Webmaster Note: This fic was formerly archived on another website and was moved to blackraptor in October 2008
The title comes from Isaac Newton:
If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
- 1 -
The peacefulness of a Sunday afternoon pervaded Main Street. The warm air promised summer but the fresh breeze was still unmistakably spring. Outside the saloon, Buck and Ezra were draped over a pair of armchairs, feet on a table and beers by their sides. Both men watched a rider approach the town from the open country to the west, leading a loaded mule.
'Hey, boys.' Vin deposited a chair next to Buck and settled himself. 'What's going down?'
'Nothing. Not a soul stirring apart from him.' Buck nodded towards the figure.
The men continued their nonchalant observation. It was a full five minutes before the rider pulled up about twenty paces away. Without so much as a glance at them, he evaluated the saloon and - presumably finding it satisfactory - dismounted. He saw to his animals, watering them both and throwing the mule's load at the edge of the sidewalk, then strode purposefully past the three men and through the door.
Buck gave a soft whistle.
The man was over six-and-a-half feet and most of a yard across the shoulders. Not one pound of his colossal bulk was excess flesh and his muscles were so clearly defined they showed through his coat. His horse was a massive, feather-legged beast - no doubt bred to pull, rather than carry, a load. As the man crossed the sidewalk, the boards groaned under his weight.
'I wonder if the furniture in our humble saloon can stand the strain,' Ezra remarked.
'Better hope he's friendly,' Vin said quietly, ''Cause the only thing'll stop him is a bullet.'
Although there was a rifle in his saddle holster, the man did not wear a gun. None of them would relish shooting him to break up a brawl but none of them would relish tackling him either. They went inside, taking their beers with them, and started a game of poker at a table by the window. Their continued surveillance was unobtrusive but a relief to Inez as she supplied the newcomer with a bottle of whisky and a glass.
The saloon was quiet, with most of the townsfolk spending time with their families after Sunday dinner. The visitor drank at the bar, finishing the bottle in less than an hour and asking for another. His voice was soft and he thanked Inez politely when she served him. He seemed unaffected by the alcohol, presumably requiring considerably more than the average man to reach his apparent goal of oblivion.
The man was about halfway down the second bottle when Chris joined his friends, repeating their evaluation while he waited to be dealt in on the next hand. The subject of his scrutiny was evidently depressed. Every fiber of his body drooped and he rested his head morosely on a huge hand.
Ezra did not proceed immediately to the next hand. Instead, he went over to the bar, stood beside the man and craned round to see his face.
'Would you care to join us in a game, sir?' The gambler often invited strangers to play, with the intention of relieving them of their cash, but his motive now was information not profit. He did not plan to cheat this man, or indeed even to win substantially against him.
The man shook his head mournfully. 'Emmy don't like me gambling.' The words seem to bring his troubles home because he immediately reached for his bottle and the look on his face wasn't too far from tears.
'A wise woman,' Ezra said cordially. 'If I might introduce myself, my name is Standish, Ezra Standish.' He held out a hand.
The man stood, only the slightest sway testifying to a bottle-and-a-half in seventy minutes, and engulfed Ezra's hand in his gargantuan grip. 'Rufus Mills. Nice to know you, Mr Standish.'
'Likewise, I'm sure. I hope you enjoy your stay here in Four Corners.'
Rufus resumed his vigil at the bar, while Ezra returned to the others. The looks they exchanged held a mixture of curiosity, surprise and amusement. Few men told a whole saloon, even a quiet one, that their womenfolk wouldn't let them gamble. Few men so clearly unschooled responded as politely as he did to a barmaid or to a greeting like Ezra's. The man was clearly what people meant when they spoke of a gentle giant.
When he had emptied the second bottle, Rufus asked for a third, paid Inez and left the saloon. His observers followed his progress through the window as he boarded the horse and mule, then headed for the hotel. JD and Nathan had watched him from the other side of the street and now joined their friends.
'Who the hell is he?' the youngster demanded.
'His name is Rufus Mills and he appears to be a man in a very morose state of mind,' Ezra informed them.
'Looked like he was planning on some serious drinkin',' Nathan said. 'Takin' a bottle to his room.'
'He already started,' Vin said dryly. 'That was the third.'
It was a toss-up which was wider, Nathan's eyes or his mouth. 'We better hope he ain't a mean drunk.'
'He appears to be quite the reverse,' Ezra said. 'When I invited him to join us, he told me Emmy doesn't like him gambling. In my experience, troublemakers don't broadcast the fact their wives tell them what to do.'
Nathan laughed. 'Don't guess he needs to worry. I doubt many men say nothin' to his face.'
Chris and Buck had remained silent. Chris knew what misery over losing a wife felt like well enough and Buck was a pretty fair judge of what went on between men and women. It was Buck who spoke up.
'I'd say he's lost his wife. Looks like he's goin' through hell.'
After brief consideration, Ezra protested. 'But he said Emmy don't like me gambling, not didn't like me gambling.'
'Don't reckon he's spent too long in a schoolroom, Ezra,' Buck pointed out.
Chris looked up. 'Takes a while to think of someone as dead anyhow. Maybe she ain't been gone long.'
'What do we do if he is a mean drunk?' JD asked. 'Can't shoot an unarmed man but I know I can't stop him.'
The other men smiled at the thought of the smallest of their number tackling the behemoth.
'Ain't just you, JD,' Vin assured him. 'Don't see me lasting a minute. Ain't keen on wingin' him neither. Wounded bear on the rampage won't be no laughs.'
'The phrase "cross that bridge when we come to it" comes to mind, boys,' Ezra suggested.
Inez had listened to their conversation and now came over. 'I don't think he is trouble.'
Respecting her judgement and experience as much as their own, the men nodded in general agreement.
- 2 -
It was evening before Rufus returned to the saloon, having finished the bottle he took away. Three portions of stew and four of apple pie at the hotel had soaked up some of the alcohol and he now sought more to maintain his detachment from his circumstances. He settled himself at a corner table with his bottle. He might have looked comical, perched on the too-small chair and unable to get his legs under the too-low table, but his demeanor took the sight closer to tragic.
Willy Moffat came into the saloon at seven as usual. He wasn't a bad man but his proclivity for drinking too much and talking too much meant he did not get a warm reception at most tables in the saloon. It didn't take him long to spot the newcomer or to decide that they were brothers under the skin. Seeing that Rufus was well down his bottle, Willy brought another to the table and waved at the second chair enquiringly. Rufus shrugged, an ambiguous signal that Willy was content to interpret as a welcome. He introduced himself and received the same courteous response as Ezra had received earlier.
Vin, Buck and Ezra were still on lookout duty. They had no objection to Willy's maneuvering, since it was more likely to yield some information about Rufus than leaving him to drink himself into the ground alone. Not that the first couple of hours told them much as Willy trotted out his life story, happy to have a new audience to sympathize with him in his troubles. It wasn't till he got onto his marriage, and a colorful account of his wife's departure, that Rufus showed any interest.
'You shhudna talk about your wife like that.' There was now a distinct slur to his voice.
'Why not? I'm better off without the bitch, I'll tell you that. You married, Mr Mills?'
Rufus took another shot and surveyed the bottom of his glass sadly. 'Don't know. Guess not now. She left me. For another man.'
His observers looked at each other. So, he had lost Emmy but not how Chris thought.
'See? They're all the same: dirty bitches with one thing on their minds.'
The observers tensed. A man who still didn't gamble because his absent wife didn't like it wasn't apt to see her as a dirty bitch.
Rufus looked hard at Willy. He ran the man's words through his mind again, careful to make sure that he hadn't misunderstood. 'Did you say Emmy was a dirty bitch?' he asked quietly.
Noting the man's tone and expression, Willy realized his mistake. 'No, no, no. I was talkin' about my wife, Mr Mills. I wouldn't dream of insulting your wife.'
There was fury in Rufus's eyes as he raised his enormous fist. Willy cowered in his chair, too scared to move.
'Make sure you don't.' Rufus punctuated the growl by banging his fist on the table. Ezra's reservations about the quality of the furniture proved to be well founded, as the table split under the blow.
All eyes turned to the altercation. There was a second of absolute silence, townsfolk looking on and their protectors ready to intervene if necessary. To everyone's amazement, Rufus looked at the table, appalled, got to his feet with some difficulty and went straight to the bar. His purpose soon became clear as spoke to Inez.
'I'm sorry 'bout that, Señorita. Will this cover it?' He held out some crumpled bills.
Inez had watched the whole exchange and pushed the notes back at him. She had no intention of penalizing a man for refusing to allow his wife to be insulted. 'I am sure it can be repaired, Señor Mills.'
Rufus looked back at the splintered tabletop doubtfully. 'P'raps I better turn in afore I do some real damage.' He left the saloon, his head bowed and shoulders stooped.
The silence persisted. Ezra spoke first. 'Well, well. It seems Mr Mills' loyalty to this Emmy knows no bounds.'
Buck said, 'Shame he didn't find a woman more deservin' of it.'
They returned to their game, glad their services had not been needed and somewhat reassured they would not be in future. Rufus Mills seemed well aware of his capacity for destruction and disinclined to give it free rein.
- 3 -
The next day saw Chris, Vin and Josiah at one table outside the saloon, while Rufus nursed a beer at another. His mood had shifted from melancholy to nostalgia and he sat perusing a small photograph. When Ezra emerged from the hotel, late as usual, he espied his new acquaintance and made to join him.
'Good morning, Mr Mills.'
Rufus looked up, took a moment to place him, then returned the greeting. 'Morning, Mr Standish. Have a seat?'
Ezra nodded his thanks and pulled up a chair facing the man. He watched as Rufus took out his wallet to put the photograph away. 'Forgive my curiosity but would that be your wife?'
Rufus studied his face for a moment, seemed satisfied that the enquiry was innocent enough, and nodded. He handed the photograph to Ezra, who examined it in consternation. The woman was exquisite, like a china doll, her small stature emphasized by the piano at which she sat.
'She is a very lovely woman.'
Taking the keepsake back, Rufus nodded. 'Even prettier on the inside.'
Ezra gazed at the man, baffled how he could believe that after the desertion the others had heard him describe.
Rufus gave a sad smile. 'You think I'm crazy. I'm meant to hate her, ain't I? But I can't. When I met Emmy, things were real bad for me. Used to be in trouble all the time - gangs o' fellas liquored up, wantin' to see if they could take me. It was Emmy straightened me out, looked after me, took care o' my business. We was doin' real well. I never been so happy but I musta been doin' somethin' wrong.'
Sensing that the man wanted to unburden himself, Ezra decided to keep him talking. He had no particular reason for doing so, only his innate inquisitiveness seasoned with a less familiar sprinkling of pity. His friends listened with similarly mixed motives. 'Were you acquainted with the gentleman in question?'
'Not hardly. He was only in our town a few days, with some hired tough nuts. Bought some boots off me. Nasty piece o' work I thought but Emmy musta liked him. Still can't make it out - why would she go off with someone like that? She always hated any kinda sufferin', man or beast.'
Ezra listened to the account pensively, inquisitiveness mounting into curiosity. He did not doubt Rufus's sincerity but now pondered the accuracy of his perceptions. 'When did this happen?'
'Two weeks back. She disappeared and a bunch of us spent a coupla days lookin' for her. Then I got the letter and knew there weren't no sense lookin' no more. Couldn't stand it without her so I packed up an' left. Those fellas were headed this way so I followed but what's the point? She wouldna gone with him if she wanted me.' He took a swig of beer. 'Don't know what I'm gonna do now. Head back I guess.'
'You're quite sure the letter was from her?'
For the first time since he rode into town, Rufus's expression lifted fractionally. 'I can read it for myself, if that's what you're wonderin'. Emmy taught me my letters. It's her writin' all right.'
He retrieved the wallet and took out a folded sheet of paper. The dirty fingerprints and tattered corners testified to the amount of time he had spent studying it. He read it again before looking across at Ezra.
'It's her writin' but it don't sound much like her. Maybe that's 'cause she don't care 'bout me no more. I never heard of this Uncle David she talks about though.' He took out another sheet, clearly much older. 'She wrote me this one when she was off nursin' her mother. This is how she always was before. How I remember her.'
Rufus set the two letters down, tacitly inviting Ezra to read them if he chose. Ezra picked up the most recent one and read it slowly. Even to one who did not know Emmy, it read unevenly but then a letter of rejection is never easy to write. How does a wife tell her husband that he's been discarded for a man who was only in town for a few days?
Realizing he did not even know how accomplished a writer Emmy was, Ezra moved on to the older letter. It promptly banished two doubts from his mind: the hand was definitely the same and Emmy was clearly capable of fluent, expressive prose. Without recourse to extravagant language, she conveyed a fervent and passionate love for the husband she was missing acutely, particularly at night.
The letters might easily have been written by different women, so disparate was their tone, but perhaps they were simply written by the same woman in different moods. He examined the first letter more closely in the light of the introduction to Emmy provided by the second. His scrutiny lasted nearly ten minutes, during which time Rufus watched him patiently.
Finally, Ezra turned his gaze to Rufus. 'Is your wife a pious woman, Mr Mills?'
Without knowing why the man asked, Rufus gave the matter some thought. 'Not in a holier-than-thou kind of way but she does like her Bible readin'.' He surveyed his boot in embarrassment, then laughed. 'Used to get kinda bottled up, waitin' for her to finish her readin' afore well, you know. Soon got that figured - sent her up while I did my late chores so's she'd be ready by the time I got there.' He smiled fondly at the memory but then saddened again. 'Hell, I miss her.'
Ezra was surprised at the compassion he felt for this man he had met only a day before. Such honesty and devotion had not loomed large in Ezra's past and he was touched to see the impact one person could have on another. He looked across at his friends.
'I wonder, Josiah, would you have a Bible to hand that we might borrow?'
Josiah raised an eyebrow, unaccustomed to requests for the Good Book from Ezra and puzzled what use the gambler might make of it, but went off to the church to get one. He returned within a couple of minutes and set the leather-bound volume down on Ezra's table.
'Thank you. Perhaps, as one more familiar with its intricacies than I, you might assist us.'
Josiah nodded, moved his chair to their table and waited while his friend perused the letter at some length. He felt dwarfed by the visitor, a new sensation for one who had stood over his peers for as long as he could remember. Thinking back, he realized that he had even towered over the teachers at the missionary school he attended so many years before. As a boy, he'd sometimes wished he was smaller, able to merge into the background unnoticed, but his stature was as nothing compared with the man beside him. What must it be like to stand a foot or two clear of nigh on everyone you met?
'Is there a book of David?'
Ezra's question snapped Josiah back into the present. 'Not as such. Samuel tells of David's reign in the second book of the kings.'
'Is there a chapter eleven?'
Josiah found his place, read the passage and looked up in surprise. 'It's the account of David's adultery. He took the wife of one of his commanders and then gave orders for the man to be sent to the forefront of the hottest battle, where he was killed.'
'Did David have a son?'
'Something about a song?'
'The Song of Solomon. Christ's call to his church.'
'Chapter five, verse seven?'
Once again, Josiah found the passage but this time he read it aloud. 'The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.'
'Chapter four, verse seven?'
'Thou are all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.'
Chris and Vin now stood beside Josiah. Rufus looked at Ezra in amazement.
'I don't believe your wife left you of her own free will, Mr Mills. I believe that was her real message to you.'
Rufus was on his feet in a second. 'I gotta get after her. Bad enough I wasted all this time 'cause I'm so thick.'
Chris stepped into the man's path. 'Reckon you could use some help, Mr Mills. Ain't gonna be easy to find 'em or to get her back.'
'Why would you ?' Rufus looked round them, bewildered, unused to strangers offering assistance.
'Can't think o' much lower'an takin' a woman against her will.'
Rufus gave a slight nod, his expression hard and mean. 'If I get my hands on 'em, they'll wish they never set eyes on my Emmy.' He strode off to the hotel to prepare for the search.
From where he leant against a post, Vin spoke softly. 'He'll kill 'em. We ain't gonna be able to stop him.'
'Not sure I'd bother tryin',' Chris said grimly.
Ezra considered their words then countered with, 'If his wife is unharmed, I suspect she can keep him in check and will do so to ensure he is not hanged or imprisoned. If she is not I am inclined to agree with Chris.'
- 4 -
Progress was initially slow. Fortunately the weather had been settled for weeks but they had to travel west for three days before Vin picked up tracks to match Rufus's description of their quarry. Once in pursuit, they kept up the fastest pace and longest hours their horses could sustain. Although the kidnappers had used rock and water to obscure their route where they could, there was nothing to give Vin serious difficulty. They were presumably relying on the letter ploy to work, as indeed it had.
Rufus was a patient and grateful recipient of their services, unlike some they had known. One night by the fire, he stared thoughtfully at Vin for a while before speaking.
'I really appreciate you fellas helpin' like this. 'Specially you, Ezra, with the letter and you, Vin, with the tracking. Ain't no way I coulda done this on my own.' He had finally settled on first name terms with them, after vacillating between 'Mr Standish' and 'Ezra' for a while.
He thought a while longer before addressing Chris. 'You think she's dead?'
Chris took his time with that one. 'I'd be lying if I said I was optimistic. There's only so much you can do with a woman who ain't willin' and the rest o' the time she's just a liability.'
Rufus nodded grimly, then took out his photograph. His heart ached as he faced the possibility that the image might be all that was left of Emmy. The grief tore at him, far worse than the despondency he had felt at the thought of her happy in another man's arms.
'How did you meet her?' Ezra asked, seeking to distract the man from his sorrow.
Rufus drifted back six years. 'She was passin' through on the stage. Come into my shop to see if I had any shoes to fit her. No chance - I hold some standard men's boots in stock but I mostly do women to order and she's got these tiny little feet, fit in my palm.' He looked at his leathery hand, remembering those feet. 'Real dainty. So, I says I can make 'em for the morning.' He laughed. 'I was up all night makin' them shoes an' then she never got on that stage anyhow.'
Josiah smiled. Out of the strong came forth sweetness. 'Do you have any children?' he asked.
'No. Emmy can't. Doctor said it's the same thing as makes her so small. Ain't growed normal.' A shadow passed over his face. 'Folk're real keen on normal, whatever that is.'
The other men picked up the bitterness in his voice. Perhaps the giant and the doll were not such an odd couple as they seemed. Both knew the misery that came from being different.
- 5 -
Another long day on the trail brought them to a high ridge by dusk. In the valley below nestled a group of buildings. There was a fair-sized house, surrounded by barns, stables, corrals and a bunkhouse.
'Don't see they ended up here by chance,' Buck ventured. 'Reckon we got another Guy Royal on our hands.
'Who's he?' Rufus wanted to know.
'Cattleman,' Chris said tersely. 'They think they're above the law.'
'Somewhere up by God's right hand,' Josiah added.
Chris looked sideways at their colossal companion, wishing they could leave him up on the ridge and knowing there was no way that would happen. Rufus caught his eye and his thoughts.
'She's my wife. I can't just sit an' wait.'
'I know. First order of the day seems to be finding out if she's still okay and where they're holdin' her.'
Vin had been surveying the site with his customary thoroughness. 'Should be able to get down to that thicket easy enough. Work from there?'
The others agreed and they began the slow process of making their approach unseen. It was twenty minutes before they regrouped in the cover of the trees. They were about to resume their planning when Rufus held up a hand for quiet. The gentle breeze brought the sound of a softly played piano to them. When the man spoke, his voice was filled with relief.
'That's gotta be Emmy. It's one of her favorite pieces.'
The other men were less sure, aware that someone else might play the piece, but the tune was unfamiliar so it seemed an unlikely coincidence. Chris had been considering their options. He looked around his companions, evaluating which of them looked most plausible as cowboys. He himself was too forbidding, dressed in black with a fancy holster at his side. Ezra and Vin wore their professions - gambler and tracker - in the open, plain for anyone to see. JD's bowler and showy pair of guns were out of place. Nathan was a bad choice because too many men would not hire a colored man. That left Buck and Josiah as the least improbable recruits.
'Buck, Josiah, how about you go down and make like you're lookin' for work? Might give us some backup on the inside. At least it'll give Vin some cover to take a look round.'
The three men nodded their agreement. Buck and Josiah made their overt approach while Vin skirted round the trees and sized up the opposition and premises. Rufus watched with admiration while his new friends worked. They were quite a team, individuals with talent and initiative but still willing to co operate under instruction from their quietly spoken leader.
The piano now played a haunting melody, while a woman sang plaintively of the man she had loved and lost. She was interrupted by the sound of something heavy thrown hard at a closed door, followed by a shout.
'I won't tell you again. Any more of that miserable din and I'll take the damned piano away.'
The music stopped. Chris felt the man next to him somehow grow even more immense as his muscles tensed. Seconds later, the branch in his right hand shattered. That grip could prove interesting on a man's neck.
Buck and Josiah had reached the first corral when two men came out of the bunkhouse to challenge them.
'Just passin' through,' Buck informed them casually. 'Seen this place and wondered if you got any work goin'.'
The taller man, a swarthy sort with a heavy black mustache, studied them closely, then called back over his shoulder. 'Robson. You lookin' for hands?'
A thickset man in his middle years came out, hand resting on his gun. He sized up Buck and Josiah.
'You fellas got experience with cattle?'
'Ten years,' Buck lied.
At that moment, the door of the house opened. A man of about fifty, tall and lean, looked at his foreman. 'What's goin' on, Robson?'
'Jus' a coupla fellas lookin' for work. Could use 'em for a month or so.'
The man in the doorway examined Buck and Josiah briefly then gave a curt nod. 'Whatever you think.'
Robson took a final look, then nodded. 'This way, boys.'
Meanwhile, Vin had completed his reconnaissance and returned to the thicket.
'Music was comin' from the back o' the house. One o' the windows is barred so I reckon that's where she is. Drapes are closed.'
'Any chance of gettin' her out quietly?'
Vin shook his head. 'Looks pretty solid. Ain't sure you'd get through at all an' it wouldn't be quiet.'
'Well, then. We best just go down an' ask. Vin, Nathan, Rufus: work round the back. Ezra, JD: you're with me out front. Take it quiet and maybe we can open the corrals on our way in, get some confusion goin'. Buck and Josiah should be behind those fellas when they come out the bunkhouse.'
They mounted up, looked at each other and then, satisfied they were all ready, rode silently forward. Vin led Nathan and Rufus in a loop to the left while Chris swung a gentle arc towards the corrals. He unlatched the nearest gate while JD and Ezra looked out two more.
Satisfied everyone was in place, Chris planted himself right in the middle of the front yard and addressed the front of the house.
'Hey, you in there. Seems like you got somethin' don't belong to you.'
There was silence for perhaps half a minute.
'You talkin' to me?'
From the sound of his voice, the man had stationed himself to one side of the front door. Chris was exposed, gambling that the man wouldn't kill him yet. Not until he knew who was out there and with how many men.
'I'm talkin' to the son-of-a-bitch who kidnaps women.'
'Get this joker off my property, Robson.'
The foreman had been waiting just inside the bunkhouse. Hearing his boss's words, he led three of his men out to tackle the rider. As soon as they cleared the doorway, they were accosted by JD and Ezra, concealed in the shadows. Two got through, headed towards Chris, only to run into Vin and Nathan coming from behind the house. Chris had already moved out of the line of fire and now dismounted, dropped down behind a trough and traded bullets with the man concealed inside the house. The crossfire spooked the corralled horses, which spilled out in all directions and added to the commotion.
Five men remained in the bunkhouse with Buck and Josiah, on whom suspicion immediately fell. The interlopers wasted no time, pulling their guns and covering the ranchhands. A young lad, about JD's age, drew on Buck. The older man shot the gun out of his hand before it had even cleared the holster. The others decided against any further heroics.
Behind the house, Rufus was stopped in his tracks when the drapes flew back and Emmy stood at the window. Her delicate features lit up at the sight of him.
They gazed at each other through the glass, stunned to be reunited safely, but their relief was premature.
The last of the ranch's complement of hands had been tending a handful of milch cows tethered in the barn. Two men now crept around the far end of the house and sought to challenge the intruders, with the house to shield them. Instead they found Rufus standing at the window. They approached him cautiously, guns in hand, and ordered him to drop the rifle that he held loosely in his left hand.
Rufus gauged the men carefully, seeing that they were afraid of him, guns notwithstanding, and that they were truly cowboys, not professional guns like the men with whom he had been riding. They made the classic mistake of coming too close to their quarry. In one explosive movement, he swept the rifle butt upwards to drive one man's jaw well up into his head and clasped the other man's gun hand in his fist, tightening his grip until the man's bones cracked. The gun went off, sending a bullet harmlessly into the dirt.
Vin and Ezra left Nathan and JD to watch the unconscious men dotted around the yard and rushed round to check on Rufus. They were just in time to see the man tell his wife to stand back, take a firm grip with both hands and pull the bars out of the wall, complete with window, frame and drapes. He tossed the whole lot carelessly to one side and reached up to his wife, lifting her effortlessly through the opening and embracing her tenderly. The gunmen shepherded the wounded men into the yard, half carrying the man with the broken jaw. Rufus followed, Emmy clasped to his chest.
Chris was still exchanging bullets with the man in the house. The other men rounded up their captives, taking their weapons and binding their hands.
Chris held his fire. 'Give it up. We got your men. We got the woman.'
The man looked cautiously through the window. On seeing Rufus, he retreated.
'You think I'm comin' out with that freak there? You gotta be jokin'.'
Before turning his attention to the kidnapper, Rufus set Emmy down like a porcelain figurine. The other men gazed on, spellbound by the extent of her diminution. Barely four and a half feet, she was a perfect miniature of an ordinary woman. Everything about her was as dainty as her husband was maladroit. She smiled, accustomed to the stares, then frowned at Rufus's back. He was shaking with rage, on the brink of losing control.
'Leave it, Rufe.'
Her voice was quiet but firm. He turned to her.
'It doesn't matter.'
He fought to control his fury. 'Matters to me, Emmy.'
'If you kill him, they'll have to hang you. Don't do that to me, Rufe. I can't be without you.'
Ezra laid a hand on the man's arm. 'Rest assured, he will hang.'
Rufus struggled another minute or so, then strode to the front door and fractured it with a single blow. The wretched man inside was cowering by the stairs, petrified. Rufus picked him up with one hand and returned, his captive dangling limply from his grip. Holding the man high, Rufus examined him in disgust.
'I'll let them have first shot. But I'm tellin' you now - they don't hang you, you'll wish they had.'
He dropped the body at Chris's feet like a sack of refuse.
Clearing up was a slow process, with Nathan having to patch up several of the captives before they could be secured for the journey back to a trial at Four Corners, but eventually they were ready to go. It was likely that most of the ranchhands would get off lightly, having simply ignored the woman's captivity, but the men who helped take her might face as stiff a sentence as the man who wanted her. Emmy stood with Chris, Vin and Ezra, while Rufus hitched four of the ranch's horses to the wagon in which they had lined up the prisoners. Transporting them that way made for tighter bonds and fewer escape options.
She smiled up at them. 'Thank you so much for helping Rufe.'
'No trouble,' Chris assured her. 'I'm sorry we were too late.'
'Don't worry.' She met his eyes with a steady gaze. 'It wasn't the first time. There's a type of man that sees a woman like me as a novelty a toy. It can't be helped.'
Moved by her composure, Vin growled. 'Don't see animals like that qualify as men.'
- 6 -
Two weeks later, four men had been hanged and the remainder sent to prison. Rufus was loading up his mule, while Emmy said her goodbyes, hugging each of her rescuers in turn. With her usual strength of will, she had prevailed on them to accept Rufus's offer of a new pair of boots each as a token of their appreciation. Her last task had been to measure their feet and record their preferences in footwear.
When he was done, Rufus shook hands all round and led Emmy to her horse. It was one of the animals they'd taken from the ranch but who was to protest at the appropriation? Seven pairs of eyes watched as the giant set the doll delicately in her saddle, swung onto his own steed and headed westwards with a touch of his hat.
JD shook his head slowly. 'I can't see how they can you know '
Ezra looked up from polishing his pocketwatch with a smile. 'Judging from the older letter I read, they manage very well in that area.'
Vin tossed the grass stem he'd been chewing to one side. 'I still can't what she told us. Sick sons of bitches.'
- 7 -
A month after that, a young lad rode in with a bulky parcel addressed to Mr Ezra Standish. It contained seven pairs of boots. When the town's protectors gathered around to inspect their acquisitions, they were impressed.
'Emmy wasn't exaggerating about the best boots in the territory, was she?' JD said. Feeling inside, his fingers touched soft wool. Each boot came with a finely knitted sock, matched for size and color.
Ezra unfolded a note.Thank you all again. Sometimes we despair of ordinary people. It was wonderful to meet some extraordinary ones. We shall never forget your kindness. Emmy & Rufe
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