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 Shame of Bethlehem
Tents pitched on the highway in the dirty moonlight
Every building had a story. Including the seldom used Theatre of The West. The Opera House. It sat alone at the end of the newer short street, four buildings flanking it on each side. The Opera House. A survivor along with other like-minded transplants from fire-gutted Sweetwater. Like the No.10 Saloon and Twyla's, with her salvaged sign proclaiming "spring beds $1.00."
It had originally been called the Arcadia Opera House. Austin's sister, Hannah, had found her brother inside the building with a pretty "dancing girl" on his lap after the Buffalo Bill story he had copied., causing his father to claim plagiarism.
In this calendar year of 1881, the Opera House mostly stood silent. An unfulfilled promise of culture and much-needed entertainment for a town balanced between frontier outpost and potential hub of the territory.
Tonight however, Saturday night, December 10th, the Opera House shined with life. To the jubilation of Curtis Wells' citizens, a troupe of theatrical performers all the way from Sestri Levante, Italy, on the Gulf of Genoa, had performed the Christmas Story. Every one of the actors and actresses were related to each other. All with the last name of Ghilarducci. And the young married women had husbands with names like Sebastiani, Razaroli, Lagamarsino, Gratabolli, and Zupo.
These were the Fabulous Ghilarducci's. Their performance of Joseph and Mary, played by an olive-skinned man named Pietro and a woman named Yolanda, drew a standing ovation from the local folks.
As the dramatic presentation concluded the Italian troupe packed with haste to load their costumes into wagons to leave at first light for the next town and next performance, while satisfied town folks emerged into the cold evening street.
"I enjoyed it, Robert," Mattie Shaw said as she looked past Robert Shelby to Clay Mosby. "What are doing, Clay?"
Clay Mosby turned in the snow-covered street. "I am merely counting my money, Mattie. These vagabond gypsies are not to be entirely trusted."
"How much did you charge them for tonight's use of the Opera House, Clay?" Robert asked as Mattie wrapped her arm around his arm.
"Twenty dollars," Clay bragged.
"Twenty dollars?!"Robert repeated. "Clay, you are a shrewd and surreptitious businessman." He laughed as he shook his head in disbelief.
"Yes, well," Clay continued, "I am quite sure those play-actors more than tripled their slightly exaggerated rental fee for use of our highly esteemed theater, Robert."
Dewey tagged along behind Mattie. Watching Robert Shelby take hold of Mattie's hand angered him. He liked Mason Dobbs better than any other man in Curtis Wells. For a moment he considered biting Mr. Shelby's hand but decided to wait for a more appropriate time.
Clay took note of the three Brandt Sisters' and their escorts; Newt Call with his wife, Gretchen, and Dr. Cleese with his wife, Victoria. Youngest sister, Paige, was hoping Hubie Kellner would walk at her side as soon as his bullet wound healed. That was providing he wouldn't be sent to the territorial prison for his part in the stage robberies. He complied with Sheriff Peale by revealing the location of the stolen payrolls. All monies were found and returned.
"I must say," Clay Mosby loudly said with a smirk, "you look out of place, Call. It is however, an improvement over your typical behavior of drunkenness and fighting."
"Bastard," Call mumbled as he tensed.
"Call, no, Sweetheart," Gretchen quietly urged as she felt her husband tighten in anger. "Call, he's just a jealous and unhappy man. Don't pay any attention to him. For me, Call?"
Clay Mosby stared at Gretchen Call with contempt. It wasn't the first time her words had embarrassed him.
Call looked into his wife's green eyes and nodded. "I reckon you're right, Gretchen."
Gretchen giggled and laid her head on her husband's shoulder as they headed into the hotel with the others.
Amanda hastened out of the kitchen as she valiantly attempted to serve a full room of customers after the rare theatrical performance. Ike scurried about like some confused rodent not sure which direction to take.
"What would you have done, Clay?" Josiah Peale asked from a nearby table that he shared with his son, Austin.
Clay swallowed his coffee as he took a moment to enjoy the feeling of hot liquid warming his insides. "It is merely hindsight now, Josiah."
"Would you have given those folks a room in Bethlehem? Knowing the woman was about to have a baby?" Josiah persisted.
"Well, of course I would, Josiah," Clay remarked, slightly irritated at the comment. "I may be somewhat ruthless and power-driven, but I would never turn away folks in need, regardless of circumstances. Whether it be Bethlehem or Curtis Wells."
Amanda carried a tray consisting of four slices of pumpkin pie along with five cups of coffee to the table occupied by the Brandt Sisters and the two husbands.
"Don't you want any pie, Call?" Paige asked her brother-in-law.
Call frowned and shook his head. "Nope. Just coffee." It was still awkward for him to be in a situation like this. Sitting at a friendly table with so many people.
"Weren't those costumes absolutely divine?" Victoria remarked. "All the reds and greens and purples."
"Yes," Ephraim agreed. "The Italians seem to be very fond of red."
"They sure do use their hands an awful lot," Paige commented. "It's amazing they don't hit each other in the face more often," she giggled. This caused both Victoria and Gretchen to giggle. Ephraim looked at Call and grinned. Call frowned and groaned painfully inside.
It was quiet now. Clay laid in his bed and thought how nice Mattie Shaw would feel underneath his body right about now. He missed the nights the two of them had recently spent in his bed yet at the same time he was happy for Robert. He laughed out loud as he allowed an image of Robert Shelby and Mattie Shaw to develop in his mind. He turned over and reached for a nearly empty glass of expensive whiskey. He drained the glass, savoring its warm content. It was good to have money and live a little better than most folks did. Clay blew out the candle and closed his eyes.
Gretchen Call tossed restlessly in the strange bed. She sighed and turned to her husband. "Call?"
"Seems to me you miss our bed, Gretchen," Call said as he laughed a little.
"I do, Call. I really do," she giggled as she bounced trying to get comfortable. "You slept in this uncomfortable bed before we were married?"
"Un huh. 'Cept on occasions when I slept in the livery," he laughed and pulled Gretchen close to him so his lips were touching hers. "Guess you're kind of glad we got us a house instead of sleeping in this here room every night?"
"I would be happy here with you, Call," Gretchen assured him. "You know that I love you more than anything else and just want to be with you." She paused as their lips locked and they began kissing. "Umm. Ummm," she moaned softly. She paused once more. "Call, it's so noisy in this hotel."
"If you can't sleep, Coyote Girl, I figure we can think of something to do in here to pass the time." He slid his hands up her sides then squeezed her breasts.
Gretchen giggled as she bit Call on the lip.
"Ow! You little coyote!" Call laughed as he began playfully wrestling with his wife.
"Anything you say, Call," she laughed with him and wrestled back while tickling him.
Clouds gathered from the east to the west and by early Tuesday morning a light snow was quietly blanketing the town and the surrounding areas. Clay Mosby stood protected underneath the balcony of his saloon holding a saucer and a cup of hot coffee as Robert Shelby walked quickly across the street to join his friend.
"I despise this cold, Clay," Robert groaned. "You don't suppose we could head to California, do you? I hear the sun shines across green hills and golden fields every day of the year."
Clay raised his eyebrows. "It does sound rather inviting, Robert." He looked to his right and then to his left, taking in the majority of the town. "I sometimes wonder why, exactly, do I even stay here."
Robert grinned. "Hell, Clay. You're a king here. This is your domain. You provide for these people. Do you remember what this town was like when we first arrived to rob their Yankee bank?"
Clay grinned back. "I do indeed, Robert." He looked around again. "The town has grown. Though, not quite as prestigious as I had envisioned or hoped."
"It takes time to build something worthwhile, Clay."
"Yes. And speaking of building, how are things developing between Mattie and yourself?"
"No complaints from me, Clay," Robert replied.
"Well good," Clay said. "I desire only the very best for you and Mattie."
"Clay? Have you any idea what this date is?" Robert asked as his face suddenly grew somber.
"Tuesday, Robert. December 13th. Why do you ask?"
"Do you remember what happened on this date almost twenty years ago, Clay?"
Mosby was silent as he knew it had to do with either the War or their life in Virginia. Suddenly, Clay's eyes widened. He looked at Robert.
"Fredericksburg!The Battle of Fredericksburg occurred on December 13th, '62."
Robert nodded. "Nineteen years ago, Clay."
"My God," Clay breathed. "Has it truly been that long?"
"I still recall those Yankees constructing their pontoon bridge at the mouth of Deep Run in that damn fog," Robert commented.
Clay noticed Robert's eyes had a faraway look to them as he relived one of their shared battles from the War. "We were outnumbered by some forty thousand Federal troops, if memory serves me."
"It does, Colonel," Robert replied. "We sent those Yankees back across the Rappahannock and their General Burnside with his tail between his legs."
"Then, I propose we step inside where it isn't quite as cold and drink to our fallen comrades from that day, Captain Shelby."
"I agree, Colonel," Robert said.
It was still morning as Newt Call quietly pulled the multi-patterned bedspread back and attempted to climb into bed without waking his wife. Gretchen opened her eyes immediately and smiling warmly, watched her husband.
"Call? What are you doing? Where did you go?" Gretchen softly asked as she brushed her long flowing hair out of her face.
Call sat on the bed and paused. "Just went out to see to the horses. Thought I heard something."
"Are they all right?" she asked as she slid over and wrapped her arms around his waist.
Call nodded. "I reckon it weren't nothing worth fretting over."
"Call?" Gretchen said as she tucked her legs underneath her and sat up alongside him. She smiled. "Do you know what day it is today?"
Call shrugged. "Tuesday."
"Call?!"Gretchen groaned, placing her hands on her hips.
He frowned. "So? There something I should know?"
"Yes!"she replied as she yanked the locks of his hair with mock disappointment. "Today is December 13th, Call. It's our one month anniversary. We've been married for one month today."
"Oh," Call mumbled. "Sure went by fast."
"Oh, Call. It did. It really did." Gretchen hugged him and laid her head against his head. "Happy one month anniversary, Sweetheart." Gretchen suddenly moved her head as she noticed something. "Call? Why are you holding your hand in a fist?" She looked at him.
Call smiled then spit out air as he laughed. "Pphht. Maybe I got me something in my hand for you, Coyote Girl."
Gretchen's green eyes widened. "You remembered our anniversary, Call?"
"I ain't likely to ever forget it, Gretchen," Call replied as he opened his fist and held his hand in front of his wife.
"Ooohhh, Call! It's beautiful!" Gretchen exclaimed as she reached out to take the gold locket that was shaped like a heart with flowers engraved on the front. There was a gold necklace that went with it. She looked closely at the locket, reading the word, Forever. Gretchen's eyes welled up with tears as she hugged Call and squeezed him as tight as she could. "Call, I love you so much. Thank you, Call. You're the most wonderful husband in the whole world. Thank you. But, I don't think we can afford something like this."
"You let me fret about what we can afford, Gretchen. I reckon you're worth a whole lot more to me."
"All right, Call," Gretchen smiled.
Call smiled back as he kissed Gretchen. "Happy anniversary, Gretchen. I'm fixing on bringing you into town for dinner at the Dove."
Gretchen giggled. "When we go back to Missouri in the springtime we can have one of those professional photographers take a picture of us so I can put you in my locket." She looked at the locket. "Call, I love it."
It was somewhere around half past noon when Dr. Cleese stepped into the dry goods. Paige Brandt had gone across the street to the Dove, leaving oldest sister, Victoria, alone. Ephraim smiled lustfully at his wife as she bent over near the back of the store. He quietly drew close to her and playfully slapped her across her buttocks with an open hand. Victoria instantly shot up and spun around.
"Ephraim?!. . . Ephraim?" she said, astonished.
Ephraim grinned at his wife as he teetered.
Victoria lifted her nose slightly and sniffed the air. "Have you been drinking, Ephraim?"
"My dearest, Victoria, I only allowed for but a single drink. You are quite a vision my dear."
Victoria blushed. "Ephraim?"
"Paige is across the street. Shall we lock the door?" He gave her an inviting look.
Victoria shook her head. "We had better do this quickly, Ephraim." She hurried and locked the door. "My goodness," she commented, "I feel as carefree as Gretchen."
It was sometime late in the afternoon when a simple box wagon fitted with bows and covered with canvas pulled into town like a dying tumbleweed. It wasn't the typical Conestoga wagon as the two yoke of oxen pulled up in front of the general merchant store. A man and woman slowly climbed down from the springy bench seat and stood in the snow. He was a large man, standing a good two inches over six feet. His clothes were tattered and worn as holes could easily be seen in his hat and coat.
The woman wore what had once been a beautiful dress some years ago but was no longer stylish or even clean. She was busting out at the seams ready to give birth to a child any day now. Though her face was smudged with dirt from an obviously long journey, she was still breathtaking to look upon. Sparkling blue eyes and golden hair the color of corn silk. Her white skin was flawless.
As the two strangers walked toward the door to Creel's store, folks stared at them. Not because of the woman's striking beauty, but because the tall man who accompanied her was a Negro.
"Good day," Creel grumbled as he barely looked at the pregnant woman. The man had paused outside then walked back to one of the oxen and rubbed his hand on the tired beast. He reached into the wagon and drew out a canteen which he uncapped and poured a small amount of water into his large hand and put it under the animal's mouth, allowing it to thirstily lick the few droplets.
Inside the general store the woman picked up a can of beans. Creel was staring at her. "Do you have any money to pay for those beans?" he snapped.
The woman turned and smiled at Creel. "Yes Sir. My husband has the money. We haven't eaten in two days and we're very hungry." She turned as she heard the hinges of the door squeak as her husband entered. "Here's my husband now, Sir. He will pay you for the beans."
Creel stared at the tall man in tattered clothing. "That's your husband?!"
The man nodded politely. "Yessir. I'm her husband. My name's Nehemiah
Ver . . ."
"I don't care what your name is!" Creel exclaimed. "You get out of my store, nigger."
The woman closed her eyes and sighed.
"And you put that can of beans back where you found it or I'll get the sheriff," Creel ordered. "Go on! Get out of my store!"
The woman placed the can back on the shelf as her husband gently reached out to take her hand. "I'm so very hungry, Nehemiah," she whispered.
"It's all right," he consoled. "We can try the hotel. It's just down the street," he said as they stepped out into the snow.
The couple walked out of Creel's store where the man helped his wife climb up into the wagon. She smiled at him. He walked around the oxen as Ike paused in front of them.
"Are you looking for a room in the hotel?" he asked.
"Yes Sir, we are," the man replied to Ike.
"Give me fifty cents and I can go reserve your room," Ike said.
"We ain't got much money, Sir," the man said. He dug his hand into his pocket until he found a coin and pulled it out. "Here, Sir. Please give us a room which ain't too cold. My wife is gonna have a baby any time now."
Ike relieved the man of his fifty cents piece and hurried at an unusually quick pace down the street till he disappeared inside the Dove. The man looked over at his shivering wife and snapped the reins. The oxen moved down the street and stopped in front of the hotel. The man climbed down to the snow-covered street and went to help his wife down. They walked inside the hotel and up to where the guest book sat open.
"Ma'am," he politely said. "My wife and I have a room reserved. A man brought our fifty cents in to reserve it."
Amanda looked at both of them. "What? Wait. What did you say? What man? I don't have any rooms reserved here."
"He stole our money, Nehemiah," the woman said with a strong southern accent.
"A man just come inside. He was wearing one of those round hats. I give him fifty cents for a room," Nehemiah replied.
Amanda began laughing, drawing the attention of everyone eating in the dining room. "That was Ike." she shook her head. "I'd say you'll never see that money again."
Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby were eating together and both men paused. "Excuse me, Clay," Robert said as he wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood up. He walked to where Amanda and the couple were talking.
"Is there a problem here?" Robert asked. "I run the hotel."
The tall man turned to Robert. "Yes Sir. I just give fifty cents to a man for a room. Now, this lady says we ain't got no room."
Robert looked to Amanda. "He said Ike took his money," she replied and laughed some more.
Robert began laughing as Clay Mosby joined the discussion. Over in a quiet corner Newt and Gretchen Call were enjoying their anniversary dinner as they both watched with interest.
Mosby looked at the two people. "And whom might you two be?"
"My wife is due to have a baby most any time, Sir," the man said.
"I didn't ask about your wife," Clay angrily replied. "I said, who are you?"
"My name is Nehemiah Vernon and this is my wife, Mary Vernon."
"We just need a room to stay out of the cold," Mrs. Vernon replied in her strong southern accent.
"A Southerner?" Clay remarked. "And just where do you come from?"
"Alabama, Sir," Nehemiah commented. "We up and left Alabama to find a place where folks ain't prejudiced against folks like me."
Mosby glowered at the man. "You bring a lady from . . ."
"She isn't a lady, Clay," Robert interrupted.
"That is quite true, Robert," Clay replied. He looked at the dark-skinned man. "You bring this white woman in here and expect me to give you a room?! Get out of here before I have you thrown out."
"Sir," the man pleaded, "my wife is gonna have a baby most any time now. Please? The man in the general store won't sell us a can of beans. We ain't ate nothing for two days now."
"Robert? Throw them both out!" Clay ordered.
"No!" Mrs. Vernon cried. "Nehemiah? Let's just leave." She took his hand and led him outside into the cold street.
"I suggest you try out behind the hotel," Clay said. "Perhaps someone will rent you a tent in tent town."
"Sir," Nehemiah pleaded again, "my wife is gonna have a baby. I can't let her sleep on the cold ground."
As Clay and Robert headed back to their table, Call shoved his way through both men. Gretchen followed right behind him. Mosby and Shelby turned to watch Call march outside.
"Hold up!" Call loudly said to the couple before they could climb up into their wagon.
"Yes Sir?" Nehemiah answered.
"You say Creel wouldn't sell you a can of beans?" Call asked the man.
"It's all right, Sir," the man replied to Call.
"No, it is not all right," Gretchen said as she stood alongside her husband.
"Turn this here wagon around and head over there," Call said, pointing to the general merchant store. He marched angrily off toward Creel's store as Gretchen hiked her skirt slightly and ran to follow Call while the Vernon's turned their oxen and pulled in front of the store for a second time. They both climbed down and watched as Call flung the door open with force and stepped inside.
"Set about finding whatever you need, hear?" Call told Mr. and Mrs. Vernon.
Creel came over waving his arms wildly. "I told that nigger to get . . ."
Call grabbed Creel by his shirt collar. "Shut your mouth, Creel." He threw the store owner back some and stared unflinching at him. "You say one more word, Creel, and I'll send you to Cleese," he promised as he pointed to Creel.
Nehemiah walked cautiously to where Call stood. He held two cans of beans in his hands.
Call tilted his head. "Seems to me you'd be needing a whole lot more than that?"
"We only got enough money to pay for this here," Nehemiah replied.
"A man named Ike stole fifty cents from us," Mrs. Vernon added.
Gretchen stepped close to her husband. "Call? She's going to have a baby. They have nowhere to go." She looked at him.
Call's intense stare softened as he gazed at his wife. He nodded then turned to Nehemiah and took the two cans from his hands. He threw them on the floor and said, "I reckon you and your wife best come with us."
As Call and Gretchen led Mr. and Mrs. Vernon out of the general merchant, Dr. Cleese and Victoria were hastening to meet them in the street.
"I heard about the shameful behavior of this town," Ephraim said as he reached the four of them. He looked quickly at Mrs. Vernon. "She needs a warm bed."
"Call and I are bringing them to our home, Ephraim," Gretchen replied. "Will you help us? Help with the delivery of the baby?"
Victoria stepped in. "We'll do better than that, Gretchen. Bring these folks to our house. It's much larger and easier for Ephraim if he doesn't have to travel through the snow to your house."
Gretchen turned to Call. He nodded. The Call's went and mounted up on their horses and rode out of town with the Vernon's following in their wagon. As they passed the real estate brokers heading west they noticed Clay Mosby arguing with some mean-eyed types behind the Dove at the foot of tent town. Dr. Cleese quickly found Unbob and asked him to sit with Hubie Kellner so he could return home with Victoria and Paige.
Clay Mosby entered his saloon in an unpleasant mood. The inside was crowded and filled with smoke as he walked around the bar to pour himself a drink.
"Those boys friends of yours, amigo?"
Clay looked up. "Hello, Mason. I haven't seen much of you as of late." He looked toward the doors. "Those men I was arguing with are merely rabble. They lost a significant amount of money here last night and feel I should return their losing's."
Mason looked toward the front windows where he could see the three men standing in front of the Dove.
Clay downed a shot of whiskey and gazed at Mason Dobbs. "I hardly think any of those men are worth being concerned over."
Mason continued staring at them. "I'll wager not one has sand enough to stand against you, amigo." He turned to meet Clay's eyes. "Three . . . that's a whole different horse."
"They don't scare me," Clay said. "I have a matter to attend to. I shall return shortly." Clay downed another shot and hurried outside into the snow.
Inside the Cleese home Ephraim and Victoria brought Nehemiah and Mary Vernon into a spare downstairs room. Ephraim asked everyone to leave him with Mrs. Vernon since she was now ready to give birth at any time.
Nehemiah sat down in a chair in the large room where Call started a fire in the stone fireplace. "I don't know how I can repay you for your kindness," he said to Call and Gretchen. He looked at Victoria and Paige and shook his head. "We never had us such a fine house to sleep . . ."
"Excuse me," Dr. Cleese interrupted as he walked into the large room.
"Mr. . . .?"
"Vernon. Nehemiah Vernon," the man replied and quickly stood up.
"Mr. Vernon," Ephraim continued, "how long has it been since your wife was examined by a doctor? Concerning her pregnancy?"
"It's never happened, Sir," Nehemiah said. "We been on the road seems like forever, Sir. Not many folks were willing to treat us decent. We ain't got us much money."
Dr. Cleese looked at Call. "In all the confusion I inadvertently left my medical bag back in town. Would you mind riding back and retrieving it for me?"
Call nodded and stood up.
Call, along with the three sisters, all turned to Nehemiah.
"I'll go," Nehemiah stated. "This is my responsibility. I can be back in less than fifteen minutes. Just tell me where to go."
"In between the hotel and general store," Call said, knowing Nehemiah had been in both locations. "There's a green building. Mining supplies."
"Yes," Ephraim added. "My office is upstairs in the green building. The stairs are located at the rear. Unbob Finch is sitting inside watching a patient. Just tell him you need my bag."
Nehemiah quickly darted out the door and had his wagon moving in moments. The town of Curtis Wells was only a few minutes away.
Minutes later Nehemiah Vernon led his oxen past the windmill into town. He turned left at the pump in the middle of the street and stopped in front of the green mining supplies building. He hurried around back and climbed two stairs at a time then opened the door and stepped inside Dr. Cleese's office.
"Dr. Cleese ain't here," a thin, older man said as he stood up. Nehemiah noticed he was hunched over slightly and had a haggard look to his features.
"Are you Mr. Finch?"
"Well, yeah. That's my name. But . . . no one calls me Mr."
"Dr. Cleese sent me to get his bag, Sir," Nehemiah replied.
Unbob walked over to the doctor's desk and picked up his black bag. "Guess Dr. Cleese forgot it."
"Thank you, Mr. Finch. I have to go. My wife is going to have a baby." Nehemiah rushed out the door and down the stairs when he suddenly caught sight of something troubling in the not-too-far distance. Three men, the same three who were arguing with the Southern gentleman who threw him and his wife out of the hotel, appeared to be beating up that same dark haired Southerner out behind the far side of the church. Nehemiah dropped Dr. Cleese's bag and charged straight through the snow-covered field. There was very little light left as darkness was covering the sky quickly.
"Ain't no one to help you now, huh, Mosby?" one man said as he hit Mosby in the face while the other two held his arms.
Out of nowhere like a locomotive the man who threw the punch went flying hard into the ground, blood squirting out of his busted nose as he screamed in pain and reached for his face. Nehemiah grabbed one of the other men and flung him at least six feet across the snow where he landed hard, face-first in the snow. The third man threw a punch that barely fazed the large black man. Nehemiah swung his huge fist into the man's mouth, driving him back as broken teeth cut into Nehemiah's knuckles.
Mosby sank to his knees and watched in stunned silence as this Alabama giant spread his arms wide with a wing span that appeared to cover the entire Montana sky. Picking up the first man, Nehemiah swung a powerful, but awkward uppercut that drove into the man's jaw and sent him flipping over backwards as he crashed unconscious to the ground.
One of the other rabble that was beating up Mosby searched desperately until he found a broken tree branch and charged toward the large Negro. Nehemiah bent low and ran smack into the man's belly. The man groaned loudly as Nehemiah snatched the large branch and broke it in two across his powerful thigh. The man scrambled to his feet and ran off toward tent town.
The third man, the one whose teeth had been broken, drew his revolver from his holster just as Nehemiah turned to look at him.
"Hell no!" the man yelled and turned tail and ran in the same direction his other companion had just gone. Nehemiah, seeing the only attacker left was laying in the snow, went over and helped Clay Mosby to his feet.
"Can I help you to your home, Sir?" Nehemiah asked Mosby.
"No," Mosby replied, still slightly woozy. "No. I shall be fine in a moment."
Nehemiah stared with his dark eyes at Mosby. "I . . . have to leave, Sir," he said as he breathed hard.
Mosby nodded slightly as Nehemiah turned and ran quickly back to where he had dropped the doctor's medical bag. He scooped it up and hurried to his wagon and rode out toward the Cleese house.
Clay Mosby removed his white handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the blood off his mouth as he stood there near the gravestones.
As Nehemiah Vernon pulled up in front of the Cleese house, Paige opened the door for him. Nehemiah hurried inside and waited for Dr. Cleese to come out of the room his wife, Mary, was in.
"Where are them other nice folks?" he asked as he looked around.
"You mean my sister, Gretchen, and her husband, Call?" Paige Brandt replied.
"Yes, ma'am. They're the ones," he said.
"Ephraim said there was nothing they could do and too many folks hanging about was probably more distracting so they went home," Paige said.
Nehemiah smiled. "They sure are kind folks. Just like you."
Paige's eyes lit up. "Today is Gretchen and Call's anniversary. They've been married for one month. They are both so in love with each other. And next week is my oldest sister, Victoria, and Ephraim's one month anniversary. I can't wait to become an aunt. I'm so excited."
Nehemiah grinned and even laughed some. As he began to say something Dr. Cleese emerged from the spare room with an anxious look.
"Excellent. You have my medical bag." He grabbed the black bag and headed back to the room where Mrs. Vernon was now in the process of trying to have her baby.
"Doctor?!" Nehemiah nervously cried. "My wife? How is she?"
Dr. Cleese paused and turned. "Mr. Vernon, I must warn you that your wife is having great difficulty at the moment. I am doing everything within my power to make the delivery less complicated." He looked at Victoria. "Will you assist me, my dear?"
"Yes, Ephraim," Victoria answered and followed her husband into their spare room.
"Would you like me to pray with you, Mr. Vernon?" Paige asked.
Nehemiah dropped to his knees and nodded, "yes, ma'am. I would."
Mattie Shaw shook her head in amazement as she washed Clay Mosby's face. "I just don't believe it. You threw the man and his pregnant wife out of the Dove and he came to your rescue and single-handedly beat up those three men?"
Clay fumed. "How many times do you intend that I say it, Mattie?"
"Whoa, Clay," Robert gently suggested. "You needn't yell at Mattie."
Clay grumbled. "I know that, Robert. I apologize, Mattie. This . . . altercation has troubled me."
"Well," Mattie replied as she rung out the blood and dirt-stained cloth in her wash basin, "at least those men won't be bothering you any more."
"No," Robert agreed. "Sheriff Peale and myself locked the three of them up. What were you doing out there in the cemetery, Clay?"
Clay Mosby turned to Robert and looked at him. He stared for a moment then lowered his eyes. "I'd rather not say."
"Of course, Clay," Robert replied.
"First, those Italians come here and perform the Christmas Story. Where Joseph and Mary aren't allowed to stay anywhere in Bethlehem to have their baby. That was shameful the way folks treated them. Then, these other folks show up ready to have a baby and no one gives them a room in the ho . . ."
"That is enough, Mattie!" Clay ordered as he stood up suddenly. "I will not allow that kind of talk, do you hear me? There is no comparison between what happened with some people in another country a long time ago and . . . those disgusting people that came here. Now, I will not hear any more!" Clay marched out the front door and out into the cold December night.
"Robert?" Mattie said.
"Let it go, Mattie. You have to try to understand that Clay and I come from Virginia. Clay's family had slaves on their plantation. As did my family. We treated those people decently. It is a filthy and disgusting plague to witness a white woman from Alabama, or anywhere actually, to be married to a nigger."
"I didn't grow up that way, Robert. My daddy never taught me to hate folks just because of their skin color."
Robert looked at Mattie. "I want us to have something special, Mattie. I hope our backgrounds do not come between us."
"So do I, Robert," Mattie said.
Gretchen was busy mending one of her skirts when Call finally walked into their small house. She looked up from her chair by the table where a lamp burned and smiled.
"The horses are bedded for the night. I gave them each an extra blanket for the cold." He looked at his wife. "Didn't turn out quite like we figured, did it?"
"That's all right, Call, Sweetheart. We were together all day. I hope that woman has a strong child. I suspect they're going to need one with all the hatred they'll be facing."
"I reckon," Call nodded as he sat down next to Gretchen. "What about your folks? They raise you and your sisters not to look at color?"
Gretchen laid down her needle and thread. "St. Joseph, Missouri, is near the Kansas border. We were so young during the War. Father told us about the fighting and killing over whether we were a Union or Confederate state. I'm glad we were Union, Call." She looked at his face. "How can you see anything, Call? With your hair hanging in your face this way."
"I love to look into your blue eyes," Gretchen softly replied as she took her hands and brushed the hair out of his eyes. She smiled at him then giggled.
Call smiled and stood up. He held his hand out toward Gretchen. She smiled and stood up, putting her smaller hand in his. Around her neck she was wearing the locket Call had given her.
It was sometime during mid morning the next day when a weary Dr. Ephraim Cleese dragged himself out of the spare room. Victoria stood behind him exhausted. Paige was asleep on a couch as Nehemiah Vernon stood up. Unable to sleep, he had sat in the same chair throughout the entire night.
Mr. Vernon," Dr. Cleese slowly said, "I deeply regret what I must now tell you. Your wife and baby are both dead. I'm so very sorry. I tried to do everything within my power and abilities. I . . . I am so very sorry."
Nehemiah's legs buckled as he teetered. Ephraim and Victoria rushed to grab him.
"What . . . what happened, Doctor?" he asked as tears slid down his cheeks and splashed onto the floor.
"The baby . . . it was a boy . . . was born dead. It came out feet first and got tangled inside." Ephraim hesitated. This was the most regrettable part of being a physician. "Your wife was extremely weak. She was anemic. She bled too much. I couldn't . . . I couldn't stop the bleeding. I'm sorry."
Nehemiah Vernon shook his head. "The Good Lord gave her to me and he chose to take her away. I know that my son is in Heaven with his momma." He wiped his eyes. "Can I go in the room, Sir?"
Dr. Cleese nodded, feeling helpless.
An hour later the two bodies, wrapped in white sheets, were put in the back of the wagon owned by Nehemiah.
"You're welcome to bury your wife and son here on this land," Victoria said to Nehemiah. Paige stood by, tears in her eyes.
"Thank you, ma'am. You and your husband, and the others in your family have been so kind to us. I suppose I should bring them to that cemetery just above the town."
"But," Paige interrputed, "those people treated you so bad. Why would you go back?"
"The Good Lord says to love your enemies, ma'am. I think they'd like it up there where other poor souls are buried." Nehemiah snapped the reins and the oxen slowly pulled away with the wagon.
Austin Peale released the three men who were beating up Clay Mosby when Nehemiah Vernon came and drove the men away. One man had two broken teeth and another had a broken nose. Austin warned the men that Mosby would shoot them dead if he ever saw them anywhere near Curtis Wells again. The men mounted their horses and rode away.
It was cold. The snow had stopped falling. The sun struggled to shine through the thick, dark clouds that stretched across the big sky country. Alone, above the town on Cemetery Hill, Nehemiah Vernon struck an imposing figure as he silently dug a grave and buried his wife and newborn son. He cut his hand while etching the name Vernon on a crooked cross tied together with twine. Tearing a piece of the canvas that covered his wagon, he wrapped his hand and finished hammering the cross into the cold, hard ground.
"We got us some unfinished business with you, boy."
Nehemiah spun around. The three men he had beaten up to protect the dark haired Southern gentleman were standing behind him.
"You interfered and stuck your black nose where it didn't belong, nigger," a second man said. "Mosby would be dead if it weren't for you."
The three men drew their guns out of their holsters.
Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!
One of the men fell to the ground as the other two turned quickly. Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby were charging up the small hill on horseback, guns drawn and blazing.
"It's Mosby!" one man yelled. "Run!"
Mosby aimed at the man running toward the grove of birch trees. Bouncing, he steadied his aim and fired. The bullet tore through the man's thigh, knocking him to the ground. Robert fired at the first man who stood and rapid-fired his gun at Robert, shooting wildly into the empty air. Robert rode up and fired again, sending the lead projectile through the man's cheek. Robert drew rein and fired another shot into the falling man's head.
Clay turned on his mount just as his victim rolled and aimed his gun at Clay. Clay fired three quick shots into the man's belly. He groaned and squirmed in pain on the cold, snowy ground then went limp and stopped breathing.
Nehemiah Vernon had crouched on the ground, covering his head with his arms. As he stood up, Mosby turned to him. "We're even now. Get in your wagon and leave."
Nehemiah groaned as he grasped at his stomach and bent over. Mosby spun around to see the first man they had shot. He leaned against a tree on his knees. Robert rode up and fired into the back of his head, killing him instantly.
Clay turned back to Nehemiah as the tall black man slumped to the ground and died.
Robert rode up alongside Clay Mosby. "We tried, Clay."
"It wasn't enough, Robert," he replied as he stared at the dead man. Clay dismounted and as the snow lightly fell from the heavens, he pulled off his brown duster and took the shovel from the hand of Nehemiah Vernon and began digging a grave to bury the man near his wife.
+++++++++++++++++++++ The End +++++++++++++++++++
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