A few matters to sum up this lengthy tale of woe and victory. When we returned to River Bend, Homer Kragan was initially nowhere to be found. His body was discovered three days later on the banks of Clearwater River. Apparently, he had drowned. The verdict was suicide.
          The word spread around River Bend very rapidly about Nicholas Backstrom and Homer Kragan. Not surprisingly, knowing the fickle mobs, many people claimed they knew it all along. Nobody wants to look stupid. A man named Arnold McBee was elevated to the presidency of the bank and a Scott Rogers did the law work. I wasn’t terribly interested, so I won’t spend any more time with that.
         The news of Backstrom’s death had apparently reached the rest of his rustlers for none of them ever showed up in the area again. I understand that Allie asked about a man named Dirk Manners, but no one knew where he was, either. Mona lived alone in Backstrom’s house until it was sold at an auction. I didn’t know her, but Allie spoke well of her and expressed a hope that the Irish lady would able to maintain her present position.
          Sheriff Fagan Doolittle decided he wouldn’t stand for re-election in the spring and several people asked me to run for the office. I told them I’d think about it—which I did for less than two seconds. There was some discussion among the town fathers as to whether they would have a sheriff or a marshal, and I think they leaned towards the latter, but as of this writing, I don’t know what was determined.  Something would have to be worked out with Port Station, or some higher authority.  I'm not versed in the politics of the area, so I was out of the loop on that one, and frankly, that's where I wanted to be.
          Gail Sanders—Kragan—didn’t seem to be terribly upset at the death of her husband, and indeed, went back to using her maiden name. There were some legal complications about how much, if any, of Kragan’s property she owned, but she didn’t seem to be terribly keen on pursuing the matter, so that property would probably be sold at an auction as well. She recovered from her ordeal quite nicely, and Karl wasn’t hurt too bad, so they went back to her ranch. I had a feeling that Gail would end up as Mrs. Bushy Mustache, but that was simply speculation on my part. They did seem to be gravitating towards each other quite a bit on the trip back to River Bend from the Kragan hideout. I chuckled inwardly when I found out that Karl’s last name was Beard.
          I ran into Clem Everett, the man who spearheaded the settlers’ drive from Colorado, and he was all peaches and cream. “Ever’thing is goin’ nicely, Mr. Conners. We’s all pitchin’ in an helpin’ each other build houses and such, at least to get us through the winter. Since we’s all farmers, we know some winter crops and we got them planted. The cattle seem to be taking to the grass real fine and they already look like they’s puttin’ on weight. That new banker feller, Mr. McBee is a real nice sort and said he’d work with us on the payments. Said he used to do some ranchin’ hisself so he understood some years weren’t as good as others. I think we’ll do all right up here.”
         I was glad to hear that. He expressed his appreciation again to me for the help I gave them, and offered once more to pay me for my services, an offer I once more declined. I hadn’t spent much of the money I had made from the sale of my ranch in Whitewater, so I didn’t need any more, and they’d need what they had to help get them through the winter. I wished them well.
          Ben Baker helped McConnell and Allie transport Backstrom’s men—the ones who had been caught—to Port Station. I asked him if he were going to join the Rangers, and he answered in the affirmative.
          “It’s a good offer and I think I’d enjoy the work. I don’t want to go back into barbering. Maybe ranch work at some point, but frankly, the pay with the Rangers is a little better than the thirty or forty and found most cowboys get. I think I’ll see how law work suits me for awhile and go from there.” He’d make a good Ranger and I know McConnell was tickled to have him. Good men are hard to find. Ben tried to persuade me to hitch up with the Rangers as well, but his attempt was in vain.
          “That’s just…not what I want to do, Ben,” I told him. “Cattle and horses are still my first love.”
          “Well, at least hang around in the territory and I’m sure we’ll cross paths again at some point.” I did hope to see Ben again; I’d grown fond of him and when we shook hands good-bye, I could see the same fondness in his eyes.
          I didn’t quite know what to say to Allie and I don’t think she knew what to say to me, either. We met in front of the sheriff’s office as she, Ben, and McConnell were getting ready to leave for Port Station. “What are you going to do, Rob?” she asked me. There was that question again.
          And I had the same answer. “I still don’t know, Allie. I just…don’t know.” It was beginning to really bother me how long the emptiness was staying with me, but I realized it was less than six months ago that Robin had left. It seemed longer, given all that had happened in the interim. I told Allie that I’m sure we’d see each other again sometime, she nodded, we looked at each other for a few moments, hugged, and she turned and walked away. I watched her for a few moments, sighed, and turned and headed the other direction. That didn’t help my mood any, either.
          Before I made any decision regarding my future, I rode up to the Atkins’ place to see Kelly. She’d never forgive me if I didn’t, and I wanted to talk with her anyway. She smiled when I rode up, but there was a sadness in the smile. We went for a walk.
          “How are you doing?” I asked her.
          “It’s all a little unreal,” she responded. “One day…I have plans for the rest of my life, and…the next day…they are gone.” She looked up at me and tried to smile again. “Kinda hard to shift my mind back in another direction.”
          “Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been there.”
          “I know. And I think I know, at least partly, how you feel.”
          “I guess you do.” This conversation was very, very melancholy.
          “Rob.” We stopped. That “Rob” meant…stop. So we did and looked at each other. I knew what was coming. “Rob, what are you going to do?”
          The reader is welcome to count the number of times in this story I’ve been asked that question.
          And the reader probably will not be surprised at my answer. “I don’t know, Kelly.” I stared into the distance, not seeing anything but Robin…and Julie…I closed my eyes, hoping the visions would go away…
          Kelly touched my arm and I opened my eyes and looked at her. “Please don’t leave Clearwater,” she said, with a pleading in her voice. “Please.”
          We looked at each other for a long time, searching the other’s eyes. I could read her mind, and I think she could read mine. “I’m not ready yet, Kelly. It’s too soon.”
          She lowered her head and nodded. “Yes, it is. For me, too.” Then she looked back up at me and…tried to smile. There were tears in her eyes. “But that doesn’t mean I want you to leave Clearwater Valley.”
          I stared at Kelly Atkins…and wondered if I was staring at my future.

The End

I certainly do appreciate any readers that have taken of their valuable time to read the any of the stories I have written.  I hope you have enjoyed them.  I know there are some mistakes scattered a few places in the stories; it is difficult to write nearly 900 pages of material to perfection, especially since I have a full-time job and am limited in what research I can do.  I do hope any mistakes you discovered did not hinder your enjoyment of the novel.  If you are interested in Biblical matters, I have quite a few blogs in that field of study and I invite you to look at them.  My "Current Events" blog is largely personal, historical, or full of my inconsequential political rants.  I am plagued with bipolar-2 depression (I think Rob Conners is, too), so it's these westerns that help me relax and escape, for a while, from what this world is, and frankly, always has been...and probably always will be. 

Allie will be back soon, gentle reader, very soon...indeed, follow her in her Return to River Bend, the now-posted sequel to this story.  Check the links in the right hand column.

Mark K. Lewis