Topic #82: Picture Prompt
||Rendezvous by: Dee|
|Picture Perfect by: Dede|
|Memories by: Miakoda|
|Look at this photograph... by: Dede|
|This is My Family by: Cindy|
|The Wait by: Miss Raye|
He looked forward to this every year since he had come west and attended the first Rendezvous. Several tribes and settlers - old and new - made it a point to be present. Many trades and friendships were made or renewed each year.
His friend Thomas Anders had even brought a new contraption with him this year, one he said would make a picture on glass. Tom had been back east visiting relatives who had given him the thing he called a cam…er…a. It was a pretty fancy contraption and Aloysius was interested in how it worked. He’d watched intently as Tom had shown him how it worked and how to develop the picture it made.
“Hey, Al, come help me for a moment. I want to see if I can get a picture of these here younguns,” Tom hollered startling him from his thoughts.
“Hold your horses,” Aloysius hollered back as he looked over at the group of children sitting on a quilt near a group of women. “See you fellas later,” he said as he walked away from the group of men who were discussing the finer points of trapping in the winter versus the spring.
As he walked toward the group of children he noticed they were all pretty close in age, several only a year or so apart. He recognized most of them.
There was William and Polly Hickok’s youngest boy. He’d seen them when they arrived. The oldest girl was caring for the boy at the time. She, herself, had grown quite a bit the last year. The boy had been just a small babe and he and his mother had stayed home and missed the last Rendezvous. Looking around he found the boy’s father on a stump preaching the evils of slavery. Didn’t the man know that Rendezvous was a time for fellowship and not speeches. Shaking his head he moved on.
The Cody’s youngest was running away from the group, headed off on his own when his sister scooped him up and deposited him back with the rest of the children. He laughed as she sat him down and he started to run off again. Looking back to where William Hickok stood on the stump, Al spotted the boy’s father intently listening to what Hickok was saying.
Next to him stood Robert Dixon. Al had heard that the man’s wife had died earlier in the year and that he now had a woman named Sally caring for his young son. Al had spoken to the man a few times. Robert was well educated but had a knack for attracting trouble. Al had heard he bought slaves just to free them. It wasn’t a safe thing to do if you wanted to avoid trouble. Spotting the man’s son playing with the other children, even the young son of the greenhorn Southerner, was a bit unusual. Most mothers and fathers would not have allowed it, but Al figured the children were getting on well enough.
Spotting the Southerner and his wife arguing brought his attention to their youngest. The boy sat away from the others watching them play, occasionally glancing in his parent‘s direction. Cody’s boy and Hickok’s boy walked up to him and said something. The boy glanced at his parent and then went off to play with the other two boys.
As he got closer to the group he saw Clark McSwain’s son sitting by himself under a tree. The boy had lost what little hair he had and his ability to speak from Scarlet fever the year before. He was lucky though many of the children that year had lost their lives to the disease. Al hoped that they didn’t have another outbreak this year. Al noticed the boy had something in his hands. As he watched the little boy carried the object over to his mother. She gave him a piece of bread and the boy went back to sit under the tree. Al watched as the boy coaxed the small bird in his hands to eat a bit of the bread. He was a special one Al thought.
Shouting brought his attention to where some of the Kiowa were camped. A woman, Summer Snow, was scolding a couple of boys while a smaller one sat behind her on the ground holding his arm. Al noticed the boy was silently watching the woman. When she finished by cuffing the boys on the head, she turned to tend the injured one. Al over heard her call the boy son. So that was it. Al knew the story as did many of the people who attend the Rendezvous or Gathering as some of the Indians called it. Summer Snow had been found a short distance into the woods a couple of summers ago and nine months later she bore a son. The man that hurt her had never been caught, and Al doubted he ever would be.
With his attention drawn to the Kiowa camp, Al had not been watching where he was going and ran into a woman. “ ‘cuse me, ma’am,” he said tipping his hat to the pretty woman he ran into.
“I’m so sorry, I should have been watching where I was going,” she said not looking up at him and trying to pull her sleeves down to cover the bruises on her wrist. Al noticed a little girl standing beside the woman looking up at him.
“Well, hello there, darlin’. What’s your name?” he asked the little girl.
“Oo…ease,” was the reply from a face with the biggest brown eyes he’d ever seen.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Oo…ease,” Al replied with a smile, repeating her name the same way she said it. “Can I help…..”
“Mary Louise! Where in hell are you off to now? Don’t you know you have dinner to fix for me and my men,” a man Al knew as Boggs growled as he approached her.
“Boggs,” Al greeted the man, with as even a tone as he could manage. Al had his suspicions about the man and didn’t like the way he treated women.
“Hunter, you tryin’ to take my wife,” Boggs growled again. He looked down at the woman sneering, “You figurin’ on runnin’ off with this ranger?”
“N..n..no,” the woman said looking at the ground. “Just bringing Louise over here to play while I get dinner ready. Hard to cook with a child underfoot.”
“Then get a move on. I expect dinner in an hour, not later. Understand?” Boggs said.
“Hunter, got some new guns in last week if you’re interested,” Boggs said as he motioned to the woman to move on.
“Not interested,” Al replied. “Two I have will do just fine. ‘Sides I have to help Tom over there with a picture he’s takin’”
“Fine,” Boggs said as he made to move off. He stopped a few steps away and turned back, “If you’re interested in the woman she’s not for sale….well, at least not for a price you can afford,” Boggs sneered as he continued on.
“You’d be surprised,” Al mumbled under his breath. He hated the way Boggs had treated the woman but didn’t want to cause the woman any more trouble than she had. He watched her leave the girl with Tom, and head back in the direction she had come.
“Come on, Al, we’re gonna lose the light,” Tom called to him.
When Al reached where Tom was with the children Tom told him to keep the children on the quilt and try to keep them still. After several attempts and the children not sitting still Tom suggested Al sit with them and show them how it was done.
After protesting that he didn’t want his picture taken with the contraption called a camera, Al finally relented when Tom offered to give him two whole dollars to sit with the group of children.
When he sat down Al first found his lap filled with Oo…ease. Then the Southerner’s son and Hickok’s boy sat on either side of him. Behind him stood Robert’s and Cody’s boys, one with a hand on each shoulder. The Kiowa boy and McSwain’s son sat in front of him. When they were all settled Al told them, “Now, hold still and we’ll go find Mr. Tompkins’ and buy some of that penny candy he’s brought from back east.”
“Hey, Teaspoon, whatcha doin’?” Cody asked, as he and the others entered the bunkhouse where Teaspoon sat holding a picture in front of him.
“Just remembering a Rendezvous a few years back,” Teaspoon replied laying the picture on the table. “Met a handful of trouble there.”
“Really?” Lou asked as she sat down beside him and picked up the picture. “You were pretty young there, Teaspoon.”
“It was a peaceful gathering for most folks,” Teaspoon said looking around at his boys and girl. He was a bit taken aback that he’d not figured out who they were sooner.
“Are all those yours?” Buck asked looking at the children seated around and on a younger version of the station master and father figure.
“No, see this here is Will’s boy, and that’s a greenhorn that moved back to Virginia’s boy. Now those two behind me are Robert’s son, and Isaac’s boy. The two in front are Clark’s only boy, and a Kiowa boy, those two spent a great deal of time together at the Rendezvous.”
“Who’s the one on your lap?” Jimmy asked peering at the picture closer.
“That’s my friend Oo..ease,” Teaspoon said looking at Lou. “She was a pretty little girl with long brown hair and the biggest brown eyes you ever saw.”
“You’re Al,” Lou said recalling one of the happier times in her young life. “You bought us cand…”
“Peppermint candy sticks,” Buck said sitting down by Lou.
Teaspoon leaned back in his chair and hooked his thumbs under his suspenders, as each of the riders realized they were the ones in the picture. “I tell you boys…and girl,” he said with a wink at Lou, “the good Lord sure has a sense of humor.”
“How so, Teaspoon?” Noah asked as he took a seat .
“Well, Tom…my friend that had that camera contraption….said I looked like a proud poppa sitting among that group of younguns. Said I should have a bunch just like them. Never thought the good Lord would give me the same bunch.”
“But I don’t wanna wear a stupid dress.” The voice was muffled from under the bed but Lou heard the whine clearly.
“Polly Ann you will put this on,” Lou said, trying to keep control of her temper. She shook the dress in Polly’s direction but it was wasted since the little girl couldn’t see it. “Come out from under that bed…now!”
“You are not wearing blue,” Em said loudly, her voice carrying easily across the hall from the two girls’ room. “I am.”
“Tsk,” Maggie clicked her tongue at her sister. “You really are stupid if you think it matters what color we wear. You can’t tell in the picture.”
“You’re the stupid one,” Em countered. “I look good in blue, much better than you do.”
”Like anyone will be able to tell from the picture,” Maggie refuted.
“If you two don’t stop arguin’…,” Lou yelled. “Just get dressed.” As an afterthought, she added, “And don’t call each other ‘stupid.’”
“I am wearing this dress,” Maggie said, testily.
“No you are not,” Em snapped. Neither girl responded to their mother.
“Come out from under that bed and put this dress on,” Lou demanded, trying to ignore Em and Maggie as the girls continued their bickering. She looked heavenward for some support.
“Child, I swear I’ll….” Lou stopped suddenly remembering their youngest – the one who was actually already dressed and thus should be watched every second. “James Butler Hickok,” Lou shouted, “you had best be keepin’ an eye on Joshua!”
“Got it all under control!”
Jimmy glanced up at the ceiling, listening to the commotion going on upstairs. He rolled his eyes and, looking down at his son, grinned. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, are ya’?”
Joshua just snorted, a pout firmly planted on his face, his eyebrows drawn together as one. He tugged at the rope tied around his waist and his father tugged back.
“Un-unh,” Jimmy murmured as he sat back in his chair, pleased with how he’d dealt with the situation. Joshua was sitting on the footstool right in front of Jimmy, the short rope making sure the boy stayed there. And Hickok…Jimmy chuckled. ‘He’s very comfortable, if I do say so myself.’
He’d put Hickok in the barn with a couple old pillows, a blanket and a wonderful rope toy that Jimmy had made with the other end of Joshua’s jail. He’d also included a bowl of food and a small trough of water. Jimmy didn’t think Hickok would want to come out even if the barn door was opened. A knock caused Joshua to stand and try to get free.
“Nope,” Jimmy said. He tugged the rope and pulled Joshua so the boy was seated back on the stool. Joshua grunted his displeasure. Jimmy grinned and yelled, “Come in!”
The door opened slightly and Buck peered around the corner. “Is it safe?”
Jimmy laughed and waved his friend inside. “Yeah, everythi–”’
“You girls had better get dressed NOW!” The pictures on the walls rattled.
Both men stared uneasily up the stairs. Buck whispered, “You were saying?”
Jimmy cleared his throat and laughed nervously. “She’s jus’ havin’ problems with the girls. Joshua and me are sittin’ while they get it sorted out.”
“You will wear this dress even if I have to sew you up in it myself!”
“I wanna wear pants! You’re wearin’ pants!”
“Because I haven’t had a chance to change! That’s the fun of bein’ the mama. I’m always last!”
Jimmy looked sheepishly at Buck. “Seems Polly Ann wants to wear–”
“Pants,” Buck finished. “I gathered that.”
“You are not wearing blue! Take that dress off!”
“The only reason you want to wear the color blue is because it’s Taylor Johnson’s favorite color! And I’m not taking it off!”
Confused, Jimmy frowned and glanced at Buck. “‘S’at that fool boy I locked up for not watchin’ Joshua?” Buck nodded. “What’s she see in him?” As Jimmy uttered the words, he realized what that indicated and his face fell. “Hold this.” He tossed Buck the end of the rope and stormed over to the stairs to add his voice in the melee.
“You had best not even think about that Johnson boy!”
Buck glanced at the rope and then at Joshua, who was now glaring at his uncle. “Don’t look at me like that. If I had my way, we’d be goin’ fishing,” Buck said indignantly. He sat in the seat Jimmy had vacated, draped the rope over his thigh, and waited to see how things played out. The arguing continued.
“Daddy! You know he’s sorry about leaving Joshua alone! You were mean to lock him up like that! That was so long ago and he's not like that anymore. Maggie, you are such a talebearer!”
“Mean? He got better ‘n he deserved! ‘Sides, I don’t care how he is now! You will NOT see that boy!”
“I am not! It’s the truth! You’re always trying to talk to him after–”
“Maggie, be quiet!”
“No Maggie, don’t be quiet. After what?”
“Will you two girls stop fightin’? And Jimmy, at this point I don’t care if she wants to marry him and runaway to California! In fact, it would make things easier! But right now, we need to get these children dressed!” Lou was at the top of the stairs, still shaking the dress that was now crumpled in her fist.
“Buck would you go up and–”
“Daddy!” Em and Maggie squealed.
“Uncle Buck is not coming up here!” Maggie said.
“No he is not!” It was the one thing Em agreed with her sister about.
“They're right. I am not going up there,” Buck said through clenched teeth. He stood suddenly and walked over to the stairs where Jimmy was. “You’re crazy.” Spotting Lou at the top, Buck shook his head. “No.”
“I’ll wear the dress if Uncle Buck puts it on me!” Polly Ann yelled, gleefully.
Lou and Jimmy both looked at Buck triumphantly and Lou held the dress out to Buck, coaxing him upstairs.
“What’s goin’ on? We could hear yellin’ halfway down the street. Ain’t y’all ready to go yet?”
Startled, Jimmy, Lou and Buck stopped and looked towards the front door. There stood a very dapper Teaspoon and an equally stunning Polly.
“This is all your fault,” Jimmy grumbled. Buck nodded.
Teaspoon stared questioningly at both young men. “Fault?”
“Buck, get up here,” Lou demanded as she walked down to greet their guests. She shoved the dress into Buck’s hands and quickly moved away before he could react. “Jimmy go help your other two daughters make up their minds about what to wear.”
“Yeah, it is your fault,” Buck muttered, glaring at Jimmy.
“Why’re ya’ glarin’ at–”
“Where’s Joshua?” Lou asked, her voice low. She turned, hands on hips, casting a fierce look at Jimmy and Buck.
Jimmy’s mouth gaped open and he pointed at Buck.
“Don’t point at me,” Buck said defensively and pointed at Teaspoon. “If he hadn’t gotten this ‘wonderful’ idea, we’d be having a relaxin’ Saturday.” He stomped up the stairs to get Polly Ann dressed.
“My grandson was jumpin’ down the steps when we got here,” Teaspoon informed them helpfully, hoping to calm the situation – whatever it was. He still wasn’t sure what was going on.
Barking and laughter from outside cued everyone as to where Joshua was.
Lou threw her hands up and looked at Teaspoon. “This is your fault so go get your grandson. You need to put him in clean clothes now.”
Jimmy laughed as Teaspoon looked pitifully down at his own clean, pressed suit, knowing that it wouldn’t stay that way. Teaspoon looked desperately at Jimmy. “Sorry, gotta go take care of the girls.” Jimmy waved at the older man as he followed Buck upstairs.
Teaspoon gave Polly a last ditch pleading glance but she just grinned and shook her head. Grumbling, he walked out the door, slamming it behind him.
Polly walked over to sit down but picked up the piece of rope hanging off the arm of the chair. Bewildered, she looked at Lou.
Lou laughed wearily. “That’s what Jimmy came up with to make Joshua stay put and stay clean. You see how well it worked.” Sighing, she plopped back onto the settee as Polly sat in the chair. “It’s so hard to get four children ready and still have energy to dress myself.”
“You seem able to ev’ry Sunday,” Polly said.
“Yeah but that’s kinda’ an understandin’ we have with Polly Ann and Joshua. Once a week they’re expected to dress special but the rest of the week….” Suddenly, Lou looked down at her work shirt and pants. With a big smile, she jumped up and hurried over to the stairs. “Buck!”
“I’m dressing her as fast–”
Lou giggled. “Let her wear whatever she wants.”
“Oh now you tell me,” Buck said, mock annoyance in his voice, as Polly shrieked with delight.
“Jimmy that goes for Em and Maggie.” Jimmy joined Polly’s shriek which had the whole house in fits.
Jimmy, Buck and the girls rushed downstairs, laughing, and Jimmy walked over and hugged Lou. “Why? I mean, thank you, but why?”
“That’s not us.” She leaned into his arms. “These faded pants, that’s me.” She pulled at Jimmy’s string tie and unbuttoned the two top buttons of his shirt. “This is you.” She looked over as Buck picked up Polly Ann and flipped her upside down. “And that is definitely Polly Ann.”
“Be careful Buck,” Polly said. “I want my namesake and granddaughter in one piece please.” Buck gently placed Polly Ann back on her feet by her grandmother. Polly laughed and smacked Buck’s arm. “I’m teasin’ you.” Slightly embarrassed, Buck grinned.
“I agree, it ain’t us,” Jimmy said, pleased that he didn’t have to wear his Sunday suit.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Buck said. He pulled his string tie off and removed the confining jacket he was wearing. He also removed the string holding his dark hair back and shook it loose. He’d never liked the stiff feeling of suits.
“Thanks Momma,” Maggie said. She was wearing a green dress and Em was in blue.
“Wait, I thought you wanted to wear blue?” Buck looked from Maggie to Em and back again.
“Oh that was just to bother Em,” Maggie said, matter-of-factly. “I really like green much better.” Smiling, Em rolled her eyes as Maggie giggled and nudged her older sister.
Buck and Jimmy exchanged perplexed looks that Polly and Lou both waved away. “Don’t even try to figure it out boys,” Polly said.
“Thanks Mama for letting us wear whatever we want!” Polly Ann began dancing around in front of the group. She was cut short by a very annoyed voice from the front porch.
“Well isn’t that jus’ fine!” Teaspoon said, snidely, as he peeked in through the open window. He was covered in dirt, leaves and other debris. “Think ya’ coulda’ come up with that wonderful idea a bit earlier?”
They heard him stomp down the steps, get into his and Polly’s buggy, and announce, “We’re late!”
Everyone looked at each other for just a second before bursting into laughter. From outside, their laughter was joined by Joshua’s giggles and Hickok’s barking; and, as Teaspoon drove away, the fading sounds of him griping that “children, grandchildren and even dogs should obey their elders,” and “it was a wonderful idea.”
It had been almost twenty years since the pony express had ended. Lou and Kid had been married just as long. Their marriage had it’s hard times, but it was mostly a happy one, from it they had three children. Their oldest Jackson or Jack for short is seventeen; he plans to take over the ranch someday. Their middle child Claire is ten and every bit as stubborn as her mother. The youngest is Casey she’s five and is just busy being a child. After the express ended Kid bought the old Sweetwater station from Emma, and built a very successful horse ranch. It had taken a few years and there had been many ups and downs, but everything was going really good for them.
It’s a beautiful spring day in April, the air’s cool and no sign of rain. Lou had decided that morning that it was a good day to go thru the attic and get rid of the things the family didn’t need any more. When Lou reached the attic she decided to start close to the entrance of the attic. There was a couple boxes there, as she went thru them she found mostly clothes that could be handed down to the children, old toy that she could give to Claire and Casey, and a box of dishes that she no longer had use for, she could give these way.
After about an hour of working she was looking around praising herself on the work she had accomplished when she noticed the trunk she had used during her express days. She didn’t think it was still up here after all these years, as hard as she tried she couldn’t remember what was in it. She crossed the room and opened it up. Inside she found most of the clothes she had worn to disguise herself, she took these out and under them she found a stack of old photographs. As she went thru the pictures she stopped a one in particular.
The photo was of the riders standing in front of the coral all dressed in their best clothes. She remembered the day like it was yesterday. Teaspoon had spoke to a man in town who was a photographer passing thru on his way to the fort. Teaspoon had asked him to come out to the station and take the photograph, the man had agreed, once Teaspoon told Emma she decided that everyone would wear their Sunday best. At supper that night she and Teaspoon told the riders the news. Once Emma mentioned what they would wear there was a lot of complaining to go around, but the rider’s knew better than to argue.
The following day the photographer was at the station in the morning as he had to catch the stage that afternoon. When he got there everyone was ready and waiting, the rider’s were not happy to find out that they would have to stand absolutely still for a matter of minutes , but they did it and before they knew it the picture was over. The all rushed to change their clothes, Emma and Teaspoon had to laugh at this. The man told Teaspoon that he would have to take the picture plate back to his studio to develop, but as soon as it was done he would send it to him. Teaspoon thanked the man and followed him back to town.
Three weeks later the photograph arrived on the stage. Teaspoon knew what it was as soon as he received it, so without opening it he headed out to the station. When he got there he gathered everyone around the table in the bunkhouse. Once everyone was situated he opened the package and put the picture in the middle of the table for everyone to see, it was smiles all around.
Lou was brought out of her reverie by Kid, “Lou you up here, been lookin all over for ya.”
“Yeah Kid I’m here,” she answered back.
When Kid reached the attic he noticed the smile on Lou’s face, “What’s the smile for?”
Lou handed him the picture he smiled too, “I remember this.”
Every memory of looking out the back door
Lou contemplated the various pictures she had scattered around her, so many different images of their Express family. The family they’d created with everyone so long ago.
She looked up at the sound of the raspy cough. It was just a matter of time, the doctor had said. Of course, they’d said that almost forty years before, when her husband had taken shrapnel in the chest from an exploded artillery shell in some battle so long ago. He never talked about it and she never asked. Kid had defied all odds and lived, with the metal fragments still inside him, a long and happy life. Happy with her and her with him. They always knew that one day his wound would affect his health and with the last bout of flu he'd caught, he hadn't been able to bounce back. She waited to see if he woke but he was quiet again. She watched for the movement of his chest and when she saw it, she resumed her reminiscing.
Smiling, she looked down at the first picture, the largest of the set. Teaspoon had the photographer that was with Colonel Curtis take the picture of the whole group. She ran her hand over the smooth surface. They looked so young. She chuckled softly, they had been so young. But they’d been happy. And the picture showed that. Lou had really thought they’d always be together, that nothing would separate the group. She smiled sadly at the thought. She really had been young.
Running her fingers over the surface, she was drawn to the first member of their close group to leave them. She traced her finger over the happy young man with the wide grin.
Ike McSwain. She still remembered the feeling of despair that had engulfed her when she’d walked with the others into the room where Ike laid still, on the bed. She hadn’t believed it, not Ike. He’d been the kindest, the one to try to make amends whenever there’d been an argument. She smiled, thinking about how Ike had one time threatened to take Cody and Jimmy outside and shoot them both if they didn’t stop arguing. She sighed, her gaze drawn to another face.
They’d been slowly recovering when tragedy struck again. It had been so soon after Ike; so much so that it had felt like a dream – actually a nightmare. And, it happened right after she and Kid had gotten married too. She stared at the proud face with the sly smile.
Noah Dixon. At least with Ike, he’d died protecting the woman he’d loved. Noah – who was he protecting? A selfish, narrow-minded, manipulative woman that hadn’t deserved his blood. Cody had been close to inconsolable, as was Jimmy. But then they all had been hurting. That’s why Lou had tried to keep Kid from saying anything about their friend’s death. Nevertheless, he’d been angry too so when he’d brought it up, Jimmy and Cody jumped on him, bringing the South into it. Kid had retaliated naming Rosemary the true cause. If Buck and Teaspoon hadn’t pulled Jimmy and Kid apart, Lou would have sworn one of them would have killed the other. To Lou, both men were wrong. They were missing the point. Noah tried to save Rosemary simply because that was what Noah believed was right. It had nothing to do with what had been coming or whose side was saying or doing what, it was Noah saving a life and giving his.
After that, she and Kid had left for Virginia, leaving behind the only true family they’d ever known. She’d been upset but had tamped her feelings down; putting all her energy into raising the son they’d been blessed with. However, she knew those feelings had come out in other ways, how she sounded in her letters, and it had festered for over three years. Until Kid had been seriously injured. That had terrified her and she vowed to leave behind all the animosity over the move. But it seemed that fate had answered her long held desire. The only good thing that had come out of the damage was Kid’s discharge. After a long talk, they’d decided to move back, for Kid’s health, for their growing family, but also for the closeness of their extended family.
While in Virginia, they’d received bits and pieces of news, in only a few letters. Lou had cherished these missives. Emma had written that she and Sam had three children, two boys and a girl. Teaspoon had gone back to Sweetwater because he felt too close to the fighting and he’d convinced Polly to come with him. They’d married as did Rachel and Janus. Teaspoon had be able to write about Buck, since the Kiowa had been good about writing to him. The older man had filled in a little about Jimmy and Cody fighting and scouting for the North. But Teaspoon had mentioned that neither one was happy. She and Kid completely understood. After only a few months of fighting, Kid had regretted his decision and wished they’d never left their real home.
They’d decided to settle in Sweetwater because Teaspoon was there and she and Kid wanted to be where their family had begun, to bring up their children. It had taken almost a year after the fighting was over to finally make it back. But, when they’d maneuvered their wagon into town, they’d known they were home. Soon after they'd moved into their new home, she found out that she was pregnant so they were even happier to be back. Then, they’d finally received news about their dispersed family. Wiping away a single tear, she stared at the dark face with the mysterious grin. He always could see into her and know what she was thinking.
Buck Cross had wandered for a few years after the Express ended. He had seemed so lost, trying to find something. But, when Buck had finally come back to settle in Sweetwater, just months after Lou and Kid had arrived, she knew he’d found what he was looking for. He was truly happy, helping Teaspoon around town as a part-time deputy but most of his time was spent as the owner of the livery. He’d worked with the horses and the townsfolk had actually admired his dedication. He’d seemed to have what he wanted, even courting the storekeeper’s daughter. Lou’s eyes filled with tears. Just two years after Buck had come home, he’d been taken away. On duty as deputy, he’d tried to break up a drunken fight at the saloon but had been shot in the back for his troubles. Lou’s tears fell as she thought about the waste of such a good life and how distraught Teaspoon had been. The man had blamed himself. She knew he’d never really recovered.
But it hadn’t all been bad. She laughed softly as she looked at the blonde, showman of the group. His grin lit up the picture.
William F. Cody had made his wild west into a traveling extravaganza. He’d been so proud, delighting them with his letters about the places where the show was playing. He’d even gone to Europe and met the Queen. For all the success of his show, Cody had seemed unhappy when she and Kid had seen him once when the show was nearby. The loss of two of his children and his rocky marriage had taken some of the light from his eyes. One thing that put the mirth back, however, was how keen Cody had been on telling them all about the debacle that was Jimmy in the play Cody put together. The story had been funny and Lou had really wanted to see Jimmy. Lou sighed heavily, her eyes drawn to the dark, guarded eyes of the other man she loved.
Jimmy Hickok had been the only one they didn’t hear from as often. Every once in a while they’d get word from him about his wanderings. He’d become a rather successful gambler and lawman, though he’d started using the moniker “Wild Bill,” much to Lou’s dislike. But without actual letters from the man himself, they mainly read about him in the newspaper. One such article broke her heart. Kid had actually tried to keep the news away from her, taking her and the children out for a picnic, far from town. But news such as the death of Wild Bill Hickok couldn’t be hidden for long. She’d never gotten to see him before he died.
“Hey,” Kid said, his voice scratchy and soft.
Lou put the picture on the floor beside her chair and pushed herself up. She wasn’t moving as well as she had, much to her aggravation. Kid always chided her, saying she shouldn’t think she could move like their Express days. When she’d pout slightly, he’d always add that she was still as pretty as she had been. She walked over to the bedside table and poured him a glass of water.
Putting it to his lips, she said, “Drink.” Once he’d take a couple of sips, she put the glass down and sat beside him. “Are you comfortable enough?”
"Yeah," he murmured. "What're ya' doin'?" He tried to raise his head to look over the edge of the bed but couldn't. Coughing, he laid his head back on his pillow.
“Oh, just lookin’ at some pictures.” Leaning over, she picked up the group picture and showed it to him.
He chuckled softly. “Can’t believe that’s really us.” He closed his eyes and soon drifted off to sleep.
She leaned over and picked up another picture. One they had taken while she and Kid were visiting Emma and Sam. She’d always thought Sam Cain was such a handsome man. She’d even been infatuated with him when they’d first met him but after seeing him with Emma, she knew those two were meant to be together. She still couldn’t believe what had happened to the lawman. He’d been out with a posse, tracking a group of outlaws. The marshal in charge thought they had the group trapped in some mountains in northern Wyoming, but, as one of the men had told Emma after, Sam had disagreed. Sam had been concerned that it was a perfect spot for an ambush. He was never one to push his title around and, whenever he helped other lawmen, he’d defer to them. The marshal really should have listened to Sam. Sam and five other men had been killed and three wounded. Lou had been distressed by the news but when she’d learned of the outlaws’ names, her blood ran cold. Frank and Jesse James.
Jesse. She returned to the chair and picked up a small frame from the floor. Lou had cut a picture of Jesse from a newspaper. Staring at the pencil drawing, she shook her head. It would have been nigh impossible not to know what Jesse was doing. He and Frank were mentioned all throughout the newspapers. Lou had gotten so sick of hearing about the robberies that she’d stopped reading early on. Kid had continued until Sam was killed. At first Lou had been so angry, she’d cursed Jesse’s name and swore she didn’t care what happened to him. But just three years after Sam, Jesse was murdered, shot in the back of the head.
“Loulabelle, ev’rythin’ okay?”
Lou looked up at to see Emma’s smiling face peeking around the slightly opened door. She returned the smile. “He’s sleepin’.”
“If ya’ need anythin’….” Emma slowly backed out and closed the door quietly.
Lou heard the muffled sounds of their family. Their son, Jacob, was out there with his wife, Sarah, and their three children, Mary, Taylor and Susan. Jessica, their daughter, her husband William and their two, William and Daniel were there as well. Emma and her daughter had arrived two days ago about the same time Polly had. Rachel and Janus had been there for almost a week. Cody had just gotten in the night before. It felt good to have so much love in the house and to know that she had the support as well.
She picked up the group picture from beside Kid and gazed at the face of the most important person she’d ever had in her life. Aloysius “Teaspoon” Hunter. She loved that man and owed everything she had become to him. His grizzled face, the lopsided smile, the one-eyed squint. She giggled but it caught in her throat so it sounded more like a hiccup. His bowler and those faded suspenders. It was all that made up Teaspoon but he was so much more. He looked like some drunken drifter but behind those mischievous eyes was a brilliant mind. That he was able to take the misfits they’d been and create the family they’d become was remarkable; not to mention whip together the best station the Express had. Polly said, though they hadn’t known it at the time, some of his last words were about his riders, ”his boys and girl.” She said that he’d lamented how he’d outlived five of his group. That night, he passed away quietly in his sleep.
She moved back to sit by Kid on the bed. “I’m here honey.” She picked up the damp cloth from the bowl and wiped his fevered brow. She could feel the warmth radiating from his skin. She swallowed the lump in her throat. He coughed; it was a harsh, deep sound.
“Ya’ won’t let me miss my ride, will ya’?”
Kid looked into her eyes and she saw the Kid from so many years prior. The clear, blue eyes of the Express rider she’d fallen in love with. She tried to swallow again, but she was unable to stop the soft mewling noise
“Of course not,” she said, wiping quickly at the tears.
“I hear the horse,” Kid murmured, his eyes slowly closing. “Rider comin’.” His eyes closed and his breathing slowed, finally stopping.
“Ride safe, my love,” Lou said, her voice shaking with emotion. She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. “I love you.”
She stood slowly and smoothed her dress, readying herself to go out and tell everybody. She picked up their wedding picture and, bringing it to her lips, she kissed her husband’s image. “Ride safe.”
The doors to the church swung open, and strains of Mendelssohn's Wedding March spilled out into the streets of Sweetwater as Mrs. Gertner played the piano with all her might.
Sam and Emma - newly pronounced Mr. and Mrs. Cain - came out onto the top step. His arm was around her waist and he pulled her closer, leaning in for a kiss that was freely given. Both smiling, they turned to face the guests who were starting to come out.
The church had been full, with most of the townspeople, and many of the families from outlying farms, joining together for the marriage of their town Marshal. And the newlyweds greeted all of the guests, shaking hands, accepting hugs and congratulations, and generally sharing the joy of the day.
Mrs. Gertner had replayed the March twice, and was finishing up Beethoven's Ode to Joy by the time the line was through. But most of the crowd milled around at the bottom of the steps, not going far, because the reception would soon begin. Some of the women were already starting to set the food out under the awning set up behind the church. And no sooner had the last piano notes dies away than the members of the Sweetwater band started to tune their fiddles.
The weather had cooperated to provide the newlyweds with a beautiful early autumn day - a blue sky with barely a wisp of cloud, sunshine to warm the air, and a southerly breeze that was gentle and refreshing.
Sam gave a deep sigh of relief and turned to his wife. But before he could say anything, their attention was drawn to the street.
"Marshal Cain! Mrs. Cain! Excuse me, pardon me. Mr. and Mrs. Cain!"
They watched as an older man maneuvered his way through the crowd. He was tall, which helped them identify the speaker. A bit heavyset, dressed in a tweed suit with a black bowler hat perched on his head, he was struggling to move forward. As he got closer they could see why - he was lugging a large crate, and he had something that looked much like a collection of sticks under one arm.
People separated ahead of him, some 'encouraged' by being knocked about by the sticks or the box. Fortunately, the good weather and the celebratory mood of the day kept tempers from flaring unduly high.
The man sighed as he finally made it to the front by the stairs. He set the box and the sticks down and took his hat off with a flourish. "Mr. and Mrs. Cain."
Sam studied the man for a moment, trying to come up with a name. "Prentice, ain't it?"
"Yes, sir, Marshal. Walter Prentice. You have a good memory sir. We met only the once, and very briefly."
Sam considered explaining that that was something very handy in law enforcement, but decided he didn't want to talk business on his wedding day. "Something we can do for you, Mr. Prentice?"
"Oh, no, sir, something I can do for you!" Prentice put his hat back on and opened the box. "I'm a photographer, you see," he said, addressing Emma. "Some of your neighbors have engaged me to take your wedding portrait."
Emma rewarded him with a smile. "Oh, that's wonderful!"
Anything that sounded wonderful to Emma sounded wonderful to Sam too. "Sure is," he agreed. "Uh, whatta you want us to do?"
Prentice held his hands up, as if framing something. "That will be a wonderful shot, right there on the steps in front of the church. If you could just shut that door, I'll be set up in a moment."
Sam did door duty, then returned to stand with Emma. They watched as Prentice deftly turned the strange bundle of sticks into a tripod. He reached into the box and carefully removed a large box with a lens on one end, and then placed it carefully onto the tripod. Then he busied himself with pulling out a glass plate and setting it into its place inside the camera box.
Finally, he looked up and smiled. "All ready," Prentice declared. "Now, if you'll just stand together…"
Sam moved even closer to Emma, wrapping his left arm around her back, and reaching over with his right hand to hold her hand. In turn she wrapped the fingers of her left hand around his, and held her bouquet between them in her right hand.
"Oh, yes, yes!" Prentice called. "That's perfect. Yes, yes, now just smile, and then don't move."
Sam held Emma tighter and plastered a smile on his face as the photographer disappeared behind a black cloth on the back of the camera.
He was just about ready to think that the smile would be stuck on his face forever when Prentice finally reappeared.
"Yes, yes, that's done. Wonderful shot. I'll develop it later today for you."
"Thank you, Mr. Prentice," Emma said. She carefully flexed the fingers that had been gripping Sam's hand.
"Oh, yes, it's a pleasure," Prentice replied. "Now, it's also customary to take a family portrait. If you could point out your family members…"
Well, neither he nor Emma had any blood relations, at least none who lived within a thousand miles of Sweetwater. Sam started to reply. "Well, we ain't…"
Emma reached for his hand again and smiled at her husband. "Sam…"
Realization suddenly hit Sam, and he returned the smile. "Guess we hadn't thought about a photograph," he said.
"But we'll have our family here on the steps shortly," Emma added.
"Yeah, just give us a few minutes to round 'em up."
"Excellent!" Prentice said. "I'll just get everything ready," he added, bending down to busy himself with something in the crate.
"I'll check out back," Sam said quietly. "You wanna take the food area?"
Emma nodded, and took a moment to kiss her new husband. "We'll meet back here."
Sam found Jimmy in back of the church. The younger man was standing by his horse, ostensibly checking the cinch straps. But his eyes were looking elsewhere, and Sam followed his gaze to where a couple of unattached young women from town were ooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the Wilkins baby.
But a few quiet words in Jimmy's ear sent the rider heading for the front of the church, and Sam set off to find someone else.
It was no great surprise when Emma found Teaspoon and Cody standing as close as they could to the food tables without actually being in the way of the women who were setting up. Teaspoon seemed to be fixated on the variety of pies being set out, while Cody was fairly salivating at everything.
But after a few words from Emma, both men took one last, longing look at the food and then headed for the front of the church.
Sam found Buck and Ike helping to move some tables back by where the band was setting up. It looked like they were creating some additional space for dancing - and Sam was definitely looking forward to dancing with his new wife.
But first things first. He caught up with Buck and whispered a few words. Buck nodded and went to talk to Ike.
And Sam moved on to see who else needed to be found.
She found them outside the food area, leaning against the corral fence of the nearby livery. They stood a careful difference apart, trying to look as if they were just waiting - and not as if they wanted desperately to be somewhere else, alone.
Emma paused a moment, a sad expression on her face. Lou - Lulabelle - looked forlorn, and uncomfortable in her man-suit. But it was still a necessary disguise in order to keep her job. Emma understood that, but she also understood the girl's need and desire to act and dress like a woman.
She wondered what Mr. Spoon would really do if he learned the secret…
But the secret wasn't hers to share, and there were other matters to attend to today. She walked over to where Lou stood, hands stuffed in her pockets, and said a few quiet words. Kid moved close enough to hear, and then the three of them headed for the front of the church.
Teaspoon took charge, quickly orchestrating the gathering on the steps. In the end, he stood on the top step with Sam, and Emma between them. Buck, Jimmy, and Kid were on the next step down, and Lou, Cody, and Ike were on the lowest step.
Prentice was still fiddling with something in his box of equipment when Sam cleared his throat. "I think we're ready, Mr. Prentice."
"Ah, excellent." Prentice closed the box, stood up - and his jaw dropped as he stared at the assembled group. Those certainly looked like the young men who had been pointed out as Pony Express riders. Why, wasn't that an Indian? And the older man, wasn't he the one who ran the station? "We, ahhh… we were discussing a family portrait," he finally said.
Emma looked around at the people surrounding her. She thought about the early days, the disparate group of orphans thrown together, the fighting, the storming, the sometimes tentative trust. And then she thought of the love, the willingness to risk for each other, the way trust had grown. She smiled and turned toward Prentice. "This is my family," she said firmly. Turning toward Sam, her smile widened. "Our family," she added.
"Our family," Sam confirmed.
"Yes, well, all right," Prentice said, recovering his professional composure. He checked to make sure that everything was ready on the camera and then returned his attention to the group - the family - on the church steps. "A big smile now," he requested. "And then don't move until I tell you. We're about to take your family portrait."
We laugh we cry we hurt we bleed
We're best of friends and worst enemies
We're all to blame, were all the same, make no apologies
This is my family
From "Family" by LeAnn Rimes
by: Miss Raye
The man cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, Mr. Hickok." He was rewarded with a burning glare.
"Hurry." The gunfighter pulled at his collar and his feet rumpled the faded oriental carpet on the floor. "I ain't got all day."
The tall man's mouth flexed into a silly grin as his hands fumbled with the door to the back of the camera. "Yes… yes, sir. It'll just take a second."
"You said that before." Hickok let out a sigh that set the man's hands shaking.
The photographer coughed a bit; although it didn't seem authentic it was probably all the man could do to stall for time while he readied the camera for a new photo. "Really, Mr. Hickok if you hadn't startled me, I wouldn't have dropped the last plate and this would be all over." Turning, the man saw the questioning look and he back pedaled, nearly dropping the newly prepared plate on the floor. "I'm sorry, Sir… I did NOT mean to infer that you had anything to-"
"Just get on with it." Jimmy turned toward the window and crossed one leg over the other trying to get comfortable in the high-backed wooden chair. "I've got someone to meet."
The fumbling hands of the photographer may have come from inexperience or fear but the fact remains that he nearly lost the second of his precious photographic plates when he tripped over his feet. "Then we'll have to hurry it along now, won't we."
The door out into the back alley swung open and Jimmy reached for the sidearm at his hip and was left flexing his fingers over empty air.
Sam Cain laughed at the silly picture as he crossed over to the photographer and clapped a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"Marshal Cain…" the man's voice was full of fear and trembled the sound, "you said you'd be right back."
Giving the younger man a reproachful look he grinned at the photographer. "He's all growl and no bite, Thomas… as long as we get this done." Leaning in to whisper, "he's got a special night planned and we're just waitin' on the women folk to finish their shoppin'."
"Ahhhh…" adjusting his spectacles, the photographer snapped the lock in place on the back of the camera, "…why didn't you say so." The man's voice brightened with his expression and he lifted the heavy cloth at the back of the camera. "Alright, Mr. Hickok. When I give you the word 'smile' I'll open the aperture of the camera and we'll have our image… but I'll need a few seconds for enough light. So you'll have to hold still, do you think you can do that?"
The man took one look at Jimmy's raised brow and he lost a little of his confidence. "I'm sure we'll figure something out…"
Jimmy adjusted his posture in the chair, striving to ignore Sam's silent chuckles as the older man leaned against the wall near the windows. He barely saw the man duck down behind the fabric when something caught his eye on the board walk beyond the window.
Emma, laughing at something only she could hear, her arms filled with paper wrapped packages and her bonnet ribbons fluttering at her neck.
"Alright Mr. Hickok, I need you to hold still for five seconds, starting now."
The woman beside her came into view and jimmy couldn't hold back his smile, even with Sam's comments from the wall. The soft slope of her shoulder, the solid line of her back, even the waves of curls that brush the nape of her neck were familiar to him, but never failed to make him happy. There was a simple joy that she inspired and with the complicated web that his life had become, simple was heaven-sent and so was she.
"Well," the photographer reappeared from behind the camera his own grin firmly in place, "I got it and I'm proud to say it'll be one that you'll enjoy for many years to come Mr. Hickok. It's quite the image." The front door to the studio opened and the bell tied above the door jingled as the two women walked in, weighted under their purchases.
Emma gave Sam a kiss on his cheek before transferring her packages to his arms. "Did you gentlemen miss us?"
Sam huffed out a laugh. "Sure did, you should'a heard Hickok here, he nearly scared Tom to death with his grousin' and grumblin'… you'd like he was a bear stuck with a thorn in his paw for all the trouble he's given the poor man."
Jimmy struggled with the packages in his arms he still managed to give Sam and hard look before a soft touch on his cheek distracted him.
"I know you didn't want to sit for the portrait, Jimmy… but you'll be gone for months and-"
"You know I don't want to-"
"I know… but I'll have something to set on the mantle and remind myself-"
"Am I so easy to forget?"
She cuffed his arm and then made a mad grab for a package that fell from the pile. "You know better'n that."
"I know," he admitted and leaned in to whisper as Emma and Sam preceded them out into the street. "I've got another surprise for you, but you have to wait until dinner."
Her smile brightened. "I'll wait… you're worth it."