The Simpson kitchen was crowded with Claybornes. Trudy Simpson was making a fresh pot of coffee for her honored guests. She was thrilled to have the men at her table and wanted to prepare a feast to show her appreciation. The brothers had come to Sweet Creek to help Isabel, and that made them exceptional.
The men spoke in whispers to one another so that Parker wouldn't be disturbed. He was sleeping peacefully up against Cole's shoulder.
The doctor joined them a few minutes later. He dropped a large packet of yellowed papers tied together with a pink ribbon on the table in front of Douglas.
"I took these away from Isabel. It's after one in the morning, and I found her poring over them when she should be sleeping. Why don't you go through them for her? One of the papers has to be the deed to that useless land, and when you find it, I think we ought to burn it, for all the good it's done."
"How is she feeling, Doctor?" Trudy asked.
"She's tuckered out, but otherwise just as fit as can be. You needn't be worrying about our girl."
"It's a miracle this little boy made it," she remarked. She put a platter of ham on the table and turned back to the counter to fetch the biscuits. "Why, he's no bigger than a minute. I don't believe I've ever seen a baby so tiny."
The doctor squeezed a chair in between Adam and Harrison and sat down. "He's not as small as I expected him to be, but he's got to stay put until he has more weight on him. Do you understand what I'm saying, Douglas? Isabel and her boy have got to stay here. Now, since you brought them to us, I'm wanting to know what you're planning to do when trouble comes calling."
"Meaning Boyle and his gunslingers?" Harrison asked.
Douglas had already told his brothers everything he knew about Boyle, and by the time he'd finished giving the details, they were all anxious to meet the man who had single-handedly terrorized an entire town. Cole was the most curious. He was also the most determined to end the tyrant's reign.
"I'll make certain the fight doesn't come into town," Douglas said.
"How are you going to do that?" Dr. Simpson wanted to know.
"Mrs. Simpson, will you please stop staring at me?" Cole asked. "You're making me nervous."
Trudy laughed. "I can't help it. You look just like I expected Marshal Ryan to look. You've got the same color of hair and eyes, and you're as big as he's supposed to be."
"But you've never seen Ryan, have you, ma'am?" he asked, his exasperation apparent.
"It doesn't make any difference. The minister gave us a fine description of the lawman, and almost every Sunday during his preaching time he's told us another story of Ryan's courage."
"Shouldn't he be preaching parables or something from the Bible? Why would he talk about Ryan?" Adam asked.
"To give us hope," Trudy answered. Her eyes got misty with emotion. "Everyone needs to have hope. And when Cole came strutting into my kitchen, I just naturally assumed he was Ryan. That's why I grabbed hold of him and kissed him."
"Ma'am, I don't strut. I walk. And I don't much like being compared to Daniel Ryan," Cole said.
"Why not? The man's a legend, for heaven's sake. Why, the stories we've heard about him, the tales of glory-"
"Begging your pardon, ma'am, but I don't think it's a good idea to tell Cole any of those stories now. He doesn't like the marshal. Fact is, he doesn't like him at all," Adam said.
Trudy's hand flew to her throat. "Oh, no, that can't be. Everyone likes him."
Douglas wasn't paying any attention to the conversation. He stared at the bundle of papers Parker Grant had left his wife. He didn't want to go through them, because every time he thought about her late husband, he became angry. Parker had subjected Isabel to hardships no woman should have to endure.
He shoved the packet across the table to his brother Adam. "You go through them. Pull out the important documents."
Adam immediately pushed the packet in front of Harrison. "You're the attorney. You go through them."
"Why does this have to be done now?" Harrison asked.
"Isabel wants to find the registration for the Arabians. She's got a mind to do something with the papers, but she won't confide in me. She can be stubborn, and you know how women can get a bug up their-"
"Doctor, watch your language please," Trudy reminded him.
"I was only going to say women get a bug up their sleeve, Trudy."
She snorted with disbelief. Her husband quickly changed the subject to avert an argument. "What did you do with those Arabians?" he asked.
"Travis had something in mind. We left it up to him," Adam explained. "Those sure are fine horses," he added with a nod.
Harrison was hunched over the table, reading documents. Douglas was explaining the change the doctor would have to make in his routine until Boyle was taken care of.
"You're going to have to stay here until this is resolved," he said.
"And just what will happen if anyone gets sick in the meantime? I have to go where I'm needed," the doctor argued.
"Then two of my brothers are going to go with you. Cole, you stay in town with Adam and make certain no one gets near this house."
"That's going to mean killing some of Boyle's men," Cole said.
"Then that's what you'll do."
"Who is Patrick O'Donnell?" Harrison asked.
The question caught the doctor's full attention. "Why in heaven's name would you be asking me about crazy Paddy Irish? Did you know him?"
"No, sir, I didn't know him, but his will is here, and his name is on this deed. I was wondering-"
Simpson wouldn't let Harrison continue. "Well now, son, I've got to tell you the story, just like I told Douglas, about Paddy Irish having the last laugh."
Douglas motioned for Harrison to hand him the will and the deed so he could read them while the physician retold the bizarre story about the crazy old Irishman.
The brothers were fascinated by the tale. Douglas was fascinated by the documents he held in his hands. He was rereading the description of the property Parker Grant had inherited from Patrick O'Donnell but still couldn't accept what he was seeing until he'd read the deed a third time.
Simpson had just finished his stpry when Douglas began to laugh. He tried to explain why he was so amused, but every time he began to speak, he was overcome with laughter again.
"Son, you're making me think you're as crazy as old Paddy Irish. What's got you so tickled?"
Douglas handed him the papers. Moments later, Dr. Simpson was also overcome with laughter.
"Good Lord above, there's justice in this sorry world after all," he said as he wiped the tears away from his eyes.
"What's gotten into you two?" Trudy asked.
Cole stood up and began to pace around the kitchen with Parker. The baby had been awakened by all the commotion. "Lower your voices," he snapped. "Parker doesn't like it."
Adam got up and took the baby away from his brother. "You've had him long enough. It's my turn."
"Paddy wasn't crazy, Trudy. Fact is, he was a very clever man."
"And so was Parker Grant," Douglas acknowledged.
He leaned back in his chair and shook his head. "Paddy filed a claim on a piece of land years before Boyle came along and settled here."
The doctor picked up the story then. "Boyle never did give the law a second thought. He liked to take what he wanted. He still does," he thought to add.
"Well now, I reckon he'd only been here a little while when he decided to build himself a grand house on the top hill just outside of town.
"Everyone thought it was kind of peculiar the way Paddy would go out there every single day, rain or shine, to watch the progress being made. It took more than a year to finish it, almost two. Yes, sir, it did. The house was three stories high and had every fancy gadget inside you could ever imagine. A chandelier hanging in the dining room came all the way from Paris, France. Oh, yes, it was a palace all right, and Boyle meant to show it off."
"Where did he get the money to build such a grand house?" Adam asked.
"He rented out most of the land to those foreign barons who have gotten into the cattle business because it's so profitable. The cattle were driven up from Texas to graze on sweet Montana grass. He's made a bloody fortune over the years collecting his rent money."
"Only it wasn't his rent money. It was Paddy's. Paddy owned the land Boyle built his home on," Douglas explained.
"He must have told Boyle the night of the party, because that's when the beatings began. I had to patch Paddy up so many times I lost count."
"Why didn't Boyle simply kill Paddy?" Cole asked.
"Paddy must have gone to an attorney and had a will drawn up. He was smart enough not to taunt Boyle without having some sort of legal protection, and knowing how that crazy Irishman liked to have his fun, I imagine he refused to tell Boyle who would inherit the land after he died. He certainly wouldn't have told him where the will could be found. Paddy was a shrewd one all right."
"Who did inherit?" Adam asked.
"I don't know who he was going to leave everything to when he first had the will drawn up, but you can see from this amendment that he had the will changed after he met Parker and Isabel. Probably because they showed him such kindness, he gave it all to them."
"Then Isabel owns Boyle's house and all the land?" Travis asked.
"Yes," the doctor answered.
"The money Boyle collected from renting the land to the barons belongs to her too," Harrison interjected.
Douglas nodded. "Either Paddy told Boyle right before he died who the land would go to, or Parker told Boyle after Paddy had died. Either way, it was a mistake. Whoever it was should have used the law to force the claim."
"Boyle wouldn't have listened to the law," Simpson said.
Harrison disagreed. "A good attorney would have gotten a judge to confiscate the accounts at the bank. Boyle would have had to go into court and win before he could get his hands on the money again. He would have lost, of course, and poor men can't hire gunmen to do their dirty work."
All of a sudden, the Clayborne brothers were up and moving. Douglas and Cole both pulled out their guns at the same time and headed for the back door. Adam disappeared into the hallway with Parker, while Harrison stood in front of Trudy Simpson with his gun out.
Everyone waited in silence. Trudy jumped when a low whistle sounded from just outside the window.
A second later, Travis came strolling inside, looking weary but happy. He slapped Douglas on his shoulder as he passed him, tipped his hat to Mrs. Simpson before removing it altogether, and then sat down at the table.
Introductions were made, and Trudy did her best to make the latest addition to her table feel welcome.
"Are you hungry, young man? I believe I'll fix you a bite to eat."
"I don't want you to go to any trouble, ma'am."
Trudy had already turned away to fetch her skillet. The doctor poured Travis a cup of coffee and then sat down again. "You're going to eat, son, so you might as well accept it. My Trudy's got her mind set and her frying pan out."
"Yes, sir. I'll eat."
"Did you get my knife back for me?" Douglas asked.
"Yes. I tied Benton to a post inside the barn so he could drive the others crazy with his crying. I've never seen a man weep like that. Honest to God, it was disgusting."
Cole laughed. "We heard you coming up to the door, Travis. You're getting sloppy."
"I wanted you to hear me."
Adam came back into the kitchen with the baby. "Parker's hungry," he remarked.
Douglas immediately got up, took the baby into his arms, and headed for the steps.
Trudy chased after him. "Now, hold on, Douglas. You can't go barging into Isabel's room. It wouldn't be proper."
"Trudy, he delivered that baby," her husband called out. "I don't believe it's going to matter if he sees her in her nightgown now. He's been living under her roof for over two months."
"That was then, and this is now," Trudy said. " Douglas, you had to deliver that baby because there wasn't anyone else around to do it. Things have to be more proper now though. I'll take the baby up."
She wiped her hands on her apron before taking the baby away from Douglas. He didn't give her any argument, for he knew that it would probably be better for Isabel if she didn't see him again. He had hurt her by making her face reality. In time, she would realize he had taken advantage of her, and he hoped to God that when that day came, she wouldn't hate him.
He leaned against the wall, folded his arms across his chest, and stared off into space as he tried to imagine what his life was going to be like without ever seeing Isabel or Parker again.
Harrison pulled him out of his bleak thoughts. "You delivered the baby?"
"Sit down and tell me what it was like."
"Why?" Adam asked.
"I want to be prepared for my son or daughter's birth. I'm a little… nervous about it. I don't like the idea of my wife having pain."
Douglas was thankful for the diversion. He straddled the chair to face Harrison. "You're nervous? I didn't think anything ever got to you."
Harrison shrugged. "Tell me what it was like," he demanded.
Douglas decided to be completely honest. He leaned forward and whispered, "Sheer hell."
"What did he say?" Cole asked.
"He said it was sheer hell," Adam repeated. "Stop joking, Douglas. Harrison 's turning gray."
The brothers found that fact hilarious. Douglas thought he had pretty much summed up the experience, but upon reflection he realized it had only been hell for a little while.
"It wasn't bad," he said. "I was scared at first, and then I was too busy to think about everything that could go wrong. Isabel did all the work, and when I held Parker in my hands…"
The brothers were waiting for him to finish. Douglas shook his head. He didn't want to share the memory. It belonged to Isabel and him, and it was all he would be able to take away with him when he left Sweet Creek.
"It was pretty miraculous, Harrison," he admitted. "So stop worrying. Besides, you won't have to do anything. Mama Rose will help with the delivery."
"I plan on being with my wife when the time comes."
Trudy returned to the kitchen for the coffeepot, then circled the table refilling their cups.
"Thank you," Cole said. "You know what I don't understand?"
"What?" Adam asked.
"The folks in Sweet Creek," Cole said. "How can so many cower to one man?"
"One man with twenty-some gunslingers working for him," the doctor said. "There aren't any cowards in Sweet Creek, but most of the men are ranchers. None of them could hold their own in a fight because they don't have the expertise. Just ask poor Wendell Border."
"What happened to him?" Adam asked.
"Wendell was coming out of church with his wife and two little girls when some men grabbed him. They forced him to kneel down in front of Sam Boyle. Wendell wouldn't beg for mercy, and that was when Boyle ordered them to break both of his hands. Folks tried to stop what was happening, but the hired thugs had their guns out and threatened to kill anyone who got in their way. Poor Wendell's family had to watch. It was a sorry day all right."
"Now do you understand why I was so overcome with joy when I thought you were Marshal Ryan, Cole?" Trudy asked. "You seemed to be the answer to our prayers."
Travis's eyes widened. "I bet you just loved being mistaken for Ryan," he said.
"Everyone in town is going to make the same mistake I made," Trudy insisted.
It was this innocent remark that gave Douglas his plan. Dr. Simpson was excusing himself when Douglas turned to him.
"Doctor, is there a jail in Sweet Creek?" Douglas asked.
"Yes. It's at the opposite end of town, near the stables. No one's been inside since the old sheriff put his badge on his desk and left town. Why do you want to know about the jail?"
"Cole's going to be using it," he replied. "I don't think you'll want to hear any more details, sir. It could get you into trouble with the law."
"All right then," the doctor agreed. "Come on, Trudy. The men need some privacy now. I've got a feeling tomorrow's going to be a hard day for all of us. We might as well get some sleep now while we can."
Douglas waited until the elderly couple had gone upstairs before he told his brothers what he wanted to do.
"Mrs. Simpson told me that everyone in town has been praying for Daniel Ryan to come and save them."
"And?" Cole asked.
Douglas grinned. "Tomorrow, their prayers are going to be answered."
Daniel Ryan, or rather Cole Clayborne masquerading as Daniel Ryan, came riding down the main street of Sweet Creek on Friday morning at precisely ten o'clock. He went directly to the telegraph office, where it was later reported he held a gun to Jasper Cooper's forehead to gain his cooperation in sending a wire to Samuel Boyle, informing him that his accounts had been confiscated.
At that very same moment, Harrison went inside the bank and presented to the officers in charge an impressive-looking document ordering them to remove all the money in Boyle's account to the bank of
Liddyville, where it would remain until the court determined ownership. The document was signed by a judge, but none of the officers could quite make out the signature.
The bank president, as it turned out, wasn't one of Boyle's followers. He didn't look too closely at the papers and didn't waste a minute transferring the money to Liddyville. He did do quite a bit of laughing though and, like Daniel Ryan, seemed to be having the time of his life.
Two of the cashiers helped print up a large sign, which they nailed to the hitching post outside the bank, notifying everyone that Boyle's money was gone.
Word spread like free whiskey, and within two hours at least fifteen of the twenty-five hired hands had left town for parts unknown. Their loyalty ran out with the money. Those who were determined to wait for Boyle to straighten out the situation were arrested by Marshal Ryan and two deputies, and duly locked in the jail.
None of what the Claybornes were doing was legal, a fact that Harrison pointed out at least a dozen times. Cole could get twenty years of hard labor for impersonating a lawman, and Harrison would be sharing the cell with him for falsifying documents.
Cole refused to worry about the consequences. It was his fervent hope that Ryan would hear he had an impersonator and come looking for him. Then Cole would finally get back the compass the lawman had taken from Mama Rose.
Douglas went after Boyle. He wouldn't let any of his brothers go with him and refused to give any details of what he planned to do. He asked Dr. Simpson to tell Wendell Border to bring his family to church the following Sunday, and to step outside at exactly eleven o'clock. There would be a surprise waiting for him.
Needless to say, that day the church was packed to the rafters. The Reverend Thomas Stevenson was thrilled to have a full house and decided to make the most of it. He threw out the sermon he'd prepared and preached about the fires of hell instead. He ranted, he raved, and he threatened. Anyone who failed to attend his church on a regular basis was doomed to spend eternity burning in hell. Oh, the reverend worked himself into a fine lather all right, screaming and pounding his fists on his pulpit while he worked the congregation into a frenzy of guilt and put the fear of God into their hearts.
He was right in the middle of screaming the word "damnation" when Wendell Border and his family stood up.
The preacher stopped in mid-shout. "Is it time then, Wendell?"
"It's going on eleven," Wendell called back.
The crowd waited in breathless silence for Wendell to leave his pew and lead the way outside. His wife held on to her husband's arm and walked beside him, while their two little girls skipped along behind.
In their wildest speculations, none of the townspeople could have guessed what was going to happen.
Coming down the center of the street toward the church was Sam Boyle. Douglas walked behind him and prodded him forward with the barrel of his shotgun.
Folks started laughing. Boyle didn't look so fierce now. He was dressed in dirty long underwear and nothing else. He hopped from bare foot to bare foot with his head down, and even though the laughter drowned out all other sounds, everyone could see that Boyle was crying.
No, he didn't look like much of a threat to anyone now, not even to the children. The bully had been revealed at last, and only the coward remained.
Dr. Simpson told Isabel later that Douglas had found something better than death to punish Boyle with. He'd used his pride to destroy him.
Boyle cried all the way to the steps, then knelt down in front of Wendell and begged his forgiveness. Wendell wasn't in the mood to give it, and so he remained stubbornly silent.
The law-abiding citizens of Sweet Creek chased Boyle out of town. No one expected him to ever return, but if he did, they would measure out justice once again. His mantle of power had made him seem invincible to those he terrorized, but now the town had seen him for what he really was and stopped being afraid.
Peter Collins, the stableman, stepped forward to offer his services as sheriff. Cole, still masquerading as Daniel Ryan, took the time and trouble to swear him in.
The Claybornes left town a few hours later. Douglas left his heart behind.