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.


Missouri Birds
(15th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Missouri birds, flying over old St. Louie,
hear that song they're singing to me,
Go into the world while you're young.
But the preacher's words echo
through the old church steeple
stay here with the decent people
settle down and marry while you're young.

(Missouri Birds - John Stewart)

(Tuesday - November 15, 1881)

Kicking the blankets onto the floor, Clay Mosby rose from his bed and quickly dressed. Not in his usual dapper or high class attire, but in a white shirt he neglected to tuck into his trousers and a coat he threw on merely for warmth.

"Where are you going, Clay?" Robert Shelby demanded as he opened the door to Clay's room. "You sound like the entire Yankee Cavalry with all this racket."

"I must look in on Mattie. My God, Robert! What did I do?" Clay asked as he brushed past Robert and descended the stairs.

"How could you allow yourself to get so drunk with one bottle, Clay?" Robert said as he followed him down the stairs. Robert had remained dressed as he slept in a spare room next to Clay.

Mosby paused and turned at the bottom of the stairs. "One bottle? I never slept the night before, Robert. That was the second full bottle of whiskey." He hastened to the doors and rushed out into the early morning darkness. The brisk autumn air stung his face as it reminded him that another bitter winter would soon settle into the Montana countryside.

A dog began barking somewhere as Clay crossed the peaceful street and climbed the stairs to Dr. Cleese's office. Robert knew exactly what Clay was doing and trailed behind.

Clay opened the door and silently stepped inside the quiet office. His eyes adjusted to the flicker of an almost burnt out lamp as he made his way to the bed Mattie occupied. Clay sat down in the empty chair next to her bed. He gazed at her face and cursed himself under his breath for allowing his human error.

A slight grunt caused Clay to suddenly turn. He noticed young Dewey thrash in a restless sleep across the room on a cot. Turning back to Mattie, Clay lifted one of her cold hands and brought it to his lips so he could gently kiss it and blow warm air on it. Mattie didn't respond as Clay rubbed her slightly calloused hand between his slightly calloused hands.

Clay finally lowered Mattie's hand and pulled the extra blanket up high to warm her. Mattie groaned and twisted in obvious pain. She opened her eyes and blinked a couple times. "Hurts," she moaned.

Clay jumped up and went to the door that led to Dr. Cleese's private room. He knocked lightly then opened it. "Cleese. Wake up," Clay said as he tried to not disturb the boy. He heard a stirring and within seconds Dr. Cleese stepped into the doorway.

"Mosby? What are . . .?"

"Mattie's in pain. Give her something for it, for God's sake," Clay replied.

"I can't administer any more pain medication right now," Cleese answered. "I gave her some not quite two hours ago. It is much too soon."

"Damn it, Cleese! I do not want to watch her suffer," Clay angrily said.

"Perhaps you should have considered the consequences before your actions," Dr. Cleese said, slightly angered by Mosby's selfish guilt.

"Don't you presume to lecture me, Cleese!" Clay paused as he looked over at Mattie.

"It has been quite a stressful night for all of us, Clay. Why don't you come back in a few hours?"

"Very well," Clay agreed. "I need to make this right."

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

Clay Mosby returned to Dr. Cleese's office a few hours later. He had cleaned up and dressed in his usual impeccable attire. He needed to regain composure and make amends for his unforgivable behavior.

As he entered the office he saw Unbob quietly sitting across the room.

Mattie was awake as Dewey sat on the bed feeding her warm soup Amanda had sent Ike to deliver. She paused as she watched Clay enter the office and walk to her bed. Mosby looked at Dewey and brought his hand toward the boy's head to pat him. Without warning, Dewey tilted his head and bit Clay on the finger.

"OW! Why, you little bas . . .!" Clay paused as the boy ran into an open room and slammed the door shut. Clay looked at his finger and the two rows of corn-on-the-cob-like teeth marks that had punctured the skin and shook his hand. He removed his hat and sat down in the chair.

Mattie watched Clay as she was careful not to betray her thoughts.

"Mattie . . .?" Clay began, "I am . . . very sorry for my behavior. I suppose it would be more than I could stand if I had...."

Mattie slowly moved her hand to grasp his hand. She winced in pain as her body involuntarily convulsed. "Uuuhhhhh!"

Clay felt genuine remorse at seeing the suffering he alone had caused. "Mattie? Is there . . . anything I can do to atone for this terrible deed?"

Mattie swallowed carefully then looked at Clay. "There is one thing, Clay. But that has to come from you. And we both uuuunnhhh!"

"Mattie?!" Clay exclaimed. "What is it?!" Clay drew back the covers to reveal fresh blood soaking up Mattie's shirt as well as the bed sheets. He put his hand on her side as she groaned and twitched. Her face was contorted in anguish. Lifting his hand, Clay's palm was stained with Mattie's blood.

Dr. Cleese rushed over to the bed. He had been quietly sitting and observing things. "Clay! Please?! Step away!" The doctor took quick notice. "Her stitches have broken! Please, Clay! I have to close the wound!"

Mosby retreated a few feet and making a fist, nervously placed it on his chin as he watched helplessly. The door swung open where Dewey had hidden himself and he rushed to Mattie's bed, crying.

"Mama! Mama!" Dewey wailed as he tried to worm his way underneath Dr. Cleese.

Mattie groaned in pain as Dr. Cleese gave her something to put her back to sleep. He used clean white towels to soak up the fresh blood and began stitching her open wound as Dewey sobbed alongside them.

Frustrated and angry at not being able to have his way, Clay quietly waited until Dr. Cleese completed sewing up Mattie's wound. He went and sat back down next to Mattie. He gazed at his left hand. The hand Mattie's blood had tarnished. It was a fitting image, he thought.

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

Miss Victoria Brandt excitedly wired a telegram to St. Joseph, Missouri, on Tuesday morning. It was the day after Ephraim had proposed. It was addressed to Jefferson and Rebecca Brandt; father and mother of the sisters. The message stated she was going to wed the town doctor within days. She also mentioned that younger sister, Gretchen, had wed her wild Texan in a precious ceremony.

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

Sensitive to the accidental shooting of Mattie Shaw, the Brandt Sisters went about preparing for the wedding between Victoria and Dr. Cleese this coming Saturday. Reverend Daniel Scully, brother of Abner Scully, who sold his house to Call and Gretchen, had willingly agreed to perform the ceremony in the town's church.

Good day to all three of you," Josiah Peale sang out as he almost danced his way inside the dry goods store.

"Hello, Mr. Peale," Victoria, Gretchen, and Paige all replied as each one curtseyed before him.

"Ephraim has asked me to be his best man and stand alongside him for the wedding," Josiah happily revealed. "You girls are just what this town needed. I feel that things are going to be the way they used to be years ago."

Victoria walked up to Josiah and wrapped her hands around his arm. "Thank you, Mr. Peale. Have you been to see Miss Shaw? Is there any change?"

"She took a turn for the worst. However, Ephraim has that under control now. Mattie is going to be fine. She was shot once before, you know?"

"Oh, my!" Victoria replied. "We had no idea, Mr. Peale."

Josiah went about doing his shopping then before leaving turned to Gretchen. "What you've done to Newt is a miracle, Miss Br . . . I mean, Mrs. Call."

Gretchen smiled at Josiah and softly replied, "you're very kind to say that, Mr. Peale."

"No. It's true!" Josiah insisted. "He was full of anger and always fighting. I can see it in his eyes now. He's found peace." Josiah smiled. "Well, good day."

The sisters went back to organizing the wedding plans.

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

Clay Mosby walked cautiously out of the Lonesome Dove Hotel. He carried a tray of warm food and a covered-up cup of hot tea for Mattie to try and consume. Robert Shelby walked with Clay.

"How are you feeling, Clay?"

"I'm fine, Robert. Why didn't you take the gun out of my hand before it went off?"

"It happened so fast, Clay. One second it was in your . . . then . . . it just happened too fast, Clay."

Mosby and Shelby passed underneath the wooden sign which read: Dr. Ephraim Cleese. They continued down the side of Mattie's gunsmith shop then paused before climbing the stairs to Cleese's office.

"Clay, I don't know if you are aware of it, but Miss Victoria Brandt is set to wed Dr. Cleese this coming Saturday."

"News travels fast here in Curtis Wells, Robert," Clay replied. "It is not my concern. I would prefer to dedicate my time in a more positive avenue. Such as Mattie's healing. Come, Robert. Mattie should eat this before it cools down too much."

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

(Wednesday - November 16, 1881)

"Where are you going, Call?" Gretchen asked. She stood in the doorway of their bedroom wearing her brown coarse skirt covered by a cotton apron with decorative hem. Her white camisole with the pink ribbon was exposed as her white cotton blouse was only half buttoned.

"The corral needs mending. I want Sugar and the Hellbitch to spend some time moving outside before it snows. Figured we'd stay hereabouts to put in a good day's work."

"Call?" Gretchen replied. "Not now. We have to go into town. I want to help Paige prepare for Victoria's wedding. They're my sisters."

"Ain't gonna hurt you to miss one day, Gretchen. We can ride in tomorrow," Call said as he reached for the doorknob.

"Don't you walk away from me when we're fighting, Newt Call!" Gretchen said as she stomped her foot against the floorboards.

Call turned. "We ain't hardly had any time to set about preparing for winter. Ain't had time to be alone since Cleese and your sister said they're getting hitched. And I didn't rightly know we were fighting! I'm gonna mend the fence."

Gretchen turned and the first thing she saw was one of their plates sitting on a nearby shelf. She grabbed it and thrust it to the floor, shattering it into a dozen broken shards.

Call looked at her then slammed the door as he stomped outside their new house.

"Call," Gretchen whispered as tears welled in her green eyes.

Call tightened his fist to punch the wooden post but stopped. He stormed off angrily toward the barn,

"Aaahhhhhhhhh! CALL!"

Call spun around as he heard Gretchen's fearful scream from within the house. He charged through the door. "Gretchen! What's wrong?"

"A snake, Call," she cried as she ran to him. "By the fireplace."

Call hadn't buckled his holster yet so he reached for where it hung and drew his .45.

"Be careful, Call," Gretchen pleaded.

"You stand here," he ordered as he stepped over to the fireplace. He picked up a decent sized tree branch that was with the kindling and poked it behind the box of wood. Call finally turned around and dropped the branch. "Ain't no snake here, Gretchen."

Gretchen stared at him with her hypnotic eyes. "I guess I imagined it."

He tilted his head.

"Call, Sweetheart. I'm sorry. I don't want to fight with you. I love you so much. Please don't be upset with me?"

"You little coyote," he said as she ran into his open arms and giggled. "You did that just to end the fight, didn't you?"

"Yes, Call. I did." She stared into his eyes. "Are you angry with me?"

Call knew it was near impossible for him to stay mad at his wife. He shook his head. "I ain't mad, Gretchen. All right. I reckon we best head into town so you can tend to your sister's wedding."

Gretchen hugged Call tight. "Thank you, Call. I promise I'll make it up to you. We'll be together tonight in our very own bed. Or if you prefer, we could spend the night out in the barn. You can keep me warm." She quickly buttoned her blouse.

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

Not many folks cared a whole bunch whether a whore lived or died. Most church-going folks were hypocrites when it came to following the words of the Good Book, in regards to treating your neighbor decently. So, it was no surprise when folks turned the other way as a badly bruised and beaten Rosa walked the streets of Curtis Wells. Her face was an appalling sight after an angry Austin Peale had repeatedly beaten and raped her. Dr. Cleese had done all he humanly could to assist in her healing process.

Mason Dobbs entered Twyla's Sporting Club and made it a point to single out Rosa. She had refused to accept any customers for the first day after her brutal treatment from the so-called "respectable" sheriff of Curtis Wells.

She had tried to talk Mason out of entering her room. She explained that she couldn't spread her legs and take him. Mason shook her attempts off and still paid her. It wasn't a poke he wanted. Rosa liked Mason and allowed him to enter her room.

"I'll wager you can provide me with information I desire," Mason said as he stood near the bed Rosa had been brutalized on. It was still stained with her dried blood.

Through a swollen mouth and puffed up cheeks, Rosa slowly spoke. "I know that I must have passed out from the pain. He's an animal. He forced something inside me that tore my insides. Some object." Rosa's voice trailed off. There was anger and hopelessness in her face.

Mason looked around the small, dismal room. "Do you remember anything he said?"

Rosa laughed. It was a cold, emotionless laugh. "You mean when he wasn't slapping me or spitting in my face or belittling me?" She crossed her legs and winced in pain from the rubbing of her thighs too close to her violated private area. "He was drunk. I don't know, Mason. What do you want from me? I don't need charity. I need to get the hell out of here." There was silence for a few minutes. "He mumbled something about him and Amanda not getting some money. I must have blacked out after that. All I remember is feeling more pain than I ever thought anyone could feel."

Mason reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar double eagle. He placed it on the dirty nightstand and moved quietly to the door.

"We're all afraid of him, Mason. He'll use that badge to do this again. No one is going to defend a whore. It's like we're already dead and waiting to be thrown into a hole and covered up with dirt. At least no one will violate us then."

Mason opened the door then turned to look at Rosa. "Keep your ears peeled. I'd venture to say that someone might have an accident plenty soon." He winked at Rosa and left.

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

Mattie Shaw smiled as Clay Mosby showed her the bouquet of flowers he brought for her. For precautionary reasons, Dr. Cleese had insisted that Mattie remain one more day in his office, before moving next door to her own upstairs bed.

"Oh, Clay. They're beautiful. Thank you," Mattie said. Her voice sounded stronger today.

Mosby sat down as Dr. Cleese found an empty bottle to place the flowers in. "Allow us a few moments, won't you, Ephraim?"

Dr. Cleese looked at Mattie. "I see no reason why I should stay every minute. Miss Shaw is on her way to healing quite well. I shall pay a visit to the future Mrs. Cleese over at the dry goods," Ephraim proudly replied.

"Yes. You do that," Clay said.

Dr. Cleese put his coat on and headed out to spend a few minutes with Victoria Brandt.

Mattie looked into Clay's eyes and smiled. "I don't hold any grudge against you, Clay. I know you never meant to shoot me."

Clay reached out to take Mattie's hand as they heard the sounds of footsteps outside the door. Unbob Finch stepped inside.

"I fed Dewey. Anything else I can do, Mattie?" Unbob asked.

"No, Unbob. You're such a dear. I just want to get out of this bed," Mattie replied.

The door swung open and Dewey ran inside. "Mama!"

Mattie's face lit up as Dewey stood before her. He had berry stains on his mouth and clothes.

Clay stood up and stepped to the door. "Perhaps we can speak at a more opportune moment, Mattie?"

"Oh? All right, Clay. The flowers are beautiful." Mattie smiled.

Clay offered a half-hearted smile and then left.

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

Whistling off key, Mason Dobbs strolled into the Dove and quietly sat at a table. He dropped his hat on the table and waited patiently for Amanda Carpenter to approach him.

"Can I bring you something, Mr. Dobbs?" Amanda asked.

Mason stared Amanda in the eye. She was aware that there was no winking and his eyes had a cold stare. "I'll wager, Miss Carpenter, that you figured I would never harm a woman?"

"Excuse me? What are you talking about?" Amanda nervously replied.

Mason slid a six and a half inch blade out of its scabbard and placed it on the table. "I would never harm a woman . . . unless I happened to find out that she tried to stick a knife in my back."

Amanda's eyes widened as she began to feel uncomfortably warm. "Mr. Dobbs, I have no idea what . . ."

"I'd venture to say that your body would be the softest thing this ever struck." Mason held his knife up. "I know you tried to double-deal me with that so-called Pinkerton man a couple months back."

"Oh, no I didn't!" Amanda protested. "And I think you better leave before I get Sheriff Peale."

Mason slowly stood up and held his knife. "Don't take me to be fast asleep just because I look sleepy. And don't fret none about getting Sheriff Peale. I'll get him." Mason winked at Amanda, then staring at her, he cracked a small smile.

Amanda stood there for long moments after Mason walked out. She finally realized she was shaking.

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

Being a true gentleman, Dr. Cleese made sure to invite Paige to supper along with his soon-to-be wife, Victoria. The kind doctor was also a gracious host as he spent much of the evening listening to both Victoria and Paige tell him about their youth in Missouri. Ephraim shared his tale of traveling across the country from back east as both Brandt Sisters sat entranced by his words.

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

Call and Gretchen reached home before dark. With their arms around each other they walked into the barn.

"Call, it's getting so cold at night," Gretchen mentioned as she slid her hands under his shirt and rubbed them against his stomach and back.

Call paused. He loved everything about Gretchen. She was so different than any other girl he had ever known. "Those were snow clouds we saw coming home. I reckon it'll come down any time now."

"We have plenty of wood for the stove and the fireplace, Call." Gretchen shivered. "I don't think I want to sleep out here tonight. It's too cold." She giggled and pressed her cold nose against Call's bare neck. "Take me inside and warm me, Call."

Call lifted his wife into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. "We could ride out to Red Crow's village tomorrow morning, Call. It would be fun to tell him that I'm your wife now."

"You sure about that, Coyote Girl?" Call asked as he carried Gretchen up the steps to the front door.

"I'm sure, Call. I told Victoria we really need a day to be together."

"And riding out to see Red Crow is what you'd favor doing?" he said as they stepped into the house.

"Gretchen giggled. "Why, no, Sweetheart. I'd favor being in our bed and us holding each other close all day, among other things."

Call smiled as he placed Gretchen on their bed. He lit a lamp and turned to her. She twisted a strand of her hair and lightly bit her lip while staring intently at her husband. She slowly and seductively pulled her skirt up as she flashed him a coy smile. Call unbuckled his holster and dropped it on the floor. He then put his hands on her legs and finished sliding her skirt up to her waist.

"With our clothes on, Call?" Gretchen whispered.

Call nodded. "Yep. With our clothes on, Gretchen."

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

It was sometime after midnight. Dark, ominous clouds hung over Curtis Wells. There were no stars strung across the endless expanse. No moon to shine its silvery light on the street. Austin Peale walked out of the Ambrosia Club and slowly, in a cocky strut, headed up the street. He paused at the Montana Statesman and looked in the darkened windows. Not even a candle burned. Austin nodded. His father was surely sleeping. All he had been talking about the whole day was standing up beside Dr. Cleese for his wedding in a few days.

Austin continued to the sheriff's office where he trudged up the worn-out stairs and entered the quiet dwelling. He was tired and had no use in lighting a lamp. He removed his duster and hat as he stepped toward the back of the room, where his unmade bed sat.

A soft whistling sound was suddenly made. Austin spun around. A gun handle was brought against the bridge of Austin's nose with tremendous force. Austin groaned loud as he fell back onto the bed. He blinked. His head reeled in severe pain as he felt warm blood sliding down both sides of his nose.

"You sonofabitch!" Austin hollered as he heard the distinct sound of a pair of boots and spurs tread purposefully across the dark room. The door opened and a shadowy figure stepped outside, leaving the door slightly ajar. "Come back here!" Austin yelled as he rose to follow his assailant. Austin held his arms out wide as he teetered slightly. Mustering his nerve, Austin moved to the front of the jail and staggered outside into the quiet night. "Where are you?!" he screamed as he spit blood out of his mouth that had dribbled from the gash.

The silent attacker was gone. Austin stood there unaware that the intruder had walked around the building and quietly entered the rear door. The shadowy attacker walked up behind the dazed sheriff and raised a tree branch the size of Luther's arm. There was that low whistle again.

Austin turned in the doorway.

With both arms the silent enemy swung the club across Austin's face, driving him back against the rounded railing. Austin's back slammed into the railing as his legs buckled but he didn't completely collapse. Warm blood covered his left eye and cheek as he reeled between unconsciousness and barely awake. With his head throbbing violently with severe pain, Austin breathed hard as he dropped his hand to his right thigh. He grasped for his gun, trying to take hold of the handle.

The wooden stump was slammed into his side as he groaned loud. Bloody and beaten, Austin began losing consciousness as he dropped to his knees. "You sonofabitch," he moaned. He felt a hand grab his hair and a hard, bony fist pound into his mouth. His arms thrashed weakly as the fist drove up under his jaw, clattering his teeth. Austin's head snapped as he felt sharp, stabbing pains radiate behind his neck. He reeled momentarily then his eyes rolled up and his body went limp. He sunk to the porch unconscious.

The assailant looked up at the sky. It was beginning to snow. Not heavy. Just a light snow. He grabbed Austin's shirt by the back of his shoulders and grunted as he roughly dragged the beaten-up sheriff inside the office, out of the snow. The shadowy figure stepped outside and closed the door.

"I'll wager he'd freeze to death if I let him stay out here," the assailant quietly commented then casually vanished into the cold Montana night.

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

It must have been three or four in the morning when Gretchen Call woke up. She looked around the dark room trying to remember. Then she smiled. Call's arms were around her as he held her close to his body. Her skirt and petticoat were bunched up at her waist and her husband's pants were unbuttoned. Their private areas were pressed against each other.

"Call?" Gretchen said in a whisper. "Call? Sweetheart?" she said a little louder. She tried to gently slip away from him but he moved quickly and pulled her close again.

"Where are you going, Gretchen?" he said, hardly awake.

"It's too cold to sleep on top of our bed, Call."

"So just climb under the blankets," he mumbled.

"But our clothes are on, Call."

He opened his eyes. "So?" He leaned over and pulled his boots off and let each one drop to the floor with a loud thud. "Just take your shoes off, Gretchen."

"Mother would have never allowed me to sleep in my clothes, Call."

"You're married now, Gretchen. You can do whatever you want," Call replied as he nuzzled his face into her chest and began kissing her exposed cleavage through her camisole and blouse.

Gretchen giggled. "All right then." She pushed him away slightly so she could unbutton her shoes and dropping them on the floor, climbed under the covers with her husband and her still wearing their clothes. "Call. Our clothes are going to be so messy in the morning."

"Anything you say, Gretchen," he mumbled and laughed a little. They moved close together as Gretchen closed her eyes. Suddenly she opened them.

"Call?! Call? We won't get any sleep if you keep doing that."

"We can sleep later," he said as they both began touching each other under the covers.

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

(Thursday - November 17, 1881)

It was one of Unbob's roosters who woke up Austin. He blinked a few times before he could only half open his eyes as he laid sprawled out on the cold floorboards. He let out a painful groan as he suddenly felt his body cry out from the unexplained attack during the night. He slowly pulled himself to his knees then tried to get to his feet. His legs buckled as excruciating pain burned inside his head. He put his hand on his side, where his attacker had drove the club into his ribs. The pain was too much. Austin screamed and collapsed on the floor.

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

"Call! Come quick!" Gretchen excitedly cried out.

Call sat up in bed. "Something happen?"

"Snow!" Gretchen replied. "Everything is white. Far as you can see. Hurry, Call. I want you to see it." Gretchen pulled Call out of bed as they both stepped through the house, out to the front porch. "Look! See it? It's everywhere!"

Call's eyes rode across the quiet morning landscape.

"Isn't it pretty?" Gretchen said as she wrapped an arm around her husband and leaned against him. "It's so cold, too. Brrrr."

Call held her close to him and kissed her. "Just a light dusting, is all."

"We did it, Call. Didn't we? We married before first snow," Gretchen contently replied.

"I reckon we did, at that. Think it best if we stay put today and tend to chores that need doing."

"Anything you say, Call. Maybe we could ride out to Red Crow's village next week? After Victoria's wedding."

"We'll make a day of it," he said as she backed up so her body was against his. He wrapped his arms around her.

"I'll go inside and make a nice breakfast for us, Call."

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

Robert Shelby's boots crunched through the first layer of snow as he decided to get away from the Dove and see if there was anything he could do as deputy. He climbed the stairs and opened the door to the sheriff's office. Austin was laying on the floor unconscious.

"Peale!" Robert exclaimed as he dropped to one knee and turned the large man over onto his back. "Wake up, Peale!" Robert shook Austin as he took note of the dried blood caked on his face as well as the multiple bruises. "Damn!" Robert jumped up and hurried outside. His eyes quickly scanned the street for suitable assistance. He spotted Mason Dobbs lounging on the bench outside the general merchant. "Dobbs! Hurry, now!"

Mason rose and moved quickly across the snow-covered street. "What's wrong, Virginia?"

"Peale's on the floor. I think someone beat him rather soundly. I need your help to carry him to Dr. Cleese."

"Then let's not linger, amigo. We'll carry him to a soft place," Mason replied as both men squatted, grunted, then lifted the dead weigh of over two hundreds pounds that made up Austin Peale.

As they slowly plodded the distance between the sheriff's office and pulling the flight of stairs to the doctor's office, town folks gathered to stare at the badly beaten face of Austin Peale. Josiah came running out of the Statesman and attempted to lighten the load by helping but he nearly caused Robert and Mason to tip the sheriff over onto the cold ground.

Sadie and Twyla were standing on the side of the hotel as Austin was carried behind the mining supplies building and Sadie quickly rushed back to the sporting club to reveal the news. Although they would never allow themselves to expose their satisfaction in public, all of Twyla's girls felt Austin got what he deserved. It was fair payment for his brutal attack on Rosa.

Both Mason Dobbs and Robert Shelby were relieved to unload their heavy package on the doctor's table. Dr. Cleese immediately set about to clean Austin's wounds and examined his head and ribs.

*********

Next door to Cleese's office, Mattie sat in her rocker. Although she still felt a great deal of pain in her belly, she had enjoyed being pampered by Clay Mosby. He personally saw to every meal and made sure he fulfilled her every whim.

"There's a lot of commotion outside, Clay," Mattie replied as she listened to the loud chatter. "What's going on out there?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Mattie," Clay answered. He stood up. "I suppose I had better go and see." He sighed. "I shall return momentarily."

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

Paige Brandt slammed the door to the dry goods as she rushed inside from the cold morning. "Victoria! Sheriff Peale was just carried to Ephraim's. He was beaten up, as I heard it."

Victoria paused while showing the new brooches and stickpins to Amanda Carpenter. "Excuse me, Miss Carpenter," Victoria apologized. She walked over to her younger sister. "Boo," she quietly replied, "we have a customer."

Amanda waved her hand. "That's all right, Miss Brandt. What . . . exactly happened?"

Paige turned to Amanda. "Sheriff Peale looks like he was run over by a locomotive." She wrinkled her face uncomfortably. "His face is all bloody. Someone really must have wanted to get him."

Amanda's eyes widened and her heart raced. Fear overcame her. She remembered what Mason Dobbs had said. It had to be Mason. She decided to not say anything. Mason frightened her. She saw the coldness in his eyes. "Well," Amanda replied, "I can come back later and look at the new items. I'm just across the street." She hastened to leave as Victoria and Paige watched her go.

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

Dr. Cleese had barely released Mattie when Austin was carried in. Austin wasn't half as bad as Mattie. Cleese tended to the town sheriff and left him to rest as he headed to the dry goods to visit Victoria.

"Will you have lunch with me, Victoria?" Ephraim asked.

"Of course, Ephraim. I'll be ready in a minute."

"I am quite thankful that you are in tune to my profession. Unfortunately, I cannot exercise the luxury of choosing my hours. It has been a most unusual week with Mattie being accidentally shot and now Sheriff Peale's mysterious beating."

"I believe situations are more civilized back in Missouri," Victoria remarked as she wrapped her shawl around her shoulders. "We've journeyed west and here we shall stay."

"I'm delighted to hear those words, Victoria," Dr. Cleese replied as he opened the door for his soon-to-be wife.

Paige bent down and picked up Pearl, the white kitten. "Uhh," she groaned. "Come on, little fatty. You are drinking too much milk. Yes, you are," she cooed as she nuzzled the kitten against her nose. The kitten meowed.

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

Growing up in Paint Rock, Concho County, Texas, Mason Dobbs was used to warmer climates. This first snow didn't set well with him as he walked alone in the early evening. He had his mind set on having a few drinks at the No.10 Saloon. As he strolled in front of Twyla's he was quietly joined by Rosa. Mason looked at her as she hooked her arm through his and pulled him off the wooden sidewalk and over behind the sporting club.

"Thank you," she softly said, her mouth still swollen slightly.

"Well now, I surely don't know why you're thanking me," he replied.

"Yes, you do, Mason. I hope nothing happens to you," Rosa said.

"Go on inside, Rosa. It's a whole lot warmer than being out in this cold."

Rosa turned and took three steps then paused. She turned back to Mason. "My door is always open to you. You can have a free poke anytime you want."

Mason nodded. "Next time I have me an itch, I'll be sure to let you scratch it." He winked at her and headed away for something warm to fill his belly.

Rosa leaned against the wall and smiled. For just one half-second, she allowed herself to dream that she was respectable and that Mason Dobbs was her man.

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

(Friday - November 18, 1881)

The day before Dr. Cleese and Victoria Brandt's wedding, Victoria had received a telegram from her parents back in St. Joe.

"Mother and Father are both delighted with the man who will become my husband," Victoria said to her younger sisters. "Gretchen, they both are quite anxious to meet Newt."

Gretchen smiled and curtseyed. "Thank you, Mother. Thank you, Father."

"Which one of you two older women is going to make me an Aunt, first?" Paige asked.

Victoria frowned.

"Well, Victoria," Paige replied, "you are getting married only six days after Gretchen."

"Call's going to ride us in early tomorrow so I can help with everything," Gretchen said.

The door to the dry goods opened and Dr. Cleese stepped inside. "Good day to all our you," he said. "Victoria, perhaps now that things have settled down some, you would accompany me out to our new home? We still have a few odds and ends to complete before tomorrow."

"Yes, Ephraim. Paige? Perhaps you should ride . . . oh, forgive me, Ephraim. Would you mind if Paige joins us?"

Dr. Cleese smiled. "I would be delighted. We do, after all, have many things to finish before the wedding."

Victoria turned to Gretchen. "Why don't you come with us? Laurie Ann can watch things here. She isn't leaving town until next week."

"Call's coming to get me soon," Gretchen replied. "We still have a lot to do at our new home."

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

Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby climbed the stairs and entered Dr. Cleese's office. Austin Peale opened his eyes from his bed and glared at them.

"What happened, Austin?" Clay asked. "I will not tolerate my sheriff being ruthlessly attacked by some coward."

"Perhaps that whore you roughed up paid someone to attack you, Peale?" Robert suggested.

"The hell with both of you," Austin said. "No one's going to get away with this. I'll find out who did it. And when I do . . . someone's going to die."

"It hasn't been a good week, Clay," Robert remarked.

"I know that, Robert!" Clay barked.

"Why don't you two shut the hell up and give me some support?" Austin yelled as he pounded his fist into the bed. "You've got men, Mosby. What do you pay them for? Huh?!"

"Is there anything you've neglected to inform us about, Austin?" Clay asked as he ignored Austin's temper tantrum.

"I told you everything," Austin replied. " I roughed up Rosa the other night but she's just a whore. Nobody cares whether some no good whore lives or dies."

"Twyla would never go against me," Clay commented. "Nor would Rosa, for that matter. No. Twyla and her girls are used to men beating them. They're far too frightened of me to ever raise a hand." Clay pondered things. "Austin, I suggest you be careful who you push around from now on."

"ME!" Austin sat up in bed and winced from the pain. "Damn it, Mosby!"

"Either keep yourself out of Twyla's or learn how to control your anger from now on," Mosby ordered. "Are we understood, Austin? I will not have my sheriff brutalizing any citizen of Curtis Wells. That includes whores. People in this town expect me to protect them. Now, this had better never occur again."

With that, both Clay and Robert walked out.

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

(Saturday - November 19,1881)

Unable to hardly sleep all night due to the nervousness of actually being just hours away from his wedding, Dr. Ephraim Cleese finally climbed out of bed and walked barefoot across the cold, wooden floor to the back window of his office. Tonight he would sleep in the new two-story house he had purchased for Victoria and her youngest sister, Paige, to live in.

Ephraim pulled the shade back and stared out toward the lonely church. There was now almost two inches of snow covering the ground. White as far as the eye could see. He knew a storm had passed through Curtis Wells during the night. He had been staring at the ceiling for over half the night as he listened to the wind howl.

He walked over to where his wash basin sat atop his clothes dresser that was partially used to store some of his favorite novels. He dipped his fingers into the cold water and began washing his face. He hummed one of the tunes the vaqueros had played at Call and Gretchen's wedding six days earlier. The song had remained in his head. As he washed and hummed, Ephraim thought about something he had heard growing up as a young man. Something about rainy days making for strong marriages. He reached for a clean towel and dried his face. If rain was a good sign, he thought, surely snow must mean an incredibly prolific marriage.

Ephraim began dressing for his wedding as a knock on the door interrupted his train of thought. He stepped over and unlocked the door.

Josiah Peale stepped inside the office. "Good morning, Ephraim. I couldn't sleep any longer. It's cold out there!"

"Come in, Josiah. Alas, I too was a stranger to the sweet nectar that is sleep, to borrow a phrase I've heard Mr. Mosby use."

Josiah laughed and patted Ephraim slightly hard on the back. "Ha ha. You won't get much sleep tonight."

Ephraim's face reddened as he smiled sheepishly. He sniffed the air. Josiah had the smell of liquor on his breath.

"Drink, Ephraim?" Josiah offered as he pulled out a small bottle of whiskey.

"Dear me, no! Victoria would never abide with me drinking liquor on our wedding day," Ephraim frantically replied.

"Or any other day, I'd say," Josiah quietly remarked.

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

Shivering in the snowy countryside, Gretchen pressed as close to Call as she could as the newlyweds rode into Curtis Wells on the wagon. Call kept twisting his neck as he pulled at the shirt collar his uncle had loaned him for his own wedding six days earlier. Gretchen giggled at the sight of her husband fussing over the tightness of the nicer clothing.

They pulled into Curtis Wells early enough for Gretchen to help Paige prepare Victoria for her wedding. Dreading the nightmarish possibility of being stuck with chattering women, Call headed over to the Ambrosia for a drink.

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

Josiah stepped inside the sheriff's office and looked at his son. "Austin? Is there anything I can do for you?"

"You can go dig a six-foot hole for Call."

"You don't mean that, Austin," Josiah replied.

"Don't I? I wish those sisters had never come here. They're nothing but trouble," Austin grumbled.

"That's not true," Josiah argued. "That's not true at all, Austin. They're good girls. Just like your sister was. They've brightened up Curtis Wells. They're like little birds from Missouri. I might even reopen the Montana Statesman."

Austin shot a surprised look at his father.

"If I do, I would like you to give up this crazy idea of power and work with me. We're newspapermen, Austin."

"Just leave me alone, Father. I don't want to be bothered today."

Josiah nodded. "I'll be over at the church for Ephraim's wedding."

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

"Mattie, I can spend the day keeping you occupied," Clay said as he sat down near her bed.

"I'm fine, Clay. Run off and enjoy Dr. Cleese's wedding. I'll be resting here for a while longer before I'm on my feet again."

"I do hope the good doctor has seen to providing you with a sufficient amount of pain medication?"

"Dewey brought me some. So did Unbob. Clay?"

"What is it, Mattie?" Clay asked. He noticed her eyes take on a more serious look.

" . . . Nothing, Clay." She sighed and lowered her eyes.

Clay took Mattie's hand. "I do miss our nights together."

"You better run along now, Clay," she replied. "It's going to begin soon."

"Then I will check back after the ceremony is completed."

Mattie smiled only slightly. Two weddings within a week was more painful than the bullet's lingering pain.

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

Miss Victoria Brandt looked gorgeous in her white dress. Gretchen and Paige had fixed her hair and Ephraim was delighted with not only her outer beauty but especially with the inner woman. Truth was, they were a finely matched couple.

The small church was filled with folks as Ephraim and Victoria repeated their vows before Reverend Daniel Scully.

Both Robert Shelby and Clay Mosby allowed their thoughts to drift as they wondered what would have transpired had either of them pursued the oldest Brandt Sister.

Josiah Peale had been right about one thing. The three Brandt Sisters from Missouri were like birds singing peaceably in the warm, morning sun. Their arrival in Curtis Wells had set the tone for positive reactions. Dr. Cleese finally had a suitable partner and Call had become less likely to explode at a moment's notice. Unbob had a new and caring friend in Paige and even Josiah was contemplating returning to the newspaper he had abandoned after Hannah's tragic death.

Although Ephraim and Victoria were more business-like than the "so-in-love" Newt and Gretchen, when pronounced "man and wife," they happily kissed each other to the elated cheers of those present. The Reverend Scully introduced Dr. and Mrs. Ephraim Cleese to the joyous citizens of Curtis Wells.

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

Paige Brandt spent the night sleeping in the spare bedroom at her sister, Gretchen's house. It was the decent thing to allow Ephraim and Victoria one night alone before their permanent guest would move in.

Paige was too excited to sleep that night. She kept wondering whether Gretchen or Victoria would have the first child in the Brandt family.

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

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