~~~So the two girls, they took off down the street, and lo and behold, who did they see up ahead, but none other than Sheriff Kanto--and he was lookin’ a mite soggy and more than a mite irritated. O’ course, they run and hid in one o’ their favorite hidin’ places, over at Mr. Sorrowman place. You remember Eugene Sorrowman, don’t you? He’s the undertaker. The girls actually laid in some coffins and pulled the lids shut after ‘em. Yep...they was more scared o’ havin’ to talk to JF’ than they was o’ laying inside a pine box with the lid closed.
Meanwhile, Dio happened to stop by at the Gem , partly to get a cuppa joe, and partly because she wanted to see if Clay had had any luck organizing a work party to dig out the bodies of some miners who had been killed in a mine collapse the day before. Nobody had been real enthusiastic about goin’ into a mine that had a history of collapsing , just to recover some dead fellers who were kinda sorta already buried in a way. But Clay was gonna try, and I’m sure you will recall that Dio had gone and developed a concern for seeing to it that deceased folks got laid to rest properly, so she had an interest in his progress on the issue..
While Dio was having Jemima pour her a cup of good, strong black coffee, Clay came down from his upstairs office.
“Dio, how are ya?” he called out in his usual cheerful manner.
“I'm well enough, Clay. What's goin on tonite?”
Clay frowned slightly. “Not much...had to postpone getting the bodies out of the mine... hey, ya seen Carrie Anne yet?”
“Nope. She ok?”
“Oh yes she's fine,” replied Clay. “However...ah...they pushed that little Alonzo kid in the water an’ he might have drowned...”
Dio looked up, stunned. “Who did this?!”
“Carrie Anne and Elizabeth...”
“When did this happen?”
“Earlier today before I rode into town...”
“Goddamit,” muttered Dio.
Clay gave a little shrug. “Well, Dio, ya know that boy... reckon he was annoyin’ them and they was foolin...”
Dio sighed. “Yeah, I know that the boy is a real goddam annoyance, but that ain't no cause to go an' put him at risk like that.”
"Well we ain't sure he is dead yet...we ain't found a body... just hopeful..."
Just as Dio was trying to figure out if Clay meant that people were hopeful of finding Alonzo alive, or if he meant they were hoping to find a cold, stiff and no longer annoying body, she saw Carrie Anne and Elizabeth go past outside the window. A wave of anger surged in her as they clearly saw her through the smudged and rippled glass, but then they took off down the street.
Dio was about to yell something profane and take off after them, but as she was reaching for the door-handle she heard Clay speak in an uncharacteristically soft voice:
“Jus so ya know...she’s afraid ya’re gonna boot her out.”
Dio stopped dead in her tracks for a moment, looked back at Clay...and feelin’ the anger subside somewhat, she nodded and turned to go out and follow the girls.
She could see them goin’ into the No. 10. As she entered, she could hear the two young’uns. panting, trying to catch their breath. The looked up as she came in and gently closed the door behind her. As she did so, Carrie Anne and Elizabeth backed away from her towards the far wall of the saloon.
Dio’s face was impassive, her voice was quiet. “How come you two see me in the Gem, and rush right on by without so much as a friendly wave, an’ take off runnin’ down here like somethin’ is puttin the fear o hellfire soup an brimstone puddin into yer hearts?”
Elizabeth looked desperate. “There was a man was going to kill us,” she offered in a feeble lil' voice.
Carrie Anne nodded somewhat tentatively. “We...we we're runnin' away from someone, an...”
Dio started to respond, “Lizabeth...I...”
But then she she just looked at the floor and shook her head sadly.
The girls looked at one another...Elizabeth was biting her lip, and Carrie Anne’s eyes had gone all dull an’ hopeless...finally she looked up at Dio and spoke.
“It's a long story, an' Mr Clay says we won't hang for it, but we're worried Mr Kanto might kill us anyways...”
Dio looked perplexed. “You were running away from JF...from Sheriff Kanto?”
Elizabeth could only mumble something about, “at least Mister JF isn’t dead, at least Missus Kanto won’t kill me...”
Realizing that Elizabeth was going to be of little help in this phase of things, Carrie Anne went on, “We were runnin' from Mr Kanto earlier, after we thought we murdered someone...”
Dio’s face still betrayed no emotion. Elizabeth began to hope that perhaps Clay hadn't told Dio anything, and thought maybe Carrie Anne was saying too much...but her friend seemed inclined to continue the explanation.
“We hid in the children's coffins that the undertaker has...”
“The undertaker has A LOT of children-sized coffins, Miss Dio! Did you know that?” Elizabeth added eagerly.
Carrie Anne nodded her head, "it's true.”
Elizabeth decided to run with this new direction for the conversation, hoping that Dio would find it so engaging that she would plumb forget about the rest of the situation. “I always wonder, why are we born if we are just going to die... don't you wonder that Miss Dio?”
The woman in buckskins closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose as if her head hurt really, really fuckin’ bad. And then finally after a long pause, she spoke again, in a voice that was low and quiet, but hard as flint in winter.
“Hush up. An’ think real goddam hard before ye say another word. Now, rather than goin' on with anymore clabber about coffins, an Mr. JF an all that cocktwaddle....ye'd best fess up an' tell me what happened.”
Right then, Roku happened to walk in.
“Howdy Dio, howdy girls...”
Carrie Anne vaguely hoped that Dio would get distracted talking with her friend, and would forget about her and Elizabeth. She quickly saw this was a forlorn hope as Dio said without takin’ her eyes off the girls:
“Hello Roku. You might as well listen to this. These two have got somethin’ they need to tell me about.”
Elizabeth blinked a way some tears and then took a gulp and finally blurted out, “It was my fault, I started it, please don't give Carrie away!”
Carrie Anne clutched her friend’s hand, and Elizabeth gripped it tightly, even as she felt a few tears trickle down her cheeks and some snot comin’ out of her nose, which she wiped with the sleeve of her free arm.
Dio sighed. “First off, I ain't gonna let Roku toss ye in the river, and I ain't gonna make Carrie Anne go away...nothin as ill as that...but ye need to stop blowin smoke up m' ass an tell me what truly happened.”
Carrie Anne looked at Elizabeth a moment and then gripped her hand a lil' bit tighter (as if that was even possible). “We pushed Alonzo in the Whitewood creek...and...and he might be dead. Mr. Kanto went to find him...and well we didn’t see them for a while, and we worried Mr. Kanto mighta drowned too...but then we saw him down the street by the bridge, and he was all wet ‘n mad lookin’...so that was why we were hidin’ and runnin’...”
Dio’s expression still had not changed. “Thank ye, Carrie Anne. I appreciate ye tellin’ me straight-up like that.
Roku however, was frowning. “That was a damned wicked thing to do, Carrie Anne!"
Dio did not agree or disagree with Roku’s assessment. Instead she simply stated, “Now is the opportunity for ye to endeavor to tell me why this seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Elizabeth looked at Carrie Anne, and then offered the rationale, “Wellll....Alonzo is a pain and shoves his rat in our faces and follows us everywhere...”
“Yep sounds like ‘Lonzo allright, “ agreed Dio. “But why did ye push the poor lil’ puke in the drink?”
“Well, we were down by the creek,” continued Elizabeth, “and he comes up and then he was just standing there for the longest time saying nothing, just staring and staring at us, and then he turned...So we pushed him a little, I did first and he went a step forward and then...and we...um...just pushed too hard I guess.”
“Mr Clay promised we wouldn’t hang for it,” added Carrie Anne. “He wouldn’t give us any money to run away, though...”
For some reason, Elizabeth decided this would be a good time to expound on that aspect of the adventure:
“No, we were thinking about blowing up the bank but.... “ Her voice trailed off as she realized that this information probably wasn’t improving their bargaining position.
But Dio was not looking at Elizabeth. Her eyes were boring into Carrie Anne.
“Now Hon, runnin’ away ain't somethin’ that a Kuhr does.”
“Dio, I think Elizabeth is a bad influence on Carrie Anne,” said Roku in a harsh tone. “I don’t think Carrie Anne should hang around with her...she is corruptin’ Carrie Anne.”
CarrieAnne and Elizabeth looked at one another in surprise. “I...I never have been in any trouble before,” said Elizabeth in a weak lil’ voice. She blinked away some fresh tears, and Carrie Anne patted her friend on the back. Elizabeth was sobbing harder and moaned, “This is the first bad thing I ever did and now I can't even have a friend!”
Carrie Anne whispered, “'It's ok, I been beat lots, I’ll tell Mr. Kanto it was all my doin'..."
But Elizabeth just sobbed even harder, “I said it was my fault! I SAID IT!”
Dio looked at Elizabeth for a moment or two, and although she did not visibly show it, she was considerably moved by the intensity and sincerity of the child’s anguish. "Roku,” she said quietly, “It sounds to me like both these gals made some bad choices...I don’t think tis fair to say one was a bad influence on the other. I’m thinkin’ they both need to be accepting’ the consequences of what they have done, but I don’t think sayin’ they can’t be friends cuz o’ this makes much sense.”
Roku shrugged. “Well, ah warned Carrie Anne to be good or ah would drop her in the crik--ya don’t be pushin’ folks in a rushin’ stream like that. Carrie Anne. ah knows ya knows bettah than that. This is some serious shit, Dio.”
“I pretty much agree with ye there,” answered Dio, even though in the back of her mind she was wondering if the girls would find it oddly inconsistent that Roku would threaten to toss them in the creek for doing something like pushing someone into that same creek. Nonetheless, she went on. “But I think they both shoulda known better. Did either o’ ye stop to think that dirt-eatin clotpoll 'Lonzo don’t know how to swim? Don’t ye know that just the other night that feckless, lackwit chile fell in the drink all on his own, without no one propellin’ him thus, an’ Mr. Seth had to jump in an’ fish him out?”
Elizabeth, her body still heaving with silent sobs, looked up:
Carrie Anne looked glumly at her hands and said softly, “No, ma'am. I didn't know." She was starting to wish they would just beat her and get it over with.
“Ah don’t thinks these little urchins know how much troubles they is in,” snarled Roku.
Dio sighed. “I reckon I could beat the tar outta both of ye....but like Carrie Anne says, she's been thru' that b'fore, an’ I ain’t sure it accomplishes much other than makin' a lotta noise. An’ I could let Roku toss y'all in the crik, but knowin’ Roku and knowin’ you young’uns, it would probbly jus’ somehow end up bein’ fun fer y'all...”
Roku folder her arms across her formidable chest and glared at Carrie Anne. “Well, mebbe ah ain’t in any mood to be tossin’ anyone in the crik. Ah am just soooo disappointed in you, Carrie Anne.”
Carrie Anne had been trying very, very hard to not cry, but now she felt a tear slip down her face. “I'm sorry Miss Roku."
“I do believe,” said Dio, “that Roku has hit the goddam nail on its flat lil ol head...she is disappointed in ye...an’ dammit, I'm disappointed in ye both as well. I mean, Christ’s bootlaces, gals, I'd expect this kind o’ dirt-eatin’ stupid-ass tomfoolery from the likes o’ that lil peckerhead in petticoats, Addi...but goddammit, I expected better from you two.”
At first, Carrie Anne was surprised that the entire time Dio was speaking, she did not raise her voice. She did not wave her arms around or make a huge scene like some adults would have done. But the more Dio went on in that hard and even tone, the worse it felt. Carrie Anne dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands trying to keep herself focused on the words, thinking to herself, “whatever you do, don't cry...”
And she didn’t cry. But she did suddenly bolt for the door and dash out into the street.
“Carrie Anne, come back heah now!!!” shouted Roku.
Right then, even as they were staring in the direction in which Carrie Anne had just disappeared, Clay came strolling into the saloon.
“Hey Dio, howdy Roku! Say I got some good news for ya...well, sorta good from a certain point o’ view, I reckon. They found that little shithead Alonzo, wanderin’ along Sherman Street, drippin wet with his soggy pet rat and all...no worse for wear!”
Dio breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank ye Clay, I am greatly appreciative o’ that intelligence. I am vastly relieved to hear that. Now Elizabeth, where is yer Aunt Marrant? Is she about?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “No ma’am. She has gone to Gayville, running some errands with Mrs. Kanto.”
“Very well,” said Dio. “Roku, I ain't sure what to do about ‘Lizabeth..she ain't my responsibility--it’ll be up to her Aunt to decide her punishment...but in the meantime, I would be greatly obliged if’n ye would keep an eye on her fer the time bein’....I have to go find Carrie Anne.”
As she started to leave, Elizabeth spoke up. “Miss Dio?”
“I am very sorry and want you to know I never did anything like this before.”
“Well, chile, sorry is a place to start. But you will do what Miz Roku says, cuz now I needs to go find Carrie Anne.”
Elizabeth stared at her feet. “She's hiding because she's afraid you'll make her leave.”
Dio nodded. She had heard that before.
Roku pointed at the door. “Well go on! You go find her! If Elizabeth moves, ah will probably shoot her.”
Ignoring Elizabeth’s horrified expression, Dio went out into the street. She asked a few people along Main if they had seen a small, blond-haired girl running by, but no one had. Even so, Dio had a pretty good idea where to find her.
In addition to working as a security man for Clay at the Gem, Silver also ran a livery stable on the edge of town--in fact he lived in the loft over the stable. Knowing that Carrie Anne was fond of Silver and the horses, Dio figured it would be a good place to start in her search. Sure enough, it proved to be a good place to end the search as well, because Dio found the girl up in the loft, crouched behind Silver's bunk.
Carrie Anne looked up in fear as Dio cleared her throat.
“Carrie Anne,” said Dio in the same flat, serious tone she had used before, “what did I tell ye about bein' a Kuhr?”
The girl blinked for a moment, surprised that she was not being yelled at or thrashed. Then she answered simply, “you don't run away...”
Dio shook her head. “No Hon. Ye don't have it quite right. It's that WE don’t run away. We make mistakes. Bein’ a Kuhr ain't about bein’ perfect. But we face the consequences o’ what we have done.”
The significance of Dio’s emphasis on the word “we” was starting to sink in with Carrie Anne. “Yes'm. You know, we weren’t tryin' to hurt Alonzo...”
For the first time in a while, Dio smiled. “Well ye managed not to, Hon. Right after ye ran out, Mr. Clay came along an’ informed us that ‘Lonzo seems to have fished hisself outta the crik with no major damage done...him an’ that mangy rat o’ his are in good condition. The ridiculous mud-eatin’ puke might not be able to swim, but apparently he can float just fine.”
Carrie Anne smiled slightly, glad that they hadn’t in fact murdered Alonzo...at the same time she suddenly felt some small irritation as she realized that he would still be around, annoying her and Elizabeth.
But Dio was not done discussing things yet. “Look Hon, lord knows I made more mistakes than I made o’ good choices. But one thing I know I have done what wasn't no mistake was askin’ ye to come be famly with me. Yeah, ye made a boneheaded, ill-thought-out mistake...but hell’s britches, I reckon that makes ye more like a member o’ my famly than most other things. Just remember above all, when we makes mistakes we face up to it an’ take our lumps. Comprenday?”
Dio straightened up and looked around the loft. “Ye know what I like about Mr. Silver's stable here?”
“Settin’ on the edge o’ the loft door an lookin’ out at Deadwood crik. Come on, Hon.”
Dio swung open the big loft door and they sat on the edge, their legs dangling out into space, watching the fast-running creek, swollen with the recent rains.
After a spell, Dio looked at the girl next to her. “Yer sorry about what ye did, ain’t ye?
“What do ye think I oughtta do to be makin sure ye don't do this kinda thing agin?”
“You can lock me in a cellar.”
“I ain't got a cellar...an’ b‘sides, what would that teach ye?”
“Oh, that's what my pa always did when I was bad. It taught me to be afraid of the dark
“Well, I ain't yer Dad, an’ bein’ afraid o’ the dark ain't nothin’ useful...they's a lot o’ important shit that folks gotta do in the dark. An’ like I said before, I ain't a gonna hit ye. It jus’ don’t set well with me to be hittin’ someone who is a lot smaller than I am.
“I don't know then...I don't know what you should do.”
“Well, Hon we jus’ gotta make sure tis somethin’ useful an’ educational...and oh, by the way, I want ye to keep bein' friends with 'Lizabeth...ye kin keep seein' her...but you have to give me a promise...”
Carrie Anne nodded. “What do you want me to promise?”
Dio grinned a little grin. “When the chile is about to do somethin’ that you know ain't right...ye gotta tell her to knock it off. An’ if’n she persists, ye have m' leave to bop her one. Will ye undertake to do that?”
"Yes’m. I promise"
“Anyhow, another possible punishment I had thought about was maybe you wouldn’t be allowed to ride yer pony fer a few weeks or so...but if yer on the path to bein a true Kuhr, ye'll probbly jus’ sneak off to do it, an’ I ain't a gonna put ye in that position.” Dio laughed a little, obviously thinking about somethin’ from her own childhood.
Then she got serious again. “No Hon, what I am a gonna do is that once a week fer the next month, yer gonna get all the linens an dirty clothes from the orphanage an’ take em to the laundry an’ give all a scrubbin’...an whilst yer scrubbin the stuff from the orphanage, I want ye to be thinkin’ about the young’uns who was last usin’ em--especially Alonzo, an’ how he ain't got no one. Cuz ye know, mebbe that's one o’ the reasons why he acts in the irritatin' fashion what he does: bein’ without kin or anyone to care about him.
Carrie Anne wrinkled her nose, knowing how grubby the linens would be...and then she frowned feeling bad for Alonzo.
“Ye know how to do proper washin’ with hot water an' lye soap an' all?” asked Dio.
“Yes’m. I always did the laundry, as soon as I was old enough.”
“Yep me too...was the only woman thing m' ma ever taught me about.”
“I should go get started," said Carrie Anne.
“Yep, let's go.”