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   Chapter 9 NO.9

Deny Thyself By LadyRosabella Characters: 26447

Updated: 2017-12-20 15:42

Do you have a horse I could borrow?" Rosa smiled at the man who owned the wagon just ahead of theirs.

The man nodded in a jerky motion. "It's my boy's pony. Don't figure there'd be anything wrong with you using it. Unless you plan to leave the train. That ain't safe."

"Oh my! Of course not! With all the Indians around? Why I would just faint from terror!" Rosa shuddered for good effect. "To be honest, dear sir, I have just been longing to be on horseback again. We've been on this train forever and the family I'm with have no horses."

The man removed his hat and scratched at his thinning hair. "Well, go on and saddle up. But you watch yourself; I don't want no trouble from the wagon master."

"Of course not." Rosa purred. "I won't have your horse very long. Just to satisfy my need for the wind through my hair. Thank you!" Rosa hurried to where the man had gestured. The pony was the scrawniest thing she had ever seen. Nevertheless, a message had to be sent and she was the only one who could do it. She fed the pony a sugar cube she had snuck into her pocket, and then quickly saddled up. She rode just ahead of the train. She smirked. Everyone was so concerned over the dreaded disease that no one would notice a lone girl on a pony. Glancing over her shoulder, she quickly guided the pony into the woods and away from the wagon train.

Benjamin walked up to Gurtslinger. Peter was leaning beside a wagon next to Gurtslinger. "Well?"

Benjamin shook his head. His voice was void of all emotion when he spoke. "We'll probably be burying some folks before night fall. It's bad."

Peter dropped his head and closed his eyes. This couldn't be happening to these fine folks. It was just wrong! Benjamin's demeanor frightened Peter. It had to be very bad. All were at risk of this silent killer. Nothing could prevent it.

"Should we try to make it to town?" Peter asked, his eyes now studied his scuffed boots.

"If we don't keep moving, we'll never make it to California before night fall."

"Staying still won't help them." Benjamin added. "We can try to bring their temperatures down, give them liquids but beyond that it's out of our control."

"Aaron Bendal wants you to check on his wife. Apparently, she pretty sick. Sounded like the same symptoms."

Benjamin nodded. Removing his hat, he ran his hand through his hair.

"We'll leave as soon as you check on her." Gurtslinger decided.

Benjamin nodded and left the two men.

"Well! If it isn't Miss Rosa Syrins!" The man red- haired jumped from a low branch of a nearby tree.

"I told you I'd keep you updated." Rosa nodded to another man who walked from behind another tree.

"Yeah, but we thought you'd do so a bit more frequently." The red- haired man snickered.

The man who had come from behind the tree was obviously the leader. He wasn't a talker, he was a thinker, but he was the most dangerous of the group. Bobby Syrins, the red haired man, was of a wilder sort. He angered easily, and was quick to distribute his version of justice. Two other men sat on the ground. Troy and Eddie were their names. They fought a lot but their aim was straight. The leader of the Syrins gang was the oldest of all the children. His name was Drake. "What do you have to report, little sister?" Drake asked in his cool unattached manner.

Rosa smiled at him. "Cholera has brought many folks down. I figure most all that have it will die. Some of the families may choose to stay at the upcoming town."

Eddie snorted. "You sure aren't very smart."

Troy nodded agreeing with his brother for once. "Yeah, that just means we'll have to settle for fewer wagons."

Rosa scowled and placed her hands on her hips. "That just shows how smart you are! What you fail to understand is that the train will be at its weakest moment. With everyone tending to their sick or worrying about them, the last thing they'll be thinking about is the notorious Syrins gang."

Drake raised a hand for silence. He waited until all looked at him before he spoke. He was like that; he would refuse to speak until all eyes were on him. "Rosa is correct. We will attack just before they reach town. They will be unprepared." He angled his head toward Rosa. "How soon until they reach the town?"

"Tomorrow morning sometime if they keep going. At least that's what I overheard the wagon master saying."

Drake nodded. "Then by tomorrow noon, Gurtslinger and his wagon train will no longer exist."

Rosa smiled grimly. She knew this would ultimately be the train's fate. It was a shame she couldn't save Peter though. If only he would have chosen her instead of that Evlyn Riebe. Oh well, if he saw something good in Evlyn, then he wasn't worth his life.

"I have to return before I'm missed." She laughed. "May God be with you!"

Drake smirked. "I doubt it."

The three other boys burst into laughter.

Benjamin climbed sullenly into the wagon. Wringing out the cool cloth, he patted it against Callie burning skin. Callie continued to toss and turn, she would murmur things, but they either didn't make sense or were unintelligible.

Fannie walked quietly alongside Evlyn who guided and urged the oxen onward. "Are Miss Callie and the others going to die like my papa did?"

"I wish I knew, Fannie." Evlyn sighed. "We need to pray that they will recover." How could she offer the child assurance and comfort when Evlyn had none herself? Evlyn hoped that all the ill members of her wagon train family would get well again. So far, Missy Lewis was the only one who had a mild case. The little girl's fever was lower than most, and she still maintained her senses. Benjamin felt sure the girl had a good chance for recovery. Missy's little brother, Davie, and the other sick people were still iffy. Their case of cholera was quite severe. Evlyn hoped that they would survive the next twenty-four hours. According to Benjamin, most cholera victims died within twenty-four hours. If they survive past that, then cholera will run its course within five to seven days. Of course, Evlyn knew as well Benjamin did that recovery was very rare.

The wagon train stopped around three in the afternoon to add a grave alongside the trail. Vera Lewis clung to her husband; her eyes dry as they lowered her son, Davie, into the ground. Vera never cried, but trembling she buried her face in her husband's chest as Peter and Tyrone covered the grave with dirt.

Peter slung his shovel over his shoulder and jogged up to Gurtslinger. "Hey, are you moving the train farther today? Or are we staying put?"

"Peter, we're going to have more graves to dig before this is over." Tyrone's face was drawn, his heart and words heavy with fear and worry.

Peter nodded. He dropped his shovel from his shoulder, letting it land on the ground. His heart weighed down with the knowledge that several of his new- found friends may not survive to see the next day.

Gurtslinger sighed. Removing his hat, he ran his fingers angrily through his hair. "Chances are, even if we do manage to make it to town, they won't let us in. The town will want to protect itself and we'll be quarantined." He looked Peter straight in the eye. "Quarantined outside of town."

"He's right." Benjamin had walked up while Gurtslinger had been speaking. "Cholera is like a plague. They won't let us anywhere near their town."

Peter pinched the bridge of his nose and sent up a prayer for patience and mercy. When he spoke, his words were clipped and precise. "Then what are we going to do?"

Benjamin spoke up before Gurtslinger could even open his mouth. "You're going to turn around and help me dig another grave."

Gurtslinger didn't look surprised. He looked dejected. Was this how it would end? Was the whole wagon train going to stay here and die? So much for his retirement. "Who?"

"Susan Hollister."

Peter said not a word while he turned and retraced his step

istening to Rosa's words. He made no reaction now. His face was expressionless, though his eyes bored into Evlyn's. For one fleeting second, Evlyn wondered if she'd been set up and Peter and Rosa worked with this gang of outlaws.

Rosa shrugged. "Suit yourself." Pulling the hammer back until it clicked, Rosa used her right arm to steady her left. She fired the pistol. A wretched scream filled the air.

Peter dropped to his knees beside the fallen woman.

"Evlyn, get the pistol." Peter directed. Evlyn moved clumsily. She was still stunned by the events of the last few seconds. Peter had slammed Rosa's hand downward when she fired the pistol, so instead of hitting Evlyn's head, Rosa shot herself in the foot.

Peter looked up to catch Evlyn's eye. "Stay with her. I'm going after Fannie." Peter jumped up and ran off in the direction he'd seen Drake go before Peter made presence known.

"Why, Rosa? Why?" Evlyn murmured as she smoothed straying curls from Rosa's face.

Rosa continued to moan, either not hearing or else ignoring Evlyn's question. Though she had plenty of reason, Evlyn couldn't make herself feel angry at Rosa. She didn't feel betrayed. Almost to her own surprise, Evlyn couldn't feel the iron walls rising around her heart and mind. She used the iron walls to protect her heart and sanity for so many years, and now, though she had perfect reason to be angry and hurt she felt no such emotion. The only emotion she felt was a deep lingering sadness. Rosa and she had had such good times, such fun. Never had Evlyn dreamed that Rosa was a false friend. Tears slid down Evlyn's cheeks. "Rosa, I'm sorry I wasn't a better friend. I'm sorry." Evlyn's head lowered to her chest as she wept.

"You were never my friend." Rosa's voice was hoarse. "You were only a convenience." She made a weak attempt at a laugh. "So you're still alive and you're still stupid."

"Rosa." Peter stood just beyond the girls. He held Fannie, her small arms wrapped around his neck. "Evlyn and I are going to town. You and your brothers will be staying here."

Evlyn's head jerked up, shock radiating from her eyes. "Brothers?"

"Yeah." Peter pursed his lips. "Turns out Drake likes to talk when he's properly persuaded." He moved forward to look at Rosa. "You can try to run, but the sheriff and his men will find you easily. We'll be taking your horse. Understand?"

Rosa's narrowed eyes flamed and sparked. "You will never turn me or my brothers over to the sheriff." She hissed.

Peter cocked a brow. "Yeah. I will." He calmly assured her. He held her gaze for several seconds before turning to Evlyn. "You can find Rosa's horse, Fannie can ride with me."

Evlyn nodded and rose to her feet. Silently she held the pistol out to Peter. He met her eyes. "Keep it until my hands are free."

Evlyn nodded then looked down at Rosa. "I loved you Rosa." She whispered.

"Your first mistake." Rosa snapped.

Evlyn didn't flinch though Rosa's words were cutting. She met Rosa's eyes. "Everyone deserves a chance, a life, and friends. If you deny them that then you deny yourself."

"You denied everyone those things all of your life." Rosa snarled.

"Yes." Evlyn nodded. "I used to." She studied Rosa carefully, memorizing her face. "Good-bye, Rosa." Turning around, Evlyn hurried to catch up with Peter and Fannie.

Peter was standing beside his horse. Fannie was proudly sitting on his mount, her small fist clutching handfuls of the horse's mane. Evlyn's eyes scanned the girl. It appeared that no harm had come to her. She was so happy sitting atop that horse. Evlyn smiled up at her. "Hi, honey. Are you alright?"

"Yes." Fannie beamed down at Peter. "My new papa saved me."

Evlyn turned to face Peter. Her face was full of emotion, but love overpowered them all.

"Hey." Peter put his arm around Evlyn's shoulders pulling her into a hug. "Are you alright?" He whispered against her hair."

Evlyn nodded. "I am now."

Peter pulled back and smiled down at her. "It's going to be alright now. We'll make it."

"I know." She tilted her head upward and smiled up at him. "I learned a very important lesson this year."

"Yeah?" Peter tilted his head to the side.

"I learned that everybody deserves a chance, a life, and friends. If you deny them that then you deny yourself"

Peter grinned. "Yeah?" He prompted.

She lifted her hand to touch his cheek. Gently, her fingers caressed his weather worn skin. "You deserve a chance, a life, and a wife. If I deny you that, then I deny myself."

Peter smiled at her, his eyes reflecting the deep compassion and love he felt for this wonderful woman. "Far be it for me to deny both you and me."

"And me!" Fannie chimed in.

Peter grinned up at her. "And our little Fannie."

"Peter when we go into town for the sheriff can we get married?"

"I'd be disappointed if we didn't." He dropped a kiss on Evlyn's forehead. "Mount up. We need to get help for the wagon train too. It wasn't in such great shape when we left."




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