An Unfair Fight with a Known Quantity

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(Approximately 8400 Words)

*Part 1: Abigail

Gilliam and his daughter Abigail ran the only general store for more than a day’s ride in all directions. It was profitable because there were new farms and ranches going up in the area, and the cattle trails were just a few miles to the east and west. Cowboys found little Expiation, Kansas, and it didn’t take long for young cowboys to discover Abigail. They would visit the store, buy some cheap items, and attempt to engage her in conversation. Occasionally, they were successful.

One drifter came by several times. He was not a cowboy, he was older, and he carried a pistol slung low like a gunfighter. Gilliam didn’t like the looks of him: perhaps 30 years old, sneering, unshaven, a big notch out of his one ear, and a new model six shooter. Gill noticed Abigail talking with him over the porch rail once, and another time saw him walking one way as Abigail made her way home after delivering some items to the livery stable.

Gill talked to Abigail about men.

“I don’t mean they’re bad,” he said emphatically, awkwardly, missing his wife gone almost seven years then. “You’re very pretty, and they’re attracted. You see them coming here just to look at you, or maybe say hello. But even the best boys can be consumed by desire, to where they can have trouble controlling themselves.”

Abigail looked at him and smiled. “You want me to say no?” she asked. He had seen this coquettish playfulness in her before. Now he found it exasperating.

“You must,” he said. “Even the good ones, remember.” She looked at him, batted her eyes, and turned to her work.

Gilliam did not want to involve himself in her love life, but the man with the notched ear scared him. If she took up with such a man… He knew she had a wilder side, he’d heard her opinion of this and that and him and her. He didn’t know where she learned to criticize people, but she did it easily and without compunction. It was a flippancy, as if she could dismiss someone from her interest for the flimsiest of reasons.

As she realized that she was beautiful, she gained confidence, Gill thought or hoped. He feared it was just a conceit.

He visited Ben Hammond that evening. Ben and his family had just moved to town and now owned the livery stables. Family included a son who hoped for a career in the ministry and had just finished study at the seminary in Dubuque. Ben and he discussed their children, and Gill expressed his concern that Abigail meet good men.

Next morning, Mark Hammond came by the store.

“Abigail,” Gill called up to their rooms, “would you come down? There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

She came down the stairs and over to them.

“Abigail, this is Mark Hammond. He just moved to town. Mark, my daughter Abigail.” Gill stepped back as the two stood there awkwardly. After a moment, Gill said, “I have work to do,” and the two young people were left to themselves. A half hour later, Gill heard Mark leave.

Abigail came over. “That was a little embarrassing,” she said.

“Nice guy?” he asked.

“Yeah. But he keeps bringing up religion. He thinks Jesus walks on water!” she said with a laugh.

Gill raised an eyebrow at that, nodded, and quietly said, “I see.”

But Mark Hammond came by and said hello a few more times, and Abigail decided to pass some time with him, to her father’s surprise and delight. He hoped she was sincere. He saw them go on walks out to the pond just over the little hill, or around the town. They would sit in the little living room and talk.

As weeks became a month, she spoke approvingly of Mark. She had never spoken of any boy before, not in anything like approval. Her father thought it was going well. Mark was polite and good-natured and genuine, and seemed to have the prospect of employment as a minister soon in Nebraska. Mark and Abigail sat with Gill in the dark one evening, listening to the insects in the dusk warmth of summer, and they talked about Mark’s faith and hopes. They sipped some warm wine saved for a good evening. He rocked slowly in his chair as the young couple sat on the divan.

“They’ve guaranteed me an income, not much, but enough to survive since I’ll be living in the small house by their church,” Mark said with a joy that only the hopeful young have.

Abigail’s father nodded. Abigail leaned over and took Mark’s hand, and for a moment rested her cheek on his shoulder. It was a display her mother would have discouraged, as her husband knew, but he would not. He thought it was warm and good, two young people looking to a future and exhibiting their affection, the first affection he’d seen from his daughter.

It was one of the sublime evenings of his life. He refused to question it, until later.

He saw the drifter with the notched ear one more time. He came in the general store. Abigail saw him as she was measuring bolts of canvas someone needed for a wagon. Gilliam noticed that she looked over at the drifter, locked ankara escort bayan eyes with him, then shook her head just the tiniest bit. The drifter came over to Gill at the counter, pulled some antelope jerky from the jar and put down the necessary change.

“Thanks, mister,” he said to Gill. He gave one more glance to Abigail, who was carefully not looking back, and the drifter left.

Gill wondered what that was all about, but he didn’t ask. He felt his face aflame.

One night after about six weeks, Abigail came in with her beau following, and said, “Mark wants to talk to you.” She pushed Mark forward and went back out. It was as if she respected her father, and Gill took it as that.

“I want to ask Abigail to be my wife,” Mark said.

She had become a new person these last weeks: friendlier, happier, wonderful. The last month had been the best of his relationship with her. It was too brief a period to decide to wed, but many marriages were arranged by letter or parental negotiations out in this barren, underpopulated land. He allowed himself to hope it would last, and he thanked the Lord in his mind. Mark was good for her.

“I would be proud for you to be her husband, if she agrees,” he said. “It must be her choice, of course.” Thank God, he thought. He’d feared the drifter might be going after her.

She had already said yes, but the young couple pretended he needed to ask and then they hurried to his parents to tell them. Over the next few days a wedding was quickly arranged because Mark needed to leave for the Niobrara.

Abigail was absent much of the next few afternoons with Mark, her father assumed.

A few days before the wedding, Abigail told him their plans: a simple ceremony using the only church in those parts, just a few friends of the families invited, and leaving that same day for Nebraska.

Abigail hesitated then, but seemed to force herself to speak. “Mark… he hates guns. He won’t have any at the wedding,” Abigail explained, and Gill was mildly surprised. Mr. Hammond had been an officer in the Union army and claimed to have several guns. Perhaps the boy was taking a moral stand as a new cleric. Abigail went on, “But it’s just us and his family, Mrs. Julius and her husband, and the Wellands. No need for guns around here. It will be small. We’re using the little church in Pipsiquah. Mark arranged everything.”

“I can handle the guns,” her father said. “We’ll collect them as people enter the church, keep them in the vestibule. I’ll get that poor soldier boy, to watch them. They call him… Divinity? He’ll feel important. Buck Welland carries, not Aaron Julius. Ben, so I’m surprised. Maybe Jones.” Divinity liked to please people and would like to be included. He was a former soldier who suffered a terrible head injury, leaving him simple and palsied. The town cared for him because he seemed harmless and needed it. He couldn’t speak. They called him Divinity because he carried a book of prayers called “Praise the Divinity.”

Abigail wore a green dress that revealed her shoulders and her father said nothing but shook his head. Mark looked very nervous, wearing his Sunday black suit. Gill had Divinity in the back of the church, just inside the rear entrance, watching over a wicker basket on the last pew seat. They collected a pistol from Mr. Welland, one from Cary Jones (who was NOT happy to give it up, but his wife elbowed him), another from Mr. Hammond, who seemed surprised at the request. Divinity pointed to the basket, and each pistol was gently placed within. The guests were all present.

The ceremony began. There was no music, so the gathered sang Amazing Grace to begin. Abigail and Mark then stood before the Reverend Vernon in the front of the small nave.

There was clomping, the rattle of spurs, and a man was in the right front doorway. Bart didn’t enter through the rear, and he had no intention of relinquishing his revolver. He came in the rarely-used front side entrance, near the altar before which the couple stood to profess the vows. He just stood there for a moment, unshaved and dusty and calling attention to himself.

Abigail’s father recognized him as the older man who had held Abigail’s interest at the store, the one with the notched ear. Bart pulled his six-shooter and said, “A wedding! Perfect!” as if he were surprised. He pointed the pistol in the general direction of the minister. Mrs. Jones shrieked, and Mr. Jones and Mr. Welland automatically reached to their belts for the weapons they’d left in the basket. Gill looked at his daughter, wondering.

“Hello, all!” the intruder said loudly, sneering. “They call me Bart.”

That got more serious notice. Bart was known in those parts for the murders and robberies he’d committed over in Iowa and near Yankton in Dakota Territory. Abigail’s father’s heart sank.

“Sir,” Reverend Vernon said, “We have a solemn occasion here… ” at which point Bart fired a round into the ceiling, drawing another shriek from Mrs. etimesgut escort Jones. Mark’s mother was in silent tears, her husband’s arm around her. The sound of the gun was deafening in the little building. It echoed a moment.

“I want any jewelry you have. I know YOU must have a ring,” he called loudly to all and specifically Mark Hammond, who had an arm around Abigail and had moved around to be between her and Bart.

“Here,” he said, walking a few steps to Abigail, “you collect the jewelry and wallets. Put them in there.”

“No, you can’t…” she said, and he slapped her with the hat. At that point, Mark Hammond stepped forward as if to protect her and confront Bart, and Bart whipped his pistol into the side of Mark’s head. There was a sickening plop sound. Mark went down and a pool of blood quickly spread from his left ear.

“No!” said Abigail.

“NO!” yelled Mr. Hammond as his wife wailed and stared in disbelief.

“Hold it right there!”

Bart pointed the gun at the Hammonds, who were the most obviously irate. Abigail’s father was dismayed, calm and observant. His daughter was holding Mark’s head in her lap, her green dress spoiled with his blood.

“You didn’t have to hurt him!” she said. Gilliam looked at her, at the tone which was sincere and left Gill aghast.

The reverend reached over to the altar and grabbed a white cloth used for some ceremonial purpose and gave it to Abigail.

Abigail was shaking her head, looking at her groom as if his action had been foolish. Was she crying, her father wondered? He did not see tears. He saw anger, but he was not sure it was the pure anger it should be. She held the cloth against Mark’s wound.

There was a wail from the back of the church, and Bart and everyone else looked back those fifty feet and saw Divinity moving down the center aisle, holding one of the pistols in both his hands, but shaking so much he couldn’t aim. He was calling out in anger and futility. He didn’t fire, probably because he knew he shook so much he might shoot anyone in the nave, not his target Bart.

Gill jumped in front of Divinity, though, presenting his back and interrupting Bart’s line of fire. He grabbed the poor soldier.

“NO! Divinity, NO!” he said. Everything slowed down as Gill gently took the pistol from Divinity with his left hand, holding Divinity’s other arm with his right hand in reassurance. He held the revolver up in plain sight, and then slowly put the revolver down in a pew, making no attempt to turn around. He was completely at Bart’s mercy. He said something quietly to Divinity, who had tears running down his face. Divinity sat across the aisle from the pistol with Gill’s guidance. Finally, Gill turned around to face Bart again, his hands up and empty.

Bart nodded. “A brave man in this asshole town?” He sneered.

Bart gave his hat to the Reverend Vernon. “I’m serious about my work, preacher. YOU collect the valuables. And get them all or someone else will get hurt. Just like a collection plate. You should be good at this.” Reverend Vernon went about collecting as Bart watched, the pistol pointing variously at the families. There were rings, two watches, and some cash collected. It only took a minute.

The reverend held out the hat full of loot.

Bart laughed and said, “I thank you for your offering, Reverend. Honey,” he said, looking at Abigail, “take the hat.” She hesitated, kneeling beside her groom stil. Gill watched carefully.

Bart said more forcefully, “TAKE the hat. Now! You’re with me!”

“No!” she said with conviction, but then she took the hat.

Everyone watched helplessly as Bart grabbed her arm, yanked her from her knees to her feet, and then almost dragged her out the front side door. Bart was walking backwards to watch the men in the nave. He fired two more times above their heads, getting everyone but Abigail’s father to dip for cover. Bart looked directly at Gill with a smirk, and their eyes met. Bart tipped his hat and left. Gill then saw them through the side window by a horse. Abigail stood almost patiently by Bart’s horse as he opened the saddlebag; she stuffed his hat full of loot into it.

Bart said, “Now, woman!” He grabbed her, threw her over the front of the horse, and mounted the saddle easily, almost languorously, himself. They rode south out of town, then. He held Abigail in front of him across the horse, allowing his hand to steady her by pressure on her bottom, and occasionally she cried out when the pommel hit her in the side.

As soon as Bart was out the door, Mrs. Hammond and Mrs. Jones went to Mark, who was not conscious and had a long rent in the left side of his head above his ear. It was similar to the deformity in Divinity’s skull.

Welland, Hammond and Jones ran to the vestibule and retrieved their weapons from the basket, Jones finding his to be the one Divinity had used, but Bart and Abigail were already out of sight to the south.

They were talking kızılay escort all at once, about posses and following and tracking, dogs, and guns. They had come in wagons and buggies; getting a posse to follow would take some time. They noticed Abigail’s father Gill, looking out the front side door of the church, calmly watching the two ride away. He watched them ride out of sight.

“Gilliam?” asked Mr. Hammond.

Gill turned. “Yes, Ben?”

Ben was thoughtful. “You are not reacting as I would expect. Abigail… ”

Gill pivoted in the doorway to look at the others.

“I wonder if we just saw a performance as much as a robbery,” Gill said.

He turned to the families, went over to Mark still unconscious on the floor, his head now in his mother’s lap. She tried to staunch the flow of blood from behind his ear. He said to the men as he knelt and looked at the terrible wound, “See to your wives. We have a good man to care for. We’ve lost enough today. No, no posse. I know of someone else. A professional. I’ll let you know.”

*Part 2: A Known Quantity

They asked me to tell how I got Bart. I’m not much of a writer, but I said I’d write it. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about the others I’ve gotten, either. Bart I’ll tell about, though, once in writing. No reporters, no questions, just write it out once and that’s it.

No one knows how many men Bart killed. Since he used his real name during the war, and a lot of those killings were “for the Confederacy,” those murders and lootings were not considered criminal. But that’s where and when it started. He got up to Yankton, we know, and killed a few in Missouri and Texas.

Bart kidnapped a woman from a little town called Expiation (which don’t even exist no more), west of Abilene, leaving a man for dead from the clubbing, his fourth murder according to some reports, and I was hired to track him down. I had lots of experience. I’d searched for Reb irregulars during the last two years of the war and had some success retiring them using a longshot rifle. Success was defined as killing and not being killed. Since middle of ’65, when Watie finally give up, I was making some money doing similar work for the law.

I’d have done for Bart for free, once I realized who he was. I never collected his bounty, neither, come to think.

This girl’s father confronted me in a bar in Abilene. “I’m not rich, mister. Expenses for six months. You get the reward. Find him. Kill him. Bring me proof,” said the man. He was about to go on but I interrupted him.

“My word will be your proof.”

The man looked down, and suddenly I felt the depth of his anger. He nodded slightly, accepting my term.

“He kidnapped my daughter from her wedding in Expiation. Pistol-whipped the groom who is still unconscious and practically dead, laughed and literally threw my daughter over his horse. No one’s seen her since. Probably dead now, it’s been a fortnight. I’ve been trying to find you,” the man said. “You’re… highly recommended. For finding and getting the job done.”

I’d killed five wanteds since the war, never just for the money. I sought and usually found. If a man was wanted dead or alive for murder, and there seemed to be no doubt, he died. He never knew what hit him, never knew I was there, probably didn’t know anyone was looking for him in that area. If he was wanted for thieving but not murder or kidnapping, I went for help; without plenty of help, I didn’t do anything if I wasn’t going to kill him longrange. .

My quantity was known. I dispatched or overwhelmed; I never fought. To me, it was about right and wrong in the long term, not in the near. I sneaked up. I shot from most of a mile, or point blank. People knew of me and gave me work. There was lots of hurt feelings in the west back then, lots of searching for revenge or justice, which are synonyms. I collected bounties.

He went on as I started to ask a question.

“Abigail is my daughter. Looks just like her mother. Smart, too. She… loved Mark, I thought. He was a good man, I talked him into giving her a chance.” He talked quietly, shook his head.

“I can’t believe it all happened right in front of me, and now I’m not even sure she… she may have gone along with him, with Bart. I’m not sure it was kidnapping. She didn’t fight like she could have. It didn’t go right. I think she knew this Bart and may have… ” He paused in distress, unsure of his own judgment.

I waited, not much for talking without need.

He took a deep breath and went on, “If you find her and she’s alive, bring her back if it was a kidnap, but you can leave her if it wasn’t. I want him dead for sure, though,” he continued, probably wondering where Christianity ends and justice begins. “The boy’s father deserves some resolution, too.”

I grunted. “You have a picture?”

“Bart’s wanted poster, just a drawing. There might be a picture out there, I hear he was from Missouri, ran with Sem Ramis’s Raiders. Up here he’s known. Why he went for my girl is a question. I do have a picture of my girl,” he said, handing over a folded paper and small tintype. “Made a week before the wedding. The guy there is her groom.”

I took the picture and paper.

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