Her Beating Heart

by Marian Schramm

Characters: The Seven, OFC, OMC

Disclaimer: Not mine; oh how I wish they were…


She had barely made it. As Rachel Harris hid, the racing of her pounding heart was drowning out the sounds of the approaching men. She tilted her head. Was that them nearby? Had they found her? “Oh God," she whispered. “Someone help me.” A noise caused her to jolt and she cowered. ‘Noooo…’

The day began like any other…she rose with the sun and began her chores; milking the cow, tending the horse, feeding the chickens, and collecting the eggs. With breakfast behind her and the cabin chores done she prepared for her trip to town. Her errands would take the better part of the day leaving her to return just before nightfall.

She saddled her horse Joe, and gathered the eggs, packed the saddlebags and headed out for town. They trotted along the road keeping a steady pace. In an open field she watched as a deer and her fawn ran gracefully along at play. She came out of her daydream when she felt the horse prancing, anxious to be on his way.

“Alright boy, you win. On with ya," Rachel coaxed the horse on and they headed into town.

Just as she reached the hub of Four Corners a small group of men reined their horses into her homestead. They had traveled for days and were sure they had found her…only to discover the homestead empty.

Their search of the cabin and barn turned up nothing and as their anger grew they set the place on fire before they pushed on. A dark cloud billowed up as they rode out leaving nothing standing behind.

Rachel’s first stop was the Clarion. Whenever she came to town it was Mary Travis she sought to get the latest news. Then the telegraph office in hopes that word from her beloved Charlie had finally come. It was nearing 2 o’clock when she arrived at the general store.

“Well look now, if it isn’t Rachel Harris…is it that time of the month already? It’s so good to see you Rachel. Tell me, what goodies do you have for me this time child?” Ms. Potter asked.

“Howdy, Ms. Potter, mighty good to see ya…was hoping word from my Charlie had come but nothing yet," Rachel said. “I brought ya some eggs, and some aprons I made…hope ya can sell ‘em. I surely do ‘preciate all your help.”

Ms. Potter replied that it was no trouble…she was happy to be of help. “When your done gathering your supplies I’ll box them for you and have them ready for when you get back.”

“No need. Won’t be takin’ any supplies this trip…figure when I hear from Charlie we’ll be movin’ on. I sent him a telegram to ask what’s keeping him.”

As Rachel walked out of the general store a group of angry looking men rode by heading for the saloon. An uneasy feeling came over her. She ran to the telegraph office to again wire Bellows Falls, New Mexico, then waited, pacing the boardwalk outside the telegraph office.

~7~

Meanwhile Seven men were heading back to Four Corners when they spied black clouds billowing into the sky.

“Cowboy, looks like it could be the Harris place,” tracker Vin Tanner said.

“Let’s ride,” greenhorn JD Dunne yelled.

“JD, take it easy kid. After all we don’t know what kind of trouble we’ll be riding into, ladies’ man Buck Wilmington warned.

“Right you are Mister Wilmington,” gambler Ezra Standish agreed as the seven rode off.

As the men neared the cabin they split up. Healer Nathan Jackson and preacher Josiah Sanchez went off to the right, Buck, Ezra, and JD went around the left side and the back of the cabin, leaving Vin, and gunslinger Chris Larabee to enter from the front. On the count of three the seven emerged from the trees surrounding the cabin, guns drawn. They were shocked to see the destruction that greeted them. The only living creatures were the cow and some chickens…the cabin was still burning but there was no sign of life anywhere.

“Good lord. Who you figure would do such a thing," Nathan responded.

“Don’t know brother, but I do know they will live to regret it," Josiah said.

As the cabin and barn smoldered each man dismounted and walked through the buildings hoping they would not find anyone. As Buck searched, his thoughts wandered back to a time when he and Chris found Sarah’s and Adam’s bodies in a cabin so similar to this one. He sought out his friend to watch for signs of Larabee drifting back in time.

As his thoughts took him back, in his minds’ eye Chris could see Adam running through the house out to the barn to see the horses. It was a bright sunny day, and he and Sarah were sitting on the porch watching him. A jolt brought him back to the present and as he looked around, he swore these men would pay for what they had done.

“Mount up! Vin ya find anything?” Larabee asked.

“Were five, maybe six riders,” he pointed. “Rode out towards town,” Vin responded.

“Let’s ride," Larabee said, as he took off at a gallop.

~7~

Back In Four Corners, the new arrivals were asking questions and strutting all over town making demands. The man who appeared to be the leader went by the name Billy Joe and he had a scar on his cheek as long as his middle finger. His eyes were grey and he was bald as an acorn. His mouth tilted as he spoke.

Realizing the town was defenseless Billy Joe and his men helped themselves to whatever took their fancy while carousing and causing mayhem. They tore Ms. Potter’s store apart, robbed the bank, and assaulted the women.

On seeing what was happening, Mary stole her way to the stables. Mounting the horse

Yosemite was grooming she rode out in search of the seven. With her horse at full gallop Mary rode with her hair dancing in the wind. As she rode she prayed…”please let me find them in time.” At the crossroads outside of town Mary decided to take the road that led her to the Harris spread. As she pressed on she heard the sound of horses coming. Not knowing what to do, or where to hide, she stood her ground. Relief overwhelmed her when she saw the seven coming towards her.

“Chris!” Mary yelled. She slid off her horse trembling.

“Mary, what are you doing out here?” Larabee asked. He dismounted taking her shaking body in his arms.

“I thought I’d never find you. I had to sneak out of town…they’re destroying everything. They robbed the bank, tore Ms. Potter’s store apart…”

“They?” Chris asked.

Mary explained. “There are men, in town. They robbed the bank, tore Ms. Potter’s store apart…

“Might be the ones who burned the Harris place…” Nathan said.

“What? Oh God… Who are they Chris? What do they want?” Mary asked.

“Don’t know. Not sure. But it stops NOW," Larabee said. “Mary you best go and warn Nettie Wells and stay there until it’s safe. I’ll send JD out when the coast is clear.”

As Mary rode away the seven continued on towards town. Just like the Travis woman snuck out of town, Larabee and his men were going to sneak in. Each one of the seven entered Four Corners from different directions. While six quietly snuck. in around buildings…Vin took to the rooftops. Carefully and quietly the seven took out one man at a time. Just as JD was knocking a red haired man on the head, another was sneaking up behind him; if not for Nathan’s perfect aim JD would be dead. A nod passed between the two men and the hunt continued, while Billy Joe and his right hand man Seth were relaxing with a couple of saloon girls. Unbeknownst to them the rest of their gang were slowly disappearing from the town.

~7~

Outside the telegraph office Rachel began to panic. As she waited, her thoughts strayed to a time when life held no fear for her and her Charlie. As she entered the office for the third time the telegraph keys were going crazy.

‘Is it Charlie?” she asked.

Bowman, the clerk waved her off as he continued to write. To Rachel it felt like an eternity. Slowly the keys began to stop and he turned to hand her the paper. Before he could say anything tears fell down her face.

“No need for those tears, Mrs. Harris. There was a cave-in up in hills but they’re sure everyone got out. As for your Charlie, Sheriff said last time anyone saw him was a week ago. A local merchant saw Charlie riding out of town,” responded Bowman.

“A week ago? Why, that can’t be. That would mean he should’ve been here three days ago. What could’ve happened to him?” Rachel asked.

“Now don’t panic, you should go see the sheriff he’ll know what to do,” Bowman replied.

The sun was setting and was a kaleidoscope of color decorated the evening sky. It was just as the sun disappeared from view that Billy Joe and Seth rode out of town heading for the canyon where they were to meet up with the rest of their gang. Figuring they’d be the last to arrive, they were surprised to find no one there.

“I told those good-for-nothings to be back here at sundown," Billy Joe said.

“Relax Billy, they’s just a little late is all. Why I bet their a-coming now," Seth said.

Rachel had watched the men riding out and that feeling of unease overtook her, making her shake. She ran to Sheriff Dunne’s office hoping he could help her, or know what she should do about Charlie.

She barely made it. As Rachel hid, the racing of her pounding heart was drowning out the sounds of the approaching men. She titled her head. Was that them nearby? Had they found her? “Oh God," she whispered. “Someone help me.” A noise caused her to jolt and she cowered. ‘Noooo…’

JD and Ezra parted ways outside the jailhouse as the gambler continued on to the boarding house…the Sheriff started to enter the jail when he heard a small voice call out, ‘noooo…’ Pushing the door open with his gun drawn JD carefully and slowly entered the jail. Looking around and seeing nothing he started to put his gun away and sit behind the desk when he heard the cry again.

“Alright, whoever you are come on out and keep your hands where I can see them," the young Sheriff ordered.

Shaking with fear Rachel slowly came out from under the desk. “Please don’t shoot, I didn’t know what else to do, and when I thought I heard them coming I got scared," Rachel said. ”I ran in here hoping to find help…I was sure they found me this time,” she continued with a shaky voice.

“Huh? Who? You were sure who found you”? JD asked.

Ezra, having seen JD entering the jailhouse with his gun drawn came busting into the jail with his own gun ready to fire. He eyed the young woman crying in the office.

“Sheriff Dunne, is there a problem here? Can I be of assistance?” Before Standish could continue she burst into tears.

Nathan was on his way to the saloon when he saw Ezra enter the Sheriff’s office. In the saloon sat four men drinking and playing cards as they discussed how to find the men who had burned the Harris homestead. An excited Nathan approached the table and hurriedly told the others what was going on. As one, the four men stood and followed the healer out the door.

“No telling what JD and Ezra got themselves into," Buck said.

“Might be best if we didn’t all go in there with our guns drawn, brothers," Josiah responded.

“Josiah you and Buck take the back," Larabee said. “Vin, go high. Nathan you’re with me. On the count of three.”

As Dunne and Standish tried to comfort Rachel four men rushed in the jail aiming their guns at the three in the jail. Rachel screamed when she saw the guns pointing at her.

“Easy, gentlemen…” Ezra started to explain. When the door flew up for a second time and in walked Vin with two men.

Seeing more men Rachel began to shake all over. Tears spilled from her eyes when she saw it was Charlie with Vin. Throwing herself into his her husband’s arms she leaned back to look at him then she drew her arm back and punched him.

“Charlie, I’ve been so worried, where have you been? I wired the Sheriff of Bellows Falls and he said you rode out a week ago," Rachel said.

“Truth is I took a side trip to Jenkinsville…that’s were I ran into your brother, Howard, and talked him into coming back with me,” Charlie responded.

“They’re here Charlie, those men- they’re here. I got so scared. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

“Madam, if I might inquire as to whom you are referring?” Standish asked.

“Ma’am what Ezra here is trying to say is what or who has you all riled up,” Wilmington said.

“I came to find the Sheriff but no one was here and then I heard voices and hid," Rachel started telling what happened. ”No, no let me start from the beginning…it all began two years ago…”

When she hesitated Charlie took over. “It was two years ago when we were in Smithville, in the Dakota Territory. We were mining silver when a group of men came out of nowhere. It was Rachel’s Ma and Pa who were at the shack when they come ridin’ in and shot em’ dead. Rachel was out gathering wood and heard em’. I truly believe it’s the only reason she’s still alive. She watched as the bastards took everything that wasn’t nailed down. When Howard and I got back from town all that was left to do was bury the folks and move on. We found Rachel lying on top of her Ma and had to drag her off. For days she’d jump at anything that moved. We all three rode into town and saw the Sheriff, but he was too ‘fraid to do anything ‘bout it. The men musta realized there was a witness to the murders, ‘cause they came back while we were gone, so to protect Rachel, we headed west.”

~7~

Billy Joe and Seth found out that their men were in jail and were going to be transported to Eagle Bend in the morning. Their plan was to rescue the men before that happened. Quietly Billy Joe and Seth rode back into town surveying the buildings and upon locating the jail they then headed to the saloon. There they sat enjoying a beer and discussing how they were going to get the men out when Sheriff Dunne walked in. Realizing this young boy was the Sheriff they started to laugh.

“This is going to be easier than we thought," Billy Joe said. “Seth we hit the jail after dark and we should be out of town before anyone knows what’s happening.”

The young Sheriff wasn’t in the saloon long when Buck strolled in and headed straight for the bar. He wrapped his arm around Blossom and knocked the Sheriff’s hat off his head…”JD, remember kid to keep your ears and eyes open tonight," Buck warned.

“Awww, Buck I’m no kid and I always keep my gun handy; no one is going to get by me," JD responded.

“Just be careful and don’t take any unnecessary chances.” With that said, Buck watched as JD downed his milk and left.

As the sun went down and a cloud passed over the moon Billy Joe and Seth headed for the jail. It was as expected the young Sheriff was all alone from what they could see…little did they know that they were being watched.

Vin was up top of the hotel keeping a steady eye on the jail. When Seth began to sneak around the back he was met with a bullet in his gut when he fired on Josiah. Hearing a shot, JD decided to check it out. Not knowing he’d be going in alone Billy Joe rushed in only to find no one there except for his jailed men.

“Boss, it’s a set up get out," Red said.

Ignoring the warning, their leader found the keys and unlocked the cell. His men joined him and they proceeded to make their way out to the street. Watching for an ambush they made their way to the horses and as they stepped in the stirrup two men fell back with bullets to the chest. Red took a bullet and continued on at a gallop out of town.

Figuring he lost three men Billy Joe and the rest of his men rode hard and fast. They didn’t stop until they came to their hideout in the canyon. It was here they regrouped and took care of Red’s wound. As they rested, Billy Joe found out from one of the rescued men that the Harrises were in Four Corners preparing to head to Eagle Bend.

~7~

Back in Four Corners, Wilmington wanted to go after them but Larabee said he didn’t like it and they would wait till morning. When morning arrived seven men saw the Harris’s, and Howard off on the stage before riding out to find the men who escaped the night before.

Tiny had all the horses saddled for the seven men when they entered the stables. As they rode out each gave Tiny a nod of thanks. Taking off, they went in search of the four that got away… Vin was out ahead, tracking and was leading them to the hideout.

Vin rejoined the group and they halted. “Cowboy. I tracked them to a canyon just this side of Nettie’s place," Vin told Larabee.

“Then, let's go," JD said.

“JD take it easy, kid," Buck said. “We’ll get ‘em.”

As they got close to the canyon Vin noticed a change in the tracks, dismounted, and held up his hand to stop the men. He examined the ground and found a new direction. “They’re heading east…” he said, then climbed back onto Peso and headed out.

Seven men rode hard after the men who were on the move. Suddenly Vin came to an abrupt stop. The others pulled up as Vin got down and took notice of the coach tracks that began to appear. “Chris, ‘fraid they’re after the Harris’s and Howard; we better get goin,” He said.

It wasn’t long before they could see the coach and the four men attacking it. Before they knew what was happening, the tables had turned and Billy Joe and his men were now the ones in danger as Seven riders overtook them as they made their escape. Three men went

down as the fourth tried to get away. Nathan with his quick hands aimed and let his knife fly, getting the leader right in the back.

With the stage driver dead Ezra climbed aboard and drove the coach to Eagle Bend. The others followed with four bodies tied to their horses.

“Thank God, you came when you did; I’d hate to think of might have happened. No doubt we would be as dead as the driver by now. I can’t thank you enough," Charlie said.

“What do you plan to do now? You can go anywhere with no worries,” Wilmington said.

“I believe we’ll head on after all there’s nothing left for us back in Four Corners. Might as well start fresh,” Charlie responded.

“Always wanted to see the ocean…” Howard thought out loud.

“Then that’s were headed," Rachel said.

The Seven shook hands with the Harris’s and Howard and wished them luck. Leaving them at Eagle Bend to catch a stage for the next leg of their journey -- the train station.

It was near morning the next day when Seven tired men rode into Four Corners…Ezra headed for the saloon as JD went into the Sheriff’s office and the rest headed for their beds, and a well deserved rest.

The End

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April 7, 2012