Early June 1871
North of Warbonnet, Wyoming Territory
Monday Malone checked the angle of the lowering sun and considered how he would shoot the Hotchkiss boys. If it came to that. They were hunkered close together at their campfire, not a hundred yards down the hill from him. Probably thought they'd picked a sheltered spot, safe from prying eyes. They'd used dry wood in an effort to avoid telltale smoke.
Smart boys, Monday thought, but not smart enough. They'd built their fire atop damp grass and that thin wisp of smoke had steered him in this direction. Then he'd smelled their fire. Monday had left his horse on the other side of the hill, taken his rifle from the scabbard and the bag of leg irons from his saddlebag, and crept up until he'd had to belly crawl. This spot he'd picked, beside the trunk of a wind-twisted tree and just under some silver sagebrush, gave him cover to see the two men.
Cletus was standing while his brother squatted. Cletus had a dark beard and Verle just a three-day growth of whiskers.
Three days. That's how long Monday had trailed them from the outskirts of Warbonnet. Three days since they'd hit Charlie Simmons, the assayer, over the head in his office and taken a small bag of nuggets. Mrs. Simmons had said it was small, but it was larger than the meager poke the Hotchkiss boys had brought with them. They'd been prospecting in the hills south of town since early spring and they'd evidently got little color to show for their work.
Too bad he was out of town when the robbery occurred, Monday thought. He might have caught up to these boys sooner. Boys! Cletus looked to be about forty and Verle must have been in his thirties. Everybody around town called them the Hotchkiss boys. At twenty-three, Monday wondered if they called him the boy marshal behind his back. Monday took off his black hat and ran his fingers through his damp sandy hair.
Time to act, he reckoned. Cletus took the little coffee pot from the fire and was stepping over to where Verle squatted, holding out his cup. Perfect. They were only a foot apart now. Monday put the rifle into the hollow of his right shoulder, squinted into the sight, held his breath, and fired.
The coffee pot flew out of Cletus' hand, spraying both men with scalding liquid. Verle swore and stood up, reaching for his pistol even as his left hand wiped his face. Cletus knew better and stayed put, making no move toward his gun. Monday jacked another round into his Henry repeater.
"Don't move! This is Marshal Malone from Warbonnet and I've got you covered. Stay as you are." The light breeze had blown away his telltale powder smoke before they could look for him. Monday hoped his hiding place—and the fact they’d recognize the boom of a rifle—would keep them from trying to draw. He stayed prone.
"Cletus," Monday called to the pair. "I want you to take two steps away from Verle—to your left. That's it. That's good. Now keep that right hand out where I can see it and unbuckle your gunbelt with your left hand. Verle, you just stand easy. OK, now throw that belt far to your left." He turned his attention to the slower brother.
"Your turn, Verle. You do the same thing with your left hand. That's fine. Now throw your gunbelt off to your left. Good. All right, Verle, you turn around and face the same way your brother is looking. Both you boys clasp your hands behind your backs where I can see 'em. That's it. Now hold still. I'll be down there directly."
Monday stood up silently, and picked up the bag of leg irons. He made his way down the hill carefully, keeping one eye on both men while avoiding making any noise that might give them some idea how close he was. When he dropped the bag by the fire with a clank, the brothers jumped.
"Well, that'll do, you two. You led me a tiring chase the last three days and I plan for us all to get some sleep tonight and start back to Warbonnet tomorrow. Looks like," he paused and glanced at the pan on the fire, moving it to one side with his foot. "You even saved me some beans and bacon. Your hospitality will go over big with the judge in Laramie when he tries you boys for murder."
"Murder," Verle wailed, slightly turning his left shoulder. "We didn't kill nobody, just hit him over the head."
"Shut up, you damn fool," Cletus snarled. "He's just tryin' to trick you into confessin'."
"Your faith in me is well-placed, Cletus. He's right, Verle. Mr. Simmons wasn't dead when I left town—but he could be by now. I've known a few men to succumb to having the barrel of a .44 Colt bent over their skulls. But I do thank you for 'fessing up to that hit on the head. That and the bag of nuggets I'll probably find in your saddle bags is all the county will need to put you boys in the pokey for a lotta years.
"All right, fun's over," Monday said, picking up the bag of clinking leg irons. "Move to that lone tree." They walked about ten paces away from the fire. "Sit down now on opposite sides. Verle, do you know what >opposite' means? Not next to your brother. Over here, facing him. That's nice. Now lie down like you're fixin' to take a siesta and put your hands behind your backs again."
With that, Monday laid down his rifle, drew and cocked his pistol, and shook out the leg irons. First he clamped the end of one restraint to Cletus' right ankle, tight over his boot, and the other end to Verle's left ankle. Then he circled the pair and repeated the procedure on the other side of the tree. Keeping his pistol leveled, Monday checked both pairs of boots for knives and came up with one from Cletus' right boot. Neither one had a hideout pistol. Finally, he stood, uncocked his own pistol, rotated the cylinder to the empty chamber, and holstered it.
"Now, I'm gonna bring my horse over here to keep yours company. Don't you boys get any ideas of climbing that tree while I'm gone." It must be forty feet high, Monday reckoned.
Monday brought his big buckskin horse down to the camp and unsaddled him, then left him to graze with the Hotchkiss horses. Their nags looked played out and grateful for rest. Monday pulled his spoon from his saddlebag and went to see if the beans and bacon were scorched. Cletus and Verle argued all during his brief meal, but he didn't let that affect his appetite. He drank water rather than make more coffee in his own small pot.
Monday unrolled his blanket next to a log Cletus had used for a seat. He remembered the boys' blankets and took them over to the tree. He held them up and they gestured which one belonged to whom. As he started back to the fire, Verle began to whine.
"Marshal, can I go over in them weeds and take a pee? I got to go."
His brother snarled.
Monday said, "In the morning, Verle. Hold it 'til then."
"Well, what if I cain't?"
"Then just turn over a little and do what you gotta do on the downhill side. But I'd think twice about that if I was you. Too much pee around a campsite might attract bears."
"Bears? Grizzlies? Oh, no. I'll hold it."
Monday grinned. No grizzlies on these rolling grasslands.
"And Verle. Just in case you're tempted to stay up all night and jaw with your brother, too much talking has been known to attract the Sioux—or the Cheyenne. These are their hunting grounds, you know."
Verle opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it and closed it with a snap.
Monday went to water the horses. Since the Hotchkiss boys hadn't hobbled their mounts, he fashioned two pair from some old rope hanging next to Cletus' saddlehorn. He didn't need to hobble his own horse; Lightning was too well trained to wander at night. Finally, he collected the gunbelts and the one rifle the boys had carried and dumped them next to his blanket.
He checked to be sure there was enough wood. No clouds in the sky. Should be perfect sleeping weather, now that the Hotchkiss boys wouldn't be making any more noise. He checked his pocket watch. Eight-thirty. Too early to sleep, but enough light to read.
Monday got from his saddlebag the copy of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad that Kate Shaw the schoolmarm had lent him. She claimed to know Twain personally. Monday had to admit the man had real wit, even if he couldn't understand every word in the book. Kate had promised to lend him a book about some ship that traveled under the ocean when he finished this one.
He lay down and read for a half hour. He was more tired than he'd thought, so he put the book away and turned his feet toward the smoldering fire. He took a canteen over to Cletus and Verle and bade them a quiet good night.
As he sat down on his blanket again, Monday thought of Kate and the birthday present she’d given him. That had let him track smart the last three days, allowing him to rest Lightning from time to time. She gave him a pair of shiny brass Liverpool binoculars in April, reminding him of the danger they faced last summer from a killer with a telescopic sight on his rifle.
"Use these," she'd said, "when you're looking for someone dangerous. Perhaps they'll help keep you from harm."
He'd been touched at the time, but never had any real use for them until now. Monday had picked up the Hotchkiss boys' trail just north of the Mastersons' Arrow Ranch and their tracks had been easy to follow that day, almost straight as an arrow, you might say. Then as the hills got steeper, Monday found the true value of the binoculars. Every time he came to a hilltop or ridge, he got down off Lightning before reaching the skyline, lay down, and scanned the opposite hill for his quarry, especially any sign they might be watching their back trail.
Yesterday, he'd seen Cletus—easy to spot with his dark beard—let Verle take the horses on a ways while he laid beside a boulder watching the valley they'd just crossed. After about an hour, Cletus stood up and beckoned to Verle, who brought up their horses. Once they left, Monday was able to cross the valley quickly and picked up their trail as the light began to fail. Today, he'd made up more time and caught them finishing their supper.
Monday took off his boots and wrapped himself in his blanket. He put his hands behind his head and thought of Kate again. Then he stopped. Thinking of Kate last night and dreaming of her had probably caused him to have the Mary Ellen dream again, for the first time in weeks.
He'd never gotten over Mary Ellen’s death, or his responsibility for it. They'd been raised together as brother and sister, but for a few days that spring of 1867, when they were nineteen, they'd become something more. Secret lovers. And the child created in their passion had led to Mary Ellen's death. If she hadn't gone to Manzanita that day with Pa to see the doctor and the preacher, she wouldn't have died when the Lassiter gang took over the town.
Every time he had that dream, Monday tried to think of ways he could have changed the outcome, how he should have died instead of Mary Ellen. If he'd ridden in more cautiously. If he'd taken her directly to his horse and left town right away. If he'd stayed with her and let Pa and the other men search for Lassiter. The only sure thing he'd figured in the last four years was that if he hadn't turned away from Lassiter at the last minute, he would have taken that bullet in the heart and Mary Ellen might have lived. At least he wouldn't have had to watch her die.
Since her death, he'd ridden three cattle drives from Texas to Kansas. Mary Ellen's brother Tom had cheated Monday out of his share of the ranch when Pa died in '69. So Monday went on one more drive last year, then quit and headed for Montana, hoping to leave bitter memories of his lost ranch in Texas and dreams of Mary Ellen behind.
Even that hadn't worked out as he'd planned. During his three-day ride with Marshal Sam Taggart escorting that pretty new schoolteacher Kate Shaw to Warbonnet, he'd witnessed Taggart's murder. Then he'd let Kate persuade him to help her solve it.
In those two short weeks, he'd come to care for her and she'd convinced him to stay on in Warbonnet after they found the killer.
Now he was a full-time lawman and had surprised himself by surviving long enough to pick up some of the skills this job demanded. In the last year, he'd only had to shoot one man, and that was to wound him. Now he'd tracked down two bumbling but dangerous robbers and would have to get them back down to Warbonnet and on to the county seat for trial.
The Hotchkiss boys weren't going anywhere tonight. He chuckled, turned on his side, and went to sleep.
Kate Shaw trotted Windy to keep up with Becky Masterson’s horse. They’d finished their Saturday afternoon ride from Arrow Ranch and headed south, back to Warbonnet. The school teacher was only an inch or two taller than her young friend, but her borrowed roan, larger than Becky's black pony, made her look much bigger. Kate reached forward to pat Windy's neck and her long blond ponytail brushed her shoulder.
Becky reined in a little so they could ride side by side again.
"I was trying to tell you," the younger girl said, "I got another proposal this week. From that other lieutenant at Fort Fetterman. You know, Doug Walsh." She tossed her auburn curls.
“But I told him he'd have to wait a bit. There were other suitors in line ahead of him." She laughed and slapped her reins against her jeaned leg. Becky wore pants when she rode and one of her father's checked shirts.
"I swear, Becky, you’ll soon have half the fort lined up at your house to pay you court. The line of men from Warbonnet would stretch from town halfway to your ranch as it is."
Becky laughed again. "You talk as if I'm the only belle at the ball for the church dances. I'll bet you get five or six proposals a month yourself."
Kate grinned. "Oh, nowhere near that many. In fact, if you leave Roy Butcher out, then I've only had five or six since I got here."
"Roy? The old man who drives the freight wagon down to Laramie? I can't believe he'd dare ask you more than once."
"Roy is wonderful. He reminds me of my grandfather back in Buffalo," Kate said. "Why, he told me perfectly seriously that he'd be a good catch. He doesn't drink or gamble and if I'd marry him, he said he'd give up chewing tobacco. Can you imagine? He told me he was going to be persistent and he's asked me, regular as clockwork, every month since last September." She cinched up the cord of her straw hat a little under her chin, then thought better of it and slid the keeper down and let the hat fall back to dangle between her shoulder blades.
"I hope you don't get only the older men asking you, Kate. You have so many dance partners to choose from."
"Well, Sean Finnegan has asked me twice, when he's been in town. He says an older man would do me good. More experienced and, he says, not as likely to stray." Kate laughed at her friend’s expression. "Stop fishing, Becky. I really haven't had any offers from men my own age."
Her own age. Kate would turn twenty-one this fall. She supposed that meant men in their twenties. There were quite a few, not so many in town, but more at the ranches, the mines, and Fort Fetterman.
"Well," Becky went on, "I've been asked by men only a little older than we are. By that gambler who came through here last month, and," she paused for emphasis, "by Monday Malone!" Laughing, Becky moved her pony a couple of quick steps to the left to avoid Kate's swat as she leaned out of the saddle trying to reach her.
"You little liar! You know very well if he had, you'd have ridden all the way to town just to tell me."
"I wouldn't have done that right away. First, I'd have accepted. Then I'd have told you."
"No, first you would have kissed him," Kate teased.
"Maybe I already have!" Becky shied her horse away from Kate again.
Kate swatted the air playfully. Becky would already have told her if she had, just as she'd told Kate about kissing Lieutenant Beamish last fall. Besides, Monday Malone seemed to have all the emotions of a block of wood lately. He fidgeted with his hat whenever he saw her these days and often wouldn't meet her eye when they spoke.
"Kate, when are you gonna let me give you a pair of jeans like mine for riding?"
"Oh, Becky, I could never—I have to think of my position. The schoolteacher can't be seen wearing trousers."
"Oh, pooh! We hardly ever see a soul on our rides. How would anybody know? You wouldn't scandalize the town if you just wore pants at our place."
"But you've told me the secret of riding comfortably in them is to wear, to wear those short drawers you made. I have to hang my laundry in town behind the boarding house, Becky. I could never. . . ." She trailed off, thinking.
"What's the matter, Kate?"
"Oh, nothing. Probably nothing. It's just that I've had some of my laundry go missing the last couple of months. I seem to come up short a pair of drawers some weeks. I'm going to have to give Roy an order for more the next time he goes to Laramie."
"Well, if he proposes as often as you say, you'd better put that order in a sealed envelope. I'd just die if I had to order new drawers through a man, especially one of your beaus," she teased. Becky's cheeks colored a little and Kate was pleased to see some things could still embarrass her young friend. Becky sometimes seemed so worldly at eighteen.
"At least I’m not hoping to run off with an entire expedition of men, Kate. You were miles away there for a minute. I'll bet you were thinking of the Hayden trip again, weren't you?"
"Uh, no. Actually not. Although I do have to think about packing. It's less than two weeks before I leave, if I can go at all. It still depends so much on Mr. Moran and Mr. Bierstadt."
Although most of Warbonnet knew she hoped to go with the Hayden survey party, Kate had shared the story of her deception only with Becky and Corey Masterson at this point. Professor Hayden had passed through Laramie a couple weeks ago with the bulk of the expedition to Yellowstone. Sean Finnegan, who'd been hired as guide for the Yellowstone part of the journey, had told her the expedition was going to begin in Utah, doing geologic surveys for possible railroad routes while working their way up into Montana and then into northwestern Wyoming. The two invited guest artists—the famous Albert Bierstadt and the less well-known but promising Thomas Moran—would come through Laramie by train weeks after the main body of explorers. Sean would convey the artists, by train and a series of stagecoaches, to Ft. Ellis, Montana to rendezvous with the rest of the party.
But it wasn't certain that either artist would actually accept the invitation. Kate had heard about this uncertainty when she'd been in Laramie a few weeks ago on a shopping trip with Becky and her handsome older brother Corey, one of Kate's frequent dance partners. Professor Hayden was in town at the time, picking up supplies for the journey with most of his men.
Kate had heard wonderful stories about Yellowstone. She longed to see the land she'd read about in the Washburn expedition's glowing reports published earlier this year, but she knew no geologic survey would take a woman along. Then she had a sudden inspiration and decided to act on it immediately. School would be over soon. Her plan just might work.
She had to work hard to talk Becky and Corey into supporting her plot. Although Kate didn't have any of her Warbonnet sketchbooks with her, she bought two in Laramie and worked furiously overnight to fill the pages with some better than passable work. She sent a note to Professor Hayden the morning before he finished his planning and left town, an application purporting to come from her brother, a young man named Kenneth Shaw asking to fill a place on the expedition as a sketch and watercolor artist if either of the painters failed to show up. She'd coached Corey to pretend to be Kenneth, and the three of them went to Hayden's hotel.
Hayden had admired the sketches and, since Corey looked more than strong enough for the journey, had invited him to go along if there were a vacancy.
“The larger our party, the better deterrent to Indians we’re likely to meet,” he’d said.
Becky was looking at her strangely. Kate had been uncharacteristically silent for too long.
"Oh, Becky, I was so nervous Professor Hayden wouldn't like my sketches or believe Corey. I'll be all prepared to go, but I'm sure I shall sit in the Laramie station on pins and needles when the artists arrive on that train."
"There is the small hurdle, Kate, of convincing whoever does show up that you—a mere woman—should go along as an artist because your brother 'Kenneth' broke his arm. Even if you convince the painters, Kate, I still can't see Professor Hayden taking you with him when they leave Fort Ellis. It will be a great waste of your time, not to mention hundreds of miles by train and coach."
"Perhaps I’ve learned some things from you that will stand me in good stead," Kate teased. She batted her eyelashes and looked demure as she said this and they both laughed together. How good were her powers of persuasion, Kate wondered. She was really no charmer like the young beauty riding with her.
Becky stood up in her stirrups for a moment. Kate knew they were getting close to the Platte River and town. Her friend was probably checking the distance for their favorite part, the race to and through the river. The second girl usually caught all the splashes from the lead horse, normally Becky's little Darby. Kate saw Becky grin and begin to ease back down into her saddle. Kate didn't wait, but set herself to steal a jump and kicked Windy's flanks.
"Hiyaah!" she yelled, exulting in the thrill of his acceleration. She'd become an excellent horsewoman in her rides with Becky and Corey. Kate didn't need to look back; she could hear Becky call to Darby.
Kate pulled on her cord and drew the hat up from between her shoulder blades. She took it in her left hand and swatted Windy on the rump with it. Just over the next rise now, there was the Platte, shimmering in front of them.
Crouched low over Windy's neck, Kate talked to him, urging him on. Now she could hear Darby's hoofbeats close, off to her left. She took the reins in her right hand and waved her hat far out with her left, hoping to make Darby shy away, maybe throw him off stride a bit.
She was rewarded with a shout of, "Kate, you rat!"
When the land dipped down to the river, she and Becky raced across the final flat section. Windy began to blow, but Kate hadn't started him too soon. She'd learned what he could do.
She headed him for the ford. One last thunder of hooves and he hit the water at full extended stride. Kate heard Becky squeal as she was splashed. There, Kate thought, that'll pay her back for teasing me about Monday.
Kate waited until Windy had run two or three strides out of the river on the far side before slowing him. Her cheeks were flushed and she had fire in her eyes as Becky came riding up.
"You shouldn't give away your intentions like you did, Becky. Someone could take advantage of you." Kate put her hat back on.
"Oh, they could? You're not going to lecture me about men again, are you, Kate? You, who've had ever so much more experience back East than a small town girl?" Becky used her “la-di-da” voice, then laughed and patted Darby's neck. They rode their horses at a walk up River Street toward Joe Fitch's stable.
Kate didn't rise to Becky's bait, but she took off her deerskin gloves and rubbed the back of her scarred left hand with her right. Kate had had some experience with a man once. Not good and not to be repeated. She didn’t like being reminded of it.
She loved the way her hair had lightened to gold in the Wyoming sun, but was afraid the weather here was coarsening her. She couldn’t ignore the sunburn on the backs of her hands.
They pulled up at the water trough at Fitch's Livery. It was dry.
"Loser pumps," Kate said, dismounting and taking her reins over Windy's head so he could drink more easily.
Becky pumped, while Kate tucked her gloves into the waistband of her split riding skirt. From hat to damp, spattered boots, she decided she looked like she belonged here, like she'd always been a Wyoming woman. She was tanned a little now, not freckled like Becky. Her mother would have chastised her for not wearing gloves whenever she left the house, as a proper lady should.
How ironic that she only wore gloves went she went riding. And astride a horse rather than sidesaddle, “as a proper young lady should.”
She wasn’t living up to her mother’s standards, but not to Wyoming’s standards, either. Becky and Martha were her only two real friends and the town council had turned down her request for funds to start a library. Warbonnet would never be as comforting as her home town.
Warbonnet lacked so many of the cultural opportunities of Buffalo. Art classes, exhibits, musical performances, fashions, handsome men all dressed up, dances in a real hotel ballroom. "nd news. People from other cities bringing new ideas and new possibilities that whetted her imagination.
"Are you sure you won't come to Martha's with me for supper?"
"Nope. I've got to get back for all the chores Ma lets me put off when you visit."
Kate laughed, but her forehead wrinkled in concern as she gazed at the sun, now lower on the horizon.
"Don't go worrying about me," Becky assured her. She patted the rifle in the scabbard by her saddle. "Corey says I'm such a good shot now, I'm my own best escort. Will you come again next week if you're not off to Laramie? Corey really wants to ride with you next time. Just you and him." She grinned. “And he wants to help you learn to shoot, too.”
"Of course, if I can," Kate grinned back, thinking of Corey’s arms around her as she aimed a rifle. She hugged Becky and the girl rode off with Windy in tow.
Wyoming seemed like such an exotic place before she’d come here. Now for the past year it seemed Wyoming was standing aloof, like a club that wouldn’t let her join. Despite all her efforts, she was still treated as an outsider here. The thought of going home to Buffalo came to her again.
Kate took the gloves from her waistband and beat some dust off her skirt as she walked out into the street, around the horses tied up at the saloon next door. She wasn't about to walk up on the boards beside the saloon where she might be tempted to look into the windows—or worse, where the men in there might see her and accost her. She turned the corner onto Main Street and admired one or two horses as she made her way to the end of the saloon's second hitch rack and prepared to step back up onto the boards. Then she stopped; something had caught her eye.
Kate walked back carefully. There! One dusty pinto twitched its tail. She spoke quietly to calm it as she raised her hand and traced the brand on its left flank. A Circle M. Monday's brand. From Texas. He'd told her there were many common brands and one could see a lot of similar marks in cow towns like Abilene and Ellsworth. But what if this horse—and its rider—was from Texas?
"What are you doing standing in the street, Miss Kate? One of them horses might kick you." A small voice came to her through her thoughts.
"Oh, Buxton, I didn't see you. Did your mother send you to look for me?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Supper'll be ready directly. Did you have a nice ride in with Miss Becky?"
"We did, thank you." Better than usual, Kate thought. She hardly ever won a race. "Buxton, I'm glad you turned up. I need you to do a little favor for me. Will you?"
"Well, I guess so. Supper won't be ready for a while. Do ya need me to get something for you?"
"Not something. I need you to get someone for me. Do you think you could go in the saloon and ask for someone? The schoolteacher can't be seen going in there."
"Nor any lady, Miss Kate. Nor any son of my Ma's, neither. I'd have to eat standing up for a week if she was to learn I'd done so much as put my head in that door."
"Well, she wouldn't be so upset with you, since I asked you to help, Buxton. After all, she's preparing supper way back up the street and I'll stand lookout for you." This made Kate feel like a little girl back in Buffalo, when she'd conspired with her sister and brother.
"Wow, would you do that, Miss Kate? I always wanted—I mean, I wondered what goes on in there." Monday had been encouraging the boy, bringing him out of his shyness by calling him "Buck" instead of his proper name. Kate realized she was probably not helping Buxton's moral education, but there was no one else around to help her.
"Well, don’t you loiter in there, young man. I just want you to carry a message, then come right back out. Do you hear me?" Kate tried to sound as stern as she'd learned to be with her pupils this past year. "I just need you to ask Mr. Stratman to send out whoever owns this pinto horse with the Circle M brand."
"A Circle M? Really? Like on the marshal's horse? OK, Miss Kate. You stand guard now."
With that, Buxton plunged through the door like he'd been entering saloons all his life. Kate was suddenly concerned that she might not be able to get him back out as easily. But she needn't have worried. He returned in a minute, rubbing his eyes.
"It's too smoky in there. Mr. Stratman said he'd tell the man you wanted to see him. I better get back now. Hope I don't smell too much like smoke." Kate smiled and sniffed his hair, then sent the boy on his way. When she looked up, a young cowboy stood on the boards with the door swinging closed behind him. He took off his hat as he stepped down to her.
"Whoo-ee. You must be Miss Shaw. Barkeep told me you'd asked for me. Ma’am, I seen some pretty women in saloons before, but I ain't never had one that looked like you come drag me outta one."
He talked like Monday. This must be what passed for manners in Texas, Kate supposed. She sized him up—tall, hefty, slightly bowlegged, with short dark hair. His clothes looked dusty and rangeworn. As befit his profession, he smelled like he spent a lot of time around horses. She held out her hand.
"Yes, I'm Katherine Shaw. I'm the schoolteacher here in Warbonnet. Can I ask you about your horse, Mister . . . ."
"Rollins. Ben Rollins," the young cowboy said, taking her hand. His hand had hard calluses for someone who couldn't have been more than a year older than she was. "He's a mighty fine cowpony, Miss. I call him >Speck,' short for >Speckled.' But I'm afraid he ain't for sale."
"It's his brand I really wanted to talk to you about. Is that Circle M from Texas?" Lifting his eyebrows, he admitted that it was. Kate nodded and steered him across the street to the bench in front of the bank, so no one would see her talking to a stranger close by the saloon.
“Our marshal, Monday Malone, has told me about the brand and about the Circle M Ranch.”
Ben told her how he'd ridden up to Laramie with a trail herd to deliver cows to Dave Masterson and the new ranch south of town that belonged to Mitch Cullinane.
"I'm supposed to be up here scouting the trail, so we can deliver them beeves in the next week or two, before they eat up all the grass around Laramie. When I found out in Laramie that Monday was the marshal up here now, I couldn't believe it. We used to ride together and I made sure it was me that got to come scout this trail. I wanted to see him, but they tell me he's off chasing outlaws right now."
"Yes, I'm sorry. He may be out another few days or so." Kate prayed that Monday would return safely. Outlaws. Indians. Buffalo stampedes. Everything in Wyoming was more dangerous than home. She forced a smile. "But you'll be back when the herd comes, won't you? He'll be so glad to see you."
"Well, yes, Ma'am. I will. But that won't do as good. I was hoping to see him now. I got some real bad news for him. News that won't keep as long as a week. I was fixin' to write a note I could leave at his office." He nodded toward the jail, next to the bank.
Kate's heart sank. What more bad news could there be for Monday, an orphaned survivor of a wagon train massacre who'd been raised by a foster family? She knew that Monday’s foster father, mother, and sister were all dead now.
"I can write that note for you. What’s happened that you came all this way to tell him?"
"Well, this is hard for me to say to a lady of quality, Miss. But his brother Tom's in jail in Laramie. They say he killed a wh—a woman there three days ago. When I saw Monday's name on a sign on the wall in Sheriff Boswell's office saying he was marshal up here and a deputy sheriff for this county, well, I came as soon as I could. Thought he'd want to know. Maybe he could do something." Ben looked down at the street, avoiding meeting Kate's eye.
"That didn't sound so hard to say to a lady, except the part where you didn't want to tell me about this woman he's accused of murdering. What did you leave out, Mr. Rollins?"
Ben jerked his head up to look at her.
"I, uh, Miss Shaw. She isn't—wasn’t—a respectable lady, Ma'am. She worked in a place, well . . . . "
Then Kate understood. What had Anna Green told her they called such women in New York City?
"She was a woman of, shall we say, 'temporary affection'?"
Ben relaxed, relieved to be let off the hook. "Yes, Ma'am, that's it. ‘Temporary affection.’ They say he killed her one night and they're fixing to try him and hang him for it."