by Don Stoll
The dress the shop owner revealed by removing the top from the box that had come from Boston almost made William Liddell cry. But he didn't cry.
"Thousands come to California for gold," he said. "Never prospected, but reckon I found something more precious."
"She's a gem."
Liddell stroked the silk.
"Be a son of a gun to clean."
"What Chinamen are for, Mr. Liddell," the shop owner laughed.
"Been wondering," Liddell said. "If you can't trust a Chinaman, why trust one with your laundry?"
"Fabric against your flesh. Well that's mainly undergarments, but you put it close. Possibilities for mischief."
They were alone. Horace Stanley didn't lower his voice.
"Heard tell of Chinamen been known to poison clothes brought to be laundered."
"You don't say."
"Heard tell of an acid, put it on clothes and eats holes in the body."
"Case of a woman," Stanley grinned, "not the same as the hole she's got."
Liddell's look melted Stanley's grin.
"Hear you're a frequent visitor to Madam Liu Li's establishment, Mr. Stanley. That how Liu Li's girls got their holes?"
Liddell took the box.
"Not like they're good Christian women, Mr. Liddell."
"Not here long enough to know better, Mr. Stanley. You give them time among good Christians. But then what would you do for amusement till you married one?"
"Forgot I have a wife?" Stanley snapped.
"Think you forgot."
"Not about forgetting. Ida's a good Christian woman. Got certain . . . inhibitions."
"Horace Stanley hitched to one of Liu Li's girls," Liddell laughed. "I'd sit in the front pew for that."
He turned to leave.
"Time comes, Stanley, Mrs. Liddell and I will take our chances with a Chinaman to launder that dress."
Stanley felt obliged to strike back.
"When's the great day?" he said.
"Ain't decided. Miss Emma has to get here and it's a treacherous journey."
"Unnecessary too, you ask me. Should of stayed here with her future husband stead of gallivanting off to lecture congressmen. They're wondering why she ain't at home, why she got a future husband stead of already got one and why she ain't home with him. And while I'm at it, Mr. Liddell, not saying I'm a slavery man but don't see how minding other folks' business makes things better."
Liddell was done with the fool.
"What Miss Emma thinks too, Stanley," he sighed. "But she says owning folks like they was property is minding other folks' business."
He shut the door and headed for a quick one at the Old Ship. But you can't tell with juries, he thought, and Emma's last letter had mentioned his drinking. Best get back to the courtroom. He turned around.
When he arrived he had to make his way through the crowd coming the other way. The faces announced the verdict: mostly happy white faces and all unhappy Chinese ones meant acquittal. Sam Granger, the accused—Innocent my foot, Liddell thought—was with three or four friends. One fired his gun into the air and the crowd scattered.
"No more," Granger laughed, taking the barrel in his hand and lowering it. "Can use the others on Chinamen."
Granger noticed Liddell.
"Or Chinamen-lovers," he said. "Character witness for a Chinaman: makes you blind, Liddell."
Liddell shouldered past Granger and brushed off the hand that the gunman put on his arm.
"Leave it," he heard Granger say. "Let him lick his wounds."
Only the reporter from the Alta remained in the courtroom.
"What happened, Edgar? Two eye-witnesses!"
"Judge's instructions, Bill," said Edgar Pratt, not looking up from his notes. "Don't think he was happy about it, but after you left—hope you gave my regards at the Old Ship—he was brought a cable. California Supreme Court has disqualified the testimony of Chinamen, so Morgan told the jury their hands was tied."
Liddell's big frame sprawled on the bench next to Pratt.
"What's in the box?"
"What I wrote," Pratt said, "most likely not getting every word exact, is that Chinamen make up, and I quote, a 'distinct people in our community, recognizing no laws of this state, except through necessity, bringing with them prejudices and natural feuds, in which they indulge in violation of the law; whose mendaciousness is proverbial; a people marked by nature as inferior, incapable of intellectual progress.'"
"More or less, Bill. Conviction in the case of People versus George W. Hall overturned courtesy of the wisdom of the Honorable Hugh Campbell Murray, Honorable Solomon Heydenfield concurring."
"Not disposing him to sympathy for another persecuted race."
"Shit," Liddell repeated.
He opened his box. Pratt emitted a whistle.
"Business good, Bill?"
"Don't know how much more prospecting equipment I can sell," Liddell shrugged. "Gold running low I expect. But some of the folks done with mining want a more genteel life. And their ladies. Doing well selling this new machine for washing crockery and other articles of table furniture, come from New York."
"Thought a woman's hands was for that," Pratt said. "Dress for Emma?"
"No, Edgar, for Liu Li. To give to the girl it fits best."
"Which is none since Emma's a head taller than them all. So maybe give it to Emma for a hand-me-down."
"Open season on Chinamen now? Hunt them like deer?"
"That would imply what gentlemen of great legal acumen call a broad interpretation," Pratt said. "Seems to me one such gentleman, theHonorable Justice Murray, hasn't said Chinamen are so mendacious, inferior, and intellectually debased that a white man can't testify their behalf."
Liddell massaged his face.
"So a white eye-witness could have nailed Granger's ass to the gallows," he said.
"Thereby preventing the abrupt plunge of the body of which said ass is but a part to its demise, although, yes, making allowances for the metaphor, a white witness would have nailed Sam Granger's ass for good."
Pratt removed his Bowler. He scratched his head.
"Think you got no hair because the heat from your brain killed it?" Liddell said. "Might be there's one more thought than you needed in that sentence."
Liddell continued massaging.
"Didn't see Ma Long coming out," he said. "Or the witnesses."
"Left soon as the bad news was delivered. Don't suppose they wanted to mix it up with Granger's gang."
"Most likely won't see them in these parts again."
"Thing called prudence," Pratt said, "which even a people marked by incapacity for intellectual progress can understand."
He lit a cheroot.
"I'd offer you one, but . . . "
"On your salary," Liddell said. "And given the cost of whisky."
"Ma Long leaves you need a new cook. Find another that good and that cheap?"
"Hire Chinese again."
"You ain't opposed," Pratt said.
"Not saying a Chinaman can do everything a white man can, but . . . Well, don't see the harm in them not being as clever and doing their jabbering."
Pratt studied his shoes.
"You think a Chinaman can do everything a white man can?"
"What I think?" Pratt said. "My job's to report what other folks think and do."
Pratt got up from the bench.
"Old Ship, Bill? Drown your anger?"
Liddell took his hand away from his face. Should get a shave, he thought.
"Drown by your lonesome, Edgar. Been considering Emma's wise counsel regarding my health. So for today I'm converted to Baptist."
"Then for today we ain't on speaking terms," Pratt grinned. "But while you ain't drinking or speaking to me you'll pray for a second trial?"
"Second trial?" Liddell said as he stood up to stretch. "Constitution get amended while I was collecting this dress for Liu Li's girls? Right to bear arms taken away too?"
"Was counting Granger's eggs for him before they's hatched, Bill. Should have told you Morgan declared a mistrial. Thought Granger's lawyer would have conniptions, said If there's one fool of a holdout juror even though there's no evidence you got to direct a verdict of innocence, but old Morgan said I know how to run my courtroom."
"Never know what he's thinking. Technicality, though, good as innocent. But if a Baptist like yourself is keen to pray you could pray for a second trial. Good a way as any to waste precious drinking time. You sure?"
"Not today, Edgar."
Pratt tipped his hat and left. William Liddell thought that before he got a shave he ought to pay a visit to the second most famous Chinese madam in San Francisco for the first time since he'd made the acquaintance of Miss Emma Winters.
* * *
When Liu Li opened her place of business on Clay Street, around the corner from Ah Toy's Pike Street brothel, she had insisted that she didn't plan to compete with Ah Toy. Liu Li believed that despite Ah Toy's great success she wasn't satisfying the demand. Having seen clients walk into Ah Toy's and then walk out, she'd concluded that a nearby business offering a product nearly identical to Ah Toy's would do fine. Duplicating Ah Toy's product entailed charging the same, one ounce of gold, for a mere look. Between lookers and actors and those compelled to act after looking, Liu Li had soon found herself with an income if not a reputation comparable to Ah Toy's.
William Liddell paused to admire the young woman sitting in Liu Li's front window. He thought that with her rice-powdered cheeks, chignon so shiny and smooth that it could have been lacquered, pink satin jacket, and lime-green pantaloons, she looked pretty enough for a museum. Her eyes closed and opened and closed again and her head bobbed. Liddell realized that she was struggling to stay awake. Liu Li won't like that, he thought, so he tapped on the window. The young woman's eyes opened. She smiled and beckoned to Liddell. He smiled back but shook his head and went in the door. He'd saved the girl from disciplinary measures: Liu Li was entering her greeting room from the hallway that went past where her girls met clients.
"Mr. Bill," she said in her loud voice. "Your pretty Miss Emma away too long, you need pretty friend. Guo Shanshan very pretty, happy to make you happy."
She rested a hand on Guo Shanshan's shoulder.
"Ain't why I'm here, Liu Li. Need privacy with you."
"That part of Liu Li tired, Mr. Bill," she said, pretending to misunderstand. "Not good anymore for what you need, Liu Li executive now." She laughed at her own joke.
"You come my office."
For an afternoon, business was good. Liddell tried not to listen as he followed Liu Li to the farthest room, not along the sides of the hallway but straight back. It was marked OFFICE in gilded letters. He listened carefully once they'd gone inside. Both adjacent rooms seemed unused.
She sat behind her desk and offered a cigarette.
"That case real gold?" he said, shaking his head.
"Gold flow like water here."
"But maybe flow getting slow now, best times in past for Liu Li, Ah Toy."
Liddell cleared his throat.
"Come to talk about another reason your good times might be ending," he said.
Liu Li was well covered. Someone who didn't know better might have thought she was a schoolteacher. Liddell tried not to recall from before the moment when his first glimpse of Miss Emma Winters changed his life the look or the feel of Liu Li's small, firm body. Couldn't hold a candle to the beauteous Ah Toy, but she'd been pretty enough. Still was. That body had served Liu Li and her clients well. But it had served too much and Liddell was pleased she was an executive now.
"All men equal here," she said.
The desk concealed the reach of her hand. Liddell knew it had gone between her legs and his efforts not to recall the look or feel of her body were defeated.
"But judge say black man, mulatto man, Indian man not equal up here," she said as she moved her hand to her head. "Now judge say Chinese man like them. But Chen Wen, Lin Han not write book. See Mr. Sam shoot Hu Long like dog."
"Because Granger wanted Guo Shanshan right away," Liddell sighed. "Fool couldn't wait ten minutes for Hu Long to finish."
"Hard to wait for Guo Shanshan, she prettiest, best girl. But better wait than shoot Hu Long like dog."
"Yes, Liu. And it's a simple thing like any black or mulatto could see. Or Chinaman. But—"
"White man like all man, care more than anything about here," she said, again thrusting her hand beneath the desk. "Or Liu Li still work Chinese laundry, not rich lady live in grand house. Take judge's head away he think don't need head, still have this so still man."
"Judge lie with Guo Shanshan, he forget he have head."
Her smile faded.
"Mr. Horace he forget he have head every day."
"Mrs. Stanley not make him forget. He need Liu Li's girls. But say he can't stand up in court or Mrs. Stanley see."
Son of a bitch, Liddell thought.
"You take next five dresses no cost Liu Li, he say. I think no problem, Chinese witnesses enough. Have one dress already: silk."
"Give the dress back, Liu. That ease your conscience, you can say Stanley was there."
She picked up the gold cigarette case.
"Chinese tobacco good like Chinese silk," she said, and he shook his head again. "No? Why judge listen to Liu Li say Mr. Horace see? Judge not listen to Chinese man."
She took a cigarette.
"But Mr. Horace listen to Chinese lady say she tell Mrs. Stanley his name on every page of her books, Chinese lady's girls say how they make him forget he have head every day. Paint pretty picture of him not wearing those fine clothes."
Liddell decided to take a cigarette after all.
"But he tell judge he see Mr. Sam shoot Hu Long like dog, not self-defense, Liu Li tell different story. Say Mr. Horace good Christian man bringing Liu Li dress, he standing by innocent when Mr. Sam shoot Hu Long."
Liddell touched the tip of his unlit cigarette to the tip of her lit one.
"Thanks for thinking of what I wanted to think of before I did."
He made the grimace that helped him pronounce the Chinese word:
"Welcome," she said.
She blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. The patch of yellow above the desk told Liddell she'd blown many clouds of smoke.
"All the times you lie with Liu Li you learn one Chinese word. But you more wise than black man, Chinese man? How many Chinese words wise judge know?"
She smiled. Liddell noticed that her teeth were yellow like the ceiling.
"You tell Liu Li xiexie many times. You always welcome."
* * *
That evening the outcome of a chance encounter in Barry and Patten's saloon, at Montgomery and Sacramento, would obviate the need to persuade Horace Stanley to testify in Sam Granger's retrial. The drunken brawl in which Lin Han, who had proffered inadmissible eye-witness testimony against Granger for the murder of Hu Long, died at Granger's hand resulted also in the death of Granger himself.
As a hedge against the likelihood that Justice Murray's ruling in People v. Hall would exacerbate the risks borne by Chinese immigrants involved in high-profile enterprises like prostitution, Liu Li opened a Chinese laundry. It flourished. In time, like the more celebrated Ah Toy, Liu Li would withdraw from the prostitution business.
Some weeks after Justice Murray's ruling, Emma Winters returned to San Francisco to marry William Liddell. They lived thereafter for many years in reasonable happiness. Emma would always regret that she and the other women with whom she'd traveled to Washington did not succeed in persuading the United States Congress to abolish slavery.
Don Stoll's fiction has appeared recently in EROTIC REVIEW (tinyurl.com/y8nkc73z) and ECLECTICA (eclectica.org/v23n1/stoll.html) and is forthcoming in 2019 in THE HELIX; GREEN HILLS LITERARY LANTERN; SARASVATI; DOWN IN THE DIRT; and CHILDREN, CHURCHES AND DADDIES. In 2008, Don and his wife founded the nonprofit they work through to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women's and children's health to three contiguous Tanzanian villages.
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The Rocking Chair
by Chad Vincent
The Missouri-Kansas border had been a hotbed of hatred and revenge for two years now. After the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in May of 1854, living within fifty miles of the Missouri River in the northern third of either state was a gamble, yet the land was so fertile that many stayed to feed their families and pocket what little they could of profits from the harvest. Not only did the glacial deposits of old provide hearty crops, but so were they fertilized in blood.
John Winston eased up onto his porch, his left leg giving him trouble. Beneath his course work pants was a mottle of purple, pink, and yellow bruises all on one thigh. This from a fall in the tobacco barn while hanging wagon loads of the punky weed three days before. Bruise or no, he finished with the three acres worth of tobacco sticks alongside sons, family members, and friends for the cash crop needed drying in his barn before being sent to town in bales in a month or two. With a leg now peppered in a full regalia of colors and pain, he had sent his oldest out back to strip down a few ears of corn from the garden for the chickens, collect their eggs, and lock them down before the night shift could get to them.
Struggling, even with the rail, he headed for his rocker. The hand quilted pillow and solid frame were a comfort. He sat with a solid squat, which sent the whole contraption into a see-saw of motion. As it settled, as he settled, his hand moved to collect his pipe from the side table. Before he could pull a pinch of his own tobacco from a clay container, his youngest nestled herself up onto his lap.
"What'cha doin' daddy?" she asked. The smile on her face could turn the devil without even trying. She was a small thing, even for her age, and wriggled until his lap cradled her in a loving hug.
"Oh darling," he said, "just resting my bones before your ma calls for supper." He clasped her to one side to save his tender leg, and in doing so, she nestled along his ribs in a cub-like bear hug.
As he released the tight embrace on his youngest daughter, the sound of horse's hooves commanded the air. They were suddenly coming right this way and fast. John started to stand but the weight of his daughter and his tender leg sent him back into the unstable rocker before he could rise even an inch.
Four men pulled up fast in a billowing cloud of late summer dust. John knew them not. He stared at them and they at him. Their faces were hard and dirty. Each of them had slack reins in one hand and a gun already drawn in the other.
John tightened before he could do anything else. His eyes continued on theirs with a defiance. "You let me set this girl down first," he said as a command. He knew the stories, both from men that rode across the border and from widows back here around home.
The man on the far left, slightly forward of the others, nodded at the door.
John ushered his scared daughter off his lap so he could stand. Taking her shaking hand, he forgot his limp and pressed her towards, then inside the door. She started to cry and ran inside for her mother, which she saw back in the kitchen. His hand reached to the inner sanctum where a double barrel bird gun rested at the edge of his fingertips. As he turned, shots rang out, one sending splinters from the outer jam that laced the front door. The shotgun fell to the inner hardwood and his body pressed through the doorway like a wave breaking on a torrent of rocks.
Trist Winston plucked the last of seven eggs into the belly of his outstretched shirt. That was when he heard the clap of horses pull up to the front of the house. His head cocked backwards for a moment, then the shots startled him to hit the ground. Eggs fell from and faintly colored his shirt in globs as he rose in haste. The screams from the kitchen sped his feet in a fury to round the house as four horses screened their escape behind a raised cloud of dust.
At seventeen, he was a man by social standards, and yet still susceptible to the extreme rush of adrenalin and rage of youth. Pulsing with anger, he could not recall grabbing the bird gun as he threw his reins over the head and ears of his little buckskin at the back corner corral, but it did not hinder the speed of the chore in the least. Without a saddle, he hoisted onto the three year old with a jump he could not have made so smooth any other day. The sight of his father was a confused remembrance as his fist took a handful of hair alongside the reins.
The two took to the road in a rhythm well practiced. It was a trip known to memory. Hips and legs matched the pulse of shoulder and back muscle as they raced down the road. Trist's legs pinched just enough to stay in place. He leaned forward, into the whistling wind, holding the shotgun snug along his left leg. Considering the speed of his buckskin, he knew the men would not make it far. A tear started to flow, both from the rush of air and the emotional build in his young chest. Before him, the rising dirt road roiled to reveal his closeness to the four men as the overall veil of dust gave birth to a line of churned earth just thrown from the hoof.
Figures ghosted before him in the brown haze. He took aim at proximity and pulled one trigger. The buckskin held to pace without a wince. The grit now closed his eyes in a throb of sting and bite. As he blinked it away, a body wheeled head over spurs close to his right, and soon, a horse slowed out towards the grass and fell from the others with none to give it order.
Taking aim without a saddle had been a challenge, and he wished not to do it again. Still, he thumbed back the second hammer while holding it steady to grip. The dust had become an ocean and the riders were but soundings deep within its depths. Though nearly sightless, he could tell that the men were but a stone's throw away and his virile mount closed the distance fast. Had they both not known the road so well from many a travel, a curve or two would have been the end of the chase, but even a glimpse at a tree rising from the storm of dust gave indications needed to keep a sprint of pursuit.
The buckskin pulled deep and kept to a dashing gallop that caught up the next man. His hat, then his shoulders were revealed through the haze. With only one shot left, Trist raised the shotgun across his chest in recoil to strike like a hammer. His closeness was finally given away as the man turned to look down at the silted eyes, flat nostrils, and wild black hair of horse flesh that caught up into his view. Trist swung the scatter gun in a wide arc as if it were an awkward cudgel, but awkward or not, the long barrels found enough of the man to knock him from the saddle. It was not the blow that did him any real damage, but the being dragged by an ankle that slipped a twisted toe in the stirrup and hung on better than the man had. A second horse pulled away riderless, but not without passenger. Bone jarring thuds mingled with the sound of pounding hooves as the horse veered right in a hard arc of travel.
At the clatter of disorderly sounds behind, the other two riders started to pull up, heads jerking this way and that, lessening their speeds and the blinding din of raised road overtook them. Trist could not have known them for having done so for riding the heart of the dusty storm, and both he and his horse wedged into the pair like a plow peeling over a rut of dirt that lays open the fresh earth beneath. All three riders went sprawling and plunged to the hard ground.
Trist was not hurt but his breath had left him alone with a pair of lungs too sore and confused to do their job under a momentary daze. After a brief pause for calibration, they heaved painfully in an inhalation of dust, which sent him coughing in double agony. His mind focused only on breathing. His body expelled the natural debris that ever tried to settle about him. Mucus sprayed from his nose and spittle flew from his lips, all with a consistency like that of mud. The thought of the other two men was not even a working memory, much less an immediate concern.
Within a minute, the dust had settled and travelled on enough that all three men could see each other. Trist was still swimming within his own mind as to whether he could breath, and by the looks of it, so was another of the men. Both had blank faces that could do little but exist in their current state. Not so with the other, older man.
The man held his left arm bent close to his body, but his right leapt down to his holster for his gun. It was gone. But as the dust settled even more, the shotgun lay at his right knee in a rut of impact in the road. It had toppled, only to land before him. With his one good hand, he scooped it up and pointed it at Trist's head, not twenty feet away. Trist was still dazed to immovability, but as the muddle continued to lift, he saw that both barrels had eaten up a belly full of the road. Dirt trickled out as if being slowly poured. The man smiled and pulled the trigger.
Trist flinched, which snapped him completely back to earth. Yet he was not harmed. The man appeared stiff as if he were in a painting. For as he dropped the shotgun, his hand, shoulder, and neck were riddled with fragments of what once was the proximal end of the barrel. A cracked and shaved hole gaped along the back of the barrel, which webbed its way over the top of one hammer, and riveted down the smooth upper curve of the stock. A curtain of grey smoke hung about the man's powdered face, encircling his head. He was not dead, but bled from numerous punctures and abrasions. He might even live, though his life hung in a precarious balance, and Trist had no intention of taking the man to a doctor.
The fourth man, as Trist's eyes were now able to fully see, was only as much of a man as he. For the other was no older than Trist himself, maybe even a little younger, and just as done with the horror of the situation. So when he rose, coughed, and stumbled down the road towards a particularly flighty horse, Trist just watched. Somewhere in that lot, this boy likely had lost his father as well. Trist could not find contempt, only pity.
After collecting himself the best he could, he found his buckskin and walked him the miles back home in a shuffling stupor. Arriving back at the homestead, he walked up onto the porch, sat in his father's rocking chair, and wept.
Chad Vincent is currently a teacher in rural Missouri with a Master's Degree in Education. He grew up on the
family farm where they raised rotating crops, cattle, and always had horses. He served in the U. S. Army and
has had the luck to see a good part of the world abroad. In the last couple of years he has been published in
the following- Antimatter Magazine, Enter the Apocalypse- 9 Tales/ Brides of Chaos anthology, Here Comes
Everyone (anthology) - Silhouette Press, Trembling with Fear, Whispers of the Apoc: Tales from the Zombie
Apocalypse (anthology), Unsheathed- Hydra Publication fantasy anthology, and Rope and Wire.
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by James Heidinga
Carter Pickard wanted the ranch and the girl, but knew Will Blaisdell wouldn't give either of them up.
As head of the Cattleman's Association, and owner of the largest cattle ranch in the area, Carter Pickard felt Will's ranch, and especially it's precious water hole, should by all rights have been his. He was determined to take it as his due. He felt the same about Will's woman.
The young woman, Maddie Blaisdell, was a sweet and adventurous newlywed, with large blue eyes to get lost in, and a figure that turned heads wherever she went. She had shoulder length honey blonde hair which she tied back in a sassy pony tail. Maddie had a slightly upturned lightly freckled nose over rich red lips, and when she smiled, the effect was dazzling. If she had a fault, it was admittedly her tendency to act impulsively, and deal with the consequences later. Maddie had been raised in the east and came from a very well to do family. Her mother died when Maddie was quite young and her father was a successful financier, who had done well with his motto "Never play the other man's game." Although a caring father, he was reputed to be a cutthroat in dealing with the financial moguls of his day. Maddie brought that upbringing with her, when she married Will Blaisdell, and came west with him in 1878.
The ranch was a wedding gift from Maddie's father. Mr.VanKonnedt had contrived to purchase title to the property, in a fast move, before any of the locals knew it was even available. Probably even the previous owner didn't know it was available, but Maddie's father could be mighty persuasive with a pile of cash in his hands. Will had not been too proud to accept such a gift, considering the huge sacrifice that Maddie was making for the likes of him, in giving up electricity and so many other conveniences which she was accustomed to. That was however, where Will drew the line, insisting "I alone will support my wife. They loved each other deeply and, for them, that made all the difference.
If it wasn't for the Centennial Exposition in 1876, at Philadelphia PA, Maddie VanKonnedt might never have met and subsequently married Will Blaisdell. There was a dance which Maddie attended with some friends. Her heart strangely skipped a beat, when she saw this young man calmly cross the dance floor towards her. "Will you dance with me?" Will boldly asked her. Maddie, looked at the dimples in his cheeks, but still replied "We have not been properly introduced, and I do not know you." "We will have a lifetime for that if you will only dance with me" was Will's response. Formality set aside; she danced with him. Well a girl, from a high society affluent New York background, did not look to marry a western frontier bred and raised cowhand, no matter how handsome and engaging he was. Oh Will Blaisdell was all of that, with steady grey eyes, black hair, tanned skin, lithe movements, very masculine air, and first class manners. Having worked on a number of ranches, first as a top hand and then as a foreman; what he did not know about horses and cattle was mighty little. They say opposites attract and, after a whirlwind of events, Maddie found herself transplanted to that 640 acre horse ranch in Diamond Valley, near the small town of Cardan in Echo County Nevada.
From the first day, Maddie fell in love with the ranch. It was hard to put into words but, as she later said to Will, she felt immediately connected to the ranch; like having come home. That was the warm feeling, which always came to her first and last. Maddie often said to Will "This ranch will forever be home for me." Maddie loved to look out over the fields and see the reds, blues and yellows of the wild flowers waving in the wind. She never tired of watching the horses jumping and running about. She discovered a real peace and pleasure, working the soil, and growing things in her garden. On a very few occasions, she convinced Will to sleep out in the open, where they made love in the grass, after which they laid back and counted the stars. It was a busy and not easy life in many ways, but there was joy if you looked for it, and Maddie did. "I could not abide you ever being sad" Will told Maddie. He even made her promise, if he died first, that she would not wear black at his funeral.
The ranch quarters at that time, rudely boasted a boarded house with three rooms, a partial stone walled cellar, a small loft, and a covered porch. It had a wooden floor once rough, but since worn smooth. A two story timber framed barn stood off to one side, with post and rail corrals beyond that. The barn was unpainted, but was otherwise in good shape. A lean to shed, attached to one side of the barn, served as rough accommodation for the occasional hired hands. There were the usual small outbuildings such as a workshop, smoke house, and chicken coop. The dug well in the front yard had a hand pump and also a wooden trough leading from it. An outhouse was in the back yard, and a copse of leafy aspens shaded the remaining side of the house. In the middle of the ranch property there was a large spring fed pond, which served as a watering hole for the horses. It sent out both a continuous overflow seepage, keeping the surrounding soils moist, and the grasses that grew there lush and green. On one side, a small stream meandered down to a marshy area where birds, frogs and insects loudly advertised their presence. That water hole was the real treasure. This is what made the ranch so especially valuable.
When it rained in the nearby Tuscarora hills, dry washes would fill with water and run down to the rich alluvial soil of the Diamond Valley bottom lands. It was however significantly drier on the surrounding prairie, where a more sandy soil grew sagebrush, pinon pine, stinging nettle and rougher grasses. The nearby Humboldt River tended to dry up in the hot summer months, when temperatures maintained a blistering 90 degrees. In those dry seasons, dust storms occasionally blew in sand and grit from the desert beyond. For those reasons, it was a real struggle at times, on the outlying prairie ranches, to find sufficient water for the livestock.
This was exactly the predicament facing Carter Pickard. The bulk of his large ranch was prairie range. He had already spent a small fortune, digging wells and irrigation ditches, but his growing herds of cattle continuously needed more water. He decided it was time for him to take action, and that meant taking whatever he needed, from whoever had it, however it was accomplished.
Not unlike the cattle he raised, Carter Pickard was heavily muscled, lantern jawed, unshaven, and badly in need of a bath. He was on the short side of average height, but he had piercing brown eyes, with which he stared at people, as to dominate them somehow, until they looked down or away. Considered to be the most prominent man in all of Echo County, Carter was also generally conceded to be the most vicious. He was known to have killed some 12 men in gunfights, many of which he had forced on his victims, and the rumour was there were more that he was not admitting to. It was quietly whispered about, that it was healthier not to cross that "mean son of a bitch," and that it was better to "cosy" up to a rattle snake then get in his way.
Carter never had to worry about law enforcement getting in his way either. Sheriff Dan Beagle, headquartered some 23 miles away in Echo, which was the county seat, politically did his best not to pay too much attention to the affairs of neighbouring Cardan. In his view, Carter Pickard was a dangerous and powerful man and, if he had to shoot someone, well then that person probably had it coming anyway. When something of a perceived more serious nature did happen in Cardan, it was his practice to raise a posse and gallivant with them across the prairie and the Tuscarora hills expending a lot of effort generally with little result. For their part, Cardan appreciated the sheriff for his "live and let live" way of doing things.
Sitting on the California Trail, the town of Cardan served as a main stop for the Central Pacific railroad. It had a wide dusty main street, cantering a library, post office, stores, laundry, a railroad roundhouse with related shops, telegraph and express offices, a hotel, a restaurant, a jail, and of course two saloons. Cardan watched thousands of settlers pass through on their way west, and many of those migrants stayed on to work on freight or stage lines connecting the railroad with other communities. There were also a number of Chinese labourers brought in and left behind by the railroad. They gardened in the area, and many worked in some of the local businesses, such as the laundry or restaurant. Cardan's population was generally less than 800 souls, except in the summers, when it swelled to twice that number, as drifters, hunters, and prospectors made it a base for their endeavours. There were also a number of miners in the area digging for silver. In truth it was a rough town, but as long as they were all more or less prospering and, on the face of things, minding their own business, a certain smugness about their community was felt to be justified.
Somewhat understandably, Cardan had not been welcoming of a "hot house flower" having whisked away one of their most eligible bachelors. The gossip was that "Will Blaisdell done made a huge mistake marrying an eastern gal," and "that there young lady should hev knowed it weren't nohow the right thing for her to be doin." It did not help the situation either, that Maddie was so much prettier than the daughters of those who took offense at her. Blaming Maddie, many of them had chosen not to visit or welcome her in any way. Maddie's invitations to connect with her neighbors fell on deaf ears. When it happened that she met some of the other women in town, they were standoffish, and just short of being rude. Not surprisingly, Maddie's feelings were quite hurt, and so she had given up making any more approaches to them. She decided that future overtures would have to come from someone other than her. Consequently, she had to learn on her own how to get by with less, in managing her comparatively rough homestead and her garden. She had never in her life milked a cow, or plucked a chicken, or churned butter, or preserved jam, or done those hundreds of other things so much second nature to any one of her neighbours. If it wasn't for Will's mother and grandmother taking Maddie under their wings, and lovingly teaching her like a daughter, it might have been a total disaster. Her only other friend was young Eddie Breane, a neighbours pre-teenage son, who Will hired to help with chores before and after school. It was Eddie who taught Maddie how to milk the cow and how to pluck a chicken. Eddie fancied himself quite a hunter and would often bring some rabbits or quail that he had shot with his father's Winchester rifle. He would get all red faced, when Maddie complemented him on his shooting, as he had a not so secret school boys crush on Miz Blaisdell. Then he would say "Oh that's nuthin, my dad ken shoot the eye out of a tick at 100 yards; I'm just hopin to be half as good some day." For his part, Will patiently suffered along with Maddie while she essayed to make the best of things. In the meantime, he was busy looking after running of the ranch which included breeding, buying and selling stock. Being her father's daughter, Maddie struggled through and, as time passed, she not only learned, but developed a quiet competency. Maddie was already an accomplished horseback rider. As often as they could, they rode together, and Will took those opportunities to share his vision with her for growing their brand.
So Carter Pickard had watched all this develop, and it left him feeling like he had an abscessed tooth. He wanted that ranch and its water hole. He wanted that girl. Like a bull after a cow in heat, he wanted . . . wanted . . . wanted them. He considered Will Blaisdell as just a bug to be squashed. Carter's plan was simply to manoeuvre Will into a gunfight. He figured to easily dispatch him, which would leave the way open for him to move in on all of Will's property. The pressure point was obviously the woman. Carter started by boldly winking his left eye at Maddie every time he saw her. It did not matter that she immediately turned her back on him and pretended to ignore him. He was arrogantly certain she was actually flattered. "Every herd needs a prime bull", was one of his favorite sayings, and that was the way he thought about himself. If he was sure no one else was looking, while still winking at her with his left eye, he also puckered his lips to make kissing sounds. He expected it to be just a short time before Will Blaisdell found out, and that was just what Carter wanted. But Maddie never mentioned it to Will because she knew that, while he could handle a pistol as well as any cowman, Will was not in the same class as a known gunfighter like Carter Pickard. It would be just plain murder if they were to meet and shoot it out on the street. Maddie had no intention to let that unwashed ox slaughter her husband, and so she had just carried on. She decided to never let Carter know how annoying he was either, because she expected any response would just have encouraged him and led him to escalate his appalling behavior. Strangely, fingering a silver locket hanging around her throat helped her to see her way past it.
Having seen no result, Carter decided to increase the pressure by a more direct approach. It was a sweltering hot still air summer day, and Maddie was home alone, as usual, but in her garden. That's when, Carter rode his horse right into her yard, and hoarsely said "This is a very nice ranch, and you are one pretty little filly. I hev my eye on you, and I hev had my eye on this ranch. You tell yer Will it be better fer him to walk away, alone and alive, than stay here and be dead." Maddie, with the silver locket swinging on her necklace, ran white faced into the house and barred the door behind her. Carter hollered after her "You'll change yer tune when you are a widow." Then he angrily spurred his horse back and forth through her garden before heading off in the direction of Cardan.
When Will Blaisdell returned and saw the fresh horse droppings by the house, and the horse tracks tearing up the garden, he knew something had happened. How he finally got Maddie to tell him about Carter Pickard, and all what he had done, was a mystery because the embarrassment, misplaced shame, and violation that she felt was beyond words. Overriding this, was her blinding terror that Carter, being a gunfighter, given the opportunity, would most certainly kill her husband.
Beside himself with fury over the insults to his wife and the threat to his own life, Will immediately buckled on his gun belt. In a mounting rage, he stormed out of the house and spurred his horse toward Cardan.
The word was quickly spread around that Will Blaisdell, with his gun tied down and mad as a hornet, was searching all over town for Carter Pickard and why. Everyone in Cardan knew that Will would have no show in a gunfight with Carter, but nobody was prepared to step in and do anything about it. Certainly no one was foolish enough to get in Carter Pickard's way, and the sense was always, no matter the reason or justification, you "scotched your own snakes."
Carter had earlier passed thru Cardan and gone out to his own ranch, but when word came that Will Blaisdell was looking for him with a gun, he saddled a fresh horse and headed back to town. He was laughing to himself during his ride because he finally had Will right where he wanted him. He considered that very few men could match his speed in a gun fight, and certainly Will Blaisdell was not one of them.
So shortly thereafter, as Cardan watched from the windows to see the outcome, there was Will Blaisdell standing in the middle of the otherwise deserted street, facing Carter Pickard, the gunfighter, and saying to him "You either crawl like the snake you are, or I will have you dead, no matter you get a bullet into me first." Relishing the moment, Carter hissed back "I am a dead shot Will; one bullet will do for me."
Suddenly there was a shot and Carter flew back, bounced, and moved no more. He had taken one bullet through his left eye. He was dead before he hit the ground. The bullet had blown the back of his skull away.
Will Blaisdell had not had a chance to get his gun out and stood there in shock.
The only action taken directly, was the undertaker quickly getting Carter Pickard put under ground in the local graveyard.
Cardan got angry. They had been expecting to see a fair fight. Never mind that the match was far from even, and the result predictable. It was classic good against bad and, despite the stacked odds, they had wanted to see the outcome. Of course, they had secretly wished the underdog would somehow triumph. Subconsciously, they had been hoping for a hero . . . for a white knight. So they felt cheated. In fact, they were outraged. The sentiment was "This were not how things was done in a law abiding society," and that "Shooting a man that way, were out and out murder." They wanted justice.
When Sheriff Dan Beagle got the news, he made it a point for once to hot foot it to Cardan. By the time he arrived, the Cattleman's Association had already hired a range detective to bring the shooter in dead or alive. It was determined that Carter Pickard had been shot at long range by a powerful rifle. Nobody knew exactly where the shot had come from, and no one had any idea who could shoot so far that accurately. A posse went out, and beat around the prairie and the Tuscarora hills, but to no avail. The range detective hung around Echo County for a while, but also came up with nothing.
Sheriff Beagle eventually came to the conclusion that, if someone had to shoot Carter Pickard, well then he probably had it coming anyway.
The murder was never solved.
Discovering only one heir living in the east, Carter's ranch was put in the hands of a manager who broke it into smaller parcels and sold it off.
In time, Cardan came around to the idea that Maddie Blaisdell was staying. A number of the neighbouring women had already experienced a sincere regret over their unwarranted treatment of her. They went out of their way, to stop by, offering friendship and a belated welcome. It took Maddie a little while to be truly accepting of them, until she realized she was, in some sense, doing the same thing to these women that they had done to her. After that, it was easier, and some very close friendships developed. In fact, Will's young wife was observed to have brought a breath of fresh air to the social fabric of that small community of hardy frontier women. In return, they introduced Maddie to a level of practical common sense, that seemed to steady her more impulsive tendencies. Maddie made sure she did not neglect her earliest friend and would spend time with Eddie Breane while he tried to teach her to shoot a rifle. "Land sakes, Miz Blaisdell" he would say "Don't forget to hold your breath and just gently squeeze the trigger." She never seemed to quite get the hang of it which always left Eddie feeling unconsciously somewhat superior. Finally Cardan watched, as over time, Maddie was instrumental in starting up an Episcopal Church, in organizing for a district school, and in attracting artists to put on concerts of a quality never before experienced by her neighbors. She even saw to it that the local grave yard got fenced, and that all of the graves there were regularly tended to. The gossip was "You ken always count on Maddie Blaisdell to be doin the right thing."
Will Blaisdell, recognized to be one of the bravest men in Echo County, successfully built up his ranching operation and was respected by all who knew him. He predeceased his wife by a year. One of their two sons, and their daughter, continued capably to manage the ranch and his other far flung investments. Their other son studied law and, in time, was elected to the state senate.
Maddie Blaisdell lived to a good old age and passed away peacefully at the ranch in 1929. As expected, her adult children gathered to sort through and settle the estate. In a closet behind Maddie's bed, they found her wedding dress. It was beautifully styled, with all the stitches still in place; only the white satin had lost some of its lustre, making the dress look more silvery. They had to smile, recalling how shocked everyone was, when Maddie had worn that silvery dress at Will's funeral. Behind the dress, wrapped in a blanket, they found an ornately tooled 1874 Sharps .44-90 long range single shot rifle, brightly polished, cleaned, oiled and quite ready to be fired. Also, digging through Maddie's most cherished possessions, they discovered a silver locket. Opening it, they were very surprised to find a small medallion, on which was written "National Rifle Association Maddeline VanKonnedt Champion 1000 yards Rifle Shooting Creedmoor, New York 1875." On the outside of the locket were stamped the words "Never play the other man's game."
James Heidinga is a retired engineer and project manager living in Canada. Happily married for over 40 years, he is a
proud father and grandfather. James has quite a large collection of western novels appreciating especially those by
Gruber, Haycox, Overholser, Short etc. His favorite western movies would be "High Noon," "Hombre" and
"Warlock" . . . but nothing compares with sitting down to read a good western!
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by Dean Otto
Bob continued to keep his eyes on the grizzly as she rummaged through the thick trees. She made her grievances known with low grunts and growls. At anytime the air would shift and he will be in trouble. Rifle still in hand, an old Winchester 1873, he would defend himself. The grizzly was out of her den and this was a troubling sign for Bob; game was getting scarce.
Bob decided he wasn't competing with the old gal this morning and started back to the cabin. He noticed smoke coming from the chimney. Someone was in his house.
A black mare greeted him from the edge of the cabin. The mare, Bob knows who rides it. The horse looked at him as he got closer, and backed up, but someone hitched his reins to the fire logs piled against the building. Bob imagined his attire of animal furs made the horse nervous. Bob recognized the rider from the strange saddle that rests on the back of the horse; an alligator skin saddle with sharp teeth that lined the edges. Only one man dared to have such a saddle, and Bob gave himself a slim chance of making it out of there alive.
Bob entered the cabin calmly, with no threatening movements. The warmth of the fireplace hit him in the face and sweat appeared above his eyebrow. Closing the door behind him, he stared forward at the fire dancing over a metal spit. Twin pistols rested in a well-worn gunbelt, dangling on a nail on the wall, out of reach. Bob held his rifle by the barrel, not allowing the man waiting inside a reason to shoot. Bob didn't notice his unwanted guest initially, but he felt his presence and had a notion where he was sitting. He waited for the sound of the gunshot that would kill him. Bob once read you don't hear the shot that kills you, but he never faced a deceased man that could prove that rumor.
"Why am I not dead, Jim?"
"Because," the unseen voice said, "despite what you did, I will not shoot a man in his back, unlike you."
"Fair enough," Bob brushed off the insult, "I figured Jack would send you instead of finding me himself."
"Jack won't find you. I don't plan on telling him. I made it up here, not him."
"Double crossing them, is that it?" Bob asked.
"Why don't you lean that rifle against the wall there and have a seat with your old friend." Bob didn't move. He heard the hammer of a pistol cock back. Click. "I insist."
Bob shook his head, and did as he was told, leaning the Winchester against the wall next to the fireplace, then glanced over at the table in the corner. Jim leaned forward, exposing more of himself through the natural light coming through the window. Black hat, a seven-day growth of beard and he wore all black, except for a red sheepskin jacket. In his hands he held a custom-made Peacemaker with stag grip. Fancy like his saddle. Jim was dangerous and insane, but he loved the attention he got.
Bob dragged out a chair and sat down, looking at Jim.
"No luck finding game, I take it?" Jim asked. "I was getting antsy, waiting for you. Hell, I even prepared a fire, hoping you would bring back a squirrel at least."
"Sorry boss, nothing but an old grizz' out there." Bob paused for a minute, "Look Jim, I will not beg for my life. So if you plan on shooting me, then best get to it."
"How long have we ridden together?"
"Too damn long." Bob glanced at the Peacemaker that Jim gripped in his calloused hand, expecting it to bark at any minute.
"It's a damn shame the gang split up, we were doing well for ourselves," Jim smirked, baring his uneven, yellow teeth.
"Until I killed George."
"You shot old George in the back and stole our gold. One fact that always disturbed me about you, partner, is that I could never shake how complete a coward you are." Jim leaned back on his chair.
"It's about survival. I didn't give a damn about proving anything to anyone."
Bob ducked down, startled from the shot, the heat of the round whizzing past his head. Jim was out of his chair with such speed that Bob did not react. Jim grabbed Bob by the hair, pulling his head back. Bob looked up, staring into the killer's eyes.
"That was the only warning shot I'm giving! Where is the gold!?"
"Okay! Okay! I have it stashed in an old dig close to here!"
"It's in a mine?" Jim laughed. "You are full of shit."
"I didn't want in here in case anyone broke in while I was hunting!" Bob gritted his teeth, wanting to reach up and grab him by the throat. But he decided against it. He wouldn't survive this fight.
"That makes sense," Jim pushed Bob's head forward with a force that gave Bob minor whiplash. "Maybe you are not that stupid."
"Kiss my ass." Bob said, rubbing the back of his head.
"Be nice, Bob. I don't want you making me angry enough to shoot you."
"Go ahead. Do you know where the mine is? Do you know where I hid it once we are inside? No? Maybe you should put a cork on your kettle there, partner" Bob said, chuckling.
Jim grabbed Bob by his shoulders and stood him, knocking the chair down and shoved him out the cabin door. "Let's get this done before I do something I regret."
The snow ceased falling, fresh from the morning, and the sun was starting its descent. The elegance of the landscape always captivated Bob whenever he was out here. He embraced the quiet, the way the sun's rays passed through the trees, and the freedom that the creatures and birds enjoyed. He developed a loathing for the chaos of the civilized world since hiding in these mountains. Reality set back in as the barrel of the Peacemaker nudged him in the back.
"The mine near enough to walk?" Jim asked, staring over at his mare.
"No need for the horse. A grizzly roams these parts and the mare will only aggravate it," Bob said, thinking back to his own gelding and feeling a heartache. Bob had loved that horse, and it had saved his life.
"A grizzly? Are you serious?"
"This is the mountains Jim."
"If I leave my horse here, he might get et."
"Decide." Bob wasn't about to give advice. He wasn't lying about the bear, but he realized he would walk regardless so it didn't matter to him.
"Let's move," Jim urged Bob onward, but bob noticed his captor's worried look as they moved. The killer was losing control, becoming restless.
The men proceeded through the woods with no visible route to guide them. Bob knew the way, but the deep snow didn't make the trip easy. The chill didn't bother Bob at all. Having dressed to safeguard against the bitter freeze, he was used to it. Jim was not, as he crossed his arms over his chest, and blew into his hands, keeping them warm. This was not the assassin's domain by any means.
"How much farther?" Jim asked with his words coming in a labored breath.
"Maybe a hundred yards."
Through the thick woods they continued pushing forward with the towering pines blocking the sun as the morning was rapidly making way for the afternoon.
"There," Bob said, catching his breath, pointing at an opening in the side of the mountain.
The pair arrived at the entrance. Derailed mine carts, buried and deteriorated from decades of neglect, lay about the ground. The fresh snow was undisturbed, and that told him that the grizzly had not returned to her den, and maybe she wouldn't.
"We want to be careful. Who knows what lives in there," Bob said.
"That grizzly you babbled on about?" Jim asked and he sounded concerned.
"Shit," Jim said, looking at the entrance. Jim wasn't sure. He doubts himself, Bob thought. Jim's gut feelings were playing him, the kind a man gets when he steps foot into a saloon and right away he identifies something is wrong and best choose another saloon. Bob had that gift, but today had proved that all this peace and quiet made him unfocused and dropped his guard.
"We will chance it, anyway," Jim said. "I have a gun and can run faster than you. I will get out alive."
A few feet inside they saw more mine carts derailed, topped with old canvas tarps. Some carts had rocks filled to the brim while others were empty. Kerosene lanterns with broken glass lay scattered around on the ground.
"Hold on a minute," Jim ordered as he picked up each lantern, shaking them and tossing empty ones aside until he found one that still had kerosene left. He struck a match and lit the lantern, carrying it with his free hand. "Go."
The rotted support beams look decades old. Bob always wondered when they would give, cutting him off from his riches. He figured if he made it out of there alive, he would take them back to the cabin.
"What the hell is that noise?" Jim asked. Bob wasn't paying attention, absorbed in his thoughts. After taking a step, he heard the snapping. Jim aimed the lantern down at the ground, illuminating bones cluttering the ground.
"I told you something lived in here. I hope whatever it was is gone."
The mineshaft turned to a dead end. The lantern's light revealed a solitary cart and a heap of rocks from an ancient cave-in, and more bones.
"It's in the cart," Bob said.
"It better be. It may be dark in here but I guarantee that my shot will count." Jim's character was dead serious.
"I assume you will kill me anyhow, but at least I won't die a liar."
"Stand right there, friend. Move and I will shoot you." Jim inched his way towards the cart, with his pistol still on Bob.
Inside the cart, a large burlap sack lay partially opened with something glinting in the lantern's glow. Jim's face lit up and his eyes went wide as he whooped and hollered. He caressed the gold with his fingers passing over the metal like a lover. He altogether forgot Bob. He caught a blur in the corner of his eye as a rock struck him in the temple. Jim grunted and went down, dropping his gun. Bob didn't cease. He came upon Jim again with another swing, bashing him repeatedly with the rock to the back of his head and blood poured from the wound. Bob backed off and Jim was yet conscious, but his right eye was coming out of the socket. Jim's breath came in heavy gasps as Bob looked at his handiwork, feeling no regret.
"I am a coward, Jim. You could have left me well alone!" Bob said, picking up Jim's gun. "I won't allow you a mercy shot. This will be your tomb, you son of a bitch."
Jim mouthed words, but nothing would come. He laid there suffering. Bob thought of putting him out of his misery but dedided he didn't have time. He snatched the bag of gold and ran out of there as quick as he could.
There she was, watching Bob emerge from the mine, the enormous old grizzly in all her magnificent grandeur, a killing machine of fur and claw. Bob froze.
The bear rose on her hind legs and bellowed a roar that made the hair at the back of Bob's neck stand straight up. She was so close he grimaced at the putrid breath. It confused her to discover something strange coming out of her home. The sow's eyesight was poor, and Bob blended well into the snow. He had Jim's gun, but he preserved the bullets. Last resort, he thought, a last resort. He didn't want to shoot her. The grizzly smelled something else. Perhaps a smell she was not familiar with, but it grabbed her attention. Without warning, she rushed inside the mine. It took Bob a few seconds to realize that he was not being ripped apart.
"You miserable bastard," Bob sighed and turned for the cabin as quick as he could, thinking of Jim still in his tomb.
Bob's return home was not as hard since he took the same broken snow trail that the pair had made getting there. No snow fell, so it remained open and no resistance. The gold was heavier than he thought. When the dense trees gave away to the cleared property, Bob saw five men on horses waiting.
"Didn't I tell you boys I was right?" Four men all on horses idled in front of the cabin, "I knew following Jim was a great idea! Also, you all owe me 10 dollars each. I knew Bob would be back."
Jack and his men had their guns out. The man who talked was a tall, slender man with a refined face and, like the others, wore heavy winter coat and chaps of lamb's wool.
"Hey Jack," was all Bob could muster. He was tired and hungry and now he felt defeated.
"Well, look at you! You look nothing like you did three years ago," Jack said leaning on a saddle horn. "You're looking like a true mountain man."
The other men chuckled, enjoying their boss's teasing.
"Been up here for a while," Bob said.
They were none too concerned with Bob being armed because they knew Bob. Smart as he was, he couldn't shoot worth a lick. He had nowhere to go.
"So where is Jim?" Jack nodded towards the black mare. "That's his horse and ridiculous saddle."
"He's in a mine and won't be coming out," Bob said.
"Well, won that bet, anyway," Jack said in an amused tone and leaned back in his saddle, "So I take it you killed him."
"Yeah," Bob said, still not ready to make snappy comebacks.
"You killed George and took our gold," Jack said, as if asking for the time of the next train.
"Here!" Bob threw the bag of gold onto the snow, and the bag spilled coins. "It's more trouble than it's worth. I am sorry about George but what's done is done."
One of the men jumped down from his horse, keeping his gun pointed at Bob, scooping up the spilled coins, stuffing them back into the bag. He handed it to Jack before getting back on his horse.
Jack opened the bag and looked inside. "It's all here?"
"I kept none for myself, if that's what you're implying."
Jack put the bag into his saddlebag.
"What now?" Bob asked. "Going to kill me, Jack?"
"Nope," Jack answered. "I ought to, but I'm going to let you live."
Bob did not expect that from Jack. Neither did his men, who glanced at their boss.
"You serious, Jack? What's the catch?"
"I always liked you, Bob. You always made me laugh. Fact is, you killed Jim . . . and I hated that snake. I'm willing to bet he would have killed you, took the gold and disappeared."
"He talked of it," Bob replied.
Jack chuckled, shaking his head and pulled his horse to move down the trail.
Bob asked, "George?"
Jack scoffed, tapping his saddlebag, "You paid for that debt. Besides, he was getting old." Jack stopped his horse, as his men did the same, and Jack looked very serious. "I want you to listen Bob, right now. If you come down from this mountain, it won't be a happy ending."
Jack didn't even wait for Bob to agree or disagree. They rode out of sight, leaving him with Jim's horse. Not a terrible ending to his day. He lost his gold, but he had his life and a new horse with a very hideous alligator saddle. He walked inside the cabin, thinking of names for his new horse.
Dean Otto is a 10 year Military Vet with two branches. An unpublished writer as of this post. Dean is a late bloomer, going to be 40 this year, living in Seattle Washington. He just loves to write and feels bad having his stories rotting in a chest so he decided to try and get them out. Dean is married, with three kids.
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The Trooper and the Dog Star
by Tom Sheehan
Pvt. Alexander Mulvihill, still bleeding from a serious wound, sat with his back against a big rock, the Texas night sinking like a lost swimmer, a breath of prairie air mixed with a promise of cool shadows. He kept thinking of home and the smell of a roast from his mother's great iron stove, her voice lilting and lifting angelic in the kitchen all the way back there in Pennsylvania, and the hills around home lit up in the leaves like flares the whole length of the Allegheny Valley.
He waited through the long night for the sun to come up.
A raiding party of renegade Cherokees, behind the chief on the big white horse, found him before his comrades did. The lead horseman was Tsewogi Awenitsa, the Cherokee Avenger, still doing what he said he'd do against the white man as long as he lived . . . and then after. "I will be true to the Nations in the face of all powers," he'd said at many powwows, and the echoes of his words were steady on the Plains from Texas up to the Canadas. Some of the Indians agreed that Tsewogi Awenitsa had to be 80 years old in that year of 1872.
Two days later, Co. F, Fourth U.S. Cavalry, his outfit, found Pvt. Alexander Mulvihill, who hadn't moved a muscle since Tsewogi Awenitsa had put him down, buried most of him under rocks, the avenging Cherokee sending his own talk to the soldiers from Fort Wilson; Mulvihill's body, most of it, was covered with rocks. In the beginning only his head was visible . . . and his left foot, the foot that he mounted his horse with, those end parts all torn, gnawed, chewed beyond recognition.
Those parts of him had been fed upon by predators.
The troop doctor said he had been dead for at least two days, maybe three, the way he was picked apart, the scavengers coming upon him from different directions and in different forms. But only the purposely exposed parts of him gnawed, pulverized and eaten, head and foot. His uniform and the contents of his pockets made the identification positive. The doctor was particularly alert to the left foot having been left exposed; he'd seen it before, and it was supposed to be a subtle message from the Indians, especially the Cherokees in the long and unfortunate war with them, with Tsewogi Awenitsa always in the forefront.
This newest act was his deciding mark. "It's supposed to be subtle," the doc had said to Captain Lattimer, troop leader, "but we see it better than that."
Private Mulvihill's Smith & Wesson .44 revolver, issued by Co. F, Fourth U.S. Cavalry, lie in scattered pieces on the ground beside his grave, his Spencer carbine long gone with those who had interred him, Tsewogi Awenitsa and his renegades.
It was 1872, near Wells, Texas.
Most of the Cherokees had been expelled from Texas in 1840, but out there, in 1872, the Great Avenger moved with his warriors like ghosts in the woods or plains, "Gihosti Ini Wudis," or the devils from the grass, "Dewili Womi Giwas," as the Cherokee nation called them in turn.
The International-Great Northern Railway had built a rail line in 1872, which became the Missouri-Pacific line, and the Kansas & Gulf Short Line had run a line north to south, to several new towns. Wells was a new town and the cavalry was stationed nearby at a temporary fort.
The closest friend of Mulvihill's in Co. F, Brendan Croughmartin, tried to relax with the troop commander who had called him in and asked him to tell him how he had escaped and tell him all about Mulvihill, all of it on a personal basis. Croughmartin thought at the time it was an act of self-appeasement on the captain's part.
"Private," Lattimer said, "tell me all you know about Private Mulvihill before you tell me how you got away from those redskins. It's important to me, as the commanding officer, in order to process the information further." He made a sudden point of conciliation: "You must know it's miraculous that you escaped from that horde of savages."
Abruptly he held his hand up. "Time enough for that. Tell me about Alexander, all you know." There was no twinkle in his eyes in a deeply-bronzed face, a rugged face, the face of a man with five years of service beyond the Mississippi River, and all of that time out on the Plains. He could remember the day he crossed the Great River and it always made him wish for one more sight of the Hudson. Just one more evening with Claire Reynolds. "Dreams have such bounty," he could have said to himself.
Croughmartin responded, aware of some minor inattentions of his commander, "He hailed from the Allegheny Valley in Pennsylvania, sir. One night on bivouac he told me his mother had run away from home as a teen-ager, from down there in Roanoke, Virginia, and met his father, Silas, who was a good and sage man. The father died, though, and his mother remarried a widower with kids. Mulvihill left home because of that. I think he was about 12 or 13 at the time."
Croughmartin, exhibiting still some of the embarrassment crawling upon him as he talked about a dead comrade, offered up a series of hesitations in his delivery.
"Once he told me that when his father died, there were no sounds left, just a void. Their old barn had become a mausoleum, like he meant the actual full grave, the real grave. The father had been caught by a storm and taken down a rushing river in spring with his horse and wagon. They were heading home from selling some farm products. They never got there. His mother eventually married the widower with kids . . . and with money . . . planning that she could care for her own son, Alex, and have her new husband's children about her to care for, to cook for, to tend to, and she could please a man again. She could be as happy with herself as she could be, but felt sad that her son had to leave, to make his own way, for that's what Alex did."
There came a pause of delivery as though he was measuring the impact of what he would say, could say, meant to say, and finally had to say.
Lattimer sensed a core of knowledge was about to be explained and that it might indeed cause a deal of discomfort to Croughmartin.
"Worry not, Private," the captain said, "this is really about Alexander at this point. But it is no longer personal, with him gone. It's all right to let him be known again. It's really all right."
Croughmartin continued, the air apparently clear of responsibilities. "That's when he really told me, sir, about his father who had told him, many, many times, 'Make sure to cut your own star, Alexander.' That's the exact way he said it, 'Make sure to cut your own star.' Then he tried to make it clearer and said, 'See it, haul it down, and hold it for yourself.' I'd guess I first knew his father then. He was just like my grandfather from Roscommon in the old country. That's just the way the old timers say things that count with them, that really matter in all the words they might have uttered in their whole lives."
Lattimer was tuned in, he seriously knew, to a privacy he would otherwise never attain.
"Why did Private Mulvihill join the army?" Lattimer said, aware that Croughmartin was still uneasy answering questions about a comrade of the ranks, a dead comrade.
"It was the uniform, sir. He said he loved the uniform, like it meant something, had some meaning to it."
"That's was noble of him, I'd say," the troop leader said, with a taste of drama. "He must have known the perils in his path. Life will be uneasy out here for a long time to come. These renegades will keep at it until we leave or they're dead . . . and we're not leaving."
"Now, and this is highly important, for the whole troop, for Alexander's memory, for you above all the troopers, and for the whole United States Army after it has just gone through a most horrible campaign within its own ranks, if I may say that about the Great War, and finds itself in another war with the renegades and Tsewogi Awenitsa and his cutthroats.
There was a summation pending, Lattimer sensed, as he studied Croughmartin.
"He knew the stars, Alex did," Croughmartin further explained, "saw them coming in their turns, and saw this one coming, this special one. We were tied up inside a tipi, bound real tight to a pole, but we could move our butts a bit to rest a bone or a muscle, and we could wait for the sun to come up. We could see it through an open flap when a pelt of some kind was pulled aside."
"The Indians on guard never said much to each other, always two of them, but the funny thing about it was, they always stared at Alex, like there was something special about him. It was eerie if you ask me, like they knew if one of us was going to escape it'd be Alex for sure. But it wasn't that at all, it was something else."
"Why do you say that, Private?"
"You might not believe me, sir, but Alex was different, different from all of us, all the other troopers, and I swear those Indians knew it as well as I did. It was like it sat on him or came lifted out of him and danced in the air, but unseen, like a piece of a ghost before it's time to be seen, to scare people."
He remembered something else; "One time one of them rushed out and came back with a couple of others, older braves, and they all kept staring at Alex who never once said anything to them, and he knew a bit of Cherokee too, sir. But didn't say anything to them. Even those older ones."
"Don't stop there, Private," Lattimer said, his voice carrying a nervous anxiety, as though Croughmartin would suddenly forget what he had known, had seen, had brought up out of his soul. What next?
"It was the star, sir. The one star that Alex knew was coming right in through that opening in the tipi, like it was meant to happen. That star came over the peaks in the southeast and it sat right there in Alex's eyes and I was staring at him and the reflection came right into my eyes and those braves were sure something was going to happen. Those two on guard started jabbering to each other, getting agitated, making all kinds of gestures up to the sky, what they could see out there on the horizon through that open flap. And one of them went out again and others came back, but not the big chief.
They were talking and I caught a few words and don't know much, but Alex had pointed out the star to me before and called it the Dog Star or Sirius, bright as all hell, if I can say it, sir. Then I heard them say and I'll say it the way I tried to remember it. It was like 'Gitli a-i-sv no-qu-si 'and I sure guess that's Cherokee for Dog Star or Walking Dog Star or Dog Star Walking or something so close to that that they were concerned both about Alex and the big chief because some of them kept pointing to Alex and then to the outside and I knew it had to be the chief because they were not pointing at the star."
Croughmartin took in a gulp of air.
"It sat right in Alex's eyes and I stared at him and the reflection came in my eyes and the Indians started talking among themselves and I knew there was some kind of apprehension there, not real fear, but a concern for something beyond them. In Alex's eyes, and in mine, too."
"Captain," the trooper said after a long pause, as though he was reconstructing images or events, 'It's just like Alex, I'll swear it forever. Like he just reached up and grabbed that mutt by the tail and hauled him right down there twixt us and those Cherokees, like his father said - and they damned well knew it. A couple of them went near white in the face for a few seconds and bolted out of there, almost tearing down a pole from its roots, and then the big boy, the one that rides the white horse like he's the king almighty himself, he came in for a look on his own."
Croughmartin rubbed his wrists again, as he had on several occasions, and the Lattimer knew he was still feeling the cut of the ropes on his wrists.
"And you know what, Captain? I wasn't afraid any more. Even when the chief came in and his face painted up like he was going to a masquerade party, looking like the devil might look at the Horrible's Parade back in Massachusetts. Not for one damned minute was I afraid 'cause Alex, that good old boy, had the sign on them and they all knew it . . . and they knew I knew it. That's one hell of a feeling when they have you all tied up like you'll never be anyplace again, like you won't even be able to mount your horse or run like hell if you even had the chance."
Lattimer was silent for long seconds at a time, his eyes drifting off now and then, looking for answers in clouds, bushes, shadows, hoping for resolutions and images as bright as his mind could stand.
At length he found a firmness setting on his chin. "This we will do, Brendan," Lattimer said, in the most secretive way an officer had ever spoken to Private Croughmartin and the very first and last officer of rank to address him as Brendan. "We will make an agreement. I will make you Alexander's star. I will send you off to the academy at West Point with a Medal of Honor citation. And you can become Alexander's star, become an astronomer. Go beyond yourself. We should be able to explain to the whole country, and the entire army, how Tsewogi Awenitsa felt about this, what he knew, what he feared if anything."
He waited for it to sink in with the private, and then said, still as secretive as ever. "Remember this, Brendan. It is for the extreme good of the service, and for the 4th Cavalry. And somehow it will touch Alexander Mulvihill wherever his soul abides."
He looked overhead, perhaps seeing Alexander Mulvihill's face in a far reach.
"Oh, I know, sir, said Croughmartin. "I saw all that in the chief's eyes a bit later, though he could not let his braves know. That's why he let me go, making off like it was another message from him, one of those subtle messages he's so good at."
He nodded and said, "He's awfully smart, sir, but Alex had his number. I'm sure of that. I saw it in his eyes more than once, that he knew Alex had a connection with whatever was overhead, who ran it all up there, who kept the stars in place yet kept them moving at the same time. And who brought the sun up every morning and brought the moon around in a cart every so many days, who changed the moon's dress each time it was to be done, who colored it each time. Oh, sir, I know . . . and he knew that I knew. And Alex, bless him, sir, saw everything, like his father said. He never had a minute's fear."
Lattimer had a citation prepared for Croughmartin, processed it properly and to fulfillment, and transferred him to the Military Academy at West Point, "for the greater good of the service."
The citation read:
Private Brendan Croughmartin
Organization: Company F, 4th U. S. Cavalry
Place and date: Near Wells, Texas, 29 September 1872
Entered service at: Gloucester, Massachusetts
Medal of Honor Citation: After insuring that a dead comrade, brutalized by Indians, was properly buried, he escaped from long-time hostile Cherokee renegades led by Tsewogi Awenitsa, "the Great Avenger of the Cherokee Nation." He escaped from the hostiles and reported all details to his superior officers in a brave and circuitous and illustrious flight from captivity.
Croughmartin became, after his separation from the service, a noted astronomer and late in his exemplary life collected funds to build on a broad hilltop in Pennsylvania's Allegheny Valley, the Mulvihill Observatory of Stars and Other Celestial Bodies.
A boy, visiting the observatory one night and using one of its telescopes, turned suddenly to his mother and exclaimed, "Mum, I saw a man's face up there right near a star!"
Sheehan, in his 91st year, has published 36 books and multiple works in many magazines, etc. He's received 34 Pushcart nominations, 6 Best of Net nominations with one winner, He served in the 31st Infantry in Korea 1951-52, graduated from Boston College 1956.
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Whatever Happened to The Cartwrights?
by Jeb Stuart
Maggie Cartwright sat on the porch waiting for her son and nephew to come home. This was her favorite part
of the day, not light, not dark, calm and restive. Soon the boys would be home, they would have supper then
spend an evening together talking or playing chess.
For her, it had been love at first sight with her late husband Adam, and when he had shown her the Ponderosa
the first time she had fallen in love with it too. Adam had been ambitious, wanting to build his own empire
like his Father had done and this had led to his death. He had checked the books and found his partner was
stealing, and when he confronted him a fight broke out and Adam was stabbed to death leaving her a widow and
alone to raise their son Benjamin Eric Cartwright. They had lived in New Orleans but she knew Adam would want
to be buried on the Ponderosa, and when she brought his body home her Father-in-law Ben had pleaded with her
to stay with him and let him help raise her son, and she had gratefully accepted.
She had fit in well with the Cartwright family from day one. She called her Father-in-law "Father Cartwright"
and her Brother-in-law Eric, or as he was known "Hoss" was like a brother. She had been maid of honor for Mandy
Jenkins when she married Hoss and she and Mandy were Best Friends Friends For Life, and she had felt like she
lost a sister when Mandy died in childbirth leaving Hoss a widower and alone to raise their son Joseph Adam
Cartwright. To his credit Hoss wasn't bitter, and continued to live life as he had always done, never taking
himself too serious and making his son his number one priority, then, 3 years later the horrible tragedy that
took Hoss's life. There were no witnesses but the Sheriff concluded he had drowned while fording Crazy Woman
Creek. Indications were his horse had stepped in quick sand. Because his vest and gun belt were on the side of
the creek all believed he had managed to swim to shore, but the big hearted giant had taken them off and gone
back in to try to save his horse Chubs, and both were lost.
Ben got custody of Little Adam and he came to live with them at the Ponderosa. He and his Cousin Ben were more
like brothers and she had become his surrogate Mother and all recovered eventually.
Joseph Cartwright, like Adam had wanted to create his own empire, but despite all he tried he wasn't very
successful in business. He had served 2 terms as Mayor of Virginia City and this had wetted his appetite for
politics and had mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Governor. When President McKinley asked Congress to
declare war on Spain "Little Joe," despite the objections of his Wife Linda and Father had applied for and
received a Commission and joined Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. Joe told his both his Father and Wife
this was the key to restoring his political career. When he came back he would run for Governor again and
after that, maybe even President! Then came that awful day.
Father Cartwright and the boys were at a horse auction. Mei Ling, the house keeper/cook who had taken Hop
Sing's place when he passed away and she were the only home. Maggie was upstairs and heard a knock on the
door. She started down the steps and stopped short when she saw a soldier in the door and heard Mei Ling
say "Mr. Cartwright no here." She gathered herself and said;
"Sergeant, I'm Maggie Cartwright, Can I help you?"
The Sergeant came to attention gave her a snappy salute, and said: "Mrs. Cartwright my name is Sergeant Williams.
It is my sad duty to extend to you the sympathies of the President of the United States and to inform you that
Lieutenant Joseph Cartwright has been killed in action at the battle of San Juan Hill."
Mei Ling had screamed and started crying. Of all the Cartwrights, Joe had been her favorite. When she first came
to the Ponderosa they had flirted with each other and after Joe had married remained fast friends and played
practical jokes on each other, her heart was broken.
By now Maggie had reached the door and the Sergeant handed her an Official looking envelope, saluted again and
left. She put the envelope in the desk drawer and firmly ordered Mei Ling to go to her room and remain there to
nurse her broken heart and NOT to say anything to anyone she would inform Ben and the boys, which truth be known
was a big relief to Mei Ling as she didn't want to tell Ben.
Maggie practiced different ways of saying it, hoping to break it to Ben gently but nothing she said seemed to
fit. About 2 hours later her son ran in the house and excitedly yelled:
"MA! MA! COME LOOK AT THE STRING OF HORSES PAPAW BOUGHT! THEY'RE BEAUTIFUL! BEST OF ALL, HE SAID JOE AND ME CAN EACH PICK OUT ONE FOR OUR OWN!"
She forced a smile and said "That's nice son. I'll be out in a minute, I have to talk to your Grandfather.
Why don't you and Joe take care of the horses and ask your Grandfather to come in."
"OK!" And he ran out, and shortly Ben, in a good mood came in.
"Now Maggie, before you say anything yes I did give them both a horse. I know I spoil them but . . . "
"Father Cartwright, its not that. I . . . I . . . Little Joe . . . a
Soldier was here . . . " All of her practicing had not paid off, she couldn't tell him, but she didn't have too, Ben knew.
He looked at her and said: "A soldier . . . Maggie is my son dead?"
She turned away, unable to face him and said "Yes. there's a letter in your desk telling you about it."
Ben went to his desk, retrieved the envelope and read its contents silently. In it was a letter signed by the
President extending his sympathies on behalf of a grateful Nation, a death certificate and information about
when the body was being returned home. He read it, then laid it down on the desk and picked up a picture of
Joe and his family, looked at it and repeated "Joseph, Joseph Joseph" then dropped it, put his face in his
hands and wept. Maggie went to him and together both wept, but then Ben, being the true Patriarch of the family
that he was gained control of himself and comforted Maggie. They looked at each other neither saying it but both
knew part of the worst part was coming, he would have to tell the boys and then the worst part of all, he would
have to tell Joe's wife Linda and 2 daughters Marie (Named for Joe's Mother) and Amber.
The boys came in and saw Ben and Maggie standing holding each other and from the look on their faces knew
something was wrong and froze in their tracks. Ben gently pushed Maggie away and went to them placing a hand
on each boy's shoulder and said "Boys, I've always called you my men, and now I will really need you to be so,
not only for Maggie's and my sake but also for the sake of your Cousins Marie and Amber." He then broke the
news and both boys lost it. Uncle Joe had been like a Father and also a good friend to them and now he was
gone. After a few moments of weeping Ben took charge.
"Let's be glad the soldier's came to me first instead of Linda. You boys go hook up the buck board and saddle
yourselves a couple of horses. We'll go tell Linda and the girls and bring them back here with us. MEI LING!" he
screamed and she came running, "I want you to make a light dinner for all of us and make lots of coffee its going to be a long night."
The boys rode their horses and Maggie drove the buckboard with Ben sitting next to her, neither wanting
conversation instead each dwelling on their own thoughts.
When they got to the gate of the ranch Ben looked around and said: "Maggie, it's no secret I'm one of the richest
men in Nevada, maybe even the Country, but I'd give it all up to have Joseph sitting here with me right now."
Maggie later wrote, Father Cartwright had always been a healthy man. Other than a cold I never saw him sick or take
a day off from his work because of illness but I'll always believe the loss of his third son was too much and that
day was the day he started going downhill. Three years to the day later he passed away surrounded by his family,
peacefully in his bed.
His will revealed he was indeed one of the wealthiest men in the Country, with his 10,000 acre Ponderosa Ranch,
lumber business and other enterprises, his estate was $15,000,000.00 dollars, equivalent to about 200 million today.
He made Benjamin and Joseph equal partners in the Ponderosa, his lumber and mining business, and granted a monthly
allowance of $1,000.00 to Marie and Amber, an allowance to Linda and I of $500.00 a month and gave each of us "A
home on the Ponderosa for as long as they shall live."
As the boys rode up Maggie snapped out of her day dream saying to herself, with all its ups and downs life had truly been for her a
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Mixed Blood, Part 3 of 6
by Abe Dancer
On entering his house, McLane stopped and looked toward the closed door of his front room. "How is she?" he asked Willow, who was waiting for him.
"Poorly. I don't think she's taking it well," Willow replied, her face tight with anxiety. "I don't think it's my sort of nursing she's after. She's just laying there, staring into space."
McLane puffed out his cheeks, and fiddled with the cigaritos in his coat pocket. "Leave it to me then," he said. "Not that it's me or my doctoring she needs either. You better light some more lamps before you get dinner ready, Willow. We'll eat early, eh? Perhaps the smell of home cooking will bring her round. She may well think of leaving after she's more settled and with some food inside her."
"Oh, I don't think so Doctor. It's almost full dark now. Where'll she be going in an hour or so?" Willow said, the concern evident in her voice.
McLane turned to Mel. "Take a seat, Mel. I won't be a minute," he said. "I'll go and see what her thinking is."
McLane knocked on the door of the room where the girl was resting. There was no response, so he opened the door gently and went in.
Reba Church was sitting up, wedged at the rising end of the couch. She was clasping her hands together, eyes unresponsive as she faced McLane's concern. He could see she'd hardly moved. He took a couple of paces toward her, but she held up a hand that meant she wasn't yet ready.
"I'm sorry," he said sympathetically. "In your shoes, I'd probably need more than a couple of hours to recover. I'll leave you for a bit. You know we're here." McLane backed off, watched her for a moment further, then closed the door quietly.
* * *
"I don't think she's too interested in talking about cattle grubs and the like," he said on rejoining Mel. "Guess I'll just have to carry on making decisions."
"And I'll just do the fighting." Mel had the distinct feeling that McLane had wheedled him into a place he didn't want to be. "You got the right to make those decisions, Doc?"
"I've got a clear conscience, if that's what you mean. You'll learn that's a good pillow, son . . . lullaby at midnight. You tell me what you or anyone else should do in the circumstances and I'll listen. " He crossed to a desk in the corner of the room and pulled out paper and pencil, then sketched a rough map of some country to the north-west of Polvo Gris and handed it to Mel. "Here, this is your ticket out of trouble. Take a ride, go on out and let some air into the place. Don't know whether Selwyn locked the place up. He didn't have much on him . . . no keys. Have a look around, do anything you figure needs doing. As soon as the girl's well enough to travel, I'll bring her out."
"An' if I have visitors?" Mel asked.
Doc McLane gave a slight shrug. "Well if it's not me, it'll be the bad guys, and you fill the place with gun smoke. Seriously, Mel, I guess you can expect visitors. But you'll get 'em anyway, whether you stay in town or find yourself a hole in a wall somewhere. And remember, this is probably the only way Brett Vaughn's going to let you stick around these parts. Right?"
Mel shrugged. It wasn't quite the answer he was hoping for or expecting. He'd told McLane he wasn't sure what he was looking for in Polvo Gris. That's when he'd lost control of the situation and he knew it—but it was too late now. He picked up his hat. "How far's this place, then?"
The doc pointed to the map he'd sketched. "It's a ways. Take you best part of three hours, I reckon. Steer just north of east and keep Standup Rock ahead of you. You'll ford the Dog Creek twice; the second time, head west. Can't miss the place."
Willow came out and smiled politely. "Will that be another place for dinner?" she asked as Mel walked to the door.
"No, no, he's in a hurry," the doc replied.
The response was a little quick to Mel's way of thinking, so he gave Willow a wounded smile and stepped out on to the porch. He heard the desert crickets and smelled the night blossoms, then took a deep breath. In darkness, the town looked less bleak, less faded. Night time created a flattering cloak, making places like Polvo Gris look no worse than anywhere else.
He crossed the street, went back to Marcella's Quarter. He indicated a bottle of forty-rod whiskey from the shelf along the back bar, paid the barkeep four dollars. He remembered hearing Chief Josef Fish once tell his father 'whiskey make rabbit hug bear.' He smiled favorably at the saw, and puffed his cheeks doubtfully at the thought of what might happen if he had a drink with Budge Miner. He left the saloon and turned into the side street, doubtfully made his way to Bill Frater's livery.
He gave the stable boy a dollar and led his gray out front and saddled it. Five minutes later, still uncertain if he was right or wrong, wise or foolish, he rode out into the main street, headed west toward Selwyn Church's homestead.
* * *
Doc McLane slumped in his porch chair and heaved a long sigh of relief. Willow Legge leaned against the porch rail, studying him closely as he lit one of his cigaritos.
"Are you going to tell me what you're up to?" she asked.
"I'm not up to anything," he replied, with a barely visible shake of his head.
"Oh yes you are. I've known you too long not to know when there's something devious going on in that head of yours. The hours I've spent listening to men's imaginings. I recognize the look. Nine times out of ten there was a woman involved. You're not the only one concerned about the girl you know."
"Most of those men you're talking of were dying, Willow. They needed those thoughts to know they were still living. Anyway, I got us into this problem, it's up to me to get us out . . . me and Reba Church, that is. You stick to looking after my patients and the house, Willow. Leave the other stuff to me."
"Hmm. I'll wager it's the 'other stuff' that's got you into whatever trouble you're talking about," Willow continued with her concerns. "You're involved in something you should have stayed away from—something or someone."
"What are you going on about, Willow?"
"The Spool foreman, Budge Miner. He's obviously no match for that young man. But to a silly, meddling old sawbones? Tell me you're not involved in something you shouldn't be, Doc . . . please."
"You reckon I should let her ride out to Selwyn's place on her own?" McLane suggested, veering away from Willow's question. "You saw how distraught she was when we brought her in, didn't you? Good God, Willow, she fainted at the sight of an ordinary fist fight."
"I think it was more than that," Willow said. "And I can see how you'd want to help her. You're bored and you want some excitement. But what you're actually getting is . . . big trouble."
"I'm a doctor, Willow. That makes me part of the real world, not someone who stands and watches," McLane answered back as Willow walked away. He knew he could depend on her. He'd known it from the time they'd walked from the carnage of war and decided to travel west. They'd first met at Chickamauga, when she'd worked alongside the field surgeons as a volunteer nurse.
Moving off the porch, McLane walked across his small front yard. Reba Church had remained in his front room. She hadn't shown any inclination to leave the house or even talk to anyone. Not that that bothered the doc. Getting justice for SelwynChurch or getting punishment with the Casper Spool hands did. And to that end, he wanted Mel Cody out on the Church place.
He stood by his picket fence and considered another smoke. He took a few breaths of the cool night air. Looking at the lamps that shone from the buildings along the main street he heard wild shouts from Marcella's Quarter, both inside and out. He thought about the old days when towns like Polvo Gris had been open, neighborly places with no man or family down on their luck, no man as wealthy and dangerously influential as Casper Spool.
He considered the trouble he'd caused Brett Vaughn and decided to take a stroll to the jailhouse. The sheriff sat moodily at his desk building a low stockade with shotgun cartridges. McLane grunted out a welcome and pulled the checker board out from under Vaughn's hat. He arranged the well-worn pieces.
Vaughn challenged him with a look and watched him make the first move on the board. "A whisky a game," he said, and went for his pipe.
"Two," said the old doctor and leaned over the board with eager resolve.
* * *
"So much for the early dinner," Willow said when Doc McLane returned two hours later.
"Yeah, sorry, Willow. I got caught up winning me a half bottle of whiskey," he said, unbuttoning his coat.
"Well, while you've been doing that, Reba's got herself up and about. She's asking for you. Looks like she's shook off the worst. She's back in the kitchen, eating now."
He found Reba sitting at the kitchen table. She had a bowl of broth that looked untouched cooling before her. She looked up when he came in and gave him a reserved smile.
"I'm sorry for the trouble I've caused you. Willow made this for me, but I can't—"
McLane interrupted, drawing up a chair. "Appetite'll come with the first mouthful, and it's no trouble. I don't do much that I don't want to anymore. And if there is any trouble, believe me, it ain't started yet."
"Hmm," Reba said, not picking up on McLane's forewarning. "My uncle told me very little about the town or his life here. After pa's death he just wrote and said to come on out. It took me nearly three months to tidy up pa's affairs though."
"You lost your pa as well?" Doc asked, grimacing.
Reba nodded and gave the broth a stir.
The doctor gave her wrist a short understanding grasp. "If there's any truth in trouble coming three times, I'd stay right here, young lady," he said thoughtfully. "If there's anything headed your way, meet it head on. So, stay; open a new chapter in your life."
Reba looked intent. "What am I supposed to do? I'm capable enough, but I don't have the money or the knowledge to go into business. I wouldn't know where to start."
"You know nothing of ranch work?"
Reba shook her head. "I ordered some mail order seeds once. My pa . . . family ran a shop, a drapers'."
"I see," he said, appreciating the degree of amusement in her reply. "Well it ain't all that challenging if you've got a head on you and an expert hand. Selwyn had himself a decent spread. It's three hours west of here; not big, but the land's pretty. There's good water and fat grass on the slopes. I'd say there was some . . . err . . . civic improvements needed, but you ain't inherited a pig in a poke, Reba."
"I told you; my background's frills and furbelows. Besides, I don't take easily to horses and cattle. I don't like the way they look at you . . . big ugly brutes."
"In a lot of ways, cattle and horses are about the same as people out here, Reba. You treat 'em right and they'll line up for you." McLane went to his top pocket for a cigarito but changed his mind.
"You can smoke if you want. I don't mind; I'm used to it," Reba said.
"No, it's all right. Willow don't like it." He patted her arm reassuringly with a nervous little grin. "Anyway, your problem ain't so great. I've sent a man out to look after things. He's a rough diamond but there's a charm about him. He won't let you down either."
"He'll be the hired hand, will he?"
"Yeah. You'll need someone to keep the fences in order, chop wood, do some round up and branding work. You know, that sort of thing."
"I can only guess, I'm afraid. You've been so kind, I—"
McLane interrupted again, cutting off her gratitude. "I don't know much about Selwyn's finances," he said, "but he never had any loans that I know of. Well, nothing big enough to cause him any hardship. As I said, the place is probably run down a bit, but I reckon he was making out fair enough. I'm sure you won't have much of a problem there."
Reba took a mouthful of chicken broth and sipped wistfully. McLane coughed and rose from the table. He'd have been tempted by the girl, a few years ago. But he'd already found Willow by then, so it never would have been anything more.
"I'd like for you to stay here the night," he said, relieved that Reba hadn't asked who he'd sent out to the ranch. "In fact, as your doctor, I'd prescribe it. Then sometime tomorrow we'll see what the bank's got your uncle down for, eh? See if there's any more surprises for you. Maybe the day after, we can ride out and you can see what you've become the owner of."
Reba put the spoon back in the bowl and McLane knew was getting ahead of himself, had said too much. But he thought it a good sign that she didn't appear to be interested in any gain from her uncle Selwyn's death.
He bade her goodnight then and went back to the front porch. He finally drew out the smoke he'd been wanting. He listened to the breeze soughing through the chaparral. All that fuss and he still hadn't had his dinner! As his belly grumbled he inhaled deeply on his cigarito. He hoped that out of the debris of one long day, a better morning would follow.
"You bring him closer, so I can get a good look at him." Casper Spool stamped down off his veranda to glare at Miles Beckman.
Ever since Felix Chelloe had reported back to him about the trouble in town, Spool had been keen to learn more of Selwyn Church's killing. The old man had held a section of land which spiked upwards into his already vast range and refused to sell. Spool had therefore considered his neighbor to be little more than an irksome sodbuster.
Beckman attempted to hold the reins as Miner climbed from his saddle and got a kick for it. Then he offered an assist to the house.
"Get your ham fists off me," Miner said, shoving him away. The big man braced himself on unsteady legs and took a step on to the broad veranda. He gave Beckman a rich curse and brushed past him up into the house. Spool was on the verge of shouting his foreman down when he saw the extent of Miner's beating. He sucked in his breath at the overall bruising across Miner's face—the raw, puffed-up mouth and the bloodied nose.
Miner limped on into the house. Spool turned on Beckman. "What the hell happened? It looks like he ran into the Pacific Flyer?"
"I'll let him tell it," Beckman said thickly, and led the two horses off. But he'd not got far when Spool shouted after him.
"Hold up, Miles. Where's Stan?"
"He can tell you that as well," Beckman muttered over his shoulder.
"I'm asking you, goddamnit."
"He's dead. Now, if you don't mind, Mr. Spool, my mouth feels like it's got a burning log in it, an' I'm kind of tired. It's been one hell of a day."
Spool glared furiously as Beckman started off again toward the corral. He was about to shout again, but thought better of it. Instead he hurried into the big day room to find Miner standing with his back to the wall and a glass of Kentucky bourbon in his hand.
"I'm so sorry, Budge," Spool remarked acidly. "That was thoughtless of me. I should have said, 'Make yourself at home, pour yourself something from my liquor cupboard!'" Warily, the rancher eyed his foreman. "Felix said Stan killed Selwyn Church. He also said there weren't any trouble with Brett Vaughn or any other townfolk. Beckman says for you to tell me the rest of what happened. Did Felix tell me true, Budge?"
"It's true," Miner said bluntly.
Spool strode across the room, filled himself a glass of the bourbon and turned back to Miner."Did you have anything to do with the Church killing?"
"If you don't give me more than that, Budge, you'll end up a range bum in these parts," Spool threatened.
Miner pushed himself away from the wall he was leaning against. He took a deep, labored breath. "You already been told. Stan shot the old man. Vaughn couldn't do much about it. But what you don't know is that while we was talking to Church about him rustling your beeves—"
"What? What do you mean, rustling my beeves?" Spool barked.
Miner raised his eyebrows in a pained expression. "Yeah. We followed the sign. He had a herd of thirty-five, forty steers. They were bunched in a pole corral at the bottom of the south slope of his spread. We caught up with him in town . . . asked him about it. I figure he panicked . . . went for his gun."
"Who was it did the asking?" Spool asked.
Spool swore violently. "Why the hell didn't you ride back here? You know how I feel about cattle-stealing. This far from town about the only law we can count on is our own, and imposed by me."
"I know that but there weren't time," Miner said. "If that sign had . . . got windblown, there'd be no proof. Anyway, I only meant to rough him up a bit, get him to squawk his guilt."
Spool shook his head slow and incredulous. "Did he do that to you, Budge? Was it him that gave you that beating?" Spool held out his glass to indicate the man's damaged face.
Miner held the back of his hand tentatively under his nose. "No, it weren't Church. That was Melvin Cody."
"Cody? Who the hell's he?"
"A drifter. He happened by. He got the drop on me . . . got stuck in before I could get myself together."
"Yeah, and Stan?"
"Stan killed Church. Cody killed Stan."
Spool gaped. "I don't think I want to know the whole of this story, Budge. You're telling me that you and Miles and Stan got jumped by a drifter who just happened by?" he cracked.
"I said, he got the drop on us. He ain't no normal drifter either. Not the kind we see in these parts. He looked like he was a . . . I dunno, not Mex, maybe one of them mestizos. Mean eyes and cold-blooded. I was going after him, but Vaughn stepped in. But no matter, I'll take care of him, soon as I'm right in the saddle again."
"I'm sure you will, Budge," Spool mocked.
Miner's eyes narrowed in resentment. "Ease off, Casper," he said flatly. "You weren't there. You don't know how it was set up. We got your goddamn beeves back, an' another rustler's kicking up brush. As soon as I can, I'm going after this Melvin Cody."
"When's that then?" Spool asked.
"Sun up tomorrow. Meantime, I'll get a slab of meat an' some salt on these wounds. And this time, I won't be involved in any ringster stuff. I'm talking lead."
Spool finished his drink. He put down his glass heavily, signaling their talk was over. "You do whatever you think's best, Budge. But now I'm kind of curious. I think I'll take me a ride into town to see our good sheriff. Find out what's going on . . . see what he's up to."
Miner finished his drink, and walked tiredly across the room. He stopped near the open door. "No, Casper," he said with an edge of unease. "Leave it to me. I know what to do . . . and who to do it to. That's what you pay me for. Shouldn't take me more'n a day."
Spool nodded and followed Miner on to the veranda. Miner had been hurt bad, but he'd seen many men who'd been beaten in fights before—seen a lot of it in a mirror when he was making his mark in Polvo Gris. He cursed quietly, and wondered about the man who was calling himself Melvin Cody.
* * *
Miles Beckman was brushing his horse when Miner entered the barn.
"I told Spool that Cody got the drop on me," Miner said.
Beckman kept on brushing. "That's right Budge," he agreed. "I mean, there's no one going to believe otherwise, is there? If that's how you want it to be told?"
"It is. First thing, you and Felix get to that low country an' clean it out. Take them beeves down to the wash an' leave 'em there. They won't go far."
"What about you?" Beckman asked anxiously.
"I got something to attend to. I ain't letting no drifter beat the stuffing out of me an' walk away. You just tell the men we was jumped . . . never had a chance. You hear me, Miles?"
"Yeah, an' I got the picture, boss," Beckman said.
Sunlight reached the town, sought the blistered surfaces of its clapboard walls, and brightened the dullness of the alleys and side streets. Eventually, Polvo Gris was only a yellow break from the timbered greenness that bent around Eagle TailMountains. An outcast from the dog pack lay in the dust. It panted slightly and rose on its front legs, too uncomfortable to stay in the rising sun—but fell back again, too lazy to move. A rider came along the main street, threw a package into the doorway of the boarding house and rode on. A storekeeper swept the litter of his shop on to the boardwalk. On the steps of Marcella's Quarter, a grizzled old man sat. He was half keeled over, not quite fallen, and he had both eyes shut. In the narrow street alongside, a woman threw a pail of water up over Bill Frater's livery stable sign.
Sitting on his porch, Doc McLane saw Budge Miner making his way up the street. When he passed Marcella's and headed on toward the north end of town, the doc eased himself from his chair and walked to his front gate. Then he hurried along the boardwalk until he reached the side street where Selwyn Church had met his death. Miner was only fifty or so yards ahead of him, and still riding slowly.
McLane turned into the lane and jogged in a staggered loop through sheds and workshops until he came to the rear door of the jailhouse. Calling for the sheriff, he thumped on the heavy slabs of pine. "Brett. It's me, George. Open up, I got something to tell you."
The door creaked open a few moments later and Vaughn frowned out at him. The doc didn't bother to make his way into the jailhouse, just said urgently: "Miner's riding in. He's coming this way, and I reckon we know what for."
Brett Vaughn squeezed his eyes shut for a troubled moment. "Hold up, George," he started, but McLane cut him short.
"He's almost here, Brett. Shut up an' listen to me, will you? I got young Mel Cody to ride out to the Church spread. Someone's got to be there, if only to protect the girl . . . Reba. There's likely to be trouble, we know that. I been mulling over what Miner and them cowhands had to say about Selwyn stealing their cows. Well that ain't so . . . can't be. So, who was it moved those cattle on to his land, eh? Who was it, gave Miner the chance to make the accusation?"
"How the hell would I know?" Vaughn rumbled impatiently. "An' how come you got so involved? You said he's here and headed this way, so make your point fast, George."
"Never mind me. My involvement ain't important. If it weren't Selwyn, who was it? But right now, even that don't matter. You got to get us time, Brett. You got to get Cody some time."
The sheriff's brows arched and he puffed, tugged at his loose belt."What in blazes you up to Doc? Time . . . what the hell you want time for? By Big Lucy, if you're putting those goddamn boots of yours into-"
McLane banged the flat of one hand against the door frame. "I said to listen, Brett. Miner must be just pulling up outside right now. Whatever you say, don't let on where Cody has gone. I got a bad feeling it matters . . . that we all need time. There's something real damn wrong about Selwyn getting shot the way he was. Just tell Miner that Mel Cody went on his way. Just leave it at that."
Both men heard the pounding on the front door of the jailhouse. McLane nodded his urgent encouragement at Vaughn. "Please, Brett. Just do it." Then he pushed the back door open and left before Vaughn could argue further.
* * *
Vaughn swore, stuffed the tail of his shirt into his pants, and tugged at his belt again. Then he unlocked the front door to let in the Spool foreman.
In the bright, slanting light, Miner's face looked a lot worse than he remembered from the day before. It had matured badly. His left eye was almost closed, the flesh across his cheeks, his mouth and nose, were deeply colored and swollen.
"What do you want, Miner?" Vaughn asked.
"Cody," the Spool ramrod said. "You can back him or me; don't matter much. Just find him . . . tell him."
"Ride away, Miner, before I get to thinking lawful stuff. Busting in here with your threats an' demands. Who the hell do you think you are?"
"The man who's come for Cody," Miner told him thickly. "You just stay out of my way, Sheriff. This is between me an' him."
"Seems like most folk are telling me what to do," Vaughn snapped back. "Shame I'm such an ornery old cuss." He reached for his gun-belt and buckled it around his spreading middle. Then he pushed past Miner and went to sluice water over his face in a corner basin. "Wouldn't you just love to be able to do this," he said, toweling himself roughly. "Now why don't you just settle down? Maybe you was asking for all you got, Miner."
"I came looking for Cody, Vaughn. Either you go get him or I find him myself. Either way you'll be burying him."
Vaughn hung the towel on a peg, put his hat on. He smiled thinly. "You considered that maybe you ain't up to taking him?"
Miner swore, drew his gun in a fast, smooth motion and actioned the hammer.
Vaughn's gun hand dropped instinctively, but he left his gun holstered. "Jesus, you should be milling with them stolen cows. You think acting the gunny is enough to kill Melvin Cody? You really are more stupid than you look, Miner, an' right now that's saying something."
"He jumped me from behind. That's how he managed to take me."
"Rubbish. You came at him like a riled greenhorn. He stepped away then came back an' beat you to a pulp. That's how it was."
Miner released the hammer of his Colt. "I'm sick of talking. I want Cody, so if you want to see it done fair, you best lead the way, Sheriff."
"I ain't leading you anywhere. There's no point," Vaughn said easily.
"You're staying out of it then?"
"Yeah, sure I am. Don't figure on riding no hundred miles or so just for the hell of it."
Miner inclined his head, looked at him with his good eye. "What're you talking about?"
"Cody quit town last night."
Miner swore. "When?"
"Smack on sundown. I reckon with him riding all night on that gray of his. He could be a fair way across the Yuma Desert . . . if he went that way, that is. If he took the Casa Grande trail he'd be near the Cactus Plain." Vaughn grinned mischievously. "Of course, he could be building himself a smoke on top of Stand Up Rock. Then again, if he went—"
"Shut it, Vaughn. Shut your goddamn mouth." Miner, infuriated, thrust his gun back into his holster. He touched his sore, split lips with the tips of his fingers, took off his hat and rubbed a hand through his hair. "Which way did he go?"
"Now that I didn't see, friend."
"You saw. You just ain't telling."
Vaughn grinned widely at him. "That's for me to know, Miner. But if you want some advice? Go home and count your blessings. Now if you don't mind, I got another day to start, an' I don't want you cluttering up my office. Unless you figure on spending time in one of these cells?"
* * *
Miner held the sheriff with a steely glare, then heeled about and stomped out onto the boardwalk. He looked thoughtfully up and down the street, then made it along to Frater's stable. The boy remembered Mel Cody all right,; had taken a dollar off him. He confirmed that Cody had taken his horse just after sundown the previous evening, saddled it himself and ridden out.
Miner went back to his own horse and swung stiffly into the saddle. After giving Brett Vaughn another hard look as the lawman watched him from the jailhouse, he kicked his mount into a trot and rode from town.
Continued next month
After 25 years work in London's higher education sector, Carl Bernard was familiar with the customs of saloon
keepers, sodbusters, dudes and ranch hands who were up against institutional carpetbaggers, bank robbers,
tinhorns and crooked sheriffs. It didn't take much to transpose the setting and era, put everyone on a horse
and give 'em guns. When the end of the century approached and with a full cylinder of ready-made stories,
Carl took an early retirement. Under the names of Abe Dancer and Caleb Rand he started to write the first of
his fifty published titles.
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