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Trouble Comes to Stone Creek

Calico Mary

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Rye and his pards rode up over a hill and looked below to see 2 riders. As they got closer he thought he recognized Mark. He was riding behind a man and he had a shotgun across his lap. It looked to Rye like Mark had a prisoner and was headed towards Stone Creek. Rye told his pards to lay back while he rode ahead. As he gained on Mark he yelled “ Don’t shoot, it’s me Rye Miles “. Mark pulled back on the reins and slowed his mount to a walk. “Gotcha a bad guy huh? “ asked Rye. Mark said, “Yep sure as hell do, I got me the Gardner boy. I could use some  help getting this scumbag to town”. Rye said “I got yer back and brought some help with me.” He waved to Cat and Yuma to come join him. “ Much obliged” said Mark as they rode  along to Stone Creek.

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Sheriff Cody was sitting down at breakfast at Clara's cafe, later than he would usually come in, after a long night of much needed rest. Rubbing his eyes as coffee was placed in front of him. Sheriff Cody looked up to see Calamity Kris walk in. Waving her over, Sheriff Cody stood until she took a seat. "Good morning, Calamity, how are you this morning?" Calamity smiled pleasantly, "I'm well. Much better rested than you, I believe. I'm so glad you're all back safely. I feel so much safer with you all back, also." Sheriff Cody gave a wry look as he took a drink of his coffee. "It sounds like you were plenty safe without us around, if you don't mind my saying." Calamity looked down, a little embarrassed. "We did what we had to do, but just the same, I prefer to leave that to you and the other men."


As tea was put in front of Calamity Kris, and breakfast eggs, ham and biscuits in front of both, the two paused in their conversation. Changing the subject, Sheriff Cody said "Susanna Polk should be by your shop shortly after you open." Calamity paused, her tea cup halfway to her lips, looking at the sheriff. "Whatever for? She hasn't ordered anything in some time! I rarely see her unless she's in when the Karnes girls are in from the ranch. Then they get together, gossip and talk about the latest fashions and are generally nuisances!" Sheriff Cody smiled and replied, "She'll be picking up a couple of dresses. For Sarah Jane. Along with whatever else would be appropriate. And if you can think of anything else Sarah Jane needs, add it to the list. I have a hunch Doc Ward is good for it, if not I'll see you're paid." At his mention of Doc Ward, Calamity sat up excitedly and asked "Are they together? I know she is head over heels about him! It would be so good for them both." Sheriff Cody paused to chew, before continuing. "I don't know if they're together, but yes, Doc is definitely sweet on her. Evidently it took Pastor Keller thumping him over the head to make him realize it, though. But Doc is evidently worried about the age difference, the fact that he still feels the need to hunt men down and could be killed, and whatever else. But, I have a hunch that in the end that might not matter."


"So why Susanna? Why not just have Sarah Jane come over? I would love to talk to her, and as tall as she is, she is going to be hard to fit, although I am sure she will look elegant!" Sheriff Cody shrugged. "Two reasons. Her father made me angry, and because she deserves it for talking bad about Doc behind his back, knowing it is because he wouldn't give her the time of day." As Cody elaborated on what had occurred, with very little embellishment, Calamity Kris got angry herself. "If that's the way he feels, I don't need his daughter's business or his wife's business!" Cody shook his head. "No, that wouldn't be right. We're not so prosperous that we can afford to turn away customers here in town. So, do you think you have a couple of dresses that will catch Doc's eye? Not that Sarah Jane needs them for that, but it never hurts." Thinking, Calamity nodded, "I have just the dresses! She'll make Susanna Polk green with envy." 

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I considered many things as Miz Loreli sipped tea and spoke in her soft, gentle voice.

She was a cultured individual; she was a gentle soul; she was our schoolteacher, and by all reports, a good one, and she was one of my parishoners.

Her hands didn't shake, but there was a tremor, invisible save for the shivers that ran across the amber surface of good oolong as she raised her teacup.

The Catholic Church has a well established custom of Confession: well, I'm not a mackerel snapper and neither was she, but there are times when a soul needs to unburden itself, and so she came to my door and asked my counsel, and so she sat at my table, and Anna Mae discreetly tended some task in the other room.

I listened as she spoke.

She'd given the matter considerable thought, and she'd looked at it from several directions, but there is still a need to talk things over, especially when a woman of good conscience realizes the horrible enormity of having just sent someone to their eternal reward, with her own hand.

I waited until she kind of coasted to a stop, and I considered all she'd told me, and all I'd heard from several others, and my hands opened my cover-worn Scripture without looking.

"Nehemiah," I said, and only then looked at the printed page:  "fourth chapter."  I looked up at Miz Loreli and smiled gently.  "The men were doing work and they were expecting attack, and as they worked they wrought with one hand and held their spear with the other."  A riffle of pages, another chapter.  "Christ Himself said to sell your cloak and buy a sword if you had none."  I looked up at her with as gentle an expression as I could manage: I've been told my voice is soothing, reassuring, and that's how I pitched it:  I've tried, God knows I've tried! -- because I can cut with that voice, and have, and I've hurt people with my voice, and that troubles me.

I told Miz Loreli that evil came to town, men who intended death and murder and worse, men who came under arms, men who raised their weapons when they saw our ladies ready to keep safe that which was rightfully theirs.

"Now let's go back to your situation," I said.  "I want you to remember the moment you realized you needed to take action."
Miz Loreli turned a little pale, but nodded.

"Tell me what you remember."

Miz Loreli blinked, her eyes unfocused momentarily.  "I remember ... I saw her step around the corner and she challenged them, and I saw the man come half out of his seat and" -- she looked at me, realization in her eyes -- "Pastor, they were ... he was going to shoot her!"

"What did he have to shoot her with?"

"It was a messenger shotgun," she said, her eyes widening a little, and she nodded decisively.  "I remember seeing the double barrels."

"At that distance, was she in deadly peril?"

Miz Loreli nodded again, her eyes showing alarm.  "Oh dear God yes!"

"And your action ...?"  I left the question dangle, leading her -- no with my questions -- but with her own answers.

"I couldn't let him kill her!" she said, alarm changing to resolve, as I intended.

"Exactly right.  Your action was to save a life, and you did."

Miz Loreli blinked, slumped back in her chair.

"But ... he jerked and his gun went off, it shot up in the air but it spooked the team and the horses ran and the wagon dumped over and the men were killed --"

I raised a finger and smiled quietly, riffling through the pages:  "Exodus."  My finger was on the page but my eyes were on my guest, and I quoted from memory.

"If a thief is caught in the act of breaking into a house, and is struck and killed in this act, whosoever kills the thief is without blame."  I put my hands flat on the table and looked very directly at Miz Loreli.  "You saved more lives than hers.  Your action was to save lives.  Those who came to kill and do worse, brought upon themselves their own judgement."

I knew the formal structure of the sentence would lend it more weight, and it seemed to be the right thing to say:  not only was it fact, it was Scriptural, it came from her Parson, and I'd emphasized that she'd acted to help and not to harm.

"It is no light thing to send a soul to its reward," I said softly.  "I've done that myself, and I've never been happy with having done it."  I took a long breath.  "No one with a good conscience does, but we know here" -- I tapped my forehead -- "that had we not acted, evil would have done worse."  I smiled gently and tapped my breastbone.  "It takes a little while to realize it here."

I reached across the table, took her hands in mine, we bowed our heads and we talked to God about it.

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Gardner made a move to try and run but since he was riding a mule it wasn't the smartest thing to do! They all laughed at his attempt to get away. Rye said, "Let's have some fun with this guy". They galloped after him and surrounded him, Cat took out his rope and lassoed Gardner and puled him off his mule! He fell to the ground with a thud and a groan. They all got a kick out of that. Cat and Rye got him back up on his mule and tied him securely in the saddle. Mark laughed and said, "That'll keep him from running again". Gardner was bleeding from his head but they all knew it was just a minor scrape since it wasn't bleeding too bad. It was just a trickle that ran into his eyes a little bit. Since his hands were tied he had to try and get the blood from his eyes with his shirt sleeve. They didn't want him to suffer to badly so Yuma rode up along and with an old towel he wiped the blood from Gardner's eye. "We're not animals ya know" he said with a sarcastic tone and smirk.



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His name need not be mentioned:  it was a name he used but briefly, when he came under the employ of men he recognized as scoundrels.

Scoundrels or not, they paid well: he'd been held back, at least until the night when a single gunshot came from a building not far from the saloon, and he'd gone over to investigate.

He'd stopped, frozen, ice crystallizing in his veins as he saw something he'd seen before.

A broad ax, dropped beside a headless man, and on the side of the ax, the gray spatter of a stopped bullet.

He'd seen this before.

Back during the War, there was a man who went insane, a madman who seized up an ax from a woodpile, a man who ran screaming into the enemy's ranks, a man who turned the ax-blade sideways before him, almost like a breastplate, and stopped the shots as he charged, and then when he was among the enemy's ranks and too close to be shot, he laid about, knocking bayonets, knives and rifle muzzles aside, cleaving flesh from flesh and bone from bone, and when he was done, when the enemy's advance and their will to fight both broken, he raised his bloodied ax to the heavens, his head thrown back and teeth bared, and he screamed as only a man given absolute leave of his senses can scream.

This man who we will not name, turned from the headless body on the ground, and its grisly executioner grounded beside, and went to the stable:  the man with the borrowed name saddled his horse, mounted:  his few saddlebagged provisions would see him as far as he needed to go.

If the madman with the ax was returned, he reasoned, the climate in another territory would be far healthier, and so he pointed his pony's nose westward, leaving his discarded name behind.

He could always pick up a new one.

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Susanna Polk walked into Calamity Kris's dress shop only minutes after Calamity unlocked the door and walked in herself. Smiling, Calamity greeted her, "Good morning, Miss Polk, how are you this morning?" Smiling the forced, tight smile of a person faced with an unpleasant task, Susanna Polk replied, "I am well, and yourself?" Calamity smiled, "I am much better, now that everyone appears to be safe. I am so hopeful things settle down now." Knowing full well the reason for the visit, Calamity asked, "How may I help you today? I just received a Peterson's Magazine, if you would like to look through it. You'll be the first, the Karnes girls haven't been in yet!"


Susanna Polk, who inherited much of her father's looks, which gave her a somewhat attractive but hard, haughty expression even when she was happy, continued to smile her tight smile, her jaw clenching slightly. Her nearly black hair and dark, deepset eyes only added to her stern look. Susanna's voice was almost as tense as her expression as she replied, "I have been told by my father that I am to retrieve some clothing items for a Miss Hall, that the bill is to be sent to Doc Ward." The disdain in her voice at the two names would have angered Calamity if she didn't find Susanna's discomfort so amusing. Keeping as straight a face as she could muster, Calamity replied, "Why, Sarah Jane? Of course, I can gather some things together for her, it would be my pleasure."


Seeing the distaste on Susanna's face, Calamity knew the errand was difficult for the girl. Calamity had no idea that the fear that Josiah Polk felt at Sheriff Cody's threat, one he believed the man capable of following through on, translated into threatened wrath at his wife, daughter, and hotel employees if Sarah Jane Hall should be in the least ways inconvenienced or upset. Susanna had never had her father threaten her where it mattered most to her since she was a child, her pocketbook, until this morning before her trip to Calamity's. Calamity sat about gathering some undergarments together, along with the yellow dress Sarah Jane had worn previously, and some grooming supplies she thought Sarah Jane would surely need. As she worked, Susanna stood, her hands in front of her, avoiding eye contact.


Finally, Calamity wrapped the small package together and sat it on the counter as she began to write up the bill. Susanna commented, "I was under the impression there was to be more than one dress." Nodding, Calamity replied, "Oh of course, but Sarah Jane is so tall and lithe, I will need to come over and fit them, and of course help her decide what will complement her fair skin and beautiful hair, don't you think?" Susanna could contain herself no longer, "Why put yourself to the trouble? It isn't as though she's a... a lady!" Tsking at Susanna, Calamity politely scolded her "Why Susanna Polk, shame on you! Sarah Jane Hall has comported herself as nothing but a lady since I've known her. And with the hardships she's endured of late, she is certainly deserving of our help and charity!" Standing stiffly, Susanna Polk didn't respond


Finishing up, Calamity slid the bill aside and pushed the small package toward Susanna. "Please tell Miss Hall I will be over within the hour." Leaning forward, Calamity added in a quiet voice as if relishing in the gossip, "You know, the rumor is she is smitten with Doc Ward, and that he is taken with her also!" Susanna Polk's expression turned as sour as if she'd bitten a lemon. "I shouldn't be surprised that He would be interested of someone like her. No wonder he won't set foot into the church." Again Calamity admonished, "Shush, he considers the Parson among his best friends!" Rolling her eyes, Susanna decided to respond further would just make her more unhappy than she already was and quickly stated "I will pass along your message. I would love to visit, but I have business to attend to over at the hotel. Please have a nice day, Ma'am." With that, she spun on her heel and almost ran from the store. Calamity smiled to herself, thinking she must share with Miss Lorelei what had transpired.

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After speaking with Parson Keller, Lorelei felt much better and headed over to Calamity Kris's dress shop to visit.  She didn't like what she had had to do, but could justify it because as the Parson said, people's lives had been saved.  She just hoped she wouldn't have to do something so drastic again. Even though she wasn't Catholic and therefore didn't go to confession, it seemed talking to Pastor Keller was "like a confession," and he had pardoned her for her sin.  Tonight she would ask God to forgive her as she would every night from now on.


As soon as she opened the door to the dress shop, Calamity broke into the biggest grin Lorelei had ever seen and said, "Wait til you hear what I have to tell you."

"Only if it is good news," replied Lorelei.

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"Sheriff Cody, meet Matthias Gardner. He and I just rode in from the Junction, and I was hoping you might have a room available for him."

The words were calm and measured and were unnecessary for the most part.  "I understand his brother is Zeb Gardner and Rye Miles and a few of his coworkers were hoping to be able to assist us in setting up a reunion."  Now I was talking, but I wasn't really waiting for answers as I escorted the man into the nearest open cell and locked the door behind him.


Sheriff Cody looked at me "Have you lost your mind Flint or are you just that much of a horse's ass that you think you can do whatever you want?"  I chuckled, "well it's not the former, as to the latter, you be the Judge."  I handed him a letter "Mark Flint is hereby authorized as a Federal Agent at large.  This appointment is without term and shall last as long as he lives. He has the full faith of the office of the President of these United States,  Dick Nixon, special assistant to President Chester B. Arthur"


Cody looked at it and back at me "And just for my amusement, why would they issue this to you?"  I took the paper and folded it and put it away.  I shrugged my shoulders and responded "Started off I just wanted a federal badge and sort of snowballed from there."


"Okay, so you have the authority to arrest him, what are the charges?"


"I suppose I will think of something isn't specific enough. Let's hold him currently on conspiracy to commit murder, he did offer me a job."


Cody shook his head, "Well there is no doubt that is criminal."

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"Oh Lorelei," Calamity started.  "You'll never believe who came in to pick up some clothes............for Sarah Jane" Calamity exclaimed with almost a school girl glee in her voice.  A smile appeared on Lorelei's face and she exclaimed "do tell".  Calamity recounted the story of Susanna Polk's errand.  The two of them giggled harder than they had in a while.  "You should have seen her scoot out of here" Calamity closed with. "You would have loved to have witnessed that".  They both giggled some more, then Calamity realized the time was passing and she had to get over to the hotel.  "I have this beautiful emerald dress that will really show off her lovely red hair and beautiful figure", Calamity said to Lorelei.  "Please help me find a fascinator or hat or something to go with it".  "I need to get my chalk and pins together so I can get to the hotel".  The two ladies scurried around the shop gathering items.  Lorelei found a beautiful emerald and black fascinator with tiny jewels in it that would go perfectly with the dress.  The two ladies nodded in agreement at the assembled outfit.  "Thank you so much for your help.  I'm sure Sarah Jane will look lovely in this outfit and hopefully, Doc Ward will think so too".  The two ladies hugged, rushed out the door and Calamity locked the shop and headed for the hotel, but not before turning over her "Be Back Soon" sign in the door's window. 

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Rye and his pards went into Whiskey's saloon and bellied up to the bar! Whiskey came over and gave Rye a friendly hug and he introduced Whiskey to Cat and Yuma. She said, "first drink on the house for these boys". Pastor Keller heard Rye was in town and came in to greet him. "Glad your back my friend, I've been praying for you and I see the Almighty has watched over you" said the Pastor. Rye introduced his friends and they all had a drink.  Sheriff Cody came walking through the batwing doors and said in a very loud voice, "You're under arrest Mr. Miles". Rye turned and was shocked to hear that. Cody had a serious look on his face and said, "Give up yer guns, all of you" Rye's pards were shocked also. Rye said, " What are ya'll 'resting me fer?" I didn't do anything wrong"  Cody said, "You sure 'bout that"? Rye looked puzzled and just then Cody let out a huge belly laugh! "Got ya good didn't I Rye, you old scoundrel". Rye punched him with a light tap in the arm and laughed. "I shoulda known better to listen to the likes of you", said Rye. He introduced his friends to Cody and Rye could tell they liked Cody right off the bat. They all proceeded to a table in the corner and Rye said, Okay, let's get a card game going, I'm taking all your money boys"!

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Doc Ward awoke to the sound of Okie Sawbones coming into the bedroom in his office. Okie looked at Doc and asked "How're you feeling?" Doc shrugged, "Weak. Stiff from doing nothing but laying about. Like I need a cup of coffee and a bath." Okie chuckled, "The first two are normal. And you certainly need a bath. I'm just not sure I want that leg soaking in hot water just yet. I'll heat water for you to wash off though." Doc thought before responding, "That should work. And the coffee?" Okie grumbled as he walked back through the door toward the back of the building. "You don't ask for much, do you? But I'll get you some crutches. Think you can use 'em? It ain't too far to Clara's cafe." Doc raised his voice to be heard as Okie kept walking, "Yes, I think I can. A little more strength back, and I'll be ready for a cane, I think." Reappearing a short time later, Okie handed Doc some crutches and said, "Follow me." Doc slowly made his way back, and Okie pointed to a room where Doc could take his time and wash up. "There's some new clothes and boots in there, too. You might want to burn what's left of what you're wearing. Just don't burn 'em too close to anyone. Might cause a panic."


Once cleaned up, Doc made his way back through to where Okie waited. "Well, you smell better, but you didn't shave." Doc let a smile cross his lips. "I promised a young lady the opportunity to do that. I don't want to disappoint her." Okie chuckled. "Seen her. Seems like quite a filly, long legged and raring to run. Not that it's any of my business, but is it true what she was doing over at The Junction?" Tensing and feeling a little uneasy, as he hadn't ever spoken at length with the curmudgeonly doctor, Doc replied with a simple "Yes." Okie frowned slightly and said "Well, I know that pretty much everyone that matters around here doesn't want that to be common knowledge, but that's the sort of thing that has a way of being found out anyway. I won't breathe a word, but seems you two are getting on pretty well. You gonna be OK if it comes up?" Doc sighed and thought for a few moments. "Honestly, it doesn't bother me what she did. It is how she treats me that matters." Okie, the frown still on his face, asked "And the guy that comes up and wants to make time with her because he did before? Or calls her a harlot or a jezebel in front of you?" Now Doc frowned. "That will depend on whether he wants to push the issue or not. If he does, I'm more than willing, and hope to be capable in the near future, of pushing right back." Okie tilted his head back and glanced at Doc. "Yes, I suppose you would be. What about the women who gossip behind your back." Now Doc laughed out loud. "Haven't you heard? According to the gossips, I'm going to Hell anyway. I might as well have a sweetheart for company." With a laugh, Okie stood, "Let's go see if Clara will still make some breakfast."

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I sat at the counter drinking my coffee when Doc and Okie walked into the place.  They sat at a nearby table and Doc waved an arm at me inviting me over.  I dropped payment on the counter and took my coffee over. "Mornin' glad to see you up and around Doc, and Okie, glad to see you . . . sober."  Doc Ward nodded, "Good to be up and around. Thank..."  I waved him off. "Nothing to thank me for-I just did what I thought was right.  It's a failing of mine."


I sipped my coffee and set the cup down. "If you gentlemen will excuse me, I actually have some work to do."

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Doc Ward did have the habit of doing the unexpected.

I expected to find him flat on his back, or maybe propped up a little and getting a face full of freshly spun up lather.

I found him and Doc Okie off having coffee.

I'm not sure if it was a planned palaver, J. Mark and I touched our hat brims in greeting -- me going in, him going out -- and I raised a finger once I got set down inside and was rewarded with coffee -- hot as the Inferno, black as a sinner's heart, and just what I was needing.

"Doc," said I, "don't know if you recall my saying so or not -- you had quite a bit going on around you -- but Anna Mae and I jumped the broom."

Doc smiled a quiet little smile, the kind a man will when he's either really satisfied with something, or when he's feeling a kindred spirit: whichever it was, he nodded and replied, "So I understand."

I shifted in my seat.

"It would appear," I continued, "that our union is ... fertile."

He gave me a knowing look and raised one eyebrow.

"You've been busy," was his only comment.

I could feel my ears getting red and I nodded.

"You ... could say that, yes."

Doc nodded, slowly.  "Good."

We three sat in companionable silence for a while, each of us soaking in our own thoughts, and finally Doc spoke up.

"Has she a family?" he asked, and from the carefully neutral tone of the man's voice, I'd guess he could play an absolutely straight faced game of poker.

"They were all killed," I replied, staring into the shimmering looking-glass of my coffee.  "Back during the War."

"You two knew each other?"

I forbade my hand from shivering, pressed the edge of my hand into the counter top and gripping the smooth warmth of the coffee cup just enough to keep any shiver from showing.

"We ... met."

"What's she done since then?"

"I don't know all her details," I admitted, "but I figure the worst she could have done would be to sell one part of her to keep the rest of her alive."  I raised my gaze, stared at the shelves behind the counter. "If the worst she's done has been to stay alive through hard times ..."

I shook my head.

"She knows me for what I am.  I accept her for what she is" -- I looked at him and grinned -- "good Lord, Doc, think of all the men we've known who left their name and their past back East and came out here and became someone entirely different!"

Doc nodded thoughtfully.  "Sometimes ... sometimes a man can do that," he said slowly, thoughtfully.

"Or a woman," I offered.  "Who we've been is dead and gone.  Who we are is who we're making of ourselves, right now."

Doc frowned at his coffee and he had the expression of a man who was turning something over in his mind, considering something that might have been in plain sight, or something he might have known already, but hadn't considered until 'twas put into words.

Finally he nodded, slowly, thoughtfully.

"Preacher," he said, "you're right."  He turned his head and looked very directly at me.  "Now what's this I hear about you riding a mule?"

Clara came out with two hands packing three plates, and on each, a slice of fresh baked pie, working a woman's magic as she made this impossible task look easy:  she slid a plate and a fork in front of each man, and smiled at the good laughter of three men, relaxing a little, letting their guard down.

It was good to hear laughter again.

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Conversation stopped as Doc dug in, seemingly famished. Okie and Pastor Keller dug into their own food, but not with the gusto that Doc did. All three men had finished breakfast in short order, and were enjoying coffee in the otherwise empty cafe when the bell on the cafe door rang. Looking up, Doc saw Sarah Jane coming through the door, her eyes searching for him. Doc reached for a crutch, trying to stand as Okie and Keller stood, but Sarah Jane came rushing over, waving for Doc to sit back down. Okie offered his chair for her before announcing, "I need to get back over to the office. I have some things to look into." Keller gave Okie a wry look and asked, "Which bottle do you plan on looking into today?" Okie shrugged and said, "Who knows! Doc, I'll see you soon to check on that leg." With that, he tossed a coin on the table before shuffling out of the cafe. Pastor Keller stood and looked at Doc and Sarah Jane. "I'll give you two some time to yourselves. Doc, I'll get my surrey hooked up and drive you over to your place when you're ready, just have Sarah Jane come get me." Keller placed his own coin on the table and touched his fingers to his hat, adding, "Sarah Jane." He then did a facing movement and walked from the cafe, leaving Doc and Sarah Jane alone, except for Clara and the cook in back.


Smiling at Sarah Jane as she sat across from him in her yellow dress, Doc said, "You look better rested. And much happier, I might add." Giggling, Sarah Jane leaned across the table toward Doc, "I have reason to be. You're up and about, Calamity Kris came over to the hotel and is putting the finishing touches on two beautiful dresses for me. I've never been treated so well." Doc sat back a little, and cocked his head in surprise. "The hotel? I thought you would be staying with Calamity Kris. Polk, his wife and daughter, aren't exactly my best friends around here, just so you are aware." With that, Sarah Jane proceeded to tell Doc about leaving him, and needing sleep but not wanting to inconvenience Calamity, and the events that transpired after. Almost bouncing with excitement as she told the story in animated whispers despite being left alone by Clara, Doc was angry, relieved, and pleased, seemingly all at once. As Sarah Jane spoke in her excited, happy voice, Doc though he could listen to her speak thus for days on end. Sarah ended by saying "I think Sheriff Cody terrified Mr. Polk! When I left my room to come here, he saw me in the lobby and made sure to ask me if everything in my room was as it should be and if I had any needs that weren't being met!" Doc shook his head in amazement. "I would say Cody did something, that doesn't sound like Polk at all."


Not being able to contain herself, Sarah Jane reached across and scratched a little at Docs facial hair and teased. "Did you decide to grow a beard? It has a lot of gray in it, it makes you look older!" Laughing, despite himself, Doc reached up for Sarah Jane's hand and held it as he looked at her, his face growing serious. "I recall saying you could give me a shave. I was waiting for that. But Sarah Jane, you need to remember, I am older, by a considerable number of years." Frowning, Sarah Jane looked him in the eyes, and replied "I don't care. You're not that old. Just remember that back home, girls were getting married at half my age. If I were really a..." Sarah Jane blinked a couple of times as she blushed, trying to find the right words... "Really a lady... I would be considered a spinster... An old maid." Now Doc frowned and leaned closer, "You listen to me, Sarah Jane Hall, as far as I'm concerned, you are a lady. You have the manners, the intelligence, the poise... More than many ladies who are proud of the label, and I have been around plenty. I just don't care what you did before you met me, I just know you are an amazing woman and a lady in my eyes. You are far from being an old maid."


Reaching up with his hand, Doc traced his thumb gently under the long thin scar running across Sarah Jane's cheek, then across under her lower lip. "I know you think these ruin your looks, make you look awful. They don't. They are the imperfections that make me appreciate your beauty even more." Lowering his hand so he held both of Sarah Jane's in his hands, Doc breathed a deep breath before exhaling slowly. "I also need you to understand a couple of other things. It isn't in me to stop short of what I set out to do. What I have done and plan to do, would be considered a sin by many, but I don't have the faith to say it is myself. I simply know that I have a need deep in my body to see men pay for what they have done to me. It could mean my death, I can't tell you what the future holds. I'm also a widower. I still cherish my wife's memory, and still love her deep in my heart."


Now it was Sarah Jane's turn to take a deep breath before she responded. "I will never, ever, ask you to forsake the memory of your wife, or your love for her. It is part of you, and makes you who you are. As for this thing you must do, my daddy once said he didn't have a dog in the fight in the war, but understood men who did. He also said sometimes a man just has to do something, but when he set out to do it, he should finish it. I don't understand it, but I understand you have to do it. If it means you're going to die, then I want to spend as much time with you as I can before that happens." Looking down at Doc's hands on hers, Sarah Jane continued, "You need to know these scars on my face aren't the only scars I carry. Men weren't always kind to me, and it shows. I have scars on my body, and inside as well." Looking up, Sarah Jane blinked back a tear. "I know you have your own scars inside as well as on the outside. I heard you talking of death and pain as you slept in the ambulance. Perhaps our scars, and the fact that we are still able to go forward and try to enjoy life mean's we were meant for each other."


Doc reached up, his hand on her cheek. "You seem to have an answer for everything." Her lips quivering as she smiled, Sarah Jane laughed lightly, and her eyes sparkled. "Well, one of us needs to." Laughing, Doc nodded, and for the first time in a very long time, smiled at the memory of his wife. "I've heard that said before." Leaning his head as he looked at Sarah Jane, Doc asked, "Will you go to church Sunday?" Sarah Jane nodded, "Why of course. I think Pastor Keller would be disappointed if I didn't." Doc nodded his understanding, but his eyes showed he was also thinking of something. "Good, he'll be pleased, along with everyone else. You just need to know, I don't go. I won't. Not since the war. I can't be a hypocrite, and I meant it when I said I don't have faith." Sarah Jane patted Doc's hand. "It's OK. Everyone still thinks you're a good man. Well, most everyone, anyway." Giggling, Sarah Jane started telling Doc how stiff and pained Susanna Polk looked as she delivered the package and message from Calamity Kris."

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I had work to do.  I went to the office and looked through the paperwork that was laying on the desk.  After a brief review, I found nothing of importance.  As such, I wrote a letter of resignation and sent it over to the Mayor's office.  Being a lawyer wasn't to my taste, even if I was good at it.  I needed to be on the outside, not merely the outdoors, but not a part of a system that was too rigid to actually find justice. 


I headed back to Clara's and ordered a plate of lunch to be taken to Mattias Gardner in the jail.  As soon as I ordered it, I told her to make it two.  I took them over to the jail handing on to Sheriff Cody and setting the other down on his desk.  "I figure if I dragged him in here, I should feed him and If I'm bringing him food, I could do the same for you."


He looked at me and simply said "Thanks." 


As Sheriff Cody started to eat, I unbuckled my guns, removed my back up guns and removed my knives as well.  Cody chuckled as the 5th gun hit the chair.  "Flint, what are you scared of?" he said in a joking voice.  I got quiet an answered seriously "Sheriff, I'm scared that someday I'll be wrong and have to actually answer for my sins. I fear my friends will pay the price for my arrogance and most of all I am scared of fool questions.  Now may I have some time with the prisoner?"


Sheriff Cody didn't know quite what to say, but he nodded "Go ahead, but he's a prisoner here, so no rough stuff."


I feigned a look of pain "Who me?" as I unlocked the door and stepped into the cell.


Mattias Gardner looked at me but didn't rise from his bunk  "I got nothing to say to you."


I smiled "That's fine, I've wired Alan Pinkerton, I don't think much of him, but I sure think less of you.  He's already got a team of agents and lawyers taking everything you ever had or ever will have.  If you have any family that isn't involved in crime, this is your only opportunity to protect them."


Gardner looked at me and said nothing.  I pulled a telegram from Pinkerton and dropped it on the floor as I left the cell and relocked the door.


"If you change your mind, let the Sheriff know. Tomorrow will be too late."  I walked across the office and began returning my firearms to their respective positions.  As I slipped my Bowie knife back into its sheath, I thumbed the edge, the sharpness scraping a bit of flesh from the pad of my thumb.


Sheriff Cody offered that he would return the plates to Clara after Gardner ate.  Gardner's plate still sat on his desk, the food getting cold and the gravy attracting flies.  I smiled as I knew that Gardner would get his food when Cody was good and ready.



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Sarah Jane, would you get Pastor Keller for me, please? I need to get back to my place, start figuring out what I'm going to do next. Decide if I want to try to rebuild the livery when I'm done." Sarah Jane was quickly on her feet and smiled before turning away. "Do I get to see where you live? I can give you a shave there." Doc paused a moment then nodded and gave a sly grin, "Sure. I suppose with the preacher there to chaperone us, nobody'll be able to talk." Reaching over, Sarah Jane mussed Doc's hair and made a face. "Funny," was her only reply before walking for the door. Doc couldn't help admiring her as she walked away.


Doc sat enjoying coffee until Sarah Jane stepped back inside and came over to him. Helping him up onto his crutches, she waited until Doc paid for his food and coffee before walking ahead and getting the door. Walking to the surrey on the crutches, Doc paused to decide the best way in before grabbing hold and pulling himself up into the rear seat and in as Sarah Jane held the crutches. Sarah Jane then got in with him and they drove off. "Thanks for the favor, Pastor," Doc said as they rolled down the street. "The pleasure's mine Doc," Keller called back over his shoulder.


As they approached the burned remains of the livery, Doc was pained to see the charred timbers pointing up to the sky, and had to close his eyes against the memories, feeling Sarah Jane put her arm around him to hold him tight. As he opened his eyes, Doc noticed work had been done cleaning up the burned remains of the building and the horses, and saw Petr and Sylvester working with shovels, tossing burned wood into a wagon. "People hope you'll rebuild," Keller again said over his shoulder. Turning the rig, he took them down the distance past pasture fence with several horses behind it, to Doc's house. Only one story, and small, it was still clearly a colonial style with a porch running the length of the front. Different than the adobes and cabins that were prevalent, it looked a little larger and almost as nice as the parsonage that Pastor Keller lived in. Sarah Jane gripped Doc's arm. "This is your home?" Doc looked over and nodded. "It is. A storm cellar, frame construction. Kitchen with an indoor pump, dining room, parlor, office and bedroom." "It looks wonderful," was all she could say in response.


As they arrived, both Keller and Sarah Jane helped Doc down. Getting his crutches under him, Doc made his way to the front door, only to find the door wouldn't budge. Trying it a second time, Doc stepped back and looked at the door, muttering "What in the..." moving to one of the windows to peer in, Doc realized the shutters had been locked closed from the inside. Quickly swinging back to the front door as Sarah Jane looked confused and Pastor Keller grew concerned, Doc balanced on one crutch and used his free hand to pound on the door, hard. From inside, a gruff voice called, "Go away!" Doc, stunned, shouted, "Go away hell, I LIVE here!" The voice from inside shouted back, "Not anymore. Nobody was here, so I moved in. I'm claiming it now. Anybody tries to come through that door or those windows will get a load of buckshot! And the fella that follows him too! Now go away!"


Doc Ward began cursing and slammed his fist against the door hard enough to make Sarah Jane flinch, and bring her arms up protectively in front of her. Pastor Keller, seeing Sarah Jane's reaction, put his hand on Doc Ward's shoulder. "Doc, you need to calm down, man." Looking around, Doc blanched as he saw Sarah Jane, her arms up, trembling. Appalled that he caused the reaction in her, Doc Ward shook his head, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you." Sarah Jane nodded, but kept her arms up. Stepping up, Keller, his voice loud and deep, said "This home does not belong to you, and you cannot stay in there forever." The voice replied, "Mebbe not, but I got plenty of supplies, and I can stay here a long, long time. Now go away, I say, or I start shooting!" Not wanting to put Sarah Jane at risk, Doc Ward, motioned her and the preacher off the porch.


"Squatter? How in the world did that happen?" Keller rubbed his jaw thinking. "One of the ladies mentioned seeing a couple of people sneaking about, looking in darkened windows. Must be your place was the only one unattended long enough for someone to get in and get supplies in without being noticed. Doc shook his head. "Why do I have a feeling Gardner is behind this?" Keller let out a sharp laugh. "It wouldn't surprise me. But doesn't the man realize it's just an annoyance?" Doc thought. "We've thought possible land grab. Maybe he is trying to hold long enough for that to happen, then turn it over to Gardner."


Having the others stay back and going back up on the porch, Doc stood to the side of the door, counting on the plaster and lathe inside to slow any buckshot if the man opened fire. Knocking, Doc called in, "There's one member of the Gardner family over at the jail, and the rest of them are going to be in jail or dead before too long. There are three Arizona Rangers in town on the case, and one U.S. government agent. Now, if you think you're going to get paid by them, you're counting wrong. I'm in a bad mood. I've been shot, I've had my stable and horses burned and more. I have no problem burning MY house down around your ears and starting over from scratch. Now get out of there now or I'm going to go get matches!" After a long pause, there was an unsure, "You're bluffing." Doc shook his head as he looked at the preacher and Sarah Jane. "Watch me. Pastor, do you have any matches on you? I'll get some tinder together and we'll start the corner burning." With that Doc hobbled off the porch on his crutches and toward the corner, sure the man inside was watching from the cracks in the shutters.


As the preacher walked up with matches in hand, Doc pulled a piece of wood from the woodpile, fished inside his pocket for a knife and began shaving tinder from it, then slightly larger pieces. As Keller looked at Doc, a humorous expression on his face, he said, loud enough to be heard, "You sure about this?" Doc winked but gave his loud response "Damn right I am. He can burn in there. I might as well rebuild two buildings as well as one, and the only thing of value I have left is either standing out here, or sitting in a box at your place." With that, Doc lit a match and held it to the tinder piled on the porch and then used his hand to wave it to life. Pastor Keller stood back, watching, next to Sarah Jane, who kept her hand over her mouth, looking at the house with a worried expression."


Suddenly the man, a fat, dirty man whom Doc was sure he had seen at The Junction, slammed the door open, and came running out. "Okay! Okay! I'm out!" Doc used a crutch to knock the fire from the porch, then quickly swept the remainder off with his hand. Using the crutches, Doc went back on the porch and inside, seeing his home a mess, and with the foul odor that indicated the man hadn't bathed in a very long time, and had likely not risked going out to the outhouse. Doc shook his head as he moved back to the man. Looking at him with disgust, Doc asked, "What are you, an animal?" The man was about to reply, when he spotted Sarah Jane. He stared for a moment before it dawned on him who she was. "Say, you're that tramp from..." Doc swung a crutch up, striking the man hard along the jaw and alongside his head. The man dropped straight down as his head jerked and his knees buckled. Doc Ward lifted the crutch to hit him again when Keller said loudly, "Doc! He won't feel it." Looking as he held the crutch ready to strike, Doc muttered, "Probably not, but I'd feel better. When he wakes up, I'm going to hold a gun to him until he cleans up in there. I plan on sleeping in my own bed tonight." Looking at Keller and Sarah Jane, Doc shook his head. "All I wanted was a shave. Is that too much to ask?" Keller chuckled, "You two stay here, I'll go get someone to come watch over him as he cleans, then you can go to the parsonage and get that shave." With that, he turned and was in the surrey and off.


Looking over at Sarah Jane, Doc's voice was soft as he said, "I'm sorry I scared you." Sarah Jane shivered slightly before replying. "No, you shouldn't be. Something... The hand hammering the door... Something... My mind just jumped to those men that..." Her voice trailing off, Sarah Jane lowered her head and shook it, as if trying to rid herself of the memory. Doc's face showed pain as he pulled her to him. Lifting her head, Sarah Jane looked up at his gently spoken, "Sarah Jane." For the first time, Doc realized Sarah Jane was not much more than an inch shorter than his six feet with the small heel on her shoes. Smiling, Doc whispered, "You know I would never, could never, strike you or harm you." Sarah Jane nodded, her own voice a whisper, replied, "I do. I know that in my head, and in my heart. I couldn't help it. It is some of those scars I bear on the inside, I suppose." Doc pulled Sarah Jane close and held her with one hand around her waist, his other holding his crutch, and they waited, her hands on his arms, her head on his shoulder." Doc asked "So, do you really like it? I wanted it to look like some of the houses around where I went to college in Ohio." Sarah Jane sighed. "I do. It's perfect."

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I got some help to get Old Filthy away from Doc's hacienda. 

He was dead weight, half drunk and knocked colder'n a foundered flounder, but he came to when the cold water hit him.

It took him a moment to realize he was buck naked, and when he did he let out a roar and tried to scramble off but a wooden bucket seems to have hit the side of his head -- I have no idea how that happened -- and after he realized his face had been introduced to the ground at a fair velocity, and that several sets of hard hands were gripping him, he realized that perhaps he'd best submit to our collective tender ministrations.

I can't say that he enjoyed the experience.

Good lye soap and a stiff bristle brush do not a good combination make, and it took lengthy effort and a few more swats to different parts of his head to persuade him to allow his hide to be scrubbed free of the accumulated dirt, filth and stink, but the deed was finally done, he was issued a brand new set of long handle underwear (it was pointed out to him that the trap door even had the buttons intact!) and when he demanded his clothes, his language was somewhat less than Christian in nature when he was informed that they were burned, and he should be grateful that he was getting a new set of clean duds to wear, even if it was to the hoosegow.

Sheriff Cody looked up as we dragged the ungrateful, muttering, somewhat puffy faced squatter into his calabozo:  the Sheriff raised an eyebrow as I hooked the keys off their peg and we hauled the pink-skinned prisoner "kickin' and squealin'" back into the cells, and the Sheriff offered no protest at the sound of a body being introduced briskly to a solid timber wall.

I locked the cell door and we retraced our steps; I returned the key to its peg, then I looked at the congealed gravy on the plate on the Sheriff's desk, decided against asking about it, and said "I suppose you'd like to know the charges."

Sheriff Cody nodded.  "That ... would help, yes," he said slowly, shaking his head, then he opened a desk drawer and pulled out a half sheet of paper and a whittled pencil.

"Mopery with intent to creep," I said solemnly, "impersonating a human being --"

Cody looked up at me, undecided whether to laugh or cuss:  I saved him the trouble with a wink and a grin, and then my face grew solemn as I described Doc's unpleasant discovery when he went to set foot in his own house, how he evicted the unwanted tenant, and how we treated the unwashed intruder.

"I think I've a fresh tick," I said, "Doc's might need burnt, and I've extra bed linens as well.  I'll see what else he'll need, I don't know what-all that trespasser ruined."

"How many of you did it take to clean that fellow up?"  Cody asked faintly.

"Five," I admitted, "and once everyone found out what happened and why I was intent to take a bristle brush to this fellow, why, they decided they liked Doc considerably better than this Great Unwashed, and they pretty much took over."  

Sheriff Cody nodded.  "You don't look like someone who gave an unwilling man a bath."

"No," I admitted, "my associates seemed to be enjoying themselves, so I didn't really see fit to interfere."


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After class was dismissed, Miss Lorelei headed over to Kris's dress shop to check on how the alterations for Sarah Jane's dresses were coming knowing full well Kris would have them done in time for Sarah Jane to wear one of them to church on Sunday.  Since news travels faster than lightening in Stone Creek, she was sure Kris had heard about the squatter in Doc's house, but wanted to discuss the situation with her, and since her shop was in town she may have already heard more about it.  She then planned to go out to see Mary and spend some time teaching her to read and maybe getting in another shooting lesson.  

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The Sheriff and the Pastor left before they started the card game. Cody was busy and had to go and the Pastor, while he indulged in spirits now and then was not a gambling man. Rye and his pards started playing when a stranger came over and said, "Can I partake in this game fellas?". He was all dressed up in a black suit with a freshly laundered white shirt with some ruffles on it. He wore no tie, maybe because it was a very hot day and that allowed him some air to seep in. He was obviously a gambler. Rye looked at his pards and they were staring at the stranger with obvious suspicion in their eyes. Cat said, "Sure c'mon and join us" to the surprise of Rye and Yuma. Rye nudged Cat under the table with his foot and gave him a scowl. Cat ignored it and started dealing. As the game progressed no one was ahead or for that matter much behind either. Everyone won a hand or two  and seemed to break even. Not much small talk just cards. Rye hated when conversations started in a card game. He liked to keep it to cards and the small talk minimal. 

The stranger started winning hand after hand and Rye was getting aggravated and also suspicious of the fast dealing of this stranger. He started looking very carefully at the way he was dealing. When it was Rye's deal and it came to the stranger. Rye asked "How many cards and do you want them from the bottom or top of the deck". The stranger was taken aback and said, "What do you mean?" Rye replied with a grin, "well since you deal off the bottom of the deck to yourself I figgered you preferred that to the top". The stranger said, "Are you accusing me of cheating?". Rye said, "Yes I am, care to explain yourself and why you think that you can pull something so stupid like that off?" The stranger started to reach in his breast pocket and Rye grabbed the stranger's hand and had his Colt out and in the stranger's face. He had a derringer that he was going for. Rye grabbed the derringer and smashed him on the head with the barrel of his Colt knocking the stranger off his chair and on the floor out cold. "Well let's drag this no gooder over the the Sheriff and see what he says, said Rye.

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Cody had no sooner set down at his desk when Rye and Cat came through the front door dragging a stranger. The man looked a little out of sorts and none to happy as he struggled to break away from the, together they were much to strong for that to happen. Rye said, "We caught this no good puke cheatin' at cards". Cody winked at Rye and said, "Jail's full, find a tree and hang his sorry @$$."


"But, but, but, I wasn't cheatin', I swear; p-please don't." stammered the stranger as he became keenly aware of what was taking place.


Cody, walked over and grabbed him by his shirt collar, slapping him with the back of his hand twice he stated, "This is your only warning. Get on your horse and leave Stone Creek. If you don't have a horse, buy one and I mean now. If I see you within 100 miles of Stone Creek I'll gut shoot you and leave you to the buzzards!" The stranger fell out the door and ran as fast as the town folk had ever seen anyone run before.


"Sorry about that Rye, I'm finding myself a little impatient lately and I'm not really sure what to do about it. I think I need a drink; you mind watching the jail for a while?", Tyrel remarked.

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Rye and Cat got a big laugh from the way Cody handled the card cheat! "Now that's the way to handle the scumbags 'round here" said Rye! "Go ahead and have a drink or three on me Sheriff, ya'll deserve it with what's going on here". Cody said, "Much obliged, I'll be back soon". "Take yer time" said Rye. Cody walked out with a little grin on his face, a little proud of himself for not taking any more guff than he had to. Rye said, " How 'bout ya git us some vittles". Cat said, "Okay steak and eggs sound good"? "Sure does" said Rye, "get some fer Yuma too, he went to the outhouse to talk to a man about a horse"

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Doc Ward followed as the freshly cleaned miscreant was dragged over to the jail. Once he was firmly ensconced in his cell, Doc Ward looked in at him. "So, was Gardner paying you?" From the other cell, Mattias Gardner spoke up, "Don't talk to the man, if you know what's good for you!" The fat man's eyes bulged and he decided clamming up was his best option. Doc Ward took a deep breath. Looking over at Sheriff Cody, "Sheriff, I've changed my mind. I don't want this man charged." Cody looked up in surprise. "You sure, Doc?" Doc Ward nodded. "Yes, if you'll release him, the others can haul him back over to my house and throw him inside. As foul as he left it, I think it would be easiest to burn it anyway instead of trying to clean it. Might as well burn him with it." With that, Doc Ward went to get the key to the cell and returned, four men standing behind him ready to grab the fat man. The man huddled in the corner as Doc began working the key, thinking that the rumors he was insane were true. Shrilly, the man started blubbering  "Yes! Gardner paid me. Said he would pay me to stay until the town was emptied, then he would take the house from there! Same thing we did up in Nevada! Charge me! I'll stand trial, I swear! Just keep me in the cell away from him!" As Doc frowned as though disppponted, he relocked the cell. The man sat in disbelief, sputtering, "Ya'll were gonna let him burn me! Is everyone in this town crazy?" Doc rolled his eyes and shook his head, turning away as he showed his disgust, "Shut up."


Looking in the other cell at Gardner, Doc leaned his head to the bars. "I'm pretty sure your brother had my stable and horses burned. I know a man by the name of Johann had something to do with it. Johann is a dead man, if your brother had something to do with it, he's a dead man. If I find out you had anything to do with it, this cell won't save you. Savvy?" Matthias Gardner looked at Doc dismissively, "You don't appear in any condition to make boasts, my friend." Doc Ward nodded. "Could be. But three men are already dead, and while I almost died myself, I'm getting stronger again every day. Are you willing to take that gamble? I am." Seeing Doc's cold stare as he peered into the cell, Matthias shook his head. "No. I do not think I will take that gamble. I assure you, I had nothing to do with it. I, too, am fond of horses and find their loss regrettable." Giving a curt nod, Doc turned away.


Looking at Keller and Sheriff Cody, Doc took a deep breath, and the two men glanced at one another wondering if Doc had actually been ready to burn the man alive instead of just bluffing. Cody finally broke the silence. "You weren't going to burn him alive, were you?" Doc paused an uncomfortably long time, before exhaling deeply, and replying, "The secret to running a good bluff is it needs to be convincing, right?" Despite his answer, both men looked at one another, unconvinced. Looking at the preacher, Doc asked, "Would it be possible to have a few minutes of your time over at the parsonage after church on Sunday, Pastor?" Keller was slightly nonplussed by the sudden change in Doc's demeanor. "Certainly, Doc, or we can speak now, if you'd like. Something on your mind?" Doc shook his head, saying "No, I think Sunday will be perfect. Sheriff Cody, would you mind stopping by too? I'd take it as a favor." Cody shrugged, "I don't see why not, I'll be in church anyway." Doc seemed pleased. "Good."


Gesturing with his head back toward the fat man's cell, Doc continued, "I need to go down to the General Store and buy a few things for my house." As Doc used the crutches to leave, he paused at Cody's desk, where the Deputy Sheriff badge still sat. Pausing to look at it, he heard Cody say, "Go ahead and pick it up. You're still on the payroll." Glancing over his shoulder, Doc picked up the badge and waved it at Cody before leaving. Cody looked over at Parson Keller. "Your place after church. What's that all about?" Pastor Keller looked thoughtfully at the door. "I'm not positive, but I have my suspicions." As Cody waited for more, Keller shook his head. "I don't want to speak out of turn. I'm sure Doc has his reasons for not saying more, but all the same, I think I can say he will appreciate your presence. It may mean more to him, and to you, than you know."

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Using the crutches, Doc Ward worked his way down to the General Store, and went in, where he was greeted by smiles and waves from Seamus and Kay. Seamus set aside what he was doing and came over to Doc with a broad smile. "How're ya doing, Doc?" Doc let out a little laugh, "A lot better thanks to you and the others." Seamus waved his hand, "Aw, it was nothing you wouldn't have done for any of us. Besides, it gave me a reason to get out of the store for awhile!" Both men laughed before Seamus asked, "Is there anything particular you need?" Doc explained the squatter, why he thought Gardner was behind it, suggesting that others would need to keep an eye out. As Seamus listened, Kay saw her customer off then came up and began listening as well. "I knew I had seen people looking around, sneaking and checking houses. I was worried they were going to burn more, but they want the land and the houses, it seems." Doc agreed, and asked if they had seen any of Gardner's men around. Seamus nodded. "Since I've been back, I keep seeing them. They'll ride into town, two or three at a time. They won't talk to anyone, beyond getting their business done, then they head right back out, but they keep a sharp eye, looking around at the town.


Doc nodded staring down at the floor, pondering the information before taking a breath and looking up with a smile. "At any rate, the important reason I'm here is to settle up a little tab I owe, and to buy a few items." Seamus grinned his broad smile again. "Why sure, Doc, what do you need?" Doc thought through his mental checklist as he replied, "Bed linens, preferably the nicest you have. Cleaning supplies. A new white shirt, some collars and cuffs." Doc paused thinking, then looked down at the crutches and back up. "I think I'll be ready to move to a cane soon if you have any." Seamus walked over to a barrel and pulled one out. Walking over to Doc he held it up for him to see. "Made of hickory, large polished brass eagle's head... It is a bit hefty, but strong." Doc leaned a crutch against a table and took the cane as Seamus offered it to him. Looking it over, then putting it to the floor and leaning to check the height of it, Doc nodded. "That will do fine. Would you mind terribly having the items delivered? Oh, and I spoke with Pastor Keller, and a few of us are going to meet over at his place Sunday after church for a bit. I'd appreciate it if you were there, and if you could ask Calamity Kris, Miss Lorelei and Mary to be there when you see them. Kay, people may be thirsty, especially if the preacher gets long winded, so I'd happily pay if you brought some punch along." Kay nodded and Seamus asked "Out of curiosity, what is the meeting about?" Doc paused, thinking, then replied "I'd rather not say at the moment, but I don't believe it is anything to be worried about."

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Three wagon loads of lumber arrived shortly after mid day and were unloaded at the site of the livery.  The teamsters worked quickly and quietly stacking beams and boards neatly.  I walked over and surveyed their work approvingly as I handed them payment and then gave each of the a 20 dollar gold piece.  They finished their work and were on their way before anyone else had taken time to see what was going on.


With that out of the way I headed to the Sheriff's office.  Gardner was in his cell and Cody was asleep in his chair, hat pulled down over his eyes.  I put the receipt for the lumber on the desk with a note on top addressed to Doc Ward.  "Doc, I took the liberty of ordering lumber for the livery.  Come see me at Clara's this evening and we can discuss my collecting reimbursement from Zeb Gardner.   J. Mark Flint"


I eased the door shut behind me, leaving Cody to his dreams.

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Sarah Jane and Anna Mae took to one another like sisters.

They got to talking the way women will, it sounded like both of them were talking at the same time:  Anna Mae watched in wonder and admiration as Sarah Jane made shaving Doc look easy, and Anna Mae knew this was the mark of someone who was really good at what they did.
I wasn't there for that particular party.

I had need to think.

Now I know I can address the Almighty from wherever I am, and whenever I wish, and often do, but there is something ... formal? ... about going into the Sanctuary, going into the quiet and the cool and sitting down with my hat in my hand, and letting my soul expand wider than my lean carcass and practicing that Scriptural admonition to be still and know that He is God.

I did that, but there was something else.

I looked up and whispered, "Thank You."

I considered for some time after that, sorting myself out.

There was that within me that wanted to let Doc turn his wolf loose on Gardener's man, and yes, I wished for Doc to do truly terrible things to Gardener.

There was that monster within me that wished to harm and to hurt and to bust things apart, and to seize and rend and take terrible revenge on those who'd chosen to make our lives unhappy.

I wished most sincerely to take men by the throat and drive my blade up under their wishbone again and again and again, until my knife was wrist deep in their guts and me still twisting the blade, trying to make it come out behind their collar bones.

I wished for this for the distress they caused Miz Loreli, for having to make the women wear britches and shoot down evil men, for the howling grief I felt radiating from Doc as he knelt and pounded futile fists into the dirt, reliving some terrible and private grief.

I considered that I'd been given a choice when I counseled Doc against violence, when he brought El Stinko out of his house, and I'd confined my revenge to a good bristle brush scrubbing of the aforementioned offender, and I recognized that as vigorous as I'd been, as much as the miscreant howled at my lye soap ministrations, I'd acted for his benefit, whether he realized it or not.

Had I taken my knife and driven its pommel into the top of his skull and caved it in, had I given him a smile from earlobe to earlobe, he would have no further chance to save his corroded soul; he would learn nothing from that moment on.

I considered the man I'd beheaded back at the Junction.

I knew if I did not stop him, he'd have stopped me, and probably Sarah Jane as well, and what I did was needful, and I was satisfied with that.

I reflected back on my past and decisions I'd made, actions I'd taken, and I gave another quiet thanks that He was the judge, and not I, for I realized that I would judge myself far more harshly.

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Before heading out to Mary's place, Miss Lorelei dropped by Seamus and Kay's store to pick-up a couple of items.  Kay called her over and asked, "Are you, Kris, and Mary going to be at church Sunday?"

"Yes, why?"  I answered.

"Doc wants all of us there after church on Sunday and he asked me to bring some punch, but wouldn't say why.  Do you have any idea?"

"No, but I'm heading out to see Mary and will stop by and tell Kris before I go.  I sure wonder what's up."

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Saul had taken over the land office after I abandoned it.  I stopped by to make sure he was handling matters adequately.  He was sitting back reading a book.


"Afternoon Saul, I see you have settled in here."  Saul chuckled "Can't believe I get paid for this, haven't had a thing to do since I started."

I laughed, "Good to hear, with all the strife in town, I would hesitate to issue any deeds.  Let me know if you have any questions."


Saul nodded and assured me that he would before pulling out a chessboard.


We played two games and he won them both "Glad to see you play better when your not worried about getting shot."  He laughed.  "Yeah, but don't feel bad, I thought you had me at least two times last game."


As it was getting close to dinner time I invited Saul to join me, but he declined.  I headed out to Clara's where I saw Doc Ward sitting with Sarah Jane. I  stepped through the door and Doc waved me over.  I set my hat on an empty chair and sat down. "Good evening Doc, Ma'am.  Doc  spoke first "That lumber must have set you back a fair bit, and while I don't want to seem unappreciative,  I don't have the money to pay for it right now."


I looked at him and then at Sarah Jane.  "Doc, I have every intention of being paid by Zeb Gardner. I wish to buy your right to sue him for the destruction of the stable."  Sarah looked at Doc, who looked at me and then back at her "Yes Sarah Jane, he is crazy.  J. Mark I'd rather have his hide than money."


I nodded, "I assumed as much, but maybe this will change your mind."  I pushed a bank draft for $10,000.00 He looked at it and Sarah Jane did as well, but said nothing.  Doc pushed it back towards me, but Sarah Jane laid her hand across his, at first appearing to stop him, but then joining him in returning the draft.


"No Mark, even though that's a lot of money, I want my justice from him directly."


I folded the draft up and returned it to my pocket.  "As to the lumber, we'll figure it out later."



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Doc Ward sat quietly. For a man who didn't speak much, he was seldom at a loss for words when he needed them. Finally he took a breath, "Flint, I don't know how to thank you. There will always be a stall and grain at the ready for you. Although, as I recall, I'll let you groom your horse and pick his hooves yourself. He seems a bit...  antisocial. I suppose now all we need is a plan, and get people together for a barn raising." Doc's face brightened a little as an idea came to him. "Can you be at the parsonage after church on Sunday? Seems like a good time, since everyone will be around. Perhaps we can get some people together and start planning then." Flint nodded, "Let me think on it. I have no idea where I'll be." Doc nodded his understanding and continued, "And see if Saul VanHoose will make it. If he's going to be a member of this town, we need to treat him like one. My guess is he's raised a few barns along with a lot of hell." Flint laughed, "I'm sure he has."


Doc paid the tab for dinner, and pulled himself up onto his crutches. "I'll be glad to be rid of these," he muttered, and Sarah Jane patted him on the shoulder, saying "You will be soon enough." Walking Sarah Jane to the hotel, Doc stopped short of walking up the steps. "Goodnight, I want to get some sleep. I need to set to scrubbing my place down and getting it clean tomorrow." Sarah Jane folded her arms across her chest and looked at Doc. "Then I will see you bright and early in the morning. You still aren't in any condition to take on that job by yourself." Heaving a sigh and accepting the inevitable, Doc nodded. "OK, Sarah Jane, I'll see you in the morning." Looking at her with a grin, he added "Bring breakfast, please." Stepping up onto the first step so she was looking down at Doc, Sarah Jane removed his hat and ran her fingers through his hair, mussing it, then kissed him on top of the head. "You can count on it, Sweetie." With that, she turned and went lightly up the steps, while Doc watched, smiling as he caught a glimpse of ankle and calf. Doc remembered her running up another flight of stairs, showing her legs, and him noticing, despite his condition. Doc started to make his way to the sheriff's office, where he would see if he could get a lift the rest of the way to his place. As he did he thought to himself with a grin, "I'll never get tired of the view of her leaving, so long as I know I'll get to see her coming back."

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Calamity was going through her shop, looking for the correct dress to wear on Sunday.  Seems most everyone in town is invited to the parsonage after church.  I wonder why?  I wonder if it has to do with Doc and Sarah Jane....  "I'll bet that's it" Calamity said under her breath.  At that moment, Lorelei opened the door.  "Evening, Calamity" Lorelei called out.  "I know you're just getting ready to close for the evening.  I was over talking to Kay at the General Store.   Have you heard the buzz in town?" she asked Calamity.  Calamity nodded.  "Yes I hear Doc wants everyone to gather at the parsonage after church.  I wonder if he's got plans to marry Sarah Jane" Calamity said distantly.  "I know they're sweet on each other".  Lorelei put her hand over her mouth and looked surprised.  "Do you really think so, Calamity?" she asked with a startled tone.  Calamity said "I don't know but I sure hope so.  They are made for each other and I can't think of two people who deserve to be together more than them."   Lorelei nodded in agreement.  "While you're here, help me find a dress for Sunday."  Lorelei  started looking at the dresses and stopped.  "If there is going to be a wedding, who is going to get Sarah Jane ready?"  Calamity stopped in her tracks.  Turning and looking at Lorelei, she said "Why us, of course.  Looks like we've got some work ahead of us.  We want her to look perfect, don't we?"  Lorelei nodded in agreement.  "Yes we do.  Yes we do."  Lorelei smiled at the thought and commenced to looking through the dresses with Calamity.

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Saturday dawned clear with a bit of chill coming off the mountains as Doc Ward made coffee, waiting for Sarah Jane to arrive. He had slept with the windows open to eliminate some of the odor from the squatter, sleeping in the kitchen on his bedroll, where the smell actually seemed least offensive. Before bed, Doc had tried cleaning the worst of the mess out so Sarah Jane wouldn't have to. As he had the first of his coffee, Doc heard the sound of a horse and carriage approach and pull to a stop. Doc made his way to the front door and was surprised to see not only Sarah Jane, but also Pastor Keller and Anna Mae. Sarah Jane was carrying a basket with food, and the preacher and his wife were carrying more cleaning supplies. Both of the ladies wore plain dresses for a day of cleaning, but Keller wore his black suit and white shirt, as always. Doc lowered his head slightly and placed his hand over his heart in greeting. "Good morning! I must say I'm somewhat surprised to have company." His face showing his sense of humor without smiling, Doc added, "I'm afraid I've not tidied up."


Nudging him with her elbow, Sarah Jane pushed by, followed by Anna Mae and the Pastor. Sarah Jane responded "I asked if they would bring me here when I saw them at Clara's, and they wouldn't take 'No' for an answer. Pastor Keller stopped for some supplies and we came on down." Keller looked at Doc, and added "Many hands make light work, my friend." Sarah Jane pulled out food for Doc as she talked. "There's so much wood over by the old stable! Is that what Flint was talking about?" Doc moved over to help her, only to have her swat his hand away and say "I've got this, drink your coffee." Glancing over, Doc saw Keller and Anna Mae exchange a knowing glance, and felt a little red come into his face as he responded, "Yes, I'm still amazed at Flint for doing it. I believe I can get the money, to repay him, if he'll take it, but it will leave me with little left. I have enough horses for when Wells Fargo and Overland need fresh ones, but I had hoped to buy a few more." Realizing he had been thinking out loud more than carrying on a conversation, Doc glanced at everyone, "My apologies, I'm not complaining, I'm thinking of all that needs to be done. I'm simply happy to be alive, to be here and to have such good friends. You are better than any fortune.


Pastor Keller lifted the coffee cup that Sarah Jane had given him in toast, and said in his deep voice "Hear! Hear!" Sarah Jane made sure Doc sat down to eat before starting in cleaning, and the preacher took off his coat and rolled his sleeves, putting on an apron over his vest and pants, before joining in. Doc ate hurriedly so that he could assist them. as Pastor Keller cleaned, he found a volume of poetry by Keats that Doc had stored away. When he found it atop the armoire in the bedroom, Pastor Keller called Doc Ward in before opening the book. When he did, the preacher saw an inscription in a feminine hand, starting with "My Love,..." Not reading any further, he closed the book as Doc came around the corner. He could tell immediately from seeing Doc's face as he leaned on his crutches that it stirred a painful memory. "Shall I put it back where I found it?" Doc shook his head, reaching for the book. Looking at it, then opening it and reading the inscription, Doc spoke, "He was one of the best of the Romantic poets, and one of her favorites. No, I'll hold onto it. Thank you for finding it." Taking a deep breath, Doc placed the book on the table beside the bed.


By noon, the home was cleaner than Doc could remember it, and Doc had decided the best option was to burn a number of things that were beyond salvaging. Shaking his head in disgust and disbelief, Doc looked at the preacher "I don't understand how a person can live that way, willingly. Most animals will try to keep their homes cleaner than that." Pastor Keller shrugged and said, "When one suffers a corruption of the mind, the soul, and the body, as that man does, he must surround himself in his corruption, his misery. I can think of no other explanation." As the fire burned down, the men walked back inside. Pastor Keller looked over at Doc. "Mind telling me what you have planned for after church tomorrow?" Doc, giving his most deadpan expression, looked back at his friend. "Why, I want to talk to everyone about a barn raising. It takes planning to happen and a community to make it happen. Am I correct?" Patting Doc on the shoulder, sure this time he could see through his friend's assumed innocence, Keller responded, "Of course. What else would it be." Inside, Sarah Jane laughed at something Anna Mae said before laughing herself, and both men smiled at the sound.

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Before Lorelei left Calamity's shop, they decided that Sarah Jane's lovely emerald green dress would be perfect for Sunday.  Then she headed out to Mary's place to share the news.

Mary said of course she would be at church Sunday and that she planned to wear her blue dress. Then Lorelei shared her suspicion of what was to happen after church, and that she and Calamity thought Sarah Jane should wear her emerald green dress.  Mary asked if Lorelei was going to wear her lovely purple dress to which she replied, "Yes, of course.  It's the prettiest dress I've ever owned."

Mary laughed and said, "We're going to look like a rainbow."

Lorelei was pleasantly surprised by how much progress Mary had made in learning to read since her last lesson, and she shared with Mary,  "Pretty soon you'll be reading some of my books and I'm sure we can borrow some from Doc and Pastor Keller. You've made remarkable progress in such a short time.  When have you had time to practice?"

Mary answered, "When it's something you want very much, you'll find the time.  Next we have to get to work teaching Critter to read."

After her shooting lesson, Mary shared with Lorelei, "You too are a fast learner and have good natural skills. You should have no trouble when you go hunting this winter."  That comment made Lorelei think back to when she had had to use those skills recently, and she frowned.  She knew in her heart she had done what had to be done to save lives, but it still hurt that she had killed a man.  She hoped the feeling wouldn't be quite as bad when she had to take a deer's life. She knew she would say a prayer over the animal and thank it for giving up its life as she had heard that many Indians did that when hunting game.  


(I know we call them Native Americans now, but back then they were called Indians.)

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"Doc," said I, "there is a matter in which I would confide."

Doc looked at me skeptically and replied, "That sounds almost German!"

I laughed and nodded.  "I'm a sponge," I admitted, "I soak up phrases and the like ... we had a German back home who would go the hill up."
Doc closed one eye and nodded, regarding me solemnly with the other.  "So spill it."

I set my backside down and felt my bottom jaw slide out some.

"Doc," said I, "you are the closest friend I have."

"I kind of hoped that was Anna Mae."

I grinned, then laughed quietly.  "Touche," I nodded.  "But don't get any ideas about marriage, I'm taken!"

He and I laughed together, then I rubbed my palms together, slowly, meditatively.

"We talked before about several things," I said slowly, "and we spoke of how hard the nights have been."  My voice was quiet and I reckon I was fit to bore holes in the floor with my unblinking stare.  "Both of us carry ghosts."
I could just see Doc's head incline a little in agreement.

I raised my head and looked very directly at the man.

"Since I married Anna Mae, the ghosts are gone."

Doc closed one eye again and turned his head slightly when he did.  He was listening and listening closely to what I was saying, and to what was under the surface of the spoken words.

"I have not had nightmare one since we took one another as man and wife."

"It was a sudden thing," Doc ventured, and I had to laugh again.

"Yes it was," I agreed.  "She and I both knew how fast outrageous fortune could come along and kill one or the other of us, and it was the right thing to do, so we did."

Doc considered this, then nodded, slowly.  

"We read in Scripture that it is better to marry than to burn" -- I grinned again -- "Doc, I didn't know I had any fire left in me, after all I'd been through.  I honestly never thought I'd meet any woman who would regard me as more than a long winded figurehead behind a pulpit."

Doc did his level best to assume an Innocent Expression, and to his credit, the man very nearly succeeded.

"You must have some fire left in your boiler," he drawled, "as I understand the women to believe Anna Mae is with child."

I felt my ears redden and my face grinned widely indeed.

"She's not come to her moon-time, to know if it's ... if she's really ..."

I looked away, looked back.

"They've ... all they've got is the word of that mountain witch, and nobody has seen her since she pronounced Anna Mae gravid."
"Tell me about that old witch woman."

"I knew one ... back East ... a woman who knew herbs, she could stop blood with the Word, she could blow fire ... she told me those gifts can only be passed from one woman to another, that no man can carry that magic ..."

My voice ground to a halt as I looked long into the past, then I shook my head.

"If 'twas an old mountain witch, I am inclined to believe her."  I looked up at Doc and that smile tugged at my face again.  "I'll take having those nightmares gone, Doc, and ..."
I looked to where the women were scrubbing and gossiping and wringing out cleaning rags and laughing, and I realized the truth of the words that I spoke next, words that came from somewhere, I don't know where, but words that carried the truth nonetheless.

"Doc," said I, "I'm just as happy as if I had good sense!"

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Laughing for a moment at the preacher's words, the two men sat in silence. Doc sat, sipping his coffee and pondering Pastor Keller's words. The sounds of Sarah Jane and Anna Mae in the background were comforting, and they helped Doc relax. Not lifting his eyes, Doc said, "The sentiment is mutual, I must say." The preacher sat for a long moment before asking, "Sentiment?" Doc lifted his head. "You are my best friend. It is why I entrusted the box to you. It is why, despite our differences... Your strong faith, my lack of it... I feel at ease in your company, as though we share a bond, a commonality, that is unspoken, and needs not be spoken."


Doc shifted in his seat, in part to make his leg more comfortable, but also to lean his elbows on the table. Doc's face sobered, and he began to speak in softer tones, despite the fact the women were in another room. "Pastor, you know I don't believe in an Almighty. That doesn't mean I don't believe there is more beyond this realm. I was raised in the haunted hills of Kentucky, and my blood is Gaelic-- Irish and Scottish. I'm sure you're aware of the tradition of the Irish Banshee, or her Scottish cousin, the Ban Sith. In Kentucky, and elsewhere in the mountains of the east, there are Granny Witches. They're part shaman, part doctor, part midwife, part witch. Now, I'm sure they came from the  Irish and Scottish traditions also. The life giving counterpart to the Banshee and Ban Sith. Maybe with some Cherokee and Choctaw beliefs mixed in. They know herbs and medicines as well as any indian." Doc paused. "Now, my point is, like you said, in all of those traditions, up to the present, they can only be female. No man can carry the magic."


Doc took a long drink of his coffee, and Pastor Keller could tell he was steeling himself to say something important. "I've never told a living soul what I am about to tell you. For days before my wife died..." Doc closed his eyes, correcting himself, "Was murdered... I could hear music, and the occasional female voice in the woods, where neither should be. My wife was of a clan, and a proud one. I believe she had a bit of the magic in her. She had foresight. She heard the sounds once, and was certain it meant her impending death. I took her seriously, and did everything I could to be prepared, for her to be prepared. But I couldn't be right there, all the time. We had to live our lives." Tears began streaming down Doc's face as he seemed to lose himself in another time and place. "Two dozen men, preacher. And she fought. God she fought, in a way to make her ancestors proud. I heard her screams. But they weren't screams of terror, or even pain. They were a war cry. I ran back, and I waded into the men with my scythe, the only weapon I had at hand, and those who remained alive fled in terror, despite their numbers and their guns. She died in my arms. I spent the next year, before coming here, hunting the others down. There were less than a dozen left."


Doc fought to control his emotions, tears dripping on the table and into his coffee, as the preacher sat stoically, almost feeling Doc's pain himself. Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Doc looked up, giving a weak smile. "Pastor, I have no doubt now what those sounds were. The ones in the woods. It was the Ban Sith, letting us know her time was short. Some people think it an evil thing, others think it an honor. I believe they give us time to prepare ourselves. Not to fight, but for the inevitable. To say our goodbyes." Doc was still breathing heavily as he looked at the preacher. "All of this is a very longwinded way of saying, if a mountain witch said Anna Mae is with child, nothing more needs to be said to convince me. She was telling you both, and you both deserve happiness."

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His thoughts refocusing on the present, and realizing the sound of laughter had ceased, Doc glanced over, Pastor Keller's gaze following, to see Sarah Jane and Anna Mae standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Sarah Jane had one hand over her mouth, one arm across her midsection as tears streamed down her face. Anna Mae gripped her hands so tightly in front of her that her knuckles whitened as tears streamed down her own face.


Sarah Jane lowered her hand, as she searched for words. "I-I'm sorry... We didn't mean to intrude, to eavesdrop." Glancing at Anna Mae and back at Doc, Sarah Jane stood as if frozen in place, despite wanting to run away. "I had no... I don't know what to say..." Unable to move quickly, Doc held out his hand for Sarah Jane, who came rushing to hold it, as she gently wiped away his tears with her other hand. "No, I'm sorry. I'm not upset with you. I should have found a more private place to speak, but I think you probably should know." Glancing from one person to the other, before resting on the preacher's wife Doc gave another attempt at a smile. "Anna Mae, my congratulations."

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Lorelei was pleased to receive a letter and a package from her brother Lazarus.  She opened the package first to find quite a few books that looked to have come from the library in their home town so she immediately opened the letter from Laz.  In it he shared some very good news.  It seems the library had received some money from some anonymous donors to purchase some new books for the town library.  (Probably instigated by Laz and his poker buddies after one of their weekly games.)  Since the books were in fairly good shape, but well read, Laz purchased them all at a fabulous discount and sent them to his only sister, Lorelei. Many of them were children's books and some classics.


In addition, he had met a lady with a travelling library that was just getting started and had her add Stone Creek to the list of towns they would visit every 6 to 8 weeks starting in a month or so.  He made sure they would have a good selection of children's books, some classics, and some new writers which she promised to purchase with the money he had donated.  Being the town banker and a great poker player had come in handy on more than one occasion.  She knew he often hit up his poker friends and bank customers for donations for good causes and always donated anonymously from his own pocket.


She was extremely pleased that she would be able to add some new books to the small children's library she kept in the school house in two bookcases at the back of the schoolroom.  She might even have to ask one of the student's fathers to build her another book shelf.  She really would like Stone Creek to have a real library of its own that would serve the adults as well as the children, but that would take some time and lobbying on her part.  She knew just who would be a great librarian - Sarah Jane, and since Doc had lost many of his cherished books in the fire, he would probably help her lobby the townsfolk to build and supply at least a small library to start with.  First things first though, she had to purchase the supplies to bake a cake to go along with the punch on Sunday after church since she wasn't great baking pies, but cakes were easier to make.

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