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A Tragedy beyond my Comprehension by T.J.Spears

© T.J.Spears

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*Note: this is NOT the opening chapter of the novel. If you prefer not to review it as a result I fully understand. However if you do wish to go ahead it may be helpful to know that Nat Hopper is the relatively new and reluctant town marshal of the small town of Stanton, Nevada, on the Central Pacific line. The year the incident described takes place is 1872 though he is writing about it nearly forty years later. Eva, mentioned in the chapter, is the owner of the town newspaper, The Stanton Echo, and is his lover. The Doctor, the Reverend and Miss Prosser have been established as characters in earlier chapters. In this chapter Hopper is faced with a tragedy beyond his comprehension.*

Chapter Twenty Six: A Tragedy beyond my Comprehension.

What happened that afternoon in Stanton town morgue I have never revealed to any living soul, not even Eva, until now. But I reckon those that might be hurt by the knowing are past caring or dead, so I reckon there ain’t no harm in recounting the sorry affair in this chapter.

It all began around four in the morning when there was a pounding on the door and I heard Luther’s voice hollering for me to get up. I touched a lucifer to a candle and in its flickering light reached for my clothes.

“Be right with you, Luther,” I called hauling on my pants.

Eva raised herself on an elbow. “What is it, Nat?”

“Night watchman wants me. Probably nothin’. Go back to sleep.”

I was still stamping my feet into my boots when I closed the door behind me and stepped into the glow of Luther’s lantern.

“It’s Billy and Reen Vargas, Marshal. They’ve been shot in their bed.” He was shaking with shock.

“They dead?”

“Believe they are. I just seen the blood and -” He closed his eyes and was seized by a violent fit of trembling. “They was lying on the bed. I didn’t go up close. Maybe I should’ve , Marshal. I just run up here for you.”

“You didn’t see anybody else?”

He shook his head.

“You go and rouse out Doc Rawlins and bring him down to the Vargas place. I’ll go straight there. Let me have your lantern.”

It wasn’t half a mile to the Vargas farm, and the dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky by the time I got there. The fence must have been down again for I could see the dark shapes of hogs rooting along the verges of the trail that ran along beside the big paddock. I picked my way through the yard towards the low ranch house pretty aware of the fact that a figure holding a lantern aloft might make an easy target for a gunman desirous of adding another corpse to his tally.

The door was open and there was a strong smell of burned wool or hair. The lantern’s light showed a tidy kitchen, pans hanging on nails, crockery washed and drying on a rack. The chairs were drawn into the table. A neatly folded copy of the Stanton Echo and a pair of spectacles lay as if the reader had just laid them down. Two pairs of Hutchison rubber boots stood to attention by the damped down stove.Everything was as tidy and orderly as the lives I had heard the couple led.

The door to the left was ajar. I guessed the bedroom opened directly on to the kitchen. I’ll allow I had a strong hankering to wait for the company of Doc Rawlins before I ventured through, but there was the possibility that there might be still be life in the poor couple, and it wouldn’t do for me to shirk my duty to try preserve it. I held the lantern in front of me and took a step forward. The stench of burned hair mingled now with the smell of lamp oil was overpowering.

Three more steps across that bedroom floor told me that there was no flicker of life in either of the bodies lying on that bloody bed. Reen lay on her back with on hand holding a small towel over her eyes as if to block out the sight of her killer. The bullet had entered the center of her forehead and her pillow was pitted with powder burns.

Billy Vargas lay on his belly his head twisted away from Reen, his right hand still holding a Remington Beals pistol. I will not describe his wound. Suffice it to say if it was indeed he who had fired the fatal shot, it had been less competently done, and the result was overwhelmingly horrible to behold.

I backed out of the room and took one of the kitchen chairs out into the yard. I sat for a while and watched the light spreading across the Vargas acres and the town buildings taking shape in the distance. By and by I began to feel a little better and crossed to the pump and splashed water over my face and drank a little.

Maybe ten minutes later here comes Doc Rawlins and Luther.

Doc took one look at me and said, “Dead?”

I nodded. “It’s an ugly scene, Doc.”

He passed through the door. Luther hung back, pale and wide-eyed in the growing light. “Was they murdered, Marshal?”

“Billy is still holding a pistol. Could be he shot himself.”

“I didn’t see no pistol. I dassn’t go that close.”

Doc Rawlins came out. He’d taken off his coat and his sleeves were clipped up. “Need help with Billy.”

Luther looked at me. “I’ll go,” I said. I gave him my tobacco pouch. “Make yourself a smoke. And one for me.”

In the bedroom Reen now lay with the sheet drawn over her face. Doc stood on the side nearest Billy. “Take his legs and ease him over towards his missus.”

I closed my eyes and took hold of his legs. With Doc levering his outstretched arm we moved him to the middle of the bed.
“Look at this, Nat.”

The doctor was holding a can of Penn Rock oil. “Empty. It’s all in the mattress. Soaked into the horse hair. Look where it’s burned. Right under where Billy’s body lay. And there’s the box of lucifers that set it going.”

“Somebody tried to burn them. And Billy snuffed it out with his body. Look his shirt’s all scorched. Hell, I was thinkin’ we was lookin’ at suicides.”

“I’m done here, Nat. Both dead of gunshot wounds fired close. Burns on torso of male victim. No sign of struggle. That do for your report?”

“Wait, Doc.” I took the pistol from Billy’s cooling fingers and opened it. Two of the nipples held the fragments of the spent percussion caps. The other three had none and the chambers were not charged. I passed it over to him.

“Suicide,” said the Doc. “Two balls, planned and executed. There was no assailant. So who set the fire?”

“Billy himself. But then he changed his mind and put it out before he shot himself.”

“Not necessarily,” said Doc, “He didn’t die clean. Wound like that he’d probably thrash about for a few seconds. He could’ve rolled over and put it out with out meaning to, or even knowing that he’d done so. Wouldn’t like to venture that opinion in front of a judge though.” He pulled the sheet over Billy’s ruined head. “My God, Nat, I’m glad it’s you that’s writing a report on this and not me.”

Outside in the fresh air again Doc lit a cigar and said he’d head back to town and tell Irvie Dolan his services were required with the hearse. I went back inside and drew the curtains that Reen had pinned up over the windows. Then Luther and I took the stout sticks that stood convenient by the door and set off to round up the hogs that were straying towards the rail track. As we worked Luther told me how he’d come to investigate the scene in the first place.

He’d heard what he thought might be two pistol shots coming from the direction of the Vargas farm. For months the couple had been plagued by vandalism so he assumed the reports had been Billy firing warning shots at intruders. Encountering pigs loose on the trail he decided to go to the ranch house and help round up the stock. When he arrived he was puzzled that the Vargas were not already trying to corral the beasts. After knocking at the door and receiving no answer he went inside, and thus stumbled on the gruesome scene.

It’s pretty tiring work rounding up pigs that have got on to fresh ground to root around in but most of them went back into their field without too much trouble. The exception was Billy’s old boar who took to chomping his jaws and twitching his tail when we tried to move him out of Reen’s potato patch. “Watch him, Marshal. He’s a mean one,” said Luther, “Show him your stick.” The boar considered us for a moment, and then deciding it wasn’t worth picking a quarrel, lumbered slowly through the gate.

“Got to be careful around pigs,” said Luther, “Folks have been killed.”

“How come you know so much about them, Luther?”
“Paw had them on his farm back east.”

Then we let Reen’s chickens out and sat outside smoking while we waited for Irvie and his hearse. By this time word must have got around town that the Vargas were dead, possibly by their own hands. Well, you can’t drive a pony hearse down Main Street without folks darting out to nosey for information. By and by here comes the hearse, a crowd of curious chattering folk following along behind.
Irvie and his apprentice went into the house while the crowd spilled around yards and truck garden in the hope of stealing a glimpse of the gory scene through a window. Foiled by the curtains they clustered around Luther and me firing off questions.

I said, “Billy and Reen Vargas are dead.If anyone knows of next of kin for Billy and Reen I’d appreciate it if you’d speak up now so we can pass on the bad news.”

I waited a moment, but other than shaking of heads and one man venturing that he thought they came up together from somewhere in the New Mexico Territory, there was no response.

I went on: “There’s valuable stock on this farm that needs looking after, feedin’ and waterin’ and such like. I guess the town would be willin’ to pay a fella who knows about pigs to care for them until the Vargas affairs are settled. If you happen to be that fella why don’t you go and see the mayor this morning.”

Several men looked interested. Then I spotted Calvin Brand, the mayor’s son near the front of the crowd. “Calvin, I want you to go to your father and ask him to send down a carpenter and enough lumber and nails to shut up this house.”

Calvin sulked and huffed that he wanted to see the bodies brought out first.

I said,“I’d be obliged if you’d go right now, Calvin. Your Pa ain’t the only firm with lumber in town. I guess he wouldn’t be happy with you if I sent Luther here to contract someone else to do the job while you’re gawpin’ here.”

He grumbled a bit more for the form of it and set off dragging his feet to town.

“Now folks, There ain’t no more to say this morning. I’d be obliged if you’d all go back home and get on with your own affairs while the undertakers move the bodies to the morgue.”

I could have been speaking to Billy’s hogs for all the effect these words had. The crowd loitered around the yard until Irvie and his man brought out the cadavers wrapped in canvas and slid them into the hearse. Only then did they drift away buzzing with speculation about what must have happened.

Luther went off soon after to catch up on his sleep and I sat on until one of Brand’s men arrived with a wagon of pine boards and a keg of nails. By the time the house was secure it was near noon and I rode back up to town on the wagon feeling pretty well logy by the events of the night.

I was dozing in my office chair that afternoon when Eva strolled in decked out in her San Francisco frock and ribboned straw bonnet and said, “You might as well come with me to the school pageant. Stop you brooding about the poor hog farmers for a while.”

“Ah, Eva, you know that sort of thing ain’t to my taste. Besides someone might need me for something important.”

“Phooey, we’ll leave a note.” She took a sheet of paper off the desk and wrote. “In case of emergency the marshal is attending the school pageant over in the church.”

“Church, Eva?”

“Yes, school doesn’t have the space for the crowd that expected.” She sanded the note. “There,we’ll pin that up on the door. Miss Prosser will be thrilled to see you. I believe she’s somewhat smitten with our brave Marshal Hopper, though I must allow that personally I am at a loss to know why.”

“Guess she’s just got good taste,Eva.”

Well, whether it was because of my presence, or because of that of the Stanton Echo’s glamorous owner, after we’d inspected and praised the display of needlework and paged through the neatest copybooks, Miss Prosser fussed and flustered us to choice pews next to the Reverend Luke Pierce.

The first item on the program was a recital of the nine times table by a second grade pupil and that went tolerable well until nine times nine makes eighty, whereupon no matter how many hints Miss Prosser sent out, the poor child gave up and ran off in tears. I can’t say I blamed her for nine times nine making eighty one never seemed right to me either.

Then came a spelling challenge. Grade four against the school board. Grade four carried the day by a considerable margin to the clear delight of the parents - at least those who were not on the board.

Now Miss Prosser called on the oldest girl to read her prize winning essay. Since Eva asked later for a copy to print in the Echo. I can set it down here.

How Our Town Got its Name

On January 20th 1869 the Central Pacific line reached this spot and work began on the creation of Rail Depot Seven under the supervision of Section Engineer William MacGilvray, now retired. Engineer MacGilvray happened to be my grandfather. On that very same a very remarkable lady named Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the first woman to testify before the Congress of the United States. Mrs. Stanton, as many of you will know, spent her life fighting for fairness, in particular the rights of women.
My Grandmother, Louisa MacGilvray, felt that it would be a good idea to mark Mrs. Stanton’s achievement by naming the depot and camp in her honor and my grandfather readily agreed.

Thus, though it continued to be known as Depot Seven to the Central Pacific Railroad Company the settlement around it was named Stanton and shall continue to be known by that proud name in perpetuity. Thank you for listening, Ladies and Gentlemen.

The girl blushed and sat down. Miss Prosser stood up and clapped loudly and the audience followed suit.

Then Miss Prosser fetched out her concertina and led the whole school in the singing of “In Stanton our Future Lies.” It ran on for a considerable number of verses, but I reckon the first verse will suffice to give you a flavor of the work.

Oh, Stanton brightest jewel in Nevada’s crown
What bliss it is to live and prosper in this fine town
With our future managed by our town council wise
God willing we’ll surely grow to city size
Lovelock, Elko, Winnamucca, Reno, even Carson
Will be of little consequence in comparison.

The children belted it out with great enthusiasm, and sometimes even in time with Miss Prosser’s pumping concertina. As it staggered to an end and the applause rang out I whispered to Eva, “I never heard that song in the Jupiter Saloon.”

“Shush, Nat. Miss Prosser wrote it herself. I shall have to ask for a copy to print up in the Echo.” She gave me sharp poke with elbow. “Now settle down. They’re getting ready for the main event.” She read from her copy of the program. “’The Dastardly Murder of King Duncan by the Evil Macbeths’, adapted by Miss Prosser and performed by the pupils of Stanton School. It’s a Shakespearean Tragedy.”

“I know it’s Shakespeare, Eva, I’m not that ignorant.”

If what hadn’t gone before wasn’t enough to take a body’s mind off the morning’s events at the Vargas place what came next certainly did. I will write it out exactly as it was performed.

Miss Prosser stands up and announces:

The Dastardly Murder of King Duncan by the Evil Macbeths

[Small Girl walks across stage with large sign:‘Macbeth’s Castle’ Enter two large boys with folding screen. They set it up, smirk at the audience, bow and exit. Enter Small Girl with sign ‘Duncan’s Bedchamber. She hooks it on to screen. Exit and returns with sign: ‘Night’ Displays it to audience and exits]

(Owl noises off) Whoooo! Whooo!)

[Enter Duncan carrying candle, barefoot, long white nightgown, sheep’s wool beard and wig]

(More noises off: Whooo! Whooo! Duncan looks at Miss Prosser. She nods)

Duncan: (waving hand around) This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air sweetly recommends itself - itself -itself

Miss Prosser: - unto

Duncan: Oh, yes. Unto our gentle senses (yawns) Ooaah! It hath been a long and tiresome day. I do reckon I will now sleep and perchance dream. (blows out candle. Goes behind screen)

{Pause. Then behind screen loud snoring. Enter Macbeth in a Scottish kilt reaching halfway to his ankles and sheepskin cloak]

Macbeth: I am settled and bend up each corporal agent to my terrible feat.

[Enter Small Servant Boy. Sees mother in audience. Waves to her]

Macbeth: Quit that. Go bid thy mistress when my drink is ready she strike upon a bell. Get thee to bed. {Exit Servant skipping and looking back at audience]

Macbeth: Is this a dagger I see before me? (Macbeth looks at Miss Prosser) Ain’t no dagger, Miss.

Miss Prosser: Dagger now, Jake. {loudly} DAGGER {very loudly} DAGGER!

{Fishing pole appears above screen with dagger hanging at end of line}

Macbeth: Come let me clutch thee. [He jumps trying to reach the dagger which is dangling above him] Christ, Jake, not so goddamned high.

Miss Prosser: (sternly) Milton! Language.

{Dagger sways lower]

Macbeth: (gabbling) Art thou but a dagger of the mind? I see thee yet in form as palpable as this which now I draw.

[Macbeth takes large dagger from belt. Fishing line hauled back over screen. School bell sounds once. Snores from bedchamber. Macbeth stands looking around uncertainly]

Macbeth: (whispering) She ain’t come in yet, Miss.

Miss Prosser { loudly} Now. NOW! It’s your cue Annie.

[Enter Lady Macbeth in long dress and tall dunce’s cap decorated with lace, smiles sweetly at audience]

Lady Macbeth: What ho, husband. What cannot you and I perform on the unguarded Duncan?

Macbeth: But the grooms still lie awake, perchance?

Lady Macbeth: I have drugged the grooms. [Holds up empty bottle] But screw thy courage to the sticky place. Hie thee hither and get on with it.

Macbeth: Verily well then. I go and it is done. Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell.

[Macbeth creeps into bedchamber with drawn dagger held high. Snoring is replaced by screams then silence. Enter Macbeth, staggering, bloody to the elbows and carrying dagger] I have done the deed.

Woman in audience: Don’t get that paint on yer granpaw’s kilt, Donald.

Lady Macbeth: Go get some water and wash this filthy witness from your hands. (Macbeth holds up dagger) Why did you bring the dagger from the place. In sooth can’t you do nothing right? It must lie there. Go smear the sleeping grooms with blood.

Macbeth: I’ll go no more. I’m afraid to think on what I have done. Look on it again I dare not.

Lady Macbeth: Give me the daggers. I’ll - I’ll - I’ll

Miss Prosser: Gild the faces -

Lady Macbeth: - of the grooms. For it must seem their guilt

[Loud knocking]

Macbeth: Wake Duncan with thy knocking. I wouldst thou could.

Just at that moment I felt a tap on the shoulder. It was Doc Rawlins looking pretty shocked. “Nat, can you come up to the morgue. There’s a problem. I’d be obliged if you would come too, Pastor.”

Reverend Luke Pierce turned to me with raised eyebrows. I shrugged and shook my head. I turned and whispered to Eva. “I’ve got to go. Apologize to Miss Prosser. Tell her how much I was enjoying it.” The pastor and I ducked down and crept along the row of seats and followed Doc Rawlins out of the church and along to the morgue.

I’d been there before. Can’t be many marshals who ain’t more acquainted with that sad institution than they’d wish to be. Stanton’s morgue was a tiny brick building near the new church. The marble quarry had provided travertine for the floor and for the three slab tables in the center, two of which were presently occupied by sheeted cadavers. There was a damp mouldy smell from a mop and bucket by the door. The light from the high barred windows revealed a carpenter’s bench along one wall and a stack of fresh pine boards ready to be nailed together. Irvie Dolan was sitting hunched up on the only chair holding an aromatic cloth to his mouth.
Irvie stood up as we entered. He took the camphorated cloth from his face.

“You tell them, Doctor.”

I’d never seen Doc Rawlins discomposed or at a loss for words, but now he opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. He cleared his throat, looked at the floor, lifted his head and tried again.

This time he managed to blurt out: “Reen Vargas was a man.”

For a moment I didn’t understand his words and just gaped at him. Doc Rawlins hurried on. “Irvie done his regular services for poor Billy but when he come to fix up Reen he saw - saw the male organ. I checked. There ain’t no doubt.”

Irvie cut in, “Weren’t no diddies to speak of either. I done hundreds of bodies but I ain’t never had no shock like this. It ain’t fair on me. Not with my weak lungs.” He clapped his camphor soaked handkerchief to his face.

Doctor Rawlins said kind of stern now, ”We’re all shocked, Irvie. But the poor fella’s dead and you’re goin’ to have to box him up tonight in the regular way."
The Reverend Luke Pierce had slumped on to Irvie’s chair and was running his hands through his hair. “What a terrible thing! It’s only weeks since I pronounced the pair man and wife. I never heard of such a thing.” He got up and began pacing back and forward by the bench.

I was beginning to recover my senses. “Believe it happens frequently among the Sioux tribes. I read about it. Nobody thinks the worse of them that choose to live like that. They call ‘em winyanteka or something such like.” Doc Rawlins raised his eyebrows. I shrugged. “I do a lot of readin’.”

“Goddam ignorant savages,” wheezed Irvie, “Beg your pardon, Pastor.”

“Maybe they ain’t so ignorant,” I said. “Billy and Reen never did no harm to anyone. Maybe the Sioux are more civilized than us about some things.”

“Maybe they are, Nat, but Stanton folk sure are goin’ to glory in this,” said Doc, “It’s a damned shame. If the house had burned down the way Billy and Reen seem to have planned it no-one would ever have known.”

“Why do they need to know about it at all, Doc? Listen, Irvie, what did you do when you come upon the - the organ.”

Irvie huffed himself up. “Why I done what any decent god fearin’ Christian would do. Soon as I caught my breath again I covered him up, locked the door, and ran for the Doctor here.”

I couldn’t really imagine Irvie running but let it go.

“Did you meet anyone on your way, Irvie. Anyone ask why you was runnin’?”

“Well with my lungs it was more like fast walkin’.”

“But did you tell anyone what you’d seen?”

He shook his head. “Only met ladies. Ain’t fittin’ for ladies’ ears what I seen.”

Doc Rawlins had been listening carefully. He put an arm round Irvie and steered him to the chair. Now he spoke pretty solemn. “Sit down, Irvie. Are you saying that only the four of us present know about, Reen?” Irvie nodded. “Then if word ever gets out it has to have come from one of us. Agreed?”

Irvie saw where this was leading. “ S’pose so.”

“It won’t have come from the Marshal.” He looked at me. I shook my head. “And I guess it won’t have come from the Reverend Pierce.”

Pierce stopped his pacing. After a bit he said. “ I will not cast the first stone.”

“And I sure won’t be hurrying out to let loose a scandal on Stanton. So if I hear talk in the town about poor Reen I will know it came from you. Now I’ve been your doctor for a few years now, and I guess I learned plenty private stuff about you that would give the town another choice subject to chaw over for a week or so. You wouldn’t care for that, would you?"

Irvie glanced sharply up at the doctor and said mighty pleased with himself. “I heard about the hypocritical oath. Professional medical men have to swear they won’t go splitting about their patients’ private ills.”

“So they do, Irvie, so they do. But look at it this way. You’re a kind of professional too. Folks trust you with their loved ones’ bodies. Hell, they trust you with their own corpse when it comes to it. I ain’t inclined to break my professional oath so long as you’re inclined to respect your professional standards. You understand what I’m telling you.”

It was clear that Irvie had got the message. He nodded hard and reached for his camphorated cloth.

“We’ll leave you to it, Irvie. You box them up good and nail ‘em down tight for the Reverend to lay ‘em to rest.” He patted Irvie’s shoulder. “Remember, you’re a professional. Not many folk could do your job.”

Irvie sniffed and shuffled over to his bench and we left him to his measuring and sawing.

Across the street the pageant seemed to be over and the last of the proud parents were rounding up their excited children. Then Miss Prosser came out carrying her concertina. We went over and congratulated her on the performances and regretted that we’d been called away before the end.

“I ain’t ever seen anything like that Macbeth play before. You done a fine job with them children, Miss Prosser.” And those words weren’t nothing but the truth. I ain’t been around children much, but I have to allow they are mighty difficult to train up in anything they ain’t inclined to do in the natural way of things.

Miss Prosser blushed and said,“Why thank you, Marshal, I shall pass word to my young thespians that Marshal Hopper enjoyed the show.” Then Eva appeared with her notebook and they walked off toward together towards the Echo Office.

“I’d be obliged if we could have a word in the church before we part, gentlemen,” said the Reverend Pierce.

The screen was still up and the pews pretty disordered with a scatter of apple cores and song sheets on the floor. The pastor took up his pacing again and said, ”This affair has placed me in an extremely awkward position. I conducted a Christian service and joined these men in Holy Matrimony. They deceived me before God but I trust God will hold me guiltless. Now I don’t hold with the notion that those who have died by their own hand should be denied a Christian burial, but I believe you are now asking me to bury them as man in wife though I am fully aware of how sinfully they lived their lives.”

I liked Luke Pierce. He wasn’t one of them mealy mouthed preachers holding out the collection box to ramp up his salary, and he was good at dealing with the likes of Missus Brand and her churchy ladies. He’d brought his family west to a God-forsaken little burg, built a church, and he had taken pains to get acquainted and socialize with folk right down to the weedpatch gang of layabouts. Yet here he was raising pissant objections to doing the decent thing.

Doc Rawlins had pulled out his watch. Now he said, “I’ve got to go to my office. There’ll be a line of patients stretching down the street by now. Reverend Luke, you know my mind. A Christian burial will close things over decent and that’s what this town needs. I’ll leave you to it.” He snapped shut his watch and hurried out.

I took a seat on a pew. “Reverend, is this your first job?”

“First calling, yes.”

“Well I ain’t even been trying to enforce the law in Stanton one year yet, so I reckon we’re quits on experience ‘cept for one thing. The old marshal told me rules are a damn good idea, but bein’ perspicacious in applyin’ them is the only way to run a town. It’s worked pretty well for me so far.
Now I know you’re a pretty smart fella, and I’ll wager you could figure out a way to say a few words over them poor fellas before we plant them that don’t mention marriage, husband, wife or any of them labels that seem so confounded important to respectable folks. And I’m talkin’ about the very same folks that would find it bully sport to wag their tongues over something none of us, lawmen doctors or preachers, ain’t ever goin’ to understand.”

He didn’t say anything. I got up quietly and headed for the door. When I looked back his head was bowed. I believe he was praying.

That evening Eva seemed to guess that whatever had called me away to the morgue was not for public knowledge and she kept the promise she had made to me months ago and did not pry. It might have been better if she had, for I would surely have told her, and thus shared the burden of speculating on the desperation that drove two decent men to do such a dreadful deed. Those thoughts have weighed me down as much as anything that happened to me in all my time as Stanton Town Marshal, and even writing this chapter nearly forty years later has cast me down considerably.

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