Most of the time, Slim Sherman was a very patient man, but today he was quickly losing what little patience he had left. As he glanced at his pocket watch, a large frown formed on his tan face. A loud snap was heard as he shut the case. He drew the curtain back so he could peer out the window of the cabin. What he saw in the yard caused an even bigger frown to form rapidly across his face. He turned as if he couldn't stand the sight. He began pacing back and forth. Back and forth.
"Relax, Slim," Jess Harper suggested, then bit into a piece of apple pie. "All that pacing ain't going to make the stage come any quicker."
Slim snarled as if Jess was the cause of his anger, "We got branding to do. If Mose don't get here, we're going to lose half the day."
Jonesy twirled the coffee in his cup. "Slim, I could take care of the horses when the stage comes..."
"Not with your bad back!" Slim gruffly interrupted.
"Slim, I could help-" Andy began.
"Last time, that mare got away from you," Slim cut in. "Took us over an hour to catch it."
Seeing Andy's eyes lower, Jess defended, "Accidents happen, Slim."
"Too young to handle the horses by himself. With help yeah, but not alone," Slim mumbled before he started pacing. Again back and forth. Back and forth.
"You're going to wear a hole in that floor," Jess joked.
But the look Slim threw at Jess showed Slim was in no mood to be teased.
The sound of Mose yelling for the horses to slow brought Slim back to the window. "Finally," he sighed. "Wait 'til I give Mose a piece of my mind. Let's go, Jess. No time for dallying."
As Slim rushed out the cabin door, Jess just shook his head. "He gets more and more-"
"Slim's just worried that he ain't going to get the branding done in time to get his herd with Jenkins to take to Kansas City," Jonesy explained.
"I know," Jess replied. "Still don't give him no 'cause to-"
"Jess!" Slim bellowed so loud, it sounded as if Slim was still standing in the cabin.
Jonesy pointed at the door with his coffee cup, "Reckon he'll give you a lecture if you don't get out there."
"That's all right," Jess said, then chewed the last bit of pie before ambling for the door, "I'm starting to get used to Slim's lectures."
As the door shut behind Jess, Andy turned to Jonesy. "You know, Jonesy, I'm getting worried about Slim and Jess."
Jonesy tilted his head with confusion. "Meaning?"
"Well, Slim's been awful hard on Jess lately."
"You know how Slim can get. Jess knows too. Or least he's learning to know."
"Slim don't mean no harm, I know that, but it's just-"
"You and your strays," Jonesy mumbled under his breath.
But Andy heard as if Jonesy had spoken loudly. Andy's voice hardened, "Jonesy, I know what you're thinking. But this is Jess's home now and-"
"Andy," Jonesy's voice grew commanding, "I know you've taken a huge shine to Jess. But you got to remember that when Jess signed on, he said he'd try it. Nothing was for certain."
Andy's face crinkled with worry. "You don't think it's working out?"
"What I think...what I know is that some critters can't be tamed. I 'spect that Jess has lived more than most. Certainly lived more than you and Slim. Andy, there just might come a time when you're going to have to realize that Jess has got too much wildness in him to settle down."
"I sure would hate for Jess to move on," Andy admitted. "I know he ain't been here long, but it just wouldn't be the same if he left."
"Now don't start fretting about something that ain't happened yet," Jonesy said. "Jess may just fool me and stay on. 'Sides I don't think Jess is going anywhere as long as I keep baking my apple pies."
A smile burst out on Andy's face. "Jess sure likes your pie." But just as soon as the smile appeared, it disappeared. "Jonesy, when Pa died, Slim said everything would be all right, but do you think everything really is all right?"
"What's got you upset?" Jonesy's eyes swept over Andy.
Andy's voice dropped to a whisper as if frightened someone would hear them, "Slim's sure been quiet lately. Like something's bothering him."
Jonesy was thoughtful for a long moment. "I won't lie to you, Andy. The same thought crossed my mind that maybe Slim is holding back on us. Ain't telling us something that we should know."
"You know, Jonesy, Slim's been edgy ever since he met with the line superintendent a few days ago. You don't think the Overland's going to shut down the relay station, do you?"
Jonesy took a sip of coffee before he answered, "I think Slim's worried that they just might do that."
"But if they do, what would we do? We need that money!"
"Now hold on!" Jonesy held his hand up in the air for silence. "First Jess and now the stage. You're going to put yourself into a tizzy before you even know what's what."
"Andy, don't go cooking the fish before you've caught it. Now you best help me get ready for them passengers. Won't do for one of 'em to complain to the stage line that we ain't got hot coffee and warm food for them. Look out that window and see how many passengers we got to feed."
Andy shot to his feet, eager to help.