Being careful not to wake Albert, Faith slid out of bed, collected up her clothes and headed for the door. Pausing she dressed quickly before silently opening the door and heading back to her own room. Once back in her own room, she discarded the skirt and blouse and started to dress in her more normal attire.
Sitting on the end of her bed, Faith smiled to herself; it seemed that for once in her life, trusting someone enough for her to actually admit that she loved them hadn’t blown up in her face. Much to her surprise, Albert had turned out to be a vigorous and inventive lover. Faith’s smile got wider at the memory, perhaps he’d picked up stuff from all those erotic poems (with illustrations) he’d read; or maybe it was because she’d not had sex for nearly three years!
Finding herself dressed, Faith stood up, buckled on her gun belt and headed out the door. Walking down the stairs to the yard outside the Headquarters building, she turned towards the saloon. The post was a hive of activity; Faith checked her watch to find it was obscenely early in the morning. Looking across the parade square she saw the troopers lining up on horse back. No doubt they’d be going out to relieve the rearguard at the ford before long.
Stopping to watch for a moment, Faith found herself feeling she’d left work undone and that Albert and herself should be riding with the troopers to see the job finished and bring the men at the ford home. Sighing heavily she shook her head, her work here was done; she’d dusted the vamp, shot and killed the indestructible Indian and as a bonus broken a love spell. Not a bad few day’s work. Turning away from the parade, Faith trotted up the steps in front of the saloon, pushed open the door and went inside.
The saloon was much as she remembered it from her last visit; the same smells of stale beer and tobacco with just a hint of open sewers in the background. The old guy was still behind the bar almost as if he’d not moved since her last time here. Walking up to the bar, Faith searched in the pocket of her waistcoat for some coins.
“Mornin’ Marshal,” the barkeep said from behind his out of date newspaper.
“Hi, barkeep,” Faith leant against the bar, “can a girl get breakfast here?”
“Sure,” the barkeep put down his paper and looked at Faith, “we’ve got ham, eggs, grits, coffee, nothing fancy y’mind.”
Grits? Faith wondered what the hell ‘grits’ were.
“Sounds fine,” Faith turned away from the bar and headed towards a table as the barkeep scurried off to the mysterious world of ‘out back’.0=0=0=0
Half way through her breakfast, Faith was disturbed by the sound of the saloon doors bursting open. Looking up she saw Sergeant Quincannon stride into the room dressed in a light grey tweed suit that was slightly too small for him.
“How do I look, Connolly?” He laughed as he banged his walking stick on the bar; Faith raised and eyebrow, so, that’s what the barkeeps name was.
“What’ll you have?” Connolly asked with an answering grin.
“A little drop of whisky – Irish – and I’ll pour it m’self,” Quincannon replied in high good humour.
Shrugging, Faith poured herself more coffee and went back to eating her breakfast.
“And…” Quincannon threw some money on the counter top, “and when I’ve drunk that up, just throw me out.”
Just as Quincannon and Connelly were raising a glass to each others good health (Faith pulled a face at this, even with her slayer metabolism she felt ill at the idea of drinking whisky for breakfast) six more soldiers marched into the bar. Jeez, Faith shook her head and put down her knife and fork for a moment, was everyone on the post an early morning drinker?
“You’re under arrest, Quincannon,” announced the lead soldier as he came to a halt in front of the Irishman.
Picking up her utensils once again Faith got on with finishing her breakfast, so, she thought, this could be interesting.
“By who’s orders?” demanded Quincannon.
“By order of Captain Brittles,” replied the soldier at the head of the group, “are you coming peaceably?
“Laddie,” Quincannon reached out and put a fatherly hand on the lead soldier’s shoulder, “I’ve never gone any place ‘peaceably’ in me life.”
Unseen by anyone other than Faith, Quincannon carefully put down his drink, turned slightly and punched the soldier who’d been doing all the talking on the chin. He spun away across the room to land on a table knocking it over and sending a few chairs flying as well.
Great! Thought Faith, entertainment; watching the fight develop she soaked up egg yoke with a piece of bread.
Foolishly, the other soldiers in the group advanced to take on Quincannon individually and were easily beaten. Shaking her head in disgust, Faith sighed; if they rushed him all together they could have overwhelmed Quincannon and dragged him off to jail quite easily. Having rid himself of his attackers, Quincannon leant on the bar again and picked up his drink.
“Ach,” the Irishman grinned at the barkeep, “the old days are gone forever.”
The two men raised their glasses to each other just as the other soldiers got to their feet and launched another series of uncoordinated and ineffectual attacks. Shaking her head in disgust, Faith pushed her empty plate to one side, put a cheroot between her lips and lit it. Picking up her coffee cup, she leant back in her chair to watch how the fight developed; so far it seemed to be Quincannon two, US Army nil.
“Did you hear about the buffalo coming back?” Quincannon asked Connelly after he’d beaten off the attack.
“Buffalo?” Connelly snatched the bottle of whisky out of the way as the soldiers came in for a third time.
“Herds of ‘em,” Quincannon explained as he sent his attackers flying once more.
It was now, Quincannon three, US Army nil.
“Men!” Quincannon held up his arms as the soldiers came in for a forth time, “We want no unpleasantness. A toast first and the guard house after,” Connelly lined up glasses on the bar, “if ya able.”
Much to Faith’s surprise the soldiers lined up at the bar and drank a toast to Captain Brittles…just before Quincannon sent them all staggering across the room. Laughing, Faith watched as soldiers stumbled and fell to Quincannon’s fists. However, her laughter was brought to a premature end as one of the soldiers crashed into her table and sent it flying upsetting the coffee pot and her cup.
Hot coffee splashed onto Faith’s leg as she moved slightly to avoid the man and table. Slowly wiping at the small damp patch on her jeans, Faith looked up from under lowered brows, it was time for this fight to end. Slowly she stood up, pushing her hair away from her face, Faith made her way across the bar her spurs *tinging* ominously as they hit the floor boards. Coming up behind the big Irishman as he stood drinking at the bar, Faith reached up and tapped him on the shoulder. Quincannon turned and looked down at her.
“What can I do for you, dahlin?” Quincannon smiled down at her, “Why don’t you join me in a drink, then maybe you’d care to come for a little walk or somethin’.”
Faith, being a newly engaged woman, didn’t like the way the big man had said ‘or something’ and winked at her.
“Too early,” Faith informed him, “like these losers said,” Faith gestured to the soldiers who were starting to pick themselves up off the floor, “are ya coming peaceful like?”
“Not while there’s still whisky in the jar, lassie,” Quincannon informed her; he turned back to the bar and picked up his glass.
“Looks like I’m gonna have to take you in,” Faith informed him.
Laughing, Quincannon turned and looked down at her again.
“Now,” he grinned, “just how are ya fixin’ to do that, then?”
“Like this!” Faith punched him in the stomach.
Bending over and spraying whisky from his mouth, Quincannon clutched at his belly just as Faith’s forearm hit him across the jaw. As he jerked upright for a moment, she grabbed hold of his legs, heaved and sent him flying over the bar to crash land on the floor. Vaulting easily across the bar, Faith pulled Quincannon to his feet, put him in an arm lock and marched him out of the bar. As she marched him down the steps outside the saloon she met Abby Allshard coming up them with the doctor in tow.
“What’s going on?” Mrs Allshard demanded.
“Drunk and resisting arrest, ma’am,” Faith replied letting go of the Irishman’s arm and pushing him upright.
“To the guardhouse, Quincannon!” Abby Allshard pointed in the general direction of the guardhouse, “Quick march! HUP!”
Looking up at the other soldiers who’d just stumbled from the saloon, Abby shook her head in disgust.
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourselves?” She demanded, “Six of you and the Marshal here has to do your job!” Abby smiled at Faith, “Thank-you Marshal Lehane.”
“No problemo, ma’am,” Faith would have tipped her hat to the woman, but she hadn’t got one, so she didn’t.
Turning, Abby Allshard marched off briskly on the trail of Quincannon all the time pointing out his many and various personality faults.
“What’s going on here, old thing?”
Faith turned to see Albert standing next to her and watching Mrs Allshard march Quincannon away.
“Nothing much,” Faith found herself moving so she was standing next to her watcher, her hand sort out his, “just some Marshal stuff y’know?”
“Time we were gone, my dear,” not letting go of Faith’s hand Albert started to walk towards the stable block, “I believe we have a church and a minister to find.”
“Yeah, why not?” Faith agreed.0=0=0=0
As Albert and Faith were saddling their horses and discussing their plans for the near future they were interrupted by Captain Brittles as he walked slowly into the stable and over to his horse.
“Good morning, Captain,” Albert called slightly too cheerfully.
“Good morning, Major,” replied Brittles morosely; he started to saddle up.
Faith noticed that the Captain wasn’t wearing his uniform blouse; instead he wore a fringed buckskin jacket. Of course, she told herself, today was the day he retired.
“I say, old chap,” Albert walked from behind his horse and over to where Brittles stood, “why the long face? You’re leaving the army today, start of a new life and all that.”
“After forty years,” Brittles said slowly, “I’m leaving the Army a failure; I failed at Sudrow’s Wells. I failed to keep the rifles out of Indian hands. I failed at everything.”
“Now you know that’s not so,” Albert tried to reassure him, “no one could have done more than you did.”
“Blast it Major!” Brittles shouted making the horses start with surprise, “I left Flint Cohill and two squads back there at the ford.”
“And a sound tactical move it was too,” Albert placed his hand on Brittles’ shoulder, “Leftenant Cohill is a fine officer and Mr Pennell will have to learn how to cross a river under fire as we all did. You’ve nothing to blame yourself for.”
“I know,” Brittles looked up at Faith and Albert, “every time I think it through I know I couldn’t have done anything different but…”
“I know,” Albert said sympathetically, “it feels like you’re leaving a job half done. That’s how I felt when I left my men up on the Frontier, but we all have to move on to different things…so, where are you going to go?”
“Oh west,” sighed Brittles, “to California maybe.”
“Hmmm,” Albert turned to Faith and winked, “As I understand it you’re a free agent now.”
Brittles nodded his head slowly.
“No one to tell you what to do or where to go, is that right?” Albert continued.
“Like I say,” Brittles agreed, “first time in forty years.”
“Then no one could stop you if you went to California via, say the Snake River, hmm?” Albert smiled at Brittles smugly.
“Why, Major,” a little hope and purpose re-entered Brittles’ expression, “I never thought about that. No one could complain if I just happened by and gave advice.”
“As long as it is just advice,” Albert warned.
“Of course,” Brittles nodded in agreement. “Thank-you Major,” Brittles touched the brim of his battered old campaign hat to Albert before turning to Faith, “you look after this old soldier ma’am. Now if you’ll excuse me California awaits!”0=0=0=0
They left Fort Stark together and rode along the trail a ways until Captain Brittles had to turn off the road and head for the Snake River…on his way to California. Watching him ride off into the distance, Albert shook his head sadly.
“I know just how he feels, Faith,” Albert admitted, “nothing to look forward to nothing to live for.”
“Hey!” Faith leant over and grabbed his arm, “You got me, right?”
“Yes,” Albert agreed, “retirement has its compensations.”
They urged their horses back into motion.
“Now first things first,” Albert started to plan, “soon as we find a town I think we’ll have to get you some more lady-like clothes,” he glanced over at Faith, “You’re all right with that are you? I mean you can’t get married wearing trousers and a gun belt.”
“Not a problem,” Faith nodded, “but I’m telling you now, when they get to the part about me ‘obeying’ you, I’m crossing my fingers.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything else, my love,” laughed Albert.
“As long as we understand each other,” Faith urged B ahead as she started to sing at the top of her voice. “ Around her leg she wore a yellow garter, she wore it in the spring time and the merry month of may. When I asked her why she wore the garter, she said it’s for her lover who is in the cavalry!
Still singing they turned their horses into the west and rode off into the future.Ride the range all the day till the first fading light,
be with my western girl round the fire, oh, so bright.
I'd be the Indians friend, let them live to be free,
ridin' into the sunset, I wish I could be.0=0=0=0The End.