Under the Gunslinger’s Watchful Eye – Extended Epilogue

“I heard the cow bawl, Mr. Thompson,” Tim had said when he came back to the stable to find Will, “but I couldn’t find her.” Once a temporary groom for John Mitchell during roundups, the young man was now a full-time wrangler at the Flying M Ranch. “I’ll keep looking till I find her.”

“Never mind,” said Will. “I’ll do that. You keep looking for your horses.” 

Tim had been looking for wild horses he had spotted roaming on ranch property. The youth knew and loved horses, so Will assigned him chores related to caring for them, such as bringing extra horses for the cowboys during roundups. The next roundup would start in a week. Tim was not as competent with cattle—he was even worse than Will at roping calves for branding.

Since Will had come to Pine Bluff, his experiences had taught him the importance of community and friendship, just as his life with dear Lily had taught him the value of love. Where he once had been content to live a free life as a loner, he now had a purpose and a home he was determined to cherish and protect.

The change had not been without pain. He had initially missed moving about as he pleased, with no ties or responsibilities. Since he had met Lily, however, he realized that what he had gained in finding love and creating a family offset what he had given up.

Nevertheless, he sometimes found solace in riding out onto the prairie alone, so he saddled his horse and went out to look for the cow.

He headed to the knoll Tim had described as the one where he had heard the cow lowing. He heard only a prairie chicken’s cackle and a meadow lark’s melody but no sound from a cow. When he looked around, a familiar sight brought back memories: a slender line of dark green that contrasted starkly with the lighter shade of the prairie grass. It was the tops of much taller brush thickets that grew in a gulch in the prairie.

When the cow cried again, in distress, he could tell it came from the gulch. He urged his horse down the side of the knoll and toward the lowing. In the gulch, the trickle of water still escaped from a tiny pool fed by a spring to thread through to the depression’s exit, where it disappeared into the grass. The cow straddled the stream, peering into a bush. There, a two- or three-week-old calf struggled, caught in the foliage.

“Hold on, Mama,” Will told the cow as he dismounted. “Your young’un will be free momentarily.” 

It didn’t take long to disengage the youngster and send it wobbly-legged to its mother. He watched them leave the gully to make sure the calf could make it.

Then he stood, hands on hips, as the memories returned. Five years before, the last time he had stood in that gully, he had explained to Grover, Abel, and Jake how Martin Frobisher had rescued him from Frank Winslow and taken the maps that would prove John Mitchell’s guilt to his superior officers. 

A lot had happened after that. John Mitchell and a number of his men had died in their attack on the River Bend Ranch. Mayor Winthrop had arrested the others, except for Frank Winslow, and turned them over to the Colorado Mounted Rangers when they arrived a few days later. Winslow had escaped but died two years later in a gunfight in Virginia City, Nevada.

Will followed the cow and her offspring briefly to ensure the calf had suffered no injuries. Less pleasant memories welled up, especially the deaths of cowboys and townspeople on the day of the raid. He shook them off as he returned to the Flying M Ranch, where the five wild horses Tim had found paced anxiously in a corral. Under Cal Claiborne’s tutelage, Tim would break horses to ride as he had others.

After caring for his horse in the stable, Will crossed Lily’s beautiful flower garden and went into the house through the kitchen. When he asked Martha where Lily was, she directed him to the office. Lily stood up behind the desk when he went in, and his heart raced as it always did when he saw her. He went to her and kissed her.

“You should be in bed resting,” he admonished her. “We have a big night ahead of us.” He placed his hand over her stomach.

She said, with faux sternness, “Being pregnant doesn’t make me an invalid. And no, he or she hasn’t kicked today. Go take your bath. We don’t want to be late. Mayor Winthrop’s supposed to make an announcement tonight.”

The unseasonable warmth of the early spring day disappeared in the gloaming as Tim drove them to town in their new Brougham. After dropping them at the community center, where the Ladies’ Auxiliary benefit dance would begin shortly, Tim left in the carriage to pick up his fiancée.

Standing outside on the stoop, Samantha greeted them. “Is that a new coach?” she said, looking at the departing Brougham.

“Yes,” said Lily. “Will bought it for me when I first told him I was pregnant because its door is closer to the ground so it’s easier to get in and out of. I swear, it’s embarrassing the way he spoils me.”

“Why are you standing out here, Sam?” asked Will. “It’s getting cold. You’ll catch your death.”

“I get these hot flashes,” said Samantha. “I have to take breaks to cool off.”

Kenny stepped outside. “Oh, there you are,” he said to Samantha, then greeted Will and Lily. “Come back in where it’s warm, sweetheart.”

“See, Lily?” said Samantha. “Kenny is the same with me as Will is with you.”

Kenny said, “It’s not you that I’m worried about, love. It’s the one you carry.” He took her arm to lead her back inside. Will and Lily followed.

Samantha said to Lily, “Just think, our first children will be the same age. If one is a boy and the other a girl, do you suppose they’ll grow up to marry and have children of their own?”

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful?” said Lily.

Will and Kenny went to the drinks and food table for cups of punch.

“Who spiked it tonight?” asked Will. 

“I did, and I think Grover added a little more.”

“How’s your appliance business going?”

“Doing well, especially now that I sell ice for the ice boxes, too. And I’ll have a new product in a few more months.”

“Oh?”

“Telephones. They’re going to run new lines to towns out here so we can connect to the Denver exchange.”

Will shook his head. “I wouldn’t think there’d be enough call for telephones in the prairie.”

“We’ll see. The man from the Bell Telephone Company says businesses in Denver couldn’t do without them nowadays.”

People no longer stood or sat in separate groups according to whether they lived in the town or the ranches. Sharing the conflict with the Mitchell gang and the rebuilding that followed, like the barn raising for Brigid Corcoran, had made them all feel like part of the same community. The town had grown and prospered, and its inhabitants and the ranchers had become part of a close, extended family.

Will and Kenny joined a group that included Abel Dawson and several other ranchers and townspeople. The conversation centered primarily on the upcoming roundup, which had changed since the conflict. They now included the Flying M Ranch.

***

Lily and Samantha visited with several older ladies. Mrs. Frey said, “We still haven’t forgotten how you saved us from your father’s eminent domain fraud, Lily. That could’ve ruined our lives.”

“How did you know it was crooked and illegal, dear?” asked Mrs. Riddle.

Lily shrugged. “I didn’t, so I visited the library. I learned that an entity has to have four preconditions to exercise eminent domain. It must have the authority to condemn the property, which my father didn’t; it has to have a public purpose, which didn’t apply to a railroad; it’s got to be necessary for the stated purpose, which it wasn’t because the railroad had a choice of other routes; and it could only be used after the parties disagree on the compensation amount. My father thought his crooked politician friends could condemn the land through the state legislature, but it didn’t have the authority, and I didn’t hear of any negotiations for your properties’ sales price.”

“You’re a hero to us,” said Mrs. Frey. “And I loved the way you did it, at a tea party where we celebrated by burning all the contracts.” She and the others laughed.

After the ladies left Lily to descend on the food table, Brigid Corcoran, who had heard the last of the conversation, approached her. “You’re a hero to me too, Lily. Since you so generously gave me that big piece of your ranch, I’ve bought more cattle, hired cowhands, and I’m doing very well. You needn’t have done that.”

“That was the gift my father should have given you, though I know all the land in Meld County wouldn’t repay you for all you’ve endured.”

“Since we’re so successful, I’ve come to like ranching for the first time. Maeve and Liam have taken to it, too.”

“You gave Liam a pony for his last birthday, didn’t you?”

“Yes, and he rides it every day. He’d take it to bed with him if he could.” Brigid hesitated, then said, “There’s something I need to tell you, Lily. Grover’s my foreman now, you know.”

“Yes.”

“He told me he wants to be closer to me, but I told him I can’t, not yet. But someday I might. He said he’d wait for me as long as it takes. But it’s so awful to think I’d do that to Corky.”

“You’re not betraying Corky,” Lily assured her. “He’s no longer here. He would want you to move on, and he wouldn’t expect you to wait forever.”

Olaf and Elna Christianson joined them. Because their children and Brigid’s had spent so much time together, the parents had become close, too. Brigid, Elna, and Olaf started giving Lily advice on parenting.

“I was a third child,” said Elna, “so I got less than the others. When Hermann, the firstborn, fell, my mother would rush to him, give him medicine, and take him to the doctor, ‘just in case.’ For the second one, Heidi, she would look for blood and bumps and say, ‘She’s okay.’ But for me, she’d think, she fell. She’ll get up.”

Her audience laughed.

Sam Hardy and his musicians finished tuning their instruments and began to play a slow favorite. Couples took to the dance floor, including Lily and Will. 

During their second dance, Will said, “Look over there.”

She looked where he directed to see Brigid dancing with Grover. Lily said, “They look good together.”

“They do make a good-looking couple, don’t they?”

After the fifth or sixth dance, Sam Hardy said, “Thank y’all for being such nice guests. While the boys and I take a break, Mayor Winthrop has an announcement to make.”

He and the other musicians stepped down from the stage and went to the punch bowl.

Mayor Winthrop mounted the stage and said, “I have been your mayor for ten years now. Tonight, I’d like to celebrate our shared history of the last five of those years that brought unity to our town and Meld County. We especially owe a lot to one couple that led us through those struggles, William and Lily Thompson. Lily helped all those people abused by her father and his men, while Will used his courage and military expertise to bring him down. I’d like to propose a toast to this fine couple.” 

He raised his glass of punch, as did others in the crowd, and everyone applauded enthusiastically. 

“Will,” he said, “would you like to say a few words?”

Taken by surprise, Will hesitated, but continuing applause drove him to the stage alongside the mayor.

“Thank you for the kind words, Mr. Mayor, but the real heroes here are you folks, especially my dear wife, Lily. She was providing aid to her father’s victims for years before I came to town. I felt like a stranger when I first got here, though I was born here thirty-four years ago, but you all made me feel welcome and like a member of this fine community. For this, I humbly thank you. I would like to propose a toast to you, the people of Pine Bluff and the surrounding ranches.” And he raised his glass.

Much later that night, as Tim drove them back to the Flying M Ranch, Will reveled in his richer and fuller life as a rancher, family man, and citizen of the Pine Bluff community.

THE END


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29 thoughts on “Under the Gunslinger’s Watchful Eye – Extended Epilogue”

    1. A great story had me glued right through just put it down twice to eat and of course sleep ,now to find something else.

  1. This was a very enjoyable book. A few twists and turns making it continuously interesting… plus the love angle…. very nice indeed. I most appreciated the lack of degrading language, thank you! Lily was a refreshing character, independent but humble, I liked her. Just an all ’round good good read!

  2. I thoughly enjoyed your book. Excellent character development and a wonderful story line. I love a good western tale that ends with good people coming together to overcome greedy overbearing men. Thank you for the entertainment.
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  3. What can I say, this was another wonder story! With lots of drama throughout this book, lots of action packed scenes and mysteries solved! Every single page was filled with excitement galore, secrets and plots, drama and other exciting characters falling into love and sharing their friends and family! I love and I know you will too! So don’t miss this one and if don’t believe me, read it yourself! 🌬📚🎭🤠🐝🎶

  4. I extended epilogue was just the icing on a beautiful western adventure story! I for one loved both, so don’t let this book slip past you! This Author has you captured from page one to the end, I’m on to one his next great adventures?🌬📚🎭🤠🐝🎶

  5. Oh my what a wonderful tale you shared. Ranchers work so hard and this is a tribute to that, their honesty and fairness. Great job.

  6. A very enjoyable story with lots of action. I knew at their first encounter that Will and Lily would be a good match but I never imagined all the challenges they to face before they were finally able to spend time with each other to seal their love. Keep up writing such good books!

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