THE RENEGADE LADY SHERIFF by bsoiree C-SRE 2005 Sequel to 'Fetchin' Cousin Minnie and '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, yes, violence.

For the Lady who owns my heart. Hey, babe.




The Renegade Lady Sheriff

by bsoiree


Section II ~ Trouble at Wild Horse Creek


Chapter 8 ~ Coroner's Jury

Barden's Corner, foothills, California

A few days after Christmas, 1875

Gaine had driven Mary Jane's team down the street almost to the bridge when she was summoned back to a Coroner's Jury that was being called in the new hotel. With a heavy sigh she turned the team and headed back. It hadn't taken more than fifteen minutes to call such a group. “Frontier justice shore done bees swift,” she grumbled.

The Mayor had called for a Coroner's Jury and the men of the town had agreed with a mighty “Aye.” Mr. Delorney, the proprietor of the not quite finished new hotel, insisted that it be held in his new building for such could hold a much larger group of persons than any saloon and certainly more than Skip's small shop. After all, numbers of extra people had been filtering into town all week for the New Year's dance.

Some of the more cynical whispered that it was for the convenience of Mr. Antonie DeLorney's pockets since it was well known that if Coroner's Jurys were held where drinks were available, and trials always were, the owner could make a handsome profit. But this time dinners and even room rentals might ensue from the New Year's dance visitors.

En masse the larger than normal crowd had bundled themselves and the one criminal's dead body the few doors down to the new hotel, leaving Skip's assistant to toil alone over Ernie's pine coffin. Ernie's body was reverently covered with an old green cloth from a monte table and carried on a displaced door, the crowd moving aside, hushed, to let it pass until it was placed ceremoniously upon two sawhorses in the great room up near the wood stove.

From the moment the hotel doors had opened, drinks were served on the bar side to the men who congregated to witness the proceedings. Everyone entered the small parlor-like hotel entrance gasping at its beauty. Its floor was covered with an Oriental carpet. Behind a solid oak desk an oak stairway led to the upstairs. A long, red horsehair sofa sat to the side of the door with cane-bottomed chairs forming a small tete-a-tete area complete with small round table and beautifully ornate kerosene lantern. The elegance was unheard of here so far off the main roads.

To the left side of the hotel desk was a small cloak closet and beyond that the barroom itself. Pristine copper spittoons ran below the heavy oak bar, a long copper rail in front and a dazzlingly splendid mirror behind, set off by a background of decanters, bottles, cigar-vases and brandied fruit. Behind the bar stood a man still in his carpentry apron, since he had hurriedly been assigned to serve as bartender.

To the right of the parlor-like entrance, the stiff body of the dead outlaw was moved unceremoniously to the front of the great room and placed on the wood pile near the blazing stove where the Coroner and the duly appointed jury's chairs were quickly being placed.

Even the ladies were accommodated in the back of the room normally used as a dining area since Mr. DeLorney's wife was sure many might convince their husbands to return again once they'd officially opened to stay for an evening meal. In her mind she was hurriedly trying to determine what they might announce they would serve that very night as a rushed meal, since a crowd was already assembled. What did they have that she might serve quickly?

A reverence for the red, white and blue banners hanging on the walls for the dance, red-calico curtains and crimson calico table linens was excitedly discussed by the fairer sex as they settled into place although all entrants were agog. For in half a week they and their families would be here to celebrate New Year's Eve at this very fashionable locale for the area's finest dance. Their new hotel was, in a word, exquisite. Their excitement this day, it seemed, knew no end.

The building quickly filled with people, including the Judge's wife. Skip Garby, as Coroner, presided up front. Benches were hurriedly arranged and everyone got seated. They waited for Gaine to tie her team and enter the hotel before the doors were shut to block off the noise from the street.

Proceedings were commenced as a jury was voted in. The crowd stilled as the eight austere men of the hastily chosen jury crowded around the remaining dead criminal on the wood pile. Skip pointed out how this man, known as Ardmore, had been shot in the face. Skip spoke so all could hear, “This man faced his inevitability. Not at all like our dear friend Ernie. Ernie..” he moved to the draped figure and lightly placed his hand on it, “was shot in the back! I've been Coroner a long time, and I'm telling you, there's no question of that! Shot with his back turned!”

All eyes focused on the covered body. Ernie was well known around town, a family man not unlike most of the men present. A stir of anger rose from the crowd. “Ernie was our friend, a member of our church and town citizen,” Skip continued, “After tomorrow he will reside on our hill outside town where all who knew and loved him may visit. It's only fitting that the men who shot him should be placed in criminal graves where we may all remember their dastardly deed.” He paused, “Now I'm calling on Doc to have his say.” Skip moved to his chair and sat.

Everyone looked around. Where was Doc? Then the doors to the hotel opened and Doc strode inside, moving from the parlor-like entrance to the big room, rolling down his sleeves, called, it appeared, from what must have been his professional duties. It made the crowd shiver. He moved to the front by Skip and looked out over the assemblage.

“I have just performed a post-mortem examination of the criminal known as Cookerson. Gentlemen, that gunslinger was shot right between the eyes. Right here.” He pointed to his own forehead between his eyebrows. “This outlaw SAW what he was up against.” He paused for emphasis, “And here is Gaine's shot that did him in!” He held up the ruined bullet.

The crowd gasped, some folks' hands going to their hearts, then all eyes shifted to Gaine, who stood leaning quietly against the wall on her good shoulder wishing the proceedings would hurry up. She glanced out over the crowd seeing Etta in the back fervently gazing her direction. She wanted to smile at her friend, but was in no mood to smile at anything.

“How do you know he was a gunslinger?” someone called.

Doc smiled. “Gentlemen, I believe it is accurate to say that I am an expert on the hands of gun slingers, as some of you are well aware. I've spent a number of years studying just that and have a fascinating collection of scientific specimens if any of you are interested in seeing them. The charge is minimal. So while this man showed signs of expertise shooting with either hand....” he paused to let that information bring a murmur from the crowd, “I can equivocally announce, he WAS without a doubt a gun slinger. Of course, he all but claimed as much anyway when he was in town two mornings ago.”

Doc turned to leave then turned back. “Oh, by the way, I have gone through this man's pockets. He had enough coinage to pay for both men's coffins and their postmortems with some left over for the town's coffers.”

Another happier stir arose as Mr. DeLorney quietly drew to his feet. “Gentlemen, while we think on these circumstances, I propose a drink on the house for our diligent jury and half-price drinks for everyone else.” Half-price, of course, was a relative thought. The half prices were only slightly less than the other saloons charged as full price. Yet it was enough to have the men swarming from the great room into the bar, returning, drinks in hand to their benches again.

Once everyone was again seated, the Mayor rose, drawing on his most fervent political eloquence to make a great deal of the fact that the Lorences, while lovely people, were not citizens of Barden County and that Gaine's salary wasn't paid to patrol another county. “She had no jurisdiction there,” he emphasized. “Nor was her salary, your hard-earned money, gentlemen, meant to pay for such a journey. At the very least her salary should be curtailed for the days she spent out of our county.”

That impressed some of the jury and some taxpayers but they had sent for Dalton and Mrs. Lorence. While they waited, Mr. DeLorney again suggested a drink on the house for the jury and half-price drinks for everyone else. A more subdued, pondering group of about the same size rose to take advantage of that offer.

The crowd filtered back as Dalton took the chair. He explained that he had asked Gaine to do some tracking to help find his missing friend who happened to be Mary Jane's husband and father of three tiny youngsters. “Cause I tried and lost trail. But you fellas all know Gaine can track bees in a blizzard. Ain't nobody better fer miles around.”

“Yep” “Shore” “You bet” was all heard from the jury.

“And if it were YOUR family, you'd want HER out there trackin'.”

Most all heads nodded in agreement.

“And Sheriff Wilson WAS notified,” Dalton continued. “Notification was sent. We've heard he's not recovered, you understand. He still has injuries from that last manhunt. There was no way he could do the searching himself.” He added that Gaine had thrown the malefactors out of Barden's Corner first thing on the morning when they were intimidating townsfolk. “You remember what they were like,” he made eye contact about the room. “Anyone that was in town that morning knew they were highly skilled gunslingers threatening our town.”

The crowd sobered completely. “Terrible men, frightened our womenfolk,” one of the jury exclaimed. All seemed to be in agreement at that thought, though there had certainly been a number of menfolk from town that had been cowed by the criminals themselves. All eyes went to the body on the woodpile. He no longer looked like much of a threat.

“Therefore,” Dalton continued, “Gaine's actions were a continuation of a local problem from right here in town and did involve her jurisdiction.”

While this was pondered, the bearded stroking their beards in thought, the Mayor jumped to his feet and contended that there was no evidence Sheriff Wilson had given Gaine permission to operate officially in his county. She was surely taking things into her own hands while the townspeople were paying her to take care of their county and their county only. It was Sheriff Wilson's job to handle the outlaws in Sierrasotta County. He could have sent someone after them. Their deaths at Gaine's hand were not warranted.

It was clear some in the jury were undecided.

Dalton replied that the killers had been looking for trouble right on Barden's Corner streets, so Gaine HAD been taking care of their county's business. “You saw them. She threw them out, but who's to say they wouldn't have snuck back in the dead of night. No telling who they might have gone after here in town once Gaine had her back turned. No, she NEEDED to stop them once and for all, for the town's sake.”

Dalton rose and walked to Ernie's covered body. “This,” he lovingly ran a gentle hand along the covering, “could have been you,” Dalton turned and pointed at a man in the jury, “Or you,” he pointed at another, “Or you or you.” As a group they shrunk back. He pointed around the room, “or any of us. I say, Thank God Gaine stopped them.”

Rumblings of agreement arose from the horde followed by the same proposition by Mr. DeLorney regarding drinks. Again the majority of the men rose to refresh themselves. A hush fell over the returning crowd as Mary Jane was ushered to a chair up front. Everyone seated themselves in silence.

She took the chair, looked piteously at Ernie's covered body then nervously explained that her family was a member of the Barden's Corner Church and they had almost always done their shopping at Daniel's mercantile in town.

“But you do not RESIDE in Barden County,” the Mayor interrupted as gently as he was able.

“No,” she replied quietly, everyone leaning forward to hear though they all knew where she lived. “But we're closer to here than to Big Creek.” Then she gave a sorrowful testimony regarding her husband being shot in the back, how she had identified Ernie's rifle in the men's possession, the very same men who had been here in town, then she included the extent of Gaine's wounds that she had treated.

That shocked nearly everyone, including Gaine. Gaine gritted her teeth and worried about the danger in the unfriendly element finding out the extent of her injuries. All eyes shifted to her. She'd never been injured in any serious manner in a shoot out before. Sure, she'd come back bloody from gunfights before, the town was used to seeing her with an occasional scratch or scrape. But in most instances, it had been the outlaws' blood on her.

“Warn't nuthin,” she assured everyone. “Jest done singed me.”

“They took you by surprise?” Skip asked. That was just as unheard of.

“Uh, whal, we war diggin' up Ernie's body, Alonzo'n me, from tha shalla grave we done dis-covered. Ahs din't ‘spect ‘em, tis true. Shoulda, Ah reckon. Theys had theyselfs rafles, war set up ta smoke usn's down good.” All ears strained to hear every word of what had happened.

Much to her disgruntlement, they had Gaine turn while Mary Jane pointed out the scrubbed bullet hole in the back of the Sheriff's jacket. The discolored repair in her pant leg was noticeable, though it had been sewn shut.

“Jest winged me. Warn't nuthin,” Gaine reiterated, shaking herself free and going back to stand near the wall.

But the shoulder shot had made a big impression on the jury. “She was shot in...the...back ,” Skip announced, “just like Ernie. What low-down dirty dog shoots someone in the back?”

“Whal, warn't jest lahk Ernie,” Gaine protested. “Ernie war kilt outraht. Ah raturned fahr ‘n kilt ‘em both.” Gaine gave a very short version of what had happened before the jury adjourned to the bar to debate. Now each juror found it necessary to pay half price for his own drink, which each man did. Skip, of course, went with them.

Silence overtook the great room again as Mary Jane was escorted out of the hotel by Dalton, followed by four men solemnly carrying Ernie's body back to Skip's. Mrs. DeLorney moved to some gentlemen and whispered something. They rose as a group, rolled the outlaw in his saddle blanket and carried him from the hotel as everyone watched. When the crowd turned back to the front, the sawhorses had already been removed, the pieces of wood the outlaw had been placed upon were being fed into the working stove where fire licked eagerly at them, and death no longer had a presence.

There was a hesitation in the main crowd until Mr. DeLorney proclaimed all drinks would again be half priced. Such a crowd rose to move to the bar that there was no quiet room left for the jury to deliberate.

Drinks in hand, the men of the jury moved into the cloak room for privacy as the bar swelled with the men from the audience. Standing at the bar entrance, Mrs. DeLorney called for quiet then announced to both sides of the building that directly after the Jury's decision, the dining room would be set with tables and cloth covers and would be serving a modest meal of oyster soup, boiled ham, fried oysters with potatoes and onions topped off with coffee and mince pie for 25 cents. They were not officially open, she remarked, but...she looked toward the women in the was the least they could do to help all those whose interests lay with helping the new widow prepare her dear departed for burial.

Meanwhile, the jury was, it appeared, of similar fixed opinions in discussing their conclusions. Gaine had been fired upon, waylaid in fact. They decided that was clear. You didn't hit Gaine in the back without firing the first shot from a hidden position. Gaine would never have turned her back unless she was unaware someone was there. She had been ambushed, plain and clear. The men of the jury concluded that debate in short order.

The young man who would serve for the next few years as Barden's Corner's schoolmaster dutifully took notes. It was further agreed that the problem had begun in Barden's Corner the morning the two outlaws had harassed the citizens.

Finally the doors of the cloakroom were thrown open, the jury returned to their seats and the audience hastily moved into the great room and sat down. The doors and windows to the outside were also thrown open so the crowd outside could hear. Skip rose to solemly read their verdict:

1. The inquest into Ernie Lorence's death found Ernie had been willfully murdered by the two men that had called themselves Ardmore and Cookerson. It was noted that many townsfolk had witnessed Gaine officially throwing both men out of Barden's Corner a few mornings earlier, making them problems of Barden County. Ernie had been at his home in Sierrasotta County at the time of his death.

2. Cookerson's death was found to be a justifiable homicide perpetrated by Sheriff Gaine Sargos returning gunfire while being fired upon by said criminal. This was also in Sierrasotta County. Self defense.

3. Ardmore's death was also found to be a justifiable homicide perpetrated by Sheriff Gaine Sargos in Sierrasotta County returning gunfire while being fired upon by said criminal. Self defense.

It is agreed the Sheriff was acting officially as Barden County Sheriff and as such should not have her salary affected in any way.

The act of self defense, of course, did not require her to be acting in any official capacity to have killed both men, though her salary did. The findings, it was further announced, would be sent to Sheriff Bill Wilson of Sierrasotta County.

Gaine stepped out of the hotel to the wild cheering of the town population. She nodded and forced her way through the forming crowd toward the wagon as they chanted “Gaine, Gaine...”.

She smelled the delicious scent of baking bread and glanced down toward Etta and Wilbur's small cafe. They would have competition now with the hotel opening a dining room. Wilbur, who had stayed in the cafe, had put the morning bread in the oven to bake, hoping to draw a larger dinner crowd than usual. Oughtta work, Gaine decided. If she were staying in town and felt well enough, she'd surely head their direction.

Suddenly she was buttonholed by a group of men, some from the two saloons in town. Big Zeke Meegan, a miner with a heavy smell of liquor on his breath, moved beside her and raised his meaty paw to swat her on the back in congratulations. She caught the movement out of the side of her eye. He was not known for using much brain power when sober, much less when not. Her drawn gun poking in his belly widened his eyes and froze his hand in place.

“Ah thank jest sayin' ‘congrats' done be nuff, Zeke,” she purred in his ear. “Ah wouldn't wanna haf mah talkin' ahrn here a'barkin nuthin ya ain't wantin' ta hear. Ketch mah drift?”

A wide-eyed grin crossed his face. “Ah gits ya.” He slowly lowered his hand and moved away to the edge of the crowd. She holstered her gun and moved from the crowd toward Mary Jane's wagon. “Step back, folks,” she called, “the Lorences' hosses bees raht techy ta a crowd. Doan wan nobody bein' trampled cause a theys en-thusiasm.” She forced a smile. “Thank ye, folks.”

Gaine wondered who had put Zeke up to trying to swat her. She doubted that the normally good natured man would have thought of it on his own. She saw him shrug his shoulders in Westminster's direction. She let her blue eyes pin the man who desperately wanted to be Sheriff to the spot before she climbed up into the wagon seat. Westminster turned quickly from the force of her eyes and headed back for the Mayor's office, tail between his legs. Figures, ya mizerable polecat.

A deep sigh was on Gaine's lips as she sucked in the pain and took the ribbons to head home. Her face was flushed and she worried she'd developed a temperature. She was very stiff, her shoulder pain was nearly unbearable and her heart, though she tried to ignore it, was filled with heaviness. How many men did she have to end up killing? How long could she continue doing this?

The crowd remained waving and cheering as she let the horses settle into their harnesses. She headed the wagon for the bridge leading out of town, glad to leave the noisy throng behind her.

The Mayor and his cohorts groused their way down the boardwalk to their offices. “She's sold this town a bill of goods,” Westminster grumbled as they walked along. “Damned if she isn't the most...most renegade Sheriff I've ever seen.”

“Lady Sheriff,” Eli corrected.

“She's no lady,” Westminster growled. “There's nothing ladylike about all.”

“I beg to differ,” Eli grinned. “I believe she's one of the most impressive examples of womanhood I've ever laid eyes on.”

Westminster looked at him as though he were daft. “Wait till she threatens you with a gun,” he sneered.

“All I know,” the Mayor inserted, “is that our town's star packer is a checkrein. Everything we do will have to be done to the letter of the law, or she will notice.”

“She was injured more than I thought,” Eli remarked. “She's very touchy about her shoulder. And then there's the repair to her britches. Did you notice how pale she got the longer she had to stay here? She'll take to her bed now, and it will be weeks before she recovers. Just like Sheriff Wilson.”

“Ha! Little you know!,” the Mayor shot back. “She has the lives of a cat, that..that...”

“Renegade,” Westminster added for him. “Renegade Sheriff.”

“Renegade Lady Sheriff,” Eli corrected.

“Well,” the Mayor growled, “she'll not give in to some piddly bullet creases. Any wound she has is temporary. Though, come to think of it,” the Mayor stopped. The others stopped with him. “She almost never gets injured. I certainly can't remember another time when she was hit twice .” The Mayor stroked his mustache. “Yes, perhaps this time will be different.”

“My point exactly,” Eli inserted, “This event is most fortuitous. A person needn't be killed outright to be ineffective. Confined to bed for a time often suffices. Like Sheriff Wilson. It's all a matter of timing. One must take advantage of every opportunity.”

* * *

Gaine pulled the team to a halt outside the mercantile. Mrs. Ledderbridge rushed out and handed her a wrapped package. “I believe it's just as you requested, Sheriff,” she smiled. “Short barreled. And here's the ammunition.” She handed Gaine another wrapped package.

“Thank ye, ma'am,” Gaine replied. “Ah shorely ‘preciates ut.”

The Sheriff started the team back up, crossed the bridge then slowed down by the town wagon yard. Under the few sheds were horses and mules chomping feed, while wagons and buckboards stood mutely to the sides, their wagon tongues and doubletrees pointing in all directions. Canvas tents stood everywhere and people dotted the area. She noted that the two normally empty small cabin-like huts in the open space at the edge of town were already filled with families from out of town. Smoke rose from the chimneys and children played outside.

She recognized the young children around the first hut...the Youngsons. Mrs. Youngson and her children had undoubtedly been left there by her husband, who stayed on the sheep ranch with the hired hand to keep it running. The Youngsons had five small children and by the looks of them, they were getting by all right.

In the hut next to them were the Voxes. The look of bad luck was upon them. Their children were twiggy, young girls of various ages, the oldest about eleven or twelve holding a toddler, the boys undoubtedly left at home to help their father run their small farm. You could hear a baby crying inside. From the looks of this group, they were in trouble. The girls were reed thin and much more listless than the active Youngsons.

This was a hard year for everyone, but worse for some than others. Still meat could always be had through hunting if one took the time and had the ammunition. Gaine knew the father, an unpleasant farmer filled with undo pride who likely vowed to have them survive by his own highly-touted farming skills, to hear him tell it. Everyone around town called him Poor Man Vox, for after the first two years, his fields had been sparing in what they produced.

Hopefully Etta and the ladies church group would make sure the family here had a homecooked meal. And, of course, the dance would have plenty of food. The father would be back for the dance to collect his family to take them home afterward. Yes, she remembered him. She was glad she didn't have to deal with him right now. He was a difficult man, proud to a fault.

Normally the town camp yard and huts were used by families coming far in for supplies. But with the dance coming up, the whole camp area would be filled to the brim by the time New Years Eve rolled around a few days hence. Everyone for miles would be coming in for the dance.

She saw a pack peddler had set up his camp in an open area near the road. This was not the time of year for such visitors. He was a younger fellow she'd seen before. He waved her down and she slowed. Some itinerant merchants would lie, cheat and steal, and she needed to watch for them. Others built good reputations for themselves. This fellow, she sighed with relief, was one of the latter.

She ached everywhere and wanted nothing more than to continue on her way home, but knew she would need to stop or folks would wonder why she hadn't. Gaine reined her team in and called to him, “Din't ‘spect ta see ya-all har. Come fer the dance?”

He walked to the wagon from his fire with a friendly smile. “Sheriff Sargos, howdy. Yes, I'm here for the dance. Well, not just that. I've saved enough to get myself a horse and wagon this time. Won't have to depend on my old shank's mare to sell my goods any longer. Gettin' too old for all that walking.” He laughed.

The man was in his mid twenties. He had been at his job for several years, and was in excellent physical shape. With the usually good California weather in the valley, he tended to spend his winter there with his bulging pack on his back going from farmhouse to farmhouse and ranch to ranch in the more populated areas. In the heat of summer he headed for the foothills. But this was a special situation that brought him into the foothills in the middle of winter.

“Buyin' a rig from tha livery?” Her voice was less robust than normal. She wondered how long she could hold out.

“Weeeelllllll, yes. Sorter. Got myself a good deal on a used spring wagon there.”

Gaine forced her mind to what he was saying. “One a thar spring wagons?” He done paid too much, if'n Ah know tha hostler ta the livery, she thought. That feller o'er thar bees raht rascally ta a bargain. She sighed and tried to push her pain totally out of her mind.

“Yes, they've agreed on fifteen dollars value, but I'm not pleased with the horse they wanna sell me.”

“Fifteen dollars? Theys sellin' ya a spring wagon fer fifteen dollars?” That helped get her attention. “Whah, that's a raht fair bargain, sounds lahk. T'ain't broke down, t'is ut?”

“No. It's been used plenty, but in good condition. I checked it carefully.”

“Axels er good?”


“Uh huh.” Gaine tiredly looked the fit man over again. He just might be very good at bargaining if he got a wagon that wasn't broken down from the livery for fifteen dollars.

“It's in very good shape, and they've thrown in an old harness. But I'm trading the wagon to a shepherd on the north road who has an old shepherd's wagon, the type they live in. A one horse rig. It's small. Without a stove. Just room enough for my goods and for me to lay down my head in bad weather. Don't need a stove in the valley. Bein' on the go all the time has my feet played out and me looking to ease my sore back.”

“Course.” She looked at him dully. He'd gotten an extremely good deal from the livery and then had turned around and gotten an even better deal from a shepherd? And they'd thrown in a harness. She'd have to keep a close eye on this young man if he was that good at bargaining. He might ride off with the whole town in his back pocket.

“Only I'm gonna need a better horse than what the livery's offering. They're asking way too much for some of their shad-bellied, slab-sided plugs.” He shot an innocent look up at the Sheriff. How he loved the art of the trade. So much was facial expression. All along he'd heard that the Sheriff of Barden's Corner knew horseflesh and had the best around. He'd planned to head out to her ranch the very next day, and now here she was before him. Wasn't Providence wonderful?

Through the throbbing of her shoulder, Gaine tried to look casual, “Ah gots me some hosses ya maht wanna look o'er. Yer welcome ta come ta the ranch with'n me fer a look see.”

The man's eyes lit up. Not just because of the horses, but because it would be much more comfortable staying on a ranch than camping in this lot for the rest of the week. Finding a good horse while living at free rack and manger was always a good situation though there were bunk houses that were nothing but smelly flea traps. He'd heard quite the opposite about her ranch, however.

“I'll do that, Sheriff. Hold on a minute. I'll get my pack together and put out my fire.”

Gaine nodded and sat staring at the landscape as the fellow packed his trade items and doused his fire. She tried to concentrate, to avoid her shoulder pain, put it out of her mind, concentrating instead on the fact that this peddler had two or three bolts of material, one of red flannel, in among his pots, pans, tools and other trade items. Katie would like that.

Katie. She could hardly wait to set eyes on her. Though it had only been a couple days, it seemed like eons. The small blonde would appreciate having some new material. Gaine'd make sure that this fellow's bolts were part of the trade. She wiped some of the clammy sweat off her forehead with the sleeve of her good arm.

“Tell ya whut,” she slid across the seat. “Lemme git some idee a how ya handle hosses,” she held the reins out to him. “Ahm a mite keerful ‘bout who Ah sells mah hosses ta. Jest foller that thar road. It'll take ya ta the ranch.”

“I've heard you don't stand for the mistreatment of horses.” The man's bulging pack was tossed in the back of the wagon and he hopped aboard, taking the reins. “I was raised on a farm.” He clicked the tired horses and they headed toward the ranch. Gaine unwrapped the package given her by Mrs. Ledderbridge and carefully examined the new Colt .45 Peacemaker. She wondered at what amount of .44 ammunition she had left from the ruined hogleg in her holster.

“Ah seen ya got bolts a material,” Gaine said off hand, trying to ignore the searing pain raised from the bouncing of the wheels in the rutted road. If she could just keep from getting lightheaded. Slowly she unwrapped the new ammunition and thumbed five cartridges into place leaving the hammer on the empty spot.

“Yes. I have some Merrimac calico, some muslin, some French calico and some red flannel. Wonderful bargains all,” he said enthusiastically. “Got it from a country store that was forced to close its doors.”

“Lotsa that goin' ‘round,” Gaine muttered unenthusiastically. She balanced the gun in her hand, shifting it around, taking imaginary aim at trees and branches, getting the feel of the weapon.

He looked at the stains on her leg. “You're injured, Sheriff,” he exclaimed, the concern in his eyes meeting hers.

She took the ruined gun from her holster and shoved it in her waistband. She put the new gun into the holster, fussing with it to make it seat right. “Warn't nuthin'. Jest a scratch.”

“I heard you brought in the dastardly rogues,” he remarked. “People in town figure they've got the best Sheriff in the state. I suppose you know that. This is one of the better thought of towns in your county.”

“Ah hopes theys raht,” Gaine replied wearily. Then she managed a snicker, “N' Barden's Corner done bees tha ONLY operatin' town'n the county. Got some stubborn pilgrims ramainin' ta some ole by-gone mahnin' towns, a mahner er two a'dottin' tha hah hills, n' an ole country store'n saloon among tha ranches out'n tha toolies, but Barden's Corner bees tha town most county folks calls home .

“Some slick gunslingers that were in town earlier in the week scaring everyone half to death got brought to justice, someone said, and they called a coroner's jury to pronounce them dead and you in the right. That true?”

“Pert much,” Gaine replied. He'd keep after her to tell him more. He was the type. But she was in no mood to talk about it. She watched the outrigger horse, tired as it was, bare its teeth at the other. The temptation to take this man's meddle by having him try to deal with that buzzard's insolent ways passed over her. It would be humorous and something she'd enjoy doing if she weren't in too much pain to hang on tight, for she knew without a doubt that, tired as they were, those young steeds would take off at a flat out run once a whip was snapped over their backs.

The peddler saw the horse and reached for the riding whip in its holder.

“Hold thar!” Gaine growled loudly, and both man and horse turned eyes her way. “Use tha reins. They doan take ta the whip none yet,” she said to the man while glaring at the horse, who turned his head back and moved along as though he had never misbehaved in the first place. Just getting this team to the ranch would take the man's full attention.

She looked down the road. At the end lay her spread and a beautiful, young blonde with dancing green eyes, a warm heart and a ready laugh on her lips. Gie me strength ta git ta ya, Katie, Gaine said to herself. Please gie me strength.

Continued in Chapter 9


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