Innocence Maintained

by Beth

Notes: This is JD’s story, or how I see him growing up and eventually joining with the rest of the ‘boys’. I try and stick to canon as much as possible, and, in order to do that, much of the ‘fandom’ facts won’t come into play. This story takes place a few days after the episode ‘Achilles’.

Special Thanks: To my betas…Julie, Antoinette, and Katherine…you’re all just awesome!


August 1874

JD rolled a bullet between his fingers and for the first time in his life he thought about the damage that a small piece of metal could do. Sitting alone outside the saloon he could hear Ezra’s poker game, Buck’s antics with the ladies, and Josiah’s robust laughter. And to think he came so close to leaving all of this. The biggest mistake of his life was firing his weapon without thinking about the consequences. His only thoughts were to stop the bank robbery, not to kill Annie, an innocent bystander. He’d said ‘hello’ to her only moments before. JD shook his head…he’d fanned his guns…something Buck had warned him against many times before.

When the batwing doors opened, the young man looked up. “Buck,” he said, then turned his attention back to the bullet.

Buck grabbed an extra chair and turned it around so he could rest his forearms on the backrest while he sat. “You doin’ all right?” he asked, out of concern.

“You ever think about all the mistakes you’ve made in your life?” JD’s voice sounded…defeated.

“Hell,” Buck sighed. “A day don’t go by that I don’t think of somethin’ that I’ve done wrong.”

“You ever kill someone…accidentally?”

Buck took a deep breath and shook his head. “I can’t speak for everyone of us,” he said, talking about the men he worked with, “but their ain’t a one of us that’s never made a mistake….and Josiah’s always sayin’ that this is part of his penance for wrongs in his past.”

JD nodded, he knew about Chris’ violent past, Josiah’s ‘Old Testament’ temper, and Vin’s time as a bounty hunter. He knew that these men had killed…and not just out of necessity.

“A couple days ago, kid, I thought I’d lost one of the best friends I’d ever had.” Buck looked toward the street and then back to JD. “And I saw that same kid, pull a team of horses under control and save the lives of three passengers on that stage. Six months ago,” he shook his head, “I’d a never thought you could do somethin’ like that.”

“I got lucky.”

“Bullshit,” Buck rebutted. “Out here…nobody gets lucky.”

JD slipped the bullet he’d been handling back into his gun belt. “I keep thinking about how disappointed my Ma would be…”

“For some reason I doubt the woman that done raised you would ever be disappointed in ‘er boy.” Buck smiled, remembering his own mother. “What was she like?”

The question brought a smile to JD’s face. Buck figured the kid didn’t even realize he was doing it.

“I remember her bein’ real small, smaller ‘an Casey even, and she had the blackest hair.” JD’s smile increased. “When I was fourteen she had it all cut off…” he shook his head, trying to maintain his composure, “she sold it because we needed the money…so we could have a nice Christmas.” He tried to wipe the tear that rolled down his cheek away from his face before Buck could see it.

“I bet her hair grew back even prettier ‘an before,” Buck replied.

JD laughed. “That’s what she said…well, not exactly, but close enough.”

Buck reached out and slapped JD on his knee. “I’d be willin’ to bet that your ma and my ma, would ‘ave been great friends.”

“Yeah…I bet they would have.” JD chuckled. “That mansion I grew up in was a big place, but my Ma and I lived a small room in the servant’s quarters. I remember she used to walk around barefoot all the time when she wasn’t workin’…”

Chapter 1

Hartford, Connecticut 1861     

Tessa Dunne walked quietly around the small room she shared with her six-year-old son. Her bare feet hit the floor softly as she tried not to wake him. February had arrived and brought with it snow, cold, and ice. Her son loved it. Spending most of his days playing in the snow with the other servant’s children. Tessa could always look out the window at one o’clock in the afternoon and see the kids playing after having spent the morning hours in school studies with Mrs. Peters.

It never failed that John Dunne would run outside before having his coat buttoned, or his boots tied. The boy had too much energy. She could always spot his bright orange stocking cap in the white snow. JD didn’t mind. It didn’t matter what he was wearing, as long as he could play.

She slipped into her traditional black servant’s dress and tied the small white apron around her tiny waist. With her hair placed perfectly into a bun, she slipped into her shoes. Quietly, Tessa shut the door to her room and headed down into the main house to complete her chores. Life as a chambermaid wasn’t gratifying, but rather…just the opposite. Her days were long and filled with emptying and cleaning chamber pots, and other nasty household tasks. The only thing good about her job was her ability to spend time with her son.


JD dove into the pile of snow he and his friends Mat and Aaron had gathered. Their screams could be heard throughout the large yard and gardens. Most of the Wilsons, the family who owned the estate, had gone into town for the day, and for the most part everyone was feeling less…restricted.

Mat pushed Aaron into the snow and the small boy went sprawling. His blonde, almost white, hair peaked out beneath his hat and his rosy red cheeks stood out brightly against his pale skin. He rolled over onto his backside and threw a snowball at his assailant. This was war.

JD hid behind the snowman they’d made earlier and used it to protect himself from oncoming ‘snow weapons’. Quickly and efficiently he started creating a pile of ammunition.


Tessa watched from the window of the main house with her friend and mother of Aaron. They giggled when they noticed their children flinging snowballs across the yard and at each other.

“They’re gettin’ so big,” Marge said, smiling as her son tackled JD into the snowman.

Tessa nodded. It seemed like yesterday that her son was suckling her breast and messing his diapers. Now, he was six years old, and looking more handsome each and everyday. “I want JD to go to college.”

“Oh Tess, how are ya ever goin’ to save for that…that’s a lot of money, puttin’ a child through a school like that.” Marge shook her head.

“He deserves a better life than this,” Tess looked back outside. “I want him to become a doctor or a lawyer,” she smiled, “I want him to help people.”

Marge grabbed a hold of her friend’s arm and gently squeezed. “I love you like a sister,” she said, and then continued, “Our boys are goin’ to grow old together and tell each other these long tales of how wonderful their mothers were.” She laughed and then stopped abruptly. “Malcolm’s leaving…”

“What?” Tess asked in surprise. Malcolm and Marge had been married longer than she’d known them.

“He’s enlistin’…says the army will pay ‘im more.” Marge took a deep breath and watched as her son bombarded his two friends with snowballs. “He still wants to buy that piece of land out West,” she chuckled. “Can you imagine me out West?”

“No,” Tess sighed, “I can’t.”


JD screamed when he felt the cold snow slide down his bare back. Mat had pulled the collar of his shirt and coat back and managed to shove a handful of snow past the fabric and his skin. JD turned and pelted his friend in the face with a snowball. All three of the children fell to the ground in fits of laughter.

When Mr. Peters stepped out of the stable all of the children stood up. Robert Peters was the most important person on the property, well, the most important employee. He handled all the horses, something all three boys wanted to do when they got older. He always had a hat on, but when he took it off most of his hair was gone. JD figured that’s why he kept it on most of the time. Peters was a big man with even bigger muscles, but the horses seemed to have a natural trust for him. Even the young ones seemed to know he wouldn’t hurt them. The children, however, thought differently. Of course, there wasn’t any proof that he’d harm one hair on their heads, but it sure made playing more fun.

JD jumped when the front gates to the estate opened and the team of black Friesians trotted in as though they were pulling the Queen of England herself. Their feet moved in unison and the long black feathers at their hooves flew like birds through the wind. JD’s eyes widened, they were his favorites. Both horses had been imported from the Netherlands, and Mr. Wilson had made sure they were of the best breeding.

The kids watched as Mr. Peters took a hold of the two majestic beasts and then the driver of the sleigh helped the Wilson family down onto the snow-covered ground. They headed to the big house carrying their packages while the two older boys, David and Eric, headed for the backfields carrying their new rifles. While Mat and Aaron watched the Wilson boys, JD watched Robert lead the two Friesians inside the stables.

“Lets go watch ‘em shoot their guns,” Mat suggested.

“We’ll get in trouble,” Aaron said, pushing his friend on the shoulder.

“Yeah,” JD agreed. “I promised my ma that I’d be home for dinner.”

“You’re both babies,” Mat snapped, and then turned his attention to both his friends. “I dare you,” he challenged.

Aaron crossed his arms over his chest and stood back. “Okay, but if we do this,” a smile appeared on his face, “you have to eat…my mom’s Brussels sprouts.”

JD covered his mouth in surprise. Everyone knew how bad Marge Kemper’s Brussels sprouts were, except Marge Kemper. JD looked at Mat in wonder. This was a serious dare. Even Mr. Kemper hid the sprouts in his pockets and then would toss them out into the gardens when he went for his evening walk.

“I’ll eat two,” Mat responded boldly.

JD’s eyes widened and he looked at Aaron who was standing in shock.

“Okay then,” Aaron agreed. He looked over to JD and then started following Mat.

JD, the youngest of the three, looked back to the big house and then rushed to catch up with his friends.   


The bushes and hedges were covered in snow and therefore made it harder for JD, Mat, and Aaron to hide behind, their bright clothing causing the problems, while they spied on David and Eric. Gunshots echoed through the air causing everyone’s eardrums to pound. Mat pointed to the targets that were being shot at and shook his head. He knew he could do better than that.

David, the oldest, and most aggressive of the two boys, brought his new rifle up to his shoulder and fired. His brother chuckled when he didn’t hit the target.

“Bet’cha I can do better,” Eric teased.

“Fine,” David snapped, “do it.”

Eric laughed and prepared his rifle. “Maybe I’ll show you how to hit something before you head off to war.”

“Just hit the damn target.”


“Stop it!” JD snapped, pushing Mat away from him. The older boy was continually pushing him into the bushes.

“Shut up you guys, we’re gonna get caught,” Aaron whispered in an authoritative voice.

Three sets of eyes looked back over the hedges toward the Wilson boys. Just as Eric brought his rifle up to his shoulder, David pushed him, causing him to lose his sight on the target. The shot went wild and like a clock that stops, everything went still.


Mat yelped and was thrown violently backwards as the stray bullet hit him in the chest. JD screamed when he saw the hole in his friend’s coat. Mat’s mouth moved but nothing came out as he grasped frantically at his chest. JD knelt down beside him, unsure of what to do.

“I’ll go get help,” Aaron gasped, before rushing toward the big house.

David and Eric came running up to the scene together after hearing JD’s scream. Their breath crystallized in the air as their chests heaved.

“Is he dead?” Eric asked, trying to keep himself from running away. His body shook from fear and uncertainty. He didn’t know Mat very well, just that he was one of the servant’s kids that played in the yard and helped muck out the stables on occasion.

Mat looked up into JD’s eyes as fear consumed his body. He couldn’t feel his friend squeezing his hands or the cold snow beneath him. He’d never been so scared in all his life. David reached down and picked him up then rushed for the house. Nobody wanted to see Mat die…


Aaron rushed into the kitchen out of breath, and panic stricken. Tessa, Marge, and Mathew’s mother, Joan all jumped when the kitchen door swung open.

“Aaron!” Marge gasped, “You’re a mess…”

“The…there’s…been an accident,” he wheezed.

“What kind of an accident?” Marge grabbed her son’s arms, kneeling down in front of him.

“We was jus’ watchin’ Eric and David shoot their new guns…”

“JD!” Tessa rasped, before rushing outside into the cold without a coat on. Her only thought lie with her son.

Joan rushed after her, leaving Marge and Aaron in the kitchen. Neither one waited to hear the rest of Aaron’s explanation.


Tessa rushed through the snow disregarding the cold that bit fiercely at her unprotected skin, or how her feet slowly turned to ice because she didn’t have the proper footwear. When she saw David rushing for the house her heart beat faster in her chest. The child in his arms bounced lifelessly with every running step he took. It was the small boy running behind David and Eric that captured her attention. JD wasn’t hurt, and he was trying desperately to keep up with the older boys.

“JD!” Tessa screamed, ignoring everything except her son. As soon as he was in reach she grabbed a hold of him. His face was stained with tears and smears of blood where he’d tried to wipe his eyes. He wrapped his arms around her neck and his legs around her waist. “Are you okay?” she asked quietly, as she rushed back towards the house. She felt JD shake his head. She knew he wasn’t, but she was so thankful that he was alive.

Joan’s cries filled the air after finding her son dead in David’s arms. Everyone had come out of the mansion and the stables to watch the happenings. Eric and David both stood like statues unsure of what to do, their parent’s rushed toward them after seeing blood on the front of their oldest son’s coat. Marge kept Aaron inside with her and immediately started boiling some water. Her husband had rushed off the property on one of the Wilsons horses to retrieve the doctor.

Tessa carried JD into the kitchen and immediately started stripping him of his heavy coat, wet socks and shoes. She made him stand closer to the burning stove. Tears continued to stream down her cheeks and she couldn’t make them stop. She’d never been so scared. Even Marge seemed discontented, refusing to let Aaron go.

“Are you okay?” Tess asked, placing both her hands on each side of JD’s chilled face. Reluctantly he nodded. “No…you’re not,” she answered for him, pulling him up onto her lap.

“We were just spyin’ on ‘em,” JD choked, “hidin’ behind the hedges.”

Tess continued to run her hand over the back of JD’s head as he leaned against her.

“Nobody was supposed to get hurt,” JD mumbled, as he continued to cry.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Tess tried to reassure him.

Marge stepped closer to her friend with two cups filled with hot coffee. Aaron followed her, refusing to leave her side. Tess took one of the hot steaming cups while her son remained in her lap. They could all hear the going’s on outside making its way indoors. Frantic screams, crying, and calls of orders were yelled throughout the mansion. Marge kept the hot water boiling and kept the hot soup that Joan had been working on ready, in case someone needed it. She didn’t think anyone would. But to keep her mind and body busy she kept at it.


The funeral was small and simple, but more than anything, it was…a reminder of how fragile life was. JD and Aaron stood together wearing their best clothes, while Marge, Malcolm, and Tessa stood behind them. Joan was seated in numbness, drinking the laudanum that the doctor had prescribed to soothe her fragile nerves. Her husband had passed many years before, and now she was facing her life on her own.

The Wilsons had paid for the funeral, feeling somewhat responsible. Eric, unable to face the accident that had happened, left for college up north. David decided to stay until after the funeral, and then he was heading west, to enlist in the Union Army.

There was an eerie stillness in the air as the preacher of the local church said a few nice things about a life lived too short. What could anyone say? The death of a child was always difficult, making life that more precious.


JD was learning, at an early age, about loss. There were no guarantees in life. Mat’s death had shown him how easily it could occur, and how quickly it could be achieved. It fascinated him, not the act itself, but the process. What did it feel like? Where did you go when you died? Was there a heaven…or a hell?

Many of those questions Tessa didn’t know how to answer, simply because she didn’t know. However, she was pleased that her son had the foresight to ask. It meant he was thinking about the events, and not burying them deep. Like most children his age, JD seemed to bounce back. Although there were a few things that had changed, he wasn’t so carefree anymore, and he tended to take things a little more seriously. The most noticeable change was his need for reassurance and to be accepted by others. He also became fascinated with the function of firearms. Tessa wouldn’t permit him learning or handling the things, but he always managed to watch when the hunters arrived from town.

Chapter 2

Tessa sat at the kitchen table in the servant’s quarters while her son finished his meal. The paper she was reading was filled with the latest events of the war raging in the South. Though she didn’t understand all the words she was getting the jest of it.

“What’r you reading?” JD asked, wiping his mouth with his napkin.

“The New York Daily Tribune,” Tessa responded, never taking her eyes off the paper.

“What’s it say?”

Tessa cleared her throat and straightened out the paper. She didn’t want to read to her son about the many lives lost at Antietam, the very battle where Marge’s husband Malcolm was fighting. So instead, she moved to a less disturbing article. “Gen. Buell Not Removed: Yesterday it was rumored that Gen Buell was relieved from his command. The news created much dissatisfaction among our State authorities and prominent citizens, who have the utmost confidence in Gen. Buell. We have trustworthy information to-day that Gen. Buell is still in command of the Army of the Ohio.”

“What’s prominent mean?” JD asked. At eight years old he was still learning his vocabulary, and his young mind absorbed all it could.

Tessa paused a moment and bit her bottom lip. She reread the small article and finally came to a conclusion. “It means ‘important’.” She smiled, pleased with her response.

“Are we prominent?”

No, Tessa thought, closing the paper. “In our own way we are.” She smiled, watching her son finish his crackers.

“What about those niggers?”

“John Frances Dunne!” Tessa snapped. “I will not tolerate that kind of language.” She looked hard at her son, and watched as he slowly nodded his head.

“I’m sorry, but Mister Charlie from…”

“I know who Charlie Daniels is, and I won’t have you repeating the very words he uses.” Tessa shook her head and took a deep breath. Her own mother had been Mulatto; something Tess had learned after her baby brother had been born of a dark complexion. “People shouldn’t be judged on what they are, but who they are.”

“Yes, momma.” JD looked at his mother knowing he’d hurt her in a way he didn’t understand. He stayed still in his seat until she smiled at him, and his heart swelled. She never stayed mad for long, and for that he was grateful.

“Go get ready for bed,” she ordered, watching him leave the table and then he gave her a hug. Every mistake in her life was worth these moments. JD didn’t care about her past, what she’d done wrong as a young girl, or the life she led now, she was his momma and that’s all that mattered. “Get to bed,” she said again and with more authority, after Mr. Wilson entered the staff’s quarters.

JD turned and looked at the older man before sprinting off to his room.  

Rupert Wilson was not a big man, standing only five foot eight. Though there was an undeniable presence about him. His hair had at one time been black, but was now gray. His eyes were what captured everyone’s attention large, brown, and with the longest of lashes. All of his sons seemed to get that from him, his eyes, although David and Eric had more of the complexion of their mother, much lighter and seemingly more frail.

“Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Wilson?” Tessa stood up and brushed the front of her skirt free of wrinkles and crumbs.

“I think it would be best if JD started attending school in town with the other children.” There wasn’t a threat in his words it was just a suggestion.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Tessa looked toward her quarters, making sure the door had been closed.

“Mrs. Peters says he’s a bright boy, it would do him some good to get a formal education.” Mr. Wilson moved closer to the table.

“If you want him to get a ‘formal education’, why don’t you help him get into college?”

Rupert took another step forward, realizing they were alone. “I can’t do that Tess…how would it look?”

Tessa took a step back. “He has a right,” though her voice was strong, but it was the pleading of her eyes that caused Rupert to turn away.

“No…he doesn’t.” Mr. Wilson cleared his throat and looked back toward his servant. “I’m having Mr. Peters take the children to school in the mornings. Make sure JD is ready by seven.” He turned and started for the door. “I need Mrs. Peters for my wife’s canning, if and when, she has time, she’ll resume her teaching.” With that said, he coldly left the room, shutting the door quickly behind him.

Tessa watched him go, more determined than ever. Her son would go to college, he’d get a good degree, and he’d help people, all kinds of people, and not just those who could afford it.


JD slipped into his desk and watched as the other children in the class did the same. Aaron was sitting a few seats behind him and that was the only comfort he had at the moment. His mother had said that he had to go to school because Mrs. Peters had been given other ‘duties’. It didn’t bother him at first, but…there were so many kids, and a lot of them were a great deal older.

Mr. Paul Fritz was Hartford’s best schoolteacher, or so, the residents of Hartford believed. He was an older man with pudgy red cheeks and a beard that seemed to encircle his whole face, except where he was bald. His eyes always looked swollen and JD secretly wondered if a bee wasn’t biting him all the time because his fingers were just as bad.  

“Everyone sit down!” the deep baritone voice echoed around the room, causing everyone to obey without question.

JD sat back in his chair and watched as this man, this teacher, moved around the room with a sense of ownership and pride. Books were handed out with small chalkboard tablets. JD’s eyes got wider at the idea of drawing all kinds of exciting things on the small green board. His excitement was soon extinguished when he discovered it was for homework. Because of the war, paper was a rarity, and therefore used only sparingly. 

The classes weren’t all that bad, and for the most part JD enjoyed them. He liked learning about foreign lands and different cultures. What he didn’t like was the teasing he got from the other students. Being one of the youngest and one of the smallest, he always seemed to be at the brunt of everyone’s jokes. Getting locked in the outhouse, having his lunch stolen, or getting forced to eat mud were some of his daily routines. And then there was the name calling. He’d never heard the term ‘bastard’ or ‘sumbitch’ until some of the students saw fit to start calling him that.

When JD took the words home to his mother, Tess had a difficult time explaining the words in a ‘less hurtful’ way. How was she supposed to explain to her son what a bastard was? Or more importantly, what it wasn’t? And how should she explain her own actions? Though it didn’t matter to her that JD was, in essence, fatherless, but too many of the town’s folk saw things differently. They didn’t want their ‘decent’ children having anything to do with a bastard child.

Tessa didn’t want her son growing up and seeing himself as a ‘bastard’, she wanted him to grow up and do the things she’d never been able to. Not just for the obvious reasons, she wanted him to do these things because he chose to, not because someone said he had to.

When JD brought home his first dime novel Tessa discovered that her intelligent son had a wild imagination. He loved reading about the outlaws and lawmen of the West. When he wasn’t out in the stables helping Mr. Peters with the horses then he was locked away reading his stories. Tessa didn’t mind, because it was a way for JD to escape.


The little chestnut mare blew hard onto the top of the young man’s head, causing his hair to move in all directions. JD giggled. The horse and boy had become very close friends over the past few months. The animal had originally been used to pull the slurry wagon, but Mr. Wilson had decided on a different team of horses. So, that left Candy without any purpose, other than entertaining the smaller children.

Though Mr. Peters couldn’t spend time teaching the children how to ride, he would watch from a distance as they taught themselves and each other. Candy was more of a babysitter than Eric and David’s former nanny. She soaked up the attention that the children gave her and as a result, she entertained them. Short rides around the corral, jumping over small obstacles, and sometimes speeding around trees and fences. As long as the kids didn’t get into trouble, the Wilsons didn’t mind if the children rode.

JD grabbed Candy’s bridle and slipped it up and over her head. She opened her mouth accepting the bit like an old pro. Using the barrel at the end of the aisle he mounted up and trotted off toward the paddock. The older mare was able to give JD something nobody else could, and that was simply a means of escape. Nobody was teasing him, forcing him to do things he didn’t want to do, or making him feel any less that what he already did.

The idea of going west didn’t enter into young JD’s mind until he picked up his first dime novel. He’d only seen an Indian once, when he was at a fair. It was the appeal of the wilderness, untamed territories, and outlaws that captured his imagination. Men like ‘Hanging Judge’ Isaac Parker, Bear River Tom Smith, Kit Carson, and Henry Plummer men who had served their country as lawmen…and sometimes outlaws. Then there were the towns Abiline Kansas, Las Vegas New Mexico, and Bannack Montana. There was so much to experience and JD wanted to be a part of that.

Chapter 3


JD rushed into the mansion through the back way and raced up to the room he shared with his mother. Marge chuckled when she saw him running with her own son racing right behind him. Everyone was celebrating. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered. The children were only reflecting what the adults were feeling.

The war was over.

The mansion was filled with the smells of fresh baked pies and roasting chicken. The Wilsons had prepared for a party in celebration of the Union’s victory. Important people from all over the state were arriving for an evening of festivities. Even the staff was looking forward to the event.

JD burst into his room and stopped suddenly but was forced forward after Aaron ran into him. Tessa looked up from the window and chuckled. Carefully, she brushed the front of her dress.

“You boys had better not make a mess.” She stepped forward and ran her fingers across JD’s chin.

“Ma,” JD blushed, moving shyly away from his mother’s touch.

“What?” Tessa gently grabbed her son’s arm and brushed his hair back away from his left cheek. “What happened?” She asked, looking from JD to Aaron.

JD covered the bruises with his hand and bowed his head.

“I’ll go see to…” Aaron never had a chance to finish as he looked up into Miss Dunne’s eyes then he quickly made his escape.

“What happened, JD?” Tessa asked again.

JD turned his big brown eyes up toward his mother then bit the inside of his cheek. “Some of the guys…”

“Did you get into a fight?”

“No ma’am,” he quickly replied.

“Who hit you?”

“Tom and Jake stole my lunch,” JD bowed his head, “so I put pitch on the seats of their desks.”

Tessa clenched her jaw trying to keep from laughing. “So, you did, get into a fight?”

“Well, no…but they saw fit to fight me.”

“John Dunne, those boys are twice your size.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the washbasin. Tess grabbed a washcloth and dipped it into the bowl of water then gently placed it on JD’s bruised cheek.

“They always steal my lunch,” JD complained.

Tess nodded in understanding, as she watched her son pull the washcloth from his face. Though the bruising wasn’t bad, it would get worse as the day wore on. This wasn’t the first fight JD had ever been in, and it wouldn’t be his last. He was growing, looking more like his father everyday, and Tessa knew her son would one day have to fight his battles on his own…but for now he didn’t.

“If you promise to study with Mrs. Peters…and not spend your time readin’ your dime novels…”

“I can’t stop goin’ to school cuz a couple of bullies keep teasing me.”

“Teasing is one condition JD, but these beatings are entirely something else,” Tess tried to reason. “I want you here.” It was an order, not a request.

“Ma,” JD protested. “They’ll all know I’m a coward if I don’t go back.”

“I won’t have my son coming home with a bruised face or heaven forbid…something worse.” She placed her hands on her hips. “You’ll study here…where I can keep an eye on you.”

JD slumped down into the closest chair, and then after noticing his mother motion for him to replace the washcloth on his cheek, he sighed angrily.

“Besides,” Tess smiled, heading for the door, “you’ll have more time to spend with Candy.” She chuckled when JD couldn’t hide his smile. “I’ll bring some food up for you and Aaron, and both you boys behave.”

“Yes ma’am.” JD grinned. Sometimes his mother made a lot of sense.


JD and Aaron giggled almost uncontrollably as they rode bareback down toward the pond. Candy trotted roughly causing both the boys to struggle while trying to keep their seats. Their laughter only made it harder. As though the small chestnut mare knew something the boys didn’t she stopped suddenly and quickly lowered her head to the ground. Both boys slid down her neck and fell into the pond before they realized what was happening. Candy shook her head then started grazing on the lush green grass next to the pond.

Aaron stood up and let the water drain out of his shirtsleeves. He didn’t get the chance to let all the water drain before JD tackled him, causing them both to fall in. Waves of the crystal clear fluid hit the sides of the pond creating glitters of sunlight.

Screams and laughter filled the air as Candy ate peacefully near the water’s edge. Though the boys had been told by their mothers not to get their clothes dirty, it was obvious that the little horse had ignored it. JD sat at the bottom of the pond letting the water settle at the top of his shoulders. Aaron had disappeared just moments before.

JD screamed when he saw his friend rush from behind the woods with twigs, leaves, and dead flowers stuffed in his clothing and hair. His face was covered with mud. Aaron screeched while moving like a monster toward the water’s edge. Candy jumped back and snorted at the strange sight. JD sucked in a deep breath then disappeared under the water’s surface.

An ear-piercing shriek filled the air when JD grabbed his friend’s ankles after he’d entered the water. Both boys fell back creating a huge splash and more waves.

“You were supposed to be scared!” Aaron yelped, washing his face free of the brown sticky substance.

“You looked like Mr. Peters after he fell into the compost pile last summer,” JD said, behind a giggle.

“He was so mad…I thought for sure he was gonna kill Mr. Wilsons dog.” Aaron laughed, and then pulled the sticks and twigs from his clothing. “We should get back. My father is supposed to arrive back today.”

JD stood up and looked down at his clothing: “We’re gonna get in trouble.”

Aaron laughed and then nodded. “If we sneak in the back way we could get cleaned up before dinner.” He looked at JD: it was a good idea.

“We can blame it on Candy,” JD said, looking toward the mare.

That would work. Aaron thought, following his friend out of the pond.


Candy trotted back toward the mansion with two soaking wet boys on her back. It was obvious the little mare was pleased with herself. Her step was a little higher; she held her head in pride, and her tail in elegance. Before she came to a complete stop Aaron had slipped from his spot on her back and rushed for the strange horse and rider.

“Pa!” Aaron yelled.

Malcolm jumped off his horse and grabbed his son. It had been so long. Marge rushed from the mansion and flung her arms around both her son and her husband. Tears were shed and kisses exchanged.

JD watched from a distance, feeling in his heart a sense of loss. Aaron was his best friend, but he had something that JD didn’t. A father. The black haired, brown eyed son of a chambermaid looked in disappointment and grief at the reunion. He didn’t mean to feel jealous, but he did. Slowly, he slid off Candy’s back and led her toward the stables. The little mare followed, unsure of the change in attitude.


The glow from the fire filled the room with an eerie light causing strange shadows to appear on the floor, the walls, and on the faces of the people sitting close by. Malcolm sat beside his wife and son while JD and Tessa sat with the rest of the servants. He’d been telling glorious stories of the war. The children sat in fascination while the others listened in wonder. The newspapers hadn’t told the details, or the individual stories.

“Did you kill a lot of men?” JD asked, looking at Malcolm.

“JD,” Tessa scolded.

“It’s all right,” Malcolm interrupted. He turned his attention to his son’s best friend. “Yes, I killed many men…but I’m not proud of it.”

“But they were Rebs?” Aaron questioned.

“But they were men all the same.” Malcolm squeezed his wife’s hand, feeling in his own heart a sense of loss. The war had taken a lot from him, and even more from his family.

Chapter 4

“I’m gonna miss you,” Tessa said, wiping the tears from her face as they continued to fall.

Marge embraced her best friend in a warm hug and let her own tears streak her face. Malcolm had loaded the covered wagon and was saying goodbye to his friends and the Wilsons. Aaron and JD stood at the back of the wagon. They couldn’t believe how their mothers were handling the situation. Neither one had stopped crying for what seemed like hours.

“Here,” Aaron said, handing his friend a gift.

“Your lucky rabbit’s foot,” JD gasped, looking in awe at the small brown foot.

“Figured I didn’t need it any more.” Aaron shrugged his shoulders. “My pa says we’re gonna see lots of rabbits where we’re going.”

“Wish I were going with you…you’re gonna see real cowboys, and wild horses, and Indians, they won’t be like the ones here.” JD’s eyes got a far away look. It was obvious he wanted to go.

“It’ll be like those books you’re always reading,” Aaron teased.

“JD!” Tess called, motioning for her son to join her.

Malcolm had helped his wife into the seat of the wagon and then grabbed his son under his arms and set him next to his mother.

“I’ll write you,” Marge called to Tessa, while wrapping her arm around her son’s shoulders.

“Let us know how beautiful California is.” Tessa waved, placing one hand on JD’s shoulder.

The sound of leather striking the backs of the team of horses filled the air and the wagon jolted forward. They were really leaving. Aaron and Marge waved goodbye until their faces couldn’t be seen any longer. While the others went on inside to continue their work, Tess and JD stood watch until the wagon disappeared.

It was hard saying goodbye to the first real friend Tessa had ever had. When she was pregnant, it was Marge who helped her through the morning sickness, mood swings, and finally the labor. She never judged Tess on her predicament. Seeing instead, a young woman who’d gotten into a bad situation and needed nothing more than a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. Tessa was going to miss that. Oh there were others she could go to, but nobody like Marge.

The slump in JD’s shoulders told his mother that he too was suffering from the loss of his friend. Aaron had only been two years older than JD, and the two boys had been attached at the hip ever since they were old enough to walk. Tess motioned for her son to head for the house; she knew he’d need some time to work things out in his own mind before he decided to talk about it. He’d always been a curious boy with dreams of his own, and like most children his age, he was searching for that independence. Part of that independence was answering his own questions, rather than asking someone else.

JD opened the room door he shared with his mother then hid behind the blanket that was used to separate their sleeping areas. He needed to be alone. He didn’t want to cry like a baby in front of his mother, not wanting her to know how weak he really was. Aaron had been his best and only friend, and now he was heading to the one place in the world JD wanted to go. West.


Candy brushed her nose against the top of JD’s head. The boy had been sitting in her stall reading one of his dime novels. He hadn’t taken her for a ride in a while, ever since Aaron had left, and that was quite a few days ago. Most of the time he just sat reading, the majority of the time he read out loud. Though the little mare didn’t understand the words she did understand the tone in which he spoke.

Mr. Peters shook his head, listening to the young man read about Sam Houston. JD was a great kid with a good head on his shoulders. Life hadn’t been easy on him, and growing up without a father made it that much more difficult. The boy had a way with the horses, and Candy ate up all the attention. She’d shown him how to sit a horse properly, how to be soft on the bit, and…how to fall.

It was more important for a boy of JD’s age to be more familiar with a horse than a book. Books wouldn’t be able to get him from point A to point B. Nor would they be able to save his life if he was out of food, a shelter, and even clothing. Granted, there weren’t many places in Connecticut where JD might run into a situation like that, but there was something about him that told Robert that the boy might end up in a place where a horse and gun would be his most valuable positions.

Robert Peters threw a bundle of hay into Candy’s feed bin and continued down the aisle. Horses nickered in anticipation of their evening meal while the rest of the stable employees headed inside for the night. Summer was quickly coming to an end and as a result days started to get shorter and a little cooler.     

JD shut his book and then exited the stall. Candy stuck her nose out and watched him leave. There was an unfamiliar sadness surrounding the boy and no matter what the little mare did, nothing seemed to help.


Tessa slipped out of her leather boots and let her feet feel their freedom. She wiggled her toes then leaned back on the bed. The house had been so quiet since the departure of her friends, and she knew her son was feeling the same effects as she. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it. Perhaps the loss was greater than Tess had originally thought. JD liked to be in the middle of things, always learning, and always riding. But Mr. Peters had told her that her son had been hiding in the stables with the horse he considered his own.

It wasn’t like JD to hide, not from anything. He wasn’t a big kid, not by a long shot. His father had been a man of average height, standing five foot eight, and Tess figured JD would reach that height, if not more. But many of the younger men, who were older than the boy, seemed to pick on him for nothing more than not having a ‘proper’ father. And now, he’d lost his best friend in the world. Aaron had, in many ways, kept JD from feeling alone in the world. Granted he had a father, but his father had been off fighting in the war, he wasn’t home teaching his son about life. JD didn’t have anyone. Mr. Peters offered advice when he could, but JD wasn’t his son and he didn’t feel the need to instruct the boy on the things men should do. So, once again the son of a chambermaid, looked to himself, his books, and his horse for instruction. 

Tessa didn’t know if the men her son was reading about were proper role models for him. These men had done things in their lives that she didn’t want her son to do. Killing people, robbing banks, hunting down outlaws, and these were all things JD considered ‘heroic’. She knew he wanted to be a part of that. He wanted to be looked as more than he saw himself…a bastard.

When the door opened Tess looked up and watched as JD tried to sneak in. He kept his large brown eyes tilted downward and his dime store novel was held tightly in his grasp. She didn’t need to ask him how he was doing…it was obvious. In many ways Aaron leaving was harder for her son to deal with than the death of Mat. Perhaps it was because he was older, or even because death was and end to something and Aaron was headed to a new beginning, something JD had always dreamed about.

“You missed super,” Tessa said, sitting up on the bed.

“Wasn’t hungry,” JD responded.

Tess nodded and watched as her son disappeared behind the blanket used as a room divider. Slowly, she stood up and moved the blanket back, exposing her son who was now sitting on the bed.

“I want you to talk to me.” She eased herself down onto her son’s bed.

JD shook his head. He didn’t want to talk, because there wasn’t anything to talk about. He was ten years old, practically a man.

“You have a right to be upset because your friend left.” Tess gently rubbed JD’s leg. She watched as he shrugged his shoulders. “If you want to go back to school…”

“No,” JD said, abruptly. “Mrs. Peters is gonna start teaching me and the others about Lewis and Clark.” He brought pleading eyes up to meet his mother’s.

“All right,” she nodded. “You wanted to go with them, didn’t you?” She changed her direction of conversation.

JD nodded: “Aaron says that California’s real big and we could find a place to live real easy.” There was an unfamiliar pleading in his voice.

“There’s more to life than the West, JD. I want you to have what I never had, a real proper education, money to spend wherever and whenever you want, a family…”

“I can get all that out West.”

“After you go to college, you can go anywhere you want.” Tessa watched her son pinch his eyebrows and bite his bottom lip. “You’re a real smart boy JD, and I only want you to be happy.”

JD nodded and looked up at his mother. He could see her determination in her eyes and he understood how she wanted him to live a better life than the one she’d provided for him. He couldn’t blame her; she only had his best interests at heart. He knew that she saved every penny she earned, spending only when she had to and that usually was for him, new pants, new shoes, and sometimes a new shirt. Mostly, she recycled everything and most of her clothing looked more like a quilt than a dress.

“I’ll fetch you something to eat.” Tess slapped her son gently on the knee and she smiled when he responded with a smile of his own.

Chapter 5


The cold winter months had everyone bundled up and trying to stay warm. The horses’ winter coats were full and most of them looked more like ponies. Snowfall had been high this year and for the most part, all outdoor work had been suspended, except of course, caring for the animals.

Christmas was quickly on its way and though the Wilsons had busy plans, the servants and staff had decided on a small party of their own. They were excited about having the house too themselves for a few days while the Wilsons headed to New York to visit with their sons and their families. So, in light of that, a turkey and ham had been purchased, and Mr. Peters cut down a tree.

Tessa was more excited about this Christmas than anyone. She’d made arrangements to purchase her son a gold pocket watch. It wasn’t extravagant by any standards, but he’d never had anything of real value. He was fourteen now, and he needed a watch. He was growing so fast. It seemed like yesterday that he was running through the house playing with Aaron. Now, however, JD was looking more and more like his father, the father that he’d never get to know.

If it weren’t for the fact that JD’s complexion was minutely darker than his father’s, he’d look exactly like him. Dark hair and dark eyes, a smile that melted her heart, and mind that was eager for knowledge. She never told her son about his father, not because she didn’t want him to know, but rather, she didn’t want to see him hurt. She knew it bothered JD not knowing, but in Tessa’s eyes it was for the best, and she only hoped that her son would come to understand why.


The glorious smell of fresh baked bread, turkey, pies, and Christmas ham filled the air throughout the house. Tessa tried desperately to keep her hair pulled out of her face, she didn’t want it to be obvious that she’d had it cut. Using a simple white cloth she’d wrapped her now short hair up and tied it using the fabric.

She’d managed to get thirty dollars for her hair, just enough to purchase the watch for JD. At first, she felt almost naked. Her hair used to hang past her hips; it’s what she was known for. But it was more important for her that her son own that watch, after all, her hair would grow back.


The table in the servant’s quarters was set and the food looked like carefully carved sculptures. The smell hung heavy in the air and stomachs growled in response. Christmas was a time for family, and this unique group of people felt as though they were each related in some way. Laughter, conversation, and silverware striking dishes echoed around the room.

JD laughed when Mr. Peters spilt gravy down the front of his shirt. He simply wiped it up with his finger and continued with his meal. JD knew his mother was having a good time. There was a special light in her eyes, almost as though she knew something he didn’t. He didn’t understand why she had her hair wrapped up. He’d only seen her like that a couple of times, and never at the dinner table, but he didn’t care, for some reason she was glowing.


While the women cleaned up, the men gathered by the burning fire and told stories of their glory days. Many spoke of the war, others spoke of their dreams. When the presents were handed out there were only simple gifts, knitted sweaters, scarves, and hats. Mr. Peters gave his wife an intricately carved wooden cane. Though it was a sign of her aging, it was something she needed.

Tessa looked out over the small group of people and realized JD would know the love of a family without the blood ties. It wasn’t necessarily blood that brought people together, but a common bond, common interests, and common goals. Like most families, there were disagreements, but there was also love and respect for each other. Tessa didn’t want the others to see the gift she’d gotten her son. No, she wanted him to receive the gift later…so he could understand her reasoning.

As the party came to an end hugs, kisses, and thank you’s were exchanged in abundance. It had been a long time since all of them had been able to come together and celebrate this important day together. Usually they worked throughout the day helping the Wilsons at their every need and requirement. Tessa remembered the last letter she’d received from Marge, and she smiled. The few that were gone were remembered in everyone’s hearts, and only the best of wishes were with them.


JD entered the room he shared with his mother and carefully placed his new scarf and hat down on his bed. He could hear his mother behind the blanket humming an old familiar tune. That simple action brought a smile to his face.

“Thank you,” JD said, through the hanging divider.

Tessa laughed: “Are you decent?” She asked, knowing her son was quickly growing into a man, and because of that, required his privacy.

“Yeah,” JD responded softly. He looked up when his mother moved the blanket out of the way and stepped into the small area JD considered his own.

Tess sat down on the bed, her hair still up in the white fabric, but her shoes were off...some things never change.  Carefully, she pulled out a small box out of the pocket of her apron and handed it to her son. She smiled warmly all the while.

“I picked that up in town for you last night.” She watched as he opened the box.

“Is this why you cut your hair?” He pulled the finely crafted gold watch out of the box and held it delicately.

“No,” she responded honestly. “I cut my hair because you mean more to me, and I wanted you to have something…worth more than a scrap of material. Besides,” she smiled, “It’ll grow back.” She pulled the white fabric off of her head and let her hair fall around her face. It wasn’t what it used to be, but Tessa’s smile and the light in her eyes told JD that everything would be fine.

JD opened the watch and brought the face up to his ear to listen to the ticking. “Thank you,” he said softly, closing the timepiece and running his thumb over the engraving.

Tessa leaned over and kissed her son on the cheek. “Now, you can be on time for dinner.” She smiled, before getting to her feet and closing the room divider. 


JD sat astride Candy looking at his watch. He’d never owned anything this nice, and it still shocked him that his mother had spent so much money on him…she’d cut off her hair. He knew his mother was a determined woman who usually got what she really wanted. Not many women would have been able to raise a son on her own in the manner than she had. JD knew that he’d never gone a day without a meal, he’d always had clothing for warmth, and he had the privilege of an education. But it was still hard.

He wasn’t like these other kids who had mothers that stayed at home or fathers that…or fathers period. Everything he’d learned was through books, dime novels, and a few wise words from people he’d come to know. There wasn’t any particular person in his life he looked to when it came to being a man. Granted he had his mother, and he couldn’t have asked for a better one, but there was a part of his life that was missing.

At fourteen he’d never fired a weapon, his mother couldn’t teach him. He’d never smoked a cheroot, or chewed tobacco, or even tasted beer. Things that a father would have showed him, things a father should have showed him. JD knew his mother wanted him to go to college, she wanted him to do something with his life that had meaning, and he understood her desire. But it wasn’t his desire. He wanted to go West and live it…before it was gone.

Candy tossed her head impatiently she wanted to move forward. JD gave her a slight nudge with his heels and she eagerly moved onward. The snow was still deep but thankfully the weather was warmer. Spring was just around the corner.

The thought of becoming a doctor, though pleasing for Tessa, wasn’t pleasing for JD. He could hardly stand the sight of blood. Being a lawyer was interesting enough, but he didn’t think he could defend men that were guilty while at the same time know that they would hang if they were. For some reason he saw ‘getting shot’ as a more glorious way to die. He was good at math and generally enjoyed doing figures, but that’s not what his passion was about. All in all, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. There was an inner conflict brewing, and JD knew he had to solve it on his own.   

Chapter 6


Tessa sat on her bed and counted the money she’d been saving for so many years, two hundred and fifty dollars, and twenty-one cents. Not a lot by most standards, but it was a lot for Tessa. Every penny she’d ever earned was put into that sock she’d had stashed away. All of it was for JD’s college tuition; he was old enough now to go. Her heart swelled at the idea, nobody in her family had ever been properly educated. Now was her chance to see that happen. Carefully, Tessa replaced the money back into the sock and then she tied her hair into a bun. Her son would go to college…she was sure of it.


JD finished hooking up the small carriage Mr. Peters had allowed he and his mother to use for the day. Tessa had packed a picnic lunch and made arrangements to give her son the money she’d saved. It was getting close for him to take his life in his own hands and make the decisions that were required of him. There were several colleges in nearby states that he could choose to go too. Truthfully, Tessa didn’t care. She did prefer that he stay closer to home but at the same time she understood how his independence needed to be achieved.

Candy stood like a perfect angel waiting for JD and his mother to get situated in the small cart. Then with the click of the young man’s tongue, the little mare trotted forward. The afternoon sun felt good on their backs as they headed out past the gardens and towards the empty fields.

Tessa held her parasol over her shoulder and she smiled energetically. There couldn’t have been a more perfect day. She watched as her son took control of the buggy, he’d grown in so many ways. It wasn’t any wonder why he enjoyed the company of Candy; she seemed to be a very compatible little horse for her son. So willing to do anything that JD asked of her.

The grass moved like water near the ocean’s shore as the wind gently blew. Even the trees swayed with the gentle motions. Tessa looked up into the sky and took a deep breath of fresh air. Her heart swelled with pride. Today was the best of days.

JD pulled on Candy’s reins and the horse came to a stop. She waited patiently as the boy and his mother dismounted from the carriage. When JD released the reins the little mare put her head to the grass and started munching away. Tessa laid out a simple blanket while her son retrieved the basket of food from the cart. The space under the tree was perfect for the afternoon, and Tessa was ecstatic about the news she had to share with him.

“Mr. Peters said we had an hour,” JD said, seating himself down onto the picnic blanket.

“That’s long enough,” Tessa replied, handing her son a plate of food. “Have you thought more about college?” She asked, nonchalantly.

“I overheard Mr. Wilson talkin’ to Bill Riley, you remember him, he was one of David’s friends. Anyway, he said that business was a good subject to take in school…seeing that the West is growing up so fast.”

Tessa smiled triumphantly. It didn’t bother her that her son wanted to go out West, and she understood his passion for it. But it pleased her to no end that he’d been thinking about school.

“I don’t know how much it’s gonna cost, but I figured with some of that money I’d been saving…”

“Here,” Tessa interrupted. She handed him the sock and waited impatiently for him to open it.

JD, unsure of what his mother was so excited about, opened the sock and poured the contents into the palm of his hand. “Momma,” he gasped.

“There’s over two hundred dollars there and it’s to get you into school,” she replied proudly.


Tessa shrugged her shoulders: “I saved,” she smiled, looking pleased with her son. “I was never able to give you the things I wanted too, and this money is just to insure that you can give those things to your own family…when the time comes.”

JD smiled: “I…I don’t know what to say.”

Tessa squeezed her son’s knee and smiled. “Spend it with your future in mind.”

JD leaned over and gave his mother a warm hug. “I will,” he whispered.


As beautiful as the trip to the picnic spot was, it was even more glorious on the way back to the mansion. JD, with a new confidence, now had a way to get into school. He had the financial means to obtain what his mother had worked so hard for him to do. College. It was a big step, and one JD was ready to take.

Tessa took her son’s hand as he helped her down out of the carriage. She gave him a kiss on the cheek then quickly made her way inside. JD smiled watching her go, she was an amazing woman and one that he hoped he could make her proud.


Nightfall came quickly and JD found himself thinking about the great sacrifices his mother had made for him. While most of the house got dark, the light in the room he shared with his mother was still glowing brightly. Slowly, he entered the room, trying not to make a lot of noise. Tessa always seemed to leave the light going until JD was settled. In her own way she was making sure he was safe.

“You feeling all right?” JD asked, seeing his mother lying on her bed with a wet cloth draped over her eyes.

Tessa lifted the cloth and then slowly sat up. “Fine,” she replied with a smile. She’d come down with a headache a few hours before.

JD nodded his head. “I think I’m gonna head into town tomorrow and see about some schools. I figure it might be best if I did before the year started.”

“That sounds like a good plan.” Tessa stood up and kissed her son on the cheek. “You best get some sleep…because you’ll have a busy day tomorrow.”

JD smiled: “I love you momma.”

“I know you do,” she replied. “I’m so proud of you,” she said, then closed the divider.


JD woke to the sun’s early light cascading through the holes in the blanket divider. There wasn’t a sound in the room our out in the servant’s quarters. It was almost…peaceful. Slowly, he stood up and dressed then a smile came to his face. The look on his mother’s face after she’d told him about the money. It was a sight he’d never forget.

JD pushed back the blanket divider and discovered his mother still asleep, lying peacefully on her bed. He didn’t think he’d ever meet someone who was so willing to give everything. JD closed the curtain, not wanting the sun to disturb her. He then reached down and pulled her blanket up further over her shoulders. When he reached down to kiss her forehead, he paused. She seemed so still.

“Ma,” JD said softly, then touched her cheek. She was so cold. “Ma,” he said again, and then placed his hand on her forehead. She didn’t wake, didn’t stir, she didn’t…breathe.

JD slipped down beside the bed and grasped his mother’s hand. He tried to take a deep breath but the pains in his chest prevented it. It was only yesterday that they’d been riding to the meadow and had a picnic lunch. She’d been so happy. And now, now she was gone. JD let the tears stain his cheeks and land haphazardly on his shirt, his mother was dead, and nobody…nobody…could do a damn thing about it.


Other than the bank and mercantile, the undertakers was the most impressive building in town. There wasn’t a need to wonder why. It was Mr. Wilson that came with JD to help the boy pick out a casket and a headstone. He figured it was because his mother had been a faithful servant for many long years.

The doctor had said Tessa died from a ‘Softening of the Brain’. JD didn’t understand what that meant, other than his mother had died during her sleep. He knew she hadn’t been feeling well before she went to bed, but the doctor had told him that it wouldn’t have mattered. There hadn’t been anything anyone could have done…it was just her time. Still, it didn’t make it easier.

“I’d like to help pay for the services,” Mr. Wilson offered, looking idly at the line of caskets.

“I don’t know Mr. Wilson,” JD replied. He wasn’t sure what to think. None of the caskets looked like any that his mother would want to spend eternity in.

“I apologize for my delay,” the mortician said, entering the room wearing a black suit and tie. He didn’t look like someone who cared for the dead. He shook his customer’s hands and promptly started showing them his services. “Is there anything particular you’re looking for?

“While the boy continues to look around maybe you and I can make some arrangements,” Mr. Wilson wrapped his arm around the shoulders of the mortician and then headed towards his office.

JD watched them for a moment before turning his attention back towards his thoughts and his mother’s new residence. She was supposed to tell him what to do, how to act, and what all of this meant. But she was gone…and he was alone.


Nothing but black, that’s all anybody wore. The funeral was simple, but at the same time it was cold, almost as if people arrived because they had to, rather than wanted to. Mr. and Mrs. Peters were JD’s main source of comfort. The rest of the servants wanted to help the young man through his painful ordeal, but work didn’t permit it. The Wilsons had kindly given them an hour to attend Tessa’s funeral, and then it was right back to work.

JD never noticed Mr. Wilson off in the distance, watching, unable to attend. After JD had been born he distanced himself from the young woman carrying his son. Simply done out of fear that someone might discover what he’d done, and a man of his position couldn’t have a reputation of that nature. He’d paid for most of the funeral, not all, but most. That would have to be good enough.

Chapter 7

JD looked at the one hundred and seventy dollars he had left. He’d purchased his mother her casket, and he made sure it was the best anyone had to offer. It had even had a silk pillow.

Every college JD checked into he discovered he didn’t have enough money. Not nearly enough. Many of the institutions told him about scholarships, but how was he, a bastard by birth, going to qualify for that. His mother would be…devastated…if he didn’t go to college.

He watched as another expensive carriage went by, the high stepping horses matching the egotistical passengers. While the town’s folk walked by wearing their fancy silks, expensive hats, and their alligator shoes, JD watched. He wondered about his future and where it would lead. His mother had told him to spend the money with his future in mind.

JD stood up and with newfound determination, he headed for the dress shop. He’d get an education in the West and it wasn’t one he could learn from an instructor. No, he’d learn it as a person who’ll live it. If a man like Bat Masterson could make a living being a lawman in the Wild West, then so could JD Dunne. He’d make his mother proud, despite never having gone to college.


Gently, JD slipped his new bowler hat on and smiled. He ran his finger over the rim and looked at himself proudly in the mirror. His new suit hung off him perfectly, and he looked more like his storybook hero than ever before. Now, nobody would know he was a bastard, or that he grew up poor. His mother would be proud.


“Now this one here,” the gunsmith pulled out a weapon and handed it to JD, “is a Colt Peacemaker .45, now unlike the .34, these don’t misfire.”

JD held the heavy weapon and admired the wood grips, the nickel-plated 5-½-inch barrel, and the simple weight of it. Not overly pleased with the weapon, he handed it back. “What about those two?”

“You’ve got a good eye for weapons,” the gunsmith said, replacing the first weapon he’d pulled out. “Now, this here is a set.” He pulled the weapons out of the glass case and set them on the counter. “These are the P1841 model, they were introduced a year back and have been a right popular make.”

The pearl handled weapons felt good in JD’s grasp. The barrel length was slightly shorter than the previous weapon he’d held. He spun the weapon in his fingers and it fell to the floor, quickly, he picked it up and tried to hide his embarrassment. “How much for the pair?”

“How ‘bout you go find yourself a belt, and I’ll make you a deal.” The gunsmith smiled, knowing he’d made another sale.

JD nodded in agreement. Now all he had to do was learn how to shoot them.


The tin cans didn’t move as JD fired his new guns. Though he looked like he was ready for the West, down deep he knew he wasn’t. He couldn’t even fire his weapon right.

“You’re aim is off because you’re holding that weapon like it weighs more than a ton,” Mr. Peters said, walking up behind JD. He tied his horse next to Candy.

JD shrugged his shoulders and reloaded his pistol.

Robert smiled: “I know your momma was a real fine woman, and I know she’d want you to learn how to handle that weapon before you left.”

“I don’t think momma would want me leaving,” JD replied with a halfhearted smile.

“She told my wife and I that you were the best thing that ever happened to her.”

“Really?” JD looked at Robert, hoping that what he’d said was true.

“Yeah,” the older man replied. “Now…let me see one of those weapons and I’ll show you how to hit your target.”

JD nodded in agreement. He needed the help.

“First thing to remember is this weapon…is your best friend and handle it like you would your girl.”

“I don’t have a girl…yet.”

Robert chuckled: “Just remember that this weapon may be the only thing that stands between you getting killed, or staying alive.” He raised the gun up and fired at one of the cans JD had set up earlier. The can flew backwards after the bullet struck it, then landed with a clang behind the downed log. “Abe Lincoln may have freed all men, but Sam Colt made them equal,” he said, behind a chuckle.

“I’ve heard that slogan before,” JD responded with a grin.

“It’s a good one, and remember it.” He fired another shot and hit another can off the log. “These are some damn fine guns JD.” He handed the weapon back to JD and watched carefully as the younger man loaded it.

JD brought the weapon up, holding it steady, but firm, and fired. The bullet struck the trunk of the downed tree just below the tin can he’d been trying to hit. “Damn,” he sighed, lowering the weapon back down.

“That was a hell of a lot closer than before…try again,” Robert ordered, watching intensely.

The boy nodded then raised his gun once again. The weapon felt good in his grasp, not too heavy, and not too large. A slight twinge came to his lips when he fired the Colt and the can on the downed log flew backwards. He did it.

“Now you’ve got the hang of it,” Robert said, slapping JD on the shoulder. He started back for his horse then stopped. He turned and looked back toward the young man and smiled. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you, Mr. Dunne.”

JD turned and nodded. He didn’t know how or why, but the man he’d grown up admiring knew more than himself, and for the first time JD caught a glimpse of that knowledge. “Likewise, Mr. Peters.”

“When are you leaving?” He asked, knowing the boy would go.

“Train, tomorrow afternoon.”

“I’ll let the Mrs. know.” He tipped his hat then mounted up on his horse and headed for home.


JD waved from within the train car. Mr. and Mrs. Peters had done him the honor of seeing him off. Gloria had even packed him some sandwiches and some of her peach pie. People from all over seemed to be heading to somewhere; some were trying to run from something, others were running toward something. Then there were those like JD, those looking for a new beginning, and a new life.

Saying goodbye to Candy reopened the still healing wound of his mother’s death. The old mare seemed to know what JD had said. Her head dropped a little lower, her eyes watered, and she stomped her foot in protest. After Aaron had left the little mare and that little black haired, brown-eyed boy were inseparable. She’d taught him about life in many ways, the good…and the bad. For JD, saying goodbye to the little horse was like saying goodbye to his best friend. He knew he’d lost a little bit of himself when his mother died, and Candy was only showing him what it was he’d lost.

When the whistle blew those folks seeing off the ones they cared about moved away from the train cars and waved to those they loved from the boardwalk. JD waved again to the Peters. He would miss them, but he had to do this, not only for himself, but also for his mother, and everyone who thought they were defeated by a simple station in life.

John Dunne was heading West.

Chapter 8

August 1874

The Present…

“I practiced shootin’ at every stop I could,” JD continued. “It wasn’t until Kentucky, when I met a former Texas Ranger that I decided to try joining up with them.” He smiled shrugging his shoulders, feeling as though the life he’d lived didn’t quite add up to those around him, particularly the six other men he worked with.

“So what made you stop here?” Buck asked, thinking about his own fatherless past.

“When that stage rolled into town and I saw all the excitement around…I just knew that this was where history would be made.”

“I don’t know ‘bout history, but it sure as hell is a lively place.” Buck chuckled: “Do you miss your mother?”

JD sighed and then smiled. “Yeah,” he nodded, “I miss her.”

“From what you told me,” Buck shook his head, “there ain’t any way she’d be disappointed in you.” He looked to JD. “Matter of fact…I think she’d be down right proud.”

“I don’t know, Buck.” JD shook his head. “This ain’t the life she had planned for me.”

“Back when I was in the Army,” Buck smiled, “I knew this young man…reminds me a lot of you.”

“Why’d, he kill someone on accident?” JD asked, more defensively than he’d intended.

“He enlisted when he was seventeen,” Buck shook his head, remembering back, “anyway, for someone who’d killed so many men he was still as green as they came…”

“I ain’t no greenhorn, Buck!”

“No, JD, you ain’t. But you’re still a kid who has a lot to learn ‘bout life, and believe me…you’re gonna make a whole bunch of mistakes before you’re done.”

JD went silent for a moment, and nodded. There were a lot of things he still had to learn about, but living in this country was making those things less and less. “What was his name…the kid you were in the Army with?”

“Samto,” Buck responded with a smile.

“What?” JD asked, not quite sure about the name.

“His folks named him that cuz they already had one son named Sam, and they didn’t want two.”

JD snorted, not quite sure if he believed the ladies man.

“Swear to God.” Buck held up his hand.

“You’re full of shit,” JD said with a chuckle.

Buck got an evil grin on his face then asked, “You ain’t still a virgin are ya?” He’d asked Samto the same question.

“I ain’t that innocent,” JD responded in disbelief.

“Holy shit, boy, we got us some work to do!” Buck grabbed JD’s coat sleeve then hauled him into the saloon. He’d heard something very similar to that before.

The End

Notes: The term ‘Softening of the Brain’ was affiliated most with what is now known as a Cerebral Hemorrhage or Aneurysm.   

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