Disclaimer: Oh, how I wish I owned them! But they're always young in my mind, and I guess that's what matters anyway. Money: zilch. So... Linda = 0, The Universe = 1. (I agree, it's not fair)

Lucy

by Linda Bindner

Jack grinned at Bennett as they walked along the board sidewalk heading towards the office. “I hear that Hotel Radway is in use again.”

Clive gave a rueful smile. “You heard, did you?”

Jack cackled. “The whole town heard.”

The ruefulness of Clive's smile increased. “She does yell loud enough to wake the dead, doesn't she?”

“Yep,” Jack agreed. “The Bordertown Temperance Society sure has one hell of a spitfire there.”

Clive laughed with him. “Poor Zack.” They both paused just outside the office, loathe to enter and greet their 'guest.' “I hear that Mrs. Radway even asked Marie to join.”

Leaning back against the office wall under the Canadian and US flags, Jack did his best to appear casual, though this event still galled him a little. The only reason Mrs. Radway wanted Marie to join the Temperance Society was because as the town's doctor, Marie's voice would lend credibility to their cause. However, he was glad she refused to join. He still felt sore at Mrs. Radway for the way she'd accused Marie of negligence several months before. It was only through Clive's ingenuity and understanding of the law that eventually proved her innocence.

“Mrs. Radway did ask her to join, once upon a time,” Jack now admitted, then proudly added, “But what Marie told her was pretty good if I do say so myself.”

“And of course you do,” the Corporal teased. “What did she say?”

“She approved of what she was doin,' but not of her... doins,'” Jack ended, unable to recall what word Marie had used that made her response so perfect.

Clearly Clive had no trouble remembering. “Her methods, Jack, Marie called them 'her methods.'”

Jack looked affronted. “If you already heard it, then why the hell are you makin' a big deal outta it now?” Under his breath, he added, “Smarty pants.”

Clive laughed. “I just like watching you squirm.”

Jack tried not to react, and failed. “Someday, Bennett, the world'll roll over the likes of you - I just hope I'm there ta see it!”

Clive gave another gleeful laugh. “Jack, don't be so predictable!”

“I ain't pre.... whatever you said! I'm...”

Liam passed on his way to the barber shop, skirting Clive as he did so. “Corp'ral. Marshal.”

Jack's face turned to thunder. “Why you gotta say 'hey' to him first?”

Liam hastily assured. “Oh, I don't mean nothin' by it!”

“See that you don't!” Jack growled, not paying attention to the fact that what he had just said made little sense.

Liam shared a questioning look with Clive, but it was cut short when Zack passed coming from the other direction. “Corporal. Marshal.”

Jack shared a look with Clive this time. “Do I have 'ignore me' tattooed on my..?”

Zack interrupted. “Marshal, where was Lucy off to this mornin?' I'da thought she'd have school, but I guess not.”

Jack was truly mystified by this. “Huh? You on somethin' Zack? Marie didn't say nothin' 'bout her goin' visitin.'” He gestured in the general direction of the Bordertown schoolhouse. “She should be in school right now. At least, accordin' ta what Marie told me yesterday.”

But Zack conversationally said, “Just saw her gettin' on the stage. Headin' for Helena.”

Mysteries never sat well with Jack Craddock. “She was?”

Zack cocked his head. “I know what I saw. Been wonderin' ever since. Thought I'd ask you first... after me and Wendell talked it over. He didn't know, neither.”

Zack was such a gossip. “I'd ask Marie if I was you,” Jack gamely suggested. “I'm just a man - don't know nothin.'”

Clive smirked. “Better get used to it, Craddock.”

Jack glared at him. “Oh, ha ha, laugh it up why don'tya?” He hated it when anyone, Clive especially, commented on the state of affairs between him and Marie. Clive had this special way of acting like he knew something that Jack didn't, and it drove Jack to distraction!

“I would, but it's not worth my time,” Clive teased again, and turned to head into his office, but was stopped this time when Marie joined them. “Marie,” he called when she was still several steps away. “Can't you do anything to control this lout?” He gestured at Jack with his thumb.

Marie's brows rose as she sidled to a stop next to her friend, regarding her fiancé. “Jack, is Clive bothering you again?” She asked it in a voice parents reserved for their children.

The thunder in Jack's face grew darker. “He's got you sidin' against me!”

Clive broke in, “That's not hard, Jack! I just turned on my charm.”

Marie smiled, but took Jack's arm. “Why Jack, I thought you boys could play nice. This isn't a competition.”

Jack's growl grew louder, indicating that it was, or at least had been, a competition. Clive's laughter increased as Jack's expression predictably darkened.

Cutting them both off, Zack asked the doctor, “Where's Lucy off to?” In an offhand manner, he added, “From what I understood, she ain't got no relatives. She taken care of somethin' for the weddin?'”

Marie's face fell from gentle teasing to confused in a second. “She's at school... isn't she?”

Zack's thumb jerked towards the stage office. “I just saw her gettin' on th' stage an hour ago.” It was his turn to smirk. “She got a new boy she's visitin?'”

His silent commentary about the status of the absent Willie Haddon went unnoticed as Marie's anxiety increased. “She left for school like always.” She turned to Jack. “Did she say anything to you?”

More in tune with Marie's feelings than he would ever tell Clive, Jack pushed himself to a standing position, suddenly alert. “No, not me. I figured that you knew about this.” His own brows lowered. “She's not worried 'bout th' weddin,' is she?”

A comprehensive look exploded onto Marie's face. “We were talking about the wedding this morning at breakfast.”

“Did she seem upset?” Now Clive was as concerned as Jack.

Marie shook her head. “No, of course not.”

“Well, somethin's got into her head,” Jack casually announced. “I'll catch up to th' stage and fetch her. Can't hurt to ask what's goin' on.” His nonchalance was meant to soothe Marie.

Marie was about as soothed as a wounded buffalo. “It's not like Lucy to run off this way.”

Jack strode towards the livery stable. “I'll find her,” he repeated. He decided not to mention the fact that she could have gotten off the stage by now in any small town between Bordertown and Helena, and they would never know. He tried to keep his voice to a positive pitch for Marie's sake. “Bennett, you take care of The Radway Hotel. I got this one.”

Clive grimaced. “Oh, thank you, Jack. You get to deal with her next time.”

But Jack was already gone.

* * *

The stage line officer in the next town shook his head behind his ticket window. “Can't recall seein' any young girls today,” he importantly stated.

Jack nodded. “Much obliged.” He stepped back into the sun shining on the town's main street. Not as nice as the one in Bordertown, was all he thought as he looked at the dirt thoroughfare's deep ruts caused by the passage of too many wagons. At least it ain't rainin.' Jack again decided to be glad for what he could, climbed on his horse, and trotted out of town.

* * *

Another head shake in the next town. “Nope, no girls.” Then a smile erupted from the stage officer. “Got a boy if'n you want.”

Jack again made his thanks without answering about the boy stage passenger. Wasting no time, he mounted his horse and rode off.

* * *

“Stage just left,” reported the next town's stage officer. “Saw a girl about the age you're lookin' fer. Kinda peaky like. What she do... rob a bank?” And he guffawed at his bad joke.

Jack again wasted no time and touched his hat in a salute. “Thanks, friend.” He mounted and galloped out of town, in hot pursuit of the stage that was faster than he'd ever given it credit for.

* * *

“Whoa, whoa!” The stage driver pulled on his horses. “Whoa there! Stop, I tell ya!”

The lead horse on the left side danced to a halt, and her still trotting fellows crashed to a stop with her. Jack dismounted and strode toward the coach.

“Howdy there, Marshal!” called the stage driver when he caught sight of Jack's badge. “You after a crim'nal?”

But Jack didn't deign to give a response, only ripped open the door, afraid to the hilt that he wouldn't find Lucy within.

But he saw her immediately, since she was the only passenger in the coach. “Lucy Walker!” he gruffly said, striving to cover his relief at seeing her. “Marie's that worried about you!”

“Marshal!” Lucy gulped, and huddled further inside her dark coat.

Now striving to cover his temper as well as his relief, Jack asked, “What did I tell you yesterday about what to call me?”

Lucy smiled a little in spite of herself. “That I should call you Jack,” she replied agreeably. “You found me.”

“Come on,” he suggested, his temper now well under control, though his sense of relief was still as big as the Grand Canyon. If anything had happened to Lucy, he didn't know what Marie would do. “I'll take you home.”

But Lucy shook her head. “Don't make me go, Jack. I'm doing you and Marie a favor.”

Jack frowned. “How ya figure?”

A pained look settled in Lucy's young eyes. “You and Marie don't want some kid hanging around.” She was trying to look brave, but instead looked like she wanted to cry until she shook her head in new determination. “So I decided to find Willie.”

“Willie?”

“Haddon,” Lucy detailed. “He's still in Canada, isn't he?”

Jack didn't know for sure if Willie had left for Paris or not by now, but that was beside the point. “Come on, Lucy,” he said, only cajoling a little. “You know, and I know, that you ain't lookin' for Willie.” He tried not to guilt her too much as he said, “You're runnin' away, ain't ya?”

The pained expression deepened as Lucy nodded.

In response, Jack just held the door open wider. Lucy silently climbed down.

The stage driver wasn't so silent. “Need any help there, Marshal?”

Again Jack didn't respond except to say, “You can drive on now.”

The driver shrugged, turned, gathered the reins, then yelled, “Hiyaa!” The coach slowly rumbled away.

Jack just stood next to Lucy in the road. After regarding her a minute, he asked, “I don't suppose you got any money?”

Lucy looked sheepish, her look answering his question.

“Can't run away without money. How 'bout food?”

Another head shake.

This time Jack did a doubletake. “No money and no food? What were you plannin' on eatin?' You can't buy no food without money.”

Lucy cautiously put her hands in her pockets. “I used all my money on the ticket to Helena.”

Jack grabbed the reins of his wandering horse. “What were you gonna do when ya got there?”

Lucy shrugged. “Don't know.”

Jack sighed, took his hat off, ruffled his hair, then put his hat back on. He kept his I'm too old for this comment to himself, and only silently regarded his horse. At last he genially suggested, “Next time you decide to scare Marie to death and run away, start with a plan.” He looked at her. “And some money.” Back to staring at his horse. “And some food.” Then he looked to her again. “While you're at it, bring me some food. I might get hungry trackin' you down.”

Knowing a peace offering when she heard one, Lucy tentatively smiled. “Is Marie mad?”

“More like beside herself,” Jack informed her. “What's got into you?”

She looked miserable. “You'll have your own kids. You don't want an adopted one.”

Jack just stared, wondering how to broach such a delicate topic as children with someone who was still a child herself. Finally he just said,"I suppose we will... have kids I mean. But that don't mean we don't want you, too. What gave you that idea, anyway?”

Again she shrugged. “The other kids at school were talking.”

A second hair rub followed this confession. “Well, the other kids are idjets.”

The hope that sparked in Lucy's eyes made Jack ache. “Really?”

Jack tried not to take his anger at interfering morons out on Lucy. “Really. Now let's go home and put Clive out of his misery.”

Understanding lit in Lucy's eyes. “Mrs. Radway must be in jail again,” she knowingly said as Jack mounted his horse first, then pulled the lighter Lucy up in the saddle in front of him. “What did she do this time?”

They started at a walk back for Bordertown as Jack laughingly told her, “She really did declare war on all liquor. Might as well fight every man in town.”

Lucy's laugh joined Jack's.

* * *

He let them canter for a mile, then pulled his horse back to a walk so he could talk to Lucy without having to worry about losing his balance and falling onto his face in the mud of the road. “Now you sure there's nothin' else on your mind?”

Lucy gave her head a definitive nod.

“You're sure sure?” Another nod was his only answer. Still not content with this nonverbal reply, Jack added, “'Cause I got to tell ya, If I was you, I sure would be worried to death about my guardian goin' and gettin' herself hitched.”

Lucy's voice only warbled a little. “What would you be worried about?”

“Oh,” Jack nonchalantly replied. “I'd be worried about havin' to do lots of fetchin' and carryin,' like th' weddin' had turned me into a servant.”

Lucy craned her head back to stare at Jack, but still didn't say anything about any one particular thing that bothered her. “What would you do?”

Jack cast about in his mind as to what was the best way to answer Lucy without putting any new ideas about running away into her head. “Well, first I'd recall how Marie never expected me to do no fetchin' and carryin' before, did she?”

Lucy considered this for a moment. “Well, no.”

“Guess she's not likely to suddenly change just 'cause of a weddin.'”

Lucy was silent even longer this time. “I guess not,” she finally whispered. Only slightly louder, she said, “I don't know - I've never been to a wedding before.”

That did surprise Jack. “How did you get to be... as old as you are without seein' no weddings?”

Lucy shrugged. “Don't know. Corporal Bennett's wedding doesn't really count, does it?”

Jack considered this. “The wedding counts, I s'ppose. But I guess Anna was... before they were really... before,” he lamely ended, not knowing what was saying too much. He didn't figure that Marie would like it if he talked about indelicate topics with Lucy. One thing he really didn't want to do was upset Marie if he could help it.

“I don't want to be a problem to Marie,” Lucy stated, almost as if she was reading Jack's mind.

Jack felt mystified once more. “How do you think you're gonna be a problem now?”

Lucy gave a noncommittal shrug. “I don't know.”

Jack glanced down at the top of her head as if to devine the real reason behind her non-answer by delving into her mind. “You don't know?”

Lucy only gave a half shrug this time. “I guess 'cause I'm still in school. The other kids say I'll just be a burden.”

Aggravated anew at those interfering school kids, Jack huffed a bit. “Have you talked to Marie about this?”

“No.”

“Well, don't you think you should instead of listen' to those idjets?”

Lucy tentatively agreed, “I guess so.”

“Give it a try,” he suggested. “She won't bite.” Then he leaned over to conspiratorially say, “And if she does, tell me, and I'll arrest her.”

Lucy laughed aloud at this. “You just want to get her in your office with you.”

It was Jack's turn to sound slightly abashed. “Well, you don't have to tell her.”

Still giggling, Lucy nodded her head. “I won't say a word.”

“What else you got in your head?” Jack asked next.

“Nothin,'” Lucy assured, though her assurance came in too firm a voice. Jack instantly didn't believe a word she said. He didn't even have to do anything more than give a questioning grunt before she admitted, “I'll cost you a lot of money.”

“That's for us to worry about,” Jack gruffly replied. Honestly, a kid worried about how much money they cost! The idea made Jack ache again. He had never once thought about how much money it cost his ma to keep him.

“I'd give you what I've saved to help... but I already spent it on the stage ticket to Helena.”

Jack's voice was even gruffer with emotion as he said, “Me and Marie got enough, don't you worry about it.”

Yet Lucy's voice was more frenzied with Jack's assurances. “But I know that Marie's sill paying on her medical license - she doesn't need to add me to...”

“I'm gonna give you some advice that my ma always gave me,” Jack interrupted then, suddenly inspired. “Don't go takin' on worries that don't concern you. The ones that does are bad enough all by themselves - no use addin' to 'em.”

Lucy quietly stated, “That's kind of like something my ma always said: “Don't borrow trouble.'”

“Sounds like your ma was one smart lady.”

“Yeah,” Lucy wistfully said.

“You miss her?” Jack wanted to know. He straightened a bit in the saddle before adding, “My ma died twenty-five years ago. I still miss her.”

“You do?” she asked, craning her neck again, sounding as if it was important to her to know that someone else missed a parent. “Sometimes I still dream about them. Well, not my pa so much.... I didn't know him very well.”

“Why not? What was he, some kind of salesman and had to travel, so he wasn't around a lot?”

“No,” Lucy said. “He was a college professor, and worked all the time. We were going to his new school when he got sick and died.” More sadness invaded her voice. “Then ma died not much later.”

“That was right before you got to Bordertown, wasn't it?”

Lucy sniffed, but didn't do anything more than give a nod.

Jack cleared his throat, not unaffected either. “It was mighty nice of Marie to take you in - I always thought so.”

Lucy heaved a sigh. “It was just supposed to be for a little while. Just until I decided what I wanted to do.”

“Bennett wanted to send you to an orphanage,” Jack informed. “That was the one time I heard Marie yell at him.” Jack couldn't quite remember whether that was true or not, but it really didn't matter if it was true. The fact that Lucy needed to hear this right now was what mattered.

Lucy sounded surprised. “She did?”

Jack nodded, though Lucy couldn't see the gesture. “Yep. Willie was on Marie's side. But you know the Corporal - always wantin' to do the right thing. Thought I was gonna have to pull Marie off'n him for awhile there. Other than that, I just tried to stay outta the way.”

Lucy now sounded amazed. “I didn't know any of this.”

“So you see, Marie isn't hardly gonna make a servant outta someone she fought so hard for just 'cause she's gettin' married. Never did know Marie to do anythin' halfway.”

That one comment gave Lucy something to think about for the rest of the trip back to town. The silence made Jack smile more and more, since he knew that Lucy was pondering something he'd said.

“Hey Marie!” he yelled as they sauntered into Bordertown an hour later. “Marie!”

Marie practically fell out the door to her store as Jack watched, followed closely by Sally Duffield.

“You found her!” Marie called, noting Lucy's presence on Jack's horse. She didn't wait for Jack to answer before pulling Lucy to the ground. “Lucy Walker! Don't scare me like that again!”

“Don't be too hard on her, Marie,” Jack suggested as he climbed down beside them. “I didn't want to tell you - it was s'pposed to be a s'prise. Lucy was gonna do some business in Helena for me,” he lied.

Marie's brows lowered. “What are you talking about?”

Jack affected a disappointed secretive air, and lied again. “You want me to talk about it in front of all these people, Marie?” He glanced nervously about for good measure. “It's for the' weddin' - kinda private-like.”

Marie's sudden smile blossomed across her face, and Jack couldn't help but feel like the sun had just come out in spite of his fibs. Now just because of that look, he really did want to buy something special for her in Helena. “You don't want Corporal Bennett to find out, eh, Jack?”

“What can't I find out?” Clive suddenly asked as he rounded the corner on the sidewalk and jumped down to the street. He didn't give anybody a chance to reply to his question before noting to Jack, “You found her, I see.”

“Yeah,” Jack said. “I was sendin' her to Helena, but Zack messed everthin' up.” He glared as the saloon keeper joined them.

Clive's brows lowered in the same way Marie's had. “You had sent her? To do what?”

Acting nervous again, Jack replied, “Uh, Lucy, why don't you run home and have some lunch - you must be hungry. No use hangin' around with all us borin' adults.”

Lucy and Jack shared a conspiratorial look that said much more than either of them did. Then she ran off after a last hug for Marie. But still Clive continued to skeptically eye his partner. “Come on, Craddock, fess up - what did you do this time?”

Jack put on his affronted air again. “How do you know I did somethin?'”

Clive impatiently crossed his arms. “Because I know you, Jack. What did you do?”

Jack tried to lead his horse away, but Clive followed like a dog. “Leave it alone, Bennett!”

“No,” Clive persisted. “I want to know.”

Jack turned, fully aggravated. “It was s'pposed to be a s'prise for Marie! You satisfied now?” They continued to argue back and forth as they sauntered away.

Sally gave her head a mournful shake. “Those two argue like... like old men... or kids!”

Marie regarded Sally with an enigmatic smile as they slowly returned to the store. “Yes, sometimes it's like I have two perfect children already.”

The End


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