Marshal Dobbs was having himself a time. He was sat next to Nate Callum, the only man who could stand him and the two were getting louder as the evening went on. Every other man in the saloon was tired after a full day of hay making or scraping around in a dusty mine, they just wanted a drink and perhaps turn in early. Marshal Dobbs had no such intentions.
"Hay, Levi how's the hay turning for ye. You know I have got all my hay in, it's in one of the many barns at my place. All done and dusted. Hay when are you goin ta get finished?"
"Soon, Marshal soon," Levi hurried on to his table lest he'd end up having to engage in conversation with this man.
The youngest saloon girl came towards them with drinks and Marshal Dobbs pulled her into his lap.
"How about me and you head upstairs little lady," he grinned as she struggled in his grip.
"How bout you let her alone," Milly said as she ambled over.
Marshal Dobbs spied another farmer and called out to him. In that second the girl used the moment to extract herself from his grip and get up from his lap.
"Jessie, hay Jessie you still gettin your hay in?" He yelled over.
"Yeah we know Marshal, you hired that runaway kid and now all your hay is in the barn, we heard enough already," Jessie snapped.
"Sit down Jessie, you playin or not." His friends urged him but the exhausted farmer had, had enough.
"You hired a dumb kid on the promise of land and had him do all your work for you, I don't see what the hell you're bragging about."
Marshal got up from the table and turned it over.
"You sayin I'm dishonest," he growled as he slowly walked over.
The saloon was cut to silence as Jessie got up and put a hand to his pistol.
Before Marshal Dobbs could reach him. Adam Welles, the owner of the boarding house blocked his path.
"Dobbs, there's a lot of men in here. they're tired and irritable from a days work bringing their hay in. Why don't you go on home."
Marshal Dobbs was about to argue but looking around he could see the eyes of hostile men boring into him.
"I ain't stayin in this dump." He swayed as he spoke.
"You comin Nate?" He turned to his companion but Nate
Callum sat there as if he heard nothing.
"You're all just green eyed with jealous. I have all my hay in, I have all my crop in the barn. I'm all ready, not like the rest of you losers."
He staggered out then amid a heavy silence. As soon as he stepped off the porch he could hear the sound of laughter and chatter rise up again as a bar tender played a lively tune on the piano.
Oliver had managed to get Marshal Dobbs hay in along with his crop with the help of Alister and Jacob. It had been back breaking work, and the heat of an unnaturally hot summer hadn't helped. Marshal Dobbs had taken on this strange habit of coming to watch their work wearing only his trousers. It was like he wanted to show them that he didn't even need to get fully dressed in the morning. He didn't even wear long johns. Trousers, braces and this awful looking chest. It was completely white and hairless and had what looked like two lady parts hanging down. Jacob said he'd buy him a corset at the mercantile. Oliver usually tried to be stern about Jacobs comments but they all had to laugh. The old man really did look like he needed such a garment.
Once again on a Sunday they found themselves working on the small dwelling hoping against hope that they could make it fit to live in. The unrelenting sun blazed down on them and tempers were frayed. The two younger children wisely went to play in the long grass until they were needed. Oliver yelled up at Jacob telling him he was leaving holes and gaps everywhere. Jacob cursed down at him. If Jacob was to receive all the tannings Oliver threatened that day he would have difficulty walking for a week.
As day turned to evening their situation did not improve. A storm blew up suddenly shadowing the sky in fierce black clouds and spilling down torrents of rain. The two youngest children were called from the fields and ran to the cart to hide under the canvas.
Oliver continued to saw pieces for the roof ignoring the rain soaking his back.
"Oliver, we must go, this is down for the night." Alister said as he took hold of his arm.
Oliver shook himself free.
"The rain will get into the shack and drown the newly laid floorboards. All our hard work will be for nothing, can't you see that." He cried desperately
Alister just looked back at him, rain soaking his curly hair and running rivers down his face.
"Oliver...I think we need to stop, we've tried our best. You've tried your best. You just can't make this work through a sheer act of will. There's nothing here to work with,"
Oliver rounded on him.
"You just want us to give up now," he yelled over the rain and wind.
"I won't, I can't, if that idiot up there would just patch the roof properly."
Alister was about to answer when there came the sound of splitting wood and an almighty crash.
Both boys looked at each other in shock for just a moment and then ran into the shack. They froze in their steps as there on the ground lay Jacob, a small pool of blood forming at his head.
"Oh God," Alister cried putting a hand to his mouth.
Oliver crouched down beside the injured boy and carefully turned him over. A large stain of blood was forming on his forehead just above his blond fringe.
"Jacob, come on. Talk to me," Oliver said as he patted gently on his face.
"Is he..." Alister tried to ask.
"No," Oliver told him, " Alister get the cart, we need to bring him to town."
Alister stood and stared at the boys deathly pale face and the streak of blood now running down the side of his cheek."
"Alister," Oliver called to him. "Get the cart."
Alister jumped slightly at Olivers tone but he ran towards the wagon, ignoring the driving rain lashing at his face.
Carefully they put Jacob into the back of the cart. They laid out their coats to make a bed for him. The two younger children stood to the side Grace crying softly to herself.
As if Ned knew what was at stake the little pony galloped on the muddy trail as if his life depended on it. Alister sat in the back with Jacobs head on his lap. The boy never stirred once.
"Hurry Oliver," Alister called out.
Oliver chanced a look back and grimaced at the unhealthy grey tinge on his brothers cheeks.
Finally they made it to town. All was quiet being how it was Sunday evening. Oliver jumped down from the cart and ran to the door he knew to be the home of the doctor. Alister had pointed it out on their first day there. Oliver had scoffed at that at the time, he was glad of it now.
He knocked loudly on the door. When no one answered he hammered on it.
Anxiety crossed his drawn features as he noted there was no light on in the windows. The doctor was not at home.
He ran down the street hammering on doors as he went. He yelled out that he needed help but those inside must have thought he was drunk as blinds came down over the windows.
Oliver stood alone in the street desperately looking all around for some sign of life. Just to his left he caught a movement, moments later a man and woman stepped out of a corner house laughing to each other. Oliver ran to them but as he stood before them it was as if his voice had deserted him. He could not make himself understood. The man began to protest and threatened to call the sheriff, Oliver took hold of the mans collar and tried desperately to speak.
When that didn't work he saw that the door to the house was still open. He ran in.
There seemed to be a large and grand house party going on. On sight of him women screamed and one or two feinted thinking him some class of robber. The men were quick to act. Two took hold and pinned his arms behind him while another cuffed him about the head until he stopped his ranting.
The owner of the home stepped forward.
"How dare you invade my house," he began.
Oliver struggled desperately against those holding him, care for Jacob foremost in his mind.
"Hold on there let him go, Max...let him go."
Oliver found himself released and turned to face Deputy Glen Taylor.
"What's this about kid, this is a private party. Have you been drinking?"
"My brother, my brother fell off the roof," Oliver finally found his voice, such was the relief of finding someone familiar to him.
"Your brother fell off the roof? Show me."
Oliver led Deputy Taylor to the cart. He gestured for the small children to get down from the cart and he got in and crouched by the boys stricken form.
"He hasn't moved," Alister told him, trying hard to keep his voice from hitching.
"I've been trying to keep him warm,"
"That's good boy, that's good," Taylor patted his arm.
"How did this happen, you were fixing up that old shack?" He asked.
Oliver was surprised he knew anything about that, but he nodded yes.
The older man cursed under his breath.
"Dr Stone is out on a call, Mrs Freemen is near her time, he'll be with her all evening. I'll send one of my men to call him in as soon as he's finished there."
"We need to get him in out of this weather." Taylor suddenly took hold and picking the boy up he walked towards the sheriffs office.
"What the hell is this, this ain't no hospital," Sheriff Winters complained as he came in carrying the boy.
"He's hurt sir, could be hurt bad." Deputy Taylor told him.
"Well take him to the convent down the road Glen. We don't have room here,"
"There are five cells back there and all of them are empty," Taylor said.
"I don't want no kids running around in here. Take him to the Sisters. They'd be glad to help him."
"You're just full of charity ain't ye,"
"You be careful Glen Taylor, it's me that's payin your wages,"
Glen ignored him, he turned round and headed back out into the rain.
"What are we going to do, will we put him back on the cart," Grace asked.
"No," Glen shook his head.
Madeleine took one quick look at the rain drenched man carrying the boy. She beckoned them all inside.
"It's ok Papa," she called to her father in the back room.
"Bring him in here," she told Glen quietly.
Glen tried to apologize or explain but she was more intent on making the child comfortable. Oliver, Alister and the two younger children stood awkwardly at the door of the bedroom as the two adults stripped off Jacobs rain soaked clothes and bandaged his injuries.
"Has he come awake at all?" Madeline asked as they worked.
Glen looked to the boys.
"No, no ma'am," Oliver answered in a halting voice.
"He's beyond our care, he needs a doctor," she told Glen.
"I've sent one of my men but it's going to be some time yet," Glen answered.
Oliver looked to Alister, and saw the same look of worry cross his brothers face.
They all turned as they heard Madeleines father answer the door to someone. Seconds later Dr Stone entered the room.
"What happened here," he asked as he entered and crossed to the bed.
"I thought you were going to be away all evening," Glen said.
"We're wasting time, is someone going to tell me what's happened to this young man?"
Oliver stepped forward.
"Sir, he fell off a roof and hit his head."
"I see, well Ideally he should be examined at my office but I'm not sure in this case if he should be moved.
Madam is it alright if we care for him here until he is well enough to be transferred.
"Of course," Madeleine smiled. "I'll make you some coffee doctor,"
"That would be most welcome Ms Grimes, I suspect we will be in for a long night. Now please everyone vacate the room while I examine my patient. "
As traumatic as the situation was Alister was as ever practical. It suddenly occurred to him that they had not the means to pay the doctor.
He called Oliver's attention and they stepped outside on to the porch. The rain finally had stopped, the hard well trodden ground now drenched in deep muddy puddles.
Oliver leaned on one of the porch beams and took a much. needed breath.
Alister didn't want to discuss such a thing but he had to be practical.
"What do you want me to do, go on in there and tell him to stop saving Jacobs life as we don't have the means. Alister Jacob could die, do you realize that. We'll sell the cart, we'll sell the pony, we'll sell every damn thing..." Oliver couldn't finish. He bit down on his thumb and squeezed his eyes shut trying to control the tears welling there.
Alister realized now was not the time. He put arms around his brother and held him as the older boy tried to gain control of himself.
"I pushed him too hard Ali. Damn it, he's so brash sometimes i forget his age. He shouldn't have been up on that roof,"
"There's no good in laying blame on yourself, Jacob wouldn't have sat on the sidelines. He wanted that shack finished as much as the rest of us. It was just an accident Oliver."
Oliver took a ragged breath. "I think...after this we'll head north Alister. There's nothing for us here. That acre is nothin but weeds and a shack. I doubt if it even survived the storm.
Alister nodded reluctantly. "Maybe a clean break is what we need. I don't think we are the type to stay too long in any one place. We tend to out stay our welcome."
He tried to smile but neither boy could find much to be cheerful about. They talked of future plans ignoring the dreadful thought hovering between them that Jacob might not be joining them in that journey.
Glen and Madeleine took charge and tucked the two younger children up in a large double bed in the back room. They clung to each other as they finally drifted off to sleep. Oliver and Alister sat at the table drinking coffee. Madeleine made them eat a supper of cold chicken and bread. Once they had the last mouthful eaten they went to check on Jacob. They were about to enter when the doctor emerged from the room.
"He has taken quite a fall," the doctor told them, "but he is awake and talking coherently which is an excellent sign. I have splinted his left arm which was fractured, he will need to be kept very quiet for the next couple of days."
"Will he be alright?" Oliver asked immediately.
"I will need to be watch him very carefully in the next few days for any signs of brain injury but I predict no such problem. I think he is over the worst of it," the doctor smiled thinly.
Both boys were elated at the news, Oliver could feel a wave of relief wash over him. Alister too was relieved but before the doctor could move to sit down Oliver spoke up.
"Doctor...there's one thing, we don't actually have any money to pay you."
The doctor looked back at him with little expression.
Oliver was surprised but went on.
"We don't have money but we do have a fine pony and a wagon. It's small but in good condition. It could fetch a good price."
The doctor looked back at him with that same neutral expression.
"Of course we could sell the cart and horse for you, we do realize how busy you are,"
"There's no need," the Doctor put up a hand. "My bill has been paid in full."
Both boys looked at each other and back at the doctor.
"Last Sunday I was called from my business by an urgent message from home. My elderly mother had some class of altercation with some local boys. A trifling matter to anyone else but my mother has failed in recent years and feels very vulnerable. I could not immediately go to her as I was helping to bring a baby into the world. When I finally did make it home I expected her to be crying and shaken from the experience. My mother was happily playing the harpsichord. Jacob had stayed with her all afternoon. His company made her forget her fear and concentrate on showing him her beloved instrument. As i have stated, the bill is paid in full. I'll be keeping a very close eye on Jacob over the next week, my mother would never forgive me if I let anything happen to him."
Both boys looked at each other. At first they thought maybe he had mistaken Jacob for someone else but then Alister remembered Jacob's trip to town in search of nails.
"Why didn't he tell us?" He asked Oliver.
"The one thing he does right in his life and he says nothing," Oliver smiled.
He shook his head with a chuckle as they both headed for the bedroom.
"Excuse me, where are you two boys off to," the Doctor asked as they moved towards the door.
"We thought we'd go in and see him," Oliver told him.
"You may see him just for a moment, I want him to rest up not share hero stories with his two co conspirators."
"Doctor, I have some chicken left over. Could I fix you a plate of cold cuts and salad," Madeleine asked.
"That would be most welcome my dear, it's been a trying day. I can't remember when last I had a decent meal."
Madeleine turned to fix the doctor up a plate of food. Oliver and Alister stepped carefully into the sick room lest Jacob was sleeping.
Jacob was awake and looked back at them frowning in confusion.
"Jake, you ok buddy?" Oliver spoke quietly as he took a seat by his bed.
Jacob's blond hair stood up in a tuft above a thick bandage wound around his head. It made him look slightly comical.
"Where's Tessy?" He asked in a thick voice.
Oliver found a pitcher of water next to the bed. He poured a glass and lifted the boy's head slightly to give him drink.
"Where's Tessy?" Jacob asked again.
"Who's Tessy?" Alister asked as he drew closer to the bed.
"Tessy, the saloon girl." Jacob answered in a slurring voice.
"Tessy bought me a drink. She bought me a drink after I shot down that no good horse rustler. Tessy is nice. She smells real good."
Heavy eyelids began to close and Jacob drifted off to sleep.
Oliver smiled down at the boy as he pulled the blanket up round his shoulders.
"Sweet dreams Jacob, tell Tessy hello from me."
Two weeks later they packed up their cart with all their belongings and paid the Boarding House landlady what they owed. Jacob was now well enough to travel. He looked better though he was quieter than usual and kept away from the younger children's rough games.
Grace was sorry that they were leaving as there was a party atmosphere in town. The men folk had finally got their crop and hay in and there was a carnival starting up in celebration organized by the residence committee. Despite the jovial atmosphere all around them Oliver wanted to get on the road. He wanted to make the next town by nightfall. Before they started out he went across to a stall and came back with paper windmills for David and Grace.
Grace squealed with delight as she took hold of hers and danced in a circle letting the toy catch the wind and spin.
"A necessary spend?" Alister frowned, though with a twinkle in his dark eyes.
"Yes Alister, quite necessary." Oliver grinned back.
Glen Taylor ambled over as they were set to leave.
"So you're off then," he smiled up at them.
Oliver nodded. "Thanks for all you did for us Sir,"
"That's ok boy, you were residents of this town for a short while there, it's my job. Watch that road now, don't camp out until you get to Virginia city. We get bandits in them woods."
"No sir, we won't," Oliver smiled as he clicked the pony to movement.
"Oh, just one thing. You left tools at the shack," Glen told them.
Oliver stalled the pony for just a moment.
"Oh yeah, we forgot about them. Thanks Deputy"
"You forgot my tools?" Jacob call out from the back of the wagon. "What the hell."
Glen smiled to himself as he watched the little family head out of town, the oldest boy admonishing the younger one for his language.
His smile lingered as he caught sight of a cake stand setting up close by. Madeleine Grimes had made cakes for the carnival. They were covered in cherries and frosting and looked very pretty. He was very partial to cake Glen told himself as he ambled over to see what she had.
They drove out towards the shack, in a way they were glad to at least say goodbye. It was nearly the place they had settled. It was very nearly their home, at least in their hearts."
Oliver didn't know how he would feel but he did want to see it just one more time. Word had it that it was indeed ruined in the storm. Hardly surprising.
Oliver stopped the wagon, he stood up and got down from the cart still staring into the field.
"Ollie what's that large house doing in our field," Grace asked.
They all got down and stumbled towards the finely cut field. They looked up at the large sturdy barn like cottage now standing regally in place of the shack.
Town residents they barely knew piled out of it and greeted them warmly.
"Well what do ye think younguns. We sorta fixed up your shack."
The children couldn't speak which made all the towns people laugh and pat each other on the back.
Oliver eventually found his voice.
"You did this, but why?" He asked.
The Mayer of the small town suddenly stepped forward. The children could not believe he was involved in this.
"We're a small town and as such we depend heavily on the traffic of people passing through from Rose Falls and Virginia city. They eat in our restaurants, drink in our saloons and stay at our hotel. But business was falling off dramatically simply because people were constantly complaining about the care of their mounts at the Livery stable. Some said they would rather camp under the stars than board their horse there. That is Oliver until you took it over. Marshal Dobbs is a rich man. He has told us on more than one occasion that the Livery stable is just a hobby for him. We needed a good Livery Stable attendant but no boy around here would work with him. Once your brother got hurt and the shack fell apart we suddenly realized that you would be moving on. Well we couldn't let that happen."
Oliver looked up at the fine and sturdy structure. It had real windows and what looked to be an upstairs loft.
"But...but the wood, we can't pay. We can't take charity." Oliver stumbled over his words.
"The wood was donated by Mr Miles Pender. He owns The Hibernia Hotel, you see that very large building in the centre of town. He was most intent on heading this project, the majority of his customers use the Livery stable."
"I don't work there any more, I told Marshal Dobbs..."
"You now work there on double the pay you were receiving. Marshal Dobbs very kindly agreed to make you assistant manager."
Oliver shook his head, he couldn't help it as a wide smile of gratitude crossed his face. They all smiled back cheering and patting him on the back.
Adam Welles called out.
"Now come on, the women folk have spent the entire afternoon cookin up a whole heap of fine food. Lets get to eatin."
The party went on to the early hours of the morning. There was dancing and singing and more food than anyone could possibly eat in one sitting. Eventually the towns people bid them good bye and headed off into the night.
The two youngest children climbed the ladder and slept soundly in two newly made beds in the loft. Jacob found his bed on the ground floor by the window. He dropped his bag by his bed and looked out of his window at the land they now owned.
Oliver stood by their kitchen table looking about him as if he were in a dream.
"What are you thinking?" Alister asked.
Oliver looked to his brother and smiled as tears began to form in his eyes.
"We're home Ali, we're home."