Saturday, January 13, 2007

Chapter II: Sheriff Charley Brown

Marguerite awoke early to the sound of the Catholic Church bell across the river. Rubbing her eyes, she sleepily relished the fact that she had another hour to doze. Conscious of the slight chill in the room, she delved into the luxury of the blankets, covering her head, delaying the time when she would have to get up and dress. She was looking forward to supper this evening with Charley at the new Crawford House. Her main concern was of their last meeting when she lost her temper and accused Charley of using her. She had let her emotions flare out of control, thinking nothing was right between them. She remembered she had said, “Are you just going to use me Charley?”

He had answered, “Heaven’s sake no! That isn’t it! I want you, I just can’t marry you now!”

“When, then?”

“Marguerite, you know that I want you.”

“But not enough to marry me!”

She knew she was treading on dangerous ground, and later consulted with her sister, Susan. In the past Susan had advised, “Go easy on Charley. Don’t antagonize him and don’t be afraid to look him in the eye. Perhaps something in his past has caused him to look at marriage as a disaster. After we were married Ian told me how scary it is for some men to approach a woman. Encourage and relax him, show him your warmth and love. We can’t change our parentage, but we can be special to others. It’s up to us. If Charley doesn’t come around, find another man. You can have your pick of almost any man in town, or any soldier at the fort for that matter. You and I are both part Indian. Neither of us has wanted to enter the Indian world and they don’t want us either. We don’t have any real rules to live by, we’ve got to make our own. We’ve got to ignore what the Indians and whites consider seemly, because we know deep down in our hearts neither race will accept us completely.”

“That’s easy for you to say, you’re safely married to Ian and have his baby. I’m already nineteen and gave Charley my innocence months ago. I’ve not become pregnant either. Darn Charley anyway! It almost seems he knows my time of the month like a clock. Of all the days I could become pregnant, he seems to avoid me.”

“Getting you pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll marry you.”

Marguerite looked bitter and had replied, “I love him, I’m sure he’d marry me then.”

Studying herself in the oval mirror, she combed her long, glossy black hair, gently undoing the tangles created by her bath. Turning to the right and then to the left, her mirror image gave her confidence; she knew her complexion was smooth and blemish-free. The fact that she was a Métis was insignificant. Her features were classic. Although her cheekbones were high, she had none of the pudgy features of a typical Indian woman, except that her eyes were obsidian and her hair ebony. Her nose was shapely and straight, not wide and short. Her skin was of a light golden tone without the dark copperish hue of her native ancestry. Curvaceous, sensuous lips, perfect teeth and shapely eyebrows complimented her oval face. She knew she was sleek and attractive; many men had approached her, attempting to ingratiate themselves.

Completing her grooming she slipped on an attractive green taffeta dress and tied the belt sash. Charley would be along presently to pick her up for supper. Actually, they could easily walk from her home to the restaurant, but she knew Charley would bring a buggy. She also knew that he would suggest a drive out in the country after they ate dinner. With that thought came a feeling of excitement. I’m crass — and crazy for him! Every night of these past months she had dreamt of him. She remembered every line of his body, wanting his hands searching her. She wanted to feel his lips upon hers, and to be able to give him the full passion of her body. She knew she would do anything to hold him, even swallow her pride just to have him love her. In their talks she had looked directly at him, smiling at his stories. She used every excuse to touch him, being careful about her cleanliness and odor, inasmuch as Susan had said, “To catch his heart, you have to catch his attention.”

“Hello! You home, Marguerite?” The call came from downstairs, it was Susan; she had slipped in the back door. Descending the stairs Margurite met her inquisitive younger sister.

“What’s up? Not making supper for Ian this evening?”

“No, he’s helping Jerold and Knute at the east farm. I don’t expect him back until late. Mom is taking care of the baby. She spends most of her spare time with us.”

“Joseph is no company for her, he’s always away, and even when he’s home, he’s usually resting up from a drunk.” It was obvious Marguerite had little use for their stepfather.

“You must have a date with Charley — all dressed up and ready to go?” Susan was guessing.

“He’s taking me to that new place for supper.” She puzzled, “Whenever I get serious he seems to clam up. I just don’t know what he’s really thinking.”

“I believe I’ve got him pegged,” said Susan. “He’s honest, yet inexperienced with women. I suspect he comes from a religious family with tight scruples. You’ve admitted to me that he took you out several times before he even attempted to kiss you.” She laughed, “Gee, the first time I met Ian outside of the house was while on my way home from Geroux’s Hotel. That was nearly two years ago and it was cold as the dickens. When he stepped down from his horse I went right up to him, grasped his coat and pushed close. He had to kiss me then! Gosh, I remember that kiss yet!” A dreamy look came to her face.

Marguerite felt near tears. “I know there’s nothing wrong with me! Heaven only knows the times I’ve insulted men while working at the hotel, just to keep them away. It seems most men think chambermaids should be available as bed companions. She turned to Susan worriedly, “Do you think I’m barren?”

“Heavens no! It took Ian five months to get me pregnant and I was plenty cooperative—maybe too willing! She laughed guiltily. “I love kids and we want more, maybe three or four, but that’s all! Too many women have ten or more and are worn out and die before their time. Our church has got to make some changes someday.”

A clip-clop sound was audible as a horse approached the house. “That’s Charley, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Marguerite moved to the door.

“Work on him, but gently!” Susan advised, as she turned to leave by the back door.

Marguerite met Charley as he entered the gate. A glad smile appeared on her face. “Right on time!”

He returned her smile as he took her hand to assist her step up into the buggy. Walking around to the other side he seated himself beside her. “Wonder what they’re serving for supper tonight?” As he gathered up the reins he added, “Hope it’s not steak. I had that at the fort this noon.”

“What were you doing out at the fort?”

“I need some men to go west of St. Joe to settle Indian trouble. Collins can’t spare me any soldiers just now so I’ll have to go out there alone. Both of my deputies are tied up and unavailable. I really need someone with me, someone dependable. Maybe I’ll see if Ian will go. He’d like the hilly country out there, it’s different.”

“Will it be dangerous? How long will you be gone?” She showed an immediate concern, knowing how risky it was to approach the full bloods.

“Probably take a week or so. Longer if I can’t find the guilty ones right off.” He hesitated, “I don’t think it will be too chancy. It depends upon how much support they’ve mustered.”

“Susan told me Ian’s at the east farm and she doesn’t expect him back until late. Perhaps we can drive out that way after we eat.”

Smiling, he drew back on the reins in front of the hotel. “Sure, that would be a grand idea. Just what I was going to propose.”

She found her hopes rising. The word propose excited her. Was he hinting? Once inside, they chose a vacant table near the rear, bypassing several diners who exchanged greetings with them. The newness of the establishment was obvious from the spotless linen tablecloth and the shiny plated silver on their table. Snow-white linen napkins lay to the side of each silverware setting, the glassware gleamed. Their waitress was the well-known daughter of the local depot agent. She smiled, showing two deep dimples as she greeted them.

“Tonight its creamed bean soup, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, beets and vanilla ice cream with strawberries for dessert!”

While waiting for the food, Charley discussed his future trip to the west. Instinctively, Marguerite realized he was attempting to hide a serious concern. “It makes good sense to take along someone for a backup, and Ian is a crack shot.”

“Then it’s more serious than you first let on.”

“’Course not! I’m kidding! If Ian comes along the trip won’t be so boring.” He smiled, “At least I won’t be talking to myself.”

“Do you do that sometimes?”

“You bet I do! Doesn’t everyone? I often talk to my horse, also the gray cat that hangs around the jail.”

“Do they answer you?” she teased.

He smiled phlegmatically, shaking his head.

When their waitress arrived with their salads, he said somberly, “Not to worry about the trip. We’ll both be back.”

After supper they were nearly two miles east of town before meeting the wagon carrying Ian, Jerold and Knute. Stopping their buggy alongside, Charley and Marguerite were greeted by sly grins from the boys.

“You two must be lost. St. Vincent’s back the other way.” Jerold teased.

Knute spoke up, “Marguerite, perhaps you’d rather ride with me. I’m mighty good company.”

Charley smiled briefly, but spoke directly to Ian. “Like a vacation away from these rascals? It won’t pay much, but it should give you a great relief from these jokers.”

“When? Where? And how long?”

“Monday, and to the west, maybe one hundred miles - probably take a week or more. You’ll need your horse and rifle. I’ll bring a pack horse and supply the grub.”

Ian glanced at the boys questioningly, “Another two days should finish the plowing, but then there’s the grain to haul.” Looking back at Charley, he added, “Guess I can make it, but I’ll have to make excuses to Susan. I promised to make flower boxes for the front windows before freeze-up.”

Knute groaned loudly, “Jerold, looks like we’re stuck to haul all that wheat to the new elevator.” He lamented aloud, “How could he do this to us?” Then slyly, he added, “Best we accompany Charley and Marguerite back to town. It looks like they need a chaperone.”

Ian laughed, addressing Marguerite, “Don’t mind them. They don’t know anything about girls or love.”

“Oh don’t we?” The words came simultaneously from the boys as they exchanged grins. Ian shook his head, pretending to be exasperated, and then he clucked the team into motion. Turning the rig back toward town Charley walked the horse, allowing Ian’s wagon to surge far ahead.

“I brought a blanket,” Charley suggested subtly.

“I saw it. I thought perhaps it was to cover the dusty seat.” Marguerite pretended indifference.

Charley put his arm around her waist. “Thought we’d put it to a better use.”

Against her wishes an involuntary hidden anger surged forth. He’s using me again! Coldly she said, “No thanks. I’ve got to get home early. I promised Mother I’d help her cut rag strips tonight. Then too, I’ve got to be at the hotel early tomorrow morning.”

Charley knew her excuses weren’t valid, her sudden rejection surprised him, but he accepted the fact that he was moving too fast and without any foundation. He knew he was pussyfooting around the real reason for her refusal. Pique set in and he drove her home in silence. She indicated her displeasure with him by stepping from the buggy unaided, entering the house in an icy silence.

Her cool refusal surprised and shocked him; it wasn’t until he returned the horse and buggy to the stable that he managed to turn aside his self-pity and disappointment. He began to feel cheap and disgusted with himself, knowing he was the culprit. Yet, he felt a sense, not of relief, but of timing. Time to re-assess his thoughts toward her. Perhaps he should make the break final; it seemed their relationship was over. A sudden thought came; he had forgotten to pick up a gift for her at Feldman’s Jewelry.

The next morning, after a brief stop at his office to check for drunks and feed the cat, Charley returned to his saloon. Although he and John Kabernagle shared alike, he knew John carried most of the load due to the fact that he was absent much of the time with his duties as sheriff. Although John never complained, Charley felt guilty and made every effort to ease his friend’s workload. He and John had been allies and partners these past years and ran what they considered to be a clean, profitable business. They allowed quiet card playing, but no roughhousing. Their snooker table and two pool tables also proved a profitable sideline. True, there were several other saloons in town, and many more across the river in St. Vincent, yet Pembina was a lusty, hard drinking town, with whiskey considered essential to everyday life. Their business prospered.

It was mid-morning when the handyman from Rosie’s bagnio entered their saloon in a furtive manner. He looked almost afraid to step inside. Just within the door he beckoned to Charley with a crooked finger.

John, who was behind the bar, spotted him and shouted, “Get the hell out of here, you damned whifflesnitch!” He knew the man’s predilection for panhandling and mooching.

“Hold on John, let’s see what he wants. What’s your problem, Ed?”

The old man’s nose was running, raising his arm he wiped it with his sleeve. Looking up with rheumy eyes, he said, “Not my problem sheriff, yours! Rosie wants to see you.”

Charley glanced up at the octagonal regulator behind the bar, it indicated 10:22. It gave him plenty of time to visit the madam’s house and still return to the saloon in time to prepare the noon bar-lunch. Knowing Rosie’s handyman to be a rummy and sponger, but feeling sorry for the oldster, he reached to the tap and drew a mug of beer. Sliding it deftly across the bar, he watched Ed grasp it greedily.

“Thanky sheriff, thanky!” Taking a deep quaff, he cast a defiant grin at John. “It’s a grand day, just a grand day.”

John glanced at Charley and shook his head, indicating his displeasure. Charley shared a strange empathy with Ed, knowing the man had fought on the Union side in the late war. He pondered how a man could sink to such a pathetic low. Yet, long ago someone had told him that Ed’s wife had run off during the war. When the conflict was over, he found her working in a whorehouse in St. Louis. She wouldn’t return to him so he left her there. It worried Charley that there were a few other old-timers just like him about the town.

On his walk to Rosie’s he pondered how she had gotten into her trade. Probably broken in when she was young, he guessed. He knew the town fathers allowed her leeway to operate, believing it kept the military and railroad toughs quiet, away from the respectable women. After his years in the military, he knew the hazards of disease and lack of self-respect men suffered who habitually visited bagnios. Still, to his benefit, Rosie occasionally contributed information that made his job easier. Approaching her house on the outskirts of town, he noted the discrete location she had selected for her trade. The double-decked cabin set back from the road appeared nearly concealed by shrubbery and huge elm trees. There was no indication that it was anything but a private residence. Knocking briefly on the door, and receiving no answer, he entered, to find Rosie approaching from the kitchen.

She was short woman with a stocky build; her dull red hair needed combing. Her mouth was pursed and small, as if she had just tasted something bitter. He judged her age at about fifty. He could see she hadn’t powdered her face this morning; reddish-cobwebbed veins lined her cheeks.

“Come in Charley, take a seat.” She drew back a chair from a large table near the door. “My, I hadn’t expected you so soon. We’re not ready for visitors, don’t open until this evening.”

Charley chastened, “I’m not a customer Rosie; Ed said you wanted to see me.”

After drawing a second chair back from the other side of the table, she offered, “How about coffee? The pot is hot and it’s fresh.”

“Sure, I’ve time for a cup.”

While she was in the kitchen he glanced around the parlor. It was a large room with a deep maroon carpet that matched the drapes on the windows. A few wall sconces held kerosene lamps with frosted glass globes, adding to the decor. Four matching upholstered chairs were scattered about, together with two matching overstuffed divans. The table at which he sat evidently served as a bar when the house was in operation. He noted bottles and glasses recessed on shelves just below. The opposite edges of the table were hinged to allow its conversion when needed.

When she returned with a cup and saucer, he looked at her questioningly, “Your man found me; what’s on your mind?” He noted that she seemed nervous when she sat opposite him.

“Charley, I run a quiet place and I rarely bother you. Recently, Frank LaRose, from south of here, has caused trouble. I put the run to him, but that’s not what bothers me. I’ve heard bad things about him and thought you should know. It seems a young neighbor girl near his home disappeared some years ago. Her mother, Nancy LeRoque, is convinced Frank did away with her. I’ve also heard he beats his wife and treats her like a dog. The other night he came in and abused Tillie until I ran him off with my gun.”

“Rosie, I’ve heard the story, but the child has been missing for nearly five years. I can’t run on rumors, besides, that happened a few months before I became sheriff. I also know what a S.O B. he can be when he’s drunk”

“Sorry to have bothered you, but I thought you should know. I try to keep you informed on rumors I hear. Some drinkers talk a lot and my girls tell me everything. She smiled wryly, “Visiting and exchanging gossip is about all they have to do when they’re not working.”

Charley hurriedly finished his coffee, and then stood. “I’ve got to get back to the store, but I appreciate any information you can pass on to me.” He smiled, “Some of your tips have solved problems. They’ve been a great help.”

While walking back downtown Charley realized he had never delved into the personal lives of Rosie or her girls. In the past years only one problem had arisen, that was when Rosie bought a large buggy and had Ed parade her girls through the streets of town. That solitary appearance caused such hostility among the reputable women that Charley was forced to order Ed to use the country roads when the girls wanted other outings.

Upon his return to the bar he found a boisterous noon crowd that kept both he and John busy. To complicate matters a wagonload of keg beer arrived from Drewry’s. Their swamper was unavailable, so Charley went to the rear of the saloon to assist the driver in unloading and rolling the kegs into the rear storage shed. Just as the wagon was nearly unloaded, a second wagon arrived with huge cakes of ice from the railroad depot in St. Vincent. By this time Charley was dripping with perspiration. Stepping inside the store, he approached John. “Your turn partner—the transfer man is waiting outside with a wagonload of ice. It needs burying in sawdust. Myself, I’m for a sandwich and a cold beer.”

John smiled agreeably. “We’re lucky they still have ice over in St. Vincent. Judas! Our icehouse has been empty for nearly a week. This darned hot weather has sure raised Cain.”

“Yup! We’ll have to store more of it this winter. I’ll take care of the bar until you’re done, then I’m going upstairs; I’ve letters to write.”

That afternoon Charley wrote his mother in West Virginia, suggesting she move to Dakota. His father had passed away two years previously and there was no one to care for her. He also wrote to two cousins, brothers, suggesting they move west. He knew his relatives back home suffered for years from a miasma they now called malaria — a scourge unknown in Dakota Territory. He judged the older of the brothers, Eugene, might be convinced to escort his own mother to Pembina. Gene, as he was often called, was a near vagabond, yet an avid beekeeper. No doubt he could make a good living locally.

Cousin Charles was a doctor, recently graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Baltimore, Maryland. He was now practicing in West Virginia. Charley knew both of his cousins well: Eugene the wild one, Charles the bookworm.

The lack of doctors in the area worried Charley. Recently the only civilian doctor, Doctor Cardin and his young son had succumbed to diphtheria, leaving only one doctor available for the area — Doctor Flint, the military surgeon at the fort. Charley knew that when doctors could be found, they were often charlatans with little or no medical training.

Finishing his correspondence, he walked to LaMoure’s store on Stutsman Street to plan their visit to Gale at Huron City. He suspected the wanted man wouldn’t surrender without a fight. While LaMoure waited on a customer, Charley admired the new glassware shipment Jud had advertised in the newspaper. When the woman left with her purchases, he approached Jud at the counter.

“How well do you know Gale?”

“To be honest with you, I don’t. Oh, I’ve seen him around town and in the stores, but we’ve not spoken. I had heard he was running a threshing crew for Bill Moorhead. I didn’t know he was working for White out at Huron City until you mentioned it.”

“Bill finished the threshing run a week ago. It’s been so dry they had a short season. Not much of a wheat crop this year but the price is good. Still, the 80 acres on my quarter along the border averaged 26 bushels. Heck of it is, if you don’t have the wheat to sell, the price doesn’t mean a thing. It’s the old saw: Wheat grows, dust blows and the farmer owes.”

LaMoure grimaced. “Tell me something I don’t know. I’ve bills I’d like to collect. Trouble is, I can’t. Just have to carry some of them I guess.”

Charley wore a thoughtful look. “I’d suggest when we see Gale tonight, we ask him to come in and talk with Anderson. Maybe they can strike a deal.”

Jud shook his head. “Not much chance of that. Anderson is a hard-nose. Gale is looking at 10 years in prison, maybe more. Of course, outside of that train robbery, we don’t know what other crimes he’s committed.” He shrugged, “If anyone was killed in a crime in which he was involved, he’ll hang for sure.”

“Funny Anderson is so dead-set on Gale. He told me they were friends at one time. Maybe there’s more to it than he’s telling.”

“Whatever it is, Anderson’s said nothing to me. But he’s a cold man, determined to take Gale back.”

“Tell you what, Jud. I’ll pick you up at your house about six. We’ll talk to him before we take any action. Maybe he’ll tell us what it’s all about.”

White’s hotel was located exactly astride the International Border, just two miles north of Pembina. They arrived at his hotel to find three saddle horses dozing at a hitching rail in front of the door. The shrill voices of two women arguing came from an open window on the second floor. Entering, they walked through a hallway to the saloon in the rear. A strong odor of frying liver and onions hung in the air, the cook, the man standing at the stove with his eyes toward them, was Gale. The log room was huge with an open kitchen located on the north side of the chamber. Fronting this kitchen was a bar. A faded well-worn red stripe was painted east to west across the floor; four tables stood just south of the painted line. Jim White, the hotel owner, sat at the only circular table studying playing cards held tightly to his chest. His chin appeared almost touching the pasteboards. Several silver coins and some crumpled bills were stacked in front of him. Bluish wisps of smoke drifted lazily from his cigar that was balanced on the edge of the table. The other three card players also appeared engrossed in their hands. In the center of the table was an assortment of coins; Charley judged a small-stake poker game was in progress.

White turned to cast a surprised look at the two newcomers. “Geez, just what I need, the sheriff and a federal marshal.” He laughed boisterously as his hand slapped the table. Addressing the other poker players, he said, “By golly, you all better be honest. I hear that cell in the Charley’s jail is mighty small.”

The card player opposite him said disgustedly, “He should take you in, you’ve got most of our money.”

White folded his cards, dropping them on the table. “What’s up, Charley? We breaking any laws?”

“Just wanted to talk to Bill for a few minutes.” He turned to Gale, who watched the newcomers suspiciously.

The wanted man looked unafraid, and then spoke boldly, “I know about Anderson being in town, sheriff. If he wants me, he can come and get me. I don’t want to hurt either of you, but I’m not going back to Texas with him.”

Charley lowered himself into a chair near the bar. “We hoped you’d come with us Bill, just talk with Anderson.” He puzzled, “How did you know Anderson was in town?”

“I saw him night before last when the depot agent from St. Vincent dropped him off by the bank. I know darn well he’s after me.” He looked grim. “I’ve avoided trouble all summer and am trying to put the past behind. I like it here and I’d rather die than go to prison. If he gets me back to Texas I’ll never see daylight again.”

Jud looked to Charley and nodded his head. He sensed a violent collision coming; the handle of Gale’s gun protruded from beneath his left arm.

“Like Charley said, we hoped you’d surrender to that Texas marshal — maybe talk it over.”

White broke in. “Jim if you stay over on the kitchen side of the line that Texan can’t touch you. Hell, you’re in Canada!”

“I’m through running and I’m not going to dodge Anderson. If he wants me he’ll have to take me the hard way.” Gale looked grimly at them as he turned to dish the hot slices of liver onto a platter, all the while watching them slyly.

Charley attempted to lighten the situation. “At least bring us each a beer. I hope you’ve still got ice.”

The wanted man crossed cautiously to the bar and brought them two foaming mugs, then returned behind the bar where he watched them warily.

“Charley, it’s a no-win situation.” Jud’s voice was low. “Anderson is going to have his hands full with this one.”

Gale’s ears were acute. “Darn right, if he wants me he’ll need a gun. I’ve got mine.” He patted the bulge beneath his left arm.

A scantily dressed woman appeared from a side doorway. She looked hopefully at the two newcomers, but receiving no encouragement she proceeded to cut slices from a loaf of bread. Picking up the slices and the platter of liver, she left. Charley stood and edged around the end of the bar.

Gale blocked him, his hand to his gun. “Where do you think you’re going.”

Charley grinned, “Just looking for some matches.”

“Get back to your table, I’ll get you matches.”

After a second round of beer the two officers left the hotel. Gale followed them to the door, watching as they stepped into the buggy and drove off.

“Jud, I like that chap and feel sorry for him. Too bad Bob left his letterhead on the letter he sent to Gale’s wife. That was mighty careless of him.”

“I feel the same. Like I said, we don’t know all the circumstances, but it appears Gale is being straightforward with us. Trouble is, Anderson wants him and they’ve got law in Texas now.”

“White’s got the right idea. If Gale skips into Canada Anderson’s warrant is worthless. It’s a big country; he could lose himself easily.”

“Don’t lose your perspective Charley. Remember, you’re an officer of the law.”

“That’s the hell of it,” Charley remarked glumly.

As they approached town they passed the north Indian camp of over twenty tepees. Jud grimaced, “Wish they’d move back to Red Lake. They’re a nuisance at night, getting drunk, beating on those drums, and screeching to the heavens. People are getting fed up with their behavior, especially when they come into town at night and raise hell.”

“There’s talk about forcing them to move out.”

“About time too,” Jud grumbled. “Say, drop me off at the store. I’ve still got work to do. Hey, don’t forget the lodge meeting next Friday night.”

After dropping Jud and returning the rented rig, Charley joined his partner at their saloon. He was agreeably surprised to find a good crowd pulsating with activity. He felt an extra satisfaction when he saw all three-billiard tables in use.

Awakening late on Sunday morning he felt guilty about missing early Mass. He was still miffed at Marguerite’s cold treatment of him Saturday evening; he felt she’d not miss his sitting next to her in church this morning.

After a leisure breakfast he decided to check further into the government shipment Ricard Brothers claimed to have lost, the shipment seized by the Indians in the Turtle Mountains. He had second thoughts about taking his horse west. It made more sense to take a fast team and buckboard. Even so, he realized the trip would tie him up for at least a week. Walking briskly to the ferry, he was lucky to catch the barge just leaving on a trip across the river. Climbing the opposite hill on foot he noticed a shortness of breath and blamed it on lack of exercise. Another quarter mile put him at Ian and Susan’s new house. He found Ian in the front yard sawing on a long board that lay across two sawhorses.

Ian nodded at his approach, then said glumly. “Forgot to buy eight-penny nails yesterday, but at least I’ve got nearly all the pieces cut to size for Susan’s window boxes.”

“We should get an early start tomorrow,” Charley said. “Trouble is, I haven’t a thing ready. When I saw you last I wasn’t thinking clearly. It’s too darn far to bust our butts on horses. I’ll rent Mason’s two trotters with one of his light buckboards.”

“Wondered about that. We must be going to the Turtle Mountains — quite a trip.” Ian relaxed on a sawhorse.

“Haven’t got all the details yet from Ricard’s teamster, but he’s staying at Stewart’s Hotel. A bunch of Indians from Manitoba have crossed the border and seized a trade shipment belonging to the government. They grabbed everything, even the team and wagon. I’ll stop on the way home and see the teamster. He gave me a tally sheet of the load, but I want to know how many Indians were involved.”

“What’s the deal? Any danger involved? Do I need my rifle?”

Charley smiled. “When I talk to them, I’d like you about 100 yards away, covering me with a long gun. I’m no damn fool when it comes to Indians and mixed breeds, especially those out there. After the war I fought Apaches in the southwest. They were fighters! I was lucky to get away with my hair. Hell yes, we’ll both go armed to the teeth. Furthermore, we’re not making any visits along the way, they have smallpox out there.”

Glancing up, Ian saw Susan and Marguerite approaching. “Church must be over. Your girl friend looks to be coming over here with Susan.”

Charley looked embarrassed. “Marguerite and I had a tiff the other night. I got the cold shoulder from her.”

Ian looked at him seriously, “It’s your own fault. She’s in love with you and wants marriage and kids. I think she’s a fine woman, a beauty too. I married Susan and she’s part Sioux and Cree. Our boy, John, is as white as I am. Sure, some people ridicule me, call me a squaw man behind my back, but not to my face.” His voice had hardened.

Looking directly at Charley, he asked, “Are you afraid of marriage?”

The girls were now too close, Charley couldn’t answer. Susan greeted them gaily, “Are those the pieces for my window boxes? If they are, I’ve got the paint in the back shed.” She reached to peck Ian’s cheek with a kiss.

Marguerite hesitated, looking at Charley inquisitively. “How come you’re over here?”

Ian spoke up. “We’re making plans to go to the Turtle Mountains.” He looked to Susan. “I put the chicken in the oven nearly an hour ago. Your mom is here, she kind of took over—said she’d finish cooking dinner.” He turned to wink at Marguerite. “Maybe we can talk Charley into eating with us. You’re staying for dinner too, aren’t you?”

She regretted her action of Saturday evening and boldly stepped forward to tuck her arm through Charley’s. Smiling up at him sweetly, she asked, “We’re both invited, shouldn’t we accept?”

Charley puzzled, what a changeable woman!

All through lunch Marguerite acted as if nothing was amiss between them. When Charley made his excuses to leave, she seemed solicitous about the trip to the west, advising caution. Following him out the back door of Ian and Susan’s home she flung her arms around his neck, kissing him soundly. Then, stepping back she studied his face. He hesitated seconds before taking her into his arms in a passionate embrace.

After long moments, when they mutually drew apart, he said, “I’ve got to get back and arrange for the trip tomorrow. Are you staying here or headed home?”

“Oh, you can walk me home, it’s on your way.” She smiled as she tucked her arm through his.

“I’ve got to make a stop at Stewart’s Hotel, but I’ll see you home first.”

“It’s such a beautiful day . . . wouldn’t you like to take a long walk?”

He knew exactly what she had in mind; that long walk would lead to a place of privacy. Tempting as it was, her recent rebuff still rankled him. “Can’t, I’ve got too much to do this afternoon.” He avoided her gaze, trying to hide the lie he knew must show on his face.

She read his mind perfectly, sensing he was getting even with her. Looking at him darkly, she said, “Perhaps it’s just as well. We don’t seem to be hitting it off lately.”