Summary: A Wagon Train/Laramie Crossover story. Barnaby West thought he had the best life. He had four surrogate uncles, a man who was his father in all the ways that mattered and a life of adventure. He was learning about different languages and people, how to survive nature’s cruelest weather and lessons from books Mr. Chris insisted he study. But the year he turned 16, proved to be the hardest in his young life and he would need all his resolve and courage to survive.
Category: Wagon Train/Laramie
Word Count: 18,402
Chapter 1 – Growing up
Barnaby woke with a start when someone knocked into his boot. He’d been having the best dream. Young Katie Collins had just agreed to dance with him and he had whisked her off to the dust-covered dance floor. He ran his arm across his sleepy blue eyes and looked up. His surrogate father, Bill Hawks was standing by his side with a cup of milk in one hand. The only man that Barnaby allowed to call him “son” was ordinarily well groomed but this morning he had a scruffy beard and uncombed hair.
“Good morning,” Bill’s deep, rumbling voice nudged Barney awake. “Brought you some milk with chocolate in it.”
Barney gratefully accepted his milk and smiled at Bill over the rim. “How was the trip?”
Bill frowned. “We’re going to have to alert the train about Indians. Seems there are a few escaped young bucks who are causing problems.“
“What kind of problems?“ Barney sipped his hot chocolate carefully. Ordinarily he would be scouting with Duke and Coop but the Collins wagon needed a driver and he had been volunteered by Mr. Chris to perform the task. Not that he minded. He was beginning to fall for the petite Miss Collins.
“One of the agent’s trading posts was broken into and ammunition was stolen. Liquor was stolen from a town’s saloon and more importantly, a few children are missing.” Bill shuddered. He hated to discover children being hurt or killed. If anything were to happen to Barnaby he hated to think about it.
“I’m going to splash some water on myself and see what concoction Charlie has made for breakfast. Then Mr. Chris and I want to gather everyone together for some important information. I’ll see you later.”
The two hugged briefly and Barnaby walked over to the Collins wagon. He needed to make sure Mrs. Collins had everything she needed. Later after breakfast he would help her load her things back into the wagon. He felt bad for Mrs. Collins. She was a strong woman with what Charlie called “strong Christian values.” Barnaby figured she would need all the help she could get. Mr. Collins had died of a fever just as they were to board the train and now she was trying to be both mother and father to her five children.
After three plus years of listening to Mr. Chris lecture about Indians Barnaby thought he’d heard all there was to know until he heard the word “Comencheros” and he stopped fiddling with the harness he’d been mending. These savages were the worst of the worst. They had started out as peaceful traders but bands of them broke off from the main tribe and looted and pillaged their way across the plains often killing women and men. “According to what’s being said, folks,” Mr. Chris continued in his forthright manner, “ they now have been capturing children, mainly boys to fill up their ranks. So, until I tell you otherwise, don’t wander beyond the perimeter of the camp.”
“How long will it be until we’re out of their area?” Barnaby asked no one in particular.
“Now Barney,“ Cooper Smith, otherwise known as “Coop” looked sharply down at him.“ Don’t you remember what I said before? Indians don’t care about borders. They take, they kill, they leave. You need to remember that.“ Coop turned and walked away.
“He’s just worried, Barney. Don’t pay him no never mind,” Charlie Wooster consoled him. Barney smiled. The chief cook, pan washer, keeper of the supply wagon, sometimes doctor and storyteller had taken on the job of fattening him up in the early days on the train. He’d even been his sidekick on some harmless tricks they played on the rest of Mr. Chris’s team.
“Oh, I know that,“ Barney replied. “I’ll keep my rifle handy.” His surrogate uncle smiled happily and whistled a snappy tune as he walked away.
The day was winding down and the passengers were setting up camp when Barney heard scuffling and a muffled yell near the Collins’ wagon. Upon investigation, he found one of the youngest Collins boy being pushed around by two of the older brothers whose father was a large beefy blacksmith. He shoved his way into the melee and was about to lay a punch when he was unceremoniously hauled away.
“Who started this?” All of the boys stopped in their tracks and gazed at both Mr. Bradley, the blacksmith and an angry Bill Hawks.
“I’m not sure who started this dust up, but I was trying to stop it,” Barney stated quietly.
The Collins boy began to sob and the Bradley boys showed their true colors when they began to make fun of him. Mr. Bradley grabbed his sons’ arms and hustled them away and Mrs. Collins having been alerted to the fracas, wrapped her arms around her son and ushered him to their wagon, leaving a confused Barney in their wake. In the ensuing silence, Barney tried to make sense of what had just happened.
“You want to tell me your side of the story?” Barney’s soft blue eyes met Bill’s blue grey ones. He had often thought that the color of his surrogate father’s eyes were like the ocean he had seen for the first time all those years ago. The eyes were stormy and full of clouds and the blue spoke of calm and comfort and fatherly love. As he explained his take, Bill slipped an arm around Barney. “Your only problem, Barney, was that the fight should have been handled by the boys’ parents not you. Mr. Chris hired you to be a scout and a driver not the referee of boyish fights. Come on, Charlie made some kind of beef stew that isn’t half bad.”
Chapter 2 – The Beginning
Three weeks had passed and while Barney was vigilant for possible threats, he sometimes felt his guard slip. The passengers, for the most part, had obeyed Mr. Chris and stayed within the confines of the camp and he had carried his trusty rifle everywhere. They were making good time.
One evening, without any warning, Barney’s world came crashing down. He had been gathering firewood for the Collins family and was within the perimeter of the camp when he heard a whistling sound in the brush. Not knowing whether it was an animal or something else, he managed to fire off one shot before he was suddenly struck with an overwhelming pain in his side and as he doubled over, he was hauled by his arms and dragged away from the camp. He fought to remain conscious and dug his heels into the soft ground to leave a trail while unsuccessfully twisting in his captors arms. The pain was cutting off his ability to shout but his last thought before he succumbed was of Bill.
When he regained consciousness he discovered that his ankles and wrists were bound and he was being unceremoniously carried upside down tied to a pole. He had no hat so the branches were stinging his head and face. He glanced down at his side and was frightened to see all the blood seeping out of the wound. He was in no position to flee and since darkness made his present surroundings almost too hard to see, he slowly let himself drift down below the pain. He could gather his strength and think about what to do tomorrow.
He wasn’t sure whether it was the next day or not. He took stock of himself before he ventured a look around. He was hot, too hot and very thirsty. His head ached and the wound in his side burned a hole deep inside him. He knew enough to gather that his wound was infected and he needed a doctor but he reckoned that his captors whoever they were not so inclined to seek medical attention for him. He had been laid down on a dirty blanket in a tent. He was alone. He could hear voices surrounding him but couldn’t tell if they were speaking English or not. He tried to roll over but the tent swayed in fuzzing circles and he felt the bile creep into his throat. So much for escape today, he thought.
Awhile later he woke again. He wondered whether it was the next day or not. He was losing track of time. A young boy entered the tent. He was dressed in Indian garb but he was white! Barney’s eyes narrowed when he saw what the boy carried. The brown ragged pants and a feather, beaded decorated shirt was clearly visible. There was no way he was wearing that garment he thought to himself.
The boy walked closer. “They want you to wear this,“ he instructed Barney.
Barney shook his head “no”.
“What is your name?” the boy asked.
“Where are you from?”
“A wagon train.”
Barney tried to pull himself up to a sitting position but the pain intensified and he quickly lay down again. Clearly this boy was a spy, sent by his captors to discover who he was and where he was going. The boy gestured to the clothing that he clutched in his hands.
“You have to wear these.” The boy stated again. ‘It was strange the way he said it,‘ Barney thought. ‘Almost as if he’d been coached.’
Barney shook his head again and then tried a different tack. “What’s your name?”
“They call me White Feather,” the boy answered.
“Your birth name?”
“My name is Caleb,” the boy answered softly as if afraid the Indians would hear him.
“Have you ever thought of escaping?“
Caleb sneaked a look around the tent. “There’s no where to go and there are too many of them.”
“Where are we headed?” Barney was desperate for answers but he tried to keep calm.
“I thought it was California but I heard them talking and one said that prices were better south.” Suddenly, he threw the clothes at Barney and ran out of the tent.
Barney lay back, digesting the information. His captors were going to sell him and however many other children there were. They wanted him to look the part but they weren’t going to help him get well, and there were too many Indians around for an easy escape. If only he knew where he was! He looked at the pants and shirt; surely he could use them for something.
He woke to someone poking him in the side. He opened his eyes slowly and saw a pretty Indian girl with a bowl and cloth. She said something but he couldn’t understand what she was saying. She lifted up his shirt and he could tell she was shocked at what she saw. He had ripped the pants apart and made a makeshift bandage for his wound. She gently moved the bandage aside and reached for the cloth. Her touch was gentle and the motion soothing but Barney knew he had to stay alert, if he could. To his surprise, she wrapped him up in his bandage and walked away.
When no one came to check on him, he practiced rolling over. At first it was impossible but little by little he was able to find his legs and stand on his own two feet. The tent had two openings, A large one and a smaller one in back. Both had flaps so he could peek out of his prison from time to time. The pattern of his days was almost always the same. They threw his meals at him. The water wasn’t fit to drink as he was convinced that it was bad and they would haul him out and make him walk around their camp site. It was at night however that Barney plotted his escape. Thankfully the Indians had given up trying to make him dress like themselves. He never really saw the other children but he could hear their cries in the night. When he heard that they were on the move again, he found a stick and made his mark on the ground near the tent, “BW-H.”
The days were hot and the nights were getting colder. None of the scenery looked familiar. He still had no idea where they were. Barney nibbled on a piece of meat they had thrown at him earlier. They were angry at him. He silently chuckled. Earlier in the day, one of his captors attempted to teach him how to fire a pistol. Barney knew that if they knew of his skills they would use them against him so he pretended that he was afraid of the gun. When they gestured that they wanted him to fire, he aimed and almost shot the foot off of “Big Ugly” the Indian guard assigned to his tent at night.
While he couldn’t escape, at least not yet, he did escape into his box of memories. His grandmother had given him a blank book one day and told him that he should write in it. It was a book of his life and he should fill the pages with all sorts of memories to keep him company. The things he did, saw and accomplished would fill the pages. The pages might fade but the memories, deep in his heart, never would. It was those memories that were keeping him from despair. He knew somehow that Bill was looking for him. They had made a promise to each other on the riverboat so long ago now. Bill would be the only person who could call him ‘son’ and would protect, guide and love him like a son. Barnaby promised to love, respect and obey him. They had sealed their father-son vow with a hug and a few tears and Barney had grown up secure in the knowledge that Bill would never abandon him. He was sure that he was trailing after him but had no idea where he was. The invisible thread that bound them throbbed through him and he held on even as his strength and resolve ebbed and flowed.
Chapter 3 – Bill’s Nightmare
Coop Smith was beyond frustrated. His friend and companion Bill Hawks was presently sitting on the hard -packed dirt of a former Indian tent. He was tracing and retracing Barney’s initials with tears running down his face. Coop looked towards the heavens as if in supplication. He needed Bill. They were fast coming to a fork in the trail and had to decide whether or not to head south or continue on this path towards the mountains.
When he first volunteered to accompany Bill, he had told Chris that he would do his best to keep Bill safe and to find Barney. Bill was in no condition to travel alone and Chris had agreed even though their absence would severely affect Duke Shannon who would now have to scout and assist Chris with the over 100 wagons of passengers. He couldn’t really be mad at Bill though. Never having had a child, he had no idea about parenting one and only watched from a distance how Bill and Barney managed to live as a family. They had a unique bond that was sure. His cousin, Jess Harper, had once told him that he had a bond too with his pard, Slim Sherman. They were the best of friends and probably more like brothers who had each others back no matter what. He allowed that if Bill Hawks had that type of relationship with the young lad then he was beyond lucky.
Coop turned towards the fire and pulled out his makeshift map. In the early hours of the trek, when he couldn’t sleep, he had drawn a map of the planned route of the train noting water holes, rivers, mountains, settlements, traders and Indian agents. He had also drawn a parallel route that the Indians might follow. In the beginning, Barney had done a fairly good job of leaving a trail. A trail left by his boots, scraps of his shirt and blood splattered leaves left a good trail. But then there was nothing for a few miles. Bill had shut down his feelings fearing the worst and it wasn’t until they found the camp site that he finally spoke.
“He was here,” he had mumbled. They went from one tent to another until they found the signs they dreaded. Scuff marks, an old dirty blanket, scraps of Barney’s shirt, blood and finally his initials.
“He wants us to know he still exists,“ Bill shook his head in dismay. He groaned then as he traced the initials. “He is hurting and they haven’t done a damn thing to help him!”
Coop shook his head. He needed Bill to talk with him. It was clear that either Chris had changed direction or the train had been held up somehow. In all this time they hadn’t seen or heard the wagon train. It seemed to Coop that the renegades were planning to use Barney somehow. They had him isolated yet they hadn’t fixed him up. Their boy was ill and the Indians seemed to be changing course south. It made sense. If their plan was to sell the children as slaves to the Comencheros then Mexico was their destination. In any case, he needed Bill to confirm the plan and so far Bill was lost in his mind. Finally, Coop had had enough. He was going to make Bill talk to him even if he had to hurt their friendship.
“Bill, I need to talk with you,” he called.
No answer. He called again a little louder. This time, an angry Bill Hawks strode over to Coop. His hands were on his hips and his blue grey eyes were flashing.
“What do you want?” Bill demanded.
“I need you to look at the map. I think they are turning south.” He spoke confidently.
“Why, ‘cause you say so?”
‘Uh oh,’ thought Coop. ‘I’ve got his attention now.’
“Look, Bill,” Coop pressed his case. “They put Barney in a separate tent. They haven’t seen to his wound. It looks like they trying to get him to wear their clothing. I guess they are headed to Mexico.” He paused. Bill’s eyes were glazing over, but he still stood tall in front of Coop.
Coop played his trump card. If this didn’t work, he had no idea what to do next. “Look, Bill. It’s not like you have any legal responsibility towards the boy. You could just say that the trail grew cold and we couldn’t find him. No one, even Chris would blame you.“
Coop had barely spoken the last words when Bill lunged at him. Fists flew and hit his chest, face and eye. “How dare you!” grasped an infuriated Bill Hawks. “That’s my son you’re talking about! I intend to follow after him for the rest of my life!”
The two men crashed into each other, each one raining punches. Coop was shorter but made of hard-packed muscle and he gave as good as he got. Suddenly, he found himself flat on his back, his breath knocked out of himself. Bill was astride him with fists raised when Coop managed to gasp, “Bill, what are we doing?”
Bill blinked and found his feet. Apologizing profusely, he dusted off his friend and held out a canteen of water. He dabbed his own lip and looked sheepishly over at Coop. “Was I that bad?”
Coop nodded, acknowledging the behavior of his friend. “Yeah. I’m sorry Bill. It was the only way I knew to get you out of your head. Heck, I know you’re living a nightmare but we both have to pull together to find your son.”
Bill nodded and the two friends sat by the fire discussing the various routes until it was too dark to see.
“Hey Bill, why don’t you send Barney a message on that invisible thread you share that we haven’t given up and we’re still looking for him.”
Bill grinned and before he closed his eyes, pictured a sleepy Barnaby wrapped up in his bed roll by the supply wagon. “We’re coming, Barney. Keep leaving us signs. We haven’t forgotten you.”
Chapter 4 – For Want of a Boot
The next morning, while making breakfast, the two men eyed each other carefully. Each was hurting. Bill had a split lip and Coop’s chest was aching. He had a giant bruise forming on his right cheek, and a black eye. Bill tapped water on his lip and then passed the canteen to Coop with an apologetic smile.
“I’m okay,” Coop mumbled, “at least I will be in time.”
The two bantered back and forth until Coop reached inside his vest. “Do you think we’ll catch up with Chris anytime soon?”
Bill looked over his friend’s shoulder. “No, they’re far behind us.”
Coop’s face fell. They needed a break, some sort of miracle. The longer the renegades had Barney, the chances of finding him grew less and less. If the lack of food and water didn’t kill him, a slow, agonizing death awaited their boy from the untreated wound.
Bill traced his finger over the route. “You really think we’re near South Pass?”
“Yup.” Coop’s finger joined Bill’s larger one. “This is the trail Chris and I marked out before we even set out from Missouri. The Mormon Trail to South Pass to the California Trail. The route has been heavily traveled and while there is some desert, there are smooth trails and you can see for miles. The thing is, we’re following a trail that leads south. I think those renegades are either stupid or just plain greedy. They knew they couldn’t keep traveling over mountains, not with all those children in tow. They needed them alive and while we don’t know how many children there are or for that matter, renegades, they all have to climb rocky mountains. So, I think they’re headed south. Now,” he paused gleefully,”this will be their undoing!“
“There are settlements, Indian agents and a couple of army forts between here and Mexico!“
“So, they’ all be dodging people on the alert to them while trying to find a way south. If we’re real lucky, they’ll run straight into a cavalry outfit!”
A few weeks later, Bill and Coop literally walked into a village. Most of the inhabitants were Mountain Men or miners. They saw a few Indian scouts and Mexicans. There was a saloon that served water downed whiskey and warm beer, no law and order that they could see and the only store per se was a trading post. The trader eyed them suspiciously.
“Howdy,” Coop called out in a cheerful voice.
The trader glared at him. “What do you want?” he asked menacingly.
“Oh, just some supplies,” Coop answered.
“I’m looking for someone,” Bill blurted out.
The man turned his full attention on Bill, his hand on his pistol beneath the counter.
“He’s about this high and has light brown hair and blue eyes. He’s almost 17 but he looks younger and he’s probably favoring a leg or his side.”
The trader was now intrigued and leaned forward. “Was he alone?”
Bill shook his head. He hadn’t planned on telling the whole story but here they were and maybe someone had seen Barney. “We were traveling on a wagon train and he was taken. We think he was stabbed or shot with an arrow. He’s been leaving signs for us but now all we can find is blood soaked leaves. “
“What’s he to you?”
“He’s my son!” Bill spoke earnestly. He was done with all the questions and wanted answers. “Look Mister, either you’ve seen him or you haven’t…” his voice trailed off.
Coop laid a hand on his shoulder. “My friend and I have been following his son for over two months now. If you can give us any information or tell us where we should look next we’d appreciate it.”
“Well, now, seeing as you put it that way, a strange thing happened here a couple, three weeks ago. Some Indians came into the village, only I’d never seen their colors before. They had a bunch of white children with them and one older boy who needed new boots. He had to remove the old ones so that I could tell the size. He couldn’t stand without assistance, much less sit and while I watched, they shoved him down on a crate and pulled his boots off. I really didn’t like the way that they were treating him but I wanted to keep the peace, ya know,” the trader beseeched them.
Coop nodded and motioned for him to continue. Bill’s hands were clenched into fists.
“Well, the only size I had was a size bigger than he needed but it would have to do. The boy put them on, almost automatically, if ya know what I mean?” The trader scratched his head and then slammed his battered hat back on his thinning white hair.
“So what happened next?” Coop asked getting impatient.
“Coming to it,” the man answered testily. “The boy motioned that he needed to go to the outhouse so one of his captors took him and stood guard outside. When they returned, the boy placed his old boots on the counter and then did something I never expected. “ He paused again and looked intently at Bill.
“When his captors weren’t looking, he swiped two candy sticks from a glass jar I had near the window and gave them to the children.“
Bill shared a smile with Coop. “That’s him alright,” Bill murmured with pride.
“It wasn’t until they left that I noticed the way he’d placed the boots on my counter.”
Both Coop and Bill leaned in closer, as if the trader was about to impart a secret.
“One boot was standing upright and the other was lying on its side. Now, I normally keep some paper and a pencil on the counter in case a customer’s list of supplies is long. The paper was gone and the pencil, gentlemen, was facing the boot on its side. So, I did what any other fella would have done. I tilted the boot over and the paper fell out. After I read it, I got it to the Indian agent right away.”
Coop turned swiftly and made for the door but the trader’s shouted words caused him to stop in his tracks. “He ain’t there!”
Bill was losing patience with the trader. He needed answers. “What was written on the paper and where did the agent go?” he demanded.
“Least ways, I can remember,” the trader mumbled, his eyes closed as he tried to remember, ‘My name is Barnaby West. Contact Chris Hale Wagon Train Bill Hawks.’ “ He signed it with a mark.”
“He signed his initials,” Bill trembled, his fingers clenched against the wood counter BW-H right?”
Chapter 5 – Riding Double
“Not again,” groaned Barney. He was being hauled out of the tent into the misty darkness. His captors shoved a bowl into his hands Barney looked down and almost got sick. His dinner had a large wiggly worm in it. He threw the bowl on the ground. Enraged, his captors grabbed him by his arms and threw him into the tent where he landed on his stomach. His shriek of pain could be heard on the other side of the camp site. Unbeknownst to Barney, Bill and Coop had seen it all.
‘It was a miracle really,’ Bill thought as he handed the field glasses to Coop. They were lying on the grassy covered hill above the Indian camp site. Behind them, in the darkness, was the contingent of cavalry soldiers waiting for their orders to capture the renegades.
Coop, not necessarily a praying man, thanked his lucky stars that the Indian agent had made it to Ft. Laramie and alerted the soldiers. The plan was to grab Barney and then let the army have at it. At long last, Barney would be soon reunited with his father.
Upon a tap on his shoulder, Coop and Bill made their way down the hill. Except for the restless guard outside Barney’s tent, all was quiet. Coop crouched and slid forward on his hands and knees, lifting the flap for Bill. Their boy was lying on his back, A threadbare blanket beneath him. Covered in sweat, his long brown hair was matted to his forehead and two bright fever spots were clearly visible on his cheeks. Lost in a fever dream, he moaned in pain, doubling over some to clutch his side.
Bill slipped a bandana over Barney’s mouth in case he cried out. He picked up the much-too-light boy and crept out of the tent towards the waiting officer. Coop crawled silently forward and knocked the guard out with the butt of his pistol. He then joined Bill and his precious cargo.
Barney whimpered and thrashed as the doctor examined him. He was unconscious and still had a high fever. He fought the hands that tried to bathe him and finally stilled when Bill stepped into the room, gently pushed the doctor out of the way, and laid a hand on Barney’s chest.
“I’m here, Barney,” he murmured. “You’re safe now. We found you.”
“So what’s the plan?” Bill stopped pacing and sat on the chair in the doctor’s office.
“As I explained before Mr. Hawks, the poison has been working its way through the boy’s system all this time. It has finally formed a pocket near the opening of the wound under the skin. I have to cut it open and let the poison drain out. Unfortunately, because the pocket is so large, I will have to do this procedure several times. When its finally drained, I will clean out the wound, sew it up and bandage it. I don’t want to wait too long, so let’s try and get that fever down. You both need to stick around as one of you will need to hold down his legs.”
Between the two of them, Bill and Coop managed to persuade Barney to drink several cups of water by gently forcing his mouth open, and his fever abated to a degree that the doctor was pleased with. There were signs every day that he was gaining consciousness and when he finally opened his eyes one morning, Bill was ecstatic, until he noticed that Barney cringed when he saw him.
“Barney, it’s me, Bill,” he spoke gently to his son.
Barney was so used to the Indians playing tricks on him and dreams of Bill and the wagon train that he was afraid of what he saw. He shook his head, as if to clear it and tried to rise, only to find that the man in front of him gently pushing him down.
“Leave me alone,” Barney moaned. “Stop tormenting me! Just let me die!”
Thoroughly alarmed with Barney’s response, Bill tried to calm his breathing. He motioned to the cup of water. “It’s clear, cold spring water. I promise,” he held the cup out to Barney. Without waiting, Bill slid an arm around Barney’s thin shoulders and held the cup in front of him.
Barney’s dream father had never done anything remotely like this and his heart began to beat erratically. ‘What if he wasn’t dreaming anymore.. ‘ he wondered.
As if he had read his mind, Bill looked down at his son as he laid him back onto the pillow. “ Ask me something that only I would know the answer,” he prompted him.
“I like strawberries,” Barney mumbled spontaneously, his voice raspy with disuse.
“Well, you might like strawberries, “ Bill chuckled,” but they give you hives and you itch for days.”
Barney blinked. Would the Indians know that? He tried again. “ How many Barnaby West’s live in Sacramento, California? “
Bill smiled, remembering the conversation in Barnaby West Sr.‘s store. “There is one Barnaby West Sr. and one Barnaby West, Jr. If you had stayed, there would have been three Barnaby Wests living in one house. “
Barnaby‘s head hurt. Memories were flooding his mind. He wanted to believe. Tears formed in his eyes.
“Can I ask you something?”
Barney nodded, not trusting his voice.
“On the riverboat, that first trip, you told me that I was the only person who would have the honor of calling you ‘son’ and you promised to,”
Barney interrupted, “ to love, respect and obey you,” he sobbed and Bill finally wrapped his long arms around his son as he cried into his shirt.
The next day, the doctor examined Barney again and explained the procedure. “I can delay this procedure until tomorrow if you wish but not any longer. Now, son,” he said trying to calm him.
Bill felt Barney tense beneath his palms. “Excuse me, doctor,” Bill’s voice was soft but firm. “There is only one person in this entire world who has the honor of calling this young man ’son’ and that’s me. Best you remember that.”
Doctor Bradley apologized and gathered up his instruments. “Well?”
Barney and Bill exchanged a long quiet moment. “No time like the present,” he said.
Doctor Bradley washed his hands and then called Coop into the room. He was astonished when Bill took off his gun belt and loosened the belt around his waist. He looked at it for a minute and fingered his belt buckle. Then, in one smooth motion, removed it and set it on the chair as well. He saw Bill toe off his boots next and then wash his hands. Finally, curiosity got to him and he spoke,
“Whatever are you doing, Mr. Hawks?”
“This is going to hurt both of us so we’re going to ride double through it,” and with that he laid down on the blanket behind Barney and carefully adjusted one arm above his head and the other across his chest. “Here we go, son,” he murmured.
Chapter 6 – A Working Ranch
“You’ll really like it there.”
Coop’s excitement was evident in the way he walked down the dusty street. He was fairly skipping and both Bill and Barney laughed to see their friend so happy. They all needed a break. Barney had recovered fairly quickly from the operation but still could not sit a horse. When Coop discovered that the doctor forbade his patient from strenuous activities the decision was made to hunker down for the winter and then travel to meet the wagon train. Coop had telegrammed his cousin who had sent a short Texan-style reply: “Can’t wait to see you!”
Now they were outfitting a covered wagon to carry them to Laramie and beyond. The wagon was big enough to hold a bed and some provisions and a barrel of water. Bill and Coop would take turns driving while Barney rode inside. Coop had bought a horse in town from a miner’s family. Unfortunately, the miner had recently died and the family needed the money.
Barney chafed at the confinement but Bill was adamant and so Barney rested and read and listened to his father and Coop tell tall tales to each other. He really didn’t mind too much. The wound was finally healed and only made its appearance known if he moved the wrong way. His weight was creeping back up and his nightmares were fading. He had suffered from them every night before his rescue but they lessened as the days went by and now, if he was lucky, they only occurred once a week or so. Bill was of the opinion that the more he talked about his ordeal, the less he would remember the bad times and like the poison from his wound, would drain from his brain as well. Barney couldn’t fathom any sense of that and figured that Bill must have heard about it from Charlie. It sounded a lot like Charlie Wooster’s pieces of advice.
On a clear and sunny morning they set out to travel over 100 miles of lush green pastures. Right before Barney went to get dressed, Bill and Coop entered the wagon. Bill was carrying a small bowl and Coop had a towel. He eyed them warily.
“Relax, Barney,” Coop chuckled, “you look like we’re gonna attack you!”
Bill motioned Barney to sit down on the edge of the bed. “Son, in a few days we’re going to be guests at Coop’s cousin and friend’s home and we all need to be not only on our best behavior but look like gentlemen too. You need to shave the fluff off your face.”
Barney gulped and ran a finger down his cheek. It did feel different but shave?
“I know you’ve seen us do it a hundred times but now it’s your turn. Call it a Rite of Passage or a sign you’re getting older. Relax, we’re going to do it for you.”
Barney let out his breath slowly and closed his eyes in complete trust. He felt Bill’s fingers slide the soapy mixture onto his cheeks and neck and then Coop’s hand raising his head.
As the straight edged razor glided around his face and down his neck, Coop and Bill talked about their first times shaving and how grown up they had felt. Coop talked about times other people had shaved him when he was sick and Bill talked about how he would look at his reflection in the glass and have a conversation with himself about things that needed doing or ways to better himself.
“Each of us, no matter how old we are, have been given an empty book when we were born. Our choices and some circumstances we can’t control, determine what we put on those pages. It’s called Our Book of Life. Every once in awhile we have an occasion for growth. Today is your day.”
Bill wiped the soap off Barney’s face with the towel. “ How does it look?” he asked Coop.
“Good Bill,” he replied.
“How’s it feel?” Bill asked Barney who opened his watery eyes and stared at his father.
“I guess I’m not a little boy anymore, “ he murmured.
“Nope,” Coop agreed, “ but that doesn’t mean that you can ride onto the Sherman Harper Ranch either!”
Barney laughed. It had been a secret wish but they must have found out somehow. “ Well, by the time we’re ready to leave next spring, I’ll be ready! “
“Now that’s a promise, we’ll keep!”
The time flew by and one sunny afternoon, Barney woke with a start. Coop was shouting with such exuberance that he momentarily forgot that he was undressed. He caught himself just in time and scrambled back inside the wagon in embarrassment. He peeked out the flap. Coop and another dark haired man were laughing and slapping each other’s back. A tall man with sandy colored hair was laughing at the spectacle as Coop and the man who looked exactly like him fell into a giant bear hug.
Bill grinned at Coop and his cousin. “There sure is a family resemblance,“ he gestured to Slim.
“There certainly is!” Slim grinned back. “Oh, where’s Barnaby?” he asked Bill.
Bill strode over to the wagon. “You about ready, son? Do you need any help?” Bill had a strong feeling that Barney would need help getting down off the wagon but he didn’t want to embarrass him either.
“Just getting down,” Barney looked out the wagon at his father.
Bill lifted his arm and Barney grabbed hold and then found himself swinging in the air and set on his feet in one smooth motion. “You gotta admit that Charlie’s idea was right,” Bill murmured. “Barney,” he nodded, “say hello to Slim Sherman.”
Barney held out his hand and looked up. Mr. Sherman towered over Bill.
“I’ve been wanting to meet you,” Slim said politely, “ surviving Indians is a mighty big feat.”
Barney looked down and then said softly, “I had a lot of help, mainly from Bill and Coop.”
Bill smiled as he slipped an arm around Barney. “He’s always giving credit to others,” he tightened his grip ever so slightly.
“Sounds a lot like Jess,” Slim looked at the back slapping pair in the yard. ”Hey, Hot Shot, come meet Bill and Barney!”
Dinner was a lively affair and as they settled down by the fireplace, Barney began to relax. ‘This really was a great place. The curtained windows spoke of a woman’s touch and the whole place was clean and cozy,’ he thought as he tried to keep his eyes open.
“Is it just the two of you living here?“ Barney puzzled looking at the neat kitchen.
“Oh no,“ Jess was quick to explain. “There’s Daisy Cooper, no relation to Coop, she’s away visiting her sister in Denver and there’s Mike, Mike Williams. He’s with her. Mike is that orphan boy that me and Slim adopted three years ago.”
“That’s a large household, “ Bill mused.
“Yeah, and all of us are strays except for Andy. That’s Slim’s younger brother. He’s back east studying to be a doctor. “
“There’s a story in there somewhere,“ Bill said intrigued.
“Glad to oblige,” Jess nodded, “but it will probably have to wait until tomorrow.“ He nodded to Bill and tilted his head at Barney who had inadvertently fallen asleep in his chair.
“Well, it’s been a long day. I think I best get that young man to bed. Excuse us,“ and Bill woke Barney gently and escorted him to Mike’s bedroom.
“You up for a porch talk?” Slim inquired of Jess.
“Yup, but only if Coop can join us.”
“What’s a porch talk!” Coop asked as they gathered up their coffee cups and walked out the front door.
“Almost right after I got here, we started talking out here after Andy went to bed,” Jess started, ”we’d talk about the ranch of course, but also about our lives and dreams for the ranch. Andy was young then and had already faced the deaths of their parents and a lot of hurt so we wanted to spare him as much as possible.”
“We also needed to discover who we were,” Slim added. “ We shared our experiences in the war, our families, our feelings about right and wrong. We didn’t realize at the time, but we started a tradition which we still have today only now we talk when Mike’s asleep.”
Bill poked his head out the door and asked, “Can I join you?”
“Yeah,” Jess nodded, “ if you don’t mind sitting on the floor!”
The men sat quietly, each lost in their own thoughts, until Bill asked, “So Mike Williams. What’s his story?”
Jess smiled in the darkness. “He’s the reason we are trying so hard to keep up with the mortgage. This is his forever home. He’s all boy, but he’s also smart and kind and polite. He was born with a question in his mouth and loves to read. He’ll talk your ear off but if you’re hurt or sick, he comforts you with so much love and attention.” Jess paused and Slim slid a hand gently down on his shoulder.
“We adopted him after Mort, he’s our sheriff, couldn’t find any relatives for him. He’s got a piece of our hearts. Jess calls him “Tiger,” Slim grinned, “Daisy and Mike will be back in a couple of weeks.”
Chapter 7 – Adjustments
It didn’t take long for the men from the wagon train to adjust to ranch living. Jess delighted in showing Coop all around the ranch, showing him the miles of fencing, line cabins and of course the lake. Bill found himself greeting passengers and changing out teams. Barney, however, was relegated to the house and found himself cooking and dusting. He ached to venture outside but Bill was still adamant about his riding and Barney would not disobey him. It took some persuading but finally he understood that Bill was still worried about him re-injuring himself that his mother henning was working overtime. One morning, when he thought no one was listening, he complained aloud to the wood stove and Jess suddenly appeared.
“Ya know, he’s only doing that ‘cause he loves ya,” Jess stated.
“Well, that may be, but I’m getting sick of it!” Barney bit his lip, trying to control himself.
“He means well,” Jess consoled him, ”and he’s like a momma bear who’s taking care of her cubs for the first time. He’s trying to give you some freedom but he doesn’t want you to get hurt in the process.” Jess sat down opposite Barney. “Coop told me that Bill had vowed to look for you forever, if you couldn’t be found on the trail they were following. He loves you very much. Now I know he ain’t your real Pa but he’s more father than you realize. You gotta give him some time and he’ll realize that you know your own strengths and weaknesses. It’s just hard to let go, sometimes. Slim and me, well we’re having some discussions about that very same thing with Mike. Even though he’s lots younger than you, he’s still feeling his oats. Maybe you wouldn’t mind looking out for him when Daisy and Mike come home? “
Barney smiled. He liked helping people and if he could help Mike grow up, well that would be a good thing. He agreed happily to Jess’ proposition.
“Can’t I go, please? “ begged Barney, his whole body shivered in anticipation of a great adventure.
“You can’t ride!” Bill stated firmly.
“Bill, I don’t want to intrude on family business, but Barney could ride in the wagon. We need to take it into town to get some feed and wire fencing,” Jess blurted. He’d overheard the heated conversation in the kitchen and knew that the boy’s patience was wearing thin.
Instead of knocking his block off, as most men tended to do when confronted by Jess Harper, Bill listened to the words of wisdom and looked down at Barney’s eager face. “As long as you’re careful,” he warned and then hid a smile as Barney’s face lit up in happiness. “Okay, be ready in half and hour, and bring a jacket,” he added. He had a chore to do also and he needed Barney out of the way for awhile.
An hour or so later the Sherman – Harper family and guests were walking down the main street in Laramie. Barney’s head kept whipping back and forth. There was so much to see. Bill left him in the capable hands of Coop and Jess and walked out of the store to send a telegram to Chris Hale. At least that’s what Bill told him.
When he returned a few hours later, with Slim at his side, the wagon was loaded and the family was seated at the diner enjoying an early lunch. “I’m sure Mr. Chris won’t approve, but I bought five new dime store books with my pay,” Barney was saying to Bill. Only Coop could see that Bill’s concentration was elsewhere. “Everything alright?” he inquired.
Bill nodded, “Yup, we got the letter off and now Chris will know where to send all those Christmas presents!”
“We picked up the mail,” Jess handed over a feed bill, a letter from Andy and one from Daisy. Slim slipped Andy’s letter into his vest pocket and opened Daisy’s letter. He read it silently for a minute and then broke into a wide smile. “They’re on their way home, Jess, and Mike has a new pet!”
“What is it?” Jess groaned. ‘Another pet? All of Andy’s four legged ones still occupied the cages out back.’ He thought these dark thoughts until Slim clapped him on his back.
“What’s one more!” he grinned.
“The only thing you gotta remember is that his parents were killed by Indians so try not to talk too much about what happened to you,” Jess instructed Barney. “Mike’s younger than you and apt to get nightmares if he is reminded of those days before he came here.”
They were in the barn rubbing down the horses. Bill insisted that Barney stand on a crate so as not to reach too high and Barney found that he could actually do the job better as he could reach areas of the horse in record time. They were talking about Mike and what he liked to do. Jess felt that the more Barney knew about Mike the better the friendship would be. They both needed to have a friend their own age or close enough, if only for a little while.
“Can I tell him about my trek across the country? “ Barney asked.
“As long as you don’t say how exciting it was. We don’t want him to think it was easy for you.”
Barney nodded. “Don’t worry, Jess,“ he spoke quietly, “I’ll talk about how alone I felt even with Rusty and how I wondered about my father. If he would like me. I knew that he didn’t even know I existed and he probably had his own life. He didn’t need me in it. “ Barney thought about that night so long ago. He had to draw on all his strength not to cling too tightly to Bill that last ride together. He was convinced that he would never see him again. “I remember,“ Barney continued softly, talking almost to himself, “hugging Bill when he said ‘goodbye’ and trying to hide my tears. Once I got into the store and met my father and his family, I knew, without a doubt, that the only father I had or wanted to have was Bill Hawks and I ran so fast through the town to get to the riverboat, tripping and falling in my haste and then calling his name before he boarded the boat. We were both out of breath but I can still feel that hug. He’s my father in all the ways that matter. Don’t worry, Jess. I’ll be careful with Mike. He loves the two of you and you both are lucky he’s your son.”
Bill had entered the barn to call them to supper and stood quietly weeping in the shadows, his heart bursting with pride and love.
Chapter 8 – Two of a Kind
The whispering stopped the minute he saw them in the barn. ‘They were like two school boys,’ thought Slim. When he confronted them, both Jess and Coop denied that they were hatching a plot so Slim had to take their word for it. But the meaningful glances persisted and the combination of no sleep, being on high alert and hardly eating anything was taking a toll. Unbeknownst to Slim, the joke was to be played out one late afternoon in October – the day Daisy and Mike were to come home.
Slim was working the forge and Bill was watering the horses when he saw the stage coming down the hill very slowly. Jess smirked. He and Coop were on the porch. “That’s ‘cause he’s got a female passenger and wants to impress her,” he yelled to Bill. With a smile he motioned to Coop. “All set?”
Coop took a position near the barn. Jess, on the other hand, stood, feet planted firmly in place in the yard near the front door of the ranch house. Mose, used to the game of “cat and mouse“ reined in the heavily breathing steeds inches from Jess.
“You’re getting soft, old man,” taunted Jess.
Mose Shell just shook his head at the antics of his old friend and called out “We’re here!” to the passengers.
“What did you say?” asked the dark haired man standing by the horses. Mose did a double take. The man looked like Jess but he didn’t have the same expressive eyebrows and the wavy hair.
“Jess?” Mose called out looking towards the barn, “did you do something to your hair?”
“No, why do you say that?” Jess answered looking perplexed. He was unhooking the traces. He was trying to keep a straight face but the expression on Slim’s face was making the joke harder to perpetuate. Right before Slim took pity on Mose, Bill took the opportunity to open the stage door .
“Welcome to the Sherman Harper Ranch,” he said to the older lady on the seat. She had a blue hat with a feather on top. Her grey hair was neatly coiffed and her blue dress matched the hat. She was dressed for traveling. He wondered why she was alone.
“Well, I certainly am glad to be here!” she exclaimed. “Are you new here?” she asked politely. “Oh, Jess dear, I didn’t know you were hiring more help?”
Bill helped the lady down and then suddenly he understood. “Ma’am, would you be Mrs. Daisy Cooper?”
“Yes, I am young man,” her voice was so low he scarcely heard it.
Bill extended his hand, ” I beg your pardon Ma’am, I’m a guest here. My name is Bill Hawks.”
Daisy shook his hand and then turned and looked inside the stage. “ Mike, dear, we’re here!”
A sleepy youngster appeared, flustered with hair uncombed but a joyful look on his young face.
“Jess!” he jumped out of the stage and ran straight by Coop, never even looking his way.
Jess swung Mike gleefully around to delightful squeals of “I’m so glad you’re back and “ I missed you something awful.”
Slim joined Bill and Daisy and after hugging his second Ma, yelled over to his partner, “ Hey, Mike, aren’t you glad to see me?”
Jess let him down and Mike ran to hug his second father with equal exuberance.
Mose, temporarily forgotten, took down the many parcels and Daisy’s travel bag and set them on the ground. He was just about to climb onto the stage when he saw two men walk towards him, both smiling broadly. “Why, Jess,” Mose sputtered, “I didn’t know you had a twin?”
Jess, who had just pulled off a giant joke on the all-time jokester laughed uproariously. “ He gets that all the time,” he chortled pointing at Coop. “Sorry to startle you Mose,” Jess said good naturedly, “but this is my cousin, Cooper Smith, we call him Coop. He and Bill, over there and Bill’s son Barney, are staying with us for awhile. “
While Jess helped Daisy with her packages, Slim took the opportunity to introduce Barney to Mike. He wasn’t sure how Mike would react but as usual, he was polite but a little shy. Barney, wanting to make a good impression, asked Mike about his new pet.
“It’s a Boy and his name is Robin after Robin Hood, “ Mike pulled the sleepy dog and his crate out of the stage. Barney looked closely at Mike’s new pet and cautiously petted him. He was rewarded with a big sloppy lick on his outstretched hand. “He likes you!” Mike exclaimed and a bond was formed between them right away.
Mike chatted all the way into the house while Barney made a note to tell Slim or Jess that Mike’s new pet was definitely not a boy dog named Robin but a little girl who needed a new name.
Chapter 9 – A Time for Confidences
“Have you ever been lonely?”
Mike’s innocent question startled Barney. They were sitting in the loft one Saturday afternoon. Coop and Bill had persuaded Jess and Slim to go to town supposedly to get supplies but both boys were sure that Christmas presents were on the minds of the men. Daisy was busy in the house so the boys took advantage of the time to spend together. Barney had climbed into the loft carefully. He was going to have to be extra careful coming down as Bill would skin him alive if he fell.
“What’s brought this on?” asked Barney, stalling for time.
“I was thinking about my Ma and Pa last night and my first Christmas here. “
“It must have been hard for you,” Barney consoled him.
Mike gripped the new leash that adorned Lady, his newly-named pup. He had been upset at first that he couldn’t name her Robin, but Jess persuaded him, saying that Lady fit her better. He didn’t quite understand what Slim meant when he told Jess that they’d better be sure that Lady stayed in the barn at night or she wouldn’t be a lady anymore. He petted his pup and gazed into Barney’s blue eyes.
“Well, I’d been here at the ranch for awhile by then. I remember when I was here for a few months and Jess had to deliver horses to the fort. Slim was taking care of me and we went to town for some supplies. He was told that the stage needed a shotgun rider and he’d been volunteered. He told his boss that he couldn’t go ‘cause he had me to look after, but his boss was firm.”
“What happened?“ gasped Barney aghast that such a thing should happen.
“Sheriff Mort took care of me,” Mike proudly declared.
“The sheriff? That’s unusual.“ Barney remarked.
“Well, both Slim and Jess trust him and they are best friends and Sheriff Mort said he wouldn’t mind. We had a great time, fishing, playing games. He even brought me back here so I could do some chores.”
“That was nice of him,” Barney said,” but you weren’t lonely then were you?”
Mike nodded. “I was. You see, I was beginning to wish that the ranch could be my home forever and Slim and Jess could adopt me and I missed them something awful.”
“Did they know?”
“I think Sheriff Mort found out because he told Slim that if he and Jess found a housekeeper the judge might be more inclined to let me stay.”
Barney found himself agreeing. “So, that’s when your Aunt Daisy showed up, right?”
“Well, not right away but soon after.”
“Were you ever lonely again? “
“Sometimes when Jess or Slim go away for ranch business or to serve as deputies I get lonely. I know that I’m adopted and that this is my home forever but when they’re not here, it doesn’t feel like home,” his voice trembled.
Barney reached out and hugged him sideways. Lady squirmed between them and let out a little yelp but Mike held her fast.
“Do you have something that reminds you of Slim and Jess? Like a picture or something like that? “
Mike thought for a minute. “Well, I have a pirate book that Jess reads to me at night and Slim gave me a medal he won in the war.”
Barney hugged him.” That is exactly what you need!” He exclaimed. “Whenever you get lonely and missing Slim or Jess just hold onto the book or the medal and keep them close to you. The trick is to keep remembering that they love you and ask yourself what they would want you to do, like your chores, or your schoolwork or help Aunt Daisy. Bet you’ll find the days go by so fast you won’t have time to get lonely!”
Mike thought about it for awhile and Barney found himself thinking about the times he’d been lonely. He remembered feeling lonely when he first set out from the farm in Virginia and wishing that his grandmother hadn’t died. He couldn’t miss his father much as he never knew him. He reckoned that the only time he ever felt lonely was when he had first met Bill and then walked away from the train because of the lies he’d told about his father.
“So, have you ever felt lonely?” Mike asked again.
“You can’t really feel lonely when you’re out on the trail,” Barney began, hoping that he would be able to distract Mike from what was becoming a nagging question. “You’ve got the sky above you, the sun in your face and the wind at your back. If you’re lucky, you have someone with you to talk with but oftentimes it’s just your horse.”
He looked over at the wide-open face and eager blue eyes and gave up. Mike deserved an honest answer. “Remember how I told you how I first met Bill?”
“Well, back when I first started out, I brought some dime store books about Mountain Men and famous law men and I read them every night. I somehow convinced myself that my father was like the men I read about. You see, my father had left my mother to pan for gold in California. Anyway, Bill didn’t believe my story about my father and told me that when I was ready to tell him the truth I knew where to find him. I was so embarrassed and upset so I walked away from the area and hid. I covered my tracks and muzzled Rusty so he wouldn’t bark. One evening, when I was about to set up camp, I saw Bill come riding by. I hid. He dismounted and walked around my would-be camp site talking to himself. Then he said out loud that he didn’t care about my life, if I had run away from home or was indeed looking for my father. He just hoped I was safe and that he missed me. I almost came out of hiding but I was afraid. I knew that Mr. Chris, he’s the Wagon Master, thought I was a runaway and would alert the sheriff in the next town, so I stayed where I was. Anyway, I started following behind the train a few miles and one night Rusty got away from me and attacked one of the passenger’s chickens. The passenger shot him.”
Mike gasped, tears in his eyes. “That’s awful!”
Barney nodded his head. “Yeah, I was really upset. Bill had come to the wagon when he heard the shot and while he understood why the man had shot Rusty he also knew how upset I was. He put both hands on my shoulders when I apologized to the family and then Bill led me away. Then he did something amazing. He made me wait in the clearing and came back with a shovel and Rusty in his arms. He helped me bury my dog. I told him the truth then about my father and he told me that he’d been looking at me like the son he never had but that now it was my duty to find my father. He suggested to me that my father might need me. “
“Did he?” Mike asked eagerly.
Barney shook his head. “Nope, he had his own family, in fact his son has the same name I do! Anyway, one of the hardest things I ever did was say goodbye to Bill. I was convinced that I would never see him again. When Bill said he would write to me when he returned back east, I tried not to cry. I knew that I would miss him, like you say, something awful. Anyway, my father owned a dry goods store and seemed like a nice enough man. His wife was very nervous meeting me and their son was afraid and maybe jealous of me. Anyway, he was really rude. I was feeling very uncomfortable and then my father called me ‘son’ and suddenly I knew. I knew that my father was Bill Hawks. It didn’t matter that we had different names, it only mattered that we loved each other. I made my apologies to Barnaby West, Sr. and ran like the wind to the river boat. I guess you could say, I have been alone in this world but since meeting Bill, I’ve never been lonely. My family travels with me on a wagon train.”
Mike had listened intently to Barney and could understand everything he said. He was so glad that Jess and Slim had been chosen by the entertainers. However, he was troubled by one last piece of information.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” Barney nodded.
“How come you still go by your last name of ‘West’? I couldn’t change my last name ‘cause Slim and Jess have two different last names but you could, I mean, “ he stammered in embarrassment.
“Well, Mike, for one thing, my adoption isn’t official. I mean, Bill didn’t go to a lawyer or anything like Slim and Jess did for you. But I can tell you one thing. When I get to be of age, I intend to legally change my last name to Hawks. I checked with a lawyer and it’s not that difficult. I’ll probably use ‘West’ on the train ‘cause two Hawks’ might be confusing.” Barney looked the youngster in the eye.
“Bill is my father in all the ways that matter. I want to carry his name out of respect but also because I love him, and now I’d better get down carefully ‘cause I hear the wagon coming into the yard now!”
Chapter 10 – Don’t Go in the Bunk House!
Several days later, an idea popped into Barney’s head that was too big to contain. He asked Slim if he could have some paper and a pencil and began writing furiously. He was still writing when Slim came into the house again for dinner. He looked up sheepishly and asked if he could be part of the porch talk in the evening. When Slim asked him what was on his mind, all Barney said was that it was a gift for Mike.
Intrigued, Slim, Jess, Bill, Coop and Daisy sat around the dining table that night. Barney was just finishing drying the dishes.
“Alright, Barney,” Slim spoke quietly, “the floor is yours.”
Barney glanced at Mike’s bedroom door. “He won’t hear us, will he?”
Jess shook his head. “Nope, he was so tired he fell asleep before the pirates opened the treasure chest!”
Slim eyed him curiously. “You didn’t give him anything did you?”
Jess, who never lied to Slim, shook his head ‘no’ but grinned just the same. “Aw gee, one teaspoon wouldn’t hurt! Didn’t Jonesy always say it was for Medicinal Use only?!”
“Jess!” Slim and Daisy’s shocked voices echoed around the room.
Like a naughty schoolboy, Jess hung his head. He knew it had been a bad idea but he didn’t want Mike to wake up and hear them talking. “Sorry, Pard. I guess it wasn’t the best idea.”
“I don’t know what to say!” Slim stuttered in anger.
“Jess, dear.” Daisy’s voice of calm soothed Slim’s mind and lessened the tension in the room. “How much did you give him?”
“One small teaspoon in his hot chocolate, Daisy.” Jess could never lie to his Daisy.
“Well, I understand why you did it, but don’t make a habit of it,” she admonished him.
Slim shook his head and glared at his best friend. “Pard, not one of your best moves.” He pointed his finger into his chest. “Don’t do it again!”
“I won’t, I promise, “ Jess earnestly said and Slim just shook his head.
“Ok, you’re forgiven, “ and Slim smiled. “You were saying? “ he directed his question to Barney.
“Mike is always asking me questions about the wagon train, the trails we take, what the towns look like, all sorts of questions. I promised Jess that I wouldn’t tell him that it was fun. I always told him about the hard parts, the weather and the dust and the mud! I also told him about the scary parts too and that I was glad I had you and Coop and Duke and Mr. Chris oh and Charlie too to help me. So anyway,” Barney unfurled the papers, “ I thought it would be a great present if we gave him a wagon train of his own for Christmas. “
“How is that going to work? “ Coop wondered aloud.
“Well, first we’d need a place to work. Is the bunk house empty?”
“Yeah, for the most part. There’s a bunk bed in there against the wall and a chair, but otherwise its empty,” Slim answered.
‘Ok, then,” Barney continued. “We’d need a long piece of wood maybe one with a bump in it, A pencil, red paint and a brush. Then some leaves and dirt, some blue fabric and a couple of buttons.” He paused and looked up at Slim.
“Is that all?”
Barney shook his head but before he could answer, Coop chimed in.
“We’re building a wagon train route!” he gasped.
Barney nodded happily.
Bill leaned over the papers. “You’ve got a route, trees and water but we’ll need signs, horses and people too.”
Finally seeing where the idea was going, Slim chimed in,” well, I know someone who can whittle the people, and horses and make the covered wagons too. “
“And I know someone who can make the signs and the white coverings for the wagons,” Daisy said.
Bill gazed at Barney,” who are you and where’s my son?”
Barney laughed heartily. “He’s been right by your side for the longest time but he needed some nudging to come out.”
“Barney, it’s amazing. Mike will have a trail to follow, wagons with horses and people to follow that trail and lots of fun with his friends too. They’ll learn about arithmetic problems, how to read a map, where to find water, all sorts of things. Why even when we get back to the train, and you write him, he’ll be able to plot where you are and the route to take!”
“What’s more amazing, Coop, is that all of us are going to make it happen! “
Bill stood quietly next to Slim and leaning over, whispered “ remember when I told you that Barney didn’t like to take credit for things? He’s got all of you, Mike’s family, working to make a present for him that will last a long time and you all can play it with him!”
Chapter 11 – The Turkey Shoot
It was now definitely winter. Of all the seasons, Jess hated winter in Wyoming the most. He had tried, without much success the first year he was at the ranch, to forgo any chores that had to be done in the cold air. By the second year, he gave up and just endured it. Slim had bought him a new winter coat the first year and Andy had given him a scarf for his second Christmas. When Daisy came, she had knitted him warm socks so being outside wasn’t half bad anymore as long as he didn’t get wet. About the only event that truly excited him was the turkey shoot.
The first year Slim had shown him Paradise, the plot of land on the ranch that was full of wildlife. They would never sell it. The second year, they made it a contest as they had to bag two turkeys. They had a bet going but in the end just decided that the winner, the one who bagged both turkey’s would have bragging rights. This year, since they had three new guests, they would need four plump ones. Slim laid out his plan after dinner one night. If they managed to get four, Daisy had decided to cook one the day after so there would be leftovers for her ravenous boys.
“On Friday, we’re going to have our annual turkey shoot,” Slim announced to the family and his guests. “Now usually, Jess and I go alone, get the turkeys and come home, sometimes on the same day. But this year, we’re going to do something special. We’re going to split into teams, since they’re four of us. The contest is how many turkeys can you kill. The winners get bragging rights. After we get the turkeys, we’ll treat you to a night at the line cabin and then head home. Jess and I are the captains and Bill, you and Coop decide whose team you want to be on.”
“Oh, that’s easy! I pick Jess,” said Coop smiling broadly.
“Guess you’re with me, “ Slim smiled at Bill.
None of the men saw the look of disappointment on Barney’s face.
Thursday night, as Bill was cleaning his rifle, he watched Barney as he stared into the fire and realized suddenly that a bonding moment was slowly seeping away. ‘Was he strong enough to go? What if he got sick? Did he even want to go?’ The questions came fast and furious and before they threatened to knock him sideways, he called Barney to his side.
“Barney, would you like to go on the turkey shoot with us?”
Barney’s face lit up in surprise and happiness. “Could I really, Bill?”
“I think as long as you dressed warmly and let me know if you got tired or wet or sick, then I think it would be alright,” he answered slowly. He was engulfed in a tearful bear hug and knew instantly that he made the right decision. “I think what we should do, is I’ll be the main shooter, but you can take my place for of one or two shots, would that be alright with you?”
Barney nodded, his joy unmistakable.
They set off very early Friday morning. Mike was fast asleep and never heard them. He had decided on his own to stay home. He was recovering from a cold and didn’t want to be sick for Thanksgiving and he needed time to finish making the Christmas presents for Slim and Jess. The men were all in high spirits. Bill and Coop got caught up in the friendly rivalry but Barney just let his horse plod along. The snow drifts were really beautiful and the air so crisp, he marveled at the beauty of their surroundings and could well agree with Slim’s name for the place. They dismounted and tied up their horses and each team went their separate way. Bill had designated Barney to have the first shot so when Barney spotted the turkeys in a tree covered clearing, he hunkered down against a tree. As quietly as possible, he lifted the rifle to his shoulder. He hadn’t fired it in a long time but he remembered the feel of it in his hands. He aimed for the turkey closest to them and squeezed the trigger. The bullet tore into the turkey’s neck, killing him instantly. All the other turkeys fled only to be shot by Jess. Now they were one for one.
Bill was up next against Coop. Unbeknownst to anyone, they had a bet going that whoever lost to the other would have shaving duty with Barney for a week. Once he started shaving, Barney’s facial hair had grown in and he was now shaving every morning. Unfortunately, the path to a clean-shaven face was slow as he was still getting used to the strap and didn’t want to cut himself.
The men in the shooting party had to wait awhile as the turkeys had fled but they soon returned and the contest was on again. This time Coop bagged a turkey and chortled loudly as he put the turkey in the bag. Slim’s turn was next. Jess knew what the others did not, was that Slim was a much better shot with a rifle than a pistol. Barney and Jess each had one Coop had one. Slim lined up his shot and fired and missed. He tried again and as the turkey was fleeing, got one in the head. The teams were evenly matched. Bill was not one to be left out, so with some gentle advice from Barney, he followed behind the turkeys and lay in wait for one to cross his path. The day was getting colder by the minute and Jess’ foot had fallen asleep when they heard a large rifle retort and Bill emerged with a large bird. He grinned at Coop. The two men just clapped each other on the back and resolved to let Barney pick his helper should he need one.
“So, where did you learn to shoot like that?” Slim’s simple question was aimed at Barney. They had found their way to the cabin, started a fire, and eaten the sandwiches that Daisy had thoughtfully made for them. Now they were each laying on their bedrolls , feeling full of food and drinking in the warm companionship.
Barney, who had been wiggling his toes in front of the roaring fire, sat up and leaned against Bill. “I was taught by a farmer who lived not far from my grandmother’s farm. We didn’t have many neighbors as the farm was in the middle of nowhere, but Mr. Wilson, he lived about five miles away, used to help us out every now and again. One day he saw me carrying a kettle full of fish that I’d caught in a nearby stream and he remarked that we must like eating fish a lot. I rather sheepishly told him that we didn’t own a rifle so we couldn’t kill any rabbits or chickens or such. Well, the next time I saw him he was carrying a rifle. It was beat up, he told me, and the sights were off, but it would do while I was learning. I thanked him but told him I couldn’t accept such a fine gift. Well he insisted saying that since I was my grandmother’s protector, I needed to make sure she had enough to eat. Why, he even came over several times a week to teach me how to take the rifle apart and put it back together: how to set the sights and fire it. One night he told me that there was a wolf pestering his chickens and ours might be next. He asked my grandmother if he could take me out to kill the wolf. Well, she said okay and guess what,” Barney paused as he remembered the excitement of that night. “We got the wolf!”
Jess and Coop whooped and Slim slapped his shoulder. Bill tightened his grip on his arm.
“How did you get a rifle?” Jess asked.
“One day Mr. Wilson came by and told us he and his family were moving west and he had a present for me. But he didn’t want me to look for it in the barn until after they had left. Well, I waited for several hours and went into the barn. My present was his brand-new Springfield with a letter. In the letter, he said he’d miss me and reminded me to take care of the rifle. He was always telling me that you take care of a rifle like you take care of your horse. “Treat ‘em right, and they’ll treat you right,”
“What happened to the rifle?” Slim asked.
“I took it with me when I traveled to find my father and I had it on the wagon train,” Barney answered.
“Where is it now?”
Both Barney and Bill grinned, “Right here!” they exclaimed.
“Did you know this?” Jess growled at his cousin.
“Nope, but it sure explains everything.” The two cousins play fought for a few minutes before Slim hollered for them to simmer down.
“It’s an early start tomorrow, “ Slim told them. “Let’s get some sleep.”
Chapter 12 – Barney’s Best Christmas
Although Barney had told Mike that he never felt lonely, he missed the rest of his wagon train family, especially when the big package arrived at the ranch with the Christmas presents from his old friends. They were all wrapped so there was no way they could discover the contents and Bill forbade him from shaking them to much. They were all busy putting the final touches on Mike’s gift in the bunk house and decorating the house for the holidays. Secrets abounded and more than once, Barney caught Bill smiling at him for no reason.
Slim, Jess and Daisy made it a point to make the Thanksgiving dinner a special occasion and the table was groaning with food and drink all day. They had no reason to be lonely and every reason to be thankful in lieu of his rescue but still they missed Duke, Chris and Charlie. Somehow, Slim must have guessed and during his toast, he asked that his guests raise a glass to those who were important to Bill, Barney and Coop and wish them good health.
The days were counting down and at last the wagon train in the bunk house was finished. It was too big to wrap but Barney made a large card with signs and horses and trails on the front of the card and the family signed it. They left it in the bunk house so it would be safe.
Slim, Jess and Mike found the tree and hauled it home while Coop and Bill cut it to the correct size. Mike and Barney made the popcorn strings, eating more than stringing and Slim and Jess and Daisy placed their favorite ornaments on the branches. Then Bill and Coop placed the rest. The empty space at the bottom of the tree began to fill with packages but one day, when Barney was snooping, he noticed one disturbing thing. There was no package from Bill for him. At first he was afraid and then he figured that it might be a private matter since they’d gotten so close after his rescue.
Slim and Jess explained the traditions that they followed and allowed their guests to add to them. Bill agreed that all was fine with him but thought that since Mike and Barney were the youngest, they should be allowed to open one gift a piece on Christmas Eve. Slim and Jess suggested that they could do that after the service in town and all agreed.
Christmas Eve day dawned bright and crispy clear. Snow was in the air and when Barney stepped outside, he could almost feel the icicles forming.
“It will be a cold night,” Bill said as he came up behind him. He handed Barney a cup of hot chocolate and laid a hand on his shoulder. “For want of a boot, this would have been a devastating holiday for me.”
Barney turned, cup in hand, and buried his head in Bill’s shirt. Bill slowly backed up so that they were inside the warm house and then wrapped his arms around his sobbing son. For some reason, Barney always turned into a little boy when under great emotions and Bill thanked his lucky stars that he had always been there when Barney needed him. He was sorely tempted to give him his present then but he wanted Barney to open it in the presence of Coop.
After breakfast and chores, they all scattered to different parts of the house to put the finishing touches on their gifts. Daisy started on the sandwiches for lunch and had Slim get the special dishes that had once been Mary Sherman’s. They were expecting Mort and Lon, Millie, Jess’ friend and Jed and Marcie. The only missing person was Andy, Slim’s brother who was in Boston and couldn’t get away.
After lunch, Slim and Jess got the wagon out and put the bells on the sides of the wooden slats. They made a blanket of straw and pillows and blankets for Daisy and the boys. They had decided to leave early because of the weather and darkness coming in earlier. Then they went into the house to dress.
An hour or so later, the Sherman-Harper family and guests were on their merry way. Attired in their finest under heavy coats and hats, they all made a merry picture especially since Daisy had them singing some holiday songs. Barney, not familiar with the words, just hummed along but Mike was exuberant and sang the loudest.
At long last they made it into town and Slim maneuvered the horses next to the church. Mike clutched Jess’ hand as they walked up the dimly lit stairs. It always amazed him how something he was so familiar with in the daylight should look so different at night. The pastor welcomed them all and they found their seats. Many of the townsfolk were in attendance. Barney, who hadn’t been in a church for a very long time began to feel uncomfortable as if everyone was staring at him. He was glad that he was sitting between Bill and Coop. If someone stared at him, he was sure they would stare back.
After the last song and blessing, they were on their way home again, except that they were now accompanied by their guests in wagons or horseback. Mike could barely contain his excitement at opening a present and Barney wondered to himself whose present he would open first. Daisy and Marcie got busy making coffee and hot chocolate in the kitchen as soon as they got home and Jess and Coop put up the horses for the night. Their time together was growing short and they found themselves spending more and more time joined at the hip, Slim gently joked.
Finally, the time had come. Jess had been designated Santa Claus this year and so with a hearty “ho, ho, ho” he bent down and retrieved a brightly colored package for Mike.
“For Me?” squealed Mike.
Jess just rolled his eyes and hugged him. “Yeah, Tiger, it’s for you! “
Mike made a great show of opening the package while trying to save the wrapping paper. Finally, he held up a new Stetson, his size, with a brightly designed band just like Jess. Everyone admired it and Mike, after hugging Jess, went off to his room to admire himself.
Now it was Barney’s turn. Jess rummaged around, found a flat package and with great ceremony, handed it to Bill. “Merry Christmas, Barney,” he spoke quietly.
Barney trembled and took the package in his hands. He opened it slowly and revealed a long legal document with seals on the bottom of the paper. He read it and then read it again, not quite believing what was printed on the paper. “Bill,” his voice shook, “you did this? I mean, how.” He tried again, “Does this mean what I think it means?” Tears were slipping from his soft blue eyes and Bill put out his arms.
“I don’t understand. What’s going on!” Jess stuttered.
Bill straightened his shoulders and gently turned Barney around to face them. “Tell them,” he gently coaxed.
Barney gulped, blinked back his tears and said proudly, “I am now Bill Hawk’s adopted son. I’m his son forever and he’s my father, forever,” and with that pronouncement, he turned and sobbed into Bill’s shirt.
Chapter 13 – “I’m a Father!”
After Mike and Barney went to bed, the rest of the family and guests drank some coffee and talked about town gossip, the weather, Christmas holidays past until Coop’s curiosity got the better of him.
“So how did you manage it?” he nudged Bill ‘s shoulder.
Bill smiled indulgently. “I’d been thinking about adopting him for some time, long before he was captured. It just never seemed to be the right time. Anyway, there I was in the town of Laramie and I asked Slim if there was a good lawyer in town. He introduced me to Seth. When I explained what I wanted to do, your good lawyer tried to talk me out of it. He reminded me that most people adopt babies or young children, neither of which was Barney. In fact, he said that Barney could well be on his own . Well, I wouldn’t back down and he realized that I was adamant. So, he asked me about Barnaby Senior and I told him that I had searched for him, found him and explained that he had a son. At first Barnaby Senior didn’t believe me but I had the letter the grandmother had given Barnaby and he relented. I told him how Barney had walked from Virginia to Sacramento to find him and that he was as unsure about meeting him as he was of meeting his son. Anyway, we set up a time for them to meet the next day. I said ‘goodbye’ to Barney at his father’s store and left to catch the river boat to San Francisco and eventually Missouri. I told Seth that I had a terribly hard time leaving Barney but I knew he had a duty to know his own father.” Bill paused a took a sip of his now cold coffee. He looked over at the bedroom door and remembered what happened next.
“Seth asked me what happened next and I told him that I had somehow made it to the boat and was walking up the ramp when I heard Barney call my name. I told Seth that I ran down the ramp , and we just looked at each other for a long minute. It was if there was no one else around. Then we hugged and ran for the boat.”
“I told him about the adventures we’ve had, the schooling that Chris gives him, the chores he has and that I monitor his pay. For instance, awhile back he wanted to take his own money and buy a pistol. I told him no. But he went and bought one anyway. Chris took it away from him and I punished him for disobeying me. I did tell Seth that we relented almost a year later when we saw how mature he was behaving.”
“Seth asked me if anything would change if the adoption was approved. I told him I didn’t think so except that our father son bond would grow stronger. So he finally believed me and wrote a letter to Barnaby Senior. I met with the judge right before Thanksgiving and he signed the adoption papers.”
“You’ve had them for over a month and never said anything! “ Coop exclaimed.
Bill grinned. “It was tough, especially when Barney kept snooping under the tree.”
Much later, Bill Hawks quietly approached his bed and started toeing off his boots.
“Bill?” asked a sleepy Barney.
“Yeah, it’s me.” He squatted down so that they were eye to eye. “You should be asleep, “ he admonished gently.
“I wanted to tell you something, “ Barney yawned,” I wanted to tell you that this Christmas is the best Christmas I’ll ever have even though I’ve had other Christmas celebrations and will have in the future, not any will be better than this!”
Bill grinned. “And I want to tell you something too,” he paused and swept some of his son’s hair off his forehead, “ remember that night when Rusty died and you said that you didn’t need a father anymore just a friend and I told you that I’d been looking on you as the son I never had, “ Barney nodded, “well, I think we became a family right then. When I left Chris and Duke at the bank and I was prepared to go to the post office to find your father, Chris told me, that if I didn’t find Barnaby West Senior, that you were welcome on the train and a way to help you with your schooling would be found.”
“Do you think he suspected that you wouldn’t find my birth father and that’s why my name was on the list at the boat? “
Bill shook his head and rose to his feet. “ I think he hoped that we would realize that you were my son in all the ways that mattered and I was your father. The document doesn’t really change anything between us. It just protects you and your rights and it makes me responsible for you. But son, I still look on you as my son no matter if we have a paper or not.”
“Good night, Pa,” Barney smiled as he snuggled in his blankets.
“Good night, son,” Bill whispered as he covered him up with the blanket.
Chapter 14 – The Big Open
“IT” was in the air. “IT” was in the house. “IT” was in the barn. “IT” was everywhere and “IT” was growing. “IT” lured him, caressed him like a lover, spoke to him in his dreams. “IT” had been the lasso around him, the bane of his existence, and brought devastation to him on more than one occasion. Jess knew that if it hadn’t been for a wide, open, welcoming smile of the man who was his brother-friend, he would have followed after “IT.” He had pounded the stakes in deep, tethered himself to Slim, and signed on the dotted line, making him a co-parent to a young orphan boy. He recognized the signs and wondered briefly, if “IT” was a family thing. All he knew was that pain was coming and he didn’t want his cousin to succumb to the grief and doubt that often plagued him when confronting The Big Open.
Slim had seen the restlessness and heard the normally calm Texan drawl snap in frustration over nothing and had seen Coop standing by the fence gazing out beyond the house to the open road. He was itching to be on the trail again.
One evening, just before he turned in, Jess suggested a trip to a line cabin, just the two of them.
“What’s up, cousin? “
“Just want to spend time with ya,” Jess replied. The twin blue eyes met and held for a long moment and then Coop shrugged and replied that it would be a great idea and Jess said he’d make all the arrangements. He took Slim aside and told him about the itch Coop was feeling and that the trip was just a last time visit between two cousins.
Slim agreed amiably, and decided that a fishing trip with Barney, Mike and Bill was a good memory to make and so the men of the wagon train, and the Sherman-Harper ranch went their separate ways. Each writing memories in their Book Of Life.
A week later, Bill went into town with Coop to get supplies for their trip. The plan was to drive their wagon straight down the trail and catch up with Mr. Chris and the wagons. If they were lucky, they might run into Duke first. Along the way, they talked about a way to thank all their new friends.
“They took us into their home without any hesitation, “ Bill marveled.
“Yeah, well, Jess is my cousin,” Coop sheepishly grinned.
Bill swatted Coop gently on the arm.
“What was that for?” Coop yelped.
“For being downright smug!” Bill grinned at his friend. They had been friends a long time but the shared experiences had brought them closer. “You’re right, of course, we ought to do something. I can’t think of what to give them though, except maybe free passage on the train, should one of them want to travel with us.”
Coop pondered the problem as they drove home. “Hey,” he yelled,” how about a party!”
“A party?” Bill started to shake his head and then stopped. “ How would we pull it off? We can’t do it at the ranch, that’s for sure.”
“Maybe in town,” Coop suggested, cocking his head as he usually did when deeply pondering something.
“Where?” challenged Bill. “ We can’t use the church, the school house.” He stopped, thinking hard. “How many folks are we talking about? “
“Well, the folks at the ranch of course, then there’s Jed and Marcie, the sheriff and his deputy, the lawyer and the doc, probably about a dozen.”
“How about the back room at Stockmen’s?”
“Do you think the bar keep will say ‘yes?’
“How can he say ‘no’, it’s for Slim and Jess!”
The two men drove on for a bit and then suddenly Coop grabbed Bill’s arm. “We’ll set it up for a Sunday afternoon, the day before we leave. We could get the food from the diner and well, the drinks from the bar. We could have Mort invite everyone. “
“Which means we have to tell him the real reason for the party, “ interrupted Bill.
“Do you see any other way?”
Shaking his head, Bill gripped the reins tighter. “This Thank You Party is getting complicated. “
“We gotta get them something too and I know just the thing!”
“Are you going to tell me or let me guess?”
Coop’s eyes lit up. He liked surprises, well not the ones that crept out of forests with guns or arrows or Charlie’s dinners, but surprises he had made. “ A new sign for the barn.”
“Jess told me that they never changed their brand from “SR” because it was too much work and for some reason, they never repainted the sign above the barn. We get the sign painter to paint The Sherman Harper Ranch on the sign.”
Chapter 15 – It’s official, Well Almost
While Bill and Coop put together their surprise for their new friends, Barney began work on his own. He first went to see Slim’s lawyer and the information matched the same as the information he’d been given by Mr. Peterson, the lawyer on the train. He knew that it wouldn’t be official for several months but by the time they reached the train and he had celebrated his birthday, the document would be official. He had convinced Seth to fill out all the paperwork beforehand and had promised not to sign it until he had reached the important milestone. He wanted to present it to Bill before they left Wyoming.
It was easy to get caught up with the party plans but the document was foremost on his mind. He had started to dream about Bill’s reaction and what would happen. Consequently, he went about his days with a happy expression on his face. The only problem he had was when to schedule the great reveal. It had to be when everyone was present and not the day of the party. Finally, when the date was set, Barney knew he had to act.
Finally, the sign was ready and the plans were in place. Barney cautiously made sure that everyone was going to be home that night.
“So, what’s so important, that we all have to be here?” Coop suspiously asked.
Barney clutched the document in his hand and faced the family. “ When Bill gave me the best Christmas present ever, adopting me, I knew that what we felt for each other would never change but now everyone would know that I had a father, someone who loved me so much that he would stand up for me. I was part of him.”
Both Bill and Barney wiped their eyes.
“I wanted to cement our father-son bond, so I went to see your lawyer, Slim. Now, this won’t be official for a few months until after my birthday and I’ve signed it and sent it back to Seth, but It’s as good as it gets. Here you go, Bill.” His hand trembled as he handed the document to his father.
Bill took the flat package from his son. He had no idea what it contained. His hand shook as he cut the string and opened the package. He gasped, looking up at Barney as his eyes filled with tears.
“When does it become official, son?”
“After my birthday, “ Barney answered as his eyes sought Bill’s.
“What did he do?” Coop asked.
“Barney is changing his last name, Coop.” Bill’s eyes never left Barney’s face. “Do you have any idea how immensely proud and happy you’ve made me?”
Barney nodded and found his voice. “In a few short months, I’ll be officially your son. I love you so much.”
While Barney and Bill fought to control their emotions, the rest of the family looked at the document.
“Barney Senior had no problem with this?” Coop asked.
“Nope, he wrote Seth that since I hadn’t lived in his home and didn’t have anything to do with each other, that he didn’t have a problem with it.”
“Aren’t you concerned that they’ll be a problem on the train what with two Hawks? “
Barney shook his head. “On the train, I’ll be Barney West but with my friends and family, I’ll be Barney Hawks,” he smiled.
“This calls for a toast” Daisy announced as she produced several glasses. “To Bill and Barney!”
Chapter 16 – The Party
“I don’t see why I have to get dressed up twice!“ Mike complained to Daisy two weeks later. He had risen early, put on his best clothes and attended church with the family. Now, just as he was beginning to think of playing with his wagon train in the bunk house, he had to get dressed again. He looked for help from Barney but Barney was with Bill. He had said something about his boots. Even after all this time, he still suffered from pain if he bent down the wrong way.
“Does he suspect anything? “ Bill asked.
“Nope, he’s just upset that he can’t play with his wagon train,” Barney replied. He remembered when he was young and his grandmother had made plans for them and he had to go along because she said so. Barney’s thoughts ran towards a different tack. He had to make a speech, in just a few hours, and he hadn’t thought of what to say.
“What makes you think anything is wrong? “ mumbled Barney.
“I know you and you’re upset about something,“ Bill put his hand over Barney’s shoulder. “You might as well tell me. I’m going to find out eventually. “
Barney knew he was beaten before he even got started. He had never lied to Bill, well not since that awful night, and so he just stilled for a minute and shuddered, “I have to make a speech,”
“Oh, Barney, that’s nothing to worry about, “ Bill’s reassuring voice surrounded him. “ Look, when it’s your turn, just focus on me or Coop or even Jess or Slim and speak from your heart. Besides, it’s good practice.“
Barney blinked. “Good practice for what?”
“Well, Coop and I think that when Mr. Chris gives his talk to the passengers, you ought to tell them how to survive if captured by Indians.”
Barney gulped, “What!”
Bill covered his smile, “Well, it’s your decision, of course. You’ve got miles to go before you make up your mind.”
The party was a rousing success and everyone was having a good time. Conversation flowed along with the drinks and everyone delighted in the beautiful cake Maude had made at the diner. Slim and Jess stood apart from their friends and gazed out at all of the men and women who had given their hearts to the three men from the wagon train.
“What I want to know, is how they managed to pull this off without our knowing about it!” exclaimed Jess.
“And I want to know what is in that big box that Barney has been guarding all afternoon.“
Finally, when the conversations seemed to be winding down, Mort called for silence and Coop stood up and faced the good people of Laramie and his new friends. He looked for Jess and spotted him next to Slim. He grinned briefly. “And Slim thinks we’re joined at the hip!’ he thought.
“Ladies and gentlemen,“ he began, “we wanted to throw this party for all of you who made us feel so welcome these last few months. When we decided that we needed a place for Barney to recover and I wired Jess, we had no idea that my cousin had so many friends who would open their hearts to us. Oh, we tried to earn our keep but Slim and Jess made everything seem so much fun from painting to shooting turkeys. We’ve all recovered from our joint ordeal and as we travel across the plains towards our wagon train, I know we’ll carry the memories of what you did for us in our hearts. Because of you all, I have a closer relationship with my cousin and a whole bunch of new friends. Thank you!”
Bill nudged Coop. “Thanks for taking all the words I was going to say,” he whispered loudly. He cleared his throat. “Friends, I want to add my thanks too. You opened your heart to me and helped me realize that the work we do, guiding people west, opens up your towns. We got to see your town and all the work you do. We had no idea how much work went into managing a ranch,” he paused as everyone started laughing. “Seriously, because of your fine doctor, Barney will be able to go back with us and because of your fine lawyer, a new family was born. Thank you.”
Bill slid a hand down between Barney’s shoulder blades in silent support and Barney found his voice.
“When I was young, my grandmother gave me a book. It had a nice leather cover but the paper sheets were empty. She told me that it was a Book of Life, my life. I should write the experiences I had in it. I always wondered what I would name my book. Most of you know about my trek across the country and how I met Bill. I always thought that the adventures I had on the train and scouting would fill the pages. But Bill and Coop reminded me that some choices I made and some circumstances were beyond my control and that sometimes little things are rites of passage. You all gave me a chance to recover and new memories to write in my book. One of you gave me a new life and one of you saved my life. You’ve also helped me name my book. It will be called “The Book of Barnaby Russell Hawks, His Rites of Passage in the old west.”
Everyone clapped and cheered and Barney blushed. Bill and Coop motioned to Jess and Slim.
“Everyone’s been wondering what this box is, well if you two will grab the ends and slide it out you’ll see.”
Slim and Jess took hold of the box and slid the sign out. For a moment nobody said a word. Jess gulped as he beheld the sign. In bright red were the words “Sherman – Harper Ranch” printed on a whitewashed board.
“I truly don’t know what to say.” Slim, for once was awestruck. He looked at Jess who seemed to be having the same problem.
“How about ‘Thank you,’ Mike’s voice rang out in the quiet room. And then suddenly the room exploded with excitement and oohs and awes.
Jess clapped his hand on his cousin’s back and grabbed Bill with the other. “Thank you,” was the only thing he could manage.
Slim stood by the sign, admiring the printing and thanking his lucky stars that Jess happened to trespass on the property that day so long ago.
“Thanks for everything,” Bill and Coop said after they managed to extract from the crowd of happy well wishers.
“You’re welcome,“ Slim managed to say.
Chapter 17 – The Book of Barnaby Hawks -Memorial Firsts
The morning of their departure was clear and sunny. Coop had been up early and had double-checked the wagon and the horses. As he was approaching the well to draw water for the washing up, he spied Miss Daisy just coming out of the house. “Give you a hand, Ma’am?” he asked politely.
Daisy tucked a wayward curl behind her ear. “Everything all set?” she nodded in the direction of the wagon.
Coop nodded and picked up the bucket with ease. “I’m sure going to miss your cooking, Miss Daisy.” Daisy smiled.
“Well, I know that Jess is going to miss YOU,” she emphasized each syllable. “Why there’s been so much doing here that it’s going to be down right boring when you all leave!”
“I hardly think that, Daisy!” Jess said from behind her. “Listen, Coop, I gotta a favor to ask of you.“ He waited a beat and then whispered “Take care of Barney when he’s riding out there with you. He’s a good lad and as much as we’d love to have him stay again, we’d rather he be well er, not hurt.”
Coop grinned broadly and the three went into the house. After the ritual of shaving, Barney got dressed and joined the family for one last meal. It was a subdued until Jess grabbed the last biscuit off of Slim’s plate while he was talking and a playful tussle ensued.
Barney had hugged Daisy, shook hands with Mike and was just about to shake hands with Slim when Jess disappeared into the barn. He reappeared leading a beautiful brown Mustang all saddled.
“Slim and I have one last present for you, Barney. Coop told me that you’d been promoted to Scout before you were captured and hadn’t really started the job. And since we figured that you’d be sitting in that wagon all the way to the wagon train and then trying to earn enough money to buy a horse, well, we decided to help you out. I got him from the fort and he’s all trained. He loves hills and will run forever. The only thing is, he doesn’t have a name.”
“Thank you!” Barney was near tears as he ran his hands gently down the horse’s neck. He looked up at Bill who just smiled and handed him an apple.
”The saddle belonged to my brother, Andy, those are his initials, but it’ll fit you just fine until you can get another. He’s full of spirit and heart. Almost wish we could keep him!“ Slim grinned.
“That’s it! I’ll call him Spirit!”
The warm hugs that followed were felt by all as the trio steered their way out of the Sherman Harper Ranch. True to their promise, Barney rode out of the Sherman-Harper yard with a full heart. He had recovered; he had a forever father and new friends for life. ‘Not a bad beginning for the new chapter in my Book of Life.’ He thought as he rode towards the hills where, beyond in the Big Open, a wagon train waited.
This is my first Wagon Train story and a crossover at that, if only for a few chapters. It is mainly a Barnaby West/Bill Hawks/Cooper Smith story but Slim Sherman and Jess Harper from Laramie, Coop’s cousin make their appearance as well. It’s full of hurt/comfort and family love and I hope you like it.