Heart o' Tarnished Gold5. The GravediggerHeart o' Tarnished Gold by MeadowMaiden
The pre-dawn starlight found the corpse covered in flowers. They covered his lap, sat in his hair, and filled his hands so that the entire man was brimming with color. Sarah Jo sniffed and placed the last of the flowers over his hands. It had taken her the entire night to gather them, but she had succeeded in her duty.
“¡Oye, chica!” Don Santo called as he came into the pre-dawn light. “What are you doing?”
Sarah Jo stiffened. She squared her shoulders and stood straight, and she turned sharply toward him and looked him dead in the eye.
“What you’ve done is evil, Don Santo,” she called back, as loud and clear as a bell’s peal. “You’re gonna pay for it, and I’m gonna be there to make sure that everybody knows just how many crimes you’re paying for.”
Don Santo grinned. He took a pistol out of his belt and aimed. The girl
Heart o' Tarnished Gold4. The GunfightHeart o' Tarnished Gold by MeadowMaiden
It was some time before noon that he raised the brim of his hat. There was a cloud of dust gathering on the horizon, and four dark specks could be seen within it. The drifter stood up as Miss Maudie and Sarah Jo came to the window.
He went to his horse and drew the rifle out of its scabbard on his horse’s saddle, and he loaded it and set the barrel across the seat and squinted down the sight. Miss Maudie covered Sarah Jo’s ears and backed away from the window slowly.
“What a fool,” she whispered, and she noticed that her hands were trembling. “He’ll never make a shot like that. It’s too far.”
The drifter took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Gently, even tenderly, he squeezed the trigger.
There was a loud crack through the air, a report of thunder on a clear day, and one of the figures on horseback snapped his head back and dropped.
Miss Maudie stared in shock as the drifter spun
Heart o' Tarnished Gold3. InterludeHeart o' Tarnished Gold by MeadowMaiden
Dinner was silent again that night, and again the drifter ate but a little of what he was given. He left the rest to mother and child, and afterwards he stepped out onto the porch to roll a cigarette and smoke.
“What’ve you been telling Sarah Jo?” Miss Maudie asked as she stepped out onto the porch with him. The drifter inhaled on his cigarette and the glow illuminated the contours of his stubble-ridden jaw. He flicked the ashes onto the ground.
“Told ‘er her pa must’ve been quite a hero,” he said.
Miss Maudie’s face hardened. Her body went rigid.
“How’d you know about him?”
“No man in the picture here,” said the drifter. “You seemed quite sick of those outlaws. I mentioned it and Sarah Jo told me the rest.”
The woman nodded slowly and sank into the singular chair on the porch.
“How long ago did it happen?” the drifter asked.
Heart o' Tarnished Gold2. The Mexican, Don SantoHeart o' Tarnished Gold by MeadowMaiden
Morning came early. By the time Miss Maudie sent her daughter out at dawn to fetch him, the drifter was already up and dressed. Sarah Jo only knew him by his silhouette against the red pre-dawn sky—strong, tall, standing as if he was weighed down by a great weight. He was tending his horse, the animal’s silhouette sometimes becoming one with his.
“Mister Wallace?” His silhouette turned its head. “Mama says we’ve got to go into town for supplies today.”
“Your mama wants me to ride shotgun?” he asked.
“You comin’ along?”
“Mmhmm.” The girl’s shape moved from foot to foot in the darkness, restless and champing at the bit like a horse about to race.
The drifter watched for a moment. He turned his head again—or the child supposed so, because his figure was black and she could only see the angular outl
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