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A short lived quiet settled over the ranch. Men were stationed around the yard in the event there was trouble. Ellie and Ruth were in the house. There was a tense air of waiting. Around the ranch house, men and women waited. The afternoon sun made it's way across the sky and started it's journey to the West mountains. With that journey came a slight dip in the temperature. The sky remained cloudless.
They ate dinner out on the porch so they could watch the road. The men sat on the porch floor while they ate. The shadows lengthened before they noticed the first signs of their visitors. "Riders coming." The call went out and the hands returned to their positions. Their guns visible. The dust cloud became bigger the closer it came to the main gate.
Cassie asked Granny to greet the riders because she was good at reading people. Side arms and rifles were within easy reach of every man and woman. Even Granny had her pistol in the pocket of her skirt. Cassie stood just inside the door out of sight.
Granny watched the men approach. She paid close attention to the two men who rode beside the Sheriffs. She watched them intently. The rest of the men were also strangers, but not worthy of the her attention.
"Evening Doc, Sheriffs." She said cordially. The three men tipped their hats.
"Evening Granny." They replied. Sheriff Peterson, had only met Granny once and was in awe of the stories he had heard about her. The rest of the men did not show her the slightest respect.
"What brings you gentlemen way out here this evening." She asked.
"THAT IS NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS, SQUAW." Corrigan yelled.
Sheriff Cooper noticed the movement just inside the door and wondered how long it would take Cassie to come out and teach him some manners.
"That will be enough of that kind of talk, Corrigan."
"What do you mean. I do not deal with savages. You do not believe..."
"I will tell you what I believe. You have just insulted one of the most respected citizens of this area. To save yourself some pain, I would suggest you apologize to her immediately."
"What? Are you crazy? Apologize to her? She is just a Squaw. You people do not know how to treat savages. I certainly will not apologize to that. A red skinned..."
He was not able to finish his sentence as he was hit by a flying body, that took him from his saddle to the hard pack dirt below. The men reached for their guns, but before they could draw them, more guns were pointed at them from the windows. They heard rifles being cocked behind them. Cassie delivered a hard right to Corrigan's jaw and he was still. Cassie climbed off him and walked to the water trough, filled a pail and threw it on him. He coughed, sputtered and tried to sit up. He found a gun in his face. A pair of very cold eyes met his from behind the barrel of the gun.
"I suggest you apologize to Granny." Cassie said with an equally cold voice. The eye behind the gun became colder as he defiantly kept silent. He jumped when the gun was cocked. A noise that filled the silence.
"I apologize." He said softly.
"I am afraid I did not quite catch that. You insulted her in a loud clear voice, you will apologize in that same loud clear voice." Cassie ordered.
"I apologize." He said loudly and clearly.
Cassie's gun disappeared as she turned her back on him. Corrigan reached for his gun.
"I would advise against that Corrigan. Unless you want to spend a few nights in my jail."
He looked angrily at the Sheriff.
Cassie listened to them as she made her way to Granny's side and put her arm around the older woman. Daniel Montgomery looked around and spoke for the first time.
"Mr. Corrigan, there are a lot of guns pointed at us. You may not want to cause any trouble."
"Are you going to arrest them Sheriff. They have guns pointed at us."
"Nope." the sheriff replied. "I will tell you why, Corrigan. This is Cassie's place. You have come here uninvited and disrespected a member of her family. You have not acted like a gentleman, and she has every right to protect her family."
Corrigan stood and tried to brush the mud from his clothes. He eyed the women on the porch. the hatred he felt for them flew from his eyes. Cassie just eyed him with a raised eyebrow.
"Cassie, this is Daniel Montgomery and Matthew Corrigan." Coop said.
"What can I do for you?" She replied.
"Mr. Montgomery says his daughter was kidnapped and is being held here against her will."
"Is that a fact? Where did you get this information?"
"IS SHE HERE?" He yelled.
"She is." Cassie replied.
"There, she admits it. I demand you arrest her Sheriff." Montgomery said.
"For what? Admitting we have company? Is that a new law Coop?" She asked and smiled at the Sheriff.
"It is against the law to hold someone against their will." Corrigan said. "You just said she is here."
"She is. But she is here because she wants to be, not because she is forced to be."
"Then what do you call it when you have guns pointed at us?"
"Protecting my family and home. As the Sheriff said, you came here uninvited with an armed escort." She told the man. "I am willing to discuss this with you. Inside out of this heat. Will you come inside Mr. Montgomery?" You can tie your horse near the trough so they can drink. I suppose you can come in also, Corrigan." She watched the others start to dismount. "The rest of you can wait out here. She is not your daughter."
The men stopped and waited for orders. "Do as she says." Corrigan told them.
Cassie held the door open for Granny to enter then waited for the men. The Sheriff motioned for her to go first. She smiled at him.
"Remove you hats when you enter someone's home." Doc told them. "Evening Maude." He said as she met them at the door with a tray of lemonade.
"Evening Doc. Can I offer you a cool drink?" She held out the tray. Doc and the Sheriff's each took a glass.
The dog who had been laying quietly sat up and growled. Her hackles raised.
"I am not here to socialize. I demand to see my daughter." Montgomery said.
"Of course. I will get her." Cassie said and started upstairs.
"Please why don't you all sit down." Maude said as she sat on the couch. The dog at he feet, hackles still raised as she watched the men.
"There was a strained silence as they waited. The guns that were pointed at them minutes ago rested against the walls. Each within easy reach of women who certainly looked like them knew how to use them.
"What the Hell sort of place is this." Corrigan demanded. "A whore house?"
Cassie heard his comment and jumped the railing. She pulled a knife and held it against his throat. She grabbed his head. That is the second time in less than ten minutes that you have insulted my family and friends. You either watch what you say or my dog will have a nice juicy tongue to bury. You understand me?" She said. He nodded. "Now you owe these ladies an apology."
"I beg your pardon ladies."
"Mama I brought down a sheet so that Corrigan does not get his filth all over the furniture." She said. "Have a seat. Victoria will be down shortly." Cassie sat on the couch next to Maude. It was comical to watch the men trip over themselves to sit down. Every one sat and waited. In a short time Victoria walked into the room. Cassie, Doc and the Sheriffs stood as she entered. Corrigan and Montgomery remained seated. Cassie decided to teach them some manners.
"Don't you gentlemen ," she said sarcastically, "have even the slightest respect for a woman? Around here civilized men stand when a lady enters the room." She waited until they stood up. Cassie stepped aside and gave Victoria her seat.
"Good evening Papa, Mr. Corrigan." She said with a smile.
"You have led us a merry chase, Victoria. We have come to take you home." Her father said.
"Then you have made this trip for nothing. I have no intention to return to Virginia." She said and tried to hide her trembling hands.
" I am your father and you will do as I say. You will come home with me and Marry Mr. Corrigan as we had agreed."
"I WILL NOT. THAT WAS YOUR LITTLE DEAL NOT MINE. YOU DO NOT OWN ME. I WILL GO WHERE I WANT, WHEN I WANT, DO WHAT I WANT. WHEN I DECIDED TO MARRY IF EVER, IT WILL BE TO THE PERSON OF MY CHOICE NOT YOURS. I AM NOT A SIDE OF BEEF TO BE SOLD TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER TO BARGAINED AWAY FOR WATER RIGHTS." She shouted.
Before anyone could react, he lunged for her and slapped her face. "I am your father. You will treat me with respect and do as I say. You will not talk to me that way." He went to slap her again, but found his hand caught in a strong vice like grip.
In a low menacing voice, Cassie told him, "touch her again and I will break ever single bone in your hands, very very slowly." the cold blue eyes that bore into his, chilled his soul. She pushed him away. "Now you just go over there, sit down and shut up." She pushed him into the chair.
"Sheriff, is there anything you need to ask me?" Victoria asked.
He cleared his throat. "Yes as a matter of fact, Miss Montgomery, I do."
"Then ask away."
"Were you in any way forced to leave home?"
"Sheriff, that is a question with more than one answer. If you are asking if Cassie or any one from this ranch or town forced me, then the answer is no."
"What do you expect her to say when we are surrounded by armed women. Can't you see she is afraid to tell us the truth?" Montgomery stated. Victoria rolled her eyes, took a deep breath to continue. She was stopped by Cassie's hand on he shoulder.
"Wait Victoria. If your father is concerned that you are afraid to answer truthfully, you are free to use the office."
"That will not be necessary. I am not afraid to answer any questions in front of my friends." She said. "Now Sheriff, I said your question had more than one answer. The second answer is yes I was forced to leave home."
"YOU HEARD HER, SHERIFF. I DEMAND YOU ARREST THAT WOMAN." Montgomery yelled.
"For God's sake, Montgomery, will you shut up?" Sheriff Cooper said. "If you keep interrupting, we will never get anywhere."
"Thank you Sheriff." Victoria said and continued. "No Papa. Cassie did not make me leave home. You did. You and impending and a totally involuntary sham of a marriage to him." She pointed at Corrigan. "I was running for my life. Running from a forced marriage to a very cruel man. A man that may have already killed one wife."
"THAT IS A LIE." Corrigan shouted at her.
"Is it really?" She asked and looked him right in the eyes. "I saw the bruises you gave your late wife more than once. She told me you would beat her because she was not pregnant. She was afraid of you and afraid for her life. It is very suspicious that less than a week after she told me that she was dead."
"It was a carriage accident. The horse spooked." He defended himself.
"Funny, you did not get a scratch."
"The Sheriff investigated the accident and found out it was just that an accident."
"Ah yes. the same Sheriff who is on your payroll." There was a heavy silence in the room. Corrigan felt every eye on him. "Is that the life you wanted for me Papa? A life of fear that he would do the same thing to me if I did not give him the sons he wanted. That is why I ran away."
"You agreed to this marriage. You said if he built you a house you would marry him."
"That was only to give myself time to plan how I would escape. I never intended to go through with the marriage. I would have killed my self before I would ever marry him."
There was another tense silence, that the Sheriff broke.
"Miss Montgomery, I will give you the choice of returning to Virginia or remaining her which do you choose?"
"I choose to remain here with Cassie and her family."
"Are you being coerced in any way?"
"No sir, I am not. I could swear that on a bible if you wish."
"That will not be necessary You are not afraid to speak the truth?"
"No sir, I am not. Everything I told you is the truth."
"Have you been threatened in any way?"
"Other than by my father and Corrigan, no sir I have not. Everyone here, Cassie, Mrs. Jones, Granny, the men and women have treated me with great respect. They found me when I was sick. They took me into their home. Although they did not know me, they took care of me."
"You would not have gotten sick if you stayed where you belonged and done what you were told." Her father said.
"That is not entirely true, Mr. Montgomery." Doc stated. "There have been cases of Typhoid as far South as Virginia. I received a telegram yesterday asking that I send them any extra serum I have."
"Burt, you have not said anything. You have heard what was said. Do you feel that there is any way Victoria is being held against her will."
"No Coop. I do not." Sheriff Peterson answered.
"THAT IS TOTAL BULL SHIT. YOU BOTH ARE PROBABLY ON HER PAYROLL." Corrigan shouted.
"Like the Sheriff that investigated that so called accident that killed your wife?" Victoria asked.
"You know Corrigan, I am going to forget you said that. Because if I don't I will take you outside and show you exactly what Mountain Wrath is." Sheriff Cooper said.
"Coop as far as I am concerned, Miss Montgomery came here of her own free will and is staying voluntarily." Sheriff Peterson stated.
"Mr. Montgomery, I don't know where you got your information but it is wrong."
"She is my daughter. My property. she will..."
"Stop right there." Cassie ordered. Yes, she is your daughter, but that is where it ends. In this country one person can not own another. We no longer allow slavery in this country. If Victoria wants to stay here, she is more than welcome to stay. If she wants to go to Canada or the North Pole, she is free to do that if she so desires."
"I think we have taken up enough of the ladies time. Your visit is at an end here." Sheriff Cooper said as he stood up."
"Sheriff Cooper, Sheriff Peterson, Doc, would you like to stay for desert? I made that blueberry cobbler you love Doc."
"Maude, I would love to stay." Doc said.
"Miss Maude I will have to say no this time. Burt?"
"Hate to turn down your Cobbler, Miss Maude, but I had better get these jokers on the next train."
"I am not leaving without my daughter." Montgomery said.
"You will be on the next train out of here Montgomery and take this trash with you. Because if you do not leave, I will make sure the fathers in this area know exactly what sort of men you are. The will not take too kindly to the likes of you. So save yourself the pain and get on that train. You have worn out your welcome here and bothered these women enough for one night." Sheriff Cooper said.
"YOU HAVE NOT HEARD TE LAST OF ME." Montgomery shouted.
Cassie smile at him. "I tell you what Montgomery, if you show your face here again, I will not be as nice. You really do not want to see me in a bad mood."
The Sheriff escorted them to the door. "One more thing before we leave. I will take your guns. You will get them back when you get on the train."
"Not on you..."Corrigan's protest dies as he face not only Cassie's gun, but every women in the room had their guns trained on him. He handed over his gun with out further protest. Montgomery and the men outside did the same.
"Would you like some help Sheriff Peterson?" Cassie asked.
"That I would." He replied.
Cassie went outside and called to the men nearest the house. She returned shortly with three men.
"They will help you Sheriff." She said and turned to the men. "Go with Sheriff Peterson and help him get these men on the next available train. Stay in town tonight and relax. Go over to the Café and tell Hazel to give you want you want. Tell he to send me the bill. t goes for you too Sheriff."
"I just might take you up on that Cassie. My wife is visiting her sister and my cooking stinks."
"Come out for Sunday dinner." Maude offered.
"Thank you Miss Maude." He said and motioned for the men to leave.
The women watched the men mount up and ride off. Cassie had the feeling they had not seen the last of Corrigan. She kept her feeling to herself to avoid worrying any one. Victoria at her side vibrated with happiness as the group rode through the ranch gate. Her smile lit up the room. Her happiness was infectious as eery one joined in with her laughter and happiness.
They sat on the porch as Maude brought out the promised desert.
To be continued...
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