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.


Our Sorrow's Share
(38th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

There was that summer of 1867 one long, perfect day.
It was mine, and blessed be our memory, which preserves to us
the joys as well as the sadness of life! -- it is still mine,
for time and for eternity.

(Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Wednesday, July 19, 1882)

When Clay Mosby looked up and saw the woman step off the stage, he immediately recognized her. The shiny chestnut brown hair he had first seen almost twenty years earlier now appeared dull. Gone were the exuberant eyes -- they now seemed engulfed in sorrow and heavy laden with sadness. Hadn't he observed the same look on countless occasions when he had gazed at his own sad face in the mirror since the conclusion of the war?

"Do you know that woman in the dark green dress, Clay, darling?"

"I know of her, to be more accurate, my dear Ashley. Although, if memory serves me correctly, I did have an occasion to see her during the war. That, is Mrs. George Armstrong Custer. Someone I quite never expected to see walk the streets of Curtis Wells."

"Well," Ashley replied, "I find this to be most interesting. You must tell me all about the time you met her."

"As I shall, my dear. As I shall. However, it would be appropriate that we welcome her to our fair little town. Wouldn't you agree?"

"Of course," Ashley answered.

Clay arched his arm for his wife to take hold of, then stepped into the street and approached the stage.

"Excuse me?" he politely began. "Mrs. George Custer, I presume?"

The distinguished woman turned. "Yes. I am Mrs. George Armstrong Custer."

Clay bowed, taking her hand and lightly kissing it. "Permit me to introduce myself. Colonel Francis Clay Mosby. And, my wife, Mrs. Ashley Mosby."

Libbie Custer offered a warm and sincere smile to compliment her curtsey. "I detect a Virginia accent, Mr. Mosby." She paused, staring at his face. "Forgive me," she said almost in a whisper. "I've seen you before."

Clay couldn't help but smile. "I recall the occasion quite vividly, Mrs. Custer. Perhaps you would consent to dine with my wife and I? Provided, of course, once you have seen to your needs and have settled in. Might I inquire as to how long you intend to grace our town?"

"I am merely passing through, Mr. Mosby. I do hope to spend perhaps a day or two here. I see no reason why I shan't combine work with relaxation. I would be delighted to dine with you and Mrs. Mosby."

"Excellent," Clay replied. "You'll be staying directly across the street at the Lonesome Dove Hotel. What time would you find most satisfactory, Mrs. Custer?"

"Shall we say 6 o'clock? I find it beneficial to my health if I retire at an affordable hour," Libbie quickly commented.

"6 o'clock, it is," Clay remarked. "Perhaps I could assist you with your luggage, Mrs. Custer?"

"Thank you, Mr. Mosby," Libbie replied. "It's refreshing to see some things haven't changed."

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

Robert Shelby had known for awhile that it would end. He just wasn't prepared for it to happen this soon. A month had nearly passed since he last touched her. He had delighted in the lustful and always passionate episodes of copulation with Ashley Mosby. She possessed an incredible as well as insatiable appetite for carnality.

Even the two servants whom Clay had hand picked for his wife's sensual cravings were given the order -- hand's off! This was met with an equal sentiment of relief and disappointment.

"The time has come!" Clay proclaimed to his less than enthusiastic wife. The time, of course, meaning it was time to provide him an heir -- a son, to carry on the Mosby name.

Ashley was obedient -- submissive to a fault. Although in private, she vowed to discreetly take up where she had left off once the child was born. Clay had been the most satisfying lover she had known, but such were her desires that one man, not even Clay Mosby, himself, could adequately provide her with the needs of her flesh. She considered allowing his request until the child was conceived and then perhaps she would resume her illicit affairs.

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

"Happy Anniversary, Victoria!"

Victoria Cleese, heavy with child, turned to see her equally pregnant sister, Gretchen Call, enter the dry goods store. "How nice of you to remember, Gretchen."

"I already told her this morning," Paige Brandt added. She was slightly disheartened at not seeing Dish Boggett for nearly a month.

"How could I forget, Victoria?" Gretchen replied, hugging her sister. "Your anniversary is only six days after Call and my anniversary."

"I feel like this baby weights twenty-five pounds," Victoria said. "Now that we've both reached the eighth month, I can't even begin to imagine how we'll make it another month. Can you, Gretchen?"

"Well, I'm not as large as you," Gretchen replied.

"But the weight of your baby is causing you to limp," Paige quickly remarked. She looked at Victoria, then back to Gretchen. "We've both seen it, Gretchen. You try to hide it but we know you."

"I'm sure it will pass," Gretchen said. "Another month and you should be an auntie, Paige."

Paige smiled. "And I'm learning so much from the two of you that can only help when my turn comes to bear children." She walked over to the front of the store, looking out the window. "I miss Dish."

"I've missed Call so much while he's been up in Hat Creek working for his father. He's supposed to come back today. I can't wait," Gretchen excitedly said as she joined Paige at the window. She gazed at the wedding band on her finger and smiled.

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

Secretly, Dewey hoped Mason Dobbs would take up with Mattie Shaw, his adopted mother. Though he sat on the floor drawing stick people and stick horses on a wrinkled piece of paper, he heard every word spoken between Mason and Mattie.

"When's Call due back, Mason?" Mattie asked while cleaning one of the older pistols in her collection.

"Soon, I'll wager. Coyote Girl's time is getting close. I'm sure Newt will want to be with his wife when she's ready to give birth."

Mattie put the gun on the counter and looked at Mason. "It's hard to believe -- Call being a father -- a child coming. Although the way his wife tends to look, that baby won't be no bigger than a mouse."

Mason laughed. "She is a mite small. Well, Newt, he ain't exactly bumping his head on ceilings."

Dewey stood up. "How is a baby made? Where do they come from?"

Mattie and Mason both reddened. "I always heard the stork brought them," Mason suggested.

Dewey shook his head, laughing. "Before Mama brought me here -- when I was living in Miles City, I knew two kids who had the same birthday. And one of 'em he come from Nebraska. How can the stork be in two places at the same time? I don't figure."

Mason, suddenly puzzled, turned to Mattie. She gave Mason a stern look. It was all for naught, as Dewey ran for the open back door, pulling his slingshot out of his torn back pocket. "I gotta go. I just saw a squirrel in the field."

"What were you going to say, Mason?" Mattie held her hands on her hips. "He's a little old to believe in the stork."

"You like squirrel, Mattie?" Mason asked. He pulled his gun and checked the bullets. "Makes a fine stew." He winked at her and hurried out the back door.

Mattie huffed. "Well, that was a sneaky way to get out of answering me." She watched as one small boy and one overgrown boy made fools of themselves attempting to run down a small squirrel which eventually scampered safely back up a tree.

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

The arrival of the esteemed Elizabeth Custer was cause for excitement. Never had so great a lady walked the sordid streets of Curtis Wells. As one would expect, Josiah Peale had labored diligently to print perhaps the Statesman's finest edition.

A small group had gathered outside the newspaper office, discussing the unexpected appearance of Libbie Custer. Josiah, deciding it would be to his benefit to stretch his aching back, stepped outside to join the conversation.

"Do you know that we come from the same town as Libbie Custer?" Beth Dewberry commented.

"Although my sister and I never knew her personally," Suzanne Van Atta added, "our family was well acquainted with the Bacon's."

"I can only imagine the heartache and suffering that poor woman has undergone," Brother Sebastian said.

"I understand, as I have heard it," Dr. Cleese replied, "that Mrs. Custer is dining with Mr. Mosby and his wife."

"Why, we must simply be part of that table when they sit down to sup," Suzanne remarked. "I am quite sure our presence would be a welcomed addition."

Sheriff Austin Peale stood among the group. He hadn't yet determined which sister, Suzanne or Beth, that he preferred. "I had better be there . . . of course, sitting somewhere else," he commented, "just in case there's trouble."

"Why, Sheriff Peale," Beth said, "how silly. Why would anyone seek to harm Mrs. Elizabeth Custer?" She had taken great pleasure in coquetting with not only Austin, but Robert Shelby, Clay Mosby, Mason Dobbs, and Luther Root.

"I think it's a very considerate suggestion," Suzanne replied. She also delighted in flirtatious banter with men.

"Well, I imagine the Dove will be quite crowded tonight," Josiah noted, before returning inside the office.

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

"You must invite them to dine with us, Mr. Mosby," Elizabeth Custer had insisted when told that two sisters from her hometown Monroe, were currently staying in town. Clay willingly obliged -- the prospect of being surrounded by four attractive women too tempting to pass up.

Clay Mosby found Libbie Custer to be quite knowledgeable concerning the facts of the war. He concluded her husband had obviously recounted his many battles and charges numerous times -- Libbie remembering the tales with stunning accuracy -- especially for a woman.

"I do hope you will be eternally forgiving of my shameless manners, Mr. Mosby," Libbie Custer said. Her face had flushed some.

"Whatever do you mean, Mrs. Custer?" Clay replied. He had found Elizabeth Custer to be an extraordinary woman, as did all others at their table.

"Aside from my dearest, departed Autie, and his rascally brother, Tom, I dare say, Mr. Mosby, you are a man a woman takes note of. I seem to recall having looked upon your face before. Your forgiveness, Mrs. Mosby?"

"Of course, Mrs. Custer," Ashley replied.

"As do I, yours, Mrs. Custer," Clay remarked. He smiled.

Libbie thought for a moment. "Colonel Mosby?" she quietly said. "I recall it now! Yes! It was in the spring of '64. Early May. The General and I had only been married for three months. I had traveled, I must say, against Autie's orders. I was smuggled in a wagon with forage and rations, and taken to General Sheridan's camp. There were maybe Confederate prisoners. I recall a Colonel Mosby."

Clay's face became graven. He nodded quietly. "It was Yellow Tavern you speak of, Mrs. Custer. We lost General Stuart in that engagement. We were never quite the same. The Confederacy had boasted the superior cavalry until your husband, with his Michigan regiment, quite literally equaled our own cavalry. I, myself, as well as my men, were captured and taken prisoner. That gentleman standing over there is Captain Shelby. He, also, was taken prisoner." Clay offered a weak, empty smile. "As one might imagine, my final contribution to the South was one of failure. I was to spend the final eleven months of the war within the confines of a rank and deplorable prisoner camp."

There was a heavy silence that momentarily swept the table.

Libbie Custer softly began to intone, "can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrow's share?"

"What a friend we have in Jesus," Suzanne Van Atta replied. "How true. How true."

Libbie reached out, touching Clay's hand, squeezing it, then letting go. "That terrible, awful war. So many lives destroyed. So many families."

"I had not intended for this to become such a disheartened occasion," Clay said.

Libbie Custer hadn't heard Clay. Her gaze was fixed out in the street, where she had just beheld a young, long haired man draw to a hard stop on horseback, then jump off his mount and head toward the hotel. She took note of a young woman, heavy with child, rise suddenly from her seat -- having sat with two other similar-looking women, and rush into the street. As she watched them passionately embrace -- they kissed and kissed -- aware of nothing other than each other, Libbie quietly replied, "who are those two delightful young people? They remind me so much of Autie and I."

Beth Dewberry burned with jealousy as she watched Call and Gretchen step inside the Dove. "He's a Texan -- she's from Missouri. Hardly the type of low-class folks we would associate with in upper society, Mrs. Custer. They both are quite shameless in their behavior."

"I think they're adorable," Libbie said, obviously delighted in seeing the affectionate couple. As she watched them sit down at the table which the pregnant woman had been dining, along with the other two women, she fondly recalled one of her own memories. "During autumn of '64, I had been staying at a boardinghouse in Washington. I had gone to New York to visit relatives and buy winter clothes. I had written Autie that I was leaving." She paused, reflecting as if it had happened yesterday. "It was in the morning -- I was eating breakfast when someone . . . I don't recall who, brought in a copy of the New York Times. It announced General Sheridan's victory and my husband's proposed trip to Washington. I thought I would die at having not been there to see him. I fled to my room and fell upon the bed, sobbing. I heard the children's voices piping, 'He's come! He's come!' My Armstrong burst into my room and swept me into his arms."

"What a romantic memory," Ashley Mosby replied.

Libbie Custer smiled. "Yes. And, those two over there are so obviously in love with each other." She turned to Beth. "You see, Miss Dewberry? The social upper class doesn't necessarily mean happiness. The cotillions. The parties. I truly believe that young married couple has something so much more valuable."

****

"He's back! He's back!" Gretchen cried, when she saw Call ride up. Unable to wait for her husband to come inside the Dove, she rushed outside to embrace him. "Call! My Call! I missed you so much!"

Call hugged his wife, careful of the baby. With his arm around her, he led her back inside the hotel, joining her sisters for supper.

"Call, you smell dirty and sweaty from the trail," Gretchen playfully said. "I should put you in the wagon and bring you to our secret place and dump you in the river and bathe you."

Call laughed as his wife tugged his long tangles.

Gretchen leaned close and whispered, "I really want to take you home and let you ravage my body, Call. I've missed you so much."

Amanda Carpenter stopped by the table. "I haven't seen you for a week, Call."

Call just nodded.

"I'll bring you some food," Amanda said, hurrying away. A full dining room of hungry people allowed little occasion for idle chatter. Especially when the illustrious Elizabeth Bacon Custer had graced Curtis Wells with her presence.

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

Ashley Mosby had insisted on Libbie Custer returning to their home to spend a day or two. It was, after all, as she proudly commented, the grandest home in the territory. Libbie accepted -- she had found the Mosby's to be among the most decent people she had known. It mattered not that a Michigan Yankee -- the wife of one of the Confederacy's greatest enemy's -- General George Custer, was befriended by a Virginia Colonel and his Louisiana wife. These were three people whose tragedies in life gave them a common bond of sorrow.

Ashley delighted in Libbie's accounts of New Orleans. She had visited the city after the war ended. She recalled that both her and Autie thought it to be as curious as a foreign city. They had visited the Vieux Carre; listened to the French patois; marveled at quaint gables surmounted by chimney pots, and dined in famous restaurants where they consumed bouillabaisse, crawfish bisque, crab gumbo, and shrimps a la Creole.

Clay found Libbie's knowledge of the war astounding -- in so much as no woman had ever matched him for historical accuracy. Libbie was unable to hold back tears as Clay and Ashley both related their tales of sadness.

"I'm gathering accounts to preserve my husband's name," Libbie shared. "I plan to write a book that will let generations to come know what really happened. It will probably be two or three years before it actually is printed, but I intend to title my book, Boots and Saddles."

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

Wednesday, July 26, 1882

The sun had begun to set behind the distant mountains. Long streaks of thin, painted clouds -- first pink, then purple -- lay spread across the far western sky. Gretchen had finished mending one of her skirts and a shirt of her husband's. She walked to the open door, limping slightly from the weight of the baby, and looked out at Call. He stood on the porch, leaning against one of the posts.

Another month and he would be a father -- a thought that weighed heavy at times. Call stared out at the hazy white ball, not really seeing it. He wondered if he had erred. Before Gretchen arrived in Curtis Wells he was free -- not answerable to anyone. Although a life of drinking and emptiness was a lonely existence, he didn't have to face or deal with his shortcomings. He truly loved Gretchen -- a feeling such as he had never known before was now inside him.

"Call? Is something bothering you?" Gretchen had quietly walked over to him, laying her head on his shoulder.

"Just nervous . . . I guess."

"You'll be a good father to our child, Call." Gretchen was aware of his recent anguish.

"How can you be so sure?" he asked, turning to his wife.

"Because, you're so good to me, Call. You love me. You protect me. You'll be the same with our baby."

"I just . . . would favor someone to talk to."

"All right, Call," Gretchen agreed. "But, who would you talk to? Your father?"

He shook his head. "Nope. Ain't likely he knows anything about being a father. I reckon Bill Cody might just be the one."

"Buffalo Bill?"

"Yep."

Gretchen was silent. "Do you . . . know where he's at?"

"My guess is he's somewhere in the territory." He shrugged. "Don't hardly matter none, seeing I have to leave for Hat Creek come morning."

Gretchen's face saddened. "I know you have to leave, Call. The baby will be coming soon."

"I'll be back in a week," Call said.

"I'll be staying at Victoria's. Ephraim said it was all right to bring Runt. I can help out at the store while you're gone." Gretchen squinted, looking at the orange-yellow glow illuminating from the west. "Let's go to bed early, Call. I want as much of you as I can have tonight."

Call held his wife close, walking her back inside the small house. Neither of them regarding the temporary separations with any enthusiasm -- preferring to spend as much time together as could be afforded -- chores and daily living taken into consideration.

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

Early next morning, near the Montana-Canadian border, a breakout from the Territorial Prison in Goldbutte occurred. Toby Finch, feigning illness, had managed to render an unsuspecting guard unconscious. Relieving the helpless sentry of his knife and pistol, Toby slit the throat of another half-asleep guard and disappeared into the pre-dawn wilderness.

Hours later a handful of prison guards trailed north, anticipating his escape across the border into Canada. So determined were they that the escaped prisoner would attempt to cross over into nearby Alberta, that no one bothered to hunt him in other paths.

Toby Finch stole one of the faster horses from the prison corral and immediately rode off in a southeastern direction -- heading toward Curtis Wells.

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

Libbie Custer had finally left Curtis Wells, continuing in her quest to keep the lying and corrupt Indian agents and politicians back in Washington from falsely vilifying her husband's name. She had unselfishly dedicated her remaining years to this fight.

Both Clay and Ashley Mosby had found the witty Libbie Custer to be a delectable experience. They shared each other's sorrows -- feeling as one in spirit -- partaking in the painful memories of tragic lost.

"Wouldn't the newspapers back east love to sink their sharp, venomous teeth into our visit, Mr. Mosby?" Libbie had said.

"My dear Mrs. Custer," he replied, "there will always be wretched and miserable men, and women, for that matter, who wallow in self-pity and have need to criticize and condemn others. There are those opinionated sorts that continuously seek to point out other's weaknesses and shortcomings, while ignoring their own titanic faults."

Libbie agreed. She hugged Clay and Ashley as if they were her very own cousins before departing.

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

Wednesday, August 2, 1882

"Gretchen! Will you please stop looking out that window! It's very annoying."

Gretchen turned as quick as she could, burdened with the weight of the baby. She didn't say anything -- only casting a frown toward Paige.

"She's been testy this morning," Paige quietly replied, looking over at Victoria.

Gretchen sighed. "I just wish Call would come back. I never sleep good when he's gone. I know he's working with his father because of me and our baby . . . but, I miss him so much, Paige."

"At least he isn't chasing bounties. You remember what happened the last time, Gretchen?" Paige replied.

Gretchen could only nod slightly. "When that bear mauled him . . . I . . . I know you're right, Paige. I just want him with me. We belong together, not apart."

"Will you two please do some work?!" Victoria barked.

Gretchen and Paige looked at each other then went to their older sister. "Two more weeks, Victoria," Paige said. "You should have the baby in two more weeks."

"Why don't you sit outside and rest, Victoria," Gretchen suggested. "It's a warm day. We can run things."

"I suppose I should," Victoria agreed. "My back is aching -- so much pain. I'm sorry, Gretchen. Boo. I don't mean to be short."

"I'll likely be the same soon enough," Gretchen replied.

"Well, I only hope that poor little me can handle you two ogres," Paige said, causing all three of them to laugh, as Victoria made her way to the back of the store.

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

Newt Call couldn't stop brooding. The young man who had been resigned to a lonely existence -- keeping his distance from all others -- shutting out their plights -- now found himself utterly miserable away from his wife. The Missouri-born Gretchen Brandt, now Mrs. Call, had turned him upside down and inside out. His thoughts were consumed with the green-eyed Coyote Girl, as he and his uncle Mason called her. Of course, it was Red Crow who had first given her the name last summer at the Lakota village, when Call spent the night along with Gretchen and Paige. He wasn't much interested in her then. Life sure had a way of changing. Now, she was all he ever thought about. And, she had become his wife.

"I swear, Newt," Dish Boggett said, shaking his head, "if you ain't been the most sour company -- even Jasper Fant would at least flap his jaw. I miss ol' Gus. He always had a good story to tell about. You ain't hardly said nothing this whole time, Newt."

Call looked up from the stout pine he rested against. "Gretchen's bound to have the baby in a couple more weeks. I heard tell some women die in childbirth."

Dish squatted to talk to Call. "Well I guess some do. I ain't never fathered no baby." The thought that Gretchen could die while delivering the baby -- that the child, itself, could be stillborn -- caused Dish to wonder if asking Paige Brandt to be his wife was such a good idea.

"I can't lose her, Dish," Call said, a hint of apprehension in his voice. He pulled out the small sepia photograph of Gretchen and stared at his wife.

Dish was perplexed. "Seems a man can avoid such happenings by going it alone -- like the Captain."

Call nodded -- it made sense.

"I hardly ain't ever seen you so content and happy, Newt," Dish added, "since you and Paige's sister got yourselves hitched. I guess a man has to risk something if he wants something. Don't seem to me there's no easy way about it."

"I ain't disputing that," Call replied. "I just . . . I reckon I have to set about making some changes."

Dish was in agreement with Call on that. "A man takes himself a wife, seems that his family has to come first. I guess you seen to that, Newt."

"Don't hardly drink much no more," Call confessed. "All that whiskey . . . tends to eat up a man's belly -- makes him mean and ornery. Ain't much of a life in that. Just end up trying to drown the pain."

Dish looked up at the sky. "Well I guess we should get those six mounts and bring them to Hat Creek. You'll be wanting to head back to your wife."

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

It came out of nowhere. So sudden and loud was the scream that both Gretchen and Paige were startled -- nearly knocking each other over to hurry outside.

"My water broke!" Victoria exclaimed. A puddle of water sat on the ground between Victoria's shoes -- water still dripping off the bench in which she sat. Victoria leaned forward, groaning from stabbing pains in her stomach.

"Hurry, Paige!" Gretchen said. "Run and fetch Ephraim. Tell him Victoria's ready to have the baby."

"But, it's too early," Paige argued. "She isn't due for two weeks, Gretchen."

"Just go! Now!" Gretchen loudly ordered.

Paige turned and ran quickly around the side of the building -- all three Brandt Sisters somewhat in shock now that it was finally time.

Gretchen helped Victoria to her feet. "We have to get you in the wagon, Victoria."

Within a relatively short amount of time Ephraim -- nearly out of breath -- reached the back of the dry goods -- Paige not far behind.

"She's gone into labor, Ephraim," Gretchen announced.

"How far apart are your stomach pains, Victoria?" Ephraim calmly asked. He turned to Gretchen. "How far apart?"

"Five minutes."

"I propose all four of us return to the house," Ephraim said. "The baby should be born before this day is over."

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

Toby Finch had one thought -- one desire. He planned to kill someone. Call was his first choice. If not him, then his wife. He had safely made it back to Curtis Wells. It was a simple matter to stop and ask questions at outlying ranches. After all, why wouldn't someone give directions to a family relative -- a cousin? Once he located the Call spread, he quietly hid within easy gunshot range and waited.

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

Victoria's contractions had slightly quickened -- the pains resulting in loud screams -- now every three minutes. Ephraim predicted that his wife's labor would be rather quick and the delivery of the child without incident, as he and Paige guided the tense Victoria up the stairs into the Cleese's bedroom -- a room much more spacious than Call and Gretchen's small bedroom.

Gretchen remained downstairs, boiling water and gathering towels. Now, more than ever, she desperately wished Call was there beside her. It had all happened so suddenly -- as these things were prone to do.

"I wish Mother was here right now," Paige said as she hurried to bring the towels upstairs.

An hour passed -- no baby. Two hours passed -- no baby. Victoria's screams set Gretchen quivering -- aware that she, herself, would soon be going through the same pain.

"I would feel so much better if Call were here with me," Gretchen commented to Paige.

Paige didn't agree. "I think it better that Call hasn't returned yet, Gretchen. Victoria's screams would cause him to become quite nervous. If you could have seen how he paced the floor of Ephraim's office on Valentine's Day after you had fallen. He was like some caged animal -- he couldn't sit or relax, he was so worried about you. How do you think he will act when it's you, Gretchen, doing the screaming?"

"I suppose Call will likely have to be tied down then," Gretchen replied. They both laughed. "Let's get upstairs, Boo. It can't be much longer."

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

Tired of waiting, Toby Finch decided to cautiously enter Curtis Wells. He could shoot either Call or his wife in the dark if opportunity presented itself. And if they weren't found, he could kill Clay Mosby -- holding him partially responsible for his being sent to prison. Toby mounted up and rode the short distance to town.

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

Newt Call and Dish Boggett were famished. The six new horses had met with Woodrow Call's approval. Instead of taking their grub with the others, Call and Dish sat alone outside.

"If I were you," Call told Dish, "I'd up and ask her before some other fella gets around to it."

"Well, I just might do that," Dish replied. He sighed. "How'd you set about doing it, Newt?"

"I reckon it took me a spell to get my nerve up. I knew right enough that Gretchen wanted us to get hitched," Newt said, wolfing down the stew Po Campo had made. "I swear, Dish. I wanted her so bad. Felt like my insides were busting out of me. Never felt nothing like it before. I reckon it's the best thing ever happened to me."

Dish looked up to see Pea Eye standing nearby. "Pea? You think the Cap'n will ever get hitched?"

Pea answered immediately. "No, Dish Boggett. I don't believe the Cap'n ever will."

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

By the end of the third hour Victoria had given birth to a healthy baby boy -- to the astonishment of Ephraim, who had predicted his wife would have a baby girl. Father handed the crying child to mother -- Victoria slowly reaching up to hold her first born.

"The very first Brandt baby," Gretchen quietly smiled.

"What's his name?" Paige eagerly asked. "Victoria? Ephraim? What is it? Which name did you finally choose?"

Victoria, tired and sweaty, smiled at Ephraim, nodding. Ephraim stood up, cleared his throat, and said, "his name is Daniel Jefferson Cleese. Named after my father, Daniel Aaron Cleese, and your father Jefferson Brandt."

"He's adorable, Victoria," Gretchen said, staring at the baby. "Can we hold him?"

"Why is he crying so much?" Paige asked. The baby had begun to cry and hadn't shown any sign of stopping.

"Paige, will you take Daniel and clean him?" Ephraim asked. "Victoria can begin breast feeding him once you have cleaned and wrapped him in flannel. I believe little Daniel will conclude his consistent crying once he has taken some of his mother's milk. If you don't mind, I think I would like both of you to hold the baby then let Victoria feed him."

Paige's face lit up as she couldn't wait to hold Victoria's son -- the first baby born to one of the Brandt Sisters. "He's such a beautiful baby," Paige cooed while gently wiping him. "Daniel? I'm your Auntie Paige. That's Auntie Gretchen."

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

Toby Finch slipped unnoticed through the back of the livery. He climbed up into the loft and with his stolen rifle edged toward the front, where he had a clear shot at the Ambrosia Club, and Clay Mosby's head once he stepped outside. If he happened to see Call or his wife before Mosby showed, he would shoot the first one he saw.

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

It was almost dark when Gretchen stepped outside the fairly large house and threw a pan of water off the porch. She turned to go back inside then paused, hearing a single horse approaching. Twisting her head, she suddenly dropped the empty pan. "Call! You've come!" Gretchen moved as quick as her legs could carry her off the porch -- slowed by the baby inside her stomach.

Newt Call pulled up and swung out of his saddle, hitting the ground and taking his wife into his arms. "I reckon I ain't ever seen a prettier woman than you right now, Gretchen."

Gretchen squeezed her husband tight. "I missed you so much, Call."

"Stopped by our place first," he said. Their mouths locked as they kissed passionately.

Gretchen suddenly pulled back. "Victoria gave birth!"

"What? When?"

"Just a few hours ago, Call. It's a boy. Come on, I'll bring you upstairs to see him."

Call grabbed Gretchen, stopping her. She looked at him, puzzled. "You sure I should be going up there, Coyote Girl?"

"Call, you're Daniel's uncle, now," Gretchen replied, yanking his arm toward the house. "Come on, Call. Victoria will be pleased to see you've come back safe. And Paige will want you to tell her all about Dish."

Call surrendered. There were times he was clearly outmatched by Gretchen.

Ephraim Cleese beamed with a pride of being the father of a newborn son. Call congratulated him and lightly kissed Victoria on the cheek when she ordered him to kiss her. He declined to hold the baby when offered -- he wasn't ready to hold someone else's baby -- even if it belonged to one of his wife's sisters -- both of whom he had grown much closer to. Gretchen mildly scolded her husband -- telling him he would most certainly be expected to hold their child when it was born.

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

"You see, Clay?" Ashley commented. She ran her fingers through his dark curls. "Sometimes it's good to come home early." She lifted the covers, peering at her husband's manhood. "Oh? My goodness, Clay! Already? You don't give a woman much time to rest, do you?"

"My dear," Clay replied, "you are much too enticing. You cannot expect me to be satisfied after only one time, now can you? Hmm?" He grinned at Ashley, who had already scurried under the covers head first.

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

Toby Finch eventually realized that Clay Mosby wasn't in the Ambrosia. Finding the Call's not home or in town, along with the disappearance of Mosby, made Toby wonder if word of his escape had reached Curtis Wells. It didn't make sense. Toby Finch knew both Call and Mosby would never turn tail and run. There had to be a logical explanation, which Toby didn't have time for. He decided to resort to another plan.

He crept out of the livery and moved quietly behind darkened buildings, running across the wide opening that separated the general store and the mining supplies building. He drew close to the rear of the gunsmith shop and paused, hearing laughter inside. Recognizing the voice of his father, Unbob, he suddenly thrust his boot into the back door, splintering the wood and knocking the brass doorknob to the floor. Toby stepped inside, aiming his stolen rifle at Mattie Shaw and Unbob Finch.

"Lordy! Toby!" Unbob cried.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Mattie loudly asked.

Toby Finch just grinned. "I come looking to kill Call or Mosby. Maybe I found another way." He looked at his father and shook his head. "Get up old man. You go find Call and bring him back here. You tell him I'll kill Miss Shaw, here, if he don't come back."

"Toby! No!" Unbob said. He began breathing hard.

"Call ain't even been around for the past week," Mattie said. She had it in her mind to slowly move to where her own gun was holstered under the counter. As she tried to be inconspicuous in her steps, Toby suddenly took the rifle and swung the butt end forcefully into Unbob's leg, knocking him to the floor.

"Ooowww! My leg!" Unbob cried.

"You son of a bitch!" Mattie yelled, rushing to the thrashing Unbob. "He never did nothing to you. He only tried to love you. You had no call to hit him."

Toby waved his hand. "He makes me want to puke. You stay away from those guns or he'll get it harder. Now, get up old man."

"He's hurting!" Mattie yelled.

Toby Finch backhanded Mattie in the mouth. "Shut your mouth!"

"Toby! No! Don't go hurting Miss Mattie," Unbob pleaded.

Mattie wiped a thin, red line of blood from the side of her mouth. "I should have never begged Call not to kill you last time you were here. He would have killed you if not for me and your father. What kind of man are you?"

Toby stepped over to Unbob and pulled him up. "You heard what I told you, old man. You go find Call, or you find Mosby. If you ain't back here in thirty minutes I'll kill Miss Shaw."

"Wha . . . what . . . what do I . . .?" Unbob nervously tried to talk.

The front door suddenly opened and Josiah Peale's young assistant, Hubie Kellner, stepped inside. "Miss Shaw, I found the article you . . .!"

Bam! Bam!

Hubie was thrown back into the doorway -- dead as soon as he hit the floor.

"NO!" Mattie screamed.

Toby Finch laughed.

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

"So," Clay Mosby said in a very content voice, "perhaps I should be taking advantage of your . . . talents, more often, my dear Ashley." He threw the bed sheet aside, staring down at his lust filled wife. "Come up here now."

Ashley obeyed.

"I want a son. One of the reasons I chose you for my wife is to provide me with a son."

Ashley pulled and wiggled alongside Clay. "Am I to be expected to raise a child by myself, Clay?"

"I have a saloon to run," Clay replied. "As well as other matters of business."

'Then I must insist you hire a tutor and a proper nanny for the boy, Clay. I am not exactly what one would call a spring chicken."

"I will provide you with whatever you need, Ashley. Just make sure that you are a proper mother to my son."

"In that, you needn't worry, Clay." Ashley leaned over, slowly kissing Clay's chest.

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

Call frowned. "Is that the way it's going to be for us when you have the baby, Coyote Girl?" He looked up at the ceiling.

"I doubt it, Call," Gretchen replied. She laid close to her husband in the spare bedroom, downstairs. "I think Victoria and Ephraim have a crier for a son."

Call laughed a little. Gretchen elbowed him but laughed just as much.

"We shouldn't laugh, Call," Gretchen said. She turned to her side, facing him. "I guess I could give birth to our baby any time now." She stared intently at her husband. "Are you ready for the baby, Call?"

"I reckon as ready as can be, Gretchen."

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

Daniel Cleese seemed to only stop crying when taking milk from his mother's breast. Once Victoria removed her son from her purplish nipple and cradled the baby, he began to cry and make a fuss.

Ephraim considered going downstairs to sleep in a chair but knew Victoria would be offended and hurt so he tried to close his eyes and hope his newborn son would eventually drift off to sleep.

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

"He's dead!" Mattie cried. "Hubie was just a boy." Toby grabbed Unbob and punched him in the stomach then struck him in the side of the head with the rifle. "You leave him be!" she yelled.

Mattie, fed up with Toby Finch's acts of domineering, ran toward Unbob's son. Toby grabbed her, shaking her roughly then hurled her hard to the floor.

"Aw, the hell with this," Toby grumbled. "I'll kill both of . . ."

"Drop the rifle! Now!"

Toby turned toward the broken rear door. Sheriff Peale stood in the doorway. Toby raised his weapon but not nearly as fast as Austin. Austin fired his pistol -- one, two, three shots -- into Toby Finch's belly. Toby sank to the floor and was soon dead.

Dewey poked his head in the door. "Mama? Did he hurt you, Mama?"

"Dewey saved you, Mattie," Austin remarked as he bent over Toby, making sure the escaped prisoner was dead.

Unbob crawled to his dead son and wept. He knew the boy was a bad seed but it didn't matter. He had been his son.

"What did you do, Dewey?" Mattie asked, as the boy helped her up.

"When that bad man broke the door it scared me awake. I ran down the stairs and got Sheriff Peale. I don't know where Mason is. Sheriff Peale came fast to help."

Austin knew Mason Dobbs was sitting inside the No.10 Saloon with a noisy group of revelers. His location had no bearing on this situation.

Mattie looked at Austin. "You saved us, Austin. He was going to kill me and Unbob."

"Well," Austin replied, "he won't ever hurt no one again." He turned to Dewey. "Maybe I should make you my deputy? You're becoming real helpful, Dewey."

Unbob looked up from the floor, blood slowly dribbling past his ear and along his neck. Tears splattered the floor.

Austin walked to the front of the shop, where the body of young Hubie Kellner lied. A small crowd had gathered out in the street.

"I wonder if he had any family?" Mattie remarked. She cast a glance back at Unbob. "I know how he feels. I lost my daddy . . ."

"Yes," Austin commented. "And I lost my mother and my sister. Everyone has sorrow."

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

It was 3 o'clock in the morning. Maybe 4 o'clock. Ephraim couldn't see without his specs. Victoria had just finished feeding their child. She handed him to Ephraim for a moment so she could sit up and burp the baby before attempting to return to sleep. Ephraim gently bounced his son, thinking it might help. Daniel suddenly let out a small belch, followed by a flood of milk.

"Ooohhh! Victoria!" Ephraim groaned, regurgitated milk drizzling down his chin, onto his night clothes.

Victoria couldn't hold back a small giggle. "Here, Ephraim. Give Daniel to me. I'll clean our son. You can clean yourself."

The baby immediately began to cry. Victoria tried to softly rock and gently sing her son asleep.

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

In the room next to Ephraim and Victoria, Paige was having difficulty finding sleep. It wasn't the constant crying of Victoria's newborn son. Paige was keenly aware of the high mortality rate that accompanied childbirth. It was too common to hear of a young mother dying during childbirth or else the baby not surviving. She was suddenly overcome with anxiety for Gretchen. Having found so much happiness and love with Call, Paige now feared that her sister could very well either lose her baby or die in childbirth. As a feeling of dread consumed her, she buried her face in her pillow and wept.

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

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