Topic #56: Five Dollars
Good Deed by: Ty
||Plain Not Fancy by: Debbie
Real or Imagined I by: Raye
Piper by: Raye
|An Anniversary Surprise by: Shannon
Done by: Cindy
Dare by: Lori
Beggar's Fee by: Anna S
|In God We
Trust by: Cathy
||Responsibility: Real or Imagined II by: Raye
Days by: LMS
||A Friend in Need
The young woman drove her old swaybacked bay mare and even older buggy into the Station yard. At one time the buggy had been bright red, but no one would have guessed looking at it now, it was so weather worn. The dress the lady wore was well worn and threadbare too, but every thing about her and her rig was clean and well mended, just old.
Seeing two men sitting on the porch of the bunkhouse, she stopped the buggy near by getting out and tying the mare to the rail. "Hello, my name is Adah Norrings. This is the Pony Express Station isn't it?" she asked hoping that she hadn't made a mistake.
Buck and Ike both stepped off the porch at her question. "Yes ma'am," Buck said politely wondering what she could want. "I'm Buck Cross and this is Ike McSwain, we both ride for the Express."
"Henry Fennington, my intended is in Salt Lake City. If he doesn't come home in the next three weeks, we will lose the farm… something about his father's Will …I don't know what his mother and I will do if that happens. I need to get a message to him, and I understand that the Pony Express can help me. Can I send a letter from here? If so, how much would it be?" Adah bit her lip when she asked for the price, if it was too much she would never be able to pay for it. She didn't have much money.
Buck smiled at the woman, "Yes ma'am, you can send it from here. The standard Pony Express fee is five dollars."
Adah nearly collapsed. "FIVE DOLLARS?" she gasp in alarm. "Oh! Thank you for your time and the information. I guess I won't be sending one after all." Shaking with shock and pain of knowing that she couldn't afford to send a letter to Henry at that price. She turned to get back on the wagon, holding back the tears by sheer will.
Ike quickly signed to Buck. *I don't think she can pay that much. Look at her dress, the horse and the buggy. She is poor and about to lose her home too. Can't we help?*
Buck nodded and said, "Ma'am, wait you didn't let me finish."
When she turned back to him, her eyes held so much hope that Buck had to swallow several times before he could go on. "That's the standard rate from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, but as you are only sending it from here to Salt Lake City. I think it would be around, oh say fifty cents for that short of a run, don't you think Ike?" Buck said turning to the other rider.
Ike nodded in agreement knowing that he and Buck would be making up the difference, but the smile on the woman's face was worth it.
"Oh? That's fine then," she said in relief, not realizing what the two men had planned. Reaching in to her receptacle she pulled out the letter, handing it to Ike and then, began carefully counted out her change for the fee.
While she was counting, Ike nudge Buck and said, *See?* drawing Buck's eyes to the lack of funds in the small coin holder.
Adah still had a few coins left when she handed the fifty cents to Buck saying, "Thank you so much, Mary Ellen and I have been so worried about how we would get the message to Henry."
Ike helped Adah, in to the buggy seat while Buck untied the horse. They watched as she drove out of the yard with a happy wave of thanks, knowing that her Henry would be home soon.
Buck looked over at Ike and said, "Looks like we each owe Teaspoon two dollars and twenty-five cents."
Ike grinned and responded, *Our good deed for the day, helping a woman keep her home. I think it's worth it."
Fifteen year old Louise McCloud took the washboard out of the cauldron of soapy water. The next items to be washed would not require scrubbing. She’d been doing the laundry for a year now so she knew that soaking the finery in the soapy water then putting them in a cauldron of boiling water to remove the soap was more than necessary to make them look good as new.
Piece by piece, Louise began to take the gloves out of the basket sitting next to her and carefully placed them in the soapy water. At one time she had thought them to be the most exquisite pieces of clothing she had ever seen. But Louise had done a lot of growing up in the last year so she now knew why the ladies working in the big house that towered behind her would take them off and what they did with their hands once the gloves were removed.
She shuddered at the thought of how naïve she’d been when she first came to work there. Running the delicate lace through her fingers, Louise recalled actually putting them on just after she’d first begun working there. No one used to watch her then so she hadn’t been scared to do it. Now she knew he was watching her – a lot. She knew she did a good job with the laundry so the dark haired girl couldn’t come up with a reason why he would need to keep an eye on her.
Not wanting to look behind her toward the back porch of the window on the second floor, Louise reached into the basket and pulled out another handful. As she put the various gloves into the pot, she noted the differences which reflected their owners. Some were long, to the elbow; others just covered the fingers and palm; they were either open or a tight weave; and there were some with flowers or dots in between the lacing; but they were always black. Her fingers felt something in the basket that wasn’t lace so she brought it to her lap for inspection. Louise turned it over in her hand. It was a man’s black leather glove, like the kind used for riding.
Who did it belong to? She wondered. Was it Mr. Wicks’? With the style of clothing he wore, he seemed the type of man to own gloves like that. But why would they be in with the ladies’ laundry? Louise shuddered again as she began to wonder … no, he was nice to all the girls and, lately, especially to her. Louise’s birthday had been last Tuesday and he had actually surprised her by giving her the day off with pay. He had told her she would earn it … no, that she HAD earned it; Louise corrected herself as she tried to remember his exact wording.
Part of the surprise was that he had allowed Charlotte to take her out for the day. Usually Mr. Wicks didn’t like any of his employees going into town but last Tuesday had been an exception as she and Charlotte had enjoyed a fancy lunch at the restaurant then Charlotte had taken her shopping. The older woman had told Louise turning fifteen meant she was now a woman and that she could wear skirts that touched the ground. Since the girl didn’t have any skirts of that length, Charlotte had told Louise her birthday present for the young lady would be a couple new dresses. She had tried to protest, insisting it would be too much money but Charlotte kept telling her it was necessary.
Louise glanced down at the dress she was wearing that was now partially hidden by the apron she wore to keep herself from getting soaked while working. She smiled as she thought of how much fun it had been to try on all the beautiful dresses. She had finally chosen the one she wore now plus a skirt and two blouses. Charlotte had tried to get Louise to pick out the fanciest ones the store carried but one look at the lace adorning the front of the bodice or skirt made the younger girl think of what was in front of her now. She didn’t want to be thought of as one of those ladies, even if she cared for Charlotte and Charlotte was one of them; Louise was not and she never would be.
“Plain not fancy,” Louise whispered as she replayed in her mind what she’d told Charlotte before picking out the items she wanted for her present. Louise turned to the boiling cauldron and with a wooden spoon, she took out the gloves. It didn’t really matter the reason Charlotte had been so generous with her gift; Louise had gotten the ones she wanted and she would always treasure that special day with her friend, especially when Mr. Wicks had seen her that evening and told her how grown up she looked. She did feel grown up. Louise smiled as she gathered up the laundry to hang it up to dry. She moved around in such a way that her new skirt twirled around her legs, brushing against the grass beneath her feet. Louise was suddenly in such a good mood she didn’t even care if he was watching her. With the way she was feeling, what was there he could do to take her out of this good mood anyway?
Teaspoon stood as Tompkins filled the doorway of the Marshal’s office. He’d heard the man bellowing in the middle of the street before he’d even set foot on the wooden stairs.
“What may I help you with, Mr. Tompkins?”
“Don’t you try to placate me, Teaspoon. You don’t even know what the problem is; you won’t sound so smug when I get done.”
Nodding in agreement, Teaspoon gestured to a chair. “Then go ahead and jump right on in. Don’t be shy.”
The subtle humor was lost on Tompkins. “I’ve been wronged; Teaspoon and I want to know what you’re going to do about it.”
Teaspoon plunked himself down in his chair and leaned forward against his desk. “Were you robbed?”
“Well, not exactly.”
“I wasn’t robbed, really.”
Teaspoon sat back in his chair and rubbed his forehead, fingers digging into his temples. “You weren’t robbed, not really.”
Shaking his head, Teaspoon gave Tompkins a doleful look. “Just exactly how does something like this happen, Tompkins?”
“People just have no sense of responsibility anymore.”
Folding his arms over his chest, Teaspoon gave Tompkins a look worthy of the sage man that he was. “And what would you like me to do about it?”
“Fix it, Teaspoon!” Tompkins nearly vaulted out of his chair and began pacing around the room. “It’s all because of that girl… Miss Edgars.”
“Samantha Edgars?” Teaspoon shook his head disbelieving. “I can’t imagine that she’d steal from you. Why,” Teaspoon gave the shopkeeper an indulgent smile, “I don’t believe she was in town for more than a day or two? I hazard a guess she wasn’t in your store besides that one time and from what I heard she weren’t wearin’ nothin’ that could’ve concealed any merchandise… really, Tompkins are you sure you’ve got the right girl?”
“Damn it, Teaspoon, you’re twisting my words. That’s not what I said.”
“So,” he gave a little wink to the man steaming across the room, “you didn’t notice the delightful little get up she was wearin’?”
“Whether I did or didn’t, isn’t any of your meddlin’ business. I’m talkin’ about what she ordered!”
“Oh!” He did his best to remain as stoic as possible. It wasn’t fun to get Tompkins in a dither too quickly… it was more fun to draw it out. “She done ordered something from you and now that she’s not here…”
“That’s right.” Tompkins sounded almost relieved to hear that Teaspoon’s mind was on the right track. “She came in and ordered a bunch of things for the school house and now I’ve got no one to pay me what I’m due. It’s horrible.”
“What’s so horrible about it? Now you’ve got more stock to sell. Really, Tompkins, I think you should look at this as a golden opportunity.”
Tompkins was balling his apron up in his hands. “I’ve got me six boxes of textbooks and supplies that arrived in from the East, just yesterday. All those fancy art books and other such frivolous gewgaws are taking up half of my storeroom and I can’t send them back!”
“Why not?” Teaspoon gave a little sigh. “Seems to me a perfect case for a return. I’m sure your supplier will be more than happy to take them back and-”
Tompkins whirled around to stare at the Marshal. “Didn’t you just hear me?” He gave a few steps forward and leaned in real close to Teaspoon and spoke in a loud shout. “I CAN NOT SEND THEM BACK!”
“Alright. Then why don’t we go on over and see the new school teacher. Maybe she can use the books in class.”
Shaking his head, Tompkins mumbled out a few choice words before looking back up at Teaspoon. “How do you stay Marshal without payin’ any attention? The new school teacher is a man. Did you miss that little fact?” He sucked in a huge breath and continued. “Mr. Lon Chase has no more need for art history books than a hole in the head. No one does, come to think of it. This is just a big ol’ mess and as I can see it you’re right in the middle of it.”
“Me?” Teaspoon pressed his hand to his chest in surprise and shock. “What are you sayin’ Tompkins?”
“You were right in the middle of the whole situation. That… that incident at the dance. Then the duel.”
Teaspoon cocked his head to the side. “I don’t see what this has to do with anything. The duel was somethin’ I dealt with, a sad situation, but as far as I can see none of your business.”
“It has everything to do with this! Miss Edgars left after the duel. After you shot that fine man from Georgia. Really Teaspoon, are you plannin’ on scaring away the new teacher?”
Leaning forward in his chair, Teaspoon fixed Tompkins with a stern look. “That fine man from Georgia was about to kill another person. I did what I had to do to stop him. We told Miss Edgars that she was welcome to stay, but she had certain,” Teaspoon cleared his throat, “personal issues that she had to come to grips with.”
“Well, Teaspoon, I want to know who’s gonna come to grips with the fact that I have a ton of books gatherin’ dust in my storeroom and there ain’t no one in a fifty mile radius who would want ‘em. I want to know who’s gonna take responsibility and give me the money I’m out. This wasn’t my fault.”
Teaspoon stood up and gave Tompkins a stern look. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, Tompkins… things happen.”
“Not to me they don’t… things like this happen and I close up shop… where would the town be then, Teaspoon?” He stalked over to the door, the ends of his apron curving around his knees, almost tangling them in the hem.
Coming around his desk Teaspoon called out for Tompkins to hold for second.
“What is it?”
“I’ll go over and talk to the town council. They’re the ones that hired Miss Edgars… maybe they have a solution.”
“I sure hope so.”
“So, how much was it?”
“The shipment… how much was it?”
“Just shy of five dollars.”
Teaspoon’s brows lifted high on his forehead. “Five dollars, huh?”
“That’s what I said. Good day.”
Teaspoon sat down on the edge of his desk and let out a long sigh as he watched Tompkins head back across the street to his store. “They’ll never give him the money.”
Big thanks to Lori for Beta-reading for me... loves ya...
She went unnoticed in the doorway for a long time. There was a crowd of folks inside, all trying to be heard at once.
“I’ve been waiting since noon, Mr. Dougherty.”
“Yes, yes…” nodded the older man, his eyes sweeping around the room, “but there are a number of other people in line.”
“I’m sure everyone is waiting, Mr. Dougherty, there’s a horrible lack of service here.”
He gave a long sigh and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. “I understand your pain, Mrs. Harvey, but with the influenza epidemic I am hard pressed to keep up with the-”
“My husband is lying in state at our home at this very moment. My daughters are beside themselves with grief as am I. I expect your wagon to be at our back door this evening to bring him here to prepare him for burial.”
Mr. Dougherty opened a book on the counter and pushed it toward her where it balanced on the edge. He placed a pencil in the dent created by the binding and indicated a line with his finger. “If you’ll put your husband’s name and your address on the line, I’ll ask Paul to pick up your husband on his way back from the Oldman’s homestead.”
The young man at the window stepped through the crowd. “And my wife?”
That started the ruckus again. Everyone was calling out their questions and demands, some crying and some angry… it was impossible to take it all in. Especially now.
“You waitin’ for someone?”
Louise turned and looked up at the tall broad-shouldered boy standing before her. “I… I’m here to see Mr. Dougherty.” She looked back over her shoulder at the crowd surrounding the older man. “I don’t think he’ll be able to help me today.”
“Can I help? I’m his apprentice, Paul.”
She nodded slowly, holding her breath in her chest, behind her broken heart. “I need to see about gettin’ someone to come get my Mama.”
She heard the sympathy in his voice and her tears gathered heavy and hot on her lashes. “I got my brother and sister waitin’ with some folks on the bottom floor, so I can’t be gone long. I promised them I’d be right back. I didn’t think there’d be so many folks here and …” she was gasping for breath and desperately trying to quiet her nerves.
“I just started last year, but this is the most we’ve ever had at one time. I’ll see about gettin’ over to pick up your Mama this evening. Where are you livin’?”
It took a moment for her to gather her thoughts long enough to form the words on her tongue. She carefully sounded out the address and told him they were on the second floor. “What do I need to do… to get her ready?”
“Set out the clothes you want her buried in and then you’ll have to decide on the marker and the service… then there’s the coffin.”
There was a knot stuck in her throat and she wiped her palms on the skirt of her dress. So much to think about… so many things to decide. This just wasn’t happening. Tears seared down her cheeks and dotted her calico pinafore. “I don’t know what to do; it’s just too much to think about.”
“What about your fath-”
She shook her head to stop his question. “We don’t have a father. Not anymore.”
“Well,” Paul looked back at his wagon, standing ready at the post, “then who’re you gonna get to pay for everything.”
“Pay?” Her heart froze in her chest. She hadn’t thought of that… not that. “Oh… I…” ‘What a fool you are, Louise.’ She admonished herself for not thinking of it sooner. “… I think my Mama had some money set aside.” Louise knew her cheeks were warm and most likely colored with her shame. “I’ll see what I can get together…” she cleared her throat and folded her hands into her skirt, “how much will it be?”
Paul looked away, counting on his fingers as he mumbled through the list of services. “Five dollars should cover it.”
Big thanks to Lori for Beta-reading for me... loves ya... AGAIN
Kid pulled out the money in his pocket, five dollars. What can I get her for only five dollars? Kid could not believe he had lost track of the dates. It was not his fault really. He, along with all the riders, had been riding double duty for over two weeks now. Russell, Majors, and Waddell turned the first anniversary of the Pony Express into a media hoopla in an attempt to increase business. The planned worked, and the mail volume doubled overnight. They had all been working overtime. No one had been giving a day off in two weeks. After realizing today’s date, it was everything Kid could do to talk Teaspoon into giving Kid and Lou the evening off.
Kid had hoped to take Lou out to nice dinner romantic dinner, but he had to drop that idea when Teaspoon would not let them have more than the one evening off. Time did not allow for them to go to a neighboring town and it would be too risky taking her out there in Rock Creek where she might be recognized. Of course, after reviewing his finances, he realized he could not afford dinner for two, anyway. After explaining his predicament to Rachel, she gladly offered to fix a picnic dinner for them which he gratefully accepted.
Kid cursed to himself for blowing through his money so quickly these past few weeks. After working so hard, he splurged a few times on meals in restaurants when he was staying the night at other stations where the food was not nearly as appealing as Rachel’s cooking. Once or twice he even got himself a hotel room when the stations where overcrowded, something he very rarely did. Now, he only had five dollars left to spend on the lady whose love he was still trying to win back.
Today was the anniversary of their first kiss. Kid thought back to the events of the last year. Discovering Lou was a girl while he tending her gunshot wound after a gang of horse thieves got the drop on her, only ten days after the Express opened. A few days later, they had captured the gang and recovering the horses and mail pouch, Kid promised to keep Lou’s secret, and then she shyly kissed him. He fondly recalled asking Lou to dance in the alley behind the town hall in Sweetwater, and the quick kisses they would sneak when Teaspoon was not around. Once Teaspoon discovered Lou’s true identity, they were free to pursue their romance more openly around the station, perhaps too freely. They both made mistakes. After they hastily consummated their relationship, Kid found himself constantly worrying about Lou to the point of smothering her. Lou’s constant need to prove she could take care of herself only adding to their problems. When Kid foolishly tried to rush them into an engagement, their relationship blew up in his face. After he seeing the hurt on Lou’s face from overhearing him go on about Samantha like a love sick schoolboy, he thought there was no chance of ever reconciling with Lou. However, when they returned to Sweetwater after rescuing Amanda from the Pike gang, Kid saw a second chance appearing. The move to Rock Creek slowed things down a bit but swearing not to repeat the mistakes of the past, Kid concentrated on rebuilding their friendship and trust, before trying tackle their crumbled romance. Now, he was finally ready to tell Lou how much she still meant to him. What could be a more perfect day?
Kid walked into to Tompkins store, determined to find the perfect token of his love and devotion to Lou. He glanced at the dress on the mannequin in the window display, but he quickly dismissed the idea. She already had several dresses hidden in her trunk and very little opportunity to wear them. He walked over to the perfume display, but again realized Lou had little use for that as well. Then he saw the jewelry display, Kid smiled, maybe he could find a necklace or something that could easily be hidden under her disguise, should she accept it his gift, he reminded himself.
“Hey there, Kid,” Tompkins greeted. “What can I help you with today?”
“I’ve been kinda seeing this girl.”
“Really,” Tompkins grinned. “Anyone I now?”
“No,” Kid lied, choosing his words carefully. “She lives in Seneca. I met her when I was on a run there about months ago.”
“I see.” The amused expression on Tompkins face made Kid wonder if he really believed him.
“I sort of want to make the courtship official. I was hoping to get her something, like jewelry maybe, to show my intentions are honorable.”
“A ring perhaps?”
Hell no, Kid knew Lou would never speak to him again if presented her with another ring this soon. “No, I think it’s a little early for something like a ring. I was thinking something more like a necklace.”
“Well, I just got a couple of pieces in from St. Joe.” Tompkins pulled out the display box from under the counter. “Not sure if I’ve got much in your price range, I’m afraid.”
“I understand,” he again cursed himself for squandering his money the last few weeks. “I only have about five dollars saved up. It’s been a rather tough month.”
“Let’s see,” Tompkins opened the wooden box and looked at the contents, “I think I may have just the thing.”
Kid felt his heart begin to race a little in anticipation as Tompkins pulled out a small heart shaped locket attached to a gold chain. The storekeeper handed it to him to further examine the piece. “What do you think?”
Kid smiled. “It’s perfect. I think L...L, uh, Lisa will love it.”
“It opens,” Tompkins explained, “and has a place to hold to small pictures.”
“Five dollars even.”
“I’ll take it!” Smiling, Kid handed his money to Tompkins.
Tompkins put the money in the till and then put the necklace in a gift box. “There you go, Kid.”
“Thank you, sir,” Kid gratefully shook Tompkins’ hand
“You’re quite welcome. I hope she likes it. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Kid opened the box and looked at the locket again. It had a simple and delicate beauty about it, he prayed Lou would not only like it, but accept it. As he returned the locket to the box, the clock on the store wall struck four o’clock. Lou was due back from her run shortly, Kid placed the box in his coat pocket for safe keeping and hurried out of the store. He still had a lot to do before she returned to the station.
“Kid, where have you been?” Rachel said as he entered the bunkhouse. “Louise got back ten minutes ago!”
“What? She shouldn’t be back for at least another half hour!”
“Apparently she made good time.” Rachel took out the picnic basket she had quickly hid under one of the bunks when she just happened to look out the window when Lou rode up. “Don’t worry, she doesn’t suspect a thing. I suggested she soak in my bathtub to get cleaned up for dinner and she jumped at the chance. After the last few weeks, I think she’ll be relaxing in there for a while.”
“It’s my pleasure, Kid. I’m am so excited that you are finally doing this. But you didn’t answer my question, where were you?”
“I went over to Tompkins store,” Kid shyly admitted. “I wanted to get Lou a little something.”
“Oh! Can I see it?”
“I’m afraid it’s not much, money is a little tight at the moment.” He nervously handed Rachel the box which she opened.
“Oh, Kid! It’s beautiful. Louise is going to love it!”
“I hope you’re right. I really want to make up for my mistakes.”
“Kid, we all make mistakes. You and Lou still love each other, and that’s all that matters.
Kid only nodded as Cody walked into the bunkhouse. Rachel quickly the closed the box and handed it back to Kid, who then he slipped back into his jacket pocket. He then sat down at the table to begin writing a note.
“Rachel,” Cody said as he flopped down onto his bunk, “When’s supper, I’m starved?”
“Not for another half hour, Cody. Did you finish cleaning out the stalls in the barn?”
“I got all but the last two. Figured they could wait until after dinner.”
“Don’t you have a run coming up after dinner?”
“So, go finish cleaning the stalls because you won’t have time if you wait until after dinner.”
“Yes, ma’am. I now all this extra mail is good for business, but it’s wearing me out.” Cody dragged himself off his bunk and exited the bunkhouse.
Rachel began packing the picnic basket, relieved that Cody was too worn out to notice it sitting on the table. She smiled as she saw Kid finish the note and then get up and place it on Lou’s bunk.
“Kid, why don’t go pick some flowers out of my garden to put with the note?”
“That’s a great idea. I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll have everything packed by the time you get back,” she called out as Kid headed out the door.
Lou was exhausted. While she was drying off from her bath, all’s she could think of was eating dinner and going to bed. She glanced out Rachel’s window to see Kid leaving the garden. What is he up to? She thought as she finished toweling off and then put on some fresh clean clothes.
Ten minutes later, Lou walked into the bunkhouse. Rachel greeted her with a mischievous smile.
“Hello, Louise. Do you feel better after a nice hot bath?”
“Yes, thank you for suggesting it, Rachel,” Lou replied as looked around the usually empty bunkhouse. “Where is everyone?”
“Well, Jimmy and Noah are on runs and won’t be back ‘til the morning. Ike and Buck are both due in any minute. Cody, for once, is making sure his chores are done before his ride. I think Jesse is helping Teaspoon clean up the jailhouse. They’ll be here soon to. And I’m not quite sure where Kid went off to.”
“I thought I saw him in your flower garden a few minutes ago,” Lou stated as she walked over to her bunk and saw the flowers and note lying on her pillow.
“Really?” Rachel answered, still trying to play dumb while she watched Lou open the letter.
Lou read the note. Lou, please go to the clearing near the old oak tree by Taylor’s pond. It was signed only Your Admirer, but Lou knew it could only be from the Kid. She smiled and looked up at Rachel, “So you don’t have any idea where the Kid went?”
Rachel knew her smile gave her involvement away, but she refused to give her friend any other clues. “Just do whatever that note says and keep me out of it!”
“If you say so,” Lou tried to hide both her curiosity and excitement as she put on her coat, picked up the note and flowers and left the bunkhouse.
Kid drove the buckboard as fast as the horses would allow. He happened to notice Lou standing by Rachel window and concluded she had already finished her bath. He had to hurry if he was going to have everything set up before Lou arrived on her horse. The old oak tree finally appeared in the distance. He glanced behind to make sure there was no sign off Lou approaching. Grabbing the kindling he thought to hide in the buckboard earlier, the quickly built a small fire. While he was setting up for the picnic, he saw Lou ride up, and he felt his heart race.
Lou’s suspicions were confirmed when she recognized Kid’s physique in the distance. She was still curious about his mischievous note. Lou knew she would always love Kid, but she was terrified of repeating of their past so she forced herself to be content with their friendship for the time being. The sight of the picnic both overjoyed her and scared her all at the same time.
“What’s this?” She asked as dismounted and tied the horse to the buckboard.
“It’s a surprise,” Kid walked over, lovingly took her hands in his and gently kissed her on the mouth. “Happy anniversary.”
Lou was perplexed by both Kid’s kiss and statement. “Anniversary?”
He led her over to the picnic.“It was a year ago, tonight that we had our first kiss.”
Lou blushed remembering that evening fondly. Although wounded, she had proven herself just as capable as the boys and Kid promised to keep her secret. It was at that moment she started to fall for the handsome Virginian. She could not help herself and kissed him softly in gratitude for helping her keep her job, to her surprise he began kissing her back and she had to force herself to pull back as she feared being overtaken by her emotions.
“Lou, Louise,” Kid continued as they sat down on the blanket. “I love you. I never stopped loving you. I know I made mistakes before, I didn’t let you be the person you are, the person I love.”
Lou felt tears forming in her eyes at Kid’s declaration, “I love you, too, Kid.”
“I was hoping,” he said nervously. “We can try again?”
Lou answered him by kissing him passionately. Time seemed to stop. Finally, they were forced to break off to catch their breath. Kid was grinned,“So I take it that’s a yes?”
“What do you think?”
Kid suddenly remembered the locket. “I have something for you, I hope you like it.”
Lou felt a little nervous as she saw him pull out the small jewelry box from his pocket, unsure of it’s contents. Sensing her uneasiness, he opened the box to reveal the locket.
Lou smiled as he handed it to her. “Kid, it’s beautiful.”
“Do you really like it?”
“I love it! It’s perfect.” She motioned for him to hook the chain around her neck.
“It opens, there’s a place for two small pictures. I thought you could put photos of Jeremiah and Teresa inside.”
After fastening the chain around her neck, he wrapped his arms around Lou and kissed her cheek. She smiled as she leaned back into his chest. Together, in a peaceful silence, they watched the sun cast its final rays across the evening sky.
Special thanks to my husband, Russell, who happily puts up with my TYR obsession. A very special thanks to my speedy and very helpful beta, Gypsy Witch, I am a much better writer because of you.
“Marshal Hunter, I just gotta thank you again. The people o’ Bent Creek are gonna rest easier, knowin’ them men what robbed the bank are locked up and waitin’ trial.”
Teaspoon turned back to face the speaker. “Our pleasure, Sheriff Hill,” he replied, settling his hat on his head as he did. “We was just lucky Buck here recognized ‘em from that Wanted poster.”
“And they were unlucky enough to stop in Rock Creek,” Hill added. “That there’s money well spent,” he said, pointing at an envelope in Buck’s hand.
“I’m just glad we caught them, Sheriff,” Buck replied. “And before they could carry out their plans in Rock Creek.”
“Amen to that,” Teaspoon agreed. He held out his hand to the other lawman. “Sheriff, it’s been a pleasure.”
“Same here,” Hill said, shaking hands with Teaspoon and Buck. Then he glanced up at the sky and frowned. “You ain’t really thinkin’ on startin’ out now, are ya?”
Buck had been studying the horizon himself, and he had to admit the leaden gray color of the October sky wasn’t inviting. “It does look like it could get bad.”
“That it does,” Teaspoon agreed. “Might be best to stay the night.”
Hill pointed down the street. “The Five Dollar Saloon sells a good steak dinner. And I’ll have my deputy take your horses over to the livery.”
Teaspoon smiled and straightened his hat. “Sounds mighty good, ‘specially after a week on the trail eatin’ Buck’s cooking.”
Buck scowled at him. “At least I didn’t burn the beans,” he grumbled.
Teaspoon just laughed and then nodded in Hill’s direction. “Think we’ll just go check out that dinner.”
“You won’t be disappointed,” Hill replied, waving them on their way.
Teaspoon started down the street, and Buck quickly caught up. The lawman clapped the younger man on the shoulder. “Yup, a good week’s work!”
“I’m just glad to be rid of them,” Buck replied. “I didn’t think Owens would ever shut up.”
“Threatenin’ to keep him gagged the rest o’ the way did make it a mite more peaceful,” Teaspoon agreed. They were getting close to the saloon now, and he paused to take in a deep breath. “I can taste that steak already and mmmm, mmmm, it is good.” He grabbed Buck’s elbow and walked a little faster. “Come on, I’m buying. A couple of steaks, and a couple of beers to wash ‘em down.”
“I thought that was against company policy,” Buck pointed out.
“Well, might be against Pony Express policy,” Teaspoon admitted. “But,” he continued, raising both his finger and his voice to emphasize that word, “we ain’t here on Pony Express business, we’re here on marshal business – and it ain’t against my policy.”
Buck just grinned and shook his head at the answer as they stepped up onto the boardwalk outside the saloon. He pointed at the sign by the door with the establishment’s name on it. “You don’t suppose that’s the price of a drink, do you?”
Teaspoon glanced at the sign and shrugged. “Only one way to find out,” he asserted as he pushed the batwing doors open and stepped inside.
Buck followed, and they both stopped just inside the doors. Even though the sky was grey, and getting greyer seemingly by the minute, the darkness inside took a moment to adjust to.
Inside, the Five Dollar Saloon looked like a lot of other saloons. There was a long bar along the wall to the left as they walked in. Row upon row of bottles and glasses sat on shelves behind the bar, and at the far end a bartender was wiping some shot glasses. Long black hair hid his face from them, tumbling onto his shoulders and touching the top of the white apron he wore.
Against the far wall there was a piano, and someone sat on the bench, plunking away at the keys, producing a soft, slow melody. One of the bar girls leaned against the piano, swaying in time to the music. Her bright red outfit was cut low in the front, and high at the hem, leaving little to the imagination.
Between the piano and the bar, a stairway led up to the second story. A couple of doors could be seen opening onto the landing, and then the hallway disappeared from sight.
The main floor of the bar was filled with a dozen or so tables, though only two were occupied at the moment. Another bar girl stood by one of them, laughing at something one of the men sitting there said.
On the other side of the piano, another set of batwing doors opened onto a back room – and that’s where the mouth-watering aroma filling the saloon seemed to be coming from.
Teaspoon gestured around the mostly-empty room. “Pick your poison.”
Buck looked at the empty tables, then led the way to one near the front window but back in the corner. He carefully slid into the seat that seemed best covered by shadows. Jimmy would have chosen the chair because he liked to have his back to the wall, able to see danger coming, but for Buck his motives were different. He was looking to the shadows to hide any outward appearance of being Indian, just in case that would prove to be a problem here.
Sheriff Hill had seemed friendly enough, but he was only one man, and Buck had had too much experience with prejudice to take anything for granted.
Teaspoon sat down in the next chair to Buck’s right and settled himself with a sigh. “Now this here is what I’d call a nice saloon.”
Buck just nodded absently, watching as the girl left the piano and made her way toward their table. This would be the real test in Bent Creek – whether he’d get served or tossed out.
But as the girl got closer, all he could see was the delicate red-gold color of her hair – and the big smile on her face.
She stopped by them and put her hands on the back of an empty chair, leaning toward the table. “Well, what can I do for you gents?”
Teaspoon cleared his throat as though he was preparing to give an important speech. “Well, miss, we was told this is the place to get the best steak dinner in these parts.”
“You sure heard right.” She paused, pointing at the badge on Teaspoon’s jacket. “Say, are you the ones who brought them bank robbers in?”
“Yes, ma’m,” Buck replied. Actually, he was a little surprised he’d even heard the question. Her deep blue eyes seemed to have him transfixed.
Teaspoon managed to not laugh out loud at Buck’s expression, though he did allow himself a small smile. “Teaspoon Hunter,” he said by way of introduction. “Marshal over to Rock Creek, Nebraska. And this here’s Buck Cross. He’s the one what actually spotted them men and tracked ‘em to their camp.”
“Real nice to meet ya,” the girl answered, flashing her smile again. “My name’s Holly.”
“You sure heard about the prisoners fast,” Buck pointed out. He and Teaspoon hadn’t even been in town for an hour.
That elicited a laugh from Holly. She pointed at the man playing the piano, who had now switched to a faster, more upbeat tune. “Pete was walkin’ by the Sheriff’s office when you come into town. And a small place like Bent Creek, nothin’ stays secret very long.”
“Well, they’re locked up and waitin’ trial,” Teaspoon said. “But it was a long way to get ‘em here, and I can near taste that steak already.”
Holly nodded. “So, two steak dinners. What’re you drinking?”
“Add a couple of your biggest mugs of beer,” Teaspoon replied.
“Comin’ right up!” Holly winked at them and spun away toward the bar.
“We probably should have asked how much,” Buck said.
Teaspoon just waved that off. “Don’t matter. We deserve a good dinner.”
Buck put the envelope on the table. “Well, I should at least pay for dinner, since you won’t take any of the reward money.”
“As marshal, bringin’ them outlaws in was just my job,” Teaspoon replied. “Ain’t right for me to get a reward. ‘Sides, you did most of the work.”
Buck shook his head. “Doesn’t seem right.”
Before Teaspoon could reply, Holly was back at the table, putting two mugs of beer down. “Wet your whistles, boys. I’ll go get the kitchen workin’ on your steaks.”
“Much obliged,” Teaspoon said, raising his mug in a toast. Then he took a long sip and sighed. “Ahhhhhh, takes the dust out real good.”
Buck took a somewhat smaller sip from his mug. “Better than your coffee on the trail.”
“Hmmmmmph!” Teaspoon grumbled, but another sip of beer put the smile back on his face. “So, you got plans for that reward money?”
Buck just shrugged as he slid the envelope back into his pocket. “I haven’t really thought about it.” He’d known there was a reward listed on the Wanted poster, of course, but money had just never been terribly important to him. And he’d seen too many unhappy people who had money to believe it could really solve everything.
“You know the Pony’s like to be near done by the time we get back.”
“I know. Rachel already put together the last schedule.”
“Seems like just yesterday we was starting it up,” Teaspoon mused.
“I didn’t think the telegraph would go through quite so fast,” Buck admitted. But Rock Creek had already been hooked up for a month.
“Well, war has a way of speedin’ things up,” Teaspoon replied. “The army pushed it faster so’s they could communicate.” He paused, taking another sip of beer and then staring into the mug. “You, uh, you given some thought to what you might be doin’ next?”
It was Buck’s turn to take a sip of beer while he considered his answer. “I’ve thought about it, yeah,” he finally said. Thought a lot about it, in fact – he just hadn’t come up with any answers yet. To avoid saying anything else, he turned his attention to the window. The rain had started, and it was easier to watch the drops hitting the glass than to answer a question that had no answer – at least not yet.
“Guess that reward money might help you get started on something, once you decide,” Teaspoon said slowly. “But I got an idea to run past ya, if’n you’re willin’ to listen.”
“Of course I’ll listen, Teaspoon.”
“Well, been thinkin’ on this myself the whole way here,” the older man said, taking another drink. That drained his mug and he waved the empty glass in the bartender’s direction. Then he pulled a crumpled letter from his jacket pocket and tossed it on the table. “Got this from Sam Cain, came the day before we left.”
“I thought you were kind of quiet on the way to Bent Creek.” Buck scanned the writing for a moment and then looked up from the letter. “Are you going to do this?”
Holly arrived just then and put two fresh mugs of beer on the table. “Steaks’ll be up in just a minute or so.”
“My mouth’s waterin’ already,” Teaspoon said with a smile. He raised the mug in a toast and took a sip as she walked off toward the kitchen. “You think I should?”
Buck glanced back down at the letter. He’d only had a chance to read the first part, but what was in there was interesting. “Sam’s asking for help.”
Teaspoon nodded. “Yup. Wants to set up a territorial marshal’s office up by Fort Laramie. Way too much ground in Nebraska territory for him to cover by hisself.”
“And he wants you to run the office.” Buck scanned the next paragraph.
“Assistant territorial marshal,” Teaspoon said, using his hand to emphasize each word as though reading a sign. “Has a nice ring.”
“Have you talked to Polly?” It was no secret in town that the marshal was sparking his former wife.
“Showed her the letter when we had breakfast, right before you an’ me headed out.” Teaspoon paused for another drink. “She said it’s my decision, but she’s willin’ to go with me.” He paused again, looking around as though afraid someone might be listening, and then he leaned toward Buck. “I’m thinkin’ on askin’ her to marry me,” he whispered.
Buck grinned. “That’s great!”
“Well, I ain’t asked her yet,” Teaspoon cautioned. “And she ain’t said yes.”
“She will,” Buck replied confidently. After what Polly had confided while he helped fix up the saloon, he had no doubt there.
“You think it’s a good idea then?”
“Well, Sam’s a good man, and he wouldn’t ask for help unless he needed it,” Buck reasoned. “You know the country, and between you and Sam, you’re the two best lawmen around. So yeah, I guess it is.” He paused for a drink of his own, then shook his head slowly. “Sure won’t be the same in Rock Creek without you.” And that thought made him realize he needed to re-evaluate some of the options he’d been considering.
“Yeah, it’s a big change,” Teaspoon agreed. “But there’s more.” He gestured at the letter in Buck’s hand. “You ain’t got to page two yet. This new office ain’t a one-man job. I’m uh, I’m thinkin’ of talkin’ to Kid and Louise. Might be a good change.”
Buck nodded. “Takes Kid farther west.” That was a good idea, since Kid still seemed torn about whether to head back to Virginia. But if Kid and Lou left Rock Creek too . . .
“That’s what I figured,” Teaspoon agreed. “I’d like you to come too.”
Buck looked up from the letter, surprised. “Me?”
“Well, you’re the only one I’m talkin’ to,” he pointed out with a smile. “Sam thinks it’s a good idea too. Says so on page two.”
Before Buck could reply, Holly reappeared, followed by another of the bargirls. They each carried a platter and set it on the table. The plates each held a huge slab of beef, still sizzling from the fire. A big pile of mashed potatoes, swimming in butter, and a mound of sliced carrots rounded out the meal.
“Now that’s what I call a steak!” Teaspoon declared, eyes sparkling. He tucked a napkin under his chin and picked up knife and fork.
Holly smiled and leaned close over Buck’s shoulder as she opened up his napkin. “Get you gents anything else right now?”
“Not right now,” Buck answered, his eyes on the meal. But he had to admit that the pressure of her chest against his shoulder was making it hard to concentrate on the steak.
“Well, we’ll check back in a little while,” Holly promised as the girls walked toward the bar. She let her fingers slide down Buck’s chest as she went.
“Eat your steak ‘fore it gets cold,” Teaspoon directed, grinning at the way his younger companion’s eyes followed the girls. “We got time to talk after we eat.”
Knives and forks at the ready, the two men dug in.
Teaspoon sat back with a sigh. “Now that was good apple pie!” he declared, dabbing at his mouth with his napkin.
“Yeah, it was,” Buck agreed. He pushed his empty dessert plate away and took a drink. “Guess it’s a good thing it was raining so hard.” Good in a lot of ways since the time had helped lead him to a decision.
A flash of lightning hit just then, illuminating their table as Teaspoon nodded. “Good excuse to stay the night.” He leaned toward the window, looking out. “You remember seein’ a hotel?”
“No, but there must be one.”
“Maybe we’ll just ask Holly when she brings more beer.” Teaspoon held up his empty mug and waved toward the bar.
There were a few more patrons in the saloon now, but the rainy weather was apparently keeping most of the locals at home. She was at the table quickly, followed by the blond girl who had delivered Teaspoon’s dinner.
“More beer, gents?”
“I think one more round would be good,” Teaspoon said, relinquishing his empty mug. “And we was wonderin’ if you could direct us to the hotel.”
“Well, the hotel’s around the corner,” the blond said.
“But we have rooms here too,” Holly added. “Just five dollars a night.”
“Five dollars a room for one night?” Teaspoon asked.
Holly just laughed and leaned over Buck’s shoulder to get his empty mug. “Well, the rooms here come with . . . company.”
Buck found he was having a little trouble breathing. “Five dollars, huh?”
“We’re real good company,” the blond said, seating herself on Teaspoon’s leg. “I’m Ruby.”
Teaspoon grinned and slipped an arm around her waist. “Well now, Ruby, ‘xactly what do I get for my five dollars?”
Ruby giggled and leaned over, whispering in his ear.
Teaspoon’s eyes went wide – and his grin went wider. “Now that’s a deal hard to pass up!”
“How about you?” Holly asked, sliding onto Buck’s leg? “You interested in some company tonight?”
“Yeah, I think I am,” he answered. He was a little surprised his voice was even working, considering the trouble he was still having with just breathing. “I have a new job to celebrate.”
“Well, I’ll make it extra special,” Holly promised as she got to her feet. “Room three. I’ll be there at eight o’clock. You just pay the bartender and he’ll give you the key.”
“Room eight,” Ruby said as she got up too.
Teaspoon took her hand and kissed the back of it. “Ladies.”
“Well, we know where the saloon gets its name,” Buck pointed out. Now that Holly was across the room, he could breathe again.
Teaspoon laughed. “That we do. And I think it’s a fine end to a long trip and a rainy day.”
“I think it’s a good start to a new job,” Buck said. “Thanks, Teaspoon.”
“No, I should be thankin’ you,” the older man replied. “I was thinkin’ it sounded like a good move anyway, but havin’ you there, someone I know I can trust, really takes a load off my mind.”
Buck reached into his jacket pocket and pulled the envelope with the reward money out. He put a ten dollar bill on the table. “Since I do have a new job, I guess I can spend some of this reward money. Tonight’s on me.”
“And I’m gonna let you pay!” Teaspoon said. He looked up at the clock hanging over the bar, and then turned back to the table. “Just about the right amount of time to finish this beer.” He lifted his mug. “To Laramie!”
Buck lifted his mug too. “To Laramie,” he echoed as the glasses clinked together.
Teaspoon eased himself into the chair and reached for the coffee pot that the cook had placed on the table. He poured a cup and leaned back, sighing. It was probably time to admit he was too old for nights like this, he decided.
Then again, if Polly agreed to marry him, he wouldn’t be looking for any more nights like this.
He looked up when he heard a door open upstairs, smiling as he saw Buck appear in the hallway, Holly still draped on his arm. They stood on the landing for a moment, sharing some final words that made both of them smile, and then Buck started down the steps.
Teaspoon smiled and kicked another chair away from the table as the younger man approached. “Sleep well?” he asked innocently, stealing a glance up at the landing where Holly was just disappearing down the hall.
Buck cleared his throat to hide the blush he could feel spreading over his face. He sat down and reached over to pour a cup of coffee. “Just fine,” he finally said. “You?”
Teaspoon just laughed and nodded his head toward the window. “Looks like the storm broke.” The window faced east and the morning sun filled the front of the saloon with gentle light.
“Good day to start home,” Buck agreed.
“Back to Rock Creek,” Teaspoon said. “I’ll write to Sam when we get back, tell him yes. And see if Kid’s interested too.”
“And propose to Polly,” Buck prodded with a smile.
“That too.” Teaspoon drained his cup and placed it on the table. “We done a good job with the Pony,” he said softly.
“The mail went through, and we helped a lot of people,” Buck replied.
“And now we’ll do a good job helpin’ Sam.”
“Yup.” Buck drained his own cup and stood up. “Ready to go?”
“Yup.” Teaspoon stood up and pulled his jacket on, then headed for the door.
They walked out together, into the bright sun, and toward a new future.
Cody slowly made his way into the back of the barn, his horse trailing closely behind him. With great effort, raising his arms was very uncomfortable at the moment, he unsaddled his horse and gave him a rubdown before putting some oats in the trough for him. Once outside the stall, he leaned against the wooden fence and tried to take a deep breath, but was forced to abandon the attempt and lean over hands braced against the wall and hang his head. He couldn’t stand upright, his stomach was cramping, his head was spinning and his body was protesting every movement. Why had he acted so recklessly?
He tried to stand up straight to meet Teaspoon, but gave up the attempt. The most he was able to do was turn around and lean against the stall, letting the wooden structure support him.
The stationmaster came closer, holding his lantern aloft and bleeding out of the darkness. “Where have you been, son?” he asked. “We expected you home hours ago. Emma was getting mighty worried about you.”
“Sorry,” he managed to mumble, then was forced to abandon speech in favor of clamping his mouth shut.
As he got closer and got a good appraising look at Cody, Teaspoon’s weathered face changed. Gone were the impatient lines around the mouth, now concern furrowed the area above his eyes. Switching the lantern to his other hand, Teaspoon stepped closer and rested his hand on Cody’s shoulder. “Son?”
When Cody remained quiet, Teaspoon continued on. “Are you hurt, Cody?”
An intense scrutiny commenced, aided by the lantern floating closer to check for bruises or cuts. There were none visible, but that didn’t seem to soothe the older man. “What is it, son? What happened to you?”
“Nothing,” Cody managed to say. “I’m just…not feeling well.”
“You can hardly stand, Cody.” A hint of anxiety was filtering into the stationmaster’s voice. “I think we should send for the doc.”
“No,” he feebly shook his head. “I-I’ll be alright.”
“I don’t think so,” Teaspoon shook his head, and then wrapped an arm around Cody’s back, just under his arms, and began to lead him out of the barn. “Let’s go to Emma’s. She’ll be able to help. Then I’m sending one of the boys for the doc.”
“No,” he tried to protest, but found himself dragged along behind the older man and straight for Emma’s house. He wanted to ask Teaspoon to slow down, to not move so fast, but he couldn’t open his mouth.
Soon he found himself at the table in Emma’s, a cup of mint tea in his hand while Emma fluttered and fussed about the kitchen. She didn’t like his color, said he looked sick, and she was determined to fix him right up. Teaspoon slipped out to the bunkhouse, and several minutes later, Cody heard the clatter of hooves pounding away from the station. The low, worried voices of the other riders floated closer, drifting in through the window, but Emma told them not to come in. Cody didn’t need an audience just because he was sick.
Teaspoon came back inside, and startled visibly when he took a look at Cody. “You look positively green, son.”
“I agree,” Emma clucked. “That’s why I want you to drink that tea. Mint will help soothe your stomach. I don’t want to give you anything else until the doctor’s examined you, but you really should drink that tea.”
He tried to shake his head, tell them that all he wanted to do was go outback for a few minutes, but they were crowding around him, making it nearly impossible for him to breathe. Out of desperation, in the hopes that they’d step back, he lifted the china cup and took the smallest of sips. The hot liquid slid down his throat, and then landed in his stomach where it was a most unwelcome addition.
He knew it was coming, his stomach was about to rebel, and he stood up and pushed past Emma and Teaspoon. She tutted at him and tried to force him back into his chair, but Cody was determined and wouldn’t be swayed. He barely made it outside before his body sought relief from its misery.
It sounded like Lou, but Cody couldn’t be certain. He was too busy holding onto the corner of the porch for support, while his stomach debated emptying again.
“I think one of those might be a slug.”
They stopped talking and stepped back when Cody bent over once more.
“Cody.” Now it was Emma’s voice floating through the din. She was approaching his side, but didn’t make it.
“I don’t think you should get too close, Emma,” Jimmy said.
“He’s sick, Jimmy,” she chided him.
“No,” someone said. “He…well, look”
A light floated in the corner of Cody’s vision, probably Teaspoon again and that infernal lantern. “What in tarnation?”
He turned his head to the side and saw Emma’s worried, and disgusted, visage. Behind her, Teaspoon’s worry had turned back into anger. “Mr. Cody, explain yourself.”
“I made forty dollars,” he answered. “Five dollars for each worm, ten dollars for the slug. That’ll teach those Gantry boys not to bet against me.”
Ike was tired. He needed a bath and a good night sleep. He stopped for a second and looked at the hotel. Teaspoon’s special run had brought him to one of the larger town’s in the area. The hotel was filled with the upper class of society and Ike wasn’t even sure he had the money to pay for a room. It was an easy decision to direct his feet towards the livery where he had his horse. On his way he passed the local café and just as he stepped of the boardwalk to make room for an elderly couple, the lady dropped a parcel.
Quickly Ike picked it up and handed it to her. With a weak smile he let the handover be accompanied by a simple gesture letting her know she didn’t have to thank him. However, the gesture was interpreted differently than he had intended.
“Why, yes of course,” the lady exclaimed and opened her purse. “You poor man,” she added with sympathy and pushed a coin into Ike’s open hand.
Stunned, Ike watched her turn away. When he regained movement, he felt angry. She hada thought him a beggar. True, he was dirty, but that was from the ride. He looked with disdain on the coin in his hand. It was a half-eagle coin, worth five dollar. It was a substantial tip, but for Ike, who even in a bad month, earned 50 dollar, it was nothing more than an insult.
Personally offended he looked at the coin. He wanted to run after the giver and explain to her that he didn’t need her sympathy. It had taken him some time to build up confidence in his own ability and in his tired state her sympathy was the thing that offended him most. Unfortunately he also realised there was no way he would be able to explain it to her. Angrily he placed the coin in his vest pocket and picked up his horse. He had enough of the fancy society of a “big town”.
One day later, he left a much smaller town. He felt much more comfortable than he had the day before. The small shelter where he had found a room had been run by a widow, who had welcomed him with a friendly smile rather than the hostile look of the “fine” people of a larger town. Maybe to rid himself of the humiliation of being mistaken for a beggar, he had given her a good tip and then spent the rest of his money on a very good meal and a bath. He had nothing left, but it didn’t bother him much. It was just one more day’s ride home and should it be necessary he could spent a night in the open. He smiled when he realised he longed to be home. Home. That was a word he had not used in a long time. The orphanage had certainly not been home. But the Pony Express station had become home, much due to the existence of Emma. Smiling to himself he pushed the coat tighter around him. He would be home by evening and that made him feel good.
The scream made him stop his horse. It had been so unsuspected and the way it broke the harmony of the nature around him was terrifying. He stood up in the saddle in trying to locate the source. When he did he saw a small farm not far from where he was. Another scream made him certain that the problem, whatever it was, was at the farm. He turned his horse in the direction.
When he slowly turned around the barn he found the reason for the terrible sound. A donkey was tied to something that looked like a big wheel and a man stood next to it with a large whip. “Move you dumb animal!” he yelled at let the whip fall over the poor animal’s back. The donkey let out its piercing scream again, but didn’t move an inch. The man raised the whip again, but Ike forced his horse to move so he was between the poor animal and its abuser. *What are you doing?* he signed angrily. “Get out of my way, mister,” the man said sternly. “I need to teach that beast some lessons.” Ike frowned and raised an eyebrow. “Why?” The man sneered, but then he shook his shoulders. “See that wheel? I need that stupd animal to pull it around to get water. The stupid thing won’t move.” Ike turned and looked at the contraption. Now he saw what the man meant. By pushing the wheel a pump would start moving. But Ike saw something else. The wooden wheel was much too heavy for the poor animal. He slowly dismounted and approached the man. With signs and gestures he tried to get the man to understand this, but the man was too angry to listen. He was upset and somewhere along the one-sided conversation, Ike realised the man had come up with the idea, or invention, himself and had already invested several hours in building it. He would not listen to Ike’s argument even if Ike had been able to voice them. The man was angry enough to kill the poor thing and Ike’s heart went out for the poor thing. He turned to look at the donkey.
It looked like most donkeys do, except he was dirty and could use a decent brush down. Somebody had made an effort though, because beneath the dirt there were signs of caring hands. Ike smiled with sympathy at the animal when his eyes were drawn to the animal’s head. Two dark eyes gazed steadily at him, almost daring him to offer his sympathy. There was pride and resolution as if the donkey was telling him not to feel sorrow for him. The donkey knew what it could do and what it couldn’t and Ike got the feeling that this animal would rather die before moving a single step. It reminded him of something. It took him a few seconds before he realised that he was reminded of himself, only one day early. Shaken, he turned away from the animal.
In the next minute he was arguing his point to the man. He didn’t know exactly what to do, but he could not just leave. The donkey should not have to pull a wheel far too heavy for him, nor should he endure a whipping for standing his ground. Part of Ike was telling him to just leave things where they were, that it was just a donkey, but each time the thought flew through his mind he just had to remember the stoic look in the animal’s eye. Finally the man struck out with his hands. “Fine, the beast is yours for five dollar!” Ike smiled weakly. Five dollar was not much, although he could have bought himself an Indian pony for that sum, or a new saddle. But he didn’t have any money. He spent all of it on himself. He smiled apologetically and placed his thumbs in his vest pockets. Something cold and hard struck his thumbs, and suddenly he remembered the incident. His smiled turned from apologetically to friendly as he fished up the coin and presented it to the man. The man nodded. “It’s all yours,” he muttered and tossed the rope to Ike before turning back into the house.
Ike slowly released the donkey from its harnesses while he contemplated how he would explain the donkey’s presence to Emma and Teaspoon. The station had no use of a donkey. It would only cost them money. Ike locked the animal over and for a second he could have sworn it smiled at him. Shaking his head he prepared to mount up when something tugged at his jacket. He turned and looked into the face of a five years old boy. “Mister?” he said softly. “You will take good care of him?”the boy asked. Ike nodded. “Dad didn’t mean any harm. He’s been working a long time on his in..in…int…vention,” the boy added stumbling over the words. He stroke tha animal over the neck with loving strokes. “He’ll be better off with you,” he whispered. “I know he believes that.” *It’s just a donkey,” Ike signed with a frown. The boy, understanding or not, simply smiled at him. “His name is Samson,” he said finally, “like in the bible.”
And that’s how Ike found himself a owner of donkey at the mere cost of a beggar’s fee.
The man and woman had come to the orphanage earlier that morning. Ike had been surprised to see them arrive, especially when most of the kids were off working on the neighboring farms for the summer. In fact it was just Ike and three girls—he not chosen to work and the girls too young—there to be “inspected.”
After the initial peeking to see what the couple looked like, Ike had gone about his chores. He was sure he wouldn’t be chosen—he never was. For the same reason he wasn’t chosen to work the fields, he was never chosen by the people looking to adopt a child. People coming to the orphanage always wanted babies or “normal” kids, not bald and voiceless kids like him.
Ike had been shocked when Sister David Mary had sent one of the other sisters to find him. His first thought was that the Mother Superior had made a mistake but Sister Mary Clare had been insistent that he come. Mary Clare had made him stop and change to his good clothes first, waiting impatiently as the boy washed and dressed.
“Ike, I’d like you to meet Mr. and Mrs. Towson,” the older nun said when he finally presented himself.
“Hello, Ike,” Mr. Towson said more loudly than was necessary.
“Harriette,” Mr. Towson corrected gently, “The boy is mute not deaf.”
“Oh, of course,” the woman replied in a softer voice. “I’m so sorry, Ike. Sometimes I just . . . “
“It’s quite all right, Mrs. Towson,” Sister David Mary comforted. “Many people make that same mistake. Don’t concern yourself.”
Ike ducked his head in the silence that followed. The Towsons seemed to be at a loss for words so all they could do was stare at him. He didn’t like being the center of attention, but had no way to avoid the scrutiny of the older couple..
“Mr. and Mrs. Towson would like to take you to town for the day, Ike.” Sister David Mary announced breaking the silence. “They would like to get to know you a bit better.”
“That’s right, Ike,” Mr. Towson agreed. “Mrs. Towson and I are looking forward to spending some time with you.”
“We can do anything you want to do, Ike,” Mrs. Towson added. “In fact, we’d like to give you a little gift so you’ll be able to enjoy your day with us.”
Ike looked up, unable to hide his curiosity. The man stepped forward and held out his hand. Ike’s eyes widened as he saw the contents. It was a five dollar gold piece—more money than Ike had ever seen at one time, let alone possessed.
Hesitantly the boy reached out to touch the coin. He half expected to have it snatched back while the adults laughed at his foolishness . . . but they didn’t.
The coin was still warm from being in Mr. Towson’s pocket. It was heavier than the boy expected. The face of the coin glittered in the early afternoon light that streamed through the windows of Sister David Mary’s office.
“Well, we’d better get started,” Mrs. Towson suggested. “It’s going to take us some time to spend all that money.”
Ike looked up quickly. They really expected him to spend all of the money? Not that he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t find a way to do just that . . . he’d been in the stores in town on occasion and knew the coin would buy him more candy than he could possibly eat—but he was willing to try.
On the ride into town, Ike carefully inspected his new-found wealth. The front of the coin had a face on it. He counted thirteen stars in a circle around the face—one star for each of the original thirteen colonies he guessed. The date on the coin showed it to be newly minted. Ike figured the Towsons must be very rich if they could just give away brand new gold coins.
The back of the coin had an eagle holding arrows in one claw and what the boy assumed was an olive branch in the other. Carefully forming the words in his mind, Ike read “United States of America.” There was smaller print on a ribbon above the eagle, print almost too small for Ike to read.
Once the trio reached the town, the adults let the boy take the lead as they walked along the boardwalk fronting the many stores. Without hesitation, Ike lead the couple to the general store and its long counter covered with jars and jars of candy.
“You’ll make yourself sick if you spend all that money on candy, Ike,” Mr. Towson said with a laugh.
“Now, Walter, it’s Ike’s money,” Mrs. Towson reminded him. “The boy has a right to spend it any way he sees fit.”
Ike paused, looking longingly at the candy. He pointed to the jars, then to the coin and finally pointed to himself. He paused again, trying to figure out a way to explain what he was thinking. He pointed to himself again and then moved his hand in what he hoped would convey other children. He held up three fingers and then indicated smaller bodies than his own.
“You want to share with the other children?” Mrs. Towson guessed.
Ike nodded eagerly.
“That’s very sweet of you, Ike,” the woman said with a smile.
The couple waited patiently as the boy carefully made his selections. Finally a large bag was packed and ready, the payment tendered and change returned. Even with all he had bought, Ike still had over one dollar left.
“What are you going to do with that?” Mr. Towson asked.
Ike chewed his lower lip in concentration. Finally his eyes lit up as the idea formed in his head. The boy strode from the store. Bemused the Towsons followed. The pair watched in amazement as the boy passed the store windows filled with gaily colored items, heading instead for a simple white-washed building at the end of the street.
Ike climbed the steps of the church and pulled open the door.
“Wait, Ike,” Mr. Towson called. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Ike nodded emphatically. He held up the coin he had received as changed from his purchases and pointed to the small words engraved on the back.
“In God we trust,” Mrs. Towson read. She nodded to Ike, indicating he should go ahead with his plan.
“In God we trust,” the woman repeated softly. “I think we’ve found our son, Walter.”
Teaspoon was ready to throw in the towel and take a holiday. Just when one emergency was over up popped another one, it was a never ending battle in Sweetwater. Sure, the town had been happy having the Express start up close to town, at first. The town council had thought of the Express as a direct line to information back East for folks moving into the little town.
Then, it seemed like the only news coming their way was bad. Trouble with the Indians didn’t help. It didn’t matter to the men in charge that the Express riders had not been a part of any scuffle with the tribes. All that mattered was that folks were running scared.
Teaspoon let out a long aggravated sigh and picked up the coffee pot. The least he could do was just put one foot in front of the other and keep himself sane… that meant coffee.
He poured himself a cup that was just a fraction of an inch below the rim and promptly spilled half of the scalding liquid down the front of his shirt.
Through the stream of choice words bursting from his lips, he heard a voice from the back of the jail cells. “Teaspoon? Everything all right?”
“What? Who’s back there?”
Kid poked his head out of the last cell and held a broom aloft. “You asked me to come and help you clean since Barnett’s away visitin’ his family. So I was cleaning up back here.”
“Oh…” He nodded and shrugged his shoulders, confused, still… not wanting to say he was, “yeah, I remember. Thanks.”
Teaspoon scooped up a pile of wanted posters and other papers from his desk and started to sort through them, shuffling them really as he sorted through the events of the last few days.
He turned to the side and caught site of Kid, his arm braced on the top of the broomstick, his feet rooted to the ground. “Yeah, Kid?”
“Well, a little while ago, you had that… um, visit, from Tompkins.” The younger man looked over his shoulder toward the larger part of the room, almost as if he was expecting someone to be listening in. “Well, while he was here, I was in the back… sweeping up, and I heard what he said.”
“I’m sorry, Teaspoon. It wasn’t like I was tryin’ to listen in. Mr. Tompkins, he’s kinda…”
“That’s what I was thinkin’ of sayin’.” He gave the Marshal a shy smile. “Anyway, I was sayin’ that I heard what he was sayin’ and I… guess, it’s part my fault; the whole thing with Samantha… and her beau.”
Teaspoon shifted in his chair, unsure of what to say. What to reveal?
Kid saved him by continuing on. “Really, I know that I didn’t help things when I went to meet him for the duel.”
“You didn’t know what would happen, Kid, so really-”
He set aside the broom and moved toward the desk, taking a seat in the same chair that Tompkins had occupied less than an hour before. “I rushed into it, Teaspoon. I was so afraid that I’d never find another… person to love that I took the first chance I had… well, I-I just jumped at it.”
Giving a nervous little chuckle Teaspoon set aside the posters and papers he was shuffling through. “Now, you know I don’t like involving myself in the lives of my riders,” he ignored the slightly confused look that swept over Kid’s face, “but I think maybe Samantha was someone that you could have been happy with, but maybe this was just the… wrong time. What about Lou?”
Kid’s shoulders slumped a bit and he his gaze hit the floor. “I was afraid you’d ask me.”
“You don’t have to answer, Kid, I-”
“Oh... it’s alright. Everyone else talks about it. I can’t seem to get away from it. I’m sure when Lou gets back from her run, I’ll hear about it from her.” Kid looked out the window and watched a young couple walked by, laughing. He turned back to Teaspoon and shrugged his shoulders. “I deserve it. I hurt her.”
Teaspoon nodded and smiled to reassure Kid. “I think you’ve both been hurt,” he paused to take note of Kid’s reaction, “and sometimes, there’s nothing you can do but forgive and move on.”
“Move on. That’s what I tried to do with Samantha.”
“Well,” he chuckled, “maybe you were trying a little too hard…”
“…a little too soon.” Kid agreed.
“True.” He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “Then again, the course to true love never did run smooth.”
“Never mind,” Teaspoon waved off the question, “about my old ramblings and what Mr. Tompkins said.”
Kid stood and walked toward the door. “That’s the trouble with it Teaspoon. I can’t just ‘never mind’ what he said. I feel responsible.”
“Responsible?” Teaspoon nearly tipped over his chair standing up. He walked over to the door to meet Kid’s worried gaze. “You can’t be responsible for those books.”
“Why not? I was the one that… that told that man Robert to stay away from her. That’s what made him so mad… so mad that he challenged me to a duel. I thought I could do it. I thought I could stand up to him like a man.” He shoved his hands into his pockets and stared out at the world passing by. “I was wrong.”
“You did what you could for Samantha. From what I hear, you asked her to stay.”
Kid looked up, surprised, wondering who had talked to Teaspoon. “Yeah… I asked her to stay and she said no. She said she… I… never mind. I’ve got to go.”
“Go?” Teaspoon stepped out onto the walk after Kid and watched him step down into the dusty street, headed across the way. “Kid, wait!”
The young man stopped halfway across and gave Teaspoon a wave. “I’ve got to see a man about five dollars.”
Teaspoon looked at Emma and shook his head. For once he was at a loss for words, and he knew that anything he said wouldn’t give the comfort she needed. He took a deep breath and nodded to himself.
“Now Emma, I’m not saying anything is wrong, but you and I both know Sam should have been back by now.”
His heart nearly broke when he saw her expression.
“Its been long enough. I’m going to round up the boys and see what we can find..” He put his hand on her shoulder, wishing there was more he could say. “We’ll find him.”
Emma patted his hand. “I just don’t want you putting yourself or the boys in danger trying to find him.” Her voice was soft. “Everything we risk here is family. I don’t want to lose any of them or you Mister Spoon. You bring them back safe.”
He smiled. That was more like the Emma he knew. She wasn’t worried enough about Sam to not worry about him or her boys.
“You get us supplies, I’ll get the boys.”
Emma nodded and headed for the kitchen. “You just be careful Mr. Spoon.”
Teaspoon looked up at her and nodded. “They’re my boys too Emma. They’re my boys too.”
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
It didn’t take long to round up the boys: they’d been worried about Sam too. Despite the situation, Teaspoon felt his heart lighten. He was proud of them.
“Teaspoon, I know we can’t all go after Sam,” Jimmy told him. “But I’d like to go with you on this.”
Teaspoon smiled and looked at the others.
*We only need two or three of us here to keep the station going.* Ike signed.
Lou nodded in agreement. “Ike’s right, we’ve done it before.”
Teaspoon nodded. “We shouldn’t have any mail to run ‘fore we get back, but I think we should make sure we can if the need arises.”
When the boys all nodded Teaspoon sat down. “We don’t know if he made it to Ft. Laramie, so we’re going to have to follow his trail. Buck, I’m going to want you for that. Jimmy, if there’s trouble you’re good for that. Kid I’m going to need you too. If we have to split up I want you to stay with Buck, and Jimmy’ll be with me.”
“If everything goes according to plan, we’ll see you in five days.”
He watched as the Buck, Jimmy and Kid stood and gathered up their things while the others headed towards the stable. Teaspoon had never been more proud of his boys as he had been at that moment.
There were no complaints, no debates, just his boys doing what needed to be done. It proved to him once again that they were family.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
He tried to keep that sense of pride three days later when the boys started grousing at each other.
“Buck, why don’t you just accept that there ain’t no trail to follow. And what is, is over a week and a half old.”
Teaspoon lifted his hat slightly to look at Jimmy, but said nothing. He wasn’t sure what Buck was finding, but it was clear he was finding something.
“Eight days at the most.”
“How the hell can you tell that?” Jimmy asked in disbelief.
“Day before that it rained.” Buck’s tone was one of calm and patience, but Teaspoon could see the tightness in his shoulders and the pinched look he gave the horizon.
“So Sam was running late,” Kid stated, trying to keep the others on track.
“So it would seem,” Teaspoon agreed.
“How far is Laramie from here?”
“That’s a good question Jimmy. Sam definitely didn’t take the fastest root.”
Buck nodded. “We could split up, the two of you ride to Fort Laramie, see if Sam showed up, Kid and I could follow his trail.”
“If we don’t get any closer by the end of the day, I’ll consider it in the morning.”
The riders simply nodded. They trusted Teaspoon’s judgment. He’d been on too many posses not too.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
It was almost Dusk when Buck signaled a halt and jumped off his horse. Jimmy was about to say something when he stepped back and shook his head.
The worry in Buck’s tone was enough for the old stationmaster. He dismounted and stopped just shy of where Buck stood.
“What is it son?”
Buck squatted down, and pointed to a compressed area in front of them. “There was a fight. Don’t know if it was Sam or not… but…there’s blood.”
He carefully moved forward and pointed out a few spent casings and a trail of blood. Then he nodded to the path just beyond the scene. “At least three men, possibly more. And they left in two separate directions.”
Teaspoon studied the trails and nodded grimly. “We’ll stop for the night and split up in the morning. Jimmy, you and I’ll follow the path that’s headin’ south, Kid, Buck, you’ll be following that injured man.”
It was that simple, but they all knew it wasn’t. There was no way of knowing if Sam was still with his horse or if he’d survived the fight or even if he’d been in it.
They set camp, but it was a solemn affair.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
The next morning they saddled up with renewed hope. As Kid and Buck headed away from the trail, Jimmy called out. “Five dollars to the man who finds Sam.”
The others gave him a grim nod. It was clear they didn’t care who found the Marshal, just as long as he was found.
Teaspoon watched Buck and Kid for a few moments then spurred his horse on. There were too many miles ahead of them, to think of anything other than following their trail and seeing how the hand was played out.
“Well Jimmy, let’s see if we can keep that five dollars.”
Jimmy simply nodded, letting Teaspoon take the lead.
The trail clear before them but Teaspoon found himself worrying about how easy it was to follow.
That night they made camp, knowing they were closer, but to what?
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Buck and Kid soon found that their quarry was quite spry for their injuries. He led them on a merry chase but it didn’t take them long to realize that he kept meandering south.
They exchanged looks but said nothing. Was it Sam, following his attackers, or perhaps someone shadowing him?
They didn’t know, so they moved carefully, not wanting to give themselves away should it prove to be the latter.
A day later, they just reached an arroyo and were about to scout it out when they realized their quarry was watching them. They each took a deep breath and waited. They were ready to dive for cover if need be when they heard a familiar voice.
“Hold it right there.”
Buck’s attention shifted from Sam to Kid as they tried to get through to the Marshal.
“Kid? That Buck with you?”
“Boy am I glad to see you two.”
“Us too Sam, You’re hurt?”
“Yeah, a bit.”
Kid nodded to Buck and Buck nodded back before turning towards Sam’s voice. “Sam, I’m coming your way. I have some bandages—let me see how bad it is.”
“No need Buck,” Sam answered as he limped away from his cover.
Buck moved quickly to his side while Kid kept watch. Someone or something had hurt the Marshal and he wasn’t taking any chances.
When he was sure they were save, Buck helped Sam sit and took a look at his wounds.
“Worse one is the leg.”
“I can see that,” Buck agreed. “Let me take a look at it.”
As Sam stretched his legs out, Buck tackled him. The next few minutes all they could hear was gun fire and then an eerie silence filled the air.
“I’m all right, but I’m not sure how we’re going to get out of here, they’ve got the advantage.”
“Lord, I’m sorry to have you two mixed up in this.”
“In what, Sam?”
“My own little corner of hell.”
Buck shook his head. “We’re going to have to get you to a doctor.”
“You tell me how, and I’m all for it.”
“What happened anyway?” Kid interjected.
“Friends of that Morris fellow I’m picking up. They thought I had him.”
“I think they’ll be happier if I’m dead..”
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Teaspoon woke with a start at the sound of gunfire a few rises away. He turned, towards Jimmy but the rider was already up.
“Came from over there,’ Jimmy told him. “Trail’s leading the same way.”
“Load up, Jimmy. We’re goin’ huntin.”
There was no other need for words. They left their bedrolls and gear where they were and mounted up. If they were in luck, then lightening the load would help them get to where the shooters were.
It took them the better part of 40 minutes, but when they found their men, they also found Sam and the others.
It didn’t take long for them to deal with Sam’s attackers and it was clear they had no stomach for fighting people who shot back.
They’d found him, he was alive. Nothing else mattered.
“Sure glad you made it,” Sam told them with a smile. He was going to be all right.
Follows QF #55 Leather and Lace
"Five dollars?" she exclaimed, incredulously. "Why that's...I mean, how can you...that's just..."
"Robbery?" Jimmy said, helpfully, brushing against the young lady's arm as he walked closely by her while she stood at the store counter.
Lily Albright chanced a quick glance towards the handsome young man and blushed as she saw that he was staring at her, his lips curved in that small, seductive smile he'd graced her with just a few days ago. She'd been entertained by him and two of his fellow riders right outside the very same building.
Though the meeting had remained, in her mind, a highlight of the day, when Lily returned to the hotel from her shopping trip, she'd found that the simple conversation was now the topic of gossip. It had seemed Mrs. Myrtle Purrington, the wife of the hotel owner, had spotted Lily outside, and had witnessed the "accosting" and saw her "surrounded by the dirty beasts," or so Mrs. Purrington had said. The older woman had taken it upon herself from the minute Lily had checked in to ingratiate herself by acting maternally toward Lily. This time she warned Lily of "soiling her reputation by consorting with the likes of those people." Lily had politely thanked the woman and had quickly retreated to her room. Lily was soon pulled from her thoughts by a gruff voice.
"Hickok," Tompkins groused, eyeing the rider intensely, "I suggest you keep to your own business." He turned his attention back to the lady standing in front of him. "Now, Miss Albright that's a reasonable price for gloves of that quality."
As the blush faded from her face, Lily looked down at the gloves in question. She would agree that they were of decent quality but not as nice as the ones she was trying to replace. The fact that she'd lost one glove annoyed her to no end. She was very meticulous with her things and couldn't understand how she'd lost one - just one. And she wasn't quite sure when it was that she'd lost it. She thought it was the day she'd met the riders but she couldn't be sure. She opened her reticule to see how much she had with her. She did need a new pair of gloves.
Buck clenched his teeth as he watched Jimmy flirt effortlessly with Miss Albright. Why couldn't he be more like that? When he was around any young lady, he was tongue-tied and stammered incessantly. Of course, being Indian didn't help matters since most young ladies didn't dare talk to him anyway and when they did, well, he seemed to prove the point that Indian's weren't intelligent by the way he spoke - or attempted to. Sighing, he turned to browse through the books on the table, tired of hearing Tompkins' excuses of why his prices were so high.
"Miss Albright, you aren't back East anymore," Tompkins said, condescendingly. "Remember, it costs to get these items here by wagon so that cost is gonna show in the prices."
"But that much?" Though Mr. Tompkins' explanation sounded reasonable, she still thought five dollars was a rather high mark up. As she rubbed her fingers over the soft leather, she contemplated the purchase.
Buck glanced over to see who'd nudged his arm.
*I know where you can get gloves just like that for less,* Ike said, grinning. *The shop in Blue Creek has ladies gloves for three dollars and I know there'd be a pair similar if not matching exactly.*
Buck shrugged. *So, why are you telling me?* He glanced over, to see if Cody was paying any attention to them but the blonde was completely absorbed with the new dime novel in his hands.
Ike rolled his eyes. *You're kidding, right?*
*What do you mean?* Buck frowned, brows furrowed.
*You and Miss Albright.* Ike indicated with a nod of his head toward the pretty woman at the front of the store. *I've seen the way you look at her.*
Buck's frown deepened and he blushed slightly. He looked around to make sure that no one, particularly the lady in question, was watching. Of course he knew she wouldn't know sign, but he didn't need the attention. *I don't know what you're talking about.*
Ike's smile faltered but he wasn't giving up. He was tired of seeing Buck always stand in the background when the others talked to some of the girls in town. Especially at the dances, when even he danced a few times, Buck was holding up the wall. It was ridiculous. Ike knew that if Buck would talk to just one of the girls, they'd realize what a great person he was. Ike shook his head and stared, intensely, at his friend.
Buck hated when Ike looked at him like that, it had a way of making Buck open up more than he would normally. Finally, Buck relented, *Okay, so I think she's pretty. So what?*
*Then get the gloves and give them to her,* Ike said, his grin returned. *You'll be her hero.*
Buck looked back at Miss Albright and saw her hand the gloves back to Tompkins and say, "Thank you but no. I really don't think I can spend that much on the gloves. Good day."
Annoyed, Tompkins took the gloves; he was not going to come down on his price because he knew she could afford it. He'd heard from Mrs. Purrington that Miss Albright was a very wealthy young lady. When he'd asked how the woman knew this, she sniffed and said she could tell. Tompkins figured he'd take her word for it because he knew Mrs. Purrington could sniff out money like a coon dog could sniff out raccoons.
As Lily turned to walk out, she looked once more over at Jimmy and smiled. 'He really is a handsome man,' she thought. Seeing he was near two of the other boys and that they'd noticed her too, she nodded to them, before realizing who they were. The maid at the hotel had told her about them.
After she'd left Mrs. Purrington, she hadn't been in her room for more than five minutes when someone was knocking at her door. She'd thought it was the older woman to lecture some more but it was Maggie Lloyd, the maid. The young girl had hurried into Lily's room, giggling, asking Lily about her conversation with the riders. Maggie told Lily all about the handsome Pony Express riders, particularly the three she'd talked to. It seemed to Lily that Maggie was smitten with all the riders and she said as much until Maggie was quick to point out, "not the breed and the dummy." Lily hadn't been sure whom the crass maid was talking about - until now. The surprise showed on her face as her eyes widened and her smile disappeared. She turned and hurried out the door.
Buck looked at Ike, the hurt and anger apparent in his eyes. "Right, I'll be the hero." He threw the book atop the others, causing the stack to slide and some of the books fall off the table. Tompkins started his normal rant at Buck and Buck spun on his heel and left the store.
"What's wrong with him?" Jimmy asked as he helped Ike pick up the books.
Ike just shook his head. Jimmy looked at Cody for an answer but there was just a peculiar smile on Cody's face.
After arriving back at the station and bedding down their horses, the riders gathered around the buckboard to unload the supplies. With Jimmy's help, Emma climbed down from the seat and said, "Once the supplies are put away, you boys have a bit of free time. Dinner's in about an hour." She picked up the purchases she'd made at the dressmakers and went into the house to put them away and finish cooking the last part of dinner.
Without a word, Buck collected all of the barn items himself, refusing any help, so the others took care of the household items. Jimmy watched as Buck walked to the barn. He was curious as to why his friend was acting this way. The Kiowa had been quiet the whole way home, which hadn't been the case on the trip going to town. Jimmy and Buck had teased Cody mercilessly about whether he was going to pick out another feather for his hat, since the last time he'd tried had been so successful. Now, Buck retreated in solitude, not even wanting to spend time with Ike.
'Wonder what happened in town,' he thought.
"Hickok," Cody said, "grab the other end of that sack, would ya?"
Pulled from his musings, Jimmy did as he was asked and, he, Ike and Cody had the supplies put away in no time and thoughts of what was troubling Buck were gone from Jimmy's mind. As the three walked to the bunkhouse, Cody announced, "I'm gonna read some more in the book I bought."
Ike smiled. *I got some new drawing supplies.* He looked at Jimmy, who seemed rather quiet. *You?*
"Prob'ly clean my guns." He grinned when Cody and Ike both shook their heads and laughed. "Yeah, well, a clean gun..."
"Will never fail me," Cody mocked, as he opened the door for them to go in.
Jimmy snapped his fingers. "I forgot, I gotta get somethin' outta my saddlebag," he said. "I'll be right back." As he turned and walked towards the barn, he remembered Buck and how he'd been acting since town. 'He must be back in the bunkhouse by now,' he decided, 'so I doubt I'll be interruptin' anythin'.'
Cody followed Ike into the bunkhouse and Jimmy trotted over to the barn. Walking through the slightly ajar door, he saw Buck but, since Jimmy's eyes hadn't quite adjusted, it took him a moment to figure out what Buck was doing. His friend was standing there holding something up to his face. When Jimmy realized what he was holding, he silently turned to leave Buck to his privacy.
A ladies glove. Jimmy was flabbergasted as he walked back to the bunkhouse. It had to be Miss Albright's glove, which would explain why Buck acted like he did in the store. Jimmy had noticed how Buck looked at the pretty young lady, but that wasn't a surprise, they all looked at her that way. However, when she was leaving she looked shocked by something and, now Jimmy wondered if it had something to do with seeing Buck. Jimmy grimaced thinking of how that reaction must have made Buck feel. He wished there was some way he could help.
"Well, now," Teaspoon said as he sat at the head of the table. "Doesn't this all look yummy." He tied his napkin around his neck and reached over to pick up the plate of fried chicken.
"Mr. Spoon?" Emma said, her tone stopping him. "I believe you've forgotten something."
"Oh, yes," Teaspoon said, "I was just so excited to taste some of your scrumptious chicken." He bowed his head and Emma and the boys followed suit. "Lord, please watch over Kid and Lou on their run and bless these," he eyed the boys around him, "children and guide them as they should be. Help me teach them to be better citizens and - "
Emma nudged him under the table.
"Bless this wonderful feast, in your name, Amen," Teaspoon finished quickly.
"Amen," Emma responded, eyeing Teaspoon as he made a grab for the chicken.
The dinner was delicious, as Teaspoon had predicted, and everybody was enjoying the conversation. Except Buck, who hadn't said anything other than to thank whoever passed him food and to ask for something to be passed. Cody, on the other hand was full of vim, more so than usual it seemed, since he kept chuckling to himself. Finally, Teaspoon had had enough.
"So, would you like to share the joke?"
"Joke?" Cody looked at the stationmaster curiously.
"Well, you've just got us all a'wonderin' what could be so amusin'," Teaspoon said.
"Oh, welllll," Cody drawled. "It ain't a joke." A slow grin spread across his face. "You know Miss Albright?"
"I've had the pleasure, yes," Teaspoon answered, shaking his head. 'Wouldn't ya' know it'd be a purty young thing with him,' he thought.
"Seems she has a dilemma," Cody said, dragging the explanation out.
"Do tell," Teaspoon said, playing along with his dramatic rider.
"She lost one of her gloves and I believe I can help her find it."
All the color drained from Buck's face. 'He knows,' he thought, hopelessly.
"What do you mean 'find'?" Jimmy asked, casually. He was very careful not to look at Buck.
"Well, not find exactly, more like get a replacement," Cody explained, still grinning from ear to ear.
Buck released the breath he was holding.
"See, the shop in Blue Creek..."
Ike looked over at Buck, ready to say something, but Buck shook his head slightly.
"...has ladies gloves..."
Ike held his hands under the table so only Buck could see, *But you...*
Buck, again, moved his head just a bit, to indicate that Ike wasn't to say a word.
" ...cheaper than Tompkins charges so on my next run there, I'm gonna buy her a pair to replace the one she lost." He puffed his chest out waiting for the others to praise him.
"Well, Cody," Teaspoon began but was interrupted by Jimmy's laughter. Glancing heavenward, Teaspoon leaned towards Emma. "I think you should've let me finish that prayer."
Emma slapped Teaspoon's arm and turned to Jimmy. "Would you like to share now?"
Jimmy wiped his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "Now, Cody, that is a right fine thing you've thought of." Before Cody could respond, he added, "If you did think of it." Jimmy waved away Cody's protests and continued, "Nevertheless, it is a very good idea...however..."
Cody looked baffled. "However what?"
"I got the next run to Blue Creek." He sat back and waited for the reactions.
Teaspoon was the first to go and he laughed as hard as Jimmy had. Emma tried very hard to be considerate of Cody's feelings but she couldn't help but giggle, though she did cover her mouth. Ike was shaking so hard, Jimmy was sure sound would come out. And, the best part of all was the smile that appeared on Buck's face. Cody sullenly crossed his arms over his chest and grumbled that this wasn't fair.
Jimmy was very pleased. He now knew what he could do to help his friend.