Disclaimer: Death of some (IMHO) not so major characters. This is an AR
By all accounts, it had been – plain and simple – an accident. Val had made a thorough investigation, the coroner agreed; and even Sam Jenkins had said there could be no other rational conclusion.
What fascinated both Johnny and Scott was that all three men had made their joint declaration with straight faces.
So there they were, after the funerals; making their way into the house, anticipating the feast that had been arranged for the mourners.
Scott leaned in towards his brother, whispering. He was taking off his gloves, one finger at a time. “Who would have thought, brother? Jelly and Aunt Hester, hitting it off like that.”
Johnny snickered; careful not to make too much noise. Murdoch didn’t tolerate any nonsense right after a whole bunch of preachin’. “Lot of good it did ‘em,” he chuckled. “Never even got to the honeymoon.”
A grin tugged at the corner of Scott’s mouth, a wicked fire lighting his blue eyes. “You do realize he asked Hester to marry him before he actually heard Penny Rose sing.”
Johnny was stalling, too, hanging up his hat and making sure it was aligned just right on the peg atop his gun belt. He shot a wary look at his father, who was just about to enter the Great Room. “Whose bright idea was it to ask that little twerp to sing, anyway?” he asked. It had been three days, and his ears were still hurting. “‘Oh, Dem Golden Slippers’”, he grimaced.
“Well, it was apropos,” Scott grinned. When he saw Johnny’s brow furrow, he decided to enlighten his brother. “The entire point of the song is about how it was going to be to wear those slippers in Heaven.” He laughed; the sound morphing into a cough when he was aware his father was looking in their direction.
Wisely, Johnny turned slightly so his back was to Murdoch. He hoped the Old Man couldn’t see his shoulders shaking as he tried desperately to stifle the laughter. “No shit!” he giggled.
“No shit,” Scott answered, holding his right hand up as if swearing a solemn oath.
Johnny collapsed against his brother’s chest; his face pressed against the man’s jacket. Scott put his arms around his sibling and cast a baleful look in their father’s direction. ‘He’ll be fine, sir,’ he mouthed, patting Johnny’s back as if he were actually comforting him. He was relieved when Murdoch simply nodded and stepped down into the living room.
They both lost it.
“Jesus, Scott! When that kid stood up and started caterwaulin’…” Johnny dissolved into another fit of giggles.
What had ensued after the little moppet’s impromptu performance could only be described as pandemonium. Penny Rose had stood up in the back seat, giving it her all as the ranch hands were waving Jelly and his new family off; wrongly assuming the gathered crowd had expected a farewell concert. She hadn’t been eight bars into the song when the two horses bolted: sheer panic reigning when the geldings – who thought they were under attack by a pack of mountain lions – took off at a dead run.
Penny Rose had tumbled over the back of the wagon; immediately breaking her neck. Hester, in her desperation to rescue the child, had clambered over the front seat; just as the team took an immediate and sharp left. She fell overboard, the rear wheel effectively severing her head and stopping the high-pitched screams.
Jelly’s attempts to halt the team were fruitless. In the end, he had been pulled from the driver’s seat as the light buggy tipped over, and dragged behind; too stubborn to let go of the reins. There hadn’t been much left of his brand new, store-bought suit when the team actually shook loose of him, just this side of the Lancer arch.
Scott’s ribs were hurting from the laughter. He supposed he should have felt guilty, but damn it, the entire fiasco had played out like some broad theatrical comedy. Well, except the part about Hester’s head rolling across the courtyard to land right behind Johnny's palomino. The horse had kicked the macabre bit of humanity almost to the barn.
“Hester’s hairpiece,” Johnny moaned, grabbing his stomach. The cluster of curls had come off mid flight. Scott’s laughter began anew; his shoulders lifting as he punched his brother’s arm and they both struggled to achieve some small modicum of decorum. The hallway was suddenly silent.
“Ahem!” Teresa’s voice cut into the quiet. Her cheeks flushed as her brothers turned to face her and she saw they had been crying. “Sorry,” she apologized, feeling remorseful for the intrusion.
Johnny turned; sniffled. He wiped his right eye with a crooked finger and managed to look embarrassed. “I’m okay, T’resa,” he murmured.
“Me, too,” Scott said, palming his left eye. He sucked up. “So, Teresa. I imagine you and Maria have managed quite a feast for our neighbors?”
There was a sinister gleam in the girl’s eye as she nodded. “Oh, yes,” she answered blithely. “I used one of those recipes your Grandfather’s housekeeper sent.” Hands behind her back, she was rocking to and fro, heel and toe. “We’re having pâté de foie gras,” she answered, perfectly pronouncing the words; the smile growing. “And roast goose!”