It's not always what you say. It isn't always what you hear. The truth speaks louder than words, unless it's Teaspoon spinning a yarn.
Emma stepped out of the Bunkhouse and arched her back slightly to relieve the slight hitch she felt from carrying the stew pot.
"Boys," she called out to the riders who were leaning against the fence watching something in the distance. "Dinner!"
She watched as they turned and waved. Once she was sure they'd heard her she headed back in and began setting the table. She had begun ladling out the stew as the boys filtered into the room.
"Evening boys, Mister Spoon," she greeted them.
"Evening Miss Shannon," Teaspoon said tipping his hat.
"That sure smells good Emma," Cody said as he slipped into his seat.
"I have to agree with Cody, It smells really good," Kid stated.
"Especially after Teaspoon's cooking," Jimmy added unable to resist teasing the stationmaster.
"Now boys," Teaspoon said pointing towards their seats. "Just cause some of you don't seem to appreciate the hard work it takes to care and feed you boys don't mean it ain't there."
He smiled as the others silently took their seats, but their enthusiasm couldn't be contained for long.
"Teaspoon," Lou said as the meal began to wind down. "I heard that Monty's thinkin'a headin' to Big Bear Lake."
Teaspoon looked at him look over his cup. This was the first he'd heard of it.
"Davis too," Jimmy said.
*He said they found gold there,* Ike signed.
"Last year," Buck stated, hoping to clear up the issue.
Cody gave them all a dreamy smile. "Can you imagine strikin' it rich?"
Teaspoon listened to the boys' discussion until the meal was almost finished. Then he took a deep breath and raised his hands to get their attention.
"Now boys it's not always that simple you know. They say words can't never hurt a body, but I'll tell you this: rumors can kill."
He paused, studying them each in turn before nodding to himself. "I weren't much older than you are now," he began.
"Me and my friend Tommy, Tomas Sinclair. Oh, you'da liked old Tommy- he had Cody's dreamin down to a science, and weren't nobody could get him down, least wise, not until Santee. "
He paused and sighed. "Oh those were the days," he said with a smile before beginning again.
"We'd been working as trail hands for a rancher in Texas. Good man, but I think he knew our hearts weren't in it. There's a difference between ownin' them cattle and just runnin' 'em and when you're young well... that's a mighty big difference.
Anyway, late one night Tommy and me well, we headed off to the saloon and had ourselves a few beers. And a few whiskeys. And some brandy."
Teaspoon chuckled. "And it made us bigger fools than we were ta begin with, so don't you go getting any ideas."
He smiled when he saw that the riders were listening to him, and from the looks of things- they were interested in his story and not in the idea of him being drunk. He smiled and continued.
"Anyway, we heard these two men talking 'bout how there was gold to be had for the takin' in Santee. And me and Tommy, bein' bigger fools every minute decided we were going after that gold and weren't nothing going to get in our way.
We got back to the bunkhouse, still four sheets to the wind, packed up everything we had and headed out for Santee.
Well, by the time we got there we'd sobered up, but the closer we got the more we heard it and boys let me tell you nothing spreads faster than a rumor 'bout gold.
Well, there was something to be had in Santee, and sure as I'm sitting here, it weren't gold. Them store owners took us for everything we had, selling us sifters, telling us they were better than pannin' when it came to prospecting. They'd tell us 'bout it and we'd buy it, till there weren't nothin' left to buy.
And somehow- prolly nothin' more than just dumb luck we stumbled onto something and that's where the trouble began. Didn't matter what we found weren't enough to fill a tooth- it was gold. By the time we got to town, weren't nobody didn't know it.
Suddenly 'stead of being the fools they'd rooked, we were the boys who'd stolen what was rightfully theirs. And let me tell you, greed took over-it's amazing what people'll do when they think they've been wronged.
Weren't bad enough they started gunning for us, but the rumors grew to the point that Tommy, he thought I was bringing in a lot more gold than I was tellin' him 'bout and that's where the trouble really began.
We left the assayer's office and I don't think there was a gun in town weren't pointed at the two'a us. Now, as you know that can be a right soberin' sight and let me tell you, it was.
I don't know how they managed to missed us but they did and 'fore we knew it we were running for our lives. We got out of town, managed to find us a cave where we could hole up, and suddenly Tommy's there, pointing his gun at me wanting to know where the rest of the money was.
He tied me up, went through everything I had and when he didn't find it, he headed back to our claim… leadin' the entire town to it I might add…" Teaspoon shook his head.
"And while everyone's in town-someone robs the assayer. You never did see so many grown men make bigger fool's a themselves over the hint of something. And it turns out-there weren't no gold, not really… just a small pouch that was stolen out of the bank in Santee three years 'afore we got there and we just happened to find some of it.
Lost my best friend over five dollars, but he thought it was a hell of a lot more.
So let that be a lesson to you boys… You gotta learn to listen to the truth and not the words that go flittin' by you when a rumor starts.
The riders sat in stunned silence as they tried to follow what Teaspoon had told them, but it was Jimmy who summed it up just fine.
"Well then," he said. "There you have it."
AN: Special thanks to Mercy for the title and Karen for most excellent beta-ing. Of course, no thanks would be complete without thanking Lori O for the challenge itself.