Disclaimer is in part one.

WILD WEST ADVENTURE PART FOUR
BY
SUZANNE POPPLEWELL


Betty finally dozed off in the rocker she had placed next to the bed around midnight, the damp rag falling from her hand to the floor. The next thing she was aware of, was a weak voice calling out her name.
"Betty. Are you still here?"
She was awake in an instant, and leaning over the narrow bed looking down at Victor's face. "Victor, you're awake! " She swiftly felt his face. "And your fever is gone. I was pretty worried for awhile, you were so warm."
"I'm awfully thirsty, Betty. Do you have any water?" He croaked in reply, the hoarse voice hardly sounding like his usual baritone.
"Yes, here we go." She held out a glass about a third full of water. "Be careful, Victor. Here, let me hold your head." Betty reached out and lifted his head slightly off of the pillow and helped him swallow the contents of the glass.
"Thank you." He replied and dropped back onto the bed again. "How long have I been asleep? What day is it?"
"It's the day after Christmas. You've been out for more than twenty-four hours," Betty told him, her face shining with happiness as she looked down at him.
"That's good." Victor said then instantly dropped off to sleep again.
Betty spent another night in the chair in the living room curled up under a quilt, dreaming of happier times. It was mid-morning when she woke up shivering in the chilled air of the room. Wrapping the heavy quilt around her slender frame, Betty quickly hurried into the bedroom. Going through the door, she stopped in surprise when she saw the empty bed. Victor was gone!
"He didn't even say good-bye to me," Betty exclaimed softly as she dropped the quilt and went into the kitchen to rebuild the fire. It was then that she saw the note setting in the middle of the table. It was short and sweet, only a few lines,
Dearest Betty,
I'm sorry I have to leave like this but I must be on
my way. I will be forever indebted to you for providing
assistance to me when I required it. As soon as I am able,
I plan to return for you.
Marshall Victor Cornstalk
With a heavy heart, Betty folded up the narrow piece of paper and stuck it into the pocket of her nightgown. Sadly, she went about the task of rebuilding the fire in the stove which had long since died out. Then she got dressed and went outside. As she was crossing the side yard along the school building, she noticed two of her students walking along the road.
"Merry Christmas, Miss Robertson!" The two boys called out in unison, waving mittened hands at her.
"Merry Christmas, Petey. Merry Christmas, Andrew." Betty called back, also waving.
"Hey teacher," Andrew called back "Who was that man I saw leaving the school early this morning?"
Betty stood stock still and tried not to let her face register dismay as she asked "What man was that, boys? And what were you doing out at that hour?"
Obviously, it was Victor that Andrew had seen leaving, and she had to find out whether or not the ten year old boy had been close enough to identify the Marshall or not. So she asked again, "What where you boys doing outside so early?"
"We was tryin' out our new sled, teacher." Petey Thompson told her proudly. "Our Pa made it for us for Christmas. Its big enough for both of us to ride at the same time and he painted it red and black."
"Well, you must have had a wonderful time sledding. I have to go back in now, you two have fun and I'll see you on Monday."
"Good-bye, Miss Robertson." Both boys chorused as they turned and continued down the road leading out of town.
Betty hurried back into the kitchen and hung up her coat only to find her hands were shaking. At least those boys weren't able to identify Victor. She thought to herself sitting down in one of the kitchen chairs. Thank goodness for that at least. I hope they don't tell anyone, or I could be fired for having a man in my house. No matter that it was the Marshall and that he was injured.
For the rest of the week, Betty brooded about what had transpired over Christmas and wondered where Victor was, and how he was doing.
Early Monday morning, Betty stood in front of her class and began to call the roll. Everyone was there except for Andrew and Peter Thompson.
"Has anyone seen either of the Thompson boys today?" Betty asked the class at large and everyone shook their heads silently. "Well, maybe they're sick or something," she decided as she put the attendance book away and started the spelling lesson.
Immediately after school, Betty decided to go out to the Thompson's fruit farm and see what was wrong. The boys never missed school and Andrew in particular was one of her best students. As she neared the edge of the Thompson property, she got this eerie feeling that something wasn't quite right. Looking around at the barren fruit trees surrounding the low frame cabin, Betty decided it was because things were too quiet. She couldn't hear a sound which was unusual for midafternoon because Mr. Thompson should have been outside working.
Suddenly, a shot rang out and instinctively Betty ducked for cover behind the nearest tree. Two more shots followed in quick succession as she started running back down the lane. By the time she reached the school again, Betty was winded and soaking wet from running through the snowdrifts across the fields. As much as she wanted to stop and take shelter in the safety of the teacherage, Betty knew that something was seriously wrong at the Thompson farm and continued into town to find help. Rounding the corner onto Main Street, the first person she ran into was Mr. Folton.
"Mr. Folton, please help," Betty said panting and gasping for breath. "There's something wrong at the Thompson place. The boys weren't in school today, and when I went out there, someone started shooting at me. We've got to get help."
The tall lean storekeeper nodded and walked with her down to his store where several other men were hanging out shooting the breeze on a chilly winter's afternoon. After explaining her story to them, Betty sat down on the nearest barrel as the six men all grabbed shotguns and headed outside.
"Don't you worry, Miss Robertson, we'll find out what's going on," one said confidently.
"Sure would be nice if the Marshall were here," Another man muttered.
"That's for sure." A third replied as they all headed off down the street.
The men were back by dark, triumphantly herding a pair of slovenly looking men in front of them. Stopping at the jail, they locked the criminals in a cell and left one man on guard duty. Then they gathered in the General Store again to tell what had happened.
"Well," started the first man to the crowd of townspeople who had gathered around to hear the news. "Remembering Miss. Robertson's words about somebody shooting at her, we approached the farm with caution, splitting up so as half of us went around the back and the others of us came up along the sides. Sure enough, when we peeked in the window there were these two men and they were holding the Thompsons at gunpoint, right in their own front room." He paused, and another man took up the story.
"Those of us that went around back, quietly went into the kitchen and took those thievin' men by surprise. They sure dropped those guns in a hurry when they realized there was six of us pointing loaded shotguns right in their faces. Then we marched 'em back to town and put 'em in the jail." He concluded.
The group was silent for a moment before a deep voice spoke up from the back of the crowd.
"Why do we still keep Marshall Cornstalk on in this town if he's never around to do his job?" Heads turned as Shawn Sherman slowly made his way towards the front of the crowd before continuing. "Now, don't get me wrong, I like and admire the man but we've got to face facts here, the Marshall is shirking his sworn duty as an officer of the law by not being here when we need him."
There were low mutterings from the crowd as what he was saying began to sink in.
"Miss Robertson could have been killed today, not to mention the entire Thompson family." Shawn continued smoothly. "I think we seriously need to think about whether or not Victor Cornstalk should continue as Marshall or not."
"I say we get rid of the man and elect someone who will actually be here when we need him," an older man called out from the middle of the group.
"I second that motion," a woman's voice said. "We need protection for our children."
Betty stood up and faced the excited mob. "Now wait just a minute. Before you all just throw Marshall Cornstalk out of his position, why don't you wait until he gets back and hear his side of things. I'm sure that he had a very good reason for being gone so long."
Shawn Sherwood turned to face her saying "Do you have any idea what that reason could possibly be, Betty?"
"Well, he could be sick or hurt or something and not be able to send us word." She replied firmly hoping that nobody would ask her how she knew this for certain. "I just don't think we should act hastily."
"All right, folks." Sherwood said to the crowd at large. "I say we can give the Marshall one more week. If we don't hear from him or see him after that time, then I say we reconvene at the Church and go about electing us a new Marshall. All in favor say aye."
A loud chorus of "ayes" filled the room and even Betty agreed that it was a fair proposition. Although she was filled with misgivings and wondered if there was any way to try and find Victor to tell him that his job was in jeopardy.
As she walked home alone, she was racking her brains trying to think of a another way to save Victor's job. Coming around to the rear of the schoolhouse, Betty was startled to see a dim light shining through the kitchen window. Stopping in her tracks, she cautiously crept up to the window and peeked in through the curtains then smiled broadly as she saw Victor sitting in her rocker sound asleep, his head tilted back.
Opening the door, she quickly hurried in and when the door clicked shut, Victor was startled into wakefulness his head snapping forward as he jumped out of the chair and whirled to face her.
"Betty! Don't ever sneak up on me like that again. I could have killed you." He told her sharply as he holstered his gun again.
"I'm sorry Victor, I didn't mean to." Betty replied running to him and giving him a big hug. "But I'm really glad to see you right now." She continued, her voice muffled against his chest.
Holding her away at arms length, the tall man looked concerned as he asked "Why, what's wrong, Betty?"
"You're only about to lose your job, that's all," she told him leaning her head back to look him in the eye. Then she proceeded to tell him in great detail about what had happened at the Thompson farm and about the impromptu meeting at the general store. "So you see," she finished. "I was able to buy you a little time before they hold a town meeting and decide on a new Marshall, but not much. What are you going to do, Victor?"
Disentangling himself from her arms, he replied, "First, I'm going to go over to the jail and take a look at the two newest residents. Then I figure it will be just about time for a brisk patrol around the town to make certain that everything is as it should be."
"Then you're back?" Betty questioned cautiously.
He smiled down at her as he clapped his stetson on top of his head. "Yes, Betty, I'm back."
Word of Victor's return spread through the town like wildfire that night. Ironically, Shawn Sherman was the first to meet up with him as he stepped outside of Singer's for a cigar.
"Mr. Sherman," Marshall Cornstalk said cheerfully as he came up beside him in the darkness. "Nice night for some air, isn't it."
Shawn nearly bit off the end of his cigar in astonishment as he turned to look up at the tall familiar man leaning against the railing in front of the saloon. "Marshall!" he said in surprise then asked more quietly, "When did you get back?"
"Not too long ago, Betty filled me in on what's been happening the last few days."
"Oh," Was all Shawn Sherman replied as he stared out into the dark street. Inside his head though a jumble of thoughts were taking shape. Why did he go and see Betty first? No wonder she was so certain that he would be back soon. I wonder where she's been hiding him? And why?"
Victor soon moved on down the street, leaving a stunned Shawn Sherman looking after him. After making certain that the closed up businesses were securely locked up for the night, he decided to stop over at Grace's Café for a quick meal before heading back to the jail. The moment he stepped inside the door, all chatter stopped and all heads swiveled towards him. Then Grace herself bustled up to him and greeted him warmly.
"Welcome back Marshall. I've got some fried chicken left if you came for dinner."
"Thank you, Miss Grace." Victor replied as he followed her to a nearby table and sat down folding his long legs under the small table with difficulty. "That sounds delightful. I'll have some coffee too, please."
Genie Brimmer who was sitting at the next table having dinner with Mr. Folton, leaned over and said, "Marshall, its so good to have you back with us again. When did you get here? Are you going to have to go away again? Did you hear about what happened out at the Thompson farm today?" She strung several sentences together in her usual excitable manner before finally running out of breath.
"How are you, Miss Brimmer? And you, Mr. Folton? I just arrived a little while ago, and yes, I heard about the holdup at the Thompson place."
Just then, Grace brought a large plate loaded down with three pieces of crispy golden fried chicken, a mound of mashed potatoes dripping with gravy, a heap of steaming green beans and a slab of homemade bread slathered with fresh churned butter. Setting the meal down in front of him, she said cheerfully, "Enjoy your dinner, Marshall, and don't be a stranger around here."
After finishing a leisurely meal, Marshall Cornstalk headed back to the jail where he relieved the man guarding the prisoners and settled in for the night.
It was barely after sunrise the next morning when he was abruptly jolted awake by a shout from the street. Jumping up, and hurrying to the window he looked out and saw Shawn Sherman standing on the edge of the sidewalk.
"Marshall Cornstalk! Are you coming outside to face me like a man or are you too much of a lily-livered coward!" Sherman shouted again as Victor opened the door and stepped through it.
"Mr. Sherman," Victor replied calmly. "You are drunk. Why don't you go home and sleep it off before I am forced to incarcerate you for disturbing the peace, not to mention being drunk and disorderly."
"The devil I will! If you want Betty, you're going to have to kill me first!" Sherman hollered then pulled out his gun and began waving it wildly in the air over his head.
Victor stepped forward, saying again, "Mr. Sherman, you leave me no choice. Give me the gun because you're under arrest."
Shawn's only answer was to step backwards into the center of the dirt street and stand there silently holding out the weapon.
Sighing, Victor followed him out into the road and said, "You insist on making this more difficult than it has to be. Betty has made her choice, why don't you just come along peaceably?"
Now the two men stood facing each other in the middle of the empty street. Resigning himself to a fight, Victor reached for his gun as a blur rushed in between them.
It was Betty, and she was crying wildly as she held up her hands and faced first Victor then Shawn. "What do you two think you're doing fighting in the street like animals! Stop this right now or I won't have anything to do with either one of you ever again."
"Betty, I love you." Shawn told her "But this is something that's been coming between us for a long time and it has to be settled right here and now."
"I agree that this matter needs to be settled, Sherman," Victor replied seriously, "But I don't see that it needs to be settled in this way. But if this is the only thing you understand, then Betty, please get out of the line of fire."
"Fine!" She screamed back at them. "Go ahead, shoot each other's brains out. See if I care whether you live or die." Then she turned and started running towards the far side of the street stumbling blindly because of the tears streaming down her face. Unable to see where she was going, Betty was surprised when she tripped over something and went tumbling head over heels down a small embankment. The side of her head slammed into something hard and all went black.
***************************************
"Betty? Betty? Are you all right, dear?" Gertie's gentle voice was the first thing Betty Roberts heard as she slowly opened her eyes and tried to sit up.
"No, Betty, lie still," came Hilary's voice from behind her.
Obediently lying back on the couch again, Betty looked up at the circle of concerned faces surrounding her. "Where am I? What happened?" She asked dazedly.
"You tripped over a cord in the studio, dear." Gertie told Betty placing a damp towel across her forehead.
"You went flying into Eugenia's organ and got knocked out." Mackie continued from where he was standing next to Gertie. "We were in the middle of Rance Shiloh, U.S. Marshall and you hurried in with some new script pages."
"You really need to watch where you're going a little more carefully, Betty." Hilary said caustically. "I would hate to have to break in a new writer at this late date."
"Yes, Betty, we wouldn't want that to happen." Gertrude Reece said, shooting Hilary a nasty look.
"You know, I had the strangest dream, guys." Betty told them carefully sitting up and swinging her legs around to the floor. "All of you were in it, too. Although you weren't yourselves, you looked familiar to me."
"You'd better lay back down and relax, Betty." Mackie said soothingly. "Mr. Foley has gone out to get a doctor. You gave us all quite a scare."

THE END