Part of the Magnificent Little Britches series
Original script by Michael Norell
Thanks so much to Marnie who did this one twice.
Five year old JD Dunne sat on a stool in the saloon. He was being more or less watched by Ezra, who had bought him to the saloon for a special treat, a glass of lemonade. The gambler leaned against the bar watching people play poker. JD was watching everybody. He took a big swallow of his drink. The boy really loved lemonade.
"Sip, Mr. Dunne, a gentleman never gulps his drink, he sips," Mr. Ezra said to him as he took a second big drink. JD sighed he didn't know why, but Mr. Ezra seemed awfully worried that he and Vin should become 'gentlemen'. What ever that meant.
The boy carefully set the glass down and looked around. "Look, Mr. Ezra, your Ma is winning again. I didn't know she was in town."
"Ah, yes. Mother arrived after you retired last night. She seems to have made herself right at home."
JD knew that Ezra really loved his Mother but sometimes he just didn't talk like it.
"That woman's deviousness knows no bounds. She....she sashays into town wins some unfortunate's property and then sells it at the first whiff of filthy lucre. There's no telling what she will do that will spoil my carefully developed, honest reputation. If I'm not very careful she'll even take the Standish Tavern away from me."
JD sighed; he knew that Ezra wasn't talking to him. Not really, but he had to ask, "Mr. Ezra, what's filthy lucre?"
"What? Oh, it means money, my boy."
"Oh.... Mrs. Maude, if she takes over the saloon can we still drink here?" The boy worried that he was sipping on his last lemonade.
Before Mr. Ezra could answer Mrs. Travis came over to them and said, "Hello, boys."
JD smiled at her, he liked Mrs. Travis she was always so nice to him and Vin, "Hey, Mrs. Travis."
She patted the boy on the back but was looking at Ezra. "Ezra, may I speak to you for a moment?"
Standing up straighter Ezra said, "Of course."
Mary Travis held out a piece of yellow paper. "I just got this wire from a certain Preston Wingo. He owns the Cattle Baron Hotel over in Snellville. It concerns your mother."
Standish took the telegram and read it. Then he walked over to the table, "Oh, Mother. Are you familiar with a gentleman by the name of Preston Wingo?"
JD followed Ezra and Mary over to the table where Maude was sitting. The startled poker player looked up at her son, "I know a fat little weasel called Preston Wingo. What about him?"
Waving the paper at her Ezra said, "Well, uh, this Wingo has slandered you. Mary just received a telegram claiming that you absconded with a pair of diamond cufflinks. He's demanding you be jailed until he arrives."
Maude gasped. "Jailed! I'm no thief!"
With a snort Standish said, "Yeah...Yes, of course not, but unfortunately, the burden of proof is on you. Now, I would suggest that Mary search your bag just so you might acquit yourself of these...ridiculous charges."
Ezra sat down and waved at the small bag. JD stood close to the gambler but where he could see inside the bag if he stood on tip toe.
Mrs. Travis glanced at the older woman, "Sorry, Maude."
Mrs. Standish leaned back in her chair. She sounded so bored. "This is so tiresome! My own son!"
JD watched as all sort of stuff was taken out and placed on the table. But there were no diamonds, at least he didn't think so. He really wasn't sure what diamond cufflinks were.
Mrs. Travis looked at the boy and the man and said with a relieved voice. "Looks like Mr. Wingo was wrong."
Maude looked at her son and said, "Satisfied?"
Ezra didn't even looking up instead he was looking at some papers. "That satchel has a false bottom. Go on. Look!"
The boy's mouth dropped open as Mary reached inside, and pulled on a little ribbon sticking up. The whole bottom came out! Setting it aside she reached inside and pulled out the cuff links. Mary held them out so everyone could see them.
"Somebody put those there! I am innocent," Mrs. Maude declared loudly.
"Well, I am afraid we are left no choice. JD, will you assist me in escorting Mrs. Standish to the jail?"
The little boy's mouth fell open he couldn't believe that Ezra was going to put his own mother in jail. "But, Mr. Ezra, she's your ma."
"I know, my boy, but if she did something wrong she must go to jail."
They walked over to the jail, JD trailing behind the adults. They didn't say anything until they got inside the jail. Then Ezra snickered, "Now you'll have to forgive the appearance, but the maid quit."
Maude held herself straighter and angrily answered, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child."
Didn't sound much like her the boy thought, sounded more like something from some book. Ezra grinned and answered back.
JD was shocked when Ezra said, "I'm cruel only that I may be kind, Mother. After all, you should know better than to steal. You know...perhaps some time...spent behind bars will be...instructional." His Papa always told him, not to be a smart mouth; maybe it was different if you're grown.
Now she was really angry and Maude interrupted, "Preston Wingo put those cufflinks in my bag. He's black mailing me."
Raising an eyebrow, Ezra said, "Now, why on earth would he want to do that?"
Maude walked into that cell and turned around. Her hands were shaking, and she clenched them as she said, "That's none of your business."
The gambler just shook his head and shut the cell door. "Come along, JD. Let us give Mother some time to contemplate her predicament."
Little Dunne looked up and smiled at Ezra. He had some questions about some of the words he'd used, but forgot all about it when his Papa hollered outside the door, "Come on. Judge wants us to ride."
Ezra nodded and turned back to his Mother, "Well...sleep tight. Don't let the, uh... ah, you know the rest." Then he started toward Buck and the others. JD followed behind him and went to stand by Vin.
"What appears to be the trouble?" Ezra asked Chris.
All the men were crowding around, trying to see the telegram Chris was holding. "We just got a message from Judge Travis. He's over at Eagle Bend trying a colored man for murder."
Buck shook his head, "I guess they're a little too hot under the collar up there for a fair trial. Judge wants us to bring the prisoner back?"
Ezra not liking the idea of a long hard ride asked, "All of us?"
Larabee nodded, "Yeah."
JD was jumping up and down at the thought of a long ride with his Papa. Not thinking he interrupted "Must be somebody famous."
Chris looked down at the pint sized whirlwind and then at the paper again. "Name's, uh...Obediah Jackson."
Nathan reached for the paper, "Chris, let me see that."
Vin stretched on his tip toes looking at the paper, too. "What's wrong, Mr. Nathan? He somebody you know?"
Looking at all of them, he answered, "He's my father."
Everyone was surprised. The two boys looked at each other. Nathan's pa was alive? But he'd never talked about him. They'd just thought he was dead.
JD pulled on Buck's sleeve, "Me and Vin's coming, too, ain't we?"
"Now hold on, JD, it's a long ride, and there might be trouble."
"No," Vin said turning to Chris. "I can help, Pa. Me and JD will stay out of the way, but we might be of some use if there's trouble."
Vin had that look about him. That look said he was going do what he thought he should, no matter what Chris or Buck said. Chris never gives up. He always tries to keep the boys away from trouble, but they always want to help. Especially Vin. So there's always this silent battle, between the two and Vin wins most of the time, when it is important to him.
"Vin..." But Chris stopped. Taking in the stubborn way Vin stood, hands on hips looking at him.
It was then Vin said, "I can watch after JD. We won't get in the way."
JD looked at his father, "Please Papa we'll be good and stay out of the way."
Buck eyeing to puppy dog eyes his son was sending said, "Come on, Chris. Maybe it'll be okay. We can leave them up the trail when we get close to town."
Chris gave in, and let the boys go. Vin grinned at JD but made sure that the adults didn't see his triumphant look. He'd told JD once that even when he won and got his way, they shouldn't tell the grownups. JD rode behind Vin, the men rode in silence and he was getting sleepier and sleepier. It was a long ride and suddenly JD was riding in his Papa's arms. Turning and looking up at the man he'd come to adore, the boy smiled and the man smiled back at him. Little Dunne liked Buck's smile, it made him feel all warm inside.
"Hey, Little Bit. Have a nice sleep?"
"I fell asleep?"
"Yep, you sure did. I thought you were gonna fall right off that pony and pull Vin down, too."
"Papa!" JD looked over at Vin and he was smiling too.
"It's okay, JD, it's a long ride."
"Are we almost there, Papa?" the small boy asked.
"Yeah, we're just gonna stop on that ridge up ahead and see what's going on in Eagle Bend."
They stopped in a cluster of trees, and Vin pulled his old spy glass out. He let Chris look through it when he needed to see far away. JD didn't know where Vin had gotten the spy glass. He asked once but Vin wouldn't say.
Chris looked through it for awhile and then said, "Looks like a hanging party."
Nathan reached for the glass. "Let me see." Nathan just glanced through the spy glass and turned to mount up.
"Now hold on, Nathan," Josiah said putting his hand on the other man's shoulder. "No sense riding into a lynch mob without a plan. Let's do this together."
Chris started issuing orders, "Vin, I want you and JD to head back to that creek we crossed awhile ago. Wait there for us, we'll come as soon as we can."
"No buts. You will do as I say and take care of JD."
Vin looked at his pa for the longest time and then he said, "Yes, sir."
He turned Peso and reached down for the other boy. "Come on, JD."
Buck picked JD up and sat him behind Vin. "You stick with Vin. We'll get there before you know it."
"You're gonna help Mr. Nathan's papa?"
"Yes, and the judge, too."
Vin kicked Peso, and the boys started back down the trail. When they got to the creek, they climbed down and Vin let his horse graze on the green grass by the water.
They got a drink of the cool water and then waited. Vin was good at waiting and being still but after a few minutes JD started climbing one of the big trees.
"JD, what are you doing?"
"Gettin' higher so I can see if they're coming yet."
The fearless boy climbed up as high as he could and looked back the way they'd come.
"See anything?" Vin asked.
"No. Vin, how long has it been?"
Vin looked back at the sun and then shrugged. "Don't know, not long though."
Dunne looked hard down the train. "Vin! I see dust."
"Come down then. Uncle Buck won't like you climbing so high."
"I'm a good climber."
"I know, but grownups worry about things like you falling and stuff."
"I'm coming." JD took one more look but all he could see was the dust cloud. He started to climb down. It took him sometime to get down. It had been easier for him to climb up the tree than down. By the time he jumped down to the big rock Vin was on, the horses were in sight.
The little dynamo was jumping and waving, but Vin pulled him down. "Come on, we need to hide until we know it's Pa and the others."
"JD!" Vin said in the tone of voice that meant, no back talk. The boys ran over to some trees and watched the men ride up. JD recognized Buck's big gray right away but Vin held on to his arm until all of them pulled to a stop and dismounted.
Both boys came out from behind the trees and went over to where the adults waited. Buck picked JD up and hugged him, while Chris placed a hand on the older boy's shoulder and lightly squeezed in greeting. JD looked around curiously. Standing there was a very old man. Nathan was hugging him.
"Daddy! Daddy!" Nathan was saying over and over.
"Son...it's good to see you," the old man said between coughs.
"It's good to see you, too. I went looking for you after the war, Daddy, where'd you go?"
"Oh, it really don't matter now."
"What were you doing in that town?"
"Coming to find you." He patted Nathan's arm, as if he was making sure that Nathan was really there.
Turning to the judge Chris said, "You want to fill us in, Judge?" The little boys hugged their respective dads with wide eyes watching the reunion of Nathan and his father.
The judge started talking. "A white man was found beaten to death. He had an altercation with Mr. Jackson in front of witnesses. After they found the body, they stopped Mr. Jackson as he was riding out of town. When I realized how angry they were, I decided to move the trial. That's why I sent for you. Then they decided to lynch my defendant."
The healer turned back to his father, "Daddy, lets ride! Let's get the hell out of here! We can go to Mexico!"
Travis interrupted, "No, no, son. You can't do that. He's a territorial prisoner waiting for trial."
"I'm sorry. I can't let my father hang for something he didn't do." Nathan said stubbornly.
Orrin stood a little straighter at the challenge from Nathan, "I promise you a fair trial."
"Yeah? With all due respect, Judge, how many Negroes going to be on that jury?" Nathan angrily snapped back.
The elder Jackson interrupted saying, "That's enough, Nathan. Ain't nothing more important to me than being a free man. And there's one thing every free man gets in America... and that's his day in court. I want mine." With that Obediah put an end to Nathan's argument.
After that no one said much as they rode back to Four Corners. While riding, JD noticed that Ezra and Josiah kept looking back. He guessed it was to make sure that no one from Eagle Bend was following them.
It was late when they got back to town. JD followed Ezra and Nathan as they took Obediah to the jail. The boy walked in and stopped. His mouth fell open. There in Maude's cell was furniture, lacy drapes, and fancy lamps. All kinds of things were there that hadn't been there before.
Obediah looked at all the decorations wide eyed and asked. "Can I have a cell like that?"
"Miz Maude," Mr. Nathan said nodding his head.
"Nathan." She didn't say a word to Ezra, who was shaking his head in disbelief.
Jackson patted his father on the shoulder, "I'll get you some blankets, and we'll make it real comfortable for you."
Obediah started coughing and couldn't seem to stop. JD watched closely knowing that coughs like that made you feel awful.
"Daddy? Daddy, are you all right?"
"Fine, I'm fine. Look at you. Growed into a fine man. After I knew you'd made it north, I used to dream about you...living as a free man."
"You didn't have to stay. You could've come with me."
Buck walked in and touched his son's shoulder. "Come on, Little Bit, let's go."
JD nodded and followed Buck outside. "I'm hungry."
The rogue smiled at his boy. "I bet you are. Let's get Vin and Chris and go eat. Okay?"
"I'll get Vin." JD turned and almost ran into a man who was talking real loud to the judge. He sidestepped the man and kept on running. Spotting Vin at the livery, the younger boy ran to him. Buck had stopped to stand by the judge.
"Vin?" He called.
Little Tanner was helping Tiny put the horses in the corral. He turned, "What?"
"Papa says it's time for supper."
They started walking back but saw that the adults still stood by the judge. The boys could tell the men were unhappy by the way they stood surrounding the judge. "I don't like that man," JD said to Vin.
Vin eyed the man, "Me neither. I think he wants to hurt Mr. Nathan's pa."
Buck saw the boys coming toward them, and nodded as he and Chris left the group to join their little ones. They all headed toward the boarding house for supper. "What do you want for supper, JD?" Buck asked.
"I don't know. Hey, it's Tuesday ain't it?"
"Yeah! We get meat loaf today, and smashed 'taters."
"And cornbread!" Vin said. He loved sweet milk and cornbread. Once not to long ago he ate so much for supper he had a stomach ache all night. But neither of the boys liked buttermilk; they wanted fresh sweet milk even if sometimes it was from a goat.
Sitting down at the table by the window. "Who was that man, Pa?" Vin asked.
"His name's Lightfoot. He's from Eagle Bend. He's here to prosecute at Obediah's trial."
"Oh, I don't like him. What's pros-se-kute?"
"Me neither." JD parrots.
"Why is that?" Uncle Chris asked.
JD just shrugs, but Vin chews on his lip for a minute and said, "I don't know. He just don't look right when he talks. "
Buck and Chris looked at each other, trying to decide what the boys meant. Then Buck shrugged, "That's as good a reason as any I guess."
"Well?" Vin asked, "What is pros-se-kute?"
Chris thought for a minute and said, "Mr. Lightfoot has to prove in court that Nathan's father killed that man. That's what he gets paid for."
Vin nodded; he seemed satisfied with the answer. JD still didn't understand but Nathan came in and joined them before he could ask any more.
"How's your father holding up?" Chris asked.
"Same as he always was. They want to lock him up, he says, 'Yes, sir, lock me up.' They want to put him on trial, let everybody laugh at him, he says, 'Yes, sir, put me on trial.' Probably help tie the noose if they asked him to." Nathan's voice is bitter betraying his deep anger at his father.
Looking at the boys and noticing their shocked expressions, Chris said harshly, "He's your father. What's the matter with you?"
Acting as if he didn't hear Chris, Nathan kept talking, "When I was about seven years old, our owners decided to sell him and us kids away from our mother. Put us on a wagon, and we ended up going to Alabama. She stayed behind in Georgia. Then after a while, he had told me that she died. Now I was just a little boy at the time, but all that time, I waited for him to find a way to keep our mother with us, or us with her. But he never said one word. He didn't do anything. He didn't argue; he didn't even beg. He didn't put up one damn ounce of fight to keep our family together."
"Sorry," Chris said not knowing what else to say.
Looking down at his hands for a time, trying to rein in his emotions, Nathan finally looked back up at the men and boys at the table. "He should have done something."
Buck cleared his throat uncomfortable with the confession and the boys hearing it, "Come on, boys, and let's go see what Ezra is doing." He escaped with the two young ones leaving Chris to deal with the upset healer.
They went outside and saw Ezra heading to the jail. "Now, you boys, go on over and stay with Ezra until I get back. I won't be long."
JD rolled his eyes; he'd seen the new lady that worked at the saloon. He knew Buck was going to talk to her. His Papa did that sometimes, sees some lady he just has to go talk to.
Vin and JD started to the jail. Stopping when they got to the door. They could hear Ezra and Maude talking. Ezra was laughing. "Well, well, it's a touch baroque, but...I like what you've done with the place."
"What do you want?"
"Hmm...perhaps I could be persuaded to act as your advocate."
"You? You're the one who had me locked up."
"I don't find your story...compellingly truthful."
"Well, I don't care what you think. I know I'm innocent."
"All right, suit yourself. Uh...holler if you change your mind."
Standish walked past the children with out seeing them, he was that angry. With a glance at each other the two boys went over to stand in front the first set of bars. Maude was sniffling. But when she saw them she stopped and smiled. "Well, hello there, boys."
"Hey, Mrs. Maude." JD answered.
"Hay is for horses, young man. The proper way to greet a lady is to say, 'Good evening, Mrs. Standish.'"
"Uh, Good evening, Miz Standish. But you said I could call you Miz Maude."
"I know, dear. Would you do me a great favor? Could you bring me some of the hot water on the stove so I can make a pot of tea?"
Vin shook his head, "We ain't suppose to come over to the cells."
"I'm sure it would be all right for you to do such a small service for me."
"It's okay, Vin, Miz Maude is a nice lady," JD said as he turned to get the kettle off the stove.
Vin followed him and took the rag away from JD. "I'll do it. The kettle is heavy and you might spill it." He reached up and took the kettle down. It was heavy and took two hands to carefully carry it over to the cell.
But it wouldn't fit between the bars. Maude was holding her china tea pot waiting. "That's good, Vin. You can just put the spout between the bars and pour out the water."
"Oh, all right." Vin said and he did just that. When the pot was full, he took the kettle back to the stove.
"Thank you, boys." Maude set the pot down on a little table and put some tea leaves in it. Then she sat down.
"Mrs. Maude, can we ask you a question?"
"What did you ba-roke? Maybe me and Vin can try to get you another."
"Ba-roke? Oh no, child, not broke, baroque, it means..." Maude looked at the two boys puzzled, chewed her lip and continued, "It means making a room look really fancy and pretty."
Disappointed with Maude's answer JD said, "Oh. Okay."
Then Vin asked, "So what does advocate mean?"
"It means lawyer, Mr. Tanner."
"But, Mr. Ezra said he didn't want to be your advocate."
Maude took a sip of her tea, "Well yes, but you two have to understand that Ezra and I play a little game when we are together. You remember don't you, JD, when we caught the bad man that wanted to hurt Billy?"
JD looked over at Mr. Nathan's papa and asked, "Mr. Nathan's Papa, are you and Mr. Nathan playing a game, too?"
The older man looked up from what he was doing. "No, son, we ain't playing no game."
Walking over closer to the older man JD stood watching him, "What'ca doing with all that string?"
"Keeping my mind busy. Making something for my son."
"Oh, Mr. Nathan's Papa..."
"My name is Obediah, son."
"Mr. Obediah, why's Mr. Nathan mad at you?"
"I don't know, son. That's why I come looking for him. So we can make our peace."
Before he could ask anything else Chris was at the door. "JD? Vin? Why are you here alone?"
They both jumped a little because they knew they weren't supposed to be close to the cells. Vin cleared his throat and said, "Mr. Ezra left and Miz. Maude asked us to bring her some hot water for tea. We didn't think you'd mind cause it's Mr. Ezra's ma and Mr. Nathan's pa."
Chris nodded, "Well, as long as you know it's just this once. When we have prisoners in the jail you know you're not to go near them."
"Yes, sir," they both said.
"Okay, why don't the two of you wait out front while the rest of us talk for a bit? Then we'll go get you ready for bed."
JD tilted his head, he knew Chris asked a question, but it really wasn't one. The man wanted them outside. That way the adults could keep an eye on the boys while they talked.
Once outside and they sat on the bench and watched as the others got together to talk. "What they talking about, Vin?"
Vin frowned, "I reckon they're talking about who's going to help Mr. Obediah for his trial."
"Oh, how 'bout Uncle Chris?"
"Nope, he don't say more than three words in a day."
"Okay, how 'bout Papa?"
"Uh-huh, he gets too distracted with girls."
"Does, how 'bout Mr. Ezra, he talks fancy an all?"
"I don't think so. Mr. Ezra has his mama to worry about."
"Oh, well that just leaves Mr. Josiah."
Vin nodded, "Yep, Mr. Josiah would be perfect. He talks a lot and knows a lot, too. He told me one time that he studied Cherokee law. I didn't know someone as old as Mr. Josiah has to study."
"Yep, me neither," JD agreed.
Swinging his legs in time with Vin, JD looked down the street when this funny looking buggy showed up. It stopped right in front of the jail. He pointed it out to Vin. "Look at that silly buggy, Vin." Then the man driving it got out. He was dressed like a banker or an undertaker.
"Well, evening, boys. Is the sheriff here? Mrs. Standish is in there, I hope." Then he laughed at his own joke.
"We don't have no sheriff." JD said not liking the man at all.
"Well, you two can't be in charge. Where's an adult? Never mind I'll just go in myself."
Vin jumped up and stood in front of the door. "You can't go in there. We don't even know who you are."
Just as the man was going to push his way past Vin Ezra walked up, "You must be Mr. Wingo."
He looked Ezra up and down, "Ah, my reputation has preceded me. Happy to hear that."
Ezra opened the door and the man went in saying, "Ohh...Maudie. Oh Maudie, light of my life!"
JD looked at Vin and giggled, "Maudie? She's gonna kill him."
"Shhhh, I can't hear." Vin said leaning toward the door
"And that's for the best. Head for the room, boys." Buck said, suddenly standing right behind them.
"But, Papa, we want to hear what they say."
"Nope, it's not for little ears. Now lickety-split off to bed you go. I'll be up to read and to tuck you in, in just a few minutes."
"Okay, Papa." Vin and JD ran upstairs and got into their night shirts. The younger boy climbed into bed but Vin sat by the window looking out. "Vin?"
"You think they'll let us go to the trial?"
"Nope. But I think I got a way for us to watch. Only you have to be really, really quiet. So they don't know we're up there."
"I will. Where are we going?"
"I'll tell you tomorrow if we need to use it. But either way we need to keep an eye on Pa and the others and still see what's going on."
"What if they make us stay with Miz. Travis or Miss Inez?"
"I don't think they will. Miz. Travis has to go to write in her paper and Miss Inez will be busy cooking for everyone."
"Oh, I like her cooking." JD let out a huge yawn his eyes at half mast. "Vin, you think Papa will be too long coming?"
"Don't know why?"
"I don't know if I can stay awake."
Vin came over and laid down beside little Dunne, "That's okay, JD. You go on to sleep. There's lots going on in town and he might be awhile. I'll watch for him for you."
He nodded and yawned again. Later when Buck did come in both boys were sound asleep. He carefully covered them with a light quilt and smiling, tip toed back out. Watching the jail would take them all; there were so many the strangers in town.
JD opened his eyes and saw that Vin was already dressed and looking out the window. "What's wrong, Vin?"
The little blond turned, and glanced at the dark haired boy then turned back to the window. "There's lots 'a people in town. One's I ain't never seen before."
JD scrambled up and started dressing. "You see Papa, or Uncle Chris?"
"Nope, not yet but I heard them leave a while ago. I bet they're having coffee at the saloon."
Stamping on his boots the younger boy said, "Let's go find them."
Racing outside they were just in time to see Josiah go in the jail. They turned from going to the saloon and followed him inside. Both boys stood quietly by the stove and listened. Josiah was sitting by Obediah talking.
"Your name....Obediah ... Obediah was a prophet of God. He predicted the down fall of the Edomites. The Edomites were an arrogant people. They felt they were better than everybody else. They tried to destroy Obediah's people but..."
Obediah interrupted, "It didn't work. Obediah's people rose up. Justice was served."
JD whispered, "Is that a story in the Bible?"
Vin just shrugged.
Josiah was watching the old man braid the string. "Anything you want to tell me before we go to trial?"
"No, sir. This Obediah just wants his day in court."
Maude spoke up. She'd been sitting listening as she did some hand sewing, "You tell a story like that, Josiah... you'll do just fine." Her voice sounded soft and compassionate with emotion.
Ezra came in as she was speaking and he asked, "Josiah. So... you have any Biblical parables on hand for unrepentant grifters?"
"Nope," Josiah said with a smile.
Shaking his head Ezra said, "Someone to see you, Mother."
Looking up they saw the judge. He'd followed Ezra in. JD leaned over and whispered, "What's a grifter?"
"I don't know, we'll ask later," Vin answered.
Travis walked right up to the bars and said, "Mrs. Standish, I presume. I'm Judge Travis."
Maude sat her sewing down in her lap and looked hard at the judge. Tilting her head she said, "My goodness, you're even more impressive than your reputation."
Judge Travis got a sour look on his face. "Yeah? Well, my daughter-in-law believes that Mr. Wingo's charges may be false. I want to know why Mr. Wingo would cause his property to be discovered on you."
Ezra raised an eyebrow, "Well?"
Looking at her son and then the judge she said, "What will happen to me if I'm found guilty?"
The judge stood a little straighter, "Are you saying the charges are true?"
"Definitely not," she huffed.
"Madam, get yourself in hand. Mr. Jackson is going on trial for murder. I don't have any time for horse play. Mr. Wingo is adamant that you stole his property, and you are equally adamant that you did not. I want to know the truth, and I want to know it quickly."
"Ezra, are you acting as my attorney or not?" Maude snapped.
Ezra shook his head and sounded real sad, "Not as long as you leave me in the dark."
Turning to leave Judge Travis said, "Uh, Ezra, you take care of this. I've got a trial to convene. Good day."
Maude stood quickly and walked over stopping very close to the bars and the judge and said, "My, my, my, Judge. You are the handsomest man I've ever met. Hasn't anybody ever told you that?"
Sounding somewhat offended he answered, "You're the first prisoner." He turned and walked out.
JD leaned over, "I'm hungry, Vin."
"Okay, let's go get something from Miss Inez."
The boys ran around to the back door of the saloon and went inside the kitchen. Inez was there, cooking, "Hola, Ninos."
"Hola, Miss Inez. Can me and JD have a tortilla?"
"Sure, Nino, I'll fix you a burrito, just a tortilla isn't enough for growing boys."
They both smiled and watched as she rolled some beans and meat up in a big tortilla. "Here you go." She said handing each boy one. It took both hands for them to hold it.
"Thank ya, Ma'am," they said.
As they left the boys looked into the saloon, but Buck and Chris weren't there. Going out the back door the boys ate as they walked and looked for their fathers.
They saw Chris standing by the door of the grain exchange. There was a table in front of him piled high with guns and holsters. Vin gobbled the last of his burrito and slipped between all the men to stand by his pa. He stood a little behind Chris so he wouldn't be in the way in case of trouble.
JD followed Vin but stayed even further behind. The men talking to Chris frightened him. They seemed to want to hurt his pa and Mr. Obediah too.
The first man asked, "What's this?" pointing to the guns on the table.
"Judge doesn't want any fire arms in court," Chris said.
The man glared at him, "Well, if you're going to wear them, I'm going to wear them."
Larabee smiled his go to hell smile and took off his gun belt. He laid it down on the table and waited.
The man wasn't happy at all but he took off his gun belt, too.
Vin began to reach around to his back pocket. He almost took his sling shot out and put it on the table but thinking again he didn't. He just shoved it down deeper into his pocket and frowned at the man as he walked past.
After everybody was inside Vin started to go inside but Chris stopped him. "Hold on, Cowboy. Where do you think you're going?"
"Inside with you."
"No. This is no place for kids, and JD wouldn't be able to sit still for that long."
"Yes, I would," JD, said. Chris didn't seem to hear him.
"You still can't go inside. Go on now and stay out of trouble."
Vin looked like he was going to argue but then he just said, "Yes, sir." He grabbed the arm of the younger boy and they headed down the street. Chris frowned slightly at the quick way Vin gave in, but he turned back to the makeshift court room. He was needed inside and Vin was good at taking care of both himself and JD.
"Vin? What are you doing?" JD asked trying to keep up with the older boys pace.
"Shhhhh. You wanna know what's going on don't you?"
"Well, I thought of a way for us to see and hear everything, but we won't be by all the grownups and we can move around without making them mad."
"How? You gonna tell me now?"
"Come on. You'll see."
Vin led JD around the corner and started up the outside stairs of the building next to the grain exchange. There was a little walkway over to the high windows where court was going to be. On that side of the building inside were offices and a narrow hall.
Tanner went up to the window and tried to open it. It didn't move so he took his pocket knife and jiggled it under the seal and between the two of them it to opened it enough for the boys to squeeze through. They crawled over to the rails, keeping low not wanting any of the adults to see them.
There was the judge sitting behind a table facing everyone. There were two tables facing him with a space between them. At one table was that Mr. Lightfoot. At the other table were Josiah and Obediah. Right behind them was Nathan.
Almost under the hiding place were twelve men, the jury. JD recognized Buck sitting in the first row. Everybody else was behind the two tables. Chris was sitting way in the back by the door as if he was guarding it.
"Shhhh, JD, you gotta be quiet so we can hear."
Then the Judge said, "The United States Territorial Circuit Court is now in session. How does the defendant plead?" He hit the table with the gavel.
Standing up, Josiah said, "Not guilty, your Honor."
The people below started talking low like. To the boys they sounded like angry bees and the smaller boy scooted back away from the scary sound.
The judge looked at Lightfoot. "Mr. Lightfoot, you may make your opening statement."
The man stood and paraded around the two tables and in front of the jury. He started talking warming up until he had the rhythm and cadence of a tent revival preacher, the kind that travels the country. "Ahem. Your Honor, Gentlemen of the jury, today you will judge a murder....a murder so depraved that all men of conscience must cry out for justice. The people will prove that one, Obediah Jackson....A Negro...not...of ...these...parts, did with malice aforethought, beat unto the death a beloved citizen of Eagle Bend, Mr. Jonah Catchings. Gentlemen, such a crime must be punished to the limits of our laws, which, in this case, compel us to demand a life...for a life."
The people in the room shouted and clapped their hands. The five men sat silently as the out of towners made the racket.
The judge banged his gavel until it got quiet again then he said, "Mr. Sanchez, you have an opening statement?"
Josiah stood up. Even from way up high like the boys were the ex-preacher just seemed taller and bigger than everyone else. "A, uh...a great Cherokee shaman once said to me: to cross a mountain...you must first walk up to it. I think that explains what we are all doing here today."
JD had no idea what he meant, and looked at Vin. But Vin just whispered, "Come on, Mr. Josiah, get good."
JD's mind wandered a lot of the time, especially when Lightfoot was talking. He did manage to stay still and quiet, but when Josiah was asking questions, he tried to listen better.
The first man that sat in the witness chair, had kind of long curly hair and no beard. He was saying, "Old Jonah dragged him off his horse and throwed him down. Then the Negro followed him down the street. That was when he killed him."
Josiah asked, "So you actually saw him do it?"
The man said, "No, sir."
The next man was really thin and had a beard he said, "I come around the corner by the feed lot and there was Jonah. His face was smushed in, and there was blood all over. He was deader than a hammer."
"Did you see the murder take place?" Josiah asked.
The man answered with an aggravated voice, "I'd have said so, wouldn't I?"
Then there was a third man talking. "That's when I seen that fella there galloping out of town. I drawed down on him. I told him to halt. They was blood on his hands." Mr. Josiah started to stand, "I didn't see it happen neither. Sit down."
Everybody laughed at that. JD didn't think it was funny and decided to ask Vin about it later. He was always looking for a good joke. Then Lightfoot started talking like a preacher again.
"Gentlemen of the jury, consider the facts here. A strange man covered in blood racing away from the scene of the crime. I don't know about you, but I sure don't need no eyewitness to make sense of this. Obediah Jackson...is...a...murderer!"
The judge sounded disgusted, "Save it, Lightfoot."
Mr. Lightfoot looked down, thinking, and then at the judge and said, "The people rest, your Honor."
Most of the people shouted and applauded, but Chris seemed as disgusted as the judge. It took a minute for things to get quiet again. Then everybody looked surprised when Josiah got Obediah up to the witness chair to speak.
The old man looked nervous and his hands shook. "I'd like to thank you, Mr. Judge, for giving me my day in court. I'd like to thank my son's friend, Josiah, for standing up here representing me for all you good people here. I'll tell you the truth now. I followed Mr. Catchings behind the feed lot just like they said. And then... beat him to death with my bare hands."
At that the court room erupted with shouting and some men were shaking their fists. Travis started banging his gavel shouting, "Order! Order! Order. Order in the court. Order! I said quiet! Now!" Then he turned and looked sadly at Obediah, "You freely admit that you killed this man?"
"Yes, sir. But this is my day in court and I aim to finish. I want to tell how I came to know Mr. Catchings, the man I killed. I want to tell this, so my son will know. Mr. Catchings was the overseer on the cotton plantation in Georgia where I slaved with my wife and children nineteen years ago. I don't need to say how bad life was to a slave. We worked from sunup to dark; we got whipped; we got sold; we ain't had no hope. But this is what I need my son to know about what I did. When our little boy was seven year old, his mama was forced into carnal relations with Mr. Catchings. What Mr. Catchings told her was that if she didn't, he'd sell the boy away from us. Seven year old and he'd steal him away from his mama and daddy. My wife... couldn't bear the thought of that, so she went to his bed. When she found out she was in a family way, she was so afraid it would be that man's baby...she lost her mind. Walked into the river. Drowned herself. I would've killed Mr. Catchings then, but me and the children was loaded on a wagon in chains that same day and sold to Alabama. It took a lot of spirit out of me, and I hope my son understands why now. So you see, when I had the chance to kill that man...all these years later, I had to do it. I reckon I'll find out soon enough if God holds me to judgment. But I'm glad I did it."
As Obediah was talking a sadness fell over the courtroom. No one said anything about Nathan crying as his father told his story. The atmosphere even touched the little boys. Little Dunne glanced at Vin and saw silent tears running down the older boys cheeks. JD started to ask him what was going on but he put his finger over his mouth.
Judge Travis cleared his throat and said, "This court is adjourned until tomorrow morning." Then he banged his gavel once. People got up and started going out side real quiet like. Vin grabbed JD and pulled. He tilted his head to the window.
The boys scooted back away from the edge of the walkway and went outside. Once on the ground, they ran around and sat down on the bench by the jail. They'd just caught their breaths when Buck and Chris came over. The men were worried, and watched as Josiah and Nathan hurried Obediah inside the jail.
It was late; JD's stomach growled. Buck smiled saying, "Hey, Little Bit, sounds like you're hungry. Didn't you get any lunch from Miss Inez?"
Before JD could answer, Vin said, "We been waiting for you and Pa. We wanted to eat with you."
Chris smiled at Vin, "You didn't have to do that. But we do need to eat. It's going to be busy tonight and you boys are going to have to stay out of the way. So let's go eat. Then we'll come back over here."
Vin smiled back at his pa, "We going to stand guard with you, Pa?"
Larabee reached down and ruffled Vin's hair. He hated that from anyone but Chris. Then Chris said, "You can stay with us for a while, then when it's bedtime I don't want any arguments." He raised an eyebrow.
Vin pressed his lips tight but he said, "Yes, sir."
After supper the boys sat a while with Buck and Chris just enjoying being with their fathers. No one said much, just watched people walking around. JD was swinging his feet back and forth when he noticed Ezra and Maude go into Mrs. Travis' office. Then Mr. Wingo went in, too.
Vin was watching them, too. He looked at the younger boy and then at his pa. "Can we go walk around, Pa?"
"Sure, just stay out of the way of people. There's some real unhappy men in town tonight."
"We will. Come on, JD." He grabbed JD's sleeve and they went down the street but then cut around one building so they could see and hear what was going on in the newspaper office.
When they got there Mrs. Travis was saying, "I....I have to say this is, uh, it's a little unusual. What shall I call this document?"
Ezra hummed a minute, "A pre-matrimonial stipulation agreement, binding to both parties."
"All right. Where do we start?" Mrs. Travis said, but she didn't sound any less confused.
Mr. Wingo butted in, "First and most important, she must be available on demand to the marriage bed."
Maude said very fast, "Except when I'd rather not."
"Agreed," Mr. Wingo said.
"And he will, of course, have accounts set up in my name at all the stores and salons in town," she added.
"Of course. Because she has to do all the cooking and the shopping for the house," Mr. Wingo said.
Ezra sounded like he was trying not to laugh, "Only if you want to starve to death. You'll want a chef and a maid. Trust me."
"Fine," Mr. Wingo said sounding just a little angry.
"He must absolutely stop spouting that maudlin poetry at all hours," Maude said sounding angry too.
"Only if she agrees to wear her wedding ring when she's out in the public eye."
"I'll pick out the ring."
"Agreed." Maude said.
Ezra looked at them both, "Is that it then?"
Wingo shook his head, "I can't think of anything else."
Standing straighter Maude said, "Neither can I."
Taking a deep breath Mary said, "So then you both agree that the wedding will be tomorrow and that all charges will be dropped upon the return of Mr. Wingo's cufflinks."
They both said, "Agreed."
Shuffling her papers Mrs. Travis said, "I think we've made some sort of frontier history today."
Just then Buck was calling, "JD? Vin? It's time for you two to go in."
As they left JD asked, "Vin? What was that all about?"
"I don't know, some sort of silly grown up thing. Maybe we should ask Uncle Buck when we have a chance. It kinda sounded like someone was gonna get married, but Miz Maude says she don't want to."
"Okay, I think asking Papa would work."
Buck took the boys up to their room and waited while they changed into nightshirts and then sat on the edge of the bed. "You boys sleep tight. Chris and I will be up as soon as things quiet down. Don't worry if it gets noisy outside. We'll take care of things."
"Okay, Papa." JD yawned, showing the father what a long day the boy had had.
The next morning Vin and JD got dressed and ran outside. Not seeing Buck or Chris they went around like the day before and got Miss Inez to make them more burritos. Only this time they asked for an extra one to eat later they said. They didn't want to miss anything. Sitting across the street from the grain exchange they sat eating and waved at Buck and Chris as they went inside.
Once the adults were inside the two boys raced around to the back and crept back to where they'd watched yesterday. Everyone was talking; and no one was listening until the judge began pounding his gavel.
"Mr. Jackson has confessed his guilt in open court. The jury is dismissed. Keep your seats." He said as Buck and the others tried to leave.
Mr. Lightfoot jumped up. "The people of Eagle Bend demand to be heard, your Honor."
"All right, speak your piece, Mr. Lightfoot," the judge said not really wanting to hear what the man had to say but knowing it was his right.
"What concerns me here, your Honor, and should concern all of you is the following: if we allow one former slave to get away with killing his former overseer, do not all former slaves have the right to kill their former overseers? And what's next, they kill their former owners? Pretty soon they'd be killing all us white folk. We need to send a message here. A message that says that no man has the right nor the excuse to take the life of another human being. Thank you."
When Lightfoot sat down, the court room roared with cheering and clapping. But again the locals were unhappy with the support Lightfoot seemed to have.
The judge turned to Josiah. "Mr. Sanchez, do you have anything to say?"
"Yes, I do, your Honor. Just for a moment I'd like you to try on Obediah's boots. A man walks into your house. Takes your wife... and he rapes her.
"And you're powerless to stop him.
"He rapes your wife. And then he threatens to take your seven-year-old child away from you.
"And you are powerless to stop him.
"Imagine what that must be like having to stand there and watch this grievous harm be done to your loved ones.
"And you're powerless to stop it.
"I would kill that man. You - you would kill that man. But Obediah Jackson could not kill that man.
"Not until twenty years later. When Obediah Jackson saw Jonah Catchings again, and remembered all that he had suffered at his vicious hand and once again felt the sting of Mr. Catchings' abuse... can any of you declare that you would have acted any differently? I believe the answer is no. If ever any man deserved to die, Jonah Catchings was that man; for all that he imposed on Obediah and his family and doubtlessly on many, many others. Just as surely, I believe Obediah Jackson deserves to live. I believe that as strongly as I believe in God's eternal love.
"When you pass judgment on this man, your Honor, on this decent, long-suffering man who has endured endless years of deprivation and finally... finally has a chance to live out his last days as a free man, I beg you to search your heart and do what is right and just. Let Obediah Jackson live."
Josiah paced back and forth while he was talking. When he was finished, everyone was very quiet. The big peacekeeper has said for each of them to try to put themselves in Obadiah's place. What would they do if their wife were treated like Obadiah's? Some knew what they'd do, some weren't sure, but everyone was thinking about it. After the long silence, there was a lot of clapping and Chris even whistled showing their approval of what Josiah had said.
Vin was nodding; he said, "Good going, Mr. Josiah. I knew you could do it."
The judge said, "This court is in recess until there is order" He didn't look or sound very happy and left quickly by the back door.
Vin pushed JD outside. "Come on we got to get some stones."
"For our sling shots. I think there's going to be trouble. We want to be ready to help."
They went around behind the newspaper building, where Billy and Mrs. Travis lived. There were lots of smooth stones there that were just the right size for hunting and stuff. As the boys looked for the right sized stones they could hear Mrs. Travis and the judge talking through the open window.
"If ever there was a justifiable killing, this is it," she said.
" It's still murder."
Mary sat down, "Catchings caused the death of Obediah's wife. The law allows you to defend your family."
"Twenty years later? The law doesn't allow for that."
"You can't hang him. He doesn't have long to live."
"What?" The judge sounded surprised.
"He's got consumption. Nathan told me he doesn't have much time."
JD looked at Vin and asked, "What's Mr. Obediah have?"
"I don't know, but it must be bad."
They gathered rocks until the judge headed back to the court, then they ran back to their place. Once in the hiding place they watched as everybody came inside. Chris was last. Vin whispered, "That's so he can be the first one out in case of trouble."
There was a hush over the courtroom as everyone watched the judge. He was looking at some papers. Then he looked up at all the people in the room. "Court is now in session. Quiet down. Quiet. I feel great sympathy for this man. However, I'm one of the bearers of the law to this territory, so I have no choice. Obediah Jackson, you are guilty of murder by your own admission. You are hereby sentenced to hang for your crime."
There was cheering. But not everyone cheered some of the people looked very sad. The peacekeepers couldn't believe what the judge had just said.
The judge banged his gavel, and when everyone quieted down, he started talking again. "As I see he is no immediate threat to the community, the execution will be carried out at a time in the future when I deem it necessary. For the present, the defendant will remain under house arrest in the custody of Mr. Chris Larabee, a duly sworn officer of the court. This court is adjourned."
Hardly before the judge finished Vin had JD and they were headed out side. They could hear the angry shouts even outside the building. "We gotta find a good place to fight. In case Pa needs us. You hand me the rocks, and I'll shoot them," he said as he pulled out his sling shot.
Nathan and his father came outside and quickly went toward the clinic. Nathan ushered Obediah up stairs, and left him in the clinic, then he went back down to join Chris, Buck, and the others.
Sheriff Stains came outside first. He picked up his gun belt and strapped it on. He said, "All right, listen up. I don't care what the judge says. You can't murder a citizen of Eagle Bend and get away with it. So by God, if they won't hang him, we'll do it for 'em."
Larabee stood right in front of him, "You heard the judge. Go home."
Then the Sheriff checked his gun. Looking up he said, "You stole my bullets?"
Someone in the crowd shouted, "You're not careful, Mister, we'll send them back."
The man looked around for who said that and then looked back at Chris. "Uh-huh. Sure is easy to look tough when you have loaded weapons and we don't. I guess you men wouldn't be interested in a fair fight, would you?"
Chris smiled his lopsided smile that he has when he's going to enjoy doing something. "Oh, I think we can manage a fair fight. What do you say, boys?" he called over his shoulder.
Buck smiled, too. "Oh, I love a fair fight."
"JD, put the rocks in your hat and hand them to me one at a time." Vin said. He was watching his pa. When Stains threw the first punch at Chris, he was ready. The boy loaded the sling shot, and let it go. From then on JD was busy, trying to keep Vin in rocks, and trying to see where Buck was. He'd hand Vin a rock, and Vin would shoot, hitting someone every time, in the back, backside, or on the arm, chest, or knee. The dust was bad, and it was hard for the boys to see where their fathers were, Vin wouldn't let himself think about hitting one of their friends. He'd pick a target, JD would hand him a rock, and he kept shooting and shooting. Then they both jumped at the sound of a rifle going off.
Looking up, they saw Obediah on the landing with Nathan's rifle. He was pointing it down at someone. "Leave my boy alone. Sheriff, I could kill you right now. But truth be told, I don't want to. You wanted to kill me, but I ain't gonna kill you. 'Cause it ain't right. You know that, and I know that."
Stains was standing over Nathan fist pulled back ready to pound the downed man.
Chris had a bloody nose but he looked at all the out of towners, "Justice has been done here today. Now go home."
Stains almost hit Chris again when Vin shouted, "Go on, get out of here. Get on your horses."
The sheriff looked over at the boys and Vin standing there with his slingshot ready to fire. The furious man turned and left.
Vin dropped the rock and yelled, "Whoo!!" and ran over to where Chris was. JD followed running to Buck.
"I helped, Papa."
"You sure did, Little Bit, I'm real proud of you, for staying out of the way." Buck picked up the boy and gave him a big hug.
After lunch Vin and JD wandered over to Josiah's church. Ezra and Mr. Wingo were there, waiting with Josiah and the judge.
From outside they heard, "Hyah. Giddy up." It sounded like Maude's voice.
Ezra ran outside and we went out with him. "Ah, hell..." he said as he started chasing down the buggy. When he caught up to it he grabbed the reins and stopped the horse. "Where do you think you're going?"
Vin and JD were right behind Ezra, and heard Maude say, "You didn't think for a moment I was gonna marry that dreadful man, did you?"
"You signed a contract," Ezra said.
"Yes. And he dropped the charges. I'm free as a bird."
"What am I supposed to do?"
Maude smiled and said, "What you've always done, Sweet Boy. Just what your mother tells you. Here. I was gonna mail it." She looked around Ezra at the little ones, "Bye, boys, be good. Hyah! Giddy up."
They waved at her as she went down the street until Mr. Wingo ran up puffing and stopped next to Ezra. "Well?" he asked.
Ezra looked down at the paper Maude had given him. He snickered and said, "I have a message for you from the bride. It seems to be a poem. "With apologies to Robert Herrick. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying. And this same flower that smiles today will never have to set eyes on you again, you bloated wood tick. P. S. Thank you for the lovely carriage."
Then Wingo did the oddest thing. He shook his head and said, "What a woman."
Later that evening Buck was walking around town on patrol and JD went over to the clinic. He liked Obediah and hoped he could tell stories. When he got there, Nathan was giving him a cup of steaming tea. " Here you go."
JD made a face, because Nathan gave him some of his tea when he was sick. The boy waited watching Obediah to see what he'd say.
Obediah said, "Thanks." Then he took a sip, "What's this? Boiled skunk?"
JD thought, ' I have to remember that one; Vin and I don't like Mr. Nathan's tea either. Maybe that's why it tastes so bad it really is boiled skunk.'
Obediah took another sip of the tea and said, "You've made me proud, too, Son. Grown into a fine man. Yes, sir. I'm glad I got to see it. Here. I made this for your horse."
Nathan turned the rope thing in his hands. "It's a bridle. It's beautiful."
Nodding Obediah said, "I came all this way. Wanted to bring my son a present."
"You already did. You already did."
Later when JD and Buck were sitting on the porch. "Papa, is Mr. Obediah going to die? Mrs. Travis says he has com-sump-shion."
Wilmington put his arm around his son. "Yeah, he is, but not for awhile. Mr. Nathan is going to take real good care of him."
"I know, Mr. Nathan takes good care of all of us"
"That he does, Little Bit. How 'bout we go for a walk?"
"I'd like that, Papa."
They went for a long walk around town, leaving Vin and Chris sitting outside the jail. They were just sitting, not talking, like they always did.
It was a long time before either boy really understood all about the trial and why Obediah killed that man. Buck tried, when they asked, to explain about it; but he'd get angry when he talked about Nathan's mother getting hurt. So the boys stopped asking. It was a long time before the fathers understood that the boys had been watching all along and had seen and heard things they didn't understand. Tanner and Dunne were closed mouthed about what they'd heard afraid partly that they'd be in trouble for sneaking inside and watching. But as they grew they understood more of what had happened and their fathers' reactions.
Nathan's father lived for several months after the trial. When they laid him to rest, the whole town mourned. Having come to respect and love that sweet old man. But no one, except Nathan, mourned as much as Vin and JD who'd come in that short time to think of the old man as the grandfather neither had.
Next: Interlude: Kaleidoscope of Time