Disclaimer:See Part 1
The final weeks of summer ended and JD worked hard to please Mr. Saunders and Billy. Though he never forgot his mother the days passed and the boy matured into a hard-working young man.
Life returned to normal until one day in December. No longer actively attending school, JD spent his days and nights caring for the horses, repairing tack and harnessing carriages for the family. Inside and outside staff interacted very little so he wasn't aware of the tension and riff within the estate family. Many guests came and went, all expecting the groomsmen to bow to trivial whims. The many carriages carted people and baggage; someone always seemed to need transportation.
Winter began early and sent frigid winds along the eastern seaboard. The holiday entertaining season swung into full force with the staff expected to accommodate the extra demands. JD sat on the south side of the main barn, protected from the brisk north winds, restitching a broken harness cracked by the cold temperatures. Looking up from his work he saw a beautiful young woman, wrapped in a pale blue shawl strolling in the barren garden. He stared at the sight, mesmerized by the woman's backside, her long, dark brown hair cascading over the finely crocheted wrap.
Memories flooded his mind at the sight. Without realizing he moved, he approached the attractive lady. "Ma'am, where did you get that shawl?" he asked innocently, his hand reaching out to touch the fluttering fringe.
Startled from her musing her right hand flew out and struck the young man's cheek. He stepped back in shock as she turned and stalked out of the garden.
"Stop staring at her you scoundrel!" The voice boomed in the young man's ear breaking his trance. "How dare you openly accost my daughter?"
JD turned to the unknown man, his mouth open but unable to speak. He glanced back towards the girl almost to the main house. "Huh?"
The fist connected with his reddened cheek, sending his head rebounding into the brick wall. "You're nothing but a deplorable lecher. Keep your philandering eyes and foul mouth away from my innocent daughter. I'm reporting your reproachable actions, boy. Get packed. He'll throw you out when I'm done talking."
The portly gentleman, dressed in a discriminating suit, turned on his heel and returned to the main house. JD followed his retreat with wonder. What was that fellow bellowing about? He'd done nothing wrong. He didn't even recognize the girl. He supposed she was pretty but he never saw her face. The blue shawl, his mother's blue shawl, captured his gaze. At a loss to understand the accusations, he returned to his work and finished repairing the harness.
Five days later JD drove the black carriage to the front door. Not normally a chauffeur, Mr. Saunders asked him to deliver the family's latest guests to the train depot. He sat on the seat, waiting for the butlers to finish loading the trunks and bags in the boot. The horses danced impatiently, ready to move rather than standing still in the cold December air. Afraid to take his attention away from the restless animals, he didn't watch the folks entering the vehicle but the portly older man recognized the young man on the seat.
Indignantly the passenger bustled out of the carriage, shouting, "Get down from there. I will not trust my family to an ignorant lout. I demand a respectable chauffeur, not some scum too stupid to breathe let alone maneuver this conveyance."
"Sir, what is the matter?" The doorman asked, running out of the house.
Shaking a flabby finger at the dark haired young man, the rich man spouted, "He accosted my daughter. You may tolerate such insolent behavior but no true blue-blood Bostonian would be caught dead having such a deplorable employee."
"Father, this the baastard that hurt Aulluette's feelings?"
Two well-dressed youths joined the older man glaring at JD. Unsure what to do, he remained in the seat, restraining the team from bolting. The taller of the two boys grabbed JD's arm, trying to unseat him.
"Hey, leave me alone. I didn't do nothing to your sister. You're scaring the horses."
The carriage rolled a few feet down the cobblestone drive, dragging the brother.
"He's trying to kill my son." Guests and staff gathered outside to watch the confrontation. "You're dead, you scum!" The shorter brother tried to climb the other side to get at JD.
The horses, frightened by the loud voices, pranced and jerked the harness. The women inside the black vehicle screamed causing the horses to bolt down the drive, dragging both young men as JD tried to stop the run-aways. Attempting to halt the horses and fighting off the blows of the two boys, he lost his footing, falling over the front edge of the carriage onto the tongue. The reins fell to the ground giving the frightened team their head. The younger boys gained access to the seat and watched with horror as the dark hair youth got kicked in the head, pushing him back towards the front wheels.
Men ran from the stables to head off the panicked horses and stop them before they reached the street. Two men grabbed the bridles and slowed them to a walk, not realizing the intended driver lay unconscious inches away from getting crushed by the vehicle's wheels.
Jumping off the conveyance, the two brothers ran back to their father. "We didn't mean to hurt him Papa."
"We didn't expect him to fall off like that."
"Don't worry about it, sons. He received what he deserved for what he did to your sister." Returning to the carriage door, he helped his wife and daughter down to the cobblestone drive, preventing them from seeing the injured body pulled out from behind the team.
"Careful now. Lay him on his bunk." Billy supervised the young man's care as they removed the heavy gray coat. The older man shook his head at the sight before him. The head wound stood out in stark contrast to the pale skin with trails of dried blood disappearing into the boy's collar. A crimson stain soaked the shirtfront. All the while the young, injured driver lay still, not moving and not making a sound.
"Have to get Doc Fuller out here again."
"That won't be necessary."
Billy looked up into the drawn face of the head groomsman. "Sir, the boy's hurt. He ain't even awake."
"Don't matter. Mister Pendergast wants him gone now. We've got to get him off the estate before them boys come looking to finish what they started."
"But he promised the boy he could stay here after his ma passed away."
Both men shook their heads and Billy sighed. "Just ain't right, Tom. Why don't we just shoot him and put the body out with the dead livestock. We ain't worth anymore than them cows downstairs."
"Actually, I believe we are worth less. Unless you want to loose your job, too, I suggest you help me pack his stuff. We'll find him a safe place."
The older man walked over to his bunk and pulled a burlap bag from under his bed, opening the container as he returned to JD's side. The boy's few possession barely filled the bottom of the bag. Reaching under the mattress, Billy grasped the small package he knew was hidden from prying eyes. Adding the paper wrapped bundle to the cloth bag, he lifted the bag for the other man to see. "Not much to show for a lifetime of service to the Blossoomwood Estate."
"Let it be Billy." Nodding his head at the small figure lying on the bunk the head groomsman continued. "Time to get him loaded into a buggy. Wish I'd never asked the kid to drive that obnoxious Rockingham fellow and his family. Can't undo what is done so we best get him out of here. Hard times are coming to this place, mark my words." He stuffed a small white envelope into the sack and the two men carried JD away from the only home he'd ever known.
An hour later, Billy drove the small carriage up to a small white church. Snow frosted the bushes and lawns, covering the dirtiness of the city. The place looked temporarily deserted and the groomsman took advantage of the opportunity to deliver his young friend to the next phase of life. Dragging the unconscious former stablehand up the stairs, he gently laid his friend on the floor at the back of the main sanctuary. He placed the burlap bag under JD's head and tenderly pushed the boy's unruly black bangs out of his face. "Good-by son." Stepping away, Billy reached for the door handle when he suddenly retraced his steps to the boy's side. He pulled a small roll of bills from his inner coat pocket and stuffed them into the boy's shirt before running from the quiet building.
Less than an hour passed before two children entered the sanctuary, joyfully singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Dropping their load of sticks and twigs into the wooden box they stopped to stare at the tall pine tree standing in the corner. The wait for the evening service seemed infinite. "Do you think there will be something for us on the tree this year?" the little girl asked her older brother.
"There will be something for us, maybe a pair of mittens or a new scarf," he replied.
"Why don't we ever get one of the toys, Davey?"
The eight-year-old boy shrugged his thin shoulders. "I guess we're not special enough but mittens or a scarf would be nice, Sally. Mine got too many holes." He held up his worn mitten and stuck a finger out the side. "Come on. We need to get the rest of the wood carried. Pa won't like it if he finds us dawdling. He might not let us come tonight."
Davey raced ahead of his sister but stopped and retreated into the church when he heard her scream.
The little five-year-old girl stood beside the young man lying on the wooden floor, unable to move. "Do you think he's dead, Davey?"
"Come on Sally. Don't touch him. We'll go tell Pastor Goetsch. Come on." He pulled his sister toward the door when they both heard an awful moan. Scared they would be caught the children ran out the door into the waiting arms of their father.
"Papa, Papa. There's a dead man in the church!"
Afraid to speak the little girl bobbed her head in agreement."
"I was wondering what was taking you so long. Davey, run and get Pastor. I'll go take a look at the man."
"No Papa. I don't want you to. You might die too!" Sally found her voice and clung to her father's neck.
"Now, now little one. He's probably just asleep and had nowhere else to go to get away from the cold. You wait here with the wagon and I'll go see to him."
"But Papa, his face. It's covered in blood."
The teasing smile faded from the man's face as he placed his daughter on the wagon seat. Pulling the warm robe around her slight frame he patted her head. "I'll be fine. Wait for your brother."
"Davey said there is someone sleeping in the church, Paul?" the minister asked as he approached the wagon.
Together the two men entered the church and approached the body on the floor. They looked at each other, waiting for the other to explain what the children discovered.
"I've never seen him before, Paul. Do you think he's d..?"
"Don't go jumping to conclusions, Pastor Goestsch." Paul reached out his hand slowly and laid it on the young man's chest, silently praying he'd feel a heartbeat. Smiling he turned to the minister. "I feel it. He's still alive but it looks like he needs some help."
"He can't stay here. Folks won't appreciate finding an injured boy laying here sleeping off whatever is ailing him. Will you help me get him to the parsonage?"
The two men lifted the slight form and carried him out of the church. Davey ran ahead to open the door for the men.
"Thelma, we have company," the pastor announced as they gently laid the injured boy on the small couch.
"Who is it dear? Oh, my!" The petite woman took one look at the blood caked face and ran back to her kitchen, shouting orders to her daughters. "Pour some of the hot water in to a bowl, Esma. Tessa get me some cloths. She gathered some other items and returned in a short while to the parlor.
"Paul's children found him lying in the back of the church. Do I need to get Doctor Matthews?"
"Let me clean some of this blood off his face and then we'll know what to do?" She went to work, efficiently removing the dried blood and dirt from the hair and forehead. Concentrating on the task at hand she didn't notice the men exiting the parsonage. Her husband returned a few minutes later carrying a small bundle, setting it down beside the couch.
"I think he was kicked in the head. The marks look like horseshoe nails. Who would drop him off in our church and on Christmas Eve? He can't be more than fifteen."
"Whoever left him there also left this sack." Rummaging through the small bag, the minister discovered the worn Bible with a few letters and thread-bare clothes. Shaking his head he sighed. "Not much to start out with in this old world, Thelma."
"This was stuck in his shirt pocket." She held up the small roll of bills. "I imagine someone suffered a guilty conscious."
"Mutti, hurry up." The youngest Goetsch pulled her mother's arm."
The two older daughters laughed at their younger sibling's antics. Normally Greta fought going to bed following the Christmas Eve service but the little girl knew she needed to go to sleep before Christmas morning could arrive.
"Gut nacht, Greta. Are you ready to say your prayers?" Tessa loved to tease her baby sister but tonight's service left her full of good feelings. The sixteen-year-old young woman helped the little girl get ready for bed and pulled the covers up to the cherubic face. "Froeliche Weinachten. Go to sleep now. Morning will be here real soon."
"I can't wait for morning. I can't sleep, Tessa."
"Shhsh, little one." The teenager gathered her little sister into her arms and rocked her, softly singing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" while the peace of the evening filled both of their hearts. "Sleep well, little one. I can't wait for morning either." Tessa whispered.
She looked up to see her parents standing in the doorway and smiled at them. "Tochter, will you sleep with Greta? The young man in your room is asleep." Her father nodded toward the next room, her room.
As the smile fell from her face, her eyes flashed. "But Vater."
"Sleep well, my daughter. We will talk about it in the morning." Leaving no room for discussion, Tessa laid down beside her baby sister. Who was that young man sleeping in her bed? How long would he stay with their family? Questions swirled around her head as sleep overtook her excited mind.
JD awoke and looked around the small bedroom. The small lamp, with its flame turned low, illuminated the simple furnishings. His head, wrapped in cloth, pounded. The bed sheets felt smoother than the rough blanket on his bunk. Void of the animal smells meant he lay somewhere else than the stable. Thinking hurt his head so he relaxed onto the soft pillow. Sleep pulled him and he gave into its request. Tomorrow would reveal the answers he needed.
"Good morning and Merry Christmas." The man with beginning to gray hair stood in the doorway.
Sunlight crept into the small window, announcing the start of a new day. JD's left eye refused to open but he looked at the stout man with his one good eye. "Where am I? This ain't anywhere on the estate I remember." His voice scratched.
Pastor Goetsch helped his guest get dressed as he explained the situation. "Nobody saw anyone leave you at the church. This bundle was under your head. Does it belong to you?"
JD reached into the bag and pulled out the paper wrapped package. "My mama's Bible." The words caught in his throat.
"Is she waiting for you?" The minister sat on the bed beside the boy, expecting the answer.
Unable to look up, JD shook his head while tears ran down his face. "She died last summer." Absentmindedly he rubbed his fingers over the worn leather cover. Christmas. She'd always make the day special, whether giving him a new shirt or pair of warm socks. He missed her so much.
The minister rubbed his hand gently on the hurting boy's back, unsure what the next step would be.
JD took a deep breath and wiped the tears away. "Why was I at your church, sir?"
Shrugging his shoulders, Pastor Goetsch answered, "I'm not sure. Where do you live? Will you be missed? Do you remember what happened?"
A slight motion by the door made JD look up into the pretty, young face of Tessa Goetsch. He started to smile when he remembered the last time he approached a girl. Isn't that why those boys started beating on him?
"Excuse me Papa, but I need to get ready for church." She smiled at the boy sitting on her bed. "Merry Christmas."
Unable to speak, he nervously gathered his bag and coat. "Thank you, " he whispered. "I'll get out of your way." Standing up quickly, he swayed, his body unable to establish equilibrium.
Goetsch grabbed him. "Let me help you downstairs. You can rest on the couch until after church. You're welcome to join us for Christmas dinner."
JD watched the family leave the house before he took in his surroundings. His threadbare trousers and ragged shirt, though clean, made him feel unworthy to stay with the parsonage family. His head hurt but he knew he needed to leave the house before they returned. No family needed to be stuck with a poor stableboy like him on Christmas.
The bitter wind cut through his coat and he pulled it closer. Dark clouds churned in the sky, cutting out the late December sun. He made his way to the small barn and pulled the door shut behind him. A milk cow and two horses turned to see who'd disturbed their sleep. JD grabbed a blanket and laid it over the first horse. He found a second blanket for the other animal. A third remnant, holes giving evidence to mice and moths, found its way around his shoulders as he snuggled into the dry straw. The animal smells comforted him and he drifted off into a healing sleep.
A full-fledged blizzard howled outside and the tired minister trudged through the deepening drifts. Chores didn't get a holiday. His cow and horses didn't live by a calendar. He wasn't surprised the mysterious guest disappeared before the family returned from the service. The boy's eyes betrayed anxiety at being in a home surrounded by a loving family. The pastor wished the boy waited until after dinner. His wife prepared more food than they could possible consume.
Opening the door caused the cow to express her discomfort at his tardiness. "Now Bessy. You know I wouldn't leave you here to suffer." His gentle greeting woke the two horses, while the steam from their breath clouded his view of his animals. He stopped suddenly. Who put the blankets on them?
Nestled in the pile of fresh bedding Goetsch saw the answer. JD slept unaware of the older man's scrutiny.
He knew the boy wouldn't return to the house for their evening meal but it was too cold to spend the night in the barn. What was the boy thinking? He finished the milking and returned to his warm house. Minutes later he repeated his journey to the freezing stable, carrying a plate of nutritious food, which he sat on the milking stool. He knew the boy wouldn't accept charity but covered him with a warm quilt anyway.
JD woke with a start. He looked around the strange barn with alarm before he remembered. Someone was watching him but all he saw were the animals, quietly chewing their evening meal. A cozy, patchwork quilt covered him and he saw the plate of food. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten but his empty stomach reminded him it had been too long. The food, though cold, was delicious.
The winter wind howled outside but inside the small structure JD Dunne sat snuggly ensconced in a borrowed blanket, his belly full and the comforting smell of horses surrounding him. What now? Dare he return to the estate? Had he lost his job? 'Mama, what should I do?' he prayed, as he lay down to sleep.
Before the sun rose the next morning, he cleaned the stalls, carried fresh water to all the animals and forked them some hay. He carried the clean plate on top of the folded quilt and set them down just inside the entryway to the house. By dawn, the young man walked across the city and stopped a neighborhood tavern he knew some estate employees frequented before arriving for work
"Hi Ian, Frank." He sat at their table and tried not to stare at the pile of food sitting before each man.
"Mornin', Dunne," answered Ian, the younger of the two men. "Enjoy your day off." His eyes mocked the holiday greeting.
"Hump," said the other. "Figured you'd be long gone by now, boy."
"Huh? Gone? Gone where? Already walked cross most of the city to get back here."
"Don't!" Frank said sharply. "Don't go back to Blossomwood. Can't ya git it through that thick skull of yours, ya ain't welcome there no more. Mr. Pendergast fired ya. That's why Billy and Mr. Saunders hauled ya off before the sheriff showed up ta arrest ya."
"What did I do? Them boys were attacking me. It was all I could do to keep the horses from running." JD looked at the two men, confusion written all over his bruised face.
"Don't know none of them details, boy. All we know is what we heard the cooks saying. Sayin' you molested that Rockingham girl, right in front of her old man. How stupid can you be?" Frank pushed another forkful of food into his mouth. "Way things is going, Mr. Rockingham will soon own Blossomwood and all of us will be looking for new work."
"No thanks to the like of you, Dunne, " Ian added to the conversation. "Go find yoreself someone else ta pester with your questions. Can't take a chance someone seein' us yappin' with ya. Give them the wrong ideas about us. We plan ta keep our jobs as long as possible."
Stunned by their rejection, JD walked out into the cold, his mind numb. Blossomwood sold? Him wanted? He'd need to find a new job soon and someplace to stay but who'd hire him? The freezing wind penetrated his thin coat as his long dark hair whipped into his face. He needed to do one last thing before he left Blossomwood Estate.
Not sure if he would be welcomed or arrested, JD trudged through the snowdrifts rather than walking down the main roads. The small cemetery sat behind the stone chapel. Kneeling by his mother's unmarked grave, he tried to remember what she'd told him just before she died, what she'd meant by following his dreams.
So lost in his thoughts, he didn't hear anyone approach. His heart stopped when a large hand grabbed his jacket collar and pulled him off the ground.
"You are either really brave or stupid and dumb, John Dunne. And I believe it is the latter. It's too late to ask for your mother's forgiveness. She'll be spending a long time in hell, trying to earn her way to heaven and having to do penance for bearing a child like you."
JD wriggled out of the grasp of the obese man and turned ready to fight for his mother's honor. "She's in heaven and there ain't nothing you can do about that!" he screamed at the man dressed in black.
"She rue the day you were placed in her arms and made her life a living hell. Now she'll pay dearly for your sin and lust. But what can one expect, considering your base heredity.
Remove yourself from these hallowed grounds at once and take your lust and debauchery away from here. I'll get the sheriff back here to arrest you and put you where you belong!"
JD took one last look at his mother's burial place and trudged out of the cemetery. She would be ashamed of him running away. Maybe he was running towards a new life, his dream.
He wandered around the city, picking up small jobs chopping wood and shoveling snow, gradually working his way back to Pastor Goetsch's barn. He lived in and around the city his entire life but now felt like a stranger. With his mother's death he was freed from his bondage of life-long servitude.
JD Dunne sat in the Goetsch's cold barn, listening to the cow and horses chew their hay. He pulled out his mother's Bible and looked at the stack of envelopes. Who were these people? Near the middle of the book he found one addressed to him. The edges were tightly sealed but his pocketknife slit the top evenly. JD pulled out the letter and tried to hold back more tears as he read her words.
Use this to gain the best education possible. I always dreamed you would attend college. I know this isn't enough yet but I find a way to add to it.
I love you. Be good.
Feeling the terrible pain of loneliness and missing his mother, the teenager held the ache at bay by reading another letter that fell out of her Bible, signed by a former maid, Olga Kerchov Yavinski.
Boris and I be so happy in our new home. By Easter a little blessing will come. We live in small town near Dodge City. Town is new and clean. No smoky factories, just honest farmers and shopkeepers. We had excitement last month. Shooting in tavern where Boris work. I send you newspaper piece. Even though these things happen I feel this safe place to raise our child.
We would be pleased to have you and son live with us. Be so much better for boy. I still ache for pain I caused you and him, when Mr. Jones find Johnny in room. Come west and start new life.
Forever your friend,
JD picked up the scrap of paper that fell out of the carefully opened envelope and read the short article.
The newsprint included a discription of the notorious lawman, mentioning his matched pair of pearl handled colt revolvers and trademark brown bowler.
JD leaned against a support beam, shut his eyes, and let his mind wander. Images of showdowns and gun battles exploded in his imagination. He saw himself standing in the middle of a dusty, small town street, facing down an arrogant adversary. Flanking his left side stood a tall man in a slouch hat. On his right was another stranger whose black duster danced in the light breeze.
In his mind he saw himself with a lightning draw; a pearl-handled pistol magically jumping into his hand, firing in time to save a woman in trouble. He would ride a horse as swift as the wind across the barren landscape. No one would stop him. He would protect the poor and homeless from rich, tyrannical landowners.
His mother's words, "Follow your dream," echoed in his head. What was his dream? Shutting his eyes the picture of Bat Masterson jumped into his mind, the bowler hat, a suit and matching set of pistols. That's what he wanted to be, a lawman, someone who fought for justice, a hero.
He ran his fingers over the few paper bills laying on the top of his Mama's letter. His dream. What was his dream? Did he possess the same courage of his parents, to leave the land of his birth and venture to an unknown future? Nothing remained to hold him to this place. A new future waited for him somewhere else, somewhere he could become his own man. Deep in his soul a wellspring of hope and determination bubbled.
A horse whinnied and the young man smiled. He squeezed the money and said softly, "Thank you, Mama. My dream will make you proud." Tomorrow he would begin that quest. He didn't know where he would go but somewhere, away from the eastern cities he would find the place where he could do some good. JD Dunne, Johnny to his mom, didn't know if heaven or hell waited for him in the future but he wasn't going to sit back and wait for life to control him. He would grab a train west and keep going until he found the answer to his dream and a magnificent future.