Topic #90: Carnival
|Winter Wonderful by: Miss Raye||Pancakes for Breakfast by: Jo|
|The Kissin' Booth by: Lori||Beautiful Day by: Dede|
|One Fine Day by: Cindy||The Perfect Disguise by: Debbie|
by: Miss Raye
Louise raised her gloved hand to the passing sleigh and smiled when Mr. Carson returned the gesture.
“You’ve got a smile on your face.” Jimmy flicked the reins and then transferred them both to one hand so he could draw up the quilt higher onto her lap. “Something I should worry about?”
She resisted the urge to nudge him with her elbow and remembered the shocking news that she’d delivered to him nearly an hour ago. “No, I was just thinkin’ ‘bout business is all. With all the snow, I’ve rented out every sleigh in the livery and I’ve a waitin’ list about as long as my arm for men that seem to think that a snowy day is a perfect opportunity to take a lady out for a ride.”
Jimmy’s smile warmed at the thought. “So it’s just the thought that you’re makin’ money hand over fist that has you smilin’ so?”
That got him a nudge in the ribs. “You certainly do know how to get me riled.”
“Well it certainly did make you warm, didn’t it?”
She instinctively reached up to touch her cheeks before she saw the navy blue mittens on her hands and set them back into her lap, her hands running over the pattern of the quilt. “You know it did, Jimmy… now, hurry up if you want to get to the Winter Revel before it’s over.”
Sitting up on the buckboard, her back ramrod she straight she closed her eyes to enjoy the brisk rush of winter wind on her skin. It wasn’t more than a few minutes before the sleigh pulled to a stop and Louise opened her eyes to a delicious scene before her. Family and townsfolk spilled out from the lobby of the new hotel and Lou was handed down and passed around for a dizzying round of hugs and well wishes before the group migrated up into the warmth.
Teaspoon stood up with some difficulty from his chair and before he’d even taken a step Louise had him safely back against the cushions and swaddled in blankets. “Don’t go thinkin’ I’m a child…”
“Oh, no… not you, Teaspoon.” Louise surrendered her coat to the nearest set of hands after tucking her mittens away and she pushed back her woolen hood to smile down at him. “I just want to have a few minutes of your time before everywoman in this room tries to steal you away for a dance.” Polly gave Louise a thankful look as she held out a cup to the younger woman.
“You must be chilled to the bone, here’s something to help warm you up.”
Louise took the mug in hand and breathed in the aroma’s with a dreamy smile. “Mulled cider… my favorite. “
“Perfect thing for a cold night. “ Jimmy stepped up, a cup in his hands as well. “I’ve been waitin’ on this all day.”
“Glad to see you ain’t hoggin’ this little lady to yerself, Hickok.” Teaspoon took Louise’s hand and guided her down to the chair beside him. “Holidays are the time for family and fun…”
“Funny you should mention that, Teaspoon-” Jimmy set a free hand on Lou’s shoulder as Buck walked up, Rosa tucked in against his side, “Lou and me, we got some news for y’all.”
“Louise?” Polly sat on the arm of Teaspoon’s chair and set her hand gently over her heart. “What is it?”
The young woman gave Rosa a welcoming grin before addressing the group. “As soon as the snow clears, we’re headin’ to St. Jo to spend some time with Jeremiah. He’s got himself a good job and Teresa’s planning on joining us for a spell if her husband can make it fit into their plans.”
“Oh,” Teaspoon nodded, “Well that’s news alright.” He cleared his throat as the small assembled group looked from one to the other with a slight bewildered glance. “Good to hear.”
Jimmy looked down at his old boss and raised a brow that made Buck proud. “You sound… um, disappointed, Teaspoon.”
The older man waved off the words and gave a reassuring pat to Polly’s hand where it lay on his arm. “I guess… I just-”
Looking over the rim of her mug, Louise took a sip before lowering it into her lap. “You just-”
“Papa thought you had ‘other’ news for him… something to celebrate, que no?” Rosa leaned her head on Buck’s shoulder and he turned to kiss her temple with a gentle smile.
“Oh? You were expecting something else.” Jimmy looked down at Lou, “We’d hate to disappoint, Teaspoon-”
The older man held up a hand and shook his head. “Now don’t get the wrong idea, son… it ain’t that we’re disappointed in the news. Spendin’ sometime with family is a good thing, really… we enjoy every minute you spend with us and sometimes…”
Polly stepped in when Teaspoon looked back at her for help. “We forget that you’ve both got family elsewhere and I guess we were hopin’-”
“Yes, hoping,” Buck added in, “that your news was going to be,” he looked down at Rosa with a warm smile, “they were expectin’-”
“Expectin’…” Jimmy seemed to ponder the word for a moment before he let the full weight of his smile warm his expression, “oh… a baby?”
Louise lifted her cup up to her nose and had another sniff of the heavenly scent as the party whirled around them. “That? Sure… we’re expectin’… is that all you were wonderin’ about, we were lookin’ to see if someone would look in on the livery while we were gone.”
It took all of a half-second for pandemonium to break loose and both Jimmy and Louise lost possession of their ciders as hugs and kisses where exchanged around the small group and suddenly their quiet little corner was the center of the all the curious looks and well wishes from the other residents of Rock Creek.
A/N: Thanks always and always to my betas so near and dear to my heart :) I can't do this without you...
“OH boy! This sure is a surprise Emma!” Cody said as Emma placed a platter of steaming hot pancakes on the table.
“Mmmm, they smell wonderful.” Jimmy said reaching for the honey.
“Why thank you boys, I made some apple butter too, I like that on my pancakes.” Emma said indicating a covered bowl.
“Is this some special occasion?” Kid asked as he buttered up the stack he’d placed on his plate.
“Isn’t this Tuesday?” Buck asked waiting for Cody to pass the platter down to him. “I thought you only did pancakes on Sunday”
“Yes, today is Tuesday but it’s a special Tuesday, its Shrove Tuesday, and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.” Emma answered but scowled at Buck who groaned and Ike who made a face. “My mother always served pancakes on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It’s an Irish custom, well British really but still, I thought I’d introduce you all to it.”
“Buck, what’s wrong with Ash Wednesday?” Lou asked.
“I think Buck and Ike are both worried that we’re going to ask you all to give up somethin’.” Teaspoon said after swallowing a mouthful of pancake smothered in apple butter. “Emma, that apple butter is out of this world. Is it hard to make?”
*The nuns always made us give up something from Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday* Ike answered then dipped his fork with the pancake into the honey on his plate.
“Buck, you’re not eating, is something wrong?” Emma asked as she looked around the table; the others had almost half of the pancakes gone.
“I don’t like bein’ forced to follow different beliefs, that’s all.” Buck answered looking at his untouched plate.
“Buck if you don’t want yours…..” Cody started but stern looks from both Teaspoon and Emma stopped him in mid-sentence. Teaspoon nodded clearing his throat.
“Buck, you don’t have to give up anything for Lent or go to church, I’m not asking you to do anything other then enjoy breakfast. Try the apple butter; I know how much you love my apple pies…..” Emma smiled at the Kiowa and he finally smiled back.
“You know come to think on it I was in New Orleans, that’s in Louisiana, back in fifty-seven and they had this huge carnival on the day before Ash Wednesday. Some group called the Mistick Krewe of Comus had a parade where everyone dressed up in costumes and wore masks. There was a lot of dancin’, drinkin’ and carryin’ on….I remember the first part of the night…..” Teaspoon said with a smile on his face. “Oh um, sorry Emma…” He added when she looked at him askew.
“Oh, I think I read somethin’ on that it’s called marty grass or somethin’.” Cody said.
“I think its Mardi Gras, its French and the ‘s’ is silent.” Buck answered shaking his head. “Emma these are really good.”
“Thank- you Buck” Emma laughed. “Do you speak French?”
“Not really, Kathleen Devlin used to say things to me in French and after we, um, stopped seeing each other, I found I still had a book of poems she’d given me so I started trying to read it. Then when the Dubois family’s wagon broke down and we helped them I asked for a little help and they gave me a few lessons and a couple of old books the children had outgrown.” Buck smiled as he answered. The pancakes were now little more then crumbs on his plate.
“I thought you were spending a little too much time with Mrs. Dubois… Whew! Am I glad it wasn’t what I thought it was!” Jimmy said pretending to wipe his brow.
“Jimmy!” Emma said. “Please, oh, well, since you seem to have naughty thoughts involving your fellow riders you can help me clear the table and do the dishes.”
“Awe, Emma….” Jimmy whined playfully but he stood and began clearing the table. “I saw that, Cody!”
Behind his back Cody had made a face. Everyone began laughing.
“Emma, does this mean we have to wait a whole year until the next time we can have pancakes?” Lou asked.
“Or apple butter?” Buck asked quickly.
“I’ll think on it……” Emma replied with a sly smile.
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Aw, Lou, come on. Don’t be this way.”
“I’m not stopping you, Cody. I just…I just ain’t gonna do it.”
The blond rider looked at her and then pouted, “But I need you, Lou.”
Furrowing her brow she scowled, “What?”
“See, if I go stand in line for the Kissin’ Booth, everyone will laugh at me. They’ll just think I wanna go kiss Marlene Johnson.”
“You do want to go kiss Marlene Johnson,” she rolled her eyes behind her glasses.
“Yes, I do,” he admitted with a smug little grin. Then he sobered and said, “But she’s liable to walk away the moment she sees me standin’ there. But if she sees you…”
“Me?” she squeaked, and then coughed to cover the abnormally high-pitch for a male.
“She fancies you,” Cody confessed and Lou felt her cheeks flush bright with mortification. “And if she thinks she’ll have the opportunity to give you a kiss, then she’ll stick around and let me give her one.”
Her eyes were wide and she shook her head furiously. “No. I don’t like Marlene, and I ain’t gonna stand in line for the…”
She lowered her voice to a scandalized whisper, “For the kissin’ booth just ‘cause you want to go kiss a girl.”
Her fellow-rider looked at her with hurt and betrayal, “Some friend you are, Lou. I’d help you out if you needed it. I mean…if you needed help with a girl or somethin’.”
“Yeah,” she huffed, keeping her voice low while she crossed her arms over her chest, bunching her jacket up. “Well, I don’t need any help with a girl.”
Leaning back and shaking his head, Cody said, “I just don’t get you, Lou. You ain’t like any boy I’ve ever met. You don’t wanna kiss a girl, you don’t need to shave, you don’t go down to the swimmin’ pond with us and you don’t take your shirt off even when it’s just us guys and beastly hot in the bunkhouse.”
Sweat began to pool on her brow and she took a step back. She had to get out of there before Cody began to ponder the problem much more and started to piece things together. Nobody knew her secret except Kid, but he was off on a run today and therefore not able to help her navigate the pitfalls of the town’s carnival. Lou didn’t want Cody to figure things out while standing in the middle of the crowded street.
Looking behind him, Lou craned her neck and then quickly lied, “I think I see Jimmy, Cody. I’m gonna go see what he wants. Maybe go bobbin’ for apples or see if I can dunk Sam, or somethin’.”
She clapped him on the shoulder as she practically sprinted away. “Good luck with Marlene.”
“Ain’t it a beautiful day,” Cody said, breathing in deep. The air was crisp and the sky was clear with all the promise of a perfect day. “I can’t wait to taste them honey cakes.” Cody’s mouth watered with the thoughts of the sticky, golden pastries.
“You would be thinkin’ only of yer stomach,” Jimmy drawled. He chuckled and gently elbowed Buck in the arm. Everyone laughed, including Cody. It was a beautiful day and they were in high spirits.
*I’m looking forward to the games* Ike signed and rubbed his hands together. He’d been discussing tug of war strategy earlier in the bunkhouse.
“I’m gettin’ that rifle that was on the poster,” Kid said. He’d been talking about it for the last week, ever since the posters about the target competition had been hung by the carnival’s scout.
The riders walked around Sweetwater, impatiently waiting for the start of the big show. They weren’t alone; the townsfolk were out in droves. The people were milling around as the first vendor there was setting up his wagon, across which was painted in big, red letters: Doctor Oswald Brown’s Amazing Iron Extract. He’d arrived the night before, ahead of the other sellers. The rest of the carnival participants would be in town in the next hour, with all the pomp of a royal parade – or so the posters had promised.
“It was nice of Teaspoon to figure out a way for us to do this,” Buck said as he watched a pretty young woman help Dr. Brown set up his platform.
Teaspoon had worked it out with the Horse Creek and Willow Springs stations to trade off when the carnival came through. That way the three stations could cover runs for each other and everyone could enjoy the festivities when the carnival was in their area.
*Too bad for Teaspoon* Ike signed and they all nodded in agreement. Teaspoon was leaving that day for Willow Springs to take some much needed supplies and thus would be gone while the carnival was in town. Ike nudged Buck and nodded in the direction of the young woman. Buck grinned.
“What about Lou?” Cody chuckled. He had noticed the young lady kneeling on the platform too and exchanged a sly grin with Buck and Ike.
There had been one run to complete, finishing the leg of the ride from the day before. The ride was to a trading post to deliver some medicines and other supplies and would take a half-day total. Lou had drawn the short straw, proving the fates weren’t always against Jimmy. Lou had left well before dawn so that she’d make it back by noon, and by the target shooting contest.
Normally everyone would have either still been asleep or just waking up, but not with the carnival coming that day. Teaspoon had suggested that the group pack up the wagon and camp outside the town like the surrounding farmers and ranchers. That would give them someplace to escape to when the crowds became too much or they just wanted some peace and quiet. Also, they’d be there for the next morning and wouldn’t have to travel late at night. The idea had been met with great enthusiasm so getting the boys out of bed that morning hadn’t been the chore it usually was for Emma. And being in town for the nighttime festivities had been more than enough reason for the boys to like the idea.
“Lou’ll be back later today,” Kid said in her defense. “She’ll be here for the main events. And to see me win that rifle.” Ike rolled his eyes and smacked his chest twice. “Nah Ike, I’m gonna win.” Kid laughed when Ike playfully pushed him.
“I thought Lou said she was gonna win that,” Buck said, grinning mischievously. Kid just shook his head and held his hand up, laughing.
Leaving his friends playful banter, Jimmy wandered over to the wagon, on the pretext of inspecting the wares that the pretty young woman was putting on the edge of the stage. Of course, his friends knew what wares Jimmy really was interested in and followed behind him, laughing.
As the boys stood around the wagon, people began pushing forward to see what was happening, and Dr. Oswald Brown wasn’t one to miss out on an opportunity to sell.
“My friends,” he intoned, pacing back and forth on the platform. He’d been joined by a young man, about the same age as the riders, who had his hands resting on a pair of guns in a double holster. The boy was wearing a self-satisfied look on his face that the riders instantly found irritating. They exchange bemused looks and continued listening to the doctor as the man droned on and on about the healing properties of his elixir. It helped that the attractive young lady was holding up a bottle as he spoke.
“Rheumatism, toothaches, strains, swelling, chilblains, why, I would go so far as to say that this is the finest iron extract that I’ve found since I took the hypocratical oath and started to practice medicine.” There were some “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd.
“If he’s a doctor,” Buck whispered to Cody and Ike, “I’m the next president of the United States.” Cody coughed to cover the bark of laughter that escaped, as Ike’s shoulders shook.
“In fact, I raised my only child on it,” he pointed to the young woman standing beside him, wearing a big smile, “and look at her.”
Appreciatively, the boys gazed at the very shapely young woman and Cody said softly, “Think we should buy a bottle for Lou?” Flanking Cody, Ike and Buck elbowed the blonde rider in the ribs, as Kid smacked him on the head from behind. “Ow,” he grumbled, rubbing his side and head, “I was only jokin’.”
“Right Daddy.” She looked at the riders and winked. “Don’t forget, this here’s a Pony Express town.”
“Why that’s right,” the doctor said, “this would work wonders for your stock.”
The boys exchanged confused glances. What could an elixir for people do for horses?
“If you’ve got a horse that’s feeling poorly, you simply double the dose.”
Buck scoffed and rolled his eyes as the others laughed heartily.
“Now friends,” the doctor continued as he nudged Kimberly to go wander through the crowd and start selling the product. “You are about to see the most spectacular demonstration never before seen…”
Suddenly a horn blared, announcing that the carnival had arrived. A man dressed in formal clothes, on a beautiful black stallion, rode past, blowing a bugle. He was followed by an assortment of characters – jugglers, clowns, acrobats, and even a man on stilts. A group of lovely young women on horseback rode down the sides of the street, performing stunts that set the crowd twittering. The first wagon was a colorful rig that had several pretty young women hanging off, calling out to the people.
The crowd, especially the riders, seemed interested in seeing what else there was and began to walk off. The young man with the doctor fired into the air, startling everyone. The riders all had their guns out in a flash.
“Pardon my overenthusiastic friend here,” the doctor said, glaring at the young man, who was still smiling in the same smug way. “We just wanted your attention for the final demonstration, the most spectacular never before seen on these wild plains or even in Sweetwater.” The crowd, including the riders, settled down and even laughed at his small joke. “Smiley, please show these fine people that amazing gun hand.”
Smiley removed his guns and twirled, flipped, and twisted the weapons around in a dazzling show of dexterity. There were more “oohs” and “ahs” from the crowd.
When Smiley replaced his guns in his holsters, the crowd clapped in appreciation. Two older farmers were standing behind Jimmy and Kid.
“I ain’t never seen gun handlin’ like that before,” said Mr. Baxter.
“He sure is plum tricky, ain’t he,” responded Mr. Willey.
“Yeah but can he use ‘em?” Kid whispered to Jimmy, who covered his mouth and chuckled.
“Alright folks, Smiley will now show you what my iron extract has done for his eyes.”
Smiley removed two round pieces of metal from his pocket, each about the size of a silver dollar and held them up, showing them off to the crowd. He threw the thin disks into the air and, pulling his guns out quickly, shot both pieces three times, spinning them end over end. The crowd cheered.
“Stupendous!” Dr. Brown enthused. “Now you people don’t want to pass up a chance…”
“I’m goin’ over to there,” Jimmy said, pointing towards the wagon where the young women were setting up tables. “I think they need some help.” He pulled on Kid’s sleeve, indicating for the rider to follow him. Kid glanced down at the now mutilated metal curiously. Grabbing Jimmy’s arm before he walked away, Kid pointed towards the ground. Jimmy grunted his annoyance at both the delay and the pieces of metal.
“And we’ll be back with another show in one hour.” As the crowd dispersed, the doctor exited the platform and walked to the side of the wagon, while Smiley knelt down to clean off his guns.
Standing in front of the platform, Buck and Ike were looking up in the sky where the targets had been just moments before. Cody, however, was looking down at the same thing Kid and Jimmy were.
“Never seen shootin’ like that b’fore,” Mr. Baxter said to the boys. “You boys do anythin’ like that?”
“Yes sir,” Cody answered quickly. “Why there ain’t nothin’ to that when ya’ know how. And ya’ know the trick.”
Jimmy groaned as he and Kid exchanged knowing looks with Buck and Ike. They knew that the cocky young man wasn’t going to like someone else taking his attention. Or telling his secrets.
“Trick? Wha’d’ya’ mean –”
“You do as well boy?” Smiley asked, poking Cody in the shoulder from behind.
Cody turned to acknowledge the question. “All I was sayin’ –”
“I meant about yer guns doin’ as good. Or you all talk?”
The riders all took supportive stances around Cody. Mr. Baxter mumbled an excuse and backed up amongst some of the townsfolk who had stopped to listen to the confrontation.
“No, not my guns,” Cody said. He kept the tone of his voice as friendly as he could but he maintained steady eye contact with the challenger.
Smiley’s expression was smug as he glanced around in triumph at the bystanders. Jimmy tapped Cody on the arm.
“Come on, he’s just’a peacock. Let’s –”
“No I couldn’t. See I’d have to have a pair of them doctored guns…” Buck and Ike immediately tried to pull Cody with them as they all started to walk away. Cody wouldn’t budge and continued, “like you got, where instead of one slug for a bullet ya’ got them shotgun pellets a flyin’ up yonder.”
“Oh, that’s the trick you was talkin’ about,” Mr. Baxter murmured as he picked up one of the disks. The people around him eyed the metal in disapproval.
“What’re ya’ talkin’ about?” Smiley spat. He jumped down from the platform and stood toe-to-toe with Cody. The boy was a couple of inches shorter than Cody so he puffed out his chest to look bigger.
Seeing the expressions on his friends’ faces, Cody realized he’d said too much and tried to fix the situation. “Look, I only brought it up to say that I’d have to have doctored guns to do as well.”
“Or a rifle,” Buck muttered to Kid who ducked his head so he wouldn’t laugh.
Smiley took two steps backward and stood feet apart, arms bowed out from his sides. He was in a shooting stance. “Maybe you’d like to match me,” his voice was low, “gun fer gun, right here in the street, best man walks away.”
Cody rolled his eyes up, trying to keep control on his temper. “I ain’t lookin’ for no gunfight.”
“Well ya’ found one and –”
“Now, now, we’re not fighting people,” Dr. Brown said rushing over from the crowd. He walked between the boys and took Smiley by the shoulder. Smiley wasn’t done and struggled against the doctor’s hold.
“You’ve found it if’n yer backbone’s as big as yer mouth.”
Buck tugged on Cody’s sleeve and this time Cody followed, saying, “It’s much to purty a day to spoil it like that.” The boys walked towards the other attractions that were still setting up.
“The boy’s right,” the doctor said. He gripped Smiley’s shoulders and shook the boy. “Cool off.” The doctor pushed Smiley to the other side of the wagon as Kimberly stopped selling the elixir and ran over to help. “What happened, Daddy?”
Not giving up the last word, Smiley threatened, “Next time ya’ cross my way yer purty day’ll be spoilt fer fair.”
Cody stopped and glanced over to where the doctor had pushed Smiley onto a bench and was lecturing him. Realizing Cody wasn’t with them, Jimmy walked over to where Cody was standing. “Ya’ know what that means don’t ya’.” It wasn’t a question. The other riders walked over to join them and heard Jimmy’s comment.
“You gonna draw against him?” Kid asked. He looked at Buck and Ike.
Cody sighed and put his hands on his hips, staring down at the ground. “He sure enough called me didn’t he?”
“Cody, ignore him,” Buck warned. “He’s not worth the thought.”
“I don’t know,” Cody said, sighing. “Sweetwater ain’t exactly a place a body can avoid someone. I don’t know how I can keep outta his way.” Cody shook his head and walked towards the other wagons, his friends following.
“I’ve been lookin’ all over for y’all!” Lou ran up to the table where the other riders were standing and eating. “Good grief, Cody!”
Cody was in the process of stuffing half of a very large honey cake into his very wide mouth. “Wha,” he mumbled.
“Cody would you please keep your mouth closed,” Buck asked, with exaggerated disgust as he politely cut a piece of cake off with his fork. He grinned when Lou smacked him on the arm.
*Happy you could make it* Ike signed and handed Lou a glass of punch. She smiled and gladly accepted it.
“Ride okay?” Jimmy said, though it came out muffled due to the forkful of pie he’d just put into his mouth.
She rolled her eyes at him. “Yer as bad as Cody.” Jimmy just covered his mouth with a napkin and laughed. “It went fine. I’m jus’ glad I made it in time to win that rifle.” Lou reached over and grabbed the other half of Kid’s piece of chocolate cake.
“Hey!” he said, in mock annoyance. She giggled and took a bite of the yummy goodness. “And yer not gettin’ that rifle…I am.” He leaned against her in a covert gesture of affection.
As the group enjoyed their food, Lou saw a young man walk by glaring at Cody. “Um, who is that?” She glanced around at the boys.
Lou looked curiously at Ike and then at each of the others. They all met her eyes except Cody, whose concentration was taken up by his third honey cake.
He sighed and said, “It’s nothin’.”
“Nothing?” Buck echoed. “He’s been eyeing you all mornin’. Hadn’t you oughta be doing something about him?”
“There ain’t nothin’ to do. I walk out on that street and the doin’ will be done.” Cody stuffed another piece of cake into his mouth, signaling he was done talking.
The confusion was clear on Lou’s face and she stared at the others, almost willing one of them to talk. Buck sighed and quickly told Lou what had happened. Lou whistled softly.
“What’re ya’ gonna do?” Lou asked and everyone looked at Cody.
“Hello boys,” Sam said, startling the riders. Teaspoon was with him.
“Uh, Sam, Teaspoon,” Cody muttered. Suddenly there were a lot of interesting things going on across the street and everyone’s attention was there. No one said a word. Feeling uncomfortable with the silence and Teaspoon’s steely gaze, Cody said, “So, um, thought you’d be gone by now.”
“Mmm-hmm, I was plannin’ on leavin’ later this afternoon but I guess it was a good thing I stayed.” He eyed Cody intensely and then turned his stare on the others. “Wasn’t it?”
“I know I’m certainly glad Teaspoon stayed,” Sam stated, “considering.” He didn’t have to complete the statement; they all knew exactly what he meant.
Everyone squirmed in discomfort. Lou grinned and, since she was saved from Teaspoon’s eye, she leaned against the table, nibbled on a cookie, and listened.
“Oh, yeah, well, I’ll tell ya’ both how that was. Ya’ see this fella –”
“You don’t have to tell me how it was, Cody.” Sam put his hands on his hips. “There’s no way in all creation you can explain this. It’s a gunfight.”
“Honestly, I wasn’t lookin’ for a fight, with guns or anythin’ else.”
“He wasn’t,” Buck said in Cody’s defense. The others all nodded and mumbled in the affirmative. Teaspoon just stared at them, promptly shutting them up.
“I ain’t lookin’ for him but I ain’t runnin’ away. I figured if’n I avoided him, it would be okay.”
Teaspoon grunted. “Well, I suppose if ya’ turn away.”
“Now wait, I ain’t lookin’ but I’m obliged to face up to whatever I’ve gotta face up to.”
There was a chorus of five groans around Cody.
“Billy Cody,” Teaspoon said, his voice stern and fatherly. “When was the last time ya’ seen two men in the middle of the street take off their guns and go at it with their fists to settle an argument?” Sam shook his head and laughed dryly.
“I’m willin’ to do that,” Cody piped up. He was sure he could take the smaller boy and he was more than happy to teach the braggart a lesson.
“What’s the peacock think of that?” Jimmy asked.
“Well, now, I just got through explain’ to him that I was gonna arrest and charge with murder any man left standin’ after a gun duel on this street,” Sam said. He glanced at Teaspoon as the stationmaster looked at each of his charges before coming back to Cody. Sam continued, “And that goes even if he happens to be a good friend.”
“Or like a son to me,” Teaspoon added.
Cody swallowed hard and stared at the ground. After a few moments of silence, he looked up. “I’m glad ya’ talked to that fella, cause it’s jus’ too beautiful of a day to be carryin’ on like that.”
“Good,” Teaspoon said, running his thumbs under his suspenders. “Just as long as ya’ don’t ferget it.” His face softened as he added, “Son, I know ya’ didn’t go lookin’ fer this, though ya’ shouldn’t have called him on that shot,” he held his hand up to stop any argument from any of them, “I’m jus’ glad yer behavin’ yerself.” He sighed and looked at the table of food. Reaching over for one of the honey cakes he said, “Now if y’all will excuse me, I’m gonna get a nap b’fore headin’ out this evenin’. Sam.”
As Teaspoon walked off towards their camp, Sam waved and turned back to the group of young men. “Ya’ do understand the severity of this, right? So steer clear.” After he received adamant nods from each one, he eyed them once more still unsure of their promise. He pursed his lips and nodded. “Well, I’ll be seein’ y’all later at the shoot off.” He turned and walked across the street.
They watched Sam walk towards the marshal’s office. No one said a word until they saw the door close. Cody let out a huge sigh of relief.
“I’m not too proud to say I’m feelin’ a heap better now that it’s over with. I can wander around wherever I want.” He grinned and gulped down the last of his punch. “So I’m for goin’ over there.” He pointed in the direction of the wagon with the dancing girls. Buck and Ike nodded willingly and headed off with Cody.
When Jimmy and Kid just stood there, Lou shrugged. “Wait up,” she called and laughed at the surprised looks her friends gave her. “What? They’ve got some real purty things on that table over there.”
As the four walked happily towards the vendor, Kid and Jimmy exchanged a concerned look.
“Ya’ don’t think it’s over, do ya’?” Kid asked. He knew the answer but asked the question anyway.
“No I don’t. And I’m not sure how long this day’s gonna stay so beautiful.”
The two stood silently and watched Cody flirt with one of the women.
Late summer. The grains in the fields had mostly turned to yellow, the tall prairie grasses drying and spreading their seeds for the next spring. It was the lull before harvest, when everything would suddenly become a whirl of action – harvesting, transporting, milling, preserving, bartering, buying, selling…
But for now it was just a placid Thursday afternoon, under a cloud-dotted blue sky. People went about their business quietly, in no particular hurry. Rock Creek seemed to be taking a deep breath, reveling in the last of summer before the rush of autumn and the long, cold, Prairie winter to come.
‘Peaceful’ was the word that came to Teaspoon’s mind as he stood in the open doorway of the jail, sipping his coffee and surveying the tranquility in front of him. Yup, about as peaceful a day as he’d seen yet here. They’d arrived in Rock Creek under anything but peaceful circumstances, and there’d been challenge after challenge since. Jesse had stumbled into their midst, bringing with him a gang intent on recovering stolen money, whatever the cost in lives. Capturing Elias Mills and sending him off to be hung; something had happened on that trip, something more than Kid getting shot, but so far Lou and Jimmy had refused to provide any details. Noah’s run-in with a racist sergeant, complete with a murder charge. The arrival, and ultimately the death, of Kid’s childhood friends. And, of course, Ike’s death…
Yup, a nice peaceful day was just how he liked it. And the way he figured it, the town was due.
He was due.
In fact, he might even…
The sudden blast of a horn made him jump, and coffee sloshed out of his mug, onto his hand, dripping down to his boots. “Dammit,” Teaspoon muttered, shaking the liquid off his hand. He set the mug down on the inside window sill and stepped outside to see what was going on.
Whatever he might have expected, it was definitely not what was coming down Rock Creek’s main street.
A brass band led the way, playing a fast march. It wasn’t a tune he recognized, but Teaspoon quickly realized the music had him tapping his foot in response. Up and down the street he could see other people being drawn to just as he was.
A large wagon followed, pained gaily in bright colors. On top of the wagon was a short man, dressed in some sort of sparkly red outfit. The sun glistened on his bald head as he juggled five… no, six objects of various shapes and sizes. Alongside the wagon, acrobats dressed in almost every color he could imagine flipped and spun, drawing applause from the growing crowd. And a man who appeared to be dressed up like George Washington crisscrossed the street on stilts, thrilling old and young alike.
Looking down the street, Teaspoon could see a whole train of wagons following along. And now the first wagon was close enough for him to read what it said on the side: DARLING’S AMAZING TRAVELLING SHOW WITH STUPENDOUS FEATS OF SKILL AND DARING.
Out of the corner of his eye, Teaspoon saw Buck walk up next to him, a bemused look on his face. But before he could say anything to the younger man, the band reached the Marshal’s office and stopped marching, turning to face the window as they continued to play. Behind them many of the curious townspeople started to gather.
The first wagon stopped too, just behind the band. Amazingly, the juggler continued to perform even as the carriage jerked to a halt. Then the near door opened and the largest man Teaspoon thought he had ever seen started to climb out.
He wore a fancy suit, with golden chains dangling from his vest. Long hair fell in waves to just past his shoulders, and a huge mustache dropped almost as far down on the ends.
The man got his feet on the ground and reached back into the coach, emerging a moment later with a top hat that he carefully settled on his head. He reached in one more time and produced a cane with a silver tip and handle. Planting the tip firmly in the dirt of the street, the man spun sharply and turned to face the jail.
Walking forward until he was just short of the boardwalk, the man tipped his hat and gave a small bow in Teaspoon’s direction. His voice was low and booming when he finally spoke. “Do I have the honor, sir, of addressing the law for this fine town?”
Teaspoon took a step forward and nodded once. “That you do. Name’s Teaspoon Hunter.”
“Elmondo Darling,” the other man announced, sweeping his hat in a theatrical low bow. “Proprietor of this, the finest travelling show in the world.”
“Well, now, that’s mighty impressive,” Teaspoon drawled. “An’ what brings you here?”
“Why, we are here to bring joy and laughter to this fine town,” Darling replied, raising his voice so that the gathering crowd could hear him. “That is our mission in life,” he continued. “And with your kind permission, Marshal, we shall spend the rest of the day today and tomorrow setting up just outside of town. And then on Saturday we will welcome the good people here to a show the likes of which has never been seen before.”
“All you’re lookin’ for is a place to set up?”
“That’s all, my good man. My people will do all the work themselves.”
“Real quiet town here,” Teaspoon said. “Don’t want no disturbances.”
“Believe me, Marshal, the only ‘disturbance’ will be the sound of people having fun.”
One look at the excited faces in the crowd told Teaspoon that they wanted the show to stop in Rock Creek. And there really wasn’t any reason to deny the troupe a place to perform. The town had suffered through the long summer too.
“Buck, you know that field down by the creek, where the road curves?”
Buck nodded. “Sure, I know the one.”
“Why don’t you show Mr. Darling here down there. Seems like it’d be a good spot.” Far enough away from town to keep the noise level down while the troupe set up, but close enough that people could easily walk to the show. “Excellent!” Darling bowed low, sweeping his hat almost to the ground. “I thank you, good sir.” He turned to Buck. “Lead on, sir.”
Buck turned a raised eyebrow in Teaspoon’s direction, then he stepped off the boardwalk and into the street. “This way,” he said, pointing down past the Express station.
“Onward!” Darling called, returning to his coach.
The band fell in behind Buck, striking up another march. The first blast of music actually made him jump, it came so unexpectedly. Rolling his eyes, he picked up his pace, just wanting to get there, and be rid of the band, as soon as he could.
Teaspoon stood back and watched the rest of the procession roll by. Several fancy horses pranced by, obviously looking for their time to perform. Two wagons were actually cages, each one holding a pacing tiger. One was the standard orange stripe, but the other was white, with faint black stripes. Two chimpanzees sat on the seat next to one of the drivers. Three large wagons laden with poles and other supplies passed by. More entertainers walked along, waving to people as they went. A magician delighted children by pulling coins and flowers from their ears.
And at the end, spaced away from the other wagons, was one final coach. Painted in bright colors, lettering on the side announced the Patrin Family. An older man with dark hair and a mustache, a red sash around his waist, drove. A woman about the same age sat next to him. Her skirt was many-colored, and she wore a bright yellow bandana on her head. Behind the wagon were two younger men, dressed much like the driver, and a young woman.
The woman definitely caught Teaspoon’s attention – and apparently the attention of most of the other men as well. Dark hair cascaded in waves almost to her waist. Her skirt, made up of scarves of many colors, seemed to flutter like a butterfly in the breeze. And the fact that the skirt stopped just below her knees, showing off her shapely lower legs, didn’t escape anyone’s notice either.
Teaspoon was still appreciating the well-turned leg when he was rudely interrupted.
“You can’t let them stay.”
Turning slowly, Teaspoon sighed. “You got somethin’ against a carnival, Tompkins?”
The shopkeeper shook his head. “The carnival I don’t care about. But they can’t stay.”
“Them.” Tompkins pointed at the last wagon.
“And why not?”
“Well, they’re gypsies.”
Teaspoon waited for more clarification, but none was forthcoming. “They’re part of the show.”
“They’re thieves and liars.”
“You got proof that them people ever stole anything?”
Tompkins scowled. “All gypsies are thieves. Everyone knows that.”
Teaspoon suppressed a sigh, using the effort to control his response. “Well, they ain’t stole nothin’ here ‘cept attention, an’ that’s free.”
Teaspoon held up a hand, cutting off the protest. “They’re part of the show, and welcome here, less’n they do somethin’ here in Rock Creek. That clear?”
Tompkins didn’t answer, merely turned and walked away, grumbling.
Teaspoon just sighed and shook his head. There always had to be someone to ruin a good mood.
The field was the scene of much activity over the next day and a half. Members of Darling’s troupe swarmed everywhere, setting up tents, large and small. Wagons transformed into stages, costumes were unpacked and organized, performers practiced.
People from town wandered out, sometimes on the pretext of ‘just taking a walk.’ Children interrupted their play to sit out in the field and watch with wonder.
By Friday the word had spread to most of the outlying farms, and people began arriving in town. Many who had some distance to travel would camp overnight near the town and then be there for the carnival on Saturday.
It was the perfect distraction for the pre-harvest time, and anticipation ran high.
Saturday dawned bright and clear, the blue skies portending a beautiful day. Overnight, flyers had appeared in town saying that the carnival would open at 10:00 that morning.
By the appointed hour there was already a crowd starting to gather.
“Come on, we’re gonna be late!”
Noah looked up and grinned. “Cody, it’s on all day.”
“But we gotta be there when it opens!”
“Don’t know why,” Kid said. “Can’t see everything at once anyway.”
Cody gave an exaggerated sigh. “All the more reason to get goin’ now.”
Just then the bunkhouse door opened and Rachel walked in. “Well ready to go?”
Cody smiled and nodded. “See? Rachel’s ready. Let’s go!”
Noah rolled his eyes at Kid before answering. “We’re coming, we’re coming.”
Rachel walked over to where Lou still lay on her bunk. “Louise, aren’t you coming?”
Before Lou could answer, Kid spoke up. “She ain’t feeling so good.”
Lou glared at him as Rachel felt her forehead. “You don’t seem to have a fever,” Rachel said. “What’s wrong?”
Lou shrugged. “Just ain’t feelin’ right.”
“Well, if you’d like me to stay…”
“No, Rachel, really, I’ll be fine.”
“I can check back later.”
“Rachel, you just go and have fun. I’ll be just fine!”
“Well, if you’re sure.” Rachel paused and looked around the room. “Where’s Buck?”
“Ain’t seen him since we finished chores,” Kid said.
“Guess he don’t wanna go,” Cody suggested, edging toward the door. “But no reason we can’t.”
Rachel didn’t look quite convinced. “Well…”
“He can find the place if he wants,” Noah said. He set his hat on his head and offered Rachel his arm.
“I suppose so,” she agreed, taking his arm. “You rest up so you feel better, Louise.”
Any reply Lou might have made was lost as the others hurried out of the door.
She waited a long moment after the door shut, then slipped out of her bunk and went to the window. The others were just disappearing out of sight.
Well, good. She hoped they had fun. And at least it looked like no one was going to come back, at least not right away.
Lou climbed back into her bunk and flopped down on the pillow. Saying she wasn’t feeling well really wasn’t a lie – it just had nothing to do with a fever or anything like that.
No, it had more to do with watching the troupe set up yesterday – and seeing the magician bringing out a big box. All of a sudden she was back in Willow Springs, at another carnival. She stepped into that box and really disappeared, almost for good. If Jimmy hadn’t…
Well, if Jimmy hadn’t been Jimmy, and the best dang shot with a pistol she’d ever seen…
Her hand went almost unconsciously to her neck, rubbing at the remembered feeling of the rope tightening.
In the end, Jimmy had managed to save her. On the way back to Sweetwater they’d talked – a lot – and by the time they got home she was pretty much ready to put the incident in the past. She hadn’t wanted to tell anyone, and Jimmy had agreed it was her decision to make. And so the secret remained; she hadn’t even told Kid.
With Jimmy away on a run, the secret was going to stay a secret.
But seeing that box and the magician had started her trembling yesterday, and it had been all she could do to slip away from the others, unseen. Because she really didn’t want to explain.
The door opened and Lou jumped at the interruption. She leaned up on an elbow and watched as Buck slipped into the bunkhouse, looking back out the door furtively, as if hoping he hadn’t been seen.
Buck jumped at the question, obviously unaware he hadn’t been alone. He shut the door and took a couple of steps farther in before answering. “Just don’t want to answer a lot of questions,” he admitted. “What about you?”
Lou shrugged. “Told them I was sick.”
The look in Buck’s eyes told her he didn’t miss the way she had phrased that. “Are you?”
Lou sat up and put her legs over the side of the bunk. “Didn’t feel like going – and didn’t feel like havin’ to explain.”
Buck seemed to consider that for a moment and then he nodded. “I understand that feeling.” He moved over to look out the window. “I was going to go for a ride, just came in to get my gun.”
“Want some company?”
He grinned an invitation. “Sure.”
Without waiting for a second invitation, Lou jumped down and started to pull on her boots. She strapped on her gun belt and then they made their way to the barn.
It was a fine day for a ride, they both agreed, as they headed south from Rock Creek. That took them safely away the sounds of merriment that came from the carnival.
They passed no one in the streets as they left; apparently everyone had already made their way out to join the fun.
At a slow pace, they could ride for hours south of town without finding another town. But after only about half an hour Buck turned slightly toward the east, and Lou soon thought she saw why. The ground dipped down to reveal a stream cutting across the prairie, and up ahead a stand of trees rose majestically from the grassland.
“It’s real nice,” Lou said as they came to a stop in a clearing. The trees provided dappled shade, and a beaver dam created a pond where the stream’s flow was blocked.
Buck nodded as he slid out of the saddle. “I found this place not long after we came to Rock Creek. It’s a good place to come and think.”
“This where you were all them times we couldn’t find you after…” Lou cut her question off. By unspoken agreement they just didn’t mention Ike’s death.
Buck was silent for a moment, and then he finally nodded. “Most of the time,” he said softly.
Lou let the silence linger for a long moment. “Wanna talk about why you ain’t goin’ to the carnival?”
Now Buck shrugged. “What’s to talk about? The people of Rock Creek don’t want a half-breed around. Why put myself in their line of fire?” He paused, sighing. “If I’d known the carnival was coming to town, I would have switched rides with Jimmy. I’m sure he’d love it.”
The combination of Jimmy and a carnival made Lou shiver despite her best efforts to control it. She hoped Buck hadn’t noticed – but no such luck.
She sank to the ground and looked away. Of all the riders, she figured Buck was the least likely to push her if she didn’t want to talk. But he’d also keep her confidence if she shared the story, and sometimes talking was the best way…
“You remember that time Jimmy and me made that special run to Willow Springs?” Buck nodded, so Lou took a deep breath and started to talk.
And she told him everything.
Later, they went for a swim, and then found a sunny spot to sit in while they dried. They shared the cheese sandwich Buck had packed. They talked, and they just relaxed.
Lou actually felt a sense of relief that she had shared her story. But something was nagging at her thoughts the whole time, and finally she had to say something. “Buck, I been thinkin’.”
He was stretched out on the ground, his head cushioned on his arms crossed under his neck. “About what?” he asked without opening an eye.
“I think we should go to the carnival.”
Now he opened his eyes, cocking an eyebrow in her direction. “Why?”
“It’s about facing things you don’t wanna do, but sometimes you gotta do ‘em anyway.”
That elicited a grin. “You sound like Teaspoon.”
“Well, sometimes I can understand what he’s talkin’ about!”
They both laughed, and then Buck pushed himself into a sitting position. “You really want to go?”
“Yeah, I do. Maybe not to the magic show, but there’s a lot o’ other stuff. Like them acrobats.”
“I would like to see that white tiger,” Buck admitted.
“Then let’s go! You help me get past the magic show – an’ if anyone gives you a hard time, I’ll punch ‘em for you.”
Buck grinned. “Well, under those circumstances…”
Lou got to her feet and held out her hand. “Let’s go.”
Buck reached for her hand and let her help him up. “Lou…”
“Come on, Buck. It’s too fine a day not to go.”
He really wanted to know what had changed her mind. Her cheerful attitude now was in such contrast to the sullen mood of the morning. Having heard the story of Willow Springs, he wouldn’t have blamed Lou at all for wanting to stay away – far, far away – from the carnival. But it seemed that talking it out had lifted some weight from her shoulders, and if that was so, he was glad he could help.
He still wasn’t sure he wanted to go. Around the townspeople he always felt as though he was on exhibit, always being watched. And without Ike… well, the feeling was even more intense. But he’d go anyway, as a favor to Lou.
It wasn’t like they would be so far from the station anyway. He could make a quick escape if necessary.
And who knew? The carnival had a lot to offer. The afternoon was still young, with the evening yet to come. Maybe, just maybe, it could even offer a respite from angry eyes.
Lou looked in the mirror once more, not being able to stop the smile that kept playing across her lips. She was smiling now but hadn’t felt like it several days ago. She had been so mad when the boys had come up with the idea in the middle of the week. It had caused her to feel like a ‘girl’ and she didn’t like feeling that way … well, she did like feeling that way, loved it in fact, but not if the boys were going to treat her as such. And that had been where she was very wrong.
When Rachel had come back from town with the news that there was going to be a winter carnival in town on Saturday and that this year’s theme was to be a masquerade party, all the riders had grumbled. But none had more than Lou. She dressed as someone else every day; what fun would it be to go as a different someone else? What she longed for was the opportunity to go somewhere as herself.
Even though she hadn’t voiced her wishes out loud, the boys had picked up quite easily on her mood. They tried to do nice things for her to get her out of the depressing state she was causing around the station, only she wouldn’t hear of it. Kid had even suggested they skip it altogether and spend the evening alone at the way station. Even though that sounded great … and possibly romantic … she knew it couldn’t be. The carnival was a big event in town and to miss it would not be a good showing for the company. Of course, if they were in disguise, how would people know they were there anyway? Lou had continued to grumble to any and everyone.
Unknown to Lou, her complaining had given the boys the perfect solution to their lack of costumes. So two days after hearing about the party, the boys had told her what they’d come up with so all of them could go to the dance and they could all have a night to remember. Lou had exploded that it was out of the question but as each day had gone by and she watched Rachel help the boys put together their costumes, she’d began to think that maybe it wasn’t such an outlandish idea after all. The boys, even Kid, were all keeping with what they’d told her they wanted to go disguised as, whether she was going or not.
Realizing that opportunities such as this didn’t come her way every day, Lou had admitted she was wrong and apologized to the boys. Getting smiles in return at her acceptance, Lou had quickly run off to hand Rachel a list of everything she wanted the older woman to buy her from the mercantile.
So there she stood, admiring the view that looked back at her. To think they were doing this for her and her alone, all so she could enjoy a night out with Kid and not have to hide who she was … alright, so part of her would be under wraps but it was a part of her that usually showed each day so to hide it so the rest of her could come to the surface was mandatory but definitely worth it.
Lou approached the bunkhouse steps, having changed into her costume in Rachel’s guestroom. She entered the small building and wasn’t noticed at first as the room was abuzz with activity. A loud gasp that escaped from her mouth at the sight in front of her caught Kid’s attention. The look of pleasure he gave her upon seeing what she was wearing made her smile even broader.
“You look beautiful, Miss McCloud,” Kid sighed as he came to her and placed a soft kiss on her cheek.
“Thank you but I think I have competition.” Lou turned to the other riders. After giving the boys a nod in greeting, Lou said, “It’s nice to finally see you, Miss Cody. And you too, Miss Cross.”
“I must admit we clean up good, maybe even better than you do,” Cody told her as he first adjusted his new chest with a firm push upward then picked up his skirt and twirled in a circle around the floor.
Lou burst out laughing but had to quickly put her hand over her mouth a moment later to stop the giggles as Buck followed suit – only the Indian didn’t twirl his skirt, he tossed his black curls over his shoulder. “They were Rachel’s idea but I think they look perfect for the occasion, don’t you?” Buck didn’t wait for an answer as he looked in the mirror, checking that the bows had stayed in place.
She looked from one boy to the other. They were serious. Lou then glanced at Jimmy, Kid and Noah, all dressed in their finest and ready to be the perfect escorts for the evening. She nodded her approval to Rachel for the outfit the blonde woman was wearing for the festivities then blushed as Jimmy and Noah gave her similar appreciative glances at her attire.
They were a loyal bunch to say the least. The beginning of the week had been met with complaints as none of them wanted to come up with a costume idea but then they had done some talking, some planning, and suddenly, after a lot of work on everyone’s part, they were all looking forward to this evening.
“Alright, there is one more thing each of you needs to make your costumes complete,” Rachel told them as she moved to the center of the room. She placed a pile of black fabric strips down on the table, keeping one in her hand. “Ladies first,” she said as she held out the mask.
Lou found herself third in line as Cody and Buck beat her to get the finishing touch to their costumes. She looked at them admiringly. They had the biggest hearts of any la … er, man she’d ever known. While their dresses and masks were the perfect disguise to keep folks from knowing these women were really men, her dress and mask were the perfect disguise for people to see her as Louise and not know that Lou even existed. What could be more perfect than that?