Back at the jail, Charley sorted his mail, placing several new wanted posters in a separate pile. Briefly examining them, he found most to be from eastern states. Checking his few personal letters, he found one from LaMoure who was attending court in Fargo. Another was from his mother; He opened that one expectantly:
Dear Son,Charley leaned back in his chair, trying to get his thoughts in order. When mother gets the letter I sent last week she'll make a final decision. I'd better see Nixon. That house he built on Stutsman Street is still vacant. It's huge, but attractive, hopefully not too expensive. He reflected on Josey. They had been in love during their early teen years, but when the war ended she suddenly married a lawyer without so much as a word to him. Was she still beautiful? She had been only sixteen then, three years younger than him when the war ended Now she would be nearly thirty, with two grown children. He wiped her from his mind, knowing he would probably never again return to West Virginia.
Since your Father passed away I have been without ties. I feel out of place and not needed here. Perhaps if you can put up with me, I'll come to the Dakota Territory to live.
You'll be surprised to know that Josey now lives next door to me. She is financially secure and has two lovely teenagers, a boy and girl. I know she disappointed you grievously years ago, but she has matured and developed into a lovely woman. We discussed her marriage and she has related to me that it came about by her father's financial difficulties. She was forced into the marriage. I believe she loved you then, and still does.
In the event I decide to move, can you find a house for me? My home here should bring a good price and I have sufficient funds to live on. I hear Eugene is thinking of moving too. He is at loose ends; his apiary business leaves him too much free time. He had to put another fine jumper down last week. It came from an attempt to clear a high stone fence. I think this is the third horse he's gone through -- he'll never learn! His brother Charles is put out with him.
Your Grandfather is in fair health. Since Mother's passing, their black woman servant takes good care of him, albeit she must be in her late eighties by now.
There is little work available, forcing many of our neighbors to move west. Most seem headed for Oregon or California. I'm told the trip is difficult and hazardous. Eugene says we can now travel all the way to your location by the train cars. He says it will take only two or three days to make the trip.
Hunger pangs made him aware of the fact that he and Ian had covered nearly 50 miles since eating an early breakfast before daybreak. Surprisingly, their team held up well due to the sack of oats Mason had tossed into the rig. They had not stopped for lunch, wanting to be home before dark. He realized business in their saloon would be brisk until closing time, so decided to help. He would settle for the bar lunch, knowing it would be of cold roast beef or pork slices, bread, butter and pickles -- the usual Saturday night fare.
Passing Geroux's Hotel on his way his bar he was surprised to see Marguerite who stepped from the hotel doorway. She had obviously been waiting for him, more than likely watching from the front window. His senses whirled at the sight of her and he realized the old adage still held true, absence does make the heart grow fonder! It took all his willpower to restrain himself from taking her into his arms. She looked so clean, so neat, so utterly lovely!
She smiled nervously, words tumbling rapidly from her lips. "I'm so glad you're home safe and sound! I worried about you and Ian all this past week. Did you have trouble out there?" She seemed almost out of breath.
"Nothing we couldn't handle, mostly a waste of time. I've got to go back out on Monday with troopers from the fort."
A pleading look came to her face. "It's Sunday tomorrow. If you're not busy, can we picnic together south of the fort?"
His pique faded and a smile came. He knew she was referring to their trysting spot where they had first made love. At that moment he felt an irresistible longing and reached out to grasp her hands. He wished to kiss her, but they were on a busy street. When she looked up at him apprehensively he realized she had sacrificed her pride. Heretofore, all suggestions that they revisit their rendezvous had come from him. A twinge of guilt came.
"What time do you want to leave?"
Her timidity seemed to vanish at that instant, her face brightened. "How about after late mass? You'll be attending, won't you?"
"I'll join you there, sit with you." He smiled as he teased.
She laughed excitedly, "The service will be over before noon and it should warm up by then. I'll pack a lunch; you can furnish the wine." Turning, she stepped to the hotel doorway, pausing briefly to blow him a kiss.
Because of the shooting that afternoon, the streets were congested with out-of-towners. It seemed every farmer and railroad worker had heard of the affair and wanted the details. He realized there was also an abnormal influx of soldiers from the fort. Many locals had known and liked Gale, some men vociferously defending his action. Charley found himself avoiding any argument, not wanting to compromise his position as sheriff. By 11 p.m. he felt totally exhausted. John noted his appearance and suggested, "Go upstairs and get some sleep. You look to be dead on your feet! I can hold the fort -- things are beginning to slack off."
When Charley entered church the next morning he found Marguerite and Susan already in their pew. Joining them, he was amused at the way Susan engineered their seating arrangement. She stepped out into the aisle so he could sit between them. Marguerite surreptitiously slipped her hand into his with a shy, knowing smile, hiding their hands by fluffing out her voluminous skirt. Susan smiled to herself noting the nuance.
As the sermon spun by, Marguerite heard only a few words. She felt every breath, anticipating Charley's unintentional body movements. His hand covering hers brought a hot tide to her cheeks and she felt her hand perspiring. When she gazed up at his face she noted a strand of hair had dropped over his forehead, covering an eyebrow. She realized how appealing and utterly male he was, blushing as he turned his eyes down upon her. She knew she would love this man forever.
The mass was brief, the priest announcing his intention to hold another service elsewhere. As they strolled out of the church Charley noted Ian stepping from his buggy just across the street. A Presbyterian, Ian had not joined his wife's church. He hesitated momentarily to remove a large basket from his buggy, and then he approached, handing it to Charley. Smiling slyly, he said, "Good luck on your picnic. It's a lovely spot, Susan and I know it well."
"Darn you, Ian, you keep quiet." Susan was blushing.
It was obvious that both Susan and Ian knew and approved Marguerite's plan. Just as Charley placed the basket on the floor of his buggy, Susan added, "We're expecting you both for supper. It won't be fancy, just chicken and dumplings. Don't be late!" Charley caught Susan’s wink to her sister.
Marguerite chortled, "That's my sister, she's my champion. You may find yourself compromised."
He smiled and called out to Ian and Susan as they drove away. "We'll be there on time."
After seating Marguerite in the buggy, he said, "I've got to make a brief stop at the fort to arrange for my escort tomorrow. I saw Shawn last night and he told me Captain Collins would approve my plan, still its only common courtesy that I speak with the captain personally."
"How long will you be gone this time?"
He slapped the reins and the horse stepped out. "I suppose another week, maybe less."
Their stop at the fort was brief. The Officer of the Day, Lieutenant Greene, greeted Charley casually. "Captain Collins is out digging at the big Indian mound. It's a hobby of his -- artifacts. He has authorized two squads under Kirpatrick to leave tomorrow morning by 8 a.m. Shawn said to tell you he'd meet you in town. The men will be mounted and bring their own commissary wagon."
Charley was pleased. "Wonderful! Thank the captain for me and tell Shawn I'll be expecting him."
Following the river trail Charley and Marguerite passed the old Indian dugout two miles south of the fort, continuing on another half-mile to where the tree line ended. The river was open to view at this point, the water appearing almost quiescent with a gray-brown hue. It looked to be shallow, but they both knew the appearance was deceptive. The steamboat Alpha had come downriver to Pembina just yesterday, towing a large barge of machinery destined for Winnipeg. Also, Charley knew the Selkirk was due on Monday, bringing by tow, three barge loads of lumber.
While Charley hooked the iron weight to the horse's bridle, Marguerite carried the basket down to the level near the water. As Charley joined her, she unpacked the basket, putting the food to the side. Reaching into the bottom of the basket she removed two blankets and a portfolio of papers. Looking up at him mischievously, she said, "It might get cold. I brought a spare blanket."
"So did I." Removing a bulging blanket from under his arm he drew out two bottles. "It’s champagne, the best John and I carry. Say, what's that you have there? Looks like some kind of tablet."
"Yup. I've brought some charcoal sticks too. I'm going to do a facial portrait of you."
"When did you get involved in drawing?"
"Ever since Susan and I were kids. You must have seen my charcoals and oils at our house, the sketches of Indians and animals."
"You mean you did those? I thought they were purchased somewhere."
She laughed, "Mom encouraged me. When she took me over to the Indian camp I would sketch while she visited. I had a problem though; most men wouldn't allow me to sketch them.
She looked at him with a saucy smile, "You really think we'll need both of those bottles? I believe you have nefarious plans for me. I don't need wine to warm me up, I have the extra blanket." Then, unfolding the larger blanket, she added, "Help me spread this out. I don't want to get my new dress soiled."
He had admired her dress when they left the church, but had made no comment at the time. "I thought it was new, couldn't remember seeing it before." He shook his head, "Some special kind of material isn't it? A real dressy, dress -- you look lovely!"
"Ha! So you've finally noticed! Trying to get on my good side now, flattering me!" she joshed. Then she said ruefully, "I should have brought a change. I'll have to be careful."
He dropped beside her to take her into his arms for a kiss. She struggled free to move the food onto the corner of the blanket. "We eat first, then talk."
"And make love," he grinned.
"We eat first, then talk," she turned to smile.
As she began unwrapping sandwiches, he remarked, "You've brought sliced ham; apparently you've done some planning."
"You usually bring chicken, and we're having that tonight at Ian's house."
She relaxed, "Not really . . . I told you, Susan's on my side. Why don't you draw the cork on one of those bottles of cheer. I would have brought lemonade, but we're out of ice at home."
The air was quiet, but buzzing with activity; bees and insects swarmed among the short willows along the river. Finally sated with food, Charley inserted the extra blanket under his head. Motioning Marguerite closer, he pulled her down to his chest. She leaned over with an impish smile and tweaked his lips with her finger, then leaned down to kiss him gently, her full lips crowding his mouth. She felt her hair coming loose as he reached behind her head to release her chignon. With his fingers he spread the thick fall to one side of her cheek, burying his face in the mass. She felt his passion and intensity matching her own and knew she would willingly give in to his wishes. Indeed, his wishes? What about my own? She knew her desire more than matched his as she began unbuttoning his shirt, then tugged at his belt. A reckless feeling of sheer joy came over her, she wanted to be held and loved. She moved her body searchingly close to him, shivering with pleasure as she felt his response. Kissing and caressing each other they dispensed the barrier of clothing.
The plunge of their love was as powerful and rich as it had ever been. When the wild culmination was over, they lay together, breathlessly clinging to each other as if to life itself.
Much later, as he rolled from her, watching her lazily, she ran her hands down over her stomach. "Oh, Charley, will it always be like this . . . a little bit like being in heaven?"
Later, sitting up, she said, "Put on your shirt, it's time you posed for me."
Unabashedly she slipped on her chemise and dress, and then reached into the basket to retrieve a stick of charcoal. "Sit over there on the edge of the blanket and look toward the river." She chided, "Wipe that silly grin off your face, this is no time to be self-conscious. No, turn a bit more toward me, but keep looking toward the river." She looked at him critically. "Lift your head slightly -- there, hold it! This will only take a few minutes."
Her hand moved jerkily over the tablet, stopping now and then to rub at the drawing with a finger.
Over fifteen minutes had elapsed when Charley said impatiently, "Are you almost done? We should be heading home soon?"
"Nearly done, just a minute or two more."
He noted her intense concentration on the drawing and wondered to himself, I've known her for nearly two years and never knew of this talent. Why was it never mentioned before?
Finally, she tossed the stub of charcoal toward the river. "I'm done now, what do you think?"
Reaching out, he grasped the folder. The face that looked back at him was so real he almost gasped. He realized her finger smudging had been to blend the shades of black to create depth and character.
"Where did you learn to draw like this? I can hardly believe my eyes. Do I get to keep it?"
Her face shone with pride. "No, that's my first charcoal of you. It's mine, but I'll do others. I'd love to do one of you with your horse someday." Turning to the basket she began to repack the dishes and remains of the picnic. "I've been doing mostly pencil work, but now I'm into oils, studying under Mrs. Mosten. She says I have a natural talent."
Charley looked at her fondly, "You've surprised me. How many other hidden talents do you have?"
She began to blush, and then said airily, "Oh, you've discovered most of those already."
When they left for supper at Ian and Susan's it had cooled. Marguerite felt fulfilled, but something kept gnawing in her mind. She suddenly realized that even after their lovemaking, Charley had made no commitment.