Authors: J. R. Roberts
True to her word, Bridget slept outside, under the stars, wrapped in a blanket. During the night Clint could see the wagon moving as Bride was tossing and turning.
He hadn't lied about being on watch all night. He was concerned about being followed from Saint Louis so he intended to stay on watch with his rifle across his knees. Anytime he might have dozed, he could depend on Eclipse to alert him to any trouble.
Halfway through the night he noticed Bridget turn over and toss off her blanket. She got to her feet, straightened her skirt, and then came over to him by the fire.
“Do you mind if I sit?” she asked.
“Not at all,” he said. “Would you like some coffee?”
He poured her a cup and handed it to her.
He nodded, drank from his own cup. He stared straight out into the darkness.
“How do you do this?” she asked.
“Keep watch,” she said. “Not sleep?”
“It's not hard,” he said. “My body is still at rest while I sit here.”
“Do you stare into the dark all night?”
“Oh yes,” he said. “If you look into the fire, it destroys your night vision. If someoneâor somethingâcomes at you in that moment, you won't see them.”
“I understand,” she said. Then she added, “âSome-
“A wolf,” he said, “or a big cat. They don't usually come near a fire, but sometimesÂ .Â .Â .”
“Sometimes they get hungry enoughÂ .Â .Â . I didn't want to worry your sister.”
“So you decided to worry me instead?” she asked with raised eyebrows.
He looked at her.
“You're stronger,” he said. “I suspect that's why you came with her to meet her prospective husband.”
“I came with her because we are family,” she said, “the only family we have.”
“Does Ed know you're coming along?”
“He does,” she said. “We made it a condition.”
“Oh, of course,” Clint said. “He told me in the letter I'd be meeting two ladies.”
“You appeared to be very surprised when you saw us,” she said. “You were expecting two older women, weren't you?”
“I was,” he said. “Ed isÂ .Â .Â . well, I'm sure you know he's over sixty.”
“We know,” she said. “But we wanted to get out of Ireland, and he sent the fare money.”
“Did it ever occur to you to go your own way when you got to this country?”
“I'll not lie, Clint,” she said. “'Twas more than a passing thought. But we cannot do that.”
He laughed then.
“I admire your honesty.”
She put her hand on his arm.
“May I continue to be honest?”
Now she gave his arm a squeeze.
“I find you very attractive,” she said. “I did from the moment I saw you.”
“Are you attracted to me?”
“Very much so,” he said. “You're lovely.”
She removed her hand from his arm, put it on his thigh.
“I almost approached you on the train, and again in the hotel,” she said.
“What stopped you?”
She smiled and removed her hand from his body completely.
“Bride,” she said. “She made me promiseÂ .Â .Â . I had a wild period in my youth, Clint.”
“My teens,” she said. “I wasÂ .Â .Â . a rebel. Our parents were very religious, and I rebelled against that. Bride made me promise I'd never do that again.”
“But it wouldn't be thatÂ .Â .Â . with you,” she said. “I know that.”
She leaned closer to him, and he did the same. They kissed, gently at first, and then the kiss deepened until Clint pulled away.
“Another time and place, Bridget,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “I wouldn't want Brideâ”
At that moment the wagon began to rock again.
“She can't get comfortable,” he said.
“Give her time.”
“You know,” he said, “you won't be living in great comfort in Shasta. I meanÂ .Â .Â . it is a mining camp you're going to.”
“We know that,” she said, “but it will still be better than where we were.”
“I hope so.”
She pressed her cheek to his shoulder, then said, “I better get back to sleep. I'll see you in the morning.”
“Early,” Clint said. “I'll have some breakfast ready.”
“I look forward to it,” she said, “and a lot more.”
She went back to her bedroll and wrapped herself up in her blanket. Clint could still taste her on his lips, and he recalled the freckles on her chest. He wondered how far down they went.
*Â *Â *Â
Kemper stared out into the darkness, wondering why he had to stand watch. After all, they weren't being followed; they were doing the following. Ahern snored from his bedroll, and Kemper poured himself another cup of coffee.
Clint had a fresh pot of coffee ready when the girls woke up, and some strips of bacon. He had to go to the wagon and give it a shake to wake Bride, whoâafter tossing and turning most of the nightâseemed to have settled down.
“Time to get up,” he called. “Breakfast is ready.”
“I'm coming,” she moaned.
Clint turned and walked to the fire, found Bridget waiting there for him.
“I must warn you, Bride is not a morning person.”
“That's okay,” he said. “I've ridden with few people who are.”
“Here she comes.”
Bride climbed down from the wagon, stumbled a bit on the way to the fire. Bridget handed her a cup of coffee.
“I did not sleep very well,” she complained.
“You'll get used to it,” Clint said. “Here, have some bacon.”
She accepted the plate, and sat down at the fire.
“Will we be getting to a town today?” she asked.
“Probably not,” Clint said. “Unless we come across a small one I'm not aware of.”
“There must be many towns in the West you are not aware of,” she observed.
“I'm sure there are.”
That seemed to make her more hopeful.
When they were finished with breakfast, Clint said, “If you ladies will clean up, I'll take care of getting the horses ready.”
“Yes, we'll do so,” Bridget said.
“Okay, thanks. And make sure the fire is out. Pour the rest of the coffee on it, and then kick it until it's out.”
As Clint walked away, Bridget noticed Bride looking at her strangely.
“What did you do?” Bride asked when Clint was out of earshot.
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean, dear sister,” Bride said.
“I did not do anything, Bride,” Bridget said.
“Is that the truth?”
“It is,” Bridget said. “Do you want me to swear on the Bible?”
“I do not want you to swear,” Bride said archly. “I believe you.”
“Fine. Let's clean up, then.”
“Yes,” Bridget said, “with dirt.”
*Â *Â *Â
A mile behind them another camp was breaking for the day.
“Did you get any tobacco?” Kemper asked.
“I did.” He passed his partner some tobacco and paper.
“Can I smoke?” Kemper asked.
“We're still upwind,” Ahern said. “Go ahead.”
Ahern finished kicking the fire to death, then went to saddle his horse. Kemper made a cigarette, lit it, and started saddling his own horse.
“Why don't we go ahead of them?” he asked.
“What?” Ahern asked.
“If we know where they're going,” Kemper asked, “why don't we circle ahead of them?”
Ahern turned and looked at his friend.
“What?” Kemper asked.
“I was just thinking,” Ahern said, “that might be the first time you've ever had a good idea.”
“Maybe it's just the first time you ever listened to what I have to say.”
Ahern thought a moment, then said, “No, that's not it.”
They traveled several more days without stopping at a town. Clint finally relented and pulled into the town of Calvert. It had a general store that doubled as a saloon, and not much else. They restocked a bit but the ladies were not able to find a bathtub. They did, however, buy several pairs of britches.
After they left town, the girls took turns in the back of the wagon, changing from their skirts to their pants. When they were done, Bridget ended up in front with Clint, while Bride was in the back of the wagon.
She noticed Clint craning his neck to look back behind them, and she put her hand on his arm. He whipped his head around to look at her.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“I'm just keeping an eye out behind us,” he said.
“Do you think we're being followed?”
“Well, maybe not followed,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I thought someone might be trailing usâthat is, not following us, but following our trail, keeping out of sight.”
“Why would they do that?”
“I don't know,” he said. “They could be following me because they recognized me, and at some point, they may want to try me.”
“Try to kill me.”
“Just because of who I am.”
“That must be a terrible thing to live with,” she said.
“On the other hand,” he said, “maybe it's not me.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Is there any reason you and your sister might have been followed?”
“I don't know,” he said. “From Ireland, from New York.”
“Why would anyone follow us?” she asked.
“I don't know,” he said. “I'm asking you.”
“I have no idea.”
“Well,” Clint said with one last look behind them, “maybe I'm just wrong.”
*Â *Â *Â
Ahern and Kemper rode into Saint Joseph, Missouri, ahead of Clint and the Shaughnessy sisters.
“Why don't we wait for them here?” Kemper asked when they stopped in a saloon for a drink.
“No,” Ahern said.
“Because I've already made plans for Council Bluffs,” he said. “I've got some men waitin' for us there.”
“Oh,” Kemper said. “Well, why didn't you tell me that before?”
“I didn't think there was any reason to confuse you.”
“Why do you always treat me like I'm stupid?”
“Seems to me I'm less likely to make a mistake that way,” Ahern said.
“Never mind,” Ahern said. “Drink your beer, then we'll pick up some coffee and jerky and get back on the trail.”
“Why don't we spend the night?”
“Why don't you stop makin' suggestions, Kemp?” Ahern asked.
“Hey,” Kemper said, “I'm the one who suggested we get ahead of them, remember?”
“Yeah,” Ahern said, “and you should quit while you're ahead.”
When they rode into Saint Joseph, Bride was visibly relieved to see a real town.
“The first thing I want is a bathtub,” she said, “and a hot bath.”
They had bathed along the way in streams and waterholes, but they were all cold, just a quick in and out.
“I want a long soak,” Bridget said.
They both looked at Clint.
“All right,” he said, “we'll stay overnight in a hotel and you can have your baths.”
Bridget leaned over and sniffed him audibly.
“You could use one, too, you know.”
She and Bride both giggled.
Clint stopped at the first hotel they came to. He went inside with them, registered them all, and arranged for their baths.
“I'm going to take care of the horses,” Clint said, “and put our wagon in a safe place. Don't leave the hotel, all right?”
“Why?” Bride asked. “Is this a dangerous town?”
“I just want to know where you are,” Clint said. “You're my responsibility.”
“We'll stay,” Bridget said. “You go and do what you have to do.”
He left the hotel and drove the wagon to the livery stable. He made arrangements with the man there to care for the three horses, and watch over the wagon. He promised to lock his place up at night, with the wagon inside. Clint paid him half the agreed-upon amount in advance.
He walked back to the hotel, keeping a sharp eye out for anyone suspicious. He reached the building without seeing anyone who was paying him any special attention.
Inside he arranged with the clerk for a bath of his own, then got his key and went to his room, which was across the hall from the sisters.
He left his bag and rifle on the bed, then walked across to their door and knocked.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “Bridget is in the bath. When she comes back, I will go.”
“Okay,” he said. “I'm right across the hall, if you need anything.”
“We will, Clint. Thank you.”
He went back to his own room, figured to wait until both girls were finished with their baths before taking one himself.
*Â *Â *Â
Owen Brown owned and ran the livery stable, but he also had another part-time jobâas a deputy. After Clint Adams left his stable, he locked up and walked to the sheriff's office.
Sheriff Cargill looked up as Owen entered and said, “Your not due to be on duty for another day, Owen.”
“I know that, Steve,” Brown said. “I just thought I ought to tell you who was just at my stable.”
“Oh? Who's that?” Cargill was still staring at something on his desk as he asked.
Cargill's head jerked up.
“What's he doing in Saint Joe?”
“He didn't say,” Brown answered, “but he's got a wagon with him. Left it at my place with his horse, and team.”
“What's in the wagon?”
“I didn't look.”
The sheriff stood up and grabbed his hat.
“Well, let's have a look now,” he said, “before I go and talk to him.”
“He ain't done nothin', Sheriff.”
“He's in town, Owen. That can't be good. You know that, or you wouldn't be here.”
“I'm just tryin' to be a good deputy, Sheriff.”
“You are, Owen,” the sheriff said. “You are. Now, come on. Show me that wagon.”
*Â *Â *Â
Clint heard the door to the girls' room open and close, assumed Bridget had come back. Then it opened and closed again. Bride going for her bath. When it opened and closed again, that would be his cue to go down for his own bath. All he had to do until then was relax, and wait his turn.
He took off his gun belt, hung it on the bedpost, sat on the bed, and decided not to remove his boots. He reclined on the bed with his hands locked behind his head, and stared at the ceiling.
Sometime later he heard the floor creaking in the hall. He was reclining on the bed, waiting for his turn with the bathtub. He grabbed his gun and moved to the door. The footsteps were too heavy to belong to either one of the girls.
He stood at the door with his left hand on the knob, his gun in his right. Abruptly, there was a knock on the door, which surprised him. He opened it, saw a man with a badge standing in the hall. He was tall, very thin, with a lock of gray hair hanging down from beneath his hat.
“You won't need that,” the man said. “I'm the law.”
“I see the badge,” Clint said.
“I earned it in an election,” the man said. “You wanna come down to the lobby and ask the desk clerk?”
Clint thought a moment, then said, “No. You want to come in, or you want me to come out?”
“In is okay,” the sheriff said. “I just wanna talk.”
Clint backed away from the door and said, “Come on in, Sheriff.”