Ambush in the Dusty Mines – Extended Epilogue

June 16, 1868

 

 “Let the Dixie Valley Summer Jubilee begin!”

Sheriff Garth Porter fired his gun into the air, and Jolene cheered along with the crowd. Already, it was a substantially larger crowd than in years past. The railroad had only opened six months ago, but the town had grown significantly in just that half a year.

To be fair, half of that growth came somewhat by accident when Clyde’s construction crew agreed to remain and build the railroad outside the town. The other half was mostly made up of their wives and children, some old and some new.

But some of it came from travelers who stopped here taking the train west and decided they liked the town well enough to stay. Dixie Valley was no longer a small, dying boomtown clustered around a dying mine. It was a bustling community that was growing and thriving. It would never rival Virginia City in size, but that was all right. Jolene didn’t want it to be too big.

“Miss Jolene?” Freddy Simonson asked. “Should we start the games now?”

Jolene smiled at one of her newest students. “We’ll let the crowd have a little time to walk around. Let’s start the games in say… ten minutes?”

“Sure thing, Miss Jolene,” Freddy said, nodding seriously.

Everything Freddy did was serious. The other kids were already calling him Formal Freddy, a nickname he took… well, seriously. The others didn’t mean it in a mean-spirited way, and that was probably why Frankie was so calm about it. He saw it as his duty to be the voice of reason in whatever crowd he was a part of.

But he was also a ten-year-old boy, and when Tammy Hennesy arrived with a basket full of steaming pies, he forgot all about games and being serious and joined the others in their mad dash to sample Mrs. Hennesy’s delicious wares.

Tammy beamed when the students clustered around her. “All right, all right,” she said. “Calm down, everyone. You’ll all have enough. Now, which of my students like apple pie and which like cherry?”

The children shouted their answers and Jolene thought wryly that baking pies for the children was cheating. She would wager that a sizable number of her students preferred their new assistant teacher Miss Tammy to Miss Jolene just because of Miss Tammy’s penchant for bringing them an unhealthy amount of sweet treats.

Well, two could play that game. Jolene had yet to hear any complaints about her queen cakes. She’d have to bring a batch to school when the next school year started. If Carson didn’t eat all of them, that was.

She chuckled and shook her head when she saw him standing among the kids, waiting for his slice of pie. It was a wonder the man hadn’t put on fifty pounds in the three months they’d been married.

Then again, that was partly her fault for making all of those pastries knowing Carson’s weakness for them.

She felt a kick in her belly and winced slightly as she rubbed it. She was sure she hadn’t gained fifty pounds over the seven months and counting of her pregnancy, but there were days she felt like it.

“Miss Jolene?” a familiar voice said to her left. “You should sit a spell. I can help the kids with the games.”

Jolene turned to Wylder. “If I let you handle the games, you’ll blow up half the town.”

Wylder grinned. “Most fun those kids will ever have.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she said. The baby kicked again, and she winced. “Since you’re offering, however, I think I will sit a spell.”

“Of course!” he said. “Don’t you worry about a thing. I promise not to make any messes that won’t be cleaned up by morning.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” she said.

Wylder helped her to a bench and fetched her a glass of water. Jolene watched him as he walked away. He looked ten years younger than he had this time last year. His beard was trimmed, and his clothing was no longer disheveled. His eyes were still mischievous but no longer so wild, and though he was as much a fan of rambling as he always was, his mind no longer wandered as it once had. It was amazing what having a purpose did for someone.

Speaking of that, Carson walked over just behind Wylder, a piece of apple pie in his left hand and a piece of cherry pie in his right. “Sorry, Jolene,” he said, reddening. “I should have brought you some water before I went for the pie.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” she said with a dry smile. “I wouldn’t want to get in between you and what you love most in this world.”

“Uh-oh,” Wylder said, “you’re in trouble now, boy. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The worst thing you can do to a woman is eat another woman’s cookin’.”

Jolene stifled a smile and arched her eyebrows. Carson reddened. “Don’t be silly. Jolene knows nothing will ever replace her queen cakes.”

“Glad to know I’m good for something,” she teased.

“Well, not just that. You’re also having my baby.”

“Oh,” she said, “so I’m a good cook, and I can carry a baby. What a wonderful sentiment.”

“No… that’s not what I meant,” Carson stammered.

Wylder grinned and evidently decided his work was finished. “I’m going to get started on those games.” He laid a hand on Carson’s shoulder. “Carson, if you need a place to stay after Miss Jolene kicks you out, my door is always open.”

“Yes, ’cause you blew it off its hinges trying to test a new explosive compound inside your living room,” Carson said.

“True,” Wylder said, scratching his head. “Not my finest moment, I admit. I’m conducting all future tests outside of town where it can’t hurt nobody.”

“Or maybe be content with the formula you have instead of nearly getting yourself killed every few months,” Carson suggested.

“Now where’s the fun in that?”

Wylder walked away, whistling a tune, and Carson said, “Are you sure you want him supervising a bunch of children?”

“He’ll be all right. Jesse Samuels and Maribel Hutcherson are doing most of the supervising, anyway. He’s just putting on the crazy old man show while he talks up the games for the crowd.”

“You sure it’s just a show? Half the time he’s the wisest person I know and half the time he truly scares me.”

“You’re not that hard to scare,” Jolene teased. “Are you going to stand all day staring or are you going to sit next to your wife?”

Carson flushed again and took a seat next to Jolene on the bench. He put his arm around her, and she leaned against him and sighed contentedly.

“That’s better.”

They watched their friends and neighbors play and socialize, smiling at their vibrant new town. Garth and Andy Hennesy talked near the stage. Andy was still unused to the idea of being mayor, but even with the town growing every day, the job didn’t require much of him other than making the odd speech here and there. Besides, he had employees to watch the shop now.

Garth, on the other hand, had taken to being sheriff like a duck to water. He had a team of five deputies now, and while there was rarely anything more serious to deal with than the odd fight at George’s saloon, it was nice to know the town was prepared in case any real trouble came.

Jolene smiled as she thought of George. He had come back the day after the town had been freed of Clyde and his cohorts. He had his head held high and a rifle across his lap and announced to Jolene when he met her that he was here to run that no-good son-of-a-bitch Clyde Huxtable out of his town, and he would be damned if he was going to give up on his home just because it was easier to go work for his brother in San Francisco. She would never forget the look on his face when she’d told him that she and Carson had already done it.

She was glad he was back, though. Abe Smith had come back too, loudly complaining to anyone who would listen and most people who wouldn’t that Virginia City was dirty, crowded, and full of rude, annoying people who thought the world revolved around shiny metal.

They decided to let him keep believing that it wasn’t the success of Carson’s silver mine that had made the town successful enough for him to return in the first place.

And the mine was extraordinarily successful. When Wylder began excavating deeper into the vein, they discovered that the small lode that James Brant had staked extended far beyond where they originally thought. Carson was pretty sure there would be silver all the way through to the mountains. It was no Comstock Lode, but it was far from the small stake Carson had had when he first came here.

Jolene looked up at her husband and smiled at the change in him. His moodiness was gone. His narrowed, mistrustful eyes were wide open and kind, and the frown he used to wear was replaced with a smile that made his already handsome face utterly breathtaking. She reached a hand up to caress his cheek and pulled him down into a kiss.

When they pulled away, his smile widened into a boyish grin. She loved that he looked this way now. She was so glad he had finally opened up and allowed the pain of his past to retreat.

“I love you, Carson McCoy,” she said.

“I love you too, Jolene Fleming,” he replied.

She smiled and lifted her other hand, waggling her fingers to show him the ring. “Not Fleming anymore.”

“Oh, that’s right,” he replied. “You actually married me.”

“I actually did. Don’t blame my parents, though. They didn’t mean to raise a fool.”

“Well, I’m grateful very much for your foolishness. I’ve benefited considerably.”

“Where are all those big words coming from?” she asked. “Have you been reading the study books I bought for the older students?”

“Why is it that people don’t think I know big words?” Carson asked. “Do I really look that stupid?”

“Well, you’re very handsome,” Jolene said, kissing him on the cheek, “so it’s okay.”

Carson gave her a rueful look. “You get ornery sometimes, you know that?”

“I’m carrying a child,” she pointed out. “I have a right to be ornery.”

“I guess that’s fair.”

They lapsed into a comfortable silence and watched their town celebrate life. The baby kicked in Jolene’s stomach again, and she smiled and laid Carson’s hand over her belly. When it kicked again, he gasped and stared at her with wide, shocked eyes.

She giggled and leaned up to kiss him again. “That’s our baby,” she whispered.

“That’s our baby,” he said wondrously.

She smiled and caressed his cheek again. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

She would never get tired of hearing that.

 ***

May 5, 1869

 

“Hello, Captain Brant,” Carson said, taking a seat on a rock at the edge of a ridge that overlooked the town of Dixie Valley. “Sorry it’s been so long since we talked. I’m real busy these days, what with the railroad laying more tracks on the other side of town and the mine opening the new tunnel underneath the mountains. Wylder says there’s more silver under there than in all of Virginia City. There isn’t, but I let him believe there is. There’s certainly more than I ever thought there would be.”

Looking off to the east, he saw the puffs of smoke that signaled the approach of the afternoon train. This was actually the first of two afternoon trains and five total trains that would stop in town every day but Sunday. When the new platform was built on the north side of town, they would add three more going the other way. Carson had no idea how they’d manage all that traffic without running trains into each other, but Mark Garrity seemed to have a solid plan in place.

“You’d like Mark,” he said. “Hell of a lot nicer than Clyde Huxtable was. Did I ever tell you about Clyde? I think I did. He was the crazy murderer who tried to take the whole town out from under us. Nearly succeeded, too. If it weren’t for Garth, Jolene, and Wylder, he would have. Speaking of which, Wylder’s getting married. Crazy, I know, but the girl even seems a good catch. She’s a widow from Nebraska come out this way thinking of going to Los Angeles. She met Wylder and decided she’d found a better place here. The new minister is going to marry them this Sunday. I’m the best man, which means I have to wear a suit. As you can imagine, Jolene’s overjoyed at that. She’s talking about cutting my hair and polishing my boots and making me look like what she calls ‘an actual gentleman for once.’”

The puffs of smoke came up over a small hill a few miles east of town, and Carson could finally see the train. It was one of the new larger models, the same, he was told, as the locomotives used by the Central Pacific Railroad. In five days, the Central Pacific was scheduled to complete the last portion of the Great Transcontinental Railroad, linking the east and west coasts of the United States in one unbroken line.

 “Can you believe it, Captain Brant?” he said. “Now we’re the same country east to west and north to south.” He shook his head. “It really is something, ain’t it? Makes you wonder why we ever fought each other in the first place.”

A shadow crossed his mind. “I keep thinking back to that talk you and I had after a year together when we were camped along Bull Run. I think you knew then that we were fighting for the wrong side, but you never said anything about it. Guess maybe you thought you was doing your duty.”

Carson fell silent. He didn’t want to accuse a dead man of a crime that had no doubt tortured him enough in life. He would never truly know why Captain Brant had continued fighting for the South even when he knew what they stood for. Carson had kept fighting himself because the thought he was protecting his homeland, but he couldn’t admit to being ignorant of what the big plantation owners were doing. He’d seen enough of it to know. He’d just blocked it out.

“It’s easy to do that,” he said softly, “to pretend you don’t see. It’s easier than seeing because when you see something like that, you have to do something about it, and most folks don’t want to do anything. They just want to keep living their lives without a care for how someone else is living theirs. I guess I can understand that, but it don’t make it right.”

He looked at the train, now slowing as it approached the Dixie Valley station. With any luck, it would bring the ten men who’d responded to his advertisement for the new refinery he was building. He wasn’t sure how long it would take to build something like that. Lately, he wondered if it was time to turn the business over to someone with more experience and just retire on a modest pension. He never meant to be rich, anyway.

“I hope you’d be proud of what I did with the mine,” he said. “I didn’t really become wealthy or famous off of it. Well, I suppose I’m wealthy enough, and if I wanted, I could just take more of the silver for myself, but I don’t need to do that. I don’t know what I’d do with all of it, anyway. It’s hard enough figuring out how to spend what I do have.” He shook his head. “Greed creates so much evil in the world. I don’t understand why people can’t just be happy with what they have.”

He thought on that a moment. “I get to thinking that being happy don’t got much to do with what you have. I think you have to choose to be happy. I think most people know what will make them happy, they’re just afraid to do anything about it because sometimes it means admitting they’ve been wrong about something. I think sometimes it means letting go. Hell, I don’t know. I’m just getting sentimental. I’m always like this on your birthday.”

Glancing down at the small headstone next to him, he smiled wistfully. “Sure wish you could have seen this. Dixie might not hold the charm for us it once did, but Dixie Valley is a paradise.” He looked out on his town. “Thank you, James. Thank you for sending me here to find my home. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

The train blew its whistle and began its journey west to Virginia City where it would reach the end of the Dixie Valley Express line and transfer its goods and passengers to the Central Pacific, which would carry them west all the way to the coast.

“From sea to shining sea,” he said softly. He smiled. “Hey, that’s pretty good. Someone should write a song about that.”

He stood and stretched. “Well, I’d best be getting home now. Jolene’s probably wanting to start dinner in a couple of hours, and I should watch Jimmy while she does that. You’d love Jimmy. He ain’t even walking yet and he’s already a troublemaker. I don’t know where he gets that from. It definitely ain’t me.” He chuckled. “He’d make his grandpa proud, though. I promise you that.”

He looked down at the headstone again, and his smile faded a little. He saluted the stone, his palm facing outward. He wouldn’t do this in front of anyone else out of respect. The nation he had once saluted this way was born of greed and evil and deserved to be forgotten.

But not all of its men were evil, and it was the man memorialized here who Carson saluted, not the nation they had once fought the wrong side of a war for.

He’d been lucky enough to escape that and build a better life for himself. He’d been lucky enough to help others build a better life for themselves.

God was merciful.

Carson rode down the well-worn path to town, allowing his horse to set its own pace. The animal was beautiful, a gift from Garth on his wedding day. The powerful roan stallion was remarkably even-tempered for a young horse, and it absolutely loved Jimmy. He smiled, remembering the animal’s big-eyed gaze when the baby smiled and placed his hand on its nose.

He leaned forward and patted the horse’s cheeks. “You’re a good boy, Dusty.”

The horse snorted in response. When they neared the house, it quickened its pace, no doubt smelling the queen cakes that Jolene would sneak it when Carson wasn’t looking. He would scold her gently whenever he caught her, not because he had a problem with her feeding the horse but because he knew she enjoyed the feeling of getting away with harmless mischief.

“I think I know where Jimmy gets it from,” he said with a smile.

Jolene and Jimmy were waiting for him on the porch. Carson felt the usual lift in his spirits when he saw his family. He grinned at them, and Jimmy beamed sunnily when he saw his pa. Carson chuckled at the two little teeth that stuck out from the bottom of his jaw. Two more of his teeth were coming in on the top, making him look like a little jackrabbit.

“Hey there, beautiful,” he said, taking the giggling baby from Jolene and kissing her briefly.

“Are you talking to me or the baby?” she asked.

“Both of you,” he said. “Jumpin’ Jolene and Jackrabbit Jimmy.”

“Please don’t call me that,” she said. “If the kids at school make me dance one more time, I’m going to break every bone in my body.”

“You look beautiful when you dance,” he said.

She rolled her eyes. “Come on inside, big man. Dinner’s ready.”

Carson grinned at Jimmy. “You hear that, Jackrabbit? Dinner’s ready.”

Jimmy giggled again and Carson returned the laugh, kissing his son’s soft cheek. Then he followed the love of his life inside the home they had built together while the sun cast golden shadows over the peaceful town of Dixie Valley, Nevada.

THE END


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3 thoughts on “Ambush in the Dusty Mines – Extended Epilogue”

  1. This book left me with mixed feelings for several different reasons. Some of the book seemed unreal or didn’t seem like it would happen in that time period. The author put a lot of his feelings in the book that seemed like he was trying to sell his point of view about the South during the War Between the States. The Carson character was fair but could have been stronger. Jolene’s was a total weak character. Besty went in and out of character. Clyde’s was a total nut job as a character, going in and out of character, couldn’t make up his mind to be totally bad or just small bad. For Old West characters everybody in the town didn’t have a positive point going for them. There should have been some Old Timers that stood up to Clyde from the start. There author has several books on the past that are better than this one. I guess that is what surprised me so much, is this book doesn’t seem like his type of book.

    The author needs to put his picture and bio with the books he writes so you can get a feel of the author in the books.

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