Word Count 6,175
First in the I’ll Be There series, followed by Superstitions
“Sure would like ta sleep in a real bed tonight,” Jelly groused.
“Don’t count on it. There ain’t a town within a days ride in any direction. What’s the matter, saddle gettin too much for ya?” Johnny teased.
“You ain’t never seen the day I can’t sit a saddle with the best of ‘ em ,” Jelly retorted.
They were riding through a hilly wooded area, having decided to get out of the hot sun for a while. Johnny and Jelly had been to Sacramento on business for two weeks and they were both ready to get back home. “Well, we should hit Green River by sunset tomorrow. You can have your bed then,” Johnny commented.
“Good! I’m gettin tired of sleepin with bugs!” Jellifer huffed.
Johnny laughed at him and took the lead as they came to a narrowing in the trail. Barranca suddenly got skiddish and Johnny’s instincts rose an octave as he scanned the woods for possible threats.
“Easy boy, what is it? What do you hear, Barranca?” he asked the palomino who was not calming down one bit. “Keep your eyes open, Jelly. Barranca’s got a whiff of something.”
” Hmmph ! The only thing that horse has got a whiff of is bein spoiled rotten!” Jelly exclaimed just before his own horse started rearing back and sidestepping. He was concentrating on keeping the animal under control and did not see the rattlesnake that had caused the whole problem.
Johnny saw it then and drew down on the reptile, but he held his fire as he realized how close Jelly’s horse was to it and he knew the shot would surely cause the horse to buck. Besides, Barranca was still misbehaving himself. He just couldn’t get a good vantage point. Before he knew it, Jelly was bucked off his horse and was rolling down the incline. Johnny discharged the snake in no time and was off Barranca and sliding down the hill to Jelly.
He wasn’t moving as Johnny called to him on his way down. His heart was thundering in his chest as he dreaded what he might find. He slid to a stop beside the older man and turned him over gently.
“Jelly? Hey, you ok?” he whispered.
There was no response. He felt for a pulse and sighed with relief then he went about checking for damage. When he got to Jelly’s left leg he stopped. Johnny pulled his knife from his boot and cut the pant leg uncovering an ugly break. The bone was jutting out of the skin three inches below the knee. Johnny felt his stomach turn at the sight. He quickly reviewed his options and realized he didn’t have many. They were in the middle of nowhere and had not seen another soul all day.
He sighed and set about finding something to make a splint from. Finding what he needed and retrieving his rope and extra shirt from his saddle, he tried once more to awaken the injured man. Satisfied that Jelly was truly unconscious and grateful for it, he took hold of the leg and positioned himself so that he could use his foot for leverage against a nearby rock.
Summoning all his strength, Johnny pulled on the leg until finally, mercifully, he felt it pop into place. Jelly didn’t move or respond at all. Johnny wasn’t sure that was so good anymore and once he had bandaged and splinted the leg, he checked Jelly’s head. There was a nasty lump there and Johnny wondered what else could go wrong.
He sat with him for a while, thinking of what to do now. Jelly still hadn’t stirred and he knew he had to find shelter as it was getting close to sunset. He climbed back up the hill and scouted the area. He found a cave and investigated. Assuring himself it wasn’t home to any bears or other wily creatures, he went back to his friend.
He took out his bedroll and fashioned a type of gurney to drag Jelly to the cave. Once this was done, he started a fire and took care of Barranca. He started cooking the beans they had and made coffee, hoping the aroma would wake the old man.
He took out his kerchief and wet it from his canteen, gently dabbing at the old man’s forehead. “Jelly, come on now. You have to wake up, amigo,” he whispered.
Jelly began to stir a bit and Johnny sighed and closed his eyes for a silent prayer.
“Bout time. I was beginning to think I’d have to carry you all the way home,” Johnny smiled.
” Wha ….?
” Shhhh , stay still. You had a bad fall. Your leg’s broke pretty bad, Jelly. Don’t move around too much.”
“What happened?” Jelly asked. His head felt like it was full of cotton and a train was running through at the same time.
“Rattler spooked the horses. You got thrown.”
“Did it get me?” Jelly asked, his concern rising.
“No, it didn’t. You think I’d let you get bit. You had a bad fall,” Johnny reminded him.
“Where’s my horse?”
“Sorry, Jelly. He ran off. It was either get him or you. Took me a while to decide,” Johnny grinned.
Jelly offered a small speck of a smile, it was all he could manage.
“Here, take some water. Slow now.”
“Oh, that’s good. My head feels like it’s comin off,” Jelly said softly.
“I know , you got a nice lump back there. Matches the rest of the knots on your head perfectly.”
“You’re a terrible nurse.” Jelly tried to sound gruff but he wasn’t carrying it off.
“Thank you. Now, do you think you can eat somethin ?”
“I don’t think so, Johnny. My stomach ain’t up to it yet. Where are we, anyway?”
“A cave, it’s pretty well hidden. I almost didn’t find it,” Johnny explained.
“How’d you get me up here?”
“How do ya think? I, uh, had to set your leg. It’s a bad break, Jelly. Went through the skin. I guess it’s a good thing you were out cold.”
“Reckon so. Johnny, how’re we gonna get outta this mess?”
“I don’t know yet, but let’s not worry about it now. Try to get some rest and then you gotta eat somethin . Morning will be here soon enough. We can figure out a plan then.” Johnny gave him a reassuring smile and covered him up with the blankets.
“Ain’t you gonna sleep?”
“In a while, Jelly. Now go to sleep before I put another knot on your head,” he admonished.
Johnny had no intentions of sleeping. He knew he needed to keep a close watch on his friend, especially with that head injury. He sat there trying to think what to do. He couldn’t leave the older man alone; that was out. Jelly would never be able to make it on horseback, even if he walked them out. He thought about fashioning a travois but that was as bad as the horse. His leg would never handle that.
He thought he would take a walk in the morning and see if he could find more appropriate shelter, or even better, a farm or small ranch. If that failed, he knew he would have no other choice. He would have to send Barranca home. He wasn’t thrilled with that idea, they were still a good day’s ride from Green River and he didn’t like the idea of his horse making that trip alone. It would be his luck somebody would rope Barranca and steal him.
Morning finally came and he was grateful. It had been one of the longest nights of his life. Now he could get up and move around, his legs were starting to cramp up on him. Johnny fed the fire and slipped quietly out of the cave to begin his quest for help.
He kept a steady pace through the woods, marking his way. He had walked for an hour when he found a structure. He approached cautiously, though it looked abandoned, he was taking no chances. Johnny drew his gun and slowly opened the creaking door. He slipped in and scanned the interior of the one room shack.
It wasn’t much and looked like it hadn’t been occupied for a very long time. He checked the fireplace and cleaned it out. The water pump worked and after several minutes of priming, he finally got it to flow. The cot didn’t look in too bad shape so he took the mattress outside and beat the tar out of it, leaving it to air out. There were some pans and pots left behind that would work nicely.
All in all, he thought he’d found suitable accommodations. The only trick was getting Jelly there. He started a fire and, after making sure the flue worked, he headed back to the cave. He knew he had been gone too long, but it couldn’t be helped.
Jelly awoke in excruciating pain. His leg was on fire and every nerve in it seemed to scream at him. He managed to raise up enough to take a look around and found himself alone. His head was spinning and he laid back down.
‘Now where’d he get off to?’ he wondered. He figured Johnny had gone hunting for food. He knew he wouldn’t just leave him there, would he? Â He heard Barranca outside and knew better. ‘ Naw , he just went for food or water,’ he thought.
He turned over as much as he could and tried sitting up again. It was a little better this way as he could rest his head on his shoulder and still see his surroundings. The fire was in pretty good shape and the coffee pot was still there. He sure wanted a cup of that coffee. He reached for it but it was too far away. He scooted himself a little closer and his leg sang out again. He was almost there, just beyond his fingertips…just a little farther.
“Jelly, what are you doin ?” Johnny asked from the mouth of the cave.
“I’m a tryin ta get me a cup of coffee if you don’t mind. Since ya left me here all by myself, figured I’d just have to make do,” Jelly growled.
“You knew I was coming back. I found an old shack not too far from here. It’ll be a lot better than this cave,” he explained as he poured the coffee and handed it to his friend.
“Ah, now that’s better! And just how was you plannin on gettin me there?” Jelly asked.
“Well, I’ve been thinkin about that. I’m gonna put you on Barranca. Now, don’t look at me like that! It’s the only way. I know it’s gonna hurt but we can’t stay here, Jelly. I’ll fix breakfast then we’ll head out.”
“Yeah well, I ain’t likin it, I kin tell ya that! And why didn’t ya ride Barranca to find this haven?” Jelly asked.
“Because, I wanted to make sure it was in walking distance. Is that all right with you?” Johnny shot at him.
“Well, ain’t we grouchy this mornin !”
“Sorry, guess I’m a little tired. Let me take a look at that leg,” Johnny said with remorse.
He pulled the pant leg back and peeked under the bandage. The wound was red and inflamed and oozing pus. ‘Great! That’s all we need,’ he thought.
” How’s it look ?” Jelly asked.
“Not bad,” he lied and turned to start breakfast.
After breakfast, Johnny broke camp and saddled Barranca. “You ready?” he asked as he returned to the cave.
“Reckon I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” Jelly huffed.
“Ok, I’m gonna pick you up but I gotta put some kind of a sling on your leg so I can keep from bangin it around,” he explained.
Johnny took his kerchief and tied it to Jelly’s, then slid it under Jelly’s left leg. “You hold onto this,” he instructed as he handed off the makeshift sling. It worked pretty well as he carried the older man outside.
“This is the bad part, Jelly. It’s gonna hurt like the dickens,” he warned.
“Just do it quick like, get it over with.” He clamped his jaw tight in anticipation as Johnny threw his right leg over the saddle and pushed him into a sitting position.
” Oooooohhhhhhhh !”
“You ok?” Johnny asked.
“No, I ain’t okay!” he yelled then, blew out a breath. “Just give me a minute.”
Johnny waited patiently until Jelly nodded he was ready. He tied Jelly’s leg to the saddle to cut down on the jostling he was going to have to endure then, they set off slowly. Johnny figured it would take about two hours at this pace to reach the shack. He was exhausted from lack of sleep and worry. He could get Jelly to a better shelter, but then what? That leg was badly infected and he knew he had to find a doctor and soon.
“How much longer?” Jelly asked, breaking his thoughts.
“Almost there. You need to stop?” he asked looking back with concern.
“No, I’m ok,” Jelly said through gritted teeth.
They made it to the shack in just under two hours. The chimney was still smoking and Johnny sighed with relief.
“Give me a minute and I’ll get you down,” he said as he retrieved the mattress from where he’d left it to air out and took it inside.
He returned quickly and untied the broken leg. “Think it’s better if I slide you off from this side. Try to put some weight on your right leg when I get you down.”
Jelly was able to stand on his right leg for a few minutes, until Johnny was positioned to lift him up and carry him inside. He laid Jelly on the cot and smiled.
“Here’s your nice warm bed, Mr. Hoskins.”
” Hmmph ! Thanks a lot!”
“Just get some rest. I’ll take care of the food,” Johnny replied softly.
He set about housekeeping and managed to prepare a decent meal for what he had to work with. Jelly slept through the afternoon. When Johnny checked him, he was burning up with fever.
Johnny’s shoulder’s sagged. He knew he had to do something but it wasn’t gonna be pretty. He removed the splint and bandage and gasped at the infected wound. It was even worse now. He pulled his knife out and laid it in the fire then, he took the rest of his once-shirt and tore strips for bandages.
He boiled the water and thought about what he was about to do and prayed it would work. He tried to awaken the sleeping man to no avail. Once more, he was grateful for it. He pulled the knife out of the fire and stuck it in the hot water for a minute before he turned to his friend.
Johnny tried to swallow the lump in his throat but it was being stubborn and would not go away. He took a deep breath and made a quick clean cut into the festering wound. That woke Jelly and he screamed in pain.
Johnny pushed him back down on the cot. “Easy, easy now. It’s over, it’s all over now,” he said softly.
He dabbed the fevered brow with cool water and Jelly settled down again. “Jelly, I’m not done yet. The worst is over but it’s still gonna hurt, I’m sorry.”
“It’s ok, I know ya gotta ,” Jelly whispered.
Johnny pressed in a downward motion at the top of the wound and the fetid pus oozed out. He thought it would never stop, but finally the blood that had been mixed with the drainage turned into just blood and he stopped.
Jelly had passed out some time ago and he was glad the old man couldn’t see him right now. He walked to the door and opened it. Standing in the last rays of sunlight, he wiped the tears from his eyes before going back to the cot. He spent the rest of the evening trying to cool Jelly down. He kept checking the wound, satisfied the bleeding had stopped but knowing he hadn’t gotten all the infection out. Still, it wasn’t as red and swollen as it had been.
Jelly began to stir, mumbling under his breath. Johnny leaned closer but he still couldn’t understand what Jelly was saying. Suddenly, Jelly’s voice became louder and clearer.
“Leave him alone! Johnny! Don’t go, ya don’t hafta go there. Stay with me; us. Johnny? Don’t leave, boy. Please don’t leave.”
“Jelly, wake up. Wake up now,” Johnny said firmly.
“No, ya can’t have ‘ im . Why can’t ya just leave ‘ im be? He don’t do that no more, he ain’t botherin nobody. Leave ‘ im be,” Jelly cried out as he tried to toss and turn.
Johnny held him down and tried once more to awaken him from the nightmare. “Jelly! Wake up!”
“No! Johnny, no. Ya can’t go, ya ain’t gonna die on me, boy. I….I love you,” Jelly pleaded.
Johnny stared at him, awestruck. Tears threatened to come and he blinked several times. He stroked the old man’s forehead and spoke quietly to him, saying anything that came to mind. He just wanted Jelly to hear his voice and know he was there.
He finally started calming down and opened his eyes slowly. “Johnny?”
“I’m here, Jelly. I’m right here, amigo,” Johnny whispered.
“What’s goin on?”
” Nothin , Jelly. You just had a bad dream is all. Think you could eat something?”
“I’ll try,” Jelly said tiredly.
“Good, I’ll be right back,” Johnny smiled and started to stand when he felt a hand on his arm.
“Don’t you stay here for me. Go get help,” Jelly said.
“Eat first then, we’ll talk about it.”
Jelly managed to eat most of the soup and he received a brilliant smile as a reward. He watched Johnny cleaning up and moving about the shack. His eyes were locked on the young man as if he couldn’t see enough of him. He was beginning to think this would be his last chance to be with the boy.
“Johnny, come over here.”
Johnny was immediately at his side. “You ok? You need somethin ?”
“Yeah, I need ta talk to ya. You gotta leave me here and get help,” Jelly said with conviction.
” Gettin sick of lookin at me already?” Johnny smiled.
“Ain’t no time for funnin , boy,” Jelly retorted.
The smile left his face and he looked at Jelly seriously. “I can’t leave you alone here, Jelly. I’m going to write a note and send Barranca home.”
“That’s crazy! What if he don’t make it? Why a million things could happen to a fine animal like that roamin around by hisself ! It ain’t smart, Johnny, and ya know it.”
“Look, I am not leaving you here! Barranca’s our best bet. He’ll get home, he’s smart.”
“Johnny, think about this. You could be in Green River by nightfall tomorrow. Back here in another day.”
“Yeah, that’s two days alone, Jelly. You’re too sick, I can’t”
“Yes, you can!” Jelly interrupted. “Ya got to. Now there ain’t no use arguin about it, ya know I’m right.”
Johnny did know he was right but how could he leave him there alone? But if he didn’t, Jelly wouldn’t make it and he knew that as well. He sighed heavily and gave in.
“Ok, Jelly. I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
Johnny watched over Jelly all night, cooling him with the cloth he’d made from a piece of his shirt. The older man was still on fire and restless at the best of moments. He mumbled and jerked his head side to side throughout the nightmares that haunted him.
Johnny thought about the one earlier. He was the nightmare, apparently, and Jelly was afraid for him. He shook his head in wonderment as he recalled the old man saying he loved him. But then, it still amazed Johnny that people loved him.
Jelly had come into their lives with a bang and was still booming these seven months later. He was a grouch on a good day and had no problem speaking his mind. Johnny smiled as he remembered the first time he’d met Jelly and how disappointed he was when Jelly had stolen Teresa’s pearls. But it had all worked out. More than anyone, Johnny understood why Jelly did the things he did.
He had taken in those eight orphans to keep them from starving or worse and Johnny respected the man for that. He remembered wishing he had met Jellifer B. Hoskins when he was a kid. Things might have turned out a lot different for him. He knew the man’s heart was made of pure gold and he knew that Jelly was fond of him, but somehow he never expected to hear him say he loved Johnny.
He realized he didn’t know very much about this man. Where he was from or what else he had done in his life besides rescue orphans. Â He promised himself that when Jelly was better they would talk. He only hoped they would get that chance.
The first rays of dawn streamed through the cracks in the walls of the shack. Johnny was dozing lightly beside the cot and jerked awake when the sun hit his face. His eyes immediately went to the man in the cot and he checked him. His fever was better but still there, though he seemed to be resting easier now.
Johnny got up and stretched out his stiff muscles. He put on the coffee and warmed up the soup he’d made the night before. Jelly probably couldn’t handle anything heavier just yet, he reasoned. He checked once more then went out and saddled Barranca. He was still unsure about this, his heart told him to stay but his head told him his heart wasn’t thinking clearly. He went back inside and stoked the fire then went to wake Jelly.
“I’m awake,” Jelly said as he opened his eyes.
” Playin possum?” Johnny teased.
“Just takin my time about wakin up is all. You ready ta go?”
“Yeah, I still don’t like it. Jelly, I’m gonna leave my gun with you, just in case.”
“Oh, no, youâ€™re not! You’re the one that’s gonna be out on the trail. You need your gun.”
“I’ve got my rifle, I’ll be fine. I’m not gonna leave you here defenseless. Now, it’s your turn to give a little,” Johnny stated firmly.
“Oh, all right. Just be careful,” Jelly conceded.
“I will. Now, before I go I’m gonna move this cot closer to the fire. That way you’ll be able to reach the woodpile and the soup. It ain’t much but it’ll keep your insides warm. I filled the canteen but take it a little easy. You’re in no shape to be trying to get to the pump. Let’s see, did I forget anything?”
“Johnny, go! Youâ€™re a gettin on my nerves!”
“Alright, alright. Listen, I’m gonna ride as hard as I can and I’ll be back before you know it, ok?” Johnny walked over and knelt by the cot.
“Don’t you go dyin on me, you hear? I still got things to talk to you about, things I want to say, things…”
“I know, boy. Just get goin so’s ya kin get back,” Jelly said softly.
Johnny looked long at him then left.
He rode as fast and hard as he could and Barranca, sensing the urgency, gave it his all. Johnny arrived in Green River late in the afternoon, but he had still made good time. He headed straight for Doc’s office and bolted through the door.
Doc ran out from the examination room to see what the ruckus was. “Johnny, what in the world?”
“Doc, ya gotta come with me. It’s Jelly. His legs broke and infected. He’s real sick,” Johnny explained as quickly as he could through the heavy breaths.
“Alright, calm down. Where is he?”
“Almost a day’s ride from here. I gotta get a wagon, but it’ll slow us down. I want you to ride on ahead of me. “
“Alright, I’ll get my bag. I’ll send someone out to the ranch to let them know what’s going on as well. You go on and get a wagon.”
Johnny took Barranca to the livery and borrowed a wagon, leaving his palomino in the hands of the smithy. He laid down some hay and blankets in the back and took off as fast as he dared to go. Sam sent a message to Lancer and was gone in less than five minutes.
He slept a lot but the dreams were still bad. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was gonna happen to Johnny. All the dreams were of him getting shot down by some faceless figure and Jelly running to him, holding his head in his lap. They were always alone, just the two of them and it always ended the same, Johnny died.
He tried to think of something else, even moved his leg a little to try and think of the pain instead, but nothing worked. He would not rest until he knew Johnny was alright, home safe and sound. He could tell the fever was up again, but he figured there wasn’t a thing he could do about that.
True to his word, he ate a little soup and kept the fire going and waited. It was only the first night but it seemed like Johnny had been gone forever. He wondered if he was going to make it. He sure had a lot of close calls in his time, too many, just like Johnny.
He wanted to protect the boy from his past, keep the ghosts at bay. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. Funny, how easy he had gotten under his skin. That brash kid with the easy smile and caring heart. He had made sure Jelly’s kids got good homes, everyone of them, and had even kept tabs on them all these months.
It was hardest thing the old man had ever done but he knew it was right, he knew they were right. He never in a million years would have guessed he’d end up at Lancer with a ‘family’. But that’s exactly what happened and he was grateful for it, too. He hadn’t had a real home since he was a boy and it sure felt good to have a place to nest now.
Murdoch, Scott, Teresa were all like real family. Johnny was like a son to him, the son he had never had and had always wanted. Why he had felt such a deep connection to this young man, he didn’t know, but it was there almost from the start. Well, after everything had got settled that is. Johnny had made him feel wanted, like he belonged. He reckoned it was something they had in common, not having a home for so long.
It didn’t take long for Jelly to find out about Johnny’s past and he even managed to get the boy to talk to him about it a little bit. Things that had happened at the ranch, passing comments Johnny made, all these things started adding up in Jelly’s mind and he knew … he just knew this one was special.
Young Ben Johnson rode up to the Lancer hacienda and delivered a message to Murdoch.
“It’s from Sam. Jelly’s been hurt and he and Johnny are on their way to him. The directions are here.” Murdoch read the note and frowned.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Scott asked.
Johnny nearly turned the wagon over more than once. He decided he had better slow down though he hated to. But it wouldn’t do Jelly any good if the wagon was in a hundred pieces at the bottom of some ridge. He hoped Sam didn’t have any trouble finding the place and that he was already there. It was night but thankfully there was a full moon and a clear sky so he had little problem seeing the road.
Sam pulled up in front of the shack. He might have missed it if it weren’t for the smoke coming from the chimney. He walked in and found Jelly asleep.
” Jellifer ?”
“No, Jelly, it’s Doc. Johnny’s on his way with a wagon for you. I came on ahead. Now let me take a look at that leg.”
He removed the splint and the bandage and saw immediately what Johnny had done. It was a good thing too, because Jelly might very well have lost his leg if Johnny hadn’t relieved the pressure from the infection.
“This is going hurt,” he warned. He pressed on the wound and expressed more pus, but it wasn’t too bad. He took out a bottle of whiskey and poured it into the wound.
” Ooohhhhhhh ! Doggone it, Doc! Save some of that for the other end will ya?” Jelly hollered.
“Hush!” Doc yelled back and continued his ministrations.
Johnny arrived two hours later and found Jelly sleeping. He seemed to be resting better than ever. “How is he, Doc?”
“Better than he would have been if not for you. That was a good idea, opening up the wound. You probably saved his leg, Johnny.”
“But, will he be okay?” Johnny asked as he knelt beside the cot and felt Jelly’s forehead.
“The fever’s down and the swelling and inflammation in his leg aren’t too bad. With proper rest and care, he should make it provided he can fight off the rest of that infection.”
“I guess we should wait til morning before leaving,” Johnny said absently.
“That would be advisable. I don’t know how you got here so fast and I’m not going to ask. Now, as for you, young man.”
“Me? I’m fine,” Johnny said.
“Of course you are. Johnny, when was the last time you slept?” Sam asked sardonically.
“I don’t know,” Johnny whispered.
“You’re exhausted. Now bunk down and get some sleep. I’ll be here with him.”
“Johnny, that you?” Jelly asked softly.
“It’s me, Jelly. I’m right here. Doc’s here, too.”
“I know, he bout killed me. You okay?”
“I’m fine, Jelly. Just get some rest. We’ll take you home tomorrow, first thing, I promise,” Johnny said as he stroked the old man’s forehead.
“Home sounds real good,” Jelly answered weakly then closed his eyes.
Johnny hung his head and took Jelly’s hand in his own. He and Sam were so caught up in Jelly, they didn’t hear the footsteps. Murdoch and Scott stood in the doorway and watched the interaction between Johnny and Jelly. Murdoch could see his son was exhausted and he walked over to him.
“Johnny,” he called gently.
Johnny turned and looked at his father. “He’s so sick.” His voice trembled, his eyes full of pain.
“I know, son. Let Doc take care of him. You need to get some rest, too, you know. You can’t take care of Jelly if youâ€™re falling asleep on your feet,” Murdoch nudged.
Johnny smiled at this. “I can sleep on my feet. I’ve done it before.”
Murdoch returned the smile and another voice piped in.
“Come on, brother, you’ve done enough for now. Give us a chance to help, too. Don’t be a hog, now,” Scott teased gently.
He pulled his brother up and walked him over to the other side of the fireplace. Scott laid out a bedroll and tucked his brother inside, covering him up and threatening to sit on him if he didn’t stay put.
The three of them took turns watching over Jelly and Johnny through the rest of the night. Both slept peacefully for a change. In the morning, they quietly went about getting ready for the trip home before waking either man.
Johnny awoke to the noise. Little as it was, he was used to listening while he slept. He got up and went to Jelly, checking his condition.
“He’s alright, son,” Murdoch said softly. “Come on, eat something then we’ll get going.” He ushered Johnny to the small table and sat him down.
Johnny ate quickly and drank down the coffee in two gulps.
“Gee, you weren’t hungry were you, brother?” Scott teased.
“Just want to get going,” Johnny said forlornly.
“We have a few minutes. Can you tell us what happened?” Murdoch asked.
“Rattler spooked the horses, Jelly got thrown, fell down a hill, broke his leg, hit his head,” Johnny replied flatly.
“What’s wrong, son?”
“What’s wrong?! What do you think is wrong!?” Johnny asked, suddenly angry.
“Easy, son. I know youâ€™re exhausted and worried. He’s going to be alright, Johnny.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just tired. I’m glad youâ€™re both here. I just want to get him home like I promised.”
He sounded dejected to Murdoch, like he was giving up or giving in to something.
“Jelly? Hey, wake up. It’s time to go home,” Johnny said softly.
“Home?” Jelly mumbled.
“That’s right, amigo. Home. We’re just gonna carry you right on out to that wagon and lay you in the back. I got a nice soft hay bed for you to lay on. You’ll be traveling in luxury.”
“I knew you’d get me home, Johnny,” Jelly said with a weak smile.
“Sure, Jelly. Just relax and let us do all the work.” Johnny looked away from his friend’s trusting eyes.
They carried him out and got him settled with very little discomfort. Johnny climbed in the back with him and they set off. Doc said the extra hour’s ride would be alright so they headed straight for Lancer.
The next time Jelly woke up he was in his own bed. Johnny was sitting next to him smiling.
“I told ya I’d get you home.”
“Youâ€™re a man of your word, Johnny,” Jelly smiled. His first real smile since the whole ordeal began.
“How do you feel?”
“Oh, not too bad. Leg ain’t aching as much and my head’s a lot clearer.”
“Doc gave you laudanum and your fever’s gone now. Couple of months and you’ll be good as new.”
“Couple of months!”
“Jelly, I told ya it was a bad break. Takes a lot longer to heal. Now, don’t worry about a thing. Teresa’s gonna take real good care of you and we’ll all look after Dewdrop.”
“Well, reckon I ain’t got much choice,” Jelly groused.
“Nope, you ain’t got no choice. Now, while I have your full attention, I want to talk to you,” Johnny said seriously.
“Well, what’re ya lookin so serious about? I ain’t had time to do nothin wrong.”
“In the shack, you were having a lot of bad dreams. I want you to tell me about it,” Johnny said bluntly.
“I….uh….I can’t remember now,” Jelly sidestepped.
“Bull! You were callin out my name, Jelly. Saying things about ‘them’ leaving me alone and telling me I didn’t have to leave. What was that all about?”
“I’m awful tired, Johnny. Let’s talk about it later.”
“Quit stallin , old man. What were you dreamin about?” Johnny insisted.
“Alright! I dreamed you was shot down dead in front a me. Happy now?” Jelly said curtly.
“I see. What made you dream somethin like that?” Johnny asked, his voice soft now.
“I don’t know, Johnny. I just had this real bad feeling somethin was gonna happen to ya. I couldn’t shake it and all the time you was gone for help it just got worse.”
” Nothin’s gonna happen to me, Jelly. You said somethin else too,” Johnny said, suddenly embarrassed.
“I did? What?”
“You said you … well, that you uh… loved me,” Johnny said, his eyes down.
Jelly swallowed hard. “I said that? Well, reckon it was the fever. Man can get right delusional with a fever.”
“Yeah, a man can get real delusional when he’s got a high fever. I just wanted to say that I … I feel the same way when I’m delusional,” Johnny grinned.
Jelly smiled at him. “Ya know it was bad, them dreams, me bein there all alone with ya and nobody ta help. I’ll always be there for ya though, Johnny. Don’t you ever worry bout that. I’ll always be there,” Jelly said sincerely.
“I’ll always be there for you, too, Jelly. Always. You know how much you mean to me, don’t you?”
“I reckon so. Bout as much as you mean ta me. Johnny, I ain’t never had a boy of my own, but I always kinda thought, well, that you was as close as I was ever gonna get,” Jelly said huskily.
“I couldn’t ask for a better second father. I love you, ya old grouch,” Johnny smiled and hugged him.
“Alright, well, ahem, reckon I’d better have somethin ta eat, or are ya gonna starve a poor cripple ta death!”
“Now, Jelly, you know we aren’t going to starve you to death. I brought you something to eat, see? But, Jelly, no cow bell!” Teresa proclaimed as she walked into the room.
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