Now enjoy the last chapter of BORDERTOWNS!
That same morning Joseph discovered his bottle missing and accosted Annette. She disclaimed any knowledge of the bottle, doubting he even had one, for he had been drunk the night before. Joseph began to rage, blaming Pete, cursing him wildly.
Annette objected sharply. "He's never stolen anything in this house. He's your own brother. In fact, he gives us money to help keep us going. If it wasn't for what Marguerite and I bring in, and what Pete gives me, we'd starve." She said vehemently, "You don't bring in one cent!"
Her attempt to shield herself from the sudden blow came too late; the swinging fist knocked her to the floor. She thanked the Lord that Marguerite was at work and not at home to witness her degradation. She had been able to hide most of his abuse over the past years, since he had been careful never to strike her in the presence of Pete or the girls.
"Keep your mouth shut, woman. I bought and paid for you years ago. What I do is my business."
Afraid to rise from the floor, she watched helplessly as he plundered her grocery money in the cupboard. Casting her a malevolent glance, he slammed the kitchen door violently as he left. Regaining her feet, she went to the window to see him heading for Smith's saloon on the corner.
After eating dinner at Mrs. Fisk's boardinghouse, Charley rode to the fort. The wagon, carrying Murphy’s body, had apparently just arrived, for a medical orderly was arguing with the driver.
"Leave the corpse in the wagon! Doc will examine it out here. He won't want the infirmary messed up. Besides, the body goes back to town after he looks it over."
Dr. Appel stepped out of the door just as Charley dismounted. He nodded toward the corpse. "Your project, Charley?"
The image above, an excerpt from the Medical Times & Register [18799-1880], shows how Chuck Walker got the little details down right in his historical novels...Appel was the post surgeon during the time period this story is set in..."Yes. I'm pretty sure it's a man named Murphy – got himself run over by the early morning train. 'Sposed to have been sleeping on the tracks, but it looks more like murder to me."
Charley explained his suspicions of the accident.
The doctor looked the corpse over briefly, and then turned to his assistant. "Remove the clothes from the man, Fred. We'll have a closer look."
The orderly had a distasteful look on his face as he attempted to remove the blood soaked shirt from the corpse. Struggling to remove both shirt and trousers he finally reached into his pocket, extracting a knife. Cutting the tangled suspenders free, he was finally able to strip the body.
The doctor inserted a rectal thermometer, and then he examined the body in detail. Finally, he checked the torso, musing aloud, "My God! Look at the massive scar tissue on the side of his shoulder. He must have been in a severe accident -- and not too long ago either." He turned to Charley. "A doctor's curiosity, you might say."
Dr. Appel continued to speculate, "You know, you may be right. If this man had his neck on the rail, he wouldn't have the back of his head crushed. Look here!" He pointed at the severe indentation in Murphy's skull. "'Course if a chain or something hung from the train, it could account for this damage." He removed the rectal thermometer; he seemed puzzled. "There's another possibility. What time did the accident occur?"
"About dawn this morning."
Appel snorted in disgust, "Hell, this man has been dead for almost ten hours! He's already loosening up and he's lost nearly all body heat. You'd better take him to the cemetery and plant him quick. He'll ripen fast in this heat. I think a blow to the back of his head killed him, but it's only speculation."
"I kind of figured he was moved to the tracks," Charley said grimly. "Now I'll have to snoop around to find out what actually happened. He's no loss to anyone but himself, no family that I know of. Still, I have to try and ferret out the guilty party."
As the sheriff rode back to town his mind was in turmoil. Could the murderer be Ian or another of the McLaren family? What will I do then? Lordy, I hope not.
That same morning when Joseph Grant entered Smith's saloon for a drink, he expressed his feelings to the bartender. "That damned Pete! He stole the bottle I had behind the stove."
The barman smiled to himself; he knew Pete to be a periodic drunk. Stealing a man's bottle was a joke, for whiskey was considered an essential of life at the time.
The sheriff arranged to have Murphy buried that same afternoon, then spent the remainder of the day checking the saloons of Pembina and St. Vincent. The bartender of the Ryan Hotel in St. Vincent remembered a large, pale-faced man leaving his bar around midnight.
"Was he drunk?"
"Drunk, and mean as hell. He tried to pick a fight but everyone backed down. He was a miserable dog." The bartender grew inquisitive. "I thought his voice sounded familiar, but I couldn't place him."
"Did he buy a bottle of Old Crow?"
"I don't remember him buying any bottle. Hell, we don't sell that brand. Their drummer is a sharper; I don't do business with him." He looked at Charley suspiciously.
“Why the interest in Old Crow?"
"Found an empty near Murphy's body."
The look of surprise on the barman's face was evident when the name Murphy was mentioned. "Jeez! Was that Murphy? He sure fooled me!"
Charley reflected over the bottle. Shucks, even John and I sell that brand in our place, other saloons do too. Still, he sensed something missing when he returned to the jail. He carefully stood the empty bottle on the rear of his desk.
It was noon when Ben McCune sobered up enough to realize he was stone-broke. Every penny he had realized from the sale of his farm was gone. Even the money gained from selling the yoke and harness of his oxen had been spent. The saloons in St. Vincent gave no credit so McCune determined to go to Pembina. He stayed in St. Vincent just long enough to hear the news of the dead man. The information that the accident took place only a short distance from where he had slept, troubled him.
While crossing on the ferry to Pembina, he attempted to steal Trudo's bottle while the ferryman cranked the drum. The ferryman had allowed McCune free passage when he was broke, provided the ferryman was crossing with a paying passenger.
"Ben, you damned thief, you'll swim or wade from now on." Grasping the cringing McCune by the collar and belt, he threw him off the ferry. McCune momentarily appeared, spluttering and cursing, standing chest deep in the water.
Depressed, soaked, but now sober, he walked the remaining quarter mile to Pembina and sat down, leaning back against the wall of Bradshaw's Pembina House. His daydreaming brought to mind the dead man. Could it have been murder? The more he pondered, the more he was sure the man with the mule had something to do with it. Yes, there was the possibility of a reward there. Struggling to his feet, he turned toward the jail. The door was padlocked and the sheriff or deputies nowhere in sight. Stiffly, Ben sat on the upper step with his back against the door. He finally dozed off.
It was nearing the supper hour when Charley returned to the office and found McCune blocking the door. His hat was pulled down over his eyes and his mouth sagged open, exposing yellowed and crooked teeth. Nudging Ben with his foot and shaking his shoulder, Charley got the man awake and to his feet. McCune was crafty. "Know something about the murder, sheriff. Is there any reward?"
"Reward for what?"
"The murderer of the man found on the tracks."
"How do you know he was murdered?" Charley was amused, thinking, McCune's here to tap me for a drink or a bottle.
"Saw the man."
"The man hauling the body."
The sheriff looked at him grimly, then he thrust McCune roughly inside and onto a chair. "Tell me about it and don't leave out a single thing! You'd better not be lying!"
McCune's eyes scanned the room greedily. "Need a drink. Got any?"
Brown looked at him with disgust. Finally he slid open a drawer of his desk and produced a bottle and tin cup. Pouring an inch into the cup, he handed it to McCune. "Now tell me what you know, or I'll put you in jail and throw away the key."
McCune related what he could remember of the man leading the mule and the load on the mule's back. To make his story stronger, he insisted that the mule carried a body. He looked pleadingly at Charley as he placed the empty cup back on the desk.
Charley debated silently, there were few mules around St. Vincent and I can check the ferry to see if any were brought across the river. He knew mules to be poor swimmers so doubted any had been ridden across. That would almost eliminate anyone from Pembina being involved. Murphy had to have enemies, but Charley knew he also had friends, especially among the railroaders from Emerson. He remembered Brogan and Murphy and other workers had spent that past winter at Roseau Crossing where the girl was killed.
Pouring the remaining liquor from the bottle into the tin cup, Charley handed it back to McCune. "Drink that, and keep your mouth shut tight!"
McCune nodded as he gulped down the raw whiskey; it took both his hands to keep the cup from shaking.
"If you promise to keep this conversation to yourself, you can go to my store and tell John I said to give you a bottle of Old Crow. It's on me."
"Can't I have Scotch instead? It's better than Bourbon."
Charley felt a certain satisfaction. McCune sure wasn't a suspect.
The next morning the sheriff crossed to St. Vincent and began the search for mules. Stopping at each bar he inquired who owned the hybrid animals and who regularly bought Old Crow bourbon whiskey. From there he checked the stables at the hotels and the private liveries.
At Fri's Hotel the bartender mentioned that the only mules he knew of locally, outside of those kept at local livery stables, were those owned by the McLarens. "They have several," he said, "I believe old Pete keeps one of Ian's critters over in Grant's barn."
Charley knew Pete picked up spending money by doing odd jobs with the borrowed mule: water hauling, wood delivery and sundry chores. When the question of who favored Old Crow whiskey came up, the name of Joseph Grant was included. At Smith's saloon the bartender remembered the joke Pete had played on Joseph, by stealing his bottle.
"What day did Grant come in for another?"
Stepping from the hotel, Charley found his mind whirling. Things were beginning to fall into place. Oh hell! Damn it all! It's circumstantial, but I'll have to try a bluff.
Leading his horse he walked toward Grant's. As he approached the front of the house, he could hear the sounds of an axe being used. Behind the house he found Pete splitting wood blocks for the kitchen range. The fact that Pete at first glanced up to see him, then ignored his presence, convinced the sheriff of Pete's complicity.
"You know why I'm here, Pete?"
Pete looked at him long and hard, then slowly nodded.
"Why did you do it? Were you drunk?"
Pete resumed chopping.
"I'll have to put you in jail, you know."
The breed looked at him resignedly, and then forcefully buried the axe in the chopping block. Turning to Charley, he said, "I give no trouble." He extended his hands together in front of him, expecting irons.
Charley shook his head. "Don't need them. Come along with me and we'll talk it over."
While the sheriff rode, Pete walked alongside. He seemed morose and taciturn, refusing to discuss the matter, or even speak when Charley shot questions at him.
They crossed on the ferry, then on the piling bridge across the Pembina River. Charley noticed people glancing at them as he and Pete turned toward the jail. When inside the log building, Charley asked, "Why did you do it Pete? You must have had a good reason."
Pete's mind seemed miles away and Charley could get no answer. Finally he opened the cell door and stood to the side. Pete arose and walked in without a word. As the sheriff watched, he lay on the bunk and covered his eyes with his arm.
News of the murder and the capture of the suspect spread like wildfire after the sheriff went to the barbershop. He was forced to notify his part-time jailer, Captain Bob, that his services were required to guard the jail that evening. Charley knew Bob to be a nondescript person, a part-time barber who drank up every cent as fast as it came in. But to Charley's thinking, a jailer needed only two qualifications: he must work for one dollar a day, and he must be immediately available.
"Did Pete really kill Murphy, sheriff?"
"Yup, sure looks like it. He doesn't deny it but he won't tell me why he did it. There's probably a good reason. Maybe Murphy picked a fight with him. I've been told Murphy was looking for a fight in Ryan's saloon the night he was killed. It seems no one was anxious to take him on." He shook his head. "No loss to the community, but the case may cost the county some money. I want you to take the eight to six a.m. shift at the jail, tonight. I'll be there in the morning to relieve you."
Captain Bob was an important man that afternoon. He spread the news that the sheriff had Pete locked up for the murder of Murphy. Most people were complacent about the capture, but a few looked up the sheriff to congratulate him. The kudos left Charley with a feeling of guilt, knowing of Murphy's crime against Mary. He also knew the McLaren family would not like those facts brought to light. Few people of Pembina actually knew Pete as an individual; to most, he was just another no-account half-breed.
Pembina was quiet that Monday evening and the jailer, in an effort to avoid the stifling heat inside the jail, moved his chair just outside the door of the lockup.
It was past midnight when a man walked out of the darkness. He appeared to have been drinking heavily and carried a bottle of whiskey carelessly by the neck. After striking up a conversation with Bob, the man offered to share his bottle. At first Bob refused, knowing well he shouldn't drink on duty. After some conversation and further coaxing, the jailer succumbed to temptation. Within a half hour his head fell forward; he lost consciousness.
His visitor disappeared for a few moments, and then reappeared, accompanied by three other men. Picking up the sleeping jailer, they carried him into the jail and closed the door.
When the sheriff arrived the next morning, he found the outside door padlocked. Applying his key to the lock, he removed it and pushed open the heavy oak door. His jailer lay on the floor as if dead. The cell door was open and Pete was gone. The only apparent damage inside the cell was to the small window; the glass was shattered. When Charley attempted to awaken his assistant, he became concerned. The man acted as if drugged. Touching his carotid artery, he found that Bob's heartbeat was steady, but abnormally slow. His breathing was labored and he seemed to be in a deep sleep.
Leaving the jailer on the floor, Charley checked every detail of the cell. There was blood on several of the larger pieces of glass, an indication of possible foul play. He picked the few shards from the floor and disposed of them in the alley trash barrel. Although he had no evidence to support his theory, he knew instinctively that Pete had been taken from the jail by Murphy's cronies and was by now, probably dead.
It was noon before he could get a coherent word out of his jailer. It took threats of bodily harm to finally elicit the information from Captain Bob that he had yielded to temptation and had shared drinks with a stranger.
Charley felt frustrated. Now he had two suspected murders and only one corpse. He knew instinctively that the guilty ones had to be the railroad friends of Murphy and Brogan. He also knew they would have covered up any trace of their guilt. They certainly wouldn't have crossed the river on the Pembina or Emerson ferries. That would have been too obvious. They more than likely used a local rowboat. He would check the two ferries first though, just to be sure.
It had taken just three hours for the jailer's midnight visitors to dispose of Pete. Tired, but elated with their easy success, they walked the rest of the way to the border. Borrowing one of the many boats tied along the shore, they crossed to Emerson, and feeling safe, reviewed the night's work in quiet tones with a bottle of whisky. The laudanum-laced whiskey with which they had baited Captain Bob had done the job on the careless jailer. One of the men laughed, and said, "Murphy was a miserable bastard, but he was our bastard. No breed is getting away with killing a white man. No one will ever find the body either." He sneered, "They'll never be sure what happened to him."
That afternoon Annette had seen Pete and the sheriff conversing by the barn and wondered what they were discussing. She felt no alarm as Pete accompanied Charley toward the ferry, since there were no signs of hostility between them.
When Pete failed to appear after supper, she walked to Susan's house. While mentioning seeing Pete and the sheriff together, Susan's face contorted with fear. Early that afternoon a neighbor had brought the news of Murphy's corpse being found on the railroad tracks. At the time her whole body had seemed to freeze, and she felt a shortness of breath. Now she knew who her attacker was, and what Pete had done with the body. Did the sheriff suspect Pete? Should she see Charley and explain what had happened? What could she do? What should she do? Her first thought had been to tell Ian and her mother; yet, it might create more problems. Perhaps Pete had other business with Charley, as there were many nights he failed to come home. He had also impressed the need of secrecy upon her.
Ian was still in the field when her mother left for home. Susan knew from the look on the face of her mother that she sensed something was wrong.
Word of Pete's arrest for the murder of Murphy made the rounds of the saloons in St. Vincent late that afternoon, but the information never reached the Grant or McLaren families.
The sheriff's afternoon investigation at the two Emerson ferries was fruitless. The operators disclaimed any knowledge of railroad men crossing the river. Charley knew that both ferries closed down at dusk so the men must have used a rowboat as he had suspected. He doubted anyone from Pembina or the fort being involved as few outsiders were in town that weekend. It was on every other weekend when the railroaders were paid, that he deemed he was underpaid as a law officer.
When he returned to the jail late that afternoon, Charley found Ian's gelding tied to the iron hitch post. Since Ian was nowhere in sight, Charley rode to the livery, removed the saddle from his horse, then raised it to the crossbar. He was leading the animal to the corral just as Ian rode into view. While he removed the bridle, Ian said, "I hear you've got my hired man locked up for killing that bastard Murphy."
"Not any more." Charley shook his head dourly.
"What's that mean?"
"Come over to the office and let's talk. What I have to tell you won't set well, but damned if I know what to do about it."
It took only ten minutes for the sheriff to explain the events since Murphy's death. Ian was shocked. "You mean Pete actually killed Eck Murphy? That's hard to believe."
"Believe it! But for what reason?" Charley's shoulders rose questioningly. Looking Ian in the eye, he said, "I've other news for you. Murphy bore that scar you guessed at. He was the man who attacked your sister. I think he recognized her, too. Why else the attacks upon your family?"
Ian was momentarily speechless, and then exclaimed, "Thank God the S.O.B. is dead! Between he and Brogan they caused us a lot of grief." He shook his head. "I'll speak to Annette and the girls; someone must know what happened between Pete and Murphy. I'll say this, if Pete did kill Murphy as you say, he had a darned good reason."
"That's the heck of it! If we knew what happened, and it went to court, Pete would probably go free. Now, thanks to that stupid-ass Bob, he's more than likely dead."
"But why would Pete kill Murphy? Oh, I know he had no use for the man, but who did? As far as I know, there was no personal animosity between them." Ian shook his head in frustration.
"It's for sure something happened between them. It might take some time to find out what is, but eventually it'll come out. Murphy no doubt had it coming, but murder is still murder, regardless."
"You really think a group of men took Pete from the jail and killed him?"
"Ian, I'm almost positive that's what happened, and he's now dead. Ten to one it was those cronies of Murphy and Brogan. Do you remember any of the men that came into my bar that noon of the fight?"
"Not names, but I remember faces, at least two of them. We worked on the same crew when the roadbed was graded north of Emerson. That was in the fall of '77, just after we arrived here.
"By the way, some time back you mentioned that Jack Bell was going to get their names for you. Did he?"
"No. He's never mentioned it. Evidently he's been distracted by other work. Guess he's got enough trouble keeping those C.P.R. workers in line. 'Spose it's up to me to find them. With so many crews working north of Emerson, those men will never be around town in the daytime. But at night, that's when they'll gravitate to the saloons. Can you spare the time to go across the border after supper tonight?"
"Sure, if it will help find Pete. Why don't you meet me at my house after supper? Better yet, come and eat with us. You haven't seen the interior of our new house. After eating, we can ride over to Emerson and check the bars."
Rising from behind his desk, Charley said, "I’m ready for something to eat, then the trip to Canada tonight. I'll have to turn down your invitation to supper, though, 'cause I've got to see Bill Moorhead. I'll be at your place about seven. Somehow, I'm going to get to the bottom of this." He had a grim look on his face.
When Ian returned to St. Vincent, he was surprised to find the house quiet. Entering their bedroom he found Susan lying on the bed. She was fully clothed and had a damp cloth covering her forehead and eyes. She appeared to be asleep. Immediately concerned, he bent over her and called, "Susan . . . Susan!"
She suddenly sat up, wild-eyed, the damp cloth rolling to the bedspread. Tears began to stream down her cheeks. Anxiously Ian gathered her into his arms in an attempt to comfort her.
"Susan, calm down. Tell me what's wrong."
During the next minutes, amid a vale of tears and nervous shaking, she divulged the details of the attack upon her. "Pete saved me. Oh, Ian, he's my Father! He said so."
It took a few moments for her almost incoherent words to make sense; then Ian remembered her tenseness when she visited him that last night of his shift. "My God! Why didn't you tell me then? We could have straightened this out."
She sat back at arm length, imploring, "Please don't be angry with me." Her cheeks were ashen as she attempted to compose herself.
"I'm not angry, but I'll have to tell Charley." Realization came to him that this was not the time to tell her that her father was in all probability, dead. He smoothed back the long hair from her face. "Charley and I are leaving for Emerson after I have something to eat. I'll explain the happenings to him; I may be late in getting home." To ease her mind he added, "Pete's action was justified. I only wish the opportunity had been mine. Don't worry about a thing sweetheart. It will all straighten out." It was mind-boggling when he thought of the consequences that resulted from hiding the truth. Still, he couldn't second-guess Pete's decision to conceal the act. All that remained now was to find Pete, if alive. Or, if dead, find the men who murdered him.
When Charley arrived, Ian asked him to step into the kitchen. Susan, still sick in mind, had gone to her bed. Relating Susan's story, Ian grimly asked, "What do we do now?"
Charley shook his head disgustedly. "Damn that Pete! This is entirely his fault. If he had reported killing Murphy, it could have been settled."
Ian brooded, "Not necessarily. You know how some of the whites hate the breeds. They'd have found some way to punish or do away with him."
The sheriff pushed away from the table and stood his face taut with anger. "Let's go to Emerson and find out who took Pete from the jail."
Two of the saloons in Emerson were nearly devoid of patrons, but the final stop at the Gateway Hotel, yielded dividends. The bartender looked up briefly as they entered, then resumed washing glassware. Ian immediately nudged Charley. "There are two of Murphy and Brogan's friends seated with others at that far table."
At first the men at the table exchanged furtive glances as they recognized Ian and the sheriff. They pretended indifference, keeping their heads down and conferring in low tones. Ian caught the exchange of cagey smiles as one of them spoke up. "Out late on the wrong side of the line, sheriff?"
"Just looking for people who stay up late and wander to my side of the line," Charley challenged.
The tough turned to his friends at the table. "We wouldn't know anyone who would want to do that, do we, men?"
The hostility of the men at the table was obvious. One of the seated men remarked insinuatingly, "Hell no, sheriff. We're good little boys and stay home at night."
The derision on their faces was obvious. Ian realized his was a no-win situation that could turn ugly, seeing he and Charley were outnumbered. He thought it prudent to withdraw. Evidently Charley felt the same, for, turning away from the men, he ordered two beers from the bartender. Obviously ignored, the men at the table exchanged satisfied smirks.
Sipping his beer, Charley said in an undertone, "We've come to a dead end. We've found our men, I'm sure of it. Now it'll take some thinking and planning to bring them to justice."
On the way back to St. Vincent, Charley seemed optimistic. "I'll speak with some friends and we'll wait it out. Some evidence may turn up."
When Ian offered Charley a bed for the night, the sheriff shook his head. "I'll walk the river with my horse. It's so shallow now that the ferry is having problems. The operator has had to hire a shovel gang to keep the cross-channel open. If we don't get rain soon, the steamboats may have to tie up for the remainder of the season."
The next morning when Charley left his room to breakfast at Mrs. Fisk's, he met Ned Cavalier on the street. Ned had a whimsical look on his face. "Cripes, Charley, you're popular. You've got the whole Indian tribe from the north camp waiting at your jail."
"Reckon they want to know what you did with Pete."
"I'd like to know myself. Oh, well, I'll have to face them."
He judged that over fifty Indians turned to watch his approach. Recognizing their chief, Matawin, he asked. "What's this meeting about?"
Beckoning Matawin to follow him inside, Charley thrust out a chair to him. He explained that Pete had been in the cell and had disappeared. Pointing out the broken window in which a few small shards remained, he said disgustedly, "I've got to fix that." He failed to mention that Captain Bob had been drugged and that the cell door was open when he arrived the next morning. Matawin stood, and then walked into the cell to appraise the window. The aperture was too small for a human to crawl through. Apparently satisfied, the Indian chief walked past the sheriff and out the door, joining the group standing outside. The Indians gathered around him while he spoke; then they began drifting back north toward their encampment.
Puzzled, the sheriff locked the outside jail door and began walking back to his store. Meeting Bill Moorhead, he asked, "What do you suppose those Indians wanted?" He explained that he had shown Matawin the cell with the broken window.
Moorhead looked serious. "Didn't you know Pete was a Midewewan? Matawin probably figured Pete changed himself into a bird and flew out the window. I know it sounds crazy, but it's a part of their beliefs."
"You're kidding me!"
"Nope. Go to their camp and ask them if you don't believe me."
Charley could see Bill was serious and not joking. "Oh, I believe you. You've lived with these Indians a lot longer than me. Still, it's hard to believe." He shook his head, realizing how little he knew of the Indian dogma.
Susan seemed unable to recover from the shock of losing her father. Day after day she moped, as if in a dream world. Ian was frantic to find something to bring her back to reality. Finally Maggy's visit brought some semblance of order to their household. She determined to disclose the secret of Mary's attack. After Susan heard the story, she sat transfixed, as if unbelieving.
"What a horrible experience to have undergone at her age! Oh, Maggy, it happened to me, too, and it would have been worse. I'm glad he's dead, but it won't bring back my Father. Ian tries to keep my hope up by saying he may still be alive, but in my heart I know those men who took him from the jail murdered him. Is there no justice for Indians and we mixed bloods? I've asked my Mother time and time again why they kept their secret from us, but she just looks at me silently and shakes her head. I know she misses Pete, for she sits alone in the kitchen, hour after hour, saying nothing."
"Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the man your mother married couldn't give her children. You know, you should be thankful to have enjoyed your true father as long as you did. As you have said, he was always the one you girls looked up to as a father. You've said he was always kind to you through the years. He must have loved you both as well as your mother."
"Yes, looking back I remember how he helped with the cooking and work around the house. He was the one who cut and split the stove wood, hauled the ice, and kept us going. He was the one who took us on his lap when we were young. I know he had an occasional drinking problem, but now I realize the tension he must have been under, taking orders from his older brother. He must have constantly worried about being cast out of the house." She looked at Maggy questioningly, "What will mother do without my father to hold things together?"
"We'll take that as it comes. I suspect Ian will take up the slack. Your mother is Ian's responsibility now, and you'll both see her provided for. It's always a problem for older folks when they can no longer work. Someday, I hope things will be different. At least she has her job at the fort and Marguerite is still unmarried and working."
Almost a month after Pete's disappearance, a Mennonite farmer who lived west of Emerson sought out the sheriff. He had walked across the border from the north, in his quest for supplies. Reaching the jail late in the afternoon, he had difficulty in stating his purpose due to the language barrier.
"I find foot of dead man, dead Indian."
"Where?" asked the sheriff.
"Where I walk from." The farmer pointed north.
"When do you go home?"
"I buy, maybe some time."
"Come back to me then. I'll go with you to see."
Charley waited impatiently until the farmer returned an hour and a half later with his knapsack bulging with supplies. Hurriedly Charley tied the man's bag behind his saddle, and mounted his horse, trying to hasten the stolid Mennonite. Moving north toward the border they approached an uprooted tree where the man stopped and pointed at the ground. Charley knew they stood on the Vaughn homestead land. Slipping from the saddle he immediately saw part of a moccasin clad foot protruding from the ground. As no grass or weeds grew on the spot it was obvious the dirt fill was of recent origin. Charley surmised the recent rains had settled the fill, exposing the foot. A darn poor internment he thought; those railroaders were careless. Breaking part of a branch from the downed tree, he dug away enough dirt to satisfy himself that the body was truly Pete.
Returning to his horse, Charley untied the farmer's pack, and handed it to him. Thanking the Mennonite for leading him to the location of the dead man, he mounted his horse and returned to Pembina.
Just before dark that same evening, he returned with a shovel and completed the burial. All the way home he debated whether or not to divulge this recent turn of events, then decided it would serve no useful purpose. He realized that unless at least one of the guilty parties confessed to the murder of Pete, the culprits would in all probability never be punished.
It was Mike who finally brought Susan back to full reality. He appeared at the back door early on a Saturday morning carrying two wrapped fish lines and a small sack. Ian looked up from the breakfast table as the boy entered. "Plan on fishing today, Mike?"
"I want to, but can't unless you come with me. Mother won't let me go to the river alone 'cause I can't swim."
Ian looked to Susan. "I can't go with him today. I promised to help the boys move the teams and plows out east. Can you go with him? You like to fish."
She looked interested. "Have you dug up some worms for bait, Mike?"
His face lit up. "I'm after catfish -- got a bunch of frogs here." He held up the small sack. They could see the movement inside as the frogs struggled.
A smile came to Susan's face, the first Ian had seen in nearly a week. His hopes rose when he saw her perk up.
"Susan, you've been working too hard, almost from dawn until dusk. It's either been the house or garden. Take a break and go fishing with Mike."
A flash of color came to her face. "You know, you may be right. I thought hard work would make me forget, but it's just ground my troubles more into me." She turned to Mike.
"Sure, we'll go down to the Red River and I'll show you my favorite spot. How come you don't go swimming with Jerold and Knute?"
"Ah, they're always over at Olanders now, gawking at those two girls."
"Ian, why don't you take Mike swimming sometime?"
"Remember, you're the swimming champion." He smiled knowingly.
Susan almost blushed when she remembered the Sunday afternoon they spent south of the fort, the week before they were married. "It would be unseemly for me to teach him," she said softly, and then she turned to Mike. "Give me a few minutes to put on some old clothes."
Mary was as regular as a clock about writing home. A letter arrived nearly every week, telling about Army life and their new friends. She often enclosed letters she and Kirby received from the Ralstons. In June the letter that Maggy had fervently hoped for, arrived. Her wishes had been fulfilled. "Oh, Pat! Mary is expecting!"
His head lifted from the newspaper and he nodded sagely, "Guess it was bound to happen. How's Kirby doing? Does she say?"
Maggy's gaze appeared to be on the lamp flame, despite a flying miller that had somehow slipped into the house and was repeatedly attacking the hot chimney. For long moments she was silent, and then said dreamily, "At last our troubles seem to be over. Lordy, it's strange! Mary's troubles began with the railroad; then both of those horrible men met their fate due to the railroad."
"Yes, and this fall after harvest time, Ian and I are quitting the St. Paul and Pacific. We're going to be full time farmers."
Maggy marveled, "Just think, we've two grandchildren on the way, and soon it will be Jerold and Knute thinking of marriage. She turned to gaze at him fondly, "How many grandchildren do you suppose we'll have?"
He smiled as he reached for his pipe. "I hope many, and we're going to spoil every one of them!"
1 - Actually, there will be one further posting related to this book...Chuck wrote an epilogue, which I will be sharing soon...