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.


Niye Wasake Tawaci (You Will Be Strong)
(40th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

...a rugged life in which almost any act or event
could be taken as an omen with hardship, disease,
injury, and death, never far behind...

(The American Frontier - William C. Davis)

Thursday, August 31, 1882

Shirley, the dark haired English servant moaned in rhythm to Robert Shelby's animal grunts as they copulated -- her back arching as she lay on the wooden table in the empty kitchen, when the early morning explosion of glass startled them.

Robert immediately withdrew himself from the rapidly-breathing young woman, yanking his trousers above his knees so he could rush outside, hopefully to catch the unexpected assailant.

Drawing his pistol from the nearby holster, Robert hastened toward the location of the noise, just as Clay Mosby -- clad only in pants -- hurrying down the stairs -- awakened from his peaceful sleep with wife, Ashley.

Robert was first to reach the door, throwing it open with reckless abandon. He stepped out into the morning -- where day's first light had just cracked the horizon. A running figure had just mounted his horse and was turning to ride off when Robert fired the first shot. The man, untouched, had trouble with his mount, allowing Robert another shot. The second bullet ripped into his chest, causing a large groan. As the horse sped off the man slumped limply then slid off the animal, striking the hard summer ground.

"I wanted him alive!" Clay cried out as he and Robert ran across the dew-covered ground, reaching the motionless intruder within seconds.

Robert didn't answer. Part of his mind was back in the kitchen, reliving the vigorous tupping he and the servant girl had been involved in -- the other part reacting to the sudden attack on the Mosby house.

Clay bent over the lifeless body, rolling him onto his back with his bare foot. "Who is he, Robert? I've never seen this man before."

"Neither have I, Clay," Robert Shelby replied. He looked around warily, expecting to find another assailant.

"Clay! Over here!" came a woman's voice.

Both men turned toward the direction they had just come from. Ashley Mosby stood in the spacious doorway, her robe loosely hanging, not covering her nakedness through the sheer nightwear that clung tightly to her firm body. She held something in her hand.

Satisfied that Robert's shot had fatally pierced the intruder, Clay walked back to his wife. Ashley handed him a fist-sized rock, a note bound with twine wrapped around it. Shards of broken glass lay at the window the rock had been cast through.

Clay removed the piece of paper, turning it over to read the message. Your saloon is being looted as you read this, you Yankee sympathizer.

"What . . . ?" Clay blurted, inflamed by the absurd remark. "Yankee sympathizer, indeed!"

Robert grabbed Clay's arm. "No, Clay. I'll go. It could be a trap. Your wife is carrying your child."

Clay Mosby shook his head. "This is my fight, Robert. I would be grateful if you were to remain close by. Protect Ashley. There may be others lingering nearby. You will do this for me, will you not, Robert?"

Robert frowned. "Yes, Colonel. I still think I should go with you. You have two servants who can guard your wife."

"They are neither trained nor capable of guarding her safely if others mean to attack," Clay replied. He paused before going in to dress. "How is it you were so quick to reach the door, Robert?"

Robert's face reddened. "I rose early, Clay. I had a urge for a morning snack."

Ashley let out a small laugh.

Clay just nodded -- he knew of Robert's desire to fornicate with the servant girls.

****

The sun had barely cleared the horizon when Clay Mosby rode into Curtis Wells. Aside from one of Unbob's roosters strutting across the sun-dried, dirt street, the town still slept. Clay dismounted and drew his gun. The doors to the Ambrosia were wide open. Clay proceeded with caution, entering the dark saloon. A man such as Clay Mosby could certainly handle almost any situation. Hadn't he been a Colonel in the Confederacy? It was against Robert's better judgement but Robert was an obedient soldier.

A moment was required for Clay's eyes to adjust to the dim light -- he moved out of the doorway where his body was an easy target for a hidden gunman. Chairs placed neatly upside down on tables had been strewn across the saloon's floor. Clay now noticed a trail of whiskey -- dumped out, leading to the stairs -- the empty bottle standing at attention on the third stair.

"What the . . . ?" Clay muttered, stepping slowly toward the stairs. He hesitated at the foot of the stairs, gazing up into the darkness at the top of the landing. He tensed, listening for any sounds -- a man's breath -- a gun being cocked -- footsteps.

As lightly as he could possibly place each boot onto the creaking wooden steps, Clay Mosby ascended the stairs. When he reached the middle a shadowy figure stepped out and fired at Clay, discharging two quick shots. Clay groaned and fell back, toppling down the stairs, awkwardly landing at the bottom.

The hidden assassin hurried down the stairs, pausing briefly to stand over the bleeding, motionless Clay Mosby, then disappeared out the rear door.

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

Gretchen Call was already in the barn when her husband walked in. She turned from petting her horse, Sugar, and brightly smiled. "Call, come here," she quietly said, as if making an effort not to raise her voice.

Call walked through the barn, where the early morning sun hadn't warmed up yet.

Gretchen reached out, hugging him -- Call being gentle, not squeezing his pregnant wife too tight. Gretchen was now two weeks late with child. Although she hadn't experienced any bad cramps or severe pains in her belly, she had constant back pain and occasional depression from the frustration of waiting so long to give birth.

"Call, it's the last day of August," Gretchen quietly said. "I thought for sure our baby would be born by now. I really was hoping our child would have an August birthday, the same as little Daniel. I really was."

"The whiner?" Call replied.

Gretchen laughed, jabbing Call in the stomach. "Stop it! That's mean," she said, still laughing. "Even if it's true. The poor little infant. He's whiny, Call, because he has colic. I just pray our baby doesn't have any problems."

Call stopped laughing and looked at Gretchen's stomach. He cupped his hands around her belly. "I reckon it don't much matter what day or month you have the baby, Gretchen. As long as you and the baby are both safe and well." He shook his head. "That's all I care for. Both of you making it through safe."

"Hey, go away. I'm trying to sleep." A new voice grumbled.

Gretchen and Call looked toward the voice. Mason was laying in a large pile of loose hay.

Call walked over to his uncle and bent down. "Heard you ride in. Couldn't of been no more than a couple hours ago."

Mason squinted, forcing one red eye to open. He motioned for Call to bend lower -- obviously not wanting Gretchen to hear what he had to say. "I'm sorry, Newt. I ended up at Twyla's," he said, his voice too low for Mrs. Call to hear. "One drink led to another -- one thing led . . . well, you get it, boy." He shook his head slightly. "That Rosa!"

Call stood up. "Get some sleep, Mason." He turned to Gretchen. She was grinning. She knew Call's uncle well enough that it was a simple matter to determine exactly where he had been during the night."

"I'm glad you weren't rough with him, Call. He's been so good -- sleeping out here every night and staying close by in case the baby came."

Call walked his wife out of the barn. "Maybe it'd be best if I took you into town. Leastways you could spend some time with your sisters."

"That would be so nice, Call," Gretchen said. They headed for the wagon -- Runt already sitting on the bench seat, waggling his tail.

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

Overcome with worry, Ashley Mosby urged Robert to ride into town, to check on Clay. Her worst fears were that if he were to die, she would instantly become a widow with child -- a less than appealing thought, as far as she was concerned, for a woman nearing forty.

Grudgingly, Robert agreed to quickly leave. His early morning copulation with the English girl had been interrupted before a satisfactory conclusion could be attained by both he and Shirley. He felt Clay was more than capable of handling himself -- hoping instead to remain behind and be handled himself by the English girl.

Robert found soon enough it wasn't to be -- at least not this morning. Ashley had quickly ordered Shirley to lay her things out and help her dress with an urgency -- something the young English servant did quite flawlessly.

"Come, Robert," Ashley said, quickly descending the stairs. "Take me into town -- you can drive the buggy."

Robert agreed. Clay might very well need him.

***********

When Robert brought the small buggy into town, two men were carrying a body out of the Ambrosia Club. A few onlookers had gathered to watch, partially blocking Ashley's view.

"Robert! No!" Ashley exclaimed. "It's Clay!" She got out of the buggy before Robert had fully stopped it, running to her husband. "Clay!No!"

The men -- Austin Peale and Zeke -- were carrying Clay across the street, toward Dr. Cleese's office.

"What happened, Peale?" Robert demanded.

"We don't know, Shelby," the sheriff answered.

"I found him," another voice said.

Robert turned. "Who're you?"

"I was just coming into town . . . from that direction," a small, slightly hunched man said, pointing toward the livery's direction. "I heard a gunshot. A horse rode off from behind the saloon. I rushed into the saloon and found Mr. Mosby unconscious. He was bleeding."

Ashley hadn't spoke -- afraid of her worst fears being realized.

Austin and Zeke carried Clay's motionless body up the stairs to the doctor's office as Robert followed close behind -- Ashley alongside him.

"Do you know Clay Mosby?" Robert said to the man.

"I have had an occasion to meet him," the man replied, going inside Ephraim's office with the others.

Dr. Cleese looked at the man and said, "Reverend Bantry? Amos Bantry."

"Yes," the man acknowledged. "I was passing through Curtis Wells and quite fortunate, or perhaps it was the Lord himself guiding me to find Mr. Mosby. I pray he survives."

Dr. Cleese -- though surprised by the unexpected return of Reverend Amos Bantry -- quickly began to examine Clay Mosby to determine whether he was alive or dead.

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

Momentarily surprised by the sight of their still-pregnant sister, Victoria and Paige excitedly embraced Gretchen as Call brought her inside the dry goods store. Paige quickly relayed the news of Clay Mosby being shot by an unseen assailant, causing Call to wonder if a common enemy was nearby.

Gretchen moved as well as she could to the laundry basket behind the counter where little Daniel Cleese, two days shy of being one month old, lay quietly sleeping.

"Last night was the first night he slept well," Victoria happily revealed, bending to lift her infant son so Gretchen could hold his tiny hand between her thumb and finger.

"We think he's finally over his colic," Paige said.

"We hope he's over it," Victoria quickly added.

Gretchen's face lit up as she stared at her sister's baby. "He's so adorable, Victoria. I just wish my baby was ready. It's so frustrating -- this waiting."

Victoria looked at her brother-in-law. "We're taking Gretchen across the street, Newt. Just for coffee."

Call nodded. "I got me a couple of things needs doing. I'll be back directly, Gretchen."

Gretchen turned from playing with her infant nephew. Call stepped over to her. She hugged him and kissed him. "I'll be waiting for you, Call," she smiled.

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

Call left the dry goods, heading for the gunsmith. He noticed Creel and Austin standing together, talking nervously, but paid no mind to it.

"I need a couple of boxes of .45's," Call said to Mattie. He nodded to Unbob, who seemed agitated. "What's ailing Unbob?"

Mattie snickered. "Maybe if you didn't spend so much time with your . . ." Mattie didn't finish. She quietly placed two boxes of shells on the glass counter top.

Call dropped his coins on the counter, picking up the bullets.

"Somebody tried to kill Mr. Mosby, this morning," Unbob said.

Call looked at Unbob, then Mattie. He nodded then headed for the door.

"Don't you even care, Call?" Mattie replied.

"What do you want me to do, Mattie?" Call remarked. "Gretchen's two week late with the baby. I reckon we got our own grief to deal with."

"I haven't seen Mason," Mattie quickly said, changing the subject.

Call stood at the door for a moment then walked out without saying any more. He saw Austin in the street and approached the sheriff.

"Heard tell Mosby was shot," Call said.

Austin snickered. "And, you care, Call?"

Call stared unflinching at Austin. "I just want to know if my wife's in any danger."

Austin hesitated. "Well . . . Mosby took a slug to the shoulder and busted open his head from falling. Whoever did it is gone. It's too soon to know the particulars."

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

"Uunnh! Ooohhh! Uunnhhh!" Gretchen Call groaned, doubling over, her stomach in pain.

Paige nearly spilled her coffee. "Gretchen! Is it time?"

Victoria held Daniel, trying to determine if her sister was finally ready to give birth. "Maybe we had better wait. If you get any more sharp pains, Gretchen, we'll tell Ephraim."

A short time later -- somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes -- Gretchen doubled over once again, groaning louder from the intense stomach pain.

Call had just walked into the Lonesome Dove Hotel, quickly noticing his wife doubled over and groaning.

"I think it's time, Call," Gretchen said, reaching for his hand.

"Newt! Go tell Ephraim her pains are between ten and fifteen minutes apart," Victoria said.

Call looked at his wife, let go of her hand, then rushed out the door.

Amanda Carpenter walked over to the sisters. "Looks like you're about to have the baby."

****

Newt Call hurried across the street and up the stairs, throwing open the door to Ephraim's office.

"Gretchen's ready to have the baby, Ephraim," Call blurted out. He looked around -- Robert, Josiah Peale, Ashley Mosby, and Ephraim surrounded a bed where Clay Mosby lay.

Ephraim lifted his head toward Call. "How far apart are her contractions, Call?"

"What difference does it make?" Call sharply replied. "It's time!"

Ephraim remained calm. "Mr. Mosby suffered a minor bullet wound to his left shoulder and received a nasty gash in the back of his head, falling down the stairs. I will require you to tell me how far apart your wife's pains are, Call. Please? This is urgent."

"Ten . . . maybe fifteen minutes apart. That's what Victoria said," Call answered.

Ephraim nodded. "Excellent. Listen to me, Call. Do exactly as I tell you. Your wife is indeed going to give birth today. Take her home. Bring her sisters with you."

Call shook his head. "You ain't coming? I think you best come now, Ephraim."

"Yes. Yes, I will be along shortly. However, Mr. Mosby's condition is presently more serious than Gretchen's. He requires greater need of my medical skills for the moment. There is nothing I can do as of now for your wife. It is going to take some time. She's just begun to go into labor. Trust me, Call. I shall be along as soon as possible. Everything is ready at your house -- the sheets -- the towels."

"Dr. Cleese," Ashley Mosby urged. "Please? My husband."

Ephraim nodded. "Go on, Call. Do as I have told you."

Call hesitated -- contemplating whether he should yank Ephraim and pull him outside, or trust him. He decided to leave -- hurrying down the stairs and back to the Dove, where Gretchen had been helped outside by her sisters. They stopped in front of the hotel -- there was no point in walking her any further than necessary.

"We're bringing her home," Call said. "You and Paige come with us," he told Victoria. "Ephraim said he'll be along soon enough."

"Close the store, Paige," Victoria replied. "Bring Daniel's basket. Newt, bring the wagon here. I'll stay with Gretchen."

Call hastened to the wagon. He quickly guided the two-horse team to the front of the hotel. He jumped out, opening the tailgate and gently helped Gretchen to lie down in the back. Paige quickly joined her. Call assisted Victoria and her infant son up onto the bench seat then snapped the reins, heading for their home.

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

As soon as he felt confident Clay Mosby would live, Robert Shelby quietly slipped out of the doctor's office to find Austin Peale.

"I know how to do my job, Shelby," Austin retorted when his deputy demanded he speak with the preacher who found Clay. The pair of lawmen didn't have to search far -- finding Amos Bantry eating lunch inside the Dove.

"By all means, gentlemen, please sit down," the Reverend said, as Robert and Austin stood over him. "Waitress! Bring these men some food."

Austin gazed at Amos Bantry. "Do you remember me?"

"Of course I remember you, Sheriff Peale," Amos replied, offering a kind smile.

"What are you doing back here?" Austin asked.

Amos Bantry grinned. "Thanks to you and Mr. Mosby, I've finally found my true calling in life. I'm on my way to the journey of a lifetime. Where the muddy, brown Missouri River merges with the green waters of the Yellowstone, east of here in the Dakota Territory. I have been employed by the stern-wheeled Rosebud. A remarkable steamboat that can ply through shallow waters waist-high." His eyes lit up as he spoke. "I've always dreamed of the river."

"Did you get a look at the man who shot Mosby?" Austin asked.

"Not his face. I saw him from behind. He rode around from behind the saloon and out onto the plains, past the windmill. He was average looking from behind. Short hair and slim."

"I'm going to track him," Robert said.

Austin looked at Amos Bantry, then followed Robert outside the Dove.

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

There were two horses outside the house when Call brought the wagon to a halt. Immediately he knew them to be Lakota ponies -- neither horse wore a saddle.

"Someone's here, Newt," Victoria said, apprehensively. She instinctively drew her infant son tighter to her breast.

Call's eyes darted across the land -- his hand instinctively touching his gun handle.

Mason Dobbs stepped out of the barn -- two Indians were with him -- Red Crow and a woman.

Call climbed down and helped Victoria. Paige ran to her sister and took the infant. Call then went and helped Gretchen out of the wagon.

"Looky here, Newt, boy," Mason said. "Company."

Red Crow brought the woman over to where Call and the sisters were moving toward the house.

Call nodded to Red Crow -- his only thoughts now being his wife. Gretchen moaned, not really aware of the unexpected Lakota, as her pains became sharper each time.

"Newt, we'll take Gretchen in the bedroom and help her change into her nightgown," Victoria said. "She needs to change her clothes."

It was quickly becoming an overwhelming experience for Newt Call. Gretchen was now ready to give birth to their first child and Ephraim wasn't there. Having too many chattering voices surrounding him would only make him angry and tense -- a situation Gretchen did not need at this moment.

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

Amos Bantry finished eating and returned to Dr. Cleese's office to check on Mosby. "I would like to sit and pray quietly for Mr. Mosby," Reverend Bantry said, standing in the open doorway.

Ephraim looked over at Ashley. "This is Mr. Mosby's wife, Mrs. Mosby. You will need her permission, Reverend Bantry."

Ashley glanced at the man and nodded.

"So, you are the wife of Clay Mosby?" Amos replied. He held his hat with both hands as he sat in an empty chair. "Good afternoon, Mr. Peale," he said to Josiah.

Ephraim had removed the slug from Clay's shoulder and was stitching the gash behind his head that he incurred from falling down the stairs.

Reverend Bantry lowered his head and began praying, only to be interrupted by the Dewberry sisters.

"How is he, Mrs. Mosby?" Suzanne inquired, pausing to gaze at Ashley's unconscious husband, then going to her, where she grasped her hand for support.

"He was quite fortunate, Mrs. Van Atta," Ashley replied. "If he hadn't fallen back from the first shot, he might well be dead right now."

"It's a shame that little Jesuit man has left Curtis Wells," Beth remarked.

"Yes, quite sad," Ephraim commented. "I enjoyed spending time with Brother Sebastian."

"This man is a preacher," Ashley said, pointing to Reverend Bantry. "He was praying."

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

Sheriff Austin Peale and Deputy Robert Shelby rode in a southwest direction, determined to run down the gunman who had shot Clay Mosby. Robert decided to take it upon himself to solve the mystery behind the attack on the Mosby house and the trap that had been set at the Ambrosia. And why would anyone refer to Clay Mosby as a Yankee sympathizer?

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

Mason had a bad feeling. Not so much about Gretchen -- it was Newt he was concerned for. There was a wild appearance to his eyes. No wonder the various tribes -- Crow, Cheyenne, Sioux -- had named him Wild Dog.

Gretchen had come out of the small bedroom and was sitting in a chair. She squeezed her husband's hand so tight the color turned whitish from lack of blood flowing into the hand.

"The old woman, Can Wape Tona (Many Leaves), remembered your wife, Wild Dog," Red Crow said. "I come to see the child, but it is not yet born. I bring the woman I will take as my wife soon. Her name is Zitkala Olawa (Song Bird). She is Song Bird." He looked at Gretchen and Call, and quietly said to Call, "whatever happens this day . . . you will be strong, Sun<Ka Watogla (Wild Dog). You must be strong."

Besides Call and Mason, the three Brandt sisters looked at the young, raven tressed Indian girl. Paige, although she cared for Dish Boggett, felt slightly confused -- experiencing a sense of jealousy over Red Crow's wife-to-be.

"Forgive me for the unfortunate delay," Ephraim Cleese blurted out as he entered the house. He stared with surprise at Red Crow and Song Bird, then quickly turned his attention to Gretchen. "Have your pains shortened?"

Gretchen nodded.

"They're coming every ten minutes now, Ephraim," Victoria said. It was helpful that little Daniel was behaving, having slept through most of the ride back to the house.

When Gretchen suddenly screamed in pain, Call dropped to his knees to hold her.

"Call! It hurts so much!" Gretchen moaned, tears welling up in her green eyes.

Call looked at Ephraim. A feeling of helplessness overcame him. "Ephraim?!"

"I think it is time we bring Gretchen into the bedroom. The baby will be born sometime today. Victoria? You and Paige come with me," Ephraim ordered.

Gretchen paused. "Call, come with me. Please?"

"Only for a minute, Call," Ephraim said.

Call led his wife into their bedroom, helping her onto the bed. She pulled him close to her. "I love you forever, Newt Call."

"I love you forever, Gretchen Call," he replied.

She stared at him, as if wanting to remember him before Ephraim ushered him out of the room.

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

Gretchen's contractions had come faster -- and more painful each time they occurred -- now five minutes apart. It had been slow, taking a few hours. Ephraim realized it was still hours away before the baby would be born, he asked Paige to make coffee and cook, so there would be food for everyone.

Victoria had placed Daniel in his cradle on the floor and was ringing out a small cloth, placing it on Gretchen's face as her younger sister breathed hard and sweat from the pain.

Each time one of Gretchen's sisters left the bedroom and returned, they raised their eyebrows to each other, a signal that Call was pacing more and more -- unable to sit or relax.

Red Crow and Song Bird had been sitting quietly near the fireplace. When Song Bird heard Gretchen scream in pain -- one of the countless times it had happened -- she quietly said, "Iye tonpi tawaci un suta" ("her birth will be hard").

Red Crow nodded.

Ephraim finally emerged from the bedroom. Paige followed.

"How's Gretchen doing?" Call asked, immediately confronting the doctor.

"Please pour me a cup of coffee, Paige," Ephraim said. He turned to Call. "It's taking longer than expected. A minor delay. Nothing more. It's all quite normal, Call. Thank you," he said as Paige handed him the hot cup.

"I want to see her," Call said.

"No!" Ephraim said. "It would be advisable for you to remain out here. I prefer she concentrate on the baby. You'll see her soon enough, Call." Ephraim emptied the coffee and returned to the bedroom.

Call stared at the bedroom door, unsure what to do.

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

Clay Mosby woke up but continued to slip in and out of consciousness. When Ike showed up to inform Ashley that a plate of food had been prepared for her by Amanda, Josiah offered to walk her to the Dove.

"I'll sit here until you return, Mrs. Mosby," Reverend Bantry said.

Ashley agreed, leaving with Josiah.

As soon as they left, Mattie Shaw entered the office to sit with Clay. "Reverend Bantry? What are you doing here?"

"I was on my way east of here," he replied. "The steamer Rosebud. Now that you're here, perhaps I could go to the hotel. Suddenly, I find myself quite hungry.

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

A few more hours had passed -- it was early evening -- darkness was painting the sky from horizon to horizon. Gretchen's pains had become sharper -- her screams coming faster and louder. Each time Call would tense and stare at the door to their bedroom. Both Mason and Red Crow had positioned themselves to stop Call if he lost control of himself and tried to enter the room.

Ephraim grew increasingly nervous as Gretchen's labor became more of a struggle. Her screams of pain were constant now. Tears flowed down her cheeks. Her face was white. Victoria and Paige both cried, helpless to remove Gretchen's pain. They could only watch her suffer.

Victoria's infant son began to cry. Paige took the baby and brought him out of the bedroom. Song Bird offered to hold the child. Paige allowed her, thanking her. Call could see the tears stained on Paige's face -- her eyes red.

"What the hell's going on in there, Paige?!" Call wanted to know.

Paige didn't answer right away -- careful not to alarm Call. She wiped her eyes and put her hand on his arm. "Call? Remember what that old Lakota woman said? Remember, she said Gretchen would suffer when she gave birth?"

Call tensed up again. His eyes taking on a wild appearance.

"Call! Relax," Paige said, trying to hold her tears back. "She also said Gretchen would give birth to a son or daughter and both would be fine."

"She's suffering too much!" Call moaned. "Can't Ephraim do something for her?"

"Oh oh," Mason quietly said. He nudged Red Crow to be ready.

Paige broke into tears and rushed outside.

Call turned -- a wild gaze in his eyes. "Gretchen!" He moved toward the door.

"Newt! No!" Mason ordered. "Hold him, Red Crow!"

Both men grabbed Call.

Ephraim opened the door and stepped into the larger room. "Call, please? You have to stay calm. It's been quite frustrating. I need to concentrate on getting the baby out. Please don't make things difficult for me."

"Is she going to be all right?" Call implored.

Ephraim didn't answer. "Send Paige back inside when she's ready. I need her."

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

"Rev . . . Reverend Bantry?" It was the first words spoken by Clay Mosby once he blinked and looked around the office.

"Yes, Clay," Ashley Mosby said, standing up to take her husband's hand. "He found you after the other man shot you."

Clay squinted, trying to remember. "The coward that was upstairs is long gone, I'm afraid."

"At least you are alive," Amos Bantry said.

"What are you doing here in Curtis Wells?" Clay asked. A sharp pain shot through his temples, across his forehead. There was a throbbing, radiating pain behind his head and his entire left arm and shoulder were extremely sore, causing shooting pain into his neck and side whenever he moved his arm.

"Passing through," Amos replied, "on my way to the Dakota's."

Clay closed his eyes. He still needed to rest.

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

It had been the loudest scream yet. Gretchen cried out -- her pain so great it caused her to pass out.

Paige nearly panicked. "She fainted! Ephraim! Do something!"

"It's better for her this way," he replied, attempting to remain calm. "She's in so much pain it will be better for her to rest a little. She will require all of her remaining strength."

Outside the bedroom, Call was becoming more agitated -- harder to keep under control.

"Gretchen! Gretchen!" he cried out. Her pains were causing anguish inside him.

Ephraim quickly emerged from the bedroom again. It was somewhere around 11 o'clock at night. The baby hadn't come. Not only was it two weeks late, the baby should have been out by now. Even Ephraim was struggling. Things weren't proceeding as they should.

"What's wrong with her?" Call demanded. He stared at Ephraim. "Why is she in so much pain?! Tell me!" Call grabbed Ephraim by the shirt.

"Please, Call?" Ephraim begged. "You're only making it more difficult."

Mason and Red Crow pulled Call away from the doctor.

"Your wife is having great difficulty," Ephraim began. "The baby won't come out, Call. It's causing her incredible pain. I can't seem to shift it." Ephraim, worn out from the unexpectedly long ordeal, was tired and frustrated. "Nothing is working."

"Can't you give her something for the pain?!" Call yelled. "Anything!"

"I can't, Call. If I were to give Gretchen anything now, it could harm the baby." Ephraim poured a cup of coffee and emptied half the cup. "I . . . I may have to take the baby from her."

Call looked at Ephraim. "Take the baby? What does that mean?"

"I may have to cut her open to get the baby out."

"NO! You ain't cutting Gretchen open!" Call yelled. "Gretchen!" He became wild.

"Stop him!" Ephraim hollered. "Hold him!"

Mason dove, wrapping his arms around Call's feet, tripping him to the floor. Mason twisted his head to avoid Call's spur from slicing his face open. Red Crow straddled Call, quickly sitting on his back and pulling his arms behind him. Call fought -- thrashing madly -- but couldn't get any leverage to lift himself from the floor.

Ephraim bent down. "Call? Please, Call? Listen to me! If I don't cut her open, both she and the baby will probably die."

"NO!" Call yelled, thrashing violently on the floor. "Gretchen!"

"Call! Stop it!" Victoria suddenly yelled. "You have to listen to Ephraim." Her face was stained with tears.

"Even if I take the baby by cutting her . . . she and the baby could still die."

Call fought with a wildness. "NO! Gretchen! Damn you, Ephraim!"

"Stop him, Mason," Ephraim ordered. "Do whatever it takes."

Mason drew his revolver and brought the handle down on his nephew's head. "Sorry, Newt." The blow was hard enough to knock Call unconscious. "Tie him to a chair before he comes to." Mason heaved a great sigh. "That boy is exasperating."

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

By midnight the streets were empty. Amanda Carpenter had long since offered rooms to Amos Bantry and Ashley Mosby.

A shadowy figure crept quietly up the stairs to Dr. Cleese's office. The door was unlocked, allowing easy access. The silent figure went straight to where Clay Mosby lay sleeping. There was only a minimal light flickering on the nearby table. The intruder drew a large knife and stood over Clay's body. The arm raised -- ready to plunge the sharp blade deep into Clay's heart.

Ashley Mosby suddenly awoke, hearing the man's loud breathing. She screamed, "Reverend Bantry!"

Amos Bantry froze. He saw Clay Mosby wake suddenly. Ashley rushed to protect her husband. Amos grabbed Ashley's arm and pulled her quickly out of the office. He forced her down the stairs.

"Ashley!" Clay cried. He struggled to his feet -- his legs wobbly -- stabbing pain cutting through his head.

Near the bottom stair, Ashley pulled away from Amos Bantry, her dress ripping, leaving her shawl in Bantry's hand as she ran between the buildings, into the street.

"Help! Help!" she screamed.

Amos Bantry saw Clay Mosby in the doorway. He ran off in the opposite direction, toward the livery.

Ashley headed as quick as she could for the hotel. She ran into Robert Shelby, nearly falling from the impact. "Robert! That preacher just tried to kill Clay!"

Robert held Ashley close. "So! He was deceiving us, was he? Get inside the hotel, Ashley. I'll find him."

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

The sheets were soaked from sweat. Gretchen's hair was pasted to her head from sweating profusely. Her eyes bulged and she shook from the intense pain. Ephraim had finally told Paige to leave the room -- hoping this wouldn't cause a lasting impression that might deter her from wanting children when she married. Paige ran out crying -- her sister's suffering more than she could bear.

Ephraim had Victoria roll up a thin towel to place between Gretchen's teeth. Hoping at all costs to avoid cutting her open to take the child, he then began one last time to adjust the baby's position. Even though the baby was tiny, its shoulders were stuck and no matter how hard Gretchen tried to push, it only caused greater pain and suffering.

As Ephraim cautiously attempted to shift the baby inside the womb, the door opened and Song Bird, the young Lakota squaw stepped inside -- her dark eyes set on Gretchen. Both Ephraim and Victoria watched, not sure what to say -- aware that there was no common language between them.

Song Bird sat on the bed, near Gretchen. She had screamed herself out -- her cheeks wet from tears still sliding down. Gretchen, in so much pain, cast an uncaring glance at the Lakota girl. It was possible she no longer even knew where she was.

Song Bird began to sing in a soft and soothing voice, while lightly rubbing Gretchen's stomach.

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

Aside from the din that carried from tent town, Robert Shelby heard nothing. He moved with measured steps, attempting to determine the avenue of retreat Reverend Bantry must have pursued. He decided the foiled preacher man would most likely head for the livery in order to secure a horse for escape -- his plans to assassinate Clay Mosby now in the open.

Robert ran up the street, no longer beset with caution. He suddenly stopped, hearing the sound of feet dragging to his left. He turned and raised his pistol.

"Don't shoot, Robert!" Clay called out.

Robert rushed to the rear of the mining supplies store, where Clay leaned weakly against the building. "Damn, Clay! I could have shot you."

"Ashley . . . he took Ashley," Clay said, his breathing labored.

"Ashley got away, Clay. I sent her to the hotel. She'll be safe there. You just stay here, understand? I'll find this Reverend Bantry for you."

"I want him alive, Robert. I have to know why he did this. Although, I am quite certain, nevertheless."

"You keep your eyes open, Clay," Robert said, then hurried off toward the livery.

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

Newt Call shook his head -- his mind slowly coming out of a fog. Immediately, he realized he was tied to a chair. "What the hell . . .?! Mason! Dammit!"

Just then, inside the bedroom, Call heard a loud grunt from Gretchen, followed by the small cry of a baby. "Gretchen?!" he said.

The door soon opened. Ephraim stepped out, a huge smile on his weary face. "Your wife just gave birth, Call. The baby is fine -- Gretchen is fine. Please allow a few minutes for Victoria to clean things a little and . . ." Ephraim paused, smiling, as he noticed Call tied to the chair.

Mason just winked at Ephraim.

Call suddenly noticed the blood on Ephraim's hands and arms. "Why's there so much blood?" he nervously asked. He began to strain his muscles, trying to break the cords that bound him. "Dammit, Mason! Cut me loose!" Call struggled violently. "You bastard, Ephraim! You cut Gretchen open!" His eyes glared with an animalistic wildness.

Ephraim stepped back -- fearful. "No, Call. Listen to me! NO, Call! I did not cut Gretchen open. The baby came out safely. Call? Did you hear me? I didn't cut your wife."

Mason yanked Call hair. "Simmer down, boy. Coyote Girl is fine."

"It's quite common, really," Ephraim replied. "Every woman bleeds while giving birth. I assure you, Call, both Gretchen and the baby are quite safe." In some ways, Call had worn him out just as much as Gretchen had with her unexpectedly difficult delivery. He knew Call well enough not to allow him into the bedroom too soon -- the sight of the blood on the soaked bed sheets -- the blood on the baby -- there was no telling what Call was capable of doing if he thought something had happened to Gretchen or their newborn infant.

"Untie him," Ephraim said, drenched from the serious ordeal.

"I'll wager you could use a drink, amigo?" Mason said, untying the bonds.

Ephraim nodded. He looked at Red Crow. "The woman, Song Bird, was most helpful. Thank you."

Song Bird exited the room -- taking Victoria's baby so Paige could hurry into the room.

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

Robert Shelby reached the livery and stepped inside the dark stable. He wasn't fond of the possibility that Amos Bantry could at any moment jump up and either shoot or stab him. He didn't think Bantry had climbed up into the loft, where he would be trapped -- although one never really knew what to expect from an assassin.

Below Dr. Cleese's office -- behind the mining supplies -- Clay Mosby's eyes involuntarily shut. Between lost of blood and the laudanum's euphoric affects, Clay's body craved sleep. He began to slowly tilt sideways -- a sure sign of someone sleeping on their feet.

Amos Bantry had entered the livery then quickly ran out, crossing the dark open field till he reached the church. He saw Mosby and Shelby speak, then watched Shelby leave. Amos moved with haste across the field -- silently drawing nearer, until he stood six or seven feet away from Clay Mosby. Grinning, he drew his revolver.

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

"You can come in now, Newt," Victoria said, opening the door slightly.

Call stepped inside -- Paige quietly slipped out. The sheets had been changed and the baby cleaned -- now bundled in flannel near Gretchen's breast.

Call stared at the tiny, wrinkled baby, then at Gretchen. His eyes darted back to the baby then his wife. "Gretchen?!" he moaned. "What did I do to you?!"

Gretchen, taxed to the limit -- her eyes half closed -- offered a small smile. It was all she could muster at this point. "Call, my sweet, wonderful husband," she said, her voice weak. "All you did . . . all we did together . . . was create this beautiful child."

Victoria smiled and moved to the door. "Don't stay long, Newt. Gretchen is extremely exhausted. She's been through a very difficult birth. She needs plenty of rest."

"Here, Call," Gretchen said, "come and hold your daughter."

Call stepped closer -- in obvious shock at the experience. He reached out to hold the baby.

Gretchen laughed a little as she handed their daughter to Call. "Hold her close to you, Call. You won't break her. Her name is Rebecca Maggie Call. Just like we said. We named her after both of our mothers."

Call slowly brought the tiny infant to his chest. He just stared at her. Finally, he smiled, looked at Gretchen, and said, "Becky Call."

Gretchen nodded. "Yes, Call. Becky Call. Our daughter."

Call bent his head down and lightly kissed Becky on her little forehead, then carefully placed her back under Gretchen's arm. He kneeled at the side of the bed and grabbed her hand, then lowered his head. "I'm so sorry, Gretchen . . . for putting you through this."

"No, Call," she whispered. "I love you. We have a child. Look at her, Call. Isn't she the most beautiful baby ever?"

Call raised his face, swallowing hard. His eyes were red. He nodded. It had torn him up inside at the thought of how severe the pain Gretchen endured. So great was his love for her -- as was hers for him.

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

It now seemed almost too easy. Amos Bantry raised his gun and cocked the hammer. Instantly, the supposedly sleeping Clay Mosby drew his pistol and fired, striking Amos in the hand. Amos Bantry yelled as the gun fell from his hand.

"Do you think me that big a fool?" Clay angrily asked. "Before I end your worthless life, you are going to tell me why you did this."

"Why do you think?" Reverend Bantry cried. "You ruined my life, Mosby. Ever since I left here, I bounced from town to town. Always drinking and whoring. I'm a disgrace."

Clay drew nearer. "I had nothing to do with your failure, Bantry. You were weak. You had no more business being a preacher than I would have."

As Clay got closer, Amos pulled out his knife with his left hand. The blade flashed underneath the moonlight.

"Clay!" Ashley yelled. Bam! Bam!

Amos Bantry doubled over and fell to the ground. He was dead within moments.

Clay looked at his wife. "How did you get that rifle?"

"Amanda keeps it in the hotel. She gave it to me," Ashley replied. "Clay, you're my husband. I had to shoot him."

"And I am quite pleased you did shoot him," Clay said.

"Clay?!" Robert Shelby had come running once he heard the first shot. He looked at the body in the dirt.

"Ashley shot him," Clay commented. "Well done, my dear."

Ashley reached out to support Clay's wobbly body. "Help me get him back upstairs, Robert," she ordered.

Robert looked once more at the crumpled corpse. "He wanted revenge, Clay."

Clay nodded. "It would appear our Reverend Bantry will now be preaching in Hell, itself." He looked at Ashley. "I am impressed. You were quite strong, Ashley, dear."

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

Victoria stepped into the bedroom, smiling. "Newt? Why don't you let Gretchen feed Rebecca so she can get some rest. It's still the middle of the night."

Gretchen's eyes opened a little more. "That's right. It's past midnight. Becky was born on September 1st. It's actually Friday morning."

Call leaned over, gently kissing Gretchen. He stared at their tiny daughter for a moment.

The door suddenly opened. Red Crow's bride-to-be, Song Bird, stood in the doorway and said, "Nitawa opala caje Tokala Cikala ("Your baby is named Little Fox").

Red Crow stepped inside the door and apologized. "Zitkala Olawa (Song Bird) is excited. She says your daughter has spirit of fox resting on her. Your child will know how to listen, but not be seen. She will learn to be here but not be noticed. She says your daughter's Lakota name is Tokala Cikala. Little Fox."

Red Crow quickly urged Song Bird out of the room.

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

It would be dawn soon. An exhausted Ephraim and wife, Victoria -- along with their one month old son, Daniel -- slept in the spare room. Paige slept in the large room, in a chair near the fireplace. Runt laid near Paige's feet. Red Crow and Song Bird had retreated to the barn, finding a soft bed in the hay. Mason slept in an empty stall, filled with hay.

Newt Call had returned to the bedroom where he and Gretchen slept. He sat on the bed for hours, just staring at Rebecca Maggie Call. Eventually, he picked her up -- a little more comfortable with her than the first time. The tiny Becky made small squeaking sounds then was quiet. Call marveled at her tiny fingers -- everything about little Becky was tiny. He held her close to him, staring at Gretchen.

After a while, Call gently laid their daughter in Gretchen's arm. The young mother instinctively wrapped her arm around the infant -- momentarily opening her eyes to make sure the baby was secure -- then closed her eyes again. Call pulled his boots off and laid near Gretchen and Becky, careful not to joust or hurt either one.

Life had just changed for Newt Call. He was a father. He would do whatever he had to now in order to protect and take care of his wife and infant daughter.

He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. Gretchen was breast feeding Becky. Gretchen was also prepared to do whatever she had to in order to be a good wife and mother.

Call smiled at Gretchen. She smiled back. Becky just took in as much milk as she could.

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

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