The Other Seven


= = = = = =

Josiah and Becky were walking back to the hotel. They had just passed the church when Josiah said, “After you´ve had a chance to freshen up, would you like to have dinner with me?”

She nodded, “Yes, I´d like that.”

Josiah said, “If you care to try it, tonight Inez serves a dish over at the saloon that´s really good. It´s a marinated steak with squash cakes. It´s very tasty.”

“That sounds fine, Josiah,” she replied.

Josiah walked Becky upstairs to her room. She reached into the pocket of her skirt, took out her room key and opened the door.

“I´ll get cleaned up and changed,” she said.

“How about I come back in 45 minutes – will that give you enough time?” he asked.

“Yes, that should be more than enough.” She smiled, “Thank you, Josiah.”

“My pleasure – I´ll see you shortly,” he said, locking her door and closing it behind him.

= = = = = =

Becky brushed out her hair after she had washed up. She pulled it back on the sides with a blue ribbon and left it down in the back. She picked out a pale blue dress with long sleeves to wear. She applied just a touch of rouge and dapped her favorite perfume on her wrists and behind her ears – then for good measure she said to herself, “oh, what the hell” and dapped it in her décolletage.

She felt nervous tonight; whether it was because of Josiah´s dinner invitation or buying the house, she wasn´t sure. She looked out through the window – lamps were being lit as the street got darker. The town actually had a more attractive look at night with the lamps twinkling.

= = = = = =

Ezra sits in an old wooden chair out in front of the hotel. With one hand, he is shuffling cards, practicing his own, unique form of card play. He glances down the street at the sound of a stage coach approaching and mutters to himself, “It´s about time.”

The stage stops in front of the hotel and the driver hops down.

The driver starts to help passengers from the coach. Then he and his partner start handing down luggage from the roof of the stage. A blond woman stops beside the coach and starts issuing orders to the driver, “Be careful with that. Mind you don´t put it down in the dirt,” she was saying. The driver shakes his head.

Ezra smiled, knowing it could only be his mother. She was only staying two weeks to visit with Ezra but she seemed to bring enough luggage for a month or more. Ezra stood and walked over to Maude.

“Hello, Mother,” he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Ezra, my boy, it´s good to see you, darling,” Maude said with a smile.

“You too, Mother,” Ezra said, “I´ll help the driver get your luggage into the hotel.”

= = = = = =

There was a knock on Becky´s door.

“Who is it?” She called.

“It´s Josiah,” he said.

She opened the door with a big smile, “I´m glad you´re here.” She turned, “Let me just grab my shawl”.

“Rebecca, can we talk for a minute before we leave?” He asked.

“Certainly,” she said. “Why don´t you come in?”

He came in and shut the door, Becky sat on the bed and Josiah stood over by the window, looking out at the street.

She looked at him curiously, “What did you want to talk about?”

“Remember yesterday, our conversation at the church?” He asked.

“Yes, of course,” she replied, nodding.

“We spoke about courtships – well, I think when a man is ready to pursue that course he should make his intentions known,” he said, as he turned and looked at her. “But sometimes our paths are not straight and the terrain could be difficult to traverse.”

“Well, if the path is not clear, we´d want to move slowly and carefully so as not to lose our footing,” she replied.

“But a man can make great strides when there´s a prize to be obtained,” he said, as he moved toward her.

She stood and took a step towards him. She looked up at him, her green eyes shining and a small smile playing on her lips, “But if we move too quickly we could stumble and fall,” she said.

“Then we´d want to be sure to proceed with care,” he said.

“And caution,” she said.

“And confidence,” he replied.

“And conviction.”

“And tenderness,” he said, putting his hand under her chin he leaned down and kissed her. Becky closed her eyes – she was sure Josiah could hear her heart pounding.

Their lips parted and they gazed fondly at each other.

“Are you sure you´re ready for this journey?” she asked.

“I´ve got a sturdy pair of boots,” he replied.

She laughed, took his arm and they headed off to the saloon for dinner.

= = = = = =

Ezra had returned after dropping his mother at the hotel – he was relieved that she was only staying for two weeks but worried aloud that it was more than enough time for her to get into some sort of mischief.

Nursing a beer at the bar with Nathan, he voiced his desire for a stronger drink. Nathan shook his head.

Ezra noticed Josiah and Becky enter the saloon at that moment and commented, “It seems our Josiah has taken an interest in the town´s newest resident.”

“You should mind your own business, Ezra,” Nathan cautioned.

“That would hardly be enjoyable at the moment, Mr. Jackson,” Ezra replied, “knowing that Maude Standish is in town and needs to be watched like the proverbial hawk.” Ezra downed the rest of his beer and said, “Well, I´d better get over to the hotel to meet Mother for dinner. Would you like to join us, Nathan?”

Nathan grinned and shook his head, “Sorry, Ezra, I´ve got plans tonight. But have a nice time.”

= = = = = =

As they ate dinner, Josiah told Becky about his sister, Hannah. He was hesitant to bring her up just now, but he felt if he and Becky were to get serious, he should have no secrets from her. Becky was immediately supportive and understanding – the mental deterioration of her father close in mind, she sympathized. She told Josiah that the next time he went to visit Hannah she would go with him, so he didn´t have to bear the burden alone. As Becky watched him, she thought his sister´s illness explained much about the sadness she had sensed in him – she had thought at first it had something to do with his defrocking but realized now it was probably his worry over his sister that she sensed. Well, she certainly understood family obligations; they had that in common.

They finished dinner, Becky telling Inez how much she enjoyed the meal and they left the saloon.

“What if we take a walk?” she suggested. “I always like to stretch after a meal.”

Josiah nodded, “That sounds like an excellent idea.” She slipped her arm through his and they started off.

They were quiet for a time. Josiah glanced at Becky and she looked to be deep in thought.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked.

“Strangely enough, I was thinking about my father. When you told me about Hannah, it brought up a few memories and now I´m beginning to believe his mental illness goes back even before Sarah and Chris were married. In all my years growing up, he had never been violent – oh, he could get mad all right, he had an Irishman´s temper, but he never raised a hand to us,” she chuckled, “It was mama who usually dealt out the spankings when we were small.” She took a breath and blew it out. “I´m going to tell you something now that no one knows about. One day, Sarah went out to meet Chris. This was before they were married. I wasn´t sure where they´d gone but someone had seen them together and told my father. We´d been in town when he jumped in the wagon and drove off like the house was on fire. He was shouting about Chris and how he was going to stop them. Buck was in the saloon and heard the commotion. He knew that Chris and Sarah had gone over to Glener´s Pond, which was not too far from town. So we headed over there hoping we could beat my father. We actually did because we were on horseback and my father had the wagon and all. I told Chris he´d better make himself scarce and Sarah hopped on the back of my horse so we could go home. At that moment, my father arrived. When he saw us he started cussing a blue streak. So we took off and headed home – I figured he´d calm down by the time he got there. We were in the barn, I was rubbing my horse down and he came tearing in. Pa grabbed a bridle and started beating Sarah with it.” They had stopped walking at this point and Josiah lead Becky to a bench so they could sit as she continued. “For a moment I was so stunned that I just stood there – and something inside just told me I needed to stop this, so I ran over and grabbed the bridle out of his hands and threw it up into the loft. I yelled at Sarah to get into the house. My father was – roaring – like some kind of animal. Just in a rage like I´d never seen before. He turned and picked up a chain that was part of the plow and swung it at me, like a whip – it was coming right for my face so I turned and started to run out of the barn but I guess I wasn´t fast enough. It caught me on the back. I just remember the pain of that metal, cutting into my back. Took my breath.” Josiah was holding her hand and she squeezed his tight.

She went on, “I got into the house and we locked ourselves in my room. He came up the stairs yelling – calling Sarah all sorts of vile names – then after a time it was as though he´d run out of steam. Pa left – took off on one of the horses and rode off. That was the night Sarah and I left home. I´ve still got the scar on my back to this day. Sarah never told Chris – made me swear I wouldn´t tell him either. She was sure if Chris knew he´d shoot Pa. She was probably right.”

Josiah nodded, “You did the right thing, getting Sarah and yourself out of there. I know too much about that type of violence, growing up with my father. It finally ended the day he realized I was larger than him and quite capable of defending myself.”

She stared off into the distance, “I remember standing in the bedroom, while he was ranting on the other side of the door. I had my hand on the butt of my pistol and Sarah was behind me, holding my arm and whispering ‘don´t, don´t, don´t´ over and over. But I tell you, Josiah, if he´d broken down the door I think I would have shot him. Even now it sets my heart racing just thinking about it.” She shook her head, “I really think now that may have been the start of his breakdown – who knows what caused it. It just seemed he progressed into more and more violence after Sarah was murdered.” Her voice was full of emotion, “Sometimes it scares me – I´m afraid that could happen to me and I don´t want to end up like that.” She started to cry.

Josiah put his arm around her; her shoulders were shaking. “Then you won´t”, he said with certainty.

She looked up at him, sniffed and wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. “How can you be so sure?” she asked.

“You recognize when to hold back – you´re not reckless – if you´d had to shoot your father that night it would have been in self-defense, clearly. Not because of a mental breakdown of any sort.”

She leaned against his chest and nodded, “I guess you´re right. But don´t forget,” she teased, “I did shoot my late husband once.”

“Yes, but that was an accident and it sounds like he might have deserved it,” Josiah said with a grin.

“You made me feel better. You have quite a way of seeing through to the truth of the matter,” she said.

“Sometimes I think the problem is clearer to someone who is outside of the issue. Maybe because the emotional connection is more detached and they can look at the facts of the matter in a more levelheaded way,” he said. “I tend to have a hard time when it comes to issues with my sister and father because I´m so close to the problem. Perhaps when you meet Hannah you´ll observe things that I miss because I feel so close to her.”

She nodded; she was just enjoying listening to him speak and his heart beating.

“Would you like to head back to the hotel?” Josiah asked.

“No – if you don´t mind I´d just like to sit here with you a while longer,” she said, quietly.

Josiah chuckled, “I´ll take that as a compliment to my charming personality and good looks.” He gave her a reassuring squeeze and they sat quietly in the stillness of the evening.

= = = = = =

When they returned to the hotel, Josiah took her key and opened the door of her room.

“I had a wonderful time tonight, Josiah,” Becky said.

“So did I,” he replied.

“It´s funny – we´ve only known each other for a week and yet it feels like I´ve always known you. I have to tell you that I´ve never met anyone I felt I could confide in the way I can with you.”

He nodded, “I know – I´ve been thinking exactly the same thing. I don´t believe in destiny but I get the feeling we were meant to meet.”

“Can I tell you something if you promise not to laugh?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“I´ve been alone for a long time now. And I´ve lately found myself praying for a direction, for guidance and I guess it´s somewhat selfish but to fall in love,” she said; then a little embarrassed, she glanced away.

Josiah put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to look into his blue eyes. “Rebecca, I wouldn´t laugh at that,” he smiled. “I have to confess that I´ve been praying for much the same things.”


He nodded, “Maybe someone else had a hand in this.” He leaned down and kissed her.

= = = = = =

Later that night, as Rebecca lay in bed unable to sleep, she smiled. She was wondering if it was possible to fall in love with a man after only a week. She looked up at the ceiling and spoke to her grandmother. “Nana, I think you lead me here and not just because of Chris. If this is your hand involved, thank you.”

= = = = = =

The next morning, Chris was headed for the saloon to get some breakfast. He saw Josiah was sitting out in front, seemly waiting for him. Josiah stood as Chris approached.

“Morning, Josiah – something going on?” Chris asked.

“Good morning, Chris,” Josiah said, “I need to speak to you, if you have some time. But it´s personal.”

“Okay – let´s go inside and get something to eat,” Chris said.

They took a table in the back of the saloon. After Inez had brought them coffee and went to fix their food, Chris looked expectantly at Josiah and said, “Is this about Becky?”

Josiah smiled, “How did you guess?”

“Just a hunch,” Chris said, with a small smile.

“Well, I´m sure you´re aware we´ve been keeping company. I´ve asked Rebecca if I could court her and she´s said yes. I wanted you to know,” Josiah said.

“I´m happy for you, Josiah. Both of you. Becky is pretty special,” Chris said.

“I´ve been discovering that,” Josiah replied, “I never thought I could have such strong feelings for a woman after only a week.”

Chris nodded, “It was like that for me with Sarah. Didn´t hardly take any time at all to know she was the one.”

= = = = = =

A week later a stranger rode into town – he road down the main street, past the bank where he slowed his horses´ pace considerably for a few minutes. He then picked up the pace, looking around as though searching for something. He came to a stop in front of the newspaper office and went inside. Mary was sitting at her desk writing – she looked up and smiled at the stranger.

“Good morning. Can I help you?” she asked.

He took off his hat, “Morning, ma´am – I don´t know if you can. I´m looking for the law abouts here. I seen this wanted poster and I know where this woman is – saw her just two days ago down in Purgatory.”

“May I see the poster? Perhaps I can find the person you need to contact,” Mary replied.

He held out the folded piece of paper. Surprise registered on Mary´s face, “I know about this. You need to see Mr. Larabee. Will you please come with me?”

= = = = = =

Ezra was walking down the stairs at the hotel with his mother. He noticed Becky in the lobby, speaking to the desk clerk. Ezra said to his mother, “Have you met Rebecca? She´s Chris´ sister-in-law.”

Maude shook her head, “No I don´t believe I´ve had the pleasure.”

“You might be interested to know that Josiah is courting her,” Ezra added.

“Really – how nice,” Maude said.

“That doesn´t bother you?” Ezra asked.

“Why would that bother me?” Maude shook her head, “Ezra, you know I don´t want to get married again. And I certainly do not want to marry a man who has no money.”

Ezra shook his head and catching Becky´s eye said, “Good morning, Becky.”

“Good morning, Ezra,” Becky replied, nodding to Maude.

“Becky, I´d like you to meet my mother, Maude,” Ezra said, “Mother, this is Rebecca Wilkes – she´s Mr. Larabee´s sister-in-law.”

“Very nice to meet you, Mrs. Standish,” Becky said.

“A pleasure, my dear. Please do call me Maude,” Maude replied, “Ezra and I were just going over to the restaurant to have some breakfast. Wouldn´t you join us?”

“I´d be delighted,” Becky said.

Ezra grinned; Becky noticed that he seemed relieved.

They left the hotel and started for the restaurant. When they entered the restaurant, Maude moved ahead and called out to the manager, “My good man, now, we must have your finest table!”

Ezra took hold of Becky´s arm and whispered, “A word of caution about my mother. She´s a bit of a con artist so watch where you step.”

Becky glanced at Ezra, surprised and chuckled.

= = = = = =

Chris, Josiah, Nathan and JD were in the saloon finishing breakfast when Mary hurried in, the stranger right behind her.

“Chris,” she said, without any other greeting, “I think you need to speak to this gentleman. He said he saw Ella Gaines in Purgatory two days ago.”

That got everyone´s attention. Chris took the wanted poster and looked at the stranger.

“Who are you?” Chris asked.

“My name is Bob Jones. I´m just passing through on my way up North. I gotta catch a train in about two hours.”

“I´m Chris Larabee. Are you sure it was the woman in this picture that you saw?”

JD stood up, “Here Mister, take my seat.” JD grabbed two more chairs for himself and Mary.

“Yes, sir, I am sure it was her,” Jones said as he sat.

“Where did you see her exactly?” Chris asked.

“She was at the cantina.”

Chris nodded, “I know it. Was she alone?”

“No – she had these men with her – a bunch of big, tough-looking guys.”

“How many men?” Nathan asked.

“Oh, there must have been at least six,” Jones said.

“Did you hear any of their conversation? Were they headed anywhere?” Josiah asked.

“It sounded like they were staying put. They had rooms up at the hotel across from the cantina. I saw her poster when I got to Watsonville and the sheriff over there said I should stop by here on my way to the train station.”

“Anything else you can tell us about her or the men with her?” Chris asked.

“No, sir, I´m sorry. I wasn´t really paying no mind but it was her for sure. You don´t forget a woman who looks like that.”

Chris frowned, as much as he wanted to find Ella Gaines, this sounded too easy. ‘Concentrate, Larabee´, he thought to himself.

“When are you leaving?” Chris asked Jones.

“I got to get out of here within the next half hour to catch the train.”

Mary said, “Why don´t you give me your address up North – there´s a reward, you know, if they capture her.”

“Oh, ma´am, I don´t want no reward. When I saw that wanted poster and realized she´d killed a woman and a boy, I knew I had to do something – it´s the Christian thing to do,” Jones looked at Chris. “Were they kin to you?”

“Yes,” Chris replied.

“I´m sorry. I sure hope you find her.” Jones stood. “Well, I´m going to get something to eat and I´ll be leaving. Good luck to you.” He moved to the bar and ordered coffee and biscuits from Inez.

Josiah, Nathan & JD looked expectantly at Chris. Chris looked at Josiah.

“How soon do you want us to be ready to leave?” Josiah asked.

“We´d better go soon. Nathan, JD, can you two track down Buck, Vin and Ezra?”

“Sure, Chris – Ezra´s over at the restaurant. I saw him having breakfast with his mother and Mrs. Wilkes.” JD said.

“Let´s meet in front of Mary´s office in about 30 minutes. Don´t say anything to Ezra in front of Becky. I´ll need to talk to her myself – that´ll be the hard part.” Chris said. Nathan and JD left.

“I´ll go with you,” Josiah said.

“Thanks, I´ll probably need you to help me talk her out of coming with us.” Chris said.

= = = = = =

As Chris and Josiah approached the restaurant, they saw JD talking to Ezra. Ezra said, “Chris, I´ll get my gear together and meet you in front the Mary´s office in a few minutes. We just told my mother and Becky that we had an errand to run.”

“Good thinking, Ezra. We´ll see you shortly.” Chris replied.

Inside the restaurant, they caught sight of Becky and Maude sitting at a table. Becky was laughing at something Maude had said to her but they were too far away to hear their conversation.

Becky suddenly caught sight of Chris, and her smile dropped. She could tell by the look on his face that something was the matter. “Maude, would you please excuse me for a few minutes?” she said.

“Of course, my dear.” Maude replied.

Becky got up and walked straight over to Chris and Josiah. “What´s wrong?” she asked.

“Let´s go outside and talk,” Josiah said, taking her arm.

= = = = = =

“Chris, what´s this about – I don´t like the look on your face,” Becky began.

“Becky, a man just came into town. He told me he saw Ella Gaines two days ago in Purgatory.” Chris said.

Becky stood stock still; her eyes widened. She had taken Josiah´s hand and just held onto him. “Are you sure?” she asked.

“He´s really sure it was her.” Chris said.

“When are you leaving?” she asked.

“In a half hour or less,” Josiah said.

She nodded and appeared thoughtful. “You´d both better be careful.”

Chris smiled, “We will. I thought I was going to have to talk you out of tagging along.”

“Oh, believe me, I´d like to but you two don´t need to be worried about me at a time like that. I´ll stay here and just be overly anxious.” She said, with a small smile.

“Don´t worry, Becky, we´ll be fine.” Chris leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Josiah, I´ll see you in a few minutes.” Chris moved off.

Becky looked up at Josiah. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“Yes, I think I´m just shocked that she´s turned up so quickly. What will you do now?”

“I´m going over to the church to pick up my gear. Want to keep me company?” He asked.

“Yes.” They fell into step together and walked quickly to the church. As soon as they stepped inside Josiah glanced around to be sure the church was empty. As Josiah closed the door, he pulled her against him and kissed her. She clung to him.

“Be sure you wear those boots and be sure you come back,” she said.

“Don´t worry about me – there´s nothing going to keep me from coming back,” he replied, kissing her again.

Josiah went into the back room quickly and grabbed up the gear he needed.

When he came back out he said, “Don´t be alone. Go over to the newspaper office and stay with Mary. I´ll try to wire you if there´s any news.”

She nodded. For a moment they just looked at each other. Josiah touched her face and said quietly, “Rebecca, I love you.”

“I love you, too. Watch your back, okay?”

= = = = = =

When they got over to the newspaper office, there was a good size group gathered. Maude had left the restaurant to join them. Down the street, Inez was watching from the doorway of the saloon.

Rain had just gotten into town to see Nathan and they were talking quietly. JD was speaking to Casey. Buck, Ezra and Vin had gotten the horses together and were talking to Chris. Mary, Maude, and Nettie Wells were all standing in front of Mary´s office just watching the goings on.

Josiah gave Becky´s hand a quick squeeze and moved over to get on his horse, as the rest of the men were doing. Becky moved over to stand with Mary and the other ladies. Mary quickly introduced her to Rain who had moved over to join them as well.

Chris looked around – his eyes met Becky´s, “We won´t be gone too long.”

Becky said, “Just don´t take any unnecessary risks to capture her.”

Buck laughed, “Who, us take risks?”

Goodbyes were called by all and the men rode off out of town in the direction of Purgatory.

Becky watched them leave and she felt Mary´s arm around her waist. “Let´s all go over to the saloon,” Mary said, looking around at everyone. “Better we´re all together than alone.” The ladies nodded and all headed over toward Inez.

= = = = = =

They all sat at a large table and Inez brought over coffee. She told them that the Jones fellow had taken off. Becky told Maude she was sorry about breakfast ending so abruptly and Maude smiled and said not to worry; she was used to it with Ezra, after all.

They all spoke of general things, trying to keep their minds off the men being gone. Becky began to think that she´d have to get used to this. It was what Josiah did and she didn´t want him changing for her. But in the back of her mind she worried. She did not want anything to happen to Josiah after just finding him. Then there was Chris. She was more afraid that Chris would take chances to get Ella Gaines than anyone else would. But Buck and Josiah would keep Chris from doing anything too risky, wouldn´t they? Her mind was running in circles and she kept loosing the thread of the conversation; she would nod her head every so often as though she were paying attention.

“You look a million miles away,” Mary said with a smile at one point.

Becky grinned, “I think I am.”

“Don´t worry; they know what they´re doing.”

Becky nodded.

Just then they heard someone coming into town on horseback, he was yelling. Everyone jumped up and went out into the street.

It was Tiny on horseback. His horse looked exhausted. At the sight of the ladies, he reined in his horse, “Where´s Chris?” he asked.

Mary said, “He just headed out of town, going to Purgatory.”

“All of them?” Tiny asked.


“Dammit – begging your pardon, Ladies.” He shook his head, “I gotta get a fresh horse and get after them.”

“What´s wrong, Tiny?” Becky asked.

“They just got sent on a wild goose chase – I heard some fellas over at Eagle Bend – they are on their way here to rob the bank – there´s supposed to be a gold shipment there.”

Becky and Mary shared a worried glance.

= = = = = =

Becky had grabbed up her skirts and ran off after Tiny to help him with his horses. In the livery stable, he drank some water while she started pulling the saddle off his horse and helping get a fresh horse ready. He was planning to ride out after Chris and the others. Hopefully he could overtake them and bring them back to town in time.

“I was at this bar late last night and I overhead these fellas talking about some gold shipment that was being snuck into town last night – I guess they wanted to do it under the cover of darkness. It must have been kept real quiet because I don´t think Mr. Larabee would have taken everyone with him if he´d known.” Tiny gulped air and tried to catch his breath. “These fellas said they had worked up some scheme to lure the men out of town and then they figured the gold would be theirs for the picking with no one to stop them. I just got on my horse and rode all night. I´m guessing they´ll be right behind me. But I´ll try to reach Chris and the others as quick as I can.”

Becky noticed Mary was standing in the livery.

“Are you sure you´re going to be alright?” Becky asked. “I could ride out after them – you must be exhausted.”

“No, ma´am. I´ll be fine,” Tiny replied. “Thank you for helping with the horses. I best get on the road.” He caught sight of Mary. “Mrs. Travis, it would probably be a good idea if you ladies go home – get everyone off the street. No telling what these fellas will be up to. And could you stop by the bank and warn Mr. Sullivan? He´d better just close up and get everyone out to be safe.”

“I´ll take care of it, Tiny. And thank you,” Mary replied.

Tiny climbed up on the fresh horse, tipped his hat quickly and was gone in a cloud of dust.

Becky took the first horse and led it into the stall. She told Mary what Tiny had said about those men coming into town for the gold. Mary looked upset, but more mad then worried.

“We´ve got to do something,” Mary said.

“Yes, we´ve got to get people off the street for their safety,” Becky replied.

“No, I mean something more. We can´t have these men – these crooks thinking they can just ride into town like they own the place,” Mary continued.

Becky stepped out of the stall, ‘Well, what do you have in mind?”

= = = = = =

Becky ran into the hotel and up the stairs. She stopped in her room and quickly changed into her riding skirt. She buckled on her side arm and opening her trunk, pulled out a rifle. She left her room and headed for the roof of the hotel. On the roof, she hurried over to the short retaining wall looking onto the main street. Looking across the way and over the buildings across from her, she did not see any sign of approaching horses or wagons. That would be the way they´d be coming, Mary had told her. Becky figured they were just over the rise she saw on the horizon. That would give them at least a good hour to prepare. She went to all sides to of the hotel and looked out just to be sure, but all she saw was the dust cloud that was Tiny, heading toward Purgatory.

= = = = = =

Back in the saloon, Mary was talking to the other women when Becky entered. Mary looked up expectantly.

“No sign of anyone yet,” Becky said. “If they are just beyond the rise in the distance, we probably have a good hour.”

Nettie Wells commented, “We were just trying to figure out what we could do.”

Inez added, “It´s only because the men aren´t here – these crooks think they can just walk all over us.”

Rain smiled, “Yes, if the men were waiting for them, they would think twice about coming into this town.”

“Wait a minute,” Mary said. “I think that´s it.”

“What´s it?” Becky asked.

“These crooks expect no resistance when they get here. But if they ride into town and see seven guns shooting at them, it just might be enough to scare them off,” Mary said.

Becky grinned, “That´s a good idea.”

Maude looked up, confused, “Just what are you two talking about?”

Suddenly, Casey got it. “We did something like that once before – remember, when we dressed in the army uniforms. It worked real well!”

“Sure,” Becky said, “There´s seven of us and if we are not out in the open, just shooting, it will throw them off track.”

“But we´re not gunslingers,” Inez said.

“Yes, but they don´t know that,” Mary said.

“All you have to do is wear a Stetson and put on a man´s coat and start shooting – that´s all they are going to care about. It´s the illusion that will fool them,” Becky said.

Nettie grinned, “I´ve got my Spencer rifle right out in the wagon.”

“Maybe Gloria can loan us what we need,” Mary said.

“We all have to be in on this – it´s an all or nothing deal, Ladies. What do you say?” Becky asked

“Count me in,” Casey and Nettie said as one, grinning at each other.

“Me, too,” said Inez.

“I will help,” Rain added.

They all turned and looked at Maude. She sighed and said, “Well, I think you are all crazy but what the hell – nothing like some excitement to get the blood rushing. Ezra always says there´s nothing to it.”

They all laughed and headed over to Gloria Potter´s store.

= = = = = =

Tiny was pounding away at his horse. He cleared a rise and in the distance saw some men standing and sitting under a tree, giving their horse a rest and talking. He let out a great yell. It was Chris and the others. They´d not taken as quick a pace as Tiny because of the distance they had to travel to Purgatory.

“Chris – Chris!” Tiny called, “We got trouble! You got to head back to Four Corners NOW!”

= = = = = =

Mary left Billy in the care of Mrs. Potter as everyone was outfitted. Becky took Mrs. Potter aside and told her not to worry – she´d cover any damages to the merchandise.

“Just be sure none of you are damaged in the process,” Mrs. Potter said. “I don´t care much for this idea.”

“Well, with any luck, Tiny will have the men back before anything starts,” Becky replied.

Once they were outfitted, Mrs. Potter locked up the store and took Billy and her children home with her.

Standing in front of the general store, the streets cleared and the bank closed up, Mary looked around at the group.

“They´ll be coming from this direction,” she said, pointing past the stable. “I think if we are about half way up the street and hidden behind those wagons, the water trough, anything that will give us good protection, we should be fine.” She turned to Becky, “You´re the best shot, and I think you should be our sharpshooter.”

“You want me on the hotel roof?” Becky asked. “I think we should have a lookout anyway.”

Mary nodded, “Yes, that´s what I was thinking.”

Becky added, “Ladies, the only thing I want to caution you on is that our men will be returning soon – fortunately from the opposite direction. I´ll keep an eye out for them as best I can. If you hear me yell, ‘hold your fire´, stop shooting unless you are in danger of getting shot by one of the crooks. Don´t take any chances. If you feel you can´t get a clear shot off, don´t take the chance. We´ve got to keep our eyes open in case any residents wander out onto the streets. Make sure you have good cover like Mary suggested and I´d suggest a place to retreat to if the fighting gets too intense. Also, if you have to retreat, once you are safe, get off your gear and hide it, so that if they come upon us, they´ll just think we´re a bunch of womenfolk who can´t do them any harm.”

Mary said, “Does anyone have any questions? Anything anyone else wants to say?”

Maude spoke up, “I don´t understand how men can wear these god-awful clothes. And I thought stays were uncomfortable.”

= = = = = =

The seven were riding like their lives depended on it. Chris´ mind was running a riot. ‘I had a feeling something wasn´t right´ he thought, “I should have left some of the men back in town.´ He hoped they´d make it in time. When Tiny mentioned that he´d left Mary and Becky together in the livery, Chris started to think about them and the kind of women they were. ‘Please let them just go home and wait it out,´ he thought.

= = = = = =

Becky was up on the Gem Hotel roof again. Now she could see a dust cloud heading toward the town. Unfortunately, it was not their men returning – wrong direction. As the cloud got closer, she could see a large wagon and three men on horseback. She ran to the other side of the roof. No one in sight yet. The crooks were going to get here first.

She ran back to the main street side. “Mary!” she called down.

Mary stood up from her hiding place and looked up expectantly.

“They are coming – three men on horseback and a wagon. Looks like there´s only one man on the wagon. But the wagon is covered, I can´t see if there is anyone else in it.” Becky looked off in the distance again. “They´re close – be in within the next five minutes.”

Mary nodded. She turned and looked that the other women, “Is everyone ready?” she asked.

Assents all around. “We´re ready for anything, Mary,” Nettie said.

“Speak for yourself,” Maude commented.

“Aw, Maude, you´ll be fine. Pretend it´s General Grant leading the blue coats. That´ll get your dander up,” Nettie added.

= = = = = =

The four men rode into town. They stopped at seeing the main street empty.

“Something´s not right,” it was Bob Jones, who was riding the first horse, “Where are all the people at?”

“Maybe it´s time for a siesta,” the second man joked, the one driving the covered wagon.

Becky aimed and shot right in front of them, as she had agreed upon with Mary. That got their attention.

Mary deepened her voice and called out, “This is your only warning. Get out of town.”

“What the hell,” the third man said. “I thought you said these seven would be gone.” He looked accusingly at Jones.

“They were gone – I watched them ride out of town. . .” Jones said. “Dammit.”

“What do we do now?”

The fourth man, the leader said, loudly, “We ain´t leaving.” He looked at the others, “Tip the wagon, get under cover!”

“They aren´t going for it,” Inez said to Mary.

“I know – get ready to open fire.” Mary said, “Keep an eye on them – watch where they try to hide.”

As the gunfire started, Becky snagged the man on the wagon, just as he was tipping it over. He got hit in the right shoulder but managed to get behind the wagon.

“Damn,” one of the men yelled, “There´s somebody up on the roof.”

The firing continued.

= = = = = =

Becky took a chance and crouching went over to the side of the hotel where she could see the direction Tiny had rode off in. Her heart leaped as she saw the large dust cloud and – wait, one, two, three . . . seven men on horses. They´d be here in a few minutes. She´d have to keep her eyes on the other end of the street so she could warn the women when to stop firing.

= = = = = =

Jones had managed to get off the main street. He was on the side of the hotel trying to keep up with the shooting but wondering if there was a way for him to get up on the roof other than the main entrance.

= = = = = =

The ladies were doing their best to keep the men pinned down. Becky was dividing her attention between keeping the crooks in her sights and watching the other end of the street. Suddenly she saw the dust kicked up. She put down her rifle and cupped her hands around her mouth, “Hold your fire!” she yelled.

The women stopped firing and all looked over their shoulders as Chris and the others charged through. The two men who had horses managed to get back up on them and started riding.

Vin, Ezra, JD and Nathan took off after the two – it did not take them long to bring them both down.

The man behind the wagon raised his gun to shoot, but Chris shot the gun out of his hand. Buck jumped off his horse and wrestled the man to the ground. “Give it up,” Buck said.

Josiah looked up and saw Becky on the roof, “We´re still missing one!” she called down.

Chris called out, “Vin, Ezra – start riding down the sides streets. We got one more hiding out.” JD and Nathan headed back up the main street. “Stay here with the women – everyone watch your back.”

= = = = = =

Becky was crouching low and keeping her eyes open. She saw Vin head down the side street on the side of the hotel. Ezra went farther back up the main street and turned down a side street. ‘Damn´, she was thinking, ‘I shouldn´t have taken my eyes off the main street. Let one get away.´ She started trying to count the horses – ‘could he be on his way out of town?´ she wondered.

Just then she heard a scraping sound. She spun just in time to see Jones climbing the emergency ladder on the back of the hotel. He registered surprise for a second but his gun was raised and pointing at Becky faster than she could think.

= = = = = =

As soon as the gunshot was heard, Josiah was off his horse and running toward the hotel entrance. Everyone looked up to see the shot hit the retaining wall of the hotel roof and particles of concrete and dust rose.

Rain grabbed Nathan´s leg and said, “Becky´s up on the roof.” Nathan dismounted and grabbed his saddlebags.

As a second shot was fired, Chris was already running toward the hotel entrance that Josiah had disappeared into and Nathan followed hard on Chris´ heels.

Buck still held the man who´d been hiding behind the wagon. Through gritted teeth Buck whispered, “You´d better pray she´s alright or I´m taking it out of your hide.”

Everyone stared up at the hotel roof.

= = = = = =

Josiah was breathing hard as he shoved the door open onto the roof. Quickly taking in the scene he could only see one person standing over the prone body of a second. But he couldn´t make out who was who.

“Hey!” he called. The person standing spun. It was Rebecca. He hadn´t been sure because of the long coat and hat she was wearing.

She choked back a cry and ran to him. Her hat flew off. He pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head.

Chris hit the roof next. He stopped dead seeing Becky appeared to be alright. He moved over and put a hand on her shoulder, “You okay, sis?” he asked quietly. She nodded.

Nathan ran past all of them and headed toward the man lying prone. He knelt down and felt for a pulse. Chris had moved over beside him. Nathan looked up and shook his head, “He´s dead.”

Chris moved to the back of the roof, waved down to Vin and Ezra. “It´s over,” he called. They nodded back up at him.

= = = = = =

Josiah had his arm around Becky as they walked out of the hotel. Mary, Casey, Nettie, Inez and Rain all ran up to them.

“Is everyone alright?” Becky asked Mary.

Mary smiled, “We´re all fine. We did it!”

Vin and Ezra rode over. Chris and Nathan came out of the hotel.

“Where´s Maude?” Becky asked, sounding concerned.

“I´m over here, my dear. Just having a bit of difficulty extricating myself from this position,” Maude replied.

Ezra´s eyes flew open, “MOTHER?!” He jumped off his horse and rushed over to assist her up, “What do you think you are doing?!”

“Saving this sorry town, it would appear, Ezra,” she replied.

Chris looked at the women, he did not look happy, “Just what do you think you were doing, ladies?”

“Keeping this town from being overrun by crooks,” Mary replied.

“And just whose idea was this?” Chris asked as he was looking at Becky.

“It was mine,” Mary said.

“But we were all in this together,” Becky added.

All the women nodded – there were comments of “Yeah”, “That´s right,”, “An all or nothing deal.” The ladies all moved over to stand beside Mary.

Chris looked at them and shook his head, “I don´t believe this.”

“Well, you´d better believe,” Becky said with a grin, looking over at Josiah who was smiling at her.

Mary nodded, “We are not going to just stand by and do nothing. In fact, we all have something to do right now.” She smiled at Becky.

Becky nodded, “Yeah, I think the men can handle it from here.”

Mary turned and looked at everyone, “Ladies?”

They all started across the street.

“Just where do you think you´re going?” Chris called.

Mary and Becky glanced back at him, grinned at each other and said, “Saloon.” The ladies all laughed.

= = = = = =

Two weeks later, there was a dance held in the Grain Exchange, the only building large enough to hold all the residents of town. Everyone was having a grand time.

At one point, Becky asked Josiah if he had seen Chris anywhere. Josiah mentioned that he´d seen Chris out on the front porch of the building. She excused herself and said she wanted to speak to him for a few minutes. She´d be right back.

Becky made her way out front. Chris was there, leaning against the side of the porch. He smiled when he saw her.

“Not still mad, are you?” She asked with a grin.

“No, I think I´m over it,” he replied. “I guess I´ve just got to learn that the women in this town have a mind of their own and that´s the way things are going to stay.”

“Yes, I seem to recall Josiah mentioning something about you giving him ‘lessons on dealing with Connelly women´, hmmm?” she teased.

“Well, if he´s going to court you, he needs to be warned by his friend what to expect,” Chris said, with a chuckle.

“I don´t know if I should thank you for that or not,” Becky laughed. “That reminds me, I have something for you.” She opened her draw-string purse and took out a small photo. “I found out that you lost everything in the fire.” She handed it to him.

It was a photo of Sarah and Adam. It appeared to have been taken just before they were killed. Chris seemed surprised, “Where did you get this?”

“Sarah sent it to me. She had it taken for your anniversary,” Becky said.

“I never saw this. I was away when our anniversary passed, we were going to celebrate after I got back,” Chris said quietly.

She put a hand on his arm, “Chris, I´m sorry. I didn´t mean. . .”

He looked down at her, “Don´t be. This is the best present you could have ever given me.” He looked at the picture again, smiled and slipped it into the pocket of his shirt. “I´m glad you decided to stay. Getting settled in at the house?”

She smiled, “I still have some unpacking to do but yes, it´s just fine.”

“You´d better get back inside, I think I see Josiah waiting for you.”

“Are you coming? I think there´s a pretty blond waiting for a dance,” Becky teased.

He nodded, “Oh, yeah? So, what´s for dinner on Sunday, sis?”

He put his arm around her and they walked back inside the Grain Exchange, laughing.