20. April 2008 · Comments Off on A Taste of Texan Good Stuff · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Old West

Just a small taste to whet the appetite, a climactic chapter from the final volume of the Adelsverein Trilogy. All three volumes will be available in December, 2008 from Booklocker.com and all the usual sources.

The Civil War is over, some little prosperity is beginning to return to the Hill Country and the Becker and Richter families.

Chapter Ten: Day of Reckoning

It all seems very quiet,” Magda remarked on the Saturday that she and Anna reopened the store. “And so empty!” It was a week after Rosalie’s funeral, a week after Hansi and the boys had returned, empty-handed and covered in trail-dirt, on horses trembling from weariness.
“I still keep expecting to see Vati in his room, or sitting under the pear tree,” Anna agreed, wistfully. “I wish Papa and I could induce Mama to leave her room, but she will not hear of it.” Hansi had exhausted himself, pleading fruitlessly with Liesel. He had finally lost his temper and left with Jacob, taking a wagon load of goods to Kerrville. He had promised to deliver a load of cut timber to the Becker farm, where work had commenced on the house after the spring cattle round-up. Magda didn’t know if Liesel would have forgiven Hansi by the time he returned and was herself too grieved over Rosalie to care very much.
“It’s like one of those starfish,” Sam observed earnestly. He plied a broom with great energy, although Magda thought he was merely stirring the dust around. “When it loses one of its arms.”
“How is that, Sam?” his mother asked, much puzzled.
“It grows another one to replace it.” Sam scowled, thoughtfully. “Or maybe it’s one of those jellyfish things I am thinking of. It grows again into the shape it needs, even if it’s not in quite the same shape as it was before.”
“Clear as mud, Samuel,” Anna said, but secretly Magda thought her son was right. The household, her family—it was reshaping itself, like a starfish. Wearily, she wondered if the starfish, or whatever Sam was thinking of, felt pain when part of it was cut off. For they all felt pain, but only Liesel was incapacitated by it, by the unbearable absence, the emptiness in the places where Willi and Grete should have been. She had withdrawn into her deep, deep cellar, leaving Marie to cope valiantly with the household, aided as always by Mrs. Schmidt in the mornings and by Magda and Anna whenever they could step away from the shop and Hansi’s freighting concerns. She refused to come downstairs, and on many days even remained in her room.
Vati might have been able to coax Liesel to come forth, he had always been good with her; but then there was the Vati-shaped absence where he had always been, as well. Magda had the same sense that had haunted her in the months after Carl Becker’s death—that he had not really gone, but was somewhere in the house or close by. When she looked into the parlor, or out to the garden, she half-expected to see Vati there, dozing over a book with his glasses slipping down over his nose, or deep in some abstruse discussion with Pastor Altmueller.
Hansi insisted she move into Vati’s room; certainly she preferred that to her old room, which for her was marked forever as the place where Rosalie had suffered and where the miasma of death seemed still clinging to the walls. Still, there was something restful about returning to the shop, restful and yet exhilarating. All the plans they had made while in Indianola, which had needed to be set aside for Vati’s final illness, could now be picked up again and moved towards fulfillment.

Very gradually, over the weeks and months of the summer, that summer of the first full year of peace, they were able to do just that. Lottie began school that autumn, walking to the schoolhouse between Hannah and Sam, blithe and eager, with not a backwards look to Magda lingering in the shop door watching after them. Her older brother and sister had earnestly begun teaching her letters, marking out the shapes on Sam’s school slate, and challenging her to sound out the letters of the shopkeepers’ signs along Main Street. Lottie stopped asking wistfully after Grete about that time. She was a sensible and sensitive child; Magda thought that her younger daughter had worked out for herself the connection between the absence of her almost-twin cousin, and her aunt’s withdrawal into seclusion.
There had never been any news of the children, in spite of all the letters that Anna wrote in careful English on behalf of her father: letters to the governor, to the officer commanding Federal Army troops in Texas and the territories, to the Territorial Indian agency. They received replies, expressing regret and occasionally even sympathy, but nothing more effective than that. Encouraged by Charley Nimitz, they placed advertisements in certain newspapers in Kansas and the Indian Territories, asking for information and promising a reward should that information lead to the return of Willi and Grete Richter, seven and four years of age, taken by Comanche raiders from Gillespie County in the spring of 1866. They received some reply to those, but mostly semi-literate scrawls asking for money in exchange for information.
“They are extortionists, Papa,” Anna said firmly. She burned the letters before Liesel could see them and frantically beg her husband to pay anything, anything at all, to anyone who claimed to know where the children were.
Liesel grew pale from confinement indoors, and thin—thinner than she ever had been as a girl. Hansi’s dark hair began to grow out in streaks of gray, and the skin under his eyes increasingly appeared bruised, as if he did not sleep well. When he did sleep at home, he spent those nights less and less often with his wife. Magda thought that he made the excuse of not disturbing Liesel so he could stay at the Sunday House, or in the room that Sam shared with Elias and any of the older boys who were at home.
On a weekday in November, he was in the office going through circulars with Magda and planning another buying trip to the coast. Marie came into the shop, saying, “Papa, there is a man at the door, saying he has an appointment with you!”
“Well, show him into the parlor.” Hansi ran his hand impatiently over his hair. “Thunder and lightning, is it Thursday already? Don’t just stand there, Marie, go on! Show Mr. Johnson into the parlor!”
“Papa . . . Mr. Johnson is a darkie!” Marie pleaded, in an agony of embarrassment.
Hansi snorted. “Marie, my silly goose, I am hiring Mr. Johnson to do a job for me. If he does what he says he can do, I will be in such debt to him that he may make amorous advances towards you under my own roof and I will have no objection at all. Go! Say that I shall join him in a moment.” Marie fled, crimson with embarrassment.
Hansi chuckled at Magda’s expression of shock. “He wouldn’t, of course; besides being one of nature’s own gentlemen, he’s married—and married to a woman that he all but moved heaven and earth for, when she was taken by the Indians, two years ago. Besides,” Hansi stood from the desk with a grunt of effort and pulled on his good coat, “he’s a sensible man and a bold one, too. He has connections among the friendly Indians, so they say. Tell Anna to close the shop for a bit. I want her to hear what I have to say. You too, Magda.”
“Who is this Mr. Johnson, then?” Magda asked, as she followed after her brother-in-law. “What does he do and why do you think that he, of all people, can help you get your children back?”
“Because he did it before,” Hansi answered. As Anna locked the door and followed them towards the parlor he explained, “He worked as a foreman, first for the family which owned him and then for another. His wife and two children were taken two years ago in the Elm Creek raid. He went and got them back, spent a year prowling among the Indian camps in the territories. He’s a trusty man as well as having the very nerve! I made enquiries, you know. If you can send a man out to search and carry the ransom money for strangers, then I think I may trust him with about anything else. Including,” he added with a heavy attempt at humor, “the virtue of my own daughters in the parlor, under my own roof, eh? Think I can depend upon the wild African to restrain himself?”
“Papa, there are folk you must not make a jest like that to,” Anna said in all seriousness.
Hansi laughed again. “I know, Anna pet. I know. You, your mother and your aunt are about the only ones to whom I might say something of the sort.” His face sobered as he put a hand to the parlor door. “She would laugh, so much. I would give much to have her back again with us, in her own good temper once more!” He opened the parlor door, saying as he strode within, “Mr. Johnson—so generous with your time to come all this way. Please, do sit down. My daughter and sister-in-law I wish to be present.”
Not a proper, formal introduction, Magda thought. Such was the way of this country, even such as Hansi had become attuned to it. Receiving a colored man in the parlor, having his daughter and sister-in-law touch his hand, acknowledge him in courtesy. No, Hansi had become a man of business; he would not offend against custom to that extent.
Anna stepped forward, her voice perfectly controlled. “Miss Anna Richter,” she said, evenly in precise English. “I serve as Papa’s secretary. He has asked me to be present, Mr. Johnson. He tells me you may be able to retrieve my brother and sister from the hands of their captors. Do make yourself at ease and tell us of how you expect to accomplish this, when so many others have failed us in this respect. This is my aunt, Mrs. Becker,” Anna added with a challenging flash of her eyes. “My dear mother is indisposed; her sister takes her place as far as the proprieties are concerned.”
Hansi’s guest had not sat down. He stood by the parlor stove, not at his ease, yet seeming to be comfortable, assured. He barely brushed Anna’s fingertips with his own, nodded courteously at Magda. “I cain’t much promise anything, Miz Richter, only that I will do my bes’.”
“So,” Hansi rumbled, “do, please—sit, sit, sit!” He gestured Mr. Johnson towards a chair and the visitor perched on its edge. He was wary and watchful, as if unaccustomed to well-adorned and comfortable parlors; but not nervous. His eyes flicked once, twice around the room, making a swift assessment of his surroundings and of Anna and Magda, before fixing his attention on Hansi, who continued, “You did not say how you came to hear of our need?”
“A frien’ tole me about your advertising in de papers.” Mr. Johnson had a deep voice, like a bass viol. His dark hair was cut close to his scalp, but other than that and the set of his mouth, Magda did not think he looked particularly African. He was not even as black as some of the slaves she had seen since coming to Texas, but rather dark brown and well-formed. “They knew I was set on going to Indian Territory in de summer to search for Miz Fitzpatrick’s youngest granddaughter. So dey says as I ought to send notice to you, since you have kinfolk taken captive. It might be of service if’n I look for your chirren as well.”
“So it would be,” Hansi answered.
Anna said in very precise English, “You seek payment of sorts, we presume?”
Johnson replied with immense and careful courtesy, “Your father said a wage in his letter to me, but money ain’t a necessity, Miz Richter, not ‘til I find the chirren, if the Lord ‘lows it. Then I sees what ransom the Injuns want. I don’t wants you to open your purse, ‘til I come back from de territory and tell you face to face, an’ dat be de truth.” Magda, sitting quiet in the corner, thought it sounded like a dignified reproof and wondered what it was about him that seemed so familiar.
Hansi replied with his own dignity, “Since you are undertaking such an enterprise at least partially on our behalf, I insist you allow us to provide you with supplies necessary for your long journey.”
“I wouldn’t say no to that, seh, I surely wouldn’t,” Mr. Johnson answered. His reserve thawed a little, for he smiled, an unexpectedly sweet smile. Magda realized why she had been struck with such a feeling of familiarity. He reminded her of her husband. Not in any particular physical likeness between them, aside from height, but that they both reflected the same self-contained reserve and air of quiet competence. Men of the frontier, they were; used to being alone and supremely confident in their abilities to venture into the wilderness and survive against any odds they found there. If Carl Becker had sat in the parlor of Vati’s house and calmly announced that he was going to go to Indian Territory to ransom Willi and Grete back from captivity, Magda wouldn’t have doubted for a second his ability to do exactly that. So it was with this man. He listened with grave sympathy as Hansi spoke of Willi and Grete, of their ages and appearances, of the pale scar on Willi’s back just under the shoulderblade and the tiny chickenpox scar in the very center of Grete’s forehead. He spoke also of the circumstances under which they had been taken and the fruitless pursuit of their captors. Mr. Johnson listened and talked little of his plans, only that he had intended to seek out a chief who was a particular friend of his, who had served as a mediator on his previous quest into the Llano country and Indian Territory.
Finally, Anna tilted her head and looked at him skeptically. “And may we ask why you are so ready to undertake such a mission as this, for so little reward and so much risk to yourself?”
“’Cause I’m right good at it, Miz Richter,” he answered. “An’ mebbe the Lord has called me to use that fo’ other folk, they as knows what it’s like to ride like the very devil hisself an’ come home too late . . . find they own son dead on the porch and the house afire, an’ Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s daughter scalped an’ dead with a empty rifle in her hands. It took me pert-near two years to get my Mary back and the babies with her and Mister White’s boy, but I did it. I found some Injuns an’ made dem hep me fin’ dose who had my fambly. I came back an’ I raised de ransom my own self, an me an’ Mister White, we went out an’ we got our own back. So, I got de callin’, Mister Richter, Miz Richter. De Lord, he say you got de talent, you cain’t put dat under no basket. Miz Fitzpatrick, she say her lil gran’baby still out dere,” He regarded them steadily, his determination a quiet thing, like the limestone that underlay the hills around them. “So, I’m goin’ back, bring dem babies home where dey belong just like I brung my own home.”
“You are the first to speak to us and offer hope,” Hansi noted, his own voice deep with suppressed emotion. “The first to speak so, since we lost the trail of the party who took them.”
“I ain’t brought them back yet.” Mr. Johnson shook his head, as if to warn them against expecting miracles, but his quiet certainty was as a tonic.
“None the less,” Hansi stood, as if to indicate that he had made a decision on the matter, “we shall support you in this venture, Johnson—support you with whatever you need. If you come to the house tomorrow, my daughter will provide you with letters of credit and introduction. I have friends in certain towns along your way. With my good word, they will supply you with all you require.” As they shook hands, Hansi gripped Johnson’s hand in both of his, begging, “Bring them back to us! My dear wife is nearly destroyed at the loss of her children.”
“Unnerstand.” Johnson also appeared much moved. “The Lord will guide my feet, and set my eyes on the heavens.”
“Good, good.” Hansi pulled himself together with an effort and made as if to show Johnson out of the parlor. As they went into the hallway, Magda heard her brother-in-law say, “So, Mr. Johnson, what is your profession, then? A scout for the Army, or a huntsman of the buffalo?”
“I allus done a lil freight-haulin’,” Johnson replied, “wit’ my own wagon an’ team. An’ I useta manage Miz Fitspatrick’s land fo her, but that wuz before she an’ the chirrin an’ my Mary was all took by Injuns. Now, I took my fambly an’ settled in Weatherford, over in Parker County. I do some teamsterin’ now, haulin’ more freight out to dem Army posts.”
“Ah!” Hansi sounded very jolly as he opened the front door, and showed their visitor out. “I’ve always thought, if you can trust a man out and about driving a wagon full of your own property, you can trust him with about anything else.”

The next day Mr. Johnson came for Hansi’s promised letters. He was going north, he said, and advised them gravely not to look for word or his return immediately. It would take months of patient search and negotiation among the skin lodges of the Comanche and the Kiowa. But in spite of his words, their hopes had been raised—only to gradually deflate over that long span of time.
As winter came on, Liesel still kept to her room, but she would emerge on occasion, come downstairs and busy herself in the kitchen as of old. She took to sewing, almost compulsively, doing all the household mending. Liesel seemed quite cheerful then, with her mouth full of pins and slashing energetically with the sewing shears, fashion-papers strewn all about the bedroom that she and Hansi did not share.
By degrees, Magda and Anna became accustomed to that state of affairs. “Really, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry,” Anna said, twirling around to show off a new dress that Liesel had pressed upon her one afternoon. “It’s like having a fairy dressmaker locked up in the attic.”
“Your Mama has always done beautiful work,” Magda said as Anna tied her shop apron over the new dress. They were in the workroom, where Magda was sorting through the mail.
“Good that you think so,” Anna replied, “for she has one for you nearly finished.”
“In black, I hope,” Magda said austerely. Anna nodded.
“Merino wool, with jet buttons. But I am worried, Auntie. She is also making clothes for the children, for Willi and Grete. For when they return, she says.”
“Oh, dear,” Magda sighed. “I wonder if that is wise, Annchen?”
“I don’t see how we can stop her from doing so,” Anna said, with an air of utter practicality. “After all, it is of somewhat more use than wringing her hands and cursing Papa.”
“True,” Magda sighed. “And doubtless, they will need new clothes.”
“It has been nearly a year,” Anna said. She would have sounded harsh, but for that she was holding her grief in firm check. She came and sat at Magda’s side, pulling up Vati’s old work stool. “And no word of them in all that time—Auntie, what do we tell her when it becomes clear to everyone that my brother and sister are really gone? That no one can find them, and they are most likely dead? How long can we hold on to hope before that hope becomes destructive?”
“I don’t know, Annchen.” Magda was heart-sore because she had begun to wonder the same thing. Death was final and grief . . . well, if not final, became a familiar thing, something that one grew accustomed to. Uncertainty and hope endlessly deferred; that was a wound freshly inflicted every day and every hour. “Mr. Johnson did warn us.”
“A charlatan like all the others,” Anna sniffed dismissively. As Magda slit opened another letter Anna asked, “That one’s not from him, is it?”
“No,” Magda answered, as she read the short missive within. “It’s from Porfirio.” She laid down the letter, her face as white as linen. “Auntie, what is the matter!?” Anna cried.
“He says that J.P. Waldrip has returned from Mexico! That he has been seen in San Antonio! Anna, mind the shop for a bit, I must take this to Charley Nimitz.”
Magda crammed the letter into the leather valise that she carried with her always. She put on her bonnet and shawl, fairly running all the way down Main Street to Charley’s hotel. Hansi was on the road with his wagons, and her son was trying to restore what his father had built with such care and labor, so Charley was the only one she could take into her confidence on this matter.
“I want to bring charges against him,” she demanded, sitting in the Nimitz’s little private parlor, “for murdering my husband! Tell me what I must do, Charley! You were his friend—cannot I demand justice, now that the war is over and his fine Confederate protectors may no longer look the other way?”
“My dear Mrs. Magda.” Charley regarded her with deep sympathy, as he finished reading Porfirio’s letter and the scrap of stained notepaper that she drew out of the valise and thrust into his hands. “The trouble is—they will look the other way. Anywhere outside Gillespie County, that is. Politically, it’s an untenable situation, bringing charges against a Confederate sympathizer for what he did during the war. The Union might have won, Mrs. Magda, but most of Texas is still mighty full of Southern sympathizers.”
“He murdered my husband!” Magda cried passionately. “Trap Talmadge said he shot him in the back! Not from anything to do with the war—he hated Carl long before the war ever began! Trap left this affidavit to say so and I saw J.P Waldrip in my own house with the Hanging Band! He held our children at the point of a gun in my own kitchen until—until my husband agreed to go with him! Surely a jury would hear me out—”
“I am sure they would, Mrs. Magda,” Charley interrupted with a somber face. “And Waldrip was a very beast. But murdering Carl Becker is not the very least matter of which he can be charged. What of the Grape Creek murders, or that of Mr. Schuetze the schoolmaster? There is plenty to lay at his door, but the trouble is that it was all done in wartime and now the war is over. I fear that there is talk of an amnesty regarding any such deeds, Mrs. Magda.”
“And those who benefited by such deeds, or justified them, wish not to have them thrown in their faces?” Magda asked bitterly.
Charley sighed. “Indeed, they wish to have them forgotten. Having connived at such wrongs, they wish to begin with a clean slate. I am sorry, Mrs. Magda. I would wish to also see him in the dock, and better yet with a rope around his own neck, for what he did to you and to all of us. Justice may yet be done for that, but I do not think there is much official stomach for it. But I will talk to Judge Wahrmund and see what he thinks can be done.”
“Watch and wait.” Magda visibly attempted to keep her emotions under control as she returned Porfirio’s letter and Trap Talmadge’s affidavit to her valise. “I have waited nearly five years for something to be done about that vicious man. I can wait a little longer.”
Charley escorted her to the door. “If he returns to Friedrichsburg,” he added almost cheerfully, “we will have the warm welcome we promised him before. But I do not think he will dare return here. Dogs may return to their vomit, but in my experience, criminals think twice about returning to the scene of their crimes—especially when they have been warned against doing so.”
“I suppose you are correct,” Magda agreed. She departed thinking bitter thoughts about the Confederacy and those men who had trafficked in rebellion, committed grevious crimes, and now wished not to face any more of the consequences.

She had all but put Waldrip out of her mind on the March day that she took Lottie by the hand and walked to the graveyard. It had been a year since Vati died, a year since Rosalie breathed her tortured last. Magda felt the need to be alone on that awful anniversary, alone but for Lottie who was finished with school for the day. Her daughter carried a little pail to dip water from the creek and Magda left Anna in charge of the shop for an hour or so. Peter Vining had come to town to bring back another load of lumber and supplies, so Magda thought that he might also pay some elaborate courtesy to her niece while he was at it.
Oh, to be out in the fields on a spring afternoon, while the wind chased dandelion-puff clouds in a faultlessly blue sky. It put Magda in the memory of how she had tended the cows in the last year of the war, leading Lottie by the hand, wandering with her valise full of knitting and useless wads of Confederate money should she run across anything worth buying from the shops as she returned. She had never worried about danger, from Indians or anyone else, in those last days of the war, for Jack the dog accompanied them and she had always carried Carl Becker’s old five-shot Paterson revolver in the valise.
She and Lottie picked armfuls of sweet wildflowers from the fields beyond Town Creek, and from the banks of the creek, to add to the little handful of new-blossoming daffodils from their own garden. They walked among the stones and monuments; so many of them there were now, so many friends! Dear Mrs. Helene, Pastor Altmueller’s wife; Liesel and Hansi’s son Christian, dead in the diphtheria epidemic in the last year of the war; and now Vati, dearest of all. And Magda still felt tears coming to her eyes, to think of Rosalie and her Robert, dancing at their wedding and looking only at each other, little knowing how short their marriage would be.
She tidied the graves, kneeling and heedless of her new dress, which, true to Anna’s words, Liesel had pressed upon her. The grass and the soil in her fingers felt wonderfully like working in the garden; how little of that she did these days. It was country-quiet out here, town was far enough distant that the sounds of it carried but faintly: horse hoofs, the regular thud of someone splitting wood in the backyard of a house on Town Creek, and once the crack of something that could have been a rifle shot. Magda wondered who might be hunting so close to town.
She and Hansi had paid for a fine stone for Vati, with a holder for a little brass vase at the bottom. She emptied out last week’s dead flowers, and Lottie solemnly filled it with fresh water from her pail. They did the same for Rosalie and Robert. They also had a fine stone, a single one for both of them. Mr. Berg had come out of the hills long enough to do it, carving a single rose by way of ornament. Robert Hunter, Rosalie his wife, side by side throughout eternity.
Magda shouldered her valise when they were done, and took Lottie’s hand. The child swung the empty pail as they walked towards Austin Street and the stage stop at the back of Charley’s hotel. Magda considered walking by Pastor Altmueller’s house and paying him a visit on the way back; after all, that was only a little out of their way, down Austin Street, where all the houses backed on a loop of Town Creek. It looked as if the stage had come in, for there was a small crowd of men at the stop. But something was very strange, for the driver stood gesticulating by the side of his horses. They should have been on their way almost at once. Magda wondered what had happened. Perhaps one of the team had gone lame; not surprising, for the coaches went at a fearful pace, uphill and down.
As she and Lottie crossed over the Town Creek footbridge, Magda observed there were two groups of people. Some of them stood around the driver, quite upset, adamant in demanding that their journey continue. Most of those were Americans. The other group was men of the town, Germans from Friedrichsburg and nearby. They seemed terribly agitated also, gesticulating and shouting at the first group and each other. Even as she approached, some of them scattered, with a purposeful air about them. Something had happened, something to do with the stage. If the war had still been going on, Magda would have thought the stage had brought great news of some battle, victory, or defeat.
She had no need to ask, for as she drew closer, one of the men shouted, “Madame Becker, have you heard! He’s back! J.P. Waldrip, he was on the stage from San Antonio! He was in a great bate of anxiety, all the way here, so they say!”
Magda felt as if she had been turned at once to a pillar of ice, for the words struck her numb and silent. So she had been, when J.P. Waldrip’s masked friends had taken away her husband, binding his hands with rope and leading him away to his death. Then Waldrip had put his hands on her and struck her senseless with a revolver in his fist. When she revived, she was already a widow, although she had not known that for many more hours.
“Waldrip! Come here to Friedrichsburg? Has he gone mad?” she gasped. “We must send for the Sheriff! I demand that he be arrested for killing my husband!”
“The Sheriff has already been sent for, Madam!” It was Fritz Ahrens, Charley’s brother-in-law. He seemed most particularly exhilarated. “No fear, on that! He might be quite eager to surrender to the Sheriff, on all accounts!”
“What happened?” Magda demanded again, “Why did he even come back to Friedrichsburg? Where did he go?”
“It seems that he has enemies in San Antonio, also.” Fritz Ahrens chuckled with great satisfaction. “Last night, some Mexican chased him into an alley near the Vaudeville Theater, threatened him and drew a knife! So in mortal fear, he bought a stage ticket for El Paso, thinking to get as far away and as fast as he could! Of course, he must have known that the stage stops here but only for a short time, so I imagine he thought to brave it out! But just as everyone was dismounting, up rides young Braubach on a lathered horse, shouting riot and murder and fire!”
“Philip Braubach?” Magda gasped. “That married Louisa Schuetze? Who was the sheriff here before the war?”
“The very same! He had ridden after the stage upon hearing that Waldrip was on his way here! Young Braubach took out his revolver and shot at him! Right here, on this very street not ten minutes ago!”
“Where is Waldrip, then!” Magda demanded. There was no body on the ground, no evidence of anything untoward, and yet it seemed as if the whole universe had suddenly turned upside down.
“He missed,” Fritz Ahrens said regretfully. “The revolver turned in his hands, for they were sweaty. He missed and the bastard Waldrip—sorry, Madame Becker—ran like a hare. He ran towards the gardens, but he can’t get far, even if he runs true to form and steals a horse. We’ll find him soon, of that you can be sure!” He touched the brim of his hat to her, and went off to join in the clamorous search.
“We must get home,” Magda said urgently to Lottie, “and send Mr. Vining with word to your brother! He must know of this! And see that the Sheriff arrests that vile murderer!”
She set off towards Main Street, towards where the large oak tree shaded the Magazine Street entrance to Charley’s stableyard and the bathhouses that served his guests. When they had first come to Friedrichsburg, when it was nothing but a forest of oak trees with pegs and little flags of cloth marking the outline of where it would soon be built, Magazine Street was where the Verein blockhouse and stores had been and the communal gardens that had supplied them all in the very first days. Now, Charley’s hotel and outbuildings lined one entire block, between Main and Austin Streets, facing a row of small homes and shops opposite. She held Lottie’s hand tightly, all thought of a leisurely stroll down Main Street forgotten with this news. She urgently wanted to speak to Charley, to Mr. Vining, to her son, to the Sheriff—anyone! J.P. Waldrip must not be allowed to escape. As she swept past the oak tree, her skirts rustling like a storm in a bed of reeds, she heard someone scream, and the dark figure of a man ran out of the stableyard.
It was Charley’s daughter Bertha who screamed, and screamed again as the man ran towards Magda and Lottie. “It’s him!”
Magda stood rooted to the spot; fear, shock and anger warring within her breast. Yes, her mind told her with chill precision; that was J.P. Waldrip, stumbling as his eyes darted here and there, like a trapped animal seeking escape, a fox hearing the hounds baying all around. He did not look much changed, with those feral mismatched eyes and the tall black felt hat by which he was known. But he was caged, however loosely, by the hotel behind and the girl standing in the passageway between the main building and the bathhouses with a pile of towels in her arms. His eyes darted towards Magda. She thought that he did not recognize her at first. She was just a woman in widow-black, holding a child by the hand, a woman who stood between him and his escape. It came to her with a start that there were men at either end of Magazine Street; those standing at the stage stop, as well as those searching. There were men on Main Street as well, even if they were not in on the search.
His eyes darted this way and that, finally meeting hers and holding for a startled instant, as recognition flashed between them. Recognition and desperate calculation too—and in the blink of an eye, something in Magda’s intellect read his impulse and reacted with cold and unthinking precision. He knew her. When his eyes slid down towards Lottie at her side and he took one step closer and made as if to reach into his coat, she was in no doubt about what he meant to do. She had no intention of letting him do it. No, her mind cried out. No, not again. He will not hold my child hostage.
On that single thought, she set Lottie behind her and took the Paterson revolver from her valise, marveling at how cold and composed she was, how pure of doubt and hesitation. She held the old long-barreled revolver straight out, locking her elbows as her dear husband had advised her so many years ago, and calmly aimed as he had also instructed her to do. Aim for his breadbasket, Carl Becker’s voice whispered in her ears. The shots rise up. In that moment which seemed eternal, she was ice cold and aware of everything around her, and yet it seemed distant, as if everything else happened behind a great glass window. She and the man who had killed her husband, threatened her children, held that very same revolver to Hannah’s head; they stood facing each other. Lottie huddled at her back like a chick sheltering under the mother hen.
The first shot crashed like a thunderbolt in her ears. She supposed that she was at least as startled as J.P. Waldrip was, for he looked with amazed horror at the spreading red mess on his vest-front, just below where his coat buttoned over his chest. Then his parti-colored eyes met hers.
He took one wobbling step forward and said in a voice that sounded queerly normal, “You shot me.”
That was for my husband, Magda thought coldly, as she drew back the hammer. My husband, my children’s father, my lover and dearest friend in the world. You fired the shot that killed him, after molesting me within his sight, with your hands and your words. You are loathsome, and the most unforgivable thing you have done is to make me hate you so. The Paterson’s narrow trigger slid obediently open to her finger. Why did the man not fall? Was he a devil spawned from hell, impervious to lead and any weapon at hand? She fired again. This one is for Trap Talmadge, whose weakness you used, whose guilt for having betrayed my husband to your gang led him to seek death in battle. Poor Trap, who sought oblivion at the bottom of a whiskey bottle only when it was put in his way . . . who worked happily at our farm in the hills, teaching our sons to ride, working for my husband. You led him to commit the worst betrayal of all—giving up a friend into the hands of his enemies!
A second bloody mess blossomed on his vest-front. Waldrip clutched his belly and his mouth opened in wordless bewilderment. Yet he remained on his feet, and as Magda pulled back the Paterson’s hammer once again, his coat fell a little back and she saw that he had a revolver also, in a leather holster under his coat. What would make the wretched man fall?!
That is for our children, Magda thought, as she shot him again. You used his love for them as a weapon, in order to make him go with your filthy gang. You knew that he would do anything rather than see his children harmed. And yet they were—Hannah was plagued by nightmares for years . . . and Dolph—Dolph was nearly lost to us all, for he loved his father well! You wish to make enemies, Waldrip? Threaten a woman’s children, and see what an enemy you have made, when she has the chance to repay in blood!
Waldrip fell then to his knees, stark bewilderment on his countenance. What had he expected? Magda thought with vicious satisfaction; that he would be welcomed with rose petals into Gillespie County where his wolves had ravaged and murdered all during the war? That a woman he had wronged in every way but the worst way imaginable would allow him once more to threaten harm to those she loved? That little Mrs. Feller, left destitute to care for her children on charity and sewing, or Louise or Clara Schultze, would not do the same, if they had a chance—and if their husbands had taught them to shoot!
That’s for Schoolmaster Schuetze, the kindest and cleverest of teachers, who made a jest one afternoon and the Hanging Band came to his house that very night. That shot hit high, and left him gasping from a gush of bright blood that came out of his mouth. She could hardly see his shirtfront and vest for dark blood, yet he still lived, racked in agony for every breath he took as he lay on the ground at her feet, in the dust under the tree by Charley Nimitz’s stableyard.
“Oh, God, please don’t shoot me any more,” he gasped. Pitilessly, Magda pulled back the Paterson’s hammer one last time.
This is for me, she thought. There was a tremor in her arms. No need to brace her arms out straight, no need to really aim, that last time. You made many enemies in your whole wretched, thieving life— but never knew until your last moments that the deadliest enemy of them all was a woman. With a final crash of the Paterson firing, the life burst out of J.P. Waldrip in a tide of blood.
Magda stood over him, trembling like a leaf. She felt nothing more than an enormous sense of satisfaction. It had happened all so very fast. She looked down at the body at her feet, thinking that she ought to feel something more than that. She had killed a man, five shots with a Paterson, out in the street in front of everyone. All that she could muster up by way of regret was a conviction that if she had more of a chance to think about it, she should have contrived to shoot him without any witnesses. There would be trouble over this. Hansi and her son would be furious with her on that account, especially if it affected the business.
“Mama?” Lottie’s voice quavered from beside her. “Is that man dead?”
“Yes he is, little miss!” Charley answered cheerily. Magda looked up, startled out of all countenance. How on earth had he managed to appear, so neat and unruffled in his black town suit and carefully trimmed beard? He winked broadly at Magda, chucked Lottie on the chin and in one swift movement he took Magda’s wrist and slipped the Paterson out of her grasp. Magda blinked; he had palmed it neatly and conveyed it out of sight with all the aplomb of a stage magician, somewhere underneath the tails of his suit coat. “I do believe,” he added in a louder voice, “that this would be the infamous J. P. Waldrip. I’ll leave it to Doctor Keidel to confirm the details, but he certainly looks dead to me.” He looked around at the murmuring crowd, suddenly gathered from the stage stop, from within the hotel and from up and down Magazine Street. Many of them were men carrying weapons—among them young Philip Braubach, and the cobbler, Mr. Fischer, who had his workshop in a house opposite Charley’s stableyard. Mr. Fischer clutched a long carbine and looked much put out.
Charley put his arm comfortingly around his daughter and added, “Bertha saw him in the stableyard. When she screamed for help, I came out and saw him running towards the street, in the direction of Madame Becker and her daughter. And suddenly,” Charley looked exceedingly bland, although his eyes danced with suppressed mirth, “I heard gunshots, but couldn’t see from whence they came. Waldrip fell dead, right in front of us, and I have no idea who shot him. Some unknown assailant, I suppose. Waldrip had many enemies hereabouts.”
Young Braubach snorted; it sounded suspiciously like a stifled laugh and a rustle of agreement went through the gathered crowd. Charley looked straight at Magda and continued, “And he had friends and kin, as well. Knowing that he is dead at the hands of an unknown assailant,” Charley emphasized that phrase again, “they might wish to avenge themselves against the person who killed him . . . if they knew who what person was, of course. Alas,” Charley shrugged elaborately, “I have no idea who shot Mr. Waldrip. Did anyone see anything at all? Bertha?”
“I didn’t see anything at all, Papa,” Bertha took her cue demurely. Magda saw comprehension flicker from face to face around her, saw the idea move like witches’ fire, like ball-lightning, saw the complicit acceptance on every face, even those who couldn’t possibly have been where they could have seen her shoot J.P. Waldrop five times in his body.
“’Twasn’t me.” Philip Braubach was the first to speak. “I had a shot at the bastard, but I missed, clean. Everyone saw me.”
“Some will do anything to keep from having to buy wine when they win the shooting competition,” commented Mr. Fischer dryly and to a general laugh. “So, if anyone cares to ask, what did he die of?”
“Lead poisoning,” suggested Charley sweetly. That elicited another round of laughter. “Still and all,” he added, significantly looking at no one in particular, “I suppose we should bury him decently, lest his next of kin come to complain of our hospitality. If they have cause,” he coughed, and sent another significant look, “they will come and complain. Dissatisfied guests always make that special effort. Just as well they know nothing of where to direct their complaints, eh? Bertha, Madame Becker looks quite shaken; would you conduct her to the little parlor, and tell your Mama what has happened?”
Charley looked indecently pleased with himself, Magda thought, as Bertha led her and Lottie into the family parlor. As soon as they were safe indoors, Charley presented her with the Paterson, saying, “I do believe this antique weapon belongs to you, Madame Becker—I found it in my stableyard. I can only imagine how it got there.”
“Charley . . . I . . .” Magda began to say, her heart overflowing with gratitude and affection for Charley’s quick thinking; and affection too, for all of those townsfolk who had seen her shoot J.P. Waldrip.
“Not a word, Mrs. Magda.” Charley kissed her other hand, the one that did not hold the Paterson. “Not a word. I did not see anything, nor did you. But . . .” he held her hand just a fraction longer than necessary. “I can’t tell you how long it has been, since something I did not see, gave me such an enormous sense of satisfaction!”

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