A Stagecoach Rescue Mission – Extended Epilogue

Eleven years later…

“Ma! Ma!”

Seamus barreled into the kitchen with the force of a hurricane, and it was only Molly’s years of experience with the little whirlwind that allowed her to avoid dropping the platter of food she was carrying.

“Seamus!” she scolded. “How many times have I told you not to run in here like that?”

He grinned. “About as many times as Miss Mary’s told me I should enjoy being a child.”

She smiled wryly at him. “You’ll enjoy it a lot more if you don’t spend all of it mucking out the stalls.”

“But I already muck out all the stalls.”

Mary turned from the stove with a frown on her face. “What do you mean? Willie doesn’t help you?”

Seamus shook his head. “He says that he has to brush the horses or they’ll get fleas. He says I can help when I’m older, but it’s a delicate thing to use a brush, and it takes years to learn to do it right.”

Molly turned to hide her smile.

“Does he now?” Mary said. “Good to know. Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll have a conversation with Willie. I think you’re old enough to start learning how to do some other chores so he doesn’t fall out of practice mucking the stalls.”

“What was it you wanted to tell me, Seamus?” Molly asked.

The boy’s eyes popped open. “Oh yes! Tommy’s here!”

Molly’s eyes widened. “Already? He’s not supposed to be here until next week!”

“He said he’s taking his holiday early so he can be here for my birthday! He’s outside with Pa and Willie right now.”

Molly started for the door, then stopped, remembering her meals.

“Go,” Mary said, carefully taking the platter from Molly’s hands. “I’ll take care of these.”

Molly brushed her hands on her apron and let her son lead her from the kitchen. The dining room was crowded with hungry cowboys, drivers and passengers, but any frustration they might have felt at seeing Molly leave the kitchen emptyhanded was mitigated when Mary followed close behind and began serving the first table.

Molly walked out onto the porch and beamed at the tall, handsome young man standing in front of the Wells Fargo coach parked in front of the inn. With railroads linking almost everywhere now, the stage was no longer the lifeblood of the territory, but Wells Fargo still offered it as an option for those who preferred a scenic journey rather than the crowded and noisy crush of the train stations.

Tommy drove the new route from Tucson to San Francisco. The route bypassed the Home Stage, and he visited less often as a result, though she still saw him at least once a month.

But it had been two years since he’d spent an entire week here, and she was over the moon.

He beamed at her, and he looked so much like the young boy that had first ridden a stage eleven years ago that a tear came to Molly’s eye as she embraced him. When he squeezed tightly enough to crush the wind out of her, she was reminded very clearly that he was no longer a boy.

She extricated herself with an effort and said, “Goodness, Tommy! I’m a lot smaller than you, remember.”

“Sorry. I forget that sometimes since you’re so much older than me.”

She glared at him. “Watch it, young man. I can still have Caleb whup your hide.”

“Not for long if you keep feeding him so much,” Willie said, patting Caleb’s midsection. “He’s starting to look like me.”

Caleb reddened and pushed Willie’s hand away. Truthfully, he had put on a few extra pounds over the past few years, but for a forty-year-old man, he was still incredibly handsome, at least in Molly’s opinion.

“At least I still have my hair,” Caleb retorted.

The now-fully bald Willie nodded genially. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” he said. “You’re as blonde as I used to be. Us fair-haired folk pay for our beauty by losing it fast.”

“You were never blonde,” Caleb groused. “You were gray when I met you.”

“Believe it or not,” Willie said, “I am just a little bit older than you. It may be that I was even young once.”

Seamus giggled, and Caleb cast him playful warning look. “I wouldn’t laugh if I were you. You have the same blonde hair I do.”

“I don’t mind going bald!” Seamus said. “I think Grandpa Willie looks handsome!”

“Why thank you, young man,” Willie said, bowing to Seamus. “And I think you take after me.”

“How does that work since you’re not really his grandpa?” Caleb said.

“Well, you’re not really Tommy’s father, but he still drives his coach like the devil’s chasing him.”

“Do you really?” Molly asked, looking at her brother.”

Tommy flushed and stammered. “Um… well… I mean, I have deadlines to make, so…”

She crossed her arms and gave an exasperated sigh. “You need to find yourself a woman. If Caleb hadn’t met me, he’d have found his death over the edge of some cliff somewhere.”

Caleb smiled slyly. “It’s funny you mention that. When I came outside to see Tommy, I saw a pretty little thing holding his hand. When do we get to meet her?”

“After dinner,” Tommy said firmly, taking his and Molly’s hands and guiding them inside. “Let me at least enjoy a good meal before you chase my happiness away.”

“Your happiness,” Molly said. “Well now we definitely have to meet her.”

“You will,” he said. “After dinner.”

The group headed to the kitchen and after a brief but joyful greeting, they helped Mary carry the rest of the plates out. Fifteen minutes later, they sat at the table in the kitchen, Mary, Willie and Caleb on one side: Tommy, Molly and Seamus on the other. Tommy tried to tell them about the steamships hehad seen in San Francisco, but try as he might, the group wouldn’t turn from conversation about his new sweetheart.

“I’m just saying,” Willie said. “If I’d left Mary to eat with strangers while I ate dinner with my family, she’d never have agreed to marry me.”

“Willie’s right,” Caleb said. “Don’t be rude, Tommy. Go get her and bring her here. Mary’s made queen cakes, so she’ll stay for that even if we frighten her.”

“You won’t frighten her,” Tommy said, flushed red. “You’ll embarrass me.”

“Why would we embarrass you?” Molly asked innocently. “We have so many good stories to tell about you.”

Tommy flushed deeper and sunk down in his chair.

“Are you going to tell her about the time he got chased out of the coop by Hercules?” Seamus asked.

Hercules was a Leghorn rooster the family had bought five years ago to deal with coyotes raiding the chicken coop. Tommy had made the mistake of riling the bird up and been chased out of the coop only to fall flat on his face in front of a surprise visit from Coyote and Chimalpopoca, to the Akimels’ great amusement.

“If she stays here until Saturday, we can have Coyote tell the story,” Willie offered. “I’m pretty sure it’s his fondest memory of Tommy.”

“She’s not staying until Saturday,” Tommy said. “She’s taking the stage to Tucson to visit her family. She’s only staying here the night.”

“Well, that’s all the more reason for us to meet her now,” Caleb said. “Go get her, or I will.”

“You won’t even recognize her. You only saw her for a second.”

Caleb set his fork down and started to stand. Tommy jumped up and quickly said, “All right, all right. I’ll go get her.”

Seamus giggled, greatly enjoying his uncle’s embarrassment. “I wouldn’t laugh,” Molly warned him. “One day, a girl will steal your heart too, and then Tommy will get his revenge.”

Seamus grimaced. “Eww. I’m never going to get married. Girls are annoying.”

“That’s what Willie used to say,” Mary informed him.

“That’s what all boys say,” Caleb added. He looked at Molly. “Until they meet the right one.”

“Until they meet one at all, you mean,” Molly said pointedly.

Caleb blushed and sunk down a little in his chair. He had told Molly about Adelaide a few years ago when she had allowed him a little more drink. Molly didn’t care one bit what he’d done before he met her, but she loved teasing him about it.

“You can’t blame us,” Willie said. “It’s the way we were made. There’s a reason Adam ate the apple when Eve gave it to him. Fear of God is powerful, but when a pretty girl smiles at a man, his brain melts. It’s a scientific fact.”

“Hush, dear,” Mary scolded. To Seamus, she said, “Don’t worry about when or if you’ll meet a woman. God will send one your way when He sees fit. You’re too young to be thinking about any of that, anyway.”

Mentioning his age reminded Seamus of something far more important than girls. He snapped his eyes to Molly and said, “Ma! Tommy told me that when he was ten years old, he went with Willie and Caleb on the stagecoach. Can I go with Tommy on his stagecoach?”

Molly and Caleb shared a look. Caleb faced his son and said, “Did Uncle Tommy tell you that he was kidnapped by bandits when he went with us?”

“Yes!” Seamus said, his tone indicating that being captured by bandits was just about the most exciting thing that could ever happen to a boy. “He said that you and Ma fought the bandits with Coyote and the other Akimel!”

“Hey!” Willie said. “I was there too. Did he mention that?”

Seamus nodded. “Mmhmm. He said that you guys got to visit the Akimel village and they made you fish and bean cakes and cornbread!”

“You’ve been to the Akimel village,” Molly reminded him. “Plenty of times.”

“But I’ve never been on a stagecoach!”

Molly and Caleb shared another look. “We’ll talk about it,” Molly said.

“Yes!”

Seamus pumped his fist into the air. Molly thought glumly that the boy was smart enough to know he had won.

Well, things weren’t so bad anymore. The Territory was bigger than it was eleven years ago, and with more people came more law and fewer places for bandits to hide. Coaches and especially banks were still robbed on occasion, but those robberies took place mostly in Wyoming and Kansas, places where the population still hadn’t boomed the way it had in Arizona. Anyway, Wells Fargo always sent armed riders to escort their coaches now. There hadn’t been a robbery on a Wells Fargo coach in eight years.

Molly would let Seamus ride to Tucson. Tommy could show him around the parts of town that Caleb and Molly didn’t take him… well, most of those parts. She would give him some money to spend, and he could stay the night at one of the boarding houses and have a story to tell without keeping Molly up for a week.

Tommy returned a moment later with a pretty young raven-haired girl he introduced as Miss Lillian Travers.

Lillian curtseyed nervously, and Molly prayed silently that the men would go easy on her.

Fortunately, Caleb and Willie managed to hold back the more playful parts of their personality, and Seamus was too awestruck by the idea of a girl actually liking Tommy to think to be annoying. The story about the rooster was saved for another day, and they enjoyed a pleasant meal.

Molly watched Tommy talking to Lillian and recognized the soft laughter and little smiles she gave Tommy. She felt the strangest mixture of pride and grief seeing him as a man now. It felt like only yesterday, he was a bouncing ball of energy wrapped up in a little boy’s body. Could it be that tomorrow, Seamus would be like Tommy, tall and proud and strong?

She hoped so. But please, let it take a little longer.

***

Later that evening, when the others were in bed, Molly and Caleb sat on the back porch of the inn, gazing West across the desert as they always did. Molly leaned against Caleb’s shoulder and wondered where the time had gone.

“Do you think Tommy will marry her?” she asked Caleb.

He chuckled. “I think they’re both too young to know that right now.”

“They’re not that young.”

“I know. What I mean is, Tommy’s just happy to have a pretty girl smile at him, and Lillian’s just happy to be the kind of pretty young thing that boys cast their eyes on. I’m not saying they don’t like each other or that they won’t love each other one day. I’m just saying that right now, they’re just happy to be alive.”

“Was I just a pretty young thing when you met me?”

He looked at her like she was crazy, then confirmed it by saying, “Have you gone crazy? Of course not!”

She smiled up at him. “Is that true, or is that just something all men say to pretty girls?”

He laughed, but then his smile faded. He looked out across the stars and said, “You and I had suffered a lot by the time we met. We didn’t have time or energy to be pretty young things anymore. We fell in love fast because we knew better than to let time go to waste.

“Tommy suffered too, but it’s been a long time since he’s suffered. I don’t know about Lillian, but from what she said at dinner, she’s had a nice, easy life. And I’m glad for that.

“But you and I had a different life. Our love might not be any stronger for it than there’s will be, but it means something to me to know that we found joy despite our suffering, and it means something even more to me that Tommy found joy after leaving that suffering behind. With any luck, Seamus will never know what suffering is.”

Molly lifted herself up and kissed her husband on the tip of his nose. “Thank you, Caleb. I only meant I felt sad that he was growing so fast. But you’re right. I’m glad that he hasn’t had to suffer like we have. I love you.”

He smiled down at her. His hair was already starting to thin, his gut—whether he wanted to admit it or not—was starting to grow, and there were wrinkles in the corners of his eyes now.

But he was the most beautiful man in the world to her, and when he said, “I love you too,” she felt the same rush of warmth she had since he first uttered those words.

She leaned her head against his shoulder and watched the stars with them. They stretched endlessly into the night and Molly gave a prayer of thanks for the love she had found and the life she had led.

It truly was everything she’d ever wanted.

THE END


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5 thoughts on “A Stagecoach Rescue Mission – Extended Epilogue”

  1. Great story, takes in the fact that if you treat people like you want to be treated most of them are good people. I enjoyed reading this book thanks cowboy.

  2. It was a good story. I enjoyed it all even when we had to go through the bad stuff to get back to the good. I was sad about Seamus & Jeanie . Did enjoy the help from and friendship made by Cayote, Chief Running Bear , the other Indians especially the one I can’t spell who was Cayote’s friend. I would like to know who Caleb kept referring to as Jake who I do not remember. Maybe Jack?? Molly & Caleb were great. Thank you for my enjoyment.

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