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Charlie MacNeil, SASS #48580

Firelands-The Beginning

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Linn Keller 2-25-13

 

"Your Honor, I don't believe I'll be in court this morning."
His Honor paused, looking up from bacon and eggs.
I stood there, hat in my hand, uncomfortable: I do not like to disturb a man at his meal, especially not a man as influential as the Judge, but it was necessary -- time, tide and the Z&W Railroad wait for no man, and I had a train to catch.
"Oh?" His Honor asked mildly, leaning back and regarding me with that little light of amusement in his eyes, as if regarding a restless lieutenant who wished to gallop after the enemy.
"A young man came into my office," I explained, "pretty badly used up. I thought he'd been beaten, stabbed or shot. He claimed to have killed a woman -- Scarlett the name -- over in Sandoc. If he has committed a murder and came in with a confession on his lips, then I have a case."
"If you have a confession," the Judge said rhetorically, "why bother?"
I smiled a little.
"As distressed as the man is," I said, "I have to make sure this Scarlett is dead, and that her death was a murder, and not the words of a man in grief."
The Judge smiled at Daisy's girl as she refilled his coffee. "Thank you, my dear," he murmured, and the girl smiled and dipped her knees, for the Judge had a kindly way of speaking with folks unless he was being his official self.
"A wise move, sir," the Judge said after a moment as he drizzled honey into his coffee. "You've made me soft, you know that."
"Sir?" I asked.
The Judge chuckled. "Remember what stuff we used to drink around a camp fire? Chicory, half-roasted coffee, bark, root or horse dung boiled up?"
I nodded. "It was ... pretty bad, all right."
"You mentioned a young man."
"I don't recall as I said he was that young, sir."
His Honor chuckled and I heard the man relax a little.
"At my age," he observed, "just about everyone else is a young man or a young woman."
I nodded, considering that I too was becoming rather august myself.
"Find out, Sheriff. Find the truth."
"Yes, Your Honor."

A couple hours later I stepped out of the passenger car onto the Sandoc platform.
Sandoc was dying and it looked it.
Matter of fact Sandoc looked like it was ready to dry up and fall off the face of the earth like a scab off a healed wound.
I led Cannonball out of the stock car and saddled her, I bridled her as more a formality than anything else, and we walked up the street to what passed for the Marshal's office.
I was wrapping Cannonball's reins around the hitch post when a voice said "There's only one lawman rides a red horse hereabouts."
"Hello, Cousin Frankie."
"Hello yourself and be damned, how the hell you been?"
I turned and stuck out my hand. "Yeah, God loves you too."
We shook.
"Now what in the hell brings you over here? The bank closed after 'twas robbed last week, the general store is fixin' to fold up ... hell, I ain't been paid for two months, I'm so poor I can't afford to pay attention!"
I shook my head. "Frankie, you'd complain if you was hanged with a new rope!"
"Yeah, trust me to cause trouble." Frankie tilted his head, regarded me with a skeptical eye. "Now why you here, cousin?"
"Dead woman named Scarlett."
Frankie looked uncomfortable and I felt like a hound that just hit a hot rabbit track's scent.
"Yeah, she's dead all right," he said, "but howinell did you know it?"
"What can you tell me about a long tall and real skinny fellow named Forrest?"
"Forrest McCabe?"
Cousin Frankie looked puzzled: he reached up under his hat and scratched his head, then reset his worn Stetson at something of an angle.
"Forrest?"
"He's the one fell into my office, so done up he could barely move. We had to carry him over to the horse pistol."
"Hell, you even got a horse pistol now," Frankie muttered, shaking his head. "If the ore hadn't played out we'd be big as Cripple now."
I waited.
"We found Scarlett dead. Turns out the girl miscarried and that's what killed her. Never found no Forrest, didn't look like anythin' ..."
Frankie's voice trailed off and he blinked a couple times, then jerked his head and set off across the street.
He led the way to the funeral parlor.
A dolorous fellow with a thick black mustache looked sadly at us when we come through the door.
"Bad business, Marshal, bad business," he said in a voice that seemed to weep from a deep sepulcher. "Not enough people dying to make a living."
"I know that, Sergeant," Cousin Frankie nodded. "Sergeant Burcher, this is Sheriff Keller from Firelands."
"Oh, yes, Pale Eyes," the undertaker said sadly, shaking my hand with a grip that had all the character of a wet dish rag.
I'm willin' to swear the man's hands were as cold as his clientele.
"Sergeant, what can you tell me about Scarlett?"
"Bad business, bad business," he replied sadly, shaking his head. "This way, please."
He led the way to his preparation-room in the back of the building.
A naked female form lay on his wooden table; her eyes were almost closed, she was the ugly color of someone who'd been dead for a while; she was clean, he'd obviously cleaned her up, he had a backless burial gown hung up behind her and a box settin' beside the slab.
"As soon as I do her hair and paint her face," Burcher said gloomily, his eyes as dolorous as a basset hound's, "she will be presentable for the family."
"Sergeant," I said, "was there anything unusual when you found the body?"
"Only this." He reached into a pocket and pulled out a bottle. "This was beside her in the bed."
I frowned, accepted the bottle, sniffed at its open neck.
"Sergeant, you see quite a bit," I said slowly. "What do you think happened here?"
The Sergeant picked up a sheet, snapped it once, draped it over the deceased.
"Cause of death," he said, "was miscarriage."
"Miscarriage?" the Marshal and I said together.
Burcher nodded.
I looked at the little bottle again, then I sniffed at it again: I went to the sheet, uncovered the dead woman's head, pulled her lip down, sniffed again.
I looked up at the sorrowful-looking ex-Sergeant.
"Suicide?"
I don't think the man would look happy if you'd give him a hundred dollars in gold: he looked at me with the expression of a man whose heart was in the dirt and nodded, once.
"Tell me again where this was."
"It was in the bed with her."
"Where in the bed? What position was she in?"
"She was on her back, Sheriff, twisted a little."
"Exact position."
"Her head was turned to the ... right ... and both arms were crossed over her belly."
I nodded.
"Has she any family?"
"No, Sheriff. She was a woman alone."
"Her profession?"
"She was engaged to a man named Forrest."
Frankie and I looked at one another and I drew the sheet back over the dead woman's face.
"Thank you, Sergeant. You have been most helpful."

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Linn Keller 2-26-13

 

The undertaker just got the corpse's face powdered and looking somewhat less ghastly, and he got that backless gown on her and tucked in, and she was layin' in that box all presentable, covered up to her waist and a few flowers tucked into her one hand, when another woman came in.
I recognized her.
Laurel, I think her name was, or Laura, I'm not sure which.
She had not an easy time of it, if I'd heard rightly, and out of need she'd pursued the "horizontal refreshment" trade: men talk, and her skills were legendary in certain ... well, her skills were rumored to be legendary.
Cousin Frankie called her by name when she came in the funeral parlor.
She walked up to the box and looked long at the still figure within, then she reached in and laid a hand on the corpse's hand for a long moment.
I stood there with my hat in my hand, watching.
I'd seen so much of death it don't bother me that much when it's a stranger.
When Jacob was shot that time, when that wagon run over Sarah and I thought she was dead, when my little Joseph quit breathin' and I grabbed him and screamed him back to the land of light and life, why, it bothered me somethin' terrible, but a stranger ... no, I'd seen too much of it, and I reckon that part of me was kind of dead too.
Something still touched me, though, the way Laurel looked when she turned away.
"She took something, didn't she?" she asked Cousin Frankie.
"Why would you say that?" I asked.
She turned to me, too sorrowful to take offense.
"She asked me what she could take for ... female troubles."
"What did you tell her?"
"I told her I ground a few dried pennyroyal leaves and brewed a tansy for female troubles."
I nodded, withdrew the bottle from my pocket.
"Could you identify this smell, please."
Laurel came closer, frowned a little as she looked at the bottle, then her mouth opened: she reached for it, sniffed, handed it back.
"Forrest got her this, didn't he?"
"I'd like to find out."
"Pennyroyal oil," she said, shaking her head. "No, no, no ... I told her a tansy, grind three dead leaves at a time and brew them ..."
She brought the back of her hand to her mouth, looked back at the coffin as the Sergeant closed it slowly, respectfully.
"Sergeant," I said, "do you plan on staying in business?"
"No," he admitted. "The town is dead. There's no ... "
He shook his head.
"You need a healthy population to have a dying population, Sheriff. This is my last customer and I don't know who's going to pay for her."
I considered a moment.
"How much to buy you out?"
Burcher looked up, greed pushing the surprise off his face.

It was early evening when I beat on Digger's door.
He looked at the wagon behind me and shook his head.
"Sheriff," he said, "every time you or your son bring me a wagon, it's a wagon load of trouble!"
"This one's already boxed up for you," I said, handing him an inventory sheet. "I just bought you a funeral parlor that went out of business. Look this over and tell me how badly I got skinned." I hooked a thumb over my shoulder. "Might have this box brought in. I'll let you take a look at the take here while I return the wagon and go check on the mourner."

Daciana frowned as she considered the small, square bottle.
"Aboutdt an ountce," she said in her delightful accent, then sniffed at the open neck.
"Pennyroyal," she frowned, then handed it back, eyes bright and sharp: "Vhat happendt?"
"I'm trying to put it together," I said. "A lady of the evening said she told a dead woman to make a tansy of a few pennyroyal leaves, dried and ground, for female troubles."
Daciana nodded. "I usse to regulate the moon-time," she said. "Idt helpss mitt cramping."
"What about this ... oil?"
"Very strongk. Iff she drank all diss ..." -- she nodded at the bottle -- "it vill miscarry a baby undt kill da mother." She raised a hand to her right rib cage. "Isst giffen for vorms uff de liver but too much ..."
Daciana shook her head.
"Idt may haff been accident," she said slowly. "Vass no instrucktionts mit dis?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "I did not find the body."
"I voot say possibly accident," Daciana nodded.
I turned the bottle in my fingers, considering.
"Thank you," I said, nodding. "You have been most helpful."
I rode over to the hospital to check on that skinny young fellow we'd taken over there.
Doc and I had a quiet conversation; the young man had not been benefited by his ordeal, but he was somewhat improved, and Doc figured I could ask him some questions.
It was not a pleasant interrogation.
Apparently the fellow -- considerably younger than I thought at first -- blamed himself for the woman's death.
He admitted to buying her the ounce of pennyroyal oil.
He said there were no instructions with it.
He said neither he nor she knew how to use it and she did not want to go to the trouble of grinding leaves and brewing a tansy and so she tilted up the bottle and slugged down the whole ounce and chased it with some whiskey to cut the taste.
He came back a few hours later and she was dead with that bottle still in her hand.
He panicked, ran: I listened to his voice tighten, I saw fear in his eyes, I felt the self imprecations with which he flagellated himself, and after not terribly long I was convinced that he honestly had no idea just how potent this stuff was, and that what happened was a terrible accident.
I told him as much.
I pulled a chair up hard against the bed and set myself down and I took his hand in both of mine and I told him frankly and in so many words that what happened was not deliberate.
I told him he had no intent of killing the woman.
I told him "You told me neither of you knew she was with child. She wanted to regulate her monthly ... her time," and he nodded and gasped, "That's right."
"You knew where to get oil instead of grinding and brewing."
He nodded. "I was the general store's last customer. He sold it to me out of his wagon just before he drove off."
I tightened my grip on his hand.
"Listen to me," I hissed. "What happened was an accident. Neither of you intended this to happen. Neither of you knew any better. Neither of you are to fault!"
I could see a flicker of hope and I knew I'd just thrown a drowning man a life ring.
It might not ease the storm right now but it would be something he could hold onto.
"Would you like to see her?"
He nodded.
"She's over at our funeral parlor. Would you like her buried here or back there?"
"Not back there," he gasped. "Neither of us liked it there."
I nodded.
"Doc?" I asked, raising my head. "Is this man strong enough to walk?"

It was sundown by the time I wiped my pen clean and put it away, closed the ledger book and locked the office.
I rode home slow.
I considered all that happened that day.
I hugged Angela and I hugged my wife and I looked long at the twins and then I picked them up and held them too, and that night I loved my wife fiercely, almost desperately, and that night I dreamed Esther was dead and I was alone like young Forrest, and blaming myself for her death.

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Linn Keller 2-27-13

There was the corpse, the Parson, the mourner and myself.
Digger and his two, the Parson and I, were on the ropes as we eased the box down into the hole, and Digger's men shoveled in the dirt.
My arm was around Forrest's shoulders when we walked away from the hole.
I have seen many men in grief but I never saw anyone who looked so ... hollow.
Like he was a shell.
A walking shell of a man.
After the funeral, once it was just him and me, Digger and I dickered and argued and slickered and swindled one another for maybe an hour over how much he was going to pay for that funeral parlor I bought and we finally came to a deal, both of us muttering darkly about how badly each of us got cheated, but once we shook hands we looked at one another and laughed, why, realized that he made a good buy and I made a good sale, and Digger dry-washed his hands happily as he prepared to go freight his goods back.
Young Forrest arranged for a marker -- he asked for one of those white bronze markers, and Digger made a face, for they were considerably less expensive than good Vermont marble, but the deal was struck and Digger filled out the order and had Forrest double check the dead woman's name's spelling, and her dates of birth and of death.
He had Digger add "Infant child, stillborn," underneath.
I did not know it for a week but when Digger went over and began emptying out that funeral parlor, he found the infant, or what little there was of it, wrapped up and in a tiny little box.
I think it was a little wood shipping box of some kind but whatever it was he brought it back and planted it in the grave with its mother and that was decent of him.
I closed the journal just as someone knocked on the door.
It was Forrest.
He'd gone over with Digger and gathered all his worldly good and he had his lifetime's total accumulation of wealth and material in a single carpet bag, which he set down beside the door.
I rose and crossed the floor to meet him and we shook hands.
He still looked sick and lost.
"Thank you, Sheriff," he said.
I nodded.
"I'm heading out. There's a gold strike out Montana way and I reckon I'll go there."
I laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Forrest," I said, "don't get gold fever. Let someone else dig out that yellow metal. Wealth is in the miners' pockets. A man who takes a wagon load of picks and shovels will get rich. Sell a two dollar shovel for twenty dollars and you will be blessed as a saint. Take fresh eggs and sell those for a dollar apiece or in winter for five dollars apiece and you will be a generous benefactor. Supplies are where the money is, not in the ground."
Forrest nodded.
He picked up his grip and we went up to the Mercantile and I had the one armed proprietor package up a dozen shovels and break down a dozen picks and he crated those too, and I paid the man extra to stencil Forrest's name and the destination on the crate so there would be no mistaking whose it was: Forrest and I carried the crate down to the depot and I saw him on his way, and damned if he did not send me a hundred dollar bill six months later and said I was right, and he was starting a dry goods store and doing well.
But that was six months hence and I don't want to get ahead of myself.

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Linn Keller 2-27-13

 

Cold holds little terror for the young, and for the young at heart.
It may still be winter and there was still snow on the ground and it was still blue cold but the children were outside, running and laughing and somehow a pickup game of baseball got started.
Sarah bent at the waist, glaring at the batter, the ball held behind her: Emma squatted behind the plate, her spectacles on top of her head, punching her glove in anticipation of the hard-thrown ball.
"C'mon, Miss Sarah!" a boy yelled, "put some pepper on it!"
Sarah straightened, bringing glove and ball down together, elaborately going into her set, then she stopped and pretended to fish something out of her pocket and pretended to shake some pepper from a non-existent pepper shaker onto the ball: wrinkling her nose, she fake-sneezed once or twice, to the laughter of the children, then she wound up, leaning waaaaaay back on one foot, whirled her arms and pretended to lose her balance, then came down and fired the ball across the plate and squarely into Emma's glove.
"STEEERIKE THREE! YER OUTTATHERE!" the Welsh Irishman yelled, straightening: he'd been drafted by noisy acclaim of the children when he ... accidentally ... came wandering over as the children formed up their pickup game.
Sarah handed the glove to a grinning little boy who scampered ahead of her, pausing only to kick the snow off his shoes before charging up the clean-swept steps.
Sarah walked over to the Welsh Irishman, smiling, and he took her hands in his own.
"Oooh, your hands are warm," she said. "I'll have to hold hands with you more often."
"I'd like t' arrange that," he admitted, taking both her hands firmly between both of his. "You can throw like a house afire!"
Sarah smiled and dropped her eyes, smiling a little.
"A shame it is that ye're a girl. We cuid use a guid pitcher when we play."
Sarah looked up at him, mischief bright in her eyes.
"I can arrange that," she whispered. "I dressed like a boy to jockey a race at the county fair. Nobody knew the wiser until I got home and the Sheriff asked me about it."
"I thought you said nobody knew," Llewellyn said as they turned and walked slowly toward the schoolhouse steps.
"He finds things out," Sarah said. "Like I do."
"Ah."
"I have to go in now."
"I know." He gave her hands a little squeeze.
"Thank you for coming over," Sarah smiled. "We needed an umpire."
The Welsh Irishman turned a remarkable shade of red and Sarah would not have been surprised if he'd kicked at the snow like a bashful boy kicking dirt.
Sarah turned and glided up the steps and into the schoolhouse, and the Welshman didn't have to worry about his footing, about occasional slick packed snow between himself and the firehouse.
The man was walking on air and smiling to himself, remembering those eyes and the feel of those hands in his own.

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Linn Keller 2-28-13

 

The Sheriff swung the ax in a tight arc.
Wood clove cleanly, the chunks splitting away from the double bit ax.
Linn picked up one of the chunks, set it back on the stump, swung the ax again: things were not particularly demanding in the Sheriff's office and he was a believer in having plenty of supplies on hand, and so he was looking to his stove wood.
He'd sawed these to the right length: the Daine boys found a standing dead hardwood somewhere that wasn't worth much for lumber, so the Sheriff bought it off them for fire wood and they bucked it up into workable lengths and hauled it down for him.
The Sheriff paused and looked up, his eyes tightening a little at the corners.
He was warm enough, cutting wood warms a man, and he was grateful for the heat he was generating, for the sight of snow coming down again was enough to throw a chill at a man.
He set up another chunk, swung the ax.

The Kolascinski young applied themselves studiously to their lessons; their Ma saw to it they valued learning, and the woman set an example for them to foster a love of reading in them: Papa Kolascinski once told them, "All the knowledge in the world is contained in books," and the children took his words to heart.
The family took the Sheriff's quiet recommendation to heart and filed gold claim on their entire property, and a good thing, for shortly after Inge's husband was trapped in a gold mine cave-in and barely found his way out, wallowing out a wet hole in rock strata and scraping most of the hide off his front and back both and emerging by happy accident out the mountainside not terribly far from their cabin -- well, the man decided someone else could dig gold out of a dark mine, and he quit, and Inge found nuggets in the little falls up-hollow from their cabin.
It was a secret the family guarded.
They laid claim to the stream as far down-mountain as they could, until they hit the Baxter claim; they were greatly tempted to pan the creek as fast and as vigorously as they could, but they did not.
Nuggets, when found, went into a sock, the sock went into a hole in the fire place and the concealing stone fitted back into place, keeping their wealth secret: in addition, Inge had three secret nugget stashes about their property.
Kohl, her husband, devoted himself to providing for their family as best he could, farming and tending their milk cows and two mules -- there had been three more beeves, two heifers and a bull, until a grizzly decided it wanted fresh beef: a fence is small impediment to Griz and a heifer and the bull escaped, running panicked into the mountains, never to be seen again: one was killed and partly eaten and Kohl drove a rifle ball behind the grizzly's little pig ear, dropping it with one shot.
This most recent snow fall, though, was a few months after all that unwanted excitement: the family knelt on their rough floor, rag rugs little help padding knees from wood floor, but none of them minded, for the stove was warm, they were together and fed, and Inge held the green-glass Rosary before her, and the family prayed together.

Little Joseph waited until the light, fluffy snow built up some before slipping outside: laughing, he found a drift, burrowed into it, tunneling through the white, fluffy stuff, jumping up in a spray of snow when it all collapsed on top of him.
Shaking the snow off, he slogged over to the fence and reached through to pet Boocaffie: the broad beamed beef snuffed loudly at the apple-cheeked little boy, just before Annette ran an arm around the lad's belly and picked him up with a grunt.
Swinging him up on a hip, Annette held out a sweet roll.
"Now don't you get any ideas," she warned Boocaffie. "I don't want to have to patch fence today." She looked up, looked across the pasture. "Not in this snow!"

Angela laughed as she ran for her Daddy's waiting hands.
The Sheriff snatched her up and hoisted her arm's length overhead and Angela, arms wide like wings, threw her head back and yelled "Wheee!"
Sarah smiled at the pair from the top of the schoolhouse steps and Angela pointed up at the big, fluffy, slow-falling feather-flakes and declared, "Tssno!"
The Sheriff brought her down and Angela seized her Daddy's Stetson and clapped it on her head.
"Angela, that's sssnow," the Sheriff said gently.
Angela hoisted the hat above her head, holding it at arm's length.
"I know, Daddy," she agreed, nodding. "Tssno!"

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Linn Keller 3-2-13

 

Brother William smiled a little as he picked up a can of peaches.
One of the children he knew loved peaches, and he knew he'd best get two cans, because if he got just the one can, this child was of such a sweet and generous nature that he'd give away its contents before he took the first taste, and that meant he would have none for himself.
Brother William's ear twitched and he froze, turning his head very slowly, listening.
"He doesn't have but one arm," a voice whispered. "What's he gonna do, run us down and kick us to death?"
"It ain't right," whispered the other.
"Yaah, yer yella. Yer yella as a daisy!"
Brother William hefted a can in each hand: he felt his face tighten and his scalp tingled and he wished most sincerely that he had some way to summon the Marshal.
He looked between the shelves and saw one of the pair stuffing something into his shirt: he took three quick, quiet steps toward the end of the shelf, came around the end as the proprietor said "I hope you intend to pay for those."
One of the men was backing toward the front door, his eyes big: his hands were in front of him, he was shaking his head, he had the expression of someone who didn't want to see what he probably was going to see.
Brother William swung out, intentionally positioning between the thief and the front door.
"You might want to pay the man," he said mildly.
"I ain't afraid of no man that wears a dress," the thief blustered and shoved toward Brother William.
He met a can of peaches headed the opposite direction: Brother William drove it sideways right across the bridge of the man's nose, just as hard as he could hit him.
Blood and peach juice squirted in both directions and Brother William twisted, drawing his right knee up to his flat belly and driving the side of his foot into the thief's belt buckle, folding him up and knocking him backward and down the narrow hallway: he slid on the oiled boards, purloined goods scattering out of his shirt.
Brother William's eyes were hard, his jaw set, lips apart a little and he turned, thrusting the other can of peaches toward the shocked stranger standing with his back to the front door.
"You," he said, stiff finger extended, "told him you would have nothing to do with his theft. You are blameless. Go fetch the Marshal and report back to me."
The one-armed proprietor wiped peach juice off his cheek and grimaced.
"Do you really think he will be back?" he muttered.
"Yes," Brother William said shortly, holding up the dripping can. "I need to pay for three of these."
"You only have two."
Brother William held up the ruined can.
"I need to replace this one."

Jacob reined up as Jackson Cooper carried some fellow out of the Mercantile.
Jackson Cooper carried the man by the back of his belt: he wasn't unconscious, and Jacob leaned forward a little, crossing his arms over the saddle horn, taking in the spectacle: the prisoner shook his head, elbowed Jackson Cooper in the leg, and Jackson Cooper picked him up and dunked him in a horse trough.
Of course this meant he picked him up a little and dropped him onto the inch of ice a couple times until it broke, then he held him under the cold water for a minute.
Hauling him out, he continued walking toward the lockup, casually, as if nothing were out of the ordinary: it was a testament to the man's strength that he was able to hold the soaking wet, dripping, coughing prisoner far enough away from his leg not to get his britches wet.
"Jackson Cooper," Jacob called, lifting his hat. "I see you have a new carpet bag."
Jackson Cooper laughed, his big booming laugh as sizable as the mountain of meat that generated it: "Carpetbagger, more likely!" he declared. "I knew too many of their kind!"
"I ain't no carpetbagger," the prisoner protested, coughing again.
"I was a-gonna bury him but he said he was alive," Jackson Cooper continued good-naturedly. "'Course you know how them carpetbaggers lie."
Jacob nodded. "I heard tell they couldn't tell the truth if they had to," he agreed.
Jackson Cooper looked around, considering.
"You know," he said conversationally, "I'm feelin' a bit lazy today. Might be I'll just drop this trash off for the Sheriff before I toss it in a hole someplace."
"He'd ought be home," Jacob said, looking down-street a little. "I see smoke out of the stove pipe."
"Well, good," Jackson Cooper said, resuming his ponderous pace. "It's a bit frash out here and that-there stove will feel kind of good."
"Don't drink the coffee," Jacob offered, lifting Apple-horse's reins.
Jackson Cooper laughed again, his great booming laugh echoing off the building fronts. "This is ugly you see, not stupid!" he declared. "I don't want to stunt my growth!"
Jacob laughed as well, laying Apple-horse's reins against the stallion's neck: habit was a hard thing to break and though his Appaloosa was knee-trained, he automatically used the reins a little bit, though not enough to bear pressure on the bit.
"Customer," Jackson Cooper called cheerfully as he came through the door.
The Sheriff looked up from the Colt revolver that lay disassembled on his desk; he had a brass bristle brush in one hand, spectacles halfway down his nose: he looked over the lenses and tilted his head toward the hallway.
"Key's on the peg," he said, "you might want to fire the stove back there if he's wet as he looks."
"Nah, I'll let him freeze," Jackson Cooper growled for the prisoner's benefit as he threw a wink at the Sheriff.
"As you wish," the Sheriff said, turning back to his detail cleaning job. "The frost ain't too thick back there. If you find any froze up carcasses let me know, the dogs is hungry and I need to cut up some meat for 'em."
Jackson Cooper, being unable to top his friend's comment, carried the prisoner back to the cell nearest the back stove.

Brother William frowned, leaned over a little and studied the floor.
"That's got the floor," he murmured. "Did any splash back of the counter?"
The proprietor turned, looking again.
"No," he said. "Just the counter top."
"I'll get that. Let me dump the mop water."
When Brother William came back from dumping the bucket out back, the proprietor had three cans of peaches in Brother William's basket, set on the end of the counter.
Brother William hung up the mop so it would dry, laid the bucket on its side, open end toward the stove. "Here, pass me that wipin' rag. I'll get the front of the case."
Brother William labored steadily, cleaning not only the mess from the most recent disagreement, but a general cleaning, over and above what was needed: he saw a few areas that needed his attention, gave it quickly, efficiently, rinsed out the cleaning rags and dumped that water also.
After washing out the cloths, washing his hands and making sure things were to his satisfaction, he pulled the drawstrings loose on his purse and said "How much do I owe you?"
The proprietor shook his head. "No charge."
Brother William laughed and made a quick mental calculation.
"The Brethren of my order take a vow of poverty," he said, "but in business it tends to come unbidden."
He counted out the necessary coins, intentionally paying twice what the take was worth; he had more than the three cans of peaches and his conscience would not allow him to accept the shopkeeper's charity.
"You take that," he said quietly, "and you have the thanks of a soft headed old man."
The proprietor blinked, puzzled. "I don't follow," he admitted.
Brother William reached into the basket, hefted a can of peaches.
"These," he said, "will bring smiles to a dozen children's faces." He looked at the proprietor and the one-armed man saw a deep sadness in the gently smiling clergyman.
"I saw too much in that damned War," he said softly, "and in what they did afterward." He closed his eyes for a long moment. "These days I try to ..."
He swallowed, picked up the basket.
"The children will be happy," he husked, ducking his head and pulling up his habit's hood: bowing, he turned and headed for the door.
The one-armed proprietor watched as the door shut behind the tall priest in the Cistercian-white robe, then he looked down at the double payment, blinked, frowned and counted it again.
"Well I'll be damned," he whispered.

The Sheriff closed one eye, squinting at the box elder twig: tilting his head, he took an experimental cut, took another, the sharp edge of his boot knife whittling neatly through the green wood: he nodded, notched it, put it to his lips, blew.
A single sweet note hung on the cold air.
A big-eyed schoolboy watched, awe-struck, as the Sheriff turned a short stick into a magical device.
The Sheriff handed it to the lad, smiling, turned the boot knife in his fingers and slid it into his tall boot-top: the handle was just visible behind the dog ear pull, and only if you knew where to look: the blade was thin, a belly to it from years of whetting, but it suited him: there was plenty of steel to the blade yet and he figured to use it until there was nothing left to sharpen, for he was a thrifty man.
The sun slanted under the overhang, barely enough to reach him: he knew shortly the sun would climb and shadow's chill would overtake his seat, but for the moment he was warm, and out of the wind.
The Sheriff rose, lifted his hat as one of the town's ladies came up the boardwalk.
"Mrs. Rokh," he said pleasantly.
"I saw what you did, Sheriff," Mrs. Rokh hissed, stopping, disapproval radiating from her like a bristling corona: "you were bribing that little boy so he wouldn't think of you for what you are."
"Yes, ma'am?" the Sheriff said mildly.
"You're a killer," she snapped. "You're just a gunfighter, you're a hired killer, you're a thug and you're trying to twist an innocent young mind!"
"And which mind," he asked quietly, his eyes veiled, "am I twisting?"
"Every child you talk to! You taught that poor schoolteacher to kill, you taught your son to murder, he's no better than you are now, your own son!" -- her voice was like sandpaper -- Heaven knows what you're teaching your little daughter! The poor child! Now you're teaching schoolboys that you are just a kindly old man who makes whistles!"
The Sheriff nodded.
"I thank you," he said slowly, "for the candor of your comments."
"Hmph!" Mrs. Rokh hoisted her nose in the air, whirled on her heel and stomped off, disapproval in the set of her shoulders, disdain in her spine and in three steps, she fell face first off the end of the board walk, missing the step and landing full-out in the fresh snow.
The Sheriff sighed, shaking his head, then he helped Mrs. Rokh roll over: her nose was bloody and probably broken, so he bunched up his silk wild rag and helped her hold it a-bunch on either side of the nose, he picked her up, and he carried her across the street to the hospital.
Mrs. Rokh did little more than groan, though tears of shame burned her cheeks and stung her eyes, and she was grateful for the generous amount of silk held against her face, helping disguise her identity, for she knew the Sheriff's wordless kindness and the gentleness of his touch proved the lie of her words and heaped coals of shame on her head.

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Linn Keller 3-2-13

 

The sun moved far enough the Sheriff moved to the other bench in front of his office.
There would be sun there for a little bit and he didn't want to sit inside.
He felt her animal warmth beside him and her hand in his was warm, and soft, and everything a beautiful young woman's hand should be.
"I heard what she said to you," Sarah said quietly.
The Sheriff squeezed, very slightly, but made no other reply.
"She is wrong, you know."
He squeezed again, but made no other reply.
Sarah sighed patiently.
They sat together, unmoving, deceptively relaxed.
Only the uninitiated would be fooled by their seeming stillness; only the utterly suicidal would think of challenging either of them.
"I had a dream last night, Papa."
The Sheriff stiffened, then twisted in his seat: he sat up very straight, then slowly, slowly turned to face his daughter.
Sarah was looking straight ahead, her chin elevated a little; she still wore her severe grey schoolmarm's dress, her hair drawn up into a tight walnut on top of her head; her expression was a little less than calm, and the Sheriff saw the discomfort in her eyes.
"I dreamed," she said, "that I went to Denver." She looked directly at the slender lawman with the iron grey mustache, a hint of rebellion in her eyes. "I went with my husband."
He nodded, once.
"It wasn't Mr. Llewellyn."
The Sheriff's eyes shifted once, but only once, from her left eye to her right.
"When I go to Denver," Sarah said, licking her lips, "things ... happen."
The Sheriff nodded.
"It did."
Her eyes refocused into the here-and-now and she saw the serious look in her father's eyes.
Sarah shivered a little.
"We went to a concert in the same hall where my mother's ... where he was murdered."
The Sheriff nodded, once.
"It was ... moving." She closed her eyes for a long moment. "The ... music ... I was ..."
Sarah took a long breath to steady herself.
"I must have slept but the music carried me. I don't know where it took me but I remember it clearly."
Sarah bit her bottom lip and her hand tightened on the Sheriff's.
"I was a warrior-maiden in a white silk battle gown and I wore a silver helmet with white wings. I stood before a throne, a simple throne of heavy wood, and an old man ... a dignified, powerful, old man sat in the throne. He held an ax, a great two-bladed ax, and beside him a shield."
Sarah stopped, breathing quickly, turned her head away, closing her eyes but gripping her Papa's hand desperately, tightly, as if afraid she would be torn from him.
"A crow rested on each of his shoulders and he looked at me with his pale eyes and he told me to ... fly over the field of battle, and find those warriors' souls worthy to share his board."
She choked once and a tear escaped her eye.
"A goddess came from behind his throne and drew a sword.
"She said that I must know some things, things that women know, and she held out the sword and bad me take it.
"I did."
Sarah bowed her head and the Sheriff went to put his arm around her shoulder, the move of a Daddy comforting his little girl.
"No," she whispered, pulling away, but never releasing his hand, and he withdrew his arm.
"I ... laid my hand on hers, upon the grip, and upon hers on the back of the blade and she slipped her hand away so I grasped the ... so I held bare steel."
The Sheriff nodded, once.
"I saw all that she knew, Papa. I saw all of time and I saw all that she'd seen, and I saw her death."
Sarah's face screwed up and the whip-lash started to darken, a diagonal stripe down her face.
"Papa, she had red hair and green eyes and she wore an emerald gown, and I heard a child's cry, an infant, new born, crying for she had no mother to hold her."
There was a flapping of wings and a crow settled on the Sheriff's left shoulder.
"The ... he ... on the throne ..."
Sarah raised a hand to her Papa's face.
"He had your eyes, Papa."
A second crow flew in, landed on the Sheriff's other shoulder, cawed harshly, and Sarah heard a step behind her.
"Sarah."
Sarah's face went dead white and she turned.
Esther drew her fencing blade, slowly, steel whispering from scabbard as she raised the schlager in salute.
"There are some things you must know," Esther said, her eyes as green as the shimmer of her emerald gown. "Take the blade."
Sarah came bolt upright in bed, eyes wide, breathing like she'd just run a mile and a half in the thin Colorado atmosphere: her eyes strained in the dark, swinging left, then right: she threw back the covers, her bare feet found her slippers, she staggered to the window, clutched the frame on either side, leaned her forehead against the window frame, her breath fogging the cold glass.
What am I looking for? she thought.
It's winter.
There are no crows this time of year.
She looked out into the darkness, searching methodically, finding nothing: finally she realized she was searching for some sense to what had just jerked her out of a sound sleep.
"I won't find the answer there," she whispered, turning: "the answer is within me."
She worked the slippers off her feet and lay down again, willing herself to return to her Papa, remembering how pale his eyes, remembering the crow on each shoulder, remembering Aunt Esther and the psychic shock as she grasped the blade.

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Linn Keller 3-3-13

 

Sarah sat very properly, beside her Mama on one side and beside Mr. Llewellyn on the other, and she held hands with Mr. Llewellyn.
She listened with close attention to the sermon, to the announcements; her voice carried, pure and sweet, when she sang, and Mr. Llewellyn's heart was the heart of a singer born and it wept within his breast to hear the beauty of his bride-to-be's throat.
Sarah knew her Papa sat two rows back and almost directly behind her, and she knew his green-eyed wife sat with him, and their bright-eyed little girl, and she knew Angela would be trying to sit very still, but at some point her little legs would begin to swing, and she would begin to look around, and her Papa's big, strong hand would settle, gently, carefully on her little pink hand, like a winter-dried leaf floating down on a soft little butterfly, and he would turn his head and regard her with a solemn expression, and then he would wink, and Angela would see the sparkle in his eyes, and she would giggle and lean against her Daddy, and he would pull her up on his lap and she would fall asleep, her head laid back against him and his arms around her waist, her little hands laid on top of his big strong ones.
Sarah knew her mother looked over at her occasionally, regarding her with the mixed feelings of any mother who knew her daughter was ripening and maturing and changing and was soon to be a woman grown, and Sarah knew her Mama would have conflicting feelings, but she would still manage to look dignified and she would still be listening attentively to the Parson's words.
When the assembled stood and received the benediction and the Parson marched solemnly down the center aisle, Sarah stood, still holding Mr. Llewellyn's hand: in their turn, they filed out of the pew: Sarah hesitated as they came abreast of the Sheriff's pew and Sarah whispered, "I will join you in a moment," and Llewellyn, puzzled, considered and then nodded: she could almost read his thoughts as they scampered across his eyes:
I could stay and wait with her.
She said she would join me momentarily.
She wishes a confidence.
I will respect her wish.

Esther gave Sarah a knowing look, and turned to stand beside her: the Sheriff raised a questioning brow, but there was some subtle communication between the two: Angela was drowsy in his arms, her head laid over against his collar bone; she opened her eyes far enough to see Sarah and smile, then her eyes closed again, and the Sheriff proceeded with the departing congregation, down the aisle toward the Parson's clutch in back.
"Aunt Esther," Sarah murmured, "I would counsel with you."
Esther gave Sarah a warm and affectionate look and tilted her head a little.
"There are things you must know," she whispered back, "things a woman should know. I have the sword with me."
Sarah's face paled and her eyes went wide as she reached out and seized the back of the pew to steady herself.

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Linn Keller 3-5-13

 

Long years later a feminine hand turns pages, slowly, reading the neat, regular script, written with a steel nib pen dipped in good India ink, written on rag paper, hand sewn and bound in black leather.
The eyes are pale, intense; the desk is old, dark with age, a desk more than a century old, as are more than one of the journals in its larger pigeonholes.
The journal the silent woman read is written in her own hand, the ink barely dry; the pen she used is a twin for one her great-great-grandfather used at this very desk.
She re-read her hand-written account of the surprising, almost disturbing event she'd experienced that afternoon.


Esther and Sarah hesitated, then walked quickly from the church steps to the black carriage with gold-leaf pin stripe trim: Esther reached in and grasped the lacquered wooden scabbard.
She withdrew the fencing blade; steel emerged, gleaming, from its sheep's-wool-lined black-lacquer home: every trip in and out of the scabbard wiped the blade clean, giving it a fresh coat of natural lanolin, preventing rust even if it were not in this thin, dry air.
Esther's eyes glowed as she backed up a pace, another; she made an experimental cut, down-left, then down-right, a quiet smile settling contentedly into her expression: she backed up and the blade spun, a living thing, weaving a spiderweb of honed steel in front of her.
Sarah watched with admiration.
She knew Esther was a natural swordswoman and she knew Esther a competent instructress, but she'd never taken any instruction from her beautiful Aunt Esther for anything longer than a skinning knife.
A well-dressed man was busy with a box on a tripod, not far away; Sarah saw him, recognizing him as the fellow who'd stopped with a painted, boxy wagon ... some drumming photographer, she knew, offering to take portraits.
Sarah knew there was a new Kodak method -- her Aunt Duzy used one such -- but the glass plate method was still used, though falling out of favor in spite of its obvious success.
Esther took Sarah's arm and steered her around the back of the church, her voice quiet but compelling.
"Your father," she said, and Sarah heard something new in her beloved aunt's voice -- something ... not quite serious, but something ... confidential.
"Your father was never supposed to be."
Sarah stopped, her eyes wide, shocked.
"He was supposed to be born a woman."
Sarah's jaw dropped.
"Oh, don't look so surprised, dear," Esther said gently, her eyes softening. "How do you think he can blow fire, blow away the pain and the burn? How can he stop blood with the Word? Those" -- Esther raised a finger, placed it delicately against Sarah's parted lips -- "those are gifts only we women may carry." She leaned close, her face close to Sarah's, her eyes bright.
"None but a woman may blow fire.
"None but a woman may stop blood with the Word.
"Men are not able."
Her eyes shifted to the church and Sarah's followed; both women knew the man in question was on the other side of the building, and yet they could feel his psychic force, his vitality, as if standing close enough to feel the animal heat from his lean body.
"Only a woman may pass this gift and only a woman may teach this gift."
Esther stepped back, raised the Schlager in salute, sliced viciously through the air, bringing it back down until it pointed to the ground.
"Your father has these gifts. You know this."
Sarah nodded, raising her hand, closing and opening her fingers: she remembered a scald as a little girl, and how the Sheriff took her hand, and blew on it, pushing with his palm as if pushing the fire away from them both, and how the fire disappeared and was gone.
Sarah remembered the Sheriff seizing a man's arm, squeezing a bloody and ragged wound hard, muttering something: the artery had been cut and blood squirted an incredible distance, at least until the Sheriff's hands and his words stopped it, and Sarah saw it happen.
Esther took Sarah's elbow and they began walking again.
"His mother's first child was female but she lost the baby.
"His spirit flew that stillborn and re-entered her next child, which was male."
Esther stopped, looking at the ground, an expression of sadness about her eyes: she bit her bottom lip, then continued after a long moment.
"Had his mother borne the female child, she would have been the seventh firstborn female in seven consecutive generations, and a Woman of Power." She looked at Sarah.
"A Woman of Power," she whispered, "such as has not been seen for many generations."
She stepped back, faced Sarah squarely, then she looked down and laid a hand on her own flat belly and took a long breath, as if she were about to cry, then she closed her eyes, took another long breath and steadied herself.
"One passes one's Gift with steel," she said. "My mother was dying when she handed me a scissors, and with it, her powers."
Esther smiled sadly.
"It felt like a mule kicked me across the room."

"Sheriff," he said, "could you come over to my shop, please? I found some glass plate photographs and ... I think you might want to see these."
The Sheriff was at the man's shop in less than three minutes; it was an easy walk from the stone walled Sheriff's office with the heavy glass doors and the twin six-pointed stars painted, one on each door and lettered SHERIFF, FIRELANDS COUNTY, COLORADO.
The Sheriff put on a pair of white cotton gloves and handled the plates carefully by their edges only, studying each against a diffuse light source.



Esther held up the sword, horizontal in front of her, one hand on the wire-wrapped grip, the other lightly gripping the blade.
"Sarah," she said, "I bequeath you my gifts."
Sarah's eyes dropped to Esther's trim waist.
"Yes," Esther said. "I will never pass the gift to my daughter. You must carry it now."
Sarah took a long breath, then laid her hand over Esther's, around the hilt, and lightly on Esther's, about the blade.
Esther wet her lips, closed her eyes and slid her hand toward the tip.
Sarah's hand closed on bare steel.

"No," the photographer said, picking up the next plate from the slotted, wooden rack. "This one."
He handed it to the Sheriff.
Pale eyes regarded the two women standing in front of the schoolhouse, frowning a little.
The two women looked familiar.
"I think," the photographer said, "the woman on the right is Esther Keller. It's a shame they didn't have color photography back then. She was a red headed woman, if I remember your description, and emerald green was her favorite color."
"She had green eyes," the Sheriff nodded, picking up a magnifying glass.
She moved it in front of her eyes, drew it back, expanding the image on the glass plate.
She looked at the woman on the left, an attractive young woman in a fine gown, with her hair carefully and elaborately done in the style of the age.
Sheriff Willamina Keller blinked, looked again.
Her own face looked back at her.


Esther's eyes widened, alarmed.
"Nothing," she whispered. "Nothing happened ...?"
Sarah's eyes closed and she shivered a little, then she looked at her Aunt Esther.
"Grip the blade again," Sarah whispered, and Esther felt the earth lurch and fall away from her and they fell through eternity and infinity, time screaming past them in lines of fog, stars shooting past them, burning bright with the velocity of their passing, and Esther stood behind a little white building, holding a fencing blade and facing her stepdaughter: she looked to the right, the left, read the redwood sign in front of the tidy clapboard schoolhouse:
FIRELANDS SCHOOLHOUSE CIRCA 1885, she read, RESTORED 2005; alarmed, she looked to the right -- but the street, it wasn't right, it wasn't dirt and snow --
Stone?
Smooth, seamless stone?

Esther looked across the street at a stone front building with glass doors and six pointed stars as big across as a bushel basket, stars lettered SHERIFF FIRELANDS COUNTY, and she let go of the blade, one hand going to her belly and the other to her mouth --
She blinked and she was behind the church again and beside the schoolhouse, and Sarah stood before her, holding the sword horizontally.
"Come," Sarah said, lowering the point and holding out her lace-gloved hand.
"I would very much like to have my portrait taken with you, here in front of the schoolhouse."
Esther's eyes were wide, frightened, and Sarah looked gently at her and murmured, "Please, Aunt Esther. It would mean so very much to me."

"Ladies, two steps toward me if you could, please ... yes, there ... and one-half step to your left ... I'm sorry, I mean your right."
The ladies moved according to the photographer's instruction, settling in side-by-side, looking properly dignified, as befitted two ladies of society.

"What is she holding?" the photographer asked, frowning.
The Sheriff looked more closely at the object the younger woman held before her, hands crossed one atop the other.


"Yes, Mrs. Keller, on the right if you could please, just so. Yes, and you my dear, just beside her ... please hold very still now!"

The Sheriff dipped her steel nib pen one more time, wiped the excess and wrote the final words in her day's entry.
"I looked once more through the glass and saw she was not holding a cane.
"She held a sword before her, vertical down, lace-gloved hands crossed on its pommel.
"I have every reason to believe I beheld the image of not only my great-great-grandmother Esther, but the Sheriff's bastard daughter, Sarah McKenna."
She hesitated, then added a postscript.
"I could be her twin."

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Linn Keller 3-6-13

 

Most little girls are curious creatures.
Pretty, dainty, sweet ... and curious.
When Mommy and Daddy got back from church, they were talking like adults often do, and Angela wandered into another room, quietly, knowing if she with care and with stealth, she could slip out unnoticed.
She reached up and turned the cut-crystal doorknob, slowly, carefully, making no noise, for she did not want her Mommy to tell her not to go in her office.
Angela liked it in her Mommy's office.
It smelled nice.
She often went into her Mommy's office, just went in and looked around with big and solemn eyes, looked at Mommy's desk -- always neat and tidy, just like Mommy -- and for no particular reason, Angela walked up to the calendar beside her Mommy's desk.
The calendar was the tear-off-each-day type, and her Mommy often used the torn-off pages to write things on: a stack of neatly-torn calendar leaves were stacked in a shallow wooden box on her desk for that very reason.
Mommy called it being thrif-ty.
"Thrrriff-ty," Angela whispered, carefully pronouncing the R-sound, but whispering -- again, not wanting to alarm her Mommy that her little girl was in her office.
Angela tilted her head and looked at the calendar again.
Curious, she gently, slowly, carefully, pulled a chair up under it and began lifting pages: first one, then a few, then many, until she came to the very back.
Angela frowned.
The last page said 23.
Angela frowned.
That didn't seem right, for some reason.
She couldn't read as well as an adult but she could sound out letters and syllables and eventually figure out words she'd heard before, and so she frowned at the red letters across the top of the last rectangular page.
"No," she whispered aloud, "vemmm ... berrrrr."
Her eyes brightened and she whispered, "November!" as if she'd just discovered a treasure.
She knew the word, and whispered it again, then she frowned at the 23 and blinked, then she shrugged.
Angela squatted and stepped down off the chair, managing to keep her balance: she pulled the chair back over to where it had been, and then kitty-footed her way across the carpet, listening at the door before peeking out the keyhole.
Angela turned the cut-crystal doorknob, easing the door open a crack, peeking out; she eased the door open, slipped out, closed the door.
Esther looked up as Angela came skipping down the hallway and into the parlor, all smiles and curls a-bounce.

The Sheriff's eyes went wide and he grinned a broad and delighted grin, the expression of a man so utterly delighted with news he'd been given, that he had no words to express it: he seized his bride under her arms, hoisted her in the air and whirled her about, and Esther threw her head back and laughed the way she did the very first time the Sheriff picked her up and spun her around.
Angela's eyes glowed to see her Mommy so very happy.
Angela liked it when Mommy and Daddy were happy.

Linn and Esther cuddled in bed that night, whispering like newlyweds planning their future, which in a way, they were.
"Will it be a boy or a little girl?" the Sheriff whispered, his breath stirring the fine hairs on Esther's ear.
Esther purred like a petted cat, snuggling a little closer to her strong, warm husband, curled up and spooned and his arms holding her close.
"It will be a girl," Esther whispered, "and she will have blond hair and deep blue eyes, and her name will be Dana."
The Sheriff rested his cheek against the back of his wife's ear, his breath warm on her neck.
"Dana," he whispered, his arms tightening a little more. "I like that."
"I," Linn whispered, "am a happy man."
His bride's back side was to him.
He could not see the tears that began dropping onto her pillow.

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Linn Keller 3-7-13

 

Jacob nodded, obviously pleased, then brought his rifle to shoulder, sighted through the new peep sight.
"I do like that," he murmured. "I like that better than that fancy target rifle I tried."
"That Creedmoor?" the Sheriff asked, leaning back in his chair and kicking his feet up on the desk.
"Yes, sir."
"That did have a pretty squinchy little hole in the peep."
"Yes, sir." Jacob's grin was slow to spread, broad and genuine, and he nodded like a satisfied man.
"I thought you'd like that."
"Yes, sir." Jacob looked at his father. "How much do I owe you, sir?"
"I missed your birthday last year," the Sheriff said, grinning. "Take that for your birthday present."
Jacob laughed. "You did not miss my birthday, sir."
The Sheriff shrugged. "Hell, buy me a beer when I'm 99."
Jacob nodded, realizing he could not win this one.
"Thank you, sir."

Sarah bent to take a closer look at the lad's lesson, carefully scribed on his slate tablet with a prized lump of oblong chalk.
There was the crash of glass, the whizz of something passing through the space her head had just occupied, the simultaneous, woody sound of a bullet hitting the opposite wall.
It had been an uneventful Monday and Sarah was looking forward to going home and sewing on a quilt, a quilt she fully intended should cover her marriage bed; she was thinking thoughts that young women think when they are seriously considering married life, of husband and home and being the woman of the house.
Thought ended the moment she realized she'd just almost been shot and thought didn't bother to return for a few moments, at least not until Sarah slapped at her skirts and bared her teeth and snarled, for she'd traded thoughts of responsibility and marriage for the daily carry of her usual selection of weapons.
She heard voices from without: bent double, she ran for the back of the schoolhouse, shouting "EVERYBODY DOWN! HIT THE DECK, MOVE!" -- her voice loud, harsh, far different from the gentle and patient Miss Sarah the students knew and loved.
Sarah opened the door a crack, peeked out, teeth bared, eyes pale: her blood was up and she was ready for a fight but the butterfly of rational thought had landed and settled into her pretty head once more, and she knew that without weapons, she was better off to remain unseen.
A voice again -- "YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME!" and the heavy report of a rifle, simultaneous with a pistol's sharper crack, then all was silent.
Sarah's head swung left, swung right, taking in a broad arc through the finger-wide opening in the schoolhouse door.
She turned, looked over the children, belly-down on the smooth, clean floor, every last one of them looking at her.
They look to me for leadership, a voice whispered, her own voice, coming from somewhere: Sarah's throat formed no words, yet she heard them, and she knew she had to be Miss Sarah, The One Who Takes Care Of Them.
Emma Cooper stood, hands folded and face pale, watching Sarah, waiting to take her cue from the younger woman.
"Stand fast," Sarah said quietly. "I believe all is well. Let me make sure."

The Sheriff rose from a crouch, lips snarled back, elbows tight against his ribs.
Jacob, in the doorway of the Sheriff's office, jacked a fresh round into his .50-60 and fed its replacement into the rifle's loading gate.
"He's down," Jacob said, his voice tight.
The Sheriff made no reply.
"Sir?"
"Go make sure," the Sheriff replied, his voice almost normal, and Jacob's heart fell down to his boot tops.
He turned, eyes pale, and the Sheriff's glare met him full-on.
"Go," the Sheriff hissed.
Jacob turned at the sound of running boots: the Welsh Irishman came pelting hard up the street, skidding a little as he turned to look at the schoolhouse.
Jacob saw the door was open the width of a finger.
"Oh dear God," he husked as he saw the bullet hole in the wavy glass window -- too low not to have hit ... someone ...
The Welsh Irishman charged the schoolhouse steps at the top of his lungs.
"SARRAAAAHHHHHHHH!"
Jacob saw Sarah's foot as she kicked the door open, hard, and he saw her eyes, ice-pale, the moment before the Welsh Irishman seized her and bore her back into the schoolhouse.

Sarah knew if she did not open the door, the Welshman would not think to pull it open, for it opened outward, and he was coming at such a velocity she had to open it fast, and the only way she could get it open fast enough was to kick the door.
Hard.
Sarah hauled her knee back to her belly and drove the flat of her foot against the door, aiming to hit beside the knob, where it was strongest.
The door flew open and the Welsh Irishman flew in and seized her and they spun, hitting the floor hard, the Welshman's arms like iron bands around Sarah: the man skidded across the floor on his back, Sarah on top of him, and they turned a little and hit the wall sideways.
The Welshman released his death grip around Sarah's ribs and seized her face in his hands.
Sarah noted distantly how warm the man's hands were, how strong he was ... how big and how blue his eyes were ... Sarah-the-warrior and Sarah-the-woman warred briefly, until the warrior stepped aside to brood and bide her time, and Sarah-the-woman shivered a little and whispered, "I'm not hurt," and the Irishman's finger caressed her cheek and she felt something wet and cool and his finger came away bright red and Sarah realized something wasn't right.
The Welsh Irishman saw Sarah's eyes go from gentle and blue to hard and ice-pale and she kind of levitated straight up and she stood, arms stiff at her sides, and turned stiffly toward the door.
She looked around, searching for something, then seized her skirts and strode out the door and jumped all three steps, landing easily and never breaking stride, purposeful, unstoppable, toward the still figure and her brother standing in front of the unmoving man.
Jacob looked up at his sister and saw the side of her face was blood smeared.
Sarah seized Jacob's belt knife, pulled it free, looked down at the dead man on the ground.
Her breathing was deep, harsh, her nostrils flared: Jacob saw how white her knuckles were as she gripped the knife: she closed her eyes and willed herself to calm.
Sarah opened her eyes and carefully replaced Jacob's belt knife in its scabbard.
"How bad?" Jacob asked.
"The children are unhurt."
"You?"
"I don't know."
"Let's take a look."
Jacob hesitated, his eye lingering on the angry red whip-scar that flared into life on her fair skin: tilting his head, he frowned and lifted her hair a little, parted it.
"Looks like a graze. They bleed like hell."
"What happened?"
"I don't know," Jacob admitted. "This fellow allowed as he wouldn't be taken. Pa opened the door and looked out and this fellow yelled and started shootin'." He looked past his sister at the schoolhouse. "I got no idea why he whistled a slug your way."
"Not aimed?" she asked, her words abbreviated, clipped.
"No."
"Not attempted murder, then. An assassin would have used a rifle."
"He won't use much anymore."
Sarah turned and looked into the open doorway across the street.
"Get the doc," she said, her voice low and urgent, and she seized her skirts again and ran, ran for the Sheriff's office, ran for the pale eyed old lawman with the bloody shirt sleeve.

Later that night, after Sarah listened to the twins say their evening prayers, after quiet conversation with both her parents and then her mother alone, Sarah retired to her bedroom.
Instead of undressing for bed, she sat and looked at herself in her vanity's mirror.
She pulled the hair up and turned her hair and examined the sticking-plaster that covered the graze.
At least the scar will be hidden, she thought.
Sarah steepled her fingers, leaned her forehead against her index and middle finger tips, and considered the afternoon.
Mr. Llewellyn was ... bless him, she thought, a delicious, feminine warmth spreading in her belly as she recalled how the man charged the schoolhouse, screaming her name, how he seized her, how he held her.
Sarah looked at her reflection.
"He loves you," she whispered, watching her lips frame the words.
I was unprepared, Sarah thought bitterly.
I had nothing with which to fight back.
Nothing but the buggy gun and it was in the buggy and it's a pistol length single shot.

Sarah remembered the expression on her fiancee's face, the distress in his words, the desperation in his hands as he held her face and looked into her eyes, every defense gone, every wall smashed, Sarah remembered looking deep into the man's soul ...
He genuinely, honestly, loves me.
Sarah's eyes hardened.
I will not disappoint the man, she thought, and she saw her reflection smile, and it was not an altogether pleasant smile.
I have just the holster with which to carry my Colt within my dress tomorrow.
Sarah looked at the pale eyed young woman in the heavy looking glass.
"Mr. Llewellyn will not be a widower before he is married," she whispered. "This I promise."

"It wasn't my idea," the Sheriff muttered between clenched teeth.
"It never is," Esther said, her voice disapproving: she carefully washed the wounds, both the one on the inside of his upper arm, and the matching half that just cut open the skin over his ribs.
"This will burn," Esther warned.
"Do it," the Sheriff grunted, and Esther heard his teeth click together as she wiped the wounds with carbolic.
"You don't have to be Sheriff," Esther suggested.
"Can't play checkers for a living."
Esther pressed her lips together disapprovingly, wrapped clean bandage about his upper arm, then around his ribs.
"These will let it scab up and dry until tomorrow, then we can leave them open to air."
"What's this we stuff, anyway?" the Sheriff growled, then grinned.
Esther gave him a look, and the Sheriff knew the look, and so he turned his face up and kissed her.

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Linn Keller 3-8-13

 

Esther watched her husband ride off the way he always did of a morning, with Angela behind him, holding her Daddy and smiling: as long as she could wrap her little arms around her big strong Daddy, all was well with the world.
Esther smiled a tilted her head, remembering a similar moment from her own very early childhood, riding behind her big strong Daddy and feeling like she was straddling the kitchen table, for she had been very small, and his horse was very big.
Esther and the maid saw to the twins; the maid tended the morning household duties, and Esther took her fencing blade and stepped out the side door.
It was an absolutely gorgeous morning: cold, aye, it was but early March and cold was to be expected this high up, but the sunrise was more than magnificent, and Esther stood and took in the beauty painted by the Creator's hand, and she wondered how many souls were considering this glorious masterwork, freely displayed, unselfishly shared with all who cared but to raise their eyes and take a good long look.
Esther smiled again and took a little step, bringing her blade up in salute to a nonexistent opponent: she lowered the blade slowly, formally, lowering her head slightly, green eyes glowing, for all the world like a cat, invisibly tensing to launch teeth and claws and deadly fury on an opponent that did not even suspect its doom was upon it.
Solingen steel shone and seared through the air as Esther made a circular stroke, a thrust, a counter: the sword was no longer rigid steel with length and breadth and thickness, it was liquid silver: her will piloted the blade as an eagle -- no, a fighting falcon -- pilots its flight: honed steel declared a metallic hemisphere before her.

Sarah drew the Colt, frowned, set it aside: quickly, working under skirting and bodice, she changed her rig and slid the Smith & Wesson into the slim holster: a few trial draws and she nodded.
She was not a show-off gunfighter; she did no spins, shifts or tricky moves: her gunhandling was efficient and straightforward as her accuracy, and her eyes smiled a little as she saw the several playing cards, thumbtacked inside the box Jacob gave her, each card buzzsawed in two by a bullet coming in edgewise to the pasteboard.
Of all her pistols, the Smith she wore was the most accurate.
Sarah nodded at the reflection in the mirror and picked up her cloak: one final check to make sure the sticking-plaster was hidden under her hair, and she spun the hooded, woolen wrap about her shoulders.
Miss Sarah the schoolteacher was going to work.

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Linn Keller 3-8-13

 

His Honor the Judge, Donald Hostetler, learned jurist and war veteran, touched match to the Cuban and took the first few, flavorful, cool puffs of the hand rolled cigar.
He was a man of regular habits, a man tidy about his person, a man of very few vices; the occasional drink, a good cigar -- these were, most days, the limit of his excesses.
He read the hand written sheet before him, frowning; there were few cases to be heard, but there was an inquest, and he preferred to hold formal inquests when possible, when it involved a less than natural death.
The courtroom was quiet, empty; as he drew on the Cuban, he heard the fires sizzle through the rolled leaves and he savored the rich smoke he drew from it.

"Looks like we'll have company, sir," Jacob observed.
"It does look that way," the Sheriff agreed.
"Will there be seats enough?" Jacob asked.
"We will find out."
"Yes, sir."

Emma Cooper clapped her hands twice.
"Children," she announced, "we will have something different this morning."
Bright and curious eyes regarded the kindly schoolmarm; little boys leaned forward, listening closely to this new development, and little girls' heads tilted a little to the side.
Sarah stood in the back of the room, watching, listening; she smiled quietly, waiting for Emma to instruct the class on today's project.
"Today we will go to the courtroom," Emma Cooper said, "and we will see the law at work. Upon our return we will discuss what we observed."
"Yes, Miz Cooper," the class chorused.
"Stand up now. By rows, starting in front," she nodded, and the children filed out of their benches as directed.
"Pick up your wrap," Sarah said as they came to the back of the center aisle, "then come outside and line up."
There were a few "Yes, Miz Sarah" voices in reply, but as the instruction was given only to those in the lead, only those so directed made reply: the others, following, watched and imitated the example of those ahead.
Sarah went outside to supervise the children forming up; she ran a silent mental inventory, formed the student body in one long row.
Sarah waited until everyone was outside, then began a count, beginning with the youngest students on the far end: she laid her hand lightly on each shoulder as she went.
"One, two, three," she counted, "seventeen, forty-two, coffee, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, marbles, jack-knife, horserace" -- she stopped, put both hands on a young lad's shoulders -- "Are you a horse racer?" -- and before his grin could become a laughing reply, went on down the line, until she came to the tallest lad on the end.
"Firedog!" she called triumphantly, her hand on the grinning boy's shoulder. "Anyone who's not here, speak up!"
The children laughed and Emma Cooper smiled and Sarah paced out in front of the row, stopping beside Emma Cooper.
"Children," Emma smiled, "we will proceed to our Municipal Building.
"The courtroom is on the first floor, the first door on your left.
"We are visitors."
Emma Cooper nodded once with the word "visitors," emphasizing its importance: "we must be decorous."
Sharon Decore blinked, surprised, and Sarah put her finger to her lips, eyes twinkling, and the little girl nodded, uncertain but knowing Miz Sarah would not lead her wrong.
"We will be on our best behavior," Emma Cooper cautioned, and Sarah nodded in agreement.
"That means," Sarah spoke up, "no firecrackers, no tying paper sacks on a cat's tail, no playing mumblety-peg, marbles, poker or dicing. No singing dirty marching songs, firing artillery-pieces, setting fires or riding on top of the stagecoach."
"Stagecoach?" Billy Kolascinski asked, wrinkling his nose with curiosity.
"Of course. His Honor the Judge has a Concord stage that drives through his court. It runs at full gallop, three times around the room, then out the window."
"Naaaahhh," Billy sneered.
Sarah ruffled his bowl hair cut affectionately, then put her fingertips dramatically to her bodice. "Why, no stage? The shame of it! Don't tell, anybody, we all know that every self respecting courtroom has a stagecoach running out the window!"
Sarah's expression was so bright and innocent that the younger children -- who had a magical view of their world even yet -- believed her entirely, and the older children saw it as entertainment.
"Children," Emma Cooper called, "with me, if you please," and set out for the municipal building, next door to the Silver Jewel.
Sarah fell in behind the last child, waving at the Sheriff and Jacob, under the roof over the boardwalk in front of the Sheriff's office.

His Honor waited until the children (and the rest of the town) were settled, before picking up his gavel and rapping it once against the heavy walnut table top.
Picking up the first sheet of paper, he lifted his chin and with it, the Cuban, exhaled a cloud of tobacco smoke, turned and spat a fleck of leaf into the gleaming spittoon: clearing his throat, he read, "In the matter of Laura Scott, deceased."
Raising an eyebrow, he read the paper a little further, then looked around and said "May I have Dr. Greenlees, please?"

Esther reveled in her well trained and well toned body.
She drew a long bladed dagger which she carried in a horizontal sheath, under her bustle and up close to the belt line; she drew it point-down: knees bent a little, she leaned forward, turning the schlager slowly, feeling the air surge into her lungs, felt the power wash through her body, waiting for the enemy she faced -- an enemy that existed only as an image in her imagination -- made a move.
Dagger flicked up, a block; she circled a little, smiling grimly, for she had faced this opponent before, only then she had a single blade.
Now, today, she fought case -- two-blade -- true case was two schlagers of equal length, but she preferred sword-and-dague.
Esther was, frankly, better with the shorter-bladed weapon in her off hand, using it as a parry, as a block, and as a close-in attack.
She faced the Count again, faced the arrogant European on the steamboat's foredeck: the tips of their blades kissed, touched, each tasting the other's reach, the other's reflexes: Esther snapped her blade down, then up, but instead of a third parry-then-thrust, she shoved hard, locking hilts as she pushed hard, shoving her body against his, running the dagger into his kidneys from behind.
Esther slashed her blade down, the vision dissolving: she took a long breath, pursed her lips, blew out a stream of breath-fog, then raised the tip of her fencing-steel again.
The attacker was a ruffian this time, nattily dressed for one so low-born, the man who made a grab for the jeweled cameo she wore, the cameo Jacob had made for her, the cameo with three emeralds down each side: Esther laid open his forearm with a long dagger-slash, then thrust the schlager through his belly, aiming a little to the side of his spine.
Again she stepped back, spun the blade in a circle; the image of this attacker, too, dissolved.
A third figure appeared.
Esther leveled her blade at his throat, stepping quickly forward until steel just touched the black burlap of his robe.
"Not today," she hissed.
Death stepped back, bowed, scythe held diagonally across his body.
"No," came the hollow whisper, as if from a great distance.
Esther walked slowly to the side, blade still aimed at the Reaper's throat.
The Reaper never moved.
"Yet you are here."
"Yesss."
Esther stopped, considering: a good man with a scythe was a most dangerous opponent: he could back-strike to bludgeon, forward-slash to inflict an impossibly horrendous wound, stab with the blade's tip --
Esther's blood caught fire and she slashed the air before her in a vicious figure-eight.
"Speak, damn you," she hissed. "Say now why you appear!"
"You called me," came the dry whisper.
Distantly, dimly, Esther heard a child's cry, the weak, wobbling cry of a newborn just delivered of its mother.
Esther stopped, pointed the blade at the empty hood, the infinity of darkness where a face should be: her eyes blazed, her nostrils flared, her face was white, her cheeks with a single red spot apiece.
"No," she whispered. "NO YOU WON'T!!!"
Esther drew back her arm for a thrust.
The Reaper disappeared.
Esther spun, weaving a defensive figure-eight before her, turning quickly.
"I am here," came the dry whisper again, and the Reaper stood where it had been.
"No," Esther grated, teeth clenched: "not my child!"
"Yesss," the Reaper hissed, sounding like snake scales slithering across sun-hot desert rock. "Your child."
"NOT AS LONG AS I DRAW BREATH!"
"Yesss."
"Say to me when, and how."
Death stood silent, unmoving.
The whites of Esther's eyes were turning red, the veins standing out: a thousand generations of fighting Irishwomen, wild Celtic warrior blood singing through her, fired her soul: she heard the thunder of Irish war-chariots, felt the scream of her war-cry as she drew back a naked arm, an arm clothed in a silver arm-band carved in war-runes, launching the first spear of a fierce battle --
"Yesss," the Reaper hissed. "I remember."
Esther stepped boldly forward and placed the gleaming, razor honed blade's tip against the frayed burlap at the dark figure's throat.
"Say now," she said, "before I sent you back to hell ... when, and where, and how!"
The Reaper brought his scythe-blade up, grounding the end of the handle between skeletal feet.
"Come closer," Death whispered. "Grasp the blade, and see."
Esther slipped the dague back into its horizontal sheath: keeping the blade at Death's throat, she reached her left hand up, laid it on the steel crescent.
Esther's pupils dilated and she saw.
"As I thought," she whispered.
"You knew already."
Esther stepped back, raised the blade in salute.
"Thank you."
Death bowed, slowly, straightened, turned as if to leave.
"One thing more."
The black burlap figure hesitated, then turned again to face the green-eyed Celt.
"Why did Sarah feel nothing when she grasped my sword ... why did I feel nothing leave me and enter her?"
"Your Gift sleeps after you," the Reaper whispered, almost sadly. "Hers exists. Your child carries much that you cannot know. Your Gift will run like an underground stream."
Death paused, then continued.
"It will emerge to see the day again. Attend!"
The Reaper held up a hand, bleached bones gleaming in the morning sun.
Death ticked off one finger, one point, at a time.
"Daughter," he hissed.
"Granddaughter." Metacarpals ticked lightly together.
"Great-granddaughter." Tick.
"Great-great-granddaughter."
Death opened its hand and a flame appeared, round, blue, hot.
"Behold."
Esther took a step forward, fascinated.
"Behold," Death whispered. "Ribbons of blood will twist through time until they converge ... here."
Esther saw again the low stone building across the street from the Silver Jewel, the building with twin, heavy glass doors, the doors with a bushel basket sized, six point star on each, the star lettered SHERIFF in an arc across the top, and FIRELANDS COUNTY in an arc on the lower.
Esther saw a woman push out of the doors, a woman with ice-blue eyes and a curl brim Stetson, a woman in britches and boots and a six point star on her vest -- an old badge, scratched, experienced, with the hand-chased SHERIFF across its front.
Esther saw the Colt revolvers belted around the woman's lean hips and she saw the yellowed ivory handles and Esther saw the Masonic square-and-compasses on one grip, and the Past Master's arc-and-compasses on the other, engraved and limned with India ink.
"Sheriff," Death whispered, and Esther looked long at the beautiful woman with hard eyes and her husband's revolvers around her waist.
Esther felt a lurch as the realization hit her.
She looked at the black eternity within the Reaper's hood.
"Sarah ...?"
She looked again at the blue fire in the Reaper's hand, a living crystal ball of pure blue flame, and she saw Sarah standing in front of the schoolhouse, and she saw this Sheriff-to-be, walking over beside her, and behind her, and into her, and the two were suddenly one living creature.
Esther lowered her sword.
"You came to show me this."
The Reaper bowed.
"Does ... Sarah know?"
Again the slow, silent bow.
"Can she be killed?"
"All flesh dies."
Esther felt like a dipper of cold water poured itself down her spine.
"And if she dies ...?"
The ball of blue flame turned black, then red-streaked, and disappeared.
Esther nodded.
"Thank you for showing me this."
The Reaper bowed, one last time, and dissolved with a quiet, dry hiss.

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Linn Keller 3-9-13

 

Firelands County was a pleasant locale; the people were as people anywhere: for the most part, good, honest, hard working, honorable; there were, of course, times when people weren't all of those things, and there were of course transients who brought their sins with them, like the fellow who fancied the Sheriff was going to come stomping out of the Sheriff's office and arrest him before he had his drink.
Such folk and such moments tended to draw the attention of the constabulary, and in most cases, such folk came out in second place.
Of those defendants who appeared before His Honor, one was abashed and contrite and replied with meek "Yes, Your Honor"'s and "No, Your Honor"'s, and "Thank you, Your Honor"'s ... leading the Judge to remark privately to the Bailiff that he wondered if he'd sentenced the fellow to a horsewhipping in public whether he would have said "Thank you, Your Honor."
As it was, the court lightened the man's purse, but not excessively, and sent him on his chastened way.
Another defendant was just the opposite: loud, argumentative, he gestured powerfully, thrusting a defiant finger toward the ceiling to make a point, his voice loud, harsh -- but his angry words frequently interrupted themselves -- because about the time he built up a good head of steam, and the coals he shoveled under his internal boiler built up enough heat to come out his mouth as verbal sulfur, he would stop and turn and look at the schoolchildren watching and listening a very few feet from him, and that little schoolmarm, the one that sat on the far right, would fix him with those lovely blue eyes and lift her chin a few degrees, and he would bite off profane words and swallow them before they could be uttered.
The Judge heard inquest on the woman found dead, and heard testimony from the Sheriff and Dr. Greenlees to indicate her death was tragic accident and nothing nefarious; His Honor considered the tabletop before him for a long moment before asking if her intended, one Forrest McCabe, was present; and nodded at the Sheriff's negative reply: the jurist, in a kindly voice, asked the Sheriff to convey to the young man his personal condolences, and the Sheriff nodded solemnly.
The Judge then opened the matter in which the Sheriff's life was placed in mortal peril, and his chief deputy ended said peril with a round from his rifle: the Sheriff allowed Jacob to testify that day, and without addition or interruption, save only at an opportune moment, when His Honor inquired if the Sheriff had indeed been shot, or merely shot at, the Sheriff stood and held up the shirt he'd worn that day -- a shirt from which he had not soaked the blood.
Several of the children's eyes went wide and their mouths hung open as they beheld the crusted-red shirt sleeve, and it seemed half the shirt was bloodied: none there were strangers to injury or exanguination, and Jacob described how his father's arm was red from armpit to fingertips, his shirt gleaming-wet and encarmined from axilla to beltline.
Jacob hesitated, then turned and looked at Sarah.
Sarah's eyes were wide, distressed, her fingertips pressed to her lips, her face a little pale; Jacob looked behind her, in the rearmost row, and saw the Welsh Irishman, clearly uncomfortable, and Jacob surmised his discomfort was due to the separation between the two, and knowing that even in this moment he had to let his fiancee be Miz Sarah the Schoolmarm, and any comfort he could lend would have to wait.
Jacob turned back to the Judge.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said in his typical soft voice, "what was the question again?"
His Honor had followed Jacob's gaze; he too saw Sarah's reaction, and that of the Welsh Irishman, and he nodded, once, gravely, to the pair: turning his eyes to Jacob, he asked, "And what was your final solution to this problem?"
Jacob's jaw ran out and he remembered a dark day when he was first in Firelands, when he was a skinny underfed lad, certain of only one thing: the world was dangerous and he had to be more dangerous, just before some fellow drove a rifle ball through the ribs of one of the first men to treat him decent ... one of the first men who trusted him.
He recalled seizing the fallen Sheriff's collar and trying desperately to drag him back into the little log fortress that was the Sheriff's office, firing round after round from his Army Colt, screaming defiance, and how Charlie Macneil settled the matter with a single shot from a buffalo rifle.
That day Charlie had been a man, squaring accounts with another man; now he, Jacob, had done the same.
For a moment his thoughts wandered and he uttered a silent prayer of thanks for the kindness of Agent Sopris, who brought him to this little, inconsequential, inconspicuous town, and set him in front of the man who would become his father, the one man he loved more than any in the world.
Jacob raised his head and looked the Judge square in the eye.
"Your Honor," Jacob said, his voice firm, clear and plainly audible in the hushed courtroom, "I sent him a fifty caliber stage coach and took his soul to hell."

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Linn Keller 3-10-13

 

Sarah followed the schoolchildren as far as the schoolhouse steps, then she turned and took the Welsh Irishman's arm, steering him across the street.
Sarah could be described as "a wee slip of a girl," but for a wee thing she was surprisingly strong; the Welshman, admittedly, allowed himself to be turned, but he recognized the strength in the grip of her small hand, and he considered that if the hand were this strong, the arm was likely the same, and if the arm were that strong, the rest of her was probably equally stout.
The Sheriff looked up at the pair, his eyes veiled -- Sarah walked proudly, her chin up, looking immensely pleased with herself, as if she were the Queen on the arm of the King himself -- and the Welsh Irishman just short of strutted, to be seen in public with such a fine lass on his arm -- but the Sheriff detected just a little uncertainty, and thought it must be coming from Llewellyn.
Sarah released the Welshman's arm and skipped the few steps to the Sheriff: she thrust up on her tip-toes and kissed him on the cheek, her eyes dancing, her expression that of a happy, mischievous little girl.
"Papa," Sarah said, grasping the Sheriff's arm and leaning her head against his shoulder, looking beseechingly up at him, "may we counsel with you?"
The Welsh Irishman blinked, looking at the Sheriff with the expression of a man who has no idea what just happened, but he must have missed something.
The Sheriff raised an eyebrow in reply and smiled just a little, then looked down at Sarah, who was doing her very best to look big-eyed innocent, and succeeding to a surprising degree.
"I was about to make coffee," the Sheriff said, and Sarah leaned back and shook her schoolteacher's finger at him: "Don't you dare!" she scolded, and Llewellyn and the Sheriff both laughed.
"Papa, we need your advice. We'll go over to the Jewel afterward but right now we need your maps."
The Sheriff nodded slowly.
He'd been expecting this.

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Linn Keller 3-11-13

 

Secrets are hard to keep.
Wartime or peacetime, if you try and keep something hid, something comes along to kick the rock off of it and show it to God and everybody and really I wasn't terribly displeased, for I'd been giving this quite a bit of thought here of late, and so had Levi.
You see, Llewellyn came to me last week and inquired after available land.
The man has no skill at guile. Sarah doesn't need to worry about him philandering, wandering or straying ... he's as transparent as a window pane, he's honest as the day is long and I think if he'd try to lie his tongue would run out of his mouth far enough he'd step on it and fall flat on his face.
After a few red-faced false starts he threw his clumsy attempt at coyness to the wind and blurted, "Sheriff, me Pa said once 'First the nest, then th' bird,' an' I ha'e no' prepared for this." He looked at me about as guilty faced as anyone I ever saw and admitted, "I ha'e no' much t' m' name. If I'm t' be husband an' father I'll need land an' a proper house."
I nodded.
I knew he'd inquired of attorney Moulton on the subject.
Moulton had a new sign up: DEEDS, CLAIMS AND REAL ESTATE and he'd expanded his attorney's practice into these areas: the man had prospered since he came out here and glad I was for it, he's earned every last nickel he's made and he's a good husband to Tilly, though they've no children.
I digress.
Sorry about that, my thoughts kind of wander around sometimes.
Llewellyn and I sat down and kicked around what he had in mind.
Moulton, to his credit, didn't try to sell the man the sun, moon, stars nor Buckingham Palace; he'd mentioned a few properties and he told me later poor old Llewellyn looked absolutely lost, for though Moulton described them according to their landmarks, the fireman was a townie and I don't think if I'd taken him file mile in any direction he could find his way back without a train ticket.
Moulton did discuss land prices with him, he did explain water rights and mineral rights and he did show him the current, updated underground progress of the Cripple Creek gold works which extended under Firelands.
The man -- Llewellyn, that is -- is a thrifty soul, I think he's saved every centavo he's made since he crawled around on the floor and found his first dropped coin -- and after a lengthy consultation with counsel, he paid the attorney for his time and walked away kind of discouraged.
I had a hard time keeping a straight face, for Levi and I entered into a conspiracy when Llewellyn and Sarah decided to jump the broom.
As a matter of fact I raised a finger and whistled, and one of the lads who made a career of playing hooky, came scampering over: I bent over, murmured in his ear, slid a coin into his unwashed hand and sent him sprinting.
Sarah looked almost sadly after the lad's retreating backside and I could almost hear her thoughts:
He should be in school, and I can't save them all.
The three of us repaired to my office, where the stove was warm and the coffee pot empty, and I proceeded to sort through my stack of hand drawn maps.
"Mr. Moulton and I were looking over property maps," Llewellyn began, looking at Sarah: he hesitated as Sarah's eyes went big, her lips parted just a little and curled up at the corners, and her hands tightened on his arm: I think it must have been the first time he'd ever personally delighted a woman in such a way, and I saw his face flush a little more and his pupils dilated as he realized he'd just made her happy.
The red-shirted fireman cleared his throat and he reached for the back of a chair.
Sarah turned loose of his arm and he slid the chair in behind her, just touching the backs of her legs, and she sat with the expression of a woman who was being spoiled and she loved it.
I know that look.
I do my best to spoil Esther, but that's beside the point.
"Were you thinking in any particular direction?" I asked, considering as I looked at the stack.
Sarah's mouth opened a little but she stopped herself and looked at Llewellyn.
She is letting him take the lead, I thought.
I'd wondered if she would be able to do that.
She's always been such a go-ahead, I was worried if she would be able to step back and let her husband lead and be Head of Household.
Looking at Sarah, and the way she was looking at Llewellyn, considering what I'd just seen, it occurred to me that I didn't have much to worry about in that department.
I made a show of fetching out maps and sorting out maps and talking about land and slope, grass and graze, topography and terrain and the digging of fence posts, the availability of locust posts from back East versus cedar posts from here-a-bouts, that Mr. Moulton was afforded time enough to knock on my door, and within a minute of his arrival, Levi, and I shook their hands and grinned as I opened the door to them.
Levi looked particularly pleased.
Mr. Moulton used me as a shield; he reached into his coat, pulled out an envelope, just far enough for me to see, winked: he slid it back out of sight and I held station until it was hidden, for we didn't want Sarah and Llewellyn to know what we had for them.
Not yet.

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Linn Keller 3-11-13

 

I can't talk without my hands.
Levi is almost as bad but not quite.
Mr. Moulton, as he is a barrister, a counselor, a lawyer and otherwise a legal performer treading the boards of the courtroom stage, was no stranger to dramatic gestures or heroic poses, but here he was content to allow me to point and gesture and slice the air on the diagonal to indicate a slope, or to willy-wiggle my hand through the air when describing a mountain stream.
Levi and I pointed to this wall and to that wall and we described properties here and properties there, and I spoke of bunkhouses and barns and foundation-stones, and Sarah listened closely, for she knew the country surrounding: poor Llewellyn followed as best he could, and give the man his due, he was asking some pretty good questions about water and soil and graze, and how many head of cattle would an acre support, and how many acres here or there: I laid out a map, laid out another, and Levi and myself and Mr. Moulton bent over it and pointed and discussed and Llewellyn hung back a little until I stepped aside and put my hand in the middle of his back while pointing to a promontory overlooking a deep valley.
"From there," I said, "you can see most of the way to ... oh, hell, what's the most westward point from here?"
"The West Pole?" Levi suggested.
"The same!" I exclaimed. "That is the point end of the best piece of ground hereabouts. It's still in one chunk, it hasn't been cut up and sold off. Full mineral rights, water rights, timber rights. A good road into town. Here" -- I thumped a finger on the map -- "is an ideal place to build a good solid house, you've got good stone in that cliff behind, you can either set up a good solid foundation or you can build the whole house of stone." I looked the man in the eye. "Which I would."
I looked down at Sarah.
She was a-studyin' on me like she knew something was in the wind, and likely she did know, for in matters of keeping women in the dark I am as transparent as a window pane.
"Sarah," I said, "you know the place we're talking about. Here, take a look."
Sarah stood, her expression skeptical: she studied the map, stepped out from between Levi and Moulton, came over beside Llewellyn, then backed out again and came in beside me.
She leaned over the map, frowning, then extended a delicate hand, tracing the India-ink lines ever so lightly with her finger tips.
"Here?" she asked, tapping the paper.
"There."
"I know the place," she nodded. "Up here" -- she slid a finger an inch to the left, tapped -- "is where I sat and looked over the world one night."
"A special place to you, then."
Sarah was quiet for a very long moment.
"Yes," she finally said. "You might say that."
I looked at Levi.
Levi nodded.
I nodded to Mr. Moulton.
Mr. Moulton removed the envelope from his pocket, removed the multi-paged document, fastened at the top; he laid it carefully in the center of the map.
Sarah's jaw sagged and her eyes went big and Llewellyn looked at her and looked at me and looked at Levi and I don't know which of us had a bigger grin on our face.
This was an era of solemnity, an age of the straight face, a time where nobody smiled for portraits either because of bad teeth or most commonly because a smile was thought a sign of weakness and nobody wanted to be seen as weak.
Me, I didn't give a good damn, I go through life good natured and pleasant and if somebody wants to try me, let 'em jump right on and find out what second place feels like.
Here -- now -- as Sarah flipped through the pages, wide-eyed, bouncing a little on her toes, after Llewellyn paged slowly through the hand-written deed and the water, timber and mineral rights pages -- now, after Llewellyn sat down, numb as a mule-kicked man might be -- why, I don't think a one of us minded that the lot of us were grinning like idiots.
Funny thing about times like this.
Of a sudden it's quiet, then just as fast everyone is talking at the same time.
I let 'em talk.
It was worth it to see the look on Sarah's face, and Llewellyn's, especially when Sarah clutched his arm and said "I haven't seen the house you haven't built us yet. Tell me what it looks like," and the Welsh Irishman smiled, gentle-like, and proceeded to paint her a word picture of what he'd been thinking hard on for the past I-don't-know-how-long.
Levi and I talked it over before we went in on this, and we talked it over afterward, and afterward we were completely in agreement.
The moment Sarah's face lit up was worth every single shekel we spent.

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Linn Keller 3-12-13

 

Bonnie's scissors clattered to the work-table top.
Alice turned, serious-faced, as she saw the look on Bonnie's face.
Alice folded the cloth she'd unrolled from the bolt, laid it down and bustled the length of the big table, squatting beside her boss.
Bonnie's hand was on her belly, a look of surprise on her face, then her knuckles went to her mouth and she bit herself gently, eyes wide, then looked at Alice.
"You felt the baby move, didn't you?" Alice whispered.
Bonnie nodded.
Alice stood, cupping Bonnie's elbow, encouraging her to stand: she led Bonnie into her office, closed the door, set her boss down on the well-upholstered, red-velvet love seat and said briskly, "I'll make tea."
Bonnie stared out the window, eyes big, as Levi's black-suited form stepped down from the carriage and started for the dress-works.
Levi had a broad grin on his face and Bonnie rose as he came in the door.
Levi swept the hat from his head, tossed it casually onto the coat tree and strode over to his wife.
"You should have seen her face," he chuckled, taking Bonnie in his arms, then releasing her like she was hot: alarmed, he looked at her brimming eyes, her scarlet cheeks.
"Alice?" he asked, his voice flat, controlled, tight: Alice turned from the gas hot plate and looked at Bonnie.
Bonnie looked up at Levi and make a squeaky, weepy little sound, then pressed her face into his linen shirt-front.
Levi was convinced now that some tragedy had befallen: his face showed alarm as he looked beseechingly at his wife's chief seamstress.
"Alice, for God's sake, who died?" Levi whispered.
Alice shook her head, snapped the towel over her shoulder: "Men!" she humphed, measuring tea into the stamped-metal acorn and lowering it into the delicate china tea pot.
Levi felt his wife trying hard not to cry.
Levi also felt his shirt front was getting kind of wet.
Levi leaned down a little and laid his cheek on top of his wife's ornate hairdo: his arms were warm, strong, reassuring as his voice as he rumbled, "I don't know who died or what happened, dearest, but we will get through it. Just hold onto me. It'll all work out."
Bonnie pushed him away, looked up: her face was a little splotchy, her nose was running, her cheeks were wet as she turned up her face, and through the office door window, at least a half dozen of Bonnie's ladies heard Levi's triumphant, shouting laugh, and saw the big man snatch his wife up in his arms and whirl her about in what was obvious and utter delight.

Esther looked up from her bookkeeping, looked up as if she heard something, and smiled.
Bonnie, my dear, she thought, you carry a son, and he has his father's eyes.
Esther looked over to the side, where Angela used to draw or play quietly with her dolls, and for a moment she missed her daughter's presence, but she assuaged this with the knowledge that Angela was in school.
It would be some time yet before Esther felt her own child move, but she knew it would happen, and she laid a maternal hand on her belly, smiling quietly, looking out at the new snow falling.
The mountains are so lovely in snow, she thought.

High in the mountains, the Daine brothers were not idle.
Kentuckians all, they didn't know the meaning of the word idle: they moonshined, they brewed, they came up with something locally known as Uncle Will's Finest, a half and half mixture of moon shine whiskey and homemade wine, a mixture that went down like Mama's milk and blowed the socks right off your feet.
They put up several gallon in stone jugs and stashed them here, there and yonder, knowing that age improved the product: the Sheriff paid them for two jugs, paid more than twice what they were worth, but the man was like that, and if he was foolish enough to offer such a sum, why, they were wise enough to accept, and so the Sheriff stashed the two jugs under his stairway in his house, where he'd dug out from under and made a room dug down to bed rock.
The Daine family was also known for their skill at gunsmithing, and gunmaking, if your taste was for the long, slender Kentucky rifle that was their heritage and their heart's delight: as a matter of fact, the Sheriff brought them a fine rifle, made by an old master of the art back in his native Perry County, Ohio, a rifle wrought in curly maple and silver inlay, and asked them to make him another a whole lot like it.
Like anything else they did, the Daine family hurried into nothing: this rifle the Sheriff requested was so far a year in the making, but the man was patient, and offered no protest at the time it took, for he knew their work was by hand, and of the finest quality: the rifle was near to finished, with the one-legged Daine boy working on the patch box release.
Matter of fact he'd done just about everything on this rifle.
It was a pea rifle -- a rifle firing a ball the size of a sweet pea, a .36 caliber: the bore was hand lapped and rifled until it was just the right diameter for a .36 caliber pistol ball and a spit or greased patch of good shirt front linen, and the rifle would hit a percussion cap box every shot at a hundred long legged paces.
They'd examined the rifle the Sheriff brought them as the exemplar and asked why he didn't shoot the one he had already, and he said he didn't want to breech burn the barrel from shootin' the daylights out of it, and they allowed as well, that's so, and this new octagon barrel they used was of a good grade of steel that hadn't ought to breech burn much a'tall.
The one-legged Daine finished the adjustment as the clan's patriarch came in.
The two looked the rifle over together, taking it nearer the window where the light was best, and after running fingertips over the non-existent gap between escutcheon and wood, after assessing the inlay of the ornately pierced patch box, after trying the set trigger and looking at the fall of the cock, the Grand Old Man handed the rifle back to his grandson and nodded slowly.
"This-yere rifle," he said slowly, "is your master's piece."
The one-legged Daine tried to keep a solemn face, but nothing would deny the broad grin that claimed his visage.
He was now a gunsmith.

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Linn Keller 3-13-13

 

Levi came out to the house later that evening.
Normally he'll give me some advance warning.
He's polite that-a-way.
This night, though, he came drivin' up the lane with trouble on his brow and I called out to Mary and asked if we had any cold beef and beans and she allowed as we did, and I opened the door as Levi came up the front steps.
We shook hands over the threshold and I stepped aside and he came inside, hung his hat on the peg and leaned back against the door after I closed it.
Levi ran a hand over his face, took a long breath and muttered, "I need a drink."
Mary was watching from the hallway;she disappeared and I knew she was assessing whether she should prepare a meal at the table, or bring a tray: Levi and I went into my study, and I left one of the double doors open, to make it easier for Mary to bring us a bite.
I poured Levi a generous brandy and splashed some in my own glass.
We clinked tumblers,took a swig -- that is, I took a swig and Levi took several, so I refilled his and motioned to a chair, and Mary came in with a tray of cold beef and bread and we were soon working on sandwiches.
Levi ate like a starved man.
I'd watched his habits for some time and this told me he was troubled.
He didn't necessarily have to be hungry to eat like that, I knew, he ate that-a-way when he was chewin' on somethin' stuck in his craw.
I got up and dumped another charge of brandy in his glass, trickled a little in mine and eased the glass stopper back in the decanter, then I picked up my sandwich and set myself down.
The stove was freshly fired and would not need tending for a bit, it was pleasantly warm, Mary asked softly if there would be anything else and I smiled and shook my head; she withdrew, closing the door behind her, and Levi finished his sandwich, swallowing hard.
I took a sip of brandy and waited.
Levi thrust from his chair and began pacing, pulling at his face with one hand, his other arm across the small of his back, his hand fisted: one step, two steps, three, a quick turn, one step, two steps, three, turn: I blinked slowly, watching the man, reading him as best I could, wondering how long it would take for him to wear a track in the rug.
Finally Levi shook his head and set back down, then leaped to his feet as if stung.
Levi raised his hands, turned them palm up at belt height, distress on his face and beseeching in his gesture, and he finally spoke of what troubled him and somehow I was not surprised.
He spoke but one word.
"Women!"
I nodded slowly.
Some of my greatest puzzlements came from the fair sex and the only women I ever made sense of, turned around and puzzled me up within a minute of my becoming satisfied I'd figured them out.
Levi started pacing again, shaking his head a little, looking for all the world like a man about to start muttering: he made another half-dozen circuits of the rug and set down again.
"Bonnie," he said, "felt the baby move."
I fairly leaped to my feet and strode over to the man, thrust out my hand, grinning.
"Well done, old man!" I boomed, grinning. "Well done!"
Levi grinned a little crookedly, his grip firm in mine.
"Linn," he admitted, "I am outnumbered."
I nodded. "Been known to happen," I agreed.
Levi shook his head. "Ladies and babies," he sighed, "women beyond number, and all of them clustered about Bonnie like she was queen of the bee hive."
He looked up at me. "Do you remember I accompanied you to the Daine boys' last year, when they were working on bee hives?"
I nodded.
"One of them you called ... a bee charmer."
I nodded again.
"He had a queen in his hand and all those bees swarmed on his arm until they were too heavy for him to hold his arm up?"
I nodded.
"All those bees clustered around the queen, and not one sting.
"That's how I felt," Levi said bleakly. "All those bees gathered around the Queen and no place in it for me!"
"That's why we have places like this," I said. "I'm outnumbered here too. Esther makes this house more hers than mine but that ain't bad, was it mine I'd have guns and tools on every wall and like as not sawdust on the floor."
Levi blinked, laughed, shaking his head.
"Somehow I can't see that."
I shrugged. "I threaten a lot."
"I see."
I set back down, then got up again.
"Got somethin' to show you."
I felt the first wobble of that brandy a-hittin' me. I hadn't had much supper and brandy is sweet, and I found over the years that if a drink is sweet it hits me harder and faster and I knew enough to shut myself off right there, lest I get a bit dizzied.
I walked over to my gun case, pressed the hidden release, opened the glass front door.
I reached in and fetched out a flint rifle.
"The Daine boys stopped by an hour before you showed up."
"Is that the one you had them building," Levi said, more a statement than a question: Levi was not as much a gun man as I, but he knew quality when he saw it, and he ran questing fingertips over the ornate sliver patchbox (which I doubt me not was a nightmare to inlet), he studied long at the hand chased engraving on the lock work, he turned the rifle a little and looked down the length of the full stock, admiring both the tiger curl and also the utter, flawless smoothness of wood work well done.
"I'm a little surprised you got a flint lock."
I laughed.
"Levi, did you ever meet Hiram? Old mountain man?"
Levi shook his head, puzzled.
"A wise old man," I continued. "Saved my backside twice now, once with a bear and once ... otherwise."
Levi handed me back the rifle.
I couldn't help it, I admired hell out of that rifle.
"Hiram carries a Sharps now-a-days and wouldn't have anything else," I said quietly. "Before that he had a flint Hawken, a genuine J&S Hawken that he said took more game than a man could load on a wagon train."
Levi nodded.
"I asked him once why he didn't trade for a percussion.
"He looked at me with those bright hazel eyes a-twinkle and asked me if I ever dropped a box of caps."
Levi blinked, understanding beginning to show in his eyes.
"Hiram allowed as he could always find rock to throw a good spark, and he said them mountains is all made of rock.
"Somehow I couldn't argue with the man."
Levi nodded again.
"Now I got to have 'em make me a calf's knee so I can take it out when it's mean and miserable."
"You could just take a Sharps."
I grinned.
"I'd kind of like to shoot this one," I said.
I set the flint rifle back in the gun case.
"Other than out numberin' you, how are the ladies?"
"Oh good Lord," Levi groaned. "They were talking about babies and how to determine whether Bonnie carries a boy or a girl, they were starting to discuss --" his face turned some red -- "woman things."
I shuddered, nodding.
"Sarah was right in the middle of it and I saw she was the reason they were ... talking like that ... and I decided as it was time to get the hell out of Dodge!"
I nodded.
"Sarah was woman talkin' right with 'em?" I asked slowly.
Levi leaned back in his chair, looked at the ceiling, remembering, then he looked down at me, frowning a little.
"No," he admitted. "Matter of fact she wasn't. At first yes, then she was riding herd on the young ones, tending the babies -- your twins in particular -- and keeping the others out from under foot."
"Bless her," I murmured. "She's good at that."
We both settled some in our seats, working our backsides until we were more comfortable.
"It must have been a night for dreams," I murmured, following my thoughts as they wandered down an odd path. "The fellow who built that rifle lost a leg here not too long ago. He said he dreamed he had a wooden leg that kept growin' branches and leaves."
Levi chuckled.
"Esther dreamed about that steam boat trip we took on our honeymoon."
I reached for my brandy, swirled it a little.
"Hell, I dreamed too."
Levi took a healthy tilt of his brandy so I got up and refilled him.
"I dreamed Firelands was all growed up.
"I dreamed the main street was all paved and smooth, no ruts nor bare dirt anywhere. My office was block stone like the hospital and it had glass doors."
"Glass doors?"
I nodded. "Big heavy things. I looked at those and wondered if Saint Peter wasn't a-runnin' the show but they had my star painted on 'em and I don't reckon Saint Peter's gates say SHERIFF across the front."
"Likely not," Levi said faintly, sipping his brandy again.
I frowned, trying to resurrect the dream from its gauzy confusion.
"We -- they -- used somethin' ... kind of a cross between the Black Maria and Esther's inspection car," I said. "They was metal and glass and no horse to move 'em so likely they powered with steam, and they had the six point star on the door and they said SHERIFF on 'em too ..." I shook my head.
"God help us if we get so soft we ride inside a box instead of on horseback like God intended!"
Levi nodded solemnly.
I think he was well enough oiled if I'd suggested dancing doxies on every rooftop wearing feather boas and singing songs about wooden water buckets he'd have nodded solemnly and agreed with me.
"I was still Sheriff, too."
Levi nodded again.
"I looked in a mirror and these pale eyes and my six point star looked back at me."
Levi nodded again.
I didn't tell him what else I saw in that dream-mirror.
In that dream I was a good lookin' woman in a short skirted blue dress, and I had that six point star on my lapel, my revolver handles were old and yellow and cracked, and that woman in the dream-mirror had a red whip-scar down her face.

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Linn Keller 3-14-13

 

Sarah was gifted with recognizing available resources, whether canine, human or material: she recruited the young to tend the younger, she managed and supervised diaper changes, using younger girls to tend even younger; babies were bathed, powdered, rocked, fed as needed and as appropriate, with designated nursemaids for that purpose: Alfdis, in particular, was delighted to sit back and relax a little, and watch Sarah marshal her little army with the efficiency of a veldtmarschall.
When things were calm, when Alfdis had both Esther and Linn's twins to breast, when Sarah was able, she slipped back out and joined the feminine hive swarming and buzzing about Bonnie, and to her surprise, Sarah found herself a center of attention as well: in such a nexus of feminine power, language became ... not indelicate, but rather less circumspect: not really coarse, but perhaps overly feminine, and ... explicit.
The ladies considered it their bounden duty to educate Sarah in the ways of men, but slyly, for an overt discussion would be an insult to Bonnie's education of a daughter: still, innuendo, double entendre and the implied-though-not-stated began to butter the bread, so to speak, and rather a thick layer at that.
Finally Sarah put two fingers to her lips and whistled, a sharp, piercing note more suited for the outdoors: shocked, the ladies stopped, turned, looked at Sarah with wide, surprised eyes.
"NOW LOOK!" Sarah shouted into the silence, glaring about her: her eyes were distinctly pale, but not completely so, and the whip-scar began to glow down across her face: "I KNOW GIRLS TALK AND I KNOW YOU ARE EXPERIENCED TO A GREATER DEGREE THAN I, BUT I BELIEVE I KNOW THE MAIN POINTS ABOUT MEN, SO PLEASE STOP TIPPY TOE-ING AROUND THE SUBJECT!"
Sarah planted her hands on her hips and glared in a full circle round about, then continued.
"I FOUND OUT ABOUT MEN AND LUST WHEN I WAS FAR TOO YOUNG AND YOU KNOW THIS. SINCE THAT TIME I LEARNED THAT NOT ALL MEN ARE BRUTES AND NOT ALL MEN ARE SAVAGES, BUT I LEARNED ONE CONSTANT ABOUT ALL MEN AND I BELIEVE IT TO BE TRUE!"
Sarah took a long breath, looking from eye to eye to eye, closed her eyes and shivered: she opened them again, and her eyes were darker, calmer.
"The expression on a man's face," Sarah said, as if lecturing a class, "is the same when he is lustful, as when he is hungry."
The ladies stopped and blinked and looked at one another; mouths fell open here and there, there were scattered nods, and Sarah turned to Bonnie, the imp of mischief dancing in her glittering eyes:
"Just think, Mother," she said innocently, "you could have just fed Levi that night and we wouldn't be here like this!"
Daisy giggled, Tillie snorted, Bonnie turned red and started to laugh: the laughter was contagious, and Sarah held up her hands, turning, waving down the mirth: it was obvious she had something else to say.
"We are really here for my mother," she said, a little louder than the schoolmarm-lecture voice. "I know you wish to invest me with your expertise in other matters, especially as I am now engaged, and yes there are things you know that I'd like to learn, but please stop dancing around." Sarah lowered her hands to her hips again.
"When we speak to Mother about her gravid condition, we have the courtesy to speak in plain language, that there be no mistake."
Sarah's expression now was sharp, challenging.
"Now unless you wish to be equally frank about men, and unless you wish to discuss in plain language the merits of yanking down a man's smallclothes with both hands versus pulling them off with your teeth, I'm not interested. Either plain language, ladies, or not at all!"
Later that night Bonnie took Sarah's face in gentle hands and whispered "Thank you."
Sarah nodded and Bonnie marveled at how tall her daughter had gotten; Sarah was eye-level with Bonnie, and neither of them in heels, and Sarah was beginning to look womanly.
"I didn't like their language," Sarah whispered. "They were supposed to be here for you, Mama. Not me. I didn't ... I don't ..."
Sarah looked away, blushing with shame.
"Mama, I don't want them to not be ladies."
She looked back at Bonnie; her ears were red, the whip-scar scarlet on her cheek, her expression one of distress.
"Mama, they are all such ladies, why can't they stay that way?"
Sarah leaned into her Mama and hugged her, tight, tight.
"You are a lady, Mama. You have never, ever failed to be a lady. I want to be a lady too."
Bonnie's arms held Sarah tight and she wet her lips, not really sure what to say.
Sarah leaned back a little, caressed her Mama's cheek.
"You are a Lady, Mama. I want to be as much a lady as you are."
Bonnie hugged Sarah again, hard, hard. "You are, sweets," she whispered. "You are!"
"I learned it from you," Sarah whispered back, and Bonnie's embrace tightened just a little more.

Little Joseph ran, buck naked, out the front door, laughing; he wore his hat and his boots and a delighted expression: Jacob followed with his eyes, ready to laugh, and Annette glared at her long tall husband, lips pressed together in disapproval.
"It's all your fault," she snapped. "He learned that from you!"
"Me?" Jacob protested, trying to look innocent. "I never ran naked outside!"
Annette shook her finger at Jacob, solding "Oh yes you did! Several times as I recall!"
"If I remember rightly," Jacob replied, memory bright in his eyes, "you ran out first and I chased you down."
"Yes you did, Jacob Keller, and you should be ashamed of yourself!" Annette declared.
Jacob swept up to his wife, took her about the waist with his hands and looked deep into her lovely dark eyes.
"Mrs. Keller," he murmured, his voice thick with lust, "have I told you what a good lookin' woman you are?"
Annette pushed at him. "Jacob Keller," she snapped, "you get that little boy in here and you do it before he catches his death of the live-forevers!"
Joseph came running in, shut the door behind him, puffing like he was trying to blow up a paper sack with no bottom.
Jacob picked up his laughing son, swatted him gently on his chilly, bare bottom and packed him off to the bunk: he divested his son of what little he wore, got him into his long flannel nightshirt and tucked him into his bed.
Jacob walked quietly out of his son's bedroom, smiling a little, and Annette seized his face, planted hers on his: Jacob, not easily surprised, adapted to this new development, returning her enthusiastic kiss: his arms were strong, hungry, and she molded herself against him, fingers busy at the back of his neck.
"We went to Bonnie's tonight," Annette whispered.
Jacob stopped her words with his lips, pulling her into him, and Annette hummed a little with pleasure.
When they came up for air Annette said "Sarah made a suggestion," and reached down to Jacob's belt buckle.
"I would like to try something and see how you like it."
Later that evening as they lay in one another's arms, glowing and still sweating a little, Annette rolled over and lay her head on her husband's furred chest: she heard his heart, steady, strong and regular, within the stone-ribbed enclosure of his rib cage, and she remembered how comforting it was as a little girl to listen to her Daddy's heart beat, when he would pick her up and hold her.
"I think," she whispered, "I like Sarah's method."

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Linn Keller 3-14-13

 

"That'll be enough," Tom Landers barked.
When the man turned, gun in hand, Landers' hands moved faster than the eye could follow: it was as if he clapped them together, but when he pulled them back, he had the man's gun and the man's hand was bloodied, his wrist and finger bloodied and broken.
Jackson Cooper had good ears and Jackson Cooper had perfect pitch, and Jackson Cooper's voice was a welcome addition to Sunday worship, for his singing was easy to follow, clear to understand, the man had the gift of sight reading music, but this morning Jackson Cooper's ear was not tuned to music, nor his thoughts to adoration of the Almighty.
Jackson Cooper heard a voice from inside the Silver Jewel, and though he could not make out the words, he knew the tone of voice, then he heard Tom Landers' raised voice and he reached for the front door.
Tom Landers stepped back, quickly, men drawing back from the bar: his face was hard as his eyes as he set the injured man's pistol on the bar.
"Anyone else?" he asked, his voice surprisingly mild, as Jackson Cooper slid in the front door, glaring, his very expression a weapon.
Jackson Cooper paused, his back to the wall, the doorway to his right and the stairs on his left: he stood, he listened, he watched.
Tillie blinked; she was seated behind the hotel's counter and she still wasn't sure exactly what happened: she stood, turning, looking toward the bar.
Mr. Baxter was half bent over, putting his double gun back under the bar where he kept it ready to hand: casually, as if nothing was out of the ordinary, he picked up the pistol, polished the bar under it, laid it back down and looked around.
"Another beer?" he asked one of the men who'd abandoned his mug when things got active, and the fellow looked from Landers to the cursing, bleeding fellow who gripped his injured wrist with his uninjured.
Jackson Cooper moved, quick, silent: he came around the corner of the bar and seized the injured man by the back of the neck: he grabbed the fellow fast, hard and sudden, dragging him back and toward the front door.
"Come on," he muttered, "let's get that wrist taken care of."
Tom Landers never moved as the prisoner began to protest, then to yell as Jackson Cooper hauled him outside: the old ex-lawman's eyes swept the room, swept back, then he reached over and picked up the pistol.
"I'll be right back," he said, and headed for the front door.

"Did you enjoy your visit?" the Sheriff asked as he swung Angela down from saddle to schoolhouse steps.
Angela gripped her Daddy's coat sleeve, swinging easily as she always did, and as she let go of his arm she looked up and wrinkled her nose.
"Daddy," she said, "there were lots of babies there."
The Sheriff nodded. "I reckon there were, Princess."
"Daddy?" Angela asked, tilting her head a little to the side. "Was I one of those?"
The Sheriff's eyes smiled and he leaned over, crossing forearms over his saddle horn.
"Were you ever ... what?"
"Was I one of those?" Angela repeated. "You know. A baby. Little."
The Sheriff nodded. "I reckon you were, dear heart." He grinned at his little girl. "I'd say you were a good lookin' little thing too!"
"Am I good lookin' now?" Angela asked, putting a finger to her bottom lip, twisting back and forth to flare her skirt.
The Sheriff straightened, then dismounted, stepped up to his little girl and went to one knee.
"Princess," he whispered, taking both her little hands in both his big Daddy-hands, "you are a good lookin' sort!"
Angela giggled as her Daddy's must-tash tickled her ear, then he kissed her cheek and hugged her.
"Now scoot," he whispered, standing, and he saw the door was open and Sarah stood there, her hands folded, eyes shining approvingly behind her round schoolmarm spectacles.
The Sheriff removed his Stetson.
"Miss Sarah," he greeted her formally.
"Sheriff," she replied, and he saw the smile behind her lenses, then he saw her lips curl a little at the corners and he knew she was about to whip one right on him.
"Am I a good lookin' sort too?" she asked, and the Sheriff stepped up one, then two steps, until they were eye to eye.
His curled finger was gentle under her chin and she saw almost a sadness in his eyes.
"Sarah," he whispered, "you are a beautiful young woman, and that Welshman had damned well better realize it every day he draws breath!"
Sarah blinked a few times, quickly, and she cleared her throat.
"Daddy?" she asked, and the Sheriff froze in mid-step.
She'd never called him that before.
His face was serious and one eyebrow rose a little.
"I still want you to walk me down the aisle," she whispered, her voice a little ragged, as if it were difficult for her to talk all of a sudden.
The Sheriff nodded, waiting: the lawman in him knew there was more to come, and his experience told him to allow the spontaneous confession, as it would be admissible in a court of law.
"I want Uncle Charlie to ..."
Sarah looked away, biting her bottom lip -- just like Bonnie, the Sheriff thought -- then she blinked quickly and cleared her throat.
"I want both of you to walk me down the aisle," she squeaked.
"I don't know as the aisle is wide enough for three abreast," the Sheriff said mildly, "but we don't have to have the weddin' in the church."
Sarah shook her head. "No. It has to be there." She took a long breath, looked up at the high mare's-tails overhead.
Sarah pressed her lips together, looked down, looked back up at the Sheriff.
"He taught me something," Sarah said, and the slender lawman with the iron grey mustache saw how her hands clasped tightly at her waist: "he taught me that I can't save the world, and I can't do everything good I want to."
Sarah looked away again and her father could see the genuine pain in her expression.
"I love him," she whispered. "He means so much ..."
The Sheriff knew young eyes watched from the windows and older eyes as well, and at the moment he did not care.
He gathered his daughter into his arms and whispered "I know, Princess. I know he does. He means that to me too."
He felt Sarah shiver a little, and she looked up at her tall, strong, reassuring Daddy.
"Do you want Charlie to walk you down the aisle too?" she whispered, and the Sheriff, caught flat footed, began to chuckle, then he hugged his little girl to him again and threw his head back and laughed.
Angela stood in the middle of the aisle, looking back at the doorway, then she turned to Emma Cooper, frowning a little.
"Will I be like that?" she asked, her young voice loud in the schoolroom's hush, and Emma laughed a little and squeezed Angela's shoulders with motherly hands.
"We'll just have to find out, won't we?" she said quietly, and Angela looked up at her, wrinkling her nose a little.
"Being grown up is comp-li-ca-ted," she said, nodding, sending her curls a-bounce about her cherubic face.

Jackson Cooper raised his chin in greeting as he came past the schoolhouse.
"I'll have a guest for the Crossbar Hotel," he said, "soon as Doc gets done with him."
The Sheriff backed up one step, turned, assessing the obviously injured fellow Jackson Cooper was hauling along by the back of the neck.
"I'll set out fresh flowers and change the bed sheets," he called cheerfully after the big Marshal, then he turned and nodded to the pretty young schoolmarm standing on the top step.
"Miss Sarah," he said, settling the Stetson on his head, then he swung into the saddle.
"Come on, Outlaw," he said mildly, "let's go fire up the stove. Got comp'ny comin'."

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Linn Keller 3-19-13

 

Air hissed out the touch hole as I thrust the ram rod slowly down the bore, pushing the spit patched ball down on top of a charge of triple-F.
Angela looked curiously at my warbag and horn, slung across my chest from opposite shoulders. She’d watched me shoot before, but never a rifle that loaded from the front end, and never one you had to prime, and I’d be willing to bet when I touched that front trigger and bang she went, why, it would be the first time she ever saw a flinch lock being fired.
My hands had eyes; I could have loaded and primed in full dark, so familiar was the exercise: even with this rifle I’d never shot before, this brand new to me rifle the Daine boys built, this masterwork in curly maple and octagon steel and silver furniture: I fetched out the ram rod and slid it back down its thimbles without looking, then brought the rifle up, almost tossing it up, catching it at its balance point and pulling the stopper out of the antler priming horn.
I’d traded for that little priming horn some time back, I admired the scrimshaw work on its polished butt end: a crossed tomahawk and knife, with feathers dependent: whoever did that work did really fine work and I probably offered the fellow more than it was worth, but I was satisfied and so was he so I reckon that’s all that counted.
I tapped the end of the priming horn against the pan, knocking out some priming powder, then stoppered the priming horn and slid it back into my possibles: I thumped the stock with the heel of my hand, settling the powder to my satisfaction, laying it up against the touch hole, but not into it.
Matter of fact I run a little whittled stick into the flash hole and made sure it was clear.
It had a good flint, freshly knapped, the battery piece was clean and bare and I’d tried it for spark, so no oil lay invisibly on its face to prevent a good spark shower when the cock fell.
I had my eye on a particular pile of horse apples.
Angela watched closely as I used two fingers to simultaneously fetch back that cock and the battery-piece, then I fetched back the set trigger with my middle finger and brought that rifle up to shoulder.
No, that’s not quite right.
I did not bring it to shoulder.
It kind of floated up, like a feather on a puff of breeze.
I held it in ag’in my upper arm, settling the crescent where the arm muscle tapered down a little, and taken a sight on that pile of second hand horse feed.
The back sight was a finer notch than I liked but it was what I’d used on my old flint rifle all my life so I was used to it, and the front sight was a bright spark settling on the black and steaming pile.
Angela put her hands over her ears and tilted her head, plainly curious about this funny looking riffle I had up to shoulder.
I sighed out my breath and that front sight set dead steady and I eased my finger back a little, just felt the trigger, and when the sight was right where I wanted it, pressed that trigger ever so light …
A flint lock, properly tuned, is as fast as anything else and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
When the hammer fell and she flashed up in front of my good eye it sounded like sn’BAM and I just saw the splatter before smoke rolled up and blocked it from view.
I held for a moment, then brought the crescent off my arm and lowered the rifle slowly, setting the silver crescent over my boot like I always did, and Angela, big-eyed, blinked and offered a quiet, admiring “Ooooh!”
I brought up that powder horn and smiled at the burnt in lettering, done at my request when I made me a horn to replace the one that I’d lost, or maybe it got stolen, I was never sure: in regular, squared characters, a couple lines of doggerel which suited me:
I, Powder, and Brother, Ball,
“Hero-like, do conker all.”

Inside the end plug was something no one would ever see.
I’d wrote in it the words my Pa wrote in the end plug of the horn he made me, many years ago, when I was just a lad with my first rifle:
Linn Keller
His Horn

He’d written the date and damned if I could recall when that was, so I did not put a date in it, but once I got it all fitted up proper and glued in nice and tight and then pegged in with brass nails, I waxed its joint to make double sure it was water proof.
I’d done this with salt horns in the past to good effect and it worked well, it kept the salt from taking water and caking too bad, but a salt horn I made so the end could be taken out if need be.
Angela never offered a word as I stood there wool gathering.
I fetched out the ram rod and blew a long breath through it -- the bar'l, not the ram rod -- then I charged it again using the horn tip powder measure while I chewed on a strip of shirt front linen I tied to my war bag strap.
Them what is well chawed flies truer to the mark.
I set the ball and sliced through the spit patch with a patchin’ knife I kept in a little sheath on my warbag strap and I run that down on top of the powder, I fetched it up with a kick and a catch and half cocked and primed and brought it to shoulder and sn’BAM and another road apple kind of disappeared off that pile, for I picked the shot and she shot true.
I must have spent an hour out there with that rifle – “riffle,” as Angela called it, and I laughed and agreed with her – and finally went both allowed as we’d had enough fun for one day and headed back toward the house.
I carried that flint rifle balanced in my good right hand and Angela’s little hand gripping my left hand and I don’t recall feeling quite that content in a very long time.

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Linn Keller 3-19-13

 

Snowflake shivered under Sarah’s reassuring hands.
Whispering, she steadied the big mare as the ore train came near.
The black Baldwin, hissing, thrusting hard against the load it carried, was a frightening enough sight; steam hissing from the pop-off, plus the barking chant from its exhaust, and the black Frisian walled her eyes and leaned a little, as if to whirl and run.
Sarah’s hands and Sarah’s knees and Sarah’s whisper held her in place, though Sarah felt her mount's tremors plainly.
Sarah waited until the train was past, making Snowflake stand for its length: cars groaned and squeaked, the rails and ties sagged a little as each pair of steel trucks passed over, then eased back up to level as the weight came off them; Sarah waved at the caboose, and an anonymous hand, barely seen through winter-fogged glass, waved back, and the train retreated up-grade, fighting gravity on its way to the stamping mill.
Sarah sat and waited until the train was out of sight before easing Snowflake into a walk.
She turned the midnight mare, walked her over to the tracks.
Snowflake shied, throwing her head, voicing her discontent.
Sarah never moved: she might as well have been carved of ebony herself, for she too wore black that evening: she turned the mare back to the tracks, eased her ahead one step, another, until she was nose over the shining steel rail.
Sarah talked constantly now, her voice quiet, reassuring, telling Snowflake the rail would not move, it would not bite her, it was all right: Snowflake turned her head, looking down track, looking where the train had gone: she shook her head again and snorted, then pawed at the rail.
Sarah nudged her ever so slightly and Snowflake stepped up onto the tracks, then down the other side, switching her tail.
“Snowflake,” Sarah whispered, “the other rails are over here. I need your help with these.”
Sarah looked up as The Lady Esther came in view a mile distant, the lighter chant of the passenger locomotive echoing against distant granite: unlike the Baldwin freight engine, The Lady Esther was … well, she was far more elegant than the bulky, black, single minded design of the freight engine. Her wheels were a little bigger, a disadvantage on the grade, but as she pulled much less tonnage, the difference was negligible: in fact, her times over the same distance were a little better, in spite of less leverage with each piston-thrust.
“Stand, girl,” Sarah soothed the mare, and Snowflake froze, watching the oncoming engine.
Sarah felt her begin to tremble again.

Tom Landers brought the prisoner’s supper to him.
It was still hot, still a good eatin’ temperature: Tom was a fair man and he knew the prisoner was one handed and would be for some time, until that broken wrist healed, so he had Daisy’s girl cut the meat up fine and butter the bread before she loaded it on the tray, a nicety the prisoner would very likely never note nor appreciate, but Landers did it for the simple reason that it was a decent thing to do.
Landers set the tray down on the knife scarred table outside the cell and poured a shot of something kind of milky into a shot glass.
“What’s that?” the fellow asked, cradling his plaster cast.
“Pain killer,” Landers grunted. “Slows down the bowels so you’ll want to drink all your coffee. I’ll fetch you some water. Drink all you can, you don’t want plugged up.”
“No,” the fellow agreed, turning his head away: “no, don’t want that.”
Landers slid the tray under the door, handed the coffee cup between the bars.
“Thank’ee kindly,” the fellow said, taking the coffee, then he set it down on the floor and picked up the shot glass from the tray, slugged it down, then struggling a little, picked up the tray, bracing it with his casted-up hand.
Landers waited a moment, then headed back out.

Nothing to it, Sarah thought.
Match speed and jump. Just like jumping from a standing-still horse to the depot platform.
I’ve done it before.
Nothing to it.

Sarah watched The Lady Esther approach, waved at the engineer: she grinned at the gloved hand thrown up in greeting, and as Snowflake backed up two steps and stopped, she again caressed her neck, murmuring to her.
The passenger car was half full of miners, as it usually was; none waved, few even looked her way: those that did would see only a black rider on a black horse in the gathering dusk.
Sarah saw the flatcar, tensed a little – she had but to turn Snowflake, get her up to speed –
No.
Sarah leaned back in the saddle a little and Snowflake, responsive to the change in weight, backed obediently.
Sarah sat up a little and Snowflake stopped.
Sarah was shivering now, eyes big, her breath coming fast as she saw through the eyes of memory, saw her walk through hell –
Sarah saw herself, defying the Dark, looking right and looking left and seeing herself far in the distant past and through the now and to the future.
I don’t know why, but I matter, she thought.
What am I?
I am nothing.
I am nobody.

Sarah felt the ghost of a hand on her shoulder and heard a voice that wasn’t there, a familiar growl that said “Girl, I never met anyone who wasn’t important one way or another.”
Sarah opened her eyes, breathing hard, then she rubbed her eyes.
What am I even doing here? she thought.
I know I can jump onto that flatcar.
I can even dismount at speed.
I’ve done it before.
Why do it again?

Sarah opened her eyes and whispered the answer aloud.
“Because I am afraid,” she admitted, her voice shivering a little.

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Charlie MacNeil 3-19-13

 

"An' about damn time, too," the voice growled again, and again the unseen hand descended. "Anybody who says he or she ain't ever been afraid either hasn't ever done nothin', or is a damn liar." Sarah shivered again, and spoke.

"But I've never..." she began, fully realizing that it was probably just as well that she had no living audience who would most likely vote for her incarceration in the nearest loonie bin had she been seen carrying on an apparently solo conversation with the open air. She paused, then began again. "I've never let it stop me before."

"The onliest thing it stopped this time was you bein' a damn fool," the familiar voice continued. "You know what you can do, there ain't nobody out here to see you, and no big bet on the outcome, so why get yourself hurt for no better reason than to try to prove you ain't afraid of anything? Dang, girl, I thought I taught you better. You got a big future ahead of you, don't be messin' it up now. Give it a chance to happen." The weight lifted from her shoulder. "Think of the future..." the voice faded into the evening breeze, and Sarah pulled her cloak tighter about her shoulders.

"Thank you," she whispered as she kneed Snowflake back toward home, wondering if she was indeed ready for commitment to an asylum of some sort. Sometimes she was fairly certain that she was. After all, who carried on conversations with people who weren't there, except crazy people? On the other hand, the voices did have some dang good ideas sometimes...

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Linn Keller 3-20-13

 

I kissed Esther and stroked the twins’ hair before heading for the front door.
I did not know what was going on but I knew I was needed.
I picked the double gun off the rack before reaching for the door knob: I drew back my hand, then pulled open the gun rack drawer and grabbed a handful of swan shot cartridges.
I put them in my right hand coat pocket.
Settling the hat on my head, I looked at my reflection and thought, God Almighty, don’t let me be goin’ to war.

Sarah turned Snowflake back toward town, back toward home, walking her, looking around as the moon threw a nimbus arc over the horizon.
Halo around the moon, Sarah thought.
More snow.
She smiled ironically.
Of course snow. It’s March. It’s winter.
What did I expect?

Sarah sighed, turning her head a little, studying the shadows as she rode.
He thought he taught me better, Sarah thought bitterly.
He never taught me to handle …
How to handle what?
Being a woman?
No.
What he taught me, I can apply –
To what?
Being a meek submissive little housewife, a good obedient –
That’s not fair
, she interrupted herself.
I can apply what he taught me to anything --
The hair stood up on the back of Sarah’s neck and she spun Snowflake.
Sarah went in half a second or less from relaxed and introspective, to ready to fight for her very life.
Sarah blinked, then kneed Snowflake hard and kicked her in the ribs.
“YAHHHH!” she yelled.
Snowflake didn’t need to be told twice.
The Frisian was bred at sea level for the express purpose of carrying armored knights into battle at a dead-out gallop.
Sarah knew high altitude is not the place to run a horse, but Snowflake was no usual Frisian, and she was long and well acclimatized to the thin air: Snowflake ran at first out of need, then in but a few moments, when muscles were warm and blood up and hot, she ran for the joy of running.
Snowflake was a dark line scribed across frost-white grass, Sarah leaning low over her, hands on either side of her neck, whispering “Run – run – run – run!” – until they were in the middle of a big meadow.
“Whoa, girl,” Sarah commanded.
Steel whispered from fleece-lined scabbard: Saran kicked one leg up, turned in mid-air, blade up and ready: her eyes were beyond pale, they burned red in the darkness, the whip-scar blazing on her fair skin as the lead wolf leaped for her throat.
Solingen steel flashed in the moonlight and the first wolf fell, cut in two, head tumbling and snapping in the moonlight, red blood gushing black as Sarah whirled, catching the second wolf in the same manner: she paused, blade spinning in a quick circle, her teeth bared: she thrust into a run, screaming, catching two with one slash and impaling a third: she reached behind her, brought out a left-hand dagger, spun, steel spinning faster than the eye could follow: the blaze of her eyes, the cold silver arcs of hard-swung steel, gave the scene a light not of this earth.
The fight was over in less than five seconds: with three dead and two more badly injured, the pack broke off its attack: Snowflake was long out of pursuit range as Sarah turned, growling, then charged the remaining pack members.
The other three wolves turned, ran: when the alphas were killed, their best fighters put down, when their quarry screamed and came at them with Death spinning about her, they wisely chose to break off hostilities.
Sarah was breathing harshly, growling a little with each breath, then she went to each of the carcasses and delivered a mercy-stroke to each, behind the shoulder and through the heart, snarling with each vicious, precise thrust.
Sarah stood, steel sagging in her hand, until the blade’s tip kissed the frosted grass underfoot, then she turned, raising steel to sky, threw back her head and screamed a warrior’s challenge to the diamond-studded heavens.

I saw her maybe a quarter of a mile away.
I knew it was Sarah.
I could feel the fire that burned inside her.
It was hard frosted already and Snowflake was a moving black streak coming right toward me.
I whistled her down and she broke her gallop, trotting over to me, blowing: I leaned well over and reached out and she let me rub her nose and she wasn’t bridled but she was saddled, so I said “Come on, girl,” and she followed me like a puppy, trotting along just about even with my shoulder, at least until I came out of the little depression and saw Sarah again.
I’d heard wolves and I’d heard Sarah scream and I knew that scream.
It was the same one I’d heard rip my own throat raw.
I knew that raw throat and I knew that battle joy and I knew how much I loved the terrible moment when I was decided to fight for my very life, when every other care and concern fell away and all of Creation and all of Eternity was distilled into one bright moment and one course of action, and I knew what it was to lose myself in that joyous abandon of warfare, when no doubt remained anywhere and every gun on the ship was turned to face the enemy.
Sarah was standing wide-legged, arms overhead, and I saw steel in the moonlight and I saw something red where he face should be, as if her eyes were afire, and a streak of living fire down across her face.
I blinked, looked again, and they were gone, but I remembered what I’d just heard …
I remembered a cold night in Tennessee when we were jumped: outnumbered, we fought like two hells, every man Jack of us, until it was belt buckle to belt buckle, everyone was shot out and no time to reload and it was bayonet and rifle butt and knuckles and butcher knife and I and we three had our backs to one another, backed up onto a bare knob: all three of us were cut, all three bloodied, all but me was shot at least once but we were still on our feet and fighting.
Like most fights it lasted a year but was over before we realized it.
We three stood crouched a little, blades in hand, teeth set, and then we realized the fight was over and we’d survived.
We straightened slowly and we raised steel to the heavens and threw back our heads and we felt our chests swell and the three of us screamed defiance to the heavens, shaking bloodied blades at the lofty moon.
I blinked, shaking my head, dismissing the memory.
Sarah was there and she needed me.

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Linn Keller 3-20-13

 

Sarah looked up as her Papa walked his mare toward her.
She raised her blade before her in salute.
The Sheriff dismounted, ground-reining his red Cannonball, and gravely returned her salute.
He looked around at the steaming, unmoving carcasses.
“Report,” he said, as if a superior officer.
Sarah swallowed hard.
“I need to clean my blades,” she said a little unsteadily. “Snowflake, come.”
Snowflake walked over to her, bobbing her head, and Sarah leaned her forehead against the mare’s neck.
“Stand,” she said, reaching into a saddle bag: she pulled out a rag of some nature, pulled off her canteen, laid her blades on the ground and soaked down the rag.
Sarah wiped down the main-gauche first, rinsing water down its length, then wiping it: she did the same with her bastardo: less than a hand-and-a-half, longer hilted than a one-hand sword, it was perfect for her height and reach.
She laid the bloodied rag out as if to dry, retrieved another, carefully wiped dry each blade before the water froze: when both were dried to her satisfaction, she retrieved a small pouch, tugged at its drawstring, opened the bag’s neck.
“I learned this from the Japanese,” she said, dipping two fingers into the black leather bag’s interior: her fingertips were white when they came out, and she proceeded to rub each blade, carefully, thoroughly, for the entire length.
“Powdered limestone,” she explained. “As fine as Mama’s face powder. Any time I handle a blade I rub it down with this.”
I raised an eyebrow: she’d found something I didn’t know.
“Papa,” Sarah said, not looking up, “I’m scared.”
I looked around.
Cannonball was cropping grass; she was not troubled in the least, and Snowflake, likewise, was more interested in fodder than our surroundings: had there been a threat, the horses would know before I would.
I looked at the carcasses, looked closer.
I bent, then squatted.
The nearest carcass had no head.
“Good Lord,” I murmured.
“You can call me Sarah, we’re among friends,” Sarah said lightly.
I looked at her, surprised: I’d used that line time and again, and I found myself almost laughing when I heard it from her lips.
I leaned forward, hands on my knees, and pushed up: getting up from a squat was not as effortless as it had been when I was eighteen.
I went over to the other carcass.
It was horrendously cut … I know how much effort it takes to put a blade through living tissue, especially when using the edge and not the point.
I looked at Sarah with new respect.
“You had a time here,” I said.
“You could say that.”
She turned the blade over and dipped her fingers into the sack again.
She looked up, nodded.
“They came from that direction,” she said. “No howl. Nothing. I saw them come and I didn’t want to wind break Snowflake and end up with both of us dead anyhow, so I decided it was time to stand and fight.”
I nodded.
“For all things there is a season, eh?”
I nodded again. “So I’ve been told.”
Sarah glanced up, then resumed rubbing her blade with the powder-fine limestone.
“I caught the leader coming in, turned and caught the second. I knew my first two strokes …”
She paused, frowning, trying to put her meaning in words.
She stepped back, getting a little distance; she drew the pouch closed, tucked it back into her off saddlebag, then stepped out away from me.
“The first one came in from there – so –“
Sarah swung the sword, slowly, and I could see her body respond, I could see how she drew her power out of the earth and focused it through her diaphragm and through the shining edge of her blade.
She spun, swung again, and I could see how she maintained momentum with a turn, instead of a chop and a stop and another chop: she made one fluid turn, two deadly cuts, presented the point for a third.
I saw grace, I saw beauty, I saw smoothness and precision and I saw death itself in a straight-blade ballet.


We walked for a little, together, holding hands.
“I wanted to think,” Sarah said quietly.
Frost-brittle grass crunched under our boots; the horses followed docilely.
“What about?” I prompted.
Sarah stopped, threw her head back, eyes closed.
She took a long breath, blew her steam toward the stars.
“What am I?” she asked, turning to look at me.
Even in the dim light I could see the trouble worrying her pretty face.
“Am I just a link in some great cosmic chain, a stepping stone for my bloodline?” She looked at me … beseechingly, I think … and asked, “Is there nothing more?”
“Tell me what you were doing before you rode out here in the meadow.”
“I was” – Sarah dropped her eyes. “I wanted to see something.”
“You wanted to see if you had the guts to jump on a flatcar again.”
She looked sharply at me.
I put a fingertip against her lips.
“I’m a Daddy,” I said quietly. “It’s my business to know something about my little girls, even when they keep surprising me.”
Sarah nodded; I withdrew my finger.
“How did … how …?”
“Never mind that. Tell me why you wanted to jump the flatcar.”
“I wanted … I wanted to see …”
She shivered a little and I gathered her into me.
“Papa, I was scared.”
“Are you still?”
“No,” she said, squeezing me tight. “Not as long as you hold me.”
It was my turn to take a long breath.
“Did you jump the flatcar?”
“No.”
“Why not?” I asked gently.
“It wasn’t necessary.”
“You realized that.”
Sarah nodded, then shook her head, frowning.
“No. No, that’s not right.”
I nodded her a go-ahead.
“I was afraid.”
“Go on.”
“Papa, I saw… when I was … I went through the mountain …”
I nodded again. “Go on.”
“Papa, I saw … I saw me in the past … I saw my blood in ages past …”
“You saw yourself as a warrior-maiden in many ages.”
Sarah’s eyes snapped to mine, wide, surprised.
“You saw yourself, always a fighter, always the strong one, always the one to stand against the enemy.”
Sarah’s mouth opened a little.
“You didn’t see everything.”
Sarah blinked.
“You didn’t see the wife and the mother, you didn’t see the teacher and the caregiver. All you saw was a facet of yourself. One facet. You saw the reflection of what you were in that moment, when you were what you had to be.”
I saw confusion in her eyes as she looked at the memory again.
“Papa … I saw myself as I will be.”
I nodded.
“Just not in this lifetime.”
I smiled a little.
“Papa, I saw …” Sarah swallowed, then she reached up and turned my lapel over and ran fingertips over my badge – “Papa, I wore this, and I wore your pistols and I stepped out of your office and the doors were glass and heavy and it was stone instead of logs but it’s in the same place and I was the Sheriff, Papa, and I saw me draw your pistols and cock them and invite someone to come right on and try me if they thought they had it in them –“
Sarah stopped, took a steadying breath.
“And I saw selves beyond that, Papa, fantastic things yet to come, and I was part of it.”
She closed her eyes, sorted out her thoughts.
“Papa, if I am just a link in the chain – my – you asked what I was thinking.”
I nodded.
“If I am just a vessel, a link, then I should hide somewhere and go nowhere and do nothing, just hide from the world so I don’t get hurt or killed and raise children and hope one of them will live long enough to pass my blood on to whoever … to whatever next generation … but Papa, I don’t have any control over that.”
Sarah’s hands gripped my upper arms and I could hear anguish stressing her voice.
“Papa, all I can do is take care of me. I can’t … my children, I can’t –“
“I know,” I soothed, stroking her hair: I leaned down and kissed her forehead.
“We can’t live our children’s lives. Much as we’d like to keep them safe and provided for as long as we draw breath, we can’t. They grow up and they move on and all we can do is hope we gave them a good start.”
“What should I do, Papa?” Sarah whispered. “Should I bow my head and say ‘Kismet’ and let cruel fate play with me like a cat with an injured mouse?”
Her voice was hard as she asked the question.
“No, Sarah,” I murmured. “No, you live your life by your own rules and apologize to no one for it. Trust in God and all will be well.”
I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her close again and I felt her nod as she leaned against me.
Sarah was sniffing a little and about an inch and a half from crying.
The right thing to do would have been to hold her and let her cry, let her be a little girl in her Daddy’s arms.
I was selfish.
I couldn’t do that.
I tasted the echoes of her rage, I smelled the nectar of her fury.
There is no more intoxicating posset in all of Creation than the righteous fury of a warrior, hard pressed, who takes weapon in hand and charges into battle armored with the knowledge that he is utterly, absolutely, in the RIGHT! – and Sarah knew its taste, and I felt the rage build within me and try as I might, dear God! I tried! – but the rage grew and I too felt the red fires of war claim my blood.
Sarah felt the heat radiate from me like I’d suddenly lit a fire behind my wish bone: she pulled back, startled, and I saw the fear in her eyes, for I know my own eyes were bone-white and likely glowing.
I’d been told that happened, when the war-rage was on me.
Sarah reached up and slapped the flat of her hand, hard, on my breast bone and threw her head back, her eyes half-closed, her lips half-open, the very image of a woman drunk with lust.
I managed to damp myself down -- I could not do it for me – but when I saw what my inferno was doing to my little girl, I seized the rage and threw it from me, slung it into the cold night where it died almost instantly.
Sarah bared her teeth and snarled, her eyes red, blazing like two railroad lanterns, the whip-scar a scarlet blaze across her face: it took her a moment but she, too, grabbed her rage with both hands and slung it across the frosted meadow.
We stood there and shuddered and I was damp and starting to chill: I looked at Sarah and she looked at me and she looked normal and I reckon I did too.
“What was that?” Sarah half-gasped, half-whispered.
“The Rage,” I coughed. “It comes on me in battle.” I shook my head. “It is not a good thing.”
“’You must control your passions’,” Sarah quoted.
I nodded.
“We did,” I wheezed, bending over, bracing my palms on my bent knees. “We both did.”
“I like it,” Sarah whispered, licking her lips. “I like … its taste.”
I nodded.
“There’s no ride like the Adrenalin Stallion,” I agreed, not quite trusting my voice: I coughed, spat, coughed again. “It’s like strong drink or opium. I want to go back to it.”
Sarah nodded, reached up, grabbed the shoulder of my coat.
“Papa,” Sarah whispered urgently, “I was considering whether I should be a meek little housewife. I don’t want to do that. I want to be me. I don’t want to stop riding hard and I don’t want to stop being an Agent.”
“Then don’t,” I said bluntly.
Sarah shook her head. “No – no, Papa, you don’t –“
Sarah pushed me impatiently away, turned, walked away: she drew the bastardo, slashed viciously through the air a couple times, turned.
“Why the wolves?” she asked, her voice clear, untroubled … but cold, cold and analytical. “Why the wolves and why at that moment?”
I walked up to my little girl, looked down at her features, bleached into a pale mask in the washed-out light of the rising moon.
“What wolves?” I whispered.
Sarah quirked an eyebrow, then looked down, looked around.
She cocked the sword over her shoulder, reached back with her left hand and brought the main-gauche into guard, the long-bladed dagger shining and slender and very silver.
“Where are they?” she hissed, turning, eyes working over the frosted ground.
“I stood here – I received their charge here – I struck here, here, here” – she followed her foot-marks, mashed into the fragile frost – “I killed … they were … “
Sarah looked at me, her eyes big and frightened.
“Papa, what happened?”
“Do you know,” I asked quietly, “why war is so terrible?”
Sarah shook her head.
“It is so terrible because if it weren’t, we might grow too fond of it.”
Sarah tilted her head a little, curious.
“Do you remember how good it felt when the Rage was upon you?”
Sarah’s eyes closed, then opened, and she nodded.
“It feels the same to me. It feels good, Sarah. There is no feeling like it, when you know you are right, and you are free to make right without restriction or limit!”
Sarah nodded again.
“What could be more right than preserving your own life, when set upon by ravening Death itself?”
“Then I created them?”
“No.” I shook my head. “No, my dear. The Almighty does not cause us misfortune but He is not a’tall bashful to use misfortune that hits us, to teach a lesson.”
Sarah looked around again.
“No tracks. Nothing … they came from this direction, a pack should …”
“Should leave sign, yes. There is none.”
“A lesson.”
“Yes.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You asked a question: should you be a meek little mouse of a housewife, jumping up on a stool and standing up on your tippy toes with your petticoats all bunched up, screeching at a mouse on the floor, or should you scoop up your child in one arm, level out a pistol with the other hand and invite whoever it is to come right on, you’ll settle his hash?”
Sarah blinked.
“Oh, I’ve seen, Sarah. I've seen you. My Mama had the Second Sight and I have just enough of it to scare me. Men aren’t supposed to have it.”
“But you blow fire and stop blood with the Word.”
“Death is coming.”
“Death comes for us all.”
“I know … but to the man it comes for, it’s just almighty personal.”
“You saw your own death?”
“No.”
Sarah sheathed her blades, laid a gentle hand on my cheek.
“Papa, what is it?”
“I will be given a choice.”
“A choice.”
Sarah’s eyes darted left, then right, looking from one to the other of my eyes, trying to find an answer beyond, or behind, my words.
“I will decide” – I swallowed and grief washed over my hot soul, chilling it and making me shiver – “I will decide who lives.”
“And … who dies?”
“Who gets killed.” I looked away; my voice was harsh. “I will … the murder will be mine” – I held up a hand, clawed fingers trembling in the pale light – “as surely as if I’d –“
I leaned my head back.
“The time is not yet, Sarah. Not yet. The crop is not ready for harvest, the grain is sown but sleeps in the earth, but in the fullness of season I will make a choice and then I will have to make another, and I will be utterly alone when I do.”
Sarah shoved herself against me, her eyes pale, hard.
“Not if I can help it,” she hissed.
“We’re talking about you, not me.”
“You’re going to kill me?”
“No.” I passed a hand over my face. “No. Back up now. The wolves.”
“What about the wolves?”
“You had to be shown.”
“Shown what?”
“Do you remember the Rage, just now, and you cast it from you?”
“Yes.”
“That.”
Sarah blinked, puzzled: she pulled her head back like a surprised little girl and I nearly smiled.
“I don’t understand.”
“Sarah.” My voice was a whisper again; I laid my hand against her cheek, feeling how chill it was: she leaned her face into my palm, closed her eyes, humming a little for the warmth in my palm probably felt good.
“Sarah, you can be the woman you’re becoming. You can be wife and mother and a proper lady and you can be just as whalebone-in-your-spine strong as you’ve always been. You can be the warrior you’ve always been when the need comes up. How long you’ll live and what-all you will do …”
I smiled.
“That’s up to you, dear heart.”
“What about you?”
“Now that question is deeper than it looks, ain’t it?”
Sarah nodded.
“Papa … will you sire more children?”
A sadness draped itself over me like a blanket.
“My children …”
I closed my eyes, hugged Sarah to me.
I wanted to feel life.
I wanted to feel her, alive, healthy, young, strong, the way she should be.
“Papa?”
Sarah hugged me again.
“Papa, why are you crying?”

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Linn Keller 3-21-13

 

I gathered up my feelin's and stuffed them down in a bottle and stove a cork in tight on top of 'em.
There would be time enough for feelin's later.
I blew my nose and give Sarah a wink and she knew I was lyin' to her -- you can tell a lie without words and I'm surprised God didn't hit me with a lightnin' bolt because I was doing my best to look like nothin' was wrong and that was a flat out lie -- anyway I picked up that rag Sarah used to clean off her blades and I did it when she was lookin' elsewhere and I stuffed it in my own saddle bag.
The rag was bloody.
Sarah was stirred up enough inside, I didn't need her a-puzzlin' any harder over what happened, and that spread-out wipin' rag didn't seem to occur to her.
We saddled up and headed for home and warmth.

Angela streaked toward the front door yelling "Daddeeee!" with the absolute abandon of a happy child and I reached down and snatched her up and swung her towards the ceiling.
Angela giggled and reached up and just barely touched the ceiling with one pink finger and I swung her down and kissed her forehead and said "How's my Princess?"
"Sawwah!" Angela exclaimed, delighted, and I handed her to Sarah, and Sarah laughed and hugged the little flannel enveloped bundle of wiggle and giggle.
I picked up Esther's hand and kissed her knuckles and then I hugged her too.
"The twins?" I whispered.
"Fed and abed," she whispered back.
"Good."
Esther laid a hand on my cheek.
"You're chilled. I'll have Mary make something."
"Tea, if you please," I murmured.
"Nothing for me, thank you," Sarah said uncertainly: Angela gave a disappointed little "Aaawww," and Esther and I both glared at her over non-existent spectacles and said "Sarr-aaahhh," in a warning tone, and Sarah's anxiety dissolved into laughter and she threw up her hands, shoulder high: "Oh, all right, if you simply must!"
We thawed out by the kitchen stove and drank tea and ate buttered bread, Angela in her chair, swinging her legs happily, at least until she kicked the underside of the table with her bare foot: you'd think she broke her leg plumb off in two or three places from the fuss she made.
I kissed her little foot and Sarah took it in her hands and studied it and finally allowed as she could fix it if I had a couple nails and some boards and maybe some good horse hoof glue and some string, which got Angela to giggling again, and finally once we got the chills chased enough, Sarah headed back for her place and I packed Angela upstairs and got her tucked back into her own bunk.

Sarah looked long at the Sheriff.
"You came for me," she said.
"I had to," the Sheriff said. "My little girl needed me."
Sarah nodded.
"Thank you, Papa."
The Sheriff lifted his hat, and Sarah turned Snowflake, and paced off into the frosted dark, and the Sheriff turned and went inside.
Sarah rode just out of sight of the house, then turned: she returned to the Sheriff's barn, slipping in its back door: his Beagle dog begged a petting, for he knew Sarah, and she fussed and made over him, and he wagged his tail and was happy: he followed her to the Sheriff's saddle and he watched happily, wagging his white tipped tail, as Sarah opened one saddlebag, then the other.
She removed a crumpled, frozen rag, stuffed it in her coat pocket, then went back out: she squatted and gave the Beagle dog a final ear rub and he wagged and licked her face, and she and Snowflake headed back out and set their course for the Rosenthal spread.
Sarah waited until she was in her bedroom, and the door closed, before striking a light and removing the frozen, balled-up cloth from her pocket.
She worked it out flat and held it up in the light.
Sarah's eyes went a little pale.
The rag was red with frozen blood.
"So it did happen," she whispered.
Sarah blew out her lamp, looked out the window.
She leaned against the window sill, her breath fogging the glass.
The white wolf sat at the edge of the fenceline, looking at her: it stood, yawned, and then trotted off, unconcerned.

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Linn Keller 3-21-13

 

The Welsh Irishman looked into the mirror behind the bar and took a slow draw on his beer.
The man beside him should have dined well, and wined himself wisely: instead, he dined wisely and wined himself very, very well: so well, in fact, that good sense was smoked out of his intoxicated skull and he decided he wanted to fight, and he decided he wanted to fight this quiet-spoken, red-shirted Irishman.
"Ya damned bog Irish are all alike," he muttered, swaying a little and glaring at the fireman: "ya come over with yer stink an' yer song an' ye do nothin' but drink an' fight."
The Welsh Irishman never said a word, he just took another slow pull on his beer.
It had been a long day and a hot and tiring day: Sean wanted an inventory of all their hose, whether laid on the rig, whether hanging in the drying tower, whether rolled and stored on the rack.
Every hose had to be brought out, every length stretched and inspected, every coupling and connection examined: the serial numbers they'd stamped into the brass couplers themselves, had to be compared to a master list; hose that showed wear was set aside to be tested or discarded: cycled-out hose would be sent back East, where the ends would be cut off and mounted on new hose, the old hose -- well, they didn't know what would become of the woven jacketed linen hose, and frankly they did not care: as long as they had good hose to work with, they didn't care if those damned Easterners cut old hose into ribbons and tied them into bows on city lamp posts.
The Welsh Irishman did the lion's share of the work; a rolled length of hose is not light, and he'd personally picked up and packed most of their inventory himself: hard work is hot work, hot work is dry work, and the Welsh Irishman was having his one beer before his meal.
At least that had been his intention.
Now he stood, one polished boot up on the gleaming brass foot rail, leaning against the smooth edged mahogany with one elbow, gripping the beer mug with his good right hand.
"Just look at you," Schlingermann sneered. "Ye're yella just like all yer kind."
Llewellyn took another slow pull on his beer.
The rest of the Brigade slowly drifted near; a look, the tilt of a head, and the German Irishman inquired of the reflection if he, Llewellyn, wished them to teach the ill mannered drunk the error of his way: Llewellyn's reflection looked back and shook its head, ever so slightly.
"You ain't got the decency t' work an honest job," Schlingermann slurred. "You ain't got th' guts t' fight, neither."
Llewellyn took a shallow pull on his beer.
"An' now you got th' sand t' put yer damned Irish hands on a good woman."
Llewellyn froze momentarily.
"You know what I hear?" Schlingermann said, his voice low, contemptuous: "I hear she's loose."
He nodded, sensing a change in the quiet Irishman.
"I hear she's so loose you have to tie a two-by-four across your backside fer a safety --"
The Welsh Irishman's muscled arm drove hard knuckles into the drunkard's face.
Even Sean was impressed by the punch.
One moment, Llewellyn was standing away from the bar a little, his right hand relaxed around the heavy glass beer mug's handle: the next, he was turned, his arm shot forward, and Schlingermann went over backwards, half-flying, half-sliding half the length of the bar.
Llewellyn opened and closed his hand a few times, then he turned back to his beer mug, picked it up and took another slow, unhurried sip.
The German Irishman walked over to the groaning form, seized an arm, rolled him over on his face: he took a good handful of material between the man's shoulder blades, twisted, gripped a handful of trouser material and picked him up by crotch and collar: he walked toward the door and Tom Landers slipped past him, paused with his hand on the door handle.
"OPEN THE DOOR," the German Irishman sang, hefting the starting-to-stir form: he paced toward the wall beside the door, counting aloud with each step, "ONE, TWO, THREE, CLOSE THE DOOR!" -- and heaved the man headfirst into the blank wall just inside the closed, fancy glass paned portals.
The building shook a little with the force of the impact.
The German Irishman grabbed an ankle and dragged Schlingermann back, then picked him up again.
"OPEN THE DOOR!" the Irish Brigade sang in chorus, and the German Irishman chanted, "ONE, TWO, THREE, CLOSE THE DOOR!" WHAM! and Schlingermann met again with the abrupt halt where his face stopped and the wall started.
The German Irishman grabbed an ankle again, dragged the drunkard back and hefted him up to belt buckle height once more.
"OPEN THE DOOR!" he shouted happily, "ONE! TWO! THREE!" -- and this time he swung Schlingermann a quarter turn, neatly heaving him down the steps and into the street, where he skidded maybe a foot before flopping limply to the ground.
Tom Landers shook his head, went back inside the Silver Jewel.
About half a minute later, the door opened and a hat scaled out and landed near the unmoving form on the frozen dirt street.
Landers stepped up to the bar and accepted a mug of coffee.
"Who was that?" the Welsh Irishman asked quietly.
"Froggie Schlingermann."
"Froggie?"
Tom Landers chuckled, sampled his coffee, nodded.
"Froggy. For the size of his mouth."
The Welsh Irishman nodded, sampled his beer again.

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Linn Keller 3-22-13

 

Sarah sat two pies on the Brigade's long table and straightened.
It was shortly before supper and she knew her good home baked pies would be welcome.
She also knew she had business with Mr. Llewellyn, and she knew the smell of good pie would bring the man a-floating through the air, drawn along nose-first with a dreamy smile on his face.
Llewellyn didn't come into the kitchen in quite that manner: instead, he walked in with his fellows, laughing, wiping his hand as best he could; Sarah saw his sleeves were turned up and wet in spots and she knew he'd just washed up for supper.
She also looked at the heavy plaster encasing most of his right hand.
The Brigade saw Sarah standing by the table: rough, loud and moderately profane good-fellowship turned instantly into respectful and decorous language, the Brigade swarmed around Sarah, inquiring as to her health and well-being, stating the attractive nature of her hair and her attire, and informing Llewellyn that he really should hurry up and marry this lass, for if she kept them supplied with pies, she was a firehouse wife of great value.
"Supper is not quite ready," Sarah said with a half-smile, and her expression wasn't the usual bright and cheerful they were used to seeing: she slipped a hand around Llewellyn's arm and murmured, "A word, good sir?" -- and the pair walked the short distance to the middle of the apparatus bay.
Sarah reached down and picked up Llewellyn's right hand, feeling the weight of the plaster, looked up at the discomfort in his eyes, knowing the discomfort was because he saw himself as diminished or weakened in his fiancee's eyes, and not due to physical pain from his injury.
"How bad?" Sarah whispered
"No' bad." Llewellyn reddened a little, looking away.
Sarah laid a warm, gentle hand on the man's clean-shaven cheek, feeling the little stubble there: "Why did you do it?"
Llewellyn's jaw hardened: Sarah felt the change in the man, felt the muscles bulge under her palm.
"I'll tell ye why," the German Irishman called, sauntering casually toward the two. "Miss Sarah, ol' Froggy said things to Lew here" -- he clapped a hand on Llewellyn's left shoulder, looking approvingly at his fellow -- "he said things that would make a chipmunk fight. Called him anything but decent." He looked from Llewellyn to Sarah.
"Do ye know wha' he did?"
Sarah looked at the plastered hand she was holding in both hers.
"No."
Sarah looked at the German Irishman, then at Llewellyn, her brows puzzling together for a moment.
"He did nothing. Just stood there and worked on his beer. Calm as anything. Why, you'd think he was St. Francis the Sissy!"
"That's Assissi!" the rest of the Brigade chorused and Sarah realized the Brigade had drifted out to almost surround them.
"Froggy kept talking like that. Kept saying things that painted the man wi' a most vile brush an' he just ignored th' drunk, just took another pull on 'is beer."
Sarah looked from the speaker to her husband-to-be, frowning a little.
"I'll no' repeat wha' he said, 'tis no' fit for a decent woman's ears."
Llewellyn's head came up a little and Sarah saw the color start in his face and she knew something just said, had been said there in the Jewel.
"Then the man spoke of you."
Sarah's head turned abruptly the few degrees it took to snap her eyes from Llewellyn's to the German's.
"I'll no' repeat that either."
Sarah took a long breath and swallowed hard, looking down at the man's plastered hand.
"How badly are you hurt?" she whispered through a dry throat.
"'Tis nothin'," Llewellyn said, looking away.
"Liar," Sarah said bluntly. "You don't cast nothing." She laid her hand against his cheek again, then around back of his head, pulling his face close to hers.
"You're hurt," she whispered. "Because of me."
Llewellyn's face darkened and Sarah saw anger in the man's eyes.
"Because o' him," he said quietly, and when a strong man in anger speaks in a quiet voice, it's time to give him some space, because he's containing energies best left untapped.
Sarah shook her head, looked down. "No," she whispered. "I can't ... no."
She looked at Llewellyn, her lovely young eyes vulnerable, bright. "I won't have you hurt because of me," she whispered, and then her eyes lightened and her voice hardened. "I won't have it. Tell me where he is."
"No."
Llewellyn's voice was flat, hard.
Sarah's eyes went pale and the stripe down her face stood out, red and angry.
"LOOK, YOU DOZY WELSHMAN, I'LL NOT LET ANYONE HURT MY HUSBAND!"
"AND I'LL NO' LET YOU GET YOURSEL' IN TROUBLE OVER ME!" Llewellyn shouted back, his voice echoing in the brick bay.
"I WON'T GET IN TROUBLE! I'LL SKIN THE SCOUNDREL ALIVE!" Sarah shouted.
"I'LL NOT HAVE MY WIFE SKIN A MAN IN PUBLIC!"
"THEN I'LL DRAG HIM TO THE LIVERY, HANG HIM UP ON A GAMBLING STICK AND SKIN HIM IN PRIVATE! HE HURT MY HUSBAND AND I'LL HAVE HIS SCALP!"
"YOU WILL DO NO SUCH THING!" Llwewellyn roared, his face gone from red to purple.
Welsh eyes glared into ice-pale eyes: Sarah was up on her tippy-toes, her face thrust into her fiancee's, they were nose to nose, each had their hands fisted -- well, Llewellyn's left hand was fisted, the other was still shelled in casting plaster -- and the two glared for a long moment, trembling a little.
"You," Sarah whispered, "are a hard headed man!"
"And you," Llewellyn whispered back, "are an infuriating woman!"
They each held their glare long moments more, until Llewellyn's resolve broke and his fury cracked and fell from his face, and Sarah's eyes darkened and she tried to stifle a laugh, and the Irish Brigade laughed and clapped one another on the shoulder as Llewellyn and Sarah gave themselves over to laughter, every bit as hearty as their fury had been the minute before.
Sean stepped up to the pair, gripped Sarah's arm in one hand and Llewellyn's in the other, and when he could talk without sniggering, said with a grinning face, "I'll no' take ye in private f'r a Dutch uncle talk. Ye fought in public, I'll speak t'ye in public."
He looked first at Llewellyn.
"Lad," he rumbled, "had ye no' done somethin' I'd ha' been terrible disappointed in ye." He looked at the Welshman's casted hand. "Next time, take it from a brawler. Throw yer beer in his face, step t' the side an' cold cock him wi' the mug when he charges by ye." Sean released the Welshman's arm, brought his big, scarred hand up to Llewellyn's eye level, opened and closed it a few times, then traced a line with the middle finger of his other hand. "I've worn yon plaster glove mesel'. This bone, an' this, before I learned t' use a beer mug instead."
Sean looked at Sarah.
"Lass," he rumbled quietly, "ye remind me much o' my Daisy-me-dear." He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "Ye are a guid match f'r Lew here, an' I doubt me not you're perfectly able t' skin th' scoundrel wi' a spoon f'r his misdeeds."
"Now." Sean straightened. "I'll no' have raised voices in me firehouse, but I'll no' beat th' subject t' death. Let's eat. It's easier than turnin' ye over ma knee."
Sarah's eyes went pale and Sean held up a peacemaking palm.
"No, lass, I'm no' about t' try," he said reassuringly. "I tried doin' that wi' Daisy once an' she like t' beat me t' death!"

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Linn Keller 3-23-13

 

Sarah ate with the Irish Brigade: she did her share and more afterward with cleanup, and the Brigade more than willingly tended that detail, as well.
Sean sat a little apart, watching, doing his best not to laugh; he smiled quietly, considering that he was probably a little red about the face, and that he'd never make a very good poker player, but that was fine, as he was having fun watching the Brigade crowd about Miss Sarah and make utter fools of themselves.
Sean didn't object a bit.
Cleanup after a meal was something nobody shirked, everybody tended, but the air was considerably lightened with a lovely young lass in their midst.
Especially with a lass with a quick smile and a laugh like running water in a mountain stream, bright, liquid, pleasing to the ear and to the eye as well.
More times than one, Llewellyn, trying to pull his share of the load in spite of a bad wing, had hold of a stack of plates or a pot or a kettle with one hand, and his plaster mitt under the opposite corner, palm down, trying to pack his fair load: Sean knew when he was trying to do this, for Sarah would swim through the Irishmen like a fish through water, she would dip a little and he would hear her tart, "No you don't, mister," and the Welsh Irishman would be left standing there empty handed with an expression somewhere between "Hey, I'm supposed to do that," and a mooning kid gazing after an unattainable beauty.
Through a gap between red-shirted shoulders, Sean saw Sarah grab Llewellyn's arm and pull it quickly up, away from the sink: "Don't you dare get that wet," he heard her caution the Welsh Irishman: "you don't want to get moldy inside that cast!" -- then he saw Sarah run a hand around back of the man's head and draw his face to hers: their foreheads touched and he could not hear what was said, but he could about guess: the two whispered something and the nearest Irishmen laughed, and Sean correctly surmised that Llewellyn was gently protesting her mothering him, and she said something back about getting in practice, for she expected him to sire fine healthy children and she'd have to take care of them too.
Sean leaned back in his chair, took a long breath: it had been a full day of work and admitttedly Llewellyn did the greatest share of the labor, but Sean saw to it that he never leaned back and gave orders without doing his share as well: he'd served under officers who considered themselves cultured dandies, too good to get their hands dirty, and he decided very early in his firefighting career he'd never be one of them.
Sean's head touched the wall behind him and he closed his eyes, relaxing a little.
He heard the light scrape of a chair beside him, the slight creak as weight settled into the chair.
A soft hand gripped his own.
Startled, he opened his eyes: Sarah was sitting beside him, holding his hand, looking at him, and laughter was in her eyes, a smile on her face.
"Sean, I have a question," she asked quietly.
"Aye, lass, what is't?"
"Your uniforms. Do any need mended or replaced?"
Sean frowned a little, stood his chair up on four legs. He'd meant to address the matter and felt guilty that he'd honestly forgotten the task for three days hand running.
"Aye, lass, we do," he admitted.
"We just happen to have a facility nearby," Sarah said, her voice light and teasing.
"Facility?" Sean said, his eyes suddenly wide and mischievous. "We have tha' here. Out back, a good brick one an' a four holer a' that!"
"A four-holer," Sarah said innocently.
"Oh, aye," Sean nodded. "Nothin' but th' best. Th' seat's sanded down smooth an' ev'rythin'! Imported good oak for't, one piece, y'see yon New York Irishman set doon on't when 'twas made o' two boards an' pinched his backside."
Sean leaned over and winked at Sarah.
"Call him 'Tendercheeks' sometime an' watch 'im turn red!"
Sarah leaned close, her cheeks pinking, and whispered back, "I will do no such thing!"

Next morning Jacob settled into a chair opposite his father's desk and leaned his own chair back against the wall.
The Sheriff waited.
There was nothing particularly pressing that day and so he kicked his feet up on the corner of the desk and waited.
Jacob considered the joint between wall and ceiling above his father's head and finally sighed a long breath.
"Sir," he said, "do you remember when Angela looked at the twins and she looked up at you and asked 'Was I one of those?'"
The Sheriff laughed. ""Yes, Jacob, I recall."
Jacob's expression was thoughtful.
"Sir, this morning ..."
He looked almost ruefully at his father, but ruefulness slid away and was replaced by quiet laughter.
"Sir, I sent Joseph out for an armful of kindling wood."
The Sheriff nodded.
"You know how boys are, sir."
The Sheriff nodded again.
"He ended up across the way and over by the barn talking to the bull."
The Sheriff nodded and Jacob saw a ghost of a smile trying to haunt the Grand Old man's face.
"I'd finished breakfast and figured 'twas time to consider a constitutional so I sojer'd on outside and looked to see what Joseph was about.
"Darn if he wasn't climbed a-straddle of that bull, laughing, and that bull was walkin' around the pasture just pleased as anything with himself."
The Sheriff's face did smile a little to hear that description. He'd seen his grandson laughing and riding his beloved Boocaffie before.
"I went out and that bull come over like a pet dog for a good ear rub."
"Please tell me," the Sheriff drawled, his light blue eyes sparkling with merriment, "he doesn't jump on you like my Beagle dog!"
"No, sir," Jacob laughed. "No, sir, thank God he doesn't!"
The Sheriff nodded slowly.
"I got Joseph down off that bull calf and we walked back to the house.
"Joseph stopped and allowed as he wanted to ride Boocaffie.
"I told him we had work to do and he had yet to take kindling in the house.
"Darned if that little squirt didn't pick up a stick and take a swing at me!"
Jacob's expression was halfway between surprise and laughter; the Sheriff brought his boot heels off the corner of the desk and set upright, giving his son his full, pale eyed attention.
"What did you do?"
"I grabbed his wrist a-comin' in," Jacob said. "I ... sir, my first thought was to grab that stick and break it out of his grip through the thumb. The way we practice."
The Sheriff nodded.
"No, sir, I was minded to do that but I grabbed his wrist instead and fetched him up off the ground."
The Sheriff raised one eyebrow.
"Annette was a-watchin' out the window and she told me later she figured I would fetch off my belt and give him a good weltin'."
"Did you?"
"No, sir." Jacob's expression faded into thoughtful, almost distant. "No, sir, I held him off the ground for a little then I hauled him up to where we were eye level on one another.
"I told him 'Don't you ever try that again,' and he knew he was in Dutch so he looked down and said 'No, sir,' and I set him down.
"Darned if the little scamp didn't grab that stick and take another swing at me!"
The Sheriff laughed.
"That time I did take the stick away from him."
The Sheriff nodded. "I see."
"That time I did turn him over my knee."
"And?"
Jacob laughed.
"Sir, I didn't even get the first swat on his backside before he commenced to hollerin' like I was skinnin' him alive!"
Jacob shook his head, chuckling.
"I was one of those?"

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Linn Keller 3-23-13

 

The Irish Brigade ended up the next day out at the House of McKenna Dress Works, and the fashionable production of ladies' couture was set aside for the time being.
The Brigade found themselves set upon, stripped down to their long handles, measured, frowned at, examined; there were conferences, consultations, murmurs, inspections; this Irishman was bade sit, and measurements taken; another told to stand, and spread his arms wide: still another was told to raise his arms overhead, while measuring tapes were applied here, there and yonder, and the particulars noted down.
Normally the Irishmen would not mind the close attention of the ladies, especially when it comes to the laying on of hands, so to speak, but when all of them were down to their red woolies and boots and they were plainly swarmed by the ladies of the dress works, and the ladies being quick and professional with their work, why, about all the Irishmen could do was turn red and mutter "yes ma'am" and "no ma'am" and such-like.
Sarah was right in the thick of it; she ended up measuring the German Irishman, who turned a truly thick-tongued scarlet: she could feel the heat from his face when she straightened and flipped the measuring tape over her head so it hung round her neck.
"Arms straight out," she instructed, "like you're pushing away a brick wall," and she stepped behind him, anchoring the tape at his spine and running it down his arm: she frowned a little and murmured, "I thought so," and wrote something down.
"What is't, lass?" he asked, and Sarah cocked her head, ran firm fingers across his collar bones.
"Your right arm is a bit longer than your left," she said slowly. "Your collar bones seem fine."
"Me right foot is bigger than me left," he admitted. "I have t' remind th' cobbler when he makes me boots."
Sarah nodded, tapping her cheek with a meditative finger as she gazed steadily at his Adam's apple.
"I'll have your name sewn inside the shirt," she said, "on a little piece of tape sewn in the back of the collar."
"I'm no' a child, not t' know me own shirt!" he protested.
Sarah looked over her spectacles, knuckles on her hips, and he heard her foot start tapping.
"Your shirts," she said, "are custom fitted to you and nobody else. One arm will be a little longer than the other on your shirts. If anyone else has such asymmetry, the mix-up would be easy."
The German Irishman grunted and nodded agreement.
Sarah walked over to where her fiancee was being measured.
The ladies, of course, couldn't let this pass: they immediately began discussing the cut of his wedding suit, describing how they planned to line the coat, the material for his waistcoat, which bias cut to use for which material.
"But I have a suit," he protested, "and a fine one it is!" -- to which he was admonished that Sarah had fine dresses she could wear but her wedding gown would be specially made for the occasion, and his suit would as well, because they intended for their boss's daughter's husband to be the finest dressed man in the entire territory, and he'd better get used to the idea!
Llewellyn noticed Sarah standing there, smiling a little, and him in his long handle red wool under drawers and if he could have sunk through the floor he would have.
Sarah stepped up to him as the seamstresses drew back: she shoved her spectacles up on top of her head, brushed his cheek with the backs of her fingers and whispered, "You are a fine looking man."
Llewellyn's eyes widened: here he was in his under drawers, practially naked except for his boots and here she was, telling him how fine a fellow he looked!
Sarah blinked a few times and bit her bottom lip.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I had no call to raise my voice at you last night. I was wrong."
Llewellyn's heart melted and flowed into a puddle at her feet; she saw the sadness in his eyes and whispered, "You will cut a fine figure in your new suit, you know!"
The Welsh Irishman, in that moment, would have been willing to wear a fringed lampshade for her in that moment, right out in front of God and everybody.
"Ye'll make a beautiful bride," he wheezed, then tried to clear his throat and ended up coughing instead, for his throat was suddenly quite dry.
"I know," Sarah said. "They've started making it already."
"I would love to see you in it," he whispered hoarsely.
Sarah laid a gentle fingertip on his lips and he felt an electric thrill surge through his hard-muscled body.
"You will," she whispered, "and more, but until then we'll get you set up with new uniforms. I have to go check on the twins."
Sarah turned and slipped out of the room and out the back door.
She looked calm and dignified, until the door shut behind her, until she was immersed in an ocean of chilly winter mountain air.
Sarah sat heavily in a woven-bottom chair, her eyes vacant, and she mentally reviewed the last several moments.
She realized with a little surprise her bosom was heaving, she was breathing deeply and she was flushed.
Sarah leaned her head back and took a long breath, blew it out, then stood.
She took a step away from the chair before bringing her head down and looking around.
She half expected to see the white wolf standing there looking at her; there was nothing -- just empty meadow, snow, winter-dead stems thrust up and waving a little through the crusted snow.
Sarah examined her feelings as thoroughly as if she picked them up off a table and turned them over and examined them with a burning-glass.
Sarah was surprised at her self-examination.
She found herself liking the way she felt.

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Linn Keller 3-24-13

 

Sam straightened, squinted a little.
"Clark."
Clark stood up and followed Sam's gaze.
Sam saw frost gathered on the outside of Clark's scarf.
"Now what do you suppose they're doing here?"
Clark's breath steamed through the knit wool muffler.
"Damfino."
They followed the polished brass boiler as the matched team of white mares drew it at a trot toward the dress works.
"They ain't runnin'."
Sam made no reply, just watched: her eyes tracked ahead of the Irish Brigade's steam engine, studied the dress works beyond.
"I don't see smoke."
"Nope."
They looked down at the cow's head: she grunted again and Clark went around behind her.
A moment later the cow bawled, long and miserable, and Clark peeled out of his coat sleeve, slung off his glove and thrust his arm into the laboring cow. He reached in a little better than elbow deep to cup a set of tiny little hooves in his bare hand.
"Come on, girl," she muttered. "Push!"

The Sheriff swung down out of the saddle, ran Cannonball's reins around the hitch post.
The front door opened and a little tornado in blue denim and checkered flannel came screaming out the front door: "Gwampa!" Joseph yelled, and the Sheriff caught him coming in, tossing him up into the air and catching him again.
Joseph squealed with delight, laughing as his old Gwampa hugged him hard, shaking him a little, then turning him upside down and holding him by both ankles.
"I think you need a bath," Linn laughed, walking over toward the spring.
"No, Gwampa, I clean!" Joseph laughed, waving his arms.
"I think you got fleas. I think you need a bath." The Sheriff held Joseph's head over the running spring. "Whattaya say, fella? Do I dunk you in?"
Joseph's laugh was lost in a cloud of happy little-boy giggles and the Sheriff stepped back, swung him back, then forth, then back again hard, bringing him up and across his arm.
"Joseph," he said, "you're not wearin' a hat!"
Linn bounced Joseph up again and dropped his Stetson on his grandson's gourd.
"Gwampa," Joseph protested, lifting up the skypiece, "you're not wearin' a hat!"
Linn laughed and packed his restless grandson to the front door, bouncing him wtih every jogging step.
"Let's get in where it's warm!" he laughed, and Annette smiled as she pulled the door open.

"Twenty head," Miller coughed. "Twenty head and I can't afford to replace a one of 'em!"
"How many hands you got left, Mr. Miller?" Jacob asked, his voice quiet.
"Hands?" Miller's harsh laugh was more of a bark. "I got two since Michaels fell over dead. Damn fool, eatin' too many 'a' them greasy pork chops! Killed him, it did!"
Jacob understood the late Michael's demise had something to do with a kidney stone, and the man died screaming in pain, at least until he stuck the barrel of a Navy Colt in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
"I don't reckon your hands could be spared for a posse," Jacob speculated.
"No, no," Miller said, shaking his grey head, the loose flesh under his chin shaking like a turkey's wattle: "no, no, we got to stay here in case they come back for the rest of 'em!"
Jacob nodded.
"I'll see what I can do, Mr. Miller."
"You do that, you do that," Miller nodded, patting Jacob on the shoulder. "Twenty head. God help me, twenty head!"
The old man hobbled back toward the ranch house, Jacob keeping slow pace beside him, until Miller was back inside where it was warm, then he whistled up his Apple-horse and set out for the back forty, the small pasture where the cattle usually stayed in bad weather.
One of his hands was on a high point: he waved at Jacob and rode down to meet him.
"Morn', Depitty," he greeted, grinning with stained teeth and chapped, bloody lips: "You gonna get our beef back?"
Jacob looked the fellow over, nodded.
"What can you tell me about it?"
"Frank and me, we come up t' check on 'em like we always do." He pointed, nodding. "We come over that notch rattair an' they was gone, ever' last one of 'em. Twenty prize head!" The man spat angrily, then looked sharply at Jacob.
"I ain't young no more. None of us is, but I kin still see. 'Twas three of 'em, all ridin' mares, all good shod. They headed north. I didn't follow that far."
He shifted his quit and spat again.
"You gonna get 'em back?"
Jacob nodded slowly.
"Yep."

"Ain't you cold?" Clark asked.
Sam glared at him out from under her hat brim.
The new calf was wrapped in her coat and held across the saddle in front of her.
"Here, you damn fool," Clark swore, peeling out of his own. "Put this on. I cain't afford for you to get sick."
The calf made a little sound, to which the mama cow following lowed reassuringly.
"Don't worry, Mama," Clark said, "we'll get you two taken care of."

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Linn Keller 3-24-13

 

Jacob leaned over in the saddle, frowning at what he saw.
The missing cattle were bunched and traveling together, all right, and he accounted for the right number of mounts, and every one of them well shod.
They're not pushing them, he thought.
Jacob straightened in the saddle, eyes busy: his gut told him something didn't add up, but he wasn't sure quite why not.
He lifted Apple-horse's reins and tightened his knees, and Apple-horse stepped out in an easy trot.
It didn't take long to catch up with the missing cattle.
Jacob faded back against a brush screen, studying the moving mass: the riders were not knife-edge alert like he'd expect rustlers to be.
Watchful, yes, but normally so.
He watched for a bit longer before riding to catch up.

"Rider, Boss," McCracken called.
Mactavish turned at his ramrod's low-voiced warning: raising his chin to his segundo, he signalled McCraken to take over, and rode to meet the approaching stranger.
Jacob reined up as the weather beaten man in the Hudson's Bay coat and mittens brought his own ratty looking mount to a halt.
Jacob squinted a little at the man and asked, "You ain't from Texas by any chance?"
Mactavish grinned. "Matter of fact I am, young feller."
"You figurin' to push very far today?"
Mactavish would probably play a good hand of poker, Jacob thought, for the man's face became almost professionally expressionless.
"I don't reckon that's much of your business, stranger."
The words were quietly spoken but Jacob heard the steel behind them.
Jacob reached up with his left and and turned his lapel over.
"I reckon it is," he said mildly. "Suppose you show me a bill of sale."
Jacob saw anger flash in the man's eyes: one, then another of his men started to drift their way.
Mactavish turned a little, reached behind him for the saddlebag; Jacob sidestepped Apple-horse to the left.
If this fellow pulls a gun, he thought, he'll have to twist clear around to take a shot.
Mactavish turned, frowning at the quarter folded paper in his mitt: he pulled off the other mitten, unfolded the paper, nodded, looked up at where Jacob used to be.
Jacob walked Apple-horse closer and reached carefully for the paper.
"Thank'ee kindly," he said, unfolding the paper.
Mactavish glared as Jacob read the hand written document.
"Name's Keller," Jacob said conversationally. "Firelands County."
"Mactavish. Big Bend territory."
"I think I might know what happened," Jacob said thoughtfully. "The fellow who sold you those beeves. Can you describe him?"
Mactavish looked over at the pair approaching, then back at Jacob.
"Old fella," he said, "kind of palsied. Real dark eyes. Loose skin under his chin."
"Loose skin," Jacob echoed.
"Yeah, like a wattle almost."
Jacob nodded, frowning, and handed the paper back.
"I think I know what happened."
"Yeah?"
"I need your help to straighten it out." He looked at the hands that waited at a respectful but watchful distance. "Come on in, fellas, you're involved too."
"Whattaya mean involved?" Mactavish flared. "I bought those cattle straight an' honest and paid cash money! That-there bill of sale --"
Jacob held up a hand. "Slow down, Texas. It's fixin' to blow in a blizzard and you'll need shelter." Jacob turned a little, nodded to the incoming riders. "You men, listen close.
"About one mile that-a-way" -- Jacob thrust a bladed hand to his left, along their intended route of march -- "there's a canyon coming into the trail. Canyon runs north-south. Storms come hereabouts out of the west.
"If my Pa is any judge this is gonna be a rip snorter and it's not fit for man nor beast to be in the mountains with no shelter when one of these things comes along.
"If you head on that-a-way, you can shelter in that canyon. Good grass, steep walls, you can contain that small a herd with one rider if need be. You'll find wood cut and a shack. It's not much but there's a tin stove and it's dry." He grinned. "I cut the wood myself.
"Mactavish." He turned a little to address the boss. "I think the old man you bought them cattle off of is a little soft in the head and he just plainly forgot he sold 'em." Jacob handed him back the bill of sale. "That looks for all the world like his hand writing. If you can ride back with me we'll talk to the man and might be the sight of your face will jog his memory. Meantime" -- he looked at the others -- "you-all will have shelter enough to let that storm blow through."
"You ain't gonna try an' take my beef?" Mactavish said skeptically.
"You bought 'em, didn't you?"
"You're damned right I bought 'em!"
"And you paid good money for 'em."
"Damned right I did!"
"Well," Jacob said, tilting his hat back and crossing his wrists on his saddle horn, "I don't know about you but I am a tight fisted man" -- he arched his lower back out like his Pa often did -- "and I don't hold with bein' falsely accused. If you can see your way free to come on back I'll find out the straight of it and we can be all on our way."
A gust of wind blew a sudden wall of big flakes through them.
"You'll be held a day by the weather alone. Might ought you get them bo-vines to shelter, it's goin' to get unpleasant!"
Jacob's head turned right; one, then another of everyone else's did too, and in quick order: a rider was approaching at a flat out gallop.
Once the rider got closer they could see this was a rather good looking rider, on a good looking paint pony.
"Now who in the hell is that?" Mactavish demanded.
"Her name's Sondra Mae," Jacob said. "Granddaughter of the man that give you that bill of sale."
"JACOOOBBBBB!" Sondra wailed as her pony wove through the snow capped boulders, kicking up white fluffy puffs with every vigorous step. "JACOOBBBB!"
Sondra brought her paint to a skidding stop: she was obviously upset but just as obviously scared.
Sondra looked at the cattle and at the riders: eyes darting, face pale, she blurted, "Which of you is Mactavish?"
The boss removed his hat. "I have that honor, ma'am, but you have the advantage of me."
"Mr. Mactavish," Sondra gasped, "I am so very sorry, but the cattle are yours. My grandfather is not in his right mind." Sondra looked at Jacob. "He didn't remember he'd sold them, Jacob. I am so very sorry --"
Mactavish and Jacob looked at one another; each gave a shallow nod, as if confirming their suspicion.
"I don't reckon you'll have to come back after all," Jacob said thoughtfully. "How you fellows set for rations?"
"We got a little," one of the men said.
"If this snow holds you'll need more." Jacob turned, unbuckled his off saddlebag's flap and pulled out two wrapped bundles: he tossed one to the speaker.
"Coffee there," he said. "I don't have a coffee pot."
"This'll do," the delighted cowboy grinned.
Jacob handed Mactavish the other bundle. "Meat and bread and a block of sugar. I wish it was more."
"Hell, I dont' want your charity!" Mactavish flared.
"Then take that by way of apology," Jacob replied mildly.
Another gust of wind blew snow ahead of it, heavier now.
"I believe if you get your Texas backside in gear you can make that canyon before the snow's so heavy you can't see." Jacob raised a hand, turned Apple-horse. "Sondra, let's get you home."
The Texan watched them depart, then walked his scruffy mount up to the rider who held the coffee.
"Hell of a way to get some coffee," he muttered. "Here, take this too. Now let's find that canyon!"

The Sheriff closed one eye.
Little Joseph closed one eye.
The Sheriff leaned closer and little Joseph leaned closer until their foreheads touched.
"Uh-huh," the Sheriff muttered. "Just like I thought."
"What, Gwampa?"
"You need your butt beat."
"No, Gwampa!" Little Joseph laughed.
"Mmm. I could be wrong. Let's take another look." He closed one eye and leaned in and little Joseph leaned in, one eye screwed shut, and the Sheriff hmm'd and mm-hmm'd a couple times, then finally leaned back, frowning.
"I see," he said, looking at his grandson, sitting cross legged on the floor with him.
"Joseph, do you know what I saw?"
Little Joseph shook his head briskly, turning it from far left to far right three or four times, dizzying himself and swaying a little.
"That tickles my tub-by," he laughed, then looked up at the old lawman with the iron-grey mustache.
"Whatcha see, Gwampa?"
The Sheriff closed one eye and leaned in and Little Joseph screwed his eye shut and leaned in and the Sheriff said, "I see an eyeball."
Little Joseph laughed. "Me too!"
"Come on, fella," the Sheriff said, getting up carefully: Annette saw a little stiffness in the man's rising, but looked quickly away, for she knew he would look to see if she was looking.
The Sheriff took his grandson's hand in his own and they headed for the front door.
"Where we goin', Gwampa?" Jacob asked.
"We're going to fetch in some kindling," the Sheriff said. "Snow's a-comin'."

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Linn Keller 3-25-13

 

Sarah sat at a table in the Silver Jewel.
The table was in the back of the room, away from the clatter of dice and of cards, away from crude laughter and coarse jests; she did not want to sit in the large, comfortable back room, for this would put her out of the public eye, and that would not be ... proper.
It would not be proper because she sat across the small table from a red-shirted fireman.
Sarah stirred her tea slowly, almost idly, absently: her mind was not on tea, nor was it in the Silver Jewel: it was somewhere else, but it was with the Welsh Irishman, who sat looking steadily into those eyes, those remarkable eyes, those pale eyes that darkened with affection when she looked at him.
Llewellyn opened his mouth to say something, then frowned and closed his mouth.
"Mr. Llewellyn?" Sarah said gently.
"My dear?" he replied, startled.
"Don't jump," she said softly. "I'm not that surprising."
Llewellyn laughed. "My dear," he said, "you are that surprising."
Sarah colored a little and dropped her eyes, raised her teacup in both hands.
"I," she said, taking a sip of the warm oolong, "am nothing special."
Llewellyn raised an eyebrow.
"If you are nothin' special, then I'm the King of Siam," he said firmly.
Sarah looked over the rim of her cup and she saw his jaw thrust out and set and she knew he was coming to a decision.
Sarah lowered her teacup, sat up very straight, sitting very properly, her hands in her lap.
"Might I have your hands," Llewellyn said, extending his own, resting them palm up on the table cloth.
Sarah brought hers up and laid them gently in his.
He took her hands and bent her fingers a little, gently, looking steadily at the diamond he'd put on her finger.
"My grandmother," he said, "was a Wise Woman."
He looked up at Sarah's diamond-bright eyes.
"I believe you are as well."
Sarah blinked.
"My grandmother told me there is power in words."
Sarah nodded slowly. "There is," she agreed.
Llewellyn cleared his throat, shifted in his seat.
"There is a greater power in the knowing of a name."
Sarah nodded again; he felt her hands tighten on his and he knew she was listening with more than her ears.
"If you know the true name of a thing, you have power over that thing."
Again the slight squeeze; Sarah's eyes were wide, unblinking.
"If you know someone's true name, you can have ... gain ... take a power over them."
Sarah nodded, once, slowly, unblinking yet.
Llewellyn cleared his throat again.
"You ... have given me the knowledge of your name," he said, feeling like he was balancing on his toes on the edge of a precipice over looking a deep, cold mountain lake.
"My name," he said, swallowing again, "is Daffyd."
"Daffyd," Sarah said softly. "That ... is a warrior's name."
Llewellyn nodded, squeezing her hands a little.
"Daffyd was a war chieftain, a Clan leader, a man who lived and loved and led in battle, a man who met death with defiance on his lips and steel in his hand."
"Aye."
"You were named for this man."
"He was my thrice-great grandfather."
Sarah squeezed his hands firmly.
"Hello, Daffyd," she said. "My name is Sarah. I am very pleased to ... know you."
Llewellyn took a deep breath.
"Thank you for trusting me," Sarah whispered.
"I have given you my heart," he whispered as a man surprised.
"You have given me more than you know."
He looked at her, surprised.
"Mr. Llewellyn," Sarah said, "you will sire fine, tall sons. Your sons will grow strong and wild as befits a Welshman. They will know the longbow and --"
"No," Llewellyn said huskily. "No, tell me no more!"
Sarah rasied an eyebrow.
"My God," he whispered, "you are a Wise Woman!"
"Am I?"
Llewellyn grinned. "Of course you are," he smiled. "You're marryin' me instead 'a' that damned German!"

Daciana wheeled the barrow out behind the barn and dumped it, then shovelled it onto the steaming manure pile.
Snow swirled around the barn and into her face: she blinked as the cold stuff streamed around her.
Shivering, she dollied the Irish buggy back into the barn.
She'd mucked out the last of it; fresh straw down, her beloved Buttercup -- and herself -- exercised, Buttercup rubbed down and brushed and her hooves tended, and Daciana was ready to warm up and have some nice hot tea.
Lightning was gone to work, early as was his habit; his friend, Mr. Jerome, was by now pounding his ear into his pillow, and glad for it, in a room with heavily curtained windows: his was the only house in Firelands with a basement, and with a layer of rugs on the floor above, he had a quiet place to sleep through the day.
Daciana smiled at the thought of Mr. Jerome resting peacefully; he was a polite young man, and a time or two she'd given her husband some tea for him, tea to brew before going to bed, tea that helped him relax and sleep the more easily.
There were other herbs she knew, herbs that could have caused his heavy and drugged sleep, but she knew he would wake logy from them; she knew he had to have a clear mind and a steady hand, to hear the clicks and clatters and know what the rattling brass was telling him, and so she was very circumspect in what she dispensed.
Daciana went through the enclosed walkway that joined barn with house; both were built hard against the vertical rock wall, sheltered against the prevailing wind.
Daciana shook the ashes down in her Monarch stove and fed wood into the firebox, listening to the wind.

There is music in a steam engine, music that only the listening ear can hear: you can pick out any song in the world to the rhythmic chant of a laboring steam locomotive, and Bill did, every day.
Right now he was listening to the scrape of the fireman's shovel into the coal-pile, the SLAM of the butterfly doors thrust open by the steam-piston, the ringing tzing! as his fireman placed coal with a toss and a twist to one corner, then another, to the third and to the fourth, keeping a uniform heat to the boiler.
Bill knew his sand dome was full; he also knew the rails were cold and the air was too, and the snow coming down thick and thicker would not stick to frigid steel: he knew sand would be needed only to start out from a dead stop, and if absolutely need be, to slow or stop: there in the cab of The Lady Esther, he was warm, and he was doing what he loved, he was piloting his beloved Lady over the highest point on their run.
She had her ears pinned back and she was pulling hard, the exhaust fairly cracking out of her diamond stack; her hard bark softened as they broke over the crest and softened more as they began their down hill run.
It was late in the day and by the time he made Firelands, he knew, he would have need to light the arc light on his Lady's forehead: all he had to do now, he knew, was judiciously valve air to the brakes, manage the throttle as he always did, and thank God that the Lady who owned the railroad had the good sense to use those new safety couplers and Westinghouse brakes, innovations not yet embraced by the big railroads.
Bill snorted.
Bottom polishing bureaucrats, he thought, damned fools all! -- why, the Z&W had the lowest injury rate of any line in the country, and the only men missing fingers were come to them from other lines that still used the link-and-pin couplers.
Bill squinted against the snow, saw a shadow move off the tracks, and knew an elk was getting out of their way.

Miller stepped out on the front porch as Jacob and Sondra walked from the barn to the porch.
"Sondra Mae," Miller said, "where's my supper? I want my supper!"
"And you shall have it, Grandfather," Sondra said formally. "Now you must wash up and get into your dressing-gown and slippers."
"Dressing-gown?" Miller said, squinting his eyes peevishly. "I don't have a ...what the hell is a ... you tryin' to put me into a dress?"
"No, Grandfather," Sondra said.
"Now who the hell are you?" Miller demanded of Jacob. "You ... are you tryin' to spark my granddaughter?"
Jacob smiled, shook his head.
"No, sir," he said, "I am a married man."
The old man's eyes widened. "Why how dare you! A married man runnin' around with my little girl!" He turned and scampered back inside.
Jacob pushed Sondra aside and ran in after the man.
Sondra came in to see Jacob with a two-hand grip on a double barrel shotgun, and the old man wrestling him for it: Jacob pulled hard, turning, brought the old man off his feet.
Miller never let go of the gun.
Jacob twisted it, twisted the other way and pulled hard, breaking the old man's grip on the wrist, then the barrel: he backed up quickly, pulling viciously at the copper caps mashed down on tapered steel nipples.
One fingernail turned back; Jacob swore, reached down, grabbed his boot knife.
The old man yelled something and pulled a pistol and Jacob dove, doing a somersault behind a chair: his knife clattered under a chair and Jacob came up, laid the shotgun across the back of the chair and yelled "DROP THE PISTOL OR I DROP YOU!"
The old man pushed a shot at Jacob and Sondra reached in and grabbed the pistol, slapping her hand down on it and pushing the muzzle toward the floor.
She managed to get her little finger between the falling hammer and the frame -- more accident than design, to be honest -- Jacob saw his chance and, putting the shotgun down, charged the old man.
Jacob grabbed the pistol, seized it in both hands, his left hand gripping around the barrel, the right fisting and hitting the old man's hand just behind his knuckles, hard.
Sondra yelped, the old man yelled and Jacob froze.
Sondra pulled her hands back, clenching them against her high stomach.
"I'll get you for this," the old man hissed, eyes narrowed dangerously.
"No sir, you won't," Jacob said, pushing the wedge out and separating barrel from receiver. He pulled the cylinder off its pin and set it on the table, then put the other two pieces of the pistol on top of the piano.
"Mr. Miller," an older woman called, "are you coming to supper tonight?"
Miller stopped, peered at the woman in the doorway.
"Supper?" he said peevishly. "Why didn't you say so?"
Jacob watched the old man totter towards the kitchen, apparently forgetting the conflict he was hell-bent on fighting just moments ago.
Jacob looked at Sondra.
"I'm sorry, Jacob," Sondra said. "He's ... it's been difficult."
Jacob looked at his bleeding fingernail, then at Sondra's pained expression.
"How's the hand?"
Sondra extended her hand. "I don't think it's broken," she said.
Jacob took her wrist in his hand and tapped, very gently, on the finger's tip.
"No," he said, "not broken."
"How can you tell?"
"If it was broke you'd be halfway through the ceiling by now."
"Oh."
"Sondra?"
Sondra looked up at him.
"Thank you."
Sondra laughed a little.
"I almost get you killed and you say thank you?"
"No," Jacob grinned. "You rode out to keep me from makin' a damned fool of myself."
Sondra turned kind of red and nodded.
"Here. I'll put his pistol back together for you."
"Thank you."
Jacob reassembled the worn old Army Colt, went over and fetched back the muzzle loading shotgun.
"Caps are still there," he said, frowning at his smarting fingernail.
He hung the shotgun back over the fireplace, turned.
Sondra was looking at him with a serious look about her.
"Jacob?"
Something cold ran its claws through Jacob's guts.
"Jacob, I ... I'm not throwing myself at you, but ... if you and Annette ..."
Jacob knew his next words could get himself into a lifetime of grief, or wound a girl's heart more than it had ever been, and so he chose his words carefully.
"Sondra," he said slowly, "I don't belive anyone ever said anything that nice to me before."
He touched his hat brim, then strode to the door, and was gone before she could think of a reply.
Jacob shivered as he kneed Apple-horse back toward Firelands.
"Apple," he said, his voice a little unsteady, "I feel like the b'ar that just pulled his foot out of a trap!"
He considered a moment longer.
"I don't reckon," he said slowly, "I don't reckon I'll be a-goin' back after that boot knife."

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Linn Keller 3-26-13

 

Sarah looked long and deep into Llewellyn's eyes as she whispered, "I'll be fine."
"It's snowin' fit t' bury a man," Llewellyn whispered back.
Sarah laughed, and Llewellyn's heart soared to hear it, to see her head tilt back, to see the genuine happiness in her face as she replied, "But I'm not a man, silly!"
Llewellyn looked absolutely guilty as Sarah clucked up the mare; the dapple's hoof-falls were well muffled with the fresh snowfall.
Llewellyn shook his head, muttering, and went into the warmth of the firehouse.
He stuck his head out to take one final look at his beloved, driving away, but falling snow and gathering dark had already claimed her.
Llewellyn swore a potent, ancient Celtic oath, shook his head and pulled back inside, drawing the door shut behind him.

Jacob tied Apple-horse off in his father's little stable behind the Sheriff's office: he hung saddle and bridle and rubbed his stallion down with a thoroughness and a care that bespoke an understanding of how important a horse was to a man.
He went inside, stoked the stove; no prisoners cooled their heels in back, so only the one stove was used, the one in front, and it had been cold long enough that it popped a few times as the heat in its belly expanded the cast iron.
Jacob opened the log book and began writing his report.

Mactavish watched his men herd the cattle into the canyon.
It was exactly as that young deputy described.
His men knew their work; they got the cattle through the canyon's bottle neck, the cattle fanned out in the broad pasture within, stone walls rising on either side.
The segundo rode a circle, paused, dismounted.
"Hey Frank!" he called. "Gimme a hand here!"
Frank rode up, dismounted.
"What do you make of this?"
Frank leaned down, swept through the fresh snow, gripped something, hoisted.
"Poles."
"What for?"
Frank looked around, kicked through the snow, found another stack.
"You don't reckon someone else ... I'd bet ..."
Frank's eyes narrowed and he gauged the canyon's opening.
"I'd bet this is a rail fence."
"Why do tell!"
"Here. Take a look at this. Help me pack a few of these, I'll show you."
Mactavish rode up, curious.
"Boss, Frank here thinks someone made a rail fence."
Mactavish turned, considered the narrow opening.
"It just might work," he said. "How much is there?"
The segundo laughed. "Enough so a man won't have to ride around in the snow!"
He and the boss both laughed; they both knew that, fence or not, they would have a rider out on watch.
Wind roared overhead and snow came down, sudden, heavier now, and the three men shivered.
"That depitty wasn't lyin', was he?"
Mactavish dismounted. "No he wasn't. Let's get that fence up!"

The Sheriff kissed Annette on the cheek, his light eyes sparkling.
"My dear," he said, "I have not eaten that well for some long time now."
He looked at little Joseph, warm and drowsy, his belly full and his small limbs tired, for ol' Gwampa had done his level best to wear the lad out, pretty well weraing himself out in the process: he picked Joseph up and Joseph relaxed in the man's arms, draping himself bonelessly against Gwampa's front and laying his head over on Gwampa's shoulder.
Annette smiled and rose on her tiptoes to whisper in her father in law's ear, "I'll turn down his bed," and she skipped, light as a schoolgirl, ahead of the old lawman with the iron-grey mustache and his rapidly fading cargo.
Joseph opened his eyes a little as Gwampa laid him down in his own bunk, then he rolled his head to the left and his eyes shut and just that quick, he was asleep.
The Sheriff looked out at the gathering snow and nodded.
"Annette," he asked quietly, "how you set for wood?"
"We've plenty," she said in an equally quiet voice, crossing her arms as she looked out at the deepening dark.
"You're all right for your larder?"
"Yes."
"You understand ... I can't ask Jacob these things."
"I understand."
"He's always been responsible," Linn said quietly. "He ... I'm pretty proud of him."
"Have you told him that?" Annette looked up at the pale eyed old lawman.
Linn looked down, his expression troubled.
"Not often enough."
Annette stepped in front of the greying old lawman and looked up at him.
"You raised a good son," she said.
Linn nodded.
"'The apple falls not far from the tree,'" she quoted. "Pat yourself on the back, why don't you?"
The Sheriff looked back at Joseph.
"I missed so much," he whispered. "If only I'd known ..."
Annette ran her arm around him, leaning her head against his coat sleeve.
"Joseph thinks so very much of you," she whispered.
"He's a fine lad," the Sheriff chuckled, hugging her quickly, almost uncertainly.
"Will Jacob be home soon, would you know?"
The Sheriff looked out into the darkness.
"I don't know."

The Sheriff was departed, gone into the snowy darkness, his tracks filled before he was out of sight: Cannonball knew the way and the Sheriff gave her free head: Annette buisied herself baking, expressing her distress in kneading dough and rolling it savagely with the polished marble rolling pin.
She stopped just short of over-working the dough, knowing it made a tough crust, and she took pride in her pie crusts, ever since Jacob pulled her into his arms and whispered, "I will never, ever tell Mother, but your pie crusts are flake and hers are ... kind of chewy." His eyes sparkled as he leaned his forehead against hers and whispered, "I like your beef stew better too!"
Annette slipped the rolled-out dough into the pie tins, sliced the excess free with a paring knife, then dumped in a jar of preserved fruit, some small lumps of butter, a sprinkle of crushed sugar: a quick spin of the finger and she painted a layer of milk on the dough, laid the top over it, sliced it as she had the first, making a perfectly round top, then carefully, precisely crimped the edges together.
Annette smiled as she painted the top of the crust with milk, then dusted it with crushed sugar.
Jacob did love his pie like that, she knew, and she took pride in making them just the way he liked them.
Annette kept looking out the window, hoping to see her husband, but she knew she could see only a few feet in this blizzard: wind roared, surged, sobbed around the house, sang through the stovepipe; Annette shivered, grateful that her house was stone, and well built.
She remembered her house in Denver, when she was a young girl: it too was solid and well-built, her father a big man, a man of laughter: Annette smiled a little, putting one pie, then another in the oven: she checked the firebox, nodding with satisfaction, straightened.
The front door opened, then shut: Jacob came through the doorway, snow thick on his hat-brim and shoulders, a grin on his face.
Annette smiled, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Supper's still warm," she said quietly.
"I'm starved," Jacob admitted, carefully removing his hat. "Let me knock this off outside."
Over supper, Jacob told Annette of the evening's activity.
"Oh, my," Annette said, her fingers going to her mouth.

About that same time, the Sheriff was reading his son's hand-written account of the evening.
His reaction was pretty much the same as his daughter-in-law's, but each expressed their sentiments according to their own vocabulary.
"Oh, my," in the language of Annette, translated to "Well I'd be damned!" in the language of Linn.

Sarah's expression of the evening was wordless, but nonetheless eloquent.
Sarah danced in the snow: head back, eyes closed, arms spread, she turned, slowly, gracefully, pirouetting like a clockwork figurine in a girl's music-box.
There was only Sarah, and the snow; darkness and snowfall hid her from all eyes but her own, and her own were closed, and so Sarah danced, one-two-three, one-two-three, turning a little, as if she danced with the finest man in the world, and they two were the only ones on the ballroom floor.

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