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Jubal happened to be standing around the corner and overheard the conversation. He shook his head sadly as he understood why the young man had been so eager to avoid the woman. Ezra was ashamed of the way his mother behaved and was trying to distance himself from her. His estimation of his sons friend inched up slightly. Seeing Josiah coming up the street, he stepped out and called to his son.
Josiah, would you mind if I used the church to pray? I will not bother you. Id like to have a prayer service for some of the people in town.
Yes, you can use it, just let me know when you get it set up.
Thank you, son. Jubal turned and walked away.
A couple of hours later, he ran into Ezra. He decided to approach the young man and praise him for his lifestyle. Ezra? May I have a word with you?
The gambler stopped and turned to face the older Sanchez.
I wanted to invite you to a prayer service that I will be having in the church.
I dont know if I will have time. I have patrols to keep.
Certainly Mr. Larabee would let you off for one night to come to a prayer service. I understand the shame you must feel about your mother. Please, allow me to offer my support to you. It cant be easy for you as a lawman to have a mother who openly drinks and gambles. I saw her last evening with my son in the saloon drinking and gambling. It was shameful!
The green eyes blinked a couple of time as he reasoned thru what the man had just said. Then Ezra began to laugh.
My good man, my mother taught me everything I know. Prior to getting hired here, I was a professional gambler of some renown. The only reason that I was not in the saloon last night was that I am not comfortable being around my mother sometimes.
Jubal drew back as if he had been slapped. He huffed in disgust and marched away, mumbling to himself about Sodom and Gomorrah.
That evening, Ezra was at his table playing cards with the businessman that he had pegged the day before. The man was helpless at poker and the gambler was cleaning him out. Maude and Josiah came in arm in arm and laughing about something only they shared.
A group of younger cowhands came in and ordered drinks. They spent a couple of hours drinking and enjoying themselves. Their laughter got loud and their actions became rowdy as they tipped the piano player to play songs they could dance to. They swung the saloon girls around with them as they danced.
The batwing doors slammed open abruptly and Jubal swaggered in, his cassock was covered in ashes as he ranted at them. At first, his words were drowned out by the revelry of the cowhands and the piano. Slowly, the saloon became quiet as they turned to look at the odd man shouting at them.
This is a den of inequity! Repent of your evil ways! Turn from your sin and receive forgiveness! Go not in the way of Sodom and Gomorrah. Its not to late! Turn back and repent!
The titters of laughter started in the back of the room and grew in volume until the entire room was roaring with laughter. Only the seven lawmen and Maude and Inez were not laughing. Josiah hung his head in shame at the spectacle that his father was making. JD was on his feet, outraged that they were laughing at the priest. The other men were uncomfortable, not sure what to do or say.
The old man continued to rail at the saloon patrons until he suddenly began to struggle for his breath. Nathan quickly began to come to his feet and was held back by Vin. Buck and Chris moved forward and caught the man under the arms and pulled him from the room. Nathan followed behind them at a slower pace because of the still healing wound in his abdomen. JD stared at Josiah.
Arent you going to see if hes all right?
No, JD. He doesnt want me up there. I know you cant understand this, but my father and I are not close. I only hope that he will move on and stop trying to make things harder for me here.
The young man stared at the older man for a minute before leaving the saloon and heading for the clinic. Josiah looked up when Maude put her hand on his arm. Her face held a sympathetic expression as she reached out to cup his face with her other hand.
Why dont we go for a walk in the moonlight until it settles down in here? she suggested. Josiah stood and offered her his arm.
Ezra tapped the deck square and cut it before shuffling the cards loudly to draw the attention back to the table. He squared the deck again and pushed it toward the player to his left. The man cut the cards and pushed them back.
Buck and Chris eased Jubal onto the bed. The old man was wheezing badly and struggling to draw each breath. Nathan made it to the clinic and sat carefully on the edge of the bed to examine the man. He tugged the neck of the cassock open and motioned for Chris to help the man to sit up and eased a pillow behind him.
Can you hand me the bottle of chloroform and a cloth, Buck?
As soon as the items were placed in his hands, Nathan applied a small amount of the medicine to the cloth and held it near Jubals face.
Try to breathe deeply. This will help to relax the spasms in your lungs.
After a minute, Jubals breathing eased and he began to relax slightly. Nathan took the cloth away and handed the man a glass of water. Allowing him only a couple of swallows, he pulled the cup away.
Better? How long have you had this breathing problem?
The doctor in Colorado Springs says that it will only get worse until I die, he answered weakly.
Has he given you an estimate? Nathan asked.
A few months, give or take. Thats why I was trying to make amends with my children.
JD had entered the room and was standing quietly in the corner. He took in all that Jubal had said before slipping out of the room. He made his way down the boardwalk to where he saw Josiah and Maude standing.
Do you know that hes dying? That he only has a couple of months to live? How can you not go to him? Hes your father! You have another chance to talk to him, to forgive him!
Maude took in the stricken look on JDs face and silently slipped away.
Do you know what I would have given for another chance to talk to my mother? You have a chance and youre throwing it away! JD shouted at Josiah as the tears poured down his face.
Seeing the anguish in his young friends face, Josiah opened his arms and drew JD to his chest. The deep, soul rending sobs were muffled as the young sheriff rubbed the tears from his face onto Josiahs shirt. JD had one fist curled tightly into the older mans shirt as he cried.
Casting his eyes skyward Josiah questioned God. Are you trying to tell me to forgive him? After all that he did to us? Seventy times seven times I should forgive my brother. I dont know if I can forgive that man after all he did to me and to Hannah. A shooting star raced across the sky and Josiah closed his eyes.
Youre right, JD. I have to talk to him. I need to give him this last chance to make his peace.
Folding his arm tightly around his young friend, Josiah moved toward the clinic.
Will you go with me?
JDs eyes widened, Me? You want me to go with you?
Your faith is stronger than mine right now. Id like to lean on you a little bit.
A bright smile lit JDs face. Just dont lean too hard, youll squash me!
By the time the two men reached the clinic, Jubal was feeling much better. He looked up when the door opened and his eyes widened in surprise. The last face he expected to see was the one he was looking at now.
May I have a word with my father, gentlemen? Josiah asked softly.
The four men filed out of the room and JD moved to an out of the way corner. Josiah paced along the side of the bed for a minute, pulling his thoughts together. He looked at the frail looking man on the bed and sighed.
JD feels that I should give you a chance to explain. I need to understand why you did the things that you did to Hannah and me. I need to know what drove you to beat us the way you did.
I wish I could tell you that I had a reason. I really dont know what happened to me. I dont know why I did those things to you and to Hannah. I loved you both. I loved your mother so much and when she died, I just kind of lost my mind.
How am I supposed to forgive you?
God showed his love for us in this, while we were still in our sin, Christ died for us, Jubal whispered.
Josiah looked at JD. I have to think about this, JD. Its not as easy for me to forgive as it is for you. When the kid nodded, Josiah left the clinic and went for a walk.
JD approached the bed. Youre a real priest arent you? Getting a tired nod, he continued, Will you hear my confession? When Jubal nodded, the kid knelt by the bed.
Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been two years since my last confession. For several minutes, JD rattled off the minor offenses he had committed against God. Finally, he drew a deep breath and let go of the thing that troubled him most. Forgive me for the sin of murder. I killed an innocent woman. Annie had two little children. I didnt mean to kill her.
As Jubal stroked the boys long, dark hair, he softly spoke the absolution. When JD raised his head, his face was wet with tears. The relief in his face was almost painful to bear.
Go in peace and sin no more, Jubal said softly. JD nodded and slipped quietly out of the room.
Nathan returned to the clinic a short time later to check on the older man. Jubal insisted that he felt much better and wanted to return to his own room for the night. The healer let the man go with the promise that he would return the next day to be checked again.
Crushing the newspaper in his fist, Chris left the saloon and scanned the boardwalk for Mary Travis. The headline asked the question, Should Four Corners go Dry? Seeing the blonde newswoman coming out of the grain exchange, he strode over to her.
May I have a word with you? The barely controlled anger in his voice caused her to flinch.
Of course, walk with me while I deliver the rest of these?
Do you really mean this? He waived the paper clenched in his fist.
Its something that a few people are talking about. It has worked in other towns around the territory. Keeps out the bad element. I just wanted to give the people a chance to think about it.
Have you looked into any of the towns that have gone dry? They usually dont stay towns too long. People need a place to relax and unwind. This town wouldnt be any safer without the saloon. In fact, people would stop coming here in favor of other towns where they can get a drink and a game of cards. Is that what you want for this town? For it to slowly starve to death?
Really, Mr. Larabee, I dont think its as serious as all of that. Perhaps if the ruffians think that they might possible lose the saloon, they will control themselves a little better, she defended.
Or maybe theyll start looking for another place to spend their hard earned money. You going to explain that to Gloria Potter when they stop coming in here for supplies? She counts on that business. What about the hotel? Have you really thought this thru?
I can see that you have a different view on things and I appreciate that. As I said before, it was just something to give people a chance to think about it.
The rest of the day went steadily downhill from there. Every other person who passed by stopped to complain about the bothersome newspaperwoman. The tempers were hot and on edge all day. Ezra had the misfortune of picking up the paper as he was taking a mouth full of coffee. The coffee sprayed across the paper and the table as the gamblers eyes widened. Ezra jumped to his feet, brushing the coffee from his pants before storming out to where Chris was sitting next to Vin.
Mr. Larabee, have you see the paper this morning?
Yes, Ezra. And every other person who walks by here feels compelled to ask me that same question. What do you expect me to do about it?
Surely you can talk to her. Get her to print a retraction. Do you know what this dreary little village will become if she is successful in bringing prohibition here? We may as well pack our bags and head out, it will be a ghost town in no time! The gambler was thoroughly worked up.
Ezra, settle down. Its an article in a paper. She doesnt have the authority to pass a law or anything. The men of the town wont let her shut down the saloon. Get a hold of yourself and go back and finish your breakfast.
After Ezra walked away, Vin peeked out from under his hat.
Where do you suppose she got the idea?
Im sure it came from Josiahs father. I just wish that old man would move on. Hes going to keep on until one of these cowhands kills him.
Cant Josiah talk some sense into him?
I hope so. Ill go talk to Josiah. Chris pushed out of the chair and settled his gun belt around his hips. He looked toward the church where the older man was already on the roof pounding on the new shingles.
Josiah, can we talk? Chris was standing on the ladder watching the powerful blows that sent the nails into the hard, dry ironwood.
Is it about the article in the Clarion?
Howd you know?
Already had half a dozen men brave enough to climb up here and ask me where in the Bible it says that a man shouldnt drink. Do you want to hear the whole list of verses? Josiah asked as his eyes sparkled with mischief as he laid back against the roof.
Can you talk to your father? I know hes the one stirring up the women.
It wont do me any good. He thinks hes doing right. Short of tying him on a horse and riding him out of town, there isnt anything I can do.
Do you think it would help for me to talk to him? Chris offered hopefully. Josiah frowned and shook his head.
Youll end up shooting him. You cant tell him anything, Chris. Hes a stubborn old man. Hes just doing this to get back at me for preventing him from taking Hannah. If you want to run him out of town let me know, Ill help you. And with that, Josiah went back to pounding on the shingles.
Chris let it go and returned to his seat in front of the saloon. He noticed Jubal as he mingled with the townspeople up and down the street. A couple of times, while the older Sanchez was discussing the topic favorably with a woman, her husband would drive him off. One man who was especially upset about the prospect of losing the saloon threatened to put the old man out of his misery.
The mood in the saloon that evening was one of heightened irritation. The men were up in arms about the possibility of losing the saloon and discussed it loudly. Several of the men seemed determined to get falling down drunk just out of spite. Ezra and Maude each had card games going at separate tables. Buck was kicked back in the corner of the room letting Millie work him into the mood as he sipped at his drink. Chris and Vin were in the corner nearest the door, waiting for the inevitable fight to begin.
It didnt take long for the anger to boil over. One group of drunken men jostled another group and an angry slur caused the fists to fly. Before anyone realized what was happening, the entire room erupted into violence. Chris nudged Vin and they waded into the fray. Buck eased Millie off of his lap and started in from his corner. Nathan and Josiah got up from the game at Maudes table and started for the bar where the worst of the fighting had Inez cowering. JD and Ezra also made their way toward the knot of men near the bar.
For several minutes, bodies flew and hit the walls to slump to the floor, unconscious. Several of the tables were smashed as bodies were lifted and slammed down. JD and Ezra were grabbing men from the edges of the fight and tossing them out of the doors. Buck was clubbing men down and tossing them toward the walls. Vin ducked to avoid a chair being swung by one of the men, only to stumble over a beer mug on the floor. He landed hard and struggled to get back on his feet. A firm hand closed on his arm and drew him up. Vin drew back his fist to defend himself only to meet the Larabee glare.
Nathan put one of the bigger men in a hammerlock and was pulling him out of the fight when he heard the bottle break. When the body in his arms slumped, he tossed the man toward the wall and turned back toward the bar. He saw what happened as if in slow motion. JD reached for one of the men who just happened to have the broken bottle of Red eye in his hand. The kids eyes widened as the glass hit his stomach. Blood poured from the wound as the young sheriff looked down in surprise.
Josiah! Get JD! The healer fought to get thru the crowd. Josiah turned to see JD fall back against the bar with blood running thru his hands. Scooping the injured sheriff into his arms, Josiah waded out of the crush of fighting bodies. Nathan was hot on his heels as they left the saloon.
The fight continued for several more minutes until a significant number of bodies had been knocked out or tossed out into the street. When order was restored to the room, Chris did a quick head count.
Ezra, where are JD and Josiah?
I lost sight of Mr. Dunne when we dunked the man in the horse trough. Mr. Sanchez was working his way toward Miss Recillos when I saw him last.
Buck slipped in something on the floor and looked down. Chris! We got blood on the floor!
All four of the regulators raced up to the clinic. Upon reaching the landing, they heard JDs weak protest of pain. Buck hurdled past the others and into the room. JD lay on the bed, naked to the waist as Nathan pressed a large pad of bandages against his abdomen. The ladies man rushed to the bedside and reached for the kid.
What happened, JD? Bucks voice was tight with concern.
I dont know, Buck. It was a bottle, I think. It hurts! JDs dark eyes were filled with pain as he writhed under the pressure of the bandage.
Josiah, get the chloroform. Ezra, I need water boiling. Vin and Chris, squeeze in here and get hold of him. JD, you gotta lay still. Every time you move, you start the bleeding again, Nathan said urgently.
As soon as JD saw the cloth coming toward his face, he panicked. His hands clawed at the hands holding him down and he began to toss his head to get away from the cloth. Nathan threw a pleading glance at Buck for him to try to calm the thrashing young man.
Come on, JD. Calm down. Just let Nathan put you to sleep and then he can fix you up, the ladies man spoke soothingly as he gripped the top of JDs head to hold it still.
It hurts, Buck! Im scared! If I go to sleep and I dont wake up, I dont want to die!
Buck swallowed hard and looked to the healer. He wouldnt lie to the kid, not even if he was dying. Nathans expression said that he didnt know. Buck drew a deep breath and tightened his grip as Josiah pressed the cloth over his mouth. JD bucked and struggled, his eyes pleaded with Buck to make it stop. After a couple of breaths, the kids eyes began to go unfocused and he finally went limp in their grasp.
Nathan wasted no time getting to work. He removed the pad and began to assess the injury. As he carefully pulled the edges of the wound open, he could see that the cut went deeper than muscle. Taking the time to thoroughly scrub his hands, he gently inserted his fingertips into the gash and felt around. He felt the smooth surfaces of the boys guts as he pressed in the direction the glass had taken.
Feeling bile rising in his throat, Buck buried his face in JDs shoulder and tried to breathe deeply. A pair of firm hands took hold of his shoulders and massaged gently. He lifted his face to see Josiah standing over him. Ezra had taken over the administration of the chloroform, a job that did not allow him to watch Nathan putting his fingers inside of JDs body.
I dont feel any damage inside. If the glass nicked his intestines well know real soon. Hell go septic and die. If Im right, hell pull thru just fine, Nathan said with as much conviction as he could muster.
After gently cleaning the wound, Nathan placed several stitches in the muscle before closing the skin. Ezra had been holding back on the chloroform and JD began to rouse almost immediately. His first reaction was to throw up. Nathan cursed and hoped that he didnt bust the stitches on the inside. As soon as the spasms stopped, he checked and found no heavy bleeding.
As much as I hate to suggest it, I think we should keep him deep asleep for a day to give that wound a chance to start to heal. I know how bad he does with the laudanum but if he keeps having the dry heaves hes likely to tear something inside.
A weak whisper broke from the bed, Buck? You still here?
Im here, kid. Never left ya. Just close your eyes and rest now, its all over.
No more chloroform, Buck. Makes my head hurt. Please? Ill try not to be sick, Buck, please?
Buck raised his eyes to Nathan.
I need to ride out to the Seminole village, then. Maybe their medicine man can give me something to keep his stomach calm. The only other choice is to get something to inject the medicine into him without him having to swallow it.
A weak whimper let them know what the patient thought of the idea.
Josiah, can you and Buck handle him while Im gone?
Yeah, but you need to take it easy too, youre held together with string and bailing wire yourself, Chris reminded the healer.
Vin left to get horses. He would ride out with Nathan to make sure that he didnt injure himself trying to help JD. Chris and Ezra returned to the saloon to see if anyone needed to go to jail. Buck and Josiah took up chairs on either side of the bed and kept watch over the kid.
He looks pale, even for JD, Buck whispered as he rested his palm against the kids forehead.
Hes strong, Buck. Hell get thru this, Josiah answered.
A soft knock on the door brought Buck to his feet. He opened the door and looked at the man standing on the landing. Tossing a worried glance over his shoulder, the ladies man stepped out and pulled the door closed behind him.
Something I can do for you, sir? Buck asked quietly.
I heard that the youngster was injured and I wanted to come and offer a prayer for his recovery.
I dont think that would be a very good idea right now. Josiahs with him and hes unconscious right now. Ill tell JD that you asked after him.
Buck reached back to open the door and the knob was pulled from his hand as Josiah jerked the door open and stepped out. The look of rage on his face chilled Buck and he tried to keep him away from Jubal.
I hope youre satisfied! Because you stirred the people up against the saloon, JD is laying in there with a hole in his gut! Youve got a lot of nerve coming up here to pray for him! If that boy dies, youd better hope I cant find you because Ill rip your heart out if I can find it! Josiahs voice dripped with venom as he pushed his way toward his father.
Buck? Buck, where are you? JD called weakly. Both men turned and rushed back to the bed.
Even with the clear sky and the moonlight, it was treacherous to ride in the desert at night. They did not rush, although Nathan wanted to. The first pink tendrils of day were reaching across the sky when they rode into the Seminole village. The Indian medicine man had herbs that he said would calm the boys stomach and stop the throwing up but they would also keep him asleep. He had another herb that, when burned, gave off a smoke that was relaxing and would calm him if the stomach problem was more nerves. Nathan took some of each and spent a precious few minutes with Rain before they headed back to Four Corners.
JD slept most of the night. When he did wake, he would moan softly in pain. Buck and Josiah would calm him and wet his lips with water. He had no more dry heaves and would go right back to sleep. Chris and Ezra slipped in at different times, bringing coffee and sitting for a while before drifting away. They knew neither guardian would leave the boys side.
When Vin and Nathan arrived back in town, both men were bone tired. Upon seeing that JD appeared to be resting comfortably, Vin headed for his room to get a couple of hours of sleep. Nathan collapsed on the cot in the clinic and dropped into an exhausted sleep. He didnt waken at all the first time that JD called out for Buck. The young man pleaded for a drink of water and they allowed him a couple of swallows. Two minutes later, JD was panting rapidly as he fought to hold down the precious liquid. Buck gathered the kid into his arms and spoke soothingly to him while urging him to slow his breathing and relax.
The next time JD awoke, he was shaking with fever.
Nathan? Nathan, I hate to wake you but JDs feeling awful warm.
The dark skinned man sprang from the cot and crossed the room. His hand shot out and rested on the pale, sweat soaked brow. Pulling back the blanket, he eased the bandage back off of the wound. The area was a little warm and swollen but not excessively so and it was not seeping or bleeding. He gently prodded JDs stomach below the bandage and watched for any sign of pain. Seeing none, he sighed.
Its just a normal reaction to what happened, its not septic. I want to try to give him some herbal tea but I need to give him this other kind first. Hes dehydrated and I hope he doesnt start throwing up all over the place when we give it to him.
We gave him a couple of sips of water a few hours ago and he fought hard to keep it down. How much of this stuff do you have to give him?
A couple of ounces will stop the stomach spasms. Then we can coax the herb tea and maybe some water and broth into him. The new medicinal tea will make him sleep, Buck, just so you know.
Hes scared of the stuff that makes him sleep, Nathan. Isnt there anything else we can do?
He needs a couple of days to heal. Then we can let him deal with everything but for now, I need him to heal on the inside and that means sleep.
Nathan mixed the herbs the way the Indian healer had explained and waited for the liquid to cool to just above body temperature. Buck eased JD up and rested the limp body against his chest as Nathan coaxed the fluid down the boys throat.
The men waited anxiously for several minutes before JDs shoulders began to heave slightly. His breathing quickened and he tossed his head against Bucks shoulder. The ladies man eased his arms around the slim, warm body and whispered softly into the dark hair.
Just relax, JD. Breathe deeply and stay calm. The medicine will help ya. Breathe with me, son. Nice and easy, in and out, Buck intoned softly. After several minutes, JDs eyes opened and he looked around.
B-Buck? Where are you?
I got ya, kid. Just stay calm. How do you feel?
Head hurts, stomach hurts, thirsty. Can I have some water, please Nathan?
Ya gotta drink some tea first. Can ya do that for me?
Do I hafta? You know how bad it tastes!
In spite of everything he was feeling, the kid still managed a weak grin. Nathan cupped the fevered face and smiled.
Ya hafta. And then well talk about some water or some nice broth. Okay?
N-no s-sleepy stuff, okay? Dont want t-to s-sleep the day a-a-away.
The new herbal mix was already putting him to sleep. Nathan pressed the cup against JDs lips and smiled as the kid drank the bitter tea. As soon as the cup was pulled away, JD pressed his forehead against Bucks neck and rubbed it against him a couple of times before sighing contentedly.
Scrubbing at his eyes, Josiah yawned and groaned as he came to his feet. He stared at Buck and JD for a minute before slipping out of the room. He knew that he needed to get some rest. Stopping at the saloon, he asked Chris to go up and make sure that Nathan got some more rest. As the exhausted man reached the church, he saw Jubal sitting on the steps.
I wanted to let you know that I organized a prayer service for this evening. At six this evening, if its all right with you. Mrs. Travis is printing it in her paper today. How is your young friend doing?
He has a fever. Hes very weak.
I have been praying for him. I heard his last confession. Have you given him last rites?
Josiah snatched Jubal up from the steps and hissed into his face.
Im not giving him the last rites because Im not giving up on him! You had better be praying that nothing happens to him. That boy is worth more than all the good works youve done in your miserable life.
Every couple of hours, JD would rouse slightly and Nathan would give him another dose of the new herbal medicine and a couple of ounces of water or broth. Buck never left the kids side that day. Chris glared Nathan back to bed between rounds with the kid. Ezra and Vin visited, bringing meals and offering to relieve Buck, knowing that he wouldnt leave.
As the sun was passing toward the western hills, most of the townspeople gathered in the small church. Jubal stood behind the pulpit and gazed at the faces that filed into the semi-darkened room. He recognized several of the faces as being the ones he had approached to stir up opposition to the saloon. One face he didnt expect to see was Maude Standish. The con woman took a seat in the front row and glared at the old cleric.
Steeling his nerve, Jubal stepped up to the pulpit. He closed his hands on the wood and closed his eyes. When he raised his eyes toward the rafters and began to pray, every head in the room bowed. He finished his prayer and focused his attention on the matter at hand.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us offer up prayer for young John Dunne.
A strident voice interrupted him.
It is largely your fault that he is where he is right now. If you had not stirred the people against the saloon, the boy would not be up there fighting for his life! Maude shouted.
It is for that reason that I am here, madam. Great is my sin against my own son. Because of that sin, I have brought harm to the boy. Because of my sin, I harmed my beloved daughter. I stand before you to beg forgiveness.
As he stepped out from behind the pulpit, Jubal sank to his knees. His breathing became labored as he reached for the rail with a shaking hand. He struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on the railing as he began to sing. The people joined in, drowning out the frail raspy tones of the old man.
In the clinic, JD was stirring. His hands scrabbled on the quilt until they encountered Bucks and he latched onto the warm hand.
JD? Is something wrong, son? Buck was worried, the kid was dragging at the neck of the nightshirt and fretting under the cover.
Nathan moved to the bed and drew the hand away from the shirt. JD was panting as he fought weakly against the strong arms that held him. Josiah jumped up and opened the door and then the window. A slight breeze moved thru the room and JD shuddered before easing back against Buck. As Josiah stepped onto the landing, faint strains of Amazing Grace floated on the breeze.
By morning, JDs fever had broken and he was sleeping deeply without the benefit of any medicinal tea. Buck had finally been persuaded to go to his own room to rest. Vin and Ezra were sitting watch over JD while Nathan slept in the trackers room at the boarding house. Josiah had slipped out just after helping Nathan and Buck change the boys clothes and bedding. Chris sat on the boardwalk outside of the saloon watching the town as it came to life again.
Mary Travis stopped and told Chris that Jubal had apologized for trying to turn the town against the saloon. He told them that he was doing it to hurt his son out of spite. After the prayer service, the old man had just disappeared. The few, meager belongings he had brought with him were gone from the room at the hotel.
Could be that he crawled back into whatever hole he has been hiding in for the past few years. I just hope that he doesnt pop up and bite Josiah again. Chris told her in a calm, icy tone.
It took several weeks for JD to be back to his old self. He and Nathan convalesced together for a couple of weeks while the others took over the patrols and took care of the town. Inez and Mrs. Potter seemed to take it as their personal mission to get them back on their feet. They plied them with all the food that they could eat.
Once he was certain that JD was going to be all right, Josiah went back to Vista City to check on Hannah. He was surprised to find that she seemed to be doing better. He was actually surprised to see her smile when he arrived. Sister Anne insisted that he see one special canvas that she had recently finished.
Following the whisper thin nun thru the dimly lit corridors, Josiah wondered what Hannah could have painted that had the woman so excited. He followed her into his sisters room and stopped suddenly as if stricken. There, on the wall, was a picture of his family, his family as they had been when he was a child, before his mother died. A trembling hand reached out and stopped just short of the still drying oil paint.
When did she begin this? He asked as his throat tightened.
About a week ago. She awoke in the middle of the night and started to paint. She barely stopped to eat until she finished. She has been steadily getting better. She spoke to Sister Marta the other morning.
Spoke? Hannah spoke?
She said, Im hungry. Sister Marta nearly broke her vow of silence!
Josiah smiled. He knew that the young nun was valiantly trying to keep her vow of silence in her pursuit of her spiritual call. That the woman had nearly broken it over Hannahs words was amusing to him. He spent a few days with his sister. She brought him to tears with one simple word. As he was bidding her goodnight the first evening, he heard a faint whisper.
Josiah, she said in a breathy whisper. He leaned over her and caressed the curve of her face. As the tears rolled down his cheeks, Hannah smiled and closed her eyes.
As Josiah was packing to leave the mission, Hannah appeared at his side. In her hands she held the canvas painting. She pressed the painting into his hands. He found himself looking at the man in the picture. Jubal was handsome as a young man. The image of his mother caused such a sweet ache in his heart that it left him breathless. He had to laugh at her rendition of him, a chubby cheeked youth with her same blue eyes. He pressed his lips to her forehead and thanked her for the painting.
As he was riding out, a young man ran up to Prophet waiving a piece of paper.
Josiah, this message came for you.
He leaned down and took the paper, handing a coin to the boy. Unfolding the telegraph paper, he read the few words printed there in a tiny, neat printed script.
Jubal Sanchez found dead. Return to Four Corners. Chris Larabee.
A strangled gasp burst from his mouth as bitter tears welled up in his eyes. He asked the boy to take the message along to the mission and give it to the Mother Superior before he nudged Prophet toward home. It took him until after dark to reach Four Corners. Chris and Vin were waiting for him when he arrived.
Josiah, you got our telegram? Chris asked as he reached out to the horse.
Yes. I got it before I left this morning.
We kept the body in the basement of the hotel where it is cooler. We wanted to try to wait for you to return for the funeral. I thought you might want to see him, to be sure, the hazel eyes were gentle as they held the pain filled blue eyes.
Thank you, Chris. Yes, I would like to see him one last time.
As the three men headed for the hotel basement, they were joined by the rest of the regulators. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, Chris turned up the lantern hanging near the coffin. Josiah found himself unable to move, rooted to the spot. A pair of gentle hands took hold of his arms and pulled him forward. He found himself looking at Ezra on one side and JD on the other. Nathan rested his hands solidly on the broad shoulders as he took a hesitant step forward. Another hand touched him and he saw Vins eyes watching him closely. Chris and Buck took hold of the lid of the coffin lid and waited for Josiah to indicate his readiness.
At the slight nod, the lid was lifted away. Jubal had been found slumped at the rail inside of the church as if he had fallen from his knees while praying. His rosary beads were wrapped around his hand. The undertaker had brushed out his hair and dressed him in the clean cassock they found in the bag at his side. His hands were folded over his chest. Josiah reached out and straightened the cross at the end of the strand of beads.
As Josiahs knees folded, JD knelt beside him. He felt the young mans arm around his back as he lowered his forehead to the edge of the coffin. JDs voice was soft as he began to speak, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
One by one, the voices of the other five men joined JDs. Josiah couldnt summon any sound around the lump in his throat but he mouthed the words along with the others. As Josiah prayed silently, they slipped away, leaving only JD and Nathan behind. The others waited at the top of the stairs.
Do you think hell be all right? Buck asked.
With a little help from his friends, Chris said as he looked around at the others.
They stood at his side the next afternoon as Jubals coffin was lowered into the ground. In Josiahs hands lay the old, worn Bible that Jubal had been carrying with him since before he had been married. They had all been in Josiahs small room when he opened and hung the painting Hannah had done of her family. Ezra had brought along a bottle of expensive brandy and glasses.
To happier days, he offered as he raised his glass to the smiling faces in the picture.
Happier days, Josiah whispered.