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.


Departure
(31st in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

I am learning a lesson that not one could have taught me but experience,
the ways of the world . . . who could by telling me, make me sensible of what
I have seen and felt since I left home to travel.

(Susan Magoffin - February 16,1847 - on the Santa Fe Trail)

"Just one drink, Call. One lousy drink. Maybe two . . . or three."

"Ain't got time, Luther. We aim on pulling out directly, me and Gretchen."

Mason Dobbs grinned -- he knew where this would lead to. A tussle with maybe two knockdowns -- both to his nephew, Call.

"You're like an old maid, Call." Luther stood with his powerful arms dangling -- blocking the doorway to Mattie's gun shop. "You can't avoid your friends, Call. We ain't about to let you ride off to Missouri for two or three weeks without a drink."

Call gazed up at the hulking figure of Luther Root. He cast a foreboding stance. "Luther," Call groaned, "I come here to get me some .45's. I ain't of a mind to drink now. Just get out of my way."

"I'm not moving, Call. First, we drink." He looked casually over at Mason. "Is it going to be two against one?"

Mason shook his head, still grinning. "Not today, amigo. I'll wager this is a friendly occasion of fisticuffs. Newt, here, is wearing long britches. He don't need me." He winked at Luther.

"That the way you want it, Luther?" Call said, resigned to fighting his way into the gun shop.

Mason moved a few feet aside. "Coyote Girl won't like this none," he mumbled.

"Dammit, Luther!" Call grumbled as he stomped up the steps, advancing on the man-mountain. "Get your fool ass out of my way! I'm done talking!"

Luther grabbed the smaller, wiry Call and hoisted him off the wooden sidewalk. "I'll carry you to the Ambrosia if I have to!"

Call raised both his fists and drove them like hammers into Luther's shoulders. The big man merely grunted then hurled Call backwards. Call landed on his back, causing his body to arch as he grunted from the blow. He tensed and scrambled to his feet, foolishly charging headfirst at Luther. Call slammed into Luther's body, driving them both against the clapboard front of Mattie's shop. The building trembled from the blow.

"One drink, Call!" Luther bellowed. He used one long arm to separate Call then drove his sledgehammer-like fist into Call's face, knocking the smaller man back into the street for a second time.

Mattie dashed out of her shop. "Get away from my shop! You're knocking things down."

Call laid on the street, a dull throbbing on one side of his face. He shook his head, clearing the tangles of hair out of his eyes -- blinking to stop the small explosions of lights in front of his eyes.

"Stay down, Newt," his uncle suggested. "For once, just accept you've been whupped."

"I'm going in that shop and buy me some bullets," Call remarked, standing up slower this time.

"Call! Call! What are you doing?!"

"Uh oh!" Mason commented. Call's wife, Gretchen, and her younger sister, Paige, were rushing down the street.

Call turned, hearing his wife's cry. He frowned.

Luther looked at Mason and said, "Women! They spoil everything."

A few of Twyla's girls stepped outside to watch -- as did some of the town folks.

"Call?!" Gretchen moaned as she reached her husband. "We're set to leave."

"Go on back to the store, Gretchen. I'll be along," Call replied, staring at Luther.

"Forget it, Call," Luther stepped in front of them. "Can't have no fun fighting with women interfering. Come on, Mason. Let's you and me have us a couple drinks. All I done here with Call was work up a powerful thirst."

"Hello, Mr. Root," Paige smiled. "Hello, Mason."

"Uh, howdy, ma'am . . . uh, Miss Brandt," Luther replied. He paused, looking at Call. "Stay out of trouble in Missouri, Call. I don't want to ride that far to get you out of jail."

Mason paused, placing one hand on Gretchen's shoulder and the other on Call's shoulder. "You two travel safe. I'll ride out to the house on occasion and check things."

Call nodded and Gretchen hugged Mason. Call went inside the gunsmith with both sisters and bought a box of .45's. Mattie stared at the two Missouri girls.

"Heard you're leaving," Mattie sharply said. She noticed Gretchen and Paige staring at the guns -- it was the first time either of them had ever been inside Mattie's shop.

"Yep," Call said. "Me and Gretchen are pulling out right now."

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

First, Gretchen Call cried. Then, she began giggling. Call's fight with Luther brought about the tears -- which were nothing more than emotional release from being pregnant. The giggling was from the love and joy with her sisters.

"I wish I was going with you to visit Mother and Father," Paige said. She hugged both Gretchen and Call tight. "I'll miss you two very much. Very much!"

"It would have been so nice for all of us to travel together," Victoria added. "Ephraim is just too busy. Being the town doctor has its own drawbacks at times." She hugged Gretchen, then hugged Call. "Newt. I know you'll take wonderful care of Gretchen. Here! Take this. It's some things Gretchen should eat while on the stage and the train." She began crying. "Ohh! I didn't want to cry."

Dr. Cleese walked up to Call. "Your wife should be able to handle the travel. It's still fairly early in her pregnancy. If it meets with your approval, I would like to examine her once you return from Missouri. Please enjoy yourselves. If I could mange a few weeks away from the my practice, I would have enjoyed taking Victoria and Paige to St. Joseph."

All three sisters shed tears as Call helped his wife into the wagon. The Hellbitch and Sugar were tied to the rear of the buckboard. It would prove convenient to leave the horses at Hat Creek -- until they returned from Missouri. They would board the stage in Miles City -- travel south to Fort Laramie, Wyoming -- change over to the Union Pacific Railroad, taking them south to Cheyenne -- then east through Ogallala, Nebraska -- straight to St. Joseph, Missouri.

The three Brandt Sisters waved to each other as Call led the wagon away. It would be the first time in years they weren't all together.

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

Robert Shelby was lost in thought. Thoughts about trust. He trusted Clay Mosby. Their trust was solid -- like the sun rising each morning into the sky. When they were boys back in Virginia, Clay's father once had told the pair that the sun was constant -- never once failing to appear in the sky. That was how Robert felt his trust with Clay was -- it was constant.

Ashley Jessup Mosby was another matter. Robert's feelings about trust with Ashley weren't solid. The foundation was there for trust, but it would require time. Ashley was just too complicated to figure out.

"Well, I just don't know, Clay, dearest," Ashley confessed. "That dreadful little house is much too small. Where would the servants stay?"

Clay looked at Robert -- it was a look of frustration. "I happen to be of the same mind, my dear. We do, however, have options. As you are well aware, it will require time to construct a mansion outside of town -- perhaps even where we stand."

Robert Shelby gazed at the land they stood upon -- just west of the windmill, entering Curtis Wells. A dandy location for the Mosby home. Welcome to Curtis Wells. Or, perhaps one day, welcome to Mosby, Montana?

"My desire is to one day return home, where we belong, Clay. Either New Orleans or perhaps Virginia. Why, I suppose even Alabama would be better than this uncivilized frontier. There are French settlements down there. Demopolis."

"That is why I propose we consider the possibility of purchasing a rather formidable mansion that is no longer occupied, and within acceptable travel distance to and from town."

Ashley's sapphire blue eyes lit up. "Does such a place exist, Clay?"

"Indeed, it does, my dear, Ashley," Clay proclaimed. "South of town -- behind the Ambrosia Club -- two miles away, stands a . . . quite extravagant and luxurious mansion. It is rather costly but I see no reason why we could not make it our own home." He shrugged. "Until something else develops."

"What of the servants, Clay?" Ashley persisted. "You do know that I must have servants."

"It has already been seen to, my dear," Clay replied. "I am quite certain you will find the hired . . . help, to your complete satisfaction. Come, now. I have other matters to attend to."

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

Call and Gretchen were among the six passengers boarding the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage, Mail & Express Line. A cavalry private's wife and two small children, and an older gentleman completed the list. Outside the ticket office, under the words F. D. Yates & Co. were the not-so-reassuring words: Expect Annoyances, Discomfort, And Some Hardships.

At one point during the second day's journey, the stage descended a steep hillside with wheels "double rough-locked." The fear of God was upon all but the older gentleman as the coach tipped toward the edge of the cliff. The sure-footed horses managed, having tread this particular route dozens of times.

When the subject of steamboat travel was mentioned, the older gentleman boldly stated, "I have spent two months of my life on a Montana Steamer. We dealt with cracked roofs, warped decks, the broiling of passengers during fair weather and the drenching of passengers in foul weather. Two months of life between a double wall of muddy bluffs bounding the river, cutting off all scenery beyond. Quite a tedious experience! Not to lose sight that the Missouri River froze in spots. I prefer to travel in these small, uncomfortable coaches."

Gretchen found this to be a somewhat more difficult journey than last year's nine hundred mile trip with her sisters when they first traveled from St. Joe to Curtis Wells. It was her pregnancy causing the problem now. She had to deny herself the afternoon meal of fried ham, fat pork, fried potatoes, hot biscuits, and muddy coffee.

As Call and Gretchen continued south into Wyoming, they rode with another married couple, affording them slightly more room, as the others no longer accompanied them. The constant bouncing and rocking of the coach eventually took a toll on Gretchen. She found herself at times needing to lean near the window or lay her head in Call's lap. Though overcome with nausea from being pregnant, she never lost her stomach.

After an extended and much needed nap, Gretchen accepted an apple given her by Call. It had come from a young widow with three small children who ran one of the stage stations. It had saddened Gretchen to observe the youngest child, a barefoot girl in rags, clinging to her mother's apron. The young widow confided that her husband died of a broken neck from a tragic fall while repairing the roof during a severe rain storm. His act of foolishness had placed the woman in an unenviable position. She would now be at the mercy of lustful men passing through. She had no recourse but to remain.

As the baby inside Gretchen continued to grow, her thoughts were turning more to motherhood.

****

Days passed until the Call's reached Fort Laramie, Wyoming. It was time to change from the stagecoach to the train.

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

Amanda Carpenter paused at Clay Mosby's table. "More coffee, Clay?"

Clay reclined with his leg crossed, wearing his gray pants and coat. He nodded to Amanda.

"It seems to be quieter around here now that Call and his wife are gone," Amanda commented. "He's too disruptive. Fighting in the street with Luther. Or fighting in your saloon with Austin. I'm just thankful he hasn't destroyed anything in here."

"I understand his wife has quite a little temper. Her sister, Victoria, has mentioned she tends to break things all too often." Clay laughed at his words. "Quite a pair, wouldn't you say?"

"Speaking of pairs," Amanda added, "have you noticed Mattie Shaw's been spending more time with Call's uncle lately?"

"Mason Dobbs?"

"Who else, Clay?" Amanda replied. "Does that bother you?"

"Why should it?" Clay said, drinking his coffee.

Amanda shrugged. "Well . . ."

"Mattie has always been a friend -- nothing more. I believe a man such as Mason Dobbs is better suited to a woman like Mattie. Besides, that little orphan brat of hers is quite fond of Mason."

Amanda noticed another customer in need of her. "I have to go, Clay."

Clay Mosby nodded and drank his coffee.

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

As Dr. Cleese returned to his office, he was met at the bottom of the stairs by Ike and Unbob. As always, Ike was the ringleader and Unbob, his reluctant partner. Ephraim paused, not sure he was hearing correctly.

"Excuse me, gentlemen?" said the doctor. "You intend to do what?"

"Sell everyone that goes inside Twyla's a sanitube," Ike proclaimed. "You've heard of them, haven't you, Doc?"

Dr. Cleese nodded. "Yes. As a matter of fact, they are fairly new. I'm . . . I'm just perplexed as to how you would have come upon them?"

Ike hesitated, puffing his chest and smiling smugly. "I sent away in that Sears & Roebuck catalogue. I got me a whole mess of them. One hundred sanitubes. Me and Unbob can make money selling them and it'll prevent everyone from getting syphilis or any other diseases."

"And the directions are real simple," Unbob added. "You take the little tube and squeeze the . . ."

"Yes, Unbob!" Dr. Cleese interrupted. "I am quite aware of how a sanitube works." He stared at the two enterprising geniuses and smiled. "I see no reason why your suggestion cannot prove beneficial to not only the men who engage in acts of prostitution, but to protect Twyla's ladies, as well."

Ike removed his bowler and tapped Unbob on the arm. "See, Unbob? I told you we could make money selling these things. I been saving them for months, just waiting for something like this to happen. Come on, let's go sell them at Twyls's."

"Thanks, Dr. Cleese," Unbob said, following behind the brains of the twosome.

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

When Clay Mosby looked up and saw the back of the stranger, he said nothing, but felt a strange sensation. It was late. The Ambrosia Club had finally emptied and he was anxious to close the saloon and return to his wife, Ashley.

"I'm closed, friend, " he said, somewhat angry that this bag-of-bones would saunter in with such audacity. Clay squinted, staring at the man's back. There seemed something familiar about the round hat, the long coat and the shoulders that drooped. Clay stood up from where he sat. "I said . . ."

The stranger turned around. Clay's eyes widened.

"Hello, Clay."

"Claudia Harrell?!" Clay initially thought it was a trick of his mind. Yet, she stood there in front of him. "Claudia?! How is it possible?! I . . . you . . . you should . . . ?"

" . . . be dead?" She finished the sentence.

Clay was shocked to see Claudia Harrell, alive. It was as if one of his Confederate brothers whom he had seen die, now walked into the Ambrosia. "I don't understand?" he breathed. "Dr. Cleese gave you at most, a year."

Claudia walked up to Clay. Her legs appeared weak and wobbly. She looked like death, walking. She had lost weight -- being not much more than a human skeleton now. Her eyes had sunken into the sockets and her face and fingers were swollen. It seemed she could barely stand. Suddenly, she bent over, coughing continuously.

Clay grabbed her, straightening her body. "I need to get you upstairs -- into a bed."

Claudia's coughing fit seemed to steal all her strength. She nodded between her coughing attack and allowed Clay to lift her fragile body into his arms.

"My God, Claudia! You're just bones!"

She smiled at Clay. Thought death was in her eyes, an air of contentment now surrounded her. She laid her head against Clay's chest as he mounted the stairs, carrying her into his own room. He poured her an inch of brandy and watched as she swallowed the drink.

"I'm so tired, Clay," Claudia began. She looked at his face and laughed. "I never thought we would ever see each other again." Her voice was weak -- her words took an effort.

"Nor did I," he replied, sitting alongside her on the bed.

She took hold of his hand -- her grip weak. "Uhh . . . ohh. Where do I begin." She coughed violently. "Your doctor never realized just how strong and determined I was to finish the things I cough cough cough planned. Ohh! Please? Brandy."

Clay tipped the bottle over the glass, pouring another inch. Claudia nodded and drank slowly, struggling to swallow the liquor. She sighed deeply. "I headed north into Canada. I was safe there. I left the wagon." She paused, closing her eyes. "I . . . came back to the states and met a man named Robert Koch. He's a bacteriologist. He couldn't save me. I was given medicines that only managed to cough cough slow down the eating away of my lungs. He said he discovered a germ that he plans to reveal to medical people this year."

Claudia Harrell paused, looking at Mosby. "I must be quite a sight." She shook her head, weakly. "You're as gorgeous as ever, Clay." Suddenly, Claudia reached up and pulled Clay with the little strength she had left, and kissed him on the mouth.

Clay returned the passionate kiss, holding a woman that had become barely more than bones. "Rest up here tonight," Clay instructed. "I shall return early in the morning."

"I came here to die in your arms, Clay."

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

Clay Mosby stood outside the small house behind the Montana Statesman where he was temporarily living with his wife of one month. He was in shock. Seeing Claudia Harrell had caused his body to tingle behind his ears and down his neck -- down his back and legs and through his arms. It was impossible! She was supposed to be dead. It was a miracle she had survived long enough to return to Curtis Wells where death seemed to loom above her, just waiting for the final seconds to snatch the last breath of air from her decayed and ravaged shell of a body. She might have cheated death for a time but it was painfully obvious that death would claim her any day now.

He was glad she had returned -- yet he hated her for selfishly putting him through this horrible ordeal. And, what about Ashley? How would she react to this unusual request by a dying woman? Her dying wish should hold as much merit as a dying man's would.

Clay walked into the small house. He would explain things to Ashley. Surely, she would be understanding.

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

"NO! . . . No! No! No!" Ashley protested. "You will not go back into your saloon and stay with her, Clay! I forbid it!"

Clay stood calmly by. "Perhaps I should no longer allow your little . . . flirtations that end in copulation, my dear?"

Ashley ignored the remark and approached Clay. "Instead of using my fortune to carve your empire up here in this dreadful frontier, why don't we return home where we belong, Clay? We could rebuild in South Carolina. Or, even Mississippi."

"I will not allow you to change the discussion, Ashley," Clay replied. "I have not denied you anything your lustful heart has wanted."

"Yes! And you know every time Robert and I meet, Clay." Her voice was angry. "I am very discreet in my actions."

"You have been quite admirable, thus far, Ashley," Clay said. "However, if I ever hear of a sordid encounter with someone else . . . I will hang both of you outside my sheriff's office."

"You won't hear of anything, Clay! Have I ever shamed you?"

"There is always a first time, Ashley, dear." Clay grinned at her.

She now wrapped her arms around him and began to cry. "Clay, I can't control myself. It's a curse! A rotten curse. I'm consumed with lust. I need it so bad."

Clay held Ashley, kissing her head. "I know that.," he softly replied. "It is for that very reason I am finding just the right servants . . . for both of us, of course."

Ashley suddenly dropped to her knees -- staring at the bulge in front of her eyes. She began unbuttoning Clay's pants. "Force me to be bad, Clay!"

Clay grabbed her hair roughly . . . and forced her!

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

Gretchen Call sighed. She tugged her husband's tangles of hair hanging out of his hat.

"What'd you do that for?" Call inquired.

"Because, you're beginning to get tense. I can tell, Call. I know it's because of all these people." Gretchen looked around the Union Pacific Railroad depot in Fort Laramie, Wyoming. "We're together, Call. That's all that matters. Just you . . . and me . . . and the baby." She smiled warmly and leaned in to kiss him. As Call responded, Gretchen bit his upper lip, then bit his lower lip. She giggled and hugged him.

Call smiled at his wife. She had a power over him. She could calm him in a way no other person ever had before. "All right, Coyote Girl. I reckon we best climb aboard this train."

Gretchen took Call's hand and entered the long, narrow car, finding their small bench seat. "I was on a train once before," Gretchen said. "Papa took us girls for a ride. It was so exciting. Mother had a fit trying to keep Paige and I in our seats."

Outside the train a crow cawed in a tree nearby. Folks were filling the train, heading for different destinations.

"Seems to me your older sister still has fits with you and Paige," Call teased, pulling Gretchen closer.

"Paige told Victoria that she kissed Dish Boggett when everyone spent the night at our house. Victoria wasn't very happy."

Call shrugged. "Heard me some strange grunting sounds from the room Mosby and his wife shared with Shelby."

"I suspect we all heard those grunts, Call," Gretchen replied. "They were quite loud."

The train shook and jolted -- folks lunged forward as the Union Pacific slowly began moving.

Gretchen suddenly started to cry.

"What's ailing you, Gretchen?" Call asked, concerned for his pregnant wife.

"Oh, Call," she replied, smiling at him. "These are happy tears. I'm so very happy. I love you so much, Call. You're so good to me. This will require all the money we had saved up."

"Ain't like either one of us is set on being rich," Call remarked, as the train gained momentum. "Besides, I'll be running horses back and forth to Hat Creek. We'll get on just find, Gretchen."

Gretchen ignored the fact that there were folks watching them and kissed her husband on the mouth, hugging him tightly.

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

Despite Ashley causing him to erupt twice, Clay Mosby quietly arose from their bed and hastened to dress. He departed from his wife's side, into the brisk night's darkness, where it was silent. Clay walked quickly to his saloon and entered. He paused, looking at the stairs and reflected momentarily on Claudia Harrell's last words just an hour before. I came here to die in your arms, Clay.

Slightly unraveled at Claudia's almost-ghostly appearance, Clay quietly pulled two stairs at a time as he returned to his bedroom. The moon's pale light cast an eerie glow on Claudia's face -- almost as if she had already died -- content that she had once more kissed him.

"Claudia?" Clay quietly whispered. He stared at her swollen face. She stirred -- death hadn't claimed her yet. It was only a matter of time -- she would depart from this world, forever.

Clay sat down in the chair at the side of the bed. He had sat patiently there once before, when Robert Shelby had foolishly robbed a stage and ended up with a bullet and some tin watches. The only difference was, Robert healed. Claudia would not. If it was her last wish to die near him, Clay had no recourse but to honor her request. He closed his eyes.

****

He must have drifted off to sleep, for when Clay opened his eyes, sunlight, rather than moonlight, was shining at an angle through the window that faced the street. Claudia was awake, though deathly pale now. She smiled at Clay, struggling to take hold of his hand.

"Was there no one else?" Clay whispered, cupping her swollen hand between his two strong hands. "Why me, Claudia?"

She opened her mouth to speak but began coughing almost uncontrollably. Clay provided his white handkerchief for Claudia. She coughed up sputum and blood -- too much blood.

"You were the one man, Clay, that made me feel more alive than I ever had before. Even more than Edward." She began shaking. Sweat was dripping down the sides of her temples. "I'm cold and hot."

"Perhaps if I were to bring Dr. Cleese back he . . ."

"No, Clay. Cough, cough, cough! No one can do anything. It's too late. It was sheer stubbornness and willpower that kept me alive this cough, cough, cough long."

Clay stood up. This was affecting him. Tormenting him. Watching men die in war was natural. Having to be witness to this agony and torture -- watching a young woman die. It was too much. He poured himself a drink, and then a second drink.

"Go easy on that, Clay," Claudia said in a hoarse, raspy voice. " Cough, cough. Uh! Ohh!" She tried to breathe but air came in only short gasps now. Painful gasps.

"Try to relax, for God sakes, Claudia," Clay urged.

"I would like to see Hannah once more. How many children does she have now?"

Clay looked at the floor, solemnly. "Hannah died a very short time after you left, Claudia."

She attempted to sit up but no longer had any strength. "She died?! How?"

"An explosion," Clay replied, swallowing hard and squeezing his eyes tightly together.

Silence followed.

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

It was a ninety-three mile ride from Fort Laramie to Cheyenne. They passed the desolate lands where nothing but sagebrush grew. Jack rabbits and lizards were the only signs of life that inhabited this bleak territory.

The Call's changed trains in Cheyenne -- boarding an eastbound train. Cheyenne, Wyoming, was intimidating for Newt Call. After spending his life in tiny Lonesome Dove, Texas, and the small town of Curtis Wells, Cheyenne was huge. Gretchen laughed as Call stared at a two-story schoolhouse and a county hospital bigger than any six buildings combined in Curtis Wells.

"Wouldn't Ephraim be thrilled if he were in charge of that hospital?" Gretchen mentioned.

Call couldn't quite get over the size of Cheyenne. Gretchen knew her husband would never be happy in such a big a town. That was fine with her. She treasured them living in a small community.

Call smiled at Gretchen -- hypnotized by her green eyes. She laid her head on his shoulder. "The locket you gave me on our one month anniversary I hope to have us pose for a photograph together, Call. I've been waiting to put a photo of us in my locket." Gretchen held the gold, heart shaped locket away from her chest. "Forever," she whispered, reading the inscription engraved on the back. She looked at the flower patterns on the front and hugged Call. "I can't believe it, Call. One year ago I was leaving St. Joseph to go to Montana with Victoria and Paige. Now, we're married and our first baby is growing inside me. Call! I'm so happy!"

"I expect I'll be holding my head high when Clara Allen meets you."

Gretchen smiled. "That's such a sweet thing to say, Call. I hope she takes favorably to me."

"Don't hardly figure how she wouldn't," Call mentioned.

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

Ephraim and Victoria closed the door to Call and Gretchen's house and walked to their wagon. "Have you noticed that I seen to be bigger with child than Gretchen is?" Victoria commented to her husband.

"I am quite aware of the difference," Ephraim remarked, helping his pregnant wife up onto the springy bench seat. "After all, I am a physician. It's my job to notice these things."

"We both conceived at nearly the same time," Victoria continued. "I have to admit, I am a little concerned about Gretchen."

Ephraim put his hand on Victoria's knee. "I assure you that your sister is quite well. It isn't unusual for one baby to grow larger than another. If your sister was experiencing any difficulties whatsoever, I would have strongly suggested she not make the exhausting trip to Missouri. As it is, I would expect our baby to be bigger than Gretchen's baby when both are born."

Victoria nodded. "Thank you, Ephraim. I suppose we really should ride into town. We both have our businesses to run.

Paige came running out of the house. "I'm sorry I took so long, Victoria. I love listening to Gretchen's music box. I miss her so much."

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

Rosa sat with her legs straddled across Mason Dobbs. She gazed at his face -- content that she had satisfied the one man in Curtis Wells who meant anything to her.

"Was it good, Senor Mason?" She knew the answer -- hearing it made her feel better.

Mason winked at Rosa and showed her a toothy grin. He nodded, still slightly out of breath.

Rosa laid her naked body on top of Mason. "I'm surprised to see you. I thought you might want to take Mattie Shaw for your woman."

"Why would you think that?" Mason asked. He ran his fingers across the small of her back.

"The boy, Dewey -- he favors you very much, no?"

"I like the boy," Mason replied. "I'm just not ready to let a woman throw her rope around my neck. I expect I'll ride back to Texas one day."

Rosa rolled over and stood up. She grabbed her silk robe from a chair and slipped it on, leaving it open in front for Mason to enjoy. She picked up the bottle of whiskey Mason had brought and handed it to him. "You know how I feel about you, Mason. Ever since you defended me against Sheriff Peale, most men won't touch me. They say I'm your woman. I would like that, Mason." She sat on the bed and lowered her eyes to the floor. "I would even be your servant. It would be better than being a whore."

"I'll wager you could be a lot more than just a servant, Rosa." Mason looked at Rosa's brown breasts. "I just may come one day wanting a Mexican woman named Rosa to ride away with me. No commitment."

"Such talk!" Rosa replied. Her dark eyes blazed with fire and even hope. "I would be good as your woman, Mason. I don't complain. I can work hard. I would never say no. Not even in the middle of the night. I don't think a lot of wives are like that."

Mason pulled Rosa to the bed and rolled on top of her. "No more talk."

Rosa grinned.

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

The Ambrosia Club remained closed all day. No explanation -- no sign in the window. Customers stood outside grumbling -- eventually settling to relocate in tent town to drink in the No.10. Amanda crossed the street once and peered inside the darkened saloon. She rattled the doors then went away. Austin came by twice, doing the same. He finally approached Robert Shelby in the hotel and questioned him.

"I wasn't aware that Clay hadn't opened," replied Robert. "I'll find out if Clay is sick." He decided to visit the small house behind the Montana Statesman and talk to Ashley.

"He left me in the middle of the night." She was still in her nightclothes and angry. "Some woman named Claudia is upstairs in his room. He said she's dying. I don't see why that has anything to do with my husband, Robert. I trust you will see to it, for me?"

"Of course, Ashley," Robert agreed. "I cannot say I remember Clay speaking of a woman by that name." He looked at her body -- it was difficult not to stare. Even with her hair a mess and dressed as she was, Ashley Mosby was still quite stunning. "If you remain angry, perhaps we . . ."

"I am much too upset at the moment to think about that. The things he made me do last night . . ." She paused, remembering her unladylike behavior.

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

Using his key, Robert Shelby unlocked the back door to Clay Mosby's saloon. There was no advantage to entering from the front if it were to peak the interest of those best not knowing what was transpiring within. Robert stepped inside and allowed his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He quietly crossed the wooden floorboards and slowly climbed the stairs, pausing outside Clay's room.

"Clay?" Robert knocked softly and waited. "Clay? It's me! Robert." He heard muffled voices.

The door opened slightly. Clay stepped out, closing the door. "What is it, Robert?"

"What's going on inside, Clay? Your wife is angry. You haven't been home or opened the saloon. I'm concerned," Robert said.

Clay took hold of Robert's arm, walking him to the stairs. "A little over three years ago, a woman named Claudia Harrell passed through here. She was dying. By some unusual set of circumstances, she still lives -- however brief her time. I fear she is going to depart from this world before night falls. She came to die in my arms, she said. I can hardly refuse such an exquisite request, now can I, Robert?"

Robert thought about it. "I suppose not, Clay. But, your wife . . ."

"Ashley is the least of my problems at the moment, Robert! That moron, Ike, has enlisted Unbob into his latest scheme -- selling sanitubes to Twyla's customers."

Robert began to laugh -- causing Clay to momentarily smile. "I suspect we'll be finding soiled pieces of paper littered about the town."

"A rather unsightly tableau," Clay replied. "I look to you to oversee things until Miss Harrell dies."

Robert nodded. "As you wish, Clay." He quickly descended the stairs, leaving Clay alone with the dying woman.

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

It was sometime during the night -- after midnight but before dawn -- when Claudia Harrell breathed her final, painful breath. She died as she wished -- in Clay Mosby's arms. His eyes reddened and became glassy as he looked at her pale features. He had removed the men's clothing she wore and replaced it with the white dress with the red sash she wore for him three years ago.

When the end came, there was nothing Clay could do. He stared with addiction at her face. There was no smile -- no look of terror. Only death. Clay held her in his arms until he found himself beginning to nod. He gently lowered her cold, lifeless body on top of his bed and covered her. He would have her placed in the finest coffin Unbob could make, then bury her either behind the church, or on the hill. Exhausted from the unexpected event, Clay trudged slowly to the temporary house where Ashley awaited.

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

A wagon waited for Call and Gretchen when they stepped off the Union Pacific in Ogallala. It was a fifteen minute ride north of town to Clara Allen's rebuilt home. As Call and Gretchen neared the large, two-story house, Clara's daughters -- Sally and Betsey -- were eagerly waiting.

"Mama! Mama!" Betsey, the younger one, cried. "Here they come!"

Sally wasn't quite satisfied. "I don't think it's Newt, Mama," she said, squinting to see the approaching couple.

"Yes, it is them!" Betsey excitedly argued.

"No . . . no, it isn't," Sally countered. "The man driving the wagon has long hair and looks real shabby. Newt doesn't . . ."

"Oh, hush, girls!" Clara calmly replied. "People change. But some things about them never do." She smiled. "It is Newt! It's them!"

The wagon pulled up to a white picket fence. Everyone stared at each other. "Miss Clara," Call said, smiling at her.

"Come down from that wagon, Newt!" Clara replied, waving her arms high in the air. "And bring your lovely wife."

Call nodded and climbed down, being sure to help his pregnant wife off the wagon first. Clara wrapped her arms around Newt, hugging and swinging him back and forth.

"Ohh, Newt! Newt! I'm so tickled to see you." She embraced him as if he were her long lost son -- the prodigal's return.

Call let go, putting both his hands on Gretchen's waist,proudly saying, "this here's my wife, Gretchen. Clara Allen."

Gretchen curtseyed. "Mrs. Allen."

"Oh, just call me Clara. It is my name." Clara wrapped her arms around Gretchen, noticing her stomach. She stepped back, holding her hands to her mouth.

"You're going to have a baby! Newt! You're going to be a father!" Clara excitedly said. She turned to her daughters. "You remember my girls -- Sally and Betsey."

Call nodded.

Sally and Betsey sort of stared at Call. Not sure what to make of him. Neither one seemed taken in by his appearance.

"Well, come on!" Clara urged. "Let's all go inside and get reacquainted. "Come with me, Mrs. Call . . . Gretchen," she said, affectionately hugging Gretchen once more, leading her into the big house.

*********

Newt Call finally had to excuse himself so he could go with July Johnson to look at the horses out in the north pasture.

Clara Allen knew both her girls had been waiting to talk privately with Gretchen. "Sally, here, used to be sweet on your husband, Mrs. Call."

"Mama!" Sally cried, embarrassed.

Gretchen giggled. "Was he really so different? I keep hearing he was."

It was Sally and Betsey's turn to giggle now.

"Newt was so innocent . . . I would have adopted him in a heartbeat," Clara said. "The poor boy was raised by men -- Texas Rangers -- after his mother passed. He was only a little boy." She was quiet for a moment. "More cool lemonade, Gretchen?"

Gretchen nodded. "Thank you, Clara. It tastes as good as my own mother's lemonade."

"Can I ask you something?" Sally cautiously said to Gretchen. "Do you like the way Newt looks now? Does it appeal to you?"

Gretchen smiled. "I arrived in Curtis Wells almost a year ago with my two sisters. I saw Call sitting on a bench when I stepped off the stage. I fell in love with him the first time I saw him. I really did." She looked down at her stomach and placed her hands there. "We're having our first baby later this summer. I'm so excited and I love him so much. He's so good to me."

"But, he looks so . . . grubby," Sally replied. "And you look so . . . clean."

"Sally! That wasn't polite!" Clara scolded.

"It's a fair question. I don't mind at all," Gretchen said, smiling. "He reminds me of the Pony Express riders. I don't mind the dirt. My sisters are both more attracted to well dressed men. Although, my younger sister, Paige, has taken a fancy to one of the cowboys who came from Texas with my husband. But, I was always different, that way. I think Call looks perfect the way he is. I wouldn't change anything on him. He's perfect!"

"He was so nice to us -- playing with us on the picnic," Sally said. "Does he treat you nice?"

Gretchen smiled warmly and nodded. "He's so unselfish. He even danced with me and he doesn't like to dance -- not in the least. He just puts me ahead of everything else. He makes me feel so special. As if I was the only girl in the whole world the way he looks at me. I believe we both feel the same about each other."

Clara Allen quietly smiled -- watching Gretchen talk to her daughters. She had heard about Newt losing his first wife and the drastic change it caused him. Yet now he seemed to find peace again. "I think you're the perfect girl for Newt, Gretchen. The two of you made a fine looking pair. Oh? Which cowboy were you referring to that came north on the drive that's taken an interest in your sister?"

"Dish Boggett," Gretchen replied.

"Dish?" Clara said.

July Johnson's small son, Martin, woke from his nap and was peeking at Gretchen from the doorway. Clara finally said, "come say hello to Mrs. Call, Martin. And don't forget your manners."

The small boy ran into the large room and stopped at Gretchen's side. "My name is Martin. Lift me up!"

Gretchen giggled, bending over to lift the child. "Oohh!" she replied, sitting up and reaching for her lower back. "I'm sorry, Martin. I have a baby inside my tummy. Can you climb up and sit in my lap?"

"I can climb," Martin proudly boasted. He scooted up in Gretchen's lap and looked at Sally and Betsey. "You can't sit in her lap. You're too big. I'm just the right size."

"He's adorable," Gretchen smiled. "I hope to hold our child soon."

Clara could see Newt had found himself a good wife. A woman who would love her husband and the children she would bear him.

"He's a little brat, sometimes," Betsey remarked.

"I am not!" Martin retorted. He suddenly wiggled out of Gretchen's arms and ran off.

*****

Call returned an hour later. "Found twenty-two horses I believe that'll suit the Cap'n."

Gretchen rose, hugging Call. "I missed you, Call."

"I missed you, too, Coyote Girl," he quickly replied.

"I like her, Newt," Clara said. "I like her, a lot! Gretchen told me the names you two picked out for the baby."

Call nodded, holding his wife close to him.

"You've changed so much, Newt -- since I gave you that little sorrel with the star on its head."

He nodded slightly. "We're obliged to you, Miss Clara."

"On your way back from Missouri, if you have time, we'll have a picnic," Clara announced.

Gretchen smiled, looking at Call. "That would be so nice, wouldn't it, Call? A picnic."

"Yep. It would be nice."

Clara Allen hugged Call and Gretchen -- three more times. She walked outside with her girls. "I'll send a telegram to Captain Call. I know you'll take good care of your wife, Newt."

Call looked at Gretchen -- her green eyes staring into his. "I reckon she's all that matters to me. And, the baby."

"Good bye, Clara," Gretchen waved.

Clara waved. "I'll send July and Cholo into town to get the wagon."

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

Claudia Harrell was buried on the hill, behind town. Ashley Mosby was concerned for her husband. He appeared listless and quiet. She sought out Dr. Cleese.

"I'm afraid your husband has been through a moral crisis, Mrs. Mosby. He isn't quite himself, right now."

"Yes, I can see that, Dr. Cleese," Ashley remarked. "What I wish to know is how long will he be this way?"

"I'm not sure," Dr. Cleese replied. "Clay Mosby has to a degree, experienced his own crucible. It has been quite stressful to his mind. You must be patient. Perhaps he will snap out of it by tomorrow. It is not that simple."

"He has me. And, of course, Robert."

"This woman -- Claudia Harrell -- I expected her to die long ago. The chemicals . . ." Ephraim shook his head. "None of us would ever have thought it possible for her to survive as long as she did. Obviously, modern medical techniques are not quite accurate in many respects."

"That is all well and good, Doctor," Ashley replied, "but it was appalling and selfish of her to put such a burden on my husband. She's gone and departed and I am left with having to console Clay. And all you can tell me is be patient?!"

"Mr. Mosby is quite strong," Dr. Cleese persisted. "He will overcome his grief."

"Yes," Ashley said, turning to leave. "I will see to it that he does that very thing!"

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

Call and Gretchen boarded the Union Pacific, eastbound for St. Joseph, Missouri. They would arrive in Gretchen's hometown by Saturday, April 1st. She talked about Clara Allen and how much she liked her as the train pulled out of Ogallala. Call welled up with pride. It meant a lot that Clara Allen liked Gretchen.

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

Clay Mosby didn't seem himself. He stood near the window of the small house, staring out into the dark night. Just staring. A troubled stare. Ashley walked up behind him and put her arms around his waist.

"Did you love her?" she quietly asked.

"No. I suppose I felt something," he replied. "Perhaps pity. I never expected to see her again."

"It must be difficult . . . what you went through." Ashley rested her chin between his neck and shoulder. "Is there anything I can do, Clay?"

"I watched so many of my friends die -- so many died. It was different with her."

"Because she was a woman, Clay. I'm a woman. I need you, Clay."

"I did feel something . . . at one time," Clay replied.

"She shouldn't have come here," Ashley remarked, letting her hand drop to touch Clay's private area. She began to rub him -- there was no response. Ashley sighed. "Come to bed, Clay. Lay with me. I'm your wife."

Clay Mosby turned to look at Ashley -- as if seeing her for the first time. He nodded, allowing her to take his hand and lead him to their bed.

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

Feed the author here!


AMBROSIA FANFIC CLUB:
[Homepage] [Reading Room] [Art Gallery]