The Long Ride To Destiny, Chapter 14
Seth seemed happy to Florence, though she sensed something was bothering him. He smiled at Rachael when she put the plate of fried chicken on the table, but Florence had seen that smile before. It was the smile Seth used to convince people he was happy when he wasn’t. If he didn’t say anything about it, she’d ask him as soon as they were alone.
The food was good, and Seth was already stuffed when Rachael brought out the berry pie. He told Rachael it looked like she made really good pie, but he was too full. Rachael just smiled.
“This isn’t my pie, Seth. Florence baked it this afternoon while you and William were walking around doing nothing but talking. You wouldn’t want to disappoint her by not having some, now would you?”
Seth was more than stuffed when he’d finished the slice of Florence’s berry pie. He had to admit, though, that Florence knew how to make one, and he told her so. Florence blushed.
“Well, Daddy always said so, but I was never sure. I’m happy you thought it was good.”
William stood up from the table.
“I have to go see about some business now. Seth, why don’t you and Florence walk around town this afternoon.”
He winked at Seth.
“I’m sure you’ll see some interesting things and find some things to talk about.”
Florence let Seth walk them past the church before she asked what William had meant.
“What was all that about – finding some things to talk about?”
“Oh, nothing much. William just offered me a job in town. He wants us to talk about it so I can give him an answer in the morning.”
“What kind of job?”
Seth stopped, faced Florence, and took her hand in his.
“He wants me to be the town marshal.”
“Is…is that something you’d like to do?”
“I don’t know. In some ways, it would be like being in the Army again, and I don’t know if I want to do that. I’d be in charge of everything, this time, but it would probably mean more killing. I’ve killed enough men for two lifetimes.”
“You wouldn’t have to do that all the time, would you, the killing I mean?”
“At first, probably. I’d try not to, but you saw what happened. If I hadn’t shot, they’d have shot me.”
Florence put her hand on Seth’s arm.
“That doesn’t seem much different than what I had to do in Tennessee. If those men hadn’t done what they did, I wouldn’t have done what I did. That’s not going out to kill somebody like you did in the Army. That’s just defending yourself.”
“There’s something else you need to know. Our wanted poster was in the marshal’s office. William knows about us. He said it wouldn’t make any difference to the town, and that he’d never turn us in because it was Tennessee’s problem, not Texas’. He also said if I was the marshal, it would keep us safe because any more posters would come to me and I could just not do anything about them.”
“I’ve always hoped someday I could forget about all that.”
“I know you have, and this might be a way. Would you like to stay here?”
“Not if you don’t want to. I don’t want to be anywhere besides where I am right now.”
“I think you’re going to have to turn loose of me once in a while, no matter what I do for a living.”
“I can do that, as long as you always come home to me.”
“We’d have a house. It’s behind the jail. Want to go look at it?”
The house was of sawn lumber, not logs, and had four rooms. Just inside the front door was a small parlor with a cast iron stove. Two chairs sat in front of the stove, lit by the sunlight that streamed through the windows on both walls. The walls had been paneled with more lumber on the inside, and were painted white.
Through a door at the side of that room, Florence found a bedroom with a bed large enough for two people. There was a straw mattress, but no bedding. A nightstand with a basin and a pitcher stood in one corner. As in the main room, white curtains were pulled to the side of the single window and tied back with strings.
A door in the back wall of the bedroom led to another, smaller bedroom. That room was empty of furniture, but Florence knew what it was.
“This is a nursery. The door is so the mother can go between her bedroom and the baby’s room at night. I saw the same thing at Rachael’s house, except that’s where her daughter sleeps now. They built another room off the kitchen for their boy. If we had a baby, this is where he’d sleep.”
“Well, I’d want the first one to be a boy…for you. The second could be a little girl for me.”
The kitchen opened through a door from the parlor, and was larger. A cast iron cook stove sat on the back wall, and it had a large oven and a water boiler. A small cabinet sat against the opposite wall, and in the center was a table with four chairs. Another door led out of the kitchen at the back. Florence opened that door and walked outside.
A few seconds later, Florence yelped and started jumping up and down and pointing. Seth looked where she was pointing, and then laughed.
“Florence, it’s just an outhouse.”
“I know. After all these weeks… well, you just can’t imagine how nice an outhouse is going to be.”
“I guess I never thought much about that, but I can see your point.”
“Look Seth, there’s already a spot plowed for a garden. We’d need a place for some hens for eggs, and a place to put the horses though.”
Seth’s mind was working on how the place could be laid out.
“Yes, back there, behind the garden, could be a hen house. You wouldn’t have to walk very far to get your eggs. I don’t know about some sort of barn. Maybe one big enough for four horses, I think.”
“We don’t have four horses. We only have two.”
“Yes, but the wife of a marshal can’t very well go around riding in a saddle any more. She’d need a carriage with two more horses to pull it.”
“All I’ve seen in town are wagons. Most of the time they just have one horse.”
“All right, we’d need enough room for three horses then.”
“That would cost a lot of money.”
“I have some, and so do you, though you never told me.”
“Yes. I had a little over forty dollars before I bought your socks. Like you said about some of the things you have, that bounty hunter who came to my cabin didn’t need it anymore. I didn’t tell you, because I didn’t know you very well, and I didn’t know long you’d let me stay with you.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have to worry about money. The marshal’s job pays twenty five dollars a month. Think you could figure out what to do with that much money?”
“Twenty five dollars…every month?”
“That’s what William said. You’d be able to buy those shoes you’ve been wanting, and more dresses. I could use more than one pair of socks too.”
Florence put her arms around Seth.
“Seth, that’s more money than Daddy ever had in his life, but I lived just fine without it. I can live without an outhouse too. I can’t live without you, not any more. What ever you decide is what I want, as long as I’m with you.”
It was too cold in December to be out riding in open country, Seth thought. He turned up the collar on the heavy duster he wore, and changed hands on the reins of the gelding. The cold hand went into his side pocket to warm up a little, though the pocket wasn’t much warmer than the air outside. Seth pulled his bowler hat down a little tighter as he thought about the past five months.
He hadn’t found the camp of the first bunch of young men intent on terrifying the town. They’d laid low somewhere for a month after they tried to rob the bank, but they were planning their revenge, just as William had predicted. That plan was to take everything of value in the town, kill anyone who tried to stop them, and then burn the town to the ground. Because of their plan, Seth didn’t have to find them. They found him, but he was ready when they did.
Seth’s plan wasn’t new or even his. It was the same thing he’d done in the Army for three years except the people who carried out his plan weren’t soldiers. Some of them weren’t even men.
The farmers and their wives on the farms that surrounded the town were his sentries. They, or in some cases, their older sons or daughters were his messengers. A few select people of the town were his defensive force. The rest of the people in town were his support troops.
The outlaws rode in by ones and twos that day so they wouldn’t attract attention. It seemed to work with the people in town. They went about their business as if nothing was any different.
Seth spotted the first from his chair in front of the marshal’s office and then watched for the rest. It was easy to pick them out from the normal farmers and businessmen of the town. It wasn’t their clothes, but the way they acted. They seemed relaxed, but their eyes continuously flicked back and forth, like they were looking for something.
That was what Seth remembered about the bushwackers he and Florence had killed back in Arkansas. At the time, he didn’t know what it was, but he knew there was something different about them. They seemed very confident, but there was something else. When the first of the young outlaws rode into town, he realized it was the fear in their eyes, and the way that fear made them look everywhere instead of just where they were going. It was the same thing he’d done throughout the war.
After a while, he counted ten gathered at the general store. Ten was the number Joshua, a farmer who lived to the south of town, had told his son to tell Seth. Raymond had galloped his horse across country and had beaten the outlaws to town by fifteen minutes. That fifteen minutes had been enough time.
Seth got up from his chair and walked across the street. As he did so, everyone on the street quietly faded into the shadows between the buildings and out of harm’s way. From the corner of his eye, he saw William open the door of his hotel. He knew William had a shotgun leaned against the door frame, cocked and ready to fire. It was the same shotgun that had been used to kill Marshal Russell.
Seth knew Johnathan would be on the roof of his shop with a clear line of fire at the outlaws. When he rose from his chair, he’d seen Johnathan get up too, and go through the door behind his desk. Johnathan had one of the Henry rifles he and Florence had brought with them.
She would have the other, he knew, and would be sitting beside an open window on the second story of the hotel. Rachael would be beside her and ready to hand Florence her Navy Colt if she emptied the Henry. Warren would be sitting behind his desk at the bank. He’d have another shotgun pointed at the door. Jeremiah would be standing just inside the door of the general store with the shotgun he used to hunt prairie chickens, only both barrels would be loaded with buckshot this time.
Preacher Ames was ready as well. When Seth had explained his plan to the men of the town one Sunday after church, Preacher Ames had asked if he could use Seth’s Springfield.
“The Good Lord said vengeance was his, but this isn’t vengeance. This is sending the Devil’s spawn to join him in Hell, and I think The Good Lord would probably welcome some help.”
Seth had seen him peering out from the bell tower of the church. He’d probably only get one shot off with Seth’s Springfield, but if Preacher Ames hit a man with it, that man would go down fast.
“Mornin’, men. What brings you to Sulphur Springs?”
A pockmarked young man leered at Seth.
“Well, well. So, Sulphur Springs got ‘em a new marshal. There’s ten of us and only one of you. Maybe you oughta just go back to your jail afore you get hurt.”
“I think if you look around, you’ll find there’s more than just me. You might not know what bein’ in a crossfire means, but you’re in one right now. Oh, and uh…I wouldn’t go making any fast moves if I were you. I doubt any of you will leave here alive if you start something.”
The men looked around and spotted the rifle and shotgun barrels poking out through windows, doors and around buildings. The pock-faced man turned back to Seth and laughed.
“You think them store keepers are gonna save your ass from bein’ shot?”
“No. I kinda figured on doing that part myself. They’re there for the rest of you.”
“Whaddaya mean the rest of us?”
“Well, it seems to me like you’re their leader. I’m gonna shoot you first” – Seth looked at the two men next to the pock marked man – “and then you with the red shirt…and you, the one with no hat. The other folks in town’ll take care of the rest.”
The pock-marked man sneered.
“What if you miss?”
Seth’s mouth became a firm line, he looked the pock-marked man in the eyes, and he spoke slowly.
“I don’t miss.”
Seth was still watching the pock-marked man’s eyes. They flicked to the right, then to the left, and then back to Seth. They seemed to open a little wider as the man let his hand drop to the revolver at his side. Later, Seth would remember that the man had it half way out of his holster when his ball caught the man in the chest. He didn’t stop to see if the pock-marked man went down or not. Red Shirt was leveling his revolver when Seth shot him in the gut. No Hat had pulled his, but his hand was shaking so hard his shot went wild. Seth’s didn’t. No Hat didn’t make a sound as he rolled sideways from his horse. He couldn’t. There was a hole where his adam’s apple had been, and the part of his spine behind that was gone.
Everything happened so quickly, Seth hadn’t heard the other gunshots because of his own, but as he looked around he saw the result. Of the ten, only the man he’d shot in the gut and one other were still alive. The gut-shot man was on the ground and writhing in pain. The other was riding towards the church as fast as his horse would run. The fifty eight caliber ball Preacher Ames sent his way hit him just above the right front pocket of his shirt. A second later, his horse was galloping past the church. The man lay still on the street.
Seth went to the gut-shot man. The man groaned in agony, and then begged Seth to help him, but Seth had no sympathy.
“You made the choice to ride with this bunch, and now you got what was coming to you. You’re shot in the gut. You’re gonna die and there isn’t anything anybody can do about that.”
The man groaned again, just as Preacher Ames ran up and knelt beside him.
“Son, I’m Preacher Ames. Like the marshal says, we can’t help you, but you can help yourself. You have one chance to square things a little with the Almighty before he judges you. Tell the marshal where your camp is.”
“It about fifteen miles from here, up in some trees on top of a hill. Preacher, will you tell my ma I’m dead?”
“Yes, Son, I will. What’s your mother’s name and where does she live?”
The man coughed bright red blood and then opened his mouth to speak. No words came. The sound was only his last, ragged breath. Preacher Ames reached down and gently closed the man’s eyelids.
A week later, Seth, William, and Johnathan rode south until they found the trees the man had said hid the location of their camp. Seth stopped them half a mile away in some more trees, and went the rest of the way on foot. He came back an hour later.
“They’re not here. Doesn’t look like they’ve been here for a few days.”
“Then the boy lied to us.”
“No, I don’t think he did. There’s a camp in there, and it’s been there for a while. I think they just went somewhere else. There’s a lot of things left, bedrolls and such, that I figure belonged to the men you just put in the ground, Johnathan. That’s all that’s there, though. There’s been a fire in the same place for a long time, months probably, but the ashes have been pretty well washed away by that rain the day after they came to town.”
Johnathan took off his bowler hat, scratched his head, and then put it back on.
“So, what do we do now?”
“We go back to being a town again. I think I’ll like that.”
Seth did like Sulphur Springs. The people were much like the people back home, though he didn’t think about there much any more. Florence had fixed that.
Preacher Ames had married them the Sunday after William had asked him to put his hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the laws of Sulphur Springs and The State of Texas, and then pinned the brass star to his chest.
Florence had worn Leotie’s wedding dress. The women of the town were a little taken aback until Florence told them how she’d gotten it. After hearing the story, they all cried. Seth figured they had planned on crying anyway, because each woman had two handkerchiefs stuffed inside each sleeve of her dress.
Seth thought Florence was beautiful in the white deerskin dress. Florence had never seen Seth in a jacket and string tie, but thought he was a very handsome man dressed that way.
Neither one of them could stop smiling while they said their vows. Seth felt as if his past was just that, and his whole future lay before him. If not for Florence, he didn’t know what that future would have brought. With her, it was a future of which he thought he would be proud, but more than that, Florence was a wife of which he knew he would be proud.
Florence was happy as well. She hadn’t trusted Seth at first. Now, she couldn’t think of another man she’d ever trusted as much except maybe her father. The man who she knew needed her help had finally let her help him, a little at a time. In helping him, she had grown to love him, or at least feel what her mother told her love felt like, and he’d said he felt the same way about her. When she’d met him, she’d been afraid he’d want her the way the men at Samuel’s house had wanted her. Now, she wanted him to want her, not the same way as the men at Samuel’s house, but as a man wants his wife.
That Sunday night, Florence spread her blankets, the same blankets that had traveled across Tennessee, Arkansas, and part of Indian Territory, on the straw mattress of their bed in the marshal’s house. Both were anticipating what they knew would happen that night, and both made small talk because they were more than a little nervous.
Florence smoothed out the blankets, then raised back up.
“Before winter, I’ll have to make us a quilt or two. Rachael says it gets pretty cold at night here. I guess these’ll have to do until then.”
“It’ll be better than my bedroll.”
“Yes. This straw tick is really thick. It should feel real nice to sleep on.”
“With a roof, we won’t have to worry about getting rained on either.”
“No, and that’ll be nicer.”
“We won’t be able to see the stars, though.”
“No, but they’re still there if we go outside and look. I suppose we should go to bed now though.”
“Yes, I suppose we should.”
Florence was blushing.
“I didn’t get…the general store didn’t have any nightdresses, and there wasn’t time to order one.”
Seth took Florence in his arms.
“Why would that make any difference to me?”
“Well, a husband should think his new wife is pretty before the first time they…before he…”
“I already know you’re pretty. I’ve thought so all along.”
Seth unbuttoned his shirt and took it off. Florence saw the scar of the bullet hole on his arm and stroked it.
“Does the one on your hip feel the same way?”
Seth unbuttoned his trousers and let them fall to his ankles.
“Since we’re married now, you can see for yourself.”
Her hands on his hip was affecting Seth, and he knew Florence saw it. She smiled.
“I think I’d better get undressed too. Will you blow out the lamp?”
“But I might not be what you expected.”
Seth stroked Florence’s cheek.
“Florence, you’re already more than I ever expected.
Afterwards, Florence lay snug against Seth with her cheek against his chest. He stroked her back. The scars there were raised slightly, and were a little rough. The way Florence had gotten them made him wish he’d been there to take care of Samuel, but he’d thought about what those scars really were. In the weeks since he’d first seen them, Seth had realized they were like the scars the minie balls had left in his arm and hip – marks made by a struggle over which neither of them had much control, and marks that would always remind him of how strong this woman beside him really was. He would die before he let anything or anyone force her to need that strength again. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. Florence sighed.
“Will it always be like this when we make love?”
“I don’t know. I never did this before tonight. I hope so.”
Florence stroked a fingertip down his chest.
“Maybe we should do it again, just to see if it’s the same the second time.”
Seth smiled and changed hands on the reins again. The second time hadn’t been like the first. It had been better. He woke the next morning with Florence watching him. She smiled.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, after you finally let me sleep.”
Florence draped her bare thigh over his legs.
“What time do you have to go to your office?”
“Well, normally, I’d say about now, but I think the town would understand if I’m a little late.”
After the first week, they’d settled down as man and wife. Every morning except Sunday, Seth went to his office to light the stove and start the coffee pot, and then walked down the street. He’d stop in all the businesses just to let them know he was around if they needed him. Being the town marshal was a little boring at times, but most of the time it was pleasing. The people of the town all knew him, and always spoke when they passed. At noon, he’d walk the short distance to their home and eat with Florence. In the afternoon, he’d make his rounds again, read the law book for a while and then go home.
Florence had planted the garden, and though it was late in the season, still managed to get some green beans, and other short season vegetables. She dried the beans they couldn’t eat right away, just like his mother had always done.
He and Florence went to church every Sunday morning. Seth still wasn’t sure about religion, but Preacher Ames was, and Seth was slowly trying to make sense of what Preacher Ames said and what he’d experienced since the start of the war.
It was the first of December when the next gang of young men rode into town. The four of them rode up to the hotel, went inside, and asked Cyrus, the man who took orders for the kitchen, to bring them a bottle of whiskey. Cyrus tried to explain that the hotel wasn’t a saloon, and that they’d have to order something to eat if he was going to serve them. The leader of the group laughed, went behind the counter, and took two of the bottles that sat there. When Cyrus tried to stop him, the leader hit him in the face with the butt of his revolver. The four then got on their horses and rode out of town.
It had rained the day before, and the soft mud of the road made them easy to track. Seth and Johnathan found them at a deserted cabin a few miles from town. While Johnathan waited behind a tree with a shotgun, Seth approached the front door. He stood behind a maple tree in front of the door, and called to the men inside.
“You there, in the house. Come on out, and don’t be carrying any guns when you do. I’ll shoot you where you stand if you try anything.”
The door opened slightly, and one man peered through the crack.
“Who’s that who’s talking?”
“Marshal Seth Moore, from Sulphur Springs. Come on out.”
The man was searching for the location of Seth’s voice and when he found it, he grinned.
“You talk big for just one man. Whatcha gonna do, shoot us all?”
“You don’t really want to find that out.”
The man ducked back inside and Seth heard muffled voices, then the first man’s voice again.
“We’re comin’ out. Don’t shoot.”
When the four ran out of the house, each had a revolver and was pointing it in the direction of Seth’s tree. As Seth tried to make himself as small as possible, pieces of tree bark began flying away on each side of him, and he heard other balls thudding into trunk. It only lasted for a few seconds. The buckshot from Johnathan’s shotgun cut down the one closest to him. Seth jumped from behind the tree and fired three times, killing two of the men and wounding a third. As that third man raised his revolver, Johnathan’s second barrel belched smoke and lead balls. The man collapsed on the ground without firing another shot. Johnathan came running up.
“I guess you forgot to tell them there were two of us.”
“Probably wouldn’t have mattered much. They’d still have tried to shoot their way out. There’s nothing more we can do here. I’m ready for a cup of coffee. How about you?”
“As soon as we get them loaded on their horses, I will be.”
“You want to take them back?”
“Yeah. That new cemetery I started with the first bunch sits where you can see it when you ride into town. I put it there for a reason. This spring, I’m gonna put up a sign there that says “Outlaw’s Graveyard” or something like that. If some no-good rides past and sees all the grave markers, he might think twice about messing with Sulphur Springs. I’ll put these four there with the others.”
Johnathan grinned at Seth.
“It don’t seem right to leave them here anyway. Some poor coyote or buzzard might get sick eatin’ ‘em and I think more of the coyotes and buzzards than that. It don’t cost me much to dig a hole and dump ‘em in, and I’ll sell their horses once we get back. Made a good profit on that last bunch.”
Seth smiled to himself, and switched hands again. Johnathan wasn’t really his deputy, but he was smart enough not to get himself killed, and while he wasn’t much good with a revolver, if he had one of the Henrys or a shotgun he was a good man to have along. Johnathan had earned the money for coming with him.
One of these days, one of these gangs of young men would pay attention and surrender to him. Then, he’d take them back to the jail, and hold them for trial. He hadn’t found any that would do that, yet, but the patent medicine salesman who’d come through town two weeks before said he’d heard about the new marshal of Sulphur Springs in several of the small towns he visited. Once word got out that you had to behave yourself in Sulphur Springs, things would get a lot easier.
Until then, he’d keep on protecting the people of Sulphur Springs and loving Florence. Soon after putting on the star, Seth had realized that, without knowing it, he’d had found that for which he’d searched. He’d found it first with Florence and then with the people of Sulphur Springs.
He’d gone to the war a boy full of excitement and anticipation. He’d come out a man hiding inside himself from everything and everyone. Florence had pulled him back out of himself with her need to be with him, and in return had only asked to help him help himself.
The people of Sulphur Springs were much the same. They needed him in order to feel safe in their daily lives, and asked only for his leadership when he needed their help.
Last Sunday, Preacher Ames had read a sermon about how The Lord looks out for people who are true to the faith. He related how he felt laying on the ground at Shilo and knowing he’d die that day. He said that he hadn’t had much use for religion when he was growing up, and didn’t go to church or pray. That day, with the minie balls flying over his head and men dying all around him, he’d looked to the sky, and promised God that if he lived, he’d spend the rest of his life preaching the Gospel. The battle had ended, and though he’d been captured, The Lord had answered his prayer and he was alive.
He said though it sometimes seems life’s path is filled only with pain, hardship, and misery, that’s just The Lord’s way of preparing that person for his or her destiny. Preacher Ames said when he was marched off to the prison camp, he knew God had answered his prayer, and that he’d found his destiny.
Seth had felt a lump in his throat when Florence reached over and squeezed his hand then. He knew what she was thinking. They’d ridden hundreds of miles together, first as strangers, then as friends, and finally become man and wife. They’d fought for their very lives sometimes, and fought and grieved for the lives of others as well. Florence had been shot, and his pain was nearly as bad as hers. Seth had relived the experience he tried so hard to forget, and Florence had convinced him he wasn’t the evil man he thought he was.
There had been all the things Preacher Ames said – pain, hardship, and misery – but at the end, they’d found that for which they both searched. They’d found their destiny.
Seth looked back at the two horses he led to make sure the dead men were still tied to the saddles. Johnathan would make him stop if they fell off. He supposed Johnathan’s destiny was to be what he was. He seemed happy being an undertaker and furniture maker. He guessed destiny had a way of doing that to a person when they found it. That’s what it had done to him and Florence.
The only problem with destiny was that it seemed to keep changing. Seth thought he’d found all there was as the Marshal of Sulphur Springs and husband to Florence. They’d been married four months when the next part of their destiny came into view. Florence had grinned and told him she was expecting.
Though she was smiling, her eyes told Seth she was worried at what he’d think. He hugged Florence and told her the truth, that he was happy, and that she should be taking it easy now. She hugged him back, and then laughed.
“Seth, I sat on a horse until it felt like I was riding on a rock. I ate things I hope I never have to eat again. I got dragged through a river behind you. I got shot in the side. After all that, having a baby will be easy. You’ll see.”
She kissed him softly on the lips, and then grinned again.
“I’m all ready.”