Margaret brownley, p.29

Margaret Brownley, page 29


Margaret Brownley

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  Libby raised her hand and waved. “Thornton.” Thornton turned.

  “Wait for me.” She waited for the stagecoach to pass before crossing the dirt-packed street to the other side.

  Thornton’s face was cool and impassive as she approached. The slender beauty slipped a possessive hand through the crook of his arm.

  “Have you seen Big Sam or Sharkey?”

  “The whole group of them left,” Thornton said icily. “About ten minutes ago.”

  Libby felt crushed. “They….they left?”

  “Went back where they belong,” he said with a sneer. “To the hellhole called Calico Corners. Come along, Cynthia.”

  Thornton and the woman sauntered away. Libby stood watching them, not knowing what to do or where to turn. She decided to hire a horse. Surely, she could catch up with Big Sam and the rest as they headed back to Calico Corners.

  She rushed back across the street toward the livery stables and almost bumped into a portly woman who was surrounded by three young children. She apologized profusely, but the woman was too busy fawning over Noel to notice.

  “What a darling outfit!” the woman exclaimed. “Look, children, look at the darling baby.”

  Libby smiled as the two little girls and a tall skinny boy gathered around to peer at Noel.

  “I want a suit just like that,” the boy said.

  “Me too,” said the oldest of the two girls.

  Much to Libby’s surprise, she soon found herself surrounded by a crowd. Everyone oohed and aahed at Noel and his little buckskin suit.

  It took a while, but she finally managed to free herself from the admiring spectators and find the livery stables. She walked up to the fleshy man who was shoeing a horse and introduced herself.

  “I need a horse to take me to Calico Corners.”

  The man shook his head. “You and everyone else. That must have been some gold strike to send everyone scurrying over that mountain.”

  “Gold has nothing to do with it,” she said.

  “Don’t worry. I ain’t gonna tell anyone. Do you think I want everyone to desert this town? It could put me out of business.”

  “Yes, I see what you mean. Now about that horse….”

  “I’m ‘fraid you’re out of luck. Those men cleared me plumb out of all the extras.” He indicated the row of empty stalls in back. “I can sell you a mule real cheap.”

  Libby’s heart sank. “A mule.”

  “He’s over there.”

  She followed the man’s finger. “That’s Man Killer. I can’t ride that mule. I have a baby to think about. We could both be killed.”

  He shrugged. “That’s all that’s available.”

  Libby left the livery stable feeling depressed and discouraged. She returned to the hotel room to nurse Noel, and while he slept, she stood on the balcony watching the street below.

  Thinking she recognized someone, she stepped closer to the railing to have a better look. There was no mistake; the driver who had abandoned her outside of Deadman’s Gulch that past December was loading crates onto the bed of his parked wagon across the street from the hotel. Anger welling inside, she rushed from the room and stormed down the staircase.

  Just wait till she got her hands on that awful dreadful man!

  “Mr. Thornborough, isn’t it?” she called as she dodged around a bullock cart and raced across the street.

  The man turned. “That’s Roseborough. Harvey Roseborough at your serv’ce.”

  “Mr. Roseborough, I have a thing or two to say about your service.” Everything about that long-ago night came back in painful detail. The fear, the icy water, blindly racing through town, the stray bullet. The warm caress of Logan’s hands.

  In an effort to erase the last and most vivid memory, she allowed her voice to rise another octave. “I could have been killed because of you…you…” She called him every name she could think of.

  A crowd began to gather, but Libby was too incensed to care.

  Finally, a man dressed in a brown suit and vest stepped between her and the unfortunate driver. “My name is Mr. Whittaker. I own this wagon. Mr. Roseborough is my employee. Any complaints must be directed to me.”

  Libby gave the man her full attention. “I would be most happy to direct my complaints to you,” she said, and then proceeded to tell him how she had been abandoned outside of Deadman’s Gulch. The nearby spectators gasped when she described being shot.

  It was obvious where the crowd’s sympathies lie and Mr. Whittaker appeared anxious to make things right. He voiced his apologies and gave his employee a stern look. To Libby, he said, “How might we make amends for the inconvenience that was caused?”

  Libby placed her hands on her hips. “It was hardly an inconvenience, Mr. Whittaker. Because of Mr. Thornborough--”

  “That’s Roseborough,” the driver interjected.

  Libby glared at him. “I was nearly killed!”

  Mr. Whittaker appeared flustered. “I assure you that nothing like that will happen again. And as a token of goodwill, I shall have my driver take you wherever you like. Sacramento. San Francisco. You name the place.”

  “I wish to go to Calico Corners.”

  “I never heard of it,” Mr. Whittaker said.

  “It used to be called Deadman’s Gulch,” she said glaring at the driver. “As Mr. Thornborough well knows!”

  The driver looked about to protest, but Mr. Whittaker stopped him. “My driver will personally see that you arrive in Calico Corners safe and sound. Won’t you, Mr. Thorn…uh, Roseborough?”

  Chapter 38

  The pounding echoed along the granite walls of the mountain and bored like a relentless drill into the hazy fogginess of Logan’s mind.

  He stirred from the bed of pine needles where he’d been forced to lie for weeks now.

  He’d traveled no farther than the hills above Calico Corners before his horse reared back on its haunches and threw him. He’d landed on his bad leg and the pain had rendered him unconscious. How many hours or days he’d lain on the ground he had no way of knowing. All he remembered was when he finally gained consciousness a mangy and persistent coyote was gnawing away at his shirt whangs.

  He’d managed to reach his knife and plunge it into the coyote, but with no strength to protect himself further, he feared the animal’s blood would only attract more predators.

  Somehow he’d found the strength to brace his leg with his rifle and scoot along on his posterior until he found an empty cave. The cave offered some protection from the elements, although it lacked the depth necessary to keep the temperature from dropping too low. During several long nights, he nearly froze.

  His leg was red and swollen. For days, he’d floated in and out of consciousness. It was always a sound that pulled him from his dazed stupor. A baby crying. A woman’s voice. In the hazy fuzziness that followed, he called their names. But his lips and throat were too parched for more than a whisper to escape.

  The sheer act of speaking did, however, bring a clarity of thought that lasted only a moment before his instincts took over. He breathed in the air, hoping to detect a possible rescuer. But for days on end, it was coyotes he smelled and coyotes he heard. And whenever he took the trouble to look, it was coyotes he saw, standing guard outside his cave, thick red tongues hanging out of drooling mouths.

  But the constant banging was not coyotes. His mind still foggy, he decided it was a tom-tom.

  He reached for his rifle. He’d used the last of his bullets soon after his accident. On the slightest possibility that someone was within hearing distance, he’d fired the universal distress signal that had been worked out by trappers years earlier at a rendezvous. One shot, silence. Two shots, silence, three shots. But no one came.

  Blackberries grew in abundance. During moments of lucidity he inched his way a few feet outside the cave to pick them, and licked the dew off the leaves. Fortunately, it rained off and on, allowing him to collect water in his moccasins. For added nourishment, he chewed on
the buckskin whangs or rather what was left after the coyote had finished with them. After many days, he started on the rawhide laces of his moccasins.

  If he were to guess how long he’d been in that cave he’d say ten days. The swelling on his knee had gone down. He’d lost a lot of weight and his clothes hung loose around his body.

  He shook his head to clear it. He had to concentrate on the message sent by the tom-tom. The pacing of the drumbeats puzzled him. Indians rarely rapped out a message so slowly.

  He had no idea how weak he was until he tried sitting up. Dizziness assailed him. As if to sense his vulnerability, the coyotes that guarded the cave began to yip and howl. It was this threatening sound that kept him from blacking out. He would belong to the coyotes soon enough, but he had no intention of serving himself to them on a silver platter. They could bloody well wait.

  The coyotes’ cries faded in the background and his eyes drifted shut. To stay focused he recited the recently memorized Ten Commandments. He tried to read the Bible but his eyes burned and the word blurred.

  Noel was crying. He needed his breeches changed. Libby’s sweet musical laughter filled the very air with a lovely gurgling sound that he associated with spring. She had a summer laugh too. And a winter laugh that reminded him of snowflakes falling to the ground in a crystal whirl.

  Her laughter faded away and she called his name. Her voice was urgent and persistent. His eyes flew open and his finely tuned senses grew alert. Something was different. And then he realized the tom-tom had stopped.

  He sniffed, but all he could smell was the lingering dank order of the wolf family that had once dwelled in the cave, and the eternal coyotes outside.

  Gritting his teeth against the pain he inched his way toward the opening of the cave. The coyotes had moved away. So there was something…

  Keeping his leg rigid, he inched himself along the ground by his arms until he was able to overlook the valley below. The banging sound had started up again. Perhaps because the sound had grown closer, he realized his earlier mistake. It was not Indian drums he’d heard. Someone was chopping wood.

  Raising himself on his elbows, he was able to see men in the distance. There were six in all. Knowing they would never see him, he nonetheless waved his arm and pushed a few loose rocks down the mountainside. Failing in his feeble attempts to create an avalanche, he untied the rifle bracing his leg before he remembered he was out of ammunition. He crawled back into the cave and tore through his leather pouch in search of bullets. Drat! Had he really wasted that much ammunition on the first day following his accident?

  He dumped out the contents of his rawhide pouch and pored over the last of his survival tools. The charred can of baking soda rolled away as he pawed through the clay Indian beads, the vials of bear grease, and fish bladders filled with resin and camphor in search of a stray bullet. It was a well-stocked bag and included everything from a cork and length of string to be used for fishing, to a bone needle and flaxen thread. But there was not a single bullet to be found.

  With a violent thrust of his arms he scattered his belongings. It was then that his gaze fell on the tin can that had rolled next to the jagged wall of the cave. Libby’s baking soda.

  The can reminded him of something from his youth. During a rendezvous attended with his father, his hero, Jim Bridger, had entertained the young ones by disappearing behind a cloud of smoke. Logan recalled how he’d begged Bridger to show him how to make such smoke at will.

  Jim revealed the source of his magic, but only after swearing young Logan to secrecy. Recalling that magic formula now, Logan reached for the can. Baking soda had been a key ingredient. Also needed was alum, which could be found in the Indian beads, and sulfur. This last he kept to clear the nasal passages.

  Everything he needed he found in some form or other among his supplies. For the next hour or so, he pounded and scraped until he had a pile of shavings in front of him. To this he added baking soda, scraping the caked powder with the tip of his knife. At last, he reached for his buckskin fire bag and drew out his flint, steel striker and char cloth.

  Chapter 39

  Logan fought his way through a dark tunnel with only a male voice to guide him.“We thought you were a goner for sure.”

  Shadows floated around him. Forms darkened and moved closer. Instinctively, he reached for his rifle only to grab thin air.

  “Whoa, there, boy. Where do you think you’re going?”

  Logan stared into the dark familiar face that began to take shape in front of him. “Big Sam?”

  “In the flesh,” Big Sam replied. “And right here is Sharkey.”

  Logan turned his head. Sharkey wiggled his fingers and gave him a silly grin.

  “Where am I?” Logan asked.

  “In Calico Corners,” Big Sam replied.

  “Calico….” Logan closed his eyes. “How did you find me?”

  “You made enough smoke to be declared a human volcano,” Big Sam said. “How’d you do that?”

  Recalling how Libby’s baking soda had saved his life, Logan managed a weak smile. “Jim Bridger’s secret.”

  Sam scratched his head. “Your horse told you how to make smoke?”

  “He means his mountain friend.” Sharkey helped Logan sit upright before handing him a cup of steaming coffee. “You’d better get some food down you.”

  A wedge of white goat cheese and soft piping-hot biscuits seemed to materialize out of nowhere.

  Logan fingered a biscuit before taking a bite and was surprised at how easily it went down. Food would have to be digested slowly for the next day or so. He’d eaten sparsely for the last ten, fifteen days and it would take time for his body to adjust.

  He began to feel better, though, and his head was clear enough to take in his canvas surroundings. He was in a tent. Outside, the sound of hammering and sawing filled the air. Strange as it seemed, the sound that once drove him to distraction sounded like music to his ears. “See you’re at it again.”

  Sharkey grinned. “Yep. In no time at all, I’m gonna have myself the biggest and bestest barbershop in the terr’tory.”

  “Got any more of those biscuits?” Logan asked.

  “As many as you want.” Sharkey said. He set a basket full of biscuits next to Logan. “Help yourself.”

  Logan reached for one and then his hand froze. He looked up at Big Sam. “No one makes biscuits like this except—”

  Big Sam exchanged glances with Sharkey. “We didn’t tell Miz Libby you were here. We didn’t think you were going to make it and…”

  Logan’s heart raced. “What do you mean, tell her? She’s here? In Calico Corners?”

  Big Sam nodded. “She’s helping us rebuild the town.”

  Logan dropped the biscuit and stared at Big Sam. “Has the woman gone crazy or what? This is no place to raise a child! She knows that!”

  “We tried to tell her that,” Big Sam said. “Didn’t we, Sharkey?’

  “We did. Honest. But she ain’t hearin’ none of it.”

  Logan looked from Sharkey to Big Sam. “What do you mean, she won’t hear of it?’

  “She said this is where she wants to raise Noel.”

  “That’s crazy.” Logan rubbed his forehead with both hands. “What else did she say?”

  Sharkey tugged on an ear. “Said she’s stayin’ right here ‘til you get some sense into you and admit that your trappin’ days are over.”

  Logan stared at Sharkey through spread fingers. “Oh, she did, did she? Well, we’ll see about that!” He overturned the basket of biscuits as he struggled out of bed.

  “Now hold on there, Logan. You ain’t going nowhere.” Big Sam threw his body against Logan’s. Logan was too weak to fight him. “If you want to see Miz Libby, Sharkey will go fetch her.”

  It was by far the better plan, but Logan was determined to do it his way. “I have to go to her.”

  Big Sam released him. “You’re not in any conditions to go anywhere.”

  “I said I have
to go to her,” Logan repeated, this time louder. Big Sam looked puzzled and Logan couldn’t blame him. How could he explain that before he could prove to Libby that they had no future together she had to see him for what he was; a man without a profession. A man without a home. A man who couldn’t even walk let alone ride a horse.

  He didn’t have the strength to fight Big Sam and he considered this for several moments before motioning the man to come closer. “Tell me what it was like to be a slave.”

  Big Sam’s eyes widened. “Now what do you want to know that for?”

  “They tied you up?”


  “Chained you?”

  Big Sam tugged on the collar of his shirt. “I don’t want to talk about this.”

  “They had complete control over you.”

  “I said—”

  “They controlled your every hour.”

  “If you don’t shut your mouth, I’ll—“

  “Your every thought.”

  “No!” Big Sam shouted. “Not my thoughts. They couldn’t control my mind.”

  “They controlled minds,” Logan said.

  “But not mine,” Big Sam insisted. “That’s why I had the courage to escape. Others could have escaped, but they didn’t. They let white men fill their heads with fear.”

  “But you didn’t, Big Sam. You have spirit, and it was this burning spirit that set you free.”

  “I never looked at it that way before, but I guess you’re right.”

  “I have to go to Libby. I have to let her see me as I really am. It’s the only way I can set her free. I know that a man of your great wisdom and intelligence would understand. Help me to set her free.”

  Big Sam stared down at Logan for several moments before stepping aside. “If you got your mind made up, I ain’t gonna stop you. But if anything happens, you have only yourself to blame.”

  Sharkey offered to give Logan a shave and haircut, but Logan resisted. Libby was going to see him at his worst. There wasn’t going to be any more pretending, especially about his physical affliction.

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