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Author's note: Picture, courtesy of `CINCINNATI VIEWS .NET'
* PATRICIA *
By the time the stagecoach reached Ft. Benton, Fero was an experienced hand at cleaning and feeding a baby. However, Fero knew that a steady diet of the sauce from `pork and beans' was not what the baby needed. By the time Fero alighted from the stage he had a pretty good idea where he good get a steady supply of mother's milk.
Fero's first stop in Ft. Benton was the office of the Union Steamship Co. There he purchased rooms on the next boat going downstream. There he also had three of his four saddle bags stored in the company safe. As the boat would not leave for two days his second stop was the hotel where he arranged for rooms and had his fourth saddle bag secured in the hotel safe and his valise taken to his room.
Each of these excursions required more time than usual as he was constantly being stopped by women, young and old alike, who wanted to look at the baby. Of each of them, he inquired if they knew where he could find a wet nurse, but to no avail. His thoughts kept going back to his original idea but first he wanted to stop at a store and get some new clothes for the baby.
Fero stepped from a haberdashers. The late afternoon sun reflected from his new boots. James' worn holster hung over new stripped trousers. The baby, wrapped in a new blanket, was held against a new western cut shirt. His unkempt red hair stuck out from under a new black Stetson with a red band around the crown.
He followed the store clerk's directions to a barber shop and bathhouse, which is where he should have gone before he donned his new bought duds, but hindsight, as they say, is always twenty - twenty. Fero hadn't felt as clean or as pleased with himself in years.
Finding a store, he purchased a money belt and going back to the hotel he retrieved his saddle bag from the safe. In his room he transferred as much money as he could, without it making too big a bundle beneath his shirt, from the saddle bag to the money belt.
Following directions from the desk clerk, Fero found a bank and deposited the remainder of the money, that had been in the saddle bag.
With a spring in his step he walked through town to find a wet nurse. As he approached a saloon, two men came rolling through the entrance.
An excited crowd of onlookers soon gathered around the two men wrestling on the ground. The antagonists were both burly men and about the same size. By their garb Fero ventured to guess one was a river man and the other was a cow puncher. In the crowd there were other cow pokes, who, by there hollering, were obviously friends of the cowpoke in the fight. One of them was holding a hat which presumably belonged to one of the combatants.
Also in the crowd were several river boat men who were cheering on their hero, who, at the present seemed to be giving as much as he was taking.
From his vantage point, on the boardwalk, Fero was able to watch the fight over the heads, of the crowd.
The two men had each other in a head lock, each with one arm wrapped around the other's neck. Like two dogs fighting over a bone, Fero thought.
With his free hand the river man threw a punch at the stomach of the cowpoke which loosened the hold around his neck allowing him to get free. As he rolled away the cowpoke tried to rake him with a spur.
The sailor came to his knees and as the cowpoke started to sit up he landed a roundhouse to the man's head. While the dazed cowboy fell back on the dirt the sailor tried to stand on wobbly legs.
The noise from the crowd drowned out the cocking of the hammer, but not the sound of the shot. As the sailor started to turn to his friends he collapsed into their arms.
"That'll teach you River Rats not to mess around in this part of town." As the crowd moved back the cowboy got up off the ground. Smoke still curled from the barrel of the pistol, clenched in his hand, keeping the crowd at bay.
The crowd moved further back and finally started to disperse. Realizing that no one else was going to take up the fight the cowpoke holstered his weapon and started back towards the saloon.
Fero stepped forward, blocking his path, "Yore under arrest."
From a cut beneath his eye, blood ran down the cheek of the cowpoke, "It was a fair fight."
Fero extracted his badge from his back pocket and held it aloft so that all could see. "The man was unarmed." Fero stated, calmly, "It was not a fair fight and you are under arrest for murder."
Before Fero could put his badge back in his pocket he was facing the working end of the man's Remington 44. "Yeah, well, Mr. Lawman, yo' ain' takin' me no where for no hangin'."
"You can probably shoot me and get away with it," Fero stated, calmly, "but if you shoot this baby, I'm sure these good folks will tear you to pieces."
"Yore right." The cowboy said after some consideration, "I don't want to shoot no babies, so you'd best put that bundle down."
His right hand, returning his badge to his back pocket, Fero stepped forward with his left foot, blocking his right hand, from the man's vision.
To divert the cowpoke's attention he held the baby out with his left arm, "Here you take him. If you kill me, he's going to need someone to look after him."
The man hesitated, his gun wavered, and Fero shot three times. The firing of the gun directly beneath the baby startled the little bundle and he began to scream at the top of his lungs. All attention was diverted from the falling cowboy.
It was several moments before people realized that Fero's first two shots had thrown the cowpoke back. The first bullet had struck him in the chest, and the second, as he was already going down, had hit him in the collar bone, which spun him completely out of the way. Fero's last bullet had gone through the chest of the cowpoke's companion who was directly behind him. There were now three dead men lying in the street.
A chubby man dressed in a black suit stepped out of the crowd, "Hey mister," the man called, "If yore a lawman, is the Gov't. going to pay for buryin' these galoots?"
Fero, trying to hush the baby, dug in his pocket and without looking at the value, tossed the man a coin.
"Thank you sir, thank you," The undertaker said as he looked at the coin and bit it to detect if it was real. "I'll see that they get the best funeral ever." The man turned and disappeared down a side street.
For a moment Fero wondered what the value of the coin might have been, but his thoughts were immediately distracted by several river men who wanted to buy him a drink.
Another fight was about to start between the two factions until Fero yelled above the noisy crowd, "Quiet." When the crowd had hushed he continued in a lower voice, "First off, I am a lawman. No one buys me a drink. Secondly I want you all to be quiet so this baby will go back to sleep." With that he turned and walked into the bar.
By the time Fero had received his drink from the bartender, a squad of soldiers had pushed their way through the crowd inside the saloon. Fero had to produce his badge and explain what had happened. Seating himself at a vacant table Fero then explained why he was carrying a baby. Satisfied with Fero's explanation the Sergeant led his men back to the fort.
No sooner had the soldiers left than the town Marshall came in and Fero had to repeat his explanation. After which he had to turn down an offer of a job to work with the town Marshall.
By now all the working girls in the establishment had gathered around to hear the story and ooh and ah over the baby. One, overly made up, female was holding the baby while another tickled its chin.
A buxom lass, her bodice cut low to emphasize her already obvious endowments, pushed the table aside and sat on Fero's knee, "Those two will take real good care of the babe. How `bout we go upstairs, and I'll take real good care of you?" she asked, and then tossed back her head and downed Fero's whiskey.
"Would you like a drink?" Fero asked, rearranging his knees under her overweight buttocks.
"Don't mind if I do," she replied and called to a cowpoke leaning against the bar, "Hey Pete. Pass us a couple of whiskeys over here, would ya." To Fero she asked, "Is that all you want to do is drink?"
"Thanks Pete," she said as she reached for the two glasses that were being handed to her. Handing a glass to Fero she added, "I could show you a real good time," then took a drink from her glass.
"I'm sure you could." Fero started to reply.
"Belle. Call me Belle, Sweetie," Belle interrupted.
"OK, Belle," Fero agreed. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure you can. Bet you want to know if these are real," She said wiggling her chest towards his face. "You bet your sweet ass they are, sugar. You wanna come up stairs and I'll show you what you can do with them."
"Uh, maybe later Belle. Right now I just want to ask you something."
"Sure thing, Sugar. You just ask me anything."
Looking at her mammoth mammae, he asked, "Those are really big but are they full of milk?"
"They full all ri.. Ooh, you want milk. I'm fat, sugar," she said patting, her stomach, "but I ain't preg... Ooh, I see," she interrupted herself, looking at the baby the other girls were holding. "I know what you want. And I know who you want. Well, you came to the right place, doll. I ain't just another pretty face ya know. Not only do I know every girl in this bar, I know ever girl in this town."
Belle downed her drink and yelled at Pete, "Hey Pete, pass us a couple more would ya." Turning back to Fero she continued, "There's a saloon at the other end of the street called the Union House. Bein' a law man, ya' probably already know that. But being new in town, ya probably don't know that Pat, she prefers the name Patricia, but everyone just calls her Pat."
"Thanks Pete, yore a doll," she interrupted her own speech to accept the proffered drinks and then continued in the same breath, "Anyway Pat done got herself knocked up a few months back and now she's too big to work upstairs. Benny, that's' the bartender at the other saloon, he said she could still hustle drinks but now she's gettin' too big for that and he's told her she's gonna have to pack her bags pretty quick."
"You just go on down the street and you'll find her. Ya can't miss her, she's the one with the big," Belle emptied her glass, set it on the table, and held her hands in front of her chest, "not as big as mine but she's bigger here than me," she added, patting her stomach.
Getting off Fero's knees, she bent far over to give him a clear view of her ample cleavage, "You go down and make arrangements with her for the baby and then you come back here and make arrangements with me. OK, Sweetie."
Without pausing in her speech she stood up and held her hands out to the girl holding the baby, "Now you girls give this nice lawman back his baby, he's got to take it down the street and get it fed."
The girls handed the baby to Belle and she passed it to Fero who was trying to stand on his sore legs. Fero flipped a coin to the bartender and handed one to Belle. She handed him the baby. "Thanks Belle. I appreciate ..," Fero wasn't allowed to finish, before Belle was shooing him to the door, "Oh, hush now. Weren't nuthin'. You just come back in a little while and show ol' Belle how much you appreciate her."
Before he realized it, Fero was outside on the sidewalk enjoying the cool evening air, the baby contentedly sucking on a piece of rag dipped in whiskey.
It was getting on in the evening and with few women about, Fero was not stopped as he walked slowly, allowing the circulation to creep back through his numb legs.
A comment was overheard as he was passed by two cowpokes. One said, "That there feller rode the range once too often."
"Looks like some filly's got her spurs dug in deep, all right," came the rejoinder. Fero ignored the banter and strolled along enjoying the evening breeze which was welcome after the heat of the day.
It wasn't hard for Fero to find Patricia, as she almost fell into his arms. Fero was passing the space between the saloon and the building next to it when she came waltzing out of the dark. As she stepped up onto the boardwalk he had to stop to avoid running into her.
Taking Fero for another saloon habitu³, Patricia automatically began to approach him as a potential customer, until she noticed the baby, "Ooh, a baby. Can I see?" she asked excitedly. "Come over in the light from the window so I can see."
Patricia stepped sideways a couple of paces and Fero followed until the yellowish light from the saloon's interior shone through the smoke-dirty windows onto the baby. "Oh, my. He's a handsome tyke, ain't he? Can I hold him?" Patricia looked up at Fero with big, brown, cow-eyes.
As Fero handed her the bundle, she asked? "It is a boy isn't it?"
Fero nodded, "Yes, Mam. Shore is."
"He is handsome. I hope mine is going to be a handsome boy." Holding the baby to one side, in one arm, she twisted sideways and patted her belly, with the other hand, "I'm going to have a baby too."
"Pretty soon, from the looks of it."
"Can't be too soon. This heat makes it really hard to sleep, but it'll probably be another month." She handed the baby back, "Thanks, Mister. I gotta get to work now. How bout you, you want to buy a lady a drink?"
"I think we've had enough for one night," Fero replied, wiggling the rag in the baby's mouth.
Patricia took the rag from the baby's mouth and sniffed at it, "Oh, you gave the baby whiskey?" she cried.
"I don't have any milk and he was making such a fuss. I was hoping maybe you..."
"Ooh, you mean... Me? Oh, no. I'm not ready yet. My baby isn't born. Well.. Sometimes my dress gets wet when some cowpoke squeezes me."
"Could you try?"
"Couldn't hurt, could it?" Patricia said. Looking about she said, "give me the babe."
Taking the little bundle, carefully into her arms, Patricia disappeared, back, into the darkness, of the alley, where she had come from, minutes ago.
In a few moments her voice drifted back to the street, "I don't know if he is getting anything but he is sure trying awful hard."
Fero walked into the darkness and stopped by the girl's shadow. In the darkness he could barely make out the fact that she had opened the bodice of her dress. The baby had his face pressed tightly against one breast and was rhythmically moving its little head.
"Let me try," Fero said as he lifted the other exposed mammary and began to massage it.
"Hey. I ain't a moo cow ya know," Patricia said, twisting away from him.
"Just checking to see if the baby is actually getting anything."
"Well, yore pretty free with your hands for a fellah that won't even buy me a drink."
"Babe, if you've got enough milk for the babe, I'll buy you more than a drink."
"Now that's more like it," Patricia replied, twisting her shoulders and arching her back so as to proffer her flesh, "I'm a working woman ya know. Ain't no free lunch in this world."
Fero didn't reply. Bending his back, and lifting her breast, he placed it in his mouth. After some time, he was able to fill his mouth with warm liquid. He spat it on the ground. Wiping his lips, he said, "I think you and I should talk price."
"Depends what you have in mind."
"Well, to start with, the baby needs feedin' several times a day. And cleaned." Fero bent back to Patricia's exposed breast, "and I might need to be fed now and then."
"That's all I can give ya mister. I'm too far on for anything else."
Fero swallowed a mouthful of milk, "From the waist up."
Not exactly sure what he meant, Patricia acquiesced, "I make a dollar a day hustling drinks."
"Two dollars a day," Fero said between mouthfuls.
"Two dollars!" she exclaimed.
Fero stood up, still holding her swollen mammary, "I'm taking the baby to his aunt in New York. I have a cabin reserved on the Dakota. We sail the morning after next."
Patricia, though she didn't know it, had been born of wealthy parents. Her only recollections of childhood were of an orphanage in Germany. While taking his family on a business trip, when Patricia was only two years old, Patricia's father had been attacked by highway men. The brigands had taken the hired coach, and her parents, after leaving Patricia with the dead driver.
On Patricia's fourteenth birthday, a man had come to the orphanage looking for young girls. The man commissioned several of the girls to engage in correspondence with lonely men in the Americas. Patricia had, after reading several letters, chosen to correspond with a prospector in the American Territories. After two years of correspondence the would be gold miner, and husband, had asked Patricia to marry him and had sent her enough money to pay for her passage to Ft. Benton.
Nearly two years ago Patricia had arrive in The Montana Territories and to date had not met Jeb Simpson, her fianc³. At the end of a week, staying in the Fort's cheapest room, Patricia had only enough money left for one more meal. During the week she had constantly sought anyone who might know of the whereabouts of her betrothed. Also during the same week she had been constantly propositioned by members of the male population.
With no skills, of any kind, and, her only assets, her good looks, she made a living, while keeping alive, her dream of marrying a successful gold miner. After nearly two years, of putting up with men that smelled of cheap booze, and prairie dust, and sweat, she had lost her looks, and her dream.
Wages, despite the fact that she was pregnant. Plus a free trip to New York!
Patricia's mouth accepted Trevor's offer before her mind had registered the decision.
Despite the darkness Fero could see the excitement on Patricia's face, "New York. Mister, you got yoreself a deal."
Patricia held out her hand and Fero shook it, "When can you start?" he asked.
"I think I've already started," she answered as she lifted the baby onto her shoulder to burp him.
"And a right fine job yore doin' too, Mam. But I was thinking you might want to take tonight to get your gear together and meet me tomorrow morning."
"I ain't got but this dress and one other. Won't take me two minutes to pack." Patricia spoke quickly, not wanting to let her new benefactor out of her sight. "`Sides the baby can't wait till tomorrow morning to be fed again. Where're you stayin'?"
"I've got a two room suite at the hotel if you want to share that for tonight?"
"I'm sharing one room and one bed with two other girls. Believe, you, me, they would be happy to see me gone." She handed the baby to Fero. "You just give me two minutes and I'll be all packed."
The room was very close. Stumbling over broken boards and empty bottles they reached a stairway on the side of the saloon.
Climbing the steep wooden stairs they, passed through a weathered door and entered a bare hallway. A single lantern cast its feeble light along a dirty wooden floor. Cracks between the drying wooden boards, of the walls, allowed visitors to observe the occupants of the rooms.
Patricia entered a room at the far end of the hall. On the wall hung two or three faded dresses. A double bed with a corn husk mattress and a couple of worn wool blankets took up most of the room.
Patricia lit a candle that was sitting atop a set of drawers that was the only other furniture in the room. Pulling open the second drawer she removed a blue silk handkerchief, a faded photograph, a broken handled hairbrush, and a pair of patched bloomers.
Turning to Fero, who had sat on the edge of the bed, she said, "That's it. That and the blue flowered dress on the wall and it don't fit no more. Told ya it wouldn't take long."
Fero looked at the dress hanging between two other dresses, each one suspended from a nail in the wall. All three were faded and thread bare, from having been worn and washed many times.
Fero looked back at Patricia, she too looked faded and thread bare, from having been used too many times. Yet beneath the toughened exterior he sensed that she wasn't very old.
A breeze drifted through the cracks in the wall and the flame of the candle wavered. Shadows danced across her face and Fero could imagine that at one time she had been fairly pretty, never beautiful, but not ugly.
"What are you looking at?" she asked.
"Just thinking that maybe you should leave that extra dress for one of the other girls. If it don't fit anyway, it's no good to you. Tomorrow I could buy you a dress that does fit. Maybe one with a looser bodice."
"You think this one is too tight?"
"Well it's probably not too comfortable in your condition and they will probably get bigger."
"Maybe they'll get smaller with the babe nursing."
"Yeah, you like that, don't you?"
Fero twisted and put the baby on the bed beside the wall. Turning back he said, "I'd like some more right now. I haven't eaten since I got off the stage."
Scooping her hands into her bodice Patricia lifted her flesh free of the restraining fabric and advanced towards Fero, "Just don't drink it all. The baby has to be fed again in a couple of hours."
Fero didn't reply, his mouth was too full.
Fero switched from breast to breast several times, running his tongue down through Patricia 's cleavage as he did so.
Pushing at her waist Fero moved Patricia back from him and lifted his feet, "pull my boots off would you?"
"We can't do anything you know." Patricia said as she grabbed his boots and pulled.
Fero was unbuckling his belt, "won't hurt a bit. I promise."
When he was naked, Fero slid back into the middle of the bed, "Walk over top of me on your hands and knees, like a puppy dog." he directed.
Patricia did as she was asked until her chest was over his toes and then he stopped her. "Lower your chest until you are touching me and then sway from side to side."
Bending her elbows, Patricia brought her chest closer to Fero's feet, until her breasts were touching his toes and then she began to rock from side to side. Her heavy, milk-filled mammae swayed back, and forth, brushing the tips of Fero's toes.
After a few moments of this he said, "Lovely, lovely. Now move slowly forward and work your way up my legs."
The soft under curve of her breasts caressed the top of his calves, and then his knees, as she slowly crawled along the bed, swaying from side to side.
When she reached his hips he reached down and began to massage her hanging flesh, squeezing until the milk ran down, matting his hairs, and trickling between his legs to wet the mattress beneath him.
Separating her globes he wrapped them around his flesh and began to squeeze them together, twist them from side to side, and lift them up and down. The heat, of her flesh on his, was beyond belief.
Patricia too, was enraptured by this heat. His hands on the outside of, and his manhood between, her breasts, had her mind wrapped in ecstasy.
Entering the hotel Fero directed Patricia to the dinning room, "You go find us a table and I'll put your things in the room."
"I got no...," Patricia started to reject the idea.
"And expenses," Fero interrupted.
Patricia's eyes lit up as she started into the dinning room, "Bring on the vittles, I'm starved."
Because they had spent the night trying to find positions that were comfortable for Patricia the three were too late for breakfast, even though they had retired directly after supper.
After an hour at the bathhouse, Fero took Patricia to have her hair done. While he waited for her he added to his already new wardrobe with the addition of a linen shirt and a string tie.
Next stop was a clothing store, for Patricia, where, after two hours, which seemed like five, to Fero, she, finally, decided on a purple, French silk, bonnet with purple and cream plumes. Beneath the bonnet, her hair swept back along the sides and ended in a large bun just above the collar of her dress.
The overly large nose and extra wide mouth gave character to an otherwise plain face which was brightened by fresh rouge.
An, Italian lace, shawl covered her breasts which were lifting out of the lace bodice of a, blue silk, afternoon dress, which was covered with small, white, flowers. The, apron front, was trimmed with black bunting and blue fringing. The skirt, resting on several layers of crinolines, that were fitted to allow for her stomach, covered new, black, cloth boots.
The threesome turned many a head as they walked back to the hotel dinning room.
After lunch Fero went back to the hotel to arrange for their new purchases to be taken to the boat. Patricia went to wake up her ex roommates and show them the baby.
At one time several hundred river boats plied the Mississippi but as the railways moved West, from the Atlantic states, the big boats went the way of the dodo bird. Many steamship companies tried to move their vessels onto the Missouri river. Some of the floating palaces did all right for a while, on the Southern end of the Mississippi tributary.
The Northern end of the Missouri River was a different story. There, there is more white water and the waters are narrower,, with many a shifting sandbar.
A narrower, shallower draught, vessel was required. There, too, there were fewer passengers and the new boats were designed for transporting freight. They didn't have the glitter of their ancestors to the South.
Eventually these, like many of their Southern sisters, began to mysteriously sink, or burn. More than one insurance underwriter went bankrupt.
Though Randolph Pearle would never know it, his lobbying had not fallen on deaf ears and as the Pacific Northern Railway pushed west through the Dakota and Montana Territories it did go North of Ft. Benton. Though it turned South and rejoined the Missouri further East then he had wished. It never went through Pearleville.
In Canada, the Grand Trunk, and the Canadian Pacific Railway, were pushing West, and during the next few years, supplies for the North West Territories would stop coming through the Americas. Fort Benton, like the steamship companies, would shrivel.
In late `79 the levee was a busy place. The hub of commerce for the Fort, the levee, teamed with life. Boats were arriving, and departing, continuously, their bells ringing and their whistles tooting. Roosters, or roustabouts, were running everywhere. Loading wagons, unloading wagons. Hefting their burdens onto their shoulders, they would run along narrow wooden gangplanks that connected the boats to the wharf.
Little freight was going East. Most boats, after unloading would wait for a day or two. The odd one might get lucky and have a passenger or two, possibly a gold miner who had struck it rich in the hills and was heading for the big city. Not uncommon for the ships safe to contain gold dust. But most were heading downstream empty.
The Dakota was fairly quiet. Docked against the levee she had finished unloading first thing that morning. By noon she had loaded her supply of firewood for the first part of the trip South. The roosters, and most of the crew, having finished their chores had left the boat for a night on the town. They would stagger back to the boat and shove off in the wee hours of the morning.
There was nothing to distinguish the Dakota from any of her cousins, docked to either side of her. They all looked like multi-tiered wedding cakes. Up top, the brass bell, at the front, was freshly polished. Behind the bell, on either side, twin chimneys soared fifty, or more, feet above the pilot house that sat between, and behind them.
The front of the lower deck was piled from floor to ceiling with cord wood for the boilers. A steward, as black as the chimneys, his skin contrasting sharply with the crisp white uniform that he wore, waited at the top of the gangplank.
"Ma' name is Felix," The steward said, after Fero had introduced himself. "Yo' packages all arrived Mr. Fero," "I don' had dem put in yo' cabin. Yo' welcome to com' `board. I sho' the Capt' tol' yo' tha' they ain' no' one on bo'd. Yo' welcom' to spen' da nite but won' be no cook `til' tomorra'."
"Yes, thank you Felix" Fero replied. I'm just going to rest for a while until Patricia arrives and then we will go back into town for supper.
"I's gon' to town too, Mr. Fero. Soon`s I sho' yo' wife to yo cabin'."
Felix opened the door at the top of the stairs and ushered Fero into his cabin.
"Thank you, Felix," Fero said, handing him a quarter, "You have a good time in town tonight."
"I will, sir, I will." Felix politely refrained from looking at the coin. "Thank yo' sir." Making a slight bow, he turned and left.
Later in the evening, Fero and Patricia, having enjoyed, an excellent meal at a fine eating establishment and an evening's entertainment at a live theatre where they had watched a crude attempt at a Shakespearean play, were strolling along the sidewalk, returning to the Levee.
Passing a saloon, Felix staggered out of the doorway ahead of them. Felix stepped directly into the path of a man wearing a top hat and a tailed coat. The man grabbed Felix by the collar of his uniform, and the seat of his pants, and tossed him into the street. "Mind yore manners, Nigger," the man said, as Felix rolled over in the street.
Quickly Fero stepped forward and placing his hand on the man's shoulder spun him about. "Who in the name of hell do you think you are?" Fero breathed into the man's face.
"I, sir, am a gentleman from the South. And where I come from, niggers walk on the street."
A crowd was starting to gather and voices were raised in objections, and agreements, to both, question, and answer.
"I, sir, have seen yore South, and yore gentlemanly ways, and how you treat niggers," Fero retorted, "I'm here to tell you that the South doesn't exist anymore, and niggers have the same right to walk on this here sidewalk as you do."
"It is obvious, sir, that you are no gentleman. If you were, you would not insult me like this in front of all these people. I've a good mind to challenge you to a duel."
"Be my guest," Fero said, drawing his weapon and pointing it at the man's left eye. "Here we don't walk out at dawn. We simply pull a hog leg and blow the opponent's brains all over the people behind him." Quickly, the crowd began to push, and shove, trying to get out of the line of fire.
"And that is exactly what I am going to do if you do not pick that man up out of the street and help him up on the sidewalk. After which, you will give him twenty-five cents to get his suit cleaned."
The man looked into Fero's eyes and knew that he was only a trigger's pull away from death. He stepped off the sidewalk and helped Felix to his feet. Using his hands to move people aside, he made room for Felix to step up onto the sidewalk. Again reading Fero's eyes the man reluctantly withdrew a quarter from his purse and gave it to Felix.
The man was about to turn away when Fero's words stopped him, "Now apologize."
`The man turned back and started to object, "I will.." Fero cocked the hammer on the pistol. The man stepped forward and, brushing dirt from Felix's coat, said, "Do excuse me sir. I am most humbly sorry." When he heard the hammer of the gun being released, the man turned and walked into the street.
The crowd was starting to disperse when a man near the center of the street stopped the Southern gentleman. In a loud voice the man called to Fero, "Hey. Yankee."
Heads turned and then people started to move away in all directions. The man in the middle of the street wore clean western clothes. A shiny black leather holster hung low on his left leg.
"Yeah, you. Nigger lover. This here fine Southern Gentleman has been disgraced by yore actions. You may have caught him unprepared, but I am ready to stand up for him. Make yore move."
Slowly Fero stepped off the sidewalk and began to walk towards the man. As he did so he slowly reached into his pocket and removed his badge. The man in the street gazed at the badge and then looked back up at the advancing Fero. "That makes it even worse. If yore a lawman you should stick up for a gentleman, not side with a nigger."
Still walking Fero calmly said, "The war is over son. All colours are equal. Forget yore hatred, and go home."
Losing some of his bravado the man asked, "What are you a preacher, or a lawman. Make yore move, or eat crow."
Fero was within two feet of the gunslinger when he dropped his badge, "Okay," he said as he punched the barrel of his pistol into the man's ribs, "Here's my move. Where's yours?"
The man's face literally turned white. Perspiration beaded his forehead.
"Go home, or spend the night in jail." Fero said, quietly.
It took a few moments for the man to get his throat working. After swallowing a couple of times he managed to croak, "OK. You win." Hesitantly he stepped back. Taking another step backwards he turned and began to walk away. Fero holstered his pistol and squatted to pick up his badge.
A gasp from a bystander sent Fero tumbling to his side just as he heard the cocking of a pistol. The roar of a forty-five followed the bark of a smaller calibre weapon. Fero rolled. Two spurts of dust arose from the street where Fero had been lying only moments before.
The gunslinger cursed, "Stay still you damn Yankee." A bullet slammed through his mouth cutting off his words, and his life. A second shot from Fero's pistol hit the Southern Gentleman in the chest. As he fell, he dropped a double barrel derringer, from his hand, the second barrel, still unfired.
When Fero was finally able to pull himself from Patricia's arms he stumbled from the cabin onto the deck. The hot prairie sun was well above the horizon. The lazy, silt ridden, water flowed, gently, along the bank, well below the high water mark.
A border of plant life made a contrasting demarcation line between the water and the stark baldness of the yellow prairie wool. The rolling prairie stretched as far as the eye could see.
The boat's whistle sounded and the boat leaned as it turned sharply towards the unseen shore on the other side of the boat. From down stream an answering boat's whistle could be heard.
Patricia came, staggering from the sudden turn of the boat, out of the cabin. As Fero held her close, she used a sequined, felt fan, to move the air, in front of her face. "Good Lord. It's not even noon yet and the room is already like an oven," Patricia complained.
"It's a bit stuffy in there, all right," Fero confirmed. "But there's a nice breeze out here. Look, here comes another boat."
The two boats, again, exchanged whistles, as they passed close together. Fero could see the pilot in the pilot house, momentarily he took one hand from the wheel to wave at their pilot. Then his hand and his concentration were back on the wheel and the water. The Captain of the other boat was on the upper deck and exchanged a few words with their Captain, as the two boats slid by, in a welter of white water.
The Montana was loaded, going up stream. The wood pile on her front deck was getting smaller but her freight deck was mostly full. The roosters were throwing jibes at the roustabouts below Fero. The passengers lined the deck, waving. Fero looked about him and realized that he and Patricia were the only passengers on the deck of the Dakota. Sheepishly they waved back.
One of the passengers on the Dakota yelled, "Did you strike it rich?" Fero looked at Patricia, smiled, and nodded, then waved some more.
Felix appeared shortly afterwards, "Compliments o' th' Capt' Mam, Mist' Fero. Luncheon will be served at 12 noon. If yo' all ar' don' I'll clean yo' room."
"You tell the Captain we will be happy to have lunch with him. But please leave the room for now. The baby is still sleeping." Patricia said.
"Yas `um. I come ba' later, Mam." Felix said and slowly wandered along the deck.
The Captain was a barrel of a man. Bright blues eyes twinkled from under the peak of his cap which hid his forehead and eyebrows. A large red, drinker's nose, topped a face full of greying whiskers. An unlit, corn cob, pipe, extended from his hidden lips. But for the colour of his uniform, it could have been ol' St. Nick, sitting at the head of the polished mahogany table.
To the Captain's right sat his first mate. He was taller than the Captain and had a pleasant smile. The nose, broken while still a rooster, kept him from being considered handsome. Brawny arms and scared knuckles showed that he had worked his way up in rank. He was probably still capable of handling the rough work when required.
The only other person at the table was a guide for wagon trains. Lance, dressed in buckskins, was travelling East. There he would meet with some settlers and guide their wagon train to California.
Captain Wiston opened the conversation by commenting on Fero's actions of the night before. Brushing this aside, Fero remarked that the table was very shy on dinners.
The Captain explained that there was one other passenger who wanted to remain in his Cabin. Apparently the man had a lot of gold, that he had found in the mountains, and didn't trust letting it out of his sight.
Throughout the journey, even when the boat ran aground on sandbars, the rich miner stayed in his cabin. A couple of times, Fero thought he saw Lance enter the man's cabin late at night.
Sailing downstream, grasshoppering from sandbar to sandbar, dodging trees whose roots had been embedded in the bottom, as the water level dropped from the height of spring run off, the boat made slow, but steady, progress. Watching the endless miles of prairie flow by there was no way to tell when they had left the Montana Territories and entered the Dakotas.
It was their last night before reaching Bismarck and they were just returning to their cabin. Fero opened the door and was about to step back, to let Patricia enter, when a pistol was stuck in his face, "Come in." Came a voice from the interior of their cabin. "Come in, Mr. Fero. Keep yore hands where I can see them."
"Who are you," Fero replied, not moving, "and what do you want?"
"I want my money."
"I'm going to step back and you can come out where I can see you. I have absolutely no idea who you are or why you think I have your money."
"Just you go easy, Fero. Don't try none o' yore fancy tricks. I bin trackin' you for a long time." In the dark shadows of the deck there was nothing distinguishable about the cowboy who stepped part way out of the cabin. He held his Navy Colt as if he was very familiar with it. "Do you know me now," he asked.
"Sorry." Fero tried a bluff, having by now recognized the man's voice, "I still don't believe I know you."
"Leroy Elliot. I was ranch foreman for Randolph Pearle. The money that was in the safe at the house was to pay the hands their wages at the end of the month."
"And you want yore wages." Fero added.
"You got it."
"You spent all this time tracking me for thirty dollars?"
"Actually I didn't track you, Lance did. Actually, Van Slee did the first part, and Lance did the rest. You covered your tracks fairly well but Van Slee left a good trail to follow. And it's not thirty dollars it's seventy dollars. Thirty dollars for Lance and forty dollars for me, I'm the ramrod not a hand."
"And I suppose Van Slee wanted fifty dollars. I never did get a chance to talk to him."
"Daryll warn't after the money. He was after yore hide. Him and Randolf were like brothers. They had been together for years."
"And you don't want my hide?"
"Either way. Don't make no never mind to me, just as long as I get my money."
"Well," Fero said, reaching for his pocket, "I've probably got forty dollars."
"You just keep your hands still. You know damn well we ain't talkin' no forty dollars here."
"Oh, you want interest?"
"That's right Fero, interest, big interest. I know you cleaned out the safe in the store as well. I'll let you keep that. I just want what was in the safe at the house. Sorta fifty - fifty."
"I suppose that's fair. If you want to step back inside."
"It ain' in there. I looked."
"Yes, I suppose you did."
"So where is it?"
"Actually it's in the boat's safe. The steward has the key. He'll be asleep by now but I could get it for you in the morning, before we dock."
"Oh, no. We'll get it right now. If he's asleep, you'll just have to wake him up. Tell him yore in a poker game and need a bigger stake."
"I don't really think..."
"Don't think. Just move. I'm gettin' tired of all this palaverin'."
"I said move," the man commanded. As he stepped further out of the doorway, he stumbled, as his toe caught on the high door sill.
With his left hand, Fero brushed Leroy's gun to the side. The gun went off, all were blinded by the bright flash and deafened by the loud blast. Lance, who had been quietly creeping up to the side of Fero, caught the bullet in the throat, throwing him backwards onto the deck.
With his right hand, Fero hit Leroy in the chest. Leroy was tougher than Fero had expected, and at the end of Fero's reach. The blow did little more than infuriate him.
Leroy stepped in close, swinging his gun at Fero's head. Fero blocked the blow with his left arm then leaned in and reached around the man's shoulders. Grabbing Leroy's shirt, Fero spun him about.
Bringing his other arm across to grab the gun, he hit Leroy in the chin with his elbow. Leroy staggered back. Taking advantage of the man's loss of balance, Fero let go of his shirt and using both hands, pushed him hard.
Leroy toppled backwards over the railing, as he did, he twisted sideways, arms flailing, hands grasping at something to hold onto. His arm went across Patricia's chest, hand grabbing onto her dress, tipping her backwards.
Flinging up her arms, to try to maintain balance, Patricia threw the baby into the air, as she too went backwards over the railing. Fero started forward to grab Patricia but the baby hit him in the chest and he clasped the little tyke.
Holding the baby with one arm he managed to grab Patricia's foot as her legs flew up over the railing.
Nearly following the two overboard, Fero was doubled over the railing with the baby in one arm and a shoe in the other. Unable to lift the weight of the two of them, Fero hoped that Patricia's, and the baby's, screams would attract some help.
The commotion did attracted one of the roosters, on the deck below, but when he tried to grasp Leroy, Leroy's struggles tore Patricia's dress from her. The would be rescuer was blinded by a covering of lace and silk. Leroy went tumbling into the water.
The extra weight gone, Fero started to lift Patricia but she was screaming and struggling and her foot slipped out of her shoe. Falling, end over end, she bounced off the edge, of the lower deck, and disappeared into the water.
Lanterns were lit and everyone turned out to search the waters on both sides of the boat. The captain stopped the paddle wheel and let the boat coast along with the current but no sign was ever found of either Leroy, or Patricia.
"The river is too narrow to turn around here," Captain Wiston said. "There is no point in going backwards because we might run over them. The current will be carrying them at the same speed as us."
After searching for only a little while the Captain had to order the paddle turning again so he could control the boat and keep it from running aground. Everyone but the pilot continued to look until the dawn broke and they could see the water clearly.
There were no bodies or swimmers visible. They could only hope that Patricia had not been swept under the wheel. If she was a good swimmer she may have been able to make it to shore where she could summon help from the next boat passing by. However, in her advanced condition, this possibility was doubtful.
The sun was above the trees when Fero finally gave up searching. It was only when Fero was returning to his cabin that he discovered Lance's body.
After putting the baby to bed, Fero returned to the upper deck and lifted Lance's body over the railing. Wearily he went to bed to catch a couple of hours sleep before they docked.
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