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 Second Thoughts

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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Second Thoughts   Mon Jul 20, 2015 9:14 pm

Brookswood


Jed banged on the door to David's house. It was all he could do to not simply barge in; he was so anxious. This house had been almost as much a home to him as the Double J, and now, of all times, he was left to stand on the porch awaiting permission.

Come in!” Tricia's frazzled voice beckoned him

Jed was through the door in an instant and stopped just as quickly. Nathan was standing by the stove, his soaked clothing lying in a pile on the floor. He wasn't actually crying—because big boys don't cry- but he was looking miserable and was complaining bitterly.

You're hurting me!”

Trich..?” Jed tried to break in on the family debate.

Too bad!” Tricia remarked as she rubbed her son's dripping hair with a rough towel. “I'm very angry with you!”

But you said I could go out and play!” came forth the logical protest.

Tricia, is David...”

It wasn't pouring rain then,” the mother clarified. “You know you shouldn't have stayed out once the weather turned so bad. You're going to catch your death of a cold!”

Papa says I can't get a cold from getting wet—it's a vius...vion...virus!”

I'm telling you, you will get sick running around in a downpour like this!”

Trish, can I...”

Now go on, down to your room and put on some dry clothes!”

Nathan was gone in a pink flash, his bare feet slapping the hardwood floors as he made his escape.

Boys!” Tricia exclaimed as she threw the towel down on the heap of wet clothes. “It won't be long Jed, and you'll be finding out what you got yourself into.”

Ah, aren't Steven and Bridget in Nathan's room?” Jed asked suspiciously.

Tricia's eyes widened in shocked realization. Her hands leapt to her face as she made a dash for the hallway.

Nathan! Wait...!”

But it was too late. They heard Nathan's voice coming from the vicinity of his bedroom door.

Mama told me to come here to get dressed,” he shamelessly announced. “Are you going to put clothes on too, Auntie Bridget?”

Next came the sound of the bedroom door closing a little faster and a little louder than was the norm.

What's the matter?” Nathan asked as he began to knock on his door. “Can't I come in?”

Oh no,” Tricia rolled her eyes while Jed snickered, momentarily forgetting the current crisis. “Nathan, come back here for now. Give your Aunt Bridget and Uncle Steven a few minutes.”

But you told me to get dressed!” came the complaint. “I'm cold now.”

I'll wrap you in your Papa's coat.” Tricia offered and pointed to the mud room. “Hand me David's jacket, will you, Jed?”

Jed reached for the coat as Nathan came bouncing down the hallway.

I get to wear Papa's coat!” The excited boy burst into the kitchen like a young colt in a bucking fit. “Yeah! Can I wear it during supper?”

We'll see,” Tricia conceded, coming to her wits' end of patience.

Nathan ran directly to his Uncle Jed, and Jed did his duty by wrapping the boy up in the desired clothing. Nathan was smiling from ear to ear and began bouncing around the kitchen and banging into chairs.

Oh Nathan, please,” Tricia was practically pleading with him. “It's a miracle you haven't awakened your sister. Not to mention we have more than one patient in the house. Where is that book you liked so much?”

Nathan stopped on a dime and his eyes widened.

Oh!” He thought about it for a moment. “It's in the living room.”

Why don't you go and read your book until supper is ready?”

Okay!”

And off he dashed to sink himself into more new adventures.

Tricia visibly deflated as the household quieted down.

Heavens,” she breathed. “Sometimes, that boy...”

Ah, is David around?” Jed finally was able to ask, though he felt a little guilty in his lack of concern for the weary mother.

Tricia sent him an exasperated look, and for an instant, Jed thought he was going to be next for a scolding. Fortunately for him, Tricia was too tired to carry through with it and merely indicated the hallway.

He's in his office.”

Yeah. Ah, thanks.”

Jed made a hasty retreat and knocked on the office door. There was a momentary silence that had Jed wondering if David was actually in there, but then a reluctant voice finally responded.

What now?”

If Jed's mission hadn't been so vital, he might have decided that retreat would be the best option, but concern for his partner won out and he persisted.

David, it's me.”

Oh Jed,” The voice lightened with relief. “Come in.”

Jed entered into the office and quietly closed the door behind him. David was sitting in his chair with a brandy bottle on the desk, and a shot glass in his hand. The doctor looked exhausted, but more than that; he looked defeated.

Would you like a drink?” he asked his visitor.

Ah no,” Jed declined. “bit early in the day for me.”

It's supper time,” David pointed out.

Yeah, but I just got up an hour ago,” Jed explained. “I feel more inclined towards a coffee than a brandy.”

Hmm.”

You alright?”

David sighed. “A wagon full of dead bodies. I didn't even get the chance to help any of them. What a waste. And young Ben might very well be one of those two...”

Yep,” Jed agreed. “but he might not. Still lots a' fellas not back yet.”

I suppose.”

Jed hesitated. He remembered when David had lost Mrs. Robertson and her baby, and he wondered if this was going to be another bad night like that bad night back then. But David smiled, and his mood, though still tired, picked up.

What can I do for you, Jed?”

Oh, ahh...” Jed pulled out his telegram and opened it up. “Have you had a chance to get a look at those telegrams?”

David groaned. “No, not yet.”

Well mine's from Randa,” Jed informed him. “asking us to please get in touch.”

David's exhaustion lifted as concern took over his features.

Why?” he asked.

Jed shrugged.

I was hoping your telegrams might say something.”

David pushed himself away from his desk and abruptly left the office. Jed stood rooted to the spot, not sure if he should follow or not, and then he heard David's voice coming from the kitchen.

Where's my coat?”

I let Nathan wear it,” Tricia's tired voice responded. “His clothes got soaked through and he can't get into his room right now.”

Oh damn,” David cursed slightly as he came back down the hallway and strode past the open office door. “Nathan, I need to check my coat.”

But Mama said I could wear it!” Nathan complained. “Mama said!”

The pitter-patter of bare feet on the wood floor could be heard once again as Nathan made his escape back towards the kitchen.

Nathan, I'm not saying you can't wear it!” David tried to assure him as he followed in his wake. “I simply need something that's in the pocket.”

But Mama said I could wear it!” Nathan had forgotten all about being a big boy, and tears were flowing with his protests.

Then finally and not surprisingly, Eleanor wailed and began to cry from her bassinet in her parents' room.

Oh no!” Tricia complained. “I'm never going to get supper going!'

She hurried down the hallway, scooting past her husband and son as they wrestled with the coat, and prepared to do duty with the youngest member of the family. Much to her relief, Bridget stepped out of Nathan's bedroom and gave her friend a smile and a reassuring hug.

I'll tend to the baby,” she offered the frazzled mother. “You carry on in the kitchen. Steven and I can move back to our hotel room once Eleanor is settled.”

Oh, thank you. Don't hurry off though, Bridget,” Tricia assured her. “Unless of course, you'd prefer some peace and quiet. But you're welcome to stay for supper.”

We'll see,” she said. “I'll settle the baby first and then come and help you in the kitchen. Steven is much better now. He can dress himself.”

Tricia turned back to the kitchen, secure in the knowledge that her daughter would be well tended to. She stopped when she found her way obstructed by her husband and her son sprawled on the floor in a mock wrestling match. Nathan's tears had turned to laughter as his father gently held him down and began to poke and tickle him in those sensitive places. Nathan wriggled and screamed and laughed with glee, while David deftly snatched the telegrams out of the coat pocket and then released his son.

Nathan was on his feet and running back to the sanctuary of the living room as David sat up and pushed himself against the wall next to his office door. He was trying to open up the telegrams when the guest room door opened and Belle peered out.

My goodness, what is going on out here?” she asked quietly. “Sounds worse than our two girls put together.”

Oh Belle, I'm sorry,” Tricia told her as she headed that way. “Here we are telling you to get some rest, and then the whole household explodes in an uproar.”

That's quite alright,” Belle assured her. “I remember those days quite clearly. But is there a problem?”

No,” Tricia told her. “No problem. How is Jesse doing?”

Still sleeping,” Belle informed her. “How about if I come out and help with supper? You look tired.”

David pushed himself to his feet and straightened out his shirt.

You need to get your rest too, Belle,” he told her. “We don't want you getting sick.”

Oh, I'm fine,” Belle insisted as she stepped completely out of the room and into the kitchen. “I'll sleep tonight.”

David wisely decided to leave that discussion to the women and took the opportunity to slip into his office and close the door. He sighed heavily and shook his head.

Sorry about that,” he apologized. “If you turn it into a game it usually goes faster than getting angry.”

Yeah, I'll have to remember that.”

Let's get a look at these telegrams,” David suggested. “Maybe we can get an idea as to what's going on.”

He went to his desk where both men spread out their messages and compared notes. David read one of his and relaxed.

Typical of your partner,” he griped. “He doesn't have any serum with him, and Miranda's asking for a re-fill.”

Jed frowned.

That doesn't sound too serious,” he mumbled. “but why would she be asking for me to get in touch? Why wouldn't Heyes send it himself if they needed us? Sarah's in town and from what she says, the telegrams she sent to Kenny got here late. Maybe these are the second ones. What does your other one say?”

David was already ahead of him and was trying to focus his tired eyes to read the messy script. His relief from reading the first telegram vanished and his shoulders slumped.

Dammit!” he cursed. “Can't that partner of yours stay out of trouble for one minute?”

No,” Jed stated bluntly. “I thought you'd 'a figured that out by now.”

A quick knock on the office door preceded the entrance of the lawyer. Steven was still looking pale and tired, the bruise across his forehead adding to his already dishevelled appearance. He leaned against the door jamb for some extra support, but his eyes were alert and concerned as he held up his own slip of paper.

I just read this telegram,” he announced. “It seems Han is having some problems at the border.”

Jed and David held up their own telegrams.

When you're Heyes, you do everything times two,” Jed announced. “I think there's more going on than just trouble at the border.”

He took his paperwork with him, didn't he?” Steven asked with a concerned frown.

What paperwork?” Jed asked.

His pardon!” Steven snapped, then swayed slightly with the exertion. Both Jed and David were about to make a grab for him, but drew back as Steven caught himself. “His pardon,” he repeated more sedately. “His pardon is still recent. News of it might not have reached the border towns yet. If Hannibal has tried to leave the country without his pardon, then he could be in serious trouble.”

David sighed, and Jed groaned.

Dammit,” they both muttered.

Do you know where he would have kept it?” Steven asked Jed.

Yeah, it'd be in his safe if it's not with him.”

Can you get into his safe?” Steven continued.

Yeah,” Jed admitted. “Heyes gave me the combination just in case anything happened to 'im. I can go check if it's there or not.”

Good,” Steven nodded. “I have my own copy back in Denver and can take it with me when I go, but it would be best for him to have his on him.”

When you go?” David interjected. “You're not up to a trip down to Yuma. You can give me the paperwork and I'll take it along when I go.”

You?” Steven argued. “You're so exhausted, you can barely keep your eyes open. There's no reason for you to go anyway. It's more important that I go, and I can take the serum with me.”

You need to rest.”

So do you,” Steven countered. “Besides, it's not like I'd be walking to Yuma. I'll rest on the train.”

I can do that just as easily as you...”

Fellas, fellas!” Jed had been listening to this debate until it was obvious that it was going in circles.
I wouldn't be surprised if Heyes needs both of ya' down there. We can all go together.”

Two incredulous looks were sent Jed's way.

What do you mean, all of us?” asked Steven.

You can't go,” David added.

What do ya' mean, I can't go?” Jed demanded. “I'm his partner. If he's in trouble then I'm the one who needs to go.”

You have other obligations Jed,” Steven pointed out.

Like what?”

Like the Double J,” Steven clarified. “Your family needs you here, with Jesse laid up the way he is. You're the head of that household now, and you have to get out there with Sam in order to get the ranch up and running again.”

That's true, Jed,” David agreed. “The Jordans need you here. Especially with Ben missing now...”

Who's Ben?” Steven asked.

Jesse's new hired hand,” Jed explained.

Who is now missing,” David continued. “Even his folks came into town in the hopes of finding him here. Hopefully they haven't.”

Steven frowned in confusion over that comment, but Jed understood it. He nodded with some regret as he came to fully realize the situation.

Yeah, I guess they are going to need me here,” he conceded.

Not to mention Harry's wedding,” David added.

Ohh,” Jed grimaced. “You had to remind me a' that, didn't ya'?”

Both Steven and David grinned, and the doctor gave Jed a pat on the shoulder.

I think after what this town has been through, a wedding is the best thing that could happen,” he said. “Bring everybody's spirits back up again.”

Jed sent him a look and was about to retort, when more knocking on the front door caught their attention.

A few seconds passed, and then Tricia's voice could be heard from the front alcove.

Oh, good evening Sheriff, ah...Sheriffs. Oh! And...oh yes, they're all down in David's office. Go on down.”

Thank you, Tricia,” came Sheriff Jacobs' voice, instantly followed by Lom's baritone as he greeted her and walked by.

Steven looked down the hallway and nodded a greeting as the two law men joined the gathering. He then raised his brows in surprise as Harry stepped out from behind the sheriffs.

I need to know what you fellas are plannin',” the detective puffed. “Has everyone forgotten why we're all here in the first place? We got us a weddin' ta' get through! You better not be plannin' on leavin' me high and dry here Kid. I need ya' to well...organize things.”

I ain't goin' anywhere, Harry,” Jed assured him with some regret. “You and Isabelle are gonna get married here, right quick.”

Well it's about time!” Harry complained. “Why, my little peach has had to wait long enough. She's startin' ta' get push...I mean, anxious. Afraid I'm going to back out on her or some such nonsense. Can you imagine me doin' something like that?”

Well now that ya' mention it, Harry...”

Kid! I would never! A Bannerman man's word is as good as...”

Finally, Jacobs had had enough of this rant and giving Harry a slight push to the side, took over the conversation.

You fellas get telegrams from Yuma as well?” he asked.

Yep.”

Yes.”

Sure did.”

I didn't.”

All eyes turned to Harry for an instant, and he shrugged.

Well I didn't!”

What do yours say?” Jed asked the two lawmen.

Basically wondering why no one was getting back to them,” Jacobs filled them in. “I guess all the telegrams ended up coming at once.”

Mine was similar,” Lom conceded. “Seems Heyes has got himself into trouble again. Any idea what it's all about?”

Not really,” Steven admitted. “Just trouble getting across the border.”

And needing more serum.” David added. “I could just send the mixture, but I think it best I take it in person. The telegrams don't say much, but there seems to be a note of desperation to them.”

Jed snorted. Lom rolled his eyes.

Another knocking on the front door interrupted the conference again.

Oh for goodness' sakes!” came Tricia's frustrated tone. “I'm never going to get supper on the table at this rate...come in!”

Sorry ma'am,” a mumbled voice responded. “but I have an important telegram here for Sheriff Jacobs. Joe said he was over here.”

Down here, Clayt!” Jacobs summoned the telegrapher. “What is it?”

Clayt quickly shuffled forward and handed yet another slip of paper to the sheriff.

Another one from Yuma.”

Jacobs took the paper and unfolded it. All eyes were upon him as they waited for the news.

Well, pretty straight forward this time,” Jacobs announced. “It's from the sheriff down there. He's beginning to sound a little desperate too. Ah, 'Bring proof of pardon. Bring Meds. Bring proof of...sanity?'”

Sanity!?” Jed asked.

What does that mean?” Steven seconded.

Jacobs shrugged. “That's what it says. “'Bring proof of sanity.'”.

Ha! I knew it!” Harry announced. “I always said Heyes was a little crazy!”

Oh no,” David groaned, totally ignoring Harry's outburst.

He was met with a universal “What?”

If he had another seizure and the doctor down there doesn't understand the cause, they might just be thinking that Hannibal is insane,” David explained.

Oh no,” Jed grumbled.

That settles it,” Steven announced. “I'm heading down there. I'll rest on the train.”

Myself as well,” David agreed. “Take it easy tonight, Steven, and we'll catch the morning train. Hopefully we can get there in a couple of days. Clayt, would you mind letting the sheriff there know that we're on our way?”

Who should I say it's from?”

Silence settled for a moment and then Jed answered. “How about it's from the whole town of Brookswood.”

Xxx


Sarah held the bowl of hot soup and carefully sent another spoonful towards her husband's mouth. He accepted it and swallowed, then smiled.

I can feed myself, you know,” he told her. “I'm not a total invalid.”

But I like doing it,” Sarah assured him. “It makes me feel needed.”

Kenny chuckled. “I don't think you need to worry about that.”

Sarah smiled, but then turned serious again.

I was worried about you though,” she admitted. “When I didn't hear back from you, I started thinking all the worst things. I guess I've been the prison guard's wife for too long. Any delays and I'm certain you must be in trouble.”

I'm sorry,” Kenny told her. “I never received any telegrams from you. Then this happened. How did you get here so soon? News of it wouldn't have travelled that quickly.”

Sarah smiled and nodded.

I know,” she agreed. “I didn't hear about it until I was already on my way. I had some news for you and sent you a telegram shortly after you left to come here. When I didn't hear back from you, I got worried. I sent another one and still no response. Then I got really worried because it just isn't like you to not answer.”

Yes. True enough.”

Sarah put the bowl of soup down on the night table and took her husband's good hand.

I couldn't just sit still and wait for word,” she continued. “Goodness knows I've done that too many times in the past, and I decided I simply wasn't going to put myself through it again. I left Evelyn with Mrs. McGrew and caught the next train here. I was already on my way when news came to us of the fire. As soon as I heard about it, I knew you were in trouble. I just knew it.”

Kenny sat up straighter and pulled his wife into a hug. They held each other, sharing the comfortable warmth as they both reassured the other that all was now well.

What was the news?” Kenny finally asked her.

Pardon?”

You said you had news,” he clarified. “That's why you sent the original telegram.”

Oh yes!” Sarah sat up straight again. “How could I have forgotten! Joseph sent a letter home shortly after he arrived back at school. It seems there is a particular young lady back East who has caught his interest.”

Really?” Kenny sounded incredulous. “He's been visiting with us all summer and he doesn't mention anything about this until he gets back to school?”

It seems he wasn't sure of the lady's feelings towards him and he didn't want to say anything until he was sure,” Sarah explained. “Apparently, now he is sure.”

No wonder he was in such a hurry to get back,” Kenny mulled. “Are we going to be meeting this young lady sometime in the near future?”

I expect so,” Sarah confirmed. “Apparently he is going to meet her parents next week and, if they approve of him—and of course, they will—then the next step will be for us to meet her.”

That makes sense,” Kenny agreed. “This is sounding serious. Are they actually betrothed?”

Not officially,” Sarah explained. “He must get her father's permission first, of course.”

Oh, well yes, of course.”

Then if they are to come here, the young lady cannot travel without a chaperone.”

No, no, of course not. We could always go there.”

Sarah smiled. “Would you be able to take more time away from your job?” she asked. “If we were to go before the weather turns bad, we would have to leave soon.”

Kenny grinned. “I'm convalescing,” he stated. “And I have a doctor in my back pocket who will agree that I need at least six weeks off for a full recovery.”

Sarah's smile broadened, and she leaned in for another kiss. Kenny pulled her in close once again.

And since you're already here,” he informed her. “you can accompany me to Harry's wedding before we head off to attend to our son!”

Sarah groaned.

Xxx

Jed, Beth and T.J. made their way through the early morning chill towards David's place. The rain clouds had all disappeared, and the rising sun was promising to bring the late summer heat back to the countryside. Thank goodness they'd had that break in the weather. Jed couldn't imagine still being out there fighting that fire, and the financial loss to the community would have been even more devastating than it already was.

The Gibson household was its usual morning chaos as Tricia struggled to get both her children fed and assist her husband in preparing for his upcoming journey.

Good morning,” Beth greeted everyone in the kitchen.

Hello,” Tricia responded with a smile. “Come on in. Coffee's on.”

Beth and Jed joined the group, and Beth went straight to her mother and gave her a hug.

How are you holding up?” she asked. “You look better than you did yesterday.”

Belle smiled and gave her daughter's hand a gentle squeeze.

I am feeling better, Sweetheart,” Belle assured. “Your Papa is improving and I had a good night's sleep in the other room.”

Good.”

And how is my grandson doing this morning?” Belle asked as she offered to take the baby.

T.J. gurgled happily and reached out to come into his grandma's embrace.

He seems quite unperturbed by all the hubbub of this past week,” Beth informed her mother. “In fact I think he's rather enjoying the attention.”

Children do have a way of rising to the occasions,” Belle agreed as she sat the infant on her lap. “Something we can all take a lesson from, I think.”

Tricia sighed as she sat down with her own coffee of the morning. “You certainly have that right, Belle,” she agreed. “Nathan has been driving me crazy. He seems to thrive on all the uncertainty. And of course he gets Eleanor going, and there is simply no peace.”

Belle smiled knowingly. “They'll grow up fast enough,” she cautioned. “Then you'll be missing all the chaos.”

Tricia laughed out loud and then conceded the point. “You're right,” she agreed. “It hardly seems any time at all that Nathan was no older than Eleanor. They do grow up quickly.”

Is David around?” Jed interrupted the ladies' talk.

He's putting some last minute items together,” Tricia told him. “You can go on down to his office if you like.”

Yeah.”

Jed walked down the familiar hallway and peaked in through the open door. David was indeed putting some last minute items into his satchel and didn't even look up when Jed entered the room.

Almost ready to go?” Jed asked.

David took note of the disappointed tone of the enquiry. “Yes,” he answered. “You still want to come along, don't you?”

Jed shrugged, then dug into his shirt pocket and presented David with a folded piece of paper.

Here's Heyes' copy of the pardon,” he announced.

Ah! Obviously he didn't think to take it with him.”

I suppose not.”

Come on, Jed,” David slightly reprimanded him. “It's not the end of the world. You know you have other responsibilities here. Steven and I will make sure the matter gets cleared up. There's no need for you to worry.”

I suppose.”

David smiled when he recognized the familiar loyalty putting in another appearance, and gave his friend a slap on the shoulder as they left the room.

Hannibal will understand,” the doctor assured him. “I'll make sure he knows that you wanted to come.”

I'll probably never hear the end of it,” Jed predicted. “He can be stubborn that way sometimes, you know.”

Hmm,” David was non-committal on that statement. “Seems to be a trait you both share.”

Ah, is Jesse up for a visitor?” Jed changed the subject as they approached the kitchen.

Yes, I think so,” David agreed. “But not for long. I'll be timing you.”

Uh huh.”

David carried on into the kitchen for a quick bite of breakfast while Jed quietly knocked on the bedroom door and then entered. Jesse was propped up on pillows and had been napping, but opened his eyes and gave his son-in-law a weak smile as the younger man came into the room. Jed closed the door and sat down on the chair by the bed.

Hey Jesse. You up for a short visit?”

Sure,” Jesse agreed though his voice sounded weak and a little forced. “How is the battle going?”

I think we've been given a reprieve,” Jed informed him. “Just got word though that Heyes is in some kind 'a trouble down in Yuma. David and Steven on catchin' the mornin' train to go help 'im out.”

And you want to go along,” Jesse stated bluntly.

Jed hesitated, surprised that his true motivation was so apparent. “Well yeah,” he admitted. “but I realize that you probably need me here...”

Yes I do,” Jesse confirmed. “Deke is getting too old to handle it all. Sam is a good foreman but he's still young. I need you out there to oversee the cleanup. I'm counting on you, Jed. Not just as a member of this family but as someone who has a shared interest in the success of the Double J. I'm sure Hannibal will understand that.”

Yep, I suppose so,” Jed accepted his fate. “That's kind'a what David said too. There's more ta' bein' a member 'a this family than simply marryin' the boss' daughter.”

Jesse laughed then flinched at the pain it caused him.

Jed frowned in concern. “Maybe I should leave ya' be,” he said with some contrition. “David also said not ta' tire ya' out.”

I'm alright,” Jesse countered. “You don't need to rush off just yet. I understand I owe you and Kenny a lot more than just 'thanks'.”

Yeah, well.” Jed looked uncomfortable with the compliment. “Couldn't just leave ya' out there. Harry helped out as well.”

Harry?”

Yeah,” Jed confirmed. “He's turnin' inta' a real model citizen. I think gettin' married has had an effect on 'im.”

Oh yes,” Jesse frowned. “I'd forgotten about the wedding. Has it happened yet?”

Nope,” Jed admitted. “and Isabelle is none too pleased about it too. I think she's scared that Harry is gonna skedaddle on her.”

Jesse shifted, trying to get comfortable. “It wouldn't be the first time,” he commented. “Isabelle was all set to get married just before you and Hannibal showed up here for your visit. Young man got cold feet and disappeared. There was always some kidding around that her father got wind of the boy backing out and did away with him. But I doubt it. Emmett Baird Sr. has always been one for more talk and little action. I have never met a more useless man in my life.”

His sons ain't much better,” Jed grumbled and went back to the previous point. “So, Isabelle was engaged before? She couldn't a' been no more'n pigtails and giggles back that far.”

Yes,” Jesse nodded. “Fifteen, I think. Emmett wanted her gone. I don't think he's quite forgiven her for the fact that boy run off.”

Jed snorted. “Some people got no sense.”

True.”

Jesse began to fade and Jed decided it was probably time to leave him to rest.

Don't worry Jesse,” he assured his friend. “I'll make sure everything gets taken care of, out at the ranch. You just get yourself healed up.”

Jesse nodded, then reached out with his good hand and stopped Jed from standing up. “Belle told me about Ellie.”

Oh yeah,” Jed sighed with regret. “She did her job to the end, Jesse. We'd a never 'a found ya' if she hadn't kept barkin'. She called us right to ya'.”

Make sure you bury her up on the knoll beside Rufus,” Jesse told him. “You know that place up behind the house where you do your target shooting.”

Jed nodded. “I will Jesse. And I guess I better to it today too, before it gets too hot. We got her in Heyes' ice box now, but well, that's only good for so long. I'll take care of it Jesse, don't worry. She'll have a good place.”

Jesse started to fade again and his eyelids began to droop. “And tell Sam...” he struggled to get the words out. “Tell Sam...I'm sorry about his horse. I'll make sure...he gets...another...”

Yeah, I will Jesse.”

Jed sat for a moment and waited, watching his father-in-law for further signs of communication. Nothing more was forthcoming, and Jesse appeared to have fallen back asleep. Jed quietly stood up and left the room.

Xxx

David paced back and forth along the platform of the train station. The locomotive had already whistled the all aboard signal, and Steven was nowhere in sight. Jed stood quietly, leaning against the railing and watched his friend becoming more and more anxious.

Come on,” David mumbled under his breath then added a little louder. “What can be taking him so long?”

Jed shrugged. “Probably taking him a little longer than he thought to get ready.”

Which is exactly why I told him he shouldn't come.”

Personally, I'm glad he's going,” Jed admitted. “I'm thinkin' Heyes is gonna need all the help he can get. And since I'm not goin'...”

David stopped pacing and frowned at him. “Are you still upset over that?” he asked. “The Jordans need you here. You know that. We'll take care of Hannibal alright.”

Yeah, I know,” Jed agreed. “Why do ya' think I'm lettin' ya' go on without me?”

David smiled then brightened up even more when he spied Bridget waving at them. “Oh finally. Here they come.”

Jed followed his gaze and saw the couple moving towards them. Bridget had her arm through her husband's, and though she tried to pretend that she was simply walking with him, it was obvious to their friends that she was actually helping Steven to stay on track. He was definitely moving slower than usual.

Oh dear,” David mumbled. “I was afraid of this. This trip is going to be too much for him right now. He shouldn't come.”

He'll be alright,” Jed assured the doctor, though most of his confidence came from a selfish desire for his partner to get all the help he could. Heyes was going to need Steven there, so Jed wasn't about to side with David and encourage Steven to stay home.

I'm coming!” Steven assured them. “I'm a little slower than usual, but I can rest on the train. You ready to go?”

David nodded. “Yes. We'd best get on board quickly. I was getting concerned you weren't going to make it.”

I would have made sure he made it,” Bridget insisted then turned to her husband. “But you take care, Steven. It's still very hot down there this time of year, so take it slow.”

I will,” Steven assured his wife. “You relax yourself. It's been a very busy week for all of us.”

Ah, you best get on board,” Jed commented as steam whooshed out from under the distant engine. “She's gettin' ready to pull out.”

Yes, yes of course,” Steven agreed. He leaned over and gave his wife a kiss on the cheek. “Take care. We'll be back as quickly as we can.”

I know,” Bridget smiled. “We'll see you all soon. Hopefully it's not too serious.”

The two travellers waved their goodbyes and with a little help from Jed, Steven followed David into the nearest passenger car just as the engine whistled again, and the string of cars jerked into motion. Jed and Bridget stayed on the platform until the train was well under way and the two men had disappeared inside the car.

Bridget let loose a sigh of relief. “Finally,” she said. “Steven just couldn't get organized this morning. I really was getting worried we were going to miss it.”

Yeah well, they're on their way now And David will look after him if somthin' does come up. He'll be fine.” Jed assured her and offered his arm to the lady. “What are your plans now.”

I'll be staying in town,” Bridget informed him as they casually left the train station. “Mama needs my support right now and besides, we came here for Harry's wedding. We can hardly leave before it happens. That would be rude!”

They both chuckled. “Things didn't go quite the way they planned, did they?”

No, they certainly didn't,” Bridget agreed. “Still, it will come together now, I'm sure.”

Yeah, I donno,” Jed cautioned. “Harry seemed a little jittery last night. I think he might be gettin' cold feet.”

Oh, don't say that!” Bridget scolded him. “Isabelle would be heartbroken, and then we'd all have to listen to her crying about how hard done by she is. As if there haven't been other pressing matters to attend to this week. I'm sure Harry is just anxious to get things done.”

I hope so,” Jed agreed. “I don't need a jilted Isabelle cryin' the blues on my shoulder either.”

I'm sure we have all had enough of her and her antics,” Bridget ventured. “I hope Harry knows what he's getting into. But if he doesn't, don't you dare warn him!”

Bridget!” Jed played indignant. “You'd send poor Harry off to the slaughter just to get Isabelle out of your hair?”

In a heartbeat!”

Ho, ho ho!” Jed laughed. “Yep, you and Heyes are a lot alike.”

Xxx

Isabelle sat with her coffee cup vibrating halfway between the table and her trembling lips. Tears were threatening to overflow from her eyes as her complexion rose from pasty pale to puce thundercloud.

Harry anxiously glanced around the cafe at the other patrons enjoying their breakfast, and tried to sneak a hand across the tablecloth to give his bride a reassuring squeeze. Isabelle was having none of it-and snatched her hand away from his, knocking her silverware to the floor in the process.

A few heads turned their way, and Harry felt the urge to slide down under the table.

I don't mean indefinitely, my little peach,” he whispered desperately. “Just until things calm down a little bit.”

How could you want to postpone our wedding!?” Isabelle wailed, causing more heads to turn their way. “Wasn't it bad enough that the stupid fire started right on our day, and now you want to wait even longer!?”

Just until the town gets back on its feet,” Harry assured her. “Half the folks who were to attend are laid up with some injury or another. Why, it would be downright selfish of us to go ahead with such a joyous event for us, when so many others are still suffering.”

Why!?” Isabelle demanded to know. “I don't care if nobody comes, I just want us to get married!”

And we will, Cupcake,” Harry continued. “Just as soon as we get word that all is well. Why, I simply wouldn't feel right getting married while my dear friend Hannibal Heyes was in jeopardy. I just couldn't do it.”

I'm beginning to think you don't want to marry me at all!” Isabelle accused him.

Now you're being silly,” Harry chided her and instantly realized he'd made a mistake, though he couldn't for the life of him figure out what it was.

Isabelle puffed up and the colour in her cheeks deepened beyond description.

Being silly!?” she repeated. “It's my wedding!”

And with that, she threw down her tear-sodden napkin, pushed herself to her feet and stomped her retreat out the front door.

Harry sat, looking dejected as the waitress came over to collect the fallen silverware. She stood up and sent Harry a sympathetic look.

Would you like some more coffee?” she asked him.

Harry simply stared at her through distant dark eyes. He had never felt so miserable. Then, to make matters worse, he spotted Kid walking by, arm in arm with Bridget Granger. They were almost past the cafe, and Harry thought he might stay incognito, when Kid's blue eyes, that rarely missed anything, didn't miss him.

The Kid's brow creased with concern, and then, both he and Bridget were distracted by another disturbance. Isabelle hurried past, not seeing them at all as she sobbed into her handkerchief. She carried on down the street in the direction of Heyes' place and was quickly around the corner and out of sight.

Bridget and Jed exchanged looks and both sent Harry an accusing stare that penetrated the cafe's front window. Bridget said something to her companion and hurried after the distressed bride while Jed turned and headed for the cafe's entrance.

Sweetie?” the waitress asked again. “More coffee?”

This time Harry looked at her and saw her. “Sure, why not?” he grumbled. “Might as well bring a cup for my friend as well. We might be sitting here for awhile.”

Xxx


Isabelle!” Bridget called after the fleeing woman. “Isabelle, wait!”

Isabelle stopped by the mercantile, not because she heard Bridget calling to her, but because the sobs had taken over so completely that she couldn't get enough breath in her lungs to continue running. She leaned against the hitching rail and gasped and retched against the onslaught of her dismay.

Bridget caught up, feeling breathless herself and stopped beside the distressed woman.

Isabelle, what's wrong?” Bridget asked between gasps.

Isabelle continued to sob, trying desperately to draw air into her lungs, but her emotions had a hold on her and she thought for sure she was going to pass out. People on the boardwalk looked her way and discreetly gave her a wide berth to avoid any unpleasantness.

Bridget put an arm around her shoulders and tried to offer comfort.

Calm down,” she said quietly. “Try to relax. Take deep breaths. It can't be that bad.”

Isabelle took her advice and drew in deep shuddering breaths, but she was still far from calm.

What's wrong?” Bridget asked her again.

Harry wants...to...postpone our...wedding...”

Oh.” Bridget slumped. “Well, I mean it's already been postponed, hasn't it? The town is in such an upheaval. Perhaps he just wants to wait until things calm down. There's nothing wrong with that. It doesn't mean that he...”

No! You don't understand!” Isabelle wailed. “My father...!”

Your father?” Bridget questioned. “I'm sure he'll understand...”

Isabelle gasped and drew back, putting Bridget between herself and the store entrance just as the man in question bullied his way through it. His face was dark as thunder, and dropping the packages he had purchased in the mercantile, he made a grab for his daughter. Isabelle screamed and tried to avoid him, but he caught her arm and pulled her away from her tenuous cover.

No, Papa!”

What did you do?” he demanded. “What do you mean, Briscoe wants to postpone the weddin'!?”

It's not my fault!” Isabelle wailed. “I didn't do anything!”

Mr. Baird! Please!” Bridget tried to get between the man and his daughter. “Isabelle didn't do anything. I'm sure it's nothing.”

Baird snarled. He briefly turned his attention to Bridget and backhanded her across the boardwalk. Bridget staggered, and hitting the wall of the mercantile, she slid to the ground. A couple of ladies quickly came to Bridget's assistance while their men moved in on Baird and tried to reason with him.

C'mon Emmett,” one of them ventured. “no reason to get upset. Relax!”

Don't you go tellin' me to relax!” Baird yelled back at them. “I got a right to discipline my own family.”

Nobody's denyin' that, Emmett,” said another. “but you got no call to be hittin' Jesse's daughter. She's done nothin' to ya'.”

She and her whole goddamn family can stay outta my business!” Emmett yelled. “The whole lot of ya'! Just stay away from me. I got a right!”

No Papa, please!” Isabelle was sobbing and trying to break away from her father's hold on her. “I didn't do anything!”

Shuddup ya' little trollop!” he ordered, and brought his free hand down and slapped her across the face. She would have fallen to the planks if he hadn't still be holding onto her. “You was pushin' on 'em, weren't ya'! Just like ya' always do! Pushin' so hard, ya' finally push 'em away!” He pulled her up close to his face and glared down at her. “No man wants a pushy wife. I oughta sell ya' to Flo's. Apparently that's all yer good fer!”

Isabelle was sinking to her knees, sobbing up at her father, pleading with him for understanding, but his hand rose up, all prepared to strike her again. Bridget was on her feet by this time, and without thinking about it, she rushed at Baird and grabbed his uplifted arm.

No! Stop it!” she yelled at him. “Stop hitting her! It's not her fault!”

Baird let Isabelle go and turned his attention to Bridget. Growling at her, he grabbed her dress and shook her violently.

Don't you go tellin' me how to deal with my worthless daughter!” he yelled. “Yer just as bad as yer father; stickin' yer nose into other people's business!”

He gave her another shake and shoved her back against the wall again. More men came out of the mercantile and tackled Baird. The Jordan family were well respected in this county and nobody was going to put up with one of it's members being assaulted, especially one of the female persuasion.

Baird disappeared under the avalanche of townsmen sweeping down upon him. Bridget scampered around the battlefield and went to Isabelle. She held her in her arms and pulled her away from the violent altercation. Isabelle sobbed and allowed herself to be dragged to a safe distance, and there, she hugged her friend and watched in terror as her father was being beaten.
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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Second Thoughts   Mon Jul 20, 2015 9:16 pm

Everyone jumped when a shot was fired into the air, then a second shot followed it just to insure that the combatants broke up. All heads turned in the direction of the shot and of the approaching lawman who had fired it. Most of the men, being respectful of the law in their town, no matter how young the representative was, backed off and even looked contrite.
What in tarnation is goin' on!?” Joe demanded, his gun still out and ready. “Haven't we had enough trouble this past week without there being fighting in the streets!?”

The men backed off, and Baird scrambled to his feet like a cat suddenly released from the wash tub.

These men assaulted me fer no good reason!” he insisted. “I demand that you arrest every single one of 'em!”

Joe looked around at the scene. His eyes settled on Bridget and Isabelle, and he noted the red patches on their cheeks that were usually the foreshadowing of bruising. Isabelle had blood trickling from her nose and a corner of her mouth. He turned his hard gaze back to the fuming father.

Seeing the accusation in the eyes of the young deputy, Baird became defiant.

I got a right ta' discipline my own kin!” he protested. “You can't tell me how ta' run my family!”

You're right, Mr. Baird,” Joe conceded. “You have the right to discipline your daughter any way you deem fit...but you don't have the right to do it out in public. That aside, you might very well have set yourself up for a whole mess of trouble. Disciplining a family member is one thing, but assaulting a lady who is not only the daughter of an upstanding citizen, but also the wife of a lawyer, might be the worst mistake you ever made.”

Baird went silent for an instant as the reality of that fact hit home. But common sense didn't prevail for long and Joe saw the beginnings of a bluster starting up again. He was quick to nip it in the bud.

I suggest you pick up your purchases and go on home before you start a riot,” he advised the rancher.

Baird felt the fear of retribution attack his nerve, but like many men who are cowards underneath, he felt the need to cover up that fear with more blustering and posturing for effect. “That's fine by me!” he growled “That's all I've been wantin' to do anyways before everybody stuck their noses into my business!” And gathering up his parcels he made a move towards his daughter.

Isabelle screamed and scrambled back, putting Bridget between herself and her parent. Bridget stood up with defiance and glared at the approaching man.

You leave her alone!” she insisted. “Joe! You can't let him take her. You know what he'll do!”

Her place is at home!” Baird insisted and he turned to the deputy. “You can't stop me from takin' my own daughter home.”

I don't want to go!” Isabelle yelled. “I won't go back there!”

You got nowhere's ta' go, ya' little trollop!” Baird insisted and made a move to grab her again.

Bridget got between them and was instantly accompanied by Joe.

You heard her,” Joe said to the angered father. “She doesn't want to go with you.”

She's my daughter!”

But she's an adult,” Joe pointed out. “She can decide...”

You little pup!” Baird growled. “Get out'a my way!”

Xxx

Harry,” Jed greeted his friend and sat down at the table. “What's goin' on? Why is Isabelle so upset?”

Harry looked dejected. He was fairly capable of manipulating a woman's emotions when it suited his own larcenous means, but when it came to the tears of someone he truly cared about, he was at a loss as to how to deal with it.

I donno, Kid,” he mumbled. “All I did was suggest that we postpone the weddin' until things calmed down in town here, and she got all teary and extreme like.”

Aww Harry. Don't ya' have no sense at all?”

What did I do?”

Here's your coffee, Jed,” Jed smiled up at the waitress, and she beamed back at him. “Black with a little bit of sugar, just the way you like it.”

Thank you,” Jed responded. “You make real good coffee here.”

Why, thank you,” she responded. “Drink as much as you like.”

Ma'am,” Jed tipped his hat, and the waitress moved along. Harry growled. “What?” Jed asked.

What is it with you two?” he snarked. “You charm the ladies right outta their petticoats, and I make a reasonable suggestion to my intended, and she goes all hysterical on me.”

Well,” Jed sighed and considered the situation. “Maybe she's pickin' up on somethin' you ain't sayin'. You sure you still wanna get married?”

No,” Harry admitted point blank.

What?” Jed was taken by surprise. This was not the answer he had expected.

Harry slumped and gazed into his coffee cup. “I donno Kid. I see you and Heyes gettin' hitched and startin' families, and I think maybe that's what I want too. But now I'm beginnin' to think that I just ain't the kind a' man who should settle down. I'm a will-o-the-wisp, you know. Always on the go; a free spirit. I can't let myself be shackled down by one woman. Why, it wouldn't be right.”

Jed sat back and scrutinized his friend. He wasn't buying it.

Uh huh,” he commented and took a sip of coffee. “Ya' know Harry, I got cold feet when it come to marryin' Beth.”

Harry brightened up, seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. “Ya' did?”

Yeah,” Jed nodded. “I was thinkin' she was too young. Or that my ma wouldn't approve of her. Stupid really, cause a'course my ma would have approved of Beth. What's there not to approve of? But ya' know, I was lookin' for any excuse to back out of the marriage. Then I got to thinkin' that I didn't deserve anything that good in my life. Especially after we lost our first young'un. I thought God was maybe punishin' me or somethin', ya' know, for thinkin' I had the right ta go after that kind a' happiness. Maybe yer just scared Harry. Gettin' married is a big change, it takes some adjustin' to.”

Yeah,” Harry agreed. “You might have a point. I mean, if you and Heyes can do it there ain't no reason why I can't.”

Yeah,” Jed seconded that. “It ain't always been easy, but it can be worth it. Asides from that; you're gonna break Isabelle's heart if'n ya' back out now. Is that what you wanna do?”

Oh no, Kid,” Harry perked up and even became a little defensive. “I would never do that to my little peach...”

Well that's kinda' what it looked like you were doin',” Jed pointed out. “Why else would she run off, cryin' like that?”

I don't know!”

Little squeaks of alarm took over the cafe as two loud shots from a revolver interrupted the morning brunch.

What the hell...?” Jed asked as he looked outside to the street.

Isn't that the direction my little pumpkin ran off in?” Harry asked, suddenly filled with alarm.

Before Jed could answer him, Harry was on his feet and running to the front door while Jed took one more quick gulp of his coffee before following him. Other patrons were also on their feet and milling around the front windows in the hopes of getting a view. Nobody else actually wanted to run out there, and certainly not in the direction from whence the shots had come.

Hey!” the waitress called out. “He didn't pay for the breakfast!”

He'll be back!” Jed assured her as he followed Harry out the door. “I'll make sure of it.”

Xxx

The only reason that Jed caught up to Harry, was the fact that Harry had stopped in his tracks and was trying to process the scene before his eyes. Jed stopped and found himself in a similar situation, but he recovered faster and continued on his way to give assistance.

Hey Joe!” he called out so as not to get shot by accident. “ya' havin' a little problem here?”

Joe kept his eyes focused on Baird, but nodded his acknowledgement of Jed's query.

Nothing I can't handle,” he responded. “Isn't that right, Mr. Baird?”

You think you can boss me around, Morin?” Baird snarled at him. “I remember the day your mama popped you out. Who do you think you are, playin' high and mighty with me?”

I'm a member of the law enforcement in this town, Mr. Baird. You know that,” Joe reminded him. “No one's playin' high and mighty with you. I'm just strongly suggesting that you pack up your purchases and head on home. Your daughter can go with you or not, as she likes.”

Kid knew even before Baird did, that the rancher was going to go for his gun. The lip had curled up into a sneer and the muscles in his shoulder and biceps tightened in preparation of springing into action. Baird jerked in startled fear when he saw the gun of Kid Curry pointed straight at him, knowing before he did himself, what his intentions had been.

Baird took a step back, and his hand never even went near his gun.

No need for that,” he said, suddenly being all reasonable. “What do I care what that trollop does? I don't even think she's my own daughter. Her mother was a trollop too, just like her.”

Papa...” Isabelle pleaded. “Don't say things like that about my ma. She was a good woman.”

What do you know?” Baird snapped at her. “She died givin' birth to you! You didn't know nothin' about her. But I can see now, the apple didn't fall far from the tree. You're useless, just like she was. No man wants ya', and now I'm expected ta' pay for yer keep yer whole goddam life. Every man who shows the least bit a' interest, you go scarin' 'im off! What the hell am I suppose to do with you?”

Baird made another move towards his daughter, but suddenly found himself blocked by a shield of humanity. Bridget had instantly hugged Isabelle closer to her while Isabelle had cried out and clung to her friend with a vengeance. Harry ran forward and got between the unreasonable father and his terrified daughter, his fists were up and he was prepared to do battle. Jed finished it by stepping forward and pressing the muzzle of his .45 against Baird's temple. The townsmen that were still hovering around the scene backed off even more once the gun of Kid Curry was meaning business. Wisely, the man in question stopped in his tracks.

Joe smiled. “I believe you are outnumbered, Mr. Baird,” he observed. “Again, I suggest you head on home. And tell your sons not to bother coming into town for a few days. Let things calm down.”

You expect me to leave my daughter in town, with no place to stay?” Baird demanded, just to be contrary. “What kind a' father would I be...?”

I don't think there's any question as to what kind a' father you are,” Jed commented, his gun still at the ready. “I suggest you do what the deputy advises.”

And you don't need to worry about your daughter's welfare,” Harry piped up. “She's gonna be my wife here, real quick. Yessir, and a good wife she'll be too. Why, I feel privileged to have had such a fine lady agree to marry me. Ain't that right Kid? Wasn't I just sayin' how much I was lookin' forward to marrying this lovely picture of femininity and how I hated having to postpone things to show respect for the losses this town has suffered. Why, it just wouldn't be right gettin' married with folks still worried and some grievin' over lost loved ones.”

Jed sent Harry a dubious look. “Yeah Harry,” he muttered. “I guess I could get that meanin' from what you said.”

Really Harry?” Isabelle stood up and came to her fiance. “Is that what you meant? I though you wanted out—that you didn't want to marry me.”

Aww, Peaches,” Harry wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “That ain't what I meant at all. Just ask the Kid here, he knows. We're gonna get married. Why, I'll go talk to the preacher right now and see how quickly we can get it set up again. Would that make you feel better?”

Isabelle's face broke into a wide grin, and her tears turned to laughter.

Yes!” she exclaimed. “As soon as we can! That would be wonderful.”

That ain't proper!” Baird didn't seem to know when to keep his mouth shut. “If she ain't comin' home tonight, then where is she gonna spend it?” And he glared over at Harry as though he were the bane of all his family. “If you think she's spendin' it with you...!”

She can stay with me!” Bridget offered as she stepped forward to confront the irritating man. “Steven has gone to Yuma, so I would welcome the company.” she turned to Isabelle and smiled with excitement. “We can organize your day and finalize plans. It'll be fun!”

Oh yes!” Isabelle was practically jumping for joy, which contrasted sharply with the blood still obvious on her face. “We can have a girl's night in! Beth can come over, and Tricia! And Maribelle!” But then her expression dropped and she sent a furtive glance towards her father. “Oh, but my wedding dress is out at the ranch.”

Baird snorted, thinking he had her there.

Don't you worry about that,” Bridget assured her. “You're going out to the Double J today, aren't you, Jed?”

Yeah,” Jed agreed suspiciously. “I was plannin' on it. Why?”

When you come back later, you bring Mama's wedding dress,” Bridget ordered him. “You know where it is? In the trunk under the stairs.”

Yeah, I know where it is,” Jed assured her. “But I weren't plannin' on comin' back real soon. There's a lot that needs to be done out there.”

But you have to be here, Kid!” Harry reminded him. “You're my best man, and whenever we're gettin' hitched, then you gotta be here.”

Well yeah, but...”

So you bring Mama's wedding dress back with you!” Bridget stated as though it should be obvious. “The rest of us ladies will get everything else organized. Don't you worry, Isabelle. You're going to have your wedding day, and it's going to be soon!”

Isabelle clung onto her fiance and broke down into tears once again. Bridget smiled, her heart and mind now focused on a new challenge. The numerous men in the group appeared to be in a state of shock, wondering how all of this was going to get pulled back together again, considering the disarray the town and the church were still in.

Xxx

Three hours later, Jed had Monty hitched up to a small buckboard they had rented from Eric, and was getting the ice filled 'coffin' containing Ellie, slid into the back of the wagon. With Belle and Jesse stuck in town for now, the plan was for Jed and Sam to head back out to the Double J and do an assessment of the damage done to property and livestock. Jed would stay at the house over the next few days and do whatever needed to be done to at least get the basics up and running again.

Monty was still tired from his previous exertions, but the thought of going home and being back in his own pasture added a bit of spring to his step. Pacing onto Sam's property, the little gelding actually fought a little bit when instructed to stop as all he really wanted to do was get home. But Sam needed to do a quick check of his place too, and as soon as Jed had halted the buckboard and set the brakes, Sam jumped down and headed over to the out buildings.

The smell of smoke still lingered over the landscape, but when Sam stepped inside the barn, the scent of dust and hay stored for the upcoming winter took over his senses. It was bittersweet to find himself in this familiar place and not hear the familiar nicker of welcome from Ginger. So much had been happening to keep his mind occupied that he hadn't really given his mare much thought past the initial receiving of the bad news. The ache to his heart caught him by surprise now as he stood in the dusty barn isle and stared at his mare's empty stall.

He didn't blame Jesse for what happened, Jesse himself was lucky to be alive. And there were many others, Sam told himself, others who had lost far more than just a horse. But even that thought felt like a betrayal of her memory; just a horse? No. She had been more than that. She might not have been a person, but she had still been part of their family, and it didn't seem right to not grieve for her as such.

Sam knew Jesse felt bad about it, and he also knew that his boss would make it up by giving him the choice of another mount. That would be appreciated, not only because a man without a horse in these parts was unheard of, but Jesse had some fine animals and Sam knew he'd end up with a good quality mount. But he sure was going to miss that little red mare.

Sam sighed, and turning to leave the barn, nearly tripped over one of the numerous cats who called this place their home. An indignant 'ack!' and a flick of the tail expressed the feline's displeasure at the apparent insult, but the pleasure of seeing one of their humans finally home again overruled the rudeness. She returned to purr and rub against a boot and rose up on her hind legs to accept the ear scratch that she was entitled to.

Hey Puss,” Sam greeted her. He couldn't remember this particular cat's name, or even if she had one. Oh, but then knowing his daughter, she probably did, along with all the other cats who inhabited the barn and kept the mice down. It wouldn't surprise him one little bit if even the rodents had names and Carol simply ignored the fact that the cats were there to kill the rodents. “Where are your buddies?” he continued his conversation with the cat. “It seems you at least made it through this crisis alright. Nobody else around?”

His only answer was an intensifying of the purr and the cat flopped over onto her back and continued to drool and rub against his foot until he leaned down to scratch her tummy. She accepted that presumption for the length of five seconds, then her hind feet came forward and pushing his hand away, she scampered to her feet and ran off to continue with her daily routine. She had done her duty in welcoming the human back to her place, but enough was enough, and she had important things to do.

Sam straightened up and looked speculatively at the stinging scratch laid out along the outside of his hand. He shook his head and muttered to himself at the unpredictable strangeness of cats and continued on to walk back out into the sunshine.

Everything look alright?” Jed asked him from where he was standing by Monty's head.

Yeah,” Sam confirmed. “I'll just do a quick check of the house and I'll be right with you.”

Jed nodded. “Take your time.”

Xxx

Coming into the yard of the Double J turned into a circus very quickly. Buck had done his duty and had kept his small herd together and safe during their time in the hills. Once the danger of the fire had passed it hadn't taken him long to organize his group and get them all back home again to await the return of their humans.

The small herd had been lounging around the open area between the two barns, nibbling on grass and Belle's vegetable garden while they passed the time. The creek just on the other side of the embankment had also suffered from their attentions and had been used not only for drinking water, but for refreshing splash games and even a soaking tub. Life had been pretty laid back, and everyone looked content.

All heads came up simultaneously as the jingling of the harness and the clopping of hooves reached the various sets of sensitive ears. Soft, deep nickers greeted their herd mate, and Monty tossed his head and danced a jig in his excitement to be with his group again. Jed had to take a strong stance with him to remind him that he was still in harness and expected to behave himself. The gelding calmed down, but still arched his neck and nickered when a dripping wet Spike came up to touch noses.

Soon, all five loose horses were gathered around them, necks and tails cocked as they danced around the wagon and blew out their welcomes. Jed had to carefully manoeuvre Monty over to the hitch rail by the first barn and actually had to use the buggy whip to get the greeting party to back off.

C'mon fellas—and ladies!” Jed yelled at them and snapped the whip. “Get out'a the way. Move!”

Karma blew indignantly and trotted off, insulted that her welcome had been so rudely preempted, but she did not go far before she turned to wait for everyone else to catch up with her. Monty tucked his head and began to paw the ground in frustration. He wanted to go with them.

Sam walked up and gave him a pat on the neck. “Easy young man,” he soothed the gelding. “We'll let ya' go with them soon enough.”

It was then that the attention of the two men was diverted from the antics of the herd. A loud, shrill whinny came from the direction of the creek behind the barns. Buck and Spike both answered the call but no new horse showed itself, and Jed and Sam exchanged questioning looks.

Who's that?” Jed asked. “All the horses that Jesse turned loose are here. Still, I suppose it could be a stray from one of the other ranches.”

Sam shook his head. “I donno,” he said dubiously. “That whinny sounds familiar. I'll go take a look, if you want to check things out here.”

First thing I'm gonna do is get Ellie buried,” Jed told him. “She might be on ice, but that ain't gonna help for much longer.”

Oh yeah, good idea,” Sam agreed, emphatically. “Grab a couple a' spades out of the barn and I'll walk up to help you as soon as I see what's goin' on.”

Well now, ain't that a coincidence,” Jed teased. “Amazin' how you was just readin' my mind.”

Yeah.”

Jed headed into the barn to pick up the tools he would need, and Sam carried on to the embankment. Coming to the top of it, he stopped and looked down at the pool with much the same expression that Jesse had when standing at this exact same spot and encountering a spectacle of numerous children in their wedding finery, soaking wet and covered in mud.

Sam cursed under his breath, then turned and called to his companion. “Jed! Come 'eer!”

Jed dropped the various picks and shovels onto the bed of the wagon beside the now leaking wooden box that Ellie was laid out in, and cursed his own string of obscenities. He was never going to get this dog buried, and truth be told, she was starting to smell. Even a box full of ice wasn't going to keep her fresh forever.

Still, Sam's voice sounded urgent, and picking up a jog, Jed headed for the creek.

Coming to the top of the embankment, he instantly saw the problem. Berry was lying on his side in the creek, the pooled water nearly covering his barrel. He was fully saddled, and the broken bridle still dangled from his neck, held there by the throat latch that had refused to come loose. Sam was up to his waist in water, squatting down by the side of the horse's head, patting him and trying to soothe his nerves.

Berry was wild-eyed, his nostrils flared with fear. He struggled and began thrashing with his front legs, trying to stand up. Water splashed everywhere as the horse heaved and scrambled for a foothold. He snorted and grunted with his efforts, but his hind legs were not co-operating, and the exhausted animal groaned and sank back down into the water.

Sam, who had wisely scrambled out of the way, moved in again and continued to stroke the animal's neck and speak soothing words in an effort to keep the horse calm. He sent a furtive glance up to Jed, and as soon as their eyes met, they knew they were each thinking the exact same thing. Another good horse lost to a broken leg.

Jed scrambled down the embankment. He unstrapped his gunbelt and after laying it where it could stay dry, he carefully waded into the creek. He and Sam both had to make sure it actually was a lost cause before giving up on the situation. His approach caused Berry to panic and he made another effort to stand up, and again, his front legs came into play, but something was preventing his hind legs from following through. Berry groaned and sank back down, his sides heaving heavily with the exertion and the stress.

Easy,” Jed spoke quietly as he approached the animal. He came up beside Sam, making sure to stay out of range of those front legs if Berry began thrashing again. He stroked the horse's face and ran a hand down his neck. “Easy boy. What's wrong, eh? Why can't you stand up?”

He carefully moved around Sam and came up level to the saddle. He continued on, running his hands gently over Berry's back and down the one haunch. Jed couldn't really see what was happening under the now muddy water, but his hands were telling him a lot. The muscles were tight and bunched, pulling that hind leg up and forward, but it wasn't moving. Something was holding that foot in place, up against the belly of the horse.

Jed leaned forward, over the hind quarters and ran his hand along the leg, trying to follow it all the way to the hoof so he could feel what the problem might be. Berry tensed up even more and began to struggled again. He tried to kick out with that imprisoned leg but it refused to do his bidding. Sam held the horse's head, speaking softly, soothing him.

Easy Berry, calm down,” Sam told him. “You know us. We're not going to hurt ya'. We're trying to help ya'.”

Berry let out a big sigh and settled. Sam ran his hand down over the horse's muzzle so Berry could get a good whiff of his scent and hopefully be reassured that he was surrounded by friends here. Many of the horses on the ranch knew both Jed and Sam, but they were much more connected to Sam. He was the one who usually fed them, brushed them, tended to all their needs and nursed them when they were ill or injured. They trusted him.

And now, Berry trusted him too. He tried hard to calm his flight or fight response and to let the humans do what needed to be done, but despite all his efforts, he continued to tremble uncontrollably. The feel of Jed's hand running along his hind leg and sensitive belly reminded him too much of a predator taking advantage of his vulnerability. He still occasionally lost control and kicked and struggled even though he knew they were there to help him.

What's happening?” Sam finally couldn't help but ask, yet still fearful of the answer. “Is his leg broken?”

I don't know,” Jed admitted. “I don't feel a break but that don't mean it ain't. Every time I get close to his hoof, he starts to struggle so maybe he's broke his ankle. But why is his leg tucked up...?” Jed frowned as he noticed the back cinch on the saddle. “That cinch is awful tight. Let's see...” He ran his hand down along the back cinch, found the buckle and carried on past it. His eyes lit up in surprise as his fingers suddenly came upon the hoof of that hind leg. “Damn!”

What?” Sam was suddenly really concerned. “What's the matter?”

He's got his hoof caught up in the back cinch,” Jed explained. “It must not have been tightened enough, but still, how in the world did he do that?”

One thing I know for sure about horses,” Sam commented. “Is they have an incredible ability to get themselves into trouble. So all we have to do is undo the back cinch.”

Hmm,” Jed nodded. “Still don't mean that leg ain't broke. He could easily have snapped it himself, trying to get it loose.”

I know,” Sam conceded. “but let's not assume the worst before we have it.”

Jed nodded, and coming back to the buckle on the strap, he gave the loose end of it a tug in the hopes that the buckle would release. No such luck. Though the cinch had been done up loosely enough for the hoof to get hung up in it, it was now so tight that there was no leeway to pull the buckle out of the hole.

Berry felt the added pressure from Jed's tug and began to struggle again, sending water and pebbles flying in all directions. Jed jumped back and held up his hands against the onslaught of the cascade. Even Sam moved out of the way, but kept his hands on the horse's neck to maintain a soothing contact. Berry calmed down again and lay trembling and panting in the water while Jed and Sam moved in close once more.

Jed tried again with the buckle, but to no avail. It wasn't going to budge.

Dammit,” he groused.

Maybe we can cut the strap,” Sam suggested.

Jed shook his head. “It's too tight. I don't think I can even get a blade in there without cutting Berry as well.”

Both men sat and thought about the situation for a moment. They had to get Berry up and out of the creek before they could assess his injuries and tend to him, but they wouldn't be able to get him up with his hind leg bound like that. Why do horses have to do things like this to themselves?

How about if we undo the girth?” Sam suggested. “If we undo the girth and the breast strap then we can shift the saddle back and it would loosen the cinch.”

Jed nodded. “Yeah. That could work.”

Jed carefully brought the stirrup up over the saddle and easily unbuckled the breast strap,then started to work on the leather knot that held the girth in place. The knot was really tight, as well as being wet and slippery, but Jed kept working at it until he felt the leather begin to loosen.

Sam kept on stroking Berry's neck and speaking softly to him. The horse lay quietly, but his head was up and the whites still showed around his eyes. He was still very frightened, and any sudden move or touch upon his skin caused him to jump and blow nervously.

Easy boy,” Sam assured him. “We're getting there. Not much longer now.”

Jed continued to work the leather, cursing under his breath when he bent a finger nail back with his efforts. Still, he kept working on the knot and, finally it opened up enough for him to be able to pull the loose end through. He moved slowly so as not to startle the horse even more, but eventually he was able to pull the strap through the rings, and the girth released its hold.

Berry's ears flicked back when he realized the saddle's hold on him was becoming more tenuous. He tensed again as Jed and Sam tried to push the saddle back towards his rump, but he was still lying on the other stirrup and it didn't want to budge.

Dammit,” Jed cursed again. “It ain't movin'.”

Let me rock him a little bit,” Sam suggested. “Maybe I can get him off the other stirrup. We don't need it to move very much, just enough to loosen the back cinch so you can unbuckle it.”

Yeah, but you start rockin' this fella and he may just explode on us,” Jed cautioned.

Any other suggestions?”

Nope.”

Okay,” Sam sighed as he got himself into a strategic position. “Be ready to move if he starts to fight.”

Way ahead of ya' on that,” Jed assured him as he quietly pushed himself away from the horse's side.

Sam put one hand on Berry's neck and another on the fender of the stirrup that was trapped under the horse, and began to push on the animal, rocking him from side to side. Berry snorted in surprise, and his head went up even higher. He rolled his eyes in concern, but didn't do anything else. He also wasn't lifting up off the stirrup.

Sam leaned in closer and then really putting his shoulder into it, he pushed harder on the horse in hopes of getting him to shift his weight even just a little bit. Nothing happened aside from a few snorts and some minor wave action. Berry tossed his head and snorted again.

How about if I get hold of that bridle and pulled him forward?” Jed asked. “With you rocking 'im as well, he might be encouraged to move.”

Yeah, that might help,” Sam agreed. “But be careful, and be ready to move out of his way.”

Uh huh.”

Jed stood up but stayed bent over so as not to get himself higher than Berry's head. Horses don't like movement coming from above them and from above and behind is even worse. Even at that, Berry blew nervously as Jed slowly made his way around to the horse's head. He got hold of the reins, or at least what was left of them, and coming slowly to his feet, he backed away and started to apply a light but steady pressure behind Berry's ears.

Sam began to rock the horse again, and Berry tightened up and pulled back from the pressure coming from Jed. Jed kept the pressure on, and Berry started to become agitated. He pulled back harder and began throwing his head from side to side. Sam quickly got back out of the way just as Berry flung his front legs out in front of him and then really began to pull back.

All of this action did accomplish the task. The loosened saddle slipped back. But now Berry was beyond the point of no return. Feeling the saddle slipping down into an unfamiliar position, he really panicked, and with an angry bellow of fear, he once again struggled to get to his feet. Water was splashing everywhere as the horse rose up out of the creek and continued to fight with his constraints.

The saddle slipped back over his rump, and the trapped hind leg went forward, through the cinch, bringing the leather strap in between the two hind legs and causing Berry to panic even more. He was on his feet, but the saddle was clinging to his rump like a predator out for blood, and Berry lunged forward and sent Jed sprawling into the water.

Berry jumped away from him, plunged out of the creek and began bucking in an effort to get that killer hunk of leather off his bum. He bellowed again, scrambling for a foothold on the slippery rocks and then fell down again. He didn't stay down though and was on his feet in an instant, bucking and trying to scramble his way up the embankment all at the same time.

Unbeknownst to the main characters, the other loose horses had come over to watch the proceedings. All of them had been lined up in a row and observed the whole scenario with some interest, but now it had gone too far. Everyone panicked, and with an intensity that sent rocks and dirt raining down onto the men in the creek, the herd scattered and made a dash back towards the barnyard.

Jed and Sam clambered up the embankment themselves just in time to see various flying tails and flashing hooves heading back to safety. Berry was in their midst, running and bucking for all he was worth until finally, with one final kick, the saddle flew into the air and landed in an ignoble pile of manure and dirt.

The two men stood panting and dripping water as they watched the theatrics.

I don't think his leg is broke,” Sam observed caustically.

Xxx

Returning to the barnyard themselves, Jed threw his arms up in frustration and hurried over to the tethered Monty. The little pacer was a solid horse, with a good steady mind and gentle manners, but this new fiasco was too much even for him to bear.

The loose horses were dancing around the yard, heads up and tails waving. Their snorts and sudden bursts into bucking gallops had Monty all worked up and wanting to join them. He was pulling back on his tie with all his might, but being trapped in between the shafts of the wagon was hindering his efforts, and he was snorting and grunting in protest as he dug his heels in.

Jed hurried over to him and grabbed the cheek strap of his bridle.

Whoa Monty! Settle down!”
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Keays

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Posts : 1431
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Re: Second Thoughts   Mon Jul 20, 2015 9:17 pm

Monty stared at him with wild eyes, but after a few nervous blows, he lowered his head and began to see reason. Jed gave him a pat on the neck.
Good boy. Easy.” He continued to stroke the gelding's neck as he sent a disparaging look over to the loose horses. “Dammit. What else can go wrong today?”

Don't even ask,” Sam recommended. “Let me throw some hay out for these guys, get them settled. I'm going to have to tend to Berry and make sure he's alright. Can you take care of Ellie on your own?”

Jed's expression dropped. It was going to be hard work digging a hole deep enough for the dog so the scavengers wouldn't get at her. It was a hot day, and he wasn't looking forward to it. Still, he could see the logic of what Sam was suggesting, and he nodded in agreement.

Yeah,” he said. “It's gotta be done, I guess. So I best get to it. But now we got ourselves another problem.”

Sam's shoulders slumped. “What?”

Berry made his way back home,” Jed pointed out. “but what happened to Ben? He might be out here somewheres, laid up, hurtin'. We can't head back into town without at least takin' a look around.”

Yeah,” Sam agreed. “You're right. He and Berry might'a parted company miles back, but ya' never know. He could be right under our noses somewhere.”

Yep.”

I'll get some hay out to these horses so they don't follow you, and then give the barn a good check-over,” Sam announced. “Maybe while you're up on that knoll you can do a quick look around of the surrounding area from there.”

Yep,” Jed agreed again, and he climbed back onto the wagon seat. “I'll see what I can see.”

Monty's ears perked up when Sam reappeared with a wheelbarrow full of hay and got all antsy again when it became obvious that the hay wasn't coming his way. Jed picked up the lines and made contact with the gelding's mouth to let him know that he was back on duty. Monty's ears went back in disappointment, but he submitted to his job and allowed Jed to turn his head away from the feast and pointed it towards the little back lane that headed up to the knoll behind the house.

Poor Monty really had to dig in his heels to get the small wagon up the hill. It wasn't so much that it was a heavy load, but this back lane was not used often, with people preferring to walk up the narrow trail instead. Rocks were abundant, and there were a few more pot holes than Jed recalled from the journey up there with Rufus.

But the game little gelding got them up, and the wheels and axles remained intact despite the rough jarring and occasional bang into a hole. Jed pulled close to the grave that was already there and climbed down from the wagon to begin his labour. A quick glance down the lane they had just come up showed a steady dark pattern of water that had leaked from the box and now continued to pool upon the bed of the buckboard and seep through the boards to gather in a wet patch under the wagon. Definitely time to get this girl underground.

He pulled out a pick and shovel, and tossed them out of the way, then grabbed the box and pulled it through the opened tailgate and let the far end of it bang to the ground. He dragged it over to a spot next to Rufus, and set the front end down into the dirt. Then, returning to Monty's head, he lead the gelding over to a nearby tree, and unclipped the check rein, so that he at could at least relax in the shade and even nibble on some of the fresh new grass that had come up after the recent rainfall.

He returned to the burial site and stood for a moment, looking over the distant ranch lands. This was a good spot for the dogs. They could rest here and enjoy the view of the house and yard that had been their home, and also gaze beyond the structures and take in the changing landscape, right up until the not too distant mountains took over.

Some of the damage from the fire could be seen from up there, and Jed felt a twinge of fear tickle down his spine when he noted how close the blackened grassland came to their inhabited areas. He prayed to the powers that be, that his a Beth's own little homestead had survived the attack, and then felt guilty for thinking that way. So many had lost much more than their homes, and he reprimanded himself for being so thoughtless. But he couldn't help it. He loved their home, and it was his first taste of ownership, the first tangible thing that confirmed for him that he was a decent man. So he allowed himself that bit of selfishness and knew that going to check out the state of their property was high on his to do list.

Shading his eyes, he took a slow and careful look around the surrounding area below him. He cursed quietly to himself as he realized he should have retrieved Jesse's spy glass from the house before coming up here. As it was, he couldn't see anything that looked suspicious. He resigned himself to the fact that he would probably be coming back up here later with the glass and take a more thorough look around. But for now, he had another job that needed to be done.

The recent rain had softened the top layer of soil, but the earth had been so dry that what moisture there had been, soon disappeared. It took him an hour of hard work to dig a hole big enough in the hard dirt for Ellie to be able to rest comfortably in and also be safe from scavengers. Finally, it was done and he dropped the shovel next to the pick and stood with his sore hands resting on his hips—and panted for a few moments. His white shirt wasn't white anymore, and the light material was sticking to his back and arms with the perspiration. He glanced over to the wagon and briefly considered getting the water canteen, but then vetoed it. The hard part was done, and he'd get a drink later.

Digging the hole was the hardest part, but getting Ellie out of the box was the most distasteful. He used the pick to pry open the lid and was hit with a reek that made him gag. The poor dog had been left too long above ground, and now she was getting back at the humans for showing her such disrespect. Even Monty looked their way with white-rimmed eyes and snorted his disgust.

Fortunately, they had wrapped the body up in an old blanket so at least Jed didn't have to see her remains at this point. But the water that still pooled inside the box from the melting ice had a brown tinge to it and smelled like a dead marsh. Jed blew out through his nose and then closed his nasal passages, forcing himself to breathe through his mouth so he could carry on and get the job done.

He tipped the box over, rolling the body, the water and the unmelted ice onto the ground, and then tossed the box well out of olfactory range with the intentions of burning it later. Then, grabbing hold of the soaked blanket, he dragged it and its contents over to the grave and dropped it in. Without skipping a beat, he grabbed the shovel and began to quickly cover the body up. What a job! And in this heat too. Damn! Even with Heyes not around, Jed still seemed to wind up doing the dirty work.

Within ten minutes, he had the grave filled in, and was patting the dirt down with the back of the shovel. It was such a relief to be able to breathe again and not worry about gagging. Once satisfied, he picked up the tools under one arm, grabbed the empty box with his other hand and returned the items to the wagon. He got the water canteen from under the seat and allowed himself five or six big gulps before upending most of what was left, over his head.

He sighed with relief and then walked back over to the freshly dug grave. Upending the canteen again, he sprinkled what was left of the contents over the grave as a token of farewell. He didn't really know why he did it, but somehow it just felt right, and he knew he had to do something for now. Once things settled down and got back to normal, the family would return here with a headstone and the real goodbyes would be said and Ellie put to rest properly.

But for now, it was just Jed. He thought for a moment that perhaps Sam would like to be here now as well, since he had always been close to the ranch dogs. But then Jed decided against bothering him. He could come up on his own, or later, with the family if he wanted to. Besides, Jed felt like he needed this time here alone with the dogs.

He was surprised to realize what a strong connection he felt to both Rufus and Ellie. It was as though they were the cornerstones of his life ever since he and Heyes had swung by for that happy reunion so many years ago. Rufus had been there through all those difficult times, padding along behind Jed, sitting with him and keeping him company when everyone else was fed up with his behaviour. Jed cringed as memories of his attitude back then--returned to his thoughts to haunt him.

What an ass he'd been. Why in the world had Beth even wanted to be around him at that time? But she had. It was like she had known that Jed had needed her friendship more at that time, than he'd ever needed it before or since, and she'd stood by him. And so had Rufus. Rufus didn't care about the things Jed had done or what other people thought about him. Jed had always been nice to him, so Rufus was happy to return the favour. Some belly rubs thrown in on the deal made it even more mutually beneficial.

Then Ellie came along, and Jed smiled with remembrance of her initiation into the Jordan pack. All legs and ears and paws the size of tea saucers going every which way other than a straight line. How she'd managed to stay on her feet with all those bum waggings and puppy wiggles throwing her balance to the four winds, was beyond Jed's comprehension. Even Pebbles and Peanut had learned early on to scatter when Ellie got excited, because it was more than their lives were worth to be caught underneath her.

But she had grown into a real fine ranch dog. One that took pride in her work and pleasure in her family. And then, when it really mattered, she'd shown loyalty and courage beyond the call of duty. She'd willingly laid down her life for the alpha and proved her worth as a member of the pack, only to take herself out of the equation by doing so. She was going to be sorely missed.

Xxx

Jed trotted Monty back into the barn yard, both of them taking note that Sam had opened the gate to the pasture and let the loose horses back into it, so they could graze out of the way. Monty tossed his head and nickered, wanting to join them, but this just wasn't his day for rest and relaxation. Jed slapped him forward and once again, tied him to the hitching rail in front of the barn.

Stepping inside the cool interior of the first barn, Jed appreciated the musty dimness of the light after having spent most of the morning out in the bright sunshine. He waited a moment by the open door and then looked down the isleway towards the subtle sounds coming from one of the stalls.

How is he?” Jed asked as he approached the stall door and leaned against it.

Sam was bending over by Berry's loins and applying an ointment to an injury that Jed couldn't see. He could see a number of other cuts and scrapes though and a few very nasty looking burns. Berry stood with his eyes closed and head lowered, the picture of equine exhaustion, now that he had come down off his panic.

Sam sighed and straightened up.

He's hurting,” he answered the question. “I gave him some laudanum in a mash, and he ate it up pretty quick. His legs got cut up quite badly, and, as you can see, some nasty burns. He was up close and personal to that fire, no doubt about it. I guess he and Ben got separated, and he made a bee-line for home. Good thing he did, but I sure wish we knew where Ben was. Did you see anything from up top?”

No,” Jed informed him. “I thought I'd get Jesse's spy glass out of the house and go back up. Might see something with that.”

Sam nodded. “I'll wait for you here. I don't want to leave Berry alone until I'm sure he's settled.”

Jed left the barn and headed across the yard to the house. He trotted up the porch steps and then slowed right down before coming to a halt at the front door. It was open. Not much, not wide open to be noticeable from the yard, but open enough to suggest an intruder.

Jed's gun was in his hand instantly. He flattened himself against the door jamb and with his left hand, slowly pushed the door open all the way. Still staying outside, he carefully peered in and then took a step and then another until he was inside the entrance way. Nothing appeared to be amiss. Nothing had been disturbed as would be expected if someone had been in here rummaging around, looking for items to steal. All was quiet.

Hello?” Jed called out tentatively. “Anyone here?”

Silence. Even Belle's kitten didn't put in an appearance. Jed hoped fleetingly that the feline was alright, but then his mind returned to the matter at hand and he continued into the main living room. The house was quiet. Maybe Jesse had simply forgotten to the close the door in his haste to get everyone away from the fire and into town.

Still, Jed kept his gun out and ready as he commenced a room-to-room search of the premises. The first bedroom he stepped into answered all the questions.

Ah Jeeze.” Jed murmured as he re-holstered his gun, and approached the bed.

Ben was lying on his stomach, his body only partially on the bed, with his left arm and leg dangling off the side and a boot kissing the floor. Jed touched him but didn't dare roll him over. He didn't know where he could touch him and not cause more damage. His clothes were tattered and torn, and angry looking burns showed through, where the skin had been exposed to heat and flames. And he smelled of woodsmoke. Jed couldn't even tell by looking, if the young man was still alive.

Five minutes later both Jed and Sam stood and gazed down at the motionless form on the bed.

Damn,” Sam mumbled. “Well, at least we know where he is. Good ole' Berry brought him home.”

I wonder how long he's been here,” Jed contemplated.

Hard to tell,” Sam responded. “What are we gonna do with him?”

We gotta get 'im into town,” Jed said, though without much enthusiasm.

I donno,” Sam was dubious. “Do you really think we should move him? One of us could ride into town and get the doc.”

Then what?” Jed asked. “He's gonna need some serious lookin' after. I think the best thing we can do is get 'im over to John and Mary's place. Maybe we can just lift the whole mattress off the bed and get 'im out to the wagon that way. Better than tryin' ta' lift 'im up I think.”

Yeah, okay,” Sam agreed. “I'll stay out here and tend to the livestock for now. If Berry's doin' better I'll ride in for the wedding in a couple of days.”

Ohh, the weddin',” Jed groaned and ran a hand across his brow. “And if I don't show up back in town with the weddin' dress, there'll be hell to pay.”

Isabelle can be a force to be reckoned with when she decides.”

I ain't thinkin' about just Isabelle,” Jed groaned. “Every dang woman in the county will be out for my blood. And Harry won't be too pleased either.”

Xxx

Using the mattress as a stretcher worked out better than either man could have hoped. It took a little bit of pre-planning to get the bulky load through the doors, but they managed it, and didn't cause Ben much distress in the process. At least they hoped they didn't. It was hard to tell since Ben was not in any state of mind to protest.

They slid the whole apparatus onto the back of the buckboard, and made sure Ben was as secure and comfortable as possible. Both men silently thanked the powers that be, that Ben was unconscious, as the things they had to do to get him moved would have caused him excruciating pain. He was going to be a long time healing from this one.

Okay,” Jed sighed with relief. “I'll get him in to town. You think you'll be in, in the morning?”

Sam shrugged. “I'll try, but it depends on how badly Berry is injured,” he explained. “He's got some burns as well, and a lot of cuts. If he's okay to put out with the others in the morning, then I'll come on in. Otherwise I won't.”

Jed nodded his understanding. “Alright,” he agreed as he climbed aboard the wagon and picked up the lines. “I'll let Jesse know what's going on. That dang dress is just gonna have ta wait until tomorrow.”

Sam smiled. “Good luck with that.”

Hmm,” Jed moaned at the thought. “We still have time. If we're lucky she'll find a way to get her own dress, but I sure can understand her not wanting to go home.” He clucked to the horse and gave him a light slap on the rump with the lines. “C'mon Monty, let's go.”

Monty tossed his head in disappointment, but did as bidden, and picked up his particular gait. He was tired and the pace was the most natural movement for him, therefore the easiest. Jed didn't hurry him, not wanting to jostle Ben too much, but they still made pretty good time none the less.

Xxx

Jed didn't even need to pull Monty to a halt outside of John's place, the little horse just seemed to know that this was their destination yet again. He came to a stand still at the perfect spot, and giving his head a shake, he snorted out his relief and his hope that this was it for the day. He was tired.

Jed noted that Monty wasn't the only one who was tired. This past week was really catching up with him, and disembarking from the wagon proved to be more cumbersome than usual. His whole body was stiff and aching, and his legs did not want to do his bidding. He grimaced in pain as he stepped onto the front wheel and realized after the fact that he really shouldn't have jumped the rest of the way to the ground.

Giving his body a moment to get over the shock, he finally took a deep breath and forced himself to ascend the steps of the front porch. A quick knock on the door got instant results. Mary opened it with an expression that showed a mixture of welcome and concern since lately, a knock on their door usually meant yet another injury. Her suspicions were not in vain this time either.

Howdy ma'am,” Jed tipped his hat, then flinched from the stiffness in his shoulder. “Is your husband at home?”

Mary sighed and nodded. “Yes, he is...”

I'm right here, Jed,” John's voice came from further down the hallway and was quickly followed by the man himself. “What do you have?”

We found Ben,” Jed informed him.

Oh my!” Mary exclaimed. “Is he alright. Oh what am I saying? You wouldn't be bringing him here if he was alright. But is it bad?”

Yes ma'am,” Jed conceded. “He's unconscious and pretty badly burned. I don't think anythings broke, but...” he ended that statement with a shrug.

John stepped around his wife and was down the steps with a dexterity that Jed envied at that moment. He turned and followed the medical man back down, and Mary was quick to skirt around him to be of whatever assistance she could to her husband.

John dropped the tailgate of the buckboard and climbed up into the back. He knelt down beside the injured man and was instantly doing a quick assessment of his condition. Jed waited patiently for the verdict, and fortunately for his aching back, it didn't take long.

He has no broken bones, as far as I can tell from here,” John announced. “Some nasty burns and cuts though, and he's very dehydrated. Good idea, putting him on the mattress.”

That's how we found 'im, Doc,” Jed informed him. “He somehow managed to get into the house out at the ranch, and make it to the bedroom. We just figured that movin' the whole thing was better 'en tryin' ta carry 'im out. Give 'im a softer ride comin' in too.”

Yes,” John agreed. “I'm sure it helped. Still, I'm not going to be able to move him like this. Mary, if you could get the stretcher please.”

Mary was already up the steps and heading indoors. In many things, she was ahead of her husband when it came to things he would need. The stretcher had been used so much lately that they hadn't bothered to put it away yet, so it was easy for Mary to snatch it up and bring it back out the wagon in no more than a moments time.

Jed helped to slide the stretcher into the wagon and pulled himself up onto the mattress to assist with the move. He was getting pretty experienced with transferring an injured body from one location to another, so it didn't take long at all to get Ben shifted over onto the new conveyance. After that it was a simple matter of pulling him off the wagon and getting him into the house.

Once again, Mary was ahead of the game, and was already in the examination room and getting things organized for her husband to get to work.

Are his folks still in town?” Jed asked as they got Ben settled.

I don't know,” John admitted. “I'm sure Carl could tell you.”

Yeah,” Jed agreed. “I should let 'im know that we found Ben anyways. I'll leave it ta' him ta' track down the family.”

You look done in yourself,” Mary observed. “You should get on home to your wife and let her tend to you.”

Yes ma'am,” Jed agreed. “I was plannin' on doin' just that.”

Good.”

Jed saw himself out, and once again climbed wearily onto the wagon. He picked up the lines and gave them a little flick. Nothing happened.

Come on, Monty.” He clucked and sent the gelding a light slap. Still nothing. “Monty!” followed by a sharper slap.

Monty's sigh said it all; he'd had it. With a great effort, he got his body into motion and only pricked his ears and picked up the pace just a smidgen when he realized that they were heading for the livery. He would have preferred the pasture out with his friends, but the livery would do.

Monty came to a dead stop just outside the wide double doors of the barn and waited for his respite. Hearing the wagon pull up, Eric was quick to put in an appearance and even quicker to begin his usual beratement.

I knew it!” he complained. “I told ya' this horse needed a couple a' days' rest afore ya' put 'em ta work again, but did you listen to me? No! Goddam greenhorns, runnin' my horses into the ground!”

Jed sighed as he inched his way down off the wagon.

In case ya' ain't noticed,” he began, then stopped in mid sentence and changed course. “What am I sayin'? Of course you ain't noticed. You don't notice nothin' but yer horses. And they ain't even your horses! But in case ya' ain't noticed, I'm done in too. Everybody is! It's been a hell of a week, and it ain't over yet. There's still search parties goin' out and injured people comin' in and we're all havin' ta push the limits. People AND horses! It wouldn't a mattered to you what horse I took out, you'd still find somethin' ta complain about, and I ain't in the mood to be puttin' up with it today!”

Fine,” Eric grumbled. “No need ta' be gettin' hostile. I just don't like seein' my horses run inta the ground.”

Jed sighed in exasperation, but gave up the old argument.

Just tend to 'im, will ya'?” he practically pleaded. “Give 'im what he needs and then turn him out on Heyes' pasture with Daisy. He'll have shade and water there, and he can rest up.”

Now there's a horse ya' could'a took without no complaint from me!” Eric pointed out. “That filly could be doin' a whole lot more 'n just standin' around, lookin' pretty.”

She's too young and inexperienced,” Jed grumbled. “Besides, I didn't expect to be makin' a round trip so it made sense to take Monty home. If I'd known I'd be comin' right back here today then maybe I would'a took her.”

Yeah well, she ain't gonna be gettin' any experience if'n ya' don't use her.” Eric had to have the last word and before Jed could retort, the old man took Monty's bridle and led the horse into the barn.

Jed sighed, hands on hips, and sent some silent curses after the livery man. If Eric wasn't so damn good at what he did, he'd have been run out of town years ago.

With a resigned shake of his head, Jed turned around and stiffly walked over to the main street and into the sheriff's office.

Howdy Sheriff,” Jed greeted the sole occupant.

Curry,” Jacobs looked up from reading the paper and took note of his visitors condition. “You don't look so good. What have you been up to?”

It's a long story, Sheriff,” Jed told him. “and right now, I'm too dang tired ta' go into it.”

Jacobs nodded and offered him a chair. “You want a coffee?”

No thinks,” Jed declined as he slowly sat down. “Are Ben Boulton's folks still in town?”

Yeah, I believe they are,” Jacobs stated. “Poor Louise just doesn't want to leave before she gets word of her son. You know how mothers can be.”

Yeah, well, we got word of 'im,” Jed announced. “We got out to the Double J to find 'im there in the house. He's in bad shape, but alive. The doc seems ta think he'll pull through.”

Jacobs sighed and nodded. “That's good news. The Boutons have had enough hard luck over the years without losing Ben as well. I'll get over to the hotel and let them know.”

Good. Thank you, Sheriff.”

Speaking of the hotel,” Jacobs began. “Your group have really taken the place over. I hear preparations for the wedding are in full swing again.”

Jed groaned. “Yep. I'm hopin' they'll wait until David and Steven get back, but Isabelle is all fired up now. She wants her weddin' day!”

I guess I can't blame her for that,” Jacobs admitted. “Ole' Baird never did treat that girl right, and of course, the sons took their manner from him. I always tried to give that girl some slack though I know she's not the easiest to put up with. Trying so hard to find a man to get her away from her family, she'd end up scaring them all away. I sure hope Briscoe treats her better than what she got at home.”

Now I feel kind'a bad for the way I treated her,” Jed admitted. “I just thought she was a pain in the backside, ya' know? Too full of herself and only thinkin' about what was good for her. I didn't know her situation at home.”

Nope,” Jacobs agreed. “Lots a folk don't. I didn't even know the full extent of it until the incident this morning. Joe came stomping in here all fit to be tied. I sure wouldn't want to be in Baird's shoes when Steven Granger gets back to town. Between him and Jesse, they could make that bastard's life shear misery.”

Couldn't happen to a better fella,” Jed commented sarcastically. “In the mean time Sheriff, I gotta get some rest. I'll see ya' tomorrow.”

Sure enough,” Jacobs agreed as he also stood up to leave. “If I see your wife over at the hotel, I'll send her along to tend to you. Will you be at David's or Heyes' place?

Heyes',” Jed informed him. “I'm hopin' most of the young'uns will be elsewhere.”

Jacobs smiled. “Good luck with that.”

Yeah.”

Xxx

Jed was a bit disappointed but not surprised to find that his wife was not at home. In fact, everyone but Merle and T.J. were off tending to other activities so the house was reasonably quiet.

Oh good heavens, Jed!” Merle exclaimed as the bedraggled man walked into the kitchen. “What happened to you?”

It's a long story, Merle,” Jed commented yet again. “and right now, all I want is a bath, somethin' ta' eat and a bed.”

Merle smiled and turned to put the kettle on for hot water.

Why don't you just sit right down there at the table,” she ordered him, and dished out a bowl of stew from the ever present pot on the stove. “You have some of this stew while I get a tub ready for you. And here's some warm bread as well. I have no idea who is going to be back here for supper as they're all having a hen party at the hotel. You just might have the place to yourself for awhile.”

You didn't want to go?” Jed asked as he tucked in to the stew. “Sounds ta' me like they're havin' a good time over there.”

No, no,” Merle sat down while she waited for the kettle to boil. “That's for the young ladies. They needed something like this to relieve the stress of this past week. I think it's great timing.”

Jed rolled his eyes. “I suppose.”

Merle smiled and gave him a pat on the arm. “I'll do my best to keep Thaddeus quiet so you can get some rest. Oh, and there goes the kettle. You eat up, and I'll get your bath ready.”

Thanks. Where is the little fella?”

He's asleep in the main bedroom,” Merle informed him. “I can move him to another room so he doesn't disturb you, if you like.”

No, that's okay,” Jed assured her. “I kind'a like 'im in there.”

Merle smiled. “Alright.”

Forty minutes later, Jed was filled up and washed up and feeling a whole lot better. He came quietly into the bedroom and closed the door behind him. He discarded the robe in preparation of settling into bed, but took the time to check out the bassinet that was placed by the footboard.

Despite his exhaustion, a smile played on his lips as he viewed his sleeping son. It was so warm in the house, that T.J. only had his nappy on and had pushed the light sheet away from himself in order to be cooler. He looked so peaceful, sleeping there on his stomach, his little fist clenching and unclenching with some infantile dream playing with his mind.

Jed reached down and gently caressed his back and T.J. squirmed and gurgled but didn't wake up. Jed didn't know why he did it, but suddenly he felt the need to have his son close to him. Quietly sliding his hands underneath the infant, he lifted him up and held him to his chest. T.J. yawned, but settled again and was quite content to be in his father's arms.

Jed padded over to the bed and pulling the coverings back, he settled in on the cool sheet and supporting himself with an elbow, he gazed down at this miraculous little being in his arms. A deep, contented sigh escaped him. He lay on his side, his son nestled in the crook of his arm, and he smiled again. T.J. let loose another wide yawn, and, grabbing hold of a manly finger, went right back to sleep. Jed lay for a few moments, just staring at the child, drinking him in and feeling the life energy flowing through and connecting them together. He yawned himself then, and allowing his head to sink into the soft pillow, he followed his son's example and drifted off to sleep.

He woke up in the cool wee hours of morning to find that his son had been replaced by his wife. He had been so tired, he'd never even heard her come to bed. He nestled in to the nap of her neck and breathed in her warm feminine scent. Hmm, she smelled so nice. His hand found the hem of her nightie and gently caressed his way up her thigh and over her hip, then down into the dip of her waistline, to finally come to rest on a breast. He again sighed contentedly, snuggled in closer to her and promptly fell back to sleep.

When Jed woke up again, it was just barely dawn. He shifted a little and found that though his body still ached, it was nothing like how it had been the previous afternoon. He rolled onto his back and his thoughts drifted over to Ben, and he wondered how that young man was making out. It was going to be awhile before he was out working the ranch again, but between his own mother, and Belle both pampering him, Jed was certain he would make a good recovery.


His thoughts then turned to his partner and regrets over his own inability to rush to his rescue settled over his heart. He knew he had made the right decision, or at least had been helped to make the right decision, but it still rankled him a little bit. The change in both their lifestyles definitely had its perks, but the responsibilities towards others was still a hard adjustment to make at times. Then Beth sighed and rolled over to snuggle into his arms, and thoughts of his partner gently flitted away.


She coughed, and coming slowly awake, she smiled over at him with sleepy eyes. Then her expression wrinkled, and she gave a little snort, rubbing her nose.


“Oh, you smell of woodsmoke,” she said. “Is it still that bad out at the ranch?”


“It's still lingering,” Jed told her. “Did you know we found Ben?”


“No,” Beth admitted. “Is he alright?”


“He's seen better days,” he informed her. “He's over at John and Mary's now. Jacobs went to the hotel yesterday afternoon to let his folks know that he'd been found.”


“Oh, that's such a relief for them,” she murmured. “They must have been so terribly worried. I almost feel badly about having such a good time yesterday. Oh but that terrible man! Hitting his daughter like that—and Bridget too! They're both going to have black eyes for the wedding, I'm afraid.”


“I don't think there's gonna be many folks there who won't be carryin' war wounds,” Jed observed. “They'll fit right in.”


“I know, but still!” Then she changed the subject. “Where did you find Ben?”


“He was out at the ranch,” Jed told her. “Berry brought 'im home. Found 'im unconscious in my old bedroom. I brought 'im in to the doc's and Sam has stayed out to tend to the horses.”


“Oh yes. Did they make it through alright?”


“Seems like it,” Jed nodded. “Well, Berry got himself into some trouble, but Sam's taking care of 'im. He'll be alright.”


“Good! I would hate to think that any of our horses got lost in that fire. It's bad enough that Ellie...”


“I know darlin'.” Jed hugged her close and kissed her forehead, then promptly changed the subject. “So what did you ladies all do yesterday?”


“I can't tell you that!” Beth quietly reprimanded him and giggled through her hand. “There are just some things that cannot be discussed with the men!”


“Oh ho!” Jed laughed. “you think I don't know what goes on at these little get togethers? It's just like them quiltin' meetin's you and Bridget would go to here in town. Funny thing is, you never come home with a quilt.”


“Quilting?” Beth expressed mock insult. “We had far more important things to discuss than quilting at this meeting. We have a wedding to plan.”


“You weren't over there all afternoon and into the evening just talkin' about weddin' plans,” Jed teased her. “You're all over there comparin' notes, I know it.”


“Hmm,” Beth responded as she pressed her warm body against his. “Funny you should mention that. I think I need to do a bit more research.”


“Oh ho, Beth darlin', you sure you want to be doin' that? It seems that every time we get amorous, somethin' comes along ta' interrupt us. T.J. starts cryin', or folks come callin'. This just don't seem to be the right time or place.”


“I was up and fed T.J. an hour ago,” Beth informed him. “and the rest of the household won't be up for at least another hour. I think we can manage it. IF you're feeling up to it, that is.”


“If I'M feeling up to it?” Jed was insulted. “Darlin', I'm always up for it.”


“Yes, I know,” Beth cooed. “And you're up for it right now, aren't you?”


Jed let out his breath in a deep passionate sigh. His muscles were still stiff alright, but at least, with a little bit of explosive exercise, he knew how to relax one of them. And so did Beth.


Her hand slid over his hip and squeezed his buttock, she pressed into his body, wanting to feel the pressure of his erection pushing against her tummy. She groaned softly, instantly aroused, and moved in to nibble on his chin. Jed was tired but he no longer had control over the situation. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled Beth under him and wasted no time making love to her. It had been so long, with many false starts, that he simply couldn't wait for foreplay. It didn't matter; she was feeling the same way and was more than ready for him. She was soft and warm and so flexible! She was easy to make love to.





“Let me up,” she told him, once he had relaxed again. “and turn on the light.”


“I don't want to wake up T.J.,” Jed cautioned.


“You won't,” Beth assured him. “I got him up when I got home and he was up late, playing with Nathan and J.J. And now he has a full belly. He'll sleep.”


“He was up late?” Jed asked. “What time did you get home?”


“Details,” she teased him. “Always wanting details. C'mon, get off me.”


Jed gave her a suspicious look but then eased himself off her and quickly turned up the wick on the light so that a soft glow filled the room. Beth sat up and gently pushed Jed back onto the pillows.


“You just lay back and relax,” she whispered. “I want to try out a new 'quilt' we ladies were discussing last night.”


“Oh yeah?” Jed asked with a smile. “Am I gonna like it?”


She smiled seductively. “I think so, yes...”


Last edited by Keays on Tue Jul 21, 2015 1:34 am; edited 1 time in total
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Keays

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PostSubject: Re: Second Thoughts   Mon Jul 20, 2015 9:19 pm

She surprised him by straddling him, sitting across his stomach, with her back to him. He frowned in confusing, but before too long, his expression had changed to one of ecstasy. Beth did things to him that he'd never had a woman do before, and he was in heaven.


By the time she was done having her way with him, both were covered in sweat, their muscles feeling like wet noddles, with the breath gone from their bodies. They lay together in the glorious after-glow of love-making, and were thankfully amazed that their son had slept through the whole explosive event.


Jed kissed her on the forehead. “I think I like these ladies' gatherings,” he whispered. “When are you plannin' the next one?”


Beth giggled. “I'm sure we'll be meeting again today to continue with plans for the wedding,” she told him “But as for another 'quilting session'? Probably when Randa gets back from their honeymoon. I'm sure she'll have some stories to tell.”


“I'm countin' on you to give me the censured version,” Jed informed her. “I don't need no details.”


“It's a deal.”


The couple continued to lay quietly in each other's arms for a while, the bed spread and sheet all askew. The promise of another hot day was on the morning breeze, and the couple were already in need of a bath to wash away the sof sheen of sweat, and the enticing scent of lover-making.


“Remember our first kiss?” Jed asked out of the blue.


Beth smiled. “Yes, I remember it very well.”


“Yeah,” Jed sighed. “that cougar had no idea what he was settin' in motion.”


“Yes, that kiss was very exciting,” Beth agreed. “but that was not our first kiss.”


“Yeah it was.”


“No, it wasn't.”


Jed creased his brow and looked over at her. She pushed up onto an elbow and gave him a cheeky smile.


“I stole our first kiss,” she admitted. “It was just after you tried to escape our ranch house. David had given you a dose of morphine and Rick had cuffed you to the bed. I snuck into the room when no one was looking, and I stole a kiss.”


“You did?”


“Yes!” Beth giggled. “It was very wicked of me, I know. But it was sooo exciting. I thought I was going to faint right then and there.”


“Yeah?” Jed produced a huge grin, the thought that a young woman had been close to swooning over sneaking a kiss from him almost got him ready for another go.


“Yeah.”


“Geesh!” Jed shook his head in mock resignation. “I didn't stand a chance did I?”


“Nope.”




YUMA, ARIZONA

It began with the simple twitching of a thumb. It was inconsequential to the casual observer. It could have been a subtle reflex, a subconscious reaction to a dream. It was there, and then it was gone. Heyes sighed deeply in his sleep, his eyelids fluttering softly as his mind drifted with the rhythm of the night.

Half an hour passed and no one was the wiser. Neither man had moved, so deeply were they into their slumber. The dimmed light from the lantern didn't even flicker, the air was so still and the night so quiet. A lone mouse scuttled across the floor in hopes of finding some crumbs and was successful in its hunting. Otherwise the cells were quiet.

Then it came again. The twitching of a thumb. It didn't stop there this time; the muscles tightened up and clenched, causing the tendons to shorten and the fingers to retract into a claw-like fist. It released, and again, the hand lay relaxed and quiet on the pillow beside the gently breathing nose.

Thirty seconds of stillness, then an eruption as the hand suddenly jerked and the whole arm spasmed. Heyes moaned quietly in his sleep, then the breath left his lungs and his jaw clenched as his eyelids began a frantic dance. He rolled onto his back as his shoulders and torso began to shake, his spine arching up from the mattress, threatening to dump the juddering body to the floor.

The muscles of his face tightened into knots as his teeth ground into each other. His lids opened to tight slits, only to reveal white behind the darkness. His fingers retracted into fists again, his own nails digging mercilessly into the palms of his hands. The seizure took full possession and rattled Heyes' body like a dog with a rag doll.

Nugent didn't know what woke him. Probably that extra instinct of lawmen and outlaws, honed to perfection after years of looking over a shoulder and paying attention to every sound in the night, no matter how insignificant it might seem. He sat up and glanced over to the prisoner's cell, and a chill that he couldn't explain slithered down his spine.

He picked up the lantern and carefully stood up as he peered through the dim light, trying to make sense of what he thought he was seeing. He turned the wick up, and raising the lantern, he tread softly over to the bars. He knew then what he was seeing, but his mind still had a hard time comprehending it.

It was so quiet. The violence of the attack was made all the more ominous by the silence of the victim. Barely a sound did Heyes mutter, but his body jerked and gyrated to where it must surely desist or explode from the pressure.

Nugent cursed softly while he watched in morbid fascination as the seizure escalated. This wasn't at all what the sheriff had imagined the seizures would be like. The way Shandal had carried on about demonic possession and murderous insanity, Nugent had assumed that such an episode would be more like a wild attack from a madman screaming obscenities and running himself mindlessly into walls. Not this silent but bone chilling struggle between a man and himself.

Nugent was brought out of his trance when Heyes began to thrash even more violently against his unseen assailant and then lost the security of his mattress and crashed jarringly into the floor.

The sheriff jumped and cursed again. Finally gathering his wits about him, he hurried into the office and after opening the safe, snatched out the keys to the cell and hurried back. He felt no fear for his own safety, only concern for the man beating himself up against the hard floor and the wooden leg of the cot. He opened the cell door and entered, getting down beside the thrashing man and grabbed hold of the shoulders.

He really didn't know what to do, so he did the best he could. Holding Heyes on his side, he kept him steady and stopped him from bashing himself against the cot. He reached up and grabbing the pillow, tried to get it positioned between Heyes' head and the hard floor so the man wouldn't give himself a concussion in his frenzy.

It seemed an eternity, like it lasted all night, but in reality its duration was less than two minutes from the full seizure until Nugent began to notice the body relax. Heyes' breathing became more regular and the spasms left his extremities. He sighed, and Nugent noticed the eyelids blink open half way, and the head stirred slightly. Heyes tried to sit up but couldn't manage it.

Easy Heyes,” Nugent told him. “Best you lie still for a moment.”

What happened?” came the frightened enquiry that was no more than a whisper. “Who are you?”

Sheriff Nugent.”

Nugent felt the shoulders tense as Heyes tried to draw back, but there was no strength in him and he gave in, completely helpless in his situation.

Where am I? Where's the Kid?”

You're in my jail in Yuma, Arizona,” Nugent informed him. “As for Mr. Curry, I believe he is in Colorado.”

Heyes groaned. He was done for. He was on his own, in a jail in Yuma, and this sheriff knew who he was. What was happening? Why was he so weak? Had he been shot? Had he been sick? He couldn't remember. He tried to sit up again, and this time the sheriff helped him.

Easy,” Nugent told him again. “Here, I'll get you up.”

Nugent stood up himself, and getting his arms under Heyes' shoulders, he lifted him up until he sat on the edge of his cot. Nugent snatched up the pillow and set it in its proper place again before allowing Heyes to drift over onto his side and settle in. Nugent straightened out the twisted blanket and covered the prone form, lifting the stockinged feet up onto the cot and basically tucking the groggy man in.

He straightened up and stood for a moment, looking down at the sleeping man. Because sure enough, Heyes had fallen asleep instantly. Nugent shook his head. That was the damnedest thing he'd ever seen, and his body was still trembling slightly from the shock of it. Had Shandal been right, all along?Was Heyes a danger to himself, and everyone around him? But his wife seemed fine. He shook his head again as doubt and confusion battled against his common sense.

Heyes began to softly snore, and that oddly familiar and comforting sound pulled the plug on tension and uncertainty that had settled over the lawman. Nugent chuckled. All seemed well with his guest. It was as though nothing had happened, and Nugent frowned, almost ready to believe that it had all been a strange dream on his part. Almost.

He picked up the lantern and exited the cell, closing the door behind him. He decided not to lock the cell door and take the chance of an unlikely escape attempt, but kept the keys with him none the less. Returning to his own cot, he turned down the light and settled in to take advantage of what was left of this unusual night, but sleep was a long time returning to him. His body was still reacting to the incident and now his mind was racing. He didn't know what to make of that episode, and now more than ever, he was relieved that Mr. Heyes' doctor and lawyer were due in town later than morning. Hopefully those two learned gentlemen would not only shed some light on this situation, but also keep Shandal at bay, and let the sheriff get to running his town, instead of an insane asylum.


To Be Continued
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