Cimarron Strip: "The Death of A Legend"

Chapters Forty-One through to the Epilogue

Chapter Forty-One

Eugene Gordon tapped ever so lightly on the door to Roger Mareck's room. The bodyguard's boss was nursing one doozie of a hangover and that-coupled with the unbearable heat and humidity-was causing the normally ill-tempered little man to be even more ornery and cross!

"Wha-at?" Mareck demanded upon opening the portal.

"Polk wants to see you, sir. Says it's real important."

"Well, where is he?" Mareck impatiently inquired.

"He's waiting for you over at the Marshal's Office."

"Well, I hope he isn't holding his breath! 'Cuz, he's crazy if he thinks I'm coming to him!"

"Delliss has been shot. Polk took him over to Crown's Office, looking for the Doc."

"Delliss shot? Well, who shot him?"

"That's what he claims he wants to see you about, sir," the bodyguard explained and then stepped aside as his belligerent, but curious, boss elbowed his way past him.

"What's this all about, Polk?" Mareck angrily shouted above the painfully loud-and incredibly annoying-sound of a bawling baby.

"Crown's ALIVE!" the gunman answered, equally angrily.

"You are crazy!" Mareck realized bitterly, "You've been standing out in the sun too long!"

"Weren't the sun that sent Haney an' the others straight ta hell!" Polk assured him,"An' it weren't no figment a' my imagination that put this here slug in Delliss' shoulder!" he added, pointing to his pale, bleeding partner-in-crime with his free right hand. In his left hand-and tucked tightly under his left arm-was the fussing source of all that painful and awful crying!

"Can't you shut that kid up?" Luther Nyman anxiously inquired, seeing the ill effect the sound was having on their already ill-tempered boss.

Polk's reply was to shove the cryin' kid into the nagger's open arms.

"Where is Crown?" Dennis Bowlen disbelievingly asked.

"By now? He should be on his way here!" Polk confidently replied.

"Are you sure?" Mister Gordon wanted-needed to know.

"Yeah, I'm sure! That ki-id is the Marshal's son!"

Mareck's dazed gaze shifted to the sobbing child Polk was pointing at. The bodyguards watched as their bewildered boss staggered over to the undead 'legends' desk and then stood there, staring down at the book which was still setting there. "DAMN THAT MAN!" he screamed for the second time that day, and slammed his clenched fist down hard on the book's front cover, "Mister Bowlen, I want you to ride out and deliver the Marshal a little ultimatum!" The bodyguard's squinting boss was just about to slap the sobbing infant into silence.

And Mister Bowlen was just about to leave on his assigned errand, when something in the Office's front window suddenly caught his eye, "That won't be necessary, Mister Mareck. Crown's coming in on his o-own..."

Roger Mareck lowered his raised right arm. Then he-and his entourage-left the Federal Marshal's Office to go have a look for themselves.

Miss Coopersmith had heard the crying baby and crept downstairs to investigate. She heard everything that was said, including that Jim was coming. The girl slipped out of the Inn-unnoticed...and then stood there-in the grip of fear! "Oh-oh, Jim!" Dulcey cried out in anguish as she, too, caught sight of him, "No!" came her desperate plea as the broke free and began to flee from the boardwalk. "No-o!" she repeated emphatically, and flew off down the dusty street to intercept- and thus somehow save-the doomed-to-die lawman.

The girl's slim hopes were bolstered somewhat as other people began to appear on the boardwalks on both sides of the street she was racing down. When she saw that these people possessed weapons-and that they apparently shared the same noble notion that she had-her hopes soared!

"Plea-ease, Jim?" the out-of-breath girl begged, latching onto the lawman's lathered mount by it's bridle and bringing it to a bone-jarringly abrupt stop, "You musn't!"

The Marshal braced himself and winced in pain as his horse-and thus he-suddenly halted. Then he braced himself again-and immediately dismounted.

"You can't go down there!" Dulcey determined, rushing into her big brother's arms, "They'll kill you!"

Cro-own, who didn't get the chance to brace himself before receiving her bear hug, grimaced and then released his held breath with an involuntary 'groa-oan'.

The girl heard the groan and pulled back to stare up at her suicidal-and still grimacing-friend.

The now fully-recovered lawman flashed the very affectionate-and extremely apologetic looking-female a forgiving smile, which was closely followed by an equally affectionate-though much more careful-embrace of his own. Then, before his kid sister could recover, Crown shoved her aside and started striding stiffly off down the street-in the direction of his Office.

"Stop, Jim! Plea-ease!" Dulcey pleaded, but to no avail.

The Marshal kept right on walking, his intense gaze shifting all the while from Jamie...and then back to Mareck again, "I see you've finally managed ta pick on someone yore own si-ize!" he called out rather contemptuously and continued to approach his would-be assassins.

"There must be some other way!" Miss Coopersmith cried, catching up to the lawman again and latching onto him-literally-for dear life. Surely, there had to be another way!

Crown came to another painfully abrupt halt and then stood there, in the middle of Main Street, glaring angrily across at the five little men who were spread out and positioned smack dab in front of his Office. After patiently prying Miss Coopersmith's fingers from his left forearm, the Marshal motioned for her to move away from him-and hence out of their 'line of fire'.

Speaking of their line of fire...

Dulcey saw that Roger Mareck now had that little revolver of his trained squarely on the toddler's sobbing chest, and begrudgingly did just as Jim directed.

"Let the boy go, Mareck!" Crown advised, redirecting his full and undivided attention back to his arch nemesis.

But Mareck, who sensed that the Marshal was now his for the taking, just stood there-defiantly-up on the boardwalk, basking in the glow of his impending victory...savoring every satisfying second of it!

"I sai-aid let 'im go!" the Marshal repeated, over the heart-breaking sound of Jamie's sobs.

"Throw down your gun first!" the little man countered finally, that sickening smirk reappearing upon his smug face.

All eyes watched as the lawman withdrew his weapon and then-much to most everyone's dismay-dropped it into the dust at his feet.

Mareck's smug smirk broadened a bit and he motioned for Mr. Nyman to release the bawling baby.

The infant-who stopped crying the instant the big, bad bodyguard set him down-backed off the boardwalk on all fours, and then toddled over on two legs to where his tall buddy was standing.

Crown picked Jamie up and passed him on to Dulcey, "Take the boy inside, Biscuit," he told her tenderly, "an' then the both a' you STAY there!" he tacked on a bit more sternly.

"But Ji-im-" the girl began blurting in protest.

The Marshal flashed the uncooperative Miss Coopersmith the most pleading-the most desperate look that he could muster.

The little lady gave the lawman one final-deeply concerned-incredibly sad look and then began carting her precious cargo off. It was all up to the others no-ow...

"Stay with the girl!" Mareck shouted to his closest bodyguard.

Mr. Nyman nodded knowingly.

But then, for the others benefit, his boss added-even more loudly, "IF ANYONE TRIES TO INTERFERE HERE, YOU'RE TO KILL THEM BOTH!"

"DON'T WORRY," Crown countered, speaking equally loudly, "NOBODY WILL INTERFERE!" he promised-er, practically ordered, and shot the rifle-toting townsfolk-who had gathered with e-ve-ry intention of delivering their Marshal-that same pleading, desperate look he'd just given the girl, "I'm askin' you all...ta clea-ear the street..." he continued, the pleading, desperate tone in his voice matching the look on his face.

The crowd had 'But, Ji-im-' looks on their faces, too. However, like the girl, they obediently-albeit begrudgingly- withdrew from view.

Dulcey, who was now crying openly, stood there on the boardwalk in front of her Inn and watched helplessly as any hope of saving her dear friend's life disappeared along with them, "NO-O!" she shouted one last, anguished time. Then she clutched the baby tightly to her breast and disappeared herself-back inside-with Mr. Nyman following closely on her heels.

"Take him!" Mareck told his two remaining bodyguards, "And tie him!" he added evilly, but then quickly recanted, "No! Wait!"

They did, as their boss ducked into the Marshal's Office for a few moments.

"Cuff him!" Roger Mareck reordered, reappearing with a set of the lawman's own manacles and tossing the metal restraints into the street.

The two thugs exchanged amused glances and obligingly cuffed the Marshal's wrists together-very securely-behind his back.

Gordy gave their prisoner's black hat a whack and sent it sailing.

Crown followed the path of his Stetson as it flew through the air and then settled into the dust-directly on top of his dropped pistol. 'Another interestin' development...' the lawman thought to himself as his guards latched onto him by his bound wrists and began shoving him towards their still smirking boss. So, he wasn't to be killed right away...he was to be 'cuffed around' for awhile first. Well, a live dog may be better off than a dead lion mos' days, but there were definitely times when bein' a dead lion had its advantages. An' it was definitely beginnin' to look like this was definitely one a' them!

The thugs escorted their prisoner across the street and then stood him before their employer-who remained aloofly up on the boardwalk.

"Where's my money?" their gloating-but broke-boss, demanded.

"I believe the stage was headed East," came back their calm captive's quiet reply-er, lie-ie, "I imagine yore twenty thousand's prob'ly settin' around-gatherin' dust-in some freight office in St. Louie' 'bout now..."

Well, the money may have been out of Roger Mareck's reach, but the man responsible for that fact wasn't. So the big man balled his right hand up into a fist and rammed it-very forcibly-into the Marshal's mid-section.

"Uh-uhh!" Crown cried out involuntarily as his enemy's knuckles connected with his badly damaged-and so already incredibly so-ore-rib cage. 'Yes, sir!' the now doubled-up in agony lawman noted, sinking slowly to his knees in the dust before 'Mister' Mareck, 'This is definately a dead lion day all right!' All he had to do now was to get Mareck-and his hornets-mad enough to kill him-quickly and mercifully! At least he hoped they'd make it mercifully quick...

Roger Mareck stood there, staring down at the man who was now kneeling before him in the street, looking extremely pleased with himself, "So," he said rather snidely, "the LEGENDARY Marshal is just a mere mortal, after all..."

Crown gradually recovered and came up with a rather snide remark of his own, " more than...kin be said...for you-ou...Right, 'Mareck'?"

"Meaning...?" Mareck inquired cautiously.

"Meanin'," the Marshal gasped, "I pity...the poor soul...that had the great misfortune...a' first liftin'...the crawled out from under!"

The bodyguards stared at one another and then at the lawman in utter disbelief! They couldn't believe he'd actually said that!

Their boss obviously didn't trust his hearing either, because it took an awfully long while for what had been said to finally sink in. But sink in it did-and the little man was LIVID! Mareck vented some of his fury by stepping down from the boardwalk and back-handing the Marshal across his smart mouth, "One more word out of you," he warned, bringing his revolver back into view and brandishing it in front of the lawman's face, "and you're a DEAD man!"

'Well, now...' Crown thought to himself, '...that was easy enough...' His smart-now slightly bleeding-mouth re-opened and he was about to utter one-FINAL-word...when his 'bride' suddenly appeared at his side...closely followed by his doctor.

"No-o!" Katelyn cried, clamping a hand over the stupid-actin' lawman's mouth. Crown's eyes met hers and she could tell by the look he gave her that he was not happy to see the two of them there. She flashed him back a look of bewilderment and betrayal before throwing herself upon him, "For someone who's been braggin' for days 'bout how he's NO-O angel," she gasped, locking both arms about his neck, "you sure are in an awful BIG HURRY ta become one!"

Crown caught the bitterness and the anger in her comment and realized that maybe he owed the woman, his 'wife', an explanation, "'For the living know...that they will die..." he began, quoting from Ecclesiastes, "...but the dead are conscious of nothing...nothing at all...'" he finished solemnly-in a whisper.

Katelyn pulled her head back a bit. Their gazes met again and she could clearly see all the pain-both physical and emotional-that was there in her husband's dreamy, dark eyes. "But...they wouldn't!" she insisted, "They COULDN'T! They would never KILL Jamie!" she stated adamantly and looked to Roger Mareck for reassurance. Needless to say, she received none!

"No-o..." the Marshal assured her, "Not as long as they got' nobody interferes..." he added on as a warning, and then quickly looked away. He couldn't bare to see all the pain and sadness being reflected in the lady's lovely, dark eyes.

"I know we had this 'understanding'," Doctor Jarrod Michael Ellis admitted, dropping himself and his little black bag into the dust beside his pained patient, "but it's like you said, Marshal-a man has to play the hand he's dealt..." And-with that little reminder-he emptied the contents of the hypodermic syringe-that was hidden in his right hand-into the lawman's left arm.

The Marshal stiffened-with the sudden realization of what it was the young doctor was hinting at. In that same instant, he felt a familiar 'sting'.

"You forget, my darling," Katelyn whispered as her husband's dark eyes suddenly blazed wide with anger, "this is 1893, a-an', thanks ta the miracles a' modern medicine, a man no longer has ta DIE-IE ta feel nothing...nothing at a-all..." she finished softly, and continued to hold on to him.

Even before the lovely lady's little reminder, it had dawned on Jim Crown that he would undoubtedly be dead soon, and that it didn't matter, one way or the other, if he was drugged, or not. Then again, perhaps it did matter. Mareck would kill him all right-sooner or later. The morphine was bound to make his dying much more bearable...should it come later. His anger fled and he flashed the young physician-who had just dealt him another ace up his sleeve-a much obliged look.

Jarrod shot the 'legendary lawman' an 'I wish there was something more that I could do for you...' look.

"Take her...inside," Crown quietly requested, taking his young friend up on his offer.

"ON YOUR FEET!" Roger Mareck shouted sharply, "ALL OF YOU!" he added and motioned for his henchmen to give the group on the ground a hand, or-more appropriately-a strong-arm up!

Katelyn numbly allowed the two bullies to tear her away from their prisoner. But then she realized she hadn't kissed him goodbye. "Please?" she pleaded as they turned her over to the doctor, "Jes' let me say goodbye?"

"You had your chance, lady!" Mr. Gordon reminded her, "Now the two of you had better get inside!"

Katelyn ignored the shouted order and-instead-got angry that the young physician failed to keep a firm grip on her.

Roger Mareck's roughnecks caught Katelyn again and began carting her off-kicking and screaming.

"TAKE YORE HANDS...OFF OF HER!" the still on his knees lawman advised, seeing the very firm grips that the two men had on his beautiful wife's body.

The two thugs stopped dead in their tracks. But then the pair took one look at their kneeling, hand-cuffed captive...and another, longer look at the very voluptuous lady...and decided to disregard the lawman's shouted order.

The next thing everyone knew, the Marshal was on his feet and both bodyguards were on the ground.

Denny, who had been rammed in the back and thus slammed into the dust-face first-from behind, turned rather dazedly to his drop-kicked, equally dazed looking associate, "What the he-?" the completely bewildered-not to mention embarrassed-bodyguard began, only to be interrupted.

"GET UP, YOU IDIOTS!" Roger Mareck urged rather vehemently as the human rocket rolled rather deftly up onto his feet and then turned to face him.

The two thugs turned to each other again and exchanged irate glares. Their boss had been a bit too vehement! It was bad enough that a man with both hands tied behind his back had just gotten the better of them-without having to be belittled by their boss in front of the town's entire male population! (True, the rifle-toters were out of their view, none-the-less, they were still out there-waiting and watching.) The two humiliated henchmen decided-right then and there-to really give them something to look at.

"NO-O!" Katelyn screamed as Mareck's bullies scrambled to their feet and then began circling the lone lawman, looking determined now to tear him apart...limb-from-limb.

Sensing that the lady might be tempted to intervene somehow in the ensuing fracas, Jarrod proceeded to lock his arms about the woman's waist and pull her into his protective custody.

As it turned out, the woman worried needlessly, for-even without the use of his arms-the two meanies proved to be no match for the Marshal, who-while maybe not having as much to fight with-had so much more to fight for! And fight he did! Sort of Indian fashion. And he fought better with just his feet, than the two thugs did using all four of their fists!

"ALL RIGHT! THAT'S ENOUGH!" Roger Mareck finally determined, seeing that the Marshal was once again about to get the better of his bodyguards. "Your lady friend, here won't look so pretty with a bullet hole between her eyes!" he continued as the amazingly agile lawman continued to dodge and down his attackers.

This time, Crown took the hint and immediately turned himself into a statue-which his enraged enemies easily toppled!

"NO-O!" Katelyn screamed again and proceeded to bury her pretty face in the young doctor's chest. She couldn't bear to see the now non-resisting Marshal being beaten into submission. "STOP IT!" the woman cried out in anguish and tried to cover her ears. She couldn't bear to hear him being beaten into submission, either! But she couldn't block it out. And, since they obviously weren't going to put a stop to it, Katelyn determined that she would have to do it herself! The woman hastily whispered something to the doctor, then she broke free of his grasp again and went racing over to where her husband lay writhing in the street. Katelyn flung herself down upon the lawman and then used her body to shield his body from their boots and blows.

The Marshal's assailants used the lady's sudden intervention as an excuse to stand back and catch their breath. Whew! It was hotter than a Mexican chile in that street!

Jim Crown suddenly felt a body on top of him...Katelyn's-judging by the shape and feel. He couldn't bring himself to actually look at her. "Dulcey's got...Jamie...inside..." he breathlessly informed the boy's mommy, "...Why don'' the Doctor...GO-O...JOIN THEM!" he added, turning what he had intended to be a helpful suggestion into a direct order.

Seeing as how her husband couldn't bring himself to face her, Katelyn tenderly turned his head in her direction, "I'm so-o sorry," she said, sounding sadder than sad, "I never meant ta cause you any-"

"Ain't none a' this...any...a' yore doin'!" the Marshal interrupted, "Besides...thanks ta you' yore...'miracle a' modern medicine'...I managed ta get in a few good licks..." he finished softly.

The woman watched as a slight smile of satisfaction appeared for an instant or two on the lawman's tightly pursed lips. The lady chose that moment as the time to bid her man goodbye, packing all of the love-and passion-of a lifetime into one last, lingering kiss.

When at last their kiss had ended, Jim Crown forced his tightly shut eyes open for one last, lingering look, "Still felt more like hello..." he whispered rather regrettably. And the two of them exchanged sadder than sad smiles.


Mareck's hunched-over henchmen watched while the doctor helped the lady to her feet. They were in no hurry to lay their hands on her, this time.

Speaking of ha-ands...

From his flat on his back in the street position, Jim Crown suddenly caught sight of several pairs of them, all of which were holding onto rifles-the barrels of which were protruding from the false front of the building directly across from the Wayfarer's. At first, he took the snipers to be townspeople. But then he spotted a certain peculiarly-colored coat sleeve. Seems he'd seen that particular coat sleeve before. The arm in it belonged to one of two men who had been in that restaurant with Rutger's awhile back. But what were Rutger's men doing up on that roof?...with rifles? And what if they were to 'interfere' here in some way? Would Mareck's man inside mistake them for townsfolk, too? And then carry out his bloodthirsty boss' order to 'KILL THEM BOTH'? Crown carefully considered these latest developments over for a somber second or two...and then quickly came up with a pla-an...of sorts. "An'...STAY...inside!" the peace officer pleaded, "I believe I'm about ta...step in front of a movin' train...out here," the Marshal hinted as Mister Mareck's 'box cars' jerked him-very roughly-to his feet, "an' it's...NOT...gonna be a...pretty...sight!" he tacked on rather truthfully-when he had recovered enough to speak. "An' I ain't referrin'...ta the one...out a' Shades Wells," he further hinted.

Jarrod nodded his acknowledgment of the lawman's last request and then promptly proceeded to fulfill it.

Speaking of being hit by a train...

Mareck-who wanted to take his revenge out on Crown before killing him-finally picked up on the Marshal's dropped 'hints' and realized that he could have his revenge on the lawman WHI-ILE killing him! The thugs had propped their prisoner up before their boss-again-and the big man was about to ram his balled fist into the lawman's mid-section-again-when the idea suddenly 'hit' him! His smirk returned and his arm lowered, "The train from Shades Wells should be along shortly. What do you say we take the Marshal here out to meet it...HEAD ON?"

His boys nodded their boss' plan approvingly. And all three of them exchanged sickening smirks.

Katelyn gasped as she overheard their plan and glanced back over her shoulder.

"Take care...a' my hat for me," Jim Crown requested of her, sounding completely unconcerned, "I may be needin' just a bit..." he added with a wink.

"In just a short time from now," Mareck calmly corrected, "you won't be needing anything anymore!" And-along with that little morbid reminder-he delivered the blow he'd held off delivering a few moments before. Then-to his henchmen-he said, "Don't just stand there! Go find us some horses! And some rope! We'll be needing a couple of ropes!"

His men released their propped up prisoner.

Their boss' smirk broadened as the limp lawman doubled-up and then dropped into the dust at his feet. "MOVE IT!" Mareck told his dallying bodyguards, "We wouldn't want the Marshal, here to miss his trai-ain!"

His employees exchanged irate glances again. It was becoming harder and harder for the two highly-paid henchmen to tolerate their arrogant employer and his aloof orders. Bu-ut, they begrudgingly marched obediently off to do their boss' bidding.

Speaking of irate employees...

Mr. Polk came popping out onto the boardwalk, hopping mad! "Now wait just a minute, Mareck! I got 'im here, didn' I? You kin kill 'im if you like-any way you like! Just let me have a little 'talk' with 'im first!"

"NO!" Roger Mareck immediately replied in a tone which said that he wouldn't even consider it.

"But," began the now enraged man, "since you saw fit ta murder that deputy-HE'S the only one left in the whole stinkin' town who knows where the hell my brother is!"

"NO-O!" Mareck repeated, "When we stand him up on those tracks, I want him to be fully aware of what's going on! If I let you 'talk' to him first-he'll never know what hit him! Now, go tell Mr. Nyman to get out here! Then, I want you to tend to the hostages! Oh, and Polk? Take the Doctor there with you," he added as an afterthought, "and have him tend to Mr. Dellis!"

The Marshal and everyone else-with the exception of 'Mister' Mareck-could plainly see how Mr. Polk felt about taking anymore of his arrogant boss' orders.

However, that last idea of Mareck's must've struck the gunman as a good one, because he turned in the young doctor's direction.

And, speaking of bright ideas...

As Polk caught sight of Katelyn, he came up with a rather brilliant one of his own! "Okay, Crown!" he shouted, pulling his weapon from his holster and the woman away from her escort, "You've got 'til the count a' ten ta tell me where my kid brother is!" he announced and pointed his now cocked pistol directly at Katelyn's head.

"Adrian's Canyon!" Crown came back before the gunman could even begin counting, "Now, LET HER GO!"

Polk stared down at the very obliging peace officer in absolute amazement for a few moments, but then that look was quickly replaced by another.

"He's there! I swea-ear!" the Marshal reassured the suspicious looking character.

There followed a few more anxious moments.

Apparently, Polk chose to believe him, because-after replacing his pistol-the gunman took the doctor, who-in turn-took Katelyn in tow, and began heading back into the building.

"Remember...what I said about my hat!" Crown called out after the woman. Those 'hands' were gone now, and-if he was right about whose hands they were and where they had gone to-he'd be needing his hat all right!

Upon hearing her doomed-to-die husband's strange comment, Katelyn turned to the young doctor and the two of them exchanged strange stares.

"Must be the morphine," Jarrod rationalized-in a whisper.

"REMEMBER WHAT I SAID ABOUT IT!" Roger Mareck shouted suddenly and rammed the still mouthy Marshal in the ribs-with the toe of his right boot.

"Uh-uhh!" their collapsed in a heap patient gasped, involuntarily, and tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle an agonizing 'groa-oan'.

The two medical professionals glanced at each other again with the painful realization that their 'modern miracle' must already be 'wearing off'.

Katelyn gasped herself-in anguish-and began heading for her hurting husband.

But Jarrod stopped and held her.

"In less than an hour," Mareck morbidly declared, "you are going to be losing your head! Why-y," he continued, sounding downright delighted by the gruesome prospects, "by the time that train is through with you-there won't be enough of you left to even hang a hat o-on!"

The morphine was definately wearing off, for Jim Crown was beginning to experience a tremendous degree of discomfort. His head was starting to throb, his caved-in rib cage was killing him, and he was being made increasingly aware of the sharp, metal bands which were encircling his wrists...and digging into his flesh...and gouging into his bones. 'What a lo-o-o-ong day...' the lawman thought, rolling off of his bound wrists and onto his left side-with a grimace and another 'groa-oan'. He had put up a good fight, all right. But now all of that over exertion was taking its toll. Mareck and his bodyguards must've done a good job of destroying the good doctor's sutures, too, because he suddenly noticed that the entire right front side of his shirt felt sort of warm and soggy. Which-no doubt-was also why he suddenly The lawman gave his throbbing head a quick shake and then forced his tightly-squinting eyes open. That's when he spotted his other deputy. The boy's distinctive blonde head and familiar face was peering out at him from beneath one of the Inn's bat-wing doors. He caught Danny's attention and motioned with his head for the boy to come to him. Danny's blue eyes widened a bit and Crown could tell by the expression on his pale face that he wasn't exactly thrilled with his request.

However, his deputy aimed to please him and bravely crawled out into the open. "Marshal! Marshal!" the kid called out as he came running up to his injured boss, "Are you all right?"

Crown eyed his young deputy approvingly. Not only was the kid courageous, but he was also a quick thinker! "I could use some help..gettin' u-up," he informed the boy-with a wink.

And Danny dutifully began assisting his boss up.

Their heads came together for a few moments, and the Marshal whispered a message to him. Crown then waited for some sign from the boy that would indicate that his message had been received and understood.

His deputy responded with a wink of his own.

"Run along, sonny!" Roger Mareck ordered, latching onto the helpful lad by the back of his shirt-collar and jerking him roughly away from his now kneeling prisoner, "I want the Marshal to STAY RIGHT WHERE HE IS!...For no-ow," he calmly added and calmly kicked the Marshal in the stomach.

Danny watched helplessly as his boss-hands cuffed behind his back-doubled over and then dropped back down into the dust.

Crown had cried out in pain when Mareck brought his boot up. And he groaned again-as his bruised body came into sudden contact with the ground-again...the hard ground...the very hard ground.

The boy yanked his collar free and took a step or two in the 'groaning' lawman's direction.

"Go on, Danny..." his breathless boss gently urged, " you"

Danny gave him a definite nod. He shot 'Mister' Mareck a defiant glare and then hurried over to his horse. The boy bounded up into his saddle and then went bolting off in a cloud of dust.

Crown heaved a sigh of relief as his deputy disappeared off down the street-in the direction of the Settlement. Then he winced. He shouldn't have heaved that sigh. He was currently in no condition to be heaving anything! It had been a lo-o-ong day for him! And he had this sinking suspicion that it would prove to be an even lo-o-o-o-onger night!

Fifteen minutes, five horses, and two nooses later, Roger Mareck's little taking the Marshal out to meet the train 'HEAD ON' procession was finally ready to proceed. The lawman had been dumped onto his horse and he sat there, slumped in his saddle, wearing a couple of 'rustlers neckties'-and one still completely unconcerned look on his slightly battered face. Except for experiencing some difficulty in swallowing (The nooses had been pulled up very snugly about his neck..a bit too snugly, perhaps.) and in maintaining his seat, (It was hard for him to keep his balance with his hands bound behind his back.) the Marshal appeared incredibly calm. (All things considered.)

Why it almost seemed to Katelyn as though the lawman were actually looking forward to leaving town. The woman had taken up a new position-on the boardwalk in front of the Inn's main entrance...a position from which she could safely-and passively-observe the proceedings. The little lady, however, was anything but passive! In fact, if it weren't for the reassuring glances that Jim Crown kept shooting her way, she never would've been able to stay in one place-so stilly-for so lo-ong. It wasn't easy for a woman to stand idly by while the man that she loved was about to be so brutally murdered! And, in Katelyn's case, it was proving to be impossible! The lady was a Texan-born and bred. And Texas women were notorious for standing by their men-'come hell or high water'! And, yes, that even meant facing moving trains HEAD ON together! She shuddered at the gruesome thought and then shot her man an 'I cain't jes' stand here an' watch this happen to you!' look.

He flashed her back an 'Oh yes you ca-an!' glare. Then he winked again and directed his gaze downward-to his dropped hat.

'What is the significance a' that?' Katelyn wondered. Perhaps there was no significance? Maybe it was just the morphine? Then she remembered something...something that he had said to her that very morning...'That jes' goes ta prove one thing,' he had told her, 'even when I'm completely out a' my mind, I'm not completely out a' my mind!' Perhaps he had a plan? That's it! He had a plan! And he was keeping it under his ha-at? 'A lot a' good it's gonna do 'im the-ere!' she realized glumly. Oh well, he wanted her to take care a' his hat-and so she would! Because he might be needin' it in just a bi-it'? The woman exhaled an exasperated gasp and gazed up at her husband looking confused-and feeling frustrated.

Two of Mareck's bodyguards were now mounted alongside of the Marshal-Dennis Bowlen was on his right side and Luther Nyman was on his left-and in their hands were the coiled ends of the ropes that had been tied about her husband's neck.

Mr. Gordon-who was directly in front of them-had a firm hold on his horse's reins.

It was to Mr. Gordon that the lawman addressed his last request, "Kin I have my hat? I feel like I'm ridin' out half-dressed..."

The man considered the triviality of the matter over for a few moments and then nodded his consent to Katelyn.

However, circling the four of them-with a smile of deep satisfaction on his smug face-and sitting his horse like he was some sort of General or something, was Roger Mareck. And he-just as quickly-overruled Mr. Gordon's decision, "Leave it!" the little man told the little lady. "No-ow, let's MOVE OUT!" he ordered-at lo-ong last.

And all five horses started plodding off-in the direction of...the railroad tracks!

Katelyn just stood there and watched helplessly as Mr. Gordon started leading her husband's horse off down the street.

Speaking of the street...

No sooner were the gunmen out of sight, when Katelyn left the boardwalk and stepped into it. She made her way over to where the Marshal's hat lay and then stood there, hesitating to pick it up. If someone didn't come up with some sort a' plan pretty soo-oon, that hat was gonna be all that she had left of him. Katelyn shuddered again. The woman quickly shoved such morbid thoughts out of her mind and stooped down to retrieve the Marshal's Stetson. It was then that she noticed the thing wasn't resting flat on the ground. Something beneath the hat was causing it to set sort a' cock-eyed. She latched onto it by its brim and began lifting. Katelyn caught sight of what that something was and quickly covered it back up again. So-o, it wasn't a plan that Jim Crown was keeping under his hat-it was his pistol! And, if the Marshal might be needin' his gu-un in just a bit, then just maybe that meant that he wasn't so doomed-to-die, after all! Suddenly, all sorts of wild notions were racing through the woman's head. Why, she even allowed herself to fan that one little spark of hope that she'd managed to keep burning in the deep recesses of her breaking heart. The lady used two hands to pick the hat up this time-and immediately clutched it to her breast. If Jim Crown needed his hat...well then, SHE was jes' gonna have ta bring it to him!

"What are you boys doing back here?" Judge Rutgers demanded as his little hand-picked group of hired guns came rushing into his hotel room, "I didn't hear any shooting!"

The group's leader ran the sleeve of his tangerine-colored coat across his glistening brow and glared ominously back at his employer, "I been a lot a' things in my life, yer honor. But I ain' never been-an' don' never intend ta be-no baby killer!"

"I never ordered you to kill any babies!" Rutgers angrily reminded them, "I ordered you to kill Mareck!"

"Same thing!" the not completely unscrupulous gunman calmly said with a shrug.

Rutgers cursed, "Is Crown still alive?"

"For the moment..." the gunman replied, exchanging glances-and grins-with the rest of his little group. "Anyways, it don't matter. We don' need the Marshal no more. 'Cuz we know where he's been keepin' the gentlemen in question."

"WHE-ERE?" their employer eagerly inquired.

"Adrian's Canyon!" the smug looking man with the tangerine-colored coat triumphantly announced. Then he glanced around again-this time in bewilderment-as his reply drew another round of curses from the corrupt magistrate.

"Where is the Marshal NO-OW?" Rutgers impatiently inquired, "Adrian's Canyon is a natural fortress! Five men could defend it against an Army! Without Crown's help, you'll never get those two out of there!"

The gunman exchanged grim glances with the members of his little group this time, and then suddenly looked extremely nervous. "Uh-uh, Mareck jes' hauled him outta town...ta meet the train out a' Shades Wells...HEAD O-ON!," the man with the odd-colored coat reluctantly concluded, and then glanced around the room yet again-now in complete confusion.

One moment, Rutgers was wearing an angry sco-owl. The ne-ext, he was doubled-up-with laughter!

The boys turned their backs on their balmy boss and began heading for the door.

"Where...are you...going?" the mirthful magistrate blurted between belly laughs.

"After Crown!" the group's leader called back over his shoulder. Then he came to a complete halt and quickly turned around, "You do want us to stop Mareck from killing him...Don't you?" he queried-with a bit of a grin. (The Judge's jocularity was becoming contagious.)

"By all means, Stevens!" Rutgers bellered, "By a-all means!...But...NOT right away!" he calmly clarified before relapsing into another round of hearty laughter.

Stevens-and the rest of the boys-just stood there, sadly shaking their heads. Their boss wasn't just a bit balmy-Rutgers was completely off'n his 'rocker'!

Chapter Forty-Two

U.S. Marshal James Crown was only semi-conscious of the fact that one of the two nooses about his neck was now choking him! The beating he'd just taken at the hands of Mareck's bodyguards, an' boots-together with the continuous torture caused by the constant 'lurching' motion of their current mode of travel-had finally taken it's toll. He tried-and failed-to reach for whatever it was that was strangling him. The breathless lawman found he couldn't seem to speak, either. But, before he blacked out completely, Cimarron's capable Marshal managed to use what little air there was left in his lungs, to 'cou-ough' for help.

Mareck heard the cough and came riding up, "CAREFUL, YOU FOO-OOLS!" he cried, pulling his horse up alongside the now perfectly limp-and lifeless looking- lawman's, "When that train comes along, I want Crown ALIVE!" he added and pulled the tightest noose loose...just a little. He shot his incompetent henchmen angry, annoyed glares and then gave their slightly hung hostage a few rough shakes-to revive him.

On account a' how it was now nearly dark, Mareck didn't see the angry glares his hired goons gave him. But if he had listened real closely, he might've heard their gritted teeth 'grinding'.

Speakin' a' gritted teeth...

Crown exhaled his first 'gasped' breath in an agonized groa-oan. Someone-it seemed-had latched onto his right arm by his shirt sleeve and was shaking the hell out of his slightly dislocated shoulder. The pain was intolerable! So he stiffened and tried to pull away from it. The shaking stopped, but then, so did his breathing-again! His sudden movement had caused one of the thick cords that seemed to be encircling his neck, to tighten-and take another strangle-hold on him- again!

"Hold still!" he heard 'Mister' Mareck say. "Or you'll hang yourself!" the little man added as a morbid-and amusing-afterthought. The noose was pulled loose a second time. Then, satisfied that their 'train bait' was once again breathing, Roger Mareck reassumed the lead, and their grisly little procession proceeded.

Jim Crown tried to stay as still and straight in his saddle as the constant pain-and his level of consciousness-would allow. The lawman knew his life depended on his maintaining such perfect posture. Those two ropes that were attached to him were being kept rea-eal taut, and any sudden movement on his part might jes' sna-ap his neck! The man remembered what a battle it was to maintain yore balance-with both a' yore hands tied behind yore back. He knew what a struggle it was ta have ta stay alert-with a bullet hole in' yore life's blood slowly drainin' away. Yessir, the Marshal had a real good memory! Yah see, this was not the first time that he'd been forced to endure such trying travel arrangements...

James Crown was not the first 'peace officer' by that name, either. His great-great-great-grandfather, James was the Sheriff of West Coventry-in Ingham County, England-for 45 years.

Jame's boy, Malcolm Crown, held the job for over 40 years. Malcolm's son, Thomas Crown chose his father's father's profession as well and held the post of Sheriff for over 40 years, also.

In the spring of 1800, Thomas-and his wife, Edith-had a son, James Malcolm. Instead of staying in West Coventry and following in his father's footsteps, James Malcolm decided to set out on a course of his own choosing.

So it was that in 1827 James Malcolm Crown, his wife, Helen, their four-year-old son, Andrew and James' cousin, Edward Crown, left England and sailed for America.

Immediately upon landing in the 'land of opportunity', the two cousins went West. Braving raging rivers, raving renegades and ruthless robbers, they eventually ended up in Mexican Territory-in an area that is now Southwest Texas.

The two cousins pooled their finances and, in the summer of 1828, they founded the 'Two Crowns Ranch'. All went well- until the Fall of '32-when James lost his entire family, including his cousin Edward, during an Indian raid on the ranch.

Two years later, he married the daughter of his closest neighbor, Don Miguel Cassilion. It was a marriage of convenience. Entered into solely to form a 'family alliance' with the wealthy, and powerful, Mexican landholder.

In 1835, James-and his new wife, Anna Theresa-had a son, which they named Thomas Michael-after his two grandfathers.

Don Miguel died in '47, leaving his daughter-and hence Ja-ames-all of his massive land and cattle holdings. With the two rancheros' now combined, 'The Two Crowns' came to cover over 32,000 acres...50 square miles of prime 'cattle country'...bordered on the east by the Rio Caldero, on the west by the Rio Bravo, and on the south by the Rio Grande. Tragically, James' second wife died-less than a year later-of the same 'fever' which had taken her father.

In 1852, James Malcolm Crown 'arranged' a marriage between his seventeen-year-old son, Thomas and Louisa Arroya-the daughter of his next closest (and wealthiest) neighbor, Don Alexandro Arroya.

But, following in his father's footsteps, Thomas Michael chose not to follow in his father's footsteps. Instead of marrying for property and money-as his father had-Thomas intended to follow his heart and announced his intentions to wed his childhood sweetheart, Katrina Thatcher.

Katey's father, Rolland Thatcher, was foreman of 'The Two Crowns'. Her mother, Letara`, was the daughter of an Apache Chief and a white captive.

Thomas' father positively forbade the marriage! No son of his was ever going to get 'hitched up' with some 'half-breed'! No, sir! Not on his ranch!

So, Thomas Crown left his father's ranch-along with Katey and her father...and her mother...and her brother, Wesley...and a quarter of 'The Two Crowns' crew!

Tom and Kate were married in the first Mission they came across. Following the wedding, the whole lot of them worked their way north and finally wound up settling down on a little spread near Duran, in northwest Texas.

In the spring of 1853, Thomas and his bride had a son, which they named after his grandfathers-James and Rolland. To his pa, he was Jim, to his ma-a, he was James...and his Uncle Wes' jes' called him J.R.. Not being one to hold a grudge, Thomas had sent word to his father-informing him of the birth of his grandson.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... ( Sorry...but I just couldn't resist :) )

Rosa Messina, who took charge of raising twelve year old Thomas, following his mother's untimely death, intensified her efforts to convince James Malcolm to go find his son and bring him-and his family-back home...where they belonged!

So, partly to appease his housekeeper...partly because he missed his foreman...and partly because he wasn't as sore at his son anymore for defying him-but mostly because he was interested in seeing an heir to 'The Two Crowns'-James Malcolm conceded and sent word to Thomas to return home with his family-his entire family-and his friends.

Thomas sent word back that they were pleased with the reconciliation and grateful for the invitation, but that they liked it in Duran and intended to stay there. Duran was now their home. His father was welcome to visit them. O-Or, perhaps when J.R. got a little older-and could withstand the long, arduous journey-they might make it down to see hi-im.

James Rolland Crown was four years old by the time Tom and Katey got around to making the trip south. It was the Fall of '57. Things had slacked off some on the ranch, allowing Katey's folks the opportunity to travel along with them. Wesley was to catch up with them a little later on.

Too late...

Wes' found his family massacred! They-and their escort-had been ambushed along the trail about sixty miles or so from 'The Two Crowns'.

Wes' buried the lot of them and then lit out after the bandits. His father, Rolland Thatcher, was one of the finest trackers there ever was! And he had taught Wes' everything he knew. The seventeen-year-old spent several weeks on the outlaw band's trail before finally making any headway. It was in a little border town-in what is now New Mexico-that Wes' came across Thomas Crown's horse and saddle and the gold medallion he used to wear around his neck-the one with the 'two crowns' emblazoned on it. It was also there that he found Thomas' son-James Rolland-his sister's boy, his nephew...ali-ive!

After avenging his family's deaths, upon what few outlaws he could find there, Wes' set J.R. up on his father's horse, in his father's saddle, and placed his father's medallion around his neck. Then the two of them rode off together. Since Wes' was only a boy himself, he didn't reckon he could raise J.R. right. So he intended to turn him over to his grandpa. J.R. wanted to stay with him and B.J. (Wes' pet raven, Black Jack), but Wes' took him to 'The Two Crowns' and told him, "There are worse things kin happen to a boy than growin' up in the lap a' luxury! 'Sides, what I'm gonna be doin's gonna be way too dangerous!"

But, after a brief discussion with James Malcolm, Wes' realized what one a' those 'worse things' might be-growin' up without love! James Malcolm Crown took the loss of his son hard. He felt responsible in a way. The only thing that kept him going was the hope that his 'grandson'-and sole remaining heir-might still be found...alive! After all, Wes' had found no trace of the boy at the sight of the massacre.

When Wes' posed the purely hypothetical question of what would happen to the 'boy' if he were to get him back alive, James Malcolm Crown responded by assuring him that his 'grandson' would receive the best of everything his money could buy! The boy would be sent to the finest schools-back East. Then, when he was old enough, his grandfather would hand everything he had over to him! (On a silver platter, no doubt!) As for 'love' and 'affection'? No mention was ever made of tha-at! It seemed the boy's grandfather was ready, willing, and eager to give J.R. everything but tha-at! And-right then-tha-at is what J.R. needed the most!

"C'mon, J.R.!" Wes' Thatcher said when he reached the little rise overlooking 'The Two Crowns' main ranch house, "We're gettin' out a' here! There's worse things kin happen to a boy then growin' up in poverty! Yer' jes' gonna have ta learn ta duck!"

The four-year-old stepped out from the clump of bushes-in which he had been told to remain hidden-and started reaching for the stirrup of his father's saddle.

"You'd better ride with me for awhile," his uncle warned, seeing the weary look in his nephew's eyes, "I wouln' want you ta go dozin' off an' fallin' out a' yore saddle..." he explained lightly and flashed the tired little fellow a warm smile.

J.R. readily handed over his reins and then allowed his understanding uncle to haul him up onto his horse.

Wes' locked his arms around the boy and then urged his mount forward.

His nephew beamed a broad upside-down smile up at him and sat there, hugging onto him by his wrists.

J.R. hadn't smiled in weeks. Apparently, the kid felt quite safe and secure with him...and yes, even loved. Wes' returned the boy's smile-and his hug-and the two of them rode on together...for nearly nine whole years!

As for J.R.'s 'grandpa'...?

The old man never gave up the idea that some day he'd get his 'grandson' back. He even offered a sizeable reward for information leading to the boy's where-abouts. (Which is why Wes' Thatcher had avoided the southwest corner of Texas like the plague!)

And which is why certain criminal elements had been so interested in a certain saddle that was seen on some young cowboy's horse in San Antonio. Only these guys weren't interested in no mere, what they had in mind was more of a RANSOM!

Averaging almost forty miles a day, the eleventh evening of Jim Crown's kidnappers' forced march across Texas brought them-and their hostage-to a secluded clearing in a thick grove of trees less than five miles from 'The Two Crowns' main ranch house.

The young cowboy was seated-bareback-on his horse, with his raw wrists now bound behind his back. There was a blood-soaked strip of cloth tied around his right thigh, and there were two nooses looped about his neck. The cloth wrap covered a couple of holes in his leg. (The bullet had passed clean through.) The nooses-which encircled his throat-were on the ends of a couple of ropes, which were attached to the saddle horns of two of the four men who constantly surrounded him. Jim just sat there, quietly, waiting for 'Santi' to return. The loss of sleep-and the loss of blood-had finally caught up with-and subdued-their unruly captive.

Or, so it seemed...

"'Gramps' wants to examine the goods before he forks over any money," Santi said upon his return.

His companions voiced their dismay at the delay. The saddle and Bible and medallion should have been sufficient proof of the boy's parentage for him!

"Now you see why I said ta jes' 'wing' 'im?" Santi inquired, shooting the loudest complainer of them all an 'I told you so' glare.

The man replied by rubbing a bruise on the back of his head and glaring icily back at the young cowboy responsible for putting it there, "I'll kill 'im after we git the money then!" he rationalized aloud.

"No you won't!" Santi snapped back, "The old man made it very clear! He said he'd pay just as much a reward-dead or alive-for his grandson's killers as he is a ransom to his grandson's kidnappers!"

"Speakin' a' the ransom," the outlaw with the gold-toothed grin readily interjected, "How much does he figure his only 'heir' is worth?"

"Twelve thousand in cash, an' close to another twelve thousand in gold, silver an' jewels!" Santi announced.

The 'heirs'' eyes widened-in amazement.

Carlos' colleagues' eyes narrowed-with ra-age.

"You said the old man was loaded!" the bandit with the bruised head grumbled, "You told us he was worth ten times that!"

"And he is!" Santi assured his still frowning trio of friends, "It seems his 'wealth' is all locked up in land and livestock-and a number of local banks! I searched the whole house myself and personally saw him empty his safe. He's giving us everything of value on the place! I swear! Now, I say we take it an' git!"

"Santi's right!" his previously silent associate suddenly piped up, "Twenty-four grand ain't nothin' ta sneeze at!"

"Yea-eah!" gold-teeth agreed, "It could take days for him to raise more money! We wait aroun' here that lo-ong an' somethin' might go wro-ong!"

Seeing as how he was outnumbered, the bandit with the nasty lump on his noggin begrudgingly nodded his compliance with the plan.

The group's leader looked pleased and promptly ordered that a fallen limb be placed in the crotches of two of the trees on the edge of the clearing. Next, he ordered that they tie their prisoner to said limb.

And so, Jim found himself hanging there...with his aching arms above his head and his bound wrists draped up over the branch...leaving his boot heels suspended about four feet or so up off'n the ground.

At the sound of an approaching rider, three of his captor's disappeared into the surrounding trees.

A fire had been hastily built on the ground at Jim's feet and by its flickering light, the cowboy could see the glint of the metal on their rifle barrels-all three of which were trained on hi-im. Their 'target' coughed and then winced as the ascending cloud of acrid smoke from the fire choked him and burnt his eyes a bit. The cowboy kept right on coughing and staring blurrily down into the flames-which were now licking at his feet.

All other eyes watched as a distinguished-looking, well-dressed, grey-haired gentleman rode into the little clearing and dismounted. He stepped right past 'Senor Santi' and up to the young man dangling from the tree limb.

The outlaw tossed a bundle of dry twigs onto the fire. They crackled into a brilliant flame, illuminating the entire area like a lantern.

The elderly gentleman stared up at Jim for a long while before speaking. "What's your name, son?" he inquired finally, his deep, resonant voice sounding somewhat 'gruff'.

Another long silence followed as the cowboy failed to reply.

"The man asked you a question!" Santi shouted, springing to his feet and giving their prisoner's ribs a rough prod with the butt of his rifle.

The cowboy grimaced and gasped and finally flicked his gaze up from the fire. Jim saw his 'grandfather' for the very first time-and his already burning eyes stung even more, "If I said...John W. Smith...would you jes' go ridin'' leave me hangin' here?"

There was a weakness in the young man's voice, but a burning intensity in his dark eyes. The old man recognized those eyes. They belonged to his son, Thomas! "No," Jim's grandfather answered, following another long bout of silence, "no-o, I don't believe I could do that," he tacked on-with just a hint of an English accent.

Jim forced a weak smile, "Then I'm proud ta say...the name's Crown, Sir...Ja-ames Crown."

"What a coincidence," his grandfather replied, his voice now choking up just a bit, "so's mi-ine!" he added-equally proudly-and flashed his grandson a warm smile.

"Satisfied?" Santi inquired impatiently.

The elderly gentleman answered by stepping over to his horse and pulling a bulging pair of saddle bags from the pommel of his saddle. "Cut him down!" he ordered and whipped the ransom money at the closest-and so most visible-kidnapper. "I sai-aid, CUT HIM DOWN!" he commanded again, sounding more than a little impatient himself, "NO-OW!"

Santi paused in his examination of the bulging bags' contents and passed the 'shouted order' along to his compatriots.

Three mounted figures suddenly appeared in the clearing. One-with a gold-toothed grin-led their leader's horse over to him and then reached up and sliced effortlessly through their prisoner's thick leather bonds with the glistening blade of an obviously very sharp knife.

James Crown caught his grandson under the arms and gently lowered him to the ground-a safe distance from the still blazing bonfire. The very distinguished gentleman then dropped to his knees in the dirt beside the collapsed cowboy and cradled the lad's head in his lap, "Are you all right, son?" he inquired anxiously, his voice and face filled with concern.

Short of his hair and nails, there wasn't a single part of Jim's body that hadn't suffered from some form of abuse these past eleven days. His head was throbbing-as was his right leg. The circulation was returning to his hands-causing them to hurt like hell. The muscles of his arms ached from the strain of having to support his weight, and his shoulders felt like they'd been completely wrenched out of their sockets! He was cold-and hungry-and incredibly tired! No-o, no what he was feeling went way beyond ti-ired-the cowboy was TOTALLY EXHAUSTED! However, not wishing to worry-o-or lie to-his grandfather, Jim just stared up at the elderly gentleman and simply stated, "I, uh...reckon I will be...Si-ir."

His grandfather's face filled with relief.

"All right!" Santi shouted, "Let's get outta here!" And-with that-the group's leader got to his feet and started striding towards his horse.

The outlaw with the lump on his head pointed his pistol at the two Crowns and thumbed back its hammer, "I say we take them along...ta guarantee our safe-"

"NO-O!" the old rancher interrupted, sounding absolutely outraged, "The boy's obviously lost a lot of blood! He can't afford to lose much more! He's been through enough hell already! Any further travel could kill him!" The gentleman realized his plea was falling on deaf ears and quickly changed tactics. His grandson's life meant nothing to these men, but what about their own? "I have over forty men working for me," he icily informed the little band of outlaws, "and all of them have the same 'orders'. If anything happens to either of us," he paused for effect, "they are to hunt you's down and," he paused again, for even greater effect, "I guarantee the four of you will DIE!"

"Say we leave you's here an' ride out," the outlaw with the lump began, keeping his gun leveled on them, "what's ta keep those forty men a' yores from opening fire on us?"

"My men don't know what my grandson looks like," James Crown quickly explained, "but they do know how much he means to me. They won't open fire on you for fear they might be killing him!"

"C'mon!" Santi urged, "We're wasting time! We could be halfway to the border by now!"

The baddy with the bump on his head begrudgingly lowered his pistol and began easing its cocked hammer back down. "What happens when they find out he ain't with us?" he wondered, glaring menacingly down at the young man on the ground.

"If they don't know what he looks like," his gold-toothed associate reminded him with a grin, "how will they know he's not with us?"

And-with that-all four of the outlaws lit out of the clearing.

No sooner were they out of sight, when James Crown Jr. propped himself up on his elbows and posed a rather pertinent question of his own, "You got a gun I could borrow?"

James Crown Sr. pushed his grandson back down onto the ground and then held him there, "It appears to me what you have more need of-at the moment-is a DOCTOR!"

"Right no-ow, I need a GUN!" the cowboy corrected, struggling back up onto his elbows, "They took mi-ine, an' I cain't go after 'em without one!"

"You can't go after them in your condition, anyways!" James Crown Sr. determined.

"I'll be all right!" Jim promised and proceeded to sit up.

"What about that leg?" his grandfather inquired.

"It'll be all right, too," Jim assured him, "the bullet missed the bone!"

"That may be so," James Crown Sr. conceded, "Sti-ill, it looks like you've lost a considerable amount of blood..." Seeing as how his only heir seemed to have his heart set on standing, the old rancher sighed in surrender and finally helped him to his feet.

Jim stood there for a few moments-on unsteady legs-and studied his unbelievably calm looking relative, "Don' it bother you that 'that bunch' may be gettin' away?"

"Not particularly," came back James Crown Sr.'s even calmer reply.

"Well, it bothers me-e! I don' 'particularly' like bein' carted clear across Texas-ta be strung up like some trophy elk!" the cowboy paused to whistle for his horse.

The animal stepped out into the clearing.

"Besides," Jim continued as he started 'hopping' over to where the gelding stood, grazing, "it ain't right for a man ta have ta buy his own 'flesh an' blood'-" he stopped in mid-hop and turned to stare disbelievingly back at his grandfather once again, "Did you really hand over twenty-four thousand dollars...for my-y hide?"

The old man nodded.

And Jim looked even more amazed. Why, the cowboy couldn't even begin to imagine such a hu-uge sum of money! "I hate ta have ta tell yah this, but-you got took!"

"Oh-oh, I don't know," the old rancher reasoned calmly, and gazed proudly after his apparently gutsy-and once again 'hopping'-heir, "I'm beginning to think I got myself quite a...bargain!"

The completely exhausted cowboy managed-somehow-to reach his horse. But when he bent down to retrieve his reins, a tidal wave of dizziness washed over him.

The old rancher reached his grandson's side in seconds. Which means he got there just in time to keep the young cowboy-who had slumped up against his horse-from falling flat on his face.

"I'll be...all...right..." Jim reassured him rather dazedly.

"I'm sure you will," his grandfather agreed, wrapping his right arm about the collapsing cowboy's waist, "but, in the meantime, maybe you'd better ride with me." The rancher draped Jim's left arm around his neck and began leading him off in the direction of his horse, "C'mon, son. We've got to get you back to the ranch so that the Doctor can have a look at that leg."

"But," Jim protested, "they're gettin' away!"

"I don't care about the money!" the old rancher assured him, "You're home now, and that's ALL that really matters!"

"It ain' jes' the money," the cowboy confessed, "One a' Santi's boys has it in his head...ta put another bullet in me…only-this time-he's gonna be aimin' a lot higher!"

"Well, now," his grandfather said rather solemnly, "that changes everything!" He helped the young cowboy climb aboard his horse, being careful to keep the reins in his control.

Jim watched as the old rancher pulled a pistol from behind his back. He continued watching as his grandfather raised the gun above his head and began firing it into the air.

" ker-pow! ker-po-ow!...ker-pow! ker-po-ow!...ker-pow! ker-po-ow!"

Because the shots were squeezed off in such a deliberate pattern, the young cowboy took them to be a signal...of sorts.

"Just letting the boys know that the both of us are safe," James Crown Sr. calmly explained and plunked the empty gun into his grandson's empty holster.

A tremendous wave of relief washed over Jim this time. He stared rather admiringly down at the foxy old fellah-his 'grandfather'-for a few moments and then proudly proffered his hand.

The old rancher took it-and shook it-and, once more, the two 'Crowns' exchanged smiles.

"I got a feelin' you're gonna be gettin' yore money back..." the young cowboy calmly spoke-over the sound of distant gunfire. The two 'Crowns' took an even firmer hold of each other's hands and Jim helped the elderly gentlemen up onto his horse.

"It doesn't matter if I do or don't," James Crown Sr. honestly admitted, settling down into his seat and locking his arms securely around his grandson, "because I feel a whole lot richer now, than I did this morning. Let's go home, son..."

Jim wasn't sure if the old man's last comment was directed at him or his stallion, so he didn't say anything. Besides, his leg had begun bleeding again and he was suddenly feeling almost too weak to speak. But he'd be better by morning. He had to be! He had to get back to San Antone! All he needed was a night's rest, a fresh bandage...oh, and a fresh horse wouldn't hurt, either. His gelding was feeling just as spent as he was-and had been every bit as abused. "That old brush popper a' mine...mus' be plum broke down..." he realized regrettably.

"Don't worry about your horse, son," his grandfather said, "I'll send one of the boys back for him. I promise, he'll be well taken care of."

"Si-ir?" the dizzy cowboy didn't have the energy to beat around the bush, so he decided he'd better get right to the point, "You could loan me...a horse?"

"You don't have to borrow a horse, boy! As soon as you're fit to ri-ide, you can have your pick of any animal on the place! What's mine is your's now! It all belongs to you-ou!"

The elderly Crown's only heir did not hear his reply, however.

Upon posing his question, his grandson had gone completely limp in his arms. The old gentlemen tightened his hold on the unconscious cowboy and then encouraged his horse to pick up the pace. After sixteen years of searching, he'd finally found his own 'flesh and blood'! And he couldn't afford to lose him now! Especially not no-ow!

Chapter Forty-Three

It was just about at twilight that Mareck and his men-and the Marshal-reached the perfect 'meeting' place...a slight bend in the tracks, where a little tree-covered rise would block the engineer's view of the railroad bed until it was too late to stop the train.

The prisoner was pulled from his horse and then pushed and prodded, and-in the end-half carried over to the blind curve. They stood Crown up in the very center of the tracks and then kept him there with their little 'ropes around his neck' arrangement.

"HURRY!" Roger Mareck urged, "It's due any minute!" he added rather excitedly.

After about twenty minutes-of just standing there-the whoozie Marshal was growing tired of shifting his weight from one of his unsteady legs to the other. "I hate ta say this, Mareck," the lawman lied, "but if that train a' yores...don' come along pretty quick...I might have ta disappoint' die a' boredom before it gets here..."

Roger Mareck's henchmen were amused to no end, and the three had themselves a good laugh.

Their boss was furious! "I know what you're up to Crown! You're trying to make me mad again! So mad that I'll kill you before it gets here! Well, it's not going to work!"

"If you say so, Mareck..." the Marshal wearily acknowledged. "In the meantime, do you mind if I set a spell? My legs are gettin' rea-eal ti-ired..."

Mareck's men snickered again.

Their enraged employer snarled, "You just stand right there where you are, Marshal! In just a little while, you won't have to worry about your legs anymore!"

"If you say so, Mareck..." the lawman again acknowledged, sounding even wearier. He wa-as!

After over half an hour had elapsed-and the train still hadn't come-Mareck sent one of his men back to Cimarron to see what was holding things up.

"The train's not just late!" Luther Nyman annoyedly announced when he trotted up awhile later, "It ain't coming tonight at all...PERIOD!"

Roger Mareck's bodyguards had themselves another good bellylaugh.

Their already angry boss looked even more livid. "You knew!" he screamed and went stomping up to where their 'train bait' stood, swaying. "You knew all along that it wasn't coming, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU?" he repeated, giving one of their prisoner's neck ties a savage jerk.

Crown cleared his crushed throat and forced a weak reply, "Now that you mention it...when I was over at the depot the other day...makin' arrangements for yore departure...Carl did say somethin' about a wash-out...between here an' Gault's Spring...Seems a couple a' sections a' track...needed ta be completely replaced...said he reckoned it'd take 'em a few days..."

"You seem to think this is all just some big joke!" Mareck marveled and slugged the Marshal in his sore ribs again.

As their prisoner doubled-up and dropped to his knees, the creeps holding the coils of rope-reluctantly-cut him some slack.

"No-o," Crown corrected, when he could speak again, ", this is all deadly serious! I think that YOU...are jes' some...big joke!"

Mareck's men glanced at one another, looking absolutely astounded!

Their boss was even more astounded and, apparently, too stunned to react.

"Because," Crown quickly continued, "without yore money, you wouldn' have these' without these'd be a BIG nothin'! Why, you'd be so'd be practic'ly...non-existent!" Then, to Mareck's three highly paid henchmen he said, "Yore boss really is...broke! Goldman-Hunt-Reimer an' Associates…have backed' left him...holdin' the bag! An empty that!" he added, turning back to his arch nemesis.

"SHUT UP!" Mareck shouted and finally reacted by pistol-whipping their mouthy prisoner into unconsciousness.

The rope holders dropped their coils completely as the prisoner pitched forwards and collapsed in a motionless heap on the tracks.

"Put him on his horse!" their employer angrily ordered, "There'll be another train along, out of Hardesty, in the morning!"

"Yeah!" Denny declared, "And it's gonna be loaded with FEDERAL LAW!"

"That deputy was bluffing!" Mareck shouted and then angrily passed along a little reminder, "He also said that Crown was DEAD!"

"Well," Mister Nyman joined in, "WE ain't waiting around to find out!"

"I give the 'orders' around here!" Mareck reminded them further.

"Not anymore you don't!" Gordy calmly corrected. "WE QUIT!"

"I'll double-TRIPLE your salaries!" Mareck tempted his already highly paid henchmen, "I've got money! LOT'S of money! In the banks, back East!"

"What good's your money gonna do us," Denny wondered, "if we're all rotting in some FEDERAL PRISON somewhere?"

The arrogant little man failed to answer.

So the three thugs started swinging their mounts around.

"LISTEN TO ME!" Mareck demanded-er, pleaded and latched onto Mister Gordon's horse by it's bridle.

"Not anymore we won't!" Gordy rather gleefully determined, then he withdrew his weapon and discharged it in Roger Mareck's direction.

Their ex-employer's wide eyes closed and he dropped to the ground.

So did Mister Gordon. After relieving his ex-boss of his billfold, he removed its cash, "If he only knew how lo-ong I've been wanting to do that!" he rather regrettably, and relievedly, exclaimed. Then he dropped the empty wallet onto the dead little man's chest and stepped over to the still non-moving lawman.

U.S. Marshal James Crown awoke to the feel of cold steel being pressed into his left temple. The front of his face was resting against cold steel as well and he realized-with a slight shudder-that he had jes' come within a fraction of an inch a' splittin' his head wide open on one a' the track's steel rails. He braced himself and then tried to raise his throbbing head above the level of the steel bar that was blocking his view. He 'winced' as the movement caused a white-hot pain to shoot across his bruised-and sweat-drenched-forehead. There was the unmistakable 'cli-ick' of a pistol being cocked and his aching head was pressed back down onto the ground by the point of somebody's gun barrel. But not before he caught sight of Roger Mareck's corpse.

The little man was lying beside the track, looking very dea-ead, indee-eed! Now Mareck really was non-existent!

The Marshal stared up at the man's personal bodyguard-turned personal assassin-and quietly inquired, "You an' yore boss have a little fallin' out, did you?"

"Goodbye, Marshal," Eugene Gordon slimily said, tightening his finger on the trigger of his gun-the barrel of which was still being pressed into the lawman's left temple, "You're about to become a really dead DEAD man!"

"He dies-you die!" Elliot Polk suddenly shouted-er, promised from the shadows of those trees that were growing on that little rise, "The Marshal's MI-INE!"

"What're you savin' him for?" Denny demanded.

"I need 'im!" Polk impatiently replied.

"For WHAT?" Mister Gordon wanted to know.

"I intend ta trade! HIM for my baby brother!"

"You'll never get away with it!" Gordy guaranteed, "And, if he gets away from you-"

"If you ain't already dead," Mr. Nyman cut in, "We'll kill you!"

"Don' worry! He won' get away! Now back off!"

Mister Gordon reluctantly replaced his pistol. Then he even more reluctantly remounted, and the three ex-bodyguards began taking their leave of Cimarron-and the entire Territory! The three thugs did not intend to be within fifty miles of there when that train pulled in from Hardesty in the morning.

The lawman realized that Polk would probably be watching the three thugs' departure. So, he decided to use the distraction to his advantage. The Marshal managed-somehow-to slide his bound wrists down past his posterior, and continued to slide them down, 'til they were directly behind his knees. Then, one-by-one, the peace officer pulled his legs back through the loop that had been formed when his hands were first cuffed together. The lawman jerked the first-and the second-noose loose and then slipped both of the 'neck ties' up over his head. With his bound wrists now in front of him, Crown could use his hands to heave himself up off the ground. And so he did. But only just enough to clear the steel rail that ran beside him. Once over the rail, the Marshal rolled over to where 'Mister' Mareck's body lay-and began groping around for the little man's little gun. The lawman's knuckles struck something cool and hard and he exhaled a brief breath of relief as his right hand came up with Roger Mareck's .22 caliber revolver.

"Hold it!" somebody's older brother suddenly shouted.

The Marshal recognized the voice as belonging to one of the two sleezes he and the 'Mrs.' had met along the trail 'bout two days back. The same person who had held Katelyn at gun-point earlier that evening-Po-olk! Needless to say, the lawman did not hold it. On the contrary, Crown squeezed off a shot in the voice's immediate vicinity and then began hauling himself off in the direction of his horse-whose silhouette he could jes' see below that little rise...where all the trees, and their concealing shadows were. If he could jes' make it ta the safety of those shadows, the Marshal figured he'd be home free!

Speakin' a' the Marshal's 'Mrs.' an' ho-ome...

Katelyn had heard the first shot and had 'homed in' on it. The woman rode up to the meeting place just in time to watch 'Mister' Mareck's murderer place the tip of his gun's barrel on the motionless lawman's left temple. The tough little lady from Texas had brought her rifle up-and was about to blow away the slime brain who was about to blow her husband's head off-when Elliot Polk suddenly appeared on the scene. She had continued watching as all three of the murdered man's thugs were promptly dispatched by the new arrival-whom the lady also recognized as one of her attempted rapists. Katelyn crept stealthily up behind the sleeze and was about to bring the butt-end of her rifle down upon his slimey brain, when he suddenly swung his gun arm up and shouted for the Marshal to, "Hold it!" However, neither the little lady, nor her husband listened to the sleeze's order. Katelyn brained the 'blankety-blank' and then dropped to the ground herself-as a bullet went whistling past her right ear.

The woman was about to call out to Jim Crown to, 'Hold his fi-ire!' when someone else beat her to it. Mareck's ex-bodyguards must've heard her husband's shot and returned for him.

And, judging by the increased size of their group, they'd managed to find some reinforcements.

One minute, the lawman was in the fryin' pan-the next, he was in the fi-ire!

"I SAID TA HOLD YOUR FIRE!" Roger Mareck's murderer angrily repeated as the non-listening Marshal got off another shot, this time, in his little group's direction.

"O-or?" Jim Crown wondered curiously.

"O-or, the 'Committee To Save Our Marshal', here, is going to be permanently DISBANDED!" Mister Gordon warned-er, promised.

"Don't listen to him, Marshal!" Mister Andrews advised and was pistol-whipped for his efforts.

Jim Crown exhaled a 'gasp' of utter exasperation and then banged his bruised forehead up against the tree he was crouched behind. If only folks would stop tryin' so hard ta 'save' him-the Marshal figured he jes' might stand a chance a' makin' it!

"That's better!" Gordy determined after several seconds passed and no further shots were fired, "Now, throw down the gun and come out!"

Katelyn 'gasped' herself-in horror-as her husband tossed down his weapon and then came staggering out of the shadows. She brought her rifle back up and began taking careful aim at the outlaw who was giving all the orders.

That's when three shots rang out. Only they were fired so closely together, that it sounded more like one.

The woman watched in wide-eyed wonder-and no little confusion-as the men who wanted to kill her husband suddenly catapulted from their saddles and went 'crashing' to the ground.

Crown considered taking evasive action, but the 'Save Our Marshal Committee' was still seated right out there-in the open-so he, regretably, held his ground.

"You boys had bes' get back ta town!" Mr. Stevens advised-er, warned the half a dozen or so men who had ridden to the lawman's rescue, "You-or anybody else-tries anything, and the Marshal is gonna get the first bullet!" he further warned-er, promised and pointed his finger at the now completely surrounded peace officer.

The townsfolk hung their heads in guilt and shame and slowly began to file off-in the direction of Cimarron.

Cro-own, who had resigned himself to being taken back into the bad guys' 'custody', stared down at Elliot Polk's motionless body in amazement. How on earth could his single shot in the dark possibly have been so lucky? "It's about time, Rutgers!" the captured lawman calmly called out, "I was beginin' ta think you'd never get here! At least, not in ti-ime..." he tacked on rather annoyedly.

"His 'honor' ain't he-ere!" Stevens obligingly informed him.

"Oh, he's he-ere, all right..." the lawman corrected, "There's too much at stake for him ta not be here!"

"I enjoy a good joke as well as the next man, Marshal!" Rutgers declared as he came riding into view-much to Steven's and the others' astonishment. "Especially when all the 'humor' was at your expense!" he gleefully added and let loose with several more mirthful chuckles. "I hate your guts! But I do admire your sense of humor! Ah-ahh, I'd've given anything to see the look on Mareck's face when Nyman told him the train wasn't coming!" he confessed rather wistfully and sat there, looking like he had all he could do to keep from laughing.

Crown had about all he could do to keep from falling. The 'leaking' lawman had lost about as much blood as a body could lose-and still remain conscious. And so the unbelievably hot and thirsty Marshal was actually relieved when his horse was hauled over to him and he was helped aboard.

"Grab one of those ropes down there!" Rutgers ordered as an amusing afterthought, "Roger Mareck was a complete and utter fool...but I rather liked his little 'noose around the neck' idea!"

Thus, as Stevens-the lead rider-pulled his horse along, a side rider kept Jim Crown in his seat, using the old 'rope around his neck' arrangement.

Katelyn watched in grim silence as the group of fifteen gunmen and their-by the looks of him-barely conscious captive headed off for...Adrian's Canyon? at a rather brisk pace. The woman wisely took the time to tie her brained prisoner to a tree-using the remaining rope-before heading back over to her horse, herself. (It wouldn't do for Polk to come to and interfere in some way with her rescue efforts.)

The lady needn't've worried about losing them, for less than a mile of constant jerking and jostling later, the lawman let out an involuntary 'groan' and started falling forwards in his seat.

"HOLD UP!" his side rider shouted and the whole gang of them ground to a halt.

"What's the matter?" Rutgers wondered as he and Stevens approached the side rider who had requested the unscheduled stop.

"I dunno! But he don't look like he's gonna make it!" he defensively exclaimed and motioned to their grimacing and gasping 'groaning' captive.

"All right," Stevens said, jerking the 'moaning' Marshal up in his seat, "now...just what exactly is ailin' you?"

Crown was slow in commenting. Another savage jerk on the rope around his neck caused him to quickly clear his throat and reply-er, lie, "Nothin'! Let's go!" A third vicious tug produced a more involved answer, "I'll be all right. I jes' lost some all."

"You're lyin'!" Stevens determined, "Mareck couldn't a' hit yah that hard! He's fakin', Judge! He's jes' tryin' ta stall us!"

The side rider dropped to the ground and stepped up to examine the ribs in question. The man struck up a match, threw the lawman's leather vest open-and then froze, "Hey, Stevens, he ain't foolin'! This is sure enough rea-eal blood he's bleedin' here, all right!"

Stevens looked at the blood and then at Rutgers-who simply looked surprised.

"I didn't think Old Roger had it in him..." the amazed magistrate admitted.

"He don't...didn't!" Crown corrected, "It was...a 'Mister' Winchester...I was recently on...the receivin' end a' one...The Hampton brothers came...a lot closer...ta collectin' that...bounty...than you kin imagine...yore 'honor'."

"So," Stevens stated, "what do we do now?"

"Yeah," the side rider interjected, "he ain't gonna get very far leakin' like this!"

"That's okay, because we don't have very far to go-do we, Marshal!" the corrupt judge incorrectly 'judged' and couldn't resist giving the rope around Jim Crown's throat an ill-tempered tug of his own.

That was all it took to send their-already extremely off-balance-captive crashing to the ground. The landing didn't do the lawman's lost ribs any good, but the impact-somehow-managed to 'pop' his slightly dislocated right shoulder back into it's proper place. The now pain free-at least in that particular area-peace officer heaved a quiet sigh of relief, when he recovered his wind, and then passed- completely-out.

"Somebody gonna ride with him from here on?" the side rider suddenly asked, "Or do we just throw him across his saddle?"

From her concealment, Katelyn heard the question that had been so callously posed and quickly urged her horse forwards. Not, perhaps a particularly wise move on her part, but the little lady from Texas could no longer contain herself! "I kin ride with him!" Mrs. Crown courageously volunteered as over a dozen guns were drawn and aimed at her, "And I kin stop the bleedin'! Please! I'm a nurse! Let me tend to him an' I'll see to it that he makes it ta the canyon!"

Stevens stared down at the object that was draped over the horn of the lovely intruder's saddle, "Will yah look at tha-at!" he amazedly exclaimed to his equally amazed-and slightly dazed-associates, "She brung 'im his ha-at!"

"All right," Rutgers calmly replied after careful consideration of the pretty lady's proposal. Then-to Stevens-he said, "See to it that that's all she 'brung' him!"

Stevens grinned and eagerly dismounted. Now, that was one order the gunman would gladly obey-ANY DAY!

Chapter Forty-Four

Jim Crown was aware, albeit barely, of being up on the back of a horse. He was also, vaguely, cognizant of someone being seated in back of him. He picked his hanging head up and slowly opened his eyes. Bright, blue skies appeared overhead-along with some golden leaves. Directly ahead of him, sunlight was bouncing off some unknown body of water-a river, by appearances. A warm and gentle breeze was blowing, but there was still an unmistakable Autumn crispness to the air. And the reeds along the river's bank were as golden as the leaves in the grove of trees they were standing in.

"All right!" Mister Donnelly suddenly shouted, "This looks like a good spot ta rest an' water the horses. Yeager?"

"Yeah, boss?"

"See if Old Dan has any more a' them biscuits left over from breakfast!"

"Yes, sir!" Mark Yeager acknowledged.

Jim turned and watched the dispatched cowboy disappear. Jim Crown continued watching as Koree slipped her arms from around his waist and herself to the ground. He dismounted himself and then led their mutual mount down to the river they had just ridden up to.

"Come on!" Koree urged, (in Spanish a' course) "Let's walk some of the stiffness out of our legs."

The cowboy had dropped the reins to allow the animal to drink. That left his hands free to loosen their saddle's girth and him free to follow after the girl-which he readily did.

The girl was already a good hundred yards upstream.

And, by the time Jim rejoined her, Koree had gathered up a whole bouquet of some pretty, purple fall flowers-by the roots?

"Yu-ma`-tus," the girl informed the confused looking cowboy, "The root is good for healing rashes, the leaves and stems for upset stomachs."

"What about the flower petals?" Jim wondered and held a 'yu-ma`-tus' blossom up before the busy 'herbalogist'.

"The petals are good for...the eyes," Koree announced, "Because they are so pretty to look at!" she added with a wry smile.

Jim just stood there, staring dreamily across at the girl, (which sure was good for his eyes) and, eventually, returned her smile. "Where did you ever learn all this stuff about plants?" he pondered and pitched his plant onto the girl's growing pile.

"My-y...mother...taught me," Koree painfully explained, "She learned it from her father. My Grandfather was a great 'healer' of our people."

The couple continued on-in silence. Except a' course, for the sound of an occasional bird and the gentle rustling of those gloriously golden leaves. It was a beautiful day for a stroll along a stream. It was a beautiful day to be doing anything! It was the sort a' day you could-very easily-get lost in...

"There you are!" David Samuel Fisher surmised upon finally finding his errant friend-with Little Fawn, a' course. "Mr. Donnelly wanted me ta tell yah that we'll be pullin' out in fifteen minutes. He, uh, also wants me ta stay with you," the cowboy continued, collapsing onto the ground beside the couple, "on account a' how-when the two a' yous are tagether-'you have a tendency ta lose all track a' time'!" he quoted-in an attempt to clarify the order for his obviously annoyed amigo.

Jim Crown gave their guardian a 'guilty-as-charged' glance and then returned all of his attention to the lovely young lady who was lying in his lap-for a change.

"So-o..." Dave said, refusing to be ignored, "Have the two a' you set a date, yet?"

Jim glanced up from the girl again and gave his partner a highly perturbed glare.

"Well, you cain't jes' live tagether-in si-in!" Dave defensively declared and then watched as his perturbed partner's glare gradually gave way to a grin.

" Que` pasa?" Koree questioned-in Spanish.

"Our nosey visitor wants to know when we're getting married," her cowboy obligingly came back-also speaking in Spanish.

Then, both cowboys watched in astonishment as the beautiful girl 'gasped' and sat bolt upright, "This can never be!" she shrieked-again in Spanish.

"Well," Jim exclaimed as the girl scrambled to her feet and started heading downstream-towards where they'd left their horse, "we cain't jes' live tagether-in si-in!"

"What did you say ta her?" Dave demanded, pulling his Spanish speakin' compadre to his feet.

"I dunno. Bring the weeds. Koree? KOREE, WAIT UP!" the completely perplexed cowboy called out.

But to no avail.

It took Jim Crown close to a quarter of a mile to catch up to the girl again. " you mean...'It...can...never be'?" the recently ill runner breathlessly inquired. (Jim just didn't have the stamina ta go chasin' after girls'.) Then he latched onto the young lady's wrists and swung her around to face him, "I thought you...wanted...ta!"

"Your woman, yes!" Koree reassured the completely crushed looking cowboy, "I will cook for you...and clean for you…and care for you! But I cannot be your 'wife'!" Then, seeing as how the pale-and still panting-young white couldn't possibly look any more confused, she haltingly continued, " must become...'familiar'...with his wife. And-as much as I love you-I fear I cannot be...'familiar' with you-as it is a wife's duty to be. The whites who... my mother...cut us-"

"Oh, Koree!" Jim Crown suddenly interrupted, taking the trembling girl into his arms, "You scared me! I thought that you were going to say that you didn't love me!" he-literally-cried and then continued-as the tears continued to stream from his tightly shut eyes, "It has to be, Koree! Do you understand? It has to be! Because-if I can't marry you-I'm not 'marrying' anybody! EVER! I could never love anyone else as much as I love you! I already got Old Dan to cook and clean for me...and Doc' Lieberg to care for me! I want you to be my 'wife'!"

"You will not hate me if I am not whole?" the trembling beauty tentatively inquired with a quivering voice-and tear filled eyes of her own.

"There's no denying that it was your physical beauty that first drew my attention to you," Jim Crown quietly confessed, "but it was your inner beauty that made me fall in love with you. You are a whole person-on the inside, Koree! And you'll make me the proudest and happiest man alive-if you will just say 'yes'! You will 'marry' me!" the now even paler young white rather passionately proposed-and then pulled back a bit to witness his 'woman's' response.

"Perhaps this 'Doctor Lieberg' something?" Jim Crown's wife-to-be rationalized somewhat shakily.

The girl's husband-to-be broke into the biggest grin imaginable and threw his head back to send a silent prayer of thanks heavenward. The deliriously happy young man picked the lovely lady up, twirled her around a few times, set her back down on the ground-and then passed out cold! (His little race along the riverbank-along with the pretty girl's acceptance of his proposal-was, apparently, too much for him).

"I'm glad ta see that the two a' you kissed and made up!" Dave sarcastically commented as he passed Koree the bundle of weeds and then caught his slumping companion under the arms. "So-o..." Dave calmly began as he hoisted the cowboy's completely limp body up over his left shoulder, "Have the two a' you set a date, yet?"

Crown's woman smiled somewhat uncertainly and then simply said, "Si-i..."

Once agai-ain, Jim Crown was barely aware of being up on the back of a horse-with 'somebody' seated behind him. "Kor-ree...?" he called out softly-and was surprised to hear a man's voice speak into his ear.

"Easy, son. It won't be long, now. We'll be home soon and then the doctor'll have a look at that leg."

His le-eg? But it was his ba-ack that Mr. Donnelly wanted the doctor ta have a look at!

"Do-oc?" Mr. Donnelly called out as he and Dave Fisher escorted their bull-fightin' associate into the physician's seemingly empty office.

"Ye-es?" Doctor Lieberg acknowledged from one of the office's two back rooms. "Ah-hah!" the physician added as his face appeared in one of the two open doorways-closely followed by the rest of his besmocked body, "I see you boys made it back safe and sound."

"Safe maybe," the trail boss begrudgingly agreed, "but I ain't so sure how sound. An' that's why we're here..."

The doctor studied the three-apparently healthy-cowhands for a few moments. Then he latched onto the least healthy looking cowboy of the bunch and began leading him over to a long, rectangular table.

"Why'd yah pick me-e?" Jim Crown annoyedly inquired.

"Oh-oh, I don't know. Probably because you look like you've lost about 20 pounds," the physician calmly replied, "and your complexion is nearly as white as my coat! What happened?"

"He got gored in the back by an ornery old bull!" the cowboy's boss came back.

"An' damn near DIED!" Dan Fisher's youngest offspring helpfully filled in.

Jim gave Dave an annoyed glare. Then, seeing the look of absolute astonishment that was on his physician's face, the cowboy defensively declared, "It's been pert' near two' my back's healed up jes' fi-ine!"

"Sit down!" the deeply skeptical looking doctor ordered, "And take your shirt off!"

Seein' as how he was so outnumbered, the unhappy cow puncher plunked his posterior down on the sheet covered table-and begrudgingly began unbuttoning his shirt.

As the cowboy's shirt came off-and the ghastly reminder of his close brush with both the bull a-and death became visible-a low whistle escaped from Doc' Lieberg's lips.

"What do yah think, Doc'?" Jim's anxious amigo anxiously asked.

"I thi-ink...that he's lucky to be alive!" the good doctor diagnosed. Then, to his patient (who he had started pokin' and proddin') he rather dazedly-and amazedly-added, "I can't believe you survived this!" Several pressing minutes later, Doc' Lieberg took a step or two back from the table and then sighed.

"What do you think, Doc'?" Mr. Donnelly anxiously re-inquired.

"He's right!" the still somewhat stunned physician informed the bull-fighter's frowning friends, "His back has healed up...jes' fi-ine!"

Jim gave both of his relieved lookin' companions 'I tole you so!' glares and began tugging his shirt back on.

"Then," his trail boss began, "what caused 'im ta collapse this afternoon?"

"Exertion...exhaustion...the loss of blood...a lack of energy...It could've been any one-or a combination of-those things. Just because the wound in his back has healed, doesn't mean that the rest of his body has recovered."

Jim winced as both Dave and Mr. Donnelly shot him some 'We told you so!' stares.

"You know..." the not completely recovered cowboy's doctor continued, suppressing a smile all the while, "I've heard the term 'cowpoke' before, but I always thought it referred to 'you boys pokin' the cows'-not to 'the cows pokin' you'!" The physician grinned as the three 'cowpokes' groaned-at his 'pokin' fun'.

"C'mon!" the trail boss invited and motioned for their redressed associate to rejoin him, "I'll buy you that drink I didn't get to buy you in Dodge!"

"You two go on," Jim urged, "I want ta talk ta the Doc'..."

"We could wait..." Dave Fisher offered.

"Na-ah, do yore waitin' over at 'The Wooden Nickel' an' I'll be along directly..."

The cowboy's chums exchanged worried glances, but then obligin'ly began headin' for the exit.

"What do we owe yah, Doc'?" Dave called back over his shoulder.

"Nothing!" the good-hearted doctor assured them, "In fact, I would have paid yous-for a look at THAT scar!"

The two departing cowboys gave the good-humored healer a couple a' 'much obliged' nods-and broad grins-before disappearin' out the door.

"You need to put on some weight!" the physician prescribed, seeing that the 'bull-fighter's' rebuttoned shirt seemed several sizes too big for him, "And you can start with a piece-or two-of my wife's blue ribbon blackberry pie!"

But Jim rejected the doctor's delicious sounding prescription, preferring information over food-at least, for the moment. "Do-oc', I need ta ask you some...things. An' it ain't things that I kin ask while I'm eatin'..." he solemnly added.

Doc' Lieberg looked more than a little intrigued and promptly plunked himself down beside the troubled cowboy on the table, "O-Okay! Ask away!"

Jim drew in a deep breath and began, "For the pas' nineteen-some odd-years, I have been blissfully ignorant of any-an' all-matters pertaining ta...pregnant...females. A fact which has suited me jes' fi-ine! Up 'til no-ow..."

Doc' Lieberg's eyebrows arched...higher...and higher-as Jim Crown told him of all that had transpired in the past pert' near two months.

"I see-ee..." the stunned physician stated-when the cowboy finally finished his tale of near tragedy and romance, "And what is it you wanted to ask me?"

"Two things. First, if a woman were almost eight months pregnant, wouldn't you be able ta tell-jes' by lookin' at her? I mean, shouldn't it sho-ow?"

"Not necessarily. It would depend on how heavy the woman was and how baggy her clothes were."

"Koree is definitely not 'heavy', Doc'! Heck, she's even thinner than me-e! An' her clothes ain' all that 'baggy'."

"In that case, yes. If there were no 'complications'-and if the woman were, indeed, eight months pregnant-there should be...and would be...a noticeable 'bulge' to her belly. Bu-ut, without a thorough examination, I could not possibly give you a prognosis as to Koree's current condition."

"Which brings me ta my other question..." the even more troubled young man glumly began, "Koree wants ta know if it would be possible for you to...examine her?"

"Yes! Of course! I'll see her immediately!"

"Actually, I was thinkin' more along the lines a' late Saturday afternoon. An old friend a' Dave's father is visitin' out at the Double D...turns out he's some kind a'' this 'Judge Compton' fellah said he'd be pleased as punch ta marry Koree an' me! Mrs. Fisher has kindly scheduled the ceremony for this Saturday mornin', an' it will be performed-precisely-at 10 a.m. in Mrs. Fisher's front parlor. An' she an' Koree-an' I-would like ta invite you-an' yore wife-ta our weddin'."

The cowboy's completely overwhelmed weddin' guest very properly replied, "Hannah and I will be delighted to attend!" Then, something suddenly occurred to him and he gave the grinning groom-to-be a rather grave glance, "Ji-im, it might be better if I were to see the girl before you got married..."

"Oh-oh," the now solemn cowboy said as he slid off'n the table and on ta the floor, "there will be a weddin'! Dependin' on yore...diagnosis, there jes' may not be a weddin' night. Thanks, Doc'!" Jim quickly added and started heading for the front door, tuckin' his baggy shirt's tails in along the way.

"You must love this young lady very much..." his doctor-and friend-finally realized.

"Only more than life itself!" the cowboy truthfully exclaimed. Then he flashed the physician a wry smile and exited.

There! Yah see! It was his back-not his leg.

"Ahhhh-ahhhh!" Jim Crown cried out in agony. Someone-it seemed-was trying to take his right leg off-just above the knee! The cowboy's eyes snapped open and he lay there, staring up at the sun-directly overhead. Correction. It was an incredibly beautiful crystal chandelier full a' lit candles he was lookin' at-and someone was tryin' ta take his right leg off-just above the knee! "What...are you...DOIN'?" demanded Jim of one a' five fellahs who had a firm hold of him.

"What I've been doin' for the past fifteen minutes," the fellah holdin' his right leg calmly replied, "pulling pieces of your pant leg out of your wound," the man paused in his tedious task to stare his questioner right in the eyes. "By gawd, James! The resemblance is truly remarkable! There can be no denying this poor boy's parentage! Where has he been all this time?"

'James' turned out to be the vaguely familiar fellah who had a firm hold of his right hand and wrist, "All that 'Santi' character said was that they found him working on some ranch near San Antonio..."

Jim's jaw dropped as it suddenly dawned on him-the old guy who'd just made the reply? Why, it was none other than his-very own-GRANDFATHER! "Speakin' a' San Antonio," the ranch hand with the gaping hole through his leg gasped, "I got ta get back there-pronto! I was less than 18 hours away from 'tyin' the knot'-when those four yahoos showed up an' made me miss my own weddin'!"

All five members of Jim's little audience looked positively aghast at his little announcement.

The cowboy couldn't tell which part they'd found more shockin'-that he was plannin' ta leave-or, plannin' ta get hitched...Probably both! "I know I jes' got here, Grandfather," Jim admitted to his still stunned-and speechless-relative, "but Koree's waitin' for me back in San Antone'. I promised I'd get back ta her as soon as I could!"

His 'apoplectic' relative remained speechless-in spite of his explanation.

"Now, see here, young man!" the person who'd been pokin' around in-an' pullin' things out a'-his right leg finally piped up, "I've been practicing medicine for over forty years! And I believe that qualifies me to tell you that TRAVEL-at this time-IS completely-OUT OF THE QUESTION!"

"Unless you people plan ta keep me a prisoner here," the completely unimpressed cow puncher calmly continued, "I'm gonna be pullin' out at first light. I'd appreciate it if you would wrap my leg back up an' loan me some' a fresh horse."

"Oh-oh," the practicing physician of over forty years turned his frown on the elder Crown and gasped in complete exasperation, "He's a Crown, all right!"

James Malcolm Crown continued to refrain from commenting. He'd lost his whole family once to an Apache raiding party. And he'd lost another son because of sheer stupidity. If he was to keep the only family he had left, his words would have to be chosen very wisely. "Just...try to rest now, James..." the sage old gentlemen soothingly said, "...and we'll see how you feel in the morning. Stay with him, Estefan!" he ordered down to the middle-aged, Mexican fellah seated on the left side of the bed he'd just risen up from. Then he gave his grandson a deeply concerned look and left-before the young cowboy could comment-e-er, argue.

"It don' matter how I feel!" Jim assured the remaining members of his audience, "Come sun-up, I'm gonna be light'n out a' here...I promised her I would...Koree needs me!"

"Si, Don Diego," Estefan agreed. "She needs you-ALIVE! And-if this Koree truly cares for you-she would not want you to bleed to death-somewhere between here and San Antonio!"

"That is a very good point!" the doctor realized aloud and calmly continued his wound wrapping.

Seein' as how he couldn't argue with Estefan's logic, Jim chose-instead-to change the subject, "What did you call me?"

"Diego," Estefan answered. "It is Spanish for-"

"James," Jim interjected, "Yeah, I now, an' Estefan is Spanish for Stephen. But what's this 'Don' business about?"

"I work for your grandfather, senor. He is a gentleman of great wealth and property. It would be disrespectful to address his grandson in any other manner," Estefan respectfully replied.

"Yeah? Well, I'm really just a poor, dumb cowboy," James Crown, Jr. candidly admitted, "An' I prefer ta be respected for who I am-not for what I own. Besides, all I actually own is a couple a' acres northeast a' San Antone'...a half a' dozen or so head a' saddle' one broken down bronc. So you kin jes' call me Jim...or, Diego," 'Diego' added with a grin and offered Estefan his right hand.

"Your grandfather would never allow me to address you in such a 'familiar' fashion," Estefan remarked as he released the cowboy's left hand and took a firm hold of his right.

"My grandfather doesn't have ta find out..." the poor, dumb cowboy pointed out with a wry grin-and a warm and hearty handshake.

"Your...'secret' is safe with me," the doctor assured the two rather nervous looking new amigos. "Now, I suggest that you do as your grandfather suggested-and try to get some rest. I'll be in to check on you in a couple of hours." And-with that-the physician left, taking the hands that had been holding onto his head-and other leg-along with him.

But the cowboy couldn't rest. His rewrapped right leg was really throbbing. And besides, he had a bazillion questions for Estefan to answer.

It did not escape Jim Crown's attention that his grandfather's foreman-of some twenty plus years-asked almost as many questions as he answered. Thus, for nearly three full hours, he and Estefan Jazeres had-what might be called-an 'information exchange'.

There was an open-hearth fireplace in the ritzy bedroom he'd been brought to-and on its mantle was a 'tic-toc'n' clock.

"We have spoken enough for one evening, Diego," Estefan decided as the timepiece chimed twice, "your grandfather's physician will be coming in soon and-if he finds you awake-he will be furious! We will talk some more in the morning-later this morning," he added after giving the clock a weary glance, "And I will tell you about your other grandfather. You had more than one, amigo," he reminded James Rolland Crown with a rather wry smile of his own. "And Senor Thatcher was a truly remarkable man..." the vaquero concluded, his whispered voice filled with admiration.

"If I close my eyes now, I'll sleep pas' sun-up," Jim informed his informative friend.

"Really, Diego! I do wish you would give up this dumb idea of yours! Senor Freemont is a very fine doctor! If he says you are in no condition to travel-then you are in no condition to travel!" Estefan practically shouted. But then his anger fled and his chiseled-featured face softened, "Besides, how far could you go-with only one good leg, huh?"

"I dunno," the poor, dumb cowboy admitted, "but I guess I'm gonna find out," he stubbornly added and then watched as the flustered foreman threw his arms up in surrender.

Doctor Freemont came in, fussed over Jim for awhile, and then left-all without saying a word.

Speaking of not saying a word...

Estefan sat there, stewing in silence-for almost an entire hour.

"Senor Thatcher should have been a full partner in this place," the flustered fellow finally said and watched as Senor Thatcher's wide-awake grandson quickly turned his head-and his full attention-back to him. "He, too, worked as your grandfather's foreman...for over twenty years. It was his knowledge of cattle and horses that made the 'Two Crowns' so...profitable. There was even an agreement-between your grandfathers-to this effect," he sadly summed up.

"But then my parents...departed," Jim deduced, sounding equally sad.

Estefan nodded, "And the partnership was dissolved...even before it could be legally established."

Jim listened attentively as Estefan rambled on-for the next four hours-about 'Rolland Pierce Thatcher'. Some of the tales had been already told to him by his Uncle Wes'. But the majority of this latest exchange of information was totally new to him.

As for Estefan, the poor fellow had been going since the previous day's sunrise! And so, to stay awake-and on duty-he had to keep talking!

Speakin' a' sunrise...

Come dawn, three different people paid the long-winded pair, visits.

First, there was the pretty, young Mexican miss who brought them their breakfast.

Second, was his grandfather's still silent physician.

And then, of course, there was his grandfather-who was not so silent! "Doctor Freemont informs me that you are still in no condition to travel. Your blood loss was severe. And further hemorrhaging could be life-threatening. I know how important this promise you made must be to you. And-to help you keep it-I intend to send some of my men to San Antonio. They will find the girl and bring her you."

"Koree is in no condition ta travel, either, Grandfather. She's about three weeks away from havin' a baby." Jim saw his relative's eyes light up at the prospect of a possible 'great-grandchild', and regrettably added, "I'm not the father."

His grandfather's eyes widened with a sudden realization, "You must love this girl very much..."

"Only more than life itself!" the head-over-heels in love cow-hand loudly-and proudly-restated.

James Malcolm Crown quickly determined that-in that case-he had better change his strategy. "You can take Monte..Montego-my stallion. You rode home on him last night. A-And I'm sending Estefan-and three others-along with you to insure your safe arrival!"

Jim stared disbelievingly up at his awfully obligin' relative for a few moments and somehow managed to stammer out a "Tha-anks!" (He didn't really trust the foxy old fellah.)

Bu-ut, less than an hour later, he was seated up on Monte's back, surrounded by four of his grandfather's best, and apparently 'hand-picked' men.

"You're welcome ta come along...a-and ta attend my weddin'..." the groom-to-be tacked on in an attempt to prevent any possible oversight on his part. Jim just wasn't up on all the social graces.

"I appreciate the invitation," the old gentleman genuinely acknowledged, "But it seems I'm not in any condition to be traveling, either. Especially not at the speed I expect you'll be traveling at!" he added and he and his grandson exchanged grins. "You will bring her back here, won't you?" the now sober-looking and sounding old rancher all but pleaded. "I mean, I want you to think of this as your home, now, James...yours and your young brides."

Speakin' of his young bri-ide...

"Grandfather," Jim said, sounding somewhat sober himself, "I think you should know. The girl I'm gonna marry? We-ell, she's...a full-blooded Comanche."

The old gentleman appeared shocked-horrified, even! And then-perfectly-calm, "I've been trying to find you for over sixteen years! I'm not about to lose you now, James. I can't afford to lose you. You're all the family I have left. Your wife will always be WELCOME here! No matter who-or what-she is! Godspeed, young man!"

"Thank you, Sir!" the very relieved young man said most sincerely. Then he flashed his grandfather a grateful smile and headed off in the direction of his other home.

The cowboy hadn't been entirely truthful. When he said he had ta get back 'cuz Koree needed him, what he meant was, 'cuz he needed Koree. Jim just hadn't adjusted ta life without Koree. There were times those past eleven days when he'd thought he'd die-ie from missin' her so much! Which was sort a' understandable-seein' as how the two of them had spent twenty-four hours a day together-for pert' near two whole months! The cowboy couldn't-wouldn't rest until he was back in his woman's arms.

Jim Crown was aware, once mo-ore, of being mounted on some horse with some person seated in back of him. "Grandfather...?" the only half-conscious cowboy called out.

"No, Senor. It is I, Estefan. Your Grandfather could not accompany us, remember?"

The cowboy did remember...but, just barely. Jim pulled his hanging head up and shook it a few times. Then he forced his eyes open and looked around-in a rather desperate attempt to get his 'bearings' back. It was the middle of the night. But the sky was clear-and filled to overflowing with tiny, twinkling stars. Which is how he knew it was the middle of the night. Like most seasoned trailhands-who spend half of their lives sleeping out-of-doors-Jim could look at the distance certain stars were from the horizon and tell the time to within an hour or two. He could also tell directions. And so he also knew-by certain stars' positions-that they were no longer headed east. He also now knew what his crafty grandfather's orders must have been to his men. They were to ride along with him 'til he passed out-and then bring him back to the ranch. "How far did I go?" Jim wondered, sounding just a tad bit dejected.

"Close to twenty miles," Estefan answered, "That good leg of yours is a very good one. Too good! We will have to stop and make camp soon...thanks to it. And-also thanks to it-your grandfather will be very worried. He was expecting us to be back by now. Doctor Freemont assured him that you could not travel more than five your condition."

"Turn the horse around!" the traveler with the very goo-ood leg ordered a bit gruffly. But then politely added, "Por favor..." (If you please...)

Apparently it did not please Estefan to do so.

Hence, the boss man's grandson grabbed a hold of one of their horse's reins and began pulling the animal around, himself!

Estefan easily overpowered the passenger in the front seat and turned the stallion in a tight circle until they were once again headed in a westerly direction, down the two-rut road that passed for one of the main routes of the Butterfield Stage.

"If you take me back, I'll jes' leave again," his overpowered-but not defeated-prisoner promised.

"Oh, really?" Estefan sarcastically stated, "And how will you do this-when you are too weak to even sit a horse?"

"I don't care!" Jim Crown rather spiritedly replied, "I'll cra-awl...if I have to!"

"And then your grandfather will have me 'sit' on you!" the 'Two Crowns' foreman forebodingly prophesied, "No-o, Diego, you must give it up now! Believe me, I know Senor Crown. And he is not about to let you kill yourself! You mean more to him than anything! Even money! The sum that was given for your ransom is nothing compared to what he has paid the 'Pinkerton Detective Agency' over the past sixteen years!"

"Koree means more ta me than anything!" James Crown, Jr. came right back, "An' that's why I got ta get back ta San Antone'!"

"Perhaps..." Estefan conceded, "But the price you are willing to pay to get there...may be more than you-or your grandfather-can afford!"

"Maybe not..." the barely conscious cowboy stubbornly continued, "If you were willing ta 'split the cost'..."

"I am not taking you to San Antonio, Diego," Estefan assured him, "Your grandfather has entrusted your life into my hands! I had to promise that I would return you safely to him! And-by safely-I believe he means that he expects you to still be breathing! Ah! The Caldero! We will make camp here! Julio, see that the horses are fed and watered! Marko, gather up some wood and get a fire going! Phillipe`, see if you can find us something to eat! I am famished!" By the time Estefan finished shouting out his orders, he had Jim and him on the ground, Jim's bedroll was opened up and the poor, dumb cowboy was plunked down upon it.

The next thing Jim knew, his saddle was off and the foreman had him lying flat with his weary head resting on it.

"Rest now," Estefan gently urged as he spread his bedroll out beside his charge's, "The food will be ready shortly."

"I won't rest! An' I won't eat! Until you say that you'll take me to San Antone'..." the cowboy added-by way of coercion.

"Then you will be very 'tired' and very 'hungry' when I return you to your grandfather," Estefan rather casually surmised.

"I won't eat for HIM, either!" the invalid vowed, "An' unless he puts bars on all the windows an' locks on all the doors-or a bullet in my other leg-I won't stay!" the now fully conscious young fellow exclaimed, speaking in dead earnest.

Marko had the wood gathered and the fire going.

And by its light, Estefan could clearly see the determination in the cowboy's dark eyes. Senor Crown's grandson was definately not bluffing-blackmailing maybe, but not bluffing! Well, he had said that he loved the girl more than life itself. And he apparently was a man of his word! "I will give the matter serious consideration, senor," the foreman finally announced, voicing a vow of his own.

The now hopeful looking cowboy let his head drop back onto his saddle. But those dark eyes of his did not close. And, true to his word, he would not eat o-or rest. Jim just kept tossing back and forth on his bedroll until his rewrapped wound began to bleed.

It took all four of his grandfather's 'hand-picked' men to hold him still long enough to stop the bleeding.

"Estefan?" Jame's Crown's grandson gasped and grasped the front of the foreman's jacket with both of his fists.

"Si, senor?"

"Take me ta San Antone'? Plea-ease? I got ta get back ta Koree! Promise you'll take me to her?"

Estefan exhaled an incredibly long-and loud-sigh of surrender and then pried the poor, dumb cowboy's fists from the front of his jacket, "As you wish!"


"Si, Diego. I promise! I will take you to the girl. Now you must rest! We all must rest," Estefan realized rather wearily, "Except for you, Julio. You will return to the hacienda and inform our patron that there has been a...cha-ange of plans."

'An' promises...' James Crown, Jr. rather jubilantly realized. Then the cowboy dropped back onto his bedroll and-FINALLY-gave up his bleedin' battle with unconsciousness.

Julio returned bright and early the next morning, just as they were breaking camp.

Jim was anxiously aware of the fact that he had brought fifteen or so of his grandfather's men back along with him.

It seems that when the old gentleman heard of his grandson's refusal to either eat or sleep unless he was headed east, he ordered his men to escort the boy back-but not to the 'Two Crowns'-to San Antone'!...YE-ES!

Chapter Forty-Five

"George Rawlings, Carl Benjamin, Walt Andrews and the others are ba-ack!" Charley Lundquist rather excitedly exclaimed as he came racing into the Wayfarer's and skidded to a halt in the middle of Miss Coopersmith's kitchen. The 'Save the Marshal Committee' had ridden out the moment it'd heard word that the hostages were safe. (Upon Mrs. Edwards' urging, Dulcey had convinced Elliot Polk that he would need Marshal Crown-if he was to ever get his brother out of the canyon. And, after the outlaw had left, Doctor Ellis had drugged the wounded Delliss, taken away his weapons, and then locked the cell that Polk had placed his partner in.)

Dulcey, who'd been sitting at her kitchen table-entertaining some cute little tyke with his fists full of wooden spoons-leapt to her feet and directed an incredibly concerned stare at their startling visitor, "Are Jim and Mrs. Edwards with them?"

Her suddenly glum guest gave his hanging head a few sad shakes, "That Clayton Stevens fellah-an' fourteen others-rode off with the Marshal! An' ain' nobody seen hide nor hair a' Mrs. Edwards since she rode out after that polecat, Polk! Roger Mareck, Eugene Gordon, Dennis Bowlen an Luther Nyman are all dead! They jes' brought them in draped over their saddles!"

The look on Miss Coopersmith's pretty face was a mixture of equal parts horror, relief and confusion, "Why did they come back? Why aren't they still out there? They should be following those men who have the Marshal!"

"Accordin' ta Walt Andrews, the Marshal would a' gotten away...if'n they hadn' a' interfered. He'd got hisself clear a' Mister Mareck an' his men-somehow-an' Andrews claims it's on account a' their little committee that the Marshal got hisself recaptured!"

"That is all the more reason for them to be out there!" Dulcey angrily declared.

"For who to be out where?" Jarrod asked as he came strolling into the room.

"Those men who rode out to rescue Jim!" Jamie's babysitter obligingly, albeit bitterly, replied, "They've given up and come back without him!"

"WHY-Y?" the good doctor demanded, sounding equally bitter a-and angry.

"'Cu-uz!" Mr. Lundquist promptly explained, "Rutger's man-Stevens-swore they'd kill the Marshal if'n they didn't! An' they was already feelin' bad enuff 'bout gettin' 'im caught! Ain' none a' 'em wanted ta be the one that got 'im kill't!"

Miss Dulcey and Doctor Ellis exchanged very grave glances.

"Well, somebody has to do something!" the flustered young female finally determined.

"Maybe we should run this past Francis and see what he thinks..." Jarrod suddenly suggested.

"Is he awake?" Dulcey wondered.

"He was a minute ago," Doctor Ellis announced.

And then the three-er, four of them fled from the room.

"...An' that's why nobody's all that anxious ta interfere again!" Charley Lundquist summed up several solemn minutes later for Jim Crown's incapacitated-an' completely prone-deputy.

"They'll kill him even if nobody interferes," Francis figured, "The Judge can't afford ta have Jim testify. They'll most likely take 'im ta the canyon an' claim ta wanna 'trade'-him for the 'Hampton brothers'. Then, as soon as they're all out in the open, Rutger's men'll put bullets in all three of 'em!"

Dulcey inhaled a horrified gasp and then turned-once again-to exchange very grave glances with Francis' frowning physician.

The girl was right! Somebody had to do something! But who? And what?

"I can't even hold my head up off a' this pillow..." Francis glumly announced. (It was because of his busted-in head that his boss had locked his legs to the foot of his bed.)

"I got a 'raw' nerve in my right leg that don' allow me ta set a horse..." Mr. Lundqust quietly confessed.

"I promised Katelyn I'd take care of Jamie..." Dulcey solemnly stated.

"I wouldn't know how to get to Adrian's Canyon..." Jarrod regrettably-and also somewhat relievedly-remarked.

"I kin draw you a map!" Francis immediately informed him.

"Bu-ut," the extremely anxious young man stammered, "it's DARK out there!"

"I'll pack planty of matches in with your food-and fill you a canteen!" Dulcey readily volunteered. And then she and the baby vanished.

"An' I'll saddle Lancer!" the lame liveryman eagerly added, "Jes' give 'im his head an' hang on! Lancer'll find the Marshal for you!"

"Have you ever fired a gun before?" Francis inquired of the now queasy looking young fellow.

"I uh, went bird hunting a few times with my father..." the young doctor rather uncertainly admitted.

"Better fix him up with a rifle," Francis advised the liveryman, who nodded and then left. "There should be a pencil on that dresser over there..." the deputy directed the doctor, "Hand it ta me."

Jarrod dutifully did.

And the reporter began plotting a course for him across the blank back of his single-paged newspaper.

And so, the who seemed settled. But that still left the what...

"All right, let's say I don't get lost," the now completely panic-stricken young physician sarcastically commented, in mid-pace. "What do you expect me to do-o when I get there? I mean, the only people I'm trained to deliver are babies!"

For a few fleeting moments, Francis' thoughts flashed back to that morning-five years earlier-when he and Mac had backed Jim Crown at the river. "You'll do whatever you have ta do," the Deputy U.S. Marshal told him. "An', if you fai-ail? least you tried!"

The physician found little solace in Francis' words. And he didn't figure his folks would find much comfort in the fact that their son had died trying, either!

"Come here," the topographer urged, "an' I'll explain this map to you..."

Jarrod pulled up his hanging head and obediently crossed back over to the bed.

Fifteen minutes later, the fully briefed-but still completely unprepared-physician followed Miss Coopersmith out of her Inn and into the town's incredibly dark Main Street.

Where Mr. Lundquist stood, holding the bit shanks of a bridled-and unbelievably tall-black horse-er, saddled saddlebred.

"I haven't ridden a horse in five years!" the young doctor confessed, "And I've never sat in a saddle like that before in my entire life!"

"You'll git the feel of it...after five or ten miles!" the liveryman solemnly-though not too seriously-assured him.

But Dulcey could see how terribly unsure of himself-and his mission-the young man still remained. And, sensing that the physician was in urgent need of some reassurance of a much stronger nature, the pretty Miss passed Jamie over to Mr. Lundquist and took Jarrod into her arms, "Promise me you'll be careful! And that you'll bring them back...No matter what happens, please, bring them back!"

It was hard for the physician to return her hug. (The doctor had his medical bag in his left hand and his canteen and saddlebags in his right.) But he gave it his best shot. And that is what Jarrod promised the pretty girl he'd give this hazardous little assignment of his, too-his best shot!

The grateful young lady then planted a kiss upon her hero's lips, which told the handsome young fellow-in no uncertain terms-that she would greatly appreciate it if he were to bring HIMSELF safely back to her, as well!

The couple's passionate embrace-combined with their lingering kiss-seemed to be just the inspirational send-off that Jarrod needed. For it was with a new found confidence that the doctor hung his canteen strap and the handle of his medical bag over his saddle's horn.

Mr. Lundquist returned the baby to his sitter-and then fastened the young fellow's fully loaded saddlebags onto the back of his seat for him. The liveryman then locked his hands together and offered to help the doctor aboard. (Since Miss Coopersmith had boosted the young man's morale, the least he could do was to boost his leg up.)

Jarrod settled confidently-but uncomfortably-down into his western seat. Then-after putting the map in his front pocket and the loaded rifle in the leather scabbord under his left leg-he gathered the reins up in his hands and turned the antsy animal towards the North end of town. Once they were going in the right direction, the doc recalled what Mr. Lundquist had said...and gave the horse his head. As they disappeared into the darkness, there was no doubt what-so-ever in the young man's mind. Either he was going to get himself lost-or...kill't! The thought also crossed his mind that things like this never happened to doctor' New Yo-ork.

Less than an hour after the doctor's departure, the Army made its arrival in Cimarron.

Dulcey and Jamie watched-along with Mr. Lundquist-as Senator Fisher, Charley Adams, Lt. Mark Anderson, and thirty or so hot and hungry, tired and sweaty looking soldiers pulled up in front of her Inn-and the adjoining U.S. Marshal's Office.

The lieutenant's fatigued-and famished-troops looked up and down Cimarron's peaceful-and seemingly deserted-Main Street and reflected on their fearless leader's infamous last words before leaving the Fort. But, it seemed they'd just ridden over thirty miles-through the sweltering heat and humidity-to help some Marshal restore order-to a blankety-blank GHOST TOWN! Not only was the place not disorderly, it was out right-DEA-EAD! Yes sir! And the very thought that they'd just ridden all that way-all that hellishly hot day-for nothing really 'rankled' the ranks! Hopefully, there was a perfectly sound explanation for everything they'd just had to endure.

Thankfully, there was! And the pretty Inn keeper and the lame Livery owner took turns providing the new arrivals with the disturbing details of it.

Their listeners sat there in stunned silence-right up to the part about the Marshal being taken to some canyon to be killed. The overly-exhausted soldiers moaned and groaned aloud when they heard the name of the place. They knew that Adrian's Canyon was almost halfways back to the Fort! They also knew that they-an' their equally overly-exhausted horses-could never make it another fifteen plus miles! At least, not without adequate rest and refreshment.

When it was announced that the town's new doctor had ridden out to rescue the Marshal-all alone-the group's young leader managed a moa-oan of his ow-own.

Following their brief briefing, Senator Fisher, Mr. Adams and Lt. Anderson dismounted and disappeared inside the Wayfarer's.

Since Sergeant Coulter consented to babysit for her, Dulcey was able to rustle up what food remained from the Marshal's appreciation party and to slap together over thirty som sandwiches, which she then dutifully dispensed to the Lt'.s famished-looking-and still mounted-men.

After a quick conferment in Francis' sick room, the three missing members of their completely pooped little party emerged from the Inn and made the much dreaded announcement: they would be leaving for Adrian's Canyon just as soon as they could come up with adequate transportation.

The 'Save the Marshal Committee' was immediately dispatched to round up whatever 'fresh' horses might be found within a five mile radius of the town.

Their own completely done-in animals were unsaddled and turned out into the corrals down at the Livery, where Mr. Lundquist vowed to see to their needs.

It took the Committee close to two hours to commandeer enough 'fresh' mounts for the Lieutenant and his men. As the commandeered critters came in, the remounted soldiers rode off on them. Senator Fisher, Charley Adams and Lieutenant Anderson were amoung the first group to leave Cimarron in search of the Marshal and Mrs. Edwards-oh, and the foolhardy young doctor. It was the group's intention to catch up to Rutger's men before they reached the canyon- where certain death awaited their captive-er, captives? The dread of what might lay ahead strengthened their resolve-and their totally exhausted selves-and the rescue party picked up the pace. They were in a race-against Rutgers a-and time!

Chapter Forty-Six

There were three constants that Jim Crown was aware of during the two and a half weeks that it took his grandfather's men to escort him safely back to San Antonio: the throbbing-and intense at times-pain in his bleedin' leg; the steady drum of the stallion's sure feet striking the earth beneath them; and, always, Estefan's strong arms-locked onto his semi-conscious self-keeping him upright in his seat.

The appearance of their little party of twenty armed riders-the majority of whom were Mexican-caused quite a stir in the otherwise tranquil streets of San Antonio.

But the sight of the stallion's slumped over passenger created an out-right uproar!

"By gawd!" Sheriff Warren Stokes shouted upon being summoned to the scene, "He is alive!"

"Barely," Estefan stiffly stated as the lawman latched onto their horse's bit shanks and tugged them to a halt.

"Who a-are you fellahs?" their arrester cautiously inquired, "An' where an' how did you come across HI-IM?"

The cowboy came around at the familiar sound of the Sheriff's shouted voice, "It's all right Warren..." Jim assured his friend, upon catching the accusational tone of his questions, "These are not the men...who took me away."

"Well then, who are they?" Warren wanted-needed-to know.

"They...are the men...who...brought me back!" the cowboy happily exclaimed as he groggily took note of his surroundings.

"Perhaps you could be so kind as to tell us where we might find the Doctor?" Estefan impatiently-but politely- inquired.

"Follow me!" the flabbergasted-and slightly flustered-lawman ordered and released his hold on the horse's head.

The Sheriff then turned and went striding off in the direction of Doc' Lieberg's.

The invading forces obediently fell in line behind the lawman-and Jim obligingly filled him in along the way.

"So then, these men all work for your GRANDFATHER?" Warren wondered in amazement. Then, upon seeing the cowboy's nod, he dazedly added, "I never even knew you HAD a grandfather..."

"Neither did I-I!" James Crown's grandson dazedly reminded him.

Sheriff Stokes stopped in mid-stride and a strange look came over his face, "So that's why those Pinkerton fellers have been askin' about you!"

"What...Pinkerton fellers?" the barely conscious cowboy queried.

"There's these Pinkerton men who pass through here two or three times a year askin' if anybody knows any 'Jim Crowns'. But they would never say why they were lookin' for you. So nobody would say where you were. I s'pose if those detectives had said why-'cuz a wealthy relative was tryin' ta find yah-there'd a' been 'Jim Crown's' crawlin' out a' the bushes!" the lawman summed up and resumed the lead.

"Yah mean, you actually lied-ta protect me?" the 'genuine article' incredulously inquired.

"It weren't jes' me-e!" the Sheriff defensively declared, "The whole town was in on it! An' we didn' lie-ie...exactly. We jes' didn' tell the truth!"

Jim Crown was deeply touched. "I'm a lucky man...ta have so many friends..." he realized aloud.

"Luck don' have nothin' ta do with it!" the Sheriff shouted back over his shoulder. And the two friends exchanged warm smiles.

Speakin' a friends...

"Does Dave think I'm dead?" the suddenly concerned looking cowpoke suddenly wondered.

"Everybody thinks you're dead!" Warren informed him, "What else were we ta think? Tom Donnelly's daughter said that four outlaws rode off with you! She told us that they were gonna reunite you with yore family. An'-since everyone in yore family is-was dead-ta reunite you with 'em...those outlaws would a' had ta make you 'dead', too-oo!" the lawman reached Doc' Lieberg's Office and turned to face his resurrected friend. The Sheriff frowned, seeing that-at some point during his explanation-the wounded cowboy had passed out cold.

"It can't be true!" the doctor exclaimed as he came scurrying out into the street-and clear up to where the stallion stood. "How long has he been like this?" the doctor demanded, noting the extreme absence of any color to the unconscious cowboy's complexion.

"For the past two and a half weeks," Estefan obligingly answered, "and the last five hundred and fifty miles," he solemnly added.

"Are you crazy? Bringing him here like this? You could have killed him!"

"Perhaps..." Estefan admitted to the bleeding cowboy's angry physician. "But he would have most definately 'died' if we had not brought him here. It seems that there is a young lady-whose love he values more highly than his life. Would you be so kind as to tell me where I might find this 'Koree'? I promised I would return him to her."

The color had drained from the doctor's face, as well. "Please...bring him inside...and I'll tell you find...the...girl..." the physician finished rather sadly, his choking voice trailing off into a whisper.

The next time Jim Crown came aroun', he found himself still up on the back of a horse with someone still seated behind him. Only no-ow, Montego didn't seem to be moving. And, when the stallion stayed stationary for well over five full minutes, its young-and incredibly impatient-passenger yanked his head up and had a 'look see' as to what it was that was keeping them so inert. The cowboy's blinking eyes focused upon some terribly familiar terrain. For some reason or other, Estefan had hauled him out ta his place. "Why'd yah bring me out here?" the disappointed cowpoke pondered when his woman failed to appear.

The foreman was s-l-o-w to answer. And, when Estefan finally did speak, his voice sounded hollow and drained, "I brought you here...because I am...a coward, Diego. I brought you here...because I could not bring myself to speak the words I knew would bring you so much...pain. I brought you here...because I promised I would bring girl."

Jim glanced around again-this time in confusion-for the girl's familiar form remained absent from his surroundings. And then he saw it-the freshly turned earth on the ground just in front of them. The cowboy recoiled as the sudden realization of what it was that Estefan was getting at hit him in the gutt with all the force of an actual physical blow. James Crown's grandson grimaced and then began shouting, "No-o!" over and over and over again. (As though screaming No! would make it so.) Before Estefan could stop him, Jim slipped out of the saddle and dropped onto the ground. The cowboy stumbled forwards for a few painful steps before falling-and sprawling out-upon the freshly dug...grave. Then he buried his face in his folded arms...and cried his broken heart out.

Some time later, the semi-conscious cowboy became aware of the light touch of a woman's hands upon his shoulders. "Koree?" he called out-in the sudden hope that it had all just been some horrible, hideous dream-er, nightmare!

"Its me..." Tom Donnelly's daughter tenderly informed him. "When I heard you'd come back (from the dead), I jes' couldn't believe it! I had ta come an' see for myself..."

"Maria..." the young man-whose hope had jes' been shot down in flames-muttered, failing miserably to hide his extreme disappointment. "Maria!" Jim repeated, failing miserably to hide the tremendous relief-and comfort-he experienced upon his young friend's timely arrival. Then he rolled over onto his back and sat stiffly up.

The girl fell into his arms and began sobbing on his shoulder. "Oh-oh, Jim! I'm so glad you're safe!" she joyously proclaimed. But then her tears of relief turned to tears of grief, "And I'm so-o-o sorry!"

"What...happened?" the still completely stunned-and confused-cowboy suddenly asked, forcibly forming his question.

"Yah mean, you don't kno-ow?" Maria stammered, sounding somewhat stunned herself. Jim Crown's response to her query was to slowly shake his head. So she pulled herself together-somewhat-and then attempted to explain. "We-ell, after those outlaws rode off with you," the girl began, choking back her sobs, "we couldn't get Dave ta come around! So we put him in the buggy and drove him inta town-ta see the Doc'! An'-while Doc Lieberg was lookin' after Dave-Koree started screamin' that she was goin' inta labor! Koree was in a rea-eal ba-ad way!...The Doctor...cried...when he examined her," Maria stopped. The girl was crying so hard herself, that it was...a while before she could continue. " was born...dead. The Doc' said it had been 'dead' for quite some time. And Koree was bleedin'! Doctor Lieberg tried everything he could think of! But he just couldn't stop it! Koree...died...shortly after giving bi-irth," Maria had to stop and choke back her sobs again.

"The Doctor called it post partum hemorrhaging," Estefan further explained. "He said it was the direct result of her being...tortured those good-for-nothing men!" he added angrily.

"We brought her this hillside...where you were build your house," Maria managed to get out between sobs, "And laid her to that pretty dress you bought for her...the one she picked out for the wedding..." she somehow got out before lapsing into another bout of bitter sobbing.

"Thank you, Maria..." Jim shakily whispered.

"It was Dave's idea," Maria confessed.

Speakin' a' Da-ave...

"Does he know I'm not 'dead'?" Dave Fisher's worried-and best-friend suddenly wondered.

"No-o. At least, not yet. But his father is sendin' 'im word-"

"Sendin' 'im word?" the cowboy cut in, "Where-exactly-is he?"

"We don't-exactly-know," Marie further confessed, "But we figure he mus' be 'bout half-ways ta no-ow."

"Boston, Massechusetts?" Jim Crown incredulously inquired.

Maria sniffled and backed off from their embrace, looking rather incredulous herself, "Yah mean, you don't know about THAT, either?"

"Your friend left last week," Estefan announced. "It seems it was his parent's wishes that he attend the 'Harvard School of Law' Cambridge, Massechusetts," he quietly corrected, "He wanted to wait until after tell you. He delayed his departure for over a month. The Doctor said that-after he recovered from his concussion-he rode out every day, looking for you. By the fourth week, Judge Compton had convinced him that you were-indeed-'dea-ead'...and that he should give up his search and head back East with him."

Jim Crown turned around and dropped back down onto the ground to once again bury his tear-streaked face in his folded arms. The news of Dave's departure had definately dealt him another lo-ow blo-ow!

Right about then, a hard-cold-rain began falling.

His grandfather's foreman also dropped to the ground. "Here, Diego," he said as he draped a canvas duster over the cowboy's already drenched body, "you'll catch your death!"

But Jim Crown didn't care. He was perfectly prepared to jes' lie there and let his grief consume him-to the point of death! An' why not? He was pert' near dead on the inside, already! It shouldn't-and probably wouldn't-take more than a day or two ta make his outsides match! "Leave me be!" he requested as Estefan attempted to assist him up off the-by now-muddy ground.

"You will die out here!" the foreman informed him.

'That's the general idea!' Jim thought. But sai-aid, "I don't care!" instea-ead. "Go away!" he further suggested as his grandfather's foreman ignored his first request.

"I cannot! I also made a promise to another 'James Crown'. Remember, amigo? It is time to return you to him..."

"What's the rush?" Jim angrily inquired and shrugged Estefan's hands from off'n him, "He ain't goin' anywhere-" he stopped suddenly and snapped his head up to shoot the foreman a horrified look, "Is he?" The cowboy grimaced as he saw the answer in Estefan's face.

"It was not just by co-incidence that the Doctor happened to be at the hacienda the night of your arrival, Diego. A few years ago, your grandfather took a very bad fall from his horse. His kidneys were severely damaged at the time of the accident. Now, they have begun to fail him-completely. The Doctor says he could last as long as a year...o-or, it may only be a matter of...months."

There it was! The third and final blow! Nobody could survive having ta lose their 'girl', their 'best friend' a-and their 'grandfather' ALL AT THE SA-AME TI-IME! It wasn't fair! But then, life wasn't fair! A fact James Crown Jr. had already learned-by the ripe old age of fou-our! Jim jes' gave up and allowed Estefan to help him to his feet. As the cowboy stood there, staring blurrily down at the sight where Koree was buried, his thoughts wandered back to one of his earliest recollections-a cool, Spring afternoon when he was barely four years old...

His uncle had caught up to him just as he was fixin' ta leave the ranch yard.

"Whoa-oah!" Wes' commanded as he collared the walk-away, "Where do yah think you're goin', young man?"

"Woowie is gone, Uncle Wes'! I got ta find 'im! He's too little ta go off all by himse-elf!"

"So-o are you, J.R.!" his uncle sternly reminded the escapee and scooped the kid completely up off'n the ground.

"Will you help me look for him?" the boy asked as he settled comfortably down into his uncle's saddle.

"I don't need ta look for Woowie, J.R."


"'Cuz...I already know where he is. Yore...Ma had me...bury him this morning."


"'Cuz...yore bunny died, J.R. I told yah it wou-ould."

"Why-y?" the child wondered as tears began welling up in his sad little eyes.

"'Cuz, baby bunnies can't live without their mamas!"


"'Cuz they need the mama rabbit's' warmth."

"...Kin I hold him?"

"'Fraid not."


"'Cuz I put Woowie in the ground, J.R."


"'Cuz that's what 'bury' means! When somethin' die-ies, yah bury it-yah put it in the ground!"


" kin...turn inta flowers!"


"'Cu-uz! That's what things turn inta when they die-flowers!"

"...What do flowers turn inta when they die, Uncle Wes'?"

"I dunno...more flowers, I gue-ess! Now, if yah promise you won't ask me any more questions, I'll show yah where Woowie is buried...Promise?"


J.R. dragged his Uncle Wes' out to the bunny's grave a few weeks later-to show him that it had really worked! There were wild flowers blooming all over the little hillside behind the barn-where the boy's bunny had been 'buried'. The child stooped down to have a sniff, being extremely careful not to crush any of the beautiful-but delicate-blossoms beneath his feet. Their fragrance was glorious! The boy smiled and looked up. And, this time, there were tears in his uncle's eyes.

Sometime following the raid in which their parents were killed, the boy and his uncle were again seated on the same horse together. As they were riding along, they happened upon a clearing-filled to overflowing with wild flowers!

"Go back, Uncle Wes'!" J.R. pleaded as the horse's driver rode right on past-and paid no notice whatsoever to the incredible sight.


"'Cu-uz...I wanna see 'em!"

"Wanna see who-o?"

"My' my' gran'' gran'pa."

"They're all...dead, J.R. We cain't see them, anymore."

"Uh-huh-uh! I saw 'em. They're right back there..."

Since he was so insistent, Wes' humored the kid and turned back up the trail.

In no time at all, they reached the clearing. The beauty was breathtaking! Everywhere you looked there were blossoms-so that the entire area was filled with their marvelous fragrance.

J.R. slipped to the ground and crept carefully up to take an even closer whiff. "See-ee?" he said, beaming a broad smile up at his equally affected relative, "I told you, Uncle Wes'!"

"That you di-id, kid!" his deeply touched uncle acknowledged rather shakily, "That you di-id...See if you kin gather us up some firewood, J.R.. We're gonna be here...awhile."

J.R. looked completely overjoyed and eagerly headed off to perform the requested task. The two traveler's remained camped there in that clearing-'til every last one of those blossoms had faded...

Then he was staring blurrily down at the pile of stones which he had personally heaped upon his dead uncle's body. "I sure wish you hadn't a' gone off an' got yerself kill't like this..." J.R. confessed to his Uncle Wes'-right out loud, "...the world didn't need no more flowers...but I sure needed you..."

"Too!" the cowboy determined bitterly and kept right on staring blurrily down at the site where Koree was buried. The world jes' never seemed ta have enuff flowers! Jim fingered the charm that had been hung about his neck and pondered over Chief Perokamas' promise... 'Keep this with you always-and no harm will ever come to you.' But he'd just been harmed beyond belief! No one could ever harm him more than this!

"Come, Diego," Estefan said as he draped the canvas duster over the cold looking cowboy's competely drenched shoulders. "It is time to leave!"

But the cowboy still didn't care. All Jim Crown really cared about-in the whole wide world-was buried-in a pine box-six feet beneath the soles of his boots! He gazed down at the talons in his hand, looking tremendously disappointed. Come to think of it, their 'powerful medicine' hadn't worked for the eagle, either! Jim lifted the charm from around his neck and placed it on the girl's grave. "Let's go!" he gasped, his voice-and face-still filled with grief. He gave the soggy girl-standing silently at his side-a 'goodbye' hug.

Estefan then guided the cripple over to his horse and assisted him up into his saddle.

Jim aimed his grandfather's stallion in a southerly direction and then rode off-into a driving rain. The cowboy never looked back...he couldn't look back! But, then, he didn't want ta look ahead, neither...

Another brutal two and a half weeks of those three constants, and Jim was back at the 'Two Crowns', resting safely and securely in his grandfather's hu-uge hacienda.

James Crown, Sr. was constantly at his grandson's side, consoling and cajoling James Crown, Jr. in an attempt to bolster the cowboy's spirits.

However, despite a remarkable recovery to physical health, the sadness remained in the young man's eyes...a-and heart.

"You know, don't you," the old gentleman said one afternoon, "that I'm...dying."

"We're all dyin', Grandfather," the sad young man reminded him, "some a' us jes' a whole lot sooner than others."

The old fellah flashed the young fellah a sort a' sad smile, "Your Uncle did the right thing raising you. He did a damn fine job of it, too! You turned out all right. And I want you to know that I'm proud of you, young man! Yes sir, I'm just as proud as I can be!"

Jim gave the elderly gentleman a grateful smile and then forced himself to lighten up some-for his grandfather's sake.

The two Crown's were inseparable upon the cowboy's complete recovery, as well. Having become fast friends, they spent what little time they did have left riding and fishing-and rambling on about everything under the sun-together!

Less than two months later, Jim was standing over his grandfather's grave, dropping a handful of dust onto the deceased Crown's coffin...and planting flowers.

Estefan-and another of the 'Two Crown's' hands-approached their ex-employer's heir-later that same day-as he was saddling his grandfather's gift to him.

"Would you like us to do that for you, senor?" his grandfather's foreman inquired-rather cooly.

"No thanks," Jim told 'im. "I kin manage."

"Ramon says that you have ordered the removal of my things from my quarters," Estefan continued-even more cooly. "Is this true, senor?"

"Eh-yeah," Jim Crown calmly replied and continued to saddle the stallion.

"And does this mean that I am no longer foreman here?" the now frowning foreman fearfully pondered.

"Eh-yeah," the 'Two Crowns' heir nonchalantly answered.

"Have I done something to displease you, Diego?"


Estefan looked at a total loss and then bitterly demanded of his new boss, "Then...why have I been fi-ired?"

"You ain't been fi-ired, my friend," the cowboy calmly assured him, "You've been promoted!" Then, seeing as how Estefan couldn't look any more at a loss, their new boss paused in his endeavor and turned to the vaquero who had accompanied the now dazed looking fellow, "Where did I tell you to take Senor an' Senora Jazeres' things?"

"To the main hacienda, mi Patron," Ramon obligingly responded.

"The-ere! Yah see! You ain't movin' ou-out, you're movin' i-in!" their 'patron' calmly explained-and then returned to his task.

The now completely stunned Estefan stared nervously down at the bedroll and supplies in the 'heir's' hands-and nervously inquired as to where he was off to.

"I have no idea!" Jim Crown truthfully told him.

"When will you be ba-ack?" the promoted-but still completely perplexed-fellow further queried.

"I ain't comin' ba-ack, compadre," the cowboy calmly announced, "I jes' buried the only 'reason' for MY bein' here."

"You cannot do this, Diego!" Estefan insisted, "You cannot turn your back on your inheritance! Your grandfather would roll over in his grave!"

Jim finished strapping his gear onto his saddle and then turned his full attention to his irate ex-foreman, "Which grandfather? I had more than one, remember? Maybe I'm jes' rightin' an old wro-ong! Besides, it was yore 'sweat' an' yore 'blood' that helped build this place, amigo! Not mi-"

"NO!" Estefan interrupted, "You cannot do this!"

"I had a long talk with my gran'father's lawyers," the 'heir' calmly added. "You'll find all the 'paperwork' on...yo-ore desk!" Jim finished with a wry smile-and then turned to leave.

But Estefan pulled the cowboy back around and staunchly repeated, "You cannot do this, Diego!"

"It's already been do-one!" Diego reminded his still irate compadre-with yet another wry smile. And then he shook his somewhat shaken friend's hand. "Relax!" the 'heir' advised as he swung himself up into his father's saddle. "You ran this place for over twenty years without me. I'm sure you kin manage without me for another twenty! Take care...'Don' Estefan!" Jim Crown called down. And with that, and another even wryer-even broader-smile, the cowboy turned his horse around and then high-tailed it on out a' there, leaving his inheritance in 'Don' Estefan's very capable hands...

Chapter Forty-Seven

U.S. Marshal James Crown awoke in the dark only to find himself-surprise! surprise!-still up on the back of some horse! With someone still seated behind him! His grandfather? No. The sounds and silhouettes of at least a dozen mounted men surrounded them. Koree! No-o. He and Koree-and the rest of the DD's crew-never traveled at night. Estefan? Nah. The horrendous hurt he was experiencing seemed to be in his chest-not his le-eg.

Speakin' a' whi-ich...

He started to reach for the stabbing pain in his chest-and then he realized his wrists were cuffed together. He also took note that his Stetson had been returned to its rightful place-atop his sweat-soaked, and still slightly reeling, head. Which meant that- "...Katelyn?" Jim Crown tentatively called out-in a cracked, hoarse whisper. Then he held his breath and sat there, stiff-as-a-board in his saddle, positively dreading the reply that his cautious question had called for. He hadn't guessed right even once all night! 'Plea-ease?' the peace officer silently pleaded, 'Let me be wrong this time, too?'

But he wasn't...

It was Katelyn's calm, hushed voice that answered him, all right. "I was hopin' you'd wake up," the lady said, sounding somewhat relieved, "'cuz we're almost to the canyo-"

"You shouldn't a' come here!" the Marshal shouted, sounding somewhat-no, sounding very-no-o extremely upset!

"I brought you yore 'ha-at'," the little lady replied as she opened and then pressed a canteen up to the lawman's parched lips. "Besides, this is our weddin' night'! Remember? Where else would a woman be on her weddin' night, but with her husband!" the bride calmly concluded-and calmly began pouring the canteen's cool contents carefully down her husband's incredibly dry-y hatch.

Jim Crown couldn't believe his ears! Why, Katelyn had actually sounded surprised that he should be upset with her! The little lady had just voluntarily placed her life in the hands of a very dangerous group of me-en! How could he be anything but upset about tha-at? An', why was it that, whenever he woke up these days, the pretty-but pig-headed-nurse was right there-pourin' water down him? The woman's water did the trick-soothing both her husband's thirst a-and his anger. " hardly the 'time'...o-or the 'place'...for a honeymoon!" the grumpy groom grumbled-between swallows. "A-an'," he added, once again in a whisper, "speakin' a' rememberin' things...When I said there wouldn' be much of a future for a Mrs. Marshal, wasn't it you that said you were willin' ta accept that fa-?"

"I know what you said!" the woman suddenly interrupted, sounding a tad bit grumpy herself, "An' I know what I said! But-bein' a woman an' all-I jes' naturally felt obli-iged ta CHA-ANGE my mind!" She stopped talking and tightened her tender hold on him, "I want ta grow old with you, Jim Crown! I want the two a' us ta grow very o-old tagether! An'-ta make good an' sure a' that-I had ta bring you yore...'hat'!" she tacked on-and tucked the lawman's loaded Colt into the front waistband of his black trousers. (A sharp slap in the face had kept that Stevens' fellah's groping fingers from finding the peace officer's 'Peace-Maker', which the resourceful little lady had tied-high-on the inside of her right thigh).

"In case you haven't counted," her deeply touched and impressed-but still extremely unhappy sounding husband glumly pointed out. "They have more...'hats' than we do. About a dozen more than even I kin handle," he added even more glumly.

"Yah don' have ta handle 'em a-all...if yore's is pointed at the right person..." the resourceful woman hinted-in an even more hushed whisper.

"It wouldn' work."

"Why wouldn' it?"

"'Cu-uz. If I was ta aim my 'hat' at his 'Honor', an' tell them all ta drop theirs, they would jes' aim their 'hats' at 'you-ou', an' tell me ta drop mine! An' the-en, we'd have us a MEXICAN STAND-OFF-with you-ou stuck right in the middle! An' I won' have you layin' yore life on the line!"

Katelyn was still confused. Weren't they already 'stuck in the middle'? Weren't their lives already 'on the line'? "Bu-ut, even if yore deputies agree ta trade-whoever it is they're after-for us...they're never gonna let you-"

"There ain't gonna be any 'trade'," the U.S. Marshal glumly assured her.

"So, then, what happens when we get to the canyon?" the now extremely nervous woman wondered, "If you ain't already got a pla-an, you better come up with one real soo-oon! Like I said, we're almos' there!"

Jim Crown had had a pla-an. Right up until the little lady's arrival, the lawman had planned to slip the rope up over his head-and the bridle from off'n his horse's-an' then make a run for it! However, Katelyn's appearance meant that that plan would have to be altered...but only slightly. "You-ou won't be goin' ta the canyon. Wisper, here, kin out run any horse in the Strip!" the thoroughbred's owner proudly-but not too loudly-proclaimed. "Providin' she's not carryin' double the weight..." he added conditionally-and then cringed as all hell broke loose behind him.

"No-o!" Katelyn all but screamed. "No-o! I can't! I won't leave you!" she finished, forcing herself to speak more softly.

"You ca-an!" Jim Crown quietly corrected, "An' you wi-ill! About all that'll be waitin' for me-when we reach that canyon-is a bullet or two in the back. But I expect'll have somethin' else in mind for you-ou!"

And it was Katelyn's turn to cringe. The woman could easily picture what they would have planned for her. The lady shuddered as she recalled how the fellah with the groping fingers had tried to fondle her. (The man may not a' been no 'baby killer', but Clayton Stevens had absolutely no 'qualms' attall about 'rapin' an' pillagin''!) Katelyn choked back her anguish and grief and then held on to her apparently still doomed-to-die marriage partner-for dear life! It appeared to her that it would take an 'act of God' now to save hi-im!

"When I jump," Jim Crown quietly continued, "I'll slip the bridle off an' get her turned around-so that she's headed back towards town. You jes' hold on tight! An' don't STOP 'til yah get there! An'-when you do-o...give Jamie a big hug for me..." the lawman added by way of a reminder-and clinched his argument for the little lady's leaving.

A calm followed...

Which the Marshal found most disturbing. Things were too' too' too humid. The trace of a breeze-that had been tugging on some of the longer locks of his sweat-drenched hair-had jes', suddenly, disappeared! The air was so completely 'still' now, that it was almost...eerie!

It was a rather striking 'stillness' in that it caused their little procession towards the canyon to stop.

And Jim Crown to stiffen-as the former cowboy suddenly remembered why-y he had found the 'calm' so dang disturbin'! He had experienced that eerie 'stillness' once before-on a cattle drive northeast a' Coldwater, Kansas! It took 'em over two weeks ta round up what was left a' the herd! An' two years ta rebuild what was left a' the town!

An' speakin' of an 'act a' Go-od'...

Katelyn sat there, listening to a sound somewheres off in the distance...a distance to the southwest of their location. It was a loud, 'roaring' sound, like that of a locomotive running towards them-at full throttle! "I didn' know trains came through here..." the bewildered woman blurted-right out loud.

"That ain' a trai-ain!" the Marshal out-right shouted, "That's a twister!" Then-just as Judge Rutgers and his rather alarmed acting associates were about to make a mad dash for the ridge on their right-their prisoner slipped the noose from around his neck, and the bridle from off'n his horse, and nudged the high strung animal straight ahead! (The critter loved ta run, so it didn't need much coaxin'.) Their captive had decided to take advantage of the sudden diversion and make a run for the canyon's entrance. They were close to the canyon all right! Close enough for Jim Crown to clearly see the opening in the silhouette of its forty foot tall front wall!

Unfortunately for them, they didn't quite make it that far. (The Marshal's mare may have been fa-ast, but even Will-O'-the-Wisp couldn' out run the hundred plus mile per hour winds of a tornado!) The pair only made it as far as the huge rock outcropping that was about a quarter of a mile away and-thus-several hundred yards short of their goal! As they neared the landmark, the fear-crazed filly reared up in response to the wind-blown debris in her face. And her passengers were part 'blown' and part 'thrown' from her bucking back.

The lawman landed hard and had the wind knocked out of him for the nth time! (It had happened so often of late, that he had actually lost count!) The Marshal did-however-remember that it was the second time-in less than a week-that he had been 'blown clean out a' his saddle'! Ah well, at least his shoulder had remained in place-this particular time! At long last, his lungs started working again and-following several 'gasped' in and ex-halations-Crown collected Katelyn, (Who had crash-landed beside him, but was, seemingly, uninjured.) and crawled, blindly, (Because of both the darkness and the extreme degree of flying debris.) into a protective crevice of that rock outcropping they'd been forced to drop in on. The wind was blowing so hard now that they could barely breathe! The lawman lay there, crammed into that crevice-with one of his cuffed hands clutching onto Katelyn's-and his other onto his hat! Above the already deafening 'roar' of the wind, the couple could hear the even louder, and almost constant, "KA-BOO-OOM!"ing of thunder-which accompanied all the lightning that kept streaking from the swirling clouds overhead!

Doctor Jarrod Micheal Ellis was exhausted! And rightfully so! The fatigued physician hadn't been in a horizontal position in da-ays! To top off the weary young man's misery, the liveryman had lied! After traversing at least ten or fifteen miles, Jarrod's backside still had NOT adjusted itself to his saddle's WESTERN seat. He had let the horse plot their course. And the duo had been plodding steadily along-hopelessly lost-for hou-ours now! Needless to say, the saddlebred had deviated-greatly-from the route the deputy had so painstakingly drawn for them. (Lancer didn't need ta read no ma-ap ta find the Marshal.)

They had crossed the Cimarron-somewhere. And they had found a ridge, all right. Only, it wasn't where it should have been-which was to their right. The doctor was still completely in the dark as to their whereabouts-when he suddenly heard it. A TRAI-AIN! Great! All he had to do now was to find the tracks-and then follow them back to town! So the lost soul swung his 'leader horse' around and started heading towards the sound.

Then, just as their little search party of two topped the ridge, Jarrod stopped. The heat and humidity seemed to hang even more heavily in the air up there! But it was the atmosphere's sudden-and rather stifling-stillness that the physician had found to be so...arresting. Jarrod was thinking to himself, 'Something doesn't seem quite right around he-'

When somebody in the blackness below them suddenly shouted, "That ain' a trai-ain! That's a twister!"

Both the young man, and his mount, immediately recognized that somebody's shouted voice as belonging to the object of their search-the Marshal! The kid doctor from back East had no idea what a 'twister'! was. But, judging by the lawman's extremely high anxiety level, Jarrod was most definitely not about to stick around and find out! So he swung Lancer in a semi-circle, and started back down the leeward side of the ridge. The stiff-legged doctor dismounted when they reached the bottom and then led the big, black gelding over to an enormous boulder-behind which, he intended to take shelter from-whatever it was that a 'twister!' di-id! (Besides 'twist', i.e.)

The successful searchers stood there, under the protective cover of that really BI-IG rock, and watched as a rather large group of riders went galloping-wi-ildly-by! 'Perhaps,' the physician nervously pondered, 'we stopped too soo-oon!' The extremely anxious young man was contemplating remounting-when the 'twister!' suddenly hi-it!

The 'thing' came ROARING! up the windward side of the ridge-took a flying leap over their little hide-out-and then touched back down again-in a gully, several hundred yards to the northeast of them!

The physician had fallen to the ground out of fea-ear, and had landed in a fetal position, with his raised arms wrapped tightly around his head for protection from-whatever it was that seemed to be rushing so VIOLENTLY! towards them-er, over them-uh, away from them! Even though his eyes were tightly shut and his arms were clamped over his ears, the doctor could still 'see' the steady streaks of lightning and 'hear' the continuous claps of thunder which contributed to the 'twister!'s truly TERRIFYING! effect! Jarrod just laid there like that and listened-for a long, lo-ong time-until he could hear no mo-ore the 'twister!'s' gawd-awful "ROA-OAR"!

"We-ell, now," the doctor quipped as he slowly picked his trembling body back up off of the ground he'd been 'hugging', "THA-AT certainly was 'interesting', wasn't it!" he sarcastically understated to his unbelievably calm (In lieu of all the lightning...) companion. Things like 'THA-AT' never happened to doctors in New York, neither!

The animal nickered and tossed its head a few times-as if in agreement.

And its-now tremendously relieved-rider was forced to smile. "You do good work!" the young man admitted-aloud-and liberally began applying pats of praise to Lancer's sweat-lathered neck, "Think you can find him again?" The horse's rider grinned outright as the outstandingly intelligent animal snorted-and then, once again, tossed its head. "Then, lead the way!" the physician wearily invited-after hauling himself back aboard. "Wro-ong!" the doctor declared as the animal pivoted and started plodding off towards the canyon. "They went this-a-way!" he patiently pointed out and proceeded to tug the 'dumb plug' back around.

The horse proceeded to firmly plant all four of its huge feet in the ground and-despite the feel of the doctor's boot heel digging into its ribs-refused to take so much as even a single step in the direction that the wi-ildly galloping group had gone.

Speakin' a' whi-ich...

Jarrod was about to employ stronger methods of persuasion, when the regrouped group suddenly reappeared and went cantering back up the ridge they'd just raced down- less than a hundred yards from their exposed position.

"You sure that was Crown's horse?" someone angrily asked, speaking in an authoritative manner.

"Yes, sir!" someone peevishly replied as they topped the ridge, "And I swear-its saddle was empty! They got ta be down there-somewheres! We jes' got ta get ta them before they get ta the canyon!"

"So, start looking!" 'Sir' angrily suggested-er, ordered.

And his 'underlings' obediently disappeared down over the ridge.

And-suddenly-Jarrod knew what he had to do! "Go on!" the young man urged as he grabbed his medical bag and dropped back down-onto the ground. He started to tug the rifle clear of its case. 'He might need it more than me,' he silently realized-and his hand froze. Instead, he knotted the reins together and tossed them back over the horse's high head. "Go on, big fellah! Go find the Marshal...again! You've got to find him-fa-ast!" 'A-and fi-irst!' he silently pleaded as the animal-unerringly-plodded off, freely tossing its head. The young doctor quietly ducked back behind that BI-IG boulder-where he-and his medical bag-immediately hugged the ground.

Chapter Forty-Eight

Speakin' a' the Marshal...

Jim Crown 'groaned' and tried to slide his jammed self away from the chunk of rock that was gouging into his busted-and so unbelievably sore-ribs. But he couldn't budge. Katelyn's trembling body was crammed in on top of his. And the woman's weight-together with his extremely weakened condition and their extremely tight quarters-kept the lawman's movements to a bare minimum. Which meant that-aside from blinking and breathing-the Marshal couldn't move! And-all the while-that piece of rock kept pressing-painfully-into his side. "...ah-ahh," he groaned again and tried-once more-to move his incredibly cramped carcass away from the cause of-most of-his misery. And-this time-the lady lifted herself up and allowed him to assume a less painful position. "You...all right?" Crown anxiously inquired, upon exhaling a 'gasp' of relief.

"Ye-es!" his still somewhat shaken companion rather shakily replied, "At least...I think so. What about you?"

"I been better..." her husband had to honestly admit. Then he clenched his jaw and allowed Katelyn to carefully extricate his used-and badly abused-body up out of the crevice they'd been jam-packed into for the past five-totally terrifyin'-minutes!

"Yore wounds have begun bleedin' again," his nurse solemnly announced. The lady lowered the leakin' lawman to the ground.

And he just sat there-gasping...and tryin' real ha-ard not to 'moa-oan'. Crown leaned carefully back up against that enormous outcropping of rock and cautiously looked around. His Honor an' his swarm a' hornets were nowhere's in sight. And-not surprisingly-neither was Wisper. He figured that fancy, flighty filly of his was already well on her way back ta town. He gazed glumly off to the East-where a glow was beginning to appear on the horizon. "Looks like that twister even scared the daylights out a' the sky-y!" he determined lightly-in a attempt to lighten the still tremblin' lady's rather sullen mood.

But it would take more than the mere promise of a few rays a' sunshine to make the moody woman smi-ile'. They needed to make a run for it! However, she doubted-seriously-whether her hurtin' husband could even sta-and! So-as far as Katelyn was concerned-there weren't nothin' ta 'smi-ile' about! "I'll go for help!" she decided, "I'll fetch yore deputies!"

"Once you're in the canyon-STAY THERE!" the Marshal ordered and passed his pretty rescuer his pistol-and two palms full of bullets-which he'd pulled from the pockets of his vest and shirt. "No matter WHAT!" he tacked on rather sternly.

The woman watched-in wide-eyed bewilderment-as her husband handed over his 'hat'-along with all of his spare cartridges. Certainly he had greater need of a gun than she-e! Unle-ess... "They've gone, haven't they! There's no one there! 'Cept for old man Adrian's gho-ost!" she added bitterly and stared down at the now unarmed man through blurring eyes.

"Go on!" Jim Crown gently urged, "Rutger's boys'll be comin' back..."

But, this time, it was the woman who couldn't budge. Did he really think she could je' leave him there-jes' like that? Oh-oh, if only they had a horse! "Ah-ah!" the lady shrieked as something was suddenly pressed into the small of her back-something warm and soft-not cold and hard! "Wisper!" Katelyn cried as she turned around and stepped aside.

"Lancer?" her startled husband stated-a bit more accurately. Then he slapped his Stetson back onto his head and slowly started getting to his feet, "Where did you come from, so-on?"

"Who ca-ares?" his suddenly deliriously happy wife wondered as she assisted the mystified-and unsteady-man up off'n the ground and then guided him over to where the stalk still animal stood. "Get on!" she ordered rather sharply. Then she plunked the 'Peace-Maker' back into its holster and helped the peace officer up into his seat.

"C'mon!" the horse's handcuffed owner called down, hearing the sound of several rapidly moving riders approaching from the south. The lady placed her hand in his-and was hauled up and laid across his lap, like an orphaned calf! The Marshal headed the horse towards the canyon's entrance and nudged it into high gear! Then he took a tight, two-fisted hold of his pistol, turned and-after taking careful ai-aim-began emptying it into their pursuers!

Katelyn-who was having the breath bounced out of her-looked back in time to see five of the fast-moving (and upside-down) figures go falling from their saddles. And all but one of the rest of Rutger's riders go scattering for cover.

Their lone pursuer shot past them just as they were approaching the canyon (He had approached from a much shorter angle.) and pulled his snorting steed to a stop-right smack dab in front of the entrance!

"Hang o-on!" Jim Crown shouted-above the sound of galloping hooves. They were about to make a tremendous leap of faith!

Katelyn screamed and closed her eyes. (The woman didn't want to witness the collision.)

But, just as Wisper loved to run, Lancer loved to jump. And so he did-sailing effortlessly up over the obstacle that was blocking their path! Lance' cleared the other horse-completely! However, his knees caught the judge's man just about at shoulder level and sent him crashing-and cursing-to the ground.

The leaper's landing-although quite smoo-ooth-caused both of his pained passengers to 'gasp' and 'groa-oan'! They then raced-unpursued-through the canyon's corridor, across its opening, and into the safety? of old man Adrian's mine's shaft, where they disappeared-er, were swallowed up-by darkness!

"We would a had 'em, yer 'Honor'!" Clayton Stevens confidently stated as he came riding back up to where Rutgers sat-seething. "Hands do-own! If only that horse hadn't a' shown up!"

"How did that horse get here?" the agitated judge angrily inquired, "And how did he get a GU-UN? I thought I told you to search that woman!"

"I di-id!" Stevens vowed, "She was clea-ean! The horse must a' brung it to him!"

"Then who 'brung' him the ho-orse?" the fuming magistrate suddenly demanded, "It didn't just blow in on the wi-ind!"

Stevens-and several of the growing group's other stragglers-stared blankly back at their boss-and shrugged.

"Well, don't just sit there!" his irate Honor strongly advised. "GO FIND OUT!"

And-once again-Rutgers' 'hornets' went 'swarming' obediently off.

The height of the mine's main entrance was such that a fellah on foot could easily enter standing. But, somebody on horseback would have to duck. And so the mounted Marshal had ducked. However, once inside-where the main tunnel branched off in several directions-and the main shaft's ceiling was a good twenty feet above the mine's sloping floor, Lancer's rider remained doubled up in his saddle.

Which meant that Katelyn remained sort a' sandwiched in-between the lawman's leakin' chest and his lap. The lady just hung there-in the pitch blackness-listening to the sounds of their heaving lungs and pounding hearts. The nurse could tell by her husband's breathing that he was conscious. Their little flight seemed to have taken a lot of the fight out of him, however. So she laid there and let him rest-across her back. Katelyn stayed in that extremely awkward-and painful-position until she could no longer stand it. "Yer gonna hafta let me up," she gasped, "all the blood's rushin' ta my head!"

Her husband drew in a cautious breath-and obligingly straightened up in his seat.

"Ni-ice shootin'!" Katelyn commended as she raised herself up off'n his legs and carefully dropped to the ground. (She didn't want to step on any snakes-or whatever little varmints might be inhabiting the cool and damp-and incredibly da-ark-cave. Not to mention old man Adrian's gho-ost!)

"Thanks!" the marksman gasped-and cautiously released his held breath, "When yah have ta hit 16 diff'rent targets...and yah only got 18 bullets...yah tend ta try a little harder...ta make sure every shot counts."

"There's a rifle on the saddle there," the woman excitedly announced, "I felt it as I was slidin' off."

"I hope it's loaded," the lawman solemnly replied, "'Cuz there's still 11 of 'em out' we're down ta our last dozen cartridges..."

"That bein' the ca-ase," Katelyn nervously exclaimed, "I hope I haven't lost any of 'em..." The worried sounding woman began digging bullets out of her dress pockets and passing them-in the dark-up to her equally worried husband.

Who began shoving them into the empty cartridge chamber of his Colt.

"Do no' fear, lass!" some unknown person-er, apparition in the dark-suddenly said, speaking with a discernibly Scottish 'brogue', "For-if it be .45 caliber you're in need of-we've got cases of them! As well as enuff food and fresh water ta last-at least-a month!"

"Ma-ac!" the completely astounded Marshal exclaimed. "What are you doin' here?" he inquired as he quickly recovered his lost composure and lowered his semi-loaded gun.

"Obeying orders," Mac calmly replied and calmly struck up a match. Which he then used to light the torch in his left hand. The entire cavern lit up as the torch's flame flared into brilliant existence. Then, he turned to Jim Crown's lovely traveling companion and further stated, "If there is one thing that Ah have learned in these last five years, lassie-it is to always follow his honor's 'orders' to the letter!"

His 'honor' looked around the empty mine shaft. The prisoners were go-one! So Mac had to have gotten his message. "You must a' got my message..." Jim Crown said aloud, bringing that incredibly confusin' fact to the Scotsman's attention.

"A-Aye!" MacGregor admitted to the Marshal. Then, speaking once again to Katelyn, he added, "Bu-ut his honor's orders were: 'for me ta remain here until Ah heard from 'im that it was safe!" The Marshal's Chief Deputy turned back to his bewildered boss, "And the message that Mr. Fitzsimmons brought us said no such thing! The man merely said that Mareck had gotten his grubby hands on you, and that you had told Danny that you wanted the prisoners moved-immediately!" Mac turned to the little lady, looking extremely smug, "Ah realized, of course, that there could be but one reason for 'im ta have made such a request. The order ta move the prisoners obviously meant that his honor-and company-must be coming here-to the canyon! And so, here Ah am," the deputy declared rather dramatically, stepping right up to his boss and bowing, "your obedient servant!"

"I like yore line a' reasonin'!" Jim Crown informed his rather dramatic friend-and extended one of his cuffed hands to the crafty fellow-when he finally straightened up again.

"Me, too-oo!" Katelyn readily agreed and gave the Scotsman's left cheek a light peck. The woman had-previously-wanted to slug him one for giving her poor, already pounding heart such a...start! (MacGregor had 'scared the beejeebers' out of both of them!)

Mac kept the Marshal's cuffed hand in his. And-after passing Katelyn his torch-the deputy pulled out a key and used it to free both of his boss' wrists. "It's the company that Ah keep!" MacGregor modestly explained and motioned-with a toss of his head-towards her still-mounted-and rather dubious looking-husband.

The woman flashed the modest fellow a beautiful smile. (The lady could easily believe that!)

"Ah did no' mean ta frighten you," the cave dweller told his two visitors, "Ah jes' did no' want ta say anything until Ah was sure you were alone."

Katelyn smiled again and gave their compassionate-and honest-host another kiss-this time, on his other cheek.

"Speakin' a' whi-ich," the Marshal was forced to stop speakin' and catch his breath as MacGregor gently eased him down out of his saddle, "it's gettin'' lighter out there," he anxiously surmised as he was carted over to the nearest rock wall and carefully lowered to the ground. "It...ain't gonna take 'em too long...ta figure out...jes' alo-one...we really are!" The lawman sat there for a few moments in silence. (He was holdin' his breath again.) Then he rested his back up against that rock wall and carefully drew his right leg up. "Somebody," he grimaced and gasped, "ought ta be standin' guard...They might decide...ta try an' rush the mine entrance...while it's still da-ark..." he gasped again and then placed his hat upon his bent knee. No doubt about it! This was turnin' out ta be one a' the lo-o-ongest nights of his li-ife!

Katelyn exchanged worried glances with the Marshal's Chief Deputy. The nurse then passed the man back his torch and knelt down to tend to the needs of her hurting-and still bleeding-husband.

Mac lowered the torch's handle into a metal bracket that was mounted up on the rock wall-just above the pained peace officer's position. Then he snatched that rifle from off'n his boss' saddle and-after making certain that it was indeed loaded-obediently assumed guard duty at the mine's main entrance. "Ah jes' put a fresh pot of coffee on ta brew," their host announced, "When you've a free moment, Mrs. Edwards, perhaps you could fetch us some?" Then, seeing the lady looking around the dank-and dark-cavern in confusion, Mac smiled and added, "Take the tunnel to yer right. About twenty yards down. You'll find the fire just around the first bend."

The woman returned his smile and willingly accepted her assignment.

Chapter Forty-Nine

U.S. Marshal James Crown was co-old, and-despite downing a canteen and a half of water and two cups of Mac's coffee-still incredibly thirsty! Both of these conditions (Plus a re-occurring bout with light-headedness.) were attributed-by his pretty and ever present, nurse-to the lawman's recent-and rather voluminous-loss of blood.

"How yah feelin'?" Katelyn anxiously inquired of her ghostly pale patient-upon returning from her umpteenth trip down the tunnel. She'd gone to fetch another blanket-which she dutifully draped over the shivering man's already blanket-bedecked shoulders.

The Marshal flashed the dutiful-and beautiful-woman a deeply worried look and extended his blanketed left arm, "I would feel a whole lot better...if you were ta set down here beside' rest a spell..." he hinted to his completely spent lookin' spouse.

The lady took both his hint and his cold and clammy hand and allowed herself to be bedded down on the blanketed ground beside him.

"I was right..." Jim Crown determined as the nurse nestled cozily up in his blanketed arms, "I feel much-mu-uch better, now..."

"Me, too..." the woman freely admitted.

The lawman had also been right about the light. Twenty minutes later, it was a whole lot lighter outside. Soon, it would be broad daylight!

Mac was right as well. Katelyn had found more than just a coffee pot and a campfire back in that tunnel! There were barrels and barrels of water, boxes and boxes of bullets, sacks and sacks of supplies, stacks and stacks of wood-plus-plenty of hay and grain for the animals! (MacGregor's mount was tethered down that tunnel, as well.) If they could stop an assault now, the cave's occupants-and their horses-could hold out INDEFINATELY! Certainly long enough to allow reinforcements to arrive! So then, why did the man beside her suddenly seem so tense? The lady traced her tense husband's intense gaze and found the answer-Lancer!

The Marshal's mount had mosied on over to investigate the blanket-covered couple and was-presently-playfully tugging on the lawman's pant leg.

Its rider again ignored the old adage about never looking a 'gift horse' in the mouth-and asked, again, right out loud, "How did you get here?"

"He brought us here, but we didn't bring him here," Katelyn explained-for Mac's benefit.

(The Scotsman had found the Marshal's rather cryptic comment most confusing.) MacGregor's mouth opened and he was just about to say something-when somebody else's shouted voice came wafting across the canyon towards them.


And-suddenly-Jim Crown had his answer! An' they had 'Jarrod'!

Katelyn inhaled a startled gasp.

Her husband grimaced and then groaned-in mental anguish-as any hopes he may have had for growing old with anybody, suddenly turned to cinders!

"BRING LUKE AND JUDD HAMPTON OUT TO US," the shouted voice continued, "AN' WE'LL CUT THE KID LOOSE!"

The Marshal exhaled a weary sigh of surrender and-after reluctantly freeing himself from the beautiful woman's embrace-he stashed his Stetson back on his head and started crawling-equally reluctantly-over to the mine's see about freeing the kid.

"Ah should think Mareck would be more interested in Tanner!" MacGregor reasoned aloud as Jim Crown came crawling up to him-on his hands and knees.

"Mareck's dead!" his boss breathlessly' said, "That 'hornet'...out Rutgers!" Then, to the woman-who came crawlin' up behind him-Jim Crown firmly, but gently ordered, "Go on back by the fire..."

"I ain't leavin' you!" Katelyn firmly, but gently refused.

The Marshal seemed tremendously disappointed-but not the least bit surprised-by the woman's refusal.

"What good will it do ta kill the three of you?" Mac further wondered, "When the whole town knows that Rutgers was in cahoots with Mareck!"

"The three of us are the only 'witnesses' left...whose testimony wouldn' be 'hear-say'," his boss explained. "The Judge knows that 'hear-say' evidence is...inadmissible in court. Even if the whole town were ta testify-there'd never be a conviction," Jim Crown solemnly concluded.

"DID YOU HEAR ME, MARSHAL?" the voice from across the canyon queried.


After a brief pause, the voice piped back up, "WE DON'T BELIEVE YOU!"

"THEN, COME SEE FOR YERSELF!" the pained peace officer patiently proposed. "UNARMED!" Crown added-as a cautious afterthought.

There was an even longer pause.

Then, through the gloom of dawn's early light, a crouched figure crept out of concealment in the corridor and stepped into plain sight. "THERE ARE TEN RIFLES POINTED AT THE KID!" the figure informed the inhabitants of the cave, "ANYTHING HAPPENS TA ME, AN' THEY'LL CUT 'IM DOWN!" Following his little statement on where Jarrod stood, the fellow started off across the canyon floor-his course confidently fixed on the main-and only-entrance to old man Adrian's mine.

Five minutes later, Clayton Stevens was standing in the mine shaft's entrance with the Marshal's pistol-and his deputy's rifle-pointed at his chest. His empty hands wisely-and slowly-went up in the air. After being thoroughly frisked for concealed weapons, the deputy shoved a lit torch in his face and told him to watch his step.

Fifteen minutes later, after thoroughly searching the tunnels for concealed prisoners, Stevens returned-himself to the starting point and the torch to his deputy tour guide.

"Satisfied?" the seated lawman icily asked.

"The Doc'll start walkin' towards the mine," Stevens simply said. "You start walkin' towards the corridor. The two a' you'll keep right on walkin' 'til you've traded places," he rather casually concluded-and calmly began taking his leave of them.

"Hold it!" Crown ordered-even more cooly, "I can't walk that far..."

Stevens studied the seated Marshal's ghostly pale face for a few moments. The gunman could easily believe that! "Then-by all means-ride!" Clayton cried, "But-jes' remember-that ugly, black horse over there makes for a real BIG target!" And, with that little-final-reminder, he turned and went striding back off across the canyon floor.

"You cain't seriously be considerin' goin' out there?" Katelyn exclaimed-rather alarmedly-as her husband began to haul his unsteady self up off'n the ground,"You'll pass out before you get halfways there!" The lady latched onto the lawman as he stiffly straightened up-and then held on to him for dear life! "Please, don't go out there!" she literally cried.

"C'MON, CROWN!" Stevens also cried, "WE HAVEN'T GOT ALL DAY!"

"NO-O!" the kid doctor suddenly shouted, "STAY WHERE YOU ARE, MARSH-Ah-uh!" the young man 'gasped' as his message ended with a sharp cry of pain!

The Marshal 'winced' and turned his dizzy head in the courageous kid's direction.

"See?" the woman in his arms whispered, "Even he wants you ta stay!"

Jim Crown gave his pretty-protective-wife a sort a' sad-and sympathetic smile, "You wouldn't wanna live with me if I was ta do that..." he whispered back, "...I know, 'cuz I couldn't live with myself..." Then, following a brief-but passionate-kiss, he pulled free of their embrace and began heading for his horse.

"Yer right!" MacGregor said as he caught Jim Crown under the arms and kept the collapsing lawman from falling flat on his face, "Yah can no' walk!"

The Marshal gave his handy friend a grateful glance. "Take her back to her son-in Cimarron-for me, Mac," he quietly requested as the Scotsman half-carried him over and up to his horse.

"A-aye!" his chief deputy acknowledged a bit shakily, as he helped his boss up onto the animal's tall back.

The Marshal settled down into his seat and then bent over to place a hand on his sad-looking deputy's sagging shoulder, "You've been a good friend, Mac..."

MacGregor glanced up-and the two 'friend's' tearing eyes met, "It was the company Ah kept..." the Scotsman softly assured him...and then smiled-as his good friend was forced to smile.

Jim gave his slumped shoulder a slight squeeze and then nudged his horse ahead. "I love you, Katelyn!" Jim Crown called out as he reached the entrance-er, exit. Then he ducked down low over his saddle and disappeared out into the canyon.

"No-o!" Katelyn cried out in anguish-and tried exiting the mine herself. "Let me go-o!" she shrieked as the Scotsman caught her around the waist and then pulled her-kicking and screaming-safely back inside. "We can't just stand here and let them KILL him!" the tough little lady from Texas insisted, "I know how ta use a rifle!"

"Perhaps," the Scotsman sadly conceded, "but there are almost a dozen professional gunmen out there, lass! And the two of us would no' stand a chance against a dozen hired guns! Besides, Ah promised 'im that Ah would see you safely back ta yer son-in Cimarron..."

So they just stood there-and watched.

As the Marshal just sat there-just outside the mine-and watched Jarrod.

Who was also just standing there.

"C'MON, DO-OC'!" Jim Crown called out.

"I CAN'T!" the Doc' called back, "THEY'LL KILL YOU!"

"START WALKIN', KID!" Stevens menacingly shouted, "OR WE'LL 'BLOW HIM AWAY' FROM HERE!"

Jarrod watched-in wide-eyed horror-as the judge's men redirected their rifles, so that all ten of them were now aimed right at the Marshal! 'You should've gone to New York!' the frustrated physician sadly-and solemnly-told himself, 'Where things like THIS never happen to doctors!' Whether he walked-or didn't walk-the Marshal was gonna be a dead man! So the doctor swallowed hard-and began to walk.

The Marshal began to move as well, edging his edgy-and rather reluctant-mount forwards. (Lancer didn't much like the idea of walking right at all of those pointed rifle barrels!)

Mac and Katelyn continued to just stand there and watch as the two 'Docs' drew closer...and closer...together.

"I CAN'T jes' stand here!" the lady determined, "I got ta DO somethin'!"

"Then Ah suggest yah start prayin' for a miracle!" MacGregor bitterly advised, "Because it would take a small army ta stop them!" (Even if the Marshal didn't die along the way, Rutgers' men would kill him-the moment they reached Hardesty! The Marshal had ordered his deputies to move the prisoners, all right-ta Fort Dawes!)

And, speakin' a' Fort Dawes an' a small army...

The doctor and the Marshal were out in the middle of the canyon floor-and were just about to pass each other-when somebody with a bugle suddenly started blowing a Cavalry Charge!

The Marshal saw Rutgers' men turn their heads in the sound's direction. But it wasn't until they swung their rifles around that he dared to latch on to the young doctor's extended hand-and haul him up behind him in his saddle. Crown then swung Lancer around and-amidst the sounds of a heavy skirmish-high-tailed it back to the mine! "Duck!" the lawman advised-as they approached the main shaft's low entrance.

The doctor did. And they shot through the opening-at an all out gallop!

By the time the Marshal got his horse stopped, the shooting was already over. (The gun battle-while intense-had been brief.) So the lawman swung Lancer around again-and ducked back out into the canyon.

Charley Adams and Dave Fisher were the first two to reach him.

"An' you said it wasn't worth the price a' the paper it was written on!" teased Dave, giving his 'Presidential Directive' a victorious wave.

Mr. Adams and the Marshal exchanged 'Oh-oh, brother!' looks. Then they turned their attention to the small army's leader as he came riding-rather victoriously-up.

"I, uh, believe this makes it three that you owe me now, Marshal..." the Lieutenant teased.

"I thought you weren't countin'..." Jim Crown teased right back. Then his wry grin vanished, his green eyes closed-and he pitched forwards in his seat.

Jarrod caught him and sat there-on the big, black saddlebred's back-with the collapsed lawman in his lap...and watched as the sun's first rays of light struck the rim of the canyon's incredibly high wall, "And so begins another day-in the life of a 'legend'!" the young doctor teased.

"This ain't just a 'livin' legend' you're lookin' at, gentlemen," Katelyn proudly corrected-as MacGregor gently lowered her husband into her waiting-and open-arms, "This here is a 'genuine' avengin' ANGEL !" When only an act a' God could a' saved him-one had! And, when she had prayed for a 'miracle'? One occurred! Truly, the Lord did 'work' in 'mysterious' ways!

Chapter Fifty

The puffy-white wisps of clouds, which had been blockading the horizon since dawn, finally parted. And bright, warm sunshine came cascading down out of the early morning sky over Cimarron.

Francis Wilde watched in wonder as a golden glow suddenly descended upon the group of people who were waiting there with him on the railroad platform.

There were two reasons for the group's having gathered there. Mrs. Edward's sister was arriving-from St. Louis, and Senator David Samuel Fisher was departing-for Texas.

MacGregor and the Senator were busy discussing the distilment process of a certain alcoholic beverage in which bar-r-rley was a major component.

Jim Crown's attention was divided between a beautiful woman and an approaching thirty car train. (The railroad had temporarily altered its normal schedule of trains through the Territory, and had taken on twenty more passenger cars to try to handle the sudden influx a' folks-with a fancy for all that FREE land the Government was gonna be givin' away...come the sixteenth of September.) His boss was bedecked in his best three-piece suit. And the reporter couldn't remember ever seeing the lawman look any handsomer-or happier! Why, speakin' a' 'glows', Jim Crown's face literally radiated-with joy! And why not? Standing at the Marshal's side, was one of the loveliest ladies Francis had ever met. And in her arms was one of the sweetest little baby boys he'd ever seen. (An believe you me, 'sweet' was not an adjective the writer generally attached to babies-of either gender!)

Francis turned his attention to the remaining two members of their little group-Dulcey...and her doctor. The reporter grinned, seeing that the pretty girl's face was also 'aglow' with happiness. That the two of them were head-over heels in love was evident in that neither of them took any note of the train's arrival-until its passengers began bumping into them as they disembarked.

Then-suddenly-over the din of all those milling people-came an unbelievably loud, sharp, blood-chilling cry, "Do-oc!"

Francis watched as both Jim and Jarrod turned their heads in the shouted voice's direction.

Jarrod because he was a 'Do-oc''.

And Jim because he recognized the challenge behind that coldly calculated cry. The U.S. Marshal had been 'called out' to do gun battles before! The lawman was also well aware that-following the warning-the person being 'called out' had only split seconds in which to react. "Everybody! GET DO-OWN!" Jim ordered-in his most authoritative manner. Then he shoved Katelyn and Jamie away and jumped from the crowded platform. (The Marshal hoped to draw the challenger's gunfire away from all those 'stunned' and 'startled' and innocent bystanders.)

"DON'T SHOOT!" Francis screamed as he flattened himself down on the deck of the platform, dragging Katelyn and Dulcey along with him, "HE'S UNARMED!" They were all unarmed!

Except-unfortunately-for the cold-blooded kid who had screamed out the 'challenge'!

Francis jerked.

And so did Jim-as five rapidly-fired bullets ripped their way into and through his boss' unarmed body. The first slug tore into the lawman's left side-as he leapt from the platform. The next three slammed into his back-as he landed. The last chunk of lead struck Jim Crown full force in the chest-as the impact from the previous three bullets rolled him right over.

Francis jerked again-as three more shots suddenly rang out-to his immediate right. He forced himself to turn away from the gruesome sight on the ground below, and saw his fellow deputy go racing off down the depot platform. MacGregor had borrowed a rifle from somebody-and was in hot pursuit of the Marshal's 'assailant'.

Francis thought of following after him, but-without a weapon-he would just be in the way.

Besides, the Senator had already gone racing off to back the Scotsman up.

The reporter was so sickened by what had just happened, that he thought he might vomit. And he was still so shaken by what he'd just witnessed, that his arms and hands were actually trembling! Turning back-to face his fallen friend-was the hardest thing Francis ever had to do-in his entire life.

His boss was apparently still breathing, for he had pulled himself up into a sitting position. Jim just sat there-with his eyes tightly shut and with his back resting up against one of the large, wooden, packing crates he'd just crash-landed into.

Dulcey was kneeling at Jim's left side, holding onto his hand.

Jarrod was crouched down in front of him, frantically trying to stem the steady flow of blood that was gushing from his patient's ghastly chest wound. "You men! Give me a hand with the Marshal!" the gravely solemn young doctor suddenly demanded-of several of those innocent and still 'stunned' bystanders, "C'mon! We've got to get him to my off-"

"No-o!" the Marshal interrupted, "There' ti-"

"But," the lawman's frustrated young physician-and friend-interrupted right back, "You'll bleed to death!"

Jim's eyes snapped open and he shot Jarrod a look which said, 'Yeah...I know. An' you an' I both know that movin' me ain't gonna change matters any...' No, sir! The resourceful lawman wasn't gonna be able to 'think' his way out of this one! The Marshal swallowed hard and then glanced down at the bloodied hand that was covering the gaping hole in his chest. Things were going very wrong inside of him. Things were rapidly going very wrong, indeed! An' no amount a' doctorin' was gonna alter that terribly grim fact. Still, Jim Crown could sympathize with his physician's frustration. The lawman latched onto Jarrod's right wrist and pushed it away from his chest. At the same time, he pulled Dulcey's wrist up and brought the both of their hands together. "Take care a' her, Doctor..." Jim quietly requested.

"I will...I promise! I'll take good care of her for you!" Jarrod solemnly vowed.

"You'd better!" the father and big brother Dulcey never had warned-a bit gruffly. But then he flashed the both of them a rather wry, sly smile, "I expect the two a' you...ta take real good care...of each other...for me..."

The couple in question could no longer speak. So they acknowledged their compliance to the match-making Marshal's last request with two very definate nods.

The lawman's eyes closed for a few moments.

And, when they reopened, Francis found them focused up at him.

Jim studied his guilt-ridden face for a second or two. "Don' you dare!" he exclaimed, dispensing with his second warning in as many minutes. "Francis, don' you even think it!" he continued-sternly. But then allowed his stern look-and his raised voice-to soften some, "Why-y...that 'kid' prob'ly cain't even...READ!" he reasoned lightly-and flashed the author of 'TAMING THE TERRITORY' that rather wry smile of his.

Francis stiffened-as his boss suddenly stiffened and his smile was replaced with a grimace. The reporter took a step or two towards the edge of the platform, but then stopped-as Mrs. Edwards appeared...with some water.

The nurse dropped to her knees before his boss and then held the cup in her hands up to the pained peace officer's parched-and tightly pursed-lips.

Jim felt the touch of a hand on the back of one of his tightly clenched fists, and forced his tightly closed eyes-and mouth-back open.

The woman tipped the cup up.

And his unbelieveably thirsty boss drained its entire cool, soothing contents. "The...two a' you...all right?" Jim Crown anxiously inquired.

"You saw ta that.." the nurse numbly responded-with several solemn nods.

"Hold me, Katelyn..." the Marshal said-so softly that the reporter had to read the lawman's lips.

And the lady tenderly took the man she loved up into her arms.

"He-ey..." Jim whispered-sometime later-as he became aware of the fact that the woman was crying, "No regrets...Remember?" Then his boss pulled back a bit to brush the tears from the lovely lady's beautiful-but damp-eyes.

"No regrets..." Katelyn came back-rather shakily.

Jim Crown smiled sadly up at the woman he loved. "We...make a...a pretty an' I..." he began a bit breathlessly. "Ain'...neither one a' us...kin...lie-ie...worth a darn!" he finished lightly-that sad smile of his broadening into a wry grin.

Katelyn forced a weak smile, herself and then kissed him-for what she now felt certain would be the last time...for she could feel him growing weaker and weaker with each labored breath.

"So little time..." the Marshal muttered regrettably-following their 'goodbye' kiss, "So precious...little...ti-ime." The two of them gazed-blurrily-into each other's eyes for quite a long, quiet while. Then the mortally wounded lawman stiffened and grimaced again, "Katelyn, I-I-" he cried and tried desperately to hold on to her-to life! But both just kept right on slipping away. His wildly racing heart skipped a few beats-and then just suddenly stopped!-all together.

Katelyn grimaced as well-as the Marshal went limp in her arms. "I know, my darling," she assured him softly, "I know..." she repeated. Then she tightened her hold on the lawman and slowly began rocking his lifeless body back and forth. "No-o!" she shouted as two men tried to take Jim from her, "I need more time!" She couldn't let go yet-not just yet! He'd just breathed his last breath-his body was still warm! "Too little time!" Katelyn bitterly exclaimed-and began sobbing softly on the dead Marshal's shoulder. "Too...precious...little...ti-ime!" she numbly repeated-and kept right on crying...and holding on to all that remained of Jim Crown.

MacGregor and the Senator showed up just then, prodding their prisoner along with the barrels-and butts-of their borrowed rifles. The possee reached the place along the platform where a large crowd of bystanders still stood-forming a sort a' semi-circle. The crowd parted as they approached-and their grim little procession halted.

The Marshal's assassin stared down at the 'Legend's' life-less body for a few moments. "I did it!" the kid bragged with a big, broad grin, "I really did it! I KILLED 'Doc' Crown!"

"Why, yer nothin' but a cold-blooded MER-R-R-R-DERER!" an enraged MacGregor reminded the blaggard. "The man was no' even wearin' a gun!" the Scotsman tacked on-from between tightly clenched teeth.

Then, Francis watched as Mac proceeded to 'whack' the grin clean off'n the gunman's face-with the back-side of one of his tightly clenched fists!

"No matter!" the legend's cocky young killer came back, "It'll still be me folks'll be readin' about in all the papers! "ME! I KILLED 'DOC CROWN'!"

"No-o!" Francis quickly corrected as he slipped effortlessly to the ground, "I-I did!" he bitterly stated and then stepped over to stare sadly down at his boss' dead body, "Ah-ah, Jim...I'm sorry...I'm so-o sorry!" When he looked up, a young woman was standing beside him-er, behind Katelyn-holding a baby boy in her arms. Jamie's aunty, no doubt. Francis couldn't quite make out the details of her face. It seemed that there his eyes.

And, speaking of something in someone's e-eyes...

Layer by layer by layer, the thick curtain of fog enveloping Jim Crown's consciousness began lifting. Correspondingly, the already intensely bright light-which was totally engulfing his vision-gradually increased in its brilliance, as well. So the squinting Marshal drew his left arm up-to shield his eyes from the painful onslaught, and slowly turned his head aside.

The lawman lay longer blinded. And-while he was trying to figure out where there was-his whole life suddenly flashed before him! Well, not his whole life-exactly. Just bits and pieces of the last half-a-decade or so of it. He blinked his still somewhat blurred vision into better focus and stared rather blankly about. Those images from the Marshal's past remained right there-right before his eyes!

Actually, pictures from the peace officer's past appeared everywhere! There he was, heading up a posse-shooting it out with the bad guys-placing those who surrendered under arrest-placing those who didn't, jes' plain under-carting the convicted off to prison-the condemned off to be executed. Yes, sir! The lawman lay there, reliving every stressful second of it! A whole lot of the trials an' tribulations of the last five years of his life-were all right there before him-all in black and white-and all signed: Francis L. Wilde.

An', speakin' a' Francis L. Wilde...

U.S. Marshal James Crown fully awoke to the sound of someone shouting. That 'someone' sounded a whole lot like Francis. An' what he was shouting was HIS name! Francis was calling for him! So he tossed his covers off and attempted to rise. Agony and exhaustion overwhelmed him, however...and he collapsed back onto his bed-er, Francis' bed. Another shouted summons from his obviously agitated friend-and he somehow summoned the strength-to slide off of the bed and onto the floor. "Ahhh-ahh! Ow-ow!" were Crown's first and second involuntary reactions to his crash landing on the carpeted, but still hard, wood surface below. "Oh-oh...ohhhh..." the Marshal further bemoaned as he found that he was unable to move any further. The groggy lawman let out another long, involuntary groan-and then shivered. Jim Crown was cold. Except for a flimsy pair of white, cotton pants (Similar to those worn by Mexican peasants.) and his bandages, his battered body was buck naked. He heard the sound of someone's soft steps approaching...and then the 'rustling' of a woman's skirts.

"Huh-uh! Mister MacGregor?" Katelyn summoned, upon inhaling a startled 'gasp'.

"A-Aye?" came the Scotsman's anxious reply as Mac arrived-jes' moments later.

"Help me get him back on the be-" the woman's words were drowned out by yet another shouted request for "Ji-im!"s presence in the room next door.

Thusly inspired, the completely prone peace officer made yet another attempt to pick himself up off the floor.

"You lost an awful lot a' blood!" the nurse chastised as she assisted her hopelessly stubborn-and apparently determined-husband to his knees, "You're much too weak ta be movin' aroun' like this!"

Crown didn't debate the issue, "You two gonna lend me a hand, here?...Or am I gonna have ta...cra-awl...down the ha-all?"

Another plaintive plea-from the reporter jes' down the hall-helped the pair decide.

"Thanks!" the otherwise immobilized Marshal muttered appreciatively-as the two draped his arms about their necks and started hauling him to his bare feet.

Then, since the lawman's legs were much too weak to support his weight, the couple continued hauling him-clear into his room and right up to his bed.

Where-much to Dave Fisher's and Dulcey's dismay-a very distraught Francis L. Wilde continued to thrash wildly about.

They sat Jim down on the edge of the bed and he took a hold of his young friend's flailing arms from his old friend, Dave Fisher, "All right...I'm HERE! So. Now. What's all the fussin' about, Francis?"

Francis froze-right in mid-thrash and shot him a look of utter disbelief and absolute amazement. He began to reach for his boss' arms, but then hesitated. Francis was afraid to touch him-for fear he'd disappear! "Ji-im! I'm so-o sorry!...Y-You're NOT dead!" his stunned deputy stammered after Jim gave his arms a reassuring squeeze.

His boss' pale face took on a rather pained expression, "Well, yah don' have ta sound so disappointed," he teased, "'cuz it sure feels like I must a' come mighty close to it-"

"JI-IM!" the reporter interrupted, his voice-and face-now filled with rapturous joy, "It really is 'you'! You really are 'here'! You're really not 'dead'!

"We've been telling you that for the past five minutes!" an exasperated Miss Coopersmith reminded the exasperating reporter.

"Oh-oh, Jim!" a tremendously relieved looking Francis L. Wilde exclaimed, flinging his arms about his boss' neck and giving the resurrected Marshal a hu-uge hug, "You're alive! You're alive! Thank God! You're alive!"

Katelyn caught the really pained expression on Jim Crown's face and quickly came to his rescue, "Take it easy, Francis!" she gently urged, taking a tender hold of the reporter's wrists, "From what I was told, you came awful close ta death yerself!" she added-and released the grimacing peace officer from his nearly dead deputy's vice-like grip, "It appears you both came pretty close..."

"Too close!" Dulcey determined. "And it's time you both got some rest!" she tacked on-in a no-nonsense tone.

Katelyn shoved a steaming cup into Jim Crown's hand and then draped a blanket over his bare shoulders.

Her husband gave her a look of undying gratitude. Then he slowly straightened up and carefully released his held breath.

"I just had the most absolutely awfullest dream I ever dreamt-in my whole entire life!" Francis rather frantically announced, "Talk about a nightmre! I was all so real! Too real!"

"Yeah. Well, that's that vivid 'writer's' imagination a' yor-"

"I dreamt you were dead!" the 'writer' blurted out, interrupting his boss once again, "An' that it was all my-y fault-"

"Forget about it, Francis!" Jim Crown cut in-with what he thought was some sound advice, "I'm not dead-an' Mister Mareck won't be botherin' anybody...anymore!"

"Aye!" Mac gleefully interjected, "Mareck is in a pine box! And the Judge is in a jail cell-downstairs!".

"An' the Major's still sittin' in the stockade!" Dave Fisher finished-with a flare.

But the reporter drew no comfort from their words. Francis apparently would not-or could not-rest until he had related ev-er-y very vivid detail of his dreadfully appalling dream! The deputy disregarded all requests to discontinue his gruesome narrative-and would not stop speaking until his entire tragic tale had been told!

For the longest time after Francis finally finished, 'dead' silence filled the room. Nobody knew quite what to say.

They might a' remained speechless down ta this day-if Doctor Jarrod Michael Ellis hadn't a' come dashing into the room.

The pained expression-that had been planted on the 'mer-r-r-rdered' Marshal's face for the dream's entire telling-had spread...and was now clearly visible on everyone's visage-including Dulcey's.

"What's going on in here?" the good doctor demanded of the girl-and glanced around again. Charley Adam's had said that he was sorely needed but-except for the rather odd looks on their faces-EVERYBODY 'seemed' to be jes' fi-ine!

"Nothing," Miss Coopersmith finally answered, still sounding rather dazed, "Francis just had a...a bad 'dream', is all..."

"A-Aye!" MacGregor glumly agreed, "A very BAD 'dream', indeed!"

"The baddest!" Senator Fisher solemnly surmised.

The 'deceased' just sat there, looking very much like he could use a drink. He could! So he raised his steaming cup up and downed several very long swallows of its contents-which was definitely not coffee! The Marshal 'gasped' and then shot his nurse another grateful glance-as her hot brandy did an even better job of warming him up than did her blanket. Jim Crown 'winced' as he saw that his wife was...crying. Francis' reverie had been too real, all right! Wa-ay too real! The peace officer passed his cup on to the 'dreamer' (Who also looked like he needed a nice, stiff drink.) and then tenderly took the trembling lady into his blanketed arms. " was only a 'dream'," he gently reminded her.

"I know," Katelyn quietly confessed-and held on to her legendary husband for dear life, "It must be. Because I could never stand to ever really lose you!"

And, speaking of losing him...

The lady inhaled another startled 'gasp' as the Marshal's head just suddenly dropped onto her left shoulder-and the rest of his blanketed body went completely limp in her arms.

"Rela-ax!" Jarrod told the horror stricken group of Jim Crown's close acquaintances, "I'm sure he's not dead!" he quickly diagnosed and then stepped up to lend the legend's lovely nurse a hand with her burden. "He probably just passed out. This is just his body's way of telling him that it's running a little low on blood," the good doctor explained. "He's going to be jes' fi-ine!" Jarrod concluded, upon completing his initial exam. "Provided we can keep him horzontal-for awhile..." he tentatively tacked on, and then turned his attention to his other patient, "Francis, how would you feel about trading rooms? I think the Marshal might be more...comfortable in his own bed..." Actually, the young doctor was more concerned about his passed out patient's peace of mind. While checking on the legend's condition from time to tome, the physician had managed to examine most of the hundreds of pictures that were plastered all over all four walls of the room next door. Francis' photographs were good...way too good! And, knowing Jim Crown-as the doctor now felt he did-Jarrod knew how uncomfortable it must make the Marshal feel to have to be in the company of all those killers and outlaws again!

"I was just gonna suggest that, myself," the young reporter-who also knew Jim Crown rather well-rather dryly remarked.

MacGregor immediately produced a key, and then-even more promptly-proceeded to release the reporter from his leg irons.

As Mac and the Senator carefully lifted Jarrod's conscious patient up off the bed, Dulcey and Katelyn carefully lowered his unconscious patient down onto it.

The Marshal's head had hardly hit his pillow-and they had barely got him situated-when he started to come around.

"Lie still!" Katelyn sternly admonished, and pressed her husband's forehead back into a horizontal position, "You need ta rest now!"

Jim Crown's half-opened eyes uncrossed. The lawman locked them onto the lovely lady's still damp eyes and his hand onto her wrist, "I'd rest a whole lot easier...knowin' you...were right here...beside me..." he unabashedly announced.

All eyes in the room watched-as the prone peace officer scootched over some and then re-extended his request by patting the empty space he'd just provided for her.

All eyes in the room widened-as Katelyn carefully stretched out on the bed beside Jim Crown-and then snuggled cozily up in his arms. "It's all right," she assured their stunned audience, "We're married."

The group looked even more 'stunned' and then, somewhat skeptical. With all that had been goin' on the past few days, when did the pair ever find the time to tie the knot?

"Co-on-n-g-gratulations!" Dulcey somehow managed to utter-er, stutter.

"When did this blessed union supposedly occur?" the Senator asked, suddenly giving voice to his skepticism.

"And why were we no' invited?" Mac inquired, sounding a bit put off.

"It happened at around four o'clock in the mornin'-" the Mashal obligingly began, but then hesitated.

"The day before yesterday..." his wife finished for him.

Francis exchanged amazed glances with the two men who were supporting his weight, "How did you ever find a preacher at that 'ungodly' hour?"

"We didn' need a...preacher," Katelyn assured him and stared accusingly into her husband's dreamy, dark eyes, "Did we..."

Jim Crown gazed rather innocently back at her for a few moments, but then smiled in such a wry, shy, sly way that everyone in the room caught on to what had occurred.

Well, almost everyone...

"So then, who performed the cere...mon...y?" the doctor's words trailed off as what had happened finally occurred to him. Then he turned to Miss Coopersmith, looking even more confused, "Can Marshal's do that sort of thing?"

The bride and groom exchanged grins.

"I have it on very good authority," Katelyn slyly replied, "that Marshal's can and will, do-"

"Whatever they kin get away with!" the Marshal finished softly-and then tried to get away with a kiss. Successful in his first attempt, Jim Crown tried to get away with a second, and a third and a fourth, and a-"I kin feel another...powerful urge...ta commit matrimony...comin' on..." the marryin' Marshal quietly confessed-between kisses. And then insincerely added, "You're all welcome ta stay an' 'witness' it...Las' one out...close the door," the grateful groom requested-as his grinning friends graciously declined his weddin' invite and began, instead, to file from the room.

Speaking of the lawman's friends...

Jarrod glanced from the legend's ladyfriend to his leg irons-and then back to his ladyfriend again. "She should be able to keep him 'horizontal'...for a while..." the doctor determined-under his breath, and then turned his attention to his own ladyfriend. "I really do admire his style!" he declared in a whisper-when he caught up to Miss Coopersmith in the hallway.

"Indeed!" the still grinning girl agreed.

"Maybe we could get the Marshal to marry us?" Jarrod half-jokingly suggested-as he latched onto the knob and then pulled the door behind them shut.

"Maybe..." Miss Coopersmith thoughtfully concurred. "Perhaps...later should ask him..." she rather whimsically suggested-and then turned to go.

Jarrod somehow overcame his astonishment and caught up with the pretty girl again. Dulcey still looked every bit as pretty to him. Perhaps even prettier-now that he'd had the opportunity to view her inner beauty.

"I will!" Jim Crown called out to them-through his closed portal.

The couple in the hall exchanged grins.

Then the 'Stranger' pulled the pretty little 'Lady' up into his arms-and kissed her.

Chapter Fifty-One

U.S. Marshal James Crown's bed-ridden backside had begun killin' 'im so that, by the third day-he was sittin' up and, by the fourth-he was standin'!

"It's open!" the half-dressed lawman told whoever it was that was 'rappin'' on his room's door.

Francis Wilde's heavily bandaged head poked itself into Marshal Crown's quarters and he gave his still a bit pale lookin'-and equally heavily bandaged-boss an accusing glare, "You s'posed ta be out a' bed?"

"Are you-ou?" his boss asked right back.

The writer looked a bit sheepish and quickly changed the subject, "Kin I talk ta you for a minute?"

"Sure! C'mon in," the lawman warmly invited, but then looked a little nervous, "Unless it's about that 'dream' a' yores! Then, I don' wanna hear it!"

The reporter looked unsure as to whether or not he should enter, for he had, indeed, come to discuss his 'dream'. Or, rather, to talk about how to stop his 'dream' from becoming a reality! He took a chance and entered, closing the door behind him as he did so. "There's not much I kin do to undo the damage. But there is somethin' you kin do ta minimize it. Please, Jim? For yore sake-an' mine? PROMISE me you won't ever go out in public WITHOUT yore gun?"

The Marshal-who was now but one boot shy of bein' fully dressed-paused in mid-pull to shoot his anxious young guest a deeply skeptical glance.

"I know-I know how strongly you feel about this!" Francis assured him, "Sometimes-when you get back-why, you're barely through the door and you've already got yore gun belt off! But I can't help but think a' how diff'rently my 'dream' might a' ended if you would a' only had a gun! You could a' fired back as you dove for cover! A gun might a' saved yore life!"

"Fra-ancis-" his even more skeptical boss began.

"Just hear me out!" his even more anxious young friend interrupted-er, pleaded. "I ain't slept in days! Every time I close my eyes, I relive that 'nightmare'! Yore promise'll grant me at least some peace a' mind. I know you think I'm bein' irrational," the guilt-ridden reporter declared. "But I cain't help the way I feel! I feel that yore life is in a whole lot a' danger! An' I feel that it's all my fault," he softly-and sadly-summed up.

His boss did-indeed-think that he was bein' irrational...totally irrational! But, after days without any sleep-who wouldn' be? Jim Crown's face scrunched up a might-as he considered his deputy's little proposition'' over, "Never ever?"

"Never, never ever !"

The Marshal winced, "That could tend ta be a bit...'awkward' at times..."

His deputy shot him a pitiful, pleading-almost desperate look.

Jim Crown sighed-an' surrendered, "All right, Francis-if it'll make you sleep any easier..." (If it would make him sleep period!)

The author of 'Taming the Territory' looked tremendously relieved, "Promise?"

His boss' eyes narrowed and he exhaled another sigh-this one of exasperation, "I promise!"

The deliriously happy deputy suddenly looked pensive', "Promise you will always remember yore 'promise'!" Francis further proposed.

The Marshal's already squinting eyes narrowed into menacing slits. (His sleepless deputy was pushin' it!) "I promise...that I will do my best...ta ALWAYS remember my 'promise'."

Francis gave his obliging boss a grateful smile-along with his gun belt.

Jim stomped his boot all the way on. Then he stood up and started-rather reluctantly-to strap on his gu-un. "It's open!" he called out-with just a trace of irritation-to the latest 'knocker' on his door.

And MacGregor strolled merrily into the Marshal's chambers. But-as the Scotsman noted the pallor of the completely upright peace officer's face, a scow-owl filled his own, "Is it no', perhaps, just a tad bit premature for you ta be vacatin' that bed?"

"The longer a body lies in bed, the longer it takes 'im ta get goin' again," his bent over boss wisely? surmised. Then he finished fastening the tie-down, (which kept his holster from floppin' around) straightened stiffly-an' sorely-up and calmly asked if his Chief Deputy had anything to report.

"Every thing has been returned to its 'rightful' place, and every one is on their 'best' behavior," the deputy dutifully reported. "After all, there are no fewer than four U.S. Marshals in town. Five-countin' yerself. And eight Deputy U.S. Marshals. Ten-if you include Francis and me. Five Town Marshals, and an entire company of U.S. Cavalry troops! With close to a thousand more soldiers due to arrive any day! Oh, and Mr. Winsom brought this wire over for you..." Mac added and passed his pale-and pigheaded-boss the piece of paper he'd been holding in his hand.

The lawman opened the telegram and related its contents-aloud, "Roger Mareck's assistant in the Justice Department was Blaise Phillip's secretary-a Mrs. Sandra Riesen..whose maiden name happens to be Sandra Mareck!" So-o, it was Roger Mareck's relative that had engineered the interception of his telegrams and waylaid his aid!

Katelyn came along just then-and was about to comment on her husband's having left his bed-when she noticed the daring-defiant even-look in his narrowed eyes.

He was daring her to say something like, 'Should you be out of be-ed?'

So the lady flashed the lawman the loveliest of smiles and said, "It's about time you got up!" instead.

That look of defiance in the Marshal's dark eyes changed to one of amusement. He gave the beautiful woman back her smile, "I'm late for my rounds," he nonchalantly announced, and-after planting a kiss on the pretty lady's lovely brow-he tipped his hat and began heading for the door.

"Morning rounds have already been made," MacGregor informed him.

"Not by me-e they haven't," he reminded Mac. Then, jes' before leavin' the room, Jim turned to Francis and strongly suggested that his sleepy lookin' young friend, "Go get some shut eye!"

The Marshal made his rounds-for the last time. (With Martial Law now in effect, the lawman was no longer needed to keep the peace. Soldiers of the United States Army would now be patrolling Cimarron's streets.) Then he held a joint conference in his office-of all law officers in the immediate area.

Jim Crown's fellow Marshal's were as amazed by the unmitigated gall of Roger Mareck-as he was!

In going through the deceased's things, papers had been discovered in which plans were uncovered. The arrogant entrepreneur had arranged (through bribery and extortion) to have Cimarron named as the new Territory's seat of Government, and himself appointed Territorial Governor! Certainly the new Territory's citizens would have had something to say about tha-at!

The Marshal pointed out that the little man had been too full of himself to pay 'them' any attention. He also pointed out that THEY had all arrived too late to be of any assistance! (Which everyone agreed was typical of the way the Government functioned-er, dysfunctioned!)

So-o, after sharing a bottle or two of his best 'company' whiskey with them, the peace officer passed along the notion that it was time for them all to go back where they came from-himself included! The task of maintaining Civil Order in the Territory was now in the hands of the Army.

Speakin' a which...

No sooner had Jim Crown's 'company' left, when Senator Fisher and Lieutenant Anderson entered his office-er, correction, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Anderson!

"Congratulations, Lieutenant-Colonel?" the Marshal stated and stood there, looking completely perplexed. The young officer had-somehow-been promoted right on past the ranks of Captain and Major! Jim glanced knowingly at his ole buddy from back East.

Dave saw the lawman's look and shrugged, "I have this...friend in the War Department. The General just happened ta owe me a couple a' favors. An' anyways, he earned it! It weren't exactly easy savin' yore 'bacon'!"

Just as Jim Crown was about to comment, himself, on the young man's meritorious actions, Dulcey Coopersmith came barging in to his office-all excited.

"Listen to this!" the girl urged and began to read-what appeared to be-a telegram, "While it is not customary for them to do so, United States Territorial Marshal's do have the juris prudence to perform marriages! Therefore, all such contracts would be both legal and binding-even in the absence of witnesses! Respectfully, Judge William L. Fulton, Federal Justice for the Superior Court of the State of Kansas!" Then, to her adopted father, she exclaimed-most joyously, "You really are married! It really is legal! And you can 'legally' marry us!" she added-as her 'Stranger' came strolling into the room.

"I've been looking all over for you!" the doctor declared, and flashed his errant patient-and not his pretty fiancee-a rather foreboding frown, "You rip those sutures out-That's it! I'm not sewing you up again!"

The lawman completely ignored his frowning physician's threats and directed his undivided attention towards Dulcey, "Martial Law has been declared. Which means that the Army is in charge of the Territory now. I no longer have any jurisdiction here. I'm not a 'Territorial Marshal' anymo-"

"Normally," Senator David Samuel Fisher suddenly cut in, "that would be the case. However, the President's 'Directive' gives you complete control of the Army. Which means that you-ou are still the highest FEDERAL authority in the Strip! You were a 'Territorial Marshal' at the time of yore own wedding, and you'll be one at the time a' their wedding, too!"

The 'Territorial Marshal' found his old friend's little revelation most astoundin'! He really was 'married'! It really was 'legal'! And he legally could marry them!

Jarrod glanced up from the telegram Dulcey had handed him and shot his vertical-and still ghostly pale-patient another look of extreme annoyance. "He'll probably pass out-right in the middle of the ceremony!" the groom-to-be rather glumly predicted.

Jim was about to inform the kid that he was feelin' jes' fi-ine!-when his beautiful WIFE arrived with their son in her arms-and a wire in her hand.

"My sister's comin' ta Cimarron!" the pretty little lady joyously proclaimed, "She'll be arrivin' on this afternoon's train!"

Her husband appeared pleasantly surprised, but then looked thoughtful-and even a little panicky, "It mus' be close ta two, now!" he realized right out loud. "I'd better change an' get on down ta that depot! When a man meets his 'in-laws' for the first time," Jim Crown continued, plucking the paper from Jarrod's palm and passing it on to his spouse, "he wants ta make a good impression!" Then he flashed the confused female a wry grin and left to go see about makin' as good a first impression as he possibly could.

The little lady perused the piece of paper the peace officer had placed in her hand for a moment or two. Then her face lit up and her head snapped up, "I knew it!" Mrs. Crown rather proudly-and loudly-declared. "I could feel it!" she added-somewhat reverently, "It jes' 'felt'...right!"

"There you are Dulcey, girl!" MacGregor exclaimed as he came sailing into the Federal Marshal's Office. "Ah just got a telegram from Sarah Burke! She's comin' back for a visit! Yah do no' suppose you could find a room for her here-at the Inn?" he pleadingly pondered.

"Oh, Mac, that's wonderful! Yes! Of course!" the Innkeeper promised, "We have plenty of room!" (Wishing to devote all of her time to tending to Jim and Francis, Dulcey had kept the Wayfarer's closed-to the general public.) "When will she be arriving?"

"In about fifteen minutes!" MacGregor anxiously answered, "Do Ah need a shave?"

It was then that Dulcey realized the Scotsman was sporting his best-and only-suit.

"You look very handsome!" she assured the 'suitor', suppressing a smile all the while.

"Ah, Ah could change," Mac anxiously determined, "The two o'clock is never on time!"

"I wouldn't change a thing!" the now grinning girl reassured him.

Mac heaved a sigh of relief and then glanced around the room. It was then that he noticed the Marshal was absent, "Where's Ji-im?"

Katelyn passed the late arrival both telegrams, "He's upstairs-workin' on a good impression."

"My wife and my assistant will also be arrivin'-shortly," the Senator said, "Maggie'll be stayin' with me. But we'll be needin' a room for Jordan..."

"No problem!" his hospitable host informed him, "Just tell the baggage handler to bring over their luggage!"

Dave gave the obligin' gal a grateful smile and then turned to the doctor, "You're a lucky young man!"

Jarrod stared dreamily into his betrothed's soft, blue eyes and whispered rather wistfully, "Don't I know it!" Doctor Kilghren had wired that his sister had surprisingly recovered and so he would be returning to his practice in Cimarron. Jarrod had received two telegrams, himself. One-from New York. And the other-all the way from Paris! The Board of Directors at that New York hospital wired, begging him to reconsider the surgical position they were offering. Monsieur Pasteur had put it plain and simple: Jarrod had a natural, God-given, surgical ability and he shouldn't waste it by running away. The skilled young surgeon had discussed the matter over with Dulcey. The girl would go along with whatever her husband considered-or, reconsidered-doing. Ye-es, he was a lucky young man, all right! They would be leaving for New York-just as soon as affairs there-in Cimarron-could be settled.

Jim Crown fastened and refastened the black ribbon tie about his neck-'til it looked jes' ri-ight. Then he stepped back from his dresser bureau and scrutinized his spit an' polished reflection in its spit an' polished mirror. The peace officer was sporting his sharpest black, three-piece suit. And his Peace-Maker. The big, bulkey, .45 caliber Colt (clearly visible beneath his coat) was not the kind a' first impression he had wanted ta make. But, a promise was a promise! He slapped his Stetson back on and began headin' for the door.

"What's the occasion?" Francis Wilde wondered as he bumped into his all spruced up boss in the hall-just outside his room.

"I'm about ta meet my wife's sister for the first time!" Jim told him. Then, upon seeing the bizarre-lookin', telescopin', glass-lensed, box-shaped contraption in the reporter's hands, he pondered, "That yore revolutionary new camera?"

The revolutionary new camera's owner/operator nodded, "The, uh, papers back East want pictures a' all the people pourin' inta town."

Satisifed, the Marshal turned and started striding confidently off-in the direction of the stairs. "Sleep well?" Jim queried-as Francis caught up with him.

"Like a baby!" the writer replied and matched the armed Marshal-stride for stride.

"We-ell!" Katelyn exclaimed as she caught her first glimpse of her handsome husband, "I don' know 'bout my kid sister, but I am certainly impressed!"

The transformed Marshal smiled and kissed the pretty, impressed lady for her compliment.

"Then," Francis suddenly said, sounding rather nervous, "yore sister is younger than you...?"

Katelyn nonchalantly nodded. But then it dawned on her what the writer was gettin' at-and she turned back to shoot the good-lookin' fellah in the three-piece suit an anxious-no-o, an alarmed glance.

Jim watched as the woman's rather alarmed expression spread to the rest of his friends' faces. The Marshal groaned in mental anguish-as he realized that everybody in the room had-regretably-just recalled the journalist's rather tragic reverie-e-er, 'nightmare'! (Upon the young doctor's insistance, Dulcey had related the 'dream' to Jarrod. And the Senator had mentioned the incident to Charley Adams and the young Lt...Colonel.) "As a common courtesy ta yore sister," Jim Crown announced with narrowed eyes, "I am goin' down ta the depot ta meet that train! An' I don' want ta hear another word about that-DREAM!" And, with that-and one, last menacing glare-the courteous-an' furious-lawman stormed out of his office!

And left everybody just a standin' there!

Chapter Fifty-Two

"Lt. Colonel, Mark Anderson awaiting your orders, Sir!" the young Cavalry officer proclaimed as he marched up onto the depot platform and gave the pale, pacing peace officer a rather snappy salute.

"At ea-ease!" Jim ordered with a roll of his eyes. "Better yet-DISMISSED! You're too old-an' too capable-ta have ta be told what ta do..." he tacked on with a grin.

The capable young Colonel returned the Marshal's grin-and acknowledged his compliment with a slight bow of his head. Then he spun on his heels and headed back down the stairs to hold a huddled conference with two of his staff sergeants.

"I know why I'm dressed like this," the fellah in the black, three-piece suit said ta the fellah in the blue, three-piece suit, "but what's got you 'all gussied up', Mac?"

"Miss Sarah Lou Burke is comin' back for a visit," the Scotsman explained as he stepped up onto the platform to stand beside his boss.

"Oh-oh?" the Marshal innocently acknowledged, but then he and his other deputy exchanged knowing glances.

"An' you kin bet there's more ta his presence here than common courtesy!" the young reporter reasoned with a grin. Then he stepped up and stood at his boss' other elbow.

Jim was about to ask both of his close friends for a little elbow room, when Charley Adams suddenly stepped up behind him. "What're YOU doin' here?"

"I came ta see if you wanted ta go fishin'," Charley told his suspicious chum. "But you kin forget it, Crown! 'Cuz you don' look like you could make it ta the river!" he added-with reference to his fishin' partner's extreme pallor.

Crown's pale face scrunched up a might and his mouth dropped open. But, before he could comment on Charley's comments, his old friend from back East appeared before him.

"Maggie's really looking forward ta seein' you, again," Dave declared, "it's been five whole years since the Whitehouse Ball!"

The now completely surrounded Marshal gave his bodyguards-er, good friends-'oh-oh brother' looks. "I-I am goin' over there..." he calmly pointed out and directed their attention to the empty other end of the platform. "An' you-ou are not!" he firmly added-with reference to the four a' them. Then he elbowed his way clear a' the crowd and assumed his new-OFF LIMITS ta friends-position.

"I told yous it would never work," Doctor Jarrod Michael Ellis reminded the legend's glum-looking friends. Then he faced Francis and rather matter-of-factly asked, "Will you be my best man?"

"Sure!" Francis fired back, "Who's the unlucky lady?"

"That's not funny!" the physician further reminded his now grinning groomsman.

A train whistle sounded-somewhere's off in the very great distance.

"So," the doctor said as the writer jerked his unbandaged head in the ominous? sound's direction, "what did this 'girl of your dreams' look like?"

"Tha-at's not 'funny'!" the anxious-an' on edge-reporter quickly pointed out and began monkeyin' with his new camera.

The Marshal had found and wound his watch. When the whistle blew, he pulled the tickin' time-piece out-opened it up-and examined it. "It's late..." he announced to no one in particular and returned the watch to his vest pocket. "Which makes it right on schedule!" he added lightly. The lawman looked around him.

Everybody in their little group seemed ta be goin' out a' their way ta NOT be where they were in the 'nightmare'.

Crown couldn' help but notice how the people with him on the platform occasionally scanned the skies. 'Prob'ly keepin' their eyes peeled-in case any a' them 'puffy white wisps a' clouds' should happen ta come floatin' along,' the lawman rather lightly surmised-solely to himself. His own decision ta steer clear a' Katelyn had nothin' ta do with some superstitious nonsense about Francis' nightmare. Crown was jes' bein cautious...real cautious. And-bein' cautious-he kept his eyes down ta earth! And so he saw it-right at the corner of the train station's storage shed! Jim Crown caught a glimpse of something-a tiny, bright flash a' light-like the sun glinting off of metal! The Marshal stiffened and what blood he had ran cold-as he realized he was staring down the metal bore of a rifle! And he couldn't duck! Because, right behind him-in the direct line a' fi-ire-were Katelyn an' Jamie! "Everybody! GET DO-OWN!" he shouted. Then he turned around and shoved his wife-and child-out of the way.

The rifle 'cracked'!

Something plucked at the lawman's left side and he was catapulted-backwards-clean off'n the platform!

Katelyn had screamed when the shot first rang out. And-as Jim Crown was spun completely around and hurled to the ground-his horrified wife let out another hair-raising 'screa-eam'!

As he was falling, Crown jerked out his Colt and squeezed off several shots in the immediate area of his attacker. The Marshal also swung himself around in mid-air, so that-when he finally did hit the ground-he was face down. Which enabled the agile lawman to take advantage of his momentum and somersault himself over to the protective cover of some packing crates. There seemed to be a great deal of commotion going on around him, so Jim just stayed-right where he laid-and listened.

Elliot Polk had been stalking the Marshal for the past ten minutes. It had taken the outlaw over four days of constant struggle to work his wrists free of his bonds. In the process, he'd rubbed the hide off'n his hands-and the bark off'n that tree he'd been tied to. Nearly dead-from thirst an' starvation-what had kept the hapless fool going was his goal: To kill Marshal Crown-for trussin' 'im up ta that tree an' leavin' 'im there-ta rot! (What-with carin' for her wounded husband an' all-Katelyn had completely forgotten about her 'brained' prisoner!) The crazed-an' jes' plain crazy-gunman grinned as his first shot made contact with its intended target. Then his grin vanished and he pulled his head back around the side of the shed. His shot had not proved fatal-for his intended target was returning fire!

As were several dozen other 'armed and dangerous' allies of the fallen lawman.

Polk decided to retreat and try to accomplish his glorious goal from a new-an' less open-position. One of the last sounds he heard was the shouted order to "HALT!" and the last sight he saw was a young soldier-bringing his rifle up to his shoulder. 'Perhaps,' Polk told himself as he toppled head-long into the dust, 'I should a' halted...'

"It's all clear, Colonel!" Elliot Polk's executioner shouted, "The sniper's DEAD!"

Elliots Polk's intended target exhaled a sore sigh of relief. The Marshal was most happy ta hear that! Jim gasped again and-after slipping his gun back into its holster-slowly started sitting up.

The target's terrified wife was the first to reach him-closely followed by his horrified physician.

Seeing the looks of absolute dread on their faces-and being as how he was still too breathless to speak-the lawman tried to muster up a reassuring smile. But, having a rifle bullet-fired from relatively close range-ricochet off'n yore rib cage did not leave a body feelin' like smilin'. So the best Crown could come up with was a reassurin' 'wink'.

The look on Katelyn's face changed to a mixutre of relief a-and disbelief, "I saw you get hit!"

"The bullet...jes' left side," the 'target' told her-through tightly clenched teeth, "as soon as the pain passes...I'll be all ri-ight!" Jim Crown gasped and his already grimacing face contorted-as the young doctor's probing fingers explored his wound.

At the sight of the six-inch long crease in the lawman's left side, the physician's frown deepened. Then he lowered the Marshal's bloodied shirt-tail and soberly announced his findings, "Looks like I get to stitch you up again, afterall..."

"Later, Doc'!" his now apparently pain-free patient promised. The rest of Jim's anxious looking' friends had appeared by then. The peace officer extended his arms to two of them and they obligingly pulled him to his feet. And it felt so good to be standing again, that the lawman actually managed a grin! "Right now, I got ta mee-"

"Do you recognize this man, Marshal?" the Colonel suddenly inquired.

Crown stared down at the corpse the Colonel's men were carrying, as though he were looking at a ghost! "His last name is Polk," the peace officer replied.

"Oo-oops!" Katelyn gulped as she, too, caught sight of the cadaver in question.

A look of dawning understanding came over Jim Crown-closely followed by one of fury, "You were there! My shot in the dark wasn' so lucky, after all! You clobbered 'im over the head, didn' you?"

The lovely lady looked guilty as charged, "What with one thing an' another...I plumb forgot about hi-im!"

The lawman looked even more furious, "Of all the crazy FOOL 'stunts'! You could a' been KILLED!"

"So could a' YOU-OU!" Katelyn quickly came back, "He was fixin' ta shoot you!"

"I was shootin' ba-ack!" the Marshal reminded her, "It could a' been me that KILL'T you!"

"I du-ucked!" the lady stated-in her defense.

Her husband grimaced and gasped in exasperation. Then he glanced heavenward and mumbled something under his breath about her bein' pig-headed.

"Mus' be the company I keep!" she annoyedly shot back.

As the lawman lowered his gaze, the look in his dark, green eyes was more one of amusement than anger. He and his feisty wife exchanged smiles.

Then-relieved that they were both still breathing-the couple collapsed into each other's arms-amidst cheers of approval-an' much applause.

Noting that it was the woman who had managed to get in the last word, MacGregor determined right out loud-to the entire assembled crowd, "Ah think Marshal Crown may a' finally met 'is match!"

Speakin' a' meetin' things...

The new brother-in-law suddenly broke free of their embrace and stared glumly down at his completely disarrayed-and dust-covered-self. "So much for first impressions..." he muttered dejectedly.

"Oh-oh...I dunno," his spouse stooped down to retrieve his Stetson and-after brushin' the dust off'n it a bit-placed it upon his hangin' head like it was a crown, "she looks pretty impressed ta me!"

Jim's head snapped up as her words sank in an' then he quickly snapped it around.

There, on the track, sat an entire train load of impressed looking people! Some of them had their heads hanging out of the windows. All of them had their eyes opened wide. Half of them had their brows arched high, and most all of their jaws were slack. The passengers had-apparently-just witnessed what had happened there!

One pretty little passenger in particular stepped down onto the disembarking platform and declared as much, "THAT was the most amazing thing I've ever seen-in my whole entire life!"

The amazing Marshal's face scrunched up a might. Then-before turnin' towards his audience, the 'legend' flicked some of the dust from the front of his suit and—carefully-tucked his bloodied shirt back in.

"KRISTY?" Francis suddenly exclaimed and snapped his head up from his new camera's view finder, "Kristina Samuelson?" he elaborated as the familiar young lady flew down the stairs and into her older sister's open arms.

"FRANCIS!" Katelyn's kid sister exclaimed herself and-after giving her big sister's handsome husband's hand a hearty shake and his slightly damaged body a warm, but careful, embrace-'Kristy' turned and hugged the incredulous cameraman, as well. "Or-should I say-Mister journalist an' world famous author!...Francis an' I are old school chums," she went on to explain-for her sister's and brother-in-law's sakes. "We shared the same writing courses at Wesley Junior College. 'Til you left ta find yore fame an' fortune!" she added, sounding just a tad bit disappointed.

"I had ta leave," her classmate glumly confessed, "I didn't have the money ta pay for my tuition."

The young lady looked both sad a-and happy to hear that. "You simply must sign this for me!" she insisted and released the hold she had been keeping on the reporter's arms to thrust a copy of 'Taming The Territory' at him. "Somethin' tells me," the pretty miss proclaimed, "that this book is definitely non-fiction!"

The still completely overwhelmed young writer glanced back at his boss as the girl took one of his arms in her's and began towing him off. "P-Pretty mu-uch..."Francis finally managed to stammer.

Kristy looked even more amazed and then somewhat curious, "No-ow, where is that young nephew a' mine?"

Katelyn stared after her kid sister, lookin' a tad bit disappointed herself. Kristy was obviously more impressed-er, interested in Francis than in either of them. Oh well, at least she hadn't completely forgotten the baby!

Kristina Samuelson's brother-in-law smiled as Dulcey handed Jamie over to his aunty. The Marshal was right! There really was nothin' more 'mystifyin'' than a female!

Speakin' a' whi-ich...

"Ma-ac!" a vaguely familiar female voice suddenly called out.

"Sarah!" the Scotsman shouted back.

And all heads turned in the newest arrival's direction.

"Ah, lass!" Mac exclaimed to the beautiful woman who threw herself into his open arms, "Ah kin no' begin ta tell yah how good it is ta have yah back!"

"Ah-ah, MacGregor!" the misty-eyed-and mystifyin'-female joyously proclaimed, "I've missed yah! Yah handsome devil!" Sarah gave the grinning Scotsman another hearty-and heartfelt-embrace and then shot his banged up a bit boss a sobering glance, "I see you're still making enemies, Marshal..." she noted and motioned to the motionless fellow being hauled off to the undertaker's.

"Eh-yeah," the lawman had to glumly admit. "But not as fast as I'm makin' friends!" he added with a grin. "Sarah, I'd like you ta meet my wife, Katelyn. Katelyn, this is Miss Sarah Lou Burke-an old acquaintance a' Mac'' mine."

The two women exchanged warm smiles and handshakes.

"You got a line yet on any fast horses?" Mac's old acquaintance suddenly inquired of him, "In a 'land rush', the best land belongs to the riders with the fastest horses!"

'Or ta people with friends in the right places...' the Marshal mused and patted the completely filled out-and filed- homestead application forms in his coat pocket. (Jim really was no-o angel.)

"When did you hear about the Outlet opening?" MacGregor asked in astonishment as his old acquaintance took him by the arm and began towing him off.

"Five days ago," Sarah matter-of-factly informed him, "I left San Francisco the moment I got the Marshal's telegram. My dress business is so successful that I am-yah might say-financially independent. I just had to come back and help you get your-barley! After all, it was your-generosity that got me started!" (Three years back, the woman had received $500 in 'reward' money from Mac.)

As the grateful-and lovely-lady gave his left arm a warm squeeze, Mac glanced back over his shoulder and gave his good friend an eternally grateful glance.

The Marshal shrugged, "It's the company I keep..." he lightly surmised and then he and the Scotsman exchanged wry smiles.

"Katelyn," Jim Crown said as Dave Fisher's 'better half' came stepping up, "I'd like you ta meet another old acquaintance a mine. Maggie Fisher, this is my wife, Katelyn."

The two women exchanged warm smiles and handshakes.

"It's been a long time, Maggie. How have you been? An' how are the children?" her husband's best friend wondered and gave the beautiful mother of five a warm embrace.

"Travel-between Washin'ton an' Texas-keeps me on the move," Maggie replied, "but I LOVE ta travel! An', runnin' two households keeps me busy. The children have all been hopelessly spoiled-by their father!"

"Speakin' a' their father...Where is Dave?" Jim pondered. What with all a' the people milling about-it was hard ta keep track of anybody.

"He gave me a hug when I got off the train and then went into a huddle with Jordan-an' that young writer friend a' yores..." Maggie said as she, too, scanned the crowd. "Here they come now..." she added-upon spying the approaching conspirators.

"What's this?" Jim nervously inquired as Dave placed a large envelope-and several back East newspapers-in his hands.

"You kin read!" David Samuel Fisher reminded him, "I know, 'cuz, you taught me!"

The literate lawman shot the secretive Senator an annoyed glare-before opening the envelope and closely examining its contents. His head snapped up and his look of annoyance turned to one of incredulity, "Train tickets ta San' steamship passage for two ta AUSTRALIA?"

The travel planner looked extremely pleased with himself, "Consider it a weddin' present!"

"You want us ta honeymoon half-way 'round the world?" Jim Crown incredulously inquired.

The travel planner looked tremendously disappointed and snatched the envelope back, "They're not for you-ou! They're for Maggie an' me! Jes' read, James!" Dave impatiently implored of his now hopelessly confused partner-and flipped several of the newspapers open.

Jim Crown looked even more incredulous. He'd managed to make the headlines on all three of the prominent paper's front pages! DOC' CROWN TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY proclaimed one. LEGEND OF THE STRIP SETTLES IN AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK read another. RETIRED MARSHAL SOON TO BE AUSTRALIAN RANCHER said the third. The reader paused to shoot his young writer friend a puzzled stare.

"I decided Doc' should disappear," the legend's creator calmly expounded, "before he gets you killed!"

"An' Maggie's been after me for years ta take her somewhere-besides Washin'ton!" Dave calmly added. Then he pulled a silver band from out of his coat pocket and slipped it over the crown of his black Stetson, "Pretty slick, huh!"

"It's CRAZY!" Jim Crown corrected. But then thoughtfully added, "Jes' might be crazy enuff ta work!" And he gave the three schemers a grateful grin.

His wife-who had been reading over his shoulder-passed the papers back to Francis and then carefully pulled the Australian rancher? into her arms, "An' you said there was no 'future' for a Mrs. Crown!" the woman teased with a mischievous smile.

"No-o," her famous-er, infamous husband calmly corrected, "I said there was no 'future' for a Mrs. Marshal. But you may be right, too," he teased back. "What-with the Marshal retirin'' the Legend leavin' for Australia...It looks like you're gonna be left with just a poor...dumb...cowboy!"

"Oh-oh, I dunno," the lady determined with the loveliest of smiles, "you're not so-o 'dumb'!"

"He's not so 'poor', either..." Dave nervously announced and passed his partner another set of papers.

The lawman stared down at the leather-cased document in his hand and suddenly looked a little nervous himself. Then he untied the string, unfolded the thing and reluctantly perused its contents. Jim's jaw dropped and he stared up at Dave in utter astonishment! It was the deed to the 'Two Crowns'! Even more astonishing-his name was still on it!

"Estefan` Jazeres died two years ago," the Senator sadly announced, "He and his son drowned in a flash flood. 'Mrs.' Jazeres left-to be with her family in Mexico."

Jim Crown was deeply saddened to hear that yet another of his old friend's had died. For the longest time, the owner of the 'Two Crowns' was too stunned to speak. "How do YOU know all a' this?" the not so 'poor' and not so 'dumb' cowboy curiously inquired-when he finally recovered his composure.

"I was Estefan's lawyer," the politician/lawyer explained, "He hired me the moment I graduated from law school. Estefan used me ta keep track a' you all these years. Tom Donnely has been runnin' the place in Estefan's absence-as a personal favor ta me... an' you. Estefan gave the 'Two Crowns' back ta you over twenty years ago. But he didn' want me ta show you the deed 'til you were ready ta settle down an'-as he put it-'stop turnin' yore back on yore inheritance'..."

Speakin' a' settlin' things...

Jim Crown drew his right fist back and let the left side of his old friend's jaw have it!

The blow rocked David Samuel Fisher back and knocked him clean off'n his feet-again! "Thanks for pullin' yore punch, James!" Dave gratefully declared and gave his sore jaw a rub.

"I figured I'd better!" James said as he locked onto his partner's extended hand and hauled him up off'n the ground, "You might grow up some' become President! An' I didn' want you issuin' any a' them notorious 'Presidential Directives' declarin' open season on me-on account a' how I once broke yore jaw in the Indian Territory!"


Sixteen stitches, an unconventional weddin', an' one hell of a party later, (at which time Jim passed Mac free and clear title to six hundred acres of the fertilist soil in the whole, entire Cherokee Outlet-in Miss Sarah Lou Burke's name a' course) U.S. Marshal James Crown left Cimarron for the last time.

Along with him went his new wife and their young son, all of his books, pictures, paintings and office furniture, (includin' one special paperweight), his own personal saddle horses and his entire string of OFFICIAL GOVERNMENT USE ONLY mounts. (After five years-an' several thousands a' miles-Jim figured the animals were every bit as wore out as he was and needed retirin', too).

Speakin' a which...

At precisely noon, on the sixteenth of September, 1893, the U.S. Marshal's resignation officially took effect.

He and Katelyn settled down on the 'Two Crowns' an' began raisin'' horses...though, not necessarily in that order!


Author's note:

This fanfic was originally written in the early 70's. I fully intend to rewrite and beta

this story. It just will have to be at a later date.

Thanks for taking the time to read my Cimarron Strip Fanfiction.

Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. : )

: ) Ross7

Cimarron Strip Fanfiction

"The Death Of A Legend"

A Novel By Rosanne Emily Esbrook-Iho...a.k.a. Ross7

Based on characters created by Christopher Knopf, for the CBS Television Show


Disclaimer: Cimarron Strip is the sole property of Stuart Whitman, Inc..

The characters have been borrowed strictly for fun and not for fortune.