“Now iffen I’da wanted you
to study it like it was gonna sprout wings or somethin’, I’da taken it to
Doc!” Jelly grumped while Scott examined a stained, rather old looking map he
had spread out on the dining room table.
“Jelly, you asked me what I
thought. Now if you don’t want an honest opinion then take it back,” Scott
said sitting up in his chair, pushing the drawing on the table a little to his
right where Jelly was standing.
“Now I didn’t ‘zactly say that,” Jelly replied, backing away from Scott’s shoulder.
“Well what do you want then?” Scott asked him clinically.
“I want yah to tell me iffen yah think it real or not,” Jelly answered, running his thumbs along the inside of his suspenders nervously. “You got the brains, what with all that Harvard edumacation and all.”
Scott sighed and rolled his eyes, “It is education Jelly…not edumacation.”
“I know that…just testin’ yuh is all,” Jelly said, grinning as he rolled onto the tips of his toes and pursed his lips.
“Well don’t,” Scott said, “because the only thing you’re testing is my patience at the moment.”
“When’s Johnny gettin’ back?” Jelly asked.
Scott frowned and put his elbow on the table, resting his left cheek on the knuckles of his hand, “Why do you want to know?” he asked the older man.
“Well…I was thinkin’ that mebbe he…”
Scott let out an ungentlemanly sigh of frustration, “He isn’t going to know any more about this map than I would Jelly…and frankly…I’m a little put out that you came to me and now you want Johnny’s opinion instead.”
Jelly rolled his eyes heavenward and smacked his mouth open and closed, “Now there yah go again, getting’ all defensive just cause a man wants a second opinion.”
Scott put his hand back on the map and gave it a little wiggle on the tabletop. “You can’t get a second opinion until you have the first one Jelly. Now are you going to let me do this or are you going to keep pestering me, cause if you are, you can take this old map and give it to someone else to look at besides me,” Scott told him exasperated.
“Well it ain’t like Johnny’s here no how,” Jelly retorted, backing up a step when it looked as if Scott might just come flying out of his seat at him. He didn’t though and soon enough, the blond man was bent back over the map, mumbling about the ingratitude of others.
Although it wasn’t in his nature to do so, the older man kept his mouth closed for the next fifteen minutes and he knew exactly how long it was, because he kept a careful watch on the grandfather clock between the front door and the large French windows that opened up into a court yard and hitching area for visitors. It was a hard thing to do, to wait patiently when a body felt like he had ants in his pants, Jelly thought. He thrummed his fingers, twiddled his thumbs, whistled every now and then, that is until he saw Scott lift those gray blue eyes of his and stare a hole right through him until he stopped. It had taken eight trips across the great room, past the sofa and around Murdoch’s desk to the big picture window overlooking Lancer, and back again, for Scott to finally sigh, push the map away and rub his eyes tiredly.
Jelly took a seat and sat ramrod straight in a chair opposite Scott. He laced his thick fingers together, the epitome of the perfect student, to Scott’s professor-ish demeanor, “Well?” he asked, “Whatcha think Scott?”
Scott sighed, biting the bottom of his lip while he thought on his answer. Then he shook his blond head and lowered his head regretfully. Long blond bangs, so perfectly in place before he started this little chore of Jelly’s, fell rakishly over his left eye only to be pushed aside by long thin tapered fingers, eloquently gentle, but manly in their haste to have a proper appearance even in the presence of his friend.
“I don’t know Jelly,” Scott said scooting his chair back and stretching his long legs under the table.
Jelly’s hands untwined and he splayed them out on the table. “Is that all yuh can say after all that dog gone ponderin’ yuh done did over it?”
Scott laced his hands over his belt buckle and said calmly, “I’m afraid so Jelly.”
Jelly’s face dropped then, and if anyone could have had a more hang dog look than he had at that very moment, Scott would have been very surprised. The poor man looked devastated, almost as if he had been mortally wounded. Scott felt sorry for him but really didn’t know what he could do to make his friend feel better.
“Where did you get the map Jelly?” Scott asked. “It looks old. Maybe the person you got it from can help.”
Jelly closed his eyes and scrunched his face, tilting it from one side to the other as if pained by the very suggestion. “Aw…that ain’t gonna help.”
“Why not?” Scott asked tapping the pads of his thumbs together.
“Cause I won it from ol’ Jebidiah Crockett last night in a poker game.”
“Wasn’t Murdoch, Johnny and Val with you last night at that game?” Scott asked him.
Jelly smiled, the look of it painful, as if he were being forced into a confession he didn’t want to give.
Shrugging, Jelly said, “They were there.”
“So…what did they think when Jebidiah put the map in the pot?” Scott asked the older man.
Jelly scooted his chair back and stood up, pushing his nervous hands inside the deep denim pockets of his pants. He paced and then finally answered Scott’s question with chagrin, “Said I was a fool to take his bet. Said I ought to take his money or nothin’ at all.”
“And why didn’t you listen to them?” Scott wanted to know.
“Well…I was…I was…” Jelly huffed, blew out a deep breath and then said, “Well if yah have to know mister know it all…I was feelin’ lucky.”
Scott sighed and dipped his head, a small smile playing on his lips. Scott understood this answer. Hadn’t he felt lucky a time or two in his own life and had it pay off just the way that Jelly had hoped his lucky feeling would? He figured so. Least wise he could remember feeling that way on the night the Pinkerton agent had finally tracked him down.
Oh, he hadn’t felt lucky at first…that came later. When he was alone in his room and grandfather was asleep. It was then, when he had opened and read the missive with shaking hands from his father, and counted the cash inside the envelope that would pay his way across the country that he felt lucky.
He always wanted to meet the man who sired him, dreamt of it even, planned it out in his head all the things he would say and do when and if the time ever came to fruition. The cold detachment the Pinkerton agent received was a cover for the real feelings that stirred his soul when he found out his father was willing to see him for what he thought was the first time in his life.
Scott’s rigid upbringing and polished decorum was the only thing that kept him from very nearly slugging the man who offered up the note. His first thought, was that it was a bribe, a low down cowardly way for his father to get in touch with him. How easy had it been and why hadn’t he done it years before…or for that matter, why hadn’t his father sent a letter…a card…or come in person long before that night.
As he read and reread the letter by lamplight, Scott thought his luck had just played him the best gentleman’s poker hand ever. He would finally get to tell his father off and get paid to do it, without it costing him one red cent, and maybe get some answers out of the bargain to boot. What he didn’t realize or count on until later, until that fateful day the driver stopped to pick up a stranger, who carried a worn out saddle and had to give up his gun to ride the stage, that his luck had doubled and life had changed…for the better.
Scott pulled his feet up and touched the map with his finger, wagging it from side to side just enough to get Jelly’s attention. When he did, Scott said, “Let’s go find it Jelly.”
Jelly smiled, his chest puffed out and he said, “Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. A doer, a man who can see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow just like me.”
Scott stood up and pushed his chair in, “Let’s do it then,” Scott said with a big bright smile. He was happy, feeling lucky just like Jelly, glad he was able to put a smile on the old man’s face. He rolled up the map and said, “You get our horses ready and I’ll pack us a quick bite to eat…just in case.”
“I knew yuh was smart Scott. I just knew it. You’re right…we might find ourselves out there for a long spell and we’ll be needin’ us somethin to eat.”
“That’s right Jelly. I’ll meet you outside in ten minutes.”
Excited and grateful that Scott was taking the old map seriously and helping him find his pot of gold. Jelly left the house and got their horses ready for what he considered was their treasure hunt. If anyone could help him find it and if it was out there, it would be Scott. It had to be. Scott Lancer was the smartest, brightest fella he knew…well next to Johnny, Jelly thought. It was the same, but different to his way of thinking. The best of the best in two of the best friends he had ever had. The two boys were like sons to him and he thought Murdoch Lancer to be the luckiest man alive next only to himself.
Scott and Jelly were on their way ten minutes later. Just like Scott promised, Jelly thought. Another good sign he added to his list of good omens. He felt good about this trip, this hunt for buried treasure. Ol’ Jebidiah was as certain as the day was long, that if Jelly followed the map, he would find a treasure beyond his wildest dreams.
When asked why he hadn’t gone to get the treasure himself, the old miner had told Jelly that it was too far from his own stake to take a chance on leaving his claim just yet. Besides that, Jebidiah told him, he only had the word of a dying man who placed it in his hands just before he passed on, that there really was any treasure. A dyin’ man wouldn’t lie, Jebidiah had told him convincingly, as he put the map into the pot when the bet was raised in their game.
Murdoch, Johnny and Val, had
thrown in their cards, all of them warning Jelly that he shouldn’t take the
old man’s bet just on his say so that there might be a treasure. But always
the optimist when it came to lucky feelings, and always one to take a chance
that his ship would come in, Jelly took old Jebidiah’s bet and won the hand
and the map with a full house.
Scott led the way to Murphy’s Mound, a small hill south of Green River about two miles down along the lazy banks of the river for which the town was named after. From there, according to the map and if Scott was reading it right, they had to travel East until they spotted a big boulder, sitting out in the middle of nowhere.
“I know right where that’s at,” Jelly said. “My horse lost a shoe there once and I had to walk clean back to Green River in a worn out pair of boots that had more holes in ‘em than a flour sifter”
Scott chuckled and asked Jelly, “You want one of the sandwiches I made while we’re riding?”
“Don’t mind iffen I do,” the old wrangler said, as he swayed back and forth in his saddle.
Scott reached behind him and pulled out two sandwiches, handing one to Jelly. They ate in companionable silence as they made their way to the big boulder, which is exactly what it was, a giant rock, sitting in the middle of a field about five miles from Murphy’s Mound.
As they neared the giant rock Jelly asked, “You reckon we’ll ever know how that thing got all the way out here when there ain’t another dang blasted rock or mountain for miles around?”
Scott stared at the big rock formation, finished off the last bite of his sandwich and pulled the map out from his saddlebags, “No Jelly, I don’t think we will. It’s a mystery that I don’t really think anyone can answer. It is what it is.”
Jelly finished the last of his sandwich and thought once more, how smart and uncomplicated Scott was. A good riding partner, he mused to himself.
They came to a halt and Scott stood up in his stirrups and looked all around. “Over there,” he pointed southwest of where they were. “We have to ride until we find a place called Three Oaks.”
“Three Oaks? Well heck…that could be pert near anywhere yah look,” Jelly snorted, pointing out several clumps of trees that were dotting the landscape.
“Not those, Jelly,” Scott, said patiently. “The map clearly shows that we have to travel in a Southwest direction.”
“You’re the navigator,” Jelly replied, not wanting to dither with the man he thought was smart enough to know what he was doing, and so he followed along as Scott led the way.
An hour later they found themselves riding directly toward a very small stand of trees. Three in fact and all of them were giant oaks.
“Looks like that’s it,” Scott remarked, pointing toward the trees.
“Now what?” Jelly asked when they stopped in the shade of the leafy branches.
“Looks like we head that way,” Scott said, nodding his head in an easterly direction. “We have to look for a bridge of some kind.”
“Don’t know of any bridge out here,” Jelly told him. “Fact is, don’t see why there would be one. Ain’t no water unless we turn back and head toward the river again.”
“So far we’ve found at least three of the landmarks. I suggest we continue the way we have and see what we find,” Scott commented as he perused the map without looking up.
“Okay. But I’m tellin’ yah…there ain’t no bridge out here.”
“Jelly?” Scott drawled out the name in a manner that reminded the older man of the way Johnny said his name at times.
“All right…I’ll stop the caterwaulin’ and get to movin’,” Jelly told him contritely.
“Good,” Scott said giving his horse a nudge to get him moving. Jelly was already heading in the right direction, but mumbling under his breath just enough to let Scott know he hadn’t totally given in to his newfound decision to stop his caterwaulin’. He did it under his breath and not so Scott could understand what he was saying, but that was good enough for the young rancher.
Scott took his hat off his head and swiped his brow with a handkerchief. The sun was high up in the sky, just a little past noon he thought, and getting hotter by the minute. He hoped they would find Jelly’s pot of gold soon. He was still unaccustomed to these hot summer days in the saddle and riding along at the peak hour of the day was getting more and more difficult the hotter it got. Someday, he thought, I hope I’m as used to it as Jelly is. That man never seems to mind the heat in the least. And this made him think of his father and brother, who also seemed to be able to weather the suns hot rays much better than he could. Someday he thought…someday.
Scott stopped short about twenty minutes later, calling out to Jelly who was just a little ahead of him. When Jelly turned around to see what he wanted, Scott smiled and said, “I think it’s over there Jelly.”
Scott raised his hand and indicated a natural stone bridge that arched from one plateau to another. Not all that high, but high enough to ride under if a person were to make sure to watch their head before riding under it.
“You call that a bridge?” Jelly asked.
“It’s the only one I see and like you said…there isn’t a man made bridge around.”
“I ‘spose yah could be right. Iffen it is, where do we go from here?” Jelly asked.
Scott pulled the map out and ran his finger along the dotted lines that indicated the trail they needed to follow. “It says, Widow’s Peak. You know where that is?”
“Don’t know of any place called Widow’s Peak, but there’s a Willow’s Pond ‘bout one mile south of here,” Jelly told him, pulling his horse around to sidle up next to Scott.
Scott leaned over the map, shading it with the brim of his hat and studied it closely. “That may be it. The words are kind of smudged and I may be reading the name wrong, but if it’s Willow’s Pond, then we go in that direction,” Scott said, jutting his chin toward a low stretch of rolling hills to their right. That would put it just about where you said.”
Jelly pulled back from looking past Scott’s shoulder, “I reckon so. Willow’s Pond used to be an old waterin’ hole back in the day. Dried up ‘bout ten years back and the onliest time there’s water in it, is ‘round springtime before the land sucks it right back in again like a sponge.”
“Let’s take a look then,” Scott told him. They rode on in the blistering heat, hoping they were right about the name on the map being Willow’s Pond instead of Widow’s Peak. Jelly felt they must be on the right track though. That lucky feeling was pressing hard on his conscious again, the closer they got to their destination.
Within minutes they found Willow’s Pond, or what was left of it after the water soaked into the ground or evaporated with the heat. The horses stomped their hooves and snorted when Scott and Jelly pulled on the reins and brought them to a halt. Scott checked the map again, finding that there was only one last place to ride to if all their clues were correct, and so far, everything they had been looking for seemed to be there. In his logical thinking mind, there wasn’t any reason not to expect to at least find where the treasure was buried, even if there wasn’t a treasure to be found.
“Looks like we head southeast Jelly. The map shows a line of trees and what looks to be some sort of marker or something. Least ways, according to the map, X marks the spot and that’s where we want to be.”
Scott folded the map and put it in his pocket. This was the last leg of their journey and as long as they could find the stand of trees, which wasn’t all that hard to do since they could see a could sized amount of them in the distance, they should be able to find the spot indicated on the map without any trouble.
Scott was just about to pull away and head in a southeastern direction when Jelly caught the sleeve of his beige shirt. “This is it Scott. I can feel it in my bones. And before we find it…well…I just want to thank yah for helpin’ me. Whatever we find…I want yah to know…well…I’m willin’ to share it with yah,” Jelly told the young man.
Scott put his hand over Jelly’s and said with a smile on his face, “I hope so Jelly.” He kicked his horse then and sped off, leaving a very bewildered Jelly in his wake.
For some reason, this wasn’t exactly what Jelly had in mind that the boy would say to him. And he said it as if he expected it all along. And now the boy was riding off as if he wanted to get there first. And then it hit Jelly as he sat there in his saddle all hot and getting bothered, that maybe Scott did want to get there first. Maybe Scott was going to try and get the treasure before he had a chance to get his hands on it.
The green eyed monster called jealousy reared its ugly head and bit him where the sun didn’t shine and to Jelly, it rankled and made him all the sudden a cranky irrational old man, who couldn’t believe that Scott was still riding off without him. Jelly kicked his horse in the sides, shouting Scott’s name to no avail, waving his cap wildly in the air as his horse tried to catch up, while he bobbed up and down on his saddle precariously.
He was fevered in the head just like one of them 49er’s he heard so much about, fast becoming possessed just as they had been, and most fearful that he would get there too late before his pot of gold, his treasure, was discovered by someone else, namely Scott Lancer. Where in the world had he gone? Why couldn’t he see the boy anymore? Did the earth swallow him whole? Dang blast it, Jelly thought smacking his cap back on his head. Why wasn’t Scott waiting for him?
He could see the trees clearly now, thick and full of vegetation, cool and inviting under the big heavy boughs of the trees. And then Jelly saw him. Scott was there in the shade, still sitting his horse, not digging in the ground as he thought he might see. Jelly sighed heavily, shaking his head. Impulsive boy, he thought. Smart though, he waited for me, though I can’t figure out for the life of me why he took off that way. Well, Jelly thought, maybe he ain’t that smart after all, he wasn’t getting off his horse, he wasn’t digging in the ground like a madman, as he would be doing. So much for all that college education, Jelly thought riding up next to the blond man.
Scott turned to the older man and said, “There it is Jelly. Just like it shows on the map.”
Now that’s a wonder, Jelly thought strangely. On the ground was a big X laid out in stone. Why, anyone with half a brain could have seen that mark, so clear and easy to see it was. It almost didn’t seem right for it to be there on the ground, plain as day like that.
Scott reached behind and grabbed a small shovel out of his saddlebags, handing it over to Jelly. “It’s all yours Jelly,” he prompted, pushing the shovel at Jelly’s arm.
“Well ain’t yah gonna get down and help me?” Jelly asked, forgetting all about his earlier thoughts of irrational betrayals and unwarranted jealousies toward Scott.
Scott shook his head, “Nope…this is all yours Jelly. So go for it. You deserve everything you find,” Scott told him.
Jelly looked at him momentarily as if he had lost his mind, but shrugged it off quickly enough and climbed down out of the saddle. He walked over to the big X on the ground, dropped to his knees and started digging. It took him quite a while to dig that hole. Lost in a world of his own, Jelly guffawed with happiness when the little spade hit something hard about three feet under. He dug and dug, parting the dirt with his little shovel and then with his hands until he had what looked like a wooden treasure chest completely uncovered.
There were leather handles on the sides, and with those, Jelly lifted the box out of the ground. He scooted back on his knees, oblivious to all around him now that he had his treasure. Jelly rubbed his dirty hands together cleaning off as much of the dirt as he could, then swiped them down the thighs of his legs to clean off what was left.
There was no lock to break off just a leather thong looped through the metal wrung where the clasp was held in place. He tugged on it and the tie came off easily, allowing him to open the wooden chest with ease. Inside, lying on the top, was a cream colored envelope, looking new and untouched except for the writing of two words in the middle of the packet.
He read it in a whisper his eyes welling with unshed tears, To Jelly. With shaking, trembling hands, Jelly picked up the envelope and opened it. Inside was a card, a beautiful card…the prettiest card he thought he’d ever seen. A pencil drawing of his likeness seated in the middle surrounded by those he now considered family. Murdoch stood behind him, both hands on his shoulders, while Scott stood to his right and Johnny to his left, with Teresa sitting next to his legs, one elbow propped upon his thigh. All in all, a family portrait like nothing he had ever owned before.
He opened the card and it read…Happy Birthday Jelly. We love you very much and hope you enjoy this special day and all that was prepared to make it special. Signed by each and every member of the Lancer family.
Jelly bowed his head, unable to comprehend the magnitude of their love for him, so astonished he was at the lengths they would go to, to make this day so special for him. He had totally forgotten it was his birthday, completely wrapped up in his thoughts of treasures and maps, gold and jewels. But this was better, way better than he ever would have ever imagined. There were gifts inside the treasure box, but he knew in that moment that the treasure he saw in his mind was so much better, so much greater than any personal gift they could give him. He had family, and people who loved and cared for him. A far cry from his life just a year ago when he had nothing but the clothes on his back and a desire to make a life out of nothing for his lost boys.
Jelly got up and turned around. He knew they would be there, and all of them were. Murdoch, Johnny, Teresa…and Scott. How they had done all of this, carried it out from start to finish would be a very long tale, but one he couldn’t wait to hear. And he knew he would, he could tell that by the wicked smiles on Scott and Johnny’s face. He knew who the main culprits were now, but he didn’t mind. They loved him and it was plain to see. They were the X on his map…the best treasure a man could ask for.
“Happy Birthday Jelly,” they all said together.