FRISBYS AND FRUITCAKE
In the cold Christmas air, Chris, Vin, Josiah and Buck labored, doing their best to move a wall of rock, trying to shift it free of the mine's entrance.
At first, they'd been optimistic, thinking the rock-fall only encompassed the very front of the mine, but the longer they worked, the more obvious it became this was not a small cave-in.
They'd considered sending someone back to Fred's cabin to send Fred back to the town for help, but chances were that the old man had already returned to that place, to try his luck with Inez and if he survived any other woman who would have him.
Night was on the way. Even if one of them were able to return to town in daylight, there wouldn't be time to raise a work-party and return to the mine. And who would want to leave their cozy homes on Christmas Eve to labor in the dark of a mine?
In any case, none of the lawmen wanted to go. They kept working, the four of them, working to quickly free their friends.
They called out as rocks were shifted, as they found open pockets. Their spirits rose, only to be dashed as they found another wall of rock just beyond it.
Chris growled and grumbled and wouldn't stop. Josiah was a workhorse, shifting massive stones as if they were nothing. Vin kept the way clear of debris, allowing a space for them to bring out their friends when the time came.
They werent looking for bodies not yet anyway.
And Buck did whatever he could as he worked. He called out the three names, waiting for a response, even if it meant shouting down Chris and Josiah to get them to stop for a moment. "JD!" he called. "Nathan! Ezra! JD!"
They'd dig further into the hillside, and then, "JD! JD! Nathan! Ezra!"
"Ezra! You guys in there? Come on! JD! Nathan! JD! Answer if you can! Can you make a sound?"
And they'd continue excavating. And Buck would fret and worry, and wish that just for once, they could have a Christmas where nothing horrible happened. Just once, he thought, can't I have one without disaster?
"JD? Ezra! Nathan!"
And it was getting darker as the winter sun sank closer to the horizon.
"JD! I know you're in there! Answer me! Ezra! Stop trying to figure out how to get all the gold and speak up! Nathan! Nathan!"
Then finally, someone called out, "Buck!"
Buck turned his gaze on the others to see if theyd heard as well. Vin and Chris and Josiah had all frozen in their places, listening, trying to convince themselves that they werent hearing things.
"Can you hear me?"
And suddenly they all turned, clattering around on the rocks as they tried to figure out where the voice had come from and Buck shushed them, flailing his arms about madly. "Yeah! Nathan?"
The call came from outside the cave. Frantic with hope, Buck climbed out of the hole with the others right behind him.
And again, "Buck! I'm here!" The call was coming from above. They climbed up and out. "Over here!"
And they kept moving along the top of the ridge, searching. And Wilmington turned his head. A wide grin split his face and he finally caught sight of their healer his head sticking out from a hole in the ground, and one arm waving.
Vin let out a whoop of joy, and Josiah clamped a hand on Buck's shoulder. Chris let out a sigh.
"Nathan! It's damn good to see you," Buck called joyfully, and they ran the final distance.
Buck dropped to his knees when he reached Nathan, finding him peering up from an opening in the ground. Grass had been peeled back where he'd forced his way up. "Looks like you got yourself in a fix," Wilmington commented.
"Getting myself out of a fix, you mean," Nathan revised.
"Lemmie give you a hand."
"I'm sure Ezra would appreciate that," Nathan told him. "I'm kind of standing on him."
"Please!" a muffled voice called from below. "Get him off!"
Buck wrapped an arm around Nathan's head and Josiah got a grip on his arm. The others moved in to help and they yanked Nathan out, displacing more grass and earth as the hole widened.
"Not unlike birthing a foal," Chris would comment later.
They had to step quickly as Nathan came clear as some of the ground gave way under them, further opening the hole. Ezra shouted in alarm from below.
"Hey, Ezra!" Buck called down through the enlarged hole. "Merry Christmas!"
Standish stood beneath them, squinting and brushing at the dirt that had rained down on him. "And a Merry Christmas to you, Mr. Wilmington. Thank God you arrived when you did, otherwise I don't know how I would have stood Nathan's weight, what with my shoulder and all."
"You knock it out of joint again, Ezra?" Vin asked, peering down at him as well. "What are you made out of, paper and spit?"
Ezra glared and adjusted his sling. "Having Nathan's prodigious weight on me definitely did not help the matter!"
Nathan shook his head and shouldered in between Buck and Vin to look down. "I only used you as a step," he reminded. "I had most my weight on that rock and you know it."
Buck glanced about in the narrow space revealed below them. "JD?" he asked.
Ezra turned from them, and looked deeper into the cave. "He" he stopped talking, cocking his head.
Nathan came to attention. "Ezra? What is it?"
Ezra lifted a hand to silence them, listening to the cave. "Ha!" he cried and looked up to Nathan, grinning widely. "He growled," he declared and disappeared from beneath them.
Nathan slapped Buck on the back, smiling broadly. "Get a rope," he stated and was sitting at the edge of the hole in a moment and swinging his legs back into the enlarged hole they'd just extracted him from. He dropped down and followed Ezra.
It was dark by the time they'd extracted JD from the cave. He was tired sore, with a screaming headache, but he was awake and seemed to have his wits about him.
The three were bruised and beaten, and all of them were too sore, too worn out and cold to go much further, so the little band made their way back to their horses, and then down the trail to the Frisby cabin. It would have to do for the night.
Buck and the others related what had happened with Lusk, and Nathan became glum at the idea that the poor man had died because of their actions.
"Was more Lars' fault than anything. He's the one that gave you the place," Vin soothed. "And Lusk could have said somethin instead of waiting until you were deep in the cave and trap you in. He wouldn't listen when we tried to talk to him. It was a shame in any case."
The Frisby cabin proved to be remarkably well-tended. The brothers might not have cared much for their own health, but they took care of their property. It was a small place, with a stove, a stocked larder and just enough room for seven men to bed down for the night.
JD was settled in one of the brothers' beds, and the other was quickly claimed by Ezra. "Sore shoulder and all," he muttered, after doing a thorough check for bed bugs. The others let him have it. It was Christmas after all.
Their Yule log came from the stack of firewood. And they raided the Frisbys stores for dinner, finding plenty to fill them. Dessert was Josiahs fruitcakes. Thankfully, Buck had brought a bottle of whiskey that they quickly retrieved from Clydes saddlebags and the fruitcake went down rather smoothly.
JD groused, wanting milk, or even eggnog, but he had to settle for water from the Frisby well as Nathan worried about his concussion.
The night wore on, and JD's headache lessened with help from Nathan's remedies. The bottle was passed until it was empty, and they were all warm and full of fruitcake, which proved to be not at all as bad as Josiah's last attempt. In fact, it was quickly declared the best fruitcake that any of them had ever eaten, and Josiah smiled proudly. It was, at least, edible.
Eventually, the floor of the cabin had to be cleared so that they could set out their bedrolls, and Buck moved a box.
"Lookie here," Buck muttered when he dislodged the lid and peered within.
Nathan moved from where he'd been seated beside JD's bed to check it out. It was an old explosives container, about as big as a loaf of bread and at the bottom of it, things rolled about.
Hearing the clatter, Ezra sprang to his feet and joined them, his expression alight. He tried to snatch the box with his one good hand.
Buck was faster, and pulled it away. "Uh-uh-uh!" he chastised. "I believe this belongs to Nathan." And he brought it around so that the healer could have an unhindered view.
Within the box something winked in the low light of the stove and the lamps. Nathan tipped the box to get a better view and Ezra peered around him.
When he realized what was contained within it, he broke away, pacing and looking like a bantam rooster ready for a fight. "That did NOT come from this mine!" he gestured emphatically with one hand. "I tell you, that mine is as empty as my purse right now."
"Do you think this is really gold?" Nathan asked.
"It is not possible," Ezra went on. "The mine is a pit. It isn't even really a mine. Most likely it is a cave they unearthed."
Not a lot of it. Just a handful of nuggets, but it certainly looked like gold the same sort of nuggets that the Frisbys always brought to town.
Ezra fretted about as if he was unable to figure out what to do with himself. "They probably stole it. Someone should returned the spoils to the proper authorities, and since I am a lawman and well versed in how to handle such goods, the task should fall to me."
Nathan looked up over the box and smiled at Ezra. "No," he replied. "I can take care of it until we figure out what to do with it." He frowned a little. "And you're right. If this doesnt belong to the Frisbys, then we need to find out who this really belongs to and return it to them."
Ezra stopped moving then. "Wait wait wait," he responded. "Not so fast. Obviously, the Frisbys have had this cache for some time, and any original ownership is long ago forsaken, so there is no need to return it to anyone. And it very well could have come from the mine, or perhaps some other venture of theirs, so there will be no one to lay claim. I say we keep this to ourselves. Split it evenly, maybe?" Ezra glanced about at each of the men, smiling winningly.
JD sat up a little in his bed. "I think it might be the Gillespie gold," he said. When the others turned to him, he told them, "I read up on it a while back. Bertram Gillespie had a claim on a creek a few miles from here. He come to town years ago, sayin' that someone stole his stash."
"Why do you think its Gillespie's?" Chris asked, and Ezra's expression fell. He looked lost.
JD told them, "From what I read, he blamed the Frisbys, but no one listened. They said the brothers had no reason to steal from Gillespie since they had their mine and everything."
"Itd explain why Lusk blew up the entrance to the mine," Nathan stated. "If the mine was useless, he needed to hide the evidence."
"And where would we find this" and Ezra swallowed as if it pained him to say it, " this Mr. Gillespie?"
"Oh, he's gone," JD told them. "He was as old as the hills. This happened years and years ago. I don't think he had any relatives to speak of."
"I say it's Nate's," Buck stated. "Lars gave him the mine. He may as well have given him the gold, too."
"I'll hang onto it," Nathan promised. "See if anyone comes forward to lay claim." And then he smiled a little, looking toward Ezra. "And if nothing comes of it we split it?" He looked amongst the others. "I think we all did our share to get this today."
Ezra grinned widely and came to stand beside Nathan. "Wise choice. Now, if you let me take stock. I can give you an idea of how much we will gain in this fine Christmas gift."
And Nathan handed Ezra the box. The conman nearly beamed as he brought it over to the little lamp on the table to assay what had been found.
Chris gave Nathan a wondering look, and the healer just returned the gaze with a knowing one as he came to sit beside Ezra and watch him work.
Buck moved alongside JD who was grinning at the goings-on.
Vin leaned against one wall and looked quite pleased with himself as he chewed off another chunk of fruitcake. "What do you figure we can get with our part of the gold?" Vin asked, glancing to the others as he smiled through the candied fruit.
"Mr. Tanner!" Ezra said happily, "Oh, let me tell you all about it."
Josiah clapped his hands together and guffawed. "Looks like it's going to be a Merry Christmas for us, at least," he declared.
And apparently, it was.
Merry Christmas. I hope you enjoyed the tale