Thursday, January 22, 2009
Marshal Hickok and Leo Moretti, the bartender, ran into the Alamo Saloon. Mitchell was lying on the floor. A pool of blood was slowly expanding on the wooden floor surrounding Mitchell’s right shoulder. Mitchell, flat on his back, was staring at the ceiling, holding his left hand on the wound and moaning in pain.
Hickok ran to the lad and knelt down beside him. Mitchell turned his head and looked into Hickok’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Jim.”
“How bad are you hurt?”
Mitchell coughed and moistened his lips with his tongue. He was about to speak when the doors of the saloon swung open. Abe Jackson, the Texas Ranger, rushed in, followed closely by Doc Minnick.
Jackson pointed. “There he is, Doc.”
Doc Minnick hastened to Mitchell’s side, opposite Hickok. He knelt down and set his medical bag on the floor. “Lie still, son.”
The doctor withdrew a pair of scissors from his bag and cut away the bloodiest part of Mitchell’s shirt. Then he examined the wound. He withdrew a sterile bandage from his bag and placed it over the bullet hole. “Here, Marshal, keep pressure on the bandage.” He glanced up at Jackson and Moretti. “You men, pick him up and carry him outside to my wagon. Two of you will have to ride along
so you can carry him into my office. Be careful of his shoulder. His collar bone is broken. Try to keep pressure on the wound to keep down the bleeding.”
After Doc Minnick pulled up in front of his office, Hickok and Jackson carried Mitchell into the building. Doc Minnick directed the men to a back room where they laid Mitchell onto a table.
“I’ll take care of him from here.”
“How is he, Doc?” Hickok asked.
“He should be fine. Now let me get to work.”
Hickok and Jackson walked out of the room into the front office. “Okay, spill it,” Hickok said.
“Nothing much to tell, Marshal. He started gettin’ liquored up and accused me of being responsible for him losing his job. Next thing I know, he’s drawing down on me.”
“Yeah, I figured all that. But that’s not what I’m talking about.”
“Mitchell’s left-handed. You plugged him in the right shoulder. That means you took the chance of spinning his shootin’ hand around toward you. If you weren’t going to kill him, why didn’t you shoot him in the left shoulder to spin his gun away from you? Mitchell’s fast enough that he might have put a bullet in you, even though you got one into him first.”
Jackson remained silent for a moment. “That’s a clever observation, Marshal.” He smiled slightly and then looked down at his right arm.
Hickok looked too. Jackson’s shirt sleeve was torn in a neat horizontal slit!
Jackson looked up, still smiling. “He is fast, Marshal.”
Hickok was stunned. “Are you hurt, man?”
“No, it’s just a scratch. Another few inches, though, and it coulda got real serious quick.”
“You took an awful chance, Ranger.”
“Yeah, well, I thought it was better not to put his shootin’ arm out of action in case you planned to hire him on again. Once you take out a fella’s arm with a bullet, it’s never the same.”
Hickok glanced down and then nodded slowly. “Well, even though Mitchell probably doesn’t know it yet, he owes you a lot. For that matter, I do too. Thanks, Ranger.”
“So, why did ya fire Mitchell? Seems to me you’re gonna be short-handed at a time when you need help the most. I already warned you, Marshal. The Staytons are on their way. Every day that goes by, they’re gettin’ closer. I can feel it. And they’ll hit this town like a tornado comin’ down main street.”
“As far as help is concerned, I’ve already contacted a deputy out of Dodge City. A fella named Ed Clayborn. Ever hear of him?”
“No, can’t say I have.”
“Well, this Clayborn fella was working with Billy Brooks. Brooks and Clayborn were hired as private lawmen by some of the merchants in Dodge. Recently the two lost their jobs when the townsfolk formed a vigilance committee to takeover enforcing the law. Anyway, according to my old buddy, Charlie Bassett, down in Dodge, this Ed Clayborn is good with a gun and has a level head on his shoulders. I wanted to wait until me and Mitchell had our talk this morning before I committed to hiring Clayborn. Seeing what’s happened, I better send a telegram to Clayborn to tell him he’s hired. He said he could get here in a couple of weeks.”
Julie Weber closed the Bible and stood up. She had finished reading the entire Book of St. Luke. Even the notion of a classroom devoid of students could not dim the joy she felt from reading about her Savior.
She drew in a deep breath and stretched. “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you very, very much.” She reached into her bag and withdrew two apples. One was for her lunch, the other was for Grace.
When Julie stepped outside, she was struck by the beauty of a heaven of blue sky and a carpet of green grass dotted with wildflowers.
Grace had looked over at the sound of the door, and the horse nickered when she saw Julie.
Julie walked over to Grace and patted the animal on the neck. “Hi girl. Here, come with me.”
Julie led Grace to a nearby tree and then sat down in the grass. She held out one of the apples for Grace.
After a moment, Julie took a bite of her own apple. Her gaze fell upon the lonely road that led to the center of town. One day, sure enough, the children would be traversing that road to and from school. It would happen, no doubt. In her mind, she clearly saw the picture of children on the road, as if it were happening that very moment.
She closed her eyes and then drew in a breath and exhaled. The apple was sweet and juicy. She felt a slight breeze lift a few strands of her hair. Having chewed the apple thoroughly, she swallowed. “Thank you, Lord, for your love and utter goodness. Thank you for erasing all those negative thoughts! I was acting childishly. Forgive me, dear Lord for being so willful. I forgot that everything happens in Your time, not mine. I’m so thankful to You, Lord, for the gift of salvation and for all the good things You provide. How very blessed I am! How very great and beautiful You are—so very worthy of praise and adoration. You’ve washed away all my cares. How can my heart feel anything other than total thankfulness when You’re always here with me, caring for me, and nurturing me with Your mercy and love? I am Yours, totally. Do with me what You will! Keep me humble, dear Lord, that I may be a good and faithful servant. Nothing else matters. No, nothing else matters a whit!”
She stood up with tears of thankfulness in her eyes. How very great was her Lord!
She patted Grace on the neck and held out the remainder of her apple, which the animal gladly took into its mouth and chewed with a few loud crunches. “And you’re an absolutely beautiful girl. I love you, Grace.”
A few minutes later, Julie walked back into the schoolhouse. “Okay. Now what? Something tells me I should stay until school lets out. How would it look if a student did show up, and the teacher was playing hooky? No, we mustn’t ever let that happen! So now, Julie, how is the best way to fill the time between now and three o’clock?”
She glanced down at the open Bible on her desk. “Of course. How could I do anything better than to spend time in Your Word, dear Lord?”
Ed Clayborn placed his foot in the stirrup and swung up into the saddle. He lifted the reins, and the horse stepped out in a lively trot and then accelerated to a smooth and easy three-beat gait.
Clayborn was not quite six feet tall in his boots with two inch heels. His dark complexion, along with piercing brown eyes and almost black eyebrows, intensified the impact of a normally serious expression that seemed to imply the dangerous question, “Are you gonna force me to kill ya?”
Raised on a small ranch in west Texas, Clayborn had grown up learning the ways of men who cared for, herded, and drove cattle. Ranching was hard work, but Clayborn had taken it in stride, knowing no other way to make a living.
By the time he was twenty years old, he had made several trips north on large cattle drives. He had accepted the long days in the saddle and the nights that were much too short to ever catch up on sleep. The harsh conditions were simply part of the job to get the cattle to market. He also learned much from the tough breed of men he rode with. For the most part, they were serious types whose chief concern was the welfare of the herd.
On the drives, after the drovers and the cattle had completed their wearisome trip north, the cattle were herded into gigantic pens, and the shared responsibility of looking after the herd was lifted from Clayborn’s shoulders. With an exhilarating sense of freedom and the satisfaction of a job well done, he, like the rest of the cowpokes, dutifully lined up to receive their long-awaited pay. The cash was showered upon him like the drenching of a waterfall. He found that he could avail himself of all the seedy pleasures offered by a cattle town, and at the end of his stay still have a few dollars left over. Inevitably, however, the time always came to head back south and begin the process all over again.
After Clayborn’s numerous trips back and forth, the adventure of the job began to fade. The work had degenerated into a tiresome routine, and he began to seek other employment. His toughness and his ability to handle a gun eventually landed him a job as a deputy in a small town. There, over the stretch of two years, Clayborn learned the trade of a lawman. He quickly adjusted to the lifestyle of staying in one place, and each night he appreciated slipping his boots under the same comfortable bed.
Eventually he heard of an open deputy’s position in a bigger town that offered more pay. He applied for the job and was hired. After a few years in that town, he heard of a job offered in Dodge City. Again he migrated north and hired on in Dodge as an assistant to William “Billy” Brooks, a former buffalo hunter, stagecoach driver, and most recently, a city marshal for the wild cattle town of Newton, Kansas.
Clayborn, accustomed to quiet law-abiding towns, had had a rude awakening when he rode into Dodge, and he
had never gotten over the regret of leaving his former position. Dodge was a wildly violent town, and Billy Brooks was just as wild and violent. In his first month alone, Brooks had been involved in an average of one gunfight every two days! In a single particularly bloody incident, Brooks had killed four men. The officials of Dodge had come to question Brooks’ tactics, but when he was accused of murdering a man in a dispute over a dancehall girl, he was summarily dismissed.
At about that time, Marshal Hickok in Abilene began looking for a potential replacement for Deputy Mitchell. Clayborn, having no wish to remain another day in Dodge, quickly answered Hickok’s appeal.
On the morning of the fifth day of Clayborn’s travel out of Dodge en route to Abilene, he topped a small rise and pulled up.
There, before him on the plains, a herd of bison was grazing. The guttural grunts and groans of the great beasts filled the air as they meandered westward. Their number of about fifty comprised a few bulls, mostly cows, and several calves.
Clayborn sat quietly in the saddle, watching the animals. He remembered that in his younger days he had seen herds so large that they had reminded him of a flowing river that stretched almost from horizon to horizon. Those were the days before the Civil War had ended. Now the white man had come with his rifles, and he slaughtered the animals for their hides. Gone were tens of millions of the animal. Soon gone too would be the lifestyle of the Indians who depended on the bison for food, and who made use of every part of the relatively few animals they killed.
In the early evening, Clayborn rode into Great Bend, named for its location on a near-half-circle zigzag in the Arkansas River.
Great Bend also sat on the Santa Fe Trail, a major transportation route connecting Franklin, Missouri, with Santa Fe, New Mexico. The trail served as a vital commercial and military highway, opening the region to economic development and settlement.
In not-so-distant years, Great Bend had been plagued with numerous raids by hostile Indians from various tribe factions, including those of the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Apache. Clayborn knew, however, that most of the unrest had ended about four years ago, evidenced by the decommissioning of nearby Fort Zarah and the coming of the railroad about a year ago. The guise of civilization, however, meant letting down one’s guard only for fools. Whereas men of the time had experienced and survived the violence of the recent past, they inevitably carried it forward in their attitudes and actions.
Clayborn had passed through Great Bend on previous occasions, as the town had always been a place for passing through more than for anything else. Great Bend, in fact, had been a passing-through point for such men as Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Buffalo Bill Cody, and General George Armstrong Custer.
Riding down the bustling main street of Great Bend, Clayborn was struck by the same notion he had had in Dodge: This point on the map had drawn the class of people that the cattle trade normally attracted; that is, mostly thugs and harlots, banes to every community seeking to civilize itself.
He pulled up the reins in front of the saloon that looked the most peaceful. At least, it was the biggest, and he hoped it meant it was the most peaceful. Before he swung down from the saddle, however, he unstrapped the thong on his pistol.
When he entered the saloon, he walked to the bar and ordered whiskey. About six other men were lined up abreast at the bar. Behind him, the smoky room droned with loud indistinguishable conversations of men at tables, punctuated occasionally with abrasive laughter when a cowpoke won a hand at poker. A rather large man wearing a dirty gray hat and smelling like the rotting flesh of a buffalo bellied up to the bar beside Clayborn. As the man raised his arm and called to the bartender, he leaned to one side. His bulk shoved Clayborn sideways, causing Clayborn to spill his drink onto the bar.
Clayborn felt the tingle of hot blood rush into his ears, always an indicator of instinctual rage that was part of his temperamental side. The large man was drunk, however, and Clayborn judged that the action had been unintentional. He stepped back from the bar and looked down its length to pick an open spot to which he could move.
As Clayborn stepped back, the space beside the large man opened up, and the man sprawled out even more. The man’s arm he was using to prop himself up slid into the spilled whiskey, and he glanced down, annoyed. He looked around at Clayborn. “Hey, fella, you’re a sloppy rascal. You got my arm all wet!”
Clayborn blinked slowly and tightened one side of his mouth, thinking, “That’s about right. The drunk spills my whiskey and then he blames me.”
“You need to be taught some manners, mister!” the large man bellowed.
Clayborn stepped farther back, out of range, in case the man decided to swing at him. But the drunk straightened up, squared off, and lowered his hand to his side. His body language meant only one thing.
“You’re drunk, mister. And I could outdraw you when you were pure sober. I apologize for spilling my drink, and I’ll be glad to pay to have your shirt cleaned.”
The man was unmoved. “Yeah, but who’s gonna teach ya some manners?”
Looking into the man’s eyes, Clayborn shook his head. “Don’t do this. Not over a shirt. I’ll buy you a new one.”
By now, however, Clayborn had already heard the scrape of chair legs on the floor. Then, as if everyone else in the saloon simultaneously spied the two men squared off, the room erupted into the roar of men scrambling to escape the line of fire. Clayborn mourned the sound, because with everyone watching, the large man would believe he could not possibly back down. Clayborn grew wary to perceive the man’s initial move and reluctantly accepted the notion he was about to kill another man.
Clayborn watched the man’s eyes glance around the room. For an instant the man’s facial expression changed, as he realized everyone was watching him and that the situation had turned ominously to that of life and death.
When the man’s gaze again fell upon Clayborn, Clayborn knew the time had come and, as he had predicted, the man’s hand moved in a snake-like quickness to his gun.
Without hesitation, Clayborn drew and fired. The bullet penetrated just below the breast bone, thrusting the large man back against the bar. Clayborn crouched, ready to fire a second shot, if necessary. But the bullet had struck with particular finality, and Clayborn saw that another shot was not required.
Out of the corner of his eye, Clayborn saw flame belch from iron and heard the first of two shots fired by a stranger to his left. Clayborn whirled and saw two men standing behind him—two men who had intended to shoot him in the back when their friend, the large man, had been killed.
The stranger fired the second shot so quickly that the sounds of the two shots combined into a single percussion that rocked the room. Both men went down, the first one falling flat on a table as a result of being shot low in the stomach, the other man hurled backwards as a result of a bullet between the eyes.
Clayborn and the stranger stood their ground, weapons at the ready, in case any others in the crowd wished to press the point. None did.
“Much obliged, mister,” Clayborn said, never meaning words so earnestly. A shiver raced down his spine as he realized how close he had come to death.
The stranger glanced over and nodded. Then he plucked two cartridges from his gun belt and reloaded the weapon on the spot. After he holstered his pistol, the stranger turned back to the bar. “Whiskey.”
On Friday at about noon, Julie heard a knock on the schoolhouse door. Sitting at her desk, she had been absorbed in the Book of Romans, written in the early spring of A.D. 57 by the apostle Paul in Corinth to the church at Rome to explain the Good News of salvation.
She stood up and walked to the door. When she opened it, she was pleasantly surprised to see Parson Blane. He smiled and said, “Hello, Miss Weber, I hope I’m not disturbing you. I figured you probably take a lunch break around noon, and I’d like to have a word with you.”
“Hello, Parson. You’re not disturbing me at all. I’m glad to see you. Come in.”
After Blane removed his hat and stepped through the doorway, he looked around in amazement. “Where’s the children?”
“If you’ve come to see children, Parson, I’m afraid you’ll have to go to their homes and pry them away from chores.”
“You mean the children haven’t come to school?”
Julie looked up into his eyes. “Not one for the entire week.”
“Oh, Julie. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve grown accustomed to it.”
“But why are you here if there’s no students?”
“I’m here because I’m the teacher, and this is a school day. This is where I belong, and I’ve decided I’ll stay here everyday whether the children come or not.”
“Humph.” Blane glanced into her eyes and nodded. “I understand.”
“What do you have there in your hand?”
“It’s what I’ve written so far.”
“Of course. Your treatise on the Book of St. Luke.”
“I thought...well...you said you might help me by taking a look at it.”
“I’d be happy to, Parson. Here, let me see.”
She reached out, and Blane glanced down, noticing a beautifully feminine hand.
“I figured I’d drop it off so you could look it over when you have some free time. I don’t need it back right away. I thought I’d take a break from writing for a few days.”
“All right. Would you like me to give it back to you at church on Sunday? That way, you won’t have to make a special trip out here next week.”
“Oh, I don’t mind making the trip.”
Julie glanced up and smiled. “All right.”
Blane watched her turn and place the pages on her desk. “Well, uh, I guess I better get going.”
“Thank you for stopping by, Parson.”
“My pleasure, Miss Weber. Thank you for taking a look at what I’ve written. I hope you can read my chicken scratch.”
“From what I’ve glimpsed, it looks like you have nice penmanship. I don’t think I’ll have any problems at all.” She looked up into his eyes and smiled.
Blane found himself smiling too. Then he opened the door and stepped outside. As he was putting on his hat, he said, “That’s a good-looking palomino.”
Julie followed him out the door and walked past him to the horse. “Parson Blane, I’d like you to meet Grace, the prettiest mare in the West!”
Blane chuckled. He took off his hat and bowed from the waist, “Hello, Grace. I believe Miss Weber is right. You’re about the prettiest horse I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
Julie laughed. “And this one is yours.” She stepped around Grace to the Black. “He’s beautiful, Parson.”
“Thank you. That’s part of why I need to take a break from writing for a few days. The big boy needs some exercise.” He walked over and patted the animal on the chest.
“Where do you ride?”
“Oh, I’ve got a few favorite spots.” He turned toward Julie. “Maybe you and I could go on a ride together sometime.”
She glanced up. “May...be.”
When James Gainsford, the Marshal of Great Bend, rushed into the saloon and saw three men dead on the floor, he was furious. He walked over to the bartender. “What happened, Joe?”
“That big man on the floor started a fight with that man.” The bartender pointed at Clayborn. “Then the other two on the floor were about to shoot him in the back, when that man gunned them down.” He pointed at the stranger who had saved Clayborn’s life. “Everyone saw it, Marshal. The big man started the whole thing.”
Gainsford pointed at Clayborn and the stranger. “You two come with me.”
“What for?” the stranger protested.
“You’re gonna fill out a report and then you’re gonna get out of town. That’s what for!”
“We didn’t do anything wrong, Marshal.”
“According to the law, that’s right. But we got a rule in this town. If you murder a man, you go to jail. If you kill a man in self-defense, you fill out a report and you leave town. It’s either that, or I throw you in jail until you fill out a report and leave town. That’s the rule. No argument.”
“Marshal?” the bartender said, crooking his finger.
Gainsford leaned over and the bartender whispered, “I’ve seen a lot of gunplay in here. But, Marshal, never in my life have I seen someone as fast with a gun as that one.” He nodded toward the stranger.
Gainsford straightened up and looked the bartender in the eyes. The bartender raised his eyebrows and nodded.
“Okay,” Gainsford said, “I always check them against wanted posters anyway. Thanks, Joe.”
An hour later Clayborn and the stranger, who had said his name was George Digby, walked out of the marshal’s office. Digby turned to Clayborn. “So, you’re a lawman going to Abilene? I’m on my way to Abilene too. I got some business there. Mind if I ride along?”
“Not at all. It’ll make the trip go faster. But I’m bushed. I won’t be able to ride far tonight.”
“Well, we can’t stay in town, otherwise Gainsford is gonna throw us in jail. I don’t like being pushed though.”
Clayborn glanced over. “The marshal seemed serious enough, and this town is nothin’ but trouble. What do ya say we mount up? Where’s your horse?”
“In front of the saloon.”
“Yeah, mine too. Let’s get goin’.”
The two mounted up and rode north out of town. The temperature had cooled from what had been a hot day, and the moon was almost full, which provided ample light to see the trail.
They rode for about an hour. Clayborn felt weary, and his eyelids continually drooped. Finally, Digby said, “What about over there in that stand of trees? I’ll build a fire, and then we can get some sleep.”
“Yeah, sounds good.”
A half hour later, Digby had lit the fire and put on coffee. Clayborn had rolled up in his blanket and lay motionless. Digby could hear Clayborn’s steady breathing, interspersed with faint snoring.
Digby sat by the fire for almost a quarter of an hour, drinking coffee and occasionally glancing at Clayborn. All the while he carefully listened to Clayborn’s breathing to detect any change.
Finally, Digby stood up and walked over to Clayborn. He stood motionless for several moments. Then he knelt down and quietly began rummaging through Clayborn’s gear.
Clayborn was traveling light. One saddlebag was filled with a few personal items: a shaving kit, a small mirror, and a hair brush. Alongside the kit were a couple of boxes of handgun ammunition and a box of rifle shells.
The other saddlebag contained a change of clothes: a shirt, pants, a couple of pairs of socks, and a bandana. At the bottom of the saddlebag beneath the clothes, Digby found a spare pistol. He looked over at Clayborn for a moment, making sure the man was still asleep. He then strapped the saddlebags closed.
He stood up and once again looked at Clayborn. He stood motionless for several moments, watching the man. Then he stepped over to the fire and sat down. After he had finished drinking the rest of his coffee, he spread out his bedroll and lay down. But he did not close his eyes.
When the sun came up, Clayborn’s dream gently deposited him on the doorstep of wakefulness. He drew in a deep breath and opened his eyes. After a moment, he rolled over. Digby was sitting by the fire, pointing a gun at him!
TO BE CONTINUED
Julie Weber stepped out of the church into the late-morning air. The sun had proudly positioned itself in the heavens at an angle to cast yellow and gold beams that kissed Julie’s neck and arms with precisely the right temperature to make her smile and say a silent prayer of gratitude.
The congregation members who had walked out in front of her had gathered into small groups, everyone talking at once, each trying to speak above the others, so that the scene reminded Julie of vigorously clucking chickens at feeding time.
Ever so faintly she heard Reverend Wilcox behind her speaking to Parson Blane. “How’s the book going?”
“Oh, it’s coming along, Reverend. I have several pages of the first draft written, and I’m enjoying the work immensely.”
“Since you’re on sabbatical, Parson, I suppose I should refrain from inviting you to deliver a sermon. Nevertheless, would you consider speaking in perhaps a month?”
“I’m always at your disposal, Reverend.”
“Good, my son. I’ll let you know the details next Sunday.”
“All right, Reverend.”
Their voices trailed off and Julie pictured in her mind the tall, ruggedly handsome Parson Blane stepping across the threshold into the open air. She turned around, and, for an ever-so-fleeting moment, privately gazed upon the man who had kept her heart astir from the first time she had seen him. When he glanced up at her, he smiled.
Julie smiled too. “Hello, Parson Blane. I’m Julie Weber. I know you know my name already, but we’ve never been introduced.”
“Yes ma’am, I know your name. Good morning to you.”
“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
Blane glanced around and then looked up to see wispy white clouds drifting high in the sky to the west. He nodded. “Certainly is, Miss Weber. The Lord is surely smiling on us today.”
“I couldn’t help but overhear that you’re writing a book. May I ask what kind of book it is?”
“Some of the congregation members asked me to write a treatise on the Book of St. Luke.”
“Oh how interesting! I particularly love that book, because Luke seems to give the most details of all the gospel writers. How’s your treatise coming along?”
“It’s coming along.” He glanced into her eyes. “A bit slow, but it’s coming along.”
Julie bowed her head. “If you wouldn’t think me forward, perhaps I could offer to help.”
“Oh, are you a writer, Miss Weber?”
“No, Parson. But I do happen to know a bit about publishing. My Uncle Otto in Philadelphia is quite a successful publisher. I grew up around the business. And then too, my major in college was English.”
“Well, I certainly could use help with grammar and spelling.”
“I could do that, no problem. You don’t have an editor already, do you?”
“An editor? No, Miss Weber, I’m afraid the project is not that sophisticated. It’s just me scribbling on paper.”
Julie pressed her fingertips to her lips and giggled. “You’re so modest. I’m sure it’s more than that.”
A voice called out, “Oh, Sam, there you are.” Julie glanced around to see Faye Spencer hurrying toward the two of them. Faye walked up to Blane and placed her hand on his arm. “Oh, hello Julie,” she said coolly. “Sam, I want to ask if you’re free Tuesday evening. I’d like you to come to dinner.”
Blane glanced at Julie and tipped his hat. “Would you excuse us, Miss Weber?”
Blane turned and walked a few steps away with Faye. “Faye, I’ve mentioned this to you before. I’m not interested in seeing you socially.”
“Why not? You’re not telling me you’re infatuated with that new school teacher, are you?”
“You can be quite vicious when you want to be, Faye. Has anyone ever told you that?”
“It’s only a late dinner. Just you and me, Sam.”
“That’s another thing. I don’t think it’s wise for you to call me Sam when everyone else calls me Parson. I mean, the familiarity of it. People might get the wrong impression.”
“Oh Sam. We’ve been through so much together. It would seem odd to me to begin calling you Parson Blane again.”
“All the same, I must insist.”
“My, you seem so standoffish today. Is something bothering you? Do you feel well?”
“I feel fine—”
“Parson Blane?” Deputy Mitchell had walked up behind them. “Excuse me, Parson. Are you busy? I’d like to talk to you a minute.”
“Sam,” Faye said, “I’ll leave you two to talk. Can I expect you for dinner on Tuesday?”
“No,” Blane said, exasperated.
“Well, all right. Another time perhaps.” She stood, looking up at Blane, expecting a reply. But he said nothing. Finally she turned. “Well, okay. We’ll just have to make it another time.”
Blane turned to Mitchell. As he did, he glanced in Julie’s direction. She had turned and he watched her walking away.
“Yes, what is it?” Blane said, still watching Julie.
Mitchell followed Blane’s gaze and saw the young school teacher. “Pretty girl, isn’t she.”
Blane glanced back at Mitchell. “What can I do for you, Deputy?”
“That’s the trouble. I’m not the deputy right now. Marshal Hickok suspended me. I’d like you to talk to him so I can get my job back.”
“Tell you what, Deputy…or should I call you…what is your first name anyway?”
“It’s Bob, but just keep calling me Deputy. I’ll have my job back before long.”
“All right, Deputy. Tell you what. I’m heading over to the café for breakfast. Why don’t you come along, and you can tell me what happened.”
“Oh, Parson, you know me well enough. Can’t you just talk to Marshal Hickok and ask him to give me my job back?”
“Well, Deputy, if Marshal Hickok suspended you, I’m believing he had a reason. He’s a seasoned lawman who commands a lot of respect. It would be presumptuous of me to ask him to reverse a decision he made in the line of duty.”
“Aw, come on, Parson. Marshal Hickok thinks a lot of you. If you would just ask him to give me my job back, it would carry a lot of weight.”
“No, my friend. I think it’s better I don’t get involved. Sorry, Deputy. You’re gonna have to talk to the marshal yourself.”
Blane patted the lad on the shoulder and then turned.
“All right, Parson. I’ll tell you what happened.”
Blane stopped and thought for a moment. Then he turned back to the young man. “If you have something troubling you, I’ll listen to what you have to say. But you must understand I’m not obligating myself to talk to the marshal for you.”
Mitchell glanced down. “Okay. I’ll go to the café with you. After you hear what happened, you might decide to talk to Hickok for me.”
The waitress had already poured fresh coffee for Blane and Mitchell. When she returned to the table, she asked, “Whatcha having, Parson?”
“Two eggs over easy and a steak.” Blane glanced at Mitchell. “Order what you want, Deputy. It’s on me.”
“I’ll take the same.”
The waitress jotted on the pad she held. “Comin’ right up.”
Blane stirred the coffee into which he had placed a small amount of honey. Then he looked up at Mitchell. “Okay, tell me what happened.”
“It all started when that Texas Ranger came to town. You know, Abe Jackson. He got the drop on me. Marshal Hickok said my ‘attitude’ is all wrong and then he suspended me. I’m supposed to see him in the office tomorrow. He said he’d reinstate me if my attitude has changed. But you know Hickok. He can be finicky. He just might keep me suspended for a while. Heck, there’s nothin’ wrong with my attitude!”
“Sounds like Marshal Hickok feels responsible for your safety. When he heard that Jackson got the drop on you, he must have become angry or scared that you could have been killed. I suppose the marshal thinks you’ve got the kind of attitude that can get you into bigger trouble than you can handle.”
“That’s baloney! Outside of Hickok himself, I’m the fastest man with a gun in the territory. I thought you knew that.”
“I’m sure there’s more to being a good lawman than being fast with a gun.”
“From what you’ve said, your problem doesn’t have to do with how you handle a gun. It has to do with the idea that, because you wear a badge, you feel superior to those who don’t.”
Mitchell looked up at Blane. “I didn’t come here to be insulted, Parson.”
“I’m sorry. Perhaps I was too blunt. I didn’t mean—”
Mitchell stood up abruptly. “I came here because I thought you could help me get my job back. I can see now you don’t understand at all.”
“No thanks, Parson. Eat your breakfast alone!”
Blane watched Mitchell stomp to the counter and call to the cook through the serving window, “Cancel my order. I’m leaving.” Then he walked past Blane without a glance and out of the café.
The waitress came up to the table. “What was that about?”
Blane glanced into her eyes. “Sometimes the truth hurts.”
Julie was glad when the morning rays of the sun penetrated her window. Anticipating her first day of teaching school, she had slept little during the night, even though she had taken a relaxing bath before going to bed.
Her goal of becoming a school teacher had developed early in her youth. Sitting in a small classroom when she was ten years old, she had realized how very much she loved to improve her mind and to acquire new ideas. The books she read, for example, fired her imagination with people she had never met and places she had never visited. Through grand narratives, however, which
illuminated her mind with stories and descriptions that titillated her senses, she gained enjoyment and knowledge second only to direct experience.
If books were the key to unlocking the imagination, then reading was the key to unlocking books. With respect to a life goal, the next logical step, Julie figured, would be to dedicate herself to teaching children to read. Before she had turned eleven years old, she had decided, therefore, to become a teacher.
Through the rest of her school years, she carefully studied each of her instructors, noticing their methods and means of imparting knowledge. As she matured, her life goal evolved from the idea of merely teaching children to read to advocating the importance of one’s entire formal education.
After she was graduated from high school, she attended a teacher’s college in Philadelphia and received her teaching certificate. And now, finally, after all the years of preparation and anticipation, she had acquired her first teaching assignment—in a dusty rough-and-tumble town on the American frontier. Today was the first day of her teaching career, and, as she hurried down the stairs, she felt like she would burst from sheer enthusiasm.
Before she entered the dining room she stopped and drew in a breath. “Slow down, Julie. Compose yourself. Remember to breathe!”
When she walked into the dining room, all the boarders were already seated. Tim Barlow, a clerk at Hazlett’s General store, sat erect in the chair across from hers. He glanced up and smiled.
Gus Schmidt, the potbellied carpenter, was sipping coffee from an oversized cup.
Zeke Borland, the oldest of the boarders, was speaking to Mrs. Pemberton, who despite her efforts to appear interested, seemed to Julie to be listening only out of courtesy. Finally, Leo Moretti, who tended bar at the Alamo Saloon, was stoic as usual, staring ahead, fixated on a distant point in space.
Mrs. Pemberton, grateful that Julie’s entrance had broken the maddening spell that had caused her to endure the pointless story in which Borland had persisted, said, “Good morning, Julie.” Then to prompt speech by someone other than Borland, she asked, “Well dear, today’s the big day for you, isn’t it?”
Julie smiled as she walked to her chair, “Yes it is, Mrs. Pemberton.”
Borland, realizing he had lost his audience of one, looked over. “Oh, what’s going on today that’s so big about it?”
Mrs. Pemberton turned to Borland, “It’s Julie’s first day of teaching school.”
Borland paused for what seemed like an eternity, which he was wont to do, “Oh, that’s nice.”
“Now, you be firm with those children,” Mrs. Pemberton said. “There must be discipline and order in a classroom
before it’s a fit place to learn. Don’t hesitate to lay down the law right away.”
“That’s right, Julie,” Borland added. “Show ‘em who’s boss.”
“Well,” Julie said, “if they challenge me, I’ll pick one student and make an example of him. That’s what they taught us in the education classes I took in college.”
“Oh, have no doubt,” Mrs. Pemberton said, “the students will challenge you soon enough. It’s the nature of children to find out where the line is drawn. Even then, you may find one who tries to step across it from time to time. Strict but fair, that’s how a teacher should be.”
“I’ll try my hardest, Mrs. Pemberton.”
At half past eight, Julie sat down in the chair behind the small teacher’s desk. She had already walked around the room, aligning the student desks in perfectly straight rows. The smell of mildew was gone, having been washed away two days prior when she and Charli had thoroughly scrubbed the room with soap and water. The floor had remained damp only in a few scattered spots, but every speck of dust was gone.
With a half hour to spare before school was to begin, Julie reviewed her lesson plans. From the numerous books on her desk, she withdrew the history book and turned to the section on the Declaration of Independence. She would begin the class with an introduction to the founding of the United States.
Her gaze fell upon the preamble of the Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness....
“What noble and inspiring words!” she thought. “Yes, the children must be taught about their own wonderful nation that was created upon those sacred ideas.”
The schoolroom was quiet except for the slight creak of her chair whenever she shifted her position. Only ten more minutes, and the children would be filing into the classroom.
She bowed her head and prayed. She thanked God Almighty, through Jesus Christ, for the awesome responsibility to help shape the minds of children, whom she hoped would one day grow up to be leaders in their fields. Then she solemnly asked for guidance, patience, and strength on this, her first day of teaching.
When she raised her head and opened her eyes, the time was precisely nine o’clock.
The door to the marshal’s office squeaked as it opened. Marshal James Butler Hickok looked up to see Mitchell stick his head in. “Jim?”
“Yes, Mitchell, come in.”
Mitchell stepped in and walked to the desk. “I’m sorry for what happened, Marshal.”
“I’d like to believe that, Mitchell. But my guess is that you’re sorry you lost your badge, not so much sorry for what caused you to lose it.”
“What’s the difference?”
“That’s just it. You don’t know.”
“You mean, because that Texas Ranger outdrew me? Look, Jim, he caught me by surprise, that’s all.”
Hickok looked into the lad’s eyes and slowly shook his head.
“How many times have I told you that being a lawman has nothing to do with how fast you are with a gun?”
“You’ve been with me for over a year, and you still have no idea. Look, Bob, I know life has been tough on you. Your father died when you were young, and you’ve had to look after your mother and sister for all these years. When your mother came to me and asked if I could give you a job, she made me promise I’d watch out for you. I knew the job would mean a regular income for you and your family―something to put food on the table. I also thought I could teach you the business of being a lawman. But I guess some men aren’t cut out to wear a badge.”
“What are you talking about, Jim? I’ve done fine, except for that one time with the Ranger.”
“It only takes one time, Bob.” Hickok leaned forward and put his elbows on the desk. “If something ever happened to you, son, while you were wearing a badge, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. And I don’t know how I could ever face your mother again. I think it’s best we end this now, before you wind up in an early grave.”
“Aw, Jim, come on.”
“No, Bob, I’ve made up my mind.”
“You mean you’re firing me for good?”
“That’s right, Bob. I’m sorry.”
“Well, you no-good coyote! You never did plan on giving me my badge back, did ya?”
“I told you it depended on our talk today. You’ve convinced me you’re not cut out for the job.”
“Why? What did I do wrong?”
“When you find that out, come back and we’ll talk again. Good luck to you, Bob. Oh, and one more thing. Be careful about who you’re calling names. I’ll let it go this time, but don’t let it happen again.”
The time for school to start came and went. At quarter after nine, Julie stood up and walked to the door. When she stepped out, she peered down the dusty road leading into the heart of town. No one was on the road.
She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach.
She walked a few steps and sat down on a stump, all the while watching the road. She heard the call of an eagle overhead and saw the wind kick up a small dust devil on the road. Before long she cupped her face with her hands and sobbed.
After a time she stood up and blotted her eyes with her handkerchief. Slumped like a whipped dog, she walked back into the schoolhouse. She sat down at the desk. For several long minutes, she noticed her train of thought. It was all negative. Had she been wrong to come to this God-forsaken land of endless plains and to a town with crooked wooden buildings and dust so thick she could taste it?
Well, no one could say she had not been warned. Her mother had pleaded with her to stay in the East, close to the security of home. Her father had placed his arm around her and asked her to stay. It was the only time she had ever seen tears in his eyes.
“God-forsaken”? She recalled that those were the words of the man on the stage she had ridden to Abilene. Curtly, she had informed him that God could indeed be found in this brutal land, if one only looked at it in the right way. But now, God seemed far, far away. Had anyone else, ever, felt so very alone?
She reached down and closed the history book. She also closed her book of lesson plans. Then she picked up all of the books on her desk, one by one, and placed them in a stack, which she pushed to one side.
Again she felt tears well up. What good is a teacher who has no students? Slowly the minutes passed, each feeling like an hour. Every tick of the clock seemed to pile more weight onto her shoulders. Finally, she placed her arms on the desk and rested her head upon her arms.
Then she wept.
She wept for all the years she had struggled to achieve her goal of becoming a teacher. She wept for every class she had taken, every grade she had been given, and every hour of sleep she had lost to do better. She especially wept for her stubbornness in leaving home, for the long tiring trip to Abilene, and for her belief in the importance of education that not a single person here shared.
She felt defeated, abandoned, and broken.
Sometime during the flood of dark emotions, she slowly, but inevitably, fell asleep, as if only sleep could assuage the overwhelming assault of negativity.
Twenty minutes later, she opened her eyes. The classroom was utterly silent and deathly still. She raised her head from the desk and stood up. Slowly, she walked outside to the pump behind the schoolhouse. She jacked the handle until the water flowed. Then she cupped her hands and reached into the stream. She brought the water up and rinsed her face several times.
When she walked back into the schoolhouse, she sat down at the desk and pulled the Bible out of the stack of books. She spoke aloud. “Holy Father, forgive me for my profane thoughts that somehow you had forsaken me. In your Word, you said you would never leave, or forsake, me, but that you would stick closer than a brother. You are here now, as you’ve always been. In Jesus name, thank you, Father, for that.”
She opened the Bible and thumbed through several pages. Then she turned to the first chapter of the Book of St. Luke. So, this was what Parson Blane was writing about. She leaned back in the chair and began to read.
Mitchell was livid when he walked out of the marshal’s office. He walked directly to the Alamo Saloon and swung the bat-wing doors open so forcefully that they slapped the wooden frame on either side.
Leo Moretti was wiping the bar with a clean damp cloth. He looked up with a scowl on his face. “Careful there, son, you’ll knock the hinges off the doors.”
“Give me a drink, Leo.”
“It’s way too early to start serving liquor, Deputy.”
“And don’t call me ‘Deputy’ anymore.”
“Why, what happened?”
“I got fired. That’s what happened! Now, are you gonna give me a drink, or do you want me to jump over there and get it myself?”
Moretti reached under the bar and pulled up a bottle of whiskey. He poured the whiskey into a shot glass and slid the glass to Mitchell.
Mitchell stepped forward and took the bottle from Moretti’s hand.
“Cash on the counter, son.”
Mitchell withdrew the coins from his vest pocket and threw them onto the bar. Then he walked to a table near the back of the room. He had downed several shots before he looked up and noticed a man seated at a table in the rear corner. The man was sipping coffee from a cup.
Mitchell narrowed his eyelids. “You’re the coyote who cost me my job!”
Abe Jackson did not look up. “You talking to me, son?”
“Yes, I’m talking to you, you two-bit Texas Ranger!”
Abe Jackson still did not look up. “I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your voice down.”
“Why? Don’t you want anyone else knowing who you are?” Mitchell said contemptuously.
“That’s right, son.”
“Quit calling me ‘son’!”
Jackson took a sip of coffee.
“Well, you just gonna sit there?”
Jackson did not respond.
“I oughta show you just how fast I am. You caught me by surprise once, but it won’t happen again!”
Jackson turned his head and looked directly into Mitchell’s eyes. “You’re angry. Anger always clouds a man’s judgment. Don’t make a mistake.”
Mitchell poured another shot and downed it in one gulp. Then he slammed the glass onto the table.
Jackson calmly turned back and took another sip of coffee.
Marshal Hickok had a rule. Basically, when something troubled him, the rule was to get rid of it. Mitchell had always troubled him. The young deputy was a good worker, no question. But Mitchell had always had the wrong idea about being a lawman.
Hickok had counseled the lad on many occasions and had tried to convince him that the job of a lawman was to uphold the law, which governed the actions of all men equally. Mitchell had always had it backwards. Simply by his attitude, Mitchell showed he believed that, since he wore a deputy’s badge, he, himself, was not bound by the law. Like other lawmen Hickok had known, Mitchell believed he was the law.
Mitchell’s sense of superiority was downright dangerous. Hickok figured that, sooner or later, Mitchell’s failure to grasp the difference between the law and the job to uphold the law would get him into serious trouble. When a man walks around feeling superior, there is always someone who yearns to cut him down to size. And in this untamed land, many men were qualified to do just that.
Mitchell was fast with a gun, no doubt. Hickok had doubts on who was faster, Mitchell or himself. But Hickok was smart enough to avoid a gun battle with someone unknown—unless absolutely necessary. Mitchell, impaired by his pride, had never been that smart. Had Abe Jackson been anyone other than a lawman, Mitchell would already be dead. That thought had scared Hickok back to his senses and had caused him to remember and to enforce his rule. Thus, as hard as it was, Hickok had gotten rid of the troubling Mitchell.
Hickok was mulling over those ideas, as he picked up a broom and began sweeping out the office. Suddenly the door burst open. Moretti, the bartender, yelled, “Mitchell’s been shot!”
TO BE CONTINUED
Monday, November 24, 2008
The sheriff was tall and broad, seeming to fill the entire entryway of the newspaper office. “Stranger, you’re gonna have to come with me.”
Royce Lee tightened one side of his mouth and blinked slowly in disgust. “Did you talk to Bill Townsend?”
“Bill Townsend. He witnessed the gunfight. I acted strictly in self-defense, Sheriff.”
“All I know is that you killed Jim and Tommy Campbell last night. The
“Yes Sheriff, I’ll come. But you have to talk to Bill Townsend. He’ll back my story. Those two were looking for trouble. I gave them every chance to walk away.”
“Unstrap that gun belt and hand it over.”
Again Lee tightened his mouth. He hung his head and shook it. “This is terrible bad luck.” He unbuckled the belt and held it out.
The sheriff stepped forward and took it. “Come along.”
“Can you give me a minute to talk to my friend here?”
Lee turned to Elijah. “Your business here is finished. I want you to head to
“Oh, Mr. Lee, you’ve done enough already. I couldn’t possibly take any more.”
“No, you take it. You’ll need it for the journey and to settle down up north. When you find somewhere safe to make your home, learn a trade. Serve as an apprentice until you know everything about the job. Then set up your own business so you won’t have to depend on others to make a living. Good luck, Elijah, and I hope you find your family.” He took hold of Elijah’s wrist, lifting his friend’s hand, and placed the money in his palm. “Go on now, and keep your eyes and ears open on the trail. Understand?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Lee, I understand. Thank you for everything. I’ll be praying for you.”
Lee noticed tears in Elijah’s eyes. “Listen now, I’ll be okay, as soon as Bill Townsend tells what he saw.” Lee turned back to the sheriff. “Okay I’m ready.”
No one knows what freedom is until it has been taken away. All of a man’s desires, which he otherwise satisfies to whatever degree, are immediately denied. One cannot eat or drink what he wants, when he wants. One cannot smell the grass, or enjoy the warmth of the sun, or gaze upon the moon and the stars at night. But worst of all, one cannot freely move about, except within a ten foot by ten foot cage.
Lee had been in jail before and had hated every second of it. When he had been released, he promised himself he would never spend another night behind bars. Yet, here he was, after a long sleepless night in the
Sitting on a cot, elbows on his knees, and hands pressed against the sides of his head, he again realized what all prisoners know: No one owns anything that can be taken away. At best a man can only care for and appreciate what he has, for however long he has it. And next to life itself, the most valuable possession a man has is his freedom.
Absorbed in his thoughts, Lee failed to notice a lanky deputy who had walked into the cell area. Propping himself against the wall, the deputy drank long drafts of coffee from a tin cup, which caused his Adam’s apple to bob up and down like a cork on a fishing line. Finally the deputy stepped forward and raked the cup across the bars.
Startled, Lee looked up.
The deputy leaned close to the bars and grinned, showing crooked yellow teeth. “Whatcha doin’ in there?”
“What’s it to ya?”
The deputy grinned again. “Nothin’ much really.”
“Make yourself useful and get some coffee for me too.”
“You want some coffee?” The deputy took the tin cup and hurled the remainder of its contents onto the cell floor, splashing it onto Lee’s new boots. “There’s your coffee.”
“Your mother teach ya to do that?”
“Jim Campbell was a friend of mine.”
“Has the sheriff talked to Bill Townsend yet?”
“We don’t know no Bill Townsend.”
“That’s odd, because he was in the saloon when your friend forced me into a fight.”
“You mean when you murdered my friend and his kid brother.”
“Self-defense ain’t murder and you know it. What about other witnesses? There were a lot of people in that saloon.”
“That’s a lie. Besides, those who saw from the window could only see the two in the street. Bill Townsend saw your friend draw first. I had no choice but to kill him. Your friend’s brother raised his hands in the air. But then he went for his gun. That’s when I shot him—after he went for his gun. It was all self-defense. There ain’t no law against that.”
“Yeah well, that’s your story. Let’s see what a jury says.”
“This won’t go to trial, once you find Bill Townsend. He’s the one who saw everything clearly. I made sure I had a witness.”
“Your one witness, against our five, ain’t gonna count for much.”
The deputy laughed and turned to walk through the doorway into the front office. He glanced over his shoulder. “Alright mister. We’ll see how tough you are, dangling from the end of a rope.”
Lee shimmied his feet out of his boots and lay back on the cot. He closed his eyes but could not relax. Every muscle was tight and his mind raced like the wind. Who was Bill Townsend if both the sheriff and the deputy did not know him? Was Townsend some drifter who was in town for only one night? Lee massaged his eyelids. That would be his luck, picking someone as a witness who would never be seen again. He turned his head and spit on the floor.
“You’re gonna clean that up.”
Lee looked up to see the sheriff standing at the bars.
“Come on, get your boots on.”
“Where we goin’?”
The sheriff put the key in the lock and turned it. “I ain’t going nowhere, but if I was you, I’d get out of town and never come back.”
“What do ya mean?”
“I found your Bill Townsend. Turns out he’s the brother-in-law of Joe Safford, the blacksmith. Safford and his wife are honest people. I figure Safford’s brother-in-law, if he’s anything like Safford and his wife, is just as honest. Townsend’s visiting from
“Where’s my horse?”
“Out front. You owe me a dollar for the livery charge.”
The sheriff turned and Lee followed him into the front office. The sheriff opened a drawer and withdrew Lee’s gun belt, which held the two .45s.
When Lee reached out to take the belt, the sheriff slapped a small towel into his hand instead. “The spit.”
Lee opened his mouth to object but he saw the sheriff raise his eyebrows. “Alright Sheriff, I’ll clean it up.” Lee walked back into the cell and wiped the spit, along with the deputy’s coffee, off the floor. When he walked out of the cell door he cursed under his breath and defiantly kicked one of the bars with the heel of his boot.
When he walked back into the front office, he held out the towel. The sheriff pointed to a wastebasket and Lee tossed it in.
“Got that dollar?”
Lee reached for his wad of bills. His pocket was empty. “Uh, I gave all my money to Elijah.”
The deputy grinned. “It’s either the dollar you owe or a night in jail. Ain’t that right, Sheriff?”
Lee desperately checked every pocket he had. He did not have a cent on him.
The sheriff nodded to the deputy. “Yeah, that’s right. Except tomorrow he’ll owe two dollars and he ain’t got that either. No use charging the town to house and feed him till he dies of old age.”
“I got money, Sheriff. Just let me telegraph my bank.”
“Forget it. I’m tired of lookin’ at ya. Here.” The sheriff held out the gun belt and Lee took it, examining it quickly.
“They’re empty,” the sheriff said, reaching into the drawer. “Here’s the cartridges.”
Lee took the cartridges and stuffed them into his pocket.
The deputy eyed Lee’s guns. “Hey, Sheriff. What about one of those new Colts to pay the livery charge?”
“No, we ain’t thieves. Besides, I’m thinkin’ about taking that dollar out of your pay.”
“Why? What did I do?”
Lee glanced at the deputy and chuckled under his breath. Then he turned, strapping on the gun belt as he walked outside. When he mounted up he jerked the horse’s head around and spurred the animal hard. “Let’s go. I never want to see this town again!”
The horse bolted, and Lee rode out of town at full speed.
A quarter mile out of
As he rode, Lee occasionally glanced over his shoulder. Before long the town was out of sight. The sun was high in the sky and Lee felt drowsy in the withering heat. Now and then his eyelids drooped before he caught himself and straightened up in the saddle. He had not slept a wink the night before. The deputy had served him eggs that morning, but they smelled bad and did not look like any eggs he had ever seen. He had not eaten a bite.
By mid-afternoon, Lee knew he could travel no farther without a meal and some rest. He turned the horse toward the river and brought the animal to a lope.
When Lee reached the river, the breeze off the water, coupled with the shade of the trees, began to cool his dry sweltering skin. He swung down from the saddle and tied the horse to a low-hanging branch of a tree. Then he walked to the water and splashed his face.
After he collected some wood to build a small fire, Lee stripped the horse of saddle and gear and staked him in a patch of lush green grass.
Lee arranged the wood and lit the fire. Then he added water to some beans he had kept in his knapsack and placed them over the fire. When the beans had cooked, he pulled them from the fire and gobbled them down. He then pulled a .45 from one of his holsters and lay back against the saddle. Placing the gun on his chest, he closed his eyes.
After a few moments he felt his muscles begin to relax and soon he fell asleep. He dreamt he was on a log raft floating on water as smooth as glass. A cool breeze caressed his face and lifted strands of his unruly hair. The sky was violet, and golden rays of the sun filtered through voluminous white and blue clouds. Soon the wind kicked up and skimmed across the water, causing the surface to become choppy. The raft rocked back and forth and Lee heard the rope that held the logs together creak and whine under the strain. The creaking of the rope became loud and ominous as the wind grew fierce, tossing the raft like a toothpick in the rapidly churning water. A giant wave crashed against the tiny vessel, causing it to capsize. Flung from the raft, Lee plunged into the water and began to sink. As he rapidly descended into the deathly dark abyss, his lungs burned from lack of oxygen.
Suddenly he awoke, gasping for air. He felt genuine fear in his gut, and his ears were filled with the creaking sound of the rope in his dream.
He rolled onto his side and the .45 slid off his chest and fell onto the ground. He opened his eyes and lay still for several moments, trying to orient himself. Again and again he inhaled and exhaled large breaths of air. He still heard the creaking of the rope in his head.
After he sat up he rubbed his face and lightly scratched his temples with his fingernails. He looked up, straight ahead, and focused his gaze on the river. The wind had picked up and he heard it rustling through the trees. The sound of the rope, creaking and grinding, annoyingly persisted.
For a moment he thought he heard the creak of the rope across the way, and he began to doubt that the sound was only a lingering impression of his dream. He stood up and holstered the .45.
There it was again. The creaking of the rope!
Lee looked around cautiously. He saw nothing that could cause a sound that resembled a rope creaking and whining under strain. Yet that was precisely what he heard. Or was it still only in his head?
Momentarily he again heard the eerie sound. This time he was able to hone in on its location. It was coming from the vicinity of a large tree nearby. He pulled a .45 from his holster and cocked the hammer. He slowly walked toward the tree, all the while listening intently.
Whatever was making the sound was behind the tree, out of Lee’s line of sight. He crouched slightly and pointed the .45 toward the tree. He stepped stealthily, trying not to disturb the leaves beneath his feet, even though he doubted whether man or beast could hear his movements above the rustling wind.
When he reached the tree, he carefully began to circle it. In small increments he stepped around the trunk ever so cautiously to try to catch sight of whatever it was, before the thing spotted him.
Then he saw it. A colored man was hanging a few feet off the ground, swaying in the breeze. The man’s head was in a noose and his hands were tied behind his back. The rope creaked every time the man swung from side to side. A burlap bag had been placed over the man’s head, which protruded at a fatally odd angle from his torso.
For several moments Lee stood staring at the grisly scene. “Oh, Elijah....”
Lee slowly walked back to his gear and withdrew a sheathed bowie knife from one of his saddlebags. He bridled the horse and swung up onto the animal’s bare back. He then walked the horse over to the hanging man and reached up with his knife and cut the rope. The corpse fell to the ground in a heap.
Lee dismounted and tied off the horse. Then he studied the tracks on the ground. Five men had performed the lynching. He could tell there had been little struggle―as if the men had been tending to familiar business, and the victim had had no choice but to accept his fate.
Lee returned the knife to his saddlebag and removed his folding entrenching tool, which he customarily used for digging shallow fire pits while on the trail. A few feet from the tree he began digging a grave.
Now and then he straightened up and looked carefully in every direction. The men who had hanged his friend were long gone.
The wind rustled through the trees and the branches swayed in rhythmic waves. The sun had completed most of its arc for the day but still hung lazily in the early-evening sky.
After Lee had dug the grave, he stepped out of the rectangular hole and sat down. He wiped the sweat from his brow and swigged some water from his canteen. Something in the back of his mind had been troubling him. Earlier he had attributed the uneasy feeling to his sorrow over the loss of Elijah. But now the feeling returned, causing him to pause. He recalled that he had first noticed the puzzling feeling while reading the tracks.
He glanced at the sun’s angle and decided to read the tracks again before the light faded any more.
He stood and walked to the area where the tracks were most numerous. Then he slowly followed a widening circle, noticing every detail of the imprints left by men and horses. Something was missing. Once again he started from the center of the circle and carefully worked his way out. Then he moved farther out still. He had already identified each man’s boot prints, as well as Elijah’s. But the number of horses did not match up to the number of men.
Lee knew Elijah had left town with a trail horse and a pack horse. The two horses were freshly shod, as was his own. But the tracks did not show that. No matter how many times he examined the ground and made his calculations, he always came up a horse short. Not only that, but he could not distinguish any tracks of a pair of horses that had been freshly shod.
He stood still for several moments, trying to unravel the riddle. Then he glanced at the dead man lying near the tree. Slowly he approached the corpse. He knelt down and pulled the burlap bag from the man’s head. He blinked several times as he realized he did not recognize the man at all. The man was not Elijah!
Lee drew in a deep breath and exhaled a sigh of relief. At the same time, sadness tugged at his heart for the murdered man. He untied the dead man’s hands and dragged the corpse by the arms to the grave. Then he positioned the body into the hole.
An hour later, Lee had filled the grave and had fashioned a cross from a couple of tree branches. After pounding the cross into the ground, he stood silently for several minutes. He felt sure that, had he been a praying man, he would have spoken some appropriate words. But all he could think of was the cruelty of the men who had hanged a person just because of his color.
Finally he turned and walked to his horse. After saddling the animal, his thoughts turned to
He swung up into the saddle and lifted the reins. The horse stepped out in a lively trot. For a moment he thought of Elijah. As slim as the odds were, there was still a chance that his friend might find his family.
Lee again turned his attention to
Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
"We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."….
The swish, swish, swish of Mrs. Pemberton’s petticoats beneath her best Sunday dress filled the upstairs foyer as she hurried down the hall to Julie’s room. As she knocked on Julie’s door with an insistent rap, she called, “Julie, it’s time to go. We mustn’t be late for your first Sunday at church.”
When Julie Weber opened the door, Mrs. Pemberton looked the girl over from head to toe and then smiled. “Oh, my dear, you strike a pretty picture in that outfit! And wherever did you get those lovely satin and lace shoes? Surely in the East. I’ve seen nothing of such fine fashion in the shops in town.”
“Yes, ma’am, I purchased them last summer in
“Honey, you got every penny’s worth. They’re absolutely lovely. Now, let’s go, or else I’ll miss the chance to introduce you to the ladies before the service begins. This is a very special day, you know: Mother’s Day. We must never forget how horrible wars are and also our womanly responsibilities to urge peaceful resolutions to the problems faced among neighbors, just like it says in the Good Book.”
After Julie seated herself next to Mrs. Pemberton in the straight-backed wooden pew, she bowed her head and said a silent prayer. Of all for which she was grateful, she acknowledged that the most precious gift was the salvation granted to her by God’s grace, as well as the peace of mind it imparted.
She raised her head and opened her eyes, allowing her gaze to fall on the magnificent Risen Cross, hung above and behind the altar. The pianist played Bach’s insistently light and happy Minuet in G Major, and she found herself tilting her head back and forth as if the point of her nose were the pendulum on a metronome that kept time to the stiff unyielding rhythm.
How many women had she met this morning already? Mrs. Pemberton must have known every woman in the congregation, and she had been careful to introduce Julie to most of them. Now, as Julie’s gaze slowly took in the seated congregation, she recognized many of the women she had met, but admittedly most of their names had already slipped her memory. She felt embarrassed, as she imagined herself encountering one of the women again and not knowing the woman’s name.
“Do we have any new brothers or sisters attending the service this morning?” the preacher asked.
Mrs. Pemberton immediately stood up. “Reverend, I’m proud to present to the congregation Miss Julie Weber. She’s the new school teacher, and she would like to make an announcement.”
Julie stood up and turned to face the congregation. “Hello, everyone. Thank you for the warm welcome you have shown me this morning.”
As the congregation turned to look at her, Julie noticed one man in particular and her heart skipped a beat. He was the man she had noticed the day she had visited the construction site of the new church building.
When their eyes met Julie fell silent.
The preacher waited a long moment and then smiled. “Come now, Miss Weber, you needn’t be shy. You are among friends here. What is your announcement?”
Julie turned to the preacher but, for another moment, she could not speak.
“What is it, dear?”
Julie cleared her throat. “I’d like to announce that the school will open tomorrow and will run for a month. Then we will break for summer vacation. For those students wishing to attend summer school, the session will begin a week after regular school lets out.”
The congregation remained completely silent, stunned by Julie’s announcement.
The preacher cocked his head, not knowing quite what to say. The congregation members turned to each other and the room erupted into a buzz of muffled conversations.
Julie looked around the room, surprised at all the commotion.
Finally the preacher stepped forward and asked, “Are there any other new brothers or sisters with us this morning?”
As the congregation continued to speak among themselves, Julie quietly sat down.
Mrs. Pemberton turned to Julie. “I’m afraid you caught everyone off guard, my dear. I should have warned you that that might happen. Since the school was already let out by Bonnie Somerset, the parents were expecting the children to help with chores until school starts up again in the fall.”
Julie lowered her head in disappointment.
When the service was over, everyone stood up. The preacher had posted himself at the exit, exchanging pleasantries with the members as they filed out. When Julie came to the preacher, she said, “Thank you, Parson Blane. I’m glad to meet you. Faye Spencer has told me so many good things about you.”
“Pardon me, Miss Weber,” the preacher said smiling, “I’m Reverend Wilcox, the minister of this congregation.”
Reverend Wilcox glanced up at the man in line behind Julie. “Parson Blane is the man standing behind you.”
Julie turned around and saw the tall man who had caused her heart to flutter. When their eyes met, Blane slightly bowed from the waist. “Hello, Miss Weber.”
TO BE CONTINUED
 First two paragraphs of the Mother’s Day Proclamation (not affiliated with the modern Mother’s Day holiday) by Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910), a prominent American abolitionist, social activist, and poet most famous as the author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Written in 1870, Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation was a pacifist reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. The Proclamation was tied to Howe’s feminist belief that women ha(ve) a responsibility to shape their societies at the political level. Reference: Mother’s Day Proclamation, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Royce Lee remained calm and stood perfectly still. Although the two men in the street facing him were in dim light, he could clearly see the first man’s eyes. Lee had already picked him as the first he would have to kill. The second man, he calculated, was merely a follower and probably much slower on the draw.
Lee had faced down other men in gunfights. The first time, he was terrified—and relieved when he saw the other man fall. The second time, he walked away with much more confidence. He had proven to himself he could hold his own, and that the first time had not been a fluke. After he had killed his third man in a gunfight, he had become familiar enough with the situation to make him more dangerous than most other men alive. He still felt jitters in his stomach. But he had learned to channel the nervous tension into lightning speed and deadly accuracy.
Lee had never sought out a face-to-face showdown. But, like a bad dream, he still found himself in the middle of one from time to time. His style normally hinged on stealth and surprise. In a gunfight, on the other hand, the odds were much too even—and anything could go wrong.
Over time, however, he had come to accept the fact that the occasional nightmarish gunfight was simply a symptom of the kind of man he was.
A warm breeze floated in from the southwest, carrying away the stench of stale liquor that had hung in the air outside of the saloon. The low humidity had dried Lee’s throat more than usual and his tongue felt like it was glued to the roof of his mouth. All the while however he kept his attention focused on the first man’s eyes.
Then something poked him in the back. “Hey, what’s going on here?”
A man exiting the saloon had swung the door partially open until it had struck Lee in the back. Keeping his gaze steady on the steely eyes of the man in the street and his right hand ready near his gun, Lee quickly sidestepped to his right. When the man stepped out of the saloon Lee grabbed him by the arm. Without turning his head, Lee asked, “What’s your name?”
“Step away, Bill. Watch what’s gonna happen here. You’re my witness.”
Meanwhile a second man who had been exiting the saloon saw Lee facing the two men in the street. He turned back into the room and yelled, “Gunfight!”
The saloon erupted into a roar of sheer panic as men scattered everywhere. Those at the bar dashed toward the center of the room to escape the line of fire. Those in the center and at the rear of the room rushed to the window and drew back the curtains so they could witness the spectacle.
Lee heard the commotion inside the saloon but he did not allow it to distract him. When a solemn hush finally fell upon those in the saloon, he spoke in a calm voice to the men in the street. “If you two are determined to make this the night you die, I’ll oblige you. The best I can do is promise to put a bullet in each of you that will kill you quick. No use you laying in the street suffering.”
“That’s some pretty big talk when there’s two of us and only one of you,” the first man grunted.
“I’ve given you fair warning.”
The second man in the street glanced at the first and whispered, “I don’t like this, Jim. I got a feeling he ain’t bluffin’.”
“Don’t worry, little brother, I can take him.”
“You’re fast, Jim. Everybody knows that. But we don’t know anything about this fella.”
“You’re not turning yellow on me, are you?”
“Aw, Jim. You know me better than that. I’m just telling you I got a bad feelin’ about this guy.”
“He made a fool out of me in the restaurant. I can’t let that go. Now you follow my lead. When I draw, you draw too.”
Lee stood unruffled. He knew the two men were talking between themselves but they spoke in whispers so that he could only distinguish a word now and then. Still, he knew that talk, rather than action, was a sign of doubt. When the men finally stopped whispering, however, he knew the moment of truth had grown closer.
“It’s not too late to walk away from this.” Lee’s tone was matter-of-fact.
“We ain’t walking away, stranger.”
“Well then, whenever you’re ready.”
Lee knew that one of the unwritten laws in a gunfight is to detect precisely when one’s opponent makes his move to draw and shoot. Because the hand is quicker than the eye, Lee never focused on his opponent’s hand. Instead he focused on the man’s eyes and then watched the man’s hand with peripheral vision. Because the delicate muscles around the eye are particularly sensitive to stress, the eyes always had a way of communicating the moment a man went for his gun. A squint, a blink, a quiver—any kind of change―was all Lee needed to detect before he himself drew and fired.
Each man is the sum total of his experiences. He tends to repeat behaviors that reward him, and eliminate behaviors that penalize him. As a result, Lee had created a rule for himself: Never make the first move in a gunfight. Yet, waiting for an enemy to go for his gun could be nerve-racking. To counter negative thoughts Lee had tried in the past to not think at all, but he had found that impossible. What worked instead was to repeat in his mind: “Smooth and easy, smooth and easy, smooth and easy.” Lee had learned that repeating the words kept his mind calm, and when the moment of truth finally came, a calm mind was his most effective weapon.
Not only did Lee never make the first move in a gunfight, but he waited long enough not to give the appearance he had made the first move. He always wanted onlookers convinced of the truth that he had acted in self-defense. Why? Not because he fancied himself some kind of hero. Not because he held some noble notion to give his enemy a slight advantage. And certainly not because he wanted to be fair. Rather, for purely selfish reasons, he wanted onlookers to testify to local authorities that he had acted strictly in self-defense.
For Lee, killing a resistant outlaw on the trail with no witnesses was a straight-forward perfunctory task. But in a town with many onlookers, killing a man who was probably liked by some of the citizens, and loved by his family, was a sure path to trouble with the law.
But now he was trapped. The two men in the street were not going to let him walk away. In the back of his mind he loathed the idea of wasted time tangled up with the law. Additionally there was the matter of Miles Stayton. Even now, as Lee stood outside of a saloon in a town where he had only wanted to buy a pair of boots and a hat, eat a steak, and purchase a horse, Miles Stayton was getting away. And Lee had a big score to settle with Miles Stayton.
“Smooth and easy, smooth and easy, smooth and easy.”
Then the very slightest blink! But Lee saw it in slow motion as if a giant rain cloud had momentarily eclipsed the bright rays of the sun. Simultaneously the man’s hand flashed to his gun. The man’s pistol had cleared leather and was almost level when Lee’s bullet struck him hard in the chest. The impact lifted the man’s feet off the ground and violently thrust him backwards until he landed flat in the dust with a sickening thud.
Instantly Lee trained the pistol on the second man in the street. He fanned the hammer with the meaty part of his left palm. At that moment, two events happened at the same time. First, the gun did not fire. Second, he saw the man lifting his hands in the air.
“Don’t shoot!” the man cried in a shaky voice.
Lee straightened and pulled in his chin. His gun had misfired. The river water must have penetrated the cartridge. He wondered whether the next bullet would fire or not. He also wondered if the man in the street had realized the gun had misfired.
“Keep your right hand in the air. With your left hand reach down, unbuckle your gun belt, and let it fall.” As Lee gave the command he pulled the hammer all the way back into the firing position and held his aim steady on the man.
“Okay mister. Only don’t shoot!”
Lee watched the man carefully. The man’s words and tone of voice indicated he would comply. But would he?
The man slowly lowered his left arm until his hand was near the buckle.
“Don’t do anything foolish.”
“What’s the matter, mister? Your gun won’t fire?”
“I wouldn’t bet my life on it. Now unbuckle the belt.”
“No, I don’t think I will.”
The man’s right hand dropped quickly to his gun and he drew it out of the holster.
With only a split second to react Lee squeezed the trigger. Again the gun did not fire. He quickly fanned the hammer. Nothing. Desperately and with lightning speed Lee fanned the hammer again.
The bullet fired and hit its mark just in time. As the man in the street doubled over, he pulled the trigger on his gun and the bullet penetrated the dirt, sending a cloud of dust into the air. Then the man collapsed to the ground.
When Lee heard a gentle knock, he stepped to the door and opened it.
Elijah stepped back when he saw the gun in Lee’s hand. “You ready, Mr. Lee?”
Lee holstered the pistol. “Yeah. Let’s go.”
Lee and Elijah walked down the stairs. When they reached the lobby the man who had rented them the rooms stood up behind the counter. He pointed at the clock on the wall. “You were supposed to be out first thing this morning. It’s nearly !”
Neither Lee nor Elijah responded. Without missing a step they walked through the lobby and out the front door.
When Lee saw the three horses that Vince Hackett had tied to the hitching rail he raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Whoa,” he muttered. “Looks like we did get a steal.”
Lee did not have to guess which horse was his. His was the sorrel. The mettle in the beast’s eyes and the way the horse watched him, combined with the lean muscular body, told Lee this indeed was a fine animal. He confidently approached and gently said, “Easy, big fella.” He placed a firm hand on the horse’s neck and patted him several times. He walked around the horse and stopped in front of him. Then he parted the animal’s lips and checked the teeth. He figured the horse was about four or five years old.
“Elijah, I need to talk to you.”
“Alright, Mr. Lee. But what did you do with Moses and what are these two extra horses for?”
“Elijah, I don’t know how to say this right. But Moses is going to be taken good care of for as long as he lives―which we both know won’t be for too much longer. From now on, you got yourself a darn fine trail horse and also a pack animal to carry the supplies we’re gonna buy this morning.”
“But I loved Moses. He and I were best friends.”
Lee watched tears come to Elijah’s eyes. “Darn it man, let me give you a good dose of reality. First of all, I don’t know how you’ve lasted this long without being lynched. They got whole organizations of racist white folks who would love to catch you alone on the trail, just so they can hang you. Besides, you’re going about trying to find your family all wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean wandering around in the South is gonna get you killed. You’ve seen how these people treat you. There’s a way to find your family, but it’s not the way you’ve been going at it. Now I suggest we get you some supplies for the trail and that you head north in a hurry and stay up there. Before we leave town I’m gonna show you precisely how to find your family. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“Yes sir, Mr. Lee. I want that more than anything.”
“Okay then. You’re gonna have to trust I know what I’m talking about. Vince Hackett, who sold us these horses, took Moses. I paid him to do it and Hackett will take good care of your old friend. That should put your mind at ease. Now mount up. Let’s find us a gun shop and a general store.”
After Elijah swung up into the saddle, he glanced at Lee. “But Mr. Lee, don’t you think you should have asked me before you took Moses?”
“Would’ve you let me take him?”
Elijah shook his head. “No!”
“Now you know why I didn’t ask.”
The gunsmith inhaled a short draw of cigarette smoke and blew it out his nose. “Yes sir. We got the new Peacemaker.”
“I’ll take one.” Lee withdrew the pistol from his holster and set it on the counter. “Will you take a few dollars off if I give you this as a trade-in?”
The gunsmith glanced at Lee’s gun. “I’ve got no use for that.”
The gunsmith withdrew a new Colt .45 Peacemaker from a glass case and set it on the counter. “Now this is a fine weapon.”
“That is nice. I’ll take two of ‘em.”
“You want two?”
“You’re right. Make it three.”
“Three? But they’re fifteen dollars a piece! And three’s all I got in stock.”
“Now you’ll be able to order more. And I’ll take three, no five, boxes of cartridges.”
“What are you planning to do, mister? Start a war?”
“The war’s already started. And I lost the first battle. I don’t plan on losing any more. Reach up there and hand me that belt with the two holsters.”
Lee unbuckled his own gun belt and set it on the counter. He pulled the cartridges out of the loops and replaced them with the .45 caliber cartridges from one of the boxes the gunsmith had set on the counter. When the gunsmith placed the new holster on the counter, Lee filled all of those loops as well. Then he loaded all three Colts with five cartridges each, being careful to leave an empty chamber beneath the firing pin. He withdrew the few remaining cartridges in the box and stuffed them into his pocket. “Better give me two more boxes.”
“I’ve only got one more box of .45s, mister. You’re cleaning me out!”
“Alright, give me one more box.” Lee pointed to the rifle rack. “I’ll take two of those. They’re the new
“Yes sir, they sure are.”
“Good. Give me a couple of scabbards for them too. Also I need a scatter gun. Twelve gauge with short double barrels. And ammo for it and the Winchesters. Give me two cleaning kits for the pistols and two for the rifles.”
After the gunsmith set the rifles and shotgun on the counter, Lee immediately loaded them to full capacity.
When the gunsmith totaled the amount Lee pulled the wad of bills from his pocket and paid the man. Then he strapped on the gun belt and slid a .45 into each holster. When he picked up his old gun belt he slid the third .45 into the holster. After he picked up the rifles, the shotgun, the boxes of cartridges, and the cleaning kits, he turned to walk out.
The gunsmith hurried around the counter and scurried to open the door for Lee whose arms were full. “Thank you mister. I’d say you’re loaded for bear.”
“Not for bear. Something much more dangerous.”
Lee walked out onto the sidewalk and stepped down into the street. He strapped one scabbard holding a
Elijah, sitting in the saddle, watched with incredulity as Lee methodically tended to business.
Finally Lee held the single-holster gun belt up to Elijah. “Here. Put this on.”
“Oh Mr. Lee, I don’t wear a gun.”
“But I don’t rightly know how to shoot.”
“Learn and learn quick. I gave you plenty of bullets for practice. Practice Elijah. Practice as if your life depended on it. Odds are it does.”
It was almost when Lee and Elijah finished strapping the array of supplies that Lee had purchased from the general store onto the pack horse.
“Mr. Lee, I’m startin’ to feel real guilty. You’ve spent a whole lot of money on me, starting with that steak dinner. And I’ve never spent a night in a hotel, much less in one that has a bed I’d like to sleep a week in. These horses must have cost a fortune and you also paid Mr. Hackett to look after Moses for the rest of his days. Why even that cook in the restaurant said Mr. Hackett has the nicest spread around. The guns—well, you believe they’re necessary. And when I think about it seriously, the Lord holds no grudge against a man defending himself. But these supplies. It’s just getting to be too much. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate everything somethin’ fierce. But there’s no way I can begin to repay you. Mercy me, I doubt I could repay you if I turned over every nickel I made from now until the Lord takes me home.”
“Quit talking foolish, Elijah. I got more money than I know what to do with, and I got nothing better to spend it on. The money I used last night and today will barely make a dent.” Lee paused a moment and then smiled. “Since you’re in so good with the Lord, maybe He’ll count what I’ve done as a good deed.”
“Are you a Christian, Mr. Lee?”
“Not at all.”
“Then I’m sorry to tell you this, but the Lord can’t count anything you do as a good deed. It doesn’t matter how good it looks in the eyes of men.”
“What do you mean? People do good things all the time. When you pulled me out of the river, that was a good deed, wasn’t it?”
“Yes sir. The Lord will surely count that in my favor.”
“Well then what’s the difference?”
“Can I talk plain, Mr. Lee?”
“Of course. Talk straight, Elijah.”
“The Lord only counts deeds as good when they’re done for the right reason—and there’s only one right reason. That’s to glorify the Lord.”
“What do you mean ‘glorify’?”
“It means doing things that honor the Lord. When you sin, you dishonor the Lord. So you don’t sin, as much as humanly possible anyway. Instead you obey His Word.
“You do things to help your neighbor. After all, God created your neighbor, even your enemies, just like He created you. If your neighbor asks, you share about what Jesus has done for you. Whenever you serve others, you serve the Lord.
“Spending time with the Lord in thankful prayer is another way to honor Him. You also glorify the Lord when you give Him proper credit for the good things He provides. When you take personal credit for your gifts, you rob the Lord of what is rightfully His and you’re forgetting He gave them to you in the first place.”
“But the Lord has nothing to do with what I’ve done.”
“That’s right, Mr. Lee, and it’s a shame. When a person doesn’t believe, he does things mostly to please himself. A man can help another man and that’s a good thing as far as men understand. But the Lord knows when you’re doing something for yourself and when you’re doing something for Him. What you do is only a good deed when you do it for the Lord. That kinda leaves you out if you’re not one of His children.”
“Well, I don’t believe in that stuff anyway. It makes no difference to me if the Lord counts it good or bad.”
“I’m right sorry to hear you say that, Mr. Lee, because you’re missing the most important part.”
“When it’s time to die you’ll be glad you’re a believer sure enough. But believing and obeying the Lord is also the absolute best way to live.”
“Yeah well, all this talk is wasting time. I want to get out of this town pronto. Come on, let’s go.”
“What’s your hurry?”
“I’m expecting the sheriff to pay me a visit. And that can only mean trouble. But we got one more stop to make.”
“Okay, Mr. Lee, but please think about what I said. Ask yourself if you’re happy with the life you’re living. When you admit you’re not, I hope you’ll get down on your knees and ask the Lord to save you. Then you’ll know what true life is.”
“Yeah, well, maybe some day. For now, let’s get going.”
The men mounted up and rode along the street until they came to a sign that read Pine Bluff Weekly Herald.
“What’s this?” Elijah asked.
“It’s the best way to find your family.”
“You mean, read the newspaper?”
“Let’s go in. I’ll show you what I mean.”
When Lee and Elijah entered the newspaper office, a man leaning over a printing press glanced up. “What can I do for you gentlemen?”
Lee noticed an awkward curl to the man’s mouth when his gaze shifted to Elijah. Lee fully expected the man to say Elijah was not allowed in the office. Before the man could speak however Lee said, “We want to place an advertisement.”
The man straightened up and walked to the desk in the front of the room. He sat down and withdrew a piece of paper from a drawer. Then he picked up a pencil and held it over the paper. “Okay, what do you want the ad to say?”
Lee stepped forward. “Say: Two hundred dollar reward for information leading to the whereabouts of—” Lee looked at Elijah. “What’s their names?”
“Minervy and Nelly and Lucy Ward.”
Lee pointed to the paper. “Write that.”
The man looked up. “Okay. Who’s gonna hold the reward money?”
“Can you hold it?”
“Yes, I suppose I could. I’ll say in the ad that whoever has the information should contact this office. Where are you staying so I can contact you?”
“Elijah here will have to telegraph you now and then. He doesn’t stay in any one place. Now I want that advertisement in your paper and in other newspapers.”
“What other newspapers?”
“All across the country.”
“All across the country? How about we put the ad in some of the major newspapers. Like
“Okay. How much is that?”
“How long do want the ad to run?”
“I don’t know. How long will something like that take?”
“Let’s start with a month.”
“Look,” Lee said, “let’s do it this way. I’ll give you, say, two hundred dollars plus the two hundred dollar reward. You run the ad in as many newspapers as you think are likely to get a result for as long as the money holds out. Can I trust you to do that?”
“Oh yes. I run a legitimate paper. Couldn’t stay in business long if I ever cheated a customer.”
Lee pulled out the bills and counted out four hundred dollars. “Okay. Is that it?”
“Yes sir, I’ll take care of it for you. Just telegraph the Herald now and then with where you’re at, and I’ll keep you informed. I’ll have to spend some of the money to telegraph you back.”
“That’ll be fine.” Lee glanced at Elijah. “Come on, let’s go.”
Just then the door opened. When Lee turned, the sheriff was standing in the doorway.
TO BE CONTINUED