This is in answer to the 10 years anniversary challenge. I couldnt let this challenge pass by without paying tribute to the Seven and the wonderful stories everyone has written to keep them alive!!!
Disclaimer: I do not own The Magnificent Seven nor do I own the rights to the TV show. I do love the characters and hope they are around for another ten years.
Rated PG for a little bad language, after all they are men.
All the Seven are in this and I mention snippets from several of the episodes.
A special thanks to my Pard KT, for the marvelous photo at the end of the story. She is so good at these pictures and she graciously let me use her picture in my story!!!!
Travis had hired us for 30 days. We had stayed in that dusty little town for three years, two months and fourteen days. Until Birch Radcliffe and his gang came looking for me, and ended up shooting three of my friends and burning down most of Four Corners. We killed Radcliffe and two of his brothers plus four of his men. Shot up most of the others before the night was through but the town we were hired to protect died that night. The four of us that were still standing did what we could for the town folk, we had all grown to feel sort of protective toward all of them. When we were all able to ride though, we headed out, all seven of us, together.
It didnt last long though.
JD was the first one to leave. He realized right quick that he loved that little Wells girl and he didnt want to leave her behind. Two weeks out, he turned and raced back to marry her.
Nathan never did plan on staying with us. He rode north alongside us for almost a month though, mainly because Vin and Buck were still ailing from their wounds. When they couldnt stand his doctoring no more and ganged up on him to leave them alone, he took off to be with his wife, Rain. They had been hitched for awhile but she never did move into town, just waited patiently for him to come to her whenever he got the chance. Dont think they had any special plans but to take care of the folks out at the Seminole village and raise some kids.
The rest of us split up at the Rockies. Vin and I went east and the others headed west, towards California. Josiah wanted to see San Francisco again and Buck and Ezra thought that sounded like a good place to visit. Guess it took them awhile as Ezra wanted to stop at every gambling hall along the way and Buck was bound and determined to bed every woman he came across. Between those two, I heard even Josiah ran short of patience.
As for Vin and I, we settled just outside of Boggsville. We started a little horse ranch and now its pretty good size. Tanner never did get that warrant taken care of but no one has bothered him up here in Colorado. He got so used to being in one place, he even got married to a sweet little half breed that had no home or family. I suppose they were meant for one another. She has a mile long Indian name but we all call her Nita and she has given Vin two infant boys to be proud of. He even named one Christopher Bucklin and the other Josiah Nathaniel. Expect the next one will be John Ezra.
Guess that about wraps it up. Not much to finish off your tale of the Old West, Mr. Steele. We just faded away like the buffalo. Havent seen nor heard from most of them in, gee, seven years now. Dont really know if theyre alive or dead. JD writes couple of times a year. He and Casey are in Santa Fe with their four girls. Hes a deputy sheriff there. Might want to get in touch with him, he might know where the rest are. Probably not though, hed a let Vin and I know, especially if hed heard from Buck.
Three months later ~
Chris looked up from his position beside the horse he was shoeing and smiled as he saw his partner and best friend rein the matched team of roans into the barnyard. He let go of the mares leg and patted her on the rump as he made his way out into the sunshine to greet Vin and Nita and the boys, Pony and Joe. Grabbing his name sake out of the back of the wagon, he whirled Pony around in the air, the lean three year old giggling and begging for more.
Vin climbed down and helped his pregnant wife descend before taking hold of his second son. Not wanting Joe to feel left out, he tossed the sun bleached light brown haired boy with the deep dimples high into the air, easily catching him and drawing him into a ferocious hug with slobbery kisses. Joe laughed and grabbed his daddys face to return the kisses. Having accomplished that, he squirmed to be let down, which Vin did reluctantly. Together, the two boys ran after their mother, who had promised sandwiches and milk as soon as they got back from town.
Did you get the shoeing nails? Chris inquired when the two men were alone. He had never wanted to re-marry but he sure did enjoy being Uncle Chris to those two, soon to be three, boys.
Yup, got em right here. Package came addressed to the two of us from some publisher back in New York. Vin cocked his head, asking Larabee what that might be about with his expression.
Chris held out his hand and frowned as Vin placed the book-sized brown paper package in his palm. Steele musta wrote something, makin half of it up, cause he didnt get squat from me. I gave him the basics, that we broke up seven years ago and all went our separate ways cept for you and me. Told him I didnt even know where the others were for sure, which I dont exactly. He tore open the paper and there was a dime novel titled, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVENS LAST RIDE. That son of a bitch, made something outta nothing. Now I suppose he wants our blessing on this piece of trash!
Vin chuckled, shook his head, and walked away. He really didnt care what Steele had written about them as long as he hadnt mentioned where he and his family were living now. Thinking about the Seven though brought up old memories of friends long gone but never forgotten. He often found himself remembering something Josiah had told him and, every time one of the boys coughed, he wondered what herb Nathan would use to help them. A new woman in town always made him think of Bucklin and whenever someone told a joke, good or bad, his mind went back to JD. Each time Chris and he entered the local saloon, he looked at the back tables expecting to see Ezra taking on the locals in a game of poker. He missed them all.
Vin! Chris called him back, exhilaration in his voice. The tracker turned to see the ex-gunman waving a letter in the air. He trotted back over to see what Chris had in his hand.
Must be good. Tanner knew his partner rarely got excited about anything.
Steele has gotten in touch with Ezra, JD, Nathan, and Josiah. They have all agreed to a reunion if were willing to come. Steele will even pay our way by train to Eagle Bend if we agree to a photograph to be included in the book. The look of amazement mixed with retrospection filled his green eyes and showed the younger man just how much Chris wanted to see the others again.
Vin, too, felt his heart clench and then sing with delight at the prospect of seeing all of his friends once again. And then it hit him! You didnt mention Buck.
Chriss demeanor changed and he lowered his eyes. No, I didnt.
You know something I dont, Pard? Vin trusted Chris in all things but the man was good at keeping secrets and if there was something that Buck didnt want spread, Chris would have kept it private.
Not really. Just....well. Long time ago, when it was just the two of us, you went to look at a stallion up in Wyoming. Got a letter from Ezra the same day. He told me Buck just up and disappeared shortly after Josiah left the two of them in San Francisco. All his clothes and personal belongings including some stuff I know for sure hed never leave behind were still in the room that he had paid up through the end of the month. Nobody knows what happened to him or where he might be. Ezra spent a long time looking but never found hide nor hair.
Damn, Larabee, you been keepin this to yourself all this time? Vin laid his hand on Chris shoulder in support. Chris simply nodded. No, we dont have ta do this. It wouldnt be right without the big guy. Tell Steele no.
Studying the ground for a long time, Chris thought it over. Were goin. Buck would have wanted all of us to be together, no matter where he is. Ill send a wire to JD and tell him well meet him in Eagle Bend on the 3rd. Might want to send one to Ezra too, just so he knows to come.
JD carried three folded shirts from the dresser to the bed where his valise lay open, partially full. He carefully stashed the shirts on top of the pants already inside and then stood, his mind hundreds of miles away. He was leaving in the morning, taking the train south to Eagle Bend. It had been seven years since he had been in that area of the west, seven years that had brought a lot of change to his life. He was a husband, a father of four beautiful daughters, a deputy sheriff in a growing town, and a solid citizen that people liked and trusted. And it had all begun ten years ago when he jumped off a stage in a dusty dying town named Four Corners.
JD often thought about the six men who had become more than friends to him, men who he had thought would be in his life forever. He was wrong! When they left the burned out town, the young Easterner was determined to stay with at least a few of the men who meant everything to him. He knew that Nathan Jackson planned on going to the Seminole village where the seven of them had first fought together for that was where his wife and their first son were. Buck had told him that Josiah was talking of going to Vista City to work with the sisters that had taken such good care of his sister, Hannah, until she passed away, so the youth wasnt expecting the wise holy man to continue on with the rest of them. He never thought it would be he, that found it impossible to continue on with the Seven. With Buck urging him on, he realized that he loved Casey Wells and wanted to make a life with her. He turned back sixteen days after the seven of them left Four Corners and made his way alone to rejoin Casey and her Aunt Nettie.
Honey, are you all right? Casey came up behind him, fresh socks in her hands. She dropped them in the valise and then put her hands on her husbands waist, drawing him near.
He smiled at her and shook his head. Nothings wrong, just remembering. Its been seven years, Case. Back then, I thought wed be together forever, riding the range, righting wrong, shooting the bad guys. Pretty naive, wasnt I?
You were a greenhorn, young and idealistic. And I fell madly in love with the man that you were but I love the man that you are. Your daughters do too. Now, finish packing so you can read them their bed time story. You wont be able to do that for a week and I know you will miss doing it as much as they will miss hearing your stories. Youre going to have a great time, JD. She leaned in and planted a quick kiss on his lips and then, quickly left to go see to her young ones.
JD sighed and looked down at the valise. It wont be the same without Buck. I wonder what happened to him?
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, JD climbed aboard the train that would take him south to Eagle Bend. He was eager to see his friends but his heart was heavy. He knew deep in his heart that Buck Wilmington was probably dead. The man he thought of as a brother would never have stayed away all this time, he just knew it. Buck would have kept in touch! He would have written to the young man he had hounded for three years, determined to make a strong man out of the orphaned boy from back east. He would have been at JD and Caseys wedding and at the christening of their first child. Hell, Buck would have moved to Santa Fe so that he could be Uncle Buck to all of JDs daughters, spoiling all of them and telling them everyday that they could be whatever they wanted to be and to never let any man ruin their dreams. Yes, deep in his soul, JD knew that Buck was gone from this earth.
He sat down on one of the hard wooden seats facing forward and stared out the window, remembering the first day he had run into the six men he had grown so close to. They were gathering at dawn by the livery to head out for the Seminole village. Little did they know, that was the beginning of a long run as the Magnificent Seven, as Jock Steele had dubbed them. The name had caught on and spread throughout the countryside. The fame had kept some of the disreputable element away but it had attracted others who were trying to make a reputation of their own. The seven of them had fought many a battle and had always come out on top. Even that final battle, they had won. Sure, looking back at the destruction of the town, it didnt look like much of a victory but they had all survived unlike Birch Radcliffe and his gang. He smiled, thinking it was a lot like the Seminole village which was pretty well wiped out by Andersons cannon. Buck and Josiah had been injured pretty seriously both times and they had all rode out of there together. He sighed. It would be good to see the men he had fought and won with again.
Would you mind if I sat down with you, Mr. Dunne?
Startled, JD twisted his head around until he was facing the man who had intruded on his reverie. There stood Jock Steele, quite a few pounds heavier, a lot thinner in hair, and seemingly not as bold. The writer that JD remembered would already be seated and pummeling him with questions but the man before him was waiting almost uncertainly for permission to speak with him.
Sure, youre paying for this reunion. Have a seat. In a way, JD was glad for the interruption in his retrospection as it was only making him melancholy. How have you been, Mr. Steele?
Oh fine, just fine. Writing my books, doing research, making a living back in New York. And you, Mr. Dunne, how are you and Mrs. Dunne? Jock asked, actually seeming concerned.
Were doing just fine ourselves. We have four daughters to take care of and Im a deputy, working with a really good sheriff. Im looking forward to seeing the other guys. None of us have gotten together since we split up almost seven years ago.
Actually, thats not true. Chris and Vin live together, Josiah has been to visit Nathan on occasion. Its just you and Ezra that havent been in contact with any of the others which came as a surprise to me when I started looking into where the seven of you might have moved to. I thought you and Mr. Wilmington would stay together. Jock leaned forward in his seat, eager to hear the story of why JD and Buck were no longer on speaking terms.
JD gulped down the lump in his throat and replied, Buck went with Josiah and Ezra to San Francisco right after we all left Four Corners. I wrote to Ezra but he sent word that he didnt know where Buck had taken off to. He thought maybe some woman had caught his eye. Buck never got in touch with any of us after that. Its not a good sign, figure he would have at least got in touch with Chris.
Im sorry about that. My detective couldnt fine anything about him either. He appears to have dropped off the map. Steele was quiet for a few moments and then he looked JD straight in the eye. JD, may I admit something to you?
The young man was taken aback. This was not the little, cocksure, industrious, writer that had followed the Seven all the way to Purgatory, pestering Larabee during one of the worst times of his life. This wasnt the vivacious adventurer that had set out with only a mule and his camera and had boldly moved in on some of the most ferocious desperados in the West, interviewing them and taking their photographs. What had happened to that man?
Mr. Steele, whatever you say, Ill keep to myself.
Taking a steadying breath, Jock admitted, The time that I spent with you seven men, the time I went to Purgatory and interviewed all those outlaws, it was the best time of my life. I never felt so alive, so invigorated, and I went back to New York and wrote your book in six weeks. The next book took me four months to write and the next seven months. The next three years all I managed to write were a few articles for magazines. I had to turn to doing freelance jobs for the rags in New York to survive. I got up the nerve to write the book I sent to you guys when I heard that Four Corners was a ghost town now. I showed it to a publisher and he agreed to publish it if I could get a photo of the seven of you. I used my advance to get you all together.
Well goddam, Mr. Steele! You were a real good writer! I dont understand.
I just dried up, JD. I couldnt come up with any new stories. Anything I thought of to write just didnt sound as good as the real stuff I had heard from the outlaws I talked to in that saloon. I tried to write their stories but I just couldnt get it right. I sold the photographs and got good money for them. I simply got writers block and never got over it until I decided to write about the Magnificent Seven again.
Chuckling at that, JD nodded. I guess thats all right then. It cant hurt any of us now, its just a story like all the other dime novels. Hope it sells a lot and makes you a bunch of money, Mr. Steele.
Thank you, JD. I only hope that Mr. Larabee isnt too upset with the story.
Hell, if he didnt kill you the last time we met, I doubt if hell kill you over some fiction just cause you used our names. JD relaxed back in his seat. Jock Steele wasnt as bad to converse with as he had feared.
Hope youre right. You grew up in Boston, right?
The two men spent the rest of the train trip talking about the big cities of the East Coast. It was a very pleasant journey.
As the train slowed to come to a stop in Eagle Bend, Dunne stood and gathered his belongings. Jock told the young lawman that he would leave the Seven to themselves for the rest of today and tonight but he would like to spend the next day with them as they rode back to Four Corners. JD had promised to talk to the guys about going back, figuring the other five wouldnt mind riding back to where it all began.
The youngest of the Seven reached the end of the car and turned as he walked out the door. He froze, his eyes taking in the sight before him. There stood Nathan Jackson, almost completely bald, slightly heavier around the middle, smiling so much his white teeth gleamed in his dark face. To his right was Josiah Sanchez, totally grey now but looking just as imposing as he did seven year prior. On Nathans left was Chris Larabee, pudgier, his blond hair thinner, his face lined with age and sun, smiling broader than JD had ever seen him smile. Vin Tanner stood right beside Chris. His hair was short but other than that, JD swore the man hadnt changed at all. He still even had that ratty old hide coat!
You gonna stand there til the train leaves for Vista City or you gonna get off and say hello? Chris greeted him for all the others. They moved forward as one as JD whooped with joy at seeing his long lost friends, mentors, and heroes. He leapt from the train and ran the short distance to be engulfed by broad arms as all five men tried to hug one another at the same time. They could care less if the towns people were staring, they had missed one another, more than any of them had realized.
John Daniel, how are you?! My goodness, I believe youve grown at least... well, at least in status if not stature! Josiah boomed and they all laughed as they made their way off the terminal platform and onto the boardwalk.
And at least three of you have grown a little too, I see, JD answered back, reaching out and patting Chriss stomach.
Watch it, kid, I can still outdraw you. Hows Casey doing? Chris attempted a glare but it quickly changed into a grin as the men naturally turned toward the saloon.
Shes great and so are the girls. We have four daughters, Ginnie, Allie, Patsy, and Nettie. Aunt Nettie passed on just last year, shortly after little Nettie was born but she sure loved the girls and she was such a help to Casey, right up to the end. Vin, how are your boys doing? Everyone was trying to catch up at the same time, stumbling over one another.
Whoa! Chris held up both arms, stopping the other four in their tracks. Drinks first, seats second, then we each tell whats been happening to us the last seven years. We got the time, okay?
Sounds good, Chris. Wouldnt mind some food in there too. They serve anything in this place? JD still had his valise in his hand and held it up for the others to see. I think I should go get rid of this, get checked in, cleaned up a little. Think the tall tales could wait until I get there?
They have a real nice steak they serve, how about I order you one while you get checked in? Nathan offered. JD nodded, thinking that sounded just fine.
Vin draped his arm over JDs shoulders. Ill go with the kid, order me one of those steaks too, Nate. Well be back in a few minutes.
They split off from the others and the two youngest made their way across the street to what looked like the nicer of the two hotels in town. It only took them fifteen minutes and they were back with their companions.
All five sat at a round table, platters of steaks in front of them, mugs of beer at the ready. They dug in and for ten minutes, very little was said, each man enjoying his meal. Josiah was the first to finish and as he wiped his mouth and dropped his napkin on the table, he couldn't help but grin. They had all come so far, not just in miles but in the journey of life.
"While you're finishing up, John Daniel, I'll tell you what the others have already heard, my tale.
JD, his mouth full of biscuit and potato, nodded enthusiastically. He had been eagerly awaiting hearing about what both Josiah and Nathan had been up to in the past seven years ever since he had received the letter from Steele. He had been in touch with Chris and Vin, and Ezra that one time, but not with the others. He wanted to hear all about their adventures during the time the seven of them had been apart.
Okay, let me start with our stop in Dry Gulch. We had stopped in numerous small towns along the way, of course, with Buck wanting to meet the ladies and Ezra determined to clean the pockets of every business man along the way. Dry Gulch was a bit different though. It was a small but booming town, set between two prospering silver mines. Most of the town was saloons and brothels so both of our friends were in pig heaven. Well, all three of us got into a poker game and let me tell you boys, God was surely smiling down on us for four days straight. I stopped after thirty hours with four hundred dollars in my pocket. Buck won seven hundred and twenty and then had three nights of note worthy bliss, as he put it. But Ezra, well, he kept playing until no one would play with him anymore. When we finally moved on, watching our backs mind you, Ezra had over two thousand in pure profit! We stayed up in the hills and made sure no one was following us for a week and then we headed straight for San Francisco.
Josiah paused, as a waitress brought them another round of beers. He took a long draw on his and then continued. What a city! The rich get richer and the poor seem to prey on one another. I guess we all found something alluring there, at least for a while. I found the Lords work down by the docks, where even small children were forced to toil ten to twelve hours a day. Ezra took his money and compounded it until he was able to purchase a gambling establishment. He was so proud of it but he sold it later when he found a place in a more upstanding part of the city. Buck, however, became troubled with one particular brothel. He got into several fights with the management and didnt know what to do about one certain woman there. It wasnt a love affair, I believe she reminded him of his mother. Anyway, I moved on before the matter was resolved. The dirt and grime of the city wore me down and I found myself packing my bags and bidding farewell to our comrades.
So, you werent there when Buck disappeared? Chris asked quietly. The look on his face stopped Josiah in his tracks. The look spoke volumes of the pain and desperation that the blond felt.
The preacher scanned the faces of the men around the table and each held a version of the same feelings. He slowly shook his head. No, he was fine, working for Ezra when I left. I didnt find out that he had ... that there was any trouble until five months later when I settled just outside of Tucson at the orphanage. I wrote to Standish and told him where I was going to be staying. He wrote back and told me Buck had disappeared.
JD, with hope in his voice, stated, I bet he grabbed that woman and headed off somewhere. Hes probably fine, just hidin out from that guy that was causin the trouble.
Yeah, ya may be right, JD, Vin draped his arm over his friends shoulders but failed to meet his eyes. None of the others could share the same positive outlook.
Josiah, tell em about Pirro and Ana, Nathan urged to change the subject.
Ah, the loves of my life. When I got to Tucson, I found the Sisters of El Tavor. The sweetest four nuns you would ever want to meet. They were running an orphanage for Mexican and Indian children but the buildings were in terrible disrepair. I thought to stay just long enough to help them get the home livable. However, I didnt plan on two little imps, brother and sister, who managed to worm their way into my heart and home. Pirro was four and Ana was two when a Cavalry patrol found them out in the middle of the desert. I ended up adopting them, building an adobe house and now Pirro is a fine boy who is really into music and woodworking, very intense for a child who just turned ten. And my Ana, she likes to try to mother the both of us though she is only seven. They are both beautiful souls and I wouldnt know what to do without them. The Sisters are taking care of them for me while I am gone but I miss them already.
Thats fantastic, Preacher! A boy and a girl, you must be real proud, Vin exclaimed, beaming as he thought of his two boys back home. I know exactly how ya feel bout missin your young uns. I sure do miss Pony and Joe.
Pony and Joe? JD turned to the man beside him, Whered you get those names? I thought your boys were named after Chris and Josiah.
Yeah, well it got confusin with two Chriss and the little guy fell in love with Larabees old gelding. Pony just kinda snuck up on im. Joes just short for Josiah. If the next ones a boy, hell be Ezra John and who knows what hell answer to. How bout your young uns, Nathan? What are they up to?
Nathan chuckled and shook his head. Obie is eight and he leads his brothers into everything you could imagine. Just last week, he had all three, even Morry whose only three, trying to catch fish with their bard hands. They were waist deep in the middle of the stream when Rain caught them. She couldnt get too mad, they caught four fish! Asa loves to read and Paul loves to help me find and pick herbs. I think he just might be a doctor some day. And then theres little Rosebud. Oh, she is so beautiful, looks just like Rain.
Thank goodness she doesnt look like you, Jackson! Chris spouted and laughter bubbled out of the other three while Nathan glowered for all of ten seconds before breaking out laughing himself.
The conversation swung safely to children and the rest of the night was spent telling stories about the antics that their offspring had gotten into. Even Chris told a tale or two about his nephews and seemed to heartily enjoy the narratives of the childrens exploits. The evening passed with a lot of laughter and beer.
The following morning, the five friends had finished breakfast and were wasting time, waiting. Some patiently, some impatiently, but all apprehensively waiting for the westbound train to come chugging into the Eagle Bend station, for their last comrade was expected to be on it and then they could all ride south to Four Corners. Their reminiscing to the wee hours the night before had them all anxious to see and feel the old town that held such golden memories for all of them
What time is that train suppose ta be here? JD asked for the fifth time that morning. Not only did he want to see Standish, but he also wanted to find out just exactly what had happened to his best friend and mentor.
Chris slightly shook his head. Another fifteen minutes, JD, and dont ask again. It wont get here any sooner. Standish always was the last one ready though, wasnt he?
Used to have to drag im away from the table to get im on his horse for his turn to ride the circuit. Only time hed move his ass was when bullets were flyin! Nathan chuckled and the others had to agree.
He was always there when it counted though, Chris said softly and only Vin, who was by his side, heard the words of praise for the con man.
Yeah, he was. So was Bucklin.
Vins words were even quieter but they brought a tear to the blonds eyes. Chris swiped at his face and turned away from his best friend. The night had been difficult to get through and the new day brought a real mix of emotions that Chris had thought long buried. Being back in this section of the West had stirred up the best and the worst of times in his life and the big hearted scoundrel was right in the middle of them all. God he missed him right now.
Before anyone else, Vin shouted, I hear it! It was almost a minute later that the others could pick up the steam whistle of the inbound train. They all made their way to the station and climbed onto the wooden platform, their eyes glued to the engine that could now be seen pulling eight cars noisily into the growing town.
Impatiently, they watched the passengers depart the train, men, women, children, but no Ezra Standish. When the last of the people had disembarked and the porters were done with the luggage, five very disappointed men approached one of the black men in the starched white coats.
Josiah inquired for the group. I dont suppose you know anything about a man from San Francisco who was suppose to be getting off here? His name is Standish, Ezra Standish and he dresses quite fashionably.
Oh, Mr. Standish is in the last car, Sir. I believe he and his party were waiting for the crowd to disperse before they got off. Percy should be down there now assisting them. If you would kindly wait here, Ill go and see if I can help them with anything. It should only be a few more minutes. With that, the porter scurried away toward the rear of the train where a fancy private car was attached.
Ez got himself a whole car, just for him? Nathan couldnt believe the pretentiousness that Ezra was forcing upon the rest of them. Yes, they all knew that he had done very well for himself in San Francisco but for him to throw it in their faces, that just wasnt right.
Did that porter say Ezra and his party? Who the hell did he bring along with him? Dont tell me he brought a maid and a butler along! Chris was aghast at the gall of the man. They were meant to be together, as they had been in the past. He didnt want Standish mucking things up with his money!
None of the five moved towards the private car at the end of the train.
+ + + + + + +
I cant do it, Pard, he implored once again, his head down, his eyes averted. His frail body was hunched over and tilting to the left, much as it always did when he was sitting in his chair. His hair was still thick but mostly grey and dull as were his eyes.
You can and you will. They are your best friends and they will be ecstatic to see you once again, just as I was. Ezra knelt down in front of the man he loved like a brother, the one man that meant more to him than any other. I cannot go out there and lie to them any longer. Those men dont care if you can sit a horse or flirt with a woman. They care that you are alive, that they can put their arms around you and hold you close and talk to you once again.
Theyll pity me and ask too many questions and want to take care of me, just like you did. I dont want to be a burden to any of them, Ez. Its bad enough living off of you but at least I know you can afford it. None of the rest can. JD, Josiah, hell, maybe even Chrisll want to take me in and I dont need them taking care of me. Id rather go to some poor house or live on the streets than do that! Buck straightened up a bit as he spat out the last words.
Ezra had heard it all before. Ever since Steeles letter had arrived and he had approached Buck about going back to Four Corners to reunite with the others, Buck had been harping on the fact that he didnt want their pity or need their help. If he thought about it, Buck had been adamant about the same thing since Ezra had first seen those familiar blue eyes open for the first time in the hospital in San Francisco eight months ago. He didnt want Ezra to write to any of the others and tell them that Buck was back and alive but severely injured. The ex-scoundrel finally gave in and allowed Ezra to take him home to recuperate at his large house where a nurse took care of the paralyzed man twenty-four hours a day for the first four months. Now, Buck could do some things for himself as feeling had returned to his arms and hands but they were still clumsy and numb most of the time. Even at this time of his life, when a friends assistance was required, the big man was one of the most pig-headed men Standish had ever known.
Well, when you can walk, you can go live on the streets, but since you cannot, you will go where I push you and that is final. Now, straighten up and smile for you are going to receive a heros welcome after the shock wears off. It is time to depart the sanctuary of this train car. With that, Ezra got behind Buck Wilmington and pushed the wheelchair out onto the rear platform and, with the assistance of the two porters, got the man and chair down to the wooden platform.
Five sets of eyes watched the porters lifting something down from the back of the train but they couldnt tell what it was. All the men realized the third man was the gambler because of the royal blue coat and flat broad brimmed hat. As the porters got their tips and moved away however, the former peacekeepers all froze in shock and stunned disbelief as Ezra began to push the wheelchair and the man they all believed dead towards them.
Tanner was the first to regain his senses. Buck? he said tentatively as he began to move forward. Buck! The former hunter of men ran the short distance between himself and his goal and stopped just short of his two long gone friends. He dropped to his knees in front of the man in the wheelchair and reached out his hand. A trembling right hand reached towards him and once they touched, Vin knew it was not an illusion. He leaned into the man they thought dead and whispered, Now were complete again.
JD was the next to run to Ezra and Buck. He hugged Buck around the neck and looked up at Ezra. Thank you, he uttered through tears that fell unfettered down his cheeks. Later he would ask but right now he didnt care about the details of the when or how, he only cared that Buck was alive and here with them.
Then Nathan and Josiah were there, slapping Standish on the back and touching Wilmington any place that they could get their hands on as JD wasnt about to let go and Vin was still right in front of Buck, gripping tightly to both of the ladies mans hands. Through the tears, laughter rained as everyone began to talk at the same time. A then they were all quiet as the leader of the Seven parted the men as if parting the Red Sea.
Chris stood, his body slightly trembling, three feet away from his oldest friend. He stared, wanting with all his heart to believe that Ezra had once again saved them all, but finding it hard to trust his own eyes. You made it?
Not able to find his voice, Buck could only nod. He had truly missed all of his pals, especially JD whom he thought of as a little brother, but Chris was the one that had seen Buck through some of the worst times of his life and Chris was the one that he had called out for when things were their darkest during the last seven years. His arms shook as he lifted them and reached out to his long time companion.
I thought you were dead, Chris said as he fell into the hug and embraced his oldest friend back. I felt like I lost the rest of my family.
I know, Pard, I know. I needed you too. I was halfway round the world, most of the time on a ship being held against my will and I never stop figurin that someday Id get back here to you guys. He pulled back a ways from Chris and looked at the others who were still gathered around. My God, you all look good for a bunch of old men!
So what in the world happened to you?! JD demanded. The shock was over, time had come for the truth of the matter.
I got shanghied, bout five months after we got to Frisco. I was havin some trouble with a flesh peddler named Garrison. He arranged to get me out of town and make some money to boot. He had me nabbed, beaten, and sold to a captain that was leavin in the morning for the Orient. I hated it but Abner took a shine to me ya might say and kept me on board for two fuckin years. Then, one day, we were pullin into Sydney harbor and I couldnt take it no more. I jumped overboard and he shot me as I was swimmin away. Took me awhile to recover but I got a job herding cattle in the outback, tuckin away some money til I got enough to get back to the States. Its a long boat ride, guys! I finally made it back and go lookin for Ezra at the saloon hed bought and he aint there no more. And what do I do? Get dropped down the hole again! Only this time I land on my neck and back and almost die. They threw me in the water and I wash up on the shore where some copper finds me and takes me to the hospital. I guess they find Ezras name on me and contact him cause I wake up to find him standing over me. He shrugs his shoulders like thats the end of the tale and everyone should drop it.
Shanghied? from JD.
Sydney? Australia? from Josiah.
Two years on a boat? from Vin.
You landed on your neck and back? from Nathan.
It always comes down to problems with a woman, dont it, Buck? But Chris was smiling this time, only too happy to have his buddy back with them.
Now, now, gentlemen, why dont we first get settled at the hotel and then find a decent place for some dinner and a drink. Then Im sure that between Mr. Wilmington and myself, all questions will be answered. The gambler pushed the chair forward and the men fell in beside and behind, chattering away like magpies.
As they got to the hotel, Ezra stopped at the desk to sign in and as soon as he got the keys, JD grabbed them and Nathan, Josiah, Vin and JD picked up Buck and the wheelchair and made their way up the stairs to the second floor rooms to get Buck settled and ready to go for a drink and some dinner. Chris stayed with Ezra.
When Standish was done at the registry, Larabee asked the question foremost in his mind. When did he get back?
Six months ago. I had the letter written and was going to post it but he forbid me to send it to you. Hes a proud man, Chris. He was completely paralyzed, couldnt move his arms or legs, couldnt take care of his toiletries or feed himself. He wanted to die right then and there rather then be a burden on any of us, especially you or JD. I wore him down and built him back up until he has agreed to stay with me as I have the funds and no one to spend them on. Maude passed away nine months ago and left me quite a large sum of money plus I have done quite well for myself in San Francisco. I bought a house on the edge of town, an area they call Knob Hill and it is plenty big enough for myself and Mr. Wilmington plus the staff.
Chris shook his head vigorously. Damn it, Ezra, I dont care if you own the Denver mint and I dont care what that pig-headed fool wants, you should have told me he was back and alive and injured! Im responsible for that man!
You? And why would that be? As long as I have known Mr. Wilmington, hes been perfectly capable of taking care of himself. Well, until now. This is exactly why he didnt want any of you all to know! Ezra started to stomped away but whirled to face the blond. He didnt want to come because of you and the reaction he knew he would get from you and JD.
He saved my life during the war. He saved my life after we got out west. He saved me after Sarah and Adam died. I owe him, Ezra, more than youll ever know. He doesnt believe hes worth anybody elses time or effort like he gives out. It was the way he was raised, being told he wasnt worth as much as regular folk, wasnt worth their friendship. Thats why he hangs out with the ladies and why he stuck so tight with me when I was an ass to him. It was hard to blame myself all the time so yeah, I stuck the blame on him for awhile. Didnt know he was stickin it in the same place. Dont get me wrong, Standish, hes family to me, not just some dog for me to kick around. He just never believed how much he meant to me, especially after the fire and then after Vin. Didnt know how much I was gonna miss him until he wasnt there as Vin and I started the ranch. I want him there with us and the horses and the big sky. He doesnt belong in the city in your mansion.
The man in front of him looked drained, as if the revelation of his feelings for Buck had been more than he could deal with. Deep down, the gambler believed that the scoundrel would probably be happier at the ranch with Chris and Vin, with children running around, but he would miss Bucks company. Anyway, it was up to Buck where he wanted to stay.
You need to tell Mr. Wilmington what you have just told me. He might very well be better off with you and Vin on the ranch but he will be stubborn and difficult to persuade. Only your heart felt honesty will sway him.
Youre not going to try to stop me? I figured you wanted to take him back with you. Chris was looking to fight or argue with Ezra over Bucks care. He wanted to fight with someone over the way that Buck had been treated during the past seven years. It wasnt fair that the rest of them had been building families, building fortunes, looking to their futures and Buck had been trying to survive.
I want what is best for him, only that. He deserves some peace and quiet in his life along with love and dear friends. I see the others are coming. Talk to him from the heart, Chris. Ezra moved away and smiling, announced, Lets find something to eat and then proceed to Four Corners. Is our host anywhere around?
Jock is already getting set up in Four Corners. Hell be shocked to see Buck just like we were. He had detectives out looking for you, Buck, Josiah stated as he pushed Buck and the wheelchair out of the hotel and towards the best restaurant in town.
After renting a buggy and getting Buck settled on the padded seat, the seven once again rode together for the town they still considered home. JD rode beside the buggy and talked nonstop to Buck as they made their way across the dusty plains towards their destination. He asked question after question and then filled in the conversation as Buck got out his three or four word answer. The Sevens youngest was much more interested in telling Buck about his daughters then learning about sailing a ship out on the ocean or driving sheep and cattle in a drier environment than New Mexico. And Buck was enchanted to learn about each and every one of his friends children. He was sad that Chris had never found another woman to settle down with but not really surprised. Sarah had been a really special woman! The four of them had made quite a family.
They came to the rise that overlooked Four Corners and they stopped as if on cue. Only tumbleweeds and prairie dogs inhabited the town now. Blackened wood and partial buildings still stood as a memorial of the gunfight that drove the citizens away from the struggling town. Most of the buildings that were still standing looked solid, a tribute to the builders, but they were drab and forlorn. There was nothing about the place that welcomed the peacekeepers as the sight once had.
Chris urged the others forward and as they quietly made their way into town, Jock Steele stepped out of the old saloon and waved. His hand froze as he saw the buggy and recognized who was riding in it. Five horses were reined in right in front of the saloon that Ezra had once bought. The buggy came to a stop in front of the Clarion office. Josiah and Nathan quickly went to assist Ezra with the invalid while JD and Chris greeted the writer. Vin remained on his horse, still surveying the town and what was left of it.
I cant believe that Mr. Wilmington came. Which one of you found him? This is certainly a pleasant surprise, not only for me but for all of you I take it, Jock gushed and in his mind counted how much more he could make with a picture of all seven of the Seven.
You will not bother him, is that clear? Chris glared.
Not one question unless he wants to talk to you, JD glared even more menacingly.
Steele gulped and nodded. He wasnt sure what was going on but he was going to stay away fro Buck Wilmington until the others relaxed a little. He leaned out and glanced around the two men who stood directly in his line of sight. It was then that he saw the wheelchair and the gentle way Josiah was lifting Buck down from the buggy.
Any whiskey still in that place?
Uh, excuse me? Jock was stunned with the new development and had missed Larabees question.
We need a drink, Steele. Any whiskey still in there? Vin swung down from his horse and headed for the saloon before Jock could answer.
Oh, yes, yes, I brought some along. I thought some of you might like a drink or two while we talk. Lets sit and talk for a while before we tour whats left of the town. Steele went behind the bar and came up with eight clean glasses and four bottles of whiskey.
The Seven headed straight for their old table, each sitting exactly where they always sat when they were the regulators of the town. Josiah eased Buck up the one stair and settled him to Chris left with JD on Bucks other side. Jock poured and full glasses were passed around.
Heres to the Magnificent Seven! Josiah raised his glass and clinks were heard as each touched his brothers glasses. Even Jock was allowed to toast the Seven.
Heres to Inez, Buck stated and again glasses were raised. Anybody know what happened to her? Everyone shook their head, none of them had seen her since they had left so many years ago. Well, hope she found herself a good man.
Heres to Judge Travis. If it wasnt for him, we never would have stayed in this town at all. Chris raised his glass and they all shouted, Judge Travis before chugging the rest of the fiery liquid in their glasses. Youre next Vin.
Vin grinned. Heres to the jail. I think most of us spent at least one night in there, and I dont mean watchin the prisoners.
Here, here! they shouted and the laughter began.
Heres to Nathan, for patchin us up in that upstairs, inadequate, sweltering, airless, foul-smelling room he called a clinic and to the liquid he forced us to drink that tasted like...
CAT PISS!!! the others, even Nathan, joined Ezra in shouting.
Hey, it worked. Saved most of your lives with that tea. But I do have to agree with you that those stairs were a killer. I cussed em out more than once. Okay, my turn. Heres to Tiny, who took great care of our horses, even the ornery ones, he said glaring at Vin and then Ezra.
Chaucer had discerning taste, he was not ornery, unlike Peso. Ezra had always defended his horse, whom he still had but never rode anymore.
Vin began to speak but Chris stopped him with an upraised hand. Dont even try to defend that beast, Tanner. We all lost a chunk a hide ta him.
JD got to laughing so hard while toasting once again that he almost fell off his chair. Remembering a time when Chaucer bit him in the butt and ended up tearing the whole seat out of his pants, JD yelled, Remember when Buck got chased out of the bath house by Lucy and all he had on was his boots and a towel!
Now I seem to remember Ez going down the middle of the street in only his hat and a table cloth so dont go pickin on me, Buck got in while the others howled with laughter at the memories.
We could never tell what you two might get into. You did keep us on our toes, as did the outlaws who never seemed to learn to leave our town alone. Josiah brought the tone down a bit with the mention of the felons that they had dealt with during their time as regulators.
Okay, my toast. JD stood and faced Chris. Heres to Chris Larrabee, the smartest, fastest, quietest, scariest leader a bunch of reprobates like us ever could have. Thanks Chris for watchin our backs.
All but Chris and Buck stood. Here, here! They tossed down their whiskey and then returned to their seats.
I couldnt a said it better myself, ya old war dog. It sure is good to see all a you again. Buck pushed his glass out for another refill. It felt so good to be with these guys, talking about old times and forgetting for a little while what was facing him when he went back to San Francisco.
Chris leaned over and whispered in Bucks ear, You aint goin back to California. Your comin to the ranch with Vin and I. I wont be without my family any longer. Vins got his wife and boys. I got you, Pard.
Buck stared hard at his old friend, not believing what he had just heard. He would love to live with Chris on a ranch but not this way, totally useless to the two men and a drain on Vins wife and sons. No, going back with Ezra was a better plan. There he wasnt expected to be of any use. He could hide away in his room and not be a burden to anyone. Ezra didnt even need to come see him on a daily basis. No.
Buck, Chris hissed and the others immediately stopped what they were doing and all attention was on the two men who seemed to be having an argument without them.
It aint gonna happen, Larrabee. It aint up for discussion. Its my life, not yours! Buck moved very tired hands to the wheels of his chair and tried his best to move away from the table but got stuck on JDs chair.
Ezra got up and moved around to assist him. Told you how stubborn he was, guess you forgot. As he pushed Buck away from the others, he said to his friend, Lets see if we can find you some place to lie down for awhile.
Nathan followed right behind them. He had been eager to have a private conversation with Ezra and Buck since seeing them at the railway station. Maybe all his medical studies could aid the tall man once again. It was worth looking in to.
Leaving Buck in the parlor of the boarding house where he and Chris had maintained a room for all three years that they had been in the town, Standish and Jackson searched the upstairs rooms. They found a bed on the third floor and carried it down to the parlor. After pounding out some of the dust, they helped Buck get comfortable and let him rest. He quickly fell asleep.
Nathan and Ezra sat out on the front porch, facing one another. Ezra could tell that the black healer had something serious on his mind and thus he waited for Nathan to speak first. The man didnt wait long.
Ezra, its good to see you, he began. It truly was good to see the Southerner which shocked the ex-slave. He and Standish had rarely seen eye to eye but when they had all split up, Nathan found that he missed Ezra almost as much as he missed his best friend Josiah. I never believed that I could be really good friends with a white man from the South. I carried a lot of hate around with me but you showed me that all Southerners werent alike and I dont think I ever thanked you for that.
Slavery was an appalling practice and I am truly sorry that you were a part of that horrible business. We had our differences but we overcame a majority of them, didnt we? Ezra grinned at his friend. Two men who had grown up on opposite sides had reached middle ground and he was proud of their accomplishment.
Yeah, we did, Ezra, and we are better men for it. He glanced back at the door to the boarding house. When he first was injured, was he totally paralyzed?
The gambler nodded. His disabled companion wasnt someone he liked to talk about but he had been eager to find out what Nathan would have to say about Bucks condition. He couldnt move anything. It took about two months before he got any feeling back in his arms, another two before he could pick up and hold a cup. Now he can push himself up and reach out both arms like he did for Chris. Hes shaky but he can do it. Nathan, do you think that its possible he may get the use of his legs back?
He said he fell and landed on his neck and back. What did the doctors say? Nathan didnt want to give either Ezra or Buck any false hope. He was sure that they had seen some fine doctors in San Francisco and who was he to say anything that would contradict them.
The first doctor said that he would die. The specialist said he would be paralyzed for life. When he began to move his arms, that doctor said it was a miracle and to be thankful for it but dont count on anything else. I wanted to take Buck to another doctor, a young one in Stockton who I had heard about through customers. He would have nothing of it. Most of the time he is extremely depressed. He has a male nurse who bathes him, dresses him, and does some exercises with him. However, most of the time, Mr. Wilmington doesnt want to cooperate.
Nathan, he spent so much time trying to get back home only to have this tragedy happen to him as soon as he got back. Its been a very hard blow to try to overcome. Nathan, do you think there might be a chance that hell improve more?
Honestly, yes I do. I had a young indian boy fall from a cliff and hurt his neck. He was paralyzed and I ended up studying every book I could get my hands on, trying to find a cure for this boy. I discovered that sometimes, a fall doesnt cause permanent damage. Instead, a swelling occurs and causes a blockage to the nerves that carry signals from the brain to the extremities. It might take only weeks for the swelling to go down but sometimes it can take a year or more.
Nathan took a deep breath and exhaled, finally saying what he had wanted to say since he saw Buck reached out for his old friend. You said he couldnt move anything but the feeling came back to his arms. Im pretty sure this is a swelling and that hell get better and better over the next twelve months. However...
Oh, dont however the good news, Jackson. Let me drink this in for a while first. Ezra half smiled, wishing that was all there was to Buck getting completely well. He knew Nathan was going to continue though.
All I was going to say, Ezra, is that he needs to do physical therapy so that his muscles dont atrophy. If that happens, then getting him back on his feet will prove very difficult. With therapy and a lot of hard work, Buck could be walking this time next year.
Stunned, Ezra was speechless.
Check with the doctor in Stockton, ask him if he can set up a regime of therapy for Buck. You say you have a male nurse for Buck, maybe this doctor can teach this nurse how to do them and he can do them on Buck. If that stubborn streak gets stimulated the right way, I think youll be surprised at how quickly hell get better. Nathans fine white teeth were gleaming in his dark face as the Southerner jumped forward and hugged him tight.
Thank you Nathan, thank you ever so much. You are an answer to my many prayers. As soon as he wakes, I want you to tell him just like you told me.
Well tell him together.
The Seven kicked Jock Steele out of the saloon and had a private meeting that night after Josiah made supper from fish that Vin, JD, and Chris had caught in the small lake just south of town. They had caught a string full of fish in an hours time while Buck slept and Nathan and Ezra had their talk. Josiah had gone to the church he had lovingly put back together, piece by piece. Jock had gone with him and the two men had talked for a nice long while.
When the men were full, Chris, who could tell that Nathan and Ezra were up to something, took charge and ordered the writer out so that he and his men could have a pow wow of sorts. Jock wasnt happy about being excluded but he grumbled his way out. When JD made sure that the little man was gone, Chris turned to the two men from the South.
Okay you two, out with it.
Ezra tipped his hat to Nathan and the black man stood up and faced Buck who once again was sitting between Chris and JD.
Buck, I spent a good part of the past three years studying about problems of the spine. A young indian boy out at our village got hurt and I wanted to help him so bad but sad to say, never could. He paused, waiting to see if he had the mans full attention. When he saw that Buck was looking at him suspiciously, he went on. Ezra told me what the doctors said to you and how things have been progressing, what with the feeling returning to your arms and then your hands. Buck, Im about ninety-nine per cent sure that the problem with your spine is a swelling around the nerves. That swelling will go down and the feeling that you got back in your arms and hands will return to your legs and feet. If you get someone to work on getting your muscles back in shape, I think in a years time, youll be walking again. You might not ever be totally back but I would say that you can be walking and riding again, doing some work around a ranch if thats what you want.
All eyes went to Buck who seemed to be in shock. No one said a thing, waiting for Buck to process the information that Nathan had just delivered. Finally, Nathan broke the silence.
Buck, did you understand what I said? Do you have any questions? Im not lying to you, I really have been readin all I could about this. Once feeling starts coming back in your arms, feeling should come back to your legs. It means that your neck aint broke, Buck. Just damaged. It just takes time to heal.
Thats great news, Buck. Youll be back on your feet in no time! JD slapped his much taller friend on the back but Buck still didnt react.
Chris laid his hand on bucks arm. Pard, do you understand?
Slowly, Buck nodded. Nathan, youre sure about this? Youre not just blowin smoke up my ass?
I wouldnt do that to my friend, my brother. I bet if I took a pin to your leg right now, youd feel it. You want me to stick you? Nathan made to come around the table.
No need, Buck held up his hand. I do have a bit of feeling down there. What do you mean, someone to work on my muscles?
Someone to manipulate your arms and legs so that the muscles dont get too weak. You got to lift weights, as much as you can, several times a day. You have to try walking several times a day, seven days a week, no vacations until youre back on your feet. Buck, few men are as stubborn as you when you take a bit in your teeth. If you take this challenge, then I can almost guarantee that youll be walking and riding by next summer. You up for that?
Hell yeah! Chris, save me a room at that ranch of yours. Give me six months and Ill come next spring to bug the hell outta you. First, though, I gotta go visit me some gals over in Santa Fe and some little boys and a special girl up at the Seminole village. Nathan, Ill take that challenge. Ezra, were gonna find some exercises for old Dan to get me started on and then were gonna go see that doctor in Stockton and see what he has to say.
Sounds fine to me, Mr. Wilmington, Ezra answered, his gold tooth gleaming in the lantern light.
Boys, lets drink to me walkin again!
Amen to that, Brother!
Good to have you back, Pard!
+ + + + + + +
The next morning, spirits were still high as the Seven told stories to Jock Steele. They poured them out and he wrote as fast as he could. Most of the stories were true, some slightly fabricated, some outright lies, but the seven friends were having a ball. Every time Steele asked a question, he got at least four answer and usually a debate about who did what during which gunfight. Several rounds of Can you top this? came up and Jock found himself laughing as much as the Seven were.
It was getting on to late afternoon when they finally stopped, realizing that some had to get back to Eagle Bend to catch the early train in the morning. None wanted to leave but obligations were pressing and they all had them now.
They gathered their horses and JD got the buggy ready for Buck. Jock strolled over to Bucks side and bent down slightly and whispered in his ear. Buck smiled, laughed out loud, and then nodded. Six heads turned and two men glared at the diminutive writer. Steele threw his hands up in the air and backed away from Wilmington. He wasnt sure which one would shoot first, Larabee or Dunne.
The trip back to civilization was melancholy as each man realized that the opportunity to be together like this might never come again. Families and other obligations would keep them apart and while one or two might travel to visit the others, all seven of them in one place probably wouldnt happen again.
They reached Eagle Bend shortly after dark. After seeing to the horses, they ate dinner together and then retired to the saloon for one last round of drinks. Before everyone left, Jock got them settled for a portrait to go along with his book. He promised to send a copy to each and every one of the guys. They sat still for the photograph and then it was time to go.
The good byes were glum, each man turning to his six brothers and saying what was in his heart for that particular man. JD could hardly bring himself to leave Bucks side. He had suggested to his mentor that the man come and live with he and Casey but Buck explained that he was content with Ezra and that the gambler had the room for him, where JD didnt. Buck promised once again that as soon as he was on his feet, he would come to visit JD and Casey. He was anxious to see the daughters of his favorite couple that he felt he had a part in getting together and he wanted to tell the girls the story of that walk that Casey made toward JD before she stepped on her skirt.
Kid, I love you and you know I would have been to see those little ones of yours before this if I could have. I wont be that far away once I get to Chris and Vins ranch. We wont lose touch again, I swear it to you. Tears flowed down both faces as they hugged and finally said farewell.
The next morning, they all went his own way. Josiah headed out with Nathan, wanting to see Rain and the children before heading south to his adopted son and daughter. Chris and Vin headed north, already making plans to build a new house for Chris and Buck to live in as the house at the ranch was already getting a little small. Ezra maneuvered Buck to the railway station and they got situated in the private car, prepared for the long ride back to California. JD was waiting for the afternoon train and he waved to each pair as they departed.
By the way, Buck, what did Steele say to you back in Four Corners that made you laugh so? Ezra inquired as they settled down.
Well, Ez, I meant to tell you sooner than this but never got the chance. He should be here in a few minutes. He chuckled at the gamblers shocked expression. Steele said hed pay for my story. He thinks people would like to read about me being shanghied and living for seven years in the Far East and Australia. Whatcha think, a best seller?
Nine months later~
Papa, when are we gonna get there? Ginnie whined once again. She was sitting up front with her father while Casey had the three younger ones in the back seat of the carriage with her.
JD patted her on the leg and smiled patiently. Well technically, were already there, Ginnie girl. All of this land belongs to Chris and Vin and Buck now too, I guess.
Whos gonna be there? she asked for the hundredth time.
Her father glanced back at Casey and his wife just smiled. She had the quiet ones, reading a story to the two who were still awake, while little Nettie napped, her head on Allies lap. JD turned back to his oldest daughter, the one who had to know everything.
Weve told you before, the whole family is getting together. We are going to make this an annual event and we picked your birthday to hold it on, he added to make her feel special.
But Papa, its your birthday too. She wasnt impressed. She screwed up her face and asked yet another question. I dont know this family, what if I dont like this family?
Well, you know Uncle Buck and you love him, right?
She nodded, her dark brown curls bouncing with her exuberance. The scoundrel had made quite an impression on all four girls when he had visited them two months earlier on his way to the ranch. He was still in a wheelchair but he was getting stronger and could get up on his feet for a short while to move himself from chair to chair or bed, so he felt it was time to get on with his life. He had also visited with Nathan and his family, but they had come to Eagle Bend rather then Buck trying to make his way to the village.
You said there was gonna be kids. Any of them girls? She already knew the answer. The only other girls were little ones, not big like her, except for one named Ana.
Yes, Ana will be there. Shes your age and then theres Rose, but shes little like Nettie. The rest are boys, lots of boys, and plenty of uncles and aunts. Everyone of them are as nice as Uncle Buck so Im sure youll have a great time. He hoped they werent too far away from the ranch house as he was tired of her constant questions.
Is that the ranch? The seven year old pointed down the road.
JD looked to where her finger pointed and saw a beautiful two story house painted yellow and a huge barn that was painted red. There were numerous out buildings and as they drew closer, he could make out a second, one story house also painted yellow. There were several wagons in the barn yard and dozens of horses in the corrals.
Yes, darlin, thats the ranch! Look at it, Case, aint it a sight! We sure arent the first ones to arrive. JD had been looking forward to this day for the last month, counting down the days until he saw all his brothers again. They all planned on staying a whole week, getting to know the wives and children and really catching up without the distraction of Jock Steele.
As they pulled into the barn yard, they were greeted by Vin, Josiah, and Nathan. Running around the three men were several boys and holding the ex-preachers hand was a raven haired little girl.
Welcome, Dunnes! You just happen to be the last ones to arrive. Vin was grinning from ear to ear as he shook hands with JD and then held out his hands to help Casey down. Instead, he got an awakening toddler to hold while Casey and JD got their girls down from the carriage.
We spotted you coming in. Everybody else is up on the verandah, as Ezra calls it. How are you Casey? Boy, its been a long time since Ive seen you. You are way too pretty to be married to this guy, Josiah took the petite woman by the hand and lead her up the steps to the large house. The small girl still clung to other his hand, skipping by his side to keep up. Casey, this delightful child beside me is my daughter, Ana. Ana, this is your Aunt Casey.
Casey smiled at the eight year old. You are so pretty, Ana. I love your long black hair. Does your Papa help you brush it every night?
The girl smiled shyly. Yes, he brushes it while he tells Piro and I stories. He says it is our special time.
Your Uncle JD does the same thing with his daughters. Our Ginnie is just about the same age as you, I bet the two of you will have a lot of fun this week. Caseys daughters came running up the steps to pass Josiah and her. Josiah let go of Anas hand and she ran with the other girls.
When the adults got to the porch, they were greeted by Vins wife Nita. She held the youngest of the Sevens children, nine month old Ezzie. Rain was beside her and took the baby so that the hostess could perform her duties. Nita smiled graciously and lead Casey inside so that she could freshen up and to give her a tour of the house. Rain followed along, wanting to hear what her friend Casey thought of the interior design.
The menfolk sat down on the porch and began talking, awaiting the arrival of the other three. It didnt take long for them to join those already seated. They came from inside the house, Chris with a large pitcher of lemonade in his hands, Ezra with a bunch of glasses, and Buck walking stiffly behind, leaning on a attractive mahogany and silver cane that had been a gift from Standish.
Buck, look at you! And you thought nine months ago that you would be in that chair forever. Way to go, Pard! So, youve got yourself all moved in? JD was elated that his best buddy was up on his own two feet, walking on his own.
Yup, pretty much settled down in the other house. Just the two old bachelors, me and Chris, Buck stated as he got himself settled in the biggest chair with pillows behind his back.
Aint Ez in that club too? JD asked, sure that the gambler was still unmarried.
Ezra held up his left hand and flashed a big gold wedding band that matched the gold incisor that was also flashing, he was smiling so broadly.
Shocked, JD chocked out, When did that happen?
Just before we moved to Denver, the gambler responded coolly. Just then, five ladies walked out of the house. The petite Chinese lady walked over and perched on Ezras knee. Mr. Dunne, do you remember Li Pong? She is now Li Standish, my wife. She refused to marry me while I lived in San Francisco, she thought a member of the citys high society shouldnt have a yellow wife. However, when I sold my house and businesses to move to Colorado to be closer to all of you, she finally agreed to make an honest man out of me.
JD got up and bowed in front of Li, smiling while he took her hand and kissed it. Congratulations, Li. Wow, I cant believe you found each other after all this time. That had to be nine years ago!
I found Li about a month after reaching California. She has been working for me and we have been courting ever since so it hasnt been that long, JD. And since everyone is here, I may as well tell you, we are expecting our first child. Ezra and Li were both beaming.
Congratulations rang throughout the crown of well wishers. As everyone settled down to get acquainted, Josiah introduced the fifth lady to JD.
This lovely lady is my wife, JD. Zona, this is our youngest, John Daniel Dunne. Youve already met his wife Casey, I see. They have all the girls that are running around here. They live in Santa Fe. Josiah had a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes and JD wasnt sure if Zona was really Josiahs bride or if his leg was being pulled.
Its a pleasure to meet you, Zona. You really married this big old ape? JD asked, not believing the introduction.
Yes, it is true. He cant seem to get that silly grin off his face since I agreed to marry him. We got married two months ago. She leaned forward and with her hand by her mouth she whispered loudly so all could hear, I fell in love with the children, not this old bag of bones. Josiah grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into his lap where they kissed each other soundly.
JD, you have to see Nitas art work inside. She does amazing paintings and wall hangings. The house is beautiful, Nita. And the baby is adorable! Casey gushed to the bronze skinned woman beside her.
The baby is extremely handsome, Vincent, but you can NOT call him Ezzie past the age of two. I strictly forbid it! The father-to-be declared. Internally, he was so proud that the tracker had named his son after him, he had already determined that the boy would get anything and everything Ezra could help him with.
Well, Ez, I guess we could switch his name to John if it bothers you that much. John Tanner does sound better, dont it Chris? Vin winked at his business partner and best friend.
Hey, dont get me in the middle of this. I already lost my namesake, kids name is Pony now. JD, did you see that bay stallion out in the corral when you drove up?
JD had seen the magnificent horse but hadnt mentioned it yet. Sure did! When did you get him? You got any foals out of him yet?
Chris turned to Buck who blushed slightly. The blond poked his old friend in the ribs until Wilmington fessed up. I couldnt come here empty handed. Jock Steele spent some time with me in Frisco, taken down stories of my life on board the ship and then in Australia. He gave me a share of the books and the first one sold pretty good. I bought Amazon with what I made off that silly dime novel. And Steele just sent me the draft of the next book he wrote about me, says itll sell better than the first.
Hot damn, Buck! Thats terrific. JD got up and went to shake Bucks hand. He was followed by Josiah and Nathan as neither one of them knew about it.
Standing in the middle of the adults, with children carousing in the yard, Josiah lifted his glass of lemonade. I dont believe that God could have treated us, The Magnificent Seven, any better. Heres to health, happiness, and the next generation.
Shouts of Here, here! rang throughout the ranch.