Hi, this follows on from my July challenge.
Heyes and Jed lay in the back of the cart, not daring to move in case. As they felt the cart turn the corner away from the front entrance of Valparaiso, they began to relax.
“Heyes, who is this man?” Jed whispered.
“I don’t know.”
“How do we know we can trust him?”
“We don’t. But he ain’t taking us back that’s for sure. We’re going in a different direction.”
Even so, Jed could feel Heyes' worry.
“Where d’you think we’re going?”
“How the hell do I know?” Anxiety caused him to snap. Then he patted Jed’s arm to reassure him. “He got us away, Jed. Let’s see what happens when we stop. If we don’t trust it we’re away. Okay?”
Heyes felt Jed nod. “Okay Heyes.”
They lay under the sacking in silence, listening to the rhythmic clip clop of the trotting horse. It had slowed now from when it had first took flight, settling into a more steady progress.
“How’s the ankle?” Heyes asked.
“Hurts like blazes,” Jed sighed. “I’m sorry Heyes. I shoulda listening to ya in the first place. Thanks for coming back for me.”
Heyes patted his arm. “We’re partners Jed. That’s what partners do.”
They drove for what seemed like hours. Heyes struggled to stay awake, jerking every now and then when he drifted off. Beside him, although the rhythmic sway of the cart was luring him, Jed’s ankle hurt too much to let him sleep.
Both boys came to full alertness when the cart slowed and turned. Heyes risked a glance from under the sacking. They had turned into a small yard. The cart circled and came to a complete stop. Heyes could see a modest house in front of him. A stable and barn stood to either side at right angles. A high wall surrounded the whole yard. What was this place? It didn’t look any more appealing than Valparaiso. Briefly, Heyes considered getting out fast and making a run for it. He soon dismissed the notion. His hip ached and Jed’s ankle was a concern. No, their only real choice was to await and see what was to come.
The moon was up and Jed caught sight of Heyes’ worried face before he dropped the sacking back in place. If Heyes worried, should he worry as well? The cart rocked as the driver get out and they heard his footsteps walk round to the back. Even though they were expecting it, both boys gasped when the sacking flew back.
“We’re here boys. Out ya get.”
The man’s voice was gruff but kind.
“I won’t hurt ya boys if’n that’s what ya thinking. Reckon ya’ve had enough in that damm place. Come on. There’s food and a place to sleep inside. Take a look at that ankle of the young’un’s too while I’m about it.”
The man stepped back and beckoned them out.
Heyes and Jed swapped glances. What choice did they have? Jed widened his eyes in unspoken question. Heyes shrugged and moved. He jumped down, wincing as his feet jolted on the ground.
“Ya hurt too boy?” the man asked, starting to move towards him but thought better of it.
“Naw! A little stiff from being in this here cart.” Heyes stretched to ease his back.
The man gave a short laugh. “Yeah ain’t the most comfortable mode of transport. Let’s get ya friend out …” The man reached forward but Heyes blocked him.
“I’ll help him mister.”
The man stepped back and raised his hands.
“Whatever ya say young fella.”
With Jed was out and Heyes’ arm around him, they followed the man slowly to the house. The man stood at the open door and looked back when the boys stopped. They looked nervously up at the house.
“Hey, I knows ya scared,” the man said. “An’ ya don’t trust me right? Can’t blame you. I’d be suspicious of a new body if’n I’d been in that place more’n five minutes.”
“Mister we sure do thank you for coming along right when you did,” Heyes said, with more confidence than he felt. “But I don’t reckon we can take up anymore of your goodwill. We’ll jus’ be getting along now.”
Heyes started to turn Jed away.
“D’ya think I’da gone to all this trouble if’n I was gonna hurt ya? Why they’d arrest me for kidnapping! An’ for a man of my colour that don’t sit too well with some folks. Especially if’n its white kids involved.”
For the first time, Heyes and Jed saw their saviour was black. It took them by surprise. The man mistook their wide eyes and sighed.
“Aw! Guess I’m used to that look by now.” He scanned away for a moment and then back at the two boys, neither standing straight.
“Heyes is it? Strikes me ya friend is hurting some. Ya don’t look in too better shape neither. Wouldn’t be a good friend to him if ya don’t rest up some. There’s food here and place to sleep for the night. You can be on ya way in the morning if ya want. I won’t stop ya.”
The man turned and went inside, leaving the door open.
Heyes couldn’t decide. He hurt and Jed was leaning most of his weight on him. They weren’t going to get far if they refused this help. Could they trust this man? Heyes swallowed and licked his lips. His decision to trust this man earlier had turned out well. They were miles away from Valparaiso now. Should they trust him again?
Heyes looked at Jed. The other boy looked a lot younger than his thirteen years and he was clearly in pain. Heyes swallowed again and nodded. The stress of the desperate flight had exhausted him too.
“Okay,” he sighed. “Be on your guard.”
Jed smiled and nodded.
The boys entered the house as the man finished lighting the lamps. He smiled as he turned and saw them standing in the doorway.
“Come in. Come in. Sit yaselves down.” He pulled out two chairs from the central table.
Heyes deposited Jed on the nearest. He started as the man moved behind him, closing the door. The man inclined his head and nodded.
“I’ll leave it open ‘till we get to know each other a little better.” He opened the door fully again.
Heyes nodded and went to the other chair. He dragged it nearer to Jed and put a reassuring hand on the younger boy’s arm. Together they looked at the strange man who had suddenly become a big part of their lives.
He was in his middle years, his curly hair flecked with grey. He was broad shouldered and muscular. His lined face told of a hard life. He stood now hands on hips, regarding them, his dark eyes thoughtful. His powerful presence intimidated the boys. Both wondered if this was a good idea. The man saw the looks passing between the boys and he chuckled. A deep throated and joyous guffaw.
“Names Jericho Crowther,” he said, sticking out a hand in Heyes’ direction. “An’ believe me I ain’t your enemy.”
“Heyes,” said that one, eyeing the hand and then taking it. He prepared himself for a bone-crushing grip as the man encased his own smaller hand. Heyes flashed a brief smile, when that didn’t happen. The hand moved to Jed.
Jed glanced at Heyes. Seeing no harm came to him shook the offered hand.
“Well now Heyes and Jed, I’m right pleased to meet ya. How ‘bout me looking at that ankle of yours? Then, I’ll fix us up a veritable feast. All this rescuing has stirred me up an appetite.”
An hour later, the boys were demolishing plates laden with sausage, beans, chipped potatoes, and tomatoes. Together with a big hunk of bread smothered in creamy butter. All washed down with large glasses of milk. .
Heavy strapping on his ankle, Jed’s leg now rested on a stool at the side of the table.
Jericho was content to attend to his own meal. The speed with which the food was disappearing told of a long established hunger. Must be the first proper meal these boys had eaten in a long while. He kept his eyes down, not wanting to unsettle their fragile alliance. The elder boy, the dark haired one, was suspicious. Not a bad thing, mind.
Heyes took a long pull of his milk, some rolling down his chin in his hurry to drink. He put the glass down deliberately, looked at it for a moment, before turning his attention to Jericho.
“Why’d you rescue us Jericho?”
Jericho detected that it wasn’t just a polite enquiry. The boy was watchful, trying to sus him out. Behind the dark eyes was an intelligent brain, trying to make sense of the night’s events.
Jericho scratching his cheek. He had to tell the boys something to explain why he was where he was at that moment.
“I’ve got a nephew in there,” he said, holding his hand out for Heyes’ plate.
“There ain’t no …” Jed started, his mouth full of bread. He saw the look Heyes gave him and stopped.
“Ain’t no what Jed?” Jericho growled.
Jed reddened and dropped his eyes. “No black kids in there,” he mumbled.
Jericho sighed, stacking the boys’ plates on top of his own. “He ain’t black.” They looked at him in surprise. “Leastways his mother was light skinned and his father white. He passes.” He shrugged. “But he’s my nephew sure enough. I came home from the War an’ found his mother dead. His pa got it at Shiloh. I’m all the kin that boy has left. Problem is, those folks at Valparaiso take one look at me an’ they won’t even let me see him. But I knows he’s in there.”
A look passed between Heyes and Jed. A familiar story, not unlike their own. Both shifted uncomfortably. Jericho looked so sad they knew it to be true.
“What’s his name? Might know him,” Heyes asked, finally.
“Hubert Rawlins. ‘Bout your age I reckon.” He nodded at Jed. “Blond, blue eyed, wears eye glasses. Has a stutter. D’you know him?”
Heyes and Jed looked at one another. By unspoken agreement, Jed answered.
“Sounds like Herbie, don’t it Heyes?”
“Y’know him? Is he alright?”
“Yeah as alright as any kid in that place can be. Good kid. Keeps himself to himself. Don’t cause no trouble.” Heyes said. “There are others who do that.” Heyes grinned, dimples proud.
Jericho gave a deep chortle and his eyes sparkled in Heyes’ direction. The boy looked back, their understanding firming up.
“You didn’t answer my question. Why’d you rescue us?”
“Waal I’ve tried to see Hubert through official channels. That didn’t get me nowhere. So ….” He paused. “Figgered if that place is as bad as I’d heard, then some kids might try an’ escape at night. They do on occasion. One of ‘em might be my Hubert. So I sits out there two or three nights a week an’ wait. I saw ya two running and darn near making it. I couldn’t let ya get that close and not help. ‘Specially when I saw the young’un was hurt.”
Jericho shrugged. “Took pity on ya I guess. Right foolish of me. The authorities know I sit there. Gonna get into real trouble.”
A moment of silence. Another look passed between the boys.
“Are they likely to come knocking?” Heyes swallowed, looking at the door, expecting it to fly open. Thinking all the time about where they were and who was with them.
Jericho pursed his lips, considering. Then he shook his head. “Not for a while. Gotta find me first. I moves about. Keep ‘em guessing. But they’ve warned me to stay away. Don’t want my kind hangin’ around y’see.” Jericho scrapped back his chair and stood up, hands on the plates. “But I gotta be there. Jus’ in case. For Hubert.”
He moved off to the sink.
Heyes frowned. Jed pulled the hunk of bread in his hands to pieces. Finally, Heyes took a deep breath and turned in his chair.
“Mr Crowther, Herbie’s okay. He knows how to survive. He don’t get beaten … like some of us. No snitch either!” Heyes was adamant. “Guess he’s jus’ biding his time. Trying to survive best he can.”
Jericho turned and smiled. “Thanks Heyes. That’s good to hear.”
“Talks ‘bout his uncle sometimes,” Jed said, quietly. The hunk of bread now crumbs. “Don’t mention ya by name but he does talk about ya.”
Jericho, tears in his eyes, didn’t trust himself to speak. He nodded and turned back to the sink.
A little while later, the boys lay together in a big comfortable bed. So nice to feel clean sheets and the warmth of blankets. Although tired, neither could sleep. Both going over the events of the evening.
“We were lucky Heyes,” Jed said.
“Yep.” Heyes agreed and then knowing what was going through the younger boy’s mind. “Don’t dwell on it Jed. We made it. We’re out.” Heyes threw an arm over his head. “Luck of the draw I suppose but I can’t believe we made it.”
Jed turned his head and smiled ruefully at Heyes. “Don’t dwell on it Heyes.”
Heyes grinned back and patted Jed’s leg. “Why’d you … why’d you tell Jericho Herbie talks ‘bout his uncle? I’ve never heard him.”
Jed didn’t answer for a moment.
“So that he don’t give up,” he said, finally.
“Herbie won’t try an’ escape you know that.”
“Nope but haven’t you forgotten something? Others will an’ Jericho might jus’ be out there to rescue ‘em. Jus’ like he did us tonight.”
“Yeah,” Heyes agreed.
The boys lay in silence but both still awake.
“Where are we going now Heyes?”
Heyes took a deep breath. That conversation could wait until the morning.
“Right now? What d’you say to the Land of Nod?”
Jed laughed. “Yeah. Okay Heyes, we’ll talk ‘bout it in the morning.” He turned over away from his cousin. “’Night Heyes.”
Heyes was running. They were getting closer. He had to get away. There were three. No four of them. They had him cornered. He skidded to a halt. He stood clenching and unclenching his fists. He was handy in a fight but he wasn’t sure he could take four of them. He swallowed and looked behind him. Two members of staff approached, both with sticks, one was slapping it into the palm of his hand. He looked back at the four boys, willing them to take his side. But no. His heart sank. They walked towards him as well. Trapped. He steeled himself for was coming.
Hands grabbed his shoulder. He felt the first blow of the stick on his calves, knocking him to the floor. Then more blows and kicks. He heard a scream …
Someone called his name and shook him. He couldn’t see. Was it dark? Or something else. He panicked, thrashing about trying to get away.
A light appeared by his side. A shadow of a man leaned over him. Heyes shrank back.
“Heyes, it’s okay.” The voice came from the other side of him. It sounded familiar. “Heyes, it’s Jed. You’re okay.”
Heyes stared upwards, breathing heavily, drenched in sweat.
He put a hand to his forehead and found a cool cloth there. “Wha’?”
“He often have nightmares?” an unfamiliar voice asked to his right.
“Sometimes,” said the voice called Jed.
“Easy young fella. You’re safe now. Nobody here is gonna hurt ya.” The unfamiliar voice was soothing.
Heyes turned his head towards it. He couldn’t focus on the face and he gasped. Slowly it coalesced into Jericho. Heyes blinked and gave a shuttering gasp of relief.
“Heyes, ya okay?”
Heyes turned his head the other way and could make out Jed. “Yeah.” He smiled faintly. “Yeah I’m fine.” He put his hand to his forehead again. “Sheesh!” His breathing returning to normal now. He nodded, trying to reassure them both and himself that he was okay. The nightmare still haunted him but it was receding.
“Gave me a bit of a scare young Heyes, crying out like that. I thought ya were being murdered.”
“I was,” Heyes breathed. “Sheesh!” He struggled onto his elbows. Jericho caught the wet cloth as it dropped from his forehead. Heyes groaned. “Gonna be sick!” He scrambled to sit up and threw his legs over the side of the bed.
Jericho snatched up the chamber pot and thrust it into Heyes’ hands onto his knees. Not a moment too soon. Heyes wretched. This was embarrassing. Jed rubbed his shoulder.
“It’s okay, Heyes. Better out than in.”
Heyes grunted. “Hope you don’t think this is a verdict on your cooking Jericho ‘cos …” Again.
Jericho chuckled. “No offense taken, young Heyes. Finished?”
Heyes raised his head and nodded. “Yeah.”
Jericho handed him the cloth from earlier for wiping his mouth and patted him on the shoulder.
“I’m fine,” Heyes reassured him. “Sorry I woke you.”
“Ah, ‘bout time to get up anyways. You two get back to bed. Get ya heads down for a ‘nother few hours. There’s no rush. After the night you’ve had I reckon ya could do with the sleep.”
Jericho glanced at Jed. He would leave Heyes to his care. Jericho left taking the chamber pot with him.
After he’d gone Heyes leaned forward on his elbows and cradled his head.
“You okay Heyes?”
“Yeah,” Heyes sighed, looking round with a weak smile. “I’m fine now, Jed. Coulda done without that.”
“Let’s get some more sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
Heyes settled on his back. Jed turned over and was soon asleep. Heyes lay staring at the ceiling now slowing becoming visible in the dawn light.
“Yeah. Big day indeed.”
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname