The Proper Thing To Do

Elizabeth Duncan tried to move away from the sleeping man on her right side, but only managed to press her hip tighter against the man on her left.  He looked at her and smiled, but didn’t try to give her any more room.  Neither did the man sitting in the seat facing her.  It was embarrassing to feel his knee against the inside of her thighs, but the only way nine people could fit into the cramped seats of the stagecoach was by alternating their knees.  Thankfully, her left knee was against an older woman’s legs, and that wasn’t quite as embarrassing.

It had been that way since she boarded the stagecoach in Little Rock, Arkansas.  She’s hoped to take another train like she had from St. Louis, Missouri to Little Rock, but that railway was still just a proposal in some railroad company’s last board meeting.  The Grundy and Randolph stage line was the only way to get from Little Rock to Leland, Texas.

Elizabeth hadn’t expected the stagecoach to be as comfortable as a train car.  She’d read the accounts of other people who had ridden in stagecoaches, and they related the rough ride over uneven ground, the cramped seating, and the poor food served at the way stations.  She’d expected the journey to be one she’d prefer to forget.

She hadn’t expected to be seated between a man with a huge belly that seemed to spread out on both sides when he was seated, and a tall man who constantly smoked long, black cigars.  

She had secretly named the fat man on her left “Mister Stinklazy ” because of how he smelled and how he acted.  Giving people secret names was something Elizabeth had done since she could remember.  Her secret names were for people she didn’t know but was forced to be around for a while.  Her names always described the person as she saw them, and such was her name for Mister Stinklazy.

Elizabeth wasn’t new to the smell of a man who worked for a living.  Her father had worked the docks in St. Louis, and usually smelled of sweat.  Mister Stinklazy had an odor that transcended that of any sweaty man she’d ever smelled.  It was more like the smell of sweat mixed with the smell of really moldy bread.

She’d added “lazy” to her private name for him because he was indeed lazy.  The stagecoach stopped at regular intervals – the driver said about every ten miles – to change horses.  During the time it took to do that, the passengers could disembark and walk around, use the privy, and get a drink and something to eat at the way station.

Mister Stink-lazy was always the last out of the stagecoach, the last to make his way to the way station, and the last to return to the stagecoach when the driver said he was ready to leave.  The other passengers would already be seated when Mister Stinklazy would walk slowly up to the stagecoach, sigh as he raised his foot to the step, and then groan as he heaved his bulk up on the step.  The body of the stagecoach would rock violently then, violently enough that the only other woman inside, an older woman Elizabeth secretly named “Frownface” because she didn’t seem to show any other expression, that woman would shriek in terror.

In getting his bulk from the step to the floor of the stagecoach, Mister Stinklazy would repeat those actions with the same result and the same groan.  Once inside, he’d back up to his place on the seat beside Elizabeth, sigh again, and then lower his bulk down to the seat.  Elizabeth would be forced to move as close to the man on her right as possible to avoid being crushed under Mister Stinklazy’s fat hips.  Once he was seated, his huge belly spread out so much it was touching the top of her thigh.

Mister Stinklazy made no apologies.  He just smiled, squirmed in his seat a little and then looked out the window.

The man on her right, the man who was always smoking a cigar, she named “Mister Cigar”.  Elizabeth couldn’t decide if she liked Mister Cigar less than Mister Stinklazy.  He was just as obnoxious, but in a different way.

There was a sign inside the stagecoach that asked passengers not to smoke cigars if there were female passengers present, but Mister Cigar seemed to ignore it.  Elizabeth thought he could at least have the courtesy to blow the smoke out the window, but instead, he filled the inside of the stagecoach with vile, acrid smoke.  The breeze coming in though the open windows helped to clear the smoke, but at the last way station, Elizabeth could still smell it even when she used the privy.  It was then she realized both her hair and clothing reeked of cigar smoke.

The man in the seat across from her she named “Mister Knees” because he would nudge her inner thigh with his knee every time the stagecoach rocked more than usual.  It was just a touch, but it was enough to make her open her legs a little.  The man would apologize, but Elizabeth could plainly see the grin on his face.

The other passengers inside the stagecoach ignored everyone else, so Elizabeth didn’t give them each a name.

It had been the same since the stagecoach left Little Rock, hours of being squeezed between Mister Stinklazy and Mister Cigar and feeling Mister Knees trying to push her legs apart.  There was no respite, even when darkness fell.  The stagecoach kept driving all through the night.  Mister Stinklazy would go to sleep and start to snore, but when he relaxed, his belly seemed to spread out even more.  Mister Cigar stopped smoking for a few hours then, but Elizabeth often had to push his head off her shoulder.  The only thing that really changed was when Mister Knees went to sleep; he didn’t push on her thigh anymore.  Then there was the constant clinking sound of the trace chains and the clacking of the wheels and the fact that they stopped every four hours.  Elizabeth was able to sleep a little, but by that day she was exhausted.

At the last way station, the driver said their next stop would be Leland, Texas and that they’d get there in about three hours.  Elizabeth steeled herself for another three hours of being squeezed, having her eyes and throat burn from cigar smoke, and trying to ignore Mister Knees.

Often over the past seven days Elizabeth had questioned whether she’d made a wise decision to leave her home in St. Louis.  The offer of a job teaching school in Leland, Texas had seemed to be a way to get her life back on track again.  That offer had come a few weeks after she’d responded to an advertisement in the St. Louis newspaper.  

The advertisement said the town of Leland, Texas had built a new school building and needed a teacher to teach the fifteen students who lived in and around Leland.  The requirements were simple.  The teacher had to be female between the ages of twenty and twenty-five and be willing to make the journey to Leland.  

Elizabeth had been concerned about the pay she’d receive.  She was currently teaching school in St. Louis and was paid five hundred and fifty dollars per year.  The job in Leland paid only four hundred and fifty but the offer included room and board at a boarding house.  Elizabeth was living in her parent’s house in St. Louis so she didn’t pay for a room, but she did pay for food.  When she did the calculations, it seemed like the pay in Leland would be about equal to what she made in St. Louis.

It was her need to put her situation behind her that finally tipped the scales in favor of moving to Leland.  In April of 1861, she’d married Johnathan Duncan, a young man whose father was a reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.  Johnathan intended to follow in his father’s footsteps, and was at that time proofreading articles at the same newspaper before they were sent to the typesetting department.

On May 10, 1861, a group of Union Army volunteers successfully averted a planned attack on the Federal Arsenal in St. Louis by capturing all those present at Camp Jackson.  The Union Troops then marched the captives into St. Louis in order to parole them in front of the public.

Word had spread quickly about the advancing column and many people gathered to witness the spectacle.  Most were secessionists, but among them was Johnathan’s father.  He was there to gather information for the St. Louis Post Dispatch about the capture and subsequent parole.  The secessionists soon began to become unruly and from somewhere in the crowd, a shot was fired.  At the sound of that shot, the Union troops began firing into the mob of people.  Johnathan’s father had been killed by one of those random shots.

As result of the shootings, on May 11, 1861, the Governor of Missouri formed the Missouri State Guard to protect the people of Missouri from further attacks by the Union Army.  The day after his father’s funeral, Johnathan had volunteered for the Missouri State Guard to avenge his father.  Johnathan would not live to see his desired revenge.  He was killed at the Battle of Carthage two months after enlisting.

Elizabeth was left with no husband to support her, so she took a job as a schoolteacher in a small school in St. Louis.  She found that she enjoyed the job, but living in the same city she’d shared with Johnathan made it impossible for her to put aside her grief and move on in life.  When she saw the advertisement in the newspaper, she thought it would be a way to leave everything she had lost behind and start a new life.

Now, she was just hours from accomplishing what she’d set out to do and the decision again seemed to be a wise decision.  She would get off the stagecoach in Leland, retrieve her bag, and then find Mayor Wilfred Ellington, the man who had replied to her inquiry and had offered her the job.  He’d written that he had arranged for a room at a boarding house for her and would help her get settled in.

When the stagecoach pulled into Leland, Elizabeth looked at the watch on her left wrist.  That watch was her late husband’s wedding gift to her and the only thing she’d kept that would remind her of him.  The hands on the watch said it was ten minutes until noon.

Elizabeth’s first thought was that Leland was larger than she had imagined it would be.  She had anticipated only a small general store, a small hotel, a blacksmith shop, and a Marshall’s office.  That’s what the older woman on the stagecoach had said were in most small towns in Texas.

Instead, as the stagecoach rolled down the main street of town it passed a large storefront with Madison’s General Store painted on the windows, then a hotel that looked as if it must have had thirty rooms.  On the other side of the street were an undertaker’s business, a bank, and a barbershop.  After the stagecoach went past a side street, Elizabeth saw a small building with a sign indicating it was the Marshall’s office, and further down and across from the way station, a blacksmith’s shop.

When she stepped out of the stagecoach, she saw a small church and what was probably the parsonage at the end of the one side street and beside the church, a building that looked newer then the rest.  In front of that building was a sign that said, “Leland School”.

There were a few people gathered at the way station, and when the driver helped the older woman down from the stagecoach, they walked quickly toward her.  For the first time since the stagecoach had left Little Rock, Elizabeth saw the older woman smile.

Elizabeth thought it a little odd that no one was there to meet her.  In his letter, Mayor Ellington had said he would meet her at the way station.  She wasn’t upset because she thought the Mayor of a town would probably be quite busy, but it would have been polite for the Mayor to send someone in his place.  She decided she would have to find him on her own, but since Leland was pretty small, it shouldn’t that difficult to do.

Elizabeth thought since the general store was usually the center of any community, someone there would know where she could find Mayor Ellington.  She picked up her traveling bag and then looked both ways before starting to cross the street.  That was something she always had done in St. Louis, because the streets in St. Louis were always full of vehicles from carriages to freight wagons to the simple buggies many families used for transportation.

When Elizabeth looked down the street, she saw nothing except for a one horse tied up to the rail in front of the blacksmith’s shop.  When she looked up the street she saw a large wagon pulled by four horses with a very large man sitting on the seat and holding the reins.  Another man, an older man by the looks of him, was sitting on the seat beside the large man.

Elizabeth waited patiently for the wagon to pass her by, but instead, the large man pulled his team to a stop when his lead horses were abreast of where she stood.  He touched the brim of his hat and said, “Mornin’ Ma’am.  Come ahead on.”

Elizabeth crossed the street carefully avoiding the piles of horse manure here and there.  When she reached the boardwalk on the other side, she turned and said, “Thank you, Sir.”

The large man touched his hat again.

“No need for thanks, Ma’am.  Just the proper thing to do.  You have a good day now.”

With that, the large man slapped the reins on the wheel horses’ rumps, said “Giddup”, and then drove on.

As Elizabeth watched the wagon leave town, she was a little taken aback.  In St. Louis, she’d heard that in Texas most men were hard drinking cowboys who valued women only for what they could do in a bed.  This man had behaved better toward her than some men she’d met in St. Louis.  The other difference was that in St. Louis, people didn’t usually do anything when other people walked or drove past them.  As the large man drove his wagon down the street, everyone he passed waved and the large man waved back.

In the general store, she asked the clerk where she could find Mayor Ellington.  The clerk had stared at her for a few seconds before asking why she wanted to find Mayor Ellington.  Elizabeth replied that she was the new schoolteacher and wanted to tell the Mayor that she’d arrived.

She thought that would put the clerk at ease, but he was still frowning when he said, “He’s probably at the hotel eating.  If he’s not there, try the bank.”

As she walked down the boardwalk to the hotel, she passed several people, mostly women.  They all smiled, and at least a couple said for her to have a nice day.  That made Elizabeth smile too.  Leland might be a small town, but the people seemed friendly.

When Elizabeth walked into the lobby of the hotel, the only person she saw was a clerk behind the desk.  She smiled as she walked up and he smiled back.

“What can I do for you today, Ma’am?”

Elizabeth smiled again.

“I am Elizabeth Duncan.  Mayor Ellington hired me to be the schoolteacher in Leland.  I would like to meet him so he will know I have arrived.”

The smile on the clerk’s face was replaced by tight lips and a wrinkled brow.

“Yes, Ma’am.  Mayor Ellington knew you would be here today.  Unfortunately, some pressing business at the bank made it impossible for him to meet you. I have been instructed to offer you lunch and then to show you to your room.  Mayor Duncan will meet you for dinner in our dining room tonight at six o’clock.”

Elizabeth was hungry, so she accepted the invitation for lunch.  After looking at the menu and deciding most of the meals were more dinner than lunch, she ordered a bowl of chicken soup and a cup of tea.

Eating by herself was something Elizabeth had not become accustomed to.  Before she was married, she ate with her family and they discussed what they’d done during the day.  After she married Johnathan, they always ate together and talked about their future.  Since she’d left St. Louis, she’d always taken her meals at a way station and though she didn’t talk with the other passengers much, she listened to their conversations so it wasn’t eating alone.

Elizabeth quickly finished her soup and then walked back to the hotel desk.

“You said you would show me my room, but Mayor Ellington wrote that he had reserved a room for me in a boarding house.”

The hotel clerk’s expression wasn’t one Elizabeth could really figure out.  He seemed to be almost smiling, but his voice sounded like he didn’t really like her.
“I understand that Mayor Ellington is planning to build a boarding house, but it has not yet been started.  Instead, he said you would live in a room at the hotel.  I am sure you will enjoy the accommodations.  The room is part of Mayor Ellington’s suite of rooms and he had this room prepared especially for you.  Let me get your key and then I’ll take you to where you will be staying.”

When Elizabeth sat her bag down on the bed and looked around the room, she was surprised.  She’d seen boarding houses in St. Louis and they were all pretty plain with just the bare necessities of a bed, usually one chair, and a small dresser with a wash basin.

This room had luxurious drapes on the window, the bed had posts on each corner with curtains that could be drawn around it, and there was a large chair and a matching sofa.  Near the bed was a large, ornate dresser and beside it, a matching wash stand with a basin and a large pitcher for water.  On a bar on the side of the wash stand were a towel and a washing cloth.  On a shelf below the basin were more towels and washing cloths.

On one side of the room was a small desk with another chair, and pictures decorated the wallpapered walls.  The floor was wood planks, but they were partially covered by two thick rugs, one beside the bed and one in front of the sofa.

Only one thing about the room concerned Elizabeth and that was a door in one wall that didn’t lead to the hall between the hotel rooms.  She assumed since the clerk had said her room was part of Mayor Ellington’s suite, that door must lead to his rooms.  She tried the door and found it to be locked, and when she looked at the doorframe, she found a brass key hanging on a hook there.  That the door was locked and she had the key put her mind at ease.

Elizabeth’s first task, since she was meeting Mayor Ellington for dinner was to wash the cigar smoke out of her long, dark brown hair and to change clothes.  After closing the curtains on her window, Elizabeth took off her dress, then smelled her chemise.  She decided it smelled too so she took it off as well.  Then, in just her underbodice and pantaloons, she bent over the washbasin and wet down her hair.  After working up a lather with the bar of soap on the washbasin, she rinsed her hair into the washbasin and then dried it with the towel.

Elizabeth took her other chemise from her traveling bag and put it on, then took out her other three dresses.  She spread them out on the bed to hopefully let some of the wrinkles relax, then picked the comb from her bag and combed her hair until it was dry.

When her hair lay in shining waves over her shoulders, Elizabeth put on the blue dress, slipped on her shoes, and walked to the lobby.  It wasn’t yet six o’clock, but she thought she would see what the general store had to offer as she’d been too busy to look before.

Her walk to the general store was markedly different from her walk from the general store to the hotel.  She passed a few people, but instead of saying hello or wishing her a good evening, all she saw were stares and frowns.  Something had changed since noon, but she didn’t have the slightest idea what that might be.

The clerk in the general store nodded when she walked inside, but he didn’t ask if he could help her like he had before.  He didn’t say a word.  He just started arranging the canned goods on a shelf beside the counter.

Elizabeth did look around the store, but quickly decided the clerk didn’t like her for some reason.  She left and walked back to her room at the hotel to wait until six.  She also thought about what she would say to Mayor Ellington.

She’d thank him for giving her the job of schoolteacher, of course, but she’d also ask him about the boarding house.  The hotel was nicer than any boarding house would have been, but it was unsettling to Elizabeth.  She was basically living with Mayor Ellington except for the locked door between their rooms.  That would look bad to anyone who knew of the arrangement, and it looked to her as if at least some people now did.  

That was the only explanation for the change in attitude she’d seen.  When she’d walked from the way station to the general store and then to the hotel, she’d just been a new woman in town.  Now, and she suspected the hotel clerk had told anyone who would listen that she was living in Mayor Ellington’s suite.  To almost anyone, that would mean she was at least a consort to Mayor Ellington if not a…

Elizabeth couldn’t even let herself think the word.  She’d been taught by her mother that a woman didn’t allow a man to touch her until they were legally married.  To think that people might believe she was there to serve Mayor Ellington in that way was abhorrent.

She’d have to explain that to him over dinner and tell him to at least let her move to a proper hotel room until the boarding house was finished.  She was sure he’d understand because in his letter he seemed to be a very polite and intelligent man.

When her watch indicated it was almost six, Elizabeth checked her hair in the mirror on the washstand, made sure her dress was hanging as it should, and then took her key and locked the door behind her.

When she passed the hotel clerk, he nodded and pointed to the door to the dining room.

“Mayor Ellington is sitting at his table, the one by the windows.”

The man sitting at the table by the windows was dressed in a suit like she’d seen rich men wearing in St. Louis.  He was sitting there sipping some kind of drink and watching the door, but he smiled when she walked in.  He waved his hand, and then stood up and moved behind her chair.  When she was standing beside the table, he said, “Missus Elizabeth Duncan?”

Elizabeth smiled and nodded.

He pulled out the chair.

“Please join me at my table.  We have much to discuss.”

As Elizabeth sat down, she was trying to place Mayor Ellington’s accent.  He obviously wasn’t a native of Texas.  His voice didn’t have the slow drawl she’d heard at every way station since she’d entered the state.  She was trying to think of a kind way to ask when he sat down across from her and smiled.

“As you have probably guessed by now, I’m not a native of Texas.  I was born and raised in New York City, so we have a lot in common.  We’re both from large cities so Leland probably seems very small and backward to you.  It did to me as well when I first arrived.  I found the residents to be hard working people, but mostly uneducated.  That is why I decided to stay.

“Now, shall we order our meal?  I apologize for the limited selection.  It is probably not that to which a lady of your education is accustomed, but the cook is very good at preparing the local cuisine.  There are a few things to which I confess a strong liking for though, and one of them is fresh oysters.  Fortunately, once the war ended it is possible to ship ice from the North to Texas, and once a month I have three dozen fresh oysters shipped to me from Galveston.  They arrived just yesterday and the ice they are packed in will keep them fresh for another three days.  I’m going to have half a dozen.  Would you care to sample them?”

Elizabeth had never tasted an oyster of any kind and didn’t think she wanted to.  She smiled and shook her head.

“No, but thank you.”

Mayor Ellington shrugged.

“I assure you it is your loss, but perhaps another time.”

He picked up a menu from the table and handed it to Elizabeth.

“Chose what you would like and do not be concerned with the cost.  I own the hotel and since you are my guest you will not pay a cent.  I can recommend the roasted quail with mashed potatoes and peas and also the venison roast with sweet potatoes and green beans.  If you prefer more common fare, the stuffed chicken with roasted potatoes and pinto beans is also a good choice.  Depending upon what you pick, I will select a bottle of wine to go with the meal.”

Elizabeth did look at the menu, but she didn’t share Mayor Ellington’s opinion about the food.  She’d eaten in many restaurants in St. Louis, and none of them served wild game of any kind.  You could order beef, pork, or chicken, but never roasted rabbit, quail, or venison.  

She wasn’t sure she’d like any of those things, so she smiled and said, “I believe I will have the beef roast with green beans.  That will be enough to more than fill me up.”

Mayor Ellington smiled.

“Excellent choice.  I shall have the venison roast and a nice red wine will compliment both.”

He waived to the waiter, gave him their order, and then smiled.

“So, what do you think of Leland?”

Elizabeth chose her words carefully.  Mayor Ellington was the man who had hired her and paid her way from St. Louis to Leland.  He could just as easily tell her he was withdrawing his offer and he probably wouldn’t pay her way back to St. Louis.

“Well, my first impression is that Leland is larger than I expected.”

Mayor Ellington smiled.

“It’s still a small town, but I’m changing that. I’m doing what I can to bring civilized life to what was just a tiny backward town in the middle of nowhere.

“I believe that after the war we just fought, it is the duty of people from the North to teach the people of the South the things you and I take for granted.  They need to learn civility and the ways of business that the town may grow and prosper.  Fortunately, this area did not employ much slave labor as it was primarily composed of cattle ranches, so I need not overcome that hurdle to progress.

“Well, I should rephrase my statement.  There were few Negro slaves in the area, but there were thousands of Mexicans either employed on cattle and horse ranches or attempting to make a living by farming.  Those Mexicans working on ranches were virtual slaves in their own right, receiving only a meager wage, a place to sleep, and such food as the rancher allowed them to have.  

“Most didn’t speak English so they could not negotiate for themselves.  That fact allowed the ranchers to take advantage of them by paying them as little as possible.  The men work all day in the fields and on the ranches but still can not afford to buy the food their labor produces.  Instead, the Mexican women raise chickens and a garden so their families can eat.

“My goal in building the school was to educate the population of Leland in order to give them the knowledge they require to better themselves.  Of course, the adult population is already beyond help, but the children…it is the children who represent the true hope.

“The other thing that is needed is better transportation from Leland to the large population centers to the East.”

He frowned then.

“I am certain you are of like mind after having endured the stagecoach ride from Little Rock.  I too suffered through that same adventure and I do not wish to repeat it.  For that reason, in conjunction with other businessmen from the East, I have obtained sufficient land grants from the US Congress to begin building a railroad from Texarkana to Leland.  I am currently working on financing for construction and equipment.  It will be some time before the first train stops at the station in Leland, but I assure you that day is coming.

“I am preparing for that day.  I have invested in building this hotel, the general store, the bank and the school.  My bank lent the congregation the money to build the church and as I have already stated, I am in the process of building a boarding house.  When the railroad arrives, Leland will be ready to welcome all travelers with open arms.”

Elizabeth smiled.

“You must have a lot of faith to invest so much money.”

Mayor Ellington smiled.

“Well, the investment is already paying for itself.  The general store is doing quite well, as is my bank.  The hotel, or course, needs more visitors and diners, but it is currently not losing money.  My bank has made many loans to farmers in the area for livestock and land improvements.  Those are very safe investments because if the farmer defaults on the loan, I will simply take his property.  I already own almost a thousand acres and the former owners serve as sharecroppers.  I take half the profits from each farm and the sharecropper takes the other half.

“So far, my situation has been financially rewarding as well as fulfilling my quest to improve Leland.”

Mayor sliced off a piece of his venison roast and then looked at Elizabeth.

“I am only lacking in one area.  I need a wife to share in my prosperity.  As there are few women in Leland who are not already married and none who are sufficiently educated, I suppose I shall have to import one.”

The odd smile on Mayor Ellington’s face made her wonder if he was just musing or if his words had another meaning.  She decided it was time to change the subject.

“Well, I wish you well in your search.  I do need to know some things about the school.  How many students should I expect?  What ages of children will be attending?  Are there any books available?  When do you want me to begin teaching?”

She was a little taken aback by the change in Mayor Ellington’s demeanor.  Instead of the smiling polite gentleman he had been up to that point, he became what Elizabeth could only describe as indifferent to anything involving the new school.

“I hadn’t really given any of those things much thought.  My assumption was that as a schoolteacher, you would supply any books you might require.  As for the number of students, I am not certain of that.  Most of the older children are required to work on the farms in the area.  There are a few children in town and no doubt their parents will send them.  I would expect the farm families to wait to see if you teach anything of value.  They are uneducated themselves, so they may not see the value of education.

“You may start the school operation as soon as you desire, but I would not expect to fill the school until the fall.  Most of the farm work will be done then, so perhaps you will get some students who live out of town.”

That was not what Elizabeth expected to hear from the man who had paid so much to bring her from St. Louis to Leland.  She didn’t know how to react since it was obvious Mayor Ellington didn’t seem to care one whit about the school.  

He lapsed into talking about himself again, about his plans and about how his wealth had increased.  He also touched on his quest for wife again by asking her if she knew of any unmarried women who might enjoy the life he could provide for her in Leland.  Elizabeth ate her meal quickly because the more Mayor Ellington spoke, the more uncomfortable she became.

When they finished eating, Mayor Ellington suggested they each have a glass of brandy to celebrate her arrival.  Elizabeth said she would have to decline as she was very tired from her trip and needed to rest.  Mayor Ellington looked dejected but said he understood and asked her to join him for breakfast the next morning.

As she undressed for bed, Elizabeth was beginning to question her decision again, but she was not a woman to give up so easily.  She had been hired to teach school and teach school was what she would do.  She would buy paper and ink from the general store and draw up notices that the school would be open on the first of September, just a week from now.  She would place those notices in every store and shop in Leland.  If that didn’t bring students to the school, she would think of something else.

It was after she blew out the lamp next to the bed that she saw a faint light coming from the door that led to Mayor Ellington’s chambers.  It wasn’t very bright and was on the side of the door at about waist height.  It took Elizabeth a few seconds to figure out it was the keyhole in the lock on that door.  

She hadn’t really looked at the lock, but now understood that keyhole went all the way through the lock to the other side.  That meant the lock could be unlocked from either side.  It also meant that anyone peering through the keyhole from Mayor Ellington’s side could see her if she was in front of that door.  

That was proven a few seconds later.  Elizabeth was watching that small dot of light when it went dark for a few seconds and then reappeared.  The only explanation was that Mayor Ellington had looked through the keyhole in order to see what she was doing.

Elizabeth watched the door until the light went away and didn’t return.  She assumed Mayor Ellington had gone to bed.  It bothered her that he would do such a thing though.  Had he looked only a few minutes before he would have seen her taking off her dress, chemise, underbodice and pantaloons and then putting on her nightdress.  He would have seen her completely naked, and that caused a chill to run down Elizabeth’s spine.  She’d thought Mayor Ellington to be a gentleman she could trust, but if he looked through keyholes, he was not worthy of any trust at all.

The next morning, Elizabeth rose from the bed, gathered her clothes, and took them to the connecting door.  She stood to the side of the keyhole when she changed so that even if Mayor Ellington did chance a look through the keyhole, all he would see was her empty bed.  Once she was dressed, she brushed her hair and then sat down to wait until nine, the time Mayor Ellington said he usually took his breakfast.

She heard Mayor Ellington’s voice when she was still crossing the hotel lobby.

“Now Samuel, I don’t know what happened, but I assure you I had nothing to do with it.”

Elizabeth then heard another voice, a somewhat familiar voice.

“Ellington, you son of a bitch, you know damned well what happened.  You sent your men out to steal Matthew’s mules.  I found them this morning on my west pasture and they were both dead.  The wolves and buzzards had been at them so I couldn't tell why they died, but I figure your men put them there so Matthew would think I did it.

“Without his mules, Matthew can’t farm.  If he can’t farm, he can’t pay your bank the money he borrowed.  You’ll take his hundred and eighty acres just like you have a dozen other farms that border my land.  Well, I gave Matthew two more mules, so you can’t do that.”

“Samuel, I did take those farms but it was all legal.  Those farmers used their land as collateral for the loans the bank gave them.  When they didn’t pay, the bank had no choice but to take ownership of the properties.”

“Well, Ellington, I’ll tell you this one time and one time only.  If you do anything like this again, you and I will settle this once and for all.  I’ve stood by and watched you get rich by such tricks, but this is the last time.”

Mayor Ellington put up his hands then.

“Now, Samuel, there’s no need for threats.  Leland has a Marshall to handle complaints like this.  Might I suggest you go speak with him.  He can ride out to Matthew’s farm and see if he can figure out what happened.  If Matthew’s mules did indeed end up like you claim, Marshal Avery will see to it that the thieves are appropriately punished.”

The big man scowled at Mayor Ellington.

“Ellington, you’re insulting me now.  You know full well that Avery is in your pocket just like every other man in Leland.  He won’t find anything because you’ll tell him not to find anything.  I’m not going to see Avery except to tell him to stay in his jail until we finish this.  You’ve been warned.”

Elizabeth was almost to the door when the large man she’d seen the day before burst through the door, took one look at her, tipped his hat, and said, “Good day, Ma’am.  You have a nice day”, and then strode to the lobby door.  She cringed when he slammed it shut behind him.

When she walked up to Mayor Ellington, he looked a little pale.  She asked him who the other man was and what he wanted.  Mayor Ellington’s hand shook a little when he picked up his cup of coffee, took a sip, and then put it back on the table.

“That, my dear Elizabeth, was Samuel Ames Horn, a man who owns about four hundred thousand acres of timber and grass land west of Leland.  Leland is named for his father, Leland Horn, the man who started the ranch.  He hates the fact that I’m making Leland grow and takes every opportunity to threaten me.  

“He’s always accusing me of sending my men to steal livestock or burn down crops or barns or houses on some farm that is next to his property.  I don’t have any men except for the people who work at the bank, the hotel and the general store and they’re hardly the type of men who would do such things even if I ordered them to, which I did not.

“This time he accused me of having my men steal two mules from a Negro cotton farmer.  It’s my guess the farmer didn’t put them in the barn last night and they just ran off.  Before that, it was my men who burned down the barn at some Mexican farmer’s farm and killed all his goats and chickens.

“To tell you the truth, I should probably go to Marshall Avery and have Samuel arrested, but I feel sorry for him.  I’ve heard he fought in the war and I think the war probably made him half-daft.  I’ve heard it did that to many men.”

Mayor Ellington sighed then.

“His main complaint seems to be that I’m just obeying the law.  It’s true that when farmer can’t pay off his loan that the bank takes control of the property.  We do let the farmer stay on as a sharecropper if he wants.  I think Samuel believes the bank should just absorb the loss and let the farmer go on farming.”

Mayor Ellington smiled at Elizabeth then.

“Now, what would you like for breakfast?”

After they ate, Mayor Ellington gave Elizabeth a key.

“This key is to the new school house.  Why don’t you walk down there today and see what you might need?”

That morning, Elizabeth did just that.  

She found about what she had expected.  There was a table and chair at the front of the single room and then four rows of benches that would seat maybe twenty students.  There was a potbelly stove in the center of the room so she wouldn’t have to worry about the students getting chilled during the winter months.  Other than the benches, desk, and stove, the room was empty.  

When Elizabeth went back outside, she walked all around the building.  On the East side was a spot of open land that Elizabeth figured that would be good for the games she’d play with the younger students.  In back of the school was a rack of wood for the stove and beyond that, a privy.

On the West side of the school there was also an open area, but that area abutted the cemetery of the church.  There was a man in the cemetery pushing a small lawn mower down the row of headstones.  He looked up, waved, and then walked over to Elizabeth.

“Good morning, Ma’am.  I figure you must be the new schoolteacher everyone is talking about.  I’m Pastor David Branson.  Pleased to meet you.”

He was smiling, so Elizabeth smiled back.

“Yes, I’m Elizabeth Duncan.  I’m just looking at the school to see what’s here so I’ll know when I can begin teaching.  I hope to have all the children in town and all the children from the surrounding area attending.  I believe education is important to help people succeed.”

Pastor Branson smiled.

“I also believe that, and so do most of my congregation.  My wife and I tried to teach the children, but while we can teach the stories of the Bible, neither of us is very skilled in the teaching of reading and mathematics.  It will be good to have a real teacher in Leland.   My wife and I will give you all the assistance that we can.”

Elizabeth liked Pastor Branson, if only because he hadn’t frowned when she said she was the new schoolteacher.  She wondered why.

“Pastor Branson, I am pleased to know that, but I fear the other people in the town do not share your opinion.  They do not seem to want to speak to me and all I see on their faces when they pass is a frown.”

Pastor Branson stroked his chin for a second and then smiled.

“Elizabeth, if I may call you Elizabeth, would you like to meet my wife?  I am certain she would enjoy meeting you and showing you the parsonage.  I’ll introduce you and then get back to mowing the cemetery.”

Pastor Branson’s wife was a somewhat thick woman with a beaming smile and sparkling eyes.  When he introduced Elizabeth to her, he said, “Mary, this is Elizabeth, the new schoolteacher.  I thought you two could get acquainted while I finish mowing the cemetery”.

He then whispered something in Mary’s ear that made her smile droop a little.  The smile quickly returned and she asked Elizabeth if she would like a cup of coffee.

“David always likes a second cup at mid-day and I have just started a new pot.  It will be done in a few minutes.  In the meantime, we can get to know each other.”

Their conversation was much the same except that Mary wanted to know how Elizabeth came to be in Leland.  Elizabeth explained how she’d been forced to become a teacher after her husband was killed during the war, and then about reading the advertisement in the St. Louis newspaper.

“I wanted to stop being a burden on my mother and father, and teaching in a new school seemed to be a way to do that as well as to strike out on my own.  I hope I have not made a mistake, but sometimes if seems as if I have.”

Mary nodded.

“David said as much.  Let me get our coffee and then I’ll try to explain what David was too embarrassed to say.”

After Mary sat two cups of steaming coffee on the table, she sat down, put her hands together and frowned.

“Where to begin?  I suppose it would be wise to do as John 8:32 says – ‘And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’.

“Elizabeth, the problem is not you.  It is your relationship with Mayor Ellington.

“The people of Leland are for the most part all God-fearing people who are proud of what they do and try hard to not cast doubts on another.  Mayor Ellington is a man who has proven by what he has done since coming to Leland to not be a man one can trust, much less a man who is a good Christian.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her brow.

“I thought the people would like everything Mayor Ellington has done.  He built the hotel and the general store, and he started the bank so people have a place to keep their money and to get loans when they need them.  He also built this school.”

Mary nodded.

“Yes, he did all those things and at first the people of Leland thought he was working to make Leland a better place to live.  That’s why he was elected to be the Mayor.

“As soon as the general store opened for business, the people of Leland got a taste of what his true reasons were.  There is a town about fifteen miles from Leland called Little Creek, and it has a general store.  That’s where people went to buy their supplies before Mayor Ellington built the one here.  The people were happy they wouldn’t have to make the long drive to Little Creek until they saw the prices the new store charged.  Everything was at least two times the cost of the same thing in Little Creek.

“It was the same with the bank.  Instead of keeping all your money at home, you could put it in the bank and Mayor Ellington said he would pay interest on that money so it would grow.  What he didn’t say is that he would charge you a fee for what he called “record keeping” that wiped away all the interest you had earned plus a little bit more.

“What the people of Leland now know is that everything Mayor Ellington did, he did to help himself.  The people of Leland do not trust him with anything but they can’t do anything about it because of the town council.  Mayor Ellington didn’t pick a town council from the people who live and work in Leland or the surrounding area.  He brought in others from the East.  The Marshall is from New Jersey. The undertaker used to live in Pennsylvania.

The man who runs the general store grew up in Leland, but when the bank lent money to his father, Mayor Ellington told Mister Jackson that if he didn’t do what he said, he’d take his father’s farm and leave his parents with no place to live.

“He pays them all to do what he wants, and what they’ve done is make laws that benefit them and Mayor Ellington.  For instance, at the first town council meeting, they passed a law that requires their approval for anyone running for Mayor.  Of course, Mayor Ellington is the only one who gets their approval.

Another law they passed says if you can’t make a payment on a loan from the bank, the Marshall will come out and tell you that you’ve forfeited all rights to the property and it is now owned by the bank.

“If you die in Leland, you have to be buried in a casket made by the undertaker or pay a fine of a hundred dollars.  

Mary chuckled then.

“David preaches a funeral for nothing out of respect for the deceased and the family.  Albert Miles, the undertaker charges ten dollars for a casket that costs him a dollar to make.  David was going to make caskets for the dead until Mayor Ellington stopped by and told him it would be a shame if something happened to the church.  He didn’t need to say anything more.  

“The town council also made a law that if you want to start a business in Leland, you have to get permission from the town council.  To get permission, you have to agree to pay the town of Leland fifty dollars a year for the permit.  The only new business to start up in Leland since Mayor Ellington was elected is the  way station for the stagecoach.  They had no problem paying for the permit because they make a lot of money.  

“Thankfully, the blacksmith and the barber shop were here before Mayor Ellington.  He can’t do much about them so he hasn’t tried, but we all think he will soon.”
Elizabeth sipped her coffee and then frowned.

“I understand some now, but what does all that have to do with me?”

Mary smiled.

“When Mayor Ellington first came to town, several of our young women tried to attract his attention in hopes of becoming his wife.  He soon put them in their place by telling them they weren’t educated and sophisticated enough for him.

“Elizabeth, the hotel desk clerk told everybody that you live in a room that connects to Mayor Ellington’s rooms.  They think that means you’re his mistress.  People in Leland do not hold with such immoral conduct.”

Elizabeth voice showed she was angry.

“I did not come to Leland for any purpose other than to teach school.  I would never do anything like they think.  Isn’t there some way I can change their minds?”

Mary shook her head.  

“The only way would be for you to move out of the hotel, but now that he has you there, I doubt if Mayor Ellington will let you do that.  I don’t know where you would go either.  No one in town would give you a room for fear Mayor Ellington would do something to them.  Unfortunately, that includes David and me.  It is all the congregation can do to make the payments on the loan we got from the bank to build the church.  If something happened to it, he’d just take the land and we’d have to go somewhere else.”

Elizabeth thought for a few moments, then smiled.

“There’s at least one man who isn’t afraid of Mayor Ellington.  He was in the hotel dining room this morning and he was mad.  He’s a very big man, bigger than most.  Mayor Ellington called him Samuel.”

Mary nodded.

“That’d be Samuel Horn and you’re right.  He isn’t afraid of Mayor Ellington because he doesn’t have to be.  The Horn family has owned a ranch here since before the time Texas became a Territory.   That’s why Leland is named Leland.  Mister Horn’s father’s name was Leland Horn.

“First, Leland built a sawmill and started sawing lumber.  Then, he built the blacksmith shop so farmers in the area would have a man to shoe their horses and mules and to repair their farming equipment. After that came the barbershop and the general store.  Mayor Ellington didn’t build the first general store, by the way.  Samuel’s father did and then sold it to Hyram Wynn.  Hyram ran he general store until it burned to the ground one night.  They found Hyram inside.  Mayor Ellington said he took pity on Hyram’s wife and bought the burned out building from her.  Then he built the new store and put Mister Jackson in charge of it.

“All the lumber used to build the buildings in Leland came from Samuel’s sawmill.  The beef served in the hotel dining room comes from Samuel’s stock.  He has over three hundred men working for him and without him, Leland wouldn’t be a town anymore.  Mayor Ellington knows that and it makes him mad.   What he would like to do is figure out some way to take the Horn ranch for himself, but he hasn’t so far.”

Elizabeth asked Mary if Mister Horn might help her.  Mary shrugged.

“I don’t know, Elizabeth.  He seems to be a bit on the odd side about women.  He’s always polite to women, but he’s a young man, only twenty-five from what I hear, and you’d think he’d be looking for a wife, but he doesn’t seem to be.  I think that may be because he had a wife before he went off to war.  She was with child at the time, but she took sick with the grippe and passed on while Samuel was away.  David preached her funeral and she’s buried in our cemetery.  Since he came back, he doesn’t seem to be interested in women any more.”

Elizabeth frowned.

“I’m not looking for a husband.  I’m just looking for a way for the people of Leland to accept me as their schoolteacher and nothing else.  How would I go about meeting Mister Horn?”

Elizabeth hadn’t heard Pastor Branson come in until she heard his voice.

“Samuel doesn’t come to church on Sunday morning, but he always visits his wife’s grave on Sunday afternoon.  You come to church tomorrow morning and stay for dinner.  When Samuel gets here, I’ll introduce you.”

That night, Elizabeth had dinner with Mayor Ellington again.  He asked what she thought of the school.  Elizabeth had smiled a fake smile.

“It’s wonderful.  I can hardly wait to begin teaching my students.  I also met Pastor Branson and his wife.  They both said they were happy to finally have a school and a schoolteacher.”

Elizabeth noticed the momentary frown that crossed Mayor Ellington’s face.  It quickly change to a smile, but she knew she’d cause him some discomfort.

“Well, I wouldn’t put much stock in what the Pastor and his wife say.  Religious people are always talking about how things could be and ignoring how things really are.  I suppose their support might help you get some students though.”

He sighed then.

“I had hoped that one day my own children would attend that school.   A man needs someone to pass along his fortune to.  Without a wife to bear those children, I fear that may not be the case.  Perhaps one of these days I can convince an educated woman like yourself to become my wife and make that dream come true.”

Elizabeth didn’t need to see the gleam in Mayor Ellington’s eyes to understand that he wanted that woman to be her.  She hadn’t been impressed by Mayor Ellington before.  After talking with Pastor Branson and his wife, she found the suggestion to cause a chill to run down her spine.

Elizabeth knew she didn’t dare show that distaste.  Instead, she smiled.

“Mayor Ellington, I am certain that given enough time, you will convince that woman that being your wife would be a life she had only dreamed about.

“Now, I hate to leave you, but my excitement over the school has fairly drained me.  I will go to my bed and leave you to your evening brandy.  Oh, and I will be having my breakfast early tomorrow morning.  I promised Pastor Branson I would hear his sermon tomorrow and I also accepted his wife’s invitation to share their noon meal.  I intend to ask him to tell his congregation that school will begin on the first of September.”

Elizabeth didn’t give Mayor Ellington time to reply.  She just pushed out her chair, stood up, and walked away.

As Elizabeth quickly undressed, she kept looking at the keyhole in the door that connected her room to Mayor Ellington’s.  She was just pulling the sheet and blankets up to her neck when she saw the pinpoint of light appear from the keyhole.  The light stayed there for a few seconds and then went away.  She knew that was Mayor Ellington looking through the keyhole.  She smiled to herself knowing that he hadn’t seen her.

When Elizabeth went to the dining room at eight the next morning, she didn’t sit at Mayor Ellington’s table.  It was a small thing, but she hoped someone would see her at another table and realize her relationship with Mayor Ellington wasn’t what they thought.  She sat at another table and ordered oatmeal and a cup of coffee.  Once she finished, she went back to her room and changed into her best dress, then walked to the church.  The actual service wouldn’t begin until ten, but Elizabeth didn’t want to have to speak with Mayor Ellington if she could help it.

She waited inside the school building until she saw other people begin arriving at the church.  At a little before ten, Elizabeth locked the school door behind her and then walked the short distance to the church.  As she stepped inside, Mary was waiting there and smiled.

“Let’s go to where I always sit.  That way, the people will know you’re here and if you’re with me, they’ll think maybe you’re not what they thought.”

Elizabeth saw people staring at her as she followed Mary up the center aisle to the first bench.  Once she sat down, she didn’t look back, but she could almost feel the eyes looking at her.

Elizabeth found the service to be much like Reverend Thomas had preached back in St. Louis.  Pastor Branson was a little louder and used his arms a lot, but the message was very clear.  

The subject of his sermon was acceptance and understanding, and seemed to Elizabeth to be aimed at the congregation’s apparent judgement of her even before they knew her.  Pastor Branson spoke about how all would experience their own day of judgement when they met God, and that they should conduct themselves in a manner that would result in that judgement being admission into Heaven.  He gave several examples from the Bible, and ended his sermon with a warning from the Bible.

“My friends, the word of God tells us that God alone may be the judge of our lives. Until that day when we stand before God, we must not give in to the temptation to spread untruths about others no matter how things appear lest we be judging them.  As Luke wrote in Luke 6:37, ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven’.  Now, let us pray.”

Once Pastor Branson said, “Amen”, to end the prayer, the congregation began filing out of the church.  Mary touched Elizabeth on the hand and said, “We’ll wait until they all leave.  David gave them something to think about and they need to talk amongst themselves.”

Mary smiled then.

“I have a chicken in the oven and it should be about done.  Mister Horn will be along about one, so we have plenty of time.”

At a little after one, Pastor Branson pointed out the window of the parsonage.

“Mister Horn is here, right on schedule.”

Elizabeth looked out the window and watched as a man on a black horse rode up to the church, tied the reins to one of the hitching rails, and then walked to the cemetery.  He looked like the same man who had stopped his wagon so she could cross the street, and the same man who had threatened Mayor Ellington.

When she looked at Pastor Branson, he smiled.

“Samuel will be here for maybe fifteen minutes.  When he starts to leave I’ll introduce you.”

The man stood there with his hat in his hand and looked down at the ground for about ten minutes.  Then he pulled a few pieces of grass from around the simple headstone, put his hat back on, and started back to his horse.  

Pastor Branson stepped out of the parsonage door then.

“Mister Horn, might I have a word with you?”

The man stopped, turned and walked toward the parsonage.  When he was halfway to the door, Pastor led Elizabeth out of the parsonage.  The man stopped as soon as he saw her, but he didn’t say anything until Pastor Branson and Elizabeth stopped in front of him.  Then, he touched his hat and said, “Afternoon Ma’am.”

Pastor Branson smiled and offered his right hand.  

“It’s good to see you, Mister Horn.  The reason I stopped you is this woman here, Elizabeth, wants to talk to you if you have the time.”

As Samuel shook Pastor Branson’s hand, he was wondering why this woman wanted to talk to him.  He’d seen her twice before, once when he’d stopped his wagon so she could cross the street and once when he was leaving after warning Ellington.  He’d seen her sit down at Ellington’s table through the window, and had decided Ellington had brought a whore to Leland.

He wasn’t especially upset that the woman was probably a whore.  He’d met many as he fought his way across the South.  Most had been women with no other way to support themselves because of the war and he couldn’t fault them for just trying to stay alive.  Everyone he knew during the war had been trying to just stay alive until the damned war ended.  He’d carried out the orders he’d been given by the generals above him, but his primary goal had been to keep himself and as many as possible of the men under him alive.

The woman didn’t really look like a whore though.  She looked like most of the women in Leland.  He knew that looks could be deceiving though.  Maybe she wasn’t a whore.  Maybe she’d been hired by Ellington to find out information about the operations of the Horn Ranch.  Both sides had used women for that purpose during the war.  He decided the only way to find out was to listen to what she had to say.

“It’s good to see you too, Pastor Branson, and I have some time.”

He smiled at Elizabeth then.

“What’s on your mind, Ma’am?”

Elizabeth knew Samuel was a big man, but until she was standing in front of him, she didn’t realize just how big he really was.  She had to look up to see his face.  Everything else about him was big, from his wide shoulders to his barrel chest to his big hands.  A name flashed into her mind then, another secret name like she gave other people she didn’t know.  That name was “Big Sam”.

“Well, Mister Horn, I’m the new schoolteacher and I thought people would welcome me.  According to Mary, that would be the case except for Mayor Ellington.  He hired me and told me there would be a boarding house in Leland for me to live in.  When I got here, I found out that he intended for me to live in the hotel where he lives.

“Mary says the people think he brought me to Leland to be his mistress, but I assure you that’s not true.  I need to move out of the hotel but Mary say’s there is no place for me to go.  I was wondering if you might be able to help me.”

Samuel was smiling but he’d changed his mind about Elizabeth.  Ellington might have thought she’d be his whore once he got her in Leland.  That was something Ellington would do.  He’d promise her one thing and then when he had some control over her, he’d force her to do what he wanted.  Samuel didn’t believe Elizabeth wanted any part of that arrangement, and the way she’d frowned and the tone of her voice told him Ellington would have a difficult time convincing her.

That she wanted away from Ellington impressed Samuel.  The other thing that impressed his is she didn’t try to talk her way into what she wanted from him.  She’d just come right out and asked.  He didn’t know of any other woman who would be so direct.  Even his Barbara hadn’t been that way.  She’d always have to lead up to what she wanted from him.

“Well, Ma’am, you already know I have no liking for Ellington so I’d like to help you out.  The problem is the only place I could put you up is on my ranch.  If I did that, people would still think the same thing but they’d be thinking it about me instead of Ellington.  That wouldn’t do you any good that I can see.  You’d also be an hour away by wagon from the school.  That’s a far piece to ride every day.  What about the church?  Ellington doesn’t own the church, not yet anyway.”      

Elizabeth frowned.

“I think Pastor Branson and Mary would be willing but they’re afraid of what Mayor Ellington might do to them.”

Samuel nodded.

“Yes, he’d probably figure out some way to run them off just like he has a dozen or so others.  Pastor Branson and his wife took care of my Barbara when she passed so I owe them a debt.  Maybe I can pay them back a little and help you at the same.  Let’s go talk to Pastor Branson.”

Elizabeth went back the hotel at five that night, but she told the hotel clerk she wasn’t feeling well and so wouldn’t join Mayor Ellington for dinner.  In truth, she’d had a small meal before she left Pastor Branson, a meal in which Samuel joined them.

She found it difficult to fall asleep because she was both excited and somewhat in dread about what would happen tomorrow.  Instead of thinking about that, she turned her attention to Samuel because he was a man such as she’d never met before.

On the outside, Samuel looked like many of the rugged cowboys who she’s seen in town before.  He wore heavy pants, a heavy shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and open at the neck.  He wore heavy boots on his feet and a tan, sweat stained hat on his head that looked like it had been walked on as much as worn on his head.

That alone would have made Samuel look rough.  The Colt revolver in the holster belted on his hip and his chiseled, sunburned face completed the picture of a man better left alone than challenged.  That impression was reinforced when she heard him arguing with Mayor Ellington in the dining room that morning.

Yet, when meeting Pastor Branson, Samuel had been a perfect gentleman, and when they sat down to eat, he’d smiled and told Mary if she ever wanted a job as a cook to come see him.  Mary had looked embarrassed, but Elizabeth knew she appreciated the compliment.

It was also obvious to Elizabeth that Samuel was an intelligent and educated man.  The proposal he made to Pastor Branson was both simple and sly.  

Elizabeth smiled when she remembered what Samuel had said just before he got on his horse to ride back to his ranch.

He’d tipped his hat and smiled.  

“Ma’am, if you ever want to see a real ranch, the invitation to come to the Rocking H is always open.”

Three events took place on Monday that churned the town of Leland until all the past worry and hate boiled to the surface.

The first event was when Pastor Branson and Samuel went to the bank just as it opened.  They were inside for only about fifteen minutes.  Then Samuel got on his horse and rode out of town.  Pastor Branson walked back toward the church.

Elizabeth had not gone down to the dining room for breakfast.  Instead she watched out her window until she saw Pastor Branson walking towards the hotel.  She had already packed all her things in her traveling bag, so she picked it up and walked to the desk.  As she handed the clerk her key she said, “Please tell Mayor Ellington I have made other living arrangements”.  Then she met Pastor Branson and they walked to the church parsonage where Mary had prepared a room for her.

Nothing else happened until Mayor Ellington went to the dining room for breakfast at his usual nine o’clock.  When he didn’t see Elizabeth there, he walked back to the desk clerk and asked him if Elizabeth was still ill.  The desk clerk shook his head.

“No Sir, Mayor Ellington.  She gave me her key about half an hour ago and asked me to tell you she’d found another place to live.”


The clerk shrugged.

“She didn’t say, Sir, but if I had to guess, I would guess down at the church.  I saw her walking that way with Parson Branson.”

The clerk could see Mayor Ellington’s face turning red in rage.  His voice was almost a scream.

“Nobody walks away from me like that, nobody, and nobody helps anybody who tries without suffering the consequences.  She’ll see, you’ll all see.  Only one person runs this town, me, Mayor Winfred Ellington.”

With that, he stomped out of the lobby and slammed the door behind him.

Samuel was watching two of his Mexican vaqueros breaking in a three-year-old gelding when another older vaquero pointed at the road that led to the house and barns.

“Senòr Horn, a rider comes fast.  We stop him?”

Samuel squinted his eyes to see the man better and then shook his head.

“No, Juan.  I recognize the horse I sold three years ago to the man who runs the general store.  We’ll see what he wants.”

The man was only feet away from Samuel when he pulled the blowing horse to a stop, leapt from the saddle, and ran up to Samuel.

“Mister Horn…Ellington…the Pastor…the schoolteacher…”

Samuel said in a quiet, but commanding voice, “Jackson, slow down until you can breathe again.”

Jackson waited a little, but he was too excited to wait for long.

“Mister Horn, the new schoolteacher left the hotel this morning and told the hotel clerk she was going to live at the parsonage.  When Mayor Ellington found out, he got Marshall Avery and went and arrested Pastor Branson and his wife and put them in the jail.  Then he got the new schoolteacher and took her back to the hotel.  The hotel clerk told me he has her locked in his room.  He said I should tell you so here I am telling you.”

Samuel frowned.

“Did he say why Marshal Avery arrested Pastor Branson and Mary?”

Jackson shook his head.

“No, but I heard that Mayor Ellington said he was going to turn the church into a house for himself since he owned it now.”

Samuel frowned again.  He’d expected Ellington to try something.  He just hadn’t expected him to go this far this fast.  He turned to Juan.

“Juan, how many men can you round up in the next half hour?”

Juan counted on his fingers, then smiled.

“At least twenty, maybe more.”

“Well, get as many as you can, get them armed with Winchesters and on horses.  We’re going to settle this with Ellington once and for all.”

Two hours later, Samuel rode at the head of a group of twenty-six men on horseback.  Some wore the traditional dress of the Mexican vaquero.  The rest were dressed like Samuel in heavy pants, heavy shirts, boots and hats.  All carried a Winchester rifle cradled in their arms and wore a revolver in a holster on their hip.

The first stop Samuel made was at the Marshall’s office.  He didn’t bother to knock.  He just drew his Colt revolver and swung the door open.  When Marshall Avery made a move toward his side, Samuel cocked the hammer on the Colt.

“Avery, I’d think twice about that if I were you.  If you draw that pistol I’ll shoot you where you stand.  I’m gonna give you another option and I’m only gonna say this once.  Get on your horse and ride out of Leland and don’t stop until you get to Arkansas.  Either way there won’t be any lawman interfering in what has to be done so I don’t give a damn what you decide.  You decide and decide now.”

Marshall Avery frowned.  “You won’t get away with this Horn.  I can have ten men here in an hour.”

Samuel nodded.

“Yep, the same ten men you’ve been sending out to raid the farms next to my property.  You think your ten men could stand up to my twenty-six men with Winchester rifles?  Go get ‘em and we’ll find out.  Of course, you’ll be the first to die.  I’ll see to that myself.  Now, that badge, gunbelt, and revolver belong to the town.  Lay them down on the desk and get the hell out of Leland.”

Samuel turned to Juan then.

“Juan, send a couple men to follow Avery.  If he turns back…”

Juan grinned.

“If he turns back, I think a rattlesnake will bite him.  He won’t make it back to Leland.  He’ll be food for the buzzards and coyotes.”

Samuel turned back to Marshall Avery.

“Well, Avery, you gonna draw that pistol so I can shoot you dead or are you gonna do what I said?”

As Avery rode out of town followed by two cowboys, Samuel took the keys and unlocked the jail cell holding Pastor Branson and Mary.

“Pastor, did Avery say why he was arresting you?”

Pastor Branson nodded.

“When he found out that we paid off the loan at the bank this morning, he said I’d violated the terms of the contract I’d signed when I got the loan.  He said because you gave me the money and the contract said the person taking out the load had to pay it back, I was guilty of fraud and because Mary didn’t stop me, she was guilty too.  He said no matter how the trial turned out, he now owned the church and the parsonage.”

Samuel chuckled.

“We’ll see what he has to say when I read him what his contract really says.  What about Elizabeth?”

Pastor Branson frowned.

“Marshall Avery just said she couldn’t leave the hotel because she and Mayor Ellington had entered into a contract where he agreed to pay her expenses and he wasn’t going to pay the church to give her room and board.”

Samuel turned to Juan.

“Juan, send ten men to watch the hotel.  I don’t want Ellington to run and hide and  I don’t want him shot if he tries.  I just want them to hold him until I get there.”

Samuel then turned back to Pastor Branson.

“Pastor, take your wife home.  You don’t need to be a part of this.  I’ll take care of Ellington myself like I should have done when he started taking over the town.”

Pastor Branson shook his head.

“Samuel, I’m already a part of this.  I can’t hurt or kill anybody, but isn’t there something else I can do to help?”

Samuel nodded.

“Yes there is.  On your way home, go to every place in town and tell the people that Mayor Ellington is leaving and they need to decide if they want to stay and be a part of Leland or if they want to leave with him.”

Samuel then turned back to Juan.

“Let’s go find Ellington.  He’ll be in the hotel with Elizabeth.  That’s the only place he has left to hide.”

When Samuel and Juan walked into the hotel lobby, the desk clerk blanched white as a sheet.  Samuel said, “Where’s Ellington and Elizabeth?”

The clerk whispered, “Down the hall, Room 100” and then ducked down behind the counter.

Samuel and Juan stopped at the door with the number 100 on it and drew their revolvers from the holsters.  Samuel turned to Juan and said, “You ready?”

When Juan nodded, Samuel raised his right foot and slammed it with all his strength in the area of the doorknob and lock.  There was the loud crack of splintering wood as the door was flung into the room.  A second later Samuel stepped inside followed by Juan.

Mayor Ellington was standing behind a desk with his left arm around Elizabeth’s neck.  In his right hand was a cocked revolver pointed at Elizabeth’s temple.  He sneered at Samuel.

“Samuel, if you try anything, Leland’s going to lose a school teacher.  Now, turn around and go back to your ranch and stay there.  If you come to Leland ever again, I’ll have Marshall Avery arrest you for trespassing.”

Samuel chuckled.

“That’s gonna be hard to do since Avery decided quitting the Marshal’s job was better than being shot.  He’s on his way to Arkansas right now followed by two of my men who’ll make sure he doesn’t come back.”

Samuel saw the flicker of fear Ellington’s eyes, the same fear he’d seen hundreds of times during the war.  That fear passed and was replaced by hatred.

“I’ll have my men hunt you down and kill you and then I’ll take your ranch for myself.  There will be nobody to stop me.”

Samuel’s smile changed to a grim look of determination.

“No you won’t.  Those men were Avery’s men and since he’s gone they won’t get paid.  I expect they’ve already heard and they’ve pulled up stakes and headed out.  Besides, I have ten men watching the hotel and another fifteen waiting outside.

“The first thing you’re going to do is put down that revolver and let Elizabeth go.  The second thing you’re going to do is write one of those contracts you like to use when you take the land other people have worked hard to farm.  This contract is going to say that you’re leaving Leland and give up all your rights to everything you own here.  Ownership of your assets will pass to the town of Leland and a new town council led by Pastor Branson will decide who gets what.  They’ll decide that after all your paid crooked friends have left town.

Ellington snapped back.

“I haven’t done anything that wasn’t spelled out in the loan contracts.  It’s not my fault you people are too stupid and uneducated to read.”

Samuel smiled.

“Well, I can read and I don’t need to be a lawyer to know why you wrote them like you did.  You thought you’d tied everything up with a nice little bow that would guarantee you’d end up with all the property in town and around my ranch.  Once you had that property, you’d have cut off my water.  I figure you’d offer me a penny on the dollar for my ranch.  Probably would have worked out that way except Pastor Branson showed me the contract he signed.

“Funny how you wrote the contract for the loan to the church.  You didn’t say how that loan had to be paid off.  All it said was if the person getting the loan didn’t pay on time, the property was yours.  Well, this morning, Pastor Branson and I went to the bank to find out what the church still owes on the loan.  Your clerk said it was three hundred and twenty six dollars and nineteen cents.

“I gave Pastor Branson three hundred and twenty six dollars and nineteen cents and he gave it to your clerk.  Your bank clerk said he didn’t think the church could pay off the loan all at once.  I asked him to show me where it said that.  He read the contract through twice before he said he couldn’t find anything there like that.  As of this morning, the bank has no claim to the church and Pastor Branson and I have a contract that says the church will pay me back if and when and as much as they can afford to pay.  

“Now, you put down that revolver, let Elizabeth go, and start writing what I tell you to write.”

Ellington sneered again.

“I suppose if I refuse, you’ll just shoot me.”

Samuel smiled again but his voice was calm and firm.

“If I have to.”

Ellington frowned.

“I guess you’ve given me no choice.”

He put the revolver on the desk and then released Elizabeth.  Samuel told Juan to go make sure she was all right, then turned back to Ellington.

“Now, get some paper and a pen and start writing.”

Ellington smiled.

“I happen to have some contract forms in my desk.  I’ll use one of those.”

He slowly pulled open the middle drawer and then reached down.  Samuel had glanced over at Juan and Elizabeth and didn’t see Ellington pull a second revolver from the drawer.  He turned back when he heard the click as Ellington cocked the revolver and was starting to raise his Colt when there was the sound of a gun shot from where Juan and Elizabeth stood.

Ellington staggered, but raised the revolver toward Samuel again.  He almost had it leveled when Juan fired again.  This time, Ellington dropped the second revolver and fell down behind the desk.  By the time Samuel got to him, Juan was already there and looking at Ellington.

Juan looked up then and grinned.

“Senòr Horn, it’s a good thing you bring me along.  You getting slow.”

Samuel didn’t have time to reply because Elizabeth ran up and put her arms around his neck.

“Mister Horn, I…what he said he was going to make me do…you saved me from being forced to marry him.  I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to thank you enough.”

Samuel gently pulled Elizabeth’s arms from his neck.

“No need for thanks, Ma’am.  Just the proper thing to do.  Let’s get you back to the parsonage so Mary can take care of you.”

As Samuel, Juan, and Elizabeth walked into the lobby, the hotel clerk raised up from behind the counter.

“Is it over?”

Samuel nodded.

“All except for the buryin’.  Go get the undertaker.”

The clerk shook his head.

“I saw him right after the shooting stopped.  He was in his wagon and heading North.  I don’t think he’ll be coming back.”

Samuel smiled.

“Well, go find a couple men and stick Ellington in the ground before he starts to stink up the place worse than he already has and don’t waste a casket on him.  He doesn’t deserve to be buried with the good people in the church cemetery either so pick some other place.  The corrals at way station would be a good place.  The horses can do to him what he did to the people in and around Leland.”

When Samuel and Juan took Elizabeth back to the parsonage, Mary met them at the door.  She embraced Elizabeth and then said, “Thank God you’re safe Elizabeth.”  Then she looked up at Samuel and Juan.

“I was going crazy wondering what was happening so I started cooking supper to have something to do.  Can you both stay?”

Juan looked at the ground.

“Senòra Branson, I should go back to the ranch.  People will talk if I stay because I’m a Mexican.”

Mary smiled.

“You’re just a man who helped Mister Horn save Elizabeth.  The Bible says we’re  all God’s people and if He doesn’t care who your parents were neither do we.  Now come inside and tell us what happened while I finish supper.”

After supper was done and Samuel and Juan had told Pastor Branson and Mary what had transpired at the hotel, Pastor Branson asked what was going to happen next.

Samuel scratched his head and then smiled.

“Well, to my way of thinking, since Ellington’s dead all the contracts he had are null and void.  He didn’t have any family that I ever heard about, so there’s nobody to notify and I doubt anybody is going to come to Leland and claim anything.  There’s the money in the bank to consider too.  Somebody needs to check the actual money against what the books say.  I’m sure Ellington considered that money to be his so he might have borrowed some without signing one of his contracts.

“I think the town should decide who gets what and I think you should form a new town council to decide that.  That’s what I was going to have Ellington agree to before he decided to try to shoot me.”

Pastor Branson shook his head.

“Samuel, I’m a pastor, not a politician.”

Samuel just smiled.

“That’s why I think you should do it.  I know most of the people in Leland, and they trust you.  Nobody will accuse you of trying to get anything for yourself.”

It was almost dark when Samuel stood up and said he and Juan needed to get back to the ranch.  Pastor Branson followed them to the door, thanked them again, and then watched as Juan walked to his horse, but Samuel went to the cemetery.  When Pastor Branson closed the door, he said, “Samuel’s gone to visit his wife’s grave.  I think that’s really why he said he had to leave.”

Elizabeth stood up without saying anything and walked out the door.  Pastor Branson looked at Mary.

“What is Elizabeth doing?”

Mary smiled.

“The same thing I did with you to convince you that you should start courting me.  Didn’t you see how she’s been acting around him?”

Elizabeth stood outside the cemetery fence for a while before she quietly walked up beside Samuel and said, “She must have been a special woman.”

Samuel turned and smiled.

“Yes, she was.  I’ve never found another woman like her.”

Elizabeth’s voice was so soft it was almost lost to the sounds of the crickets chirping for mates and the rustling of tree leaves in the light breeze.

“I felt the same way about my husband.”

“I didn’t know you’d been married.  What happened?”

“We’d been married for a month when Johnathan joined the Missouri State Guard and was killed at the Battle of Carthage.”

Samuel said he understood how she felt.

“We’d been married a little over a year when the war broke out.  I used to come here and tell Barbara how much I missed her and that I was sorry I wasn’t there to say good-bye when she passed.  I don’t know what I was hoping for.  Maybe to hear her voice again like that fortuneteller who came through town a year ago said she could make happen.  Didn’t though.

“Now, I just come here to remember.”

“I never saw my husband’s grave, but I’d go to the cemetery at our church and try to talk to him.  I’d ask him why he had to go join up.  Then, I realized that was just me being selfish so I stopped asking him that.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever find a man like Johnathan again, so I haven’t really tried.  You’re a little like he was, I think.  He joined up because he thought it was the right thing to do.  Is that why you went to the war?”

Samuel had asked himself that question a thousand times and still didn’t have a good answer.

“I don’t really know except that my daddy started this ranch and from what I heard, if the Union won, they’d take it all away and give it to other people.  I didn’t want that to happen, but not because I’d be left with nothing.  That’s what my daddy started out with and he did pretty well for himself.  I figured I could do the same.  It wasn’t because of slavery either because Daddy didn’t believe any man should own another so he didn’t have slaves.  I guess it was just because I didn’t hold with any government taking anything away from people who’d worked so hard to get it.  It just seemed like the proper thing to do at the time.

Elizabeth quietly asked if that was why he’d helped her get away from Mayor Ellington.

Samuel looked at her and smiled.

That was part of it, I guess.  I knew what he was going to do.  He was going to keep you here until you agreed to do what he wanted just like he did to most of the people in town.  I knew you didn’t want that, so I decided it was time to stop him.”

“What was the other part?”

Samuel sighed.

“You probably don’t want to hear the other part.”

“But I do, I really do.”

Samuel looked at the ground.

“Well…like I said, since I lost Barbara, I never found a woman like her…until you asked me if I could help you out.  You’ll think I’m crazy as a skunk with the rabies, but I wondered if Barbara had sent you to make up for her being gone.”

Elizabeth put her hand on Samuel’s arm.

“Maybe she did.  I didn’t have anything ahead of me in St. Louis until I read that advertisement for a schoolteacher in the newspaper and I never used to read those advertisements.  Something just made me read them that night.  I still don’t know why.

“Mary says it was God, but I think God has too many other things to do besides worry about me.  Maybe it was your Barbara or my Johnathan.”

Samuel put his arm around Elizabeth’s waist.

“So if they did, what should we do now?”

Elizabeth felt a wave of warmth spread over her because of Samuel’s arm.  She fought back the urge to put her arms around his neck, and instead, stroked one finger down his chest.

“I wouldn’t want to disappoint them, so maybe we should find out it we like each other enough to…well, if we like each other or not.  Do you have any ideas about how we might do that?”

Samuel thought for a second and then tightened the arm around Elizabeth’s waist enough she had to move closer to him.

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do.  We need to have a celebration.  Ellington is gone so you’re safe and the people of Leland can relax and get on with their lives.  Also, my men got back yesterday morning from driving this year’s herd of cattle to the stockyards in Abilene.  We always have a barbecue at the end of a drive.  We’ll just make this one big enough for the whole town to come.

“I’ll drive a carriage into town and take you to the ranch.  Oh, and be sure to tell Pastor Branson and his wife they’re welcome too and that I’ll send another carriage to take them to the ranch and back.”

When Elizabeth told Pastor Branson and Mary about the barbecue, Mary grinned and winked at Pastor Branson.  He grinned back.

“Sounds like you and Mister Horn like each other.”

Elizabeth blushed.

“Well, Mister Horn is a nice man and he saved me from Mayor Ellington.  Yes, I like him.  I think I’ll go to bed now.  It’s been a long day.”

The barbecue gave the town a huge boost in self-esteem.  Pastor Branson said it felt like the town was before Mayor Ellington took over.  The people ate barbecued beef and beans until they were stuffed, and then sat around the fire and talked.

Samuel and Elizabeth talked too, but they talked as they walked toward the main house and away from the crowd.

Samuel chuckled.

“You know what Juan told me when we got home that night?  He said he thought I wanted to get you away from Ellington more than I wanted to get Ellington out of Leland.  He said if that was true, I shouldn’t let you get away.”

Elizabeth slipped her hand in Samuel’s big hand and smiled when he gently squeezed it.

“Mary said kind of the same thing.  She said men never make up their minds about a woman unless they have a little help and that I should help you.”

“Is that what you were doing that night in the cemetery?”

“Yes, sort of, I guess.  I’ve thought a lot about you ever since that day you yelled at Mayor Ellington in the dining room.  That’s when I named you ‘Big Sam’.”

Samuel laughed.

“I’ve been called a lot of things, but never that.  What caused you to do that?”

“Well, since I was a little girl, I gave names to people I didn’t know.  Sometimes it was because I thought I’d like them and giving them a name made it seem kind of like I did know them.  Other times it was because I didn’t like them at all so I made up a bad name for them.

“I named you ‘Big Sam’ because I thought I’d like you.  Turns out, I was right.”   

Samuel chuckled again.

“Elizabeth, you don’t know much about me, so I don’t know why you think you’d like me.”

Elizabeth stopped walking and when Samuel turned to see why, she put her arms around his neck.

“I know the things about you that are important, the things you do without thinking, like the day you stopped your wagon so I could cross the street and the day you came barging out of the hotel dining room and almost ran into me.  You didn’t run into me though.  You stopped, tipped your hat and told me to have a good day.

“I also know that you risked a lot to get me away from Mayor Ellington, but you said it was just the proper thing to do.  I don’t need to know much more except that you’d take care of me and let me take care of you.”

Samuel put his arms around Elizabeth.

“Doesn’t sound like you’ll need much courtin’.  That’s good because I’m not very good at dressin’ up to go courtin’.”

Elizabeth raised up on her tiptoes then.

“You don’t have to be dressed up to kiss me and that’s all the courting I need.”

After the barbecue, the town was abuzz with the news that Samuel and Elizabeth were courting.  That only lasted about a month because that’s when Pastor Branson married them in the Leland church.  Juan was Samuel’s best man and Mary was Elizabeth’s maid of honor.  

Their wedding night was spent in the big house on the ranch.  Both Samuel and Elizabeth were a little nervous, Elizabeth because she thought Samuel would probably compare her to his dead wife and Samuel because of his size relative to Elizabeth.  

Elizabeth changed into a white night dress in a small room adjoining the bedroom.  She smiled when she saw the rocking chair and the cradle sitting there.  She knew that room was for a baby.  It adjoined the bedroom so the mother of that baby wouldn’t have to go far to nurse the baby or to take care of it during the night.  

Samuel changed into a nightshirt in the bedroom proper.  It felt strange because he hadn’t worn a nightshirt since before he went to war.  During the war, he slept fully clothed if there was any risk of a night attack.  If his unit was in safe territory, he slept in his union suit.  In the nightshirt he felt almost naked.

When Elizabeth came back into the bedroom, his fears about his size doubled.  When dressed, she looked a lot larger than she did in the thin nightdress that stretched out over her breasts and then hung straight down.  When she walked up to him and put her arms around his neck Samuel was hesitant to return the embrace.

Elizabeth asked if she looked like he’d imagined, and Samuel replied, “You’re so little.  I’m afraid I might hurt you.”

Elizabeth smiled and stroked the back of Samuel’s head.

“Big Sam, Pastor Branson married us, but only you can make me your wife.  I’m ready for you to do that.”

Samuel barely remembered making love with Barbara.  Like most women of the time, she’d been a passive partner in bed.  Samuel had known to excite her so she’d be ready to accept him and he’d managed to figure out what made Barbara that way.  He had no idea about Elizabeth’s likes and dislikes.  

The first thing he realized is that Elizabeth wasn’t going to be a passive partner.  He figured that out when she stepped back and pulled her nightgown over her head without blowing out the lamp.  He was staring at her pert breasts, flat belly, and wide hips when she chuckled.

“I don’t think this is going to work very well if you keep that nightshirt on.”

Samuel turned around and pulled the nightshirt over his head, then took a deep breath and turned back to face Elizabeth.

She smiled when she saw his erect manhood.

“I think you like how I look.  Come show me that you do.”

After saying that, Elizabeth lay down on the bed and held out her arms.  Samuel climbed in beside her and put his big hand on her firm breast.

“If I do something you don’t like, you’ll have to tell me.”

Elizabeth sighed at that touch and the warmth it caused in her core.  

“Just keep doing what you’re doing.  I like how it makes me feel.”

Like most men at the time, Samuel didn’t know much about exciting a woman.  He knew their breasts were sensitive.  Barbara was so sensitive he had to make his touches very gentle.  She’d said his hands were rough and made her nipples hurt.

For that reason, he didn’t touch Elizabeth’s nipples at first.  It wasn’t until she put her hand on his and pressed his palm down on her nipple that he understood that Elizabeth wasn’t that way.  He felt her nipple stiffening under his palm and then chanced a light touch to the thick nub with a fingertip.  

When Elizabeth moaned, Samuel thought he’d hurt her and whispered that he was sorry.  Elizabeth whispered back, “You didn’t hurt me.  You just made me feel like I want more.  Do it again.”

By the time Samuel had stroked both Elizabeth’s nipples until they were stiff and sticking up proud from her taut, wrinkled nipple beds, she was moaning at every touch.  Samuel felt her slide her hand down his belly and then groaned as her fingers closed around his rigid manhood.

He’d never felt that before and the feeling made his manhood twitch.  Elizabeth didn’t say anything.  She just began gently stroking him.  Only when he began to rock his hips when she stroked did she say anything, and then it was just a whisper.

“I want you Samuel.  Make me your wife now.”

Samuel was surprised when he knelt between Elizabeth’s spread thighs and probed for her entrance.  What he felt was a little coarse hair and puffy lips, but inside those lips Elizabeth felt very wet and slippery.  He pushed his manhood forward but stopped when Elizabeth moaned.

He felt her adjust her position a little and then her whispered, “Don’t stop again.  It doesn’t hurt at all.”

Samuel felt Elizabeth shudder as he slowly pushed his manhood inside her.  He felt like groaning again because while she was slippery, she was also a very tight fit.  He felt every ripple of her passage massaging his manhood with every stroke.  He also felt the way Elizabeth began lifting herself up with every stroke.

It wasn’t long until Samuel felt the surge building in his loins. Barbara had once told him she got pleasure from feeling his manhood throb as he filled her with his seed.  This first time, he wanted to give Elizabeth that feeling so he tried to hold back.  

He wasn’t ready for Elizabeth to gasp and for her thighs to begin to shake.  He wasn’t ready for the way she lifted herself up even after his manhood was deep inside her.  He wasn’t ready for her to fall back down, then shriek as she raised up again, dug her nails into his back, and began rocking herself up and down over his manhood.

There was no way Samuel could hold back with that going on.  He groaned, pushed his manhood deep and then groaned again as the surge became a flood filling Elizabeth with his seed.  Even after he’d pulled out his throbbing manhood and then pushed it deep inside her three times, Elizabeth still hung there, held up off the mattress by her legs, and quivering all over.

When she did ease back down, she pulled Samuel down on top of her and held him there until the contractions that tightened her core mostly stopped.  Then, she stroked his back and whispered, “That never happened before.  What did you do to me?”

Samuel, thinking he had indeed hurt Elizabeth, raised up enough he could see her face.

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth.  I won’t do it again.”

Elizabeth pulled him back down enough he felt her breasts flatten out against his chest.

“I just said it never happened before.  I didn’t say I didn’t like it.  I want you to do it again and again and again.”

Well, a lot of things changed in Leland after that.  The town held an election for Mayor and even though he hadn’t expressed any interest in the job, Pastor Branson was elected.  He proved to be a fair man who had the best interests of Leland at heart.  

He led the town council to do things to better the town.  One of those things was to hire a new town marshal.  Peter Dobbs was an older man who had served in the Union Army during the war as a Captain.  Since Texas had technically been a Confederate state, some of the council were nervous until they spoke to him in person. He promised the council that as far as he was concerned, Texas was a part of the United States and he wouldn’t treat anyone any differently.  

He upheld that promise when a group of renegade former Union soldiers descended upon Leland and robbed the general store.  Marshal Dobbs organized a posse and rode off to find the robbers.  The posse found them camped in a blind canyon.  When Marshal Dobbs ordered them to surrender, the men opened fire.  When the smoke cleared, there were six dead robbers in the canyon and no one in the posse had been injured.

Marshal Dobbs left the men where they fell, but brought back everything they’d taken from the general store.  He also brought back the men’s horses, saddles and bridles, and their weapons, and told Pastor Branson the town should sell everything and use the money for something for the town.

After that incident, word got around to the other towns around Leland that if you came to Leland, you’d best be on your best behavior.

The Leland school opened, but it opened a year later than Elizabeth wanted.  That was because it took that long for the council to find a schoolteacher in Dallas who would come to Leland.  Elizabeth had decided that having Big Sam’s babies was more important than teaching school.  Their son, the first of four children they would have together, was born ten months after they were married.

That’s about all there is to say about Samuel and Elizabeth except that Samuel decided Elizabeth needed a name to go with what she called him.  After their wedding night, she always called him “Big Sam”.  One night while she lay in his arms, he said he’d thought of a name for her too.

“I’m going to call you ‘Little Lizzy’ on account of you’re so little compared to me.”

Elizabeth stroked his chest then.

“You can call me anything you want as long as you call me your wife.”

Soon the ranch hands and sawmill workers knew about both names but when they spoke of Samuel or Elizabeth, they always called them Mister and Missus Horn or if they were vaqueros, Senòr and Senòra Horn.  They had too much respect for both to call them by anything but a formal title.  Part of the reason for their respect was Samuel paid well and never asked for more than a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.  The other reason was that, Mexican, Negro, or white, Samuel treated them all like his family.

The only man on the ranch who didn’t follow along was Juan.  One day when he and Samuel were driving the wagon to town, Juan chuckled.

“I hear Missus Horn calls you Big Sam.”

Samuel nodded.

“Yes she does.”

“And I hear you call her Little Lizzy.”

“Yes I do.”

Juan chuckled again.

“I think I’ll start calling you Big Sam too.  It takes too long to say Senòr Horn.  You won’t shoot me if I do, will you?”

Samuel smiled.

“No.  You started out with my daddy and I learned how to ride a horse and run a ranch from you.  When I came back from the war, you’d kept the ranch going.  There was also that time you shot Ellington before he could shoot me.  I couldn’t ever shoot a man who saved my life.”

He grinned at Juan then.

“Besides, it took you two shots to put Ellington down.  Years ago, you’d have done it with one.  I couldn’t shoot a man who’s getting so old he can’t aim a revolver.  It just wouldn’t be the proper thing to do.”