This is a work of fiction and not intended to be historically accurate but merely a representation of the times. The names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental and unintentional. Historical characters used are strictly for dramatic purposes. This story contains some violence.
Making their way west from Fort Larned the mood was morbid. For days, the feeling of depression hung over the group. Terrible images of the botched hangings plagued their minds while Meeker worried for the Packer twins. They were so young, just how could such young children make their own way in this violent land? Marshal Tucker's act of kindness intended as a blessing would cause great troubles. The Packer twins had no way of knowing they were not wanted for murder. They were free of the law, a real benefit; but not knowing this what would they do?
In no time, Michelle came to the realization that the life she had chosen was not as she had expected. Still it was her choice, and she had no regrets. One thing was sure, boredom was not to be a large part of, Michelle Tanner's, life.
Sarah also seemed out of sorts. The loss of her parents would have been troubling enough but immediately following that, she was adopted into this odd group of people. She did not know these strangers. It was peculiar, one could say she lived a clamorous life. Quick as lightening, Sarah took up with the old Indian calling him, grandpa, as a term of endearment. He was her rock and she clung to him for support. For Sarah, it was more than those complicated matters yet it was simpler.
She did not feel well. She was ill. Before long it would get awful for the little girl. After a couple of days, it was noticeable to every member of the group that, Sarah, was sick. She had a queasy stomach and diarrhea. Not being one to complain she made a brave attempt to keep it to herself. Even so, the group realized she was ill.
On the fifth day, they stopped early making camp at noon near the river. In the shade of the cottonwoods, Michelle made Sarah a bed underneath the wagon. This provided the girl as much comfort as possible. Buffalo Head began doctoring the young child. In a soft, tender fashion the old man wiped a damp cloth on her face as he asked her questions. Questions he used to determine what was wrong with her.
Sarah answered him but held back, not wanting to be a bother to the group. The old Indian in a serene, persuasive manner prodded her until she told him everything he wanted to know. Always Sarah would say she was sorry and he answered, "No need to be sorry it is not your fault."
Meeker's mood took an even darker turn than the others in the group. The events at Fort Larned weighed heavy on him. Remembering the vicious and vindictive Judge from earlier dealings Meeker had with the man. Even the Judge's death did nothing to close his open wound. If anything, it caused it to boil up in him. A bitter taste filled his mouth as he tried to ease the pain. Leaving the camp, he walked west along the river. Wishing for nothing more than to be alone with his thoughts, the frontiersman sat on an old fallen tree trunk next to the watercourse. First lowering his weight to the fallen tree, testing to be sure it wasn't rotted out, then he let his weight rest on the wood. He watched the water flowing into a deep pool. Miniature whirlpools moved from a small waterfall where the river took a five-foot plunge.
Back East, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain had concluded with Sherman laying waste to farms and towns in a blatant attempt to destroy the South's ability to fight, along with their will. Meeker was happy to be away from the butchery of the war. The day wore on and Nathan's mood became darker. Watching the flowing water, reflections of his past flooded him. Like the whirlpools, swirling near the waterfall, memories spun in his mind. Memories of his wife and child, his son – that precious little boy, Little Bear was what she named him, but they called him Nate.
All those sweet memories he held of his wife and son. Like the time, little Nate picked out his father's new horse. It was back in '59 and the boy picked out a white stallion. What was that child thinking of – choosing a white horse? White horses are always wacky! And yet, the beast his son named Star, was the one Meeker still rode. As it turned out, white horses are not always, fool-headed, after all. Star, certainly was a good horse. Nate would be 11 now if that Limey Bastard hadn't killed him.
He remembered the time his wife argued with him about Sunday-go-to-meeting. He had finally walked the aisle after a long time off from going to church. Meeker had drawn the line at baptism. He wished he had let them dunk him now. He did believe in God and Jesus he just did not like anyone telling him to do something. Not even her. Such a trifling matter, why had he refused to do it? That buggered up Brit is still above the snakes while my wife and child are in the bone orchard! His thoughts darkened more.
An image haunted him, a terrible vision burned in his brain becoming an obsession. He could see Hannover, standing over a pot, stirring the remains of his wife and child ... a part of 'Two Tongues' vile ritual. The knowledge of what Daniel Hannover was – burned in him. Reading and rereading the telegraph did nothing to improve his mood. He wondered if Hannover had taken the time to perform his horrendous ritual with their remains.
'Two Tongues' Daniel Hannover, the lying British transplant was a gun for hire that had even more sinister leanings. 'Two Tongues' was not the only name applied to him. The other was a far worse name with a wicked meaning, 'Bone Picker'. 'Bone Picker, ' was nowhere near as evil sounding as the real reason he earned the name.
Pulling his Bowie knife from its sheath, Meeker threw it into the ground. The blade sank deep into the soft, moist soil of the riverbank. Drawing the knife from the sod, he again threw it down into the ground. The point again went deep into the grimy, sandy earth. Mindlessly he threw the knife, each time thinking about holding down Daniel Hannover and thrusting the blade into him.
Michelle walked toward Meeker with caution. She could tell his mood was dark. The friends had only known each other for a month or so, yet Shell already knew when the best course of action, was to leave him alone. Even so, she wanted to help her friend, as a result of that desire she approached her companion. Hoping for nothing more than to give him some comfort.
"Nate," Shell spoke in a soft voice, "got ya' a cup of Arbuckle's here," extending the coffee cup to him. Glancing up at her – he took the coffee and sniffed it. Shell sat next to him as she put her hand on his shoulder she kneaded his muscles. "Want to tell me about what's bothering you? Or should I mind my own business?"
His eyes turned glassy as ice, fluid welled up and flowed from them. Running over the raw weather worn landscape of his face the tears flowed like a river. At forty-nine years of age, Joseph Nathan Meeker felt ancient, as if he had outlived his time. A faint smile came to his lips as he lifted the tin cup to them. With caution, he sniffed the coffee then took a small sip. He drew in a large mouthful – damn not quite as cool as I thought. He allowed the hot drink to trickle down his throat in a slow, deliberate manner. The searing pain in his mouth reminded him of how he could sometimes be impatient. Once the feeling returned to his tongue, he spoke in an open manner, but with restrained emotions.
"Much of what I'm about to tell you I have secondhand. I can't vouch for how accurate it is." Michelle slid down the log and made herself more comfortable on the ground pressing her back against the thick, rough bark of the fallen tree. "Some of what I tell you I know first-hand and it'll be the God's Honest Truth. Buffalo Head's preaching at us about mercy and forgiveness is good for him. It might even be the right thing for us; however, mercy has a price. It can be a mighty ... high price too.
"You remember me telling you not to hesitate and not to shoot to wound, always shoot to kill? I was mad as a hornet at you for not offin' Powers that day. " Meeker wiped the tears from his eyes. Picking his drink up Nate sipped it with caution, he looked at Michelle. She nodded her head but said nothing. "There's a reason for that. My act of kindness had a high price. That act of kindness back in Larned shown to those young girls by the Marshal will have its price as well. What it will be I don't know! I reckon I should tell you about my act of kindness."
Pulling his hat off, Meeker wiped his bandana through his hair and down his face. "Hotter than hell today isn't it?" Pausing he tied the bandana around his neck then realized the date, saying, "It's so easy to lose track of time when you travel. You know, ayuh, it's my birthday, girl. There was a downpour the day I was born. I remember that because I was mad as hell with that old midwife for slapping me on the ass. I proceeded to cuss her out for it and she threatened to hold me out the window in the rain if I didn't shut up and be a good child. That was the last time I complained about anything." Shell laughed hard when he said it. Holding her ribs, she rolled to one side then back. Laughing so hard she nearly cried. Turning to him, she hit him in the shoulder with her balled up fist. Feeling how hard she punched him in jest, he hoped never to make her mad enough to strike him in anger.
.... There is more of this story ...