Note: This is a Big Valley/Paradise crossover. For those of you who have never seen "Paradise," I can only say you've missed a great show, but I'm happy to be the one to introduce you to it. For those who have seen the show, you may notice that I have messed with the timeline, but then messing with the timeline is a Big Valley tradition. This story begins about a year before the Carroll children come to Paradise and begin to change everything, so my portrayal of the characters will differ somewhat from the show. I hope you enjoy it.
STRANGERS IN PARADISE
In which we are introduced to a most unusual banker
Jarrod Barkley rapped at the bathroom door. "Molly?" he said.
"Come on in, Jarrod," his wife replied.
Jarrod opened the door. His daughter, Vicky, held out her hands and giggled. “Paint, Daddy!" she said.
Jarrod smiled. "I thought it was a trifle early for a bath," he said, "but now I see why. What happened?"
Molly said, "Oh, it was such an unseasonably warm day, I thought I might paint in the garden while she played, but you know how she is. I took my eye off her for a second and the next thing I know she's got the caps off half the tubes."
Jarrod kissed his wife. "You could get Mother to watch her if you want to paint, Feather."
Molly stroked her daughter's curly black head. "Oh, we had fun, didn't we, Buttercup? I just gave her an old canvas and a brush and let her go to it."
"Paintbush," Vicky said.
"I see I have two artists in the family," Jarrod said.
"She's completely ruined this dress, but it can be her paint smock." Molly picked up the washcloth and began rubbing Vicky's face.
Vicky pulled back. "No, Mommy," she said.
"Now, we have to wash the paint off, Sugar," Molly said.
Vicky pointed at Jarrod. "Daddy!"
Jarrod laughed and began rolling up his sleeves. "All right, Baby," he said. "Daddy will do it." He took the washcloth and began gently scrubbing at Vicky's face and hands.
"Mother had a letter from Audra," Molly said. "She's bringing Darren home for Christmas. How they've managed with her in San Diego and him in Denver I can't imagine."
Jarrod smiled. "Leave it to Audra to fall in love the hard way. How are we going to get the paint out of your hair, Vicky?"
Molly handed him a hairbrush. "Do the best you can," she said.
Jarrod washed and brushed Vicky's hair until it was as clean as he could make it. He wrapped her in a towel and carried her into the nursery, her curly head on his shoulder and her hand against his cheek. He finished toweling her off and then diapered her and got her into her nightgown. He sat in the rocking chair before the fire, daughter on his lap. "Sing, Daddy," Vicky said. "Hush-a-bye."
Jarrod rocked his daughter before the fire and sang to her in a gentle baritone. Molly came in from cleaning the bathroom just in time to find Vicky nodding off in her father's arms. "Don't let her sleep too long," Molly said, "or she won't sleep tonight."
"All right," Jarrod said, gazing down at his daughter.
Molly perched on the arm of the rocker, stroked Jarrod's head and kissed him. She smiled down at Vicky. "Would you like another one?" she asked.
Jarrod looked up at her. "Feather! Really? Are you sure?"
Molly nodded. "I haven't been to the doctor, but I'm sure." She put a hand over her belly. "Maybe a boy this time?"
"Maybe," Jarrod said, "although I'm sure Vicky would like a sister." His eyes welled up. "One seems such a miracle, two seems like too much to ask for." He put his free hand around Molly's waist and kissed her. "I haven't noticed any emotional outbursts."
"No, thank goodness," Molly said. "I seem to have escaped that one this time, so far. By my calculation, I'm due in August, but I'll go see Dr. Merar as soon as I can."
Jarrod grew somber. "Well, that makes my decision for me."
Jarrod sighed. "It doesn't matter now."
"Tell me," Molly said.
Jarrod shrugged. "I've been offered a judgeship, but I can't take it under the circumstances."
"Jarrod!" Molly said. "You'll make a great judge! Why wouldn't you take it?"
"Because it's off in the wilds - a mining town in the northern Sierras."
"Jarrod," Molly said, "not Paradise?"
Jarrod smiled. "Yes, Feather. Paradise. But I can't take my infant daughter and pregnant wife to such a wild, rough place as that."
"Let's talk about this, Jarrod. Don't you want to be a judge?"
"You know I do."
"And if you turn down the difficult appointments, you’re not likely to get offered a better one, are you?"
"Not likely," he conceded. "But I can't drag you all out into the middle of nowhere like that."
"How old were you when your parents came to the Valley?" Molly asked.
Jarrod was silent.
"I admit I only believe about half of those stories Mother tells, but really, Jarrod, at least there's a town there. It's not like we'd be pioneers, like your family was. Yes, it'll be a challenge, but I think we should take it."
Jarrod sat thoughtfully for several moments. "Am I too soft? Father wouldn't have hesitated, would he?"
Molly stroked his head. "I never knew your father, love, but I don't believe that you're one whit less a man than he was. Come, we'll take care of each other, and both take care of the children. We can do this, dearest."
Jarrod looked up at her. "Well, if I'm the judge, at least I can guarantee you'll never spend the night in jail."
Molly laughed and kissed him. "No, Your Honor. I'm sure I won't. So when would we have to go?"
"Not until after New Years, probably the end of January. We can have one more Christmas at home, anyway."
Molly smiled. "You'll be the best judge to ever happen to Paradise, I know it."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The stagecoach driver threw down Molly's luggage as she carried Vicky off the stage in front of the Paradise Hotel. Jarrod sprang down the steps to meet them. "Daddy!" Vicky cried and flung herself into her father's arms.
Jarrod kissed his daughter, then his wife. "Did you travel well, love?" he asked.
"Not too badly," Molly said. "I let Vicky run herself ragged at the stops, but she was still restless in the coach. And she hasn't slept well without her daddy to sing her to sleep." Molly looked into Jarrod's eyes. "You look exhausted, love."
"Well, I only beat you here by a couple of hours," Jarrod said.
"Jarrod!" Molly said, putting an arm around his waist and walking into the hotel. "You had a week's head start. Poor Husband."
"I was all right until I got past Yuba, but taking a wagon through the foothills in winter was harder than we imagined." Jarrod sighed and opened the door to their room. "But I'm here. We're here. That's all that matters. Let's get you settled, then I'll have to go to the bank - it closes at noon on Saturday."
"Don't be silly," Molly said. "I'm much more rested than you are. Besides, I don't think Vicky's going to let go of you for at least an hour." She laid a hand on her daughter's head. "I'll go to the bank. You stay here with her. Just let me freshen up a little first."
Jarrod smiled. "So nice to have a sensible wife," he said. "All right, Feather. Here's the letter of credit, and ask if they have any houses available, or know of any."
"Certainly," Molly said, giving him and Vicky a kiss.
Molly walked across the street to the Paradise National Bank and asked the gray-haired woman at the window to let her speak to the banker. "Of course," the woman said, and knocked at the office door. "Mrs. Lawson? A new customer here to see you."
Molly raised her eyebrows. A woman banker? She smiled. She entered the office, and found not just a woman, but a beautiful young woman - soft chestnut hair, large hazel eyes, finely sculpted features set off by a strong, determined jaw, and elegantly attired in what Molly recognized as the latest European fashions. She blinked her eyes in surprise.
"Yes? How may I help you?" Mrs. Lawson said, in a cultured voice, but with an accent Molly did not recognize.
"Mrs. Lawson?" Molly said. "I'm Mrs. Jarrod Barkley - my husband and I would like to open an account."
"Jarrod Barkley?" Mrs. Lawson said. "What would Mr. and Mrs. Jarrod Barkley be doing in Paradise? Is the family thinking about investing in the mine?"
"No. My husband is the new judge. So you've heard of him?"
"And you, Mrs. Barkley. We do get the newspapers up here in Paradise."
"Oh," Molly said. "I suppose it would be pointless to protest that I was framed?"
Mrs. Lawson chuckled. "Don't worry, Mrs. Barkley. A shady past is an asset in Paradise. Hard knocks will win you more respect here than anything else."
"Well, that's good to know." Molly handed Mrs. Lawson the letter of credit. "If you could take care of this for us. And we're looking for a house, if the bank has one available, or if you know of any for sale."
"Yes, the bank has a few houses. Just what are you looking for?"
"In town, preferably. Large enough for a small family."
Mrs. Lawson looked up. "You have children?"
"One," Molly said. "Two, by the end of the summer."
Mrs. Lawson shook her head. "There are no children in Paradise. It's not a place to raise children in."
"We'll manage," Molly said.
Mrs. Lawson looked at her. "Perhaps you will," she said. "I do think I have something that might suit you. It's just a few doors down. If you want to get your husband, I'll be happy to show it to you."
"My husband is resting." Molly stood. "You can show me the house, if you would."
"Very well," Mrs. Lawson said, reaching for her keys. "If you'll come with me." She led Molly down the street to a blue house, with leaded panes in the windows. She opened the door and ushered Molly inside. "This used to belong to the president of the mine until he moved down to Yuba. It has three bedrooms, bath and a library, as well as the usual rooms. Look around. There's a garden out back, but it's rather overgrown at the moment."
Molly looked through all the rooms, well pleased with what she saw. "Yes, this will do nicely. How much?"
Mrs. Lawson quoted a price. Molly countered. The two women haggled for awhile until finally agreeing.
"Yes, I believe that will do," Molly said. "If you'll draw up the papers, I'll have Jarrod sign them."
"Doesn't he need to agree to it first?" Mrs. Lawson asked.
"He trusts my judgment," Molly said.
"Does he?" Mrs. Lawson said, shaking her head. "Well then, you can start moving in as soon as you like. I'll bring the papers by on Monday." She handed Molly the key.
"Have dinner with us," Molly said.
"That's not necessary. Business can wait until Monday."
"That's not what I meant," Molly said. "I want you to have dinner with us, Mrs. Lawson. Socially."
"At the hotel? No, I don't think so. Much more sensible for you to have dinner with me, Mrs. Barkley." Mrs. Lawson smiled.
Molly smiled in return. "On one condition - that you call me Molly."
"And I'm Amelia."
"Well, Amelia, there's just one problem. Our daughter is almost two - she's at the age where she's into everything. She can be a little difficult."
"I'll be sure to move all the breakables. Is six o'clock all right with you, Molly? It's the yellow house next to the bank."
"We'll be there, Amelia. Thank you."
Molly found Jarrod and Vicky on the bed asleep. Jarrod had a protective arm curled around his daughter. Molly took off her dress and corset and lay down with them, curling an arm around them both. She dozed for a while until Jarrod began to stir.
"Hello, love," he said. "How nice to wake up next to you again. I missed that on the road." He stroked her cheek.
"Do you feel rested?" Molly asked.
Jarrod picked Vicky up and moved her to her cot. He lay back down on the bed. "Rested enough," he said, taking his wife into his arms and kissing her.
Later, he asked her, "So, you got everything taken care of at the bank?"
"Yes, and I got us a house. It's that blue one down the street, if you'll look out the window. We can move in anytime - I have the key."
"Such a good wife," Jarrod said. "How much did you pay?" Molly told him. "Hm," he said, "I'd have expected rather more."
"We're having dinner with the banker tonight," Molly said.
Jarrod frowned. "Really, Molly. Why would we want to have dinner with a stuffy old banker our first night in our new home?"
Molly grinned. "Actually, it's a young, beautiful banker, sweetest. Prepare to be dazzled."
"A woman?" Jarrod said. "I wouldn’t have thought Paradise ran to young, beautiful women, much less bankers."
"I think Amelia's an anomaly," Molly said.
"Amelia already? What, you're in town an hour and you've already made a friend?"
"She's strong, and intelligent, and I think rather lonely. Not much here for a woman like her."
Jarrod’s eyes grew soft. "Or for a woman like you, Feather?"
Molly smiled. "Ah, well, I brought everything I need with me."
Vicky grabbed a handful of mashed potatoes and stuffed them into her mouth. Molly wiped her hand off with a napkin and said, "Let Mommy feed you the potatoes, Buttercup. Here, have some peas. Pardon us, Amelia, mealtimes are rather messy right now."
"It's quite all right," Amelia smiled. "I'm having dinner with the only child in Paradise. It's quite an honor."
"I find it difficult to believe there are no other families here," Jarrod said. "The ranchers? The merchants? It's not all gold miners."
"There's nothing for families here," Amelia said. "No church. No school. As soon as children come along, their parents tend to light out for greener pastures."
"Didn't I see a church on the way into town?" Molly asked.
"It's fallen into disrepair," Amelia said. "Hardly anyone hangs around in Paradise long enough to take an interest."
"So why are you in Paradise?" Molly asked. "You don't seem to like it much."
Amelia scowled. "If I could sell the bank, I would leave in a heartbeat, but it belongs to my husband. He disappeared about a year ago – gambling debts. I'm the one who built the bank up from nothing – I'm proud of it, and it should be mine. But the property laws in this country are positively medieval."
Molly looked at Jarrod. "Couldn't you help her, love?"
Jarrod shook his head. "I wish I could, Feather. But a married woman can't legally own property. I could grant her a divorce, but that would only make her problem worse unless her husband is found and agrees to a property settlement."
"It doesn't seem fair," Molly said.
"It's not," Jarrod agreed. "It's bad law, but it's the law."
"So why are you two, pardon me, three," Amelia smiled at Vicky, "in Paradise? Everyone's heard of the Barkleys – why would you choose to live in this pit of a mining town?"
"It's a good opportunity for Jarrod," Molly said, "his first judgeship. And we would hope that we could benefit Paradise as well. Bring some justice where there might not otherwise be any."
Amelia shook her head. "I hate to see that shiny idealism get scraped off. But it will. Paradise does that to all of us."
"Jarrod may be an idealist," Molly smiled at her husband, "but I'm a realist. And I know that nothing changes as long as no one tries to change it. Besides, Paradise seems better than the last time I was here – more prosperous, anyway."
"The mine is doing well right now," Amelia said. "But one day the mine will give out and Paradise will die. We all know it. When were you here before?"
"Seven or eight years ago," Molly said. "I was traveling with a theater troupe."
"Oh, I remember," Amelia said. "That was the last bit of culture we had up here. I don't remember seeing you, though."
"You wouldn't have – I was the costumer."
"You have had an interesting life." Amelia stood. "Shall we adjourn to the parlor? How about some sherry?"
"Change, Mommy," Vicky said.
"If you could excuse us for a moment, Amelia," Molly said.
"Of course," Amelia said. "Let me show you where the facilities are. Feel free to smoke, Mr. Barkley."
Jarrod lit a cigar and gazed into the fireplace until the women returned. "That's nice," Amelia said. "I haven't enjoyed the smell of a good cigar in ages."
Molly set Vicky down on the floor, and the little girl promptly crawled underneath the sofa. "Come out from there, Sugar," Molly said.
Vicky giggled. "Hide, Mommy."
"Pardon us, Amelia," Molly said.
"It's all right. As long as she doesn't hurt herself."
There was the sound of gunshots. Vicky crawled out from under the sofa and threw herself at Jarrod. He picked her up and she hid her face in his chest. "What is that?" he asked.
"Saturday night in Paradise," Amelia said. "The miners come into town and get liquored up. It's firing into the air, mostly, but there is an occasional shooting. There's your caseload, Judge. Mostly drunk and disorderly, with an occasional murder or cattle rustling. As long as you leave the mine alone, you'll be fine."
"Now, why would I want to go after the mine?" Jarrod asked.
Amelia shrugged. "No reason that I know of, I'm just saying. We all know – you can't win against the mine."
The gunshots grew louder. Vicky whimpered. "You'd better get back to the hotel before it really gets going," Amelia said.
"All right," Molly said gathering up her things. "Good night, Amelia. Thank you – it was a lovely dinner."
"Good night, Amelia," Jarrod said.
"'Night, 'Melia," Vicky said.
Amelia smiled. "Good night, all. I'll see you on Monday, when I bring the papers around."
Vicky slept easily, calmed by her father's voice. The gunshots made her stir, but she did not wake. Molly and Jarrod lay snuggled in bed. "Did you like her, Jarrod?" Molly asked.
"I think so," Jarrod said. "She's certainly gracious, and as beautiful as you said, but she seems so pessimistic."
"She's unhappy, Jarrod. She's been stuck for years in a place she doesn't want to be. Don't judge her too harshly."
"I won't, Feather, since you seem to like her so much. I just hope her bleak outlook doesn't rub off on you. I think we're going to need all the optimism we can muster."
"We knew it was a rough place when we decided to come. And I don't think Amelia's entirely dark - I see flashes of light in her. Who knows, maybe we'll rub off on her."
"I hope so," Jarrod turned down the lamp and took Molly in his arms. "Welcome to Paradise," he said, as gunfire rang through the night.
In which we are introduced to an Indian and a gunslinger
"I don't know, Amelia," Molly said. "We've been here two months and the only people we know are you and the sheriff." She poured out tea for herself and her friend in the Barkley front parlor. "It's hardest on Jarrod, I think. His is such a close-knit family - he misses his brothers especially."
"Tea, Mommy," Vicky said, climbing into her mother's lap.
"Say 'please,' Buttercup," Molly said.
"Tea, pease, Mommy."
Molly smiled and poured a cup that was mostly milk and helped her daughter to drink it.
Amelia said, "It's how it is in Paradise. No one plans to stay long. And with no church and few women to keep the social wheels turning, well, things just grind to a halt."
"It's more than that, I think," Molly said. "There seems to be some dark undercurrent, some fear that everyone has. I can't put my finger on it."
Amelia shrugged. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Molly looked out the window. "See that man?" she said, indicating an aged Indian, wearing clothes that had been stylish thirty years ago and a tall battered hat. "Do you know who he is?"
"No. I see him in town sometimes, but I have no idea who he is."
"He has such dignity, such an ambience. Aren't you curious? At all?"
"It doesn't pay to be too curious in Paradise."
"Well, I've had about enough of that," Molly said, standing and handing her daughter to Amelia. "I'm curious." She opened the door and went out into the street.
"Excuse me, sir," she said. "Would you allow me to introduce myself? I'm Mrs. Jarrod Barkley."
The Indian gentleman tipped his hat. "John Taylor, ma'am." He smiled the warmest smile Molly had ever seen.
"Mrs. Lawson and I were having some tea. Would you care to join us?"
"Well, now, that's mighty kind of you. I am a mite thirsty."
Molly led John Taylor into the house. Amelia's eyes were wide but she remained gracious upon being introduced. Vicky climbed down from Amelia's lap and held her arms out to him. "May I?" John Taylor asked.
"Certainly," Molly said, as John Taylor picked Vicky up. "She's never reacted that way to anyone before." Vicky put her head on John Taylor's shoulder and patted his cheek.
"Is she a good judge of character?" John Taylor asked.
"We don't know yet," Molly said. "Please, sit down. I'll pour you some tea."
Vicky patted herself. "Bicky," she said. She patted John Taylor's chest.
"Hello, Vicky," John Taylor said. "I'm John Taylor."
"Jaylor," Vicky said.
"No, Sugar," Molly said. "John Taylor."
"It's all right, Mrs. Barkley," John Taylor said. "I've been called worse." He picked up his teacup.
"So, what do you do, Mr. Taylor?" Molly asked.
"Just John Taylor, ma'am."
"All right, John Taylor. My friends call me Molly."
John Taylor nodded. "To answer your question, I'm a hermit."
"I didn't think a hermit was something someone did."
"It's my profession now. I once was a shaman, though."
"That's a medicine man, right?" Molly asked.
"More like a doctor," John Taylor said. "A healer."
"Really?" Molly said thoughtfully. "Have you delivered any babies?"
John Taylor looked at Molly's bulging belly. "A few."
"There's no doctor in Paradise, you know," Molly said.
Amelia gasped, then covered it with a cough.
"If I can ever be of any assistance to you, Molly Barkley," John Taylor said, "you only have to give a yell." He drained his cup. "Thank you for the tea." He stood up and handed Vicky back to her mother.
"Won't you stay a while longer?" Molly said.
"No. I need to get back to being a hermit. It was very nice to meet you. Vicky." He tipped his hat. "Mrs. Lawson."
"Well, Molly," Amelia said after he had gone, "things are certainly never dull with you around."
"Wasn't it worth it though? Have you ever met anyone more intriguing?"
"Yes, I have," Amelia said. "You."
"I understand you created a bit of scandal today, love," Jarrod said, bouncing Vicky on his knee.
Molly set the table. "How? By asking someone to tea? And how did you know?"
"I stopped off at the saloon on the way home."
"You've been doing that a lot lately," Molly said.
"Do you mind?"
Molly shrugged. "Not at all. I don’t know how else you're going to get masculine companionship in this town. As long as you're home for dinner. As to this afternoon, I saw someone I wanted to meet, so I did." She told him all about it.
"He sounds interesting," Jarrod said. "And Baby liked him. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet him myself."
"You probably will. I don't think we've seen the last of John Taylor."
Very late that night, Jarrod and Molly were awakened by the sound of breaking glass. "What was that?" Molly asked.
"I'll go see," Jarrod said. "You go check on Vicky."
When Molly came downstairs, she found Jarrod standing in the parlor, surrounded by broken glass and holding a rock in his hand. "Don't come in without your shoes, Feather," he said. "There's broken glass everywhere. I'll get the broom."
"Better to just roll up the rug and take it outside," Molly said. She went to the closet and put on a pair of boots. She and Jarrod rolled up the rug and took it out on the porch. "Why would someone do this?" she asked. "Because I invited an Indian to tea?"
"No, love," Jarrod said. "There was a note tied to the rock." He showed it to her.
"'Back off, Barkley,'" Molly read. "What does that mean?"
"It means 'Stop asking questions.'" Jarrod said.
"What's going on, Jarrod?"
"I think there might be other children in Paradise. In the mine."
Molly gasped. "No, Jarrod," she whispered. "Why do you think so?"
"Nothing much to go on, just the drunken muttering of a gold miner. But that's why I've been going to the saloon - trying to find out if it's true." He hefted the rock. "This just means I'm making someone nervous."
Molly started to cry. Jarrod put an arm around her. "Here, here, Feather. No need for that."
"I worked in a woolen mill for a while, Jarrod. I didn't stay long because I couldn't bear the sight of all those children. Some had been maimed by the machines and were still there, working. I left because I didn't want to watch any of them die. It has to be so much worse in a mine - so much more dangerous. So much more soul-killing."
Jarrod pulled her close. "I don't know what I can do even if they are there, love. There's no law against employing children. I don't know why all the secrecy."
"There are no other families in Paradise, Jarrod. If they're employing children, they must be orphans."
"Still not illegal, love. So, do I go ahead? This is probably not the last warning."
"We can't just forget about them, Jarrod. Do whatever you have to do."
Jarrod kissed her. "All right, love. Let's get the rest of this glass cleaned up. I'll stop by the general store tomorrow and ask Mr. Lee to replace the window."
The next evening they had dinner with Amelia. Walking home, Vicky asleep on her father's shoulder, Molly said, "What's wrong, Jarrod? You hardly said a word all evening. I know Amelia and I do chatter on, but you're quieter than usual."
"Sometimes I wish you didn't notice everything, Feather."
"As we were coming over, I saw a man standing in front of the saloon. Ethan Allen Cord."
"And who is Ethan Allen Cord?"
"He's a notorious gunfighter. I saw him kill three men in Denver once."
"No wonder you were quiet. Why isn't he in prison, then?"
"Well, that time it was self-defense. But he is a hired gun, Molly."
"And a good one, too, evidently." Molly thought quietly, too, until they arrived home. "No real reason to think he might be after you, dearest."
"No. But how will we know?" Jarrod carried Vicky into the nursery and began to undress her.
"Gunslingers tend to be careful of their reputations - he's unlikely to shoot you in the back. Or at all, if you don't carry a gun."
"How do you know anything about gunslingers, Feather?"
"I've known a couple," Molly said.
Jarrod shook his head. "You do have the oddest assortment of friends, love."
"I didn't say they were friends, just that I knew them. You can't really think that I would number hired killers amongst my friends, dearest."
"No, I guess not. Sorry, Feather." Jarrod put Vicky in her nightgown and placed her gently on her cot. "So what are we going to do?"
"You have that trial starting tomorrow, dear. Better concentrate on meting out justice. Try not to worry."
Jarrod hugged her. "I'll try, but I don't know how I can not."
The next afternoon, Molly carried Vicky into the Paradise Saloon. She spoke to the bartender who nodded at a young man sitting at the end of the bar. "Excuse me, sir," Molly said, "but are you Ethan Allen Cord?"
The young man looked up at her, gave her a long appraising look before answering. "I am. May I ask why a fine lady would bring her baby into a place like this to talk to me?"
"No Daddy baby," Vicky said.
"I beg your pardon?" Cord said.
"She means only her father is allowed to call her a baby," Molly said.
Cord tipped his hat. "I beg your pardon, Miss."
"Would you step outside, Mr. Cord?" Molly said. "I would like to have a word with you, and as you say, this is no place for a child."
"If you want," Cord said, standing and walking outside. In the light, Molly could see him better - a tall, well-built young man with unshaven cheeks, curly brown hair and brown eyes. "Now, what did you want to talk to me about?" he said.
"I'm Mrs. Jarrod Barkley," Molly said, "and I want to know if you're in Paradise to kill my husband."
Cord blinked. "Well, you certainly don't beat around the bush, do you, Mrs. Barkley? Why do you think I might be?“
"We've had some trouble," Molly said. "Jarrod's a judge, and he seems to have upset some people."
"No, I'm not on a job, right now," Cord said. "I'm just drifting, but I wouldn't expect a fine lady like you to understand that."
Molly nodded. "Yes, I would. I wasn't always a 'fine lady,' as you say. I've done my share of drifting."
"Well, ma'am," Cord said, "I thought there might be work at the mine. Security. They might have something for me in a day or two, they said."
"And if that 'something' turns out to be shooting my husband, would you take it?" Molly asked.
Cord gave her another long appraising look. Finally he said, "No, ma'am. I won't shoot your husband. You have my word."
"Shake on it," Molly said, offering her hand. Cord took her hand and shook it, a bemused look on his face. "Thank you very much, Mr. Cord."
As Molly turned to walk away, Cord asked, "Mrs. Barkley? What would you have done if I'd said different?"
"Whatever I had to," Molly said.
Cord laughed. "I just bet you would." He tipped his hat. "A pleasure to meet you, ma'am."
Molly met Jarrod at the door that evening. "You don't have to worry about Ethan Cord," she said, as Vicky threw herself into her father's arms. Molly told Jarrod of her encounter.
Jarrod shook his head. "Just when I think I know you, Feather, you still surprise me. Whatever possessed you to do that?"
"Nick and Heath aren't here," Molly said. "Someone has to watch your back. We promised to take care of each other, didn't we?"
"I never meant for my pregnant wife and daughter to confront a gunfighter, Molly," Jarrod said, angrily
"We weren't the ones in danger, love. You were. I just did what I had to."
Jarrod's eyes flashed. "You have to promise not to do anything like that again, Molly."
"No, Jarrod, I won't. Would you, if I asked you not to protect me or Vicky? Don't be ridiculous."
"Sometimes I think you forget you're a woman, Molly."
"No, Jarrod. It's because I'm a woman that I could do that. It's not part of the gunfighter code to harm women or children. Believe me, I knew what I was doing."
Jarrod sighed and wrapped his free arm around his wife. "Ah, Feather, you know I couldn't live if anything happened to you, don't you?"
"Nor I, if any thing happened to you, my dearest. I had to do it. I'd do it again."
Vicky patted Jarrod's cheek. "No cry, Daddy," she said.
Jarrod blinked back his tears. "All right, Baby," he said, "Daddy won't cry." He kissed his daughter. "Daddy loves you, Vicky."
Vicky kissed him back and hugged his neck. "Love Daddy," she said. "Love Mommy."
"Yes, Buttercup," Molly said, stroking her back. She looked up into Jarrod's eyes. "Love Daddy. Love Mommy. Never stop, no matter what."
In which an orphan is found, and lost, and a gunfight ensues
Jarrod made his usual morning stop at the sheriff's office the next day. The sheriff jumped up from his desk. "Judge Barkley, you're here early."
"I wanted to deal with the drunk and disorderlies before court this morning."
"None this morning, Judge," the sheriff said. "Got nothing for you."
Jarrod peered around the sheriff. "Who's that in the cell, then?" He pushed the sheriff aside. "It's a boy."
"Nothing to do with you, Judge," the sheriff said. "His people will be coming for him this morning."
"His people?" Jarrod said, his eyes narrowing. "There are no families in Paradise. You mean the mine, don't you?"
"Now it's all perfectly legal."
"I believe I get to be the judge of that," Jarrod said. "Why, he can't be more than eight or nine years old."
"I'm twelve," the boy said.
"Unlock the cell, sheriff."
The sheriff threw up his hands and unlocked the door. Jarrod ushered the boy out of the cell into the office. "What's your name, son?" he asked.
"You're an orphan, Lucas?" Jarrod asked.
"Yes, sir. I was sent to the mine a couple of years ago."
"Who sent you?"
"The orphanage. I'm not the only one, sir. There are six more of us up at the mine. They're all younger than me. I ran away because I was the only one of us who remembers."
"What do you remember, Lucas?" Jarrod asked softly.
"Playing outside. Going to school. Nice people. I had a teacher over in Chico - I thought if I could get to him, he might help us."
"I'm a judge, Lucas," Jarrod said. "I can help you." He placed a hand on Lucas's shoulder, and Lucas cringed away. "Turn around, Lucas." Lucas did so. Dried blood glued the ragged shirt to his back. Jarrod gently lifted the hem to reveal the edge of bleeding red welts. He frowned grimly. "Why did they beat you, Lucas?"
"Because I keep running away."
"These welts are new."
Lucas nodded. "I ran away a few days ago, too."
"Sending you to work in the mines is not illegal, Lucas," Jarrod said, "but abusing you is. I'm placing you in my custody for the time being." He sat down at the sheriff's desk and picked up a pen. "I'm issuing an injunction against the mine." He wrote hurriedly and handed the paper to the sheriff. "They're to bring all their child laborers into town for a hearing."
The sheriff threw the paper down on the desk. "I'm not delivering that. It's more than my job is worth to cross the mine."
"You're sworn to uphold the law," Jarrod said.
"Not if it means crossing the mine," the sheriff said stubbornly. "And if you have any sense, you won't either. He's just an orphan. What's he to you?"
"A child. A human being. The question is, why isn't he anything to you?" Jarrod put his hand on Lucas's head. "Come along. You're going home with me. I just need to stop by and adjourn court for today."
Amelia was opening the bank when she saw Jarrod walking down the street with Lucas. Her eyes opened wide as she hurried down the street to meet them. "Jarrod," she asked, "what is this?"
"He's been working in the mine. Did you know about this, Amelia?" Jarrod asked angrily. "When you told me not to take on the mine, is this what you meant?"
Amelia reeled back. "No! How could you think I would condone something like this? It's abominable."
Jarrod calmed down. "All right, Amelia, I'm sorry. Would you take him to my house? Tell Molly I'll be home in a few minutes - I want to get him some clothes and send a couple of telegrams." Amelia nodded. "Good," Jarrod said. "Lucas, this is Mrs. Lawson. My wife will take care of you until I get home, all right?"
Lucas nodded. "All right, Judge. Whatever you say."
Amelia frowned when she saw the blood on the back of Lucas's shirt. Her face was grim as she escorted him down the street to the blue house on the end.
As Jarrod arrived home, three armed men on horses pulled up in front of his house. He recognized Monroe, the manager of the Paradise Mine. “You got something that belongs to us, Barkley," Monroe said.
"The boy's in my custody, Monroe."
Monroe aimed his gun at Jarrod. "I ain't arguing about it."
"Put that away," Jarrod said. "I've already wired for a Federal Marshal. If you want Paradise and your precious mine crawling with Federal agents, you'll dare to shoot a judge."
Monroe considered that, and put his gun away grimly. "This ain't over."
"No, it's not," Jarrod said. "I've placed the mine under an injunction. You'll bring all those children into town for a hearing.”
"Try'n enforce that, Judge," Monroe said. "The sheriff's ours."
"Looks like we're at a standstill until the Marshal arrives then, doesn't it?"
Monroe huffed. "We'll be back," he said as he and his cohort rode off.
Jarrod opened the door and Molly flew into his arms. "Oh, Jarrod! It was all true, wasn't it? That poor boy - did you see his back?"
"Yes, I did, love. Where is he now?"
"In the tub. We had to soak his shirt off."
Amelia stood, holding Vicky. Vicky held out her arms to her father. "Well, I need to run along to the bank," Amelia said. "Do call on me if you need anything else, won't you?"
"Thank you, Amelia," Jarrod said, taking his daughter. "Forgive me for being angry at you, please?"
"It's all right, Jarrod. I understand how it looked. It's difficult to believe that no one in the town knew about this." She opened the door and left.
"Amelia said you were sending some telegrams," Molly said. "Did you send for your brothers?"
"No," Jarrod said. "It would take them almost a week to get here. I sent for a Marshal and sent a wire to the mine president. He should be informed of what's going on up here - there may still be a chance to talk it out reasonably."
Molly shook her head. "From what Lucas said, this has been going on for at least a couple of years. Hard to believe that he doesn't know about it."
"Well, we'll see about that. I've given Monroe to understand that if anything happens to me, the Federal Marshals will make it the worse for him and the mine. We'll just have to sit tight for the time being."
"How long until the Marshal gets here?"
"Three or four days, I expect." He kissed Molly's forehead. "Don't worry, love. It'll come out right." He started up the stairs. "I'd better take Lucas these clothes before he completely dissolves."
That night, Molly and Jarrod were sitting in the kitchen discussing contingencies when there was a scratching at the back door. Jarrod peeked through the curtains. "It's Cord," he said, frowning.
"Well, let him in, Jarrod," Molly said.
"Should I?" Jarrod said. "Which side is he on?"
"He's promised not to shoot you. He must have something to say - we should listen to him."
Jarrod considered for a moment. "All right, love." He opened the door. "Cord."
Cord tipped his hat. "Evening, Judge. Mrs. Barkley. May I come in? I got something you should hear about."
Jarrod noted that Cord was not wearing a gun and stepped aside, warily. Cord stepped in and shut the door behind him. "Ma'am," he said to Molly, "you remember what you asked me yesterday?"
"Yes, Mr. Cord. Of course I do. Have you been asked?"
"Not that," he said. "Apparently the judge here made his point this morning, but I was asked if I'd be willing to take you and your little girl."
Molly gasped. Jarrod said, "Take? You mean kidnap my wife and my child?"
"Yes, sir. The mine don't feel it can get at you directly, but they got no scruple about using whatever means to get you to back down and call off the Marshal."
"Or maybe they feel the threat itself would be enough," Jarrod said, glaring at Cord.
Cord regarded him. "I can see where you might think that. You got no reason to trust me, that's for sure. All I can say is, I don't hold with harming no women or children. I'm here to warn you, that's all."
"What did you tell them, Mr. Cord?" Molly asked.
"I told 'em I'd think about it, ma'am," Cord said. "Thought I'd buy a little time."
"Thank you, Mr. Cord." Molly turned to Jarrod. "What are we going to do, Jarrod?"
"You need to get out of town, ma'am," Cord said. "Out of harm's way."
"He's right, Molly," Jarrod said. "We'll leave on the noon stage."
"You can't leave, Jarrod," Molly said. "You can't let them scare you off. You have to stay and meet the Marshal. For those children."
"Best if you go about your business like normal, Judge," Cord said. "That'll give your lady here time to get out of their reach."
"I'm not sending my wife and child off unprotected," Jarrod said.
"Then hire me."
"I don't trust you, Cord," Jarrod said.
"You got anyone else you can trust right now, Judge?"
Jarrod looked down at Molly. "What do you think, Feather?"
"I don't think he'd harm me, Jarrod," Molly said, "and I think he'll do whatever you pay him to do."
"Until someone else pays him more," Jarrod said.
"No, sir," Cord said. "I don't go back on a deal. You pay me, I'm yours for the duration."
Jarrod wrestled with himself for long moments. "All right," he said at last, "but I warn you - if anything happens to any of them, I will hunt you down. That's a solemn vow."
Cord nodded. "No more'n I'd expect."
"All right, how much?"
Cord thought. "A hundred dollars."
Jarrod took out his wallet and slapped the money into Cord's hand. "Maybe I should have asked for more," Cord said.
Jarrod slapped down another fifty. "No," Cord said. "The deal was for a hundred."
"Keep it," Jarrod said. "For expenses."
"It'd be better to leave now," Cord said, "while it's dark. We can be miles away before morning."
"Molly can't ride a horse in her condition."
"Don't a rich man like you have a carriage?"
Jarrod shook his head. "Not here. We'd have to get one from the livery, and that would arouse suspicion this time of night."
Cord huffed. "It'll have to be the stage, then. I don't like it - it's too public for an escape. We'll have to try to be unnoticeable." He looked at Molly. "You got any plain clothes? Better you not look like the Judge's wife."
Molly nodded. "I can do that."
"The baby's awful conspicuous in a town with no kids. You'll have to try to keep her quiet until we're away."
"The boy, too," Jarrod said.
"Now, he's just too conspicuous," Cord said.
"If I'm to 'go about my business,' he can't come with me, and he can't stay here by himself. He goes with you."
Cord thought. "All right. But we don't go out the front door. Out the back and around into the street just before the stage leaves. Maybe we can avoid being noticed. Keep your lights on tonight - send a signal that you're awake and watching. I'll be back before light." He tipped his hat and slipped out the door.
"I don't like leaving you alone, Jarrod," Molly said, putting her arms around him.
"And I don't like sending you off with that man, but I don't see what other choices we have. Other than cutting and running, and neither of us wants to do that, do we?"
"No. But if it were just me, I wouldn't leave you. I'd take my chances at your side. I'm only going for the children's sake."
"I know that, love. I certainly don't doubt your courage," Jarrod said. "It's only for a few days - things should become safer once the Marshal gets here. I wonder why I haven't received a reply from the president of the mine, though. I certainly should have gotten his attention."
"Maybe he's away from home."
"Well, let's keep watch tonight." Jarrod went and fetched two rifles. "I hope we won't need these, but it's best to be prepared."
Molly sighed. "Lord, I hate guns."
"I'm not fond of them myself. Not at all." Jarrod sat down and began loading the rifles anyway.
Cord's plan might have worked if Vicky hadn't started crying loudly the moment they were in the stagecoach. Molly tried to quiet her to no avail. "Hush, Buttercup. It's all right."
"Daddy!" Vicky cried.
"What's wrong with her?" Cord asked testily.
"I think it's the stagecoach. The only other time we were in one we were away from her father for almost two weeks."
"Let me have her, Mrs. Barkley," Lucas said. "Maybe I can quiet her."
Lucas took Vicky on his lap and began to sing to her in a boyish tenor. Vicky sniffled, but she stopped crying as the stagecoach pulled out.
"Why didn't you do that?" Cord asked Molly.
"Because I can't sing," Molly said. "I sound like a crow. Jarrod's the singer in the family."
"Well, if we'd banged a gong we wouldn't have done a better job of announcing we're leaving. Never saw a kid that attached to its father, that's for sure."
"Well, I'm not apologizing for that," Molly said. "I'm sorry it's made things difficult, but it can't be helped now."
Cord took the gun out of his belt and checked the chamber.
"I wish you wouldn't do that around the children," Molly said.
"I know how to handle a gun, ma'am. Believe me, if someone gets shot around me, it's on purpose."
"There's going to be trouble, isn't there?"
"Almost for sure," Cord said. "Be ready to get down on the floor if I tell you." He nodded at Lucas. "You, too, boy."
The stage made its way along the river down from the ridge, traveling carefully for over an hour. Vicky had crawled back into her mother's lap and gone to sleep. "Now," Cord said. "Get down." Molly crouched down with Vicky. Cord pushed her down. "On the floor. Now!" Molly covered Vicky and Lucas with her arms, her body.
The first bullets thudded into the side of the coach. Cord aimed out the window and began firing. "Looks like ten of them," he said. "I'm almost flattered."
Vicky woke up and began screaming. Molly covered her child's ears with her hands and clutched her close. "Buttercup. Vicky," she crooned. The stagecoach creaked to a halt.
"Damn," Cord said. "They got the Shotgun." He handed Molly his empty gun and threw down a handful of bullets. "You got to reload for me." He pulled his second gun out of its holster and continued firing.
Molly emptied the chamber and scrambled for the bullets. Her hands were shaking and her ears were ringing from the gunshots and Vicky's screams. She managed to reload and handed the gun up to Cord. He handed her the second gun, but before she could get it open, Cord reeled back, hand clasped to his neck. Blood ran in rivulets between his fingers. The guns outside the coach ceased firing. The stagecoach door opened and rough hands pulled Molly out of the coach. She clutched Vicky with all of her might. Vicky hid her face on Molly's shoulder and sobbed.
"You didn't tell us about the woman and the baby, Monroe," a rough voice said accusingly. "You said we were just after the boy."
Someone dragged Lucas out of the coach. Another man dragged out Cord and dumped him on the ground. Molly fell on her knees next to him. Blood still ran from the wound on his neck, so she knew he was not dead.
"What difference does it make, Ike?" Monroe said. "Take them all."
"No," Ike said. "The boy belongs to the mine, but I ain't touching no pregnant woman or no baby."
"You then, Howard," Monroe said.
"Nope," Howard said. "Not me, neither." Howard kept a tight grip on Lucas's arm.
Monroe turned to the last man left, who was holding a gun on the driver. "You?" The man shook his head.
"None of you will ever work for the mine again," Monroe raged.
"Don't want to, if it means attacking women," Ike said. "Let's take the boy and go."
Monroe turned to Molly. "You tell your husband, when you see him, that next time I'll bring better men. He better leave the mine alone, if he knows what good for you and this one." He put his hand on Vicky's head. Molly grabbed his middle finger and bent it back until it popped. Monroe screamed with pain.
"I'll break it next time," Molly hissed. "Don't you ever touch her."
Monroe started to raise his gun, but Ike grabbed his arm. "Shoot her and we shoot you, Monroe."
Monroe whirled and pointed his gun at the stagecoach driver. "Don't you have a schedule to keep?"
"Not without my passengers," the driver said.
Monroe gestured at the unnamed man. "You. Go with him and make sure he doesn't turn back."
The man climbed up on the coach. "Ma'am? I'm sorry," the driver said.
"We'll be all right," Molly said. "I've spent the night outdoors before."
Howard tied Lucas's hands and swung him up into the saddle. The three men left gathered up their fallen companions and slung them up on the horses. "We'll come for you, Lucas," Molly said. "Don't be afraid."
"The Judge will, ma'am," Lucas said.
"He won't if he knows what's good for him," Monroe said as they rode away.
Molly turned to Cord. "How many did I get?" he asked.
"Were you awake all that time?" Molly asked, angrily. "Why didn't you do something?"
"Not much I could do without my guns. You were doing well enough without me." Cord sat up, but the wound on his neck began pouring blood. Molly pushed him back down and stood and removed her petticoat. She wadded it up and shoved it into the wound, all one handed as she clutched Vicky with the other.
"Them things sure come in handy," Cord said.
"Bandages I can do," Molly said, "but what am I going to do for diapers?"
"Bad mans gone?" Vicky asked.
"Yes, Buttercup," Molly said. "The bad men are gone. I need to put you down so I can take care of Mr. Cord. Stay close to Mommy, okay, Sugar?"
Vicky nodded and clutched Molly's skirt as Molly pressed on Cord's wound with both hands.
"So how many did I get?" Cord asked again.
"Six, damn you," Molly huffed. "Can't you think of anything but your reputation?"
"Cord hurt?" Vicky asked.
"Yes, Sugar, Mr. Cord is hurt."
"Mommy kiss it."
"Good idea," Cord said, putting a hand behind Molly's head and kissing her tenderly.
Molly jerked her head away. "Ethan! What in Heaven's name are you thinking?"
"That silver-spoon judge of yours can't understand you, Molly. He don't know what it's like to be cold or hungry."
"You're wrong, Ethan. He understands me better than anyone else ever could. Yes, you and I both know what it is to be homeless, but I've found my home."
"Don't need no home. Don't want no home."
"Then why are you kissing a woman who's old enough to be your mother? Who is a mother?"
"You don't know half what you think you do," Ethan said, closing his eyes.
"Ethan? Ethan! Stay with me, Ethan," Molly said, panicked.
"John Taylor," Vicky said, holding up her arms.
"You've learned to say my name, Little One," John Taylor said, picking her up and kneeling down by Ethan.
"Am I glad to see you, John Taylor!" Molly said. "Can you help him?"
"I believe so," he said, removing a roll of cloth from his pocket. He unrolled it to reveal a collection of medical instruments. He moved Molly's hands and lifted the bandage. "You've done a good job of controlling the bleeding. Looks like the bullet nicked his jugular, but it's not lodged in too deep."
Molly stood, wiped her bloody hands on her skirt. "Come here, Buttercup," she said to Vicky. "We need to let John Taylor take care of Mr. Cord. How did you happen to be here, John Taylor?" She took her daughter out of his arms as he settled down to work on Cord.
"Oh, I was walking through the woods when I heard the gunshots. Too bad I got here too late to see the battle, but that last part was mighty interesting." He smiled.
"So glad you enjoyed it," Molly said, dryly. She shook her head. "Will he be all right? He's lost so much blood."
"Not more than a pint, I don't think," John Taylor said. "Probably would have bled to death without you here, but he'll be right as rain in no time."
"But you have a difficult journey ahead of you, Molly Barkley. You have to go tell your husband what happened here. It's eight miles, uphill all the way, carrying both your children. You might make it before dark if you start now."
Molly took off her shawl and tied it around herself and Vicky to make a sling. "Come on, Buttercup," she said. "We're going to Daddy, but it's a long way." She began to trudge up the long, steep, winding road to Paradise.
In which Jarrod prepares for one kind of battle, but faces another
It was hours past dark when Molly staggered up the steps and pounded on the door of her house. Jarrod opened the door and she fell into his arms. "Daddy!" Vicky cried.
"Feather! What happened?" Jarrod asked, helping her to the sofa. "You're covered with blood!"
"Not my blood," Molly gasped. "Take care of Vicky. Feed her, bathe her, put her to bed. I'll tell you later."
Jarrod took Vicky out of the sling. She clung to her father's neck. "Whose blood, Molly?" Jarrod asked.
"Cord's." Molly rested her head on the arm of the sofa.
"Is he dead?"
"No. Shot, not dead. Please, just go take care of Vicky. I'll be all right until you get back."
Jarrod stroked her cheek, looked into her eyes. He bent down and tenderly kissed her lips before carrying their daughter into the kitchen.
He returned sometime later to find that Molly had not moved. He knelt down beside her and raised her head. "Looks like I need to do the same for you, love," he said. "Let me bring you some dinner, then I'll help you clean up. You can tell me your story afterward. You're sure you're all right?"
Molly nodded. "Just exhausted. Thank you, love." She kissed him. "Such a good husband."
Jarrod frowned. "I'm not so sure," he said. "It was the wrong thing, wasn't it, sending you off with Cord?"
"Who knows? Who can know what would have happened?"
Jarrod shook his head. "I'll get your dinner."
Later, fed and bathed, Molly lay in her husband's arms and told him all that had happened. "Is the baby all right?" he asked, putting a protective hand on Molly's belly.
"I think so. I felt it kicking the whole time. There. Feel? Strong as an ox. No, strong as its father."
Jarrod breathed a sigh of relief. "I can't believe Cord dared to kiss you," he said.
Molly laughed weakly. "Men!" she said. "I've been shot at, manhandled, argued over and abandoned, and you get worked up because a handsome young man kisses me. Surely you're not jealous, my love?"
Jarrod smiled. "And why shouldn't I be? Any man in his right mind would want to take you away from me, Feather."
"Can't be done, dearest," Molly said, snuggling closer. "Can't be done." She lay warm in her husband's embrace, yet the blood ran cold in her veins as she remembered her promise to Lucas, and contemplated what must happen on the morrow.
Jarrod woke up early the next morning to find Molly slumbering peacefully beside him. He arose quietly and took his best suit out of the wardrobe. He went to the bathroom and shaved, washed up and combed his hair. He was nearly finished dressing when Molly appeared at the door, holding his gun belt.
"Molly," he said.
"Shh," she said. "Don't say anything, Jarrod. We both know where you have to go and what you have to do."
She buttoned his shirt, tied his tie, helped him into his jacket. She took the gun belt and strapped it around his waist, fastening the buckle. She knelt and tied the holster to his thigh, resting her head there for a moment before Jarrod reached down and raised her up. Then he was kissing her, his hands entangled in her hair, her arms around his neck, her hands cradling his head. The world receded to a hard bright dot - all was the kiss, the kiss was all.
Then he was gone. Molly sat on the floor and wept until she heard her daughter call for her. She stood up, dried her tears, and went into the nursery.
Jarrod was halfway up the road to the mine when Ethan Cord blocked his path, on horseback, rifle held in the crook of his elbow. He had a bandage wrapped around his neck. Jarrod reined his horse to a halt. "Did she make it back?" Ethan asked.
"Yes, she made it back safely. What are you doing here, Cord?"
"Trying to stop you from killing yourself. I got no wish to see that lady of yours made a widow."
"Somehow I thought you had the opposite notion," Jarrod said.
"She told you about that, did she?"
"My wife tells me everything."
"Well, now," Ethan said uneasily, "now I'm thinking that was a mistake."
"It was," Jarrod agreed.
"Nevertheless. You can't do this. Go home. Wait for the Marshal."
"And if they beat Lucas to death in the meantime?" Jarrod asked.
"He's not yours," Ethan pointed out. "You can't hope to win. I couldn't, and I'm a hundred times better with a gun. The both of us together couldn't do it."
"Mine or not, I'm not leaving him there." Jarrod steered his horse around Ethan and proceeded up the road.
"Then you're a hundred times a fool!" Ethan yelled.
Jarrod shook his head and continued up the road.
The mine was noisier than Jarrod expected - miners going to and fro, the hum of machinery. He dismounted and walked cautiously to the mine office and knocked on the door. "Come in," a voice said. Jarrod stood to the side and turned the knob, one hand on his gun.
Nothing happened. He peered around the door jamb to see a well-dressed middle-aged man standing behind the desk. “Where's Monroe?" Jarrod asked.
"Fired," the man said. "And who might you be?"
Jarrod took his hand off his gun. "Judge Jarrod Barkley," he replied. "And you?"
"Richard Carter, mine president. Well, Judge Barkley, do you always enter a room like you're expecting to get shot at?"
"Only when I am expecting to get shot at. So you got my telegram?"
"No," Carter said. "When did you send it?"
"Day before yesterday."
"Oh. I was already on my way up here - must have just missed me. What was it about?"
"About the children you have working in your mine," Jarrod said.
"What about them?" Carter asked.
"So you know about them?"
Carter waved a hand. "Of course I know about them. It's why I came up. Monroe was completely mishandling that oldest one. He's a troublemaker - should have been sent back to the orphanage a long time ago."
"He's in my legal custody," Jarrod said. "I want him back."
"Sounds like there's been more going on here than I know about," Carter said. "Please, sit down, tell me all about it. Would you like some brandy? Cigar?"
Jarrod's eyes narrowed. "No, I don't think so," he said.
"Suit yourself. So what has been going on?"
Jarrod told him the whole story. "Do you have any idea where Monroe is now? He should be in jail. He's done enough to hang for."
"No idea," Carter said, "but I'm glad I fired him, he was completely out of control. You are certainly in your rights to issue a warrant for his arrest. And, on behalf of the Paradise Mine, you have my sincere apologies for what he's put you and your family through."
"My first concern right now is those children." Jarrod reached into his inside pocket. "I've issued an injunction against the mine, ordering a hearing."
Carter took the paper and read it. "Why the righteous indignation?" he asked. "We're breaking no laws."
"You really think it's perfectly all right to have children working in a mine?"
Carter considered him. "Barkley, Barkley. I have it, the Barkley-Sierra mine. Are you one of those Barkleys?"
"Well then, let's discuss this, businessman to businessman. Business runs on cheap labor, Mr. Barkley. Since the Exclusion Act cut off the source of Chinese labor, we're forced to resort to other sources, aren't we?"
"Not children," Jarrod insisted.
"Didn't you work as a child, Mr. Barkley? Your family has a ranch, doesn't it? I'm sure you were out there punching cows, mending fences."
"In the sunshine and fresh air. With my father, who never asked more than I was capable of, who had my welfare at heart. And I never missed school. When have these children been to school?"
"They're orphans. Why do they need school? They'll spend their entire lives working for people like us, Mr. Barkley."
"If they went to school, then they'd be people like us, Mr. Carter."
Carter shook his head. "And if everyone is educated, who will do the work? Face facts, Mr. Barkley. Children make the clothes you wear, pick the food you eat, mine the coal you burn in your furnaces. How do you run your own mine - on faith and good wishes?"
"We pay our workers a decent wage, provide decent housing. We never hired Chinese, or if we did, we paid them the same wage. We certainly haven't, and won't, resort to employing children."
"And how is that working out for you? What's your stock price?"
"We're making a profit," Jarrod said.
"That's not what I asked," Carter said.
"All right," Jarrod conceded, "We've had to buy back a good amount of stock. But our workers lead settled, decent lives. That's worth something."
"Unless you need to raise capital. Who is going to invest in an enterprise without a substantial gain? The rest of the world can't afford to be so altruistic."
"So you're refusing to give up those children?"
"You're the judge, you do have the authority to take them. But there's plenty more where those came from."
Jarrod glowered. "So there's no way to get you to stop?"
Carter lit a cigar. "No, Mr. Barkley, there's not."
"I can think of a way," Jarrod said. "I can buy this mine."
Carter laughed. "Are you going to buy every mine and mill in California? That's a tall order even for a Barkley."
"Right now, I'm concerned with this mine, these children."
"It's not for sale," Carter said. "I own sixty percent of the stock, and I'm not parting with it."
"Name your price," Jarrod said. "To a man like you, everything's for sale."
"Except when it violates my principles, and this would. I'm not going to let you drive this mine under, when I've spent so much money and effort digging it back out from the dirt. When Industry flourishes, the towns around them flourish. When the towns flourish, so do the cities and the states. I'm not going to let you drag it down."
"Your golden dream is built on the backs of helpless children. Doesn't that bother you at all?"
"I take someone who'll never amount to much, who would otherwise have a life on the streets, and allow him to make a contribution to society. No, Mr. Barkley, it doesn't bother me in the slightest."
Jarrod stood and leaned his hands on the desk. "All right then. Bring me those children, bring them to me now."
"Very well," Carter said, pushing a button on the wall. An electric bell sounded outside and a man appeared at the door. "Smith," Carter said, "round up all the orphans we have and bring them here."
"All of them?" Smith said.
"You heard me," Carter said. "Now, Mr. Barkley, while we wait, would you reconsider that offer of a drink?"
"I'd sooner drink with the devil," Jarrod said.
Carter laughed. "If I could arrange that, I would." He poured himself a drink and sat back in his chair, smiling and smoking until Smith ushered in the children.
Jarrod's eyes went first to Lucas. Lucas had a black eye and a cut on one cheek, and walked stiffly. His eyes lit up when he saw Jarrod. "I knew you'd come," he said.
Jarrod placed a hand on Lucas's head. "Yes, I came. You're leaving with me and this time, you're not coming back." He looked down the line of bedraggled boys, until his eyes lit on the smallest one. He started back. "This one's a girl," he said, horrified. He reached out to touch her cheek, but she shrieked and ran behind Lucas. Jarrod shook with rage and turned on Carter.
"What kind of a man are you?" he yelled.
"Blame Monroe," Carter said. "I didn't know there were any girls here. And I can promise you there won't be any more. Does that satisfy you?"
"No," Jarrod said. "I'm taking them all. Now. And every child you bring up here will have a hearing. There'll be no more children in the mine as long as I'm a judge in Paradise."
"And how long will that be?" Carter said.
Jarrod's eyes narrowed. "Is that a threat?"
"No, just a prediction," Carter said.
Jarrod took Lucas by the hand and led the children out of the office. In the yard, he paused and asked them each for their names. The boys were Frank, Eddie, Billy, Mark and Bertie. "She's Emma," Lucas told him.
"How long has she been like this?" Jarrod asked. "Can she speak at all?"
"She could speak when she came," Lucas said, "about six months ago, but she stopped talking not long after. I tried to look after her, but they often separated us in the mine. She won't let anyone touch her but me. It's because of her, mostly, that I kept running away to find help."
Jarrod reached down to put Emma on the horse, but she screamed and tried to bite him. Jarrod's eyes filled with tears. "She's too little to walk all the way back to town, Lucas," he said, "and you can't carry her. She needs to go on the horse, but you're too short to put her there."
"Maybe I can help."
Jarrod looked up to see an aged Indian standing almost right in front of him, although he had heard no approach. "You must be John Taylor," he said.
"What are you doing here, if I may ask?"
"Well, I was expecting a gunfight, but I have to say this is a lot more interesting. You're like the Pied Piper." John Taylor knelt down in front of Emma and held her gaze for long minutes. Finally, he put his hand on her head - she flinched, but did not scream or run away. "That's better," he said. "Now, this is a good man, and he wants to help you. You must let him." He held Emma's gaze a little longer, then stood up. "There, that should do it. You can pick her up now."
Jarrod looked at him quizzically, but bent down and picked Emma up. She allowed his touch, but did not otherwise respond to it. He placed her in the saddle, then helped Lucas to climb up as well. "How did you do that?" he asked John Taylor.
"It's the Touch. It's an Indian thing." John Taylor turned to walk away.
"Won't you help us get back to town?" Jarrod asked.
"Sorry, that's all I can do," John Taylor said. "Don't worry, you'll do fine." He smiled and walked away into the trees.
The townspeople of Paradise stopped in their tracks and gazed in wonder as Jarrod walked back into town with seven children in tow. Amelia came running over from the bank. "Jarrod! These are the children from the mine, aren't they? You got them all?"
"Yes," Jarrod said, "I got them all."
"Well," Amelia said, "you certainly don't have room for all of them. Would some of you like to come with me?" She smiled down at the children.
The boys all looked at each other, then Lucas spoke. "I think we'd all like to stay together, Mrs. Lawson."
"Of course," Amelia said, graciously. She looked at Jarrod. "I'll just bring over some bedding, shall I?"
Molly came flying down the street, Vicky in her arms. She threw herself at Jarrod and kissed him, laughing and crying both at once. A shot rang out and Jarrod pushed Molly to the ground, pulling out his gun at the same time.
Ethan stepped out of the space next to Jarrod's home and said, "It's all right. I got him." He shouldered his rifle and walked across street to the alley between the general store and the barber shop.
Jarrod picked Molly and Vicky up out of the dirt. "Sorry, love," he said, giving her a kiss. "Please take the children home. I'll be right there." Molly nodded and took the horse's reins and headed down the street.
Jarrod joined Ethan in the alley. Monroe lay stretched out in a pool of blood, one arm extended, pistol clasped in his dead hand. "What were you doing here, Cord?" Jarrod asked.
"Earning my hundred and fifty dollars."
"You can't just gun a man down, Cord."
Ethan shrugged. "He'd have hanged anyway. Better this way."
Jarrod glared at him. "He should have had a trial first."
"He had his gun out. Who do you reckon he was aiming to shoot?"
Jarrod sighed and shook his head. "All right, Cord. Don't think I'm not grateful."
"But you still don't like it," Ethan said.
"I'd like to see an end to your kind, yes."
Ethan shrugged again. "I'll go fetch the undertaker."
Jarrod walked across the street to his home. The front parlor was so full it was practically bulging. Molly was rubbing salve on Lucas's cuts and bruises. "Lucas," Jarrod said when she was finished, "would you take the other boys upstairs and get them started on baths? I'll be up in a few minutes.”
Lucas nodded. "OK, Judge," he said. Jarrod's eyes followed him as he led the other boys up the stairs.
"You want to keep him, don't you?" Molly said.
"Would you mind, Feather?" Jarrod asked, smiling down at her.
Molly clasped his hand and smiled. "I think he was ours from the beginning. So is this one, I think." She looked down at Emma, who was staring solemnly at Vicky.
"Ah, Feather," Jarrod said. "Do you know what you're taking on? She may never be right."
"She won't get right in an institution, even a good one. She needs a family. She was Monroe's big secret, wasn't she? The shame he was willing to kill for?"
"I think so," Jarrod said quietly.
There was a knock at the door. Jarrod opened it to reveal Amelia and Mr. Lee, the Chinese man who ran the general store. Amelia had her arms full of blankets and pillows, Mr. Lee's were full of folding cots. "Thank you, Amelia. Mr. Lee," Jarrod said. He led the two of them upstairs.
It was only the beginning. The barber came and offered to cut the children's matted hair, although Molly had to borrow his tools to cut Emma's. The blacksmith brought some horseshoes and stakes for the children to play with. Mr. McBride from the hotel brought over food and a promise of more when needed. Several people brought clothing, all too big, of course, but rolled cuffs would have to do until Molly had time to make alterations. No one would allow the Barkley's to pay for any of it – it seemed everyone in town contributed something.
It was only after the children were finally asleep – the boys in the guest room, Emma in the nursery with Vicky – that Jarrod had a chance to tell Molly all that had happened. "I'm glad Monroe's dead," she said, unashamedly. "I wish Carter were, too. Can we really not touch him, Jarrod?"
"Well, I can keep taking children away from him, but he knows I can't keep it up forever. Where will we send them all? We'll send these to Stockton, but they only have so much room at the Home."
"I don't care if it's all legal – it's downright evil. Can't we do anything?" Molly asked. "It has to be stopped. Not just here – everywhere."
Jarrod hugged her. "It's become a bigger challenge than we ever imagined, hasn't it, Feather? How to take on every industry in California?"
"I can think of one thing," Molly said.
"Run for the legislature?" Jarrod asked.
"I was thinking, 'publish a newspaper', but that's a good idea, too."
"Hm, no reason we can't do both. I never had political ambitions, but maybe it's time I started."
Two days later the telegram came. Molly was fixing breakfast for eight hungry mouths. Jarrod wadded it up and threw it into the fire. "What is it, Jarrod?" Molly asked.
"Well, I can't say I wasn't half expecting it," Jarrod sighed. "I've been recalled."
"Fired. I'm not a judge anymore. Effective immediately."
"Carter?" Molly asked. "Does he have that much clout?"
"Apparently so." There was a knock at the door.
"Judge Barkley? I'm sorry to disturb you so early – I'm Tom Walker, the new Marshal."
Jarrod smiled. "Come on in, Marshal. Let me tell you what's been going on in Paradise."
Amelia hugged Molly fiercely on the day the Barkleys had set to move. "I knew when you came you wouldn't be staying, but I'm glad you came anyway," Amelia said.
"We'll write, Amelia," Molly said. "Don't think we'll ever forget you, or the rest of Paradise."
"You should know I've informed the mine that I'm closing their account as long as there are children there."
"Amelia!" Molly said. "You would do that?"
"It'll inconvenience them. It probably won't be enough, but I've been talking to the merchants in town about a boycott. Nothing changes unless someone tries to change it, right?"
Molly's eyes were full of tears. "Thank you, Amelia, you don't know how much that means to us."
"I'll let you know when I've sold the house," Amelia said.
"It was Carter's," Molly said. "You can burn it for all I care."
The men from town had finished loading up the wagon. The boys all climbed aboard the back, Molly climbed into the seat. She took Vicky on her lap and set Emma on the seat beside her. Jarrod climbed aboard and flicked the reins. "I wish John Taylor had come to say good-bye," Molly said.
"Maybe hermits don't say good-bye," Jarrod said. Vicky crawled over Emma to sit in her father's lap. Emma watched her with wide eyes, as she had since they had met.
At the first turn in the road, they met Ethan Cord. Jarrod intended to drive by, but Molly put her hand on his arm and he pulled the wagon to a stop. "Goodbye, Ethan," she said.
Ethan tipped his hat. "Goodbye, ma'am. We sure are gonna miss you folks around here."
"I'll be praying for you, Ethan," Molly said.
"God stopped paying attention to me a long time ago, ma’am," Ethan said.
"I don't believe that. I think He still has hopes for you. I know I do."
Ethan tipped his hat again and rode his horse up the road into town.
Jarrod flicked the reins and began the long journey back to Stockton. Emma continued to watch Vicky as she sat contentedly in her father's lap. Emma reached out a hand and touched Jarrod's arm. She immediately drew back, but it was a beginning.