Jing Mei, Chapter 17 of Lee A. Wood s Novel, Fero

Copyrite `95.

SafeSurf Rated Adults Only


A novel

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter Seventeen


Steam Train
Author's note: Picture, courtesy of `FLEET IRVINE PHOTOMURALS'

* JING MEI 1879 *

Spring, in the territories, like Spring anywhere, comes in two stages. There is False Spring that starts in the middle of February and there is real Spring which starts near the end of March.

In the year Seventy-nine False Spring arrived, as most weather does in the South West corner of the territories, with a Chinook.

A Chinook is a wind that travels East across the Rocky Mountains, leaving it's moisture, as it climbs high over the peaks and becomes cold and condenses, as rain or snow on said summits.

Having become cold, it is now heavy, and once over the last range of the Rockies, it drops heavily, picking up speed, as it sweeps East.

Now dry, the wind sucks the moisture out of the prairies. Quickly, within a few short hours, snow will disappear, ice becomes water, and mud becomes dust.

Legends of `Johnny Chinook' abound, and some of them, though a little far fetched are very close to fact.

They say that Johnny tied his horse to the church steeple one morning, the snow being deep and Johnny being a God fearing man.

While the church was in service, a Chinook came, and went.

After the service was over, Johnny, and the other parishioners, exited the church to find their horses hanging from the church steeple.

A second legend tells how Johnny tried to outrun a Chinook.

The Chinook was moving so fast that the front runners of Johnny's sleigh were on melting snow and the back runners were raising dust.

Trevor went to church on Sunday morning, because it was a requirement when he was in post. The horses were in the stable although several civilians, including some Indians, had come by horseback and had tied their horses to the hitchin' rail. That length of log, mounted on two posts, in front of most establishments, for the purpose of tying, or hitching, horses, to keep them from wandering away, while the owners were inside.

The snow was only a few inches deep. In the Great Central Plain of North America, part of which constitutes the Canadian, and American, prairies, the air, in winter is too cold, and dry, to create snow.

The temperature had been close to forty degrees below when the preacher started his sermon. As the rail thin man droned on, and on, the attendees began to remove their outer clothing; mitts, coats, sweaters.

The sides of the pot belly stove had been glowing red but the preacher's assistant had quit feeding wood into it by the middle of the service.

After the service, those who had arrived by sled had to unhitch their horses because the snow was gone. The wind had risen, from two, to forty, miles per hour, and the temperature was a balmy forty-five F. above. In two short hours the thin layer of snow was gone and the top inch of frozen soil was now mud.

By nightfall most roads were impassable, streets were quagmires. Rivers were jammed, the ice breaking into large chunks and piling up in the bends. The rapidly rising water, unable to get under the ice, was going over it, or leaving the creek beds and going around the stoppages. A typical late February.

In a normal year temperatures abate during the evenings and melting resumes with the coming of the sun, until the end of February when winter returns to normal. Thawing begins again, more slowly, near the end of March.

However, in `79, the Chinook never let up. Even with the disappearance of the sun, the warm air continued. Throughout the night, and the next few days, the temperature never dropped below freezing.

The harsh cold winds of winter did not return at the end of the month. The melting continued. The deep frost came out of the ground. The ice disappeared from the lakes and the rivers, and the snow cap came off the mountains.

No clouds formed to protect the ice fields. The temperatures were above normal even in the Rockies. Flooding was everywhere.

Transportation ground to a halt in the mud. The thick, black, prairie, soil turning to gumbo through which neither man nor beast, let alone a wagon or carriage, could move.

The upside to this was that those who would have frozen to death were given a reprieve. By the middle of March the ground had dried enough that patrols could begin.

Instead of trying to move cattle to the Indian reservations through the freezing winds of March Trevor found himself patrolling the reserves to see how much damage had been caused by floods.

Eventually Trevor was sent on a patrol by himself and he had the chance to change direction and head South. He had to travel West for three days before he could find a suitable place to cross the Milk river. Again, further South, he had to follow the swollen Marias River for more than a day before he could cross.

Eventually he found the stream that flowed through his claim. It was no longer peaceful and serene. A swollen tributary, it helped feed the raging torrent that was the Marias River.

In many places the waters had risen over the bank and covered the prairie. The receding waters had left behind many signs of destruction including bodies of cattle and horses, some of which Trevor recognized as his. The signs bode ill fare for Trevor's holdings and he was worried about the women he had left there.

As he approached his cabin he could see that it was still surrounded by water. The corral was on slightly higher ground and was still standing, though empty. The root cellar and garden were under water.

His calls to the house received no reply and he continued to the canyon. Here he found more dead cattle, and horses, as well as some of the logs that had formed the ramp over the falls.

Where the canyon walls narrowed and the tree line disappeared the water was still too deep, and too fast, for Trevor to negotiate and he was forced to return to his cabin.

For nearly two weeks Trevor camped out on a small hill, because the cabin floor was still under water, until the waters abated enough that he could make it to the falls. While he had been waiting for the waters to recede he had gathered the logs that had formed the ramp, those that he could find, downstream, along the creek bank. A couple had been wrapped by ropes and were tangled in their blocks so he knew he wouldn't find much when he got to the falls.

There was one log however that was still tied and was continually banging against the canyon wall. The rope still went through the block and was tied where he could reach it. With this as a start he was able to add some of the logs that he had dragged up stream and make a small ramp, sufficient to get his horse over the falls.

This construction required another two days as he could only work in the cold water for a few minutes at a time. He had to continually retreat to his campsite and warm himself by a fire.

The canyon still had one or two inches of water covering most of the valley floor. Here and there were little islands of mud with some cattle and the odd horse.

Fearing the worst, he approached the little cabin, to find, to his surprise, that it was still standing. An even greater surprise waited for him on the roof.

What looked like a stack of cow hides began to disassemble, revealing a very relieved Vilma, who began to wave and holler, when she recognized Trevor.

His horse, frightened by the girls waving arms, had to be goaded to the side of the cabin. Before he had the horse stopped beneath the edge of the roof he was nearly knocked from the saddle as Vilma slid off the roof and into his arms. He nearly lost her as he had not expected her so soon and was still trying to control his horse.

"Go, go." Vilma yelled at the startled Trevor. "Get this nag moving. Get me out of here."

"Wha..." Trevor started to ask as he obediently guided his horse away from the cabin.

"Don't talk, just ride," Trevor was interrupted, "Get this pony moving and get me out of this canyon."

Trevor began to understand and headed the horse back to the creek as fast as he dared. The horse was walking in water and the footing underneath was treacherous. Despite Vilma's urgings to go faster he let the horse pick its own speed.

Vilma buried her face against Trevor's chest and never said another word even when they had to dismount to walk the horse down the ramp.

As they emerged from the trees bordering the creek she felt the sun on her face and lifted her head, "That is the worst experience of my life. Worse than when my pa tarred and feathered me."

Vilma threw her arms around Trevor's neck nearly upsetting him from the saddle as she pulled his head down and kissed him. It was an awkward kiss because of the scar that covered most of her mouth but Trevor did his best.

Trevor lost the reins but the horse knew where it was going and stopped when it reached the campsite. Eventually Vilma broke the kiss and Trevor was able to ask, "The preacher was your father?"

"Yup," She replied over her shoulder as she slipped from Trevor's arms out of the saddle. "Her weakened legs collapsed under her and she fell beneath the horse but didn't notice as she continued, "That was my bible thumping pa."

Interrupting herself she kissed the soil beneath her, "Land. Dirt. You don't know what it is like to be able to see sunshine, and sunshine, and sunshine."

Rolling out from under the horse she began to discard her clothing and continued to roll across the fresh green prairie grass. Standing on shaky legs she slowly turned, her arms spread wide, "Free. I'm free. I've been a prisoner. I've been stranded on an island. I thought I would never see land again."

Trevor, still sitting on the horse, watched, stupefied by her actions and appalled by the disfiguring scars that covered most of her body. Most of her chest was covered with big shiny scabs. Hair only grew in a few patches on her head.

He was amazed that she had lived through the ordeal, "Why did your father tar and feather you?"

"He was jealous." She turned to him, "Oh great knight, on yonder steed, thou has rescued fair damsel a second time. Said humble maiden would ask of you a boon. Would you kindly get your butt off of that stupid horse and get out of that ridiculous uniform. I have not seen you or any other male for many months. And then I want you to heat some water so I can have a bath. I have been wrapped in cow hides for weeks and I am crawling with vermin. Then I want a meal; sourdough, beans, potatoes, anything but beef. I never want to see beef again as long as I live..."

Her endless patter was interrupted as, the now naked, Trevor enfolded her in his arms and kissed her long and hard.

Immediately she wrapped her arms and legs around him, her weight dragging him to the ground.

Later, while Trevor fetched a bucket of water from the rain barrel by the cabin, Vilma prepared a meal of sourdough and venison, cooked so well done it was almost black. Endlessly, with her mouth full, she explained, "As you know, Colleen had the cabin fixed up to her liking and there really wasn't room for us both, so I opted to stay in the cave, coming down every so often to visit, and her coming up every other day to visit me. Between the two of us we had both places fixed up and actually spent little time alone. Eventually, as she got near her time, she began to stay with me, and we built the bed big enough for the two of us. And we made a cradle."

"She had a baby?" Trevor asked while she was shovelling more sourdough, directly from the pan, into her mouth.

Vilma continued as if Trevor hadn't spoken, "She had a hard time of it, being such a little thing. And you being so big, the baby was big. But they both survived and stayed with me. And then the rains started. It poured and poured. The valley was shoulder deep in snow except where we had kept going back and forth with the horses. The little creek, going through the cave, had dried up, probably frozen somewhere inside the mountain but it started to run again. It was running real fast. I went out to check the creek and couldn't get near the bridge."

"The rain had melted all the snow and the water was knee deep. When I got back to the cabin the logs that had been on the floor were up. Held against the doorway by the rising water. I couldn't get in and Colleen couldn't get out. There was no place for me to go except the roof. I figured I would be up there for awhile so I shot a cow and cut a leg into pieces and hoisted them up on the roof along with the cow hides that you had stored in the shed. After turning the horses out of the corral I climbed on one and got on the roof and I have been hiding up there, living on raw beef, ever since."

Vilma seemed to run out of words at the same time that she ran out of food. Setting the pan aside she rolled across the three feet of sun drenched prairie that separated her from Trevor and stuffed him in her mouth.

While the two bathed each other, with the water that was warming by the fire, Trevor returned to the subject of Vilma's father.

"My father, the preacher," Vilma answered as she slid backwards, impaling her womanhood on Trevor's manhood, "was a God fearing man. He loved my mother very much," she continued as she leaned forward and scrubbed his chest with a bar of lye soap.

"My mother died when I was nine. After the funeral my father took me home and told me that I was now the lady of the house and I would have to take over my mothers chores; cleaning, cooking, washing, and sleeping with my father. I wasn't exactly sure what that mean but I figured it had to be similar to what we did in church what with all the `A men's', `Hallelujah's', `Christ's', `God's', etc. that I heard coming from their bed every night. We lived in one room built on the back of the church but they kept the curtains closed, and the lantern unlit, so I never saw anything. I just thought they were saying their prayers before they went to bed, as they made me do."

Vilma traded Trevor the soap for the rag and while he soaped her chest, she scrubbed his. "As I got older I began to realize that father was away an awful lot and, out of curiosity, I began to follow him. I found that there were certain lady parishioners that he used to visit at hours when no one else was home. One certain school marm lived across from the livery barn. Pa used to visit her some evenings and I found a place in the hayloft where I could see into her bedroom window. I told Mike the hostler that I liked the smell of hay and he would let me roll around in the loft."

Sliding forward Vilma squished her bottom around on Trevor's soap covered stomach and trading him the rag for the soap proceeded to wash his face. "One night Mike's son, Biff, snuck up behind me and caught me watching my Pa and Miss Tillsbury. He told me that if he didn't let him do to me what my Pa had just done to the school marm he would tell my Pa that I had been watching. I figured what the hell. At least he was younger and better looking than pa. After that Biff would join me in the hayloft whenever I could get away."

Turning around Vilma applied the soap to where she had been sitting previously while Trevor began to scrub her back. "Then last summer, the day you found me, Biff and I were in the hayloft. It was early in the morning and I thought pa had gone off to visit Miss Gretchen, she's the big woman who lives in the house at the end of the street. Turns out while I was following pa he was following me. Pa caught Biff and I with our britches down and took a buggy whip to the two of us."

Trading Trevor the soap for the rag she began washing his genitals, "So I don't know whose baby it was. Pa's or Biff's."

Trevor couldn't stand any more of her manipulations. Sliding out from under her he came back up behind her on his hands and knees, which is the position she was still in, "Jesus, I thought you would never get the idea," she said, as he entered her.

The next day Trevor returned to the canyon and found that the flow of the creek had abated enough that he could enter the cabin. He lifted the log flooring and carried it outside. Then he carried the bodies of Colleen and his son back to the farm.

Because the flood waters had removed any indication of the previous graves, he buried them back from the creek so as not to disturb the other tenants of the growing graveyard.

Over the next few days, when not being raped by the man hungry Vilma, Trevor cleaned out, and dismantled, the partial cabin that had been built over the cave in the canyon.

Vilma was not about to set foot up the creek let alone into the canyon but she was a great help at the cabin. With the logs and furnishings that Trevor brought from the cave, the two of them enlarged the cabin around the stone fireplace.

As disfigured as she was, Vilma had no place else to go and, knowing that Trevor could not, and would not, stay she wanted to make herself as comfortable as possible, while Trevor was here to help. This, not mincing her words, she told Trevor. What she didn't tell him was that she wanted to be pregnant before he went on his way.

She had no hopes, nor even any desires, of trapping him by showing him a child the next time he came by. Vilma was only too well aware, though she avoided mirrors and other reflective objects, that she was no longer desirable by any man.

She knew, too, that what Trevor and her shared had started out as sympathy for her and his own animal need. She also sensed, that like her, he had not shared his bedroll all winter. The two of them were simply releasing built up passion.

While clearing out Colleen's belongings, Trevor came across the letter to James, from the Governor of the Montana Territories. He told Vilma that he would take it with him and tell the Governor of the death of James.

Talking of James' death made them talk of how simply life ended. With this in mind, Trevor wrote out a will, leaving his ranch and its contents to Vilma, lest anything happen to him while on his journeys.

For the next two weeks, Vilma and Trevor rode the hills, and the valleys, searching for stray cattle and wild horses. Any that they found, that weren't wearing a brand, were herded back into the canyon where they would have good feed for the summer. In the fall Vilma could herd them out onto the plains, and the two of them could round them up again next spring.

True Spring was well under way and it was time for Trevor to start making his patrols but he wanted to go South to meet the Governor and to find a survey office so he could legally lay claim to his ranch.

Early in the morning Trevor loaded his pack horses. Thinking Vilma was asleep, he hung his uniform on the wall, gathered his weapons, and climbed, naked, into the saddle. As he was gathering the lead rope of his packhorses Vilma came out of the cabin carrying a small leather bag.

Reaching under Trevor's leg with her free hand she grasped him, "I'm going to miss that." Lifting the bag, in her other hand, she added, "You might as well take this bag with you too."

As Trevor took the proffered container she answered the question in his eye. "Conzuela left it for you. While panning beneath the falls where the ramp is, she found a little pocket. Took her a week or two to dig it out so she figured she was entitled to half. This is yore share."

While keeping his legs squeezed together, so that Vilma couldn't let go of his bag, not that she was about to, he took the leather bag from her other hand. With one hand, he opened it, pouring the contents into the palm of his other hand. Gold in various sizes, from nuggets to flakes, filled his hand and reflected the morning sun.

"You should keep this," He said, holding his hands out to Vilma. "You could buy things for the ranch."

"Not me," She rejected the offering by pushing his hand away. "Anything I need is leaving on a horse for Helena." To emphasize, she gave her captured hand a little squeeze.

"Anything else I need I can pretty well grow right here. Wouldn't mind you picking up some cloth and thread so's I could make some curtains and maybe a dress. You could drop it off on your way North in the fall."

Despite the scar on her mouth, Trevor bent over and gave her a lingering kiss, "You know I'll do just that. In fact I'll buy you a wagon load of linen. And if there's any of this left over, I'll buy you a pretty bonnet."

As Trevor topped a hill he looked back but Vilma was not in sight.

* * * * * * * * * *

Typical of new prairie settlements, Pearleville lay at the bottom of a long sloping hill. From Trevor's view point he could see the entire town and the one wagon trail cum road that led into, through, and out of town.

To the North East the road went twenty miles to Ft. Benton, staging point, where the paddle wheelers unloaded freight for the Canadian Territories. To the South West the road disappeared over a wind blown hill and continued unseen to Great Falls.

Trevor had slowly drifted to Helena, visiting small towns and getting a feel of the American Wild West. Along the way he had registered his ranch in Vilma's name. In another town, so as not to start a gold rush to his ranch, he sold his gold.

Trevor had taken, from his ranch, James Ferro's six gun and fast draw holster. During his journey he had strapped it to his leg and practiced quick draws.

Dressed in western wear, rather than a uniform, which he hadn't brought with him anyway, he visited with the Governor's aide, as the Governor was on the electoral campaign trail, and was sworn in as a U. S. Marshall, under the name of James Ferro.

Following instructions, from the Governor's aide, he had taken the train through Ft. Shaw and beyond Great Falls to the end of rail. There, at the line camp, he had unloaded his horses, and gear, from the cattle car attached to the work train.

Staying off the road, to avoid meeting people, and to get the lay of the land, he had circled North for two days. Remaining unseen, he had scouted the ranch that Governor Hauser's aide had told him about.

The Rocking P belonged to an unscrupulous wannabe cattle king named Randolph Pearle. The main house was a mixture of sod and wood, the surrounding outbuildings were of sod construction. A pole corral ran South from the end of the barn. Several saddle horses were in the corral. Chickens and pigs ran loose about the buildings and cattle ran freely everywhere.

Pearle was lobbying with the Pacific Northern Railway to swing their right of way to the North after crossing Bear Paw Mountain, bypassing Ft. Benton, to pass through Pearleville and then South to Great Falls. This would be an easier route for the railway to build, rather than to continue following the river, as it would avoid the hills that the Missouri River ran through.

Pearle lay claim to all the land North of the river. If the railway continued with its plans to build along the bank of the Missouri, he would miss a golden opportunity of flogging some land that didn't actually belong to him, plus his new town of Pearleville would probably die.

There was one slight hitch in Mr. Pearle's plans. Though he claimed all the land in the area, so did Charlie Stewart. As it was mostly open range the Bar Six had as much legal right to graze as did the Rocking P.

The open clash between the two factions had so far not broken into open warfare but had resulted in the death of more than one cowpoke.

Far South of Pearleville, Trevor caught a glitter amongst some trees, the sun reflecting off the Missouri River. Far to the West the sun reflected off the bright snow caps of the Rocky Mountains. Below him the road was empty of travellers. At the ranch, smoke began to lazily curl out of a chimney as people started their day. Trevor crept back from the top of the hill and untied his horse.

There were only two wooden structures in the settlement and both of them were two storeys tall. The Pearle House stood at the North end of the main street, across from it was the general store, both owned by Randolf Pearle. The other buildings, built higgledy piggledy along the sides of the street, were part sod, part tent, and/or part log. Behind the Hotel was a sod and log livery with a pole corral.

Slowly, enjoying the warmth of the rising sun, Trevor let his mare pick her way down the slope through the sagebrush and prairie wool.

Gophers scurried away from their approach and disappeared into their burrows. A hawk rose slowly, circling on an up draught caused by the sun heating the prairie soil.

Trevor flipped a coin to the slowly awakening hostler. Leaving his horse and gear at the livery, he walked around the side of the hotel.

Stepping around the front, Trevor stepped back quickly, having nearly collided with a lovely, young, lady who was descending from the veranda. Her hair, so black it was almost blue, was combed out straight, and framed her nearly flat face, before flowing over her shoulders and down her back to her hips.

Trevor, looking down at her shining hair and smiling face, enquired, "Lay Ho?"

She answered with a bigger smile and a torrent of words that Trevor didn't understand. "Whoa, whoa." He replied, holding up his hands. "Hello is the only word I know in Cantonese."

Losing some of her smile the girl asked, "You no speak Chinese?"

"Sorry." Trevor answered. "Just the one word."

"That is okay," she beamed at him. "It was nice to hear even one word spoken in my language. I have not heard my language since I left China."

"Well I would be willing to let you hear more but you will have to teach me first."

She started to smile then glanced past his shoulder. The smile left her face as she said, "I must go now, please. Nice to meet you." Her wooden clogs raised dust as she hurried across the street to the Pearleville Mercantile. Trevor watched in delight as her dainty nether cheeks alternately flexed, and relaxed, beneath the thin, silk, flower patterned, cheongsam.

Wistfully he began to ascend the stairs and nearly bumped into a man dressed in western wear.

"I wouldn't stare at that too long, mister," Said a Texas drawl, "that slant is the private property of Mr. Pearle."

Before Trevor could reply the man pushed roughly passed and followed the young lady across the street.

Thoughts of slavery running through his head, Trevor sauntered into the Pearle House Saloon. Trevor thought he would get a drink and sit in a corner for awhile well he observed the customers. However, he never made it to the bar.

As he was passing a table, a booted foot reached out and hit his ankle. The top of the expensive and freshly polished boot was covered by pinstripe pants that expanded out over the sides of the chair's bottom. A wide striped shirt strained around rolls of flesh that continued up to what should have been a neck but was simply more rolls of flab. A fleshy face, topped by a derby. Two little eyes were hidden amongst thick flesh and a little mouth spoke in a high voice, "Only people who work for the Rocking P drink in here mister and I don't recognize your mug."

Trying to restrain himself from laughing, at this freak from a sideshow, Trevor replied, "Was just going to sign on."

"Thirty a month and found," came the squeaky rejoinder.

Trevor pursed his lips and shook his head.

"You don't look like you're worth more."

Trevor's hand flashed to his holster. The colt came up, twirled around his finger, and disappeared back into the holster. Trevor's hand came to rest on his belt. All in the blink of an eye.

"All right, thirty-five."

Trevor stared Pearle directly in the eye, "Name's Fero."

"All right, Fero, forty, but you better pull that trigger anytime I tell you."

Fero continued to the bar and ordered a drink.

The man that Fero had bumped into on the stairs came into the saloon and sat down at the table with Pearle. The two conversed for a while with the two of them nodding and looking in his direction. After awhile the cowpoke waved Fero over to their table.

Pearle opened the conversation, "This here's Daryll Van Slee. He's my number one ramrod. What he says goes for me too. Out to the ranch you will find Leroy Elliot."

"He's the ranch foreman but you're not working for him, you're working for me and Daryll. Down the end of the street is my livery stable. Tell the hostler you want my carriage. I assume you know how to drive a buggy. Take it around back of my mercantile. Stairs in the back go up to my quarters and my office. Take my little Chinese flower out to the ranch, she'll show you the way. Just hang around the house. Your job is to bodyguard her."

Pearle showed no sign of continuing his long winded speech so Fero assumed he was dismissed and, nodding, rose from the table. As he turned to leave, Van Slee put a hand on his arm, "Jing Mei sits in the back seat. You keep your eyes on the road. Everyone knows she is the apple of Mr. Pearle's eye. We are particularly worried about her being kidnapped by those bastards from the Bar Six."

It was hard for Fero to keep his eyes on the road with Jing Mei sitting in the back seat. It was a sunny day and they were in no hurry. The horses knew the road, Fero let the reins go slack and turned towards the back seat so that he could converse with the lovely lady.

Fero taught Jing Mei a few new words of English, she taught Fero a couple of words of Cantonese, they had an enjoyable conversation, and Fero learned much of interest about Randolph Pearle.

As Fero had no other chores around the ranch, after he stabled the horses, he hung about the big house and spent most of his time talking to Jing Mei, learning more about her, how to play mah-jongg, and more about Randolph Pearle

Pearle, because of his bulk, didn't like to travel so spent much of his time in town. Neither did he like to climb stairs so spent little time in his office above the mercantile. Most of his time was spent in the Pearle House, usually in the saloon.

A creek normally flowed through Pearle's land, or the lands he claimed as his, and into the lands claimed by the Bar Six. Pearle had had a damn built in the hills to divert this creek so that it only flowed through the Rocking P, thus depriving his neighbour of much needed water.

Ten men guarded the dam against attack. Every forty-eight hours the men changed shift. Everyone took their turn, especially new employees.

After a day lazing about the farm Fero was sent to the dam where he, basically, did nothing but laze about for two days and two nights. Fero, alternated; strolling around the hills and the dam, swimming in the man made lake, sleeping, and eating, taking turns with the other men.

During the two days that Fero had been away, Pearle and Van Slee had been in attendance at the ranch. With his return, the owner, and his sidekick, returned to town, leaving Fero to safeguard Jing Mei.

The next day was clear and hot so Fero hitched up the buggy and took Jing Mei for a ride. Jing Mei packed a picnic basket full of Oriental style foods, at least as close as she could come, considering there were no oriental vegetables grown in the area.

The two had a pleasant outing and became better acquainted. At the same time Fero spied out the neighbour's claims and was appalled at the condition of the cattle. Most of them were dying of thirst in the hot prairie sun.

That night, after everyone else was asleep, Fero slipped out to the shed and stole some dynamite and fuse. He knew that his actions would probably precipitate a range war but he figured that was going to happen sooner or later anyway. The immediate necessity was to get water to the dying cattle.

The question was not whether or not he should do it but whether or not he would get caught before he could accomplish his task. The second question was how big a hole he should make.

If he only created a small breech in the dam it could be repaired too quickly and the thirst of the Bar Six cattle would only be slaked for a little while. If he blew the damn out completely the resulting flash flood might kill more cattle than he was trying to save.

Having very little experience with explosives and certainly no experience with earth built damns Fero opted for making a medium size hole which would hopefully supply water to the cattle for awhile before the dam was rebuilt and yet cause a minimum amount of damage downstream.

Whichever way it turned out the result would most likely be attributed to him and he would have to come out from undercover and see if he could find another way to end the conflict, without getting himself killed.

Fero's idea had been to sneak up on the dam and dig some dynamite into it below the top. However, the top was patrolled and the moon was full. He couldn't put the task off until a moonless night because that would be days away and the cattle could all be dead by then.

Though he didn't know anything about planting dynamite he did know how to swim. Circling around the small lake he moved silently through the water. Hopefully, if he was spotted, the guards would confuse him with the other swimmers.

Camouflaging his red hair, with mud, he moved along the bank with only his head above water. When he reached the dam he made several trips under water, shoving the dynamite as deep into the mud as possible.

Each time he surfaced he brought with him a handful of mud to rub in his hair, replacing what got rinsed out while diving.

The biggest problem was that he hadn't brought enough fuse and what he did have only reached halfway back along the lake, which meant that he would be fully exposed while he lit it.

Returning to his horse he gathered his belongings and tied them to the saddle. With head and hands above the water, to keep the matches dry, he swam back along the bank of the lake.

When Fero got to the fuse he couldn't find anything dry to strike the match against so he struck one against another which resulted in a brief, but bright, flare. A voice called out from the opposite shore, "Hey? Who's that?"

Ignoring the bullet that hit the dirt beside him, Fero concentrated on getting the fuse lit and then dove under the water. Rinsing the mud off as he swam, he moved swiftly upstream until he couldn't hold his breath any longer.

Squatting on the bottom, he surged upwards, out of the water and scrambled up the bank. When he reached the top he paused long enough to turn and holler, as loud as he could, "Get off the dam. It's going to blow." Then he ran for his horse.

Fero had known that whatever happened it would no longer be safe for him to go back to the ranch and had brought supplies with him. Hours after the explosion, that was mostly muffled by the water, Fero stopped on a hillside, from where he could observe all the land he had just covered. Positive that there was no pursuit he bedded down for the rest of the night.

Fero awoke with the sun and after cooking a leisurely breakfast retraced his steps of the night before. The dam was deserted, and empty. His below water level charge had breached the dam and the pent up water had removed the rest of the earthen fill.

There was no need for Fero to travel downstream to see the results. He had seen flash floods before and he was aware of the devastation they could cause. He knew that he had probably killed as many cattle as he had saved.

The next step was to return to town and put an end to the war that he had probably started.

Sure as shootin', all puns intended, Fero could hear shooting before the town came into sight.

Approaching what sounded like a replay of the battle of the Little Big Horn, Fero pinned his marshal's badge to his shirt. Not that he was planning on exposing himself, but just in case someone saw him, it might slow their reactions enough that he would come out the winner.

As everyone's attention seemed to be directed towards the main street he made it to the back of the hotel unseen. Taking the back stairs to the second floor he proceeded down the hallway towards the front of the building, until a shot came close to him, at which point he figured he was far enough to understand that the upper floor was full of Pearle's men and the front windows were a major target for the adversaries across the street.

Slipping back downstairs he crept in through the back door. From the hallway he could look into the saloon and see Pearle, nonchalantly, in his favourite chair, working on a cold glass of beer.

The glass in the front windows was gone. The floor was a layer of shoulder to shoulder cowboys hiding beneath the windowsill and shooting at the mercantile.

On the other side of the hall a shorter hall led to the lobby and the office. Inside the lobby was a similar scene to that in the saloon, with cowboys lying or standing and shooting through the window, with, every now and then, one of them being taken out of the fight by flying lead.

The office however was a different story. Being deserted it was a picture of serenity.

Jing Mei had told Fero that Pearle had three safes, that were never locked because it was too much trouble for him to bend over and turn the combination dial. And there, directly in front of him, was the biggest of the three safes.

Temptation was too much, Fero just had to try the door. A downward pressure on the handle, until the latch opened, a steady pull, until the door opened, and there was the inside, mostly empty.

A large area to hold large valuables, such as suitcases for the hotel guests, which was empty but for a valise. A smaller compartment to hold the ledgers for the hotel, which Fero wanted to look through for evidence, but wasn't so inclined at this juncture in time.

And a still smaller compartment that held valuables.

Opening the door of this third area, and pulling out drawers, Fero came across two drawers that were filled with gold coins and one that was filled with paper currency.

Fero emptied the drawers of coins into the valise, after dumping its contents onto the floor, added the ledgers from the upper compartment, then slipped back out the way he had come in, noticing on the way that Pearle was still sitting on his throne, while the tap man served him another drink.

Back at his horse, which he had left ground reined well back from the building, Fero tied the valise to his saddle then rode in a roundabout way to the back of the mercantile. Here was a similar story to that at the saloon.

The main floor was a bee hive of activity with lead bees flying about but they weren't coming too far into the building because of the display shelves full of goods. Still men were being killed and wounded.

Slipping back outside and up the stairs Fero found that very few bullets were coming through the upper windows. Peering into the front room of Pearle's apartment Fero saw why, and understood why Jing Mei's buggy had been downstairs.

The cowboys were holding Jing Mei in the front window while they fired a withering fire upon the saloon. The boys from the Rocking P could only fire towards the lower floor of the mercantile for fear of hitting Jing Mei.

Between the office and the stairs was Pearle's main office though he never visited it anymore. Here his accountant calculated the payrolls and acted as the local banker. The easily opened safe was much smaller than the one across the street but held considerably more money.

In a hall closet Fero found two wooden boxes which he filled with gold coin making the boxes so heavy that he had to take two trips down the stairs. He put the boxes on the floor of the carriage and tied his horse to the back of it.

Taking the badge off his shirt, he slipped in through the back of the store and down the side isle towards the front window.

Tapping a shooter on the shoulder he held up a finger for silence and then indicated that he wanted to borrow the man's rifle. With great hesitation, and much urging on Fero's part, the man finally handed him his weapon.

Laying the Winchester across the top of a shelf, Fero took slow steady aim at a dark spot well within the building across the street. Picturing in his mind the layout of the saloon and the location where Randolph Pearle had been sitting, he slowly squeezed the trigger, then handed the weapon back to the cowboy.

Shrugging his shoulders, and leaving behind a very perplexed cowpoke, he slipped out as quietly as he had entered.

As none of the Bar Six boys had ever seen him they didn't associate him with the Rocking P. Upstairs he walked into the front room and attracting the attention of the men holding Jing Mei. Holding up his badge he spoke clearly, "Let the girl go or you are all under arrest for kidnapping, and that is a hanging offence."

They thought about it awhile and then pushed Jing Mei towards the door. As she went by Fero whispered to her, "Get in the carriage."

One of the shooters asked, "Well Mr. Lawman? Are you going to arrest all of us?"

As the man started to swing his weapon Fero stepped behind the door frame, "I don't intend to arrest anyone, yet. I'm going to let you kill each other off and then I am going to arrest whoever is left standing."

While they were still trying to digest this, Fero slipped along the hall and down the stairs. Jing Mei had the horses unhobbled and was sitting in the carriage holding the reins.

Climbing onto the seat beside her, Fero said, "Lay ho."

Jing Mei gave him a big smile and handed him the reins.

At the ranch, while Jing Mei gathered a few personal belongings, Fero hitched up a wagon and filled it with saddle bags, a saddle, and a pack saddle, as well as some rope. Behind the wagon he tied his horse and two more.

Driving the wagon to the house he took one of the saddle bags into the office and gathered any gold coins that were in the safe.

Bundling the gold and the girl, along with her possessions, into the wagon he hightailed it away from the ranch.

Once onto the road Fero slowed the horses and handed the reins to Jing Mei. He climbed, over the seat, into the back of the wagon. Opening the bags and boxes that he had taken from the offices in the hotel, store, and house, he transferred the stolen money to the saddle bags.

Untying one of the extra horses he led it up beside the still moving wagon and tied it to the end of the wagon's seat.

With difficulty, he put on a pack saddle, two pairs of money laden saddle bags, and bags of food and supplies. Untying the reins, he let the horse step back behind the wagon and then tied a piece of rope to the reins. With the extra length of the rope, he was able to let the horse go behind his horse. Then he brought the horse in close and tied it to the back of the wagon.

On the other side of the wagon, he saddled the other horse for Jing Mei, and added a pair of saddle bags behind the saddle.

When they reached a straight stretch of road Fero took the reins from Jing Mei and tied them to the seat. He lifted Jing Mei into the back of the wagon and hiking her skirts above her hips he seated her on her horse. Untying the reins, he moved her horse to the back of the wagon and retied it, again using a piece of rope so the horse wasn't too close to the wagon.

Moving his horse up beside the wagon, he added the last of the saddle bags. Untying the other two horses, and with the ropes in his hand, he then untied his horse and climbed into the saddle. The entire procedure was accomplished without stopping the wagon or leaving footprints in the dust.

Following behind the wagon, Fero waited until they came to a short steep hill with a sharp corner at the bottom. Holding his horse tightly, he began shooting and shouting at the horses pulling the wagon. It took a well-placed bullet on the end of the whiffletree before the two horses became fully frightened and started to run.

By the time the horses reached the corner at the bottom of the hill they were being pushed by the out-of-control wagon. As the horses turned the corner the wagon whipped off the side of the road, dragging the horses backwards over the bank.

Fero, finding a patch of shale where they would leave no tracks led Jing Mei and the pack horse off the road. Climbing the back of the hill, and dodging gopher holes, they circled further South before eventually crossing the road at another rocky area that would leave no tracks.

It was late in the day when Fero came across a small stream that emptied into the Missouri. Following the meandering rivulet, he eventually found a spot where the bank was fairly level and the creek widened into a small pool. Close to the bank, where they could drink, Fero tied the horses to a dead tree. Hanging his gun belt on the tree, and striping himself, he threw his clothes into the clearing.

Though they had only been in the saddle for a couple of hours and the horses had moved slowly Jing Mei's buttocks were sore. She moaned as Fero lifted her from the saddle. Her bare legs were raw from rubbing on the saddle.

Fero carried Jing Mei, the two of them covered by a thin layer of prairie dust, to the creek. He was waist deep in the water before Jing Mei's feet became wet and she realized where they were. "No," She cried, wrapping her arms tighter about his neck.

In Chinese she added, "I am afraid of water. I am a cat. Cats don't like water."

Not understanding a word that she said, Fero silenced her with a kiss. As he covered her mouth with his he took in a large breath through his nose and let his legs fold under him.

As Jing Mei sank into the water she tried to scream. Her struggles became violent but Fero held her tight until they were both totally immersed.

Because of her struggles, trying to kiss her beneath the water,, finally, became too much of a chore, and Fero straightened his legs until Jing Mei was out of the water.

Despite her protests he walked further into the stream until her lower body was immersed. With gentle whispers, he calmed her, until she quit struggling.

Ignoring her protests, Fero slowly eased her dress off, and used it to wash her body. Moving into shallower water, so Jing Mei could stand, he handed her, her dress, and urged her to wash him. When she had completed the task the two of them rinsed out her dress.

Jing Mei ignored his request to wait where she was and followed Fero out of the water.

When he had hung her dress on a bush to dry he picked her up again and took her back to the water. Fero, ignoring her curses, and the mild pounding of her small fists on his chest, sat her down on some soft sand in a shallow part of the water. With gentle stokes, of his hand, he made small waves wash against her tender legs.

The cool water felt soothing to the injured flesh. Jing Mei ceased her protestations and lay back against the bottom of the stream. The current caused her long black hair to fan out, downstream, from her head.

In the wagon and then on horseback, they had spent most of the afternoon beneath the merciless sun. Although Fero had thought of many things, he had been primarily concerned with not leaving a trail for pursuers to follow. Because of his preoccupation he had forgotten to bring a supply of water.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Her lips were chapped and her throat was raw. Gratefully she faced upstream and turned her head until her mouth was partially under water.

Opening her mouth, she allowed the cool water to flow in. Rinsing it around she turned her head down stream and spit out the dust laden water. Turning her face upstream again she drank slowly of the refreshing liquid.

When her thirst was slaked, she lay back and looked up at the sun filtering through the leaves of a wild rose bush. The petals of the flowers were long dead and blown away by the prairie winds. The berries were dried to a crisp. She felt like the berries but, unlike them, she was lying in water and she could feel it reviving her weathered body.

With her head below the surface of the water she couldn't hear anything but the gurgling of the brook as the water flowed about her ears. Her body was one cool sensation except for her feet that were floating on the water and being tugged downstream by the current. One foot, for some reason, was higher than the other and something seemed to be touching it.

Lazily she lifted her head and opened her eyes. Through a veil of water she saw Fero holding her foot to his mouth. His lips and teeth were making small nibbles along the side of her foot and his tongue was caressing between her toes.

Strange people these round eyes, Jing Mei thought. One throws me on his bed and pounds me into the mattress whenever he pleases and one wants to eat my feet. She lay back in the water with the resolution that whatever will be will be. In the meantime she would enjoy this strange feeling of the soothing water, an element that she had always feared.

The feelings of movement changed to her other foot and gradually became more noticeable to her as her mind ceased to worry about what had happened earlier in the day. She lifted her head again when she felt the movements move up from her foot and begin to caress her ankle. Again she lay back in the water thinking how strange these white men were.

The kisses and nibbles at her ankle were almost a tickle but, as Fero moved further up her leg, tingles began to run through her body. It became more and more difficult for Jing Mei to concentrate on the sound of the water in her ears.

As he worked his way around her knee and up her thigh the feelings aroused by his tongue began to overpower the massaging of the water.

By the time he had spread her legs and worked his administrations up the tender insides of her thighs her body was screaming for the supreme administration and thankfully he sensed this and didn't make her wait any longer.

Fero's tongue separated the folds of her womanhood and the conflict of his hot tongue and the cool water, on her inner lips, had her bouncing her bottom on the bottom of the creek. Slowly Fero replaced his tongue with two fingers and moved his tongue a little higher.

The sensations that ran through her body were of such magnitude that she nearly leapt out of the water. With all her strength she held his head against her and thrust herself at his mouth. Her violent actions stirred up the bottom of the creek and a cloud of sand spread throughout the water around them.

A small explosion ran through her body and she collapsed back into the water.

Sensing that she was through, Fero backed off from her nearly hairless pubes and, with the palm of his hands, fanned the cooling water against her steaming womaness.

As the sensations began to subside in her, she again felt the administrations of his mouth. This time his tongue was licking at the water in her navel.

In ever widening circles Fero was orally caressing her abdomen until he finally reached the under curve of her tiny breasts. Slowly he licked around the firm mounds. Her body began to tighten as he worked his way closer and closer to her nipples. When, at last, he began to suck her nipples into his mouth, and tantalize them, with his tongue, she began to moan.

Arching her back, she tried to force her breast further into his mouth. Never before had she felt such desire. The only man she had ever been touched by was Randolph Pearle and he was just an animal in heat. Never caring for her feelings, he simply took her; when, where, and how he wished.

Absolutely new, sensations ran, rampant, through her body. Her lips wanted to be kissed, both breasts wanted to be devoured, at the same time, her nether lips screamed to be filled.

Jing Mei's new lover sensed her needs. Moving from her breast, to her throat, he lay a trail of kisses to her mouth and positioned himself between her legs.

His entry was smooth and gentle, unlike the forced entries she had known before. Her body was ready for him and his entry was welcomed. There was no pain, just heavenly bliss.

His movements were designed to heighten her pleasure and she responded accordingly. As her nerves reached a crescendo she could feel the overpowering of his sensations as he squeezed her tighter and called out some unintelligible words. She felt him explode within her and the hot searing blast sent her over the top. She too, yelled aloud, words that were unintelligible to her partner.

At first Fero collapsed on top of her but as he began to recover he twisted sideways. Easing his weight onto his hip, he settled beside her in the water. For a wile he stroked her hair and whispered sweet nothings that she didn't understand. His words changed to caresses and he began to tongue the inside of her ear, again creating sensations she had never experience before.

His hand moved from her hair to her tiny breast and squeezed the firm flesh. He pulled her onto her side and stroked her; side, back, and hip. Tilting her head, and stretching her neck, Jing Mei found his mouth.

The heat of his tongue caused the water in her mouth to boil.

Still penetrated, by his manhood, she rolled him over on his back and lay on top of him. Slowly she wreathed. Fero placed his hands on either side of her hips and began to slide her back, and forth.

The sensations grew and, grasping his shoulders, she lifted her head, arching her back, and pulled herself forward while he pushed her back. Penetration, in this position, was too deep for her tiny body and she felt pain inside.

The pain was not enough to obliterate the screaming desires of her body and she rocked harder, and harder, until they both culminated in a cauldron of boiling sand and water.

Spent beyond imagining, she collapsed, her hairless body flattening the red hairs on his chest.

When she had regained her senses she started to rise but he held her tight, pulling her back against him. For some time she revelled in the feeling of his arms and the gentle strokes of his hands on her back and buttocks.

Slowly he slid her forward until he was no longer within her and then he rolled over depositing her on the bottom of the creek. With a few parting kisses he rose from the water and on weakened legs walked to the horses.

When Fero had the horses unsaddled, and the supplies unpacked ,Jing Mei came from the water and helped him prepare supper. The two of them, laughing, romped along the side of the creek, gathering dry branches, to make a fire, the setting sun drying their bodies.

After dining on simple fare of fried ham and potatoes they shared the washing up. Kneeling together in the cool water of the creek they began to wash more than the skillet and were shortly immersed in the flowing water.

Curled up in blankets beside the dead fire, the sun, climbing over the ridge, began to warm their night cooled bodies. Slowly awakening, in the position in which they had fallen asleep, they drifted into tides of passion.

Fero was stretched out on his back on the hard ground. Jing Mei, still impaled on his shrivelled manhood, was on her stomach, on his stomach.

Her head was resting on his chest and the hairs tickled her cheek. Her warm breath excited his nipple and, as it hardened, so did he.

Lazily he pulled the blankets off of them and let the morning sun warm their naked bodies. As he arose, so did the warmth within her, and she began a slow movement of her hips. Slowly the two of them became more fully awake and more fully aroused, sensations growing in each of them until they both reached a peak, her spasms milking him until he exploded within her.

Breakfast was a copy of last night's supper, from gathering the firewood to washing the pan. Sliced ham and potatoes for breakfast and a cool, but heated, coupling, in the water, for desert.

Contentedly Jing Mei helped Fero saddle and load the horses. Tying his clothes to the bed roll, he draped Jing Mei's dress over her saddle to protect her legs. Fero lifted Jing Mei into the saddle and then shortened the stirrups for her.

Upstream from the pool, that they had shared so intimately, Fero found a place to ford the creek.

* * * * * * * * * * *

It was only necessary to travel a few feet from the creek to notice the difference in the air. From the cool moistness of the air above the creek, to the dry heat above the baked prairie soil. Though early, the sun was already creating a heat haze in the distance.

Within minutes Jing Mei was complaining about the heat, her tender skin, unused to exposure to the elements, was feeling hot and dry. Reluctantly, but kindly, Fero untied his shirt from his bed roll. Pulling Jing Mei's horse up beside his he draped his shirt over her shoulders.

Shortly after, Jing Mei began to complain about her legs. Again pulling her horse up beside his, Fero reached over and lifted her out of her saddle.

First he tried sitting her in front of him, facing forward, but because of the saddle horn, that was more uncomfortable than riding her own horse. They found that the most comfortable position was her riding side saddle while he sat on his bed roll behind the saddle. However, this position left his hands free to hold her. And, his hands, were holding her, everywhere, which eventually led to them finding another position for Jing Mei.

Slipping back into the saddle Fero lifted Jing Mei and swung one of her legs over the saddle so that she was sitting on his lap, facing him. With both of her legs on top of his, they were able to join quite comfortably. Holding each other tight they allowed the gentle rocking of the horse to bring them to a point where they couldn't help but create movements of their own.

For sometime they continued riding locked together until, without the stamina of passion, Jing Mei's leg began to cramp. Fero moved back onto the bed roll and again held Jing Mei in a side saddle position.

Though it had been little more than a week since Fero had alighted from the train at the line camp the track crew had moved the camp many miles to the East. Coming over a rise the two riders could see below them a newly built train station. A new engine was sitting on the tracks under a new water tower. Black smoke puffed gently from the spark-arresting smoke stack of the little 4-4-0.

Fero stopped the horses and took his shirt from Jing Mei's shoulders. Slipping off his horse he untied his pants and boots and put them on. Jing Mei leaned over and raised her arms as Fero lifted her dress.

Sliding it down her arms, he proceeded the cloth with his lips, leaving a trail of kisses along her arms, across her face, where he lingered at her tiny mouth, with the thin lips.

Across her chin and down her throat he continued his trail of oral caresses. He sent delicious shivers running through her body as he paused to suckle each nipple and to maul her small, firm breasts with his lips, before covering them with the smooth silk of her gown.

She giggled as he tickled her navel with the tip of his tongue and made bubbling noises as he blew into the cavity. When his tongue passed below her stomach and began to move seriously her giggles changed to moans and it was all Fero could do to hold her in the saddle.

Fero left Jing Mei sitting side saddle on his horse and mounted her horse, his feet hanging below the stirrups, for the short ride to the railway, at the bottom of the hill. There was an empty cattle car with the door almost in line with a loading ramp and as the train tooted its whistle Fero urged the horses into a run.

Fero didn't duck quite enough and he lost his hat on the upper edge of the doorway. The speed they were travelling at didn't give the horses time to balk at the danger of the narrow ramp and they made it inside just as the train started to move.

Slipping from the saddle Fero quickly tied the horses to the front of the rail car and began to sooth them as they were becoming more nervous as the train increased speed.

Barely catching Jing Mei before she slipped off the saddle he carried her to the back of the car. Setting her on her feet, he ran his hands over her sleek hips while giving her a long kiss. He could feel her firm buttocks beneath the thin silk of her gown.

Untwining his tongue, from her's, he returned to the horses. While calming, and reassuring, the horses, Fero removed their burdens and stacked the saddles, and supplies, in the center of the car.

The train was moving at high speed across the prairies. Despite the removal of their burdens the horses weren't becoming used to the motion and noise.

Fresh air mixed with smoke and soot from the engine wafted into their faces through the spaces between the boards. Fero untied the horses and led them to the back of the train so their backs would be to the wind.

Jing Mei was standing by the open door when Fero had finished rubbing down the horses. He joined her there and together they watched the silent prairie.

Below their feet; the ends of the creosote-black ties, the gray gravel used for ballast, and the fresh black earth of the sub-grade whipped past in a blur of dull colours. Looking at the horizon the rolling prairie stretched for miles and seemed not to move at all.

From the opposite door could be seen the bright blue water of the Missouri river as it wound its way North from it's origin in the Rocky Mountains. Willow, and birch, trees lined its bank and ripples spread out in concentric circles from a spot where a fish had lunged at an insect that had come too close to the surface.

On the far bank, a deer, and a fawn, could be seen, ankle deep, in the water.

Further on a bull moose, with a massive spread of antlers, shoulder deep in the water, was munching on willows that were leaning out from the bank.

All was serene and peaceful one moment, and the next the air was split by a blood curdling war whoop. Fero turned in time to see an Indian brave pointing at him and then the train rushed past the mounted native.

Quickly Fero grabbed Jing Mei and threw her to the floor, just in time for the two of them to be missed by an arrow from another Indian. Fero extracted his Martini-Henry from the pile of supplies and when the next Indian appeared in the doorway he treated him to a face full of lead.

Urging Jing Mei to remain on the floor, Fero crawled to the open doorway and there he saw a band of four Indian renegades. Two were near the front of the train, firing arrows into the engine. At least one gun was returning their fire. Behind the train the two Indians who had passed the car were racing their horses trying to catch up.

Holding his weapon as steady as he could, with the rocking motion of the train, and allowing for the rush of the wind, Fero took a shot at the Indians near the train engine. Whether he hit the man, or the horse, he wasn't sure, but the Indian lost his seat and the horse ran away from the tracks.

The other Indian veered his horse in the same direction and circled around to take a look at the train. When he saw Fero drawing a bead on him, he slipped over the side of his horse and raced away to the East.

The two Indians behind the train gave up the chase. Joined by the one from the front of the train they headed back along the track to pick up their dead and/or wounded companions.

Fero watched for awhile, noting the colours and design of the markings the Indians wore on their faces and chests. He saw feathers in their hair and on their bows but was unable to determine what tribe they were from.

Leaning out of the swaying cattle car he looked towards the engine but saw no one as the train entered a gradual curve. Turning he saw Jing Mei coming towards him. He held her for a moment and gave her a brief kiss.

From the top of the piles of supplies he took his holster and strapped the wide leather belt about his hips.

Clinging to the outside, digging his fingers, and the toes of his boots, between the slats of the car, Fero worked his way to the front of the car. From there it was easy to walk along the empty flat cars to the gondola. By the time he had slithered up the end of the car, and down the slope of the coal, he was black from head to toe.

Examination of the engineer and fireman proved that both were dead. The moustached engineer was slumped over the legs of the fireman, his cap pinned to his head by an arrow. The fireman's calloused, coal blackened hands were clutching at an arrow that had nearly passed all the way through his chest.

Experimenting with the, unfamiliar, levers, and valves, Fero, after some mistakes, finally, figured out which was the speed control and slowly eased the valve closed. Eventually, after coasting for a long way, the train finally came to a stop. With more experimentation Fero eventually found the proper control and applied the brakes.

Climbing down from the cab, Fero walked back, along the tracks, to the cattle car where he lifted Jing Mei to the ground, transferring coal dust from him to her.

"We seem to be far from a cattle ramp," he said more to himself than to his Asian companion, "so we can't unload the horses. It would probably take us a week to walk from here to Great Falls and the rest of the day to walk back to the train station. I guess we might as well see if we can make this thing run backwards." Jing Mei quit trying to wipe the coal from her arms and dress and followed Fero to the front of the train.

Dragging the bodies of the crew to one side of the cab, Fero managed to open the door to the firebox. He shovelled some coal from the gondola into the fire beneath the boilers. He remembered where the brake control was and the lever to set the speed. With more experimentation he found the control to set the engine in reverse and soon they were hurtling back along the track.

The caboose was passing under the water tower before Fero, leaning out of the cab, knew they were at the station. Fero pushed back on the lever and the train began to slow.

Gently easing the brake control, he finally got the steaming behemoth stopped, about a mile past the station.

Jing Mei was tugging at his sleeve and he looked in the direction of her pointing finger. In the distance he could see three Indians raising a dust cloud as they rode away in a hurry. Fero feared what he might find when he returned to the station.

Managing to shift the controls he got the iron horse moving in a forward direction. Giving it only a little throttle he chugged back the way they had just come. Spotting something on the tracks, Fero stopped the train short of the station and, leaving Jing Mei in the cab, climbed down.

The station master's body was severed. The train wheels had passed across his shoulders. His body, riddled with arrows, lay between the tracks. His shoulders and his scalped head lay on the end of three ties. A trail of blood, ending at his feet, came from the train station. Though near death he had dragged himself onto the tracks. Whether or not he was still alive when the train roared past the station would never be known.

The station master's wife lay beyond the grasp of the station master's reaching, severed, arms. Naked and badly mutilated , she had been raped and scalped. The Indians had probably been enjoying her tender body when the train had approached. Though the pubic hairs were covered in blood, Fero could still see that she had been a strawberry blonde. A long open wound ran across her left breast to her navel. Weakly her hands were trying to contain her entrails.

Placing the barrel of his pistol near her blood covered temple, Fero pulled the trigger, putting her out of her misery.

Inside the station Fero found the signs of the struggle. The single shot musket and the flintlock pistol, both discharged in an attempt to keep the Indians out of the living quarters. The destruction in the living quarters where the lady of the house had put up a losing battle, with an iron skillet.

Outside the station, Fero found signs where the Indians had tried to burn the station but had been in too much of a hurry to do a proper job. Their tinder hadn't been sufficient to ignite the new wood. Inside the sod barn, Fero found a shovel.

Across the tracks from the station, near the body of the lady he had killed, Fero striped and began the task of digging four graves, beneath the hot prairie sun.

Sweat was glistening from every pore of his body when Jing Mei called to him from the back of the train. Stepping out of the cool sod and pulling on his sun heated boots he strapped on his gun belt and walked through the dry prairie grass.

Jing Mei stood on the platform at the back of the caboose and urged him to climb the short ladder. A dead Indian was lying, face down, in the doorway at the back of the caboose, a fly infested hole where his back used to be. Inside the caboose, the back wall had two arrows sticking in it, as did the trainman, lying in a darkened pool of his dried blood. A ten gauge greener was grasped tightly in his dead hands.

It was well after dark by the time Fero had finished digging, and filling, the graves. He had dug one wide grave for the three members of the train crew, a narrower one for the lady and the pieces of her husband, and a single one for the Indian.

Jing Mei had cleaned the living quarters and prepared a supper. Fero had stopped digging long enough to eat.

After she had washed the supper dishes, Jing Mei had come to the gravesite to collect Fero's clothes. She washed his pants and shirt along with her dress, the water turning black from the coal dust.

After hanging their clothes to dry, on the line behind the house, Jing Mei squatted near the grave site, while Fero finished digging. As the sun settled in the West, Jing Mei helped Fero carry the bodies to their final resting place.

When the graves were filled, Fero dropped the shovel. Picking up his gun belt, he led Jing Mei along the tracks to the water tower. Unused to the facility, Fero took a few minutes to figure out how to lower the spout and turn on the water. At first, he got a blast that peppered them with ballast as the force of the water blew it up from between the tracks, but then he learned how to regulate the flow.

The water had been warmed by the sun and they revelled in the impromptu shower. For some time they danced beneath the cascade, scrubbing each other with their hands. Washing the sweat and dust from their bodies became secondary as their hands stopped scrubbing and began caressing.

Lifting her tiny body, Fero held her against him, under the running water. Her miniature breasts rubbed against his hair covered chest. Lifting her and moving her sideways, round and round, their bodies caressed each other, the warm water acting as a lubricant.

Jing Mei tried to wrap her short legs around his wide hips. Trying to hold on to his slippery shoulders she pushed herself down until she was impaled. Then she began to move, wreathing against him as he stroked her back.

Tipping her head back, she parted from him, to allow the water to rush over her hard breasts. She couldn't hear the squishing of the water between their stomachs over the beating of her heart. The roaring in her ears came from inside her head, and not from the water washing over them, as she shuddered, rested, wreathed, and shuddered again.

Finally she felt Fero shudder too. She felt the hot searing blast as he exploded within her.

On trembling knees he held her under the flow of the water until his strength returned and they began to get chilled.

Setting Jing Mei on the ground, Fero turned off the flow of water and returned the spout to its upright position.

Immediately, that the flow of tepid water stopped, they were chilled by the night air. Though warm, it felt quite cool after the heat of the day. As goose bumps began to cover their bodies they ran, laughing, from tie to tie to avoid the sharp ballast, back to the house.

At the house they didn't pause to light any lamps but ran straight to the bedroom. Dropping his gun beside the bed Fero flung back the blankets and leapt onto the bed. Jumping into bed behind him, Jing Mei wrapped her arms around him. For several moments they tossed and turned, finding each other in the dark.

Eventually their movements ceased, the only sound in the still night was the beating of their hearts and the moist noises of their lips caressing.

Fero froze, his senses straining to hear. Jing Mei started to ask what was wrong but he silenced her with his fingers. Slowly he disengaged his arms from around her. Then she heard it too.

Together they swung around on the bed and, hanging over the edge, they tried to pierce the stygian darkness beneath. Now the sound, though still muted, was clearly audible. "It's a baby," Jing Mei affirmed.

"I'll get a light," Fero stated as he climbed out of bed.

Fumbling about, in the dark, he went to the train station where the light of the moon came through the windows and he was able to locate a lantern and a match.

Pushing the light before them, they crawled under the bed. Following the sounds, and after a careful search, they found a well-fitted trap door that, with the help of a knife, they were able to pry open.

It was common for hiding places to be built into prairie homes. This one, beneath the floor, was a hollow, dug into the ground. Inside was a baby, wrapped in blankets. Though its father had been butchered by the Indians in the station, the man had gained enough time for the baby's mother to wrap it and hide it.

Fero reached down and gently lifted the baby. Instantly Jing Mei took it away from him and slithered back out from under the bed. As she stood up, she held it close to her naked breast. For a moment the baby stilled its crying as it turned its face and tried to nurse.

Fero climbing out, from under the bed, held the lantern so they could have a better look. The baby, realizing that it wasn't getting any nourishment turned away from Jing Mei and began to cry. Demanding food, it turned red in the face and cried even louder.

Jing Mei took the baby over to the table and moving things aside made room to unwrap the baby. While she was cleaning the baby, Fero took a look through all the cupboards without finding anything suitable for feeding a baby.

"I know there are no cows around and I don't think it's old enough to eat potatoes." Fero brought a dipper of water from the bucket, "perhaps we can slake it's thirst." The dipper was much too big for the little mouth and most of the water ran down on the table. In frustration the little, pink-skinned, bundle, screamed even louder.

Knowing not what else to do Fero cut open a can of beans and, using a spoon, skimmed off some of the sauce. Mixing it with water he managed to spoon feed the little tyke it's first solid food. Handing the spoon to Jing Mei, Fero mixed up some more of his improvised formula.

Eventually, by the time the can was half empty, the little one was ready to go to sleep. The extreme red colouring had left his face and he again nuzzled up to Jing Mei's breast.

Jing Mei crawled back into bed and, after blowing out the light, Fero followed her. Cuddling up to her he began to nuzzle on her other nipple but she pushed him away.

"One for the baby and one for me," Fero said, "that's fair."

"You, sleep," was the reply.

"Typical female," Fero complained and promptly went to sleep, too tired to argue.

Unsure of how long he had been asleep, Fero awoke thinking that Jing Mei's snoring had woken him, but her snores were gentle little bubbles, like the purring of a kitten.

Smiling he started to go back to sleep until he heard the cocking of a pistol. Thinking the intruder would expect him to roll off the bed, he rolled towards the baby, sleeping between him and Jing Mei.

Before the gunman could follow him, he reversed his direction and fell off the bed as the gun exploded. The flash illuminated the room and Fero caught a glimpse of a pair of boots as he hit the floor atop his own boots. Dragging his gun belt with him, he slipped under the bed.

Above the cries of the baby an Eastern accent said, "Come out o' there, ya' murderin' thief."

Fero recognized the voice of Daryll Van Slee.

Because of the cries of the baby, Fero didn't hear the strike of the match but the light from above was enough to outline the booted feet of the man standing by the bed. Fero pointed the, already cocked, pistol and shot Van Slee in the ankle.

Screaming, the man fell to the floor, discharging his firearm. Again Fero fired his pistol, the bullet destroying Van Slee's testicles before entering his abdomen.

As the dying man wreathed and screamed on the floor of the house Fero crawled from beneath the bed. The match had gone out when it had been dropped. In the dark Fero fumbled about until he found Van Slee's head and fired a bullet into the man's ear.

Now there was only one voice screaming as Fero found and lighted the lamp on the table. His fears were realized as he moved to the bed and saw the body of Jing Mei. One of the shots that Van Slee had fired had caught Jing Mei in the face and exited through the side of her head.

Fero left the baby, still wrapped in Jing Mei's arm, and gathered his clothes from the line behind the house. With the light of the lantern to aid him Fero climbed aboard the steam engine and set about rekindling the fire in the firebox beneath the big boiler.

While the engine was building up steam, Fero went to the barn and hauled some hay to the horses, which were still in the cattle car. Making several trips with the water bucket from the house he carried water to the horses. When there was enough steam to move the engine he moved it forward to the water tower and replenished the train's water supply.

Fero was heaping more coal into the firebox when the interior of the cab became very bright. Straightening up, his eyes were blinded by the bright headlight of an approaching train. The work train, carrying; ties, rail, ballast, men, and supplies, was heading for the camp at the end of the line.

Jing Mei was buried next to the station master, and his wife, while Van Slee was buried next to the Indian.

The train crew moved Fero's train onto a siding and took the work train up the line. Other train men brought Fero's train back on the line and headed for Great Falls.

Fero left the train at Floweree, when the train stopped for water. After unloading the horses, he sold them at the stage stop and bought a ticket to Ft. Benton.

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AHEAD - To the Top of Chapter XVIII

BACK - To the Top of Chapter XVI

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