Slim asked as he handed Jess the steaming cup. Taking in a deep breath of the evening air, he settled
himself into the chair next to his partner.
had been several days since their journey into town and there had been no word
from Randall, except to say that he had spoken with Mrs. Gilbert.
Although she appeared uncomfortable during his interview with her, she
seemed truthful in the telling of her story.
He had sent the telegrams to the Boston firm and was waiting to hear
back. Mort Corey had brought out
the message along with another, one that didn’t bode too well with either of
them. The judge had granted Mrs.
Gilbert visitation rights until the matter was resolved, and tomorrow she would
collect Mike for a short stay in town with her.
news and its deliverance by Slim to the family had ended in Mike running to his
room once again, and Daisy to spend the rest of the day bustling around the tiny
house mumbling under her breath. For
himself, well he felt like he had been kicked in the stomach by a mule; and
Jess, well Jess had taken it quite well. Too
want to tell me what’s going on in that head of yours?”
Slim asked, as he sipped casually on his coffee.
Jess replied abruptly and continued to stare straight ahead into the
what you’re telling me, is that it doesn’t bother you that Mike is going to
spend the weekend in town with Mrs. Gilbert, is that it?”
Slim waited for the explosion. It
didn’t come and he sat dumbfounded as to what was going on with his usually
laid his cup down and moved to lean on the railing.
“Of course it bothers me, Slim, it bothers me one heck of a lot.”
He said sharply, then took a deep breath and turned to face him.
Slim could see the seriousness in his features and hear the tightness in
his usually smooth deep voice that the girls seemed to find irresistible.
“But I promised I would try and keep a cool head, remember? And yelling and shouting about it, is only going to frighten
Mike. I think he’s frightened
enough right now, don’t you?”
Jess it’s just. . .
Well I’ve never seen you like this before and it’s just a little
unnerving that’s all. Of course
you’re right. What we have to do
right now is keep calm for Mike’s sake. This
is going to be hard enough on him, on us all for that matter.” He smiled inwardly. Just
give me some warning next time your level headed self is going to pay us a
at that moment, Daisy appeared and said her goodnights and asked them if they
would check one more time on Mike before retiring.
“There hasn’t been a sound from him since he went to bed, and it’s
not like him not to give me at least some kind of a battle about bedtime.”
and Jess assured her they would and with that she disappeared back into the
dimly lit house. The two friends continued to talk, until the sound of a local
neighbour’s shrill howl broke the quiet evening air. Slim stretched the stiffness of the day from his long limbs
and announced it was probably time to hit the sack, since tomorrow was going to
be a very long day for everyone. With
Jess in full agreement, the two headed inside.
locked the front door and went to check on the side door and windows, while Slim
checked in on Mike. Mike’s room
was dimly light by a lamp that they kept burning all night for his peace of
mind. Ever since he had arrived at the ranch, he had been afraid of
sleeping in the dark, so it was agreed that a lamp would be kept lit very low in
his room at night. Eventually, as
they had hoped, Mike’s nightmares and fear of the dark had diminished as he
felt safe and loved in his new home, and the need to keep a lamp burning was
unnecessary. But at the onslaught
of this latest turmoil in the youngster’s life, his nighttime fears had
returned and once again he was fearful and unable to sleep without the lamp’s
the lump snuggled under the blankets, Slim was satisfied that the boy had
finally succumbed to sleep. Extinguishing
the lamp completely, he closed the door quietly on the sleeping child.
asleep?” Jess asked, as Slim
entered the room the two shared.
sat on the edge of his bunk and pulled off his boots.
“Yes, thankfully. And
we’d best get some too, Pard. Tomorrow
is not going to be pleasant, for any of us, but especially Mike.
I just wish there was something we could do, but our hands are tied until
Randall hears back from Boston.”
looked across at his partner as he slipped under the blankets.
Jess was lying atop the blankets still fully clothed, his hands clasped
behind his head, his eyes closed.
asleep, Pard?” Slim asked.
came the quiet deep-throated reply. “Think
I might stay up awhile, Slim. Just
not sleepy.” With that he rose from his bunk and headed towards the door.
“Here, I’ll dim the lamp so you can rest.”
Slim’s concerned face said it all to Jess as he reached down to dim the
lamp that stood on Slim’s nightstand. “Don’t
worry, Pard. I won’t be long. Night.”
* * * * * * *
was in his usual place, seeking solace in the barn with the horses, when he
heard a strange sound. The kitchen door was opening and closing.
He stepped quietly to the small window in the side of the barn and saw…
Mike! The boy had a bundle in his
hand and was wearing his hat and thick winter jacket.
Jess dimmed the lamp and hid in Traveler’s stall to wait.
The equine snorted and nudged at Jess’ shoulder, seeking a treat from
his best friend. Jess stroked the
soft nose and hushed him gently. The
heavy barn door creaked slowly open and Mike stepped into the gloom. He stood for a few moments until his eyes got used to the
dimness and then placing his bundle on the ground by the door, he pushed the
door fully open to illuminate the barn with the moonlight.
watched silently. Doesn’t
want to light the lamp in case he’s seen.
Mike went into the stall of one the older gentler stage line horses.
Robin snorted a greeting to the young boy, who unbeknown by Slim and
Jess, often rode him bareback in the corral.
Mike took hold of the horse’s mane and urged him backwards to stand in
the open floor of the barn. Robin
stood obediently still as Mike took a bridle from the tack peg and put it on the
gentle gelding. There was no way
that Mike could put a saddle on, too heavy and too high.
He picked up his bundle and put the long strap over his head and
shoulder. Mike took the reins and
led his mount to the pile of straw bales that stood in one corner of the barn.
Climbing up he hauled himself onto the horse and settled into a
boy,” the youngster said, gently patting his suddenly unsettled mount.
“I know you know that something is wrong, Jess told me that animals can
be very sensitive to stuff like that. But
I don’t have any choice, Robin. I
don’t want to run away but I have to.”
Robin snorted and Mike urged him gently forward towards the open door.
came a familiar voice from the shadows and suddenly Jess was standing in front
of Robin, his hand resting on the bridle, his fingers gently entwining in the
gelding’s mane in an effort to calm the startled gelding.
and frightened, Mike frantically urged the horse forwards.
Jess held tight to the bridle stopping any forward motion. “Why, Tiger? Why
do you want to run away? You know
Slim and I will do everything we can to keep you here with us.”
go, Jess. Let go!” the youngster
pleaded. “I gotta go, I just
gotta. If I can’t live here then
I don’t want to live anyway.”
looped the reins in his arm and reached up, pulling the hysterical youngster
down. Mike kicked and shouted as he
tried to struggle free from the usually comforting hands.
Jess said, gently holding the squirming child in a loving yet firm grasp.
the squirming stopped and the tears appeared, pouring down the pale sad face.
Mike buried his face in Jess’ shirt and wrapped his small arms about
the trusted shoulders. Jess hushed
him as he held him, finally removing the bundle from Mike’s shoulder and
letting it drop to the ground. All
the time Robin stood quiet and chewed on the bit in his soft mouth, the sound of
metal knocking against his teeth, the only sound to be heard next to the muffled
heard the ruckus, Slim appeared in the doorway, framed by the rays of moonlight,
his rifle at the ready. Lowering it
with relief, he took stock of the situation and wandered towards the barn.
on, Tiger let’s get you back inside where you belong.”
Jess said as Slim stepped forward and picked up Mike’s bundle.
Throwing it over his shoulder, he silently followed his partner and the
still sobbing child back to the house.
was standing in the kitchen doorway as the three approached.
“Oh my goodness, is he all right?” she asked anxiously.
fine, Daisy. Just scared and upset is all.
You go back to bed now, Slim and I’ll see to him.”
Jess said, the partners’ eyes meeting in agreement as Slim walked
Mike’s bundle back into the boy’s room.
stroked the small blond head affectionately and smiled.
“If you’re sure?”
sure, Daisy.” Slim began. “Now
go back to bed before you catch your death.”
get him ready, I’ll heat some milk.” Slim
called after Jess as he began busying himself in the kitchen.
forget the…” Jess began.
know, just like the way you make it, with something sweet added.”
Slim answered, smiling inwardly at his partner’s closely guarded secret
– his sweet tooth.
was quiet now and sitting on the edge of his bunk in a striped nightshirt, as
Slim came into the small room with the mug of frothy milk.
Jess was crouched before the boy talking to him gently.
Mike, why’d you try to runaway like that?
You know Slim and I….” He
stopped speaking and looked up as Slim came into earshot.
Jess took the warm mug from Slim’s hand and handed it to the small
slumped figure before him. Mike
shook his head and pushed the mug away. Jess
lowered his head and Slim could feel the despair fill the room.
sat next to the mournful child. “Mike,
we know you’re frightened but we’ll always be here for you, you know that
don’t you?” Mike leaned against the tower of strength and closed his
know, Slim,” he sniffed. “But
how can you be there, if, if I’m in Ca…..”
Unable to continue, he buried his face in Slim’s side, this time making
no sound as the tears trickled silently down his cheeks
to control his own emotional turmoil, Jess slung the mug against the wall and
strode from the room, slamming the front door behind him.
Mike pleaded as he pulled away from Slim. “Jess!” he cried again, this time almost jumping from the
bunk to run into the front room. Pulling
the front door open he raced thoughtlessly into the cool night wind.
He yelled again, as he saw the shadowy figure stop and turn in the middle of the
windswept yard. Only wearing his
house shoes, Mike suddenly stumbled in the darkness but strong hands pulled him
to his feet and into a safe haven before he even touched the ground.
sorry, Jess. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you mad, honest I
didn’t.” Mike said, pleading
had turned up the lamp in the front room and was standing quietly on the porch
watching, as two of the most important people in his life dealt with life’s
harshness and cruelty.
wind gusted again and Jess sheltered the ineptly dressed youngster and quickly
ran for the porch and the warmth of the house.
they were all safely inside again, Jess tousled his and the young boy’s hair
creating a small dust cloud, making them both cough.
Then came their familiar laughs, as they began to choke slightly.
Came a soft exclamation as Daisy appeared from her room.
“Jess, Mike, what on earth?” She
hushed as Slim winked at her from behind the dust-covered pair.
Aunt Daisy, it’s my fault. I’ll
clean it up, promise.” Mike’s
way, young man you’re going to bed. I’ll….”
clean it up. Now to bed, all of you.”
handsome smiles beamed at her, though two were rather silly looking, being grimy
and rather dishevelled. And as each
hugged her small frame and disappeared into Mike’s room, to settle him for the
night, she couldn’t help but notice the sparkling blue eyes and the very
apparent clean streaks that donned a certain pair of rugged dust covered cheeks;
and her heart ached for her boys.
They need each other for so many reasons.
And she hurried off in search of her broom.
wind was still kicking up its heels as the rented surrey pulled up into the
yard. A young man, a boy really
though older than Mike, jumped down and assisted the elegantly dressed woman to
alight. Holding a small lace kerchief to her nose and mouth with one
hand and her hat of feathers with the other, she seemed to float onto the porch
where Daisy greeted her in a manner slightly less warm than she gave to others.
morning, Mrs. Gilbert won’t you come inside.
The boys are just finishing up breakfast.
I’m afraid we’re a little late this morning, but Mike is just about
three entered the house and Daisy shut the door behind them, leaving the wind
and dust devils outside.
is my ward, Joshua,” she announced nonchalantly, as uninvited she sat in
was sitting at the breakfast table finishing his coffee and stiffly yet politely
acknowledged the introduction with a quick nod in the boy’s direction.
and Mike appeared from the kitchen.
Jess’ chair! And you’re meant to take off your hat in the house,” Mike
snapped sharply and strode purposefully towards the taller boy.
Jess quickly stepped forward and placed gentle yet restraining hands on
down, Tiger.” He said soothingly. “Let’s
go get your things,” and he steered him towards the bedroom and closed the
Gilbert said nothing but smiled a sweet sickly smile in Slim’s direction.
Daisy watched in horror. The woman is actually flirting with him, the nerve.
man, your hat if you please,” Daisy ordered quietly and offered the female
intruder coffee. The intruder
declined and a much-relieved Daisy finished clearing the table of the breakfast
silence in the small room was deafening until a few moments later, Mike shuffled
into the room behind Jess, a small carpetbag in his hand.
you’re ready.” The intruder
rose from the chair and once more floated to the door, where she waited.
Joshua made a purposeful point of jamming his hat back onto his head and
then stepped forward and opened the door. The
small group stepped outside into the gusty morning and Jess dropped Mike’s bag
into the back of the surrey and lifted the youngster onto the back seat.
Joshua helped Mrs. Gilbert into the front seat and seated himself next to
do I hav…”
you do, Tiger.” Jess said calmly and patted the anguished boy’s knee.
only for a couple of days and then you’ll be back home.”
Slim added, as he stood close behind his partner, his hand resting on
flicked the horses into motion and the surrey pulled out of the yard and headed
up the hill towards town. All the
while Mike looking mournfully back to his beloved refuge and those with whom he
felt akin and safe.
two men watched the surrey until it was but a mere dot on the distant horizon.
It was the noise of the door slamming shut that brought the partners back
to reality. They shuffled their way
back inside, only to find Daisy seated in Jess’ rocker sewing buttons on one
of Mike’s shirts while muttering to herself.
know how he manages to lose so many buttons, and the holes in his pants.
Have to patch them again, I suppose.”
continued to mutter oblivious to Jess and Slim’s presence.
The partners looked at one another concern filling their faces.
This wasn’t the stalwart woman they knew and loved.
alright, Daisy?” Jess asked as they stood beside her.
mean look at these pants, Jess. What
on earth does that boy get up to, to get them in this state?
There’ll be more patch than pant soon.” She grumbled.
Jess looked at Slim, who nodded and a fathom of unspoken words of understanding
passed between the two partners. Jess headed to the kitchen, while Slim sat down
on the hearth almost in front of the relentless rocking chair.
Daisy, stop this.” He finally
subdued the fluid motion of the chair by placing a strong hand on each arm.
With the stillness came realization, and Daisy hid her face in the
mending and wept.
leaned forward and wrapped his arms about her.
“Jess!” he called urgently to hasten his partner.
Slim.” Jess appeared from the
kitchen with a glass that he was filling from the bottle that they kept for such
medicinal purposes. Placing the bottle on the mantel, Jess sat on the hearth on
the other side of the chair.
Daisy, drink this, it’ll help,” he coaxed, softly stroking the shuddering
shoulders. He looked anxiously at Slim who released his comforting arms
and took the glass from Jess’ fingers, purposefully placing it on Daisy’s
lips and tipping some of the strong liquid past them.
coughed and spluttered but Slim urged her to drink again.
The golden liquid burned her throat as it trickled down and she coughed
again. But it had already done its
most important work, the tears now subsiding as Daisy came once more to her
partners settled back onto the hearth sitting before her, Slim handing Jess the
now half empty glass. They sat in
silence as Daisy regained her self-control.
Slim placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder and squeezed it
affectionately, his smile reassuring.
maybe, we could all use some coffee, Pard.”
got to his feet. “I’ll make it,” announced Daisy firmly as she rose, to
meet the towering figure before her. Jess’
concern was evident as he exchanged glances with Slim.
Daisy patted him gently on the forearm. “I’m
fine, dear, really. Now you two
boys get yourselves outside. Stage
will be through soon.”
smiled and walked to her refuge – the kitchen.
* * * * * * *
an ill wind that blows no good.”
that, Pard?” Jess asked, as he
hung up the harness he’d been working on and joined his partner at the barn
something that Jonesy used to say.” He
kicked the dusty floor. “You
finished with that harness?” He
continued, changing the subject.
The past two
days had dragged by, with everyone in the Sherman household just going through
the motions of living. Slim smiled
feebly as Jess rested his arm across Slim’s shoulders.
done.” Jess said, as he stared
out into the windswept yard. “Wish
this darn wind would drop. I took a
look at the herd this morning when I was riding fence and it sure has unsettled
shoulders slumped. Just what I need, another problem.
Why do things always happen all at once?
Pard.” Jess’ reassuring squeeze
and the sound of the supper announcement clanging its way through the air
brought him back from his gloomy thoughts.
was all he could manage, as the partners headed for the house.
much recovered and had tried to regain and maintain the household’s lively
atmosphere. Jess, too, had tried to
look on the bright side of things, knowing that Mike would only benefit from
what Mrs. Gilbert could give him. A
good school and that meant a good education, which in turn would see Mike to a
more profitable future than just ranching.
Though ranching was a good life, and one that suited Jess just fine.
But Jess only wanted what was best for Mike and if Mrs. Gilbert could
give it to him, then so be it. He
also knew that no matter what he thought, she would obviously do her best to
give Mike a loving home. She was
the closest thing to his own natural kin after all, how could she not? It was
these kinds of thoughts that had given him some measure of comfort; though he
had to admit the past couple of days had been long and empty without Mike’s
cheery smile and endless prattle.
eaten in relative silence, though Jess did his best to liven things up by
accidentally upending the sugar shaker. He
and Daisy were busy cleaning up the floor when….
quiet, why does it have to be so damn quiet?”
Daisy looked at one another, their mirrored expressions filled with sadness.
Slim was taking Mike’s absence particularly hard.
Daisy to her feet. “Won’t be
that way much longer, Mike’ll be back tomorrow.”
Daisy said, as she set the now empty shaker on the meal table.
Came a sharp retort. “Mike’ll
be home tomorrow, Daisy.” Slim
shoved his chair back from the table and headed for the bedroom.
“Night.” He deadpanned
before closing the door.
his partner’s retreating back, the knot in his stomach suddenly returning.
He wished he knew of some way to make this easier for Slim.
After all, he’d been through this before when he lost his family back
in Texas. This was new ground for
his partner. Andy going off to
school was the closest he’d ever come to it and of course Andy always came
home for school holidays.
worry, Daisy, he’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.” Jess said, as he turned to assist with the dishes.
“No, Dear. I can manage this. You go on. I think Slim could use his best friend about now, don’t you?”
thinking of others . . . You sure,
sure, now go along with you,” she said, shooing him with her apron.
ex-gunslinger knew when he was beaten and wishing her a goodnight, kissed her
affectionately on the cheek and followed in his partner’s footsteps.
All the while
he was away in town, Mike had thought of nothing else but getting back to the
ranch. The drive into town had been
horrible. What with the wind
blowing the dust in all directions making his eyes burn, and Mrs. Gilbert’s
constant complaining about how everything in the west was dusty and dirty, and
everyone was so uncivilized. On top of that, she insisted that Joshua was
driving into every chuckhole on purpose.
silently in the back of the surrey longing for the next two days to go by
quickly so he could go home and be away from this awful woman.
in the back of the surrey when they finally arrived at the hotel.
“Hurry along now, Michael.” Mrs.
Gilbert snapped as Joshua helped her from the rig.
“Come along, bring your bag before I choke on this wretched dust.”
Never in his
entire lifetime could he remember anyone ever calling him Michael.
Mike dragged his carpetbag onto his lap and then struggled his way onto
the boardwalk. It was quite a way
down from the rig for his short legs. Usually
Jess or Slim would help him, but they weren’t there.
He silently gulped back the tears he felt so near and jumped to the
boardwalk only to end up in a heap with his carpetbag on top of him.
out a howl of laughter. “Can’t
even stay on your feet can you, Shrimp?”
“I’m not a shrimp,” Mike yelled back.
Shrimp, Shrimp,” jeered the other youngster.
would have lashed out at anyone making fun or teasing him in such a fashion, but
suddenly he felt small and very alone. He
pulled his hat firmly on his head and lowered his eyes as he felt the tears
close again. Slim, Jess. Mike thought as he followed
the intruder into the hotel.
evening he sat in the hotel dining room miserable and uncomfortable. He had been
made to change into his Sunday best. “We
always dress for dinner,” was the reason he had been given.
Though he thought he was dressed, he had his best school jeans on and a
clean shirt that Daisy had made him wear that day.
usually his most favorite meal, because he got to share it with Slim and Jess.
He listened to them talking about the ranch and their work; nothing he
liked better than to listen to them talk about the ranch.
And then they would turn their attention to him, and let him tell them
about school and what he had done that day.
Daisy was always there, too, chatting merrily.
Yes, supper sure was lively at home.
straight, Michael, a gentleman never slouches.” The remark was terse, and Joshua also got one but about his
eating with his mouth open. The
intruder ate daintily with her fork and continued complaining that the menu was
so lacking in variety and wait until they were back at home in San Francisco.
She had a wonderful chef who cooked foods from every continent.
his food around the plate and listened. What
on earth was a con…con…well what she said?
All he wanted was a piece of Daisy’s pie that he knew she had baked
that morning. Apple
you insist on being so sullen, then maybe a good night’s sleep will put you in
a better frame of mind for tomorrow.” The
Gilbert, as Mike had come to think of her now, remarked harshly and told him to
leave the table and go to bed.
Though he was
hungry, he pushed back his chair and shoving his hands deep into his pockets,
something that Daisy would have swiftly scolded him for, he slouched out of the
dining room. Anything to get away from here.
morning at breakfast was no different, except he ate greedily, and was fiercely
scolded for his ill-mannered behavior. He
wiped his mouth on his sleeve, something he would never have done at home, and
glared at her as he shoved his chair back and began to leave the table.
pray tell, do you think you are going, Michael?
We have errands to do this morning, starting with trying to find you
something decent to wear in this backwater.
Though I doubt if we’ll find anything, considering there is only one
store I can see that carries clothing of any kind.”
I’m going to school.” Mike
snapped back angrily.
know very well that Mr. Harper and Mr. Sherman obtained permission for you to be
excused today because you were spending time here with me.
We have to get to know each other better, before the long trip back to
your new home.”
at the chair sending it skidding across the dining room floor as regular morning
breakfast patrons looked on sadly at the little boy’s distress.
want to live with you. I’ve got a
home with Slim and Jess and Aunt Daisy, and if you try and make me
go……I’ll…..I’ll…..run away so you can’t ever find me.
And then I’ll die from starvation and you’ll be sorry
you…..you…..you, Gilbert woman you!”
At that, Mike ran from the room and disappeared into the street.
shifted in her seat uncomfortably and dabbed at her mouth.
“Children,” she remarked with a smile to the onlookers.
“Finish your breakfast, Joshua.”
until he thought his lungs would bust and then dropped exhausted under a tall
shady elm. He rolled onto his back
and looked up through the branches as the sunlight filtered through, embracing
him with its friendliness and warmth. And
he cried. He cried ‘til he
thought he would die from the sobbing and the ache he felt in his chest; finally
covering his face with his arms. “Jess,
Slim.” He sobbed repeatedly.
awoke, Mike noted that it must be well past noon, according to the height of the
sun in the sky. Sitting up, he
looked around to get a bearing on his whereabouts.
He figured he must be about a couple of miles from town, somewhere on the
Cheyenne road most likely. Getting
to his feet, he brushed himself off and taking a deep breath, began on the road
to his new life. A life without the
family he loved and missed so much. But
he couldn’t stay. That old
circuit Judge was not going to let him stay, not since The Gilbert turned up to
claim him as her long lost kin. No,
there was nothing for it but to strike out on his own.
Ride the ‘Big Open’ like he had heard Jess and Slim talk about so
many times, Jess especially. After
all, if Jess could do it, then so could he.
Mike shoved his hands into his pockets and strode out purposefully
towards Cheyenne. Good thing he had
remembered to bring along the little money he had stashed away over the past few
months. He had been saving it to
buy a present for his family, when they had officially become one.
But that dream wasn’t to be, and he had more dire need of it now.
He reckoned he had just about enough, well almost enough to buy a mount
and some gear. Then he would be all
set to strike out West and continue the journey he and his real family had began
many years ago.
began to fade, and he grew more tired and
lonelier with each step that took him away from his…family.
particularly hungry, as he’d eaten a good breakfast. But as suppertime fast approached, his stomach began to
remind him of the late hour of the day. Ignoring
it, he began to think about where to sleep that night.
He had his jacket, but knew the night would be chilly and he had no
blanket or bedroll. He also knew
that this was just the beginning and the next few days would be hard, but he
would bear them.
dusk fell, he heard the cry of the nighthawks and the chirping of the
chickadees. He was thirsty and
wondered when he would ever make the stream he thought was nearby.
Mike hoped he’d find it before dark.
He walked on, wondering if The Gilbert was frantic at his disappearance.
Serve her right.
heard the soft trickling of water and hurrying on, found his goal.
After drinking deeply, he felt refreshed and more hopeful.
Now all he wanted was to sleep. He
found a large tree with protruding roots; this could be quite cozy and sheltered
too. Finding some nearby ferns and
leaves, he lined a makeshift bed, heaping extra layers to form a pillow.
Slim and Jess had taught him lots of things when they had taken him out
on hunting and fishing trips and he knew that knowledge would serve him well in
the days to come. When he was
satisfied with his work, Mike crawled onto the fresh smelling greenery and
covering himself as best he could with is jacket and more leaves, fell into a
a blinding flash and the thunderous clap shook the tree and Mike woke, screaming
with terror. Thunder terrified him
and still being half asleep he wondered why it was that Jess hadn’t come into
his room and taken him into his and Slim’s bedroom. Another thunderous roar and Mike remembered where he was.
As the rain began to fall, he slithered further into the tree roots until
he was safely in the dry. Mike
watched as the rain fell, and covered his ears to try and block out the
terrifying noise. But he knew he had to be brave.
This was not going to be the only night he would be on the trail during a
storm. Wrapping his jacket firmly
around him, he closed his eyes and did as Jess usually advised him during a
storm. He thought of the nicest
thing he could. Fishing at the stream.
Once more sleep enveloped him, as the cry of the nighthawk echoed through the treetops and a nearby coyote’s shrill lament floated on the wind. His adventure in the Big Open had well and truly begun.
AWAY?” The partners exclaimed in
swooned, Slim barely catching her before she fell.
Swiftly he lifted her in his arms and strode into the house, settling her
on the leather couch. Sitting next
to her, he carefully loosened her collar. Jess
hurried to the kitchen; returning with a glass and the bottle kept for such
emergencies. He uncorked the bottle
and poured a small amount of the strong golden liquid into the glass, handing it
to his partner and returning the cork to the bottle before setting it on the
mantel. Slim held the glass under
Daisy’s nose, which twitched in response to the pungent fumes that wafted up
her nostrils; then Slim dribbled a few drops onto her lips.
Licking them instinctively, she coughed and her eyes flew open.
“MIKE!” she gasped
Daisy, take it easy,” Slim urged as he handed the glass to Jess, who set it
next to the bottle and then knelt down before the couch.
what are we going to do?” Daisy
cried anxiously as tears began o fall freely down her cheeks, her eyes wide with
Jess laid a
comforting hand on her shoulder. “There,
there, Daisy, we’ll find him, he can’t be far seeing he’s a foot.”
was seated at the small meal table, Joshua standing next to her.
Mort Corey had ridden out with them, along with the judge who had arrived
in town just that morning. The
judge had been anxious to see how things were progressing, but the situation he
found was not at all to his liking. He’d
had an uneasy feeling every since he had left Laramie and had cut his circuit
short to enable him to check on the situation.
The judge had
sat on the bench for some twenty years and felt he was more than a better judge
of character than some. It had
pleased him immensely, the way Mike had settled down after the tragedy that had
robbed him of his family at such a young age.
And it was all due to these two young men who had taken him in.
There was a special bond in this house, one he had not seen in all his
years on the bench, a bond that he didn’t want to see broken.
And now, just as the family was about to come into fruition, this lady
comes forward to claim the child. He
hadn’t wanted to admit it, not even to himself, but he was finding this whole
matter more than a little disturbing. Now
there was this new turn of events. No,
he was not happy with the situation at all.
across at Mort. “So what have you
done about finding him, Mort? And
why on earth didn’t you come straight out here and tell us. Good grief, Mort it’s been almost two days.”
Slim’s voice was unusually distraught, his eyes searching the
lawman’s face for an answer.
know very well I would have come right out here if I’d known the situation.
This is probably the first place I would have looked for the boy.”
He looked at the woman seated at the table, his eyes darkening with each
passing moment he was in her presence. “But
I only found out this morning. Seems
the matter wasn’t thought of as that urgent” He said curtly, their eyes
meeting briefly until she hastily looked away.
Slim stood to
his feet. “Precisely!”
He barked and strode to where the intruder sat unmoved by the state of
events. “What have you to say for
yourself, why didn’t you inform Mort as soon as you knew Mike had run away?”
shifted awkwardly in her seat as she felt the full fury of Slim’s usually
controlled temper burning its way through her.
“I didn’t see any reason to. I
naturally thought he had just come back here.
It was the Judge who insisted we come all the way out here; he thought
Mike would be here too. Obviously
we were both wrong. Seems he’s
run away from you too.”
Mike would never do that. He’s
happy here. Well, he was until you stuck your prissy little nose where it
Daisy exclaimed, horrified at his uncharacteristic outburst.
Pard.” Jess soothed, as he
stepped behind his partner and placed a calming hand on Slim’s shoulder;
alarmed at finding it strangely tight and knotted.
This was the other side of Slim Sherman, the one he usually guarded so
well and kept in check. Jess had
only seen it once before, just before they became partners, and it worried him
that Slim would let his guard down so openly.
care how much money you have or whether you’re related to Mike or not.
As far as I’m concerned, this is his home and we’re his family and
that’s the way it’s going to be, if it takes my last dollar.”
Slim whirled on Jess, shoving his hand aside as he stormed from the room.
“Lady, I’m going to saddle the horses and
when I come back I want to find you gone and don’t come back!”
The last statement thrown over Slim’s
shoulder as he exited, the door slamming behind
Daisy was on
her feet and standing next to a stunned Jess, her hysteria a thing of the past
as her maternal instinct took over. Her
boys needed her.
head back to town Mrs. Gilbert. Mr.
Sherman and Mr. Harper will handle things now.
Will you be staying too Sheriff?”
The judge asked as he rose to his feet and picked up his hat.
I’ll do everything in my power to help, Jess.
If you want my help, that is?” Mort
Corey asked cautiously. In all the
years he had known Slim, he had known of his temper, Slim being much like his
father, whom Mort had been a close friend to.
But this was the first time he had actually seen it first hand, and he
was unsure whether he would be welcome.
warmly. “Of course we do, Mort.
Slim’ll be okay once he’s on the trail.
I’ll go saddle you a fresh mount and put your horse up in the barn.”
He turned to Daisy and gave her a reassuring squeeze and a wink, then
grabbed his hat and went the way of his partner.
Pausing in the doorway he turned and looked at the Judge.
“For what its worth, Judge, Slim is right. We’re Mike’s family now, no matter what anyone says, even
the law.” His eyes affixed on
Mrs. Gilbert. Then he again looked
reassuringly at Daisy. “Don’t
worry, we’ll find him and bring him home, Daisy.”
And with that he jammed his hat on his head and was gone.
already saddled and tied to the corral fence, along with a fresh mount.
Inwardly Jess smiled. Slim
must have known Mort would travel with them.
Jess walked Mort’s mount towards the barn and into a free stall.
Unsaddling the overheated animal he called out to Slim.
“I’ll just rub down Mort’s horse and saddle that fresh mount.
If I know Daisy, she’s putting up some food for us and will probably
add a couple of blankets and medical stuff.
Anything else you think we might need, Slim?”
Silence filled the air.
Jess saw the
horse settled and lifting the saddle over one arm moved to Alamo’s stall where
he found his partner leaning up again the big chestnut’s flank.
“You okay, Pard?” When Slim didn’t reply, Jess dropped the saddle at his feet
and stepped over it towards his partner. “Slim?”
he said quietly, placing his hand on the broad shoulder.
knew what was happening, Slim whirled round and hit him squarely on the jaw,
knocking him backwards. Tripping
over the saddle, Jess landed in a cloud of dust with a resounding thud.
Jess’ hand flew to his throbbing jaw and he felt a warm trickle ooze
from his cut lip and tasted the all too familiar taste of blood.
Slim stood over him, his eyes flashing in anger, fists at the ready.
Jess looked up speechless at his partner’s reaction, and then watched
as the anger turned to pain and Slim turned quickly away and began hitting his
fist relentlessly on the rough boards of the barn wall.
His voice evidencing his sorrow for what he had just done.
A large firm
hand covered the now bloodied hateful instrument, stopping the relentless
beating it was getting. “Easy,
Slim, easy.” Jess said trying to
calm the troubled soul. “It’s okay.”
He continued, as he took the bloody hand and wrapped his bandana round
the freshly skinned knuckles, in an effort to stem the flow of blood.
quietly, though was still breathing hard, his eyes lowered in shame.
“Jess…..I don’t……I,” he stammered incoherently.
it’s okay, it’s not the first time you’ve decked me and it probably
won’t be the last. Best you got
it out of your system now.” Jess
squeezed the broad shoulder and patted his partner on the back.
“Feel better?” he asked.
his eyes, and Jess couldn’t believe his eyes.
He saw the held back threads of tears . . . actual tears.
it was me tending to Mort’s horse, or else I might have had to bail you outta
jail before we could start our search for this young rascal.”
He smiled trying to lighten the mood.
He patted Slim on the back again. “You
ready, Pard?” Slim nodded and taking hold of Alamo’s bridle, gathered up
his jangled nerves and followed his partner into the yard.
Mort were waiting on the porch, Mort stepping off to help Jess saddle the new
mount that had been caught up for him. Daisy
walked across the yard, handing Jess the large bundle of food she had put up for
them. She looked across at Slim’s
sullen figure, noting the bandana-wrapped hand and looked quizzically at Jess.
He shook his head while smiling reassuringly, indicating she shouldn’t
say anything. She understood completely and stepped back as the threesome
forward and touched her hand. “Don’t
worry, Daisy we’ll find him.”
To Chapter 9
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