This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show,
which belong to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.
Do not reproduce or distribute this story without the permission of the author.

The Choice
by Roberta Stuemke

Clay Mosby was so exhausted that sleep alone could not help him. He suffered from that special kind of weariness that strikes the soul and does not give up its hold even when the body is rested; it continued to work its way through his emotions and his mind until even his thoughts seemed too heavy to carry.

Taking advantage of several straight days of sunshine and somewhat warmer weather, they laid Hannah Call to rest beside the church she had labored so hard to build, a month after her death. Somehow, Josiah Peale managed to stumble his way through a kind of memorial service, but he was still so numb with shock and grief that his voice broke and faded, and his words sometimes made little sense. Austin had gotten back too late to do anything but try to support his father. He stood beside him, offered an arm to lean upon, and said the final prayer at the grave. But Josiah scarcely acknowledged his presence, asking instead for Newt, who had vanished, taking the Hellbitch and leaving Curtis Wells despite his own half-healed injuries. Already, because of Newt's incapacity, it was Clay who had searched through the burned-out rubble to find the bodies of the people killed when the kerosene exploded. 

Now, in Call's absence, Clay found himself called upon to fill the younger man's shoes in other ways as well. He ordered and paid for the tombstone; he made all the funeral arrangements for both Hannah and Molly, including having the ground thawed by fire and boiling water so that it was possible to dig the proper graves without waiting for spring. Clay packed up Hannah's things, from both the house and the room at the Lonesome Dove, and he stood at Josiah's other side when Hannah was lowered into the ground. The only duty he shied away from was attending the actual church service. This church WAS Hannah, and it made his old aversion to organized religious services even stronger than before.

The night after Hannah's funeral, Clay still couldn't fight off the nightmares, both old and new, that kept him from sleeping well. Finally, he gave up as he had so many other nights. He got dressed again, and walked through the silent, dark town up to the cemetery. It was after midnight. Clouds covered the moon and all but a few silly stars that refused to admit defeat. He stood before Hannah's grave, trying to apologize for his behavior before her death, and also for not attending the service, but simply could not find the right words. He was so bone-weary he couldn't find the strength to cry, even though no one would see him at this time of night, and he knew that crying would bring a kind of relief, taking some of the unbearable weight off his heart. Anger, his old companion, stood with him and would not be banished, because he couldn’t find an adequate target. Only one of Tavish's men was still alive, and he had been taken away by the cavalry and would probably be hanged, so being angry at the gang was less than satisfactory. Clay was angry at Newt for leaving him with all the painful duties that he was unfortunately so familiar with from earlier days and past sorrows, but even this anger was muted because he knew that Newt was suffering just as much as he was.

So, in the end, Mosby could only ask the same type of questions he'd been asking for more than ten years. "Why? Oh, dear God, why? Why take her? What did she ever do to deserve this?" His voice sounded alien to his ears, as though he was hearing a complete stranger speak. "Damn it, if death had to take its full complement, why couldn't someone else have been taken instead of Hannah? She was kind-hearted and lovin', she was young and beautiful and she never willingly harmed anyone."

It was the same terrible pain he'd been carrying since the war. "Why is it always those around me? Why am I spared when so many others are not? I don't deny I've done some things that may warrant punishment, but if You truly are a lovin' God, would You really take Hannah's life just to punish me? Lord, if it would bring her back, I would die right here, right now. It's like I'm half-dead inside anyway, You must know that. No one is left who would feel any grief at my passin', except Robert and Olivia, and they’re travellin' their own roads now. Hannah's death hurt so many. Why couldn't you take me instead of her?"

Still the tears would not come, although he wanted so desperately to cry. Could it be that, after all this time, after all the losses and funerals, all the faded hopes and stillborn dreams, he had no more tears to offer? All the more reason he should have been the one to die. Suddenly, he couldn't stand the sight of the grave anymore, and he turned away, stumbling as though the world had abruptly tilted sideways and he couldn't keep his balance. It was then that Clay realized he was no longer alone.

He was surprised, because he hadn't heard anyone approach, and thought that surely everyone else in Curtis Wells was long since in bed. The other man stood motionless, watching Clay with an unreadable expression on his lean face. He had one of those faces that could appear either young or old, depending upon the balance of light and shadow. At first, Mosby was sure he knew him, but he could find no name to put to that face, no memory strong enough to push through his troubled thoughts and be identified. Finally, when the other man still didn't speak, Clay felt forced to ask, "Who are you?"

"Oh, you know me, Francis Clay Mosby. We are old acquaintances. We've walked down many paths together, to the cold, dark places everyone fears. Everyone except me."

His voice, like his face, was both familiar and unidentifiable. Clay stared at him, trying desperately to remember where he could have met him before. At long last, some flutters of memory forced their way out, and he realized that he'd seen that face often, lurking in the dark corners of a prison cell, staring at him from the edge of angry crowds and circles of sober mourners, and studying the bodies on a battlefield. Like a sudden burst of lightning cutting through the night sky, the name of his mysterious companion revealed itself. "Death," he whispered. "You're Death."

"Is it such a surprise to see me here?" Death gestured around the small cemetery. "I am often in such places, waiting for a reluctant or fearful spirit to realize the body's fate and come with me."

"I've seen you before," Clay said, choosing his words with care, "but we've never spoken to each other. You were always there, in the shadows, but I never knew who you were until you spoke."

"That is frequently the way of it. Most people don't recognize me until it's their time to cross that river which I cannot cross. Of course, I don't often speak to the living, because they are not my concern, but you and I have walked together so often, I felt it was right to do so now."

"Then tell me why she had to die? Why do they all die and leave me behind?" Clay cried out.

"All God's children must die in their time, in order to come into His presence. Your time has not yet come," Death explained simply, his voice betraying a hint of sympathy, and of unending sadness.

"How could it have been Mary's time? I can understand the death of men on a battlefield, durin' a war, and why their time could come so early in their lives. I can't understand how it could possibly have been time for Mary to die, or my sister, or Hannah. It just wasn't right to take them so soon!" Clay protested.

"Are you attempting to judge me? Are you questioning my authority, or Jehovah's? I assure you, I am not allowed to take anyone capriciously or with malice. Many of those I gather have lived their full years, but many others have not. It is not my place to choose. I come when I am called."

"But surely you must know the reasons!"

Death shook his head sadly. "Reasons do not concern me. All your questions and doubts can be resolved only with faith. Of course, faith comes hard for you, doesn't it? So hard that you cannot even trust God Himself, nor can you accept that He is the only one who knows all the reasons. Even your mother was unable to teach you, although she tried."

"I tried to accept it," Clay whispered. "I tried to believe, but it got so hard ... Oh, God, I am so tired!" One part of his mind knew that he had to be imagining all of this, for how could anyone actually talk to Death, but because of the painfully tight bands around his heart and the weight dragging his spirit down, he wanted very much for it to be real, so he went on with the conversation, farce though it might be.

"That is why I came to you tonight," Death said softly. "Your pain calls loudly to me. There are a few things I can tell you, but I can't answer all your questions, and I don't know if my words will help. You do have someone who watches you, a spirit who has stood between us many times, but tonight even she stood aside to let me pass. One day, you may come to understand this guardian, who she is and why she follows you, but not until you are ready.

"As for why I am here, and why we can speak to each other, you made that possible by your own words, and by the despair that threatens your very soul. Did you not say that you would be willing to die right now, if your death could restore this woman to life?"

Clay stared blankly ahead. Was it possible? No, this had to be a dream. He was simply tired, worn out from grief and a month of sleepless nights and days filled with reminders of what had been and dreams of what might have been.

Death repeated his question, and despite himself, Clay had to answer it. "Yes, I did say that. Can it be done? Do you have the power?"

"Under certain circumstances, I can allow such an exchange, if all the necessary conditions are met," Death replied.

Clay was suddenly struck by the total absurdity of the situation, and part of him wanted to laugh, but laughter wouldn't come any easier than tears had. This was either a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep, or a conversation with a total madman. "Is this where you ask for my soul? A contract signed in blood? That is how deals with Satan are supposed to be made, after all, so I'm assumin' those are your necessary conditions?" He nearly choked on a suppressed giggle.

"I'm not Lucifer," Death answered with a tired sigh. "I actually have little to do with him except to gather those who die as a result of his influence on Earth. I sit precisely at the center of a line, with Jehovah above me and Lucifer below. You could say I am neutral, allied with neither good nor evil. Lucifer helped bring me into existence, but he does not rule over me, or I over him.

"You have already met the first condition, by volunteering, with sincerity and honesty, to trade the remainder of your natural life for the life of someone you loved. But this is only the first one, and the easiest. The other three are much harder to meet."

"Why am I not surprised?" Clay asked sarcastically.

"The next condition requires considerable courage, enough for you to face and accept onto yourself the death Hannah Call suffered. Think carefully before you respond, for should your courage or resolve weaken, you would fail and would carry that failure with you forever. Do you have the courage to face her death?"

"There have been many times when I was more than willin' to die," Clay answered, compelled to continue the conversation despite his doubts, simply because he dared not risk the chance that this really was happening, and Hannah could still be saved. "You should know that."

"Of course I do. Although I do not rule on such requests, I hear every one of them. That was not my question. You must decide if you can face dying in the same manner as she did, and you must do it knowing the fate that awaits you. I cannot simply take you with me now and return her to her husband. Her end was rapid but painful, and you would have to accept that end to your own existence." As he finished this statement, Death made a sudden gesture with one hand, and then pointed directly at Clay.

Mosby's mind was abruptly filled with the vision of the violent explosion that had killed Hannah, so vivid that he could feel the terrible heat of the blaze. Then, he was rocked by a whole series of similar visions, mostly things he had experienced during the war: burned bodies; the screams of people trapped in buildings struck by cannon fire; men stumbling from tents that had caught fire, slapping at their clothing or frantically rolling on the ground to extinguish the flames. There was one even older memory, that of a fire that had destroyed one of the stables at Hatton Willows when he was 15; his lungs burned from the smoke as he helped his father, brother, and the grooms lead horses to safety, and his ears were punished by the haunting screams of the three animals they had been unable to reach in time. Finally, as this vision faded, it was replaced by the view of Hatton Willows as he had last seen it, coming home after the war to find a pile of charred timbers and blackened stones, ashes covering the debris of partially-burned family possessions. This last vision was accompanied by the sharp memory of the fear he had felt upon first seeing the ruins, the fear that Mary, his sister, and his parents had been trapped in the house and perished in the flames.

Still, the pain he suffered as a result of their deaths was neither diminished nor increased by learning that they had not been killed in the fire, but had been murdered, and he still felt as though some part of himself had died with them. It had briefly, startlingly, come back to life when he met Hannah, and now he could feel it dying again, because she was gone. Perhaps death by fire was appropriate, he found himself thinking, not for Hannah, but for himself. "Yes, I can face that death," he said slowly, convinced by the visions brought on by a mere gesture that this encounter was real. However far-fetched it was, he was actually talking with Death, negotiating for Hannah Call's life.

"Very well. That is the second condition. The third is that the exchange must be one life for one life. I can do nothing for the other people who perished that night, whether they were innocent or guilty. If you attempt to save any of the others, you will fail and things will be as they were before we met tonight."

"There is no one else who died that night for whom I would be willin' to trade my life," Clay stated flatly, sparing only one brief, sad thought for Molly, the woman Hannah had gone into that building to help, only to die along with her.

Death sighed once more. "I thought not, but it was necessary that you understand my limitations. Now, the final condition is this: Hannah must agree to your sacrifice, but I cannot ask her now, for that would not sufficiently test your resolve or sincerity. You must face her death, suffer it as she did, and only then can I ask her. If she does not agree, you will have failed to change anything. Do you believe that she will agree with the exchange, believe it strongly enough to face the flames, knowing that if she disagrees, it will have been for naught?"

Clay took a very deep breath, and could feel his heart begin to pound. Would Hannah agree? Would she let him take her place? He thought back to that one moment at the ranch, when they both forgot themselves so much that they ended up in each other's arms, forgetting propriety, duty, and even honesty. Yes, it had felt wonderful to hold her, kiss her, to have her respond to him as Mary had, but in the end it was still wrong. The Bible clearly stated that 'whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart'. Clay knew that he had initiated that embrace, taking advantage of a momentary weakness and her need for the comfort of another living person to hold onto. He had no doubt that there was some degree of physical attraction, but he also knew how transient such feelings could be. However hard it was to admit, Hannah had responded not out of passion, but out of loneliness, fear, and a need to feel loved, needed, and protected.

Unfortunately, that one thoughtless moment had caused nothing but pain, and he had compounded it by confronting her later, telling her that he could not forget what had happened; worse, that he didn't want to forget. In the end, Hannah had done what any honest wife would have done, telling Clay she did not and could not love him, that she loved her husband and would never love anyone else. By not honoring his own promise to never speak of it again, he had lost any chance of preserving their tenuous friendship, and had earned only her contempt.

"Will I have the chance to speak to her, before she makes her choice?" He asked.

"I can permit that. I can do nothing, myself, to influence her decision, but I can give you one chance to persuade her before the final action is taken.

Clay realized that if ever there was a time for complete honesty, this was it, and it was necessary to be as honest with himself as with Death. "I believe I can convince her to accept the exchange. I ... hurt her deeply. I put more value on my own desires than upon her happiness. There is no one who would truly suffer when I die, while she had family and friends who mourn her very much. When all's said and done, her life has more value than mine. Yes, I can make her agree. I feel sure of it."

"Very well." Death closed his eyes, and Clay felt himself begin to fall. Instinctively, he grabbed for something to hold himself up with, but his hands found nothing but empty space. He fell ...

Out of the corner of his eye, Mosby saw Luther stagger from the impact of a bullet, and he belatedly realized how stupid it was for them to be out in the middle of the street. He pushed himself up and ran, grabbing hold of Newt and shoving him on ahead. Behind him, Josiah appeared, shooting at the outlaws as he and Dr. Cleese went to Luther's aid.

Tavish's band retreated back toward the edge of town. Clay and Newt pursued them through the shadows on the opposite side of the street, dodging from one bit of cover to the next. More of the outlaws fell, and when Tavish himself disappeared back into the Bollman place, there were only two of his followers left. One of them went down, and then there was the briefest possible pause. Mosby suddenly felt weak, and had to lean against the building behind him, shaking his head to clear his vision. In that moment, he knew he had gone through this once before. He remembered what was about to happen, and knew what he had to do to change it. He moved up to stand immediately behind Call, waiting for Tavish to come out of the house, holding a gun on Hannah and shouting for Newt to stop before he killed her.

Hannah tried to get away, coming very close to it before she was forced back inside the house. Before Newt could open his mouth to tell Clay to cover him, Mosby was already moving, shoving the deputy to one side and beginning to run across the street. Call regained his balance, and was only steps behind him when the one remaining outlaw took aim. Prepared for this, Mosby went down in a controlled fall, and the man's bullet hit Newt instead, in the leg just as before. Clay came back up fast, killing the gunman with one shot.

As he dashed onto the porch, he could hear Newt yelling something behind him, but he couldn't stop to answer. He pulled open the door and saw Hannah struggling with Tavish. Realizing there was another threat behind him, the outlaw turned around, and Clay shot him once, through the heart. Tavish fell and Clay dodged the body, grabbing Hannah and pushing her toward the front door. A trail of flame from an overturned lamp was just beginning to cross the floor.

"Get out of here! Go on!"

"No!" Hannah shouted back. "I have to get Molly!"

Clay had already spotted the other woman, crouching in terror across the room. "I'll get her! You go on. Newt's right outside!" He gave Hannah another push, seeing her run out the door before he went to Molly's side.

Instinctively, he began to push the back door open, to shove Molly outside before the kerosene could explode, but Death's voice echoed in his head. "One life for one life." He could not save Molly. Instead, he curled his body around the terrified young woman, pushing her face against his chest just as the world exploded in a rush of noise, bright flame, and intense, horrible pain.

Gradually, the pain and the heat faded. He seemed to be floating above the street, watching Newt and Hannah as they stared at the burning building in disbelief, Josiah coming to stand beside them. Clay was surprised to see that all three of them were crying, until he remembered Molly.

"It's not just for Molly," a familiar voice said, and he was standing in the street, with Death beside him. "Did you really believe no one would be moved by your death? 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' They all know Hannah would have perished in the explosion if you hadn't gotten her out."

"They have little likin' for me, I'm afraid, and I guess I don't blame them."

Death shook his head. "So little understanding, even now." He waved one hand, and then Hannah was there, watching herself in the street. She turned toward them with a tortured look on her face.

"What happened?" she whispered.

"Mr. Mosby took your death," Death answered.

"I had to," Clay said urgently. "You have so much more to live for. Family, a husband you love, who loves you. What's my life compared to that?"

"How could you let him do it?" Hannah asked Death. "You had no right to let him do this!"

"He asked, he was willing. But it is not yet final. You must agree to the exchange."

Before Hannah could say anything, Clay jumped back in. "Hannah, listen. I've already lost everythin' that meant anythin' to me. You were all that was left. What good is my life now?"

"You take too much on yourself, Mr. Mosby. Only God can judge the worth of someone's life," Hannah said. "I've watched you help people, often without calling any attention to it. I know there's more inside of you than you want most people to see. To do this is just ... prideful and arrogant. I can't let you do it."

"Even if I was responsible for the death of a friend? I planned the bank robbery. I was the leader. I even deliberately chose to do it on your weddin' day. It wasn't my bullet that killed the banker, but it might as well have been. And I've done many other things since then, things that you could only hate me for." This was Clay's last desperate weapon, the one thing he was sure would make Hannah agree to his taking her place.

She looked at him with a combination of anger and sadness on her face, and then she looked away, shaking her head. When she spoke, her words came slowly and with some effort. "I suppose I always knew the robbery was most likely your doing, after your friend Mr. Shelby was recognized as one of the robbers. I just didn't want to admit it. I count friendship highly, Mr. Mosby, and I ... valued yours, even ... even at the end." She looked at him again, with tears in her eyes. "However, it's still not my place, or yours, to make that final judgment. I know Newt, Father and Austin will suffer because of my death, and you as well, but I still cannot accept THAT!" Her voice gradually grew louder, until the last phrase was almost a shout, as she pointed at the frozen scene of Josiah, Newt and herself watching the burning house, knowing that they had just lost two friends. "I believe that life is given to each of us for a reason. If God intended for you to die here, that's what would have happened in the first place."

"No, please, you have to understand, I wanted this! I chose this!" Clay cried, and reached for her. His hand went through her as though she was nothing but a shadow, and he stared blankly at his empty fist.

"I know that, but it just isn't right," she said gently, recognizing and understanding his desperation, "You said once that Mary was a lot like me. If that's true, then I can tell you that she wouldn't want you to do this either."

"She's part of why I have to do this!" Clay said.

"Of course she is, but that still doesn't make it right. If there were some other way, I would choose to live, but I can't let you die in my place." She smiled a little at him. "I want you to know that I forgive you, for everything, and I appreciate your offer, but my answer must be no. You, of all people, should have known me better. I can't agree to this."

Death smiled at them both, kindly, and nodded his head. Everything around them began to disappear, fading like the last rays of sunlight at dusk, as they slowly give way to the darkness of night.

"NO! I'm not finished! There's more I need to say ... " Clay shouted, but his words were swallowed by the night.

Cold was the first thing he felt, and Clay slowly realized that he was lying on the ground in the cemetery, in front of Hannah's grave. He scrambled to his feet, shaking uncontrollably. So it had all been a dream. Somehow, he'd fallen asleep, or maybe he passed out, and he'd been dreaming. He turned stiffly to leave, and caught sight of Molly's grave, marked only with a simple wooden cross in contrast to Hannah's memorial, ordered at great expense from Miles City, and delivered at even greater expense because of the still unpredictable weather. He would have to do something about that, he thought; he could afford at least a small tombstone, something more to mark the poor girl's existence.

"At least you've learned something," said a voice at his side, and Clay turned his head to see Death standing beside him. "Yes, it would be nice if someone were to mourn her passing. She had such a sad soul."

Clay shook his head and rubbed his eyes, at long last beginning to panic. Was he going completely insane?

"It was all very real," Death said, once again reading Clay's thoughts. "I warned you what would happen if Hannah did not agree to your proposition."

"You knew she wouldn't agree," Clay accused, beginning to see that there had to be some other motive for Death's actions. "You knew it all along."

"I suspected it. You may find this hard to believe, but only a very few extremely selfish people would accept such a thing, and Hannah was a loving and giving woman. There were no great sins on her conscience, other than the pain she believed she had inflicted upon both you and her husband, certainly nothing to keep her from the ultimate rest she was taught to expect, and her only other regret was having to leave her family and friends," Death replied. "By friends, she included you."

"Then why did you let me go through that? What was it supposed to accomplish? To punish me? Is that what this was really about?" Clay asked angrily.

"I do not punish. It was necessary for you to learn something of death. You cannot rush it, or try to force it to come. When it is your body’s time, I will come to gather your spirit, and even the guardian of whom I spoke earlier will bow to me, but only when it is the right time. God alone decides such things. You have spent years trying to come to me, long, lonely, painful years that could have been filled with more worthwhile pursuits," Death looked around the small cemetery, and beyond to the hillside where the less fortunate were buried. "Only bones lie here," he sighed, "and I, after all, do not take life. I come when life has already taken its leave. Death is only my name, not my true nature."

"What about suicide, then? Are you sayin' that God chooses to let some people end their own lives, and then prevents others from doin' the same thing?"

"There is another influence at work on Earth. Lucifer, Satan as you call him, is always looking for opportunities to deprive another soul of its rest. Sometimes he succeeds, and sometimes he does not." There was considerable pain in Death's voice as he said this. "Those poor souls, they knew not what they did."

"I don't understand why Hannah did ... she was so angry at me before she died! She hated me!" Mosby protested, in anguish. "I would have ... in her place, I would ... "

"Have done exactly what she did," Death finished his sentence for him. "That's what you have done, and it is what your father would have expected of you, as a gentleman. You offered to give your life for hers, and that offer will be remembered, but your life isn't entirely yours to give away, especially not like this. Life belongs to God. He gave it to you, His greatest gift to man, save that of eternal life for your soul."

"Then there's an end to it," Mosby said, bitterness creeping into his voice, another old companion come to join him.

"I had hoped you would have learned something else tonight," Death said firmly. "What does your bitterness accomplish? What can possibly come from such overwhelming grief except more grief? Your tears have been as much for yourself as for those you have lost. Despair is, after all, one of the greatest of sins, because it blinds the sinner to God's will, as well as betraying a lack of faith and leading one to commit other sins, as you have. All you have accomplished with your grief in the last thirteen years is to cause pain to the one soul you loved more than anything else in the world."

"Mary is already dead! She can't feel anythin' any more."

A single tear traced its way down Death's cheek, and he spoke with a heavy, tired sorrow. "I seem to have failed in my chosen task tonight. You have still not learned the most important lessons of all. Those who leave their mortal bodies behind can still be aware of this world. I have watched your Mary pace unceasingly on this side of the river, refusing to cross over to her final rest because your pain is always with her. You cannot change her fate with your determined suffering; that fate was decided long ago. Your stubborn and selfish grief only binds her to neverending pain and sorrow, when she should long since have gone to the rest she has earned."

"Then let me join her. I'm not alive without her!"

"Of course you are. You have lived without her for thirteen years. You cling to your grief out of anger and hatred, bitterness and vanity, not love. Of all your many sins, these are your worst. I have done all I can do for you, and I am excessively wearied by my night's work. There are others who will benefit from my efforts, even if you will not. Consider well what you have seen and heard, Francis Clay Mosby. When next we meet, it may be my place to guide your soul either to the rest that comes before eternal life, or to the permanent sleep that comes to those who have not earned that gift. Oblivion, after all, is the deepest of hells."

With those words, Death was gone. He had not faded from view, nor had he turned and walked away. He was simply gone, leaving Clay in the empty cemetery. But, somehow, Mosby did not feel completely alone, and Death's last words were sinking slowly into his heart. In his mind, he could see Mary, alone and crying, stranded along that river all souls had to cross when their time came. Was he really causing her such pain? Did he hold in his heart the power to release her from that torment and send her to the rest she deserved?

He knew there was someone else with him still, but he couldn't see anyone. Then, trilling sweetly under those few brave stars daring to fight the cruel winter clouds came Mary's voice, singing the last verse of a favorite ballad.

"The stalk is withered dry, my love,
So will our hearts decay;
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away."

Just that, and she was gone. Clay looked down at Molly's grave and finally his tears began to fall, not just for Mary and Hannah, but for Molly as well. He thought once more about erecting some kind of stone for her. "A sad soul", Death had called her. Mosby remembered that moment just before the explosion, when she had clung to him, small and helpless, shivering with fear. She deserved more than a plain wooden cross.

As the tears began to freeze on his face, he realized that he was alive, enough to feel the bitter cold of night digging further into his body. With the tears still falling, he started walking back toward the Ambrosia Club, thinking of a warm stove and some thick quilts. As the tears eased the tight pain in his chest, he thought that maybe now he could sleep, and he yawned widely. Tomorrow would be soon enough to see to a stone for Molly's grave, and he would have to check on Josiah, see if the old man was doing any better. For Hannah's sake, someone needed to look after him, and Austin too, for that matter.

"A gentleman honors his responsibilities." He could almost hear his father's voice speaking those words, instead of his own. Come to think of it, Dr. Cleese had said something about the town needing a new deputy, and he seemed to think Clay was the natural person to turn to for such matters. Kearney had not returned, Call was gone, and Josiah was little use to anyone, including himself. There was a lot of work to be done in Curtis Wells just now, and it appeared Clay was the only person around to do it.

Suddenly that work seemed like a more fitting memorial to Hannah and Molly, and perhaps to Mary as well, than stones that were cold and unfeeling even if they were beautifully carved. The last thought in his mind as he walked down the quiet street was a vision of three souls crossing that river together, hand in hand. Although he didn't know for sure that Hannah's soul was free, since so much depended upon Call and the others she had left behind, he wanted to think that she was free. As he unlocked the door to the saloon, with that dream dancing in his head, he was smiling.


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