resisted the urge to set his grey into a gallop; such an act would draw
unnecessary attention, and they could do without that. Instead, he
leaned low in the saddle and hugged close to cover, returning quickly to
the Wells ranch.
coming!” he loudly announced, thumping through the house until he
reached the single room where he found all four lawmen. If he was
surprised to find Vin out of bed, he didn’t show it.
Jackson groaned. Doesn’t anyone around here heed his warnings?
“We need to
get those two outta here now.” Buck spoke decisively, not taking his
grim countenance off the gunslinger.
long?” Chris mentally tallied how long it would take to make a clean
minutes tops…couldn’t see Josiah or JD.”
his head once. “Buck, can you saddle the horses…”
be serious?” Nathan exclaimed. “You can’t go putting either
one of these pair on a horse.”
have time to argue, Nathan,” Larabee moved to follow the ladies’ man.
“Get them ready.”
myself…I’ll be fine,” Ezra swung his legs off the mattress and began
tugging on a clean shirt and casually glancing about for his boots.
“And I made it
this far,” Tanner grimly added.
healer threw up his hands in resignation. “Ezra, wait here, until
I help Vin outside…And I mean it!” he barked. “Don’t move
your backside off that bed until I return.”
back inside straight toward the gambler’s room. “Time to go,
his pants over his hips, and panted. “When I am sufficiently
attired, Mr. Larabee.”
all day,” he groaned tossing the crumpled jacket at the Southerner.
“I need my
boots…” Ezra sighed, awkwardly manoeuvring his arms into the sleeves
of his jacket.
spied them and dropped them by Ezra’s feet. They both lifted their
gazes to the doorway hearing the heavy tread approaching the room.
answered for himself, and slowly with a staggering gait, took a step.
all day if we let him set the pace,” Buck chuckled, and took it upon
himself to escort Standish outside, guiding and half carrying Ezra while
the younger man complained quite loudly.
“Vin, Ezra? You guys alright?” Nathan hovered anxiously at the heads of Peso and Chaucer, after loading his patients onto the backs of their prospective mounts.
Larabee began, swinging into his saddle.
Worry, pard. Ole Buck, knows what to do. You an Nathan get
them out of here.”
uncertain about leaving Wilmington to fight off the horde…but there
shouldn’t be any problem once the mob realised Vin and Ezra were not a
threat to the community and never had been and were not in attendance.
“Talk ‘em around, Buck. No heroics, huh?”
man grinned and saluted, tipping his hat and watched the group slink out
of sight. He hadn’t asked where they were headed; it was probably
better that he didn’t know. “Don’t go hard ridin’ those
brought out a seat and set it on the veranda. He placed it so,
when he sat down he could recline it backwards on the hind legs and
stretch his long legs out on the rail. He covered his face behind
his ten-gallon hat and patiently waited. And by all outward
appearances, he was neither concerned nor bothered by the pack that was
closing in on the ranch. He was quietly confident. He didn’t
shift an inch, not even gave them a quarter as the rabble came into sight.
He appeared to be sleeping.
led the charge. Somewhere between organising the rout and reaching
the ranch, Douglas Browning had conveniently disappeared, like a rat
returning to its hollow. But he’d done his job and incensed enough
men to keep the momentum going. There was, and had been, plenty of
booze spread among the fourteen combatants. The free for all had
liquored them sufficiently to listen to Browning, and believe his
proclamations of death and ruination, in the first place. Now they
lurched and grumbled indignantly though a haze of alcohol.
“Lawman! Stand aside! We’re planning on torching this
place!” he shouted angrily.
unmoved in the chair.
“You want to
join your friends in the hereafter… then stay by all means,” Kirby
chuckled, grinning about at the sea of faces that nodded in agreement.
slowly unfolded from the chair and leaned casually against the support
post for the roof. “You fellas all feel the same way?” he
questioned the group backing Kirby, secretly wondering how the young
troublemaker managed to gain this position of authority.
nodded at the easy agreement of the mob. He took two steps from the
porch and advanced on the group. “It’s a crime to torch
someone’s property,” he said. “Hennessey…” he pointed a
finger accusingly at a balding man off to one side, “How you gonna
explain to Nettie and her niece what you did to their home?” He
knew that Job Hennessey and Nettie Wells had been neighbours for years and
had a solid friendship, if nothing else.
uncomfortable with being singled out. “She’ll understand…”
that?” Buck shouted, cupping his hand to his ears pretending he
couldn’t hear the softly spoken words. He continued to stalk the
group, walking further into the yard. The mob had drawn together and
not moved to approach the house since Buck’s frontal attack.
“Oh…you saying Nettie won’t mind being forced to accept
homelessness? Leaving her to support her young niece and survive
without this place?” He pursed his lips and pressed his point
further. “I don’t suppose it even matters to any of you that Vin
and Ezra ain’t sick…”
“We all heard
what happened in Cortez,” a voice cried anonymously from the back.
“We’re just trying to protect our families…”
crime too…” Buck paused for dramatic effect. “Reckon you might
want to think things through a bit more…think what your families are
gonna do while yer all doin’ time in prison…will be leaving a lot of
lonely women an’ children to fend for themselves…”
stringing us along!”
took another menacing pace forward. Out the corner of his eye he
noted Josiah and JD riding up on the troublemakers; the preacher’s face
was drawn and weary and there was a trail of blood lingering down the side
of his cheek. “Dane…How you gonna explain this to your ma and
pa?” he questioned the youth; Dane Fergus was younger than JD Dunne.
Dane opened and
closed his mouth, no words came out. Guiltily he remembered why
he’d come into town; his pa was waiting for him to return with the
fencin’ supplies for their corral. Swallowing hard he shamefacedly
attempted to slip toward the back and hide behind the crowd.
ignored the man-child; perhaps his humiliation would be enough.
“What about you, Jarvis, Miles and Arnold…ain’t you got better
things to be doin’?”
The crowd was
becoming restless and the grumbles grew, mainly from the back. They
shifted restlessly uncertain of the reasons that held them to this cause.
Several of the group inched away, wondering if they’d be noticed if they
quietly returned to town.
listen to him…will only be his word against all of us,” Kirby
right?” Chris Larabee parted the group down the middle, riding his black
and joining Buck. He winked at Buck and smiled; none of this could
be seen by any of the hostiles behind his back though. The
gunslinger turned and faced the crowd.
at rabblerousers. “You got homes where you belong?” he growled,
leaning forward in his saddle. “I suggest you return to ‘em
while you still got the chance,” Chris threatened.
Much of the
fight had already been sapped from the mob, but Larabee’s threat sealed
it. And to their further consternation, a weary wagon rattled down
the road and cut off any immediate thoughts of escape.
Nettie Wells was
utterly shocked; there was no other description. She scanned the
crowd, putting names to faces, all of whom she recognised. She
gasped, disappointed beyond belief. “Job Hennessey, Pete Arnold,
Tye Reynolds…” she wiped her mouth as she continued to account all the
bodies. Her eyes widened when she spied the young Fergus child among
the ranks. What was the world coming to?
The first thing
she had noticed were the unlit torches, touching the ground. At
least they hadn’t been set alight or her home would be cinders by now.
She continued to stare at the group; their discomfort was easily
discernable. “Why? Why would you do this to me?” she
wanted answers and she looked to Hennessey to supply them. She
noticed he was uncomfortable with speaking for the group. But why
should she make it easy on them?
and Standish were held up out here…”
jumped from the wagon, making a show of drawing out her carbine from under
the seat and nursing it. “And what’s it to you who I ask to stay
at my place?”
Nettie,” Job smiled grimly. “But you probably ain’t heard that
they are carrying the sickness…”
she cried and aimed the heavy weapon at the centre of the crowd.
“I expected better of you folks…listening to idle gossip…”
“Then if they
ain’t got it, why has Jackson been tending them…and why’s he doin’
it out here, real secret like?” Kirby asked, regaining some of the
“And why did
you and yer niece spend the night in town?”
The older woman
glared at the impertinent man. “What right do you have accounting
my whereabouts? Is it uncommon to expect that I might be getting on
a bit? That riding into town to get supplies is wearing on old
bones? Should it be too much to ask that I take my time and spend
the night in town before headin’ back here the following day?”
explain why ya left when Tanner turned up.” It was common
knowledge around town that the spritely old woman held the tracker in a
“A young man
don’t need me hovering when he’s not feeling well…and I had already
made arrangements that couldn’t be put off,” she lied.
“So you just
let them,” Kirby sneered, “have the run of your place?”
“This was as
far as Vin could make it,” Buck interrupted, knowing Nettie was trying
to protect them, but not knowing all the facts she might inadvertently dig
them deeper. “He was sick, not with putrid fever, but ‘cause of
his appendix…Nathan had to take it out…” The rest was none of their
business. He watched a collective shudder run over the group.
Larabee smiled a
thankyou at Buck, pleased with the result as the stragglers awkwardly
apologised to Nettie Wells and stumbled back to town and eventually home.
“Got a way with words, Wilmington.”
“Just say it
as I see it.”
Nathan led Peso
and Chaucer by the reins; he didn’t trust either man to handle their
mounts. They’d probably ride out on their own if allowed. He
grinned at Nettie Wells; he’d been close enough to the ranch to hear
most of her arguments and was pleased with the outcome. What he
would have loved to witness was Buck’s performance, but he’d been down
by the river arguing with Vin and Ezra while that confrontation had taken
place. Those two, he sighed, would make a saint commit murder.
The minute Larabee turned back they were on him, presenting their case to
defend themselves, not wanting to be hidden away and protected.
Would they listen to him though? NO, of course not! The two
fools, as sick and injured as they were and only starting to recover, made
it impossible for Nathan to lead them to safety. All they’d
managed to do was circle around Nettie’s ranch and return as the
troublemakers were leaving. Thankfully there would be no more
injuries to treat. And the most pressing matter now was to return
his patients to their beds. “Vin, take yer time…slowly does
his eyes sharing an amused look with the gambler. He eventually
touched his feet to the ground.
“You need help
gettin’ Vin inside?” Nettie asked Jackson.
“I got it,
ma’am,” Buck jostled past to assist Tanner. “No fancy footwork
there, pard,” he chuckled.
Bucklin,” Tanner sighed. He wasn’t keen on having an audience
while he crawled between the sheets, especially Nettie and Casey.
Glad I can do somethin’ useful finally.”
Nettie Wells studied the gambler, frowning at the pallor of the Southerner
and the untidy, not to mention stained and crumpled jacket. Never had she
seen the Southerner looking quite so…unkempt. It was a guess, but
after raising three of her own boys, tending her husband and now looking
after Casey’s welfare, she felt she earned the right to judge
people…even if it was a little. The young man did not look well.
“Mr. Standish…will you be joining us?” For a sickening moment
she wondered if Standish had the throat disorder.
“Damn right he
will be,” Jackson hollered from inside. “Don’t let him go
Ezra glared at
the unseen healer, embarrassed by the attention. He smiled brightly
at his host. “I believe I’ve already outstayed my welcome… and
my own bed is beckoning.” It felt like an eternity since he’d
slept in his own bed, and it was comforting to realise that he actually
wanted to return to town.
“He sick or
something?” Nettie questioned a little nervously of the gunslinger who
had been content to stand by up ‘til now and observe the proceedings.
Ezra moaned and
glared at Larabee.
over the Spencer Carbine to Casey and stalked up to the Southerner.
“Shot hmmm? Then why in tarnation is he still sitting in that
saddle?” she asked no one in particular. “Mr. Larabee, could you
help me get him inside?” she fussed.
ma’am,” Larabee grinned.
fine…” Ezra grunted as Chris all but pushed him from the saddle.
“That why you
can’t stand up straight?” Nettie asked.
baring his teeth. He hugged his middle, but allowed the elderly
woman on one side and the black clad gunman on the other to escort his
weary body indoors. “I could have managed on my own,” he
this disagreeable?” Nettie asked.
Chris agreed, ignoring the look Standish bestowed on him.
where will the lovely ladies retire?”
mind you taking her bed…she can go back into town and spend the night
with Gloria Potter…and you ain’t got to worry none about me.”
Her estimation of the Southerner rose a notch at his question.
With a drawn out
sigh Ezra collapsed onto the mattress. When he was finally alone he
considered that taking a nap now didn’t seem such a bad idea. He
could return to town in the morning.
softly closed the bedroom door; his tread was deliberately quiet as he
stepped away. He joined his co-workers in the main body of
Nettie’s house; it smelled like heaven even in such a short time.
His nose sniffed the air and his stomach grumbled in appreciation.
“Smells wonderful,” he praised.
“Take a seat,
Nathan. I’ll fix you a plate.”
sleeping?” Larabee asked.
cleaning off his plate; Nettie Wells surely knew how to fix a meal, and
pushed back his chair patting his belly contentedly. “He want some
company?” Jackson nodded and the gunslinger left his position at
the table. He took a few steps and, without bothering to turn,
announced; “Josiah’s got his skull cracked, Nate.” He left the
kitchen listening to the preacher attempting to talk his way around
Nathan’s ministrations. Larabee laughed, and disappeared inside
Feel like I’m missing somethin’ out there.”
grinned, more so at the sour face the tracker was pulling.
“Nathan’s just found himself another patient.”
to him?” Vin frowned; he thought there hadn’t been any serious
contact with the mob and the seven.
happened in town. Got a bit rough. Someone brought a shovel
down on him.”
“Ouch. He gonna be fine?”
got a thick skull. How you doin’?”
his arms. “Can’t believe I gotta stay in bed after he,” Vin
referred to Jackson, “let us both out to ride.”
his smile. “Ezra’s sleeping.”
“He is?” Vin
what…I’ll bring a wagon out tomorrow and fetch you both home…you can
fight with Nathan over where he wants you to stay…Deal?”
slipping down into the mattress. “Don’t reckon it will hurt any
to rest up some. Thanks Chris…fer everything.”
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