Part Eleven – Conclusion
It probably took only about half an hour for the water to
decrease to a level where it could be walked through. Some time after that, it was down to the
level it had been when Face and
Antonia was standing on the steps that led down to the back courtyard, staring dumbly out at the destruction. JD walked up next to her, and shook his head.
“I have to ask,” he said. “Why did you build your convent in the middle of a riverbed?”
“Huh?” Antonia looked at him, then seemed to come back to herself. “Oh…the river. It wasn’t here.”
“Wasn’t here? How could it not….”
“The men who originally mined the hills a century ago built the original dam. I guess they wanted a controlled water source for their mines. This riverbed…this plain…when it dried up, was very fertile and sheltered. Perfect for crops. And they built their hacienda here, to take advantage of it. It’s a convent now, of course, but it was once part of a much larger group of buildings, all of which I understand were destroyed for some reason except for this one. And then they left, deeding the convent and all the land to the sisters who first came here.” She shook her head. “And, had the dam never been destroyed…it would be a plain still.”
“It will be again,” Josiah promised, walking up behind her. “I promise you that.”
She smiled at the former preacher, then sighed. “Yes…I suppose so.”
Josiah frowned slightly, not sure why she sounded so despondent, but chose to ignore it as JD splashed out into the courtyard. The kid was going to need help. He patted her shoulder then followed JD. Buck, Nathan, BA and Murdock followed soon after. Antonia watched them all as they started checking out the damage, her arms crossed over her chest.
So much violence….
“There’s people at the front door,” Chris said quietly, coming up behind her and interrupting her thoughts. “We need you.”
Amazingly, all of the hired guns were still alive, although they were all unconscious. Neither the gunfire nor the flood had killed anyone, which seemed impossible – even Nathan had to admit it was nothing short of miraculous. They’d seen them all flipped over, shot and half drowned, and yet each man only seemed slightly dinged up.
Nathan checked each one out as the others dragged them over to sit them against the back wall, facing up the plain towards the ruined dam, shaking his head as he consistently found a pulse and trying to decide whether he should say something about getting these men out of the water.
Vin had sloshed through the muck to get to them after he’d tethered Peso up on dry land, grinning like a madman. He’d thoroughly enjoyed blowing the dam.
Eventually, they had all nineteen of the Fishmans’ men accounted for, as well as Jed. The last to be dragged over was Andy Fishman, who had somehow ended up lying on a flowerbed under a statue of the Virgin Mary. Interestingly, the water had chipped and left scars of mud across her face, so that she looked like she was staring down at the man at her feet with a thoroughly peeved expression. Josiah had smiled and bowed his head at her as he lifted Andy up to carry him over to where they’d leaned his brother.
Buck was standing back, his arms crossed, looking at the men leaning against the wall. A funny inscrutable look sat on his face, as if he couldn’t decide whether to be serious or to start laughing out loud.
“What?” JD asked, sidling up next to him. “Is something the matter?”
Buck pursed his lips, waving JD away and watching as Josiah settled Andy down next to his brother and Nathan gave the man the once over. Vin was watching them as well, while Josiah stepped back to join the kid and the ladies’ man. BA and Murdock wandered over, the captain humming “what can you do with a drunken sailor” under his breath.
Suddenly, laughter erupted from over by the ruined entrance gate to the back courtyard, causing them all to look in that direction. Ezra was leaning against the wall, laughing so hard his eyes were tearing.
The others looked at him, confused, and Nathan stood up abruptly, an irritated look on his face.
“Ezra! What are you doing! You should still be lying….”
“JD!” Ezra interrupted, “Look!” The gambler was pointing at Andy and Jeb Fishman, “Don’t you get it? Two fish….” He stopped, unable to continue as he started laughing again.
The kid frowned, confused, but Buck had already figured out the joke earlier and was having a hard time not falling over as he finally burst out laughing as well. Vin grinned, comprehension dawning, while Josiah joined JD in frowning.
Nathan just crossed his arms, annoyed.
“JD…,” Buck gasped between laughs, “your joke….”
“Oh my….” Josiah’s eyes lit up, he started grinning.
Nathan groaned, looking up as a hint of a smile creased his features, “Oh Lord….”
“Two fish run into a wall,” Ezra called, pointing at Josiah.
Josiah chuckled, nodding, “and one fish says to the other….”
JD’s smile blossomed into a smile, while BA and Murdock looked at them all like they were mad.
“DAM!” Buck, Vin and JD all shouted, and the ladies’ man promptly fell backwards into the water because he was laughing so hard. Vin followed soon after, while Josiah just covered his face to hide how red it had gotten. Ezra was half gasping, leaning over, his right hand now gripping the stitch in his side. Even Nathan had joined them, unable to stop himself. He took several deep breaths, trying to get serious again.
“I don’t get it,” BA said quietly to Nathan..
“You folks tell jokes that bad, and you think we’re crazy?” Murdock asked the healer, arching an eyebrow at him.
That did it. The healer fell against the wall, laughing so hard he thought his stomach would split.
Hugo Block looked out the window from the second floor as the almost insane sounding laughter erupted from beyond the back wall.
“I can’t imagine what it is your men find funny about all this,” he said stonily.
Hugo sighed and turned around, eyes drawn to the young man sleeping on the cot. Stella Block was sitting next to Face, hand resting on his head. Donata was sitting on another bed, her brother firmly ensconced in her arms.
“He is a very good conman,” Hugo said, still looking at Face, then he shook his head and smiled up at the two leaders. “Fooled us beautifully. On our ride here, I did get to wondering if, had he told us the truth, would we still would have given him the wood. I like to think we would, but, the more I thought about it, I realized that, no, we wouldn’t have trusted a complete stranger to do as this young man did. Who would believe someone agreeing to build an entire dam for nothing in return? But he knew well that we would believe a down on his luck priest looking for the means to build a new church….” He shook his head, “’Father O’Herlihy’ indeed.”
“His real name is Lieutenant Templeton Peck,”
“I know. Sister Ethel told us.” Hugo snorted and caught Stella’s eye, who blushed in return. “At least this makes my daughter happier. She’s been pining since he left.”
“I have not!” Stella protested weakly, the blush
“So,” the older rancher said, “will Peck be all right? I warn you that I’ve seen men gut shot before and even when they seemed to be getting better they….”
“He’ll be fine,”
“Actually, Mr. Block, you could do us a favor,” Chris said, breaking into the conversation.
“We need to move the lieutenant out of here, take him back
with us to
Hugo turned and arched an eyebrow at the gunslinger.
“And my sisters have been telegrammed, so they should be home soon as well,” Sister Antonia piped up – the first thing she’d said since allowing Hugo Block and Stella up here. “I know Sister Ethel would be very grateful if….”
“Actually,” Hugo looked back out the window, staring up at the ruined dam, “I was planning on staying for a while, in any event.”
“You were?” Antonia asked.
“Well, you need that dam rebuilt, don’t you? And professionally this time, I reckon.”
“Uh…” Antonia looked at Hannibal, who shrugged.
“I was thinking about speaking with your Sister Ethel about the matter. I’ve decided to donate the rest of the wood from my ruined barn to your convent, as well as to pay for the engineers and construction men to actually build it – properly. In return, all I ask is the privilege to be a partner in the mining of the hills. Say 50-50?”
“50-50?” Antonia repeated.
“70-30,” a weak voice said from the cot. Face opened his eyes, and blinked up at Stella. She practically cooed as he smiled. Hugo tilted his head at the conman, pursing his lips.
“Welcome back, Father O’Herlihy,” the rancher greeted.
Face grimaced, not having heard the beginning of the conversation. He’d only woken when the subject of money had come up, and hadn’t realized it was Hugo Block making the offer. “Mr…Block….I…I didn’t mean to….”
“Hush, son, I know. Go back to sleep.”
“But,” Face looked up at Stella again, who was lovingly brushing the hair from his forehead. “They can’t do 50-50….”
“Why not?” Hugo asked.
“They need to…reconcile…the town….give them 20%....”
“Oh, yes, that’s true,” Antonia nodded. “That could help the town a great deal.”
“30%,” Hugo Block shook his head. “I don’t know….”
“The convent…needs to be…controlling partner….”
Hugo grimaced, then let it lift into a smile. After a moment, he nodded.
“So,” Chris cleared his throat, “Mr. Block, you’ll watch over things for us then?”
“Mr. Larabee,” Hugo said, smiling more brightly now, “you have my word.”
The next morning was warm and bright, reflecting off the water swirling around the convent in bright golden flashes.
Standing near the front door, Sister Antonia and Sister Frances watched as Face was gently carried down the stairs on a stretcher carried by BA and Josiah. The two strongest men in the group both treated their burden like the most delicate china. Not that Face noticed – he had lost consciousness again. But, now that the sisters were back (arrived this morning) and the army was sighted just a league away, it was felt best that the A-Team and the Magnificent Seven were on their way.
Antonia moved to sit next to Sister Ethel on a stone bench attached to the front wall, where she was watching the maneuverings of the men as they bustled Face onto a wagon. The mother superior sighed, wondering just how they were going to get back to normal after all of this.
“Mother…” Antonia said, her voice quiet. “So much has happened here….”
“Yes,” Ethel turned her head to look at Antonia. The black haired nun was not wearing the hood of her habit, and so she was busy pushing stray black hairs behind her ears. “Is something the matter, Antonia?”
“I just…there has been so much violence…so much hurt and destruction….Mother, you always told us that violence solves nothing, that it can only result in tainting a place with anger and hate….And I just thought that…that you would….”
“Ah,” Ethel nodded, understanding. “Yes…I’ve been thinking about that too.”
“Mother…are we to leave this place?”
Ethel grimaced. She’d been thinking about this ever since they’d left. She had indeed been seriously considering having them all move on. How could they continue to live here, knowing that people had nearly died because of it?
She looked back at the convent just in time to see Josiah Sanchez wander out. He spoke a little with Sister Frances, still by the door. The preacher’s shoulders were slumped again, though not as much as they normally were after he bade farewell to his sister. Still, he looked bleak as he and Sister Frances made their way over to Ethel and Antonia.
“Josiah,” Ethel said as he and Sister Frances reached them. “You’ve said goodbye, I take it?”
“Yes, mother,” Josiah sighed. “Hannah’s…just the same. I…after hearing her talk to the sergeant…I thought perhaps…but she only seems to respond to him. I don’t understand it.”
“Hannah must respond to something in Sargeant Baracus, perhaps the same thing Miguel sees, and Captain Murdock,” Ethel smiled. “I’m only sorry she can’t respond to the rest of us the same way.”
Josiah blew the air out of his cheeks and gave a small nod. “In any event, I’ll see you in a few weeks,” he said. “First of the month, as usual.”
Ethel’s eyes narrowed.
She opened her mouth to speak, but
“Yes, Josiah, you will. We’ll be here,” she promised. He nodded at her and turned to leave, but she reached out to touch his arm.
Josiah’s smile became more genuine, and he gripped her hand in return. Turning away, there was more lightness in his step as he went to join the rest of the men by the wagon.
Ethel frowned, looking up at
“You think that, perhaps, we shouldn’t stay here. After all that has happened, that we no longer should be apart of a place that has seen blood spilt within its walls?” Sister Frances replied cooly, looking down at the Mother Superior. Ethel’s eyes widened slightly at the steel in the usually timid woman’s gaze.
“This place has seen violence, betrayal and loss, Mother. And it is in places like these that we are
needed the most. The town was willing to
let us be ruined, because they not think we can help them. But we can, and I think it’s about time we
played a larger role in
Antonia’s eyebrows lifted, surprised at her fellow sister’s
But Sister Frances was on a roll. “Antonia told me Mr. Block has offered to help us rebuild the dam in return for a piece of the mines. He’s willing to take 30%. I also think we should offer the town as 20% partnership, and in return, they can help us fix the convent. And 40% of the mine shall belong to the convent, which money we can use to help the poor and needy of this area.”
Sister Ethel’s eyes were wide open, but a little mental calculation furrowed her brow.
“You’re short 10%.”
“I know. I have a
plan for that as well.”
Antonia covered her eyes. She thought Sister Frances had gone too far.
But Sister Ethel didn’t think so. In fact, her eyes were thoughtful. “Sister Frances…you sound as if you’ve been thinking about this for a while.”
“Oh,” Antonia blurted, “she’s been saying that for years.”
“Really,” Ethel deadpanned.
“Well, then, I think perhaps Sister Frances should start speaking up more.”
“Yes,” Sister Ethel squeezed
Sister Frances smiled brightly. Sister Antonia looked heavenwards, her lips forming the words “thank you.”
“I think we’re ready to move out,”
Buck was leaning against Gray, talking to a couple of Block’s other daughters (working his usual magic), while Vin stood off to one side, Peso’s reins in his hand as he stood talking to Josiah about something. Murdock was sitting in the back of the wagon with Nathan, the two men talking – or at least Murdock was talking; Nathan just looked sort of lost. BA sat in front of the wagon, the draught horses’ reins loose in his hand, talking to Sister Frances. The sergeant’s own big black horse – Van – quietly munched some grass off to the side. Apparently the horse would follow the wagon without need to be tethered to it.
Chris frowned as he spotted Chaucer and Bonnie, both horses without their riders. He noticed with some curiosity that Face’s mare was standing right next to the Chestnut…very close, actually. That was an oddity in itself, since the Chestnut usually didn’t like any other horses standing too close to him.
“Have you seen Ezra and JD?” Chris asked the colonel.
“Where are Ezra and JD?”
Vin’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked around. Looking back at Chris, he shrugged. Then he smiled.
“Well there’s Ezra,” he answered, looking over Chris’s shoulder.
Chris turned around, as did
“Ezra,” Chris called, “You seen JD?”
The gambler looked up, and a smirk lit his features.
“Ah, Mr. Larabee, how clever of you to ask,” Ezra replied, raising his voice so that everyone could hear him. “As you all know, Mr. Dunne ruined an article of clothing of mine that was very dear to me – my favorite jacket.”
“The purple one was your favorite jacket?” Buck called from where he had an arm looped over the shoulders of one of the girls, “I thought the red was your favorite.”
“No, Mr. Wilmington, that is merely my warmest jacket, and a good one for traveling in.”
“What about the tan one?” Vin challenged.
Ezra looked at him, “My tan coat is not a jacket, Vin. It’s a coat.”
“There’s a difference?”
“Yes. Now, as I was saying….”
“What about the new navy blue one you have?” Josiah asked.
“Mr. Sanchez, how can a new jacket compete with the sentimental value of my….”
“What about the black one? You always seem to save that one for best,” Nathan said, leaning out of the back of the wagon.
Ezra just looked at him like he was an idiot. “That’s a business jacket, Mr. Jackson. I don’t wear it for fun.”
“Oh,” Nathan grimaced, “but you know, you look pretty good in it. Maybe you should wear it more.”
Ezra arched an eyebrow at Nathan, who gave an impish grin in return.
“Ezra, the green one is your favorite,” Chris stated abruptly. Ezra looked at the gunslinger, opened him mouth to argue, then shut it again. Frowning, he nodded.
“All right, yes, that’s true. Still….”
“How many jackets have you got?”
“Yes he does,” BA said. He lifted a hand and started ticking off his fingers, “the light blue one, the cream one, the gray one, the royal blue one that Ezra’s wearing….”
“Hey, hey,” Ezra interrupted, “please, gentlemen, this is about my jacket.”
“Oh, right,” Vin said, grinning, “and which color one was it again?”
“Vin, if I may, I’d like to get to the point,” Ezra said, exasperated.
“You have a point?” Buck asked grinning. “I always thought you were sort of pointless.”
“Ha, ha, very droll, Mr. Wilmington. Remind me of that joke next time I win a week’s worth of pay from you at poker.”
“Ezra,” Chris sighed, “your point?”
Ezra smiled again, “Certainly, Mr. Larabee. Now, as you all know, Mr. Dunne does not have the funds to either repair or replace my jacket. Accordingly, for penance, he has agreed to three conditions. One, he is going to muck out Chaucer’s stall for the next two months. Two, he has agreed to give me any and all profits from any games he may be involved in until such time as he has paid the worth of my jacket.”
“How much was it worth?” Buck asked, curious.
“Nearly twenty dollars, Mr. Wilmington.”
“Twenty dollars? You’ve got to be kidding!” Buck gasped.
“Do they sell clothes for that much?” Vin asked, looking at Chris. The gunslinger just shrugged in return.
“My whole suit only cost four dollars, Ezra,” Josiah rumbled, as if such a fact could negate the gambler’s statement.
Ezra smiled apologetically at him, “Yes, Mr. Sanchez, I am aware at that. And, far be it of me to speak ill of Mrs. Potter’s honesty, but I think she may have cheated you on that one. That ‘suit’ as you call it, couldn’t have been worth more than two and a bit, if that.”
Josiah’s eyes widened, then narrowed menacingly. “Ezra, what are you implying about….”
“Ezra,” Chris interrupted, in part to stop the larger preacher from continuing, “you said three conditions. What is the third?”
The impish grin instantly reformed on Ezra’s face, and he stepped forward from the doorway.
“Mr. Dunne, will you join us please?”
JD’s whispered “No!” was easily heard.
“Ezra…I’m really sorry about the jacket. Please don’t make me do this.”
“Mr. Dunne, outside. Now.”
A sigh was heard, and then the young man walked out of the convent. Ezra grinned as the courtyard erupted in laughter. JD aimed a glare at each and every one of his “friends,” especially Buck, who had bent in half, his hands on his knees.
The kid was dressed head to foot in a nun’s habit, complete with black hair stick out in uneven lumps from beneath the hood. JD’s face was bright red as he soaked up the laughter around him with as much dignity as he could muster as he walked across the courtyard to his horse. He kept his eyes to the ground the whole time.
“Can we just go?” he demanded angrily. Without waiting for an answer he lifted a foot to put in the stirrup…and found it prevented by the length of the black skirt. Blushing even deeper, he hitched the skirt up, ignoring the fact that everyone could see his bare legs, and stuck the foot in the stirrup.
He then found actually mounting impossible because he couldn’t swing a leg over Bonnie’s back. The horse shifted forward, and the kid fell back to the ground in a heap. Getting back to his feet, he brushed the water and dirt from the skirts and somehow managed not to swear at the unconcerned horse, using instead substitute words as “fudge,” “sugar” and even a “criminey” or two as he tried to figure out how to mount.
“I think you’ll have to ride side saddle, son!” Josiah called unhelpfully, which created another loud peal of laughter from the crowd. Even Sister Ethel and Antonia were grinning as they walked over to join Hannibal and Chris by the wagon.
Ezra basked in the glow as he headed over to Chaucer. He was a happy man. Especially since he decided the purple jacket could be saved. His left arm didn’t even hurt much anymore. He reached Chaucer and, a little awkwardly because of the sling, mounted the horse. He ignored the baleful glare JD gave him as he passed by the younger man.
“Ezra, no, you’re riding in the wagon with that arm,” Nathan called, breaking into some of the laughter. At the order, the gambler grimaced, looking down at his still bound left arm, while JD gave a wicked little smile. Then Ezra grinned, kicked at Chaucer’s sides and rode out of the front courtyard. Face’s white mare followed close behind, almost as if she were attached to the chestnut.
“Ezra!” Nathan yelled, “Da…Darn it!” The healer shook his head and moved to sit up next to BA. The sergeant gave him an understanding nod. He knew all about stubborn idiots. Meanwhile, Vin and Buck both swung up on their own horses and rode out after the gambler, though Buck kissed both of Block’s daughters before he left. The waved after the ladies’ man long after he was out of sight. JD sighed, pulled himself up to sit sideways on Bonnie’s back, shifted a bit, then carefully rode out after them. That left only the wagon, Chris and Hannibal in the yard with the nuns.
“I’m surprised you let him have that habit, Sister Ethel,”
“Least I could do. Now, before you go,” she said, changing the subject, “there’s something I wish to discuss with you.”
“First, I want to thank you,” she looked at Chris, “and you, for everything you’ve done. You helped us, even knowing that we couldn’t pay you, and even though you had to deal with me.”
“So, I’m giving both of you a 10% interest in the mine, to share amongst yourselves. Just tell me where to send it.”
“Face says, our 5% should be sent to the Wells Fargo branch
“And neither can we, mother,” Chris stated firmly. “We didn’t come here because….”
“Nonsense, of course you can,” Ethel interrupted. “Mr. Larabee, I’ll send your 5% to Mr. Sanchez. And you can tell Josiah he no longer needs to send payments for Hannah. She’ll be well taken care of.”
“But…” Chris looked at
“Neither of you have a choice in the matter,” Ethel stated firmly, crossing her arms. “As you well now, once I make up my mind about something….”
Suddenly, the bell started ringing, causing them all to look upwards. Ethel frowned. Why was someone ringing the bell now?
From nowhere, Miguel appeared, coming around the corner of the convent at a run.
“The army!” he shouted. “They’re coming!”
And, at the same moment, a nun came bounding down the stairs to the front door. “Sister Doreen says there is a whole cavalry movement coming up from the stretch below the convent!” she panted. “That’s why she’s ringing the bell.”
“That’s our cue,”
“Bye BA!” Miguel yelled, “Bye Murdock!”
“Bye kid!” BA shouted.
“Goodbye,” Chris said, riding up in front of the sisters, “and thanks.” He kicked Solon into a gallop and headed out after the wagon.
Miguel ran after him as far as the gate, and watched as the wagon and Chris joined the rest of the Seven waiting just down the road. Then the whole group rode off together, heading off the road and towards the west to avoid running into the cavalry troops.
“Well, there they go,” she sighed.
“Have you heard the one about the two fish that ran into a wall….?”
I hope you liked it! It got a bit out of control length wise, but oh well. It’s done! Yay!