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.


Mary, Mary
(49th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

An Ode To Clay & Mary
"You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes."
"My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.
His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven."
"Awake north wind, and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad.
Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits."

(Solomon's Song of Songs -- Holy Bible)

Mary had heard her gallant Clay charge up the stairs as if the mansion were on fire. Kissing him was breath taking, causing her cheeks to redden. The young newlyweds knew the tormenting reality that they would not meet again before Grant's spring campaign -- sure to be the deadliest of the war -- and Mary had so much to tell her darling Clay. She was learning the little inconsequential things about a husband that were sure to interest and amuse a woman.

Clay sat on the side of his bed. He had dreamed of Mary, again. Reliving the happiest moments of his life. He could feel it -- this would be one of those days where her memory followed him with every step he took.

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

A man with no family -- if fortune favored him -- was sure to be vexed when presented with a suitable means of distributing his good luck. Luther Root had indeed found the perfect means of sharing his treasure -- Newt Call was making it difficult for him to accomplish his plan.

"Dammit, Call!," Luther had protested. "Can't you just take it without arguing? Do it for your wife, Coyote Girl -- or her sisters. You're always so damn ornery."

"I reckon I am," Call shot back. "I ain't of a mind to take no charity."

Paige Mackinaw, Call's slightly younger sister-in-law, punched him -- though playfully, in his side. "Think about us," she told him. "Mr. Root is being very kind, Call."

Victoria Cleese, Call's older sister-in-law, was more gentle, as well as more persuasive. "Newt? Why don't you consider it as payment for the time you and your uncle rode the stage routes when Mr. Root was injured in that stagecoach accident? Remember the time Mr. Mosby and Miss Ashley Jessup were injured?"

"Yeah!" Luther chimed in, nodding his head vigorously. "That's what it is -- payment for helping me when I was hurt."

Gretchen Call didn't say anything. She merely stood quietly by. Her anger had caused a somewhat comical brawl to erupt on the streets of Curtis Wells when her husband had brought the stage in and was suddenly kissed by Luther's woman, Enona Horn. It turned out to be a disastrous day for Clay Mosby -- losing his bid to bring the railroad to Curtis Wells. Although, once the dust settled after Gretchen had pushed Call onto his back in the street and the young married couple returned home, they had enjoyed a most passionate night together.

Call looked at Victoria. Her and Ephraim, as the two oldest, were usually the more stable of the three couples, displaying a better knowledge and common sense. "It isn't as if Mr. Root is just handing you six free tickets on the stage, Newt," Victoria quietly said. "You did spend time away from your wife in order to help Mr. Root. And, since we're all traveling to Sand Springs for Mr. Kettering's birthday . . ."

Call nodded. Victoria seemed to always have a way of making things sound right. He shrugged. "I guess if you put it that way . . ."

"Good!" Luther remarked, handing the six tickets to Call. "Mrs. Cleese? I sure am glad you can talk some sense into his hard head. Now, I won't be making this run. Old Bill is. He ain't much for socializing but don't let it ail you none -- he's like that with everyone."

"Oh? Sort of like Call," Paige said, teasing.

Luther laughed, happy that he was able to pass his free tickets on to decent folks.

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

All morning long, Clay Mosby had been in a pensive mood. The date, November 25th, had been cause for Clay to feel somewhat melancholy. His amorous, though completely unexpected encounter with Enona Horn had allowed him to sleep deeply and long, once he returned from Cat Creek, settling the issue over a grave misunderstanding.

Pushing aside haunting thoughts of his Mary, Clay headed to the sporting club to meet with Twyla. He snickered at the animated Luther Root, attempting to deal with the always disagreeable Newt Call. Clay had long since concluded that Call's wife, Gretchen, was nothing less than a saint -- a title any woman would be worthy of for taking on the unenviable task of marrying Call. She had even given Call a tiny infant daughter. No doubt she would soon be pregnant with another Call baby. The thought angered Clay slightly. He was jealous and he knew it. While these low-born Texans and Missourians were pouring out babies, he had no child to carry on the proud and dignified Mosby name. If things had turned out different, Clay and his precious Mary would now have strong, beautiful children. Aristocratic, high-born sons and daughters of Virginia. Learning how to run the family plantation.

Observing Twyla's massive white body brought Clay immediately back to reality once he entered the sporting club. "I understand you've been speaking to Miss Carpenter in regards to joining forces with her. I would be . . . shall I say . . . quite disappointed if that were true." Clay's eyes were unforgiving as he stared point blank at Twyla.

Twyla frowned, then quickly smiled, taking hold of Clay's arm. "No need to worry, Mr. Mosby. My girls won't be causing you any trouble. There aren't a lot of men out there willing to marry whores and there aren't many folks willing to give us jobs. It seems you have us right where you want us, doesn't it?"

Clay grinned. "Exactly as I prefer it, my dear Twyla. I have quite enough concerns in this town without your girls adding to it."

"You'll have no trouble from me or my girls, Mr. Mosby," Twyla replied.

"Well, good then. We understand each other." Clay, satisfied with his small victory, said.

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

The Brandt sisters were fond of old Malachi Kettering, otherwise they never would have closed the dry goods for a half day on Saturday, their most profitable day of the week. Victoria handed her nearly four month old son, Daniel, to Paige -- she didn't want to risk dropping the fidgety boy while locking the store.

"Victoria," Gretchen remarked, "have you noticed how much our babies love their Auntie Paige?"

Victoria nodded, smiling. "Um huh. Our little sister has quite a way with the babies. I'm sure she'll make a wonderful mother once she has her first child."

"Oh, by the way, Gretchen," Paige said, cradling the infant boy, "how's Call handling Becky sleeping in her own room?"

"Not very well," Gretchen admitted, sighing. "He seems reluctant to leave her in her room at night. I'm afraid little Becky Bug is going to become too attached to sleeping in our room. If I don't separate them soon, she's going to make quite a fuss when the time comes."

Victoria dropped the key into the pocket of her dress and reached for Daniel, brushing the boy's wild hair. "Well, Newt is terrified of losing Rebecca Maggie, Gretchen. We know he's already suffered one tragedy -- before we arrived here in Curtis Wells. Just be patient with your husband, Gretchen. I think it's so nice that he loves you and Becky so very much."

"He tried to bring Becky into her room once. Poor Call. He came back looking like a little boy who had just lost his dog. He said Becky gave him a sad look that tore him apart inside. What am I going to do with him?"

Paige laughed. "You're so lucky, Gretchen. I hope my Boone cares as much about our first child." She put her hands on her stomach. "We've been husband and wife for five weeks now -- I hope I conceive soon."

"Our husbands are all standing by the stage, waiting for us," Victoria replied to her sisters. "Let's not keep them waiting too long."

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

In the dark days that followed after Ashley Mosby's murder, Clay avoided Suzanne Van Atta, not ready or willing to deal with her pregnancy with his child. He had just lost a child when Ashley died trying to save him. To Mrs. Van Atta's credit, she had not pestered him -- allowing him the time needed to sort things out.

Not sure what he intended to say, Clay entered the general store. Elizabeth Dewberry, Suzanne's younger sister, stood near the window, watching the Brandt sisters board the stage with their husbands and babies.

"Mr. Mosby," Suzanne said, greeting him. She was nervous. Had he come to tell her he had no interest in her or the baby? It was clear that neither one of them carried feelings of love for the other -- their only connection being the baby they had created together. Suzanne stared cautiously at Clay. He seemed preoccupied -- his mind somewhere else. "Mr. Mosby, my sister and I take inventory on Saturdays. There's much to be done this day."

Clay's body tensed -- his spine tingled, as if touched by a ghost. It was the words, there's much to be done this day. He had heard those exact words -- spoken by his precious Mary, before he rode off to fight for her honor, his family, his home, the Confederacy, back in '61. The patriotic citizens and families had turned out to fete young Francis Clay Mosby. On that joyous day he had endured hour after agonizing hour while Virginians -- old and young alike, shook his hand, hugged him, spilled tears on his uniform, or just offered advice on how to whip the infernal Yankees -- a task Clay assured them he could single handedly perform.

Finally, when the lazy afternoon had warmed, Clay managed to sneak off with Mary. The young lovers, soon to be married, retreated to Brown's Point, the pond behind Hatton Willows where Clay's closest friend, Robert, had nearly drowned as a wild twelve year old. Laughing happily, they tumbled to the soft weedy bank, where they laid side by side. The brilliance of the sun's glowing rays, reflecting off the soothing waters completely washed away Clay's thoughts of war as he stared, mesmerized by Mary's perfect smile. Intoxicated by her sweet, warm breath, Clay kissed her mouth repeatedly.

"You must come home safe to me, Clay, my darling," Mary begged him, holding back great tears of worry.

Clay gently rubbed his chin on her cheeks, his soft, young beard soaking up the tears that overflowed out of her eyes. "Now, Mary," he assured her, "you needn't fret. I have every intention of returning a hero."

Unable to remain sad for long, Mary laughed. It was a laugh Clay would remember the rest of his life. "Why do all you men have to fight this silly old war, anyway, Clay? Can't the Yankees just mind their own business and leave us alone?"

Clay twitched, realizing he had been reliving an old memory from twenty-one years earlier. He blinked, noticing Suzanne Van Atta. Clay gazed at her for a moment then turned and walked out of the general merchant without speaking.

"That was strange," Beth remarked. Suzanne didn't reply.

Clay stepped into the street and paused. Josiah Peale smiled at him from outside the Montana Statesman. Mason Dobbs winked at him from what had been Call's bench at one time. Dewey, the orphan boy, had just dunked another boy's head into one of the troughs that surrounded the pump in the center of town, at the 'Y,' and run off laughing. Clay abruptly turned and marched out into the quiet of the empty field -- halfway between the back corral and the church building. A euphoric feeling had come over him inside the general store as he thought of Mary -- he didn't want the sensation to leave him yet.

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

Three young men on horseback hesitated, taking note of a well-dressed, bearded man with long, dark curls in a field just outside of Curtis Wells. They spoke quietly then one young rider approached, leaving the other two waiting.

"There a doctor in this town?" the young man asked the bearded man.

"Yes. Dr. Cleese," the man replied, standing up. He had a southern accent and appeared to be a man of some prominence. "He isn't in his office at the moment."

The young man turned his mount. "Mister, I need a doctor. My friend's ailing something awful."

"Well, I'm Clay Mosby -- this is my town. Just exactly what is your friend troubled with?"

The young man cleared his throat. "He's just sick -- powerful sick. I need to find a doctor."

Mosby nodded, noting the other two men. "I will not tolerate a plague in my town -- precisely what is wrong with your friend?"

"All right!" the young man angrily barked. "He ain't sick -- he's been shot! My brother's gun went off accidentally. I'm scared, mister. Please? Where's the doctor?"

Mosby gazed at the young man. "Dr. Cleese is traveling on the stage. He's on the road to Sand Springs. I'm quite certain you can catch him if you hurry. Although I highly advise your friend to remain here until Dr. Cleese can return to offer his prodigious services."

"Ain't got time," the young man said, clapping heels and riding off toward the others. Clay watched as the three men -- not much more than boys, rode off.

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

An hour had passed since the six passengers clambered into the carriage and Old Bill, the driver, tugged on the cinches, drawing the harness firm. Out on the open plains they experienced the ceaseless rocking of the carriage -- a ship-like motion that lulled the two infants to sleep. It was fortunate that all six passengers -- Call, Gretchen, and Victoria on one side, Boone, Paige, and Ephraim, on the other side -- were fairly thin in stature. With about fifteen inches allowed for each passenger the group was glad none of the sisters were currently pregnant.

"I've never had occasion to visit Sand Springs," Boone Mackinaw commented. He looked at his new bride, Paige. "Have you, Miss Eyes of Summer Sky?"

Paige laughed, looking at both Gretchen and Call, then back at her husband. "Yes, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives. In fact, Gretchen and I broke Call out of jail in Sand Springs."

"You did what?!" Victoria exclaimed. Daniel Cleese nearly woke as his mother lurched forward. Paige and Gretchen both laughed -- Call shrugged.

"Some men were bothering us, Victoria. Call made them stop." Gretchen smiled at her husband. "The sheriff was their friend -- he locked Call up. We just helped him . . . escape."

"My goodness," Ephraim replied. "I, for one, would hope the sheriff doesn't recognize either of you women."

Boone was in accordance with Ephraim. "I thought this was going to be a relaxing day or two. Are we going to have to fight our way out of town?"

Victoria gave a stern look to Call. "Was the escape your idea, Newt?"

"Call had nothing to do with it, Victoria," Gretchen said. "But he did have to help us."

"I don't think I want to hear the rest of this," Victoria groaned, looking out the small window at the vast brown emptiness.

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

Amanda Carpenter strolled out of the hotel and stood near Mason Dobbs. She watched him for a few moments without his being aware of it. "Something on your mind, Mason?"

Mason stared at the Ambrosia, where he had just observed Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby. "I'll wager those boys from Virginia won't rest till they get this hotel back."

"That's why I hired you," Amanda replied. "Look over there, Mason. Austin's talking to them now. All three of them -- working together. Are you sure Call won't come over to my side?"

"Senorita, Newt won't ever join up with Mosby. That should make you smile." Mason turned, winked at Amanda and went back inside the Dove. As far as he was concerned, this was the easiest money he had ever made, honestly.

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

Consumed with the memory of the only woman he had ever really fallen deeply in love with, Clay Mosby had taken refuse out behind his saloon. Inside, the sounds of the roulette table, the beer mugs hammering into the scarred mahogany bar, were muffled as he closed the door and walked the short distance to where the ground began to rise upward.. His boots crushed small twigs and leaves as he climbed the low hill, sitting on a small boulder above the town. The cold November air felt similar to the first time he had returned home from the war -- on temporary leave for being wounded in battle.

Clay and Mary had gone to a party with some of Mary's friends. The cold, moist atmosphere from the nearby lake gave them both temptingly rosy cheeks. Young Clay found himself a social lion. All the girls wanted to stitch Havelock cap-covers for him -- politely declining once Mary pouted sufficiently.

One of Mary's dearest friends, Miss Fanny Peckham, hosted the gathering at her mansion. Her father, Alexander Peckham, was associate judge on the Virginia Supreme Court, and had taken a liking to the dashing and gallant young Clay Mosby. Having known the Mosby family for over thirty years, Judge Peckham pulled strings to present Clay with command of a volunteer cavalry regiment that was being raised.

Although the ambitious young Mosby greatly desired to lead the new volunteers, on this occasion he was swept off his feet by Mary's stunning beauty -- a true masterpiece that no skilled artist could do justice through sculpture or paint. Mary's features were delicately cut. She had spent hours on her luxuriant, wavy, chestnut-brown hair, parting it and pulling it back over her ears and knotted on her neck. Clay always delighted in her laughing eyes and how much she liked dresses with low necks. It had been Robert Shelby who remarked that Mary's shoulders could make any man hungry.

Since all girls, including Mary, had curfews, the parties always ended much too soon, provoking moans and groans from the young men and usually the young women. Clay escorted his soon-to-be bride to the Mosby carriage, where family servant, Silas, a tall, older Negro, waited.

"Francis Clay Mosby! You are quite the devil," Mary teased as they sat huddled close together, warding off the evening chill. "Flirting with Fanny Peckham just so her father gives you command of the new volunteers."

Young Clay grinned. Mary was pleased exceedingly by the beard her beau had grown. It added years to his already impressive image. "Well, I must confess," Clay replied, a twinkle in his dark eyes, "Miss Fanny Peckham would indeed be a prestigious catch -- provided her father could give a soldier command of his own regiment."

"Mind your thoughts, Clay Mosby," Mary said, "I shall not, whether tonight, or any other night, ever give you up to another girl. We are going to be wed, my dearest, precious Clay. We shall continue to run your daddy's mansion once he and your mother are too old. I believe I shall give you sons and daughters -- strong children to carry on the Mosby name."

It had been one of the happiest moments of Clay Mosby's life, before the country was torn asunder and life, as he knew it, would never be the same.

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

The ride had been bumpy and cramped. Call enjoyed sitting close to Gretchen and their infant daughter -- it was the constant chatter, the unceasing talk that made him want to open the door and jump out. The sisters rattled on about the most boring things -- saucers should always be placed under cups and flowers brightened up a home. Call closed his eyes. No wonder Boone Mackinaw had gone off and become a mountain man. And now the young fool had taken Paige Brandt for his wife -- that in itself wasn't bad. It was just this constant female chatter that would cause almost any man to rethink his choices in life.

Gretchen knew exactly what her husband was thinking and leaned close to whisper quietly in his ear. "At least you're only married to one of us, Call. I know this is torture for you." She kissed his cheek then bit it gently. "Would you like to hold your daughter, Call?"

"Riders!" Boone interrupted, pointing behind the stage. "It looks like three of them."

Call and Boone both put their hands on their weapons in a way so as not to frighten their wives.

"Hold up! We need the doctor!"

Old Bill drew the six-horse team to a halt and grabbed the shotgun from the front boot. "I'm not hauling no strong box -- just passengers and mail."

"We just need a doctor," one of the riders -- a young man, said. "We heard he was here."

Ephraim leaned past Paige and Boone. "I'm Dr. Cleese. What seems to be the problem?"

"A gun discharged -- was an accident," the leader of the three young men replied. One of the men, the injured one, sat slightly slumped in his saddle. "He's bleeding too much."

Ephraim nudged his way past the others and stepped out of the coach with his medical bag. "Goodness! We need to get him to a town."

"We're halfway between Curtis Wells and Sand Springs, Doc," Old Bill grumbled. "No town's just gonna appear out here."

The third man circled around the other side of the stage then drew his pistol, aiming it inside the stage. The young leader drew his gun and aimed from the opposite side. "The doctor's coming with us. And we'll be relieving you of your valuables so just hand them over and nobody has to get shot." He motioned toward the locket Gretchen wore around her neck.

"You ain't getting that!" Call stated, leaning forward.

"You can die, big mouth," the third man said. "In fact, I'm not opposed to gunning down women or babies."

"Call, no!" Gretchen implored. "At least now I don't have to throw this locket away and pretend that I lost it. It isn't even real -- it's worthless. All you ever give me is cheap, worthless items. Here! Take it," she said to the leader.

"We're not taking any worthless items -- you keep it, lady," the young man said. He looked at Victoria and Paige. "I'll take the necklaces you two are wearing."

Call nodded to Gretchen's sisters. He wasn't about to try anything foolish -- not with the three Brandt sisters and the two babies on the stage. Boone was of the same mind.

"What are you planning to do with my husband?" Victoria asked.

"We just need him to patch up a bullet hole then he'll be free to go." He motioned for Ephraim to climb up behind him. "Come on, Doctor. Get on up here." Ephraim cautiously approached horse and rider and mounted behind the gunman.

The third rider turned to join the others when Old Bill unloaded the shotgun into his belly. The man was knocked out of his saddle, dead before he hit the ground. The leader fired at Old Bill, hitting him in the chest and head. "Come on! Ride!" he yelled as the two riders turned and raced off.

"Newt! Don't shoot," Victoria pleaded. "You might hit Ephraim."

Call pulled back on his sawed-off. He looked at Boone. "We best check on the driver then decide who's trailing after them two."

Boone nodded and jumped out the open door. He ran to where Old Bill was face down in the brown grass -- Call right behind him. Boone rolled the stage driver over. "He's dead."

Call looked over to the other young man. "I reckon that one's dead, too. Looks like his belly was blown out." He stood up, gazing back in the direction the two men had taken Ephraim. "Likely as not, they ain't set on traveling too long. They'll be wanting Ephraim to patch up the one carrying the slug."

Boone agreed. "We got a spare horse now. I can trail them, Call. I'll get Ephraim out of there. I'll get Paige and Victoria's necklaces, too. I'm sure you'll be wanting to guide the stage to the next home station. You've got a baby."

Call nodded. What Boone said made sense. He would have liked to go after those men but he wasn't inclined to ride off in the middle of nowhere, leaving Gretchen and Becky. He turned to Boone. "Don't be getting all fired cocky, now. Just get it done."

Boone flashed a wide grin. "I suspect that's why I survived in the mountains. I never underestimate an enemy." He went and kissed Paige, telling her he was going to bring Ephraim back and return her and Victoria's necklaces.

"You better be careful, Boone Mackinaw," Paige ordered.

Boone helped Call lift Old Bill's body into the front boot then mounted the dead man's horse and rode off after the others. Call went to the sisters, telling them he would guide the stage now. Gretchen was confident her husband would bring the stage safely to the next station. She was relieved that it was him who remained with the stage, instead of chasing after the men who had taken Ephraim. Boone had already rescued Mason Dobbs once before -- he was surely up to the task now facing him.

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

Anticipation of a few minutes in solitude was abruptly snatched when Clay Mosby observed Josiah Peale cross the empty field, joining him in the barren church cemetery. All day long he had retreated deep inside his soul, consumed with the love of his life, Mary. Now, with Josiah invading his privacy it was only a matter of time before he spoke -- Clay waited impatiently.

"Tragic, isn't it? Our loved ones are taken from us before we're ever consigned to letting go of them," Josiah finally said. He bent down, brushing dry leaves and cobwebs from his daughter, Hannah's grave.

Clay merely sighed. Conversation wasn't particularly what he desired right now.

"Austin seems to be feeling better," Josiah mentioned. "Although, he's angry that someone put worms in his boots."

Clay's head tilted. Obviously, the only one capable of such pranks was that little bastard Mattie had taken in. For his part, Clay did not like Dewey -- remembering the time he was copulating with Mrs. Suzanne Van Atta in the bath house and the youngster had thrown firecrackers through the open window, ruining the entire mood.

"How are you planning on . . ."

"Josiah," Clay interrupted, "I prefer solitude at the moment. Perhaps we can continue this one-sided conversation at a later date?"

Josiah paused. It hadn't crossed his mind that Clay wanted to be alone, although most folks that went to visit a grave tended to want quiet in order to reflect. "I suppose I could come back later on." He nodded at Clay then left.

Before Josiah had walked ten paces Clay was already back home in Virginia. He allowed his thoughts to concentrate on the night after the party at Miss Fanny Peckham's mansion. A few friends had gathered at the Mosby mansion -- inside the great halls of the great home. A light rain had started early with a promise of a storm to soon burst from the thick gray sky. Fear and concern -- either getting soaked to the skin or being stuck on a muddy road led most of the young people to leave early.

Mary, however, had lingered, not desiring to separate from her darling young Clay for even the briefest of moments. She had fluffed out her flowing white dress as she sat at the grand piano that had come all the way from Vienna. It was one of Viennese pianos developed by Johann Andreas Streicher, the son-in-law of Johann Stein. The piano dated back near 1770 and had been treasured by the Mosby family.

Placing her delicate fingers on the ivory keys, Mary began to play Gentle Maiden, a relatively new song that had first been heard six years earlier, in '55. "Let's sing together, Clay," Mary had requested. Clay had found it almost impossible to ever deny Mary anything she requested.

"Whatever you wish, Mary," Clay replied, sitting alongside the beautiful seventeen year old. Clay had found himself so deeply in love with Mary that he no longer desired the flesh of slave women, contrary to his father's beliefs. Clay and his father had quarreled repeatedly over the issue -- his father of the belief that a man was not bound only to his own wife, but to any woman he saw fit to sexually take. Young Clay had had his fair share of willful fornication with the more attractive of the slave girls. It was a common practice among slave owners -- resulting in a new breed of light-brown darkies being born throughout the country, wherever slaves resided.

As Mary's contagious smile drew Clay in, he had been prepared to remain faithful to her for all eternity. The young couple had sung together.

I love thee gentle maiden, for thy merry, merry gladsome face, thy cheek with blushes laden, thy soft and winning grace. Thine eyes so full of joyance, thy rosy laughing lip. Such lips are an annoyance when one can't take a sip."

They had paused, as Clay remembered, both desiring to kiss. Respect held them back, though a struggle it was. Mary laughed happily and continued singing.

Like silver joybells ringing, on silent summer day, your clear voice is singing within mine ear always.

Unaware that he was even now softly humming the tune of Gentle Maiden, Clay walked slowly back to the Ambrosia.

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

Boone Mackinaw -- Rabbit Two Knives, traveled at a slow pace, being cautious and deliberate that he did nothing to endanger the life of his brother-in-law, Dr. Ephraim Cleese. In his estimation, the two young men that had taken Ephraim did not plan to ride long and hard but find a suitable location for the bullet to be removed from the injured man. As Boone crossed a low-flowing creek and climbed a small rise, he suddenly was startled to see an old Indian woman sitting alone on a blanket with her back to him. As best as Boone could make out, the old woman was chanting her death song.

Before approaching, Boone listened intently as his eyes slowly searched the group of cottonwoods that arched around the old woman like a half moon. It wouldn't pay to be reckless now. Perhaps a tribe or even a few warriors were nearby. Boone had recently rescued Mason Dobbs from a small band of vicious, blood-thirsty Cheyenne. He was inclined not to face them so soon again. A man's luck could only hold out so long before fate evened the balance.

Finally satisfied that the old woman was indeed alone, Boone dismounted and walked up to her. The old woman, Cheyenne, by her clothing, stopped singing and looked at him. Boone raised two fingers. "Sun ka<wa kan nu<pa" ("Two horses"). He raised a third finger. "Wi ca<sa ya<mni" ("Three men").

The old woman closed her eyes. "Hiya Lakota. Sahiyela. Ayusta miye te" ("I am not Lakota. I am from the Cheyenne tribe. Let me die").

Boone groaned. In his travels along the rivers and mountains, he had learned to respect the ways of the Lakota, the Utes, the Cheyenne, or any other tribe he happened upon. This woman, too old to travel to the winter camp was left behind to die -- to make her journey to the spirit world. Some Indians climbed high mountains -- searching for eagles nests to die while others sought caves or wooded areas. This woman had been content to sit on the ground where her people had recently camped.

"Yuha niye . . . uh . . . uh," ("Have you . . . uh . . . uh") Boone struggled -- his grasp of the Plains Indians' language was far from adequate. "Niye wayate wi ca<sa?" ("You see the men?").

"Zitkala oyake miye tawaci te -- wana iyaya" ("A bird spoke to me and said I will die -- now go"), the woman replied, annoyed that she should be required to put so much effort into sending this young fool away. Her energies were needed to make one with the spirit world, not answer foolish questions. The men on horseback had indeed rode past her -- hardly slowing to give notice. Why couldn't this long haired boy do the same?

"Zitkala?" ("A bird?") Boone replied.

"Iyaya!" ("Go!") the old woman insisted. She began chanting her death song again -- singing louder, trying to block out the nagging young white man who had so rudely stumbled onto her time of returning to the spirit world. She had never liked the white man -- too many of them had cluttered the great, grassy plains with their ways. She remembered as a lovely young squaw that the diseases of the white man had nearly wiped out the Mandans, Rees, and Oto Tribes many summers ago. Smallpox, it was called. A curse, more likely, she believed.

Boone climbed back into the saddle -- there was no point in trying to save the woman. When an Indian decided it was time for the death chant, there was little anyone could do to persuade them otherwise. Boone trotted away, hoping to find tracks to follow.

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

It wasn't the first time Call had taken the reins of a stagecoach and guided it safely to its destination. He managed to lead the six-horse team into the confines of the way-station, where the manager already had a fresh team of horses waiting while his aproned wife stood by the door to greet the driver and passengers.

Call quickly relayed the information regarding the deadly shootout and robbery, which left two men dead. "They had no cause to gun down Old Bill," the station manager remarked, pausing to stare at Call.

Call escorted the three sisters into the dirt-covered station where the station manager's wife presented a bowl of clean water for the women to wash their hands and faces -- dabbing some of the trail dust from their babies faces, as well.

"It's a damn shame about Bill," the station manager mumbled as he entered the building. "I remember you," he said plainly, motioning to Call. "You came through here maybe two years ago. You had a prisoner with you."

Call nodded, sitting next to Gretchen and Becky. "My bounty hunting days are done with. I got me a wife and baby now. I reckon ranching suits me better."

"Some folks don't take kindly to bounty hunters," the man replied. "I say a bounty hunter is no different than a lawman wearing a badge. Both rid the country of scum. Feed 'em good now, Martha," the man said, then went back outside.

"I'll have some stewed veal, fried potatoes, canned tomatoes, warm rolls, tolerable butter, peach pie, and coffee ready shortly for all of you," the man's wife said.

Tiny Becky began to fuss and cry as she had been doing most of the day. "There something ailing the baby, Gretchen?" Call asked his wife.

"She's just cutting her first tooth, Call," Gretchen replied, cradling the cranky infant close to her. "She's almost three months old now, Call. It's time for her teeth to start coming in."

Call stared at his daughter. There was nothing he could do to comfort Becky but he knew the tiny girl would get the best possible love and care from her mother. "You really think that locket is worthless, Gretchen?" Call suddenly said.

Gretchen and Paige both laughed. "Of course I don't, Call," Gretchen answered.

"It was just her coyote ways, Call," Paige replied. "That was fast thinking -- I wish Victoria and I had done that."

Victoria sat quietly, concerned about her husband. Paige took young Daniel from her. The Cleese baby was nearing four months old -- he had just begun to crawl. Paige placed little Daniel on a woven carpet where the infant immediately began to crawl away -- delighting in his new found ability. It even caused his tiny cousin, Becky, to suddenly stop whimpering and stare at the mobile child. Becky began to laugh watching her older cousin scamper across the floor. Both Paige and Gretchen smiled as they observed the two babies -- Victoria sat sullen, hoping Boone would rescue Ephraim.

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

No one in Curtis Wells could say they knew Clay Mosby as well as Robert Shelby knew him. He knew when Clay was overcome with melancholy, as he was now. He allowed Clay his need to enter into shrouds of darkness -- prone as he was toward depression. Robert would be content to run the Ambrosia, taking careful measures to keep a sharp eye on Clay.

Still experiencing a restlessness, Clay wandered over to the gunsmith shop. He walked in on an argument between Austin Peale and Mattie Shaw. It was over young Dewey. Austin, seeing Mosby enter, determined an ally have come at an appropriate moment. "I think it's time we teach this boy a lesson," Austin suggested.

Clay shrugged. "Of course we could lock him in jail and throw the key away. Feed him bread and water."

Dewey's face wrinkled. Bread and water? To not be allowed jaw breakers was an inconceivable, if nerve-racking thought.

"For goodness sakes," Mattie remarked, "he's just a small boy. I doubt either one of you were any different when you were boys."

Clay grinned. "Well, that is quite true."

Austin didn't laugh. "I'm tired of being made to look the fool by him, Mattie."

Realizing he might be in trouble, Dewey decided to follow the old saying, if you can't beat them, join them. He offered his dirt-stained hand to the much taller Sheriff Peale, as well as his best 'I'm sorry' face.

"I'm awful sorry, Sheriff Peale, sir. I just don't rightly know what comes over me sometimes. Please, Sheriff? Forgive me. I don't want to go to your smelly ol' jail."

Austin stared hard at Dewey. Dewey returned his most innocent smile. Austin reluctantly put his hand out and nodded.

Dewey ran out the door, hesitating as he released a loud, three second fart. He laughed hysterically and ran down the street.

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

The trail had wound into a wooded area, leading up a small hill when Boone Mackinaw caught a thin line of smoke rising from the roof of a little shack. Two horses were outside the shack -- the same two Boone had been trailing. A small trail of blood led from the horses to the front door of the shack. Dismounting, Boone tramped quietly, circling the shack -- giving a wide berth to be certain he wasn't seen. He managed to approach the shack, reaching a small window so dirty he could barely make out the three men inside. A fire was blazing in a stone fireplace with a pot of boiling water balanced on two logs. Boone could make out a man -- the injured man, lying on a cot against the far wall. He caught sight of Ephraim standing near a table, rummaging through his medical bag. The young man that appeared to be the leader was holding a gun, waving it at Ephraim.

Boone retreated back to the dead man's horse he had ridden, taking care to circle in a wide arc. He was convinced Ephraim's life was in danger. The injured man had probably been shot during a robbery attempt. Why else would they have robbed the stage? Boone felt confident he could take both men -- Ephraim being caught in the middle would require a complete change of battle tactics. Boone would have to drum up some mountain man know-how now.

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

While the Brandt sisters sat at the long wooden table eating, Call stepped outside. The station manager was changing the teams of horses. When he noticed Call, he walked over to him. "I'm obliged to you for not leaving Old Bill to the wolves and buzzards."

Call nodded, looking around. "You get much trouble out around these parts?"

The station manager pulled his hat off and wiped his forehead. "Well now, we used to have a bothersome band of Indians that would swoop down at night to steal my horses. But, them critters have either died off or just picked up and moved on."

"My guess is we'll be spending the night hereabouts," Call told the man. "Them boys that shot up Old Bill took one of our own -- the town doc. The other fella took off after them. It'd be best if we sat tight and waited."

"Suit yourself, son," the man replied. "Any of those women inside with child?"

Call shook his head. "Nope."

"Well, there's only one bed. Me and my wife sleep there. We can give it up. Two of your women can make do for the night in a soft bed. That's the best I can do."

It would be dark in another hour. Call, wary for any hint of danger, gazed around then went back inside the station. He wasn't in a mood for socializing.

Once night came over the open plains, Daniel and Becky settled in, drifting off to sleep. The station manager and his wife, both in their forties and without children, were glad for the company. The man brought out his fiddle, rarely having an audience to play for, and entertained his guests. Paige danced alone -- Victoria was more subdued, the gaiety doing little to ease her worrisome mind.

"Tell me everything will turn out well, Newt," she said to Gretchen's husband.

"Can't make no promises," Call replied. "Them fellas didn't seem like hardened killers. I reckon Boone can manage on his own. You best try to relax, Victoria."

Victoria reached out, grabbing Call's hand and squeezing it. "Thank you, Newt."

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

The chloroform had done its work -- the injured young man was unconscious. Ephraim sweated with nervous anxiety, preparing to cut into the man's stomach to remove the lead slug. It was the other young man, the one waving his pistol around that frightened Ephraim.

"I fear you are causing me to feel quite uncomfortable by swinging that gun," Ephraim commented. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to put it down. It could discharge."

"You just fix up my friend there, Doc."

"Yes, of course," Ephraim agreed. He couldn't rely on anything but himself right now. If he were to remove the bullet, would this gunman allow him to go free? He wasn't able to determine whether he would or not.

"Go on, Doc," the man urged, "let's get started."

Ephraim placed his medical bag next to the patient. Boone Mackinaw had been watching from the dirty window. He had decided that he would quietly climb to the roof and stuff the chimney with the bed roll and blanket, causing the smoke to accumulate inside the room, until the gunman was forced to evacuate, where Boone could deal with him. He started to climb when he hesitated, as Ephraim's elbow accidentally knocked one of the two lamps onto the floor where it shattered.

The gunman jumped up. "Hey! You want to burn down this shack?" The young man bent quickly, making sure a fire didn't start then raised his head fast, hitting it hard on the table's corner. Stunned slightly, the young gunman fell back to the floor. Ephraim jumped at his chance, taking the cloth that was still soaked with chloroform and pressed the rag into the surprised man's face, covering his nose and mouth.

Boone dropped to the ground and raced around to the front of the shack, where Dr. Ephraim Cleese was stepping out of the door. "Both men are unconscious," Ephraim said. "Perhaps you could render them helpless. I am quite sure you can secure a man far superior than I."

Boone stared, first at Ephraim, then the two unconscious men. He flashed a huge grin and patted Ephraim on the back. "You took both men single handed, Ephraim. I guess me and Call are rubbing off on you."

Ephraim, though still nervous, allowed a big smile. "Yes, I am rather proud of myself. I didn't think I had it in me to do it. Oh, by the way, Boone. I happened to notice you quite a while ago. Knowing you were outside in the vicinity gave me perhaps adequate courage."

"They ought to sign you up for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show," Boone replied, quickly tying both men so neither would be able to free the other. "These two troublemakers can stay put until we catch up with Call and the women." He turned to the injured man. "What about him, Doc? He's lost a whole lot of blood. Won't he be needing that bullet taken out?"

Ephraim shook his head. "I'm afraid not. The only thing he will require is a coffin. He died before I applied the chloroform to him. I felt his companion might take my life so I pretended to put him out."

Boone was impressed by Ephraim's bravery and resourcefulness under dangerous circumstances. "We better mount these two ponies and ride, Ephraim. I expect Call will stay at the way station until we join them."

*****

The night was dark and cloudy but the pale glow of the moon found occasion holes to peek through and some time well past midnight though not quite morning Boone and Ephraim reached the station. They quietly opened the door and stepped inside. Call and Gretchen were asleep close together on the floor, near the fireplace -- Rebecca Maggie in Gretchen's arms. An older couple slept in two chairs across the room. Call, a notoriously light sleeper, opened his eyes and said, "it's about time you boys got back."

Boone grinned, raising his hand -- wiggling the pair of necklaces. "I got the necklaces and this here fella."

The sounds had roused Victoria, who had been unable to sleep. She ran out of the bedroom into Ephraim's arms. "Oh, Ephraim! You're safe! Thank you, Boone."

Paige joined them, hugging her husband. "I missed you, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives. I knew you would bring Ephraim back."

"Ephraim captured both men all by himself," Boone proclaimed. "You believe that?" The older couple had awoken, realizing Boone and Ephraim were the husbands of the two sisters. Boone's revelation surprised Call, Gretchen, Victoria, and Paige. It was obvious there would be no more sleeping so the station manager's wife rose to make coffee. It seemed there was a story that needed telling.

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

In another hour the first light of the new day would crack the horizon. Curtis Wells was quiet. Clay Mosby sat on the side of his bed -- awake for over two hours. He had loved Ashley Jessup. He had adored and worshipped Mary with his entire being -- his entire existence. He didn't love Suzanne Van Atta. He would send her away, with a great sum of money to raise his illegitimate child.

Memories of Mary reappeared. He didn't fight it -- allowing her to consume his thoughts. He remembered she had gone to Toledo, Ohio, before they were to be wed, to visit a cousin. When she returned home she told Clay of all the fun she had -- thrilled by a concert she attended where Adelina Patti sang -- though she had missed Clay immensely and cried herself to sleep some nights. But, they were back together -- reunited and ready to exchange their matrimonial vows. It would be the greatest love two people had ever known. Clay and Mary -- Mary and Clay.

The wedding had been a grand affair. Young Clay trimmed his beard and cut his hair. Mary had sent away for silks and employed a seamstress to come to her home. She had also ordered a riding habit so she could ride through the Virginia countryside with Clay. Letting out a great sigh, Clay suddenly swallowed hard, a lump in his throat. A phrase he remembered from Sunday school as a young boy entered his thoughts. What did it profit a man to gain the world if he lost his soul? Clay felt he had lost everything when he lost Mary.

He looked at his nightstand. He was weary -- not thinking straight. He stared at his pistol. Maybe this was the way he had to go? Maybe he could somehow be with Mary again? All he had to do was cock the hammer and squeeze the trigger. It was that easy. He looked at his pistol. By his own hand many had perished. He couldn't do it -- he wouldn't do it. Suicide was never the answer. It was far harder to go on living when the woman he loved so dearly was gone. But, he was a survivor and always had been one. His hand reached to the nightstand and lifted the small photograph of Mary. He smiled contently. "Mary," he whispered. "Mary. My precious, precious Mary." He placed her picture back on the nightstand and just sat there, alone in the early morning darkness.

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

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