-waddled, then proned out and crawled, skinning ahead of the hose team, running his rescue search: turning right, always turning right, searching under beds, finding a closed closet door, hauling it open and searching within, reaching with long and practiced arms instead of looking: heat and smoke banked down to knee high, then ankle high, and he had to turn his face sideways to breathe what little air was near the floor, and always, always he had to remember where the door way, in spite of his several turns: they practiced this, hooding one another with a pillowcase back in the firehouse, or crawling about Sean's house, where they searched for Sean's children, who were hidden under beds and in closets -- as children commonly did, trying to hide from a fire.
The Welshman felt something soft, something that wasn't blanket or doll -- he squeezed --
The cat yowled and swatted at him and he jerked his hand back as the cat streaked out from under the bed, screeching and spitting, and shot out the front door, between the German Irishman's legs and disappearing across the street, looking three feet long and three inches high as cats will when running from a fire.
"Bloody hell!" the Welsh Irishman swore, then reached under again and found a leg.
A small leg, a child's leg, and he grabbed and he pulled, hard.
He heard a frightened whimper.
"WHO ELSE IS IN HERE?" he shouted.
The child coughed and tried to say something but could not.
"God and Saint Christopher," the Welsh Irishman breathed, then rolled over, unsnapping his fire coat: he thrust the child inside, took several quick breaths, coughed, took a few more and gathered himself like a sprinter.
Yelling, he surged to his feet and ran for the door.

If all of Firelands turned out, the population would not be enough to interfere with the Brigade's work: turn out they did, for generally in the high country, a wood structure dried out quick and burned quicker once alight: to see a fire fought was a unique experience, for theirs was one of the few towns that had its own fire brigade, let alone a fine steam engine!
They heard a roar from within, an answering bellow from Sean, then the Welsh Irishman charged out the front door, hugging something: he ran into Sean, ran into him hard, knocking the big Irishman off his feet: they ended up in a pile on the ground and the Welsh Irishman rolled away, throwing his coat open, and in the crowd a woman screamed a name and ran for the frightened little girl in the pink paisley dress that rolled out of the Welsh Irishman's fire coat, crying.
The Welsh Irishman came up on all fours, coughing; he spat, swore and scrambled to his feet, tugged at filthy gloves, slung them off his hands and snapped his coat shut again: snatching up the gloves, he squared with raised fists, as if going after a boxing opponent, and charged back into the burning house.
Sarah watched, hands clasped against her high belly, breathless with the bravery and the heroism of their beloved Brigade, and of the man who just brought a little child from the living breath of Hell itself ... the man who proposed to her, the man who would be her husband.
Sarah breathed a little quickly and felt a little fainty, and part of her realized she was allowing -- she was permitting -- she was finally letting herself feel ... feel like she imagined she should feel.
Sarah watched the mother and the child: she plucked the kerchief from her sleeve and pressed it against one eye, then the other, and then she turned and ran, ran as hard as she could away from the scene of bravery and heroism, ran from the sight of strong men doing what strong men did, ran from the sight of her husband-to-be.
Sarah ran crying, ran for the firehouse.
Sarah ran into the tall, narrow brick structure, sniveling, then stopped to wipe her closed eyes and blow her nose with a rather unladylike HONNK that echoed in the empty equipment bay.
Sarah stopped and leaned against a wall, remembering the sight of Mr. Llewellyn, charging out of the doorway, a black figure silhouetted by flame, a man running at the top of his lungs, alarming all without that he'd found a living soul, that he was getting an innocent from harm's way, and Sarah felt light headed, giddy, as if her belly was soaring over the highest mountain peak.
It took her several long moments to calm down.

Later that night, after overhaul, after the structure was searched and explored and every trace of hidden fire discovered and killed, the Brigade returned to their firehouse and scrubbed hoses, washed and polished their beloved steam masheen, took on water and coal and loaded fresh, dry hose from the drying-tower, folding it in precise accordion fashion with the nozzle attached and secured in its spring-steel clip ... after coats were scrubbed down, boots cleaned and ranked in the heat to dry and the dry pair brought out, after feet and faces were washed, clothes changed, clean dry socks and clean dry boots and clean dry clothes put on, after they were made ready for the next response, only then did they sit down for supper.
Only then did the Irish Brigade sit down to the meal Sarah had ready for them, at places set with tableware Sarah laid out, drinking fresh coffee Sarah brewed for them, and when they were finished with their meal, Sarah brought out four pies and proceeded to cut and serve good fresh still-warm-from-the-oven, dried-fruit pies, crusts golden and flaky, and even those with the fullest bellies found they could not even think of declining dessert.

Later that night, as Sarah admitted to her mother (as her cheeks pinked to the saying of it) that she'd gotten the pies from the Jewel, as there was no time to fix supper and pie both, the German Irishman and the English Irishman were strictly enjoining the Welsh Irishman that he should waste no time at all in marrying the lovely Miss McKenna.
"Man, if she can cook this well wi' no advance warning," the English Irishman declared, "she'll make a fine firehouse wife!"
The rest of the Brigade, recognizing a good leg pulling when they saw it, shouted their encouragement, to the Welsh Irishman's red-faced but good-natured embarrassment: Sean stood, laughing, raised big, work-reddened hands for silence.
"Lad," he said, his voice big and gentle, "answer me this."
The Welsh Irishman nodded.
"Ye ha'e seen her mither."
"Aye, I have."
"An' ye ha'e eaten her mither's cookin'."
"Aye, I have."
"An' ye still wish t' marry th' lass."
"Aye, I do."
Sean nodded.
"Lad, when ye sit doon across fra' her mither an' take a good look a' her, ye'll see wha' yer lass will look like in twenty years.
"When ye eat the mither's cookin' ye will know wha' yer lass cooks like, f'r they learn fra' their mither.
"Now' -- he looked around, grinning -- "ye ha'e eaten her cookin', wha' she made on short notice an' not knowin' what we had on hand."
The Welsh Irishman raised an eyebrow; the rest of the Brigade nodded, or leaned back and rubbed contentedly-full bellies.
"Do ye still figure ye're makin' a guid choice?"
"You're damned right," the Welsh Irishman said quietly, and there was certainty in his voice.

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Linn Keller 2-23-13

 

The Brigade was like a bunch of boys in several respects, and Sarah saw this when it came time to clean off the table.
With a pretty girl on kitchen duty, every man Jack of them wanted to be there with her: wash, dry, stack, it did not matter, the Brigade wanted to be in the company of this lovely creature: not because she'd just fixed them supper, not because she was to marry one of their own, but because she was young, she was pretty, because one curl of hair escaped the severe walnut on top of her head and twisted down the side of her face, unheeded, as her face turned pink from hot steam rising from the sink: Sarah washed with a will, dunked soapy dishes in the rinse bucket: the rinse bucket was dumped and refilled a number of times, not because it had to be, but because men will make fools of themselves for a pretty girl, and at one time or another Sarah was obliged to step back as a big-muscled Irishman insisted on handling some detail or another.
Sarah was as smart as she was pretty, and part of her realized she had the entire firehouse wrapped around her pinky, and part of her whispered wickedly that she should take advantage of it: she gave in to it, momentarily, when she raised up on her tiptoes to give the English Irishman a quick peck on the cheek and a whispered "You're sweet" when he relieved her of a wobbly stack of dinner plates: she was careful to dispense just that very favor to every last Irishman, saving the Welsh Irishman for last: whether by design or by accident, they ended up together as the sink was emptied out, scrubbed, the dish cloth hung on its bar to dry, the towels hung: Sarah stopped, wiped a soapy wrist across her forehead, and looked around.
The long table was clean, wiped down and dried, a fresh tablecloth laid.
The chairs were all shoved back in, they too were wiped down and dried and in good order.
The floor was swept and mopped, all but the little patch she stood on, and she took a quick, dancing step to the side to allow the man-powered mop its lavage, and in so stepping, nearly fell, and a strong pair of arms caught her, and she allowed herself to be caught.
The Welsh Irishman held her, and looked at her, and looked into her, and Sarah felt herself changing some more ... becoming something she'd never been, and part of her, deep inside, realized she was healing, healing from terrible things that were done to her as a child: she was learning what it was to open her heart, to trust, to let herself be vulnerable.
The Welsh Irishman was feeling a confusing mix of strength and uncertainty, of resolve and responsibility, and a little fear ... he'd never been responsible for more than himself, not in his personal life; he'd given no thought to getting a house or land, for his life was the firehouse, his bunk was with his mates, his lot was with them: but now, now as he held this warm and solid and puzzling and very, very feminine creature in his arms, he realized his world was expanding and expanding fast.
Sarah took her time getting her feet under her.
She decided she liked the feel of a man's strong arms around her, and part of the hard shell-wall she'd built around her heart cracked, and flaked, and fell away.
Sarah looked up at Llewellyn, and he saw her eyes close slowly, slowly, her lashes sweeping almost audibly through the air as time slowed and his heart swelled and he realized God Almighty, I am going to MARRY this woman! and he saw the pulse of her pupils and felt her breath on his cheek and this manly man, this fighter of the Devil himself, this muscled, red-shirted, black-mustached, Welsh-bred singer of ancient songs and teller of ancient tales, felt an overwhelming sense of awe and delight.
There is no love like one's first love, and the Welsh Irishman was falling, and falling hard.
As a matter of fact, Sarah was too.

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Linn Keller 2-23-13

 

It was night.
Distant in the cold air, the ore train's steam whistle shivered its solitary, mournful note against sheer granite walls; wolves in the distance yodeled in reply, one mountain peak, then another.
Stars glittered bright and hard against a smooth black silk curtain laid over the earth; frost glittered back from the ground, unseen but from the stars themselves.
Jacob's eyes were closed, his lean body relaxed, his arm laid over his wife, warm and comforting, and her arm over him: behind Jacob's closed eyelids, the gas lights in the Jewel were bright, as were the ladies' eyes, and he turned at a measured pace, his step light and sure, and Sarah danced with him.
The Welsh Irishman, too, slept, warm in his narrow bunk, with woolen trousers carefully dropped over waiting boot-tops; like the rest of the Brigade, he slept in his long handles and socks, so that at a moment's notice they might all thrust sock feet into boots, haul up their galluses, and be mostly dressed before moving one step from their bunk.
The Welsh Irishman, too, dreamed: Sarah was in his as well, and he smiled in his sleep, for in his dream she was dancing with him as well, and when the music ended, she dipped low in a deep curtsy, then rose and raised her face to his.
The Sheriff's breath caught as he slept and he heard the bugle again, and felt the earth shiver under the impact of half a hundred horses' charge: he felt the wind of a passing Minie ball on his cheek, heard the angry freight-train bumblebee as it drove past his ear, and he could not raise his sword, for he was held in a vat of invisible honey: he fought to move, his breath coming more quickly, until Esther slid a comforting hand up his belly and midway up his breast bone: the Sheriff's nocturnal tremors ceased, and she felt his breathing ease, and the groan, half-born in his throat, dissolved in the hiss of exhaled air.
The Bear Killer, too, dreamed, his pink tongue momentarily slipping from between black lips, his big paws a-twitch ... but who knows what dreams a great, black-furred Dawg would have, save only that it must have been pleasant, for The Bear Killer's tail wagged as he slept.
It was night: stars and frost and black silk sky, and a world immersed in its dreams.

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Linn Keller 2-24-13

 

Forrest bent over, breathing hard, a trembling hand against the boxcar: he was sick to his very soul, his legs burned, his vision was spotty.
Cold air stripped moisture from his throat, seared his laboring lungs; his ears ached, listening for the shouts of pursuit, of running feet.
Wide and panicked eyes started from their sockets -- his fear was soul-deep, his horror absolute -- lights and lanterns stood out in stark relief and even stars overhead lanced down, pointing with silvery and accusing fingers at the fleeing man, pointing him out that Justice might find him and bring the full weight of Justice to bear upon his guilty soul.
He'd been running -- at first in grief, then in blind panic, then in guilt: each successive goad was as a whip laid across his back: he ran and ran and ran again, and finally Forrest could run no more.
Try as he might, Forrest McCabe could not outrun his own guilty conscience.
Her name was Scarlett and she was dead, and he, Forrest, was convicted of her demise: the court was merciless, the jury without pity, the judge hard-eyed and harsh, the sentence immutable and terminal, and Forrest ran, ran from his own conscience, ran from the terrible, horrid, awful thing he'd done.
Forrest clutched the open boxcar door, lungs burning, throat raw, weak: he tried to heave but his stomach was empty, and so he stood, and trembled, and realized he was about to collapse.
He could not fall.
If he fell he would surely be too weak to rise.
Forrest looked into the open boxcar.
It was mostly empty.
Somehow -- how, he knew not -- he manged to wallow into the open car, where he lay on the floor for a long moment until his stomach rebelled again: though there was nothing to throw up, he still rolled over, groaning, and belly crawled with a painful, exhausted slowness, to one end of the car, where he found a tarp and rolled up between two crates.

Judge Donald Hostetler slept as well: warm in his narrow but comfortable bunk, he slept dreamlessly, rolled up on his side.
Old age and old war wounds reminded him of changes in the weather; like most men of his vintage, he was a prognosticator of precipitation, more reliable than any of the current meterological sciences or their instruments: tonight, though, scars and calcified bone-knits slept as well, and the pillow between his knees eased the ache that sometimes slowed the dignified jurist's gait.

The Judge's breathing changed almost imperceptibly as the rail car shivered; distantly, shrill in the night air, came the short whistles from The Lady Esther, and the first train of the day -- still in morning's very early dark -- leaned into her burden and began hauling the train toward Firelands, some hours away.

Lightning acknowledged the message that the train was enroute and on time -- dit dit, two distinct and separate clicks on the key -- noted the time in the log, then he stood and rolled his chair back.
Stretching, he grinned: he was a happily married man and he enjoyed the natural use of his wife, and his wife, Daciana, enthusiastically and very joyfully enjoyed the natural use of her husband.
As a matter of fact they celebrated one another that morning, and Lightning was still smiling inside.
He added wood to the stove and shook down the ashes, wondering absently if he was throwing sparks into the dark above: the stove pipe had a cap on it but he kept threatening to put a screen on it like he'd seen on some locomotives, a screen to catch sparks, for the roof was hand split wood shakes, and he admitted to being a superstitious man.
Lightning thought it very bad luck to set the place on fire.

Forrest slept, exhausted: though exhausted, he was tormented: he clutched the rough tarp about him, groaning at times, his face lined and taut: some moments he relaxed, his breathing slowing, growing deeper, then he would groan or cry out and he would curl up like he'd been stabbed in the belly, and at times would weep, though not awake or even near to it.
Forrest was a man under torture, and his torture-chamber carried itself along within him.

Judge Hostetler tended his morning ablutions, shaving with quick, efficient little strokes of his straight razor: the man's mustache was trimmed, tidy, unlike the curled handlebar style that most Firelands men affected, even the Sheriff.
His Honor had been in the Cavalry, as had the Sheriff, and both men affected facial hair during that damned war, partly out of fashion but mostly out of practicality: it was easier to trim a beard and a mustache than it was to lather and shave every morning: if a man didn't trim his beard for a week, it was scarcely noticeable, but a man who shaved, and shaved not for two or three days, was generally spoken to by someone in authority, and that was to be avoided.
His Honor's scissors chattered happily as they brushed his upper lip, returning his cookie broom to its usual military precision.

Forrest's eyes widened and he stiffened at the feel of boards shivering underfoot: heavy footfalls nearby fired his skinny frame from half-relaxed to fully-panicked: he tried to get up, but abused legs and overworked muscles failed him, and so he fell back, teeth bared and face contorted as pain blazed through him.
His abortive attempt at rising was unnoticed, for the workmen were at the far end of the car, hauling out crates and bundles: they were loud, profane, their efforts were those of men at hard and honest labor, their attention solely upon their own work.
Forrest waited, trembling, for they were surely emptying the car so they could seize him and lay hard and violent hands upon him and deliver him to the law, with kicks and curses and hard-swung fists: it was no more than he deserved, he knew, and when the far end of the car was empty, the men departed, and Forrest crawled -- painfully, his body screaming with the agonies he himself inflicted upon it -- elbows and belly and knees and toes propelling him across the floor of the car, inch by pained and painful inch, until he lay across the open doorway.
Forrest tried to slide a leg out: turning over, he fell instead, landing face-down on the rocky ground.

The Irish Brigade rose, thrusting into boots and hauling up trousers, hooking galluses over squared and muscular shoulders: rubbing faces and waking up, they staggered a few steps as waking men will, drawn by the good smell of coffee and frying bacon, for their designated breakfast detail was up an hour before the rest, and the smell of a good breakfast drew them all.

Sarah sat with her family for breakfast, listening to conversation, watching as she always did: Bonnie smiled as Sarah bade Polly open wide, and examined the crater in her gum: nodding, Sarah laid gentle fingertips under Polly's chin and whispered "Close up now, catch flies," and Polly put her little hands on her nonexistent hips and tilted her head sideways a little and scolded, "Sawwah, there are no flies, it's winter!"

The Sheriff closed his stove's door and picked up the ash-scuttle.
He packed ashes outside, walked halfway into the street and carefully laid a broad stripe of wood-ash right down the middle of the street, as was his habit.
It would be scattered soon enough, he knew, and because he was placing it carefully, there was minimal ash to settle on his freshly polished boots.
He straightened and backed away from his work: looking up, he raised his chin in greeting, and Jackson Cooper raised his, just before the mountainous town marshal went into the Silver Jewel.

Lightning did not see the stranger hobbling painfully along the depot platform; nobody saw the skulking figure fall heavily against the side of the building, apparently in some serious discomfort, before making his staggering way toward the main street.

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Linn Keller 2-24-13

 

The Sheriff looked up, frowning.
He heard something out front ... his right ear pulled back a little, the way it did when he almost-heard something.
The man's eyes narrowed and he rose, silent, nostrils flaring a little, reaching automatically for his Stetson on its peg: he eased across the floor, quietly, carefully, drew back the latch, then hauled open the door, pulling hard.
He automatically thought of the heavy door as a shield and he knew that by keeping its angled surface between him and the opening, an incoming slug would bounce off the wood and not penetrate.
It wasn't a bullet that hit the door.
The Sheriff drew his right-hand Colt and stepped over the fallen body, sweeping left, then right, looking for anyone outside: running light and running fast, he half-skipped, half-strode to the right, then the left, peeking quickly around the corners of the little log fortress.
Turning back, listening, smelling, he saw nothing, heard nothing: thrusting his revolver back into its floral carved holster, he stepped inside, squatted by the fallen man.
Lean and practiced fingers sought the pulse in the neck: the man was alive, at least, but he looked like two hells ... something had this fellow distressed to the point of fatigue and exhaustion, something laid a grown man low, something collapsed this otherwise healthy specimen on the lawman's puncheons.
The Sheriff rolled him over, pulling his shirt tight, looking for holes, tears, blood.
Nothing, he thought.
Decent grade of linen shirt. Mostly clean. Smells like he's had a bath fairly recently.
He looked down the length of the man, assessing the cut of his trousers, his townie shoes.
Fairly new material. No wear at the knees. Shoes are worn but not excessively. Looks like he's taken care of them.
"Where you hurt?" he asked, his voice rougher than he intended.
The man's face screwed up, grief in his eyes and pain in his voice.
"I killed her," he gasped. "Scarlett. She's dead."
"Where is she now?" the Sheriff asked.
"Sandoc. I found her. She's dead." His face contorted, eyes squeezed tight shut, tears leaking out the corners. "I killed her."
"What's your name, son?" the Sheriff asked, his voice deep, kindly, reassuring.
The tall, dreadfully skinny fellow curled up tight, tight in a ball, so tired of crying he barely made a sound as he grieved.
The Sheriff's gut told him things weren't quite how they appeared.

The American Civil war saw a number of new innovations: among them, income taxes and the draft.
The Sheriff had a low opinion of taxes, but he had never been bashful about recruiting from the Unorganized Militia, and he did so now.
Two stout yeomen packed the litter and the Sheriff walked beside it; the stranger was still curled up in a ball but he was wrapped up in a blanket, for his flesh was cool to the touch and the Sheriff knew he'd have to warm up or he'd be in trouble.
They packed him diagonally across the street and down a little to the fine stone hospital, and rang the good Doctor from his breakfast: the Sheriff gave the studiously frowning physician what little information he had and, to which Doc nodded and pursed his lips.
The Sheriff waited until the nameless stranger was transferred to a hospital bed before retrieving the canvas stretcher; he thanked the litter bearers, folded the stretcher and said "Doc, I'll stop by in a few hours," and carried the litter back across to his office.

Nurse Susan and Dr. Greenlees undressed the shivering, nearly catatonic patient.
Nurse Susan frowned a little, took the man's wrist, examined his right hand.
She leaned her head down, sniffed tentatively, looked over her spectacles at the physician.
Doc Greenlees, curious, sniffed the man's clawed fingers and gave his nurse a puzzled look.
"Pennyroyal?"

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