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.


Last Ride of Johnny Reb
Conclusion of previous story, "Honor and Responsibility"
(28th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

I think you better call John
‘Cause it don't look like they're here to deliver the mail
And it's less than a mile away
I hope they didn't come to stay.

("Powderfinger" - Neil Young)

Mattie Shaw stood in the church doorway. She was defiant. Either, an angel of light, or a messenger of doom. Folks sitting near the interruption would later swear she had been drinking, due to the odor of alcohol and the slight slurring of her words. Whiskey bolstered her courage. Pulling a daring stunt -- stopping Mosby's wedding, required courage.

"She's not carrying your baby, Clay!" Mattie proclaimed. "She was never examined by Dr. Cleese!"

"Make her leave, Clay!" Ashley protested, tugging Clay's arm.

Clay Mosby's jaw tightened. His entire body tensed. "Damn it, Mattie! Why did you wait until now to hurl these accusations against Miz . . ."

"Mr. Mosby! Mr. Mosby!" Zeke pushed Mattie aside. "We have an urgent matter, Mr. Mosby!"

Can it get any worse? Clay wondered. "Don't stand there, Zeke," he dictated. "What could possibly be so urgent as to interfere with my wedding?!"

"Soldiers, Mr. Mosby! At least twenty men. There's a man saying he owns the town and everyone owes back taxes! Everyone! Including you, Mr. Mosby!"

"WHAT?!" Clay bellowed. He turned to Ashley. "Forgive me, my dear. This warrants my immediate attention. We shall deal with this disturbing accusation upon my return. Is that understood?"

"Of course, dearest Clay," Ashley replied. Her smile was confident.

"Robert! Austin! Come with me!" Clay ordered, hastening out of the crowded church.

Ashley Jessup and Mattie Shaw squared off, rekindling an old memory of Bill Hickok and Dave Tutt, for one old gent in attendance. Instead of drawing pistols, the women stared daggers at each other.

***

Clay Mosby marched south across the open field, a half dozen men alongside or behind him, advancing on a regiment of maybe twenty horse soldiers. They appeared to be an irregular band of motley-looking hard cases -- each man outfitted in his own unique style of uniform.

"Who's in charge, here?" Clay demanded, staring at the two lead horsemen.

"That would be me, Sir." The voice came from Clay's left flank.

Clay turned, staring at three men stepping out of his saloon and down into the muddy street. A thin, well-dressed man stood flanked by two mean-eyed types, both showing signs of battle scars.

"And, just whom might you be?" inquired Clay, to the thin man.

"Stovey! Marcus Stovey, Sir." He grinned -- as if concealing something amusing. "You must be Mosby?"

Clay puffed his chest slightly, placing his fists on his hips. "Clay Mosby. Colonel Clay Mosby. I don't quite fathom the need for all these soldiers."

Marcus Stovey nodded. "It's to be expected. To be expected, I say." He cleared his throat and adjusted his shirt collar by moving his neck. "It's a simple matter, Mr. Mosby. I hold the deed for all of this land in which these buildings now stand. I filed a claim for this entire area, making me sole owner of Curtis Wells. It was all brought about after the Black Hills Expedition, back in . . . '74, I believe?" He laughed. "Gold. It's an ugly business."

"Excuse me?!" Clay remarked. His hearing had just played tricks on him, no doubt.

"I will repeat myself, Sir. I own the land. I have come to collect back taxes as well as rent for your buildings on my property. You, Sir, merely own the wooden buildings, nothing more."

"This is preposterous!" Clay acknowledged. "You can't be serious?!"

Marcus Stovey smiled. "Did I neglect to introduce my right-hand men. Captains Jeptha Bowles and Gooly Robinson. Both well trained in guerilla warfare. Of course, why shouldn't they be anything other? Both were quite adept when they rode for William Quantrill, some years ago. Perhaps you're heard of Quantrill's Raiders, Mr. Mosby?"

Mosby chose, at least for the moment, to hold his tongue. It would be of no avail to taunt an enemy he wasn't sufficiently informed on. Calling Quantrill's men butchers would only stir a pot that was already near boiling. It would benefit Clay to keep a level head. If he were to act rashly, disaster might well prevail.

Marcus Stovey cleared his throat once again. "My men have nailed posters on all buildings. They are self explanatory. We have set up a temporary camp approximately one and a half miles southwest of Curtis Wells. We return later in the week. I hope . . . bloodshed can be avoided. We despise violence." The two Quantrill men snickered as they mounted up and turned in the street, riding west, past the windmill.

"Clay? This can't happen," Robert Shelby said.

Before Clay Mosby could reply, Miz Ashley Jessup hurried to his side. "Clay! I heard all of that disgusting man's speech. I simply must whisper something to you this very moment." She leaned close and spoke quickly.

Clay looked at her as she concluded. "That is pure genius, Miz Ashley." He gazed admiringly at her. She curtseyed. "Now, if you will excuse me, my dear, Robert and I have urgent matters to attend to." He turned to Austin. "You and Zeke enlist as many fighting men as you can find. It is my intention to deal with this in an orderly fashion. However, we must be prepared for battle. Come, Robert. Accompany me to the telegraph office."

*********

Mattie Shaw withdrew to her shop, wishing she were some burrowing animal that could conceal itself in darkness. She would have to find solace in an environment of single action Colt .45's and Winchester carbines. She hadn't expected this new interruption to play into her plan. Unbob and young Dewey sat quietly watching her. "Unbob," she finally said, "take Dewey outside. I have to think of a way to help Clay with this new problem."

"Are you all right, Mama?" Dewey asked, placing a small, dirt-stained hand on her knee, before Unbob herded him toward the open back door.

Mattie smiled warmly at the boy. "Yes, Dewey. I'm fine." Of course, it wasn't true.

*********

Josiah Peale searched feverishly through several discarded piles of old newspapers to determine the validity of Marcus Stovey's astonishing statement. Amanda Carpenter personally worked alongside him, combing every document and letter that had been saved for years. Josiah admitted that it could fall within reason that no one had ever filed a claim for the land that Curtis Wells stood on. It was a disturbing thought. How could someone purchase a building, without being entitled to the land it resided upon?

********

Ephraim Cleese was quite content. Not only was his wife, Victoria, attractive, she was educated and surprisingly knowledgeable. He had on occasion entertained thoughts of one day expanding his practice to include a full time nurse as his assistant. He saw no reason why Victoria couldn't be that person.

"What are reading, Ephraim?" Victoria asked, sitting in the chair directly across from her husband. Having just bathed, her dark brown hair hung below her shoulders.

"I was deeply engrossed in the most recent edition of American Medical Weekly, from Louisville, Kentucky. Volume 14." He smiled.

Victoria allowed her long, silk robe to open slightly, lifting her foot to gently caress Ephraim's leg. "Is there anything interesting in this issue?"

Ephraim nodded, hardly taking notice of his wife's amorous affections. "Yes! Sir William Osler discusses his findings, which he has appropriately named, Osler's Syndrome. It concerns recurrent episodes of colic pain, with typical radiation to the back."

"Yes," Victoria softly replied, "as well as cold shivering's and fever."

Ephraim looked up from his journal. "That is precisely correct, Victoria!" He paused, staring at her admiringly.

Victoria let her robe open completely, revealing her naked body. She stood up. "We won't have a lot of opportunities such as this, Ephraim. Paige is at Gretchen's to help Newt. The baby will continue to grow," she looked at her stomach, which had begun to show.

Ephraim stared at Victoria's body. "Yes! I am in agreement. Perhaps we should take advantage of this rare, and delightful occasion." He stood up and quickly led Victoria up the stairs to their bedroom.

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

"Gretchen!"

Gretchen opened the door, peering in at her husband. "What is it, Call? You're supposed to be sleeping."

"Can't hardly sleep none with you two jabbering like a pair of blue jays out there. Where's my britches? I need to get out of this bed . . . and move about."

Paige poked her head into the room. "He's a feisty one, isn't he, Gretchen? I think Ephraim's medicine loosened his tongue. Just listen to him go on. And he says we're jabbering." She laughed and smiled at Call.

Call nodded. "I feel a mite sorry for whatever man you throw your rope around."

"Well," Paige replied, "when I finally meet him, I'll be sure to ask your approval first, Call." She laughed more and shrugged. "Well? You are my big brother now, Call."

Gretchen sat on the bed, taking Call's hand. "We're knitting clothes for the babies, Call. Our baby and Victoria's. I suppose we could talk quieter."

He shook his head. "No need for that. Just want my britches so I can move about. Wouldn't be proper with your sister here."

"I'll give you your britches tomorrow," Gretchen said. "I promise, Call. Ephraim was serious about you staying put in this bed. You could get a fever, or an infection." She lifted the wet bandages from where the bear had ripped his side open. She winced. "I better put clean bandages on you, Call. Paige? Would you bring a bucket of water in here so I can clean my husband's wounds?"

Paige headed outside.

"You're opening these gashes every time you toss about, Call. Do you need any of the laudanum? You haven't taken any since Ephraim gave you that first sip."

"I don't want none," Call mumbled.

Gretchen leaned down carefully, kissing Call on the mouth. "I would climb under the covers with you if Paige wasn't staying with us," she whispered in his ear, her warm breath tickling.

Call smiled at his wife. "Got me something worth waiting for now." He reached out, touching the inside of her thigh, causing Gretchen to blush, as she bit her lower lip.

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

Ashley Jessup stepped out onto the balcony, admiring the sunset far beyond the windmill. She waited patiently for Clay or Robert to address her. As far as she knew, Mattie had not been allowed to see Clay. It had been a hectic day -- men scrambling to prepare for a possible fight -- citizens debating whether this intruder had a claim to the land.

Clay Mosby turned to Ashley, holding his hand out. Smiling, Miz Jessup reached out to allow Clay her small, soft hand. "The moment we settle matters with Mr. Stovey, I assure you, my dear, we shall speak of these accusations brought by Miss Shaw. I will find out exactly whom is lying to me."

Ashley looked at Clay, nodding.

"I am, however," he continued, "eternally grateful to you for your brilliant suggestion."

Her face lit up. "Oh? Were you able to reach your cousin, John?"

Clay sighed. "Yes. With great difficulty, I might add."

Robert Shelby leaned on the railing. "Tell her, Clay."

"Well," Clay began, "I sent a wire to Virginia. My cousin, John Singleton Mosby had been dispatched to a place called Hong Kong three years ago. As a United States Consul. I received a wire stating that John Singleton is currently back in the country. Although temporarily, I was informed that his whereabouts were strictly confidential."

Ashley lowered her gaze, groaning quietly. "But . . . you said . . .?"

Clay shrugged, smiling. "Upon sending a second telegram, I learned that John Singleton is currently celebrating a reunion with some of his command from his days as the Gray Ghost. It is quite inconceivable that my cousin, John Singleton, could possibly be so close, but, he is in Great Falls."

"You mean . . . was in Great Falls, don't you, Clay?" Robert Shelby remarked.

"Yes, of course, Robert," Clay replied. "It has required a better part of the day to reach him, as well as briefly inform him about the circumstances. John Singleton, was quite willing to enlist the help of his former command, to come and . . . shall we say, assist us." He raised Ashley's hand, bending to lightly kiss it. "Now, not another word concerning weddings until we have rid ourselves of this Mr. Stovey."

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

Clay Mosby observed his town from the front of his saloon. It was quiet now -- nearing midnight. Whether this Marcus Stovey had a legal claim or not, Clay wasn't about to roll over and hand his power to some smart, fast-talker with a small army at his side.

"Clay?"

Clay recognized Mattie's voice. So deep in thought had he been, he hadn't heard her walk across the street. Hadn't even seen her, for that matter. "I do not intend to speak about your foolish actions today, Mattie. Not until matters of greater urgency have been dealt with."

Mattie leaned back against one of the posts that supported the balcony. She stared out at the darkness. "Sometimes at night, I lie awake and just think," she said. "I wonder about different things. Like if you and I left Curtis Wells and just rode off somewhere."

Clay struck a match and lit his cigar. He quietly listened.

"It seems Call found happiness . . . real happiness," she commented.

Clay frowned. "The man is a fool, Mattie."

Mattie turned her head sharply, looked at Clay, then turned to stare into the darkness once more -- that comfortable shroud that allowed one to retreat from the harsh actualities of life. "That Missouri girl he married seems happy, too."

Clay's irritability was mounting. "She's as big a fool as he, Mattie. They'll both no doubt be scraping the rest of their lives." Clay smirked. "And she is going to bear Call a child? His son will never amount to anything productive."

"They're happy, Clay," Mattie replied quietly. "We could be like . . ."

"I could never be anything like Newt Call, Mattie. And I find it rather offensive that you would even suggest it." Clay had reached his limit.

"I can give you strong sons and daughters, Clay."

"This conversation is over. Good night, Mattie." Clay turned, went inside his saloon, and closed the door.

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

It was early afternoon, the next day, when one of Marcus Stovey's men rode into town. He dismounted and went inside the general merchant store, causing an observant Robert Shelby to cross the street, where he stood outside the Lonesome Dove Hotel, and enter the Ambrosia Club.

"Clay!" Robert called out. Clay Mosby knew Robert well enough that the tone of his voice meant urgency. Clay immediately joined Robert near the doors. "Across the street. Watch!" Robert said, pointing to the building to their right.

"How very interesting," Clay surmised when Stovey's man exited the general store and quickly mounted up, then rode off.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Clay?" Robert asked, staring at Creel's store.

"It would seem that our Mr. Creel is perhaps a traitor . . . not that he was ever trustworthy." Clay turned to Robert. "I have an idea, Robert. Obviously, I am inspired by the coming of my famous cousin, John Mosby. I thoroughly believe he would approve most readily of this plan."

Robert eagerly awaited orders.

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

Sheriff Austin Peale dropped his hat on the table and sat next to his father. "Did you find anything, Father?"

"It's hopeless," Josiah grumbled. "We don't have anything that was ever recorded about owning the land. It was just assumed when someone bought a building that the land went with it. If Marcus Stovey actually filed a claim for the land in and around Curtis Wells, that means he will control our town. Even Mosby won't be able to do anything."

Amanda stopped at the table. "Coffee, Austin?"

"Yes," the sheriff replied.

Amanda smiled at Josiah. "A little honey for your coffee, Josiah?"

Josiah looked at Amanda and smiled, then quickly looked at Austin. "Uh . . . perhaps later. Uh, I mean . . . soon, Amanda." He lifted his cup, gulping some, as he nervously spilled some of the coffee on his chin.

Amanda nodded at Josiah then walked away. Toying with men was still enjoyable.

Austin frowned. "As sheriff, I might have some unpleasant duties to perform."

Josiah thought about it. Was it true? Was Marcus Stovey's claim legitimate?"

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

The next morning Clay Mosby stood outside the Ambrosia with Robert Shelby and Sheriff Peale. They watched as Creel unlocked the door to his general store, then went inside.

"I'll give Mr. Creel ten seconds before he comes charging outside," Clay Mosby predicted.

. . . eight, nine, ten, eleven . . .

"Sheriff! Where's the sheriff?!" Creel began screaming as he emerged from his store.

"Hmm?" Clay replied, "my counting must be off. That required eleven seconds!"

"Sheriff!" Creel yelled, angrily storming across the street. "I've been robbed! My back door was broken into and supplies are gone! Thieves! Thieves!"

"Perhaps it was Marcus Stovey's men?" Robert Shelby offered.

"No! It wasn't Mar . . . !" Creel paused.

"Do go on, Mr. Creel," Clay urged. "It wasn't . . . ?"

Creel hesitated. "I suppose it could be anyone. Well, sheriff? Are you going to do anything?"

Austin nodded. "All right, Creel. Let's have a look."

Clay and Robert looked at each other, nodding slightly.

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

Gretchen shook her head. "I guess your mind is made up, isn't it, Call?"

He nodded, moving slowly at first, then slightly quicker. "I'm healing just fine, Gretchen."

She handed him his holster belt and gun. "I suppose I should be thankful you stayed in bed as long as you did. Well, Victoria and Paige will feel a lot better when they see you."

"I reckon we best take the wagon. I expect we'll be using it to ride out to Hat Creek in a few days. Can't chance you falling off a horse with the baby." Call headed slowly outside with his wife alongside him, her arms tightly wrapped around him.

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

It happened early in the afternoon. The pair of ex-Quantrill men rode into town -- Gooly Robinson and Jeptha Bowles. They tethered their mounts in front of the jail and after talking with Sheriff Peale, systematically entered each building to remind the occupants that taxes and rents were due in three days, on Friday, the 24th.

The pair stepped inside the Brandt Sisters' dry goods store and taking an extra notice of the three Missouri girls, closed the door.

"Looky here, Jeptha. We done died and went to heaven," Gooly commented, staring at the three sisters. "We were just fixing on popping our heads in the door and reminding you about your taxes being due in three days." He turned to the other man. "I think maybe we can make us a little deal with you girls?" He laughed.

"You'll have to talk to my husband," Gretchen replied.

Call stood up from where he was sitting in the corner and walked up to the pair. "You boys best get out of here."

The pair looked him over. "Hell," Gooly said, "you look like my horse chewed you up and crapped you out, boy. Why don't you go take a walk before we get . . . uuhhh!"

Call drew his knife and grabbed Gooly's head, then shoved the tip of the blade against his throat, under the jaw. "I ain't of a mind to repeat myself! You best get!"

Jeptha Bowles went for his gun but Mason Dobbs stepped out from the back of the store, his gun already in hand. "I'll wager you're not stupid? Ugly, maybe. Not stupid."

Gooly growled at Call. "You don't know who you're messing with, boy. We can be real mean. We rode with 'Bloody Bill' Anderson and Bill Quantrill."

"Put the knife down, Call!" Austin Peale ordered, standing in the doorway. "Call! I said put it away! Now!"

"These bastards got no business in here, Austin," Call replied, holding the blade on Gooly.

"I'll take care of it," Austin said. "Don't make things any worse than they are, Call."

The pair of Quantrill men followed Austin outside. Both Call and Mason knew they might come back.

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

An endless stream of clouds silently crossed the dark expanse, as two shadowy figures sat atop their horses just outside of Curtis Wells. Neither man talked -- only when one opened his pocket watch to see it was past midnight did they nod to each other. Minutes later, the sounds of approaching horses could be heard. Nearly one dozen riders pulled up to meet the two men.

"Cousin Clay! What in the hell are you doing so far away from dear old Virginia?"

"Hello, John," Clay replied. "It's good to see you again. You remember Robert Shelby?"

"Indeed, I do," John Singleton replied. "You're looking quite sturdy, Captain Shelby."

"And how is your dear wife, Pauline, John?" Clay said. "Has she succeeded in converting you to being a Roman Catholic yet?"

"She's tried, Clay," John Singleton replied. "Our children grew up attending services." He dipped his thumb and finger inside the top of his shirt, pulling out a small medal. "I still wear this cross Pauline gave me during the War." He smiled then. "You know, we've been married twenty-five years now, Clay."

Clay nodded. "I am eternally in your debt, Cousin John. I find myself in a situation which the Gray Ghost will be most at home."

John Singleton Mosby laughed. "Well, the Gray Ghost, as well as my men, are all a little long in the tooth now days, Clay. I think we still have enough fire in the belly to root out these varmints you've wrote me about."

"Well, good," Clay agreed. "Shall we begin?"

John Singleton Mosby looked at his cousin and said, "I shall mount the stars tonight!"

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

As John Singleton Mosby's horse cantered through fields of patchy snow, his Rangers commented that they would have the honor of serving two Mosby's for this engagement against an enemy boasting greater forces. John Singleton had relayed to his cousin as they rode, that Stovey's forces were double in number what Clay had initially presumed -- rising from twenty soldiers to at least forty strong. John Singleton Mosby had prepared a plan of battle, choosing to reprise a bluff he had executed with remarkable results during Jeb Stuart's ride around McClellan on the Peninsula. Clay Mosby was delighted to finally, these many years later, ride into battle with his famous cousin.

John Singleton Mosby halted movement as they neared one of the two camps set up by Marcus Stovey. Tents had been pitched in an open field -- a small group of cavalry pickets lazily on guard. By now it was well past 2am. The ideal time for one of the Gray Ghost's romps. John Singleton considered being outnumbered by two to one odds as unfair -- that is, for the enemy, having merely only twice the fighting men as he. The years hadn't failed to dim his enjoyment of strategical warfare or his ability to suddenly appear as if by magic upon an unsuspecting and startled enemy.

With his loud and authoritative command which shattered the quiet of night, Mosby's Rangers charged with guns exploding through the half-asleep pickets and tent-bound soldiers of fortune, causing confusion within the enemy camp. As Stovey's men emerged from their tents and their slumber, they witnessed John Singleton Mosby galloping across the field, shouting orders to phantom troopers. Confusion was immediately transferred into chaos and panic as Stovey's men fled, deserting their mounts as well as their weapons.

Clay and Robert led the charge which captured and stampeded two dozen horses. John Singleton rode with reckless abandon through the camp, scattering men in all directions. As Mosby's Rangers fired shots harmlessly into the black sky, the entire troop of irregular soldiers either fled into the nearby frigid waters or had vanished, clad only in long johns.

As had been his practice during the War, John Mosby allowed his men to claim any horse or weapons for their own -- which in turn would be sold off to be used for each man's family needs.

Spouting a magnificent victory, John Singleton Mosby, with his cousin, Clay Mosby, and Captain Shelby, retreated to a nearby forest where his men would rough it until called to action the following night.

As John Singleton and Clay sat before a small campfire, they spoke of fate's cruel punishment being inflicted upon their bones. John Singleton recounted to Clay how his wife, Pauline, a devout religious woman, had lit candles and prayed fervently for long months upon hearing the tragic news of Mary Mosby's brutal death. She had prayed daily for the souls of the dead as well as for comfort for young Francis Clay Mosby.

"I suppose it was Pauline's prayers which during my darkest and most depressing moments stayed my hand from taking my very life," Clay quietly remarked. "I neither cared whether I lived or died."

Robert Shelby didn't reply. Although he had made it clear when he and Clay first arrived in Curtis Wells, before the bank robbery, that he hadn't set foot inside a church for years, he still prayed for Clay occasionally during those long, lonely times when Clay Mosby was at his absolute lowest point of existence. Clay had loved and adored his Mary with all his being, holding nothing back from their timeless love. He wouldn't acknowledge it, but he saw in Newt and Gretchen Call a love that surpassed all understanding.

Robert and Clay rode back to Curtis Wells before sunrise. Clay was deep in thought. He anticipated the sordid affair with Marcus Stovey and perhaps the last remaining Quantrill men would expire soon enough, allowing him to deal with Ashley Jessup and Mattie Shaw, neither of whom would ever remove the sacred memory of his precious Mary.

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

Robert Shelby paused, noticing Mattie alone at one of the dining room tables. "Hello, Mattie. I . . . suppose it's Clay you truly prefer . . . ?"

Mattie looked up -- her eyes swollen from lack of sleep and tears. "Maybe I'm a fool, Robert. It seems you Southern gentlemen aren't interested in a woman who wears pants. I guess it must be in the upbringing. Has Clay said anything to you?"

"I'm afraid not, Mattie," was Robert's reply. "We have a serious situation to deal with first."

Mattie nodded while dipping the small spoon into her coffee cup and stirring repeatedly. "I won't run away. This is as much my town as anyone else's. I'm staying."

"Of course, Mattie. No one expects you to leave. Perhaps Clay will choose you still. I have to find Clay now, Mattie." Robert awkwardly departed from her table. He could hear the spoon hitting the cup as Mattie stirred unconsciously.

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

Having finished brushing her oldest sister's hair, Paige Brandt went to her own bedroom. Ephraim closed the door, climbing into the large bed with his pregnant wife, Victoria.

"It was quite fortuitous that Newt was prepared for those ruffians yesterday," Ephraim commented.

"Yes," Victoria agreed. "And his Uncle Mason remained close by today as well." She looked at her husband. It was obvious to Victoria something was troubling Ephraim. She took his hand, kissing it. "What's the matter, Ephraim? Is it the baby?"

"My goodness, no!" he quickly answered. "I am delighted that you not only wed me, but now carry my child as well." He sighed. "I was merely struggling with my insecurities. I feel rather inadequate concerning yesterday's encounter in your store."

Victoria leaned over, pausing to stare at Ephraim with her warm brown eyes. She kissed him on the lips. "Ephraim Cleese. I think you are the ideal man. You are kind and sensitive. You aren't prone to spending your time and earnings inside a saloon. You are well educated. I believe you are the perfect man for me. And I am forever grateful to you for your generosity in allowing my youngest sister to live with us." She kissed him again.

"I . . . I didn't protect you. Call did."

"Gretchen and Newt are a match made in Heaven, Ephraim. He's wild and uncivilized and Gretchen is perfect for him. Just like you couldn't be content with either of my sisters, you and I are also a match made in Heaven."

Ephraim smiled. "Thank you, Victoria. I needed some reassuring, I suppose."

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

By midnight, Clay and Robert were riding across the cold, Montana countryside with John Singleton Mosby and a dozen of his old Rangers. What had been a temporary leave from his assignment in Hong Kong, was turning into a memorable last ride for the Gray Ghost. He informed his cousin Clay that Marcus Stovey and his men were holed up inside a two-story farm house three miles west of last night's camp sight.

As they drew near the darkened farm house, a sentinel hailed them, not realizing they were the enemy. Upon his recognition of Clay Mosby, the guard attempted to draw his pistol, dying before he could fire a warning shot -- his throat slit by one of John Singleton's Rangers.

The men were split into two groups. One group gathering the horses while John Singleton led the other's into the house. As they advanced downstairs, men were passed out, their drunken bodies strewn on furniture and the floor. John Singleton carefully avoided kicking the uncorked whiskey bottles scattered across the floor. A handful of scantily clad women slept near the men -- most likely, whores.

The Mosby Cousins -- John Singleton and Francis Clay, climbed the flight of stairs and entered the bedroom where they expected Marcus Stovey to be asleep. It was obvious that Stovey had not yet heard about last night's engagement. Two empty bottles sat on the nightstand near the bed and a whore in bed with him.

"Rise up, Mr. Stovey!" Clay loudly said. John Singleton fired his pistol, lodging his bullet in the ceiling, causing the couple to waken. Shots were fired downstairs as Mosby's Rangers whooped and hollered.

"You?! Mosby!" Stovey said. "Are you executing my men?"

"Only the ones that draw their weapons on us, Sir," John Singleton replied.

"Stop!" Marcus Stovey cried. "I'll do anything you say! Please?!"

Clay Mosby grinned. "Oh, I am quite certain, Mr. Stovey, that you will be helpful. How did you come by the deed to Curtis Wells?"

"It's a fraud. I've been working a scam with Gooly Robinson and Jeptha Bowles."

"Then, I expect you will sign Curtis Wells over to me," Clay ordered.

"There was never any filing done, Mosby. Just set me free. I'll leave," Stovey begged.

Robert Shelby entered the room. "Clay! Everyone is accountable except those two Quantrill men."

"What?!" Clay replied. "Where are they, Stovey?"

"I don't know," he answered. "Those backstabbing sons of bitches deserted me. I hope you find them and castrate them both."

"Shut up and get dressed, Stovey," John Singleton Mosby said. "It's going to be a long walk back to Great Falls for you and your men."

John Singleton elected to share half the spoils with the whores, justifying that their being there had made his job easier. Horses were provided for the women as well as wagons.

Marcus Stovey and his men were bound as prisoners and forced to ride double under heavy guard back to Great Falls, where they would face charges for their crimes.

"I'll have to get out here again," John said to Clay, "once I finish my assignment in Hong Kong. Good seeing you Cousin Clay."

"Give my best to Pauline, John," Clay replied. "And, thank you."

"Us Mosby's make a first rate regiment," John Singleton said, as the cousins separated.

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

Settling for two and a half hours of sleep, Clay rose by mid morning. There was no advantage to lying in bed when troubled thoughts flashed with brilliant colors and sounds, making it near impossible to drift off. He had somehow managed during these past few chaotic days to reason out every detail pertaining to Mattie and Ashley. His decision was made. All that was required now was executing his intentions. This would be a far more difficult task than the late night fighting that had just ended.

Mattie looked up as the door to her shop opened. "You look a mess," she remarked to Clay, noticing the dark circles under his eyes. His disheveled appearance suggested he had slept in his clothes.

"I imagine I must be quite a sight," Clay quietly replied. "It has been . . . a most unusual week . . . to say the least." He smiled at her. "I thought you should be first to know what I have decided to do."

Mattie's eyes lit up -- her heartbeat quickened.

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

Clay knocked softly on Ashley Jessup's door. She had been sitting downstairs in the hotel's dining room when Clay crossed the street, going to Mattie before visiting her. A sick feeling wedged itself in her stomach, causing her to immediately retreat to her room.

Ashley now opened the door, allowing Clay to enter. She didn't smile.

"I spoke to Mattie," Clay said. "I suppose it is only decent that I inform you of my decision in regards to my future with her."

Ashley's face was sullen. Her eyes vacant. Life was far too cruel.

"Perhaps you would prefer sitting down?" Clay suggested.

"No," Ashley replied, her voice emotionless. "Just say it, Clay ."

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

The next day, Friday, February 24, 1882, Call pulled to a stop near the church. He climbed down from the wagon and helped Gretchen, carefully lowering her to the ground. "I reckon I can leave the wagon here." He looked around. "Seems as if every wagon in these parts is here for Mosby's wedding."

"Are you sure you won't come inside, Call?" Gretchen asked.

Call shook his head. "I ain't set on attending Mosby's wedding." He nodded to his wife. "There's your sisters and Ephraim -- waiting at the door. You look real nice, Gretchen."

Gretchen Call hugged her husband, kissing him. "Girls like weddings, Call. It's just the way we are." She giggled and pushed her head into Call's chest.

Call wrapped his arms around Gretchen. "I'll be over there, behind Ephraim's." He pointed to the back of the building.

Gretchen nodded and turned, hiking her dress and hurrying to join her sisters for Clay Mosby's wedding.

********

Reverend Scully looked around. The bench seats were all full. There would be no interruptions this time. He smiled at Clay Mosby. "Are you ready, Mr. Mosby?"

Clay Mosby nodded. "I'm ready. Shall we proceed?"

"Of course," the preacher man replied. "And you, Miss Ashley Jessup? Are you ready?"

Ashley smiled brightly. "Yes, Reverend. I am ready."

"Then let us get on with this wedding," Reverend Scully happily replied.

********

Call sat on the bottom step leading up to Dr. Cleese's office. He waved a stick idly in the ground waiting for the wedding to end.

"I guess we must be the only two folks in all of Curtis Wells not inside the church."

Call looked up. "Oh, hey, Mattie." He looked across the field to the church. "I reckon."

Mattie boosted herself up on an empty gun crate behind her shop. Call casually flipped the stick away and strolled over to her.

"Nothing seems to work out for me . . . where romance is concerned. Is there something wrong with me, Call? Is it because of the way I dress?"

Call shrugged. "Nope."

"What is it, then?!" Mattie begged. "How does it happen, Call?!"

"It just does. Can't force it, Mattie. Just happens." He frowned. "Why ask me? I don't rightly know."

"It happened to you and your wife," Mattie remarked.

Call stared at her. His face tensed. "You can't even say her name, can you?"

Mattie hesitated. "Would it matter, Call? Whether I say your wife's name, or not?"

"Nope. Nothing's gonna change how I feel about her. Her name's Gretchen and I'm bound to her, forever."

As they spoke, two men rode up to the church on horseback. They quickly dismounted and moved with haste toward the doors, their pistols drawn.

"Sonofabitch!" Call loudly said. "It's them two Quantrill men!" He drew his Colt and ran into the field. He grunted, sharp, intense pain radiating from his side where the bear had ripped into his flesh. He refused to slow down, concerned for his wife. Mattie drew her gun and followed him.

Gooly Robinson and Jeptha Bowles kicked open the church doors and cocked their guns. "Die! You bastard, Mosby!"

"NO!" Ashley Jessup screamed, stepping in front of Clay Mosby.

Bam! Bam! Gunshots were fired and folks screamed. Ashley Jessup fell to the floor. There were more screams.

"Gretchen!" Call yelled. "You bastards!" Bam! Bam! Bam!

Mattie fired. Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!

Gooly Robinson and Jeptha Bowles both turned. Bullets had riddled their bodies, front and back. They fell to the floor, writhing like lizards whose backs were broken. Within moments they were both dead. Call and Mattie charged through the doors.

"Gretchen?!" Call yelled, his eyes wide with fear.

"Call! I'm here," Gretchen cried. She stood up from her hiding place behind the bench seats and ran to him. "Miss Jessup's been shot!"

Mattie stared as Clay Mosby bent down near Ashley. Her white dress was stained with her blood, which was now on Clay Mosby's trembling hands as he lifted her. The unselfish act of sacrificing herself only bolstered Clay's choice having been the correct one. "Ashley! Ashley!" he cried.

"Uuuhh," she groaned. "Clay?" She extended her arms to hug him. "Uuuhhhh! My arm!"

"Be still, Ashley," Clay urged. "You were shot in the arm, trying to save me." He lowered her to her feet, though with care and gentleness. Dr. Cleese reacted with immediate action, removing bandages from his medical bag and securing the wound to slow the bleeding until he could extract the bullet from her arm.

"Doctor?" Clay Mosby said. "The ceremony is nearly complete. Is it safe enough to delay one more minute?"

Dr. Cleese nodded. "Yes. It is only a flesh wound. It is not as dangerous as it appears, due to the loss of blood.

"Then allow me to finish the final question," the parson replied. He turned to Clay and Ashley. "Do you, Francis Clay Mosby, take Miss Ashley Jessup as your wife?"

Clay looked at Ashley. "I do."

"Do you, Miss Ashley Jessup, take Clay Mosby as your husband?"

Ashley winced from the pain and the blood, then smiled, her sapphire blue eyes lighting up. "Yes! I do take Clay Mosby as my husband!"

"Then I now pronounce you man and wife. Mr. and Mrs. Clay Mosby."

"Hurry, Cleese," ordered Clay. He lifted his new bride into his arms and rushed out the doors, pausing to acknowledge Newt Call and Mattie Shaw. "Thank you, both, for saving her life."

"It was . . ." Call began, as Gretchen nudged him and frowned. She knew he was about to tell Mosby it was his own wife's welfare, as well as her sisters, prompting his timely actions.

He looked at Gretchen, then back to Mosby, saying, "you best get your wife tended to, Mosby."

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

Candle lights flickered in the darkened room. Two piles of clothing lay neatly folded on two chairs. It was quiet.

"I never expected my wife to be bandaged on our wedding night," Clay Mosby said.

Mrs. Ashley Mosby giggled. She was content to feel her naked flesh pressed close to the warm, naked body of her husband. She unconsciously let her fingers play with Clay's chest hairs. "What did you say to Mattie Shaw yesterday? Before coming to see me?"

Clay leaned in, putting his lips on Ashley's neck. He traced his lips down her neck, to her good shoulder.

"Clay? Please tell me?" Ashley insisted.

"Oh, very well," Clay grumbled. "But is this really necessary right now?"

She let her good hand slip under the covers, taking hold of his manhood and squeezing.

Clay jumped. "What are you doing?! That hurt!"

"Tell me, Clay, dearest. I want to know right now!"

Clay shrugged. "I merely explained to Mattie that her accusations were unfounded and whether there be any substance to her words, it had no bearing as to my decision."

Still holding him under the covers, she smiled. "You mean . . . you believe me, Clay? About being pregnant?"

"Hardly, my dear, Ashley. I figured out that you most likely had not conceived yet. However, I intend to have a son from you as soon as possible. I expect we shall be . . ." he laughed slightly, " . . . enjoying ourselves in a most lustfully delightful adventure."

"You aren't angry with me, Clay?" Ashley asked.

"As long as you give me a son. I will expect you to assist me in my vision of power and stand faithfully by my side. I expect you will know your place."

Ashley winced as she rolled on top of Clay. She began gyrating her hips. Slowly, at first. Then faster, causing Clay's breathing to quicken. She could feel him responding underneath her. "I have a long night planned for you, Clay Mosby. Why, I just might even conceive a son for you tonight." She laughed and started the wedding night, as their bodies joined together.

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

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