When Tam stepped down from the train in his fancy big-city travel suit, he looked good–but, I thought, a mite uncomfortable. No wonder. I’d hated every day I’d had to spend duded up fer the Constitutional Convention; my partner couldn’t possibly enjoy that sort of thing any more’n I did.
“My warrior!’ Laughing Brook shouted fer all the world to hear, darting forward in that antelope-graceful run she had, wearing her white Indian Princess dress fer the occasion. Her legs flashed as she launched herself at the tale teller. I’d seen it before. Made me grin every time, watching the man brace himself to receive the assault, ending up with her limbs wrapped around him something fierce.
People were staring. They weren’t used to this sort of public display in Walsenburg.
Well, let ’em stare. Them bare legs locked around Tam’s waist would give the men something to fantasize about and the women something to cuss. Win-win all around.
Then Eleanor Moore came down those steps, next after Tam, and the scene shifted considerably. Tam was making introductions and Laughing Brook was being her usual gracious self, welcoming the girl and her mother and of course the little boy to Colorado.
“Uh-oh,” Cougar said softly. He and I’d been standing side by side, watching all this while our women were down at the Mercantile figuring out how to spend a bit of money on actual luxuries.
“Mom got her jealous bone going.”
“How can you tell? And who’s making her jealous, the fifteen year old single mother or the thirty-five year old Grandma?”
“I can tell ’cause she’s my Mom. Can’t say which woman’s got her hackles up, though. Could be either one or both.”
“She won’t give anything away, Dawson. I ain’t saying that. But I am kinda glad we all got our own places now. The conversation between Mr. & Mrs. Tam Tamson could git a bit intense tonight. Or frosty, depending.”
Doug Franzen had not been at the station to greet his fiancee and her family. Not his fault; we’d jist picked up the telegram an hour ago that said they’d be arriving back home today. Daniel and Tam had left their mounts at the livery, so they both had rides home, but there’d been no time fer the rest of us to send a messsenger out to the gem cutter. He’d have to come in later, look ’em up at the hotel where they’d be staying till the wedding.
Appearances and all that.
Tam and I rode on out ahead of the others. Coug had volunteered to ride escort fer the freight wagon currently being loaded with supplies. Chet and our women were all still eyeballing fun items on the shelves–what they saw as fun items–and we got the Hell outa there.
Nothing scarier than watching women shop.
Daniel was on his way to Flywheel/Morgan; he’d take care of bringing Doug Franzen up to date.
“Good to be outa that monkey suit?”
“You have no idea.”
“Oh, yes, I do. Coug says your Cheyenne beloved has got a case of the green eye. Did he call it?”
Tam didn’t answer fer a long moment. Not till he’d heaved a sigh you could hear half a mile off did he reply. “He called it.”
“Damn, Dawson, let a man unwind a bit, would you?”
I grinned. “That bad, eh? You mount one of ’em? Or both?”
That broke him. He busted out laughing so hard Smokey flicked an ear back, clearly trying to figure out what was so danged funny. “Iffen I had, cowboy, that would be one thing. The problem is worse.”
“Worse. Young Eleanor and I had this pull between us you wouldn’t believe. Laughing Brook jumping on me like she done, that seems to have settled it down. Fer now, at least. But I’m telling you, I’m glad we slept cars apart on the train, and I wouldn’t ever want to be alone in the same room with her fer more’n a second.”
“Huh.” I thought about that. “This evening should be interesting.”
He shook his head ruefully. “Maybe I’ll git lucky and we’ll have an emergency. Another wolf pack after the buffalo or something.”
“Ever the optimist,” I observed. “Ever the optimist.”
The freight wagon was a bit late making it home, but the women made up fer their tardiness by whipping up one of the finest meals in the least amount of time I’d ever seen accomplished.
All three of ’em seemed to be in high spirits, laughing and joking as they set the table. Sweet potatoes–completely out of season; where’d they git those? Elk roast from a three-point bull in velvet Scrap had shot on the way back over the Saddles two days ago. Rolls they’d baked yesterday and simply popped in the oven to warm fer a few minutes. Three kinds of vegetables from last year’s canning.
“Come and git it,” Laughing Brook sang out, and we all filed in to sit our butts at table. We’d already washed up and combed our hair–except fer Dawson, of course, who didn’t have much left to comb. The chores were done, the gang was all here, and I couldn’t help but feel I was home.
My woman might have a case of the green eye, but I couldn’t see it at the moment. Not that she wouldn’t blindside me later, should the notion strike her.
Something was up, though. Ever one a them females looked like the cat that ate the canary.
We were still passing bowls around, piling food on our plates, when Penny–very, very pregnant Penny–decided she couldn’t hold back any longer. “Tell ’em, Brook,” she said.
Brook? When did my wife’s name git shortened that far?
“Nah. I’m the heroine of the piece. Can’t go tooting my own horn like that. I’m not the tall tale teller in the family.” She smiled innocently and patted my knee to show me she was kidding. Look at me like that, girl, touch me, I’ll follow you anywhere.
Or wait for you twenty-plus years, if need be.
“I couldn’t do it justice,” Penny admitted. “Marie, I guess it’s up to you.”
“Hokay.” Dawson’s woman glanced at her plate. “Reckon someody’s got to end up eating a cold supper. Unless I talk fast.
“The reason we were late getting home. Coug and Chet had no idea what we were up to when Laughing Brook told ’em she wanted to stop by the hotel before we headed out. Said she’d bought a few Welcome to Walsenburg gifts fer our new arrivals and wanted to deliver ’em in person. We left the men waiting out front with the wagon and trooped up the stairs to see the Moores.
“When Clarisse opened the door and saw us all standing there, you could tell she was nervous. Reckon they’d not seen the likes of a man being attacked by a wild Indian woman till they come to Colorado. They were feeling kind of out of their element, she and Elly–”
Elly, I thought. She really does git called Elly. I was right.
“–but Laughing Brook put their minds somewhat at ease right off when she give little Seymour–”
“Wait a minute.” I interrupted. “Daniel and I brought them people clean across the country on the train and never knew the boy’s name. Seymour? What kinda name fer a kid is Seymour?”
Dawson got them smile lines going around his eyes. “Seymour Moore. His mother is a whore. Grab that dirty rotten kid and shove him out the door.”
“That’s not funny, Dawson!”
“No, wife, it’s not. But it’s exactly what the other boys would do to him if he went to school packing that moniker. Seymour alone is bad–really bad. But Seymour Moore? Good thing them two are getting hitched, so at least he can go by Seymour Franzen. Although I can think of a few lines fer that combo, too.”
“Men!” Penny snorted–kind of a scary thing, coming from a five-eight redhead with a belly out to here. “Go on, Marie.”
“You know, Pen, he’s right. They will tease him fer that name. Anyway, Laughing Brook had a present fer little Seymour, a hobby horse, and you could tell they all appreciated that. Especially the boy who’d jist gotten his first horse, of course.
“Then she presented her gifts to Clarisse and Elly, a Colt New Line pocket pistol in .22 caliber fer each. Told ’em they were good looking women, there were way too many unattached men in these parts, and they shouldn’t be without some means of self defense. Not that Walsenburg was the worst of places, but…”
Penny and Laughing Brook were both grinning like idiots. Before I knew it, so was I. “Let me guess. See if I’ve got this figured right. You,” I patted my wife’s knee this time, “didn’t need no telegram to know when your man would be getting home. You had the whole thing planned. Marked me as yours at the station in a way them Moore women couldn’t forget in a month of Sundays. Then underscored your point by giving ’em dainty little pistols to show ’em they were so helpless against you, you could even afford to arm ’em with shooters. Am I close?”
“Very warm indeed,” Brook–Brook?–agreed, deciding to finish the tale herself after all. “Marie neglected to mention, before we went to the hotel, we dug our own shooters back out from the box under the wagon seat and strapped ’em on. So here were these two city women, holding their puny little pistols in their hands with no idea whatever how to use ’em, facing three crazy wild women of the west with a toal of four big revolvers on their hips!”
Chet Barnes had been listening quietly, feeding his face with the sincere dedication of a man who’d missed more than a few meals in his lifetime. He had something to add to the conversation now, though, fitting it in while he was reloading his plate. “Sure you didn’t scare ’em all the way back to Philly on the next train?”
“Oh, no. That would be impossible.” Marie explained, “They don’t own a dime between ’em. Couldn’t get outa town without selling their bodies fer traveling money, and they ain’t that kind. Do you realize you and Daniel left ’em set up with a room and nothing else, Tam? The Moores are destitute!”
“They could eat,” I pointed out a bit defensively. “The hotel would put it on the Flywheel tab. But…I don’t understand. They had a place of their own in Philadelphia.”
“Rented, and the rent had run out. Landlord had given notice they were to be put on the street next week unless they could come up with the back rent. We really did welcome ’em to Walsenburg. Each of us kicked in a double eagle, so now they got sixty dollars between ’em fer spending money. More cash than they’d seen since Elly’s Dad died three years ago.”
Now I was feeling bad fer not having checked into that. I’d jist assumed they had at least a little money coming in from somewhere. One thing about it, though; Elly hadn’t been about to turn down Doug’s proposal. No wonder both women had said Oh, my! when they seen the letter. They’d jist been saved from going homeless with a toddler to care for.
“Got a question, honey.” I turned to look down at my beloved. Damn, a man could git lost in them eyes. “You knew. One a your dreams, or what?”
“One of my dreams. You and she–Elly– were standing on either side of a big bed. The covers were turned back. Canopy bed, no less. I’ve always wanted a canopy bed.
“Anyway, you weren’t standing close to it, the bed I mean. Maybe teen feet away for her and twenty or so for you. But there was a giant red rubber band–it was a dream, okay? Rubber bands can be giant. This one was huge, like a foot wide and long enough that it went around you and her both, stretched tight. So, a thirty-five foot rubber band, and the stretch was pulling the two of you together. Toward that bed.
“You were both trying to hold back but you were losing. Elly faster; she was coming toward that bed about three times quicker’n you were, but–
“Anyway, I come running up to that bed from the foot end and whacked the rubber band in two with Dawson’s big BlackSteel fighting knife. Elly was pulling back so hard, she fell on her butt right at the edge of the bed. She’d been as good as on it. You were still maybe eight, nine feet from the thing.
“When you launched back after the rubber let go, you threw a foot back fer balance like you do when I come running.
“Then I woke up.”
“Well,” Dawson observed. “That explains it.”
“Why you decided to wear your fancy white antelope skin Indian Princess dress to meet the train today. You hadn’t had that on since the day Marie and I got married.”
“Huh.” The Cheyenne woman nodded in approval. “Pretty observant for a man.”
We all chuckled at that. Privately, I felt a definite sense of relief, but there was also a serious feeling of loss and regret mixed in with it. When my wife had a dream as powerful as that, one you couldn’t help understanding right off, it was always dead on target. Which meant little Elly with her narrow shoulders and swayback and overbite really had wanted me even stronger than I’d wanted her. You know, she being the one nearly on the dream bed and all.
Right at the edge of the bed, Laughing Brook had said.
Douglas Franzen better treat her right, I thought suddenly, or I’ll kill him with my bare hands.