Gideon felt a sneaking sense of relief when he rode into the village
A Village With No Name
** 20 **
Gideon felt a sneaking sense of relief when he rode into the village leading his small party, but he scowled, looking down the empty street. “I don’t like the silence,” he said.
It was late afternoon when they entered the main street, but despite the hour of the day, the sun still held its brilliance, and the glare that rose from the dry gravel stung his sweat-drenched eyes. They had kept a steady pace along the village road, ever vigilant, their eyes searching for a sign of Kane’s men hidden among the rocky outcrops, or a glimpse of shimmering metal as the sun reflected off the barrel of a gun or a belt buckle.
Jackson sat at the rains of the buckboard with the two children sitting at his sides. He had told them earlier that their parents had gone on ahead to the village to help the monks with the evening church service. “Maybe they’ve had enough for one day and gone back to the ranch,” Jackson offered in a tone that held little faith in his own words.
Gideon reined Hoss to a stop outside Watkins' office, dismounted, and tied her to the hitching rail at the base of the steps. “Maybe,” he said. “But I wouldn’t count on it. Kane wouldn’t ride off without leaving at least one of his men in the village.”
Jackson's face changed, and his eyes narrowed as he pulled on the rains of the buckboard stopping beside Gideon and set the brakes. “Mister Kane’s not a fool. I don’t like this.”
“Neither do I,” said Gideon, and he patted Jackson’s shoulder like a father. “Keep the children with you,” he instructed, and Jackson responded with a sharp nod of his head.
When Gideon opened the office door Watkins was sitting behind his desk, his cheeks blown with frustration. Scott sat on the opposite corner-edge, his Spencer waving aimlessly through the air.
“I’m sorry, Gideon,” Watkins offered solemnly, as his shoulders dropped to the back of his chair, and he exhaled worryingly. “After you left, a band of villagers came to my office. I tried to stop them, but there were too many.”
“The villagers? Gideon frowned. “Why?”
“Because they’re afraid of Kane,” Watkins retorted. “They’re afraid of what might happen to them if you should ride off.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“But they don’t know that.”
Suddenly Scott rose from the corner of the desk, the Spencer still swaying from his left hand. “Stop your babbling, Ben,” he commanded. Now he looked at Gideon and let out a delighted guffaw. “It’s your turn now to sit behind the metal bars. My pa will deal with you when he returns in the morning.”
“You’ll be swinging from a rope alongside your pa if you don’t put that gun down.” Gideon snapped with irritation. “The mayor is dead, and so is his wife!”
“How —” Watkins almost said, “did,” but the words would not come to his lips. He sprang from his chair, his overweight middle colliding with the desk as he rose. “How did this happen?” He turned to Scott. “I knew there would come a day when your pa would push too far. I warned him of this many times.”
“My pa wouldn’t murder anyone,” Scott protested strongly.
“He sent Sam out to the ranch,” Gideon reminded him. “The mayor died on the east ridge overlooking the house, his body pierced by two arrows and many bullets. Mrs. Evans burned to death in the barn. That makes your pa an accomplice, Scott.” He waved his arm toward the office door. “I have their two small children sitting out there with Jackson.”
Scott steadied the Spencer, bringing the barrel in line with Gideon’s chest. “Only while you're alive,” he said. “No one outside the village knows what has happened. With you out of the way, none of the villagers will dare speak out against my pa. It will go down as another Indian raid. Nothing more.”
“Think carefully, Scott.” Gideon cautioned him sternly. “Till now you’ve had no part in this. Your pa left you here in the village. You were not involved in their deaths. But locking me behind those bars will change everything.”
“Listen to him, Scott,” Watkins entreated. “Put the gun away.” He turned, and for a moment, he went quiet, staring out through the window. Then he sighed. “Think about your sister. What will Mary Loo do if you and your pa end up in the state penitentiary? She can’t run the family business by herself. By the time you get out,” he cleared his throat and settled back down in his well-worn, wooden armed chair, “— that’s if they don’t hang you — some young drifter would have married her and run off with your family’s money. That’s not something I’d like to see.”
“You know I can’t go against my pa. Family is family, Ben. Wait and see, my pa will find a way through this. He always does.”
“Not this time,” Gideon husked, and the office door swung open. A young woman stepped forcibly into the office. She wore a white gathered laced blouse buttoned down the front; the braided buckskin skirt opened with each step, and there was a glimpse of smooth white flesh above her high leather riding boots. Gideon’s jaw dropped to his chest for she was the spitting image of his wife Glenda; the color and length of the hair, the shade of her eyes, the slender build, and the clear outlines of her cheekbones that flowed beneath her snow-white skin.
Her left arm was supported by a clean, white linen sling that hung from a simple granny-knot tied at the back of her neck. She adjusted the linen cloth at the elbow as she moved. “What is going on here, Scott?” she demanded. “Jackson tells me pa was involved in the killings of Theo and Beth Evans.”
“That’s not true, Mary Loo,” Scott spoke directly to his sister but never let his eyes stray from Gideon. “Pa had nothing to do with it.”
“What happened to them?” she asked.
Scott shot Gideon a dark look. “This is the stranger I told you about, the one who has caused all the trouble since he arrived. Now he wants to go after pa. He says pa had them killed.”
She turned to look at Gideon. “You’re staring, Mister!” she snapped at him. “And close your mouth!” The bitter scorn in her tone left Gideon speechless, but his gaze was held by her pale, blue eyes that seized the late afternoon light that flowed through the open door. “Why would my pa want to kill the Evans family? Theo works for my pa. He would have no reason.” Then suddenly, she was moving again, crossing the room through the stream of sunlight that gilded her loose red hair, surrounding her body with a shimmering halo of light that made her seem like some lovely, unearthly vision.
But despite his discomfort, Gideon watched her closely as she stopped before her brother, and the expression that came to her face made Gideon feel woeful for he had seen it so many times before when his wife had to make an important choice; to spend their money wisely at the general store or the haberdashery.
“What happened to them?” she asked again. She directed her question at Scott, but Watkins said, “Your pa sent Sam out to the Evans’ ranch to burn down the barns.”
“Why?” she came back at him in a whispered pant, in a way that only a woman can in her time of sorrowfulness. “Why would he do that? Jackson told me he shot you also, Ben?”
Watkins looked at Gideon, but Gideon remained silent.
“Oh, the poor children,” she fretted breathly. Her small round face seemed to lose its shape like unfired clay, and her eyes swelled and puffed pinky as tears appeared at the corners. “Please, Scott, give me the pistol. There have been enough killings.”
“Wait, just a moment!” Gideon found his voice, and the words seemed to jump from his mouth. “I can’t take this anymore.” He knew he was losing control, but he could not stop himself. He turned away, his thoughts in a turmoil. He kicked at the leg of Watkins’ deck and tried to marshal the memories that flashed through his head. Suddenly he longed to see the face of his wife again. “Have you ever been to Kansas?”
Mary Loo looked at him and wiped at her tears with the white linen handkerchief in her hand. “Mister, please, this is not the time or place for childish tantrums. If you don’t stop this nonsense, I’ll have my brother lock you in the cell back there.”
“I don’t understand.” Gideon brushed his hair through open fingers. “You must believe me that seeing you came as quite a shock to me. I thought my heart might stop.”
“Mister, please —” she said again, but Gideon went on.
“For a moment, I thought you were the ghost of my wife.”
“As you can see,” she said, tapping the linen cloth that supported her left arm, “I’m very much alive.”
Gideon blinked and rubbed his brow. “You’re identical,” he said softly.
“Impossible. I don’t have a sister, and I’ve never been to Kansas. It must be the light.” And she puffed her sun-red hair.
“Mary Loo,” Scott drew her attention. “Pa wants him locked up. We must do as he says. This man is insane.” For a split moment, Scott lost his guard and Gideon took the advantage and moved swiftly forward, taking hold of the hand that held the Spence and twisted it viciously, forcing the arm around to his back and upwards so that Scott cried out in excruciating pain as his arm ripped up through his shoulder blades. Gideon took the gun from Scott’s left hand and then released his grip.
“Now listen to me,” he said, pushing Scott from him. “Don’t make things worse for yourself.”
Mary Loo didn’t flinch, but said, “I’m a good judge of character, Mister, but it would seem that I was wrong about you.”
“No, you weren’t,” Gideon replied and reached out his arm, offering the Spencer to her. “Here, you take it. Your brother’s a little too eager to flash it around.”
She took it with confidence, swiveled it around the index finger of her right hand, and then handed it to Watkins. Gideon couldn’t help the hint of a smile that came to his lips as he remembered Glenda standing in their back yard, swirling her .45 Colt on her finger, then locking it in her palm with a nudge from her other hand: shooting bottles from a fence at forty paces. If only her Colt had been in her reach on that fatal day.
“Do they know that their parents are dead?” Mary Loo sniffed. “Has anyone told them yet?”
“No, Mary Loo.” It was the first time Gideon had used her name, and the sound of it brought a sweet sense of warmth to his chest.
“Then I’ll take the children home with me,” she said. “Tonight, when they are safe in bed, I’ll find a way to tell them.” She moved over to the open door and called out into the street; “Rosa, please come in here.”
When Rosa entered the office, Watkins immediately rose to his feet, his face alight like the sun.
“Ben, your arm,” Rosa burst out and raced over to him. “What happened?”
“Nothing to worry about now,” he told her. “It’s only a flesh wound.”
Mary Loo waited a moment before she said. “We’re taking the children home with us, Rosa. It’s true; their parents are dead.”
Rosa spun from Watkins, her hand clamped to her mouth, but no sound passed between her fingers.
“I don’t like your idea,” said Gideon. “Who knows what kind of reaction your Pa might have. There must be someone in the village who will look after them?”
“He’s right, Mary Loo,” said Rosa regaining her posture. “The best place for the children is in their own home. We could stay with them until we can find some other arrangement. The poor little things, what will ever happen to them?”
“On one condition,” said Gideon, “that Jackson and I can stay out there. We’ll bunk with the hired help.”
** 21 **