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.


A Wild Texan in Missouri
(32nd in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

I have been witness to . . . though, not by election,
of strong men -- bold men, staring death in the face;
only to quiver in fear at the sight of their wife's parents.
Rather amusing, if one considers the folly, therein.

(Anonymous)

Union Pacific engine number 119 lurched to a halt -- metal wheels grinding against metal tracks. A young boy stretched his shoeless foot to touch the cowcatcher, only to have his ear yanked by a frightened mother holding a small child in her arm. The smell of oil, smoke, and steam descended upon the crowd. Folks gathered to welcome passengers at the St. Joseph train depot.

Newt Call was abruptly awakened by his excited wife. He would now face the unenviable task of spending the next few days under the roof of Gretchen's mother and father's house. Looking out the small window at the crowed and noisy depot, Call tensed. He didn't favor crowds. But he loved Gretchen -- more than anything he had ever felt before.

"Call! We're here! We're here!" Gretchen excitedly said. Her eyes were aglow. She was proud of her husband and wanted her parents to see how happy she truly was.

Call was slow to respond -- allowing other passengers to gather their luggage and walk in single file down the aisle of the car. No need to rush. It might lead to a sour stomach.

Gretchen was aware of Call's agony -- it was plastered across his face. She reacted in the simplest way -- leaning in to kiss him, then biting his lower lip. She giggled. "Call, Sweetheart. I know this is going to be difficult for you. I love you so much. I'm so thankful you're doing this for me. It's only a few days."

Call nodded. Only a few days. He had heard of Indian tortures where they carved the flesh off a man -- keeping him alive for a few days. Torture was torture. It didn't seem much different, either way. He sighed deeply and smiled at his wife. "I reckon I'm about as ready as can be expected . . . I guess?"

Gretchen wrapped her arm tightly around Call's arm. "Don't be a baby, Call. I'll be with you." She giggled once more. Call had to smile. It made him feel good inside to see his wife so happy. He figured it was worth it -- bringing Gretchen to Missouri.

As they stepped onto the wooden platform it was Gretchen's mother who first caught sight of her married daughter and her husband. "Gretchen! Gretchen!" Mrs. Rebecca Brandt cried. She waved her arm in the air.

"Mama!" Gretchen cried. Call groaned quietly. He imagined being led to the gallows might feel similar to this.

Gretchen zig-zagged through the crowd, reaching her mother and father. She hugged them both tightly. Call stood by, feeling uncomfortable and hot in the cheeks.

"Let me look at you," Rebecca Brandt said. "Both of you." She shook her head, smiling. "Oh, Gretchen! You're glowing." She paused. "Your face is drawn from the long, exhausting travel. You'll need to rest up once we get home." She looked at Call then turned to her husband. "Well, Jefferson, Victoria was right. He is a wild looking Texas boy." Mrs. Brandt hugged Call. He was stiff -- hugging her back like the Cap'n had hugged Gretchen. "We are so pleased to finally meet you, Newt."

"Ma'am," he replied, nodding.

Rebecca Brandt favored all three of her daughters in appearance. Hazel eyes -- brown hair peppered with thin streaks of gray. She was thin -- a strong looking woman.

Gretchen's father, Jefferson Brandt, reached out to shake hands with his son-in-law. "Hello, Newt. We're delighted to meet you." Mr. Brandt was thin, also. An average looking man. Gretchen had his hair color -- brownish-red.

Call nodded. He felt a line of sweat run down his back.

"Let's return to the house," Mrs. Brandt instructed.

Gretchen made sure to put her arm around Call as they walked to the wagon. It was something she intended to do every opportunity she had.

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

Robert Shelby was finding himself drawn to Ashley Mosby -- more than he should be. She had turned to him in desperation when Clay had watched Claudia Harrell die. It was natural. Clay had been aloof -- struggling with the significance of the unexpected event. Ashley, in need of attention, had lost her sexual edge -- allowing Robert to have his way with her twice a day. Robert knew she required much attention but he couldn't prevent himself from forcing her to submit to his desires. Ashley never objected -- anything Robert wanted, she obliged.

Each time copulation ended, it was as if a vale had been lifted from their eyes -- as if the madness of lust had disappeared. Both Robert and Ashley would then regret their sinful actions, until the madness started again -- an hour later. Clay was aware of their encounters -- he had even permitted it. It was their feelings that were hidden from him.

"Robert!" Ashley pleaded, "I beg of you! Please bring Clay back to me. Before it's too late."

Robert Shelby wholeheartedly agreed. "Yes, Ashley. Otherwise, it will be dreadful what we do to him and he is not deserving of that from us. I will do all I can."

*******

Clay Mosby showed signs of snapping out of the listlessness he allowed himself to become entangled in. Then, at times, he would regress into the woeful state which Claudia Harrell's appearance had authored. Painful memories had been stirred -- memories of Mary -- of Hannah.

He stood near her grave, on the hill. Clay had gone there each day since she had died in his arms.

"Clay! Clay!"

Mosby turned. "Oh . . . Robert."

Robert Shelby approached his closest friend. The smell of Ashley's lust still lingered on Robert. "Clay, listen to me. It wasn't your fault that woman died. You should count it a blessing that she cared for you and get on with your life. You have a beautiful wife that needs you, Clay. Go to her. Clear your head of Claudia Harrell. Ashley is your wife. For God sakes, Clay! Please?"

Clay hesitated. "Perhaps you're right, Robert. I have been behaving quite dishonorably. Has Ashley concerned herself over my . . . shortcomings?"

"Regrettably, yes," Robert said. "I fear your wife may need to see Dr. Cleese soon. You must begin to show her how important she is to you." Robert took hold of Clay's arm. "I'll see to the Ambrosia, Clay. Go spend some time with Ashley."

Clay nodded. "Thank you, Robert. I don't know what I would do if not for your loyalty."

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

St. Joseph was one of the larger cities built alongside the Missouri River. The town lay spread out -- brick or wood buildings making up the majority of dwellings. Call knew if he brought Gretchen back here to live, it would be some small, no account town away from all the commotion of St. Joe.

They reached the modest two-story house. A white picket fence surrounded a large yard with a stout oak tree.

"Gretchen," Mrs. Brandt began, "you can bathe upstairs then rest in your room. I have a social planned for you and Newt, tomorrow. Your friends and relatives will be here."

"Bathe? Upstairs?" Gretchen said.

"We have our own utilitarian object constructed of copper and overlaid with enamel," Mr. Brandt proudly boasted. "Three were ordered for one of the hotels -- they only used two. I just had to buy the other one."

"Do you hear that, Call? An indoor bathtub!" Gretchen said, turning to her husband.

Call just nodded. A bathtub wasn't exactly a topic he had much to say about.

Gretchen was excited. A full year had nearly passed since the three sisters boarded the stage for Curtis Wells, Montana. "Look at him, Mama! Look at him, Papa! Isn't Call the handsomest man in the whole world?"

Call felt uncomfortable and suddenly hot. He didn't favor attention.

"Well," Rebecca began, "he is most definitely not like the young men in these parts."

Jefferson Brandt had to laugh. "You finally got yourself a husband who resembles the Pony Express riders." He looked at Call. "Get settled in, Newt. Then, you and I can have a talk."

***

Gretchen was ready to step into the room where the bathtub sat. Buckets of warm water had filled it and a fitted tin cover kept the heat in the tub. Call was behind her as she opened the door to enter, wearing a robe.

"Call? What are you doing?" Gretchen whispered. "You can't come in here! I know we're married but this is my mother and father's house. They wouldn't understand." She kissed him then held him close. "You could wait in our room."

"I expect I best do that," he replied. Retreating into the safety of Gretchen's bedroom made sense.

"I know this is torture for you, Call," Gretchen said. "I am exhausted. I hope you don't mind if I rest some. Carrying our baby and the travel has worn me out. It really has. I love you, Call."

***

Mrs. Brandt gazed at the ceiling. "Jefferson? Do you hear that?"

"Mr. Brandt laughed. "It would appear our brave son-in-law is pacing nervously in Gretchen's room."

"Well the poor, dear soul," Rebecca said. "I think I had better go and bring him down here or he just might wear a hole in our floorboards."

***

Call stood downstairs, gazing at Mr. and Mrs. Brandt. All three of the sisters favored their mother in looks. Gretchen's father suddenly approached Call. He took note of the gun and holster. "Why don't we go outside, Newt? Let's allow Gretchen and her mother some time."

Call followed him outside the house, to a small stable. "I want to thank you for all the times you've rescued my daughters. Sometimes I think it was a mistake allowing them to travel into wilderness territories that haven't become states, yet." He looked Call up and down. "You must feel quite out of place, here in St. Joseph, Newt?"

"I reckon I am," Call replied.

"All that matters to me is that my daughters are protected." Jefferson Brandt led Call to a small bottle of whiskey he kept in the stable. "For special occasions," he said. Call took the bottle, drinking just a small amount. "As I was saying," Mr. Brandt continued, "Victoria is married to a doctor. He can provide niceties for her, but he can't do the things we've heard in letters sent home that you constantly do for all three of our daughters. I'm grateful to you."

***

Rebecca Brandt quietly entered the room where Gretchen was bathing. Her hair was piled high as she lay in the soapy waters. "Well, I see you finally found your perfect man, Gretchen."

Gretchen smiled. "He's better than perfect, Mama. He loves me so much. It took everything we had saved up to come out here. I'm happier than I've ever been before."

"Oh, your wedding band!" Mrs. Brandt excitedly said. "It's so pretty."

Gretchen lifted her left hand for her mother to inspect the interlocking whimsical hearts. "I think it's the most beautiful ring ever, Mama."

Rebecca placed a clean towel near her daughter. "We'll visit later. You clean the dirt and dust off and then rest in bed. You must be so tired -- carrying that precious little baby across the country. I'm so glad you came home. The house is empty without you girls."

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

Dish Boggett was in Curtis Wells. Paying a visit to Paige Brandt. Victoria smiled at him. "Did you know Newt and Gretchen are in Missouri?"

Dish removed his hat, pressing it into his chest. "Well, I guess I knew that. I was kind of hoping to walk around town with Miss Paige."

"Yes!" Paige exclaimed, grabbing Dish and yanking him out the door of the dry goods store before Victoria could say anything.

Ephraim Cleese turned to his wife. "It would have been quite enjoyable if we had gone back to Missouri with your sister."

Victoria walked up to her husband and hugged him. "It's all right, Ephraim. It wouldn't be very practical to close the store and close your office for an extended time. There are few enough doctors in the West. I doubt Mr. Mosby would even consider letting you leave -- even if you found another doctor willing to stay until we returned." Victoria straightened Ephraim's coat and smiled. "There. Now you look like a doctor."

Ephraim put his hand on Victoria's stomach. "The baby is beginning to grow larger than Gretchen's baby. I am hoping you both have uncomplicated births."

"So do I, Ephraim. Most especially Gretchen. She's been through so much since we arrived. That Indian kidnapping her on Thanksgiving. Her fall. Having to shoot that other Indian. I never thought I would be happy that she married Newt Call. Now, I couldn't be happier."

Ephraim agreed. "I must get back to my office. I'll return when the store closes."

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

Sunday, April 2, 1882 -- Though the Brandt Sisters had been absent from St. Joseph for almost a year, Gretchen's return sparked excitement for relatives and friends of the sisters. Gretchen, concerned over Call being out of his natural environment, implored upon her mother to change the occasion to a Saturday picnic-style affair, rather than a Sunday after church dressier affair. It was with difficulty she asked her husband not to wear his gun and knife to the social. Call honored his wife's request -- though he felt like a man without britches.

Gretchen locked her arm around Call, greeting everyone who attended the social. Everyone stared at her husband -- men and women, alike -- though it made perfect sense, realizing how Gretchen was. When her closest and dearest friend, Cassandra, showed up, both girls jumped up and down, hugging each other and loudly crying out how much they missed each other.

Oh, Gretchen!" Cassandra said, staring at Call, "he's so wild looking. Are you one of those mountain men, Mr. Call?"

Call shook his head. "Not hardly."

"I don't smell any barber water on you, Mr. Call," Cassandra replied. "Most young men go around wanting girls to smell it."

"Ain't never had me no use for it," Call shrugged. "Reckon I never will." He groaned deep in the pit of his belly. This was torment.

"He looks and smells more like the dregs of society, to me!" came a new voice.

Gretchen and Cassandra both spun around.

"Oh?" Gretchen looked at Call. "This is Millie -- my cousin from Union Star. Victoria said she told you about her."

"Don't you dare be telling this disgusting looking man anything about me, Gretchen Brandt!" Millie threatened.

"My name is Gretchen Call! Mrs. Call! Mrs. Newt Call!" She spoke with authority. "If you cannot remember it, Mildred, then you had better leave." Gretchen's face reddened with anger.

"I understand, Gretchen! Your name is Call!" Millie said in an exasperated tone.

"And, I do not appreciate your comments about my husband!"

"That is absurd!" remarked Millie. "And I will not subscribe to it. Not everyone here is taken in by your shabby husband, cousin Gretchen. It's just you who have always settled for second best."

Cassandra stepped in front of the arguing cousins. "Mildred, if you don't hush up this instant, I just might drag you outside and swing you around by your silly curls. And, I most certainly can do it."

Millie smirked. "Very well. Just one more thing, Gretchen Call. I feel sympathy for the poor child that was conceived by you and your husband.

Gretchen slapped her cousin across the face -- hard! The disturbance did not go unnoticed. Rebecca Brandt hurried over.

"Aunt Rebecca!" Millie cried. "They're being mean to me. And, Gretchen slapped me."

Rebecca Brandt stared at her daughter. "Gretchen?!"

"Just because she's a miserable little wretch doesn't give her the right to speak unfavorably about my husband, or my child, Mama." Gretchen had become like a mother cougar defending her young.

Rebecca just shook her head, surprised, and led Millie away. Gretchen and Cassandra both laughed.

"See, Call?" Gretchen replied, "I'm learning from you." She hugged him tight, making sure everyone saw her kiss her husband.

Call had to laugh. Gretchen was becoming a force to be reckoned with.

***

A cousin of Gretchen's, who had become a photographer, brought his equipment, as Mrs. Brandt had asked. He photographed Call and Gretchen together -- it would be the photo Gretchen would finally place inside the locket Call had given her on their one month anniversary.

One of Victoria's friends asked how she was doing. She was happy to hear that both Victoria and Gretchen were pregnant. One of Paige's friends also inquired about her.

When two of Gretchen's uncles asked Call to go out shooting with them, Call went upstairs and put his holster on. He struck an imposing figure as he returned to the social with his gun slapping his left thigh -- wearing his holster like the Texans did. His large knife was also noticed. Gretchen swelled up with pride as Missourians stared with awe at her husband.

"Out shoot all of them, Call," she whispered, hugging him tight before he walked past the outskirts of town with a handful of her uncles and cousins.

Along with Cassandra, two of Gretchen's other closest friends, Tamara and Elizabeth, joined Gretchen outside in the front yard as she thrilled them with tales of how her and Call fell in love and about her adventures with the Lakota and how she shot a Cheyenne warrior. All her dearest friends could easily see how happy she was -- with husband and a baby coming.

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

"What the hell?!" Clay Mosby angrily said. He stood in front of Twyla's with Mattie Shaw as Ike flew off the porch, landing face-first in the muddy street. Unbob Finch hobbled quickly after his partner.

"You ever say that to me again, Ike, I'll get a knife and I'll castrate you!" Twyla yelled. She turned and stomped back inside the sporting club, shoving two of her girls aside.

Austin Peale strolled over, grinning.

"What was that all about?" Mosby inquired.

Ike stood up, grabbing his bowler and brushing the mud off his clothes.

Mattie put her hands on her hips. "Unbob! I told you not to partner-up with Ike, didn't I?"

"Uh huh," Unbob sheepishly replied. "But we made us a whole bunch of money."

Ike looked at Clay. "All I said was that me and Unbob could do a better job of running Twyla's than she could."

"And, that's all you said?" Clay Mosby replied.

"That ain't all," Unbob volunteered. "He said we should get free pokes from every girl inside, including fat Twyla."

Mattie shook her head and headed back to the gun shop. Unbob followed her.

Clay told his sheriff to deal with it and then walked away. Indications were now visible of Clay returning to his usual self. Whatever Ashley had done last night, worked. She was a strong willed woman and realized that Clay Mosby was after all, only human. Even he was prone to depression.

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

"Good night, Josiah -- go home. I would like to close up."

Josiah rose at a slow pace and picked up his hat. "Good night, Amanda." He walked out of the hotel, into the dark street. He felt good about the editorials he'd begun to write once more. Speaking out on the sudden reign of terror in Montana caused by the rise in horse thieves running rampant across the entire territory. Dish Boggett had informed him that it had even reached Hat Creek.

Josiah stepped into his newspaper shop. Something wasn't right. Someone was in there. He was roughly grabbed and thrown to the hard, wooden floor. Two men wearing burlap over their faces stood menacingly over him, like shadows of doom.

"Listen up, old man! You just wrote your last on these Montana horse thieves." The man kicked him in the side, causing Josiah to groan in pain and curl up. "You damn newspaper dogs better learn to keep your nose out of things it don't concern. We'll burn you out next time." He stepped on Josiah and hurried out with the other unidentified man.

Josiah scrambled to his feet and dashed outside the Statesman as the two masked assailants mounted their horses across the street, in front of the livery.

"Stop them! Help!" Josiah yelled.

One man drew his pistol, turned, and fired at Josiah's belly.

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

Call was relieved that the social had ended and it was now late. He held Gretchen close to him in her small bed -- in the room she had shared with Paige. "I reckon that was worth the price of admission seeing you slap your cousin."

Gretchen nodded -- her thoughts were elsewhere.

Call sensed a tenseness in his wife of four months. "Something ailing you, Gretchen?"

I'm all right, Call." She shrugged slightly.

"No, you ain't. I expect I know how you feel by now, Coyote Girl. If you got a mind to hold it in . . ."

Gretchen turned, facing her husband in the small bed. "It was wrong of me to ask you to bring me out here, Call. You aren't ready for this. All these people -- these crowds. I'm sorry, Call. I shouldn't . . . umm!"

Call kissed Gretchen on the mouth. "Don't be going on that way. Guess I'd likely as not do anything for you, Gretchen."

Gretchen hugged Call. "I know it, Sweetheart. But you don't belong here. All the money you risked your life for. Bounty hunting."

"We'll be leaving soon enough," he replied.

"I love you so much, Call." She giggled a little. "I'm so proud of you. Out shooting everyone today. I told Papa you were better than everyone."

Gretchen's warm breath -- her whispering voice -- were arousing Call. He began to fondle her. The bed squeaked.

"Call!" she whispered. "We'll have to be quiet. I don't want them to hear us." She closed her eyes, moaning, as his hands caressed her body -- his mouth kissing her neck and moving downward.

"We could get on the floor, Gretchen," Call said, breathing harder.

She hit him playfully, laughing. "No! The floor creaks." Gretchen rolled on top of Call. "We'll do it like this."

Call brought his lips to her breasts.

"Yes, Call," she whispered, excited. She took her hand and guided him inside her.

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

"You could have been killed, Father!" Austin didn't try to hide his anger or concern.

"The shot missed me, Austin," Josiah replied.

"You did well, Josiah," a half-dressed Clay Mosby interceded. "If these thieves seek to quiet you, they must be planning on working this part of the territory."

"We do have a sizable amount of horses in town," the sheriff added.

"Yes," Clay agreed. "And we cannot rely upon the United States Cavalry to either defend or remove the very horses in which they will most likely purchase." He grinned sarcastically. "Interesting how they go about their business, isn't it?"

Robert Shelby and Mason Dobbs both entered the Montana Statesman.

Austin frowned at Call's uncle. "This doesn't concern you, Dobbs."

"Horse thieves concerns all of us, amigo. I'll wager these boys have numbers. Enough to get it done. You'd be wise to accept any help offered."

"Mason's right, Austin," Clay replied. "I suggest Josiah continue to print his editorials and that we prepare accordingly."

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

Monday morning, April 3, 1882 -- All the way to St. Joseph, Gretchen couldn't stop talking about Pony Express Day. By now, Call knew the story well. April 3, 1860. She was almost a year old. By the time she was six, Gretchen Brandt knew who every Pony Express rider was. While other girls dreamed of gallant Southern gentlemen or knights in shining armor, Gretchen dreamed about fringed riders with long, unkempt hair.

She knew of Johnny Fry -- how he charmed the girls -- only to fall a casualty with the Union forces once the Civil War broke out. She knew of Jack Keetley, who rode twenty-four hours nonstop, on a bet. She knew of Charley Cliff, who single handedly repulsed a band of Indians -- with two arrows in him.

Gretchen was proud to show Call the lithograph that hung on the wall of her and Paige's bedroom. The View of St. Joe, Missouri, From The Kansas Side. It was twenty-one years old -- from '61, when Gretchen was just two years old. Two steamships on the Missouri River -- an expanse of numerous buildings sitting on the small hill. The last leg of the eastbound run of the Pony Express.

Unable to sleep, Gretchen coaxed Call into rising at 6:30 in the morning. Call didn't mind. He hardly slept, anyway -- not comfortable with his wife's mother and father sleeping so near their room.

Rebecca Brandt served flapjacks, bacon, blueberry muffins, and hot coffee. So good was the smell that the family dog scratched at the door to get inside. Jefferson Brandt told his daughter he would close his mercantile at noon. He planned to take in the annual Pony Express Day Parade with her and Call.

Ex-riders David Jay and John Burnett, who was now a Wells Fargo agent in Salt Lake City, were to appear in the park to remember their heritage.

***

Sometime after 9 o'clock in the morning, there appeared a commotion outside. Rebecca Brandt peered out the window. "What in the world is going on out there? People are running around like chickens in a henhouse with a fox."

There was a knock on the front door. Mrs. Brandt opened it. Gretchen's closest friend, Cassandra charged inside.

"Cassie!" Gretchen happily said. "Are you going with us to the parade."

"Parade?!" Cassie replied. "Haven't you heard?"

"Heard what, Cassandra?" Jefferson Brandt asked, walking into the room. He was dressed for work.

"Jesse James was just killed!"

"Oh, nonsense," Mr. Brandt insisted. "Why, just last week they reported his demise in the Police Gazette. There are accounts nearly every week about Jesse James being killed. I believe it was . . . hmm? . . . oh, yes! Half way across the state in Moberly."

"It's a fact, Mr. Brandt," Cassandra replied. "Just come outside. The whole town is descending in swarms to the house where he was shot."

They stepped outside. It was true. Hundreds and hundreds of folks were rushing about. Jesse James! Jesse James! Everyone was saying the name.

"Where did this happen?" Jefferson Brandt inquired.

"A cottage just above the tracks of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad," Cassandra said. "Everyone is talking about it. They've already begun to auction off his clothing and furniture."

"That is appalling!" Mrs. Brandt said. "His poor wife."

Gretchen had become silent. She bore no ill will on any man -- regardless of his lot in life. Yet she knew there would be no parade now -- no Pony Express Day. She realized the assassination of Jesse James would very likely become an historical moment. She sank into a chair, making an almost puppy-like whimper. "I wanted to be here on April 3rd for the Pony Express. I never knew this would happen."

Call took her hand.

"Well," Mr. Brandt said, "it would be pointless to open the store. I imagine most businesses have already closed for the day. I think I'll wander out -- perhaps buy a newspaper. There will be accounts of the killing printed soon enough."

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

It was fact! Bound in stone. The notorious outlaw, Jesse James, had been shot and killed in St. Joseph, Missouri. The telegraph office wired every state and territory in the Union with the shocking news. Big cities wired smaller towns. Within hours, word reached Curtis Wells.

Josiah Peale quickly printed flyers, dispatching his young assistant, Hubie Kellner, and the orphan boy, Dewey, to tack them up in strategical locations around town. Dewey earned two cents, which he wasted little time in trading cash for candy at the general store.

A fair-sized crowd gathered inside the Lonesome Dove Hotel to discuss the historical event. "My sister and her husband -- Gretchen and Call -- they're back in St. Joe, right now!" Paige Brandt shared with everyone. She was upset and had to be calmed down by her brother-in-law, Dr. Cleese, and sister, Victoria.

"I had occasion to run into Jesse and his brother, Frank," Mason Dobbs boasted. "They passed through hereabouts not long ago." He waited patiently till all eyes were on him. He looked at Clay Mosby. "I'll wager it was around the time of that stage accident you were in, with Miss Jessup, amigo. Me and Newt were hunting wild geese. One of the James' boys shot a wolf that was about to jump my nephew. They ended up at the Call ranch but I run 'em off."

"Maybe Call killed Jesse James?" Mattie Shaw mentioned. "Killing folks don't bother him none."

Victoria Cleese shook her head. "No, Miss Shaw. You're wrong. Newt might have been that way, once. I thought he was when we first arrived here last spring. Ever since he fell in love and married Gretchen . . ." she paused, smiling. "Newt isn't that way, any more."

"Well," Josiah Peale replied, "it wasn't Newt. The wire said a man named Robert Ford did the shooting. Shot him in the back of the head."

Mason Dobbs began singing, "Oh, I'm a good old Rebel, now that's just what I am. For this here land of freedom, now I don't give a damn . . ."

"Shut the hell up, Mason!" Robert Shelby angrily barked. "You're no Rebel. Damn Texas boys."

"I'll wager when Cole Younger and his brothers were shot up in Minnesota, they claimed to have done it for Dixie. I thought you knew that . . . Robby."

"Both of you stop it!" Clay Mosby ordered. He shot an angry glare at Robert.

"Last year it was Billy the Kid. Down in New Mexico. Now, Jesse James," Sheriff Austin Peale said. "It catches up to you, eventually."

Amanda walked over to Mason Dobbs and quietly said, "there was a big reward on Jesse James, Mason. Why didn't you try to take him?"

Mason turned to Amanda and just winked at her. Amanda frowned, not sure of his meaning.

"It is rather unusual," Clay Mosby noted, "that something quite as significant as the killing of Mr. Jesse James should occur when Newt Call is in St. Joseph. I find that to be quite intriguing." He grinned.

"That is not fair, Mr. Mosby!" Paige Brandt replied. She loved Call as a brother and was prepared to argue the point endlessly with Mosby. "Call has saved our lives many times since we arrived here. I find it cowardly of you to speak this way when Call isn't here to defend himself."

Clay Mosby merely smiled at the youngest Brandt sister. He had no intention of arguing the merits of Newt Call with his wife's younger sister. Better to return to the Ambrosia, where idle-talking young women weren't likely to tread.

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

In Miles City, Montana Territory, Captain Woodrow Call and Pea Eye Parker stood in front of the telegraph office. The Captain read the telegram Clara Allen had sent off days ago, regarding Newt's visit and the twenty-two horses he was to receive.

"The boy done fine," Woodrow mumbled.

"Cap'n?" Pea said. "I do believe that train and bank robber, Jesse James, was killed."

"I heard, Pea."

It was all folks were buzzing about in Miles City -- just like every other town across the continent.

"Well . . ."

"Something needs being said?" Woodrow impatiently asked.

"Folks are saying it happened in St. Joe . . . that's in Missouri, I believe."

"There a point to this?"

"No sir, Cap'n. Just . . . ain't Newt and his wife there now?"

"The boy can look after himself, Pea. We best head back to the ranch."

"Yessir, Cap'n." Pea scratched his head. "I wonder if Newt saw it happen?"

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

Jefferson Brandt returned home with one of the first newspaper accounts on the killing of Jesse James. His concern was for Gretchen. There would be no Pony Express Day parade, or gathering in the park.

Gretchen's sorrow was not so much the canceling of the parade, but the sadness she felt for the widowed Mrs. James, and her two young children.

Mr. Brandt began reading the newspaper account:

St. Joseph, Mo., April 3, 1882. -- Between 8 and 9 o'clock this morning, Jesse James, the Missouri outlaw, before whose acts the deeds of Fra Diavolo, Dick Turpin, and Shinderbaunes dwindle into insignificance, was killed by a boy 20 years old, named Robert Ford, at his temporary residence at Thirteenth and Lafayette streets, in this city.

There is little doubt that the killing was a result of a premeditated plan formed by Robert and Charles Ford a few months ago. Jesse, his wife and two children removed from Kansas City, where they have lived several months, until they feared their whereabouts would be suspected, in a wagon to this city, arriving here November 8, 1881, accompanied by Charles Ford, and rented a house on the corner of Lafayette and Twenty-first streets, where they stayed two months, when they secured the house at 1318 Lafayette street, formerly the property of Councilman Aylesbury, paying $14.00 a month for it, and giving the name of Thomas Howard.

As Jefferson Brandt began to read more of the much longer account, his wife, Rebecca, interrupted him.

"Jefferson! Mr. Thomas Howard was a customer in your store. I believe he owes you $3.00 still."

"Yes, Rebecca," Gretchen's father answered. "And the Ford boys have been in the store a couple of times. I doubt I will attempt to collect from his widow."

Gretchen stood up, pulling Call with her. "Since there won't be a parade, I want to show Call the building, Papa. At least we can walk around outside, Call."

Call nodded -- being caged inside the Brandt house was smothering him. Fresh air made sense.

"Supper's at 4 o'clock, Gretchen. Newt."

"Yes, Mama. We'll be here." Gretchen pulled her husband out the door and ran to the gate in front of the yard, giggling happily.

"What do think of our Texas boy, Jefferson?" Mrs. Brandt asked, watching them through a window as they kissed.

"He isn't much on formality. But I believe he would lay his life down protecting our daughter."

Rebecca Brandt nodded. "Yes. It's quite obvious Newt Call loves Gretchen very much. And, she loves him very much." She sighed. "I would love to take my scissors to that hair of his. Chop! Chop! Chop!" She shook her head. " Wild Texans! Indeed!"

"I'm sure you would, Rebecca," Mr. Brandt agreed. "Well, I believe our daughter is very happy with Newt. Maybe we should surprise the girls and travel to Montana after the babies are born?" He looked at her.

Rebecca smiled. "I've been waiting for you to suggest that."

********

Gretchen waited until she turned the corner then wrapped her arms tightly around her husband. "Call, I want to go home . . . to Montana." She stared at him -- her green eyes gazing into his eyes. "I'm ready, Call. I want to be in our home and have our baby."

Call smiled. "Feels like we been gone a long time."

She let go of him, so they could walk down the street. "I'm so glad you brought me back here -- to see Mama, and to see Papa. I was able to see Cassie and my other friends. I just want to be in our own bed -- our own house, Call. I'm homesick. It was so wonderful coming back. I want us to have time together before the baby comes." She smiled coyly at him.

"I reckon it's time we went back, too, Gretchen. Too many people here." He smiled.

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

Ashley Mosby sat in the wagon, looking at the big, empty house. "This is perfect, Clay. There aren't any white pillars or magnolia blossoms, but it's so much nicer than that horrid little house behind the newspaper shop."

Clay Mosby laughed a little. "I rather thought you would approve, my dear, Ashley. And, Robert will have his own private room whenever he feels the need to stay over." He looked at her with a content grin.

"How many servants will we have, Clay?" Ashley wanted to know specifically about the help, and just how obedient they were expected to be.

"I have secured four. Two men -- two women. All are under thirty. I have hand picked them, myself. I am quite sure you will be pleased . . . in every way. If you perceive my meaning?"

Ashley blushed. "Thank you, Clay -- for being so understanding. Why, I just don't think many men would be as compromising as you."

Clay looked out at the land. "Nor do I. However, I have no doubt that you will be there when the time comes, Ashley." He stared at her. "I have substantial plans for you -- including giving me an heir -- a son."

She reached out, taking his hand, kissing it softly with her lips. "I'm delighted that you've come back to me, darling Clay."

"Yes, well . . . it would be unacceptable if I were to dwell in a state of depression too long."

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

Robert Shelby was angry. He set high standards and he had failed. Lusting after Clay Mosby's wife was sin. He felt like a hypocrite -- he was a hypocrite. He had chastised Clay for lusting after Josiah Peale's daughter, Hannah, right after she had wed the young Newt Call. Now, it was Robert who lusted wrongfully.

Robert quietly walked to the left side of the hotel's balcony -- the side near the real estate brokers building. He stared out at tent town. It was dark. He was upset at how he had allowed himself to feel something for Ashley. The cool spring air was refreshing. He went back inside. It was time to take a woman for his own.

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

There were tears between mother and daughter. Gretchen loved her mother and had cherished the words of wisdom passed on to her from Rebecca Brandt. Words concerning childbirth and raising one's first born. It was all foreign to Call, who paced aimlessly outside on the big front porch.

"Your sisters were correct," Rebecca noted. "Your husband paces like a caged animal."

Gretchen smiled. "Boo said he did that in Ephraim's office when I fell and we thought I might have lost the ba . . .!" She couldn't finish saying it -- the thought was too painful. Gretchen stared at her mother.

Rebecca hugged her daughter. "It's all right, dear. Nothing happened to your baby."

Jefferson Brandt found he had little in common with Newt Call -- having spent his adult life working as a storekeeper or decently-dressed businessman. He knew little of the ways of men like Captain Woodrow Call.

"Captain Woodrow Call! Everyone has heard tales of him," Mr. Brandt said.

"I wish we could have spent a day looking in the dress shop and the millinery shop. But then, you never did care about hats or bonnets, like Victoria," Mrs. Brandt remarked.

"Mama!" Gretchen said. "I'm going to miss you. And, you too, Papa."

"I would love to be there when you and Victoria give birth. I think your oldest sister is quite capable of filling in for me. At least when your time comes to have your baby, Gretchen. Victoria has been like a second mother to you and Boo. I hope the two of you haven't caused havoc for Victoria?"

Gretchen's face reddened -- she lowered her eyes to the floor.

"Um huh," Rebecca Brandt replied. "I heard about that expensive vase you broke in anger, Gretchen. As well as some of the other things you've broken."

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

Gretchen's closest friend, Cassandra, and a few of the relatives living nearby, were at the train depot Tuesday morning to see her off.

"Here, Gretchen," Rebecca Brandt said, handing her daughter three wrapped packages.

"What is it, Mama?" Gretchen asked.

"Something I made for you and Victoria -- for the babies. You have to promise me you won't open yours until you return home. I want you and Victoria opening them together."

"I promise, Mama. Thank you."

"The other is for Paige."

Jefferson Brandt smiled at his daughter. "If not for this dreadful Jesse James business, we could have enjoyed our Pony Express Day. But, I'm quite satisfied, as a father, that you've chosen the perfect man as your husband, Gretchen. I can rest easier at night knowing how well he takes care of you and your sisters. Thank you, Newt."

"Yes," Rebecca Brandt added. "We know this was an uncomfortable experience for you, Newt. And I must say, from what Victoria has said about you, we are very much impressed with how well you handled yourself." She hugged Gretchen. "As for you slapping cousin Millie, it should have been done by her own mother years ago," she whispered.

Gretchen giggled, then cried. She loved her parents and would miss then. But she was as anxious as Call to return home to Curtis Wells.

It was awkward for Call -- being fussed over by Jefferson and Rebecca Brandt.

As Call and Gretchen boarded the Union Pacific, Gretchen turned -- the sight of family and cherished friends -- posed similar to the photograph taken of her and Call -- to be sent across the prairie to her. She smiled warmly, waving at each loved one -- none more so than her mother and father.

"Seems this whole city is caught up with Jesse James' killing," Call mumbled.

Word spread that the coffin would be taken to nearby Kearney today. The city was swarming with folks craving a look at the famous outlaw.

Newt Call had set foot in Missouri -- though only at the doorstep. He found the country to be of merit -- the land abounded. But it was too civilized for him.

Gretchen huddled close to her husband in their small bench seat as the steam locomotive slowly chugged away. The shrill whistle signifying the time had come to part ways. It had been an adventure for her. She thanked Call for the grand sacrifice he willingly made for his beloved. With her green eyes staring at him, she kissed him and laid her head on his shoulder -- oblivious to all other passengers in their car.

"Let's go home, Call. We have a baby to prepare for."

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

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