She came upon them a mile out of town. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. All that worryin', and there was Johnny on Barranca with Andy up behind him, just as if nothing had happened, and it was like it was any ordinary day. Oh Lord be thanked they were safe! Neither of them looked hurt.
But she hauled back on the reins just the same, so hard that Jack almost sat on his rump and Molly snorted. She jumped down from the wagon before it stopped moving and she just picked up her skirts and ran. She had to see for herself. She had to see that Andy was all right.
Johnny stopped Barranca, crowding him into a turn so that Andy could slide down to the ground on the side nearest Dorrie. She saw the little push he gave Andy with his knee, and then Andy was on his way, running to her with his arms out.
Dorrie didn't know what to do to him first. She wanted to hug him and shake him, and even slap him for frightening her so much. She had never been so scared and the little devil was hugging her back and he wasn't hurt… dear Lord, he was safe.
"Ow, Dorrie." He rubbed at his ear.
She didn't care about that. She hugged him again. She gave him one more shake and held him at arm's length, looking him over again to make real sure. He wasn't hurt. He looked white and shocked and his chin trembled, but he wasn't hurt.
"Oh Andy," she said again, and then she was sitting in the road, in all the dirt and dust. How in the world had she got all the way down there?
Someone was there, braced against her, holding her up. Someone bigger and stronger than Andy.
"It's all right, Dorrie," said Johnny. "It's all right."
She managed to raise her head. He knelt in the dust beside her, his arm around her shoulder, pulling her against his chest. What was he doing, holding on to her like that? It wasn't seemly… she swallowed and tried to take in one of those big breaths that steadied her.
"No-one got hurt, Dorrie. It's all over." He got onto one knee and put his other hand under her knees. Before she knew what he was doing, he pushed up onto his feet. He wavered a bit, but got moving, carrying her out of the dirt and dust. When he set her down on the grassy bank at the roadside, he blew out a big breath.
She was no dainty lady, that was certain sure. She could never be like a lady in one of those novels. She managed to smile at him. He grinned back.
"That's better. Don't faint on me, now."
"I don't faint."
"Good. You got my canteen, Andy?"
"Here." Andy stood behind Johnny. He looked scared and his chin was still trembling. "Are you sick, Dorrie?"
"She was frightened, Andy." Johnny took the canteen and offered it to her. "You've frightened her a lot in the last couple of weeks."
Andy said nothing. He hung his head and scuffed at a stone. He had good reason to, the young varmint.
The water was warm, but it soothed her dry throat and stopped her shaking. She held out her other hand to Andy. "Come here."
Johnny stepped out of the way, taking back the canteen. Andy plumped down beside her. She took hold of his hand. She used to do that when he was little, but he hadn't let her for a long time. She wouldn't let it go this time when he tried to pull away.
"What happened?" she asked.
Johnny squatted on his heels in front of her. "Looks like Andy here had his ear to the door last night, and heard me tell you that Marvin and Jencks were coming into town. He came in to see the fun."
"Fun?" repeated Dorrie.
Andy squirmed some more. "Aw, Johnny, you know I don't think that way now."
"I hope not." Johnny shook his head. "Anyhow, Marvin and Jencks came in alone. I did catch a glimpse of Lucky Morgan down the street with Jencks, but he turned tail before they got much past the livery. We talked a bit, that's all. They told me what happened to your Pa. I believed them when they said it was an accident."
She looked from him to Andy. Andy set his chin and mouth and nodded at her.
"Did your Pa ride much?" asked Johnny.
She shook her head and waved her free hand at Jack and Molly. "You can put a saddle on them, and they're trained to it, but they're not comfortable to ride. Pa didn't do it often. He wasn't much of a rider."
Johnny nodded and eyed the two wagon horses. "Too broad backed." He looked back at her, his face kind. "Dorrie, Marvin and Jencks and all their men went to where your Pa was working, to throw a scare into him and maybe try and get him to give up. He saw them coming, saw that he was outgunned, and tried to mount his horse in a hurry. He got his foot caught, spooked the horse and got dragged. I'll say this much for them, Marvin and Jencks didn't want a killing, just to scare him. I reckon they felt pretty bad when they realised that your Pa was being hurt and they did try and help."
"Yeah. Too late. Andy was listening inside the hotel lobby while those two told the tale. So I called him out and told him to give me the signal to drop the pair of them – they'd worked out by then that neither of them had hired me and I figured it was only right to let them meet the man who had. But Andy decided not to kill them after all."
Johnny sounded proud, the way Pa used to sound when Andy did something to please him. Dorrie turned her head to look at Andy. He was having a hard time stopping himself from crying. His chin trembled.
"I'm glad, Andy Cutler," she said. "I'm proud of you, for seeing what's right and doin' it. Pa would be proud, too. Real proud. You're just like him."
Andy flushed bright red. Then he twisted around to bury his face in her lap and she held him close, bending down to get her arms around him. It was like he was crying out the last of all the bitterness and hate he'd had since Pa died. She smiled at Johnny over Andy's head. He understood what she wanted, because he nodded and walked away to see to Barranca, Molly and Jack, leaving her to comfort her boy.
She pulled Andy closer and leaned down to put her face against his hair. She closed her eyes. Yeah, he was her boy now. Not Pa's, because Pa was gone. Not Johnny Madrid's, because Johnny Madrid would go too, now it was all over. Andy was hers.
"Here," said Johnny, handing Andy Barranca's reins. "You can ride Barranca back to the house. I'll drive Dorrie."
"Wow," said Andy. He drew his sleeve across his face. Dorrie sighed for what she'd be scrubbing out of his shirt sleeves, but at least he'd brisked right up. Johnny sure knew how to reach a boy to cheer him. "You'll let me ride Barranca on my own? You trust me?"
"I guess I do." Johnny tossed him up into the saddle then reached down to shorten the stirrups some. He didn't need to do it by much. Andy was getting tall now. He'd be as tall as Pa, soon.
"You won't whistle and make him buck me off, will you?" said Andy, giving him a suspicious look,
Johnny grinned. "Not even to make Dorrie laugh. But mind you don't steal him. I'd have to shoot you if you did that again."
"Huh," said Andy. "You wouldn't."
"Don't be too sure."
But Andy just clapped his heels into Barranca's sides, and the pretty golden horse started off down the road at a canter, Andy whooping and waving one arm.
Johnny reached out a hand to pull Dorrie up and helped her up into wagon. He was very close. Almost as close as when he picked her up out of the dirt. Her face burned when he put his hands on her waist. Only Pa had ever done that before.
"I can drive it, you know," she said.
"I know you can. I figured you might want to talk." He swung up into the seat beside her, then picked up the reins. He turned Molly and Jack, real neat, and handier than she could do it. But Johnny just flicked the reins and they started off after Andy so easy, and Jack didn't even start off with a jerk but real smooth. They never did that for her.
She nodded. She did want to talk to him. Andy seemed better, but he would know for certain. "Are you sure, Johnny?"
He looked down at her, his face shadowed by his Stetson. "He's going to be fine, Dorrie. He was all for me killing them till they rode up and he could see they were real, not just the bogeymen he'd made them out to be. I pushed him pretty hard to make him tell me to start the shootin' and he came to his senses, just like I hoped he would."
"I want him to just to be Andy again."
"He will be. You've done a good job with him, Dorrie. It was the hurt tearing him apart, not badness. You'd have been real proud of him, the way he let Marvin and Jencks off the hook. They know they're only still walking because of Andy being the better man."
It was good to hear him praise Andy. It did make her proud. She sat up straighter. "They're responsible for Pa dying."
"Yeah, they are. Not directly, because I believe them when they say they weren't looking to kill anyone. But if they hadn't come on him that day, all of 'em, then it wouldn't have happened. They regret it, Dorrie." He grinned. "They won't be so fast to bully the little fellas in future, not if it means they have to face up to me. This time nothing got hurt but their pride, but they know I've got an interest here and they'll walk a bit smaller now."
She ducked her head to hide her smile. He sounded so sure of himself. But Dan Marvin had been very scared and angry, that day in town. She nodded. The ranchers probably would walk small. They didn't want Johnny Madrid mad at them. "I don't know how to thank you, Johnny."
"There's no need for thanks. I set out to make Andy realise what killing a man means, and he does realise it. He's not going to pick up a gun and take the road I did. That's all that matters." He slowed the horses, bringing them to a halt. "Dorrie, have you thought what you'll do when Andy's grown?"
"He's fourteen. Another three, four years and he'll be a man grown, wanting and needing a life of his own. Do you want him to be a farmer?"
She didn't even have to think about that one. "No. I don't want that."
"It's a hard life. What do you have in mind for him?"
"I don't know what he might do, but I don't want him to wear himself out on the land like Pa did. We have the two hundred dollars Marvin and Jencks gave us when Pa died. I figured on using that for some schooling for him, with whatever else I can put aside."
"And you'll be left on the farm. It's a lonely place, Dorrie."
What was he getting at? What else was there but the farm? "It's ours. It's all we've got."
"All I'm sayin' is that maybe you should think of selling up and moving into town and making lives for yourselves there. It's lonely for you and Andy now, living out here. It'll be worse for you when he's grown. What will you do then?"
Why in tarnation was he wanting to know all this now? She pushed her hands into her skirts and made them into fists to stop them from shaking. She knew what it was like on the farm. She'd lived on one all her life.
"I don't know." She shook her head. "I don't know. I never thought past getting Andy grown safe and strong. I always thought there'd be Pa to look after."
"Well, you need to think about it. Plan some. Why don't you sell up?"
"Johnny, I know how to keep house and cook and clean. I know how to be a farm girl and look after stock. The only other thing I know is stitchin', and I don't know if I can make enough to keep me and Andy on that. We wouldn't get much for the farm, anyway."
"Oh, I don't know," said Johnny. "I'm pretty sure that if you asked Marvin or Jencks to buy you out, they'd be generous." The corner of his mouth tugged up in that little smile that she liked so much. "Very generous. They'll pay top dollar, more than top dollar, if it keeps Johnny Madrid from visiting these parts again. Think about it."
"I will," she said. And she would, when she wasn't so tired. She'd like to live in town, maybe.
Johnny clucked to the horses to start up, still holding them back, going slow. She sat back on the wagon seat, turning so she could watch him as they drove, trying to keep her eyes from drooping shut. He kept his eyes on the road, and all she could see was the line of his nose and mouth under the shade of his hat. He didn't say anything, letting the silence grow.
He tilted his head towards her. "I thought you were falling asleep."
"No." She braced her feet against the footboard and kept her hands hidden inside the folds of her skirts, clenching them again. If only he didn't get mad. "Johnny, if Andy hadn't stopped it, if he'd told you to kill them, would you have done it?"
Johnny pushed his hat right back on his head and turned to her. He looked kinda surprised. "If I had, what do you think Andy would feel?"
She thought about it. "I think he'd feel guilty, that he caused two men to be killed. He'd be hurt by it, terrible hurt by it. Sick inside, like you said."
Landsakes, but he must know how it feels for himself. He wouldn't have said that to Andy if he didn't.
He pulled back on the reins and stopped Molly and Jack again. He turned in the seat to face her. He was frowning. "Hurt enough and sick enough to realise the path he was heading down and turn back?"
"I think so." She nodded. "Yes. I think so. Andy's just a boy. He wasn't thinking straight. It'd bring him up sharp."
Johnny nodded again. His face was real serious. He'd never looked so serious, but maybe he wasn't mad. No. He wasn't mad. He was as kind as he'd been the night he'd brought Andy home. "Yeah. That's what I think, too. But if we'd done nothing, we'd have let all that bitterness and hurt fester in him until he picked up a gun and killed them himself. What do you think he'd have felt then? Worse?"
"Yes. Worse. I wouldn't have known him then. He'd be all twisted out of being Andy."
"Then there's your answer. I figure it would have stopped Andy from killing them himself, and it'd turn him from being like me." He ducked his head to look her right in the eyes, his own so bright blue and so honest. "Yes, Dorrie. If I'd had to, I'd have killed them."
Andy was in the barn when they got to the farm, grooming Barranca and crooning to him. He looked up when Dorrie brought in Molly and he grinned, looking like the kid he should be. Johnny was right. Andy'd be all right now.
Johnny followed her in, leading Jack. He stood and watched Andy with Barranca for a minute and shook his head. "He's trying to steal that pony from under me."
Andy just laughed and kept on with sweeping the brushes over Barranca's flank. He was whistling and happy.
Dorrie turned away, taking Molly back into her stall and taking off her halter. She fastened the box-stall gate and rubbed Molly's long nose when the mare turned and pushed her head out over the top of the gate. Poor Molly. There wasn't an ounce of meanness in her. She was just never meant for a saddle horse, that's all.
Johnny turned Jack loose in the next-door stall. "All right?" You've been real quiet."
He was kind and gentle again. The kindest man she'd ever known, 'cept maybe Pa.
"I've been thinking." Dorrie glanced at Andy and lowered her voice. "Marvin and Jencks. You said their pride was hurt, and you're right. Do you think they'll leave it be now?"
"Yeah. They won't bother you none. They don't want me looking for them for real." Jack turned in the stall and came to butt Johnny's shoulder. He laughed. "Whoa, old fella!"
Johnny went to the feedbin and came back with a couple of handfuls. He offered one to Dorrie, pouring the grain into her outstretched hand. She let Mollie have the treat. The mare's soft lips tickled as they moved across her palm.
"What else are you thinking about?" he asked, giving the other handful to Jack.
"I was thinking on what you said about… about following through on Marvin and Jencks."
She hadn't meant him to get serious again, but he did. "It's who I am, Dorrie."
"It's who you stopped Andy bein'." Molly pushed her nose into Dorrie's palm, looking for another treat. "And mostly I was tryin' to make some sense of it. I figured I should be upset by what you said."
"Well, ladies and gunfighters never did mix."
She turned away from Molly. He was leaning against Jack's stall, like he didn't have a care in the world, but his voice made that little curling, aching thing in her chest come back again. He was honest as well as kind, and she had to be honest right back. The Lord knew she was bad at telling lies, anyway. "Folks would expect me to be upset by it. Folks like the Reverend, or the Widow, I mean. Thing is, I'm not upset. I guess I know what you meant. You aren't what I expected a gunfighter to be."
"I'm just me," he said, shrugging.
She nodded, looking for the right words. "A good man. A real good man, ready to take that burden from Andy." He shuffled his feet, the way Andy would do if she praised him. Men were all the same. They didn't like talk like this, not even in church. "That ain't what Reverend Williams might think, or the Widow, but I do. It kind of surprises me, but I do."
"Not many people would agree with you."
No, they wouldn't. She'd likely find that out in church tomorrow. She watched him for a moment as he petted Jack, who snorted all over Johnny's hand. She smiled at the look on his face.
"Pa would've liked you," she said.
Johnny grinned, his eyes bright, as he wiped his hand clean on a wisp of straw. "There aren't many Pas that do," he said, and she had to laugh along with him. He smiled down at her, then turned to Andy. "Don't get him too comfortable, Andy. I'll head home to Lancer today."
"Today?" said Andy. "But Johnny—"
"I've got to get home sometime," he said. "I've been gone over a week. Murdoch'll be piling up the work for when I get back."
Well. Just what she was expecting. Like she'd told Andy, Johnny would go home when it was all over. She just hadn't wanted it to be so soon. She leaned her head against the gate post of Molly's stall and blinked back the hotness in her eyes. It would be real quiet with Johnny gone. It would be terrible quiet.
"They'll be worrying," she said. Molly nudged her shoulder and she half-turned back to the mare, so he couldn't see her face. She knew better than this foolishness. She knew a lot better.
"Maybe. If I don't get home soon, Scott'll come looking for me. And then Murdoch'll get into a real pucker with both of us gone." By the time she could bring herself to look at him again, she found he was smiling at her. "How about you make me a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and I'll be on my way. If I make good time, I'll be home by tomorrow night."
"Shoot," said Andy. "I wish you didn't have to go, Johnny."
"It isn't that far," said Johnny. "You can always holler if you need me. Besides, Andy, gunfighters move on when the job's done. That's the way it is."
"I guess." But all the brightness Andy'd been showing was dulled. He'd lost Pa and now he was losing Johnny. Poor Andy.
Dorrie tried to smile but her lips felt stiff. She had never been so tired. "We'll miss you," she said.
"The ladies always do." Johnny smiled, and Lord, but the Widow was right. He was a very well-favoured man. "That's why Pas don't like me."
"What about the bay gelding?" asked Dorrie.
Johnny fastened his bedroll behind the saddle. He took the saddlebags she held for him. She'd put up the rest of the cold chicken for his supper and the last slice of pie.
"I'll leave him with you. You could do with a riding horse and I'll make better time not having to lead the fool animal home. He ain't worth that much."
More than she could afford to pay for a horse, she knew. She owed him so much already. But how could she say no and not sound proud and ungrateful?
"That reminds me," said Johnny, before she could decide what to say. "I've not been paid yet."
Andy jumped. "Oh. Twenty six dollars—"
"And thirty seven cents." Johnny held out his hand.
"I've got the dollar thirty seven right here," said Andy, digging into a pocket and pulling out some coins. "The rest was—" He stopped and went very red.
"I wondered when you'd realise. Seems to me, Andy Cutler, that you need to concentrate on your schooling better, if it takes you this long to cotton on."
"Cotton on to what?" Dorrie could see the little smile on Johnny's mouth, and stored it up to remember.
"That twenty five dollars of the twenty-six dollars and thirty seven cents was the value of my own horse without a bill of sale."
Despite everything, Dorrie laughed. Andy looked like he didn't know where to put himself.
"You owe me, Andy Cutler."
"Yes, sir," said Andy.
"So, what we'll do is this. Take care of your sister. She's looked after you all your life, and now it's your turn to take care of her. You do that right, and I'll take your one dollar and thirty seven cents—" and Johnny held out his hand for Andy to give him the coins, "—and we'll call it quits. Okay?"
Andy nodded. He looked shy and his ears were still red, but he stood up a little straighter. He really was taller than her now. She didn't know when that had happened.
That was a nice thing that Johnny did, treating Andy like a man like that. A good thing.
Johnny pocketed the coins. "Then it's a deal. I'm depending on you. And Andy, you did a real fine thing today. Real fine."
"Aww," said Andy, shuffling his feet just like Johnny had in the barn. Johnny sure did know how to handle him. Maybe even Pa couldn't have done it better.
"Dorrie—" Johnny stopped, hesitated, then said in that soft, quiet voice that she liked, "I grew up on a farm in Mexico, down south of Rosarito in Baja California. It was my Papa's place, my stepfather. It's hard land to make a living from, but every spring when the rains came, everything turned bright green and pink and yellow. It was a real pretty place, then, with all the flowers. That's what you reminded me of last night, in that green dress."
"It's very bright," she said. That's why Mrs Williams had hated the dress when she'd opened the missionary barrel.
"I like bright things." Johnny stooped and kissed her cheek. His lips were warm against her skin. "You looked like spring, Dorrie."
They stood on the porch and watched until he was out of sight. Just before he reached the bend in the road, Johnny turned in the saddle, and Dorrie saw the sunlight catch on the conchos on his hat band as he waved it at them. They waved back. And then they couldn't see him anymore.
Andy looked at her sidelong. "I'll miss Johnny," he said.
"He kissed you."
"On the cheek. Like Pa would."
But no man other than Pa had ever kissed her. Dorrie raised her hand and rubbed the cheek where Johnny Madrid had kissed her. No. Where Johnny had kissed her. Madrid or Lancer, he'd said, were just names and Johnny was who he was.
"I think he must be a little bit sweet on you, Dorrie."
Dorrie smiled at the hope in Andy's voice, that he hadn't seen the last of his hero. "No," she said.
"Oh," said Andy.
Dorrie tucked her arm through his. "No. He wasn't." She took a deep breath. "Andy, how would you like to sell up here and live in town?"
Andy stammered that he didn't rightly know. "Shoot Dorrie, what's going through your head?"
She smiled, but didn't answer. She watched the road. It was real empty now, nothing to see of him anymore, not even the dust. Maybe one day, he'd come back to see how they were doing. Maybe then she wouldn't still be a farm girl.
Church tomorrow, of course, and there would be gossip and stares of the town to get through. Everyone would know by now that Johnny Madrid had been there to help her and Andy There would be a lot of talk. Marvin and Jencks would still be burning from bruised pride, and the Widow wouldn't be able to stop exclaiming and Mercy me-ing, and Mrs Williams would be grieved. But she and Andy would go to church and hold their heads up high and they'd be proud to call Johnny Madrid a friend. And on Monday, she'd go into town and talk to the Widow, and maybe see about a job there, sewing full time. While she was there, she'd buy herself a new dress. It was time that she had a new one.
But it wouldn't be pink.
She'd buy herself a green dress, because she'd look like springtime in it.