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   Chapter 7 NO.7

Deny Thyself By LadyRosabella Characters: 16640

Updated: 2017-12-20 15:40

Several miles outside of camp, Peter saw smoke billowing up toward the heavens. It was a scent that he had smelled only once. When you smelled it, you never forgot it. Peter's heart twisted in pain as his stomach threatened to lose its contents. Peter's mind flashed back as he edged carefully closer. He remembered the day that he had stumbled upon the remains of a wagon train that the Syrins gang had raided and burned. He sat back on his horse fighting back tears as he viewed the terrible carnage. The burning was mostly finished. Everything had been reduced to charcoal. A human skeleton lay not far from where his horse stood. What looked to be an infant was held in the skeleton's arms. Peter hung his head for several seconds offering up a prayer before he climbed down from Pirate. He had to check for survivors.

Clenching his teeth, Peter did his best to harden his mind and heart as he walked through the destruction. He didn't dare call out, though he was certain the Syrins gang was probably long gone. Though this may look like an Indian attack, Peter knew it wasn't. The Syrins gang prided themselves on their Indian-like actions. Indians hadn't caused any trouble in this area in many years. The Syrins gang caused the only trouble in these parts.

Peter quietly searched for signs of life. He didn't expect to find anything. The gang usually never left anything or anyone alive. Occasionally they took hostages. But the end result was never pleasant. Peter walked toward the outer edge of the damage, for several seconds he just stood gazing at the blackened remains. He ran a hand through his hair as he walked back to his horse, his eyes downcast.

A soft whimper caught his attention as he neared Pirate. Glancing up Peter saw a young girl standing beside his horse. She appeared to be about eight or nine. Her waist long brown hair was in a single braid. Her clothing was stained and torn in many places. Tear trails ran down her dirty face. "They got my papa." She whispered brokenly. "They killed my papa." Her tears ran like rivulets down her cheeks. "My papa. My Papa."

Peter swallowed, and then he extended his hand in front of him, palms up. "I'm here to help you, little one." He took a cautious step forward. He couldn't even begin to imagine the terror and horror this little girl had suffered and seen. He couldn't help her if he frightened her off. Carefully he took another step forward; he prayed the girl wouldn't think he was with the men who massacred this train. "I'm going to put you on my horse. Do you like horses?" He stepped closer.

The little girl eyed the horse standing peaceably beside her. "My papa loved horses." She whispered. She reached her small hand out and patted Pirate.

"Every good man loves horses." Peter continued in a soothing tone. "Do you ride, honey?"

The girl nodded but kept her eyes and attention on Pirate. "I come from a small wagon train not far from here. There are some real nice ladies there that would like to feed you and give you a clean dress. Will you ride with me?" Peter asked as he moved closer. He was close enough now that he could almost reach out and touch her, but he didn't dare.

"What's his name?"

Peter swallowed a sigh. Didn't she hear what he had said? "Pirate. He's a good, faithful horse." Peter watched his horse nuzzle the girls shoulder. "I think he likes you." Peter whispered.

The little girl reached her arms upward and wrapped them, as much as she could, around Pirate. "I like him too." Her voice was muffled. Pirate lowered his head and lipped at the girls hair.

"Pirate, you behave yourself." Peter scolded as he sidled up to the girl and horse. He hunkered down so he could be at the girl's height. "Will you ride with me, little one?"

Callie looked up from the dinner dishes. Someone was riding in. She squinted a little, trying to make out the form.

"Mrs. Wyss." The horse stopped at Callie's fire and a man dismounted.

"Mr. McCain. What do you have there?" Callie asked as she moved in for a closer look.

"I have a fine horsewoman with me. I was wondering if we couldn't impose on you for a bit of food and a dress."

"You want a dress?" Rosa asked as she climbed from the wagon. "Personally, I like you better in trousers."

"Rosa!" Callie gasped, a dark blush staining her cheeks. "Go fetch my husband. " She said in a strained voice. "He's at the family fire."

Rosa smile. As she walked past Peter, she gave him a bold wink.

"I am so very sorry." Callie murmured when Rosa was out of earshot.

"Never mind her." Peter said. "Can you help my little friend?"

"Of course." Callie stepped close to where the girl still sat on the horse. "Come on, dear. I have food in the pot there."

Peter stepped up and lifted the girl down. "Are you hungry, Mr. McCain?"

"No, I ate before I left." Peter smiled down at the child. "You take good care of my girl. I've got to go report to Gurtslinger." He put his hand on the girl's shou

couldn't stop her smile. Fannie was so happy. She deserved happiness. Evlyn cast a worried look at Peter over Fannie's head. She was worried about him. He was grinning now, but earlier he had looked very upset. Even now, though his mouth was smiling, his eyes looked worried. What was troubling him? He used to talk to her, but since his harshness earlier, when she caught fire she sensed a strong disapproval coming from him. But disapproval at what, she couldn't guess.

One part of Peter's mind said that the child was foolish and couldn't possibly understand what she was asking. Another part told him that the child had more wisdom then he and Evlyn combined.

"Fannie, I think Mrs. Wyss found a dress for you. Why don't you go find her while I talk with Miss Riebe."

"Okay!" The child never stopped smiling as she crawled past him and jumped from the wagon to the ground.

Peter shifted until he was sitting cross-legged on the wagon floor. Evlyn was watching him, but she never spoke. Peter studied her as he tried to determine the best approach. He couldn't chicken out. He had to make Gurtslinger's wishes known to her.

Evlyn chewed on her bottom lip while she watched Peter. Something was obviously bothering him. Why couldn't he just talk to her anymore? Their time spent together was always filled now with glares and stony silences. He used to be her best friend. He talked with her, he listened, and he understood things she could never tell anyone. Why the sudden betrayal? All had been well and then suddenly he pulls away avoids her. Evlyn could no longer stand the silence. Someone had to say something or she was going to lose her sanity!

"Peter, what is it? Tell me what's bothering you?" Evlyn tried to keep her words steady but she feared they came out rather breathlessly.

Peter released a long sigh. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't be cruel to this woman. "Evlyn, Rosa told me about your husband and your family. She told me about your plans for California." Peter wanted to sound angry, accusing. But he couldn't. His words sounded bleak, sadness deepened his voice.

"Oh, Linda." Evlyn groaned. She closed her eyes and sat still for several moments. Peter couldn't stand her silence. What did that reaction mean? Was Linda her daughter or was she calling for Mrs. Gurtslinger. Suddenly her eyes flew opened and she stared right at him. Moving slowly she left her position at the temporary bed and moved forward so she was directly in front of him. "Peter. Everything Rosa told you is a lie."

"A-a lie?"

"Yes. Mrs. Gurtslinger promised me that she would make sure all knew the truth since I couldn't spread it around." Evlyn reached out and took his hand in hers.

Peter was too surprised to withdraw his hand.

"Peter, I don't know why Rosa said the things she did about me. But please believe me when I tell you that I have no children and I have never been married." Evlyn snorted gently. "After witnessing my parent's marriage why do you think I would ever open myself up to such pain and misery?"

Peter didn't have an answer, which was fine because he couldn't have answered even if he'd wanted to. His mind was just now beginning to process the words Evlyn had spoken. He looked down into her glistening blue eyes. "Evlyn, " he whispered, "I believe you."

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