by: Sarah Stodola
Roseanne Douglas stood in her niece’s bedroom, fuming. When she had come in, the window had been open and Daisy Mae gone. Roseanne didn’t know how the girl had managed to escape from the window, but apparently she had, somehow. And there was no indication as to when, just that it had been the middle of the night. She hadn’t been discovered, hurt or otherwise, anywhere on the premises. Roseanne now had men out combing the surrounding area for any signs of a young runaway.
And she wasn’t sure what Daisy would have worn, either. She’d found her dress in a heap on the bathroom floor. All that expensive material, left in a heap! The child had no sense of respect for fine things!
She turned at the inquiring voice, eyes snapping, to see one of the gardeners. “What is it?”
“We discovered how the child escaped, ma’am.” He held out a slender piece of rope, and Roseanne took it, studying it. It was made of semi-soft cotton, easy on the hands. “It was tied to this.” He held out a long slender arrow next. “The arrow was imbedded deeply into one of the third-story windowsills. I had quite a bit of trouble swinging hard enough on the rope to free it.” He paused. “But, ma’am, it was several rooms over. I don’t see how she and whoever helped her could have gotten to or from that rope to this room.”
“Somehow they did.” Then Roseanne looked back up, her eyes hardening suddenly. “Whoever helped her?”
The young man shifted nervously. “Yes, ma’am. The angle the arrow was at indicated it was fired from near the swimming pool. And you know that the child had no archery equipment or training, even if she could have fired from this angle. Which she couldn’t have.”
“Help…” she mused over this, her hands tightening on the piece of rope. “She had help.” Then she suddenly nodded. “I know where she is.”
“You do, ma’am?”
“Yes, I do.” She brushed past him as she stalked out the door, and heard him run up behind her as she strode down the hall. “Only the Dukes would go to the trouble of breaking her out, even if they didn’t care that they committed an illegal act by breaking in. Which they probably don’t,” her lip twisted a little, but in a ladylike way, a look of disdain. “And I’m sure that people who are so poor they have to very likely hunt for their dinner would know how to fire a bow and arrow, with enough accuracy to catch and hold into a windowsill. Besides, only a child, like one of those boys, would be small enough to fit along that ledge.”
She was down the stairs now, and slapped her hand over a buzzer on the wall. When the maid ran in, she said in a clipped, businesslike tone of voice, “Tell the chauffeur to bring the car around to the front.” She picked up her soft gloves, smiling triumphantly. “We’re going on a little hunt.”
“Beg pardon, ma’am?” the maid asked.
Roseanne turned and strode out of the room, toward the front door. “A little fox hunt, Justine.” She smiled tightly as she said, “We’re going to run some pests to earth.”
The Dukes had headed back to the farm for some food, then gone into town, because Jesse had wanted to talk to JD again. So, he was in Hogg’s office, and the three kids were playing tag in the street with their friends Enos, Jerry, and Gregory.
The five boys and one girl were running and laughing, shrieking as they chased each other. Here, where everything felt safe and normal again, it was almost as though the last, horrible week hadn’t even happened, that Daisy had never left the farm.
Until the long black limousine pulled up in front of the police station. Enos was the first to notice it. He pointed, frowning. “Who’d’ya think would drive that thing?”
“Hunh?” Luke turned around, slightly curious, then froze. Oh no! He spun and ran for where Daisy and Bo were standing together in the center of the town green, both clinging to the tree that had been pronounced safe. Without saying anything, he tackled both his cousins, knocking them behind a bush, then rolled down to join them.
Bo was scowling. “What’d you do that for?!”
“Shh!” the older boy warned. He pointed through the leaves to the limousine. “Guess who’d be drivin’ a car like that in Hazzard?”
Daisy paled noticeably. “Aunt Roseanne,” she whispered.
Bo put an arm around her shoulders as the three lay as still as they could beneath the bush. “She can’t take you away again,” the blond boy promised, his dark blue eyes glowing almost dangerously.
“We won’t let her,” Luke agreed. “Even if we gotta run away again.”
“Thanks,” she whispered back, laying her head against Luke’s shoulder for reassurance. He shifted position to put an arm around her, crossing over Bo’s. Surrounding and defending her, the two boys waited with held breaths as a chauffeur got out and opened the limo’s rear door. A tall, nicely-dressed woman stepped out and looked around her with narrowed eyes. Luke hoped that she hadn’t seen them.
“Is that your aunt?”
Daisy nodded in response to Bo’s question. “Yes…”
“I know you’re here somewhere,” the woman called quietly, but loud enough for the hiding cousins to hear. “I saw you as we came in. And I’ll find you.”
Luke watched as Enos ran up to the lady, squinting up. “Who’re you talking to?”
She looked down, and smiled. “Well, hello there. Tell me, who was that pretty little girl you were playing with?”
Enos frowned. “Daisy? Why?”
Roseanne’s hand shot out like a rattlesnake, gripping the dark-haired boy by the upper arm. “Where is she?”
He squirmed, trying to get free. “I can’t tell you! Why d’ya wanna know?!”
“I’m her aunt,” she told him, suddenly smiling in a friendly sort of way and releasing his arm. “And I’d like very much to talk to her.”
Enos’ eyes widened, and he stepped away. “You’ll never get Daisy!” he yelled, then turned to run for the green.
“Oh please, Enos, don’t come over here,” Luke groaned, but the smaller boy was coming anyway.
“Guys, it’s Daisy’s aunt!” he shouted in warning. People walking down the street turned heads curiously to see what was going on.
“Great!” Bo snapped, springing to his feet. “Luke, get Daisy outta here. I’ve got a score to settle!”
“Wait..!” Luke tried to stop him, but the younger boy was already up and running. He groaned again, shaking his head, and leapt up, pulling Daisy with him. “Come on!” On the other side of the slight hill, they were met by Enos. “What didja do that for?!”
“Just tryin’ to warn ya,” Enos told them, though his dark eyes widened as he realized that he’d drawn Roseanne’s attention to them. “Oh, I’m sorry!”
Luke pointed back the way they’d come. “At least help Bo!”
“Okay Luke!” Enos spun and ran back the way he’d come.
Luke and Daisy made tracks for the hills — specifically, for the ladder up the side of the general store, leading to the roof. Maybe they could hide up there.
Roseanne saw the boy and girl run, and started after them. Then suddenly a small boy stood in her way, fists on his hips, glaring up at her with a dangerous glint to his eyes that almost seemed too mature for someone so young. Those eyes were dark blue, just like Daisy’s, she thought. “What do you want my cousin for?”
She raised an eyebrow. “Your cousin? You’re one of Daisy’s cousins? Tell me, are you the intrepid archer?” she smirked. “That was quite a runaway you planned.”
“Thank you, but it was more of an escape,” the boy said calmly, now crossing his arms over his chest. “Though I didn’t actually do it.”
Roseanne looked this impudent child up and down, amazed at his sheer gall. How dare he speak to an adult this way? Any adult? And especially one of higher rank than he! He was a scruffy-looking kid, she thought, with his too-large western-style shirt that had the sleeves rolled up, and dirty jeans with a hole in one knee. His blond hair was falling down into his eyes, almost to the point of shaggy, and looked like it didn’t even know what a comb was.
“Tell me, young man,” she said just as calmly as he, but with an icy edge creeping into her tone, “are you in the habit of sassing your elders?”
He suddenly grinned, but with little mirth. “Depends. You wanna take Daisy away. We’re not gonna let you.”
“Oh really?” She reached out and grabbed his arm, pulling the lightweight boy slightly off his feet. “How do you propose to stop me?”
He just looked her in the eye, his eyes narrowing, then glanced down and kicked her in the shin. Roseanne let go instantly, gasping, tears of pain coming to her eyes. The boy just backed off a bit and stood there, then suddenly took off up the sidewalk, running fast. She started after him, but the same dark-haired boy she’d spoken to earlier suddenly jumped into her path, blocking her way. He stumbled sideways, probably trying to get out of the way, but somehow managed to get tangled up with her purse, and by the time he got himself free and ran off, the blond boy had disappeared into the police building.
Roseanne Douglas narrowed her own eyes and stalked past her chauffeur, who was standing there with a helpless expression on his face. “Much help you are,” she snapped, then climbed the steps to the police station in that young assassin’s wake, determined to get her Daisy back once and for all.
Jesse was startled when Bo burst into JD Hogg’s office, eyes wide. “Uncle Jesse!” he panted, obviously recovering from running. “Uncle Jesse, Daisy’s aunt’s here! She says she’s gonna take her away again!”
“Where’s Daisy now?” his uncle instantly asked, worried.
“She and Luke got away.”
“Okay then.” Jesse stood from his chair, pulling himself to his full height. “She wants Daisy? She’ll have to get past me first.”
“And me,” Hogg nodded, with the first inclination to put himself out for anybody else that Jesse’d ever seen. “She’ll learn that she can’t run over us country folk just because she’s rich.”
Jesse noticed that the white-suited man didn’t mention the fact that he was rich, and could help if he wanted. “Why don’t you get out from behind that desk and do something then, JD!” the farmer snapped. “You say you want to help, well then help!”
“I’m comin’, I’m comin’.” The county commissioner stood up, just as the door was flung open once again.
Roseanne Douglas stood there, as neat and proper as ever, her green eyes blazing. She stared at Bo, then looked Jesse straight in the eye. “Your boy there kicked me,” she said quietly.
He grinned. “Well, good for him!”
“Good?!” She slammed the door behind her. “You mean you encourage your children to attack strangers in the streets? Now I see I must really take Daisy away from your influence!”
“You ain’t gonna,” Bo put in.
She narrowed her eyes at him. He narrowed right back. “Leave, young man, if you know what’s good for you.”
“I ain’t afraid of you.”
Jesse held up a quieting hand. “Perhaps the lady’s right, Bo,” he said slowly, still holding Roseanne’s gaze. “Go find Luke and Daisy, and you three go to the church. I’ll meet you there later. This is an adult matter.”
For a moment, he thought Bo was going to defy him, but then the blond boy bent his head and nodded. “Okay, Uncle Jesse.” He went out the door, making as much of a detour away from Roseanne as possible.
“At least he listens to *you*,” the city-bred woman sniffed. “Why haven’t you raised him with any respect for authority?”
Jesse stared at her calmly. “I’ve raised all my children with respect for authority, Roseanne. But family comes first, and yes, he will fight to protect his cousin.”
“I will never understand you country bumpkins’ sense of right and wrong!” she hissed.
Hogg stepped out from behind his desk. “Now wait just a minute! Did I just hear you call us country bumpkins?”
“That’s precisely what you are,” she told the commissioner coldly. “A pack of mountain-dwelling, poor, outlaws and moonshine runners who farm and hunt for their own food because they don’t have enough money to buy it.”
Jesse’s jaw tightened. “Those’re mighty strong words, Roseanne.”
“And I mean every one of them!” she declared. “Now where’s my niece, so I can get out of this little one-horse town for good.”
“Wait a minute!” Hogg repeated, coming up to her. “This is our home, and we’re proud of it.”
“Well, *you* can be proud of it. *I* want out of it, as soon as possible. Where’s Daisy?” she directed her speech back to Jesse.
“Why do you think I’d just go and give her back to you, especially after she and the boys went to so much trouble to get her away?” he demanded.
Her eyes flashed fire. “You probably approved that criminal scheme, as well!”
“No,” he shook his head, “I didn’t know about it, and wouldn’t have let them go if I had. But now that Daisy’s back here, where she so obviously wants to be, why would I make her leave?”
“Because I say so!”
Jesse drew himself up, eyes glowing dangerously. “Just because you have more money than folks like us don’t mean we have to obey you like we’re servants.”
“Won’t you even discipline your children for what they did?” she demanded. “It might as well have been kidnapping!”
He gazed thoughtfully at this city woman, seeing that she would stomp on anyone and everyone in her path to get to the goal she desired. “I was thinkin’ on it, but now that I see what kind of a person you really are, Roseanne Douglas, I think the boys did the right thing by rescuing their cousin.”
“So you can just get out of town,” Hogg broke in, scowling.
She smiled, coldly. “Oh, hardly. I’ve come for my niece, and I’m going to get her.”
Jesse’s eyes narrowed, just slightly. “No, you are not,” he said quietly, enunciating each word. She’s a Duke, and her father wanted her to stay with me when her mother died.”
“But I could offer her so much more. You know who would win a hearing for the child. I have more money, more resources, more connections.” Her eyes were icily confident now.
“Money ain’t everything, Roseanne,” Jesse said quietly. “A child needs love more than any amount of toys or fancy clothes. And would you give her that love? Would you hold her when she didn’t feel well, would you clean up scraped knees and fix broken toys?”
Roseanne’s mouth went down at the corners. “You can’t even speak properly! *Ain’t*, indeed! And why should I mend broken toys, when I could so easily buy her new ones? Mending is for poor people. Besides which, she wouldn’t break anything or scrape any knees under my care in the first place. She’d be completely safeguarded, kept from all harm and disaster.”
“But would she be happy that way?” Jesse pressed angrily. “Kids need some risks in life. Believe me, she’s happier climbing trees and playing softball, even if she does get hurt once in a while, than sitting indoors learning to play piano so that she can impress your snooty guests.”
Roseanne’s eyes hardened. “That is hardly the question here.”
“It should be.”
“Look, look,” Hogg interrupted, coming between the combatants. “This is a legal matter, ain’t it?”
“Yes,” Roseanne snapped.
Jesse frowned. “I suppose so, but…”
“Then why don’t we just solve it that way?” The commissioner crossed the room to the door and took down his hat from the coat stand. “The circuit judge is in town this week; why don’t we ask him what the court decision is?”
“Now you are making sense! Where is he, if you don’t have a courthouse?”
“At the church. It’s where all the town and legal meetings are held,” Hogg informed her.
Jesse looked over at his old buddy. “Well, JD,” he said reluctantly, “if it’s the only way to keep Daisy…” He picked up his hat from his friend’s desk. “Then let’s go talk to this judge.”