An Epilogue to Train Ride
DISCLAIMER: I do not own or
profit in any way from the characters of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. They
belong to MGM, Mirisch, Trilogy, CBS, and TNN. However, I do not
want my original characters borrowed or used without my knowledge or consent.
If you are unsure if a character is canon or an original, please click
here on original
characters for an extensive list of my characters and when they were
first introduced in my fan fiction.
RATING: PG 13
It had been over a week since Bo Destry had come to Four Corners to kill John Terrell and any of the seven he could. Instead he had lost his life after murdering three men; one who had never lifted a gun against another human being his whole life. It had been a week of grief mingled with relief that yet again the seven regulators had prevailed and peace once more visited their burgeoning town. The rain had started at the funeral of Mr. Ashcroft Bridger mingling with the tears that had flowed freely as they buried the man beside the grave of his beloved wife Betty. Everyone in town had attended, and Josiah had presided over the gathering. Glory Bridger had been surprisingly resilient.
Glory had insisted on showing up for work the day after her father’s funeral confiding in Josiah that being with people by working for her aunt in the hotel would keep her busy and her mind off of sad things and busy she was in the hotel’s restaurant. Her brothers and sisters had all found a renewed closeness since the death of their parents, and their Aunt B who had always wanted children seemed to envelope every one of them with her love. It extended to anyone else she felt needed mothering which included just about everyone in town. The hotel was forever full especially for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Mrs. B treated even the remotest of strangers as if she had known them for years. Few people could resist the woman’s sincerity, and the hotel’s business boomed with the news that no where in the territory could you sit down to a better meal or more pleasant company. The astute Parkers willingly made Mrs. Beacham their silent partner in order to keep their treasure.
The Terrells had taken steps to ensure the family’s financial situation. No one but bank manager Orville Thomas knew that the mortgage on the Bridger place was paid in full and the nice sum of money sitting in the father’s account was courtesy of the Terrells, and they would never know if John Terrell had his say. He had also taken the liberty of arranging for the delivery of seven stock certificates to each of the seven peacekeepers from Four Corners. Arranging accounts into which profits from the stocks could be sent to each man had initially made Orville raise his brows in surprise. However, Terrell had warned Orville that when he handed over this stock information to the seven men one week after his departure to be sure to write Terrell and describe the looks on their faces when they opened and read the explanations John and Alexandra had left them. Then, he had assured the flustered man that he doubted the messenger had to fear for his safety, but to watch his back anyway.
His wife’s laughter at that statement had eased Orville’s mind somewhat. He understood that the Terrells, although really fine, upstanding people and obscenely wealthy to boot, were also just a little on the eccentric side. Orville was not stupid, so he decided he would merely give each man his account book and assure each that his stocks were safe. He was not going to tempt fate by telling them the worth of the stocks or their potential value, although Mr. Standish would probably already know that information to the penny. Besides, making the Terrells happy might get him some of their business, and that was worth a certain amount of risk. The seven were, after all, employed to protect the town and its citizens, not hurt them.
It was not the seven’s reaction to receiving this largesse that worried the Terrells, though. It was the twins who were worrying them to death. The twins were not too thrilled with the idea of returning to San Francisco whether their father’s business dictated he do so or not. They were hell bent to go fishing, and not even the knowledge that their father had to return to San Francisco immediately kept them from adamantly refusing to budge until they had their promised fishing trip. They were not disobedient or disrespectful, they just seemed to grow steadily more unhappy as each morning brought more rain. Instead of being their mischief making selves, they were just too well behaved. That usually meant one grand piece of mischief was in danger of being perpetrated upon someone, and Alexandra had to admit she liked the freedom she enjoyed in Four Corners as opposed to the stilted life of wife to a powerful and very wealthy man. Everything thing she said and did was scrutinized by other women and she just wanted sometimes to stop acting like a lady long enough to tell them what they could do with their very big and expensive bustles. Besides, Vin and Mary and the others were all here and if she wanted to run and play with her children no one here raised too high an eyebrow.
For five long days the twins had greeted each morning with the same question only to be disappointed by Mother Nature. They had even asked Josiah for they knew he would know the answer to this spiritual question. What had they done to displease the powers that be (they had been listening to Ezra again) so badly that it had rained every day? Josiah had picked up the twins and had set them on his knees. His answer made perfect sense to the six year old little girls. Once he had explained using his mesmerizing voice that it was raining in order to fill up all the lakes and rivers and streams to give the fish nice homes to swim in they began to understand. If there were no rain, there would be no fish for anyone to go fishing for. They were more tolerant of Mother Nature after that, but still they wanted to go fishing with their seven. Daddy’s business was not as important as fishing with Ours.
That had finally led to a decision on Terrell’s part. He had not built a successful empire without knowing when a deal just could not be agreed upon. Fully recovered with only fading bruises on his face visible, John reached a decision that he felt would satisfy everyone. Knowing that his wife and children would be completely safe with their protectors, John had discussed his decision with Alexandra, Vin, and Chris. On the morning of the sixth day, he left Four Corners with O'Malley, Bristow, and several of his men on the stage for Brecken. It had been decided that once he had assured everyone that he was indeed alive and well and finalized his new plans, John would return for an extended stay with his family in Four Corners. O’Malley and Bristow were more than capable of conducting his business and he could easily be reached by telegram. John hoped to be gone for no more than two weeks on business, three at the most. It had been raining off and on all week and had indeed been drizzling for the last two hours when everyone assembled to see the men off.
The twins were sad to see their daddy go, and they would have cried had Ours not looked up at the late morning sky and predicted the rain would stop by noon. Scraping the mud from his boots on the step into the stagecoach, John paused and looked up at the men with him and grinned. Many disbelieving eyes had turned upon Vin Tanner as he finished his prediction, all except a half dozen pairs who had been around him long enough to know better than to argue with him. His knack for predicting the weather was as unerringly accurate as his ability to know what Chris Larabee was going to say before he said it or even if he didn’t say it which was more often the case. Terrell left his women and his son waving at him as the horses trudged through the mud pulling the stage behind.
The twins who were missing their daddy already but ecstatic the rain had actually stopped had spent the rest of the day running about town telling anyone who cared to listen that they were going fishing the next day. The interest this news generated caused some consternation as many offered their favorite advice on how to catch fish, the best bait to be used, the best places to fish, etc. Larabee was heard to mention that he was glad they only received advice and not extra fishing partners for there would be no one left in town at this rate. This comment was overheard by several of the women in town. That had led to a lively discussion among the female half of town who decided if the weather held, tomorrow would be a perfect day for a spring picnic. Mrs. B had clapped her hands in delight, as had her friend of several months, Gloria Potter. It would be the perfect way to get the town to have a fun get together and chase away the gloom Destry and the rain had brought with them. They were hell bent on a picnic. In the time it took Tanner to replace the items he had been about to purchase in order to make good his escape, the women had planned and organized the picnic and were now descending upon him. Any rescue was out of the question as Ezra and JD stood just outside the store window laughing at him.
Vin Tanner had blanched when informed by Miz Nettie that the best fishing was a mile from her place, and it was his duty to tell the others that the fishing trip would become a picnic at noon the next day. Cornered in Gloria Potter’s store by Nettie, Alexandra, Mary, Bee Beacham, and Gloria Potter, Tanner had, on good authority since JD and Ezra had watched the man’s capture, looked a lot like Lisa Hadley the night Jim Hadley had caught Buck Wilmington crawling out his sister’s back window. Ezra’s recounting of Tanner’s discomfort had lead to much amusement among his friends until the quiet tracker had finally looked up from his last sip of beer with a smirk on his face.
“Y’all go ahead an’ laugh. Me an’ Chris are gonna grill the fish out there, an’ Miz Nettie’s makin’ peach cobbler an’ Mrs. B is goin’ to fry up some chicken an’ make a pecan pie, an’ Mary an’ Mrs. Potter’re fixin’ tater salad.” He smiled in satisfaction when it dawned on the others that he had maneuvered the women into fixing several of his favorites and not one of theirs with the exception of Larabee who had a real fondness for pecan pie. Larabee started laughing and got to his feet to follow his devious friend from the saloon. Josiah and Nathan joined him as they realized the two men were going to the hotel for dinner. Nathan turned around and looked at the others.
“Well? Y’all comin’, or y’all gonna let someone else eat all Mrs. B’s cookin’.”
Buck was on his feet in a flash. “I hear she’s cookin’ that chili of hers. I swear that stuff lights a fire in your belly and brings tears to your eyes, but it’s so good I could eat it forever.” He joined the other two as they deserted Ezra and JD. Patting JD on the back, Buck couldn’t help but gloat a little. “Too bad you two don’t like tater salad cause Mary sure can throw a mean one together.” He chuckled at both men as he left the saloon.
“This is all your fault, Ezra.” JD looked at the gambler who in turn threw an astounded look in the younger man’s direction.
“Why is Mr. Tanner working his shy but oh so effective blue eyes to his advantage my fault, pray tell?”
“Cause he never woulda thought of something so underhanded as that if you hadn’t been such a bad influence on him!” JD hated potato salad with a passion. He liked all the stuff in it, but he hated that sticky white stuff that held the salad together. “I hate that junk they put on tater salad, don’t you?”
“Are you referring to mayonnaise? It is rather unpleasant to the palate if you ask my educated opinion.” Ezra got slowly to his feet. He rather liked Mrs. B’s chili, but the cornbread she served with it was utterly delectable. It had just the right amount of sugar in it to make it positively exquisite when one let fresh butter soak into a slice of a freshly cut piece right out of a hot oven. Ezra refused to rush out of the saloon for chili, however. Maude would be appalled should someone discover he was becoming rather fond of common food, but Mrs. B had been head cook for the governor of California, so one could not call her food common. “I, however, detest the fact that they actually ruin good potatoes by mixing them with boiled eggs. Boiled eggs have to be a humorous moment God visited upon the world. How can something be so delectable fried, scrambled, poached, and over easy only to be rendered tasteless and foul smelling when boiled?”
JD had taken a moment to figure out what all the big words meant, but he had gotten the gist of it. He clambered to his feet reluctant to be the last one at the table. “Yeah, and not only do those things stink, but sometimes you get one that ain’t been pealed and you crunch on eggshell. Those things are nasty tastin’.” Ezra’s rueful grin acknowledged JD’s sentiments.
“I suggest we join our comrades in their repast and see what wiles we may weave in order to ensure that Mrs. B provide, what? A delectable bowl of roasted potatoes lightly seasoned with just the right ingredients to enhance their flavor or maybe potatoes au gratin?”
“What the hell are old gratin taters, Ezra?”
Sighing at his friend’s inexperience of fine cuisine, Ezra paused long enough at the door in order to broaden his young friend’s culinary education. “Potatoes au gratin is a French term describing a casserole of peeled and quartered potatoes covered in a mouthwatering cheese sauce that is to die for.”
“Oh, I’d like to have some of that. I bet Vin and Buck would sure want some of our potatoes instead of that tater salad crud.”
“JD, Vin and Buck will eat most anything without the slightest appreciation of the culinary skills with which these delectable morsels were created.”
“You got that right, Ezra. Now shut up and go in a con Mrs. B into givin’ us that taters gratin stuff.” He practically pushed the gambler towards the table. Mrs. B wasn’t hard to convince since she liked that gambler with the fancy talk and flashing smile. She wanted all her boys happy. When the twins appeared with their family and Mary Travis escorted by Larabee, the women made certain that they had something each man favored listed on their menus. Fortunately Josiah and Nathan enjoyed potato salad with grilled fish, and they were beginning to realize just why the tracker was so fond of peaches. They made plans to check out the town and ensure no one suspicious was around, and then they would escort the ladies out to the designated place while Chris and Vin took the boys and the twins out right after breakfast. Buck, Ezra, and JD would swing by and pick up Nettie and Casey and bring them out around ten to ensure Vin and Chris had caught enough fish. Ezra assured the young ladies as only he could.
“I shall make certain that Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Dunne are prompt and shall join you lovely ladies at ten o’clock sharp. I hope by that time that you will have been most successful in your endeavors to procure the right amount of fish in order to feed such hardy appetites as our esteemed friends are known to possess.” Everyone at the table stopped talking and looked at him. “If not, I shall be happy to provide my expertise.” Josiah threw back his head and his booming laughter started the others. When they were finished, Ezra turned an innocent and puzzled expression on them all.
“What?” His innocent facade was almost perfect but his friends saw through him.
“Did he just insult us?” Lisha looked expectantly at Ours and Our Chris. Neither man had shot Our Ezra, yet but they had both turned mock Larabee glares upon the unrepentant man.
“I think Our Ezra had better run fast.” Lison shook her head sadly. She would really miss Our Ezra when the glares turned to bullets.
“He’s sayin’ we can’t catch any fish till he gets there to show us how.” Vin explained the insult for those at the table. Other people in the dining room were grinning since they had heard every word. They were beginning to look forward to these exchanges between their peacekeepers. They insulted each other all of the time, but they did not allow anyone else that privilege. Gatherings such as these always provided the best entertainment.
“Hey, Chris is the best fisherman there is. Ain’t ya, Chris?” Billy was insulted that his hero’s fishing abilities were in question. Jamie nodded sagely in agreement. Baby Belle looked up from the food her mother had just spooned into her mouth. Swallowing a bite of the mushy stuff, she raised her little hands and added her words of wisdom to the conversation.
“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” She giggled when everyone turned to her and started talking back to her. The twins rolled their eyes and the boys just grinned. No one really remembered what he or she had been discussing until Chris reminded them.
Smiling that certain grin that made men and women tremble, but for different reasons, he effectively changed the subject. “As long as it don’t involve a stick of dynamite tossed into the fishin’ hole, he’s welcome to show us all how to do it right.” The others grinned and continued eating as Vin and Ezra exchanged evil grins. That really wasn’t a half bad idea. If only they could figure out how to keep the fuse burning until the dynamite had exploded in the water. Then it just might be a really good idea.
The sun shone down upon him and splayed across his back. Two little girls, their golden curls drying in the sunlight creating a halo affect that was belied by their mischievous personalities, were sitting happily in their wet, cotton under things on the rock next to him. The amiable old man who had joined the party when he had heard the giggling as he passed by on his way to Four Corners had taken one look at the two and blinked. Then he asked the man in black standing next to him with two young boys if he was seeing double or if there were two angels sitting on the far bank. This had caused a snort from the boys and two sly grins from the men. A soft drawl had carried across the water to the old man as the longhaired man looked up and grinned.
“You’re a long way from the mountains, Big Foot.” The old man looked closer and answered the man who had since turned back to his task.
“Well, I’ll be dd. . . ,” he took a look at the expectant children and thought better of the language he had been about to use, “darned. That you, Tanner?”
“In the flesh, old man. Figured you’d been scalped by Apaches by now or livin’ in up in San Francisco with all that gold you struck.”
“Neither, boy. When’d you get yoreself two pretty little girls, and don’t tell me they belong to this man here. They got your grin stamped all over ‘em, gold hair or not. Thought you’d be at the end of a rope by now.”
The man beside him grinned, relaxing his stance completely, and motioned the boys back to their fishing poles. They did not need any encouragement and, tipping their hats to the old man, they ran back to their spots.
“Name’s Larabee.” Chris put out his hand and had it enclosed in a firm grip by the old man. “That’s Billy Travis on the left and Jamie Terrell on the right. Those two mischief-makers over there are Vin’s cousins and Jamie’s sisters. We call ‘em the terrible two.” The terrible two grinned at Chris for they felt it was the nicest thing anyone had called them since Ours told them they were just plain trouble waiting to happen. Big Foot laughed at that one.
“What makes you think that long-haired tracker’s any friend of mine?”
Larabee answered him by grinning even bigger. “Must be. Tanner only insults people he likes. The rest he just stares at.”
“Yep, you know him purty good, don’t ya? Larabee, huh? You that gunslinger?”
“Our Chris don’t shoot nuthin’ but bad men any more.” Lisha wanted it understood that her Chris was not just some gunslinger. Lison nodded her head in agreement and then leaned over and asked Ours a question.
“Ours!” Her whisper carried across the water for everyone to hear. “What’s a gutslinger?” Big Foot, Chris, and the boys all grinned waiting for Vin to answer the question. He was ignoring them all now concentrating on the task at hand. The twins were holding on to a line that held a string of fish on it. All were nice, plump fish just waiting to be grilled on the fire that had a makeshift spit stretched across it, and the little girls caught the movement of another one in the water. They did not mind that Ours had not yet given them an answer.
Standing in the water he watched silently as his prey swam closer and closer. Sweat trickled down his back, as the sun seemed to glow on his bronze shoulders. His shirt had been discarded as had his boots and socks. Pant legs were rolled up to right beneath his knees. His bandanna hung about his neck still knotted there and his suspenders hung loosely at his sides. He could feel the sand and mud squeezing between his toes, but he couldn’t give in to that pleasure right now. No, he was a man on a mission, so he kept as still as possible lulling his prey into a false sense of security. Finally, it swam closer and closer until just at the right moment his prey swam right into the kill zone. He slapped his hands together and captured his prey. Vin Tanner held up a perfectly beautiful five-pound trout. His audience clapped without noise in appreciation.
“Ours caught us a pretty fish.” Lisha was smug as she thought she had whispered to her brother and Billy Travis. Her whisper was not very quiet at all.
“And he didn’t need one of those pole things neither.” Lison was just as smug and just as quiet.
Jamie Terrell and Billy Travis rolled their eyes. Chris Larabee and Big Foot ducked their heads so the twins wouldn’t see their grins. The twins were ecstatic that they were on their fishing trip, finally, and that it had turned into a big town picnic. They were getting hungry just thinking about the feast that was due to arrive at noon. Mommy, Aunt Mary, Josiah, Ezra, Nathan, Buck, and JD were all due to join them at any time. Even Miz Nettie and Casey were coming and bringing peach cobbler. Fishing trips were just out and out heaven, but Ours still had a question to answer. Before they could demand an answer, Billy and Jamie both got a tug on their lines. Everyone waited until both boys had pulled their catches from the water and hung them on their line of fish.
“We gots lotses of fishes, don’t we, Mr. Big Foot?” Lison was staring at Big Foot’s feet wondering if they were really that big. As Vin took the boys line of fish and added it to theirs on the other side, Big Foot took his packs off of his mules, and let them join the other horses grazing off to the side. He walked to the edge of the water and dipped his bandanna in it.
“Name is Charles Big Foot Lowery, but you little gals can call me Big Foot just like yore cousin used to do back when he was just a scrap of sage brush. I’m partners with Bull Samson.”
“Bull? He was through here a couple of months ago.” Chris looked over as Billy hooked another worm on his line. “You met those heathens he adopted?”
Big Foot shook some of the dust out of his coat to make himself more presentable. With women folk coming around soon, it was a good thing he had opted for his first bath in months this morning before he left Eagle Bend. “Yep, I got the word. Bull sent a telegram for me to the town where we was gonna meet up. I met them kids. Liked ‘em a lot. “Specially that little ‘un. Reminds me of a certain boy I used to know, all hair an’ big eyes that could just make a body do whatever he wanted.”
“You’re talkin’ ‘bout Ours.” Lisha clapped her hands together. So, did Lison as Vin left the fish there for a while and brought the girls over to the other bank where they had left all their clothes. The twins were completely dry right now, and Vin wanted to keep them that way. He quickly pulled on his shirt and adjusted his suspenders. Then, he rolled down his pant legs staying barefoot for the moment. Besides, he wanted the twins fully dressed and Buck and Ezra thinking they had not caught any fish. He was curious to see what the two would do, and he had not had any fun lately at anyone else’s expense. He grinned at Chris who knew that Tanner was up to mischief and planned to use the twins to help him. So did the boys as they both looked at Chris and grinned. This was going to be a fun day.
Big Foot held up Lisha’s frock as Vin was holding Lison’s to help the little girls into them. As he buttoned it for her he demanded to know who Ours was. “Ours? You call your cousin, Ours? What kinda a name is that?” His eyes danced with devilment and the twins knew they had a new conquest. They liked Big Foot.
“He’s my cousin an’ Lison’s cousin, an’ he’s our Vin. So he’s Ours.” Their explanation made Vin shake and duck his head and Big Foot and Chris grin. “Ask a question,” he let Vin finish his statement.
“Get an answer.” They both laughed, and then Lowery got serious.
“I’m glad you found your kin, boy. Me an’ Bull was worried ‘bout you after that Tascosa trouble. Heard ya got Eli Joe, though. That how you got free?”
“No, my aunt and her husband got the governor of Texas to pardon me.” Vin hurried to finish as Lowery’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Bull and Big Foot had helped Vin get away from several bounty hunters. “I took it, so they wouldn’t have to worry ‘bout no bounty hunters comin’ an’ the twins being in harm’s way.” Big Foot shook his head in understanding. He knew Vin Tanner would not have settled for a pardon for himself. Man was too stubborn to let anyone think he could do something so bad as commit murder.
“Mommy and Daddy have been lookin’ for Ours for seventy years.”
“Seventeen,” Vin corrected Lisha without thinking.
The little girl sighed. “Okay, seventeen. Still got a seven and a ‘t’ in it.”
Big Foot joined Larabee in laughter as Vin shot them a glare to shut them up. It didn’t work any better than the Larabee glare on Tanner, but as they heard JD calling for them, he let it go for now. He hoisted Lisha and Lison under each arm. The boys came and stood by Chris and Big Foot stood in the background. Lison twisted around where she could see the old man.
“Mommy’s gonna want to know why they call you Big Feet.”
Billy and Jamie both looked over at the twins. Shaking his head at his sister’s lack of manners, he looked at Big Foot to see the old man wink at him. He elbowed Billy and both boys joined Big Foot with the same answer.
“That’s Big Foot.”
“Who has a big foot?” Miz Nettie was first down. She handed Belle to Vin as he put the twins on the ground. Chris was helping Mary down as Buck and Ezra were helping Mrs. B and Mrs. Potter and her childen down from the other wagon. Josiah and Nathan were taking large baskets of food and placing them on the tables they had swiftly put together out of two by fours and empty crates stacked upon one another. Glory was throwing a big cloth over the wood and directing the men with Casey’s help. Vin herded the kids back down by the water to keep them out of the way. It was time to start the fish. He held Belle in the air and asked her if she wanted to help cook the fish. The baby giggled and grabbed Vin on both of his cheeks with her hands and patted both sides of his face.
“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!” She giggled at him as he grinned at her.
“Baby girl, you gotta learn some new words.”
Nettie and Alexandra joined him. Vin turned to greet them and saw both women looking at the empty spit and the absence of the fish. Vin had them out of sight although ready to be cooked.
“Well, boy, I brought some seasoning for the fish, but I don’t see none cookin. You aimin’ to tell me you ain’t caught nuthin’?” Vin grinned as Mary and Chris joined them. Vin changed the subject, and Buck and Ezra both turned around to listen in.
“Miz Nettie, Alexandra, Mary, this here’s an old friend of mine.”
Big Foot swept his hat off and made a seeping bow to the women. “Charles Lowery, at your service, ladies. And may I say that I have yet to see a finer bunch of women from here to San Francisco than all you lovely ladies.”
“Oh lordy, you ain’t kin to that fancy gambler over yonder, are ya?” Big Foot laughed as Buck and Ezra set the last of the hampers of food on the makeshift tables.
“Ah, a woman of good judgement I see. Maybe I’ll go over and see if I can help those other two lovely ladies.” With that Big Foot nodded and walked off to introduce himself. Buck and Ezra stopped him. Looking back at Vin, he grinned. Buck and Ezra were pumping Big Foot for information they could use against Vin. Any guilt evaporated as he watched the three men converse.
The children were about to reassure the newcomers that there was plenty when Vin looked at them and raised his free hand to his face and his finger to his lips. They got quiet and then he grinned in pure devilment at all of them. That he was up to something was very evident. That they were not the intended victims made them silently agree to join in. Buck and Ezra were finally walking over to see how successful they had been. Chris’s face went blank and Vin became just as innocent looking as he shifted Belle around until she was swinging on his arm again.
“Boys, I thought y’all were comin’ at ten. Closer to eleven now. We got to get the rest of the food ready.”
“Ya know, Vin, I was just tellin’ Ezra here that I sure could eat me a whole lot of food today. I got me a real hankerin’ for some fish.”
“The absence of which appears very conspicuous. Pray do not disappoint by telling us that you were unsuccessful?”
“What makes you boys think we didn’t catch nuthin’?”
Chris maneuvered the women until they were behind the two confronting Vin. Chris looked at Mary and winked at her, which in turn alerted Nettie and Alexandra that Vin was conning his two friends. It did not take another word as the twins turned two pairs of very big blue eyes on Buck and Ezra. Jamie and Billy shook their heads at such blatant manipulation, but neither man noticed.
“Now darlin’s, come an’ show me what you caught.” Lisha and Lison looked at each other and then over to where the fish were stashed. They would have to swim over to get to them, so they answered Our Buck quite truthfully.
“We can’t.” Before they could tell them they had promised Ours not to get their dresses and shoes wet, both Ezra and Buck were pulling off their jackets and rolling up their sleeves.
“C’mere an’ let Uncle Buck show you how to catch a fish, darlins. Me an’ Ezra never shoulda let you come out here without us.”
“I concur, my friend. Fortunately, Mrs. B has fried up every chicken in the surrounding area, so no matter what we catch, this picnic will be a success.” They each took a twin and walked down to the where the fishing poles were lying. “No wonder you were unsuccessful if the six of you were only sharing three fishing poles. Really, Mr. Tanner, did you expect these lovely young ladies to fish with their hands?”
Vin shrugged his shoulders and moved out of the line of fire. He had taught the twins how to fish without poles for a reason. However, his friends were determined to learn the hard way, and he was too good a friend to disappoint them twice in one day. Chris, Mary, and Alexandra all grinned in anticipation. They had gotten the story out of Vin the day he had first taken the twins fishing on his own. Nettie had been trying to remove the hook out of his hair without having to cut it out while she was still laughing so hard she was crying. Mixing the twins with fishing poles with hooks was like putting two hungry mountain lions in a pin together. Things were about to get ugly.
The twins did try to warn Our Buck and Our Ezra. Vin had to give them credit for that, but his two friends were not in the listening mood. They wanted plenty of fish grilling before the other people from town showed up and laughed at the twins and the two boys for not supplying the promised fish. There would still be plenty of food since Mrs. B had fried up anything with feathers that resembled a chicken. JD had made the mistake of offering to help Casey and Glory pluck all those chickens, and had remarked that one of them looked more like a roadrunner than a chicken. Mrs. B had leveled one eye at him over her shoulder as she severed a chicken leg from the chicken with a very large cleaver and a resounding whack before mentioning she had a way of dealing with people who made snide comments about her chickens. Being a smart young man, JD refrained from laughing at some of the scrawny chickens a few of the townsfolk had donated for their share of the picnic. Now, he was intent on being as helpful as he could because Mrs. B had baked a chocolate cake just for him. He could not wait to eat it. He looked over to see how the fishing was coming.
Ezra had Lison standing in front of him with a fishing pole in hand. It had a worm on the end and he was about to show her how to cast when she spoke.
“Uhm, Our Ezra? Ours says me an’ Lisha shouldn’t be let near no fishin’ poles. Says we’re ackseedents waitin’ to happen. Nuthin’ but trouble on two legs. ”
Lisha leaned over from her place right next to Buck with her arm wrapped round his knee. She looked up at both men and then at her sister.
“Ours said that we was the devil’s spawn when it comes to fishin’.” Lison was nodding her head in agreement. The serious looks on their faces just made Ezra and Buck all the more determined to teach the young girls the joys of fishing. They couldn’t understand why the girls even wanted to go fishing much less that Vin had used such harsh words with them. They would deal with him later.
“I assure you lovely ladies that Mr. Wilmington and I are excellent fishing teachers.”
“Yeah, we ain’t nuthin’ but patient unlike some folks I know.” Buck shot that last statement towards Vin who stood there grinning at both of them.
“Watch how I cast this line. It’s all in the wrist.” Ezra expertly cast the line into the center of the water.
Vin swung Belle partially behind him and moved further back near a tree where he leaned against it. Chris noticed the look of pure devilment mixed with a touch of caution on his face as did Nettie, Mary, and Alexandra. They moved back as well. By that time Ezra had the line out and had handed the pole to Lison. Lisha had the one Buck had fixed for her in both of her hands and was absently twisting it around and around and neither Buck nor Ezra noticed how the line was wrapping itself around the pole.
“Now both of you darlin’s try castin’ that line like Ezra showed ya.” Lison looked back at Vin who shrugged his shoulders. She whipped back the line quicker than lightning. It took several seconds before they heard the bellow.
The twins looked at one another and Lison dropped the pole like she had been shot. She slapped the palms of her hands to each cheek and screamed. “OH NO, SISSY! I KILT SOMEBODY THIS TIME!” Vin Tanner slid around the tree until he was out of the sight of the two men on the water’s edge, and his shoulders shook with silent laughter. Buck Wilmington had grabbed the side of his head and was jumping around bellowing loud enough to be heard in Eagle Bend. The words pouring out of his mouth unchecked suddenly ceased as he saw the twin expressions of fear, guilt, and surprise and heard Lison’s words. He shut up immediately looking around for help. Nathan started over, but a laughing Tanner stopped him. Everyone watched in silent wonder as Ezra moved in to help his wounded friend and soothe the agitated twins. Lisha was still staring up at Buck and was startled when she felt someone touch her shoulder. She turned swiftly to see who it was and the second accident struck.
That was followed by the sound of cloth ripping as Lisha turned around still holding onto the fishing pole with both hands. She dropped it as Ezra launched into the beginnings of what looked to be one angry tirade. Her big blue eyes widened even further as she waited for hell to descend upon her.
“OF ALL THE STUUU!” Ezra stopped immediately seeing the twins flinch. Instead his hands went to the front of his clothing. The tip end of a fishing pole was dangling from what used to be his fine silk brocade vest. The tip of the pole was still entangled in the small buttonhole at the top where it had hooked and literally ripped the vest open and practically off of the gambler. He disentangled his clothing from the pole and let the life-threatening object fall to the ground at the feet of the twins who were looking for a safe place in which to hide.
The twins were near tears for they had warned Our Ezra and Our Buck that Ours had said they should never touch fishing poles again, but the men had insisted. Ezra rubbed his chest where the fishing pole had first connected with his body. It only stung a bit, but he knew he would probably soon have a bruise appear there. He looked over at the carnage of the scene before him. Two poles lay on the ground, one at his feet and the other lying half in the water. Ezra noticed Buck had blood dripping through his fingers, and that Vin Tanner was sliding down the tree no longer able to contain his mirth or stay on his feet. He had Belle clutched against his chest and his uncontrolled laughter had set the baby off and she was giggling along with him. Chris gave up trying to maintain control as did Mary and the others. Alexandra had to fight the laughter as she joined Nathan and Mrs. B in rushing over to see if they could help. All three had smiles plastered all over their faces, but they had wounded to care for. Big Foot was practically rolling on the ground and Billy and Jamie were with him. As Alexandra soothed the twins by taking them into her arms telling them that everything would be fine, she walked over and unceremoniously dumped them on the hysterical Tanner and company. The twins took one look at Ours and Our Chris laughing so hard they had tears running down their faces that they soon were joining them.
Alexandra was biting her lip as she walked back over to the wounded men. She couldn’t help herself any more when she saw the hook with the worm dangling from it stuck in the bottom lobe of Buck’s ear like a pirate’s earring. She sat on the ground by Ezra who was trying to find a way to reassemble his vest, took one look at him, and dissolved into uncontrollable giggles.
“I fail to see the humor in this painful situation.” Ezra was speaking the truth until he looked where Alexandra was pointing and saw Buck’s wiggling ear ornament. Then despite the discomfort his friend was experiencing he, too, began to laugh.
“This ain’t funny, Ezra.” Buck was indignant. “He got them little gals to ruin me just for sport.”
“Who got whom to do what?” Ezra looked in admiration at Alexandra. The woman could actually giggle hysterically and still complete a perfect sentence. If only he could find such a woman for himself.
“That damned nephew of yours. I saw him grinnin’ like a jackass eatin’ cactus ‘fore we let the darlin’s pick up them poles. OW! NATHAN! THAT’S MY EAR!” Nathan had removed the hook from Buck’s ear. It was only a little nick, and any movement would have caused the makeshift earring to fall out.
Buck was acting as if it had pierced all the way through his ear lobe. That started Vin and JD to dissolve in laughter again while Chris got to his feet and came to render his assistance. He had rescued baby Belle from Vin and was carrying her much like the tracker did, like a sack of potatoes. She was beginning to like it because it put her on eye level with her sisters. The twins had deserted the laughing men and followed Chris playing with the baby as she swung back and forth. They wanted to see if Our Ezra and Our Buck still loved them. Chris looked down at his audience and winked at the twins. He had a war to prevent.
“You okay, Ezra?” He took care of the gambler first since Nathan had taken his bag from the still laughing Josiah and was soaking a cloth in carbolic acid. Having felt its sting upon more than one occasion, Ezra considered himself lucky. He grabbed the twins in each arm and pulled them to him. They knew he still loved them, so they turned their attention to Our Buck.
“I believe my vest has been rendered useless, yet I feel lady luck has graced me since I am not the recipient of a certainly garish piece of ear ornamentation.” He hugged the twins to let them know he held no hard feelings towards them. Vin Tanner, however, had better learn to watch his back again.
“OWWWWWW!!!!” Nathan had just started cleaning the wound when Buck pulled out of his reach and started towards the prone Tanner. He was going to stick the hook in a place where the tracker would remember it for a long time. As he reached for it, Belle was thrust into his face. It was hard to remain angry when two big blue eyes were smiling into yours, but Buck saw Vin in those laughing blue eyes and he started forward again. He didn’t get far as the twins stood in his path and Belle patted him on the cheek. She did what Chris expected her to do which he knew would reduce the ladies’ man to a heap of grinning mush.
“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!” Buck started grinning at her as her little hands patted him gently on his cheeks. He took her from Chris and tossed her into the air. Her squeals of laughter caused everyone to grin. The twins wanted to be tossed in the air, too, so they started to jump up and down next to Buck demanding the same treatment. By that time Tanner realized that his days were numbered so he came over to try and make amends. If it didn’t work and Buck and Ezra killed him, it would have been worth it. The looks on their faces had been worth more to Vin than any amount of money Ezra could have imagined.
“At least you didn’t get one hooked in you butt and one in your hair at the same time.” Ezra and Buck, who were planning all forms of diabolical revenge, stopped plotting when what he had said sunk in. No wonder he had said that the twins were the devil’s spawn. Just the knowledge that Tanner had been hooked twice with one spot being the butt returned the good humor of both men. They joined in on the laughter as Vin dropped to the ground and rolled his pant legs up again.
“I’m still gonna kill him.” Buck was smiling as he said it low enough for Chris and Ezra to hear.
“He still owes me for my very expensive vest. Why that vest was given to me by a. . . .” Larabee interrupted him.
“You bought that vest in Eagle Bend. I was with you, remember?”
“Well, that is why it holds such sentimental value, Mr. Larabee. You were with me when I bought it.” The people within earshot all started laughing as Vin came back carrying two lines heavy with fish ready to be grilled. As he walked past to the fire he looked over his shoulder.
“Ya know, boys, this should teach y’all that paybacks are hell.”
Ezra and Buck started to protest when they remembered something about a bur stuck under the blanket of a very ill-tempered bronc that had decided that it would rather throw a rider than carry his weight. Tanner had limped for days after that stunt.
“What paybacks?” Chris looked at the guilt on both faces and remembered a month ago when Vin Tanner had finally come across a horse he couldn’t sweet talk within five minutes of meeting it. The man had limped for days. Now he looked suspiciously upon the two men next to him. They had been awfully solicitous of Vin when the bronc had gone wild and tossed him over the fence onto the ground. Chris frowned putting two and two together.
All of a sudden the two men were more interested in helping grill the fish than in seeking revenge.
“Buck?” Chris’s question along with his glare made the ladies’ man and gambler move even faster after Vin. Each one relieved him of a line of fish.
“Yeah, Chris? Can it wait? Me an’ Ezra gotta help Vin get this fish to cookin’.” They brought new meaning to the word brotherhood they were so helpful. Tanner looked over and winked.
Nathan seeing the wink shook his head. “You ain’t thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”
“I am.” Larabee was grinning.
“I believe that there is more to that bronc ridin’ last month than just an ornery horse.” Josiah had come to stand next to the other two.
“I knew somethin’ was wrong when that bronc went wild on Vin. Hell, he had him eatin’ outa his hand practically when he just turned on him.” JD was shaking his head in disgust. “They did somethin’ to him, didn’t they?” The older men grinned at his perceptiveness. “Dang, remind me never to try an’ pull a stunt on Vin. He’s got a mean streak in him a mile long.”
“That he does, brother.” Josiah was thoroughly enjoying himself. “Looks like Inez with Mrs. Potter and her children comin’ up the road.”
“It’s all that Comanche training’. Look, Josiah, it’s the Darcy family, too.” Nathan walked off to help greet the arrivals.
Chris winked at Mary who walked up to stand beside him. Then he looked past JD at Alexandra who was looking totally innocent as she held her baby daughter. “Nah, I think the meanness runs in the family. Seems to me I heard a story ‘bout a woman stickin’ her foot in a jar of peach preserves ‘cause her sisters wanted some of it, and they wouldn’t share their candy with her earlier.”
Jamie and the twins had heard the story before, but Billy, Mary, and JD hadn’t. They all looked at Alexandra. She turned an unrepentant eye on them that reminded them so much of Vin that they started laughing again. “They deserved it. They were always eating chocolate in front of me but since I was the baby, they wouldn’t give me any. Nanny gave me a jar of peach preserves for my morning biscuits and my sisters wanted it. Nanny said I didn’t have to share, but they told Mother and she insisted. So I stuck my foot in it, turned around once, and then handed it to them. Mother spanked me and put me to bed, but Annabelle brought me a new jar and some chocolate later.”
JD was grinning. “How old were you?”
“Seven? Wasn’t Vin seven when he ran away from that orphanage?”
Alexandra tuned a purely evil grin on JD. “I believe he was.” She walked with as much dignity as possible towards the others as they slowly joined the picnic. JD shook his head in wonder.
“Ya know, she’d better be ready to sit on those twins, Chris. They’re gonna be seven come Christmas, an’ with them hangin’ ‘round Vin an’ Ezra, no tellin’ what they’ll get into.”
Nettie heard as she walked over and laughed at the look on Chris’s face. “Are you talkin’ about two of my favorite people, JD?”
“Which ones, Vin and Ezra or the twins?” Mary was also laughing at the look on Chris’s face. “Or, are you going to tell?” Nettie shook her head.
“Not a peep outa me. C’mere, boy, and escort an old lady over to the table." JD held out his arm and grinned at Chris who was trying to get over the implications of JD’s statement.
“Thanks, JD. I was just enjoyin’ myself and the company,” he gave Mary another wink that made her toes curl and her stomach flip, “and you had to put that picture in my mind.” His disgusted tone was offset by the purely fun look on his face. He hoped they were all still around to drive him crazy come next Christmas. Chris offered his arm to Mary and escorted her over to the group gathering at the table. JD followed with Nettie. He heard the laughter from his three friends and the children who had gathered round them to help them burn the fish and decided he really liked picnics with friends. The usually enigmatic gunslinger set out to charm the woman on his arm and thoroughly enjoy himself. As leader of this motley group, he deserved a break every now and again.
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