Western Short Story
Donovan's Way
Jim Bryson

Western Short Story

The ship was taking on water, huge waves crashing over the deck, pouring in more water than they believed the ship could handle. The captain, Myles Davis, knew that it was only a matter of time, and not much of that, before she rolled over and was pulled under the huge pounding waves. The sudden and unexpected Atlantic storm, coming out of the south without warning, had battered them mercilessly for more than five hours without so much as a break in the wind and rain, driving the ship north and east far off its westward course to Boston.

The first mate, a middle-aged Pole named Nathan Pesky, was seemingly everywhere, shouting orders at the top of his voice as he went, pushing the men here and there toward their stations, giving assistance where required and doing his best to keep the ship afloat a little longer until the boats could be put out. Captain Davis manned the wheel himself, struggling against the unpredictable pull and push of the shifting wind and the pounding waves and knowing in his heart it would probably not be enough and that there was very little time left to abandon his beloved ship. And what was worse, darkness was falling quickly, a darkening sky coming from the west.

Then the lifeboats were in the water, just as he had ordered, and the men were swinging down on wet and slippery lines into them and pushing quickly away from the ship toward a slip of land that was no more than a thin line on the horizon. Finally it was only Pesky, Davis, and two others who, after Davis lashed the big wheel and pointed the prow of the ship toward that same distant shore, leapt overboard and swam to the nearest boat.

The four men pulled themselves into the longboat and settled onto seats, shaking the chilling salt water off, grabbing for one of the vacant oars and pulling toward the shore. Already it was getting darker and with that and the huge swells they quickly lost sight of the other boats.

Then all was dark and it was only the faint light of a new moon and the captain's compass, always on a slim chain at his belt, that kept them on line. Even with that, it was almost two hours of steady rowing, some with and some against the waves, before they were able to clamber out of the lifeboat and pull it ashore onto a beach that was, thankfully, more sandy than rocky.

The seven exhausted men rested for a time regaining their breath, and then Davis stood. "Alright, let's get a camp together and start a fire. That'll warm us up and give others something to point toward if they can see it."

They gathered fuel and soon had a warming and comforting fire going. The mate got the small provisions trunk from the lifeboat and opened it. Little enough, he thought. First aid supplies, an unloaded pistol, ammunition, canned goods, some coin and not much else. He loaded the pistol and stuck it in his waistband.

"Let's try and get some sleep," Davis said. "With a little luck we'll join the others in the morning somewhere up the beach. They seemed to be heading a bit north of us. Then we can assess our situation. If Poseidon is favouring us we'll be able to figure a way to be away from here."

"Where is here?" Donovan asked. "Any idea, Captain Davis?" Donovan was a cowboy, uncomfortable in the unfamiliar and unpredictable world of the sea, having been to England for the funeral of his mother and anxious to be back on dry land and shortly thereafter on horseback. He and Davis had become good friends on the long voyage, often dining together, but he always called him Captain when there were men around. He felt it appropriate and knew Davis appreciated it.

Davis nodded. "We were on track for Massachusetts when the storm pushed us north, fast and hard, and without sextant or astrolabe I can't be sure, but I'm guessing this is somewhere in the southeastern section of New Scot Land. If that's so, there won't be any significant settlements nearby that we can count on for help. We'll be having to find our own way out of here and home."

"What about the natives?"

Nathan Pesky, who had been at sea for more years than any of the others, spoke up. "Mostly Mi'kmaq, Captain, if this is indeed the New Scot Land. Generally they're peaceful and friendly people but they were fierce warriors in the wars with the British for most of the past century. If we can avoid them, that'd be best, but if we come upon them they might be helpful. They're notional folk and it's a problem that we're not all that well-armed. That'd perhaps be a problem if they see us as enemies or easy targets."

"Well, it's a problem that we can leave for tomorrow," Davis said. "For now, let's get some sleep. In the morning perhaps we'll have better luck, find the rest of the crew and a way to a farm, village or town. I'll take the first watch for two hours. The rest of you get some sleep. I'll wake one of you in two hours for your turn at night watch."

They made themselves as comfortable as they could on the sand of the beach with thick boughs cut from tall pine trees and, with the exhaustion of the day they were all soon fast asleep.

Myles Davis sat on a fallen tree off to the side and considered their situation. It was not very good, he had to admit. The best they could hope was that the other boats had made it safely to shore and they could find them. In numbers there would be safety and together they could work out a way home. They were not the first boat crew to be marooned in a strange place and they had the essential skills and experience to survive this.

He woke Donovan after another three hours and found a comfortable position, sitting with his back against a tree. They chatted quietly so as not to wake the others. During the weeks aboard the Carolina, the two had become friends, a friendship built on similar interests, education and personalities. After a while, Davis settled back against the tree and dozed off. He sensed movement some hours later as Donovan woke Nathan Pesky for his turn at watch.

The morning was a bright one with calm winds and no more rain. Myles Davis noted that Donovan had cut himself a long limb and had used his knife to fashion it into a long-pointed spear. He had done so with four others as well and passed them around to the rest of the men.

"We might see game along the way," he said simply. "We've got to eat soon or we'll be getting weak. And if we come across any of the unfriendly folk Nathan mentioned these may be necessary, though I'd rather have my guns." He smiled, thinking of his guns safely stored in a trunk on the ship.

They began the hike northward, not knowing how long it would take, staying on the beach where they could and going inland only a short distance when the terrain required it. They walked for more than an hour before Pesky spotted two boats on the beach ahead, figures standing near them.

When they reached the boats, they found nine more of the crew, all in pretty good shape. There were a few scrapes, cuts and bruises but nothing more and all were eager to get off land and back to the comfort of the sea.

"Reilly's gone up the beach to look for the other boat," one said and just then they heard a shout from up the beach and saw Reilly waving at them.

"Musta found the fourth boat," Pesky said and they hurried to join him.

"Did you find the boat?" Captain Davis asked as they approached, noting that the man was soaking wet through and through.

Reilly grinned and shook his head. "Better'n that, Cap'n, I found the ship! She's beached between two sand spits about a half-hour from here. I swam out to her and from what I could see, she's sound! Water in the hold and listing a bit, but though she's stuck she's right enough seaworthy."

He was right. The Carolina was snugly wedged between two sandbars about a hundred yards offshore. The ship was tilted to one side but not too much and still sitting well above the water line. Fortune was with them.

Purvis, a longtime sailor, had been studying watermarks on the shoreline. "It doesn't look like there's much of a tide to help us, Cap'n," he said, "but it's just starting to rise a bit and could go up a foot or more. If so, we can use lines and the boats to pull her off the sand. But we have to get at it quickly."

Davis nodded with excitement and turned to the others. "We're going to need those two boats. You four go back and bring them around quick as you can and the rest of us will check out the ship itself and tie lines to her.

They stripped to their leggings and entered the chilly water, walking almost two-thirds of the way to the ship before having to swim the rest. When they reached the ship, they could tell that the two spits were of soft sand, their feet sinking into them a little and that was good. It would make moving the ship off of them that much easier.

With most of the men standing on the two sand spits ankle deep in the sand, Davis, Donovan and Pesky climbed up onto and into the ship and took stock of her condition. There was a lot of minor damage from things being tossed about, but the ship was sound. Pesky went below and found lines, bringing them to the deck and he and Donovan fastened them to the mooring posts.

"Right," said Davis, "We'll put four of the men in each boat to pull with the oars while the rest of us push from both sides of the prow. With that and the rising water we should be able to float her free."

When the smaller boats arrived, that was what they did. Benefiting from slightly rising water and attaching the lines to each boat, with four men on oars in each, they pulled hard. The others, standing on the sand spit, used their strength to push the ship away from the sand. At first there was nothing, then slight movement and then the ship slowly and gracefully slid free of the sand and floated, still slightly tilted but seaworthy, adrift on the clear blue water.

They went aboard and spent the next four hours shifting the goods in the hold to right the ship properly, pumping water from the hold and carrying out the initial cleaning and repair work the storm had made necessary. Two men were sent to retrieve the last of the lifeboats.

The ship had taken on surprisingly little water. That was pumped out and they found that only a small portion of the goods in the hold had been significantly damaged, lowering the profit of the trip only slightly. But their mood was good, their spirits rising and they found enough unspoiled food to satisfy their hunger. Their only concern was the loss of the fourth boat and the four men who were in it. Of them there was no sign.

Davis sent one boat ashore for kegs of fresh water from a wide stream that emptied into the bay and that task done, they hauled up the last of the boats and turned the ship back to the sea.

"We'll sail north for a day," Davis said, "staying as close to the shore as we can while we finish repairs for the voyage to Massachusetts, looking always for the boat and our men. Then we'll sail back south around the cape for another day or even two. That done, if they're not found by that time, they must be seen as lost at sea and we sail for home."

North they sailed, but it was fruitless as they saw no sign of lifeboat or fire, nor sign of any life at all, save a few animals wandering close to the shore. All the while men worked at bringing the boat back to her former condition.

A day later, Davis signaled a turn back south and the next two days were spent searching below their initial landing spot for the lifeboat or sign of life as that was the direction of the currents. Again there was nothing to be found, no sign of the boat or the men, no wreckage to note where they might have landed. They lay at anchor overnight off the southern tip of a long, wide peninsula and Davis called the men together.

"There's nary a sign of our men and we should have seen something if they'd made it to shore," he began. "The smoke of a signal fire if nothing more. But if you say so, I'll sail again to the north and then once again back south. I'll not abandon hope for them unless it's agreed by all."

The men shook their heads, Reilly voicing what they were all thinking. "As you say, Cap'n, had they gotten to shore they'd have stayed on the beach and kept a fire going, just as we'd have done. We've done what we could and now we've got to do what we must and commission them to the sea in good memory."

So, with quiet manner and sad hearts they heaved anchor and turned the Carolina south and west toward Massachusetts. Five days later they sailed into Boston harbor. Once the boat was moored, Davis called them together.

"I've got to get over to the shipping office, report on our delay and begin writing letters to the families of those we've lost. You can report in tomorrow for your pay and for our time of departure south to the Florida Keys. We'll be sailing again, perhaps the day after tomorrow, with a new cargo and orders."

Donovan lingered behind. "I just wanted to say, Myles, that I was impressed with how you handled our little adventure," he said to Davis. "I can only imagine how you felt about leaving without knowing what happened to your men. It was a difficult decision, but one I understand and agreed with."

Davis nodded and extended his hand. "Thanks, Donovan. It was comforting to have you there with the rest of us. These things happen, but it's never easy to lose men and they were fine sailors who'll be missed. After watching you, I'm sure you'd have been even handier to have along had things unfolded differently. Are you sure you wouldn't like to sign on for another trip?"

Donovan shook his head. "No, I prefer a horse under me rather than a deck, Myles, thanks all the same. No, for me it's a train ride to Columbus and then the stage to Springfield. It'll be about a week of travel, perhaps a bit longer depending on the weather and whether I ride the last part of the trip before I get there. But that's where I'll be comfortable, not on a wet deck." He grinned.

"What's there?"

"I'm taking a job as their town marshal. Springfield's growing, though right now it's mostly ranch area with some mining and farming."

"Do you like that kind of work? Won't it be dangerous? I've heard stories about how rough life is in the west. And about how common gunfights are."

Donovan shook his head and grinned. "A western town is no more dangerous than a capsized ship and spending time marooned on northern shores. Besides, it's really the mid-west, not the undeveloped frontier and, after all, I'll be wearing a badge and a gun. A handy combination."

"Well, I'll give you that," Davis said. Donovan had demonstrated skill with a pistol during the trip and had given Davis a couple of lessons. Davis had proven a quick study but could never match Donovan's speed or accuracy.

"Are you sure you can't stay for another day or two? I'd like Amanda to meet you. She's never met a genuine western cowboy and I'm sure she'd be as delighted by your stories as I've been." Amanda was his sister.

Donovan shook his head. "Sorry, Myles, perhaps another time when I'm back east. I'm already overdue in Springfield, ready to start the new job and there's a train leaving in a couple of hours. I need to go."

Davis held out his hand and they shook. "Very well, if you must. But drop me a line when you get yourself settled," he said, writing his home address and that of the shipping office on a piece of paper taken from a nearby desk. "And if you're ever back in Boston, you know you're always welcome to stay with my sister and me. We've a large place just outside town."

It was eight days later that Donovan was sworn in as marshal in Springfield, Illinois, and took up his new responsibilities. He immediately liked the atmosphere of the town and the people on the town council that had hired him. The Springfield jail was fairly new, large, comfortable and well-built, with four cells, and there was a furnished apartment on the second floor that came with the job.

He took the time a few days later to pen a note to Myles Davis, letting him know he had returned safely to Illinois and how pleased he was with the town and the job. He purchased a horse from the town livery, a nice big grey that seemed both feisty and friendly and whose gait Donovan found comfortable. Not that he expected to spend a great deal of time riding in the new job. The purview of the town marshal was limited to the town limits and he did not expect to extend that much unless there was some extraordinary reason to do so.

Not much happened in the first couple of weeks. A few warnings to cowboys who had too much to drink, having to knock down a couple of them and have them sober up overnight in jail. That, and the daily rounds of the town, down one side of the main street, up the other and around back on both sides. Each of those rounds would normally take him a little more than two hours, but they took Donovan much longer in the beginning as he took every opportunity to stop and chat with folks, wanting them to get to know him and for him to get to know them.

Breakfast and dinner were usually eaten at the Rosewood Diner, hearty meals and from time to time he would also lunch there, though usually going without lunch other than coffee or water and biscuits. He had been a long-distance runner as a child and took to running across the plains that surrounded Springfield on three sides, the tall Sultan Mountains blocking out the early morning sun to the east. He would typically end his run near a flowing river, dipping in the chilly water to wash off the sweat and then return to the office to continue his day.

And so it went for more than a month. He received a letter from Myles Davis, sent some two weeks earlier, noting that Myles had returned from Florida but was immediately heading back at sea to England. He updated Donovan on some of the happenings in Boston. He mentioned that there had been no sign or word of the men lost on that last trip and he admitted he had lost hope that they would have found their way back to Boston or at least to somewhere from which they could send word of their safety. It seemed they were truly lost at sea. Donovan, who had gotten to know those same men during the two Atlantic crossings, found the news quite disappointing.

He was sitting in the office the next morning when a middle-aged man in farmer's overalls walked in, hat in hand.

"You the new marshal?" he asked.

Donovan nodded, pointing to the badge on his chest and smiled. "That's what they tell me, anyway. How can I help you?"

"Don't need no help, Marshal. Just wanted to tell you something. Name's Hanson, Paul Hanson. I farm about an hour west of here on a small place, and we're doing well. We're from Missouri originally."

Donovan stood and shook the man's hand. "A pleasure, Mr. Hanson. I've known many fine folks from Missouri."

The man smiled. "No mister, Marshal. Just plain Paul. Wanted to let you know I saw some fellers camped over near Stone Butte yesterday when I was out checking on the far pasture. Six of them were camping around the river. Didn't much like the look of them, so I kept low and headed away. Then I got to thinking maybe they was up to something and I better tell you about it when I was in town. Thought it was a large group to be travelling that a-way."

Donovan nodded. "I appreciate that, Paul. I'll head out there and check it out for myself this afternoon. Thanks for letting me know."

"My town, my duty," Hanson said. "But go careful. They's a hard bunch, I believe. I know the type, Marshal. Left Missouri because of the like."

After lunch, Donovan saddled the grey, checked his pistol and rifle and headed out after letting Carter Owens, owner of the general store, know what he was doing. In the west you never went far without letting someone know where you were going and what time you expected to be back, just in case.

He rode to within a half-mile of the butte and found a grove in which he tied the grey. He took his rifle and walked the rest of the way, careful to look around in case there was a guard out somewhere. There was none.

He studied the men in the camp from a small rise to the west of them, the bright afternoon sun behind him and in their eyes if they looked that way, almost guaranteeing they would not because of the glare.

There were six of them, four sitting quietly around a late afternoon campfire, one tending a horse and another getting water from the Stone River. While there was nothing openly sinister in their being there or their actions while he watched they seemed to have set up a camp for a few days and that bothered him. Such groups usually stayed only a night and then moved on.

He went down the rise and walked back to his horse, considering. The logical thing, if he was to think like a town marshal, was that they were bent on something amiss in the town and therefore did not want to be seen.

A thought struck him. It was Wednesday and the bank received its money on Thursday so that the local ranchers could pay off their people on Friday. For a few hours between late Thursday afternoon and midday Friday that money would be held in the bank. If those men were planning to rob the bank that would be the time to do it. The Wells Fargo wagon was far too secure and well-guarded, the bank much less so. He would work on the assumption that was their plan. If not, nothing was lost by being careful and prepared.

As he rode back he realized that if they had someone scout the town, and if they knew his routine, they would know he was usually on patrol at that time. They could simply wait until he was at the far end of town.

As he rode, he considered each of his options. He could just ride out and talk to the six men, he thought. That is, if he wanted to be filled full of lead. He laughed at himself. But slowly a plan came to mind, one that might work. When he got back to town he talked with several of the store owners and three of the ranch owners who happened to be in town that day. Each, of course, had a vested interest in protecting the town and the money in its bank. They liked his idea, grinning as they considered its effect.

Friday morning arrived bright, sunny and warm. Tim Harden, who helped out as a part-time deputy when needed, was some miles out of town near Stone Butte where he had been since Thursday noon, watching for any sign of approaching riders. He would let Donovan and the others know if they were coming. It might be they had already moved on but Donovan doubted it.

Just before lunch, Tim rode in at a gallop.

"They's a-coming, Donovan, just like you figured!" he said.

"Then take up your positions," Donovan said.

When Harry Tope and his men rode into town, an interesting sight greeted them. First were the two men chatting at the edge of town, rifles resting on their shoulders, who smiled and waved. Tope and his men rode slowly past, studying the two men somewhat curiously. The two men merely smiled and nodded at them, touching the brims of their hats.

Then, as they rode down the main street, Harry Tope saw the others. There were at least eight men sitting in chairs across the street from the bank, each of them holding a rifle across his lap, just quietly watching the six riders approach. Tope was taken aback and was considering riding on through when another man stepped off the boardwalk and walked out into the middle of the street in front of him, holding up his hand and causing them to stop. The man was tall and lean, wore a marshal's badge and had a rifle in his hand. He was smiling but he did not look like someone to mess with.

The man smiled up at Tope. "Welcome to Springfield, gentlemen," he said. "Light and set a spell. We enjoy having visitors come to town."

Harry Tope pointed toward the row of men sitting in chairs with rifles in hand. "You expecting some trouble today, marshal?"

Donovan smiled. "Expecting and hoping for it, actually, truth be known. It's been pretty dull around here lately and the boys here were hoping for some action. Darby there, for example, he was an army sharpshooter and he's had no chance to use that long gun of his for a few years. We heard there might be an attempt to rob the bank and we thought we'd be welcoming if that were true. You might want to be off the main street just in case. Wouldn't want you and your friends to be caught in a crossfire if the outlaws come riding in."

Tope looked a little red around the neck.

"Well, we're just passing through town ourselves, Marshal. We're on our way north. Looks like a nice little town you have here."

Donovan touched his hat. "Nice of you to say so. We like it that way." He stepped out of their way and let the horsemen ride by and within minutes they were out of sight. Those on the boardwalk held their laughter until the outlaws were out of sight, but just barely.

As planned, Tim Harden had followed at a distance, hoping to be unseen, to make sure they did not turn and come back. He followed until he was convinced they were headed well away from the town.

"That was entertaining," Darby Phillips said, smiling. "Darn entertaining. Ain't had that much fun in a time. A treat to see their faces when they saw the bunch of us sitting there waiting for them." He chuckled as he walked away.

They dispersed but stayed in town, ready in case the riders changed their minds. But they did not and Tim Harden was back a couple of hours later to tell them that none of the men even as much as looked back as far as he could tell, though they did some animated talking as they rode north.

That night Donovan penned a lengthy letter to Myles Davis, smiling once again as he recounted the afternoon's events. He updated Davis on things in general in his life and once again asked if anything had been heard from the lost men from the Carolina. He sent the letter off on the stage, knowing it would take about six days or so to reach Boston and at least another week before any response was received.

Two more pleasant and uneventful weeks went by and then a letter arrived from Boston. It was from Myles Davis' sister Amanda.

"Dear Mr. Donovan. I received your letter to Myles and hope you don't mind that I opened it and am responding on his behalf. Myles is still at sea as this voyage will take him to England and then south to Cape of Good Hope and the Australia colonies before returning again to Boston. He may well not be back for a number of weeks. I am sure that soon upon his return he shall write to relate the stories of this trip. Meantime I was wonderfully amused by your story about the would-be bank robbers. I imagine living in the west must be very exciting and I have often wondered what life might be like on the frontier in comparison with the mundane lives we lead here in the east.

I trust that this finds you well. Regards, Amanda Davis.'

He had a slight feeling of envy, thinking of all of the places and people Myles Davis would have encountered on such a voyage. Africa and Australia were nothing more than places on a map to him and he was sure they would always be. His life was in the west, not on the rolling deck of a ship. Yet he wondered if working in a sleepy little town where each day was much as the last and where almost no one new ever appeared was to be his destiny.

He shook off the feeling. After all, he had options and this was his choice. And the truth of it was that he was feeling really comfortable. While he worried about the possibility of becoming bored with the job, as had often happened before, that had not occurred yet, and seemed less and less likely.

But perhaps he was too comfortable? He remembered reading in a book somewhere that when people are too comfortable in their lives they do not grow, do not aspire, do not make full use of their talents. Was this true of him?

Not that there were not days of challenge and excitement.

Matt Hall shuffled his large frame into Donovan's office. "Trouble, marshal! There's to be bad trouble!"

Donovan rose from the desk, his hand automatically going to his gun. "What is it Matt? What's the problem?

"Three nasties down there at the Drover," he said, mentioning one of the local saloons favoured by most of the cowboys. "Gunslingers, too, least one of them claims to be. They had their drinks and their meal and are refusing to pay. Gabby made an issue of it and they knocked him down with a pistol, then turned it on Mose and demanded that he give them another bottle. That's when I skedaddled down here to find you."

Gabby was the piano player at the Drover and Mose was the bartender and part-owner with Tab Fisher, the town's permanent lawyer.

"Stay here," Donovan said, reaching for a shotgun.

"They may be waiting for you," Matt said, "if they heard Mose telling me to come and get you. Be careful, Marshal!"

Donovan thought about that for a moment, then headed out and around back of the jail, trotting behind the buildings on that side of the street until he was near the back of the Drover. He climbed stairs at the back of the general store next door and stepped from its roof to the roof of the Drover. He climbed in an open window, disturbing a couple on the bed in the room, but who were preoccupied and barely noticed him, then stepped out the door and into the hallway. He took off his boots, carrying them as he tiptoed down the staircase.

Sure enough, they were waiting, one by the front batwing doors and one by the hallway, while the third sat at a table near the back, his back to the wall. None had guns drawn so it was more likely they were just waiting to buffalo the new marshal, not kill him. Donovan slipped down the stairs and stepped into the room behind the one watching the back door, clubbing him with the shotgun and stepping out to face the other two, shotgun pointed in their direction.

The man at the table looked shocked and raised his hands.

"Not looking for trouble, marshal."

"Yes you are, causing it and now facing it. Name?"

"Tulsan. Mike Tulsan. Mighta heard of me."

Donovan shook his head. "Nope, but you've made an impression. You owe Mose here for the food and drinks and maybe a little more for the trouble you've caused." He noted that the man on the floor was stirring.

"Mose, get that man's gun, would you?"

Mose retrieved the pistol and a knife, placing them on the bar.

"On your feet, both of you! Join your friend. We're heading to jail."

He marched the three of them outside, pushing them ahead of him and shortly had them securely in jail cells."

"When do we get out," Tulsan asked.

"When you pay your fine and when I'm good and ready to let you go."

"You got a judge?"

"I've got a badge, a shotgun and the key to those cells. Seems to me that puts me in charge just enough."

He looked at Tulsan with a critical eye. "Are you leading this ridiculous brain trust? That's your claim to fame?"

Tulsan grinned. "Could say so, least with a gun in my holster."

"Takes a lot more than that to make a man," Donovan offered. "A lot more. The rest is just a lot of bluster and noise. Real men pay for what they need. It's the others who try to cheat, lie, steal and intimidate. They're not real men, at least not in my books. They don't respect the rights and hard work of others. Eventually they come up against a real man and then they either stand, run away or die from by being foolish. Most run or die in my experience."

"So, you a real man?" the man in the next cell sneered.

Donovan's hand moved like lightning, his gun suddenly pointing at the man who took two awkward steps back in shock, ending up sitting on his bunk. The draw had been that fast and that unexpected.

"Like I said," Donovan offered, holstering the gun, "most run or die."

The next morning he released them. As he stepped out of the cell, Mike Tulsan turned and said to Donovan. "Kept me up all night, what you said about taking more than a gun to make a man. You really believe that?"

"Absolutely. So should you."

"That's the trouble," Tulsan said. "I think I do. Sorry for the trouble. Though that draw was pretty much convincing on its own," he said, smiling. They shook hands, he paid the fine and the men mounted horses and headed west. Donovan learned later that Tulsan had stopped at the saloon to apologize for his behaviour. Donovan was thinking that there might be hope for the man.

'Dear Miss Davis,' the letter began and he outlined the events of the day. 'But that is an unusual day in Springfield. Most often one day is a replay of the day before and the day before that, checking on the town, making sure everything is where it is supposed to be and people are feeling safe and secure. People have a need for a sense of security and that is what I offer. While the routine may sound boring, it is the people that bring life to each day I spend in this job. Seeing them feel safe and feeling their support makes that worthwhile.

You are right to wonder about the frontier. It is a glorious place, not to say that it is easy. It takes a special kind of person to come out here and to stay out here, and especially to thrive out here. But the western territories, as they open up, offer much opportunity and much beauty. There is something special about a sunset over the Butte Mountains that is impossible for me to adequately put into words in a letter. It must be seen to be appreciated.

The people are wonderful beyond imagination. Hard folks with soft souls, fiercely independent but always willing to help others. There was a field fire near Hector Samuels farm two weeks ago, with smoke billowing high into the sky. By the time Hector and his three sons had reached the field to fight it there were at least a dozen others there, farmers, townsfolk and cowboys who had seen the smoke, knew what it meant and dropped everything to ride and help out. And a prairie fire is no picnic, I can tell you. It can be a dangerous thing to fight. It is unpredictable depending on the moisture in the soil and on the wind.

There are days when I am wistful for more action and certainly days when I envy Myles his life at sea, the places and the people he has seen and will see. But then there are those other days when walking down the street and being greeted by folks who know, respect me and depend on me cannot be beat.

Yours sincerely, Donovan.' (No Mr., just Donovan)

A return letter came two weeks later.

'Dear Donovan,' it began, as he said he preferred no 'Mr.' 'I hope that this finds you well. I read your letter with great interest. Myles had said that he felt you were quite capable of handling such situations as might occur in the job of marshal and yet it gave me pause to read that such things could happen in what I had thought of as a civilized town. Perhaps my perspective is too narrow to comprehend such events. We live in such an ordered society here in Boston that the wildness of the west, as some would describe it, can barely be imagined by most of us. We hear the stories, of course, but most often cannot appreciate them or believe them to be exaggerated. It is nice to learn that they may all have been essentially accurate. I suppose that the only way to fully understand and appreciate the west is to spend time there.

I am told that Myles will return in a few weeks from this most recent trip and that his trip has been safe and rewarding, this from another captain who passed him in the southern Atlantic off the coast of Africa. I am reassured therefore of his safety and look forward to his return. I am going to talk with him about taking some time off. He has been at sea or preparing to be at sea for most of the last ten and more years and it is high time he took time for himself. My previous attempts to have him do so have not been particularly effective but I think I have a new strategy that will work.

Please take care. Sincerely, Amanda.' Not Amanda Davis, just Amanda.

A new owner took over the only livery stable in Springfield in midsummer and while any type of change in a small town tends to draw interest, and often a crowd, this one did doubly so. The new owner was Marcus Din, the first black man in the town. In the entire area, as far as anyone knew.

The views were mixed, at least initially. But when Donovan showed him to be a friend as well as Mose and the other merchants, lawyer Tab Fisher and especially Paul Hanson who, of them all would have reason to be prejudiced, coming from where he had, there was no question of his acceptance in Springfield.

That he knew horses and was a fine farrier and blacksmith to boot soon became evident and business prospered.

Not that there was not a comment or two, especially from young and liquored cowboys, but Donovan dealt with them in an uncompromising way, first locking them up for the night. Their fine was to work in the livery for Marcus for three or four days and work hard. After a few such lessons the word got around the area. And the fact that Marcus Din stood seven inches above six feet and easily carried two hundred and forty or more pounds of muscle and two huge fists only helped the situation.

'Dear Amanda,' Donovan wrote in one of his letters during what had become regular exchanges. 'It has been a strange experience having our first Negro citizen in Springfield. The transition has had its moments but after three months it is as if Marcus Din has always lived here.' Donovan went on at length about the changes to Springfield since he had moved there and how he was becoming comfortable in his role and with the town. He suggested that if Myles needed a break, perhaps she could convince him to travel to Springfield to visit for a few days.

'There is a place near town called Stone Butte,' he wrote, 'where you can sit on a large flat rock and watch the river tumble below you and the sun set behind the mountains in front of you, dripping sunlight on the hills in reds, pinks and purples. I cannot say that I have seen anything so beautiful in my life.

The countryside is a broad and varied vista and while the role of marshal ends officially at the town limits, I take it upon myself to ride the hills and visit ranches and farms in the area to get to know people and to be up to date on the happenings in and around Springfield. I have learned who the best cooks are and what time meals are served and I make it a point to arrive at those places in time to be invited to join them.

I have begun to look at hiring a deputy for a few hours a week. The council has been suggesting it for some time but as there has been no apparent need, I have put it off. There are a number of young men who would make good law enforcement officers and I have begun interviewing them. They have most interesting stories.' Donovan.

They corresponded for the next few weeks, letters taking about six to eight days to travel between Boston to Springfield. Myles was still at sea and their letters were generally short and to the point, formality transitioning to some informality. The letters were longer when events dictated but never very much about personal information, merely the more interesting events of their days and lives.

Then a most interesting letter some three weeks later.

'Dear Donovan: Myles returned safely from his weeks at sea two days ago and has decided, with my encouragement, to take time away from navigating the unpredictable oceans of the vast world. As a starting point, at my suggestion, he has agreed to a trip to Springfield as a vacation. We shall leave in three or four days and expect to be in your town within a week or so. I am looking forward to putting a face to a name. Sincerely, Amanda.'

Donovan checked the date on the letter and realized six days had already passed since she had mailed it to him. That meant they could be here any day now! They! Not just Myles, but Amanda too! And he was not ready!

He bustled about the office, tidying it more than usual and then did the same to his apartment above the office. He talked with Hugo Post, the hotel owner and made sure the best rooms would be available for Myles and Amanda. He arranged with Marcus Din to loan of a couple of horses as he wanted to give the Davis' a grand tour of the area around Springfield. He even received an invitation to dinner from Alexander Cardigan, the largest of the ranch owners by far, and one whose chef had been trained in the finest culinary schools in France. The invitation was therefore quite a coup.

"My grandfather was a ship's captain," Cardigan told Donovan. "He sailed most of the oceans during almost forty years at sea. I'd enjoy speaking to Captain Davis and exchanging stories about those days."

"Besides, it's something I can do for you," Cardigan added. "My middle son Pete was one of the first of them you locked up and made to work for Marcus Din in the livery stable. Good and necessary lesson for the boy and one he deserved. Came whining back to me about you and I told him I'd have set him to work there for a month, had it been me. And that if his mother found out, old as he is, there'd be something of a tanning to be had." Cardigan laughed thinking about the latter. "Addie's no slouch and takes such things most seriously."

Two more long and anxious days of waiting and then the westbound stage rolled in. Myles Davis stepped down and then turned to help down one of the most attractive women Donovan had seen in a long, long time. Tall and refined, with deep auburn hair and what he was to learn was a perpetual, slight smile. He stepped forward, removed his hat and Myles introduced him to Amanda.

"I feel we know each other somewhat from our letters," she said. "But I'm most pleased to meet you in person, Mr. Donovan." She extended a hand.

"It's just Donovan," he said, reminding her. "No Mr."

"Ah, yes," she said, smiling. "I remember."

Myles grinned at him. "You know, you never did tell me if Donovan's your first or last name," he said. "Which is it?"

Donovan smiled back. "I don't rightly remember, Myles. It's just always been Donovan, at least as far back as I can recall."

He helped them take their things to the hotel and left them to get settled and have a light lunch while he made his midday rounds of the town. He rejoined them just as they were finishing their meal and they all ordered tea.

He explained about the dinner invitation the following evening and asked what they would like to do that afternoon.

"It's been a long trip," he said, "and if you wish to simply relax for the rest of the afternoon, that'd be fine."

"Nonsense," Myles said. "We can only stay a few days and I intend to make the most of it. I've got a cargo scheduled in less than two weeks."

"Where are you off to this time?"

"Spain first, I believe, and then down to the horn of Africa. There's usually unpredictable weather in that area this time of year, but I know the best routes and there are interesting people in the countries along the coast. Besides, while it's not my favourite route, I go where I'm told and make the best of it."

"I don't get to ride much," he continued. "Perhaps we could go for a riding tour of the area, if that can be arranged," Myles said. "We both ride."

"I want to see Stone Butte," Amanda said. "Especially at twilight. What you wrote about it intrigued me."

"Done," Donovan said, picking up the meal tab and insisting. "Not much for me to spend money on out here," he said. "This is my treat, just to show how pleased I am that you'd take the time and effort to visit."

Amanda left to change into riding clothes.

"Are you really enjoying it here, Donovan?" Myles asked. "It doesn't seem as though it'd be challenging enough for someone of your skills and experience. Quite honestly I didn't expect you to last six months in this job."

Donovan nodded. "I wasn't sure either, Myles, but I really am enjoying it. Oh, there are certainly slow times when I worry a bit about becoming bored with it all and I think about moving on to whatever comes next, but then something interesting usually happens. While it's not as adventurous as sailing the seas, I admit, I find comfort in it, doing something I believe is important. People depend on me and I find that I like that and take it seriously."

Amanda joined them in denims and a pullover, looking radiant. They headed to the livery where Marcus Din led out three horses, one of them Donovan's and another a sprightly appaloosa. He helped Amanda into the saddle.

"Good gentle horse for you, ma'am," Din said in his deep baritone. "She'll carry you well and she's reliable. I promise you that."

They headed east toward Stone Butte in the early afternoon. Donovan had given Marcus Din a general sense of their route for the afternoon and how long they would be and Amanda asked him about that.

"Out here you never travel far without letting someone know where you're going and when you can be expected back," Donovan replied. "You never know what might happen, a horse breaking a leg or some other kind of accident. Or a change in the weather that delays you. You want someone to be watching for you so if you're not back when you say you will be, they'll come looking."

"The same with sailing," Myles added. "You make sure someone knows your route and schedule, just in case something unexpected occurs. Just like that trip with Donovan when we were hit by the storm. We were fortunate to get back to Boston but the company was already concerned about the delay and beginning to plan out a way to determine if we were in trouble or merely delayed."

They stopped at Stone Butte for a cold dinner and to enjoy the scenery.

"We'll not be able to stay for the sunset," Donovan said, "Though it's cloudy anyway. We have to be back before dark or we'll be staying the night."

"It's remarkable," Myles said. "So vast and open."

"It's not the wide blue and green ocean, Myles, but it's beautiful, isn't it?

"It is indeed, Donovan. More so than I'd imagined."

"Can you see yourself here permanently?" Amanda Davis asked.

Donovan shrugged. "Permanence is something of a vague term, Amanda. I can certainly see remaining her for the foreseeable future. I enjoy the job, the people and the town and surprisingly I find the relative predictability of the job comforting. That isn't to say that I may grow too tired or too old to do the job effectively, or that the town council might feel so and opt for someone else, but for now this seems to suit me well."

They rode for the rest of the afternoon and early evening, stopping every now and then for a break and generally working their way back to Springfield. Donovan pointed out landmarks and animals as they went and talked about life in the west. He had brought a pistol and holster for Myles and they did some target shooting near Land's End, a deep gorge five miles from town. They had done the same on the ship and Donovan could see that Myles had been practicing. Even Amanda took her turn and had a surprisingly steady hand. Then, with dark clouds in the distance giving a warning of possible rain and earlier darkness they returned to Springfield for a late dinner and an early retreat to their beds. Donovan made one last round of the town in a light rain before settling into his bed above the jail. He was looking forward to another day with Amanda. And, as an afterthought, he mused, with his friend Myles. And there was the dinner at the Cardigan ranch the next night to look forward to as well.

But not everything goes as planned.

Harry Tope and his men had sheltered in a thick grove of trees three miles west of Springfield. Tope had never gotten over being tricked by Donovan and the others when they had first ridden into Springfield. But he had been patient, waiting more than three months while he and his gang were busy with other things. Now they returned, intending to rob the bank as planned those few months ago. This time, however, they knew what to expect and they did a far better job of staying out of sight as they planned each step of the operation.

Donovan had finished his noon rounds and was just sitting down to lunch with Myles and Amanda when Tope and his men, their horses held by one man in the alley beside the bank, made their way down that alley and stepped into the bank. They were sure they had not been seen as they held guns on the three bank employees, ordering them to open the safe and place the money in bags brought with them. The employees did exactly as they were told to do, stuffing money into the large canvas bags.

But Tim Harden, who was now Donovan's part-time deputy and who was making his noon rounds of the town, had seen Tope and his men and he ran to the diner to alert Donovan! "It's them same men from before, Marshal! The ones we scared off before. They's robbing the bank right now!"

"Tell the others!" Donovan told him. He grabbed Harden's pistol from its holster and stuck it in his belt. A second gun's always handy, he thought.

"Stay here!" he said to Myles and Amanda and he ran from the diner and raced down the street toward the bank.

Tope and his men were just coming out of the front door of the bank, guns in their hands when Donovan saw them. "Stop!" he yelled.

The five men turned as one, firing toward Donovan. He slid to a stop, turned sideways to give them less of a target and fired calmly, knocking down one man and sending another backward into the outer wall of the bank with a shot to his chest. The sixth man rode from out from the alley with the rest of the horses and Tope and the others scrambled aboard them and turned toward Donovan, trying to ride him down and firing at him at the same time.

Donovan was hit in the shoulder and felt himself being spun around. He dropped into a crouch, one knee resting on the ground and fired at them again, this time taking Tope and another man off their horses, though wounded or not he was not sure. They turned back toward him and kept firing. He heard other shots as if in the distance but he dragged himself back to his feet and took two steps forward and to the side, pulling the second gun from his belt, and firing, hitting Harry Tope twice in the chest and the man behind him in the shoulder and neck. And then he felt himself turned sideways as he was hit once again, this time in the leg.

He spun around and emptied his guns at the last two men who were down off their horses and then he fell forward as the street came up to meet him. He thought he heard more shots and then there was blackness.

He was lying on his back when he came to and at first he thought he was still lying out in the street. But it was quiet. Then he realized that he was in a bed, a soft bed with cool white sheets and a soft quilt covering him. He moved his right arm but when he tried he could not move his left and he reached over to find that it was heavily and tightly bandaged against his side. He explored his body with his free hand and felt more bandages on his hip, right leg and head but found he could move both legs and wiggle his toes and somehow that gave him a sense of comfort. But he was tired, more tired than he'd ever been. And sore, too.

He heard someone come up the hall and the door opened. It was Myles Davis and he smiled broadly when he saw that Donovan was awake.

"I thought I heard you moving around a back here. You really had us worried there for a time, my friend," he said.

"Had me worried there for a time too," Donovan said, his voice a little hoarse and Myles took a glass of water from the nightstand and handed it to him. Donovan tried to sit up but Myles put a hand on his chest to prevent him.

"Not yet, Donovan. You need to stay still for a while yet. You don't want any of those bandages coming loose."

"Where am I?"

"You're in an upstairs room at the doctor's house."

"What happened?" Donovan asked.

"It was quite a show you put on," Myles said. "We figure you killed three or four on your own, though the others and I did our best to help out."


Myles shrugged. "That gun you gave me came in handy," he said. "I'm not sure I hit anyone but I sure as hell gave them a scare."

"What was the final score?"

"All six of them are dead, Donovan. One of them managed to stay on his horse headed west but Darby Poole shot him out of his saddle with a long rifle. Tim Harden and the storekeeper were both shot but they're doing alright and you had three bullets in you, four if you count the graze on your head. You lost an awful lot of blood but we figured that you were just too darn ornery to die on us." He smiled as he looked down at Donovan.

"Did my best, apparently," Donovan said. "So, what's the verdict? How long to I have to stay in this bed before I can move around?"

Myles shrugged. "I suppose until the nurse says you can get up."


Davis grinned. "I suppose we never mentioned that Amanda was a nurse and has been one for seven years. She's highly skilled in surgery and it's a good thing for you. The doctor was out of town and if she hadn't stopped the bleeding and patched you up I don't think you'd have lasted long enough for him to help her do the rest. He said she saved your life and did as good a job of it as he could. Says he wishes he had a nurse like her around here all the time."

"I'm sure he does. I'll have to thank her properly."

Myles nodded. "I'd count on it. She says you'll be able to sit up later today and maybe you'll be permitted to stand and walk within a week. Nothing is broken, fortunately for you, just a lot of stitches to be careful about and a lot of blood loss and that'll take a bit more time and rest. We've been feeding you broth and tea the whole time, and it's been four days, though you've been a bit of a pain about it. We considered that you were unconscious and didn't take offence." He grinned.

"What about you, Myles? How are you?"

"I'm fine. I'm heading out this afternoon on the stage, which is why I'm glad you woke up today. I have to sail in the next ten days and I'd have hated to leave without saying goodbye and making sure you were alright."

"Ask Amanda to drop by and say goodbye before the two of you leave. I must thank her for what she's done for me."

"I'd do that," Myles Davis said, "if she were leaving. But she's quite adamant about staying here until she's sure you're back on your feet and able to get back to work. Seems she doesn't really trust any of the folks here to take as good care of you as she can. And that deputy of yours, Tim Harden, he and the others want you back at work pretty badly too. "

Donovan frowned. "Tell Amanda she doesn't need to stay. I'll be fine, Myles, and the folks here will take good care of me."

"I'm sure they would," Myles said. "But she's single-minded and I think it has as much to do with the letters you've exchanged as your wounds. I'm afraid she's got longer term plans for you that you'll not avoid, my friend."

"You mean . . .?"

Myles grinned. "I surely do. And you brought it all on yourself."