# 50 Lone Wolf's Secret

Lone Wolf’s Secret
Patty Wilkinson
Chapter 1
Jess Harper tipped his Stetson back, exposing a tangle of dark hair falling across his forehead, and wiped a hand across his hot and sweaty face. The morning sun was beating relentlessly down as he watched the last of the cattle making their way up to the summer grazing, before he turned to address his best friend, Slim Sherman.
“Gee, it sure is warm fer spring…as I remember rightly we still had snow lying this time last year.”
“Yeah, well I figure that’s good news Jess, these critters can start fattening up early, and goodness knows it’s been a tough old winter up to now.”
“Yer not kidding,” he replied, absently rubbing his knee as he began to turn Traveler for home.

“Is that knee of yours bothering you?“
“I’m OK,” he replied automatically.
“OK, a mite I guess…… knocked it yesterday when we were riding after those ornery strays, caught it on a gate post…sorta misjudged the gap,” he said with a rueful smile.
Slim threw him a concerned glance knowing that his friend’s knee, which had been severely damaged in a shootout a few years ago, tended to bother him on occasion.
“Better rest up this afternoon then, Miss Daisy noticed you were limping some this morning,” he said referring to their elderly housekeeper and adoptive Ma to all at the Sherman Ranch and Relay Station.
Jess rolled his eyes at that news,”Garl darn it Slim, don’t say she’s gonna get all clucky over it,” he said looking put out.
“Hey Jess that’s not like you, sure I know she can be a bit over protective of us all… but it’s only because she cares you know that pard.”
Jess hung his head looking ashamed.
“Yup, I know that Slim, I didn’t mean it ….. I’m just feelin’ kind of out of sorts I guess,” he said rubbing the offending knee again, and looking out to the distant hills, beyond the pasture land.
Slim knew that look in his friend’s eyes real well and after a moment he said softly,” This isn’t just about your knee is it Jess…..you want to take off for awhile don’t you…..that Big Open calling is it?”
Jess’s head swivelled to look at his buddy, “No getting anything past you is there Slim?”
He grinned, the smile lighting up his wide, open face……”Nope, guess I know you too well pard.”
Jess turned back in the saddle to better see his friend.
“Well there ain’t no point in talkin’ about it because we’ve got us a ranch to run….and since I’m a partner figure that’s up to me as well as you, so I can’t just take off like I used to.“
“Sure you can, we’ve finished bringing the stock up and it’s a while before the wild mustangs will be passing this way on to their summer pastures, so we’ve a few weeks to go before we need to go and round some up for breaking……Nope I guess round about now would be as good as any for you to take some time out and go hunting.”
Jess’s deep blue eyes lit up,”You really mean it Slim?”
“Sure and if you were thinking of going hunting up in Paradise, then maybe you could look in on Lone Wolf, just check he’s OK for me, like I say it’s been a real hard winter and the old man’s getting on now.”
“Sure I will Slim… .come on lets’ go, I’ve got me a hunting trip to plan,” and with that he let rip with a loud ‘yee haw’ and spurred Traveler on to a thundering gallop across the pasture land heading for home.
They sat around the supper table later that evening discussing Jess’s trip.
“Jeepers I wish I could come with you Jess,” cried Mike Williams excitedly. The rancher’s young ward turning bright eyes on his friend.
“Me too Tiger, but like Aunt Daisy said, you’ve gotten school, and I don’t think your teacher would be any too impressed if I took you out to go hunting.”
“Even I can’t go,” Slim pointed out, “not with the Stage line superintendent due his monthly visit to check the books any day now.”
“Aww… .that’s too bad Slim,” the child commiserated.
“Besides, have you forgotten how you and me took off fishing a couple of weeks since and left Jess holding the fort, so I figure it’s his turn don’t you?”
“Sure,” said the youngster beaming across as his dark haired hero….”I don’t mind you going…just that I wanna come too!”
“I think this is where we came in young man,” said Daisy with her placid smile, her old grey eyes twinkling.
“Why don’t you go in the kitchen and fetch the apple pie for me Mike, I think we’d better feed Jess up if he’s taking off in the morning.”
They were just finishing their desert when the subject of Jess’s proposed trip came up again.
“Will you tell me the story about Lone Wolf again Slim,” the youngster pleaded.
“Well you met him last summer when we all went over to Paradise, remember?” asked Slim, referring to a far flung corner of the ranch that was abundant with wildlife, hence its nickname.
“Sure, he’s real… real old and real wise too I guess, I kinda liked him……he’s an Arapaho ain’t he Slim?”
“Yeah and you’re right he’s real wise, used to teach me all sorts of things about hunting when I was just a small boy like you.”
“So is he called Lone Wolf because he lives up in that cave all alone?” asked the child.
“Sort of… you see he was ostracized as a child and……. “
“It means to be excluded from society or a group,”said Slim seriously.
“I knew that,” muttered Jess sarcastically.
“Look, it’s not my fault my Ma was a school teacher and taught me all these long words,” retorted Slim looking annoyed.
“I guess not,” Jess replied somewhat chastened…. “So why was he…… .excluded that is and when?”
“Pa told me that he had always been there…. as long as he could remember, seems the Arapaho were passing through this way and either the boy, as he was back then, ran off or was simply left here…either way his tribe sure didn’t want him around.”
“But why,” asked Mike,” I just don’t get it, he’s such a nice old guy.”
“Well I’ll tell you Mike, see I asked the same question when I was your age and Pa told me it was because Lone Wolf was sick as a kid and the tribe thought he was possessed by Devils…so they were real scared of him…shunned him, even his Ma and Pa did too.”
The boy looked really upset at that,”But when I’m sick you and Jess and Aunt Daisy are kind to me…look after me real good….why were his Ma and Pa so mean?”
“Ignorance,” said Jess softly, “They just didn’t understand about Lone Wolf’s kind of illness, so it scared them…. I figure they thought the Devil was in him and he’d harm the tribe if he was allowed to stay around.”
“But what kind of sickness could make them think that?”
“Well Mike I guess you may not have heard of it, but Lone Wolf used to have convulsions, fits that is, when he was younger, but thankfully he just grew out of it,” replied Slim.
“So why didn’t he go home when he was better?”
“I guess the damage was done then Tiger, his people didn’t trust him and I reckon he felt the same about them. So he’s been holed up in that old cave in Paradise ever since,” Jess finished casting sad eyes on the boy.
“You’ll say a special hello from us all here won’t you Jess? I figure he needs to know he’s got folk that like him and care about him too,” said the child sincerely.
“Sure, sure I will Tiger, now you go an’ wash up for bed and I’ll come and tuck yer up in a minute, OK? “
Once he’d gone, Jess shook his head sadly,”Ain’t that kid somethin’ special?”
Slim raised an eyebrow,”He sure is…but why in particular?”
“The way he was about Lone Wolf…really caring about him that way….“
“So? “
“Oh come on Slim have you forgotten the kid’s parents were killed by Indians… .and yet he can put that behind him, see Lone Wolf as an individual, not just an Indian…..”
“Umm… I see what you mean Jess… and I figure some of that’s down to you. Telling the boy all about how you lived with the Arapaho for all those months when you were on the drift, taught him there’s good and bad in all society and it’s nothing to do with the colour of your skin….”
“Yeah, well maybe someone should explain that to the good folk of Laramie. I remember Lone Wolf telling me that the one time he went into town, a few years back, he was….what’d ya say….. ostracised by most folk.”
“Yeah, I guess there are some people that have real long memories; remember the Indian wars around here like it was yesterday.”
Jess sighed deeply,”But the Arapaho weren’t even involved back then.”
“Like you say pard a lot of prejudice is born of fear and ignorance, and I guess it’ll be many a year before that kinda thing is conquered, ”said Slim ruefully.
“Umm…..well I’ll be sure an’ give him Mike’s message anyways,” and he went off to settle the boy down for the night.
Chapter 2
Jess lit out after breakfast the following day, assuring Daisy that yes he would rest his leg in between hunting game… in fact he’d spend the afternoons at the creek fishing, just to be real sure it was rested, he added with a grin in Mike’s direction.
“Oh and Jess, if you’re hunting deer, do be sure not to shoot a doe with young ones afoot…it would be terrible to leave them orphaned.”
“Yes Ma’am,” he said winking across at Slim,”I’ll be real sure to pick a lady spinster deer, with no dependents.”
“Oh you,” she said with a chuckle and reached out to gently clip his ear, for his cheekiness, which Jess ducked in a well practiced fashion.
Then Slim shook his hand and Mike wished him luck as he swung up into the saddle.
“You will look up Lone Wolf won’t you pard, I feel kind of responsible for him.”
“You do?”
“Umm….err, well with him being holed up on Sherman land and he was a friend of my Pa too….“
“Sure, I understand, anyways I like the old guy, sure I’ll stop by, take him some game too, if I get lucky that is,” he said with a grin.
“Be sure and say hi to Lone Wolf from me too……an’ bring me back the antlers iffen you bring down a buck,” Mike called after his hero.
“Will do Tiger, see you all in a few days,” and with a little farewell salute he urged his mount up the rise at a brisk trot.
He made it to the remote area of the ranch within a few hours and decided to make camp near the creek and spend the afternoon fishing because although he was loathe to admit it, old Daisy was right and that knee of his would sure benefit from a rest.
He reckoned he’d rest up today, then go off hunting at first light and with any luck pick up a deer and maybe a wild turkey or two and decided to get an extra one for Lone Wolf and drop it in on his way back to the ranch.
His plan worked out pretty well and he enjoyed an afternoons fishing in the bright spring sunlight and cooked up a mess of fish for his super. Then after an early night took off for a nearby watering hole where he knew the deer gathered to drink at first light, and got a couple of shots off hitting a magnificent buck.
Well I guess the folk at home will be happy with this he thought to himself, Daisy won’t be a frettin’ about orphaned critters, Mike will get his antlers and once I’ve butchered him should be plenty to share with Lone Wolf too, so Slim will be pleased about that.
Because his knee was still bothering him some, making him limp quite badly he decided to stay one more day…..would pick up a couple of wild turkeys at day break and then visit Lone Wolf on his way home.
The following day he had even more success, bringing down not two but three young turkeys and his gunny sacks were heaving with quarry.
It was late morning by the time he made it over to Lone Wolf’s home, a cave set deep in the mountainside, surrounded by lofty pines with a stream rushing down the mountain just a few yards away.
Jess dismounted and looked around him, yup he’d always thought it from the first time he visited, and it still held true today, it was the ideal spot to live….If you wanted complete isolation and to live hand in hand with nature that is, he qualified to himself. Yup it was pretty good for a break but he figured he’d miss his family back at the ranch after awhile, not to mention the saloon girls, odd whiskey and round of poker in town too.
He ground hitched Traveler and then called out to Lone Wolf not wanting to startle him, but it was several minutes before the old timer slowly made his way from the depths of the cave, looking warily around him, before finally focusing on Jess and raising his rifle.
“Hey, Lone Wolf it’s me Jess Harper from the Sherman place,” he said quickly, putting up his hands in a gesture of submission…..
“I come in peace…… .bearing’ gifts too…. you’re not gonna shoot me are you?”
The old timer threw his gun to one side, his old, deeply lined face suddenly wreathed in smiles, as he shuffled forwards.
“Jess…..my good friend…it is too many moons since we last met.”
“Yeah well I guess it must have been just before Thanksgiving last time we were up this way,” he replied taking the old man’s hand and shaking it warmly, before standing back to regard him.
He looked much older than he had a few months ago, his lined face weary and his buckskins hanging from his almost gaunt frame.
“Say are you OK Lone Wolf, you’re looking kinda peaky…..have you been sick?”
“Ah… the sickness for which there is no cure my friend…that of old age. Come sit with me and tell me of all at the ranch…they are well?”
“Sure, just fine they asked to be remembered to you, the boy Mike especially wants you to know he sends his best.”
Lone Wolf nodded sagely.
“He is a good child; he has a warm heart and great strength of character. He will grow to be a good man, befitting of one raised by young Mathew and yourself Jess….and Miss Daisy of course. They are well too I hope?“
“Sure Miss Daisy fussin’ as usual and old Slim, Mathew that is, said I was to call in special and see that you have all you need.”
“Oh yes my needs are simple…but to have a visitor is a great blessing, you will stay awhile?”
Jess saw the old man’s face light up with hope, noticed how his hand trembled and how out of breath he seemed as they both sat down on the bench by the cave entrance… .how could he refuse him?
“Well I figure Slim could spare me a mite longer,” he said cheerfully, ”and anyways I’ve brought you some venison and a wild turkey, reckon it would be real un-neighbourly for me to leave without helping you eat some of it.”
Lone Wolf threw his head back and laughed heartily, ”We will dine together tonight and thank you for the gifts my friend, but we will not eat before I have treated that knee injury Jess.”
You are limping my friend that old injury to your knee is bothering you, you are in some pain I believe.”
“Kinda, I guess,” Jess replied knowing he was wasting his time lying to the old man, ”I knocked it a couple of days ago and it’s stiffened up some yeah.”
The aged Indian disappeared inside the cave and returned a little later with some dried up looking plant roots.
“The roots of Snakeweed, I will boil them to make a poultice and apply it to your knee…. the pain and swelling will leave you…by the next sunrise it will be easier and by the following one I think it will be cured, my medicine is good, you believe this is so Jess and you will allow me to help you?”he asked fixing Jess with his dark good humored eyes.
“Guess I don’t have a choice once you’re on the case,” muttered Jess dryly.
“You know me too well my friend,” Lone Wolf chuckled and went about preparing the treatment.
It was after supper when they were sitting around the campfire, Jess’s leg bound with the foul smelling, that he asked Lone wolf about his great knowledge of medicinal herbs.
“I have to say, that stuff may stink something fierce, puts me in mind of old Jonesy ’s liniment, but my knee’s feelin’ better already. So where did yer learn all this stuff then Lone Wolf?”
The old man peered sadly into the embers of the fire before replying.
“My grandfather was the tribe medicine man and as is our custom he taught me much of the medicine of our tribe.”
“But I thought you left the tribe when you were just a kid,” asked Jess looking interested.
“So Mathew has told you of my past?”
“Err…..well yeah he didn’t speak out of turn did he? I mean we were just interested as to why you chose to live all alone up here ‘twas all….”
“No… no my friend, Mathew did right to explain…..My people all thought I was possessed by the Devil when I took to having fits…all except my grandfather that is…. He said I was just sick and that he could cure me…so he took me to live with him in his tepee, a little way outside the village…. and while I stayed with him as a child he taught me all he knew….“
“Well I guess he was a real good teacher, so what went wrong…how come you were left out here then?”
The old man sighed deeply, “He died my friend….and the tribe all blamed me…. said my demons had taken his spirit.”
“But that’s crazy talk, heck I took a couple of fits o nce when I had a real bad head injury…. an’ there weren’t no demons involved,” Jess said with conviction.
The old man shrugged, ”I am older and wiser now, I have spoken with your friend Doctor Samuel Baker on occasion and I understand about my illness… but my people were ignorant, not evil…they just did what they felt they had to do.”
“Well that’s mighty understanding of you,” said Jess gruffly.
“You are angry on my behalf…..and I thank you, but it was all a long time ago…..we live and we learn. I have learnt much from your friend Doctor Sam….and I believe he has learnt some things from me too….”
“I’m sure he has,” Jess declared, “and if all your medicine works as good as this here poultice I reckon you’re as good as old Sam any day.”
He nodded and smiled at that.
“I just wish I had more time to tell him everything I know…. there was a time when I thought my knowledge would be preserved…..but now?” and he shrugged.
“Preserved?” asked Jess looking puzzled.
“It is of no importance….an old man rambling… I must rest, I’ll bid you goodnight Jess,” and with that he made his way painfully slowly off to the depths of his cave.
“Goodnight Lone Wolf sleep well,” and Jess watched the old man shuffle off…his eyes troubled, he wasn’t well…not well at all.
The following morning Jess’s knee was indeed much improved, but Lone wolf insisted on replacing the poultice several times during the day and then made Jess rest, so they spent time just chatting. The old Indian seemed to derive great pleasure from hearing all the news from the ranch and laughed at Mike’s exploits, whilst sympathizing with the adults suffering such a severe winter.
“Well it must have been even worse for you up here on your own Lone Wolf, maybe you should have taken up Slim’s offer of staying in the bunkhouse over the winter, like I say you don’t look too well.”
The old man closed his eyes and sighed deeply before asking Jess to help him to his feet, then taking the younger man’s arm he walked slowly to a spot beneath a huge pine tree and pointed down across the abundant land to the distant mountains.
“Look Jess, he said gesturing to the stunning view….”a man is truly blessed to have the Big Open, as you call it, as his companion through life.”
Jess nodded,”I guess you’re right Lone Wolf.”
“You ask me if I am sick….. I answer you…..this is the place you will lay me to rest.”
Jess who had been contemplating the view was taken aback by this….
“Huh…..what do you mean?”
“Just that, I have been called to hiyer ’in…..our home ……..”
“What are you tellin’ me….. you’re dyin’ Lone Wolf?” he gasped.
“I am my friend…… .and here where we stand is where I wish to be buried.”
“Now hang on a minute here Lone Wolf, iffen you’re sick I’ll ride fer Doc Sam….or even better I’ll take you back to the ranch and……. “
The old man laid a comforting hand on Jess arm.
“Hush my son…. my time has come and no one can change that, now come, help me back to the bench, we have plans to make.”
Jess just shook his head figuring he’d humour the old timer whilst he thought up a way to get him back to the ranch.
The rest of the day was spent with Lone Wolf showing Jess the finery he wished to be buried in and several personal items he wished to be buried with him… how the grave was to be dug deep and covered with stones and he was to be interred on the day of his death.
Finally Jess could bear it no longer.
“Lone Wolf will you stop it, you ain’t gonna die, I’ll look after you, I promise, git the doc to you…. please…..“
The old man just shook his head; “My time is here…nothing can change that.”
Then he shuffled off to his cave returning awhile later with a brightly covered blanket and slumping back down on the bench he laid it carefully on the floor and opened it up so that Jess could see the contents.
“For the boy, Mike I have this little carved horse….it was mine as a boy…. he might like it to remember me by..”
Before Jess could answer, he raised a hand, obviously not wanting thanks…”And for Miss Daisy this beaver jacket, to keep her warm in the winter…. It was mine as a very young man and I think will fit her well.
“For Mathew I have this horse blanket,” he said touching the colourful blanket, “for his mount Alamo.
“For you my dear friend, this little knife, I have used all my life to clean the fish I have caught…. I made it myself from bone and flint and the blade is as keen today as when I was a boy, it will serve you well.”
Jess looked down and swallowed hard.
“Thank you Lone Wolf,” he said taking the offered knife,”I will treasure it always.”
“That is all I have to say now my friend…my end is near and tonight we will laugh and talk as old friends do…. I wish for no sadness… you understand?”
Jess just nodded thinking he could still persuade the old man to accompany him back to the ranch, when he left, which he knew he must do within the next few days.
“I guess I’ll cook us up some supper then,” he agreed,”some Turkey huh?”
Lone Wolf gave him a sad smile, “Some broth I think is all I can manage.”
“Sure, comin’ up,” and Jess made to prepare a tasty meal for them both.
They finished their repast and Jess offered the old man a glass of whiskey, but he chose to make himself some herbal tea.
“Gee, what is that stuff Lone Wolf?” Jess asked, looking at the evil brew simmering over the fire.
“A tea to help me sleep and ease my pain,” he said…”it will help me through the night.”
“Sure,” said Jess immediately contrite, “Well iffen it makes you feel better……and tomorrow we’ll talk about you maybe coming home with me huh…let the doc check you out? “
Lone Wold smiled at him then and shook his hand,”Maybe my friend,” and rising made his way back to the cave carrying his tea.
At the entrance he turned and looked back at Jess one last time….
“You are a good man…. Be happy……goodnight.”
“‘Night Lone Wolf,” Jess replied, his expression one of worry…. there was something kinda final in the old man’s words.
Then he turned back and walked over to where Jess still sat by the camp fire…
“I have to ask you one last favour, “he said.
Jess looked up into the kind old eyes,” Sure…..anything I can do, you know that.”
The old man reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a large old key.
“I need you to ask Mathew to open the chest to which this key belongs……..He will find many answers to questions…maybe many questions to be answered too…. But I beg him to try and find a way through……a way his father and others could not…..“
Jess threw him a puzzled look, “That don’t make a lot of sense to me Lone Wolf…so will Slim…Mathew understand what yer sayin’?”
He nodded, “Yes… he may say he does not…. but he is a good man and he will do my will in the end I am sure…. and tell him, Jess, please my friend…tell him to tell my lady I am so sorry that things could not have been different for us….”
“Huh…your lady……so who’s that Lone Wolf?”
The old man just shook his head and turned to go….
“Mathew knows……. he alone can make everything right…..the truth and maybe even the preservation of my knowledge for healing may be there for all to see at last….…..but it is in your hands Jess…. You must make Mathew… Slim as you call the boy now….you must make him understand the importance of this key and all that it unlocks…….”
Jess really didn’t have a clue as to what Lone Wolf was talking about, but he knew a seriously upset old man when he saw one and so he did the only thing he could….
“Sure I will, don’t you worry any, it’s all OK, I promise you I’ll sort everything out…. You git to your bed and we’ll talk tomorrow…huh?”
Lone Wolf gave him a beautiful smile, “Thank you my son….. “
Chapter 3
Jess awoke at first light the following morning, stoked up the fire and after putting the coffee to brew waited for Lone Wolf to join him as he had done on the previous days.
However as the sun rose higher in the sky Jess became more and more anxious and after awhile he ventured to the mouth of the cave and called out to the old man.
On receiving no reply he entered and made his way to the back of the cave through the dim light, before pausing by the old man’s bed at the rear.
He could see at once that all was not well….
Not merely from the stillness of the body, but the fact that two night lights had been left burning at his head and his foot, almost as if in a shrine.
Then when he looked more closely he saw that the Indian was dressed in all his finery, and covered by a delicately worked heavy quilt.
All his worldly goods were around him and on the floor next to his cot lay the empty flask of herbal tea……
Jess leant over the old man’s body, peering down at his corpse in the dim light.
“Lone Wolf?” He whispered.
But there was no reply….he was stiff and cold…… .all the life force gone from him.
Jess bowed his dark head in prayer, before finally rising to make the arrangements for his old friend as he had promised he would do.
His heart was deeply saddened as he stood beside the grave later that day…..feeling still very shocked at the speed of events.
However he knew that it had been important to Lone Wolf that his last request had been followed to the letter, with the interment taking place that day, as was the tribe’s custom, and gained some comfort in knowing he had done as his old friend had wished.
It was early evening when he rode back into the ranch yard, smoke issuing from the cook stove chimney professing that Daisy had supper well underway. Then as he led Traveler towards the barn, the ranch door burst open and Mike tore out, closely followed by Slim.
“Hey you’re back you’re back!” the child cried joyfully.
Jess took him in his arms and threw him in the air, swinging him high, before returning him safely to ground level and ruffling his hair.
Then Slim was there beaming across at him and shaking his hand briskly.
“Welcome back pard, good trip?”
Before he could answer Mike had spied the buck’s antlers tied on behind the saddle and cheered.
“You got one Jess… you bagged a buck!”
“Sure did Tiger and a couple of turkeys too…figure we’ll dine high on the hog for a while now.”
“Sure will, wait ‘til Aunt Daisy sees all the stuff you’ve got!”
Then he spied the brightly colored horse blanket, still tied and containing the gifts from Lone Wolf, attached to Jess’s saddle horn.
“What’s this Jess?”
“Huh…. Oh just some stuff I’ve brought back, I’ll tell you about it after supper OK? “
“Sure it’s nearly ready …so how was Lone Wolf?”
Jess cast his eyes down and the said quietly, “Like I said Mike I’ll tell you everything after supper, now run along and tell Aunt Daisy we’ll be right there huh? ” he finished more firmly.
Once the boy had left Slim turned to his friend…
“Is everything alright Jess, you were kind of short with Mike just then?”
Jess looked down and swallowed before turning sad eyes on his buddy.
“No…no it ain’t Slim. Lone Wolf’s dead…..and I think he killed himself.”
“Well one minute he was just lookin’ kinda peaky…then when I asked him about it he said it was just old age…then next day he calls me over to this place by the old pine near the cave you know the spot, with that view over to the mountains?“
“Yes, I know where you mean. “
“Well, he says that’s the spot he wants to be buried in, then he goes off to bed, next thing I know he’s dang well upped and died…. It all happened so darned quick Slim.”
“Go on, so why do you think he killed himself?”
“Dunno…it was all so pat…one minute he says he’s dyin’…. goin’ home… Well I told him Slim, said I’d get the doc to him…was gonna persuade him to ride back with me today… Then this morning I find him, all dressed in his finery…a candle burning at the head and foot of his bed…. and an empty flask of some special herbal tea beside him….well he said it was to help with the pain…help him sleep too…but maybe he just took too much…what to ya think?”
Slim shook his head…”No not Lone Wolf…and why would he?”
“I dunno, maybe he felt real ill…just wanted an end to it, he looked to dang old and poorly Slim…I felt real bad about it.”
“Look Jess you did all you could and if he’d had enough well then … I guess it was his decision…. But personally, well I think it was just his time and he died naturally…guess we’ll never really know though,” and the two men turned sadly back towards the ranch.
It was after supper that Jess finally broke the sad news to the others.
Daisy was deeply shocked and gasped a hand dashing to her mouth….
“Oh dear, the poor man…. was he in much pain Jess…. what was wrong?”
“I dunno, just said as how it was old age…. said his time had come. He seemed real calm about it….and he was takin’ some herbs for the pain,” although Jess didn’t elaborate on his theory surrounding the death.
Then the adults looked over to where Mike was sitting looking pale and shocked.
Jess at once moved to sit beside him, where he had been sitting cross legged in front of the fire, and threw a comforting arm around the boy.
“Are you alright Tiger?” he asked softly.
When there was no answer he held the boy close, ”It’s OK to cry you know …iffen you’re feeling sad…”
Eventually Mike sobbed,”I wanted to go with you and see him…. and now I never will,” and he started crying in earnest.
Jess just held him tightly until the storm passed and then Daisy handed over a hanky and the child wiped his eyes and blew his nose before looking up at his hero.
“Sorry to be a baby Jess.”
“Heck, you ain’t a baby…I guess we all feel like cryin’ when we hear real sad news like this…. But he didn’t forget you Mike… he gave me this and said to give it to you special….to remember him by,” and he passed over the little carved horse.
The boy’s eyes lit up at the unexpected present,”Gee its swell,” he whispered.
“He said…err… now let me get this right,” Jess said peering up at the ceiling to collect his thoughts.
“He said you were a good child, warm hearted and had a strong character and as you would grow to be a good man.”
“He said all that…..really and truly?”
“Cross my heart.”
“Thanks Jess…for remembering it right an all.
“And Tiger, he’s in a better place now out of pain and real happy, so try and feel glad for him will you? “
“OK Jess…. I’ll try.”
The other gifts were distributed and received with sincere thanks, but it was a subdued group who finally turned in that night.
Chapter 4
The following morning Jess waited until Daisy and Mike had taken off in the buggy to visit a neighbour’ s new baby for the day before he broached the subject of the key Lone Wolf had given him, along with the cryptic message.
They were in the kitchen having a mid morning coffee and Slim was sitting just staring into his cup a look of sadness in his gentle blue eyes.
“You’ve taken this business with Lone Wolf real bad ain’t you pard?” said Jess throwing his friend a concerned look.
Slim sighed,”Yeah, I guess I have, he’s always been around you know, since I was a kid and I reckon I felt kind of responsible for him in a way.”
“Umm…. well he sure thought a lot of you and I’ve got a message from him too.”
Slim’s head shot up,”Go on.”
Jess reached in his vest pocket and brought out the large old key and placed it on the table between them.
“Said as how I was to give you this, said you’re to open the chest it belongs to….”
Slim’s expression had gone from mild interest to shock as he stared down at the key. He flicked a glance up at Jess and then looked away quickly. But not before Jess had seen something he didn’t quite recognise in his friend’s eyes…fear…ill ease…. no, guilt.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said gruffly “What chest?”
“Dunno, he said you’d understand?”
“Well….. I don’t,” he replied standing up quickly, looking flushed and guilty again.
Jess gazed up at his partner a look of disbelief in his eyes.
“He said that too… .said as you might say you don’t know about it all… .but you’re a good man and you’ll do what’s right in the end.”
Slim turned and strode towards the back door,” I’ve got work to do if you haven’t,” he said ignoring this last comment.
Jess shot up and went across the room and grabbed hold of Slim’s arm to turn him back towards him.
“Look Slim, I don’t know what this is all about but you have to face up to it…. there’ s more stuff he said too and …. “
Slim wrenched his arm free and pushed Jess hard in the chest so he staggered backwards being caught off balance and nearly fell.
“Just leave it!” Slim yelled angrily, ”Or you’ll be sorry,” and with that he marched off out of the door and across the yard, leaving Jess shaken and staring after his best friend a look of shock in his deep blue eyes.
When he followed him out a few minutes later he couldn’t see him anywhere, until he cast a glance up to the hillside before the ranch and saw his buddy standing up in the family plot, his head bent as he stood over his parent’s grave.
“Well I guess this is even more serious than I thought,” Jess muttered to himself, before going off to prepare the horses for the noon stage.
When Mose drew the stagecoach to a standstill in the yard a little later he hopped down grinning at Jess who was leading the new team over.
“So back from your hunting trip…good time then Jess? “
He nodded, “Got me a good size stag……figure it’ll keep Miss Daisy happy fer awhile.”
At her name the old timer’s face lit up, everyone at the ranch knowing Mose was kinda sweet on their housekeeper.
“So where is the dear lady, brewing my coffee?” he asked hopefully.
He received the news that she was not around reasonably philosophically and made to climb back up on the box before turning back.
“So how was that old rascal Lone Wolf? Still curing all the wild beasts with his homemade medicine then?” he asked with a chuckle.
Jess’s face clouded,”Nope, sorry to tell you…but he’s passed away Mose…just a day ago.”
He stopped in his tracks at the news, ”Well I’m real sorry about that boy…he was a good man… a real good man, didn’t deserve the way he was treated that’s for sure,” he said shaking his head sadly….” I guess these things happen in the best of families,” and still shaking his old head and looking upset he climbed up onto his seat.
Then just as he was about to hustle the team out of the yard Jess was suddenly aware that Slim had emerged from the shadows and was standing directly behind him and also noted the far from friendly glance Mose threw his partner, before dashing off up the rise at speed.
Jess turned to look at his friend and was shocked to see the anger in his eyes.
“You just couldn’t help yourself could you…had to go blabbing to Mose the biggest gossip in Laramie.”
“What do you mean,” asked Jess looking puzzled,” he asked after Lone Wolf, I just told him what had happened, what did you want me to do lie?”
“No just keep your nose out of stuff that doesn’t concern you!” Slim barked.
“Well I figure it does concern me. Lone Wolf trusted me to get all this stuff about the key and the chest and all sorted out for him. I don’t know what it’s all about, but I know damn well you do….and that it was important to the old man…and I…
“Shut up, just shut up,” yelled Slim , looking way beyond furious now, ”just leave it!”
“Can’t do that Slim…. like I say, Lone Wolf trusted me and I promised him….”
Jess just never saw it coming, but the haymaker sent him sprawling in the dust, blood streaming down his chin from a bust lip……
He just lay there, pain and hurt in his eyes, before slowly dragging himself up, one hand to his face….
Slim looked at him; the full realization of what he had just done shocking him to the core.
“Jess…. I…. I’m so sorry,” he whispered putting a hand out to rest on his friend’s arm for a moment, “You didn’t deserve that……”
“No, I damn well didn’t,” he agreed before making for the house where he could wash up…needing to walk away from the situation before he retaliated, as he was beginning to feel pretty angry himself now.
After a minute Slim followed him in and stood by the door of their shared room, watching as his partner tentatively bathed his bloodied face at the washstand. Then after awhile he straightened up and half turned to see Slim looking on, pale and drawn.
“I don’t know what the Hell this is about Slim, but I figure you’d better sort it out and dang soon too,” he said angrily, but before Slim could respond they heard the sound of the approaching voices of Daisy and Mike as they returned from their visit.
Jess made himself scarce for the rest of the day, but come supper time he couldn’t hide away any longer and as he sat down at the table, he hung his head to prevent Daisy noticing the cut lip and extensive bruising to his face.
However it was only a few minutes before the elderly housekeeper noticed and gasped at the sight of him.
“Goodness Jess whatever has happened to your face dear?”
Jess put a hand to his bruised lip and looking down muttered,”That dang mule whipped his head up when I was grooming him, caught me full in the face.”
Daisy raised a quizzical eyebrow but said nothing. She hadn’t lived with ’her boys,’ as she thought of the young men of the Sherman ranch, for all this time without knowing the signs of a fist fight. The fact that Slim and Jess hadn’t exchanged a look or word since they sat down wasn’t lost on her either.
The meal continued with a heavy air, Mike being the only one happily discussing the events of the day and his visit, but even he became aware of the atmosphere after awhile and sat looking uncertainly at the adults.
Daisy cleared away the dishes and refreshed the coffee pot before suggesting Mike have an early night.
“Aww Aunt Daisy must I? “
“I think so dear, it’s school tomorrow, now go and pack your bag and then get ready for bed and I’ll come and read you a nice long story as a treat.”
The child brightened considerably at that, “Night, Jess… Night Slim,” and he ran off happily.
Daisy sat on at the table for a little longer replenishing their cups before she said softly.
“I don’t appreciate being lied to….it wasn’t that old mule that hurt you was it Jess?”
He looked startled, but finally ducked his head and whispered,”No Ma’am.”
Then he looked her in the eye, “I’m sorry Daisy.”
She reached out and squeezed his hand.
“It’s alright dear I know you were only trying to protect my feelings, I hate to see you two boys quarrel….can’t you talk it out?” she continued casting pleading eyes in Slim’s direction.
He flushed up, looking guilty and embarrassed in equal parts before replying….
“Sure we can Daisy, this is all my fault. Jess hasn’t done anything wrong…and I’ll try and make things right between us I promise,” he said turning to include his good friend in the heartfelt little speech.
Shortly afterwards Daisy left them to tend to the boy and then said she would have an early night herself, subtly leaving them to their own devises and hopefully a conclusion to their problems she secretly hoped.
Once she had left, the men took their coffee over to sit by the fire and after a moment Slim left and returned with a bottle of whiskey and raised it to his friend, ”For medicinal purposes only,” he said with a ghost of a smile.
Jess nodded and held his cup up for Slim to pour a generous splash, before doing the same to his own cup and then he sat back down, staring into the cup for a long time before turning to his buddy.
“I really am sorry Jess, I should never have lost my temper like that. “
“So what made you? It ain’t like you to lash out that way.”
He took a deep breath, “I don’t know…guilt I guess.”
“So what on earth have you gotta feel guilty about?”
Slim sighed deeply.
“Figure I’d better start from the beginning…..” He paused, took a deep breath and then continued.
“Like I told you Lone Wolf had always been around and Pa first bumped into him up on Paradise before I was even born. Seems Pa tangled with a cougar, came off worst and Lone Wolf found him and patched him up and well…after that I guess they were friends for life…. until Aunt Jane landed that is…..”
“Aunt Jane, you say? “
“Yeah, my Pa’s sister, she was a lot younger than him and lived back East until their folks died. Then she came out here on an extended visit…to see how she liked Wyoming I guess.”
“So what was she like?”
Slim’s face lit up as he described her.
“Real pretty and great fun too, she could ride, shoot, fish, just like a regular boy, I was real surprised, because she looked such a lady,” Slim chuckled remembering his feisty fun loving aunt…and then he sobered.
“Then she met up with Lone Wolf.”
“Go on…”
Slim flicked a glance over at his friend,”It was love at first sight Jess……..They were almost inseparable from that moment on…. Lone Wolf even moved into the bunk house to be near to her…. But it was all real respectable of course, my Ma saw to that.”
Jess smiled, “Shame…” but then saw the sadness in his friend’s eyes… “So it must have been pretty tough, an Indian and a white woman, not many folk would accept that, your Ma and Pa must have been real special.”
“Sure, well you of all people know what it’s like when a white person befriends an Indian,” he said referring to Jess’s time with the Arapaho, “How you can be persecuted because of that friendship.”
He just nodded, “It’s worth it though…and I don’t give a fig about what folk think about me…. figure your aunt was the same?”
Slim smiled, ”Oh yeah, she was a real strong lady…she wasn’t upset for herself….. but she was for me…”
“Huh…for you?”
“Yeah, see I was just a little kid back then and I didn’t understand the way folk felt about the Indians…Sure I knew there had been wars……massacres…. But somehow I didn’t think of Lone Wolf that way, never have….”
“Well as far as I know he was never involved in conflict with the white man.”
“Umm… but that doesn’t stop people being prejudiced Jess… His skin was the wrong colour and a lot of folk in town thought that it was a mortal sin, him and Jane being together…wanting to be married an all…..and not just the adults either…the school kids got involved too.”
“So….. don’t tell me…..you got into a fight, protecting your aunt and Lone Wolf?”
Slim nodded, “Not just one fight…it got to be on a weekly basis. Ma and Pa were at their whit’s end with me…coming home black and blue, or else having other parents complaining that I’d blacked their son’s eye,” he said with a wicked smile.
Jess shook his head now grinning at his buddy, ”So who’d have thought it, the upstanding pillar of the community, Slim Sherman brawling in the street, heck that sounds more like my past, not yours Slim.”
“Yeah, well….” and he looked a little sheepish.
“So what happened?”
“That’s the hard part….. Aunt Jane just disappeared, one day she was here with Lone Wolf, the next she’d gone and my folks would never talk about it….. Not until Ma was on her death bed and then she finally said that she thought Jane had gone because of me…. She was just so darned upset about me getting beat up that she had second thoughts about her and Lone Wolf…so she moved out and went to live in Denver…never came back.”
Then he turned anguished eyes on Jess, “So you see it was all my fault that they split up and Lone Wolf has lived a solitary life all these years. I guess that’s why I’ve always looked out for him…. I just feel so dang guilty… .and then you coming home and saying he was dead…maybe took his life….” and he just sighed.
“I’m sorry Slim; I didn’t know any of this.”
“Of course you didn’t…and it was when you told Mose…well I just knew it would set all the tongues in town wagging again and that’s when I saw red I guess.”
“Well I can’t blame you for that…..so why was Mose so funny about it?”
“Well the town was divided all those years ago. Some folk thought it was real nice and romantic….and I guess Mose fell into that category, he liked Lone Wolf, wanted him and Jane to marry…Then word got out that it was my Pa that sent Jane away…. it was all lies, but Mose and s ome others believed it and held it against my Pa…still does I guess.”
“But that’s crazy and it’s none of his goddamn business anyway!”
Slim just shrugged, “When did that ever stop the gossips of this world?”
Chapter 5
The following morning the men waited until Mike had left on the stage for school and Daisy was stuck into the weekly wash before they pulled down the old ladder to the attic and made their way up.
Jess remembered the last time they had been up there, when Slim had been called to a duel and they had to sort out the old fashioned duelling pistol with the unfashionably long barrel which had so fascinated Jess.
Now, however they worked their way through all the keepsakes and detritus of many years, before Slim finally unearthed the large old oak chest at the back of the attic space, which bore his aunt’s initials clearly engraved on the top. J. A. S
“Jane Anne Sherman,” Slim said as he brushed the dust from the chest.
“So why did she leave it here?” asked Jess looking puzzled.
Slim shrugged…”I dunno, but if it’s got stuff in to do with Lone Wolf maybe it was too upsetting for her, remember they’d just split up, maybe she just wanted to try and forget all about him?”
Then taking the large key, he thrust it in the lock and turned it, before the lid was opened, producing an aged creaking sound.
“Well I guess this ain’t been looked at in a good few moons,”Jess said, trying to lighten the charged atmosphere.
Then glancing across at his buddy, said,”Would you rather look at this stuff alone Slim?”
He glanced up from the chest…”Heck no, I reckon you’re as near to kin as I’ve got now Jess, apart from Andy…and my little brother isn’t here right now…so I figure you’ll do just fine….if you’re OK with that?“
“Sure…so what have we got then?”
Slim pulled out the first item and it was the manuscript for a book, entitled ‘Forbidden Love’.
Jess raised a quizzical eyebrow… “So who read that then?”
Slim looked serious though, “I guess it’s not a question of who read it as to who wrote it… .and I figure it was my aunt.”
“Huh… so your aunt was a writer? “
“Umm… oh yeah, real famous now although she wasn’t back then, I figure this was the first one she wrote, but there have been a heck of a lot more since…”
Jess looked amazed,”Well I never, so she’s famous then is she?”
“Kinda, calls herself Elizabeth Hart now.“
“Hey, hang on …I think that Daisy and her pals all read that stuff?”
“You’re probably right, all slushy romance as far as I know.”
“Umm…so what else is in here?”
Slim probed around and came up with several mementos, pictures and the like, before he held up a large envelope.
“It says, ‘Deliver to Miss J Sherman upon my death’…signed Lone Wolf.”
“So how did that get there?” asked Jess raising a quizzical eyebrow
“That I do know,” said Slim with a smile, “I recall Lone Wolf visiting my Pa and insisting he placed the letter in the chest. Well Pa did as he asked and then handed Lone Wolf the key… I can remember exactly what he said too… He said,’ this is your chest now Lone Wolf, contains so much of your work… .no matter what happens to me, keep the key safe until you need to open it again huh?’ and then he gave him this key. Slim chuckled at the memory, I remember thinking as a boy what kinda work could that be when all I’d seen was Lone Wolf working with animals and plants, hunting and shooting too…didn’t make much sense to me that.”
“I guess maybe some of the answers are in here,” Jess replied.
Jess picked the letter up and looked at the strong handwriting,” He could write? Real good too, by the looks of this”
“Yeah, Ma taught him to read and write…as a kind of thank you for saving Pa that time…he was real good at learning too.”
Then he looked back at his buddy,”So what did he say exactly Jess… I really need to know.”
Jess thought back to that time with Lone Wolf and tried to remember everything.
“He said….ask Mathew, that’s you Slim, ask Mathew to open the chest and he will find many answers to many questions….somethin’ like that anyways…. Then somethin’ about other questions to be answered….. Hell I can’t remember exact Slim ‘twas all about answers and questions… all kinda mixed up…..”
“It’s OK Jess I understand…figure if we look deeply enough at the contents they will tell us all anyway.”
“One more thing …he said…. no he begged you to try and find ‘a way’ your father and others couldn’t……that make any sense Slim? “
“I guess maybe, he wants to know we have learnt from the past…are more tolerant of others now…. Can accept things now as we couldn’t back then, maybe?”
“There was something else he said to me before he died Slim….. said you were to tell ’his lady’ that he was real sorry things couldn’t have been different… can you do that?”
Slim looked sorely troubled at that, “His lady…aunt Jane…. No….. I don’t believe I can Jess…. she won’t see me, well won’t see anyone that is, she’s a complete recluse. “
“Lives in this big old house on the edge of Denver town, never goes out or receives visitors….I know Pa went to see her shortly before he died and she refused point blank to have anything to do with him.”
Jess looked amazed and shook his head, “Families eh?”
“Umm…. so what am I going to do, she needs to hear of Lone Wolf’s passing, be given that message of yours and this letter….”
All the time Slim had been talking Jess had picked up another manuscript, and now looking through it, his expression becoming more and more animated. “Well I’ll be!”
“What is it Jess?”
“Looky here Slim, this looks like a kinda medical book, with all Lone Wolf’s recipes for healing. All the herbs and stuff he uses in the right amounts…how to make ‘em up, just like a regular medical book…..and it’s all been done proper…an index and everything, Heck your aunt must have wrote all this down for him Slim.”
He took the heavy manuscript and flicked through it.
“Figure you’re right Jess, she wrote several other books just like this …nonfiction, mostly on the Flora and Fauna of Wyoming.”
“Plants and animals of the area….real detailed it was all about which flowers and trees are found here, and all the animals too.”
“So that was published then?”
“Oh yeah, very popular in the big towns, the folk enjoy reading all about birds and beasts and all.”
“Umm…. just so long as they don’t all wanna come out here and start shootin’ them, or there will be pretty lean pickings left fer the rest of us,” he said dourly.
Slim grinned, “Nope I figure these folks are just armchair hunters.”
Jess grinned back, then looking more serious, “Well I guess it’s up to me then.”
“Visitin’ your old auntie Jane and tellin’ her about Lone Wolf, I guess that’s up to me.”
“Jess I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You ain’t asking, I’m offering and besides….. “
“Well it was me that promised Lone Wolf I’d see everything was done the way he wanted it, and you know me… I always keep my promises.”
“So what makes you think you’ll get to see her when she wouldn’t see her own brother? “
“Well just because of that. I ain’t kin, so I figure she ain’t got any argument with me… besides have you ever known me not get my own way…. sure she’ll see me.”
“Well you’ve got that right, there isn’t much as will stop you once you’ve got the light of battle in your eyes,” he chuckled.
However Jess wasn’t listening, he was flicking through the medical book once more and then he looked up at Slim, his eyes dancing with delight.
“This is it Slim…what he was talking to me about….his secret I guess…. and I can remember exactly what he said too…,” he looked up to the ceiling picturing the scene and the words flooded back to him.
“Slim alone can make things right…. the truth and maybe even the preservation of my knowledge for healing will be for all the world to see at last,” then he said as how it was all in my hands , said I was to make you see the importance of the key and all it unlocks….”
Slim still looked puzzled.
“This is what he was talking about, the preservation of all his knowledge… it’s here Slim, just waiting to be finished and published…. and I figure that’s what he was talkin’ about when he said about finding the way…. the way to tolerance and understanding, maybe this book is his gift to the white man, sharing his secret recipes to help folk?”
“Maybe you’re right Jess….”
“Something else too, he said ‘Slim alone can make things right,’ I figure he was talking about all that bad feeling you still think is in town surrounding your Pa about Lone Wolf and Jane splitting up…maybe it wasn’t down to him at all, like you said…. well Jane will know the truth…If she came here I guess she could tell you…. and anyone else who wants to know, kinda put the record straight.”
“And you really think you can persuade a sixty something reclusive lady to come out here and do all that, are you crazy Jess?”
He grinned.
“You know me and little old ladies, I’ll just do my wounded puppy look and she’ll be putty in my hands pard, don’t you fret……”
Chapter 6
“Miss Sherman says to tell you she categorically does not receive callers and should you wish to discuss any of her publications she suggests you deal directly with her publisher,” and the heavily built black man slammed the door in Jess’s face.
“Who was that Samson?”
“Just some dude, who wanted to see you Ma’am, said he was come all the way from Wyoming special…. But I told him I had my orders Ma’am. “
“Quite right…. Wyoming you say?”
“Yes Ma’am.”
“Thank you that will be all Samson.”
The petite, white haired, immaculately dressed woman wandered over to the first floor window of her study and looked down to the sidewalk, where a dark haired young man had tipped his Stetson back revealing a tangle of black hair. Then she watched as he thrust his hands into the pockets of his tight denims and kicked moodily at a stone on the sidewalk and smiled to herself.
What a perfect young man to be the romantic hero of her next novel she thought…. maybe for once she would have a short audience with him, it might be amusing. Then she secretly wondered what a personable youth like that would want with her, he was hardly her usual type of fan. Despite his smart, dark frock coat and highly polished boots he still had the look of a cowboy about him…. Wyoming? Her heart missed a beat as it always did when she thought back to that time and the love of her life, Lone Wolf….could this young man have anything to do with the Sherman ranch she suddenly thought.
“Samson…. Samson…..where is that man when you need him? “She muttered to herself.
“I’m here my lady…can I be of service?”
“Yes you can, should that young man return…you may show him up.”
“Err…are you sure Ma’am…. he looked a little rough around the edges to me…. dressed smartly I grant you, but he had a Texan accent….and the way he wore his gun, like a gunfighter……..Well I really don’t think he is your sort of person Madam.”
“Well, that’s as may be Samson, but as I say, you may show him up if he returns and you may stay too if it makes you feel better.”
“Thank you Madam,” and Samson withdrew respectfully.
Jane Sherman didn’t have long to wait to receive her young guest.
Jess had retired to a hotel bar, down the street, to lick his wounds and regroup. Then with a couple of stiff whiskeys inside of him he returned and when Samson answered his knock, quickly inserted a boot into the open doorway, then repeated his need to speak with the lady of the house.
“Just tell her it’s real important…. about Lone Wolf… and I guess she’ll see me,” he said, throwing the huge man the kind of no nonsense Harper look that rarely failed to get him what he wanted.
However he wasn’t expecting his forceful personality to reap rewards so quickly and felt quite stunned when he was immediately shown up to Miss Jane Sherman’s study.
The large body guard, come man servant, showed him in, “Mister Jess Harper to see you Madam,” he intoned lugubriously, before taking a stance by the door.
Jane turned from where she had been contemplating the view from her window and offered Jess a frosty smile.
“Well young man what can I do for you?” she asked, her manner cold and business like.
However, she reeled inwardly at the striking good looks of her visitor, even more handsome, close up, than she had first ascertained.
He had removed his hat, displaying wavy black hair and then turned the most spellbinding, deepest blue, eyes that she had ever seen upon her…… and she was completely lost.
“Thank you fer seeing me Ma’am,” he said politely,”I’m here on business,” and he flicked a glance over to where the black man servant was still standing guard by the door.
“Oh really Mister Harper, you are not the sort of man I feel would enjoy my little stories,” she said, her head on one side and throwing him a coquettish glance.
“No Ma’am,” he said patiently, although beginning to feel slightly wrong footed with her almost flirtatious attitude and the big man throwing him challenging glances.
“Look ma’am, I’m here on business……. regarding Lone Wolf,” he said very quietly, his eyes rolling towards the man servant.
He noted that she physically flinched at the mention of the Indian’s name, almost as though he had hit her and she too turned to look at her servant.
“That will be all thank you Samson.”
“But Ma’am,” he said gesturing towards Jess with a look of uncertainty.
“I said that will be all, thank you,” she said more forcefully, pulling her tiny five foot frame up to its full height and fixing pale blue eyes upon him.
“Yes Madam,” he said and withdrew, but not before throwing Jess a look of deep mistrust.
Jess stood weighing up this tiny bird like creature, who seemed to hold so much authority. She was nothing like Slim, or his Pa in stature, but she had the same wide honest face and intelligent eyes and then she turned and grinned at Jess and it was pure Slim.
“Well you made it into my fortress Mister Harper, congratulations…not many have.”
“Umm… not even your brother so I hear,” he replied laconically.
The smile froze on her face…”What do you know of my personal family business?” she asked angrily.
“Pretty much all of it,” he drawled, “so how about we stop playin’ games and I tell you as to why I’m here.”
She flushed at that and bowed her head for a moment; casting him an uncertain look…he knew her family?
“Of course I’m sorry Mister Harper,” she finally replied.
Then looking animated, “You have news of Lone Wolf for me you say?”
Jess suddenly felt the burden of what he had to say next… .and stared sadly into the expectant blue eyes.
“Jess,” he whispered,” you can call me Jess Ma’am.”
“Well then Jess, please sit,” she said indicating an arm chair and taking the couch opposite sat herself, “So is he well?”
Jess sank into the chair and studied the hat in his hands for a full minute before looking deeply into her innocent, expectant blue eyes.
“No Ma’am, he ain’t I’m sorry to have to tell you that he passed over, a week ago.”
Her head shot up and then she jumped up from her seat.
“No,” she cried, “that cannot be true…. he can’t be dead!”
He sighed deeply,”I’m real sorry Ma’am.”
“How do I know you’re not lying, just come here to make trouble….?”
“How so?” he asked giving her a puzzled look.
“I don’t know, blackmail me maybe, I’m a wealthy woman, maybe you have heard tales of me and Lone Wolf and you’re here to …what is it your sort say… to cash in on me?”
Jess felt mortally offended at that and not a little angry.
“I wouldn’t do that,” he said quietly,”and whatever you think of… ‘my sort,’ I can prove I’m here on honest business…..and just for the record I was a real good friend of Lone Wolf.”
She looked stunned at that piece of news and something in this unusual young man’s tone and sincere look made her suddenly believe him.
“Was…. so it’s true …he really is dead?”
He nodded, “Yes Ma’am.”
She turned ashen and looked like she might faint and Jess jumped up and taking her arm led her back to the couch, “Are you OK?”
She shook her head and gestured to a glass decanter on a nearby table….
“Sherry, pour us both a glass will you Mister…will you Jess?”
He did as she asked and handed her a glass which she accepted with a shaking hand and tipped it back in one, giving a little shudder, before turning her eyes on Jess once more.
“You say you have proof? “
He nodded and reaching inside his frock coat, brought out Lone Wolf’s letter addressed to Miss Jane Sherman- to be opened on my death.
She took it from him with shaking hands and scanned the content for a moment before handing it back to Jess, her eyes now swimming with unshed tears.
“It’s no good,” she declared,”I can’t make it out……will you read it to me…please Jess?”
“Are you sure, I figure it’s kinda personal?” he said looking uncomfortable.
“Quite sure,” she said quietly,”if you were a good friend of Lone Wolf…then I know I can trust you.”
Well you’ve sure changed yer tune he thought secretly, one minute I’m the villain of the piece and now I’m a trusted friend…umm…. but he relented and focusing on Lone Wolf’s bold strong handwriting started to read.
My Lady, All that we had is still in my heart, as though it were as yesterday, but now, if you are reading this, then I am no longer of this earth.
Jess paused here and flicked a glance in her direction.
“Go, on,” she insisted, the deep resonance of his voice making the content sound even more emotional, as she could tell he too was clearly moved by these last words of his old friend.
He swallowed deeply and then continued.
I have a deep need to tell you the truth of why I sent you away. It was not for the reason I gave all those years ago, but because I loved you too much to see you suffer. As you would have done had we become betrothed. Our future would have been filled with sadness and pain. I truly believe our union would not have been accepted by either of our peoples and our children’s lives made a misery, as we saw happening to young Mathew. So that is why I told you that I was not fully committed to our union which was a lie. I loved you more than life itself, but that is why I had to let you go…..
At that she broke down and wept quietly, whilst Jess just sat still waiting for her to recover, instinctively knowing that she would not want any words or gestures of sympathy from him.
So it was Lone Wolf that sent her away and not the other way around Jess suddenly realized. Slim’s Pa must have taken all the bad feeling from the likes of Mose, who supported the relationship, to save his sister’s feelings. Pretending to be the villain so that it would not appear that she had been left by Lone Wolf, which is what he had actually done, albeit for the right reasons. Also Slim wasn’t implicated at all…he’d felt guilty all these years with no need and Jess hoped that Jane would put the record straight.
After a little while she pulled herself together and apologized,” please Jess continue… he says more?”
“Yes Ma’am….”
Now I have two final things to ask of you. Firstly please make your peace with young Mathew. I know he feels very much that it was he who was to blame for my refusing to continue our relationship, but that is not so…there were many factors involved, mostly my fear for you and how people would shun you….
The other wish is that you come back to Laramie and complete the work on our Medicine Book. I wish to leave it to the white man as a gesture of peace and I hope it may go some way as a settlement for all the ill feeling, fear and hatred that has separated our peoples for so long. Please work with my good friend, Doctor Samuel Baker, on the book and he will see that the right people receive it when it is finally completed.
Young Mathew, or Slim as he is now known, is a good man worthy of his father. His partner in the ranch, Jess Harper, is also a good man and dear friend and I know all at the ranch will make you most welcome…please my dear do this last thing in my memory. Ease the pain of an old man who has spent a lifetime alone rather than cast any unhappiness into your life….until we meet again, I remain your faithful friend,
Lone Wolf
Always remember things are sometimes not a as they seem…. I am the grandson of a medicine man…and have the knowledge…. of the Second Sight.
Once he had finished reading there was a hushed silence in the room before Jane turned troubled eyes on Jess.
“I do apologise,” she said softly, ” I didn’t realize who you were.”
Jess just shrugged at that, ”Don’t matter Ma’am… but are you gonna come back to the ranch, do as Lone Wolf wanted?”
She shrugged, again looking tearful….
“I… I just don’t know…Mathew, Slim that is…… would he want to see me, after the way I treated my brother, shunned the whole family?“
“Well I figure he’ll find it kinda hard to understand as why you did that…..and why you’ve locked yourself up here all these years too?”
She looked very sad.
“I’m sorry for that…..you see the truth is that I had a bad breakdown after Lone Wolf left me. My doctor at the time suggested I spend time away from people and concentrate on my writing….and then I suppose it just became a habit and the less I saw of my fellow man… well the harder it was to integrate back into society… can you understand?”
“Umm… I guess…but your own brother?”
“Well that made it worse, seeing him would have brought it all back, my relationship with Lone Wolf…all I had forfeited and it was just easier to stay absorbed in my writing…than face the truth I suppose. Now it may be too late, do you think Matty… Slim that is would see me?”
“Sure he would, and I kinda think he’d like to know what Lone Wolf said about it not all bein’ Slim’s fault that you two split up. I know he’s been feeling real bad about that…. and I figure that maybe the truth should come from you.”
She took this in and then nodded, ”Yes, you’re right Jess… maybe it’s time I thought of others rather than myself…I’m afraid us old spinster women tend to get awfully self-centered.”
Jess said nothing just gave a noncommittal smile, ”So you’ll come then Miss Sherman?“
She smiled, “Yes… but on one condition, you call me Jane?”
“Err…. yeah sure Jane,” he said feeling mighty uncomfortable, but then it was a small price to pay if she came back and made things up with Slim he thought and threw her his most charming smile….
Chapter 7
They returned to Laramie a few days later travelling on the railroad.
Jess had wired Slim that he was bringing his aunt home for a visit and there was much excitement and frenzied activity at the ranch as they all prepared for her arrival.
Daisy had cleaned the house to within an inch of its life, giving Slim and Jess’s room special attention.
“Miss Sherman will have to use your room Slim and you and Jess will have to stay in the bunk house for the duration of her visit.”
“Aww Daisy… Jess won’t be too happy about that.”
“Well it can’t be helped dear; you can’t expect a lady like your aunt to share my small room. As for Mike’s well….it is rather basic and I do declare no matter how much I clean and scrub, there is still always the slight odor of Racoon about the place.”
Slim grinned at that, ”I guess old Bandit can be a tad overpowering.”
“Precisely and your aunt is used to a smart house in Denver…what with her being a famous author…well we have to make an effort Slim.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot you are a big fan,” he said chuckling to himself….”all those romances eh Daisy?”
She smiled back, “She does have a way with words, especially when she is describing one of her swashbuckling heroes, I don’t know where she gets her ideas from, I really don’t. But all my friends from the Women’s Group would sorely like to meet one of these paragons of virtue in the flesh,” she laughed, before going off to check the best bed linen was well aired for their guest.
Meanwhile back in the railroad carriage Jess dozed as Jane sat opposite taking in every detail of her slumbering companion’s appearance.
She noted how dark his hair was, as it fell over his deeply tanned brow and how young his face looked in repose. His long dark lashes sweeping down and casting a shadow on the gentle curve of his cheek… .the sensuous mouth so kissable… oh yes her heroine in the next book would have a wonderful time with her hero she thought with a little giggle.
She cast her critical eye down over the sparkling white shirt and dark string tie, frock coat, and the dark grey trousers neatly tucked into polished boots……the epitome of a young gentleman…. But she had a secret feeling that this was not the real Jess and once that was exposed, well her hero would be even more exciting.
Then her eye lighted on the gun, slung low and tied down. She remembered the way he had casually rested a hand on the butt, just hours before when a drunk had tried to take the seat next to her…..and the gravelly voice of her companion saying, “Move on buddy…….”
No, she certainly had no fears as to her safety she acknowledged, having seen the way the man had scuttled off… Yes Jess had a certain presence about him…. not menacing exactly….but certainly not a man to be messed with…. oh goodness me yes, perfect material for her next novel.
Suddenly she was aware that the deep blue eyes had flicked open and where regarding her with a thoughtful look, obviously aware of her scrutiny.
She glanced away quickly, before looking back and throwing him a sheepish look, realizing she had been caught out staring.
“How much longer before we arrive?” she asked quickly, trying to shift his attention away from her close study of his handsome features.
“A couple of hours and we land in Laramie, but we’ll miss the last Stage out, have to stay over in the hotel and catch the first one out tomorrow.”
She nodded, secretly pleased that she would have the young man’s exclusive company for several more hours.
“So tell me about life back on the ranch,” she asked throwing him an indulgent look.
“Well pretty much the same as when you were there last,” he replied,” still raisin’ cattle, some bronc bustin’ and of course the Relay side of the business.”
“So you live there alone the two of you…. no wives or girlfriends?” she asked with that little coquettish glance again.
“No wives, no Ma’am,” he said with a smile, ”but me and Slim are dating a couple of real swell girls…. Then back on the ranch there’s Mike and Miss Daisy of course.”
“Who are they?”
“Well, young Mike was adopted by me and Slim a while back after his people were killed, he’s a great kid, and you’ll love him.”
“Umm, I’m sure I shall,” she said, but without conviction…..”and Miss Daisy?”
“Well Mrs actually, Mrs Daisy Cooper, she’s our housekeeper and keeps us all in order I guess,” he said with a grin.
“Oh, so you do keep servants,” she said with relief, ”I thought I might have to start cooking and cleaning, not my thing at all,” she said with a tiny shudder.
Jess’s face was a picture…”Huh…servant……hel…. err I mean heck no, Daisy’s kinda family, looks out for us all like a Ma see.”
“How quaint,” said Jane quietly.
“Umm…well just don’t go callin’ her a servant,” he said firmly, “she sure wouldn’t like that… .neither would me and Slim either.”
“Alright my dear boy,” she said placatingly, noting how his deep blue eyes turned darker when he was angry and making a mental note of the fact… Yes she thought her new hero should definitely have a temper and wondered vaguely if the real life Jess had a short fuse…. and kind of imagined that he did.
It was early evening when they finally arrived in Laramie and Jess booked them into the Hotel.
All he really wanted to do was wash up, and then pop across the road to meet up with Millie, his best girl, but realistically he knew his responsibility was to remain with Miss Jane. Wine and dine her and then hopefully he’d be able to escape.
An hour or so later he found himself sitting opposite her at a candlelit table in the Hotel dining room, finishing a pleasant enough meal.
“So tell me about your girl then Jess.”
One of the many things Jane didn’t know about Jess was that he was a very private man and under any other circumstances he might have told her to mind her own darned business. However seeing as this was Slim’s kin sitting opposite him, he bit back the comment and just said.
“Her name’s Millie and she works across the road at the saloon……and well she’s a real swell girl.“
“And you’ve known her long?” Jane persisted.
“Umm.. yeah, we were kids together, growin’ up on the panhandle back in Texas… We’ve met up over the years and I guess it has only been the last few years that we’ve been seein’ each other …..You know?” he said softly, blushing slightly.
“So I imagine you’ve missed her,” Jane continued… unwilling to let the matter drop, even though she could see how uncomfortable the young cowboy looked.
“Yes Ma’am,” he said now looking down and pushing his empty plate away.
“Oh dear, I’ve upset you now,” she said with a little girl pout.
“No you ain’t Ma’am… but I guess it’s getting’ kinda late, maybe you should get some sleep the Stage goes real early.”
“Yes…yes of course, I’ll bid you good night my dear and see you here for breakfast…. yes?”
He nodded and standing up helped her out of her chair and walked her to the bottom of the stairs, but made no move to follow her up.
“Goodnight then,” she said again.
“‘Night, Miss Jane,” and he turned and strode off towards the hotel lobby.
Jane stood at her bedroom window and peered out at the deserted street below and then a moment later she saw a dark haired young woman, come out of the saloon and take her ease, leaning against the hitching rail and gazing down the street. She wore a tightly fitting red dress showing off her curvy figure to perfection and the way she leaned on the rail, so dreamily it was plain that she looked in the mood for romance.
Then Jane saw Jess emerge from the Hotel entrance just below her window and hurry across the street and it became obvious that the girl…. Millie? … Yes Millie was waiting for him.
She gave a little squeal of delight when she saw him approaching and ran into his widespread arms and the couple embraced for several minutes before he gently pulled back and said something to her that made her laugh.
Then she looked up into his eyes and gave him such a look of love…..no…. of adoration that Jane’s old heart stood still, just like one of my stories she thought to herself.
The he leaned forwards again and very tenderly cupped her face in his hands and kissed her long and slow.
Jane almost looked away, feeling like a voyeur, but something about the embrace was so moving that she couldn’t tear her eyes away.
Then after a few minutes a couple of rowdy drunks made their way down the street, and putting a protective arm around her waist Jess led her down the alley at the side of the saloon, and the couple disappeared from view.
Jane gave a little sigh and was just about to draw the drapes when she saw a light go on in a window above the saloon and then the clear outline of Millie came to the window and after staring out for a moment, turned and said something to someone behind her, before drawing the drapes.
Jane continued watching in fascination, before the lamp was finally doused and the room was left in darkness and she turned sadly back into her own empty room, able only to imagine what was taking place across the street as the two young lovers were reunited.
She sighed deeply, yes he was the perfect person to become her next hero…..and Millie could be his love interest she decided…now all she had to do was to get to know her new leading character much better…and on that happy note she finally retired for the night.
Chapter 8
The Stagecoach swept into the ranch yard and came to a shuddering standstill just as the ranch door flew open and Slim, followed by Mike and Daisy all tumbled out, expectant smiles on their faces, seeking their first glimpse of Miss Jane Sherman.
Jess emerged from the stage first and then turning handed down this tiny white haired woman and she stood peering around her for a moment before turning to acknowledge Slim and the others.
“Aunt Jane,” Slim said hesitantly, “Welcome…”
She looked up into his honest open face, the eyes looking slightly uncertain…. He was so tall and handsome…. so like her dear brother that her eyes misted with tears.
“Matty… .oh my dear it is so good to see you,” and she fell into his warm embrace as all the anxiety drained from him, this was the aunt he remembered and it was plain that she bore him no malice.
He glanced over at Jess above the diminutive woman’s head and grinned at him.
“Thanks pard,” he said softly and Jess grinned back before turning to retrieve their luggage.
Then as Jane started chatting animatedly with Daisy, Jess threw one of Jane’s bags across to Slim.
“There you are ‘Matty’, make yerself useful,” he said with a wicked grin and was rewarded by Slim reaching out and clipping him around the ear, which led to an unseemly scuffle, both men wrestling and carousing before finally falling about laughing, as Daisy and Jane watched the two indulgently.
Jane shook her head and smiled over at Daisy,” Those two boys are as close as brothers,” and Daisy confirmed it.
Then Mike piped up, ”Aunt Daisy says they act like big kids sometimes and are way more trouble than me!”
“Is that so young man,” said Jane liking the look of the small blond boy with the huge grin, “and so you must be Mike?”
“Yes Ma’am, pleased to meet you,” he said quickly remembering his manners and offering a hand.
Jane shook it firmly and flicked an approving glance over to Daisy, ”He’s a credit to you,” she said softly.
Daisy ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately.
“Oh he has his moments, but generally he’s a good boy…..which is more than can be said for my other two boys,” she said with a little giggle and taking Jane’s arm the two made their way indoors.
If Jane had been under the impression that Daisy was a mere ‘servant’, well that idea was laid to rest within minutes of meeting the elderly housekeeper and the two were soon as thick as thieves, bound by their mutual affection for the men folk of the ranch.
Meanwhile Jess and Slim caught up on the news as they groomed and fed the stage team.
“So how did you get on then….. I really didn’t think she’d see you.”
“No me neither, wouldn’t at first, then she just seemed to change her mind…. and once she’d read Lone Wolf’s letter, well everything changed and she explained stuff to me….was real keen to come out and make her peace with you too.“
“So she doesn’t blame me for everything?“
“Hell no…turns out that it was Lone Wolf that walked out on her. He reckoned that it would be way too hard for them to make a go of things what with all the prejudice from both sides, and he figured he couldn’t put her through that so he left her. It was your Pa who put the rumour out that he’d broken them up, to save yer aunt’s pride I guess.”
Slim sighed with relief, “Well I’m sure glad we’ve gotten that sorted out after all these years.”
“Umm…. seems as how she had a sorta breakdown after Lone Wolf went, and she just threw herself into her book writin’ to sorta block everything out I figure. That’s as to why she wouldn’t see yer Pa , didn’t want it all raked up again.”
“And now?”
“Figure she owes it to Lone Wolf to do as he asked and finish the Medical book….and make things up to you too.”
Then he looked thoughtful, ”There was one part of that letter I didn’t figure. Something about remembering he was the grandson of a medicine man…. had the knowledge…Second Sight or something that make sense to you Slim?”
He shook his head, “Nope, just guess he was referring to the medicines in the book he and Jane wrote?”
“Well thanks for all you’ve done pard, I really appreciate it, you know?”
“Sure, well you can take her on now, figure I’ve got a whole mess of work to catch up with,” he said cheerfully, just glad to be home where he belonged.
However if he thought his responsibility to their guest was at an end he was sadly mistaken.
Slim did indeed look after his aunt, spending hours reminiscing with her and planning a trip out to Paradise where she could visit Lone Wolf’s grave and also complete the research for the final chapters of the Medical handbook.
It had been arranged that Doc Sam and his lovely daughter, cum nurse, Carrie would also accompany them on the trip to help with the research. As luck would have it Doc Sam had an old friend acting as locum as he was long overdue a break and so the combination of a little light research and some good hunting and fishing on Sherman land was the ideal break for him.
It was all arranged until the fateful morning when Mose brought a wire from the Overland Stage boss saying that he needed to spend several days at the Relay with Slim, planning some new improvements to the service and he would land within the week.
Slim put the wire in his pocket and threw his buddy an anxious glance, “So what am I going to do Jess?”
He just shrugged and continued grooming one of the relay horses as they stood in the barn after the noon Stage had left.
“Well I have to be here for Mr Jamison, you know what he’s like Jess. He’ll want to go through all the paper work and figures from the year dot..Profit margins and percentages, all that sort of thing.”
“Um…well good luck,” Jess replied laconically.
“And Sam can only make next week….so I guess there is only one option……”
The light suddenly dawned and Jess turned from where he was grooming the big buckskin and shook his head…..
“No…oh no, I ain’t doin’ it Slim, figure I’ve done my share bringing her back here… .and anyway…”
“What Jess? I thought you’d like a chance to go off hunting again and you get on real well with the Doc and Carrie……”
“Umm…. the doc yeah…but maybe it ain’t such a good idea throwing me an’ Carrie together that way Slim.”
“Hell, I thought you were both over all that business,” Slim said throwing his buddy a concerned glance.
Carrie and Jess had history.
Firstly she’d had a massive crush on him at the age of just fifteen and he was driven almost crazy by her relentless pursuit of him until she finally got over her infatuation.
But then just a few years later she had been having problems with her then fiancé, and had turned to Jess for advice and much needed affection which had culminated with her splitting up with her boyfriend in the hope that Jess would marry her. However although he was sorely tempted he kept insisting that he was too old and not right for her and the heartbroken Carrie had gone back east to qualify as a Midwife. (See #17 Wanted in Texas).
Now she was home again and working happily for her Pa whilst dating occasionally. She was reconciled to the idea that she and Jess had no future, save as very good friends and acknowledged his close relationship with Millie.
“Sure, we’re over it,” Jess replied, ”but I… .oh I dunno……”
“Well what else, you get on OK with Aunt Jane don’t you?“
Jess looked worried by that. Heck this was Slim’s kin and if she made him feel real uncomfortable, well then he hadn’t been about to say anything about it…well up to now that is….
“Don’t you?” Slim persisted.
“Well I guess, but she’s just kinda strange around me…. way she’s always lookin’ at me, like she’s tryin’ to see clear through to what I’m thinkin’…..”
“Well that’s just her way Jess. She’s an author don’t forget , part of her job is to weigh people up…uses all their strange little ways as part of her imaginary characters I guess.”
“Yeah, well I wish she’d just leave my ‘strange little ways’ alone,” he replied bitterly.
Slim grinned at his friend’s discomfiture, “What’s up pard can’t take the scrutiny, afraid of all those skeletons in your cupboard?”
“Hell…this ain’t funny Slim, she’s already been quizzing Daisy about my supposedly shady past and …. “
“What do ya mean supposedly?” laughed Slim.
“Aww Slim will you behave… I feel like the woman’s stripping me naked….. up here that is,” he said quickly, tapping the side of his head…”wants to know all about me …that’s kinda spooky you know?“
“Well I guess it must seem that way, but I’m sure it’s just her way of researching characters…. and anyway she’ll be far too busy working on the herbal medicines to bother with you pard.”
“So you’ll do it then?” he asked hopefully.
“I guess I don’t have no choice. I figure the doc would never forgive me iffen he had to cancel his fishin’ trip…..”
“Thanks pard… I owe you.“
“Yeah…you do!”
Chapter 9
They set off for Paradise the following week.
Jess had a moment when he thought he might be able to see a way out of the proposed trip though.
“Hey Slim, so how’s your aged Aunt gonna get all the way to Paradise? There’s some pretty rough terrain between here and Lone Wolf’s place…. certainly wouldn’t do it in the buggy.”
“Heck no, she’ll go on horseback Jess, I thought you might loan her old Buck he’s a nice steady ride.”
“Are you kiddin’ me, heck she’s Daisy’s age, maybe older sure over sixty anyways….”
“Like I said she was real fun to have around when I was growing up. Good at hunting, fishing and riding too…. and I’ve checked she still rides out in the park in Denver every week….so sorry pard, no way out for you, I’m afraid,” he said with a wicked grin.
Sam and Carrie had arrived and hit it off with Jane right away.
She regarded the handsome middle aged doc with his cheerful good humour. Then his beautiful daughter, her long glossy dark hair falling to her shoulders and her brown intelligent eyes sparkling with pleasure and thought what a handsome pair they made.
Then she glanced over to where Jess had just come out of the barn and she saw a look in his eyes that she hadn’t seen before, as he gazed over at Carrie…. Sadness… no…wariness… he looked like a man who was slightly unsure of his welcome. Then a split second later the look had vanished and he strode forwards taking Carrie in his arms and giving her a big hug and kiss to the cheek, before pumping the doc’s hand.
“So you two know each other well then?” Jane asked throwing Jess and Carrie a quizzical look.
“You bet, they’re real good friends,” doc Sam supplied, “they go way back.”
Carrie grinned at that, ”I’ve been in love with Jess since I was fifteen haven’t I?” she said with a charming little giggle, turning to look at the handsome cowboy.
Jess took this in his stride and winking at Jane said, “Yup, and she looks so smart too…. just shows you can’t go by appearances.”
“Why you!” Carrie cried, slapping his arm hard and giggling again.
Jane smiled at the banter, but secretly wondered what this display of lightheartedness was really hiding…but then she had plenty of time to find out she thought happily, as she went off to mount the big old buckskin she had been loaned.
Jess decided they should take their time on the ride over to Paradise, not being absolutely convinced of Jane’s alleged horsemanship. However his fears were soon allayed when he saw how well she handled old Buck, even on the steep mountain path up towards the camping area he had selected.
He decided not to camp too close to Lone Wolf’s cave thinking that Jane would not like to see his last resting place on a daily basis, but thought he would take her to visit it, later in the week.
In the meantime they set up camp in a clearing of the pine wood, about half a mile from the caves and with a panoramic view of the abundant countryside and distant mountains beyond. A small stream meandered down the hillside and that in turn fed into a larger river, where the two men hoped to while away the odd sunny afternoon indulging in their favourite sport of fishing.
Sam dismounted and surveyed the distant views.
“Gee, the good Lord sure knew what he was doing when he created this place,” he said quietly, turning to smile at Jess.
“Well I won’t argue with that,” he agreed.
Then Carrie sidled up and put an arm around her father’s waist.
“I want you to really relax and enjoy yourself here Pa. I can help Jane find the herbs and plants and then you can help with the cataloguing later,” she said firmly.
Then she turned to Jess.
“He’s been overdoing things lately Jess. I want you to be sure he enjoys himself and rests up too…understand?”she said quite fiercely.
“Yes Ma’am,” he said with a twinkle in his deep blue eyes, ”I sure wouldn’t cross you when you’re in one of your bossy moods.”
“Quite right,” she said very precisely, before going off to find some wood for the fire,whilst Jane busied herself unpacking the provisions.
“I figure we’ve fallen on our feet here buddy,” Sam whispered, ”two charming ladies ready to look after us…and all we’ve got to do is go off hunting and fishing…yep think I can manage that,” and the two men exchanged a conspiratorial smile.
Then Jess looked at his friend properly for the first time and noted the black shadows under his eyes, a certain pallor to his cheeks and a lack of the vigorous energy that was the good doctor’s trait.
“Are you feelin’ OK Sam, you don’t look too good?”
“Umm…well now you mention it Jess I do feel a little out of sorts, been treating myself for indigestion this last few weeks and darn me if I haven’t forgotten my tablets.”
“Why don’t you rest up, while I help Carrie get that fire started and put some coffee on, huh?”
“You know I think I might have forty winks, thanks Jess,” and the Doc stretched out in the shade of one of the huge pines and was soon fast asleep.
Carrie was just lighting the fire when he wandered over and hunkered down beside her and she looked up at once.
“Is Pa OK?”
“I guess so, he’s taking a nap right now… .he don’t quite seem himself though.”
She nodded looking anxious, ”He’s been in some pain for a week or two now, really bad indigestion, hardly surprising the number of meals he misses or bolts down before dashing out again.”
“I guess that nasty fever that’s been doing the rounds has kept you folks pretty busy?”
“Umm… and I’m so worried Pa will succumb to it too. He really doesn’t look after himself properly you know,” she said her eyes suddenly welling with tears as she looked down into the fire.
Jess gently took the kindling from her hands, ”Here let me do that.”
Then standing up, took her hand and led her to a nearby fallen log, where she collapsed down thankfully.
“Try not to worry sweetheart, he’s probably just tired and in need of this break, I’ll go make us all some coffee huh?”
She smiled up at him, ”Thanks Jess, you always make me feel better,” she whispered.
Sam was still out for the count when the coffee was ready, so Jess left him to sleep and went and sat by the fire with Jane and Carrie.
“So what’s the plan?” he asked cheerfully, trying to distract Carrie from fretting about her Pa.
“Well I have my notes with me from the original manuscript and Carrie and I are going to collect all the herbs and plants involved in the medicines and once the doctor has agreed they are of the right quality, then we will transport them back to his surgery. Then he will make up the medicines and conduct some trials, just to be sure they all have the desired effect.”
“Sounds great and I know from my time with the Arapaho how darned good their medicine is, well I figure this is kinda special…..real good of ol’ Lone Wolf to set it all down that way, to be passed on for our use.”
Jane nodded vigorously, “Yes, this is really exciting as the white man has never had these formulas before.”
Carrie too was looking animated now, ”I can’t wait to get to work on it all.”
“There is something else,” said Jane, I have a new recipe that Lone Wolf attached to my letter using the bark and leaves of the Willow for pain relief and fever, that will be most interesting to research and a real breakthrough if it works…. and I’m sure it will!”
“Well as long as you two ladies are happy I figure me and old Sam can occupy ourselves with a bit of gentle fishin’ tomorrow,” he said gleefully.
“Umm…if Pa feels up to it,” Carrie said resuming her anxious manner.
“Sure he will,” Jess said reaching across and squeezing her hand reassuringly.
“A bit of fishin’ is just what the doctor ordered,” he said, and she and Jane exchanged a smile. Jess certainly was a tonic, Jane acknowledged, and one that a lady could get quite used to having around, she thought secretly as he made Carrie laugh at something, her troubles forgotten for awhile at least.
Sam seemed more himself after his nap and enjoyed his supper and then afterwards they all chatted away nineteen to the dozen about their proposed plans for the morrow before turning in for an early night.
Daisy had been most concerned about Jane’s comfort, sleeping alfresco, and had insisted that Jess take several thick blankets and even a small feather mattress. So he’d been obliged to bring the old mule with him as an extra pack-horse. However Jane seemed delighted with his thoughtfulness and she and Carrie bedded down on one side of the large crackling fire with Sam and Jess on the other.
So it was that Jess was the first to waken when the doc awoke and cried out in pain, clutching his stomach and looking white as a ghost.
“Sam…. hey buddy, what’s up?” Jess asked instantly awake and by his friend’s side.
“I’m sorry Jess, didn’t mean to wake you, just this darned stomach of mine playing up some.”
Jess looked concerned,” That don’t seem like no indigestion Sam… you look real sick.”
Unbeknownst to them Carrie had also awoken and now she hurried over and knelt down by her beloved father.
“He’s right Pa, you are really unwell,” and brushing a cool hand across his forehead confirmed he had a slight fever.
“I’m fine,” he insisted, ”stop fussing child and go back to bed, I’ll be alright in the morning.”
Jess rolled his eyes and addressed Carrie ”I thought I was supposed to be a difficult patient, looks like your Pa’s even worse.”
She nodded, but didn’t return his smile, “We’ll talk tomorrow Pa,” she said firmly, before pulling the blanket up and returning to her own bed.
Jess stayed squatting beside his friend, ”You will be OK?”
“Sure, stop fretting,” the doctor said, ”I’ll be just fine.”
But he wasn’t.
Chapter 10
The following morning it was clear that Sam was indeed quite sick and Jess was sorely tried as to what he should do. It was plain that Sam wasn’t well enough for the long ride back to Laramie and yet he was in quite severe pain and had nothing to help him.
Jess and Jane had left Carrie sitting with her Pa and Jess suddenly had an idea.
“So what about some of Lone Wolf’s medicine, do ya think that might help him Jane?”
Her old face lit up then, ”Why if Lone Wolf believed in it then yes of course it will work, I believe there is mention of stomach pain and distress in my book, come on Jess help me gather the ingredients and we’ll brew up a batch……come on then young man,”she chivvied as Jess looked uncertain.
“You sure about that, it will do the trick?” he asked looking anxious.
“I have every faith in Lone Wolf…why don’t you?”
Jess looked down and flushed, then after a moment looked her in the eye, “Yes Ma’am I guess I do …let’s go”.
When they returned Jane made a start on infusing the leaves and grated roots of several plants into a herbal tea and Jess went off to check on their patient.
Carrie was kneeling beside her father and gently wiping his perspiring face with cool water as he groaned softly clutching his stomach.
Her eyes were wide with fear when she looked up to where Jess stood looking down at his stricken buddy.
“He’s worse Jess and he thinks he may have a stomach ulcer and that can be really serious without the correct care and medicine.”
Jess hunkered down beside her, ”Don’t worry, Jane’s on the case, brewing up one of Lone Wolf’s potions…and I figure that will help him some.”
“Oh Jess are you sure, all these medicines are unproven scientifically, that’s why we’re here to check their safety…..”
“Well I guess there’s no time like the present,” he said cheerfully, and then casting a glance at where the doc had closed his eyes and was grimacing in pain. ”Besides I guess we don’t have no choice, it’s all we’ve got right now Carrie.”
When the doctor realized he was to be given one of Lone Wolf’s potions he too was a little hesitant, but then as Jess had said, there was nothing else and the pain in his stomach was worsening so he decided to give it a try.
He checked exactly what was in it and their proportions and figured that the ingredients could at the worst do nothing and at the best sooth his gut considerably, easing the pain and aiding his recovery.
At first it seemed that the first scenario was true and whereby the pain got no worse ,it also got no better either.
Carrie was devastated as she had invested all her faith in the draft, but Jane insisted they persevere.
“Some of these remedies work slowly and it could be a few days before we see any improvement,” she insisted.
Carrie looked to Jess for reassurance.
“Jane’s right, we’ve gotta give it a fair go and your Pa’s no worse.”
She just nodded and went back to tending her father as she had done for the last twenty four hours.
By late afternoon on the following day Sam had fallen into a deep sleep and Jess came over and whispered for Carrie to come with him.
She looked up from where she sat beside her Pa holding his hand.
“I can’t Jess, I can’t leave him.”
“Sure you can, see Jane’s here, she’ll sit with him, while you take a nap.”
She just shook her head stubbornly.
“Carrie, I mean it, now come on…or you’ll take sick, then what’ ll we do?” he asked with a firm look.
She glanced up at him, and then back down to her Pa and sighed deeply.
“You’re right of course,” and she relinquished her place to Jane.
“You will wake me if there’s any change?”
“Of course my dear and you have that feather mattress, it’s so comfortable,” the elderly lady said with an encouraging smile.
Jess took her by the hand and led her to the other side of the fire and she sank down on the mattress looking sadly into the fire, but made no attempt to settle down to sleep.
Jess sat down beside her and took her hand.
“He will be OK you know, he’s sleeping real well, that’s gotta be a good sign?”
She just nodded, continuing to look down into the fire and then he saw a tear run down her cheek and she gave a little sob.
“Carrie, sweetheart, don’t,” he whispered.
Then after a moment he took her in his arms and held her close, her head resting on his shoulder and he felt her trembling and then his shirt was wet with her scalding tears as she wept bitterly.
He held her gently caressing her hair, and whispering comfortingly as he would do to a scared child and eventually she relaxed and the sobbing lessened.
Across the fire Jane watched sympathetically and noticed the deep tenderness in Jess’s eyes and the way he softly stroked the distressed girl’s hair and wondered, just old friends…..or something more? Time would tell she thought. Yes, her new ‘hero’ certainly had hidden depths and it was obvious he had a warmth and vulnerability she had not expected. Umm…Jess Harper could be the most interesting character she had worked with yet she thought, before turning her gaze back to her patient.
It was on the third day that Sam showed a dramatic improvement, professing that the pain had completely gone and he felt rested and very hungry.
“Well you just take things easy Pa, if it is a small ulcer you must start really looking after yourself.”
“Oh I aim to child,” he said seriously, ”a good long rest, then a healthy light diet. Then once I return to work I’ll take things much more easily…might even look around for a partner, this has been a real lesson to me Carrie.”
“Well I’m glad,” she said beaming at him and turning to include Jess and the elderly Jane in her smile.
“Thank you so much for all you’ve done,” she said smiling at Jane and leaning over and squeezing Jess’s hand.
The two locked eyes for a moment, before Jess turned quickly back to the doc.
“So do you feel up to some fishin’ tomorrow than Sam?”
“You bet, just what the doc ordered,” he chuckled, ”and then a nice light diet of freshly caught fish…perfect.”
It was while the two men were away indulging their shared passion for fishing that Jane and Carrie really got to know each other better as they hunted for the necessary herbs, plant and tree roots and bark to make up all Lone Wolf’s remedies. Now they sat in easy companionship by the camp fire sipping a coffee and awaiting the men folks return.
“I hope Pa hasn’t been overdoing it on his first day up,” Carrie said casting anxious eyes to the trail that the men would be coming along shortly, she hoped.
“Oh don’t worry about that dear, Jess said he’d look out for him and make sure he took a nap at midday.”
She gave a little sigh of relief at that, ” Oh that’s good to hear, Jess is wonderful in a crisis isn’t he?” she said turning shining eyes on the kindly elderly woman opposite her.
“You’re very fond of him aren’t you my dear?” Jane said softly, scrutinizing the pretty young woman before her.
Carrie just nodded, ”Oh yes, I love him so much.”
Carrie flushed at that, ”Well as a really good friend you understand?”
“Umm…. is that all my dear?” Jane asked sympathetically.
Something in the older woman’s manner made Carrie open up. She sorely missed this kind of conversation she would have had with her dear Ma had she been alive and now she confided in Jane.
“It has to be all,” she said honestly.
Then flicking a glance across to Jane said, “There was a time when I thought we could be more to each other…Oh not that silly crush I had on him as a child, but later…when I was engaged to a young medical student….. Well I got close to Jess again and had second thoughts about my engagement.”
“So Jess…was he interested in a relationship?”
“No….at least not at first…but later yes, he admitted he loved me……but then he sent me away.”
Jane’s head shot up at that, ”But why for goodness sake?”
“He said I was too young….if I couldn’t make my mind up between marrying my fiancés…. or Jess, well then maybe I shouldn’t be marrying anyone.”
“Umm…...well maybe he had a point, how old were you then?”
“Only nineteen….. but it wasn’t just that, I wanted him alright, I’d never been more certain about anything….. But he wouldn’t have me…. said he was too old….. and not good enough,” she said raising her eyebrows in bewilderment, “Can you believe that?”
Jane just shook her head sadly, “So what happened?”
Carrie bent her head and blushed before peering back at Jane and looking embarrassed.
“Go on my dear, you can’t shock me, you know the sort of romances I write,” she said with a warm smile.
Carrie smiled back, acknowledging the truth.
“Well I tried everything, even seducing him… but he wouldn’t have any of it…said as how the only way I’d ever sleep in his bed was if I wore his ring…..and then he and Pa ganged up on me and I gave in and went off to Midwifery School back east as they wanted.”
“And that gave you time to think everything through?”
Carrie nodded, “Yes it did and I finally decided that Jess was right….. not about him being too old, or not good enough, that was ridiculous….. but about him…how he couldn’t change…“
“Um… you see Jess has what you might call a rather ‘active’ lifestyle. Breaking broncs, riding posse for our Sheriff or deputizing for him… .always going off and getting into trouble of some sort. The number of times Pa has had to patch him up…..The number of times he has nearly died…..” she whispered.
“Go on dear.”
“Well you see, he said that was always going to be his life and that I shouldn’t have to put up with it…. Well it’s not a case of shouldn’t… but I couldn’t, still can’t. The worry of thinking I might lose him at anytime, was just too much for me to cope with… So we decided together, that we would just be real good friends…. and so that’s the way it is …. and now he loves Millie,” she finished softly.
“And Millie can…. cope with him?”
“Oh yes,” Carrie said smiling, “Millie is great and a good friend of mine. You see she’s known Jess since they were kids, so I guess she’s grown up accepting the way he is. That’s not to say that she doesn’t get worried about him… but she’s much stronger that I am… just lets him go off and do what he needs to and then she’s there for him when he rides back home.”
Then she turned wide eyes on Jane, ”You see I just couldn’t do that Jane. I’d drive him crazy fussing and fretting all the time, and we both know that.”
When Jess and Sam rolled back into camp a few minutes later they found the two women chatting away animatedly like two old friends and Jess was delighted to see that Carrie was looking more her old self again and the worry lines of the previous few days had melted away.
“So you ladies gonna cook up a storm?” Jess said grinning down at them and holding up a huge catch to be admired.
Chapter 11
The following day it was decided that Sam would take things easy and do some cataloguing of all the herbs and plants that had been collected by Jane and Carrie the previous day, whilst Jess took Jane off to visit Lone Wolf’s last resting place.
They reined in their mounts near the cave and Jess dismounted and then went and helped Jane down from the saddle as she looked around her with deeply saddened eyes.
“You remember this place?” he asked.
“Vividly; it’s where we first met…. Mathew, Slim’s father brought me here on a hunting trip, it was not long after our parent’s demise and I was visiting as my doctor thought a change of scene would do me good.”
Then she threw Jess a slightly sheepish look, ”I have always had trouble with my nerves I’m afraid….a far too lively imagination my Papa used to say.”
Jess just nodded accepting the truth of it and secretly wondered if Jane tended to mix reality and fiction in her life. Some of the things she’d assumed about him had been way off the mark with her seeming to see him as some sort of swashbuckling hero, whereas Jess believed the reality to be very different.
Anyway, that didn’t matter right then, all he wanted to do was to help her through this sad visit and then get back to their friends as he was still a little worried about Sam.
Jane had wandered over to the huge old pine overlooking the valley below and the amazing view over to the distant mountain range and peered down at the grave where Jess had laid Lone Wolf to rest.
She nodded and turned grateful eyes on Jess, ”The perfect place,” she said.
“Yup, he chose it…. I just dug the grave…..did what was necessary,” he said softly.
“You did a good job,” she whispered her old eyes brimming with tears.
“Shall I go, give yer some privacy?” he said quickly, noticing her distress.
She half turned to him and rested a hand on his arm to prevent him going.
“No…please stay with me,” she said and gesturing to a large fallen log she made her way over and collapsed down with a deep sigh.
After a moment Jess joined her and they sat contemplating the grave and view beyond for several minutes before she turned sad eyes on him.
“Such a waste,” she said finally, “all those years we could have been together, if only he hadn’t left me that way.”
“Well I figure he thought he was doing the right thing…and I guess it would have been real hard for you to have Wed , folk being so prejudiced back then…. some still are ,” he said bitterly, remembering how he had been so ridiculed for his friendship with the Arapaho tribe.
“But he should have been honest with me, explained the real reason and then at least I could have made my own choice, tried to persuade him to do things differently.”
“You think he did the right thing don’t you?”
Jess pondered on that for a few moments.
“I dunno Ma’am, but I guess he sure thought he was doin’ the right thing… for you both… .and any young ‘uns you might have had too.”
“But you,” she insisted, “would you have done the same?”
He thought long and hard and then said softly, ”Iffen I truly loved a woman I wouldn’t want her to suffer that way, so yes I guess I would.”
“So is that why you walked away from Carrie then,” she asked, a determined look in her old blue eyes, ”because you thought she would suffer being married to you…..or the excuses you made about being too old for her and not good enough?“
“Huh?” his head swivelled towards her, his eyes open wide in shock and turning dark with anger.
“What the heck do ya know about?” that he spat.
“Only what Carrie has told me… how you were in love, but you walked away….. as Lone Wolf did to me….. I just don’t want you to make the same mistakes.”
Jess ignored that.
“What does she think she’s doin’ discussin our private business?” he asked angrily.
“She was upset, poor girl, she had been dreadfully worried about her Pa…. and she admitted that she missed her Ma… missed having that kind of conversation about her innermost feelings and I imagine she just thought I was a good substitute.”
“Nah…she wouldn’t have opened up that way unless you’d asked her about it,” he said still angry….
“I may have…… “
“Well you’d no darn right, what’s between me and Carrie is our business it’s private! Hell Jane this ain’t one of your goddamn romances, its real life…real people with real feelings and you’ve no right to stir all that business up again.”
“What you refer to as ’all that business’, is a vulnerable young woman’s feelings…. don’t you care that you’ve hurt her so deeply?”
Jess looked incensed at that, ”And did she tell you as to why we made the joint decision to finish it?”
“Well that she gets a little upset when you get into trouble, but I’m sure that can be rectified…. may be less going off helping the Sheriff and more time by the hearth and home?” she asked raising a quizzical eyebrow.
Jess just shook his head in disbelief.
“You just don’t know what yer talkin’ about Jane…..I can’t change … .there’s things I need to do…. and Carrie can’t help getting real upset and worrying herself sick over me……we’ve both agreed that…..an’ we’re OK with bein’ friends now, so will you just leave it!” he finished, throwing her a thunderous look.
Um…. I was certainly right about the temper she thought with an inward smile, it makes him even more attractive though….almost dangerous and she hid a tiny shudder of combined pleasure and fear.
“Alright dear,as you say,” she replied meekly….. ”I think we should get back now, I’m a little tired.”
As she had planned, Jess immediately felt contrite…
He was silent for awhile, before turning troubled eyes in her direction.
“Sure…..and I’m sorry Ma’am fer yellin’ and cussin’ that way, guess I was kinda out of order.”
“Oh that’s alright dear,” she said mildly, ”I can understand that feelings run high, where romance is concerned,” she finished with a sly little smile.
Jess just sighed deeply and didn’t rise to the bait.
“I’ll go fetch the mounts,” he said quietly and wandered off.
When he returned a few minutes later she was standing by the cave, “Would you mind if I just took a quick look inside?” she asked.
Jess immediately felt terrible, here was he sounding off at her and she must be grieving her lost love.
“Sure,” he said softly, ”take as long as you need, I’ll be waitin’ here when you’re ready.”
On the ride back to camp Jane was quite subdued and on arrival disappeared off to the creek saying she needed some time alone to think.
“Is she OK?” asked Sam as he watched the old lady make her way slowly down the hillside.
Jess looked troubled….”Nope I guess I’ve upset her.”
“Oh…how so?”
Jess looked around him, ”Where’s Carrie?”
“Just gone up the hill to collect a couple more specimens, she won’t be long…why?”
Jess sighed deeply and sat down next to where the doctor was taking his ease by the camp fire.
“I dunno…it seems Jane and Carrie got to talkin’ about…..you know……. about me and Carrie…how it was between us,” he said throwing the doctor an embarrassed glance.
“Well why bring all that up again?” asked Sam looking surprised.
“I thought you two had sorted it all out and were happy to be just friends….. Heck Jess you know perfectly well nothing would make me happier than if you and Carrie could make a go of things… .but I thought you were happy with Millie now anyway?”
“I am…. we are that is, and no nuthin’ s changed between me and Carrie, least ways not as far as I know. Nope it’s Jane causin’ mischief I reckon she got the whiff of an old romance and wanted to try and rekindle it…. maybe use it in her next book, I dunno? She said something about her not wanting me to make the same mistakes that Lone Wolf did, but in my book he’d got it right by movin’ on,” he finished emphatically.
“Umm…and so you read her the riot act did you?” the doctor asked his eyes twinkling now.
“Could say.”
“Oh well she’ll doubtless get over it…just as long as she’s not upset my Carrie.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.”
“So what are you two plotting?” asked Carrie suddenly appearing from the direction of the pinewood and waltzing over towards them, her eyes alight with mischief.
“Oh… err just askin’ your Pa iffen he’d like to come with me and shoot us a couple of rabbits fer supper,” Jess improvised quickly.
“Well that sounds like a good idea,” she said happily.
Then looking around, ”So where is Jane?”
Chapter 12
“Here I am dear, I’ve just been down to the creek it’s so pretty there,” Jane replied.
Then turning to the men folk, ”Off you go then boys Carrie and I will be just fine here won’t we dear?”
Jess threw her a censorious glance, but said nothing and the two men went off cheerfully enough on their hunting trip.
Once they had gone the women settled down beside the fire to chat.
“How are you feeling,” asked Carrie solicitously, ”was it awfully hard seeing Lone Wolf’s camp again?”
“You know it was dear….it brought all those feelings of so long ago back to me…. I felt so very sad that things hadn’t been different…. if only he’d explained the real reason why he wanted to finish our relationship.”
“Well I expect he was just thinking of you… I’ve seen that terrible sort of prejudice at first hand….and I imagine it would be very difficult to live with it constantly.”
“Maybe,” said Jane vaguely, never having witnessed that kind of bitter aggression herself.
“Anyway, it’s too late for me now…. but not for you my dear.”
“Whatever do you mean Jane?”
“Just that if I were in your shoes I wouldn’t give up on a catch like Jess… he really is a rather special young man.”
Carrie’s heart missed a beat, “What……. has he said something?”
“Umm… oh no not really, just feminine intuition my dear,” she said with a winning smile.
Supper was a very lively event with all the party enjoying the rabbit stew that Jane and Carrie had provided and then they had sat back enjoying a coffee.
After awhile Sam professed to feeling sleepy and turned in, whilst Jess said he’d just go and make a final check on the horses.
Jane watched him go and made as though to turn in herself, before looking over to Carrie.
“Why don’t you go with him,” she suggested, ”it’s a lovely evening for a stroll.”
Carrie paused for a moment before leaping up and after sharing a conspiratorial smile, made off to the edge of the pine’s where she could see Jess checking on the ground hitched mounts.
He looked up as she came over and gave her a slightly wary glance.
“Hey, thought you’d be tucked up by now sweetheart.”
“Umm…...it’s such a lovely night I thought I’d take a stroll,” she replied wandering over to stand beside him.
He gave her a genuine smile then, before turning back to where he was feeding Traveler a sugar lump.
“You spoil that horse,” she laughed.
“Yeah, well the old fellah deserves it,” he replied, “he’s been good to me over the years, brought me home drunk or sober…shot up, or unconscious….yup, I reckon he’s worth his weight in gold.”
“You really value him…. and your friends too don’t you?” she said softly, moving a little closer.
He turned and gave her his full attention then, “Yeah… you know I do.”
They were standing just inches apart now and he was suddenly aware of her closeness and her delicate perfume as her eyes looked up, searching his for some sign…..
He looked her in the eyes and then dropped his gaze to her full, slightly parted lips, before staring back up into her eyes and what he saw made his heart miss a beat.
He almost imperceptibly shook his head and backed off…. turning towards his horse and when he turned around again she had fled back to the camp.
Jane who had been watching the little scene unfold, holding her breath let out a little sigh of disappointment, it looked like this was one young man who kept his word, and if he said the relationship was over…then over it was.
Carrie slept badly, tossing and turning, but when she awoke she saw everything clearly. She had been carried away with Jane’s romantic ideals and if truth were known she knew perfectly well that she and Jess could never be any more to each other than friends and she also knew in her heart that that was right… for them both.
She sat up and noting that Jess’s bedroll was empty, got up and silently made her way down to the creek where she guessed she would find him.
He was sitting on a rock by the water’s edge, shirtless and was obviously drying off after an early morning swim, but he turned at her approach and gave her a welcoming smile.
“Morning sweetheart.”
“Morning,” and she walked over and sat beside him on the rock, peering over at the magnificent sunrise beyond the mountains.
After a moment she turned to him, “Jess…..about last night….I….
“Hush,” he said quickly, ”nuthin’ happened…just forget it huh?”
She gave a sigh of relief….”Thanks….. friends?”
“You bet……”
Then he threw her a big grin,” Last one back at camp makes the breakfast,” and he jumped down from the rock and tore off, Carrie in hot pursuit.
They arrived breathless and laughing and awoke the Doc.
“You two are looking pretty chipper this morning,” he said cheerfully.
“Well Jess has just offered to make us all breakfast,” she said giggling and squirming away from where he was trying to tickle her into submission…
“The heck I did,” he said laughing too.
“Kids eh!” chuckled the doctor turning to smile at Jane…….
She smiled back, but then turned away to look at the sunrise, maybe friendship was better in the end she thought sadly, but she had never even had the chance of that with Lone Wolf…..
They left to make their way back to the ranch the following day, with the Doc looking somewhat more rested than on his arrival.
“This has been a real eye opener for me,” he declared to Jess as they rode together, ”I’m not used to being on the receiving end of illness.”
“Well I reckon that’s a good job Sam, because you make a lousy patient, even worse than me,” Jess chuckled.
The doctor cast him a rueful look, “You might be right at that. Anyway I’m going to spend a little time on researching the safety of some of the medicines I’m unfamiliar with and then I’m taking my daughter off on a trip back east, I figure we’re both in need of a change of scene.”
Jess looked troubled at that news.
“Hell Sam, she ain’t upset is she….about Jane dragging that business up again…..?”
Then he looked down blushing, ”I ki nda thought she might have been…..well you know kinda gettin’ those romantic notions again the other night….. I mean nothing happened,” he said quickly,”…But…well…. “
“Hey take it easy Jess, stop fretting. No she hasn’t said anything but it’s been a long hard winter and then all these fever cases we’ve had… I reckon it’s worn us both out ……a good long holiday is just what we both need.”
“Well that’s swell and this Doc Hinds, your buddy he’s happy to mind the shop a little longer?”
“Oh yes, and I’ve high hopes of talking him into a partnership when I return,” said the doc happily.
Then he sobered, ”But there is one thing I must do before I go.”
“Huh, so what’s that?”
“Run some tests on that Willow bark and leaf tea, the new recipe that Lone Wolf wrote down in his letter to Jane. I’ve all the ingredients now…. Hmm, the basic ingredient is Salicylic acid…. very interesting, this could be ground breaking stuff you know Jess.”
Jess just raised an eyebrow and tried to look impressed, “So what does it cure then Sam?”
“Pain and fever, that kind of thing and if it works as well as I hope, then it will mean a whole new way of bringing down a nasty fever…I just wish I’d had it last month,” he said thoughtfully.
“It’s that good eh?”
“Umm…. I’ve heard of some research that has been done abroad. Practitioners prepare the ingredients in different ways, but if Lone Wolf’s reputation is anything to go by, well it’s just a shame he kept it such a well-kept secret all these years.”
They arrived at the Ranch and Relay by mid-afternoon and after a quick coffee the Doctor and Carrie made their farewells and went back home to prepare for their trip back east.
“Well it’s a shame they couldn’t stay longer,” said Daisy, ”I wanted to hear all their news.”
Then she turned to Jess, ”Are they alright dear, I thought the doctor looked a little pale and Carrie a tad withdrawn?”
Jess cast Jane a hard look before replying.
“I guess they’re both kinda beat after all the sickness there’s been in town lately, they say they’re in need of a little break.”
“Oh, good, is that all I thought maybe ?” and then she saw the look in Jess’s eyes and didn’t continue with what she thought…..Knowing the situation between the young cowboy and Carrie she decided to err on the side of caution, aware that delving into Jess’s private life was probably never a very good idea.
“So Jane dear did you have an interesting time……?”
Chapter 13
News had gotten around town that Jane Sherman was visiting the ranch and also that she and Jess had been researching some of Lone Wolf’s medicines along with the doctor. However the information had not been received too well in some quarters.
The first to object was one Karl Peterson, who had been a friend and neighbour for many years. But even so he objected long and hard to Slim when he met him in the Livery one day, a week or so after Jess’s return from the trip to Paradise.
Slim and Jess were chatting to old Bert from the Livery after settling a bill, when Karl strode over and said aggressively, ”I see you’ve gotten that Injun lovin’ Aunt of yours staying then Slim!”
The tall rancher’s head shot up at the intrusion and he looked angry.
“There’s no call to talk about Aunt Jane that way Karl…..all that business between you two was years back, don’t tell me as how you still hold a grudge?“
“You’ve no idea what it was like back then you were just a child…..”
“I was old enough to know prejudice when I saw it… still do,” he said belligerently, moving towards the old man and looking like he might just lay one on him.
Jess hurried forwards and put a gentle restraining hand on his friend’s shoulder, ”Back off Slim…. this ain’t like you…what’s goin’ on?”
“Ask Mister Peterson there,” he said casting him a black look.
Karl Peterson looked equally incensed.
“Well I’ll tell you Harper. I had a real good thing going with Jane Sherman, until she met up with that savage redskin that is…. and I figure he put some sorta spell on her, because she was never the same again…never… .Then even after Mathew had sent the bastard away, well she still wouldn’t look at me…..and yeah, I guess I’ve got a long memory…..some things you just don’t forget.”
“Well it didn’t stop you from up and marrying the first pretty girl as came along after Aunt Jane went back to Denver, “Slim spat.
There was suddenly a chilly silence in the livery as the one or two interested bystanders looked on in shock….
“And have you forgotten, I’ve just buried my wife… .left to care for my pregnant daughter…alone, as her husband’s off on that cattle drive….?” he yelled looking hard done by now.
Slim looked down, suddenly contrite….
“No I ain’t……..I’m sorry Karl…… and Daisy’s offer still stands good to help her when her time comes…..”
“Umm…..well Thankee for that,” the old timer said, suddenly all the fight gone from him….
“Come on Slim, let’s get off home,” Jess said, trying to ease the situation, but it was not to end there. Several troublemakers had witnessed the little fracas…and more suffering and bitterness was on the way.
On their return from Paradise Jane had insisted on moving into the bunkhouse.
“Why it is absolutely charming,” she said looking around the large space. At the double bed with its pretty patchwork quilt, set in the corner, matching drapes at the windows, two easy chairs, a bookcase with small library and the piece de resistance a huge desk set in the window, ideal for Jane to complete her work on the Medical book.
“Yeah, we set it up this way for Daisy’s Goddaughter…when she was real sick,” Slim replied, remembering the lovely Flora and her last battle for life.
“Umm….,” he shook his head to try and dislodge the image of the frail beautiful young girl before her final battle was lost to Consumption.
“Yeah, anyways me and Jess are OK out here, we’ve been tossing a coin as to who gets the comfy bed and who gets a cot,” he said tipping his head to where a couple of the old drover’s cots were stacked against the back wall…..
Then he chuckled, ”It’s amazing how many times I’ve won too, since I liberated Jess’s double headed coin that is!”
They exchanged a smile and then his aunt was business like again.
“No dear, you boys need a proper sleep, in your own beds, with all the hard work you do. I shall be perfectly comfortable out here and the peace and quiet will be ideal for my writing.”
“Yeah…. I guess Jess and Mike can get a bit lively at times,” he said ruefully….”just high spirits you know?“
“Of course I understand dear and it is their home I don’t expect them to tip toe about the place…. No my mind is made up, this will be perfect for me,” she said casting him a delighted smile.
Slim secretly wondered just how long his aunt was thinking of staying. Sure it was great having her around, especially when she told him tales of his Ma and Pa when they were all young…but heck she was another mouth to feed. Plus his pard was far from comfortable in her company and even Slim had observed his aunt watching Jess like a hawk, taking in his every look and gesture almost as though she was making mental notes on him.
“I tell yer Slim, she spooks me, I’m darned scared to open my mouth in case she she’s gonna write it all down in that little notebook she carries around with her,” Jess had confessed.
“Umm…well I sure hope she doesn’t start writing down what you said after that bronc tipped you off yesterday and dang near stomped on you…. because I guess that kinda language would set the page afire,” Slim chuckled.
Later that day Jess decided he needed some space and so offered to go to town to bank some checks.
“You wouldn’t be trying to jump ship would you pard?” asked Slim, his eyes twinkling as he watched Jess saddle up Traveler.
The dark haired cowboy turned and grinned at his buddy then. “You know I just might be Slim…. come to think on it I ain’t seen my best girl since I don’t know when….so don’t wait up,” he finished as he hopped athletically up into the saddle.
Slim grinned up at him and slapped Traveler on the rump, “Have a good time then Jess…. see you soon…..”

It was later that evening when he was propping up the bar at the Laramie saloon and chatting to Millie in between her serving customers, that trouble arrived in the form of Jake Granger and his brothers Chet and Will. All three were no good layabouts and way too fond of the grog according to the barkeep Tom, who always dreaded their arrival.
Unfortunately all three were also renowned Indian haters and Jess Harper was probably their least favourite person. Not just because of his friendship with the Arapaho, but also because he had thrown all three of them off the ranch and relay a few months earlier for working whilst drunk and they had harbored a grudge ever since.
“I told you they were trouble,” Jess had said bitterly to Slim later, ”I dunno why you took ‘em on in the first place?”
“Well we were in need of the help, with you on that cattle drive and besides they were cheap,” Slim had replied with a rueful smile.
Now the three lurched into the saloon and ordered a bottle before leaning on the bar and looking around them.
Then Jake’s gaze rested on Jess and he nudged his brother before saying loudly, ”Well what have we got here a lousy no good Injun lover.”
“Just ignore them Jess,” Millie begged throwing the trio an anxious glance.
Jess did as she asked, but she saw his knuckles turning white around the glass he was holding and knew it was only a matter of time before his temper let rip.
“What’s up Harper…. gone deaf in your old age…. Maybe you need one of Lone Wolf’s special medicines to cure you?”
Jess still ignored the jibes, a muscle twitching in his cheek the only sign that he was near the jumping off place.
“So that redskin lovin’ Sherman woman still stayin’ with yer…..maybe you can find her another Injun to go with….?”
He moved to turn towards them, but Millie grabbed his sleeve, “No Jess…please!”
“Better listen to the little lady Harper,” Chet taunted…..
Then turning to his brother said, ”Surprising that Harper’s goin’ with Millie there, way he loves Injuns thought he’d have got himself a squaw….”
That was it…. the breaking point for Jess……. and Chet never saw it coming as Jess launched himself at the stocky drifter throwing a haymaker that sent him crashing to the ground several feet away…. and then all hell was let loose as the bar erupted.
Punches were thrown and returned and Jess alone downed all three brothers and then took on another couple of drinkers who had decided that they too agreed with the Granger’s stance on Indians.
In the end a shot gun was fired, effectively ending the riot, and Mort Corey stood there looking grim faced.
“It was those Grangers as started it Sheriff,” Tom cried…”they was taunting Jess something fierce…dunno how he stuck it so dang long…they was just asking for it….!”
“That true?” asked a stern looking Mort and most of the onlookers asserted that it was.
He sighed deeply, ”How much damage then Tom?”
The elderly bar keep looked around at the broken chairs and glasses and named a sum.
“You heard the man,” the sheriff drawled addressing the Granger brothers, “Let’s see the colour of yer money.”
They reluctantly threw some coins on the bar before turning away.
“Anymore from you three and I’ll throw you in my jail for the foreseeable….. if you get my drift?” he barked.
“Yes Sheriff,” said Chet throwing Jess a dark look……”loud an’ clear…”
“Yeah, well get off home I don’t want to see you in town again for a week…go cool off.”
Then once the perpetrators had slunk out he turned and grinned at Jess.
“You look like a man that could use a drink,” he said cheerfully advancing upon the bar.
Jess ran a hand through his dark hair, before stooping to pick up his hat which he replaced and then grinned across at his friend, ”Well you’re not wrong there Mort.”
After Jess had enjoyed a couple of rounds with his old friend he told Millie he was going across the street to get some supper at Miss Mollie’s café.
“See ya later?” he asked with his charming grin.
She nodded, ”I’ll ask Tom if I can finish a bit early,” and gave him a playful wink.
It was when he was returning an hour or so later, with a belly full of Miss Molly’s best steak and taters that he was waylaid near the alley beside the saloon, when a youngster came over….
“You got a dime or two mister…. I’m starvin’.”
Jess surveyed the shoe-less ragamuffin and reached in his pocket for some loose change…. and that was when he was pistol whipped from behind and dragged into the alley.
Then Chet, Jake and Will took out their revenge on a semi-conscious Jess… who tried his best to retaliate….
However he was dizzy and sick from the blow to the head, hardly able to stand, so it was easy for one of the men to hold him firmly, forcing his arms behind his back, whilst the others laid blow after blow to his weakened frame, finally letting him drop to the ground. Then after kicking him viciously in the belly, they ran off laughing, leaving him lying in a pool of blood.
It was just a half hour later when Mort happened by on his late evening rounds, checking that those leaving the saloon at closing time did so in a reasonably respectable manner….well without shooting each other or fist fighting anyway.
All was quiet as the last few punters made their way unsteadily home down Main Street and Mort was just turning to keep an urgent appointment with his coffee pot when he heard a low moaning coming from just a few yards away.
He drew his gun and made his way softly down the alley…and then almost stumbled over Jess’s prone body lying in the dirt.
He quickly holstered his gun and hunkered down beside the semi-conscious man.
“Jess…..buddy,” he whispered looking on in consternation, before he tried to haul him up.
He finally managed to get his friend on his feet and then half carried; half dragged him around the corner and into the saloon.
Tom was just thinking of closing up, but he came around the bar as soon as he saw Mort with Jess and called over his shoulder, to where Millie was brewing coffee in the back room.
“Millie, come in here girl it’s Jess…..he’s hurt real bad….”
Meanwhile Jess had slumped down in a chair, holding his head in his hands, still being supported by Mort.
“We need to get him up to bed and then call the new doc, who’s holding the fort for Sam,” he said casting Tom an anxious glance.
“Nope… no can do, I saw that Doc Hinds taking off for the Reilly place an hour since…. the old man is real sick… doubt he’ll be back tonight.”
Then Millie ran over and taking one look at Jess reached out a gentle hand to his shoulder.
“It’s OK Sheriff, take him up to my place I’ll care for him.”
Mort glanced over at Tom, but he merely nodded and so both men helped carry Jess up to Millie’s cosy room.

Chapter 14
They laid him on Millie’s huge comfy bed and she went off to get some cool water and rags to clean him up, whilst Mort removed his boots and gun belt. The Sheriff took a deep breath, as he began to see the full extent of his friend’s injuries.
After a moment Jess’s eyes flickered open and he looked vaguely around him, his gaze finally resting on Mort.
“Who in tarnation did this to you son?” the Sheriff asked.
Jess opened his mouth to speak, but was only able to give a low groan…and then started coughing.
Tom and Mort exchanged a worried glance and then Millie was suddenly there with a tumbler of water and tenderly lifting his head helped him to drink a little before he fell back onto the pillows giving a little sigh.
“Thanks Mill……”
Then he turned his attention back to the Sheriff.
“‘Twas the Grangers, I didn’t see ‘em too clearly, they pistol whipped me from behind…..but I heard Will say’ stop it for God’s sake Chet, you’ll kill the poor bastard…..’”
Then he turned pained eyes on Mort…”That was at the end when I was down and Chet was layin’ into me, kicking me in the belly…..”
Millie gave a little gasp of shock.
“Please Sheriff, I need to tend to him, can’t this wait until the morning?”
Mort stood up from where he’d been seated on the edge of the bed.
“Sure Ma’am.”
Then he turned back to Jess….
“I’ll come by in the morning, get a signed statement and then I’ll take off and visit the Grangers…..they’re working out at old man Reilly’s ain’t they….just while he’s sick?”
Tom nodded.
“They were bragging about it the other night, saying as how the old man was paying them…. but they’d spent most of the time sitting around drinking and playing cards….”
“Umm… .well I reckon their easy ride is about to come to an end,” said Mort looking furious.
“Take it easy Jess,” he said laying a gentle hand on his friend’s chest before leaving with Tom.
“Just holler if you need anything Millie,” he called as he went to show the Sheriff out.
Millie sat down on the edge of the bed and started bathing Jess’s bloodied face and then turned her attentions to the nasty gash on the back of his head where he’d come into contact with Jake’s pistol.
“I can’t believe I was caught out that way,” he muttered as she began unbuttoning his shirt to check out the damage to his chest.
“What do you mean?”
“Aww, some barefoot kid asked for a hand out and that was when they hit me from behind.”
“What the kid was in league with them?” she asked looking shocked.
“I guess…. he looked genuine enough, real poor, probably sell his granny fer a free meal,” he chuckled softly.
But then the laugh turned into a cry of pain, as Millie gently cleaned some of the dirt and mud from his chest.
“I think at least one rib is broken Jess,” she said looking deeply concerned….”Where is that darned new doc when you need him!”
“Hey honey, it’s OK, just bind me up real good…..an’ I’ll be fine,” he said smiling up at her.
She looked down then, tears brimming in her beautiful dark eyes.
“Oh you,” she whispered, “why do you always have to be so darned heroic?”
He just shrugged, “I ain’t heroic, just no point in frettin’, it don’t help none.”
Then he saw she was upset and reaching up gently ran a finger down her cheek.
“Millie don’t take on so sweetheart….I’ll be just fine……”
“That’s what you always say,” she replied, angry now….”until the next time……and the time after…..how long before you’re not ‘just fine’ Jess…huh?”
“Mill…this ain’t like you, you’ve seen me beat up worse than this loads of times…. what is it sweetheart…tell me?”
She just shook her head…” I don’t know…..I’m sorry, you don’t want to hear me moaning on…just ignore me…it’s just I hate to see you this way, you know?”
He nodded, “Sure… I understand.”
What was it Jane had said……. he should spend less time in trouble…. and more by the hearth and home…. maybe she kinda had a point.
He looked up into Millie’s sad eyes.
“I really am sorry honey,” he whispered.
They were awoken by someone hammering on the door early the following morning and after slipping on a dressing gown Millie threw the door open to reveal Doc Hinds accompanied by the Sheriff.
“Brought the doc over as soon as I could,” Mort said casting Millie an anxious glance, ”so how is he?”
Jess had pulled himself up in the bed and was now watching the proceedings with a faintly quizzical look in his eyes.
“Hey Mort quit yer frettin’ I’m just fine now…. after a good night’s err…. sleep,” he said flicking a glance over to Millie, who blushed a little and looked down.
“Well you can let me be the judge of that young man,” said the doctor striding into the room and looking far from pleased at being awoken at the crack of dawn to attend to this rather flippant young patient.
Jess weighed him up and was not overly impressed by what he saw. The slightly balding middle aged man wore gold rimmed eyeglasses and a very dapper looking eastern style suit and he was now gazing at Jess in a somewhat patronizing manner.
“Well come along, come along, I haven’t got all day lay back and let’s take a look at you,” he said testily…..
“And as for you two, could I have some space please!”
“Of course,” said Millie pulling herself together and she showed Mort into her little kitchen off the bedroom ushering him before her with the promise of coffee.
The doctor took away the bindings from Jess’s chest and pushed and prodded and then examined the cuts and bruises covering his body and face. Then listened to his heart and checked his pulse, before standing over him and tutting.
“I really don’t know why you cowboys seem to set so much store by fist fighting,” he sighed….“So you get pleasure from this form of barbarism do you Mister Harper?”
Jess considered this and then threw the doctor a challenging look.
“I guess I enjoy a good fair fight as well as the next man… good exercise …keeps a man in shape…..Except this wasn’t a good fair fight doc, I was pistol whipped and then beaten up by three men…so no can’t say as how I particularly enjoyed it,” he finished dryly.
The doctor tutted again and then rolled his eyes.
“Well it certainly seems like you came off worst young man…cracked ribs, multiple cuts and abrasions…..possible abdominal damage…..yes, I think two weeks bed rest is called for…. I’ll send the bill around shall I?” he asked, shutting his bag firmly.
“Wha…..what are yer talkin’ about Doc, I ain’t got time to go layin’ about the place, I’ve got a ranch ter run, not to mention sortin’ out the lowlife that did this,” he said looking severely affronted.
“Be it on your own head Mister Harper, but it is folly…that is all I can say…pure folly.”
Jess tipped his head on one side, “So are you really a friend of Doc Sam then?“
“Umm… yes, well colleagues actually, we were at medical school together.”
“So are you thinkin’ of staying out here permanent…..to work I mean?”
The doctor’s head shot up at that notion.
“Goodness me no, why whatever gave you that idea… .the place is completely uncivilized……!”
Jess breathed a sigh of relief, but before he could comment the Sheriff breezed back in.
“So he’ll live to fight another day then doc?” he asked cheerfully.
The tubby little man merely shuddered at that.
“I have told the patient to rest, but he obviously holds my opinion in low regard…. so….“ and he shrugged.
“Heck don’t feel bad about it,” Mort laughed, “ain’t just you, he never listens to Doc Sam either.”
“What is it with you people?” the doctor cried angrily. “I spent all last night nursing a sick man and then his work force came in at all hours drunk and uproarious and spent the night bragging about ‘downing the low life…… Harper….”’
Then his eyes swivelled to Jess…. “Harper…. you…so it was the workers from the Reilly spread that assaulted you?“
Mort strode forwards at that…. “Yup…and now we’ve got the proof…..so are you prepared to write a statement to say that then Doctor?
“Why…yes, yes of course… .and the sooner they leave the better, I am yet to see them do a hands turn about the place, all the time I have been visiting poor Reilly.
“Guess we’ve got ‘em buddy,” said Mort grinning across at his friend.
Chapter 15
It was after noon when Jess rode back into the ranch yard and was just in time to see Slim saddling up his mount. He turned as he heard Traveler approaching and looked on in consternation at his bruised and battered friend.
Jess slipped from the saddle and wandered over, looking pale and sick.
“Mose has just left on the noon Stage, full of how you’ve been beaten to a pulp and the new doc is up in arms because he can’t get you to see sense and rest up! I was just riding in to see you,” Slim said anxiously as his buddy advanced.
“Aww…you know Mose, never lets the truth get in the way of a good story,” Jess drawled grinning at his pard.
“Well it sure looks like he’s telling the truth from where I’m standing,” observed Slim taking in Jess’s black eye, cut face and the way he was standing, one hand protectively holding his ribs.
Just then Daisy ran out of the house, closely followed by Jane and predictably the elderly housekeeper started fussing and fretting around her ‘favourite’ son.
“Jess dear come inside, dear me, what is that new doctor thinking of letting you ride in this state,” and taking hold of his arm she led him firmly inside.
“Probably that he’s never met such a mule headed, ornery patient before,” Slim muttered.
“Pardon dear?” asked Jane as they made to follow the others inside.
He grinned down at her, “Just what the new doc was probably thinking,” he said with a chuckle.
Once Jess was ensconced on the old leather couch, a pillow to his back and a blanket covering him, Daisy was satisfied and bustled off into the kitchen to brew some much needed coffee.
Meanwhile Jess explained all that had happened to Slim.
“So you rode over to the Reilly place with Mort to arrest them then?“
“Yup…. didn’t wanna miss that Slim…. the look in their eyes when they realized they were lookin’ at bein’ locked up in Mort’s jail for the foreseeable… it was priceless…..serve’s ‘em right too, way they’ve been treating old man Reilly.”
All the time he had been talking Jane had been sitting silently observing him. Scrutinizing the way the ‘hero’ of her story would deal with a vicious attack, with bravado of course she thought, smiling inwardly…never admitting the pain and trauma of the event.
She noted all the cuts and bruising to his face and could also just discern further lacerations to his upper torso where his shirt was opened at the neck. Then she took in the way he held his chest with one hand and the fact that he seemed to be finding it hard to breathe normally.
“Are you alright dear,” she asked peering earnestly across at him.
Jess threw Slim a wary look, she was doin’ it again, staring at him that way, the way that made him feel so dang uncomfortable.
“Just my chest Ma’am,” he said softly, “busted some ribs…. think maybe I need some shut eye?” he said casting Slim a pleading look.
“Sure pard.”
“Err… Aunt Jane, I think maybe Jess could do with a bit of peace and quiet huh?”
So brave and yet vulnerable, his hand shaking slightly, that pallor contrasting deeply with the bruises….the apprehensive look in his eyes…….
“Aunt Jane?”
She finally dragged herself unwillingly away from studying her character…..err, no Jess…of course, Jess….not a character in her book really.
“What is it dear?”
“I said we should maybe leave Jess to rest up some? “
“Oh,” she looked disappointed, but rallied well…. “Yes of course forgive me dear, I’ll get back to my writing,” and she arose quickly and took herself off to the bunk house.
Jess let out a deep sigh, and then clutched his ribs, before turning his gaze back to his partner.
“Thanks Slim…. I was beginning to feel like one of old Sam’s specimens that he looks at with that there microscope of his.”
“I have a feeling that the brave hero in her latest slushy novel is about to get a sound beating ….and emerge defeated but still courageous.”
“Umm…well I ain’t feelin’ darned courageous, just hurtin’ somethin’ fierce,” he replied gruffly.
“Sorry, so you want to rest then Jess?”
“The hell I do, I want my coffee,” he said with a broad grin……”and maybe some pie?”
And a good long break from your aunt too, he thought secretly, but didn’t voice his thoughts, after all she was Slim’s kin and had to be treated as such, but he sure did wish she would leave him alone.
However it was Aunt Jane who came to his rescue, the following day, when he was taken ill.
When Slim awoke he was immediately aware that something was wrong and peering over at his buddy saw that he was running a fever, sweating and cussing lightly under his breath as he rolled his head on the pillow, his eyes far too bright and a flush to his cheeks.
Slim slipped out of bed and went and sat on the edge of Jess’s.
“Hey pard, are you not feeling too good?”
“I’ve felt better I guess,” he whispered.
“I’ll fetch Daisy.”
It only took a matter of minutes for Daisy to confirm that he had a nasty infection in the cut to the back of his head and she bustled off to get her medical bag with the surgical spirit to clean out the wound again.
She was followed from the room shortly by Slim.
“You think I should fetch the doc?”
She shook her head, “From what I’ve heard he will doubtless be reluctant to make a home visit, always seems to have some excuse, but I think he just isn’t very good at driving the doc’s old buggy.“
“But Jess will be OK?”
“Once I’ve cleaned the wound and we’ve got that temperature down…..he really shouldn’t have ridden out with the Sheriff yesterday Slim,” she said tutting as she left to tend to her patient.
In spite of her fine nursing skills Jess was still suffering with a high temperature the following day and Daisy was worn out continually trying to swab him down with cold water to bring the fever down.
Slim too was exhausted as he’d taken the night shift and he was sitting huddled over a coffee, looking tired and pale when Jane came into the parlour later that morning.
“How is he my dear?”
“No better, no worse Aunt Jane… .the fever is sure wearing him out though…well all of us,” he said with a small sigh.
“Umm,” she sank down on Jess’s rocker and looked into the fire for a moment before turning to her nephew.
“What about Lone Wolf’s new elixir?”
“You know the Willow Bark one? It’s supposed to be a fantastic cure for pain and fever…why don’t we try that. It can’t hurt him; Doc Sam has verified the safety of the ingredients. Lone Wolf was really proud of it, said it was his special secret remedy when he enclosed the formula in his letter to me. He said it was to be a secret no longer and I must publish it in the book…. well my dear if he held so much store by it, surely it’s worth a try?”
“You think it might help?”
She nodded.
“I do, I’ll fix up some Willow tea right away,” and she positively bounced off to the kitchen a spring in her step as she went about the business of preparing the special remedy.
However, as expected unfortunately Jess wasn’t quite as enthusiastic.
Slim had hauled him up on the pillows and Jane and Daisy stood back appraising their patient as he sniffed the brew suspiciously.
“What in Hel…..err I mean what the heck’s this Slim?” He asked turning questioning eyes on his buddy, “It stinks like something’s died.”
“Just drink it pard, it’ll do you good, fix that fever.”
Jess took a tentative sip…..
“Aww Slim, this is worse than Jonesy’ s liniment and at least we didn’t have ter drink that.”
“Just get it down you”…..hissed Slim.
“Maybe I should spoon it down him,” suggested Jane brightly.
“No…” Jess squeaked….
“That is, no thank you Ma’am, I’ve got it,” and he threw it down in one.
Then for one awful moment Slim thought he was about to throw it back up again, but he swallowed hard and the moment passed.
“Thanks,” he whispered, throwing Slim a murderous glance…. “I figure I’ll sleep awhile now ladies.”
“Yes, of course,” said Jane taking the hint,” Daisy and I will go and brew another batch…..every four hours Jess and you’ll be right as rain by tomorrow.”
“Oh yes sure I will,” he agreed.
Once the door shut behind the ladies Slim turned a quizzical look on his buddy.
“So how are you so sure you’re going to be better by tomorrow then Jess?”
“Have you tasted that stuff? Believe me I’ll either be better or dead…either way I ain’t takin’ anymore after tomorrow……that’s fer sure.”
As it happened he didn’t have to, as he made a full recovery within a few short hours. He was almost immediately feeling better after the first dose, but he suffered another three or four doses before both Daisy and Jane pronounced him fit and well again.
He was discussing Lone Wolf’s secret medicine later and Jess grinned and said, ”You know what, it didn’t just cure the fever but took the pain out of my head too…that’s real powerful stuff you know Slim.”
Slim grinned back, ”Well you know what they say, the worse it tastes the better it cures you.”
“Well they sure got that one right,” he muttered….
Chapter 16
Jess was well and up and about again within the week and he was busy grooming one of the relay team one morning when a rider galloped in looking real spooked.
Jess hadn’t seen old Karl Peterson since the ruckus in the livery when he had condemned Jane and Lone Wolf outright. His prejudice was due primarily to losing Jane to Lone Wolf however Jess and Slim had agreed later and they didn’t bear him any malice regarding his outburst.
Now he looked way beyond worried as he dismounted and hurried towards Jess.
“Is Miss Daisy around, the baby is coming …looks to be real fast too, Tex is with her,” he continued, “rode in from the cattle drive early today…. We’re just waitin’ on Miss Daisy and he’ll go fetch the doc.”
“Sure she’s here. Look Karl, you get off home and I’ll drive her over directly.”
When Jess and Daisy arrived a little while later they were greeted by agonising screams coming from the homestead and then Karl ran out looking pale and shaken.
“Thank God you’re here Mrs Cooper she’s in a terrible state… Tex has ridden for the Doc, but I don’t think he’ll make it in time.”
She nodded, “Don’t fret Mr Peterson.”
Then she turned to Jess, who had brought Traveler hitched behind the buckboard and was just thinking on heading home.
“I think maybe you should stay a little while Jess, if you can spare the time,” she said giving a tiny nod towards where Karl Peterson was looking anguished.
“Sure, sure, I’ve got time.”
“So Karl, how about you show me that new brood mare of yours?” and the two men went off to the barn.
When the doc still hadn’t turned up an hour later both Jess and Karl were beginning to get real anxious, then Daisy suddenly ran out of the house calling to the men.
“Any sign of the doctor?” she asked looking pale and exhausted.
“No Ma’am,” said Karl, running over,”so how is my girl then?”
Daisy looked worried,”Well you have a lovely grandson Mr Peterson, but I’m afraid your daughter is quite sick.
“Yes, I’m afraid she is hemorrhaging badly.”
“Yes bleeding after the birth.”
Then she turned to Jess, “Where on earth is that doctor?”
Then just as Jess was considering riding off to find him, there was the sound of a horse approaching at speed and Tex, Mr Peterson’s son-in-law, arrived and leapt off his horse.
“The dang man ain’t there;” he spat addressing his father in law…”seems he’s lit out back east.”
“What!” cried Jess suddenly coming to his senses, “He can’t do that; leave us all without a doc?”
“So what do we do,”asked Karl turning anguished eyes on all…“my girl could be dying in there.”
Daisy immediately turned to Jess.
“Ride home and bring Aunt Jane back Jess, ask her to bring Lone Wolf’s herbs for post-partum hemorrhaging.”
“Huh post what…what?“
“Bleeding dear, tell her Amy is bleeding badly after the birth, she has all the herbs and knows what to do, just bring her back here as quickly as you can…please dear, hurry,” and she ran back into the house.
Jess made to mount up, but Karl grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him around to face him.
“I ain’t having any of that savage’s bad medicine in my house,” he spat.
“So you’d rather yer daughter bled to death?” snarled Jess before wrenching his arm free and hopping up into the saddle, where he sat looking down at Karl and Tex.
“Try and talk some sense into him,” he yelled, ”I’ll be back as soon as I can,” and he spurred Traveler off at speed.
Jane dismounted and looked across to where Karl stood on the porch scowling at her.
“What the Hell’s she doin’ here?” he yelled looking askance of Jess.
“You know dang well why she’s here Karl and I’ll thank yer to keep a civil tongue in yer head when there’s a lady present.”
“Lady?” he spat… ”She’s an Injun lovin’ whore, more like.”
Jess advanced and was upon Karl in three strides and grabbing him roughly by the collar, leaned in real close….
“I won’t tell you again, you be real nice to Miss Jane and she just might save yer daughter’s life….or shall we just turn around and ride out again?” he spat angrily.
Karl looked troubled, but finally cast his gaze down…. ”I guess not…. go in,” he said finally moving to one side so that Jane could pass.
Jess shook his head and took himself off to lean on the corral fence, looking out at the distant mountains beyond, breathing deeply and trying to control his temper, his ribs hurting like hell from over breathing.
After awhile he was joined by Karl and he turned to face him as he slumped against the fence.
“Anything happens to my little girl, I guess that’s down to you Harper, bringing that old witch here, with her crazy Injun potions.”
“Hell Karl will you listen to yourself….Lone Wolf’s medicine is good…. real good, the Doc’s been cured by it, me too…. Hell I’d even trust it to treat young Mike iffen he was sick…the man was as good a medical man as Doc Sam…..and he left all his knowledge to us as a gift…..for God’s sake accept it…gratefully.”
“Umm…I guess time will tell regarding that,” he said reluctantly….”I just don’t trust no Injun, no matter how dang clever…..don’t trust no Injun lovers either,” he spat throwing Jess a hard look.
Jess just shrugged.
“I guess that’s your choice…. But I kinda wonder how much of this is about Injun hating and how much about loss of pride because Jane threw you over?”…..and with that he marched off to water his horse, leaving Karl staring after him, looking somewhat sheepish.
It was much later when an exhausted looking Jane came out and went over to where Jess was sitting out on the porch, staring across to the mountains and he jumped up as soon as she approached.
“How is she?” he asked looking into the elderly lady’s weary face.
“It was touch and go for awhile; she had torn very badly….”
Jess flinched at that and ran a finger around his collar before taking a deep breath….”And?”
“The herb dressing did the trick, she’ll still need some medical help, but she’s alright and the bleeding has stopped.”
“Thank God,” he whispered, ”I guess Lone Wolf’s done it again….so you wanna tell Karl?” he asked raising a questioning eyebrow and with a twinkle in his eye.
“You know I think I would,” she said with a wicked grin.
Jess tipped his head towards the barn, “You’ll find him over there,” he said,”be my guest.”
After she had disappeared into the barn the house door opened again and Daisy came out.
“If you take Jane home, I think I should maybe stay the night, just in case Amy needs me,” she said softly.
“Aww Daisy, you look done in,” he replied looking concerned.
Just then they heard a buggy approaching and a minute later Doc Sam reined in his rig, grinning down at his friends, before sobering as he jumped down.
“So how is the patient, my housekeeper said Tex had been around…. I’m just so sorry that idiot Hinds left you all high and dry, thank goodness I was on my way home when he left.”
“Do go in Doctor,” said Daisy chivvying him along, “she will be so relieved to see you.”
Then she turned to Jess, ”So where are Jane and Karl?” she asked raising a questioning eyebrow.
Jess tipped his head towards the barn, ”In there, Jane’s tellin’ him the good news and I kinda guess she’s enjoyin’ doing it too, seeing as how Lone Wolf’s medicine saved the day again,” he grinned.
“Umm…” said Daisy thoughtfully before she marched inside after the doc.
If Jess had expected angry voices emanating from the barn he was wrong and the longer the silence was and the two were ensconced in there together, the more inquisitive he became.
Then after a good ten minutes they finally emerged arm in arm looking for all the world like the best of friends.
He nudged Daisy who had just joined him on the porch while the doc had a quiet word with the new parents.
“So what’s goin’ on there then?” he asked, throwing her an amused glance.
But the couple advanced before she had a chance to reply, with Jane beaming, her exhaustion forgotten and her cheerful countenance looking years younger.
“I’m sorry we’ve been away so long,” she said happily, not sounding sorry at all, ”but Karl and I had some catching up to do….and a little straight talking.”
Karl gave Jess and Daisy a bashful glance.
“Seems like I’ve been a real fool these past years,” he said turning to smile at Jane….”all because of a silly misunderstanding. You see I thought Jane here walked out on Lone Wolf….and my friendship too all those years ago, seems I got that wrong and he left her…. then she was so upset, well she upped and left without saying goodbye…..and I figure we both regret that now.”
“Anyway we’re going to make up for lost time while I’m here,” said Jane coyly glancing over at Karl and receiving a big wink in return.
Just then Daisy gave a little gasp and staggered slightly, catching hold of Jess’s arm.
“Oh dear, I’m sorry, I just came over a little giddy,” she said holding tightly for the support..
Jess immediately put a protective arm around her shoulders, looking down at the elderly lady’s face in concern.
“That’s it Daisy you’re comin’ home with me right now, you’re clear worn out.”
Then he turned to Jane.
“Do ya think you could stay and nurse the new Ma, I figure Daisy’s kinda beat.”
Then to his surprise Daisy actually agreed with him.
“You know I think I am a little tired Jane would you mind?“
Jane’s face lit up and the expression was mirrored by Karl.
“No of course not my dear, you get off home for a good rest.”
Sometime later Jess helped Daisy up into the buckboard and they set off for home.
After they had gone a little way he turned concerned blue eyes on the woman he had come to consider as a Ma.
“I think you should turn in when we get back, we’ll bring you supper in bed.”
Her grey eyes sparkled at that idea and she suddenly looked her old self again.
“Why ever should you want to do that dear?” she asked raising a quizzical eyebrow at him.
“Well you’re feeling bad ain’t you, heck you nearly fainted just now Daisy!”
“Did I dear?” she asked with a big smile.
Jess just stared at her for a full minute and then the truth dawned.
“Why you……heck you’re an ol’ witch Daisy Cooper, worryin’ me sick that way and all you’re tryin’ to do is some of your matchmaking…..I’ve told you before no good will come of it.”
“Umm…well maybe not with you and Millie…but I have high hopes for Aunt Jane and Karl,” she said throwing him her most charming smile.
“Oh Miss Daisy what are we goin’ to do with you,” he laughed as he clicked the team on to a faster pace; heading for the warm, safe place that was home.
Jane stayed at the ranch for a further month completing Lone Wolf’s medicine book and also her latest novel.
The plot for her ‘slushy romance’ as Slim termed it behind his aunt’s back, was that of a swashbuckling, dark haired blue eyed young cowboy, who fought his way through many battles to protect the woman he loved from danger, suffering many wounds and injuries in the process, which he bore bravely.
Slim walked in and caught Daisy reading the signed copy Jane had sent her as a small thank you present for her hospitality.
“Good is it then Daisy, up to her usual sentimental standard?”
“Umm…. oh yes quite good dear, an excellent plot…But her hero, well he’s just too good to be true to be honest. Nobody is that handsome and brave, I just don’t know where she gets these characters from, I really don’t.”
Slim looked up as Jess entered looking furious. He was filthy dirty and soaking wet from riding fence in a storm. Slim and Daisy watched as he tramped in mud and water in equal quantities, cussing as he removed his hat and shook it, increasing the mess on the floor…. His lean face a mask of displeasure….
“How come it’s always me that gets a soakin’ while you stay nice and warm in the barn mendin’ the harness?” he spat, his face looking even more fierce and certainly not like the hero envisaged by Aunt Jane..
Slim grinned back at Daisy, “No me neither Daisy, a complete mystery, I guess old Aunt Jane’s just got a real lively imagination.”
Daisy’s aspirations for Jane and Karl came partially true in that they forged a long and close friendship which was to endure all their lives, with many happy visits to see each other, but unfortunately they were both far too set in their ways to commit to marriage.
As he had promised Doc Sam Baker took the newly published ‘Secrets of Lone Wolf’s Medicines’ with him to many medical conferences back east. It was there, many years later that he met a young German Chemist carrying out research into pain and fever relief. Sam shared Lone Wolf’s recipe for the willow leaf and bark tea that had helped Jess so much and the Chemist included some of the formula into his own research, eventually leading to the discovery of Aspirin. At least that was the way Doc Sam liked to remember it. But of course there was much research that went on over the years and he could never prove that it was Lone Wolf’s input that finally helped the Chemist with the breakthrough he needed.
However even before that great discovery Daisy still made the Willow tea, to cure a fever and pain, or as Jess insisted on calling it, that ‘Evil Brew.’ But even he had to admit, Lone Wolf’s secret was indeed a truly powerful one!
The End
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