This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.


The Runt
(35th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

I'll wager there's something in that Good Book,
where it says the lowly born will be honored above
them that go around like they're better'n others.

(Thoughts from Mason Dobbs)

"The sun will be up soon, Call," Gretchen commented. Newt Call didn't respond. He stared at his wife -- the cold water slouching against her -- standing knee deep in the quiet river. He stared at her naked body -- shiny and wet -- the silver light of the soon-to-vanish moon casting a soft glow on her smooth skin. Her stomach slightly bulging from the child she carried. Her eyes were aglow with a warm contentment. She smiled at the man she had fallen deeply in love with as he now waded out into the early morning waters -- a wilderness river Gretchen had claimed as their own.

"Aren't you proud of me, Call? I've grown accustomed to this cold water. It's not at all like the warmer, muddy Missouri River back in St. Joe."

Call nodded -- he was happy -- they were both happy. It had been a time of bliss -- ever since Call had asked Gretchen to be his wife. He reached Gretchen and she immediately pulled him close to her. "Umm. Nice and warm." She put her hands on her stomach, where the baby was growing. "Do you think our baby likes it out here, Call?"

He hesitated, then frowned. "I guess I never thought much on it. I reckon." Call dropped to his knees -- the river was shallow here. He leaned close, gently kissing Gretchen on her stomach. His growth of facial hair tickled her belly. It was the first time he had ever done that. Usually, he just put his hand on her stomach to feel the baby his wife carried.

"Oh, Call. That was so sweet. I can't wait until you hold our baby. I want to see that so very much. I really do."

All of a sudden, a sound came from the bushes nearby.

"Get a blanket -- get behind those bushes!" Call immediately ordered. Gretchen hurried out of the water. She covered her nakedness with the blanket and crouched near the water. Call ran to where their clothes lay cast about and pulled his britches on. He grabbed his holster and drew his Colt.

Someone was in the bushes, moving. Call cocked the hammer, glanced at his wife, and turned back to the bushes. This was their place of retreat. Where Gretchen had come to feel as one with nature. Now, she squatted low, fearful of someone watching them in their innocence and complete shedding of their clothing. She watched her husband -- glad she had married an uncivilized frontiersman.

There was a sudden shaking in the bushes -- Gretchen tensed -- Call's eyes set, ready to defend and protect his wife. Something dark moved. A medium sized dog tiptoed out of the bushes, moving cautiously.

Call stared, attentive to any sound that would reveal another in hiding. Gretchen stood up -- holding the blanket tightly around her wet body. She ran to Call. The dog sheepishly approached -- sniffing food -- having the courage to draw near the startled couple.

"Oh, look at him, Call. He's so skinny. The poor thing must be starving."

Call slid his Colt back into the holster and bent down, extending his hand. The dog wagged its tail and trotted to him, licking his hand. Call smiled and nodded. Gretchen bent down close to her husband and pet the dog's head.

"Oh. Poor little doggie." Her voice was soothing.

It was a young dog, maybe a year old. A mongrel. Rust colored with white and brown patches. Its ribs protruding on each side. Stickers from nearby bushes decorated its ears and back. Gretchen opened the picnic basket and pulled out her peach cobbler. The dog devoured the entire cobbler then stared at Gretchen, wanting more -- stretching its tongue to capture the elusive piece of food on its nose.

"Think you made a friend there, Coyote Girl," Call noted.

Gretchen smiled brightly. "I like him, Call. He reminds me of you."

"Me?!" Call stared at his wife.

"Yes! You, Sweetheart. Just look at him. He has dirt all over him -- his hair is shaggy -- and, uncivilized! Like you." Gretchen laughed.

"I reckon you need to be to cooled off some," Call replied. He jumped up, scooped Gretchen into his arms and carried her to the water.

"Call! No! Don't you dare!" Gretchen kicked playfully.

When Call swung her into the water, she grabbed hold of him tightly, forcing both of them into the waist-deep water. "Call! Now we'll have to get dry all over again!"

The dog ran into the water, barking -- wagging its tail and jumping about.

"See? He's going to protect and save me," Gretchen laughed. "Good dog."

"What about me?" Call pretended to pout.

"You better be nice to me or you can sleep on the floor and he can warm me at night." Gretchen quickly kissed Call then lightly bit his lip. She ran out of the water, laughing. Call chased her -- grabbing her from behind, gently pulling her to the dew-covered grass. They rolled to their sides, facing each other. Gretchen's playful eyes suddenly filled with lust and passion for her husband. "Love me, Call," she whispered, brushing her eager loins against his responsive body. They wrapped their arms around each other, completely forgetting the dog. Soon, they were both moaning softly as their bodies became one.

Not far off, two young deer -- fawns -- moved quietly in the field. The smaller one bending its head down, nibbling the fresh, spring grass -- the other one, standing at attention, its ears poised.

On the blanket, a short distance away, the dog had invited itself into the picnic basket -- devouring the three biscuits.

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

Clay Mosby and his promiscuous wife, Ashley, sat in their new buggy, in front of the Call's house, as the young couple came riding home on the Hellbitch. Gretchen preferred to ride double with Call for their early morning jaunts to the river.

Clay and Ashley appeared mildly surprised as they noticed the wet hair -- suggesting a pre-dawn swim. They looked at each other.

"My, but your guise would suggest something rather ominous," Clay Mosby said, grinning.

"Can't he talk like regular folks," Call grumbled to his wife.

"Shh. He'll hear you, Call," Gretchen lazily replied. Her arms were wrapped around Call's waist and her head lay against his back. "Good morning, Mr. Mosby. Mrs. Mosby." The early morning love making in the damp grass had left Gretchen feeling dreamy. Her eyes were half closed and she wore a very content smile on her young face. She had caught a glimpse of the two young deer when her eyes opened, just before Call poured himself into her. It had somehow made the zenith of their passion that much more forceful -- leaving her breathless.

As Call dismounted and helped his pregnant wife to the ground, the Mosby's noticed their clothes were in disarray. Gretchen's long auburn hair hung straight, still wet from the water, as did Call's.

"I believe you have been followed by some creature," Clay said, pointing behind Gretchen and Call. They turned. It was the rust colored dog. He had followed them home.

"That's our dog," Call stated.

Clay eyebrows arched. "Dog?! I suppose one might refer to it as such." He laughed.

Ashley nudged her husband. "Don't be rude, Clay," she whispered.

Gretchen leaned against Call, holding her black, nine-button shoes in her hands. She stood barefoot. "Would you both like some coffee? I'll need a few minutes to prepare."

Ashley smiled. "No, thank you, Mrs. Call. We can only stay a brief moment. I merely wanted to invite you to a 'ladies only' meeting. I still have to invite your sisters, as well as a couple of other women. I do hope you will consider it."

Gretchen turned to Call. He shrugged.

"All right. Yes," she replied.

"Wonderful!" Ashley said. "We are on our way to visit your sisters. I will leave the details with Victoria." Ashley gazed at Call and Gretchen. "Good day."

Call lifted Gretchen into his arms and carried her toward the house -- her bare feet dangling in the morning light. She rested her head against Call.

"They've forgotten us, already, Clay," Ashley remarked.

"Yes," Clay replied. "And I would just as soon forget them. Shall we continue on, my dear?"

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

Amanda had reached her limit. She walked at a brisk pace from the kitchen to the table where Austin and Josiah sat. "If you two don't stop this brooding and hanging your heads, I won't have any customers. Austin? Wake up! You're the sheriff."

"A lot of good it did," he mumbled.

"Oh, well pardon me," Amanda mocked. "Let me get my violin and play a sad tune."

Austin glared at Amanda.

"Well? That's how you're acting. If you're so in love with that Mary Piatt -- who used you, by the way -- then ride up to the territorial prison and bust her out."

"There was something," Josiah began, "something about her."

"Yeah. She was a thief and I can't believe how gullible the two of you are," Amanda said. "Look! I have customers. If you insist on crying in your coffee, do it somewhere else." Amanda, no longer in a coddling mood, walked to another table.

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

Unbob Finch had two styles of walking -- slow, and slower. He chose the more relaxed style for this early May morning.

"Oh, Unbob!" Dr. Cleese smiled. He stood in front of the telegraph office with his wife, Victoria. "You've arrived at precisely a most opportune moment."

"I have?" Unbob answered. "Uh, morning, Mrs. Cleese."

Victoria smiled. "Good morning, Mr. Finch." She noticed him staring at her stomach. "Would you like to feel the baby?"

Unbob smiled. "Will I hurt it? Is it all right, Dr. Cleese?"

Ephraim nodded. "If Mrs. Cleese says it is, then I see no harm in it."

Unbob smiled. He carefully put his hand on Victoria's stomach. Suddenly, he jumped back, nearly losing his footing and tumbling to the ground. "Mrs. Cleese! I think your heart is beating in your tummy!"

Victoria giggled -- Ephraim smiled. "That was the baby you felt, Mr. Finch," Victoria said. "It kicks sometimes."

Unbob's eyes were wide -- he had never put his hand on a pregnant woman's stomach before. "Why . . . why did it kick? Is it mad at me, Mrs. Cleese?"

"No. The baby likes you," Victoria replied. "That was the baby's way of saying hello."

"If I may interrupt," Ephraim said, "will you help me carry these medical supplies across the street to my office, Unbob?"

Unbob nodded -- still looking at his hand.

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

The laundry had been finished -- the wet clothes hanging outside to dry -- helped along by the warm spring breeze. Instead of dumping the soapy water onto the ground, Gretchen suddenly had an idea. She looked at the dog -- asleep, on their porch.

"Call? Will you help me wash the dog?"

Call stepped out of the barn. "Wash him?! What for?"

"Well, I do believe he's adopted us, Call," Gretchen replied. "It still tends to be cold at night. I thought you might want him sleeping inside."

Call nodded. "I reckon that'd be fine." He walked over toward the small house. "C'mon, Runt," he said.

The dog jumped up -- running down the steps.

"He likes you, Call," Gretchen remarked. It pleased her that the dog liked them both.

"Seems he's taken a favorable liking to you, too, Gretchen."

"Is that what you want to call him . . . Runt?"

Call lifted the mutt -- the dog looked around -- nervous at being held off the ground. Call lowering him into the wooden tub. "Yep."

Gretchen began to laugh as she watched her husband attempt to wash Runt. The dog shook vigorously, splattering water all over Call.

"Well, at least one of you will smell clean tonight," Gretchen replied.

"What do you mean?" Call asked. "I washed up earlier, didn't I? In the river."

"You didn't have a bar of soap with you, Newt Call." A smug smile flashed on his wife's face.

Call groaned. He shook his head. Gretchen was always one step ahead of him.

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

Mattie Shaw woke to the sound of gunfire. She sat up, noticing the empty room. "Where is that boy?" she grumbled. Quickly dressing, she realized it was only 7 o'clock in the morning. She marched down the stairs -- her boot heels as noisy as the gunfire behind her shop.

"Have you taken leave of your senses, Mason Dobbs?!"

Mason and young Dewey turned their heads.

"Told you Mama would be mad, Mason," the orphan boy said. He was holding Mason's gun.

"What the hell are you doing, Mason?! The boy is only nine years old!"

"A man's got to learn to use a gun sometime," Mason replied. He smiled sheepishly.

Dewey glanced up at Mason -- a warm feeling settled in his chest. Mason was the only person who had ever called him a 'man.' It made him feel special -- like he wasn't just a burden, a nobody -- but a real honest-to-goodness person.

Mattie posed with her fists on her hips. "Don't you have any consideration for folks? Some of us were trying to sleep." She glared at Mason, then stormed off.

Mason watched Mattie depart -- his eyes drawn to the way her tight-fitting pants accentuated her womanly attributes -- her hips swaying as only a woman could sway. He looked at his curly haired companion. "Phew! I'll wager she woke up with a bee in her bonnet."

Dewey laughed. Mason was constantly saying one thing or another that made him laugh. "Mama didn't sleep much last night." He handed the gun back to Mason -- barrel down at the ground -- the way Mason taught him how to handle a weapon. "I sure would like to shoot your gun again, Mason."

"You will, little amigo." Mason dropped the pistol into his holster. "Tell me something? Man to man."

Dewey nodded.

"Do you think she likes me?"

Dewey squinted, as if deliberating a decision by the President of the United States, himself. He looked up at Mason and smiled. "Mama talks in her sleep sometimes. It wakes me up. Last night . . . I heard her saying things. She said your name, Mason." He held two dirt-covered fingers up. "Two times."

Mason nodded. He smiled at Dewey, then winked.

Dewey winked back.

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

Ashley Mosby was on a mission. Organizing a Curtis Wells women's group was not an easy task. One was required to rack their brain in order to determine a suitable time that would be considered convenient for all hopeful attendees. Then, there was the matter of securing a proper location for the meeting.

"Clay, darling. I must be off. The servants have seen to hitching the horse to that exquisite little buggy you purchased for me. I shan't be in town all day."

Clay found his wife amusing. "Am I to assume you are willingly prepared to forego your lustful adventures today, my dear?"

Ashley's cheeks flushed. "The dear young men. I suppose it is wise at least once a week to allow the stallions a day of rest. Although, you, Clay, are by far the most substantial and well-endowed stallion a woman could ever dream of."

"As usual, my dear, Ashley, your words are quite flattering," Clay remarked.

"No, Clay," Ashley replied, "my words are fact!" She kissed him and hastened to the door. "Do be a good boy while I'm away. Ta ta."

Clay watched as Ashley walked outside into the spring morning and was assisted into her buggy. He was in no immediate hurry to ride into town -- electing to pay a visit to the servants -- one in particular.

He climbed the stairs and walked down the hall, into the master bedroom. He paused in the doorway, allowing his eyes to feast upon the shapely behind of Shirley, the young Englishwoman. He grinned as she bent forward, tucking in the sheets of his large bed. He thought about tucking something into her.

"Oh! Milord! I didn't know you were there," she replied in a heavy English accent.

"What have I said in regards as how to address me?" His voice was authoritative.

"Forgive me," Shirley begged, lowering her head and bowing submissively.

"Must I remind you that this is not England. You are to refer to me as Mister Mosby." He caught a glimpse of her white cleavage as she leaned forward.

"Yes," she hesitated, "yes, Mr. Mosby."

"I will have to punish you."

"Yes, Mr. Mosby," the English girl said. "Shall I remove my things now?" She was well trained.

"No," Clay answered. "I believe I will administer your punishment out in the stable." He nodded his head sideways.

Shirley hastened out of the room and quickened down the stairs -- Clay two steps behind her. They entered the stable where it was cool, yet slightly darkened. The English girl knew the routine. She moved quietly toward the back -- a few bales of hay strategically situated to make a most useful bed -- when necessary. It was necessary, now.

Shirley bent over, face forward, laying her breasts on the hay as she raised her skirt and petticoat. She wore no drawers -- in anticipation. Clay lightly brushed the riding crop over her firm, white buttocks. The young girl's body trembled. Clay brought the crop down across her behind -- hard enough to elicit a small squeal of pain -- though not too forceful as to cause welts. He gave her four more lashes. Each time she wriggled a little more than the previous time -- each time he grew slightly more aroused.

"Now," Clay ordered, "tell me what your name means."

Still bent over -- exposed -- she replied, "Shirley is my name, Sir. It means beautiful meadow."

"And, what are you going to do?" he inquired.

"Allow you into my beautiful meadow . . . Mr. Mosby," she said, her voice husky.

"Excellent! Well done!"

Shirley turned. She seductively raised her skirt above her waist, then laid back onto the hay, awaiting her master's pleasures.

"And, what will you say we did?" Clay asked, her eyes bulging as he penetrated her.

She grunted. "We tupped vigorously, Sir."

Clay grinned. British girls.

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

Trouble rarely vanished on its own. Sheriff Peale and Deputy Shelby sat mounted -- ready to ride out of Curtis Wells. Austin put his hand out, bidding Robert to wait. He snickered, motioning toward the wagon coming slowly into town. It was the Call's.

"I want to have some fun, Shelby," Austin said.

Robert Shelby didn't reply. He neither liked, nor disliked Newt Call. He had little regard for Texans, in general.

Austin frowned, watching the scrawny rust colored dog sitting in Gretchen's lap. "What the hell kind of ugly animal is that?"

Call ignored him -- as did his wife. He pulled the wagon to a halt near the livery and climbed down.

Austin guided his horse over to the wagon. He glared at Gretchen, then looked at Call. "We're off to see an old friend of yours, Call."

"That so?" Call replied, turning to help Gretchen down.

"Yeah! That's so!"

Call shook his head."I ain't in the mood for none of your grief, Austin."

Austin just grinned. "We're riding out to old Ben Patch's ranch. Remember him, Call?" Austin gazed up at Gretchen.

"I remember," Call said. He helped his wife down then said, "come on, Runt."

"Runt?!" Austin laughed. It was an artificial laugh. "What a dumb name for a dog. If that ugly thing is a dog?"

Gretchen turned to Austin. "We're having a women's meeting, Sheriff Peale. Maybe you've heard about it? Mrs. Mosby has kindly organized it."

Austin stopped laughing. "I heard about it. I'm the sheriff. So, what?"

Gretchen smiled. "Well, since you seem to be such a nosy, gossiping busy-body, you might consider purchasing a dress and joining us."

Robert Shelby laughed out loud, embarrassing Austin. The sheriff glared at Gretchen but wouldn't say anything. He looked at Call. "I'll tell Ben Patch you said hello." He rode off fast, Robert nodding to Mrs. Call, then followed Austin.

Gretchen got on one knee and scratched Runt's chest. The dog seemed quite content. "Call? Who's Ben Patch? Why did he say that?"

"Just a fella I bought a horse from a while back, is all. Them horse thieves must of hit his stock." He smiled at his pregnant wife. "Come on, Gretchen. I'll walk you down to the store."

Gretchen wrapped her arm around her husband and walked happily down the street -- their dog, Runt, alongside them.

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

Paige Brandt was the first one to see them. "Victoria! Gretchen's here! They brought the dog." She opened the door and rushed out of the dry goods. "Gretchen! He's so adorable." She bent down, hugging Runt. She looked up. "He reminds me of you, Call."

Gretchen began to laugh -- hugging her poor, abused husband -- tugging at his hair. "I told him the very thing, Paige. I'm sorry, Call. But, it's true." Both sisters laughed.

"We should call him Little Newt," Paige giggled.

Call groaned. Between both Gretchen and Paige, it was best to just raise the white flag.

Victoria stood in the doorway. "Where did you two find him?"

"More like he found us," Call replied.

"We have a special place, Victoria," Gretchen replied, her face reddening. "We go there some mornings. We found him there, near the river."

Victoria closed the door and hung the closed sign in the window. "This should be quite interesting -- this women's meeting Mrs. Mosby has organized."

Gretchen kissed Call. "We'll be over in the church, Call. It shouldn't last too long. I love you."

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

It was an admirable job -- organizing some of the women of Curtis Wells. Ashley Mosby had grown bored -- having conquered every obstacle set before her. Clay had provided her with a suitable house -- servants, willingly obeying her every whim. Ashley was proud of the way she had brought these ladies together. She would make an ideal wife when the opportunity presented itself for Clay to pursue a future in Montana politics.

It was a diverse half-dozen women, that occupied the church. Besides Ashley Mosby and the three Brandt Sisters -- Victoria Cleese -- Gretchen Call -- Paige Brandt, the group was completed with Mattie Shaw and Amanda Carpenter.

When Mrs. Mosby brought up the topic of women acquiring the right to vote, a lively discussion developed -- to Ashley's delight. Only Victoria Cleese and her younger sister, Gretchen Call -- the two women who carried babies -- weren't as eager to vote -- although both favored the notion. Youngest sister, Paige, wanted the vote. As did Amanda and Mattie -- both of whom had felt slighted by men.

The women were well behaved and dignified in their arguments with one another. Clay Mosby had already informed his wife that it was still several years, as he saw it, before the Territory of Montana would be admitted to the Union. Still, It was a delight for Ashley to gather these women and spend time just chatting about things in general.

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

Nearly three hours had passed since the women's meeting had begun. Josiah Peale had noticed Call wandering around tent town with a scrawny looking dog. As Josiah stood in front of the Dove, he watched as a stranger moved about. Curious by nature, he approached the stranger. The man appeared to be confused -- pacing between the bank and the dry goods -- looking behind the buildings.

"Good afternoon. I'm the mayor. Might I be of some assistance?"

The man looked at Josiah. "Dr. Cleese -- his office -- it isn't back there anymore. Has he left town?"

Josiah smiled -- mayors were required to smile at folks. "Dr. Cleese is still in town. He's relocated." Josiah pointed across the street. "He's upstairs in that green building on the corner."

"The mining supplies?" the man said.

"Well, yes . . . but Dr. Cleese has the upstairs office. The stairs are on the far side, near the gunsmith." Josiah prided himself in knowing where everything in town was located.

The man headed toward the doctor's office.

"Excuse me?" Josiah replied. "Can I help you with anything?"

"You already have," the man answered, not turning around.

"There is something familiar about his face," Josiah mumbled. "Oh, well."

The man hurried up the stairs and opened the door to Ephraim's office. He stared at the doctor -- it was important to have the right man. "You're Cleese. I remember you."

Ephraim removed his specs and squinted. He wiped them and placed them back on. "Are we acquainted?"

"My wife died because of you." There was anger in the voice.

Ephraim's eyebrows raised -- he felt beads of sweat on his forehead -- along his spine. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to explain exactly what happened." Then, Ephraim suddenly recognized the man. "Eli Uhle!"

"That's right, you murdering butcher!" The man opened his coat, revealing a pistol tucked inside his pants.

Ephraim tensed, fearful for his life. "Your wife was terminally ill. There was nothing I could do to save her. Surely, you must recall that?"

"She might have survived," Eli Uhle angrily barked. "You gave her that poison!"

"I merely administered laudanum. It was the only thing that made her comfortable," Ephraim insisted. "Her sufferings were quite distressing -- more than she could handle."

"And it killed her! She became addicted to it. Now, she's dead. And I blame you." He raised the gun -- pointing it at Ephraim.

"No! I only helped her! Please?!"

The man laughed -- it was a cold laugh. He walked up to the frightened doctor. "I heard you have a wife now, Cleese. I also noticed some women in the church. I think one of them just might be your wife. I won't kill you, Cleese. I want you to suffer like I did. So I'm going to pay those women a little social call. I have six bullets. Maybe I'll shoot five of them and save one bullet for me. Maybe I'll shoot a few of them in their legs and cripple them." He swung the gun into Ephraim's forehead, knocking him hard to the floor. He grinned at the blood sliding down the unconscious doctor's face, laughed and hurried outside.

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

Call stepped up to open the door to the dry goods. Runt was with him. The meeting should have dispersed some time ago. He expected to find his wife inside with her sisters. "What the hell . . . ?" he said. The door was locked. He turned, looking around. "What the hell are they doing?" He walked into the street -- paused and scratched his unshaven chin.

"Lost? Are we?"

Call barely glanced at Clay Mosby. "What do you want, Mosby?"

Clay grinned. "I assume we are in the process of locating our wives." He glanced at his pocket watch.

Call stared off to the open field -- where the church stood alone. "Gretchen said they'd be in the church," he mumbled.

Clay followed him. "Perhaps I will . . ."

Suddenly, Josiah Peale ran out to the street. "Newt! Clay! Come quick! It's Ephraim!"

Call ignored Mosby and ran across the street -- Runt alongside him. Clay caught up to them in front of the mining supplies building.

"Ephraim's been attacked," Josiah cried. "Unbob is with him now." Call and Mosby rushed up the stairs into the office.

Dr. Cleese laid on his own table. He slowly rose to a sitting position.

"What happened?" Call asked.

Ephraim was in a panic. "You must save the women. I fear they are in grave danger."

"What are you talking about?" Call snapped.

"Who did this, Cleese?" Clay demanded.

"Eli Uhle. His wife died -- he's blaming me."

"My wife is with them," Clay said.

"As are all three of our wives, Mosby," Ephraim replied. "Call! Save them!"

Call rushed out the door, down the stairs, and across the field. Runt was still at his side. Clay rushed out, close behind. They ran across the field to the church. Call threw open the door and stepped inside -- gun drawn.

"Sonofabitch!" he said. It was empty.

Clay pushed past Call -- staring at the empty room. "I propose we set aside our differences, Call. Work together. There's no telling what this madman is capable of."

The short fuse stick of dynamite that was always hair trigger suddenly exploded. Call reached up, grabbing Clay by his coat -- yanking him toward him -- a wild glare in his eyes. "Shut the hell up, Mosby!" He shoved Clay back -- roughly into the wall. Clay hesitated -- he knew Call was worried about his pregnant wife. He allowed him his offensive behavior.

Call turned, staring outside. "That bastard! They could be anywhere!"

Clay Mosby quietly waited -- knowing Call was capable of reaching a decision in which they would benefit. He didn't need two antagonists right now -- not with the lives of their wives at stake.

Call suddenly reached into his shirt pocket -- pulling out a small handkerchief. It was Gretchen's. "Runt! Come here, boy," Call urged. The dog came to him. He put the handkerchief near the dog's nose. "Go find her, boy. Find, Gretchen."

Runt barked. He whined a little, then suddenly began sniffing inside the church -- his claws scraping the wooden floorboards. He whined again then ran out the door, sniffing around the grounds out back.

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

The women had protested when Eli Uhle entered the church. "This is a women's meeting," Ashley had notified the intruder.

The thin, fortyish man drew his pistol, alarming the six women. "I am prepared to enter Hell, itself, today. I will be most obliging to bring some of you with me."

The women huddled together -- stricken with fear. Eli Uhle spotted Mattie Shaw's holster, urging her to remove her gun slowly, or else be the first to die. Mattie obeyed -- with reluctance. He noticed the gold bands around the fingers of the three married women -- Ashley, Victoria, and Gretchen. "One of you must be Dr. Cleese's wife."

"I am," Victoria replied. "I'm Mrs. Cleese."

Paige thought she might be able to slip out and get help. Gretchen urged her not to run -- their abductor appeared ready to kill any of them.

Concerned for time, Eli Uhle forced the six women out of the church's rear door and across the field, into the wooded area. Amanda Carpenter, the oldest of the six women, whispered to Mattie about using their last breath to fight this crazed man. For once, Mattie agreed. They were led a short distance into the woods -- right to the entrance of the abandoned mine.

Gretchen gasped at the sight of the mine. "I almost lost Call here," she whispered to Victoria. Her eyes welled up with tears at the thought of one of her most painful memories being rekindled. Victoria put her arm around her -- small comfort in their current moment of

danger.

"All of you get inside. Hurry!" Eli Uhle ordered. The cave-in, which had trapped and nearly taken the lives of Newt Call and Clay Mosby, half a year ago, had been cleared some. The six hostages proceeded into the dreary, darkened mine with caution.

Amanda and Mattie -- both having been in a somewhat similar situation before -- glanced around the dimly lit chamber in search of anything they could use to their advantage -- rocks, clubs, nails. What had started as a women's group with Ashley in charge had now become a survival emergency with Amanda taking charge. She knew both Victoria and Gretchen -- each carrying child -- had to think about the babies. Mattie had revealed her hesitancy in the Samuel Peters incident and young Paige Brandt might be too careless and charge foolishly at this madman with the gun. To her, it was simple. She would have to initiate any type of escape for the women.

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

Mason Dobbs rode his gray across the field, jumping off the horse before completely stopping. "Just heard, Newt," he said, running up to his nephew and Clay Mosby. "Howdy, amigo," he said to Mosby. "Your wives are missing?"

Call ignored his uncle -- closely watching Runt sniff the ground. The dog suddenly raised its head, then ran toward the wooded area where the women had been led. Call drew his gun and ran after the dog -- Clay and Mason on his tail. Call moved quicker through the woods than the others -- reaching Runt as he stood outside the abandoned mine entrance. Clay and Mason caught up -- Clay looking at Call. Call wasn't in the mood for memories of their ordeal in the cave -- all he cared about was saving his wife, her sisters, and the others. Suddenly, they heard a gunshot from inside the mine. Women's voices screaming.

"GRETCHEN!" Call yelled. He charged inside -- Runt alongside him.

*****

Eli Uhle had ordered all six women to sit on the cold, damp floor. Amanda, deciding the longer she waited, the less likely they were to all survive, bent down and scooped dirt into her hands. As she stood up and turned, Eli Uhle pointed the gun at her. Amanda started to sit then threw the dirt at Eli. He raised his arm, shielding it from the loose dirt as Amanda lunged for the gun. The gun went off and Amanda fell to the floor, causing the other women to scream. Amanda wasn't hurt -- the bullet swallowed up by the dark, earthen walls. Eli had shoved Amanda forcefully to the hard ground.

Barking -- a dog barking -- erupted in the darkness. "Runt?!" Gretchen whispered. "Runt! Here, boy!"

Runt suddenly appeared in the chamber -- Call charging in with him.

"Call!" Gretchen and Paige both cried.

Eli Uhle turned toward Call. Runt growled and sunk his teeth into Eli's leg.

"Aarrhhhhh!" Eli yelled. He shook his leg and raised his gun but a fringed blur struck him with enough force to dislodge his gun. Both Eli Uhle and Newt Call crashed to the ground. Clay Mosby and Mason Dobbs appeared in the chamber with their guns drawn.

Call, wound too tight to listen to anyone now, grabbed Eli's ears and yanked violently, causing him to scream in pain. Call then raised Eli's head and began slamming it into the hard, rock ground. "You sonofabitch! What did you do to my wife?!" Call hollered. Reason had fled his mind -- his only thoughts now was to inflict severe pain on the man who had kidnapped his wife.

Mason tried to pull his nephew off the man. "Newt! Enough, boy! You'll kill him!"

Call -- his face knotted with fury -- threw his uncle back. He turned to the dazed Eli Uhle and threw everything he had into one punch. His fist drove into Eli's jaw with so much force that a sound similar to stepping on and breaking a dry stick of wood was heard as Eli's jaw was instantly shattered and broken. Eli screamed in horrible pain as Call slid over him -- carried from the force of the blow. Blood filled Eli Uhle's mouth, gurgling down his chin -- staining his neck and shirt.

"You bastard!" Call hollered again -- still not satisfied or content. It required all the strength of both Clay and Mason to pull Call off of the thrashing man. He managed to drive his spur into Eli's thigh, causing the body to spasm in more pain.

"Newt? Newt? Damn it, boy! It's us!" Mason yelled, trying to bring his nephew back to where they were.

Call hesitated, his body shaking slightly -- his breathing accelerated. His eyes darted as he slowly came out of his own madness -- the very same madness once witnessed in Woodrow Call. He looked at the ground. Eli Uhle thrashed in unbearable pain from the shattered jaw. Call suddenly turned -- Gretchen was there.

"Call!" She grabbed him, holding him tight. He held his wife. Victoria and Paige hugged the two of them while Mason went and helped Mattie up. She even gave Mason a hug.

"He led you here, Call," Gretchen said. "Runt helped saved us." It would require several more minutes before Call would even begin to calm down. At the thought of his wife and baby being taken, he exploded. Gretchen would be the one person to now sooth his spirit.

After affectionately holding his own wife, Clay had Mason help him drag Eli Uhle out of the cave. He had passed out from the severity of pain and would be hauled over to the jail.

On the short walk back to town, Clay explained to the women why Eli Uhle had come to possibly kill them. Victoria was worried when she heard Ephraim had been struck on the forehead. Clay assured her it looked worse than it actually was. Little comfort to a woman five and a half months pregnant.

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

Mattie Shaw agreed to a picnic with Mason Dobbs. Dewey complained that he was Mason's pard and should be there with them. Mason bribed him with a bag of candy. Dewey admitted that he could have been bribed for only half a bag of candy. He then winked at Mason.

********

Amanda's standing in the town had risen greatly -- her boldness and courage was spoken of by everyone in town. If nothing else, the women of Curtis Wells would respect her and acknowledge her as a woman not to be taken lightly.

********

Ashley treasured her husband's valiant efforts at rescuing her and the other threatened women. "Darling Clay," she cooed, "you arrived like a knight in shining armor. You are quite the hero, if I may be so bold."

Clay smiled. "Perhaps I could have been the one to capture Mr. Uhle, if not for the outrageous beating and violent behavior of that deplorable Newt Call."

Ashley placed her slender, manicured hand upon Clay's neatly trimmed beard. "He is nothing like you, dearest Clay -- a gentleman at all times. The young man is quite barbaric in nature. I sometimes fail to understand why an attractive young woman such as Gretchen can be so very much in love with him."

Clay grinned. "Enough talk of Newt and Gretchen Call, my dear. I propose we concentrate upon ourselves tonight."

Ashley's eyes widened as Clay began to undress her.

********

Dr. Ephraim Cleese -- usually the one administering aid to his patients -- was in the enviable position of being doted on by his wife, Victoria -- whom, in his eyes, would make a most outstanding nurse.

Victoria and Paige both agreed that Call would have killed Eli Uhle if Mason and Clay Mosby hadn't pulled him away.

Paige hoped she would see Dish Boggett soon. She had an adventure to tell him about.

********

Call and Gretchen, along with the hero of the day, Runt, returned home. Runt had his own bowl of stew along with Call and Gretchen as they ate supper. Runt had seconds . . . and thirds.

When it came time to bed down for the night, Call and Gretchen retired to their small bedroom. Runt has his bed in the larger room -- near the fireplace. With a full belly, Runt lied down -- curled up -- and went to sleep.

Gretchen snuggled close to her husband. "Call?"

"Yeah?" He was relaxed -- that being no easy feat -- considering what had happened. He held Gretchen close to him -- inhaling the light fragrant smell of her hair.

"When I . . . when I saw the cave . . ." she breathed deep, sighing. She swallowed. "It brought back that horrible day . . . I almost lost you, Call. The day we bought this place." She lifted her face to kiss his lips. "How did we get so lucky, Call? To be together like this? And we have a baby on the way."

"I reckon we got us a fine dog, too, Gretchen." He laughed some.

"Yes. Yes, we do," she giggled. "He's a wonderful dog."

"I'm glad you didn't see fit to bring him in here and put my out there," Call replied.

Gretchen elbowed him in the ribs. "I was kidding about that. You know that. I would never want to be apart from you. I can't stand it when you're away from me. So many folks just don't seem like they're happy. We have such a wonderful love, Call. I love being your wife."

Call turned to his side. He looked into Gretchen's green eyes for a long time. She just smiled warmly and stared back. "I love you," he said.

Gretchen's smile brightened even more. "Goodnight, Call. I'll love you forever."

Within minutes, Gretchen was in a peaceful sleep. Call had one arm around her upper back -- the other hand on her stomach -- where the baby was growing. This was a new experience for Newt Call. A baby. Gretchen had conceived soon after they became husband and wife. He had felt her stomach as the baby grew. It was a satisfying feeling to know a child, conceived in the love between him and Gretchen, would soon be born.

He usually required longer to drift off to sleep. It was just his way -- to wait until everything seemed quiet. As his eyes finally grew heavy, he heard Runt quietly huffing near the door to their bedroom. Call smiled. "Come on, boy," he quietly said.

Runt jumped up on the small bed. He circled twice and plopped on the edge of the bed. Call kissed Gretchen's cheek. She moaned softly in her sleep and smiled. Call let sleep overtake him.

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

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