Lady Daisy, ch. 10

by: Sarah Stodola

The three cousins and Enos, who was still feeling bad for giving them away and still trying to make up for it, sat on the floor of the church’s Sunday School room, playing marbles. Enos had just knocked two of Luke’s marbles out of the circle they’d created with bits of string, and scrambled to get them, grinning happily, when the door opened.

All four kids looked up as one as Jesse came into the room. Daisy launched herself into his arms, hope filling her. “Uncle Jesse, can I stay with you now? Is Aunt Roseanne gone?”

He knelt down to look all of them in the eye, seriously. “No, she ain’t gone yet. We’ve got an appointment tomorrow morning to talk to the circuit judge.”

“It’s come down to the judge?” Luke asked, eyes widening.

Jesse nodded. “I’m afraid so. Kids, we’ll all need each other to make it out of this one. Daisy, you’ll have to tell the judge exactly how you feel about all this, the exact truth. He’ll be able to tell if you mean it. And Luke, Bo,” he caught each of their gazes, “you’ll have to stay out of trouble. No yelling at Daisy’s aunt, got that?”

“Yessir,” the two boys replied together. Enos just looked anxious.

“Well then,” Jesse sighed, and met Daisy’s eyes again. His were worried, and she bit her lip, afraid.

“Uncle Jesse, can Aunt Roseanne make me go back to Atlanta, forever?”

“If we don’t win this,” he told her and the others, very seriously. “I’m counting on you kids to make the difference. She does have more money, but I’m counting on you to prove that we have more love.”

“That’s not hard.” She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Cause it’s the truth.”

He hugged her back, gently. “We just have to make the judge see that.” He was shaking slightly, and Daisy hugged him tighter. He was just as afraid about her going away as she was, she realized with some surprise.

“We will. I love you, Uncle Jesse,” she whispered. “And I don’t want to leave Hazzard.”

From behind her, she felt Luke and Bo put their arms around her too, and Jesse spread out his arms to include them all in the family circle, even Enos. He smiled, gently. “And I love all of you kids. We Dukes are famous for stickin’ together, we’ll really need that now.” Then he released them all, taking one of Daisy’s hands in one of his, and Luke’s in his other. “But I think we’re gonna need the Lord’s help with this one too.”

They all understood. Bo linked up between Daisy and Luke, and Enos squeezed his way in between Luke and Jesse, looking up at the only adult with wide, determined eyes. He wanted to be part of all this too.

Jesse bowed his head, and Daisy quickly closed her eyes, following his example, as her uncle spoke quietly. “Lord, we’re facin’ some real trouble here. You know that Daisy wants to stay with us, but the judge out there don’t know that. Help us to say and do what we need to to show him the truth, behind our hearts and Miss Douglas’. Make the judge see the truth about all of this. I’m sure you want kids to have joy and love more than money, because you made us all that way. So, help us prove that.”

“And make it so’s Daisy can stay with us, ’cause we love her,” Bo interrupted. “Please!”

Then he paused, as if embarrassed, and Daisy squinted her eyes open to see her uncle squeeze Bo’s hand, smiling. “Amen,” Jesse finished.

“Amen,” the four kids answered quietly.

The circle broke apart, and Bo put an arm around his younger cousin protectively. “We’ll make sure you stay in Hazzard.”

“Thanks,” she smiled back at him, then accepted and returned Luke’s hug too. “Thanks.”

“Enos, maybe you’d better go let your mama know where you are,” Jesse said. “She’s probably looking for you now, it’s almost dinnertime.”

The dark-haired boy’s eyes widened. “Oh, gosh! Okay!” He scrambled to his feet. “I hope she’ll let me come to the meetin’ in the morning. I’m gonna try to come.” His earnest gaze met Daisy’s, then he was gone like a small whirlwind.

Jesse stood and looked at the door, sighing. “Well,” he said finally, “we’ll need some rest before tomorrow. Let’s go home.”

The four Dukes left together for the pickup, Bo and Luke walking protectively on either side of their cousin.

###

“Shouldn’t you be nervous?”

“Why?” Roseanne looked at her lawyer, smiling. “We hold all the cards, Mr. Sanchez.”

“But we are in *their* territory now,” the man said worriedly. “How do you know that this circuit judge will give the same ruling as one from Atlanta? It might have been wiser to insist upon going back to the city. This man is from this area; he might think the way they do.”

“You are too nervous for your own good,” she said airily, trying to hide the sudden prick of fear. “It almost seems as if you *expect* those farmers to win. Do you doubt your own abilities, Mr. Sanchez?”

He shook his head. “No, not under normal circumstances. But this place is hardly normal. These people are hardly normal. I don’t have a clue what they might do next!”

Roseanne gave him a frosty look. “Just remember this then, when you are in front of that judge tomorrow morning. If we lose,” she pointed at his chest, “*you* can find a new client.”

He gulped. “Miss Douglas…”

“Good night,” she cut him off, waving at the hotel room door. Her tone brooked no further conversation.

Sanchez nodded, slightly, and dipped his head. “Very well, Miss Douglas. I understand. I will do my best.”

“You had better,” she said softly, threateningly. “I have no intention of losing anything, much less my young niece, to a pack of country troublemakers. Understand me?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He backed toward the door, briefcase in hand, and was gone.

Roseanne stood for a few more seconds, then slowly sat down on the bed, staring at the opposite wall. She couldn’t lose Daisy. She couldn’t! What… what would she do without her? The proud head lowered as she looked at her hands. She had to win this case.

###

“Psst! Daisy!”

The whisper caught her attention, and she looked up from the small framed photograph she was holding. “Hi, Bo.”

“Whatcha doin’?” The boy shoved his blond hair out of his eyes and padded barefoot into her room, sitting down on the bed beside her.

Daisy shrugged a little. “Just… just hoping I don’t have to go back to Atlanta tomorrow.”

“Hey, we’re all hopin’ that.” He leaned over to see what she was looking at. She held the photo out to him, and he took it. “Huh. When was this taken? I don’t remember.”

“Just before we started school.”

“Oh.” He laughed a little. “It kinda really shows what we’re like, huh?”

She smiled slightly. “Yeah.”

The picture was of the three kids, the boys clad only in jean cut-offs, Daisy wearing a sleeveless shirt too. They were wading in the creek in the picture, but all looked wet, as if they’d already been deeper. None of the kids had noticed Jesse’s camera at the time. Luke was yelling, grabbing at the air as a good-sized fish was leaping high, out of his hands. Daisy was jumping up from the other direction, trying to recapture the fish as well, and Bo had a startled look on his face as he wavered off-balance on one foot, arms out, caught in the act of falling backwards into the water after being accidentally shoved by Luke as the older boy tried to grab the fish. The scene was one of action caught in one frame, frozen in midair. Moments later, all three kids had landed in the creek with one giant splash. The fish had gotten away.

Bo wrinkled his freckled nose a little, thinking. “Hey, Uncle Jesse has another one of these downstairs, don’t he? In the living room.”

“Yeah. Shows how much you pay attention to your surroundings,” Daisy teased, poking her cousin lightly in the ribs. He made a face and squirmed away, still looking at the photo.

“It’s kinda funny, ain’t it?” he grinned. “I mean, look at all of us!”

She giggled, then clapped both hands over her mouth, glancing guiltily at the open door. They were supposed to be asleep right now, not up talking.

“Yeah,” Bo nodded agreement. “I probably better get back to bed. You sure you’re gonna be okay, though?”

“I think so.” Daisy smiled at him. “But do you think I could maybe spend the night on the floor in you guys’ room? I don’t want to be alone.”

“You’re never alone here,” her cousin told her firmly. “Yeah, c’mon, I don’t mind.”

She gathered the quilt off her bed and followed him into the hall and around the corner. The two cousins cleared a place between the boys’ beds, being careful not to wake Luke, and she wrapped herself in the quilt and smiled at Bo. He grinned back and reached to turn out the light.

“Good night,” they whispered as one. Daisy hoped it wasn’t the last time they’d be saying that to each other.

###

The next morning, at almost seven, the Dukes were not the only ones up. Honorable Judge Sean Carter strode down the narrow church aisle with a cup of coffee in one hand. His path was an unerring one, straight through the door of the pastor’s office. He and his secretary had been graciously allowed to use it during the circuit court.

“Good morning, Sandy,” he greeted the middle-aged blonde woman sitting at the desk. She was staring at a sheet of paper, frowning, and jumped when he spoke. “Oh. Good morning, sir.”

“What’s that?” He ran a hand over his straight gray hair, making sure it was tidy, then pointed to the papers she was holding.

“Some notes I’ve compiled for the first, and only, case this morning.”

“Oh?” Carter smiled, pulling up a chair on the other side of the desk and sitting. “Only one case this morning?”

“Yes, in less than an hour.”

“Well, they certainly get their day started early, don’t they?” He sipped his coffee.

“Well, they are farm folk. At least, one side is.” Sandy tapped the papers lying on the desk. “A custody case. Douglas vs. Duke.”

“Oh?” He set down the coffee and raised his eyebrows, taking the notes handed to him. “From these, I assume you’ve been busy,” he smiled.

“Of course. All yesterday evening. I couldn’t find out much about Miss Douglas, but on Mr. Duke, I got quite an earful. People around here are certainly very talkative.” Sandy looked at the ceiling, and Carter hid another smile. She was from New York originally, and never would, he suspected, quite understand country folk.

“At least you got some information.” He ran his eyes over the papers, then put them down, leaning forward with his elbows on the desk and fingers steepled. “What have you found out?”

She sat back and raised both eyebrows high. “This seems to be the climax, so to speak, of a family feud that’s gone on for some time. The child now being fought over is eight-year-old Daisy Mae Duke. Miss Douglas, from Atlanta, is her mother’s sister, and apparently raised the girl for some years. Quite well, I might add, sparing little expense, even to the point of hiring a private tutor. This Jesse Duke is the child’s father’s brother, and was given custody in his brother’s will. But Miss Douglas is contesting, and neither side is backing down.”

“Hmm.” Carter took a deep breath. “You said people around here are talkative. What have you found out about this Jesse Duke?”

Sandy shrugged a little, tilting her head slightly to one side. “He seems to be the average farmer, somewhat poor but not really in trouble financially, at least at the moment. He has quite a reputation as being unusually honest, though, and has raised two boys, nephews, since they were four and two.”

That got his attention. “Does Miss Douglas have any children of her own?”

“No, sir, she doesn’t. This Daisy Mae is the only child she has ever raised. And she seems to have done well,” the secretary shrugged. “But, as I said, I couldn’t find out much about her.”

Carter sat back in his chair again. “Tell me more about this Jesse Duke, then.”

“Sure. I’ve got more on him than I could ever need, everything from his financial status to his favorite fishing hole.” She rolled her eyes. “Mr. Duke is not a young man, though by no means really old, either. He’s involved in almost every charity and church event in the county, and every single person I’ve talked to seems to respect and like him. And trust him.”

Carter couldn’t help but smile. “He seems like a likable man.”

“I suppose.” Sandy flipped through her papers again. “Now, about those boys of his… I’ve heard a lot.”

“Tell me,” the judge requested, reaching for his coffee cup again. Perhaps he could find out something more about Mr. Duke’s worth as a guardian if he found out about the children he already had.

“Their names are Lukas K and Beauregard, better known as simply Luke and Bo. The two are ten and eight now, and known around the area for being able to get into anything and everything. Whether it’s the honor roll at school or more trouble than you’ve seen outside of juvenile hall.” Her eyebrows raised expressively. “Everyone seems to like them, though. Locals speak of the boys’ pranks almost fondly, and apparently they’ve never hurt anyone or really broken the law. Though in somewhere like Atlanta, some of their activities would be illegal.”

“This isn’t Atlanta,” Carter waved the comment off. “Law is different in an area this rural. So they are good kids, mainly?”

Sandy shrugged helplessly, tossing her notes down on the desk. “That depends on who you speak to and whether or not they’ve gotten into trouble lately. For the most part, though, they seem to be. From what I hear, Mr. Duke is somewhat lenient as to what he allows, but when his nephews cross the line, he can be quite strict too. He’s known for living and raising his kids by,” she made quote marks in the air with her fingers, “a healthy dose of common sense.”

Carter raised one eyebrow and sighed. “Hmm. Well, I’m not quite sure which side to take. A wealthy woman from Atlanta who had raised the child for years and very likely loves her, or a farmer from this county who has legal custody, and who seems to do well by the children under his care.”

“Neither am I,” Sandy sighed. “I’ve heard a lot of good about this Jesse Duke, though, if one can see past his nephews’ reputation for trouble. Not so much for causing trouble, I guess, though, as finding it.”

The judge chuckled. “Sounds somewhat like me when I was a boy.” At her surprised expression, he nodded. “Oh, yes, I was a country kid too. Well, what else of interest have you discovered?”

She consulted her notes again. “Well, there’s one thing here that wasn’t mentioned outright. Mr. Duke has apparently had the care of his young niece for a couple of months now. It’s only recently that Miss Douglas has insisted upon getting the child back.”

“Oh?” Now this was getting interesting. “What do folks have to say about this…”

“Daisy Mae. Or just Daisy, as she’s known locally. Everyone likes her; she sounds like an energetic but friendly girl. Somewhat of a tomboy, but that’s to be expected, living with two boys her age in the same house. Always polite and helpful, though.” Sandy looked back up at him. “You might find this interesting too, sir.” She pointed a finger at him for emphasis. “When the child first came here from Atlanta, she was small, quiet, almost frail. Since she’s been here, she has grown and strengthened, and is not known for keeping to herself very much either. In short, she seems a completely different girl.”

“A change for the better?”

“It certainly seems like it.”

“Hmm.” Carter stood and stretched, looking at the clock on the wall. “When was their appointment?”

“About twenty minutes from now.”

“Okay then. Maybe I can fit in a fishing trip later this morning.” He smiled at the secretary and picked up the notes. “Mind if I take these to study?”

“Help yourself.”

Coffee in one hand and papers in the other, Carter walked back out into the main room of the little church where he would hold court. Apparently the town hadn’t gotten around to building a courthouse, or just hadn’t thought it necessary.

He alternated reading and sipping coffee at his desk in the front of the room. Everything was so quiet and peaceful that he heard the car pull up outside.

Apparently one of the sides had shown up early. He watched a tall, elegantly dressed woman stalk in and straight to the front, a thin man who looked like a lawyer right behind her. Aha. Miss Douglas. He watched surreptitiously as the two put their heads together and started discussing something.

He heard the second car less than five minutes later.

Four Dukes and one Strate trooped into the church, the three boys forming a triangle around Daisy. Roseanne was already there, and as she turned to glare at the family, Bo glared back at her. Her eyes narrowed calculatingly, and he repressed a shiver. The lady unnerved him.

“I think she’s mad today,” Luke whispered.

“Yeah. Course, ain’t she always?” the blond boy grinned. His older cousin kept a straight face for all of two seconds, then grinned back. Enos and Daisy just looked at them, both looking a little scared.

Daisy slipped her hand into her oldest cousin’s, looking up at him. “I don’t want to leave,” she whispered, blinking back what were probably tears.

Bo clenched his jaw in youthful determination and took her other hand, forming a chain between the three Duke kids. “Don’t worry, you ain’t gonna.”

“We’ll make sure of that,” Jesse put in, smiling down at his charges before putting a hand briefly on each’s shoulder and walking up to the front of the makeshift courtroom where the circuit judge sat behind a desk brought in where the pulpit usually was.

Roseanne’s gaze swept over the kids again, and Enos shuddered dramatically. “Gosh, she kinda scares me!”

“Yeah, me too, but we can’t let her know that,” Bo told him.

“C’mon.” Luke led the others over to a back corner. He and Daisy sat in the corner of the rearmost pew, and Enos and Bo leaned over the back of the one in front, the four all leaning close together. “We gotta have a plan,” the oldest said seriously, his eyes meeting each of the others’. “If we don’t, that city lady and her hired fast-talker are gonna win this.”

“And they *can’t* win this,” Bo interrupted.

Luke didn’t complain, only nodded. “Yeah. So what’re we gonna do? We’ve got to get it worked out before showtime.”

Bo bit his lower lip, thinking hard. But Daisy was the first to speak up.

“Well, I’ve listened to Aunt Roseanne and her lawyer talk about courts and stuff before, and I think we have to find out where the judge’s sympathies lie.” Then, as if suddenly realizing that Bo at least wasn’t sure what she was talking about, she said, “I mean, if he’s from the city, we’re in trouble, but if he’s from an area like ours, he’ll probably understand our side of it better.”

“Oh…” Bo nodded. “Okay. So, how do we do that?”

“Well,” she said seriously, meeting his eyes, “somebody has to talk to him, without actually mentioning the case.”

“I get it.” Luke sat back. “Okay, so who goes up?”

“Not me,” Enos insisted, sliding down in the pew and looking a bit embarrassed. “I’m no good at talkin’ to grown-ups.”

“I’ll go,” Bo finally volunteered after a session of hoping someone else would but hearing nothing. He stood up and tried to straighten his shirt as best he could. He crossed his fingers and held them up.

“Good luck,” Luke agreed, and Enos nodded agreement. Daisy just smiled a little.

Bo started up the center aisle, hurriedly brushing his blond hair into some semblance of order with his fingers. He paused in front of the judge’s desk and furtively glanced in Roseanne and Jesse’s direction. They were arguing, not paying any attention to what the kids were doing, and he took a deep breath, feeling suddenly unsure. But he had to go through with this! They had to find a way to let Daisy stay with them, legally, without running away again.

“Uh, uh, sir?” he tried nervously, licking dry lips. “Sir?”

The judge finally looked up from his reports, and smiled. He was a grandfatherly man who looked like he would probably be retiring soon. “Well, hello. And just who might you be, my young gentleman?”

Bo blushed a little, running a self-conscious hand over his shirt and jeans. They were clean, but still no fancy suit. “I… I guess I’m not that much of a gentleman,” he admitted.

The man smiled. “I can see that, but you’re polite. What’s your name, and what’s your problem?”

“I… I’m Bo Duke. And, well…” Bo had trouble looking the adult in the eye, but finally managed. He knew he was supposed to be indirect about this, but he couldn’t think of a way to word his questions without being straightforward.

“Come now, Bo, you obviously have something on your mind. Perhaps I can help?”

The boy looked up, biting his lip, and suddenly he just had to be honest. He hoped it wouldn’t get them into trouble. “Well, ya… you see,” he amended his grammar, “we’ve got a hearing this morning, and…”

“Oh yes, a custody case. Are you on one side or the other?”

“Would it matter?” Bo asked.

“Maybe.” The judge sat back in his chair and motioned to a chair near him, behind the desk. The boy gingerly moved to sit down, feeling self-conscious. He didn’t look back to see what the other kids were doing. “I try to see to the best interests of the children in all these cases,” the man went on.

Bo felt relief rush through him like the water over Hazzard Dam. He let out a held breath. “Yeah, I’m involved,” he told the adult seriously.

“Is it you being fought over?”

“No! No,” the blond boy said. “It’s my cousin Daisy.”

“Oh?” The judge raised slightly bushy gray eyebrows and smiled slightly.

“Yeah! Her aunt wants her to go live with her in Atlanta, and we want her to stay here with us!”

The judge leaned forward slightly. “Do you know what your cousin wants?”

“Yeah! She wants to stay here!”

The man sat back again and put a finger to his lips. “Hmm.” Bo hoped that he was really listening. “But then why would her aunt want her to go live with her?”

The boy squirmed a little under the eagle-like gaze. “I’m not sure. She didn’t like it when Daisy came to live with us, though.”

“How long has your cousin lived with you?”

“About two months. A bit more, I think.”

“Hmm,” the judge repeated. “Who did she live with before she came here?”

“Her aunt,” Bo admitted reluctantly, looking down at his hands in his lap.

“Then how do you know her aunt does not wish her to come back out of love, Bo?”

“But Roseanne don’t love her!” the eight-year-old protested, meeting the man’s eyes earnestly. “She’s mean to her! I don’t know why she wants Daisy, but Daisy don’t wanna go!” He realized afterward that in his desperation he’d reverted to the country slang he was trying so hard not to use, but the judge didn’t seem to mind.

The man looked over at Roseanne and Jesse. “Is that her aunt?”

“Yeah.”

“She seems to be quite well-off.”

“She’s rich,” Bo rolled his eyes at the ceiling.

“And who is the other?”

“That’s our Uncle Jesse. He takes care of me and Luke and Daisy.”

“Who’s Luke?”

Bo glanced back toward the other kids. Their heads were close together, and they weren’t paying attention. “The oldest over there,” he said, pointing. “He’s our other cousin. But he’s kinda like a big brother.”

“Your uncle took all of you in?” the judge asked with what sounded like amazement.

“Sure. We have a farm a ways out of town.”

“Are you happy there?”

Bo wondered why the man was asking about *him* when it was Daisy’s case. “Sure,” he shrugged. “I mean, I hardly even remember my real mom and dad, I was so little, but I love Uncle Jesse and Luke, and we have fun on the farm.” He cocked his head. “Why?”

“I was just wondering.” The judge gave Jesse a rather interested look. “Hmm.”

He sure said that a lot, Bo thought. “We all just want Daisy to stay in Hazzard,” he said, to get back to the first subject.

“Oh, I can see that.” Finally, the man’s eyes swept back to meet his. He was smiling. “So you want me to just let you have her without the hearing?”

Bo flushed. “Not ‘xactly, sir.”

“But you want me to rule in your favor. Trying to butter me up?”

“No!” he protested, springing up to lean his hands on the desk. “We’re not tryin’ to do anything wrong! We just…” He fought back tears. “Roseanne’s got lawyers to convince and all, but we ain’t got enough money for lawyers. I just wanted you to see our side of it!”

He saw Jesse and Roseanne turn around to look at him when they heard his outburst. He tried to ignore them, but was rapidly feeling foolish. “I guess I’ll just leave you alone,” he said, starting to turn away.

“Oh, it’s all right,” the judge smiled. “I’ll consider what you’ve said.”

“Thanks, I guess,” Bo mumbled, shrugging a little and walking back down the aisle.

“What happened?” Luke wanted to know.

He shrugged, falling onto a pew. “I sorta let it slip, everything about Daisy and the case.”

“Will he help us?” Daisy asked, eyes glowing.

He shrugged again. “I don’t know. He sorta seemed like maybe he would, but sometimes he seemed to be laughing at me.”

“I hope he will,” Enos chimed in.

“We all do,” Luke sighed. “We all do. I guess you did the best you could, Bo.”

Daisy climbed over the back of the pew and sat beside him, putting an arm around him. “Thanks for helping, Bo.”

He smiled, a little, and hugged her back. “Sure. Any time. You’re my cousin.” After a little deliberation, he added, “And my best friend.”

The girl’s eyes shone, and she grinned. “Really?”

“Uh-huh. You and Luke are both my best friends.”

“You’re mine too.”

Bo grinned back at his cousin, then got up to kneel on the seat, turning around to face backwards, toward Luke. “I think we got a chance, Luke. An honest chance!”

Roseanne eyed the children in the corner, wondering what they were plotting. She’d seen the blond boy up with the judge, and hoped he hadn’t managed to poison the man’s mind against her. It would be just the sort of thing a bunch like these might do.

She turned back to Jesse Duke, glaring coldly up at him. “Forget all your complaining and arguing, Mr. Duke. After today, you’ll never see your little niece again.”

Jesse watched her flounce off, and sighed, taking his hat off to rub his head. He too had seen Bo talking to the judge, after he’d seen the kids put their heads together. Hopefully they had a plan. Because right now, he didn’t know what to do. He heard the door open and turned to see Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane come in. The pair made a beeline for Jesse.

“You’re late,” he informed them. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Is that the lady from Atlanta?” Rosco asked, pointing to where Roseanne was speaking to her lawyer.

“I’m afraid so.”

“She looks downright mean!” the sheriff said, drawing himself up and glaring in her direction. “Like, like a regular stone-hearted and stuck-up rich person would.”

“That’s about what she is, Rosco,” Jesse sighed.

“Why, I should go over there an’ give ‘er a piece of my mind!” Rosco declared.

“You stay right here,” Hogg ordered. “You ain’t got a piece of your mind to spare.” The sheriff subsided, still bristling but now at Boss. “When’s the hearing start?”

Jesse shrugged. “As soon as the judge says.”

“Order! To order!” a voice suddenly came from the front, and the three turned to see the judge beckoning them. “Let’s get this over with so I can go fishing,” he smiled. That smile put Jesse a bit more at ease, and he led the march up toward the judge’s desk. The little nameplate there said Sean Carter. “Well?” Carter began even before they had seated themselves. “It seems you have a custody case?” He glanced over some notes on his desk briefly. “Hmm, a Miss Douglas and a Mr. Duke. Who shall speak first?”

“I will, your Honor,” Roseanne stood from her place.

He beckoned. “Come then.”

She came up to the desk and sat where he indicated.

The judge sat back, folding his hands across his lap. “Speak.”

The city woman wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. Trying to gain sympathy, Jesse thought disgustedly. “Your Honor, my name is Roseanne Douglas, and the child in question is my eight-year-old niece, Daisy Mae. She has lived with me for most of her life, and I have given her only the best of everything. I have even had her privately tutored. I have loved her, your Honor.” Her spine stiffened, and she looked over at Jesse. “And then that man, sir, took my beloved little girl away from me. And then when I regained custody, he came and kidnapped her away.”

Jesse leaped to his feet, eyes dark blue flames. “That’s a lie!” he exploded. “An absolute lie! I did nothing of the sort!”

Roseanne turned to Judge Carter beseechingly. “Please, sir, might he be quiet?”

He held up a hand. “No, no, he has a right to say his piece here too.” He nailed Jesse with a hawk-like stare. “What do you have to say?”

He looked at JD, who shrugged, then turned back toward the judge, and cleared his throat, gripping his hat in his hands. He wasn’t sure what to say, but… if he didn’t say the right things, he might lose Daisy forever. So he had to. *Help me, Lord*, he prayed silently, and took a deep breath, clearing his throat.

“Your Honor… I’m not very good at saying things, and maybe I don’t have near as much money as Miss Douglas. But I love all my kids, I daresay more than Miss Douglas here has ever loved Daisy. At least, it certainly seems that way from what I’ve seen her do.” He paused, trying to put his thoughts into words. “I… my boys love her as much as I do, and she’s been truly happy here for the past two months.” He lowered his eyes to study his hat, not meeting anyone’s gaze. “Sir… I know my motivations may, in some ways, be just as selfish as Miss Douglas’. But I ask you to hear me out.”

He paused for several seconds, then continued quietly. “You see, your Honor, my kids mean an awful lot to me. When my wife passed on six years ago, I had nothing left to live for. When Luke’s parents died and he was sent to live with me, it, well, gave me a reason. Then I took in Bo, and now Daisy. We’re a family. A real family, sir. We all love and take care of each other. And we just got attached to Daisy, I don’t know if I could bear to lose her now…”

“Enough!” Roseanne snapped, spinning toward the judge. “Don’t you see how he’s trying to appeal to you?”

He stared her down coldly. “I might say I see the same from you.” As she backed down, he nodded, once. “Thank you, Mr. Duke.” Roseanne and her lawyer were now having an argument over in their corner, and Jesse suspected that the outburst hadn’t helped her case any.

“Thank you, sir,” he said.

Carter nodded. “I have a question. Miss Douglas said you kidnapped her niece away. You said that was not so. What is the true story here?”

Jesse swallowed. But he had to tell the truth. He glanced over at the kids, who were all sitting forward intently. “The truth is, sir, my nephews arranged a sort of… escape for Daisy, with her help. They ran away from home, leaving me scared to death.” He shot the boys a quick stare, and they looked away uncomfortably. “Apparently the kids had it all planned out, and the next day, I found them walking down the highway home.”

The judge chuckled slightly. “I see. So it was the boys’ fault.” He glanced at the back of the church, at the kids. “Well, it’s obvious what they want. I had a nice little talk with Bo earlier.” He nodded toward the blond boy, who slid down in his pew until he was no longer visible. “So… I’ve heard Miss Douglas’ side. I’ve heard your side. I even heard Daisy’s cousins’ side.” He sat back in his chair again, smiling. “But I think I’d like to hear Daisy’s side too.” He beckoned. Come here, child.”

Jesse looked over his shoulder to see a wide-eyed Daisy move reluctantly into the aisle, propelled by Luke’s hand. The girl took one hesitant step forward, then raised her chin and strode proudly up to the judge’s desk.

He smiled down at her. “Well hello, Daisy.”

“Hello, sir,” she replied, still looking bold. Roseanne had the look of an angry porcupine, and Jesse smothered a grin behind one hand.

Carter motioned Daisy to come right up to him, and she did, rubbing her hands on her jeans with what was likely nervousness. The old man and the little girl put their heads together, and then there was a lot of glancing and nodding. Jesse looked again at Roseanne, who now looked like a volcano about to erupt. Finally the judge raised his head, and looked at the adults assembled there.

“Miss Douglas,” he motioned her forward, “I hear good things about you, but also some things which are not so nice. Would you like to explain your actions, such as forbidding the child contact with her family, and denying her any sort of freedoms?”

Roseanne looked nervous, almost afraid, and Jesse almost felt a little sorry for her. “Your Honor, Daisy Mae must learn respect and obedience. I deemed it best to sever her completely from these farm folk because of the bad influence they’ve had on her behavior.”

“From what I hear from people around here,” Carter said with raised eyebrows, “Daisy has also grown stronger and more healthy, and she is certainly happy with her uncle and cousins.”

The city lady hesitated, obviously uncertain what to say. “Your Honor, all I can answer is that I’ve done the best for her, as much as I know how to do.”

“Don’t you think that perhaps the child is better off growing up with others her own age?” the judge pressed, though somewhat gently.

Roseanne’s green eyes flashed. “All I know sir,” she said stiffly, “is that being around others her own age has turned her from a gentle, quiet young lady into a rowdy… tomboy. Which I do not approve of.”

Jesse just had to say something to that. “Roseanne,” he snapped, and all heads turned toward him, “I believe that an eight-year-old child, girl or boy, should not be forced to be a perfect young gentleman or lady. Let the kids be kids! They’ll grow up soon enough!”

“Why don’t you go back to your corn, Mr. Duke,” Roseanne hissed. “What do you know? You cannot afford a tutor, or fine clothes. Who knows what your boys learn in school or how they act?”

Jesse simply stared at her, no longer shouting, but still angry. “Roseanne Douglas, we may not be proper city folk, and we may not even have the best grammar, I know. But we have enough. We don’t have fancy things or cars, but we have a roof that don’t leak, and a fireplace to keep us warm. We have enough food on the table and clothes for our backs, whether they’re occasionally patched or not. And the boys are both A students in school, as is Daisy. I personally help them with their homework. And as for what I’ve taught them, I’ve raised them with respect for true authority and morals straight from the Good Book, but most important, to love each other and take care of each other. Family first, above all.

“And we certainly have fun with how we live.” He stepped forward, slowly. “And we have the most important ingredient for a family, Roseanne. We have love. We have each other and we have the Lord, and that’s all we need.”

There was silence in the room for a few seconds after he finished speaking, and he realized with some surprise that he’d practically given a speech! Then he heard a slow clapping start, and turned to see Rosco grinning, applauding him. It didn’t last long though, as Hogg slapped the sheriff’s hands down and told him to be quiet.

Judge Carter finally sighed, and nodded slowly. “I see. I see.”

“You see what?” Roseanne snapped, stepping forward despite her lawyer’s frantic gestures to shut up and come back. “This is a circus act, your Honor, and he has no call to speak to me in that manner!”

Carter slowly turned his head to fix her with a stare that stopped her dead in her tracks. “Miss Douglas, I believe it is you who is out of line.”

Under that stare, she sat down in the nearest pew, still glaring. “But I protest!”

“Protest noted and denied.” He took a deep breath. “Mr. Duke’s case corresponds with what I have learned from the children. And I do not believe they are lying.” He reached for his gavel, fingering it lightly. “I believe that, between what I’ve heard this morning and what I’ve managed to discover on my own, I am ready to make a decision. Which shall not be revoked or challenged ever again. The guardian of this child will be her guardian until she comes of age.”

Jesse held his breath, praying silently. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Rosco tying his tie in a knot. He glanced back at the kids, and saw the three boys leaning forward, tensed. Roseanne was visibly clenching her jaw.

“Therefore,” the judge said, picking up the gavel and raising it, “I award custody of one Daisy Mae Duke to…” He slowly brought the gavel down, then said after a long pause, “Jesse Duke.”

Roseanne erupted up out of her pew. “You can’t do that!” she shouted. “Do you know who I am?!”

Carter favored her with an icy look. “I just did; and I don’t care who you are. I have made a decision. It cannot be contested.”

“But you have to listen to all the evidence from all sides! This court is a joke! You can’t give Daisy Mae to these people after a less than ten minute hearing!”

The judge rose, eyes flashing. “Should I charge you with contempt of court, madam? I have heard all the evidence I need to, Miss Douglas. My decision is final, and the way you are reacting makes me even more certain that I’ve done the right thing. I would suggest you leave this town before its citizens bring you in here for more criminal concerns.” He nodded toward Jesse in a dignified manner, smiling slightly.

The room was silent for about two seconds, then exploded in a burst of sound and movement. Luke and Bo were suddenly with Daisy, their friend Enos right behind them, and the two boys were hugging each other and their cousin with shouts and gleeful, joyful laughter. Jesse stood back and watched them, smiling in his own quiet joy. He had three kids now.

Roseanne stalked up to the four children. “I will not lose,” she hissed. She gripped Daisy by the arm. “I’m taking my niece with me.”

“But you can’t do that!” Enos said, eyes huge. “The man said…”

“I can do anything I please, young man!” she snapped, cutting him off. “And you and her cousins can’t do anything about it.”

“Oh, yes we can!” Judge Carter snapped back, coming around the desk. He tossed his black robes aside to reveal a somewhat muscular build. “If you do not let go of that girl, Miss Douglas, I will have you arrested!”

The city woman only pulled Daisy closer. “Come on, let’s go!”

“But Miss Douglas…” her lawyer was protesting, walking quickly toward her. “You can’t do that!”

“I can’t lose Daisy Mae!” was her heated answer. “Her cousins will just have to accept that!”

Jesse, Rosco, and Carter all started for her, but the boys were faster. Luke suddenly yelled and drove his fist, hard, into Roseanne Douglas’ stomach. She doubled over, gasping, but still kept a tight hold on Daisy. “Actually, we’re her *brothers* now,” Bo said with a dangerous calm, gripping the wrist that was clenched on Daisy’s shirt. The hold looked tight enough to be painful. “And like Uncle Jesse said, fam’ly’s more important than *anything*.”

The judge looked at Jesse, his face asking the farmer if the boys would really hurt Roseanne if she didn’t let go. Jesse nodded, and Carter’s eyes widened. “Mr. Duke…”

Jesse nodded again and strode forward, putting up a hand to stay his nephews from attacking again. “Boys, back off.”

Luke’s eyes flashed hotly to his, glowing with an almost adult fury. Jesse caught those dark blue eyes and held them, until Luke finally dropped his gaze, muttering, “Let go, Bo.” The blond boy sullenly obeyed, and Carter relaxed visibly, as did the city lawyer.

Jesse spoke into the sudden silence. “This *is* our town, Roseanne. We won this court. Daisy belongs to us. Now, let go of my niece.”

Roseanne looked up from rubbing her wrist to meet his gaze, and he was startled to see a fear there in her eyes, almost a pain too. “She’s my niece too. I’ve taken care of her for five years. I’ve tried to teach her all I know. I’ve done more for her… You have to let me have this child.”

Judge Carter cleared his throat. “Let go of the girl, Miss Douglas, or I’ll have you put away. And I could do it, too.”

Rosco was right behind him. “I’m the sheriff,” he flashed his badge proudly. “And what I say goes ’round here, and I say get out o’ town.”

“I’ll have you locked away if the judge don’t,” Hogg threatened.

“Shall I cuff ‘er?” Rosco asked.

“No, not if she lets go and leaves.” JD’s face hardened. “Right now!!”

Roseanne held her ground, sudden hatred written across her well-bred face. “I could have these farmers locked away instead of me! For assault!”

“Oh, I just see it as protectin’ their family,” Rosco grinned. “Are ya gonna let go, or do you care to sample the jail meals?”

Slowly, her grip loosened. Daisy twisted away, diving behind Bo, Luke, and Enos and staring out with wide eyes. “You bunch of… of hillbillies!” Roseanne sputtered, but no longer with as much conviction. “You can’t do anything to me! I have lawyers, money..!”

“An’ I have a badge,” the sheriff came in again. “Now, are you leavin’?”

“Around here, a man’s family is a fightin’ matter,” Jesse told the woman quietly. “Daisy’s ours now, like she should be. Like she wants to be. So you just get on out of town before I let the boys at you again.” The words were a soft, angry threat. “I’ve had about enough of your insults, Roseanne. I know you were against Marian marrying Henry, and you thought maybe you could turn Daisy into a Douglas instead of a Duke. Well, she wants to stay here, with us. She knows both sides of her heritage now. And she didn’t choose yours.”

Daisy slowly came out from behind Bo, staring up at her aunt. “Aunt Roseanne, I never meant for all this to happen. I love you, or at least I used to. I don’t know if I can anymore, not with the way you treat Uncle Jesse and Luke and Bo. They’re my family, Aunt Roseanne. I *fought* to be accepted, to be a real Duke. And I’ve been happy here.” Her eyes were brimming with tears, Jesse could see. “Why didn’t you just let me stay in Hazzard to begin with? None of this ever would have happened.”

There was silence, then all the fire in Roseanne’s eyes slowly died, and her gaze lowered to the ground. She slowly knelt down in front of Daisy, awkwardly. Luke and Bo, flanking their younger cousin, tensed, but the woman made no threatening moves, only reached out and took Daisy’s hand. “You really fought to join… this family? Why?”

“Because I love it here in Hazzard. I love the farm, and the woods, and the creek. And… and my family will always be there for me, I know that. Especially Uncle Jesse. He’ll always love me.”

Now the tears were in Jesse’s eyes too, as he watched from the side, his hand on Judge Carter’s elbow to keep him out of the conversation. “Really?” he whispered.

The girl turned to look up at him. Her eyes were shining. “Yes. I knew that for a fact the day you came in and held me when I fell in the mud.”

Luke blushed. “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt or nothin’.”

“It’s okay.” She put an arm around him. “I had to learn to survive.” She directed her words to her aunt again. “And once I learned how to play with them, and how to not be a crybaby or too girlish, I had a whole lot of fun!”

All were silent for a moment, then Roseanne slowly raised her head to look up at Daisy. Jesse was shocked to see tears in her eyes. “Daisy… you never told me you were unhappy at the manor before. All I wanted was for you to have the best of everything. To teach you what I knew, to train you the way I thought you should be trained…” Her head bowed again. “Daisy Mae, what have I done?” she whispered, almost inaudibly.

“Well, for one thing,” Luke started, but Daisy clapped a hand over his mouth.

“Shut up, Luke.” She returned her attention to her aunt, tilting her head to try to see the city woman’s face. “Aunt Roseanne, I just wanna be me. I love who I can be in Hazzard. I love my cousins. I love Uncle Jesse.”

Roseanne let out a breath, slowly, a long, drawn-out sigh. “I know, Daisy Mae. I know.” She stood, and put her hand on Daisy’s shoulder. “I… I suppose I was… wrong to take you away.” She met Jesse’s eyes, hers now overflowing with tears. “I’m sorry. I just wanted to do the best for Daisy. I… I care about her.”

Jesse smiled, slowly. “Are you tryin’ to tell me that you’ve finally learned how to love, Roseanne Douglas? And you don’t know how to show it?”

“I suppose.” She took out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. “She’s the only one who ever saw me for just who I am, the only one who wasn’t really afraid of me. She… she used to trust me. And now, in trying to regain that, I’ve lost it all. I’ve lost Daisy forever…” She finally trailed off, looking only at the floor. “I’ve always had my prejudices against your kind; the poor working class, I saw you. In truth, perhaps… you may actually be a better class of people than my own.”

Jesse nodded, slowly, as he put an arm around his young niece. “I suppose you ain’t the only one with prejudices against another class of folk. I never liked your kind, neither. Roseanne… the Lord said forgive and you shall be forgiven. I’m willin’ to forgive… if you are.”

Everyone else there stood back in shocked surprise as the heads of the two feuding families finally stood together without angry words. Roseanne Douglas and Jesse Duke slowly smiled at each other, and Jesse stepped forward one step, holding out one hand. Rosanne stared at the offering, then reached her own well-manicured hand to meet his rough one. Hesitantly, they embraced, like members of a divided family now coming together again. Tears were in the eyes of both as old enemies finally made their peace.

Daisy looked up at the two adults with surprised, wide eyes, then slowly smiled. She looked at Bo and Luke, on either side of her, and the smile widened into a country grin. She gripped one of her cousins’ hands in each of hers, and they glanced back at her. Joy was bubbling up inside her; she had all of her family now!

Roseanne and Jesse looked down at the kids together, and the city lady reached out to take Daisy into a hug, then looked at the boys, and shook their hands, smiling uncertainly. “You were very brave to come rescue your cousin like that,” she told them. “Maybe you children… have been the end of a feud that has lasted for generations. I suppose I have to thank you.”

Bo stared up at her with shocked eyes. “Hon… honest?” he stammered. “You’re not gonna try and take Daisy away anymore?”

“No,” she sighed. “I won’t. Maybe your uncle’s right, maybe I don’t know how to love.” She backed off, picking up her purse. “I understand that you’ll probably never want me around… I suppose I’ll leave now.”

“No, Roseanne,” Jesse interposed, putting a hand on her arm. “You do love Daisy, I know that, and you’re always welcome at the farm.”

Slowly, the city woman smiled, wiping more tears out of her eyes. “Thank you. Thank you so much for forgiving me. After all I’ve done… All I’ve said… How can you?”

Jesse moved his hand to her shoulder, smiling kindly. “Let’s forget about the past, eh? What about lunch? Ellie down at the cafe serves a great tuna casserole and homemade ice cream.”

“Certainly… sure,” Roseanne answered, with a twinkle in her eyes, and what was probably the first non-proper word she’d ever used in her life.

All fighting was apparently forgotten by the three Duke kids and Enos, who all leaped for the door with shouts of “Race ya!”, “No way!”, “I get first dig in the ice cream!”, and, from Enos, “Hey! Wait up!”

The two adults followed in their wake, leaving Roseanne’s shark-faced lawyer, JD Hogg, and Rosco all standing with mouths hanging wide open. The only one left behind who was not doing an impersonation of a fish was Judge Carter, who was smiling and nodding to himself. Quite an unusual case. But definitely a happy ending. He shrugged a little, then turned to go back toward the office, whistling quietly to himself.

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