Bank Robbers (by Stardust)

Summary: This story that is a follow up to the story, Welcome to Sweetwater. In this one Jack Craddock meets up again with Tess Hunter, this time in Bordertown.
Category:  Crossover
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  23,200


Corporal Clive Bennett laid down his quill pen, capped the ink jar, and stacked his papers neatly. He glanced at the mess of papers scattered across Marshal Jack Craddock’s desk. The reports were scarcely started, and almost illegible. Craddock was tipped back in his old, swivel chair with his hat pulled down over his face, and his booted feet propped up on his desk, apparently asleep. His dusty, blue shirt was missing a button, and his dark, brown pants had mud on the cuffs, but his badge had a dull gleam to it. Sometimes the Mountie wondered how he was able to put up with the slipshod attitude of the Marshal toward paperwork and some of the other aspects of being a lawman. Clive couldn’t resist making a ridiculing remark, so that he could get a rise out of his friend. “Craddock, you’ll never finish those reports if you keep putting it off that way. That stack of paper will only get deeper.” The only answer he got was a louder snore from under the old, brown felt hat.

Disgustedly Bennett turned back to his own reports. He knew if the Marshal’s paper work got done, he’d end up doing most of it. Although he wasn’t about to tell Jack, he had to admit that Craddock was at least making a better effort at doing his own paper work lately. Marie seemed to be making a little progress at teaching him to read and write. Of course, doing Craddock’s reports for him did help to pass the time. It had been fairly quiet in Bordertown for some time now.

“Help! I’ve been robbed!” Wendell MacWherter ran into the muddy street yelling. “Help! There’s been a robbery. Help!”

Craddock’s boots hit the floor with a thud. He and Bennett almost collided as they ran for the door, pulling their guns as they did. “What happened?” demanded Marshal Craddock, as he broke through the small crowd that was gathering around the banker.

“I’ve been robbed! The bank’s been robbed,” chanted MacWherter over the whispers, and mutterings, and a few shouted questions of the townspeople that had gathered around him to hear what had happened, The banker finished untying a piece of rope from around his wrist and let it drop to the ground.

“Slow down, Wendell,” commanded the Corporal. “Where are the robbers now?”

MacWherter motioned toward the bank. “He went out the back way. Go after them, Corporal. Marshal. You too. Go after them.”

Craddock and Bennett ran through the bank and out the back door. There was nothing to be seen in the ally except a black cat that came to rub around their ankles.

The two lawmen returned to where the banker was waiting. “How long ago did it happen?” asked the Mountie.

Wendell sighed and looked at the floor. “Maybe a half an hour or so. It took me that long to get loose.”

Both lawmen put their guns in their holsters. With that much of a lead, it would be best to listen to the banker’s story first.

“Someone came in the back. I only got a quick look at him. He stuck a gun in my back, and said to open the safe. So I did! What else could I do? He tied my hands behind my back. Put a dirty rag in my mouth and tied my feet. He took the money and left.”

“What did he look like?” asked Craddock.

Wendell hesitated. “I – I didn’t see much, but he was big. Bigger than you or the Corporal, and – and strong, real strong. He had a mask over his face.”

“Did you see what color eyes he had, or hair, or clothes?” questioned Bennett.

“Eyes,” said Wendell. “Brown, or blue, or maybe green.”

Craddock turned from the confused, freighted banker and went out the back door. “I’ll look for his tracks,” he said disgustedly.

Bennett tried one last time. “What about his clothes? Did you notice anything unusual?”

“N-n-no. I think they were just ordinary cowboy clothes. Mostly dark, I think, and dirty, wet, and-and muddy.”

Bennett followed Craddock out back. He found the Marshal crouched down, scrutinizing the tracks that he had found there.

“One horse. Went that-away.” Craddock ran his fingers along the edges of several of the tracks, as if trying to memorize them. He walked back to the three wooden steps going into the back of the bank. “No boot tracks. He dismounted and then mounted from the steps so he wouldn’t leave any tracks.” He briefly petted the black cat that sat on the top step.

“It’s not much to go on,” said Bennett. “Let’s get the horses and some supplies.”

MacWherter eased out of the back door to the bank, looking at the two lawmen, wondering why they weren’t doing something. “Get after him. Hurry. Why aren’t you doing your jobs?”

“Shut up, Wendell,” growled Craddock.

*****

The bay and the palomino horses cantered down the road side by side. They were used to being ridden out together. Frequently the Marshal would slow, leaning in the saddle, checking to make sure the tracks were still there. They hadn’t gone far when the tracks turned off onto a narrow trail, through thick brush, and heading into the deep woods. The trees and brush made it harder to follow than in the mud of the road.

Clive noticed that his horse was getting slower and slower and limping. “Jack,” Bennett called out to Craddock. “There’s something wrong with my horse.”

Craddock rode back to where Bennett had dismounted and was checking the right front hoof of the bay. “What’s wrong?”

“The shoe’s loose. He’s starting to go lame.”

“That’s just dandy,” grumbled the Marshal. They both knew what they had to do even if they didn’t like it. “No since ruinin’ a good horse. You best head back.”

“I’ll go back to town and get another horse. I’ll catch up as soon as I can,” said Bennett.

Craddock was already heading back after the bank robber. He looked over his shoulder, calling back to the Mountie. “I’ll leave a trail even you can follow, Clive.”

Clive didn’t even bother to answer. He knew the Marshal was a better tracker than he was, but he wasn’t that bad. Taking up the reins of the bay he started walking back toward town. By the time he got there he was hot, tired, and hungry, had blisters on his feet, and had resolved he would not re-enlist in the Mounties when his term was up this time. Finally he arrived at the stable.

Otto Danzinger met him at the door. “What happened, Corporal?” asked the German immigrant.

“He threw a shoe. Right front. Saddle me another horse, will you, Otto? I’ll come back for it in a few minutes.” The Mountie headed for his office. He knew he and been short with Otto but he was mad at bank robbers, and criminals in general. He wasn’t worried about Craddock. After all, it was only one bank robber. But part of that money that had been in the bank was his. Not much but a little bit.

“Oh, Clive,” called out a French accented, feminine voice. Dr. Marie Dumont ran up to the Corporal catching his arm. “Did you catch the bank robber?”

“No,” Bennett answered, continuing toward the jail. “My horse went lame. I had to come back. Craddock is still after him. I’ve got to go back.” He looked down into the sparkling blue eyes of the lady doctor and felt his weariness and anger disappear. He couldn’t stay angry with her near him. She was just so pretty, always laughing, and enjoying life.

“Do you think Jack will catch him soon?” Marie asked. Without waiting for Clive to answer, she continued. “I do hope Jack is all right. By the way, Clive, Sally told me there are some people here to see you. They came on the stage today while you were gone. They said they were old friends of yours from Toronto.”

“Friends? Toronto?” Clive began to get excited. It would be wonderful to see some old friends again. “Where are they?”

Clive and Marie went to Sally Duffield’s boarding house. There were two women and two men in the parlor drinking tea. One of the women was Sally, wearing a simple calico dress, while the other woman had on a fancy peach-colored dress that looked as if it had just come out of a Godey’s Lady’s Books, with a matching hat perched on her head. The two men had on typical, big city suits with shoes that, although a bit dusty, were highly polished. Of course, thought Clive, this is one of those days he had simply been unable to bring himself to dress in the full Mountie uniform. He felt a bit foolish in his dirty leather shirt, and blue Mountie pants with the strip down the leg. Trying to be polite, he took of his wide brimmed hat.

“Here’s the Corporal now,” said Sally to her guests as Marie and Clive entered.

Two men stood and Clive recognized one of them. “Martin!” exclaimed Clive in surprise, as he shook hands with his friend. “Hello, Lisa.” He bent and kissed the pretty redheaded woman on the cheek that she offered him. “How nice to see you.”

“Hello, Clive,” said Martin Webber “It’s good to be here, and see you. So this is Bordertown? Clive, I want you to meet my friend, Frank Collins.”

Seeing that the Corporal and her guests did know each other and figuring they would want some time to talk, Sally decided to leave. “I’ll go check on things at the store, Marie.” She frequently helped Marie at her store, and she was sure that Marie would want to stay and hear about the latest news from the big city of Toronto.

Greetings were exchanged, and Clive introduced Marie to Collins, Webber and his wife. “What caused you to come here?” asked Bennett.

“We’re on holiday,” exclaimed Lisa, excitedly. “Isn’t it just wonderful. We came to see the Wild West. I want to see it all. The cowboys, Indians, and outlaws, and all. I even heard that you a bank robbery this morning. It must have been so thrilling.”

Marie looked at the young woman is surprise. She wondered what could be thrilling about a bank robbery. “Yes, yes we did have a bank robbery this morning, but I’m sure it’s nothing to be alarmed about. No one got hurt,” said Marie. “The Marshal and Clive will take care of it.”

“Oh, yes, it is so stimulating,” exclaimed Lisa, twirling around the room like a top.

In a more calm tone Martin said, “We just wanted to visit the frontier, and decided Bordertown would be the best place to come to, since you are here, Clive, and can show us around.”

“It is very primitive, isn’t it?” added Lisa. “I can’t wait to see more.”

“What did you expect?” said Frank, curling his lip in loathing. “It is the frontier. And part of it is in the United States, and those Americans are so backwards.”

Marie wondered whether it was the frontier or the Americans that he didn’t like. He didn’t seem at all impressed with the little town. And she, too, felt a bit backward since she was wearing a dark cotton skirt and white blouse as she usually did when seeing patients or working in her small, general store. Clive’s friends were dressed so formally.

“I think it will be fun, but is there some place we can go to have dinner?” asked Martin. “I, for one, could really use a decent meal. What we had at the stage stops wasn’t all that appetizing.”

“The saloon serves very good meals,” answered Clive.

“Saloon! I can’t eat in a saloon. Don’t you have a nice restaurant here?” stammered Lisa. She waved her hand in the air and then patted her head as if to make sure her small, flowered hat was still in place.

“It’s all right,” explained Marie. “It’s more like a café or restaurant. And the food is really very good.”

“Clive, would you and Dr. Dumont come with us?” asked Martin.

“I’ll need to clean up first,” said the Mountie, looking down at his muddy, dirty clothes. “I do apologize for meeting you this way, but I had been out on the trail.”

Marie looked up at Clive, a worried frown on her face. “What about the Marshal?”

Clive hesitated. He knew he should go after Craddock, but it was late, he was tired and wanted to visit with his friends. Also, he was remembering Craddock’s remark about leaving a trail even he could follow. The robbery had happened in the United States. Officially it was Craddock’s problem. “Um, he should be all right. If he’s not back by morning, I’ll go after him.”

Marie wasn’t really happy with Clive’s answer, but she knew Jack had been a lawman a long time and she knew what it was like to miss friends and family even though Bordertown was now her and Clive’s home.

*****

Jack Craddock had continued to follow what little sign he was now finding. He had to give the outlaw credit for being able to hide a trail. He was pretty good at it, but not good enough. The trail was fresher now. He was catching up, he thought, and then he spotted movement up ahead. He kicked his palomino into a hard run. Hearing the thunder of drumming hooves, the robber looked back. Outlaw and lawman raced their horses. The Marshal’s long-legged palomino gradually closed on the smaller dun. The robber pulled a gun and fired a shot back at Craddock, the bullet barely missing as it buzzed by the Marshal’s head.

“Give it up,” yelled Craddock as he pulled his own gun and fired. He was almost upon the robber. Changing his mind, he holstered the .45 and leaped. Craddock and the robber fell from their horses, hitting the ground hard. Craddock was up in a second, pulling his gun again, trying to catch his breath after the hard fall. He looked around for the robber. He was lying nearby, face down, apparently unconscious. “All right, come on,” said Craddock, quickly pulling the robber’s hands behind his back and snapping on a pair of handcuffs. The robber groaned as he started to come to.

“Not so big and tough after all, are you?” Craddock took a second look at the man at his feet. Actually the outlaw was kind of on the small side. The Marshal flipped the man onto his back, and pulled off his hat. Long dark hair spilled around the face of a woman, while bright red blood ran down the side of her pale face. “I’ll be damned — it’s a woman,” he muttered. For a moment he just stared at her. She was familiar, but who was she? He didn’t think she was from around Bordertown.

Recognition and then shock flooded through the Marshal. “Tess! Tessie Hunter,” he whispered.

Craddock poured water onto his bandana from his canteen and cleaned the blood off the face of his prisoner. She groaned again and tried to pull away. Her eyes opened and she stared at the Marshal for a long minute.

Tess’ thoughts were a jumbled mess. Where was she? Why couldn’t she move? Her head hurt and her arm. Who was this man who was hurting her head? She knew she should know who he was. She knew she had looked into those dark, brown eyes before, felt the scrape of that stubble of beard, and the tickle of his mustache, and she knew his voice even before he said anything. How rough and harsh it was, and at the same time it could be gentle and kind.

Then with a jolt it all came back. She remembered the long days on the trail from Texas, robbing the bank, and trying to escape. Buddy! Where was Buddy? And Jack Craddock. What was he doing here?

“My arm,” squeaked Tess.

“What? Lay still, Tess. Let me see if ‘in I can wrap up this cut on yer head. You must a hit yer head on that log when we come off the horses.” He tied the bandana loosely around her head.

“My arm hurts,” muttered Tess. “I can’t move my arms.”

Craddock remembered the handcuffs and rolled her over enough he could unlock them. That was when he saw the blood dripping down her fingers.

With her hands loose, Tess managed to get herself into a sitting position. As the pain stabbed through her again, she gripped her left arm just above the wrist with her right hand. She winced and tried to pull away as Craddock took hold of her arm.

“Let me see,” he said. Gently he pushed her sleeve above the injury to reveal a long, gouge where a bullet had furrowed her arm and then sunk in to the flesh. “I’m sorry, Tessie,” Craddock apologized to the woman. His hands shook as he wrapped her own bandana tightly around her arm, applying pressure to stop the bleeding. He was thankful he had only fired once and that his aim had been off, as he was firing from a running horse at a moving target. Craddock rocked back on his heals and considered the small woman who sat in front of him.

“What are you doing here, Tess? Why did you rob the bank?” he questioned her, but she didn’t answer him. She just stared right past him. “Answer me, Tess. Why did you rob the bank? We were friends once; you can tell me why.”

She glared at him. “Once,” she said slowly, “not now.”

He rose and turned toward the horses, which were standing near by grazing on a bit of grass. “Can you ride? We’ll head back to Bordertown.” He picked up the reins and led them back to where Tess waited. He opened the saddlebags behind the saddle on the dun that Tess had been riding. There was the money that she had taken from the bank.

Tess stood up. “You have the money. Let me go.”

“Can’t do that.”

“I thought you said we were friends. If you value that friendship, just forget about me. Just let me go,” pleaded Tess. “What would it hurt? Please, Jack?”

The Marshal shook his head, although he had a fleeting thought that maybe he should do as she asked.

“What will happen to me?”

“Don’t know for sure. Suppose you’ll go to prison for a while. —— Have you ever done anything like this before?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer, especially if she had. Tess Hunter would have been the last woman in the world that he would have ever suspected of being on the wrong side of the law. He listened for her answer.

“No.”

Craddock couldn’t look at her. He had seen women’s prisons. He couldn’t imagine Tess in one. She wouldn’t survive. She had always valued her freedom as much or more than he did.

Tess was having the same thoughts, only more. She had to escape and get back to Buddy. She watched Jack remove the saddlebags from her horse and add them to the ones he had on his palomino. Angry with himself for forgetting about it, he bent over to pick up the gun she had dropped when they fell. If she had been a real outlaw, she might have already grabbed the gun and shot him.

Seeing her chance, Tess stood up and ran. She didn’t get ten feet before the Marshal caught her. She was hardly a match for him but she fought him anyway. She was desperate. She reached in her boot and pulled out a bowie knife and stabbed at him.

“Damn it, woman!” yelled Craddock as he jumped back.

Tess’ exertions had made her dizzy again. She stumbled. Craddock grabbed her around the waist pinning her arms at her sides, and pried the knife from her hand. The world swirled, turned black and Tess fainted in Craddock’s arms.

Jack continued to hold her for a long moment. It had been a long time since he had held Tess Hunter. He sighed deeply as he slipped the handcuffs back on her wrists again. Sometimes, he thought, he really did hate this job.

*****

It was well after dark when Marshal Craddock and his lady prisoner reached Bordertown. They pulled up in front of his office, or at least half of the jail was his, and half was Corporal Bennett’s. The 49th parallel that divided Canada and the United States ran right through their office and jail. There was even a red line painted through the middle of the office to remind anyone that entered that the jail was in two different countries.

Craddock dismounted stiffly and turned to Tess. “Get down,” he said.

She continued to sit on her horse. Bone tired and aching all over with her hands handcuffed, Tess was afraid she would fall when she tried to get off, but she wasn’t about to tell the Marshal.

None to gently Craddock suddenly pulled Tess from the dun. “I said to get down,” he repeated.

Much as she didn’t want to, she had to lean against him a moment, until she was sure she could stand. She knew he was getting more and more perturbed with her. He had continued to question her on the long ride into town, but she had refused to say even one word.

Bruno Danzinger, Otto’s younger brother, had seen them ride in and came to get the Marshal’s horse. “Did you catch the bank robber?” he asked looking at the prisoner with interest.

Craddock didn’t answer his question. “Take care of these horses, Bruno, and go tell Marie I got a prisoner needs some doctorin’.” He gathered up the saddlebags with the money, took Tess by the arm and led her into the jail.

Bennett was in his quarters off the north side of the jail fixing to turn in for the night when he heard Craddock come in. He moved to the door leading to the office and watched as the Marshal led his prisoner in.

“Stand there and don’t move,” Jack said. Tess stood, but it was all she could do not to slump down on the floor she was so tired. Craddock lit a coal oil lamp just as Bennett stepped farther into the room with another lamp. Tess blinked at all the sudden light.

Bennett looked at the woman in surprise. “What’s going on, Craddock? Who’s this woman?”

Craddock tossed the money on his desk. “Your bank robber,” he answered. “And where have you been? Thought you was gonna come back and give me a hand.”

Bennett hedged the question. “It was late when I got in. I decided to wait until morning.”

Craddock had barely listened to the Mountie. “In there,” he motioned toward the jail cell, and Tess walked in. This was the one cell that was in the office section of the jail. There were more in the back, although Tess didn’t know that, nor did she really care. “Sit down and stay put. Don’t make me lock the door.” She sat on the hard, narrow bunk.

“Craddock, that’s a woman,” said Bennett.

“I ain’t blind.”

The Mountie was confused. “But MacWherter said the robber was big and strong……”

“MacWherter was scared stiff. He didn’t know what the robber looked like. Besides she had the money and was ridin’ the horse I was trackin’.”

Clive grinned at the thought of what it must have been like when Jack discovered the robber was a woman. He wished he had been there to have seen it. “Did you have trouble catching her, Jack?” He teased, glancing at the handcuffed woman with a bandana tied around her head, and another on her arm. He wondered how she had got hurt. He hated to think that the Marshal had used force to subdue her, but it sure looked like it. He though she must have been a real handful.

The door opened and Marie quietly entered the office. “Jack, Bruno said that you had an injured prisoner who needed medical help.”

The Marshal turned to the lady doctor. “Uh huh.” He pointed at Tess. She noticed that he hadn’t bothered to lock the cell, and the door stood open. She wondered if the woman was a prisoner or not. Maybe she was too weak to try to escape.

Tess glanced at the doctor and the two lawmen in turn, weighing her chances, even if she did still have the handcuffs on. She had to escape and get to Buddy. As Marie started to enter the cell, Tess jumped up and shoved the doctor hard. Marie fell against the Mountie and they went down in a heap. Tess almost made it to the door when Jack grabbed her.

“Haven’t you learned yet?” he yelled at her. He took her roughly back into the metal-barred cage. “Don’t move, Tess, or I’ll tie yer feet, too.”

Tess dropped onto the bunk and wilted against the wall. She was too tired and hurt too much to try again. For now she would let the doctor take care of her. As Marie removed the Marshal’s makeshift bandages, Tess resolved herself to the fact that Buddy would just have to wait for now. Anyway, she had told Buddy she probably wouldn’t be back tonight. Maybe if she told Craddock, he would go and get Buddy. She knew he could be very rough and opinionated and took his job seriously but she, also, knew he could be kind and gentle. But, no, she would wait, and see what happened tomorrow.

“Jack, you did well bandaging these wounds,” said Marie, “but was it necessary to shoot her?”

“She was shootin’ at me, Marie, and I didn’t know she was a she then,” The Marshal answered defensively. He was feeling guilty enough without Marie rubbing it in.

“Clive, bring me some hot water, please,” requested the doctor. While they waited for Clive to return, Marie got a bottle of laudanum out of her medical bag and gave a dose to Tess. When she had the water she cleaned the cut on Tess’ head and began stitching it. “Your name is Tess?” she asked. Tess had turned white as the needle bit into her flesh. Marie wanted to keep her thinking of other things than what she was having to do to her patient.

Tess answered the doctor with a groan.

Jack had stepped into the cell, too, and now made introductions. “Tess Hunter. Dr. Marie Dumont. And this feller is Corporal Clive Bennett.”

Hardly able to comprehend what Jack had said, Tess shuddered as Marie started working on her arm.

“Jack, you must remove these handcuffs for me to take care of this wound properly,” demanded Marie.

“All right,” relinquished Craddock. He knew better than to argue with Marie, and he could see the pain Tess was in.

Tess continued to sit stiffly, not making a sound as the doctor began probing for the bullet in her arm. Jack knew it hurt. There were several scars on his body that ached anew as he watched Marie work. Tears came to Tess’ eyes and she finally couldn’t hold back a whimper of pain. Jack moved in beside her, his big hand clasping her good hand; he put his arm around her shoulder and let her lay her head on his chest. Her eyes closed so that she didn’t have to watch Marie finish cleaning and bandaging her arm.

Marie stole a quick look at the big lawman holding Tess. She had known Jack Craddock for quite a long time but sometimes he could still be very surprising.

*****

Craddock returned from Zac Denney’s saloon balancing a tray with two steaming bowls of stew on it. He had persuaded Zac to heat up the stew for Tess and himself.

Bennett had walked Marie home and had not returned yet.

Tess was still sitting stiffly in her cell. Having made sure to lock the cell door before going to the saloon, Jack now unlocked it and entered handing a bowl to her. Again he sat beside her, eating his own stew. He needed answers but didn’t know how to get them from her. He decided to see if he could get her to at least talk to him.

“Been a long time since I been in Texas, Tess. Why don’t you tell me how things are down there?”

Tess shrugged. “Don’t guess nothin’ much has changed since you left.” She ate some more stew wondering where this line of questioning was going.

Jack tried again. “How’s your pa?”

“He’s all right, I guess. He retired but ain’t takin’ it to well. He hangs around the office a lot, getting in Sam’s way, but Sam don’t seem to mind to much. Sam Cain came back and is Marshal now.”

“I can’t see Teaspoon takin’ retirement well, either,” Craddock said laughing softly. “Guess Sam and Emma’s girls are about all growed up by now?”

“They’re gettin’ there.”

“Tess, I know you must have had a reason for robbin’ that bank. I sure would like to hear it.”

There was total silence for almost a full minute. A cricket chirped somewhere in the office. When Tess spoke Jack could barely hear her. “It was there. I just did it.”

“Why?” He needed to know more than that. He was sure she was holding something back.

“I needed the money. It was there. It looked so easy. It was.” Tess began to talk faster. “I came to town and tried to find a job yesterday. Was it only yesterday? So much as happened since then. I even wore a dress. I tried the general store, the saloon, and the bank, and some other places. Nothing. I kept thinking about the money in the bank. It seemed so easy. So I put on these clothes,” she indicated the man’s shirt and pants, “and I did it.”

Neither Jack nor Tess said anything else for long time. The uneaten stew cooled. The cricket sang, and another joined it. The insects seemed overly loud in the quiet of the room.

“Yer pa, Teaspoon, was a Texas Ranger and a Marshal. Yer husband was a Ranger and a damn fine lawman. You been ‘round people who stood for upholdin’ the law all your life, Tess. Rangers, marshals, sheriffs, Pony Express riders. Myself included, ——-an’ you go an’ rob a bank. I just don’t understand it. Why?”

Again nothing was said. Tess didn’t know how to answer.

“I can’t understand unless you help me. Give me some answers, Tess. I thought you felt the same ‘bout the law, as me and your pa.”

“I was hungry,” snapped Tess. “So was – so was…,” Tears came and ran down her face. She couldn’t go on.

“Tess, you could of come to me. I’d a seen you got fed. You know that.”

“I didn’t even know you were here, Jack. I know I shouldn’t have done it. I – I guess I just didn’t know what else to do.”

Jack caught Tess’ chin in his hand and tipped her face up so he could look into her eyes. “Quit yer worryin’ and get some rest. I’ll do what I can fer you. Maybe I can talk the judge into goin’ easy on you since all the money has been returned.” Jack continued to gaze into Tess’ big, blue eyes. Dark, steel blue eyes. Eyes that were scared and full of pain. He finally couldn’t resist. As mad at her as he was, he had wanted to kiss her all day and now he did. Lightly at first, but as the kiss deepened Tess seemed to welcome it. Then her hand came between them, pushing him away.

She took a deep breath. “It’s been a long time, Jack, maybe to long. It ended for us six yeas ago. We can’t go back to it, especially since I’m headed for a jail term.”

“Yeah. I know,” agreed the Marshal. He stood up. “Get some rest.” He left the cell locking the door behind him.

“Know what, Jack? I might of got away with it, if it had been anyone else trackin’ me, but you.” Tess was trying to add some easiness to the difficult situation.

“Yeah, you just might have,” agreed Craddock as he left the office and headed for his cabin.

Tess sat for a long time thinking about what it had been like when she and Jack had known each other in Texas, and about what the future held for her, since she had done such a stupid thing as to rob a bank. Finally exhaustion, and the laudanum clamed her and she lay on the hard bunk, wrapped in the blanket Jack had given her.

*****

Early the next morning Corporal Bennett looked in on the prisoner. He noticed that she was almost buried under the extra blankets and pillows that Craddock had given her. It wasn’t often that he gave a prisoner such consideration. Clive wondered why Jack was so concerned for this woman. He was adding kindling and wood to the coals in the stove when the Marshal walked in. Putting a finger to his lips he pointed at Tess, then whispered. “Let’s go get breakfast at Zac’s.”

Yawning and nodding at the same time, Craddock agreed.

“You look like you didn’t get much sleep last night,” commented Bennett as they walked toward the saloon.

“Nope,” said the Marshal, but not elaborating on the reason for his lack of sleep.

The pale light of an early sun was beginning to warm the town. Hopefully it would dry some of the mud that seemed to always plague the street, and the people of the town.

They entered the saloon and took seats at a table in a corner. Diane Denney placed plates of eggs, ham, and fried potatoes in front of both of them and filled cups with coffee. She had been expecting them. They ate silently for several minutes. Finally the Mountie spoke. “You like her, don’t you, Jack?”

“Who?”

“The woman you arrested for the bank robbery.”

Craddock looked at his friend. “Yeah, I guess I do.” He went on eating.

“Jack, there is something you are not telling me about her.”

The Marshal sipped his coffee. He knew he had to tell the Mountie. He knew he needed advise about Tess, and although he and Clive argued and teased each other, they were still good friends. “I knew Tess in Texas,” he explained. “Her pa was the Marshal of Sweetwater for a long time. He and I were good friends. But she married one of my best friends, Ty Bowman. He and me were Rangers together. It was Tessie’s pa, Teaspoon Hunter, that got me headed straight when I almost wound up on the wrong side of the law. That was when I was just a big kid, back before the war.”

Not wanting to interrupt, Clive ate while Jack continued his story.

“After my family was killed and I thought I’d go crazy for sure, it was Ty that got me to join the Rangers, and we rode together. Kind a like you and I do. I saw Tess frequently at the little ranch she and Ty had.”

Bennett couldn’t contain his surprise. “What is she doing here in Bordertown, robbing the bank? Where is her husband? What did she tell you?”

“Ty Bowman was killed in a gunfight just a few months after I joined the Rangers. Tess took it pretty hard but was able to keep running the ranch with help from Teaspoon and some other friends. Don’t know why but she went back to using the Hunter name after Ty was gone. That’s what she was doing when I left Texas. I’m not sure what happened to make her come up here. She sure wasn’t telling me everything last night. What little information I did get from her was like pulling teeth.”

Clive had a feeling that there was more to the story than Jack was telling him but decided not to push it farther at this time. Just when he figured he wouldn’t tell any more the Marshal continued.

“She wouldn’t tell me much of anything. Just that she had tried to get a job and couldn’t. She had tried here at Zac’s, and the bank, and several stores. She said that she needed money ‘cause she was hungry. She said she got to thinkin’ ‘bout all that money in the bank. It was there, so she robbed it. That was all she would tell me.”

“What are you going to do with her?”

Craddock shook his head. “I don’t know. What can I do? She robbed the bank. She didn’t deny it, and the money was on her horse. I have to hold her for the judge. She’ll have to go to prison.” He pushed aside his half eaten plate of food. Suddenly he wasn’t hungry any more. “She’ll never survive in prison. Not Tess,” he said almost to himself as he left the saloon.

*****

Bennett continued to sit there drinking coffee. He still found it hard to believe that Tess Hunter had robbed the bank. It just didn’t fit his profile of a woman. Women were supposed to marry and have children. Not be outlaws. But, then, neither was being a doctor considered to be a woman’s job. And Marie was a very good doctor. So why couldn’t a woman be a bank robber?

Diane came to collect the plates. “What’s wrong with the Marshal? He didn’t eat.”

Distractedly Bennett answered her, “Oh, just not hungry, I guess.”

“That’s sure not like Jack. Hope it wasn’t the food.”

“Good morning, Clive,” Martin Webber called out cheerfully, “Why didn’t you tell us that the bank robber had been arrested yesterday. It sounds so fascinating. We heard about it at the boarding house. Was it really a woman?”

Frank Collins walked up behind Martin. “Bring us some coffee and breakfast,” he ordered crossly glancing at the waitress.

“Certainly, sir,” said Diane, giving Collins a withering look. She was sure she wasn’t going to like the man. She didn’t usually get treated that way, since her husband Zac owned the saloon.

“I heard an American lawman brought in the robber last night,” continued Martin. He seemed exceptionally interested in the robbery.

Bennett wasn’t sure how the word had spread that Craddock’s prisoner was a woman but he suspected it was going to cause problems. The gossip grapevine in Bordertown was a good one that got out all the juicy tidbits way to quickly. He tried to downplay the situation. “Marshal Craddock recovered the stolen money and arrested a suspect. There wasn’t much to it. Besides, the bank is on the American side, so it is an American problem.”

Diane had poured coffee for Webber and Collins and refilled the Mounties cup. Collins stirred in a spoonful of cream. “I didn’t realize there was a United States Marshal here in Bordertown.”

“Since Bordertown is part Canadian and part American, there needs to be a lawman for both sides,” explained Bennett.

“Sounds as if the bank needs to have more security in it,” commented Webber.

“Maybe so,” said Bennett. “It didn’t use to be that way, but Bordertown is growing and that is causing more and more criminals to be attracted to the town. I’m sure Mr. MacWherter will be a lot more careful about locking the back door from now on.” Bennett was glad to see Lisa Webber enter the saloon and put an end to the conversation. “ ‘Morning, Lisa,” he stood and seated her beside her husband. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yes,” she answered, “our room is quite comfortable, even if it is a bit small.”

Bennett returned to his seat. “Do you have plans for today? I would be glad to show you some of the wonderful country around Bordertown.”

“Maybe tomorrow, Clive; that was such a long ride on the stage I think I’d rather just rest and see the town today.”

“Yes, I think so,” agreed Martin.

“Well, you’ve probably already seen most of the town,” laughed Clive. “There isn’t much to it. It’s small and quiet but friendly.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Lisa.

As Diane served their food, Bennett stood, again. “I should get back to the office. If you need anything let me know.”

*****

Collins and the Webbers finished their breakfast and walked out to the edge of town.

“It really is very pretty here,” said Martin.

“There’s nothing to do; no shops, theater, fine restaurants, or anything,” complained Lisa.

Martin reached around her waist and pulled her to him. She turned her head so that his he kissed her check instead of her lips. “After we get the money, we’ll be able to go and do anything we want,” he said.

“Are you sure the shipment is to stop here?” asked Collins.

“Of course. I told you it was. I sent all kinds of letters changing the route and making a layover here necessary. It is coming on tomorrow’s stage, and won’t leave until the next one. We’ll have plenty of time. The bank will be real easy.”

“I thought you said Bennett was the only lawman here,” grumbled Lisa.

“I didn’t figure on that Marshal,” said Martin, “but I’m sure he won’t be much of a problem.”

“I can handle the Marshal, and your Mountie friend, too,” Collins assured Lisa and Martin. “They won’t be any kind of problem.”

*****

Wendell MacWherter spotted the tall, blonde Mountie leaving the saloon and called to him. “Corporal Bennett, may I speak with you?”

Bennett changed direction and went across the street to the bank. He wondered what MacWherter wanted. “What is it?”

“I – um – I, Corporal Bennett, I think there’s something I should tell you. You and Marshal Craddock,” stammered the banker, twisting his hat in his hands.

“Well, is it about the robber?”

“No, not really – but – I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone – but I think I should tell you – and Craddock – especially since the robbery yesterday.”

Bennett waited impatiently for Wendell to continue.

“There’s a large shipment coming in tomorrow.” MacWherter said in a rush. “It’s coming on the stage and then – then it’s to stay here in the bank until the next stage.”

“Why is the shipment staying over here?” asked the Mountie.

“I don’t know,” answered MacWherter. “I don’t think it has ever happened before. I have orders that it would come on tomorrow’s stage and leave on the next. It’s supposed to be safer that way, according to the letter I got. There’s not to be any guards and the stage drivers won’t know that they are carrying it.”

“I’m glad you told me Wendell,” said Bennett, shaking his in disgust. It didn’t sound to smart to his way of thinking. “I’ll let Craddock know, but be sure you don’t tell anyone else. Not anyone.”

“Of course I won’t, Corporal. I wouldn’t think of it. Corporal, you and Craddock will keep a special watch while the shipment is here, won’t you? Please.”

“You can be sure of it, Wendell. By the way, have you had a chance to count the returned money? Was any of it missing?”

“Certainly I’ve counted it and, no, not one cent was missing. What will happen to that woman?”

Bennett sighed. Of course, the whole town knew the bank robber was a woman. “She’s just a suspect for now. It will be up to a judge and jury. But if found guilty, she will be sent to prison, at the very least.”

“I certainly hope so,” exclaimed MacWherter. “I wouldn’t want a person like that turned loose to rob a bank again.” He turned and re-entered the bank, slamming the door in the process.

Bennett headed for his office, again. He wondered what kind of a company would send a valuable shipment with out any security to a small town like Bordertown for a layover. It didn’t make much since. He wondered what was in the shipment. Maybe even MacWherter didn’t even know, since he hadn’t said.

*****

“ ‘Mornin’, Marie,” said Craddock. He was standing outside the office, one hand on the doorknob, fixing to enter when he sighted Doctor Dumont.

“Good morning, Jack. How is your prisoner?”

“Still sleepin’ when I looked in earlier.”

Marie entered when Jack opened the door for her and went to the jail cell. Craddock hung up his hat as he followed the doctor in.

Tess sat gingerly on the edge of the bunk. She had not had a chance to clean up or change from the dirty, bloody clothes she had warn yesterday, and looked very disheveled after sleeping in them all night. She didn’t feel much better, even after the night of rest, but she had things she had to do. And she couldn’t do them from a jail cell. She had to escape.

“Are you feeling better today, Miss Hunter?” asked Marie.

Tess was slow to answer. “I – I suppose. I still have an awful headache. I – um – might feel better if I could clean up and change.” Tess was still determined to get out of the jail, and maybe if she could convince the doctor to let her clean up she would have another chance to escape.

Marie turned to the Marshal. “Jack, she needs some privacy. Let me take her to my place so she can bathe, and change. I can loan her some clean clothes.”

Looking at Tess’ bedraggled appearance, he had to agree. “I know, and I’ll see what I can do, but she’s not leavin’ that cell. She’s already tried to escape too many times. I ain’t taken’ any chances.”

Tess could feel herself sink under Craddock’s words. She had to do something. But what?

“At least let me change the bandages,” said Marie.

“All right.” Craddock unlocked the cell door. Tess stood up as Marie stepped in, while Jack stood guard. Tess looked at the Marshal, then at Marie. With no warning, she simply collapsed onto the floor.

“Oh, NO!” cried Marie, rushing to the woman and knelling beside her.

“What happened?” Craddock asked, as he, too, rushed to help Tess. Tess lay on the wooden floor of the jail unmoving.

“What should we do?” the Marshal asked, his hand going down to her head to smooth back a lock of hair. “Did she faint?”

“Yes, I think she did. And it doesn’t look like she is going to come out of it very fast. Jack, this jail is no place for her. Bring her to my place so that I can examine her properly. Her head wound must be worse than I thought.”

Craddock scooped Tess up into his arms, holding her firmly but gently he followed Marie from the jail. As they stepped out onto the boardwalk, they almost ran into Willie Haden.

“ ‘Mornin’, Marie, Marshal. Gosh. What happened?” said the boy. He was ignored by both as they continued on, but it didn’t stop him from following them.

Being carried down the street to the doctor’s home, by the Marshal, in front of the whole town had been bad enough, but the smelling salts were more than she could handle. Tess almost jumped off the sofa Jack had laid her on, but caught herself in time. She pretended to slowly come out of the faint, pushing at Marie’s hand and the bottle of smelling salts. She half opened her eyes. “Wh – what happened?” she asked in a low whisper.

“Miss Hunter – Tess, wake up.” Marie began loosening her shirt.

Willie now stood beside Craddock. “Is that the lady bank robber, Marshal?”

Marie turned to the boy. “Willie, I have a patient. Please leave and give her some privacy.”

Craddock pointed to the door. “Go on, Willie.”

“Ah – gee.”

“You, too. Jack.”

“Nope,” said the Marshal. “I’m stayin’. I can’t say as I trust her.” He did walk to the door and watch Willie run down the street. “This is as far as I go.”

Marie shrugged. “If you must.” She removed Tess’ boots and helped her take the man’s shirt off, to reveal a very lacey camisole. She examined her patient some more and asked her a few softly spoken questions that the lawman couldn’t make out. Tess answered with even softer answers. Finally, while Tess lay watching the Marshal, Marie changed the bandages on her head and arm and gave her a spoonful of laudanum for the pain. Then Marie fetched one of her blouses for Tess to put on in place of the bloody, torn shirt.

*****

As he returned to an empty jail office, Willie saw the Corporal down the street still in front of the bank and ran to him. Bennett didn’t need to ask any questions. “Guess what, Corporal. The lady bank robber got sick and the Marshal took her to Marie’s.”

“He did? She got sick? I’ll go check in a bit, Willie. Thanks for telling me. You had better get at your chores, shouldn’t you?” Clive was never sure what to make of the boy or any of the other children that ran about the town, frequently stopping in to visit with him and Craddock. After seeing Willie on his way, he headed for the doctor’s home. “How is she?” he asked when he arrived.

“I can’t find anything wrong, except for the injuries she already had,” Marie said as she joined the two men in the dining room where they were sitting at her dining table. “I think she is just exhausted and needs to rest.” She pulled a blanket from a chest and went to spread it over Tess. “You lie there and rest, and I’ll bring you some soup in a few minutes.”

Tess nodded agreement and closed her eyes.

Marie and the lawmen went to the kitchen. She poured coffee for each of them and herself. Jack leaned against the doorframe and drank his. “Guess I was wrong, makin’ her stay at the jail last night,” he admitted.

“It is my fault, also, Jack. If I had realized she was that badly hurt, I would have insisted on bringing her here,” said Marie.

“Will she be all right?” asked Bennett.

“She may have a concussion. I’m not sure. It is so hard to tell with head injuries. But, I’m sure she will be all right with lots of rest and care.” She added a few pieces of firewood from the box nearby to the wood cookstove. Next she took a bowl from the ice box, poured it into a pan, set it on the stove and stirred the soup a bit as it started heating. The fire in the stove crackled letting the warmth and aroma of the wood into the room.

Clive turned to Jack. “I just talked to MacWherter. He said all of the money was there. None of it was missing. That should help.”

“It certainly should,” agreed Marie. She stirred the soup one more time, and then poured part of it into a bowl. “It is a shame that our society causes a person to fall to the level that they think the only thing left is to rob a bank to get money so they can eat. I dislike the thought of Tess now having to go to prison for what she did. Surely the judge won’t make her since the money was returned.”

“But she didn’t return it voluntarily, Marie,” added Clive. “That is the problem. And she wouldn’t have except that Jack caught her. Have you sent a notice off to the Judge?”

At first Craddock seemed not to hear what Clive had asked. His thoughts were far away. “Uh – oh – yeah. I’ll get one off on tomorrow’s stage.” Craddock peaked into the other room at Tess. She was still sleeping. “Guess I better send a letter to Tessie’s pa while I’m at it,” he added.

*****

Tess had pulled the blanket up and snuggled down into the sofa with it. It was so comfortable she wished she could stay right where she was and do as Marie said, but she knew she couldn’t. She could see Jack through her half closed eyes. She could hear the mummer of their voices. Then she heard the Marshal as he spoke a little louder saying he would send a letter to Teaspoon. That was all she needed. She was thirty-two years old and certainly didn’t need her father coming after her. He still had a tendency to want to treat her as a child anyway. But she supposed all parents were that way.

Craddock moved on into the kitchen and sat down at the table and disappeared from her sight. For the moment, she couldn’t see either of the two lawmen or Marie.

Tess slowly sat up, and then stood. Picking up her boots, she silently made for the front door. She was thankful for the thick carpet on the floor. She eased the door open. Being in good repair it only made one soft click as she opened it. She didn’t dare shut it completely. Standing on the porch, she pulled on her boots.

Her first thought was for her own horse at the stable, but decided it would take too long and was too risky. She saw a saddled, chestnut mare tied at the stable door. She would do just fine. Tess walked over to the mare and reached for the reins.

“Hey, that’s my horse!” a man yelled.

Dropping the reins, Tess took of at a run.

“She’s gone,” called Marie, looking at the sofa. She had returned to the living room to check on her patient, and give her the soup.

Craddock ran in from the kitchen turning a chair over in the process. He started to say something. “That little….” He never finished, but ran out the front door in time to see Tess running around the stable.

She heard the Marshal behind her. She tried to run faster but he was already upon her. He caught her shoulder and jerked her around. She almost went down under the strength of his grip.

“You never learn, do you?” he yelled. He was mad and angry and totally exasperated with her. “Damn it, Tess what…” He couldn’t continue. He didn’t know what to say to her or what to do with her. He wanted to help her, but she just wouldn’t let him.

At that moment, Bennett ran up. He couldn’t help but grin at the speechless Marshal glaring at the would-be lady outlaw. Then he looked at Tess. He could see how scared she was, and a crowd was gathering. “Come on, Cradock. Let’s take her back to Marie’s. All right, everyone, go on about your business. We’ll take care of this.” At Bennett’s insistence, the town’s people began leaving but all the while they were whispering and talking about the woman bank robber.

Back at Marie’s Craddock seated Tess at the table and tried again. “Why did you do it? Again. Why did you try to escape again? And were you pretending you were sick this mornin’?”

“I had to.” Tess’ lower lip quivered. There were tears in her eyes, even though she was trying hard not to cry. She would just have to make Jack believe her and she knew crying wouldn’t help. “I had to,” she repeated.

“Why did you have to? Come on, Tess, you’re not makin’ any since. I’ll try and help you out of this but you’re sure not makin’ it any easier by always tryin’ to get away.”

“Stop yelling at her, Jack. Can’t you see how scared she is?” Marie tried to calm both the Marshal and his prisoner. “Take your time, Tess, and tell us why you are so determined to get away. I think there is more to this than just the robbery, isn’t there?”

Tess nodded. She couldn’t stop the couple of stray tears that coursed down her checks, leaving dirty streaks. She swiped at them with the back of her hand. She took a deep breath. She knew she had to tell the whole sorry story to these people. “It’s – it’s my daughter,” she blurted out.

“You’re what?” asked Jack, not believing he had heard her right.

“My daughter, Buddy. I left her at an old cabin near here. Her, my gear, and some horses. Please, you have to believe me, Jack. She’s only a little girl. I told her I might be gone overnight, but I didn’t plan on being gone this long and I know she’ll be getting really scared by now. Please, please I have to go get her.”

“Do you really expect me to believe a story like that? Can’t you come up with anything any better,” Craddock looked at Bennett, almost laughing. “Do you believe that story?”

“I’m not so sure, Craddock. Maybe she is telling the truth,” remarked Bennett. Tess certainly looked sincere to him even if it was a wild story. “Why didn’t you tell us about your daughter before?”

“Would you have believed me any better before than you do now? Would either of you really have believed me?”

“Really, Tess,” Jack was getting madder. “You don’t have no daughter. Or have you forgotten we knew each other pretty well before.”

“That was over six years ago. She’s only five. You wouldn’t have known about her since I had her after you left Texas. Please, Jack, go with me to the cabin.” Tess looked from one man to the other, and then at Marie. “We can’t leave her there.”

“Maybe we should check it out,” Bennett said to Craddock. “Just in case she is telling the truth.”

“Jack, you have to go. A little girl. She can not be left out there. We have to know for sure,” said Marie. Somehow she was sure that Tess was telling the truth.

Craddock knew they were right. They couldn’t take a chance on leaving a small child out there alone. “Where is this cabin? You best be tellin’ the truth. It better not be another trick.”

“I’ve never lied to you, Jack. I tried to escape and I robbed the bank, but I never lied to you. Not ever,” whispered Tess under her breath, but Craddock heard her and turned to stare at her wondering if there was a double meaning to her words.

*****

Tess, Craddock, and Bennett rode up to the old, rundown cabin. It looked ready to fall in on it’s self. There was no sign of life. The door hung open at an odd angle, hanging by one leather hinge. The glass was long gone from the windows, if there had ever been any.

“You sure this is the place?” asked Craddock.

“I’m sure. Buddy! Where are you, Buddy? Mama’s here now.” Tess swung out of her saddle, as did Jack and Clive. The Marshal grabbed her arm, and handed her to Bennett. “Stay here while I have a look.” Both men had drawn their guns. They didn’t want to be caught unawares if there was someone besides a child hiding here.

“Where is she? I have to look for her.” Tess was really getting scared and started toward the cabin. Why hadn’t Buddy answered her, and come out?

Bennett kept a hold of her arm. “Like Jack said, stay here.” They watched as the Marshal stepped into the doorway, and then on inside. He reappeared a moment later.

“Nothin’. What are you tryin’ to pull, Tess?” He sighed in disgust at her and himself for believing her. “I’ll check around back.”

He hadn’t quite made it around the corner of the building when a shot rang out and dirt spurted only a foot or so from his boots. Craddock jumped back and up against the wall of the cabin raising his gun and looking for a target.

“Buddy?” yelled Tess as the Mountie pulled her into the little bit of shelter offered by the cabin.

“You turn my mama loose!” screamed out a small but determined voice.

“Buddy?” Tess called again. “Where are you? Come here.”

Gradually they made out the shape of a child standing in the shadow of a tree to one side of the cabin. She had a huge pistol cocked and pointed at Craddock. Or at least it looked huge in the hands of the tiny girl.

“Put that thing down before someone gets hurt,” Cradock said and holstered his own gun, as did Bennett.

Tess pulled away and started toward her daughter.

“Tess, hold it, just have her put the gun down on the ground,” cautioned Craddock. “Don’t need her accidentally shootin’ you, or us, or herself.” He was also thinking that he didn’t want Tess to get her hands on the gun.

Tess instinctively knew what Jack was thinking and stopped where she was. She wasn’t about to pick up the gun, as she didn’t want Buddy getting hurt. But Jack didn’t know that and she had done too much to cause his mistrust now. “Put the gun on the ground, Buddy.”

“But, Mama. Those men. Are they goin’ to hurt us?”

“No, Buddy. No one is going to get hurt. Put the gun on the ground. Now. Then come here.”

After glaring at the two lawmen for a long moment the little girl did has Tess had instructed, although she didn’t like it. Craddock quickly picked up the pistol and unloaded the unfired chambers, while Tess grabbed her daughter and hugged her tightly. “It’s all right, Buddy. I’m here now. I didn’t mean to be gone so long. I’m sorry, so sorry.”

“I wasn’t scared, Mama. Really I wasn’t.” But tears were flowing unchecked down Buddy’s face, and she hide in her mother’s shoulder.

“Well, maybe you weren’t, baby. But I sure was,” said Tess as she looked at Craddock, and whipped tears out of her eyes. “Thank you, Jack, for bringing me out here.”

The Marshal watched the reunion while Bennett circled the cabin checking to see if there was any one else around. “You really should a told me yesterday. First off. ‘Fore we ever even when back to Bordertown.”

“I know. I guess I’ve been just doin’ everything wrong,” said Tess.

Just then the loud, vicious barking of a dog was heard.

“Hey,” yelled Bennett. “Get back.”

“Rustler!” cried Tess and Buddy at the same time, and ran toward where Clive was, with Craddock right behind them.

Bennett was backed against a tree, his gun pointed at a large shepherd dog that looked as if it would attack at any second. It was crouched down and growling, its eyes fixed on the Mountie, looking more like a wolf than a dog.

“Rustler, No. Come,” commanded Tess. Slowly the dog stopped growling and went to her. “He won’t hurt you, Corporal, not now.” Tess and Buddy petted and reassured the dog but it continued to growl every time either man moved.

“You sure you can control him?” asked Bennett as he slowly left his stand by the tree, and holstered his revolver.

The Marshal stepped to a large mound of gear half hidden in the brush and gathered up a rifle, a shotgun, and a knife. “You come prepared for a war, Tess. Got anymore weapons hid out in this stuff?”

“No, Jack, no more tricks, and I promise I won’t try to get away again. I just wanted Buddy safe.”

*****

The Marshal, the Mountie, Tess Hunter and her daughter, Buddy returned to Bordertown. They turned their riding horses over to the Danzingers, along with Tess’ big stallion and six beautiful brood mares. Horses she had brought with her from Texas. The dog, Rustler, went with them to Marie’s, staying right with Tess and Buddy every step they took.

At the doctor’s home, Clive called out to her as they entered the front door. “Marie.”

Marie came from the kitchen at his call, “Oh, you found her,” she said on seeing the little girl. She wasn’t surprised to see the child was dressed similar to her mama in boys’ jeans and a boy’s shirt and boots. Her hair was pulled back in two ragged braids. Her face was almost as dirty as her hands. She didn’t say anything, just stood there holding tightly to Tess’ hand. Her big brown eyes showing how scared she was. She knew something was wrong, but no one was telling anything to a child.

“Marie,” said Jack, “this is Tess’ daughter, Buddy. Can she stay with you fer now, ‘till I can figure out what to do with her.”

“Of course she can,” said Marie, reaching down to stroke the little girl’s dirty hair. The first thing I will do, thought Marie, is give her a bath.

Craddock was almost at his wits end. First a lady bank robber, and now a little girl he didn’t know what to do with. What next, he wondered.

“What will you do with her?” demanded Tess.

Marie was concerned about what was going to happen to both Tess and Buddy. “Yes, Jack, what will happen to her and her mama?”

“I don’t rightly know,” he admitted. “Guess the judge will decide that when he gets here. Right now I just got a keep both of them here in town. And I guess I should keep Tess in jail.”

“Jail!” screamed the child clutching her mama’s hand tighter. “You can’t put my mama in jail.”

Jack looked at the three women in vexation. What was he going to do?

“Not right now, Jack.” Marie stood, hands on her hips, with a look on her face that told Jack he wasn’t going to get his way. “Right now I will fix everyone a good meal, including you and Clive, if you want it. Then we will get Buddy a bath.”

“That sounds wonderful, Dr. Dumont,” agreed Tess. Maybe Marie would be her ally in this whole rotten situation.

*****

Tess Hunter felt almost human again. Marie was a good cook and the meal had helped but the hot bath had been even better. It had been months since she had done more than heat water over a campfire or bathe in a cold mountain stream. The large tub had been heaven. Even Buddy hadn’t objected. She and Buddy had put on clean, if wrinkled dresses from their packs. Now Tess sat at the table brushing Buddy’s hair while the girl leaned against her, seeming to be half asleep. Tess’ own dark brown hair gleamed in the bit of sunlight that came through the open door. It was done up in a braid, and then into a bun on the nape of her neck, much as Marie’s blonde hair was.

Marie could barely contain her curiosity. “This is the first time I have heard of a girl named Buddy. I believe it usually a boy’s nickname?”

Buddy stood straight and was quick to explain, “I was named after my grandma, Rosebud.”

Tess took it farther. “Ma was called Rosie but it didn’t fit this Rosebud so we called her Buddy. Plus there was less confusion that way.”

Jack sat sipping a cup of coffee. He approved of the change in both Tess and Buddy, although he knew Tess had put on the dress for Marie’s sake and to keep down the gossip in town more than for herself. He seemed to remember that Tess had always preferred to wear men’s clothing, even when he knew her in Texas. She had said she couldn’t run a ranch in a dress. “Tess, I hate to keep harpin’ on the same subject but I still need some answers.” He sat down the cup. “I want you to start at the beginnin’ and tell me everything. Ever detail. Don’t leave out anything. Start with why you left Texas.”

Laying the brush on the table, Tess looked at the Marshal, “I’m not sure how or where to start, but I’ll try.”

“Take your time.”

Still she hesitated. She spoke to Buddy instead. “Why don’t you go see how Rustler is?”

“Wait,” called Marie and took a large soup bone from a pot on the stove, placing an empty pie tin under it to keep it from dripping on the floor. “Why don’t you give this to him?”

“He’ll like that,” chirped Buddy, taking the tin with the bone and went out onto the back porch where the big dog waited. He gently took the bone from the little girl and lay down to chew on it.

The Mountie and the Marie waited quietly with Jack, wanting to hear Tess’ story, also.

Finally she began in a low voice. “I lost the ranch. The one Ty and I had, that he left to me. It wasn’t much to start with. You knew that, Jack. And after two years of drought, there wasn’t anything but dust and dirt and unpaid bills. I had taken out a couple of loans but couldn’t make the payments even though I worked and worked and tried to make ends meet, I just couldn’t. And the bank foreclosed. They just took it, but I didn’t blame them and by then I didn’t really care, but it was the last straw so to speak.” She ducked her face causing a lock of hair to fall forward. She pushed it back out of the way.

“And everyone else seemed to be in just as bad a situation. Sam and Emma almost lost their place, and so did Lou and the Kid. Teaspoon tried to help but there wasn’t much he could do. I guess I was sort a runnin’ away. Seemed like suddenly everyone was lookin’ down on me anyway. The daughter of a halfbreed. My parents never married. I preferred wearin’ pants and ridin’ horses to learnin’ them so-called social graces and gossipin’ ‘bout my neighbors. I knew I still had friends but with everything going from bad to worse and loosin’ the ranch, I just had to get away.”

“I know I’m not the first woman to try and run a ranch after her husband died, but I really gave the gossips something to talk about when I had Buddy three years after Ty was killed. Oh, Teaspoon accepted her all right, and has loved her like any grandpa would. Sam and Emma were great, as were Lou, the Kid and Buck, but I got to feelin’ uncomfortable with even all of them, too.”

“I tried to get a job in Sweetwater, but there weren’t nothin’. Nor in any of the nearby towns. I got tired of being supported by Teaspoon and my friends. One day I happened to talk to an old mountain man. He told me about this country. How green it is and ‘bout all the rain and that there was still land for homesteadin’. So one day I just packed up and left. It took about three months to get here, and I spent most of what little money I had on train fare up to Denver. It took a bit since I was bringin’ the horses that I had left. I had already sold all but the best of them. Then we started trailin’ north lookin’ for a place to homestead. I couldn’t find what I wanted, and I couldn’t get a job that would last more than a couple of weeks or so. I’m not cut out to be a waitress or a maid in a hotel, even if I did do plenty of it growin’ up with Ma.” Tess took a deep breath, and a sip of her coffee. Clive, Jack, and Marie waited for her to continue.

“I guess I was getting’ desperate when I got here. I went to the bank lookin’ for a job. The banker said no, but the safe was open and I saw all that money, and, like I said, it looked so easy.”

“Why didn’t you sell some of your horses?” asked Clive. “Those kind can bring a good price.”

“I did sell a couple but they’re all I have. They were to be a start for Buddy and me. ‘Sides they’re all I have left of Ty. I couldn’t sell any more of them. I love them too much, and they will be a start to another ranch. ”

“You could have contacted your father. Wouldn’t he have helped?” asked Marie.

“I’m sure he would have, but I guess I wanted to make it on my own.”

Up until then Jack hadn’t said anything. Just listened. Now he did. “How come Teaspoon let you leave anyway? That don’t seem like him.”

“He had been gone for several weeks. Visiting friends, fishing, hunting. I don’t know. Besides I’ve always done what I wanted to do anyway. He couldn’t have stopped me. And that was another reason we went on the train to Denver. It was faster so there was less chance of Teaspoon or anyone else tryin’ to stop me.”

Jack stood up. “That’s fer sure. I have to send a report to Judge Pike on tomorrow’s stage. I’m sending a letter to Teaspoon, also. I want you to write one, too. I think you better ask him to come get Buddy. He may have to take care of her for a while. Fer now, I’m gonna have to keep you at the jail, Tess, so come on.” He made a motion for her to follow him.

“Jack, no. Surely you can let Tess stay here with Buddy,” objected Marie. “I’m sure she won’t try to leave again. Aren’t you, Clive?”

“This is the Marshal’s decision, Marie. We can’t make it for him.” Bennett picked up his hat from where it hung on the back of a chair, and put it on. “I need to see my friends Martin and Lisa. I’ve been ignoring them.” Bennett left by the back door.

Buddy looked up at him from where she sat on the steps. “Can I go in now?”

“Sure,” the Mountie said. “You can go in now.” He ruffled her hair as he tried in his awkward way to reassure her. He was unsure of himself around children. Craddock seemed to have a big advantage over him with kids. All the kids seemed to like the Marshal. Clive wondered if it would be different if he ever had any children of his own. For a fleeting second, he pictured Marie holding a tiny baby. Then the thought was gone. He headed on over to the boarding house to try and locate the Webbers.

From inside the kitchen Marie was still refusing to let the Marshal take Tess back to jail. “The only reason Tess tried to escape before was because of Buddy. She’ll stay here with me. Won’t you?” Marie turned to Tess.

Tess had been intrigued by the way Marie had maneuvered Jack into letting her stay. She knew she had a friend in the lady doctor. “I will stay,” she said to both of them.

“I’d like to let you, Tessie, but I’m not sure I can trust you.”

“Certainly you can,” said Marie.

The door burst open and Diane Denney came in. “Marshal, we got trouble over at the saloon.”

Craddock pointed a finger at Tess. “You best still be here when I get back, Tess.” He followed Diane out the door.

*****

The next morning Bennett watched Craddock as he sat at his desk cleaning his gun. “You know, Jack, if you devoted as much time to your paperwork as you do to keeping your guns and rifles clean, it might get done on time.”

“Uh huh,” he muttered in response. His mind wasn’t on what the Mountie had said. He wiped the soft, slightly oily rag over the Colt .45 Peacemaker one last time, and then slide it into the holster. Standing he swung the gunbelt around his waist and buckled it on. “Stage should be here soon.”

“Yes, I told Wendell we’d be there when it came in,” said Bennett. He, too, stood and picked up his hat.

The two men stepped out onto the boardwalk. Craddock leaned against a railing surveying the town. They didn’t see anyone they didn’t know. Everyone they saw either lived in the town or on the nearby ranches and farms.

“Good morning, Marshal, Corporal.” Sally Duffield called cheerfully to them from the other side of the street as she entered Marie’s general store. She worked in the store with the doctor when she wasn’t busy with her boarding house.

“’Morning, Sally,” both men answered her. They could see Marie and several customers inside the store. The customers left the store and they recognized the Webbers and Frank Collins.

“I don’t rightly care much for that Collins feller,” said Craddock. “You know anything ‘bout him?”

“No, just that he’s a friend of Martin and Lisa.”

“What are they doin’ here anyway?”

“Seeing the frontier, the Wild West,” both men laughed. “Martin said he wants to do some fishing and maybe a little hunting. Collins, too. I guess Lisa’s just along because she is married to Martin.”

“Did you tell him summer’s the wrong time of the year to go hunting?”

“Yes. I think they just thought that it would be fun to be able to tell their friends back home that they had been here. They don’t seem to be that concerned with actually getting out and hunting. I offered to have Couteu guide them, but they said not at this time; they were still recovering from the long stage ride here.”

“Speaking of stages, here it comes.”

The six horses pulled the Concord up with a flourish, splattering mud on everyone near by.

“Howdy,” called the Marshal to the driver, a big, burly man, with long hair straggling down from under his hat, and a chaw of tobacco in his jaw. “How was your trip, Charlie?”

“Howdy, Marshal, Corporal. No problems at all. Nice and quiet. The way I like it.” The driver called down to the lawmen from the seat of the coach.

Bennett opened the door to the stage and two men stepped out, going directly to the saloon.

“Be ready to go soon as we change horses,” called the driver to them. “ ‘Bout an hour or so. Time to eat a bite.”

Wendell MacWherter ran up. “Anything for me?”

“Sure is, Mr. MacWherter. Couple of real heavy boxes.” Charlie slid a wooden box off the top of the coach to the banker. It was all the smallish man could do to keep from dropping it as he took it from Charlie. Bennett took the other one as Charlie handed it down. “I’ll carry this one, Wendell.” Craddock caught the next box down.

“What you got there, Wendell? A gold shipment,” called out Zac Denney from the steps in front of the saloon.

MacWherter was quick to answer. “Oh, no. Just – just some – equipment I ordered. Some locks and stuff.”

“Kind a late for that, isn’t it. The banks already been robbed,” joked Zac. “And by a woman.”

“Well it won’t be again,” shot back an indigent Wendell as he followed Bennett and Craddock to the bank.

From nearby Collins, Martin and Lisa watched and listened with interest.

In the bank the men sat the heavy boxes down. “Will it all fit in the safe?” asked Bennett.

“I think so.” MacWherter turned the dial and opened the safe. With difficulty, he wedged the boxes into it, shut it and locked it.

“Be glad when it’s gone. What ever it is,” commented Craddock and the other two men nodded in agreement. “Don’t like to have that much money or gold here.”

Craddock went back to the stage. “Here, Charlie,” he said as he pulled some papers from his pocket. “See that these telegrams get sent from the closest station. Will you? There real important.”

“Sure thing, Marshal.”

Craddock had decided the letters and reports might be to slow going by mail so he was sending telegrams as well. He wondered if and when Bordertown would ever get its own telegraph office. The marshal watched as the two passengers climbed back onto the stage and the coach rolled out of town. He saw the Webbers and Collins still standing in front of the hardware store. There seemed to be a small argument between them. Maybe they couldn’t decide where to go hunting and fishing. He’d ask Bennett if they needed some advice on it. He knew of lots of good places. He started back toward Marie’s. She had said Tess and Buddy had been still sleeping when she left the house. He had better check on them. As he approached the house Lucy and Willie ran out the front door followed by Buddy, and more slowly by Tess.

“Feelin’ better?” he asked Tess.

“Yes, I am,” she answered. The way she had combed her hair the stitches on her head didn’t show and the long sleeve on her blouse hid the bandage on her arm, but he could tell she was still careful with it. She and Buddy were again wearing pants and boots.

“Marshal Craddock, Willie and I are going to look after Buddy for Miss Hunter today. Show her around the town,” said Lucy. Willie didn’t look as if he cared to have a five-year-old girl tagging along, but he didn’t complain about it, not out loud anyway.

“Why, that’s real nice of you, Lucy,” said the Marshal. “Here,” he reached in his pocket and handed a nickel to all three. “Go see what Marie has in the way of candy at the store.”

Willie and Lucy thanked him, but Buddy just looked at him. She knew this was the man making her mama sad and keeping them in this strange town in someone else’s home. She wasn’t sure why but she didn’t like it.

“Thank the Marshal,” said Tess to Buddy.

Craddock went down on one knee before the little girl and pulled another coin out of his pocket. “Know something? I sure do like those cherry jaw breakers Marie has. Do you think you could bring me back a penny’s worth of them?” He held up a penny, and watched the child think it over. She was small, cute, and Jack knew he liked her. He had an urge to hug her to him and reassure her that everything would be all right, but he knew it would not be the thing to do with her. She looked so much like Tess but her hair was lighter and her eyes were brown instead of blue. Still they were eyes that could look a hole right through you. Like Tess could. Like Marie said his own brown eyes could do.

Finally Buddy made up her mind, taking the nickel. “I’ll bring your candy back, and thank you,” she said softly. She ran after Lucy and Willie, catching Lucy’s hand. She liked her big friend.

Jack turned to Tess, “She seems like a good kid.”

“She is.” She watched her daughter leave with the two older children hoping she would be all right.

“What about her father?” Jack asked.

Tess didn’t answer.

“Sorry I asked. Guess it’s not really any of my business.” He felt guilty at asking such a personal question.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Tess. She turned to go back inside.

“Look, Tessie. I have to see you stay here for now but that don’t mean we can’t, maybe, get to know each other again. I remember we used to be – well, good friends anyway.”

A hint of a blush colored Tess’ checks. “There’s no point, is there?” She turned to go inside.

Jack knew she was right. “All right, maybe there’s not. Just be here where I can find you, then. Don’t even wander around town without letting me know.” He turned to leave and Tess opened the door to Marie’s home. Craddock turned back. He couldn’t leave it alone.

“Look, Tess.” She turned to look back at him. “No reason you can’t have supper with me tonight. Is there? As my prisoner, I am supposed to feed you. Consider it part of my duties to keep an eye on you.”

“I thought I was ‘confined to quarters’, so to speak,” said Tess.

“Maybe I can make an allowance fer supper, since I’ll be with you,” Craddock teased.

Her first thought was no, but then another thought came over her. Yes, she did want to have supper with him. Yes, she did remember how close the two of them had been at one time, and suddenly she wanted that feeling again. If just for a little while. “I’ll think about, but don’t count on it.”

“I’ll pick you up at six o’clock.”

*****

Marie and Sally looked up as the three children came into the store. Marie noticed Lucy holding Buddy’s hand. She was glad Lucy had taken an interest in the little girl. Having lost her own family, Lucy was well aware of what it was like to be alone or almost alone in a strange place. Lucy now lived with Marie and was becoming a lovely young lady. Willie, also, knew the loss of parents, having been raised by his aunt and uncle and half the town, especially by Jack Craddock.

Sally helped them make their selections from the large glass jars of candy. Lemon drops, cinnamon sticks, licorice, horehound, peppermint, and of course various flavors of jaw breakers. When they each held a small sack of candy, Buddy held up her extra coin.

“The Marshal asked me to get him some of those cherry jaw breakers,” she told Sally.

“The Marshal does have a sweet tooth, all right,” laughed Sally as she put several pieces into another paper sack.

Buddy took the sack of candy and ran out the door almost running into the man with the sweet tooth himself. After a brief hesitation, she handed Jack the sack. “Here,” was all she said.

Jack smiled at her. “Thanks youngin’.” He took one piece of candy out of the sack and put it in his mouth.

“Let’s go down to the stables and see the horses,” said Willie, and he led the way to Danzinger’s barn.

Jack figured that the fact that Tess and Buddy had brought in several very nice horses with them was the main reason that Willie was willing to hang out with the girls. It seemed that Willie only had one thing in mind sometimes and that was horses or anything to do with horses. At that thought he remembered that Tess had been that way ever since he had known her. He grinned slightly. Well, he was fond of horses, too.

“Why, Jack, I think you’ve made a conquest.” He hadn’t been aware of Marie walking out of the store to stop at his side.

“She’s scared and lonely and needs some attention. She’s a sweet kid and been through a lot lately. And I figure there’s a lot more to come.”

Marie became more thoughtful. “You and Tess were close friends when you lived in Texas?”

“Yeah, we were. Why?”

“It has been how long since you’ve seen her?”

“Six years, or there ‘bouts.”

“And the child is five,” mused Marie almost to herself.

“Ma-rie.” Craddock drew out her name in the way he sometimes had when something she had said didn’t set right with him. “Now just stop that kind a thinkin’. You’re all wrong.”

She laid her hand on his arm. “Are you sure, Jack? Buddy looks like her mama, but she has your eyes and a lot of your ways, I think. Is there even a possibility?”

“A course not,” he spoke quickly. A little too quickly, thought Marie.

Suddenly a galloping rider pulled up in front of them.

“What’s the matter, Duncan?” Craddock demanded only to glad to have the subject changed.

“The boss sent me to get Dr. Dumont. One of the hands had a horse fall on him. Got a broken leg.”

Marie was all business instantly. “Go have Otto saddle my horse, while I get my bag.”

She headed for her home while the rider whirled his horse toward the stable.

As they left Craddock thought about his conversation with Marie. Was it possible? He was leery of asking Tess. He wasn’t sure he wanted an answer. It was just too much to even consider that he might be Buddy’s pa.

*****

The Corporal and the Marshal made sure that they weren’t very far from the bank the rest of the day. Bennett gave Martin and Lisa directions to a small lake where he said the fishing was good but had to decline to go with them. Marie returned from tending to the injured cowboy to find Tess pressing her best dress but still unsure if she should have dinner with Jack or not.

“How will the town see it, if I have dinner with Jack? I’m sure most of them think I should be in jail anyway.” She was sure she shouldn’t go but deep in her heart she wanted to.

“I did hear some comments to that effect today, but most people seem to sympathize with you,” replied Marie. “I think there cannot be many here who have not at one time or another been alone, hungry, or in a difficult or even desperate situation. Since you seem willing to stay and accept the consequences, most are also willing to wait for a judge’s decision. It is as if you were out on bail, maybe.”

“How do you feel, Marie?” It seemed important to Tess to know Marie’s opinion.

“I think you did wrong, but I can understand why,” answered the doctor thoughtfully, “that is, if you did it. If I had been alone with a child, I must admit I might have done the same if I had been in your clothes.”

Tess laughed. “Shoes. If I had been in your shoes. That is the saying. Not clothes.”

”Shoes,” Marie corrected herself and laughed with Tess. “Come, let me change the bandage on your arm and then I’ll help you fix your hair.”

*****

Jack couldn’t contain a whistle of surprise when he saw Tess that evening. “You sure do look nice, Tessie,” he said admiringly.

Tess blushed slightly. She hadn’t had this kind of attention in a long time. Her dress wasn’t fancy or elegant. It was simple but it was the perfect compliment to her beauty. It was a dark tan with ivory lace around the cuffs and collar. Her only concession to jewelry was a pair of turquoise teardrop earrings. Tess took a second look at Jack. He had changed into black pants and a black and white striped shirt, and a black vest. The usual bandana had been replaced with a black string tie. She thought he looked very handsome.

“Marie, will you go with us?” Jack asked.

“No, but I may see you later,” Marie said, “I’m supposed to meet Clive and his friends. They just got back to town, I think. From their little fishing trip.”

Jack and Tess left to walk down the quiet street of Bordertown to Zac Denney’s Saloon to have their meal. Heads turned in their direction as the Marshal seated Tess at a table in a back corner of the saloon. “Are you sure we should be doing this?” asked Tess again.

“The law says I have to feed my prisoners. It don’t say where I have to do it.”

“Evenin’, Marshal,” said Zac placing a cup of coffee before him. He looked at Tess but didn’t say anything.

“Evenn’, Zac. I believe we’ll try a couple of steaks with all the trimmin’s. That sound all right with you, Tess?”

Tess had sat quietly letting Jack order for both of them. “Uh – yes – yes that sounds fine.”

“Coffee, Ma’am?” asked Zac. “Or would you like something else to drink?”

“Yes, please. Coffee will be fine.”

Zac left to get their dinners. “He’s certainly not from here with that Southern accent, is he?” asked Tess by way of conversation. She needed to say something and was unsure of what to say, so asking about Zac seemed to be the safest thing.

“Zac and Diane are from Georgia. Bordertown has all kinds. From all different parts of the United States and Canada and immigrants from most of Europe. We got German, French and Irish here.” Jack was only too glad to talk about the people of Bordertown. He, too, was nervous about what to say to Tess. At one time he wouldn’t have had any concerns over what to talk about with this woman. Back in Texas, they had spent many an hour talking together and many another hour just enjoying each other’s company.

Now Tess was finding it even more difficult to keep a conversation going. She noticed that Marshal was drinking only coffee. “Jack, I won’t object if you want a beer or something instead of just coffee.”

The Marshal looked down at his cup. “I don’t,” he said in his rough voice. “I quit drinkin’ any kind of beer or liquor some time ago.”

Tess was surprised and pleased. She reached out and took his hand. “I’m glad,” she said smiling at him. Jack’s heavy drinking had been one of the few things that they had argued about those many long years ago.

The bartender brought their meals and they ate silently for several minutes. “This is very good,” commented Tess, being used to trail food, and the rough, sometimes almost unpalatable food found in most saloons and eateries in many small towns.

“Dom’s a real good cook. I think he learned to cook back east somewheres. But he don’t know nothin’ ‘bout cookin’ Mexican food. ‘Sides you can’t get any chili peppers around here. Summer aren’t long enough to grow them and it’s way too wet.”

Tess laughed. “Maybe you could write and ask Teaspoon to send you some. Then you could teach him how. Seems I remember you make a mean pot of chili and beans.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment. “I didn’t have much left in the way of food in my gear and packs but there might be a little bit of chili powder left. Marie should have everything else I’d need to make some.”

“Some chili beans and some enchiladas sure would taste good. Don’t think I’ve had any since I left Texas. Not good ones, like I remember you makin’, anyways.” Jack was pleased to see that Tess had relaxed some. He liked the look on her face when she spoke of fixing him chili beans. For a moment it seemed both of them had forgotten about the bank robbery that had brought them together again.

There was a small commotion at one of the other tables across the room. Craddock started to get up but settled back down in his chair as the disagreement between the cowboys seemed to resolve it’s self.

“Looks as if the jail may not be empty tonight,” said Tess.

Craddock agreed with her. He knew most of these men, but knew most had spent a night or two in his jail at various times.

They had just finished eating when Marie entered through the batwing doors of the saloon followed by Martin Webber, and his wife, Lisa, Frank Collins and Corporal Bennett. Without thinking Tess said, “I don’t like those three friends of the Corporal’s. Don’t know why, but I don’t.”

Craddock looked at her sharply. He remembered those were almost the same words Diane used earlier that day when he had stopped in for Coffee. Marie hadn’t said anything but he had sensed she didn’t care for them either. The Marshal knew that he hadn’t taken to the trio but had tried to put it off to their being city people not used to Western ways. He said as much to Tess.

Lisa Webber approached their table. “I hope I’m not intruding,” she said, “but I did so want to meet you, Miss Hunter. You are the lady that robbed the bank, aren’t you?” Her voice had been loud and the whole room had heard her. Many stopped what they were doing to stare at Lisa and Tess.

Tess stared back at the outspoken young woman not knowing what to say. If Lisa noticed that she had caused most of the saloons customers to watch them she didn’t seem to mind. “It must be a very exciting life you lead, Miss Hunter. How many banks have you robbed? Why did you rob the bank here? It must be small compared to others you have robbed, isn’t it?

Craddock go to his feet. “Whoa, now, Miz Webber. Tess, here, is only a suspect. She ain’t admitted to nothin’. And there ain’t been no trial yet.”

Bennett had heard Lisa and tried to get through the crowd to stop her, as did her husband, Martin. “Lisa,” said Clive sharply. “I think we should leave this to a judge. The law still says a person is innocent until proven guilty. As the Marshal said, there hasn’t been a trial yet.”

“Lisa, stop this. What are you trying to do?” Martin spoke to his wife in a half whisper. He couldn’t understand why she was trying to start a scene.

Tess stood up, biting her tongue to keep from screaming at this insulting person, and headed for the door. As much as she wanted to say something to Lisa Webber, she knew anything she said could make it look worse for herself.

“Marshal Cradock, I have a question for you.” Frank Collins voice was also loud and caught everyone’s attention. “If Miss Hunter is a suspect in the robbery, why isn’t she in jail?”

Mummers of agreement ran around the room. Both lawmen were at a loss as to what to say, but Marie, who had kept unusually quite up until now, answered for them. “Miss Hunter had injuries when Marshal Craddock brought her in. I suggested it would be better if she were to stay at my place.” She caught the thankful look that Tess threw her way.

“Well, she looks fine now,” called a voice from the back of the room.

Marie answered again. “I believe she is out on bail now.” Craddock and Bennett looked at each other in surprise.

The same heckling voice called again. “Who put up the bail money?”

“I did,” said Marie. Everyone was quiet. The doctor was well respected by everyone. Most were satisfied by her answers, but a drunken cowboy pushed his way up to Craddock and leered at both Tess and Marie. His words were slurred. “I still say she belongs in jail. If your suspect was a man you’d have him in jail, now wouldn’t you.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” answered Craddock slowly, his eyes never leaving the troublemaker. “I do put drunks harassing women in jail real fast, though.” He tried to place the cowboy. Knew he had seen him around but didn’t remember a name to go with the face. “And you’re drunk, fella. Why don’t you go sleep it off instead of tryin’ to start trouble, ‘fore I’m forced to throw you in jail.”

“Come on, Les, or you’re goin’ to end up in jail for sure,” said another cowboy tugging at his friends’ shirtsleeve, as he tried to pull Les back. “Les don’t mean nothin’, Marshal. As you said, he’s drunk. Come on, Les.”

Les gave his friend a shove. “Put that bank robbin’ woman in jail, Craddock. Or are you too soft? Maybe we need a new Marshal. If you can’t do it, I can.” He reached for Tess.

“That’s enough,” commanded the Marshal as he hit Les on the chin as hard as he could. No drunk cowboy was going to manhandle a woman in his care. Prisoner or not.

Les fell into the watching crowd, and they scattered back. He suddenly didn’t seem as drunk as he had been as he got up and came back swinging at the Marshal. He hit Craddock on the jaw knocking him into the wall. As Craddock fell, a gunshot deafened the room. The bullet thudded into the wall near Craddock throwing splinters. The Marshal seemed to bounce of the wall throwing a hard left to the troublemakers’ midsection. Thinking Les had pulled a gun and was shooting, Bennett lunged at him and wrenched his arms behind his back just as Jack hit him again. This time the drunken cowboy crumpled to the floor and didn’t move. Craddock pulled Les’s gun from its holster and added it to his own belt.

Unnoticed an older, gray-haired man of about sixty-five or so eased through the crowd so that he could watch the commotion in the saloon. His shoulder length hair framed a face that had seen a lot but his eyes were still bright and shining. His clothes were trail-warn and mud splattered but his hand rested on the butt of a Colt 45 that was clean and well cared for. There was a Texas Ranger star engraved into the handle of the Colt. Moving up a bit closer he looked at the two lawmen and then moved toward Tess.

“Mind if I ask what’s going on here?” he asked in a Texas drawl.

Tess and Craddock jumped at the sound of his voice. “Teaspoon!” both of them said at the same time.

*****

Marshal Jack Craddock sat behind his desk fingering the hole in his sleeve for maybe the tenth time. That bullet had been just a little bit to close for comfort. After locking up the drunk cowboy, Les, and sending most of the crowd home, Craddock and his friends had talked it over several times. They had even gone back to the saloon and questioned Zac, Dom and several others. No one had seen who had fired the shot that had put the hole in Craddock’s sleeve. They had all agreed that Les’s gun was in his holster at the time of the gunshot, and neither did it smell as if it had been fired. Now Craddock and Teaspoon Hunter were the only ones left in the office. They were quietly talking over old times and new.

Teaspoon had told Jack and Tess of how he had arrived back in Sweetwater several months ago and found that Tess and Buddy had left with the horses. He said he had seen the telegram Tess had sent to Sam and Emma just as they left on the train at Abilene; the wire said they were going North, to somewhere it rained a little more often, to start a new life. It wasn’t much to go on but Teaspoon had started out after his daughter and granddaughter. He had decided that if he could find them, maybe he needed to start over with them.

“I done a lot a things in my life,” said Hunter to the Marshal. “Texas Ranger, marshalin’, workin’ fer the Pony Express, scoutin’, cowboyin’, you name it, but I don’t guess I been much of a pa and grandpa.”

“Knowin’ you, Teaspoon, you done a lot better than most would have,” said Craddock. “You was always there to help us boys when we needed it. I know you kept me on the right side of the law.”

“Well, somebody had to knock some since into your thick skulls.”

Craddock was silent a moment as they both remembered all the men they had known together. “I heard ‘bout Hickock dyin’ about four year ago, and that Cody’s scoutin’ for the Army, again, but what about Buck and Lou and the Kid?”

“Well, Buck’s wearin’ a badge, same as you. He’s helpin’ Sam, there at Sweetwater. The Kid and Lou and Rachel Dunn still got that little ranch over by Rock Creek. They’re doin’ perty good, I guess. Almost lost it once, like Tess, but managed to hang on.”

They were sitting there in silence when Bennett came in from making his rounds. He and Marie had been interested in meeting Teaspoon Hunter after having heard Craddock talk about him. Tess had been upset that her pa had followed her, but was relieved to see him for Buddy’s sake. Now if she did go to jail she knew her daughter would be well taken care of.

Bennett poured a cup of coffee and joined the two old friends. “Well, did you get ‘em back to Sally’s?” Craddock was referring to Collins and the Webbers.

Clive nodded. “I still don’t understand why Lisa started that trouble like she did. She was always outspoken but not like that.”

“Maybe it was just curiosity,” said Teaspoon, giving her the benefit of the doubt, since he didn’t know her. “Jack, what about Tess? Any chance in her getting’ off this bank robbin’ charge? It just don’t make sense her doin’ it. I guess she’s been takin’ losin’ the ranch harder than I realized. Sure wish I’d known.”

“I just ain’t sure, Teaspoon. Judge Pike is a fair man. I’m goin’ to talk hard to him. I doubt I can get her off but maybe I can get her a lighter sentence. I sure hope so.”

“What about Buddy?”

“Well, unless some other relative objects, you can take care of her. That is what you want, isn’t it?”

“Guess I don’t have much choice,” said Teaspoon. “But, yes, I do want to take care of her if Tess has to go to jail. She is my granddaughter.”

“Are there any other relatives?” asked Bennett.

Craddock answered him. “Tessie’s ma died some years back, but Tess won’t tell me anything ‘bout Buddy’s pa.”

“ ‘Bout Buddy’s pa…” Teaspoon took a sip of coffee and smiled. “I don’t think he’ll be any problem.” Making his face go blank, he looked directly at Jack Craddock, but didn’t say anything else. Hunter stood up. “Guess I better be getting’ over to my room so that Miz Duffield don’t lock me out. That’s a real nice lady there. Also, that lady doctor. Who would of ever thought that a woman could be a doctor?”

Craddock shook his head and smiled. “You always was one for the ladies, Teaspoon. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Hunter left the jail and walked down the street to the boarding house.

“Night, Jack,” said Clive yawning as he went into his own quarters, next to the jail.

Jack continued to sit there trying to make since of things. He was really worried about what would happen to Tess, but was glad Teaspoon would be able to take care of Buddy. He wondered what the older man had meant when he said that Buddy’s pa wouldn’t be a problem. Was the man dead or just didn’t know he had a daughter. He wondered if Tess had ever told the man that she was pregnant. Surely she had. But then again maybe she hadn’t. Unless he had left Texas before the baby was born. As he thought about it, he unconsciously he reached up to finger the hole in his sleeve again.

*****

Bennett pulled off his boots and shrugged out of his clothes. How could he have considered Bordertown a quiet, friendly, little town? Well, maybe it had been until their friends had arrived. Craddock’s friend had robbed the bank and his had tried to start a riot. He wouldn’t be upset when the Webbers decided to go back to the big city. He had never expected them to cause trouble like they had.

Every few minutes he could hear the squeak of Craddock’s chair. He hoped Jack would go over to his own cabin and get some sleep. He knew the Marshal needed rest as much as he did but knew he was concerned about Tess. He knew that Jack and Tess had been very close once before and maybe could be again. He was sure that Jack wouldn’t object if Tess wanted to be friends again, but it couldn’t be as long as there was the bank robbery hanging over her.

The Mountie knew that Marie had been the only woman he or Jack had been interested in for a long time, but all Marie had wanted was simple friendship. She had always treated them alike. Her memories of her husband had been too recent and to strong. Or it had almost always seemed that way to him. Recently it seemed Marie had been more willing to go to dinner, dances, picnics and just ordinary walks with him. Clive realized Jack was being left out more all the time. Clive certainly didn’t disapprove. He was more than a little fond of Marie. He was very pleased, but what about Jack. How did he feel about Marie?

He knew Jack didn’t plan on being a lawman forever, same as he didn’t. Maybe Jack was seeing a chance at another life. Maybe he was seeing Tess as a way to a life on a small ranch, with a family to care for. It seemed she was a woman he still cared for very much. Clive smiled at the very idea of Jack Craddock being romantic, but knew Jack had a soft spot he kept hid under that hard, rough, exterior face he put on all the time.

Considering the situation again, Clive knew it could never be. He knew how hurt Jack would be when Tess went to prison and Buddy went back to Texas with Teaspoon Hunter.

The Mountie had to admit Tess was pretty and likeable. Clive dozed off to sleep wondering if he might not like to try ranch life with a family someday himself.

*****

Tess sat swinging slightly in the swing on Marie’s front porch. She knew it was about 4:30 in the morning. It was still very dark with no sign of dawn yet. The smell of rain was still in the air after the short shower that had fallen earlier in the night. The old mountain man she had talked to in Texas had been right; it did rain a lot here. She listened to the sound of crickets chirping and the occasional buzz of a mosquito. An owl hooted near by.

She had been thrilled when she and Buddy had reached the northern Montana territory. She had loved the wide expanse of country filled with huge towering mountains. She had lived on the relatively flat Texas plains most of her life. She remembered spending several years in the mountains of New Mexico as a child but they could not compare to these Montana mountains. Tess had always loved being able to ride out and watch the changing countryside and especially the wildlife she found in it. Montana certainly had a large share of wild creatures. She had been impressed by the amount of rabbits, quail, doves, turkey, deer and other game animals she had seen. She had seen her first moose in Montana. Bigger even than her horses or an elk and they had such comical expressions. Of course the bugle of an elk had always sent a thrill through her. She had seen several bears including a grizzly. But it was the strange, lonely call of the loons in the misty, stillness of early morning that had really touched a nerve with her. More so than the howl of a wolf or the yip of a coyote ever had.

She and Buddy had seen and ridden through large meadows that would be perfect for raising horses in, with areas where fields could be plowed for raising hay to see them through long, cold winters. She had fallen in love with the wild, Montana territory, and didn’t want to think about having to leave here.

Tess had been unable to sleep in Marie’s nice, soft bed so had come out here to think but not of this beautiful, new country. Why, oh, why had she done such a stupid thing? Maybe she had been wrong to leave Texas, but she didn’t have much of a life there. She had thought she could do something better for herself and Buddy here in Montana. Instead she had done everything wrong and now she would be sent to prison. She realized she wouldn’t be there to see her daughter grow up. Tess was sure she couldn’t stand being in prison. She had always been so free to come and go as she pleased. Even though she had never had much in life, she had never been confined or restricted, as she would be in prison.

As she had lain in bed trying to sleep, her thoughts again had turned to escape. She had packed a few things that she would need most. Her saddlebags and a burlap bag of supplies lay at her feet. She would leave Buddy for Teaspoon to take care of. There was no doubt in her mind that he would care for his granddaughter, and probably do a better job than she had been able to do. If she stayed and went to prison or left now, that fact remained the same. She would leave Rustler for the little girl. The child would need her dog. She would just take her dun saddle horse and the bay stallion.

She had made the decision from her bed, but when she reached the porch, she wasn’t so sure. There was a lantern hanging in front of the marshal’s office to remind her of Jack Craddock and the faith he seemed to have in her. Faith that she would stay and wait for the judge, although she had tried to get away several times. Even Teaspoon had suggested it might be better if she stayed at the jail He had been very upset at what she had done. Jack had convinced him it wasn’t necessary. Tess continued to sit there; still unsure of what she was going to do.

The marshal had been dozing behind his desk for several hours. He frequently did this before retiring to the loneliness of his cabin. He awoke abruptly from a nightmare. In it he had been watching Tess be led off to prison, while Buddy beat at him with her small fists begging him not to let her mama go to jail. He decided to make a round of the town and then try to get a couple of hours of sleep in his bed.

The rain had stopped and everything was newly wet. The clouds were beginning to breakup and a sliver of moon peaked down on the little town. It always gave Craddock an odd feeling to be the only person out as he walked the short streets, making sure doors were locked, that drunk cowboys were out of the bad weather and everything was as it should be, while everyone else slept.

As he approached Marie Dumont’s home, he realized he wasn’t the only one awake. Someone was sitting on her porch. He wasn’t trying to be quiet, but Tess didn’t hear him as he walked up. He watched her for a few minutes, noticing the saddlebags at her feet. “Make up your mind yet?” His voice startled her, making her jump out of the swing. It wasn’t often anyone could sneak up on her.

“Oh! What – what did you say? I didn’t know anyone was there.”

“I asked if in you’d made up your mind yet.”

Tess was still confused. “Made up my mind? What about, Jack?”

“ ‘Bout weather you’re goin’ to stay here or run away.” Jack climbed up onto the porch and sat down in the wooden swing Tess had just vacated. “Sit back down while you think about it.” He patted the seat next to him.

Tess stood watching the marshal. She shivered slightly and drew her coat tighter about her. Even if it was summer time it was still cool. She wondered how Jack had known what she was thinking about. She didn’t try to deny it. She knew it wouldn’t do any good.

“Come on. Sit. I won’t bite.” Jack held out his hand to her.

She didn’t take it but she did sit back down beside him. “I – I couldn’t sleep,” she said.

“Me neither,” said Craddock. When she shivered again he put his arm around her and pulled her close. He kissed her gently, and she tired to pull away. “I thought about it, too,” he said. “ ‘Bout helping you get away. Maybe even goin’ with you.” He kissed her again. Tess was too surprised at what he had said to object this time. She was startled that Jack would have even considered giving up his life as a lawman and becoming an outlaw to help her.

“But I decided it just wouldn’t do. Oh, I figure you and me could a handled it. But not Buddy. She’s a bit young for that kind a life yet. So if we did run away, she’d have to stay with Teaspoon and we’d never see her again.”

Tess was even more surprised that Jack’s thoughts had been almost the same as her own.

“If you stay and go to prison, you might be out in a couple of years and get to be with her again. If you run away, well – you might never see her again.”

“Do you think she would want a convict for a mama?” asked Tess, as she laid her head on his shoulder.

“Might be better than havin’ a ma who’s out ridin’ the owlhoot trail.” After a moment he added. “Or dead.”

They sat together for a long time. There was a faint hit of dawn in the sky when they stirred. “We both need to get some sleep. Go on back inside now.” Jack said as he stood up. Tess stood up beside him.

“I’d sure like to know you’ll still be here when I come back,” Jack said; then he hesitated, but went on in his low, rough voice, “Tess, let me know if you do decide to leave. And – and I’ll go with you.”

Tess stared at him. She couldn’t let him give up his job, everything he believed in, his way of life for her. “I’ll be here, Jack, I promise.”

He kissed her again, then opened the front door to the house so she could go back inside. She picked up her bags and started to enter. Stepping back she put her arms around his waist. This time she was the one who kissed him. Moments later she pushed away from him, entered the doctor’s home and when to her room.

Tess never did get any sleep, there were too many thought racing through her mind about what had been said between her and Jack, and what had not been said.

*****

Teaspoon Hunter was having trouble sleeping, too. His thoughts on his daughter, granddaughter and his friend, Jack Craddock. He had known Tess was upset over the loss of her little ranch but had never figured she would do anything as drastic as heading north by herself, and taking Buddy. But the girl seemed strong and healthy, like she had thrived on the trip. Children adjusted more easily than adults to many difficult situations.

He wondered just how hard a sentence Tess would get, and he wondered how he was going to manage to raise Buddy. Being a grandpa was one thing, but being a ma and pa to that little girl wasn’t going to be easy. Maybe he could get Sam and Emma to help.

Hunter tossed and turned on the bed. It was a nice, soft bed with clean sheets and quilts. He should have slept like a baby but he didn’t. He had heard the rain and the crickets and the quiet. Now he was hearing the sounds of an early riser. It must be Sally Duffield, he thought. A door creaked. He heard soft footsteps and then whispering. Well, if everyone else was up maybe he could talk Sally into fixing him a cup of coffee. Teaspoon got up and dressed. As he started to open his door there was a loud bump and he heard the voices again. He recognized the Webbers.

“Will you keep quiet, Martin,” commanded Lisa in a loud whisper.

“It’s dark. I can’t see very well,” complained Martin.

“Just come on. It’ll be light soon and someone might see up. We should have left earlier,” came Collins voice. “Lisa, you needn’t come, if you don’t want to. Why don’t you stay here? Martin and I can take care of this without you. It might even look better if you were here.”

“And let you two have all the fun of robbing that bank. Not on your life,” cut in Lisa. Her voice trembled with excitement.

Hunter watched the three ease out the front door. After a couple of seconds he followed. He saw shadows moving toward the bank, and he slipped quietly toward where the Marshal’s cabin was at the edge of town. He softly knocked on Craddock’s door. Nothing. He tried again. Still nothing. He reached for the doorknob thinking of going on in.

“You keep pounding on that door, you’ll wake the whole town.” Teaspoon nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of Cradock’s’ voice behind him. “Somethin’ wrong?” asked the Marshal. “You’re out awful early.”

“Yeah, somethin’s wrong. Them Webbers that started the ruckus in the saloon are robbin’ the bank,” answered Teaspoon hurriedly.

“What!” Craddock wasn’t sure he had heard right.

“Right now. They’re robbin’ the bank.” Teaspoon repeated the conversation he had heard at the boardinghouse.

“Come on,” Craddock headed swiftly through the back allies of the town but away from the bank.

“Where you goin’? The bank’s not that way.”

“They’re Canadian. We best get Bennett.” Craddock entered the back door of the jail, followed by Hunter. He didn’t even knock, but walked in and jerked the covers off the sleeping Mountie. Bennett came up reaching for the gun hanging by his bed, but stopped when he recognized Craddock. “What now?” he asked.

*****

Martin had no trouble picking the lock at the back door of the bank, but the lock on the safe wasn’t as easy. Working in the bank in Toronto, Martin had learned he had a knack for picking locks. It was Martin everyone called on when keys or combinations were lost. When Lisa found out she had encouraged him to practice in secret on all kinds of locks. Now that they were actually trying to rob a bank, this lock was eluding him.

Lisa was twisting around and around in frustration. “I thought you said it would be easy.”

“Shut up, woman, and let him work,” Collins snarled at her. He stood at the front door watching the street, gun in hand. Lisa stood watch at the back, glancing frequently at Martin to see if he had managed to unlock the safe.

Sweet dripped off Martin Webber, even though it was a cool morning. He was going to give it one last try and then give up. It was getting to light outside. But with that last try the safe popped open. Lisa and Frank rushed to it. They grabbed the heavy boxes. “Come on. Let’s get back to the boarding house before anyone sees us. Then, everyone just pretend it’s another, normal day,” whispered an overly excited Lisa.

Their plans were to hide the boxes in their rooms. They didn’t think anyone would be looking at the boardinghouse for the stolen money. Each of them took a box and slipped out the back door.

“Hold it right there,” ordered Corporal Bennett, his revolver pointed at the trio.

“Drop them guns, and boxes, and get your hands up,” instructed Marshal Craddock. The two lawmen stood one on either side of the door. For the space of three seconds, no one moved. Not the bank robbers or the lawmen.

“Drop ‘em. Now!” growled Craddock, in a rough, authoritative voice.

Lisa Webber was between her husband and Collins. The small gun she held was unseen by Craddock or Bennett. She dropped her box and opened fire at the Marshal. “Run,” she cried out. “Get some horses so we can go now while we have a chance.”

Martin ran. Lisa was right behind him. She stopped just long enough to pick up her box. Collins pulled his gun and began firing as he ducked back into the bank. Craddock jumped behind a rain barrel sitting on the back porch of Marie’s nearby store. Bennett headed around the buildings toward the front of the main street.

Collins broke out a window in the front of the bank and fired several shots as Bennett reached the barbershop next to the bank. He fired back but there were no answering shots. Maybe out of bullets, thought the Mountie. He didn’t think he had hit Collins. If he had, it had been a very lucky shot. On a sudden impulse, he ran forward and kicked in the door of the bank. The Corporal and Collins fired at each other at the same instant. Bennett felt the whip of a bullet whizzing between his arm and ribs, just as he saw Collins fall to the floor.

Carefully, he turned the robber over. He saw blood on Collins shoulder but the man was still alive. He pulled Collin’s arms behind his back and handcuffed him. He wondered how Craddock was fairing with the Webbers. He shoved Collins out the door ahead of him as he went to find out.

Craddock had chased after Lisa and Martin when they ran from the back of the bank. They weren’t shooting at him so he hesitated at shooting at them. He especially didn’t want to shoot a woman. He’d had enough of that with Tess.

They made it to the stable just as he caught up with them. They were close together and he managed to tackle both at once, causing all three of them to go rolling. As Craddock and Martin got back on their feet, Craddock hit Webber on the chin and then threw a punch to his belly. Webber went down gasping for air. Craddock jerked Webber’s gun from its holster and turned to Lisa.

She had gotten to her feet; her wooden box under one arm, her gun in her hand. She fired and this time didn’t miss. The bullet slammed into Craddock’s arm upper arm, numbing his whole arm so that Martin’s gun fell from his nerveless fingers. He reached toward his holster for his own gun with his left hand. It was gone. It lay on the ground where he had first overtaken Webber and Lisa.

He and Lisa stared at each other. He could see the danger shining from her eyes. She had shot at him twice, bringing blood the second time. She was thrilled by it and robbing the bank. Craddock knew if he made one wrong move she would kill him.

*****

The Marshal had sent Teaspoon Hunter to the doctor’s house. He knew Tess was awake and if she and Marie heard shots fired they would come to see what was happening.

Now Hunter stood on the porch holding Tess’ arm. “Just stay here, Tess,” he told her. They had heard the shots at the bank. They had seen Bennett break down the door, and had seen Craddock and the Webbers fighting in front of the stable. Marie had come out as Lisa had fired at the Marshal. She and Tess started toward them while Teaspoon tried to keep them at Marie’s home. “Hold on, I’ll take care of it,” said Hunter as he pushed both women back. He knew if they rushed out Lisa might fire at Jack again. But Tess was to fast for him. She grabbed his gun from his holster and run to the stable.

Jack was trying to talk to Lisa. “You don’t want to do this, Miz Webber. Put down the gun. You can’t get away. Bennett’s done got Collins. Just put down the gun.” He was afraid that she would start shooting at anything that moved, and he was sure that someone would come to the stable soon. Weather it was Clive, or Teaspoon, or someone else he didn’t want anyone else to get hurt. Not even the Webber woman. He had begun to think that she was in way over her head on this bank robbery and didn’t know which way to turn now, or what to do. The Marshal was sure she was on the edge of panicking and bound to hurt, if not kill someone. Jack had another thought that he didn’t think she would care if she did kill someone.

Lisa Webber had been thrilled by robbing the bank. She had even enjoyed the running and fighting and she was enjoying seeing the pain on the Marshal’s face from her bullet in his arm. She watched the blood drip down through his fingers where he clutched his arm. She thought that the bright, bright red blood was the most beautiful color she had ever seen. She thought that now she knew why red had always been her favorite color.

Lisa heard the Mountie run up, but didn’t notice Tess. “Don’t,” she cried out to Clive. “I’ll kill him.” She pointed the gun more steadily at the Marshal.

“Put down the gun, Lisa. It’s over,” said the Corporal.

Martin got to his feet. “Clive’s right, Lisa. It’s over. Give him the gun.”

“Maybe for you, Martin, but not for me. I still got my share.” She was still clutching one of the wooden boxes. “Martin, saddle some horses. We can still get away.” She glanced at her husband who stood to the side, still pleading with her. His shirt was torn from where the Marshal had tackled him, and there was dirt on his face, and a bit of straw in his hair. His hat had come off and lay on the ground.

Bennett tried again. “It doesn’t matter, Lisa. There’s nothing in the box. MacWherter and I put the money elsewhere yesterday after it came. The boxes are empty. Why do you think it’s so light?”

A look of horror flitted over Lisa’s face, and then a look of anguish, followed by anger. “No! You’re lying. It’s a trick.”

“Look in the box,” growled Craddock.

“NO!” Now she was unsure and the look of intense anger changed to one of fury and rage. She dropped the box and fired at the lock, the sound deafening. The lid burst open. There were small bags in the bottom. Lisa knelt by the box and opened one. Dirt poured out, instead of the pieces of gold that she had planned and hoped for.

“NO!” she screamed again. She pointed the gun at Cradock again and then at the Mountie.

“No, Lisa,” yelled Martin running between her and Bennett just as she fired. He fell to the ground as Tess fired Teaspoon’s gun at Lisa. The gun fell from Lisa’s hand as blood blossomed to spread down her sleeve.

“Martin,” screamed Lisa. She knelt at Webber’s side, his sightless eyes looked up at her. She held him to her crying softly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, Martin, I didn’t mean to.”

Marie ran to the Marshal. “Jack, are you all right?” She checked the wound, and placed Craddock’s hand back over it. “Keep pressure on it to stop the bleeding and come to the house.”

Ignoring Marie, Jack went to Tess. She let him take the pistol she had still been pointing at Lisa. She took a deep breath as he put his good arm around her. “Jack?” she asked. “I – I just couldn’t let her shoot you, or Clive. I just couldn’t.”

Craddock could feel her shaking, afraid of what she’d done. “It’s all right, Tessie. You done right,” he reassured her as he tightened his hold on her. It helped to calm his own nerves, too as he held her.

Teaspoon had come up beside them. “You all right, son? Tessie? Didn’t I tell you to let me, Jack and that there Mountie handle this?” He scolded her.

“Yeah, sure, Teaspoon, we’re both all right,” answered Jack. Still with his arm around Tess, the two of them headed for Marie’s. The Mountie could finish handling the bank robbers this time.

Hunter helped Lisa to her feet, and when she seemed steady enough he helped Lisa walk over to the Doctor’s. Bennett returned to the where he had left Collins slumped on the boardwalk at the bank’s door. He pulled the man to his feet and they, also, headed for the Doctor’s. It seemed Marie would have her hands full taking care of bullet wounds.

The people of Bordertown, many awakened by the shooting, began to peak out of doors and windows wondering if it was safe for them to come out yet. Curiosity getting the better of them, some came slowly out to find out what had happened.

*****

A little over a week had passed since the attempted robbery by Collins and the Webbers. Judge Pike had responded quickly when he had received another telegram from Marshal Craddock saying there had been another bank robbery, and that these suspects were, also, in his jail. The judge had been doubly surprised to find that two of the suspects were women. One for each robbery. The Judge had conducted the trials for Lisa Webber and Frank Collins that morning and had found each of them guilty. He would make arrangements to have them sent to the territorial prison.

The matter of Tess Hunter was entirely different. So far he had not found enough evidence against her to have a trial. He had spent the better part of the afternoon talking to Marshal Craddock and ex-marshal Hunter. Now they, along with Tess, Corporal Bennett and Dr. Dumont stood before him. He checked his notes and went over them out loud. More for his own benefit than theirs. “According to Wendell MacWherter, his bank was robbed by a big, strong man, and Mr. MacWherter didn’t change his story even after Miss Hunter was arrested. Do I have that right?”

“That’s right, Judge,” agreed Craddock. Personally, Jack thought that Wendell was afraid to change his story, because he thought that everyone would laugh at him if he admitted it might have been a little, slip of a woman who had managed to rob him and the bank.

“You, Marshal Craddock, tracked a horse from the bank. You saw a man on a horse, gave chase and knocked him off said horse, getting the breath knock out of yourself at the same time. Maybe even losing consciousness for a minute or two. When you came to, you found Miss Hunter, and the sack of money was on the ground nearby. Is that correct?”

Jack, unable to face the judge, kept his eyes on the floor, staring at the red stripe of paint that separated the American side of the jail from the Canadian side. “Yeah. Uh – yes, sir, that seems to be the way I remember it.”

Judge Pike looked up at Tess. “Miss Hunter, you say you had fallen off your horse and hit your head. You don’t remember Marshal Craddock or anyone else being there. You just remember coming to in the jail where Dr. Dumont was doctorin’ your injuries. Correct?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” whispered Tess.

“And Dr. Dumont you have confirmed that Miss Hunter had a head injury requiring stitches, and because of the injury she could have very possibly not been able to remember everything that had happened that day. Is that right?”

Marie could hardly keep from smiling at what was going on. “Yes, Your Honor.”

The Judge stopped and looked at each person in turn. He sighed. He was sure there was a conspiracy going on here. “There seems to be no witness to the crime that can identify the robber. Marshal Craddock can not say for sure who he knocked off the horse. It is possible it was someone else who then got away leaving the money behind, and Miss Hunter just happened to be at that spot, at that time.” The Judge shook his head, and sighed deeply. He wondered what he would have done if he had been Craddock in this situation. “Miss Hunter.”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“I’m going to have to release you considering the lack of evidence. But I had better never hear of your being involved in anyway with a bank robbery or any other crime again. Case dismissed.” Judge Pike stood up. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.” He began gathering up his papers.

Jack reached out and took Tess’ hand. “Come on, he said in a loud whisper that everyone, including Judge Pike could hear, “before he changes his mind.”

They stepped out onto the street with Hunter, Bennett and Marie following. Judge Pike watched them leave shaking his head and trying not to smile.

Buddy ran up to them. She had been waiting with Lucy while the proceedings had been going on. “Grandpa,” she cried, and Teaspoon swung her into his arms.

“Well, Mr. Hunter, will you be going back to Texas now?” asked Marie.

“I reckon we will sometime soon, but I’m not sure just when,” Teaspoon answered.

Tess looked at him. “What is this ‘we’ business? I came north to start a horse ranch and I still plan on doing just that.”

“I like it here, Grandpa,” said Buddy. “Can we stay here, Marshal Craddock?”

Jack gently pulled on of her braids. “I sure don’t have any objections,” he said. “I might even know of several places your ma might like to look at fer a ranch. That is,” he looked at Tess and grinned, “if she’d like me to show them to her.”

“Oh, she would. I know she would,” answered Buddy for Tess.

“Tess?” Jack turned to Tess and waited for her answer.

She smiled at the Marshal. “Yes, Jack, I think I would.”

Teaspoon watched them walk down the street hand in hand. “Well. Maybe I can get used to so much rain, if’n I stay around here for a bit.” He laughed as a few sprinkles hit him and Buddy.

Marie and Clive watched their friends, both old and new. Clive remembered his thoughts of a few days ago about this being a quiet, friendly town. Friendly anyways, but maybe not so quiet. But he still liked it. He would continue to call it home for now.

“Will you have supper with me, Marie?” asked Clive.

***The End***

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