THE RENEGADE LADY SHERIFF by bsoiree C-SRE 2005 Sequel to “Fetchin’ Cousin Minnie” and subsequent to “Willy’s Present.”
Disclaimer: This story is fictional though some of the places are real. Physical descriptions of the characters may vaguely remind you of two others, but they aren’t them. Certainly any similarity between anyone living or dead is entirely coincidental. All characters are the sole possession of the author and the story may not be reproduced, posted or sold without the author’s consent.
Subtext: This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If you are underage or this type story is illegal where you live, don’t read it.
Violence: It’s a western--those were times of customary wildness and, all too often, violence.
For the Lady whose smile warms my soul.
The Renegade Lady Sheriff
Section I ~ Voices from the Past
A week before Christmas, 1875
In a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston, Mrs. Sarah Fitzgeraldson, widow, clutched a letter to her bosom, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Mother, what is it?” Reggie, her young teenaged son inquired. He frantically dropped his large armload of firewood near the fireplace and rushed to the older woman.
They’d lit the candles, and he was about to replenish the fire to counteract the growing chill. Out on the street light snow was falling, holding the countryside in the unrelentingly frigid grasp of the last weeks of 1875, seeming to force them to remain in a year they’d found rife with the strange combination of horror and emancipation.
They were looking forward to a hopeful New Year. Mother and son were both optimistic it would bring more happiness to their lives since they were now out of the horrid grasp of her husband and his father, Broghan Fitzgeraldson Senior. The man’s untimely demise traveling in Sacramento had freed them both.
But a huge shadow hung over their lives. In the confusion Meghan Kate, the widow’s innocent, beloved youngest daughter had disappeared. She had been traveling with her father and was supposed to have met and married Lendal Hindelfarb, a man Mrs. Fitzgeraldson knew as a violent wife beater. And they could neither prove nor disprove that Meghan Kate had met up with him. Their sorrow at her disappearance was constant.
“What’s happened, Mother?”
“It’s Meghan,” his mother whispered. “My darling Meghan Kate.”
“Is she....dead?” Reggie asked hesitantly, taking a step back from that ghastly thought. So much death had swirled around them. He wasn’t sure they could bear the certainty that Meghan Kate had indeed passed.
Mrs. Fitzgeraldson’s younger sister, the owner and co-occupant of the cottage, rushed to her sister’s side. “Have ye found the lass then? What is it, Sarah? Tell us.”
“I’ve found her,” through glistening tears her gaze swept with amazed delight from person to person. “She’s alive...and well.” Just saying the words released the tight grip of worry that had surrounded her heart for the last half year, and a smile creased her wrinkled face.
“Where? Where’s she been all this time?” the boy asked.
Reggie along with his mother had prayed Meghan would be found unharmed. Considering Lendal’s viciousness, her safety was always in question. Meghan’s mother had been positive and had later been proved correct, that Lendal Hindelfarb had beaten her friend Ruby, his first wife, to death. If Meghan Kate had angered him.....well, that was too horrible to consider. So she’d committed her sin to save her daughter from this man. But she knew it didn’t make the deed right. Nothing could do that.
For months they’d heard no word. The girl had simply disappeared. They knew she would have to have hidden, if she’d gotten away. But what if she hadn’t escaped? To the end as Lendal stood at the gallows accused of murdering his friend Broghan, he had smugly refused to say anything he might know about his young fiancee's whereabouts. Of course, he also claimed no knowledge of the whereabouts of his first wife, whose skeleton of broken bones the Sacramento Marshall finally found buried in Lendal’s upper pasture.
Meghan Kate’s mother gazed at the letter. “Remember the Sheriff that the Sacramento Marshall suggested that I contact, a Sheriff Sargos of Barden’s Corner? They all had ridden together on the stage headed to Sacramento before Broghan’s ...uh, untimely death. It was something of a last chance. Anyway, I did write. I received back this letter.” She held it out. “Meghan Kate’s there. She’s with the Sheriff, a lady Sheriff.”
Two breathless faces stared back at her, absorbing her words.
“Ya say a lady Sheriff?” her sister raised a brow. “Yer speakin’ of a WOMAN sheriff? La me!” She paused to rub her chin, “Don’t seem like sech a decent job fer a woman,” She scowled for a minute or two before she shrugged, “but tis things done differently out west, aye?” She tried, but she couldn’t imagine it. The idea was too outlandish.
“Well, Meghan Kate seems to think this Sheriff is a remarkably wonderful person,” the older sister replied. “I guess the woman’s very tall with blue eyes and black hair. Meghan says she’s kind, beautiful, daring, brave and my darling girl just goes on and on about her. And since she got my sweet, innocent Meghan Kate safely away from both her father and Lendal, I have to agree wholeheartedly.”
“A lady Sheriff,” her young son breathed, letting the idea roll around his mind. “Amazing.” In a daze, he lifted a log and placed it on the fire.
“Oh my, I must sit down.” Mrs. Fitzgeraldson nervously settled into the old chintz-covered chair by the fire once used exclusively by her younger sister’s elderly husband, now deceased. She pulled the shawl from the back of the chair and wrapped it around her shoulders to shield the draft.
“Wait a minute. Barden’s Corner? Isn’t that just over the mountains and into the hills from where we used to live in Jubilee City, where our family’s wagon shop still is?” the boy used the poker to adjust the log as he spoke. The two of them had spared little time fleeing the beastly hot California desert town of Jubilee City to come live with Mrs. Fitzgeraldson’s younger widowed sister across the continent in Boston.
Reggie pulled the small fireplace stool closer to his mother and sat, his eager young face looking up at her with happiness. At thirteen, the youngest of all her children, Reggie bore the least of his father’s dreadful influence. Meghan Kate, at twenty-one, was her youngest daughter.
His aunt dropped back into her own matching fireplace chair but did not pull her ever-present knitting into her lap yet. Nor did she dip out a pinch of snuff as usual. Instead she wrapped that chair’s faded shawl over her shoulders, tied it in a close knot and briefly mulled over the new situation.
She looked at her older sister. “Oh, Sarah, I’m so pleased for ya, lass. I know what a bothersome worry not knowin’ was.” She smiled her warm smile, letting her other thoughts about the propriety of a lady Sheriff go. The younger sister rubbed her wrinkled hands together, kneading with her fingers to ease the usual joint pain before she considered her knitting.
As she waited, the mantle clock ticked then sounded a hitch and struck five times. As though it were a cue, the younger widow grabbed her knitting needles and sheathed them under her arm as she arranged the yarn to pull more freely. Her eyes met her sister’s and she paused. “Now ye kin dispatch that thundercloud’s been sittin’ in yer heart, and lose that long face fer the holiday season this year, since you’ve located yer darlin’ datter alive. When me datter Bridget’s family comes fer Christmas, kin we expect a grand smile across both yer charmin’ faces?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Fitzgeraldson’s eyes had overflowed again and she graced her sister with a tearful smile. She glanced at her son. “You surely can.”
Reggie grinned in agreement. “And you can sleep better each night now, Mother,” he concluded, rising to continue seeing to the fire. He had noticed how poorly she seemed to sleep these days.
His mother got a far away look. “Perhaps.” Her gaze fell tenderly on her youngest as he added one more log to the blaze. I’m kept up by my sins, my child. You see, I told the authorities the pocket watch Lendal had was my husband’s. It was exactly like it, but it had no scratches. It couldn’t have been Broghan’s. And that was the final evidence that got Lendal convicted and hung for Broghan’s murder. That deadly bold-faced lie--alas, I’ve willfully taken a life-- Lendal’s life.
The older woman rubbed a hand across her face. No, I will not be sleeping well for a long time, I fear. That horrid sin I’ll take to my grave. Her face brightened. But my darling Meghan is safe. And that’s a grand, grand blessing.
The new green log in the fireplace sizzled and sang in the background, casting a soft, flickering glow in the tidy room. It would burn for hours among the dry wood that flashed and burned all too rapidly.
“What else, Mother,” the boy asked, sitting back down. “What else did she say?”
Meghan Kate’s Mother wore a look of indecision when she looked out at the two, “Well, uh... she, uh, she says she’s entered into a marriage agreement with a gentleman, uh, the Sheriff’s cousin.”
“Meghan’s married to someone besides Lendal? Wonderful!” Reggie beamed. “Wait, he doesn’t beat her, does he?” He didn’t add, ‘like father used to beat you,’ but they all heard the unstated thought.
“Marriage agreement?” her sister stopped, her needles in hand, “Tis a fancy turn a phrase. What pray kin it be meanin’? Tis she married er no?”
Kate’s mother looked at the letter again, “Well, she says her last name is Sargos now, so they must have married already.” She frowned.
The younger woman looked over, “I’ll not be understandin’ the ways o’ tha Californians soon, and that’s a gospel truth. ‘Signed a marriage agreement’--bruits about as particular as purchasin’ a new bonnet er orderin’ cords a wood fer winter. Does the dear lass tell ya anathin’ more clarifyin’?” The younger sister saw the confusion in her sister’s eyes.
“Yes. She says the man in question is away in the city of the angels searching his fortune. She says he’s trained as an attorney. Then she talks about sharing some ownership of the ranch with the lady Sheriff. She’s trying to learn everything she can about ranching, she says.”
“Ah, well, there ya are. The man’s searchin’ fer fortune. Why didn’t ya say as much? Many a California ‘widow’, that’s what we calls ‘em, lives right in this fair city awaiting her husband’s eventual return, gittin’ by as best she can till then, poor dear. Some have waited years, poor lost souls. Yer young datter’s wise ta stay where she’s well fed and looked after.” The sister’s needles began to fly, a blue stocking growing as she knit. Then she stopped in mid-pearl, “She tis well fed, aye?”
“Far as I know. She says she’s lacking for nothing,” Meghan’s mother glanced at the letter, “And she says she’s never been happier.”
“Ah, saints be praised, then,” the sister replied, her needles again flying. “Course, tis her husband that has ownership. Perhaps she’ll inherit if he passes a’fore her.”
“I wonder where she met him?” Reggie asked. As usual the boy unconsciously ran a finger above his upper lip, hoping every time to find a line of down that might make it known to one and all that he had been dispatched from boyish childhood.
“It doesn’t say. It says very little about him, actually. Maybe he was riding on the stage with them. Or maybe she met him at the ranch. He is the Sheriff’s cousin.”
“What else does she say?” Meghan Kate’s young brother wheedled.
His mother looked at the letter and smiled more warmly, “She says she’s raising two small children abandoned when outlaws killed their parents. Poor little things. Two delicate little orphaned girls the Sheriff brought home. One she’s named for me and the other for the Sheriff's mother. She says their relatives could still claim them, but she’d be heartbroken at this point if they did.”
“Named for you, Mother,” the boy beamed.
“Yes,” his mother smiled back, “It’s an honor indeed. And she said their housekeeper is a widow with six small children living there as well. She said the housekeeper had the misfortune of having to bury her infant son in the fall and then a miscarriage followed by her husband’s death not long after. So sad. Meghan Kate said the two of them cook for all the hands.”
“Yellow fever, I suppose,” the aunt remarked. “That and cholera always takes its toll. Or was it somethin’ else razed the housekeeper’s family?”
“I don’t know. Meghan Kate doesn’t say.” The older woman replied.
“Meghan has a housekeeper?” Reggie asked. A smile cascaded across his young face. “Did you ever think she’d have a housekeeper?”
“Reggie, dear,” his mother replied, “we’ll both have to remind each other I expect. Your sister says she’s going by ‘Kate’ now because ‘Meghan’ reminds her too much of her life with her father.”
“She wants to be called ‘Kate?’” the young son reiterated. “Kate Sargos, I don’t know if I can get used to that.”
“Yes, Kate Sargos. Well, we’re all starting new lives these days,” his mother said thoughtfully. And indeed, the better part of her life could begin anew now that her precious daughter had been located. Her face almost ached with all the smiling she’d done. Smiles and tears, and in the background guilt--the ever-present guilt.
Tears brimmed in her eyes again. “She said she was pleased that I was away from her father’s brutality. She said she thought about me often and asked if I was well and if there was anything she could do to help me. And she asked about you and Murphy left at home, Reggie. She worried that you’d be sent to your older brothers after your father’s death.”
“Yes, she knows what Broghan and Peter are like,” Reggie’s unhappy thoughts settled on his two oldest brothers who had taken over their father’s wagon business in Jubilee City and were all too much like their father. They were cheating their mother out of her share of the estate, they were overbearing and brutish and would have been horrible to live with had he or Murphy, who’d gone to stay with their sister’s family in Arizona, made that choice.
Then a new thought occurred to the boy. His smile returned, “You know, mother, if her husband’s trained as an attorney...isn’t that what you said? Anyway, maybe he could help you get your widow’s share from Broghan the younger and Peter. Isn’t that what attorneys do? We don’t have any other lawyer in the family and if they can afford a housekeeper...”
“Gracious!” His mother glanced at her sister. They had come to stay here, fully intending to pay their fair share. We’re getting by now with what I was able to scrape together. But with Broghan the younger not sending me any funding of any kind, there’ll come a day probably in the near future when my funds will run out. Then what? Perhaps a lawyer could help.
She examined the treasured letter again, “It’s different having a housekeeper on a ranch, Reggie. It doesn’t mean you’re well off. Especially a housekeeper with six small children. It’s not like in town. All those ranch hands and children to feed. But there’s never been an attorney in our family before, you’re right there. I wouldn’t want to impose on his time, of course.”
A frown formed.. Meghan Kate’s mother wasn’t sure she liked the idea of her precious daughter marrying, particularly someone she didn’t know. Her own marriage had been such a horrid affair. She wanted a better life for her girl. “I wonder what he’s like. I hope he’s kind.”
Seeing his mother beginning to worry, her son quickly replied, “Meghan would have chosen well without father’s influence. You know that’s true.”
“Yes. You’re right. And she says often enough that she’s extremely happy.” The older woman carefully reexamined the contents of the letter. “I hope she continues to be.” Her finger lovingly moved over the script written by her adored daughter, “Yes, she says right here,” he’s trained as an attorney”. She held the letter to her bosom again and looked at the other two, “Maybe he could just write me a smidgen of advice on what to do. I’m at a loss there all right.”
“And if he can’t, maybe the Sheriff can,” Reggie suggested righteously. “You must write Meg...uh, Kate and I’ll write a note to put in with yours.”
“Yes,” his mother smiled easily. “I planned to write her a long letter. Oh, what happiness! Meghan Kate is safe! I could almost dance with joy!” Considering that dancing was something her dead husband had never let them do, that was saying something.
“Me, too,” Reggie beamed. His eyes twinkled with delight at the news. Of his six sisters, Meghan Kate was his favorite. And she was safe!
His mother quieted, her lip trembled, “She said she has my gloves that I gave her when Broghan hauled her out of the house without warning that horrible morning.” They’d been the only item the older woman could think of at the time to give her daughter on such short notice. “He didn’t know about them or he’d have been furious. Goodness, they weren’t new. And they were too big for her, but she says she wears them on all special occasions. She says she feels closer to me every time she puts them on. She says sometimes in the evenings when she’s in her room she takes them out and puts them on just to bring me closer.”
She dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. Then her gaze moved to the boy, casting him a smile so brilliant it filled every corner of the small cottage with its radiance, “She’s safe! Meghan Kate is safe!” A shiver of excitement ran through her, and she gently kissed the letter.
Lendal didn’t get to her. He didn’t track her down like an animal and harm her as he certainly would have tried to do. She shut her eyes. Lord help me, I’d commit my horrible sin again to protect her if I had to.
Her son’s voice brought her back to the cottage, “We’ve a cheery future now, for sure, Mother. With the most promising New Year of all...1876.”
“Yes, the centennial year,” his mother mused. “And my daughter’s safe.”
“And Hallelujah, she’s been found!” Reggie grinned.
“I doubt she thought she was lost, but she was to us,” his mother agreed.
The precious letter would be kept on the mantel behind the clock and would be lovingly handled by Sarah Fitzgeraldson at least once, and likely many more times than that, every day. But for this evening it would stay in Mrs. Fitzgeraldson’s capacious apron pocket, close at hand, her warm hand over it, to be opened and reread a multitude of times before bedtime.
Her beloved youngest daughter was safe...found...unharmed, alive and well! Alive. And well. Thank the Heavens!
Continued in Section II, Trouble at Wild Horse Creek, Chapter 4--Mystery
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