This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the
Lonesome Dove television show,
Forsaking All Others
Set precisely at the center of the table was a vase, holding branches of red berries. It would probably have been filled with flowers, except that there were few flowers to be had in the middle of a Montana winter. If she concentrated hard enough, Hannah Call could make her eyes see only the vase, and nothing else. In her lap, she was holding Newt's shirt, still wet with her tears. She had been grasping it so tightly that her hands were beginning to hurt. She wasn't sure how long she had remained in the bedroom, crying into that shirt, after Clay Mosby left.
The house seemed much larger than ever before, big and echoingly empty, no longer the cozy sanctuary it had once been, before Newt .... Hannah would even have welcomed a visit from Austin right now, anything not to be alone. She knew they would argue. They always did, eventually, but at least there would have been another person in the house, and arguing would have been better than this overwhelming silence. However, there were two other men she would welcome much more than her brother, or even her father.
To see Newt Call in this house would put her world back together again, and her heart jumped just thinking about it, about the two of them, husband and wife as God had decreed, sharing their bodies and their lives. Still, there was a painfully honest corner of her heart that knew she would welcome Clay Mosby almost as much as Newt. A considerable portion of the tears she'd cried that day came from the well of wishing that he would have turned around and come back, instead of leaving her alone in this horribly empty house. She had almost called after him, in her confusion, but the words never came, held back by the guilt caused by her longing for this man who was not her husband.
"Newt's gone," one part of her kept saying. "There's a grave beside an unfinished church that has his name on it, and everyone in town went to the funeral. I'm alive, and alone when I don't have to be. Mr. Mosby's loved me from the start."
"He's wanted you from the start," another Hannah replied. "That's not really love. He's a cold, angry, bitter man who can't love anyone, because he doesn't even love himself. Besides, you swore an oath to forsake all others, remember?"
"How could I forget it! But that was only until one of us was dead. If I were dead, I would want Newt to find someone else. It's not infidelity for me to go on living now that he's gone."
"Newt's not dead. He's coming back, and you have to wait for him. It's Newt you love. Mosby took advantage of your loneliness, and it's loneliness that makes you want him. You don't love him. He's a gambler, and a saloon-keeper. He runs a business establishment you disapprove of, you never see him in church, you don't even know if he believes in God."
"He believes in God. No one could have cared for the sick as he did, and not believe in God. Only a God-fearing man would have been so generous to people who had been forced out of their homes. He was so kind to Clementine, so gentle."
Back and forth the argument went, the voices echoing in her head just as the sound of creaking wood echoed in the empty house. Oh, God, why wasn't Newt there with her? Why had he left her alone? She wasn't tempted when he was there, because he was the final piece of the puzzle that was her life and she didn't need anything or anyone else, except perhaps children, someday, children who would make the house ring with noise and feel way too small instead of being too large, as it was now. It was easy to resist the attraction she felt for Clay Mosby when Newt was around, or when she at least knew where he was and when he would be back. She was Mrs. Newt Call, and that's who she wanted to be for the rest of her life, faithful unto him and forsaking all others for as long as she lived.
But what if Newt never came back? What if that was his body buried in the grave that bore his name? Was she strong enough to be faithful to a ghost, knowing only the memory of love and happiness, with Newt's loving strength, his laughter and his dreams, lost forever?
How many days had it been since the funeral? Days, not months or years, but just days, and yet she had found such comfort in the feel of Clay's arms around her, that charming Southern grin, the warmth of his mouth on hers, and the passion that rose in both of them for just that one brief moment before she remembered that she was Mrs. Newt Call, and her husband was still alive and would be coming back to her. Had she just been pretending that it was Newt who was holding her and kissing her, or was she already so lonely that she could welcome the attentions of another man? Did she have the strength to live alone and abandoned, possibly for years, maybe even the rest of her life?
Newt didn't abandon me! Her heart screamed at the thought, but he still wasn't there, she was alone in the house they were supposed to share, and even the red berry branches in the vase on the table were from someone else.
"Who would I be hurting if I went on with my life as though Newt was really gone? Everyone else believes he's dead, even Father. I wouldn't have to remarry right away, I'm sure Mr. Mosby would wait a decent period of time. I just want ... someone here, someone to lean on and to hold me when the loneliness gets too painful to handle. Who would that hurt?"
"You would hurt Newt. You would hurt yourself, because you don't love this other man. And Mosby would be hurt, possibly worse than either you or Newt. He's already lost someone he loved so desperately he can hardly talk about her, even all these years after her death. What do you think he'll do, when Newt comes back and you leave him alone again? Remember what this man is capable of!"
"He's capable of understanding! I've seen him do so many good things. Remember the horse race? Was that the act of a cruel or selfish man? He risked dying of cholera to help care for the sick! He's not evil, he knows I love Newt, he'd understand."
"He risked his life because of you, not the others. And the race wouldn't have been so important if he hadn't first robbed a naive man of all his savings. Sometimes kindness grows from selfish roots, and his motives are frequently open to question. You've seen and heard of him doing bad things, too. He's a dangerous man, who can kill with no more thought than a cat killing a mouse. Could you really love someone like that? It's not love you feel for him, and you know it."
It was getting too dark to see the vase anymore. Hannah forced herself to stand up, put the damp shirt down, light the lamp and add more wood to the almost burned-out fire in the stove. After that, she set about making coffee. These little homely things comforted her nerves, brought some routine back into a day that had so violated everything else in her life. As she began feeling more comfortable, physically, and the arguing voices in her head stopped shouting, Hannah could finally hear another, softer voice that wasn't like the others. This voice wasn't concerned with her alone, but with human decency, and the all-too-harmful consequences of her decisions.
As she sat back down and began to sip her coffee, she remembered again the stricken look on Clay Mosby's face after she pushed him away, and his simple request for forgiveness before he fled the house, almost as upset as she was. She'd only gotten a quick glimpse of the expression in his eyes before he was gone, but at that instant, all the walls had been down, and she'd seen more truth in that one moment than she'd ever seen, in all the months he'd been in Curtis Wells.
"Dear Lord, what have I done?" she whispered. It wasn't just Newt she'd betrayed, when her need for simple human comfort had pushed her into responding so passionately. Mr. Mosby's intentions, when he first held her, might have been those of a man trying to comfort a friend, rather than those of a lover. What if Hannah herself, overtaken with grief, loneliness and despair, knowing that he was attracted to her and perhaps even in love with her, had taken those gentle actions and turned them into something deeper and more dangerous, so that Clay had merely responded to her. "No man is strong enough, if the woman isn't strong enough," Hannah murmured to herself, unable to remember where she had heard or read those words.
"No, it wasn't just you. At the very beginning, he might have been trying to comfort you, but he was more than willing to go further than that. It was something he wanted to happen. There were two of you in that room, and both of you have to share the responsibility."
Hannah couldn't remember ever missing her mother as much as she did right now. Mother would have known what to do, she would have offered comfort, support, and good advice. Neither Father nor Austin could provide the help Hannah needed now. In fact, if Austin found out what had happened in the bedroom, he was more than capable of going after Clay Mosby with the intention of punching him out, only her poor brother would never stand a chance against a man that hard and experienced.
Ida! Ida would understand, and she would know what was the right thing to do now. Hannah rose from her chair, and sat down again just as fast. Ida, like everyone else, believed that Newt was dead, and she had been the first person to see that Mr. Mosby was interested in Hannah, so any advice she gave would be colored by her beliefs. There wasn't anyone Hannah could talk to about this, however much she wanted someone to comfort her and reassure her that she hadn't done anything wrong.
The whole problem was that she had done something wrong. She had accepted the attentions of a man other than her husband, even if only for a short time, when she knew in her heart that Newt was still alive and would be trying to get back home to her. Woodrow Call was out there looking for his son, and soon he'd bring Newt back to her and her world would make sense again.
And what of Mr. Mosby? Yes, he'd been almost as shocked and chagrined at what they'd done as she was, but still, he might have misinterpreted her response. He could very well come to believe that she did care for him, and not just as a friend. She had to make him understand that it was wrong, that he could have no future with her because she was already committed, heart and soul, to another man. It might hurt him now, but letting him believe that he had a possible future with her would cause even more pain in the end, especially if he let some other chance for love slip away while waiting for her. Hannah knew that there were many women who actually enjoyed playing games like this, enjoyed having this power over men, but her mother had told her many times that it was cruel and betrayed a woman's true nature. No, she had to put an end to it, to free him to find another woman who could give him the love he deserved.
Why had the man never taken another wife? Other men did, especially out here, where so many women died young. Clay Mosby had lost his Mary more than ten years earlier, but he was still young enough to find someone else. There would surely have been opportunities, and Hannah knew enough about the world to realize that he most likely had not been celibate all those years. So why hadn't he remarried?
What had Mary been like? "A lot like you," was all he'd said, in words anyway, but he'd been so obviously embarrassed that she was seeing him there, locked in a cell, that it hadn't been the time to ask what he meant. As it was, his eyes and his manner, the tone of his voice, had all told her that he had never forgotten his wife. Had he been grieving all these years? If so, what had drawn him to her, made him decide that she was the one he wanted? Hannah was suddenly filled with a very strong desire to know more about the late Mary Mosby, but she would never ask. Mosby wouldn't tell her anyway, most likely. The man worked very hard to keep the doors to his past tightly closed, and ....
She had to stop thinking about him. Clay Mosby wasn't her husband. Newt wasn't dead, he would be coming back to her, and she had to be here, waiting for him. Faithful to him, despite any temptations laid before her. Forsaking all others. All others.
There was only one thing to do. She had to tell Mosby that she didn't love him and that she would never want anyone but Newt. She might lose his friendship, and she was honest enough with herself to admit that she would miss that friendship, but that was a price that had to be paid if she was to spare him unnecessary pain, keep her honor, and be able to live with herself.
Hannah spent the night lying awake on her bed, fully clothed, still holding Newt's shirt hear to her face, as though it was a shield protecting her from the weaker Hannah who wanted Clay Mosby to return to the house and take her in his arms again. When she rose in the morning, she was still tired, but her decision had been made, and she had things to do. There was the church, the newspaper, and her father. She needed to keep busy, preferably away from the house she and Newt had built.
There was the other thing she had to do first, though, as soon as possible. Accordingly, after leaving her buggy at the church, she walked into town, heading for the Ambrosia Club.
Just as she was crossing the street from the hotel, he stepped out onto the boards of the sidewalk, and for a moment her resolve weakened. Somehow, no matter what he was doing, he always seemed to be alone, and Hannah's heart ached for him, knowing that what she was about to do would make him even more so. Then, she remembered that one quick glimpse of his eyes right after she pulled away from him, that pain-stricken expression on his face. She was doing this as much for his sake as for her own, or Newt's. It wasn't fair to let him believe that there was even a small chance of winning her.
They met halfway across the street, and Hannah was relieved at the formal politeness of their greeting. Before he could say anything more, as he obviously wanted to, she rushed on, to get the painful deed over with before her nerve, and her heart, failed her. "What happened," she said, keeping her voice level and almost as cold as the weather, "was a mistake. I love Newt. That will never change."
The only evidence he gave as to his own feelings was an apparent difficulty meeting her eyes, as he acknowledged her by nodding ever so slightly. "We will never speak of this again," was all he said, even though she sensed that he had originally intended saying much more, and then he walked away from her. It took all the strength Hannah Call had to keep from following him, to tell him how much his friendship meant to her and how badly she wanted to keep it, but this would leave the door open for other things, and she didn't dare do that.
So she never noticed that Mosby was doing something he never did in public, or even very often in private. For once, he was grateful for Montana's winter weather, because it kept color in his cheeks and disguised the origin of the moisture in his eyes. As he walked away from Hannah, Clay Mosby was crying, silently, with only a few tears actually escaping to freeze on his face, years of practice having schooled him in the art of never letting any inner torment show outwardly.
He cursed himself for that impulsive kiss; if he’d only restrained himself, kept his attentions kind and gentle, he would have won, eventually. He desperately missed having Robert Shelby around to talk to, because Robert was possibly the only person he felt comfortable discussing such things with. He even hid much of his pain from Olivia. But neither Robert nor Olivia was here, and there was no one else around he could talk to, so he swallowed this new pain just as he'd swallowed the old, and went on with his business. After the first tears froze, he was able to force back any others, by telling himself that it wasn't really over, not just yet; if he was patient, there was still a chance, once Hannah acknowledged that Newt was gone. She’d persuaded herself she loved Call, and she was of the loyal sort. He’d just moved too fast. Let the shock fade, and then he could try again. He only had to wait a little while longer.
Hannah returned to the church, and to her father and brother. On the table in the house she and Newt had built together, there remained a vase, filled with branches of red berries because there were few flowers to be had in the middle of a Montana winter.
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