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 Common Sense of Nonsense
(39th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Every wise woman buildeth her house:
but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.

(Proverbs 14:1 - Holy Bible)

It happened much too quick for anyone to stop -- the white silk, medium heel shoe hitting Ephraim squarely in the back -- propelling him into the table of men's shirts. Everyone inside the dry goods and clothing store could only gaze with surprise.

"Don't you ever make a suggestion like that again, Ephraim Cleese!" Victoria glared at her husband -- surprised at the accuracy of her throw.

The meek doctor, shocked by his wife's sudden anger, stared at her, unable to find suitable words -- unable to find any words. He watched as Victoria strode angrily behind the counter, lifting her baby out of the cradle, attempting to comfort the crying child.

"I wasn't aware of any animosity existing between the Brandt Sisters and the Dewberry Sisters, Victoria," Ephraim finally replied. He stretched his hand behind his back at an awkward angle, trying to rub the area that had been struck by the projectile. "It was only in your interest, Victoria," he assured his wife, "that I suggested they possibly seek employment here at the dry goods. It has been but two weeks since you gave birth to our son and your sister is due to give birth any time now. Surely, you must realize it would lighten your burden."

"Open your eyes, Ephraim. Those two sisters are nothing more than catty, snobbish women," Victoria said.

Ephraim was at a loss. "But . . . Mrs. Van Atta has informed me how much she likes the three of you, Victoria. I don't quite understand?"

"Liar! Liar! Black liar!" Paige suddenly blurted out, imposing her opinion into the discussion.

"And, the other sister, Miss Dewberry, has taken an unhealthy interest in my husband," Gretchen added, looking at Call.

Ephraim's face wrinkled in confusion. He laughed a little. "I find that to be quite absurd. Oh! Excuse me, Call. I meant no disrespect by that comment."

Call shrugged. The comment didn't bother him.

"You see, Ephraim?" Paige replied. "What you said is merely common sense. A woman such as Miss Dewberry is interested only in men like Mr. Shelby and Mr. Mosby. Her interest in Call is purely of a jealous nature. Call ignored her advances when I was with him and Mr. Boggett and Red Crow when they rescued those troublesome women from the Blackfeet."

Ephraim, as Call had long since realized, found it futile to argue with the Brandt Sisters. One, alone, presented an overmatched situation -- all three together and it was over before it had begun. Ephraim sighed and stepped to the door. "I apologize, Victoria, for my oversight." He looked at Gretchen. "I shall be nearby. Try not to take her too far from town, Call."

"Call's taking me to our special place for a picnic. It's so warm today," Gretchen replied. She was now nine months pregnant -- her belly as large as it would grow -- though smaller than Victoria's had been two weeks earlier, when she gave birth to her son. Barring any unforeseen complications, Gretchen Call expected to have her child any day now.

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

"That is utter nonsense you speak, Beth." Suzanne Van Atta scoffed at her younger sister as she sipped her hot coffee and gazed around the dining room of the Lonesome Dove Hotel. "And what is your opinion of this matter, Brother Sebastian?"

Delighted in his inclusion over the Dewberry Sisters conversation -- although he had invited himself to sit at their table, and, in fact, had sat down before a proper welcome -- Brother Sebastian Loudermilk did not hesitate to speak frankly. "Thank you for asking, Mrs. Van Atta. As a Jesuit, I would not uphold our Christian beliefs if I were to agree with you. Your sister, Elizabeth, has displayed the milk of human kindness in her comment."

"There! That settles it, Suzanne. Even the Black Robe takes my side," Beth remarked.

"He hasn't all the information, I dare say," Suzanne replied, casting a look of disapproval at her sister. "The only reason you are willing to lower your social standing and ask Victoria Cleese for employment is to try and undermine the marriage of Mr. Newt Call and his wife. In case you haven't noticed, Elizabeth, Mrs. Call is quite heavy with child and the word is she will give birth at any moment, perhaps before this very day ends. Can't you stop this foolish scheme of pursuing a man who has absolutely no interest whatsoever in you?"

At this, Brother Sebastian was startled. "Oh, no! This will not do. This will not do at all, Miss Dewberry. Quite disgraceful, I must say. Yes, quite!" His hands shook slightly as he reached for his coffee. "Breaking up a marriage is unacceptable."

Beth glared at the nervous Jesuit. "To quote a character of my namesake, Brother Sebastian, 'Neither duty, honor, nor gratitude has any possible claim on me in the present instance.' You are a learned man, perhaps you are familiar with those words, Sir?"

"I believe not, Miss Dewberry. Pray, tell me from whom you quote so eloquently?"

Beth snickered. "Have you not heard of Miss Jane Austen, Brother Sebastian? I simply quoted Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. You must read it sometime, Sir. Perhaps if you were to lift your nose out of your Christian teachings, you might learn about the real world."

"Oh, please refrain from such nonsense, Beth," Suzanne implored. "Mr. Mosby has made a most intriguing suggestion. I wish to tell you all about it."

"Do tell us about it, Mrs. Van Atta," Brother Sebastian eagerly asked, his eyes lighting up as one who delighted in idle gossip -- an admitted failing he was quick to point out.

"Go away, you Jesuit man," Beth ordered, waving her hand with disdain. "You are quite likely the most boring man in Curtis Wells. I wish to speak to my sister, alone. Now, run! Shoo! Off with you!"

Brother Sebastian had grown accustomed to rudeness. It was part of the Jesuit life. He could see an anger in Elizabeth Dewberry's eyes that promised a slap in the face if he were to tarry. "Well," he said, undaunted, "if you fine ladies will excuse me, I shall be leaving."

"A little on the cranky side today, Beth?" Suzanne commented once the sisters were alone.

"Just tell me what Mr. Mosby said, Suzanne."

"He suggested we take over the general merchant store."

"Just like that?" Beth sarcastically remarked. "Suzanne? A Mr. Creel runs the general merchant. Does Mr. Mosby intend to buy him out?"

"I have no idea, Beth. Would you prefer we operate the hotel? That is what I would prefer."

"I would prefer to conquer that shabby, uncivilized Newt Call." Beth shrugged, offering an evil smile. "After that, I would be satisfied to return to our home in Michigan."

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

The sweltering heat of mid-August had caused Ashley Mosby to feel faint. Clay and Robert thought it best to have Dr. Cleese determine her condition. With reluctance, Ashley allowed the pair to escort her to the doctor's upstairs office.

"Well?" Clay Mosby inquired, as Ephraim emerged from the examining room. "Whatever did you discover, Cleese?"

Ephraim rocked on the balls of his feet, then his heels. He smiled. "Mrs. Mosby is quite well. She is also quite pregnant, Clay. Congratulations! You should become a father by late March, next year."

"You've done it, Clay!" Robert exclaimed, hugging his dearest friend. "Your son will be here soon. Hurrah!"

"Not so fast, Mr. Shelby," Ephraim cautioned. "We have no way of determining what the outcome will be. I, myself, was quite humbled only two weeks ago, when my predicted daughter turned out to be a son."

Clay thought about it. "It obviously must be a most fertile time. First, you, Ephraim. Your wife giving birth so recently. Call's wife is due, as I've heard, to have her baby any moment now. And, I." He shook his head. "Try as I might, I seem to be destined with Call -- sewn together at the hip -- in a strange and unexplainable manner. Quite perplexing."

Ashley, having finished dressing, entered the outer office. "Has the good doctor told you, Clay, dearest? Your wish has begun. I find myself now quite pregnant, with your child."

"My wish is for a son, Ashley. I do hope you will try to accommodate."

"Of course, Clay," Ashley replied. "Don't I always try to accommodate you?"

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

With Runt along for the ride, as well as the food, Call led the wagon slowly to the secluded spot by the river where he and Gretchen had cast their clothes aside and been intimate in the water. He stopped near a clump of shady trees -- temperatures had reached ninety degrees -- and helped his wife to the ground. Movement was slow and uncomfortable for Gretchen. Call's preference was to lay their blanket on the ground, allowing his wife the opportunity to recline with her back against his chest. As heavy as she was with child, Gretchen would have to struggle too much to sit on the ground. They settled for the back of the wagon -- Call unhitching the tailgate and lifting his wife onto the elevated seat.

"Call! I'm too heavy to lift."

"Ain't likely, Coyote Girl. You don't hardly weight much. I reckon the wind could pick you up and drop you out there in the water."

"Oh, it does look refreshing, doesn't it, Call?" Gretchen gazed at the water. "It would feel so nice to shed our clothes and go for a swim . . . and, maybe something else," she softly said, giving him a coy look.

He nodded, staring at Gretchen.

She smiled at him. "Why are you staring at me that way?"

Call gazed at Gretchen, from her large belly carrying their child, up and down the length of her entire body. "I guess I favor remembering how you look right now. Seems to me you're prettier now than I ever seen you before."

Gretchen reached out, wrapping her arms around her husband. "Call, you're so good to me. I love you so much, Newt Call. If something were to happen to me I believe I would die happy."

While still embracing his wife, Call stretched one hand to grab the picnic basket. He pulled out two pieces of fried chicken -- giving one piece to Gretchen. He tore a small chunk off his piece and cast it into the brown, summer grass for Runt.

"Remember when I threw the chicken at you, Call? You frustrated me so much that day." Gretchen laughed. "Out by the tree you carved our initials. You have to change it -- I'm not G.B. any more. I'm G.C."

"I remember," Call nodded. "You scared me something fierce when you fell off Sugar and hit your head."

"That was when you finally told me you loved me. I knew you did, Call. But getting you to say it was like pulling your teeth." Gretchen leaned against her husband and sighed. "Now, we're married and I'm going to have your baby."

"I reckon these months together been the best ever," he said.

"Yes, Call," Gretchen agreed, "the very best, ever."

Runt had swallowed his piece of chicken before it bounced twice on the ground. He sat in front them, staring at their food.

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

The sun was still climbing higher into the wide blue sky when the stage rode into town. Josiah Peale and his son, Austin, casually watched as the few passengers stepped down onto the dry, hard street. When a woman stepped off the stage and looked around, Josiah suddenly exclaimed, "Ida Grayson!"

Austin looked up. "It is her, Father!"

Josiah had already hastened to meet the former owner of the Lonesome Dove Hotel. Austin quickly caught up.

"Mrs. Grayson! What a pleasant surprise!" Josiah excitedly said.

"Mr. Peale!" Ida replied. "Austin!"

"Hello, Mrs. Grayson," Austin said.

"You're the sheriff now," Ida remarked. She looked around. "My goodness. How things have changed. My hotel -- it's brown. And . . . all those other buildings down there."

"I thought it looked nicer in blue," Josiah commented, remembering how the hotel used to look.

"What happened here, Josiah?"

Josiah shrugged, mustering a half-hearted smile. "Sweetwater burned to the ground. They relocated here."

"My word! A house of prostitution?" Ida said, gazing down the street at two women in flashy dresses, smoking in front of Twyla's.

"Mr. Mosby runs things now," Josiah confessed. "Come, Mrs. Grayson. Austin and I will carry your bags to the hotel. How long are you staying?"

"I haven't decided," she replied. "I wanted to visit Aaron and see the town."

***

Amanda Carpenter stood back and watched -- having been told that Mrs. Grayson was the previous owner of the hotel.

"To what do we owe the honor, Mrs. Grayson?" Clay Mosby inquired. He introduced Ida to his wife, Ashely. Ida commented on the resemblance Ashley had with her cousin, Olivia Jessup.

"Merely a visit, Mr. Mosby," Ida replied.

Dr. Cleese excitedly informed Mrs. Grayson that he was married and had a baby boy, two weeks old. Ida Grayson delighted in all the good news -- none more so than hearing that Newt had found someone and was soon to be a father.

"I must see Newt," she insisted. "Is he nearby?"

"He's with his wife," Ephraim replied. "My wife and his wife are sisters. They should return soon."

"Then I must freshen up and see your son, as well as your wife, Ephraim," Ida said.

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

Having just breast fed Daniel Cleese, Victoria buttoned her top and carried her son from the back room to the storefront. She noticed Paige reading a book.

"Look what I found in a chest under some old dresses, Victoria," Paige excitedly said.

"Little Women. Louisa May Alcott," Victoria quietly commented. "So, that's where that book disappeared to."

Suzanne Van Atta and Elizabeth Dewberry had entered the dry goods, hearing the conversation.

"That was our favorite book," Elizabeth said, "when we were younger." Her tone insinuated that the March girls were their personal property.

"Did you hear that, Victoria?" Paige said with a mocking tone. "Why, Miss Dewberry, I find that quite strange."

Beth snickered. "Why on earth would you, Miss Brandt, find that strange?"

Paige smiled confidently. "I would have thought your favorite book to be Mr. Edgar Allan Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque."

Victoria paused while burping her baby to laugh.

"Little do you know, Miss Brandt," Beth angrily replied. "While you delight in these American novels that are written for younger girls, my sister and I have introduced and educated ourselves to some of the finer literature from England. We find the English to be quite stimulating."

Paige, not one to back down, stepped closer to Elizabeth Dewberry. "Then, perhaps you and your sister should take your roly-poly backsides and waddle out of here and go to England."

"We are not roly-poly!" Beth insisted, her face flushing.

Daniel Cleese began crying, his small hands squirming.

"Will you both please behave yourselves," Victoria cried in frustration. She turned abruptly and hastened to the rear of the store, hoping to quiet her son.

Paige glared at Suzanne and Elizabeth. "What did you come in here for? To annoy us?"

"Hardly," Suzanne replied, lifting her nose slightly. "There seems to be a rumor circulating which concerns my sister and I. I wish to only inform you that it is a false rumor -- Beth and I have no interest in lowering our social standing to work as mere hired help in this store."

"Well, hallelujah!" Paige exclaimed. "I was fearful that were you to work in our store your snobbish behavior might wear off on me. I was quite afraid that I would become a nasty little twit like you, Miss Dewberry." She laughed at her comment.

"That is quite nonsense you speak, Miss Brandt," Beth remarked. "You, can never be like me. We were born socially higher."

"I will not in any way concede to my sisters and I having inferior births in comparison to your condescending and rude attitudes, Miss Dewberry. I can only imagine that the Good Lord, when he created you, chose to remove any common sense from your feeble mind."

"Did you hear what she said, Suzanne?" Beth cried. "I have never been so insulted. Come! Let us leave. I do not care for the smell of these common-bred Missourians."

Suzanne and Elizabeth quickly departed, leaving Paige with a satisfied feeling.

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

Once she accepted the realization of the change in town, Ida Grayson descended the stairs and stepped outside in front of the hotel. Josiah Peale and Ephraim Cleese awaited her.

While standing under the wooden sign that read Clean Rooms, a wagon pulled up across the street, in front of the dry goods.

"I do wish I could see Newt," Ida mentioned.

"There he is, Mrs. Grayson," Ephraim replied.

Ida Grayson squinted, looking at a young, shabby, long haired man climbing down from a wagon. "Where, Dr. Cleese? I don't . . .? . . . is that him? Newt?" Ida seemed puzzled.

Ephraim smiled, watching Mrs. Grayson. "That is, indeed, Newt Call. And, that young woman, very heavy with child, is his wife, Gretchen. Shall we say hello?"

Ida Grayson was not aware that her mouth hung slightly ajar -- she could only offer a small nod. Ephraim lightly touched her elbow, urging her into the street. Her eyes were transfixed as she watched the uncivilized looking young man help the pregnant woman off the wagon.

"Oh, Call! Gretchen!" Ephraim said, as he and Ida crossed the street. Josiah had elected to remain near the hotel.

Call helped Gretchen safely to the street then turned toward Ephraim. His eyes suddenly widened at the sight of Ida Grayson.

"Mrs. Grayson!" Call said.

"It is you!" she replied, her head shaking in obvious astonishment. "Newt!" She grabbed him, hugging him tight. "I would have never recognized you, Newt."

Call's face reddened as he twisted his head to look at Gretchen. She stood there smiling.

"Mrs. Grayson," Call said, "this is Gretchen. My wife."

Gretchen curtseyed as best she could with the weight of her baby. "Hello, Mrs. Grayson. Call's spoken of you."

Ida stared at Gretchen. "She's adorable, Newt. Hello, Mrs. Call. You look like you're ready to deliver that child right now."

"What brings you back here, Mrs. Grayson?" Call asked.

"Oh . . . to visit Aaron . . . and the town," she answered with a cracking voice.

Ephraim once more nudged her elbow, ushering her into the dry goods. "I would be quite pleased if I could introduce you to my wife and son."

A couple of townswomen were inside the store to have their first look at Curtis Wells' newest baby boy. Victoria, holding Daniel in her arms, smiled at the small group.

"I'm glad you're back Gretchen. You're fortunate that she didn't have the baby out there, Newt," Victoria commented.

Ephraim brought Ida to Victoria. "This is my wife, Victoria. This is our newborn son, Daniel. That's Paige. She's the youngest of the Brandt Sisters. This is Mrs. Ida Grayson. She used to own the hotel."

Ida Grayson was slightly at a loss. "Your child is beautiful, Mrs. Cleese. But, are all three of you sisters?"

"Yes, we are," Mrs. Grayson," Victoria replied.

Daniel, who had been sleeping quietly, suddenly awoke and began to cry, to Ephraim's chagrin.

The baby's crying seemed to trigger something as Gretchen bent over, grasping her stomach. "Uh! Oh, Call! I'm getting pains in my stomach."

Ephraim's attention was abruptly turned to Gretchen. "It must be time! The baby is due now. Come! I had better examine you in my office."

Call put his arms around his wife, guiding her out of the dry goods. Victoria, with her baby, and Paige, quickly placed the Closed sign on the door and locked up. Ida Grayson stepped outside, allowing the small party to relocate across the street.

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

Clay Mosby had returned to the comfort of his saloon. Observing everything in order, he climbed the stairs, disappearing into his old room. Ida Grayson's surprise arrival, coupled with the recent appearance of Mrs. Libbie Custer, had opened a guarded door of painful memories.

Clay bent over the small nightstand, pulling out a photograph of his beloved Mary. He stared at her picture for long minutes -- his mind becoming lost in the long-dead past. He wondered briefly if he even cared whether Ashley gave him a son. Plans that had once been made were between Mary and him. It was to be Mary, not Ashley, or any other woman, who would provide the Mosby children -- sons and daughters of Virginia. Generation after generation of gentlemen and well-bred ladies.

He wasn't confident in Ashley remaining faithful, now that she was pregnant. At least he knew it would be his child -- not Robert's -- not the young servant's, or any other man she had discreetly seduced. Although, he believed it to be his child, he would have to wait to see the resemblance after the child began to grow.

With a gentleness, Clay laid Mary's photograph back on the nightstand. His perspectives had changed greatly since he had fallen so in love with Mary. Sometimes, he would find himself staring with jealousy at Call and his wife, Gretchen. The two of them were so obviously in love with each other. Clay saw himself and Mary in them. He thought no one could ever love as deeply or as passionately as he and Mary had loved each other.

He had noticed Call leading Gretchen across the street with her sisters and Ephraim. Well, good for you, Call, he thought. He hoped both mother and child would survive the birth and that the baby would bring the joy he himself had so wrongly been cheated of. Why shouldn't someone else, even Call, have a chance at happiness?

Clay walked to the door, pausing. If things had been different -- if Mary had lived and their way of life not brutally uplifted and blown to shreds, he would have never found himself in the God-forsaken frontier wilderness of Montana; a place that was still only a territory. Not even a damn state yet.

Clay closed the door and went downstairs. Too much thinking was dangerous. He headed to the bar and poured himself a shot of whiskey.

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

Mason Dobbs was sitting out behind the gunsmith shop with Mattie and Dewey when Call led his wife up the stairs to Dr. Cleese's office. When Gretchen's sisters hurried up behind them, Mason figured it was time for the baby to be born. Mason's place was at his nephew's side, he said, and rushed after the others. Mattie thought of joining them but felt it wouldn't be proper. Dewey stared at the door -- waiting to see if a stork actually showed up with a baby. When Unbob slowly walked toward the back of Mattie's shop, it occurred to Dewey that Unbob resembled a stork with his long, skinny legs.

Victoria had remained in the outer office with Daniel in her arms. The baby was too fussy -- his crying would only make things more difficult. Paige went inside to help Ephraim. She had been most helpful two weeks earlier when Victoria delivered the first Brandt baby.

Mason hoped to calm Newt -- a task unlikely to happen. Victoria had seen Call's uncontrolled pacing once before and knew it would be far more difficult to contain him now that Gretchen was ready to give birth. She knew asking him to sit would go unheeded.

"Sit down, boy!" Mason said. "I'll wager I get dizzy watching you pace the floor."

Call ignored his uncle. It was unlikely he even heard him. He would stare hard at the door Gretchen had disappeared behind with Ephraim and Paige. Then, he'd walk across the room, turn, and pace back to the door, staring again.

Mason finally reached out, grabbing Call by the arm. "You'd fare a whole lot better if you took a seat, Newt."

Call looked at Mason. He shook his head and pulled his arm away, then resumed his routine -- staring at the door -- walking across the floor -- staring at the door. Each time Gretchen cried out in pain, Call tensed, as if bearing her pain in his own body.

"Why does she have to suffer?" Call asked Victoria, anguish in his voice.

"All women suffer when giving birth, Newt. I was fortunate that my labor was over fairly quick," Victoria softly replied, putting her hand on his shoulder.

Things grew suddenly silent behind the door. A few minutes later, Ephraim emerged, staring at Call. "Call, I'm so sorry."

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

"I ought to shoot you right between your legs, Clay!"

Clay Mosby snapped his head -- gazing attentively at Amanda Carpenter. "Why would you suggest such an awful fate for me, my dear Amanda?"

She stood rigid, anger in her eyes.

Clay snickered. "Obviously, something I am not aware of has occurred. Perhaps a drink, hmm?" He grabbed a half-empty bottle behind the bar and scooping two small glasses, extended his hand toward the nearest table.

Amanda hesitated -- it was important Clay know she was upset -- then she sat down.

"Now," Clay calmly proceeded, "what exactly is your concern?"

"Clay, are you throwing me out of the hotel?"

"Throw you out? I assure you, Amanda, this is the first I have heard of such a rumor. From whom did you hear this outlandish story?"

"Mrs. Van Atta and her sister," Amanda replied. "I didn't exactly . . . I overheard them talking. They said something about you allowing them to take over the hotel. Clay? That was my hotel. You said you'd give me a chance to buy it back."

Clay exhaled deeply. He raised his shot glass and sipped the superior brand of whiskey slowly. "You seem to have overlooked the fact that Mr. Shelby is running my hotel, Amanda. If I were to allow Suzanne Van Atta and her sister, Elizabeth, to take over the hotel, what do you suggest I tell Robert?"

Amanda stared intently at Clay. This was one occasion when she wished she could read his poker face. "Then . . . I don't have to worry? They aren't taking over the hotel?"

Clay shifted in his chair. "I cannot answer that in regards to the future. Anything is possible. However, at this precise moment, I have no intentions of removing either you or Robert. Those sisters are merely exploring their options. They are in the midst of determining whether to remain here in Curtis Wells, or return to their native Michigan." Clay would offer no more information. It wasn't Amanda's business to know that he considered removing Creel from the general store and replacing him with the Dewberry women.

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

The majestic likeness of Colonel Clay Mosby, captured in spectacular realism by Etienne Meloche, the French-Canadian painter, which hung above the grand fireplace, now appeared to look down at Ashley Mosby with mocking bitterness. She glared at the painting which her husband treasured.

As she turned to leave the large room, she stumbled slightly -- having drank too much since returning home upon learning she had conceived a child. "Damn you to Hell, Clay Mosby! I do not wish to carry your child. I have no desire to observe my body sagging like an old sow." Ashley threw her empty glass into the fireplace -- the sudden sound of broken glass quickly brought two of the servants into the room.

"Lady Ashley! Are you all right?" Shirley, the young Englishwoman asked.

Ashley, bitter with resentment, set her eyes on Shirley. "You little hussy. My husband forbids me my pleasures yet I am quite aware of his continuous occasions of fornication with you in the stable."

Shirley lowered her head, fearful of a severe beating. "I only do as I am told, milady."

Lorenzo, the young Spaniard, now entered the room. He watched for a moment. "Lady Ashley, shall we assist you to bed?"

"No!" Ashley snapped, her breath heavy with liquor. "You shall assist me to the stable and do exactly as my husband does to her," she ordered, pointing a condemning finger at Shirley.

Fearful of punishment, Lorenzo quickly took hold of Ashley's hand and led her out of the house. She stumbled twice, and would have fallen on her face had Lorenzo not been there to catch her. The young servant rushed her into the cool, dark stable, hoping to satisfy her before his master returned from town and discovered him disobeying the rules.

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

Newt Call stared at Dr. Cleese.

"I'm sorry, Call," Ephraim said. "It was a false alarm. The baby isn't ready yet."

Call squinted, confused. "I don't understand . . . ?"

"It isn't uncommon for a woman, especially when it's the first child, to experience severe abdominal pain without going into labor."

Call shook his head. "Say it so I understand, Ephraim."

"Gretchen is not ready to give birth, Call," he replied. "That does not mean she won't be ready tonight, or tomorrow. I know this has to be quite difficult for both of you but I assure you, it is quite common. All we can do is be ready, as we were this time."

Call was silent -- taking in Ephraim's words. "Is she all right?" he finally asked.

"Yes," Ephraim said. "Quite well, actually."

Gretchen now stepped into the outer room, Paige with her. She looked only at her husband. "Call . . ."

Call moved toward Gretchen, taking her in his arms. "It's all right, Gretchen."

"I think I would like to go home now, Call," Gretchen said. It was frustrating -- a young woman waiting to give birth -- her first child -- only to be told it wasn't quite time. At least in the quiet company of her husband, she could find comfort as they waited for the baby's arrival.

Call nodded. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the situation.

"I would imagine you are both experiencing a feeling of dissatisfaction," Ephraim said to Call and Gretchen. "Please try not to be overcome with negativity. The baby will most definitely arrive when it is time."

Victoria and Paige consoled Gretchen.

Mason decided to go with his nephew. "I'll bunk out in the barn. If the baby comes during the night you'll need someone to go fetch Doc, here." He winked at Ephraim.

"I reckon so," Call quietly replied. He took hold of Gretchen's hand -- she instinctively squeezed his hand, something she often did -- he squeezed back. Gretchen smiled.

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

Paige Brandt, youngest of the three Missouri sisters, sat alone in the dry goods and clothing store. She ate an apple while reading Little Women, a book she had thought lost. It had been a weekly routine in St. Joseph back in '69. On lazy summer evenings, fourteen year old Victoria would read long into the night -- the oil lamps finally flickering and being snuffed out -- ten year old Gretchen and eight year old Paige, curled up at Victoria's feet, listening intently as she read about the four March Sisters -- Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy.

Paige lowered the book for a moment, gazing out the window, into the street. A week had now passed since Gretchen had been in Ephraim's office. The baby hadn't come yet. Victoria's baby had been born two weeks early. Gretchen's was now a week late.

The book -- casually laid on the counter -- flipped over, closing. Paige didn't notice. Her attention was on Victoria as she crossed the street with Daniel in her arms.

"What did Ephraim say, Victoria?" Paige asked, hurrying to her sister. She reached out, offering to hold her three week old nephew.

"He has colic," Victoria replied, handing her son to Paige.

"Colic?!" Paige repeated. "Oh, you poor child." She held the baby close. He was blubbering.

"Ephraim said Daniel is swallowing too much air -- he's over-eating or possibly under-eating." Victoria smiled as she watched Paige tenderly hold the boy. "It could last for a few months."

"How do you know if you're feeding him too much or too little?" Paige inquired.

Before Victoria could answer, the door opened. Ida Grayson stepped inside. She smiled and walked up to the sisters. "Good day."

Daniel's blubbering now turned to loud crying. Victoria reached for her son and smiling at Mrs. Grayson, hurried to the back room.

"He's a whiner," Paige quietly informed Mrs. Grayson. "And he has colic."

Ida shook her head. "I certainly hope he gets over it soon. Has your other sister given birth yet?"

"Gretchen? No. Not yet," Paige replied. "She's a week late. Her and Call have been staying close to the house. He's quite concerned about Gretchen."

"Yes," Ida remarked. "I noticed that. They seem to be a very happy couple." She glanced around the store. "I plan to leave soon. I was hoping to say goodbye to Newt and Gretchen."

"They could come in to town today. Ephraim told them it won't affect Gretchen."

Ida nodded. "I hope they do." She noticed Paige staring at her. "Yes, Miss Brandt? Is there something you wish to say?"

Paige nodded. "Call spoke well of you -- almost as if you were like a mother to him."

Ida smiled. "Oh, Newt was the nicest young man. Always looking after me. He's changed so drastically. I hardly recognize him."

"Gretchen loves the way he looks, Mrs. Grayson. Papa used to read stories of the Pony Express to Gretchen and I when we were little. The first moment she stepped off the stage last year and saw Call, she fell in love with him. It took him a while to want her, but now he loves my sister so much."

"I must admit," Ida replied, "Newt seems to be so much happier and content than I thought he was a few years ago. I truly believe love is precious, Miss Brandt. Your sister and Newt have that. I hope they have a wonderful, healthy child."

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

Creel broke out into a sweat -- drops sliding down his back -- sliding down the sides of his temples. He stared with apprehension at Clay Mosby and the others.

"That's against the law, Mosby!" he finally managed to blurt out.

"I find it to be a most decent proposal, Mr. Creel," Clay replied, in control of his poise and composure. "Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Shelby?"

Robert grinned at Creel. "I do agree, Clay. Creel, here, must be a selfish son of a bitch. No wonder folks prefer doing business down the street with those Missouri girls."

Creel looked nervously at Austin Peale. "Sheriff? I demand you remove these two from my store. I'll sell out when I decide -- not when Mosby bullies me."

Clay Mosby laughed. He strolled to the counter -- standing directly across from Creel. He drummed his fingers on the counter top. "Perhaps if you were to embrace the competition and lower all of your inflated prices, Mr. Creel? However, we have previously had this little conversation. Remember?"

Creel didn't answer. He vividly remembered the time Mosby's men flung him face-first into the muddy street then dunked him continuously in the troughs surrounding the pump in the center of town, at the 'Y'. He watched Mosby cautiously.

"I said, remember?"

"You'll kill me if I refuse to sell my business," Creel said. "I . . . I want time. Time to consider. I should be allowed to come back with an offer of my own."

"By all means, Mr. Creel," Clay agreed. "Just do not bring me an offer that angers me. Folks may begin to consider you a threat to the community." He looked at Robert and Austin. "Let's go. Consider quickly, Mr. Creel. My patience is limited."

Creel waited for the three men to leave his general store. "I'll be damned if I sell to you, Mosby. I know you want my store to set up those two women in here." Clay and the others were half way across the street.

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

When there came a knocking on the front door, Gretchen rose slowly to answer it. She required additional time to do simple tasks like stand or sit.

Runt didn't bark -- he waggled his tail, waiting to see who was on the other side. Gretchen opened the door to see a short, middle-aged man dressed in nice clothes.

"Yes?" she said.

"Good morning, Madam." He noticed her stomach swollen with the baby. "I happen to be a peddler. Bartholomew Mathison at your service." He motioned to the wagon out front. "I have everything a young woman such as yourself could want. Perfumes. Pots for cooking. Unique, one-of-a-kind items."

"No, thank you, Sir. My husband and I don't have a lot of money," Gretchen replied, trying to be patient.

"Worry not, my good woman," the man persisted. "I have a wagon full of items which you will find quite inexpensive. Notice I use the word, inexpensive. Not cheap. I would like to come inside and show you some home necessities that you should have. By the look of it, you seem to be in need of quite a lot."

Gretchen groaned. "We don't want anything. Can't you understand that?"

"Of course you want something," the peddler insisted. "Once I show you some of my products, you'll want them. Bartholomew Mathison is a difficult man to turn away."

Call strode quickly from where he had been nearby toward the stranger. He grabbed the peddler by the scruff and yanked him off the porch. "You heard my wife! We don't want nothing. How many times she gotta tell you?"

"Call! Don't hurt him!" Gretchen said.

"I ain't set on hurting him, Gretchen," Call replied, dragging the surprised peddler across the yard to the man's wagon. "I don't ever want to see you around here again! You got that?"

"Yes! Yessir!"

Call swung the man into the wagon, dumping him headfirst in front of the bench seat. He slapped the horse's rump, causing the animal to run off. Mason watched quietly from the barn, where he had been helping Call build a high chair for the baby. He shook his head and laughed. It was apparent that both husband and wife were on edge at the delay of the baby's birth.

"I reckon he ain't likely to pester us again," Call said as he walked back to his wife.

Gretchen stepped off of the porch, careful not to get tangled in Runt's legs. "I wish our baby would come, Call. It's become quite frustrating -- all of this waiting."

Call received Gretchen -- opening his arms to hold her close. He knew the baby's weight had caused Gretchen to sometimes limp slightly on her left leg -- the one she injured as a child. "How's your leg feel, Gretchen?"

"It's all right," she softly said. "Can we ride into town, Call? I'd like to see Victoria's baby."

"The wagon's already hitched," Call said. "Come on, Coyote Girl. I'll help you up. Might be best if we went into town."

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

The suggestion was nonsense. Suzanne Van Atta couldn't possibly entertain Beth's idea.

"It is not nonsense, Suzanne," Elizabeth argued. "Rather, it is common sense. One only need look at our situation to see that we are stranded here in this wilderness."

"And, if we had gone on to Oregon -- if Theodore had lived," Suzanne replied, "our plight may well have been quite similar, Beth."

"Yes, I agree," Beth nodded. The sisters sat alone at a table inside the hotel dining room. "However, we are not in Oregon and from what I have experienced in the West, I no longer desire to travel any further. Unless, of course, it is back to safer, more normal Michigan."

Suzanne thought about it. Common sense dictated that they do whatever necessary to attend to their well being. She grinned. "I suppose we could use our feminine charms."

"Just don't waste your time with Mr. Mosby," Beth remarked. "It will do no good. He's already married."

"That doesn't seem to deter him," Suzanne commented, "if you get my meaning." They both laughed.

"If we choose to stay, I suggest Mr. Shelby and Sheriff Peale," Beth replied. "Both are unattached and would make decent husbands to control."

Suzanne nodded. "And what about this fascination of yours concerning Newt Call? My goodness, Elizabeth! His wife is going to have a baby at any moment. You are quite vicious."

"I do not care for the Brandt Sisters," Beth proclaimed. "At the very least, Suzanne, regardless of whether we stay or leave, I intend to seduce Mr. Call. After that, I don't care if it destroys his marriage. He spurned me."

Suzanne could see it was pointless to try and talk sense into Beth. "Then, let us decide soon. If we are to return to Monroe, I prefer to travel while it is still summer. Winter comes much too quick back East."

"Are you leaving?" Sheriff Peale asked, having just overheard the last comment. "I had hoped you would consider making Curtis Wells your home." He let his eyes pause as he stared at Elizabeth Dewberry.

"Why, Sheriff Peale, I'm flattered," Beth coquetted.

"I would like you to stay," Ike replied, loitering nearby.

Suzanne and Elizabeth frowned at Ike's comment. They both considered him to be nothing more than a greasy little rodent. They had no intentions of ever wasting their charms on him.

"If you'll excuse me," Suzanne said, standing up. She noticed Robert Shelby at the registration book and decided to flirt -- possibly to entice him into the start of a serious relationship. Suzanne Van Atta still considered the Lonesome Dove Hotel as the business she preferred with her sister. In order to run it, she would have to win over Robert Shelby.

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

Ida Grayson stood in front of the telegraph office -- next to the Wells, Fargo Banking House -- in conversation with Josiah Peale. He had hoped to persuade Mrs. Grayson to extend her brief visit to Curtis Wells -- perhaps even consider returning to take up permanent residence.

As they spoke of the changes the town had weathered, Ida was glad to see Newt Call and his wife, Gretchen, ride into town.

"I'm so pleased to see the both of you before my stage arrives to take me back to Chicago," Ida said. "I do hope you have a safe delivery when your baby is ready, Mrs. Call."

"Thank you, Mrs. Grayson," Gretchen replied, holding her husband's arm.

Ida hugged Gretchen, then Call. "I know you'll be a wonderful father, Newt. I can tell by the way you treat your wife. I just might surprise you one day and decide to come back and settle down."

******

"Are you writing to Mother and Father, Victoria?" Paige asked, turning from watching Gretchen and Call exchange farewells with Mrs. Grayson.

Victoria looked up. "Yes. I'm telling Mother about Daniel's colic. Mother mentioned in the last letter that her and Father were hoping to visit us once Gretchen gave birth. It would only be a short stay -- money and autumn's approach influencing their decision. Wouldn't it be wonderful if they did visit?"

Paige smiled. "It's been more than a year since you and I saw them. Gretchen is quite fortunate that Call loves her so dearly that he spent all their savings to bring her back home."

Victoria stood up -- having addressed the envelope that would be placed in the mail pouch accompanying the stage. Paige held Daniel as the sisters stepped outside.

Paige's carefree smile became a frown as she noticed Suzanne and Elizabeth cross the street, leaving the hotel, walking toward them. "What do those two want, now?"

Elizabeth Dewberry approached Paige Brandt. "Who was your favorite of the March sisters?"

"Well, if it's any of your business, I was partial to Amy," Paige replied.

Elizabeth smirked. "Suzanne and I were partial to Jo and Meg."

"Why, Jo and Meg are the ones my sisters were partial to," Paige mocked. Victoria reached out to take her baby. Call and Gretchen drew near -- it had the makings of a comical scene.

"That is nonsense," Beth answered. "We cannot . . ."

"Elizabeth," Suzanne interrupted, "will you allow me to speak before you continue?"

Beth nodded.

"Mrs. Cleese?" Suzanne addressed Victoria. "Perhaps you are aware that we may take over the general merchant store up the street?"

Victoria cradled Daniel to her chest. "We've heard, Mrs. Van Atta."

"I just think you should know that if we do assume control," Suzanne said, "we intend to sell every product slightly less than your prices."

Victoria stared at Suzanne without blinking. "And then we would lower our prices, Mrs. Van Atta. You would lower yours once more and eventually we both would be in debt. My suggestion would be instead of tearing down the houses, we work together to provide decent, affordable products for these hard-working folks here in Curtis Wells and build up the houses as well as the community."

Clay Mosby, anticipating a possible street brawl between the two families, strolled near the gathering. He was impressed with Victoria's common sense -- a quality somewhat lacking in his own hastily chosen wife, Ashley.

"Why would we even consider working together with you, Mrs. Cleese?" Suzanne remarked. "I have no desire to argue now -- I merely felt it fair to inform you of what may occur."

Elizabeth Dewberry looked at Paige. "As I was saying, Miss Brandt, I think it selfish of you to claim the March sisters. Suzanne and I should be allowed that honor."

"It's just a book," Paige replied. "I'm sure thousands of girls pretended to be them while growing up."

Unbob and Dewey were running around chasing each other near the group of women. Dewey suddenly stopped. Unbob stopped with him -- Dewey obviously the leader of their small band -- holding a wooden gun -- Unbob, a wooden broom handle.

"What are you staring at, you grimy little urchin?" Elizabeth barked. "Go away!"

Dewey squinted then shook his head. "You don't know how to play the game."

"Game?" Beth replied. "What are you talking about? This is no game."

"Yes, it is," Dewey answered. "Me and Unbob are playing 'Mountain Man.' I heard you just tell Miss Brandt that her sisters can't be those girl's names on account of because of you are."

"What nonsense," Elizabeth commented. "Hasn't anyone taught you the proper use of English? You never say something like 'on account of because of.' It's improper use of our language."

Dewey just shrugged. "Me and Unbob were playing twins and I was UnDewey but we got tired of that so now we're mountain men."

Paige bent down to a knee. "Go on Dewey. Finish telling us."

Clay Mosby found the orphan boy to be exasperating.

"Unbob wanted to be Kit Carson, but I'm Kit Carson! You can't have two of the same person. Unbob's Tom Fitzpatrick, the Broken Hand." He looked at Beth Dewberry. "See? How can you play with two of the same girls? That don't make no sense. And, I'm the leader. Come on, Broken Hand! Let's ride far away from the Mandan camp." Dewey ran off as sudden as he had stopped. Unbob, the 'Broken Hand,' trailing behind.

Clay Mosby shook his head. Perhaps the Dewberry sisters would only ensure chaos, rather than prosperity, if they were to run the general merchant store. Then again, Clay surmised, active competition was healthy. He turned and quietly headed back to his saloon, where things made sense.

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

The yipping of a nearby coyote was the only sound shattering the quiet of night. Creel stood in the back room of his general store -- his shadow dancing erratically on the wall, in tune to the flickering candle.

"$5,000 is more money than you will ever make," Creel said, his voice tense.

"That's true," the other man agreed.

Creel sensed the man's hesitancy. "You could do it. Put a bullet in Mosby's head while he's asleep. $5,000! Think of where you could go -- what you could do."

The other man did think -- if caught, Mosby would hang him. But, all that money. Obviously, he thought, he and Creel lacked common sense. Otherwise, this midnight meeting would never taken place. It was foolish -- nonsense, to be exact. Yet, temptingly appealing in its simplicity.

"I'll consider it," the man quietly said. $5,000! A man could live like a king with that much money. As he turned to leave, the candlelight captured a thin smile on his face.

"You and I could become rich if Mosby were dead," Creel reminded him. "You bear that in mind."

The man nodded as he silently peered down the dark street, then up the other side, before quickly disappearing.

Creel grinned as he watched Austin Peale cross the street on his way back to the sheriff's office.

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

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