The Long Ride To Destiny, Chapter 13

Seth walked down the hall from his room to Florence’s and knocked on the door.

“Florence, are you ready?”

From behind the door came her reply.

“Just about. Can you wait a little bit?’

Seth stood outside her room until the door opened. He decided immediately that Florence was worth the wait.

She had put on a dress, the one Mae had given her, and had washed and combed out her hair. He’d seen her in a dress only once before, at the Cherokee village, and that dress had been a little too big for her. This one looked as if it was made for her, and accented the graceful curves of a young woman. Florence smiled and turned all the way around.

“Do you like my dress?”

“You’re prettier than you were back at the Cherokee village.”

“I feel pretty. Someday, I have to get different shoes, though. The dress covers my feet, but I’d rather be wearing something besides these boots.”

Seth grinned.

“I don’t think anybody is going to be looking at your feet, Florence.”

Seth offered his arm. Florence took it, and they walked down the stairs together and then into the dining room.

William was already seated at a table with a well-dressed woman at his side. Upon seeing Seth and Florence, he stood and waved at them to join him. When they were seated, William made introductions.

“Seth and Florence, this is my wife, Rachael. Rachael, Seth and Florence. They’re the two who took care of those outlaws today and let us recover the money from the bank.”

Seth and Florence nodded to Rachael, and then William suggested they order.

“Texas is beef country, and ours is really good. You just order what you want, though.

Florence looked over the menu she held in her hand. There were so many things to chose from. Some of the things she’d eaten before, like roast beef and potatoes. Some were like other things she’d eaten; prairie chicken was probably a lot like regular chicken. Others, she’d never heard of and wasn’t sure she wanted to. She took the safe bet and ordered prairie chicken with green beans.

Seth was at a loss as well. He’d grown up eating simple meals because that’s all his mother could make with what they had. He decided ham steak with sweet potatoes sounded good, and he’d eaten it before.

There was some small talk while they ate, but Seth and Florence hadn’t had such food in a long, long time, and had their mouths too full to do much talking. When they finished, William ask Seth if he’d enjoy a glass of whiskey and a cigar after his meal.

“No thank you Sir. I never took up with either.”

“Well, I’m having one of both.”

He waved to the man at the counter who brought a small glass of whiskey and a dark brown cigar. William used a small pocket knife to clip the tip of the cigar, then produced a match from his vest pocket and lit it. After one long pull at the cigar and then a small sip of whiskey, he turned to Seth.

“So, Seth, I know you’re not from around here. Where was home?”

“Virginia…a little farm outside of Abingdon.”

William turned to Florence.

“I expect you’re from the same place then, Florence.”

“No. It was a farm, but in Tennessee. There weren’t any towns close by.”

William smiled.

“Seth, you’re old enough to have fought in the war. Union, or Confederate?”

Seth hesitated, and William noticed.

“Now don’t go getting all worried, Seth. The war’s over. The people in Sulphur Springs were Confederate, but some of the people in Texas were Union. Nobody’s going to think bad of you, no matter which side you were on, as long as you treat them like you’d want to be treated. They just want to get on with life now.”

“I was Confederate…The Sixty Third Virginia Infantry.”

“How long?”

“Three years and a few days.”

“Why didn’t you go back home? Our boys came back, the ones that made it through.”

“I did but…there was nothing left for me there.”

William nodded.

“We heard the eastern states had it pretty bad. I’m sorry for asking.”

William shaped the ash of his cigar into a cone, then looked at Florence.

“Florence, the last time I saw you, you looked like a boy. Now, I’m looking at a beautiful young woman. What caused you to dress like a man?”

Florence looked at Seth and smiled, but in reality, she was thinking of how to lie in a way that William would believe her.

“My parents both caught pneumonia about a year ago and they passed on. I had to do all the work around the farm, and it was hard to do in a dress. I started wearing Daddy’s clothes and that made the work a lot easier. When we started west, I just kept wearing them, because I couldn’t ride a horse in a dress.”

William laughed.

“I’d hate to wear a dress while I was doing some of the things I have to do, so that makes sense. How did you two manage to find each other?”

He was still looking at Florence, so with a glance at Seth, she spoke.

“Seth was walking along my ridge, and happened to find my cabin. He looked so thin, I felt sorry for him and I thought I’d better feed him. That night, I thought about what I was going to do now that Mama and Daddy were gone. I couldn’t very well keep running the farm. I’m just not strong enough to plow a field and the cow and chickens were gone. I asked Seth if he’d take me with him. He said yes, and well, here we are.

Florence hoped her smile would convince William, and it seemed to. William emptied his whiskey glass and stubbed out his cigar, then turned to Rachael.

“Rachael, I know you and Florence would like to talk, but it’s getting late and these two have already had a full day. Tell you what. If Seth and Florence here would stay another night, you can take her shopping and talk all day long. I’ll show Seth around the town and tell him how we do things here.

He turned to Seth and Florence.

“Can you stay one more day? Your rooms and meals will be on me.”

Seth looked at Florence. After she nodded, he looked back at William.

“I guess we could stay another day.”

“Well, good. I’ll have a man put your horses down at the blacksmith’s shop, and give them a good feed. They look like they could use one, but I suppose if I’d come this far with only grass to eat, my ribs would be showing too. I’ll see you tomorrow for breakfast if that’s all right. Rachael, let’s go make sure your mother put the children to bed.”

Seth had stood up as they were leaving, and sat back down.

“That William’s a friendly man, but he sure asked a lot of questions. You did good, Florence. I’m pretty sure he believed you.”

“I hope so. He seems like a nice man, and I didn’t really want to lie, but…”

“I know, but you didn’t have a choice. Maybe someday, we can put all this behind us. Until then, we’ll just have to do what seems right for us at the time.”

Florence yawned.

“Right now, what’s right for me is to go upstairs and sleep. Will you walk me to my room?”

Florence was more than a little nervous the next morning. She’d put on the same dress, and that was embarrassing because Rachael wore a different one. She apologized by saying one dress was all she could carry, and Rachael just smiled.

“You don’t have to say you’re sorry, dear. All the women in this town have been in that situation before. You’ll have more dresses someday. Until then, just remember that you’re a very pretty young girl in this one.”

For breakfast they had pancakes with maple syrup and butter, the first Seth had eaten since he left home to join up. The coffee was real coffee as well, not the roasted dandelion roots he'd used during most of the war.

After they ate, Rachael took Florence to the general store while William showed Seth the town. As they walked, he told Seth about the people.

“Seth, Sulphur Springs is a very close community. Most of our folks are farmers who live within about ten miles of here. We don’t see them much except on Sunday unless they break something, but they’re all good, church-going people, probably a lot like the people you grew up with.

“The land around here will grow just about anything. Used to be cotton country before the war, and still is, some, but with no slaves, it’s hard to make money in cotton. Most of the farmers now are sharecroppers. They grow corn and oats and a little wheat and get half the profit from what they grow. They’re not wealthy by any means, but they get by and they’re happy.

“There are a couple who raise cattle, and they’re making pretty good money. Before the war, I paid eight cents a pound for beef. Now, I’m paying ten, and that’s likely to go up. Folks in the big cities like beef, so a lot of the beef in Texas gets shipped east. That drives the price up.

“Here, let’s go in the bank. Warren wants to meet the man who got our money back”

Warren was a short man with a big belly. He was balding and Seth figured him at about forty. When he took off his thick, wire framed glasses, he looked a little younger, but not much. Warren shook Seth’s hand with a weak grip, and then thanked him.

“Mr. Moore, I can’t thank you enough for what you did. If you hadn’t stopped those outlaws, they’d have made off with all the money in my bank. I don’t know what I’d have done if they had. It would have ruined me. If you decide to stay in town and need a loan for a house or to start a business, you just come see me. There won’t be any problem at all.”

As Seth left the bank with William, he mused that Warren seemed to feel like the money in his bank was his. He’d had little contact with bankers in his life, so he wasn’t sure if all bankers were that way or not, but he figured Warren wouldn’t turn loose of a loan as quickly as he’d promised.

As William and Seth walked down the street, Seth wanted to know more about the outlaws from the day before. William gave him some information.

“They’re a bunch of young boys with nothing to do, I guess. I know a couple had fathers that didn’t come home from the war. Their mothers lost their farms, or went somewhere else to live with family. The rest, well, they’re just a bad sort all around. I suppose every place has them. We just seem to have more. It’s because Texas is so big, and there aren’t many lawmen like back east. There’s a couple dozen of them, well, before yesterday there were.

“They’ve been coming into town a few at a time every month or so for about a year. At first, they’d just go in the general store and then run out with something and ride away, or they’d say embarrassing things to our women. Then they started robbing the farm people when they came to town. The time before this, they came to steal some horses the blacksmith had for sale. He tried to stop them, but he couldn’t.”

“That’s why you need a blacksmith?”

“Yes. Clayton did his best, but a blacksmith’s hammer isn’t any match for a revolver. They shot him in the heart. His wife moved in with her brother, and takes in sewing to help out the family now.

“And now we have this, the bank robbed and one man shot and one killed. Ezra will recover because the ball only grazed his leg, but it has to stop before they kill more people. They’ll be back to take revenge on us if nothing else. Oh, I see Preacher Ames coming out of the church. Let’s go talk to him.”

Preacher Ames reminded Seth of the preacher at his church in Virginia. He spoke softly and carried a Bible. Seth knew that soft voice would probably be loud enough to rattle the church rafters on Sunday as he promised eternal salvation or eternal damnation, depending upon the path the members of his flock took in life. He took Preacher Ames’ hand and was surprised at the firm grip. He noticed the other hand holding the bible was missing the little finger. The preacher smiled when Seth looked up.

“Minie Ball at Shioh, Seth. Took it right off just like it was cut off with a knife. I was a corporal in The Army of the Mississippi under General Johnson. Got captured there too. God saved me that day in the Hornet’s Nest, and when I got exchanged, I took my Bible and myself and came out here. You a church-goin’ man, Seth?”

“I used to be. The war kind of changed that. I’m not sure anymore.”

“Well, I know how that can happen. I saw it lots of times. I preach a pretty good sermon. You should come to church on Sunday. Maybe I can change your mind. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to talk to Johnathan about Marshal Russell’s funeral. We’ll have to bury those outlaws too, and I’ll have to say a few words over them. I doubt those words will get them into Heaven though. They were the Devil’s kin if there ever was any.”

As William and Seth walked back toward the general store, Seth asked him why the town men didn’t just go run off the outlaws. William stopped and faced Seth.

“We tried once, but we’re just ordinary folk, Seth, not lawmen. After two days of searching, we found their camp. They’d already seen us coming, and had fanned out on both sides of us. We lost two good men that day, two farmers with wives and children. That’s why we hired Marshal Russell a month ago. He said he was a lawman in Indiana before the war. We were going to form another group and go after those outlaws next week. I guess we won’t be doing that now. Ah…here come Rachael and your Florence. Let’s see what they’ve been up to.”

William kissed Rachael on the cheek.

“So, did you two pretty girls see anything you wanted in the store?”

Rachael poked William in the ribs.

“William, you know as old as I am, and after having two children, I’m not a girl anymore.”

“Well, I just thought I’d give you a complement. You are pretty, you know.”

“So you tell me. I didn’t buy anything today, but we looked at a lot of things Florence liked.”

Florence grinned at Seth.

“I bought something, something you’ll like, I hope.”

“Well, what is it?”

Florence opened her hand. In her small palm was a pair of wool socks.

As she handed them to Seth she smiled.

“When we stayed with Red Bird, I noticed yours have big holes in them.”

Seth was embarrassed, but it was the truth.

“Yes, I suppose they do. It doesn’t bother me all that much, though. You should have gotten something for yourself.”

“No. I don’t really need anything, well except for some different shoes for when I wear a dress, and I can’t wear a dress when I ride a horse. You needed these.”

Seth squeezed Florence’s hand.

“Thank you.”

William clapped Seth on the back.

“Rachael is going to fix us something to eat, and we still have two places to see. Let’s let the women go to my house, and I’ll show you the rest of town.”

As Rachael and Florence walked away, William led the way towards the other end of town. They stopped in front of the undertaker’s shop. When they walked inside, no one was there at the desk. William said Johnathan was probably in back, and led Seth through the door in the wall.

Johnathan was working away at a workbench, planing a pine board, and smiled when William cleared his throat.

“William, sorry I wasn’t up front, but, well, I’m usually not this busy. I had two coffins done, but I need seven. I’m not about to bury one of the outlaws in a good coffin so I’m making six for them. I’m afraid the new ones aren’t going to be my best, but then, those outlaws don’t really deserve much more than rough lumber, do they?”

William pointed to Seth.

“Johnathan, this is Seth Morre. He’s the man responsible for your increase in business.”

Johnathan put down his plane and held out his hand.

“Mr. Moore, you saved a lot of people a lot of misery yesterday, including me. All my money was in that bank. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to buy lumber or the chemicals I need or anything and the people here wouldn’t have any way to send their loved ones off to the Promised Land. We owe you a lot. Maybe I can make something for you.”

Seth grinned.

“I’d just as soon it wasn’t a coffin.”

Johnathan smiled.

“I don’t think there’s much chance of that, not the way you handled those revolvers. Well, I hate to rush you away, but those outlaws don’t deserve embalming either, so I need to get them in the ground by this afternoon. We’ll talk later, Seth, about what I can do for you.”

As they left the undertaker’s shop, William pointed to the marshall’s office.

“You can’t leave without seeing the jail. We’re pretty proud of it. It’s not made of brick, like the bank, but the logs are a foot thick, and the bars an inch. The townspeople built it so we’d have a place to lock up those outlaws if we caught any of them.”

William stepped up on the boardwalk in front of the door, then opened it.

Inside, there was a desk with a chair, two more chairs in front of the desk, and a rifle rack with no rifles on the back wall. The two windows in the front gave Seth a clear view of the bank and the hotel. On one side wall was a small, cast iron stove with a coffee pot on top. Behind the desk was a door. William walked to that door, opened it, and motioned Seth to follow.

The single room was divided by a partition of iron bars with two doors. The barred portion was divided in two by more iron bars. In each section was a small cot.

“Clayton forge-welded everything together, and the bars are bolted all the way through the logs. You won’t find a stronger jail anywhere in Texas.”

Seth tried to shake the bars of the partition. They didn’t budge.

“I haven’t been in any jails before, but it does look strong enough to hold just about anybody.”

“That’s why we built it like we did. If a town is going to survive, people have to feel safe. They won’t feel safe as long as that bunch is riding around robbing and shooting people. We needed a place to hold prisoners until the circuit judge, Judge Rainor, comes to hear their trial.”

“You caught anybody yet”

“No, not yet, but we will, just as soon as we hire a new marshal. Yesterday, back at the general store, you asked if there was work in Sulphur Springs. We need a marshal now. You interested?”

Seth’s mouth fell open, and it was a few seconds before he could speak.

“William, I don’t know anything about the law or about being a marshal. What makes you think I could do the job? We just met yesterday.”

“You can read up on the law, but here in Sulphur Springs, it’s pretty simple. It’s against the law to kill another person, unless it’s in self defense. It’s against the law to steal anything from anybody or destroy property. It’s against the law to rape or hurt a woman. Those are the most important. The rest is written down in a book in the desk here. As for you knowing how to be a marshal, the way you faced those men yesterday was all the proof I need. The banker, Jeremiah at the general store, and Johnathan all agree with me.”

“All I did was kill them.”

“Yes, you did. They needed killing, all of them did, but it wasn’t that you killed them, Seth. You stood in the street in front of twelve outlaws, and didn’t shoot until you had to. That’s what our town needs – a marshal who will stand up to the rough men that sometimes come to town, but won’t shoot until he has to and isn’t afraid to shoot when the time comes.”

“There’s something about me you don’t know, William. I’m not the man you want.”

William smiled and motioned to the chair in front of the desk. When Seth sat down, William took the other. William reached in his jacket pocket and took out a paper he tossed on the desk in front of Seth. It was a wanted poster with Florence’s and his names on it.

“You mean this little problem in Tennessee? When you went in the general store yesterday, Marshal Russell told me he thought he had a wanted poster on a man named Seth Moore. He brought it back to me and was waiting for you to come out of the store when those outlaws rode up to the bank.

“This poster says a young girl named Florence McCabe killed a man in Kingsport, Tennessee and is riding in the company of a man called Seth Moore. The bounty is a hundred dollars on each of you. That sound like this poster is about you and Florence?”

“If you know all that, then why…”

“I’m a pretty good judge of character, Seth. I watched Florence shoot three men yesterday, but she didn’t seem to me to be a woman who’d kill a man without good reason. Her reason yesterday was to protect you. I don’t know what happened in Kingsport, and I don’t really want to, but what happened yesterday wiped her slate clean as far as I’m concerned. As for you, I figure you were just helping out a pretty girl who needed some help.

“Sulphur Springs is getting ready to grow. Nobody but me knows this, but next spring a stagecoach line will come through here on its way from Little Rock to Dallas. Since I own the hotel, the stage line contacted me to see how many rooms I have. We’ll be a stopover point, and the people on the stage will need a place to sleep and eat, and a store for things they need. The stage line will carry money sometimes, and the bank vault is where they’ll keep it until they leave. When we find another blacksmith, that’s where the stage line will keep their horses and get any loose shoes fixed.

“I have friends in Dallas who tell me there are surveyors looking for a train route to do the same. There are a lot of ways to get from Little Rock to Dallas. Most of them are as full of outlaws as Sulphur Springs. If we can clean out that bunch, the railroad might come through here, or at least close by. That means our farmers will be able to sell some of their crops. They’ll spend that money in town and that will attract more business. We need a doctor and a druggist and a barber. Someday, we’ll need a carriage shop.

“Of course, more outlaws will try to move in. They always do when a town has no lawman. Oh, there’s the Texas Rangers, but they’re spread pretty thin, and most of them are south and west of here. We need a marshal who will keep that riff-raff out of town and out of the surrounding area.

“As we grow, so will our problems. We’ll probably get a saloon, and just like anywhere else, the stage and railroad will bring their share of gamblers and other men who don’t think much of the law. The saloon will have women, and you know as well as I do that those women will attract men who aren’t as civilized as you and I.

“The people in Texas and other states need to know Sulphur Springs is a safe place to be; otherwise, they’ll just go someplace else. Making that place safe takes a man who isn’t afraid to take on that challenge.

“You’ll find that most people around here don’t care much about what a man was. The war changed us all, even those who didn’t fight. They care a lot about what a man is today and what he’s going to be tomorrow. Yesterday, I didn’t see a man running from the law with a woman wanted for murder, even though the poster said that’s what you two were. I saw a man with no reason to do it face down twelve men who would have shot him dead in a heartbeat, and a woman who came to help him when he needed her. Our townspeople will respect that.

William grinned.

“Besides, how could you do better than being the man who the government sends the wanted posters to? I don’t know how you’d go about arresting yourself, and I can’t see you ever arresting Florence.”

Seth frowned.

“So, if I don’t take the job, you’ll have me arrested?”

“No. I’m the only one in town who knows about this, and I figure what ever happened in Tennessee is Tennessee’s business. If they really want you, they can come get you themselves. The job pays twenty five dollars a month, and there’s a house that goes with the job, the one behind the jail. It’s empty right now. Marshall Russell never moved in. He just stayed in the jail. There’s money for a deputy, too, if you can find one. He’ll get paid fifteen. You think about it and talk it over with Florence. Tonight, you and Florence stay at my hotel again. Tomorrow, tell me if you’ll be staying, or if you’ll be riding on.”

William picked up the brass badge laying on the corner of the desk.

“There will be no hard feelings if you go, Seth, but we’d be really happy if you stay in Sulphur Springs and put on this badge.”

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