(Variation One)

an M7 AU

by Sevenstars

He stared mutely up at her with filling eyes, then put his face down in his hands and sobbed. Chris hitched his chair closer and laid his arm across his friend's shuddering shoulders. "Easy, pard," he murmured, like a man soothing a horse. "Easy, now. I know it hurts. I remember when I lost my ma, on the way out to Oregon...but you can't let this cripple you, pard. You still got a little brother to think about."

Buck's head shot up. "JD! Oh, my God, JD--did he get it too? Is he okay? Miz Abigail, you didn't put him in no orphanage, did you?"

"JD's fine, Buck. He's just fine," the madam assured him. "We had to keep him away from his mamma till almost the very last, for fear he'd take it, but he didn't. And of course I didn't put him in an orphanage. I knew if you survived you'd come for him. He's so little, he doesn't eat enough to bear thinking about, and Rosalie was a dear friend of mine as well as an employee; I felt I owed it to her to keep him safe for you."

"I--I'm much obliged to you for that, ma'am." Buck reached into his vest and pulled out a piratical black and scarlet handkerchief, wiped his eyes and blew his nose. Then he drew out a leather photograph case and opened it for a look at the image inside, one he had carried literally next to his heart for over a decade, ever since Rosalie gave it to him as a goodbye gift when he first set out for California. It was a hand-colored daguerrotype that showed her in a red-and-white-striped silk day dress of the fairly elaborate type fashionable at the time, its deep, wide, low neck framed with a bertha and trimmed with ribbon and ruching, garnished with a set of brooch, bracelets, and very long earrings in coral and pearl, hair drawn away from her ears with curls at the back, held by tortoise combs and draped over with a twenty-dollar black lace head scarf. He gazed at it in silence for a long two or three minutes, then kissed it gently and without a word returned it to its place. "I'd like to see my brother now," he said, and his voice was steady.

Miz Abigail tugged on the bell-cord. Cleodene must have been lurking out in the hall, for she responded almost instantly. "Cleo," the madam told her, "ask Mammy Ida to fetch Master JD down, please."


Buck looked up with a weak grin. "You all took to callin' him that too, did you?"

Abigail smiled. "Your ma did it first, after you left to go back to Colorado. We all got so used to hearing her that we picked up the habit. I'm not sure he even knows he has another name."

"You reckon he'll know me?" Buck asked. "I ain't been home since he was just a baby--"

"Rosalie showed him your pictures all the time," the woman interrupted. Once uniformed, it had been customary on both sides to pose for a "daguerran artist" for a "shadow" to send home, and Buck had been no exception, in part too because by the time he enlisted he'd taken to wearing a mustache, and he'd wanted to be sure his family knew him in his new look. "And she read him your letters over and over, the ones from the West and the front alike. You're a very real person to him, Buck, don't ever doubt it. Mammy says he always puts you in his prayers at night--‘God bless Mamma, and Miz Abigail, and all the ladies, and Mammy Ida, and my big brother Buck, and let him come home safe from the war.' "

"Ain't that sweet of him," Buck murmured. "Has he been a good boy?"

"He's lively as a flea, but there's not a bad bone in his body," was the reply. "Of course he gets into mischief, all little boys do, but he's always so quick to say he's sorry, and when you look at his eyes you know he means it. And he's bright, too. The ladies have been teaching him to read the last month or so, since he had his birthday, and he's picking it up wondrous fast."

"That's right," Buck agreed, "he's five now, ain't he? How'd he take it about Ma leavin' him?"

Miz Abigail frowned a little. "I don't know what to tell you about that. We've told him she's dead, but I'm not sure he understands what that means. He calls for her sometimes, or goes roaming around the house looking for her, and he hasn't cried for her."

A knock at the door announced Mammy Ida and her charge. Buck made a movement as if to stand, then reconsidered: at six feet two he'd loom over his brother, and he didn't want to seem a frightening or threatening presence. Instead he hitched forward on his chair a little and schooled his face to a gentle, welcoming expression.

At barely five JD was clearly his mother's son, slight and fine-boned, no more than thirty-two inches high in his red-topped brass-toed boots and thirty-seven pounds undressed. His hair was as black as Buck's, but dead straight where Buck's was wavy, parted exactly in the middle and still worn a bit overlong. His face was losing infancy's plumpness, showing sharp, well-cut features dominated by long-lashed hazel eyes. He wore a Garibaldi blouse and long pants. He stared wonderingly at the two tall men in Union blue. He'd almost certainly seen officers about the house for most of his short life, but some instinct apparently told him these were different. "Hey, JD," Buck said softly, "know who I am?"

The child looked uncertainly up at Mammy Ida, who released his hand and shooed him gently forward, and then at Miz Abigail, as if searching for some hint or prompting. He returned his attention to his brother, brows knitting, and then seemed to make the connection. "Buck?" he said tentatively. "Are--are you my b-brother Buck?"

Buck slid off the chair and onto one knee, holding his arms out. "That's right, kid. That's just right. Come here and give me a hug."

For a moment the room was hushed as all the adults waited to see how JD would respond, and then the little boy hurled himself into Buck's waiting embrace. Buck scooped him up, holding him close, and lifted him off the floor without any apparent effort. "That's the boy," he said. "Yeah, that's right, we're gonna get on just fine, you'n'me, ain't we, JD?"


"What'cha need, little brother?"

"Buck, what happened to Mamma? I ain't seen her in so awful long..."

Chris saw the wince that passed across Buck's face, and then he settled back into the chair and loosened his embrace so the boy could sit on his knee and look up into his eyes. "She's dead, JD. That means she ain't here no more. Her body's been put in the ground, but her soul, the part of her that loved us, is in Heaven now, way up somewheres past the sun, and she's watchin' over us from there, and cryin' happy tears to see we're together again. We won't be seein' her for a long, long spell, till we go there ourselves, but that don't mean we can't still love her and think about her and try to be the kind of men she'd be proud of. 'Cause she still loves us and always will, and now that we're each of us all the other one has, I ain't ever leavin' you again."

"If she loves us, why did she go away to Heaven?" JD asked. "Why won't she come back?"

"She went away on account she got sick, JD, awful sick, and she wasn't strong enough to get better. There's some sicknesses, like when you get sniffles, that ain't much account, and folks get well from them real easy, but what our ma had was a bad, bad sickness in her lungs, to where she couldn't breathe no more, and when you can't breathe you die. She didn't want to go away and leave us, but she didn't have no choice about it. That's just the way that people are made, there are some things they can't get well from."


"'Cause if folks didn't die, after a while there'd be no room in the world for other folks to live when they got born. It's just how God made things. Like...well, did you ever pour water into a glass, and pour too much, so it slopped over the rim?" The child nodded solemnly. "Well, the world is a little like that glass. There's just so much room in it, and people are like the water. If you drank some of that water, then you could pour more into the glass and it wouldn't slop. Death is how God makes room in the glass for more water--see?"

"I think so," said JD slowly. "You mean that people die all the time?"

"Every day, JD. Hundreds and hundreds of people every day. And hundreds and hundreds more get born, every day. Death's the end, and gettin' born is the beginning, and in between we get a long spell we call life, when we have to try to be the very best people we can, so that our folks who used to be alive can look down at us from Heaven and be proud of us."

"And she ain't gonna come back and be with me no more?"

"No, JD. She can't. But I'm with you now, and I'll take care of you."

"I miss her, Buck. I miss her so awful hurts..."

"I know you do. I miss her too. It's okay if you want to cry, JD."

And JD buried his face in Buck's blue cavalry jacket and wept.


Much later, long after Buck had put JD to bed, Chris Larabee followed the scent of smoke down the slope behind the house to where his friend stood gazing out over the moonlit Missouri, one of Miz Abigail's Cuban Regalia cigars clenched in his teeth. "You okay, pard?" he asked quietly.

"I will be," Buck told him. "I won't lie and tell you I don't ache. But I got JD, and that makes all the difference. I got somebody who belongs to me, somebody to take care of and want to live for. We'll be okay, him and me."

Chris clasped his hands behind his back, unconsciously falling into a modified parade-rest, legs slightly spread in a gunfighter's instinctive reach for perfect balance. "I don't want to make it sound like I'm pushin'," he said slowly, "but have you give any thought to what happens next? You and the boy can't go on livin' here."

"Never thought so," Buck agreed at once. "Figure we talked about this already. We was meanin' to take him and Ma to New Mexico with us. Ain't got Ma no more, but JD's still here."

Chris took a slow breath. "You sure that's a good idea, pard? When we made our plans before, it was knowin' that when you and me was out workin', your ma'd be there at home to take care of the boy. Like you say, she ain't here now. Makes a difference."

"Well, hell," said Buck, "we'll just have to hire us a housekeeper or somethin', is all. Shouldn't cost us no more'n about twenty-five dollars a month. Might've hadta do it anyhow, Ma wasn't much shakes in a kitchen, and God knows I ain't no cook."

"You sure?" Chris asked again. "He's only five, and he's so damn little. You think he's really up to a trip like that with just two big men to look after him? Bet he don't even ride yet."

The dark-haired man turned slowly to fix him with a hard eye. "You wasn't such a helluva lot older when your folks hauled you out to Oregon," he pointed out mildly.

"I was eight," Chris reminded him, "and a lot nearer full size than JD is, and I could ride a pony, and tell directions by the sun and stars in case I got lost. And don't tell me I had a brother younger, and there was better'n a hundred real babies in our wagon train, even though they're both true. Some of them babies died, Buck. Some of the bigger kids too."

Buck took the cigar out of his mouth and drew in a long breath of air, then let it out again quietly. "I ain't leavin' him, Chris," he said softly. "I promised him today I wouldn't. We're all the family each other's got now. I got an obligation to him, and if it takes priority over our plans together, well, that's how it's gotta be. He's my blood kin. I don't want you and me to break up over him, but I can't break my word to him, or fail Ma."

"I understand that," Chris agreed. "I won't hold no hard feelings, Buck. We'll still be friends no matter what you decide to do. I just wonder if draggin' JD all the way out to New Mexico right now is...the best thing for him. He's so damn little."

"You said that already," Buck observed. "Ain't his fault. He didn't ask to be that size." He was silent for a minute. "S'pose I say I'm stayin' here in KC with him. What'll you do?"

The blond shrugged. "Go on to New Mexico myself, I reckon. What'll you do?"

"Talked to Miz Abigail about that. She's piped in to just about everybody in the city government. Figures with my rep she can get a spot for me as a city policeman or assistant marshal. Pays around sixty to seventy-five dollars a month, that's plenty of money to keep JD and me in a good boardinghouse where he'll have somebody to look after him, and I can be with him when I'm off duty."

Chris nodded. "Sounds like a plan. You understand, Buck: it ain't nothin' personal against the boy. It's just...he'll need you a lot more'n I will, the next few years. It's better you stay here with him."

"I reckon," Buck agreed. He was silent a moment or two. "You leavin' soon?"

"Figure another day or two to get some clothes besides this Army issue and a decent saddle 'stead of that McClellan. And I oughtta write my family and let 'em know I'm alive."

"You're welcome to stay till then," Buck told him. "That ain't just me talkin'. Miz Abigail said it too."

"No," said Chris with a sigh, "I'll be movin' out first thing in the morning. Listen, I'll write you soon as I get settled, send it care of General Delivery."

"You damn well better," Buck retorted. "And watch your back, pard, 'cause I ain't gonna be by to do it for a while."

"You too." Chris offered his hand.

"Good luck to you, Chris."

"Good luck, Buck. Take care of that kid."

May, 1868

"Buck! Buck!"

The tall man had barely time to drop his black leather valise and brace himself before a small whirlwind in long plaid trousers, cambric shirt, and floppy blue necktie came hurtling down the pink gravel path and slammed into his legs with all the force of its forty-four pounds. He bent and swept JD up off his feet and around astride his left hip, his laughter echoing the boy's peals of joy. "Hey, JD, how you been?"

"Missed you." The boy threw his arms around his brother's neck and pressed his face into the shoulder of the man's dove-colored chamois jacket.

"More'n I missed you?"

"This much," said JD, and pulled back to spread his arms as wide apart as he could.

"That ain't nothin'," Buck told him. "I missed you this much," and he threw his right arm out to its fullest extent, supporting the boy's weight with his left alone. JD giggled delightedly; it was a game they played every time he came back from a job.

A young cinnamon-colored mulatto girl, her face liberally sprinkled with freckles, met them at the door as Buck, with JD still perched on his hip and his bag in his free hand, stepped up onto the front gallery with its steamboat fancywork. "Welcome home, Mister Buck. I done put out a bottle of Cincinnati Rectified by your chair, and I got chicken and dumplin's for supper, with peas and boiled potatoes and buttermilk biscuits."

"That sounds mighty fine, Irene," he told her.

"She's got gooseberry tarts too, Buck," JD added in a loud whisper. "And harlequin ice cream, three colors together. I went down and fetched it."

"Did you now! Sounds like you been a real help while I been gone." Buck addressed his housekeeper: "This sprout been good, has he, Irene?"

"Jus' till we done got your telegraph dis mo'nin', Mister Buck. Ever since den he been under my feet a-lookin' at dat kitchen clock 'bout ever' ten minutes. Dat's how come I done sont him for de ice cream, figgered it'd keep him busy a spell. Last hour he's been layin' on de swing a-watchin' for you." The girl nodded toward the full-length porch swing, lined with a striped canvas mattress, that hung at the end of the gallery where the Madeira vine furnished the most shade.

Buck gave his brother a playful little jostle. "Now what have I told you about bein' a nuisance to Irene, JD?"

"I ain't a nuisance, Buck."

"Yeah, right," the man said with a grin that took all sting out of the words. "What you been learnin' in school this week?"

JD pulled himself proudly up to his full not-quite-forty-five inches on his brother's arm. "I learned a new piece to speak. It's called ‘The Arab and His Horse.' ‘My beautiful, my beautiful,/Thou standest meekly by,/With thy proudly-arched and glossy neck--' "

"Whoa, whoa!" Buck interrupted. "You can say it for me after supper, okay? Hey, that ain't in your reader, is it?"

"Miss Maybrick let me go on to the Fourth," JD told him smugly. "She says I already got the Third backwards. That's a fib, ain't it, Buck?"

"Not exactly. Just what we call an exaggeration. Means you've got all the big words in it figured out and you're ready to move up. You're doin' real good, kid. I'm proud of you."

"Is Mamma?"

"Her too. Come on, let's go in so I can get cleaned up."

In his bedroom he unpacked his valise, washed and shaved and changed his clothes while JD sat cross-legged on the Charter Oak quilt and chattered happily about his week. He was proud of the kid. At almost eight he should only be on the end of McGuffey's First, or at best the beginning of the Second. Kid's gonna make us both real proud, Ma, he thought. I'll see he goes on to college. Maybe law school.

The last three years hadn't always been easy, but with JD around life was better for Buck than he could ever remember it being. He had something that was real now, something that was his--not a mine or a stage line or a town with a lot of stores and houses that belonged to other people. In seeing JD react with a child's wide-eyed wonder to the world he was discovering every day of his life, Buck found a new delight in that world, and experienced that wonder afresh. JD's energy, innocence, and unquenchable zest made Buck feel like a boy again himself. He took joy in teaching him, protecting him, introducing him to the world, and, whenever his schedule permitted, spending time with him. He had nursed the kid through fevers and nightmares, measles and whooping cough and influenza; he'd had him vaccinated against the smallpox and never rebuked him when he yelped at the needle's bite. Even when JD's incessant talk got on his nerves, as it occasionally did, all he had to do was look at that fresh, eager face and those bright, intelligent eyes and he'd feel again the overwhelming sweep of love he'd felt the day he first met JD as an infant, and again when he came home from the war to learn that he had become, in effect, his brother's father.

After Chris Larabee had set off for New Mexico with a Santa Fe wagon train, Buck had assumed his duties as assistant city marshal, settling himself and JD in a boardinghouse where they paid thirty-one dollars a month for a room, parlor privileges, and all meals, plus twenty cents a load for washing and twenty-five for ironing as needed. Unfortunately JD, with the utter innocence of a five-year-old, had started talking about "Miz Abigail's house" and "the ladies," and one day Buck came home to find the boy and their bags waiting for him on the porch and a red-faced indignant landlady grudgingly ready to refund the unused portion of that month's board money.

After that Buck had sat his little brother down and very seriously explained to him that, while they knew how nice Miz Abigail and her ladies were, a lot of folks thought they were bad people and didn't want anything to do with anyone who'd lived with them. JD was bewildered, but he worshipped Buck and accepted his every word as gospel. "Should I lie about where I used to live, Buck?" he'd asked.

"No, JD. Just don't volunteer, okay? And if anybody asks you, just say you lived with your mamma till she died, and then a dear old friend of hers looked after you till I could come home and take over. Reckon you can remember that?"

"I reckon I can," JD agreed, and Buck believed him: the kid had a mind like a steel trap--once you told him something he had it forever. Then, frowning: "Buck? If Miz Abigail's bad, does that mean Mamma was bad too, on account of livin' in her house?"

"No, JD," Buck said again. "She maybe made some mistakes in her life, but everybody does that. What matters is that to me, and later you, she was always kind and good. When you're a bit bigger I'll explain more, okay?"


It was only a week or two later that the Vice-President for Security of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, which had commenced building out from Kansas City in September of '63, got in touch with Buck and offered him, on the basis of the reputation he'd built up before the War, a contract as a troubleshooter, or railroad detective--officially a "special investigator." The salary was a big one, a hundred dollars a week, and even though it would mean often having to be away from home, running down bandits, train robbers, and people who caused wrecks or stole from freight cars, he decided to accept the job. With that kind of pay he'd soon be able to put enough away that he and JD could head West and make a life for themselves.

So he rented a furnished, two-storey, seven-room house for twenty-five dollars a month, hired Irene for as much again, and as soon as JD was six put him in Miss Audra Maybrick's private subscription school, at thirty-five dollars for a forty-three-week year. It hadn't turned out to be as bad as he'd thought. He was pretty much on call twenty-four hours a day, but he wasn't working all the time; the salary was probably intended to keep him honest and make sure he didn't start moonlighting if things got slow. He had no such intentions. He liked it that he had plenty of time when his days were his own and he could be with JD. He'd laid out seventy-five dollars for a good pony, which shared the little stable with his roan mare Cherry, and at every opportunity he'd take JD out riding, discovering that the kid had a natural grace and sense of balance and not an atom of fear: the way he held his hands was romance and poetry, and before very long he was sailing little Shiloh over eighteen-inch jumps. He took JD to the County Fair in Independence every September, on sleigh rides in winter, flying kites in spring, to circuses and minstrel shows and presentations of tableaux and the annual Strawberry Festival and Thanksgiving turkey shoot; he'd put up a swing and bar in the stable for the boy. He read aloud to him, roughhoused with him, got down on the rug and played with him and his toys. He had taught him to swim and fish, to play checkers and blackjack, to tell his way by sun and stars, to make fires in the kitchen range and the household heaters, to groom little Shiloh and care for his own tack. When JD's small size made him a tempting target for the neighborhood bullies, Buck had taught him some of the tricks he had learned, fifteen years ago, from Mike, Miz Abigail's bouncer, and after JD demonstrated his mastery of them a few times, the bullies left him alone.

As far as discipline went, his style was partly brotherly and partly paternal. He expected JD to do his chores around the house, folding his own clothes, picking up his room, setting out plates and silver, drying dishes, gathering eggs, feeding the hens, watering the plants, carrying in kindling. Sometimes he yelled, and on occasion he swore. But he was never harsh or cruel. He never laid a hand on the kid, never used his greater size to intimidate him, never tried to belittle him with words, and he never did anything that he thought might break JD's spirit. Whenever he could, he appealed to the boy's bright, inquiring mind, his sense of fair play, and his reason. He'd raised JD to revere their mother's memory and to try always to judge a contemplated action by whether it would make her proud of him or ashamed.

The kid wasn't big, but he made up for it with a spirit and scrappiness that Buck had seldom seen. He was stubborn, often impulsive, and sometimes willful. He'd broken his wrist once falling out of the apple tree and again crawling out on the porch roof to retrieve a ball that had gotten stuck in the rain gutter, broken a leg when he went sledding down a steep hill and couldn't stop before sliding out into traffic (Buck had nearly had heart failure when he found out how close JD had come to getting trampled), suffered a concussion when he was walking the fence and fell off it. But he also had a loving nature and more courage than many men triple his age and four times his weight. Whenever he was hurt he would set his lips like a little Indian and hold his silence until he could be alone with his brother, with whom he felt completely safe and accepted. He knew nothing of selfishness and had no talent for deception or for concealing what he felt. He adored Buck, and the slightest prospect of hurting or disappointing him caused JD real pain. His faith in Buck was total: if Buck said it was so, then it was; if it could be fixed, or explained, Buck could fix or explain it.

Buck for his part had never had anyone idolize and depend upon him as JD did, and he had found, somewhat to his astonishment, that he enjoyed it, that it gave him a sense of fulfillment he had never experienced before. He had accepted responsibility for the kid, that first day back from the war, without even really thinking about what he was doing, yet the responsibility made him happy. He never said the words aloud, but he loved the boy with an intensity and devotion that surprised even himself--and even, sometimes, frightened him a little. JD was his world, his future, his reason for living. He couldn't imagine what it would be like not to have him. He didn't think that, having had his brother in his life, he would want to exist in a world that didn't include him.

As he'd suggested to Chris, he found that having JD to think about tempered his youthful recklessness and made him approach dangerous situations with a caution that had nothing to do with his ingrained reluctance to kill unless he was forced to it, and for those very reasons he learned to use his considerable native intelligence to get the job done, garnering praise from his superiors and a reputation as a man nobody wanted assigned to their trail. It had other effects, too. He thought more about the future now than he had in his teens and early twenties, saved all he could of his money. And then there were women. Ever since he was only fourteen Buck had had a lusty appreciation for female beauty, and he was hardly celibate even now, but since becoming JD's guardian his serious attention had tended to focus on women of the more respectable kind, women who might be willing to become the boy's "big sister" someday. Over the last year his interests had narrowed down to JD's teacher, Audra Maybrick: she already knew JD well, and it had been natural for a solid working relationship to form between the two of them, out of their mutual interest in the boy's education and future.

"--letter from Chris," JD said, and Buck jerked his attention back to what the boy was running on about.

"What was that, kid?"

"I said, when Irene and me went for the mail yesterday, there was a letter from New Mexico, from Chris," JD repeated. "We put it by your chair."

"Well, how 'bout we go and see what ol' Chris has to say for himself, then?" Buck wasn't sure how much JD actually remembered of his old friend, but he had raised the boy on stories of their adventures during the war and secondhand repetitions of Chris's journey to Oregon with his family "when he wasn't much older than you are," and Chris, as promised, had kept in touch. About a year ago it had looked as if he was on the verge of getting himself hitched to some lady named Ella Gaines, but then his attentions had shifted to someone new, a Sarah Connelly. Buck had followed his courtship with interest, particularly because Sarah's father, Hank, didn't seem to have a lot of use for her new suitor; if there was one thing Buck knew about Chris, it was that telling him he couldn't accomplish something he wanted to was the surest way to make him find a way to do it.

Downstairs, Buck settled himself in his shabby yellow plush armchair, put his feet up, poured two ounces from the whiskey bottle set on the Siena marble top of the walnut table alongside, slit Chris's envelope open with the long blade of his pocketknife, and began reading the letter while JD sat on the big braided rug, playing with a gorgeously painted steamboat on wooden wheels. He frowned briefly, raised his eyebrows in amazement, and then laughed joyously. "Hey, JD! You and me're invited to a wedding!"

The kid scrambled up onto his knees, folded arms resting on his brother's outstretched legs. "Is Chris gettin' married?"

"That's what he says here. Says him and Sarah've made up their minds to it. She's turned eighteen, so her pa can't stop her from hitchin' up with anybody she wants to. They're figurin' to run off to Santa Fe and do it, and Chris wants me there to be his best man. He wants to know how long it'll take us to get to Santa Fe, so they can figure when to leave to meet us."

"Well, how long will it?"

"We can get as far as Fort Hays on the KP, and at no charge, on account of me bein' an employee and havin' a pass," Buck told him. "That'll be maybe an eight-hour ride, then we'll likely to have to sleep over and catch a stage to Denver next day. Stage'll take close to two days, and then another one to Santa Fe--" he thought for a minute-- "my guess'd be four days and some if we don't lay over noplace. You reckon you can handle bein' on one of them old rockers all that time, kid? It ain't no featherbed, I can tell you."

"I can if you can, Buck."

"Hey!" Buck growled playfully. "What's that s'posed to mean? You sayin' I'm gettin' old, or what?" He leaned forward to pull the boy up onto his lap, running his fingers up and down JD's ribs. JD giggled and squirmed, pretending to try to escape, and Buck immediately got him in a headlock, laughing as they roughhoused. God, it's so good havin' him in my life! Why didn't I ever know how empty it all was before we got together?

That night he wrote a letter to Chris, telling his friend to "watch for us about a week after this gets to you," and then spent a little time going over his bankbook and thinking about the future. Better than $2500 he had now, exclusive of interest, and that didn't count what he'd put away before the War, in his other account in Denver; he kept in touch with the management there so they'd know he was still alive, but he figured that as long as he didn't transfer that money to Kansas City he wouldn't spend it, and that gave him a backlog. The KC money alone was enough to pay full cash down for 2000 acres of government land, or buy a good young breeding stallion and twenty mares. JD was growing up; not big, but strong, with a lot of potential that might have its best chance of realization in a new country, where he wouldn't have so much competition to deal with. Buck had never forgotten the horse ranch he and Chris had talked about. Maybe it's time now. Maybe he'll agree. He'll have to have some kind of home to take a bride to...

But him and Sarah'll want to start their own family. They won't be wantin' to raise JD too.

Don't mean I can't bring out a wife myself, does it?

Hell, Bucklin. You been squirin' Audra to minstrel shows and church socials and strawberry festivals and band concerts and lectures you wasn't interested in for better'n a year now. You know you want her, and you got a good notion she wants you. JD loves her, and she cares about him; that's important. Ain't it about time you took your foot in your hand and made your intentions plain?

Tomorrow. Sunday.


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