Saturday, 31 December 2011

Brothers

Further to my 1947-squee, I just found a wartime photo of Peter Graves and James Arness (i.e. Peter and James Aurness) together in uniform, so this seems a good time to post the few photos I have of them together. I'm intrigued by James Arness. I don't find him attractive, but Wikipedia makes him sound pretty interesting, especially his wartime service record. They're putting Gunsmoke on tv here pretty soon, so I might watch that and see what my brain does to me...

Anyhow, on to the photos. (please slap me if this blog starts to seem stalkery - I'm not stalkery, just mildly obsessive.) [EDIT: I just found a few more photos in James Arness's autobiography. I want to read this book. It looks interesting! Oh god, I am a stalker... (edit again - and so, I bought the Kindle edition. Damn.]

This is as early as they get, when Peter's mother was probably pregnant. Aside from anything else, this is just a beautiful photo. I love photos of this era. Her clothes, her hair, the graceful curve of her arm (reminds me a little of Modigliani paintings), and she is just so beautiful. Sigh...

This one is quite squeesome. Little Peter and his aeroplane are exceptionally cute.


Young Peter and James. I'm not so stalkery that I find teenage boys in swimming trunks attractive, but it is interesting.
Wartime photo, apparently of autumn 1944, while James is recovering from his foot injury. And now Peter is old enough that I can find him attractive. Hot damn... And that's not a phrase I've used before. I also love this because this is just how he would look playing the character of Ed in the book I've just written.


Peter directing Gunsmoke. He was about to be contracted to direct more when he was called up for the IMF. How I would love to see the episode with director's commentary!

Peter, James - and I'm assuming this is their dad. Aww :-)
This blog has some stuff on what may or may not have been their childhood home - the comments are more illuminating than the article!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

1947


There is no reason for this post other than as a great digital squeal because I found this picture above of Peter Graves performing in 'The Wild Duck' as part of his degree at the University of Minnesota in 1947. That's it. I am excited by early Peter Graves. What can I say?

This photo may be earlier, from here, as it's supposed to be during his WWII service, but it's so tiny that it's impossible to tell. I suspect, actually, it's not Peter Graves at all. I can't remember what led me to suspect that, but something did.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Friday, 11 November 2011

The only law a gun, the only shelter wild bush…

So, my Whiplash box set has come (happy me). Contrary to often stated opinions, Chris Cobb (Peter Graves) does not defend himself only with his whip. He more often uses a rifle, and occasionally a pistol. The Harvard-educated American has come to Australia in the mid nineteenth century to operate a stage line, and he does pretty well, tackling outlaws, ex-convicts, and belligerent settlers and struggling to keep up good relations with the Aborigines along the way.



The Network DVD box set of this low-demand title (only available until October 2012) is an excellent production, with high standards all through. The really expensive things – subtitling and remastering – aren’t there – but that’s not unexpected. What they do provide is two sets of photographs on two of the discs, three pdfs of original production data and promotional material, and some cracking graphics on the menus, very befitting of a 1960s production. The pdfs are of particular interest, revealing fun facts about the actors. One gets the feel that the actor bios were written in a more innocent time, when there weren’t people like me around who obsessively internet-stalk people for facts, articles and photos.

The Very Sixties Menu


The series itself (I think) is excellent. My husband thinks it unoriginal. I don’t agree – but then I am lured in by Peter Graves. It’s true that a lot of the elements of the sets and story lines are lifted from traditional American West-centred television, but there is also a lot of very Australian material, up to and including some of the first (apparently) featuring of Aborigines in a television series. The series also seems far more sensitive to Aboriginal issues than American television of that era ever does to Native Americans. (Feel free to correct me. I’m coming from a position of general ignorance, typing with a baby on my lap who is contriving to stop me do much at all.)

A few of the bonus photos. Some are in colour. I may try to take some more screenshots when the baby allows it.




It’s also fun actor and talent-spotting. A lot of the actors seem to appear in this and nothing else ever again, at least according to the vast resources of imdb, but a couple pop up in British television later. Most noticeable for me is Annette Andre , who is in two episodes, Storm River and Dark Runs the Sea, but is more well known from Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), as Jeannie Hopkirk. There's also a man who is later in UFO, although I don't remember his name at the moment. Familiar names from the world of Star Trek crop up too – Gene Roddenberry writes four (very good) episodes, and John Meredyth Lucas directs thirteen.

And then, for the Peter Graves fan in me, every episode is full of wet-Peter-Graves, dashing-Peter-Graves, sexy-Victorian-dinner-wear-Peter-Graves, and a lot of Peter Graves having fist fights, whip or gun fights, leaping onto horses and riding them across the outback, and generally being dashing, handsome and very, very watchable. So, as I say. Happy me. Screenshots may come when the baby allows it.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Whiplash!

Well, I am a happy bunny. I've been enjoying internet versions of Whiplash since the only copy of it I could find on the internet was an £120 one on amazon. But having badgered Network DVD, who release it, it's appeared on their website and I have run out and bought it! My non-existent readers can expect screenshots and joy at some point in the future when the postman brings it to me. The link to Whiplash on their site is here

Slightly disappointingly, Network DVD say of Court Martial 'We're afraid that Court Martial isn't on the schedule at the moment but do keep an eye out on the website.' So, back to scouring the web for that one...

For now, have a blurry shot from an avi...

Whiplash, sexy Victorian headwear, and Peter Graves

I'm on the wrong computer to be certain which episode this shot is from, but I'm pretty certain it's 'The Other Side Of The Swan', which contains joyous Victorian clothing, poor Christopher Cobb getting bashed over the head and, later in the episode, kidnapped and drugged, and an exciting rooftop fight to finish with!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Fashion spasm! Mission: Impossible - Underwater

Season Six, Episode Eight - Original Air Date: 6 November 1971. In order to recover a haul of stolen diamonds and bring the criminals to justice, lots of deviousness involving a fake ring and plenty of scuba diving is used, including Jim pretending to be a hip and funky scuba instructor. The scope for fun outfits is endless...

We start off sensibly...

The episode starts in casual and relatively innocuous clothing...
And of course, whilst in his apartment, Jim is as stylish as always. He's not allowed in his apartment without refined clothing...

But then the fun begins! First - Scuba-Jim!
Scuba-Jim is wet and floaty...

And then - funky scuba-instructor Jim!

Jim runs in his funky clothes, and, 'Boy, am I hung,' he needs some pink liquor to pick him up...
Jim is funky, and blows smoke out slowly in a sexy cloud, and wears funky sunglasses...




Later, on the boat...

...Jim wears lovely stripy swimming trunks, and generally flexes in a semi-nude way while donning his wetsuit, so...

...he can look sexy and ruffled like this...
...and he can hang about on deck with his zip open like this...
...and he can don all his gear like this...
...and later he can emerge and look all wet and panting and Scandinavian, like this! Just think... This is how Jim may look in the bath... mmm....
For the clincher, as the criminals are hoodwinked and the police swoop in - Jim pulls out all the stops, with paisley and stripey trousers!!

Those sunglasses (which incidently Jim removes as soon as he's left the building and got in the car) and that stunning paisley shirt, which I actually quite like!

The stripey trousers... Jim will wear these or some very similar later, in Season 7. This must mean he likes them...

Friday, 14 October 2011

Fort Defiance - Chapter 18

Two Years Later

This new world seemed to be made of grass and nothing else. When Ned walked outside the grass brushed at his legs knee-high and insects flew up around him. He heard grasshoppers chittering and birds everywhere and the sky reached as high as the birds could sing. There were no sheer cliffs to channel and echo the noises on the land.

Julie said that the prairie was like a circle, like standing on a great dinner plate where the sun rose at one edge and set at the other in a blazing of light. But to Ned, when the wind was blowing and the creek rushing in the bluffs, it felt like the whole world was made of straight lines all going the same way. There was nothing but the two houses and the stable to take the wind and deflect it, and that only made a small blustering sound in the great whole.

Three hundred and twenty acres all around where Ned stood was his and Ben’s, and it was all soft, gentle swells and good grass rich with life. There was hardly a day Ben didn’t come back with some flesh or fowl shot out on the range. They had built their houses unconventionally, perhaps, but sensibly, as two half houses joined together across the line between their claims with a door between them, and the stable only ten yards away out back. One wall of the corral was the stable, and one wall was the houses, and Ned could walk out to the stable straight through the corral with no fear of losing his way. Even Ben had been glad of that arrangement the first time a blizzard overtook the land and he could go see to the horses in the blinding snow with no chance of wandering into the open prairie and missing the stable.

Today was a day for walking back and forth across the trodden-bare ground out front of the house and for checking on the horses more often than was necessary, and for walking out into the long grass and pulling the seedheads through his fingers restlessly and letting the seeds loose to the wind. From inside the house Ned sometimes heard a low moan, and sometimes heard Jane’s voice speaking softly and firmly, and once he heard Julie crying out something that sounded like a curse.

At that he turned back to the door and made to go inside, but Ben caught hold of his arm and steered him away.

‘Come on, Ned,’ he said. ‘Women-folk don’t want men in there at a time like this. Let Jane look after her just like she looked after Jane when she had our Bessie.’

Ned’s ear was turned to the house, but he followed Ben’s hand. Ben was carrying the year-old Bessie in his arm. Bewildered and uncomprehending of what was happening inside, she had cried and wailed and tugged at his and Ben’s legs and finally fallen asleep against Ben’s chest.

‘Ben, you think I can manage a baby?’ he asked nervously. ‘I mean, my own baby.’

Ben laughed shortly. ‘Too late for that now, Ned. Besides, the baby’s for Julie to manage, and you’ve done real good with Bessie. Sometimes I think she loves her Uncle Ned as much as she loves her ma and pa.’

Ned smiled, reaching to adjust his hat as the wind blew up under the brim. After travelling for weeks in a wagon up through the wide states, and living here in the wagon while Ben built the house and he helped as he could, and building up a new herd of cattle, and learning the ways of this new place and new land, he felt ten years older, in some ways, instead of just two. In other ways he felt as if he had been reborn, free of every lingering fear that was attached to being Johnny Tallon’s brother. No one here had even heard of Johnny Tallon.

‘Well, I guess we ain’t going out to check the herd today,’ Ben said after a space of silence. ‘Not with Bessie asleep like this. Otherwise I’d take you out there and set your mind on other things.’

‘I don’t want to set my mind on other things,’ Ned said, his ear turned towards the house again. ‘The herd’ll be fine for one day.’

‘Well, then – how about you chop some of that wood we hauled up from the creek yesterday?’ Ben asked.

Ned turned to him, grinning suddenly. ‘Ben, I reckon you’re more nervous than I am,’ he realised. ‘You just ain’t saying so.’

Ben laughed quietly. ‘I reckon maybe I am,’ he said. ‘Ned, you remember when we were holed up in Navajo Canyon waiting to see who’d get us first, the Indians or the Parker Gang?’

‘I ain’t likely to forget that,’ Ned said, thinking of the cold of the air and the spreading silence and the knowledge that somewhere were men that wanted to kill him.

‘Well, the feeling I had then ain’t a patch on this,’ Ben admitted. ‘Waiting for a birth when there ain’t nothing you can do in the world to help. I’d rather be sitting in the canyon waiting for Indians – except there ain’t no canyons here and there ain’t no Indians no more, neither. So I guess we’ll have to stay here and wait for that baby, instead.’

‘I guess you won’t need to wait no longer,’ Jane said from the door.

Ned spun. He made for the door, confident of the smooth, hard earth under his feet. He didn’t know who to think of first, Julie, or that small anonymous person that had been born from her. Jane caught at his arm as he reached her.

‘Slow down, Ned,’ she said to him firmly. ‘Things might have been moved around inside and the last thing Julie needs is you going head over heels and breaking a bone. Here, let me take you. No, Ben – you can stay outside,’ she added quickly as Ben made to follow. ‘She’s in no state to be seen by you.’

‘Where is she?’ Ned asked. He could smell blood and sweat. It smelt like there had been a calving inside the house. ‘Julie?’

‘She’s just fine,’ Jane said, leading him across the floor. He could tell by his path that things had been moved. ‘They’re both just fine.’

‘Julie?’ he asked again. The curtain that separated bedroom from living room brushed against his face and then he heard noises – the smallest, strangest noises of a life that was no more than a few minutes old.

‘I’m here, Ned,’ Julie said in a voice that was full of tiredness and contentment.

He reached out blindly and her hand caught his, her fingers damp with sweat and weak around his.

‘Julie,’ he said, bending down towards her and reaching a hand out to her head. Her hair was damp with sweat, pushed back from her face and tied with a ribbon. He could feel by her cheek that she was smiling.

‘Here, Ned, there’s a chair,’ Jane told him, pushing it behind him, and he sat down.

‘Is it a boy, Julie?’ he asked, reaching out against towards that small mewling noise. His hand touched Julie’s bare flesh and he thought maybe she was naked. A flush rose to his cheeks at the thought of them being together like that in front of Jane. Then Julie said, ‘Yeah, Ned, it’s a boy. It’s our boy.’

She took his hand again and guided it, and his fingers lighted on a blanket wrapped tight and firm around something small. He slipped his fingers underneath to feel soft, damp flesh that felt like the unfurling of a new leaf. He could feel the rapid flutter of a tiny heart in there, and soft, quick breaths. The last time he had felt that life had been as strong, determined movements under the taut tent of Julie’s skin.

‘It’s our son?’ he asked stupidly. ‘This is our son?’

‘Yeah,’ Julie said, and he could hear exhaustion in her voice.

‘Has he got hair?’ he asked, slipping his hand up to the head to feel a thin skim of damp and dirtied hair. ‘What colour is it, Julie? What colour are his eyes?’

‘Blonde, like yours – kinda hay coloured,’ Julie said. ‘His eyes are blue, just like yours. And he’s big, Ned. He’s going to be a big boy.’

Ned almost laughed. How could this tiny bundle of flesh whose whole back fitted under his palm be described as big?

‘Ma said I was born six foot tall and kept growing from there,’ he said. ‘Maybe it runs in the family. Can I hold him, Julie?’

‘Sure,’ she said. ‘He’s your son, Ned.’

She lifted her arm, but Ned could feel that she was trembling with tiredness. He reached out, running his hands over the tightly wrapped bundle, remembering all the hours of holding Ben and Jane’s Bessie in the early months. He had become something of a nursemaid in that time, when Jane was still confined and Julie was busy doing the housework for two houses.

‘I can get him,’ he said, lifting the baby away from her breast. He held it snug in his arms, touching his fingers lightly to its face, feeling soft rounded cheeks, a nose that was hardly a nose at all, and petal-soft lips that moved against his finger and tried to tease it into the mouth. He looked for the hands and touched a damp palm, and fingers that were smaller than seemed possible curled around his.

‘I want to call him Johnny,’ he said. ‘Can we call him John, Julie?’

‘It’s a good name,’ Julie said. ‘We can call him that.’

‘I thought, with what Johnny was – ’

‘Whatever Johnny was, he gave himself up to save you,’ Julie said, a firmness steadying the fatigue in her voice. ‘It’s a good name. I’m proud for our boy to have it. He can be John Edward. And soon as we have another boy, we can call him Charlie. They’ll be good, strong boys, and we’ll be proud of them.’

Ned knew he was grinning stupidly, but he did not care. There was only Julie and Jane to see it, and this small bundle of life in his arms that did not even know what a smile was yet. He held it against him, feeling it with his chest and the lengths of his arms, caught by the sudden knowledge that he would do anything to defend this small life from the world around it.

‘Let me take him for a minute, Ned,’ Jane said, laying her hand on his shoulder. ‘I’ll take him out to Ben. It’s warm enough outside. You have some time with Julie alone.’

Ned could somehow sense the anxiety in Julie. He felt it himself. He felt like he never wanted to be parted from such a tiny, helpless thing. But he nodded, and Julie did not argue. He let Jane take the child and as she passed through the curtain he turned back to Julie and reached a hand out to her face again.

‘I’m real proud of you, Julie,’ he said, stroking his fingers along her forehead and cheek, trying to smooth the tiredness out of her.

‘Ned,’ she murmured, as if she did not know what else to say. Her hand caught his and stilled it. ‘Ned Tallon, are you crying?’

Ned grinning, touching his free hand to his cheek. ‘I guess maybe I am,’ he said, feeling the evidence of tears on his skin. ‘I reckon I don’t know if I’m coming or going. I can’t be as tired as you, but I could sleep for a week on the one hand and ride for a week on the other – I’m so plumb confused.’

‘Go on outside,’ Julie said to him, squeezing her hand on his with all the strength she could muster. ‘Go on out to Ben and tell Jane to bring the baby back in. I need to learn to feed him and I need to get tidied up. You go on out with Ben and ride for a week if you need to – I’ll be here when you come back.’

Ned smiled and bent forward, tracing her face with his hand and then kissing her lips with gentle firmness.

‘I’ll be back long before a week’s gone,’ he promised. ‘I’ll be back before sunset.’

He went through the curtain and picked his way carefully through the disarranged house to the door. He could hear the weak, shrill sound of crying from out there, and as he opened the door it got louder.

‘Well, he’s sure got lungs in that chest,’ Ben said as Ned came out. He clapped a hand on Ned’s arm. ‘Congratulations, Ned. That’s a fine boy you’ve got there.’

‘I know,’ Ned said, his face split with a grin. ‘Jane, Julie asked me to send you back in. Ben, is Bessie awake?’

‘Yeah, your Johnny saw to that,’ Ben laughed.

‘Then we can go check the herd. I mean, Julie told me to go.’

‘Come on then, Ned,’ Ben said, setting Bessie down on the ground. ‘You go with your ma,’ he said, but Ned knew that Bessie would need no prompting to toddle after her mother and catch hold of her skirts. ‘Let’s go saddle up.’

******

Doggone had walked all the way from Arizona to Minnesota, and he was still the same staid, obedient horse that he had always been. He still walked up to Ned in the corral and twined his neck about him and nuzzled at his hands, and still obeyed the slightest nudge from Ned’s knees or twitch from the reins. Ned still felt as if he were free when he was sitting on Doggone’s back.

This grassland was endless. The thousands of stalks of grass made a swishing sound against the horses’ legs as they galloped, and Ned held his face up to the wind and whooped for joy. He and Ben had given up any pretence of checking the cattle almost as soon as they had mounted their horses. All Ned wanted to do was gallop. He could feel the low sun burning against the side of his face as he rode and hear birds flying up in surprise at the sudden pounding hooves through their grassland home. The air was warm and clear in his lungs, with no dust mixed in. There was nothing but the scent of flowers and hay all around him.

Finally he reined Doggone in and slowed to a walk, and as the wind of riding dropped the scent of the warm grass rose around him.

‘I thought I’d miss the canyons some,’ he said as Ben came alongside. ‘But I don’t. It was all in my memory anyway. It’s not like you can touch one of them towering cliffs. But this place – I ain’t never seen it, but I can taste it in my mouth and hear it all around me. It’s a land of milk and honey, Ben. I don’t think anything could go wrong here.’

Ben laughed. ‘I reckon there’s more to smell and to hear than there is to see anyway,’ he said. ‘It ain’t nothing but grass whichever way you look. Just grass and sky rising up and coming down to meet each other at the edges. You’re right, Ned. This is good land. We’re already doing well enough here, and I reckon we’re going to do better still. Now Jane and me have got our Bessie, and you’ve got that baby back there, and the herd’s growing every year.’

Ned grinned. He turned the horse towards home and kicked his heels lightly against its flanks. The sun was behind him now, burning hotly onto his back, pressing through his shirt and warming his skin. The world felt soft and warm, like a mother holding him. He could hear Ben at his side, and somewhere in the distance the cattle were lowing softly. In the distance were the two little houses joined together, and inside were Julie and Jane, and Bessie and that small, new baby that would unfold to become a person that he would be glad to know. Life was good, and Ned was glad to be in it.

THE END

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Fort Defiance - Chapter 17

He woke aching all over, as if all of the trials of the last days had come together and settled in his body over that one night. He raised a hand to his cheek, feeling the sharpness of the bruise from where Johnny had hit him more than a day ago. It seemed strange for his skin to feel the pain of a blow from someone who was no longer in this life.

He got out of bed and stood for a moment, disoriented. He had not taken the trouble to find out much about the room last night. He wasn’t even sure where the door was – but he knew about the window. He walked over to it with careful steps, a hand held out before him. There was no way of telling what time it may be without hearing something of the outdoors.

He pushed open the sash and put his head out into the cold air. No dust had been raised in the street and the air had the thin, damp feeling of early morning. He stood a while, listening, until he heard a solitary set of footsteps out on the dirt of the road. He coughed lightly and heard the steps falter momentarily, so he called out, ‘Could you tell me the time, sir?’

‘Struck six a while back,’ a voice called up. ‘And if you’re going to hang out of windows I’d recommend putting some clothes on before the day gets any lighter.’

‘Oh!’ Ned said, touching a hand to his chest as he remembered that he was half naked and this town was full of windows looking back at this one. He straightened up, banging his head on the frame as he did. ‘Thank you,’ he said to the man in the street, pressing a hand to his head. Then he closed the window and drew the curtains back over the glass. He was glad he didn’t live in town.

‘Ned?’ Ben mumbled from his bed. ‘Ned, what in tarnation – ’

‘Did I wake you, Ben?’ Ned asked apologetically, making his way back to his bed and feeling for his clothes on the iron bedstead.

‘Yeah,’ Ben said. ‘But I’m awake now, so there’s no sense in wasting the day. We’ve got plenty to do.’

‘Have we, Ben?’ Ned asked as he pulled on his pants.

‘You want to get married when Jane gets here, don’t you?’ Ben asked him lightly. ‘Well, you’ll want to talk to the preacher and make arrangements and all. Les Rawlins, the coach driver, said they might be running another coach from Willerton today or tomorrow now the Indian threat’s been taken care of, so I guess Jane’ll be here pretty soon.’

Ned sat down on his bed and shook out his shirt, feeling the seams to be sure it was right side out. He slipped his arms into the sleeves and began to button it up the front.

‘I never thought I’d be getting married, Ben,’ he smiled. ‘Never hardly dreamed it since I lost my sight.’

‘Well, I guess some good came from the Parker lot chasing us half way across the state,’ Ben said with a laugh. ‘Julie’s a nice girl. She suits you well.’

‘Ain’t she?’ Ned smiled. ‘I know I ain’t known her long, but I feel like I’ve been waiting for her all my life. She’s good and kind and clever, and I can talk to her about just about anything – and she don’t judge a feller by what’s wrong with him. And – I don’t know what she looks like, Ben, but she sure feels like a woman. I mean – what I’ve felt,’ he said awkwardly. ‘I mean her hair and her face and her lips. Oh man…’

Ben laughed. ‘She looks like a woman to me,’ he said. ‘And I mean the kind of woman you’d want to – Well – I shouldn’t go on about things like that, being married myself… But there ain’t no imperfections about her.’

Ned sat on the bed, his fingers absently tracing the meandering stitching of the quilt, thinking about that. Everything he knew about Julie came in snatches – catching the brush of her skirts against him as she moved, or the small sounds of her movements, or the briefest skimming touch of his fingers on her bodice as he reached out to her arm and misjudged. There was a feel of an unwrapped present about her. It would be wonderful to finally let his hands wander over that whole unexplored country.

‘Ben, you think we’ve got time to ride back to the ranch and fetch some things?’ he asked suddenly. ‘I’ve – well – there’s some jewellery of my ma’s I’d like Julie to have, and I want to get my Sunday clothes. I ain’t worn those clothes in a long time, but I don’t think I’m any taller now than I was.’

‘You grow any taller, Ned, and you’d be knocking your head on doorframes,’ Ben laughed. ‘Yeah, I think we’ve got time to go get those clothes. We can ride out to the ranch this morning and sort out all the details of your marrying this afternoon. The Willerton stage won’t be in til late anyway, if it’s coming.’

******

Ned’s Sunday clothes were clean and starched and smelt of mothballs. They had not been out of the drawer under his bed for almost five years and he couldn’t even remember what colour the shirt was. He had not tied a neck tie in all that time, and wasn’t sure he remembered how. But they still fit and Ben thought they still looked fine for marrying in.

It had been strange riding out to the ranch to get them. Even after a few days the place felt cold and deserted and Uncle Charlie left a vacant hole just about everywhere Ned turned. They had seen to the horses and tidied the house some, and then rode back as soon as possible. In some ways Ned was glad be back in the hotel with a fire burning slowly into the fireplace and without the thought of that shootout always echoing in his mind as it had out in the natural silence of the ranch.

‘Well, Ned, it’s about time to see that preacher,’ Ben said, clapping him on the arm.

Ned nodded, hastily doing up the last button of the clean shirt he had collected along with his Sunday clothes. He and Julie were to meet the minister in the parlour of the hotel, and he felt nervous as a cat near water.

There was a knock at the door and Ben went to open it.

‘All right, Ned, it’s Julie,’ he said, and Ned straightened up abruptly, feeling around for his hat.

‘Here,’ Ben said, putting his hat in his hand and catching his elbow to lead him to the door. ‘Don’t worry, Ned – it’s his business to make marriages. He’s not going to turn you away.’

Ned smiled thinly. He couldn’t help but feel that something must go wrong – that the minister would tell him he had no right to marry with his handicap to hold him back, or that he had not known Julie for long enough and they had chosen to marry too soon.

‘Ned,’ Julie said, taking his arm as he came to the door, and suddenly his fears were steadied.

‘Julie,’ he said quietly, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small box. ‘Julie, I can’t pretend I went out and bought this. It was my ma’s. I guess it’s old-fashioned and I don’t know that it’ll fit you, even – but I think ma would be glad I was giving it to you. It’s her engagement ring.’

Julie took the box and opened it. For a moment she was wordless, and then she said, ‘Oh, Ned, it’s beautiful.’

‘It’s opal and pearls,’ Ned said. ‘Does it fit, Julie?’

‘Yes, Ned, it fits,’ she said softly, putting her hand to his. ‘It fits like it was made for me. See?’

He traced his fingers over her hand, feeling the narrow circlet with its setting of two small pearls and an opal sitting snug about her ring finger. She was right. It fit perfectly.

‘Then we’re ready to see the minister,’ he said, taking her arm again.

He walked down the stairs with her with great care. He never encountered stairs in normal life, and he was distracted enough by seeing the minister to trip and break his neck. But he made it safely to the bottom and walked with Julie into the parlour, feeling not that he was being led but that they were walking together.

‘Why, Edward Tallon,’ the reverend said as they walked into the room, and Ned took his hat off, flustered, and almost dropped it. ‘How you’ve grown.’

‘Reverend Tilman,’ Ned said, ducking his head.

‘I don’t think I’ve seen you in church since you were knee high to a grasshopper,’ the reverend said.

Ned opened his mouth, uncomfortable, and the reverend said quickly, ‘It’s all right, Edward. I know the difficulties of ranching. My folks had a farm back east. They barely made it to church once a month, if that. How have you been, Edward, since your accident?’ he asked kindly.

‘I’ve been fine,’ Ned nodded. There was no sense in recounting all the fortunes and misfortunes that had struck him in that time. They were too many to number. ‘Reverend, this here is Julie Morse,’ Ned said diffidently, nodding towards Julie. ‘We – we’d like to get married.’

‘Oh,’ the reverend said slowly, as if he had begun surprised and then tried to suppress the sound in his voice. ‘Well, that’s possible, Ned. I’m very pleased for you both. When were you thinking – ?’

‘Just as soon as possible,’ Ned said. ‘Julie don’t have nowhere to stay, Reverend, and she can’t come back to the ranch until we’re married, so – ’

The reverend was silent. Ned felt Julie’s fingers gripping harder on his arm. He knew she was thinking about where she had come from and why she had left.

‘Well, Edward,’ the reverend said, taking a few paces away and then coming back to stand before them. Ned could hear him scratching his neck. ‘I have to admit that your brother has handed me a good deal of work this week. We’re burying John on Tuesday, aren’t we? That’s what your friend Mr Shelby arranged.’

Ned nodded silently, a feeling of grief rising in his throat and mixing with his nervousness.

‘Edward, I’ll be honest,’ the reverend said. ‘I can marry you two folks on Thursday, right after we take care of your brother. That’s the only time I have. Would that suit you?’

‘Julie?’ Ned asked quietly, turning to her.

‘Yeah, Ned, that would suit me fine,’ she said, her fingers briefly squeezing on his arm and then relaxing again.

‘Well, that’s wonderful,’ the reverend said with a smile in his voice. ‘Come see me tomorrow morning, Edward, and we’ll talk some more about the details.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ Ned said, tentatively offering his hand. The reverend took it and shook it firmly, his hand soft and strong in Ned’s. He waited until Reverend Tilman had left the room and then turned to Julie with a smile breaking over his face. ‘Thursday, Julie,’ he said eagerly, taking her hands in his. ‘Thursday, and then the rest of our lives can begin.’

She reached up and kissed him, wordless and glad.

There was a noise of someone clearing his throat at the door and Ned broke away self-consciously.

‘Ben,’ he said. ‘We can get married Thursday. Day after tomorrow!’

‘Ain’t your brother being buried on Thursday?’ Ben asked him pointedly, stepping into the room.

‘Yeah, he is,’ Ned said, sobering. ‘But that ain’t no problem. I think I like the idea – kinda like Johnny’s going to be there. I think he’d be glad, Ben. He was glad of Julie and me taking up together.’

‘Yeah, I guess he would be,’ Ben said.

‘Ben, who’s with you?’ Ned asked suddenly, becoming aware of the noise of a second person standing with him.

‘Stage from Willerton came in,’ Ben said with a smile in his voice. ‘Ned, I’d like for you to meet my wife Jane.’

‘Oh!’ Ned said, stepping forward, his face dissolving into smiles.

‘I’m real glad to meet you, Ned,’ said a soft female voice. ‘Ben’s wrote so much about you.’

She took his outstretched hand and he shook it, feeling small fingers and warm skin.

‘Jane, this is Julie,’ Ned said eagerly, nodding back towards where Julie had been. ‘We’re going to be married day after tomorrow. Did Ben tell you that?’

‘Ben told me a little on the walk from the stage,’ she said. ‘Said we’re going to be setting up house together until we can move north and settle adjoining claims and start farming again.’

Julie was silent. Ned could hear her fingering nervously at her clothes. He could feel her hesitation as she wondered how much Jane knew about her.

‘Julie’s from a ranching family outside of Willerton,’ he said quickly, reaching out to Julie’s arm. ‘Soon as we’re married we can move back to the Tallon ranch and start sorting things for the move.’

‘Ned, I don’t have any dress that’s fit for getting married in,’ Julie worried, pulling her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. Ned knew that her dress was low-cut and sleeveless, made for looking pretty to drinking men, not for standing in church. She held that shawl about herself like a shield.

‘Well, you know I don’t mind what you wear,’ Ned smiled. ‘It don’t make no difference to me nohow.’

‘But Julie’s a woman,’ Jane said quickly, ‘and it always makes a difference to a woman to be married in a good dress. But I think we’re of a size, Julie. I have a lovely blue delaine you could wear – that would be your something borrowed and something blue. It would look real pretty with that dark red hair.’

Ned turned to Julie with a smile. In all this time he still hadn’t asked her hair colour, but he could imagine it being a dark, lively red. At the offer of the dress something of the tension seemed to melt away from Julie. Ned could feel the muscles of her arm relaxing under his fingers. Julie would talk to Jane about her past, he was sure, when it was the right time. He had heard enough of Jane from Ben to know that she would take it for what it was – a necessary move in a hard time.

‘That’s real nice of you,’ Julie said. ‘And my boots are old enough to be something old.’

‘And your ring will be something new,’ Ned said in joy. ‘It’s going to be perfect, Julie. You’ll see. There won’t be another wedding more perfect than this one.’

******

The stove was lit in the small board church, driving away the winter cold of outside. It felt like a snug, sheltered place after standing out in the graveyard nearby. Ned had felt divorced from the funeral, unable to see the coffin or the grave or the face of the preacher as he read from his book. Johnny was more present in his mind than he was there before him. He had been gone for so long, and had only come back for a few short days. Ned was used to life without his physical presence.

Ned still seemed to smell the scent of turned earth from outside where Johnny was lying, and where most of the Parker gang were lying or would be lying soon, but it was a good thing to him. It was a comfort that Johnny’s passing and this union were so intimately linked. The greatest reality now was Julie beside him, her hand on his arm and the soft sounds of her dress as she moved. His sadness at Johnny was a distant thing and his joy at what was about to take place rippled in the surface of his mind, mixed only with a lingering nervousness.

‘Would you like to move to the front of the church, Edward, and we’ll get you two married,’ the reverend said kindly.

Ned started as if he had forgotten that the minister was even there. He walked with Julie the length of the church, his boots making a hollow sound on the boards, and stopped when she stopped. His clothes felt stiff and unworn, and still smelt faintly of mothballs. The necktie was tight at his throat, tied by Ben’s steady hands. Julie stood beside him, before the minister, quiet and nervous too. Her arm was looped through his and he reached across with his other hand to touch the soft wool delaine of her sleeve. The dress fit like paint and both Ben and Jane said that she looked beautiful. She wore a gold breast pin against a flounce of lace at her throat, and Jane said her dark red hair set off the blue of the dress beautifully.

Ned listened to the minister’s words and said what he was supposed to say, but the only reality in the room was Julie, standing so close that they touched at the hip and her skirts pushed about his legs. He could feel her breathing, steady and slow and feel the slight tremor of her heart through her body. Her voice was soft and low when she spoke, and did not shake like his. He smiled as Julie promised to love, honour and obey him. He couldn’t see that Julie was the type to obey without good reason – but he was happy with that. He wanted to spend his life with a partner, not a servant.

And finally the minister pronounced them married, and his legs seemed to lose their strength. He could not stop smiling. Ben’s hand clapped on his shoulder and he and Jane wished them well, and then they were left alone in the small board church.

‘You all right, Julie?’ he asked her quietly, and her hand squeezed on his arm.

‘I’m just fine, Ned,’ she said. ‘Better than I have been in a long while.’

‘I guess we’re married,’ he said.

‘I guess we are.’

Her hand reached up to touch his face, and he could feel the solid gold band that he had placed on her finger, warmed by her blood and brushing over his skin. He kissed her, feeling as if this were the first and only kiss he had shared in his life.

‘Oh, Julie,’ he said as they broke apart, thinking of the Christmas tree with its swinging pine cones and the shapes of cut out tobacco paper. ‘Just wait til you see what we’ve got in the house for Christmas. You ain’t never seen nothing like it, I bet. And we’ll have Christmas together real soon. Our first Christmas together. It’s going to be like the first Christmas I ever had…’

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fort Defiance - Chapter 16

Ned stood up and turned around and walked back to the sidewalk, away from where Johnny lay. As he stepped up onto the boards Julie’s hand slipped into his and squeezed it softly. He felt as if he were stepping from a cliff as the land sheered away and fell, and Julie was pulling him safe onto solid ground. He was losing everything that he knew, but he was gaining a new world at the same time.

‘Well, I guess we should go sort out the particulars,’ Ben said, clapping a hand onto Ned’s back.

‘Yeah,’ Ned said slowly. ‘We’ve got money. We – can have him buried real nice, and – ’

His voice broke up, and he bit his mouth closed.

‘I’ll take care of it all, Ned,’ Ben promised him. ‘I would have killed Johnny with my own hands – you know that – but he did good in the end. I guess he weren’t no coward.’

Ned smiled thinly. He didn’t trust himself to speak all the way down Main Street as they walked. He swallowed and kept swallowing on the grief that was rising inside him. He held on to Julie’s arm and walked steadily and with his head held up, glad that he could not see the town and the townsfolk about him.

He was grateful that Ben was there to speak to men and explain what had happened and to talk quietly with the undertaker. He felt numbed and cut off from the world around him, and quite incapable of explaining all that had happened. He had a lingering fear that he would be held somehow to account for all those deaths, or that Ben would be taken in for killing Dave Parker – but none of his fears were realised. Dave Parker would have been hung for killing Uncle Charlie anyway, if it could have been proved, and he had been seen threatening to kill Ned and Johnny and then shooting Johnny down.

‘That whole posse of men are better off out of the world than in it, Mr Shelby,’ the sheriff had said. ‘They ran this town like it was their own. The Fort might be a cleaner place from now on.’

When they finally stepped out into the street again it was crawling towards evening. The chill was settling into a harder cold in the street and the only sounds came from the saloon.

‘Well, I don’t know what you want to do now, Ned,’ Ben said. ‘We could put up in the hotel for the night.’

‘I want to go back to the ranch,’ Ned said. He wanted the familiarity of home around him.

‘Johnny sold the ranch to Dave Parker,’ Ben reminded him.

‘Dave Parker’s dead,’ Ned said. ‘He ain’t got no family. I guess that ranch is still ours.’

Ben laughed shortly. ‘I guess it is, at least until the dust settles. But what about Julie?’

‘Well, there’s beds enough,’ Ned said innocently.

‘No, Ned,’ Julie said quickly. ‘I won’t come and stay at the ranch until we’re married. I won’t have that kind of talk going on about me in this town.’

Ned felt a flush rising to his cheeks. He had not even considered what it would mean for a single woman going out to the ranch with two men. But he was afraid, irrationally afraid, of leaving Julie here to go back to the ranch and never finding her again.

‘Julie, is there any sense in waiting?’ he asked suddenly, taking hold of both her hands. ‘I mean – you ain’t going to change your mind?’

Julie hesitated, and then Ben said self-consciously, ‘Well, I – guess I’ll go see to those horses. They must’ve got taken off to the corral with the coach horses. Best I get ’em back before Abbott starts to think he owns them.’

‘Thanks, Ben,’ Ned said quietly. He waited until Ben’s footsteps faded down the street, and then turned back to Julie. ‘What do you say, Julie? You ain’t going to think better of it? I mean, of marrying a feller with this handicap?’

‘Oh, Ned,’ Julie said slowly. ‘I’m not worrying about you being blind. I’m worrying about me being – well – being what I am.’

‘You ain’t nothing but yourself,’ Ned said firmly. ‘And you weren’t – You never – Well, you wasn’t a public woman, Julie,’ he finished in a rush.

‘No, I never did do that,’ she said quietly. ‘Those old dev-’ She broke off abruptly. ‘I mean to say, the ladies in Willerton thought maybe I did, but I didn’t sink that far.’

‘Then all you ever did was dance with men and make nice with them,’ Ned reasoned. ‘Why, there’s plenty of women do that for nothing. Julie, I ain’t going to hold nothing against you. But do you think you can stick with a husband that can’t see? I can pull my weight, but I can’t do all the things most folks can. I’ll need Ben to help on the ranch, and I’ll need you to help me with most everything else I have difficulties with. It ain’t an easy burden I’m putting on you.’

‘I’m happy to take that burden,’ Julie said softly. ‘It won’t be a burden, Ned. It’ll be a pleasure to be alongside you.’

Ned smiled. He reached a hand up to her face, touching her there for the first time. Her skin was smooth under his palm. He could feel her cheekbone under his fingertips and then the softness of her cheek and small wisps of hair that bordered her face.

‘Julie,’ he said, stepping closer. ‘Would you maybe – ’

He felt so much less certain than he had when he was younger and courting Nellie Carlton. Perhaps it was that this felt so much more special, so much more real. He didn’t feel a dizzy, stomach-churning yearning for Julie, or a fire that seemed to take away his mind and make only his body act. He wanted to sit and spend long evenings together with Julie, to lie beside her in bed at night and to wake up to the feel of her body and the sound of her breathing in the morning. If he had leaned his lips towards Nellie Carlton and she had laughed and flounced away the pain would have been a short-lived thing. If Julie did the same he would feel bereft.

‘Julie,’ he said again, tracing his fingers down her cheek to the underneath of her chin and tilting her head up. She was small and he was over six feet tall. Her head only reached just about to his shoulder. He half smiled and then laughed at the difficulty, and then she laughed too. It was the first time he had heard her laugh and it was a beautiful sound.

Something seemed to fall loose in both of them and it all became easy. He could feel her breath close to his face and then her lips touched his, soft and intimate. He stood with his eyes closed, his hand laid across her back, holding her steady, and time seemed to slow to nothing. He thought that maybe her lips felt like roses, but they were warm and roses were not.

‘Julie,’ he said in a low voice, the space between them a mere sliver of distance. ‘Let’s get married as soon as Ben’s wife gets here. Then we can all start anew. Would you like that?’

‘I’d like that, Ned,’ she said, the looseness and easiness filling her voice. ‘I’d like that a lot.’

‘We’ll put up at the hotel like Ben said,’ he told her. ‘That way you’ll be right nearby, but all legitimate. Ben’s wife should be here in the next few days – maybe tomorrow, even. I’ll talk to the Reverend, and then – we can be married.’

******

Ned stood at the window in his hotel room with the sash pushed up. He had never stayed in a town overnight. The sounds of the place were not many, but they were new and different. Mostly he heard piano music from the saloon, and the occasional swell of men’s voices. Dave Parker and his gang were dead, but that had not stopped the saloon from entertaining those that needed it. He shivered as he listened to those noises, thinking of Julie in a room just down the hall, and of how different they must sound to her.

He was so tired that his whole face ached, the palms of his hands ached, the span of his shoulders ached. His eyes felt wide and hot and dry. He had eaten, at least. They had all eaten in the hotel dining room and Ned had had to hold himself back from asking Ben to fill his plate again and again after almost three days of near starving. But sleep was something he was not quite ready to approach. There seemed something wrong in sleeping and ending the day in which Johnny had died.

‘Ned, if you don’t shut that window and go to bed soon I’m going to find myself a new room where all the heat from the fire don’t get sucked out into the street,’ Ben threatened eventually.

Ned drew his head back in from the cold night air and slid the window down. The sounds faded behind the glass panes and he turned back to face the room.

‘You give me a hand, Ben?’ he asked.

‘Sure thing,’ Ben said. His own bed creaked as he stood up and came to Ned. ‘You want to wash up first?’

‘I think I’ll just sleep,’ Ned said.

Away from the window, he suddenly wanted no more than to fall into his bed and close his eyes. He took Ben’s arm and Ben led him across the room to his bed.

‘I’ll damp down the fire and turn out the lamp,’ Ben told him. ‘You bed down and sleep, Ned. It’s been a long day.’

‘Yeah,’ Ned smiled wryly.

His hand was on the bedstead. They weren’t wooden beds here – they had cast iron frames made of loops and swirls and textured discs that were a swooping pleasure to his fingers. He could have run his fingers over those lines for a long time, trying to decipher the shapes and patterns in them.

‘You know, Ned, in some places they have institutions to teach the blind,’ Ben said suddenly. He must have been watching Ned in his exploration of that iron maze. ‘Can even teach you to read writing you feel with your fingers. With that money from the ranch – ’

Ned laughed briefly.

 ‘I never was much of one for reading and writing,’ he said, unbuttoning his shirt and laying it over the iron frame. ‘Maybe I spent too much time with the teacher trying to make me write right handed when I wanted to use my left. I don’t miss it any. Johnny got us that money so we could farm with it, and that’s what I’m going to do.’

‘You ever heard of the Homestead Act, Ned?’ Ben asked.

Ned paused in his undressing. ‘No, I ain’t.’

‘Well, it ain’t been around long. Government says you can take a hundred sixty acres of land west of the Mississippi, and if you can farm it for five years, you can keep it. We can go north, file adjoining claims. That’s three hundred twenty acres of land for the taking. It’s good land up there, Ned – wide and green and full of everything you want. You can do just about anything on it. Raise cattle, grow wheat. We can farm the land together. Once you have sons and I have sons they’ll inherit that land and help us out.

Sons… The thought of that made Ned’s mind blank for a moment. He could not imagine having sons… He thought of Julie with a baby in her arms. He still didn’t know what colour her hair was but he gave her a face in his mind and dark hair around it. There would be a house built just how they wanted it, and horses in the barn, and acres of land spreading out around them that was theirs and no one else’s. There would be no feuds or resentments shadowing him. He could walk out into that land without the fear of a man with a gun wanting to take his life.

‘We could go somewhere no one’s ever been bothered by Johnny,’ he said slowly. ‘My ma’s folks come from Minnesota. She always said it was good land up there, but pa wanted to live where the winters weren’t so hard...’

‘Well, it’s something to think on,’ Ben said. ‘With that money Johnny got you for the ranch you could set up real nice. You’d have a head start right there.’

‘I guess I’ve got cousins up there still,’ Ned said. ‘I’ll write them tomorrow – I mean, if you’ll write for me, Ben – and find out what they say about the place. Maybe we could be farming by next spring…’

‘Yeah, I’ll write for you,’ Ben promised. ‘Now get into bed, Ned. I’m tired and you’re tireder, and I want to sleep some time before midnight.’

Ned slung his dirt-roughened pants on top of the shirt. This hotel was so clean and fancy he felt ashamed of his worn and travel-soiled clothes. He barely thought about the state of his clothes when he was at home, but it was different here in town.

Somewhere downstairs he heard a clock chime out ten o’clock. He hadn’t realised it was so late. He folded back the covers and got into bed, and felt like he had lain down on a cloud. The mattress was feather. There was no straw smell and he sank into the softness as if he were falling into quicksand. He didn’t know if he liked it or not.

He thought of Johnny, lying at the undertakers with nothing but pine beneath his back and pine over his face. Johnny had been ten years older than him, always big, always strong, always knowing what to do. It didn’t make sense that he was dead. It didn’t make sense that Ned had learnt to hate him and be glad that he was gone from the world, and then found him to be alive, and then just as he had learnt to see him for what he was he had gone again.

He thought of how Johnny had worked on nothing but guilt and responsibility for years. He had felt responsible for Ned since their parents died, and he had run wild to give himself some measure of freedom against the day-to-day aching work of running the ranch with Uncle Charlie and keeping Ned in school and keeping just enough money coming in to feed him. He had felt responsible for Ned when Ned had been beaten almost to death on account of him and had woken up blind. He had been there every day for months, helping him and nursing him, and when he hadn’t been there he had been out trying to earn money to pay for the doctor’s bills. Maybe he had resented Ned for being left dependent on him, but he had not left him until he had gone to war, and perhaps, perhaps, Ned could understand a little of the reasons why Johnny had taken so long to come home.

As for Tennessee Ridge… Ned sighed, turning onto his side and cupping his hand under his head. Maybe he could understand that… Maybe he could understand that Johnny would not let himself die until he could be sure that Ned was set for life without him. Maybe he could understand Johnny’s fear of dying – he had had enough fear of dying put into his own soul over the last days to understand something of that. It was not an easy thing to give up your own life to save others.

‘Ben,’ Ned said slowly. Ben had got into his own bed now. He could hear him turning on the mattress.

‘Yeah, Ned,’ Ben said.

‘Ben, your brother – ’ he began. He didn’t quite know what he wanted to say.

There was a soft puff as Ben blew out the lamp.

‘Yeah,’ Ben said again.

‘I don’t know, Ben,’ he said. Then he said, ‘I’m sorry for what Johnny did. I’m sorry you lost him. I know ain’t nothing going to bring him back, but – ’

‘Ned, you remember what Uncle Charlie said,’ Ben cut across him. ‘I got a brother now. So do you. Ain’t nothing can change what happened on account of Johnny, but he did right in the end.’

‘Yeah,’ Ned said, resting his head back on the pillow again.

The silence filled the room. He could hear Ben breathing softly nearby. He closed his eyes and tried to pull sleep into his mind.

‘Ned,’ Ben said after a space of time.

‘Yeah,’ he said.

‘Ned, I wept for my brother. Ain’t no shame in you doing the same for Johnny.’

Ned half smiled, and nodded. He let the side of his face hide against the softness of the pillow and pulled the covers up tight to his neck. He felt the aching hollow in his chest that Uncle Charlie and Johnny had left. No amount of soft coverings around him could soften that ache.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Fort Defiance - Chapter 15

The stage office was quiet and still. Ned didn't know where Mr Abbott had gone but he didn't hear him around the office any more. He guessed he had slipped out as soon as he realised that there was trouble building and he was not going to sell any tickets to San Francisco that day.

He heard Julie walking about quietly, opening the door of the stove and feeding more fuel into it, and blowing lightly on the flames to encourage them into life. She walked to the street door and opened it briefly. The street outside seemed quiet too. Then she came back to the bench and sat beside Ned.

‘You see where he went?’ Ned asked her.

‘No, I can’t see him,’ she said quietly. ‘I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.’

‘I guess so,’ Ned nodded. But then he smiled. ‘It’s going to be all right, Julie. It’s all going to be just fine.’

‘Yeah, it is,’ she said with warmth in her voice. ‘You and Ben can ranch together, and – did you say Ben has a wife?’

‘Yeah,’ Ned grinned. ‘She’ll be coming here real soon.’

‘I’m glad you’ll have someone to see to you,’ Julie said. ‘To cook and keep the house and all.’

Ned nodded slowly. He felt a rising of nervousness in him at what he wanted to say, at what he had to say before the chance slipped by. He opened and closed his hands, and then felt his hat brim, making sure his hat was straight on his head.

‘Miss Julie?’ he asked eventually.

‘Yeah?’

‘Would you consider maybe – not going to San Francisco?’ he asked.

He waited, feeling as if he could not breathe, feeling as if a few seconds had become hours long.

‘Oh, Ned,’ she said sadly. ‘You – you don’t know where I come from, what I am...’

She was sitting just inches from him, the warmth of her body touching his like an aura, her breathing just audible and coming in short, unsteady breaths. He could smell the scent of her clothes and her hair. He had spent a night with her in that wide, open canyon with the Indians drumming and singing and waiting to kill them and he had spoken to her and comforted her and softened her fear while she had softened his own. He had seen how she could set aside her fear and work ceaselessly at reloading those guns and reach out a hand to help him as soon as he needed it, with never a word of complaint and never giving up hope. She was steady and patient and trusting, and he felt like together they leant on each other and made an arch that would never fall.

‘There may be a lot of things I don’t know, but I know what you are,’ Ned said in a low, sure voice.

‘No, you don’t,’ she said, standing up and moving away in her distress. ‘Look, Ned, I – I’ve worked in dance halls, in saloons.’

Ned remembered what Julie had said in the stage. Her ma and pa had died when she was seventeen. She had to come to town to live. And she was ashamed. She had been too ashamed to tell him all this time. He thought of her there in dance halls, talking and dancing with men for money, being beautiful, being flattering, being anything she could be to make enough money to eat. It did not make him despise her. It made his heart ache for her.

‘You were scared to find out like me,’ he said quickly. ‘We’re two of a kind, Julie.’

She sat down beside him, closer than she was before. Her hands slipped about his arm, firm and needful, and he wanted to turn and take her in his arms and soothe away every doubt she had in her mind. But she said sadly, ‘No, Ned. It wouldn’t be fair…’

‘It ain’t fair for nobody to live without being wanted,’ he told her with a ripple of desperation in his voice. He was so close to this, so close to someone wanting him instead of seeing him as the useless spare part that served no purpose. He could make a life with Julie. He was happy to just sit with her in silence, and when she did speak her thoughts chimed in with his. She was strong and soft-voiced and she understood ranch-living and doing whatever it took to keep going.

She was sitting so close, and so quiet. Her face was just inches away from his. He could feel the warmth of her breath against his cheek. The silence draped around them. And then he heard boots storming along the wooden sidewalk outside and the door banged open.

‘Johnny?’ he asked.

‘It’s me, Ned!’ And Ben walked into the room, bringing with him the scent of horses and the dust of riding. ‘Where is he?’

Ned jumped to his feet, gladness filling his heart as if the sun had come out inside him.

‘Ben! Ben, you’re all right!’

‘Yeah,’ Ben said briefly. ‘Where is he?’

‘I don’t know, but it’s going to be all right!’ Ned said in a rush. ‘He - he’s going away, Ben.’

‘Did he say that?’

‘Yeah,’ Ned said, unable to restrain a grin that made his cheeks ache. Everything was going to be just fine. ‘And he said you and me could be partners.’

‘Yeah, I heard him say it,’ Julie said, her hands closing about Ned’s arm.

‘And your wife’ll be here soon, Ben,’ Ned hurried on. ‘Then we can get started.’

The door banged open again just long enough to admit someone running, slamming closed again almost as soon as he had entered the room. And then the man slowed, and Ned heard Johnny say with slow surprise, ‘Mr Only Survivor…’

‘Is it true what Ned says about your going away?’ Ben asked suspiciously.

‘Yeah,’ Johnny said, and he sounded content in that one word.

The sound of horses running clattered down the street and Ned jerked his head towards the door. It sounded like a whole gang of men, pulling their horses up outside the stage office and jumping to the ground.

‘Whoever’s in there,’ a voice shouted from outside. ‘I want Johnny and Ned Tallon, and anybody else has got two minutes to get out.’

It was Dave Parker. Ned was too familiar with that voice now, even filtered through the walls of the stage office. It all seemed to be beginning again, like he was standing at home behind the door with the pine smell of the Christmas tree in the air and only Ben and Uncle Charlie between him and Dave Parker and his gun. Surely he hadn’t been through all that he had just to be gunned down by Dave Parker in Fort Defiance?

‘All right, Julie,’ Johnny said tersely. ‘Get out.’

Julie didn’t move. She stood by Ned, her breathing steady and her feet still on the floor.

‘If you don’t mind I’d just as soon stay.’

‘Julie, ain’t no reason for you – ’ Ned began.

‘I got a reason,’ she cut across him, her voice flat and hard.

‘What you just said’s enough,’ Ned said, the smallest hint of a smile touching the corner of his mouth. Suddenly he felt a deal less alone.

Julie walked around him, paper rustling in her hand. ‘Well, reckon I won’t need this ticket the committee gave me for San Francisco,’ she said, putting her hands around his arm and holding it tight. ‘I’d rather live for just a few minutes, being wanted.’

Ned put his hand over hers, feeling the strength and solidity of her slim fingers as they curved about his arm. It felt right. He felt like he had been walking as half a person for all this time, and now he was complete.

‘And how about you, Mr Only Survivor?’ Johnny asked. There was something in his voice that Ned couldn’t quite pin down. He sounded resigned, scared, but almost happy.

‘I ain’t running out on a partner,’ Ben said firmly.

There was silence. And then Johnny went to the door and leaned up close to it. The handle rattled and Ned tensed, but Johnny didn’t open it.

‘This is Johnny Tallon, Dave,’ he called. ‘I’ll make a deal with you. Let Ned go and I’ll give myself up.’

There was no reply from outside. Ned stood still, listening, his heart beginning to race.

‘Think of all the fun you’ll have stringing me up,’ Johnny called.

The breath caught in Ned’s chest. For a moment he was glad he couldn’t see. He didn’t want to be forced to see that.

‘I ain’t making no bargains,’ Parker shouted from outside. ‘I’ll see you both dead.’

Johnny moved away from the door in silence. Ned clenched his hand tightly, wishing he had that gun still. There seemed to be no way out from here.

‘Well, Mr Only Survivor,’ Johnny said.

‘The name’s Shelby,’ Ben began, ‘And I’m getting tired – ’

‘Don’t be a pest about petty details,’ Johnny cut across him. He took something out of his pocket that rustled like paper. ‘Now, look. Here’s two and a half thousand, legitimate. Bill of sale and receipts signed and all.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Ben asked, bewildered.

‘Well, somebody’s gotta see that a couple of mushheads like you have some money,’ Johnny said with the verve back in his voice. ‘You wouldn’t take mine cause it was rotten. Well, Parker drove us off the ranch so I got payment. Here.’

Ned stood, stunned. Johnny had sold the ranch to Dave Parker? He thought of little low house and the towering cliffs that surrounded it, that he had had only seen in imagination for four years. He thought of the contours of the ground under his feet all about the house and how he could walk almost anywhere within fifty feet of the place and still know exactly where he was. Then he thought of Uncle Charlie dead and a grave somewhere near the house, and how everything was changed. Ben held the money for a new life in his hand, and the choice of where that would be was Ned’s and not Johnny’s. He loved where he lived, but the thought of shaking off everything that tarnished his life and finding somewhere new to start again sent excitement shivering through him.

Johnny came back across the room. He took something from Julie and tore it up. Ned heard the scatter of small pieces of paper on the floor. He had torn up her stage ticket.

‘Take care of him,’ Johnny said quietly and earnestly.

‘All right,’ Julie said, almost soundlessly.

Johnny moved towards the door.

‘Johnny,’ Ned said quickly.

‘Yep,’ Johnny said tersely, all emotion pushed deliberately from his voice.

‘It’s true Mr Lincoln shook your hand, isn’t it?’ Ned asked.

Johnny was silent. Then he said in a warm, smiling voice, ‘Yeah, it’s true, Ned.’

Ned nodded, smiling in return. There was something hard in his throat behind the smile, something that felt very close to tears, very close to making him lurch after Johnny and grab his arm and make him stay here, safe in this room. He heard Johnny swallow hard, even with the space between them.

‘Mr Shelby,’ Johnny said, putting emphasis on his proper use of Ben’s name. ‘Would you get to the door and when I say open it, open it fast?’

Ben walked over to the door and stood there. Ned could feel it building. It was all happening. There was no way of turning anything back. Johnny was going to walk out of that room and die.

‘Johnny!’ he called suddenly, desperately. He heard his brother turn. ‘Johnny,’ he said in a whisper. His mouth worked then, but no sound came out. There were so many things he had to say that he couldn’t think of a single one to utter.

‘You made your choice, Ned,’ Johnny said quietly and kindly. ‘Don’t apologise for it. I never did for mine.’

‘You’ve got fifteen seconds, whoever wants to come out,’ Dave Parker called from outside.

Ned stood still, his hand clenched tight over Julie’s. If he was hurting her, she didn’t say. There was nothing he could do. There was no way he could stop Johnny from going out there, no way he could shield him from the Parker gang. He wasn’t even sure that he wouldn’t follow Johnny where he was going in just a few minutes. He didn’t know how many men were out there, but there were plenty enough to shoot Ben and take Ned and string him up.

‘Open it,’ Johnny said in a quick, urgent voice.

The sounds overlaid one another – the door opening, Johnny’s guns sliding slick from their holsters, and then bullets exploding into the air from just outside. That was Johnny shooting, and Ned heard the reports of other pistols from further away, and the thud of bullets into the walls that sheltered him. The walls felt very thin, but he did not move. He stood still, listening. Horses whinnied, their hooves thudding back to the ground after panicked movements. The shots grew more sporadic. More than one body had fallen to the ground. Whether Johnny was going down or not, he had taken plenty of other men before him.

Ned heard horses moving away, then shots again from just outside the door. That was Johnny still, he was sure. And then someone fell very close to the building, knocking into the door and then the wall. It was almost entirely quiet outside, and Ned listened with all his focus. There were boots on the sidewalk again, someone falling again. Ned closed his eyes, his heart swelling into his throat. In his head he could see Johnny, bleeding, struggling to stand, falling again. Ned’s hand was about Julie’s wrist, holding it tight. He could feel her pulse under his fingers, beating almost as fast as his. If it hadn’t been for her standing next to him he would have ran to the door.

There was one more shot from the sidewalk outside. One more shot from Johnny, he was certain. It was close, and it sounded like Johnny’s gun. And then the silence stretched out almost unbearably. Ned heard small movements, someone moving with great difficulty over a tiny space. And then a single shot, from somewhere out in the street.

This time the silence seemed final. Ben seemed to think so too. He crept towards the door, and Julie pushed Ned backwards towards the far wall. Ben opened the door and stepped out. Ned counted six shots and he couldn’t tell where from. He stood silent, his fingers flexing, Julie’s hand over his. Footsteps tracked back towards the door, and the door opened and closed. And then Ben said,  ‘Well, I guess Parker won’t bother us any more.’

Ned had not realised he was holding his breath, but it all came out at once in a long sigh. Ben was alive… Thank God, Ben was alive…

Julie squeezed his hand. He could feel the joy in her, but his own joy and relief was cut through with grief.

‘Come on out, Ned,’ Ben said.

Julie led him towards the door, holding both of his hands still in hers.

‘It’s safe, Ned,’ Ben urged him as he hesitated on the threshold. ‘Come on outside.’

Ned stepped onto the board sidewalk, letting go of Julie’s hands. Outside the smell of gunpowder and smoke was settling through the air. There was fresh horse dung too, and dust, and all the usual scents of town behind that smell of shooting – but there was an unnatural silence that made the town feel as if it were not really there.

‘What about Johnny?’ Ned asked quietly.

‘Dave Parker got him,’ Ben said economically. ‘I got Dave Parker.’

Ned closed his eyes. He wanted to reach out and hold onto something, but he stood still. He felt as if there were miles of space between him and everything else in the world.

‘He went down fighting,’ Ned said, more a statement than a question. He had heard the evidence of those shots.

‘He sure did,’ Ben said with admiration in his voice. ‘He must’ve killed six men before Parker got him.’

Ned smiled a strange smile that papered over the urge to cry. He crouched down on the sidewalk. His legs didn’t feel like they could hold him any more.

‘You all right, Ned?’ Ben asked him quietly, taking a step closer.

‘Yeah,’ he said.

He could smell Johnny somewhere nearby. He could smell the tobacco interlaced with the weave of his coat. He could smell blood. He stood up and walked, carefully and alone, off the low edge of the sidewalk onto the dirt road. Ben and Julie stayed where they were, silent and waiting. He moved toward that scent until the toe of his boot touched something, and then he knelt and reached out until his hands touched the thin cotton of Johnny’s shirt and the solidity of his body beneath.

Johnny was warm, but he was still. There was nothing there. Ned had never thought hard about a man’s soul, but he knew that there was no soul there any more. Johnny was gone.

He laid his hand flat on Johnny’s chest and felt the curious stillness beneath his ribs. Then he moved his hands down to Johnny’s waist and after a moment of hesitation he unbuckled his gun belt. He felt along Johnny’s arms to his hands but his hands were empty. He swept his hand over the dirt, feeling close to Johnny’s body, and his fingers struck one of those guns.

He knelt still a moment, then said in a voice that felt like a thin layer of normality over something deep and unexplored, ‘Ben, where is it?’

Ben was silent. He moved back and forth on the sidewalk, his boots making a hollow noise on the wood. Then he stopped and picked something up, and came to Ned. He crouched down beside him and said, ‘Here you are, Ned.’

Ned took the weapon silently from Ben’s hand. He buckled the gun belt around his own waist and holstered the guns. He could not use them, but he could carry them, and think of Johnny – and after all that had happened it felt good to have those guns at his side.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Fort Defiance - Chapter 14

Ned sat inside the coach, feeling like he was shaking somewhere inside. His hands were perfectly steady but his core seemed to be one big vibration of tight anger and hatred. Outside the wind was blowing and something on the outside of the stage was flapping against the woodwork. The horses were quiet and still. It sounded like a regular winter day, and he was just sitting in a coach waiting for the journey to start. But it was wrong. It was all wrong.

He listened to Johnny with the attention of a guard dog.

‘Tie all the horses to the coach except one,’ Johnny called from outside.

The coach driver asked in a puzzled tone, ‘Except one?’ and Ned leaned forward and listened harder.

‘Yeah,’ Johnny said. ‘I’m leaving you with him. Two of you on one horse won’t get to the Fort so fast. Give me time to complete my business and get out before he shows up.’

That was one good thing at least. Johnny wasn’t leaving Ben out here alone with no horse and no help. He never would have made it out of the canyon without food and without a horse to ride on. Ned still felt sick and helpless at the idea of leaving him but he felt a little better that there would be someone here to watch him.

‘Well, what about the stage?’ the driver asked.

‘I’ll take it,’ Johnny said flatly.

‘But, wait a minute, I – ’

‘It’ll be safe with me,’ Johnny said with rising impatience and anger. ‘I won’t make off with it. Now do as I tell you!’

Ned knew that tone. It sent chills through him. It reminded him of his pa when his patience had been worn too thin and he was ready to tan Ned’s or Johnny’s hide for being impertinent once too often. If Johnny didn’t get his way someone was going to get hurt.

He listened as two sets of feet moved away from the coach door. They were going to get the horses ready. A hard and steady fury settled through Ned’s mind, taking over his thoughts. He would be calm and he would be quiet for as long as he needed to be, but he would not let Johnny take him to San Francisco.

‘Julie, you got that gun?’ he asked in a dark, level voice.

‘Yeah,’ she said apprehensively.

‘Give it to me,’ Ned said.

‘What are you going to do with it?’ she asked him, moving away a little on the narrow seat.

‘Give it to me, will you?’ he said with flat desperation. ‘Just give it to me.’

He put his hand out, expecting her to obey. If she didn’t he would just have to take it from her. He was breathing hard, each breath steadying him but not swaying his resolve. He would not be pushed around by Johnny any more. He couldn’t persuade him with words and he couldn’t beat him in a straight fight, but Johnny would not expect the gun from him.

He felt Julie moving, heard the soft noise of her shawl as she reached underneath. Slowly she put the gun in his hand and he closed his fingers around it. The metal was blood warm from being held against her body.

He tucked it inside his coat and closed the coat tightly over it. It sat against his chest, and felt like a layer of protection over his heart.

The coach rocked as Johnny climbed up onto the driver’s seat. Ned heard him yelling at the horses, geeing them up. He didn’t whip them – just shook the reins and hollered until they began to ran. The coach lumbered behind, lurching over the rough ground. Behind that Ned could hear the other horses running, tethered to the rear boot.

He ran a hand over the door, briefly thinking of opening it and leaping out. That thought only lasted a second. It would be like committing suicide to jump from a speeding stage into the wild, empty canyon, especially with those horses behind that could trample him as they passed.

‘Ned,’ Julie said in a low voice, seeing his hand on the catch.

‘I ain’t jumping out,’ he said, taking his hand from the door and pressing it back against the gun under his coat.

‘You sure looked like you were going to.’

‘Well, I ain’t,’ he repeated.

‘What are you going to do with that gun?’ she asked him again.

Ned leaned back against the seat, feeling the solidity of the gun under his hand. ‘I don’t know’ he said honestly. ‘But I ain’t going to San Francisco.’

He closed his eyes. The noise of the coach pushed away every other small, natural noise. The jiggling and vibration ran up through his bones and his skull and dust drifted in through the window, kicked up by the horses’ running feet. Exhaustion came over him. He had not eaten in almost a full day, and even then it had only been the remnants of Ben’s hoecakes. The last proper meal he had eaten was some thick slices of bread after he and Ben had brought back the Christmas tree.

He tilted his hat forward and rested his head on the back panel of the coach. He couldn’t do anything until they reached Fort Defiance, anyway. Maybe there he could find someone who would side with him against Johnny – or maybe the Parker gang would be there, he remembered with grim humour. Maybe they would do for Johnny and him together.

The coach kept rocking. His eyes became hot and heavy. He was tired enough to sleep standing up, and this seat was softer than the rocks and hard ground that had been chairs and bed for him recently. He kept his hand tucked under his coat, resting on the gun, and slowly his thoughts began to dissolve away.

He woke with a panicked start, feeling a hand slipping under his, under his coat. He gripped at the hand reflexively and twisted it away, and then he heard Julie half sob in pain.

‘What were you doing?’ he growled at her, anger sparking up again and pushing away sleepiness. ‘Were you trying to take that gun?’

‘I’m afraid for you, Ned,’ she said in a small voice. ‘I’m afraid for what you’ll do with it.’

He let go of her hand and pushed the gun back securely under the coat.

‘I coulda hurt you,’ he said quietly. ‘I thought it was Johnny. Don’t do that again, Miss Julie. I need to trust you.’

‘I won’t touch it again,’ she promised.

Ned half smiled, and reached out to her. She touched her hand to his and he stroked his fingers across the back of hers lightly. Her hand was cold and felt very small under his.

‘What were you doing, coming from Willerton to Fort Defiance at a time like this?’ he asked her. ‘Why’d them folks buy you a ticket and make you leave town?’

‘You don’t know me, Ned,’ she said after a pause. He could hear that her face was turned away. She was looking out of the window instead of at him.

‘I don’t know all about you, but I know you, Miss Julie,’ he said. ‘You’ve got a fine soul. What were they doing running you out of town?’

‘Ned, I can’t,’ she said brokenly. Then she said as if she were excusing something that she couldn’t tell him about, ‘My ma and pa died, Ned. They died when I was seventeen years old. I couldn’t live out on the ranch on my own. I had to come into town and make a living.’

‘Everyone has to make a living,’ Ned nodded. ‘There ain’t no sin in that.’

‘Yeah,’ she said slowly. She was looking out of the window again. ‘I think this is it, Ned,’ she said. ‘I can see the stockade.’

Ned’s hand tightened on the gun, and then very slowly he let go. He drew his hand out empty from under the coat and laid it on his lap. The horses trotted on, the sound of their footfalls changing as they entered the hard-packed town street. The noises began to echo from flat-faced buildings. He heard Johnny shouting, ‘Whoa,’ and the stage rolled to a halt. As Johnny jumped down someone called out a question about the driver and the others.

‘Indians got ’em,’ Johnny said quickly, coming round to the door. ‘The driver’s just hurt. The army boys are taking care of him.’

Ned ducked his head and began to get out of the stage under his own steam. He would not have Johnny haul him out like a child in front of all the folks in town. Johnny took hold of his arm and helped him down onto the board sidewalk and he heard Julie jump down beside him.

‘How soon can this stage start for San Francisco?’ Johnny asked, leading Ned across the boards.

‘Well, soon as we get fresh horses and a driver,’ the man replied, and Ned recognised the voice of Mr Abbott who ran the stage office. ‘About an hour.’

Ned’s shoulder knocked into a post and Johnny jerked him sideways. They must be right outside the stage office. He remembered those wooden posts from when he could see, supporting a veranda – but he had never been inside the office before. Johnny took him through the door and let go of his arm. He stood still, smelling the scent of dust and old wood and the hot scent of a stove somewhere. It was a hollow, empty room with nothing but hard things in it to send back echoes. Julie touched his arm and murmured to him, ‘Sit down, Ned. There’s a bench right behind you.’

Ned felt out behind him and sat down on the slatted wooden bench. Julie sat beside him, quiet and tense. He knew she was waiting to see what he intended with the gun, but he didn’t know himself yet.

Johnny walked across the room, his boots tapping on the hard floor.

‘Ain’t you Johnny Tallon?’ Mr Abbott asked in sudden surprise.

‘Yeah,’ Johnny said.

‘But I thought you were – ’

‘I know. You heard I was dead,’ Johnny said impatiently. ‘And it was the Indians that got your boys.’

‘Well, no offence…’

‘Thinking of running and telling Dave Parker I’m here?’ Johnny asked acerbically.

‘What I know of Parker he’s capable of finding out himself,’ Mr Abbott said with dry humour.

‘I’ll let him know,’ Johnny said. Then he said in a quick, low voice, ‘Two tickets for San Francisco.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Abbott said quickly.

Ned stood up quickly, determined anger burning like a flame inside him

‘For the last time, Johnny, go away and leave me be,’ he snapped, his hands clenched at his sides, his arms filled with the urge to strike.

Johnny turned to him. ‘Are you out of your mind?’ He turned back to the counter and continued easily. ‘Like I said, two tickets.’

‘Yes, sir,’ Abbott said again.

In the end there was no premeditation in Ned. His body moved before his mind. He reached into his coat and snatched out the gun. Julie’s hand curved over his wrist but she didn’t try to hold him back. He stepped forward, making for Johnny’s voice. If he could come right up to him with the gun he could be sure of not harming anyone else.

Then there was a panicked movement and Johnny’s hand closed around his wrist so tight it felt like his bones were breaking. Johnny wrestled with him, pushing him back against the bench until he was sitting again, pressed against the wall with Johnny’s hand on his chest. Johnny squeezed on his wrist until pain shot up his arm, and the gun fell to the floor. Ned sank back, beaten.

Slowly the pressure of Johnny’s hands relaxed, and he stepped away. There was a strange, loaded silence that seemed to fill the room and drive away any lingering normality. Ned felt as if he were going to be sick in that sudden, horrific silence.

‘Were you going to gun me down?’ Johnny asked eventually. His voice was full of something like sorrow.

Ned felt fractured inside. He had come so close to pulling the trigger, but he couldn’t do it, any more than he had been able to club that jackrabbit to death. He couldn’t have killed Johnny, Johnny who had always been there between him and the world, before he had gone away to war.

He didn’t stand up again. He shook his head slowly. He could feel his face pinching up as emotion welled through him.

‘Would you really kill me, Ned?’ Johnny asked him. He sounded like he had been betrayed by his dearest friend.

‘I don’t know,’ Ned said brokenly, his voice shaking. ‘Don’t make me go with you, Johnny.’

‘You wanna stay with Ben that bad, huh?’ Johnny said quietly.

Ned nodded. He didn’t trust himself to speak any more without crying. He needed to do something to control that weakness inside him. Johnny was silent too. He walked across the room, slowly, with measured steps. Then he turned round and walked back again.

Finally he turned back to Ned and said, ‘If I gave you some money would – ’ He hesitated as if he were about to voice something that was anathema to him, and then continued, ‘Would you and Ben go someplace else and settle?’

‘We don’t want your money,’ Ned said tiredly. He had been over and over this with Johnny. He didn’t have the strength to continue for much longer.

‘But you can’t stay in this part of the country any more on account of me, and how can you start someplace else without any money?’ Johnny asked him desperately.

‘We don’t want yours!’ Ned almost shouted, lurching forward at him on the bench.

‘All right, all right!’ Johnny snapped back angrily, and then half-whispered, ‘All right.’

He sounded beaten too. Ned could hear him breathing slow and hard, his feet moving on the floor as if he didn’t know which way to turn.

‘Ned,’ he said finally. ‘You and Ben can be partners.’

Ned turned towards him, frowning. ‘Y-you mean that, Johnny?’ he asked hesitantly. He couldn’t believe it after all that had happened, but he wanted to believe it, desperately.

Johnny was silent again, then he said, ‘Yeah.’ He took off his coat and flung it aside. ‘Stay here,’ he said, striding to the door. ‘I’m gonna go make a sale – and heaven help the man that don’t want to buy.’

He opened the door and left, slamming it behind him so that the walls rattled. Ned sat frozen on the bench, wondering and afraid. Dave Parker was somewhere out in that town. All of a sudden he didn’t want Johnny to die, no matter what he had done.