A Weight to Bear – JD

By Yolande

Thanks once again to Kelly A for doing the beta.  



JD Dunne heeled Padget into a faster pace.  He could see the outskirts of the town just over the next rise and rushed to come level with his travelling companion, Ezra Standish.  The Southerner had spent the majority of the past two days either a number of horse lengths in front, or that same distance behind, but never riding alongside JD.  

When they stopped for the night, the gambler removed himself to the outskirts of camp and remained there until Dunne had retired for the night.  Once JD was asleep, only then did the troubled gambler return.  Then in the mornings, Standish woke early, which in itself was unusual, and assisted in packing up camp, but his actions were rigid and forced.  Every attempt the young gunslinger made to draw the gambler into a conversation was rebuffed with a sarcastic comment, or slur. 

Initially, Dunne shrugged it off, figuring Standish was just out of sorts with Larabee for sequestering him to ride with the youngest of the seven.  But it should be JD who was upset with Chris, not Standish, and he was, Dunne admitted, a might peeved to begin with.  He found it hard to understand why it required two lawmen to collect a package from Jepson’s Hollow.  Damn, it was only a bunch of papers, for God’s sake.  A few letters that Judge Travis wanted picked up and delivered to him in Eagle Bend.  And it wasn’t like Standish had been good company, or any sort of company really over the last few days.  Hell, he’d been a bear!  Griping and snarling at the simplest of requests. 

The strange part Dunne pondered, and he’d certainly had ample time to do just that, was that he’d not seen the gambler once with his deck of cards.  Now that was so un-Ezra.  To see the Southerner without his tools of trade, shuffling and cutting the deck it wasn’t normal. 

JD sighed, studying the way Standish held himself in Chaucer’s saddle.  Even from behind, Dunne could tell that Standish was troubled by something.  His shoulders rolled, and he slumped forward in the seat.    He finally came level with Standish as they topped the rise.  “Hey, we made it,” JD grinned enthusiastically.  

“Indeed,” Ezra drawled, bored by the whole proceedings. 

Ignoring the blasé response Dunne kneed his mount and left the gambler on the crest.  Standish was not going to spoil this too.  “I’ll pick up the parcel,” JD yelled excitedly, galloping down the slope and into town. 

The Southerner exhaled slowly and bowed his head in disgust.  He’d been abominable company and no matter the supreme effort he attributed to keeping his distance, and mood, from the younger man, JD persisted in seeking out his presence.  Surely the boy had learnt by now that Ezra was not pleasant to be around at the moment.  And that it was far safer, for them both, to enforce that separation. 

But no! Dunne spent the better part of the day staring at him, boring holes into his coat with his invasive brown eyes.  He snapped at the boy and glared daggers, but still Dunne kept coming back for more.  What did it take for JD to get the message that he just wanted to be left alone? That he didn’t want to share conversation or disclose feelings about…  NO! He didn’t want to think about that either.  Why couldn’t Dunne mind his own damn business?  And why the hell couldn’t he talk Larabee out of sending him on this worthless trip? Hell, he was a conman, wasn’t he?  And yet, he was unable to sway the dark-clad gunslinger not to send him.  What would mother think?  Don’t kid yourself Standish, you know exactly what Maude would say.  ‘That his talent was slipping and it was past time that he should move on and leave Four Corners.  The town was making him lax.’ 

Standish slowly guided the chestnut gelding down the gravel road.  The sooner this package was retrieved the sooner they could depart and deliver said packet to Judge Travis.  Then he could return to Four Corners.  Ezra groaned at the implication.  He supposed, that Dunne would inform the others of his deplorable behaviour and then he’d have to contend with Buck’s mother hen routine and suffer his over zealous protective streak towards the young gunslinger.  Fighting with Wilmington was not a good option.  He’d have to sincerely remedy his treatment of the younger man before they reached home.  That was going to be a chore, in itself. 


True to his word, JD had collected the parcel and they were back on the trail within an hour.  Dunne had tucked the papers into his saddlebag.  “So why do you reckon the Judge is so keen to get this?” 

“I’ve no idea,” Ezra gritted his teeth and drawled.  This was harder than anticipated, keeping company with JD. 

“Ain’t ya even the slightest bit interested in what’s in it?” Dunne pestered. 

“No!” Standish irritably declared.  “And you’d do best, not to even consider the contents.” 

“Fine,” he answered surly.   “Just trying ta make conversation, is all.”   He bit the bottom lip and formed his lips into a pout.  Dunne removed his bowler hat and slapped the rump of Padget in misery.  He’d taken all he was going to take from the gambler.  

Spurning his horse in a narrow circle, JD lifted his head and glared defiantly at the gambler.  “Ain’t my fault yer stuck here with me!  I didn’t make ya come!  That was Chris’ idea.  Fact is, I asked Buck to come,” he disclosed, “but he couldn’t make it, so I got stuck with you,” he growled.  “And you’ve been the absolute worst grouch,” he shouted.  “Don’t know why yer still here.  Figured you’d be staying in Jepson’s Hollow, once we’d got there.”  JD gave the best glare he could muster, and the depth of potency behind it rivalled anything Chris Larabee could have bestowed.  Dunne flicked the reins from one side across to the other and urged Padget into a heady gallop away from the Southerner. 

Standish shook his head, mouth gaping.  Whatever had riled the boy this time?  And after making the sacrifice to his privacy to stay pace with the exuberant youth, and this is the response he gets.  Going to be a long trip home, he mused. 


Dunne unsaddled Padget and brought his belongings into the circle he’d prepared.  It’d taken some time to gather firewood for the fire, but he’d enjoyed the physical activity after sitting in the saddle all day long.  He briefly looked up, constantly waiting for the Southerner to appear, but so far the conman had yet to show.  Dunne repeated the heated one-sided argument that had been the precursor to them separating again in his mind.  But each time he rehashed it, he still felt justified with what he’d said.  He wondered what Standish thought of him now.  Probably reckons he was a longwinded loudmouth with a grudge against him. 

Dunne emptied out the contents of his saddlebags and spread them on the ground.  There was the parcel for Judge Travis, a small utility knife, mug and plate, a ball of twine and hooks, a spare shirt and neck scarf and a small bag with a mediocre supply of food.  He opened the bag and peered disinterestedly inside.  Two small lumps of hardtack, a tin of coffee beans and two apples.  Once again he looked up the road to see if Standish was coming.  JD knew that the gambler had so far supplied all the necessities for their meals.  If he didn’t arrive soon, JD would have to scrounge his dinner.  Might as well start doing that anyhow, he admitted.  Unless Ezra had replenished their supplies in town, then the gambler was probably low on food.  Dunne was sure he could catch a fish from that pond, and set about finding an adequate pole. 


Ezra’s stomach rumbled at the heady aroma that drifted on the air.  He practically swooned in his seat and licked his lips, drooling at the inviting sensations.  He circled the edges of the camp, uncertain of his welcome.  He’d delayed arriving for as long as possible; such a childish response he openly admitted.  

“Hey, Ezra,” Dunne stood up and waved, a welcoming smile plastered his face.  “Dinner is almost ready.  You timed it just right.”  The youth stretched over the fire and turned the fish, speared above the fire. 

Ezra dismounted and uncomfortably approached JD.  “A delightful aroma,” he praised. 

Dunne nodded; pleased with himself and the haul of three fish he’d caught. “You gonna sit down?” 


“Thought ya’d decided to take up my suggestion and head back to town.”  Dunne shyly tilted his head to access the gambler’s reaction. 

“Would you have felt more contented if I had done that?” Standish answered with a question of his own. 

JD mulled this over.  “Dunno,” he honestly replied. 

Ezra thinned his lips and nodded his head in understanding. 

Following dinner the gambler left JD on his own, and settled just on the edges of the soft glow from the fire.  He sat back against a boulder and pulled an unopened envelope from his pocket.  His name was clearly legible on the front, but there was no return address of the sender.  But Ezra was well aware who had posted the letter; the gentle flowing script easily identified the correspondent.  The letter shook between his trembling fingers, but he couldn’t bring himself to open the envelope. 

“Why don’t ya open it?” JD had crept over to the Southerner and leaned casually against the same boulder.  

“What would you know about it, JD?” Standish sighed, hastily pocketing the letter.  He’d been startled at Dunne’s appearance and jumped marginally at the young gunslinger’s softly spoken query. 

“Know ya ain’t gonna know what’s inside the letter ‘til ya read it.” 

“And if I already know the details?” Ezra countered. 

“Reckon if ya did, ya wouldn’t have been biting my head off every two ways lately,” Dunne grinned.  JD’d wager every dime he had, that Standish had been a bear because of what he thought was in that letter. 

The Southerner patted his coat and felt the paper crinkle under the fabric.  “Then if I don’t want to know?” 

“If that were true, why do you keep looking at it?”  

Standish whipped his head up and frowned at the younger man. Had Dunne been spying on him?  “How would you know that?” Standish hissed vehemently. 

JD held his hands up in surrender.  “Just a guess, is all.”  He stepped away from the rock and stared out into the dark.  “Can it be any worse than yer already thinking?  Least once ya read it, then ya can deal with whatever it is.  Even if it ain’t good news.  But ya got some good friends, and we’ll all be there to help any way we can.  You just let us know.  Ya don’t even have to tell us what’s in the letter, ‘cause that’s your business.”  Dunne lightly touched the gambler’s sleeve and indicated he was going back to the fire. 

Ezra stared after JD for such a long time his neck developed a crick.  When had Dunne become so observant and so astute?  He slowly withdrew the letter and tapped it thoughtfully on his knee.  Mr. Dunne was correct of course.  And he should read the letter soon; before Maude returns to his life once more and discloses the contents he should be familiar with.  How would he explain to his mother that he’d been too afraid to read a simple letter? 

Swallowing back the rising bile he tore open the end and tapped the missive free.   He unfolded the note and held it up, so the light from the fire reflected on the words and he could read them without squinting.  Taking a deep breath, he let his eyes briefly wander over the page, then guided them back to the top, he read the letter.   


The End


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A Weight to Bear - Series


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