This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the
Lonesome Dove television show,
Clay Mosby rubbed his tired eyes, rose from his desk, and stretched to relieve the ache in his neck and shoulders. He stepped over to the window and gazed out at the dark town. The rest of Curtis Wells had long since gone to bed. Even the saloon beneath Clay's office was dark, since Carson had closed up and gone to bed over an hour earlier. Mosby yawned and stretched again, strongly tempted to forget the work at hand in favor of his own bed. He looked at the papers on his desk, covered with carefully written notes. What difference would a few hours' sleep make? The man in question was quite thoroughly dead, and his family back in Chicago would scarcely notice a day's delay in the settling of his affairs.
Unfortunately, those papers needed to be ready in time for the morning stage to Bozeman, so the attorneys there could file everything properly. Missing this run would mean a delay of at least four days, not just a few hours, and that could cause questions. As executor of the estate, Clay was the man those questions would be directed to, and he could ill afford the trouble, with Amanda Carpenter watching his every move like a buzzard waiting for an injured animal to die.
As he had on more than one occasion, Clay considered handing the matter over to Josiah. He was still the mayor, after all, and certainly handling the estates of residents who died without designating an executor could be said to fall within the responsibilities of his office. Unfortunately, just when he was finally beginning to regain enough of his senses to really be of some use to Mosby, the damned fool had gotten himself shot trying to do the sheriff's job. The injury wasn't all that serious, but Josiah wasn't young any more, and even after several weeks, he still wasn't at his full strength.
The incident had also cost Clay yet another deputy. As soon as he learned about the whole misbegotten mess, he'd personally dismissed Ike, as he should have done weeks earlier. He'd told the silly incompetent that he had only two choices. "You can go east toward the Mississippi, or west toward the Pacific Ocean, but either way, once you reach water, you'd better be interested in learnin' how to swim." Clay grinned a little at the memory of the stunned and horrified look on Ike's face, but the grin faded rapidly.
He still needed a sheriff. Zeke was currently sitting in the chair at the jail, but Curtis Wells needed a regular sheriff, not another temporary deputy. Zeke was infallibly loyal, and notably lacking in both imagination and initiative, which made him a reliable hireling, but not a good candidate for sheriff. Clay doubted that the man had ever had an independent thought in his entire life, but at present there simply wasn't any better choice. The one man in town who was best qualified for the position, now that Austin had dived back into a bottle, was Mosby's bitterest enemy, and Newt Call probably wouldn't accept the job even if Clay could bring himself to offer it.
Thinking about that problem wasn't getting the paperwork done. Clay walked back to his desk, but before he could settle himself, someone started knocking hard on the back door of the saloon. His first inclination was to ignore it, since anyone with half a brain could tell that the Ambrosia Club was closed for the night, but that was also the reason he couldn't afford to ignore it. As he pulled on his boots and picked up his .45, he could hear Carson moving about in the hallway. The bartender had moved into the club at Clay's invitation, to provide another small measure of security, especially since Carson's loyalty, like Zeke's, was unquestionable.
Carson already had a lamp lit when Clay emerged from the office, and Clay motioned for the other man to proceed ahead of him down into the saloon. Carson was therefore the first to reach the back door, and as he turned the key, Clay positioned himself slightly to one side, his gun cocked and ready. At Clay's nod, Carson sharply swung the door open, stepping back so his employer would have a clear shot at whoever was on the other side.
A moment later, Clay was on the floor, with a heavy man-sized figure pinning him down. Rapid footsteps faded away outside, and before Carson could step over him and rush outside, there was no one in sight. Clay pulled himself free, leaving the body that had been pushed into him crumpled on the floor.
It was UnBob, unconscious, with his hands securely bound behind his back, and a thin line of blood running from his forehead down into his collar. Clay untied his hands, and gently turned him over, careful not to bump his head on the floor in the process. Carson leaned over them, blocking the light. "Go tell Dr. Cleese to get over here as fast as he can," Clay ordered. "And get Zeke here as well. Go on!"
While Carson was gone, Clay examined the wound on UnBob's head, finding a sizeable bump and a deep cut, but it didn't look to him like there was any skull fracture or other serious head injury. As he looked for further injuries, he noticed a note pinned to the grave digger's shirt. He pulled it free, read it, and then rose to read it again, closer to the lamp so he could be certain of every word.
"I hope you won't blame yourself, Mosby. You couldn't protect her forever, and once she was beyond your protection, she was mine for the taking. Some eager men have taken her over to Webster Canyon. She is a pretty thing, for a common slut, and the nights up there can be cold and boring, so I leave it to your imagination to figure out what they're doing to while away the time. She probably doesn't expect you to come riding to her rescue, but I really wish you would, alone, of course. Tomorrow evening would be a good time. You could watch the sunset together."
There was no signature, and the note mentioned no names, but with a numb sensation in the pit of his stomach, Clay knew exactly what had happened. Willis Logan had been waiting for a long time to get his revenge on Mattie Shaw for killing his son, even if the killing had been in self-defense. He'd tried unsuccessfully to have Mattie killed after the trial, and just as he'd wanted Mosby to witness her death then, he wanted him to witness it now. Clay saw no other choice but to go. He'd brought the man and his spoiled brat to Curtis Wells in the first place, so it was his responsibility to clean up the mess that resulted.
Unbob moaned, and turned his head weakly. Clay shoved the note into his pocket, and persuaded the groggy man to stay still until the doctor could check him over. Cleese arrived shortly thereafter, and Clay stepped aside to allow the doctor room to work. As soon as Carson got back with Zeke, Clay had them carry Unbob upstairs. He wanted the man kept safe where his own men could watch him, and prevent certain other parties from interfering. He could have sent him to the Dove, since Mrs. Taylor, who was proving to be an able hotel-keeper, was known to be a skillful nurse as well, but it would have been much harder to keep Unbob under wraps at the hotel.
As soon as the injured man was settled, Clay went to wake up the telegraph operator, using the promise of a large bonus to silence the man's complaints. Before he went haring off across the countryside, he wanted to be absolutely certain that there really was a problem. He wired the sheriff in Miles City, asking him to check on Mattie's whereabouts and reply as soon as possible. If the man found the message alarming, so much the better. Happy with his extra money, the operator agreed to wait for the response, and Clay returned to the Ambrosia.
Soon, he had Zeke and some of the other men out searching for the 'drunken hooligans' who had played such a cruel joke on the slow-witted Unbob, making sure they all believed this interpretation of the bizarre event. While waiting for a reply from Miles City, he began making preparations for an expedition to Webster Canyon.
The reply from Sheriff Turner came even sooner than he'd expected, and reading it sent an icy knife straight through Clay's gut, even though he'd been forewarned. Mattie had been kidnapped two nights earlier. A witness had heard and reported the struggle, but he hadn't been close enough to stop it or to identify the kidnappers. Turner had sent out a posse, but snow had covered the trail. He asked that Clay send him any information that might help him locate the missing woman.
"It's bad, ain't it, Mr. Mosby?" The telegrapher asked. Clay turned on him with a distracted air.
"I don't want you to say anything about this to anybody, do you understand? Not one word."
"Well now, there's other folks in town would be mighty interested in hearin' that Mattie Shaw's in trouble," the man said, in tones Mosby had come to recognize only too well. Under other circumstances, he would have argued, but right now he didn't have the time, so he ended up just paying the telegrapher an even more considerable sum of money to guarantee his silence.
After leaving the telegraph office, Clay went over to the jail to talk to Zeke. The deputy was obviously bursting with questions, but Clay gave him only the most important details. "It appears that Willis Logan's had Mattie Shaw kidnapped. He used Unbob to deliver the ransom note to me. Now listen very carefully. I don't want anyone here to know, especially Call. I've got to go to Webster Canyon with the ransom. It's gonna take me at least eight hours or so just to get there, and then I'll have to look things over. You do nothin' for three days. If I'm not back by then, get a posse together and head for the canyon."
"Three days is too long! What if you need help 'fore then?"
"I won't. Three days, Zeke. You show up any earlier than that and I'll take you apart." Clay bit his lip, trying to anticipate any other problems that might come up. "If anyone comes askin' where I am, I got called to Miles City on urgent business. I want Unbob kept at the Ambrosia until the doctor is satisfied that he's well enough to take care of himself, but you make sure he knows that he was attacked by some drunken hooligans playin' a mean joke. Don't let anyone talk to him until you're sure he believes that."
Zeke was looking down at the floor and shaking his head, obviously not very happy about his orders. "You do everything just as I said, Zeke. Are you listenin' to me? Everything!"
"If thatís what you want, Mr. Mosby."
"That's what I want, and if you don't do as I say, you'll be hurtin' too much to worry about bein' unemployed!" With this, Mosby left the office and returned to the saloon.
He was on his way before sunup, to be sure of reaching his destination earlier than Logan would expect. His best hope of survival, for himself and for Mattie, was that Logan would underestimate him. The man was accustomed to having his hired guns around him, and usually trusted those men to do much of his dirty work and to back him up. Having seen Clay surrounded by his own men, Logan would hopefully figure that Mosby worked in a similar manner, and would therefore be an easy target if he was alone. He had no way of knowing just how often Clay had handled problems by himself or with only his old friend Robert Shelby to back him up.
Logan also couldn't know that Clay was very familiar with the Webster Canyon area. He and Robert had once considered that canyon as a base of operations for the project that had originally brought him to Curtis Wells. They had rejected the site then because it was a little too close to the Sioux reservation, it was too small, and because there were too many places where men could enter the canyon without being spotted easily. Clay still remembered most of those places, and it was his plan to get into the canyon without letting Mattie's kidnappers see him. It was a slim chance, but he figured it was the best one he had to get the woman out alive. As for unhurt, Logan's note made it horribly clear that there was little hope of that.
Clay chose to take a route that included an S-shaped swing around the reservation. He was always wary of trespassing on Lakota territory, even for a short time, and today was not the day to test Red Crow's tolerance. Holding to an easy canter would keep both him and his horse from tiring too fast, and would still get him to the canyon within his time limit. He planned on only one rest stop, late in the morning, once he'd finished the first loop of the 'S' and was close to a wooded area less than three hours from Webster.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Despite the late hour, Clay's activities following the attack on Unbob did not go unnoticed by one particular pair of eyes. Even before Sheriff Turner responded to Clay's wire, Amanda had tried to get the telegraph agent to tell her what message was so urgent that Mosby had gotten the man out of bed to send it right away instead of waiting until morning. Unfortunately, the telegrapher wasn't very interested in talking about it, so she went looking for Austin to help her. By the time she'd rousted him from bed and gotten him to accompany her back to the office, the agent had received and delivered Turner's wire and gone back to bed.
It wasn't very difficult for Amanda to pick the lock on the door to the telegrapher's room behind the office, and soon afterward, Austin pulled the man out of bed and pinned him painfully upright against the wall. "What business did Clay Mosby have with you tonight?" Amanda asked.
"I ... Look, I got to keep them telegraph messages confidential. It's part of the job. I can't tell you ..."
Austin released him only to land a hard blow to his stomach, and the agent doubled up and fell to his knees. "You heard the lady," the ex-sheriff said. "Now what kinda business would Mosby drag you out of bed for?"
"Please, I'll lose my job," the telegrapher begged. "Really, I ain't allowed to talk about ... "
Austin hauled him off the floor and dragged him into the office, throwing him against his desk. "You're gonna tell us what's going on, or I'm gonna destroy this office. What kind of job will you have then?"
"Come on," Amanda cajoled, using her most sugary tones and showing the scared man some money. "We promise, no one will ever know you told us anything."
"Whatever Mosby paid you ain't gonna help much after I'm through with you," Austin threatened. "Make it easier on everybody."
"All right, all right, just as long as you don't tell nobody," the agent said. "Mr. Mosby had me send a telegram to the sheriff in Miles City askin' after Mattie Shaw, and told me to wait for the answer."
"And that answer was?" Amanda asked.
Now that he'd started, the agent could barely control his excitement about the whole story. "She's disappeared! Some men went and took her. Sheriff Turner, he went lookin' for 'em, but he couldn't find nothin'. Mosby's supposed to tell him anything he knows about it, but he didn't give me any other message to send, just said nobody in town was supposed to know." He hesitated, his fright returning now that he'd let the words out. "You won't tell Mr. Mosby, will you? He'd kill me for sure if he though I told somebody."
Amanda just gave him some money and patted his cheek. "Don't worry about Mosby. We're not on speakin' terms these days." She jerked her head toward the door and Austin followed her out, leaving the telegrapher sagging into his chair, too shaky even to count how much money she'd given him.
Amanda and Austin went directly to the sheriff's office. Zeke hadn't been comfortable around Austin ever since Mosby'd fired him, and he was even more uncomfortable now. He stubbornly stuck to his story. "I don't know nothin' about Miss Shaw. All I know is some sons of bitches played a mean joke on Unbob. Mr. Mosby had to go to Miles City on business. That's all he told me, just that it was business." Nothing either Austin or Amanda said would shake him, and they finally gave up.
Back in Amanda's tent, they discussed things over whiskey. "Look, it doesn't really matter what happened to Unbob," Austin said, although there was a hidden part of him that lurched uncomfortably, because he really did like the poor man. "Somehow Mosby got the idea that something happened to Mattie. I'd guess he knew that before he sent any telegram."
"You're probably right. He only sent that message to Miles City to confirm what he already knew. Okay, so Mattie's been kidnapped. Just how is Clay involved?"
"Ransom, maybe? He's mighty fond of her." Austin emptied his glass. "So was I," he muttered, more to himself than to Amanda.
"I guess that would make sense," Amanda said, ignoring his last comment. "But there's got to be more. Now, is it anything we can use?"
The question that was foremost in Austin's mind was whether they could help Mattie. Yes, his pride still smarted from the way Mosby had booted him out of the sheriff's job, which made him more than willing to help Amanda in her quest for revenge over the loss of the Dove. However, another part of him still wanted to prove that firing him had been a mistake. He wanted to hear Clay Mosby admit that he did need someone to watch his back. Now though, he was more concerned for Mattie than for himself. He'd always liked her, and she was one of the few people who hadn't treated him like yesterday's garbage after he'd been fired. He just wasn't sure that Amanda would appreciate this sentiment, considering how obsessed she was with ruining Mosby.
It was proving much harder than Amanda had anticipated to dislodge Mosby from his position in town. Too many people remembered the first few awkward months after the 'Tavish fire', as it had come to be called, and quite a few believed that it was better to be under Clay's control than under no control at all. Also, Amanda was even more of an outsider than Clay was, and her background was a complete mystery to most of them, so they trusted her even less than they did Mosby. Austin could understand her frustration, but he found that he didn't like the idea of using Mattie as just another pawn in Amanda's games.
Amanda herself was more worried than she cared to admit. She and Mattie had developed a tenuous friendship, and Turner's telegram made the situation sound extremely serious. It wouldn't do for Austin to find out how she felt, though, so she hid her worries at the same time as she tried to find a way to help Mattie. "We need to find out where Clay's gone. If he somehow manages to rescue Mattie by himself, he'll be a hero, but if you and maybe a few others are with him, at least he won't be able to claim all the credit himself."
Unfortunately, Austin wasn't a good enough tracker to be able to follow Mosby. He would need help, and the logical choice was Newt Call. Even though the Lonesome Dove now belonged to Clay, Newt was still living there. Amanda had to go to work at the No. 10, so Austin went over to the hotel by himself. He was just about to go in when a familiar voice hailed him, and he was joined by Luther Root. "I tried gettin' in to see Unbob, but Mosby's men ain't lettin' anyone in. They say it's the doctor's orders, but I ain't too sure about that."
"Has Call gotten in to see him?"
"I ain't seen Call since yesterday. I was just gonna check his room. I figured maybe him and me together might just force our way in to see Unbob."
Newt had somehow managed to sleep through everything, and was only just getting up when Austin and Luther started banging on his door. He protested angrily when they pushed their way into the room, but that soon ended as Luther told him why they were there. "Someone beat up Unbob last night, and dumped him over at Mosby's. I tried gettin' in to see him, and Mosby's men wouldn't let me in."
Newt hurriedly finished getting dressed, and soon all three men were on their over to the Ambrosia. "We wanna see Unbob," Call told the men who blocked their way up the stairs. He pulled out his gun, as did Austin. "Now you can either let us go up without no trouble, or we'll just shoot our way through. Your choice." Mosby's men exchanged glances, and prudently let them go up.
Unbob was settled comfortably in bed. He recognized his visitors, but he was so groggy, he couldn't tell them very much. "They come up behind me, that's all I know," he mumbled in answer to their questions. "I didn't see nobody, and they didn't say nothin' to me." Although he didn't look as bad off as they'd feared, he was so sleepy they decided to just let him be.
After they left the Ambrosia, Austin told the other two what he'd learned at the telegraph office. "Did you ask Zeke? What did he have to say about it?" Call wanted to know.
"About what you'd expect," Austin answered. "He doesn't know anything about Mattie, and Mosby's gone to Miles City on business. Be easier just to track the man."
"Maybe so," Call said, "but it would sure be easier if we knew where he was headed and beat him there. Zeke's gotta know more than he's tellin'. We just gotta find the right way to ask him."
At first, Zeke was just as reticent as he'd been earlier, but just as Luther was about to apply a little tougher persuasion, the deputy reached a decision on his own. He told them what little he knew, namely that Logan was somehow involved, and that Mosby was headed for Webster Canyon. "Look, I ain't supposed to tell nobody, but it don't feel right, him goin' off alone when you gotta know Logan's gonna have a lotta guns waitin'. The boss is ridin' into a trap and he knows it and he don't care. Now, I promised I'd wait here for three days, and I'm gonna do that. But I'd feel a whole lot better knowin' you three were backin' him up."
"How'd he know Logan's mixed up in this?" Austin asked.
"Got some kinda message, I guess."
"You know what road he was gonna take?" Luther wanted to know.
"He said it would take him 'bout eight hours to get there, so he's probly swingin' 'round the reservation."
"Then we can catch him easy," Call said. "We just go 'cross the reservation and head him off."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Clay was just about finished with his short rest stop, when Call, Austin and Luther seemed to appear from out of nowhere. He barely had time to stand up before Newt was at his throat, pushing him back against a tree and demanding to know what was going on and what had happened to Mattie. Clay allowed his body to go limp, sagging against the tree for support and raising his knee just enough for his fingers to reach the knife inside his boot. He straightened again and had the point of the knife poking into Newt's chin before the younger man realized what was happening. "Let me go," he insisted, his voice quietly angry. "I don't have time for one of your tantrums."
Call released him abruptly, but remained so close to Clay that they could feel each other's breath. Luther and Austin moved to either side, and with the tree behind him, Clay had no room to maneuver. "How the hell did you know where to find me? I would have noticed if you'd been followin' me."
"We came across the reservation," Call said. " Red Crow don't mind me ridin' through there."
"That's how you got here, not how you knew where to go," Clay said dryly.
"Amanda found out that you got the telegraph agent out of bed right after Unbob was attacked," Austin said. "At first, he wouldn't tell her what for, but when I started forcing his machine down his throat, his tongue got a whole lot looser. Now, why would you suddenly feel a need to find out where Mattie was?"
Damn Amanda! "I figured she might want to know about Unbob," Clay lied.
"Then why didn't you just send the wire to Mattie direct?" the ex-sheriff asked.
"Personal reasons," Clay hedged. "You don't need to know the details."
"Hell with that, Mosby," Luther cut in. "Somethin's happened to Mattie. That telegraph man already told Austin about the wire you got from Turner over in Miles City. He went to find you, but you was gone already, so we got Zeke to tell us where you went. He said somethin' about Mattie bein' at Webster Canyon. How did you know that? Who took her there?"
"I told Zeke nothin' of the sort," Mosby sighed. "Either you heard him wrong, or he got things mixed up. I am goin' to Webster Canyon, that's true, but it's got nothin' to do with Mattie."
"Save it," Newt said harshly.
Luther made a sudden move, grabbing Clay's knife hand and pulling his wrist back and down, twisting it painfully. Austin took hold of his other hand, and between the two, Clay was very effectively pinned against the tree. "We'll do whatever it takes to get you to tell us the whole story. You got no friends here right now," Newt threatened.
Clay took a deep breath, let it out again, and closed his eyes briefly, ever mindful of the passage of time. "All right, I'll tell you, but let me go before one of my arms gets broken."
Luther and Austin released him, but they remained close enough to take him again if necessary. Clay reached into his pocket and took out the note from the night before. "This was pinned to Unbob's shirt. Whoever attacked him did it to deliver a message directly to me." He handed the note to Call, who read it and swore viciously before giving it to Austin.
"Zeke said you figured Logan was involved in this," Austin remarked as he read the note. "Why didn't you just let Sheriff Turner know?" He passed the paper on to Luther, who took a little longer to read it.
"There's no proof to tie Logan to that note or to Mattie, and Turner can't do anything without proof. There's a reason that note was sent to me. I'm the one he wants, I've got to go alone, and I've got a better chance of gettin' Mattie out if I play his game, for awhile anyway."
"Just like you had a better chance of gettin' her and Amanda away from Peters, only she got shot that time!" Luther grabbed Clay and began knocking him against the tree. "Dammit, you got no right riskin' her life like that! You're just aimin' to get the both of you killed!"
Newt and Austin pulled him away from Clay, who leaned back against the tree, trying to get his breath back and ease the pain in his head. Newt thrust his sawed-off gun under Clay's chin. "We ain't debatin' this. We're all goin' to Webster Canyon and that's that. You got no choice." He shoved Clay toward his horse. Within seconds, Clay whirled around and drew his own gun, stepping back just enough so that he could cover all three men.
"You're right, there is no choice. I'm the one Logan wants. However, he isn't countin' on my knowin' that canyon as well as he does, maybe better. I figure I can slip in and get to Mattie before he's even aware I'm around. The three of you are only gonna make things harder, and you'll probably get killed on top of it. This is my problem, and I'll deal with it."
"And just how do you figure on stoppin' us, now we know where she is and what's goin' on? You could maybe shoot one of us, but that's as far as you'd get," Luther said.
"I'm hopin' you'll all show some sense for once. Follow me if you have to, I can't stop you, but stay back, out of sight, and give me time to handle it my own way first." Mosby pleaded. If he didn't settle this and get back on the road soon, he was going to run short on time. Somehow he had to get the others to understand and let him do what he had to do.
"You arrogant son of a bitch!" Call shouted. "You can't do this alone, and you damn well know it." He thought for a few seconds, and then outlined his own plan. "We can cross over another corner of the reservation, it'll get us there faster. There's a fork in the trail, just before it gets clear of the woods. From there, you go where you planned. We'll take another way, and watch you. You get one chance to get to her, and then we're movin' in."
It was more cooperation than Clay expected, and he made his decision quickly. "All right, as long as you give me that one chance," he said, lowering his gun. With luck, he'd still be able to get into whatever camp Logan had set up and get Mattie clear before any gunplay started. "Just be careful not to get her caught in any crossfire."
Within minutes, they were in the saddle, taking the more direct route Call had suggested. It would not only save time, they would be hidden in the trees a little bit longer, making it harder for any sentries to spot them.
As they rode, Clay thought about how these men had gotten drawn into this mess. Amanda's interest in his late-night telegram was understandable enough, and he cursed himself for not realizing that she would find out about it. She was so desperate to find anything to use against him that she could be counted on to question everything he did. She had called upon Austin to help when the telegrapher got stubborn, because he had become an ally in her crusade. It was natural for Austin to call upon Newt when he discovered that Mattie was in trouble, because he knew that Mattie and Call had been close before she left Curtis Wells. As for Luther, he and Newt had been friends for a long time, so it was logical for Newt to include him as further backup. And Clay knew that Luther had been visiting Mattie whenever he had the Miles City stage run.
Actually, he had to admit that he did feel better knowing that someone reliable would be around in case he failed to get Mattie out. He had no idea whether Logan himself was in the canyon, or was planning to join them later, or was perhaps just waiting things out until it was all over. All that was certain was that he wanted Clay to ride knowingly into a trap, and his note had been carefully composed specifically to that end. Not only did Logan still want Clay to see Mattie die, now it was possible he wanted to kill Mosby as well. But did he want to watch, or did he prefer to sit back somewhere else, so he could easily deny any personal involvement?
Now more than ever, Clay missed Robert. They'd been through so much together that they knew each other's thoughts and could anticipate each other's moves. Shelby was not only a tough and determined fighter, he was truly a friend, the likes of which Clay had never found in Curtis Wells. For a time he had considered Austin a friend, but right now, all three of his companions would be only too willing to watch Clay ride into that trap and get his throat cut for his trouble, especially if it gave them the chance to get Mattie out. Of course, Clay had to admit that his own death wouldn't be such a bad trade for Mattie's life, considering that he was in large part responsible for her predicament. A verse ran through his mind: "I would not be a sinner, Tell you the reason why, 'Cause if the Lord should want me, I would not be ready to die."
Whoever had come up with that one must not have been much of a sinner, Clay thought, or perhaps he'd never 'seen the elephant'. Anyone, sinner or not, who rode into a fight like this not prepared to die was a fool, and would probably suffer a fool's end. It had been a very long time since Clay had spent much time worrying about the life everlasting. He'd seen and done things during the war that most people would say certainly barred him from heaven's gates, and there were some who'd also say that he'd done things since the war that were even worse, but he couldn't get too worked up about hell. Could hell possibly be much worse than the bloody fields of Gettysburg, or the foul, over-crowded, disease-ridden cells on Lookout Island?
One small corner of his heart, however, held tight to his mother's oft-repeated belief that the Lord knew and understood human frailty and judged accordingly, with consideration given to earthly suffering. Still, worrying about it made no sense at all. He resolutely turned his thoughts away from such morbid concerns and back toward his imaginary map of Webster Canyon, now less than two hours away. There was, after all, a great difference between being prepared to die, and wanting to die. Francis Clay Mosby much preferred to live.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Webster Canyon didn't really deserve such a grand-sounding name. Strictly speaking, it did fit the definition of a canyon, but it would have been more accurate to call it a valley since it was very small and had sloped walls instead of steep ones. It had only one true entrance, that is, an opening in the hillside that led directly into the basin, but there were many other pathways one could use, if you didn't mind doing some climbing. The place would probably never have been given a name at all except for two things: a deep spring at the far end of the basin which reliably provided drinking water even in the hottest and driest weather the territory could produce, and the way the hill into which it was carved rose abruptly from the flatter ground around it, making it a good point from which to observe the surrounding countryside.
It took Mattie's kidnappers two days to get to the canyon from Miles City. She had been kept tightly bound and gagged for most of that time, even to the extreme of having a rope with a slip-knot around her neck. It was due only to the protests of the oldest man in the group, a grizzled old cowhand, that she had been allowed any privacy during the brief rest stops, but the rope around her neck would stay there the whole time. She had been given no possible chance to get free.
However, except for the bruises gotten when they first broke into her tiny room in Miles City, she had not been deliberately injured in any way, although the frequent jokes about her appearance were humiliating, and the knowledge that Logan was behind everything was like a rope around her spirit. They'd let her put on her boots, but otherwise she was dressed for bed, a plain nightdress over long underwear. During the day, with the sun beating down, she was warm enough, but at night, even though the old cowboy insisted that she be given a blanket to wrap herself in, the late winter chill still numbed both her body and her mind.
A small camp had already been set up when they arrived in the tiny canyon, obviously the work of a boy who couldn't have been much older than fifteen, sixteen at the most. There was a tie-line and feed supply for the horses, a good supply of wood for a fire, a wagon which had probably been used to bring all the supplies here, and a large tent. Mattie was so tired and sore from the long ride that she couldn't offer even a token amount of resistance when Carl Shelton, a big, red-faced man with a straggly beard and an absurd double-holstered rig, pulled her off her horse and shoved her toward the tent. Shelton was Logan's foreman, and was quite clearly the leader of this crew.
Shelton gathered all the men, numbering seven if you included the boy, in front of the tent, where he proceeded to tell them all what the whole plan was. Apparently, none of the others had been told the complete story up to this point. "You all know this here bitch done killed Mr. Logan's son, and was never punished for it. The boss wants some justice for his boy, and that's what this is all about. Now, you see, there's this Mosby fella that runs Curtis Wells, and he's the one saw to it the killer got off scot free. He's been invited to join our party tonight, and Mr. Logan hisself is gonna be here to greet him."
At first, Mattie's spirits rose a little at the mention of Mosby's name. He was bound to come after her, and he had enough men riding with him to take care of this bunch. Then she remembered the last time she'd been in a similar situation, and how Mosby had come by himself, refusing any offers of assistance. If he did that this time, riding into this place by himself, Mattie didn't know how he could get out of it alive, much less save her, and her spirits sunk back into her boots.
"Now, as for us, while we're waitin', we got E-xpress permission from the boss to have ourselves some fun with the girlie here. We can take her any way we want, long as she's still alive when Mr. Logan and this Mosby get here. The boss wants Mosby to see her die for her crime, and then he's gonna kill Mosby himself."
Oh God, Logan had planned all along to kill Clay too. Of course, they would have to, because he'd be a witness to her murder. Mattie was torn between praying for his arrival and hoping he wouldn't come. In fact, she was so worried about what could happen to the man who'd gradually become her friend despite all the bad things he'd supposedly done and the overbearing manner in which he frequently treated people, that at first she didn't recognize the true meaning of the rest of Shelton's speech.
Then, angry voices interrupted her thoughts, and brought her back to her immediate situation. The older cowhand was shouting that he'd never been told that the job included "interferin' with a woman", and no real man would do such a low-down thing, no matter what the woman had or hadn't done. "It ain't like she's workin' in some cathouse somewheres, and killed a customer to steal his money. I ain't heard nothin' so disgustin' in my whole life, and I don't aim to be a part of it."
"You old fool, you're makin' better money now than anywheres else you ever worked! Logan's done good by all of us. So maybe she don't work in a house, you can still see she ain't no lady. You seen the way she dresses, and the work she does. What lady wears trousers and works with guns?"
"Don't make no difference. It don't make her no whore. I ain't never forced no woman to lay with me, and I'm too old to start." With this, the older man walked away from the group and climbed into his saddle. Mattie watched hopefully, since maybe he would get help and come back for her, if he really was that upset by what these men were planning.
However, Shelton had other ideas. "You can't quit now, old man. Nobody walks out on Mr. Logan like that," he shouted, his face even redder than usual.
The other cowboy paid no heed. He turned his horse and headed for the mouth of the canyon. Mattie was horrified to see Shelton bring out a gun and calmly shoot the man in the back. After he'd fallen, the foreman walked toward him and shot him one more time in the head. When Shelton walked back to the others, some of whom were openly laughing and joking about the killing, he was smiling.
"Hank, you and Jesse get that garbage outa here. Leave the body on the reservation. Ain't nobody gonna care about it there."
"Aw, Shelton, can't it wait 'til we've had a chance at the girl?" one of the men whined.
"Don't worry none, there'll be plenty left for you," Shelton said. As the two designated men picked up the body and slung it over a horse, the others all looked back at Mattie, who suddenly yanked free of the man holding her and tried to run, only to be brought up short by the rope around her neck. Kicking and struggling, she was dragged into the tent, while Shelton licked his lips and watched.
"You can't do this," the boy cried out. "Mr. Shelton, it just ain' right!"
"Keep yourself quiet, Joe-boy, or you'll end up like the old man," Shelton threatened.
Instead, Joey ran forward and pulled the rope off Mattie's neck. The other men yanked him away, and Shelton started to beat him up, taunting him to fight back. Finally, the boy couldn't get up on his own anymore, and Shelton dragged him into the tent.
"Get me some more rope," he ordered one of his men. "And get that long underwear off the bitch. She'll be more appealin' with just that dress thing on."
As Mattie twisted and kicked, her boots were removed and the men went to work cutting the underwear off. Finally, they untied her hands to get rid of the sleeves, but they kept a firm grip on her wrists. Meanwhile, Shelton tied Joey up and propped him against one side of the tent. "Just you watch, sonny, and you'll see what bein' a man is all about," he laughed. "Aw, look at that, boys, the baby's cryin'! No wonder he don't want any. He wouldn't know what to do!"
Mattie managed to knee one of her assailants, and tried again to pull free, but with Shelton joining in, the men wrestled her to the ground. Someone pulled her arms over her head and pinned them down. She closed her eyes as Shelton loomed over her, and underneath the gag she was screaming, but no one who cared could hear her.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The four would-be rescuers parted exactly where Call had planned, leaving Mosby to ride on to the canyon alone while the others approached it from a different direction, taking the most obvious route one would take if coming from Curtis Wells. It was their hope that if the three of them were open enough about their approach, they might catch the eye of whoever was watching from the hill, so that Mosby could fulfill his plan of approaching from the far side, where there was more cover.
As they approached, however, there were no obvious sentries anywhere around, and once they were actually on the hill looking down into the basin, they could see that the camp was close to deserted. The only people in sight were three men who were apparently resting, and there weren't even any horses around. They couldn't see Mattie, so she was presumably in the tent at one end of the canyon, and this was Clay's goal. Watched anxiously by three figures hiding in a deep crevasse directly opposite the tent, Clay made his way down, without being spotted by anyone else.
Only a few minutes later, however, he came out and yelled that everything was clear. Puzzled, the others proceeded cautiously into the open, to find Clay checking on the men they had thought were resting but who were actually either dead or so close it made little difference. With him was a battered and terrified boy of perhaps sixteen. As Newt and the others came up to him, Clay turned and said, "She's gone. She got hold of a gun and shot her way out, a few hours ago."
They all found a kind of grim satisfaction in the ruins of the camp. Once Mattie had gotten her hands on a weapon, she had used it well. Two of her captors were dead, and three more wounded badly enough to need a doctor, but none of the men from Curtis Wells cared very much whether they found a doctor in time or not. They were much more concerned about Mattie, and the story they heard from the terrified young cowboy hardened them even more.
Joey began by describing how he'd been sent on ahead with the wagon to set up the camp. "Mr. Logan, he didn't tell me much, just to bring the stuff here and get a camp put together. I mean, we all knew he was plannin' on doin' somethin' 'bout his son's killin', but we didn't know what he meant. Well, I guess Shelton knew all along. Him and Mr. Logan, they've been mighty close for months now, plannin' all this, I guess."
The boy hadn't been in the canyon more than half a day when Shelton and his men had ridden in with their prisoner. "She didn't look much like I thought she would. I was figurin', if she was what Mr. Logan said she was, she'd, well, be all painted up or such-like, but she wasn't. And when Shelton told us all what we was expected to do, Old Gabe Hackett, he's the first friend I had on the Logan spread, he just didn't cotton to that idea at all. He tried to leave, and Shelton just ... he just shot him in the back. He told Hank and Jesse to go dump Gabe on the reservation. The woman ... Miss Shaw that is, she tried to get away then, but they hauled her back in."
By this time, Joey was fully in tears, breathing raggedly and not looking directly at any of them. "I tried to stop 'em! I swear, I tried to untie her and let her go, but Shelton, he just, he told 'em to, to get her clothes off her, and he was hittin' me and hittin' me and I couldn't get to her. Shelton tied me up, and they made me watch while they, while they ... had their way with her. I didn't know they was gonna do anything like this! I never woulda ... I woulda quit, and Old Gabe too, I swear! She was screamin' and fightin' all the time, but they didn't pay no mind!"
There was a brief pause, while the boy tried to get his breath back, not realizing that his listeners were having almost as much trouble breathing as he was. Even though it was no more than he had expected, Clay felt himself go pale on hearing Joey's story, and an old nightmare emerged from the back of his memory: screams, or rather, the imagined echoes of Mary's screams, before she was murdered. It took every ounce of control he had to keep from being sick, and from the expressions on the other men's faces, he wasn't the only one. Joey was shivering with fear, and he hurried to finish the tale, apparently desperate to have the worst over with.
"Hank and Jesse got back from, from gettin' rid of Gabe's body. Jesse said he wasn't interested in that kind of fun. He said he liked his women willin' and happy, so Shelton sent him up above the camp to watch for, to watch for you, Mr. Mosby. Then Hank came into the tent, it was, ah, it was his turn. But when he was done, he kinda turned away without lookin' to be sure somebody was holdin' her down and she, I don't know how she could move so fast after all that but she did and she got his gun and shot him. Ever'body was shoutin', but she kept on shootin' 'til there weren't no bullets left. She was cryin' and all that, but she just pulled her boots on, took Mr. Shelton's gun, and run outta here. I figured she was just gonna get on a horse and ride away and then I heard Jesse shoutin', and there was some more shootin'.
"Hank, he rode this mustang that was only half-broke, and that horse never was much good when there was any loud noises. That mustang was the last one on the line, and he musta broke free and the other horses just followed after him. I couldn't see nothin' from in the tent, but I could hear Jesse screamin'. He musta been gut-shot. I think Miss Shaw just run away, on foot. I don't think she had a chance to get a horse before they all stampeded outta here. And that's all I knew until you got here. I swear, I didn't know what they was plannin'! I tried to help her, I swear on my mother's grave I tried to help her!"
"What about Logan? Where is he now?" This was Clay's final question for the boy.
"He, I ain't real sure, but I think he's on his way here. Shelton said the boss wanted to watch her die, and then he wanted to kill you himself. I lost track of time, I don't know how long it'll be 'fore he gets here."
Austin went to get their horses from where they were tethered just over the hill, making a swing around the other side to collect Clay's mount as well, while Newt and Luther examined the entire basin of the canyon, looking to pick up Mattie's trail. Meanwhile, Mosby had a few words of advice for Joey. "I don't think you want to be here when Logan arrives. You'd best walk on out while you have the chance. Leave this territory, don't ever come back, and never talk about this to anyone."
"Mr. Mosby, I'm right good at trackin'. Old Gabe taught me some, and he said I had a gift for it. Let me go with you. I can help, and, well, I couldn't help her none before and I want to ... Let me try to make it up to her, least a little bit," Joey begged, trying hard to persuade Clay to take him along on the search, but Clay firmly refused. Once the others got back, only Austin questioned letting Joey go.
"He's the only real proof we've got that Logan's behind all this," Peale said. "We may need him for the trial."
"Logan's not standin' trial," Mosby answered him darkly. "He's got too many powerful friends. Besides, I don't aim to have anyone stand up in public and tell people what happened here. There'd be those who'd say it wasn't rape, that Mattie got what she deserved because she doesn't dress properly or behave properly. I'm not puttin' her through that. There will be no trial. Logan belongs to me."
"Like hell, Mosby!" Surprisingly, Luther was ice-cold in his anger, so unlike his usual hot-tempered response to life. "I aim to have a piece of that man myself. You're gonna have to share him."
"We gotta find Mattie first," Call said. "It's gonna be sunset pretty soon, and that means it'll get a lot colder. She's alone and on foot and she ain't dressed for this weather. Logan will have to wait until we have her safe, and then we can all go after the bastard."
"Sounds good to me," Clay said. For once, all four men were in complete agreement with each other. They rode off to follow Mattie's trail, leaving a shaky, bewildered boy standing in the remains of the camp, surrounded by bodies. If the truth be told, they forgot about him almost immediately, remembering only the terrible tale he had told. Logan wasn't going to find much of a welcome when he finally did show up.
Mattie had a few hours' head start on the searchers, but she was injured, lost, and on foot, so they hoped they had a reasonable chance to find her in time. Still, every small clue they found - a scrap of material snagged on a branch, a stumbling footprint, some broken twigs - taunted them, just as the falling sun did, reminding them that she was out in this wilderness in little more than a nightdress, and probably wouldn't survive more than one night in the open. It was encouraging to know that she'd been practical enough to put on her boots, even if shock did catch up to her later, because at least her feet wouldn't get torn up and frostbitten. They kept doggedly to her trail, ignoring the ache in their chests from breathing deeply in the cold air. As the light faded and the horses began to wheeze from their own exertions, the trail got harder and harder to follow, so they gave up riding and walked instead, leading their horses.
The personal differences between them, all the bitter feelings of betrayal and distrust, seemed very petty now, beside their common concern for the woman they were tracking through the harsh landscape. Call and Luther were in the lead because they were the best trackers. This freed Austin and Clay to keep their eyes on either side of the trail, occasionally spotting something that the other two missed because they were concentrating on the ground in front of them. Conversation was minimal, both because it hurt to waste breath speaking and because words might distract them long enough to miss some small but essential evidence of Mattie's passing. They didn't want to lose time having to backtrack because of a silly mistake. Their common need was so strong that they were able to communicate with gestures instead of words.
Not one of these men was a regular churchgoer, but now they were all praying, each in his own way. After such a vicious attack, who knew what frame of mind Mattie was in, or what she might take into her head to do to herself? As her trail became more erratic, it was clear that fright had won over practicality, and she was simply running, with no specific destination in mind. Being male, they could barely imagine what it must have been like for her. Even though Mattie had always put up a brave front, underneath she was still young, and more vulnerable than they wanted to think about in these circumstances. She might be stronger than most women, but was any amount of strength enough to sustain her now?
Several times, they passed places where she had fallen down, occasionally leaving spots of blood on some sharp rocks or a fallen branch. She was stumbling more often now, most likely from a combination of exhaustion and exposure, and the men were getting more desperate by the minute. However, she was also slowing down, and that meant they were getting closer.
They all kept trying to force away their own nightmares, which differed only because each of them had different life experiences to draw upon. Luther had often seen Indian women after they had been raped by white men, but now, in his mind all those women wore Mattie's face. He was almost as angry at himself as at Logan. Why had he remained content to merely see Mattie whenever he had the Miles City run? Why hadn't he tried harder to get her to return to Curtis Wells? She would have been safer there, among people who would have looked after her when he wasn't around, but he had thought only that he had a better chance of winning her if she was away from Call and the others. He'd been worrying about competition for her affections, when he should have been more concerned about her well-being.
There was an eerie similarity in the mental visions Newt and Austin were seeing, with faces blurring back and forth between Hannah and Mattie, as both men somehow associated Mattie's kidnapping with Hannah's death. However, Austin primarily felt the concern and anger any brother would feel if a sister fell victim to such an assault. He had once entertained romantic feelings for Mattie, but his actual relationship with the gunsmith had been much more fraternal in nature. To lose her in this way was so closely akin to losing Hannah that he wasn't sure he could bear it.
Newt felt all of that, but added to it was a fair measure of guilt, for he knew Mattie had cared for him as more than a friend. She only left Curtis Wells when he failed to respond in the way she dreamed of. If he had been more sensitive to her feelings, less consumed by his own unceasing grief for Hannah and the constant burning hatred he felt for Mosby, he might have handled things better. Maybe he could even have kept her from leaving town. Logan obviously hadn't dared to attack her in Mosbyville, but he'd been watching, waiting for her to leave that dubious shelter and put herself within reach of his vengeance.
Clay's imaginings were far more intense than any of the other's. He had spent years haunted by the same dreadful nightmare, over and above the horror of Mary's death: the fear that somehow she had found time before she died to hate him for not being there. In recent years, that fear had subsided, just a little, pushed aside by the simple realization that he had been there when Hannah was killed, and his presence hadn't made any difference at all. He had finally faced what Robert had tried to pound into his head all those years ago: that he probably wouldn't have been able to save Mary either. All he would have accomplished was to die along with her - a thought that, admittedly, would have appealed to him very much in the first dark years after the war. Now, though, the nightmare was back, because once again he had failed to protect someone he cared for.
Mattie was one of those very few people who could, temporarily at least, take the place of his lost family, a substitute perhaps for his sister Elisabeth, someone he could let inside the protective walls he'd built for himself, because she posed no threat to him. He'd allowed her to talk to him in ways he would never have accepted from anyone else, but although he had missed her dreadfully after she left town, he had been so involved in getting Mrs. Taylor set up to run the Dove, and trying to anticipate Amanda's traps, that he never got around to going to Miles City to talk to Mattie about coming back. And he would never be able to forget that it was his own error in judgment, concerning Logan's character, that had put Mattie directly into danger's path, and he had failed to protect her from him.
That was the most common element in each man's thoughts: failure. In some way, Mattie was important to each of them, and they had each failed to care for her as she deserved to be cared for. It didn't seem to matter that Logan had failed too; seeing Mattie only as an insignificant chit without money or family connections, the man had neglected to consider the possibility that there were other people who would be interested in her safety, making it less likely that Mosby would be alone when he went to the canyon. Logan had also underestimated Mattie's ability to defend herself. However, their enemy's partial failure was little consolation. It was the bitter taste of their own failures, and fear of the ultimate outcome, that drove them on as the wind grew stronger and the sky darker, nature taunting them about how fast time was running out.
Suddenly, Luther stopped short, swinging his hand up in a gesture that told the others to stop and listen. Austin was the first to confirm what Luther had heard: singing, just a few ragged lines of song, drifting past on the evening wind. He pointed east, and they set out again.
When they found her, Mattie was curled up under a fallen tree, huddled with her arms around her knees, shivering violently. At first, she neither saw nor heard them, and when she did, there was no sign of recognition in her blank expression. "I can't remember the words, Daddy," she whimpered. "I try and I try, but I just can't remember. Sing it to me again."
"Mattie, ev'rythin's gonna be all right now," Luther said, in a surprisingly gentle voice none of the other men had ever heard before. "I promise you, ain't nobody gonna hurt you again. I'll see to that." He moved closer, bending down so he was closer to eye-level. "It's just Newt and Austin and Mosby with me here. We're gonna take you home now, back to Curtis Wells where you'll be safe." He reached out to touch her, but right away, she began to scream, an ear-splitting, heart-breaking sound. "C'mon, Mattie," he coaxed. "It's just ol' Luther. I ain't tryin' to hurt you, I just want to take you home." But when he tried once again to pull her out, she fought him, with an incredible strength for one who had suffered so much. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he gave up, and she moved back into her snug hole.
Within seconds, she stopped screaming, and began rocking back and forth on her heels, her arms once again wrapped around her legs. She resumed her humming, her eyes distant and seeing something far different from the forest. "What do we do now?" Luther whispered, not at all mindful of his tears. "She's off her head."
"Maybe she thinks we're the men who attacked her," Austin whispered back.
"It don't matter much right now," Newt said. "We've gotta get her out of here." He slipped past Luther, crouched down, and moved as close as he could to Mattie. "Mattie, it's Newt. Those other men, they're all gone now. Ain't nobody here gonna hurt you. Like Luther said, we just wanna get you outta here and back to Curtis Wells. You got to be gettin' cold by now. Let me help you out, and we'll be on our way. What do you say we leave here right now?" All she did was look blankly past him, murmuring once again about forgetting the words to a song.
"I know some of it. My daddy taught me. He and Mama always sing to me at night," she said, in a childlike voice.
Desperate to get her to warmer shelter, Call put his hands on her shoulders and tried to make her look directly at him, to recognize him and realize she was safe. At first, she ignored him, but then, just as suddenly as before, she began to fight and scream, flailing about with her arms, and trying to kick. Clay and Austin pulled him away from her, afraid she would hurt herself, but not before she caught Newt's eye with an elbow, striking him with enough force to blur his vision.
They tried a few more times to get her to come out on her own, but nothing worked. As long as they didn't get too close, she was calm, rocking herself back and forth, singing, muttering about not remembering all the words. If any of them got close to her, or tried to touch her, she went crazy. There were only a few faint red streaks of setting sun left, and they were miles from any shelter. Time was winning the battle.
"Daddy, sing the hushabye song to me," she pleaded again.
"The hushabye song," Austin muttered under his breath, and then he knelt down opposite Mattie and began to sing, although not very well. "Hush little baby, don't say a word, Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird."
"No, that's not my song," Mattie sounded panicky, and Austin broke off immediately. "You're not my daddy. You can't sing our song. Where's Daddy?"
Austin stood up and declared that they didn't have any other choice, they were going to have to knock her out before they all froze to death.
"You just try that, Peale," Luther hissed. "We'll see who gets knocked out."
"She needs shelter and a doctor, and we aren't going to get her out of here any other way," Austin argued.
Just then, Mattie looked up at them again, and it seemed to Clay that she was looking directly at him. "Daddy, sing it to me again. I'll remember the words this time, I promise."
"Where are her people from?" Clay suddenly asked. "I know she and her father were in Missouri before they started out here, but where were they from originally?"
"Not that it means nothin', but she told me her daddy was raised in the Appalachians somewheres," Luther said.
"What the hell difference does that make?" Newt asked.
"I think Austin had the right idea," Clay said. "He just had the wrong song." He knelt at Mattie's side, and asked what song she wanted to hear, trying to match her accent with his own.
"You know, Daddy, the one with all the horses. You used to tell me there were lots and lots of horses out west, just like in our song."
"I thought so." Clay began to sing. His voice was hoarse from the cold, exertion, and simple emotion, but it didn't seem to matter. Mattie actually smiled at him. "Hushabye, don't you cry, go to sleepy little baby. When you wake, you shall have all the pretty little horses."
Mattie leaned toward him, closing her eyes and humming along with him.
"Dapples and grays, pintos and bays, all the pretty little horses."
Now she was joining him whenever she remembered a word, and he moved closer to her, trying to take his coat off. Newt saw his problem, and helped him remove the garment.
"Way down yonder, in the meadow, poor little baby cryin' Mama." Clay wrapped the coat around her shoulders, pulling her a little further out of her den in the process. She was startled at first, but he kept singing. "Birds and the butterflies flutter 'round her eyes, poor little baby cryin' Mama." She sighed heavily and relaxed again.
"Hushabye, don't you cry, go to sleepy little baby." Gradually, Clay worked himself into a better position, until he was able to pick her up. "When you wake, you shall have all the pretty little horses." It took both Luther and Austin to help him to his feet, and then they all held their breath for a second, fearing that the movement would bring back her panic, but she lay quietly limp in Mosby's arms. Her only response was to whisper sleepily that she was cold and wanted to go to bed, and could 'Daddy' sing something else.
"Sing the one about the Colorado trail," she said, so softly Clay could barely catch the words. He thought frantically, said a quick prayer that he again had the right song, and began singing.
"Weep all ye little rains. Wail, winds, wail." He carried her back toward the horses. He tried to get Mattie to accept being held by one of the others, at least long enough for him to mount, but she only grabbed him desperately, her eyes opening again, wide with returning terror. "All along, along, along the Colorado trail."
Newt led Clay's horse alongside another fallen tree, and with Austin and Luther helping him keep his balance, Clay climbed up onto the log and from there into his saddle, so that he didn't have to disturb Mattie. "Eyes like a morning star, lips like a rose. Mattie is a pretty girl, God Almighty knows."
After a whispered conference about destination, the other men mounted and Austin took Clay's reins. Riding carefully through the darkness, they headed toward Red Crow's winter camp. It was much closer to their present position than Curtis Wells or any other settlement, and at least they would find safety and warm shelter there. Call went first, because he knew the way better, then Austin, leading Clay's horse, and Luther followed them, oddly grateful that the others couldn't see him, crying because the woman he loved had turned to another, even if she didn't know who was really carrying her. He heard her murmur something, and soon Clay began the lullaby again.
"Hushabye, don't you cry, go to sleepy little baby."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was close to midnight when the party reached Red Crow's settlement, but they were still seen, and were escorted into the camp. Newt was surprised to see that several fires were burning, most of them in front of the lodges, but one precisely in the center of the encampment. Indians were not usually given to large fires, because they could give away one's location to an enemy. Newt had often heard the Sioux speak very contemptuously about white men's large, wasteful fires, so it was odd that Red Crow had allowed such a fire, even against the cold night air.
The firelight did make it possible for them to see more of the encampment than they would have otherwise. The winter lodges, bigger and with smaller entrance flaps than those used during the warmer months, were arranged in a rough circle. Red Crow's lodge was set a small way apart from the others, and a short distance beyond it was another lodge that Newt knew was most likely used as a sweat lodge by the men of the village. In the deep shadows around the edges of the circle there were a few other lodges set back from the others. One was probably the women's lodge, and it was not unlikely that there was a medicine lodge on the fringes as well.
Sleepy Lakota surrounded the white men as they rode in, with Mattie still wrapped in Mosby's coat and cradled in his very tired arms. His voice had given out many times. He would stop singing, hoping that she was too asleep to notice, but each time she would eventually stir, and once more ask for a song. Fortunately, humming seemed to serve the purpose just as well, and he was able to keep her reasonably quiet.
As they came to a halt before Red Crow's lodge, Newt was glad to see that Enona was there. She had been studying with Little Wolf for several years, and between her and Red Crow, surely they would be able to help Mattie. Standing with Enona and the young Lakota leader was another woman, Indian but not Sioux, and Newt was sure he had never seen her before. Newt dismounted and said the ritual words for respect and friendship that Red Crow and his people would expect. He went on to explain their problem. "We have a woman with us who needs help. Some men took her from her house and they, well, they hurt her real bad. She got away but then she was out in the cold and she's sick. She don't make much sense, the way she talks. Only way we got her here was, she thinks Mosby is her father or somethin' like that. We didn't think we'd make it all the way to town in time." Newt looked back at the others, as Luther and Austin helped Mosby dismount without disturbing Mattie; two of the Lakota had stepped forward to hold the horses. "Thing is, she's kind of a special friend, and I'd ... it would mean a lot if you could help her out."
"Truth is, we've been kinda expecting you," Enona said. Newt stared at her, and she added a brief statement. "I'll explain it all in a bit. This here is White Wing. She's got special powers."
As the others approached them, Red Crow spoke for the first time. "It is the woman who sells guns."
"Yeah," Newt said. "Look, she needs help real bad."
Before they could say anything else, White Wing turned to Enona and spoke to her in somewhat broken Lakota. Newt couldn't make out everything she was saying, so Enona translated. "She says to take your friend into the lodge. She'll look after her there."
Red Crow gestured at the lodge, and Clay followed him in. White Wing went with them, but Enona stopped for a moment, stepping up very close to Newt. "Did those men rape her?" she asked, in low tones that wouldn't reach anyone else's ears.
Call found it difficult to actually say the words, so he just nodded. Enona closed her eyes and swore before turning to go on into Red Crow's lodge.
They couldn't all go in, so Austin took their horses, leading them over to where the Lakota kept their own mounts, accompanied by several men who helped him unsaddle and care for the tired animals. Newt wanted to be with Mattie, but he somehow sensed that Luther's need was greater. Since Newt's own training with Little Wolf had never been completed, he couldn't really help that much, so he allowed his friend to go instead. As he stood outside the lodge, an older Lakota woman put a blanket around his shoulders and pushed a bowl of something warm into his hands, telling him to sit by the fire in front of Red Crow's lodge, and eat.
Soon, Enona joined him, taking his hand and telling him that Mattie was going to be all right. "The medicine woman will take care of her. White Wing's Ojibwe, and she just came here from some mission in Canada. She has dreams, real dreams, without having to take anything to make them come. She saw Little Wolf's death, and was told that Red Crow would need her medicine."
"Ain't the Ojibwe and the Lakota enemies or somethin' like that?"
"Since before the white man ever came here. But that doesn't seem to bother White Wing. She says she just goes where her dreams lead. Call, I've seen her do things Little Wolf could never have done. Earlier today, she had a vision, of a woman being attacked and screaming, and she told Red Crow that you would be coming. Well, someone would be coming. That's why there were fires lit outside, and men waiting."
Clay came out and headed for the fire. Only then did Call realize that the cold-hating Southerner had been riding all this time without a coat and had never complained. Even as habit made him think that it served the man right, seeing that Mosby was responsible for the whole terrible mess, another part of him spooned more of the stew or whatever it was out of the pot hanging over the fire, and shoved the bowl into Mosby's hands. Surprisingly, it was Enona who found another blanket and put it around Clay's shoulders.
The Virginian had removed his gloves because it seemed to sooth Mattie if she could feel his hands, and now those hands were blue with cold. Clay stared into the fire, shivering, with the same terrible look in his eyes that Newt had seen when the man first told him about losing his wife, and he didn't seem to be fully aware of anything that was happening around him. Enona practically had to feed him, because on his own he wouldn't make the effort. Austin joined them, and was given a bowl of food, but no one said anything. They just waited.
Finally, Red Crow came out of the lodge, and Clay dropped his bowl in his hurry to stand and meet him. Newt, Austin, and Enona crowded around as Red Crow said, "White Wing has treated the wounds to her body, and will give her something to help her sleep. Tomorrow, she will go to the women's lodge, and they will care for her spirit."
"She needs a doctor," Austin said. Newt would have protested, but Clay beat him to it.
"No. I would have gone to a doctor if there'd been one closer than here, but this is better. If we take her into town, any town, everyone will know. I know enough about Indian medicine to know they will likely help her just as much as Cleese could."
"Her spirit's been hurt just as much as her body," Enona said. "Doctors ain't very good at healing injured spirits, especially when it's a woman who's hurt. White Wing knows what to do."
Luther came out of the lodge and walked directly over to Clay. "The medicine woman, she said you gotta go back in there. Mattie's startin' to fight again, and White Wing thinks maybe if you could get to her think you was her father again, she'd settle down some. Even though he seemed ready to drop any second himself, Mosby agreed immediately. Luther looked like he would break into tears at any time, so Call and Austin simply left him alone.
Eventually, as the rest of the encampment became quiet, with the many extra fires in front of the other lodges extinguished, the three men wrapped themselves in blankets and went to sleep by the big fire in front of Red Crow's lodge. The Lakota leader had set extra men out on guard for the rest of the night, just in case Logan decided to pursue them, and since it didn't appear there was anything else for them to do, sleep was the natural choice. At some point during the night, Clay joined them, so when Newt woke at first light, the gambler was sleeping across from him, with both a blanket and his coat wrapped around him.
Even before breakfast, several of the older women of the tribe brought some Lakota clothing to Red Crow's lodge. One of the women had cut off her long braids, streaked with gray, and presented them to White Wing. This woman had also painted red streaks on her arms, and she was chanting in what sounded very much like grief and mourning. White Wing nodded to her, and then all the women went into the lodge. A short time later, they led Mattie out. All of her torn and soiled garments had been removed, and she was clothed as the Lakota were, although Newt knew that even these clothes would be replaced once the healing rituals had been completed. She was only partly conscious, stumbling along with the old woman's arm around her shoulders. Newt moved to help her, and another of the women stopped him. "This is for women to do, Call," Enona said, moving up to stand beside him. "The woman with her is Stones-In-The-Water. Her daughter was raped and killed by soldiers, deserters. She's adopting Mattie, and she'll be staying with her for as long as it takes for her to get better.
"You do know men aren't allowed in there, Call? As it is, White Wing and I will be the only unmarried women allowed to care for her. It's the older women, the grandmothers, they'll be doing most of it. They only accept me 'cause Little Wolf told them I was different, and White Wing, well, she's real special. Otherwise, only older women are allowed to carry medicine. As for the rest of you, all you can do is wait." She followed the other women across the village, heading toward the large lodge Newt had spotted the night before.
"I still say she needs a doctor," Austin grumbled as he sat up. "Who knows how bad she's hurt?"
The conversation woke Clay, who moved very stiffly. "She's in good hands as she is, Austin, and no one here will blame her for what happened. Can't you just hear George's wife and that dreadful whine of hers? Every time Mattie met her in the street, that woman would move her skirts aside like she thought she was gonna catch some terrible disease. Like intelligence, perhaps, although that's probably too much to ask for."
"Mosby's right," Luther yawned. "That shaman woman knows what she's doin'. Indian medicine's pretty darned good, and I oughta know. Saved my own life a few times."
Soon, they were being served a breakfast that surprised Newt, since it had been a very long winter, and he didn't think the hunting had been all that good. Certainly most of the game around the encampment was gone. The stew the night before had been made with beef. Not only that, but the blankets they had were of a higher quality than those normally supplied to reservations by the American government.
Red Crow joined them for the meal, and as though he could hear Newt's mental questions, he remarked to Clay that he wanted to thank him once again for sending supplies to the village.
The others all looked at Clay, in amazement or confusion, it was hard to tell which. He met their glances with a familiar crook of a smile. "The government hasn't gotten 'round to sendin' out a new Indian agent yet, despite my letters, so they haven't been sendin' any supplies either. I figure it's cheaper and safer for me to send supplies up here rather than risk havin' the Lakota come raidin' to get what they need."
"You been writin' to the government askin' for help for the Lakota?" Newt asked, surprised.
"I had to send some kind of report after that set-to with Burns. After all, I'd wired Fort Davis, so they were expectin' to hear something. I told them the whole matter was Burns' fault, and that they should look into gettin' another agent dispatched up here." Mosby shrugged. "Who do you think gets that kind of thing done in Curtis Wells?"
"It should be the sheriff," Austin said. "Or the mayor."
"My mayor's been out of commission lately," Clay replied, "and I don't have a sheriff at present. It may be some time before I get one, so in the meantime...."
Before they could start arguing about it, Newt interrupted them. "Just what was all that business last night about where Mattie's folks came from?"
"I was tryin' to figure out what song she was talkin' about. Austin tried the most common one, and that didn't work. Knowin' she had the Appalachians somewhere in her background meant the other song was a likely choice."
"But that song's from New England," Austin protested. "My own mother used to sing it. You're not from the Appalachians or New England. How did you come to know it?"
"The Appalachian Mountains cover a lot of territory, Austin," Clay pointed out, "and my mother liked music. Besides, my governess was from Boston originally."
Luther snorted with amusement. "You had a governess? Guess that figures."
Clay grinned at him. "Only 'til I was eight. I had tutors after that. Not an unusual arrangement in Virginia."
"Not all that common, neither," Austin said. "Except for people with money."
Clay lifted his head and looked at him coldly. "Before the war, the Mosbys of Hatton Willows could have purchased the entirety of Curtis Wells, every muddy square inch of it, out of pocket money." His voice virtually dripped with pride, and Call was suddenly aware that this was the most he had ever heard Mosby say about his life before coming to Curtis Wells, except for telling Newt how he'd lost his family.
The Lakota sentries started signaling, and Red Crow spoke up. "White men are coming. Many of them, well armed."
All around them, the Lakota were running. Women hurried to get small children inside the lodges, older boys were helping to gather the horses, and men were picking up their weapons. Many of them still had the rifles they had taken from Mattie's store. Red Crow and his guests rushed to join the other men.
The campsite had been chosen well, and it was easy for the outriders to block the narrow path, making it impossible for the newcomers to get any closer to the village. The sentries backed away as Red Crow and the four from Curtis Wells rode up.
It was Willis Logan all right, with more than twenty riders. His obsession with getting back at Mattie and Clay must have grown very strong, for him to trespass on reservation land with so many armed men. When Logan saw Mosby, his face turned an angry red, and he made as if to pull his gun. Immediately, all the Lakota surrounding the scene aimed their weapons at him, and the man made an obvious effort to control himself. He smiled weakly at Red Crow, and said, by way of a greeting, "It's been many moons since I was here last to visit the Lakota's friend, Burns. I was sorry to hear of Little Wolf's death. I would speak with Burns. I haven't heard from my friend for some time."
"That might be a little hard," Clay said, "and claimin' Burns as a friend won't help you much now."
"Burns was a false friend. He murdered Little Wolf," Red Crow said. "That was some months ago." He used the word 'months' pointedly, as a response to Logan's condescending tones. "It was Call and Mosby who learned of his treachery. We owe them for that."
Logan dropped the subject, and any pretense of civility. "I'm looking for a white woman. She murdered my only son. That man..." He gestured at Clay. "protected her, and had a close friend of mine killed. Now they've killed many more of my men. I demand that you turn them over to me. I will have justice done."
Mosby was about to speak again when Call grabbed his arm, nodding toward Red Crow. They were on his land, Newt's gesture said; let Red Crow handle this. Clay took a deep breath, and nodded, remaining silent.
"There are two white women in my village now. One is my sister that we call Bright Medicine Feather, who was adopted by Little Wolf many years ago. The other is very ill and our holy woman is healing her. We consider her to be a friend to the Lakota, as we know these men as friends. They are all under our protection. You are on our land, Logan. We did not ask you here. You must go."
"Now, wait just one minute," Logan blustered. "I've done a lot of trading with your people, son. Whatever crimes Burns was accused of, I don't believe he was guilty. He served your people faithfully, and when he came to me for help, I gave it. You used to say I was a friend to the Lakota. Why has that changed? How can you trust a greedy son of a bitch like Mosby instead of a man who knew you all your life, and sacrificed so much for your people? I'd say you were an ungrateful fool, but since I know that can't be true, I can only assume that evil spirits have been whispering into your ear. One evil spirit in particular: Clay Mosby!"
The looks that passed between Logan and Clay would have frozen water in midsummer. Red Crow pretended not to notice, but Call knew him well enough to realize that he both noticed and understood the silent exchange. "Mosby did not need to whisper anything to me. Burns said with his own tongue all I needed to hear, before he died. He was like Iktomi, the spider, tricking us into thinking that he was our friend when he wanted to steal from us. Are you also of the tribe of Iktomi? I ask you now, what were those men that came with you when you met Burns on our land last summer, the men that took away bits of rock and soil?"
"Of course," Clay whispered. "Burns had to have a backer. He couldn't have hoped to carry it off by himself. Logan has the money and power he would have needed."
"I want Mosby, and that woman!" Logan shouted, losing control of himself. "I have considerable power, and I promise you your people will suffer if you don't give me what I want!"
"My people have suffered ever since the white man came to our land," Red Crow said. "We would suffer even more if we were to forget the teachings of our ancestors. These men are our friends. They delivered a great enemy into our hands, and they have helped to provide food for my people. They have asked for our help in caring for the woman, who has been hurt as only evil men would treat a woman. I have given them all shelter in my lodge. This is our land, and you are not welcome here."
One of Logan's men had been maneuvering so that the trees and the men around him would hide his movements. He saw a chance, brought up his gun, and aimed it at Clay. Catching just a glimpse of motion, Clay instinctively leaned sideways, and the bullet passed harmlessly over his shoulder and between Luther and Austin, who were behind him. Even before it came to a halt in a tree, two Lakota bullets pierced the gunman, but to injure, not to kill.
"You have been warned twice now. This is my final warning. If we have to shoot again, there will be death between us. Leave this place now!" Red Crow demanded. Above him, on the rock formations that framed the trail, armed Lakota moved from behind trees and aimed their weapons down at Logan's party. Logan had to be aware of the nervous whispers passing among his riders, and he knew his position was seriously compromised.
"All right, we're leaving. But this isn't the end of the matter, I promise you that. There will be soldiers from Fort Davis here within four days, more than you could possibly fight off."
Hearing this, Clay looked at Red Crow, silently asking permission to speak this time, and the Lakota nodded, once. Clay nodded back, and looked straight at Logan, again sending imaginary daggers through the space between them. "You should know that I've been correspondin' regularly with Colonel Rule at Fort Davis ever since the Burns incident. Once he learns that you were involved in the gold minin' scheme, and if he then hears what your men did to Miss Shaw and planned to do to me, I doubt you'll find him willin' to cooperate with you at all. You'll have to go higher and further afield to find your allies this time, and since you were never able to find anyone willin' to overthrow the legal verdict in Miss Shaw's trial, I don't think Red Crow has very much to worry about. You've overstepped yourself."
"You have one hour to leave our land," Red Crow said. "If you are still here, we will defend ourselves. If this means trouble for us, then there will be trouble." Without further discussion, he turned around and started back to the village. Clay and his companions followed him, but Mosby couldn't resist taking one look back over his shoulder and exchanging angry glares with his enemy. Then they rode around a bend in the path, and he couldn't see Logan any more. The Lakota outriders stayed where they were, waiting and watching.
Enona and White Wing were waiting for them. The men dismounted and left their horses to the care of the boys who came running up to take them. Newt walked directly up to Enona, with the others close behind him. "How is she?" he asked.
"She will be well, in time," White Wing said in her softly-accented voice. Her English was surprisingly good. "This promise I make to you. She will be safe here, and in time both her body and her spirit will heal." From the women's lodge, they could hear chanting, and the sound of the small drums frequently used in Indian medicine rituals.
"Logan won't just sit back and do nothin'," Luther said, his voice rasping with concern. "How can we be sure she'll be safe here? Besides, what if Logan decides to make a fight of it? A lot of your people could get killed."
"We have said we will protect her," Red Crow said proudly, but before he could go further, White Wing shook her head and motioned for him to say nothing more. Her eyes were gazing just past Luther, toward where Clay was standing. The others turned to look at him, and even Call was surprised, and just a little frightened, at the hard, dangerous look in his eyes.
"There's only one way to keep her safe and not risk any Lakota lives," Mosby said coldly. "I'll see to it Logan dies off the reservation, so the army won't have any reason to blame Red Crow for his death. What that man did to Mattie was unconscionable, and now we know the bastard was willin' to draw Curtis Wells into a war with Red Crow's people, just so he and Burns could have that gold. I think he's already lived far too long, and I am not willin' to suffer his existence any longer than it takes for him to get off the reservation."
"I told you a piece of that man belongs to me," Luther started, but White Wing stepped forward and interrupted him.
"There is no need for any of you to do anything," she said. She moved up to Clay, reached out with one hand and lightly touched his face. She smiled, beautifully, and Mosby, temporarily entranced by her, smiled back. "There is a panther waiting for him. The Earth, our mother, felt your woman's pain, and weeps for what was done to her. The Great Mystery, who the Black Robes at the mission taught me is the same in this forest as in one of your churches, has heard her cries, and will punish this man. You already carry too many demons in your soul. The panther will carry this one for you."
Enona cast one odd glance at Clay, and then raised her eyebrows at Newt, who was strangely touched by the Ojibwe woman's speech. For several minutes, no one said or did anything, as though they were all waiting for something, but none of them, with the exception of White Wing, knew precisely what. Then, coming from a distance, they heard the sounds of panicked horses, men shouting, and guns going off. The men all rushed back to their horses, and soon they were riding madly back down the trail.
Less than two miles from where they had left Logan, they found Red Crow's outriders, standing around a broken figure lying on the ground. One injured horse stood not far from them, sweating in fear, its flanks heaving as though it had been running for miles. There were several parallel gashes across one shoulder, bloody, but not deep enough to be mortal wounds. The rest of Logan's men were gone, as though running from an overwhelmingly strong enemy.
Logan himself lay against a rock outcropping, his head tilted at an impossible angle, and his eyes wide open, staring at some terrible sight that he'd carried with him into the next world. Luther dismounted and looked closely at the body. After glancing at the gashes on the horse, he crooked his head up at the others and said, "Mountain lion. Had to be. My guess is, the cat came from the rocks up there, jumped the horse, and Logan got thrown. His neck's broke. Shame the horse got hurt." He stood up. "Guess he didn't belong to any of us after all."
Clay was no longer with them. He had spared only one glance for Logan, and was now checking the injured horse, soothing it with soft words and experienced hands. Some of the Lakota joined him as he unsaddled the animal. Somehow, despite a verbal language barrier, they all spoke the common language of a love for horses, and between them they settled the fact that the horse wasn't injured severely enough to be put down. With care, it would recover. After Clay and one of the Lakota carefully washed the gashes on the horse's shoulder, another Lakota took the reins and led the horse back toward the village. Clay cast one final look down at Logan's body, with a strangely neutral expression on his face, and then he remounted and followed the Lakota up the trail.
"I suppose we'd better take the body back to Curtis Wells," Austin said. "Cleese can fill out a death certificate. A broken neck makes it an accident, so nobody will come looking for a killer."
Under Red Crow's direction, some of his men wrapped Logan's body in his saddle blanket, and began putting together a travois. Everyone else made their way back to the encampment. Call and Luther were the last to go. "She said a panther was waitin' for him. That's what a lot of the tribes up here call mountain lions," Luther remarked. "How do you figure she knew that?"
"You know the strange things their shamans can do. Enona says White Wing has dreams. She must've seen Logan's death in one of 'em."
"Yeah, but you know what's funny, Call? There ain't no sign of where that cat got to. No blood trail, no track, no sign that it tried to feed, nothin'. Just the gashes on the horse, and one bloody paw print on Logan's body, that's all. Where do you suppose that cat got to?"
"I don't know where it come from, neither, and I don't aim to try findin' out. Did us all a favor, and nothin' much else matters."
Back at the village, it was time to make decisions. Somebody had to take Logan's body to Curtis Wells, and report to Sheriff Turner and probably to Fort Davis, but none of the men really wanted to leave until they knew for sure Mattie was going to be all right. There was no way for anyone to predict how long it would take before she would be ready to leave the women's lodge, and no man would be allowed to talk to Mattie until it was over. According to Lakota tradition, this was a matter for women to handle. Luther adamantly refused to leave, even if it meant losing his job with the stage line. He had failed Mattie once by not making her return to Curtis Wells, and he wasn't about to fail her again. One look at his face told the others not to bother trying to change his mind.
As for the others, their argument about who was going to stay and why was stopped before it ever really began. White Wing told them that some men would be coming to talk to Mosby in a few days' time, so he had to go back. After hearing her declaration about the panther that was waiting for Logan, and then seeing the broken body with the one bloody paw print, they were reluctant to question her. The medicine woman assured Clay that Mattie would no longer be asking for 'her father', so there really wasn't any valid reason for him to stay.
Newt decided to stay when both Red Crow and Enona said they had things to discuss with him, so that left Austin to return to Curtis Wells with Mosby, taking Logan's body with them.
"I'll be back in a week, if I haven't heard from you," Mosby told Call as he and Austin prepared to leave. "If there really are men comin' to talk to me, it's probably Turner's posse. I only hope I can persuade them they don't need to talk to Mattie."
"Watch yourselves," Call warned. "Some of Logan's men could still be waitin' for you somewhere between here and town."
"I don't think so. They don't have anyone to pay them anymore." Clay said.
"But we'll watch anyway," Austin added. The body had been tied on to the travois behind Austin's horse, and there wasn't any reason to delay any longer. They rode off, accompanied by some of Red Crow's men who would escort them across the reservation and right to the edge of Curtis Wells. Call, Luther, Enona, and White Wing watched them go. Enona stood between Luther and Call, taking their hands, and Newt looked at her with a tired grin. White Wing stood alone, straight and slender, watching Mosby until he turned his head and looked back, seemingly straight at her, although he could have been looking at the women's lodge, which was directly behind her.
The Ojibwe woman sighed heavily, and looked up at one particular tree, where a single snowy owl roosted. Just past that tree was a high rocky point overlooking the village. She nodded at the mountain lion that was perched on the rock, and then returned to her work with Mattie in the women's lodge. As the riders disappeared, Newt could hear someone whistling Mattie's 'hushabye' song, and he remembered how small and vulnerable Mattie had looked wrapped in Mosby's coat and cradled in his arms.
Eventually, the whistling faded as the men got farther away from the encampment. From her rocky perch, the panther was the last one watching Mosby and Austin as they made their way home.
Send Roberta your feedback here!