Posts : 244
Join date : 2015-11-29
Age : 60
Location : Norfolk, England
|Subject: Settling Wheat - Part Seven (Rescue) Sun May 28, 2017 3:07 am|| |
Settling Wheat – Part Seven (Rescue)Heyes was ill. He lay propped up in a sitting position, feeling cold, despite the blankets pulled up to his chin. The next moment he was hot and sweating. He was finding it hard to breathe. His broken ribs made it painful to take deep breaths and when he did take a breath, it was laboured and crackly. On top of that, he felt very sleepy. All that damm laudanum everyone kept making him take, no doubt. A setback, that’s all this was and he was determined to ride this out. Pneumonia, Ben had said. Ha! What did he know? Bad cold, that’s all. Yet deep down he knew it wasn’t. He was very ill and there was nothing he could do about it.
Groaning in resignation, he turned his head away and closed his eyes. He felt a cool cloth laid across his forehead. He opened his eyes to look at Mary.
“I’m sorry, Mary,” he whispered. Anything louder hurt his scratchy throat.
“You’ve nothing to be sorry about. It’s not your fault you’re ill.” She smiled at him and he returned it weakly. “Try and sleep now. I’ll get the laudanum.”
She started to get up.
“No!” Weak as he was, he caught her and held her. “No laudanum.”
Mary sat down again and gave him her stern look. The look that had the children behaving. The look he had always hoped would never turn on him. His hand let go of her wrist when he saw it.
“Ben says it’s because you wouldn’t take it before that you’ve got pneumonia. Laudanum helps deaden the pain, Josh. Because your ribs hurt so much, you haven’t been taking deep enough breathes. Breathing deeply helps clear out the lungs and that has allowed infection to set in.”
Heyes licked his lips, trying to think of something to say in reply.
“Cause and effect, Josh. There’s a formula for everything.” She rolled her eyes. “So you keep telling me.” She gave him that look again. “Now … .”
Heyes knew when to throw his hand in and now was that time. “Give me the damm laudanum then,” he muttered, petulantly. She’d won but he didn’t have to be gracious in defeat.
Mary got up with a smile. She went to the cabinet where water and the little brown bottle awaited.
“Where’s the Kid?” he asked, suddenly.
“He and Paul went for a ride to look at a piece of land for sale.” She thought it best not to tell him anything further. It would only worry him.
The Kid had returned to get Wheat and his gun. Mary could tell he was worried and uneasy. The way he kept drawing his gun and inspecting the chambers one at a time, told her that. It must be years since the Kid had strapped on a gun, even handled a gun like his Colt. Mary didn’t know who was the more nervous. Kid Curry because he knew he wasn’t the man he used to be or Wheat Carlson, because he knew it as well. It was an uneasy pair who rode off together in search of Cowdry.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------“It’s ready,” Cowdry said, clasping the big cauldron of beef stew he had made and heading for the table. He set it down with a thud in the middle.
“Hey watch it!” Clyde growled. “We were playing cards.”
“Well now you’re eating.” Cowdry beamed at the man. “Clear all this up,” he waved a hand at the cards and chips. “I’ll get plates and cutlery.” He turned away.
“Aren’t we supposed to be in charge here?” Rickon whispered to Clyde.
Clyde growled and sent a black look in Cowdry’s direction. “Yeah but … .” He sniffed. “That smells reeel good.” He paused with an eye on Cowdry’s back. “Quick. Do as he says and let’s get eatin’.”
Cowdry smirked to himself. He returned a moment later to a cleared table. Sitting down he began to serve.
“Now this is my Grandma’s recipe. She was famed throughout the Home Counties* for her beef stew so I hope you like it. Tuck in.”
Neither kidnapper needed telling again. They dug in hungrily.
“Hey! This is good,” Clyde said, genuinely surprised.
“Sure is. This is the best stew I ever tasted,” said, Rickon.
“Thank you. It came out better than I hoped,” Cowdry said, with a pleased grin.
In no time, two plates were scrapped clean and being offered up for more. Cowdry happily obliged.
“Say you ain’t eat much,” Rickon said, noticing Cowdry had barely touched his plate.
“No, thank you for your concern. I’m not very hungry. Given the circumstances, I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Awh, that’s a real shame,” Clyde grinned around a mouthful of stew.
Cowdry pushed his much smaller portion around his plate and only ate a forkful when one or other looked at him. Very soon, the cauldron was empty. Cowdry began to wonder how long the effect would take and … oh no, suppose they tied him up before it did! He scrapped back hischair.
“I er need to … you know …. spend a penny,” he said in embarrassment.
“Huh?” Rickon looked at Clyde for help.
“I need to …. look a gentleman never actually SAYS what his body tells him needs doing.”
“I need to PEE! Is one of you going to accompany me? I’ll go by myself if you prefer but I am your prisoner.”
He began to stalk to the door. Clyde intercept him, catching his shirt at the throat and putting his gun to his face.
“Ya’ll go when I tell ya!”
“Can you tell me soon because I really need to go,” Cowdry winced. “It’s a little urgent.”
Clyde pushed him away with a growl.
“Take him to the outhouse,” he ordered Rickon.
“Why me? You’re already on ya feet!”
“’Cos I’m tellin’ ya!”
Clyde advanced menacingly on Rickon who was still sitting at the table.
“Please gentlemen no fighting,” pleaded Cowdry who was now hopping up and down. “Just make up your minds please before there is a puddle.” Then to himself. “Which I’ll have to clean up no doubt.”
“Shut it Heyes!” Clyde didn’t take his eyes off Rickon.
“Oh not this again!” whined Cowdry. “I am not Heyes. It’s no good. I have to go. Shoot me if you need to!” With a nonchalant wave of dismissal, Cowdry wrenched the door open and stepped out.
“Get after him!”
Rickon decided that he had pushed Clyde far enough and disappeared after the prisoner. Cowdry made for the outhouse and reached it before Rickon caught up.
“Don’t try nuffin’! I’ll be right out here.”
Cowdry nodded, stepped into the outhouse and shut the door. The light was fading but there was still enough to see by. He wrinkled up his nose at the unsanitary conditions, snatched up the newspaper that hadn’t yet been prepared for it’s alternative use and spread several sheets over what passed for a seat, sat down and puffed.
Well he was out of the house but Rickon was right outside. How long could he push staying here? How long could he STAND staying here? It wasn’t exactly Kew Gardens.
Cowdry was unaware that hidden in the bushes less than thirty feet away was Kid Curry and Wheat Carlson. They were laying on their fronts in the undergrowth. No one would see them unless they were looking for someone specifically skulking in the bushes. The Kid had detected a slight stiffening of Wheat’s body when hostage and kidnapper came in sight.
“Don’t suppose you know who that is do ya Wheat?” the Kid whispered.
Wheat sniffed. “’Might.”
The Kid growled. “Wheat?”
“Alright! I … think that’s Rickon Bulmer.”
“So? Who’s he?”
Wheat shrugged and pursed his lips. “Small time crook. Muscle for hire.”
The Kid gave Wheat a sharp look. Wheat looked back. “What!”
The Kid looked away and shuddered. “I won’t ask how you know him,” he muttered.
Wheat gave a big sniff. “He ain’t the problem though Kid.”
“Then what is.”
“He’s gotta brother. Clyde I think his name is. He ain’t too bright but he’s real handy with a gun.”
As if on cue, the Kid reached back and drew his gun. He checked the chamber for bullets.
“When was the last time you er held a gun er Kid?” Wheat tried to sound casual and looked away to hide the smirk on his lips.
“It’s been a while,” the Kid growled.
“Guess ya don’t have to kill ya own dinner no more. Or face off against …”
“Hush up Wheat!” The look the Kid threw Wheat’s way should have and would have frozen him to the spot in past times. Not anymore. Wheat continued to chortle quietly to himself.
“Don’t get proddy, Kid. I jus’ means if ya want me to take the lead in this endeavour you jus’ say the word.”
“I may not be fast on the draw no more Wheat but I can still hit what I aim at.”
“Is that right?”
“Want me to test my theory on you Wheat? Go stand over by that tree. I’ll try real hard not to hit ya.”
Wheat gulped and sobered. “Didn’t mean nuttin’ by it Kid. Jus’ josh … .” Wheat tailed off as theKid touched his arm in warning. “What’s he doing?”
Rickon was holding his stomach and frowning. A noise emanated from him and then a smell, which caught on the wind blowing in their direction, reaching the skulkers a moment later.
“Sheesh!” Wheat pulled his bandana up over his nose.
The Kid pulled a face and put his gloved hand over his nose.
“Hurry up in there!” Rickon was now hammering on the door of the outhouse.
“Just a minute,” sang Cowdry’s cheerful voice from inside.
“Ya been in there long enough! What ya doing?”
“Ooh. You don’t want to know.”
“Get out here now! I’s gotta go!”
“I’m coming. Patience man.” It was several long moments before Cowdry emerged. The door was almost wrenched out of his hand so desperate was Rickon to get inside.
“I’ll make my own way back then,” Cowdry said to himself. He glanced at the cabin, wondering if the moment to make a break for it was now. Clyde was nowhere in sight.
Cowdry looked round with a frown. He couldn’t see anyone but he definitely thought he’d heard a voice and it was calling his name. He swallowed hard, gave the cabin one more glance and stepped slowly into the trees in the direction he thought the voice had come from. It was getting dark and he was moving away from the clearing the buildings occupied. The trees and undergrowth looked uninviting. All deep black shadows. Cowdry decided he’d go back and wait for the inevitable consequences of his stew on Clyde. By all accounts, it had already started on Rickon.
Cowdry about turned and started back. A gloved hand covered his mouth and held him firmly. He gasped and stiffened. Was it Clyde? A furtive look out of the corner of his eye told him it wasn’t. He looked into the amused face of Wheat Carlson. Then a grinning Kid Curry appeared in front of him. Cowdry relaxed and Wheat let him go.
The Kid put a finger across his lips and shook his head. He indicated behind them. All threecrouched down behind the bushes and watched as Clyde came out of the cabin at speed, heading for the outhouse.
“Hurry up in there!” He hammered on the door, just as Rickon had a few minutes before.
Cowdry gave a wide Heyesian grin. Dressed as he was, for a moment the Kid almost believed he was his partner.
“Paul?” he whispered in that man’s ear.
“I cooked stew sir.” Cowdry said, po-faced. “It doesn’t agree with them.”
“Paul, what have you done?”
From inside the outhouse there was a growl. “I’m having a s**t!”
Wheat smothered a chortle. ”Sheesh! Kid that’s some boy ya got there.”
“Yeah well I gotta go too!” Clyde hammered on the door again.
The Kid gave Cowdry a hard look. Cowdry looked back innocently.
Clyde growled and stomped off into the trees. Fortunately not in their direction.
The Kid put a hand on Cowdry’s arm. “Alright. I think we’re safe to move. Let’s edge back to the horses.”
Slowly and quietly, the three got up and headed away. Reaching the horses where they could talk freely, the Kid turned to Cowdry.
“Paul are you okay? Did they hurt you?” He looked at him in concern.
“I’m fine sir. They tied me up but no, they didn’t hurt me. Glad to be back in civilised company sir.”
With the last, he flicked a glance in Wheat’s direction. Wheat gave him a hard look.
“Did they tell you what they wanted with you? Did they take you ‘cos of me?”
Cowdry winced. “Yes sir. Sort of. They thought I was Mr Heyes sir.”
“Mr … Mr Heyes?” The Kid was wide eyed.
“Yes sir. One of them knew you were Kid Curry sir and you called me partner. They just assumed.”
The Kid grinned and gripped Cowdry’s shoulder, giving it a shake. “I’m sorry Paul.”
“He do look like Heyes.” Wheat said, eyeing Cowdry critically. “‘Specially in that get up.”
“Ye-ah, which brings us to the big question. If they thought you were Heyes, what did they want with Heyes?”
Cowdry swallowed and frowned. He licked his lips. The Kid stiffened. That was a mannerism straight out of Heyes’ collection. Especially when he was about to deliver the results of his planning. “I gave that some thought sir. While I was lying on the bed tied up.” He saw the look the Kid gave him. “Well there was nothing else to do sir. It passed the time.”
The Kid nodded and motioned for him to go on.
“Well I think they were only hired to keep watch on the lake sir. I don’t know what that reason is but there must be one. Anyway, when they saw you riding off, having called me partner they must have assumed I was Mr Heyes. It was opportunistic to me sir because they were talking later about persuading Mr Heyes to open a safe for them. After you rode off sir I went to sleep – well doze sir. I mean this morning was stressful for me sir. What with riding that horse and then falling off ….”
“Ya fell off!” Wheat hooted. “Sheesh! Don’t they teach you Limeys how to ride?”
“Yes sir we can.” Cowdry paused. “Well most of us can. A lot of us can. I rode as a boy to school but that was … . But it was only the plough horse sir. My sister Daisy rode up front and handled the reins and … things. I just sat behind. She’s older than me and …. .”
“Paul.” The Kid’s hand gripped Cowdry’s shoulder firmly and gave him a shake. “We’re getting off track.”
“Yes sir. They tied me up, brought me here and then Clyde went off to get someone called Bloodstone.”
“Bloodstone?” the Kid frowned. “I know that name.”
“What ya thinking Kid?”
The Kid shook his head. “It’ll come to me. Carry on Paul.”
“Well sir apparently Mr Bloodstone couldn’t come. I don’t know why but it I was relieved when he didn’t. Apparently he was going to – and I quote “give me a seeing to” unquote.”
The Kid growled. He was feeling a number of things. He was upset at Cowdry’s treatment because of him, even inadvertently. And the name Bloodstone had come to him now. A Mr Bloodstone had written to him in his official capacity as the government agent for the local Department of Land Management. If he was involved with these two men, then there was something under hand going on here. The Kid looked at Wheat and Cowdry. They looked back, expecting him to take the lead on this.
Cowdry didn’t look like he’d been harmed other than an almighty scare. Wheat just looked like he needed a drink.
“Paul, are ya sure ya’re alright?”
Cowdry nodded. “Yes sir. Just a little shaken sir.” He drew himself up. “I’ll live sir.”
The Kid smiled. “Good. We need to know what’s going on here. How d’ya feel ‘bout going back in there?”
Cowdry looked open mouthed. “Sir?” he squeaked.
“Yeah, I know it’s a lot to ask. Wheat will stay outside to keep watch. Make sure nothing happens to ya.”
“Uh?” This from Wheat, who had been thinking now they had Cowdry they would get on back to Amnesty.
“I think Lom oughta get in on this. Do YOU wanna go see him?”
Wheat drew himself up and sniffed. “S’right Kid. I don’t mind staying here and watching his back. See he don’t come to no harm. I’ll be right outside. Watching.” His expression told a different story but he wasn’t about to lose face in front of the Kid.
The Kid gave him a look and then turned to Cowdry. “Paul I’m not gonna force you and I’ll understand if you say no.”
Cowdry swallowed hard. The Kid could see he was having a battle with himself.
“Why is it important sir?” he asked, quietly.
The Kid couldn’t put it into words. Instinct was telling him there was something very wrong here. If he was going to do business with Bloodstone at the Department of Land Management, buy land from him, invest his money, then he needed to know who he was dealing with. He was a cautious man and he liked Pine Lake. On the other hand, he could just forget it and go back to Amnesty. It was none of his business. Cowdry was alive and well. Everything was good.
The Kid hesitated.
“’Cos I don’t want them to get away with the way they treated you, Paul. Ain’t right. And Wheat and I are law-abiding citizens now and we can’t stand by and let this sort of thing go on.”
“Yeah, we can,” Wheat muttered.
“Besides,” the Kid went on ignoring Wheat’s mutterings. “If the Bloodstone they were talking ‘bout is the same Bloodstone who wrote me then I need to know what this is all about.”
Cowdry nodded but didn’t say anything.
“Kid, like ya say this is Lom’s area of expertise. Let him deal with it. Ya man’s had an upset. We oughta be getting him back,” Wheat argued, seeing coffee, food and a warm comfortable bed waiting back at Amnesty for him as well.
The Kid sighed. “Yeah.” He pursed his lips, thoughtfully.
“Or?” Cowdry grinned, suddenly in a very Heyesian way, only minus the dimples. “You er how do you westerners say it? Get the drop on those two and hogtie ‘em real good.”
The Kid scowled. “You a secret dime novel reader, Paul?” he demanded, irritably.
Cowdry looked embarrassed. “Might have one or two in my room sir,” he forced out, not meeting the Kid’s eyes.
Beside him, Wheat was rubbing his chin, obviously deep in thought. He was frowning.
“Ya know Kid, that ain’t a bad idea,” he said, slowly.
“Well, I’s done some thinking.” Wheat sniffed and hitched his pants. “’Cos I can do that. As I’m leading this here rescue.”
“Wheat,” the Kid growled, menacingly.
“Well it’s like this. There’s two of them right?”
The Kid folded his arms and nodded, waiting to see what Wheat had to say. Now he knew how Heyes had felt having to listen to some of Wheat’s unworkable plans all those years ago.
“And there’s three of us right?”
“I can’t argue with ya so far. You’ve got it bang to rights.”
Wheat ignored the Kid’s sarcasm and pressed on.
“There’s me and this here Colt.” In emphasis, he took his gun out of his holster. “And there’s you.” He waved a hand in the Kid’s direction. “And yours. Reckon you ain’t forgotten which way round it goes.”
“Thanks,” the Kid false smiled.
“And then there’s … .” Wheat looked at Cowdry, who looked horrified. Wheat wrinkled up his nose. “Well there’s two of us anyhow.” He paused and nodded his head back at the outhouse. “They ain’t going anywhere just yet are they? They’re occupied. I figure once they get through being occupied, they’re gonna come looking for ya man here.”
Wheat put his gun away and drew himself up. He was pleased. His audience were warming to what he had to say.
“If they were to find him sitting in the cabin waiting for them, they’d be real pleased, given the circumstances they find themselves in right now. Kid, you and me, can be hid in the bedroom. Reckon we could get the drop on ‘em easy enough. Then when they’re all tied up, tight, I can take ya man back to Amnesty and you can go get the law. Reckon Lom could use some company in that jail of his, right about now.”
The Kid put his hand on Wheat’s shoulder and grinned. “Wheat, I take back everything I ever said about ya.”
Wheat swelled with pride and then realised what the Kid had said. “What?”
The Kid patted his shoulder. “Good plan, Wheat, good plan. Cowdry are you in? All this hinges on you?”
“You’ll be in the bedroom sir?” Cowdry looked anxiously at him.
“Yep, just the other side of the door.”
Cowdry nodded. “Okay sir. Then I’ll … .” Big gulp. “Do it sir.”
The Kid smiled at him. “Then we best get on with it. Those two won’t stay occupied for long.”
The Kid pulled up outside the Porterville sheriff’s office and dismounted. He tied Heyes’ horse up outside and gave it a pat. It was well passed dark now and he and Blackie, as Heyes called him, had been out all day and ridden a fair few miles together. The Kid took a moment to ease the kinks out of his back and winced at how sore his legs and backside felt. He wasn’t used to all this riding.
Feeling like a poor excuse for a bow legged old cowhand, he walked up to the door. With his hand on the door handle, he paused. He wasn’t prepared for the sudden stab of trepidation that hit him. He had no reason to feel that way. He lived a different life now. One that wasn’t full of danger and the constant threat of being turned in. He was going in to see an old friend and this time he was doing the turning in. He fought hard to swallow the feeling down before pushing in.
However, inside he didn’t find Lom. The man behind the desk looked up and then sat back in surprise. The Kid recognized him immediately and that feeling of trepidation came straight back.
“Mary told me you were here,” the man said.
“Luke,” the Kid nodded, closing the door. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he had met Luke Fletcher, Heyes’ father-in-law. Also, former sheriff of Porterville retired with an enviable reputation. He had eyes that could see right through you. Old habits die hard and it made the Kid uneasy. He didn’t like that feeling.
Luke eyed the man known as Thaddeus Jones but was really Kid Curry. He had been relieved when Curry had left Porterville after his daughter’s marriage, leaving only the one former outlaw to deal with. While he was reconciled to who his son-in-law was, a man who so far hadn’t put a foot wrong and was doing all right by his daughter, this one was an entirely different proposition. This one was a killer, he was sure of it. Yet there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Even though he was several years retired, the career lawman in him was hard to shake. He still had a powerful urge to see this one locked up.
“Is Lom around?” the Kid asked, glancing around the office.
“Nope. He and Bart had an incident to deal with out of town. I’m minding the store ‘till they get back.” He glanced at the clock behind the Kid. “Shouldn’t be too much longer.”
The Kid nodded. Now he had a dilemma. Stay here in the uneasy company of Luke Fletcher. Alternatively, go back to the cabin in the woods. Try to bring the Bulmer brothers in on his own. The grim memory of the state those two were in flooded back. Naw! Leave ‘em there for now.Lom wouldn’t want them stinking up his jail anyway.
Only one thing for it then.
“Mind if I wait?” he asked.
Luke shrugged. “Help yaself.” He motioned to a chair.
The Kid looked at the chair, thought about it, then thought better of it. His backside agreed. Standing up was a good option right now. Instead, he leaned his elbow on top of the filing cabinet.
“Preferred to stand. If ya don’t mind.”
“Suit yaself.” With a smirk, Luke looked down at the newspaper he was reading. He knew the signs of somebody not used to riding.
The atmosphere was uncomfortable. The Kid glanced round the office, chewing his lips. The air filled with the rustle of newspaper pages as they turned. Then suddenly the newspaper was finished and folded. Luke sighed and sat back in his chair. He looked at the Kid.
“Guess as we’re family of sorts we ought to get to know one another. Coffee?”
The Kid nodded. As Luke got up to tend to that, the Kid crossed to the chair he had declined earlier. If he was going to have to chat politely with this formidable man, he might as well be uncomfortable as well.
A few minutes later, Luke settled himself back in his chair and took a sip of his coffee as he regarded the Kid.
“Back to see your cousin?”
“Yes sir,” the Kid answered, addressing the man in the same way he remembered Heyes doing.“He’s badly hurt. Figgered he might want me around for a while. Take care of his business.”
“Ye-ah, Mary told me what happened. Real lucky young fella by all accounts.” Luke sipped his coffee thoughtfully.
The Kid widened his eyes and nodded. “Yes,” he agreed.
“Good of ya to come all this way. Boston isn’t it?”
“And what do ya do? In Boston?”
The Kid didn’t figure it was any of his business but this was Heyes’ father-in-law and they were family. Sort of. So continuing his politeness theme, he answered.
“Huh?” Luke frowned.
The Kid grinned, ruefully. “I know. It’s a kinda strange thing. Fell into it by accident.” He pursed his lips and shrugged. “Seems I’m rather good at it. Got regular clients. Make a good living.” He shrugged again.
“What sorta investments?”
“Small businesses mainly. Folks with good ideas. Sometimes all that’s needed is a helping hand.”
Luke looked interested. This wasn’t anything like what he’d expected. On reflection, he wasn’t sure what he HAD expected. The whole notion of Kid Curry living in such a refined place as Boston was almost inconceivable.
The Kid took a deep breath. He hadn’t expected to be talking about this tonight with so many other things on his mind. “When I got the amnesty I got a big helping hand. Now I’m in a position where I can help other people. After all my years of taking, I wanna give something back. Y’know make a difference.”
Luke nodded and indicated that the Kid should go on.
“So I look for good ideas. Businesses just starting up and I see if I can help. Don’t always work out. Money isn’t always what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a fresh pair of eyes. Folks get so focused on their pet projects they can’t always see the whole picture. So I takes a look and I tell ‘em honestly if I think it’ll work.”
The Kid paused. “Sometimes it’s just a bit more knowledge that they need. Can’t always help with that but I know people who might. Put ‘em in touch. Or I can find out who can help them and make the introductions.”
He rolled his eyes. “My wife knows all sorta people. Some I don’t wanna think about how she knows. So I take a small percentage, in shares or as a commission percentage on net profits and it’s worked out over the years. Got an office and a company name and a team of four who work with me.”
The Kid had realized he said more than he intended. Somehow, once he’d got started on the subject he found it hard to shut up. Guess that’s how Heyes felt the times he ran on.
He grinned. “Not doing too bad for an washed up ole gunslinger huh?”
He was running out of things to say so he was only too relieved to see a couple of lawmen walk in. Never thought he’d feel that.
“Howdy, Lom,” he grinned, getting to his feet.
“Kid!” Lom returned his grin.
Beside him, Bart blanched. Oh, my word! This was Kid Curry!
Lom noticed his deputy’s face and sighed. “Thaddeus, good to see ya again,” he said, quickly, shaking the offered hand. “You remember my deputy, Bart Wilkins? Harker’s nephew.”
“Oh? Oh, yes. Harker, yes of course. How do?”
The Kid smiled and touched the brim of his hat in Bart’s direction. The young deputy looked like his legs were going to give out. Not for the first time just lately was he reconsidering a career in law enforcement.
Somewhere out in the night, Wheat and Cowdry rode back to Amnesty. Cowdry once again on Mary’s mare and was glad that Wheat was keeping them to a gentle walk.
“Mr Curry called you Wheat. Is that your name?” Cowdry asked suddenly. “When we first arrived, he introduced you as Walter Brown.”
Wheat sniffed. “Well some of us folks hereabouts have more’n one name. It’s a tradition, like.”
Cowdry nodded. “Confusing.”
“Yep. Introduced to strangers as one name. Then when we gets to know ya, you can call us something different.” In the darkness, Wheat rolled his eyes. Just how gullible was this Limey?
Not very. Wheat didn’t see the smirk on Cowdry’s face. He had a fair idea who “Mr Brown” was. Instead, he shrugged and seemed to accept it.
“Well whatever you’re called sir. Thank you for rescuing me.”
“Awh! Think nothing of it. You’re the Kid’s man. He’d bust my head if’n I hadn’t.”
Cowdry grinned. “Never seen him do that in Boston.”
“Yeah well, I guess things are a mite more civilized back there. This is the wild ole west. Somethings are still on the raw side. Ain’t so refined. Must be a real eye-opener for an Englishman, huh?”
“I’ve been in America for ten years now!” Cowdry protested. “That’s a long time. I now consider myself an American.”
“Ain’t lost your accent.”
Cowdry winced. “No sir. To my regret, no.”
“This your first time west of the Mississippi?”
Wheat grinned. He had spotted an opportunity to have a little fun. One too good to pass up.
“Ya alright on that horse there? Ya don’t look too steady.”
“I’m tired. It’s been a long day.”
“Mrs ….,” Cowdry frowned.
Wheat looked at him. “What?”
“Well Mr Curry said that in town, Mrs Heyes was known as Mrs Smith but it was alright to call her Mrs Heyes at Amnesty. We’re not at either so what do I refer to her as here?”
“Sheesh! You city boys worry ‘bout the darnedest things!”
“I don’t want to be disrespectful sir.”
“Ya won’t. Her name’s Mary. Refer to her as that.”
“Oh no!” Cowdry shook his head furiously. “I couldn’t do that.”
“Well because I’m not a … guest, like you are sir. I’m Mr Curry’s employee.”
Wheat widened his eyes. He hadn’t really given it a thought. “His employee?”
“Yes sir. I’m Mr Curry’s valet.”
Wheat felt like he’d been poleaxed for a moment and then he chortled.
“Kid Curry with a va-lay!”
Wheat’s chortle turned into a full-blown laugh. “Oh sheesh! Kid Curry has a va-lay!”
“I really don’t see what’s so funny,” Cowdry said, feeling offended. “He values my work. And I’m good at my job.” He paused. “I think.”
It was sometime before Wheat calmed and could speak coherently again. Wheat wiped his eyes. “Va-lay! Wait ‘till I tell Kyle ‘bout this. He’ll …. .” Wheat sobered immediately he realized what he’d said. He wouldn’t be telling Kyle anything and he looked away.
“Something wrong?” Cowdry asked in concern.
“Naw! We’d best be getting ya back. Let’s pick up the pace here,” he said, gruffly and kicked his horse into a trot.
Cowdry had no choice but to go with him. Although the moon was up, the night was still dark. He didn’t know where he was or how to get back to Amnesty. He needed Wheat and couldn’t afford to lose him. Reluctantly, he urged the mare after Wheat’s disappearing back.
“Mr Brown! Please wait, Mr Brown. I don’t know where I’m going! I can’t ride as well as you! Please wait!” Cowdry’s voice juddered as he bounced along, getting higher and more panic-stricken as he went. “Wheat!”
Ahead Wheat heard him. This man was is responsibility. The Kid had entrusted him to get him safely back to Amnesty. Much as he found him annoying, he begrudgingly had to concede that he had shown a certain amount of bravery in going back into the cabin and acting as a hostage again. What was it he heard that called? Pluck that was it. The man was plucky.
Wheat growled and stopped. Looking back he watched as Cowdry bounced up, holding on for dear life. Definitely not a natural horseman. Wheat had to put out a hand and catch the reins to stop him. This va-lay obviously didn’t know how to stop a horse!
“Thank you,” Cowdry gasped in relief. “I’m sorry if I said something to upset you.”
“Naw, ya didn’t. Come on.”
Wheat turned back the way they had been heading. They rode in silence, Cowdry trying to calm his breathing.
“What exactly does a va-lay do?” Wheat asked suddenly.
“I look after Mr Curry’s clothes and personal possessions. I dress him sir.”
“Ya dress him!”
Cowdry shuddered. “Well not literally sir. I make sure his clothes are laundered and in good order. I make sure they are ready when he wants them. I have to anticipate his requirements and that’s not always easy. It can be a challenge. Mr Curry’s movements are sometimes hard to predict.”
“So that’s all ya do huh? Sheesh! That’s a real cushy job.”
“Not really sir. Somedays several changes of clothes are required. I can be quite rushed off my feet. And that’s if we remain at home. If there’s an appointment away from home, I have to know the number of days we’ll be away, what the purpose of the journey away is so I can anticipate Mr Curry’s requirements. It can be quite demanding and complicated.” Cowdry grinned. “But I don’t get it wrong too often and I think Mr Curry appreciates that.”
Wheat snorted and looked away, shaking his head. The Kid had a real different life now that’s for sure.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*The English countries immediately surrounding London are collectively known as the Home Counties.
Kid Curry and that other fella; Hannibal Heyes and whatsname