This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.


The Prairie City Canary
(or Robert Shelby and the Dakota Diva)

(11th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Laying here in the dark
You're like an angel on my chest
Just another tramp of hearts
Crying tears of faithlessness

("Backstreets" - Bruce Springsteen)

About a week had passed since Clay Mosby and Newt Call were nearly lost forever in the cave-in at the abandoned copper mine. The days were growing shorter and colder as October settled comfortably in. It was time to begin preserving and storing foods that would last until next summer. Fresh fruits and vegetables would not be grown or brought in until the coming winter had idled away.

For others, there were more important things to be concerned with. Such as fashion and the styles of clothing worn by influential women.

Luther Root had pretty much had his fill of one such woman as he unhitched one of the lead horses on the four-horse team that pulled the stage. The unexpected broken rear axle had crippled the coach to the point of uselessness. This left four nagging passengers which consisted of two men and two women.

Vowing to return directly with two wagons, Luther set out for nearby Curtis Wells, some five miles to the north of the stalled party. He made good time and by early afternoon pulled up in front of the livery. Finding Samuel, he explained the situation then went looking for an able driver while Samuel hitched up two wagons.

Before returning to the broken-down stage with volunteer driver, Austin Peale, Luther sent a telegram to Rapid City informing the Black Hills Stageline about his urgent need for another stage. He then went down the street and along with Austin, headed south with the two wagons to gather the four grumbling passengers as well as their belongings.

*******************************

Robert Shelby tipped his hat politely to a woman who passed in front of him as he crossed the street to join Clay Mosby outside the Ambrosia Club.

"I'm awfully glad I didn't lose you in that cave-in, Clay," Robert said as he thought about the near-tragic accident from last week.

"As am I, Robert," Clay replied. "It would have been quite an inconvenience to spend an eternity buried under a Yankee mountain." He breathed deep, treasuring the fresh autumn air.

Robert laughed as he leaned against the wooden post. "I truly think I could grow comfortable being here, Clay. Perhaps we should have a wager as to which of us loses his freedom first."

"Are you referring to which of us would take a wife first, Robert?"

"I am," Robert Shelby replied.

"Hmm?" Clay said. "Are you perhaps . . . preparing to court Miz Victoria Brandt?"

Robert looked at Clay and shook his head. "No. I am merely saying . . ."

Clay sighed. "She would make a fine wife for any man, Robert."

"I take it that Miss Shaw is not in your future plans?" Robert said.

Clay stared out at the street. "Perhaps Mattie Shaw is the woman for me. She is quite strong and independent. Not to mention the fact that she has become a successful businesswoman."

"You do set high standards, Clay. I doubt you'll find that elusive Southern Belle that haunts your dreams every night."

Clay cleared his throat. "Come, Robert. Let's have a drink inside, shall we?"

"Just one, Clay. Or, perhaps two," Robert replied. "I have a hotel to run."

*********************************

Mattie Shaw thought on it for days before making her decision. The cave-in that nearly took the life of Clay Mosby hadn't effected him as she hoped it would. She was painfully aware that the very same cave-in had brought Call and Gretchen Brandt even closer together than they had already been.

With a heavy heart, Mattie rode out of Curtis Wells with young Dewey alongside her in the buckboard. She would be gone for only two days to pick up a shipment of Winchesters from her shop in Miles City. She decided not to mention it to Clay. Her feelings for him were growing stronger and she needed to find out if he really cared about her or if it was just lust on his part. She hoped Clay would be upset when he found out she had gone off without telling him.

Dewey had a bag of candy Mattie had bought for him from the general store. Odds were the two-day supply of candy would be inside his little belly within the first hour of travel.

*************************************

By late afternoon Luther and Austin were rolling back into town with the two wagons. Each man carried two people; a man and woman, along with their baggage.

Luther pulled to a stop in front of the Lonesome Dove Hotel. He stepped down on the street side as a conservatively dressed man, appearing to be in his early forties, stepped down on the hotel side. The man stood by, waiting for Luther to extend his hand to assist a well dressed, though also conservative woman that was likely his wife, to step down into the street. She appeared to be slightly younger than him.

The woman quickly noticed that most of the town folks were gawking at the two wagons and the passengers. That is, most everyone, except for a young couple standing in the doorway of the dry goods store across the street. The woman's gaze was drawn like a magnet to the long haired young man in the fringed jacket and the pretty, but simple looking young woman in the blue and white gingham dress. They appeared oblivious to the world around them as they laughed and playfully held each other. The woman turned to the man and made a remark, which she followed by pointing at the young couple. The man frowned, looked at the young couple for the briefest of moments, then motioned for the woman to follow him inside the hotel.

Austin pulled up alongside Luther's wagon as Luther gathered the luggage and brought it inside the Dove. Austin quickly jumped off the springy bench seat and offered his hand to the woman in his wagon. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps in her early thirties. She wore a dark red bustled dress with a matching jacket and a feathered hat. She looked out of place standing on the dirt street of Curtis Wells.

Austin next assisted the gentleman that was with her. He appeared to be much older than she was, possibly in his fifties, by the wrinkles on his face and silver hair. Austin gathered their luggage and led them into the hotel.

*****

Amanda got up from the table she was sharing with Dr. Cleese and Josiah Peale. She walked over to greet her unexpected guests, smiling pleasantly as she turned the guest register book toward them.

"I am Mr. Lazarus W. Hall. This is my wife, Millicent Hall," the conservatively dressed man said as he signed the book.

"Mr. Hall. Mrs. Hall," Amanda said. She handed him a key. "Room 2. Upstairs to your left. How long will you be staying?"

"That would depend on the stage driver here," Mr. Hall replied as he looked at Luther.

"The stage broke down about five miles south of here," Luther said to Amanda. "It'll take a couple days to fetch another one back here."

"Then, we shall be staying until he returns," Mr. Hall said as he motioned for his wife to follow him up the stairs.

"Ike!" Amanda called. Ike came running over. "Take their things up to room 2."

The older gentleman and the lovely younger woman stepped forward next. "I am Mr. Richard Watt. This is . . ."

"Miss Abigail Farrington! The Prairie City Canary," a new voice interrupted.

The woman, as well as the older man and Amanda all turned.

"What a delightful surprise!" the woman replied. "Robert Shelby!"

Robert walked up to the trio and as he reached out to take the lady's hand, she pulled it back, then slapped him across the face.

"That's for walking out on me, Mr. Shelby. Come, Richard," she abruptly ordered as she walked toward the stairs and ignored Robert.

"The room key, Madam," Mr. Watt impatiently asked.

Slightly shocked, Amanda nodded and handed him the key. "Room 3. Just past the other guests."

The older gentleman looked Robert over once, then hurried to join Miss Abigail Farrington.

Amanda turned to Robert. "Well, I guess you know her."

"Yes," Robert answered. "Too well." He marched out of the hotel and headed straight to the Ambrosia for a drink.

*******************************

Austin Peale stepped inside the dry goods store. He walked up to Paige.

"Hello, Sheriff Peale," Paige said. "We were getting ready to close up."

"I didn't come in to buy anything," Austin said. "I've been thinking a lot about what you said last week. I was wondering if I could take you to dinner tonight? Maybe we could talk a little?"

Paige looked over at Victoria. Her older sister nodded her approval. Paige turned back to Austin and smiled. "I think that would be very nice, Sheriff Peale. Just give me five minutes."

Austin smiled. "Then, I'll wait outside for you." He opened the door and stepped out.

"Are you sure you don't mind, Victoria?" Paige asked.

"I have to plan some things for Gretchen's wedding. Don't forget now, tomorrow we're going with her out to the new home," Victoria said.

"I wouldn't miss it for anything, Victoria. It will be so much fun."

***************************

Mr. Lazarus W. Hall and his wife, Millicent, were quietly eating supper in the dining room when Mrs. Hall's attention was drawn to a young couple entering the hotel. "Look, Lazarus. It's that young couple."

Mr. Hall barely raised his eyes as he continued his meal.

Mrs. Hall stared as the couple walked to a nearby table with their arms around each other. She watched as the young man pulled his hat off and a tangle of hair blocked his eyes. The young woman giggled and brushed the hair away. It seemed to Mrs. Hall that the young couple was very much in love and hardly even aware of anyone else inside the dining room.

"Lazarus," Mrs. Hall said, again. "Have you ever seen two people so in love? Why aren't we like that?"

Mr. Hall frowned and stopped eating. "We have been married twenty years, Millicent. Besides, we were never like that. Most people marry for convenience. You needed a man to provide you with a house and clothing. I wed you so that you would look after my house and children. I hardly doubt many do it because that actually love each other." He picked up his fork and knife and resumed his meal. He sighed and looked at her. "We have grown to love each other. It has been a good life." He subtly reached out and touched her hand.

Undaunted, Mrs. Hall signaled Amanda. "Who are those two delightful young people?"

Amanda turned. She laughed. "Oh, that's just Call and Gretchen. They're getting married soon." Amanda looked at Mrs. Hall then walked to another table.

Mrs. Hall continued to stare as she noticed how the couple seemed lost in each other's eyes. She finally looked at her husband and sighed.

************************************

Clay Mosby was both angry and hurt when Unbob told him that Mattie had gone to Miles City for a couple of days. He was very much aware of Mattie's affectionate behavior the past week. Unfortunately, he just wasn't ready to commit himself to a lasting relationship, like Call had done with Gretchen Brandt.

Clay cared about Mattie. Maybe she was the best woman for a man like him.

"Hello, Mr. Mosby," Laurie Ann Mecurdy said as she stopped in front of him.

Clay smiled. "And how are you getting along with Miz Victoria?"

"She's going to let me run the store for a few hours tomorrow," Laurie Ann replied.

"Really?"

"Yes. She's going with Paige and Gretchen out to the house Mr. Call and Gretchen will be living in." Laurie Ann smiled at Clay. "Wedding plans."

"Well," Clay said, "I was just on my way over to the hotel for something to eat. Would you care to join me?"

Laurie Ann's eyes lit up. "Oh, Mr. Mosby! I would! Thank you. Shall we go?"

Clay allowed the young dark haired woman to take his arm as he led her to the Dove.

**********

There was a soft double-knock on the door, followed by the sound of someone walking over and turning the knob. "Oh. It's you," Richard Watt scornfully said, as he peered at Robert Shelby.

"Who is it, Richard, dear?" the voice within asked. There was the sound of hard shoes crossing the wooden floor. "Robert! It took you long enough," Miss Abigail Farrington said as she allowed a smile to cross her beautiful face. "Richard, dearest. Leave us speak privately, will you?" She said that as she stared at Robert.

The older gentleman raised one hand as if he were a famous politician addressing a group of citizens in the town square. "Though it agonize me to the very cockles of my heart, yet will I grant thee fair maiden." He lowered his hand and stared menacingly at Robert.

"An actor, eh?" Robert scoffed.

"And, a most accomplished one, at that, Sir!" He hooked his hand upward into the air, then he bent over to kiss Abigail's hand and departed.

Miss Abigail Farrington watched Robert's reaction with a sense of satisfaction, then stepped back, allowing him to enter her room. "I really shouldn't even speak to you, you scoundrel, you."

Robert closed the door and pulled Abigail close to him and kissed her passionately. She permitted him his moment of uncontrolled lust then stepped back as if it had meant nothing at all.

"Abby, you are even more exquisite than Helen of Troy."

She laughed, as if mocking him.

"Why do you find this to be amusing?" Robert asked, the pain in his voice no longer hidden.

"I should take the sharpest knife I can find and stab you in the heart, Robert. It would be the very least you have coming. Do you know that I sat in my room every night for weeks waiting for you. Heaven knows how many candles I burned believing you spoke the truth and actually cared for me."

Robert felt the sharp piercing of her eyes. He was silent for a moment then reached out to touch her. Abigail pulled her arms back and stepped away. He turned, a lost soul, and sat down in the nearest chair. "I showed no honor. It was wrong of me to flee into the night without so much as a goodbye. Will you forgive me, Abby?"

She stepped closer to him now, knowing the overpowering fragrance of her expensive perfume would weaken him. "I will not forgive you, Robert. Every night on that stage I sang my heart out. But it was for you alone. You spurned me."

"Well, who is this old man you call dear?" Robert asked. He was unable to hide the jealousy that consumed his entire being. "He's old enough to be your father."

"Age is merely a sad reflection in the mirror, Robert. Nothing else. Richard treats me like a princess. I can depend on him." She saw that her words were cutting Robert deeply. She smiled and decided to go for his throat. "And, Richard is a much superior lover than you ever were."

That remark was all Robert could stand. He rose instantly and walked to the door. "You are an awfully cruel woman, Abby." He opened the door and left.

Abigail Farrington moved victoriously to the mirror and admired herself. "I win the first battle," she proudly said to her reflection.

*************************

Austin Peale and Paige Brandt walked out of the hotel dining room into the street.

"I don't suppose you'll let me walk you home?" Austin asked.

Paige looked at him and smiled. "I think I would like that, Sheriff Peale."

Austin smiled as they walked up the quiet street.

"You're very strong," Paige said. "The way you helped Luther last week to save my future brother-in-law. That's a very attractive quality."

"Really?" Austin replied. He smiled and looked at Paige. "This dress you're wearing. Does it belong to your sister?"

Paige looked at the green polka dotted dress. "This is my dress, Sheriff. Gretchen borrows it sometimes. She said Call likes her in it."

"Well, I like it on you," Austin said as they drew close to the Brandt home. "I hope you and your sister won't be fighting over it."

Paige laughed. "I suppose I would insist she wear it, and she would insist I wear it. Then we would each wear something completely different." She looked at Austin. "Well, thank you for an enjoyable evening, Sheriff Peale. Good night."

"Good night," Austin replied as he watched the youngest Brandt sister enter her house.

**********************************

Ellen Hollister sat down on the porch next to Mason Dobbs. "You are the most restless man I have ever known, Mason. Don't you favor being out here with us? Ma and Pa love having you here."

"Someone back in Curtis Wells tried to double deal me. I can't say for sure who it is." Mason stared out at the darkness. "If Mosby and his pard tried . . ."

"Is there a girl back there that you're sweet on, Mason?" Ellen asked.

He looked at her. "No. Not any one in particular. Could be that once this amnesty is done with I might be more obliging."

"Will you be leaving soon, Mason?"

"I suspect I will. My nephew, Newt, is fixing to be get hitched real soon. I have to be there for him." Mason laughed a little. "Seeing my sister Maggie's boy get hitched. That'll be something."

*************************************

The next morning Miss Abigail Farrington and Mrs. Millicent Hall decided to while away some time by paying a visit to the dry goods and clothing store. As they both entered the store no one took immediate notice of them. The three Brandt Sisters were excitedly talking about Gretchen and Call's wedding.

"Oh! We have customers," Laurie Ann suddenly replied. The sisters began laughing as they all moved to the front of the store to wait on the two visiting women.

"That is the most stunning dress and that hat is absolutely gorgeous," Victoria said as she looked at Abigail Farrington. "Your entire outfit is right out of Godey's Lady's Book."

"That's right," Abigail said. "It's the very latest style."

Millicent Hall, dressed more conservatively, but still in an attractive lavender dress with bustle and train, had left her hat in the hotel. Her hair was pulled down behind the ears. A large chignon made of braids covered both the crown and nape of her head. She made it a point to look directly at Gretchen and smile at her.

"Good morning, ma'am," Gretchen said as she smiled back at Mrs. Hall. "May I help you in finding something?"

Millicent Hall nodded as she moved away from the others. Gretchen followed her.

Miss Abigail Farrington walked over to where the Godey's Lady's Book sat atop a glass counter. "Would you happen to carry any red corsets made with whalebone?"

Both Victoria and Paige blushed. Victorian women rarely spoke of intimate garments. "We do have a few you might wish to inspect," Victoria replied as she led Abigail to the back of the store.

Near the front of the store Millicent Hall looked at Gretchen. "That is a very pretty blue and white dress you're wearing."

Gretchen smiled proudly. "My husband-to-be bought this for me."

"I saw the two of you yesterday," Mrs. Hall said. "I think it's simply wonderful how much the two of you love each other and are not ashamed to show it."

Gretchen stared at the older woman, surprised by her comment and smiled warmly.

"I would give anything if my husband looked at me like your man does to you."

Gretchen giggled. "Call didn't like me very much when my sisters and I first arrived here some months ago. I knew he was the one the very first time I saw him."

Mrs. Hall smiled at Gretchen in a motherly sort of way. "Oh, I do wish Mr. Hall would think about work less and the two of us more. I had literally given up all hope of any romance and magic in our marriage. Young lady, you have inspired me to believe there is still a chance for me." Mrs. Hall touched Gretchen on her arm then reached for the doorknob. "I hope to run into you before we leave. Good day."

Gretchen curtseyed and smiled as Mrs. Hall walked outside. She watched Mrs. Hall cross the street to the hotel. Gretchen turned around just in time to notice Abigail Farrington hold up a red corset for the whole world to see. Gretchen giggled as Victoria's face seemed to turn the same shade of red.

****************

Robert Shelby stood alongside Clay Mosby, observing the morning activities on the street. As Miss Abigail Farrington stepped out of the dry goods with a wrapped package, Robert grabbed Clay by the arm. "Look at her, Clay! Look! Have you ever in your entire life seen a woman more beautiful than her?"

Clay gazed at Abigail and nodded. "It would be quite difficult indeed, to remember another woman as enchanting as your former lover, Robert."

Abigail paused in the street, as if some female sense had revealed hidden secrets. She turned toward the Ambrosia and smiled at both Robert and Clay. "Good morning, Robert, dearest. Will you accompany me into the hotel?"

Robert was into the street and offering Abigail his arm within seconds.

"I should be ashamed of my deplorable behavior toward you last night, Robert, dearest. Will you ever find it in your heart to forgive me now?"

Robert stared at Abigail. "I believe I could forgive you for anything, Abby."

She laughed slightly. "That's good to know. And, I must insist you join me for lunch, Robert. You can explain why you rode away from Prairie City without so much as a goodbye kiss. I will expect you at 1 o'clock."

They entered the hotel as Robert nodded. "1 o'clock, Abby. I shall not forget it."

She smiled and climbed the stairs to return to her room as Robert stared until she was down the hall and out of view.

**************************************************

It was mid morning when Call brought the wagon to the front of the dry goods store. Laurie Ann assured Victoria that she could handle the store for a few hours, while the sisters rode out to the new house Call and Gretchen had purchased a week ago.

"Call, I'm going to miss you so much," Gretchen said as she ran into his arm to hug him.

"Ain't no need for that. I'm going with you," Call replied as he squeezed her tight.

"Call! Are you really?" Gretchen happily asked. "We can sneak out to the barn while Victoria and Paige hang the new curtains."

"I should have known," Victoria said as Call helped the oldest Brandt sister up into the wagon. She looked at Call. "We almost lost you, Newt. I'm sure as a woman I will be sympathetic toward you. I just hope you let Gretchen spend a little time with us." She smiled at him.

He nodded to Victoria and smiled back.

Paige was next. "You do know that you will be required to bathe before you wed my sister, don't you, Call?" She giggled as Call helped her up into the wagon.

He tightened his jaw to hold back a smile as Paige laughed at his feeble attempt to ignore her.

When he turned to help Gretchen, she grabbed his hands and leaned close to him. "I'll ride with you, Call," she whispered.

Call nestled his face near Gretchen's neck and ear and inhaled deeply. "You smell real nice, Gretchen."

She giggled as she cupped her hands over his cheeks. "It's a new soap we bought from Mr. Kettering the last time you brought us to Sand Springs. I've been waiting to try it just for you, Call. Do you like it?"

Call smiled and nodded. "I like it just fine." He mounted the Hellbitch and pulled Gretchen up behind him. She wrapped her arms around him tightly as the four of them rode out.

Across the street, in front of the Lonesome Dove Hotel, Mrs. Millicent Hall watched with great interest. Standing a short distance behind her, Mr. Lazarus W. Hall, her husband, observed her.

*************************************

Mattie Shaw walked out of her gunsmith shop in Miles City. Dewey hurried to keep up with her as she moved quickly. Finally he took hold of her hand and tugged it. Mattie paused as she looked down at the young orphan boy.

"Are we gonna live here again?" he asked as he squinted to block the sunlight shining directly in his eyes.

"No, Dewey. We live in Curtis Wells. Why?"

"Cause I like it lots more there. I got friends there. And a real bed to sleep in."

Mattie bent down and hugged Dewey. "We'll be traveling back home tomorrow morning. I just . . . need a little time to think about some things."

*************************

As 1 o'clock approached, Miss Abigail Farrington descended the stairs and chose a table to sit at. Robert had been standing near the kitchen, anticipating his lunch with her. His jaw dropped slightly as he watched the old man, Mr. Richard Watt, stroll down the stairs and join her at her table. Angered, Robert immediately marched to their table.

Abigail looked up at him. "Oh, dear me. I seemed to have forgotten about our arrangement for lunch, Robert, dearest. I'm sure you won't mind sharing me with Richard. He can be quite amusing. Can't you, Richard, dear?"

"I do mind," Robert angrily replied. "And I will not be taken for a fool, Abby. Even by you."

"Oh, hush, Robert," Abigail said. "After the way you treated me, I think the very least you can do is satisfy my every whim."

"Come now, my good man," Richard Watt said, "it doesn't pay to upset my darling Abigail."

Robert looked at the older gentleman. "I should take you outside, Sir, and give you a beating."

The older man appeared frightened by Robert's comment but Abigail merely laughed. "Now, Robert, dearest, if you do not behave yourself, I will not even consider performing for this town." She lifted her nose slightly up.

"Are we going to thrill the citizens with your singing and my orations, my little petunia?" Richard excitedly asked.

"My little petunia?" Robert grumbled. He stared at Abigail.

"Hush, Robert," she replied, greatly enjoying the anguish she was causing him.

To Robert's fortune, Ike came running up to him. "Deputy Shelby! Austin needs you over at the No.10. There's a big fight."

Robert glared at Abigail then quickly ran out of the Dove.

"Do be careful, Robert, dearest," Abigail called out.

*******************************

Victoria and Paige fell in love with the little house. Call frowned and remained atop the Hellbitch after lowering Gretchen to the ground so she could take her sisters inside what would soon become the Newt and Gretchen Call home. He couldn't blame them for behaving as they were. They were women. And women fussed over foolish things like a house. Call had grown up with the Captain and Gus. Dirt floors were natural for him. He was glad for Gretchen that their new home had wooden floors, though. The truth was, neither one of them really cared. They were so in love with each other, having found a rare treasure most others would never find.

Gretchen smiled as she watched her sisters examine everything in the house. Victoria agreed to let Paige stay over if Call was ever away tracking bounties. She would not only provide company for her sister, she could help her churn butter or share in the tiring chore of making candles. Although, Call had already told her he would prefer if she stayed in town with her sisters, where it would be safer.

*********************************

Robert Shelby had been knocked to the floor during the commotion at the No.10 Saloon. Clay grinned as he took Robert to the back table to offer some friendly advice.

"You are not thinking straight, Robert," Clay began as he poured them each a short brandy. "I have never known you to allow a woman to manipulate you such as this Abigail Farrington."

Robert rubbed his bruised face and nodded. "She was my woman, Clay. I was the only man she would look at while I wore that badge in Prairie City."

"By the look of it now," Clay said, "I assume she is carrying quite an imposing grudge, Robert. And you are playing right into her hands."

"What is it about women, Clay?" Robert asked. "Why do we insist on wanting to possess someone after ridding ourselves of them?"

Clay shrugged. "If I could answer that, Robert, I would write a novel for all the men in the world. I dare say I would become richer than even Solomon, himself."

They both laughed at that comment. "I lost interest in her, Clay. I rode away and didn't even think about her. Now . . . all I seem to be doing is thinking about her."

Clay looked at Robert for a few seconds. "Are you certain it is not just lust that is driving your thoughts, Robert?"

Robert squinted as he allowed this new thought to take root. "She is so very beautiful, Clay. So enticing. I feel my insides are burning for her."

"As well as that thick skull of yours, I'm afraid," Clay replied as he lightly tapped Robert's head. "Perhaps you would feel inclined to apply your own charms to out-maneuver her?"

Robert paused as he stared at his former Colonel. "Clay? She isn't a soldier or an enemy. Why would . . .?"

"You clearly think better and are at your best during a battle, as I have been witness to on several occasions, Robert. Now, this woman is acting as if she has been spurned by you. Which, she has. I propose a most unusual solution."

Robert picked up his shot glass and emptied his brandy. "Go on, Colonel. I am ready to listen."

****************************

Robert Shelby entered the hotel and observed Josiah Peale and Dr. Cleese both fully attentive to Abigail Farrington's every word. The older gentleman, Richard Watt, sat quietly by as Abigail suddenly noticed Robert's face. She quickly excused herself and hurried over to Robert.

"Robert, dear! You've been hurt."

"It's nothing, Abby," Robert replied.

"Oh, hush, Robert," she replied. "Come with me up to my room so I can clean it for you. You will, won't you?"

Robert hesitated. He looked at the table where Richard Watt sat with Josiah and Dr. Cleese. "What about him?"

Abigail turned. "Richard? Surely you aren't afraid of an old man, Robert, dearest?" She batted her eyelashes at him.

Robert groaned as everything Clay had told him flashed in his mind. He just couldn't help himself and nodded as he followed Abigail up the stairs.

Inside the room Abigail removed her feathered hat and her gloves as she lifted the water pitcher off the dresser and poured water into the wash bowl. She took a clean white towel and dipped it in the bowl then turned to Robert. "Sit here in this chair, Robert, dear."

Robert sat down as he continued to stare at her. He cursed himself for being so damn helpless around her as she walked over and leaned near him. She gently wiped the dried blood off his cheek as he winced quietly when she touched the swollen cheekbone. Abigail paused and looked at him. She smiled and bent over to lightly kiss his lips.

*******************************

Gretchen paused near the window as she stared outside at Call. He sat in the wagon aimlessly whittling a broken tree branch he had picked up to pass the time, while his soon-to-be wife and her sisters worked inside the house.

Victoria walked up behind Gretchen and looked out at Call.

"I'm so very glad he didn't die in the cave-in last week," Victoria said.

Gretchen turned to her older sister. She swallowed hard as her eyes welled up with tears. "I almost lost him, Victoria."

Victoria hugged Gretchen. Paige came over to join them. "You do realize it will be difficult for you when he takes you back to visit Mother and Father," Victoria quietly said. "But the two of you have a love stronger than anything I have ever seen."

"A few more weeks and I will be Mrs. Newt Call," Gretchen said as she smiled at her sisters.

"Go on," Victoria urged. "Go spend a few minutes with him. It was kind of him to drive us out here and stay to protect us."

"Thank you, Victoria," Gretchen excitedly said as she opened the door and hurried down the steps. "Call! Call!" she said as she ran to the wagon.

Call jumped down. "Something happen?"

"No, sweetheart," Gretchen said as she hugged him. "I just miss you."

Call smiled and hugged her tight. "I reckon all I been thinking about out here is you, Gretchen."

"Call," she whispered.

Inside the house Victoria and Paige smiled. "Well, we'll be leaving soon," Victoria quietly said. "We really should get back to the store."

******************************

Call climbed back up into the wagon after helping Victoria and Paige step down into the street, in front of the dry goods store. Gretchen remained on the bench seat, desiring to treasure every moment together with Call as he snapped the reins and headed up the street to return the buckboard.

They brought the wagon to Samuel then headed down the street, arm in arm.

"Call?" Gretchen said. "Have you seen those two women that came into town yesterday in the wagons?"

"I seen them," he replied.

"Don't you think the woman in the red dress is beautiful? She's so lovely," Gretchen said.

Call shrugged. "I guess . . . if you favor all that paint." He paused and Gretchen paused with him. "I'd say you're a far piece prettier than her."

Gretchen's eyes lit up. "Do you really mean that, Call? Really?"

"Yep. I really mean it, Gretchen."

She hugged him. "All that matters is how you see me."

Across the street, in front of the hotel, Mr. Lazarus W. Hall observed the young couple then turned to look at his wife, Millicent. She smiled meekly at him. He looked at her. "It isn't proper for a man to exhibit such emotions and feelings like that in public." He squeezed her hand in a very secretive way then walked back inside the hotel.

********************

A few minutes later Clay Mosby and Austin Peale entered the hotel. They sat at an empty table waiting for Robert Shelby to join them. Amanda told them Robert was upstairs with Miss Farrington.

****

Robert had pulled Abby onto his lap and had been kissing her. She finally pulled slightly away and laid her hand on her ample bosom to catch her breath. Robert stared at her.

"You look just like an angel, Abby," Robert said.

She stood up and smoothed her dress as she walked over to the door and turned the key, locking the door. "We wouldn't want anyone to disturb us, now would we, Robert, dearest?"

Robert's face brightened as he stood up. The white towel fell off his thighs onto the floor. He breathed heavily at the thought of being with Abigail Farrington, the Prairie City Canary. "Abby!" he lustfully groaned.

She turned from the door and held one hand up. "Stay there for a moment, Robert, dear. I have something to show you."

Robert nodded.

Abigail turned sideways and bent over. She grasped her dress and slowly tugged the fancy gown and slip up higher and higher. She smiled seductively as she paused when the hem reached her knees. Robert's eyes were mesmerized by the black silk stockings. Abigail continued to pull her dress higher until she exposed the black and red garters at mid-thigh. She bent the silky knee of her left leg as Robert breathed hard. She reached inside the left garter and suddenly withdrew a Remington .41 caliber derringer and ceased smiling.

Robert stared with a shocked gaze as Abigail took a step toward him. "Good bye, Robert, dearest."

"Abby! No!"

**********

Downstairs in the dining room the sound of a gun being fired from above, followed by a large crashing sound, caused everyone to suddenly jump.

"What the . . .?" Clay said. "Robert?!" Clay ran up the stairs as Austin, Amanda, and Richard Watt all followed. "What room, Amanda?!"

"3. She's in Room 3," Amanda called out.

Clay reached the door and tried the handle. "Damn it! It's locked!" He stepped back and raised his leg then drove his heavy boot into the door, near the brass handle. The wood splintered as the door swung open. Clay stepped inside.

"Robert!" he yelled.

Robert Shelby lay motionless on the floor. Blood was flowing as a chair was toppled near him. Miss Abigail Farrington sat stradled across his body, in tears. Clay grabbed her and pulled her off Robert as if she were a child's rag doll.

"Robert!" Clay yelled.

Austin yanked the derringer from Miss Farrington's hand.

Mr. Richard Watt stepped in and took note of Robert's motionless body.

Clay shook Robert then turned to Abigail. "If he dies I will hang you!" He looked at Amanda. Panic in his eyes. "For God's sake, Amanda. Get Cleese! Please?!"

"I'll get him, Mr. Mosby," Ike said as he turned and ran off.

"Robert?!" Clay begged. He turned back to Austin. "Lock her up and if she opens her mouth, shoot her!"

Austin simply nodded and removed Miss Farrington from the room.

By now, others had gathered.

"Get them all out of here!" Clay yelled.

Amanda waved the onlookers away just as Dr. Cleese came into the room nearly out of breath. Clay stood up and lingered close by as Dr. Cleese began examining Robert Shelby.

After a few heart-tugging moments Dr. Cleese turned to Mosby. "As I can determine, Mr. Shelby was shot in his right shoulder. Perhaps he tried to move away and he stumbled, falling and hitting his head on the chair, which rendered him unconscious."

"Then, it isn't serious?" Clay replied.

"It would have been fatal had he not turned," Dr. Cleese said as he began bandaging Robert's shoulder. "I must move him to my office so I can remove the bullet and properly clean the wound. He has sustained quite a large bump on his head from hitting the chair, but he should recover. Now, if you will help bring him to my office."

Clay motioned for Zeke to help him. Robert was his closest friend and he would personally help carry him. He had another of his men escort Mr. Richard Watt, against his will, over to the jail until he sorted things out.

****************************

Later that night, after Dr. Cleese had removed the .41 caliber slug and cleaned and bandaged the wound, he allowed Robert Shelby to have two visitors. Clay Mosby had stayed with Robert the entire time and Miss Victoria Brandt had come by to check on him.

After Victoria Brandt left, Clay and Robert talked.

"I never saw it coming, Clay. I never thought she would shoot me. Where is she?"

"In jail, Robert," Clay quietly replied.

"What do you intend to do with her, Clay?"

"I . . . I'm not quite certain, Robert. If you had died she would be swinging from a rope right now."

"Forgive her, Clay. It was my fault. I caused it," Robert said as he lay in bed.

Clay frowned and sighed. "You just rest up, Robert. We shall discuss this further in the morning."

Robert smiled. "I guess your plan of having me parade Twyla as the Curtis Wells Quail in front of Abby never happened." Robert managed to laugh.

Clay laughed with him. "Twyla's price was too steep. And I doubt she would take kindly to being referred to as a fat bird." He looked at his closest friend and shook his head. "We had better find you a woman to settle down with, Robert."

Robert closed his eyes. "You do that, Clay. I prefer to sleep right now."

Clay looked at Robert for a minute then quietly left.

*****************************

The next morning Luther Root returned with another stagecoach to carry the four passengers to their destination in Great Falls.

Miss Abigail Farrington, the Prairie City Canary, had cried most of the night over shooting Robert. Whether her tears were genuine or manufactured, no one could determine. It was called a "crime of passion" and Robert refused to charge her with attempted murder.

Due to the nature of the situation, Mr. Richard Watt quietly boarded the stage instead of performing with a pre-arranged speech. He assisted the lovely and dangerous "Canary" into her seat as Robert stood outside watching with his arm in a sling.

Mr. Lazarus W. Hall and his wife, Millicent, stood outside the stage, as if waiting for someone. As they noticed Call and Gretchen walk out of the hotel, they both hurried over to the young couple.

"My wife, Millicent has convinced me to be more caring," Mr. Hall said to both Call and Gretchen. Gretchen looked at Mrs. Hall and smiled at her.

"Thank you both so much for teaching us that even after twenty years of marriage we can still be in love," Mrs. Hall said as she reached out to take hold of Gretchen's hand.

"Stage is leaving!" Luther yelled.

Mr. Hall took his wife by the hand and in front of everyone walked her to the stage where he assisted her up into it.

As the stage pulled out, Clay stood next to Robert. Miss Abigail Farrington turned to look at Robert.

"I dare say, my little petunia," Richard Watt said, "you were incredibly fortunate."

Abigail turned to the older gentleman and tapped her fingers on the inside of her left thigh. "I still have one bullet left, Richard, dear." She put one finger to her lips then pointed it at Robert as the stage rode off.

+++++++++++++++++++++ The End +++++++++++++++++++

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