by Sevenstars

JD's eyes were fixed on him, wide and bright in the cool gloom of the sanctuary. "The Bible tells us we should forgive those who do us wrong," he pointed out. "Now there are many cases in which I can't agree with that. To always repay evil with good does nothing to remove evil from the world, and bein' that the world is where we live, it seems to me that we ought to try to make it as good a place as we can."

"Is that why you ride with Chris and us? A preacher chasin' bank robbers and all?"

"It's as good a reason as any, and as good a way to dedicate a life as many other possibilities I could have chosen. But the bank robbers choose evil consciously. They know what they're doin' is against the laws of God and man alike--'thou shalt not steal,' you know--and they do it anyway. A man making an honest mistake and trying to mend it, or even just honestly thinkin' that's what he's doing...that's not a man choosing evil. That's a man who deserves forgiveness."

"I think maybe I could forgive him for me," JD admitted slowly. "I mean, how can I really miss what I never had? It's what I told Buck last night. It ain't about me. It's about Mamma, and I'm not sure I've got the right to forgive him in her name."

"Do you have the right to carry a grudge in her name?" Josiah queried gently.

"Chris figures he's got the right to kill the people who murdered his family," JD retorted. "And they chose to do evil, like you said before. If he'd come back--if she'd had him with her she wouldn't have had to go back into service and work herself to death like she did. She might be alive today, and happy with him."

"But would you be where you are?" Josiah asked.

JD's head shot up and the former preacher could see the surprise and confusion in his eyes. He knew, out of his own painful past, that regardless of how tragic it might seem to the young person growing up with a less-than-whole family, there were times when no father was better than the wrong kind of father. "God gives each of us free will," he went on, "and part of that is choosing, not just right or wrong, but the roads we'll follow. Each of our lives is the result of all the choices we've made, all the actions we've taken, and all the choices and actions of others that have acted upon us over time. You and me, Chris and Vin, Buck, Ezra, Nathan--think about it a moment, JD: would any of us have come to Four Corners if our lives had been different? Would we be together now, doin' what we do? If you'd grown up knowing your father, who's to say you'd ever have come West at all? You might have looked upon the example he provided you every day, and decided to copy it, to go on to college and be--who knows what? A lawyer? A man of business? But no matter what that had gained you, you would have lost something too, all the possibilities that stemmed from the way your life went because you didn't have your father, and your mother didn't have her husband.

"Did you ever go out with Vin or Buck and see a quail or a dove go flopping across the trail with what seemed to be a broken wing? And then, after she'd tolled away whatever was pursuing her, see her fly away? That was a mother placing herself in peril for the sake of her young, which is what parents do. They give up things--sometimes just their youthful freedom, sometimes far more--so their children can be fed and clothed and sheltered and brought up well as they see well. Many of them make mistakes, because man is mortal and prone to error, but they try. Your mother gave up her health and in the end her life to see you grow into a good man. And you are a good man, John Dunne, and you're doing something you love, living out a dream, helping others. That's a great thing. There are thousands of men who don't make anywhere near as much difference in the world as you're doing, all because the life you lived led you to this place and time, to that little badge on your jacket and those guns at your waist."

JD looked down, clearly in turmoil, trying to make sense of everything he had heard. "Are you sayin'...what I am, where I am, it's because of the choice he made?"

"In a very large sense, yes, it may well be. Of course you have free will too, and you took the clay you were given and shaped it in a certain manner. You could have let his absence embitter you and turn you to evil. You didn't. But still, because you had no father in your life, you found heroes elsewhere: Bat Masterson first, and later Chris and Buck and Vin. And it was the example of the first of those heroes that brought you West to meet the others and to dedicate your life to their cause. You have yourself and your mother to thank for much of it, but your father played his part too." He waited to see whether JD would make the obvious connection.

"Then...because I love what I'm doin', because it makes such a difference in so many other people's lives...I should thank him for helpin' shape me a certain way by not bein' there?"

"Yes," Josiah agreed simply, "I think you should. And I think you'd do well not to waste any time at it."

"Because somebody'll be comin' from Silver City to pick him up?" JD guessed.

"Yes, though they may not get him as easily as they think they will. He was telling Nathan and me this morning that this murder charge may be just a bereaved father's way of getting revenge. That might be a lie, of course, just as anything he tells you might be, but he asked to have a change of venue. I telegraphed Judge Travis in Madera to tell him about it. Once he gets in, if he does decide to hold the trial here, there'll be a lot going on, a lot to occupy your father's mind. I think he'd be better able to deal with it, no matter how it works out in the end, if he knew he'd made his peace with you."

JD thought that over. "Yeah, I guess you're right. But what about what Chris said, that he didn't want me in the jail?"

"Nathan's on duty just now," Josiah told him, "and you don't have to be in the jail; you could do your talking through the cell window. Nathan will look the other way, I expect, considerin' what went on with his father."

"Yeah, I think so too." The boy looked up again. "I guess even if I can't forgive him, I owe him this much, don't I? I mean, I wouldn't exist at all if it hadn't been for him fatherin' me...that's gotta be worth a listen."

"That's a very good point indeed," Josiah agreed. "Are you going?"

There was another long hesitation, and then, soft in the soothing silence, JD's whispered response: "Yes..."

+ + + + + + +

After thinking it over, JD decided that the most comfortable way to hold an extended discussion through the cell window with his father--and probably also the safest--would be from horseback. He went to the stable and saddled Seven, pausing to examine the unfamiliar horse and gear that he supposed was Dunne's. The horse was a black gelding with a blazed face and the rare white over-the-joint leg markings called "boots;" JD could find no brand on it, which was perhaps why there had been no bill of sale in Dunne's wallet--maybe he had traded the animal from an Indian, in which case he would neither get nor expect one, and nobody would be likely to lay claim to a horse that wasn't branded. The horse accepted his touch without resistance; it seemed a steady animal, well trained, but he could see spirit in it too, in the look of its eye and the way it held its head. The saddle hanging on the peg outside its stall was a three-quarter rig, with a single cinch whose ring was fastened to a strap angled sharply up toward the withers and a second that slanted back to the cantle. The pommel was wider and the cantle higher than the double rigs with which JD had become familiar, the fork high and straight, the skirts round, the stirrups brassbound Visalias covered with wedge-shaped tapaderos whose tips nearly touched the ground. It was, like Dunne's hat, a Northern-range style. And it belonged to a man who'd had money in the past, if he didn't have it now: its stamped leather was inlaid on skirt and cantle with beaten silver, and it was accompanied by a breastplate and full bridle, both of them silver-mounted, the latter made partly of flat leather and partly of finely-plaited strips, finished off with the face chains that cowboys called "horse jewelry," its reins of braidwork hung with horsehair tassels, its bit a halfbreed with the bar humped up two and a half inches like a narrow croquet wicket, a corrugated roller wheel in it, the graceful roper cheeks terminating in a concha at the upper ring and engraved with geometric shapes. Of course, JD knew that even the humblest hired rider dreamed of owning a fancy hand-tooled saddle, and if he ever came unexpectedly into money was far more likely to spend it on that, or perhaps on a really fine hat, boots, or spurs (which Dunne also owned), than on clothing as such for himself. Still, as he'd told Josiah, he'd learned enough over the last couple of years to spot the difference in the way Dunne carried himself, in the look of his eyes and the lines of his face. Whether the man was the murderer he was accused of being, JD wasn't sure; but he thought Dunne knew a good deal more of guns than the average rider did.

He led Seven out the back of the stable, mounted and circled around behind the buildings along Main Street until he could make his way into the alley behind the jail. "Hey!" he called in a hoarse whisper. "Hey, you in there!"

There was a grunt and a creak as the frame of the cell cot protested being stepped on, and Dunne's face appeared at the bars. "Well, now," he said in a tone half surprised, half gratified. "What brings you? And why like this? Or are you figuring to shoot me and don't want your friend the healer to know you did it?"

"I don't shoot unarmed men," JD told him disgustedly. "I was awful tempted yesterday, but you saw I didn't make a move for my guns."

"That's true," Dunne allowed. He tilted his head to get a better look at the mare. "Your horse?"

"Yeah, I got her right after I came out here. Cost me the last forty dollars I had in the world, but when I saw what the others rode I knew I had to get one just as good. I call her Seven."

"Good-looking animal." The man met JD's gaze. "Tell me about your mamma. You said she was dead."

JD bit air at the stab of old pain that answered the words. But I guess he's got a right to know; he was married to her. He repeated the story of his mother's post-war life as he'd told it to his friends in the saloon.

Dunne let him speak without interruption, his face inscrutable. "I didn't know," he said when JD was finished. "I know that doesn't sound like much of an excuse, and it doesn't make it any easier. But it's true."

"Why didn't you know?" JD demanded. "Why didn't you ever try to find out, or come back? She lived and died thinkin' you'd loved her--us. Why, damn you?"

"Why do you think?" the man retorted, seemingly untroubled at his anger.

"I heard some men talking when I was twelve. One of them heard you talkin' against emancipation during the war. I thought maybe that was it, on account of how your letters stopped comin' after the Proclamation was issued. Or else that you just didn't want to be bothered with us anymore, after how marryin' Mamma cut you off from your family and all."

"That's not true," said Dunne. "Oh, I didn't think much of the prospect of risking my life to free the slaves, I'll admit that. But you and your mother, you still mattered to me. You were why I did what I did in the first place."

JD shook his head. "I don't understand."

"I was captured in a little skirmish just before you stopped hearing from me," Dunne explained. "I didn't want to go to a prison camp, so when they offered to take my parole I gave it. That meant I couldn't take up arms again, and was free to go home if I wanted to. But I'd been thinking a lot about the future over that winter. It seemed like every newspaper and magazine we got in camp had something to say about the gold rush in Montana. You remember hearing about that, don't you?"

JD nodded. His interest in the West hadn't been confined to dime novels alone, and even if it had, there had been not a few of them penned about the Montana excitement. A French halfbreed had first discovered colors in the present Territory in 1852, but it hadn't been till five years later, when a group of unsuccessful '49ers heading home from California turned north to prospect, that any effort was made to exploit it. The following year the Gold Creek ore discovery was made in the southwest part of the territory, starting a restless, floating population of prospectors roaming all over the mountains, ever on the alert for new rumors of strikes. Not till '61 was gold found in paying quantities, but in June of the following year the fabulously rich Alder Gulch was discovered, setting off an instant flood of wealth-seekers. Grasshopper Creek, alternatively called Bannack, saw finds of its own in that same year, and it was this that really pulled the plug as three thouand prospectors made a headlong charge into the diggings almost overnight. The Virginia City fields followed in 1863, Last Chance Gulch (known to the more elegant as Helena) in '64, and Confederate Gulch in '65, which was also the year that silver was first found to exist. Much of the region was settled by Southerners captured in battle and paroled, the biggest concentration of them being the 30,000 men under Pemberton's command who surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863: since most of their homes were located in occupied territory, they couldn't go back, so thousands of them travelled to the goldfields instead, giving Montana a strongly Democratic political tilt which it retained even yet.

"I got to thinking," Dunne went on, "I had basically two choices in life: work for someone else for the next forty years and hope I didn't lose everything in a panic, or try for a fortune of my own, maybe one even bigger than the one that bought me that watch. I figured that I'd left you and your mamma pretty well fixed, with the house; you could make your own way without me a little while longer anyway."

JD knew from his own experience that a woman taking in boarders could make a very decent living; he and Buck lived in a boardinghouse, after all. And, thinking it over, he could see how his father might have liked the idea of exceeding even his father in wealth, showing him up, proving that his choice of a wife, by motivating him to make that fortune for her sake, had been a good one not just on an emotional level but otherwise. "But why didn't you write and tell us what you were plannin' to do?"

"I did. I guess you never got it." JD frowned slightly; anyone could claim to have sent a letter. "Anyway, I made my way out to Montana, and when I got there I found out that making a fortune in the gold fields wasn't anywhere near as easy as I'd thought, and I just wasn't cut out for that kind of physical labor. I tried my hand at market hunting, but that wasn't a lot easier and didn't offer much prospect of getting rich. Then winter came along and I decided I wanted to stay warm, so I took a job dealing faro. I didn't set out looking for a reputation as a gunslinger, but I'd been taught to shoot as a boy, and when you stop to think about it, even hunting with a long gun takes talents that can be just as useful with a pistol. You need to have a keen eye, quick reactions, steady nerves, good eye-hand co-ordination. Suppose you're walking through a cornfield hunting pheasant and one of them gets up almost under your feet, clattering and whistling the way they do. If you can't control your heartbeat, adjust to what's happened in the blink of an eye, get your shotgun to your shoulder, pull a steady bead and fire, that bird's going to get away. In a gold-camp saloon filled with all kinds of men, many of them bored and edgy because they can't mine in the winter on account of all the creeks being frozen, fights happen. I killed a man, and then another, in self-defense, and then the word got around and others came to try me. As soon as the weather warmed up I got out of there and went to riding shotgun with one of the stage lines, but that didn't stop them. Before I knew it three years had gone by and I'd built a reputation. It was good money, almost as good as I could have made mining and in many ways easier, and I guess I just followed the line of least resistance. But I couldn't help wondering, what kind of life would it be for my wife and son? They'd hardly see me, and what if somebody decided to try to use them to get to me?"

JD thought of Chris and how he had thought for so long that Sarah and Adam had died for someone's revenge. He knew now that it had been Ella Gaines's jealousy and possessiveness that had signed their death warrants, but the fact that he could believe in revenge as a motive meant that it had been known to happen. "Is that why you just never got in touch with us again?"

"That's about why. Maybe it was the wrong choice, but at the time I didn't think so. I figured your mamma had the house and her two hands and her good common sense, and she'd get along. Maybe she'd come to accept me as dead and find herself another man to be a father to you. If I'd known about the house burning I'd have come for you, or somehow figured out a way to help, but I didn't know." He sighed and looked away for the first time. "So I went along with life as it worked out for me. I've done it all: shotgun rider, bullion guard, town-tamer, range-war partisan, law officer at two or three times the going wage, faro and chuckaluck dealer. I've made a good living at it and tried not to think too hard about where I came from or what I left behind. I guess I'm like a lot of men out here, just doing what I felt at the time I had to do, to stay alive."

JD frowned. "But if you've done all that and been at it ever since, what, fifteen years ago, how come I never heard of you?"

"Maybe you did," the man observed. "I never said I did it under my own name, did I? Would Darrin York mean anything to you?"

JD's breath caught in his throat. Yes, York he knew. He'd never had any dime novels written about him, like Bat or Bill Cody or so many others, but he was one of the guns people talked about. He was said to frequent the northern ranges mostly, but had been sighted as far south as Mexico (where he was supposed to have ranked colonel in some revolution) and as far east as Kansas City. Some said he had killed eighteen men, some thirty or more. Even JD's own compatriots had talked of him, though none had ever claimed to have met him. JD remembered just last winter Buck telling the story of how York had cleaned up Strawberry. It was a mining town out in Nevada, seven thousand men headed straight for the doors of Hell and every one of them packing a gun. There was a killing every night, and sixty-two men were buried in Boot Hill before one died of natural causes. They had three marshals who lasted one day each, and then he rode in and took the job. The leader of the bad ones died the first night, three of his men that same week. Twenty-two men were jailed that first night, and two went to the hospital with cracked skulls. York didn't parade his skill; he just happened to have come out ahead in several fights with men who weren't smart enough to know better. It was said he never looked for the name, and never wanted it. He'd never put himself forward; others had done that for him, and it was simply that in a country where most disagreements were settled with guns, he'd had the inborn skill to win his. But he was good. Everyone agreed on that. And he was a gentleman, in the sense the Army meant it when they said "an officer and a gentleman." JD remembered hearing somewhere--quite possibly from Ezra, who was very conscious of the obligations of a gentleman--that one of the first principles of good form was that no gentleman was self-assertive and that it was far preferable to retreat from common view than to court popular acclaim. That was the kind of gentleman Darrin York was. But he was also a fighter; he loved to fight. And he fought to win. Under all his surface calmness and restraint were a drive and power that many lesser guns could never equal. Some of them might be faster, but York wouldn't be through till he was down and dead.

It stunned him a little. He was Darrin York's son. He'd been following in his father's footsteps for going on two years without ever knowing it. Darrin York, he thought. Yeah, I can see why he'd pick that name. Darrin for the initial D, the same as Daniel, or Dunne for that matter, and York for New York, his home town.

Then he frowned again. "But why'd you take a different name? If like you said you didn't desert, it wasn't like you was runnin' from the law or the Army or anything."

For the first time Dunne seemed to hesitate, as if this was a question he hadn't anticipated. "I'd heard how easy it was for a man to drift into trouble out on the frontier," he said at last. "I figured if I didn't go by my own name out there, I could always take it up again and go back East if something like that happened to me. After a while I got so used to being Darrin York I hardly even thought of myself as anyone else."

It was perhaps a specious excuse, but by now JD wanted to believe. Darrin York had never been his hero in the sense that Masterson and later Chris had been, but he'd certainly been, from everything JD had heard of him, an example of the kind of strong, quiet, sober, intelligent, ethical gunfighter after whom he'd hoped to pattern himself. And then the man went on, quietly, "I know I made a mistake, and I know I don't have any right to expect you'll ever forgive me. And I'm sorry about your mamma, genuinely sorry. But looking at you now, knowing who you ride with, I know she did a good job with you, as good as I could have done and maybe better. I'm grateful to her for that, and I'm proud of you."

To his embarrassed astonishment JD found his eyes filling with tears. He dashed them away with his jacket sleeve and turned his face away from the window while he groped for a handkerchief. When he looked back, Dunne was still watching him, a look of half hope, half resignation on his face.

"Papa...?" JD began.

+ + + + + + +

Vin Tanner was troubled. According to his usual quiet custom, he said nothing of it, perhaps partly because his scanty education often left him with inadequate words, but he thought about it. Like JD, he had grown up with no father--at least no blood father: he'd had a Comanche one for a while, and had loved and respected the man, but that wasn't the same--and it had, in some sense, blighted his whole life; he had a great sympathy for what JD had gone through. He hadn't even known as much about his own father as JD had, because his mother had died when he was so young, too young really to clearly remember anything she had ever told him about the man. But he had never forgotten the last words of advice she had given him: "Be brave...remember, you're a Tanner." That had suggested to him that his father had been a good man, a man worth emulating, as JD's mother had believed his to be. He found himself musing on how he would feel if the senior Tanner were somehow to come storming into his life, with or without a want on him. He reckoned he'd feel pretty fair knotty too.

And then there was the whole question of the want itself. He'd met Josiah coming out of the telegraph office that morning, and Josiah had confided to him what Dunne had said about his prospects in Silver City. Being unjustly accused of murder and in peril of a noose was something Vin knew about, which might have been one reason Josiah had told him the story: Josiah was perhaps the one member of their group that Chris had never been known to climb even on his worst days, but maybe he'd felt it wouldn't hurt to have Larabee's best friend prepared to stand in his corner. From what the ex-preacher had said, Dunne's situation wasn't so much a matter of being framed as it was one of deliberate prevarication (although Vin didn't use that word, even in the privacy of his own thoughts). Still, if Dunne had killed in fair fight or been otherwise forced into it, there shouldn't be a problem about it, and a lie was a lie regardless of why it was told. Vin wondered just how he should figure on reacting, depending on whether Judge Travis consented to the change of venue or not. And he wondered how JD and Chris, especially, would react to either prospect. He knew Chris, knew him as intimately as ever Buck had for all they'd met less than two years ago--so intimately that it sometimes literally frightened him. As for JD...JD was a good kid, but this situation wasn't like anything he had ever had to face before. Which way would he go? Would he feel he had to take his father's part? Or would he be glad that the man was likely to hang?

Apart from that there was Nathan and that whole business with Obadiah; Vin hadn't talked to him yet about his feelings on the subject of Dunne, but he was certain that Nathan would no more stand for an unjust condemnation than he would himself. And Ezra. Being a gambler, you could never quite tell about Ezra, but he too had known what it was to grow up without a father; would that heritage make a difference in how he would handle the matter?

This could be enough to tear apart everything we've become, he told himself worriedly as he walked back from the stable after checking on his horse and gear. It could set us up one against another, or split us down the middle, or 'most anything. And that prospect bothered him almost more than anything else did. He'd found a family with the Seven and a home in Four Corners; he still had to keep his eye open for bounty hunters, but it was the safest, most comfortable, belongingest place he'd been in in longer than he liked to think about, and he didn't want to lose it, least of all on account of some outsider who'd been dropped into their laps by sheer chance.

"Mr. Tanner!" came a shout from the open door he was passing, and he turned quickly to realize he was in front of the telegraph office and Wyatt, the operator, was standing up at his table, waving a yellow flimsy. "Mr. Tanner, I got a wire here for Mr. Larabee from the Judge, maybe you better see he gets it--"

Shit, Vin thought. If Wyatt's scared to take it, and if the Judge is wirin' to Chris instead of Josiah, that means most likely he's agreed to at least hear Dunne's side of the story. "All right, Wyatt, I will," he agreed, and stepped in over the threshold, extending a long buckskin-clad arm for the paper. Wyatt leaned over the counter to surrender it with an air of eagerness.

Vin moved back outside, glancing over the lines of print even though he knew he probably shouldn't. After over a year of lessons with Mary, his reading had improved dramatically, and he found it no great task to follow what the message had to say:


Vin wasn't quite sure what an injunction really was, but the context told him all he really needed to know. He sighed and lifted his head, squinting under the dipped brim of his hat toward the saloon. Might as well get it over with, he thought, and set off with his long silent stride to beard Larabee in his den.

+ + + + + + +

Vin walked into the saloon to find both Chris and Buck there before him, a bottle on the table in front of them. Uh-oh, he thought. Their leader and his scoundrel friend rarely shared a bottle nowadays; Chris tended to prefer to do his drinking alone, though he'd tapered off a good deal since Vin had first met him. This ain't good. He quickly slipped the telegram into his jacket pocket, signalled Inez to bring him a beer, and crossed the room to join them. "Chris. Buck," he greeted them casually. "Where's your shadow at?"

"God knows," Wilmington replied morosely, tossing down a shot of whiskey. "He said at breakfast he needed to walk. Ain't seen him since."

"Thought I got a sight of him up by the church, just goin' in with Josiah," Vin observed. "He still tryin' to get past this thing about his pa?"

"Tryin' to get his mind around it, is more like, and figure just what to do about it," Buck told him. "Well, I reckon if anybody'd know what to say to him it'd be Josiah, but I just wish--" He started to reach for the bottle, checked his hand midway and thumped his fist angrily against the tabletop. "That bastard," he said in a harsh voice; it was an epithet he didn't often use, being technically one himself. "Messin' with the boy's mind like that even without hardly sayin' a goddamned word to him--he ain't good enough to brush the dust off JD's coat!"

Damn, Vin thought in amazement, Buck's jealous! He's scared to death JD'll come to some kind of, what's the word Ezra'd use, accommodation with his pa and leave him out in the cold! Hell. I knew he was attached to the kid, but I never thought--after all he don't make no fuss about Casey or the rest of us bein' in JD's life, he don't mind that it's Chris and not him that's JD's hero--


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