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Authors' Note: This is a new au created by Catsimmie and me.

Sweetwater Tales

They Are Not Orphans by: Wendy Emma reflecting on the changes that have come into her life with the arrival of Teaspoon and the riders.
Late Night Observations by: Wendy Lou writes a letter to Jeremiah and Theresa
They Are Not Orphans

Emma Shannon stood in the center of the bunkhouse, pleased with a job well done. The breakfast dishes were washed and put away, the table and counter top cleaned off, and the sink scrubbed. The stove was free of soot or grime on its surface, and the plank wood floor gleamed from the brisk mopping she'd given in it. All the bunks were made, pillows fluffed and dirty clothes gathered and waiting in a basket outside the door for her to take over to her house to scrub. She only hoped the boys would keep it clean for at least a little while, but knew that hope was improbable.

The 'boys' in question were the seven boys who made up this station's riders for the Pony Express. Back in January, she had been in the General Mercantile, doing her weekly shopping, when she had overheard the proprietor of the establishment, William Tompkins talking to a couple of men at the back of the store. She usually was above eavesdropping, but her interest had been piqued when she heard Tompkins say her name within the context of his conversation with the two men he was talking too.

She had moved out of the aisle and inquired of Tompkins why he had said her name. He admitted that he had and proceeded to introduce her to the two gentlemen who worked for Russell, Majors, and Waddell, and whose jobs were to acquire or lease land for the company where stations could be set along the Pony Express trail. The two men had been inquiring about owners in the area who might be interested in selling or leading their land for the Px's usage, and he had suggested to them that he come talk to her, when she had overheard him mention her name.

Emma had told the men that she was not interested in selling the land, but she would consider leasing the land to them for a fair price. Not only had she been given a sizeable amount of money to lease her land to Russell, Majors, and Waddell for the duration of the PX's run, but they had also hired her to be the housekeeper for the riders who would call her ranch their 'home' station. They had given her enough money to purchase supplies, and to hire someone to build the bunkhouse that she was currently standing in. Her barn had needed some repairs as well, and an addition had been built onto it to provide accommodations for the man who was to train the riders for their job, and also to ride herd over them.

She had not known what to think about Teaspoon Hunter when he first arrived and told her that he'd been hired on as the stationmaster. She couldn't help having doubts about whether or not he was in fit enough shape to take on a bunch of rowdy boys and train them, but she had quickly changed her tune once the orphans that were hired to be riders arrived, and Teaspoon began to set them through their paces. He held his own with the much younger men under his employ, and quickly made it clear to all that he was not only capable of being the station master, but also that he thrived on the work involved.

Each one of the seven riders who came to work for them were as different in skin color, personality, talents, and backgrounds as they possibly could be, but somehow despite how unique each one was from the other, they had come to work well together. Emma was proud of each and every one of the boys who she'd come to care for and look on as 'hers' even though they often protested to her that she mothered them too much.

She did not think that was possible. The boys were all rough around the edges, especially Jimmy Hickok, and they needed to know that someone cared for them. Teaspoon had taught them his 'bag of tricks' and was always ready to hand out sage advice to them as well, but they needed more than that. They needed to know that regardless of whom they were or where they came from or what they had done before they'd arrived at her homestead, that there was someone who accepted them just as they were and that was what she had done. She had taken them under her wing and into her heart, and as long as they were working for her, they would never be alone.

Emma gave one more appraising look around the bunkhouse, and was pleased with how it looked; she opened the door, and stepped out onto the porch. The express had been in operation for a little over a month, and so far, everything seemed to be going well. Teaspoon kept record of the rides leaving the Sweetwater station, and which rider was taken it. Those riders who weren't going out on any particular day were expected to do chores around the station to keep it in order, assist her with any tasks she might need help with, and upon occasion pick up supplies in town as well.

As she paused on the porch, her eyes skimmed around the yard, taking in the freshly repaired fencing along the corral and adjoining pasture behind it. The barn's roof and two of its windows had been replaced, and a fresh coat of varnish made it gleam under the sun's rays hitting it. The sound of an axe hitting wood drew her attention over to the wood block and she watched a shirtless Kid gathering up split pieces of wood from the ground surrounding the block and stacking it on top of the wood pile that was stood a short distance back from her house.

Her house had received a fresh coat of yellow paint, and the white trim around the doors and windows freshened up. As she glanced over at it, she noticed Lou McCloud fixing a few of the boards in the white picket fencing that surrounded her front yard. Movement near the barn caught her attention and she smiled as she spotted Ike McSwain leading Sampson the mule out of the barn, in preparation of giving the animal a bath.

While all of the riders were good with the horses, the mute rider seemed to have a special affinity with all critters. She spotted a shirtless Buck Cross in the doorway of the loft, pitching bales of hay down into the corral for Teaspoon and William Cody to pick up and disperse around to the feeding troughs in the corral and stalls for the livestock.

Jimmy and Noah Dixon were on rides that day. Jimmy had ridden out directly after breakfast, while Noah had left the night before, and was expected home sometime that afternoon. She sent a silent prayer up to the Heavens, asking the good Lord to protect the two young men while they were on their individual journeys, and to bring them home safely again.

Emma smiled at her foolishness as she picked up the basket of dirty clothing she had gathered earlier and she headed across the yard toward her house. Jimmy and Noah, as well as the others, were very capable of caring for themselves, but she couldn't help fretting over them nevertheless. Already the seven riders and Teaspoon had endeared themselves to her and she could not imagine her life without any of them in it.

Late Night Observations

Lou waited until the other riders had settled down for the night, before she slipped out of her bunk, and settled at the table with pencil and paper.

"Dear Jeremiah and Theresa,
I expect the both of you have begun to believe I have forgotten you. Well, I haven't. Moving around from place to place, working when I can, and living outdoors when I didn't have a place to stay, made it hard to keep in touch as often as I planned. That's all changed now.

I've got me a good job riding for the Pony Express based out of Sweetwater. I get good wages, plenty of food, a warm bed to sleep in, and the folks I work with are likeable folks."

Lou paused in her writing as she glanced around at the five boys she worked with. She set to work writing again, trying to describe her fellow riders to her younger siblings.

"Buck is half-Kiowa and half-white. He is nothing like how most folks think Indians are like. He's smart, caring, and easy to talk to. He's had a hard time of it, folks treating him poorly because of his mixed blood, but he tries not to let it show.

Ike is Buck's best friend. He is mute and bald. I don't know why he doesn't talk, but expect it must be because he witnessed something awful. He lost his hair due to getting Scarlet Fever when he was younger. He talks to us using Indian sign that Buck taught him.

Cody is loud and a prankster to boot. He fancies himself a ladies man and spends too much time in the mirror, but he's fun to be around, and can shoot the farthest than I've ever seen anyone else do.

Kid. Yes, that's name. Leastwise, it's the only one he's willing to tell us he's got. He's straight and true, and easy to talk to. Leading comes natural to him.

Jimmy is quick tempered, cocky, and fast with a gun. Underneath that tough exterior of his though, I think there's someone a lot softer than he lets on, so I'm going to try and be a real friend to him.

Teaspoon is the station master and what a character! He eats raw onions and bathes in horse troughs! I'm not telling any tall tale either! It's all true! He's real smart and knows a little about everything.

Emma is the housekeeper and she is a real fine woman. A good cook, too! She treats us all as if we were her youn'uns, and reminds me a little of Ma.

Sam Cain is the marshal of Sweetwater. He's strong and brave and keeps a tight rein on the town so it's safe for everyone to live in.

Well, it's getting late here, and I have a ride in the morning. I've enclosed five dollars for the sisters to be getting you some new clothes, shoes, and anything else you might need. Tell the sisters they are to use whatever is leftover for anything the mission might need. I'll send more money when I can.

Write back as soon as you get this letter so I know that you received it and the money. One thing though, do not address the envelope to 'Louise', but to 'Lou'. The folks I work for don't know I'm a girl. If they find out, I will be out of a job, because Russell, Majors, and Waddell don't hire girls to work for them.

I love you both very much,

Your sister, Lou."

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