THE TRAIN RIDE
Nathaniel Ryne was 10 years old and off on his first train ride with his parents in tow. They were travelling to Wyoming Territory to visit his mother’s sister and to meet her and her husband’s new addition; a healthy baby girl. Nathanial didn’t really care about meeting his new cousin, but a TRAIN RIDE! Now that was something to get excited about!
He had barely slept the night before and had been a general all round pest to his parents as the final count down came into effect and this new experience was so close he could taste it. His parent’s were hopeful that since he had hardly slept he might settle down and spend the night on board in blissful slumber. Hopeful—but not convinced.
That morning, while they waited on the platform for the train to accept them into it’s confined interior, little Nathan ran back and forth with his toy gun shooting at the horses, the other passengers, the dogs, the train, birds in the sky, nails in the planks. In other words, anything that caught his mischievous eyes. Instead of being tired, he was running high on adrenaline and enjoying every minute of it.
Finally, finally, finally the conductor indicated that it was time to board the train and everyone began making their way into their specified cars and settling in to their proper seats. This was wonderful! It smelled so different than the coach they had ridden in on other excursions. Wood and leather and fine upholstery mingled with the smells coming in through the open windows. Sounds of the engine and the steam whistling out from under the wheels mingled with horses whinnying and people talking. Occasionally a dog barked. But so many new sensations! Nathaniel just didn’t know where to look or listen first.
His parents finally got him settled into their seating arrangements and he resigned himself to sitting on his father’s lap and watching the other passengers coming on board and settling themselves into their seats that would be their homes for the duration of the journey.
He soon became restless again and began using the back of the seat as make-believe cover and shooting at the other people with his toy gun. His mother admonished him, telling him that it was rude to point a gun, even a toy one, at other people. She would take it away from him if he didn’t settle down. He moaned. She was always ruining his fun. But he tucked the gun into his waistband anyways and contented himself with hiding behind the back of the seat and ‘spying’ on the other passengers.
As the car began to fill up and everyone was settling in Nathan noticed that there were three rows of seats near the back of their car that were not being claimed. Nathaniel wondered at this, but his father shrugged it off as nothing important. Probably reserved for people getting on further down the line. It was going to take a couple of days to get to Wyoming and passengers would be coming and going throughout the trip.
Finally, after what seemed another eternity, Nathan heard the conductor announce "All aboard!" and the engine released more steam and three loud whistles, then with a jerk and clatter and a chug chug chug they actually started moving! Wow, this was great. They chugged past the station and the rented surrey they had used to get there and then they started picking up speed. They past the mercantile and the livery and the saloon and all the people on the street and the horses and the buggies and then they were on the outskirts of the town and moving into the open countryside.
The train picked up speed again and then settled into the ground covering ‘gait’ that would carry them past fields and trees and streams and bridges and all the way in to the next territory. Nathaniel squirmed over onto his mother’s lap and she settled him into a more comfortable position for him to be able to sit and look out the window. He sat there for some time, his arms and chin resting on the open window sill, watching the landscape slide by, feeling the breeze and listening to the clackity clack of the wheels speeding them along towards their destination.
The cool spring morning floated into a warm afternoon and Nathan began to drift off in a nap, much to his parent’s relief. Sandwiches with tea or lemonade had been brought around for lunch and the passengers were mostly content to sit back and snooze the afternoon away.
The train passed through a number of various sized towns in its journey towards Wyoming, stopping in some and pushing on through in others. Still, the three empty rows of seats remained just that—empty. Evening came on and people pulled out packaged food for dinner, and sweets and drinks were brought round and offered to anyone wanting them. Windows were closed up against the evening chill and quiet conversation and nighttime settling in took the place of clacking wheels and intense scenery watching.
Night was well underway. The lamps in the car had been dimmed so that people who were able to sleep could do so. Nathaniel lay snuggled in his father’s arms. He lay quietly, soothed by the rhythmic rise and fall of his father’s chest as he slept. His mother was also asleep, as were the majority of the other passengers. Nathaniel snoozed simply because there was really nothing else to do.
Dimly he became aware of the train slowing down and finally coming to a halt in yet another small town along the route. He looked out the window and could see lamps lighting up the platform outside, but not too much else. He became aware of men’s voices, speaking quietly and then footsteps as they walked along the planks beside the car.
He heard a door squeaking open and four men walked into the isle of their car. Nathaniel was instantly totally awake. He knew right away that something was different with these men. The first thing he noticed is that three of them were carrying rifles and then he saw the shining tin stars of law officers peeking out from behind light jackets. He watched intently as the small group walked down the isle towards him and then as they drew near he saw that the second man was shackled, his hands in front of him, cuffed to a belt that was drawn snugly around his waist. The third man had his hand pressed against the prisoners back, encouraging him to keep moving forward.
Nathanial looked up at the prisoner as he came level with their seats and suddenly his heart was in his throat. The prisoner was looking at him! Nathanial was drawn in to those dark piercing eyes and experienced a mixture of sensations he had never known before. Fear, excitement, awe. He couldn’t look away.
The prisoner sent him a hint of a smile and a small wave with one of his shackled hands. Nathaniel tucked into the safety of his father’s shoulder but couldn’t take his eyes off the man. They passed on by and the prisoner was directed into the second of the three rows of empty seats. He complacently sat down in the seat nearest the window and waited patiently while one of the officers took more chains from a companion, then knelt down by the prisoner and did something with them than Nathanial could not see. All he could hear was the soft rattle of the chain and locks clicking into place. Then the three lawmen settled into seats themselves. One, a really large, intimidating man, sat down beside the prisoner, one sat in front and the third took the seat behind them. All kept their rifles at the ready.
Nathaniel continued to stare. A real, live, authentic, outlaw! Wow! The man did not appear to be dangerous at the moment, but there was still something about him that made Nathan’s heart beat a little faster. He was obviously someone important if he warranted three officers and three rifles and all those chains to accompany him on this journey.
Nathan wondered where he was from and where he was going. He imagined a wild chase on horseback, guns blazing and men yelling as they ran the outlaw down! Could anything be more exciting?! Then his heart seemed to stop in his chest and a thrill of fear went through him as the outlaw's dark brown eyes locked onto his again. The man was beyond tired, beyond weariness. Even Nathan’s youthful judgement could tell that and yet he still sent the young boy an acknowledging nod and a soft smile.
Nathaniel pulled out his toy gun and aiming it at the outlaw, made believe shooting at him. The man’s smile deepened and he nodded subtly, as though to himself as though he recognized and accepted the irony and the justification of the boy’s playful action. Then the smile faded and total exhaustion emanated from the very core of his being.
Hannibal Heyes turned away from the boy, and with a sigh, looked out the window into the night as the train jerked slightly into motion and continued on its way towards Wyoming.