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.


It Comes With the Territory, Part 2
(58th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to love and a time to hate....

(Ecclesiastes 3 -- Holy Bible)

"Back off, Call -- I warned you," Boone Mackinaw ordered. Bam! It was like cold hands slamming a thick tree branch against a stone wall -- painful vibrations pulsing through palms and fingers -- a lightning-like flash striking the long barrel of the rifle. The weapon fell from Boone's hands.

"Don't shoot him, Mason," Call replied. "I promised Paige we wouldn't hurt him -- unless there weren't no other way."

Boone, a wild animalistic glare in his eyes, drew both knives from their sheaths and charged Mason. Call cut off the line of attack by throwing his body like a weapon into the legs of the crazed mountain man, knocking them to the hard terrain. Yelling like a cornered beast, Boone swung his right hand behind him, barely grazing the quickly ducking Call in the shoulder. Call managed to grab Boone's hand before he could slash again.

"His other hand! Grab it, Mason!"

Mason Dobbs dropped on Boone, digging his knee into Boone's wrist, pinning his hand against the flattened grass. Both Call and Mason knew this moment favored Boone in close combat. It was common sense that even if four men were attempting to restrain and subdue another man, the four were not in offensive or attacking mind sets -- the one, such as Boone, his mind wild, was attacking violently and the outcome favored him.

"Aaarrgghhhh!" Boone yelled, thrashing his body with furious abandon. The heel of one boot kicking Call in the stomach, knocking him to the ground as if he had been stomped by one of the free-roaming mustangs along the Milk River.

"Settle down, amigo!" Mason hollered, ducking the knife's search for flesh and blood.

Boone kicked again, this time making solid contact with Mason's jaw. Stumbling back slightly dazed from the blow, Mason reached for one of his pistols. Boone bound to his feet and ran off toward the cottonwoods and chokecherry bushes, leaving his kit near the stream.

"Don't shoot, Mason," Call said, again. He gazed toward the slight grade where Boone had disappeared and shook his head. "Damn him!" He hesitated, thinking. "We can't kill him. I can't do that to Paige."

"Might be it comes down to us or him, Newt." Mason's tongue darted out, licking the thin line of blood dribbling from the side of his mouth. "There's something mighty strange about him. He ain't himself -- he's loco."

Call frowned. He never should have allowed Gretchen to talk him into this. He had no business sticking his face in between a quarreling husband and wife. It wasn't his problem. Or, was is? What Gretchen said did make sense. He had married her, but in doing so, had also become an extended part of Victoria and Paige. He had saved the sisters on several occasions -- was this time any different?

"Come on, boy," Mason said. "You take the right flank -- I'll take the left. This is dirty business, tracking an amigo. He's deadly with those knives of his."

Call bent over, lifting a grotesque-looking tree branch.

"I'd venture to say Paige would prefer you split his skull open instead of busting his nose or some teeth, Newt."

"Ain't likely she'll favor any scars on his face," Call replied, angry.

Mason nodded in agreement. "Let's get this . . . !"

"Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Boone suddenly burst through the scattering of cottonwoods, both knives raised, charging toward the water's edge where Call and Mason stood.

Mason drew one of his guns. "Sorry, Newt -- he's too wild."

"Mason! Nooooo!"

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

Undaunted by the surprise rejection from the young Sioux warriors, the missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield, traveled southwest at a sullen pace. They had been there, just as Josiah Peale had wondered, when the Bannock and the Paiute tribes revolted years earlier. It only required the proper strategy. Indians, like all other races, could be manipulated. Samuel Barnaby Fairfield believed the Sioux would eventually respond as the other tribes had.

"Look, Samuel! One of them is approaching." Sigrid Fairfield pointed in the direction they had come from, the Sioux reservation. A lone rider rode with urgency. Most likely one of the young Sioux had come to tell the missionaries that they were willing to accept the guns and fight.

"We don't recall seeing you at the reservation," Mr. Fairfield addressed the lone Sioux. He noticed the rider on the buckskin pony seemed different than the rag-tag Indians they had met with earlier. This one had dark, brooding eyes. He wore a long black frock and white-brown beads wrapped four times around his neck.

Sigrid Fairfield experienced a tingling sensation at the nape of her neck. "How are you called? What is your name?"

The Indian glared at her, then her husband. "Go away and do not return. You will only cause my people to suffer. There are no longer enough of us to ride into battle against the whites."

"And, whom might you be?" Mr. Fairfield questioned. "You're a very unappreciative young man, if I do say so. Here we are, risking our lives to help your people. There are quite a few of us who harbor great hatred for the Union. We have access to many guns and rifles. We helped other tribes some years ago -- the Paiutes and . . . "

"Where are they now?" the Indian demanded.

"I must admit," Mr. Fairfield replied, "we have learned from our past mistakes. You would benefit now if only . . ."

"No! Go away! You cannot help us. If I see you near my people again, I will stain the grass with your blood." The Indian stared at them then turned to ride off.

"We need a martyr, Sigrid," Samuel Fairfield quietly said, grabbing the rifle that lay under the bench seat. "If he is found dead and it's reported that white men killed him, the others may be stirred into hatred and action." He cocked the lever and aimed at the Indian's back as he rode off, bouncing slightly on his pony. Bam! The Indian slumped forward then fell off his horse into the tall brown grass.

Mrs. Fairfield gasped. "There's another one -- out there. Hurry, Samuel! We must leave."

In the distance, another Indian was spotted. The rider rode quickly toward the fallen Indian as the Fairfield's snapped the reins, riding away.

The other rider, a woman, climbed off her pony and dropped to her knees, screaming, "Kan Gi<Sa! Mitawa hi! No!" ("Red Crow! My husband! No!")

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

Imaginary clouds of gloom and despair descended upon Paige Mackinaw. What had so recently been peaches and cream had become sour milk. She felt as if her mind was a kaleidoscope -- images and memories, colors and sounds, exploding inside her head. Emotions, like anger and fear, dominated her thoughts. How could something like this happen? She had hardly even spoken to Dish -- consumed with the threat of losing her husband. Dish was so loyal and dependable right now, waiting to fulfill her simplest need. Her need was Boone.

Cupping her hands over her swollen belly, she thought of the child she would soon give birth to. She was such a loving aunt to her sisters' babies -- now she was about to have her own child. She was frightened -- how would she support herself and the child? Laboring in a store all day would allow little time to nurture her baby as she desired.

She suddenly angered. How dare Boone Mackinaw leave. She felt violated. The only man she had ever known intimately. Her whole world, her foundation, cracked like a dropped egg. She wished she could run into her mother's open arms and be four years old again.

"Cousin Paige," Jenny Letts quietly said, just as Clay Mosby entered the hotel's dining room and passed their table. "If your husband is too thickheaded to realize what he's throwing away, then I say he belongs out there in the mountains like some greasy animal."

Clay paused. "Forgive my intrusion," he said, addressing both Missouri girls. "Am I to understand your husband has separated from you, Mrs. Mackinaw?"

Paige looked sheepishly up at Clay Mosby and nodded, wiping her reddened eyes with her handkerchief.

"The brute!" Cousin Jenny replied. "He left her -- and Paige is due to give birth in another month. What kind of man . . . he's not a man, he's just a male. What kind of selfish male deserts his wife?"

"Yes. Quite correct, Miss Letts," Clay agreed. His face flushed with anger. He would have given anything if his Mary had survived and they had raised a family. Though he had rarely made acquaintance with Boone Mackinaw, he despised any coward who walked out on his wife. Gazing at Paige's devastated face, he was overwhelmed with compassion for her.

"Take me to Gretchen's house, Jenny," Paige said. "There may be news."

Jenny nodded, rising from her chair.

"Mrs. Mackinaw?" Clay interrupted. "You are much too young to allow yourself so ponderous a burden. Life, as I have experienced, is quite fickle. I believe if one only exhibits a penchant for the confident there is always hope. It would be most disastrous were you to lose your child on account of your grief." He smiled warmly at her.

Paige offered a modest smile, reaching out to squeeze Clay's hand with her own shaky hand. "Thank you, Mr. Mosby. Your words are comforting and valued."

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

"Mason! No!" Call yelled.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

The first shot skipped past Boone's boot -- he didn't slow up. Mason's second shot caught Boone's attention -- he angled effortlessly toward Mason Dobbs, charging full speed. The third shot penetrated the hollow log Boone now stepped over. Call rushed across the sloping terrain hoping to reach Boone before the crazed mountain man caught Mason. When Boone noticed Call it was too late. Not willing to chance a deadly thrust from the knife's sharp blade, Call struck the side of Boone's head with the tree branch, cutting his ear. Boone tumbled face-first to the ground, dropping both knives as he rolled to the edge of his campfire.

"Get a rope!" Call yelled to his uncle. If they could manage to subdue Boone, bound with the rope, they might get him back home without anyone seriously injured.

Slightly dazed, his head throbbing like a heartbeat, Boone Mackinaw caught sight of Call lowering his arms. He quickly scooped his hands into the hot ashes and flung the ash and burning shards of wood into Call's face.

"Uuuhhhhh!" Call groaned, shaking his head vigorously. Temporarily blinded, he was unable to protect himself from Boone. "Mason!" Boone landed a solid blow above Call's eye. He quickly threw three more punishing blows before he was knocked to the ground by Mason.

"Stay put, amigo," Mason urged.

Boone sprung to his feet and grabbed one of the jagged rocks used to circle his campfire and raising it above his shoulder, drove it toward Mason's head. Mason barely managed to lift his left hand to shield the deadly blow before Boone slammed the rock into his hand. Blood exploded from Mason's hand as he sunk to his knees -- his hand split-open at the knuckles, the white bone protruding amid dark blood at the gash. The dull white of the bone resembling the dull white of teeth.

With both attackers down, Boone turned to locate his knives, his clothes covered with leaves and dirt. Suddenly, his eyes rolled up and he fell face-forward into the dirt and grass.

Rubbing the ash from his eyes, Call squinted to see -- Mason stared at the fallen Boone, no longer looking at his bloodied hand.

"What the hell just happened?" Call asked.

"I'm sure I don't know," Mason answered. "Use care, Newt. He's like Carcajou."

"You mean . . . the wolverine?" Call replied, drawing his Colt and approaching Boone.

"Wild as a wolverine, this boy," Mason agreed. Moving with caution, he dropped to one knee and nudged Boone. When there was no tensing of muscles, Mason rolled him over. "He's out." He put his good hand on Boone's sweaty face. "Hell! He's burning up with fever!"

"I reckon we're all hot and winded," Call suggested.

"Not like this, Newt. He's got himself a flat-out fever. We better get him back home. Doc better have a look-see. I'll be requiring a few stitches, myself."

Call noticed Mason's gashed hand. By resorting to a defensive tactic, both had suffered to a degree -- Call with cuts and burns to his face.

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

An insignificant disturbance in tent town -- a minor squabble between two transients disputing ownership over a tattered, gray box coat, had been cause for Sheriff Peale's anger to flare. Not particularly due to the squabble itself -- situations such as these were commonplace. His anger had been piqued because Clay Mosby ordered him, rather than Deputy Shelby, to handle the bothersome occurrence. It was during this incident the wagon carrying the missionaries returned to town.

"Maintain your dignity, Samuel. This is hardly the time to weaken. No one could possibly know it was you who shot that Indian."

Mr. Fairfield exhaled deeply. "I assume you to be correct, Sigrid. My nerves betray me. It is the fault of that inquisitive newspaper man, Peale. He concerns me."

Mrs. Fairfield frowned. "You shouldn't allow yourself such thoughts -- it causes your stomach ailment to surface. Do not worry about Mr. Peale. If he or anyone else becomes a hindrance, I have my way of dealing with them."

"I loathe you allowing men to take liberties with your flesh, Sigrid," Mr. Fairfield snapped.

"We all have to do our share in this noble cause, Samuel. As a woman, I have to rely on my guile and feminine charm. We must all be willing to make sacrifices -- this is mine."

"Sometimes I question whether you take too much pleasure from . . ."

"Hush, Samuel!" Mrs. Fairfield sternly replied. "We shall retire to our room and proceed as if nothing out of the ordinary has occurred. Try to amuse yourself with those Sioux on the reservation and how they might revolt if they learn of the shooting. Now, assist me to the ground."

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

Caleb, who was using an old rag to play tug-of-war with Runt, was the first to notice the two Indians on horseback, followed by the three Brandt sisters -- they had gathered at the Call house to await news of Boone. Cousin Jenny, as well as Ephraim and Dish Boggett were also there.

"Look! Cousin Gretchen! Indians!" Caleb blurted. "Real Indians!" He stood motionless. Runt loosened his jaws, turning to observe the riders.

Frightened, Victoria reached out for Gretchen. "Shouldn't you go inside and get the rifle Newt leaves for you, Gretchen?"

"No," she replied. "It's Singing Bird. Remember her, Victoria? She was the one who helped me when Becky was being born. Something's wrong, though. Red Crow is hurt -- he's slumped over."

Dish Boggett had quietly cocked the hammer of his gun -- he was in charge of protecting the group.

Singing Bird led the ponies to the house and slid off her mount. "Mitawa hi! Iye kakije! Iye oyazoye! Okiciya!" ("My husband! He suffers! He is hurt! Help us!"). She pointed to Red Crow -- he appeared to be unconscious.

Gretchen and Paige hurried to Singing Bird -- Dish, Caleb, and Ephraim followed behind. Victoria and Jenny hesitated.

"What's she saying? I don't know what she's saying?" Paige groaned, aware that Red Crow was hurt.

"Oh, my goodness!" Ephraim exclaimed. "He's bleeding -- he's been injured."

"Maza su! Maza su!" ("Bullet! Bullet!"), Singing Bird cried, pointing to Red Crow's back, which she had covered with her own blanket. "Ska nu<pa kute!" ("Two white people shot him!").

"I'll get him down from his horse," Dish offered. He stepped in front of Ephraim and eased the Lakota off his pony.

"Inahni! Inahni!" ("Hurry! Hurry!").

"Bring him inside, Dish," Gretchen said. "Put him in Becky's room." She turned to Singing Bird and motioned for the young Lakota wife to follow her.

Victoria and Jenny picked up the babies, clearing the infants off the porch. Jenny hesitated, observing the grief-stricken Singing Bird while cradling Becky in her arms. She stared in awe at the young Indian, taking special notice of the bright patch of carmine on each cheek, in which no attempt had been made to blend into the brown. Besides the rich complexion, she noticed the set of pearly teeth and the well-shaped head, crowned with a luxuriant growth of raven-black silken tresses.

"She's quite beautiful," Jenny commented to her older cousin.

"Yes," Victoria replied. "I suppose she is."

Singing Bird paused, casting her eyes upon tiny Becky. She reached out, touching Becky's hand. To Jenny's astonishment, the infant smiled and stretched her arms out for Singing Bird. Jenny glanced at Victoria, who nodded her approval. Singing Bird embraced Becky, saying, "Tokala Cikala. Niye wasake chatipi." ("Little Fox. You are growing strong."). She gently handed Becky back to Jenny and rushed inside the house.

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

"I think you're overreacting, Josiah. Don't you consider it unusual that a woman would be involved in trying to instigate Indians?" Mattie Shaw glanced at Amanda.

"Mattie's right, Josiah," Amanda echoed. "Indian men don't take kindly to women interfering with them -- it's threatening to their manhood."

"I take it you have yet to receive an answer in regard to the telegram you sent?" Clay Mosby inquired.

Josiah shook his head dejectedly. "I haven't heard from Santa Fe, yet. I did manage to locate dated material from the Bannock War five years ago. Chief Buffalo Horn spoke of missionaries lighting the spark that erupted into a rebellion."

"Well, if you want my opinion," Amanda replied, looking up toward the ceiling, "those two are in their room and seem as tame as kittens to me. Maybe you're just tired, Josiah?"

Clay nodded. "Perhaps a good night of rest, Josiah. I suggest a warm brandy and a good book."

Frustrated, Josiah rose from the dining room table. "I cannot prove anything -- not yet." He shrugged. "I have a bad feeling about those two." He quietly walked out of the Dove.

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

When Dish Boggett saw Newt and Mason carry a feverish, unconscious Boone Mackinaw into the house, he burned with jealousy. He watched in silence as Gretchen led them into her and Newt's bedroom, where they laid him on the bed. With so many people in the house, it was a simple matter for Dish to blend into the background, unnoticed by the others.

He stared listlessly as Cousin Jenny handed Rebecca Maggie to her father -- her face brightening as she said "Pa pa!" Gretchen hugged Newt while Victoria, holding her own infant son, questioned the condition of Boone.

Dish heard something about Mason's hand being split open instead of his skull but it hardly registered. Gretchen's concern over her own husband's burnt and bruised face wasn't important to Dish. It was Paige who occupied his thoughts, as she cried and ran into her sister's bedroom to look upon her husband. Secretly, Dish hoped he was dead. Any man who would marry a girl and get her pregnant, then leave, deserved no mercy. He grit his teeth and tightened his jaw.

Cousin Jenny Letts observed Dish. "He's a very angry young man, Cousin Victoria," she quietly said. "I think he holds resentment toward Paige's husband. He's been here looking after her the past few days and now he sees Paige run to Boone."

Victoria merely glanced at Dish -- her youngest sister and her husband her principal concern. As Ephraim emerged from the bedroom where Red Crow remained unconscious, to examine Boone, Dish stormed outside the modest home, sullen and grumpy.

Excruciating minutes -- almost too much for Paige to bear, slowly passed as Ephraim sought to determine precisely what had happened to Boone. During this time Gretchen explained to Call about Singing Bird bringing Red Crow to their house. Mason, whose hand was wrapped in what had once been a white rag, now red with blood, decided to head for the barn where he kept a bottle of whiskey for occasions such as this.

Ephraim finally stepped out into the larger room, asking Paige to follow him.

"Please, Ephraim?" Paige begged, her eyes red from crying. "What's wrong with Boone?"

Ephraim gazed at everyone. "I have determined that Boone is suffering from ingestion of kerosene poisoning -- perhaps quite unknowingly."

"What is it, Ephraim?" Paige cried. "You're frightening me!"

Ephraim cleared his throat. "Unfortunately, I cannot know if he will recover or grow steadily worse, until death ensues."

"No! Nnnooooooooo!" Paige screamed. Her legs buckled and she sunk to the floor.

"Isn't there anything you can do, Ephraim?" Victoria inquired, watching Gretchen bend down to comfort Paige.

"I am faced with two severe injuries simultaneously," Ephraim replied. "Red Crow has a bullet lodged in his back and if I do not extract it he may well die. I cannot save both of them! I'm only one man. One of them will likely die!"

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

The night, which promised to be exceptionally long, hinted at the beginning of summer with its warm breeze. Only young Caleb, unable to fight the drowsiness that overtook him, laid in a corner near the fireplace and drifted off to sleep using Runt as a pillow. For most of the others, sleep would be lacking.

"Call, you might as well try to get some sleep out in the barn," Gretchen suggested. "Victoria and Paige will be up all night -- I have to help them."

"I reckon so," he mumbled. Singing Bird sat in silent, fearful vigil at her husband's side. Ephraim was dashing in and out of both bedrooms. Even Cousin Jenny waited to be made useful in whatever capacity needed. Mason and Dish had long since retreated to the quiet confines of the barn, a safe distance from the pandemonium.

Before joining his uncle and friend outside, Call entered Becky's room, where Red Crow lay deadly silent face-down on the bed. He looked at Singing Bird. "Who did this?"

The young Lakota bride rose from the bed, pointing to the bullet hole in Red Crow's back. "Tawa cu<wi. Wi ca<sa. Wi ca<sa ska econ le." ("His back. Man. White man do this.").

Call frowned -- his grasp of the Sioux language far from adequate. "White man?" he replied. "You saying a white man shot Red Crow? Wi ca<sa ska?"

Singing Bird raised two fingers. "Nu<pa. Wan<ji win yan." ("Two. One is a woman.").

"Please, Call!" Ephraim exclaimed, coming back into the small room. Attempting to save both men now a heavy burden. "I would prefer you engage in conversation at a later time."

Call looked at Singing Bird and nodded, then left.

Victoria brushed by him on her way to help her husband. She paused. "Thank you, Newt. By the way you and your Uncle Mason appear, I would imagine you had some difficulty subduing Boone."

He shrugged. "Comes with the territory, I reckon."

"You make certain your uncle comes in here -- Ephraim needs to clean his wound before he stitches it." She leaned over, lightly kissing his cheek. "You're such a blessing to us."

Call headed outside where he wouldn't be underfoot of Ephraim and the sisters. He had done his part, bringing Boone Mackinaw back home. Aside from the symphony of crickets and frogs in the nearby darkened creek, it was quiet. The sweet smell of summer grass, usually at its strongest in the morning or evening, caused him to inhale deeply before he entered the barn.

Howdy do, Newt, boy," Mason said. He sat on a mound of hay, unwrapping the blood soaked rag that covered his gashed left hand. "I just might ask Coyote Girl for the loan of one of her needles and some thread so I can stitch this up. Doc's occupied with more urgent concerns at the moment."

"Victoria said you best let Ephraim clean it first."

Mason grinned. "I'd venture to say you never would have said that before you were hitched. You would of said 'wipe it on your pants and stitch it yourself'."

Call nodded. He noticed Dish stagger toward him. "What the hell's wrong with Dish?"

"Drunk," Mason dryly replied. "I only managed one drink from my bottle -- he finished the whole bottle by his lonesome."

Call squinted in the flickering light. "Before Gus and the Cap'n led us up here on the drive, Dish went and got himself plenty drunk one day. He could hardly stand -- rode into Mexico that night and stole horses, though."

All of a sudden Call caught sight of something shiny flying toward his head and ducked, just as the empty whiskey bottle shattered against the wall. "You back stabber! Get out of here!"

Dish reeled unsteadily, groping his way to Call. "Why'd you have to go and bring him back here, Newt?"

"You're drunk, Dish," Call replied. "You don't hardly know what you're saying."

Dish staggered up to Call, teetering inches from his face. "I thought you were my friend, Newt?"

"Dammit, Dish! I am your friend. Ain't like I had much choice, now is there?"

Dish swung his fist, hitting Call unexpectedly in the face. The blow was lessened by Dish being so drunk he hadn't tightened his fist like one normally would in situations where fighting was required.

"Don't stick me in the middle, Dish," Call ordered, rubbing his jaw. "I'm getting damn fed up with you and Boone taking shots at me."

"I love her, Newt!" Dish barked, swinging wildly at Call, this time missing and spinning around.

"You damn fool," Call argued. "She's married -- leave her be!" He turned to Mason, who was grinning. "I don't have time for this, Mason."

"He's your amigo, nephew."

Dish swung at Call again, this time the momentum of his blow carried him into Call, knocking both off balance and to the hay-strewn ground. Dish grappled as one slowed by too much consumption of alcohol.

"I hate to do this," Call mumbled, then punched Dish in the jaw. Dish went limp. Call rolled him aside and stood up. "Seems to me you could of taken your damn bottle back, Mason."

"If I had," Mason replied, "I would have already stitched my hand up."

Call bent down, taking hold of Dish's arms. He dragged him to the mound of hay, the rowels of his spurs cutting two straight lines through the hard-packed dirt. "We best let him sleep it off here. Most likely he won't recall none of this come morning." Call then laid down in between Mason and Dish and lowered his hat over his eyes. "I need to get me some shuteye."

Mason glanced at his nephew then closed his eyes. "Just a few minutes," he whispered.

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

Upon opening his eyes, Mason Dobbs realized hours had passed -- the first rooster was crowing somewhere outside in the early morning darkness. The lamps had long since died out, leaving the waning moon's orange glow as the sole light. Newt and Dish still slept. Mason stood up and quietly went to the house. "Any news?" he asked Jenny Letts.

"Cousin Victoria's husband has been running himself ragged all night long from one room to the other. He plans to put that Indian in the wagon and take him back to town. He said it's too unsanitary here -- he needs to be in his office to remove the bullet. Something about it being lodged near the spine and that the Indian could die or be paralyzed."

"You're quite talkative for having stayed awake all night, Miss Letts," Mason said.

"Two cups of Cousin Gretchen's coffee have a remarkable affect on me," she commented. "It's very strong coffee."

"What about Boone?" Mason asked.

She sighed. "I'm afraid that's another matter, Mr. Dobbs. Ephraim told Cousin Victoria to give him plenty of strong coffee. Cousin Paige's husband is having trouble breathing now. His face is flushed and his lips are sort of bluish. He woke once . . . a few hours ago and complained of a roaring sound in his ears and a headache. Oh, yes! He said his throat bothered him, too. He blacked out after that."

"Did Doc say whether he would live?"

Jenny shrugged. "He doesn't know yet -- death still hangs over him."

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

By daylight Call and Mason had carried the still-unconscious Red Crow outside, placing him in the back of the wagon. Ephraim would attempt to remove the slug in his office -- his wife, Victoria, assisting him. Singing Bird of course accompanied her husband.

When Dish Boggett finally woke, his mind was cloudy. "Did we have us a scuffle, Newt?" he asked, confused.

"It didn't amount to much, Dish," Call replied.

"Well, I guess I owe you an apology, Newt."

"Not hardly," Call replied. "Don't pay it no mind, Dish."

Paige, thankful her two older sisters and younger cousins were alongside her when her world appeared its darkest, continued to sit with Boone. The song words Victoria had quietly told her echoing through her mind: "In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. On Christ the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand."

"I missed you so much during the night, Call," Gretchen said, when getting a moment to rest. "Cousin Jenny has been so helpful -- tending to Becky and Daniel. Even Caleb helped."

"Far as I can figure," Call replied, holding Gretchen close, "Singing Bird said a white man shot Red Crow."

"This is such a tragedy, Call. Boone and Red Crow may both die."

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

Since it was Sunday morning, fortune favored the situation. Most of the town would be closed, allowing Victoria Cleese the opportunity to assist her husband without concern of the dry goods being unattended. Folks took note of Dr. Cleese bringing a wagon into town which carried two Indians. None were more interested than Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield, observing from their upstairs window on the side of the hotel.

"Sigrid! Look!" Samuel Fairfield exclaimed, peeking through the sheer lacy material draped over the window. "That Indian I shot -- he's been found."

Mrs. Fairfield joined her husband. "Obviously he is not dead, as we had hoped. And, the woman . . . she must be the one we saw riding toward us."

"What are we going to do, Sigrid? Our plan has been foiled."

Mrs. Fairfield scowled at her husband. "I will not allow you to snivel like some craven coward. Do you hear me?!" She thought it over. "We can ill afford to be spotted by either of them. Nor can we allow that Indian to waken and incriminate us -- provided he has not already spoken."

"Shall I gather our things and prepare to leave?" Mr. Fairfield asked.

"You fool, Samuel. There is no stage today. No . . . we must enter the doctor's office and finish this."

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

Clay Mosby, upon discovering it to be Red Crow who had been shot in the back, immediately sent for two of his men to carry the unconscious Lakota up the stairs to Ephraim's office. "Who did this to him, Doctor?" Clay demanded.

"We don't know," Ephraim replied. "His wife brought him to the Call's -- we were there anticipating news of Boone Mackinaw. She doesn't speak our language."

Mosby tugged Ephraim, drawing him away from Singing Bird and Victoria. "I hope you understand the dire consequences this may bring, Doctor?"

"Yes," Ephraim angrily replied. "I am quite aware of the urgency in which we find ourselves, Mr. Mosby. Now, you must excuse me -- I have not slept in over twenty-four hours and while sanity prevails, I must remove the bullet from Red Crow's back."

"I will expect a report of the outcome as soon as possible, Doctor," Clay said, pausing at the door. "Try not to disappoint me."

"Yes, of course," Ephraim replied.

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

"Here, I'll do that," Paige said, taking the diluted vinegar from Gretchen. "Call? Sit him up so I get this down his throat."

Call raised Boone's head. "You best stick that bed pan close by -- I got a feeling he's about to spit his guts out."

Caleb grabbed the bed pan and stood near the bed.

"What's that smell?" Call asked, sniffing. "Is that you, Horsefly?"

"Aw, it's on me. Yeah," the boy replied. "Becky Bug threw up on me."

"I told you not to bounce her after she ate, didn't I?" Gretchen said, frowning at her younger cousin.

Caleb sheepishly lowered his head.

Paige tilted the vinegar slowly into Boone's mouth. Mason held onto him with Call. Suddenly, Boone began choking and coughing -- his face distorted from swallowing the vinegar. His body lurched forward and his stomach came up -- the pan placed just in time against his chest. He groaned as if pieces of his insides were being ripped from his body. He moaned as if the very center of his being were on fire, gagging until there was nothing left to come up. And, still, the dry heaves continued.

"I wish Ephraim were here," Paige said, staring fearfully at her husband.

Outside, Dish Boggett paced aimlessly, ignoring the whining Runt that craved his attention. "Go on, boy -- leave me alone." Torn between mounting his horse to ride back to Hat Creek and waiting to find out if Paige would be a young widow, he moved as one in a daze. If Boone Mackinaw died, he would sweep Paige into his arms and profess his undying love for her. He would even accept her unborn child -- after all, it was Paige's baby.

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

Amid great drops of sweat, Dr. Ephraim Cleese had successfully extracted the .44 caliber slug from Red Crow's back. He could have been shot by anyone, he surmised -- the slug obviously from the common Winchester repeater. Singing Bird hugged Victoria, relieved that her husband appeared safe.

"He will require rest," Ephraim said. "He's lost a lot of blood." He pointed to the blood that had soaked into a handful of white towels.

"Iye kakakpa ota. Niye patan mitawa hi." ("He has lost much blood. You have saved my husband.")

"I don't know what she is saying," Ephraim told Victoria. "Perhaps if Call were here he might understand." He yawned. "We all need our rest. All we can do now is wait. I really should check on Boone -- his condition could worsen."

"I'm sure we can leave Singing Bird alone," Victoria said. "Now that you've removed the bullet I should be with Paige."

Ephraim agreed. Singing Bird sat at Red Crow's bedside. Both Ephraim and Victoria attempted to make exaggerated signs with their hands that they were leaving to check on Boone. Singing Bird nodded, apparently signs were not required -- she understood that the doctor and the older sister of Eyes of Summer Sky must return to the wooden lodge of her friends. She rose and hugged them, then returned to watch over Red Crow.

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

After considering sufficient time had elapsed since the doctor and his wife left town, the missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield, crossed the lazy street and climbed the stairs to conclude what they now believed to be most urgent -- terminating the lives of both Indians.

Quietly opening the door, Sigrid Fairfield peeked inside the doctor's office, a small caliber pistol in her hand -- Samuel Fairfield silently stepped through the doorway, a knife in his hand. The Indian he had shot lay asleep on a cot while the woman who could identify them, her back to the door, was on her knees chanting with her arms upraised.

The Fairfield's grinned.

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

"Morning, Miss Amanda," Unbob smiled. "We were just trying to figure out when Mr. Peale's gonna get his telegram."

Pausing in the street near the Ambrosia Club, Amanda acknowledged Josiah and Mattie.

"The missionaries just walked in between my shop and Ephraim's," Mattie replied.

"Well," Unbob volunteered, "they both were carrying Bibles."

"They're probably planning to convert the Indian that's up there," Amanda sarcastically said.

Josiah nodded. "I've heard of Church Indians -- they've become Christian Indians."

Leaning against one of the wood posts in front of his saloon, Clay Mosby silently took all of this in.

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

The well was practically bone dry -- that was how Ephraim felt as he drew rein and climbed down from the springy bench seat, assisting his wife, Victoria. And yet, neither the three Brandt sisters nor their younger cousin, Jenny Letts, had had any significant amount of sleep, so vital were the hours in which Red Crow and Boone Mackinaw teetered between life and death.

After re-examining Boone once again, Ephraim proclaimed his patient would survive. He contributed the young mountain man's strength and health as turning points -- as well as the dedicated and excellent care provided by Paige and her sisters. "I believe someone would enjoy seeing you, Paige," Ephraim hinted, opening the door for the youngest Brandt sister.

Paige rushed into her sister, Gretchen's bedroom, stopping at the last moment before throwing herself onto Boone. Drowsy from the laudanum Ephraim had given him, he smiled. "Hello, Eyes of Summer Sky."

Her blue eyes brightened. "Hello, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives." She lowered herself carefully alongside him, kissing him and kissing him, again and again. "I thought I lost you," she whispered, tears sliding down her reddened cheeks.

"I . . . I . . . don't know what happened -- what did happen?"

"Ephraim said you had a reaction to that dumb ol' kerosene in the barn. Didn't I tell you not to close the doors? You inhaled poison, Boone -- you were out of your mind." She suddenly tensed, sitting up. "Uh . . . do you still want me for your wife and our baby?" She bit her lower lip -- it was a habit she picked up from Gretchen when they were small girls back in St. Joseph.

"Of course I do," he replied. "Why would you talk so foolish?"

Outside, Dish Boggett mounted his horse and looked at Call. "Well, I guess I'll be seeing you up at Hat Creek, Newt." He nodded and rode away.

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

Moving with measured steps, Mr. and Mrs. Fairfield stepped into Dr. Cleese's office. The Indian that Samuel Fairfield had shot in the back lay motionless on a small cot. They paused, listening to the Indian woman -- on her knees chanting, her eyes closed.

"Tunkasila iosila miye el. Tunkasila iosila miye el. Tunkasila iosila miye el." ("Great Spirit be compassionate to me. Great Spirit be compassionate to me. Great Spirit be compassionate to me.").

Samuel Fairfield, on orders from his wife, moved closer to the seemingly unaware Indian woman. Fortune was with the missionaries. The doctor and his wife had gone, leaving the perfect opportunity to cover the Fairfield's mistake. All it required was stabbing and killing both Indians. After all, it was for a greater cause and there were always innocent deaths that couldn't be avoided.

Samuel Fairfield stood directly behind the Lakota woman and silently raised the sharp blade above his head.

"Kill her, you fool!" Sigrid Fairfield ordered.

The blade came down.

Bam!

A .45 ripped through the back of Samuel Fairfield's neck, shattering teeth as the projectile burst out of his cheek. Blood exploded in several directions as the blade never reached Singing Bird. Samuel Fairfield collapsed, dead on the floor.

Singing Bird turned, alarmed.

"Samuel! Nooooo!" Sigrid Fairfield screamed. She spun around and aimed her gun at Clay Mosby, who stood in the doorway, a thin trail of smoke rising from the barrel of his Remington. "I'll kill you!" she hollered, then lurched forward, dropping her gun and falling face down -- Singing Bird standing over her, the knife meant for the young Lakota woman now shoved to the hilt in Sigrid's back.

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

"Well, it seems you were right about those two, Josiah," Amanda said, later that night inside the hotel.

"He never actually did anything, though," Robert Shelby replied.

"No," Josiah agreed, "I didn't. If not for you, Clay, Red Crow and his wife would both be dead."

"Well," Clay smiled, "I am not entirely the one -- Dr. Cleese did remove the bullet from Red Crow."

Mattie shook her head in amazement. "Clay? How did you know? You never let on that you were even the least bit concerned."

Clay laughed. "That is quite true. However, leadership carries a great burden. It is my responsibility to look after the welfare of Curtis Wells and its citizens. One might very well say it comes with the territory."

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

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