Revenge on the Wagon Train – Extended Epilogue

Caleb smiled and nodded as the latest satisfied customers of Thornton & Morgan’s Sundries and Comforts. The bell rang as the door closed, leaving him to look around at the various goods they’d brought in to fill their shop. 

After only a year since settling in Springfield, Missouri, Caleb felt as if he’d come half a world and two lifetimes from where he’d been. His brother avenged and innocents rescued with the destruction of Hank “the Hangman” Harris, tranquility with both Emily and Samuel Thornton—it had all brought Caleb the kind of peace of mind and heart he’d long thought impossible.

Emily had done wonders with the shop, creating customers among the women in town, convincing them to favor the types of fineries their shop had in plentiful supply. Cufflinks and collars, timepieces on chains, mustache combs and kits and other things that distinguished gentlemen of business from those of the hills; they’d become au courant in Springfield as if it was nothing other than the Midwestern equivalent of New York or Boston or the like.

But pregnancy had taken Emily off the sales floor and limited her time with her new friends in Springfield. Her afternoon teas and her time with local ladies’ clubs gave way to long naps and fits of snacking.

Caleb couldn’t be more delighted, nor with the company of his business partner and the shop’s other co-founder, the stubborn man who often argued which Thornton was represented on the sign.

“Samuel,” Caleb said as the man walked downstairs from the shop’s upper floor. “You’ll need to be fleet-footed to make up for your daughter’s absence. The customers won’t wait.”

“And they’ll have no need,” Samuel said, panting just a bit as he reached the bottom floor. “Nor you any need to steer me like cattle.”

The two men shared a little chuckle. “With apologies… Father Thornton.”

With another chuckle, Samuel said, “That makes me feel like a pastor. I haven’t come that far off the trail!”

“Very well, Samuel,” Caleb answered. “If you’d like to get back to your daughter, I think it may be time for her midday snack.”

“She’s your wife, after all,” Samuel said. “I’ll look over the shop. Or do you think me … incapable?”

Caleb couldn’t help but crack a smile and wrap his flattened palm against his friend and father-in-law’s upper arm near the shoulder, tossing in an affectionate squeeze. “I’m wondering if our increase in female patronage hasn’t encouraged your new zeal toward the retail trade?”

“Oh, balderdash! I’ve always had one woman in my mind and heart, and that’s my daughter.”

“As I can well attest.”

“I saw her off the trail, did I not?”

“You did indeed,” Caleb was glad to say.

“And enjoin this… this wellspring of commercial excellence?”

“We’d be nowhere without you, Samuel.”

Samuel huffed and straightened his jacket. “And… oughtn’t a man… a man even beyond the years of what might be taken as generally marriageable—?”

“Watch the store,” Caleb said, “make certain your… well-reputed charms are at their sharpest. I’ll go see to our young mother-to-be.”

The bell above the door jangled again and the familiar Sheriff Skylar Barnard stepped into the shop. “Misters Morgan and Thornton themselves.”

“Sheriff Barnard,” Caleb said, “always a pleasure.”

Samuel huffed. “Not quite the pleasure I’d had in mind.” The two suppressed a chuckle.

“Gentlemen, I’d hoped to avail myself of some… colognes?”

“We’ve plenty in stock,” Caleb was glad to say. The absence of any demands of violent outbreak, the lack of needing information or location was a relief Caleb could hardly express. A glance at Samuel, wearing a similarly calm expression, told Caleb that his peace of mind was as clear to others as it was to himself, at long last.

“Well, I … I …” The stout sheriff turned to gaze into some vague distance, as if he was collecting his thoughts. “Apologies, gentlemen, I …” The sheriff raised a handkerchief to his balding brow, sweat suddenly beading on his pale, blotched skin.

Samuel walked around to the man’s side. “Let me see you to a chair, Sheriff.”

Caleb asked, “Are you unwell, Sheriff?”

“I… I… I believe not.” Sheriff Barnard collapsed just as Samuel arrived, pulling a chair up beneath him. The man fell into the chair just in time, his feet kicking out in front of him. 

Samuel said to Caleb, “I’ll go get the doc.”

“Don’t tarry,” Caleb said before Samuel scrambled out of the store, the bell ringing over his head.

Caleb worked the sheriff’s collar loose and undid his belt, big belly expanding just a bit. “Take it easy, Sheriff, just relax now.”

“I… I don’t know what came over me.”

Caleb cracked a little chuckle. “The years, old friend, the years.”

The sheriff smiled again, nodding as he dabbed his brow with his soaked handkerchief. “Still and all, I… I’ll need those—” The sheriff’s body lurched in a quick spasm, a twist that seemed to result from the strike of some great, invisible fist. “I… I…”

“Sheriff!” Caleb reached out as the man barely managed to stay in his chair, his right hand reaching across his flabby chest. “Take it easy now.”

Caleb eased the man back, sweat pouring down his face on both sides. The sheriff’s eyes were wide, his body trembling as he reclined for what Caleb hoped would not be the last time.

“Caleb, Caleb!” Sheriff Barnard reached out for Caleb, who took the elder man’s errant hand in his own.

“I’m right here.” 

“You… you have to do it, Caleb.”

Caleb glanced around the shop. “I… I have, Sheriff, all I’d hoped and more.”

“No, no, not that!” Even as he spoke, the sheriff’s skin grew more pale, his hand holding tight to Caleb’s. “The badge, Caleb. You… you have to take up the badge!”

“I can’t, Sheriff, I’ve got… other responsibilities.”

The dying sheriff shook his pale, sweating head. “No, no, it… it has to be you, Caleb. You!”

“I’ve got a shop and a family, a child on the way!” Caleb shrugged, still holding the sheriff’s sweating hand, pooling in the palm. “You’ll be all right, Sheriff. The doc’s coming.”

“Send him to the gravedigger,” Skylar said, wincing with another invisible pain. He quivered to sustain it, hand gripping Caleb’s even tighter. “His… will be the next hand I shake, eh?” The sheriff chuckled and spasmed again, coughing and wincing and clamping his eyes shut.

“You send him there yourself,” Caleb said, giving the man’s hand a tighter squeeze of his own and knowing it would do little good.

Sheriff Barnard seemed to relax before Caleb, a quivering smile overtaking his thin, glistening lips.

“I… I did my best,” Skylar said, eyes not quite meeting Caleb’s. “It wasn’t enough, I know that, I know… I… I know…” The sheriff’s hand grew weaker, slowly releasing Caleb’s hand. Caleb knew the man was releasing his grip upon life itself. “But I… I tried…”

“That’s all any of us can do,” Caleb said, “is to do our best.”

The dying sheriff tightened his grip for what Caleb knew would be the last time. “Now it’s for you, Caleb, for you… to do your best.”

“But… this is my best,” Caleb said. “To have put down the gun and picked up an inventory list. I’ve taken my last life, Skylar.”

“Not taking lives,” Sheriff Barnard urged, “protecting them. That was always your way. You collected the… bounties, yes, but I know it was the innocents you preserved, those who… who would never know what you’d done and could never possibly know… they call to you still, young man.”

“No, sir, no.”

“Yes, sir… yes! You… you hear the callin’, I know it.” The dying sheriff stammered, seeming to choke up on his words. “Yer the best gun in town, the best man… one who won’t be bought nor sold, won’t be… swayed by the dreams of others.”

“Let the mayor choose,” Caleb suggested.

“Let him choose you,” Skylar countered, “when you go to him… resolved. And he will, Caleb, he will!” After a long, spasming silence, the sheriff repeated, “Listen to the call!”

“I hear the fear of a crisis, that’s all. But it will pass, my friend.”

“So too shall we all! And if’n you don’t hear the call, I’ll… I must sound that call myself.” The sheriff’s hand loosened a bit more as he began to slip away. “Heed the call, my boy. Heed the… the…”

Finally, the lawman’s hand opened with the twitch of a muscle. Caleb’s slipped out of his own, though he knew he was not being left empty-handed. 

“Please,” Sheriff Skylar Barnard said, “please…”

Before him, the man who had been called Sheriff Skylar Barnard would be called that no more. But the name would live on, remembered by those who came after.

Caleb gave the man’s hand one last squeeze and he could feel the man’s soul slip away, leaving an empty vessel. The door’s bell jangled as it flew open, Samuel and the doc finally arriving. Caleb was just sliding the man’s eyes closed.

“Do what you can, Doc,” Caleb said. “But… I don’t think he wanted to stay.” 

Caleb stepped up and away to allow the doc to fall upon the stricken sheriff, pounding his chest and struggling to revive the doomed man.

Samuel pulled Caleb back a bit and whispered to him, “What transpired? What did he say?”

Caleb sighed. “He asked me to take up the badge in his stead.”

Samuel nodded and shrugged, somehow both at once. “You’d be a fine sheriff, the Scourge of the Black Hills as you once were.”

Caleb cracked a little smile. “I couldn’t possibly even consider it without speaking to Emily. She’s about to give me a child, to raise a family—the family of a shopkeeper and not of a sheriff. We have a peaceable future in store, Samuel!”

“And we still could have,” Samuel said, “even more peaceable with a good man like you at the helm. I can handle the shop, and together we’ll provide more than enough family for Emily and your future son or daughter… my first grandchild.” The two shared a moment of mutual satisfaction, Caleb clapping his hand on the elder man’s shoulder.

The doc looked up and hook his head, and the truth of the sheriff’s demise was clear to all in the room. He’d be carried out and seen to, buried with all the honor the town could offer. Whatever business happened thereafter, Caleb would agree to. So long as his wife and the mother of his children agreed. Otherwise, Caleb would stand by his marital vows and let no person come between him and his oath to his wife.

But he had little doubt as to what she would suggest, and he readied to put that badge on and likely never take it off. It was hard to deny some pull of the old days, some need to express the man he’d left behind on the trail. That man was still a part of him, and now that part of him was about to become a part of Springfield, a part of Missouri history.

The distant cry of a red-tailed hawk told Caleb that he was once more to face peril, danger, even death. But once again and always in the name of rightness, of justice, of the protection of the meek and mild and innocent. There would always be those who would predate against them, and so long as there were men like Caleb Morgan to stand against them, the promise of the burgeoning United States would survive. More than that, it would thrive to carry the memory of people like Caleb and his family and their progeny, an empire to match any in the annals of American history, recorded herein and forever more.

THE END


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9 thoughts on “Revenge on the Wagon Train – Extended Epilogue”

  1. Well written story. Few “trains” would choose to backtrack once they began a journey for which they had dreamed, invested and began.

    Characters were realistic for an old west theme. The ending in Epilogue unique…and seemingly justified.

  2. I really do enjoy reading your books. There is nothing like the old west.keep up the good reading. Martha Pearce

  3. I just finished reading another of your books, Derek. But certainly not the last. I have come to really enjoy my time reading your books. Thank You, Sir!

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