7. Part Two, Chs 13 to 15

SUNDAY MORNING – NARRATED BY NELL

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No.” Since this is stretching the truth to breaking point, I change it to, “Yes, a bit.” His arm tightens, protectively, round me, the hand gently stroking the curve of my flank, over and over. My hair is kissed. I snuggle in yet closer. “It doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t want you to think I planned this. It just sorta – happened.”

“I know. I was there – remember? – being half of what just sort of made it happen.”

Silence. Except for the twitter of birds, buzz of insects and the steady beating of his heart under my ear, as my head rests upon the wall of his chest. My fingertips fondle the fine hairs damp with morning dew and sweat. I will think sensible thoughts later. Just now – bliss!

“Helen…”

“Uh huh?”

“It’ll be better next time. Promise.”

Better next time? Oh! Was it not good for him? I thought it was wonderful. Well, the part beforehand was utterly wonderful and the bit afterwards when he was touching me – there – THAT was beyond wonderful. Did I do something wrong in the middle, during the actual – er, congress – section?

“Wasn’t it any good? Was it my fault? Should I have….?”

Good heavens! This is out loud! AND, someone has stolen my voice and replaced it with a scared-fifteen-year-old version! Joshua wriggles around so he can shut me up with a kiss.

“Yeah, it was all your fault! ‘Cos if it hadn’t been for YOU, I wouldn’ta been all fired up like a schoolboy and…” He grins, “Let’s leave it at this; ONE, I’m real glad you don’t have nothing to compare that performance with; and, TWO, believe me – it’s gonna be a LOT better next time.”

Oh. I think I know what he is talking about. I relax.

“Who says there’ll be a next time? Maybe that was your one chance and you blew it!” I tease. Pause.

A hand, not one of mine, strays. “Wanna make next time right now?”

YES!

I sigh, “No, I have to go. I have work to do.”

“It’s Sunday!

“I know. But I promised Ann.”

“Ten minutes? Anyhow, what the Sam Hill are you two up to?”

“Wait and see! I have to go.”

“Charles knows you’re plotting something too. Him an’ me – we’re gonna find out.”

“You do that. I have to go.”

“Five minutes?”

“Why, gee, Joshua! That sounds really tempting! Five whole minutes! What on earth would we do with the spare four and a half? Did you bring a pack of cards?”

“HEY!”

I sit up, reach over to collect a couple of abandoned garments. (That would be garments from an abandoned woman! Do you get it? Oh, never mind!) Joshua props himself on one elbow, plucks a long strand of grass and starts to chew; warm brown eyes linger on my body.

I bend to pull on a stocking. I glance over and hesitate. Laying flat is one thing. Everything falls into flattering place. This is…

“Don’t watch!” I blush.

“Awww! Why not?”

“Because… Because…” I am searching for something sensible to say, when the truth blurts out. “Because I’m embarrassed about – about my size.”

“Huh? I hafta break it to you, Helen, you’re just as short with your clothes on.”

“Not my height! My – my…” I search, “…my embonpoint.” Blank look. Genuine I think. “My rotundity! My girth! This!” I wobble a roll. “YOU’RE laying there all lean and perfect and gorgeous – and look at ME!” Another wobble. Not an entirely honest wobble, I am sucking it in. I know, in theory, looks do not matter, but – they do, don’t they?

“I am lookin’ at you.” He leans forward, hand outstretched towards my stomach, “…Can I do that?” The touch more of a caress than a wobble. He sits up too, bends to kiss the folds. “Anywhere else need attention?”

“You don’t think I’m too fat?”

“Not for this.” More exploring of soft areas by roving lips. “Maybe too fat for climbing through small windows…” Nuzzle. “Or ballet dancing, all that hefting the fellas hafta do …” Gentle lick. “Or the high-wire act. I mean imagine, bo.i.i.i., bo.i.i.i., bo.i.i.i.i.i.! Ow! Stoppid! OW! Leggo, woman! OW!” A laughing face looks up. He sees though I am trying not to look as if I lack a sense of humour, part of me does not find this funny. “Helen! Are you serious?! You’re lovely. And, even if you weren’t, you’re the…” He stops.

“What? I’m the what?”

The love of his life? The one and only? What? Tell me!

“You know perfectly well, woman! Stop fishing! If you’d had reptile scales and a tail hidden under those petticoats, you’d STILL have my tongue hangin’ out and drool dripping onto my boots! A few extra inches – sheesh – I call that a bonus. More to love, huh?”

Love! He used the ‘L’ word! He does love me then? He said so – didn’t he? Well, sort of.

“Now, carry on and let me enjoy the view.” He plucks another spear of grass, settles back. A smug smile dimples his cheeks, “So, I’m lean an’ perfect an’ gorgeous, huh? Would you care to expand on that? I need details.”

-oooOOOooo-

“Joshua…” We are walking to the edge of the trees. It is like the other mornings – except, not.

“Uh huh?”

“You won’t forget you and Thaddeus are due at Ann’s for supper?”

“Nope. Seven for seven thirty. Wear the suit ‘cos there’ll be a few folks there, including your Aunt and you want me to keep on making a good impression… Isn’t Ann getting a touch close to baby day to be throwing a party?”

“Not close, past. Baby day was yesterday. She says she wants something to take her mind off just sitting, waiting and watching Charles twitch like a cat on hot bricks every time she gets a twinge.” I do not meet his eyes when I say this. It is true – but not the WHOLE truth.

“Uh huh,” he grunts. “Okay. Where was I? Oh yeah, if your Aunt makes you sing, I’m not allowed to laugh. I’m not to say anything to annoy Mrs. Rutherford because it’s not worth it. I’m not to scuttle off to a corner with Charles and bore on about the newspaper all night; I hafta mingle. If any of the ladies wear something low cut I’m to keep my eyes to myself or you’ll show me how much pain can be inflicted with nothing but medical training and a sharp pencil.”

“That would be a LOT of pain,” I stress.

“Don’t worry, I’m briefed.” Sad shake of the head. “Talk about hen-pecked.”

“I…” After what happened not fifteen minutes ago, I do not know why THIS is making me so tongue-tied. “I – you might find Aunt Miriam wants to talk to you.” Pause. No reaction from him. “She – she knows about us. She asked and I told her.”

Aunt Miriam had sat me down for a kind little talk about how attentive Mister Smith was becoming. How he might misconstrue my friendliness. How he might believe I returned his feelings. How it is not kind to let a man think you care for him – that way – if you have no intention of accepting an offer. And, of course, since Mister Smith was not ‘quite, quite’…

Aunt Miriam is not a fool. She was being tactful. She knew I cared. She did not know how much. I doubt I knew quite how much until I told her, I DO return his feelings. At least, I return what I hope are his feelings. I love him. I am sorry, but if that means a breach between us – so be it. I love him. I love him. I love him. Surely she can see, whatever his background, he is… He is perfect for me. I love him.

She took my hand, told me nothing would ever mean a breach between us. Not ever.

Then, she asked if he had declared himself.

Oh dear.

There I was, all ready to defend my Romeo and my right to choose against all criticism and she had me squirming with the first question.

“You told her we’ve been meeting most mornings?”

“NO! I would never tell her that unless she asked EXACTLY the right question! You mustn’t either! Never! She’d be so disappointed in me! She’d think I’m…” I stop.

Cheap? Stupid? Incapable of following wise advice? She would be right – would she not?

I stop wittering, start again with a fresh sentence.

“I told her we – like each other. That we are, I suppose one could say, courting. I had to. Well, I didn’t HAVE to, no one ever HAS to do anything, but I did.”

We are courting, aren’t we? Please say something.

“I told Ann too. She’s my best friend. So, I told her.”

Silence.

“I told them both you’re the most wonderful man I ever met.”

When he speaks, his voice is husky, though the words are jocular, “They didn’t fall for THAT guff, did they? Two days ago you told me I was an ignoramus who wouldn’t understand an ironic passage if I walked down it wearing a miner’s lamp on my hat!” He purses his lips. “Mind you, it explains why you’ve turned me down like a bedspread three times this week because you and Ann have got ‘something important that you can’t tell me about’ to yap over.”

Er, no, it does not, actually. But that is another story.

“Now I know I’M the something important you ladies need to lock yourselves away to discuss, I’ll quit with the pouting next time.”

He is trying to lighten the tone. I should say something teasing back. I should… I open my mouth and…

“I love you, Joshua.” There! I said it first. I did not mean to – but, I did. Silence. “You’re not angry are you?”

“It’s not the first emotion that springs to mind, no.”

“I mean – angry I told.”

“No. I’m not angry.” Pause. “I’m – I’m – Sheesh, Helen! You finally did it! You left me speechless!” We are at the end of the trees. He looks down, presses my hand. “I’ll see you this evening. Goodbye.”

And – he starts to stride away. I drop my hands to my hips and stare after him. What? WHAT? I cannot believe it! How dare he? Ten seconds later, he stops – apparently lost in thought, then spins on his heel and comes back.

“Just in case you need to hear it, I do too.”

“You do WHAT too? Think you’re the most wonderful man in the world?”

“No! Well, yeah actually, but I meant – the other thing you said AFTER that. Right back at you.”

And, he is off again!

“Joshua Dimwit Ignoramus Smith!”

He turns, “Uh huh?”

“Call me sentimental, but when I indulged in girlish dreams of saying ‘I love you’ to a man for the first time, the reply I imagined was NOT a grunt of ‘right back at you’!”

“I thought you’d wanna hear it.”

“I DO want to hear it! Properly!” In case I have not made myself crystal clear, I add, “Get back here and say it, NOW!”

“Sheesh!” He begins to grin, “Women! Never satisfied!”

He strides back and catches me up in a hug so tight I squeak. I am kissed until I do the wringing wet, melting-helpless-in-his-arms act, then three little words – YES, the right three! – are murmured into my ear. Several times. With embellishments. Satisfactory embellishments.

“That do?” he asks.

“Uh huh.” By now I am gazing up at him, I hope looking starry-eyed, but possibly the correct descriptor might be – dopey. I try to correct this. “Usually you would lose marks for repetition, but just this once, I will overlook it.”

His voice becomes gruff, “I don’t deserve you. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Aw, Joshua!” I let the tip of my nose touch his. “Right back at you!”

-oooOOOooo-

Now.

I daresay some of you out there will want to reprove my behaviour this morning.

Possibly your reproof will revolve around lack of willpower, lack of moral fibre, lack of modesty, lack of… Let us admit it! Various virtues were tried and found lacking!

Possibly your reproof will be more pragmatic, centring on the generally held truth that: ‘Sister! You want a man to buy your book? Don’t open a free library!’

Possibly your reproof will consist of a good shake and yelling, “IDIOT! What were you thinking?!”

Let me plead guilty! I know, I know, I know, I know, I know!

Very shortly, I intend to take myself severely to task and spend an agonised sleepless night or two beating myself up.

I just need to stop walking on air first.

I love him. He loves me.

I am the most desirable woman in the whole history of the world!

I must be – HE loves me!

We will get married and spend the rest of lives together being… I cannot think of a word good enough!

I am SO happy that… Er… So happy that…

If I were you – I would go now, because, you know what I once said about you NOT having to worry about me bursting into song.

I lied!

-oooOOOooo-

THAT SAME SUNDAY MORNING – NARRATED BY KID CURRY

“…Where the Sam Hill have you been?” I push out a chair for Heyes. I’ve already wrapped myself around my morning portion of ham, eggs and tomatoes and am mopping up the last few licks of yolk with a hunk of bread.

“Nowhere.”

He reaches for the coffee pot.

“Ain’t that where you were yesterday mornin’?”

“Nope. Yesterday I made an early start to go cover a story out in Harper Grove.”

“Uh huh?”

“This morning, I was simply taking the air. Anything wrong with that?”

“Yeah. It’s Sunday. The one day of the week we don’t HAFTA drag ourselves up before seven.”

Since Heyes isn’t shifting, I thought I’d better find me a job too. There’s an extension to the lumber mill being constructed; I got myself taken on. Not that I’ve been there this week. Monday the foreman asked if I’d go with him and another fella to escort back this new machinery we’re all busy building a home for. Guess he thought I looked used to travelling, huh? I went. It made a change from getting dragged along to one dang thing after another by Heyes. I kinda hoped that when I got back the novelty of hanging around respectable events for, if he was lucky, five minutes with Nell mighta worn off. No such luck.

The boss has offered to keep me on after the build finishes, if I want. ‘S’okay. There’s worse places to spend a summer. Friendly enough crew. Boss who treats folk fair and appreciates you showing a little initiative. In fact, it’s a bit more than okay – it’s kinda nice. I’m not saying I’d wanna do it forever – but, yeah, ‘s’okay.

“Guess some of us just don’t need as much beauty sleep, Kid.”

I look at him. An innocent smile beams back. Too innocent. “You’ve been with her!”

“Kid! Tchah!” The innocence becomes – what’s the word? – oh yeah, outraged. Brown eyes reproach me. “Your mind!”

“Are you tellin’ me you AIN’T sneakin’ out to meet her?”

“Nope. I’m not.”

“Uh huh.” I narrow my eyes, search that poker face, “You sure?”

“Yup. I’m real sure I’m not telling you I haven’t been out to meet her.” Pause. “I’m also real sure I’m not telling you I have been out to meet her. I’m not telling you nothing. A gentleman, Kid…” A sad shake of his head. “…DON’T bandy a lady’s name.”

“Heyes…”

“Shuddup.”

“Don’t tell me to shuddup! I gotta right to say what I…”

“No. Shuddup – the sheriff’s coming.”

I twist my head around. Bill Fraser is, indeed, heading our way. We exchange a glance. Has someone said something? Has he been studying wanted posters? We haven’t noticed any familiar faces, haven’t been aware of anyone looking our way with dollar signs in their eyes. When we arrived two weeks back the sheriff made sure he ran into us on our first day, gave us a civil ‘Howdy boys, you’re back, huh? Staying long?’ He let us know without actually putting it into words, he still had one eye on my gun and another on Heyes’ card hand, but, as we’d never given a sniff of trouble in his town, our ‘benefit of the doubt’ was still in place. Since then, apart from one evening when he leant on the bar and thoughtfully watched a self-conscious Heyes playing blackjack ‘gainst two fellas from the sawmill and a livery-hand in a game where the stakes never rose above a quarter, we’ve had exactly what we appreciate most from town sheriffs; indifference.

He don’t look indifferent now though. He don’t exactly look like a man coming to arrest two outlaws, neither. For one thing, sheriffs who know who I am, tend to have a gun drawn. I notice something else. Though I get a nod which I can interpret as ‘G’morning’, his attention is on Heyes. Again, this is kinda good. If we were about to get arrested – he’d wanna pick up the pair, not settle for a single.

“‘Morning, Smith.”

“Howdy, Sheriff. Fine day, huh?”

“Uh huh. Have you finished? If you have – can I have a word?” His eyes flick to me. “Private like.”

A mute conversation between Heyes and me. It don’t feel like he’s wanting to split us up to make fastening the handcuffs easier, but – all the same…

“Me and Joshua,” I say, keeping it friendly and remembering to smile, “…We’re kinda partners. We don’t believe in keeping too many secrets from each other.”

“That go for you too, Smith?”

Heyes smiles too, no need to meet trouble more’n half way, huh? “I reckon so. What can I help you with, Sheriff?”

I can see Heyes’ mind working. He’s been doing nothing except what’s honest and law-abiding. In fact, running round after Nell to civic events he’s been pretty much a model citizen. He’s kept to the ‘no poker’ rule. If Fraser was gonna object to friendly blackjack played for chicken feed, he shoulda done it a week and a half back.

“You can help me with this; what are your intentions towards Doctor Meredith?”

I blink. Heyes looks pole-axed. Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t that.

“Er…”

He’s lost for words. Sheesh! Wish I had one of those cameras!

“Er…” He manages to get the smile back. “I’m not claiming to be no expert on the law, but – I hafta say Sheriff, I can’t see how that’s any of your concern.”

A pause. I shift in my seat.

“Fair point,” says Bill Fraser. He unpins his badge and slips it into his jacket pocket. “Until I put that back on, I’m not the Sheriff. I’m the man who was friends with John Hartleman ever since we were boys together. I’m the man he asked to look out for his widow – and her kin. The doc’s got no Pa, no brothers. A fella might think he can mess with her without risking the horsewhippin’ he deserves. Now, my favourite niece loves Nell Meredith like a sister, so, I’ve decided to promote myself to honorary uncle, just in case any situation calling for horsewhippin’ comes up. You gotta problem with that?”

Heyes’ turn to shift in his seat. “I guess not.”

“Mrs. Hartleman, she has a lotta notions about social place and who can pair up with who. I dunno. Seems to me if a man works hard, earns an honest living and wants to court a woman fair and square, he’s within his rights to try. So far as social position goes, it’s up to the woman if that matters or not. It’s not as if the doc hasn’t the brains to work out what she wants. All I know is, the only options here are, courting fair and square or nothing. You do anything – anything – to hurt that girl, you answer to me. Understand?”

Nothing from Heyes.

“Ann reckons you’re in love with Nell.” Pause. Brown eyes meet grey. The brown drop first. Fraser’s soften. “Well, I’ve known her be wrong about a few things over the years, but looking at your face, son, I’m guessing this ain’t one of ’em.”

Heyes opens his mouth. He shuts it again.

“Okay. Let’s leave that at ‘no comment’.” He stands up. “I reckon I’ve said all I had to say.” The silver star is pinned back on. He nods a goodbye to me and strides away.

Silence.

Forced laugh from Heyes. He rolls his eyes at the door through which Bill Fraser left and grins across at me, the smile not reaching his eyes.

I stare back, stony-faced.

“What’s eating you, Kid?”

“What’s eating me is – if I hadta pick sides right now, I’d be lining up behind the man who just left. If you hurt Nell Meredith, he’s gonna hafta wait his turn to flatten you.”

“Kid! I’m not thinking of hurting Nell!”

“That’s the trouble. You’re not thinkin’ at all. Leastways, what you’re thinking with is about three feet south of your brain…”

“Hey!”

“You heard him; for most fellas, there’s two decent choices, courting fair and square or nothin’. We both know, you’re not most fellas. Out of those, the only decent choice you have is nothin’.”

Silence.

“She’s not a safe, Heyes. Once you’ve cracked her, you can’t slam the door shut, spin the tumblers and put everything back the way it was. Sooner or later, you gotta leave. Sooner or later, you hafta pick the nothin’ option. You know that. The quicker you face it, the less she’ll get hurt.”

“Suppose…?”

“Uh huh?”

“Suppose – hypothetical like…?”

Oh, sheesh.

“Suppose, I pick the courting fair and square option?”

He is not looking at me. There’s salt spilled on the table and he keeps his eyes on that, brushing it into a straight line with the tip of one finger.

“Okay. Let’s think that through. You propose. She turns out to be dumber than she looks and, instead of laughin’ in your face, says ‘yes’. Aunt Miriam books the church. I write my best man speech, if’n I can think of anything civil to say. Nell walks down the aisle on the Sheriff’s arm. The reverend starts the service. He gets to ‘love, honour and obey’. We scrape Nell off the ceiling and the reverend stops while Nell climbs onto a soapbox and bores us all ’bout women’s rights. The reverend restarts – this time with YOU promising to obey HER – cos why fight the inevitable, huh? You sign the marriage certificate… Hey, just as a matter of interest, are you plannin’ on signin’ your real name, or on marryin’ under an alias? Marryin’ under a false name won’t be legal, which seems a mean trick to play on a girl you think anythin’ of, but…”

“All right, Kid. You made your point.” Pause. “Suppose I…?” He breaks off.

“Suppose you tell her who you are and ask her to wait?”

A nod, or maybe a shrug. Something between the two. The finger pushes the line of salt into a circle. His eyes stay on the moving grains.

“Could mean twenty years inside,” I say.

Again with the shrugging nod, nodding shrug.

“That’s pretty risky, Heyes.”

The circle becomes a figure of eight.

“Pretty risky for me, I mean. Who ya gonna tell her I am?”

His shoulders droop as that sinks in. I know Heyes. He’ll never give me away.

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

THAT SUNDAY EVENING AT THE BUCHANAN HOUSE – NARATTED BY KID CURRY

“Did you do anything exciting during your trip to the city, Mister Jones?” asks Jenny Cooper.

“Not unless you think watching machinery get hefted from one train car to another’s exciting, ma’am.”

“Is it right the new saw weighs over a ton?” This is Fred Tammett.

“Yup.”

“Oh,” Jenny again, “I meant apart from that. In the evening. Did you go to an elegant restaurant? Or perhaps to a theatre? Or to a concert?”

“I did see some kinda show. I dunno you’d exactly call it – a concert.”

“Did ya see the new tram system? Did ya ride on it?”

“I’d love to hear all about it, Mister Jones,” she frowns at Fred. “The show I mean.”

I doubt Jenny’s hit seventeen yet, but she’s trying her level best to sound all grown-up. At any rate, it dawns on me no way am I gonna describe the acts at the fancy bar we visited to her or to young Fred. Not that we’re talking worse than gals singing songs with suggestive lyrics and other gals dancing wearing costumes, or should that be ALMOST wearing costumes that… Hey! A man needs a little relaxation, huh?

“Why don’t I fetch you some more lemonade, Miss Cooper?”

“Oh, thank you Mister Jones. I’ll come over with you.”

This kinda defeats the point of me fetching it, but I’d hafta be dumb not to realise Jenny is starting to get sweet on me, so I’m trying to be nice without being too nice, if you know what I mean.

I pour lemonade for Jenny and something a touch more exciting for me, load my plate with more duck and apple pie (sounds weird but tastes great!); then, Jenny and Fred still following, I go join the group round Ann’s easy chair. Heyes and Nell are already there. I’ve been gone for near on a week and I wanna see if anything’s changed. If the Sheriff knows they’re – whatever – other folk musta noticed too. Though – I dunno. They seem the same. She glows when he’s around. He lights up when she walks in. But what they DO and what they SAY is nothing but friendly, respectable – the usual. They don’t go sit in a corner. They don’t even angle to get chairs together. They talk to other folk and don’t let their eyes keep wandering. Heyes has spent mosta the time turning on the charm for Mrs. Hartleman. She’s definitely looking at Heyes real – what’s the word? – calculating is too much – considering? – thoughtful? Yeah, I’ll leave it at thoughtful. It makes me think she’s guessing things are getting real serious and she’s weighing him up. From what I see though, if anything, Nell’n’Heyes act LESS noticeably sweet on each other now, than the week before last. Is Heyes more relaxed, ‘cos he IS sneaking off to meet her, so he don’t need to struggle to get five minutes attention when other folks are about? I dunno. Leastways, I’m not sure.

Over round Ann’s chair, a discussion is in progress.

“Oh yes! Handing people over for money – well, that seems…”

“You mean, you’d like the motivation to be purely ‘justice’…”

“You could refuse the reward…”

“Certainly one should not be motivated by it. But to turn it down! When I think of all the good that could have been done with the reward those bounty hunters rode away with.”

“I agree. Refusing it would be quixotic beyond reason!” (You don’t need me to tell you who THAT is speaking, huh?)

“I know I could find plenty of use for $2,000! Those drains at the orphanage are crying out for…”

“I agree there, Doctor…”

“Suppose one felt the law was misguided?”

“Even if we disagree with a particular law, Law itself is what keeps us from chaos…”

“Thaddeus, do come and join us,” smiles Ann. “We are discussing a hypothetical question. If we know someone who had broken the law, which of us would hand them over and which of us would not?”

Sheesh! What the Sam Hill brought that up? I sneak a look at Heyes, catch him sneaking a look at me. Relax. Relax. These folk do like to yap over stuff just for the sake of yapping. Nothing for us to worry about.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Ann and Nell are also sneaking a look at each other. Nell’s expression looks kinda familiar. It’s… I dunno, it’s…

Her eyes flick, just for a second at Mrs. Rutherford.

Oh! It’s the ‘Hannibal Heyes: I’m a genius with a plan’ smug look! Stick a tattered black hat on her head and she could double for him!

“It is the duty of every citizen to uphold the law.” It’s Mrs. Rutherford speaking. She has a smug look too. “Indeed, failing to report a criminal could be considered as complicity after the fact. Am I not right, Henry?”

Oh! I knew Rutherford Junior was here. He’s still laying himself out to make a good impression on Nell. Though, from the droop to his shoulders when he watched her get the giggles over one of Heyes’ dumb jokes – which wasn’t even funny! – I reckon he knows his chances are pretty slim. I did NOT know the skinny, bald, quiet fella was Rutherford Senior.

“Er…” Rutherford Senior hesitates.

Actually, I don’t think Ma Rutherford HAS got that right. She mighta caught the spirit of the law that folks hafta hand us in if they can – but she’s not got the phrasing right. Mind you, what do I know? I don’t really hafta worry over legal niceties, huh? For more years than I can remember I’ve been guilty as a fox in a henhouse and the only law I hafta follow is ‘don’t get caught’.

“Am I not right, Henry?” she repeats, firmly.

“Yes, dear. Substantially right.”

Wise choice. If I was the poor sap married to that woman I’d save my arguing for things that mattered more’n that, too!

“And Henry,” proud swelling from Ma Rutherford, “has been a lawyer for over twenty-five years!”

“So…” this is Nell, “You cannot imagine any situation, ever, where your sympathies with a criminal might prevent you handing him – or her – over to the law, Mrs. Rutherford?”

“If we are talking about imagining – we can all imagine a criminal who combines all the cardinal virtues and a motivation so selfless, that strong men would sob if it were acted upon the stage…”

Hey! She really CAN talk! No wonder Nell looks so mad after some of those Committee meetings. Maybe she loses the odd bout!

“Perhaps we should make the hypothetical case more concrete,” suggests Charles. “Why not the Butler brothers? Who here would have handed them in?”

“Oh…” Ann sounds as if she is about to protest.

“Ann, are you… Was that…?” Charles is on his feet.

“Ma’am, are you feeling okay?” Sheesh! I am on my feet too. I sit down, feeling sheepish.

“All I said was ‘oh’! I’m fine,” she smiles. Another quick glance between her and Nell. Was that a shrug? Or – am I imagining stuff? “That’s a good idea, Darling. Make the hypothetical question about those poor Butler boys. Would you have handed them in, Nell? If they had come to you under different circumstances?”

“Well, not if they had come to me injured. That goes without saying. A doctor’s first duty is to a patient.”

“Certainly,” Doctor Cooper nods, approvingly. “Quite right!”

I admit to something dang like a wave of relief. Oh, no. Cancel some of the relief.

That means I was pretty safe from Nell if she found out who I was two months ago; I’m not so sure about now. And Heyes hasn’t ever been a patient.

“So neither of you,” Mrs. Rutherford again, “can imagine any circumstances whatsoever in which you might hand over a criminal who had come to you for treatment to the law? Ever?”

Nell opens her mouth to say ‘no’, then shuts it again. She gives a good-humoured smile. “I think you hoist me with my own petard there, ma’am. We can IMAGINE anything. We can imagine a criminal so heinous that it would be unforgivable not to stop his career if at all possible, even if it meant violating the spirit of one’s medical oath. Charles is right. Even hypothetical questions need narrowing down.”

“Stick with the Butler brothers then,” says Ann. “They’re nicely in the middle. No one can claim they were misunderstood models of virtue with spotless motives, but both you doctors agree they’re a long way short of being so heinous you have to fret over treating them in confidence. Suppose you hadn’t met them as patients, just met them some other way and found out who they were and what they’d done – would you hand them in, Doctor Cooper?”

“Probably. I’m not sure. I might have come over sentimental since they were about the age of my oldest boy. But, probably. My sympathies are more with the folk getting held up and robbed.”

“What about you, Nell?”

“I think we already know the answer to that!” Mrs. Rutherford has answered before Nell can get a word in. “It was clear back in April and at the recent debate that YOUR sympathies were with the criminals, not the victims, Miss Meredith.”

“Doctor Meredith,” corrects Nell, civilly. “I think that was only natural, Mrs. Rotherham, since I met the criminals when they were frightened, vulnerable and in pain and I never met the victims at all. We sympathise with what we see – that’s human nature. BUT, where you and Doctor Cooper are right, ma’am, is to remind me that although I didn’t see their victims, they did exist… ”

“The victims of the Butlers weren’t… I mean, they robbed banks and trains and before that they rustled from cattle barons…” That was young Fred. He shuts up under so many grown-up eyes all on him at once.

Will Rutherford backs him up, “Yes, Fred. It’s not as if they were stealing off ordinary folk… Banks and rail companies, they’re hardly… And, they didn’t shoot anyone, the Butlers, I mean… At least the reports seemed to… What I mean is… ” Now he’s floundering too as his mother glares at him. I reckon he’s torn between contradicting his Ma in public and trying to say what he thinks Nell wants to hear.

“You both mean since the railroads and the big cattle men and the banks – and other forces of capital – spent the aftermath of the war and the depression of the 70s using the law to cheat ordinary working folk out of their land and goods, there is some justification for young men who felt dispossessed from society, turning against the laws of a country which did so little to protect their families and a system which offered them so little true opportunity and for striking out against those who seemed allied with their oppressors?”

That was Charles Buchanan. Sheesh. I glance at Heyes. He’s staying very quiet. I don’t blame him. This is getting far too close to home for comfort.

“Er – I guess,” says Fred, confused. “I dunno. Not exactly ‘justification’, ‘cos that’d mean… I dunno.”

“What is your opinion, Mister Smith?” asks Ann.

“I think…” Heyes’ face looks – tight, “The word Fred’s looking for is ‘mitigation’. Not a complete excuse, but some kinda excusing circumstances.”

“There can be NO excuse,” huffs Mrs. Rutherford. I reckon if Will was just five years younger he’d have had his ears boxed by now.

“I felt real sorry for Jed Butler when I saw him being taken away. He looked so scared,” says Jenny Cooper. “I know there isn’t really any excuse, but… Oh, I don’t mean you’re wrong, Mister Smith…” She goes pink.

“I wonder how young and how dumb he was when he turned to crime,” says Heyes. “Would it make a difference to how badly you thought of him, ma’am?” He is speaking to Mrs. Rutherford, but that ain’t who he’s really asking, is it? Careful, Heyes, careful. Go back to staying very quiet.

“I certainly can’t have much sympathy for the railroad companies getting robbed,” says Louise Skinner, surprising us all by sounding real angry. “They cheated my father out of HIS land! They did! They’re worse thieves than that poor boy we saw being carted off to jail!”

“Yes, but the answer to that is organised political pressure and…”

Oh shut up, Charles! No, he’s okay, just – does he always have to sound as if he’s drafting out his next leading article?

“The banks and railways having faults themselves doesn’t really work as a mitigation argument though, does it?” says Nell. Heyes is all attention, though he pretends to be concentrating on setting aside her punch cup. “I can see how injustice and lack of opportunity can make young men angry and disaffected and I certainly take Mister Smith’s point about the youth of the offender making a difference. If we all had to live with a choice we made at fifteen forever – where would any of us be? But Jed Butler wasn’t holding up a railroad company, he was pulling a gun on a perfectly harmless train driver and on passengers…”

“He didn’t shoot no one.” That was me. Sorry, Heyes. Can’t follow my own stay quiet advice.

“He frightened them into believing he might. He had to, otherwise they wouldn’t have co-operated. That’s the nub of giving orders at gunpoint – the threat of violence. I felt sorry for him after what happened to his brother, sure, and I want him treated decently, and given every chance to make up for the education he missed while he’s inside and to turn his life around when he comes out, but it doesn’t alter the fact a few months ago he was happy to hustle scared mothers and crying children and frail old people around at the end of the barrel of a gun to get his hands on easy money.”

I bite my tongue. I could say he probably wasn’t ‘happy’ to do it at all. Not when folk got real scared anyhow. He mighta tried to do it with a reassuring smile and to pretend it was a light-hearted adventure, but whenever he was covering sobbing women clutching terrified toddlers, or even drivers wide-eyed with fear unable to shift their gaze from the gun for a second, he wasn’t ‘happy’. He still did it. But…

“And he must have been prepared to shoot under some circumstances. If the gun was only for show, why load it? He was happy enough to risk causing a train accident too,” Nell is still in full flow. “They pulled up the tracks to force the train to stop. All right, they did their best to do it with plenty of visibility and warning, but all it needed was a distracted driver, or a loose brake connection. They were happy to risk ripping limbs from innocent bodies…”

“Helen!” objects Mrs. Hartleman. “There’s no need to bring bodies into the conversation.”

“Miss Meredith!” chimes in Mrs. Rutherford at the same time.

What’s SHE complaining about? Nell’s joined her in the hang ’em and flog ’em camp!

No.

No, she hasn’t, has she?

I only said that ‘cos…

I reckon you already know why.

“And the money they stole. Payrolls. Bank deposits. Who suffers if a payroll is stolen? The ordinary working-men waiting for it, that’s who. You know how it works, Charles. Employers in isolated areas needing a payroll run organise things so workers build debt for accommodation and provisions. A payroll snatch lets the interest mount up and the shackles tighten. And, when a bank is robbed, if it breaks and is taken over, or even if it simply has to claw its way back to solvency, who suffers most from forced loan foreclosures and tighter credit terms? The poorest customers, the farmers and small-holders. That’s who the money is ALWAYS scraped back from in the end.”

“Be fair, Nell,” says Charles Buchanan, “I doubt many outlaws actually think that through. I daresay most don’t care much from whom they steal. BUT, it’s possible some actually believe they’re stealing from folk rich enough not to miss it.”

“It only takes five minutes to think through! How long does it take to plan a robbery? It must be weeks! Am I several thousand times more intelligent than the average outlaw to work this out so much quicker? I am conceited, undoubtedly, but not SO arrogant as to believe in a multiplier that big!”

I flick a glance at Heyes. She’s not several thousand times cleverer than him, is she? He worked all that out years ago. Years. I can see it in his eyes.

So did I – work it out, that is – if I’m honest. Which I’m not, am I? Neither of us is.

All that ‘no stealing from passengers’ guff. Big deal. Who were we kidding?

Ourselves, I guess. We locked the truth away in our heads, behind the ‘pretty good bad men’ act and pretended it didn’t exist.

Suddenly, I want the amnesty so bad, my throat tightens up and there is a pricking at the back of my eyes. Come on, Governor. Work something out for us. Please. A second chance. Please.

Sheesh, it’s not even me who’s fallen in lo…

It’s not even me got a dumb soft spot for the doc. So, if listening to that made me feel this bad – how’d it make Heyes feel?

“I’m sorry! Sometimes I enjoy being on a soapbox so much, I can’t see when it’s time to climb off.”

“We had noticed, Nell,” grins Charles.

“No, not at all, ma’am,” Will Rutherford is saying, in unison. Poor sap.

“You should tell me to shut up, Charles.”

“Couldn’t get a word in, could I? Am I allowed to use hand signals?” He mimes her being hooked off with a crook – the way they do as a joke in music halls. Heyes laughs, though it don’t reach his eyes. She twinkles at him. Will looks as if he can’t decide whether he oughta laugh or not.

“Would a slice of cake shut you up?” Heyes is holding out a plate.

Her hand hovers, “I shouldn’t.”

“Let not poor Nellie starve,” he says, putting on some kinda fancy accent.

They both laugh. So do Charles and Ann. Huh? HUH? He has GOT to stop with the reading!

“Shall we talk about something more cheerful?” suggests Mrs. Hartleman.

Yup! Or something more gloomy. Anything that don’t revolve around why folk oughta hand in outlaws!

“I have a topic,” says Louise Skinner. “The fourth of July grows closer every day! Very soon I shall be rounding up volunteers for… Don’t groan! You all know you want to!”

A loud rapping at the front door interrupts her. Charles moves to go answer it, but, before he gets out of the room, we hear boots in the passage and the sheriff strides in followed by Deputy Noah Lawson.

“Come on in, Bill,” smiles Charles. “I didn’t think you make it…” He breaks off.

If I thought the sheriff looked serious this morning, now he looks like a man in a real bad mood.

“I’m here on official business. Sorry to spoil everyone’s evening but you two are under arrest…”

Heyes and I exchange a horrified glance. This came outta the blue! My hand twitches at my side but, of course, my gun belt is hanging alongside my hat ‘cos Ann don’t like guns in the house. Yeah, I know! I shoulda told her the same as I told Joe Briggs, but Ann asking real nice ISN’T Joe Briggs, is she? Besides – do I really wanna draw on Uncle Bill and Grandpa Noah in front of all these nice folk?

Heyes switches on a smile and starts on the usual, “I’m sure there’s been some kinda mistake…” speech. It gets kinda lost among all the other gasps of surprise and noisy protests going on.

Above it all, I hear Bill Fraser ploughing on, “… Complaint of a violation of Statute 598 enacted March 3rd 1873…”

Huh? Mind, like I say I’m no legal expert.

Right, we go quietly now, maybe make a break for it outside…

“Evidence of misuse of the United States mail for…”

Or maybe Heyes works on a plan to bust us out later. This is a small town. The jail’s nothing fancy. We can…

The voice rises in annoyance, “TAKE that pleased look off your face, right now! As for you, young lady, if you were a few years younger…”

HUH?

What I’m listening to sinks in. I stop planning when and how we get outta this and…

Sheesh!

Heyes has already realised. His mouth is practically hanging open with the shock.

The sheriff’s not looking at us, he never was. The ‘you two’ he’s come for ain’t us!

“Back off, Charles! Don’t make this any nastier than it’s gonna be anyhow, son! Sure, you can come along, too.”

To the utter disbelief of everyone in the room – with three exceptions – Ann is helped to her feet by Noah Lawson, so she can join Nell in being led away to a wagon waiting outside. Bill Fraser’s arrested the pair of them!

The three exceptions are the two ladies going to jail and Mrs. Rutherford.

Ann and Nell both look real pleased with themselves, though Ann’s telling Charles not to worry and how sorry she is.

Mrs. Rotherham starts off looking so like a cat who’s just cornered a mouse she might as well carry a banner saying ‘I handed ’em in! Take THAT Nell Meredith!’ But, as she watches the Doc, her face falls. Somehow, she’s played into Nell’s hands.

Sheesh. I did NOT see that coming.

-oooOOOooo-

LATER THAT EVENING – NARRATTED BY KID CURRY

“Why didn’t you TELL me?”

“Because you’d have tried to stop me.”

“Dang straight I would!” Exasperated sigh. “You are SO stubborn!”

“I’m sorry Darling, but this is…” Ann’s voice drops to a murmur.

“For Pete’s sake, Ann…” Now Charles voice drops. He’s plumping cushions for her. Once she’s settled, he squats down to unlace her boots and rub her ankles; apparently they swell. The odd word drifts over, “…pig-headed…have to be sensible…”

“…pot calling kettle black! What about when you…?”

Me and Heyes have been helping Charles heft a comfortable chair and footstool for Ann into the girls’ cell. Since this husband and wife row is no way any of our business we take ourselves off back into the Sheriff’s office.

Out there, Nell’s sitting opposite Bill Fraser. She’s yapping, he’s writing. Will Rutherford’s beside her looking miserable. He’s a lawyer like his Pa – though I guess we’re talking not long outta college in his case – and insisted on coming to represent the girls. (From the look on his Ma’s face, I reckon that means he might be sleeping in the street tonight, but he still came.) Heyes nearly hugged him, which means either he’s so worried about Nell he don’t care that another fella sweet on her is stepping up to the plate; OR, he’s so dang sure Nell only has eyes for him, he knows he has no reason to care.

I reckon it’s the second option. Nell was real touched when Will offered and she’s being real nice to him, but in the same way as I’m nice, but not too nice, to Jenny Cooper. She’s trying her darndest to come over ‘sisterly’.

“I cannot advise you strongly enough not to say anything more, Doctor Meredith,” Will’s saying.

“That’d suit me,” grunts the Sheriff.

“No. Thank you, Mister Rutherford, but I prefer to make a full statement. I’m not speaking too fast for you, am I, Sheriff?”

“Nope, ‘cos I stopped listening ten minutes ago. This is next week’s shift roster I’m writing.”

“What?!”

“For one thing I can’t spell mosta what you’re sayin’ and, for another, save it for the judge.”

“Have you talked about bail?” Heyes asks Will.

He slumps.

“Yup!” The Sheriff answers for him. “Rutherford arranged bail ’bout ten seconds after he walked in.”

“How much?”

“Five dollars apiece. Tell you what, I’m feeling generous, call it five dollars for the pair.”

Heyes blinks. Then – why are they still here? He starts to dig into his pocket.

“Forget it,” says the Sheriff. “They’re refusing to agree to bail terms.”

“Huh?”

“The ladies won’t give a declaration – which could be a simple nod of the head – they’ll show up for their trial if released,” glooms Will Rutherford. “Legally, the Sheriff’s hands are tied. He can’t bail them.”

“Yup,” confirms the Sheriff. “That’s pretty much why Mrs. Hartleman washed her hands of it and went home leaving the doc to stew. I can’t throw ’em out unless I drop all charges…”

“That’s right!” triumphs Nell.

“Drop the charges, then,” urges Heyes. “For Pete’s sake, Ann’s your niece!”

“THAT’S just one more reason I gotta be seen to be going by the book. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Something tells me I’m gonna forget to lock the cells this evening. Maybe they’ll break jail if the night gets chilly, huh?” The Sheriff looks up, sighs, “Look, I don’t like this no more’n you do, but I’ve received a complaint, backed by evidence, from…” He pauses, glances at Will Rutherford and picks his words carefully, “A respected pillar of the community, that a crime’s been committed. And, my current pair of jailbirds make it kinda hard to drop the charges, ‘cos they keep admitting they wrote THIS,” his finger jabs at a slim pamphlet on his desk, “they drew the illustrations, they got it printed AND, the really d*mning part, they circulated it far and wide using the United States Mail…”

“I did strongly recommend Doctor Meredith and Mrs. Buchanan not to…” begins Will.

“Not to keep yapping like it’s going outta fashion,” finishes Heyes. “Yeah, well. I reckon you did your best. Getting the doc to keep quiet was never gonna be easy, huh?”

“Ann and I have no reason to keep quiet! We have done nothing, NOTHING, to be ashamed of! The whole basis of the complaint rests on this,” her turn to jab at the pamphlet, “being obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious! Our contention is that it is none of those things! In any decent society this would be seen for what it is; a perfectly legitimate educational…”

“Didn’t you hear the Sheriff tell you to save it for the judge?” interrupts Heyes.

I reckon he wants to drag her somewhere private for the kind of flaming row Charles is trying to have with Ann next door (they’re making an effort not to raise their voices but the odd sound of a man driven crazy by feminine cussedness drifts through). Heyes drops his hands to his hips and gives Nell the kinda look that used to make the gang think twice ’bout arguing.

She stares back. “A perfectly legitimate, educational document, containing…”

“Stop yapping! Accept bail terms! Go home!” snaps Heyes.

“No! This is important! And, Mister Smith, I have your advice to thank for the idea.”

“What?!” That was me. Sheesh, Heyes! I can’t leave you alone for five minutes, can I?

Will Rutherford and Bill Fraser both join me in giving him disapproving glares. Mine’s the most though. The most disapproving that is. In fact, I’d call mine – plumb furious.

Heyes looks stunned, then remembers whatever dumb thing he’s been saying. “Oh, for Pete’s sake!” he groans, throwing back his head and staring at the ceiling, as if searching for someone to give him strength.

“Mister Smith advised that if I wanted to draw the attention of the wider press to an issue, I needed news. Not facts. Genuine, happening now, news.”

“I said THAT, sure! I didn’t say, go get yourself arrested!”

“Two respectable ladies getting arrested for breaching the Comstock Act will generate publicity about the iniquity of these laws…”

“Maybe it will! But where are you an’ Ann gonna find two respectable ladies? ‘Cos, two attention-seeking numbskulls in skirts getting slung in jail might not…”

“There’s no need to raise your voice, Mister Smith!”

“Yes, there d*mn well is! How d’you think it makes me…?” Heyes stops, thinks. When he carries on, you can tell he’s choosing his words, “How d’you think it’s gonna make the people who care about you feel? How d’you think Charles is gonna feel seeing – seeing the woman he loves locked up and then being stared at, pointed at, gossiped over during a trial? Huh? What kinda privacy do you think him and Ann’ll get over the next few weeks? Huh?”

Nell looks down, blushes. “I think so well of Charles, that I trust him, once his initial annoyance is over, to support the woman he loves in doing what she believes to be right. I trust him to be patient. I trust him to be understanding.”

Hey! Is it me – or are they saying one thing and meaning another?

Their eyes meet.

“Do you think I’m right to trust him, Mister Smith?”

There’s a pause. When he speaks, Heyes’ voice is gruff, “Thought we’d already settled it that you’re always right, ma’am.”

“Did I hear my name being taken in vain?” We turn, Charles has come into the office.

“The doc was singing your praises as a husband,” the Sheriff grunts. “Saying how understanding you’d be ’bout this.”

“Understanding? Is that code for: he’s a pushover who’ll put up with anything when Ann does the big, brown, puppy-dog eyes look?”

“You do, don’t you?” pleads Nell, all anxious. “I mean, you DO understand why we did this? You’re not really angry with Ann? Nor me? You and me – we’re still friends?”

“Of course I understand. I’m still angry with her and FURIOUS with you, but I do understand. And, if it’s possible to be friends with someone you want to shake till her teeth rattle, yes, we’re still friends, Nell.” He turns to us. “She won’t budge. Joshua, Thaddeus, will you help me bring over a decent mattress? And a washstand? And, some screens? And there’s a…” He drops his voice, “…a commode over at Doctor Cooper’s place.”

This is just DUMB!

“No!” I explode. “I mean, sure, if she hadta stay we’d help you heft your whole house across town! But she don’t! Your wife shouldn’t be doin’ this in her condition. Can’t you – y’know – exert your authority? Make her accept bail.”

A nod from the Sheriff. “You oughta put your foot down, Charles.”

Charles looks at us, then gives a reluctant grin, “I probably could exert marital authority, Thaddeus. I even believe Ann’d do as she’s told if I genuinely did put my foot down. BUT, you remember all that guff she and Nell spout about women’s rights? And, you know how I claim to agree with them? I don’t do that for a quiet life. I actually DO agree. At this moment, I’m exceedingly annoyed with my exceedingly annoying wife. But, that doesn’t mean she’s not still perfectly entitled to make her own decisions. And, it doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly proud of her for making herself this uncomfortable on a matter of principle.”

I guess that told me, huh?

“We KNEW we could trust you, Charles!” glows Nell. “You WILL send those telegrams Ann’s given you?”

“Yes. And, I’ll do what I can to whip up publicity. There’ll be a fair amount of interest.”

“A FAIR amount!” Nell huffs. “We’re planning something better than that! You’ll help, won’t you, Mister Smith? It could work?”

I glower at Heyes, willing him to say no.

“Well,” he sounds doubtful, “It’ll help that you’re both young and easy enough on the eye.”

“WHAT?! That is utterly irrelevant!”

“Well, let’s take a straw poll. Of the men here, who’d be more likely to buy a journal carrying a picture of a pretty young girl than a plain old lady?”

Five arms go up.

“I think I mighta carried my point unanimously there, ma’am.”

Nell’s hands go to her hips and she opens her mouth to argue.

Heyes jumps in before she can speak. “Forget the photographs, let’s talk copy. You were arrested. You were jailed. That’s it. It’s the same story whether you spend two hours or two days here. Why wait? Accept bail terms. Sooner or later, the Sheriff’s gonna need the cells for drying out drunks, huh? Do you really like the thought of sharing?”

“Joshua’s right,” says Charles. “You’ve made your point, you may as well come out now.”

“No.”

“Do you mean to sit here until a trial?” asks the Sheriff. “By the time we get a judge and prosecutor to town, that could mean I’m stuck with you for … Sheesh!” He shakes his head “Besides, what about your patients?”

Nell looks kinda torn when she hears that.

“It won’t be for long… Naturally, if any medical emergency arose where Doctor Cooper needed assistance…”

Heyes brows snap together.

“Won’t be for long? Helen, what are you waiting for?”

She puts on an innocent face which wouldn’t fool me, let alone Heyes, for two seconds. “Waiting for, Mister Smith?”

Suddenly, from the cell, we hear a shrill call which panics every man in the room and makes Charles go white as a sheet.

“Nell! NELL! Come quick! I think it’s coming!”

-oooOOOooo-

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

MONDAY – NARRATTED BY KID CURRY

“Isn’t he gorgeous? Isn’t he…? I’m still furious with you, Nell! Awwww! Look! Look! He’s smiling! I’m your Dada! Yes, I am! Yes, I am! Hello!”

Charles is not still furious with Nell. Charles is so far sunk into the sap zone that he won’t be furious with no one for months. Least of all Nell. Mind you, he has some excuse. She did deliver his son.

I go over, tickle a tiny cheek. Hey! Look at that! He’s gripping my finger! Tiny, tiny fingers grasping mine! Those nails are SO small and SO perfect! Aww!

“Heye…” I call. Sheesh! That was close! “Hey, Joshua! Come take a look at this! Look at his grip!”

“Amazing,” grunts Heyes. “A baby that grasps fingers put into his hand. Shall we add that to the stuff Charles telegraphed to the city papers?”

Nell snirts.

Hey! Pffftttt to that pair! I beam at Ann. “He’s beautiful,” I say. Look! Now he’s blowing a bubble! Aww!

“So, this was part of your plan, huh?” glowers Heyes at the doc. “I hope you’re proud of yourself! If you wanna be a martyr, go ahead! But, did you hafta drag Mrs. Buchanan and Charles and even an innocent newborn into it?”

Nell blinks at the tone. So do I. Sheesh, Heyes. I know the girls have done one of the dumbest things I ever heard of, but there’s no need to sound so… And, even if there were, I don’t reckon now’s the time.

“All that guff you told us about it being much safer not to move Ann, once labour had started; how this place could be made perfectly clean and safe if we fetched your stuff… That was just you chumping us to get your own way, huh?”

What’s got into Heyes? Oh! I bet I know. He’s all riled up ‘cos he didn’t catch on quicker to what the gals were gonna do, huh?

“No,” says Ann, quietly. She lifts her eyes from the crumpled, roseleaf face nestled in the nook of her arm gives Heyes a very straight look. “It wasn’t. Yes, we tried to time things correctly. Yes, Nell was stalling until labour started, but what she said about staying put being better than bumping me home on a wagon was perfectly true. What she said about boiling water, carbolic soap and plenty of clean linen being all that was needed to make this a perfectly safe delivery area was also true.” She holds Heyes gaze. “If you don’t know Nell doesn’t lie, least of all about medical matters, and that she would never put a patient at risk for her own ends, you don’t know her at all, Joshua.”

He glances at me. I think he sees I’m with Ann on this. Heyes is outta order.

He reaches out, touches Nell’s hand. “I didn’t mean that, huh?” Their eyes meet.

“I know,” she says.

“I’m just mad at you.”

“I know.”

“Suppose the pair of you get sent to real prison? Y’know, one where the doors have locks and you’re not allowed to send home for your bag.”

“We won’t. Certainly Ann won’t. Not for a first offence. Our opponents won’t want the publicity of parting a mother and child. If I go to prison, well – it’s a risk I’m prepared to take. But, I won’t, either.”

“Sez you!”

“Says Will Rutherford, too.”

“Oh, well! If Will Rutherford says so! I take it the Oracle at Delphi was tied up, huh?” Heyes gets a surprised look and I reckon realises that came out mean bearing in mind that… Well, bearing in mind Will’s been kinda a good loser. He flashes Nell a ‘sorry’ glance.

“Don’t worry. We won’t be jailed, we’ll be fined. Our friends in the Suffrage Association will already be collecting funds by now.” Her turn to touch him, she lays a hand on his shoulder and repeats, “Don’t worry.”

I don’t think he means to do it but his hand goes up to cover hers. Just for a second their fingers lace. But all he says is, “It’s you should be worrying, not me.”

The hands part. Heyes, still riled, starts up again, “You shouldn’ta done it and you shouldn’ta dragged Ann into…”

“I wasn’t dragged!” protests Ann. “Don’t you see, I had to be involved. I’m the angle!”

“Huh?” That was me.

“Stories need an angle,” explains Heyes. “A hook to draw folk in.”

“Uh huh,” I nod. Like con tricks? I get that.

“A female doctor being arrested for breaching the Comstock Act is news,” chips in Nell. “It offers a little temptation for the prurient and a professional woman still has a novelty value, BUT – it lacks a certain something. It lacks that extra hook. You heard Charles. A fair amount of interest. AND, me doing it alone risked being dismissed with the usual tricks used to belittle any argument made by women campaigners.”

“Tricks?” What tricks?

“Oh, you know, Thaddeus,” says Heyes. “They’d twist it to make it read like the doc’s a dried up spinster, left on the shelf, past the first flush of youth, losing any looks she ever had, eaten up with frustrated bile…”

Nell interrupts him, with a glare. “They’d portray any unmarried woman as bitter about not having a man of her own and trying to stop other women fulfilling their maternal role. OR, they’d hint that I’m only interested in Malthusian methods to allow me to…” She blushes.

“I get that one,” I say.

“But, what this pair worked out is that ‘baby born in jail to birth control campaigner,’ gives a whole extra gloss,” explains Heyes. “AND, that Ann’s perfect for the press if you wanna avoid the usual tricks. A new mother. Happily married. Devoted husband at her side. Glowing with domestic bliss. It gives a perfect picture to back up the ‘every child, a wanted child’ message; and it delivers a huge dollop of human interest.” He looks over at Nell, part angry, part reluctant admiration. “You cast Ann as the main event and settled for a supporting role, yourself; loyal friend delivers baby in cell – and it’ll work! In a day or two this place’ll be crawling with newspapermen wanting to know all about why the pair of you did it and itching for an interview. You’re gonna get what you want, a show trial on Comstock. You did it.”

Oh! I see what’s eating at Heyes! For a week or so, maybe more, this quiet little town is gonna get real noisy. Lotsa nosey journalists trying to dig up something to make their take on the story stand out. We’re only bit players, but we still won’t like that! Lotsa photographers taking pictures. We won’t like that, neither. And, won’t the fuss over what he’s calling a show trial mean Bill Fraser’ll call in a few extra lawmen to make sure everything stays peaceful? I reckon so. And, I reckon we’ll like that least of all.

We’re gonna hafta leave town. Heyes sees that, don’t he? And, we won’t know how long the fuss’ll last, so we won’t be able to promise when we’ll be back.

He knew though! He knew we’d hafta leave sometime.

‘Course, Nell’ll think he’s running out on her just when she’s about to need support, but…

He shoulda listened to me.

He shoulda never…

Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda.

I shrug. I guess we’ve all been there. I sure have. Some years I practically lived there.

He will see it, though, won’t he? He’ll see we hafta go.

“Joshua, I reckon we oughta leave,” I say. “Let Ann and Charles have some time alone with this little fella.” I tickle a cheek again. Hey! He looked at me. I give him a tiny wave and big smile, see Heyes looking at me as if I’ve gone mad, drop my hand and wipe the mushy grin off my face.

“I’m bailing Ann out in a few hours,” smiles Charles. “Nell says she’ll be fine, so long as we take the drive real slow.”

“Doctor Cooper’s already been in to say he’s got a whole list of extra calls and he could do with me manning the surgery,” says Nell. “Then I’ll go back to Ann’s place. Theoretically, to make sure she and little Charles are fine. Actually, since it’s obvious they’re both fighting fit, to give Aunt Miriam a chance to simmer down. So, it’ll be Wednesday morning before I get back to my usual routine.” She pauses. Did she just flick a look at Heyes? I dunno. I was looking at Charles Junior. He’s yawing and it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. “Or maybe I’ll get back to normal – that is, back to normal rounds by midday tomorrow. At least, that is, until the trial.”

“We’ll say good bye for now, then,” grunts Heyes, still looking grim.

-oooOOOooo-

Out in the street, I look at him.

“We oughta leave, Heyes.”

Nothing.

“”It’d be safer…”

“No reason to think anyone we know’ll show up, Kid.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake.

“So, you were doin’ your bad-tempered jackass act back there ‘cos you’re all riled up at there being no problem at all ’bout stayin’ in town, huh? C’mon, Heyes! I told you yesterday, it’s time to move on. Now, I’m tellin’ you again. Even if this hadn’t happened, we gotta move on.”

Nothing. I try a different – what was it – oh, yeah, angle.

“Look on the bright side, we got at least a day in hand. This time we can make up a telegram coming in, give some reason. Say good bye properly.”

Heyes stops, scowls at the ground, kicks up a little dirt. He’s weighing the odds. If he gives me the ‘we’re not joined at the hip, Kid’ talk again, am I gonna call his bluff, quit town and leave him to it? Deep down, I know I’m not. ‘Cos, deep down, I know he ain’t bluffing.

I see the sheriff striding back towards his office. He spots us, comes over.

“I’ve been wiring the county hall ’bout a trial,” he says. “I’ve also wired a judge who’s an old friend of mine. I dunno if he can sit, but even if he can’t, he can come see fair play.” He’s talking to Heyes more’n me, being almost fatherly. “I gotta go by the book, that don’t mean I don’t care what happens. I thought I’d tell you, in case you were worrying. I’ll go put Charles’ mind at rest now.”

Heyes says, “Thanks, Sheriff.” Then, looks kinda sheepish. I guess it’s ‘cos Bill Fraser acts like there’s not much doubt Heyes and Nell are a couple, in near enough the same way Charles and Ann are.

The trouble with Heyes is, he don’t realise his poker face keeps slipping when the doc’s around. This sheriff might believe in the benefit of the doubt for newcomers who don’t cause no trouble, but he’s not dumb and he’s not blind, neither.

“Are you tellin’ us, you’re aiming to fix the trial to get the girls off?” I ask. ‘Cos if he is – it might be the nearest to crooked Fraser’s ever been – but, it sure suits me.

“No!” He shifts his feet. “Not to get ’em off. I’m simply trying to get a fair-minded, decent man sitting on the bench. Someone who’ll understand that, even if he don’t agree with printing that stuff, they’re doin’ it for… Well, y’know.”

Yeah, we know. Just seems the best of motives can stir up trouble same as the worst, huh?

“I’m hoping Hanley’ll be here by…”

D*MN it! I flick a glance at Heyes; without actually moving, his whole body kinda sags with the blow. For once, there’s no exchange of the ‘look’ between us; Heyes is on his own with this.

“…Like I say, he’s an old friend, if things work out maybe he’ll stay on for a little fishing. It’s been over a year.”

It just keeps getting better, huh? Someone involved with the law who don’t just know Heyes and Curry by sight, but knows our aliases too. If we leave, he’ll probably still hear about us and put two and two together. Even if he don’t, it sounds like he visits every so often anyhow. Great!

‘Course, there’s a glimmer of a silver lining. Judge Hanley is a decent fella and he knows we’re working hard at staying straight. If he DOES figure out who the Smith and Jones who spent a coupla months in Arcadia (without giving the Sheriff a sniff of trouble) were, I don’t see him filling in Bill Fraser and rounding up a posse. On the downside; no way do I see him letting Heyes carry on – whatever, I dunno – with a respectable girl who don’t know the truth.

We can’t risk staying. No way.

Even if Heyes wanted to gamble on Hanley’s good nature one more time, sheer surprise could make the man give us away on sight.

“Oh,” the Sherriff’s remembered something, “…There was a telegram for you at the depot, Smith. I said I’d pass it on.” He digs in his pocket, holds it out.

Heyes freezes for a moment. A wire for him? Did Fraser read it? Did it say anything – suspicious? Can’t have done, can it? Not the way the sheriff’s behaving.

“Thanks,” I smile, taking it from Fraser’s gloved fingers.

He nods a farewell.

“It’ll be from Lom,” says Heyes. “I wired him while you were away, asking for news.” I see his hands are clenched so tight, his knuckles must shine white under the battered leather. “If this was a dime novel, Kid, this’d be when the amnesty came through, huh? Perfect timing.”

His voice tries to sound light-hearted, but…

“Don’t milk it, Kid. Read.”

I unfold the slip of paper. Please. Please. Please. Sheesh! My hand’s steady enough, years of practice, huh? But I feel hairs rising on the back of my neck. I know it won’t say nothing. I KNOW that! But, please! Please!

I read. It IS from Lom. It IS about ‘our mutual friend’.

Silence. Me and Heyes, we’re the stillest things in that quiet, quiet street.

I can hear Heyes breathing. I can even hear him hoping.

His eyes plead with me.I don’t wanna…

C’mon, Kid, c’mon. Come ON! TELL him!

I can’t. Not this time. Instead, I screw the useless telegram into a ball, throw it down, grind it into the dirt with my heel.

-oooOOOooo-

LATER – NARRATTED BY KID CURRY

“Look on the bright side, Kid,” sighs Heyes, as he raises his hand to knock on the Buchanan’s door. “At least I don’t hafta make up a wire coming in. We got us a witness to that bit.”

We’re here to say goodbye. We ride out tomorrow.

What choice do we have?

-oooOOOooo-

END OF PART TWO

-oooOOOooo-

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