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.


Journey To The Edge of Sanity
(51st in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
to those who long for death that does not come?

(Job 3:20-21 -- Holy Bible)

The first shock had come years ago when Clay Mosby's will to live eventually overcame his desire to die. A quiet candlelight dinner -- a setting of ambiance in the old French Quarters, at the Court of Two Sisters, where a stroll in the foliage-filled courtyard had been followed by an ominous moonlit saunter through Pirates Alley with Miss Olivia Jessup. An old, toothless Creole woman of Spanish and Negro descent had suddenly appeared out of the shadows, taking hold of Clay's hand -- warning him in a crackling voice that a dark shadow, a sinister spirit, was on his boot heels like a bloodhound. Clay, of course, brushed the warning off his shoulder as if it were a harmless dragonfly.

The second shock -- when the old Creole woman's voice was once again heard in Clay's mind came the night his wife, Ashley, had been murdered while trying to save him. Although he didn't feel as much love for her as he had, and always would, for Mary, Clay had grown to care deeply for Ashley. Watching his second wife and their unborn child both die a brutal death had triggered the old woman's warning. Clay sunk into another dark depression. It had been Newt Call who reluctantly brought Clay out to the Lakota encampment where Red Crow had cleansed his mind inside the sweat lodge. Clay had returned to Curtis Wells, his head clear, though the pain of tragedy and loss would haunt him all his days.

Two short months had passed since the murder of Ashley Mosby when the third shock struck Clay like a bare knuckled fist in the mouth. The careless gunning down of Mrs. Suzanne Van Atta, carrying Clay Mosby's illegitimate child, had been the proverbial 'last straw.' A man prone to bouts of deep depression, such as Clay Mosby was known for, could only be expected to assimilate so much misfortune and heartache before his sanity would be questioned. He now believed the warning the old Creole woman had told him -- he was destined to never father a son, or any child for that matter.

"This is ridiculous, Clay! You . . . you . . . don't even have a plan," Robert Shelby blurted. He sometimes stuttered when he became angered and tried to talk too fast. "Where will you sleep? Where will you go?"

"I don't know, Robert. At the moment, I do not particularly care what happens." Clay was subdued, his voice monotone, lacking the usual Mosby attitude.

"Damn it, Clay! You can't . . . just go riding off by yourself. I'll go with you."

"No, Robert. I truly need to get away -- it's too painful, losing Ashley and Suzanne." Clay shook his head in despair. "Two babies that will never breath or see the light of day."

"It wasn't your fault, Clay. Neither death was your fault."

"And yet I'm alive and they are dead," Clay remarked. "It's quite perplexing, Robert, isn't it?"

"What's perplexing, Clay?"

"That so many around me have fallen while I somehow continue to stand."

"Clay, stop it!" Robert ordered. "You did this once before -- during the war. I watched you charge head-first into the Yankee lines just daring them to kill you. You have that same damn look now, Clay. I don't like it."

"No man lives forever, Robert." Clay smiled at his closest friend. "I have taken the liberty to sign the Ambrosia over to you, in case I do not return."

"Clay, you're scaring me with that kind of talk," Robert said. "This is your saloon -- it'll be here the same as it is now."

Clay pulled on his brown leather duster -- it was likely to snow at any time, it being the beginning of winter -- Christmas only a few days away. "Leave Miss Carpenter alone, Robert. Let her enjoy owning the hotel -- at least until after Christmas. When I return we shall discuss a suitable arrangement for reclaiming my hotel." He held out his hand.

Robert pulled Clay close to him, hugging his dearest friend. "You're insane, you know that, Clay?"

Clay laughed. "I suspect you might be correct in regards to that disturbing assumption, Robert." He stared at him. "I'll be fine, Captain Shelby. I fully intend to be back in the comfort of my saloon -- sitting near my wood stove in a day or two."

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

The substantial amount of feathers -- scattered in large piles, three of them -- led Gretchen Call to believe either a coyote or fox had killed a bird. Meadowlark, no doubt, by the colors and stripes. Puzzled by the three separate areas of feathers, Gretchen could find no carcass -- not even the legs or beak of the dead bird. Cradling her and Newt's tiny infant daughter, Becky, Gretchen picked up a solid tree branch, the size of a skinny man's forearm, and cautiously searched out behind the barn.

"Well, whatever killed that poor bird didn't waste any time running off with it . . . poor bird," she sighed, dropping the makeshift weapon near the backside of the barn and walking around to where she could stare off to the east. "Your papa should be home soon, Becky." She held the infant in both hands, staring lovingly into her blue eyes. The white nightgown with the multi-colored little butterflies and flowers that Gretchen had made was too big for the tiny baby, baggy around the shoulders and neck, hanging nearly six inches below her tiny feet. "This will be your very first Christmas, Becky Bug," Gretchen informed her daughter as she planted a warm kiss on the infant's mouth. "Your papa is going to bring us out and cut down a tree we can decorate."

"Gretchen? Where are . . .? Oh! There you are."

Gretchen turned toward the small house, noticing her younger sister, Paige, come out of the house. "There are piles of feathers behind the barn, Paige. Some animal caught a poor bird and disappeared with it." She paused, aware that her sister, now two months along on her first pregnancy, seemed pale. "Oh, Paige," she groaned, "are you feeling sick again?"

Paige nodded, frowning. "How did you and Victoria manage, Gretchen? It's awful -- feeling this way." She rubbed her stomach. "Gretchen?"

"What, Boo?"

"We've been so very fortunate, haven't we? I mean, the three of us -- me and you and Victoria."

"Yes, I suppose we have been most fortunate," Gretchen replied.

Paige nodded. "I know we've had some very close calls and nearly died at times but we didn't, did we, Gretchen? We didn't die. All three of us have survived and married. Soon, we'll all be mothers." She suddenly burst into tears.

"Paige?! What's wrong?" Gretchen asked. From her own experience, she knew a young, pregnant woman could become extremely emotional at any moment. She shivered, feeling the cold winter wind's sting. "Let's get inside, Paige. It's too cold for Becky to be outside without her hat and coat."

"I feel so bad for Suzanne Van Atta," Paige stammered. "First Mrs. Mosby was murdered, carrying a child -- now, Mrs. Van Atta lies buried in a lonely grave. I was never very friendly to her sister, Beth."

"She was never friendly to any of us, Paige," Gretchen reminded her. "She was mean, she was after my husband, and she was extremely rude."

Paige walked inside, sitting near the fireplace where a warm fire burned. "This must sound silly but I'll miss her now that she's gone back to Michigan."

Gretchen cast a puzzled gaze at her sister. "The two of you argued mercilessly with each other, Paige. Why would you miss her?"

Paige cried some more, shaking her head. "I don't know, Gretchen -- I just do."

"Call and Boone should be home soon," Gretchen mentioned. "Why don't you lie down in Becky's room and rest some? You can take a nap with Becky."

Paige allowed Gretchen to guide her into the baby's room.

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

Sometimes the stage had a layover in Curtis Wells -- most times it stopped just long enough to unload passengers then rode off toward its next destination. Luther Root jumped down from the driver's box, his assignment as shotgun rider concluded for a few days, then began to unstrap the rear boot, grabbing five pieces of luggage -- three for a well-dressed gentleman and two for a simple, but nicely- dressed young woman.

"Take 'em away, Amos," Luther hollered to the old driver, then turned to the pair in the street. "You folks together?"

"I should say not!" the young woman replied, causing Luther to laugh at her fiery attitude.

"Just carry my things to the hotel, old chap," the middle aged gentleman said, "and I shall be golden."

"Sure thing, mister," Luther nodded. "Uh, sorry, ma'am. Just follow me -- it's across the street right over there."

"Luther! Luther!" The voice belonged to Unbob Finch, who hobbled quickly from the gunsmith shop down the street. "Can we go fishing now?"

"Howdy, Unbob," Luther smiled. "Uh, 'fraid not -- leastways not today. I tell you what, though. Once I fill my belly with some of Amanda's cooking and sleep in a real bed, we can go catch us a whole bunch of trout early tomorrow morning."

Unbob nodded, smiling happily. "Well, that'd be real fine, Luther. Dewey's got a half-can of worms saved up. Can he go with us?"

"Sure thing, Unbob. Long as Mattie says so. I gotta get these folks set up inside the Dove. I'll meet you here before first light."

Unbob rushed back down the street to ask Mattie about Dewey. Luther opened one of the doors to the hotel and ushered the passengers inside.

Leaning against one of the stout dining room posts, Mason Dobbs observed Robert Shelby wipe his mouth with a napkin then rise to leave and return to the Ambrosia. "Dobbs," Robert nodded.

"How do, Johnny Reb," Mason replied. "I like your room," he said with a big grin then winked at Robert.

"Damn Texans," Robert grumbled, knowing Mason referred to the hotel room he had stayed in before Amanda reclaimed the hotel from an unaware Clay Mosby. Robert paid little attention to Luther and the two passengers as he marched outside. He was concerned about Clay's welfare.

With Amanda Carpenter busy serving lunches, Mason strolled over to where the guest register book sat. "Howdy, Luther. Folks."

"Howdy, Mason. These here folks need rooms -- they ain't together."

"I should hope we are not together!" the young woman said, with contempt.

"Well, then, ladies first," Mason said, drawn to the woman's outspokenness. She dressed well -- a red dress with black and green plaid stripes crisscrossing, as well as a matching cape. Her dark brown hair was piled high, a black hat with large red ribbon complimenting her smart outfit. Mason liked her hazel eyes, and the fire that smoldered within them.

"I'm bound for Mosby's saloon," Luther loudly proclaimed. "I'm as thirsty as a mudhen on a tin roof. See you, Mason."

Mason Dobbs nodded but never let his eyes stray from the young woman. "Sign the register and I'll carry your bags upstairs, Senorita."

"I only have two pieces of luggage and I can carry them just fine, thank you. I carried them all the way from Denver, sir." She dipped the pen into the inkwell then wrote in fine script, Miss Clementine Hale.

Mason waved Ike over. "Take care of this gent -- I'll carry Miss Hale's bags up to her room."

The young woman's tone changed. "How very kind of you, Mr. . . .?"

"Dobbs. Mason Dobbs, ma'am."

Clementine Hale smiled, following Mason up the stairs.

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

Christmas had never meant much to men like Newt Call or Boone Mackinaw. But they each had a wife now -- one with a baby, the other with one on the way. With Christmas only three days away, both men would be required to embrace the tradition, if only for the sake of their wives.

"I'm obliged to you, Call," Boone said, the determined pair holding a string of three and two untamed mustangs that Call would have to break once they returned home. "Stopping in Miles City so I could buy Paige a necklace for Christmas was mighty kind of you."

Call shrugged. "I reckon you helped me with these horses. Besides, breaking these mounts will wear me out -- I ain't set on your wife needling me about not letting you buy her a present."

"Aw, come on now, Wild Dog," Boone joshed, "Paige never dumped my supper on the porch like your wife did." He laughed, remembering Gretchen pouring out Call's stew on the porch for Runt when they showed up two hours late for supper.

Call nodded. "I ain't hardly been late since."

"Hey, Call?" Boone asked, as the pair neared home, "I'm pleased you took me to Hat Creek instead of Concho."

Call pulled up, causing Boone to do the same. They noticed Clay Mosby riding in the distance.

"Think maybe we should go pester him a mite, huh, Call?" Boone suggested.

Call frowned, shaking his head. "I reckon not. The man's been through a sizable amount of grief. Best leave him be." He knew Mosby had a bellyful of grief to sort out -- losing his wife and another woman that had carried his child. Even Call had his limits as to just how much he was willing to agitate a man. For one of the very few times in his life, he felt compassion for Mosby, knowing he needed to be alone right now.

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

Clay Mosby had a secret. A painful secret even Robert Shelby hadn't grasped the true depth of its consuming scar. It was assumed that most men -- if a child were dropped in their lap -- wanted a son, a male to carry on the family name. A sure sign of virility and ego. The plain truth was men who really loved their wives desired not only a son, but a daughter as well -- a little girl who would resemble her mother in looks and mannerisms.

During the late war between the states Clay Mosby had dreamt of a daughter that bore a likeness to his Mary. A precious child that had dark hair and a magical laugh like Mary. On several occasions he gave pause while proud fellow officers or enlisted men read aloud letters from home -- little girls writing, I love you, Daddy, or I miss you, Papa. There had been no reason to consider that he would be mercilessly passed over -- destined to tread the dusty earth without his seed procreating. It was a fact he now accepted. Every attempt had been snuffed out like a dying match. It was no longer mere coincidence. Losing two unborn children in two months -- the old Creole woman had been right.

Clay hadn't noticed Call or Boone as he rode out onto the vast, cold plains of early winter. He had only a vague notion of where he was going -- an even vaguer idea of where he might end up. He only knew that he needed to find himself involved in a head-on collision, a train wreck. He was consumed by the perpetually constant voice whispering in his ear, wondering why he had survived while so many around him had fallen. With the senseless death of Suzanne Van Atta and her unborn child, Clay's mind had broken through all sanity and was racing head-first, and in fact, had reached the tip of rationality.

As he rode to the rim of a small rise he caught sight of two buffalo bulls grazing in the valley, two or three hundred yards away. Then, he noticed two hostiles, most likely renegade Cheyenne, opposite him, on the far end of the valley. They seemed to be observing him as well. The hostiles suddenly let out a loud cry and charged into the valley. Clay drew his pistol and charged straight for the Cheyenne warriors, a madman ready to kill or be killed.

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

It was the same routine done one week earlier -- lead the untamed mustangs into the corral, then come inside the house and eat. Boone and his pregnant wife, Paige, had returned to their own home, leaving Call and Gretchen alone with their infant daughter. As Gretchen finished preparing a meal for her family Call held Becky in his arms. The tiny baby, now almost four months old, was happy to see her father. As he held Becky close -- tucking his chin and cheek against her little head, he could feel her heart beat against his chest. It was a strong heart beat. Her little breath was cause for Call to smile contently, until he suddenly said, "ouch! She just pulled my hair, Gretchen!"

Gretchen turned from the stove, laughing, her green eyes full of joy. "She's tugging your hair like I do, Call, sweetheart."

"She sure does have herself a strong grip there," Call replied, gently pulling Becky's tiny hand away from his hair. He began to hiccup loudly. Becky immediately started laughing and giggling at the sounds. Call tilted his head, staring at his daughter in amazement.

"Papa has kick-ups, Becky Bug," Gretchen intoned as she took the infant from her husband and kissed the baby.

"Kick-ups?" Call mumbled, a puzzled look on his face.

Gretchen nodded. "Yes, Call. Mama used to play those games with us when we were little. She used slightly different words to say things sometimes. I suppose it's something mothers do with their children." She broke out in laughter, shaking her head. "Although, I don't expect you to ever talk that way to Becky, or any other children we have." Gretchen tenderly opened Becky's mouth. "Look, Call. Becky has four teeth coming in -- two on top and two on the bottom. Those are your teefers, Miss Rebecca Maggie Call."

Call shook his head. Every day it seemed he was learning something new, where wives and babies were concerned.

"Can the three of us go out tomorrow and cut down a Christmas tree for Becky? Can we, Call?"

"I reckon so," he replied. "Them horses me and Boone brought back ain't expected up at Hat Creek for a couple weeks. We can take Runt with us. My guess is he'll like running around out there."

Gretchen leaned close to her husband, kissing him, then biting his lower lip. "Anything you say, Call."

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

When the two hostiles charged into the valley, the pair of buffalo bulls scattered across the brown grassy plains. The Cheyenne warriors ignored the beasts, instead letting out blood curdling cries in an attempt to frighten Mosby. When they saw the bearded man wearing the brown leather duster charge fearlessly for them they both hesitated. Charging from the west, where the sinking sun cast Mosby as a shadowy figure momentarily caused both Cheyenne to wonder if a bad spirit from the dark world was riding toward them.

"Iye lecela wi ca<sa" ("It is only a man"), one Cheyenne said.

"Taku yaka" ("What do you mean!"), the other quickly replied.

"Wayate! Iye yuha pe<hin na nu<ge na i sta< na i<te. Iye tawaci te!" ("See! He has hair and ears and eyes and a face. He will die!"), the first said. They let out another loud cry and charged straight for Mosby.

Clay Mosby, now teetering on the edge of sanity, rode straight for the savage Cheyenne, as fearless as he had been on occasion during his courageous charges in the Virginia Campaign. His eyes blazed -- unflinching as he held his pistol steady, nearing the hard-riding Indians.

One of the Cheyenne suddenly leaned forward against the pony's mane and fired his rifle, the bullet whizzing by, inches from Mosby's head. As both sides drew near each other Clay fired at the other Cheyenne, who was now aiming his rifle even as he sat straight on the bareback pony. The .45 slug ripped into the naked brown chest of the Cheyenne, knocking him completely off his pony. Clay and the other Cheyenne warrior passed each other and turned their horses with sudden swiftness. The Cheyenne was quicker -- his pony being smaller and lighter -- and jumped off into the tall brown grass. The Cheyenne reached Clay just as he turned his mount around and with his knife drawn, used his free hand to pull Clay out of his saddle, onto the ground.

Clay drove his gun handle into the Cheyenne's face just as the savage sliced his knife down Clay's left arm, ripping open his duster and tearing into flesh. "That was a good shirt," Clay said angrily, noticing his blood staining the ripped shirt. When the Cheyenne raised his arm to drive his knife into Clay's chest, Clay cocked his gun and shot the Indian in the stomach. The Cheyenne groaned and sunk to his knees, dropping his blood-stained knife in the brown grass. While the Cheyenne curled up, his insides burning as if on fire, waiting to journey to the Sky House, Clay ignored his own stinging cut and turned to take account of the first Cheyenne he had shot. The Indian lay motionless, his face in the cold, winter grass.

Clay Mosby thought briefly about how he had once again cheated death. He considered how these dead Cheyenne renegades would not have hesitated to remove him of his fine head of hair, had they killed him. It would have indeed been a praiseworthy trophy on any warrior's lance, his fine mane of dark, curly hair. He looked over both bodies. Neither savage had anything Clay wanted -- only animal claw necklaces and foolish trinkets, something someone like Newt Call or Boone Mackinaw might wear. But, not Clay.

He cast a glance at his sliced arm. He had been fortunate -- the blade had barely cut into his flesh. It would soon stop bleeding, requiring no stitches. He went and mounted his horse, taking one last look at the dead Cheyenne laying on the barren plains. The two buffalo had run off. It was just as well. Clay didn't fancy the so-called delicacy of buffalo liver. He rode off. He had purchased a ticket to the edge of sanity and intended to get his money's worth.

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

By the time darkness cast its blanket across the starless sky, Mason Dobbs was ready for a hot bath. The Lonesome Dove Hotel boasted a single bath tub, sitting pretty in a smallish public room that required a key to enter the solitary chamber. Mason found himself in a mood to bathe, it being a cold wintry night.

Upon completion of lugging bucket after heavy bucket of hot water up the stairs and down the hall to the tub, he closed the door, eagerly anticipating the hot, soothing waters -- Mason being accustomed to the heat of the Southwest, and not favorable to the cold of Montana.

"Aw, damn!" he groaned with disappointment, clad only in his longjohns -- his shirt and britches draped over the one wooden chair in the room, his boots lying on the floorboards. "I forgot my soap." He opened the door, looking up and down the hallway so as not to offend anyone with his underwear, then walked quickly to his room, only a few doors away. He went inside and found a small chunk of soap sitting near the wash bowl on the maple bureau, next to the mirror and comb that was missing a few teeth. Grabbing the soap, he headed back to enjoy his hot bath, only to find the door closed. Trying the brass handle, Mason found the door locked from the inside. "Well, who . . . ? Hey?" he pounded on the door. "That's my bath!" He jiggled the handle. "Come on! Open up. Who's in there?"

"None of your business," came a woman's voice.

"Miss Hale?" Mason repiled.

"Is that you, Mr. Dobbs?"

"Yes, it's me," Mason answered, irritably. He shook the handle again. "You come out of there right now -- that's my bath."

"Well, you're quite brash, Mr. Dobbs." There was a loud sigh from inside the locked room. "And here I thought the hotel did it just for me."

"The hotel didn't do it just for you, Miss Hale," Mason remarked. "Are you coming out of there or do I have to come inside?"

"You do and I'll scream at the top of my lungs," Clementine promised. "And I can scream quite loud, too!"

Amanda Carpenter, hearing the yelling upstairs, went up to investigate the situation. "Nice outfit, Mason," she commented, grinning at the embarrassed man in underwear. Amanda laughed and went back downstairs.

"Mr. Dobbs? Are you still outside there?" Clementine asked.

"I'll wager I never live this one down," he muttered.

"I have an idea, Mr. Dobbs," Clementine suggested.

"I can't wait to hear it," he frowned.

"You can make it up to me for nearly ruining my bath by inviting me to dinner tomorrow night."

Mason was silent for a moment then he smiled. "That suits me just fine, Senorita."

"Oh, good," Clementine replied. "Now, if you would just let me enjoy my bath."

Mason suddenly realized his clothes were locked inside. "Hey! My clothes -- what about my clothes?"

"Well, you can get them once I'm finished, can't you? Really, Mr. Dobbs. I'm trying to take a bath."

Mason shook his head and walked slowly back to his room -- no bath, no clothes.

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

A light snow had dusted the rooftops and ground during the night -- it now being Saturday, December 23, 1882. The middle aged gentleman who had gotten off the stage with Clementine Hale stood in front of the Dove with Josiah Peale and his son, Sheriff Austin Peale.

"Delightful little village, Peale," the gentleman remarked. He sported a partially bald head with gray around the sides of his ears, a thin, well-trimmed gray mustache, and a portly stomach. "Alas and alack -- not quite up to par. Dreadful. We shall have to do something about that. Adjustments are required at times. Quite necessary, in fact."

"Oh," Josiah replied, noticing Mattie Shaw drag herself toward the hotel for breakfast. "Lord Falmouth," Josiah said, "permit me to introduce you to our town gunsmith, Miss Mattie Shaw."

Mattie, still half asleep from the early morning ruckus and commotion caused by Luther and Unbob as they came calling for Dewey to go fishing, just stared at the well-dressed Englishman.

"Lord Percival Falmouth, from Wolverhampton -- in the heart of England." He studied Mattie for a moment. "Odd maiden. Whatever would possess such a fine-looking lass to wear long pants like some bloody bloke off the street?"

Mattie, irritable from lack of sleep, glared at the foreigner. "You may talk strange, but I don't take kindly to being insulted." She wrapped her hand around the handle of her Peacemaker and said, "don't be stepping on me."

Austin laughed quietly, watching Mattie give the Englishman a sharp reply, then go inside the hotel.

Josiah began to offer a fumbled apology when the Englishman waved him off. "Nonsense, my dear fellow. Nonsense. She is quite a tart. A Delilah in trousers." His thoughts immediately turned to lustful images of himself and Miss Shaw. "A spirited wench such as she would no doubt provoke vigorous tupping. Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Peale?"

"Yes, I suppose," Josiah stammered. "Perhaps we could discuss your investment plans, Sir Percival?"

"Not now, my good man. Can't you see that little tart has given me quite an appetite. We shall speak later, old chap."

Josiah watched as Lord Falmouth entered the hotel but didn't sit near Mattie, choosing instead a table about as far away from her as possible, where he could admire her.

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

The deadly engagement that had occurred one day earlier with the savage Cheyenne had left Clay Mosby feeling invincible. For a man who hated the bitter cold of the northern plains, Clay found it strange as he shook off the fresh snow from his bedroll that it hadn't disturbed him -- in fact, it was cause for stimulation, making him feel alive.

Clay mounted up and rode off in a northwestern direction, toward one of the smaller branches of the Missouri River. Crossing the chill waters of a shallow stream he climbed the muddy bank of a cottonwood-lined clump and hesitated. The obvious and sensible choice was to follow the river bank. Instead, Clay noticed a thin trail of wispy smoke silently rising above a thick expanse of pines maybe two hundred yards away up a rocky bluff to his right. At first glance, it appeared as if it would be a great challenge to maneuver the almost-sheer bluff but Clay's horse was sure-footed and for reasons unknown even to himself, he decided to investigate. Having been witness to two deaths of women carrying his babies in such a brief period temporarily made him want to inflict punishment on anyone deserving of his wrath. The pair of bloodthirsty Cheyenne yesterday were deserving -- having taken it upon themselves to determine he should die at their savage hands. He killed them -- perhaps there was someone else deserving of punishment where the trail of smoke originated from, up upon the scaly bluff?

Clay Mosby laughed as he ascended the bluff. He now understood why Newt Call had become a cold-blooded killer -- a bounty hunter, after Josiah Peale's daughter had been killed. It made a man lose his sanity -- wanting to punish those considered outlaws by civilized society with extreme punishment and merciless destruction.

When Clay reached the top he paused, surprised to find nearly a dozen Indian lodges. The camp seemed almost deserted -- two skinny children with sticks were beating an even skinnier dog, one squaw held a crying baby, one squaw was cooking the remains of one of their own dogs over a wooden spit. Clay had determined to ride back down the bluff when an old, white-haired Indian approached and lifted his arm in a peaceful gesture.

"No white eyes ever come here," he said slowly, in English. "You are brave. Come. We shall smoke and talk in my lodge."

Clay nodded and dismounted. The women and children stared at him then went back to what they were doing before he came upon their village. Clay followed the old man into a lodge that was set apart from the rest of the camp.

"Sit," the old man said, more as a suggestion than a command. "Do you know where you are?"

Clay shook his head, wondering if he should have carried his Winchester with him.

"This is a Blackfeet camp," the old man informed him.

"You're Blackfoot?" Clay replied.

"No. I am a Blackfeet. Only the white-eyes call one of us Blackfoot. It is wrong -- one is still a Blackfeet. This is the clan of Bearclaw -- he is not here. He is far away in the north, hunting."

Clay tensed. He had heard Old Curtis talk of Bearclaw, the ferocious Blackfeet chief, when he brought his gold dust into Curtis Wells a few years earlier.

The old man lit a long wooden pipe and handed it to Clay. "I can tell you are on a long journey. This will help you to find your way or it will show you what you need to see."

Clay reached out cautiously, taking the pipe. The old man nodded as Mosby smoked deeply.

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

It had been a disaster right from the beginning. Unbob had slipped and fallen into the frigid waters, scaring away any fish they might have caught. Dewey laughed so hard he peed in his pants. To cover the smell, he waded in ankle deep and cupped water in his hands, throwing it on his pants. Luther informed him he still looked like he peed in his pants so Dewey waded in till the cold waters soaked him to the waist. Deciding it had been a mistake to bring Unbob and Dewey, Luther went back to town, his wet companions tailing close behind.

With chores done, Unbob and Dewey hung around the empty field behind town. Occasionally they would load small rocks into Dewey's slingshot and try to hit a tree or a bird. They watched as a hawk glided in large circles high above them in the cold winter sky. The usually chattering birds that constantly flew from one tree to another at the field's edge had all taken refuse in the protective safety of branches in nearby trees -- suddenly growing silent, as they waited for the predator to move further away in its search.

Quickly losing interest in the soaring hawk, Dewey persuaded Unbob to share in a harmless prank he had just concocted. Crossing the street by the gunsmith shop, the pair slipped between the drug store and Twyla's. Florie, standing on the small porch out behind the sporting club cast an intimidating and hostile glare at the young orphan boy. Clean laundry had been recently hung to dry on the clothesline between the two buildings and undergarments were known to sometimes disappear -- although no one could ever prove just who the culprit was.

Dewey shot a sly glance up at Florie and quietly hurried away. Florie had never bore a child and was in fact completely lacking in motherly instincts. Most of the women that ended up being prostitutes hated men for one reason or another. They had been overlooked or ignored as younger women and had grown bitter with men, in general. Most despised the men who paid to violate them sexually. Only a small handful of whores actually enjoyed fornicating and those were the ones who became well known and financially successful.

"You'll see," is all Dewey would say, when pressed by Unbob as to the intended prank. The pair lingered among the transients in tent town until Dewey spotted his victim. When Ike entered the wooden outhouse behind Twyla's, Dewey silently stalked his prey like a cat closing in on an unsuspecting bird. He tip-toed to the side of the small enclosure and listened until he heard Ike pull his trousers down, unbutton the back-flap of his longjohns, then carefully sit on the rough-hewn wood. He heard Ike shuffling through the pile of sheets of the Montana Statesman, searching for a fairly recent article he hadn't read. As soon as Ike settled in and began the arduous task of grunting -- as if the noise would stir his bowels into performing their function, Dewey stepped in front of the locked outhouse door and knocked loudly. He grabbed the wood handle and began rattling it -- shaking the wooden door.

At first, Ike remained silent.Only when the pounding and knocking continued ceaselessly did Ike finally respond. "It's being used! Find another one!"

Dewey grinned at Unbob, who hadn't decided if he should laugh or be afraid. Dewey then scampered around the back of the outhouse, stuck his tongue between his lips and blew loud, making sounds of air. He kicked the back of the outhouse repeatedly, tightening his jaw so he wouldn't let Ike hear him burst out in laughter. Suddenly hearing Ike shuffling to button his pants, Dewey turned to run, abandoning his partner, Unbob. He bounced off the tall, sturdy figure of Sheriff Austin Peale, who immediately grabbed him by his arm.

"Uh oh," he mumbled, looking up at the sheriff. "Howdy, Sheriff Peale, sir. Nice weather we're having."

Austin collared Dewey, lifting him off the ground as if he weighed no more than a spade or pick. "What're you up to now, Dewey?"

"Uh, nothing, Sheriff, sir. Your Highness. I have to make business real bad." He shoved his forearm between his legs as Austin lowered him and began to wiggle impatiently. "I gotta go something awful," he pretended, then ran off, leaving the much-slower Unbob on his own.

Austin sniffed. "Smells like you already made business."

Ike swung the door open, still buttoning his trousers. He was ready to show his anger and glared at Austin, then stomped off, grumbling about privacy.

"Get out of here, Unbob," Austin ordered.

"Yes sir, Sheriff Peale," Unbob replied and hurried back to the gunsmith shop.

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

Call climbed up onto the springy bench seat, next to his wife and infant daughter. Gretchen held Becky, who sat in her mother's lap, smiling. Call paused, enjoying the carefree moment.

"Watch this, Call," Gretchen said, smiling warmly at her husband. She held both of Becky's tiny hands in her hands and raised them to Becky's mouth. "This is Becky's mouth. This is Becky's nose," she intoned, touching their hands to the infant's tiny nose. This is Becky's eyes -- this is Becky's ears." Each time touching the right part. "Now, Becky, where's your nose?"

The happy baby raised her hands to her mouth.

"No, Becky," Gretchen laughed, "that's your mouth. Isn't she wonderful, Call?"

Call nodded. "Yep. I'd say so. We best get that tree -- it's snowing some but it might get a notion to come down harder. You sure Becky's dressed warm enough, Gretchen?"

"Yes, Call," Gretchen replied. "I know how to dress our daughter for the snow." She pushed the baby at Call. "Here, Mr. Smarty Pants! You take care of her, then. Do you know what's best for our daughter? Do I tell you how to tame those wild horses you ride for the Captain?"

"Nope," Call laughed. "I reckon you made your point, Coyote Girl." He snapped the reins, leading the wagon away and turned to Gretchen, who now cradled their infant daughter against her chest. "You getting a mite angry?"

"No, Call. I think I know, though, how to take care of a baby. My mother taught me."

"Just so's you ain't mad," he said.

Gretchen leaned close and kissed him, then bit his lower lip hard.

"Ouch! What'd you do that for?" he replied, staring at her.

She laughed, her green eyes widening. "Once we get back with our tree we can go in the bedroom and make up proper, Call." She smiled coyly at him.

"Sounds good," he agreed, anxious to find a tree, cut it down, and return home with his wife and daughter.

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

I'll wager you enjoyed that hot bath last night, Miss Hale," Mason Dobbs said, holding out a chair for the young woman who was to be his dinner partner.

"Oh, do we have to be so formal, Mr. Dobbs? Why don't you call me Clementine? Or, Clem? And I'll call you Mason. Agreed?"

"It's a groundhog case, Clementine." Mason winked as he sat next to her. The Lonesome Dove Hotel's dining room was fairly crowded, folks eating now that their stores and businesses had closed for the day. Dr. Ephraim Cleese sat with his wife, Victoria and their nearly five month old son, Daniel. Robert Shelby dined with Mattie Shaw, who asked him to join her in order to dissuade the overbearing Englishman, Lord Percival Falmouth, who dined alone nearby and continued to sneak looks at the female gunsmith in the tight pants. Austin Peale dined with Luther Root, who laughed loud and long as Austin retold the incident concerning Dewey and the outhouse from earlier in the day.

"Good," Clementine replied. "Now that we're on first names, we can talk more open." Clementine asked Mason to tell her something about each person that dined in the hotel, which Mason proceeded to do, until he came to the older gentleman from England, which he knew nothing about. Clementine found herself smiling, laughing, and on occasion, blushing as she thoroughly enjoyed his company. When Mason questioned her, Clementine's answers were vague and mysterious.

When dinner and two cups of coffee each were concluded, Clementine suggested the two take a slow stroll around town, which Mason eagerly agreed to. He walked her down the side of the Dove, crossing at Twyla's, passing the Theatre of The West, then up the other side -- the freight and transfer, assayer, gunsmith, and the combination mining supplies and Doc Cleese's upstairs office. They sat on the long wooden bench near the general merchant -- the one boasting colorful advertisements on the wall behind it, like Ceresota Flour. When Clementine smiled at Mason he tried to steal a kiss but she turned her face, Mason kissing the side of her head.

"Why, Mr. Dobbs! We hardly are acquainted. Besides, we have more important matters to discuss right now. Sparking will just have to wait."

"Important matters?" Mason replied. "Such as . . . ?"

"Such as the real reason I'm here in Curtis Wells," Clementine answered. She groaned slightly. "I hadn't expected you to be quite so charming."

Mason smiled, puffing up his chest. "I'm charming, Senorita?"

"Yes, you are quite charming, Mason the 'Mesilla Kid' Dobbs." Clem's face appeared downcast.

"I think you have me confused with some other . . ."

"Here! Look at this," Clementine insisted, extracting a folded piece of paper from her handbag. She unfolded it, showing Mason a wanted poster from New Mexico with his name, Mason Dobbs, the Mesilla Kid. A two thousand dollar reward was offered for his capture.

"So, now what, Senorita?" Mason remained unusually calm. Capturing him might be one thing -- bringing him all the way back to the Territory of New Mexico was a whole other story. "Is it your intension to try and bring me back to Nuevo Mexico?"

"It is my intension to get you to help me," Clementine said, offering a convincing smile.

"I'd venture to say all you had to do was ask and I'd be ready, willing, and able to help you in a flash, Clem."

Clementine frowned. "Well . . . I need you to do something . . . that's not legal -- but it's for a good cause."

"Good cause or not," Mason replied, "my days of ill ways and loose living are over. I'm trying to change my spots."

Clementine Hale met Mason's eyes head on. "Well, Mr. Mesilla Kid, you'll just have to wait a little longer to change those spots because I'm not taking 'no' for an answer. You'll help me or I'll send a telegram to the Territorial Marshal." She smiled and waved the wanted poster.

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

When Clay Mosby opened his eyes, he realized he was completely naked -- stripped of every article of clothing he had worn. To his even greater astonishment, a young Cheyenne woman had aroused his manhood, placing it inside her smooth, brown body, slowly raising and lowering herself on top of him, her waist length black hair caressing his stomach like silk. His eyes were heavy and blurry -- his hair, sweaty and wet, clung to his face like paste. He knew he wasn't dreaming and it couldn't be a vision because he felt his seed explode deep inside the Cheyenne woman.

As Clay tried to shake off the drug-induced effects of the pipe he had smoked, realizing that he was in an unenviable situation of possible helplessness, the flap to the lodge was suddenly thrown open and three Blackfeet warriors stormed inside. The naked young brown woman was pulled roughly off of Clay, exposing his still-seeping manhood. One of the Blackfeet struck the young woman across the face, knocking her hard to the buffalo robe-covered floor. He grabbed her and smashed a stone-headed club against her head. She crumpled to the floor, either dying or already dead. Clay struggled to gain his feet -- his legs heavy and wobbly feeling. His mind was clouded, part of him just wanted to close his eyes and sleep -- part of him could feel panic welling up inside his chest.

"Econ niye woglake Sihasapa?" ("Do you talk Blackfeet?") one of the painted warriors asked Clay. Clay just stared at the warrior, as if in a stupor, not understanding the words.

"He is Mato Sake. Bearclaw," the Indian said, pointing to a ferocious looking Piegan wearing a buffalo horned headdress with a trailer of eagle feathers and bear fur. Ugly scars were tattooed across his face from battles past and grasped a large, sharp, blood-stained knife in one of his hands.

Somewhere in the far off darkness of his mind, Clay remembered hearing tales about how vicious and deadly the Blackfeet Indians had been in combat with their enemies, either other tribes or whites.

"Niye tawaci te!" ("You will die!") Bearclaw growled, his eyes black and cold, penetrating Clay's flesh. Bearclaw suddenly and swiftly cut off the naked Clay Mosby's genitals.

Clay felt a sharp, burning pain as he stared, unbelieving. His heart pounded fast, he couldn't control his arms or legs, they wouldn't move. Everything went black and deeply silent as Bearclaw scalped Clay Mosby, taking a layer of flesh along with his dark mane, leaving a bloody raw skull. He then gouged Clay's eyes out as the other two Blackfeet hacked at his body, severing his arms and slicing open his belly, his thighs. They hacked the flesh away from his forearms and crushed his skull with a stone-headed club. They ripped chunks of his dark beard out with their bare hands and hacked at his innards until they had disemboweled him then dragged the ghastly remains out of the lodge for the dogs and the children to feast on.

Clay Mosby had paid for a ticket, a fearless trip to face death and had lost himself as he drew too near the border of sanity.

++++++++++ Continued in Next Installment ++++++++++

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