Authors: Lauraine Snelling
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC042000, #Women ranchers—Fiction, #Brothers—Fiction, #Black Hills (S.D. and Wyo.)—Fiction
Â© 2013 by Lauraine Snelling
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Ebook edition created 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any meansâfor example, electronic, photocopy, recordingâwithout the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The internet addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers in this book are accurate at the time of publication. They are provided as a resource. Baker Publishing Group does not endorse them or vouch for their content or permanence.
Cover design by John Hamilton Design
Every writer has to be gifted with friends who play a behind-the-scenes role of encouragement and support. One of my special friends is my assistant Cecile. We have worked together for more than ten years, and besides all her office skills, she has developed a marvelous gift of reading my mind. Amazing how much easier it is to communicate that way. I thank God for her. What a gift she is to me.
ust get out of the wagon.
Cassie Lockwood swallowedâhard.
“Are you all right?” Mavis Engstrom was smiling up at her. “No hurry.”
I'll have to see them again. Look at them again. Only this time it will be daylight and close up. If the judge asks me to identify any of them, I won't be able to. I never saw their faces.
How to explain this to someone else? Her stomach clenched and she felt like two hands were squeezing her throat.
Breathe. And get down. One thing at a time.
When she thought back to that night, she started to shake all over again. Gunshots in the night, voices hollering horrible things, grabbing her rifle and returning fire, the searing pain of a bullet in her arm, the wagon burning so brightly she could see men on horseback circling the cabin, the Engstroms coming over the hill but too late to do much more than scare off
the intruders and pull the burning wagon away from the cabin. Then passing out from loss of blood and agony.
All that was left from her lifetime of years in the Wild West Show had burned up that night, along with the wagon she'd traveled in and lived in. The scenes of churning, crackling chaos and loss had branded on her memory. But mostly the fear and the anger. Who would do such a thing and why? All because of Chief and Runs Like a Deer. How? Who? Why hate Indians like that? What difference did it make to those men if Indians lived at the Bar E Ranch?
The men had been caught and confined in the local jail in Argus, South Dakota, awaiting a circuit judge to try and sentence them. And she had been forced to shoot a man, winging one of the perpetrators. Nightmares of that night had plagued her for weeks while she recuperated down at the ranch house, with the Engstrom family taking care of her.
All because some troublemakers got liquored up and decided to frighten away the Indians. Chief and Runs Like a Deer were certainly no threat to anyone. But the officials had not demanded that they testify, only she and the Engstrom brothers, Ransom and Lucas. She'd lost a shooting match because of the injury, but what good would it do to send these men to prison? Other than to keep them from inflicting such fury on someone else. That would certainly be a good thing.
Cassie let Lucas Engstrom, the younger brother, help her down. Lucas insisted he was in love with her, and he was certainly playing the part of the gentle, strong young swain today. She shook out the folds in her dark serge skirt and straightened her shoulders, wrapped in a dark shawl to keep out the cold of the December day. She should have worn her black wool coat, but it had grown to look shabby from the long years of use. When she had looked in the mirror, she'd perched her black hat with the fine veil on the top of her head, hoping to give her an appearance of proper fashion.
Her mother would have been proud of her, she knew. The approval in Mavis's eyes had stilled the rampaging butterflies, but on the wagon trip to town they'd taken to cavorting again. What kind of questions would the judge ask her? What if she didn't know the answers? She hated to remember that night but now she was being forced to. One more strike against the three men.
One more strike that fanned the no-longer-sleeping embers of anger that the memories caused. She'd lost the shooting match in Hill City due to the injury to her arm, lost the purse that would have kept them in winter supplies, including the critically needed cattle and horse feed. She who could drive nails into a log with her sharpshooting had been shot in the arm in a midnight raid on her new home. That act of injury had severely damaged everythingâher arm, her livelihood, her reputation as a sharpshooter, and so many dreams. She straightened her shoulders, narrowed her eyes, and gave a curt nod.
Was she ready? She most certainly was. May they rot in prison for all she cared.
The large room over JD McKittrick's mercantile was used for community meetings and, when needed, as the courtroom. The only places larger were the churches and the school building. Mavis had told her that they hadn't had a visit from the circuit judge in years, since most cases, what few there had been, went to Hill City for court.
With Mavis in the lead and Lucas and Ransom behind her, Cassie gathered up her skirts and climbed the creaky wooden stairs to the courtroom. Dormers with windows, along with wide windows at each end of the room gave enough light to see, but up at the table where a black-robed man waited, kerosene lamps added illumination. Several other men in black suits and ties were gathered around his table, and the only one she recognized, Sheriff Edgar McDougal, beckoned them over.
“Since Judge Cranston already dealt with the other case, we're about ready for you all. Have a seat.” He motioned to the straight-backed chairs lined up in front of the table. One chair sat to the right side and the others to the left of the judge.
Mavis nodded. “Good morning, Judge Cranston, gentlemen. I've a question, if you please. Will the three be tried at the same time?”
“We're debating that right now. Won't be long.”
Cassie forced herself to take deep breaths. At least this wasn't as formal as some pictures she'd seen. Formal enough, though. The judge sat at a plain old table rather than an imposing bench, but it and his chair had been set up on a platform at least two feet high. He looked down on everyone else. That was imposing enough for Cassie.
Never having been in such a situation before, she really had no idea what to expect. She turned to Mavis and whispered, “Will there be a jury?”
“Doesn't look like it.”
They turned at the sound of more feet on the stairs. Three women came up together and nodded to those gathered.
“Those are the wives of the men on trial,” Mavis whispered to Cassie. “The first of them in the blue cape is Case's wife, Molly. The lady in the black coat is Joe Jones's wife; I forget her first name. They live out a ways.”
“You may sit over there.” The sheriff pointed to seats off to the right. A few more townspeople came in, and gradually the rows of chairs filled.
The judge said something and the sheriff left the room while another man moved two more chairs next to the lone one. It looked like they would try the three together.
“At least that will speed things up,” Mavis said to Cassie from behind her gloved hand. They took the straight-backed seats the sheriff had indicated, and the four of them sat down.
After greeting the Engstroms and Cassie, the reverend Brandenburg settled himself into the fifth seat.
Mavis leaned forward to nod a greeting. “Thank you for coming.”
Cassie tried to smile politely but failed. Whenever she moved her mouth, her whole face started to quiver.
Lord, please get this over quickly.
No, that was wrong, her whole body quivered like the golden aspen leaves she'd so admired. Shaking like this in public was not admirable. Why was it she could perform in front of hundreds of spectators but this trial was turning her into a mass of jelly?
The stairs creaked loudly. The sheriff and two other men came in escorting the three prisoners. Together they made their way to the front of the room and faced the judge's table. The deputies transferred the handcuffs to the arms of the chairs and stepped back.
“All ready?” the judge asked the sheriff.
“Yes, sir, everyone is here that needs to be.” At the judge's nod, he announced, “All rise. Court is in session, the honorable magistrate Homer Cranston presiding.”
They all stood and then sat down again after the judge sat.
Cassie studied the man who would most likely change several lives this day. The silver-haired judge looked to be in need of a haircut and an extra night's sleep. Deep creases in his face, from nose to chin, deepened further when the lines in his forehead flattened out. He didn't look like he smiled much.
He scowled, looking around the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to make several things clear before this trial begins. First, there will be no histrionics in my courtroom. We will hear all the evidence, and then I will make a decision. If necessary, we will postpone this trial until January, when I will be able to circuit through here again. But I do not believe that will be necessary.” He looked to the sheriff.
Sheriff McDougal nodded and then picked up a sheet of paper, stood, and cleared his throat. “Our case today concerns a nighttime raid on the cabin at the Bar E, the Engstrom ranch, on November”âhe glanced at the paper in his handâ“November 13.” He looked directly at the prisoners. “I present to the court the defendants: Case Svenson Beckwith. Joseph Clarence Jones. Judson Hercules Dooger.”
Hercules? A quiet little titter washed across the room. Cassie smiled in spite of herself.
“The charging papers regarding said raid state that these three suspects rode up the hill above the main ranch complex on the Engstrom spread in the middle of the night. Their covert entry constituted trespass. While screaming and discharging firearms, they circled the cabin. Someone fired a shot that wounded Miss Cassandra Lockwood, who, with her men, was protecting the cabin and their lives. The state contends that during said raid, the suspects set Miss Lockwood's Wild West Show wagon, parked next to the cabin, on fire, and it burned completely. Thus the charge of arson.”
Of course. Arson. Why had Cassie not even thought of that? No doubt because she was still mourning the loss of that last link with her past.
“Mr. Dooger was wounded in the exchange of gunfire, and the Engstroms brought him, along with Miss Lockwood, to Dr. Barnett here in Argus for treatment. Later that same night Mr. Beckwith and Mr. Jones were apprehended when they tried to sneak back into town. The three have remained incarcerated pending trial because of the extreme likelihood that they would leave the area if released. The charges include trespass, arson, willful destruction of property, harassment, drunk and disorderly conduct, and discharge of firearms with intent to kill.”
The judge looked to one of the black-suited men who stood along with the three accused. “Do you understand the charges?”
“Yeah, but we didn'tâ” Mr. Jones burst out.
The judge silenced him by slamming the gavel on the table. Cassie jumped. “You will be given your turn to talk.”
The gavel slammed again and the judge glared at the lawyer. “Mr. Jenski, if you, as their lawyer, can't keep your clients quiet, they will be barred from the courtroom.”
“Understood. Yes, sir.” The lawyer glared at the leader of the three and barked in a hoarse stage whisper, “You heard the man.”
Sheriff McDougal ignored the dirty looks from the obvious leader of the three accused men. He glanced back down at his paper. “The state calls Miss Cassandra Lockwood to the stand.” He motioned to the empty chair beside the judge's table.
Cassie ignored the shaking in her knees and stood. Mavis squeezed the hand that she'd been holding.
One step at a time
, Cassie ordered herself. She kept from looking at the men, but she could feel them drilling her with their eyes. She turned at the chair and faced the sheriff.
“Put your hand on this Bible.”
“State your full name.”
“Cassandra Marie Lockwood.” Her voice gained strength with each sound.
“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
“Please be seated.” He set the Bible on the corner of the judge's table and nodded to him as well.
“Miss Lockwood, I would like you to tell me what happened that night. Can you do that?” Judge Cranston had considerably softened his tone.
She nodded. “We had all gone to bed like usual. My friend Runs Like a Deer and I slept in the cabin and the two men, John
Birdwing and Micah, slept in the show wagon that was parked right beside the cabin.”
“And Micah's last name?”
“I don't know, sirâYour Honor. He might not have a last name. I've never in all the years I've known him heard him give one.”
“I see. How long have you known him?”
Cassie squinted, thinking back. “Close to ten years, I guess. He came to the show and asked for work and my father hired him.”
“And what did he do at the show?”
“Took care of all the animals and did whatever else was needed.”
“And John Birdwing? I take it he is an Indian?”
“Yes, a Sioux Indian from the Rosebud Reservation. We always knew him as Chief.”
“How long have you known him?”
“Since I was a baby. He came to the show when my father took half control of it.”
“You said another woman sleeps in the cabin?”
“Yes. Runs Like a Deer. We found her with a broken leg on our trip south from Dickinson, North Dakota. Dickinson is where the show was declared bankrupt and disbanded.”