While the regulators had been gone, the strong-headed reporter had gathered as many families from town and the nearby outlying farms as possible. The blonde woman had sent out riders in every direction to spread the news of the assault and the need for temporary shelter for the children. She had hoped there would be enough people to take in the children. Pleasantly surprised, there turned out to be more families to show up than she expected.
Knowing there would be injured, Mary had gone into the healers dwelling and put together as many materials as she could. Not knowing the extent of the wounded, she had set Casey and the Potter children to work tearing old linens into strips for bandaging. Both Nettie, who had been in town to get supplies, and Mrs. Potter joined in helping Mary the only way they could. Nettie organized the families, seeking out how many children could be taken by each family. Those that could take more than one were put together, while those who already had little ones were put in a group to take the older children. While this was happening down the street, Mrs. Potter was emptying her shelves knowing most of the seven would be heading out after the men who attacked the wagons as soon as the children were off loaded. She began preparing an outfit for each man. She put in canned food, blankets; beef jerky, extra boxes of cartridges and anything else she thought would be needed. A prayer for the safety of the seven men and the children ran constantly through her multi-tasking mind.
As the small, slow moving caravan entered the edge of town, Mary ran out and directed them to the church. Chris pulled up in front hitching post and climbed down from the black. Lifting up his arms, he gently removed the still-scared little boy who reminded him so much of what he had lost in the fire. Turning to Mary, who stood in front him, he gently unwrapped the clenched fingers from the nape of his shirt and handed him to the waiting woman.
"This is Henry. I told him you could lend him some clean clothes," was all he said. But, Mary heard the forced lightness in his voice. Mary understood immediately the predicament and with equal forced cheerfulness patted the young boy on the back.
"Come on, Henry, I got just the thing for you." Mary jostled the child up higher in her arms and noticed the longing the blues eyes of the boy held on the man before her.
Sensing the boy needed to be reassured, Chris softly patted the small arm and spoke with affirmation. "Ill come check on you in a minute. First, I have to help these others," he said, nodding his head at the wagon of children that were being helped out of back of it. Henry nodded slightly and Mary turned and headed for her home.
JD pulled up beside the wagon Buck was driving and dismounted. Walking over to the wagon he began helping the ladies man escort the children into the church. Glad for something to do, the atmosphere was weighing heavily and each breath seemed harder to inhale, Nettie directed the children to the front of the building and turned to the two men, patting each on the arm and gave them a sad, warm smile.
"Josiahs got four more girls with him, but ones in shock and I reckon that oldest girl aint going to be leaving her, sos Josiah will be bringing the other two when he gets done helping Nathan at the clinic. And Ezras got a little girl," JD said, looking around for the gambler and not seeing him, "But I dont know where hes at." He finally stopped for a breath and a blush crept into his face as he realized just how fast he had been talking.
Nettie shook her head as she received the information the young man had just rattled off at lightening speed. "Well, well take care of them, too, when they get here."
Ezra finally entered the town and guided Chaucer up beside Chris black and slowly dismounted with the small girl in the crook of his arm. It seemed for the world that he had aged fifty years in the last couple of hours. He glanced around town as if seeing for the first time and looking slightly confused as to where he should go or what he should do.
Chris turned around to see the man still standing there and spoke sharply, letting some of pent-up frustration out. "Ezra, get the girl in there." He nodded towards the church entrance. "Then go get your stuff. We move out in fifteen minutes."
Ezra gave a small inclination of his head and carried the firmly attached Layton into the church. With a slight struggle, he managed to remove her tightly fisted fingers from his shirt and handed her reluctantly over to the old ranch woman. He and Nettie Wells had never quite seen eye to eye, but at that moment they both had the same goal. Reassure and calm the frightened child.
Uncharacteristically Ezra used fewer words than the old woman had ever heard him use,
"Brother, Sammy, is in the clinic. Stray bullet." Nettie watched as the man clinched his teeth together so tight his jawbones protruded out. She could see the war going on inside him through those very expressive green eyes. He half-wanted to stay and keep a tight hold on the little girl, and the other half was ready to ride out and slay a kingdom if that was what was going to be necessary to get these men.
She laid her hand on the mans arm, "Ill take good care of her, son, and well keep little Sammy in our prayers," Nettie said softly, trying unsuccessfully to calm some of the frayed nerves of the gambler. She knew between this one and the one in black the rest of the boys were going to have their hands full.
Josiah pulled up to the clinic and stepped over the seat to remove the young chaperone from Matties firm grasp. She had held her place beside the woman and had kept constant pressure on the wound while Nathan had tended to the boy. Florence, who had relinquished her hold on the lady, had all but curled up into the preachers strong arms in the front seat, stayed seated, looking overly bewildered. Just as Josiah was about to climb out of the wagon Yosemite appeared and held out his arms in silent offer.
"Ill take her. Looks like that other girl will be needing carried up there, too," the blacksmith stated, jutting out his chin towards the traumatized Melissa.
Josiah nodded and handed over Oleta. Turning to pick up the seventeen-year-old, he spotted Swann still cradling little Emily. The missionarys son let out a long sigh. He had seen many things in his day, few ever making sense, but todays events had him totally overwhelmed. Where had God been when this was happening? It was devastating for both the children and for the men in this group. Something like this could easily tear the group apart, destroying his family
He motioned for Swann to climb out of the wagon; he then lifted Emily over the side and handed her to the waiting older girl. Lifting Melissa into his own arms, he exited out of the wagon and started climbing up the stairs. He became aware of faint footsteps behind him. Turning around, he saw Florence and Mattie steadfastly following him. He knew that he, in their eyes, was safety. The clinic wasnt what they needed. Giving out a low whistle, he caught Buck and JDs attention, who were coming out of the church, and motioned with his head at the two followers. Buck and JD were quickly at the base of the stairs calling out to the girls. Mattie gave Josiah the most pleading look he had ever been on the receiving end of. Taking a gulp of air, he smiled his most genuine smile and told the children to go with the two men.
Nathan had not bothered to wait until Josiah had fully stopped before jumping out of the wagon and heading up the stairs with his precious cargo. That he was utterly amazed that the boy was still alive didnt come close to describing how he felt. As he reached the top of the stairs he noticed for the first time Mrs. Potter standing in the doorway waiting for them. When the healer walked into the room he took note that all his equipment and herbs had already been laid out, along with a pan of water already heating. A pile of cloth strips waiting to be turned into bandages stood waiting for use on the beside table.
Laying the little bundle down he heard a faint gasp and looked up into the wet eyes of storeowner standing on the other side of the bed. With only a short nod, she let the healer know she was there to do anything she could. Nathan could only grimly nod back while undressing the lad. After a quick examination he reinforced what he had learned out on the trail; the bullet had gone through. Due to location of its entry, high right side, and the exit, Nathan guessed that it gone straight through and not ricocheted inside the small frame. That in itself was a very slight blessing, it meant the lungs had been saved from what could have been a life ending piercing.
Mrs. Potter was washing down the little one when Yosemite came striding through the door with the wounded chaperone. Catching Nathans eye, she simply let him know without words she would tend to Sammy while he left to tend to Oleta. Josiah came through at that moment with his burden. Briefly he saw that same overwhelming look in Nathans dark, caring eyes that he had seen out at the site.
"You go on with her, Brother. Ill see to this one," the preacher said softly. His concern at that singular moment was to relieve as much responsibility from his friends shoulders as possible.
The giant of a man placed the girl into the only chair in the room. Turning to get a blanket, he mentally kicked himself when he noticed Swann standing in a corner still holding Emily. He could tell the older girls strength was waning but held on steadfastly. Josiah did a quick sweep of the clinic and realized there was no more room. Yosemite, having deposited the chaperone on the bed, was headed out when he caught sight of the two girls.
"I could take them over to the church for ya, Mr. Josiah," he said, offering to help any way he could.
The regulator thought about this a moment and nodded. "That would be indeed be kind of you, Brother." Josiah smiled back grimly. "Im sure Mrs. Travis would know what to do for them."
Yosemite took the light girl from her bearers arms and lifted her up into one arm and took Swanns hand with his other hand. Though the fourteen year old had taken charge of things earlier, she now gladly relinquished the load to an adult. She may have grown up fast in the city, but there was a small part of her that was still just a child. Josiah watched his friend leading the girls down the stairs and said a quick prayer for all the good people who had stepped forward to help. This community had changed dramatically since a regular marshal had replaced them. Unfortunately the marshal had been killed when a group of outlaws had overtaken the town, driving the townsfolk away. Together, though, the regulators and the citizens had taken their town back. That singular event had turned them all from just citizens into a close-knit community.
The preacher resumed his motion to gather a blanket for the silent young lady. Looking around the small clinic, he watched as Nathan examined the woman, Oleta, and Mrs. Potter tending to the small child with such feather-like touches, talking to him in that way only a mother could to her sick child. Pangs of guilt and abandonment filled him knowing he was going to have to leave Nathan to take care of the injured, knowing he would be needed on the trail. The fact that Mrs. Potter would be staying with Nathan to help, and Yosemite, Mary and others like Mrs. Nettie was going to be around to also lend a hand, eased his burden some. After wrapping the young lady in a blanket, he spoke a few words in her ear, then stepped over to Nathan,
Clapping the healer on the shoulder, he waited until the man looked up. "Im sorry to be leaving you like this, Brother."
Nathan could easily read the guilt in his friends eyes as well as the simmering anger. "Its alright, Josiah. I got help here," he stated, glancing at Mrs. Potter. "And can get more if I need it. You go on and bring those other two back."
With a quick nod of his head, Josiah answered quietly, " Will do that, Brother." Then he turned and walked out the door to go to the church to gather his belongings.
Chris and Vin were outside of the general store, packing all the materials the shop owner had gathered up for them. The black-clad leader had been surprised when Mary had informed them that Mrs. Potter had already gathered the needed supplies. He briefly watched the preacher man step off the boardwalk and walk hastily towards the church. He watched for any signs that would tell him the little tyke had not made it. Seeing none he went back to work.
Buck had gone to get his stuff, knowing that JD would be staying to watch over the town. Not knowing where these men were or headed, the town would need one of them to keep an eye on things, and Nathan would have his hands full. Buck tried not to worry about JD. The young sheriff was coming into his own and could handle situations better now than when he had first arrived, and if he needed help, there were several men that would be more than willing to lend aid.
The gambler tried to clamp down on his emotions. Throughout his life it had become necessary to hone this skill to sharpness, but right now he was having a very hard time. He wasnt a violent man by any means, but at that moment he wanted to kill the lowlife scum that had pulled the trigger that caused a very innocent little boy an injury.
Ezra entered his room and went to his closest. Habit had him yanking one of his suit coats out. He threw the black jacket onto the bed. Squatting in front of the closet he reached in and pried two boards from the back off the wall and removed a rifle, one that he had kept secreted away. He never felt the need for this particular one, but kept it all the same. He had his Colt and his Derringer, which normally was sufficient, and if necessary, there was always his Remington rifle. This, however, wasnt normal and therefore the extra weapon was deemed purposeful. He then removed a couple of boards from the bottom of the closet and lifted up the two Sharps he kept hidden. Unwrapping them from a blanket he shoved them into his saddlebags.
He strode over to his dresser and yanked out a couple of shirts and an extra pair of trousers. He didnt bother to spend a few moments and change out of his bloodied shirt. Stuffing the extra clothes into his saddlebags, he grabbed his brown turnout coat out of the closet and put it on. Anger was winning out over control and he didnt give care how wrinkled he might appear in the future, right now all he could focus on was one little boy and all the blood that had seeped out of his tiny body. Chris Larabee had a new competitor in the send-you-to-Hades department.
Joining his comrades outside, he walked up to his beloved horse. Giving the steed a quick pat, he threw his saddlebags on and shucked the wrapped rifle into the scabbard. Chris and the others looked on with interest and with some trepidation, watching as he tied the blanket onto the back of his saddle. The face their teammate and friend was wearing clearly warned everyone to stay away.
Taking note of the mans countenance, the black-clad leader spoke with an edge to his voice, "Were bringing them back alive so they can stand trial."
Not getting justice for the murder of his own family had made the hardened man want to get justice for the dead and the survivors even more than ever.
Swinging up into the saddle Ezras blazing green eyes landed squarely on to the leaders face. With an edge to his voice none had heard before he simply stated, "You can try."
Reining his horse around he headed out of town taking the lead that was normally held by the fierce-looking blond. The other three men turned their horses and followed the gambler out onto the trail back to where the wagons had been found.
Inside the church Mary and Nettie were busy matching children with families. Nettie had already decided she would be taking the little Flemings girl and her ever-present protector home with her and Casey. Casey would be good for the fourteen-year-old and it had been a long time since she had been given the opportunity to sit and rock a child, something she was guessing the eight year old was in desperate need of right now.
Missing her own little boy, Mary decide she would take Henry home with her. She had become aware of the connection this little boy and the leader of the regulators had developed in the very short time they were together. She felt the need to personally look after the boy Chris had bought into town.
The other children were divided up and now that all the children had a place, the newspaperwoman led the blue-eyed little boy to the telegraph office. She had told Chris she would notify the judge of the attack, taking one more burden off the mans shoulder. The worrying phase was just beginning. She had seen not only the look of coldness in black clad mans eyes but also, the searing hate in the gamblers eyes. Mary said a silent prayer for their souls and for the other three men whose responsibility it would be to keep these souls in tact.
JD had gone to the clinic as soon as the men had left. Although, having a weaker stomach than the others, he had readily taken over the care little Sammy. By that time Mrs. Potter had already tended to the wounds and had them wrapped. JD carefully sat down on the bed and began bathing the little boy with a rag and warm water. The young sheriff could not help the flood of anger and fear that swept through him like a torrential storm. He had seen the way Chris and Ezra had looked, had heard the words spoken between the two. It scared JD that the two might forget the common enemy and instead turn on each other. Dunne brushed his long hair out of his eyes and wondered if Buck and Josiah could keep the two from killing one another before Vin could find the outlaws and they rescue the children.
Having sent the telegram to the judge, Mary and Henry had then run into the Potter children. With a little coaxing and the reporters approval, Henry went with them. Mary knew that the children would offer their own support and look after the young boy.
The blonde woman entered the clinic and took in the cramped conditions. JD was sitting on one bed whispering softly to the small, rag-doll-looking boy while washing him down. In the corner, sitting in a rocker, seventeen-year-old Melissa sat like stone monument. Surrounding the other bed she could see Mrs. Potter assisting Nathan as he feverently worked to remove the bullet from the chaperone. Mary watched the healers expressions for any signs that would tell her how the operation was going. She thought, maybe, by the way Mrs. Potter was slightly smiling and nodding her head indicating things must be going well. Seeing there was no need for her services at either bed, she turned her attentions to the seventeen-year-old.
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Nathan wanted to hit something, more precisely someone. What in the world were those men thinking when they rode up on those wagons? Or importantly, why did they feel the need to take guns along? They were children, for Petes sake. There had not been one child there that could not have been controlled by a steady firm grip. Swann had filled them in on what had happened after Dave rode out, which mostly consisted of her trying to stop the bleeding wound of Oleta. She had blamed herself and the others for not noticing young Sammys injury earlier. Apparently, after the shooting had stopped, a couple of the children had crawled under the wagon. Swann had just assumed they were seeking whatever place they thought offered safety. She had just let them be. The healer had done his best to persuade the young helper that a person could only do their best and that she had done a lot.
The healer finally removed the bullet and, with the store owners help, sutured up the hole and wrapped clean bandages around the slender frame. Nathan looked up from his work and gave a small grin and nod of thanks to the woman. Mrs. Potter then walked over to where Mary was kneeled in front of Melissa.
"Thought Id take her home with me," the storeowner started. "Nathans got his hands full here and at my place it would be more of a home environment," the storekeeper said solemnly. Mary nodded in agreement.
"If anything, the noise my youngins make might bring her back faster," the storeowner continued. "For no other reason than to get away from the noise," she ended with a quiet laugh.
Mary turned to the young sheriff. "JD, would you be so kind as to help Mrs. Potter get Melissa home with her?"
The blonde reporter was now standing at his shoulder and silently requesting the wet rag. "Ill stay here and help Nathan."
JD slowly nodded and handed the wet rag to the proffered hand. "Yes, maam. Be glad to help," he said. Inwardly he was glad to have a reason to leave the clinic; he felt suffocated.
Rising, he walked over to the young woman and, grasping an elbow, guided the woman to a standing position. She weighed more than she looked, but the young man was determined to get her over to the general store. The storekeeper opened the door and followed JD outside. Mary watched until the door shut, then went to bathing the youngster.
"Nathan?" Mary began hesitantly. "What are his chances?" she asked, not sure she wanted to hear the answer.
The healer turned slowly towards the reporter, stopping his motion of cleaning up the mess made from the operation. He answered slowly, "Dont rightly know, Mrs. Travis." Taking a cleansing breath, he added, "He bled a lot and there was quite a lot of debris in the wound from when his sister hid under the wagon and out in the woods." Nathan returned to cleaning as he continued, "If, and I mean if, we can keep infection out and we keep his fever down and get plenty of fluids in him AND if hes a fighter and the Good Lord looks down kindly on us, he MIGHT have a slim chance."
Mary nodded solemnly. This whole ordeal was going to take more miracles than she expected possible.
"Wheres the sister?" Nathan asked suddenly bringing Mary out of her reverie.
Shaking her head, she replied, "Mr. And Mrs. Tullege took her. Thought maybe itd be best to keep her in town. They said, when you gave the okay, they would bring her over to see him."
Nathan nodded his head in agreement. The Tulleges were a couple that had recently moved to Four Corners. They had been married for about nine years and were childless. He worked at the mercantile and she took in others sewing. Ezra had become one of her best customers.
"Best wait a few hours then maybe she can sneak in for a couple of minutes." Nathan knew if they were in the city, no doctor would even consider letting the little girl in to see her brother. Nathan let out a low sigh, "Know what its like to need to see something with your own eyes, instead of just accepting what people tell you." Mary acknowledged this silently. She knew in her own heart how right Nathan was.
He had learned long ago on the plantations that what people said wasnt necessarily the truth. He remembered that not being able to see his mothers death or attend her funeral made it hard to accept it. This group of men he now rode and had become brothers with had taught him what the power of love and family could accomplish. More than once he had thought one of them wasnt going to make it, only to be proven wrong, and all because the men surrounding the injured simply refused to give up on that man.
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