The old man was ripped from his recollection by the sound of a little voice. Blue eyes popped open, staring out from a wrinkled, puffy face.
"Grand-papa, finish the story!" The youngest whined, holding his freshly polished shoes before him and rocking happily back and forth on his bottom.
"We want to hear the end! How'd you get away?"
"Did grand-mama save you?"
"Did savages show up?"
"The crowed saved him!"
"The hangman cut the rope!"
The older children sat in the back of the room smiling fondly at the cankerous old man, waiting to hear what ending he might come up with this time.
"He can finish the story when we return," Jonathan said, stepping in from the doorway and releasing his sisters arm.
"It's time to leave."
Some of the children whined but all rose from the sitting room, moving away from the fire and putting on their coats. A little girl spun around happily, unaware of the sadness that gripped the household.
Those old tired eyes looked up, vividly blue, but red and puffy. All his years, Jonathan had never seen his father cry.
"I'm ready," he grumbled and reached for his walking stick.
Jonathan took him by the elbow and received a vicious swat of the cane.
"Hands off me boy I don't need no goddamned help. What do I look like to you?"
Jonathan took a step back and looked toward his sister. She was smiling through her damp eyes, holding a rag to her nose and shaking her head.
"The car is ready, papa," Lillian told him, patting her oldest on the cheek as he slowly left the room.
"I hope he tells the one where the Confederates come in the save him," young Timothy said to her.
"Goddamn monstrosity," he grumbled. "Know what that means?" He asked Francis, jabbing the cane at him as he slowly made his way through the sitting room. "Your mother knew what that meant. We used to ride horses and treck, treck for miles... now we get in a little train with no track."
He let Lillian take his arm.
"Your mother, she hated those things," he grumbled. "And these, these monstrous things."
He jabbed at an electric lamp with his cane. He almost broke the glass. With a quivering hand he reached into his coat. His pulled out a little flask. Jonathan shook his head when Francis made to protest. The old man raised the flask to stubbly face, white hairs poking out from his leathery skin.
"Witchcraft. Goddamn Yankees can't leave well enough alone."
"Papa, the children," Francis cautioned.
He took his sons arms as he slowly descended the stairs. Lillian walked ahead with his cane and top hat.
"Father?" Francis asked as the old man lowered a frail leg to the middle step. "One day - might you tell us what really happened?"
"One day," the man grumbled. "Boy speaks like I'm not dying' any day now."
"Papa," Lillian scolded.
"Well, what happened to John and Blackjack? Archibald Roper and Thaddeus Burke. Grandfather, when did he forgive mother?"
Lillian turned to look at Jonathan, a little smile on her lips.
"I tell you when that old man forgave your mother. On his goddamn death bed, called for us, priest told him he had to do right. Worst think I done. Lettin' that woman baptize you catholic. Priests think they know, but they don't. I talked to him. Right to him. Myself. I don't need no goddman man in a dress to tell me what He's thinkin'. I had a weakness for her though. Sweetest Yankee ever did see."
His body trembled as they got to the last step. He kept his hold on his sons as they walked outside. Lillian came closer with his greatcoat.
"I used to sleep outside in the dirt, your mother 'n me. Now I need a goddamn coat for a little rain."
None of his children told him he should stay home. He wouldn't listen.
"Papa?" Francis said and offered his arm.
"What am I a goddamn woman?" He asked. He walked on, offering a thin arm to his daughter. "Come now Lilly Belle."
She walked him out into the cold rain.
"You look like her. When she was young."
Who, Lillian did not know. Some days it was his long lost sister. Some days his beloved wife.
Lillian patted his wrinkled hand. He leaned against her as they walked to the car. He stared at the window silently as they drove to the church. Rain pelted against the window and he pressed his forehead to it.
Shoulders hunched he jabbed his cane into the bottom of the car.
"Goddamn priest lecture me about cursin'" grumbled. Lillian and Jonathan smiled at each other, neither saying a word as Francis watched on with disapproval as their father retrieved the flask and a cigar from his coat.
"Goddamned fuckin' suit," he continued to grumble. His hands trembled and Francis reached out. "I can light my own goddamn cigar. Is that why your mama paid for you to go to college? So you can light someone else's cigar?"
"No papa," Francis murmured. His father did not stop him from
"Father Wright won't let you smoke that there," Francis told him.
"Father Wright can go to hell."
"Papa!" Came the scolding gasp from Lillian.
They walked into the church slowly, passing genuinely sad mourners and those who simply wanted to see the old outlaw before he died. He ignored them all.
He paused at the door of the church, staring down the long isle at the casket ahead.
"Aint right," he shook his head. He leaned on his cane and his daughter alike. "Aint right."
He raised a cloth to his mouth and hacked as he walked up the aisle.
He drew eyes. Of wonder. Of awe. Of repulsion. After the cough passed he raised the cigar to his lips.
His eyes were sad as he walked toward the casket. He leaned more heavily on his daughter. He lowered himself down in the pew and waited for the mass to start. He kept his chin raised high.
He gripped the cane hard as he listened to the priest's words. Once, Jonathan thought he saw a tear in the old man's eyes. His bending back hunched further and he closed his eyes. It was hard to say if he slept or not.
"Father," Jonathan said as they stepped from the church at the end of Mass. "Mother would understand if you wish to go home."
He looked up at the cold raining coming down from the gray sky.
"No. She'll give me hell if I do," he grumbled. Jonathan frowned and the old man moved down the steps himself. Jonathan sighed and reached into his pocket for a cigarette.
"Do you know what happened?" Francis asked, coming to stand beside him. Jonathan lit his cigarette for him.
"Just the stories he's told," he answered, blowing out a gust of smoke from between his lips. Francis considered that. With his mother now gone, he was suddenly acutely aware that soon the only two people who knew what really happened out in the desert would be gone.
Francis lowered his face to the ground, his hat blocking out the rain, and thought of his mother. Jonathan sighed and patted his shoulder.
"Come on," he murmured softly and the two made their way to the car. Jonathan gave his daughter a hug before sending her off, back to the wife that held his wife and brother-in-law. He smiled at her through the rain, lifting a hand in greeting. She gave a sad smile in turn and blew a little kiss.
Jonathan examined his father as they rode to the cemetery. He tried to imagine what he might have looked like in those days. He tried to imagine what kind of man he was. He knew the stories. All the stories. He had only ever been able to believe what his mother told him. She fell in love with him. She ran away with him. How the man that raised him, gruff and crass but loving and kind, could be the man they said he was…
His father stared out the window grimly, twirling the wedding ring around his finger. Jonathan had never seen such sadness. Such longing. He looked lost.
"Papa?" Lillian asked from beside him, taking his hand and patting it. "Are you well enough for this?"
"Nothin' gon' keep me from it," he answered. His voice was hoarse. He raised a cloth and cough. He dabbed his eyes. "You littl'ns really believe all that… all that repentance bull shit them priests try'n put on you?"
"Of course," they all murmured softly. Their father nodded and looked back out the window.
"He better… better keep His bargain… all I gon' say."
"Bargain, father?" Francis asked. He fell silent and no one pressed.
It was raining when they stepped from the car and walked to the family burial plot. The old man moved slowly, leaning hard on his cane, gripping Francis' hand hard. He stopped them half way to the plot. He lifted his flask and took a sip, tucked it back into his coat, and they pressed on.
The grandchild met them there, circling around the grandfather they so loved. He swatted more than one with his cane before relenting and allowing them to stand near him.
Francis tried to take his father away once the final words had been spoken. Slowly people began to turn away. Friends. New Money. Those that didn't mind the entrance of a poor country boy into their circle.
The old man walked toward the mound of dirt slowly. A surprised worker looked with wide eyes as he took the shovel from his hands, throwing the cane down in the mud. He hunched, body creaking, muscles straining, and pressed the shovel into the dirt. The children remained, watching their father shovel the first onto their mother's casket.
It took some time, standing there in the freezing rain, watching their father finish his work. He would not stop until it be finished. The worker left with a large welt on his forehead. Proof that one did not try to take something from the famed outlaw, even at 81 years old.
"He's going to catch his death," Francis murmured, watching his father sadly.
"I think he knows that," Lillian whispered.
He threw the shovel down when he was done. He needed help to retrieve his cane.
"I gave him my soul," he said as his children brought him back to the car, wet and shivering, a small, little shell of the man he once was. "I gave it all up so I could be with her. I want forever."
He was bundled up and put into a warm bed once they returned home. He took a ratty old scarf from the wardrobe, almost killed a servant with a crack of the cane to the head, and wrapped it around his neck. He got a kiss from his three children. He was asleep before they left the room.
Jonathan sat in his mother's office with a small glass of scotch and a cigarette, looking at the papers sadly, hair ruffled, shirt sleeves rolled up and coat and tie discarded. A small smile came to his face when he picked up an old photograph. The only one their father ever sat for. He was older then, some fifteen years after they came home from the desert, sitting with his wife and children for their only full family portrait. Jonathan touched his mother's face with his thumb.
He looked up when he heard a soft knock on the door. He scratched his forehead with the hand that held the scotch and smiled as his wife entered. She came forward with a little plate of dinner for him.
"How are you?" she asked, stroking back his hair gently.
"Tired," he answered. "Mama kept immaculate books. Shouldn't be too hard to take over."
She smiled when she spotted the photo in his hand and slowly slid into his lap. She took it from him and examined it a while.
"That man… dark secrets bottled up inside of him," she said and put the photograph down. Jonathan picked up the photograph.
"Whatever he did before. Mother forgave him," he murmured. His wife nodded and leaned down to kiss him.
"I will leave you to your thoughts. When you're ready, you know where I'll be."
He smiled and pulled her down for one more kiss. He watched her leave the room and, with one last look at the photograph, moved to unlock the bottom drawer. He did and reached down with a groan, pulling out a messy bundle of papers. He plopped it down on the desk and moved through it. His lips parted as he found newspaper clipping after newspaper clipping. Reward posters. Bulletins. Telegrams.
"1871," he whispered. He reached forward suddenly and rang the bell. A servant almost immediately appeared. "Gregory, my brother and sister please? Here?"
When they arrived he was thumbing through a little book. It took him a moment to realize it was his mother's handwriting. It took him a few moments longer to realize what it was he had in his hand. He snapped the book shut and looked to his siblings.
"Look," he said excitedly. "1871 newspaper reporting the trial of Anderson Francis 'Friendly Frank' Lawson. The hanging… the…"
His lips parted and he looked at the book. His brother Francis came rushing forward, picking up the clipping and reading it frantically. Lillian looked around in wonder. Her hands found a little folded piece of paper and she pulled it from the stack.
"When did mama and papa marry?" she asked. Jonathan and Francis looked up.
"Um.. New York City. 1873."
She held up a piece of paper.
"St. Paul, Minnesota, November 19th, 1871," she said, handing Jonathan the paper. Francis hurried around the desk to read.
"They were already married," Francis breathed, taking the marriage certificate from his hand.
"Oh my," Lilian breathed. "Look."
She handed him a photograph. His lips parted. He'd never seen either of his parents so young. He examined it, suddenly seized with excitement.
"Look!" he cried, "Look." He turned to look up at Francis, almost giggling. "It's that blasted pink rag he carries around!"
Sure enough, as the three circled around, they examined the fabric wrapped around their seated father's neck.
"He was so handsome," Lillian murmured happily.
"There's something on the back."
Francis tried to take it from Jonathan but the oldest brother ripped his hand away. He flipped it over and they read, written in their mother's hand:
St. Paul Minnesota. Newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Anderson Lawson. Nov. 20th, 1871.
"Just after they married."
"When was it they came home?"
"Just before Grandfather died."
"Yes, if my memory serves me well," Jonathan answered.
"Look," Francis smiled. He pointed to their parents. On their father, three guns were visible. On their mother, two.
"There's so much we don't know," Lillian said sadly.
Francis scooped up a paper. He read it slowly and Jonathan looked down to the little book.
"A pardon…" he said. "From the governor of Rhode Island."
The three examined it.
"Then he was a criminal," Francis said. "Those stories are true."
"Was he really hung?"
"I think we're proof he wasn't," Lillian replied sarcastically.
"You know my meaning," he replied.
"The old man won't ever tell us," Francis said dejectedly. "He can't."
Jonathan took the book back into his hands and leafed through it. He paused as a little piece of paper fell out. Lillian and Francis looked to it.
Jonathan glanced at them as he picked it up and opened it slowly.
"My pretty Yankee," he read, "I'm sorry for the things I done. I'm sorry for hurting you. For making your life harder. I'll be thinking on you where I end up, I'll be thinking on you. I want you to be happy. Name the baby Lillian if it's a girl. Lilly. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Cause I know I'm leaving you in a jam. It's my fault and I'm sorry. I love you. Think on me but not too much. Anderson Lawson 1871."
Francis took it and read it over before surrendering it to Lillian.
"Mother kept a journal," he murmured. He raised it up. "Starts on January 1st, 1872. The first entry…" he paused and looked through it before snapping it shut. "The first entry explains how she fell in love with Friendly Frank Lawson."
All remained there in silence.
"Does it… have up to the hanging?"
Jonathan flipped through to the end of the entry.
"It has up till the wedding," he answered. "The first one."
More silence followed.
"What do we do?" Jonathan asked.
"We read it," Francis replied.
"There might be things in this book we don't want to know," he cautioned. "Things… things that are best left forgotten."
They all remained silent. Jonathan was the first to look toward the fire. Lillian next. Francis last. They stood there a long time, listening to the flame crackle and the rain beat against the windows outside.
Arabella had closed her eyes when she saw the hangman pull the lever. Her body swayed and bile rose in her throat. A pain like she had never felt before surging through her and ripping her heart to a thousand little pieces. The cry of awe that went through the crowed brought more tears rushing down over her cheeks.
But then there was naught but silence. A hush fell through the multitude present. The sun beat down hard on her face. Slowly she opened her eyes, praying she would find his body hanging limply from the rope. She did not, but neither did she find his body squirming, his feet searching desperately for the ground. Her lips parted. She saw nothing. Nothing but a frayed rope and blue sky.
She moved and the sea of people parted for her. Wide eyes watching as she pushed through the crowed. She found him on the ground, noose around his neck, staring up at the broken rope. Slowly his eyes found hers.
In a sudden rush she was at his side on her knees, holding his face and looking at him in wonder. She pet his face, stroked his hair.
"Darlin'," he breathed. "I promised him he got me outa this I'd do right. I even promised no more cussin'. You don't think He'll hold me to that do you?"
Tears burst from her eyes and she threw her arms around his neck, holding him tightly. He pressed his face to hers but his hands remained bound behind his back.
"God saved him!"
"The rope broke!"
"It's a sign! A sign from God!"
The crowd went wild. But when a group of soldiers converged on them, the cheering halted.
"Let him go!" someone screamed.
"That was God willin'! Don't you go back on God!"
"This is a dangerous man!" the judge called. "A criminal! A rapist and murderer! He –"
It was chaos. The soldiers were pulled from Arabella and Anderson, someone cut through his binds, and controlled by the rush of the crowed they were delivered to a pair of fresh horses. Frank accepted a man's gun and knife. The crowed behind them was tearing the screaming judge to pieces.
"An honor, sir, an honor," the man kept saying. Anderson took the knife and cut a slit in the side of Arabella's dress.
"I'll finish the job later," he grinned and she pulled him into a kiss. Those around them cheered them on. Arabella could hardly hear herself think as he broke away. He helped her up on the horse before taking his own.
They rode and they rode fast into the desert. Arabella followed Anderson, trusting in him to lead them true. A few hours later they came to a halt. He turned his horse toward hers and smiled with a shake of the head.
"Where we goin' to darlin'?" he asked. "Anywhere you wan'go. Wan' start again on Roper? Wan-"
"I don't care about that anymore. Any of that," she panted. "I want to be as far from here as possible. I never want to come back."
"You 'n me both, sweetheart," he said. He came forward and kissed her. He pulled back and looked at her. "I'm gon' do right by you," he promised. "I'm gon' do right."
She smiled and bit her lip.
"Minnesota," she whispered to him.
"Minnesota," he nodded. He smiled, gave one more hard kiss to her lips, and whirled his horse around. They rode on for hours. Away from death and revenge and pain. They rode away from anything and everything that had mattered before. And no matter who said they didn't belong together it didn't matter. Because apparently, not even death, could keep them apart.
Jonathan walked toward his father in bed and sat down beside him. He was the last of the children to be called to his bedside. Their father had developed a terrible cough. A painful cough. He touched his father chest gently and gave a little smile. His father raised a hand and pointed a trembling finger to his side drawer. Jonathan reached inside.
"The watch," he croaked. He coughed hard again and raised the pink scarf to his mouth, now faded, almost purple, almost white. Jonathan retrieved it and handed it to his father. The old man shook his head and pushed it back toward Jonathan. "Yours."
Jonathan looked down and nodded slowly. He felt tears coming to his eyes.
"Your mother…" he breathed. "Saved my soul…"
Jonathan nodded slowly.
"I was… supposed to die a long time ago…" he paused to catch his breath. It was painful to breath. "She… should o' outlived me."
"She became ill, papa," he whispered. His father shook his head.
He motioned for the dresser. Jonathan looked and then rose. He returned with the laudanum. He put it in his father's hand. He coughed, a rattling cough, and his father winced. He tried to picture the strong, handsome young man in the photograph. It amazed him the two were on and the same.
"I loved her somethin' fierce," he told him. "Always will."
"I know," he whispered.
"I love you," he said. Jonathan kept himself from crying. Not in front of this man. He'd heard that from his father so few times in his life. He knew it was true. He never doubted his love. But he realized this would be the last time he'd be hearing it.
"I love you too, papa," he whispered.
"You teach those little'ns right. Specially little Anderson."
"You bring 'em to Georgia. You make sure they know," he winced and coughed. "You tell 'em now. Confederate soldier, proud…"
"They know," he promised. "You've raised good southern Yankees."
His father laughed but it soon turned into a fit of painful coughs.
"You are certain you do not want the priest."
"That was for you mother," he waved a tired hand. "Me 'n Him… we've talked."
"I am proud to be able to call you father," Jonathan said. A tear did fall from his eye but his father did not berate him. His tired blue eyes softened and he patted his chest.
"You're a good man, son. A man I couldn't never be," he wheezed. "You take care o' Lilly. Never did… never did like that husband o' hers."
Jonathan nodded slowly. He did not trust himself to speak. He slowly uncorked the laudanum. His father's hands were too weak.
"Go on," he finally said, jerking his chin. He brought his trembling hand to the scarf and raised it to his nose. Jonathan stood and held out his hand. His father offered his and he held it a long time.
"I'll have a servant see if you are well enough for dinner," Jonathan said with a pained smile. His father nodded. He choked on his own tears. Slowly Jonathon walked from the room. His father had the bottle pressed to his lips. He was sound asleep long before he stopped breathing.
A/N: I KNOW someone's going to say this is cheesy. Well I know that and I like it anyway. This is a western and I am in keeping with western tradition of romance, revenge, and spectacular endings.
In all seriousness, I was going to add a little paragraph at the bottom that would have drastically changed the meaning of this ending, but I simply didn't have it me. I might post it alternatively in a standalone for those of you that want the darker, far sadder alternative. Me, I write because it's fun, and I don't really want to depress myself. I'm a "happy" ending type person.
Also, I know there are some flaws in this story. One day, when I have time, I'd love to go back and polish them up. Today is not that day. However, constructive feedback will always be welcome.
I know it is the last chapter, but please, let me know what you thought of the story. Even if you've never reviewed, it would really mean a lot to me to hear your final thoughts.
Expect the new story in a few weeks to a month or two. I still don't have an ending yet, though I have it mostly all worked out. School is also picking up, so I need to be mindful of that.
Again, please review and let me know what you thought of the story.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed and supported the story! I hope you will enjoy the next one as well!