Topic #39: Phrase - Word List: (Use at least 3 of the following) A Tombstone, child's toy, mess, covered wagon, harmonica
||Amazing Grace by: Jo|
|Somewhere Over The Pass
||The Invitation by: Lori
||Making Memories Of Us by: Liz
He sat there slowly turning the small child’s toy over and over again in his hands. He knew that he should give it to one of the others but his heart wouldn’t let him. He felt as if he couldn’t put it down at all. It belonged with him.
He felt rather than saw her walk up to him. She sat down in the grass next to him and placed her head on his shoulder. Her long auburn braid was swinging slightly like a pendulum even though she sat completely still. He slid his free arm around her still slightly distended waist and pulled her closer. When he lowered his head onto hers the tears he had been holding in began to pour forward. She wrapped her arms around him and silently held him while he wept for the child they had lost. She had done her crying already but in his care of her he had not allowed himself the time to grieve.
After several minutes they slowly stood up and walked back to the overflowing covered wagon they were all riding in. He lifted her up and into the back and then walked around to the front where Kid and Lou were waiting for him.
“Everything look alright up ahead?” Kid asked kindly avoiding the real reason Buck had suddenly said he needed to scout ahead alone.
“Yeah everything looks like it’ll be alright.” Buck responded reassuring his friend without speaking of things he couldn’t.
That night when they made camp Kid pulled out his harmonica and played first a sad haunting tune for the two families. Then he brought over his small son and began to teach him how to play Clementine. Lou and Marty began to clean up the mess the kids had created when they were asked to help make the evenings meal.
“Are you ok?” Lou asked touching her cousin lightly on the shoulder
“I’m fine.” She answered and as she watched her husband chasing their seven children around she said “Buck will be now too.” Then she impulsively turned and hugged Lou. “Thanks.”
“We’re glad you decided to come back to Virginia with us.” Lou said as the two cousins separated.
Marty just smiled as she watched her children heal her husband’s ache for the child they had lost.
Buck pointed his toes stretching his legs, the warm spring sun felt good on his bare skin. He wasn’t due to ride for another day so he decided to relax on his way back to the station and enjoy the solitude of the open prairie.
He’d found this little oasis by accident. He’d been looking for a place to water his horse and followed a herd of wild antelope to this small clearing. There was a stream meandering lazily down to a strand of willows and a deep pool of sparkling water perfect for swimming. The long days on the trail had left him dusty and dry and the water looked so good, so inviting. He’d washed his outer clothing and spread them to dry in the sun while he dove in wearing his longjohns. Buck had floated for an hour just enjoying the water lapping against his body but it had a lulling effect on him and he found himself falling asleep. He figured drowning would ruin his day so he reluctantly returned to shore and shed his longjohn top, putting it on a bush to dry. He was lying on the thick green carpet of grass under the willow in just his longjohn bottoms wiggling his toes in the grass. Could life get any better than this? He fell asleep feeling the sun kiss his skin and the grass lightly touch him as the wind gently stirred it into motion.
Some time later Buck awoke to the lilting sounds of a harmonica being played. The notes drifted to his ears from the northwest, carried in small segments by the wind. Whoever was playing really knew what they were doing. The music was pleasant and somehow blended well into the symphony of nature Buck was already enjoying. I know that’s not Kid playing Buck chuckled to himself. He lay on his back enjoying the music and watching the clouds drift across the deep azure blue sky. His stomach finally reminded him it was time to think about eating something and the sun was making its way toward the horizon.
Buck reluctantly put his clothing back on and went in search of the wild berries he’d seen earlier. He saddled his horse and walked beside the stream until he found what he was looking for. Dinner was light and sweet. Buck ate his fill of the sweet fruit and filled one of his saddle bags in the hope he could talk Rachel into making a pie. He hoped he wouldn’t squash the berries on the ride home. He hated to think of the mess he’d have to clean up if that happened. He’d never live it down if his saddle bag turned pink.
He could still hear the music but this time it was louder and it sounded like a banjo had joined in. Buck finally found a place to bed down for the evening and lit a small fire. He knew he wasn’t far from the other camp the music was coming from but he was reluctant to venture any closer. He unsaddled the horse using the saddle for a pillow, curled up in his bed roll and drifted off to sleep listening to the sweet sounds of the music. Something about the tune comforted him.
The morning sun woke Buck as it peeked over the horizon. He’d slept better last night than he had in weeks. He was relaxed ready to face the day. He was stretching, waking up his body when something bright yellow and red caught his eye. That’s not supposed to be there he mused as he walked over to the object. It was a child’s toy drum. Buck bent down and retrieved the little drum. He thumped his fingers over the skin covered surface and was rewarded with a crisp tap tap tap. I’ll bet you belong with the other music makers. I’ll just head in that direction and see if I can find who you belong to. Buck shook his head suddenly to clear his thoughts. I’m loosing it! I’m talking to a drum!
Buck made some coffee and ate the last of the biscuits Rachel had given him for the trip then saddled up and headed in the direction the music had come from the evening before. It was close to mid day when he finally saw the covered wagon plodding along the old trail. It was headed in the general direction of Sweetwater so he took his time catching up.
Someone must have seen him riding up because the wagon stopped as he approached. “Hello?” he called as he cautiously made his way toward the wagon.
A little blond head popped up from inside the wagon and ducked down just as fast. It was soon replaced by another slightly larger head this one with reddish blond hair. A rider appeared from the other side of the wagon and raised his hand in greeting as a bonnet covered head peered around from the front. The man was opening his mouth to speak when the blond head popped up again and spied the drum Buck was holding.
“Me drum Da! Lookie he has me drum.” The child jumped up and scrambled over the back of the covered wagon running to Buck and the drum. Buck leaned down and returned the drum to its rightful owner with a smile. “Ta”* the little boy said.
“You’re welcome” Buck sat back up and looked at the other occupants of the wagon. The red head was a little girl and the woman in the bonnet had to be her mother.
“Get back in the wagon Mitchell, Thank you mister…..” the man began. The man spoke with a thick brogue.
“I’m Buck, Buck Cross, I’m a rider for the pony express.” Buck took the hand the man extended to him and shook it. The little boy climbed back up in the wagon and immediately began beating on the drum with a stick. The man rolled his eyes and Buck wondered if maybe the drum hadn’t been lost on purpose.
“Thank-you Mr. Cross, I’m Jock Stewart and this is my sister Mary and her husband Shamus Cameron. The young lady hiding back there is my niece Fiona and you already know my son Mitchell. That wee bairn** is my nephew, Patrick, and the first of the family to be born on American soil.”
“Pleased to meet you all.” Buck tipped his hat to Mrs. Cameron. “Ma’am” She smiled at him. “Please call me Buck. Are you heading to Sweetwater or heading further west?”
“We’ve got family outside of Willow Springs. Do you know where that is?” Shamus asked.
“Are you related to Ian Stewart?” Buck asked remembering the thick accent of the gentle old man and his wife.
“Yes, he’s my father, I guess you know him?” Jock smiled.
“Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart are wonderful people. We stop there often on our runs. They always give us water and sometimes a meal if we can stay a bit. Will you be living there? We were getting worried about them being all alone. I hate to say it but they are getting older.” Buck smiled. He liked this family.
“That’s why we’re here. Do you think you could point us in the right direction?” Shamus laughed giving the reigns a snap as the large horses slowed down. Buck caught sight of the harmonica in his pocket.
“Sure if you’ll play for me… I heard your music yesterday and loved it.”
“What would you like to hear?” Shamus handed the reigns over to his wife and retrieved the instrument.
“You played a song that went like this….” Buck hummed a few notes.
“That’s called ‘Amazing Grace’ it’s a hymn, do you know it?” Mrs. Cameron sung the first verse as her husband played the haunting melody. Buck hummed along and then joined in, singing the words in Kiowa.
“I know it as Daw K’ee da ha Dawtsahy he Tsow’haw. My mother used to sing it to me when I was a child. I wonder where she learned it? She’d sing it to me at night if I was afraid or couldn’t sleep.” Buck smiled sadly at the memories of his mother.
The rest of the ride home was spent singing songs and laughing. All too soon the time came to part company and Buck promised to come visit soon. He bade his new friends good-bye as they rode off to Willow Springs and he turned toward Sweetwater.
He was surprised to find his face wet with tears as he heard the strains of Amazing Grace float to him in the wind. Then he heard something else… his mother’s voice singing the comforting song to him. He smiled and listened.
DAW K’EE DA HA DAWTSAHY HE TSOW’HAW
*thank-you (in Scottish)
**little baby (in Scottish)
the Kiowa version of Amazing Grace is from http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/a/m/amazgrac.htm
Jimmy leaned the rake against the stall door as he joined Buck on the way to the barn door. Pulling the collar of his jacket closed as they walked outside, he shook his head slowly. “I just don’t like the sound of it when Teaspoon yells like that.”
Buck grinned. “Come on, Jimmy. Maybe it’s something exciting, like another of Teaspoon’s special runs!”
Jimmy just stopped and stared at Buck for a moment. “That’s what I’m afraid of!” he complained. From the way Buck’s grin changed, he finally decided the Kiowa rider had been joking before – he was really as nervous about what Teaspoon wanted as Jimmy was.
“Boys,” Teaspoon said as he approached. “Got a special delivery for you.” He pointedly ignored the groan that came from Jimmy, as well as the knowing look that passed between the two riders.
“Where to?” Buck asked. He wasn’t totally sure he wanted to know – but better to find out and really know how bad it was going to be.
“Just over to Rock Springs,” Teaspoon replied.
“Rock Springs?” Jimmy just shook his head. “That’s on the other side of South Pass!”
“I know where it is, Hickok,” Teaspoon replied. “Been there many times myself.”
“But it’s snowing!” Jimmy held his hand out, catching some of the large flakes on his gloved hands for a moment before they melted away.
“Yup, know that too,” Teaspoon said. He looked down to where the snow was piling up nearly to his ankles. It was early in the season for this much snow, that was certain. And the accumulation in the mountain pass would be even deeper.
“When does this package have to be there?” Buck asked. He cast a worried glance toward the western sky, which appeared much like a solid, dark grey wall.
“Yesterday, of course,” Teaspoon answered. “Came in on today’s stage, all the way from Washington, DC.”
“Why didn’t the stage driver just deliver it to Rock Springs?” Jimmy asked.
“The stage don’t stop in Rock Springs, for one thing,” Teaspoon said. “And for another, the stage ain’t gonna try and get through that pass with all the snow.”
“That’s smart,” Jimmy grumbled.
Teaspoon cleared his throat. “You boys are paid to ride, Hickok,” he said. “And that’s what you’re gonna do.”
“It’s not gonna be easy getting through, Teaspoon,” Buck said.
Teaspoon smiled and clapped a hand on Buck’s shoulder. “Well, hell, son, if it was easy they wouldn’t need us!”
“Yeah, why should anything be easy?” Jimmy mumbled.
Teaspoon took a step back and his look turned serious. “Boys, I know this may be a hard ride. That’s why I’m sendin’ two of you. And it is important. Now, you go pack and get saddled up. I’ll see that Rachel puts up some food for you.”
Bundled up as best they could against the biting north wind that even now seemed to be picking up speed, Buck and Jimmy finished checking their horses and gear just as Teaspoon came toward them from the house. “Here’s the package to deliver,” he said, handing an oilskin-wrapped packet to Buck. “And some food that Rachel packed up.”
Jimmy took the second package and began to fit the contents into his saddlebags. “Least this is better’n hardtack and jerky,” he commented.
Buck was studying the packet. There was nothing on the outside of the wrapping. “Who does this go to, Teaspoon?”
“Get it to Bart Hollis, the town marshal,” Teaspoon answered. “There’s more information inside, but Bart’ll know what to do with it.” He stood back and watched as the boys finished packing and then swung into the saddle, almost in unison. Then he stepped up again, stopping between the two horses. “Boys, I know this ain’t gonna be an easy ride. But I know you can do it, wouldn’t be sending you out otherwise.”
“We’ll be fine,” Buck said. It wouldn’t be the most pleasant ride ever, and the snow and wind would make the going slow, but it was far from the worst weather he’d ridden in.
“Ride safe,” Teaspoon said, patting a leg on each rider. “Oh, and boys? While you’re out there, keep an eye out for them wagons that passed through a few days ago.”
“You think maybe they didn’t make it through the pass before the snow hit?” Jimmy asked.
“Maybe they did . . . an’ maybe they didn’t,” Teaspoon replied. The three wagons had headed west, much later in the season than settlers should be traveling these parts, and despite the warnings by a number of people in Sweetwater. But a combination of dreams and necessity, with no money to finance stopping, had driven them on.
“Bunch of kids on those wagons,” Buck said softly.
“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed. The thought of those young families, and the children, braving the pass quieted his own complaints. “We’ll watch for them.”
The first sign of trouble was the furniture. It was a common enough sight along the trail during the active months for the wagon trains. Westward-bound immigrants started off confidently, prairie schooners laden with furniture and other mementos of life back east. But as the weeks and months dragged on, things changed. Teams of horses or oxen grew weary, threatening the whole journey. The people themselves grew weary. Along the way, decisions had to be made on what to keep – and what to abandon.
As the trail headed into the high country, more and more decisions had to be made. Even though South Pass was the “easy” route through the mountains, “easy” was a relative term. The path rose steadily but steeply, and heavy wagons pulled by exhausted beasts often couldn’t make the climb.
Entrepreneurs had quickly come in to fill the gap, gathering up the abandoned goods and reselling the items to people who elected to stop before tempting fate over the mountains. By early fall, when the immigrant traffic died off, the trail was bare of useable goods.
The trail through South Pass had been clear the last time either Buck or Jimmy had ridden through – but it wasn’t bare now.
A nightstand to one side, a mirror to the other. Just ahead, a lovingly-polished chest of drawers, and a trunk with intricately carved flowers gracing the top.
Buck and Jimmy just looked at each other, not needing to use words. They both recognized the furniture. When the small group of wagons had come to Sweetwater, two of the three had needed repairs. The riders had been drafted to help unload the wagons, and then load them again after the blacksmith finished his work.
They rode on, soon coming to a bend in the trail. Just around the bend they found the headboard so prized by Agnes Vickers. Propped against a rock, sitting behind a snow-covered mound, it held vigil, looking eerily like * a tombstone. *
“Don’t mean they’re not all right,” Jimmy said softly as they passed. “Might of just offloaded the weight to make sure they got over the pass before the storm hit.”
Buck nodded, his attention caught by something up ahead. He rode ahead of Jimmy, the lump in his throat growing as he got closer. It was a * child’s toy, * of that he was certain. Sticking out of the snow, almost lost in the swirling, blowing white, were two little feet. He dismounted and reached down, pulling the item out. As soon as he saw what it was, he looked up at Jimmy. “It’s Alice’s doll,” he said quietly. “Miss Maple,” he added in a whisper.
They were both silent for a moment, picturing the brown-haired little girl with the big doe eyes and the infectious laugh. The child had quickly had carefree young riders – and gruff older stationmasters – laughing with her.
“Could have just dropped it,” Jimmy suggested, without any real conviction.
Buck didn’t even bother to reply as he carefully placed Miss Maple in his saddlebags. They both knew how attached the little girl had been to her doll. He started to remount, and then stopped, listening. Jimmy heard it too, but for a long moment neither of them could place the sound. It
was out of place here in the cold mountain pass, amidst the drifting, swirling snow. And yet there was something familiar . . .
* “Harmonica,” * Buck said, finally placing the sound.
“Walt Bagley,” Jimmy added, thinking of the guide hired by the settlers to see them through the journey. It was a tune the man had played around the campfire while they were in Sweetwater.
Buck vaulted onto his horse and the two men started forward again, going as fast as they could amidst the deepening snow and twilight. They struggled up the slope, rounding one more bend . . .
The sight that greeted them was both heartening and sad. The three wagons were there, but obviously not moving anywhere without a lot of work. The * covered wagon * that had been in the lead was tipped completely on its side, snow mounded against the base. The second wagon was upright and seemed to be intact, while the third wagon tilted precariously off to one side, a cracked wheel nearly buried in the snow beside it. A group of tired oxen huddled together against the cold, and at least one ox carcass lay sprawled on the ground; a snow-covered lump nearby looked suspiciously like another dead animal.
The music was coming from the second wagon, a different song now, and a few voices joined in to sing. Buck and Jimmy rode closer, the sounds of their approach masked by the snow and the wind.
“Hello in the wagon!” Jimmy called.
The music stopped and a moment later a head poked out. The man shielded his eyes against the blowing snow. Then, as recognition set in, he called back into the wagon. “It’s two of the Express riders from Sweetwater!”
Lester Quigley jumped down and headed toward Jimmy and Buck, right hand outstretched. “Oh, are we glad to see you fellas!” He shook hands heartily with both riders.
Buck and Jimmy dismounted as more people came out of the upright wagon. Lester’s wife, Ruth, carried their infant son Wyatt as she shepherded their four year old twins, Lilly and May. Agnes Vickers held tight to her daughter, Alice, as her husband Phillip appeared with son Phillip, Jr., tight in his arms. Nathaniel Preuss and his wife Gretchen clung tightly to each hand of their son William. Many of them wore bandages in various places, apparently hurt when the wagons tipped, but all appeared to be in reasonably good health.
“Thank the good lord that you found us!”
“Did someone send you looking for us?”
“We were just on a run to Rock Springs,” Jimmy explained.
“No one knew you were in trouble,” Buck added. He got off his horse and pulled out the doll, holding her out. “Found someone.”
“Miss Maple!” Alice’s face had assorted cuts and bruises – but it also held a huge smile as she reached for her friend. She gave the doll a big hug and then, for good measure, reached out to hug Buck as well.
“You folks all tried to warn us it was too late in the season to go over the pass,” Nathaniel admitted. “Guess we should have listened.”
“Walt says it’s real unusual to have a snow this heavy so early,” Lester said.
“That’s true,” Jimmy agreed. “But it ain’t all that unusual either, ‘specially this high up.”
Buck was looking around, counting heads. “What happened to Walt?”
The group stepped back, opening a way toward the upright wagon as Agnes pointed. “He was hurt in the accident.”
“Walt, he was riding up next to my wagon,” Phillip said. “I couldn’t see the trail, what with all the snow and blowing. Next thing I know, the wagon’s tipping up to one side on some rocks, and then it went all the way over.”
“We got Walt out from under that wagon as fast as we could,” Gretchen said.
“But we don’t know how to help him,” Agnes admitted.
“Or how to help ourselves,” Ruth added, her voice shaking.
“We’re gonna help you,” Jimmy assured her – though right now he had no idea how.
Buck went to the wagon, pulled the canvas flap back, and climbed inside. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness inside, but then he could see someone leaning against one side of the wagon bed. “Walt?”
“Hey, Buck,” came a weak reply.
Buck reached behind him, throwing the canvas cover back and feeling with his hands until he found something to hook it behind. With the slight increase in illumination provided, he inched forward.
The guide’s left shoulder sported a lump indicating it was probably dislocated. His right hand, still clutching the harmonica, was held tightly against his ribs. And his left pant leg was ripped and bloody, with the jagged edge of a bone visible.
“Guess I’m a real * mess, * ain’t I?” Walt said.
“You looked better in Sweetwater,” Buck admitted, trying to keep his tone light. He pulled his knife out and used it to slit the other man’s pant leg the rest of the way open.
Despite his best efforts to control his reaction, the sight that greeted his eyes made him audibly suck in his breath.
“I know, it’s real bad,” Walt said.
“It needs to be set,” Buck said, feeling a little queasy at the sight of the blood and bone. He’d seen broken bones before, but this was the worst.
Walt tipped his head toward the group of people still huddled outside the wagon. “They’s good folks,” he said. “They tried to set it, but I guess I yelled so loud it scared them.”
“It’s gonna hurt like hell,” Buck agreed. “But it has to be done.” If the guide wasn’t going to get an infection and die . . . and if he was ever going to use the limb again . . . and if Buck could do it . . .
Night settled across the pass and on the huddled group of survivors.
Morning dawned grey and overcast. The wind still blew, sending swirls of snow flying all around. But it did seem that the new snowfall had stopped, and the lighter sky to the west promised a reprieve.
With two wagons damaged, many of their possessions abandoned or lost, at least four oxen either dead or otherwise unable to go on, and assorted injuries, the settlers faced a decision. The fact that they had no guide to go on helped make that decision.
With two of the men holding Walt’s body, Buck managed to straighten the broken bone – at least, he hoped it was straight. The nature of the injury made it hard to tell. The pain and shock left the wounded guide unconscious, and his fever grew overnight.
The good news was that Walt’s unconscious state also allowed Buck to pop his dislocated shoulder back into place without causing further pain.
Jimmy and Nathaniel had chopped part of the overturned wagon to pieces the evening before, both to use as firewood to warm the night and to clear the trail. By the light of day they hooked a couple of the oxen to what was left of the wagon and used the animals to drag both the remains of that wagon, and the wagon with the broken wheel, out of the way.
The settlers sorted their possessions, making the toughest decisions yet about what to keep and what to abandon. Some things they stashed behind some boulders – there was always a chance the goods could be recovered in the spring.
Finally, they hooked up a team of oxen to the remaining wagon – facing the downward slope back toward Sweetwater.
As the final preparations were made to leave, Buck walked up to where Agnes and Alice stood, gazing off to the west. “They’re about ready to leave,” he said softly. “Are you all right?”
Agnes turned toward him, a sad smile on her face. “We’re fine,” she answered. “It’s just that we left homes back east with such grand dreams – dreams that lie somewhere over that pass.”
“Plenty of people have found their dreams in Sweetwater,” Buck said. He even figured that was true – as long as you weren’t half Kiowa.
“Everyone was so helpful when we needed help,” Agnes agreed.
“You can always go on in the spring,” Buck suggested.
Before Agnes could answer, she heard her name being called. Acknowledging her husband with a wave of her hand, she turned to her daughter. “It’s time to go, Alice.” She took Buck’s hand for a moment. “Thank you, for everything,” she whispered before heading toward the wagon.
Alice turned her big, soulful eyes toward Buck. Clutching her rescued Miss Maple tightly, she whispered, “I wish you were coming with us.”
Buck crouched down to look the little girl in the eye. “I have to finish delivering something to Rock Springs,” he said. “Jimmy’ll see you get back to Sweetwater all right.” He smiled and reached out to smooth the doll’s hair. “I’ll expect you and Miss Maple to tell me all about your trip when I get back.”
Alice’s lower lip trembled as she nodded her head, hugging Miss Maple even tighter. Then she threw one arm around Buck’s neck, hugging the doll’s rescuer. “We will,” she promised solemnly, and then she ran off to join her parents.
Buck stayed where he was, watching the little girl for a moment. Then he saw Jimmy walking toward him and he stood up.
“You got a friend for life,” Jimmy remarked. “Guess that’s what happens when you save someone’s best friend.”
Buck just stood still for a moment, watching as the youngest children were lifted into the wagon with Walt, while everyone else prepared to walk. “They’ve all been through a lot.”
“Yeah, they have,” Jimmy agreed. “And I guess we best get going. The wind up here ain’t getting’ any better.” He paused, then asked, “You sure you’re gonna be all right headin’ to Rock Springs alone?”
“The snow’s stopped,” Buck replied. “Once I get over the pass, the worst of the wind should be blocked. I’ll be fine.”
“Well, just see you are,” Jimmy said. “I ain’t answerin’ to Teaspoon if anything happens to you!”
“Nice to know you care, Hickok,” Buck said dryly. But inside, he was feeling good – despite their somewhat rocky early start, he knew that Jimmy really did care.
Jimmy just grunted in reply. “See you in a few days,” he said, holding out his hand.
“Travel safe, Jimmy,” Buck said as they shook hands.
“You too,” Jimmy returned. Then he turned and headed toward the wagon.
Buck stayed where he was, waving farewell until the last of the group disappeared around the bend of the trail. Then he mounted his horse and turned to study his path.
Ahead of him, the summit of South Pass beckoned. He didn’t have dreams waiting on the other side, but he did have a job to finish, and his destination lay beyond that peak.
Somewhere over the pass . . .
Startled, Jimmy turned at the sudden sound behind him and peered into the darkness. He could vaguely make out the shape of a person standing there, a shape he hadn’t seen when he’d ducked into the darkened alcove looking for an escape. While he was happy for his friend and was glad to come and celebrate Cody’s marriage, all he wanted right now was a quiet place away from the crowds. Away from all the [i]most beautiful women in the world save one[/i] that Cody seemed intent on introducing him to.
He knew that his friend meant well, but Jimmy was not going to be dragged into a match-making scheme by a hopeless romantic on his wedding day. Not that Jimmy looked down on love; he just knew it wasn’t for him. He had nothing in his life to offer people. Nothing except an early grave with *a tombstone* indicating that at all too early an age they’d been killed. Simply for knowing Wild Bill. No, Jimmy was determined to keep his distance from love and not inflict his tragic life on anyone.
“Do you mind?” the faceless voice asked, and Jimmy could tell by the soft tones that it was a woman addressing him. “You’re standing on my foot, you oaf.”
Immediately he shifted on his feet and was rewarded with a relieved sigh. “I’m sorry.”
Time stretched on, yet it remained silent in the alcove of the grand hotel housing Cody’s reception. From the ballroom below them the happy sounds of laughter and music floated up to them, yet he and the woman remained silent. Finally, when the distant strains of a *harmonica* drifted up into the night, she sighed. “Well, what’s your story?”
“I’m sorry?” he said, shaking his head. He’d been startled from his thoughts and hadn’t really heard her question.
“I said,” she repeated, sounding more than a little miffed. “What’s your story? Why are you hiding up here instead of being down at the party?”
“One could ask the same about you,” he smirked in the darkness, hoping to deflect her question.
“I’m trying to avoid my match-making sister,” she admitted freely. “She seems to think that I should be perfectly happy waiting downstairs with her for her husband’s friend to arrive so she can fix us up. Thanks, but I’d rather eat a snake.”
He laughed. He couldn’t help it. He hadn’t expected her to say what she had, and he especially hadn’t expected to encounter such a Teaspoon-like expression coming from such a fair-sounding woman.
“Is he old, fat or ugly?” Jimmy asked, mirth filling him for the first time in a very long while.
“Nope. He’s tall, just a little older than my sister’s husband, and based on the tin-type of the two of them taken during the war, he looks rather handsome. I just don’t have any desire to meet him. I don’t want to meet anyone right now,” she admitted.
“See,” she said, her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper, “I want to travel west. I’ve heard about California and it sounds so much more exciting than Boston. My sister thinks that if she introduces me to all the eligible men she knows that I’ll give up my silly notion of hitching up a *covered wagon* and striking out on my own. My sister doesn’t have an adventurous bone in her body, which is why she seems like the last person her husband would ever marry. Except that she’s pretty, and he seems to have taken a fancy to her. But there’s no accounting for love. Love is a waste of time, if you ask me.”
“I agree,” he said.
“So,” she chuckled in the dark. “Now you know why I’m hiding out, how come you’ve invaded my sanctuary?”
“I’m hiding from a match-making friend,” he admitted with a small laugh. “He thinks it’s time I settled down, raised a passel of children and stopped drifting with the wind. He wants to introduce me to his wife’s sister.”
“Is she ugly, fat or old?” she parroted his earlier question.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “Never seen her before; barely saw the sister. I missed the wedding this morning and only spoke with her briefly as I went through the receiving line.”
His companion sucked in a quick breath, but it was lost in the noise that suddenly echoed down the hallway.
“Mary?” Cody’s voice called out. “Mary? Where are you? Your sister is looking for you.”
Jimmy felt himself being pulled closer to her by his lapels and she hissed under her breath. “Don’t say a word or Billy will hear you and find me out.”
His eyes widened in the dark and he found himself holding his breath. His co-conspirator in escaping match-makers was none other than the woman he was hiding from. If Cody found them, there would be no avoiding the sly grins and boisterous remarks his friend was sure to make. Especially after finding them secluded together in the dark. He wished with all his might that Cody quickly searched in a new area of the hotel so that he could make his escape.
After a few tense minutes, Cody’s voice and footsteps receded down the hall and Mary let out a slow breath. “He means well, but I’m glad he’s gone.”
Jimmy found he couldn’t say anything, afraid that his voice would betray that he knew Cody and was the other half of the intended match. All he knew is he had to get out of the alcove…and the hotel. It had been a mistake to come here. He just wasn’t made for a life of normalcy and family. He was Wild Bill and nobody would ever let him forget it. Why should he align himself with someone only to put them into danger? He had no idea what broad strokes Cody had painted to the woman standing beside him, but suddenly he didn’t want to know. He wanted to get as far away from her as he could to spare her from what would surely happen by getting next to him.
He felt a nudge to his side and realized that Mary was trying to leave the alcove. “I should probably get back to the party,” she sighed. “Thanks for not giving me away.”
“Sure,” he said, stepping out into the hallway.
“Are you going to head into the party?” she asked. “We could help each other avoid our match-making friends.”
“No, I can’t stay,” he shook his head. “Thanks for letting me hide with you for a little while.”
Her voice sounded slightly disappointed when she said. “Sure.”
He turned before she could even step fully into the light, even though he could hear the swishing of her skirts behind him. He didn’t want to see her fully in the light, because he was afraid to. He had enjoyed talking to her, she had made him laugh, and it was refreshing to meet someone who wasn’t looking to settle down but wanted to travel. If he saw her, he was afraid he’d be tempted to change his mind. And he couldn’t afford the temptation.
His was a solitary life to lead. And that was simply the way it was. No matter how inviting the temptations might be.
Lou knew she was pushing Lightning hard but she would make it up to the animal soon enough. All she wanted was to travel a few more miles while there was still daylight left then the both of them could get a good night’s rest. Lou also had in mind that the more distance she covered today, the sooner they would be riding into the way station come tomorrow.
As they traveled over the plains, Lou couldn’t help but wish they were on their way toward home right now and not heading in the direction of the valley that she knew was up ahead. It wasn’t that she was all that anxious to see what awaited her once she came into sight of the station – more than likely Kid would be out on the bunkhouse porch trying to make it appear as if he hadn’t been pacing for the last hour while waiting for her return. Lou knew it was just his nature to worry and be concerned for her well being, especially now that they were ‘riding double’, but did he have to keep talking to the other boys constantly about how dangerous he thought it was out there for her?! Shoot, it was dangerous for all of them and she worried about him too, though that would be the last thing she would admit to.
She and Kid had had some words just before she’d left and now she was feeling guilty over what she’d said. It wasn’t anything serious, just little things about him that bugged her. Lou knew that once she got home, Kid would apologize for overreacting and she would say she was sorry for jumping down his throat each time he tried to talk. They’d kiss and hug and eventually sneak out of the bunkhouse that night to ‘dance’ in the barn. Lou knew her cheeks were probably redder than they were a moment ago as she thought of the activities the two of them had started doing in the barn on a regular basis. This was the main subject of the argument they’d had and of several before it. Kid was constantly worried about what they were doing, saying it wasn’t proper unless they were married. Lou was tired of being proposed to and just wanted to continue with what they were doing without thinking of the risks they were taking.
The familiar sight of the valley came into view and Lou pulled on the reins to slow Lightning down. “We made good time, girl,” she said, grinning. “Now for a well deserved rest for the both of us.” She walked the horse toward the embankment that led to the valley below. She enjoyed spending the night here – it was so peaceful and the trees provided better protection than sleeping out in the open.
They made it down the slope and rounded a bend through the trees, only to stop short as Lou realized they weren’t alone. In front of them was a *covered wagon*. It wasn’t that unusual while riding the trails to pass a family traveling west but this seemed a different sight. First, there were no horses attached to it and second, the area surrounding the wagon was an absolute *mess*. Lou noticed crates broken, a trunk overturned, and strewn all over the ground was probably the contents of both.
Her mind went back to the lack of horses present. Wagons were big and usually required two horses to pull them. So where were the animals? Lou glanced around and didn’t see them grazing nearby; she started to get an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Lou’s first thought was an Indian attack; she didn’t see any evidence of arrows but that didn’t mean there weren’t any around. If it wasn’t Indians, maybe the family had come across the wrong sort of people out here and had been robbed of their most precious belongings, including their horses. She could have kept going with all her wild thoughts but decided instead to try to find out what really happened.
Cautiously, she slid off Lightning’s back, tied the reins to a nearby tree then drew her gun. Lou took a few steps forward, looking all around her as she went. She finally realized that she wouldn’t find out anything unless she made her presence known. Maybe someone was hurt and lying in hiding, afraid that whoever had done this might return.
“Is anyone here?” Lou called out as she moved closer to the wagon. “I won’t hurt you. I only want to help.” She kept repeating the words until she was standing next to the wagon.
She was more than a little relieved that she still hadn’t found any evidence of an Indian attack. Lou was also thankful that no one had tried to shoot at her but just to play it safe, she kept her hand firmly tightened around her gun.
A close search of the area surrounding the wagon revealed no one. She realized she should check inside the back of the wagon. The cover had been drawn tightly closed so she quietly untied the cords and loosened the gap, allowing herself easy access to what lay in wait for her inside the wagon.
With her gun raised, Lou pushed aside the canvas material and shoved the gun through the opening. What she saw inside caused her to start breathing heavy. She quickly turned her head away, pursing her lips together to keep from gagging. The condition of the interior was the last thing she’d expected to see but almost worse was the smell emanating through the opening.
It finally got the best of her and Lou had to bend over, her hands resting on her knees. She took in several deep breaths to calm herself and she was relieved to find it seemed to be working. She rose to her full height and shook her head in an attempt to pull herself together – she needed to know what had happened here. The only way to do that would be to look inside the wagon again.
Lou held her breath as she pulled the material aside. “Oh, God,” she sighed, letting her breath out. The blood – there was so much blood everywhere. Quilts and blankets had been laid on the bottom of the wagon, clearly displaying pools of red. She noted handprints on the canvas walls; there were larger prints, clearly those of a man, and smaller ones that were smeared as they had slipped down the material and settled onto the wooden sides of the interior.
What had happened here? Lou wondered. Her first thought was that someone had been shot and left to die. That would explain the amount of blood present. Could there be another reason?
Lou had no way of knowing if there had been a struggle since the area was such a wreck. She decided to look around outside again, this time more closely for anything to tell her what might have happened.
As she turned to leave the interior of the wagon, her hand absentmindedly picked up the edge of a quilt and moved it aside. She turned back as she heard something drop to the wooden base of the wagon. Pushing the cloth aside, she picked up the item: it was a *child’s toy*.
Lou brought it out into the open to look at it better. It was a carved duck with wooden wheels under it and a rope attached to the head to pull it with. She kept turning it over in her hands as she realized a child had been here too – and not just any child, a young one. This was the type of toy to belong to a baby or a toddler.
Whatever had happened here had happened to a family. She shut her eyes as the thought brought tears to the surface. She felt such sympathy that a child had more than likely witnessed whatever events had unfolded here. She didn’t know anything about this family but Lou decided these were innocent people and certainly didn’t deserve such a tragedy thrust upon them. She suddenly set her jaw in determination; she was now curious as well as angry. Lou knew she wouldn’t be able to rest until she’d done her best to figure out what had occurred here.
Walking amongst the discarded items on the ground, Lou found men’s and women’s clothing, dishes, and in one trunk, some small gowns that would have been worn by a newborn. As her hands gingerly touched the fabric, she felt two hard items underneath. Pulling them out, she held up a *harmonica*. Lou grinned in spite of what she was in the middle of as she recalled the time Kid had tried to learn to play the instrument. He hadn’t been very good at it but there was still something about listening to it being played that was soothing to the soul. Maybe this man, this father, had played it at night to lull his child into a peaceful slumber.
The other item was a picture frame. Turning it over in her hands, Lou stared at the faces looking back at her: it was a man in a suit and a woman in a wedding gown. The way they held each other and the look in their eyes showed without a doubt that they were in love. She wondered how long ago it had been taken, knowing she would never find out the answer to that question.
Holding both items, Lou continued her search of the area. This time she broadened her quest for answers and was rewarded with something she hadn’t expected to find. Her shoulders slumped dejectedly as she stared at *a tombstone* standing under a grove of trees. As she slowly walked toward it, she realized that wasn’t the correct term for it since it wasn’t made of stone but rather wood. It had probably been a side or bottom of one of the broken crates she’d found.
Lou leaned over to read the writing carved into the wood. She gasped and fell to her knees, this time allowing the tears to come to her eyes. Such care had been taken to inscribe the name, date and a short message onto the wood.
Oh those poor people, she thought. It suddenly made sense, the blood, the shambles of the supplies on the ground, the abandoning of the wagon. There was nothing left for the man to take with him, nothing at all. Lou not only felt pity for the man in the picture she’d found but also for his wife. She’d given so much and lost so much.
Lou sat on the ground, pulled her knees to her chest and hugged them with her arms. Marybeth Schneider – the name kept going through Lou’s mind. The dates on the wood indicated she had only been twenty-one years old. To have such hope and promise for the future yet to take the chance of losing it so quickly, was it worth it? Lou didn’t know if she’d ever be strong enough to give all of herself the way Marybeth clearly had. The smiles on the faces in the photograph showed a couple willing to give all of themselves for the other and for the chance to have a future together, to have a family.
She looked back at the tomb marking and noted that the baby had been a boy. They hadn’t even named it before … before … Lou couldn’t finish the thought. She knew the trip out West was very long and unforeseen things happened along the way. But what were they doing out here if the woman was due to give birth? Wouldn’t they have chosen to be near a town as her time approached? Maybe the baby had come early or there had been a complication. She couldn’t imagine what they had been thinking as Marybeth had struggled to give birth and what her husband had gone through trying to keep his family members alive but probably knowing deep inside that no matter what he did, it would be of no use.
They had probably been so looking forward to the time when they could hold their child and sing to it. Lou couldn’t even fathom how a woman must prepare herself for the knowledge that she was going to become a mother. It wasn’t something she decided upon, it was something that was thrust upon a woman as soon as she got married. It was expected of them. So many things were expected of a woman once they agreed to share their life with someone else, so many risks that could change their whole life. Some of those risks were more than likely wonderful but some, like what had happened to Marybeth, were so scary to even think about.
“I guess if you find the right man it’s all worth it,” she said out loud. Even though she was mad at him practically on a daily basis, Lou knew she’d found the right man. She just wasn’t ready for anything else. It had been enough of a risk for her to trust Kid enough to let him hold her and kiss her, not to mention letting him make love to her. And the chance she’d taken when she’d said those words ‘I love you’ – that had been such a scary moment but looking back now, Lou wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything. To hear someone say those three little words back to you and to know they meant it was such a calming feeling.
Maybe one day she would be ready to take the risks Marybeth had, not knowing how they would turn out but to know you were doing it for the one true love of your life would make it all worth it.
“Oh, my gosh, that’s why he did it,” she said in shock. She suddenly figured out why Kid had become obsessed with proposing to her; he wasn’t trying to force her into something she wasn’t ready for like she had thought. Kid was telling her he would always be there for her in the event of something happening she wasn’t ready for. If he knew she didn’t want to get married then he had certainly figured out she didn’t want to become a mother just now.
Once Lou had given all of herself to Kid, she never gave any consequences of their actions a thought; she didn’t want to because what they were doing felt so right, how could it be wrong? Lou suddenly felt the urge to thank him for trying to stop them each time they’d made it to the barn. He would frustrate her so much and she couldn’t figure out the real reason why. He’d always been the one to put a halt to their wandering hands while they still had clothes on and she had been the one to diminish his fears. He’d given her a way out each time and she had never taken it. Damn the Kid for being the thoughtful one and also thank the Kid for being the thoughtful one.
She knew she couldn’t stay in this valley tonight. This was a resting place but a different sort than what she’d used it for before. Lou wanted to leave Marybeth and her child in peace. As she started to get up, Lou noticed the couple items she’d been carrying. They had meant so much to this small family and she feared someone else passing through here and taking them. Lou ran back and retrieved the one object she’d found earlier and returning to the grave, she dug a small hole. She carefully placed the harmonica, picture frame and toy duck inside one of the baby gowns she’d found and placed it in the hole. She covered them with dirt and patted it flat.
Lou bid a silent prayer to the woman and her newborn child and slowly walked away. She took hold of Lightning’s reins and pulled her away from the small camp. She glanced back once, feeling stronger for having crossed paths with Marybeth Schneider, one of the most unselfish women she’d ever known.
Lou hoped when her time came that she could accept whatever was handed her way. But she also vowed that she would play it safe and never leave Kid’s sight from the moment she found out she was expecting until she presented him with his first born. It couldn’t hurt and could definitely help, she thought, as she mounted the horse and rode away.
Polly shut the door behind the last guest, locked it, and turned around to face her new husband. “You’re a man among men, Mr. Hunter.”
He closed the short distance between them and slid an arm around her waist. “What makes you say that, Mrs. Hunter?”
“Watchin’ you today. I had no idea you could play the *harmonica*. You work a crowd like a natural-born politician. I’m not sure why you never tried your hand at politics, as a matter of fact.”
“Nonsense,” Teaspoon scoffed. “When I see a snake, I wanna be able to shoot it. My badge lets me do that.”
She laughed as she let her head drop to his shoulder. For a long moment they stood together in the quiet saloon, each of them listening to the silence that was such a switch from the boisterous crowd that had gathered to celebrate their wedding.
Teaspoon felt the quiet sigh Polly released, and sensed the accompanying change in mood. He squeezed her a bit tighter and asked, “What’s wrong?”
His concern was rewarded by a small smile as she looked up at him. “You know me too well, Sugar Lips.”
He gave her a wink and grinned down at her lovely face. “I ain’t as dumb as I look. So tell me. I thought you were happy today.”
“Oh, I am, honey. It’s not that. It’s just that…sometimes I wonder about all the memories we could have made if we hadn’t gone separate ways all those years ago. I know everythin’ happens for a reason, but we’d have so many memories of us now. Jimmy and Lou and Buck and the others are all just like your own kids, and I wonder how it might’ve been if…”
She let the sentence trail off as she looked out over his shoulder into the darkened room. In her nervousness at admitting what she was really thinking, Polly let her mind wander to the debris left over from the party. It would take days and a good, sturdy *covered wagon* to haul off all the *mess* and put the saloon back into working shape.
“Polly,” he began, “I can’t change what happened back then, but I can tell you this. I’m gonna be here for you from now on, and we’ve got a lotta years to make new memories of us. And if there’s life after this, darlin’, we’ll have even more time after that.” He raised one hand to touch her smooth cheek, and smiled again when she leaned her face into his caress.
“I’ll take it,” she told him as she returned his smile. “Come on, cowboy. Let’s turn in.”
"Yeah right," he thought to himself,
"Who am I kidding, I can't do this, It wouldn't be fair to her"
Jimmy stood there in Thompkins store staring at *the child's toy* dreaming about a future that would never exist. Any one who dared to love him would only find themselves a widow, staring at the *tombstone* that marked the all too early grave of the infamous Wild Bill Hickok. As much as he loved Veronica and wanted a future filled with promises of love and children and the average life, he knew that would never happen for him. That was why he had to end it with her, he had to let her go so that she could find the kind of life she deserved.
"Well better get this over with" he mumbled to himself.
Jimmy stood on the steps of Veronica's house, trying to build up the courage to knock on the door. As soon as he held his hand up to knock, the door flew open and he was nearly knocked to the ground by the petite redhead, who was now cutting off his oxygen supply.
"Jimmy!" she exclamed, "I'm so happy to see you, I've missed you so much." Then she eagerly placed a passionate kiss on his lips. "You know Marshal, another one of these long trips and I won't be responsible for my actions when you get back." she beamed at him. "Sorry I'm such a *mess* but I was just making some biscuits."
Jimmy just stared at her, even though her hair was falling out of the bun she had attempted to make and she had flour all over her face, she still was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He looked into her lapis colored eyes and fell in love with her all over again. But he had to be strong, she deserved better than him and he had to tell her to forget about him and move on.
"Darlin' I need to talk to you" he stammered.
"Ok, let me just get some coffee," she started, but he cut her off "No I need to say this now" he said firmly.
"Is everything ok," she asked as she looked up at him
He looked at the concern in her eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, damn he thought to himself, why couldn't he just do this and get it over with. He loved her but he had to do this. She needed someone who could give her a safe normal life, not a life where she would have to constantly look over her shoulder, no he had to be strong, but those eyes...
"Jimmy," she said breaking into his thoughts, "what is it?"
"Nothing, I just wanted to tell you that I missed you" he said as he pulled her close to him, "Tomorrow" he thought to himself, he would do it tomorrow. Now he would just enjoy being around her and then tomorrow he told himself he would really talk to her. Tomorrow.