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.


Six Roads West
(41st in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Among any ten whom you successfully meet, there will be natives of
New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia or Georgia, Ohio or
Indiana, Kentucky or Missouri, France, Germany, and perhaps Ireland.

(Western Characters - Horace Greeley, 1859)

There was a sense of order -- a feeling of complacency. The circle unbroken -- no beginning, no ending. Babies were born. Some lived, some died. Folks eventually grew old and passed on or else were claimed at too early an age. Seasons came and gone. It was one of the few constants in life.

Each year at this time -- early September -- the annual 'Regrets of Autumn' would appear and consume folks as they observed the gradual change from Summer to Autumn -- life to death, in a sense. The eternal cycle would all begin anew with the first signs of life come Spring.

It was only the beginning of September. Friday, the first. Mason Dobbs had gone around Curtis Wells sharing the good news -- Newt and Gretchen Call had a baby daughter. The baby, Rebecca Maggie Call, wasn't even a full day old when Mason wired a telegram to Hat Creek, informing Captain Woodrow Call and the whole ranch that mother and daughter were fine but it had been a most difficult birth.

"I'm going and that's that! Newt don't know the first thing about babies or taking care of a woman who's just given birth." Sarah Pickett was adamant about her decision. Woodrow didn't much have an opinion either way. He was pleased that Newt's wife, Gretchen, had survived the burdensome experience of childbirth. It just didn't have much to do with him.

"Wild horses won't stop Sarah, Cap'n," Isom Pickett said. "I reckon she feels that young couple need her motherly skills now. I'll be taking her in the wagon. Lizzie can cook just fine till she returns."

"Uh . . . Cap'n? I'd like to go," Dish Boggett said.

"Go where, Dish?" Captain Call snapped.

"Well, to see Newt," he replied.

Isom laughed. Although Dish and Newt were good friends, it was Gretchen's younger sister, Paige Brandt, that Dish really wanted to see.

"Aw, hell!" Woodrow said, throwing his arms up in frustration. "Why don't we just make it a holiday and go back to bed! Ain't no work getting done." He walked off in disgust, talking to himself.

Dish looked at Isom and Sarah. "Does that mean I can go?"

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

A bullet in the shoulder and a four-stitch gash in the head wasn't enough to slow Clay Mosby. For a man in his fortieth year, he was in remarkable condition. He rose early, and along with Ashley, returned home to change clothes before opening the Ambrosia. One night spent in the office of Dr. Cleese was sufficient for a man of Mosby's well being.

Ashley Mosby, though not a typical domesticated woman, insisted on bringing food to the Call's. It was the Christian thing to do, she told Clay.

"Mrs. Call has two sisters, Ashley," Clay remarked. "And, why wouldn't they provide food?"

"Victoria has her own newborn infant and they have a store to run," Ashley said. "I'm sure they will provide for Gretchen. Still, we should at least bring one meal to them."

"As you wish, my dear," Clay agreed. "You will have to take the buggy on your own. I have a saloon to run."

Lorenzo, the young Spanish servant, stood patiently by, waiting to speak.

Clay finally acknowledged the young man. "Yes? What is it?"

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Mosby, sir. Lady Ashley. A gift came yesterday." The young servant handed a thin, long box to Ashley.

Mrs. Mosby proceeded to undo the white ribbon and open the box. She removed two silver candlesticks, each approximately eighteen inches in length. "Goodness, Clay! They're even larger than you!"

"Yes," Clay remarked, "though not by much."

"Clay! They're absolutely beautiful," Ashley said. She opened the enclosed note. "It's from Libbie Custer."

"Hmm?" Clay replied. He was mildly surprised to receive a gift from Mrs. Elizabeth Custer. "Do read it, Ashley, dear."

Ashley nodded. "My dearest friends; Ashley and Clay - I do hope you find these lovely candlesticks to your liking. I must admit I simply fell in love with them and am quite exceedingly jealous that I haven't a place for them. They should look absolutely grand on the mantle of your exquisite fireplace -- casting their warm glow on Colonel Mosby's delightfully breath-taking painting. Poor Eliza, the General's cook. You should have seen how embarrassed she became when I gave her the silk nightgown I purchased for her.

With so many tragedies from the past -- Andersonville Prison, with the South's barbaric cruelty that is well documented, one of the most horrible acts in human history, I find it quite assuring that the three of us have forged a friendship in which no petty or miserably unhappy person can sever with their spiteful words. I find myself feeling sympathy for those who lash out with bitter hearts. Poor souls. They only seem content when others suffer.

I hope to visit you both soon, Your sincere friend, Libbie."

"Oh, Clay! She's right. These candlesticks will look wonderful on either side of your painting." Ashley paused. "I wonder how Monsieur Etienne Meloche is getting on with that Indian woman you traded him?" Ashley thought about how she had seduced the French Canadian painter. How exciting it had been to copulate with him upstairs in her bedroom while Clay was doing the same somewhere else with his Indian wife. Her heartbeat increased at the thought of fornicating with another stranger.

Clay nodded. "Mrs. Elizabeth Custer is quite a lady. Now, I must be getting back to town. You will write her and give our sincerest appreciation for her generosity?"

"Just as soon as I can take pen and paper in hand, Clay, dearest."

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

Once the long, agonizing night had ended, Red Crow and his Lakota bride-to-be, Song Bird, returned to the Sioux encampment. Mason Dobbs hurried into town to spread the word and wire Hat Creek. Ephraim returned to Curtis Wells with his wife, Victoria, and their one month old son, Daniel. It was still Friday -- someone had to open and run the dry goods store. Paige Brandt remained with her sister, Gretchen, to help out. She was in bliss -- having a nephew and a niece to coddle. Once she held her tiny newborn niece, Rebecca Maggie, Paige had already cast aside her doubts of bearing children when her time came. She now eagerly anticipated her own marriage and giving birth as her two older sisters had just done.

Call grew restless almost immediately but stayed in the small bedroom with his wife and the baby. He found himself amazed at tiny Rebecca Maggie -- so incredibly small -- her tiny fingers and tiny feet -- her little arms and legs -- the tiny sounds that came from her little mouth. He was in awe as he stared hour after hour at the small life that had been created from the love between him and Gretchen -- truly a miracle.

It pleased Gretchen each time she opened her eyes, quietly observing Call bonding with his infant daughter -- ever so gently touching her hands or her feet -- smiling at Becky the same way he smiled at Gretchen. When he had refused to hold Victoria's baby one month earlier, Gretchen had worried that Call might not take to their own child once the baby came. There were no worries now -- she was completely satisfied that Call would embrace and love little Becky.

"We're a family now, Call," Gretchen whispered. "You, me, and little Becky."

Call nodded, smiling. "I reckon we are, Gretchen."

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

Word spread through Curtis Wells that Gretchen Call had given birth to a tiny, baby girl. The news of her long, complicated ordeal was cause for Amanda Carpenter, Mattie Shaw, Ashley Mosby, and Mrs. Abner Scully to each ride out and bring food to the young couple. Paige Brandt happily accepted the kindhearted gifts -- promising to notify Call and Gretchen as to who brought each meal. She informed the generous women that it might be awhile before Gretchen regained her strength and was able to bring their infant daughter into town.

The fact that two babies had been born in Curtis Wells within the past month stirred old memories in some of the town's established citizens. It was said that babies born on the plains and prairies of the wilderness were the only real citizens of the vast frontier territory -- most folks already there had come from numerous civilized locations back east.

"We all seem to know so little of each other," Josiah Peale commented. "What's your story, Mattie? I'm certain we would thoroughly appreciate hearing it -- if you had an inclination to share it?"

Mattie looked around the table. What had begun as a quiet sitting -- her and Amanda drinking coffee -- had now grown to four -- Josiah and Unbob having joined the women.

"I don't see as I have any secrets," Mattie shrugged. "My story begins in Kentucky. It's where I was born. Daddy moved us to Arkansas when I was little. I had four older brothers. Two died in the war. The other two took sick and died. Daddy taught us all about guns and after Mama died, we headed west. Daddy never made it here. That's why I dress like I do. Daddy wanted boys who could work the fields and know how shoot. I guess I grew up sort of doing things like a man. Mama never argued about putting me in dresses. I did wear a dress on the journey when we started."

The others were silent. It was the first time Mattie had ever spoken of her past. It seemed there was tragedy and death that followed most everyone.

"Was this where you was planning on being with your daddy?" Unbob asked.

Mattie nodded. "We were going to start one gunsmith shop and then open another. I did manage to do that but my shop in Miles City burned down last summer, just after I came here."

"I remember," Josiah replied. "Did you ever think you would be raising a young orphan boy?"

"No," Mattie said. "Poor little Dewey. He had no where to go. He needs a father. The only man in town he cares about is Mason Dobbs."

"Mason seems to like the boy," Amanda said. "Maybe the two of you . . . you know, honey."

Mattie laughed. "I've made some . . . mistakes, lately." She was thinking about how Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby had taken her and used her as if she were nothing more than a prostitute. Neither of them man enough to be honest with her. It had soured her toward a relationship with men in general. Although, to be fair, she had been a willing partner.

"I do like Mason," she finally admitted. "But I intend to remain a gunsmith. It's what my Daddy wanted."

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

Newt Call had just finished his chores in the barn the next morning and returned to the house. Paige was cleaning little Rebecca while Gretchen, still weak from her arduous time of giving birth, ate a small meal in bed.

"Look, Becky," Paige playfully said to the baby, "here's your papa."

Call stepped into the small, crowded bedroom and smiled at his infant daughter. His eyes seemed to light up as he gazed at the tiny baby.

"Isn't our daughter beautiful, Call?" Gretchen paused from eating, to say to her husband.

Call stared at the one-day old infant and nodded. "Hard to believe . . . we have a baby."

"Oohh," Paige laughed, "wait till she starts crying every night. Wanting her mother's milk. Little Daniel wakes up throughout the night."

Gretchen looked at Call. "Becky's already doing that, Paige. She's a little piggy. Call hasn't complained, even though it's only been one night."

Call looked at Paige then stared at Gretchen. "Give us a minute, Paige. I want to talk to Gretchen."

Paige wrapped Becky in flannel, handed her to Gretchen, took the empty plate and quietly left the room, closing the door. Gretchen looked at her husband as he sat on the bed next to her, taking her hand. She held her free arm around their baby daughter.

"What is it, Call?" she softly asked.

Call stared at Gretchen. "I could have lost you." He lowered his head then raised it, looking into her green eyes. "Gretchen," he whispered.

"Call," she whispered back, squeezing his hand. "I'm the one who always says that to you."

He gently hugged her. "I intend to take good care of you and Becky. The Cap'n's going to expect me back at Hat Creek soon. I don't favor leaving you and Becky alone."

Gretchen's face saddened. "We have a baby, Call. Another mouth to feed. I know you have to work . . . I don't want us to be apart, Call. Not ever. There must be a way you can provide for us without being away for days at a . . . !"

The door suddenly opened -- Paige was excited. "Sorry Gretchen! Sorry Call! We have visitors." She turned. "They're both decent -- come in."

Sarah Pickett was first -- her face smiling wide as she gazed at the young mother and father, then the baby. "Oh, look at them, Isom. Both mother and daughter are gorgeous."

Isom Pickett and Dish Boggett both peeked in -- slightly embarrassed at entering the Call's bedroom.

"I don't expect Newt knows how to tend to a wife that's just given birth or how to change a baby," Sarah Pickett laughed. "You two are going to need some help. We got a telegram from Mason Dobbs. I hope you don't mind me staying and helping out till Mrs. Call is on her feet?"

Gretchen immediately nodded. "Thank you, Mrs. Pickett. Paige. You can help Victoria at the store. Call, you can get the supplies we need in town."

Paige giggled. "Gretchen Call! You've been a mother for barely one day and you're already acting like Victoria or Mama, giving orders."

The sisters laughed.

"I ain't of a mind to go off and leave you, Gretchen," Call said.

Sarah put her hands on her hips. "Now, you listen, Newt Call. Your wife and baby daughter will be just fine until you get back. Go with him, Isom. Dish, I'm sure you'll want to go too so you can spend time with Paige. It's what you came for."

Call looked at his wife. She smiled at him, nodding. He picked up Rebecca Maggie and gave the baby a kiss. "You be good for your mama, Becky." He handed the infant to Gretchen and kissed his wife.

"Just come home safe, Call," Gretchen said. She put Becky's tiny hand between her thumb and finger and waved it slightly. "Tell your papa bye bye."

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

Josiah Peale had a sudden thought. It had been an enlightening and enjoyable experience to sit in a group and hear Mattie share her story of how she came to Curtis Wells. Why not continue the stories?

The same four -- Amanda, Mattie, Unbob, and Josiah -- had returned to the same table inside the Dove. The table had grown to five -- Ephraim Cleese becoming part of the group. He retold how Gretchen had gone through an extremely difficult ordeal in delivering her tiny baby and how she faced the very real possibility of dying in childbirth, before he was asked how he came to Curtis Wells.

As was his habit on occasions when he was about to speak to a small group, Ephraim's chest puffed up straight and he smiled. "I come from New York," he began. "South Bethlehem -- west of the Hudson River and south of Albany. The Cleese's have been silver smiths for hundreds of years. I was sent at a young age to live with my father's brother in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was the master. It was during those years as I reached fifteen or sixteen that my life took an unforeseen turn."

The Dewberry sisters -- Elizabeth Dewberry and Suzanne Van Atta -- were sitting nearby and joined the group as Ephraim paused to smile at them.

"My maternal grandmother became quite ill and died. I remember standing at her bed in an overcrowded, unsanitary hospital and feeling quite helpless. It was at that very moment I decided to pursue a life of helping people. I discussed the matter with my father and to my delight, he agreed with me. There were already two older brothers learning the trade of silver smith and one younger brother who would begin his training within the year. I worked long hours for another year and was then returned to New York where I attended the State University of New York in Syracuse. It was the Upstate Medical Center."

"How did you get out here, Dr. Cleese?" Unbob asked. "Isn't New York a long ways away?"

Ephraim smiled. "Yes! Quite a long distance, Unbob." He gazed at his attentive audience and continued. "I was sent to Baltimore, Maryland. My colleagues were constantly bickering about their superiority and desires to become heads of large hospitals. It was rather vain, of course. I felt these gifted gentlemen had lost sight of their vision of helping the afflicted. I felt I could best serve by leaving the civilized East and traveling west to a small town. I was offered a position in a distinguished Denver hospital, but there were still too many egos and I sought a place where I could be the primary attending physician. While in Denver, another colleague suggested I travel to Montana or Wyoming, where doctors were scarce."

Ephraim sighed. "I must admit there are occasions -- moments when I allow myself to contemplate what could have been. I deliberate about the men I trained with. They are well known doctors. Gratefully, I always think about my grandmother lying helpless in bed. I am quite certain I have made the correct choice by coming out here to help those who would not have access to a doctor if all who attended the universities had chosen to remain in large cities."

Josiah nodded. "We are quite fortunate to have you here, Ephraim."

Ephraim grinned. "And, I can always be counted on to repair jewelry or items of silver. I consider it to be an enjoyable form of relaxation.

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

The wagon sat behind the dry goods so as not to attract attention. Call planned to load the needed supplies and head back to Gretchen and Becky. Dish and Isom helped fill the buckboard then Isom grabbed Newt before he could climb up into the bench seat.

"Oh, you ain't leaving that easy, Newt," Isom laughed. "Sarah can handle things just fine till we get back. You're a new father. I expect I'll buy you a drink. To celebrate."

"Well, I guess I will, too," Dish added. He cast a glance at Paige.

"Don't you go getting Call drunk, now," Paige snapped.

Isom grinned. "Would we do that?"

The pair of Hat Creek boys led Call to the Ambrosia -- against his will. "I ain't of a mind to drink," he moaned.

Isom and Dish -- each pulling one of Call's arms -- dragged him into Mosby's saloon.

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

"You must be very proud of your son, Capitan Call," Augustina Vega said.

Woodrow Call didn't respond. He continued cutting through fresh timber with the bow-saw.

Pea Eye Parker, using the other bow-saw to cut posts for the new corral, paused to look at the Captain. When he was fairly certain Woodrow wasn't going to acknowledge Augustina, he said, "I believe I would like to take a look at Newt's baby. I recall Newt when he was little." He shook his head, as if trying to fathom the mysteries of life -- a subject far too complex for Pea Eye Parker. "I wonder if the baby favors Newt or her mama?"

"This wood ain't likely to cut itself and walk over to the corral, Pea," the Captain barked. "Keep your mind on the job. We're shorthanded enough with Isom and Dish gone."

Augustina Vega, although Woodrow's partner, was not her father. The things Gus could say wasn't allowed by his daughter. "Capitan? You should be happy for Newt."

"I'd be happy right now if we get this fence up -- there's over twenty horses waiting to be rounded up. Go on, now," Woodrow said. "Get yourselves to work."

Pea continued sawing. He wondered what Newt's baby looked like.

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

"Allow me to congratulate you, Call."

Call eyed Clay Mosby and offered a minimal nod.

"We heard from your uncle," Clay said. "My fondest wish is for your daughter to be healthy."

Isom ordered a bottle and immediately poured drinks for Call, Dish, and himself. Dish argued that he wanted to buy a round for Newt but it was rare when one of the Hat Creek boys ever got their way when Isom was involved.

Austin Peale had been standing at the far end of the bar. His recent heroics had made him a favorable recipient for free drinks from fair-weather friends -- the same ones who had bad mouthed him when he failed to perform his duties as sheriff. He watched silently as Call and the other men emptied the bottle.

Isom Pickett, by nature boasted a powerful and commanding voice. After a few drinks his voice grew significantly louder -- his laughing echoing throughout the dim-lit building.

Austin didn't care much for Isom Pickett and decided to just walk out of the Ambrosia. He hesitated as he passed the three men, not sure of what he had just heard. He turned toward Isom. "Did you just say something about horses that can talk?"

Isom looked at Austin. He smiled. "Why, sure they do. I heard 'em myself."

Austin looked at Mosby. He snickered. "Talking horses? Mister, I think you had enough to drink."

"Why don't you mind your own business, Austin?" Call said.

Isom put his hand out for Call to be quiet. He looked at Austin. "You don't believe me?"

Austin took a moment to stare at each of the three men. He didn't answer Isom.

"Back at Hat Creek," Isom began, "if you sneak up on the horses at night, you can hear them talking. One of them, oh, he's real smart. Real smart. He knows all kinds of poetry and can even do some arithmetic. But he can't write." It was the same story he had told his daughter, Lizzie, after they had arrived at Hat Creek.

Dish and Call both busted up laughing, causing Isom to laugh. Even Clay Mosby laughed.

"You think that's funny?" Austin growled at Clay.

Clay poured Isom, Dish, and Call another drink. "Perhaps if you were to laugh occasionally, Austin," he replied, "you might become a more likable sheriff."

Austin ignored Clay. His mind already conceived a way to start trouble. "Hey, Call? We can always tell when your wife's not in town. The only time you ever sneak inside here is when she's not around. I guess she's been wearing the pants." Austin tensed his body, his hands tightening into fists -- prepared for Call to explode.

"That's right, Austin," Call answered. He was in too good a mood today. Gretchen had finally given birth and they had a baby daughter. It just didn't seem important to fight. Call knew his first priority was to take care of Gretchen and Becky. He couldn't very well do that if he was locked up in jail for being drunk and fighting with the town's sheriff.

Isom and Dish looked at Austin then turned away, ignoring him. Austin was angry -- he hadn't expected Call to remain so calm. He stared at Call, a scowl on his face, then stormed out of the saloon.

"Come on, Newt," Isom said. "Let's get you back home to your wife and baby."

Call nodded. This was what he wanted five drinks ago.

Clay Mosby shook his head. He also hadn't expected Call to ignore Austin's comment.

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

A forty year old man required time to heal. Even though Clay Mosby had opened his saloon he still felt the painful affects from his bullet wound to the shoulder and his head still ached at times from the gash. He crossed over to the Lonesome Dove Hotel -- joining the group of town folks that were sharing their pasts.

"I just witnessed the strangest experience," he said. "Sheriff Peale insulted Call and Call ignored him."

Ephraim's eyebrows arched. "Call?!"

"Yes," Clay said. "Austin was goading him but Call didn't seem to care. Quite extraordinary!"

"He had to be rendered unconscious and tied to a chair during Gretchen's ordeal," Ephraim replied.

"As Curtis Wells' most prominent citizen," Josiah Peale interrupted, "perhaps you would be willing to share your story with us, Clay? Mattie told us how she came from Kentucky. Ephraim told us how he was raised a silver smith in New York. We've never heard your story."

Clay gazed at the small group -- Amanda, Mattie, Josiah, Unbob, Ephraim, and the Dewberry sisters.

"We know you come from Virginia, Clay," Amanda remarked. "And that you were a Colonel in the Confederacy. What happened after the war?"

Clay wasn't sure his past was something he wanted to share. It was no one's business that he lost his desire to live after returning home and finding his way of life gone. "I did some traveling after the war. I spent time visiting friends in both New Orleans and Atlanta."

Clay was careful -- he had no intentions of revealing his tireless fight with the Union during the entire Reconstruction period from '65 until the final withdrawal of federal troops from his beloved South in '77. He and Robert Shelby, as well as several Virginians that had served with loyalty during the war, were dedicated to either ridding or making life unbearable for as many thieving carpetbaggers as they were able to find.

Clay had been angered when he found many Southerners -- corrupt regional governments involved in devious business arrangements with the despicable Yankee carpetbaggers.

"Robert Shelby and I left the South five years ago," Clay said. "We decided to begin anew. Build a new life far away from where there were so many painful memories." He chose not to mention that the small band of Rebels had visions of reviving a life style similar to what William Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson had done years earlier. Robert and Clay had nearly come to blows -- almost separating and destroying their lifelong friendship when Robert had insisted they pillage towns -- raping and murdering.

Robert had stood by Clay during his loneliest and darkest hours, after losing Mary -- the love of his life -- Clay also stood by Robert when he had been tempted to ride into death and destruction.

Clay cast a gaze at Robert, who stood not too far away from the small group. "Actually, Robert and I were asked to join the Union Cavalry. They had planned to make us Indian fighters out here in the uncivilized frontier. We chose to go our own way and searched for a place to begin a new life."

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

Rebecca Maggie Call lay quietly between mother and father. A few days had now passed. Gretchen turned slightly, looking at Call. "Ephraim said I can start moving around tomorrow, Call. Sarah's going back home to Hat Creek. She's been so helpful. And, I suspect my mother and father will be arriving soon to visit their two grandchildren."

Call nodded. He looked at Becky as she kicked her arms and legs, then began to cry. "She hungry again?!"

Gretchen smiled. "Our little Becky has quite an appetite, Call." She wrapped her arms around the infant and pulled her nightgown open, bringing Becky to her breast where the baby immediately began suckling. "Maybe the three of us could go on a picnic as soon as I'm able? I'd like to bring our daughter to the tree where you carved our initials and to our secret place at the river."

Call smiled. "I reckon that sounds real nice."

"I can't wait until my body heals so you can squeeze me tight," Gretchen whispered, staring at Call. "Ephraim said we have to wait a month or maybe even six weeks before we can get back to our lovemaking, Call. It'll take that long for my body to heal."

Call just nodded. Her words frightened him. The screaming and suffering Gretchen had gone through were too fresh in his mind. If he made her pregnant again and she went through the pain like she had just done while giving birth to Becky, he wasn't sure he could do that to her again -- put her through that severe suffering.

Becky Call finished taking her mother's milk. Gretchen patted the infant until she belched then she laid her gently between her and Call. "It's all happened so fast, Call," she softly said, reaching out to put her hand on her husband's face. "We said we loved each other -- you asked me to be your wife -- we were married -- I conceived our child -- we went back to Missouri -- and now Becky, our first child, was born. It's been the most wonderful time of my life, being with you, Call."

He nodded and smiled at his wife. "I reckon for me too, Gretchen. The happiest time of my life, too."

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

The small group of Curtis Wells citizens had different opinions regarding Clay Mosby's story. Some felt he was too vague -- skirting around the details. Mattie, too, had been vague in her account of how she came to Curtis Wells. Unbob Finch thought and thought about what a great tale he would make up -- how he would tell the group that he was a cousin of some prince in England, or a descendant of George Washington.

"Well, there ain't much to tell," he finally said. "I was born on a farm in Northfield, Vermont. Grandma and Grandpa Finch hitched up the wagon and the whole family come west. We stopped in Illinois. I just mostly done farming -- lots of chores. Grandpa made whiskey. I never much had me a taste for it. I left for the goldfields but never found nothing and sort of ended up here in Curtis Wells."

Ike, who had been listening to the stories as he moved about the hotel, decided it was his turn to reveal some interesting facts about his life. "There's wanted posters back in New York with my picture on them," he boasted. A man was sometimes willing to stretch the truth if it meant he would look better in the eyes of his neighbors. With Ike, no one ever knew whether he was lying or telling the truth.

"I used to work carnivals -- I was a pickpocket." Ike immediately noticed the Dewberry sisters make sour faces, as if offended. "That was twenty or thirty years ago. I had a partner. We pulled the old shell game on rubes. I even spent some years in San Francisco. I helped shanghai drunks on the Barbary Coast. I was only in my teens then. I've sailed around the world on some of the fastest ships ever to sail the Seven Seas. Cape Horn. Jamaica."

"That doesn't explain how you came here, Ike," Amanda said. Sometimes it was just better to ignore him.

"I already told you," Ike confessed. "I was on the run. Petty theft. I ended up in Sweetwater. When it burned down I came here with the others."

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

Rebecca Brandt stood behind her husband, Jefferson, watching him.

"I can hear you, Rebecca," he said, turning to his wife.

"It must be the floorboards," Rebecca answered. "They do creak, don't they, Jefferson?" She laughed and stepped closer to him. He was holding the family photograph the five of them had sat for not long before their three adventurous daughters had gone to Montana -- Jefferson and Rebecca sitting straight and upright in chairs -- Victoria, Gretchen, and Paige standing behind mother and father.

"Where does the time go, Rebecca?"

"Yes. Our bossy, little Victoria, a mother. Stubborn, romantic little Gretchen, a mother."

"Do you think Paige will marry soon?" Jefferson asked.

Rebecca nodded. "I do think Boo will marry soon, dear. She keeps mentioning this cowboy, Dish. Yes, I am quite certain Paige will soon marry and bear children."

Jefferson placed the photograph back on the table. "The girls will be happy to see us once we arrive in Montana. It's good to have reliable employees, otherwise we wouldn't have the luxury of visiting our daughters."

"And granddaughter! And grandson!" Rebecca reminded him. "And we finally get to meet Victoria's doctor husband."

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

Josiah Peale was overcome with euphoria. He wanted Curtis Wells to be the town it had once been. When the Brandt sisters had arrived from Missouri he saw it as the beginning of turning things back to the way it had been. Two of the sisters had already married and given birth -- new life for the small town. Josiah saw it as the right kind of people needed for Curtis Wells to prosper.

Even the Dewberry sisters were seen by Josiah as a positive influence for the town. All they had to do was find suitable husbands and bear children.

Josiah wiped his hands -- ink was never easy to wipe away. The recent stories shared by some of Curtis Wells' established citizens would make interesting reading in the Statesman. It was vital to circulate a town newspaper that folks enjoyed. Reading one's own name in the paper was usually beneficial.

Josiah sat in the Dove -- pencil and paper in hand. Young Hubie Kellner would have done this if he hadn't been murdered by Toby Finch. He waited for Amanda Carpenter to share her story. Clay, Ephraim, Mattie, Unbob, Ike, Suzanne Van Atta, and Beth Dewberry also awaited her first words.

Amanda cast a glance at Clay. She knew he had been vague in relating his story. It was her intention to do the same -- some deeds were best kept secret. "Well, I was born in Providence, Rhode Island. My Christian name is Providence Amanda Carpenter. My father named me after the town. We moved at least once every year. My brothers were named after Bradford and Anthony, Rhode Island -- where we lived. My sister, Hope, was named after Hope Valley, when we lived there.

Amanda shook her head, staring at the table. "I hated being the oldest -- I ran away from home when I was fourteen. I grew up too fast. I ended up making a living on the riverboats. The Mississippi was my home. I met so many rich men. They didn't care how young I was." Amanda paused -- she wasn't willing to reveal her sordid dealings with undesirables to the town folks. There was no benefit in telling them about her illustrious criminal life -- the cons, the stealing, the way she cozily endeared herself to wealthy, older gentlemen, satisfying their lustful urges whiles her partner robbed them of their most precious valuables.

"I've had some bad experiences with men who tried to use me. I ended up running to avoid a desperate situation. I ended up here in Montana."

Josiah wrote it all down. His plan was to bring the citizens of Curtis Wells to a closer relationship with each other. Sharing their pasts -- as much as they were willing to reveal -- could only build town moral.

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

Nearly a week had passed since Sarah Pickett's visit to help Gretchen with the baby. Isom and Newt had spent time working on the barn and talking about family, until it was time for the Pickett's to return home. Dish had also returned to Hat Creek -- upset and disappointed with himself for not asking Paige to be his wife -- something he intended to do as soon as he could get the words to his mouth.

"She sure is a pretty little thing, that Rebecca Call," Isom said to Woodrow. "Tell him, Sarah."

Sarah Pickett stared at Captain Call. "It would do you good, Captain, to see her. She's your own flesh and blood. I expect she's the tiniest baby I ever saw. Her name's Rebecca Maggie, but they call her Becky."

Woodrow Call's eyes widened when he heard the name.

"There ain't nothing wrong with being a grandpa, Captain," Isom replied. "I hope Lizzie and Nathan may me one someday."

"I'm sure the boy will be here soon enough," Woodrow said, "now that his child is born."

"And I hope Gretchen brings your granddaughter up here for you to see," Sarah replied.

Woodrow Call had sired Newt -- he had given him his rightful name. Now, they expected him to coddle a baby? Let someone else hold the baby. Woodrow grunted and walked off.

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

Some of the Lakota women were stretching hides over a frame. The young squaws laughed as they teased the young woman who was soon to become the wife of Red Crow. She had been renamed from Zitkala Olawa (Song Bird) to Zitkala Lowan (Singing Bird) after Red Crow had told the village how she had helped save the lives of Sun<Ka Watogla (Wild Dog's) wife, Sung Ma<He Tu (Coyote), and her baby, Tokala Cikala (Little Fox).

Red Crow explained that the white medicine man, Effrumm, was about to cut open the woman's belly to remove the child which had lost its way to the entrance of the world. He told his people that Singing Bird had helped relax the screaming woman by leading Little Fox out of the womb with her voice and touch -- which caused Singing Bird to know that the baby had the favor of the Great Spirit, Wakantanka, resting on its tiny head.

The Lakota agreed that changing her name from Song Bird to Singing Bird was better and that she was worthy to be the wife of Red Crow. The village eagerly awaited the wedding with the hopes that Little Fox would attend the occasion with her parents.

The old ones -- Lakota who were young when there were few white men walking across the vast land -- men like Hugh Glass, Toussaint Charbonneau, Tom Fitzpatrick the Broken Hand, Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, or Old Bill Williams -- spoke quietly that the daughter of Wild Dog and Coyote might have powers to help their tribe.

One old man, Akahpe Kici Hiya Peta (Lodge With No Fire), who had once lived with the Piegans during the years when the Blackfeet and Lakota had their truce, did not believe a tiny wi 'cin ska (white girl) had magic to help the Lakota. He knew he was going to die soon and decided he would take his hatchet and cut the baby in two -- killing it and proving it had no powers. He told no one his plan.

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

Not only did the special edition sell out -- every single printed copy -- town folks wanted more of the heart warming stories of its citizens. Josiah entitled his masterpiece, Six Roads West. He was alive with emotion -- once more championing the cause of the little man.

Amanda looked at Clay Mosby. "What's so funny, Clay?"

Clay laughed. "I find it rather amusing that you and I, Amanda, have only touched on . . . shall we say . . . our not so clean pasts."

Amanda's big eyes lit up. "I can see them running us both out of town if we told them half the things we did before coming to Curtis Wells."

Clay's face suddenly darkened. "Yes, quite. As a matter of fact, I have reached my limit on being shot at and attacked. As of late, I have been stabbed in the chest by a horse thief and shot by that damn Amos Bantry. I grow weary of others assuming me an easy target. I intend to show this town that I have not lost my grip."

Amanda -- normally strong -- was suddenly fearful of Clay Mosby. "What . . . what do you plan on doing, Clay?"

He grinned at her as he rose to leave the Dove. "Oh, I am quite certain you will see soon enough, Amanda."

She swallowed hard, her arms shaking slightly as she watched him -- hearing him slowly whistling the tune of Dixie.

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

The door to the general merchant opened and two men entered. "I'm closed," Creel barked. "Can't you read the sign in the window? You'll have to come back tomorrow. I don't give out favorite treatment to anyone."

When there was no response to his outburst, he turned around. "Mosby? Shelby? Get out of my store!"

"With your permission, Colonel?" Robert asked.

Clay Mosby nodded.

"You get out of . . . Uuhhh!" Creel groaned loud as Robert drove his fist into Creel's stomach, causing the merchant to double over. Robert then slugged him in the face, sending Creel onto the floor, knocking over a barrel of brooms. Before Creel could get to his feet Robert picked up a basket of apples and dumped them on Creel. He proceeded to kick him repeatedly, until Creel's face was bloody and he stopped moving.

Clay Mosby bent down, yanking Creel's hair violently. "I happen to believe that you had something to do with these recent attacks on me, Creel. If you ever try something like that again I will personally put the rope around your scrawny neck and hang you myself."

"Why wait, Clay?" Robert said. "There new rope right over there."

"No! Get out!" Creel ordered, blood dribbling from his mouth.

Clay stood up and grabbed an axe handle out of a barrel. "You don't seem to understand, do you, Creel?" Clay swung the wooden handle across Creel's face, shattering his glasses -- the glass cutting into Creel's cheeks. Clay drove the handle across Creel's ear. Creel collapsed on the floor -- a small pool of dark red blood growing larger each moment.

"Why, Clay," Robert laughed, "I do believe you might have killed him."

Clay stared at Creel. "I have had it! I will not tolerate him or anyone else in this town, Robert. I suppose you should find Dr. Cleese. Inform him that Mr. Creel met with a most unfortunate accident."

"Of course, Colonel," Robert replied.

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

Ephraim Cleese had been busy lately. Patching up Clay Mosby, delivering two babies, and now trying to keep Mr. Creel alive -- which he did manage to do. There was talk around town that Mr. Creel was planning to sell his general store and move away. Suzanne Van Atta and her sister, Beth Dewberry, were said to be interested in taking over the lucrative business.

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

"I'm so pleased to see you finally getting your strength back, Gretchen," Victoria said. She held her infant son, Daniel Jefferson Cleese, in her arms. "Daniel's five and a half weeks old now. I think he's at last over his colic."

Gretchen smiled, holding her nine day old daughter, Rebecca Maggie Call, in her arms. "That's wonderful news, Victoria. Call and I are quite fortunate our little Becky doesn't have colic."

Paige paused from playing with Daniel and Becky's hands. "The Lakota woman that Red Crow is marrying said Becky's name is Little Fox. I wish Victoria had a Lakota name."

Victoria shook her head. "I don't think Ephraim would like that. I never told you this, Gretchen, but Ephraim believed I was going to give birth to a girl and you were going to have a boy."

"He was wrong," Paige quickly replied. "And that old Lakota woman that me and Gretchen saw said Gretchen was going to struggle a lot to give birth."

"That's right! She did say that," Gretchen said.

"We were so helpless, Gretchen," Victoria said, her face saddening. "You were so strong."

"Gretchen was quiet for a moment. "It would have been nice if Mama had been here."

"Well," Victoria said, "Mother and Father will be coming to visit us soon. Now that the babies have been born, Mama can't wait to see Daniel and Becky." She gazed at her infant niece. "Hmm? I think it is much too early to tell, but I think Becky seems to favor you, Gretchen."

"Oh, no!" Paige replied. "I can see Call in Becky." She squinted. "Well, I can see Gretchen, too. I guess I see both of you."

Gretchen looked at her newborn daughter. "I think Becky favors her papa and mama."

"You and Newt are quite the perfect couple, you know that?" Victoria remarked.

"Yes," Gretchen smiled, her face taking on a dreamy look, "we are perfect for each other."

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

Runt sniffed Rebecca Maggie Call. The smell of an infant spitting up its mother's milk was new to the mongrel.

"Go on, Runt," Call said. "Leave Becky alone." He nudged the dog's behind.

Gretchen sat next to her husband on the steps in front of their small house. The sun was just touching the mountains off to the west. It was unusually warm for early September. She leaned over, kissing Call on his cheek, then began cleaning Becky. "I don't want us to grow up too quickly, Call. I know things have changed now that we have a child."

"I reckon we got us some responsibility with Becky," he said. He looked at his wife. Her strength was returning -- she no longer looked tired from childbirth. "I'd say you look even prettier than before you had the baby."

Gretchen immediately stopped wiping Becky and looked at Call. "Really?! You mean it, Call? You really do?"

"Yep," he nodded, smiling. "Seems to me you just keep getting prettier all the time."

Gretchen laid her head on Call's shoulder while holding their infant daughter close to her. "Thank you, Call," she whispered. "Victoria said Mr. Peale is asking folks to share their stories about how they came to Curtis Wells. It seems almost everyone came from somewhere else. You came from Texas -- I came from Missouri. Only Daniel and our little Becky come from Montana."

Call looked out at the sun as it slipped lower behind the mountains. "I been thinking, Gretchen . . . maybe we should move up to Hat Creek for a spell. Just something I was thinking on, is all."

"I'll go anywhere you want me to go, Call." Gretchen watched the sunset. "This is Becky Call's country. This is her frontier, too, now, Call. I want our daughter to love the wilderness."

Call nodded. "I'd favor that, Coyote Girl."

Gretchen laughed. "Red Crow said Becky's Lakota name is Little Fox. I have a feeling we're going to be calling her Little Coyote, Call."

"Little Coyote," Call said. He smiled, looking at their tiny daughter. "I reckon I'd like that just fine, Coyote Girl."

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

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