Thanks once again to Kelly A for doing the
JD Dunne heeled Padget into a faster
pace. He could see the outskirts of the town just over the next rise and
rushed to come level with his travelling companion, Ezra Standish. The
Southerner had spent the majority of the past two days either a number of horse
lengths in front, or that same distance behind, but never riding alongside JD.
When they stopped for the night, the
gambler removed himself to the outskirts of camp and remained there until Dunne
had retired for the night. Once JD was asleep, only then did the troubled
gambler return. Then in the mornings, Standish woke early, which in itself
was unusual, and assisted in packing up camp, but his actions were rigid and
forced. Every attempt the young gunslinger made to draw the gambler into a
conversation was rebuffed with a sarcastic comment, or slur.
Initially, Dunne shrugged it off,
figuring Standish was just out of sorts with Larabee for sequestering him to
ride with the youngest of the seven. But it should be JD who was upset
with Chris, not Standish, and he was, Dunne admitted, a might peeved to begin
with. He found it hard to understand why it required two lawmen to collect
a package from Jepson’s Hollow. Damn, it was only a bunch of papers, for
God’s sake. A few letters that Judge Travis wanted picked up and
delivered to him in Eagle Bend. And it wasn’t like Standish had been
good company, or any sort of company really over the last few days. Hell,
he’d been a bear! Griping and snarling at the simplest of requests.
The strange part Dunne pondered, and
he’d certainly had ample time to do just that, was that he’d not seen the
gambler once with his deck of cards. Now that was so un-Ezra. To see
the Southerner without his tools of trade, shuffling and cutting the deck it
JD sighed, studying the way Standish
held himself in Chaucer’s saddle. Even from behind, Dunne could tell that
Standish was troubled by something. His shoulders rolled, and he slumped
forward in the seat. He finally came level with Standish as they
topped the rise. “Hey, we made it,” JD grinned enthusiastically.
“Indeed,” Ezra drawled, bored by the
Ignoring the blasé response Dunne kneed
his mount and left the gambler on the crest. Standish was not going to spoil
this too. “I’ll pick up the parcel,” JD yelled excitedly, galloping
down the slope and into town.
The Southerner exhaled slowly and bowed his
head in disgust. He’d been abominable company and no matter the supreme
effort he attributed to keeping his distance, and mood, from the younger man, JD
persisted in seeking out his presence. Surely the boy had learnt by now
that Ezra was not pleasant to be around at the moment. And that it was far
safer, for them both, to enforce that separation.
But no! Dunne spent the better part of the
day staring at him, boring holes into his coat with his invasive brown eyes.
He snapped at the boy and glared daggers, but still Dunne kept coming back for
more. What did it take for JD to get the message that he just wanted to be
left alone? That he didn’t want to share conversation or disclose feelings
about… NO! He didn’t want to think about that either. Why
couldn’t Dunne mind his own damn business? And why the hell couldn’t
he talk Larabee out of sending him on this worthless trip? Hell, he was a
conman, wasn’t he? And yet, he was unable to sway the dark-clad
gunslinger not to send him. What would mother think? Don’t kid
yourself Standish, you know exactly what Maude would say. ‘That his
talent was slipping and it was past time that he should move on and leave Four
Corners. The town was making him lax.’
Standish slowly guided the chestnut gelding
down the gravel road. The sooner this package was retrieved the sooner
they could depart and deliver said packet to Judge Travis. Then he could
return to Four Corners. Ezra groaned at the implication. He
supposed, that Dunne would inform the others of his deplorable behaviour and
then he’d have to contend with Buck’s mother hen routine and suffer his over
zealous protective streak towards the young gunslinger. Fighting with
Wilmington was not a good option. He’d have to sincerely remedy his
treatment of the younger man before they reached home. That was going to
be a chore, in itself.
True to his word, JD had collected the
parcel and they were back on the trail within an hour. Dunne had tucked
the papers into his saddlebag. “So why do you reckon the Judge is so
keen to get this?”
“I’ve no idea,” Ezra gritted his
teeth and drawled. This was harder than anticipated, keeping company with
“Ain’t ya even the slightest bit
interested in what’s in it?” Dunne pestered.
“No!” Standish irritably declared.
“And you’d do best, not to even consider the contents.”
“Fine,” he answered surly. “Just
trying ta make conversation, is all.” He bit the bottom lip and
formed his lips into a pout. Dunne removed his bowler hat and slapped the
rump of Padget in misery. He’d taken all he was going to take from the
Spurning his horse in a narrow circle, JD
lifted his head and glared defiantly at the gambler. “Ain’t my fault
yer stuck here with me! I didn’t make ya come! That was Chris’
idea. Fact is, I asked Buck to come,” he disclosed, “but he couldn’t
make it, so I got stuck with you,” he growled. “And you’ve been the
absolute worst grouch,” he shouted. “Don’t know why yer still here.
Figured you’d be staying in Jepson’s Hollow, once we’d got there.”
JD gave the best glare he could muster, and the depth of potency behind it
rivalled anything Chris Larabee could have bestowed. Dunne flicked the
reins from one side across to the other and urged Padget into a heady gallop
away from the Southerner.
Standish shook his head, mouth gaping.
Whatever had riled the boy this time? And after making the sacrifice to
his privacy to stay pace with the exuberant youth, and this is the response he
gets. Going to be a long trip home, he mused.
Dunne unsaddled Padget and brought his
belongings into the circle he’d prepared. It’d taken some time to
gather firewood for the fire, but he’d enjoyed the physical activity after
sitting in the saddle all day long. He briefly looked up, constantly
waiting for the Southerner to appear, but so far the conman had yet to show.
Dunne repeated the heated one-sided argument that had been the precursor to them
separating again in his mind. But each time he rehashed it, he still felt
justified with what he’d said. He wondered what Standish thought of him
now. Probably reckons he was a longwinded loudmouth with a grudge against
Dunne emptied out the contents of his
saddlebags and spread them on the ground. There was the parcel for Judge
Travis, a small utility knife, mug and plate, a ball of twine and hooks, a spare
shirt and neck scarf and a small bag with a mediocre supply of food. He
opened the bag and peered disinterestedly inside. Two small lumps of
hardtack, a tin of coffee beans and two apples. Once again he looked up
the road to see if Standish was coming. JD knew that the gambler had so
far supplied all the necessities for their meals. If he didn’t arrive
soon, JD would have to scrounge his dinner. Might as well start doing that
anyhow, he admitted. Unless Ezra had replenished their supplies in town,
then the gambler was probably low on food. Dunne was sure he could catch a
fish from that pond, and set about finding an adequate pole.
Ezra’s stomach rumbled at the heady
aroma that drifted on the air. He practically swooned in his seat and
licked his lips, drooling at the inviting sensations. He circled the edges
of the camp, uncertain of his welcome. He’d delayed arriving for as long
as possible; such a childish response he openly admitted.
“Hey, Ezra,” Dunne stood up and waved,
a welcoming smile plastered his face. “Dinner is almost ready. You
timed it just right.” The youth stretched over the fire and turned the
fish, speared above the fire.
Ezra dismounted and uncomfortably
approached JD. “A delightful aroma,” he praised.
Dunne nodded; pleased with himself and the
haul of three fish he’d caught. “You gonna sit down?”
“Thought ya’d decided to take up my
suggestion and head back to town.” Dunne shyly tilted his head to access
the gambler’s reaction.
“Would you have felt more contented if I
had done that?” Standish answered with a question of his own.
JD mulled this over. “Dunno,” he
Ezra thinned his lips and nodded his head
Following dinner the gambler left JD on his
own, and settled just on the edges of the soft glow from the fire. He sat back
against a boulder and pulled an unopened envelope from his pocket. His
name was clearly legible on the front, but there was no return address of the
sender. But Ezra was well aware who had posted the letter; the gentle
flowing script easily identified the correspondent. The letter shook
between his trembling fingers, but he couldn’t bring himself to open the
“Why don’t ya open it?” JD had crept
over to the Southerner and leaned casually against the same boulder.
“What would you know about it, JD?”
Standish sighed, hastily pocketing the letter. He’d been startled at
Dunne’s appearance and jumped marginally at the young gunslinger’s softly
“Know ya ain’t gonna know what’s
inside the letter ‘til ya read it.”
“And if I already know the details?”
“Reckon if ya did, ya wouldn’t have
been biting my head off every two ways lately,” Dunne grinned. JD’d
wager every dime he had, that Standish had been a bear because of what he
thought was in that letter.
The Southerner patted his coat and felt the
paper crinkle under the fabric. “Then if I don’t want to know?”
“If that were true, why do you keep
looking at it?”
Standish whipped his head up and frowned at
the younger man. Had Dunne been spying on him? “How would you know
that?” Standish hissed vehemently.
JD held his hands up in surrender. “Just a guess, is all.” He stepped away from the rock and stared out
into the dark. “Can it be any worse than yer already thinking?
Least once ya read it, then ya can deal with whatever it is. Even if it
ain’t good news. But ya got some good friends, and we’ll all be there
to help any way we can. You just let us know. Ya don’t even have
to tell us what’s in the letter, ‘cause that’s your business.”
Dunne lightly touched the gambler’s sleeve and indicated he was going back to
Ezra stared after JD for such a long time
his neck developed a crick. When had Dunne become so observant and so
astute? He slowly withdrew the letter and tapped it thoughtfully on his
knee. Mr. Dunne was correct of course. And he should read the letter
soon; before Maude returns to his life once more and discloses the contents he
should be familiar with. How would he explain to his mother that he’d
been too afraid to read a simple letter?
Swallowing back the rising bile he tore
open the end and tapped the missive free. He unfolded the note and
held it up, so the light from the fire reflected on the words and he could read
them without squinting. Taking a deep breath, he let his eyes briefly
wander over the page, then guided them back to the top, he read the letter.
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A Weight to Bear - Series
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