Late March 1879, Southern California:

Dan sat quietly at the kitchen table nursing a cup of rapidly cooling coffee, listening, but not, to the chatter around him. Cyrus and Gertrude hat returned to stay a few more weeks prior to returning to China, and Dan's entire family was ignoring his reflective mood. A little less than a year had passed since he'd one morning commented somewhat derisively about Las Navaja's low crime rate to Adelaide. In some ways- like the town for instance- nothing had changed, but in others- like Dan's personal life- everything had. The thought sounded cliché even to Dan, but there was no other way to describe it. He'd been busy in the past few months, too. He'd finished Pat's house- no, he mustn't think of it that way. The house on Kirkridge- the name Whitney had chosen for the ranch north of town, which to the best he could find, Pat and Priscilla hadn't named. A small crew had been hired, and two hundred cattle were being driven down. The Higgins family was making plans for a trip in early July to visit the other five ranches. Dan had made considerable correspondence with the manager at the textile factory, and was quite satisfied that things were straightened out on that end. He'd been about to embark on the fish hatchery when Whitney approached him.

"Daddy," she'd said, "I don't like smelly fish, and I don't imagine you do either. I certainly don't want to own thousands on thousands of them. I know you want me to wait until I come of age, but can't we sell the fish hatchery. I know I won't ever change my mind. We could even use the money to pay for the cattle we're putting on Kirkridge if you like."

Dan had thanked her for her input, and stated that he would be glad to sell the establishment for her. The sale was in its final stages. Dan was expecting a check to arrive any day now, and they would be done with the place. Alline Michaels had given birth to a baby boy in February. Dan didn't think Perry could be any prouder of his son, Peter. The Lord had blessed Dan too. Slowly, he was able to forgive Ross Perriot. He wasn't sure if there would ever come a day when he could completely say he held no animosity toward the dead man, because each time he thought he may be nearing that point, the anger would surge up once again. Dan prayed that he would be fully released from this bond. He had also received a newspaper clipping from Drake Joshua the week before. The cover story recounted the story of Civilla Cooper being convicted of fraudulently impersonating Priscilla Hoffman, and sentenced to five years' incarceration. Dan thought they could have done more, but his opinion was biased. And then there was Fawcett. He was at the house tonight too, seated at Dan's left. Like Dan, he was mostly watching, only commenting here and there. After Civilla's arrest he'd begun coming to church. "I made a royal mess of my life with Civilla." He'd told Dan (Evidently, besides just being engaged, he'd given her large sums of money, supposedly to pay off private investigators her parents had hired to spy on her, but funds which could no longer be accounted for, and once she was gone Gould found himself deeply in debt as well as humiliated.) "Perhaps I'll try it your way." Dan had been quick to explain that it was God's way, not his, but Fawcett hadn't exactly bought that. Until last week. Gould had left the first of March to visit his ailing father. Dan didn't know all the details, but through a series of events, including a stage holdup and a train wreck in Georgia, Gould had been squarely confronted with the fact of his own mortality. His father, whom Dan now knew to be a strong Christian, immediately noticed this change in his son, and began discussing with him matters of life, death and eternity. Fawcett told Dan he had resisted until he felt hopelessly- well, lost. "Literally I mean," he'd said. Finding no one to turn to other than Jesus Christ, he turned to him. "And then it was as though he found me!" Gould had joyfully proclaimed to Dan. The changes in Gould's life were not only spiritual. His father's health was failing, and Fawcett felt he couldn't stay away any longer. He'd accepted a position with the United States Marshals' office in Tallahassee, offered to him on the recommendation of Marshal Joshua. Dan was losing another deputy- maybe the next one would stick around for a full year. Shaking his head slightly, Dan let his thoughts shift to the future. He wondered what the years ahead would hold for Cyrus and Gertrude, for himself and Adelaide, for Whitney Mae, for Fawcett- even for Civilla, now locked away, any hope of becoming a respectable young woman shattered. He could only hope she would come to know the Lord, for that was the only hope she'd ever had.

Tuning out the voices around him, Dan silently began to pray. He prayed for each person in the room, and many among their acquaintances, that God would grant them the grace and strength to accept His will, and face the future- regardless of what it may hold.

THE END