Part 2 of 2
"There you go, all done."
* * *
Peggy stood back and admired her work.
Pearson sat on a kitchen chair in the home of his nurse. With no shirt on, even with the small wood stove burning, he was beginning to feel the cold.
It was a small room, but in all it looked functional.
"You can stop staring at me now, I'm finished. Put your shirt back on."
Pearson turned red with embarrassment as he realised he had indeed been staring at Peggy.
"I'm sorry," he apologised. "I didn't know I was doin' it."
Peggy smiled warmly. "I don't mind. It's not often that a man like you happens by and looks at me like you have been. It's quite flattering."
Pearson turned even redder but said nothing while he put his bloody shirt back on.
"I wish you'd let me clean your shirt for you," Peggy said dismayed at the sight of it.
"It's fine, really. I've another in my saddlebags," he reassured her.
Peggy had cleaned his wound, put some salve on it and then bandaged it tight to help stop the bleeding.
"Well, I guess I'll be goin'. Thanks for the doctorin'."
Peggy put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Wait here a minute." And then she disappeared.
A few minutes later she returned with blankets and a pillow.
"What's all this?" Pearson asked hesitantly.
She dumped it all in Pearson's arms and said, "We have a spare room out the back. You'll be sleeping there."
Pearson opened his mouth to protest but Peggy cut him off.
"It's fine. It was ma's idea. She couldn't see a problem with it, you being a sheriff and all. So breakfast is at seven. Don't be late."
Peggy turned and left the room, leaving Pearson sitting there stunned.
The following morning sheriff James was in the office of Edward Fox, and the latter was not happy.
* * *
"That bastard was lucky last night," Fox fumed. "I've never known Shorty to miss."
"That's just it," said James, "he did and now he's dead because of it."
Fox sat in his big leather chair and remained silent, deep in thought. He looked up at James.
"Sheriff, you're looking a little pale," he observed. "I suggest a short trip out of town is in order. Before the first snow sets in."
James was slow to realise that what he was being told was not an option.
"I feel fine Mr Fox. Never felt better."
Fox sighed heavily at the lawman's inability to comprehend what he was hearing. "Do I have to spell it out for you? Pearson is fast becoming a problem and I can only see one way of getting rid of him. And that is by going at him hard. I don't think you want to be around for that."
It finally dawned on James what Fox was alluding to. "Oh."
"So, have you seen him this morning or not?" Fox asked the sheriff.
James shook his head, "Nope. I ain't seen hide nor hair of him since last night."
Fox frowned. "I wonder where he is."
Pearson had risen before dawn that chilled morning and foregone breakfast to get an early start up to Deep Creek. His side was stiff and a little sore but he knew that would be fine.
* * *
Orville was up and about, curious as to what Pearson was doing about so early.
"You're up early this mornin'," he observed.
"How's the wound?"
Pearson turned away from tightening the cinch on his saddle and stared hard at the hostler, "If I told you where I was goin' would you run down and tell Fox?"
"Hell no," Orville said indignantly.
"Well then, I'm goin' out to—"
The hostler held up a gnarled hand. "Hold it there. I ain't so sure I want to know."
"Orville, what happened to your leg?" Pearson asked.
The hostler was taken aback at the question but after a brief silence he answered the question.
"Took a Reb minnie ball at Gettysburg," he explained. "It smashed my leg. Field surgeon wanted to take it off but a friend of mine wouldn't let him."
Pearson digested the information then asked, "How come a feller like you puts up with Fox? Surely you're not scared of him? Not after goin' through what you have."
Orville opened his mouth to vent a stern rebuke but no words spilled out. Instead his mouth snapped shut like a steel trap.
Pearson mounted his horse and rode off into the cold, mist-filled morning, leaving the hostler contemplating what he'd said.
The cabin stood deep in the trees on a patch of dirt just big enough for the log constructed building. From its stone chimney drifted a thin column of white smoke. Out back was a small, rough-built corral with two horses standing hip-shot at the rail. Growing from its centre was a large pine.
* * *
As Pearson sat watching the cabin, the light mist which hung between the trees started to lift. His horse was tied to a low branch further back along the trail and he'd approached the cabin through the dense timber.
The Tawny Creek sheriff drew his Colt and bent low. He crept forward, stopping frequently to listen intently.
It wasn't until he reached the cabin and positioned himself under a window that he heard the voices inside.
"Man I hate sittin' around here doin' nothin'. Why doesn't your old man let me at that son of a bitch and have done with it."
"Just be patient Abilene. He knows what he's doin'. Maybe another day at most and he'll be dead and we can head on back to town."
Abilene mumbled something incoherent which Pearson couldn't make out. Well at least they were there. Now he had to get them out.
He thought of the corral, and an idea dawned on him.
"God damn it. The horses are loose," Abilene's voice cursed loudly.
* * *
The cabin door flew open and out tumbled the two wanted young men.
"Hold it right there," Pearson snapped as he eared back the hammer on his Colt. "You two are under arrest."
Abilene swore and went for his gun. A foolish move for his pistol never even cleared leather before the hammer on Pearson's six-gun fell.
The Colt roared loudly in the still morning air and the slug took Abilene high in the left of his chest. He cried out as he reeled back and crashed to the damp earth. His gun still in its holster unfired, and a growing patch of red on his coat.
Pearson shifted his aim to cover Jonathan Fox who stood transfixed in shock, looking down at the lifeless body of his friend.
He looked up at the Tawny Creek sheriff, his face a mask of rage. "You low down bastard."
Pearson's .45 held rock steady in his fist. "Maybe, but if you don't want to end up like your friend there, unbuckle your gun-belt with your left hand and let it drop."
Pearson watched as Fox did as he was ordered and there was a dull thud when the gun-belt hit the earth.
"Right," he said, "it's time to catch them horses. Now move."
"My Pa will kill you for this," Jonathan Fox snarled.
"Just shut up and move," Pearson snapped. "You're goin' to hang for what you and Abilene did, and I for one won't be sheddin' any tears."
When Pearson rode into town leading the two horses with the younger Fox and the stiffening Abilene on them, people stopped to stare in disbelief. To them, all the sheriff of Tawny Creek had succeeded in doing was to sign his own death warrant.
* * *
Word spread like wildfire through the town and as the horses were being tied at the hitch rail outside the jail, the news reached Edward Fox.
Shortly after that, Fox sent word for all the hardcases in his employ to assemble across the street in the Crosscut saloon.
Inside the jail, Pearson locked Jonathan Fox in an empty cell in the back room and returned to the front office where he found Orville waiting for him.
To his surprise, he was cradling a cut-off twelve gauge shotgun.
"What are you doin' here?" he asked the hostler.
"I come to help."
"Where's the sheriff?"
"He rode out this mornin'," Orville told him. "Didn't say where he was goin', just that he had somethin' to do."
Pearson nodded. "Convenient."
There was a moment of silence before the hostler spoke again. "Heard you brought in young Jon. Figured you might need some help."
"You do realise there is a good chance you'll get yourself killed, don't you?" Pearson pointed out.
The hostler reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a battered old campaign hat and put it on.
"Why in hell did you bring him back here anyways?" Orville asked. "Why not just keep ridin' down out of the mountains?"
"You know Fox. How far do you think I'd get down the mountain before him and his henchmen caught up?"
"Yeah, I see your point."
Pearson walked over to the gun rack and broke the chain that looped through the trigger guards of the weapons. He took down a couple of Winchesters, a sawed-off shotgun and a Henry rifle. He left an older army model Spencer and a '74 Sharps in the rack.
He placed the guns on the sheriff's desk, found some ammunition and loaded them.
Pearson picked up one of the Winchesters and a spare box of cartridges. He gave them to Orville and said, "You'll be needin' them."
"Pearson!" The voice called from out on the street.
"Looks like it's about to start," observed Orville.
"Yeah, find yourself some cover beside the window on the left."
"It's Fox," said Orville when he looked out.
Pearson scooped up his own rifle and hurried across to the window on the right. He opened it and called back, "What do you want Fox?"
Edward Fox stood in the middle of the main street holding a rifle and flanked by two gunmen.
"You know what I want Pearson," he bellowed. "Let my boy go."
"Can't do that."
"The way I see it Pearson you have two choices. Let my boy go or we'll kill you and that crippled old buzzard in there with you. I have another ten men in the saloon just waiting to shoot you dead. The choice is yours. I don't care either way. I'll give you five minutes to decide."
"You know he's goin' to kill us whether we let his son go or not?" said Orville.
Pearson turned to the hostler and nodded. "We need to get that desk on its side and put both it and the cabinet under the windows for some protection. These walls are paper thin and won't stop much."
They'd just finished the task when, "Pearson!"
The Tawny Creek sheriff looked out into the street but it was empty.
"Can you hear me Pearson?" The voice it seemed, was coming from inside the saloon.
"I hear you."
"Are you comin' out with my boy or do we start shootin'?"
"I think you know the answer to that," Pearson called out. "Just remember we have your son in here. I'd hate for him to get shot by a stray slug."
"Well, maybe you can be persuaded by some other means."
A brief commotion across the street followed as Peggy was shoved roughly through the bat-wings in front of a gunman.
"What do you say now? Send Jon out or my man shoots the girl." Fox shouted.
Pearson gave Orville a look of helplessness. "Will he do it?"
The hostler nodded. "I do believe he would."
Pearson shook his head. "I'm sorry Orville."
"I understand," he said trying to ease Pearson's guilt. "Maybe we can take a few with us."
"Come on Pearson, I'm tired of waiting."
"Get him out Orville."
When the young man came out of the back room he had a smug look on his face. "I told you what would happen. Now once I'm free my old man will kill the pair of you and I'll be—"
Pearson stepped forward and drove his rifle butt brutally into Jonathan Fox's middle, driving the air from him.
"You'll be hidin behind your father like the yeller dog you are," Pearson grated through clenched teeth. "Now get your worthless carcass outside before I shoot you where you stand."
Pearson and Orville went across to the windows as Jonathan Fox walked outside. The street was empty in both directions but there were men with rifles on the roof tops.
"Hold it right there kid," Pearson said in a menacing voice. "Hey Fox, here's your rotten offspring. You start the girl and we'll start your son."
There came the murmur of voices from the other side of the street and Peggy slowly began the walk toward the jail.
"Okay Fox," Pearson warned. "Move off real slow. Any wrong move and I'll shoot you. Pure and simple."
Both moved slowly across the street which to the Tawny Creek sheriff seemed to have widened dramatically. As Jonathan Fox walked past Peggy he hissed in a harsh tone, "You're dead."
She gave no indication that she'd heard and chose to keep her gaze straight ahead and her pace steady. Once she was at the open door, Peggy dived through and Pearson slammed it shut behind her.
Instantly the shooting began. Bullets punched holes through the thin walls and embedded themselves into the opposite ones. The glass windows shattered and razor sharp shards scythed across the room.
"Stay down!" Pearson yelled at Peggy. "Crawl into the back room where the cells are and stay there."
She did as she was told and Pearson commenced firing on the saloon. His first target was an upstairs window. He fired three fast shots and saw his target disappear. Dead or wounded he wasn't sure.
Orville had already emptied one rifle and was now letting loose with the Henry.
"Don't waste too much ammunition Orville!" The Tawny Creek sheriff yelled his warning. "It ain't like we got a whole lot."
"Who said I was wastin' it. I already got me two fellers who won't be seein' another day."
Pearson fired at a rifle barrel that protruded from a shattered saloon window. His bullet gouged splinters from the window's timber frame and sprayed the rifle owners face with the slivers. His target reeled back, clawing at his face and exposed himself. Pearson's rifle bucked against his shoulder again and this time the slug took the man in the chest, and knocked him back out of sight.
After another flurry of shots, the rifle fire ebbed and then stopped.
"What do you figure they're up to?" A puzzled Orville asked.
"Who knows. How many do you figure we've hit?"
"I've done for two," Orville assured him. "I'd put down a third as possible."
"I think I've taken care of two," Pearson said.
"How many you figure he's got over there?"
"I don't know," Pearson shrugged. Then he called out to Peggy. "Peggy are you okay?"
"Do you know how many guns Fox has over there?"
"About a dozen I think," came the distant reply.
"Is that with the guns he has on the roof tops, Peggy?"
"I don't know about them."
"Did you see 'em Orville?" Pearson asked the hostler.
"Only the tops of their heads," he explained. "But I figure there could be another eight or nine guns up there."
"Way too many for us to handle," the Tawny Creek sheriff allowed.
A new volley of gun fire erupted from the saloon and eight men led by Jonathan Fox exploded through the bat-wings. They fired rifles and six-guns as they started to cross the street to lay down a deadly fusillade of fire.
When the attackers reached the centre of the main street more gunfire erupted from the roof tops. The volume of fire coming into the jail didn't increase. If anything, it dwindled.
Pearson poked his head up to take a quick look. Outside, the attackers were in disarray. Six of the eight were down; the other two were firing at the roof tops. Jonathan Fox lay motionless in the street, most likely killed in the first volley.
It wasn't long before the remaining gunmen joined the others.
An eerie silence fell across the town. Pearson and Orville looked up at the rooftops and saw to their surprise that the gunmen were townsfolk of Woodsville.
"It looks as though the good citizens have taken their town back," smiled Pearson.
"It sure do," agreed the smiling hostler.
Peggy joined them and they walked outside and stood on the boardwalk surveying the bloody scene before them.
"That would've been us if they hadn't bought in to the fight," Pearson allowed.
"Look out!" Peggy's cry of alarm drew their attention to Edward Fox who'd stormed out of the Crosscut saloon, six-gun in hand. He started firing erratically.
"I'll kill you, you son of a bitch!"
A bullet smacked into the wall behind Pearson while another fanned his cheek. He didn't move. He didn't have to as Orville swung up the Henry rifle and fired, levered and fired again.
The two slugs ripped into Fox who stopped in his tracks, mouth agape. He staggered another step and tried to bring his gun into line with the hostler. The weight of it in the hand of the dying man was too much.
He took one more step and fell forward, dead. The town of Woodsville truly was free.
Pearson stood beside his horse ready to leave.
"Thanks for your help Orville," he said and he thrust out his hand.
The hostler took it in a firm grip. A confident grip. "No. Thank you. If it weren't for you I'd still be showin' yeller. You take care of yourself."
Orville walked off and only Peggy stood before him.
"Well I'd best be off."
"I suppose so," Peggy said quietly.
There was a brief silence and Pearson said, "If I was to come back up here after the snow thaws do you think your Ma would cook me one of her meals?"
Peggy smiled warmly. "I'm sure she would."
She leant forward and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
"Goodbye," she whispered in his ear.
When she drew back their eyes held for a short time which Pearson broke as he turned and climbed into the saddle.
He looked down at her and touched the brim of his hat.
"Ma'am," he said with a smile. Then he turned his horse and rode out of town.