Title: Johnny Be Good
Author: Carol Pahl email@example.com
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. The Magnificent Seven belong to Mirisch, MGM and Trilogy. No money is exchanged.
Note: This story includes the death of a character who died previously to the first season of Magnificent Seven. "Johnny Be Good" starts eleven years before the "Ghosts of the Confederacy", premier episode of the Magnificent Seven television series.
"Olga, you'll be sharing a room with the upstairs chambermaid, Maggie." The two women climbed the narrow back stairway to the fourth floor of the stately mansion. The older woman, dressed in a black skirt and shirtwaist, explained the expected duties to the newest household staff member, Olga Kerchov, a twenty-year old Russian immigrant's daughter. "Change into your uniform and I'll introduce you to the rest of the second floor staff. This is a busy time of day, getting the cleaning finished while the whole family is out. You must get your chores completed each day without the family seeing you. Only Miss Josephine speaks to the family. If they have any displeasure with your work or require something else done, Miss Josephine tells Henry, the upstairs butler or Miss Elsie, the head upstairs maid. They will instruct you with your chores each day.
"Oh my. Am I ta know all their names already? I ain't able to remember so much."
"Girl, you'll learn them fast enough or they'll be tossing you out before your first pay day. Now change and be quick about it. I've got my own tasks to be tending'. "
The blond haired young woman stepped into the small bedroom. One small bed, a plain chair and a three-drawer bureau were the only furniture. A simple red and white Irish chain quilt graced the neatly made bed. In one corner a stack of blankets and a small pillow sat on the floor. On top of the bureau a small lamp, a plain hairbrush and comb sat next to a Bible and Rosary beads.
"Maggie must be a neat woman," Olga thought. "I hope we get along." Not knowing where to put her few belongings, she set the carpet bag on the chair, pulled off her simple cotton dress and redressed in the traditional maid's black uniform. A crisply starched apron completed the outfit.
Late that night, hearing the second floor hall clock chime ten times, Olga climbed up the stairs to her room. Exhausted from the constant running up and down between the floors, carrying laundry and linens, the novice maid eagerly anticipated sleep. Would she ever learn where everything belonged? Though her body was tired, her mind raced with the day's experience. The small lamp illuminated a corner of the bedroom by the chair. Olga slipped the cotton nightgown over her head and crawled between the crisp percale sheets. Maybe tomorrow she would meet her fellow chambermaid and roommate. The bed creaked as her body settled into the mattress and the soft pillow cradled her head. Sleep was so close.
Olga felt the covers shift before feeling someone's presence joining her under the quilt. No one opened the door. Her eyes opened wide when she felt cold fingers touch her bare arms. "HELP!" The scream escaped her lips as she struggled to escape the blankets tangling around her legs. Still screaming she ran toward the door, anticipating the attack to continue.
The door flew open as two women and a man ran into the room. Uncontrollably shaking, the newest staff member gasped, "Someone attacked me in bed!"
Mr. Jones, the butler looked around the dark room, seeing nothing out of place. Maggie Dunne's room was always neat. A slight movement caught his attention. Huddled in the corner someone sat, their eyes peeking over the edge of the blanket. Jones approached the pile and grabbed the person.
"What the..?" He looked down at the small boy.
Another woman ran into the small room and reached out for her son.
"Mama," the young voice squeaked.
She held him tight and looked at the crowd of people standing around her bedroom. "What's going on?" she asked.
"Someone attacked me," Olga said, sitting on the bed, holding the quilt to her chin. "It must have been him." She pointed at the child.
"Maggie, who is this boy?" the butler demanded.
"My son, Johnny." Maggie's voice softly said.
"Mama, Im scared." The small voice was muffled through the woman's shoulder.
Rubbing his back, she said, "It's OK, JD. You're OK."
"I didn't know you had your son living with you, Maggie," the other woman interjected. She approached the boy and his mother. "He's too big to live here with you women. He's got to go!"
"No," Maggie wailed. "I've got no one for him to live with."
The young woman in the bed cried out. "He scared me; he's not really hurting anything. He can stay."
"No, Miss Dunne. Tomorrow he has to go. I'll give you some time to make other arrangements. Tonight is his last night in this house." Jones turned and left the bedroom.
"I didn't mean to do it, Mama. I thought it was you."
"It's alright, son. We'll figure something out tomorrow."
Life had not been kind to the young widow. Emigrating from Ireland in the late 1850's, Margaret O'Dey found happiness and love aboard the ship. Michael Dunne escaped the poverty of his homeland. The dark haired Irishman and the porcelain skinned woman married shortly after disembarking the boat. He dreamed of making his own way in the new world, never serving another master. Prosperity smiled on them. Michael found employment with a shipping company while Maggie happily kept house in a small apartment. A year later the couple was blessed with a son.
Tragedy struck along with the outbreak of the civil strife spreading through the United States. A small riot started near the wharf that soon escalated into widespread bloodshed. Death visited the Dunne's door and left Maggie a widow with no income. Her two-year-old son didn't understand why 'poppa' didn't play with him anymore.
As time passed the young woman found steady employment as a chambermaid. Some homes offered housing; other's required the staff to live elsewhere.
Blossomwood Estate, situated a mile from the main city, offered a beautiful setting and was the envy of her neighbors. Graceful columns majestically welcomed guests to the mansion. A paddock enclosed lush, green pastures and expensive thoroughbred horses filled the stables. Reginald Pendergast amassed a fortune during the war and used his money to finance the estate. A Scottish golf course, clay tennis courts and cork covered racetrack offered entertainment to the parade of visitors to the estate. A large staff, both the household and outside workers, provided for the family and company's whims and wishes.
Though their situation was as comfortable as any other servant's lifestyle, Maggie and her son never accumulated much in savings. JD spent his daylight hours at the nearby public school. Evenings found him helping the grooms clean the stables and caring for the horses. He ate with the outside workers before sneaking into the servants' quarters and his mother's room. Few noticed the small, dark haired child. Maggie worked extra hard to save for the boy's future education. He possessed intelligence but seldom took the time to think actions through. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, his brave yet foolhardy actions got him into mischief more than once.
Children less than five years old were still considered babies and allowed to live with their working mothers. Maggie knew the day was coming when her son would no longer be able to live in the mansion with her after someone discovered him still living in her room. She looked at his peaceful face as he slept on the floor. Where would he go? She knew of no relative to take him. Closing her well-worn Bible, she shut off the small lamp. She'd seen other small boys living off the streets, forgoing their education in search of gainful employment. JD wouldn't be one of them, she promised herself. God would give her the answer in the morning.
Ten years later
"Hey! What are you fellows doing in here? Get away from that horse!" The teenage boy lunged at the two men leading the prize stallion out of its box stall.
"Beat it kid. We got orders to retrieve this beast and well be damned if some snot nosed brat is gonna stop us." The younger of the two men grabbed the boys shirtfront and threw him across the aisle toward the milk cows.
JD grabbed the milking stool and charged toward the horse thieves. Where were the other stable hands? Didnt anybody hear them? The stout wooden chair crashed into the back of the older mans head causing him to drop the lead rope. Not fully broke, the majestic black horse snorted and pawed the ground impatiently.
Reaching for the rope the boy missed seeing the punch thrown by the second thief, faltering when the fist connected with his cheek. Stars appeared before his eyes and legs refused to support his body.
"No," he screamed, shaking off the mind-numbing punches. Landing a few of his own, the two older men renewed their efforts to subdue the troublesome youth, hitting him in the stomach as often as striking his face. None of the three noticed the stallion return to its box as they fought in the pale moonlight.
"Tommy, too late. Someones coming. We gotta get out of here now!" Grabbing the loyal stable hand, the older of the two outlaws shoved him toward the valuable horses open gate before running out of the stable.
JD reached out for something to stop his fall but grabbed the angry horses tail by mistake. Fed up with the humans' antics the animal violently kicked out catching the boy in the back, just above the pelvic bone. The force threw JD across the aisle and into the support next to the cows stanchion, his forehead taking the full force of the impact, before he slipped bonelessly to the floor.
As early sunbeams filtered into the quiet barn, an old man shuffled toward his daily job when an object lying in the aisle tripped him. Fearing a fall, he grabbed the wall and mumbled. "Da**it boy. Sleep your drunk off somewhere else than in my way."
Joe Naberre worked for the estate since becoming injured by a trolley in the neighboring city. He couldnt move very fast but was a good herdsman with the cows and he took pride in getting them milked on an exact schedule.
Tripping over the unconscious body lying in the way of the cows while searching for his milk stool, the man muttered to himself. "Dang kid anyhow. Wont never amount to anything. Always attracting trouble." Shaking his head he picked up the wooden chair resting next to Beautys stall. "How this end up over here?"
He shuffled back toward the pail he dropped when his tripped. "Boy you aint nothin but trouble, first to yore ma and now ta me." He grabbed the silent worker and dragged him into an empty pen. "Sleep your foolishness off there where I wont have ta look at yah no more." Returning to his morning duties he put the boy out of his mind, daydreaming of the fine breakfast waiting for him.
"She keeps askin for the boy. Cant nobody find him? She aint got much time left." Maisy, second chambermaid, asked the assistant cook.
"Darlin, I sent Pooky and Etta out to fetch him as soon as you told me before. Now Ive got folks waiting for their breakfast and I aint got no more help that can go fetch that no account child of hers. If she up and dies before he gets his sorry backside through that door, its no skin off my nose."
Maisy turned and climbed the back stairs. She listened outside the maids room while Ella and the kind doctor spoke in hushed voices. She didnt want to go back into the room and see her friend and fellow maid gasping for breath. Where was JD? Though some of the staff thought he was a troublemaker, she knew he loved his mother dearly and something important must be keeping him from getting to his mothers bedside.
Five years earlier Maisy Downe hired on at the estate, first as a cooks assistant and later as a chambermaid. She dreamed of the day shed get married and have her own family to raise, not wishing to remain a lowly maid for the rest of her life. Still waiting for some one to want her, she worked hard cleaning and caring for the estate family. Maggie, the woman dying, was her best friend. They occupied the third floor room and shared their plans for the future.
Maggie Dunne worked hard to support herself and her young boy. She never spoke about the boys father but dreamed of the day JD would go off to school and make something important of himself. Too old to live with her in the maids quarters, he worked in the stables, mucking stalls and caring for the tack. Quick in his studies, he often skipped school to work with training the horses. Men living above the stables ate in their own dining room and didnt interact with the house staff.
Upstairs maids received alternating Sundays off plus one day a month to attend to personal business. JD and Maggie would walk into the city for some time together. Maisy could tell the short time Maggie spent with her son uplifted her dreary spirits yet troubled the older woman. The boy was smart but he often let his heart rule his actions. More than once the head stable master threatened to fire the boy for his foolishness, but to JD the animals welfare came first. No one ever complained about his treatment of the animals but Maisy could see the boy dreamed of being his own boss, owning his own horse and controlling his own livelihood. Now his mother needed him and most likely he was in trouble again.
Last night the two women worked in the laundry room, folding and sorting the bedding and clothing for their respective rooms. The house was quiet since the family left earlier in the day to attend the oldest daughters graduation from a finishing school in Boston. The staff enjoyed the quiet evening and worked diligently to accomplish tasks for the day. Maggie placed the freshly washed sheets into the clothes press when the old, heavy cupboard fell from the wall, one leg broken. Before having a chance to scream, she laid buried in clothes, bedding and oak boards. Her chest hurt and blood trickled out of her ears. Breathing became more difficult as she mentally spoke her rosary, fingering the embroidered flowers like beads and praying for someone to discover her plight. As the night passed and she realized no one would discover her accident until morning, her thoughts turned to her son. JD was her pride and joy. No mother could love a child more than she did. Seeing him forego his education to work with the animals pained her heart but she knew he loved riding. He often asked if they could move away from the city, move to the west where everyone was their own boss. He spoke of gunfighters and shootouts, of lawmen and frontier justice. She hated squelching his dreams but someone needed to be pragmatic and a life in the wild, wild, west wasnt at all sensible.
Maggie Dunne knew she was dying, she could feel the growing pool of moisture under her back. Before she left this world, she wanted to see her son one last time, to tell him she was wrong; he should follow his dreams.
"Excuse me sir, but they need your help in the stables." The youngest of the household staff whispered through the door, afraid to see someone so close to death.
"Dont they know Ive got a woman dying her? Whats the matter anyway?" He didnt mean to sound gruff but he hated to loose any patient. He knew he couldnt save this one but at least he wanted to fulfill her dying request.
"They find her boy yet?"
"Yes, sir. Thats who needs ya in the barns."
"What?" he exclaimed. "What happened?"
"Cant rightly say but they need ya right away." Her quiet voice reverberated through the deathwatch.
The doctor grabbed his black bag and followed the girl down the back stairs, not proper but the route saved steps. The kitchen was closer to the barns than the front hall. He followed the waiting, older stable hand down the gravel path and noticed the blooming roses in the formal garden. Their fragrance reached his nostrils and he smiled. Would the poor woman upstairs receive any flowers on her grave?
"Boss said to getcha right away. Found the boy in an empty stall. Old Joe thought he was sleepin off too much ta drink. Looks like he was beat up somethin awful."
The two men climbed the stairs to the living quarters and approached the only occupied bed. Bruises covered the young face and dried blood traced its path down from the hairline.
"Was he found dressed this way?" the doctor asked beginning his examination.
"Naw, he was covered in sh..ah..em..I mean, well, rather than drag anymore aroma up here then we have to, we left his clothes downstairs, so not to smell up the bed."
"I see." He gently unbuttoned the cotton underwear to examine the bruised torso. "You boys keep any of them wrapping bandages I always seem to need when I come out here?"
"Yes, sir. The wash ladies clean em and give them back. He got busted ribs?"
"Looks that way. I need to get this boy on his feet; his mothers been hurt and needs him."
"Wondered why the house wanted him. Normally they dont even let him in the door. Them uppity house folks think theyre better then us outside workers. Poor kid dont even get ta see his ma except when its her day off."
After wrapping the ribcage and redressing the boy, the doctor pulled his small vile of smelling salts out of his bag. He knew the boy needed to rest but the maid wouldnt live much longer. Before he could remove the cap, three men approached the sickbed.
"He come to yet? Can he tell us what happened?"
"I say hes drunk, fell and busted his head open," Joe added.
"The wounds to his back and stomach would indicate otherwise, Mr. Saunders. There is a definite hoof print on his back. Someone used his belly as a punching bag. Id say he hit his head on a post or something before blacking out. I was just about to revive him with smelling salts."
The doctor uncapped the small container and held it under the young mans nose, waiting for a reaction. "Ill need some help getting him up to the house. His mother is dying and needs to see him before its too late."
Heavy eyelids tried to open as JD scooted away from the sharp smell under his nose. He looked around trying to understand how he got upstairs. Wasnt he helping the bay mare foal?
"JD, can you tell us what happened last night?" The head stable master suspected there was more to the boys injuries than a drunken fall or misstep in the barn.
Seeing clearer, he looked up at the men surrounding his bed, trying to remember. "I heard something by Beautys stall, they were trying to take him out but he wasnt cooperating." Remembering more his eyes became glazed. "I tried to stop them, sir, but there was two of them. Im sorry. Did they get him?"
"No, hes safe in his box. Its you were worried about, JD."
"JD," the doctor interrupted. "JD, do you think you can stand? Your mothers been hurt and you need to go to her."
"Huh, my mama? What did they do to her?" Clearly misunderstanding the man in the dark suit, he looked back at Old Joe, Billy and Mr. Saunders.
"JD, Id like to give a chance to get your wits about ya, but the doctor here dont figure theres time for that. Me and Mr. Saunders are gonna help you over to the house and get you in to see you ma but we need your cooperation too. Think you can do that?" Billy Bodd hated to see anything suffer.
A slight nod followed by drooping eyelids was their reply. The doctor left first, anxious to return to Mrs. Dunne. The two older men helped the injured boy slip some pants on before getting him to his feet, and watched the color drain from the boys face. They nodded to each other over the top of JDs head and carried him down the stairs. Two more hands stood ready at the doorway of the stable to grab his legs, his head rested against the shoulder of the head groomsman. "Hope the docs got more of them smelly salts. He aint gonna stay alert all the way upstairs." Though the head groomsman often yelled at the young man he knew the boys heart belonged to the animals.
"How we gonna get him up to his mas room, sir, ifn they dont neven let us in the kitchen."
"Dont worry. JDs ma needs him and no prissy footed cook, butler or housekeepers gonna stop us from delivering him to her bedside."
The men walked proudly toward the back door, attending to their noble cause. Before the angel of death took his next victim, Margaret and JD Dunne would have one last mother and son visit.
Maggie Dunne lay quietly in her bed, her eyes closed against the pain assaulting her head. Soon she would be gone from this sinful world but she dreaded leaving her only child behind all alone. He never knew his father, he didn't know what type of man to emulate. Now he wouldn't even have the guiding hand of his mama to temper the zest for life that simmered below the surface. She would never see the look of happiness caress his face when telling of finding the love of his life. She would never hold a precious grandchild.
Why was it so hard to let go? JD knew right from wrong. He was polite and courteous. She knew he would find his own special corner of the world to make a difference. Where would that spot be? Hopefully he could find it someplace other than a lifetime of living above someone else's stable, looking after someone else's animals and never taking a chance to discover his own dream.
Looking back over her own life she felt no regrets. Life didn't hand out smiles and sugary cakes to everyone but life wasn't all sour and heartaches. As if to answer her final prayer she heard several heavy footsteps climb to the third floor.
The doctor sat beside her bed, Maisy sat on the other side wiping her fevered forehead. "They's bringing your boy to see you, Maggie darlin'. Now's your chance to tell the boy your true feelings. Don't hold nothin' back. You might not get another chance."
The injured woman opened her eyes, surprised to see four men carrying JD. Unable to talk, she waited for them to set the boy down in the chair recently vacated by the good doctor. He opened the bottle of smelling salts again and placed it under the boy's nose. Leaving the mother and son to their final conversation the rest retreated from the room.
Ten minutes later the doctor returned to the small room to check on his two patients but not surprisingly found one still alive. The teenage boy sat in the chair holding his mother's hand and staring through swollen eyelids at her body. Tears ran freely down his cheeks.
"Are you alright, JD?" The doctor kneeled down beside the distraught boy. "You two get to say good-by?" His voice stayed soft and consoling.
"Yep. She told me." His voice faltered. "She told me to be good and follow my dreams, sir. I figured she wanted me to go to college, make something of myself. Now she says follow my dreams." He looked up at the distinguished gentleman. "I I don't know what she meant."
Four days later JD returned to doing his chores, a body going through the motions but little spirit in his step. His body ached but he ignored the pains because the hurt in his heart controlled him. What should he do? Everything reminded him of his mother, his work, the gardens and especially the main house.
Sitting in the shade of the main stable he worked oil into the surrey harness, his hands softened by the neetsfoot oil. A soft cloth made fast work of polishing the buckles and silver medallions
"JD, how are you doing, darlin'?" Maisy sat beside the grieving son of her late best friend. "I brought you your mother's things. We took care of her clothes. I didn't think you'd want to go through her belongings, unless you want to."
"That's ok, Miss Maisy. I appreciate you ladies takin' care of things for Mama." He sat still rubbing the paper wrapping.
"I figured you'd want her Bible. Any time you need to talk to someone, JD, come see me."
He smiled, "Thanks."
JD watched the young woman dressed in black return to the mansion before opening the package and saw the worn black cover. Tucked inside were his mother's favorite hankie and the gold, oval lock she wore on special occasions. Tears filled his eyes as he touched the small piece of jewelry. Several letters poked out the Bible and he read addresses of people he'd never met.
Tucking the small package into his coat pocket he returned to his work. With Mama gone, he needed to work extra hard to keep this job. Where would he go if they kicked him off the estate?
"JD, I've got someone who needs to talk to you." Mr. Sauders touched the boy's shoulder, startling the youth.
"JD Dunne." The exquisitely dressed gentleman looked down at the teenager.
Remembering his manners, the boy quickly stood and pulled off his hat, mumbling, "Yes sir?"
"First off let me express my sympathy at the loss of your mother. She will be missed. Mr. Saunders tells me you stopped the theft of Beauty. I'm in your debt, young man."
Not knowing what to say to the estate owner, the boy whispered "Thank you." He wasn't sure he knew for what he was thanking the man.
"You've got a home here at Blossomwood for as long as you want to stay, you've got my word."
JD looked up to thank the man face to face but found he was looking at the man's back, already dismissed.