FIRST SOME STORY NOTES:
This story starts up after the aftermath of the twister in the episode of “DEATH WIND”. Well now, we just “got” to do more with that situation that Jess went through, more than JUST have him save the day for everyone at the end of that episode! (Jess is the only one that doesn’t make it into the storm cellar!). So, I use it here as a memory trigger that joins more episodes of Jess Harper’s life from other Laramie episodes listed below, with needed fill-ins to join it all smoothly and still make it believable. (Also figured something must have taught him to be brave and set his face to get through all those bullet wounds in “LARAMIE” without complaining, he must have had a firm foundation having to bear-up somewhere along the line.)
All these events in this story are connected to the twister, civil war, or the army, eventually leading Jess to someday realize he may have to deal with one memory in particular that he chose to “rake so deep” that he would never have to deal with it again. Seems it’s the one thing he never told Slim. AND … by the way that Slim speaks to Jess about this situation, we can correctly reach that conclusion, also knowing that Jess has already come to a point in his life where he can and has, freely shared his life's past with Slim. And most likely about everything else that is of importance.
This memory is finally dealt with in the episode of “THE REPLACEMENT”, which is mentioned in the epilogue of this story, along with some more follow ups for Jess’ life that would continue after this story, as well.
FOR THIS STORY I USED THINGS MENTIONED IN:
CIRCLE OF FIRE
FOR THIS STORY I USED THINGS MENTIONED AS BEING PART OF JESS HARPER LIFE. THINGS THAT HE HAS MENTIONED AS BEING IN HIS PAST, SO WE DO KNOW THEY EXIST AND CAN BE MENTIONED IN THIS STORY… but REMEMBER THAT THESE EP’S HAVE NOT BEEN UNFOLDED YET. THEY COME AFTER “DEATH WIND” in the series of episodes:
MEN OF DEFIANCE (HIS FAMILY)
RIMROCK (SMELL OF NARCOTICS FROM A HOSPITAL)
BITTER GLORY (HIS SGT. BILLY)
MEN IN SHADOWS (GUN SHOT OUT OF HIS HAND)
THE REPLACEMENT (HIS UNIT BEING CAPTURED…ETC.)
THESE ARE NOT IN THE STORY, BUT ARE JUST FOR YOUR INFORMATION AND HELP TO KNOW MORE ABOUT JESS FOR THE STORY:
THE MAN OF GOD (JESS’ COMMENT ABOUT THE ARMY)
THE PASS (JESS’ BEHAVIOR WITH THE ARMY AS A SCOUT)
WOLF CUB (JESS PERSONAL CONVICTIONS VERSES ARMY)
AMONG THE MISSING (JESS’ ATTITUDE AND COMMENTS OF THE WAR)
WAR HERO (JESS’ COMMENTS OF THE WAR)
THE LAST BATTLEGROUND (JESS’ PERSONAL ATTITUDE VERSES ARMY’S)
*not war/army related: NO SECOND CHANCE (JESS’ FONDNESS FOR NEWFOUND PHRASES)
GLORY ROAD (JESS’ USE OF A COMMON PHRASE)
LICENSE TO KILL (JESS’ USE OF THE SAME COMMON PHRASE)
PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT JESS BELIEVES HIS SISTER FRANCIE IS DEAD, BECAUSE OF THE “FUGITIVE ROAD” EPISODE … AS THE “SHADOW OF THE PAST” EPISODE HAS NOT YET OCCURRED.
ALSO, LAST NOTE…ALL OF MY STORIES ARE LARAMIE PUZZLE STORIES:
SO, I USE MY OWN STORY-VERSION (IN: ROARING FIRES AND ACHING BONES AND ASHES LONG SINCE GONE) AS TO THE “THIRD” HARPER SAVED FROM THE FAMILY FIRE, HERE IN THIS STORY, AND USE IT IN ALL MY OTHERS AS WELL. (*There may be an episode, that mentions more about who that person was, but I have not seen it.)
AND I USE MY OWN STORY- VERSION (IN: I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD…TWICE) AS TO WHY THERE APPEARS TO BE “TWO CONFLICTING FRANCIES IN LARAMIE EPISODES, AS JESS’ SISTER, BUT WHEN IN REALTY THERE IS ONLY ONE. OTHERWISE NONE OF MY STORIES WOULD CONNECT TO LARAMIE CORRECTLY. THANK YOU. HAVE FUN!
HERE IS THE STORY:
(Dedicated to Barb…as I had not planned to do another story…AGAIN…BUT yet, she knew how to get one! Along with two treats in it, just for her, think she’ll know what they are.)
“SOME THINGS, A MAN DON'T WANT TO FACE ... 'TIL THEY HIT HIM FROM BEHIND…”
---A STEP BACK IN TIME---
Jonesy stepped back and admired the fine job that Slim had done on the porch. The post felt firm and solid as he gripped them and gave them a hard nudge. He took a breath of the evening air. It was hard to believe there had been such turmoil earlier that morning just before noon. As the twister had barely touched down and then veered off in another direction, the house and barn were still left standing. The livestock was, for the most part, still alive and well in the nearby hills. Slim had since gathered the horses and sent the stage on its way, with what was left of the odd assortments of passengers.
It was now near sunset and the evening was calm and lovely. The tiny hint of approaching darkness hid the mess of the yard and the last rays of the visible previously hidden sun was just highlighting the porch as Jonesy continued to admire it. It also highlighted Slim’s face, which at the moment had an odd look of concern … for a man that had just done such a fine job.
“Slim, what’s wrong…you didn’t hurt yourself did you?” Jonesy approached with serious concerns.
“No, it’s Jess!” Slim was quickly off the porch and approaching Jess’ side, behind Jonesy, as Jess was lowering himself to the dirt with an outstretched hand to stop his descent. His other hand was on his head. By the time Jonesy turned, he saw Slim helping Jess up, Jess seemed to be the one with the odd look of concern on his face now.
“What’s wrong here now! Seems I must be at fault as to not taking better care of you, Jess. I thought you had a nasty bruise and lump on your forehead … why it looks like a bull eye, clear as clear can be. I was a complete fool to believe what you said, as to you being just fine and all.”
Jonesy knew to keep an eye on Jess. After he put two and two together … he figured out that from Jess’ last memory of being face to face with the barn door and not knowing why or what happened next, that he must have been hit in the head by it, face on. Jess had been unconscious as the twister passed through and had no knowledge of the severity of the whole situation, and Jonesy was worried there could have been some concussion damage. The problem was, they were all so engrossed in Slim setting the porch up, Jess included, that they all forgot to watch out for any warning signs that Jess may have some bad after effects from that incident.
He had been sitting down a spell when Slim went looking for horses for the stage, but with the passengers, some now prisoners for the laws sake, and getting everyone ready to leave … somehow Jess’ condition was overlooked. He seemed to be floating through it all just fine, Jonesy had thought then … but now, ‘floating’ did more recently seem to be the right word and in a much more truer sense.
Jess opened his mouth up with his best face-saving talk he could do. “I said I was just fine, Jonesy, now would I lie to you? I’m just dizzy or something, I don’t know…maybe I was just daydreaming or something and tripped over my feet …or something. Did Slim get back with the horses yet?”
“Jess, that’s Slim holding you up there, boy…here now, let me take a look, you don’t get dizzy by tripping over your feet, now let me see,” he said as he neared the two men. “Hmm, your eyes don’t look too good, not real bad though, but still … not too good.”
Jess slowly closed his eyes with a sick feeling in his stomach, he leaned his face into Jonesy’s hands with a sigh, slipping towards the ground as Slim got a firmer grip on him.
“Well, that’s good then…Slim found some horses for the stage…now, I need to sit down somewheres Jonesy. And right here suits me just fine… I ain’t feeling so good… sure is no wonder now with you all crowding me here, blocking out the sun and all …”
Jonesy looked at Slim and shook his head as he said to Jess, “You best come in and lay down, you shouldn’t have been running around like this. Sure don’t know whose the bigger fool here, you or me.”
“Or just maybe, it’s me,” Slim said, with regret. “I should have just put the stage off ‘til tomorrow, but I just had my fill of all this nonsense that’s been going on …with nothing being what it’s supposed to be, ever since that twister came with in range. Seemed like it was finally time for that whole parlor game to end, and when that twister took off, I just figured ‘the players’ might just as soon go along with it.”
“Well how about you getting the door for us three fools, Andy…seems we need a man around here to look after us.” Jonesy called out to Andy, who was already on his way to oblige them.
As they took Jess to the room through front door, they passed the table where Jonesy spied a bowl of water and a wet rag.
“Well, now boy…seems you knew you were having some trouble and you didn’t confess-up. I’d ask what the heck’s wrong with you, except I’d have too many answers to pick from now.” Jonesy just shook his head in disgust.
Slim rode off for the doc, just in case, and Jonesy sure wasn’t going to object to a second opinion at this point. It would be nightfall before he got back. Jonesy and Andy sat down by Jess, who by now, had confessed to having a very bad headache and was feeling mighty sick inside as well. Jonesy sent Andy to make some cold rags and bring them for Jess.
“Is he alright Jonesy?” Andy asked as he peeked in.
“I’m still in the land of the living, Andy. Just as long as I don’t stand up, I reckon I’m okay…ain’t I, doc Jonesy?” Jess said with a grin.
“This is no joking matter Jess…now then, Andy, go start up some cold supper to go with these here cold rags. You and me could all be using some nourishment …sooner the better.”
Jonesy looked down at Jess as he lay there with the rags on his head, and said, “we can make all the jokes we like, AFTER we find ourselves in the clear, and NOT BEFORE, that’s what my ma always said…and she always knew best. Why, I remember a time when…”
“You just had to set loose ol’ Slim for the doc, didn’t you Jonesy … now I’ll be looking at four walls for sure.” Jess writhed in the bed a bit, more from disgust, but deep inside he had to admit, the ache in his head sure ran a close second to the disgust.
Dad-gummed barn door sure laid me flat…well, at least the barn was saved, he thought...dad-gummed barn door, sure bit the dust, taking me along with it...but just for a bit...dad-gummed barn door…
“Jess, can you hear me?”
“What? … What’s going on…” Jess looked up at the doc. “Where’s Jonesy?”
“Well, what’s everyone staring at?” Jess was wondering, but his brain seemed to wandering, and he couldn’t quite fetch it back. Seemed like he was talking to Andy and Jonesy and the barn door got in the way and now he was the center of attention … and just a mite uncomfortable.
“You’ve been giving us a bit of a scare, Pard.” Slim answered. “Seems you been in and out of reality all night and talking about that sorry barn door as if it jilted you at the altar…think you can forgive it?” Slim smiled down at him, with a gentle laugh.
“Aw Slim, quit messing with me.” As Jess looked around and saw the sunlight through the window, he moved to sit up a bit on the pillows. “Say…have I really been out all night?”
“Yes, you have and it’s a good thing Slim came for me, Jess. The way I hear it, you’d be up running around again if I wasn’t here to stop you. Now, looks like this head injury was the
start of something serious but you’re pulling through just fine now. I don’t want you up yet, and that’s as serious as Mort’s orders when he’s fixing to make room in his jail for an
offender…do you understand me Jess?” The doc sat back and watched him, for any form of a protest.
“Yeah.” Jess replied with a wry smile… “I reckon I do Doc…seems you’re fixin’ on having Mort arrest me for unlawfully walking the streets with a headache... or walking the streets while having a public headache unlawfully…”
“Oh, Jess … I sure don’t think the doc really meant he’d have Mort arrest you,” Andy jumped in with concern. “He’s just being serious, because...”
“I know, Andy...” Jess said with a smile, “I’m just trying to be a public nuisance, shut up in this private room right now and all. Seems like otherwise, I just won’t be having much fun for a bit.”
“Why, say, I’ll keep you company Jess.” Andy quipped, “why we can talk about all sorts of stuff!”
“Seems your forgetting about the mess this place is in Andy,” Slim laughed a bit. “By the time we get it set back in shape, why, Jess will be back in the saddle…course…we could go in to town, as they need some helpers there mighty bad and are calling out for all hands. If we do that, why then we’d still have work here to do when we come back and ol’ Jess will be well enough to do it with us. Then we’ll all have a right nice time talking about all sorts of stuff! What do you say?”
“Sure sounds like an adventure to me Slim, that is if Jess don’t mind…well, Jess?” Andy looked a bit flustered for a moment and longingly looked for Jess’ approval. He felt a bit of a
traitor though, for jumping off in mid-stream, but just as the words were out of his mouth he knew he was free to turn course.
“Sure, Andy…never turn town an adventure to go in to town, I always say.” Jess looked up at the doc and Slim and said, “So now, is this my reward for staying in bed…a heap of yard
work to owe up to? Just when I was thinking I’d try and be a good boy for you all. Dad-gummed barn door…is all I got to say…now get out of here and let me get to resting up and
facing that debt your leaving me with.”
After the worried group felt the warmth of good cheer from Jess and the assurance of the doc, Andy and Slim set about to getting ready as the doc left. Jonesy left Jess’ side last, with the assurance that he’d be back after a spell to have some of that “talking about all sorts of stuff”…after he cooked and fed the soon to be ‘in-towners’.
Seems that the ‘just a bit’ kept taking longer and longer and with a quick sneak peek, Jonesy saw Jess was sleeping. Just, as well, Jonesy thought, boys with banged up heads need a few hours of pillow pounding. He knew he had his hands full with the stage due, and a few other chores, he set to it.
Now finished, Jonesy took in a pot of hot coffee, along with some cups and laid it on the nightstand which had set up near the bed the other night, and left. On his return, he was greeted
by a pair of heavy and half-closed eyes, peering from the pillows.
“I smelled the coffee.” Jess said, as he lay there without moving and watched Jonesy. “Didn’t know I was feeling so poorly that I’d fall asleep…seems like a pot of coffee to wake up to
sure makes a man feel good inside, even if it ain’t morning. Just what time is it now?” Jess said, wondering a bit as he began to rise up some and take note of the window light.
“Near abouts supper time, seems I finally have time to pay you a visit. Worked out for the best …you see, Doc was right. You needed to get some healing done on that thick head of
yours. Here …thought you might like some soup and biscuits, if you’re up to it. Doc said, eat light first. If it sets right with you … why, you know I can pull more tricks out my hat with
just a holler.”
Realizing he was feeling a bit nauseous in the pit of his stomach he said, “Thanks Jonesy, mostly for the company though…don’t really feel like eating for some reason.” Jess stretched
back into the pillows and listened to the stillness. His thoughts moved on to the twisters passing. “Sure looked like a war-zone out there didn’t it Jonesy?”
“War-zone minus the casualties. I myself still have some bad recollections myself … yes sir, I myself sure do…I truly do.” Jonesy said, as he lowered himself onto the stool that was set
near the nightstand and Jess’ bed. “Of twisters like this, AND, of the war.”
Jonesy had been taking care of the stage and just sent it on its way for the second time that day, this one going in the opposite direction than the morning one and he was really over due
to sit down. He was ready to camp here a spell and Jess’ bedside suited him just fine now. All this stage work, plus the earlier cooking, set his mind to thinking and remembering what Slim had promised and what he had said about a man named Ben.
“You know a man named Ben, Jess … Slim said he came back here to Laramie about a month ago? Well, Slim said he’s going to send him over here to help with the stage while he and
Andy are in town … seems Ben is a great ranch hand from way back, lost his wife and family though during the war. He’s been working his way back to his roots here ever since, little by little. Since coming back, lots of folks that knew him and his pa from trail drives have been letting him stay on here and there, as long as he likes. He’s staying at a friend of Mose’s just
out of town a bit…should be along anytime now…well…have you run into him?”
“Could be, Jonesy, seems I seen a new face last time I was in town for supplies with Slim…also seems Mose was pointing him out for some reason. Didn’t hear what was said, as I was
across the street at the time. A bit old for a ranch hand, I would think, but later I heard Slim speaking highly of him in the saloon. Seems he actually heard someone in the supply store bragging on the great job that ol’ Ben did. Said he didn’t look like much, but was full of determination and right on track…sounded more like he was talking about the south-bound train to me, though,” Jess said with a quiet smile. He continued, as he looked up at Jonesy with a hint of sorrow. “So he lost his wife and family in the war, huh? Seems that war still haunts many a
“Say, Jess…you being a drifter and all…just how and what got you into that war. Most drifters rode as far in the opposite directions as they could just to tear any roots loose from what
still might be clinging to any north or southland soils they had once claimed. Did you have family left behind that began to haunt your conscience…after that experience we had with
Bud Carlin, I learned first hand that you got one, when you went to help Slim.”
The word haunt hit Jess a bit unexpected and hard and he turned his gaze from the casual fun of visiting with Jonesy, to a heavy sullen stare of the floorboards. “My family haunts me Jonesy, but not in the way you’re meaning…and as to the war…I had my reasons for staying OUT of the war, as I had business to attend to, PERSONAL BUISNESS. Oh, it was connected to the war all right, in the form of raiders…but this gang started before the war, and they continued raiding helpless homesteaders and sharecroppers, all along the war torn areas as well. So being a man of conscience as you said, I did find reason to finally get into the war eventually. I had left Francie behind when I was drifting, left her with some that knew our kinfolk, farther out in the Panhandle. There was a few old no-good Harpers that were spread out there also, but they never cared for none but themselves. As I told Slim back when we were trailing Gil, there were lots of us Harpers then and I left her with them, but they’re all gone now. Was too young to think straight, to set her right before I left, as I had thoughts only for Bani-.” Jess pulled his reins in tight as he bit down hard on his last word. “ As you know now Jonesy, she later had been trusting that Gil, back before he showed his true colors. Seems he was just as bad a
soldier for the gray then, as the blue recently…and we all learned he was just as rotten at being a husband. Well, Francie and I had a brother still alive out there in Texas…”
Jess stopped, as he remembered that last night he ever saw him…he was looking down at Jess and Francie. Jess had just come out of the burning house with Francie and laid her near
a tree, near by where Johnny had just stood up. Jess was just starting to get up to run back to the house and could see Johnny standing, he was now silhouetted in front of the burning house. As his brother Johnny had already gotten sick with the knowledge that he had only saved himself, in pain and bitterness he looked down at them, and he took off into the night. Jess had no time to get the ‘well, ain’t you gonna’ help me Johnny!’ out of his throat, as he now saw the house was already burnt to the ground.
“Are you alright, Jess?”
“Huh…? Oh…yeah… Francie and I had a brother still alive out there in Texas, and after some of my very important business leads fell through, so to speak…and I freed my self up from
some other troubles here and there and… ” Jess smiled wryly at Jonesy as he continued with a confession, “You see, I was a bit of a ‘cultivator’ and could plant crops of trouble in any ol’ dried up dirt bed, when it seemed nothing else would grow … why, I cultivated them just fine. Too fine, at times, I reckon…seemed I could get my self in a heap of trouble.”
“Yeah, sure as the sun comes up in the morning, I saw your cultivating tool strapped on all right, that first time you rode up looking for that Pete Morgan. So you freed yourself up from
other troubles here and there, and then what…you got into the war looking for your lost brother, am I right?”
Jonesy watched Jess stretch out a bit in the bed and kicking the covers some, seeking some comfort in the blankets. As he watched he then reminisced a bit on their first meeting, with
smile, as he thought of this stray critter Jess Harper, that Andy had befriended. “Here have some coffee, Jess.”
Jess turned and reached over to the table, “Thanks Jonesy. Yeah, I heard tell from my travels that someone had spotted Johnny joining up to go fight, but didn’t even know if he was still alive though, or where he was. At that point I realized I just couldn’t let him disappear again without setting him straight, that is, as to the fact that I didn’t want to loose him as my
brother. You see Jonesy, he may have had reason to think I blamed him for something…something …well…” Jess looked over at Jonesy with a sad far-away look haunting his face, “something you don’t need to be a asking me about right now Jonesy…if you know what I mean.” Jess took a deep swallow of his coffee, and warmed his hands on it. It was just warm enough to drink and not too hot. Just like his communication with Jonesy.
“Sure Jess, oddly enough, I purely understand.” Jonesy reached for the coffee, “think I’ll have some of this brew myself.” Seeing as I understand the pot this is all being poured from,
he thought to himself.
“Jonesy, I went off looking for my brother, and all I found was fields full of sorrow and misery. Some time in January ’64 I joined up as a Confederate scout and volunteered to ride
dispatches too. Just so happened I heard of a group of men in Arkansas heading for Alabama. Heard from some Texans headed into Arkansas way, so I went along with them. We joined up in Arkansas and later headed south. Funny thing too, Jonesy, they had family out there somewhere too. Guess we made a pretty good match-up. One was just a young kid, at that. By
the time we were readied- out and sent out to join up with the real fighting though, it was mid spring. We had a mighty bad winter getting into the heart of it all there. It was basically that
we were just such a small poor unit joined along side with some real soldiers. We just fought it out as best we could with them, and saw some really bad confrontations in our neck of the woods, though we heard there was lots worse going down farther east with thousands of more men than we had.” Jess shook his head as he remembered the night stories of gleaned
gossip for other troops. He just couldn’t imagine what could be worse, AT THAT TIME. Bu t now, after what he had been through, he could pretty much guess and he shuck loose of it
hard and fast as he bit down tight with his jaw and continued.
“Well, as I said …with our share of battles, we got through the spring and summer and on into fall, ALIVE to say the least, and then … well … for us … sure don’t mean to slight anyone Jonesy, now … but then for us … all hell broke loose one day. It was right towards the end of the war when we got ambushed, beginning of Dec. ‘64, and I ended up in a field hospital
before I knew the full devastation of that war. By the time I was getting hauled out of the field hospital and hauled back to the fighting, only half ready to fight as it was, I had only near finished my first week or so back, back with the unit of men I knew … and …” He paused but quickly moved on. “And … well … our patrol we were leading one day, was captured, seems the enemy just appeared out of trees, more soldiers than I ever seen in my life. That’s when I got my full taste of it all …” Jess stopped cold and his face was flooded with anger, as the tide
had quickly turned. He had said more than he had intended and couldn’t take it back. He halfway slammed the coffee cup down on the nightstand as he harshly said, “War’s over Jonesy, has been for some time now you know it and I know it. Some of its best not mentioning…once dead and buried, it sure don’t belong raked up. We all came out of hell’s terrain, and hoped
to find some peaceful grazing land somewheres so we could plant a new crop of sunrises.”
Jess calmed a bit as he got a foothold against the onslaught of his emotions and said in a frank friendly manner, “Guess scouting and dispatching were good for me. After the war I had something to offer the blue later on, as they needed my skills for their Indian troubles, so signed on for a bit. Sure can’t take too much of the army, Jonesy, sure ain’t in my bones. My new Sergeant Billy was right happy with me though; there in the Union Army… it kept me out of trouble, well, some anyways. But as you know, Gil had a hard time with the Union Army hating his Confederate soldier-days. They wouldn’t let him forget how they felt about the southerners. Seems I learned that as well, not with Billy though, it was something we ran into later on my
last job for him.”
“Rightly so,” Jonesy agreed. “I remember Gil pleading with us about his troubles. I’m sorry you had to learn the hard way about him, yes sir, and what he did to Francie. I truly am. And
I’m sorry about you loosing your brother too Jess. Why just maybe you ending up in that field hospital is what kept you alive, by keeping you from a worse battle latter to come.”
“I don’t doubt that for one bit, judging by stories I heard later” Jess replied thoughtfully, and it kept me alive alright… right there and then, because of one of the doctors there that I’ll
never forget, but it took me a bit to fully realize it.”
“Why even your patrol getting capt-…” Jonesy had just felt he sipped from the wrong cup, as his words came to a halt. There was stillness in the air, and both men were aware that it had grown a bit dark, in more ways that just the soon-setting sun.
“You ain’t fixing on going into the raking business while Slim’s in town, now are ya’ Jonesy?” Jess’ words seemed to hang in the air like a bit of cool evening fog.
Jonesy knew just how to cut this fog though, and with his special remedy for dispelling the pain of wounds, he answered Jess. “Now boy, you know me better than that…why, we just
took a step back in time together, with a good pot of coffee, for to set a spell. We didn’t sign up for any historical diggings. Say now, just how did you end up in that field hospital…
sure bet you didn’t know I used to help out in one too, in my days…didn’t have access to all my medical ingredients then, sure was a shame too.” He slowly shook his head. “Best I
could do was to hold a few hands and pray.”
Jess noticed that his faithful companion of the last few hours was now lost in his own forlorn world. Looks like we could use a fresh pot of coffee, as this ones gotten a bit stale, Jess
“And PRAY I did,” Jonesy smiled “I do declare, Jess, the most amazing things happened, they surely did.” Jonesy stretched out his arms and shoulders and looked at the rejected biscuits and soup. “Think I’ll get us a fresh pot of coffee, and just maybe you can tell me an amazing story yourself, as to how your life was saved…and of course, how you didn’t realize it at first.”
Well, I’ll be, thought Jess…looks like a fresh pot manifesting before my eyes, one of Jonesy’s hat tricks no doubt and I didn’t have to give a holler…I think I owe him a fresh story, too, since I don’t see a rake in sight. Jess lay back and soaked in the comfort of the pillows and thought of the comfort of his friend. Now it was his turn to remember how they first met. As
he drifted off to sleep, somehow the step back in time didn’t hurt as bad anymore. He would tell Jonesy about how he ended up in the field hospital, but it would be with morning’s fresh- brewed coffee.
---“FAST AND SMOOTH AND ON THE MOVE”---
Jess woke up hungry and looked over at the nightstand…the biscuits and soup were gone and so was the coffee. He wasn’t sure if he woke up from a knock on the front door, or because he was so hungry. He hadn’t eaten the day of the twister, neither had Slim, although Jonesy and Andy had, and later some of the odd assortments of guest had. He hadn’t eaten the day he woke up from the after effects of a bad concussion either, although he had coffee with Jonesy, he just wasn’t up to eating. He had just finished his first day of bed rest and wasn’t fondly wanting to face another and was seriously thinking it was about time he get up, SO being hungry SURE must be a good sign. He hadn’t eaten for two days though and was admittedly a
bit weak. So who’s going to stop me? Slim? Doc? Well now, Doc did make some serious threats, and Jonesy seemed quite prepared to back them up, hmm…possibly some trouble
here. But when is he coming back to set me free of this load of covers anyways, thought Jess.
He started to get up and was startled at how dizzy he was and caught himself before he fell. Now that’s just great, thought Jess. “Dad-gum it” he muttered as he socked the bed a good
one, with a frown, and followed up with one last thought on the matter, sure hate it when I’m wrong.
As Jess began to lean back and contemplate his next plan, his attention focused to the doorway. Jonesy came into the room with the same meal from the day before, as Jess eyed him
and the meal with a steady gaze. “So now its stale hard biscuits and cold soup for the prisoner today, huh Jonesy…looks like the longer I’m locked up the worse things get.”
“Now boy, didn’t your ma ever teach you not to pout?” Jonesy added with a smile, “aw, stop your grumbling Jess, it’s made fresh…except for the soup, but it’s flavored up more and nice
and warm…same as the biscuits, now eat up, before you find yourself weak and dizzy.” Jonesy sat on the stool near the bed again, “you sure can’t expect to get out of bed that way, now
“I’m not sure I can expect to anyway, with you there, now can I Jonesy?” Jess smirked at him, “besides…I already tried. I figure I should be ready by tomorrow for sure, I reckon I just
need to eat is all. Hey now, did I hear someone at the door just a bit ago, or was it my imagination?” Jess took the plate as Jonesy handed it over to him and he leaned back on the pillows
with it. After rearranging it all a bit, he fixed up a right nice table of blankets and enjoyed every bite of his ‘prison fare’.
“I’ll get the coffee and we’ll set a spell, seeing as I got me some help now…that was Ben arriving he’ll be getting ready for the stage.”
“Say, Ben saw Mose last night, he said to tell us that Doc will be by tomorrow. Slim and Andy got their list of chores, seems everyone in town has some kind of list to work on too.
” Jonesy poured the coffee at the nightstand, and stretched out a bit…”seems like my chores are cut in half, sure do appreciate Slim sending Ben along.”
“Well, Jonesy…not that I like piling up chores for myself…but seeing as painting these walls with my eyes over and over ain’t changing the scenery none, I reckon I could use some kind
of a chore right about now, seeing as I cleaned up this plate. Say, why don’t you bring me my gun that’s put up in the chimney, time I took care of it a bit again.”
Jonesy took up the meal dishes and came back with the gun, and he and Jess enjoyed the morning sun as it streamed in the window in the form of a narrow to medium sized line. Small
dust particles were slightly visible in the stream of light and as Jess held up his gun looking through the site, he chanced on noticing it, and thought a bit. He remembered when as a kid
he first noticed that, and how his ma explained it was God’s way of showing us how the angels dance. ‘We just can’t see them, until the heavens are lit up with HIS glory…just like we
don’t see that fine dust, until the sun lights it up’, she had said. He remembered how whenever he noticed this small wonder, he’d sneak up on her with a hug from behind, and say
‘throw a look, ma, your angels are dancing again!”
“You know Jonesy, there was a time I didn’t think I’d ever see them angels dance again.” Jess said thoughtfully as he lowered his face, as well as his gun, and proceeded to rub the gun
with a soft cloth.
“What angels you talking about Jess?” Jonesy took a look towards what Jess’ gaze had formerly been drawn to.
“Is that what your ma told you? My ma told me that was the good Lord lighting up all our mistakes, so’s we could fix them each day…and we better get to work on it before nightfall, or
it’d be too late ... as it’s not to our best, if we let them pile up. Just like getting ready for judgement day, she said ... get rid of the mistakes today, or get judged tomorrow. She sure got
me to wanting to live clean each day, all right … smart woman, my ma. Specially seeing as I lived this long now, just think what a big dust cloud I could have hanging in that sunlight
there now, if I never listened to my ma.” Jonesy smiled, as he thought on it, and watched the dust in the stream of light, “angels dancing…sounds right nice, Jess…you’re m-…”
“You were getting ready to ask if I’m mighty thirsty for some more coffee, right Jonesy?”
“Mighty slick on the draw Jess…mighty slick… fast and smooth and on the move, I’ll say… ” Bit off target this time though … and moving right on to the next, Jonesy thought, as
he was tempted to add on to his words. But he knew this was a target not to be shot at, not now, and maybe not ever. Bet your ma was a right nice lady, Jess, Jonesy thought to himself, as he poured Jess another cup of coffee, and took a deep slow swallow of his own.
“Now,” Jonesy eased up a bit closer and eyed Jess in a prodding way, “what made you figure you’d seen the last of those dancing angels?”
Remembering their talk from the other night, about the yard looking as a war-zone, Jess worked on the inner mechanism of his gun and slowly open his own inner mechanism as well,
ready to allow some polishing on the barrel of his past in order to shoot time with a new and trusted friend.
“Well, Jonesy…before I got into the war…that’s just what I was…fast and smooth and on the move. But as I said, I had business to attend to and no one was going to stop me. I found
out right from the start I needed a gun for that business, and I sure better know how to use it. Seeing as I figured it was better to be too fast than too slow, I made that my first priority…trouble is …trouble’s there before you’re ready for … and I soon found my self in trouble. Oh, I got out of it each time, and I learned to be more and more on guard, and I got faster and smoother … but cause of it, I needed to keep moving. The drift was the only way to keep the kind of past I was building from catching up with me.”
Jess dared to delve back a bit deeper. “Once, as a kid, Johnny and me were helping out pa’s boss man during target practice with his various collection. He’d like to take pot shots at this
new fangled windmill they just had set up, seems they were starting to pop around the panhandle and such. Well, Johnny was fetching a gun, he had dropped and it went off and made
a near graze along the top of my arm. Well, that was the first time I was ever close to being shot Jonesy, it just a minor graze, though a bit bloody and needless to say, I was a bit shocked.
It was so unexpected and the blood came so fast, sure burned as close to hell-fire as I could imagine. I decided there and then, that I was aiming to never be shot again if I could help it. Funny … the things you decide as a kid. Well, little did I know that one-day in the near future, that same thought would match up along with my other personal business I would soon be taking up. A business I neither expected or wanted, a business I would need to pack an iron for. Just a young green kid, and I was soon to have some man sized decision-making going
Jess stopped rubbing his gun, and flipped it back into place, and rolled the barrel a bit. “I shot men, Jonesy …first, with other guns, and later with this one. Was still young and green
though, but building a name for myself, unintentionally, although my big mouth sure helped me a lot. But my goal was and still is a man I’ll never forget or let loose of until my business matter if done. In the meantime, I was nearly shot for the first time in my life, could have been shot dead from a man named Dixie Howard…one of those things my big mouth got me into. Would have put a halt to my business plans too, but he just shot my gun out of my hand. Didn’t do me much damage, just barely grazed me, nothing that wouldn’t be fixed with in a
weeks time…sure did knock some sense into me. Sense enough to respect the man and ride with him and learn to shut up a bit, but not sense enough to quite toying with that fine line between wanted posters … along with jail warnings …and … the freedom to face the local law with a drink and a smile.”
“Nice to know that you quit toying with that fine line now, feels good, don’t it son.” Jonesy preached.
“Moving on … fast and smooth and on the move, didn’t help me this time, Jonesy. It was just after I was into the war and heard Johnny had been dead for near two years already. Rumors from some enlisted Texans we later met up with that were mixed with another unit …but I was in now and trying to make the best of it for the men in our unit, sure just couldn’t leave them, Jonesy,” Jess said with sorrow. “Didn’t get much of a chance to do any good though, as just barely a year in and didn’t even fight for almost near that first half, marching all over
moving towards our goal, marching in our sleep even, it seemed. By the time we did start seeing the real fighting, by then we were ambushed somewhere near the southern part of Alabama. Guess the area where we were fighting was near on the way to Mobile, least wise I think it was as we were making tracks that a way… never really had much chance to think on it,
everything just started to blow up in our faces. I never knew what hit me. First there were explosions all around us, our horses were rearing with fright, and we were getting hit with
shrapnel pieces and getting shot at. My horse was shot out from under me, as I was shot up as well, and went down right along with it. Lay there for the longest time in agony, heard my friends dying, couldn’t figure what happened at first. That is, until I reached over and felt my warm blood leaking out all over the place, and me laying on the bitter cold ground. Now I
knew for sure what it was like to get shot, Jonesy. I had seen my bullets hit many a man in the past, but now I was hit. Say now though, I always had remorse, Jonesy, never shot a man
that wasn’t gunning for me…and this time too, I had remorse. OH, I had lots of remorse all right. I had remorse that I was bleeding to bad to help my self or anyone, and it was my fault
the others were dying, as I was the one that scouted us along …right into the ambush. Don’t know why, but it got awful dark awful fast and I was too confused to know where I was or
what was happening anymore. I woke up in a field hospital, laying in the midst of dying men, some of which were maybe even my own friends that I had failed to keep safe. I couldn’t
see, and didn’t know why. I thought I was in hell, Jonesy. All I heard was dying men, and I realized I was one of the ones moaning just as loud, ‘til I passed out again.” Jess holstered his gun, and looked at Jonesy, “fast and smooth, and on the move, as any of us that lived through the war knows…it sure don’t save a man. That job belongs to SOMEONE else, right
“You know Jess, I worked with dying men in my time, during the war and in trail drives. Ain’t no fun for dying men when their lives are hanging in the balance and they don’t know which way they will be swinging, or how soon they’ll be feeling the scales tilt ‘til there’s nothing left. Sometimes you got to tell a man and sometimes you just don’t know if you should.” Jonesy looked over at Jess as he remembered his own views of war’s hell. “Go on with your story son.”
“As I lay there, hearing men die, I’d come in and out of my senses. Quite a few times I heard someone come up and say I was dead…and they had already checked me out…and for them to get me out off the way. It felt like I was in a dream, as my thoughts weren’t quite right. I was too helpless to respond, but I could feel them move me aside somewhere, then I could feel
someone else moving me again…seemed to go on forever as did my hurting and passing out. Then finally someone came up to me and was checking me better. He started wrapping me up around my wounds, first pulling out whatever was stuffed there to stop the blood, and yelled out that I wasn’t dead yet and he could save me … and that I shouldn’t be laying here with these men. I couldn’t think straight, but there was a few things I knew now, I was alive, I couldn’t see, and I was in burning pain and too weak to move or talk and someone was now trying to save me. I kept trying to grab at my wounds then to make the pain go away, and someone I couldn’t see kept pulling at me to stop, before I knew it he was smothering me with something
awful and I fell into a deep heavy darkness. When I woke up I was still hurting mighty bad and couldn’t see, but I heard this man talking to me. He said he was a doc here in the field
hospital and he was taking care of me, and as they were too full up, he usually got the dying men. I was the first live patient he had for months and he was in such deep despair he was
near ready to start thinking about killing himself Jonesy. If it wasn’t for me being there that day, he was near ready to do it. He was a fine doc, he said, from out in Boston. He got
tricked into helping out somewhere and they dragged him along farther and farther each move. He had to leave his pregnant wife and home back in Boston. Here he was given the dead
to sort through and the dying, on the rare chance that he may find a man in a hundred that would live. He had the skill and knowledge to know who would and what to do, and the
army, well they needed every man they could save. Trouble was he never got to see any success, or at least hadn’t in those few months. Now don’t that beat all Jonesy…first time
I get shot up, and who’s waiting for me…the best in the business…now don’t that beat all Jonesy? The fastest, smoothest doc in the place, on the move, for me, Jess Harper.”
Jess wrapped up the gun with tender care and said softly, “here Jonesy, you can put this up for me now… Yeah, my first time shot up, sure didn’t like it none, not one bit Jonesy, but
I knew that doc, whoever he was, took some tender care with me. Both with getting them bullets out, and repairing the damage. Got shrapnel out too and wrapped me up just fine. Kept
close to my side as much as he could and when he couldn’t he sent someone to watch me, just so’s I’d know I was going to be okay. Seems I like about lost track nearly of where I was,
as they found ways to quiet us down that took all our senses away as well. It became really eerie and quiet there Jonesy, like we were in another world. We were all so numbed-up most
the time later on… from whiskey, narcotics and whatnot, that by the time we finally knew what happened to us, we were near likely to forget … ‘til it wore off and we started all over again. Like a trail-drive death’s fog, there was only the low sounding soft moans, drifting in around and about us. We seemed to be like a lost herd of sorrowful cattle, trying to settle ourselves with a few soft calls in the night.”
“Was it cause you thought you were dying Jess, or was it cause you couldn’t see… about the dancing angels, remember? You thought you’d never see them dancing angels… sure see
you had plenty of cause to think that way. I noticed you said that, a few times now anyway, how is it you couldn’t see?” Jonesy asked as he looked over where the stream of sunlight
had been. It was now only a softly lit window and the stream was gone…there was no more tiny dust particles left to be seen. It was as if they were never there…just a warm friendly lit window, nothing wondrously floating about. It was still and quiet.
“Jonesy… I was shot … three times. Sure don’t advise anyone to meet their first bullet the way I did, a single is bad enough. Once in the shoulder-chest area, just missing most of my
lung, but still ripping me up some inside …also got hit on the side of my hip near the bone. That doc kept me really still, so’s I couldn’t move around much, something about nerves and muscle or tendons or something, he kept saying. Pained me really bad, thought I wasn’t going to walk again, but he kept assuring me he’d make me well. These new rifles did a lot of
damage, as you know, but they were hitting us from a far off grove of trees, so I was luckier than most. I lost so much blood though, that’s why they thought I was dead, plus most chest wounds I was later told, were mortal wounds and even most of the wounds a bit similar to my hip wound, as well. This field hospital was so full up, they never checked just where in my
chest I was bleeding from, as they had other more useful men to tend to, I was just passed over as a lost cause. But the more serious reason they thought I was dead was all the blood
on my head and the side of my face. It wasn’t near as bad as it looked, but no one knew how to tell that. I got the third shot on the side of the head near my eye, not a full hit. Had
shrapnel there too, as it was from blowing up in our faces, all around the horses. The doc bandaged my face up and my eyes, but he kept assuring me I was just fine. Trouble was
Jonesy, I just didn’t know who to believe any more…they kept saying I was dead, when I wasn’t…and then said I was dying, sure felt it was a toss up though. But then, as I was still
laying there still breathing, the coin must have flipped in my favor somewhere … near as I could tell.”
Jess looked up at the ceiling and thought back to the dim light of the makeshift tent of the field hospital. He had only seen it during the end of his healing, when he had been moved on
over to another tent to see it he was fit for fighting or needed to stay laid up. That was a drab dreary day and his hip ached with each step he fought to take, here was his first view of
all the men he had heard around him the last three weeks during the time he couldn’t see. Most were all men that had run out of luck or were on final flip of the coin.
Jess then shook his head and muttered as he felt the comfort of this room that was now his as well as Slim’s. “One thing a ma never thinks to do, is to tell her kids not to end up gambling
in a field hospital Jonesy. They warn you about gambling in saloons and all, guess they just never figured on that bloody war.”
“Now, wha-…” Jess floundered a moment as he caught his place, returning to sounds and sights that had been unseen at a point in time, by his eyes. “Oh…yeah… Seems someone must have painted a target on my left side that day. Three hits on me, there … and someone took home the prize. Well, I truly needed to recover and I was a mess and I knew that much. So
how did I know if it was true that I’d be walking again, or seeing again…all I knew is that everyone else was dying, so how would it be any different for me. Many of them getting arms
and legs cut off, so I heard later, as I lay there. They weren’t going to bother cutting off my leg since the wound was back along the hip bone, as if I became one of the unfortunates with infection spreading, as nearly most were, I would have died from it no matter if they cut the whole leg of or not. Looking back now, this doc sure knew his stuff Jonesy. But when I was a laying there and first conscious to my surrounding, I had no trust in anything I heard, only in the death I smelled. Maybe this doc didn’t really even know I was going be just fine
someday, maybe he was just saying it to make himself feel better cause he couldn’t save me. Or dad-gum, maybe he was just trying to even make me feel better, I just sure didn’t know,
but I was really bad off Jonesy and I knew it with every breath I took.”
Jess stretched back into the bed and unkinked his shoulder and neck. It felt really good to lay there as he thought of the story he had unfolded to Jonesy. He was for the first time
thankful in a much deeper way for what an unknown face, an unknown Boston doctor, had done for him. How the heck this ‘Doc-Boston’ got to be loyal to the south and working on southern soldiers sure was a mystery to him though. He stretched his legs out, looking up at the ceiling.
Jess looked over at Jonesy, seems he’s looking for me to hand him some crumbs off my cake or something, Jess thought, guess I left him hanging a bit. As Jess started to continue on
with his story, he and Jonesy opened they’re mouths at the same time. All they got for their trouble was two jumbled sentences and some good laughs as they sounded a bit like two
singers that missed the mark.
“Well now go on … just to make sure you make sense this time, I’ll shut up. So … you didn’t think you’d ever see them angels dancing again.” Jonesy said, as he backtracked a bit.
“ I could hear over that first three weeks, that some of the soldiers were scared because they were dying and they knew it. Some couldn’t see and knew they never would again. Some couldn’t move, others had lost arms and legs… hell, some were moaning so strange and quiet, I don’t think they knew a dad-blamed blasted thing! And me… I couldn’t see a dad-blamed thing for myself! I was really GETTING RAMMED-UP into the walls of that boxed canyon Jonesy, and NO WAY OUT. All I could do was lay there helpless in the dark and hear it
all …and smell it all. Men dying, and that awful smell of medicines… narcotics. This doc was really high quality, Jonesy, he never let me get hooked on it, seems he knew something
about keeping infections at bay as well.”
Jess looked over at the softly lit window and then over at his carefully wrapped gun as Jonesy had gathered it near, ready to take it to the other room in due time. Soon it’d be hidden away again…in its special resting spot, hidden in the fitted rough rocks that formed the chimney which put forth warmth and friendly flickers of light many a time in their home. There it stayed, known only to those in this inner circle of Jess’ life, surrounded by walls of trust.
“Don’t know when it was, or how long it took for me to start coming around better, but I do remember shreds of it … bits and pieces. You know, Jonesy, like rips on a good shirt, ya’ can’t for the life of you place all the details as to them rips, but you remember it happening just the same and all them awful ripping noises that go with it all. Well …
Seems I kept rambling desperately to the doc one night, out of my head, I was. I knew I would never see the dancing angels again, he was holding my hand and praying, helping me get through a high fever. I must have really been in a bad way, as I kept after him with such distress … as to the way he told me of it later. I was telling him it was my only way of remembering
my ma’s face. Yeah, at first I was so out my head, didn’t really know what I was saying, then a day or so later as I came around to my senses, he kept promising me that I would see again
and I remembered his voice…will never forget it. I also remember he was missing most all of the little finger of his left hand. I never knew who he was Jonesy. As when they unwrapped my head, during my struggle to see and get used to the light, I kept asking for him … but he wasn’t there, seemed he was no where to be found. And then as they started helping me move around, there were so many wounded pouring in that they just herded us up and moved us away to the ‘dismissing tent’ to wait a bit more. They said I had been laid up three weeks
already, and seems I had about another month to go, as they were afraid of me ripping up my wounds and bleeding inside. To tell the truth Jonesy, it seems there wasn’t much left of me,
after that mess.” Jess marveled as he thought back to how well he had finally healed up. Good ol’ Doc-Boston…he smirked a bit…I salute you, with high honors … wherever you are.
Jess stared hard and long at Jonesy. So hard and so long, that at first Jonesy was near to feeling a chill, and looked to the window to see if the weather had dramatically changed!
“Well sure enough, I could see again, but my joy was soon overshadowed with what I saw. I tell you Jonesy, it near made me sick. I wasn’t prepared for it at all.” A deep sadness seemed
to start at Jess’ head and slowly lower itself down as a soft fog cloud descending. It seemed to have over whelmed him with its sorrowful presence. “It was just before Christmas Eve
Jonesy … and then a few days later … I even saw … those dancing angels. I reckon I learned a lot laying there in the dark for three weeks all shot up… I reckon I learned a lot.” The
silence hung in the air as Jess remembered the day the bandages were removed, and reflected on the dust particles that followed days later ... all because of a rip in the tent, the dancing
angels came. The stillness was almost too strong for Jonesy, and he near felt he was floating, as part of it, when ... Jess reacted.
Quickly though, the joy short lived as it was, that Jess Harper had felt that day … APPEARED NOW, as he remembered that victory in the dim light long since gone and the face-weary attendant that he was looking at with seeing eyes. It now brightened his face with intense gratefulness. A sparkle sprang up in his face, as Jess said, “But honest, don’t get me wrong Jonesy, after those forlorn weeks of darkness and wondering what was going to become of a crippled-up blind Harper…. Why, I was as thankful as a pup in a kid’s lap with a face to lick!”
“I sure don’t doubt that Jess, sure don’t at all! A grateful heart does a man good, amen. An honest heart too. And seeing as we’re on the subject of dismissing, as well…seems I should
be dismissing some guilt, from years back. Bet you didn’t know that I worked out helping in one of those ‘dismissing tents’ Jess, but for the north, and you may not know it to look at me now, but I could be mighty ornery back then …yes sir… It was pure hatred between me and those officers … dragging them kids off to war, kids that were near half dead just weeks before. They threatened to shoot me more than once, I was sure a mean one then, Jess.” Jonesy dropped his head, and then respectfully looked up, as if gazing through the ceiling itself. “God above, forgive me. I sent many an officer on a wild goose chase just to stall for time as I moved men away from them and their orders, was just trying to help them kids in anyway I
could.” Jonesy said sadly, as his voice trailed off.
“Yeah, I barely moved up a notch from that first filthy hole, as they dumped me for a bit in the next tent. The buzzards were circling all right, those officers were constantly in and out.
They were showing no mercy and pushing us hard to get us back into the fighting. Spent a month or so in that tent, more of less, who knows, like I said, I just don’t rightly remember. I couldn’t walk alone yet, as I could barely use my leg and was really weak, but kept making progress… by the time I got back out and was on the move, it was February, I knew that much.
A large group of us were marching out, some of us on horses, made bad time trying to get to my old unit, along with some officers that supposedly knew what they were doing. Was
just back in with them for near one week, near abouts mid March they said, off the record. For the record they just wrote March … and how they made record time. We weren’t
impressed one bit. The war was near over now, but naturally, we didn’t know that … YET. ”
Jess shook his head a bit, with a slight smile, as he thought back, remembering how the men were having to push him up into the saddle of one of the few horses they had left in the unit.
We sure were a sorry sight, us three men. Not tin soldiers even, more like rag-dolls going out to get tossed and tore up again. Come to think of it, the rest of our buddies weren’t
looking so sharp either. Yeah, my mounting-up leg was being mighty rebellious with pain… didn’t take to horse riding or dismounting at that. Sure never knew that the hop I
used to get in the saddle, as they gave me a boost, would lead to a life-long habit, though. Sure does help my hip to this day, who’d have ever thought. Jess shook his head again.
“Jess?” Jonesy questioned.
“Aw nothing, Jonesy…don’t ask…some habits die hard, that’s all …just thought of one I’ve grown fond of, is all. Well, now…In the ‘dismissing tent’ I met up with the only two soldiers
that had lived from that ambush and I near choked up for joy. They were laid up as well, and went back with us, when I was well. One of the men, that kid that I first met up with. Just
a kid if truth be known… only fifteen, he was… but a friend of mine. Well… he really looked up to me…he tried to make me feel better and said it was good that I had split us up into
thirds that day we were hit. As he was in better shape than I was, as we lay on the field, he had heard the rest of our unit come around full force. After our disaster they had a clear view
and a clean sweep, he was sure they wiped them out as he passed out. They must have sent help our way, but by then he didn’t know …
Well there was something we all REALLY knew NOW … we were going back into the war, into part of our own unit again. Like I said, once we met up with my unit I was only back in
for barely a week, and a sorry sight of a soldier at that, and then, that was the end of it all for me…in some ways, that is.” A heavy northern-chilled thought swept down harshly, with
dark bitterness through Jess’ mind, I was trapped in a worse box canyon than the one I just came out of. Jess stopped harshly, sharply, with such a deep furrowed look on his face,
that he gave Jonesy a bit of a shudder. It was then that Jonesy suspected there was more to Jess’ war story …something he wasn’t about to tell …at least not yet, if ever.
“I aim to bake today, now Jess, not to rake” Jonesy said with a shrewd look on his face and undertones all his own, “just in case you had a notion to a wondering…now go ahead on,
Jess pulled his thoughts back in line, “That doc, why he’s like a hidden piece of my life, stashed away somewhere. Any time I ever ran into a doc for any reason I looked at their hands,
but never found the man. Once, though…I really thought I found him…sounded just like him, but he was in another room. Never got a look at him. Barely saw him through a doorway
and I called to him. He never looked up and by the time I got there he was gone. He’s hidden away some where, Jonesy…or maybe even dead now.”
Jess looked up into Jonesy’s understanding face, with a pained earnest look of a debt owed, and finished with a slightly faltering voice, “He offered me comfort in that filthy field
hospital, Jonesy. Some kind of light in the darkness, something to warm my heart while others were left with coldness and death, and taken away to mass graves, or piled outside and waiting.”
“Sure looks like you got a bit more personal business to take care of son…some more like the rewarding type business, than, lets say…” Jonesy slowly stood, and tucked Jess’ gun
under his arm, patting it with his other hand as he did so. “…then the previous retribution type, that I suspect the other is more of the nature of.”
As Jonesy started to leave the room, he looked back at a tired Jess. “Seems like we’ve done quite a bit of traveling for today…ol’ Slim sure don’t know what he’s missing out on
here…this is a mighty powerful adventure we’ve just been on Jess…mighty powerful indeed.”
“No need in passing it on to him, Jonesy…Slim and I …well, we get to sitting in the late evenings as you know…and we get to jawing …when the times are set up right, well ol’ Slim,
he gets his own history lessons about Jess Harper. He sure don’t need it coming second hand now, does he? I need to give out only proper doses at a time to those that warrant it.
I’m fast and smooth and on the move…remember…and I know just which targets I want to hit each time…before I move on to the next…right, Jonesy?” Jess said with a wink.
Offering a soft smile back, Jonesy, in his most gentlemanly manner, tipped his hat with utmost respect and followed by a gracious bow, left the room.
--- CENTS AND SCENTS AND SENSE … SIX MILES WORTH---
That evening as Jess ate supper by himself, he could hear Jonesy and Ben sitting in the dining room eating and jawing and having just the best of times. Yep, that Ben sure does sound
like he’ll do right fine anytime he likes to come by and help out. With Jonesy’s love for talking, and Ben’s love for sitting there a bit like a Texas clam, they should do right fine,
alright, Jess thought, as he wolfed his last roasted chicken down into his satisfied rested body.
He sat there a bit and thought of the man who was hurt and had been sleeping in his bed while he and Slim were out getting twister-dusted. Seems that man got some “soldier business”
taken care of with the army. Jess felt good for the man and his wife. They were able to get something from their past cleaned up, all because they had been sent this way, to the Sherman Ranch, by an unseen hand.
This twister sure did twist up a lot of confusion, and after it lit out, it sure did settle a lot of confusion as well, Jess thought. Sure wonder what else it left scattered about these here
parts, sure hope it all gets set back in place just as well. Seems I’m feeling set back in place now, too. With these thoughts, Jess eased himself from the bed, in a bit of an experiment.
All appeared well, so he collected Jonesy’s dishes and proceeded on the kitchen. As he entered the front room, he caught the tail end of Ben’s good night, just as Jonesy was shutting
“Now you give me those, boy, and get back in bed. My chicken is mighty powerful stuff, but I don’t usually work miracles with it.” Jonesy said with a snap, as he freed Jess from the
“Aw Jonesy, you know sure as that sun’s getting ready to set, I don’t need no miracles right about now, what I need is some wide open pastures and the fresh air that goes with it. I’m
fence jumping here now Jonesy, and don’t you try to stop me,” Jess said, as he seated himself at that table, near the fire. “Seems you left me some coffee, too now, now ain’t that right
nice, you must have been expecting me,” Jess said with a big beaming smile.
“Well, so I was…” Jonesy confessed, “but you should have let me do my own doctoring and given me the pleasure of opening the gate, why’d you have to jump it now Jess… I got to do these things right, you know.”
“I won’t tell, Jonesy, if you don’t tell, and the doc will officially free me up tomorrow and be as happy as kid with a kite… now, we want him to have a good run with it, don’t we now?”
Jess kept smiling, as Jonesy poured them both some coffee and set the used dishes on the table and joined Jess.
“Well, I must admit, you look as happy and fit as a frisky pup! Sure could listen to some more yapping, near the firelight here, Jess. That is if I ain’t intruding too much, but I got to
wondering about how you thought you found your ‘mystery-doc’ at that one point in time. Say now, how’d it come to pass…if you got a mind to telling, that is.” Jonesy eyed Jess
with a long slow gaze to see how it all set, as he took a long slow sip of the coffee and waited after the long slow expected silence, for an answer.
“Right after the war Jonesy, I went back to Texas for just a bit, needed to see my roots again, I guess, and Francie for sure. But there was nothing there for me. Well, I was just starting
to drift on to look up my BUISNESS…you know, as I was side tracked a bit with the war and all…then I heard tell that the Union Army was paying for men to scout. Heard tell that this
unit was taking in any southerners just as well. As you know, that’s how Francie’s Gil ended up in the Union Army later. Sure heard stories of hostility from it all though, still to this
day many a man has a hard way from it all.”
Jess shook his head a bit in disgust at the thought of the army and their ways. “Well, I needed some cents and didn’t have much sense at the time… I just figured a good scout was
hard to find and they’d be getting their order filled, so what kind of trouble could I get into offering my scouting skills? I found out the hard way, Jonesy.” Jess smiled soft and quiet.
“You know, Jess Harper here, he knows how to learn all there is about life and right well at that, Jonesy…but …” Jess looked down at his cup, as he twisted it a bit. Then looking back
up and adding a bit sheepishly, “well… don’t let it be running about, but sometimes I ain’t to bright.” Jess said with a quick gulp.
“I’d say we’re all a mite guilty at that sometime or other”, Jonesy said with a deep slow drawl, trying to look real serious. So much so, that he and Jess stared at each other a bit and
starting laughing as Jess near choked on his fast gulp of coffee.
“Well, the first sergeant I ever had was my Sergeant Billy, funny thing too, he was actually my First Sergeant. You see, I signed on for a short spell as his scout in the Union Army a
bit after the war. As to fighting for the Confederate, I never signed into the war officially, I just kind of ‘dropped in’ so to speak, from my looking for Johnny. We were a pretty forlorn
bunch of soldiers, the pack into which I landed, so we never even had a proper ‘Sgt.’. Seems we had quite a few earnest ‘would-be’s’ etc. … Maybe if we would’ve had a really good sergeant, I might not have been scouting into where I lead our….” Jess stopped with a heavy sadness as he remembered the ambush and the dying, “Like I said…sometimes I ain’t too bright.”
Jess turned the chair to face the fireplace and Jonesy did as well. Jess stretched out his legs and leaned his arm along the table a bit and continued on with Jonesy as he unfolded the
story that lead him back to the trail of the “mystery-doc.”
“There was a wagon load of gold that had broken up from some shipment or something, don’t rightly know. They needed a scout into Mescalero country to find it and pack it up, then to continue on to the nearest town with a railroad. Seemed no one wanted the job, as the Army and their ways had made trouble with the Apaches. Judging by the area, there were one or
two possible towns to continue onto after we accomplished our job. Along the way, it became very obvious that I may have good sense as in smelling out the scents of a trail, but my business sense was sorely lacking. This job nearly led to the scent of death for me. Seems there was two too many soldiers in this outfit of Billy’s and they were southern killers to no
end. Billy suspected their hostilities to me a bit late, as he just didn’t have a knack for reading the schemas of people. He sure knew how to do a good soldier’s job though and kept
things from following apart … for awhile that is. After I did my work and found the wagon, we were loading it up and near ready to go … it was night and we wanted to follow with the
moon and get out of there as soon as possible. Didn’t want to be ambushed by any locals, meaning the Apaches, so to speak. That was when the two men, out of the seven of us,
tried to fire up the pot. They said they wouldn’t trust a southerner with Union gold, also said I was along only scouting out this job for myself…to join up later with some old southern
army gang after killing Billy and all them off, so’s we could make off with the gold. Billy beat them back, along with his Corporal, as two other confused soldiers just watched.”
Jess took a deep sigh as he pressed on with heavy Harper history. “Only one other soldier, hated me just as well, but wasn’t about to kill me over it. Seems it was three to three, with me
in the hot spot. I was mad as a hornet and ready to get out of there, but they’d be lost without me, as they didn’t know the lay of the land as to cliffs, box canyons, drop-offs and all. I
wasn’t about to leave the few good men stranded, but I wasn’t about to get thrown into some army prison if they decided to turn me in on some false charge. Didn’t know much about Sergeant Billy at the time and didn’t know what to do…had only myself to trust…sure got myself in a mess this time…for dollars and cents. Just out of the war though and needed a
better gun, it was just too tempting not to go for the work for him.”
Jess looked at the fire as it crackled, “yeah Jonesy, things were getting hot…didn’t die down either, just as I feared…didn’t know ‘til much later, that I had a friend in this mess. Billy
and I talked a bit, just in case something happened. I tried to give him a bit of a guideline to follow, depending on which town he chose later but not enough so he’d get rid of me.
Billy and I separated for a bit as we started to pick up camp. The men must have caused trouble at the horses, as I ran to check they were waiting near some rocks for me and busted me
up really bad. Smashed in most all my ribs and broke my jaw, threw me over down into the rocks hidden from sight, knocked me in the head and left me out cold. Wasn’t ‘til after I was rescued, days later, that Billy filled me in as to what happened.”
“Say there Jonesy…you ever have a broken jaw…? Me, I always preferred it best on the other guy…got any more coffee?”
“Can’t say as I have…or do …for that matter, as in broken jaw first, and coffee bringing up the rear.” Jonesy answered back.
“I must have come to my senses, as if I had any to speak of after all that…near going on noon, it must have been…sun was directly over head…couldn’t move…just stared about and wondered how I came to be so dad-blamed stupid. Just lay there … and passed out again, lost track of night and day for a bit…but I vaguely heard someone calling me. Maybe I was dreaming, sure didn’t matter though. Couldn’t answer, was just to tired to even try…judging by the buzzards about though, someone was due to find me… or my bones anyway.
Mescaleros, no doubt…if they were about in these parts at the time. But then just maybe that voice wasn’t my imagination, but who’d be looking for me…after what happened, I was
sure no one was hanging out here for my sake.”
“You know Jess, I have had a few buzzards down my back on occasion …yes, sir …with trail drives, I sure ran into them nasty off-tune sad-songers…” Jonesy was quick to add, “on
occasion though, we were glad for the show.”
“Same here, Jonesy, I was soon glad for it…as Billy wouldn’t have known which group of rocks to look for me in. He filled me in later about what happened that night after they worked
me over, that he arrived at the horses to see what was wrong. The men told him that I had taken one of the men prisoner and took off with him, using two of the horses. Said I was going
meet up with the gang and ambush Billy’s group in the closest town, so they all should head for the next town on the list. Well, they were near ready to head out as it was, so they needed
to move on. Even with the moon out, with all the rocks to hide me from view, there were no signs that anything else had happened. Billy said he took off to deliver the gold, as all he could
do was believe them. He did the best he could with what I showed him regarding the routes…he did share the routes with his Corporal and come day break, he sent him on ahead as if to
scout. The Corporal found the man that I had supposedly ‘took prisoner’, dead, along with the two horses … seems in his hurry, he must have gone over the cliffs. He didn’t find me
though and he was now suspicious even more so. It was now clearly obvious that the man was headed too far off to hit the towns without wasted days and if I took off, taking him with
me, with my scouting skills I would have been right on target. With them buzzards hanging around over that dead find, as more unwanted advertisement, this direction for a town was
now closed. He went back to Sergeant Billy and after some private “scouting talk” as to what really must have happened. They took two men prisoner after revealing to them that their
friend wouldn’t be meeting them in town later with his ‘how he escaped’ story. Billy told them to head on to the first town that we had originally decided on. Through all this, a day and
a half had passed and as Billy sent them on, he went back for me. The route they had used because of the false story, the one that they had to backtrack from, it didn’t have the waterholes that our first choice had. So Billy had a very tired horse and not much water left by the time he started my way, but Jonesy, Billy went back for me. He went back! He didn’t have to get involved, he could have left
it as an unfortunate undeserved death and gone on with his unit of men, but he refused to leave me. So far our outfit hadn’t been spotted by Mescalero’s as yet, but we were leaving a
trail of buzzards a mile long and a mile wide, in two directions to boot. Now if that don’t beat all.”
“A mile long, you say…and a mile wide… in two directions no less? … Sure would like to see that.” Jonesy remarked thoughtfully, as he stroked his chin. “My my…”
“I was laying there two and half days, ‘til he found me…at least I was a bit shaded in the rocks some, must have helped me last that long in the heat with no water and as smashed up
as I was. As you can imagine, I was shocked to see him. He just simply said to me: ‘sometimes things aren’t always they way they seem.’ He then helped me best as he could… put me
up on his horse…we rode double as long as we could…took the shorter route to the first town. Somewhere along the way, he walked as I was propped on the horse…he could have saved himself there too, but stayed with me. When we had near abouts six miles to go, judging by the hills that came into view, as Billy had said, the horse dropped and he had to put it down. Jonesy, that man carried me on his back the next six miles…didn’t matter how hard it was or how long it took him, he could have just left me to die there and saved himself. Six miles may
not seem like much, but still in Mescalero country, you never know what to expect…and with near abouts not even enough water for one man, along with the desert heat. Don’t know
how he made it, being a packhorse with me on his back, sometimes draped over his shoulder and dragging me when he had too. Heard the gold made it in to the town too and was
at least there were a few good soldiers in that retrieving unit. The one Corporal was having trouble getting permission to go looking for Billy. He just started out for us and was near an
out post near the edge of town, when Billy came stumbling near enough for us to be found. That’s where it happened Jonesy. THAT’S where it where it happened....”
Jess spoke these last words with a bit of disbelief. Jonesy just listened as the words seemed to float through the air, hang a bit, and turn in his mind, as smoke drifting from a nearby fire.
“What happened? … Jess? …That’s when WHAT happened…was there more trouble…you being a southerner and all, they did believe you, didn’t they! Well, I should say I reckon
they would and even SHOULD, after all the proof of their hostilities.”
Jonesy was sure that this Sergeant Billy was able to get justice done and couldn’t fathom what Jess was baiting him for. Jonesy got up and walked off his aching bones a bit, warmed his hands at the fire and looked over at Jess…Jess seemed to be sleeping, leaning back in the chair. “When WHAT happened, Jess!”
Jess slowly opened his eyes, as he had been relaxing in a deep pool of fresh wonderment. Seeing things as he spoke them in story-form had opened a fresh new sort of wonders to him,
more than just the sifting of memories through it all, had ever done.
“That’s when it happened that I had an unexpected visit with ‘Doc-Boston…at least…I thought it was him. You know, Jonesy, at the time I was thinking I wanted to find him so bad, to
thank him and all…well, that maybe it was my imagination. Now, I am sure it wasn’t my imagination…I don’t know why…I just got a gut feeling, is all. They took Billy and me to a doc.
He was doing just fine. Where as to say the least, I sure wasn’t…dad-gum …sure don’t know what those two men kept beating me with, like to have killed me on the spot, my chest
was so bloodied up. Wouldn’t have been surprised one bit if they had tore the whole wagon apart and hit me with every piece of it! Dad-gum… Was a bit out of it for awhile while the
doc fixed me up. Never got to see him, my face was covered with lots of cool rags because of the bruises and fever, things were mighty blurred for awhile there too. Later, mostly I saw
this nurse coming and going but I finally caught a glimpse of him, just a few times. I just wanted to know how I was doing and when would I be ready to get out of there. With my jaw
being purely against my yapping and all, Billy did all the question asking and told me I was going to be just fine. He was also filling me in on all that happened the last few days. He gave
me my sign-out papers for the scout job with pay and I was freed up to be on my own again. Then he took off, paid the bill and all. Didn’t even get to tell him how grateful I was to him
saving me out there, or for being honorable to this ol’ Texas stray. Still try to keep in touch a bit though…but … just how do I ever thank the man Jonesy? How?”
Jonesy came back to sit and Jess took his turn at the fire. “Just how to you figure it was your mystery-doc, Doc-Boston?” Jonesy asked.
“Don’t think he knew it, Jonesy but I was near ‘comin’ to’ as he worked on my jaw and I’m sure I felt only half a finger on that one hand touching my face. But then again, seeing as I was really out of it at the time, sometimes I ain’t too sure. He kept his voice soft but I heard him in the other room a few times. That’s when I recognized the voice, I’m sure of it. Well, like I said…I thought I was sure. For some odd reason, he seemed to not want me to see him much or hear him. I wouldn’t have known him by his face but it was his voice I’d remember. I
think he was worried about that or maybe he thought once I knew him, face to face, I’d see his hands. But, Jonesy, I even heard him laugh a few times there in his office with a friend or someone, and he seemed like a right nice man. Then I would hear them go outside, as if he was afraid I’d hear. Now why would that doc want to hide from me Jonesy, especially if he
saved my life once? He fixed me up again, after that Mescalero mess, and right fine, too, Jonesy. Just can’t figure it, Jonesy… forwards nor backwards, just don’t make sense.”
“May just be, Jess, that he has some bad memories from the war. Some things a man don’t want to face … ‘til they hit him from behind. You know what I mean…then he’s forced to face them. Just may be he couldn’t face up to hurts just yet and didn’t want you coming up behind him none yet, either. That’s all it is boy, your one of his success stories…he will always
thank the good Lord that you and him crossed paths that bloody war-torn day. So, don’t fret none, son…when the time is right…if it was the Doc-Boston …you’ll meet face to face.”
Jess stopped warming himself by the fire and sat down in the rocker near by. “Jonesy, why, sure as you cook a fine pie, your pearls of wisdom sure know how to warm a mans insides as well. Sure must be some reason, for sure. As when I was well enough to leave, I tried to get to the other room to see him and thank him, but he was gone. Nurse said he was just passing through, offering his services. He was sent from a clinic somewhere, but she said it was private information and she wasn’t allowed to give it out. If I wasn’t already so banged up…I just might have fought her for it … sure didn’t want to get more wounds, specially from a nurse!” Jess shook his head and laughed with Jonesy at the though: maybe I should have taken
her on, it wouldn’t have been half as bad as what I’d already been through, why I bet her nursin’ instincts would of won out and she would of fixed me up right quick! Then again,
she might have hit me with that big heavy book she kept on that desk and I would have caved in for sure … think they had a stone floor in that office, if my recollecting is holstered
Jess tried to picture the office where he caught the glimpses of the doc. Doc-Boston … Doc-Boston. Jess became a bit pensive as his eyes now traveled the room.
Jess looked over at his gun, hidden in the chimney bricks… “See now Jonesy” Jess said as he pointed over to his hidden gun. “That doc is just as hidden as that there gun…oh, its
real all right, its there, and its part of me… I choose when to look after, or when to take it up. Sometimes I do get hit from behind before I can face stuff, as well I rightly know.” Jess continued on softy, as he reflected, “I reckon, I need to let him choose how to use his past too, and when and how to face his doctoring.”
Jess said with a bit of weariness, “So now you know Jonesy, how I came to think I found the Doc -Boston …and why I never knew for sure. There I was, I may not have had much sense
to get into the mess I had been in Jonesy but I had enough sense to know that I had ended up here with this mystery-doc for some reason…not just cause Jess Harper needed some
“Think it’d make sense to you boy, if we both hit the hay?” Jonesy said as he stood up, “Doc’s coming in the morning and we want him to have a good run with that kite, remember?”
“Huh, Jonesy” Jess said as he looked up… “Yeah… we sure do.” Jess answered a bit off track, for just a bit. He had been deeply listening to his gut feelings…his extra ‘sense’ that
there was soon to be more unfolding to be done from the bedded down parts of the Doc -Boston and how he played into his life. He himself knew of the painful memories from the
war. He had his own hurts, one set in particular, bedded down with tight corners in his own bed of memories. He kept them raked under deep, as things to decay in the compost,
near to the threshold, that leads downward … downward to his private cellar door of other memories, memories that needed to be kept guarded, as things that he figured he could
sort in due season.
Jess stood up and gave a heart-felt warm pat on the back to Jonesy and they parted company for the night. Jonesy taking the dishes and coffee pot with him and Jess taking his
thoughts with him, as they made ready for bed …guess that twister stirred up more for me than a serious head ache… I sure feel like a hound on the scent of something mighty
--- R.R.T.F. ---
That morning came and went quickly and just as quickly Jess was up and ready to go…wasn’t sure where to, as just anywhere would do. As the doc left, Jonesy and Jess talked a bit
as to what the newest local gossips was as to the regards of the twister’s aftermath. Thanks to the doc’s visit and some coffee and flapjacks for all, they had a good dose of reliable talk.
Slim and Andy were doing fine with helping the townsfolk. Ben was doing just fine here with Jonesy. Mose was doing just fine with the stage and from what Doc had said, Mose had
done just more than fine, in Jess’ opinion, by leaving lots of info around for Jess and his curiosity…which…was just fine.
“I think I’ll head on up to Mose’s friends spread and see what I can do,” Jess said. “Seems he left enough hints that I should be able to follow his thoughts well enough…his friend
needs some more nails and our hammer, cause his broke, right?” Jess smiled, “and most probably, he needs me to stay and help him and that peddler-stray Mose sent his way. Seems
they can’t fix the roof alone fast enough. As Doc just said, Mose has been preaching from his bones that we’re due for a bit of rain in a few days or so.”
“Yeah, will just you don’t go to messing with their barn door while you’re there, you hear?”
“Jonesy,” Jess said, as he lifted his hat from the wall and turned to face him, “ hear tell, they ain’t got a barn door…seems Mose said the twister didn’t have its fill with ours…took
their’s down as well.” Jess said with a gleam in his eye as he winked at Jonesy, flipped his hat a few time and let it set on his head with a final tip of the brim.
“Aww, your messing with me Jess Harper…I never heard such a thing from Doc’s gossip or otherwise and you been inside all this time, so what have you got to say to that?”
“Well, Jonesy, I say it’s quite possible…”
“I know, I know…and if I were a betting man…which I ain’t, at least at this moment, you’d be fixing to lay odds now, right?”
“Your getting too fast for me, Jonesy…best be on my way…if it IS down, we’ll have twice as much work to do. See ya’ Jonesy” Jess said as he slipped out the front door.
“Yeah,” Jonesy muttered, “and just maybe if it IS still up, I just might have TWICE as much doctoring to do around here, if you go to messing with it.” He then shook his head a bit, with
a smile, and prepared for his workday with Ben, as Jess road on to his.
The day felt great as Jess road and enjoyed his freedom. The sun was warm and the sky blue, clear and fresh. There were telltale signs though of the twister’s path, and some things
from the rearranging would be permanent changes in the scenery and some wouldn’t. Time would tell which were which. Fences and such could be fixed but torn trees and the like were usually left in their new homes.
He pulled up to ol’ man Smith’s …Sammy Smith’s, the SS spread. Well, I’ll be dad-gummed, Jess thought as he stared a bit amazed, the dad-burned barn door IS down. Hope ol’ Sammy didn’t take to wrestling it like I did, he just ain’t as thick headed as me, and SURE don’t want him leaving this world too soon. With that thought done, Jess’s thought continued on
as to what a mess the roof on the house was, sure did need fixing, but at least the house and the barn frames had stood the winds. The twister obviously had bypassed them, just as
it had narrowly just missed the Sherman Ranch. Good thing, Jess thought, or I might NOT be here now, COULD be I would be laying in some gully miles from here, for all I know
food for the coyotes, unless Slim or someone was beating them to the draw for my carcass.
“Jess! Heard you ride up, so Mose seeded the soil and got you moving, I see.” Sammy smiled, “Say, heard from him, that you were laid up a bit or you would have got here sooner.
Glad to see you’re all right son. You ready to meet my new stray, he’ll be helping us a bit, for pay…hope you don’t mind none, he really needs it so he can move on. Seems he lost his daughter, she run off just before the twister hit. He heard there’s been food lines in Laramie for any folks near by to get assistance. Everyone’s donating and sharing. He’s checked in
town and left word with Mort but no ones seen a little girl around, so he’ll be moving on to keep a looking. He’s mighty upset, seems its all his fault, he says.”
“You know me, Sammy, I get enough wages to suit me fine from Slim and I sure know how it is to be hard up.” Jess said with a hint of sorrow. “So now, just where is your stray?”
“He’s been fixing the boards nice and tidy like…I had them stored in the barn, sure glad I lost the door and not the roof there, ONE roof is enough to fix. We were getting it all ready
Jess, just waiting for you, as I heard Slim’s helping out in town. Started up, but my old hammer broke, forgot to tell you to bring an extra, as I only had one.”
“Well, now…seems this is your lucky day Sammy…take your pick.” Jess laid out all the tools and to Sammy’s delight, there was not only one extra, but two. “I just knew you’d never
let me hear the end of it, if I didn’t get YOU to working with us Sammy ol’ boy.” Jess said playfully as he and ol’ Sam shook hands on it, had a good laugh, and proceed to set up the
boards that were already in place from Sammy’s first try.
A bit later, ol’ Sam’s stray showed up. Jess spotted him last, as he was so busy with the boards, doing his best to tackle the hardest parts, so as to respect Sammy, the older man.
Sammy gave a hand-up to the new guest, fondly called ‘the stray’, just as Jess turned to search for the next board. As he faced the stray, Jess stretched out his hand with a friendly
“I’m Jess Harper” and waited for an introduction on the mans part but clearly something was wrong. Near as he could tell, the man was in shock and nearly slipped.
Jess grabbed his hand, as ol’ Sam grabbed his arm. “Mister, are you alright?” Jess stoked him with his words. As they all settled a bit, Jess and Sammy looked at each other and waited
for an answer.
“Yeah, I… I just need to some water is all…I’ve been pushing so hard to work off my thoughts…I’ve been worried about my daughter, I just neglected my needs. Maybe Sammy here
has filled you in on it. I’m okay now, just hand me that canteen and let’s get to work now”, he said softly.
They finished up for the day after accomplishing more that expected. All had gone smoothly and the stray had finally introduced himself in the midst of all the hammering, as Rain Rustle Fulton, a peddler from back east, down on his luck due to a hardship from his family life there. As they sat on the porch waiting for the stew that Sammy was a fixing, Jess admired the
sunset and pointed out a few birds to the peddler.
“Don’t know how long you been in these parts…but we got some great scenes to enjoy come near sundown…sunset itself, for that matter too. Didn’t quite get your name with all that hammering up there…did you say Ray Russell Holton?” Jess asked innocently, as he kicked his feet out and leaned back in the chair and let his hat slip over his eyes, just to listen.
Stew sure smells good along with the great outdoors here, he thought in the back of his head, as he tended to his main thoughts of the man beside him. He wasn’t sure why, but he
wanted to tune out the sights and just listen, as the man hadn’t talked much since up on the roof. Jess usually sized a man up by checking out his eyes and face, along with the flow
of a man’s mouth, but something was different here. He wished he had a piece of field grass to chew with his thoughts as he stretched his legs a bit with a slow sigh and waited for the
“No, he said a bit roughly, with a cough…its Rain Rustle Fulton.”
“You mean … like the rain?” Jess thought curiously, as he continued to sit and listen.
Rain got up to leave and this startled Jess. He was just falling deeply into thought as to something, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “Hey where ya’ going, Rain?”
Jess’ eyes met up with ol’ Sam. “He’s in there serving up some stew Jess, guess you didn’t see me there at the door. I almost thought you were nesting for the night along with them
chickens over there.” Sam said as he pointed them out. “So, you been getting better aquatinted with Rain?” Sam said, “Mighty odd name, he confessed to me that his ma was a
writer…she named him on the day he was born, Rain Rustle, because of the rain that night and the rustle of the leaves, it ain’t Russell you see. Rain Rustle T. Fulton. The “t” is his
ma’s maiden name. I found that out from some of his gear, R.R.T.F. ... thought he was working for the railroad for a minute there, ‘til he set me straight. Just call him Ray, he says, if it’s
“Is that his for-short name then?” Jess asked.
“No, he seemed a bit edgy about THAT question, just said Ray is easier for most folks and he hasn’t used anything else for quite some spell now.”
Jess got up and followed Sammy in to the kitchen, giving Sammy a firm smack on the back and said, “you know, Sam, I like a man that comes into the world in a storm, shows he can
make it through hard times.”
As they ate together, Sammy did most the talking and the two tired men filled their faces with a smooth even flow of chewing, savoring each bite and occasionally eyeing each other.
Jess searched around the man’s beard as if to shave him and tried to picture the man’s face minus the beard. Just as the man took notice, Jess would quickly dive back into his plate
and fuss around with his the stew and smash his biscuits on it. After a few more times of this cat and mouse game, with Jess tossing out a friendly smile or two, so’s not to make the man entirely suspicious or nervous, Jess decided to try eyeing the man straight on at least once or twice. People do stare at each other at the table now and then, don’t they? He thought,
Most natural thing in the world, for sure, somewhere. After his last gaze was a bit too long, Jess picked a spot in the corner, to the side of the man, where the hats hung. He slowly
started in on his stew again, planning to start the whole process all over yet once more, when suddenly Jess near choked up. Both men ran to his side, as Jess sputtered a bit and firmly pushed them back, finishing up with a few more heavy coughs.
“You all right Jess? I ain’t THAT bad a cook, you catch a bone, or something?”
Poor Jess eyed his friend, “oh no, Sammy, nothing you did, NO SIR…its me, is all.” Jess looked at the other man near his side, standing there with one arm on Jess’ shoulder. Jess
looked up into his face and studied the worried look on it, as he began to stand up, Jess near buckled over and teared up. He pushed the chair back in a hurry, startling himself with
how loud it sounded as it scraped the floor. Moisture was welling up in his eyes, he could feel it now, and he was getting a bit of a headache from straining against it. “I need some
air, is all, Sammy” and with that Jess took off into the yard.
His heart was pounding just slightly and he felt a few tears on his face. He wiped them off and tried to look at them in the dark. It was then that he realized his hand was trembling.
What’s wrong with me? Jess thought. He was quietly standing in the cool dark night, trying to think as to what had set him off. Jess wiped his face with his sleeve and with deep force sucked in some breath, held it a bit, carefully releasing it with calculated slowness, he swallowed hard … thus relaxing a bit in the process. He walked up to the corral that was in front
of the porch and leaned on it with both arms, using one hand to press against his eyes as he stood there in silence. Slowly things were coming together as butter does from churning
cream, he began to see something forming, something that had been in the process since up on the roof.
“You know me…don’t you son?”
The voice was clear and strong in the darkness. Jess knew the voice. He swallowed hard and then turned and looked at the man that had just spoken to him.
“Now I do.”
Jess looked at Doc-Boston, as the freshly told story he had just recently unfolded to Jonesy hung in the night air, just as the stars that now covered the night sky. Jess could now feel
it from the past, the dark days and nights and the voice by his side that gave him reassurance through an unseen hell, and now, here this night, he also felt the same calm reassurance
as he finally saw the man that he never knew.
“Something was kind of falling into place, but I didn’t know for sure what… so I was studying you real careful like…maybe too careful, as you kept noticing at the table, and then….”
“Seems I was one up on you all along, Jess, as I recognized you soon as I saw you, up there on the barn. I was a bit in shock… but…seemed maybe I was going to be lucky enough to
slip out of this meeting here… please forgive me.”
Ray hung his head a bit and looked back up at Jess, “What was it that got you so choked up Jess…I knew it had to do with me, and I’m sorry…but I tried to be as careful as I could not to trigger anything.”
“It was the initials on the gear hanging on the hats hooks, that type on the saddle bag there. R.R.T.F…I was staring at it. I couldn’t clearly see the “F”, but heard Sammy speak of it just
before supper. Jess stopped for a second to collect himself, “I was trying to throw you off track a bit, as to my staring, and all of the sudden the R.R.T. started ringing in my head
… R.R.T… R.R.T. … R.T… Arty … Arty…”
Jess continued, “It meant something…I heard it before, I knew it, and then it hit me… as I realized all through supper you kept the half your left hand folded under as you sopped the
stew with your biscuit. Your face was seeming more and more familiar, as the face I saw come and go, as I was recovering from a broken up chest and jaw years back. That face matched
up, just as all these things went through my mind…it hit me too fast to realize what was happening, and I just must of choked with the shock of it all hitting me.”
Jess grabbed at the man’s hand and held it up as he pulled the man near the porch light. The man yielded calmly. There was the stub of the left finger that had held Jess’ hand as he lay
in the field hospital. “Arty, that was you…why, that was you, Doc-Boston, those men kept calling for Arty…didn’t know who or what that meant. All these years I forgot all about that,
until I saw your gear on the wall. I thought Arty was some water-boy or something, as everyone seemed to depend on him and wanted him for something…heard them call for many a
doc when fresh wounded came in but Arty was always called, for any and all things needed. But now as I recollect, the only time you left me, when I was awake enough to know, was
when someone was looking for Arty…I just thought you kept leaving to find Arty, and here it was you that everyone was needing, all along.” Jess finally stopped staring at Ray’s hand,
as reality now had lodged firmly in his mind and let it fall free.
Ray, Doc-Boston lay out the rest of the cards: “I knew most all those docs on a first name basis, ‘Arty’ was what they always called me before the war, made up from my initials. Didn’t
think I’d be taken too seriously as a doctor in the social circles, with a story-book name like mine.” Ray laughed a bit as he reclaimed his hand. “As I told you, in that field hospital, Jess,
I had the dead and dying only, to sort them out, so when they passed on. I made my way to the other side of the tent and to the side tents as well, I did what ever I could for those on the mend when I was freed up. That’s why you heard them always calling for me, but as you know, I always tried my best to leave someone with you when ever I knew you were awake. Any soldier that couldn’t see, well, I just couldn’t leave them alone.” Ray looked over at Jess as they walked to the porch and sat down. “Doc-Boston, huh?” He said to Jess with a smile.
“Yeah, I didn’t know what else to call you, but I remembered all we talked about back during the time I spent in that field hospital, as I lay in the darkness with my face all wrapped up.
So you were always Doc-Boston, even after you treated my wounds the second time, kept me alive from all the raw bloody damage that was done me …well…I didn’t know it was you
then, but I soon suspected, and I think you realized that I did, too.”
Now Jess got serious and peered over at the man and addressed him “Ray, Doc…why did you take off and never even let me see who it was that saved my life…or later, why’d you do
it again …you afraid of ghost from the past or something? If so, I’d be the first to tell you I purely understand. I learned the hard way, you can’t wrestle with them for too long without
them eating your insides up. As Jonesy says: you got to wash ‘em up and wring ‘em out and expose ‘em to the hot sun of day light and they won’t be haunting your trails.”
“Jess, you KNOW me now…lets just settle for that tonight. It was unfortunate that you couldn’t see me face to face, before they took you off to fight … it wasn’t planned that was, not
the first time. One thing I will say…a doc learns a lot about a man near death…and I knew your conscience would never let you stop searching for me, if you got the chance. So I left.”
Jess looked up at Ray as he put his hand on Jess’ shoulder as he stood to go inside. “Yeah, I know,” Jess said “Some things a man don’t want to face…”
“I’ll see you in the morning Jess, and that’s a promise. I never lie to my patience, as you’ve learned from experience, even if I’m in the peddling business now. Goodnight, Jess.” As Ray headed in and closed the door, Jess watched him.
…’til they hit him from behind, Jess thought…looks like I finally hit him from behind, purely by accident on my part. Jess walked out into the dark yard and looked up in the
heavens. “I surely didn’t mean to run up under him, but we’re rolling down the hill now and will face up to something at the bottom all right. And I reckon we’ll both be needing some
help, so I’m reaching out my hand now, in this here darkness…just as he reached out for me back in my darkness.” Jess walked back up to the porch and took hold of the oil lamp that
had lit the porch…he made his way through the rooms to his bunk, put out the light and listened as he lay there… There were no heavy footsteps of men struggling as they were moving
dead soldiers, no footsteps of men moving about pouring bedpans into buckets or dragging their feet as they carried full buckets of urine…no rushing of unseen footsteps to a soldier’s
side as he gasped for what was soon to be his last breath. Jess soon fell asleep in quiet darkness.
---“THE STONE'S ON THE TOMB AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED”---
The next few days came and when with a calm respect between Doc-Boston (Ray) and Jess. Sammy learned that first night, at Jess’ wild supper, that the men were sorting out the
‘crossing of their paths’ from days gone by and respectfully allowed them time alone. He spent his time watching them talk after the days work, as if he was the acting pa…and they,
the old childhood friends making up for lost time. Neither man was ready or able to help fill him in on the mystery and he respectfully refused to yield to his own curiosity. Although,
on occasion, ol’ Sammy did wish that Mose was about, as he would find away to catch wind of their story for sure.
Although Jess had not gotten to the heart of the issue, he had learned this much. Doc-Boston was a peddler now, wasn’t up to doctoring anyone, but wasn’t about to turn anyone
away. He was traveling through and after a falling out with his young daughter, who was near 12 years old, she had run off from their camp along with their dog. He suspected she
was in Laramie. He was heading to Laramie to search went the twister was nearing and had headed for the nearby spread, which happened to be Sammy (Sam) Smith’s, and there he
stayed through it all.
What Jess didn’t know was: during the time Doc-Boston was in the confederate field hospitals working, his wife back in Boston had been pregnant with their daughter, and he never
knew. Three years after the war started, she took sick and died, she was dead nearly two years before he could get back and learn of this. He took his daughter from the aunts and
uncles and headed out west to forget…forget how he was tricked to go south to search for her family just before the war broke out, only a some time later to be forced into the field
hospitals once he was there. Although he clearly spoke as a Boston Yankee, he was never questioned or doubted, as he was so well known through out the south in high society
because of her family. He couldn’t face how he lost her, his home and practice, while he labored in vain, unable to find a way home through the war-torn land. His conscience eventually wouldn’t have let him leave the wounded at any rate in the long run and he finally had to face that, as he gave up even trying to leave.
Jess and Ray took a walk off a ways and admired the finished roof. They sat there in the field a bit; soaking in the sunshine, as they knew some rain would be due soon enough.
“Now that I have my pay, I’ll be moving on Jess. I need to search for my daughter, if she wasn’t in Laramie, she’s either dead or picked up and will show up in some near by tow, or
ranch… seems like I’ve finally lost all there is to loose. The last thing that I lost, well, its all my fault.”
As Ray filled Jess in on everything that had happened, Jess was surprised how easy it all poured out of him. Almost too easy, and Jess realized there must be more.
“How is it you blame yourself”, Jess lowered his voice and gently pressed him.
“Jess please don’t crowd me.” Ray unconsciously snapped back.
“Hey now look here Ray” Jess tried his hand with his new found phrase from Jonesy’ pearl-pouch, “some things a man don’t want to face…’til they hit him from behind. Now if you
really care about your daughter, now’s the time to face up to it…the past has caught up with you whether you like it or not. The way I figure this…there’s a reason for all this and it’s
not for us to set our marks and have at it with each other.”
“Why’d I have to run into you Jess…just when I raked it under…first time was hard enough when I saw you, my daughter was still too young to do me harm… I could fight the memories
off, which the two of you threatened to revive. Now just when I think I got the weed of it all dug up and buried again, I have to start all over. You’re not to blame Jess, I know that, she
does me the most harm.”
Jess jumped up, a bit more that just annoyed and lashed out at him in confusion, “Mister, your right on that one…all I ever did was get my life saved a couple of times by you. Don’t
see how that hurt you none…sure don’t see how a twelve year old girl could hurt you either. Seeing as I’m the one to hit you from behind in all this, I figure you OWE me, now lets
have the rest of it.”
“Listen, that night I worked on you…that was my wedding anniversary…the first day of December…I didn’t know it, but my wife was already dead that night…I found that out later,
after the war. When I saw you, that second time, I remembered all the anniversaries I never had in that dirty morbid field hospital, and the wife I’ll never have again because of it. Now
when I see my daughter, she’s old enough to …well … I see that same wife of mine in her face. Jess… I’ve been taking it out on her, she’s dirty and dressed like a boy, and I like it that
way…I don’t want to see her face in my daughter. The stone’s on the tomb as far as I’m concerned…and Lazarus is dead…I don’t want to remember anymore of the war. It’s turned into
a lingering sickness in me. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?”
As Ray got up to leave, Jess grabbed him. “DOC-BOSTON…Ray … I’m sorry, you’ll always be Doc-Boston to me…I understand, I got my own stone on Lazarus’ tomb…but that little
girl, she don’t understand, that’s why she run off. And Doc…you better make sure she understands real soon…or someday it’ll be too late. Then you won’t want memories reminding
you of the little girl you lost, as well. Do you understand THAT?”
Ray pulled back and ran his hands through his hair, at a loss for what to say. Jess was right and he knew it. He trembled as he felt the anguish start to release. This was time to face it.
Jess continued to turn his words on Doc-Boston, “You’re a Doctor, not a peddler…me and that little girl, we came out of that tomb of the past…that war, and into you life. We may be
living memories now, and hard to face, but you accept that and start over. My sister Francie was all I had left when death rode my family’s way…when I saw her for the short time that
I was able, she was there to remind me to live, not to remind me what I saw as I lost my family. She was like a DIAMOND, a treasure for me to hold in my heart. I’m Jess Harper in spite of that, not a peddler! Now, it’s too late for me to enjoy Francie…she’s gone. I don’t want you to have to ever say that about you daughter, Doc.”
Jess stopped and walked around a bit trying to cool off. He near felt like he wanted to pound some sense into the doc, but he wasn’t about to yield to that. The scene in their lives right
about now sure looked like the scenes along the field that they stood in. Twister-touched. Jess stopped near some fallen logs and stared a bit over the skyline. All scattered about with
debris from the twister. That twister sure had a pot of confusion boiling at the Sherman Ranch before it touched down here… sure looks like it left a stray pot of it behind as well, Jess thought.
The stone’s on the tomb as far as I’m concerned…Jess thought on the word’s he had just heard…he sure knew how Doc-Boston must have been hurting to say a thing like that. To
seal up a chance for renewed life. Jess had his hurts as to his family, and for him, finding Banister would settle it once and for all. But how do you settle up with a war and such? You
can’t face it as a man, face to face…yet it must be faced or truly as night follows day, he thought, or it will hit you from behind. If the Doc allows the living to be free of that war-torn
tomb, he’ll make it just fine. But me? Jess felt a wave of deep hostile feelings shake at his war-torn tomb from deep down inside. Me…my unit… and that last month I spent with them finishing out the war as prisoners AND WORSE YET, two months after the war ENDED, us near half dead and STILL prisoners! …Thinking we were gonna die there and never
walk out…what would I do If … his mind flashed to all the suffering faces of hundreds of men and then to one man in particular, one who was NOT suffering. Then … just as quickly,
his mind flashed to a piece of cut-up confederate flag. Jess wiped his face along the forehead with his left hand and it was all gone before he knew what happened. No, it’s raked down
far too deep…the stone’s on the tomb as far as I’m concerned … AND just as HEAVY as that ball and chain I wore … the one Halleck said I earned. The noise of a snapped twig
roused him to attention, he turned and drew on the man behind him. Jess’ mind knew it was the doc, as they both stood in stunned silence.
“I give up Jess…I’m not very good at operating on my self you know, if you shoot me, you’ll have to dig it out…if we’re going to be on speaking terms in the future, that is.”
Jess holstered his gun, as he felt himself relax a bit. “I’m sorry Doc…I was just thinking a bit too heavy.”
“No, I’m sorry Jess…I’ve been thinking. If it weren’t for this twister…why our paths may not ever have crossed again. Seems like your destined to heal my life…save it …in a way. I’ve decided to roll the stone off the tomb and let Lazarus come forth. I just hope it’s not too late for my daughter but I know now all I can do is try,” Ray said. With a humbled smile, he gave
Jess a grateful handshake. Jess stood there and stared, as he was near dumbfounded at what he now heard. As the words settled in his mind, he realized his hand had not. It was
shaking in a good way, and he gladly shook hands with Doc-Boston.
“Why hey there Doc, that’s just great! The war’s been over for a long time you know, time we kept it that way, right? Ain’t it amazing how that ol’ sun can shine out of them dark clouds when we least suspect it, huh?” Jess beamed as he shook his hand back and they walked back to the Sammy’s house. Jess tried to encourage the doc to have hope as to finding his daughter. Using himself as an example, Jess related the story as to how he lay unconscious, out in harms way, only to have the twister pass over them at a distance and how it never fully touch down. If there was an UNSEEN hand keeping him safe, just maybe it had kept her safe too.
As they went in to join Sammy for supper, Jess praised Doc-Boston on his hard decision. “Yeah, Doc, that’s mighty fine …and I sure am proud of you.” War’s been over for a long time alright, Jess thought to himself, but as for me now, I ain’t about to do any personal Lazarus freeing-up, the stone’s on the tomb as far as I’m concerned, war memories are done now,
sealed up tight, for Jess Harper.
---JESS AND THE BELLY DANCER---
A bit still in awe, as to all that had happened, Jess left Doc-Boston with Sammy. Doc would be getting ready to start traveling somewhere… where was anybodies guess. Jess earnestly wanted to do his best to have his own look see for the little girl. Well, what do you know, Jess thought, I never even asked for her name in case I run across her. Just may be, though.
that it’s not even needed, as I’m sure a girl that looks like a boy can’t be all that hard to find and surely there ain’t that many of them critters running around at that, he smiled.
The wagon was sure feeling just a bit heavy on the way back. Ol’ Sammy, from Mose’s gleaning of earlier gossip, had learned there was a need for lumber in Laramie and freely offered
the town some of his. Jess naturally was the volunteer now to deliver it, that is, after a quick stop at the Sherman Ranch. Wagon sure can’t handle the short cut with this load, Jess
thought, probably too much damage there from the twister, even if it could. As Jess drove on to join up with the main road back to the ranch he noticed an odd sight, so odd that he
almost couldn’t believe his eyes. He slowed to wagon down and walked the horses slowly as he approached what would soon be a special source of funning for the next few days. Yep, seems there’s always just a hint of a young kid always ready to play in Jess’ heart. This new sight sure seemed mighty interesting, and harmless, for a change. At least he thought she
was harmless … and … he now dared to find out.
“Well, now little lady, just where did you come from?” Jess said with a friendly smile, “sure never seen the likes of you in all my days. Pretty dang cute, you are at that!” Jess rubbed
his chin a bit. Why I bet Slim would sure think so too, Jess continued on with silent thought.
He reached over slowly, so’s not to scare her and she responded well to his gesture.
“Here, if its all right, I’ll give you a hand, don’t be shy…I ain’t going to hurt you none, honest.” Jess knew he wasn’t the hurting type, but in a meeting such as this, why how would she know. Looked liked she’d been though a bit of trouble, must have been from trying to hide out from the twister, no doubt. She looked a bit dusty and a little dirty but in her fancy
get-up and all, the mystery and intrigue still stuck in his mind.
As they were settled in the wagon Jess started to the ranch, with plans for heading to town even more earnestly in his mind now than before. "You sure ain't the talking kind, that's for
sure." Jess was lost in his thoughts for a few moments, then looked her way with a quick playful wink and grin, as he spoke forth heartily, "Must be 'cause you're a stranger in these
parts… just like right out of a storybook or something!" Jess marveled. "I think there's a possibility we can get to communicating just fine before you know it, maybe after a good meal,
right?" Jess reached over and brushed some bits of grass off her eye and forehead and they continued on in silence as they enjoyed the warm sun and the occasional sounds of the
birds in the field. This sure is right nice, Jess thought, right nice.
Jess pulled up at the ranch and walked around to the other side of the wagon. Just as he was ready to help his new found visitor down, Jonesy came struggling out the door with a big
box, making a lot of commotion. Jess turned quickly with a bit of a spin, “quiet Jonesy, she don’t take to loud noises, look at her, you startled her…”
“Now what in God’s high blue heaven have you done Jess … I thought you’ve been at ol’ Sammy’s working. Why, it looks like you ran off and joined the circus or something. Just
what you got in mind boy?” In near disbelief, Jonesy had half set and nearly dropped the box down as he did some fast studying. After a few looks, he just shook his head and thought, STRAYS…never can be too sure about strays…well, at least this one ain’t toting a gun, far as I can tell.
“Okay … now what are you going to do with her, boy?”
“Well, I was first off hoping to give her a good meal Jonesy, don’t know what all she’s been through, sure don’t think she’ll be telling me none, either, Jess said with half a grin. “You
know how woman are Jonesy, takes time before they make themselves to home and all.” Jess started to help her down.
“Oh no you don’t, Slim sent word for you to get to town…he’s got plans going on with some committee there and I packed this box of clothes for the three of you. I’ve done all the
cooking I’m doing until I reheat what I got, after I ‘slap metal’ over yonder and yell ‘come and get it’…so you best be feeding her in town. Sorry Jess, but that’s the way it’s got to be.”
“Aw now Jonesy, what kind of a welcome home is that?” Jess protested.
A slight bit annoyed, Jonesy took Jess’ hand and gave him a good hearty welcome home shake. “There now Jess, this ought to do it now… welcome home, how was your trip…? Well,
would you LOOK at that, seems there’s a mighty big box underfoot here. Mighty big box indeed, Jess. What do you think we ought to do about it? You KNOW my back has a mind
of its own and it minds a powerful lot if I start working it when being of sound mind I know I ought not be … if you get my drift.”
“Sure Jonesy…sure, I know…message received,” Jess said with a soft smile as he took off his hat and wiped his brow. “What was I thinking, taking advantage of a poor old coot like
you…must have been the heat,” Jess played back.
“All right, enough fooling around, you got work to do and so do I.” Jonesy gave Jess a pat on the shoulder, “actually, I do have a welcome home for you but you’ll just have to wait.
Ben got us some quail, but I decided to set them up in the smokehouse. We’ll cook it up special after you bring Slim and Andy back.”
“Hey now, that’s more like it” Jess’ face broke out freely in a content grin. “Makes going into town all the more special now, Jonesy … for TWO reasons now.”
Jonesy tipped his hat at the visitor, who sat there in calm contentment. “Sure don’t want it ever to be said that Mr. Jones here was ever rude to a lady” Jonesy said, as Jess watched him
retreat to where he came from. Jess grabbed up the box, loaded into the back of the wagon, then continuing on around it, climbed into the wagon and headed for town.
Jess arrived in Laramie after a much-enjoyed ride with his new found treasure. He pulled up to the stables and left the wagon there along with word as to the lumber and then said he'd
send Slim for the box later.
"Keep it safe, till Slim comes for it, here's something extra for your trouble. I got business to tend to at Mort's office," Jess said, as he gathered up the young visitor to Laramie and left.
The stable's owner followed him out and watched pondering, as Jess and his odd new friend made their way down the street to Mort's office. He couldn't help but think as he watched
Jess: sure never seen the likes of that… like something out of a storybook!
Jess had now settled in Mort’s off, visitor at his side, and Mort was sitting on the desk, doing his own share of studying now.
“Watch this Mort…she must have been practicing or something, when I found her on the road. We kind of…well, we have and understanding, a kind of bond, you might say. Come on honey, do your stuff…watch this Mort.” Jess was giving her a kind coaxing nudge, not really knowing how to start her up, but she seemed to understand. As both men watched in
silence, she slowly started her small routine and then as she really got into it, Mort was just as amazed, as Jess had been when he first saw her. She was wriggling, shaking, and EVEN
rolling her belly, it was astounding how adept she was at it!
“See how she holds herself up for the ending, now ain’t that just great, Mort…maybe we could sell tickets or something, well, you know, for charity or something.” Jess was so
downright happy enjoying this moment in time, that one would never know to look at him, that he had come through so much in his life. He was freely just enjoying who he was and
sharing his joy with a friend.
“Never in my born days Jess, never in my born days.” Mort said with a warm smile as he gave the belly-dancing-wonder a round of applause, with a happy laugh.
“It’s the bells that really got me Mort…they rang really pretty, real dainty like…and why when she’s out in the sun, those little rhinestones there, they shine like diamonds. Well, you
can imagine, I would have pulled up hard on the reins if I was riding, as I would have come up too fast to stop. Sure would have been even more shocked than I was…but I was in the
wagon and saw the sight from the distance first. I had a chance to slow up and not scare her off. She really took to me, Mort, must be my kind nature!” Jess looked at Mort, kind of
proud of himself, but in a humble Jess Harper sort of way!
“She sure did at that, Jess…don’t know what to say, except, well…it looks like you got your own belly-dancer there Jess. What are you going to do with her…does Slim know?”
Mort said as he eyed Jess precariously.
“Well, first off, I’d like to get her fed and then cleaned up a bit. And then, second off … no, ol’ Slim, he SURE don’t know yet.”
Jess got up from the chair, as they had been sitting during the little show, “but how could he mind…I don’t reckon she eats much, and maybe it’ll add a bit of excitement to the relay
station, at least for me. I like a bit of excitement now and then … you know that, Mort.”
“Amen to that Jess,” Mort answered.
Jess stretched out his back and looked over at the phenomenon he had just recently found. She looked back at him with her soft brown eyes and seemed every bit happy, although
extremely quiet. Probably cause she ain’t from these parts and misses her own neck of the woods… haven’t seen any that look like her around here either, Jess thought a bit in passing. Jess had to admit though, she may not be the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, but she sure looked nice. Nice and mighty interesting at that, and besides, beauty is only skin
deep and she sure does have skin! Jess eyed the door with thoughts of exiting and his body readied up to follow.
“Now, hold up Jess, first let me fill you in a bit as to what’s been going on here in town.” Jess sat back down.
“Well, what about her food,” Jess said with a pain of worry, “I don’t know how long it’s been since she’s eaten Mort…” Jess seemed so concerned, Mort comforted Jess’ conscious
with the fact that his own late lunch was due any moment and he’d gladly share. Then he opened up to Jess as to how the committee had organized groups to fix up the town. For the
most part they were about done. The newest and last planned event was a potluck supper and a ‘town sharers’ dance. After the supper, the first name on the ‘free will offerings’ list,
would start the dance, after stating what kind of gift they had offered in sharing to help someone in town. It’s a symbol of the first of many things to share, towards the next emergency
if and when it may arise. They can pick the person they gave the gift to for their partner, or someone special to them. Each next person on the list would follow, in order of their numbers
and offer their gift and then go up to take the place of the previous dancers. After the LAST ones to dance, all would join in to finish, then there would be cake and punch for the very
end, a bit of visiting, and heading for home. One of the very rare times the townsfolk would keep going on to the wee hours of the morning, a huge family event. Mort finished up by
saying it would be like after the floods last year, people camped their kids out in the meeting hall for the night, so they could keep up the festivities almost ‘til dawn.
“So that must be the mystery of Jonesy’s box for Slim and Andy and me too I suppose, Sunday go to meeting clothes I bet.” Jess said as he reached for his neck. “Time for another fancy necktie, sure looks like, but as to comforting and pleasing …well that’s another story. Good practice, I suppose…a man never knows if he may end up facing a wedding aisle, guess some fancy necktie practicing won’t do me no harm.” Jess said as he stood up and gave Mort a slap on the back… “Well, I best be finding Slim and let him know I’m in town. Watch over her,
will you Mort, help her get something to eat. I want to fill Slim in on this little missy …and here I don’t even know her name…got to call her something.”
Jess turned and looked at her as he got ready to leave. “Hope you have no objections if I think of something, miss.” She just stood there attentively looking up at him with her soft
brown eyes and somehow she seemed to understand. She looked over at Mort and then went over to the corner of his office and lay back against the wall with a relieved loud heavy
Mort seemed a bit shocked. “Does she always do that?”
“What Mort? Sit on the floor, in corners…or that deep heavy sighing stuff? Actually to tell you the truth, I really don’t know…I just met her, remember? Hey, you think that’s bad,
Mort,” Jess said softly with his hand up, as to hide his words, “why you should hear her sneeze…near as bad as my horse.” Jess turned to her, a bit embarrassed, tipped his hat a bit
and left. His thoughts trailed after him…why I reckon she’d follow after me no matter what I called her…why even be concerned about her name…but on the other hand, well, even
my horse has a name. I just got to call her something…what would Slim or Andy think…sure can’t just call her my belly dancer.
After a bit of searching, Jess found Slim and Andy at Maudy’s Café. Bursting in with exuberance Jess called to Slim and Andy just as they spotted his entrance, they motioned him
over with a nod of Slim’s head.
“Glad you see you’ve recovered pard. Hey, looks like you and Sammy’s barn door see eye to eye, with no head butting in between,” Slim said as he stood to shake his hand. “Did
Jonesy send the box with you Jess? Have you seen Mort and did he fill you in?” Slim sat back down and viewed the remains on his plate trying to decide if he was full.
“Whoa, hold up there Slim.” Jess smiled as he looked over at Andy. “You feeding him oats, Andy, he’s a mite fast at the gate there.” Andy laughed as Jess looked back at Slim and
answered, “Yes, Yes and Yes…now, about them oats, Andy? Yes?” Jess eyed him sternly.
“No, Jess,” Andy smiled and said, “he seems to like oats all right, but only in the feedbag, and for his horse. Slim and I have been having chicken legs along with fresh baked bread
on the side, can’t you tell… take a look.”
Andy’s face lit up as he realized there was something going on in Jess’ head and he wanted to know first hand what it was, as a Jess Harper story hot off the press was always the
best. “Say, Jess, what are you so excited about. Sure can’t be all the work you did at Sammy’s.” Andy folded his arms and leaned over closer to Jess as Jess sat across the table from
“Well…” Jess said, looking down at a spot on the table, which was encircled by his folded hands, “oh, thanks Maudy.” Jess was now reaching for the coffee cup full of coffee that
appeared as out of nowhere, from Maudy, and was now filling this space. Jess smiled at himself as he looked at his reflection in the coffee, now he knew exactly how to explain his new
found treasure in his best Jess Harper way. Jess took a quick look Slim’s way and thought to himself, here goes nothin’… and then with a bit of a kick in Slim’s direction, just to make
sure he would be paying attention, Jess started to open his mouth. “Well…”
“What’d you do that for?” Slim eyed Jess oddly.
“Can’t you see I’m talking here, pard” Jess tilted his hat back a bit with a smile, “reckon not, I guess … looks like you were busy eyeing Maudy there a bit.”
“What ever it IS you got to say sure better be worth listening too,” Slim said as he stopped watching Maudy and set his fork and knife down.
“Well I was just answering Andy’s question is all…thought you might like to be in on the excitement as well, Pard.”
Jess sat there a moment, making sure his timing was right.
“Well…I got me a belly dancer…and I named her Belle.” Jess smiled and took a swallow of his coffee. “You DONE with that chicken Slim, you look like your done eating kind of sudden
“Say, what’s a belly dancer Jess?” Andy asked with full attention.
“Never mind Andy! Jess, what kind of thing is that to say to Andy and at a dining table and even here at Maudy’s…this is a café not a saloon!” Slim stared at Jess and Jess stared
back at Slim. Slim was showing his ‘I’m a bit crossed look’ and Jess was showing him ‘I’ m a bit enjoying this look’. It was a close tie as to who gave in first.
“What do you mean you named her Belle, don’t belly dancers have their own names, Jess?” Andy wondered, as he braved Slim’s next remarks that were sure to come, and right fast
“Andy! Is that why you kicked me Jess…is this some kind of a joke?”
Jess looked up at Slim with his most sincere look, after all, Jess thought, I’m innocent as can be, I was just driving the wagon home, minding my own business. I couldn’t help it that I happened along while she was practicing out in the sunshine.
“It’s no joke Slim, she dances…she doesn’t talk…and I had to call her something, so I named her Belle. Wait ‘til you see her Slim … and Andy too…why once you see her, I’m sure
you’ll just take to her, same as I did. Now about that chicken, Slim. What do you think?”
“Andy, get out of here…go find something to do…go get the box from the stable, I’ll meet you there and help you with it. Jess and I have some man talk to tend to and you tend to
not be old enough yet. You UNDERSTAND me, Jess?”
“Me? I thought you were talking to Andy?”
“I was” Slim said, a bit annoyed. “You understand, Andy? Andy!”
“Well, I’m sorry Slim, I thought you were talking to Jess.”
Slim pushed the plate hard and off to the side as he stood up hard and fast. The look on his faced showed it all.
“I’m sorry Slim, I didn’t mean it that way, honest Slim. I’m going.” As Andy left, Slim sat down and looked at Jess. “Sometimes Jess I wonder how you can be so keen for sizing up
trouble so well, when…why, when you can be so hard-oak dense.”
“Now Slim, is that anyway to talk to a friend…” Jess felt a bit bad, “you know Slim, Andy’s going to hear talk like this off and on, especially now that he’s getting older. You know,
you just got to make sure you take him aside and explain it all and straighten him out before he gets any wrong ideas is all.”
“Yeah Slim, like now. Now if you’ll just come on over and see this dancing-wonder, I think you feel a lot better Slim. I even told Mort we should sell tickets or something, for charity,
you know. She must have come our way for something real important Slim. How often have you ever heard of this type of thing in Laramie? You know, finding a belly dancer on the
road. Well Slim, how often … go on … YOU TELL ME.”
“Never Jess, never.”
“So come on and take a look…what can it hurt Slim. She turns and twists and shakes. She even rolls her belly and wait ‘til you see her finale.”
“Jess…what happened to you…I thought you were a gentleman. Don’t you know what kind of lady this gal must be. Have you lost your sense, or maybe you never had any and
I’ve been the dense one.”
“Slim she ain’t no lady, that’s for sure” Jess smiled, “that’s why I wanted you and Andy…” Jess was suddenly cut off by Maudy.
“Jess, if she’s not a lady, I really think you need to rethink what kind of an example you are setting to Slim’s brother.” She was a bit ashamed that she had heard them speak of it,
and lowered her eyes a bit, but continued. “What kind of a friend would you be, if you didn’t?” She smiled slightly after looking at each of them one last time and turned to walk
away, but Jess carefully grabbed her hand, pulling her near to Slim.
Jess looked at both of them. “Look…this here is one of those WANTED POSTER type situations…you know, where there is no picture and only the description is there to explain
who we should be looking at. Why anyone could come up with thousands of ideas of who to look for and all could be wrong. The real ‘living-breathing picture’ could still be walking
around, while some innocent unsuspecting person, such as myself, could end up behind bars. Its not until you see the full facts for yourself, that you understand just what the truth is.
Now do you understand?”
“Jess, are you WANTED again?”
Slim stared at Jess point blank as he began to realize the fullness of where this could be leading. “Or, does someone out there somewhere, think you are?” Slim shook his head and
shooed Maudy off, as he tried to remember some of the last out-of-town adventures Jess had recently and wondered if he may have left a trail of misunderstandings behind somewhere. Maudy began to graciously excuse herself, when…
“NO, I AIN’T WANTED!” Jess stood up in haste, and near knocked his chair over. Realizing the commotion he caused, he composed himself and meekly sat down. Least wise … I
don’t think so …seemed to linger in the wide-open spaces of Jess’ mind, as he settled in his chair.
Maudy seemed to understand and left after giving Jess a soft hug…” Now Maudy,” Jess protested, as he was caught off guard, “that ain’t so!”
“You know Slim, sometimes I just wonder how you can be so keen to run that ranch of yours, and be so hard-oak dense at the same time…I’m trying to tell you she ain’t no lady, is all. Aw … some things a man don’t want to face…’til they hit him from behind.” Jess turned to leave, a bit dejected now, as to his fun.
“Now what’s that supposed to mean” Slim reacted with a start.
“You’ll find out soon enough… I learned it from Jonesy…it’s one of his pearls of wisdom.” Jess answered a bit annoyed. “Just right for a hard-head like you.”
“Alright Jess, tell me. I was wrong... so there is a belly dancer. I’m listening.” Slim threw his money on the table and approached Jess.
“The stones on the tomb, as far as I’m concerned” Jess said, “And I changed my mind about the chicken too.”
“ ‘The stones on the tomb, as far as I’m concerned’, what’s that supposed to mean. Is that another one of Jonesy’ backwoods saying again. You know Jess, you been hanging out with Jonesy maybe just a little bit too long. I think you need some fresh air.”
“I didn’t learn that saying from Jonesy, Slim…I picked that one up from Doc-Boston … And as to my sayings, at the rate I’m going, bet I’ll have a few more by the end of the week, so you better smoke out your ears and get ready for ‘em.” Jess said with a smirk. “Never know when they might come in handy…like now.” With that, Jess went out the door.
Slim watched as Jess made his way to Mort’s. Wonder who this Doc-Boston is, Slim thought. As he continued to watch, Slim noticed Jess instead make a beeline to the livery stable. Oh no, you don’t Jess. I’ve had it now, with belly dancers, wanted poster, not facing up to things, and sealed up tombs. Slim headed out after Jess as fast as he could, with this one thought trailing fast behind, I was just getting ready to give you the rest of my chicken, don’t suppose you’d believe me now though. Slim swallowed the last bite, as he began to narrow the distance between him and his target on ‘them long legs of his’ as Jess respectfully called them.
“JUST A BIT OFF TARGET SURE AIN’T NO BULLS-EYE”
Slim neared the stable. Something seemed odd. There was a crowd about outside and Slim noticed Mort collecting money and passing out tickets. Jess was nowhere in sight. Slim felt a bit sick, he just couldn’t fathom Mort partaking in this. Maybe this Belle had some kind of charm over them, but he knew himself well and he was a man of standards and he stuck by them. He had never heard of a belly dancer, actually, and really wasn’t EXACTLY sure what they did. But he did remember seeing a sideshow dancing gal and some can-can dancers over on the Barbary Coast, in California. He had been thinking of taking a trip out there sometime with Jess, for seeking out new types of ranching equipment and maybe a bit of pleasure. Here and now, though, Slim Sherman decided maybe that was all now a very bad idea. Jess and I have a special understanding, a bond of justice and integrity that we think should grow out of life’s situations…how can he stoop to this now, Slim wondered. Jess, a carnival barker, of all things, too many of these sideshows have taken-in good law abiding hard working citizens.
As Slim neared Mort’s side, he still couldn’t understand as Mort spoke to him. “Slim! Took you awhile to get over here, Jess told me you’d be here faster than whistling Dixie. Jess said it’s time you get hit from behind, so you’ll face up to something. Does that ring a bell?”
Slim just stared at Mort. Mort pulled Slim aside, just a bit, and quietly asked, “do you have some kind of a problem, Slim?” As Slim took a bit of a squint at Mort, Mort shook his head and sighed. Mort then replied in a fatherly way, “here now, Slim … don’t know what he meant by that, so don’t look at me, you better go on in and see for yourself.”
Slim just kept staring at Mort in amazement as he went back to his ticket selling. Mort quickly looked back at Slim and smiled and gave him a gentle nudge, “Slim, say…just what do you think of Belle. Did Jess tell you about her final act? Never in all my born days have I seen a belly-roll.” Mort laughed. “I never knew it was possible but that Belle is just something special Slim. A real treat for all, especially after the hard work this town has done to get back into working order after that twister. Jess seems to think the twister is what caused Belle to surface.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised…lots tramps and bums on the move after a twister, seems fitting that a lady of her kind would be out walking the roads just as well.” Slim said with a hint of irritation as he snapped out of his staring just a bit and got his mind back in the saddle correctly.
“Slim, she’s not a lady, not by a long shot…what gave you that impression?” Mort eyed him a bit as he took some change and sent two people in with their tickets held high.
“Well then, why don’t you run her out of town Mort before someone takes to fighting over her. A lady like that, she’s just plain no good Mort and you’re selling tickets? What’s happened to you? …and Jess?…and the whole town, have you all been bewitched by her?”
“Slim. Listen to me son, just go on in. Jess and Andy are in there, you can pay up later, and…” before Mort could finish his words, Slim pushed past Mort in furious disbelief. How could Jess do that against me, or Mort even, for that matter, Slim’s thoughts were racing. He saw Jess and Andy around the outside circle of the little crowd. His first thought was to pull Jess out by the shirt and have at it with him, but instead he grabbed Andy by the shirt to pull him out away from the dancer. As he did so, he spun off balance, sending Andy tripping off towards the stable door. Jess ran over to Andy’s side and looked over at Slim just in time to see him fall. Slim’s spur had gotten caught on a bail of hay stacked near the dancer so to keep people back and out of the way. Jess looked shocked, as well as many in the crowd were, but no one could catch Slim as he fell onto the belly dancer and knocked her over just as she was lifting up to do her finale with the fast shaking bells…the part that Jess loved so much!
“Aw Slim… now you gone and done it.” Jess needlessly proclaimed.
Slim lay there in shock on the floor with Belle on his chest. Her finale was ruined, but she continued on just the same. A real trouper that’s for sure, Jess thought.
It was all so absurd and unbelievable what had just happened, Slim was in shock. The sound of the bells jingled with such a wonderful melody that Slim just had to laugh. He laughed and laughed ‘til he couldn’t laugh any more. It excited Belle so much, that she took her two front paws off of Slim’s chest and tried her best to lift herself up on her hind legs again, as if to finish her finale. She barked for the first time, as the happy laughter was a sound she had sincerely missed. Her tail hit Slim a few times in the face as he tried to crawl out of her way, but no one seemed to mind. All in all it was a mighty fine show at that!
Slim was relieved she was finally off of him, as he could hardly breath from her weight. As he tried to collect his dignity from falling into her act, Belle pushed at the chair that was part of her act, it was her little signal for help. She needed to lift up and balance her paws on the chair but Slim had knocked that over as well. Jess went over and picked it up and Belle lifted her heavy body up and balanced on the chair. She rang her bells to her hearts content, along with her wagging tail she was quite a site. Her little jewels sparkled even without the light of the sun, she finished with a twist and rolled down to the floor and rolled her belly as the people cheered and clapped.
Slim crawled farther out of the way and stood up near Jess while dusting himself off. Jess looked over at Slim and said, “See, LIKE I SAID…didn’t I tell you, you’d really take to her. Jess was beaming as happy as a pup in the mud, doing it’s own tail wagging. Slim gave Jess a hard shove and near knocked him over.
“Why didn’t you tell me she was a dog!”
“Whoa there Slim. Now if I told you that my dancer was a real dog, just what would you have thought of me, talking that way and all. I tried to tell you she weren’t no lady! Why I even had a right nice story about WANTED POSTER mix-ups. Happens all the time, as well I know. Anyway Slim, like I said…some things a man don’t want to face …unless they hit him from behind… OR above, in your case, FROM ABOVE.”
Jess turned around laughing as hard as could and called Andy over. “Say that was mighty funny, huh Andy… lots of fun too. Did you see ol’ Slim’s face when he first saw Belle hanging over him? A bloodhound dressed in lace, sparkles and bells!” That’s enough to make a man stop drinking and start counting empty whiskey bottles, that’s for sure!” Jess laughed again, as he thought back to his story-telling, at Maudy’s Café. “Sure as heck, I ain’t gonna’ forget that …no sir…sure ain’t!”
Andy just laughed as he agreed fully, it had been great fun. Jess asked the crowd to leave and thanked them most graciously in Jess Harper style. He made sure to tell them not to expect Slim in any of the following acts, unless maybe for a very special occasion or some such thing. Having spoken to the stable owner, a good trusted friend of Slim’s and Jess’, and Mort’s too for that matter, Jess left Belle with his care. Jess rejoined the two Shermans, as the now three of them made their way to the stable door and out into the sunlight to visit with Mort before he left for his office. He had heard the commotion but only caught the end of it, so some sharing was due him. After all, he belonged in Jess’ inner circle too! Mort left, savoring the sharing, as Slim, Jess and Andy went their way with the now collected box, over to the boarding house. Little did any of them know that a pair of small eyes were watching the whole scene and they weren’t Belles soft dark brown eyes, either.
The boarding house was offering free help and places to stay, as others offered in turn, their help to fix up any damage from the twister. There was a small hall room for eating, if anyone wanted to join in at any time, they were welcomed. It was here that Andy had met up with the boarding house owner’s parents. They were a bit old and couldn’t get around much, but
they had still been caring for some relatives’ kids for the last few years. Not the owner’s kids, but kids from his brother’s side. They had no parents anymore, so they lived with the grandparents. They never came into town, but had done so after the twister, as to help out their family.
As their family owned the boarding house, you’d think there was enough money to buy them clothes, Andy thought. He knew the owners were good respected people and heard tell the grandma was too, but the grandpa was always drinking up the money. He never hurt the kids they were caring for, but never really helped them much either, so they just ran around like
dirty pups. The grandma made sure that they had a sense of right and wrong though and so did the boarding house owners (their aunt and uncle). They wanted them to one day have a future and not end up in jail, so they kept good track of what they did, but as Andy noticed the kids sure weren’t a very clean lot. Heard tell, Andy thought, that they only had four kids,
but I see five. Seems they don’t keep them too clean, that’s a shame…I sure even keep my critters clean, and they aren’t even my kin, Andy’s thoughts followed him around the eating
room as he watched the kids run out to the back yard. He knew Slim and Jess were putting the clothes that were in the box, away in their room, so he wandered around on his own.
Slim and Jess soon came down and collected Andy and went off to the town meeting hall. This was where the townsfolk of Laramie had planned the get-together for the very next night. Quite a few people were busy decorating and time passed by quickly into the evening. Slim also was busy explaining some of the finer points to Jess, that Mort had somehow missed,
so Jess would get a bit more involved than he would have other wise. Jess had intended on just walking about and gleaning it all in just a bit, as to enjoy the atmosphere only. The finer points were that Slim was insisting Jess find something to offer and add his name to the list, as he and Andy, and Mort had. Slim made sure in his most strict Slim Sherman terms, that mending ol’ Sammy’s roof DID NOT COUNT, since he had already done that BEFORE he knew of the plans in town.
“Aw shucks, Slim…don’t know if I have time to think of something, this is a bit last minute, you know…now, if you would have asked me before I finished the roof at ol’ Sammy’s, why
that would have done the trick.” As Jess strolled around thinking on the matter, he couldn’t help but feel that he was being followed. He took a quick scan of the room, all he saw was
a group of young boys. They were a bit on the dirty side at that, but harmless enough.
Andy though, as evening soon came, found out that one of them wasn’t as harmless as he appeared, when sandwiches were offered for a late supper, to all that were in the meeting hall.
“Ladies and gentleman, listen up here, sandwiches are now being served … ladies first, then gentleman will follow…come and get it! There’s lemonade for all at the other table while you waiting for the line to thin down!”
One of the boys from the ‘dirty dust gang’ Andy’s silent way of identifying the boarder-house-clan, came running up and found first place in line. Andy noticed two other girls feeling
a bit bad as to how quickly the boy had cut in. So Andy offered to do the gentlemanly thing. He had been learning from Slim and Jess that it is always the gentlemanly thing to do,
helping ladies in distress.
With the stern reminder in the back of his head from his talks with his two mentors: ‘now don’t get shot over it none though Andy’, Andy approached the young boy. “Son, your not a gentleman, forcing your way into line before the others young ladies, now why don’t you do the gentlemanly thing and kindly wait?”
“I know!” came the sharp-pitched confident reply, “and I don’t have to wait!” as the speaker held the spot firmly.
“Well, you not a LADY either and this line is for ladies, didn’t you hear?” Andy pressed onward but politely. He didn’t reckon he’d get shot, but still, the warning echoed in his ear.
Slim and Jess never gave out needless warnings and they had got shot up from time to time, so not knowing just what to expect with this gentlemanly thing, Andy though a smile just
might help a bit. Andy tapped the boy on the shoulder.
The boy pushed back and refused to turn around or budge from the coveted spot. The servers arrived with the sandwiches, and uncovered the tin pans, while trying to size up the
youngster at the head of the line. By now, there were four young girls in line and some young ladies in their teens were now joining for their turns after the children.
“You boys need to move on now, gentlemen come next, ladies first now, why don’t you use your waiting time to wash up a bit? One of you could sure use it, you know.” Andy watched
as the servers moved around towards other chores. Guess it’s up to me still, Andy thought, sure ain’t working too good…wonder what Slim and Jess would do?
“Say now, I tried my best to be polite…didn’t you hear, YOU’RE NOT A LADY and this line is for ladies.” This time Andy walked up around from behind and faced this immovable
object with his firmest stare and his hands on his hips.
“I will be a lady someday…I really will, I just know I will!” This previously immovable object had now broken down and was in tears. Andy stared in disbelief at the person that had just cried out these words.
“Why you sure aren’t a gentleman and that’s a fact!” Andy said, adding “I’m truly sorry, miss…I didn’t know. Sure, you’ll be a lady…now please don’t cry. I sure missed the target here, didn’t I …and being just a bit off target sure ain’t no bulls eye, as Jess always says …can I help you get something to eat now?”
“Like if I was a LADY and all?” came the reply, as she wiped her tears on her dirty sleeve.
“Yeah,” Andy smiled “like a real lady!” Realizing they had an audience of hungry ladies, Andy quickly dished her up the sandwiches and some fruits that had arrived during their confrontation and they parted company. Andy made his way over to Slim with his interesting story and sat down to share it. Soon this member of the ‘dirty dust gang’ was eating in a
corner by herself … carefully watching …Jess Harper.
Jess finally began to feel uneasy. Whatever was eating at him was still a mystery. He didn’t feel any danger, but yet, somehow he knew something was in the air. Maybe that’s it…air
…I just need some fresh night air. With that thought Jess went outside into the starlit sky. Sure felt good, smelled good to, crisp evening air.
Jess turned sharply as he heard the sound of soft feet behind him. “Hey there boy, what you want…something I can do for you? Hey, shouldn’t you be in doors…Mort sure don’t like
kids running the streets at night you know.” Jess bent down and crouched near his heels as far down as he dared without hitting his spurs and peered at the boy. Something just
wasn’t quite right here.
“Mister, did you steal my dog?” As the pair of big eyes softly stared up at him through the darkness, it finally hit Jess. These eyes had been following him all day, off and on, and in
various places. He never saw the eyes, but he surely felt them. The only face that showed up regular as he took to hunting out the culprit was this boarding-house-boy.
“Well now son, is THAT your dog? She and I met up just this morning and she brightened my day as the sunrise breaks over the hills, but I give you my word, I’d never steal her. If
you want to check on my word being honorable, you can check me out with Sheriff Mort Corey, in the meeting hall there. My name is Jess Harper and I DON’T take to stealing. He’ll
vouch for me, son, he’s the law, and MY FRIEND.” Jess smiled.
Upon hearing Jess was friends with the law, the owner of the pair of eyes became very impressed, and a bit embarrassed. “I’m really sorry, but I had to know. I’ve been following you,
ever since I seen you with my dog this morning. I sure missed the target here, didn’t I …and being just a bit off target sure ain’t no bulls eye, as Jess always says. Are YOU the Jess that always says that, Mister?”
“Well, dad-gum…I’m one and the same and it appears someone’s been talking about me.” Jess said as he stood up and pushed his hat back and stared down at the boy, trying to focus
on him better.
“Oh, don’t worry none, he was a perfect gentleman.”
“The stable owner has been minding Belle, well that’s what I been calling her. Whenever you’d like her back, you just let us know. To tell you the truth, I’ll really miss her… but if I
lost my horse, I’d be the first to say I’d want it back. Can you care for Belle, do you need help son? You been staying at the boarding house with old man Hunter and his wife. I seen you there a bit and I know they ain’t to well off at times. I thought they only had four boys to fend for…so now, how’d you come to be with them?”
Avoiding Jess’ first question, the dog-owner said “Her name is Funny…I was visiting her at the stable and she was so happy to see me, I almost cried. He had a leash on her or she
would have followed me. I didn’t want to cause trouble, and Funny, she’s happy wherever she stays. We’ve stayed so many places, she’s used to it. So you take care of her for me
Mister, will you?”
Jess came back up near the porch of the building, leaving the darkness and stars behind and leaned against the post, as the boy turned and ran inside. “Say, hold up!” Jess quickly
pursued his solved puzzle of the day but he had disappeared. Jess made his way over to Slim and Andy and sat down.
“Where have you been Jess? They already served the men folk and you missed out.” Slim said as he watched Jess sit.
“Seems I just ran into Belle’s owner, her name’s Funny.” Jess said as he began to play chess with his accumulating thoughts of the last few days.
“What’s so funny about it Jess?” Andy asked.
“Nothing, Andy…the dog’s name is Funny.”
“Well, what’s so funny about that?” Andy asked a bit confused.
“Actually Andy, nothing, but something’s funny, I just cant quite put my finger on it.” Jess moved a few more thoughts around on the mental chessboard and shut his eyes.
“If you want to hear something funny, Jess. I SURE got a situation for you.” Andy related his odd story and finished up with, “I was just trying to be a gentleman, like you and Slim is
all. All this time I thought she was just one of the boarder-house-gang, I mean boarder-house-boys. Now that was sure funny, don’t you think?”
“Andy!” Jess jumped up and put his arms on the boys shoulders and looked into his face as a light seemed to come on in his brain and the chess game came to a halt. “That’s it! It’s
the WANTED POSTER again. I’ve been trying to help a friend find someone and I’ve been talking to Mort and asking around town and even doing some gleaning on my own today.
Now it appears I been looking for the wrong person. Descriptions don’t always hit the target…and being off target sure ain’t no bulls eye. I’ve been looking for a little girl that looks
like a boy and all this time I should have been looking for a boy. Not a real boy, but someone who’d appear as a boy enough to be mistaken for a boy, not a girl just looking like a boy.
You understand me? I’ve been trying to aim at the wrong target, no wonder I wasn’t anywhere near the bulls eye.” Jess’s mind was busy finishing up his game of chess, as he sat
back a bit to take the final move.
“Jess, I’ve had the hardest time understanding you today, if Andy thinks he’s got a handle on it. He’s one up on me. To tell you the truth, I think I’ll sit this one out and watch what
kind of a rabbit you two are pulling out of your hats. Then you can introduce me to the facts.” Slim leaned back in the chair and took a deep sigh.
“Andy just found Doc-Boston’s daughter, and I just talked to her, and I never even knew it. My belly dancer that I found is their missing dog … why, they’re a family Slim. It’s a long
story.” Jess confessed.
“I’ve got all night Jess and with that wild rabbit you just laid on the table, how about us picking it up and heading on back to the boarding house and stewing it some. You can fill me
in and Andy can head for bed.” Slim got up and stretched out his shoulders and arms as he looked at Andy’s sullen face. “Hey now Andy, don’t look so sullen, you’re the hero here.”
…And the perfect gentleman” Jess said. “If you hadn’t been, none of this would have fallen into place. There’s time enough tomorrow for story telling, then you won’t be so bored
as we unload that lumber tomorrow.”
As they headed out into the night, the meager crowd began to close up for the night as well. Leaving them behind, Slim, Andy and Jess watched ahead as the boarder-house-boys
happily went running for their uncle’s boarding house, with their aunt leading the way and nearly there. Old man Hunter, surprisingly sober, and his wife were slowly following behind
the boys. For the first time that day, Jess noticed that the extra boy was missing, the one that had recently been added on into the group. He had a hunch exactly where he, she, could
be found. He had some rounding up to do with this stray…but first this rabbit manifested before Slim needed to be finished up. Come sun-up, would find Jess Harper on target and
hitting the bulls eye for Doc-Boston.
---DIAMONDS IN THE MUD---
The livery stable’s old familiar smell seemed to make Jess feel at ease as he entered.
“Good morning Jess, your not planning to leave town yet are you, tonight’s the pot-luck and dance.” Hank was on duty for his father and greeted Jess.
“Nope, if I miss this dance, Slim will no doubt come fetch me and drag me back kicking and screaming …if he can find me that is.” Jess eyed the stable. “How’s my belly dancer, Hank
…she should have had a buddy bedding down with her last night.”
“Sure did, Mort came by to check on him, too. He even stayed in town, spent the night in his office when he heard what you told him. He’s already been here earlier too and checked
Jess made his way over to what was left of Doc-Boston’s family. As Jess thought about the chess game of thoughts in his head last night in the meeting hall with Slim and Andy, and
the unfolding of the full story to Slim a bit later, it near broke Jess’s heart. He knew ever so well how it felt to have only the remnants of a family left, and as for himself, he didn’t even
have that anymore. He pressed his hand hard over his eyes just under his eyebrows and took a few deep breaths. The calm cool darkness of the early morning stable and the sound
of the horses sure felt good. Memories and feelings that moved in his mind as a slow wisp of a cloud, soon passed on through. Jess stood there as he could almost picture them
passing on through, leaving him somehow more seasoned for the experience.
Jess looked down at the sleeping pair and slowly reached to wake them. Just as he was reaching down to wake the girl, Jess’ eye caught sight of a sparkle, it was a rhinestone from the
belly-dancing-wonder…he reached for it…it’s like a diamond, in the mud. Diamonds don’t belong in the mud. He held that thought, as he lifted it up and cleaned it so it would shine
better. He tucked it into his shirt pocket, as a subconscious gesture mostly, but in a way, as a type of souvenir of all he had been feeling there in the stable. It was like someone was
speaking to him, in a still silent voice, but he wasn’t sure as to what the message was.
He gently reached down and woke the girl and the belly-dancing-wonder. He sure did enjoy her soft dark eyes and her deep heavy sighs…and his remembrance of this large bloodhound standing on Slims chest shaking her bells to her hearts content. Life sure can be a lot of fun at times! Jess thought as he chuckled a bit to himself, …then again… sometimes it sure
can hurt. His mood changed a bit… “Okay little lady…you and me…we’re gonna’ have a real get acquainted visit this morning and learn all there is to know about each other, starting
now. As the sun slowly began to rise, Jess and Doc-Boston’s daughter talked and shared as Funny (Belle) jumped and played with dancing angels that appeared through cracks in the
stable walls. Her rhinestones sparkled richly as the streaks of light hit them, as she jumped back and forth, at the tiny particles of floating dust. Her bells tinkled and jingled as Jess and
the little girl shared sorrows and joys and pieces of puzzles …hopes and dreams… and even dancing angels.
Jess and Doc-Boston’s daughter came out of the stable, leaving Funny with her leash to enjoy a day with Hank. They made their way to the boarding house. Slim and Andy were just passing near by them in the street, as they had minutes ago finished a nice breakfast at Maudy’s and Slim now motioned for Andy to halt.
Just as Jess was ready to open his mouth, there was a loud resounding “NO” as Slim beat Jess to the punch, “I DIDN’T have oats…and NO… you can’t go off playing with you friend,
you have work to do.”
As they stood there in their small late-morning group, with the warm sun on their backs, Jess corrected Slim quickly with his brow a bit wrinkled as he said, “playing?” “Me?”
“That’s what I said.”
Jess wrinkled up his brow again, a bit more, and then squeezed the girl’s shoulder gently as if to tell her to hold up for just a minute. “No Slim, you got it all wrong…I got my own work
to do today.”
Slim stared at Jess’ concerned face, rubbed his chin, then lowered his head and rubbed his forehead. He looked back at Jess in a studying manner and said, “Jess… you been hanging
around that bloodhound too long, your starting to look just like her. Although … not as heavy set … not yet anyway.”
Jess let the remark pass on into the creek of unimportant thoughts, sort of a spring run-off emptying out of his brain flow, sometimes his brain could only hold so much water at a time
and was full up now as it was.
“Slim, right now I need to help Doc-Boston and his daughter here. I owe this man in a big way, since you KNOW now, there’s no point in getting into it all again. Me and the little lady
here have had a mighty interesting talk and I can see what I need to do. I know you’ll understand, so, if you’ll be excusing us.” Jess turned to go, as Andy watched, knowing now for
sure that most of the work just might be coming their way again, he might as well set his thoughts to accepting it now. His thoughts though, quickly turned ever so slightly burdensome,
as he watched Jess’ back as he turned to leave. It was not because of the work issue. Work, though a chore was easier to bear up under than as to what was else now bothered Andy.
Andy remembered the last time he had zeroed in on Jess’ back in such a way. It was during the time of the twister, before everyone headed for the twister. He remembered how, in the
storm cellar, it stuck in his mind that he might never see Jess again. But he did. This time the same feeling were beginning to stir slowly and Andy had to wonder…why is that so
important just now?
The little girl was now by Jess’s side joining quickly into his stride, as he had been unaware that she didn’t leave when he did, and assumed she was with him. She had been curious who these two gentlemen were to her new gentleman friend… the rescuer of her dog. She had stood a moment, studying Slim and her friend from the ‘ladies line’, Andy. Andy had been
studying Jess. And Slim had been studying the sky. All in all, little did they all know that a lot was just now learned.
“Jess…!” Slim hollered louder with his resounding voice. “Jess! Now hold up!”
Jess was so lost in his thoughts that he stopped sudden. He spun a bit around the girl and took hold of her shoulder so as not to knock her over. He then reached down and carefully
took her hand and walked quickly as he could with her and stopped up short, as Slim was going Jess’ way and near ran into him.
Face to face the two men met and Jess felt a bit awkward. “Slim…I’m sorry, I meant to introduce you. Slim, meet…say, I don’t even know your name and we been talking all morning.”
“Jess, that’s real polite and all, but that’s not what I want to talk about. The rains didn’t come in when we thought, but if you’d take your hat off and give your brain a breath of fresh air,
you just might notice that there’s a good three-quarter-pot-full of storm clouds on the brew. Nothing real bad, but a good downpour for sure. We need that work done. Tonight you
can visit and play all you like.” Slim said sternly … but added his warm hearted smile as the caboose, with its light a trailing the train of his agenda.
“Why do you keep saying that Slim? Just what are you trying to say to me? You think I don’t got important things to do like you do? What’s this playing, I ain’t playing…you
expecting me to pick up some jacks or marbles or something? And I sure ain’t playing kick the can … unless you feel like helping me out, the hard way.” Jess stepped up into Slim’s
face, to fight for his new found cause, never giving the slightest thought as to just how tall Slim looked up so close.
“Now then” Jess continued with vigor, “What’s all this double talk…and you say to me that I been hanging out with Jonesy too long…cause of me being laid up a bit for a few days.
How about you?”
Jess cocked his head, as he took Slim on with, “You SURE he ain’t hiding out around here, coaching you? What do you mean playing … I ain’t no wet-nosed kid!” Jess was all the
more crowding Slim now with words and feeling a bit feisty, this is no time to rile up a Harper, Jess thought, might as well rile up a badger…I got WORK to do for the Doc. If I miss
out on my goal, I just might bite a bit.
Slim held his ground and let Jess do his worst. He knew he would, so he set his face to take it. Sooner or later this ‘Harper-Hurricane’, a phenomenon all it’s own, would hit landfall
and run out of fuel. Slim would be fresh and ready to take him on … if …he could just manage not to get caught up in those dang heavy Harper winds, seemed they were building full
force right about now...
“Don’t go riling up badgers … ‘lessen you know some mighty fancy dancing steps…and double-time at that, Slim.” Jess said with a bit of annoyance and no intention of backing down.
Unfortunately the Sherman oak began to topple as a heavy gust of Harper wind caught hold of Slim and he got sucked in.
“Now your the one that’s sounding like Jonesy!” Slim hollered back in his face.
“Purely my own…and I got more where that come from…you ready to find out?” Jess said cocking his head in a try-me mood. It was as if he was a gun, being twirled for attention,
happy to be freed up from its holster.
“Jess you pick up phrases as easy and as often as you pick up your hat after a fight…and I can “you writin’ a book or something” prove it and you now it."
At that moment they heard a small voice, “Mister are you fighting with my friend Mr. Harper?”
Slim looked down in the soft suspicious wrinkled-brow eyes of the boy…girl, thought Slim…as he corrected himself. He took a deep sigh, darned if they both been hanging around
with that wrinkled hound a bit too long, she looks just like it too. Jess and this gal sure make a pair.
“No, miss.” Slim said calmly. “We were just wrangling a bit…if it ain’t cows back at the ranch…seems there’s always something else to wrangle. Right Jess?”
Jess ignored Slim unintentionally as he said to the girl, “Now remember,” Jess said, “I told you it’s not ‘Mister’…and it’s not ‘Mr. Harper’…you got to stop that. Slim, her mom was
from the south, though she don’t remember her much. Her mom’s sister, well even though they live in Boston now, they brought her up with southern respect, ‘Mister’ and such. Say
now, little lady, just what is your name, so I can introduce you real proper like?” Jess stood there looking at her as he pushed his hat back a bit. Seemed he’d been doing quite a lot
of hat-pushing-back with this here gal. Maybe Slim’s right at that, Jess thought, maybe my brain does need some air… me not asking her for her name and all…
“My name is Honor.” She smiled, “I’m going to be a lady, Mr. Har-…Jess here, he said so.”
“Well, that’s a right-honest name, there’s no denying that!” Jess said completely taken aback.
“Slim…Andy…This here is Honor Fulton, Doc-Boston’s daughter, and I know you already RAN into Belle, well, actually her name is Funny, as in: F-u-n-n-e-e.”
“Jess…I believe that’s F-u-n-n-y,” Andy corrected him.
“Yeah, that’ll do too, Andy…long as you know I ain’t joking, suits me just fine…Belle in now officially Funny!” Jess laughed.
Then Jess turned to Honor, “and Honor Fulton…this is Andy Sherman…who is the brother of this here Word-Wrangler and Cow-Wrangler…AND MY BEST FRIEND, my good ol’ pard, SLIM SHERMAN.”
“SO NOW…seeing as we ain’t fighting and we’re done wrangling…do I get to get back to work, Slim?” Jess sincerely sought permission, this time more humbly, as a lady was now
“Go on… go ahead Jess…just remember, the rains coming in…I expect what ever it is your up too, well, you better finish it and get back here into down. And try and do it with out
making a mess out of yourself, THERE IS a dance here tonight YOU KNOW or have you forgotten? And maybe if you’d help that little lady out, and get her dressed up a bit better,
THEN you two wouldn’t look so much like a couple of street kids, off to play barrel hoop rolling or something. Have you taken a look at yourselves? She’s looking like a boy rag muffin,
and you look like you slept in your clothes…does disheveled mean anything to you? You can always recognize a couple of street kids at play…you get my drift now, Jess?” Slim
smiled as he tapped his index finger at his temple.
With the playtime mystery solved, Jess felt his feet on a firmer bit of foundation and his duty became important to him again. “You heard the man, let’s work on that as well.”
With that happy note Jess and Honor took off for some deeply serious work…more serious and deeper than anyone realized. Only Andy seemed to feel something ominous from the
near by clouds as they slowly began to approach from the distance. His feelings were not necessarily from the storm clouds, but still somehow connected…and that left him with some
deeply serious wonders.
The day progressed with out incidents for Slim and Andy. Jess took Honor on a hunt, so to speak, as he called it. After he finished up, he dropped of an honorable young lady, as far
as a twelve year old girl can be, at the boarding house. After a few stares and hugs from the Hunter’s, all four, both juniors and seniors, as well as from the rest of the ‘dirty-dust-gang’,
it was now known officially that there was a LADY in the house and that the ‘boy’ of the past was now gone.
Jess got ready now to put together the missing piece of the serious work he had undertook. “Now, you take that other dress I got you and keep it safe, for tonight. You and me got a
date and I’ll be here not a minute late … seeing as I’m a gentleman. Gentlemen don’t keep ladies waiting, but that goes for ladies too…understand?”
Honor looked at him with her soft light brown eyes, wanting to understand everything he was trying to teach her. Then Jess laughed with a soft gentle laugh, “aww you know, I’m just
fooling with you don’t ya’? Why a lady can be as late as she wants…that’s her privilege…it teaches us men-folk to hold our horses a bit. But now, as to us men-folk…now…I wasn’t
teasing in that respect, Honor. A TRUE gentleman is NEVER late. Don’t forget that okay?”
“I promise, Jess.” She smiled, and ran up to Jess and gave him a hug, then with a quick after though she said, “Jess, as a lady, I can still go see Funny, right, and roll around and have
“Sure you can, twelve year old ladies still got years of fun in them!” Jess answered as they walked out the door together and he mounted up. “Don’t forget now, you be expecting me prompt…AN HOUR EARLY KIND OF PROMPT… and…I’ll have something mighty important for you too.”
With those parting words, Jess took off. Honor ran down the street to spend time with Funny…and…her thoughts. She and Jess had done some mighty powerful talking. She neared
the stable and told Hank she was taking Funny over to the boarding house. She knew now, it was her turn to take her belly dancer back. It was her turn to take something even more important back now, too. She came up to the boarding house porch and as no one was around. She had some quiet time with Funny, as she remembered part of her conversation with
“Now you listen up, little miss…I’m aiming to tell you something serious, and I don’t want you to think I’m turning against you after our real fine talk”. Jess was kneeling on the
floor holding her hand as she sat on a bale of hay. The belly-dancing-wonder had stopped playing with the dancing angels, as they had since disappeared, and laid at their feet in a heap. The little bells had stopped their rings and chimes, and it was still and musty in the stable. Doc-Boston’s daughter was eyeing Jess, and more concerned for him, than herself,
as he looked extremely distraught.
“You could never do anything against me, Mister Harper, I knew that when we talked about you stealing my dog or not…remember?”
“I know your pa…I just recently spent time with him. I also knew him, in a way…in the war. Seems he’s was just waiting to come out of the chimney stones…well…what I mean is
…his showing up is now, is because of a special job needing to be done. Sometimes a man don’t want to face things. Some things a man don’t want to face…’til they hit him from
behind…and since I kind of ran up from behind on him…I reckon I’m the one to help him do that job, the job of facing things now. And part of it is, to tell you that you got to forgive
Jess had held her hand a bit tighter and had continued on, “remember that twister? Well that twister tore up a lot of things as it ripped through here…and I reckon the best way to explain this is…so did the war. The war, where I met your pa…it tore up a lot of men, in more ways than wounds. It made people get all twisted up inside, so’s they become in danger
of forgetting just who they are, or were.”
“It’s Jess, now…you keep forgetting.”
“Jess…you were in the war… are you twisted?”
“I…well, I…I sure admit it made me mighty mad at times, and mighty confused…. But I never allowed my self to get twisted. I couldn’t…I …I can’t…I just can’t. I lost my home, you
know…I couldn’t let who I was get lost…then I’d have nothing.”
She had studied Jess as he had said this and silently soaked in how he began to tremble and how his hand was starting to sweat a bit and even shake. She felt as if a landslide had
just come done between them, and he was desperately trying to get to her side, but was now misplacing his firm steady footsteps and stumbling badly. She finally had to ask him, as
if to reach him and pull him back over the jumbled mess of rock, “If you had to face up to being twisted or not…you’d face it wouldn’t you?”
“Sure. Sure…I just hope I would face it in the right way.”
It was so quiet after he had said this that she had wondered what else he wanted to say, and then it came, “That’s why it’s very very important for you to forgive your pa. Now, I had
a talk with him and I believe he’s ready to tell you he’s sorry too. So how about you making a truce…war’s over you know…so old wounds should be allowed to heal up now. What
say we make a celebration of it all? You and me go on a hunting trip through Laramie and see what we can set our sites on, as to turning you into a lady, for you and for him?”
With that last sentence of their conversation, Honor sat on the porch and scratched Funny’s stomach AND decided a little playing in the yard was okay for ladies. After all, she told
herself: Jess Harper told her it was all right, and he had a sheriff for a friend, and he was no dog stealer…and he knew what it felt like to be afraid of a twister … the kind that hits
a man from the war.
Leaving Honor behind, Jess was fast approaching ol’ Sammy’s place. Jess had been riding and thinking and planning…and then thinking and re-planning. Just supposing he won’t
come…do I hit the doc with a fist to the jaw…or do I keep jawing to the hardhead? Well, looks like I’m about to find out, Jess said to himself, as he was about to dismount.
“Hey there, Jess…didn’t I get enough work out of you? Or do they need some more lumber in town. If you want to do some fence fixing before the rain, we may get a few done off my
list. It’ll be supper in a few hours, you welcome to stay.” Sammy beckoned with a wide sweep of his arm.
“Ain’t Doc-Boston here or you got him on fence duty too?” Jess smiled, as he began to slowly guide his horse in that direction.
“No, Jess. He took off for to check two of the nearby spreads. Seems he’s planning on selling his wagon and wants to know who will be the highest bidder. He took off on horse,
though and left the wagon in the barn, so he should be back soon.”
“Will you send him over to Slim’s for me, Sammy. Tell him it’s urgent…that I kind of got a surprise for him. Something real special. Hey, and don’t let him use that short cut up there
…the one to our place, I haven’t checked it out since the twister, but it appears that the twister made tracks through there, and as that’s your favorite stomping grounds, I best be
warning you against it now too. Before you or someone gets hurt.”
“So you don’t know, then do you Jess…I already stopped using it a week before the twister. There’s still mud holes and drop offs from that storm that blew through. Lots of trees down
even from before the twister, they were old and ready to go, so that’s nothing new. But you ought to see where the ridges have broken way. Must have happened from the weight of
some of the trees. Some have caused mud holes clear into China, I reckon. Ain’t fit for man or beast! And, seeing as I’m part both…I surely as, that there rain that flooded it and that
there twister that followed it, ain’t about to make tracks in it!”
“Well, you just make sure Doc-Boston stays clear of it. I heard from someone…let’s say, a mutual acquaintance…that he’s a real roamer. Used to do hunting with a hound and he’s
mighty fond of roaming the woods.”
“Just like you, eh, Jess? Just like you!”
“I figure … But I just may be ONE up on him, you know, before he turned southerner, he was Boston-citified, you know! Just make sure he gets the messages and tell him I’ll be at Slim’s waiting. Seems Slim caught me hunting in Laramie and shoved this here list in my pocket,” Jess said, as he pounded his pocket a bit to flatten it from the paper in it. Says it’s stuff to do before the rain comes, says Jonesy and Ben are too old to do this kind of stuff…says WHO, I says. Says ME, he says. Oh, well, ones things for sure, guess I ain’t to old, as I’ll be doing
this here list. Looks like he got some work out of me after all…and right when I was trying to plan out my OWN work here.”
Jess watered his horse, “See ya’ Sammy… don’t forget now, I expect to see him. Don’t give him any supper, they’ll have some in town. It may be a little late, as them townsfolk got lots
to do, but it’s supper none the less.”
“So, I heard.” Sammy said, as he waved Jess off.
Jess arrived at the ranch…met up with Jonesy and Ben and informed them as to how Slim thought they were getting a bit old. He endured a stiff lecture from the both of them, as he
completed his list, and then endured how they enjoyed being retired from the chores, seeing as it was better for Jess to end up so tired, instead of them. Jonesy started explaining to
Ben about his back and Ben started explaining to Jonesy about his shoulder. It was right about then, that Jess started to tell them BOTH about his all-fired back-aching shoulder-aching
He took off and got his horse ready to go back into town. After a bit longer, he began to wonder where Doc-Boston was. He let the story-telling old-folks know that he was on his
way back to Sammy’s for a fellow with a missing piece of a left hand finger, and Jonesy near tripped off the porch and grabbed the post. He straightened up, with a bit of an ache, and
looked for Ben. Ben was already in the house, and it was just as well, family matter, thought Jonesy, strictly a family matter.
Jonesy leaned over the rail of the porch and peered over at Jess. “What did you say?” Jonesy said with a slow heavy tone, as in meaning ‘did you just say what I thought you said?’.
“You heard. And if it wasn’t for this dang all-fired back-aching shoulder-aching old-timer headache, I just might be able to stick around and converse some more with you Jonesy.”
Jess smirked and tipped his hat, turned his horse and road off down the road to hopefully meet up with the said same man.
Awhile later Jonesy and Ben sat drinking coffee. It had sprinkled just a bit, as if the rain was leaving it calling card and fixing to come calling in a polite way. Better than last time,
Jonesy thought in regards to the rain, as he visited with Ben. Last time, banged on the door at the midnight hour, as if demanding a loaf of bread for a starving belly.
“Speaking of door banging, well, I’ll be!” Jonesy said, to go along with his thoughts.
“I hadn’t said a thing,” Jonesy, “but I do hear a knock that’s for sure.” Ben acknowledged the last point.
Jonesy got up and answered the door.
“Is Jess Harper here. My name is Ray Fulton, or actually, he calls…”
“Jess ain’t here. You a friend of his? Say, where’d you come from anyway, you’re a muddy mess.” Jonesy thought a bit.
“Say, are you that stray, from up at Sam’s? That’s the only place you could have got all that mud from…the short cut. Mose said for me not to be expecting Sam from there for a bit,
as it ain’t safe.”
“I rightly found that out, Sir. Slipped clean on down part of that hill just after the ridge. Don’t know where Sammy went, as the note he left was a bit hard to discern. Something about
one of his ‘hosses was loos’ and if I ‘sho~d up ~for hees bak’ then ‘Jess sa~d meet him and Orjen at Slims’ and then ‘do~n tuch da short …ca~k’? … Something … ‘short ca~k’?”
The man tried a bit to clean himself off as he smiled over at Jonesy. “I figured out that he meant urgent … to meet Jess… But I didn’t realize he meant ‘don’t touch the short-cut’, until
I was near halfway here. Funny, it sure looked like it said ‘don’t touch the short-cake.”
“Nothing funny about it, mister…Ray, did you say? Your lucky you’re here in one piece. Jess just rode over to Sam’s to mee-…meet up…with…say…” Jonesy stared silently as he
tried to picture this man listening to the delirious ramblings of a man lost in the darkness of bandages…laying in a field hospital…baring his secrets about dancing angels and such.
“Doc-Boston” they both said in unison. Grabbing each others shoulders and offering up smiles, they both said, “yeah, Doc-Boston.”
“Jess will be expecting you, you best get a move on it, he must be at Sam’s by now, wondering where you are.”
“Come on, you need a horse!” Jonesy was a bit urgent now himself and Doc couldn’t figure what set him off.
“Jonesy, relax…. I’ll do it…I’m sure there’s time.”
“No…no…you don’t understand. Its Jess…once he gets to Sam’s and you not there. Why, he’s gonna’ figure you took the short cut, as he won’t find you there at Sam’s. He’ll find
the note from Sam, or Sam himself, and he’ll go looking for you…thinking you were in trouble. And right he was…as right you were, but you’re not now ... BUT HE MAY BE.”
“Judging by what I know of Jess … I’m afraid I have to agree on that. Look, the only thing I can do is go back the way I came…I know where the worst of it is. I’ll just have to pick
another route to the side a bit, or make it up as I go along. Either I’ll get back and luck out with him waiting for me to show again…or we’ll near about run into each other. Don’t worry,
we seem to have a habit of that…though times have been a bit far and wide in between.” As the doc finished his assurance to Jonesy, he felt a nagging thought in his mind that he
wasn’t wanting to partner up to, seems every time we DO meet up, Jess’ in need of a good doctor.
Ben had been listening and thinking. “Jonesy…if he’s set his heart on going, seems the best you and me can do is to go up to Sam’s on the usual road, the same road to Laramie.
Then at least we will find out what happened, depending on if we run into Jess on the road or at Sammy’s. If not, ol’ Sammy will tell us if Jess went on in to the short cut…and then if he
did and if he and the doc don’t come out, then we’ll be that much ahead in knowing what to do. And I reckon we might just have to go on in after them, and see what happened, or maybe even one of us may have to go to town for Slim or the Mort.”
“Well, alright then, let’s fix up the wagon for me,” Jonesy agreed. “If you want to go ahead on a horse Ben, I would sure appreciate it…I surely would. Might as well leave a note here
for Slim just in case … sure couldn’t hurt, why, Jess himself may even show up here again, seems we never know just WHAT can happen around here anymore. Ohhh, my aching bones…it’s gonna’ rain…I just know it.” Jonesy shook his head with a deep setting cloud of heaviness. They all took one last look at each other and started out for a possible Jess rescue …JUST
in case he needed rescuing.
And Jess? Well, Jess was now a bit disgusted. He was confronting Sammy. “Aw Sammy, it ain’t your fault…maybe he didn’t see the note. I sure didn’t expect you to sit here all day
waiting for him. I clearly said WHEN…and even meant IF you seen him. I’m sorry about your horse…that he got tangle in the messed up wire…seems more and more messes are
unfolded from that dang twister. We should have rode up along that pasture as well. Live and learn. Can’t do it for another week or so…Slim and I got our own chores after all this
townsfolk work…but we’ll be back Sammy. Right now…I got to go in that twister-hit short cut. I got to find Doc- Boston. He wasn’t on the road, so I know he took it.”
Jess stared to move his horse with a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach…after finally meeting up with the Doc here…I sure don’t want to lose him now. Jess thought a bit and then
thought of Doc’s daughter. What am I thinking, not just for his life, or me knowing I did him a good turn finally…but for her. If something happens to him, I’m to blame for her never getting things right with her pa, and then I’m be to blame for her never having a pa. Looks like that twister is going to do us all in after all, Jess thought as he began to breath heavy
and tense up, he realized that somehow he wasn’t going to let it happen. He felt a fight coming on, and his whole body was ready for it. Little did he know there wouldn’t be a thing he
could do about it. Some fights turn into real battles…and battles need special strategy. The lines were drawn now and the battle would soon be on, as Jess entered the short cut,
through the wooded hills, to the Sherman Ranch Relay Station.
Jess knew that if Doc got through safe, that the doc would try to come back, so sooner or later Jess was bound to learn something. Sure hope I don’t learn it the hard way, or my horse
for that matter. If the doc was on foot, he’s take a bit longer than by horse, but I still won’t be rushing as my horse he don’t like it. Seems I remember some other ‘ruts a foot deep’
that you didn’t like … Jess’ thoughts were triggered now and he thought on how he first met up with Slim. Slim would throw me in the doghouse for this…if we had one … that’s for
sure. Maybe he’d throw the doc in as well…
Jess was near about half way through. So far no Doc-Boston, could be good, could be bad. The dad-burned fool has as much sense as I do…and it’s a toss-up as to which one of us
would loose the last cent of any sense we have, by flipping to see who takes the cake. Jess noticed the path was blocked too well in this area closest to the ridge. It appeared some bad upheavals had happened as rock or trees gave way. I’m in a sorry mess now, Jess’ thoughts shook their finger at him. The broken tree along the path was too large to around. It was
also joined by many of it’s pieces, plus other pieces, that were scattered from somewhat larger trees that were lodged in between it and trees that were still standing. There was no access
for a rider to go over, but it looked possible to walk over and through while guiding the horse, but at one point and one point only. Jess was far enough away from the steep edge. He was aware of the drop-off, not too steep it seemed and there was room to stop a fall before it with a good safety margin just in case.
Jess studied up on which way to go and decided to walk his horse up and around a bit, seems we can make if I just… Jess’ thought slipped from him as the piece of tree he stepped over
had a hidden branch on the side he put his foot on. The whole tree tilted a bit and as then his weight was off centered the fast moving tree sent him slipping downward. He let go of his horse’s reins so it could jump free of the force of tree as it quickly flipped. Jess felt himself slip off the flipped tree and with no ground contact anywhere, he fell into the dark, taking some leaves with him. It was all too fast for this thought to fully go through his brain: Where am I falling too?
Part of the safety margin that Jess had allowed himself contained a lodged broken tree branch covered with branches and leaves scattered all around it. It was part of the safety zone
…but a deceptive part…these leaves were concealing the true terrain. The tree that Jess stepped on flipped over and off to the side into the air, as he flipped back and went straight down
…straight down through the thin layer of leaves … taking the lodged broken tree branch and leaves with him.
Jess was in the dark, he felt his body engulfed in thick deep mud before he had a chance to realized that the sickening deep heavy slapping noise that haunted his brain, was the sound
of his own fall. He couldn’t believe it at first…and even then he wasn’t really sure what he had landed in UNTIL he felt his body’s reactions, struggling in a desperate move to find
something solid …anything. But there was nothing. Only the thick mud … there was no solid ground under him … there was nothing to grab … he was surrounded with mud that was
even now slowly preparing to draw him under. His eyes had no time to adjust yet, but yet he knew he was trapped somewhere. He had to force himself to realize it was futile to struggle
any more, his brain warned him to relax and hold still, but his body was becoming desperate and ready to fight all reason.
His body landed in a half-bent position, a bit sprawled, but still the weight of his body, centered the way it was, was beginning to pull him deeper. Instinctively, he arched and tried to
push his legs to stand, but he only felt himself sink a bit more, but this time in the desired direction…his head was up better now and not back in the mud. By now he realized he had
fallen down into a mud hole. From arching in that instinctive act, his arms were now under the mud as well and he was stuck up to his shoulders and his legs were bent at a slight angle
out in front of him, still downward but not fully underneath him. The pressure of the mud felt so heavy and thick as it conformed around his body like a corset, and was slowly making it become harder to breathe. The one bit of a thrash he had fought so hard for, moved him just enough to stop his upper body mass from being too heavy in one spot and weighting and dragging him down.
As his eye adjusted from the dim light still available from above, he could just barely make out what appeared to be scattered leaves and branches, all around him. Then maybe a foot in
front of him, a rifle sized piece of branch from the broken tree log that had been covered with leaves around it, was sticking out of the mud by about three inches. The large piece of log
was fully submerged. That would be me, Jess though with a hollow feeling deep in side, as his breathing got heavy, that’s the broken tree log that must have been over this mud hole
…felt my shoulder hit it as it and it went down with me. If I had landed in this muck feet first, I’d have sunk straight in, and how far …I wouldn’t be guessing now.
Still a bit shocked and bewildered as to what had happened, reality was pressing in fast. Just a few seconds ago he was walking his horse. Jess was even more aware of the mud
compressing heavily around his body, he was stuck tight, but as of yet, he wasn’t sinking…at least not as fast as he had first felt. But he knew he would, it was just a matter of time.
He didn’t know if he dared to move…he tried to think…it was still and quiet in the semi-dark dampness that surrounded his face…but far off, woodpeckers were echoing through his
brain. The gentle sounds of the woods that he loved were distracting him. His strong desire to free himself, was marred by this harmless noise, as he kept picturing hammers and nails
and wished he had a ladder. He was too far away from the edges and there was nothing to grab. Judging by the mud wall of his dark prison, even if he was free there would be no way
up the damp mucky sides, seemed it was maybe a good 10-12 feet up. This whole portion of earth must have given way at some time, creating the hole, and rain and runoffs apparently
gave it its added charm, Jess thought, as he continued to sit there motionless. Charm…yeah, all the charm of giant toad hole…I feel like a toad in hole...
Trapped…for the most part immobile…half floating…their he stay. The mud was now in the slow process of claiming him as it’s own and he knew it.
Mud had partially filled one of his ears when he first fell and it was now half blocking his hearing and the muffled noise was awful. There was nothing he could do as he kept forcing
himself not to writhe and twist his head to try and clear it.
Jess shut his eyes and tried to think, as he fought the urge to start thrashing himself free…something that he knew was impossible, but could cause enough freedom to send the weight
of his body to sink a bit farther. The thick mud was better than quicksand, and he was at least thankful for that, but then on the other hand if it was water he could at least practice staying afloat a bit…as Andy had taught him. He couldn’t stand it any more, not having his arms free…he couldn’t stand just waiting for himself to suffocate. It seemed the mud was getting
ready to steal the last bits of precious life he had, and he was starting to get cold as he lay in its power. He writhed in distress …hell…I feel like a rat trying to get out of a snake’s
throat and now I’m starting to shiver. Jess felt himself sink, bad move Harper, bad move…he was now feeling the mud just over his shoulders. The twig, which was easier to see now,
as his eyes had fully adjusted, was still there. Was it smaller though… or not?
I still have a bit of time, but for what? I told ol’ Sammy to stay clear and he knows all the trails back here best. The only one who has a chance to find me, is maybe the doc, if he finds
my horse near enough by or on the trail. But then the odds of him finding this trail, and not one of the other side trails through here sure ain’t in my favor, and then finding this mud
hole is a whole other story. Jess arched his head back again. The discomfort was beyond him now and his body was near forcing him to shift for any vain attempt to relieve it. It was
then that he saw the root. A large piece of twisted root was along the bottom edge of the mud wall, off to his right side and imbedded in that wall, about six inches above mud level. It
trailed up the wall, and back into the edge of the wall, only this precious piece was left in the open where the ground had dropped off. His thoughts were becoming a bit agitated … how
…how…there must be a way. He knew it was time to risk moving again.
Jess pulled one his arms slowly with great effort up to the side of his body and reached slowly down to his gun. He dared not move much more that a snail. It seemed to take forever as
his mind was racing to grab the root that only a hand could grab. He had first thought of undoing his belt, but as he dared to try using both hands he felt himself sink a bit more again,
like he was forcing himself downward. He knew what happened to cows that tried to hard to get out of the mud…it was then he realized that even if he was found, the battle to free him
still have to be fought. They would need ropes and lots of manpower or horsepower. Jess pulled his hand slowly up to his chest, it was the first view of himself that he had. He had only
been facing mud and dared not look at himself, as any position change was crucial. He knew he didn’t want to be in the position as the straight log. He could hardly make out his hand,
let alone, his gun. It was of use now, for only one thing, he tucked it in the top of his shirt and slowly worked at pulling his other hand near, crawling it up along his chest. Then he
worked at getting his bandana loose. He tied the gun as tight as his cold hands could, and wrapped it in a ball in his hand.
Jess took his next few breaths with careful deep thought, he wanted to enjoy it…as it may be his last. He smelled the damp muck of the mud, but it was worse now somehow…the foul
odor was now slowly making him nauseous. It was from the mud on his arms that were freed from below. Well, lets get on with it Harper, he thought, I’m nearing the end soon enough.
He sent up the best prayer he could think of: “Lord I saved many a cow from learning how deep a mud hole can get…if I got some rescuing due back my way, of the same kind…maybe
you can keep me from learning just how deep this mud hole can get. And sure as all get out, if I can ever do the same favor to any man in this spot, Sir, you can count on me. Wouldn’t
wish this on my worse enemy, true as true can be.”
With that Jess dared to twist his shoulder as he lifted his arms higher, he reached with as much power as he could force from himself and reached out to his right side. He felt himself
sink that way a bit to the right, but his lower body didn’t move much. Jess made a throw with his gun, aiming it to hit the gap around the root, hoping it would anchor as he held on to the bandana. The gun hit and bounced back and into the mud. It sunk. Now Jess tried to reach with his left arm without thinking, with a violent jerk through his body, he tried to help his
right hand pull the gun back up and through the mud. Suddenly he panicked…so far he had not allowed himself to do so…but his shifting weight loosened some of the clutch the mud
had on him, and he felt his upper body and face sink into the mud. As he arched back, he regained some upper space and quickly continued to pull for the gun, hoping he’d see that the
knot had held and it was still there. The reward for his efforts actually made Jess smile for joy. This was his last and final try and he knew it. Usually if he had a miss, he got his targets the second time he took aim with his wrangling rope. He just had to recalculate and relax, but use needed force, but stuck as he was, he was now a bit concerned it would be in vain. He’d
started the process now and it was too late to stop. Was I wrong, Jess wondered…maybe I should have stayed put a bit longer…maybe I started too early and someone’s due to find
me. Jess looked as best he could to where the twig had been…it was now gone. There was no hope but to continue one.
He twisted as much as he could and aimed with Harper style and Harper control, along with a few Harper butterflies in the pit of his stomach. The gun took hold. He tugged on it hard
as he could with his right hand. If he was going to pull with all his strength in the next few minutes, and it gave way, he wanted to know now. If anything gave way, as he tried to pull, he knew he’d have to fight to struggle back from sinking and he’d go down the direction he was heading. His legs were now feeling numb and virtually useless, not only from the cold
dampness of the mud but from the pressure of the thick heavy stuff. His hands were near starting to get numb from damp cold mud as well, but using them both now, he began to pull
himself along the bandana as close as he could to the anchored gun in the root. He was near to exhaustion and when he felt water…water’s falling, but from where, he thought. Jess
snapped to attention as he pulled all the more. He was now close enough to try and find a way to stay hooked there, his muddy hair and face were now all wet and he looked up to see
why. It was raining ever so slightly.
“I plum forgot” Jess said out loud, as he licked the drops off his lips, he looked up as he rested for a bit and then shook his head. “I plumb forgot …its going to rain. Hey!” Jess yelled
up, and waited. “HEY…HEY…WHERE IS EVERYBODY…HEY…HELP!” He was so tired he felt faint. He was awful cold now and he was shivering real bad.
Jess knew he’d lose his grip soon. He was now leaning towards the wall, his wrist wrapped in the bandana as the wedged gun held his body in place. The rest of his body was at an angle from the spot in the mud where he landed to the edge that he had reached. The root was up just about 6 inches above mud level. The mud was up past his shoulder a bit now as he was leaning into it some to reach the wall, but he wasn’t sinking, as he had his arm pulled up as high as he could to where the gun was hooked. He knew if he relaxed, passed out or fell
asleep, that he’d slip back down as his arm relaxed, and his face would go under, so he held on with his left hand and struggled with his right hand, forcing it up into the root where the
gun was hooked. He struggled to stretch his whole arm up as high into the root as he could, and found a spot a bit higher. He struggled with the bandana and gun and then tied it the
best he could, around his lower arm to the root and collapsed. Breathing heavy, Jess lay hanging from the root. Only his right arm and face were free of the mud. He wasn’t sure how
much later it was, as he looked up at the darkened sky and felt the gentle rain, he looked down at the mud that was engulfing him, just two inches below his face. Now that he knew he
could keep those precious inches, he was finally thankful for his first victory, he lay on his head on his right arm, and fell asleep, as his left arm slowly sunk back into the mud.
Jess woke up to the loud sound of a downpour. The heavens seemed to be unloading. Jess was too tired and to cold to care, he hung there and stared at the rain as in poured into his
toad hole. The mud now had muddy water filling up over it’s own heavy mucky layers. In the back of his head he wondered what he’d do if it kept rising, all that came to mind now was
that he was cold, very cold. He wondered it the water would seep into the mud, so to free him up. Not likely, as from what he could tell so far it seemed to pack it heavier and his lungs just seemed to fill less and less and it was getting harder and harder to fight for any composure. Completely indifferent and numb as a sick critter out in the rain, Jess dozed off again. He
awoke choking and sputtering from the water, as he pulled his head back away from it and leaned his head back as far as he could he saw the water was at his chin. Something happened, though, he thought, as he continued to cough on the water and clear his throat. A sound had lingered in the air but it was awful far away. Thunder…maybe…that must have been it....
But something else was different too…it was the rain…it had stopped.
He looked up weakly and saw the skies had cleared, but the light was going and it would soon be dark…oddly enough, though…the water was lowering although very slowly. “Must be
a small break in the mud hole somewhere, just enough run-off so me and my mud don’t get disturbed….” Jess said out loud.
The last bit of straggling woodpeckers echoed through the woods. They had stopped with the downpour. It was now still and quiet again with the evening getting ready to set in. Jess
stared at the mud in the silence, as it became more and more visible, he was relieved to know he wouldn’t drown, but by now he was getting feverish and had nearly forgotten how he
came to be here. “Sure ain’t no swimming hole, with a leak like this… sure ain’t no fish either …not much use as a watering hole with a 10 – 12 foot drop, unless the cows were plum loco.” Jess added with a wry smile as he lay back and shut his eyes, “they’d sure would be in for a surprise if they dared try…a surprise similar to mine.”
But Jess did remember he was battling for his life, sure couldn’t figure why he was left to fight it alone though…how long have I been hanging here, he wondered. His hand was numb
and his arm was aching now, he wanted to pull the other one up but had no more strength left. He remembered he was talking to Jonesy and came up to Sammy’s. He thought back to
why he had been at Sammy’s in the first place. He thought about the last few days, about the twister and the barn door, and the time he spent with Jonesy recuperating. His thoughts
brought him up to Sammy and Doc-Boston and the belly-dancing-wonder, and how much Slim laughed when she landed on him. He passed out thinking about how he wanted to take
Doc-Boston to dance with Honor: such an easy enough thing to do… one would think…something nice for a man that saved my life. I just wanted him to see ‘Lazarus come out of the tomb’…let him start up new again…he ain’t twisted inside…just too many memories was all. Memories, yeah…I remember I was hunting for someone, or were they hunting for me?
Where the heck is everybody anyway…out boasting how Jess Harper can take care of himself or something? Fine time they pick to let me fend for myself…Jonesy must have seen my horse arriving without me. And the doc… hey DOC-BOSTON…I thought you turned southerner…don’t you know how to hunt Harpers?
While Jess was lost to his feverish thoughts, the battle he was fighting had behind the scene action that he couldn’t see. Troops were being mustered to rescue a rider down.
Doc-Boston had gone back up the trail and ended up at Sammy’s, but to his dismay, had not found Jess. It turned out that Doc had taken one of the lower trails of the short cut, he
figured it was closer to the Sherman Ranch but it was also the more dangerous. Since he made it through, he now knew what to avoid, but it slowed his time considerable. Jess had taken
the higher trail, as he knew it was safer, if there were such a thing under these conditions, as actually there wasn’t. Jess stuck in the mud hole was so far, living proof of that. It was now
after the downpour and getting dark. Doc-Boston and Sammy got lanterns and some ropes just in case of trouble and were going in on the middle trail, hoping to find Jess.
Ben had arrived to Sammy’s when the downpour hit, Jonesy was following a bit slower and stopped at some nearby rocks for shelter from the downpour. It was near abouts where Jess
found the belly dancer. Now there was another of the trails leading to the short cut there also, but no good for Jonesy with the wagon. Jonesy would soon end up at Sammy’s anyway.
Just about the time Jess had ended up at Sammy’s before he took the short cut, Honor was getting ready for Jess to arrive an hour early. Which would be before sundown. The pot-luck
was set for just after sundown and then the list, the reading of the ‘sharer’s’ and their time spots to dance. Well, Honor waited for Jess, but Jess never came.
Honor was now at the Slim and Andy’s door. Honor stood there with Funny on a long leash laying as a pile of velvet full of bells and sparkles at her feet. She was dressed as pretty as a noonday, in a white shiny dress with laced ruffles that Jess had picked out for her. It was mostly cheap cotton, but had a shiny satin bodice, sewed on top. It was something a cow-poke could pick and afford, if someone trusted him to pay in full… later! Jess wasn’t really sure what ladies liked, but he knew they always talked about white lace and satin. What he didn’t
realize was, that is usually women’s wedding talk, but it sure is nice for dance occasions as well. As the urgency of her knocks increased, she soon was facing the two sloppily dressed Shermans.
Slim opened the door with a, “Sorry Honor…we were trying to tuck and belt and all, but the knocking sounded urgent. Let us finish up with these fancy dress clothes and we’ll be right
with you. Say, aren’t you too early,” he asked as he tried to do his necktie, with a quick glance to Andy. “You just have to show off in front of a lady don’t you, how’d you learn to do
that so fast?”
“Seems I find time on my hands, when Jonesy and I are waiting on the stew and such,” Andy answered, “but not too much time on my hands, Slim …just enough for tie practicing. After
all, you want me to be a gentleman, too, right?”
“Say, where’s Jess, Honor?” Slim thought it was odd that he hadn’t showed yet. He knew he should have finished with the chores at the ranch, and his own personal business sure
couldn’t have taken that much longer. Andy now had stopped with his tie and started to feel uneasy. He watched carefully for Honor’s answer.
“That why I’m here,” she went up to him, as if to implore him. “He said would be here early. It will be sundown in an hour, and he was going to be now. With him here an hour early,
he said I could be a lady and choose to be late.”
“Well, see, he knows he still has plenty of time,” Slim bent down and gave her a hug, “he must have just said that, so you wouldn’t worry if he was late…see he had some work to do
for me and a chore of his own to do.” Slim smiled, but Andy didn’t.
“No. No. He’ a gentleman and gentleman NEVER break their promises. Something’s wrong or he would be here now, he promised me and he said he would have a surprise. It’s not the surprise I am worried about. But he had plans…a gentleman keeps his plan…especially this plan…something is wrong. I am going to go find him and if you don’t come…I will go by
myself. Funny has a way of hunting people down. I may not be a lady tonight as I had hoped, but I sure know how to be a friend…and…well…I thought you did too.” As she turned to
go, Andy ran up and stopped her.
“She’s right, Slim. Something’s wrong. I felt really strange when Jess left this morning to go shop with Honor. Then when he left town with that list…why, I felt it again. You heard that downpour just a bit ago, and it may even start up again, for all we know. Maybe that’s what’s wrong. We need to go check Slim…remember the twister. You both kept trying to find
each other, cause you both were worried about each other. Well, can’t you be worried now? Jess didn’t find you and you were in trouble with that man, forcing you to go get him a
horse and all. Later you couldn’t find Jess and he was in trouble with the barn door and he needed someone to help him…trouble was…none of us found him.”
As the two pair of imploring eyes begged at Slim, his responsible nature rose to the occasion and his concern began to trigger his own gut feelings. You can’t shut it off once it starts
…His love for the lost and needy…is always ready to serve.
“Let’s go.” Slim grabbed his hat. It couldn’t hurt, although Jess can sure take care of himself. Occasionally, he can turn up missing and on the occasions that this gut feeling starts
moving, such as now, I’ve always been glad I showed up. Seem like the good Lord, just has a perfect timing chart…we just need to listen, is all.”
Just as they were leaving it dawned on Slim for some odd reason, that he had seen fresh flowers, he looked down at Honor and her fancy clothes standing there in the doorway.
“Well look at that, haven’t seen one of them in a long time.” Slim reached touch and touch the flowered daisy chain around her neck on her dress, he hadn’t noticed it before. “Did you
“Yes, it was for Jess, to say thanks for not being a dog-stealer…and for being a good story teller. I needed to hear some of his stories this morning in a real hard way. I had hoped it
would last long enough to give to him, but now … do you think it will?”
“Well, let’s get a move on it then, and we’ll see, flowers can wilt near as fast as hopes can, and we don’t want anyone loosing hope, now do we,” Slim said in earnest.
So as Jess hung in the mud, hope hung in the balance.
Slim, Andy, Honor and the belly-dancing-wonder took off in a wagon towards the ranch. As they arrived near the sun was still making tracks to set and some dark rain clouds were
making tracks to work the evening shift. They all got down and checked the house, but on one was there, however Jonesy’s note said that help was needed at Sammy’s, with a p.s. insinuating as if by some wild hunch, he figured Slim would coming looking for Jess. The man knows me too well, thought Slim with a smile.
They went out to the wagon so to head for Sammy’s, but Honor soon found herself yanked off her feet, just as they began to walk toward the wagon. Slim ran to her side and helped
her up, but the pulling still yanked her across the yard. Slim, as strong as he was could barely control it. It was Funny. Unknown to them, she had the smell of her owner, Doc-Boston,
and was wanting to be off and running.
Slim tried to send Andy and Honor in the wagon to Sammy’s, but Honor refused to go and as she had the main hold on the leash, Slim couldn’t stop her as she ran on with the dog as
fast as she could so she wouldn’t tumble over. Andy, you head out to Sammy’s, if that rain cloud burst open again, just keep on going.
Slim grabbed two lanterns from the porch and took off after her yelling, “I must be crazy for not stopping you.” Catching up, they continued on.
“She must smell my pa…that’s what she does when she hasn’t seen him for long stretches of time…she just goes nuts. She takes off on just about any scent, but look at her spunkiness…she knows he was here. I sure can’t figure how. But Jess said he knew my pa, so its got to be him that she smells…may be my pa knows where Jess is.”
The sun had now near set and the light was musty, with the dangerous twisted up path, they tried to slow the dog as best they could. They were on Doc’s path, as their fearless leader,
Funny had picked it. During all this time Doc-Boston and Sammy had gone with the lanterns and PASSED Jess’ mud hole during the downpour. They holed-up farther down that path
near some rocks and ran into Jess horse. They didn’t have any idea if Jess was near by or if the horse was just working its way home. They had fired a gun a few times, but had no
response. It was hard enough to find tracks in the twisted mess, but since the downpour, they were at a lose where to head next and seemed to be cut off on each new try. It was then
that they heard bells…tinkling bells…
As the bells got louder and more melodious, Doc grabbed Sammy, as poor ol’ Sam was near to faint, his mind was full of tales of haunted legends he had heard from many a campfire.
Then Doc-Boston knelt down in the mud and praised God to the highest heavens with shouts of joy…he knew what the bells were, and he knew now that this was the answer they
needed. Next they would soon find if the answer came in time.
Doc-Boston didn’t know where Funny was coming from, but he was ready for her, she would find him, and THAT he well knew. What he didn’t know, was WHO was with her, as the
bells neared, he looked up. Then it was the doc who was the one that near fainted, he couldn’t believe his eyes. There…it appeared …was the wraith of his dead wife. Through the
now dim light was a figure dressed in white, hair flowing down, and it appeared to be floating through the trees, hanging on to his dog. Spitting imaged of his her, he thought. It was
like Lazarus coming out of the tomb…new life was somehow being giving to him…as he viewed this scene. As they came full into view, he saw Slim, with lanterns and …HIS
DAUGHTER lead by the their dog. As her dress was lit from the lanterns, she looked like a diamond in the mudded surroundings of the dark woods, standing as a treasure before him.
The shock hung in the air a bit, and Doc stared at her, and then came the hug of reaffirmed love that they both were shocked to receive. She was covered in mud, as well as Slim and
the whole lot of them, but there was joy in the camp, as help was now collectively on the scene. But solemnly the mood quickly changed, as good soldiers, they knew they could only
help once they had reached their goal and thus far, that had been a loosing-battle.
They gave Funny the scent off Jess’ things from his horse and the hunt was on. They now had a new battle plan and success was now in order. It was then that the rains hit again. Just
as hard as before, though for only a brief period, but it was enough to be of grave concern to someone. Jess.
While his rescuers huddled in nearby rocks, Jess woke up to the downpour hitting him, YET again. It was dark now, he could not see at all, but he could hear and feel it. He knew he had
sunk deeper, judging my how his arm had stretched and was aching. His body wasn’t at such an angle any more and had seeped straighter down now. Because of the force of the rain
hitting his face, he couldn’t even lay his head back a bit on his arm now to keep it from the water. The water was steadily rising, he could now feel it along his chin. Jess lifted his head
to keep it from the water but the force of the rain in his face was just too much, so he hung his head again to face the water. It was near touching his mouth and as it was splashing
violently from the downpour, lots of it was finding its way into his nose. For a split second he thought of his hat and wished he had it … he wished a few other things as well …and …
he wished he wasn’t stuck in this mud hole.
It could rain all night or then again it could stop again, Jess thought. Looks like this is the end of me, guess I’m going down like a drowned rat. Jess wondered how long and how
hard it’d have to rain to fill up a hole this size, maybe a few days, maybe a week? … Maybe it never fills up, after all, it’s a mud hole. He continued to trail along with his wonders, how
long will it take for the waters to leak back down to where my body will be hanging? One thing for sure, it won’t take that much more rain to do me in, looks like I won’t be needing
my aching gun hand anymore, with that last thought Jess tried as best to prepare himself. He never thought he’d make it into heaven, but he sure hoped so now, cause if hell was
anything like this mud hole, he wanted no part of it. He went through his Jess Harper files on all he had gleaned about the good Lord in his past and prayed.
The downpour stopped and Jess heard the thunder again…only this time he knew it wasn’t thunder. He was awake enough, this time to understand. He tried yelling with all he had in
him, but it seemed to go nowhere. His voice was too weak to reach the top. He realized he was shaking too bad as he tried, but he wasn’t giving up, he had to try to let someone know
he was done here. Aw…In the dark, what possible hope was there that anyone could find this mud hole, even if I could yell loud enough…unless they fell into it as well…I sure don’t
want to see someone else go through all this…just for us both to die. Then he heard …the bells.
He near started laughing …bells…Jess started laughing and he couldn’t control himself, he cried as well, mostly from shock. He was sure in a sorry fix. It sure wasn’t funny and he knew
it, but it was funny, IT WAS FUNNY. He knew the dog was up there somewhere just above him. He started gasping a bit and tried to relax, but his body was shaking. He now heard
voices...he then heard Slim.
“Take the lanterns down the other side and go around, keep the dog back…if we try this side, we’ll fall in as well.” And a bit later was heard, “yeah, there’s some solid rock over here,
this must have pulled off from the ridge and made the hole…but he can try to reach him from here. If we can even find him in that mess, no telling how deep it is…or if…if he’s still alive.”
Slim held the lantern over, but didn’t hear anything or see much. “JESS!”
“Try this lantern.” Doc passed it over. Slim tried again and there nearly hidden in the darkness, in one corner, was a half-drowned Harper looking up at him. The rainwater surrounding
him was starting to leak down, slower than before, but Slim could see his full face and one arm up along the wall. He thought Jess was surrounded by water though, not mud. He
couldn’t make out the root, or how Jess was hanging there, as it was too dark. Maybe he got caught on something in the fall. Slim didn’t know the full seriousness of Jess’ dire-straights,
he assumed he was in a pit, with water from the rains around him and that he just couldn’t crawl back up.
“What took you so long?” Jess forced a weak reply that was barely audible. Jess thought he was about to pass out, but he almost didn’t care now, there was a lot of hard work to be
done now…but his battles in the mud and water had been won. It was someone else’s turn to keep on fighting now. He was helpless as to the rest. He fought it off best he could, after
all, he wanted to be in on the rescue…kind of exciting, now that the hard part was done.
Slim began to descend on a rope and Jess gave out a cry. “Stop Slim…you can’t just climb done here.”
Jess pushed hard to give him more information. “This is a mud hole, Slim…nothing but thick heavy mud! There’s no solid bottom here…you’ll sink in and start going under if no one
pulls you out...no telling how far down the bottom is. I been desperate to not find out myself.” Jess was near out of breath and gasped some, as Slim went down a bit lower to see clearer.
He nearly couldn’t believe what he saw as the truth set in…the shock hit him hard …that Jess made it thus far was a miracle. He could now clearly see he was hanging by his arm and
near drowned from the rains as well.
They built a fire from Jess’ tinder that he carried in his pack and set Honor there, safely out of the way. Then they set to work, finding broken down trees that were solid enough to lay
across the hole. He was on the other side and they needed to come down more over the center. As time went on, all went well, and Doc went in for him, as Slim and Sammy and even
the Jess’ horse could pull best. Honor sat off to the side and tried warming up Jess’ bedroll as if she somehow soon knew he’d be laying in it right quick, and on his way to being right
“Doc? … You been out hunting Harpers? … With your dog…?” was all Jess could say, with his fast fading cocky grin, as he let himself drift into darkness.
The Doc looked him over and readied him up to try and get him loose. The doc was not happy with what he saw, as to his physical condition, but it wasn’t too late. He was sure Jess
would be well once they could get him out and warmed up. As he studied on how and why Jess’ arm was stuck, he could tell Jess had wrestled with the root and was in a wristlock. In
the dim lantern light he could see the gun and bandana wrapped around his arm as well, telling a story all their own. Doc didn’t free Jess’ hand until they had him safely harnessed in
ropes to pull him up, sure didn’t want to loose him, on the finish line.
Jess didn’t remember much of it, as by now he was just too tired to concentrate on any thing tangible. Occasionally the light from the lanterns would click his mind back to reality, along
with the many tugs and pulls. He knew his whole body ached as his muscle and joints felt like they were being pulled about and disjointed as they fought to pry him loose from his trap.
At one point though, he was SURE he lost his boots and possibly his socks as well AND wanted to apologize most sincerely to three cows he had tugged out of the much smaller mud
holes back at the ranch the week before the twister. He thought he had been a bit rough on them trying to free them up. And so it continued, Doc hanging by ropes, doing the loosening, Slim pulling from above, many jobs being done. All the while, those at Sammy’s spread, were waiting…it was all they could do, except pray.
They finally freed Jess and pulled him up, needless to say, he looked like a slopped up pig and not one happily wanting an encore dip. He was shaking so bad, they wrapped him, mud
and all in his bedroll, which was warm enough now to aid him with some relief, and then tried to figure what to do with him next. It would be too hard in the dark to try for Sammy’s place.
As Sammy scouted for one of his other famous short cuts, Slim leaned over closer and gave Jess a nudge, hoping for a clear response of any sort. Jess smiled up at Slim and whispered, “first time I been saved by … being… slow on the draw…but don’t spread it around.” Naturally this didn’t make a bit of sense to Slim, not yet, anyway.
“First time, I reckon, you been saved by a belly dancer, as well” Slim added, as Funny came up and licked Jess’ wet muddy face.
Honor came up to Jess and near cried, “I knew you were a gentleman and gentleman are never late…so I knew you were in trouble…why, if you weren’t a gentleman, we might never have come looking for you Jess.” With that she started crying.
“Hey now…ladies try not to cry in public …did ya’ know that…why, it messes up there fancy-dress clothes, or their daisy chains…that is what that thing on you neck is, right?” Jess whispered tried to smile. “ Sure is pretty.” He tried to smile again. He nearly couldn’t believe he was free and he was really talking with his friends. He was almost afraid to accept it, as
he was so cold and shaking, he was afraid he was still down there and this was all a dream. Jess took a full look at Honor by the light, she was trying so hard to hold back her tears. Jess forced himself to talk one more time, “well, with all that mud and all, you go right ahead and cry a little if you want. Say … I sure am glad I planned on being a gentleman tonight…or
Jess stared up into the night and swallowed a bit … “Doc…? I think I ain’t feeling so good…help me…I’m really cold.” He then started shaking so bad he could hardly breathe and
passed out as the doc knelt by his side. After a few minutes had passed, he ventured towards his daughter.
“Honor, are you alright now?” It was her pa. He stood up now and watched her as he said, “It’s true Jess isn’t well Honor, but he’ll make it all right now, we got here just in time. That
was because of you.”
“I know…” she looked into her pa’s eyes and remembered how her gentleman didn’t show up in proper time. “ Show me where he was, I want to see.” Doc, looked over at Slim. He left
Jess’ side and got the lantern, and obliged.
She looked over the edge of the rocks as they shined the light in the mud hole the best they could. “That’s what he was doing, while I was dressing up. He was going to die there,
because of me. He just wanted me to have a pa again, and for you to have me as your daughter and not a bad memory. For men to face up to things…and ladies too…” She dropped
her daisy chain down into the mud hole. The flowers and hope had lasted to this moment in time and she watered any future ones with tears of thanks. The lantern barely reflected on
the tiny bit of white flowers. “Just like diamonds in the mud”…she said as they pulled her back.
She continued, “Jess was like a diamond in the mud… stuck there because of me… he didn’t belong there.”
“Jess wouldn’t want you blaming your self…we all got jobs we know belong only to us, we need to do them or we’ll never be able to face ourselves,” Slim said. “Right now, our job is to get Jess out of here, diamonds shine best when they are set up where they belong right? Lets get him someplace warm, he’s not well and we can’t waste anymore time as it may even rain again. That would hurt him even more before we even get a chance to get him back to town, so let’s get moving.”
Sammy came back and stated that he now had a plan, and laid it out before them. They decided the quickest and safest way for them all was for Sammy, to go back with the lantern, to his place. He would let Jonesy and all know that Jess was found safe. He would get more blankets and a wagon, and then send Andy with the wagon to meet Slim, Jess, Honor and Funny,
along the road where Jess first met the belly-dancing dog. If no one showed, then obviously Sam would be needing some help somewhere. But although the path had been extremely
hard to get through, it had been fairly safe, until this point, and Sam was sure he’d have no trouble. Slim and Doc would put Jess draped over his horse, and help him stay put, as they
would follow the veered off side trail of the short cut, this one veered in the opposite direction down to that road. It was a safe smooth path and the twister had not touched down there.
Then they would put him in the wagon and head in to Laramie, and to Laramie’s doc. It was about the same distance as going to the Sherman Ranch. Jonesy and Ben would be free to go
back to the ranch in their own wagon.
As they began to put the plan into action, they carried Jess from the rock area, over and around up to the trail he had been on when he fell. They would have to backtrack only a bit to
find the side path to the road. As they prepared to load him up on the horse, the light of the lantern hit something shiny on the ground. Slim stopped, as did the Doc. It was near where
Funny was making her commotion from finding Jess. Slim reached down to pick it up.
“Well, what do you know” Slim said in surprise, “a diamond in the mud” it must be from Funny, he thought. He wiped it off as best he could and took it to Jess.
He wasn’t awake. They proceeded to lift him up and Jess woke with a start. “Where am I!” He tried to move and writhed with slight fear until he realized he was not trapped anymore. It
was the bedroll wrapped around him. His arm and his hand were hurting and throbbed as he struggled for comfort, unloading the last stray thoughts that were off roaming in the back
of his head they shot out without much control:
“Slim…I’m cold…. I’m so cold…I’m still shaking ain’t I? Sure didn’t know if I was gonna’ sink, drown, or freeze down there. How long have I been out…? Where are we going now?
Did you find my hat? Where’s my gun? It’s really dark out here ain’t it? Where’d the light go?” He weakly let his breath come and go as he yielded to a near collapse again.
“Lay still … It’s all over now, Jess. You been out about twenty minutes… …we’re taking you into Laramie.” He reached for the lantern from Honor’s hand so Jess could see the light.
“Here’s a souvenir for you Jess.” Slim showed it to him, with a smile.
Jess tried to smile back, and in between a few shallow breaths he responded to Slim, “Thanks Slim…reach inside and stuff it deep into my top pocket…its buttoned, with any luck, there’s another little diamond in it still…seems I been collecting them today…diamonds in the mud. That’s my second one now.” His head turned to the side, with a deep sigh, and he closed his eyes. It was still hard to believe, as he adjusted to this new reality. He was found, free and in the hands of friends, kind of like these little diamonds, he thought as he began to dozed off,
this time more from exhaustion.
Slim did so … and then helped load Jess up on his horse, with Doc’s help. Slim looked over at Jess’ face as he hung there over the horse near half asleep and said, “yeah, me too pard,
only I’ve been finding them…diamonds in the mud…this is my second one now.” Remembering the words Honor had recently spoke, how Jess like a diamond, and how he didn’t belong
in the mud, Slim said, “I picked my first one up about twenty minutes ago.” With these words, they turned and left for the Laramie road.
“DON’T MIND IF I DO”
Laramie’s doc had a muddy surprise crossing his threshold, as the muddy group entered his office.
“You got here just in time, I was ready to start home to change into fancy dress clothes for the dance. Had my supper here though, as I had a broken to leg to fix up for one of Hunter
kids. You could have sent for me, but by the looks of Jess here, might not of been for his best.”
“He’s not well, but he’s been responding better,” Doc-Boston assured him. Well, I’m a Doc too, what say we get to work, as you can see we got lots to do…looks like you won’t be
needed any fancy dress clothes, doc…look what happened to Slim’s!”
A bit later all was settled, all was well, and all had dried warmly near the fire. Slim, Andy and Honor had camped by Jess’ bedside for a bit, then finally went out to where the two doc’s
were having coffee, the office seemed warm and cheerful, not the usually cold clinic type one would expect. Doc always said it was his ‘home away from home.’
“Did he wake yet?” Doc-Boston asked, as he looked up at Slim. “If not…he will soon as the fever goes down a bit more. He was a bit delirious. He was mighty concerned about his gun
hand. I let him know, it’s swollen real bad and his arm muscles are badly strained, but nothing that won’t heal…he said he hoped that was the last time he’d ever need to be a slow-gun.
From what I could tell down there in the mud hole, he must have gone to a lot of trouble to get that gun unholstered and use it and his bandana to reach that root. Saved his life, that’s
“So that’s what he meant by a ‘slow gun’…so Jess found a way to use his gun to wrangle roots in mud holes …he NEVER ceases to amaze me.” Slim quietly remembered the
of what he had first seen back at the mud hole with his first good view of Jess. Neither does God’s watchful hand over his life, Slim thought. IT NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE ME!
“Yeah, seems he was half awake or so.” Slim finally answered “I was worried about the fever, so I asked him if he felt like some water…and he said, ‘don’t mind if I do …long as it ain’t
rain water’. I reckon that means he’s aware of what’s been going on, that’s a good sign.”
“Well, tell him the rest!” Andy threw in, as he came in and folded his arms and smiled.
Slim sat down near the office desk at a nearby small round table and said… “Well, first off, he drifted off again, couldn’t get him to swallow the water at all …and I thought he was asleep. Then he started rambling a bit about Miss Essie’s God paying him a visit in his hour of need…something about ‘He sent from above and took me,’” Slim said. “‘Drew me out of many waters.’ Then he kind of came out of it again, seemed half awake and said: ‘I don’t think I want no more water Slim, I had enough…cold and muddy, hot and soapy or otherwise! …just
keep the dad-blamed stuff away from me.’” With that Andy started laughing, as all eyes turned on him.
“Well, I thought it was kind of funny…” he said a bit earnestly. “Jess is always saying how important water is to a man, and all, and how he knows from experience.”
As the doc didn’t mind giving up his night, he suggested that the others get cleaned up and go to the dance, which by now had started. Andy and Slim decided they might as well, as
they had lots of people depending on them in the helping-out department, as they were dance partners to patrons on the list. They took off to the boarding house, to redress into their humble-pie ranch clothes, as fancy dress night was over for them…Jonesy obviously saw no need for a double-set of fancy go-to-meeting-type clothes. After all, who’s so careless as
to get their fancy duds dirty? Slim and Andy took Funny back to the boarding house, as she had done her share of helping for the night. They decided she needed a good change of clothes as well, and left her fancy duds in the second tub of bath water, left over from Jess. Seemed the first tub full was left too muddy, and they needed a second, so now why waste
what was left. Dog sounds down-right eerie without her bells! Slim thought, as they left.
Doc-Boston and Honor stayed on and had a good long visit with the doc. They shared civil war stories…and… Harper stories, it appeared they had a lot in common, more than they
knew at first.
It was now long past the midnight hour and the dance was near over. Usually Laramie fold didn’t stay up this long, but there had been so much to be thankful for. And so much work
had been done all week that they needed this warm time of family and friends. Everyone had a chance to share their stories. Everyone also had a chance to share their offerings, as
their name was read from the list…and each had their special dance to go along with what they shared as an offering…well, almost everyone. Slim and Andy had their turns, plus many
extra turns as they doubled as partners for those on the list that didn’t have a partner already picked out.
The Doc had been checking on Jess, off and on. On this ‘on’ occasion he was sitting up, trying to check out his hand. Still a bit worn out, but not as feverish. He asked about his
hand and caught up on all that had happened since he was rescued. Such as, for one, how’d ever they got him out and two, just where was everyone?
“Did they leave me to fend for myself, again, thinking ol’ Jess Harper can take care of himself,” he said. “This here hand helped me as far as it’s gonna’ tonight” he raised it a bit as he spoke “ do they expect me to waste my other one now, as well?” Jess laughed a bit, with a playful tease in his voice, as he continued to take a few careful glances off and on at his
bandaged up gun hand.
“They’re at the dance,” a quiet voice replied, as Honor snuck around her pa, and peered with her big soft light brown eyes, into Jess’ face. He sure knew those eyes quite well by now
and was very thankful to see them in the same room near the eyes of Doc-Boston. SOMEONE above had smiled at the work of Jess’ hand and had allowed him to live to see it. He felt
a deep earnest satisfaction in his heart…deeper than that old mud hole.
“And the lady, the ‘belle of the ball’…didn’t show?” Jess wondered why as he set the question before her.
“A lady never leaves a gentleman to face his trouble alone, when their plans have fallen through.” She said with her Boston-style most southern accent, and, a big smile.
“Well, like wise, a gentleman never leaves a lady alone, when her plans have fallen through as well.” Jess said, as he started to get up but was firmly pressed back down much to his
Then after a firm debate with Doc-Boston, Jess winning and the Doc losing, Jess got set to enjoy a night on the town. The only clothes that could be found for Jess was the Doc’s dry
but muddy outfit, which he was still wearing. Doc-Boston took to wearing the sleeping robe that was left on the nightstand for Jess, and Jess took to wearing the Doc-Boston’s clothes, right down to the boots….boots were ever so slightly larger, but the clothes fit right well. Jess was a bit alarmed at how hard it was for him to get around, but he had to try, after all he
was a gentleman, so he was going to chance it.
Looking in the mirror, they both looked a sight but they had their faces and hair as neat as a pin. Doc-Boston went so far as to shine his boots for Jess, although it seemed a bit absurd
as he stood back and looked at the two of them. Laramie’s doc looked worried considering the violent chills his patient had earlier but he knew as well as Doc-Boston that Jess was as determined as a hound with a good scent to follow.
“Don’t worry, Doc, he’ll be begging to come back before you know it.” Doc-Boston whispered. “He’s not as ready as he thinks he is, but he’ll do for a bit.”
Doc-Boston adjusted Jess root-wrestled gun hand and sore arm into a right dandy fancy to ‘go meeting and parties’ sling, and marveled at the flash backs he was bombarded with, as
to all the times he tried like heck to heal this man. And now I’m turning him loose on the streets, sure must be loosing my serious bedside manner, he thought with a grin of his own.
“Ready to hit the town now, little lady?” Jess looked down at her with a smile.
“I’d lay odds, that with that smile of yours, all that caked on mud will just be like frosting on a cake.” Jess said, as he leaned on her pa’s shoulder. With his other arm in the sling he sure wasn’t able to escort her so he offered up a humble, “will you lead the way, little lady?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” came the willing answer. They made their way slowly down to the meeting hall, avoiding as much mud in the streets as they could…as Jess remarked he was
full-up of mud, now and forever.
Andy was the first to notice them and got Slim in a hurry. Slim got up and announced that there was still a few on the list that didn’t get to announce their sharing and he called up
Jess and Honor.
“Now as you can see folks, my partner Jess seems to have run into a little trouble tonight and seems that his little companion here found some trouble to match. You may not recognize
her but she was the ‘he’ that’s been helping us these last few days. She’s been staying with the Hunter family, seems she’s been in disguise a bit. So, let’s see what their offerings
have been and who they choose to dance with.”
“Ladies first”, Jess said.
“No, Jess …you got to go first, you’ll see why.
“Well…us gentlemen, got to keep trying to give these ladies some reins, you know. But she says I’m to go first…so… I don’t mind if I do! I offered up my services for a thing or two,
but that was before this here list…so I had to come up with something new when I signed up, as that’s the rule. So I offered up my wages to help Honor here have this mighty fine
dress, so’s she could be a lady for this fancy dance…oh…all that mud…it’s from me as well.” He smiled a bit embarrassed.
Everyone clapped as Jess stood there leaning on the doc’s shoulders and Honor came up and took a curtsey, remembering to smile her best so the mud would just be frosting. Slim
started snickering and laughing so hard with Andy, that they had to move back out of sight. This was Jess…at his best…kind and humble as well as no slave to high social graces
and they were enjoying it to the most. After what they had been through, trying to save Jess, it sure a much needed fun.
“As the announcer seems to have disappeared,” Jess said. “Your turn to share, Honor.”
Honor spoke up. “Well, I was new to these parts. The Senior Hunters helped me during the twister, as I was running off and lost just before it came. I didn’t really have anything to
share and I was feeling some shame from it but Mrs. Hunter, from the boarding house…where we been staying these last few days for the party, well… she told me to put my name on
the list anyway. Wouldn’t be proper for me to feel I was of no use.” She started to cry but tossed her head back with a smile and made another curtsey, so she could go on.
“Thanks to a gentleman, a real gentleman …and not a dog-stealer…I had my dog to offer. I offered her tonight to hunt for my gentleman friend here, Jess, as we were sure he was in trouble.”
Slim had now returned and was ready to continue on. “You each get a dance in your honor…have either of you picked a dance partner yet?”
“Ladies first, you pick yours, Honor.” Jess said.
“Will you be my partner, Jess.” She said as she offered her hand, and stared up at him with her soft wide eyes as she held her breath a bit and waited.
“Don’t mind if I do” He smiled, but then added a stern condition, “if…you’ll be MY partner…seeing as I haven’t picked one yet either, for MY dance yet.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Jess looked back at the doc and said, “ you best be watching your buttons on that robe and get ready to catch me if I start falling over Doc. I sure don’t need Slim funning me from
here to Sunday, as to how I can handle my whiskey but can’t even handle a simple little townsfolk get together.”
Slim walked over to Mort and they stood and watched Jess and Honor. Mort was just as thankful as Slim that Honor had sense enough to get help when Jess didn’t show, and was seriously struck as to how the night could have ended in sorrow, as he studied their dry mudded clothes. “Once thing for sure” Slim said to Mort, “Their outfits sure do match, don’t
think they’ll make much of a fashion statement in Laramie’s social circles… But I did see the belly-dancing-wonder earlier, seems the DOG IS THE BEST DRESSED TONIGHT, and
SHE’S wearing her birthday suit!”
All eyes were on them as the slowly danced around the room. The dry mud didn’t hinder their spirits from shining, as all could see, they sparkled. Diamonds just seem to shine, muddy
or not. They slowly circled the room and then as tradition had it, slowly the other dancers joined in a few at a time until the floor was full. Jess and Honor slipped out of their midst
though and didn’t finish, as Jess near collapsed into the Doc-Boston’s arms as they barely finished the first circle. Doc had been quite a sight as he followed them in the bathrobe
meant for Jess. Just as Doc-Boston figured it…Jess would soon be wearing it himself and be back in bed where he belonged.
“What say, you go on back to bed?” Doc-Boston said his fallen friend.
“Don’t mind if I do.” Came the answer.
---ANDY’S DANDY SUPPOSIN’---
The week had come to a close, along with the weekend, plus a few days. Slim and Jess had finished the last of their workload and Ben had since gone back to Sammy’s. Slim even had a chance to mark off the new mud hole, from Sammy’s end of the short-cut on the trail path that Jess had used. It still was not accessible from the Sherman side and it would just have to
Slim and Jess had just seen the stage on its way and were remembering the day that Doc-Boston left with Honor and Funny. They sold their traveling wagon and chose to by stage and train to San Francisco. Slim and Jess sat on a few bales of hay, the ones last left to stack in the barn. It was mid afternoon, a few hours ‘til Jonesy’s SPECIAL SUPPER that he was
planning just for Jess, was to be served.
“Sure do miss that belly-dancing-wonder,” Jess said as he sat back and looked off into the horizon. “I’ll sure never forget the FIRST time I heard her bells…” then with deeper more
serious tone he continued, “I’ll sure never forget the LAST time I heard her bells either.” He stretched out his legs, “say, did that gal from the sewing circle in town, did she ever finish Funny’s new clothes?”
“Yeah Jess, she sure did.”
“Well, how come she wasn’t wearing them…seemed a mite naked to me. All that hound dog skin and all, hanging out all over …why she looked like a REAL DOG!” Jess said as he
looked up slyly at Slim real slow like, with smooth calculation going on in his brain.
Slim took off his hat fast as he could and hit Jess on the shoulders, as Jess took off running so fast that Slim missed hitting him up side the back of his head.
Jess yelled back, “Some things a man don’t want to face…’til they hit him from behind…or in your case, from above!”
Meanwhile inside Jonesy said to Andy, “see there boy…my BEST student. Why I bet I taught him a hand full of my sayings. Now you take Slim, over there, why he don’t seem to
take them much. Even when I knew his pa, before you were born, why he just stared at me real odd like when ever I threw one in the stew, so to speak.”
“Threw one in the stew, huh?” Andy asked, with a smirk on his face and a wrinkled brow.
“Yeah, so to speak. You know…” Jonesy studied him carefully with a stern look, “why you look a lot like how he did, when I’d…”
“Throw one in the stew, so to speak?”
“Say, what you cooking there Jonesy, anyways…sure smells good…stew, maybe?” Andy laughed as he jumped out of the way of Jonesy’s stirring spoon. “No, really” Andy said
again, “I meant it…what are cooking?”
“If you must know, I promised Jess that I’d cook up some smoked quail I had been getting ready for him. Trouble was with you all staying in town, well…Ben and I ate it up. Slim just brought some back from ol’ Sammy though, so I promised Jess I’d make it up to him. He’d been waiting mighty long for it, you see.”
Andy watched a bit and then wandered outside. He watched as Jess came back from who knows where, laughing like a little kid. Slim gave him a easy shoulder punch and they took
the last bales to the barn. Slim went on into the house and Jess stayed out with Andy.
“Say, Jess, Jonesy’s right pleased that you take to his sayings and all.”
“Seems they’re right good for seasoning,” Jess said. “You know, I got to season them a bit and make them mine…takes a bit of practice. I just collected from Slim, as to that bet that
day in town, collected just this morning as a matter of fact. Even reminded him of it just a minute ago too.” Jess said, as he remembered his barnyard dash just a few minutes ago.
“Say, Jess, I been wondering.” Andy looked over at him and Jess came up to him and they sat on the porch together.
“Yeah, Andy…what’s on you mind.”
“Honor talked with me about how her father had to face up to things from the war…things that he couldn’t face and that was why she had to run off, she was tired of feeling to blame
for something she didn’t do. Well, Doc-Boston was so nice, how could he let that happened. She tried to tell me that people can get twisted up, like how twisters leave messes behind.
She says the war can to that do…to some men. How can that be, how can a good man be twisted?”
“Andy, that’s just it. A bad man will stay twisted, almost enjoys it, as it’s his form of revenge. A good man, on the other hand, is never really twisted…he just knows he’s in danger of
it. Doc-Boston knew he was in danger of it…but he wasn’t ready to face up to fixing it yet, that’s why he was on the run. He couldn’t settle to being a doc again ‘til he healed himself
first. Sure, he’ help a hurting man in need, like he did for me…but he had to fix himself and how he was treating his daughter. He didn’t know the hurt he did to her, by ignoring her.
He figured he was keeping himself from feeling worse…actually, he was keeping himself from feeling better.”
Jess took a heavy sigh and shook his head very slightly and said with a wrinkled brow, “Some things a man don’t want to face…’til they hit him from behind. Seems memories from
the war that still haunted him, came alive again, in the form of me…and well, then he had to turn and face them. Seems he wanted to keep them in the tomb, dead and gone. Seems a
good man finds sooner or later, that he just can’t do that. Lazarus seems to have come out of the tomb that the ol’ Doc tried to keep sealed. His memories may be alive now, but he
sees them in a new and different light, it means some new life for him too, Andy.”
Jess took off his hat and wiped his face, he was feeling a slight bit warm as he began to remember some of the heavier parts of his conversation with the doc…back up at Sammy’s place.
He was beginning to get worried that he might be getting backed into a corner, or a post or something…or worse yet, a mud hole. He sure knew mud holes now, and that was a fact.
“I never noticed Slim in danger of being twisted from the war and our pa was in it and even died from it, right here, as a matter of fact.” Andy said with sorrow in his heart. “I guess I
was too young to be in danger of being twisted.”
“How about you Jess?”
“Me, Andy? What do you mean?” Jess put his hat back on and braced himself a bit, and unknown to him, his face had changed as if he was part of a cold tomb himself.
Andy saw something in Jess’ face. He wasn’t sure what it was but he was sure he wasn’t ready for it yet, and nearly changed the subject, but he had come this far already. He quickly thought of a way to cushion his wondering.
“Well…suppose…just supposin’ now, mind you.” Andy composed himself, but proceeded on with earnest, “seeing as you were in the war same as Slim was, and even on the losing
side, same as the doc. Well, just suppose that you had memories from the war. You know, things that might make you hurt awful bad inside.”
Andy dared to look him in the face, “Jess? …”
Then after a brief pause, and the most matter of fact look he could muster up, Andy spoke the dreaded words, “Do you reckon, or suppose, that you were ever tempted to be twisted, I mean…were you ever in a spot like the doc.” Andy shifted his weight a bit. “Seems you were able to help him so well, that …well… just maybe you really understood where he was
coming from, is all. Were you ever twisted from the war, Jess?”
There, I got it out, Andy thought…sure hope a storm ain’t brewing now, and just before meal time. If Jess takes off or something… for some tree pounding and soul searching, as
Slim calls it, up that hill over yonder… Jonesy will never forgive.
“Andy…if I ever decide I was…I reckon I’ll just have to deal with it is all…and that’s all I got to say on the matter.” Jess turned and grabbed onto the post of the porch and dug his
fist into it real slow and hard as he and said, “sun’s made tracks…meal’s sure to be on the table, you best be making tracks as well, for the table.” He was near to take a post –pound
or two, when Andy came up from behind him, and Jess had to turn and face him.
“If you ever have to face something from behind and all, Jess…I for one, I just bet that Lazarus will come out of the tomb for you too, Jess…just like he did for Doc-Boston. Why else
would you keep running into each other so many times unless you got something might powerful in common.” Andy put his hand on Jess shoulders and then caved in with near tears
and gave him a full man’s sized hug, and turned to run into the house.
“Wait a minute, Andy.” Jess carefully grabbed him back. Andy didn’t know if he had been helping or hurting Jess, and needed to be alone and think, but Jess had stopped him. He
was glad of it though, he needed to face it, even now as Jess had grabbed him from behind…Jonesy’s saying seemed to ring loud and clear, as he himself learned how it worked.
Jess looked down at Andy’s face, the face of a friend that believed in him...as he did, he lowered his face into his hand and turned aside for a moment and leaned on the porch post
and rail. Andy quietly watched the man and stared in silence.
Jess thought about the devastation of the yard earlier that other week...and how all his war thoughts had been disturbed from their rest, especially one in particular that was wrestling
with his conscience and disturbing him greatly when ever he least suspected it. He knew he wasn’t ready for it to live again. NO, the prison camp, and the man that commanded it
…no, I ain’t gonna’ get twisted, and if I am, I don’t want to know. But just then … for a split second … his keen conscience chastised him greatly and he shifted his thought to,
least wise, not yet. I’ll just have to rake it even deeper, no Lazarus for me …for now, anyways.
“Some things a man don’t want to face…’til they hit him from behind…Jonesy and his magic saying.” Jess muttered heavily. He then turned to face the house, as he did so, he
realized Andy was still there watching him. “I’ll be in directly Andy.”
“What do I tell Slim and Jonesy, Jess....” Andy said with a hint of confusion.
Tell them anything you like Andy… I’ll be in directly.” Jess started to step down off the porch and began to walk off into the night, as Andy called to him.
“You’ll miss Jonesy’s special supper he planned for you, Jess. He went to a whole lot of trouble, Jess, and did a real caring job of it all. He did it for YOU Jess.”
Jess had gotten half way across the yard, when he stopped, as Andy’s words haunted him from behind. He rubbed his fist a few times, and took off to the hills for his bit of soul
searching, as Slim called it, and maybe a bit of tree-pounding, leaving Andy to deliver his message of tardiness.
Andy entered the house without Jess.
“Where’s Jess, Andy” Slim looked up a bit bewildered. He knew Jess was counting on this supper, and had even showed up to smell it a few times between trips to the barn.
Andy looked at the meal set on the table, and then looked at the two men as he delivered the message, “He’ll be in directly.” He then proceeded to go to his place at the table, “Seems
there’s just some things a man don’t want to face…”
Jonesy set his serving tools down on the table and went up to him, before Andy had a chance to sit. “Now just what is that supposed to mean?” Jonesy grilled him with a hostile
“You know very well, he’s up to facing my meal. Why, he’s been waiting many a day for these quails, at least the quails that have come and gone already last week…and that’s just
what’s going to happen to these quails as well, if he don’t show up right quick! Now run that by me again, in case I’m hearing things, in my old age, that ain’t really so. Sure don’t
seem right to me!”
"That’s all I know Jonesy,” Andy said a bit serious with a far away sadness as he looked up at Jonesy and over at Slim. "Jess said, 'some things a man don’t want to face...’” Andy
finally felt free enough to make his way to his place at the table. He then added in a still quiet voice, “‘til they hit him from behind.”
Slim and Jonesy eyed each other as to the odd situation at hand. Slim sat back in his chair staring at Andy, obviously he knew more that he was telling. “Try running that by me again, Andy.” Slim said as he prodded his brother as Jonesy stood near by wondering whether to serve the meal or not, “and make some sense this time.”
“He'll be in directly.” Andy said firmly, as he remembered his last words to Jess in regards to the supper, as Jess stood there facing the hills before he took off. “That is…as soon
as his conscience hits him from behind.” He said with a knowing smile. “Now what’s the hold-up... lets eat… I’m half starved!
Jess’ most desperate and sincere prayer in the mud hole played a part in his life unexpectedly in his future, as Sam Jarrad took Jess off as his prized bounty. Jess’ life was in the balance because of this man, yet Jess chose to save his life. He saved him from sinking in a hole of quicksand by going in after him, knowing full well, that even after this, even with Slim by his
side, this man and his mission could leave him to face being hanged.
Moving onward, Jess Harper was reunited with his Sgt. Billy in an unexpected way and was able to repay him for saving his life. He got into a bit of a mess doing so though and needed some more life-saving of his own, again, from the same sergeant. Good thing for Jess that Sgt. Billy decided to stay a real friend and keep his honor, fortunately in time for both of them,
or Jess just might not have made it through this mess.
Farther on, into Jess Harper’s future, the main thread running through the above story appears. Jess Harper one day found himself “hit from behind” as Paul Halleck arrived at the
Sherman Relay Station Ranch and Jess had to turn and face something, something that he thought he had raked deep enough. So deep that he never spoke of it not even to Slim.
He soon found out that it wasn’t raked as deep as he thought.
IN THE LARAMIE EPISODE, “THE REPLACEMENT”, we find an excellent story, excellently acted by Robert Fuller, as his excellent Jess Harper fights to understand himself and stay
true to himself… and finally succeeds … as some of the worst memories of his life have come back to life. His own memories … of what he and his unit, along with other southern
soldiers lived through … in a civil war prison camp for confederate prisoners.
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