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The End of the Trail


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Rating: PG-14
Content: N/A

ABANDONED THREAD - MOVE TO CORRECT FORUM AFTER MOVING TO NEW SITE. GOES IN ABANDONED THREADS FORUM.

 

Mature Content: Probably not, some bad language.

With: Jess Matthews
Location: The Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas
When: Late August, 1876
Time of Day: Afternoon

 

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"That's it, Jess, I'm gettin' tired of cowography! I'm gonna find a nice little girl, get a nice steady job and settle down someplace... nice!"

 

Clem Craddock, known to his friends as 'Scrappy' (more from the amount of fights he seemed to get into, than his ability to win them), could hardly be blamed: this had been the toughest cattle drive of his life: the Boss had been nearly as surly as the herd, and as likely to stampede at the slightest provocation. Rivers had been swollen beyond crossing (they'd lost one man that way) or creeks they relied upon to water the doggies were completely dried up. Rustlers, Indians, rival cowboys whose herds had mixed with theirs, touchy townsfolk, farmers with their confounded barbwire fences, outlaws: they'd had falling outs with all of them. And one particular ornery muley - well that hornless steer just about had it in for Scrappy - from the minute the Mexican 'Corporal ' had delivered the herd to them over the border to the time the Boss had paid them off in Dodge, about fifteen minutes ago.

 

Dodge City, Kansas - the latest and greatest cattle entrepot. Jess and Scrappy's crew had always delivered to Wichita before now, but the growth of farm lands around that railhead made the place unviable now. Dodge was the place to be, and the place to be in Dodge was the Long Branch Bar. 

 

As Scrappy slammed down his cash on the bar and ordered two fingers of red-eye each for himself and his pard, he sighed somewhat wistfully. "Boy, just think of it, a feller like me that never had no family to speak of, settling down, and getting a nice family started, just like yours. You've sure painted a nice picture of family life for me, Jess: I can picture them now, just back from church: the dear old father, proudly beaming down on his happy brood: his noble upright sons, his pretty little daughter, and there in the background, the idol of them all, the sweet mother of the family, serving up their Sunday roast..."

 

"Hey, you!" a female voice broke Clem from his reverie.

 

"Jesus Christ, Wichita Lou?! What in the name of hell are you doing here?!!" he gaped. 

 

"I go where the cowboys go" the brassy looking blonde replied. "Crappy Craddock isn't it?" she asked, and looked at Jess "Your friend's called Matthews isn't he?"

 

"Scrappy, actually and yes, this here's Jess Matthews." the short cowpoke replied, frowning quizzically at his partner while the woman disappeared someplace and came back. "They left this telegram here for you, couple weeks ago now." she said and handed it to Jess.

 

It was from an old Kalispell school friend of the taller man and read:

 

Jess, Yr Mother very ill. Outlook bad. Come soon if you can. Yrs Hector W.

 

"Good news?" asked Wichita Lou, adjusting her cleavage - maybe the feller had come into money! -  while his friend looked on with a concerned look on his face.

 

images.jpeg

Wichita Lou

 

@MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It had been a long hot day of work in Dodge City.... this had to have been one of their toughest gigs yet...but Jess was fairly certain they both thought that after each drive.  But now they'd been paid, and paid well, so they would eat and drink good tonight!

 

Jess had met Scrappy at his very first job he'd gotten right after he left Kalispell, they'd struck up a quick friendship and had stuck together through many a wild cattle drive.  Scrappy had talked a many a time about settling down, but there was something different in his tone about it today.  Perhaps he should take him back to Kalispell, let him see where he'd grown up ... plus Jess couldn't lie, he did miss his family....even if they were rough around the edges.  One person that wasn't was his Ma.  And boy could he use a serving of that roast Scrappy just mentioned!

 

As Scrappy painted the pictures of what Jess had described about his family to him over the past year, on the inside he cringed some, 'cause that won't nothing like what his family really was.  Had Jess really led him to believe that's how they were?  That was more how he wished they'd be.  

 

As Scrappy slammed down his cash on the bar and ordered two fingers of red-eye each for himself and his pard, he sighed somewhat wistfully. "Boy, just think of it, a feller like me that never had no family to speak of, settling down, and getting a nice family started, just like yours. You've sure painted a nice picture of family life for me, Jess: I can picture them now, just back from church: the dear old father, proudly beaming down on his happy brood: his noble upright sons, his pretty little daughter, and there in the background, the idol of them all, the sweet mother of the family, serving up their Sunday roast..."

 

"Well now, Scappy, I don't know if it's quite like tha...." But he was interrupted by the female voice and he immediately wondered what Scrappy had done to tick this woman off, but quickly he could tell that it was more...friendship maybe?

 

He couldn't help the snicker when the woman called his friend Crappy but quickly his smile faltered as she was off somewhere and he could see her coming back with a telegram.  The smile was back as he slapped his hand against Scrappy's arm. "I bet it's Ma, wanting me to come home for a visit." He eagerly grabbed the gram and read through it, the smile falling yet again.

 

"Oh, no...." he whispered as he stared down at the information from his old friend Hector, then blue eyes back up at the woman. "Can you send a telegraph from here?" He asked her, wanting to send a message to his family quickly, let them know he was coming and see if he could find out how his Ma was doing.  He looked over at Scrappy. "It's my Ma....she's fallen ill." His brow pulled together, heart sunken to his stomach, making him feel sick.  

 

@Javia

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Scrappy was just about to knock back his grog, when his friend seemed to physically sag and his voice let out a pained whisper. 

 

"Oh, no...." he whispered as he stared down at the information from his old friend Hector, then blue eyes back up at the woman. "Can you send a telegraph from here?" He asked her, wanting to send a message to his family quickly, let them know he was coming and see if he could find out how his Ma was doing.

 

"Does this look like a telegraph office?!" answered the woman tersely. Wichita Lou didn't have a very big heart, especially considering the size of the containers. "Anyway, the line's down. Indians!" she added uncaringly. 

 

"What is it?" asked Scrappy with a worried look on his suntanned, unshaven features.

 

He looked over at Scrappy. "It's my Ma....she's fallen ill." His brow pulled together, heart sunken to his stomach, making him feel sick.  

 

"What, bad?" Clem looked serious as Jess handed him the telegram, the shorter man scanned it and stated what they already knew: "Sent two weeks ago... Let's think, Dodge to Kalispell, that's right up the top of the Territories, right? That's quite a space." He shook his head for a second, but then the light bulb literally shone above his head. He slapped his pal on the arm. "Drink up, It'll do you good, you're in shock. Then come on. The boss hasn't sold off the remuda yet. If we pool our pay, he'll cut us a deal and we can buy enough good remounts that we can ride hell-for-leather for Kalispell and be there in a few days."

 

And if the Boss didn't want to play ball, Scrappy had already decided he'd make him an argument in lead. 

 

Wichita Lou returned to them. 

 

"Say boys, would you like me to introduce you to couple of nice young ladies?" asked the shameless bawd. 

 

"No thanks, we're not interested in girls, we're only interested in horses!" exclaimed Scrappy as they exited the den of iniquity. Lou looked them both up and down as they exited the place "Takes all sorts, I suppose!" she shrugged. 

 

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Jess was happy his friend was thinking clearly, more clearly than he could because his mind was certainly consumed with worry over his Ma.  I guess the term "Mama's Boy" applied to him whether he would admit it or not!  And the fact that Scrappy was willing to go along on the ride with him, was something special to him, to not have to ride alone and not have to say goodbye to a good friend, not knowing where or if they'd meet up again.  

 

His plan had been perfect.  Though their boss had been intolerable and crude he hadn't minded cutting them a deal on the horses.  And off they were, the town of Dodge City eating their dust as they hit the trail.  Thankfully the weather had cooperated and while it had been hot ride the further north they got, towards Montana, it was cooling off a good deal and the temperature difference was most welcomed by the men.  Even though the weather had been nice it took longer than Jess wanted to arrive back home.  It was a week since he'd gotten the telegram in Dodge City, so 3 weeks since his Ma had fallen ill.  Certainly by now she was getting better.  Though he hadn't been able to kick that nagging feeling that he won't getting the results he wanted when he arrived.  That was just the devil talkin' to him!  And he won't giving that old devil any victories by giving those nagging thoughts any of his time or energy!

 

Had he been arriving under different circumstances he would have allowed his mind to go back to the many good memories he has from here, being that he'd been here his entire life except for when he left a year ago.  It was getting to be late afternoon when they finally arrived at the house.  

 

"Home sweet home." He said low, looking over to Scrappy as he got off his horse and rushed up the steps, opening the front door of the house and going right on in, leaving it open for his friend to follow.

 

"Ma?" He looked around, pulling his hat off his head he held it by his side.  She'd always made them take their hats off when they came inside.  He didn't want her to have to fuss over that.  His heart was beating fast behind his chest.  The house was quiet....too quiet.

 

@Javia

 

 

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Their father was prostrate with grief and there seemed little to do but put him into bed - oh God, no, not the bed their mother had died in just yesterday morning: no, they put him in Raymond's bed, the sixteen year old himself could sleep on the sofa or bunk up with a pal. With a shot of laudanum they were able to get Father into some sort of fitful but basically comatose state. It had been a trying 24 hours. 

 

Then Raymond and Zenobia heard the front door open, someone marching straight in. Even relations wouldn't do that, cousins Jake or Leonora, and even Great Aunt Nellie would introduce herself with a shout and a holler: a cantankerous Where is everybody? The brother and sister looked at each other with a frown across their poor father's now recumbent form.

 

"Ma?" He looked around, pulling his hat off his head he held it by his side.  She'd always made them take their hats off when they came inside.  He didn't want her to have to fuss over that.  His heart was beating fast behind his chest.  The house was quiet....too quiet.

 

It was a voice that they both recognised instantly, though its speaker was a half forgotten man. Zenobia's face formed into a scowl that could have graced a harpy's face.  "NO!"" she spat, and started to fly to the bedroom door while her father stirred in his restless sleep. Raymond tried to catch her but instead had to troop swiftly after her instead. 

 

When she reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the parlour, Zenobia flew at her older brother, but it was not an embrace of sisterly affection she had in mind but a full blown physical attack accompanied by language that made Scrappy's hair curl.

 

"You bastard! You filthy fucking bastard!" she spat as she rained blows and slaps on her brother "You killed her! You bastard, you killed her!!" she snarled as Raymond, running up behind,  somehow managed to pull her off. "Get it out!!" she now shouted hysterically at Raymond, pointing an accusing finger at Jess "Get that THING out of our house!!"

 

With that she turned and ran back upstairs sobbing.

 

Jess had always been their mother's favorite, just as Zenobia was their father's. Raymond had been a bit of an afterthought, his main role in the family, it always seemed to him, to provide a cushion to absorb the blows, or make peace between the two warring camps. He had been angry when Jess left, too. He had tried to pick up the pieces, always feeling that he wasn't doing too good a job of it. He did what he could now. 

 

"You'd better go." he said firmly to his big brother "Ma died yesterday morning. She's... if you want to see her she's at the funeral Parlour. Not the old one, Mr Jolly's, opposite the saloon." he flicked his eyes between the two men, this was no time for introductions.

 

"And get some mourning, will you?" This he said a bit more tersely. With his mother dead, his father as good as dead with grief, his sister in a state of virtual apoplexy and his brother persona non grata, the burden of responsibility seemed to have fallen squarely and heavily on his own narrow shoulders to see things were done right. 

 

"He's right, come on." encouraged Scrappy, who was only too anxious to get the hell out of his pal's 'happy family home'.

 

Zenobia 3.jpg

 

@MD

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The two of them could hear the "NO!" coming from upstairs, but Jess had no idea that it was directed at him and that he was about to be met with a myriad of physical blows from his younger sister.  But there she was, rushing towards him and before he knew it he was doing his best to protect his face from those nails of her, however she connected a couple of times, leaving small red welts in their place. 

"Zenobia, what the hell!?" He yelled at her as he deflected her blows best he could.  He couldn't dare raise a hand back at her or he'd be dead at the hands of their father.  But then the words cut him like a knife, hurt him more than any of those physical blows ever could.  They opened his chest, stabbed him in the heart and ripped it out.  Zenobia in all her glory had confirmed to him that his mother had indeed passed.  But all the while she made sure to let him know that it was his fault.  And as if to add insult to injury she referred to him as a THING and wanted him gone.  He watched in astonishment as she stamped away from him.

 

Then to be replaced by his quite and coy self, Raymond made his way in.  

 

"You'd better go." he said firmly to his big brother "Ma died yesterday morning. She's... if you want to see her she's at the funeral Parlour. Not the old one, Mr Jolly's, opposite the saloon." he flicked his eyes between the two men, this was no time for introductions.

 

Jess's mouth nearly fell open, well it did for a split second before he closed it back and he blinked unbelievingly at his brother.  Were they this angry with him?  Even the little brother that, before he had left anyway, had been more than a brother but a friend.

 

"You kiddin' me right now, Ray?"  The reality setting in more the more his little brother talked.  She had died just yesterday.  Jess had been late by less than 24 hours.  Dammit!  He knew he needed to be a man right now but the emotions welled up in his throat, causing a lump and his eyes started to water, but no tears fell.  His looked towards the stairs then back at him. Where was Pa?  But if these two, if Zenobia and Raymond wanted him gone, what was his father thinking of him.  "Where's Pa?" He finally asked but hearing his friend confirming that they should get out of there Jess did take a step towards the door.  He wouldn't stay no place he won't welcome.....even if that was home. 

 

@Javia

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"You'd better go." he said firmly to his big brother "Ma died yesterday morning. She's... if you want to see her she's at the funeral Parlour. Not the old one, Mr Jolly's, opposite the saloon." he flicked his eyes between the two men, this was no time for introductions.

 

"You kiddin' me right now, Ray?"

 

That didn't merit a reply. Raymond was split: on the one hand, Zenobia was right: when Jess had run off to be a cowboy, it had hit their mother hard; she had doted upon the older lad, he was the apple of her eye; she worried about him, she fretted about him - out there, somewhere: perhaps dead in a gully or gored by a steer or scalped by Indians!

 

But their father would not even allow his name to be spoken, so angry was he. The initial shock, and then the worry and stress of it all, had played upon their mother's pre-existing weak heart, she had steadily declined over the year. 

 

Father had forbidden Raymond from trying to get word to Jess, so the boy had told Hector and he he had miraculously worked out where the wanderer was likely to eventually fish up. Because, at the end of the day, Raymond had a lot of his mother in him, and he knew that the dear sweet woman would have forgiven her prodigal son everything, had she just been given the chance to look upon his face one last time. 

 

But it was not be. 

 

"Where's Pa?" He finally asked but hearing his friend confirming that they should get out of there Jess did take a step towards the door.  He wouldn't stay no place he won't welcome.....even if that was home. 

 

"He's in bed, he's... not good." Ray said quietly: he had never seen his Father like this, never even imagined he could be like this; their mother had been everything to him, and now his everything was dust. Zenobia stomped around warningly overhead.

 

"Go and see her." Raymond advised: Jess's silly little kid brother suddenly looked and sounded like a thirty year old man: it was odd, but he and Zenobia had been forced to grow up a good deal over the last year. Zenobia practically ran the house now, and they depended more and more on Ray's earnings as Father had become more depressed and let his barber business slide.

 

"Then go and see Aunt Nellie, she'll put you up and tell you... tell you anything you want to know." The sixteen year old looked ready to keel over, he had hardly slept for days and then only fitfully: it was no wonder he and Zenobia were on short fuses. 

 

Another thump upstairs. 

 

"Please... go." Raymond repeated, this time more beseechingly: he had reached rock bottom of his store of energy and his nerves were in shreds, having Jess and Zenobia in the same house was beyond him right now. 

 

@MD

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Raymond couldn't seem to get his brother out of the house fast enough.  Jess was completely aghast at the situation.  He really didn't know how much his leaving had affected his family.  The reason for his leaving was their father.  He couldn't take the constant ridicule...he could never do anything right and they were almost always arguing.  They did seem to find common ground from time to time and they'd get along just fine, but it always seemed to settle back down on them butting heads over something.  He thought it best for all of them, his mother especially, not to have to see that day in and day out.  Jess also validated his leaving so that he could send money home.  In all his working as a cowboy he had only kept enough for him to eat on and get any necessities, the rest of it he had wired back home every chance he and Scrappy came to a city big enough to do such a thing.  

 

Learning that their Pa wasn't in any shape to see him right now, he supposed he would just come back later.  As he backed to the door and looked his little brother in the eye any light of childhood had been dimmed and he was indeed acting as the man of the house right now at the ripe age of 16.  This made Jess feel terrible but he knew right now there was nothing he could do and he was only making things worse by being here. 

 

"Well if you need me you know where I am."  He looked at Scrappy and motioned with his head for them to leave.  He wouldn't be surprised if Scrappy just saddled up and left, never to be seen again, since it was obvious that Jess had stretched the truth to him about his family.

 

He turned back and looked at Raymond. "You're doing good, Raymond.  Hang in there, brother." He said low, knowing the boy needed the encouragement and wishing he could stay and take some of the weight off of him.  Maybe once they got over the shock that he was back he could do just that.

 

@Javia

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Scrappy followed his pal out of the cosy looking, but very chilly feeling, home: he didn't care that his pie-eyed ideal of the Matthew Family's domestic bliss had been exploded into a thousand shimmering shards, he just cared about Jess's inevitable hurt that his Mother had died and that they had arrived just a day too late for at least the consolation of a deathbed farewell. He felt for him, too, about the frosty reception he had met at the hands of his family. 

 

They were men, though, they couldn't actually talk about these feelings. 

 

"Pretty rugged, huh?" he said grimly. 

 

He waited for Jess to say something: whatever he wanted, Scrappy would go along with, be it unhitch the horses and ride out of there, hit the saloon for the anaesthetic of a drink, or go and view the body of his dearly beloved Mother. Even the last option was preferable to re-entering that house and meeting Jess's harpy of a sister again. 

 

Then there was a call "Jess?" a lanky, long nosed and long faced lad of about eighteen or so Summers was hailing them from across the street. It was Jess's second cousin something-removed, Jake Lutz. The young man jogged over to them, hardly recognisable as he was wearing beat up clothes covered in dust with a Western Union satchel and a rifle over his shoulder and a black armband rounding out his ensemble.

 

He shook hands with Jess and nodded at Scrappy. He noted that Jess wasn't wearing mourning.

 

"Guess you just got in." he surmised "I'm sorry you were too late. Did you get the telegram Ray got Hector to send? Your Pa wouldn't let him send one himself." the distant cousin related. 

 

 

Jacob.jpg

 

@MD

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Jess reluctantly left the house.  It was against his better judgement on one hand but on the other he knew he had to.  There was no telling why his Pa was passed out in the bed.  Of course the grieving had, but was it alcohol or some kind of drug induced coma?  There was no telling the mood the man would wake up in and given the mood of his sister....yea, he had better leave.  


He walked out of the house, nodding to Scrappy's summarization of what had just happened in there.  He was just about to ask him if he'd mind him going over to Mr. Jolly's to visit his dearly departed mother when he heard the familiar voice of his cousin.  Albeit they were distantly related he felt more loved by Jake, Josephina and Aunt Nellie than his own father and sister.  He welcomed the sight of him and extended his hand shaking Jake's.

 

"It's sure good to see you, Jake." He greeted the boy and stepped back motioning towards his friend. "This here's my good friend Clement, call him Scrappy though.  Met him on the range." He said with just a small smile touching one corner of his lips, looking at Scrappy "Scrap, meet my cousin Jake."

 

He shook hands with Jess and nodded at Scrappy. He noted that Jess wasn't wearing mourning.

 

"Guess you just got in." he surmised "I'm sorry you were too late. Did you get the telegram Ray got Hector to send? Your Pa wouldn't let him send one himself." the distant cousin related.

 

At the news that his cousin gives him he feels a rage rise up inside of him.  He was already tired from the long trip, upset over being a day late for his mother, upset at his sister's reaction to him coming home, upset that his brother had booted him out of the house, upset that his father ... was ... well, his father and this sent him over the edge.  

 

"Wouldn't let him send one himself?!" he replied to Jake.  Wouldn't let his own brother send him a telegraph to tell him about his Ma being on her death bed!?!?  His jaw locked, his teeth clenching as he let the news settle... he turned on his heel muttering under his breath as he stormed towards the door. "I'm going to let that old brute have it!" He yelled as he stormed back towards the house.  This would be an opportune time for Jake and Scrappy to put a halt to his fit of rage before he got inside and caused things to go farther south than they already were!

 

@Javia

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