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 World Forsake Me
(43rd in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Though all the world forsake me, and Satan tempt me,
through Jesus I shall safely reach the goal.

(The Lily of The Valley -- Charles W. Fry 1838-1882)

Clay Mosby realized the moment he saw Robert Shelby leaning against the doorway, bleeding from a bullet -- shot by the very backstabbing men he had hired to massacre the Lakota at Red Crow's village -- that it was time for action. Enough was enough. He had inadvertently lost his grip of authority and purpose -- his mind distracted by visions of less significance. Marrying the lustful and seductive Ashley Jessup, who now carried his child in her belly. Hiring the four servants -- two young men -- two young women, whose job descriptions entailed far more than the customary duties and requirements expected of other domestic servitors.

When Ashley had rushed down the stairs to usher the wounded Robert Shelby into the safety of their magnificent home, Clay's mind suddenly flashed an old memory. Instantly, he recalled the occasion when Mattie Shaw brought him the framed photograph of Atlanta, in its heyday. I've been making too many mistakes -- sometimes it seems like the only way I can make this town into something better is to control it -- in order to keep the reins so tight that I force it to go where I want it.

It was at that very moment as Ashley tended to the fallen Shelby that Clay Mosby felt as if he had just woken from a drug-induced stupor. His nostrils flared -- the blood rushed through his veins. His hands tightened into fists. He would rule with an iron grip. Montana would eventually become a state. There were fortunes to be made if a man was willing to exert himself. Clay decided he would pay a visit to Governor Benjamin Potts and demand respect and acknowledgement for his town of Curtis Wells. If the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific were going to continue to flagrantly ignore him, he would change horses in mid-stream and turn Curtis Wells into a cattle empire.

He intended first to care for Robert, properly, then he would ride for Last Chance Gulch, and a showdown with the Governor.

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

Boone Mackinaw -- 'Mack' -- as his friends called him, appeared younger than his twenty-five years. On the ride home from Red Crow's encampment -- after the unexpected and deadly engagement which left several dead, including the young Cheyenne wife of Monsieur Etienne Meloche, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring, Boone revealed much about himself to Call, Gretchen, and a most interested Paige Brandt.

"I come from Minersville. A little town in southeast Ohio -- along the great Ohio River. President Lincoln said something once in one of his speeches about the Ohio." He paused to smile proudly. "I'm the fifth son of six brothers. All rough and tumble river men. Gone on to make their fortunes -- get rich and change the way we were born. Me, I got no stomach for making a fortune." He pointed to the sea of brown, waving grass and the distant mountains. The vast blue sky that stretched as far as the eye could see. "This is my fortune. The land."

Paige Brandt had been completely swept away by the longhaired young man. He had saved her life -- the first time someone other than Call had saved one of the Brandt sisters.

Call wondered if this young man, older than both he and Gretchen, might pose a problem in the developing romance between Paige and Dish Boggett. A situation like this could become awkward for Call -- Dish, being one of the few men he considered a friend.

"I know my history," Boone Mackinaw said. "I walked the same paths as those who opened the West. I've been to Bent's Fort, along the Arkansas River -- crossed the Green River -- crossed the North Platte and the South Platte. I've lived off the land -- not many white men see fit to that kind of life any more. The country's too civilized in my opinion."

"No disputing that," Call agreed. Gretchen had been exceptionally quiet on the ride back to Curtis Wells. She leaned as close to Call as she could, holding their infant daughter, Becky, against her chest -- kissing and nuzzling the cooing baby -- aware that they were incredibly fortunate to all escape the near-massacre with their lives.

Boone Mackinaw saw something in Call's eyes. It was something lacking in his brothers' eyes and most men he had come face to face with. It was a frontier spirit -- uncivilized in all its fury and capacity for survival. Boone smiled. He felt a kindred spirit toward these folks.

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

There was no doubt in Clay Mosby's mind that his pregnant wife, Ashley, would do a steadfast job of helping Robert Shelby heal from his bullet wound. It turned out -- much to the relief of Clay -- that the young Spaniard servant, Lorenzo, had a slight knowledge of medicine. He sufficiently sewed up both holes in Shelby's shoulder -- the bullet going clear through.

Clay packed some provisions and rode east for Last Chance Gulch, where Governor Potts resided. There had been word spreading throughout the territory that it would soon be renamed Helena. Clay cared little what the capital of Montana was named. It was his intentions that if the Territorial Governor had little interest in discussing the Central or Union Pacific's laying track through Curtis Wells, he would immediately begin negotiations with the wealthiest cattlemen in not only, Montana, but perhaps Wyoming and the Dakotas. Clay Mosby was through being a goldfish in a bowl -- he was going to become a shark in the ocean.

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

"Relax, Amanda!" Sheriff Austin Peale was angered by her obvious lack of faith in his ability to run Curtis Wells until Mosby returned.

"Relax? You tell me Clay rode off to see the Governor and won't be back for days. And, that Robert Shelby is laid up at Clay's mansion -- how convenient -- with a sickness?"

"Yes. And I'm still sheriff," Austin grumbled. "I know how to do my job."

"What about Call?" Amanda inquired. "Will he be around?"

"How the hell do I know!" Austin angrily retorted. "Call's got a wife and baby, Amanda. I wouldn't count on him for anything. If it makes you feel any better, I'm sure Mason Dobbs is somewhere around town -- most likely lying in a whore's bed upstairs at Twyla's."

"Uh . . . 'cuse me, Sheriff Peale."

"What?!" Austin spun around. "What do you want, Unbob?"

Unbob looked at Amanda and smiled. "Miss Mattie sent me to find you. She wants to talk to you."

Austin gazed at Amanda. "I'm sheriff of this town. People still need me, Amanda."

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

When Victoria Cleese heard about the attempted massacre at Red Crow's village, she cried. Both her younger sisters -- Gretchen Call and Paige Brandt -- nearly lost their breath from being squeezed so tightly by Victoria. She embraced her infant niece, tiny Becky, with kisses and tears.

"Thank you, again, Newt," she cried, hugging Call, "for protecting them." Call informed Victoria that it was Boone Mackinaw who saved Paige. Victoria hugged the young mountain man, thanking him for his kindness.

Ephraim Cleese, concerned with lingering trauma from the unexpected attack, was relieved to find both sisters had held up remarkably well. They had, after all, gone through numerous trials since arriving in Montana.

Before climbing into the buckboard to return home, Call was hailed by his uncle. Mason walked up to the young married couple, holding a package. "Howdy, Newt. Mrs. Call. I'm mighty relieved knowing none of you were hurt out at Red Crow's. " He pulled the flannel blanket back slightly to tap his finger on Becky's tiny nose. "I'll wager your daughter will take a liking to this soon enough." He handed the plain brown wrapped present to Gretchen.

"Thank you, Mason," she said, opening it. "Oh, Call! Look! A little rag doll for Becky." She hugged Mason, who winked at her and Call. "Becky's just beginning to sleep in her cradle next to our bed," Gretchen replied. "She'll love having the doll in her cradle. This is from your Uncle Mason, Becky Bug."

Call nodded to his uncle. "Seems that fella, Boone, had a lot to do with keeping us alive. I reckon I best get Gretchen and Becky home, Mason. Obliged to you for thinking of Becky."

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

"How's my patient, today?"

"Bored," Robert Shelby replied. He stared at Clay Mosby's wife, Ashley. Clad in a long, silk robe, tied loosely enough that the full length of her creamy white thighs were exposed with each step she took -- revealing just the slightest hint of her private garden.

"Bored, are we?" she said with a satisfying grin. "I can take care of that."

"No, Ashley," Robert replied. "I will no longer allow my desire for you to overshadow my loyalty for Clay. It's wrong. Send one of the servant girls, instead."

Ashley glared at Robert. "You bastard! Two-faced hypocrite! You'll never touch one of my servants again. Satisfy yourself, you little prick!" She stormed off, slamming the door.

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

Clay Mosby had plenty of time to think while he rode west toward Last Chance Gulch. He had finally decided that Helena would indeed, be a better suited name for the capital of Montana. If the railroad was an unattainable dream for the territory, then Clay would go into the cattle business. The great flood of Oregon cattle would soon reach Montana and Wyoming. Large Texas ranches were either moving north or establishing subsidiary ranches.

As his horse loped along at a comfortable pace, Clay envisioned Curtis Wells becoming the new Cheyenne, Wyoming. The luxurious Cheyenne Club was headquarters for many wealthy cattlemen. There was no reason, Clay thought, why Curtis Wells couldn't become similar to the Wyoming cosmopolitan. Someone with vision was sure to place slaughterhouses in towns like Miles City or Billings, then transport the beef back east to cities such as Chicago or Milwaukee.

The more he thought about it, the more Clay Mosby was beginning to see his empire in Montana come from cattle, not the railroad. Clay was greedy. He would never have enough. He wanted the railroad and cattle. Back in Virginia, before the war, the Mosby family had acquired more slaves than most families in Virginia. Some folks weakly attempted to justify the use of slaves by claiming there was a lot of work that needed to be done. Clay Mosby hadn't cared that as wealthy as his family was, they could hire men to work the fields -- fellow Virginians less affluent than he -- paid decent wages. Greed was a human trait.

Clay's eyes now blazed as he felt the desire for greed and power coursing through his veins.

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

Newt Call walked into the bedroom and stood close to his wife. Gretchen smiled warmly, taking his hand.

"Becky seems to like the doll Mason gave her," Call remarked, gazing at their infant daughter. The wonder and magic of childbirth -- the overwhelming experience of staring at a tiny baby -- a baby that he and Gretchen had created out of their love, left him speechless at times. "You coming outside, Coyote Girl?"

Gretchen nodded. "Uh huh." She paused, her eyes meeting his. "Call? Would you mind if I wrapped Becky in her blanket and brought her outside with us?"

Call stared into Gretchen's green eyes. "I reckon that'd be fine."

"Thank you, Call," she whispered, kissing him, then picking up the baby. "She'll be six weeks old soon. I have to see Ephraim. He's going to tell me if my body's healed so we can get back to our lovemaking. It feels like it's been forever since we made love, Call."

"It's been too long," he quietly replied, pulling his wife close to him. He led her and the baby out to where Runt was scratching his fleas on the front porch.

"It pleases me that you're willing to wait until Ephraim examines me before we take Becky up to Hat Creek, Call."

"I don't hardly want to be away from you or the baby, now." Call placed his arm around Gretchen as they sat on the wooden steps. The night air was becoming colder as autumn settled in. "I been turning something over in my mind," he said. "We get up to Hat Creek, Dish is bound to be asking about Paige." Call looked at Gretchen. "You reckon she might take a real strong liking to this Boone Mackinaw?"

Gretchen looked at Call, then lowered her eyes. "Paige likes Dish a lot, Call." She shook her head. "I never saw her look at a man the way she's been looking at Boone Mackinaw."

Call shrugged. "Maybe she figures he saved her and . . ."

"No," Gretchen interrupted, "I know my sister. Call, I think she's fallen in love with Boone Mackinaw. And, I think he has with her."

Becky began to whine -- quietly at first, then louder.

"She's hungry again, Call. I better go inside and feed her. Will you come in with me?"

"Yep," Call said. Runt jumped up and being a nosy dog, followed them inside the house.

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

"Well, hello there, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives."

Boone Mackinaw looked up. His face broke into a wide grin. "Howdy do, Miss Brandt," he said to Paige. "You look as pretty as a sunset on the Yellowstone in May."

Paige's blue eyes lit up and her heart pattered quicker. "Why, thank you ever so kindly, Mr. Mackinaw. I was just on my way across the street to have a cup of coffee and was wondering if maybe you . . ."

"I like coffee," he blurted out. They both laughed. "I was on my way to . . . uh . . . see you. I had a notion we might take lunch together."

"Let's do, Mr. Mackinaw." Paige laced her arm inside Boone's arm just like she had watched Gretchen do the first time she had coffee with Call. Since arriving in Curtis Wells, her impressions about the type of man she dreamed of had changed -- not once, but twice. Like Victoria, Paige had envisioned a well dressed merchant type. When she met Dish Boggett, she no longer felt it necessary to follow in Victoria's footsteps -- who had married Dr. Ephraim Cleese. Boone Mackinaw was a longhaired, wild-looking young mountain man. He had a full beard that in Paige's mind, could use a trim.

Paige, well aware that Gretchen planned to accompany Call to Hat Creek soon, suddenly felt confused as to what she wanted.

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

"I wonder where Mr. Mosby has been?" Suzanne Van Atta commented. She stepped away from the door and walked back to the cash register.

"I heard he's gone to see the Governor of the Territory," Josiah Peale replied.

"He could have told me he was going," Suzanne curtly answered.

"Why would he tell you, Suzanne? You aren't his wife." Elizabeth Dewberry snickered. Lately, the two Michigan sisters had been annoying each other where the 'men of Curtis Wells' were concerned.

"Good morning, senoritas. Senor Peale." Mason Dobbs winked. "I'll wager you have some decent literature a man could enjoy reading."

"What would a man from Texas want with a book?" Beth snidely remarked. "I would imagine you are probably as poorly educated as your uncivilized and disgusting nephew."

Mason laid his hand cross his chest and lowered his head. "To the bone, that cuts, ma'am. Some of us Texas boys are mighty fond of words. Myself, I tend to favor Rabelais." He winked again. "I'd venture to say even those passages requiring the strongest kind of stomach, he is considered a master. At least, that is the verdict of writers such as Balzac and Flaubert, who if I am not mistaken, are indebted to Rabelais and have honored him by imitation."

Suzanne and Elizabeth stared at Mason -- neither able to find words.

Mason laughed. "Well now, I see these Buffalo Bill dime novels. Hardly what an intellectual mind is searching for. I suppose I should take my leave." He nodded. "Senoritas. Amigo."

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

"Call! Call! I'm healed!" Gretchen bounded excitedly out of the examination room, into Call's arms.

Call smiled. "I reckon that's good news."

Victoria handed Rebecca Maggie to her mother. She breathed a deep sigh -- relieved that the arduous ordeal her sister had gone through would leave no permanent sufferings. Gretchen had suffered more than enough during childbirth.

"Well, hello there, Becky Bug," Gretchen whispered to her smiling daughter.

Paige held Victoria's son, Daniel, nearly two and a half months old. Although the child no longer exhibited colic-related symptoms, he was still prone to whine on occasion, for no apparent reason. Both Ephraim and Victoria were vexed over their son's behavior, hoping the infant boy would soon outgrow his whimpering.

Ephraim stepped into the outer office, smiling. "I am quite pleased with the remarkable recovery of your wife, Call. It's a testimony to Gretchen's indomitable will and . . . if I may, pioneer spirit, which aided the splendid restoration of her body. Quite impressive, I might add. However," he cautioned, "her strength, though quite adequate, will still require time. But, I perceive no arguable reason why she should not accompany you to Miles City."

"That's fine," Call said, staring at his joyful wife. "Come morning, we pull out first light."

"You're going to meet your grandfather, the Captain," Gretchen whispered in Becky's ear. She turned to Paige. "Dish is expecting you to go with us, Paige. What do you want me to tell him?"

Paige sighed. "I'm . . . not sure, Gretchen. I'm confused. Just . . . tell him . . ." she groaned. "Gretchen? I don't know what to do." She hugged her sister, crying softly. "I want a husband, Gretchen. And, a child. Who would make a better husband and father? Dish? Or, Boone?"

Gretchen groaned softly. "Oh, Paige," she said, "only your heart can answer that. I have the most wonderful love any girl could have. Call loves me, Paige. He loves me so very much. I think whoever you chose will love you."

Paige stepped back, wiping her tears. Victoria joined them. She was the one with the common sense -- not carefree like Gretchen or Paige. "You do tend to make rash decisions, Paige," Victoria replied. "This is a serious decision. Don't be in a hurry."

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

At first, he thought it mildly amusing, if not quaintly noble. The unselfish concerns of one man for the well being of the town he represented. Yet, the longer Governor Potts listened to Clay Mosby speak, the more he realized that it was ego, rather than generosity, that guided his words.

"I find it disturbing, Mr. Mosby," Benjamin Potts said. "Your words lack the vision of a man destined for the betterment of his town. I should be hearing words like, we and us. Instead, I am only hearing words like, I and me. A man who truly cares for the welfare of his community does not speak in the singular. I find myself questioning the believability of your message."

Clay fumed. "That is preposterous! I merely represent the town of Curtis Wells. Nothing more. I do not think you fully understand the importance of acquiring the railroad in our town."

Governor Potts stood up, walking away from his large, cluttered desk. "Do you see this map, Sir?" He pointed to a large topographical map that covered one wall of his office?"

"What of it?" Clay replied, no longer in a mood for idle conversation.

"The Northern Pacific Railroad has already begun to lay tracks. By sometime next year, in 1883, we shall finally have the railroad in Montana. Perhaps you've heard we plan to change our name to something more . . . cosmopolitan? Now, Mr. Mosby, it has taken all my waking hours to finally bring progress into this territory. My goodness, man, to seek a second railroad so far our here in the western frontier would border on sheer madness."

"And, are we to assume that towns such as Curtis Wells are expected to dry up? Become a ghost town?" Clay's eyes blazed with fire. "I assure you, Governor, if I cannot bring the railroad to Curtis Wells, I will buy up all the cattle I can. I will build corrals that will hold thousands of steers."

Governor Potts nodded. "A fine goal to attain, Mr. Mosby. I salute your desire. However, I think I should warn you, one man has . . . ? you said you originally come from Virginia, did you not, Sir?"

"Yes," Clay said. "I see no reason why that should matter."

"Quite correct, Mr. Mosby. As I was saying, there is another man . . . a Virginian, as well as yourself. Mr. Granville Stuart. A soft spoken man. The story goes that he was the first to discover gold in Montana. Back in '58. There are disputed stories, of course. Some say four Georgians were the first to find gold in Montana. I seem to be going off on another story."

Clay listened quietly.

"Granville Stuart organized a cattle-ranching firm three years ago, during the summer of '79. East of the Judith Basin, along the Yellowstone River valley. He has become quite literally, the most powerful cattleman in Montana. If you intend to buy cattle, I suggest you locate Mr. Stuart and perhaps the two of you -- both being native Virginians -- may come to some form of understanding. Good luck to you, Mr. Mosby. We desperately need strong men in this territory. Mark this date, Mr. Mosby -- Wednesday, October 11, 1882. I hope to hear from Mr. Stuart in regards to your ambitious desires for Montana."

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

Becky had been fed and was sleeping soundly in her small cradle next to the bed. Gretchen took extra care to brush her hair for Call. While he routinely checked on the horses -- Runt tagging along, out in the barn -- Gretchen removed all her clothing and climbed into their bed -- the sheets covering her nakedness. She lightly bit her lower lip, eagerly awaiting Call.

A few minutes later, the door closed. Gretchen heard Call walk slowly in the other room. "Call? What are you doing?"

"I was thinking on having me some grub," she heard him reply.

"Grub?!" Gretchen moaned. "No, Call! Come to bed with me. I'm waiting for you. Becky's asleep and it's cold in here. Come warm me, Sweetheart."

Call stepped into the their small bedroom.

"Oh, Call," Gretchen groaned, looking at him. "You're still dressed. Hurry and take your clothes off."

Call sat on the bed, bending over to pull his boots off. Gretchen pushed the covers away and hugged him from behind, pressing her nakedness against him.

"You ain't got a stitch on, Gretchen," Call said, turning his head.

"I'm ready for you, Call," she whispered in his ear, then kissed his cheek. "Hurry."

Call swallowed hard. He had been dreading this moment -- so afraid that the next time Gretchen became pregnant it could very well mean her death. Life was extremely bitter. He loved Gretchen more than anything he had ever felt before, but her painful screams -- the suffering she had endured while giving birth to their tiny daughter -- was more than he could bear. He didn't know what to do.

"Here, slow poke," his wife said, laughing, "I'll help you take your clothes off." Gretchen reached in front of him, unbuttoning his shirt. "Why are you moving so slow, Call?" she finally asked. "Don't you want me, Call?" Her voice quivered.

"It ain't that, Gretchen," Call replied. "I do want you."

"Something's wrong! I know it. Call? You never were so slow before Becky was born. It's me, isn't it? Just say it, Call. You aren't attracted to me, any more. My body's changed."

"That ain't so!" Call said loud.

Becky woke with a start and began to cry. Gretchen and Call stared at each other for long moments.

"I have to tend to our baby, Call." Gretchen pushed her husband aside as she slid off the bed and scooped the crying infant into her arms. "There, there, Becky," she whispered. "Mama's here, darling."

Angry, Call walked out of the bedroom. He opened the door and stepped outside into the chill night air, clad only in his pants.

"You'll catch your death, Newt Call!" Gretchen loudly said.

"I don't care!" he answered back, sitting down.

Runt, his head low, quietly approached Call, putting his wet nose on Call's back. "Leave me be," he quietly told Runt. Call knew he had messed things up. It tore him up inside to see the hurt on Gretchen's face. He had no one to talk to -- no way to determine what he should do. He decided to stay outside a little while. Maybe by the time he went back into the bedroom Gretchen would have gone to sleep. They did, after all, have to rise early in the morning to leave for Hat Creek.

It felt like hours had passed -- though it had only been fifteen minutes -- when Newt Call quietly stepped into the bedroom. Becky was sound asleep once more and Gretchen lay with her back to him, in bed. Call gently climbed into bed, careful to not rouse his wife.

Gretchen lay with her face in her pillow -- tears streaming down her cheeks. She sobbed quietly. It was her belief that Call no longer found her attractive and was trying to avoid being intimate with her. She nearly got sick from the feeling in her stomach. It felt as if someone had stabbed her in the heart. Call didn't desire her. It was the only answer.

Call felt sick in his belly. There was a huge lump in his throat. He lay on his back, staring at the dark ceiling for a long time. He felt about as sick as a man could feel, without actually ailing from a sickness.

Sometime during the night, Becky woke. She made small noises. Gretchen quietly climbed out of bed and brought the infant to her breast where she greedily suckled. Call, still awake, turned his head slightly. Gretchen, completely naked, shivered as she fed her child. When the baby was full, she burped her and laid her back in her cradle, then laid down again.

"Gretchen?" Call quietly said.

She turned over, facing Call. He reached out, pulling her close to him -- her shivering body against his warm body. "Gretchen, I love you."

"I love you, Call," she whispered.

"I'm scared," he said. "I can't lose you, Gretchen."

"How are you going to lose me, Call? I don't understand?" She sniffled.

He took a deep breath. "You could of died having the baby. I can't let you go through that again. I can't, Gretchen."

Gretchen raised her head, looking into his eyes. "I want to give you more children, Call. I want us to have more babies. A son for you. Another girl. It's all right, Call. It really is." She put her hand on his face, brushing the hair away from his eyes. "I thought you weren't attracted to me, any more, Call?"

"I reckon that's about the craziest thing I ever heard," he replied, his warm breath on hers. "I figure you're more pretty now than you were before Becky was born."

"Really, Call? You mean it?"

"I mean it, Gretchen."

"Call, I'll be fine. Ephraim said the first time usually is the most difficult. Love me, Call." Gretchen rubbed her body against Call's. He immediately responded, causing Gretchen's eyes to widen. "Call!" She smiled as she felt his body react. They began kissing passionately as Call gently rolled Gretchen onto her back, tenderly lowering his weight onto her.

"I'm so pleased we made up tonight, Call," she whispered. Then, they both moaned in pleasure -- as if it were the very first time, all over again. Perfect love. Call made sure he was gentle with his wife.

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

"Can't we sleep just a little longer, Call?"

Call brushed Gretchen's hair, gazing at her smiling face. The early morning lovemaking had left her feeling dreamy, once again. The after-affects lingering inside her. Her soft green eyes hypnotizing Call. He stared at his wife -- her mouth, the way her lips curved when partially open, was perfection in his eyes.

He opened his mouth. "We should be . . . !"

Gretchen pulled her husband down on top of her, wrapping her arms around him, kissing him passionately. "I want you, Call. One more time before we go."

Call couldn't resist -- he didn't want to resist. They loved each other, reaching the zenith of their passions just as the sun cracked the horizon. Nearly six weeks without lovemaking had caused them to crave each other even more than they had before Gretchen had given birth to their daughter, Rebecca.

"I'll feed and dress Becky, Call," Gretchen contently smiled. "Hurry back to me after you hitch the wagon. I miss you already."

Call leaned over, kissing his wife. She tried to pull him down again, laughing happily. "You do that, Coyote Girl," he said, "and we ain't ever gonna set foot out of here. I doubt the Captain's of a mind to be forgiving."

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

Growing up with Woodrow Call, days began before the first rooster crowed. For Newt Call, rising early was as much a part of life as breathing. For a moment, as the morning warmth of the sun caressed his face, he contemplated possibly delaying the journey to Hat Creek until tomorrow -- but only for a moment. Call hitched the horses to the wagon and laid his Winchester and his sawed-off in the back, just behind the springy bench seat. It would be the first time Gretchen had traveled back to Hat Creek since giving birth to their tiny daughter six weeks earlier. The early autumn weather of October would most likely reach fifty-five to sixty degrees during the day. One canteen would be sufficient -- providing adequate water. Gretchen had packed a lunch for them to eat on the way there. The sky revealed no sign of rain or snow. By nightfall, they would be sleeping together in the small, one-room cabin Isom and Sarah Pickett had urged the Captain to build for Newt and Gretchen and their infant child.

Call assisted Gretchen -- now glowing with the thoroughly content satisfaction of fullness as a woman, loved totally by her husband -- up into the wagon. He handed her little Becky, wrapped with an extra blanket to safeguard her from the prairie winds. Next, came the cradle board with pouch Call had made for the baby. Gretchen placed the cradle board behind the seat -- it was her intention to hold Becky close to her -- allowing the tiny infant to feel her mother's warmth. Gretchen was confident she would be a good mother -- able to nurture, protect, and teach her just as her own mother back in St. Joe had taught her.

Victoria and Ephraim took Runt into their home, considering it might be a week or longer before the Call's returned from Hat Creek.

Call snapped the reins, guiding the wagon east as Gretchen pressed as close to her husband as she could. She was excited to show their newborn daughter to the Captain and everyone else at Hat Creek.

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

Riding out from Last Chance Gulch -- soon to be renamed Helena -- Clay Mosby noted how grand the cosmopolitan city was. He envisioned his Curtis Wells one day achieving the magnitude of this town. Of course, he would have to change the town's name. Curtis Wells was insignificant -- modest at most. Drumming up images of mediocrity. Mosby, Montana, had a much more stately appeal.

His mind occupied with the Governor's abject refusal to even consider the possibility of one of the great railroads passing through Curtis Wells, Clay Mosby carelessly lowered his guard -- something he was prone to do on occasion. Heading past the final building of Last Chance Gulch, onto the open prairie, Clay suddenly realized he was being followed -- two riders behind him -- another two abreast of him, some twenty yards distance. "What the hell?" he quietly said, slightly turning his head first to one side, then the other. Was he to be robbed in broad daylight? So close to town? He decided it might bode well to simply turn and determine why these men were pursuing him.

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

When they reached what Call believed to be the halfway mark, he drew to a halt. The wagon stood alone on the vast plains -- a sea of brown grass as far as the eye could view. He took Gretchen by the hand and led her and the baby near an empty wash that was thickly lined with cottonwood, poplar, and aspen trees -- trees not flourishing in eastern Montana except along the streams and rivers. He carried his Winchester, the cradle board, and the picnic basket, and a blanket.

Gretchen breast fed their hungry daughter -- safely hidden from any unseen eyes. Once Becky had her fill, Gretchen held the infant close to her chest, rocking her gently. It was during these times -- when mother and daughter were so close and so content -- that Call found himself experiencing a completely new emotion. It seemed to melt his insides to watch them -- seeing the woman he loved with all his heart and the tiny, precious baby that was their daughter. He found it surprisingly strange that he could love them so much.

"I best tend to the horses," Call said, standing up from the blanket he had spread on the dry ground.

Gretchen lifted Becky. "We each want a kiss before you go, Call." She laughed happily.

Call nodded, smiling. He gently placed his hands over Gretchen's hands and kissed Becky's forehead.

"Your papa loves you so much, Becky Call," Gretchen whispered to the baby.

Call drew Gretchen close to him, kissing her -- Becky tucked gently between them. They lingered, their heads touching, their breath intoxicating each other. It was a moment neither of them wanted to conclude. Sighing with obvious reluctance, Call climbed the shallow bank and headed for the wagon, pausing to turn and gaze upon Gretchen's smiling face. He smiled back then stepped between the buckboard and the horses -- alongside the wagon tongue. Gretchen, holding Becky, watched her husband.

"Whoa. Whoa, now," Call said with a soothing tone as the two-horse team became skittish. When he heard the loud hiss of the harmless bull snake it was too late. The horses, frightened by the moderate, four foot snake, reared. The one nearest Call kicked back, driving its hoof into Call's face, knocking him senseless. As he collapsed onto the tongue, the spooked horses bolted away.

"CALL!" Gretchen screamed.

As Call fell across the tongue the horses sped away, jostling his unconscious body. He was kicked violently in the head a second time, flinging him hard against the wagon, which threw him to the ground, running him over with both iron-bound wheels.

"CALL! NOOOO!" Gretchen screamed again, running after her husband, who lay in the grass, unmoving. The horses rode off across the endless ocean of grass.

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

When the four riders suddenly drew their guns and surrounded Clay Mosby, he decided it better to surrender than attempt to outrun the unfriendly men. He allowed them to lead him to a large ranch south of town, in a fertile valley. To his surprise, he was greeted by a smiling gentleman, somewhere between the age of forty-five and fifty.

"Welcome, Mr. Mosby. When I received word from Ben Potts that a fellow Virginian was interested in cattle, I had to meet you. Granville Stuart. Step down and come inside. I believe you and I share the same interests."

Clay Mosby dismounted and followed the man he had heard so much about.

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

In an instant -- in the blink of an eye -- bliss turned to disaster. Gretchen Call laid Becky carefully down in the grass then placed her trembling hands on Call's body. She rolled him over carefully. "Call?! No! Wake up, Call." Gretchen wiped blood from his cheek, still oozing from a gash under his eye. She wiped her hand in the brown grass as tears welled up in her eyes, spilling out, streaking down her cheeks. She shook Call a little. "Wake up! Call! Please, wake up!" There was no movement. Gretchen laid her body across his, holding him, crying.

When she laid her head on his chest, she felt his heart still beating. She sat up, looking around. The horses and wagon had disappeared. She had a six week old infant to care for and an injured, unconscious husband. A sense of hopelessness overcame her and she cupped her hands, laying her head in them as she sobbed. Alone on the vast, empty plains, not even sure which way to go, Gretchen Call felt helpless.

"No!" she finally said. She picked up Becky, then stood up. "I won't give up. I'll find a way to save us." She looked at Call. "You've always been there to protect me and my sisters. This time, I have to save you, Call. I will save you, Call." Gretchen turned and hastened back to gather their kit -- which wasn't much. She placed Becky in the cradle board pouch and wrapped the food and Call's rifle in the blanket, then carried them back to Call. There was nothing to help Gretchen in moving her husband. If the wagon was near she could lay him in the back but the horses had run off, leaving them stranded in the middle of nowhere. She placed the leather strap of the cradle board over her neck, freeing her hands somewhat. She then took hold of Call's arms, placing her hands tightly on his forearms and slowly began the task of pulling him over the brown grass.

***

Hours had passed. Gretchen dragged Call as far as she could. Her back ached -- her arms were limp. If not for her determination and fortitude to conquer this overwhelming adversity, she would have given up long ago.

Becky had been crying for almost fifteen minutes but Gretchen refused to stop -- fearful that once she did, she would be too weak to go any further. They had reached a scattering of Ponderosa pines where there would be minimal shelter from the chill night air. Gretchen slid Becky from her pouch and bared a breast to feed the hungry baby. While the infant suckled greedily, Gretchen stared at Call, hoping he would open his eyes. But, they didn't open. Evening was coming on. Gretchen decided it best to remain where they were for the night.

Once Becky had been fed, Gretchen placed the baby back in her pouch and leaned the cradle board at an angle against one of the larger pines. She loosened the ties of the blanket and retrieved Call's canteen. Her first thought was to use some of the water to clean the dried blood caked on his face. She hesitated, realizing they might have more pressing need of the water if no one came to rescue them. She poured only a few drops onto her white slip and gently wiped the blood. Her eyes widened when she saw the substantial gash across his cheek -- caused by the horse's iron shoe. His face was bruised -- blackish and purple welts above his eye.

"Oh, Call," she quietly groaned. She leaned over, tenderly kissing his cheek. She pulled his knife from the sheath on his belt and placed it and his Winchester within easy reach. There was no telling what might appear during the night. It had always been so comfortable. Call had always guarded and protected Gretchen. She was resolved to do whatever was required of her to keep her husband and daughter alive. She was exhausted -- her body not yet fully healed from her arduous childbirth. She was weak, tired. She ate only a little of the food in the basket, then covered Call with the blanket. She held Becky close to her -- all three under the blanket -- slowly drifting off to a restless sleep in the chill of early autumn.

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

It was a most generous offer. One which Clay Mosby readily accepted. Granville Stuart, taking an immediate liking to his fellow Virginian, provided an informative tour of his vast domain, impressing Clay with the imposing extent of his fertile valley. Clay realized it would require enormous resources -- grazing land, cattle, money, men, horses, supplies -- just to start up a cattle empire.

As a guest, spending the night at the Stuart ranch, Clay reclined on a surprisingly simplistic couch while he and Granville drank brandy and relived some of their fond memories of Virginia from the 1850's. Clay was of a mind that he now had a golden opportunity -- he had every intention of grasping it and forging his own cattle empire.

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

For Gretchen Call, it had been a miserable night. The cold October air dropping to the high thirties. Constant worry over her husband's condition caused her to open her eyes every five minutes it seemed. Becky had handled her first-ever night sleeping outside quite well. She woke three times -- requiring her mother's milk each time.

When the sun broke the distant horizon, Gretchen knew it was time for them to travel. She ate little -- prepared for the unthinkable possibility that they might have to ration their food. She gently attempted to wake Call. He groaned quietly, struggling between the conscious and the unconscious.

Becky had just been placed back inside the pouch of her cradle board when an unexpected sound caused Gretchen to spin around. She suddenly froze -- a small whimper escaping her mouth -- her stomach feeling like it was in her throat. A black wolf with frightening yellowish eyes stood maybe forty yards away, growling.

"Call! Call!" Gretchen's breathing grew rapid. She began to shake. "Call! Please!" She shook him vigorously. Her mind both moving quick and paralyzed with fear. The wolf lowered its head, sniffing. It stepped closer. "CALL!" Gretchen screamed, shaking her husband. Call's eyes partially opened as a man waking from a deep slumber -- not sure if he was awake or dreaming.

"Shoot the wolf, Gretchen," Call grumbled, unable to snap out of his mesmeric state.

Gretchen picked up Call's rifle with sweaty, trembling hands.

"Cock it . . . shoot," Call muttered.

The wolf crept closer, growling in a low, guttural sound. Its sharp fangs striking a deep fear in Gretchen.

"Shoot the damn wolf, Gretchen!" Call ordered.

Gretchen cocked the Winchester. Her arms shook violently.

"Shoot it before it gets you or Becky!" Call implored.

The black wolf charged. Hearing her infant daughter's name shook Gretchen into action. She squeezed the trigger, aiming for the largest area of black. The bullet tore into the wolf, downing it no more than ten yards from Gretchen.

"Still alive," Call said with labored breath. "Kill it."

Gretchen hesitated, staring as the wolf struggled to make its feet.

"Kill it, Gretchen!" Call snapped.

Gretchen fired three more shots into the black beast. It whined momentarily in pain then laid in the grass and died. She stared at the wolf, her mind wrestling with the actuality of what had just happened. Breathing hard and fighting back tears, she turned to her husband. "Call?!" She dropped the rifle and kneeled next to him. "Call?"

"You did good, Coyote," he said, his voice now weak. He showed a small smile.

Gretchen's eyes darted, gazing at Call.

"Help me up," he mumbled.

Gretchen placed her hands under Call's shoulders and slowly pulled him up.

"Uuuhhnn!" Call yelled. Intense pain radiated throughout his entire body. He gritted his teeth, his eyes bulged and he shook, then blacked out.

"Call!" Gretchen lowered him to the grass. A sensation of helplessness swelled up within her again.

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

"Newt and his wife have not yet arrived, Cap'n."

"I can see, Pea," Woodrow angrily barked. "The boy was supposed to be here yesterday." He stared toward the west. "I can't abide sloppy behavior. Newt knows better."

"Maybe something happened, Cap'n," Dish Boggett suggested.

"Likely he's rolling around in bed or just forgot," the Captain replied.

"Ooooh, I think you're wrong, Cap'n," Isom Pickett said. "Newt ain't likely to forget. The boy could of run into trouble. We ought to go have us a look-see."

"No time," Woodrow argued. "Too much work needs doing." He looked at Dish. "Go into Miles City, Dish. Send a telegram." He pulled a piece of wrinkled paper out of his pocket and with a three inch pencil scribbled a short message.

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

Gretchen Call, her breathing already labored, reached the top of the small, grassy hill and paused. Call's pain had been more than he could endure, resulting in his blacking out a second time as Gretchen toiled in her formidable task. She felt like Sisyphus, the legendary Corinthian king condemned to rolling the ponderous stone in Hades. It all appeared so hopeless. She would not give up -- not as long as life flowed through her body.

She squinted, gazing a hundred yards out onto the plains. It was the wagon! The horses grazed peacefully. Gretchen looked quickly around then ran -- Becky held close in her cradle board -- toward the wagon. She slowed to a walk as she neared the animals. Once it was apparent the horses were no longer spooked or jittery, Gretchen climbed up into the bench seat. She took the reins and led the wagon back to her husband. She placed the baby safely away from the horses in case they bolted again, then she unhitched the tail gate. She had only recently ended her after-birth bleeding, otherwise she might have bled to death out there on the plains from the strain on her body. Lifting Call into the wagon's back required all of her weakening strength, leaving her too exhausted to even raise her arms for long minutes.

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

Dish Boggett rode hard into Miles City and handed the message to the telegrapher. It was immediately wired to Curtis Wells.

It was hours later -- late in the afternoon -- before Mason Dobbs was handed the telegram by a concerned Mattie Shaw. They both hastened into the dry goods to question Gretchen's sisters.

"They left for Hat Creek yesterday morning," Victoria nervously stated.

"If Captain Call sent a telegram," Paige replied, "something must have happened. Something bad."

"I'll wager Newt had them sleeping in the wagon out on the prairie last night," Mason said.

"No!" Victoria disagreed. "Rebecca is too young to be sleeping out in the chill. Something happened to them."

"I can track and find them," Boone Mackinaw volunteered. "I know the marks of their wagon."

"I'm going with you," Paige insisted.

"No," Boone argued. "If they're in need, I can ride faster, alone. It's too dark to start now. I'll leave at dawn."

Mason nodded. "I'll be riding with you, amigo. It'd be wise to send a telegram back to Captain Call."

Victoria, holding Daniel, and Paige, hastened out of the store to return a message.

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

With Becky lying safely next to her father in the back of the wagon, Gretchen snapped the reins and headed east. Their water and food were low and she was too weak to pull the reins effectively if the horses suddenly decided to dash off. Gretchen guided the wagon in the direction which she thought to be Hat Creek, hoping the Captain might have sent someone searching for them. The vast, empty prairie -- no foreseeable road -- dampened Gretchen's spirit. She wasn't sure which direction actually led to Hat Creek.

The wagon moved along at a slow pace -- Gretchen heedful of the pain inflicted upon her husband by the bouncing. By dusk it was obvious they wouldn't reach Hat Creek on this day. Call had woken, gritting his teeth and breathing hard. Gretchen unhitched the horses -- the wagon would at least provide a slightly warmer bed than the cold, wet ground.

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

"Cap'n!" Dish Boggett yelled. "Telegram!"

Woodrow opened the folded paper and read. "Aw, damn!" He paced angrily in a small line. "They left yesterday morning."

"Well, something happened, Cap'n," Dish replied. "I guess we should mount up."

"It'll be night soon, Dish," the Captain barked. "Pea!"

"Yessir, Cap'n?"

"Go get some of the boys. Tell them to be ready to ride an hour before first light."

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

Gretchen Call tended to her family -- feeding Becky and nursing Call. She tried to get Call to his feet but he shook so hard from the agonizing pain that she had to lay him back in the wagon. His breathing was short and labored. Gretchen felt helpless -- unable to provide any comfort or relief for her suffering husband.

"I imagine I must feel the same as you felt when I was giving birth to Becky, Call," Gretchen said, resting his head in her lap.

"Keep the rifle ready," he said.

"I have it, Call. And, your knife. Try to rest."

Call looked at his wife. "You done good, Gretchen."

She smiled. It wasn't over yet. Another night in the chill of autumn. She has already killed a wolf. Hopefully, no bear or mountain lion would come upon them during the night. By morning, they would have no water or food.

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

Although the noise awakened Gretchen with a start, it didn't frighten her. She recognized it as the yipping of a coyote. Call had taught her how to distinguish the difference between coyotes, wolves, and dogs.

Gretchen put her hand on Call's forehead, checking for fever. She was relieved to find none. She cradled Becky close to her breast and laid back down near Call.

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

"There's something on the ground!" Boone Mackinaw said. He climbed off his horse and picked up a small rag doll.

"They were here," Mason replied. "I gave little Becky this doll before they rode out."

"There's blood on the grass over here," Boone said, stepping over to where the horses had suddenly run off.

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

Gretchen Call had gotten an early start once again. Her hands were raw from the leather reins and she was tired from restless sleep for two nights. She sat up, staring as a half dozen riders were approaching from the furthest hill. She hesitated, not sure if it was help or possibly outlaws. She cocked the rifle, waiting.

"Thank you, Lord," she whispered, recognizing the Captain as the riders neared.

"You run into some trouble?" Woodrow gruffly said as he rode to the wagon and stopped.

"Call was kicked in the head and then run over, Captain," Gretchen replied, happy to see Pea Eye, Isom, Dish,Augustina Vega, and Needle.

"Where's Paige?" Dish asked.

"Home, Dish." Gretchen was too tired to explain anything.

Woodrow dismounted and looked at Newt. "Damn it, Newt. You ought to know better than to let a horse kick you and get run over by this wagon."

Call winced from pain. "Gretchen saved my life. And the baby's."

Woodrow turned, looking at Gretchen. "Let's get them back to the ranch. Pea, you drive the wagon back."

"Captain Call?" Gretchen said. "That little baby next to my husband is your granddaughter."

Woodrow just nodded. "There'll be time enough for that after we get back."

Isom pulled alongside the wagon and smiled at Gretchen. "The Cap'n's been real worried about you and Newt. This is just his way of showing he cares."

Gretchen nodded and smiled a little. She turned around and climbed into the back as Pea Eye steered the wagon. She held Becky and squeezed Call's hand. "We made it, Call."

Call smiled. Once they got back to Hat Creek there would be time for everything. Newt Call knew one thing for certain, Gretchen had become part of the wilderness. She was as much a part of the frontier as he was. Even tiny Becky had her first taste of wilderness survival.

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

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