This is a sequel to Home is Where You Hang Your Heart
The sun was just beginning to set. Dinner had been a quiet affair. Buck was in a somber mood, he always was this time of year. Kid and Lou and their two children had come to dinner to plan how they would commemorate the anniversary. They knew Buck would have a hard time but the dinner and the future gathering were his idea.
The older children were outside feeding the chickens; throwing grain at the birds was more like it but they were only three so it was forgiven. Lou had gotten in touch with everyone except Jimmy. She was still waiting to hear from Cody if he could come but both Emma and Rachel would be coming along with Sam and Teaspoon and their children. Teresa and Jeremiah, his wife Evelyn, and their new baby would be here too.
Kid looked out the side window. “He’s kneeling right at the top of the knoll, hugging Little Ike. I’m sorry I said that I thought there should be a cross there if not for Ike then at least for Emily. I didn’t think Little Ike would get so upset. I didn’t even think he’d know what that meant.” Kid came back to the sofa and sat beside his wife.
“I know, Kid, Buck does too. I think the problem started when he met the preacher’s little boy. He’s five almost six and he told Ike that he was an orphan because both his parents were dead and that Buck was a heathen because he didn’t go to church. I remember how angry Buck was when Ike asked if his father was in hell. Then Ike wanted to know what hell was and Buck calmed down a bit but he almost refused to let me go to church the following Sunday. Oh! The baby just moved that was the first time I’ve felt this one!” Jane rubbed her growing tummy.
“I remember the first time I felt Mathew move. I didn’t know what it was and I thought something was wrong. Thank goodness Rachel was living close to us she calmed me down and assured me it was normal. Kid it’s getting dark and the boys are too quiet, will you go get them in, Please?” Lou turned her attention back to Jane as Kid stood and started for the door.
Just as Kid was about to open the front door Buck came in through the back with two mud covered three year olds one under each arm. Kid clapped his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Ike marched into the parlor and announced that Mathew and Noah were in trouble and he wasn’t. Jane and Lou, suppressed the urge to laugh and looked at the little boy, both knowing that if he hadn’t been with Buck he would have been the ring leader. “Honey, Lou, I think we need some clean clothes, Oh no you don’t, in here…..” Buck managed to grab Noah as he tried to escape from the kitchen.
The three adults joined Buck in the kitchen and they all began laughing when they saw Buck, now covered in mud himself, trying to take the muddy clothes off two struggling little boys and keep the mess confined to one room. Both women stood back and watched as Buck continued to struggle with both his son and his nephew until Kid took pity on him and took control of his own son. Lou and Jane went to get the clean clothes and returned with a groggy Nathanial. “Look who woke up and he’s hungry. Kid can you take care of Matty while I feed Nate?”
“Sure Lou, I think Buck and I have the situation under control.” Kid, Mathew and Noah all jumped when Buck dropped the pan he had filled with soapy water to wash the kids up with all over the kitchen floor.
“OK, sure…. We’ll be in the parlor when you need us.” Jane said looking at the mess on her kitchen floor. She turned to Lou who was settling herself on the sofa with her hungry four month old son. “Was it the same for both boys? Carrying them I mean….this time is so different than it was with Noah. He was active and moving long before this one. I didn’t even show until I was almost five months along and this time I’m huge already and I’m only four months.”
“You’re not huge, showing sooner, yes, but not huge. I did the same thing, Rachel said it’s because the muscles are already stretched a bit from the first time. Babies grow at their own rate, Honey, as long as the Doc says everything is OK, I’m sure you’re fine.” Lou touched Jane’s arm and shifted slightly, disturbing her nursing son. “Here it is calm down, this one is going to be my trouble maker….He’ll pick up where Ike leaves off!” Both women laughed and turned their attention to the infant.
Moments later another crash and Buck speaking in Kiowa drew their attention to the kitchen door. Ike followed, by his naked younger brother, ran out the door and up stairs. “This can’t be good…Buck’s swearing in Kiowa.” Jane rose to check on the state of her kitchen. She popped her head in the doorway and saw Buck and Kid sitting on the floor in a puddle of soapy water. Mathew was sitting on the table on a towel looking at his father and uncle.
“Auntie, Uncle Buck pulled Daddy in the water. I didn’t do it.” Mathew giggled and shook his head; both men were laughing.
“Hmmm, I see, what did Ike and Noah do?” Jane suspected there had to be some foul play for those two to have run out so quickly.
“They was playin’ with the soap and it fell, then Uncle Buck fell then he pulled Daddy down too.” Mathew stood quietly as Jane dried him off and began dressing him. Buck and Kid still sat on the floor holding their sides and laughing so hard they had tears running down their faces.
“There you’re all set now go see your mother…. Buck, do you think you can compose yourself enough to tell me what happened? The men’s laughter was infectious and she struggled to keep a straight face.
“Ike was helping me wash Noah and the soap flipped up out of his hand.” Buck had to stop a moment because he was laughing too hard. “Then it went flying and Kid tried to catch it but he missed. I tried to catch it and my elbow hit the water basin and it fell then I stepped in the water and on the soap and I fell so I grabbed out and caught Kid and here we are.” The two men burst into another fit of laughter. Jane shook her head and left the kitchen to take care of her son.
An hour later the children were all asleep and the adults sat in the parlor sipping coffee; Kid and Buck had changed into dry clothing. “Ok Buck, what are you thinking of doing for this reunion.” Kid asked somewhat gingerly.
“Well, think about it, it’s been almost five years since we were all married, the express ended and Noah passed give or take a month or so. We’ve had the ranch running and turning a profit for four and a half years. It’s a bit over six and a half years since we’ve seen Emma and Sam, they have three children and we’ve never seen them and between us we have four and a half and they’ve never seen ours.” Buck stopped speaking when Jane giggled and patted the ‘half’ child in her tummy. Buck slipped his arm around her then continued. “Rachel and Teaspoon have been married almost four and a half years,” He counted on his finger a moment. “And the twins are what…. Gonna be three?” Lou nodded. “Thanks. Little Ike turned five two months ago and it’s been almost six years since Ike died. I thought that we could all get together and since this is sort of a fifth anniversary year I figured we could all celebrate a few birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and accomplishments.” He gave Jane a little squeeze
“That’s a wonderful idea Buck. Cody has been married about three years too hasn’t he?” Kid asked as he reached for his cup.
“Yes, and he has a two and a half year old too.” Lou grimaced.
“Oh Lord help us, we’re going to have two five year olds, five three year olds, a two year old, a one year old, and two infants! I’m glad we have a big house that’s mostly Ike proof!” Jane laughed.
“And at least one on the way!” Buck hugged Jane and kissed her forehead. The friendly banter continued and the plans were made. Hopefully in one month’s time, on Buck and Jane’s fifth wedding anniversary, everyone would be together again.
“Emma! Sam! Kid, Emma and Sam are here!” Lou ran off the porch of their home and wrapped her arms around the woman she would always think of as her other mother. “I’m so glad you could come. It’s been too long…. Emma, Sam you look great!”
“You’re lookin mighty nice too Lulabelle, look at you you’re all grown up with babies of your own. Kid! Oh it’s good to see you both….who’s that hiding behind you?” Emma hugged Lou then Kid. Sam came around the wagon, hugged Lou and shook Kid’s hand after Emma finally let go of him.
“This young man is our son Mathew, he’s three and a half, and our other little one is down for his nap. Nathanial is five months old and they are both growing like weeds!” Kid spoke proudly of his sons.
“Well howdy there Mathew, I’m Emma and this is Sam we’re friends of your mother and father.” Mathew peeked out from behind his father’s legs shyly and looked at the older couple in front of him. Suddenly his eyes grew round as saucers and his mouth formed an O!
“Who’s that?” Mathew pointed at the wagon as a little tow head disappeared back inside.
Sam laughed, “Little Sam, Ely, Emma-Sue, come on out and meet some friends of ours. Little Sam you help your sister now, Good boy!” Sam picked up his daughter after his oldest helped her down from the high wagon. “This is Emma-Sue she’s a year and a half, that’s little Sam he’s five going on fifteen, and this is Ely, Sam indicated the little tow headed boy, he’s the same age as you Mathew…” The two little boys looked each other over from behind the safety of their parents’ legs. Emma-Sue had Emma’s golden red locks while Little Sam had his father’s dark wavy unruly hair.
“We’re very pleased to meet you, later today we’ll take you over to Buck’s and you’ll meet his brood. He has two boys, one’s Sam’s age and the other is the same age, within days, as Mathew. Jane and I accused the boys of having a race. Jane is about six months pregnant, I think it’s a girl this time because she’s had a miserable time so far. The Doc says everything is fine and not to worry but you know we will anyway.” Lou shrugged. “As long as they’re both healthy, I don’t think Buck could stand another loss.”
“I didn’t know Buck had been married that long….has it really been that long? We’ve got a lot to catch up on.” Emma took her daughter from Sam allowing Kid and both Big and Little Sam to unpack the wagon. Lou and Emma herded their collective children toward the house.
“Little Ike is Ike’s son. Ike never knew his son was even conceived, he was killed before Emily, that was Little Ike’s mother, knew she was pregnant. Emily got an infection right after he was born and she only lived a few days. Before she died she asked Buck and Jane if they would care for the baby and they agreed.” Lou had just sat down in the parlor when a cry was heard from upstairs. “That would be my youngest, I’ll be right back.”
Kid showed Sam where to put the bags and the family settled in for their two week visit. Emma-Sue was fascinated with Nathanial and adopted him as her new doll. Nate loved the attention and the adults got a few good laughs when Nate followed Emma-Sue all around the house; he could crawl almost as fast as she could walk. Mathew and Ely overcame their shyness and were soon the best of friends; Little Sam became their leader together they set out to terrorize the barn cats. Lou and Emma made lunch and once everyone was fed and the two youngest fell asleep, they were able to continue their conversation.
Lou and Emma sat on the porch swing while Kid showed Sam around the ranch. “Buck, Kid and I pooled our money and were able to buy the two parcels of land right beside each other. This is the old pony express station I guess you figured that from the old bunkhouse. We made that into a guest house for now, I figure sooner or later my sister, Teresa, is going to want a place of her own. That roof you can just barely see is Buck and Jane’s house, it’s a little more than a half mile away. Buck had already bought the land that belonged to Emily and her father so that’s the back part of our land; Jeremiah, my brother, lives in the house there now. The pastures are in-between the three homes and the big stock barn, cookhouse and bunkhouse for the ranch hands are over more towards Buck’s side between the two houses and the stock barn. There was more room over there to build on the flatter ground. Teresa lives with Jeremiah and his wife, who happens to be Teresa’s best friend; they have a one month old. Teresa’ll be student teaching in town next year but right now she helps Jane with her dress shop; Jane is very talented and she’s teaching Teresa. Jeremiah took over from old Mr. Peterson, the jeweler, and has his own shop now. He also helps out Teaspoon as a part time deputy; Kid and Buck have both helped out on occasion too. Have you heard from either Cody or Jimmy?” Lou stopped speaking when she heard a squeal from the barn.
Lou winced when she heard the cat hiss but the giggles and the cat escaping the barn unharmed calmed her. “Boys, you be good, come out here and play where we can see you.”
“Ely, Sam, you mind Aunt Louise, NOW!” Emma shot a look at Big Sam that said go get them; both Kid and Sam went in search of their sons. “Cody stopped by not long after he and Naomi got married; He was still doin’ some scouting for the Army then. He’s got that Wild West show and he’s doing well with it. Sam heard that Jimmy was the sheriff in some small town just north of the Mexican border. When you wrote me I sent a message to him there. I don’t know if he’s still there or not. How is Mr. Spoon doing?” Emma smiled when the men and boys came around the side of the barn all pretending to be Indian scouts tracking a heard of wild horses. The cat took one look at the group and fled for higher ground.
“Teaspoon’s still the Marshall more or less; he took a bullet to the leg last year and he’s sort of retired. I say sort of because he and Rachel are married with two and a half year old twins, one of each. I think he comes into town to escape the family every once in awhile. He watches over Jeremiah like a mother hen. It drives Jerry crazy sometimes but I know he’s grateful for the guidance. Uh oh I hear our little ones what do you say we pay Buck and Jane a visit. You’ll love her Emma, she’s perfect for him and he’s crazy about her.” Lou got up quickly followed by Emma when they heard a crash and two babies crying.
The house cat passed them on the stairs; her tail was puffed up. They opened the bedroom door to find Emma-Sue sitting on the floor crying and the water pitcher in pieces on the floor. Nathanial sat in his crib holding a fist full of cat fur and crying. Emma-Sue reached her arms up for her mother to pick her up and flexed her fingers. “Up, Mama, up….Kitty” she pointed to the broken pitcher.
“I’m going to guess that the cat tried to take a nap with Nate and he woke up.” Lou was untangling the fur from her son’s fingers. He’s still learning ‘gentle’. “Looks like he must have pulled her tail or something and she jumped onto the dresser and slid, knocking the pitcher over. Is Emma-Sue cut?”
“I don’t see any blood….you don’t think she might have knocked it over do you?” Emma checked her daughter over and found the little girl was unhurt.
“Nah, that pitcher was not even close to anything either of these two could reach. I’m blaming the cat.” Lou picked up her son, now fur free. ‘How did she get on the floor? Matty never fell out of that trundle bed.”
“Good question…little girl, how did you get out of that bed?” Emma asked her daughter as they carried their children downstairs.
“My baby” Emma-Sue burbled and waved at Nate.
An hour later the children were clean, with full tummy’s and clean diapers. They all piled into Sam and Emma’s big wagon and made the short ride over to Buck and Jane’s.
“Honey, we’ve got company.” Jane called out from her porch swing where she was resting her swollen ankles. Buck came out of the house followed closely by his two sons.
“Its Sam and Emma!” Buck helped Jane to her feet and together they went to greet their friends.
Buck walked up to the wagon and helped Emma down once they’d stopped. She hugged him tightly. “It’s so good to see you Buck. I always worried most about you; looks like you’ve done alright for your self.” Emma laughed and hugged him again as the others gathered around.
“Emma, this is my wife Jane” Emma hugged the young woman; Jane smiled and returned the greeting. “These two young men are my sons, Ike he’s….”
“I’m five and my name is Ike, I’m the oldest!” Young Ike proudly declared.
“I’m Noah and I’m this many” he held up two fingers on his right hand and one on his left. “One, two, three…” he wiggled one finger, “and a half and I’m not gonna be the baby no more, cos my mummy gonna have a baby like Auntie Lulu.” He pursed his lips together and put his hands on his hips. Everyone laughed.
The rest of the introductions were made and the three women took the three little ones into the house. Buck pulled Jane aside before they entered and said “I’ll be right in to put on the coffee and take them around the house you rest OK?” He kissed her nose and turned back to the men and older children. “Will you all stay to supper? We’ve got plenty. I always have our cook do extra since Jane’s having a rough time with this baby. The Doc says everything is fine but I want her to rest more, I think she’ll kill me if I say that one more time this week.” Buck smiled a lopsided grin and wiggled his eyebrows; Little Ike rolled his eyes.
“Hey Buck, do you know what the gift you’re supposed to give for a fifth wedding anniversary is?” Sam asked as he laughed. Buck shook his head no. “You’re supposed to give wood! Just don’t make it a pine box!” Kid and Sam both laughed while Buck just shook his head.
“OK, how do you even know that?” Buck asked as he unhitched the horse.
“Oh Emma, has this book about anniversaries and what all the proper gifts are…. I know years one through six, twenty-five and fifty. I figure I’ll be finding out what year seven is shortly!” Sam followed Buck and Kid into the barn to feed and water the horses. “Where’s all your stock?”
“Right now most of them are out in the meadows, at night they bed down in the big barn over there. You passed it as you came in.” Buck indicated a building about two hundred yards away down the road. “This is just my personal animals. We have two milk cows, three goats, four pigs, about a dozen horses, and I have no idea how many chickens. We get our milk from both the cows and the goats. Ike doesn’t like cows’ milk to drink so he gets to help me milk the goat. Don’t you Ike…..Where’d the boys go?” Buck looked around for the boys and finally heard a giggle coming from the loft.
Kid climbed the ladder and found all five boys covered in hay and taking turns jumping off a rope swing that hung from the rafters safely away from the opening. “You boys behave and please leave the hay in the barn when you leave.” Kid climbed back down. “They’re playing on the swing and jumping into the hay pile. I’m gonna try that someday it looks fun!”
“You should, it is fun. Both Jane and I have done it on more than one occasion. I wonder how much hay they’ll track inside this time?” Buck finished up with the horse and then called up to the boys. “Have fun we’re heading in the house now, Ike, Sam watch the little ones…..” A chorus of “we will” was heard but even louder was a small voice that piped up “I Not Little!”
All three men laughed, “Which one as that?” Kid asked as they left the barn. Buck and Sam both shrugged.
They looked to the west as a horse snorted and saw another wagon coming in the yard. “Hello! Rachel, Teaspoon, you remember Sam. I hope you’re staying for supper.” Buck greeted the new arrivals. The twins clamored to get down and both Buck and Kid grabbed a child before they jumped. “Ike and Matty are in the loft on the swing, use the stairs and go run off some of that energy” Buck pointed Tommy in the direction of the barn and released him; his sister Cheryl followed close on his heals.
Dinner that night was a lively affair with the boys all trying to out do each other making funny faces and noises. Nathanial was just starting to eat some solid food and Emma-Sue wanted to feed him all the mashed potatoes on the table. Cheryl adopted Emma-Sue as her new toy, when she wasn’t trying to keep up with her brother and the rest of the boys.
Teaspoon and Sam talked about old times and the good ole days back in Sweetwater. Buck, Kid and Lou all exchanged looks that said ‘yeah right’ more than a few times as the adventures of the Pony Express grew with each new story. Emma and Rachel quickly became friends as they spoke of all the times they had to patch up the riders. Emma decided Lou was absolutely right, Jane was perfect for Buck. The young woman was able to soothe the restless spirit in the Kiowa with just a glance.
“I forgot to tell you I heard from Cody last week, I swear havin’ a baby makes you lose your ability to think. He should be here tomorrow or the day after. Lou, are you sure you want everyone to stay at your place? We’ve got room here….” Jane asked as they loaded the wagon up with sleeping children a bit later to head home.
“Don’t be silly Jane we’ve got the guest house and you’ve got all the preparation for the party to finish, you don’t need guests underfoot too. Though I think Teresa needs to come over and help with the little ones for the next few days. We need an extra set of eyes watching them all” Lou laughed.
The next afternoon two more wagons showed up in the old station yard, Kid went out to see who the newcomers were and couldn’t believe his eyes. “CODY, JIMMY!” Kid ran down off the porch and was soon followed by Lou and Emma. Sam was off fishing with Buck, little Ike and little Sam.
Jimmy wasn’t alone, seated beside him was a pretty woman of Mexican or Indian heritage and she was obviously with child. It appeared they had some household items with them in the wagon and Kid wondered if Jimmy was yet again on the move.
Cody led the way in to the yard and pulled his wagon to a stop in front of the gate. “Emma I didn’t expect to see you here! Look what I found on the trail.”
“Well, hello to you too, William, Naomi, its good to see you again. This must be Maryanne…. Hello young lady.” Maryanne peered out from under her bonnet at the group assembled between the two wagons. Emma was carrying Emma-Sue and Ely had a firm grip on her skirt. Lou had gone back inside to get Nathanial who started fussing as soon as he heard voices he didn’t recognize; nap time was over. Mathew was hiding behind Kid’s legs.
“Jimmy you are a sight for sore eyes. I haven’t seen you in six years.” Emma had somehow become the spokesperson for the family, some things never change. Kid stood with his arm around Lou and tried to help control a wiggling Nate who wanted down, NOW!
“You too Emma, where’s Sam?” Jimmy laughed. “Lou, Kid, this is my wife Olivia, Hun, these are some of the other people I used to ride with in the Pony Express. That’s Kid and his wife Lou, Emma was like our other mother or big sister I guess. She took care of us, kept us fed, clothed and patched up.” Jimmy had dismounted and was helping Olivia down from the wagon. Kid immediately moved over to assist Jimmy and as soon as Olivia was on the ground Emma was beside her and guiding her toward the privy.
“How far along are you? You look uncomfortable….” Emma wondered what would make Jimmy bring his wife so far from home in this condition.
“Thank-you Miss Emma. The baby should be here in a couple of weeks, I really could use a privy if you don’t mind. That road is so bumpy….” Olivia spoke softly and Emma had to strain to hear. “Oh thank-you…I’ll be right out.” The young woman’s voice sounded very grateful when she saw where Emma had been leading her.
Back at the wagons Naomi was getting to know Lou, Kid and the children. Cody was trying to coax Maryanne down from the wagon without much luck until Mathew piped up and asked “Do girls like frogs?” When Maryanne shook her head no the two boys took off running to the barn to return moments later with one of the month old kittens from a new litter in the barn. “You can play with Fuzyball, we’re gonna get us a frog.” Mathew held the kitten up and Maryanne immediately wanted it. She climbed down with her father’s help and took possession of the kitten. She carefully carried the tiny ball of fluff over the stairs, sat down and wrapped the kitten in her apron. The little animal curled up in her apron and fell asleep.
Cody and Naomi both groaned, the cat had a new home. “Let me show you where to put your things than we can take care of your horses.” Kid had moved to the back of the wagon and was patting a familiar palomino. “I still have Katie and Lou still has Lightning. We still ride when we can.”
“Where’s Buck? I thought he lived here too?” Jimmy asked cautiously He didn’t want to hear bad news.
“His house is just over that rise, he’s fishin’ with his sons, Ike and Noah, and Sam and his son Little Sam. Mathew and Ely didn’t want to go. Mathew is afraid to touch the fish so he won’t go. I’m not sure Noah likes to fish either but he wants to do everything his big brother does so off he went.” Kid pointed in the general direction of the house. “Buck’s wife, Jane, you remember her….. is expectin’ too I’m sure she’ll be glad to meet Olivia, for some reason women like to talk about being pregnant.” Kid shook his head as he helped Cody and Jimmy with their bags.
“Is this the old bunkhouse?” Cody asked. The women, including Maryanne had all gone into the main house.
“Yeah we decided to make it into a guest house, Lou’s hopin’ Teresa will move in when she gets married but right now she’s living with Jeremiah and his wife over at Emily’s old place. Jerry and his wife Kate just had a baby girl.” Kid brought Jimmy to a large airy bedroom downstairs just off a large sitting room with a huge fireplace. “Olivia will probably be most comfortable down here rather than climbing the stairs. Um, that baby is comin’ soon, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess any day now. She’ll be glad we’ll be staying for a few days; we’ve been on the road for almost two months.” Jimmy answered casually. “When we’re all together I’ll explain. Hey where’s Teaspoon? Is he still around?”
“He lives in town now, did you know he married Rachel? They have twins, a boy and a girl, they’re two and a half. How old is your daughter Cody?” Kid asked
Kid led the way upstairs to four more bedrooms. Two were larger and two smaller, Cody chose one of the larger rooms with a small room next to it for Maryanne. All the rooms were clean well kept and furnished with a comfortable bed, a dresser and mirror and an amour. “Nice place you’ve got here, I can’t believe this was the bunkhouse. I love the furniture, bet it cost a pretty penny.” Cody rubbed his hand appreciatively over the carved footboard.
“Thanks, Buck and I did most of the work we added the second story and the kitchen downstairs. He made all the furniture and Jane and Lou did all the curtains and stuff.” Kid finished giving them the tour, they took care of the horses and then they all made their way over to the main house. Cody realized as soon as he walked inside the house that it had been added onto also.
“Oh good, I was just about to call you for lunch. Guess what Kid, Maryanne is two days younger than Mathew and two days older than Noah.” Lou put a pitcher of lemonade on the table.
“Did you tell them about the note?” Kid was laughing as he finished setting the table for his wife.
“No I figured I’d wait until we were all here, and little ears were asleep.” They all jumped when the backdoor slammed shut suddenly. “Um, Emma…. Our little darlings have been taking a dirt bath….Not one step more boys, turn around and go back outside now!” Lou wiped her hands on her apron as she herded the two filthy boys back the way they had just come.
Kid grabbed a broom and swept up the dirt from the floor behind them. Outside Lou and Emma quickly removed the filthy clothing from their children and tossed the clothes in the wash bucket. The boys got a quick scrubbing from the rain barrel and were sent up stairs to change. Ten minutes later everyone sat down to a relaxing lunch and clean children.
Sam, Buck and their sons returned later in the afternoon from their fishing trip with almost a dozen fish, more than enough to feed everyone. Buck was thrilled to find both Cody and Jimmy had arrived with their families. After a quick introduction to his friends’ wives, he rode home to get Jane and return for dinner; the boys stayed to play with the other children. Lou instructed Kid to ride over and invite Jeremiah, his wife, baby and Teresa over too; Lou felt her sister could help with the children. Sam took a quick walk to see if Teaspoon and Rachel might want to join them too.
When he returned Sam cleaned the fish and the women fixed up some potatoes, carrots and beans to go with them. Teaspoon said they would be over after dinner. Teresa rode back with Kid and brought several changes of clothing with her. She was looking forward to helping with all the assembled children. Jeremiah and Kate decided to stay home until the party because their infant daughter was still so small. Buck and Jane arrived a few moments later and again introductions were made. Kid had been right in guessing Olivia and Jane would become fast friends each interested in how the other was doing.
During dinner the conversation was centered around old times and many “Do you remember when’s….?” Naomi had cuffed Cody for publishing the journal about his friends. She couldn’t believe they let him back in the bunkhouse. Olivia was shocked to find out that Jimmy had worked in a brothel but calmed down when she was told it was for the Army.
Dinner was almost over when there was a knock at the door and Rachel came in with one of her delicious chocolate cakes. “I hope we’re not late…” Rachel handed the cake to Lou. Teaspoon helped his wife with her coat then entered the large kitchen to say hello. Rachel was right behind her husband and in time to see Lou swat away Buck’s hand as he tried to steal a taste of the icing. “Some things never change.” Everyone laughed and Buck felt his cheeks growing hot.
An hour later the children were all bedded down; Rachel had left the twins home with a friend watching them. Teresa took Maryanne, Ike and Noah over to the guesthouse and put them to bed. Teresa had announced earlier that she’d sleep over there if nobody minded; no one did. The adults sat around the parlor sipping coffee, ready to hear what Jimmy and Cody had been up to for the past four years.
Cody started telling them about the work he did for the Army and how he was involved in several of the larger battles of the war.
“Cody the war’s only been over a year when did you and Naomi meet.” Lou wondered where Cody had found the time to court the lovely young woman who was now his wife.
“We, um, met in-between the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic in Virginia. They took place on the eight and ninth of June 1862 both were confederate victories. I was in the forward party and the fighting got pretty intense. I got separated from my unit and a mortar round exploded near me. The next thing I remember is waking up in the cellar of a home with this angel asking me if I’m alright. I was still wearing my buckskins then so no one really knew what side I was on or even if I was on a side.” Cody chuckled at some private memory. “Anyway, one thing lead to another and, um, well, I was only there that one night and then I had to leave and find my unit but I wrote to her and when I stopped back in the area six months later I found out I was gonna be a papa!” Cody’s smile lit up the room. He had his arm around his wife and squeezed her gently.
Naomi picked up the narrative. “We were starving it was the dead of winter and food was scarce. Billy came back to the house and discovered it had been badly damaged. My older brothers, father and uncles had all joined the fighting and the day Billy arrived we were told my father had died. My Mother was already sick and weak from lack of food and she just got sicker. Billy did what he could but she passed away the next day. He helped us bury her and then took my younger brother and me with him to the Army camp. They cared for us and Maryanne was born in an Army hospital near Sharpsburg. Billy told them I was his wife and when our daughter was born, well you’ve seen her, all that blond hair and those big blue eyes. She looks more like her father everyday. I hope this one will look a little like me.” Naomi squeezed Cody’s hand and smiled while Cody just started speaking. Lou, Emma, Rachel and Jane all looked at Cody as if he had suddenly grown another head; he hadn’t mentioned Naomi was expecting.
“…..so when I left the Army I had a good deal of back pay coming and started the ‘Wild West Show’ like I always wanted to. Naomi’s younger brother Fred is running it while we……WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?????” Cody looked at his wife as her words finally penetrated his thick skull.
“Um, Cody, if you wake up the troops they’re yours for the night!” Lou teased. “Should we assume you didn’t know about this one?” Cody nodded mutely. Buck Jimmy and Kid almost fell of their seats laughing. “Ah, excuse me gentlemen, the same goes for you. You wake ‘em, you keep ‘em!”
“Cody….congratulations on the new baby… when did you say the battle of Cross Keys was?” Teaspoon asked.
“Um, thanks, June eighth, ‘62, why?” Cody still hadn’t recovered from the news that Naomi was expecting their second child.
“Weeeelllllll, there’s this really funny story….See Rachel and I were married on the eighth of June 1862 and you remember how Buck and Jane were always writing notes to each other” Teaspoon said as he smiled at Jane and Buck who were blushing bright red. “Well, Jane left one of those notes in his suit pocket and no one but those two knows what that note says but the kiss that followed him reading it turned every head in that restaurant and it seems to me that both Mathew and Noah were born nine months later, now here you are telling us that you were, hmmm, randy that night too. That sure was one hell of a note young lady……SO Jimmy what were you doing that night?” Teaspoon grinned at the other expectant couple.
“AH, I don’t think I quite recall, but I’m sure I wasn’t makin’ no baby….”Jimmy laughed. “So Cody Did you ever marry Naomi? And before you all ask Olivia and I have been married about two years and this is our first….”
“Now there’s a surprise… you waited the longest of all of us to have a child!” Buck interjected.
“Yeah I’m a late bloomer….Sooooo, Cody, are you actually married?” Jimmy brushed off Buck’s remark.
“We were married a little over a year ago, in Carson City. My brother sort of gave Cody the push he needed.” Naomi laughed.
“Wad’he do introduce Cody to the business end of a shotgun?” Sam laughed.
“I guess you could say that!” Cody smiled…”I’d been tellin’ people we were married for so long I forgot!” He shrugged his shoulders and grinned lopsidedly.
“UM, Cody when you came to visit us…. Your next stop was Carson City, do you mean to tell me I let you sleep in the same bed and you weren’t married?” Emma crossed her arms in front of her and looked Cody dead in the eyes.
“I, I, I, um…….Well, I’m, OK I kinda stretched the truth a tiny bit there……But all we did was sleep!” Cody was beet red and stuttering. Everyone had a good laugh.
“Don’t worry Cody, You’re not the only shotgun wedding here….Jeremiah started seein’ Teresa’s best friend and lets say the baby arrived four months after the wedding, just as healthy and pretty as can be!” Lou said as she beamed…obviously the proud aunt.
“OK, Jimmy what’s your story?” Emma finally let Cody off the hook.
Jimmy took a deep breath, “OK, well you all know I went to stay with my sister and her husband. I didn’t stay there long, Kansas was just too close to the war for me after what happened with Noah. I started drifting further West and South finally ended up down in this little town just north of the Border. I was headed to New Mexico territory when I found a solider from Fort Bliss who’d been shot by some bank robbers in El Paso, Anyway to make a long story short I stayed on there cos their marshal had been killed and the Army didn’t want to police the town anymore; they had more urgent problems on the border. I met Olivia when her Daddy got into some bad trouble with some gamblers; he owed them a lot of money and they decided to take it out of his hide. I got involved because I was the law and I ended up shooting one of them. I thought the whole mess was over with when they left town but I was wrong.” Jimmy stopped to take a sip of his coffee.
“I’d started seeing Olivia and finally asked her to marry me. She accepted, I guess you all knew that much!” Jimmy laughed and gave his wife a hug. “A little over a year ago the gamblers came back and killed her father. They left with whatever he had on him for money but it wasn’t enough. They started terrorizing the town and my deputies got scared and ran off. I kept picking ‘em off but it didn’t seem to help much. We found out about five months ago that we were going to have a baby and things were relatively quiet until about three months ago. They decided to come after Olivia and me. One night it got really bad and they burned our house to the ground. We barely escaped but we let everyone think we’d been killed. I went to the livery a friend of mine ran, he’ll keep his mouth shut, got my horse, bought a wagon and started drivin’ this is the first place we’ve really stopped. Everything we’ve managed to salvage or scavenge is in that wagon. I know it’s……”
“James Butler Hickok if you think for one moment that we are letting you leave here before the baby is born and several months old you are VERY WRONG” Lou was on her feet standing in front of Jimmy and Olivia, hands on her hips, lips pursed together. Nathanial started crying upstairs.
“Ah, Lou…..You woke the baby…..” Kid pointed out the obvious.
Lou threw up her hands and looked Jimmy in the eyes….”see what you did?” She turned and quickly mounted the stairs to keep her son from waking the others.
Buck and Kid looked at each other then shrugged. “We offered you a stake in this ranch back when we were first getting it started…the offer stands.” Kid said and Buck nodded. “We’ve got plenty of room and you are more than welcome to stay as long as you want. You’re family Jimmy and like Teaspoon always said…”
“Family is family!” Teaspoon finished. “Son, I really could use a full time deputy. I’ve got a few part timers and they’re really good but I need someone full time. Think it over; talk it over with your lovely wife….and on that note I think its getting late.” Teaspoon and Rachel both rose and bade everyone good bye. Ten minutes later Kid closed the front door as the last of the company left for the night.
Jimmy had taken Buck and Kid into the kitchen and thanked them privately for the offer. He’d been hoping to find at least a temporary home here and this was much better than he’d hoped for.
The next two weeks were a time for renewals of old friendships and getting to know each other’s families. They children kept Teresa busy as they all discovered new ways to play hide and seek, avoid nap time and get as dirty as possible. Buck and Jane made the final preparations for the party. It would be held at their place and include something for everyone; not one birthday or anniversary, either wedding or ranch related was forgotten. Buck had thought long and hard about what the minister’s son had said to Young Ike and was determined to right a wrong he was partially to blame for.
Everyone gathered at Lou and Kid’s for breakfast the morning of the party. Lou had Kid butcher one of the pigs and they prepared it for roasting on a spit over a pit of coals the night before. The pig had been cooking all night, slowly roasting and the apples it was stuffed with were steaming the meat with their juice from the inside out. The smell was incredible. As a joke Jimmy greeted everyone at the door wearing and apron and holding a pot of oatmeal. Buck, Cody and Teaspoon nearly fell down the stairs laughing. After breakfast everyone went off to do their last minute jobs and agreed to meet back at Buck and Jane’s at two for the dedication and the party to follow.
People started arriving with food about one and to help the couple set up the last of the tables and other items for the party. All the women made some food item for the gathering. Buck had moved several tables outside along with every chair he could beg, borrow, or steal.
At the appointed time the minister arrived and the entire group walked up to the knoll where Emily was buried and Ike’s funeral pyre had been almost six years ago. The minister consecrated the land and Buck erected a headstone with a cross on top that he had made. It read ‘Loving Wife and Mother, Emily Metcalf McSwain RIP 1861.’
Everyone said their own prayers and left flowers at the site. Buck felt another whisper of wind on his face just as he had when he buried Emily here all those years ago. He knew that both Ike and Emily approved of the dedication. He held Jane’s hand as they walked back down to the house and the waiting celebration.
Rachel made small cakes for everyone with their initials on the cake. The children especially loved this as they each had their own cake. Emma made her mouthwatering beans and molasses and because Cody begged her, her special mashed potatoes and gravy. Jane made a cold pasta salad with a vinegar dressing. Olivia made a wonderful Spanish rice and bean dish that no one seemed to be able to get enough of. Teresa and Kate made several different types of cookies and shucked all the corn for the corn on the cob. Lou made her special fruit punch, lemonade and iced tea. Naomi made a snap bean and onion casserole that had everyone going back for seconds. The pig was served and by the end of the evening they were all well fed and happy. Jimmy accepted the offer of a job from Teaspoon and would also be working part time at the horse ranch with Kid and Buck. Olivia excused herself from the cleanup detail and went inside to lay down.
Teresa had left with a wagon load of children to go back to Lou’s with Kate and Jeremiah and just the adults were left. Jane put on coffee and prepared to relax when Jimmy came into the parlor with panic written all over his face. “Someone get the Doc, something’s wrong with Olivia.”
Rachel, Emma, Lou and Jane immediately went to check on the young woman and found her doubled over in the spare bed in Jane’s sewing room. She was clearly in great pain and terrified. Cody volunteered to fetch the Doctor and Kid and Buck took over trying to calm Jimmy. Teaspoon and Naomi began preparing for the inevitable. Less than ten minutes later an infant’s cry was heard. Alejandra Christa Maria Hickok came into the world all pink and healthy. She had her father’s dark looks her mother’s delicate features and the bluest eyes anyone could remember ever seeing.
Everyone gathered around the tiny newborn and Buck held Jane close. “Honey, this is the best fifth anniversary present we could have!” Jimmy and Olivia smiled.
“Yeah but did she have to do it in less than ten minutes?” Jane rubbed her own swollen belly and hoped hers would be less than ten hours this time.