When Hiram's horse came galloping up to the shack, completely riderless, their slightly-improved mood reverted to one of grim concern. And, when Tom came riding up with was left of Hiram's body, it naturally changed to one of horrified astonishment!
Lewis asked how it had happened, and Tom relayed what little he knew.
"Hairy Clitoris?!" exclaimed Salty, shaking his head: "Poor boy must've been delirious with pain."
"He sounded right lucid, to me, Cap. And, he said it as one word. Like it was somebody's name!"
"It sounds Greek to me," declared Fleischer: "I mean that, literally, mein hauptmann. There were many Corsican-born Greeks in my Foreign Legion regiment, during the Crimean War. Their names sounded just as tongue-twisting as this one."
"We'll table this discussion for another time," ordered Lewis: "Right now, we got to bury our dead."
It was not much of a funeral. Only one or two shovelfuls of earth had to be turned to dig a hole the right size for Hiram's body. And, the only grave marker they could fashion, that was of equal size, was a cross made of knotted-together willow twigs.
It was as if they had buried a beloved childhood pet, rather than a fellow soldier.
"Buck? You might as well take Hiram's horse and weapons. Doc? You ride up on the Shire, behind Leif and Sam. It's time we rode into town."
Twenty minutes later, they were riding down the main street of Tonkawas Springs at a slow walk. With Lewis on point; Dr. Kramer and the O'Reillys behind him; and the others flanking him in a V-formation.
They reined to a stop before the town marshal's office.
"Dalton?" Lewis called out: "Tennessee Joe Dalton! Where are you, viejo?"
"Close enough to blow your fool head off, if I hadn't recognized your voice."
All the riders turned their heads as one. Directly behind them was a funeral parlor. And, coming out of its main entrance was a group of men roughly intermediate in age between Salty and Fleischer. All of them armed with either double-barrel shotguns, Hall breech-loading carbines, or Hawken rifles.
Lewis was blunt and concise: "I already got the gist of what happened from Leif and Skinner. Where's Clark?"
"At the Oxbow Saloon. Your ma and the doc's wife are treatin' the...casualties, there."
Two minutes later, Lewis had dismounted and walked through the batwing doors. Amelia Cross looked up, purely out of reflex, and gasped.
Every sound uttered thereafter was an incoherent sob for joy as she hugged her first-born twin. When she had finally managed to calm down, Lewis broke up their embrace to tell her how he had already been made aware of the diabolical attack on the town.
"Where's Clark? I want to find out more from him."
His mother nodded and took him to one of the saloon's second-floor boarding rooms. She gently rapped on one of the doors before opening it. Lewis followed her inside, where it quickly became his turn to gasp.
The bed in that room had six or seven doll-sized men resting on top of its quilt. Every single one of them wearing what appeared to be choir robes made out of white silk handkerchiefs!
And, one of those dolls looked like a clean-shaven version of Lewis.