Mount Up With Wings As Eagles

Second Tale of Two Cousins Wagon Train Laramie crossover series by Rielle

a Laramie/Wagon Train Crossover Fic by Roniyah Gabrielle Caitrin Bhaer

Author's Note: This is where I could be saying : 'you asked for it.' Because I have been asked to write some Wagon Train and or Laramie fanfiction for the enjoyment [ I hope] of the RFFN list. But I won't say that, honestly.

I'd rather just say, please enjoy, please let me know what you think of this latest effort of mine,. But my sole intent is to offer you some enjoyable reading, along with some of my own ideas about the Laramie and Wagon Train characters. So, you actually SHOULD consider this story as existing in a PARALLEL UNIVERSE , an alternative one to the one presented by those two classic westerns, with some notable variations. And please excuse the liberties I've taken, my 'poetic license', as it were with events, dates, and even names in the lives of the well loved characters in this story. And I took some literary liberties with 'facts not in evidence' in the series as it aired, too; along the lines of things we didn't see or hear on-screen

But if I haven't made it clear enough, as yet, this story wouldn't have been written, without the friendships and fun and such I 'lucked onto' on the Robert Fuller Fandom list. And so because of that, I want and need to genuinely thank all my recently made friends there. I … was grateful just to find all y'all… and now that gratitude is, I hope, clearly shown in these pages ( Special thanks goes to Moira, Carol, Barb, Cat, Twins, and Elaine for their kind words, reading and encouragement. (

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed it, these 'tales' wouldn't exist in any form without the wondrous inspiration of the following amazingly gifted, and tremendously generous people: Barbara Stanwyck, John McIntire, Spring Byington, Hoagy Carmichael, Frank McGrath, Terry Wilson, Denny Miller, Michael Burns, Robert Fuller, and John Smith. My constant gratitude to them will hopefully be apparent in the following pages.

Disclaimer : None of the onscreen characters from Revue/Universal's 'Laramie' or 'Wagon Train' belong to me. And I'm prett nigh onta busted up about that, too. Instead they all

belong to the creative minds of John Champion and Howard Christie, and all the gifted

writers, directors, producers, and actors of those two classic, classy Westerns. Sigh. No copyright infringement or profit taking is intended by this work of fiction, so don't sue me please; the studio/company, etc attorneys have 'many, many things' better to do.

Roniyah Gabrielle Caitrin Bhaer Summer, 2007

Cast of Characters -- Second Tale

[ As this is fanfiction, with the usual handful of new characters introduced to the kindly readers, I thought this listing might be helpful. Yes, I'm also an old movie nut :) Rielle ]

Onscreen Laramie characters:

John Smith as Matthias McGregor 'Slim' Sherman'.

Robert Fuller as Jacob Emrys Sayer Smith ' Jess' Harper

Dennis Holmes as Michael Timothy 'Mike' Williams.

Stuart Randall as Mort Corey

And

Spring Byington as Margaret 'Daisy' Cooper

off screen Laramie characters:

Hoagy Carmichael as 'Jonesy'

Robert Crawford, Jr. as Andrew Denholm, 'Andy' Sherman

With

Jacqueline Scott as Francine 'Francie' Harper Brady McKittrick

Onscreen Wagon Train characters:

John McIntire as Liam Christopher Hale

Robert Fuller as Nathaniel Kieran Anglim Cooper 'Coop' Smith'

Terry Wilson as Liam 'Bill' Hawks

Frank McGrath as Charles Albert 'Charlie' Wooster

Denny Miller as Christopher 'Duke' Shannon

Michael Burns as Barnaby James West.

And

Barbara Stanwyck as Kathleen Elizabeth 'Kate' Crawley.

Off screen Wagon Train characters:

Jack Easton, Jr. as Thomas Jefferson 'Jeff' Smith

And

Rhonda Fleming as Sandra Cummings

Invented, Created or Extrapolated Characters:

Onscreen characters

Starring:

John Spencer as Thomas Michael 'Mac' Macquillan

With

Martin Sheen as Ulysses Simpson Grant

And

Ross Martin as Adam Auriel Elisha Morgan

Robert Conrad as Jemison Stephen Wesleyan Randolph Singer, MD

William Shatner as Jacques Merlion Etienne D'eglisier MD

With

Coop's, Jess, Jemmy's and Slim's family:

Ethel Barrymore as Constance Alexandra Singer

[Jemmy's paternal great aunt]

John Barrymore as Aidan Micheal Tierney Singer

[Jemmy's paternal grandfather]

Lionel Barrymore as Stephen Desmond Singer

[Jemmy's paternal great uncle]

Ingrid Bergman as Mirielle Anastaise Meraud Clement Harper

[Jess' paternal grandmother, Coop's great aunt]

Spring Byington as Celia Roisin Amalia Torrance Randolph

[Jemmy's maternal grandmother]

Harry Carey, Sr. as Andrew Dorrance Sherman [Slim's paternal grandfather]

Gary Cooper as Mathias McGregor Sherman, Sr. [Slim's father]

Delores Costello as Miranda Isabeau Clement Singer

[Jemmy's paternal grandmother]

Bette Davis as Leah Micaela Isibeal Randolph Smith

[Jacob Smith's wife, Coop's paternal grandmother]

Olivia de Havilland as Sarah Rebecca Naomi Smith Traherne

Kirk Douglas as Ceallach Niall Kieran Cooper

[Coop and Jess' maternal uncle ]

Henry Fonda as Francis Marion 'Frank' Harper [Jess' father]

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as Samuel Adams Harper

[Frank's brother, Jess' uncle]

Joan Fontaine, as Sian Rachel Morwenna Smith

Greer Garson as Aileen Rianna Cooper Randolph

[Coop's other maternal aunt]

Dorothy Gish as Imogen Alys Smith

Lillian Gish as Siobhan Cathleen Smith

Stewart Granger as Ethan Niall Randolph [Jemmy's maternal uncle]

Corinne Griffith as Meredydd Jennet Traherne Cooper

[Jess and Coop's maternal grandmother]

Susan Hayward as Tess [Theresa] Kathleen Margred Harper

[Jess' paternal aunt]

Helen Hayes as Angharad Aine 'Annie' Denholm Sherman

[Slim's mother]

Paul Henreid as Elias Alexander [Alexandre] Harper

[Jess' paternal grandfather, Coop's great uncle]

Katherine Hepburn as Elisabeth Micaela Cooper Smith [Coop's mother]

Leslie Howard as Jonathan David Traherne [Coop's uncle by marriage]

Walter Huston as Nathaniel Kieran Cooper, Rev.

[Coop and Jess' maternal grandfather]

Dean Jagger as Ian Pedr [John Peter] Smith

[Danny's brother, Coop's paternal uncle]

Kirk Douglas as Ceallach Niall Kieran Cooper

[Coop and Jess' maternal uncle ]

Deborah Kerr as Raissa Ysabel Terrwyn Traherne Randolph

Dame Vivien Leigh as Jessamyn Roisin Randolph Singer [Jemmy's mother]

James Mason as Stephen Jemison Singer [Jemmy's father]

Mary Miles Minter as Sorcha Rebecca McGregor Sherman

[Slim's paternal grandmother]

Thomas Mitchell as Kieran Donovan Randolph

[Jemmy's maternal grandfather]

Maureen O'Sullivan as Talitha Sianna Mered Harper [Jess' paternal aunt]

Gregory Peck as Doevid Andonn Traherne [Jemmy's brother in law]

Claude Rains as Jacob Emrys Sayre Smith

[Coop's paternal grandfather, Jess' paternal great uncle ]

Jean Simmons as Celia Deirdre Singer Traherne [Jemmy's older sister]

Barbara Stanwyck as Jennet Meredydd Cooper Harper [Jess' mother] James Stewart as Daniel Webster Smith [Coop's father]Norma Talmadge as Miriam Ruth Smith Constance Talmadge as Naomi Elspeth Smith Natalie Talmadge as Dorcas Tabitha Smith

Arthur Kennedy as Corin Micheal Liam Cooper

[ Jess and Coop's maternal uncle ]

The bad guys: 'The Company' [first formed by Gen. Pascale, then led by Lee Henry, then by Solomon Howell.

[With some uncertain* and some outright undercover good guys*** mixed in for fun]

Salome Jens as Eugenie Isabelle Morrissey Pascale

Anthony Zerbe as Lee Henry Richard Morrissey 1

Anthony Perkins as Solomon Howell

David Jannsen as Phillips Napier Pascale, 'genie's' late husband2

Tim Matheson as Sean Oriel Liam Hoynes ***

Gary Dourdan as Phillip Johnston

Michael Ealy as Jamey Johnston

James Stacy as Ezekiel Adamson

Frank Langella as Palmerston Montagu

Vincent D'onofrio as Roberto Geronne

Matthew Ashford as Devlin 'Dev' Jackson3

Kamar de los Reyes as Teo Bracamante*** aka Tyler Pierce

David Fumero as Matthias Randolph *** aka Matthew Harkins

Jeff Branson as Edward 'Neddy2' Robert Denys Morrissey

Lee Henry's son

Bryan Dattilo as Jemison Randolph 'Rand' Alexander***

Robert Kelker Kelly as Brady Beauregard Alexander*4

Michael Easton as Kieran 'Kiery' Tanner***

Forbes March as Miller Nash*

Kyle Brandt as Chris Phillipsen ***

Cameron Matheson as Michael William Stewart*

Jeffrey Carlson as Edward 'Neddy1' Robert Denys Morrissey5

Eugenie and Lee Henry's deceased brother

Jean Paul Lavoisier as Jaimey Gordon

Bill Smith as Jordy Ashford

John Ireland as Adam Elisha Traherne

Patrick Swayze as Chance Stuart

Ron Perlman as Quincy Stuart6

Cameron Mitchell as Gordon Arthur 'Arty' West

Van Heflin as Morgan Aurelien 'Aury' West 7

Dana Andrews as Alexander 'Alec' Morgan Alan Ladd as Jonathan David Morgan

David Marx as Torin Cinaed Kuenle8

Jensen Ackles as Desmond Piaras Kuenle8

Dan Wells as Liam Micheal Kuenle1

Kevin Todd Smith as Robby Kearney Torrance9

Jude Law as Ian Flannery Torrance12

Peter Brown as Padraic Keallach Hoynes13

Doug McClure as Devin Cleary Hoynes10

Gary Clarke as Sean Micheal Hoynes15

Rob Lowe as Julien Duval Clement11

Kurt McKinney as Jean Baptiste Clement12

Patrick Swayze as Charles Albert 'Chance' Stuart13

Ron Perlman as John Quincy Adams Stuart19

Antonio Banderas as Christophe Apollonaire Boudin20

Thaao Penglis as Giles Toussaint Boudin21

Stuart Whitman as Andre Honore Boudin14

Yul Brynner as Anatole Perrin Boudin15

Tommy Lee Jones as Addison Cooper Deveraux24

Patrick Duffy as Nolan Randolph Deveraux16

Harrison Ford as Joshua Zadkiel Whelan26

Brad Pitt as Nathan Remiel Whelan17

Jack Coleman as Adam Elijah North18

Gordon Thomson as Zachary Hosea North29

Clu Gulager as Jesse Broderic Howlys19

Lane Davies as Rhys Arawn Howlys20

Hugh Jackman as Eamon Meical Howlys32

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr as Beauregard Campion Hamilton33

Roark Critchlow as Brody Dareau Hamilton34

Eric Winter as Ethan Lucien Hamilton21

Travis Wood as Daniel James Randolph36

Clayton Rohner as Timothy Ross Tierney37

David Loren as Jonathan Corrin Munroe22

Ian Harrison as Henry Barret Madsen23

Jason Breznikar as Dariell Aurelien Ashton40

John Drew Barrymore as Neil Thomas Horton24

Justin Kahn as Gordon Arthur Davidson25

Kian O'Grady as Ceallach Niall Brennan43

Tyler Fawcett as James Charles Stewart44

Will Devry as Alain Eduard Morrison26

Zach Schillace as Ewan Deiniol Rhys46

Second Tale of Two Cousins, part one of two

CHAPTER ONE Chris Hale's train outside Fort Kearny, Nebraska in the 1870s.

''Well of course I don't believe you, Charlie!'' Cooper Smith exclaimed, crinkling his blue eyes in a tired grin as wide as the Rio Grande, rubbing one hand through his dark, unruly hair in a gesture of disbelief.

''And just why don't you?'' Charlie demanded, crossing his arms across his chest, which only made him look all the more like a bantam rooster, a bantam rooster with a receding hairline and a salt and pepper beard on his jutting chin.

'' Just because it's just about the most dang foolish thing I think I've ever heard you say. In fact, Charlie, it's just plain crazy!'' Coop answered, still laughing, looking around to the others in Charlie's current 'audience', wondering why they weren't laughing with him.

'' Well, foolish or not, crazy or not, it's the plain, unvanished truth, Coop.'' Charlie insisted. ''And just because you weren't here at the time to hear what I did, doesn't make it any less true.''

'' Charlie, c'mon, now. I know you like to have your fun sometimes. I know you like to come up with one tall tale or another for the kids on the train, to pass the time. But I'm not one of those kids. And I don't think even the youngest of them would believe this one, anymore than I do. So, c'mon, give it up now, Charlie, you're making this up, aren't you?''

''But he can't, Coop. He's not, I mean.'' Barnaby West said, piping up with a serious tone to match the worried look on his face. Coop looked over at the youngster and saw Barney's wide grey eyes were wider than usual with that worry, and that Barney was trying hard not to bite at his lower lip. '' Charlie and me, we both heard Mr. Chris talkin' to Miss Kate. And we both heard them talking about when Mr. Chris would retire. And''

'' And we've all heard them havin' that conversation a few hundred times by now, Barney.'' Coop shook his head a gain, and turned to put one long hand reassuringly on each of the boy's thin shoulders. Barney's wide grey eyes held some melancholy and even a little dread. This youngster'd had found on the Hale train a home, and in it's crew, his family, when he had no place and no one else. And Chris Hale had become the orphaned boy's father in all but name, even to tutoring and disciplining Barney, when needful. [No wonder Charlie's latest gossip mixed in with some half made up, half eavesdropped on talk of Kate and Chris, has Barney looking like a whipped puppy, tonight.]

''And they'll have the same one a few hundred more times. But that only means Kate is havin' her fun, jibin' at Chris about takin it easy. So you see, Barney, if that's all you and Charlie heard, or eavesdropped on, it doesn't mean anything like what Charlie's sayin', not anything like that, at all. So, relax. This is just what I thought, Charlie blowin' up a whole range of molehills, to make some new mountains., as if the Rockies and Sierra's we've still got to cross weren't enough. ''

'' You just got back, Coop, so you can't really say that. In fact, you missed too much of the story to make that call, yet, Coop.'' Duke Shannon now advised, his wide blue eyes full of certainty in what he said, his broad shoulders set.

''Yeah, like what?'' Coop asked, turning to frown at the tall, blond, strapping younger scout. Duke looked at Barney like a little brother to look out for. They all did that. So it didn't make sense that Duke would be adding to Barney's worries.

'' Like the part where Bill and I heard another conversation Chris and Kate had the same exact day, on the same exact subject.

And we came away with the idea pretty clear that Chris is thinkin' long and hard; whether or not he'll take another train out, next spring. ''Duke answered, nodding his head for emphasis.

'' You and Bill… '' Coop tried not to, but couldn't help laughing aloud, this time. ''You nearly had me goin' there, boys. You nearly did.''

'' We're not trying to have you goin', Coop.'' Grey haired ramrod Bill Hawks finally said, looking up from his accounts and books. '' We heard what we heard. And we heard Chris

say he wants to retire, come fall. And why would he say that, if he didn't mean to carry it through, this time.''

''Mebbee because he says just that each time we get to this point on the trail?'' Coop asked. '' And you, and Charlie and Duke, and Barney, have all been working for Chris Hale longer than I have; so you know that's true. The train gets bogged down, one way or another. The fords get flooded early, or the creek beds are wheel hub deep in mud, if they're not. Or some of the stock gets run off by local braves countin' coup the easy way, or a dozen other things like that happen, and we're not making good time.

So Chris begins to get worn down, he gets plumb worn out; but he won't say so for all the cotton in Alabam'. And he gets real disheartened, especially when some four-eyed greenhorn with an armload of books, or some panicky bunch of womenfolk who've never been out of their hometown before now, starts in on how Chris does what he does, or decides what he decides! Who wouldn't?''

''So, we're back to square one, is that right, Coop? You don't believe any of us?'' Duke challenged Coop, with a lazy tone of voice and the way he had of leaning his long frame against the wagon behind him, that belied the serious glint in his wide blue eyes.

'' Now just hold on there, buddy. Don't get your Irish up with me.'' Coop shook his head, taking advantage of the way Duke tended to slouch, to look the younger, taller man in the eye. ''I believe all y'all heard Chris and Kate Crawley talking about Chris retirin'. What I don't believe for a second is when th' train is just coming up to Fort Kearny, is that Chris is setting

a decision like this in stone. That's not the way the man operates. And like I said, all of you should really know that better than I do, by this time, you really should. ''

'' Hey, yeah, I think Coop's likely right about this.'' Barney said, looking around the group, with something more like his normal, crooked grin.

'' Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Barney.'' Coop nodded, returning the grin.

''Sure, Coop. Duke, Charlie, Bill, don't you think Coop's likely right?'' Barney asked the rest of his big brothers and mentors here, not to mention his very own, irascible, salt and pepper bearded 'mother hen'.

'' I suppose Coop could be right, just this once, just to keep us guessing.'' Bill allowed, with a similar, tired smile.

'' Just to keep you guessing is exactly right.'' Coop agreed, more pleased and more concerned with Barney's returning grin than he was with Bill's wry humor. ''And I'll tell you exactly how I know I'm right, this time. Chris gets real low in his mind whenever somebody on the train gets hurt, or G-d forbid, killed along the way. And that's what's got Chris talkin' retirin' this time. I know it, and all four of you know, too.

It hit us all hard when Missus Burke lost her little grandson, and nearly lost her daughter, Lissa, in that accident, just before I rode out. And there was nothin' any of us could do; nothin' we didn't try, to help them, was there? And Chris worked himself to a nub, tryin' harder than anyone else. And he took it damn hard. And that's what he always does and always will do. So what you fellows think has changed out of a blue sky, I can't begin to figure.''

'' I dunno, Charlie, d'you suppose we can go along with Bill and Barney, that Coop could be right, just this one time?'' Duke asked the cook, his own sense of humor restored, his wide blue eyes alight with fun.

'' Anythin's implausible, is what I've always heard.'' Charlie grumbled, and followed that by a loud harrumph, with which he turned his back on the entire group.

Coop couldn't help laughing aloud again at that. '''You know, the lot of you are the gloomiest bunch of Yankees I've ever run into, don't you?''

'' And just how many of us 'Yankees have you 'run into' exactly, Johnny Reb?'' Bill laughed, sounding and looking more like his normal, ever-skeptical self, again.

'' Oh, only a few tens of thousands, here and there, Billy Yank.'' Coop laughed. ''Funny thing, though, they never seemed to stick around when my First Texans came onto the field, against them.''

''Hmmph!'' Charlie frowned, turning back again, half grinning as he seemed to hear a new challenge. ''Your First Texans? That 'ol Ragged First' was your very own reg'ment then? I don't recall anybody callin' you 'Colonel Smith' anytime I ever heard of.''

''Details, details, Charlie. Coop and his regiment were likely too busy chasin' us Yankees around Virginia, Georgia and Tennessee to stop and get himself a formal promotion, I guess'' Duke laughed warmly, enjoying their usual, more comfortable banter.

'' And they ran right out of enough brass to make him that pair of full bird Colonel's … umm… birds Coop should've got, I guess.'' Barney nodded, happily joining in.

'' You've got that figured exactly right, Barney.'' Coop agreed, wondering what his old colonels Wigfall and Rainey, would think of this 'game'. ''That danged Yankee blockade plumb cheated me out of a pair of pretty, gold colored brass eagles!''

''And we're real, real sorry about that, Colonel Smith, sir!'' Charlie cracked wise, finally entering the fun of their exchange. ''Look out, fellas, here comes Mr. Chris!'' the cook then stage-whispered.

'' Maybe they're sorry. I'm not.'' Chris Hale announced, ignoring Charlie's whispering, walking up to join his friends. ''You only got back just now, did you, 'Colonel'?''

'' Hey, Chris, what's been going on here, while I was working? These fellows needed a good talkin' to, which I was glad to oblige them with.'' Coop turned with a wide grin and a bright eyed wink, to greet the Wagonmaster.

'' Oh they did, and you were, eh?'' Hale asked, shaking his head.

'' That's so, Mr. Chris. Coop was just getting us straightened out about some crazy thing Charlie told me.'' Barney offered, brightening now. Chris looked to be in a fine sort of mood, tonight.

'' Barney!'' Charlie protested, throwing his arms up in what looked like either despair or surrender.

'' And just what crazy thing was that?'' Chris asked, with a world-and-Charlie-Wooster weary sigh.

'' Mr. Chris, it was nothin', nothin' that matters a bit. It was just absotively nothin.'' Charlie now insisted, nodding his head emphatically.

' But I don't think so, Charlie, not according to what our 'Colonel Smith' was just sayin'.

So just what were you telling Barnaby that Coop had to straighten all of you out about?''

'' Chris, Charlie's right for once, it was nothin' at all.'' Duke offered, adding a vigorous nod.

''And Duke's right, for once, Chris. '' Bill agreed, with a quicker nod of his grey head. '' it was just a lot of nothin'.''

'' No, no, I don't think so. Please, enlighten me.'' Chris said, and it wasn't a request.

''Well, Chris, these fellows had you all done with leadin' wagon trains. In fact, they practically had you retired good and proper, smokin' your pipe, and fishin' all day, from some rockin' chair on some back porch between here and California!'' Coop answered, biting back his own grin, for now. The Wagonmaster's face was not giving so much as a hint of his native dry humor. Nor did his voice when he spoke again.

'' That doesn't sound so bad to me, just lately.'' Hale said, almost dropping the last two words below even Coop's sharp hearing, with a trademark taut half-grin on his weathered features.

'' Well, mebbee not just lately. But c'mon, Chris. We all know you're not the retirin' type,

not a bit.'' Coop argued, studying the older man's face for any sign he should be worried the way Barney had been. There was no such sign, one way or the other. The Wagonmaster instead was studying all five of his friends, his face impassive now.

'' Well, if by that you mean I've never been what you might call shy,'' Hale finally quipped. '' I'd have to agree. But that's not what I want to talk about right now. With all of you.''

Now a worried look winged its way around the circle of Hale's crew. They all knew Hale's stern tone and single-minded expression too well by this time. to do anything but chorus. ''Yes, sir.''

''Fine. Now, for reasons known only to you and G-d, from what Coop just said, the rest of

you not only think it's possible I might retire. You've already got me safely tucked away in retirement somewhere. You've already got me more or less permanently 'gone fishin'.'' Hale frowned.

''Only problem with that is, I haven't so much as mentioned the idea, not even the least scintilla of such an idea to any of you .And that might be because I know you'd have

the same reaction as our ''brevet-Colonel'' Smith, here, you'd tell me with just about the same certainty he has that I'm not going to retire, not ever, certain sure. And we'd all waste the rest of the day, if not the week, if not the rest of this trip arguing just that point. So I haven't discussed the idea of my retiring with you.

And that being the case, I can't help wondering what would put that particular idea into your heads. In fact, I can't help wondering which one, if not all of you have been eavesdropping on what I thought were mine and Katie's private conversations.'' Chris frowned, one salt and pepper eyebrow flying up his forehead in apparent consternation.

''Now, now, Mr. Chris, that's not what happened at all.'' Charlie insisted, shaking his head vigorously and looking, Coop thought, more and more worried.

'' Nope, it's not, Mr. Chris.'' Barney chipped in. But he kept looking away from the wagon master's clear, discerning gaze, his own grin growing nervous.

'' We wouldn't ever do that, Chris.'' Duke agreed, his blue eyes almost as wide as Barney's grey ones, now.

'' No, of course not.'' Bill nodded, with every appearance of nonchalance. ''Why would we?''

'' Don't look at me, Chris, I was up the trail almost all the way to Bridger, myself.'' Coop grinned, with his best wide-blue-sky innocent look.''

'' Yes, so you were. And when Coop got back, for reasons known only to G-d, the five of you gentlemen, out of a blue sky, just started to talk about whether or not I'm going to retire. Is that what happened, or is that what you want me to believe?'' Hale asked, frowning as darkly as he could manage at them.

''No, sir! Yes, sir! … Yes, sir! No, sir! '' they answered, so confusedly that Chris began to grin and then to chuckle, shaking his head. But just when his team was about to join in laughing, the Wagonmaster turned his blazing desert sky blue gaze on them and shouted:

'' Well, whichever it is, you can stop your eavesdropping, your theorizing, your speculating

and your gossiping like a flock of old New England biddy hens and listen to me! If I decide to retire after this trip or to make another, and another and yet another, until I finally drop dead somewhere between St. Joseph and Sacramento; that's my decision to make and that's my business to keep.

I've been making my own decisions since I was just about Barney's age. And I've been able to keep my own business to myself for quite a long while, too; that is until I ran into the lot of you busybodies! So let me finish setting you straight, shall I gentlemen? That's right, keep quiet! Because it wouldn't serve any of you very well right now, to interrupt me not even to answer my rhetorical questions. Good, now listen up! The only interest any of you gentlemen need have in my decisions and my business is if and when you need to find yourselves new jobs. Period! Now, is that sufficiently clear?''

'' Sure, Chris.'' Coop nodded, hiding a grin behind one gloved hand.

'' Yeah, Chris.'' Duke agreed nodding vigorously again.

'' Oh, it's clear as day, Mr. Chris.'' Charlie added, watching Chris intently for any further signs of righteous New England-Irish wrath.

'' Clear.'' Bill answered, carefully molding his own features to their most serious cast.

'' Guess it's clear, Mr Chris.'' Barney admitted, wondering what had brought that particularly Haleian thunderstorm on.

'' Barney, you don't sound very convincing, or convinced to me.'' Chris noted, shaking his head, his 'thunderstorm' gone as quickly as it came. ''And I'm sorry for shouting at you that way, son. You don't deserve it.''

'' Guess I do, Mr. Chris. Guess I did kinda, y'know, listen to Miss Kate and you, I was tryin' to hit the hay and I couldn't quite seem to.'' Barney shrugged, hoping his owning up would further placate his surrogate father.

''Barney's not to blame, not a bit, Mr Chris!'' Charlie protested. ''He just couldn't quite settle

in th' other night. So, I was tryin to find out if somebody near the cook wagon had any milk for him. And I just happened, as it was, to walk past where you and Miss Katie were talkin'…''

I see.'' Hale nodded. '' And you and Duke were helping Charlie look for milk, too?'' the Wagonmaster asked his ramrod.

'' No, sir. No… we … Duke and I were settling the question of the first watch, seein' as Coop wasn't back, yet.'' Bill answered glumly. He knew Hale wasn't 'buying' their jumbled, jumped together stories.

'' And we were talking about the watch, Chris and it was … Well, it seems like we must have stopped for a second, just a second or two, nearer your wagon than we thought.'' Duke offered, eagerly.

'' So the four of you, on two different occassions, just happened to overhear Katie and myself talking about what I may or may not do when this trip is done, purely by accident?'' Hale asked.

'' Yes, sir!'' the four of them heartily agreed.

''Coop, do you believe these fellows?'' Chris asked his head scout, one greying eyebrow winging upwards.

Coop opened his mouth and shut it and finally shrugged. ''I think it's as likely a story as any, Chris.''

'' Oh, thanks, Coop!'' Duke groaned, rolling his eyes.

'' Don't mention it.'' Coop grinned, wide as the Braxos.

'' I won't!'' Duke tried to glare back but couldn't.

'' Well, with that settled, and when you've finished your supper, may I suppose you have a moment or two free, ''Colonel'' , to let me know what you found, between here and 'almost all the way to Bridger'?''

'' Sure, Chris.'' Coop agreed, glad to see some of Hale's wry humor restored.

'' Over at my wagon, in a little while, then.'' Hale nodded. '' And maybe the rest of you gentlemen can find something to keep yourselves occupied, that doesn't have to do with my future plans?"

'' Yes, sir!'' the four eavesdroppers chorused again, and scattered to the four winds, while Coop went back to looking for anything the other four of Hale's crew might have left him that resembled supper.