The click clack of the train wheels was
hypnotic as Buck
stared silently out the window at the blackness. Teaspoon sat in the
beside him dozing off and on. Buck wondered why Teaspoon had decided to
this trip, his health was failing rapidly and the long trip down to
been hard on him. They’d already seen Polly and were now headed to the
town where Teaspoon had been born.
When Buck had asked why they were going there, all Teaspoon would say was that all of his blood family was gone now, he was the last one. He’d told Buck that his mother’s grave was in the church cemetery, her favorite flowers were daisies and he wanted to be there to put one last daisy down for her. Buck had thought it strange that they would travel all this way to visit a grave but he couldn’t let Teaspoon make the trip alone. It wasn’t like he had anything really pressing that he needed to stay in Rock Creek to take care of anyway. Jimmy was the sheriff now and he and his wife, Mimsy, and their two daughters lived in town. Kid and Lou owned a small farm just outside of town and were busy raising horses and children. Cody had his Wild West Show and was also married. Rachel had married the blacksmith and was raising a family of her own. Buck still lived in the old bunkhouse and worked part time for Kid and part time as a deputy but full time taking care of Teaspoon.
Teaspoon’s snoring was getting louder and a couple of other travelers got up and moved to other cars. Buck just kept staring out the window. After one particularly loud snore the snoring stopped and Buck turned his head to check on the old marshal. Teaspoon looked at him with eyes that were clearer than he’d ever seen them. “Were you snoring son or did I just wake myself up?”
“I’ve been awake the whole time Teaspoon, sorry!” Buck laughed.
“Son, why are you here?” Teaspoon looked directly into Buck’s eyes.
Teaspoon’s directness was a bit unnerving. “I’m going to your home town with you, don’t you remember?” Buck studied his mentor carefully.
“Yes, yes I know that, I mean why are you still single? You’re a good, hardworking, kind man and, according to Louise, Mimsy and Rachel, you’re well built and good looking too. You should be home somewhere taking care of your wife and raising a bunch of little Bucks.” Teaspoon smiled at Buck who was blushing. “Hmm you are kinda cute when you blush like that!” Teaspoon teased.
“Yeah right…..I guess I’m just not ready….besides women don’t like me ‘cos I’m not white or something. You remember what happened with Kathleen? I’d rather not go through that again thank you.” Buck shook his head as the bad memories threatened to resurface.
“Buck, I know that was a bad time for you but it was also a long time ago. I know you like women, I’ve caught you looking over a few rather appealing young ladies on this trip. You gotta take a chance on love, Buck, or you’re going to be alone for the rest of your life. Look at me, I kept looking and I had six really wonderful wives.” Teaspoon smiled at some private memory.
“Yeah that’s kinda the problem Teaspoon, I don’t want to have six wives, I’m sure one will be more than enough. Only problem is, I ain’t found the one yet. It just seems like the second I even start thinking about courting someone they leave and I’m left more alone than I was before I met them.” Buck shrugged.
“That just tells me you ain’t met the right one yet….Who besides Kathleen was you interested in?” Teaspoon turned to look at Buck. “You really look like a man who’s seen the last ace played and needed it for a full house.”
“Um, we’re not playing poker, Teaspoon; can we talk about something else?”
“In a way we are, life is like a poker game son. You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run*. You gotta take that gamble son, I might be alone right now but that’s because I folded when I should have held. Let me guess there was Tompkins’ daughter, what was her name….Judy, Melinda, Sally… no, wait, that was her mother….” Teaspoon scratched his head.
“Jennifer, Eagle Feather, whichever…” Buck spoke barely above a whisper it was clear Teaspoon wasn’t going to let this drop.
“What happened there? You two seem to be gettin’ kinda close then all of a sudden she up and leaves…I was hopin’ that you to would get together and stick it to Old Tompkins….” Teaspoon laughed and shook his head. “I can just see it, you married to his daughter and her havin’ your baby… The poor man would have blown his top! Heh, heh, heh!”
“Yeah well Tompkins didn’t exactly see it as funny and he made it really hard for her. She left because of him, she wanted a life of her own and I wasn’t part of that life. Are you hungry?” Buck attempted to change the subject.
“What happened when you two were alone those couple of days?” Teaspoon winked at his former rider.
“Nothing happened, not that that is any of your business. On the way to the Lakota camp she was going to meet her fiancé, Black Wolf, and then we found her friends murdered by him, that got her all mad at him and she broke it off, the engagement I guess you’d call it. I had to listen to her rant on about what a fool he was and what a fool she was for ever caring about him, all the way to the camp. She was ready to kill anything male, my horse and I stayed out of her way. She had a good head of steam going when we rode into the camp. Black Wolf hit her and I stepped in, we fought, I won, she decided to come home with me….The chief stopped me from killing Black Wolf and I really wish I had, he tried to kill Eagle Feather and instead shot her mother. Let me tell you that walking back to Sweetwater with your dead mother on a travois beside you really kills any thoughts of romance. Yeah a lot happened.” Buck was getting a tad frustrated and he knew Teaspoon would pester him until Buck told him what really happened.
“I supposed that would tend to kill the mood….What about that other little filly? The pretty little one with the long brown pony tail… dressed like a boy to try to kill Emory Pike…..You two spent a lot of time together, alone….”
“Awe, come on Teaspoon! That was Jane and if you recall Emory Pike had just killed her father too. Yeah I’d say she was looking for romance. Why all the sudden interest in my life? Just drop it, please…” Buck was loosing his patience.
“Hmmm, my guess would be that something happened….Come on boy fess up…” Teaspoon’s eyes twinkled as he teased Buck.
“Nothing happened, not a single thing, well OK, I hugged her, but that’s it. I hugged Jennifer too but it didn’t mean anything. Other than Kathleen I’ve never hugged a woman as anything more than just a friend. Hell, that’s the most I’ve ever done with a woman or plan to….are you happy now or do you want to know I’ve hugged Lou lots of times, do you want to know all about that too? We spent a lot of time alone too, you know….” Buck had had it with Teaspoon’s questions; he was angry and a bit ashamed of his loveless life.
“Hmm…you and Louise now there’s a match up I didn’t see coming….” Teaspoon pondered this thought and smiled. “Just what did the two of you do on those long rides alone together?”
“ARRGH! NOTHING! Not a damn thing, she’s like a sister to me, I think I need some fresh air.” Buck tried to get up but Teaspoon held him back.
“Calm down son, I can see a lot of me in you; the difference between you and me is I would have married each one of those girls if I’d been you. You give up too easily, you’ve got to put yourself out there and fight for what you want. I’ve seen it in your eyes son, you liked Jennifer, Jane and even Kathleen. All of you were a little in love with Louise, admit it…” Teaspoon took Buck’s hand in his.
“I guess you’re right you almost always are….” Buck looked at his hand captured between both of Teaspoon’s cold ones.
“Almost?” Teaspoon put on an exaggerated hurt look; Buck shrugged. Teaspoon smiled and squeezed his hand.
“Son, I’ve been around a long time, been a lot of places and done a lot of things on both sides of the law and I’ll be honest, I really do think of you as a son. I was never blessed with children of my own, well any I got to know anyways, but I want you to promise me you’ll allow yourself to love someone someday. You’ll be a great father and a wonderful husband to some lucky lady but you gotta take that gamble with your heart.” Teaspoon began to cough and Buck quickly reached for his handkerchief and the bottle of whisky that Teaspoon used for “medicinal purposes”. Buck had to admit it did quiet the old man’s coughing pretty well.
Once the coughing subsided and Teaspoon had settled back Buck spoke. “I’m not much of a gambler Teaspoon, I don’t like to take risks when I don’t know or at least have some idea of the outcome.”
“Buck, son, don’t you see? You been gambling all your life. You took a huge gamble when you left the Kiowa and ventured into the white world. I know your life ain’t always been easy here but I’m damn sure it was worse growin’ up in the village. You left everything you knew and walked into a world as different as the moon. That took courage. You befriended Ike, a kid no one else would go near and gave him a voice; you took a gamble with him and found a brother. You stuck it out with the Express when several times you could have left with no shame. You gambled that we’d support and love you and it paid off. You are part of this rag tag family and we care about you. I’ve watched the other’s take that gamble with their hearts and win. I never thought I’d live to see the woman that could handle Jimmy but Mimsy does it with ease and a smile. Their two little girls have him wrapped around their cute little fingers, I want you to feel that kind of happiness and love but you gotta get over what happened in the past.” Teaspoon paused to take a breath.
“Yeah well getting tarred and feathered will sort of take all the love making out of a body.” Buck grumbled.
“That’s not really true now is it? When she said she needed you, you ran to her. If I recall that was after that little incident….” Teaspoon was on a roll.
“OK, fine, whatever, but why are we talking about this?” Buck was totally confused.
“Buck, I love you like a son and I don’t want to see you make the same mistakes I did. You gotta know when to hold ‘em, and when to walk away and say good-bye but most of all you gotta be in the game. Promise me you’ll try or at least the next time a pretty face smiles at you you’ll smile back, not turn away….” Teaspoon was squeezing Buck’s hand again.
“Ok, I promise. I think you just want more grandchildren….” Buck didn’t like the way Teaspoon’s eyes looked dull now.
“I’m getting tired of flappin’ my jaws so I think I’ll rest my eyes for a bit while you get that fresh air you been yappin’ ‘bout.” Teaspoon closed his eyes as Buck rose and walked to the car door.
Buck stood outside on the platform at the end of the car in the darkness for a few minutes looking up at the stars and thinking about what Teaspoon had said. The Texas landscape was almost invisible as the train carried them across the flat land. The song the wheels sang as they sped over the rails was soothing almost hypnotic he had no idea how long he stayed out there. Finally when he felt a chill he went back inside. Teaspoon was sound asleep and snoring again so Buck covered him with a blanket they’d brought and sat down to get some sleep himself.
He awoke to the sun just peaking over the horizon and an overwhelming feeling of loss he just couldn’t explain. All Buck could hear was the rhythmic sound of the train; he looked over at a too quiet Teaspoon. Sometime overnight Teaspoon had slipped away in his sleep. Buck said a silent prayer for his friend, put his face in his hands and cried for the loss of the man he thought of as a father; the only one he’d ever known.
Buck brought Teaspoon’s body to the cemetery where his mother was buried and asked to have him buried beside her. The headstone read Aloysius “Teaspoon” Hunter, Loving Friend, Husband and Father. Died 1870. At the grave Buck spoke to Teaspoon for the last time. “You knew you would never leave here, you knew it. I don’t know why you chose me but…. I know I never said it but I loved you. You were my father in so many ways and I promise I will try, I’ll smile back…You’re right I need an ace for my full house, I’ll try to play it your way. You always were right, good bye Teaspoon….” Silent tears coursed down his handsome face as he walked away from the graveyard alone. A bouquet of daises graced each grave.
Buck took the next train back to Rock Creek with a heavy heart and the determination to keep his promise. As fate would have it, at the station as he was stepping off the train, there was a young lady disembarking also and she dropped her book and gloves as she slipped on the last step. Buck caught her and helped her down the last step to the safety of the station platform. He bent to pick up her belongings and when he stood to hand them back to her he gazed in to the most beautiful pair of green eyes he could ever imagine.
She smiled sweetly at him. “Thank-you so much, I’m sure I would have fallen and been hurt if you hadn’t been there. …I’m new in town….Can you direct me to the hotel Mr…?”
“I’m Buck Cross, ma’am and I’d be happy to carry your bags over to the hotel for you.” He smiled back and offered his arm.
My story was the Gambler sung by Kenny Rogers. I've loved this song since it first came out and was thrilled with my assingment. The song tells the story of two people talking on train, one giving advice to the other. When I think of the Young Riders and advice, I think of Teaspoon and his endless willingness to impart bits of wisdom to the riders, welcomed or not! I chose Buck because well, he's not only my favorite, but the least directed of the riders as far as his future is concerned. Jimmy was a close second. There is a line in the song which says "I can see you're out of aces" I chose that as the focal point and worked the story from there. (country music fan my also notice hints from the songs "Daisy a Day" and "Queen of Hearts") The Gambler could have been interperated in any number of ways but Buck needs a verbal boost, welcomed or not, and who better to give that then Teaspoon.