Posts : 834
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 45
|Subject: Re: Jedediah Mon May 26, 2014 6:44 pm|| |
“Nice day, huh, Kid?”
“Oh, come on, it’ll more than do – it’s beautiful!” Hannibal Heyes enthused, sweeping an arm toward the landscape. “It’s sunny, not a cloud in the sky, not too hot, not too cold – just right. That little girl with the three bears would’ve loved it.”
Jed “Kid” Curry glanced sideways at his partner. “Like I said, Heyes, it’ll do.”
“Ah, you have to get your mind back on more pleasant things. Can’t be in a bad mood all day.”
Curry stared straight ahead. “I ain’t in a bad mood.”
Heyes’ brow furrowed. “Then what would you call it?”
“Like I already told ya, a feelin’.”
“A feeling? You keep repeating that.”
Curry sighed. “You’d think your back would be up if I’m worried about somethin’.”
“Nah, it’s been a nice, long, quiet spell. No one’s bothered us, and we ain’t been recognized. I’m just going to enjoy it.”
“Fine. You’re gettin’ complacent.”
“Big word! Just goes to show you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Hang around me long enough and you can rub shoulders with the great minds of the world!”
“Say whatever you want, Heyes. You’re still gettin’ complacent.”
“Nah. Just sitting back and letting you do the worrying. We’re safer when you do. But all work and no play …” Heyes chuckled.
Kid Curry glanced at his partner. “Yeah, I know.” He spurred his horse and galloped ahead.
A cloud of dust greeted Hannibal Heyes. “Hey!” He likewise urged his mount to a faster pace. In a few seconds, he caught up with Curry. “What was that all about?”
Blue eyes twinkled, accompanied by a hearty laugh. “Heyes, if you want to act like a tourist and be caught short when the posse shows up, be my guest. I’m gettin’ a move on.”
Suddenly, shots rang out. The partners spurred their horses on as bullets whistled past.
“Argh!” Kid Curry slumped forward into his mount’s neck, dropping the reins.
Without missing a beat and at full gallop, Heyes reached out his left arm and somehow, impossibly, grabbed the loose reins, expertly winding them around his hand. Curry held on to the pommel horn and his horse’s mane for dear life, his knees digging into his steed’s sweat-soaked sides.
The two continued at a punishing pace, their mounts seeming to fly across the piedmont. Having put ground between them and the unseen posse, Heyes directed them to a stream. Guiding the horses into the creek, he slowed to a walk. The animals stepped carefully amongst the pebbles and river rocks visible in the creek bed as they began to ascend, the downstream-rushing water playing against struggling hooves.
Brow knit in concentration, Heyes glanced inquiringly at his partner.
The wounded man smiled tautly, but wanly, in reply. Taking advantage of the slower pace, fists red from holding tight, he wrapped both arms around his steed’s neck, resting in turn. The horse reacted slightly, shaking its head. Curry soothed the animal with a quick petting before returning his gaze to his surroundings.
With his partner’s movement, Heyes cringed as he noticed a dark red stain the size of a fist spreading across Curry’s upper left arm, brightly splayed against the white shirt. “Hold on, Kid.”
"You okay? Kid?”
Hannibal Heyes trained concerned brown eyes on his partner. Curry sat slumped in the saddle. The large stain of dark red now streaked down his left arm from his shoulder, reaching to the crook of his elbow. “We need to get you to a doc, but I’m not sure if we can chance a town just yet. We’ll need to pick up supplies soon, though.” Heyes paused. “And get you a new shirt. We might’ve lost that posse for now, but no telling how long they’ll keep at it.”
Curry sighed, a tight smile not quite belying a grimace. “Told ya already, it’s just a scratch. I’ll be fine.”
“I’ve heard that before.” Heyes rolled his eyes. “Okay, let’s look for a decent spot to camp, and I’ll see to that wound. We’ll do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
Having climbed for several hours, they found themselves riding through lush mountain meadows surrounded by copses of pine and oak.
Heyes stopped at a particularly thick stand of trees, craning his neck to get a better look. “Dang!”
The dark-haired man frowned. “Good cover here, but no water. We’ll have to keep going.”
“’Kay,” Curry choked out, his right hand suddenly grasping his left arm. “Argh!”
Heyes smirked. “Just a scratch, huh?”
A groan. “Yeah, a big scratch.”
Heyes’ brow lifted. “Uh huh. Let’s go.”
The pair rode on through a thick woods, one slouched in the saddle, the other ever alert. The sounds of nature accompanied them. Heyes paid no mind to the call of a bird or the early hoot of an owl, but glanced helplessly at the pained sigh of the wounded man. The sound of rushing water distracted him.
“Whoa!” Men and beasts alike perked up.
The animals stepped lively but carefully along an old path thick with underbrush and littered with debris of many a season come and gone: fallen trees, stumps, pine cones, hulled-out acorns. They had not ventured far before an opening in the trees revealed a clearing; in it stood a grey shack. A few broken shingles lay about, and a thick plank shored up the porch overhang. A barn and several other outbuildings in similar disrepair completed the scene.
Heyes drew rein, stopped. At first glance, the home seemed abandoned. For a moment, the usual forest sounds dissipated, and even the rushing of the stream quieted. No smoke from the chimney and long-dead remains of an attempt at landscaping lent to the finality. The boys sat stock-still in the saddle, taking in the quiet.
Suddenly, loud crowing rent the air. The partners started. Two right hands reached for their side-arms, stopping just shy of drawing when an overgrown, brown speckled rooster appeared around the side of the shack, strutting in front of them. His red comb held high, the cock left no doubt who ruled the roost. The bird stopped and stared at the newcomers, as if trying to intimidate. Its crow echoed again, and a horse whinnied, as if in challenge.
“Easy, boy,” Heyes soothed his mount.
“Henry, what’re you up to?”
The partners turned at the chirp of a voice. A petite, older woman emerged from the house, wiping her hands on a faded apron. Her grey hair in a messy bun, she regarded the pair inquisitively, the expression highlighting facial lines, which softened as she brightened.
“Oh! Company,” she said cheerily in a soft Southern accent. “Don’t get too much of that ‘round these parts.” She came closer, squinting from one masculine face to the other.
“Ma’am,” came in chorus as both men raised a finger to their hats in greeting.
She homed in on Curry as he winced from the shifting, staring hard at him for a second. “Land sakes, my sight isn’t always the best, but … Jedediah? Could it really be you?”
The partners’ eyes narrowed. They looked questioningly at each other.
The woman moved broadside of Curry’s horse, her gaze intense. “I do declare, it IS you!” Her countenance blossomed to a broad grin, which quickly dissolved to tears. “Oh, Jedediah, I knew you’d come back! All my waiting wasn’t in vain.” She dabbed at the corners of her eyes with her apron. “But land sakes, me looking like a common housemaid! I’d imagined how it would be when you returned …”
She quickly stretched her hands out, indicating her dress. “Of course, I’d planned to be properly attired …” She bit her lip, relief playing in her voice. “My, all that really counts is, you’re back!” Her expression and tone darkened as her hands went to her cheeks. “But, you’re hurt!”
The partners’ brows furrowed.
After a beat, Heyes spoke, “Ma’am, you must have my partner mistaken for someone else. He’s Thaddeus Jones, and I’m Joshua Smith.”
The woman addressed Heyes as she walked to the left side of Curry’s mount. “Young man, no one’s mistaking anyone.” She then lifted her arms to the injured man, her voice now strong and commanding. “Jedediah, come down from that horse this second! I’m going to tend to that wound. Land sakes, I hope you haven’t been riding all the way from Mexico without having it looked at.”
Kid Curry moaned. “Mexico? Ma’am, you really do have the wrong person.”
She stood her ground, a blush of a smile at her lips, the accent more pronounced. “Still the same old Jedediah! You always did like a practical joke. I’m glad you were able to keep your humor about you through your trials.” Turning serious again, “But let’s get you down and into the house. Looks like you’ve lost a fair amount of blood there.” She reached up.
“Ma’am, I ain’t gonna argue with ya.” Curry started to dismount, but hesitated, pressing his knees into the saddle as he swayed.
Alarmed, Heyes jumped down. “Excuse me, ma’am.” Rushing past the woman, he reached up to steady his partner, started to help him alight.
“Argh! Watch it!” Blue eyes watered as his injured left arm rubbed against the horse and made contact with his partner.
“Sorry.” Heyes grimaced as he took the wounded man’s weight. Supporting a slumping Curry, he followed the woman into the shack.
“Land sakes, step carefully now.”
Kid Curry, half-carried by Hannibal Heyes, took halting steps. The men followed their hostess through the kitchen into a bedroom, where Heyes helped his partner onto the bed. The blond man reached out his right arm to balance himself. The woman left the room.
“Okay, Thaddeus, let’s get those shirts off.”
Curry winced as Heyes slowly coaxed the bloodied shirt and henley over his head.
“Nice and easy.” Finishing his task, the dark-haired ex-outlaw leader threw the garments aside and examined the bloodied shoulder. He blew out a breath. “Kid, I can’t tell if the bullet’s still in there or not. There’s too much blood and no exit wound.”
Curry groaned, swayed. “Great. I need to lay down.”
“Let me help ya.” Heyes hurriedly shoved a pillow behind Curry. “Easy.”
Heyes looked up to see a streak hurry past. The woman set a tray with various utensils, cloth, and sewing items on the bed before rushing out of the room. She instantly reappeared with a pitcher of water.
The dark-haired man stood. “Ma’am, what can I do?”
The woman eyed Heyes as she once again began to leave the room. “Please just stay with Jedediah, Mr. … Smith?”
“Yes, ma’am, but please call me Joshua.”
“‘Mr. Smith’ will do. Please stay with Jedediah. I’m very grateful you’re here.” She exited hurriedly.
The brown-eyed ex-outlaw shrugged. “Guess she’s stronger than she looks.”
Kid Curry smiled fleetingly, then gritted his teeth as he shifted position.
“Easy, Kid. Try not to move.”
The wounded man groaned. “That’s easy for you to say.”
“I know. Let’s make you more comfortable.”
Heyes pulled the blond man’s boots off as their hostess re-entered, carrying a basin of steaming water, placing it on a bedside table. The woman and the dark-haired ex-outlaw engaged in an awkward dance around the bed. Whilst removing the gun belt, Heyes stepped aside clumsily as the woman grabbed several utensils from the tray, placing them into the water. Once he had his partner’s holster and pistol in hand, Heyes again sidestepped quickly as she motioned him out of the way. Dipping a cloth into the pitcher, she homed in on Curry’s injured shoulder, started washing dried and fresh blood from the arm. Repeating her actions, she dabbed at the wound.
Heyes winced sympathetically.
“Now, now, Jedediah,” the woman soothed. She looked up and spoke calmly, “Mr. Smith, please wet another cloth. We’ll finish cleaning this wound and see what we have here.”
Heyes did as directed, standing in wait as he watched her ministrations.
She smiled. “Hey yourself, Jedediah.”
Curry locked pained eyes with Heyes, who shrugged.
The woman put the rag aside. The injured man squirmed. “I do declare, you’ll have to stay still. Mr. Smith, perhaps you can hold him down.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Heyes positioned himself on the other side of the bed, pressing down on his partner’s left forearm and chest. “Thaddeus, perhaps you’d best look away.”
Eyes tightly shut, Curry gritted his teeth and held his breath through the next several moments.
Finally, the woman looked up. “Thank you, Mr. Smith. You can let go now.”
Heyes straightened. Kid Curry groaned as the weight lifted.
The woman spoke authoritatively, “There’s no bullet, but it’s a deep graze, and straight, thankfully.” She looked at her patient. “And the bleeding’s stopped, but I’m afraid you’ve lost a bit of blood, Jedediah. You’ll be needing to stay in bed a few days, and fairly still. I don’t think stitching will be necessary.”
Curry blew out a breath. “Thank you.”
She selected a clean white cloth from the tray. “Mr. Smith, if you would be so kind.”
As Heyes carefully lifted the injured arm, the woman nimbly bound the wound and created a sling. “There, neat as a pin.” She sat on the bed.
“Thanks, ma’am …”
Her brow furrowed. “And what is it with this ‘ma’am’ business? Jedediah, don’t you recognize your Vinny? Land sakes, what happened to you?”
The partners exchanged a look.
Vinny smiled. Almost teasingly, her voice rose in sing-song, the Southern now dripping honey. “Now that that’s done, no more of this ma’am business. I do declare, y’all be calling me by my rightful name as you know it.”
Heyes spoke, “Ma’am, you really do have Thaddeus confused with someone else. But we are awfully grateful for your hospitality, and you tending to him and all.”
After glancing perplexedly at Heyes, the woman set her sights on Curry. “Now, what is this ‘Thaddeus’ nonsense? Your name is Jedediah!”
She smiled sadly, lightly touched the blond man’s cheek. “Oh, I know you’ve been through a lot.” She paused. “Now, surely you remember your Vinny? I told you I’d be waiting for you to come back, and I kept my promise.” Her smile faded; she bit her lip. “I’m sorry what war has done to you …” She reached for and gently held his hand.
Heyes rushed to her side, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Ma’am … um, Miss Vinny? Why don’t we let Thaddeus, um, Jedediah, rest.”
At that, a sniffle escaped. She nodded and stood, smiling fondly but sadly at her Jedediah before bending to tuck a quilt tightly around him, almost swaddling him in it. Finishing, she straightened. Heyes quietly took her arm and led her out of the room.
Hannibal Heyes emptied a bucket of water into the trough in the small corral near the house. As he reached through the middle rail of the fence to set the pail down outside the enclosure, the board dropped to the ground. Frowning, he grabbed the wood with a gloved hand, replacing it between the posts. When he let go, it fell again. Picking it up, he examined each end before the groan of rusty hinges diverted his attention.
Vinny walked toward him, cup in hand. “Mr. Smith, it’s not a hot day, but a man can work up a thirst nonetheless.”
Heyes put the rail down, momentarily pulling the perspiration-soaked shirt away from his torso. “Thank you, ma’am.” He greedily emptied the vessel, wiping his mouth on his sleeve as he handed it back. “Ah! That hit the spot. It’s warmer than I’d thought.”
“A little refreshment goes a long way when one is hard at work. I do declare, Mr. Smith, it’s been too long since a man other than a neighbor boy graced my humble abode.” Vinny blushed. “And I must put the emphasis on ‘humble.’ Lord knows it has seen better days!” She looked at the corral, where three animals drank. “I see you’ve gotten your and Jedediah’s horses brushed and fed. Old Sam will be happy to have company.”
Heyes studied the old plug with the bowed back. “He looks like he worked hard for a lot of years.”
“Oh, he certainly did.” She squinted at the gelding. “He was Father’s horse. In his prime he could outdistance and outwork any four-legged creature under God’s blue sky.” Wistfully, “But, Father’s gone now nigh on four or five years, and I’m afraid Old Sam’s probably not long for this world either. However, I do declare the Good Lord keeps providing. You still get Old Sam in the fields yonder ahead of a plow, and he makes quick work of what could be a long job. He’s one of a kind, even if he is a horse.”
“They do have their own personalities.”
“Yes, they do. Sam might even teach your pair of young’uns there a thing or two.”
Heyes chuckled. “Maybe so.” He sobered. “Ma’am, I want to thank you again for tending to Thaddeus. Maybe I can repay you some by doing a few chores around here.” He bent down to grab the broken board. “This rail, for instance. The ends are rotted out. If the corral fence isn’t fixed, the horses could get lose.”
“Thank you, Mr. Smith, but there is no need to repay anything. I do declare you’ve paid up a hundred lifetimes by bringing my Jedediah home. And I dare say with so many Smiths in the world, you’re not related, but you are family to me. And since relations do help each other out and you offered, I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t mind just touching the place up a bit, but only if it’s not a bother. My old bones can’t keep up with everything, and the neighbor boy who comes by to help occasionally is busy helping his own pa right now. Yes, I’d be very grateful.”
Heyes raised a thoughtful eyebrow. “Ma’am, um, Miss Vinny, Thaddeus…”
“I understand the need for an alias perhaps, Mr. Smith, and if that’s what Jedediah calls himself, so be it. But he’s home now, and I shall call him by his rightful name. And as such, it doesn’t matter much to me what your name is. There is obviously trust between Jedediah and yourself, and that’s family to my mind. What’s not got any, now’s got some.”
“Yes, ma’am. But, we won’t be able to stay long. There’s…”
“Men after you?”
Heyes’ eyes widened. “How…?”
“How did I know?”
Vinny sighed loudly as her voice rose. “Land sakes, Mr. Smith, I really don’t rightly know. It just makes some kind of sense, I suppose. Jedediah finally home, but shot, and having assumed another name. And I would venture Smith is not your rightful name either. I’d further venture you two have been together a long time, because you both seem very practiced at believing your story. I can only presume you two have been running from something or someone all these years, and I hope in all that time, you’ve not forgotten who you really are.”
Heyes looked her square in the eye, but remained silent.
“So there’s men after you. No doubt raiders or some such like them who would seek to harm you, perhaps return you to a prison camp. That could be the only reason Jedediah stayed away so long. Those places are vermin-filled, disease-ridden. Men go in there and die. I am glad you and Jedediah found your way out, and I will not allow you or he to be taken. It’s really that simple. They’d have to climb over my dead body first, and I would like to think that even Yankees are men of honor …” She looked down, sighed. “Well, some of them perhaps.”
“Yes, Mr. Smith, Yankees. You don’t sound like a Southern boy, but no matter. Where are you from?”
“Kansas has good, solid folk: hard-working, humble, God-fearing.”
Heyes smiled knowingly. “Yes, ma’am. You knew folks from Kansas?”
“Yes, we did; well, after we came West, that is. However, we heard stories of how Kansas was brutalized, and tragedy like that should not be visited upon anyone. It’s hard not to feel for them. Father was not political, Mr. Smith, and as a dutiful daughter, neither was I. But we lost everything in the Recent Unpleasantness. Not that Father was rich, but we were very comfortable, although some would call us poor relations to an old Virginia family.
“After the war, we came West, settled here in the mountains as a change.” She looked around. “This place was nice once – mind, not like our farm in Caroline County – but nice enough. Now it’s about as run down as I am.” She laughed, then sobered. “Mr. Smith, that is all well in the past, and now that Jedediah is back, I can look forward to a future, and die a happy woman. I have waited long for him, and I will not let anything separate us again.”
Heyes raised an eyebrow. “Yes, ma’am.”
Heyes sat in a chair next to the bed, rubbing his pistol with a polishing cloth. In front of him on the quilt was an oilskin with cleaning accouterment spread on it.
“Heyes, there’s no need to rush the job.”
The dark-haired man glanced at Curry before focusing again on his task. “I’m not rushing. Just no need to take as long as you do.”
The blond man sat up in bed, supported by a host of pillows. “Cleanin’ a gun is an art. It needs to be done right.”
Heyes chuckled. “I am doing it right. And it’s my gun, so stop complaining.”
“Well, when you do mine, I hope you do it right, like I would.”
“We’ll be here all day if I do.”
Curry smiled. “That’s okay. Don’t look like we’re goin’ anywhere soon.”
Vinny entered the room with a tray laden with food. “I thought we’d have supper in here now that Jedediah is feeling stronger. What a difference a couple of days makes.”
Heyes put down the gun, jumping up to take the tray. “Allow me, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Mr. Smith. You are a gentleman. And there’s a nice pitcher of sweet tea on the kitchen table. If you wouldn’t mind fetching it, I’ll see to serving.”
She picked up a cloth napkin, tucked it around Curry’s bandages. “Now, Jedediah, are you hungry? That broth has certainly worked wonders. Two days, and you’re looking so much better. You must be ready for solid food.”
Blue eyes lit up. “Yes, ma’am!”
Vinny smiled. “I do declare I am so happy to hear that!”
She busied herself preparing plates as Heyes reentered the room with a pitcher and glasses. Turning, she handed him a heaping serving.
Brown eyes widened. “This is too much for me, ma’am.”
“We are celebrating, Mr. Smith. Jedediah is looking so much better. It’s not every day I have an occasion to cook up a feast or make up some tea, which is dear, and I am grateful to you for the game.”
Kid Curry’s eyes narrowed as he and Heyes shared a look. “You’ve been huntin’? Shootin’?”
“Yes, Mr. Smith has been busy with some old traps of Father’s that have been gathering dust in the barn. It’s a wonder they still work. What with men after you, there will be no shooting around here; not if we can help it.”
She finished cutting up meat on another plate, placing it on Curry’s lap. It contained a smaller portion than Heyes’.
The blond man eyed it, then looked at Heyes’ plate. Blue eyes met brown. Heyes laughed; Curry frowned.
Vinny saw the exchange. “Jedediah, it’s best you work your way up to a bigger quantity after not eating for several days. We don’t want you sick just when you’re beginning to feel better.”
Disappointedly, “Yes, ma’am.”
Taking a seat opposite Heyes, she and the dark-haired man ate with gusto for several moments. Curry took a couple of bites before putting his fork down.
Vinny looked up. “Is something wrong?”
“Sorry, ma’am, I thought I was hungry, but guess I’m not.”
“But you must eat to get your strength back.”
Heyes jumped in. “Ma’am, if Thaddeus – Jedediah – says he’s not hungry, well, we have to take him at his word. He usually has a hearty appetite.” Seeing a concerned look on the woman, he grinned impishly. “Why, even when I ordered my men to pack extra provisions before … a job … others would have to do it lest … Jedediah’d eat everything right out of the saddlebags!”
“Mr. Smith, were you Jedediah’s commanding officer? Captain?”
Curry spoke, “Well, not quite …”
Heyes cut him off. “Umm, no, ma’am.”
“A higher rank, surely, then?”
“Not exactly, ma’am.”
“Well, perhaps you’re referring to a brevet rank? Or do you just prefer ‘Mr. Smith,’ as I have been calling you?”
Heyes smiled. “Ma’am, as I said before, ‘Joshua’ will do just fine.”
“I do declare. As I also said, although I have gotten to know you nigh on two days now, I still do not know you well enough to stand on such familiarity, Mr. Smith. So if you do not mind, we’ll leave it at that.” She smiled. “It does have a very nice ring to it, indeed, although it is doing nothing to ease the confusion.”
The dark-haired man’s brow furrowed. “Confusion, ma’am?”
“Now, Mr. Smith, are you naturally a practical joker like Jedediah, or has he just rubbed off on you after all this time?”
Heyes shrugged at Curry, who chuckled.
Vinny continued, “Well, commanding officer or not, you are obviously an honorable man. Surely Jedediah has been blessed to have someone with such remarkable leadership in charge.”
Heyes’ countenance lit up. “Oh, yes, ma’am! He carried out my orders very well. I was certainly the genius of the outfit. I’m sure Thad … Jedediah would agree with that.
The blond ex-outlaw rolled his eyes.
Heyes winked at his partner. “Of course, though, Jedediah certainly has his own talents.”
Vinny put her empty plate on the floor. “Oh yes, the Good Lord gave us all talents, and we must use them to the best of our ability lest they go to waste.” She looked admiringly at Curry. “Of course, He has blessed Jedediah with many, and that is one of the things that attracted me to him all those many years ago.” She paused in thought. “Jedediah, I do hope you have put yours to good use.”
“Yes’m, well, I …”
Heyes smiled, knowingly. “Jedediah has certainly put his to VERY good use!”
Vinny clapped her hands in glee. “I am VERY happy to hear that! But I presume it has not been lucrative, although survival cannot be downplayed.”
Kid Curry followed the conversation with his eyes.
Heyes lit up. “Oh, very lucrative at times, ma’am. We were the very best in our field.”
“Well, at least somewhat successful in the field, perhaps.”
Heyes’ smile faded. “Uh, ‘somewhat,’ ma’am?”
“Well, yes, we lost the war.”
Heyes and Curry exchanged a look.
“Yes, ma’am, the South did lose the war, but in our field, my men were the best there were.”
“I’m glad you and your men were successful, Mr. Smith. Perhaps your unit was more victorious on the battlefield than most. You’ve certainly accomplished a lot by surviving all this time.” Stopping, she placed a hand on Curry’s arm. “And making it back home.” A pause. “Yes, you were very successful. And you shall be again, when you get back on your feet. You’ll take steps to a new future.”
Heyes spoke, “Yes, ma’am, we’ve taken that step.”
Vinny looked off, imagining. “Yes, perhaps there’s still a chance of amnesty for you.”
Curry looked quickly at Heyes, mouthed the word, “How?”
Heyes shrugged and mouthed back to Curry, “I don’t know.” He addressed Vinny. “Ma’am, we are hoping for amnesty.”
“I have no doubt you shall both get it as all our Southern boys did, and soon, so you can go on with your lives. Of course, I do not know for sure, but I would hope General Grant would still take your case under consideration all these years later.”
Heyes read out loud. “‘Poor old ship! I say again: for six months she has been rolling and pitching about, never for one moment at rest. But courage, old lass, I hope to see thee soon within a biscuit’s toss of the merry land, riding snugly at anchor in some green cove, and sheltered from the boisterous winds.’” He looked up. “This is a pretty good book, huh? It was one of Miss Vinny’s pa’s.” He grinned. “She offered me the Bible to read to you, but I thought this would be better.”
Curry stared across the room.
The blond man started. “Huh?”
“I’m enjoying this story. Are you?”
Sheepishly, “Sorry, Heyes. Guess I been thinkin’.”
Heyes rolled his eyes. “Not that again.”
“No, I mean, somethin’s not right.”
“I don’t know. Miss Vinny’s nice and all, but she’s downright confusin’!”
“You can say that again.”
“I mean, it would be nice if it was that easy, like she said…”
“The amnesty. The governor’s not just gonna hand it out like General Grant did.” Curry’s brow furrowed. “And, ‘General’ Grant? ‘President’ Grant’s out of office about five years now. Even if there was a chance, he wouldn’t have any interest in us.”
Heyes sighed. “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway; we’re not Confederate soldiers surrendering to end the war. But, it would be nice if it were that easy.”
Vinny opened a trunk in the corner of her bedroom. Pulling blue fabric from it, she carefully unfurled it in front of herself and held it up, revealing a faded blue ball gown. She smiled as she looked at it. Laying it gently on the bed, she smoothed out the wrinkles with her hands.
Fully dressed in the gown, her hair done in grey ringlets past her shoulders, Vinny admired herself coquettishly in the mirror, smiling at a much younger version of herself in the glass.
She crossed the kitchen to Curry’s room. “Jedediah, do you remember this dress?”
“I wore it the night you proposed.” She seemed lost in wonderment. “Oh, you were so handsome in your uniform, and I was the belle of the ball, if I do say so myself. All that dancing …” She hummed and swayed in rhythm at first, before her right arm stretched out and her left reached around her imaginary partner. She waltzed across the room, in step with the couples floating across her vision. Seeing herself young once more, she twirled around the room in step with the images and the music playing in her mind, her partner a straight-backed man whose countenance remained shadowed.
Curry leaned against the pillows, thoughtfully studying the performance.
As the notes faded, she stopped, breathless. Flushed, she rummaged in the folds of her gown, withdrew a fan, and vigorously moved it about her face. Breathlessly, “I do declare, so many nice, young men, all of whom wanted my hand at the reels and waltzes.” She smiled shyly at Curry. “But, I danced only with you that night.”
Her gaze now focused at the far wall above the bed, envisioning the same image of herself as a young woman she first saw in the mirror, she brought her hands to her cheeks. Aglow, she giggled, her tone one of girlish exuberance. “Jedediah, was I pretty?”
Curry looked at her, squinted, twice. Alas, he saw only an older woman in a faded blue ball gown. He tried his best not to sound doubtful. “Oh … Yes, ma’am!”
Smoothing the folds in her dress, her smile disappearing, she approached the bed, started tucking the quilt. “Now what’s with this ‘ma’am’ again? Land sakes.” Finishing, she sat next to him, cupped his cheek affectionately. “Oh, Jedediah…”
Curry recovered, trying to sound hopeful. “Miss Vinny, you were the only one worth watchin’.”
Suddenly, she flung herself into a hug, grasping him tightly. Her face buried in the blond man’s right shoulder, she sniffled, spoke in a muffled voice, her weepy tone simultaneously sad, but joyous, “You remembered!”
Startled by her sudden movement, Curry flinched, then gingerly embraced her with his right arm, as if to comfort. His eyes observed her for a moment, before averting to acknowledge someone at the door. Tight lips greeted Heyes.
The dark-haired man paced near the foot of the bed. “We’re going to have to tell her.”
“Yep, we have to.”
“Else it’ll be too hard on her the longer we drag it out.”
Startled, the brown-eyed ex-outlaw stopped. “What?! Can’t you see I’m thinking?”
Curry sighed. “There’s a lot of that goin’ on. Besides, I thought you didn't believe in doin' good deeds.”
A faint blush appeared on Heyes’ cheeks. “Well …”
The blond man laughed.
The dark-haired man continued, “I’ll do enough thinking for the both of us. You just concentrate on healing up so we can get out of here. No telling if that posse’s still on the trail or not.”
Kid Curry shrugged. “Heyes, you can do my thinkin’ for me, that’s fine. I was talkin’ about Miss Vinny. She said chores helped her think.”
Heyes walked to the window. “Yeah, told me the same thing. She’s out milking the cow.” He pulled the curtain aside.
“You think she knows? ‘Bout us, I mean?”
“I don’t know, Kid. It’s hard to tell.”
Curry carefully removed his left arm from the sling, grimacing as he stretched it and flexed the hand.
“How is it?”
Slightly breathless, Curry sighed. “Not yet, but I can ride.”
“No, you can’t. With the pain and how much blood you lost? No, we’ll have to hole up here a bit longer.”
Blue eyes locked with brown. “Heyes, we can’t tell her. Not until we leave.”
“She has to know.”
“Why? What’s the harm in us playin’ along?”
“Kid, you know better than that. She thinks you’re … he’s … Jedediah’s back.” He threw up his hands. “Argh! Now I’m just as confused as she is!”
Vinny sat on the bed, re-bandaging Curry’s wound. “Jedediah, I do declare that wound is healing nicely. It won’t be too awfully long now before you’re up and at ‘em. Of course, the lightheadedness will have to pass before you can sit a horse.”
“I’m feelin’ a lot better. Thank you, ma’am.”
The woman sighed heavily. “Now, land sakes, however am I going to rid you of this ‘ma’am’ business? You used to say my name with such tenderness, such love.” She looked down for a moment, took Curry’s hand. “I know we’ve been apart ever so long, but …” Looking up, she blinked back a tear, spoke softly, “Jedediah, you’d think we were strangers the way you address me!”
The blond man reached out a hand, gently wiped her eye. “Miss Vinny, I … I’m sorry. We might as well be strangers.”
“Land sakes, yes, it has been a very long time. But, surely you must recognize me.”
Curry smiled. “You do remind me of someone I met a while back, and she mentioned amnesty to me, too.”
Vinny grinned broadly. “Well of course I remind you of someone – me! As you get better and are around me more, it’ll all come back to you.”
“Yes’m.” Curry yawned.
“Now, it’s time you rested.” Vinny stood, bent to blow out the lamp. “You’ll get your strength back before you know it. And your memory.”
Heyes and Vinny sat on the front porch, breaking the ends off green beans in a bucket between them.
“Mr. Smith, I have been doing a little thinking.”
The ex-outlaw leader raised an eyebrow. “Ma’am?”
“We are secluded here, and although it has been four days since you rode in, I fear we must plan in case those men who are after you happen this way, now that Jedediah is stronger and able to move some.”
“Miss Vinny, it would be best if we left …”
“No! That will not do at all!” She composed herself. “Please, Mr. Smith, allow me.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am.”
She placed the beans on her lap, looked at him intently. “It would be best to have it look as if I am the only one here, and the most important thing would be to hide the horses beforehand. They are not so easily hidden in the quick of an eye.” Heyes nodded. “There is a small cave about a quarter mile yonder, behind the house. You could take your horses and tack there. They will be unseen.
“Then, perhaps we can gather up all your and Jedediah’s belongings and hide them beneath the hay in the loft. You can get what you need as you need it and put it back when finished, and so on.
“And if necessary, you and Jedediah will take refuge in the root cellar. There is an opening in the corner of the kitchen by the hearth. One of the rugs is over it. I do not think you noticed it.”
“No, ma’am, I didn’t.”
“Good. Yes, we will have to help Jedediah down there, but you will be safe until it is all clear. No one knows the cellar is there. If we plan correctly and well, there should be no trace of either of you if someone comes by, even if they insist on looking around.”
Heyes sighed. “Ma’am, Thad ... my partner … gets feelings about things, and I try to heed them, though I don’t always.” He smiled thoughtfully. “And I live to regret it some days. I guess what I’m asking …”
“Mr. Smith, I like to call it women’s intuition, and yes, I would heed it.”
Curry sat at the kitchen table. Heyes poured coffee for each of them.
Setting the coffee pot back on the stove, Heyes leaned against the hearth. “Coffee should help that headache.”
Curry sipped. “I hope so.” He recoiled. “It’s hot!”
“Well, it didn’t come off a cold stove.”
The blond man rolled his eyes.
“Miss Vinny went down to the cave to bring the horses some oats and water. She wants us to stay inside.”
Curry mused. “Must’ve been a strong feeling she had if you’re following orders.”
Heyes smirked. “Well, yeah, I suppose. She was kind of – adamant.”
“Another big word? Don’t go makin’ fun of me again when I use ‘em.”
“It’s not that big.”
“Big enough.” A pause. “Heyes?”
“You really think the posse’s still out there? I mean, the rain the other night was hard enough it should’ve washed all our tracks away, and you brushin’ away any around here that might’ve been left …”
Heyes sat at the table. “I don’t know. All I know is, I think there’s more to Miss Vinny than meets the eye.”
“The other day when she got that dress out, I helped her put it away. There was a label on it, said ‘House of Worth.’ I’ve heard of them. Some of the women Soapy knows have dresses from there. They’re fancy dressmakers in Paris. A dress like that has to be ordered special, and it’s not cheap.”
“What’re ya sayin’?”
“Miss Vinny said she was a poor relation to a rich family.”
“Yeah, and she also said her family was comfortable.”
Heyes sighed. “But to have a dress like that, either she was rich or a lot more than comfortable.”
Curry sipped at his coffee, took a longer gulp. “So what’s your point? She said her family lost everything in the war, the Recent Unpleasantness I think she called it.”
“I don’t know. There’s just something that doesn’t quite fit, and I can’t figure it out. She seems too old to have been a young woman at the start of the war.”
The blond man sighed. “War can age a person pretty fast.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
Kid Curry lifted his head, eyes alert. “Heyes, did you hear that?”
“Thought I heard a shot.”
Heyes concentrated. “I don’t hear anything.”
Curry stood, one hand holding on to the table. “It was kind of … faint. Like it was far away.”
Heyes rose as well, crossing to his partner. “Take it easy. Far away, but we haven’t heard a shot since …”
Two pairs of eyes met. In unison, “The cellar.”
“Heyes, what about the rug, after we’re down?”
“Miss Vinny has everything planned. Wish I could take credit for it.”
What was left of sunlight through the kitchen windows filtered through the few cracks in the floor boards. The partners sat on hard ground in the root cellar, shadows above them further diffusing the illumination. They could not make out individual personages, but could hear the voices.
“Ma’am, you’re sure you’ve not seen anyone?”
“Sheriff, I do declare, don’t you think I would have told you if I had? You and your men look tired. Might I offer you some coffee?”
“Thank you, ma’am, but no. My men are tired. We’ve been after Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry over a week now. They seem to have disappeared into thin air.”
“Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry? They are dangerous men. From what I have heard, they do not come more notorious!”
“That’s right, ma’am. You have to watch out especially for that Jed Curry. He’s probably the fastest gun in the West.”
“Jed? Is that short for Jedediah?”
“That’s right, ma’am.”
The man’s voice continued, “We had a good trail; were right behind them at one point. I even think we hit one of them. So we figure they’d have laid up somewhere. Have you heard anything from any of your neighbors?”
“No, I haven’t, Sheriff. I certainly would take note of something like that. We are spread out up here, so I do not see my neighbors all that often. We are all busy with our own business, and we mind our own.”
“Well, I wish you gentlemen good luck in finding your prey, even if they are men.”
“Ma’am, I think this might be the end of the line for us. We might keep on or not. I suppose it depends on whether we come across anything in the next day or so. We’ve been searching a long time, but we’ve all got families and businesses to get back to. We can’t be running all over Kingdom Come looking for two outlaws when they haven’t done a whole lot of anything lately.”
“Whatever do you mean, Sheriff?”
“Ma’am, they’re wanted, but haven’t been real active lately – well, it’s been over a year now since anyone’s heard of anything they’ve done.”
“So why chase them?”
“Because they’re wanted, ma’am. The men with me could use a share of that reward, and they’re worth ten thousand apiece. Fool’s fortune can tempt anyone, at any time, and better us than bounty hunters to bring them in. But there’s nothing we can do when the trail goes cold. We tried our best, for a good long time now, but …”
“Sheriff, I do declare I know full well what it’s like to go a long time waiting for something, and when you think you’ve got it in hand, it may or may not be all that you expected.”
Heyes and Curry held each other’s gaze for a long few seconds. The dark-haired man raised an eyebrow. The blond silently blew out a breath.
“Well, please do help yourself to water for your horses and canteens. Ride safely, Sheriff.”
The partners sat with Miss Vinny at the kitchen table.
“Ma’am, Miss Vinny, we’re going to have to get a move on.”
“Land sakes, Mr. Smith, I have told you I do not want to hear of such nonsense!”
“Ma’am, I’m sorry. Us staying here would only cause you grief. But first, we wanted you to know, well, what we’ve been trying to tell you all along is, we’re not who you think we are. I’m sorry for that. I truly am. You’ve been real good to us.” Heyes paused. “We owe you a lot.”
“Nonsense! I told you, Mr. Smith, family does as will do.”
Kid Curry stood, placed a hand on her shoulder. “Miss Vinny, thank you.”
She rose from her chair, locked sad eyes with equally expressive blue ones before standing tall to give Curry a peck on the cheek. He bent to meet her halfway. She said softly into his ear, “And do not forget, Jedediah is your real name.”
Straightening, she smoothed her dress. She looked from Curry to Heyes, to the floor, then back to the men. They saw a recognition in her eyes, one not there before.
“Gentlemen, I fear I have been living in my own world for much too long now. Father said I was touched.” She paused, cleared her throat. “Of course, I did not want to believe that. But, being on my own lo these many years, with just Old Sam, Henry, Bessie the cow, and a bunch of chickens for company, perhaps a body can lose track of themselves – and time, at least a little bit.
“So, if you gentlemen want me to believe you’re someone other than Jedediah and Mr. Smith, or even outlaws on the run, then, so be it. I cannot stop you. But just let an old woman have it her way. That’s the kindness you can do for me. To my mind, Jedediah has returned, and that is the way it shall be. I do not wish to be without him any longer.
“Now leave a body to rest, please, and I shall see you in the morning, God willing.” She regarded them before disappearing into her room.
Heyes and Curry looked at each other sadly.
“Good night, ma’am.”
Next morning, Kid Curry walked slowly into the kitchen, his saddlebags in his right hand and left arm in a sling. Heyes was at the stove, the coffee pot perking.
The blond man sat. “Miss Vinny off gathering eggs for breakfast?”
“I don’t know. Haven’t seen her. How you feeling?”
“Better. Glad to be out of that bed, although come afternoon, I’m gonna be lookin’ for it.”
“We’ll take it slow and easy. Miss Vinny mentioned an old donkey trail up through the hills in back. Winds a bit but hardly anyone knows about it. Should keep us clear in case that posse’s still at it.”
Curry rose, walked to the door. He scanned the area. “I don’t see her, Heyes. I’ll look around a little out here.”
“Be careful. You haven’t been outside for a while.”
The blond man rolled his eyes. “Okay, ma.”
Heyes chuckled. He grabbed a towel, opened the oven. Removing a pan of biscuits, he carefully laid it on the stovetop. “Ouch!” Bringing a finger to his mouth, he wet it with saliva for a second, before shaking the hand, just as his partner re-entered.
“Problem with your hand?”
“Burned my finger.”
“No, poker hand.”
“Same thing.” Kid Curry smiled. “Can’t turn my back for a second. How’ve you taken care of yourself while I’ve been laid up?”
“Miss Vinny took good care of me, us.”
Blue eyes twinkled. “Yep. Well, she’s not out there far as I can see. Maybe she wasn’t feelin’ well, and’s still in bed?”
Heyes knocked softly on her bedroom door. When there was no response, he knocked again. Finally, he opened the door slowly, peered in. Looking at Curry, he shrugged before disappearing into the room.
The partners stood by a freshly dug grave, a crude wooden cross at its head.
Heyes read from the Bible.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
Henry the rooster strutted to the grave. Comb drooping, he picked at the ground, as if bereft. He crowed mournfully.
With his good hand, Curry grabbed a fistful of dirt from the pile next to the grave. Pausing, he tossed it in. He stood, head bowed.
Heyes affectionately put a hand on his shoulder.
The blond man looked up. “That was real nice, Heyes. You should’ve been a preacher.”
The might-be minister smiled fleetingly. “We owed her that. Was the least we could do for all she did for us. Go rest up. I’ll finish up out here.”
At the kitchen table, Kid Curry struggled to buckle two sets of bulging saddle bags. “Argh! I’ll leave these for you.” He looked up. “It was nice of Miss Vinny to offer us supplies for the trail from her stores, even though she didn’t want us to leave.”
“I think she thought it was bound to happen sooner or later. Hard to say.”
“Whatcha lookin’ at?”
“I found another Bible in Miss Vinny’s things, where the family history’s written. Guess the other one was just what she used for every day.” Heyes thoughtfully turned pages, scanning some, flipping through others quickly. He took something out. “Kid, look at this.”
Curry soberly regarded a faded photograph – a youthful Vinny next to a man in uniform with lightish, curly hair. They stood at attention, unsmiling, as was the custom of the time, with her arm through his.
Heyes interrupted his partner’s perusal. “That must be Jedediah.”
“Doesn’t look very much like me.”
“No, but to older eyes that hadn’t seen him in a long time …”
“Yeah, twenty years.”
“More like forty.”
Curry glanced at his partner. “Huh? It’s only twenty years since the war.”
“Um hmm, the Recent Unpleasantness, as she called it. But the War Between the States isn’t what she meant when she was first talking to you.”
“Heyes, now you’re beginnin’ to sound like Miss Vinny, all confusin’-like.”
The dark-haired man smiled. “Listen to this.” He read from the Bible. “‘Lavinia Carter, born Caroline County, Virginia, May 18, 1820, to Gaston Carter and his wife, Sarah Haines Carter.’”
“Lavinia. Pretty name.”
“Um hmm. ‘Betrothed to Jedediah Wilkinson Smith of Henrico County, Virginia. Lieutenant Smith died of scarlet fever near Mexico City, September 1847.’”
The blond man’s eyes fixed on Heyes. “Mexico? She mentioned Mexico when we first got here.”
“Yep. Jedediah fought in the Mexican War and never came home.”
Curry spoke, thoughtfully, “It makes sense now. I mean, she seemed a bit old to be waitin’ for someone from the war we knew.”
Heyes eyed the Good Book once more before closing it. “Yeah. She probably got mixed up between the two wars.”
“Or if not mixed up, probably forgot about Mexico when she went through so much in the War Between the States.”
Heyes placed the Bible on the table. “Maybe. She probably was never the same after finding out he’d died. But, she’s with Jedediah now.” He regarded Curry with a light smile. “And she had a little time with ‘Jedediah’ beforehand.”
The blond ex-outlaw nodded. “Yeah, just not the RIGHT Jedediah.”
“It was fine by her.”
Curry sat in the saddle, his left arm still in a sling. Heyes’ mount was tethered to a porch rail.
The dark-haired man walked out of the house. “It’s good to see you on a horse again. That arm’ll be good as new soon.” He grabbed his reins. “We’ll take the back way through the hills Miss Vinny mentioned and should be out of the posse’s way.”
“If they haven’t given up by now.”
“Let’s just hope they did.” Heyes mounted, wheeled his horse around.
“You left the note?”
“Yeah, it’s on the table. Anyone stopping by won’t be able to miss it.”
They rode out.
Inside on the table, a note read:
“To whom it may concern,
Miss Vinny passed peacefully in her sleep while we were visiting. We buried her next to her father and said words over her. She said we could take supplies for the trail, so we did. We left feed and water for the animals before we left. Just wanted someone to know.
J. Smith and T. Jones
Friends of Miss Vinny”
Author’s Notes: Some dramatic license was taken with the House of Worth, which entity was not established until the mid-1850s. For this, its existence was pushed back to the 1840s.
The excerpt of the book Heyes read is from “Typee: A Peep of Polynesian Life,” Herman Melville’s first book, written in 1846.
The author wishes to thank Nora Winters, moonshadow, Fortitudine, and especially, Storm Richards – their generosity of time and ideas was invaluable.
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp