4. What I Heard When I Was A Kid…

 

By Calico

 

 

Curry: “What do you know about Indians?”

Heyes: “Only what I heard when I was a Kid … which won’t make you feel any better…”

Six Strangers at Apache Springs

 

Friday 20th June 1856

[Hannibal will turn five in September. Jed is just about to turn three.]

 

Hannibal woke up. He had been staying at the Curry farm for ages. Nearly forever. Last time he asked his father how long; his father said ‘about three weeks’. That had been – how long ago? A long time. His father had not visited yesterday. Nor the day before. He tried to remember if his father had visited … Hannibal counted days …Tuesday. Not sure. He got mixed up.

 

Mrs. Curry said his father was busy harvesting wheat. Hannibal KNEW that. Mr. Curry was busy too! He still came home though! He thought the real reason his father had not visited was to do with his mother. Mrs. Curry had taken him onto her lap and explained that his mother was very ill.

 

“Can I go see her?” blurted Hannibal. He liked some things about staying with Esther and the others…but he did NOT like being away from his mother.

 

“Not just yet,” Mrs. Curry had said. “She needs – a lot of rest, Hannibal.”

 

“I’d be quiet! Quiet as – as a mouse!” he had offered. He would! He would be real good – if they let him visit. When people were sick they LIKED visitors. His mother would WANT to see him.

 

Mrs. Curry had cuddled him but…

“Not yet…Soon.”

 

Hannibal wriggled out of bed without disturbing young Jed sleeping next to him. He had woken because someone had come to the door. Was it – was it his father? He crept quietly to peep down the stairs.

 

It must be real late. Mr. Curry was pulling pants over his nightshirt as he went to the door. Mrs. Curry was behind him – wrapping a shawl around her nightdress. She looked anxious as she watched her husband reach down the shotgun above the lintel, before opening the door.

 

Hannibal squinted through the faint light thrown by the oil lamp in Mrs. Curry’s hand. Who was it?

 

He recognised Mr. Bauer and …Mr. Ward and …Dr. Wallace. Dr. Wallace! Was it something about his mother? He strained to hear.

 

“…rider come into town to tell us …she was covered in blood…’bout forty of ‘em in the party – mebbe more… families found dead…”

 

Hannibal heard Mrs. Curry gasp. She covered her mouth with her hand. Who was dead? Whose blood?

 

“Raidin’ party… news sent onto the Fort… goin’ round the farms … warnin’…”

 

Then Mr. Ward’s voice.  “We need to get on to the Heyes’ place…tell ‘em.”

 

They were going to HIS house! They were – visiting. Would they see his mother? Could he go?

 

Suddenly, Hannibal was not alone at the top of the stairs. Nate had crept up beside him. He too, bent his head to listen.

 

“Any sign which way they’re headed?” – It was Mr. Curry’s voice.

 

The three men from town shook their heads.

 

“Reckon best thing you can do – is come into town tomorrow – might be more news.”

 

“All dead? All?” – This time it was Mrs. Curry’s voice. She sounded – scared.

 

“Dunno, ma-am,” Mr. Bauer was answering her. “They – they were still lookin’ when the fella bringin’ the news rode out. Sometimes the Cheyenne they…”

 

“Cheyenne!” blurted Nate. Heads swivelled to look up at the eavesdroppers.

 

“Nate!” exclaimed Mrs. Curry.

 

“Is it ‘bout – ‘bout my mother?” asked Hannibal, wriggling still further forward. “Can I go? To my place?” He began to come down.

 

“It’s nothing to do with your mother, Hannibal,” said Mr. Curry. He looked up. Another inquisitive face had appeared. “Zach! What the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?”

 

“We’ll be off, ma-am,” said Mr. Bauer, touching his hat.

 

“Thank you,” said Mr. Curry. He shut the door behind the men.

 

“No!” protested Hannibal. “Let me go too!” He felt his lip wobble. He clenched his fists hard. He did NOT want to cry. Not with Nate and Zach watching. Hannibal knew he would not be allowed to go. Mr. Curry was already bolting the door.

 

Mrs. Curry picked Hannibal up. She carried him to her chair and sat down with him on her lap.

 

“It’s NOT your mother,” she soothed, kissing him. “Those gentlemen just – just came to tell us some news. About something completely different.”

 

“About the Cheyenne?” asked Nate. He and Zach had followed Hannibal down. “Are they on the warpath, Pa?”

 

“Pa?” came a frightened voice.

 

Mr. Curry looked up. Now two ruffled nightcaps dangling one blond and one red plait peered down at him. He walked over to the stairs and held out his arms, Beth and Esther ran down for a comforting hug.

 

Another – very sleepy – voice was heard.

 

“Han’bul? Where?” A tousled head of blond curls appeared. “Issit mornin’?” it yawned, rubbing blue eyes with a small fist. “Issit – my birfday yet?”

 

Ruth began to squawk, from the crib in her parents’ room.

 

Despite the bad news, Nathanial Curry managed a rueful grin.   “Looks like we have a full house, Lizzie!” As his wife was still comforting Hannibal, he looked at his eldest son. “Nate, get the kettle on, why don’t you? And – warm some milk for the little ones. Zach – go fetch your sister.”

 

“What’s happened?” asked Zach, returning with a quieting baby in his arms.

 

“What are we gonna do, Pa?” chipped in Nate, obeying his instructions at the stove.

 

Hannibal saw Mr. and Mrs. Curry exchange a worried glance.

 

“Sure,” said Mr. Curry, summoning up a smile, “…we’re all going to have a nice cup of tay, maybe one of your Ma’s cookies and get back to bed.”

 

“What are we gonna do about the Indians?” persisted Nate. His father shook his head at the nine-year old and glanced meaningfully at the frightened faces of his young sisters. Nate flushed and looked apologetic. “Beth,” he said, with an effort at cheerfulness, “Willya fetch the milk? Esther, get the mugs, please.”

 

“Where injuns?” put in Jed.

 

“Nowhere close!” soothed his mother, trying not to sound worried. “Miles and miles and miles away, Jed.”

 

“Issit – my birfday?”

 

“Not till Sunday, son,” said his father. “Sure and it still comes after Saturday – not after Friday. Even when it’s your birthday.”

 

“Issit – issit Sat’day?” tried Jed.

 

Mrs. Curry glanced at the clock.   “Just!” she admitted.

 

“Birfday – t’morrow!” gloated Jed. “Free!”

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

After he was tucked up next to an already sleeping Jed, Hannibal strained to hear what was going on downstairs. His father always said he had the ears of a lynx.

 

“What ARE we going to do, Nathanial?” Hannibal was not quite sure he heard it. He thought that was what Mrs. Curry said.

 

For a long time he heard nothing. Then, “Sheesh, Lizzie, I’ve a shotgun and a rifle…three shots. Call it six – if you and Nate load! What CAN I do?” Hannibal supposed it must BE Mr. Curry’s voice. It had his accent. But Mr. Curry never sounded so – so helpless.

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

Saturday 21st June 1856

 

The next morning, when Hannibal came down, Mr. Curry was more his normal, optimistic, self. He was also – Hannibal stared – digging.

 

Some of the smooth boards making up the floor to the main room were lifted and Mr. Curry was already standing in quite a trench. Nate was toiling back and forth removing earth. Zach was seated at the window, staring hard into the distance.

 

“Whatcha doin’, Mister Curry?”

 

A synchronous …”Whatcha doin’, Pa?” from Esther, trying to get a comb through her tangle of red hair.

 

Jed, trotted downstairs after Hannibal.

 

“Whad doone?” he chimed in. Then, “Issit – t’morrow?”

 

“Sure – and it’s making a hiding place, I am,” smiled – a grubby – Mr. Curry. “…It’s still Saturday, Jed. All day!”

 

“It’s an Indian hole!” puffed Nate. “Pa’s gonna make another couple out in the barn, too.”

 

“Not that we’ll need them!” said Mrs. Curry, quickly, “…Because there WON’T be any Indians! But, like your wise old grandfather used to say … ‘Better safe than sorry!'”

 

“True enough!” agreed Mr. Curry. “We’ll never NEED these. But, sure and won’t they come in useful when I finally find the gold at the rainbow’s end? I’ll have me a hidey hole all ready!” He threw a glance at his wife. “Isn’t that right, Lizzie?”

 

Mrs. Curry looked rather doubtful, as she stared at the cavity under her nice new floor. Perhaps Hannibal thought, she was considering how safe the gold would really be – hidden in there. “Sure beats doing – nothing,” added Mr. Curry.

 

“True!” his wife agreed. She summoned up a smile. “Sure beats sitting worrying too! It’s a fine idea, Nathanial!”

 

“Just wait till it’s finished, Lizzie!” Another shovel full of earth came out. “Even YOU, me darling, won’t be able to find it! And didn’t you watch me dig it?” He grinned. “Watched me sweat without offering me so much as a mug of tay!”

 

His wife smiled, and moved the kettle onto the stove.

 

“It should be a seekit panel,” advised Hannibal, seriously.

 

“Huh?” asked Nate.

 

“Gold an’ – an’ treasure – you hides ‘em behind seekit panels. In the walls!” Hannibal explained. “In – in stories,” he temporised. “If’n they’re not kept in caves – like Ali Baba!” he temporised, still further.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Curry both looked at the dark-eyed youngster. Mr. Curry pulled himself out of his trench. He walked over and squatted down in front of Hannibal.

 

“That – that is after being a good idea,” he said. Standing up he looked around at the walls. “I could do something with the back wall,” he mused, “I still have some boards over.” A beat. “Sure – and if I figure it right – maybe the panel could have shelves in place, Lizzie. It’d divert suspicion.” He saw Esther looking worried, again. “Not that we’ll be needing them, of course!”

 

“Yes we will!” declared Hannibal. “For – for hidin’ the gold!”

 

Mr. Curry snapped his fingers, as if remembering something.  “Wasn’t I after forgetting the gold!”

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

Hannibal and Esther snuck along the wall of the mercantile.

 

“I reckon – I reckon we’ll call at my place on the way home,” said Hannibal. “Bet your Ma says so!” He strained his ears. Would he see his mother later?

 

Esther shrugged, then nodded. She was not sure about that. Still, listening in to what grown-ups did not want you to hear was always – on principle – a good idea. It stood to reason – if they sent you out, they were talking about something interesting.

 

“I reckon – I reckon, we’ll HAFTA go see my mother,” hoped Hannibal.

 

“Unless – unless the injuns got her!” conjectured Esther. “They coulda – coulda raided your place!”

 

Hannibal’s lip wobbled for a second. Then, “Nah!” he dismissed. “My father – he’s the best shot in the whole world! An’ – an’ – he’s real smart! Like yours! He’d a thought of a real good hidin’ place!”

 

Esther mused on this and nodded. It would be real exciting if the Indians raided Hannibal’s place. But, Mr. Heyes shooting them, then hiding in a hole in the ground would not make it any LESS exciting.

 

She put a finger to her lips, as she and her best friend reached their target position beneath the mercantile side window. The wily spies settled down to listen.

 

“I don’t feel safe in my bed!” exclaimed Mrs. Mueller. “I told Josef – whatever the men decide to do – it’d better be…be…”

 

“Decisive?” offered Mrs. Curry.

 

“No point expecting much from the Fort!” complained Mrs. Godfrey. “The government doesn’t care! Never did! Always on the side of the Red Man!”

 

“Don’t you think they’ll send the troops out?” came Miss Collins voice, “I mean – they did after the Grattan Massacre.”

 

“After a year!” protested Mrs. Myers. “And – those bleeding hearts back East called that brave General Harney a butcher! Just for dealing out justice at Ash Hollow!” A beat. There was venom in her voice as she added, “He should have slaughtered the lot!”

 

 

“He tried,” came Mrs. Curry’s voice, dryly. “Down to the last child, I believe.”

 

“He did right!” chimed in Mrs. Mueller, “Lice grows from nits!”

 

“When you clean out a rattler nest – you don’t leave the eggs to hatch!”

 

“They’ve found one girl alive! ‘Bout sixteen.”

 

“Was she …?”

 

“Reckon so! Mind – they say she can’t talk. Gone mute! But, I reckon so!”

 

“Disgusting! Didn’t she …?”

 

“I’d a died first!” came a girlish voice.

 

“Bill says anything’s better than a white woman goin’ with a buck. He says he’ll put a bullet through me an’ the girls if’n the Indians come!”

 

“Did you hear what those savages did to Mrs. Loebe?” asked Miss Collins. She sounded – frightened.

 

“SHE wasn’t…?” The voices dropped too low for Hannibal and Esther to hear everything.

 

“…Not that…Worse!…”

“…Her head – cut off…”

“… On the table…”

“… body flung aside…”

“…Knife and fork … stabbed into…”

“…sticking outta the head…Sick! …”

” …One breast… sliced off…”

“… beside the head…”

“…left the baby alive … laid by the body… placed it so it could suckle the other…”

“…not even human!”

“…the army should wipe ‘em out!”

 

A shadow fell over the open-mouthed Esther and Hannibal.

 

Nate pulled the two youngsters away.  “What the Sam Hill do you two think you’re doing?” he hissed.

 

“Nothin’!” protested Hannibal. They had NOT been doing anything! Just sitting. Quietly!

 

“Suppose I tell Ma you’ve been eavesdropping. You were told to stay by the creek with us!”

 

“Well,” argued Esther, incontrovertibly, “…You were told to watch us! Beth hadta watch Jed. An’ you an’ Zach hadta watch us! An’ you didn’t! So – Thbbptt!”

 

“Shush!” said Nate, pulling her along and glancing anxiously back at the mercantile. “I’m watchin’ you NOW!” He gave both children a shove towards a flat rock at the side of the creek. “So – siddown an’ – an’ stay put!”

 

He gave them what he hoped was a firm glare and returned to the older boys gathered at the water. Hannibal and Esther exchanged a glance. They scampered after Nate and – when he turned – plopped themselves down again.

 

“For Pete’s Sake!” groaned Kurt Mueller, “…Why d’ya bring THEM?”

 

“Whatchya doin’?” chirped Esther.

 

“Buildin’ a dam!” snapped Tommy Bauer. “What’s it look like?”

 

Hannibal and Esther exchanged another glance. The two youngsters had little idea what – a dam – was. But, they were dang sure they could build one.

 

“We’ll help!” offered Hannibal, generously. “What’s the plan?”

 

Zach looked less than thrilled by this offer.  “The plan is – both of you’ll be sittin’ still – quiet as mice – stayin’ outta the way!” he explained. “…Or – or…I’ll skin ya alive!”

 

“Thbbptt!” raspberried Esther, too used to the threats of her older brother to be impressed.

 

“If’n you make a sound,” said Ned Bauer, looking up from his vital construction work, “…We’ll call on the injuns… and THEY’LL skin you alive!”

 

Esther was silenced. She cast a worried look at Nate.

 

“They like little ‘uns – about your age,” chimed in Kurt Mueller. “You should hear what they did to the Loebes an’ Kochendurfs!”

 

“Who?”

 

“Farmers – just like your folks!” said Tommy Bauer, with ghoulish satisfaction. “Lived near Endeavour!”

 

“That’s miles away!” said Hannibal. He remembered what Mrs. Curry had said. “Miles an’ miles an’ miles!”

 

“T’aint!” argued Ned. “Less’n twenty miles. Closer to your place. A few hours’ ride for a Cheyenne raidin’ party – to YOUR place!”

 

“Don’t,” said Nate, uncomfortably, “…Don’t frighten them!” He turned to Hannibal and Esther. “Go sit where I told you!”

 

Hannibal caught Esther’s eye. They retreated a foot or so to show willing and pretended to find a toad under a stone completely fascinating. Nate, being only nine and only human, decided this was enough to justify him indulging his own raging curiousity.

 

 

“What did they do?” he asked Kurt.

 

“Wouldn’t wanna – scare you!” smirked Kurt.

 

“Pfffttt! Bet you don’t know nothin’!” scoffed Zach.

 

“We do too!” protested Thomas Mueller, with all the authority of his ten years. “We listened – when the rider was talkin’ to Papa!”

 

A beat.

 

“Go on then!” gave in Zach.

 

“Young Ben Kochendurf, he was about ten, he was stacking hay near the house, when one of the Injuns hit him with an arrow,” Thomas gestured to drive home his story, “… Got him under the ear. When he fell – they grabbed him, cut off both his hands and scalped him before he was dead!”

 

Kurt Mueller took up the tale, “His little brother tried to escape, but there were about forty Indians – so he had no chance! They tied his feet together and strung him to a wagon tongue by his heels. Then they cut his pants off with a butcher knife and slashed up his body as only an Indian knows how!” Kurt grinned at his riveted audience. Hannibal and Esther shuffled closer. Kurt mimed slitting his brother from belly to throat with an imaginary knife. He made an impressively realisitic r-r-r-r-ripping sound effect in his throat.

 

Thomas fell to the ground writhing and yelling, “My entrails! Help! Help! They’re spillin’ out! Wrigglin’! Like – like snakes!”

 

Kurt grinned, fiendishly, at the wide-eyed youngsters.

“Then they poured powder over his body and set it on fire. Then they scalped him!” he finished, triumphantly. “That was yesterday,” Kurt made his voice – ominous, “…Bet by now they’re at your place! Hidden! Waiting for you to get back! Then…” He leapt up and… “Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!!!”

 

“Whoop! Whoop!” chimed in Tommy Bauer, delighted to see Hannibal and Esther’s lips wobble.

 

“Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” This was Zach.

 

“Don’t!” snapped Nate. “I told ya NOT to frighten ‘em!”

 

“We ain’t frightened!” dismissed Esther, shakily. “I – I bet the injuns come into town first! You’d better watch out, Tommy Bauer!”

 

“S’right!” supported Hannibal, with more confidence than he felt. “Bound to come here first! More scalps in town!”

 

“T’ain’t just a question of quantity!” teased Ned Bauer, “…Some scalps are more – decorative.” He grinned, significantly at Esther. “They favour real, carroty, red scalps, f’instance…”

 

“Stop it!” ordered Nate, approaching Ned with a threatening frown.

 

Ned darted round the back of Esther and twitched her long plait.

 

“…Just saying,” persisted Ned, “…If’n you were a Cheyenne brave – wouldn’t you think this’d be just the thing to dangle from your belt, huh? Nice splash of colour?”

 

Esther stared at her hair and raised scared eyes to her big brother.

 

“Nate!” she appealed, lip wobbling hard.

 

Ned dodged out of Nate’s way.

 

“‘Course, he’d hafta wash the …” Ned savoured the words, “…buckets of bloo—oood and go-oore, off it first!”

 

Esther threw back her head and howled.

 

Nate broke into a run and, catching Ned Bauer round the waist, brought him to the ground.

 

“Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!” chorused the other boys, gathering round in the traditional manner.

 

“WHAT is going on here?” came one authoritative, feminine voice.

 

“Ned Bauer, WHAT do you think you are doing?” came a second, equally commanding, enquiry.

 

The two flailing combatants ceased their struggles. Two sets of guilty eyes met two looks of maternal disapproval. The boys rose to their feet looking sheepish.

 

“Haven’t you boys been warned about fighting?” asked Mrs. Curry, severely.

 

“Yes, ma-am,” said Nate, hanging his head. “Sorry, ma-am,” he added.

 

“Sorry, ma-am,” chimed in Ned.

 

“Ma!” wailed Esther, who had by now stood up and buried her face in her mother’s skirts, “…Are the injuns gonna scalp me? ‘Cause… cause – red’s their fav’rite?”

 

“No, of course not!” soothed her mother, picking her up. She frowned at her elder sons. “Nathanial Curry! Zachariah Curry! What were you told about NOT frightening your little sister?”

 

“I didn’t!” protested Nate. “I told her – to sit over there – so she couldn’t hear!”

 

His mother’s expression told him clearly enough this was NOT going to be considered a satisfactory level of child-care. Nate returned his head to ‘hanging’ position.

 

“Go sit in the wagon, the pair of you!” she ordered.

 

Nate and Zach departed.

 

Hannibal tugged on Mrs. Curry’s skirts.   “The injuns,” he said, keeping his voice low so the older boys would not think they had managed to scare him, “…They’re not at my place are they?”

 

“No, Hannibal,” she said. She hitched Esther onto one hip and took Hannibal’s hand. “They’re nowhere near your place. They’re miles away.” She began to walk over to the wagon.

 

“How d’ya know?” persisted Hannibal. “Don’t ya think we should go check? Huh?” He tugged again. “Don’t ya? Huh? Huh?”

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

Jed and Beth were already in the wagon. Beth had young Ruth on her lap. Mr. Curry was deep in conversation with Doctor Wallace, Mr. Myers and Mr. Wyatt.

 

“…Liars – all of ‘em!” Mr. Myers was saying. “It’s not three months since Harney made ‘em reaffirm the treaty! Not three months! And – this! Their word means nothin’ to ‘em! Nothin’! Can’t trust one of ‘em!”

 

“Trouble is – I guess they say the same about us,” said Doctor Wallace, mildly.

 

Mr. Wyatt pulled Doctor Wallace roughly round to face him.  “That kinda bleedin’ heart talk makes me sick!”

 

“Hey!” objected Mr. Curry. “Sure – and there’s no need to take it out on the Doc!” He removed Mr. Wyatt’s hand. Mr. Wyatt glowered at him for a moment. Hannibal thought Mr. Wyatt’s face looked real red.

 

“I’ve seen what Indians can do, Curry!” he blurted. “Saw it on my own mother and sister, when I was a boy! They’d been used – an’ then sliced up like…!”

 

“Mr. Wyatt!” interrupted Mrs. Curry, sharply. She held the angry man’s eyes. “Please – not in front of the children.”

 

He scowled.  “Just can’t bear listenin’ to folk – standin’ up for them savages!” he said, glowering at Doctor Wallace.

 

“I wouldn’t stand up for any man who’d murdered innocent women and children, Wyatt,” responded Doctor Wallace, still keeping his tone civil, “…Red or white. That’s why I don’t think the army sending in another Harney is the answer!”

 

“Pfffttt!” dismissed Mr. Wyatt. “If William S. Harney shows up here in Larson Creek, I for one will shake his hand! Butcher! Pfffttt! He just gave ‘em a taste of their own medicine!” No one responded. “Injun Lover!” Mr. Wyatt spat wetly on the ground in front of Doctor Wallace, turned on his heel and strode away.

 

Mr. Curry looked angry and moved to follow him. Doctor Wallace caught his arm.

 

“Leave him, Curry!” He met Mr. Curry’s eyes. “You heard. He lost his mother in a raid. If it makes him feel better – he can spit all over me and call me anything he likes. Won’t hurt me none.”

 

The anger left Mr. Curry’s face.  “Guess not, Doc,” he accepted.

 

Now Mr. Wyatt had gone, Hannibal tugged again at Mrs. Curry’s hand.

“Mrs. Curry!” he hissed.

 

“The man’s got a point!” pointed out Mr. Myers. “Not much to be said in the Indians’ defence if’n you’ve seen what they do!”

 

“Do you think we should go check …?” tried Hannibal, again.

 

“I’m not arguing there’s any right in what they do!” protested Doctor Wallace. “Sheesh! I’ve patched up injuries caused by them – even scalping – and I never want to see that kind of thing again! Thing is – I’ve patched up a few squaws and their children after so called retaliatory action, too.” He shook his head. “I reckon – if you’re in my line of work – you just prefer nobody bleeding, whichever side they’re on!”

 

“Mrs. Curry…”

 

Mr. Myers shrugged, “I’d string ‘em all up!”

 

Mr. Curry shrugged too, but he added, “Sure – I don’t want to argue the rights and wrongs of Ash Hollow with you, Doc…”

 

“Can we go to…?” pleaded Hannibal.

 

“Don’t be interrupting now, Hannibal. We’re talking,” Mr. Curry instructed the jigging youngster. “I can’t say it’s any tears I’d be shedding, Doc, if I saw the bucks who raided Endeavour swinging from a rope’s end. Still – nobody doing any more bleeding! Guess that’d suit me well enough, too!” He squatted down by Hannibal’s side. “What is it, Hannibal?”

 

“He wants to visit his mother,” explained Mrs. Curry, gently.

 

Mr. Curry gave Hannibal a kind smile. “Your mother needs to be kept real quiet, Hannibal,” he said. “…And – isn’t it an awful crowd we Curry clan are making! Real noisy too, huh? I don’t think it’s a good idea!”

 

“Just me, then!” pleaded Hannibal. He rubbed his eyes. He was NOT crying. He was NOT. “…Just to check the injuns haven’t …” he gulped, tried to stop his lip wobbling, “…haven’t sliced her!”

 

“They haven’t!” reassured Mrs. Curry.

 

“You can’t KNOW!” he blurted. “They could be there now!”

 

“We can’t let you go by yourself, son,” said Mr. Curry, gently.

 

“You take me then!” begged Hannibal. “…Please.”

 

Mr. and Mrs. Curry exchanged a guilty glance. If there was a threat of Indian attack, Mr. Curry did not want to be away from his own young family. He did not want his wife walking back from the Heyes’ place, just now, either. But …if the news of the horror only a few miles away made them want to stick together, they could hardly blame Hannibal for wanting to see his parents.

 

“Please!” repeated Hannibal. A sleeve dragged across a damp little four-year old nose.

 

Mr. Curry sighed and gave his wife a nod.

 

“Alright, Hannibal…” he started.

 

Doctor Wallace interrupted him, “I was going to visit Mrs. Heyes anyhow,” he said. “If you like – Hannibal can come and I’ll drop him at your place en route to my next patient.”

 

Mrs. Curry gave him a grateful look.  “Won’t it take you out of your way, Doctor?”

 

He shook his head.  “Fifteen minutes or so – if that!” The Doctor squatted down. “You can visit home – see your father, make sure the Indians haven’t been. I’m NOT promising you’ll see your mother, Hannibal. You understand? She might not be not be feeling very well. We’ll see. But – at least you’ll see there’s been no raid. Alright?”

 

Hannibal nodded. It was NOT alright of course. But, he could worry about that later. Once he got home – naturally, he would see his mother. She would want to see him.

 

“Come along, then,” said Doctor Wallace, holding out a hand and turning in the direction of his gig.

 

“Be a good boy!” stressed Mrs. Curry. Then, in case this was ambiguous, she changed her instruction to, “Do as Doctor Wallace tells you, Hannibal!”

 

“Han’bul!” called Jed, “You’se comin’ back? ‘Fore t’morrow?”

 

“Er…” hesitated Hannibal. He might – just might – be allowed to stay home. You never knew!

 

“Don’t miss my birfday!” urged Jed. “Cake!” Holding four fingers up, he stated importantly, “…I’m free! T’morrow!”

 

“Hannibal will be back in plenty of time, Jed,” promised his mother. Looking at the podgy hand she counted, “…One, two, three…” With a smile, she folded down the unneeded digit.

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

“Doctor Wallace,” chirped Hannibal, from his perch in the gig. “Can I look in your bag?”

 

“Nope!”

 

Hannibal sighed. After a quick examination, he quietly shut the bag already opened on the off chance.

 

“Doctor Wallace…”

 

“Uh huh?”

 

“Y’know what Mr. Wyatt called you?”

 

“Indian Lover?” checked the Doctor.

 

“Uh huh. Do you? Love Injuns?”

 

“Nope. Just – I don’t hate them, like some folks seem to.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Why – which? Why do some folks hate Indians? Or – why do I NOT hate Indians?”

 

Hannibal considered.  “Why DON’T you hate ‘em?” he decided. “If’n they slice folk ‘n’ set fire to ‘em ‘n’ chop their heads off!” Hannibal looked up at the man beside him. “Did they really – chop a head off ‘n’ – ‘n’ stick a knife an’ fork in it?” he asked, in a quieter voice.

 

“It’s one of the things reported,” confirmed the Doctor.

 

“Why don’t you hate ‘em, then?”

 

“Because – SOME Indians did those things at Endeavour, not ALL Indians,” answered the Doctor.

 

“Mr. Myers says they’re ALL liars!” argued Hannibal. “Are they?”

 

“Nope. Some are. Like – some white folks are liars.”

 

“Why’d Mr. Myers say it then? Is HE a liar?” persisted Hannibal.

 

“Er…no,” said the Doctor, carefully. “Mr. Wyatt was talking about Indians not sticking to a treaty. He was generalising.”

 

“Is gen’lisin’ – the same as lyin’?”

 

“No. But when you generalise – you say things which are true some of the time, but aren’t true in all cases,” explained the Doctor.

 

Hannibal pondered for a moment. He decided that sounded too hard. “Did they?” he deviated.

 

“Did who what?”

 

“The injuns. Not stickta a tree-dy?”

 

“Well…” started the Doctor, “…The Fort Laramie Treaty…”

 

“What’s a treaty?” interrupted Hannibal.

 

“It’s – an agreement. A promise,” said the Doctor. “Usually in writing.” A beat. “Shall I go on?” he offered, looking down.

 

Hannibal quickly withdrew his fingers from a second exploration of the fascinating black bag.  “Uh huh,” he nodded, with innocent wide eyes.

 

“The Fort Laramie Treaty between the United States and many of the Indian nations promised control of the Great Plains…”

 

“The Newnited States,” put in Hannibal. “That’s us? White folks?”

 

Under his breath, the Doctor murmured, “Out of the mouths of babes…” aloud he confirmed, “The United States are – us, Hannibal.” He went on, “…The treaty promised control of the Great Plains to the Indian nations for “as long as…””

 

“Where’s the ‘Great Plains’?”

 

The Doctor waved his hand at the distance, “As far as the treaty is concerned, Hannibal, they are some miles away, in that direction…”

 

Hannibal stared at the distance.   “Is – Endeavour – over there?”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“Shouldn’t those folks have been farmin’ there? Was they not – stickin’ to a treaty?”

 

“That’s not an easy question, Hannibal,” said the Doctor. “The United States – that’s us – we like to change our minds about which places do and do not belong to the Indians. It’s a bit hard to keep track! For both sides. The Loebes and the Kochendurfs – they were just trying to build a life and feed their families. No way did they do anything to deserve what happened. In my opinion, the Indian families who get moved on by the army don’t deserve it either. It’s always the innocent – the ones who don’t get a choice about what gets signed anyhow – who seem to end up suffering.”

 

“So…” Hannibal’s brow furrowed, “…whose fault is it?” He decided to put it in terms he understood. “Who broke the promise first? If’n Esther an’ I promise not to do somethin’ to each other – when we both do it – whoever did it first – it’s their fault!” He gave a satisfied nod. “Ev’ryone knows that!”

 

“Another difficult question,” smiled the Doctor, ruefully. “We promised control of the Great Plains to the Indian nations for “as long as the river flows and the eagle flies”. We also promised them fifty thousand dollars a year for fifty years. In return, the Indians let us build roads and forts on the Plains. And, they promised not to hurt settlers on the Oregon Trail…IF I see your hand inside that bag again, Hannibal Heyes, I shall have something to say about it! Do you hear me?” A beat. “Do you hear me?”

 

“Yes, sir,” sighed Hannibal, withdrawing his exploring fingers. He had just managed to touch something that felt delightfully sharp.

 

“On the whole, the treaty worked for a while. SOME Indians still gave SOME settlers on the trail trouble…”

 

“So – they broke first?” triumphed Hannibal.

 

“Our government decided fifty years was too long and cut it to ten. Some tribes never got their payments at all.”

 

“Oh!” Hannibal frowned. “That don’t sound fair!” A beat. “My mother’d never break a promise. Not even to an injun. So – they wouldn’t have no reason to hurt her. Would they?”

 

“No reason at all.”

 

“They wouldn’t…” a gulp, “…chop her head off?”

 

“Nope.” The Doctor pointed ahead. “We can just about see your place, Hannibal. No smoke. Everything looks normal. No Indians. I reckon that’s your father, working in the field.” He smiled down. “No Indians,” he repeated.

 

Hannibal stood up to try and see his father. He wobbled.

 

“Sit down!” ordered the Doctor. “It’d be a shame to fall out, when we’re so close, huh?” He chirruped to the horse. “Where was I?” he asked, enjoying an audience during his drive. “The treaty did some good for a time. Then came the Grattan incident.”

 

“The mass’ker?” remembered Hannibal. “Miss Collins – she said ‘Grattan mass’ker’.” He looked up. “What’s a mass’ker?”

 

“It’s what people call a lot of killing – when they think the folks who did it were in the wrong,” said Doctor Wallace.

 

“Isn’t – a lot of killin’ – always wrong?” asked Hannibal.

 

Doctor Wallace met the dark eyes.  “I think so.”

 

Hannibal had already looked away.  “Father!” he called. He waved. Still too far away to be seen. “FATHER!”

 

Alex Heyes looked up at the sound of the gig. He raised his hand to the Doctor and began to walk from the field to the road. Hannibal’s face wavered. His father looked real sad. His shoulders did not usually droop like that. Was his father not pleased to have him visit? Then, Alex saw the small figure peering round the side of the Doctor. A wide smile lit up the tired face. He broke into a run to meet the gig. As the Doctor pulled up, Hannibal found himself swept out of the seat and twirled in a wide arc through the air.

 

“Again!” he squealed, as his father moved to put him down. “Again!” Alex moved back a pace, so he could swirl Hannibal in a full circle. “Again!”

 

“No – no more! You’re getting too big son!” Alex hugged Hannibal close and hitched him onto a hip so he could offer a hand to the Doctor.

 

“Hannibal wanted to make sure you’d had no Indian trouble,” said Doctor Wallace. He picked up Hannibal’s dropped hat and replaced it on the dark hair.

 

“An’ – an’ I hafta visit mother,” added Hannibal. “An’ – an’…” his lip pouted, as he remembered he had a grievance against his father, “…you’ve not been to see me for ages!” He wiped away a kiss from his cheek. There was no need to get sappy!

 

“I’m real sorry, Hannibal,” apologised Alex. “I’m staying with your mother while she’s awake – and getting the wheat in when she’s asleep.” He set his son down and squatted to speak face to face. “You know how bad the last two harvests have been. I HAVE to get the crop in this time. I’m going to need every penny I can get to pay…” Alex stopped short and flushed. He gave a guilty look at Doctor Wallace.

 

“I know you’ll pay me when you can, Heyes,” said the Doctor. “Don’t let it prey on your mind. Let’s just get her well.”

 

“I could help!” protested Hannibal. “If I came home – I could help! I could!”

 

“Well,” avoided his father. “Shall we go in? Let the Doctor take a look?”

 

“And me!” insisted Hannibal.

 

“We’ll see what Doctor Wallace says first,” said Alex. Aside to the Doctor, he added, “I left her fast asleep, Doctor. Can’t have been more than an hour ago. I can’t see any change. It hit her so hard. After Hannibal, she was hoping… Guess we were BOTH hoping… ” he blinked hard and shrugged.

 

The Doctor laid a hand on his arm.  “Sleep’s the best medicine,” he remarked, gently. “That prescription goes for you, too, Heyes.”

 

“I wanna visit her!”

 

“While the Doctor’s making his mind up…” said Alex, “…you and I can get the kettle on, huh?”

 

“Doctor Wallace!” tried Hannibal. “…Can we have a treaty? I sees my mother?”

 

“We’ll see,” smiled the Doctor, “What would I get – in this treaty?”

 

Hannibal thought. A good idea struck him.  “I could carry your bag!” he offered, “…Look after it for you!” A small, inquisitive, hand reached out.

 

“Hannibal!” laughed Doctor Wallace, “…A fine career in politics awaits you!” He glanced at Alex. “Hannibal and I have been discussing the Fort Laramie Treaty – on the journey,” he explained.

 

“Uh huh? Did the Doctor tell you the most important thing of all, Hannibal?” asked Alex. “What makes it – the most special treaty ever?”

 

“What?”

 

“The date it was signed?”

 

“When? Why’s it ‘portant?”

 

“It was signed on a very, very, very special day,” smiled Alex, as they crossed the yard. “One of the most special days in the history of the world.”

 

“When?”

 

“Guess!” challenged his father.

 

“Er… Christmas Day!”

 

“More special than that!” inflated Alex.

 

“When? Tell me!”

 

“Seventeenth of September 1851,” said Alex, momentously.

 

“My birthday! Day I was born!” triumphed Hannibal.

 

“Uh huh! Guess they waited, huh?”

 

“Does it say? In the treaty? ‘Bout me – bein’ born?” asked Hannibal.

 

“I reckon it might!” nodded his father. “What do you think, Doctor?”

 

“It was pretty big news,” agreed the Doctor. “I can’t imagine them leaving it out!”

 

They entered the house. Hannibal slipped his hand out of his father’s and made for the bedroom.

 

“No!” said his father, in the voice Hannibal did not argue with. “The Doctor first,” reminded Alex, more kindly. “Go fetch the tea caddy, son.”

 

Hannibal tried to see around the door as the Doctor tapped very quietly and then went in. He turned to his father and opened his mouth… Oh! His father was not looking at him. He was staring at the bedroom door. His face was real, real worried. Real sad. Hannibal’s father looked at Hannibal and gave his head a little shake, he summoned up a smile. Hannibal thought the smile was not real – the dark eyes still looked… Hannibal decided he would not ask about his mother again just yet. He fetched the tea and set out mugs while his father lifted the heavy kettle onto the stove.

 

“Father,” he started. “…Have we gotta sekkit panel? For hidin’? For when injuns come?”

 

“The Indians won’t come here, Hannibal.”

 

“You don’t KNOW! ‘Sides – we could hide other stuff. Treasure! Gold!” explained Hannibal. “That’s what Mr. Curry’s goin’ to use his for. The gold!”

 

“Uh huh?” said Alex. “I’ll think about it, son. When the wheat’s in – and your mother’s a little better. In fact…” he smiled, “…you think real hard about the best place for this secret panel. Then, we can work on it together. But, not yet.”

 

“If’n you hide – there won’t be a mass’ker!” elucidated Hannibal. “An’ – An’ you won’t hafta put a bullet through mother – or me!”

 

“What?” Alex’s head swivelled round from the teapot.

 

“That’s what Mr. Wyatt’s gonna do! Mrs. Wyatt said. He’s gonna put a bullet through her an’ the girls. When the Injuns come!”

 

“The Indians won’t come,” repeated Alex, “…And, even if they do – I won’t be putting a bullet through you or your mother.”

 

“We’ll just hide, huh?” decided Hannibal. A beat. “Why didn’t they hide at Endeavour? Or at Grattan? Then the injuns couldn’t spoil the treaty! Could they? If’n they couldn’t find folk?”

 

“Grattan wasn’t a place, Hannibal,” said Alex, deciding to avoid the realities of ‘hiding’ as a foolproof solution. “Grattan was a soldier.”

 

“Was he mass’kered?” asked Hannibal. “Or…was he doin’ the mass’krin’?”

 

“Er…” hesitated Alex. “…I only know what I’ve read, son.” He sat down and tapped his knee. Hannibal climbed up into his usual spot while they waited for the water to boil. “Doctor Wallace told you about the treaty payments, huh? To the Indians?”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“Well, two years ago a lot of Indians gathered near Fort Laramie to receive their payment, as agreed. But, the government man, who was to make the payments, was a month late. So, the Indians – and the soldiers at the Fort – were all getting impatient.”

 

“Why was he late?” checked Hannibal.

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Maybe – the injuns attacked the stage?”

 

“I doubt it,” said Alex. “I think the reports would have mentioned that! Perhaps he just – didn’t set out in time?”

 

“Oh! Go on.”

 

“There were pioneers passing the Fort – heading West…”

 

“Like you did?” put in Hannibal.

 

“Like we did,” confirmed Alex. “But these pioneers would be going further West. Anyhow – one of their cows wandered into the Indian camp, among the lodges. And – one of the Indians killed the cow.”

 

“He shouldn’t a done that!” decided Hannibal.

 

“No – he shouldn’t!”

 

“Unless – had the cow trampled on all his stuff?”

 

“Er…” Alex floundered. “I don’t know. But, he shouldn’t have killed the cow.”

 

“Mind you – that Pi’neer – he shoulda not let his cow wander off!”

 

“No. He shouldn’t,” agreed Alex. He set Hannibal down to make tea, but carried on talking, after a quick glance at the closed bedroom door. “The cow’s owner wanted the Indian punished – and Lieutenant Gratton was sent, with 29 men, to arrest him.”

 

“An’ – did he?”

 

“No. Things started to go wrong. Lieutenant Gratton had an interpreter who spoke the Indian’s language. But, this interpreter…Well, according to the reports he’d been drinking pretty heavily. He told the Indians that the army planned to kill them all and that he would cut out and devour their hearts.”

 

“He shouldn’t a said that!”

 

“No,” agreed Alex.

 

“Did it – make the Indians real mad? Start a mass’ker?”

 

“Not then. The Indian’s leader – Conquering Bear …”

 

“Con’krin Bear!” savoured Hannibal. He liked that. He committed it to memory.

 

“He offered many horses in return for the cow.”

 

Hannibal thought about that.

 

“That sounds fair!” he decided. “A norse – that’s good as a cow. Better!”

 

“But – the interpreter did not repeat the offer correctly. Grattan had his men level their guns at the Indians.”

 

“Why?” asked Hannibal, “If’n – they weren’t doin’ nothin’?”

 

“Well – Lieutenant Gratton was not very old,” said Alex. “Maybe he got – upset. And, the reports said he didn’t like Indians at all…”

 

“Like – Mr. Wyatt?”

 

“Probably a bit like Mr. Wyatt,” hazarded Alex. “Anyway – shots were fired.”

 

“Who shot first?”

 

“No one knows,” said Alex, firmly. “Different reports guess different things – but no one knows for sure.”

 

“Bet it was – the injuns!” No answer. “Go on!” Hannibal instructed.

 

“Conquering Bear urged his people not to shoot. Then a second volley from the soldiers killed Conquering Bear…Shot him in the back.”

 

“Even though – he was tryin’ to stop it?”

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“We shouldn’t a done that!” Hannibal shook his head.

 

“These things happen once shooting starts,” sighed Alex. “That’s why it’s better not to let it begin. Anyhow, the Indians were angry. They killed Grattan and all his soldiers, before they could reload…”

 

“But – that was them shootin’ second. ‘Cause … the soldiers killed Con’krin Bear!”

 

“One of the soldiers killed Conquering Bear. Not all of them. And, we’ll never know if even he meant to, Hannibal. These things get out of control.”

 

“So…” puzzled Hannibal, “…the injuns shouldn’t a shot the soldiers anyhow?”

 

Alex shook his head.  “Sometimes Hannibal, the real question is not ‘Who started it?’ but – ‘How can we stop it?'”

 

The bedroom door opened. Hannibal scampered over.  “Can I go in? Is she better?”

 

Doctor Wallace took him gently by the shoulders and led him away.  “Let me have a quick word with your father, Hannibal.”

 

“Hannibal, go shut the barn door,” said his father.

 

“Why?” demanded a stubborn voice.

 

“Because – I’ll be able to see you crossing the yard and I’ll know you’re not listening! That’s why,” said Alex, truthfully. “Go on!”

 

Hannibal scowled. But, having no choice, he raced to the barn. He was panting when he bounced back into the farmhouse.

 

“Now? Can I see her?” he gasped.

 

Alex squatted down.  “Listen, son, Doctor Wallace doesn’t think it will hurt your mother to have a visit – if you’re good …”

 

“I’ll be like a mouse…”

 

“In fact – we both know she wants to see you.” Hannibal nodded. He knew that! Sheesh! You did not need to be a Doctor to know that! “But…” Alex touched his son’s cheek. “…your mother won’t be able to SAY she’s pleased to see you…”

 

“Why?”

 

“She’s – not well enough to talk, Hannibal.”

 

Hannibal blinked. Not well enough to talk!

 

“And, she’s – she’s feeling very poorly,” went on Alex, “So, if she doesn’t look happy – it’s because she’s feeling bad. Do you understand?” He gave a rather wavering smile. “The last thing I want is you to get all upset, son. But – however she acts – we both know how much your mother wants to see you, huh? So, do you think you can manage to smile for her – even if she can’t smile back?”

 

Hannibal felt a lump in his throat. He gulped hard, but nodded.

 

His father led him into the bedroom. His mother looked very small propped up in the middle of the pillows. Very small and very pale. She had her head turned, staring at the far wall. Hannibal saw a bedroll folded in a corner. Was his father sleeping on the floor? Was his mother THAT sick?

 

“Mother,” he said. His voice sounded shaky. She did not look round. Did not move at all. “Mother!”

 

His father pulled up a chair on the side of bed his mother was facing. He patted his knee.  “Come sit here, Hannibal,” he smiled, “…Why not tell your mother about this secret panel you’re planning? To hide all our treasure – when we find it?”

 

Hannibal climbed, slowly, onto his father’s lap. He looked at his mother. Her eyes did not even seem to see him! They looked, empty. Then, she – she shut them.

 

“Mother,” he said, again. “It’s me!” He gulped. She would not even look at him.

 

“Hannibal’s hitched a ride with the Doctor, Sarah,” said Alex. “He’s come to tell me off for not visiting him!” He reached out and touched a lock of her hair. “Try and look, Sarah. It’s Hannibal.” Nothing. A beat. “Hannibal, like I said, your mother’s not really up to chatting. I think she’d like to hear you talk, though.” Hannibal swallowed. Looking at that thin, sad face, he could not think of a thing to say. “Where do you think the best place for our secret panel is, son?” prompted Alex, gently.

 

Hannibal shrugged. But – he had had an idea.  “Maybe – maybe behind the stove,” he hazarded. “‘Cause – stoves are heavy. An’ folk don’t think to move ‘em!”

 

“Good idea!” approved Alex. “Maybe a bit hot for us to hide in. But, it’d be fine for the gold!” He prompted Hannibal, again. “Where are we going to find this gold – once we have a panel to put it in?”

 

“We could – mine for it! OR…” Hannibal wriggled, “…what Mr. Curry is gonna do – is keep lookin’ at the end of rainbows!”

 

“At the end of a rainbow! Do you hear that, Sarah?” marvelled Alex. He frowned in assumed confusion. “Why would you find…?”

 

“‘Cause of the leprechauns!” exclaimed Hannibal. His voice was returning to its usual cheerful confidence. “Ev’ryone knows that!” he went on, kindly. “Leprechauns – they buries their crock – that’s their gold – at the end of rainbows! EV’RYONE knows!”

 

“Leprechauns!” said Alex, snapping his fingers. “I should have known that, huh, Sarah?”

 

“You knew, didn’t you? You knew ‘bout – the crock o’ gold? Didn’t you, mother?” Hannibal chirped. The eyes – flickered open. They rested on Hannibal. “I knew YOU knew!” he triumphed. “But – you can only see ‘em – if’n they wants you to! Huh?” His mother did not smile, nor nod – but, she WAS looking at him. She knew!

 

“Is Mr. Curry sure there are leprechauns in Kansas?” asked Alex.

 

“‘Course!” said Hannibal at once. Then, he frowned. Mr. Curry had never actually said that. “I – I ‘spects they em’grated!” he decided, with authority. “To – to a landa oppa-tune-ty. Like – lotsa the Irish!” he finished.

 

“Sounds feasible,” admitted Alex.

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

“…An’ the thing ‘bout Banshees is … you hafta…”

 

Hannibal, now in full flow, was holding his mother’s hand. Or at least – his hand was on hers, on the sheet. She was looking at his hand. She had not smiled. But, Hannibal thought, she WAS pleased he had come. She was REALLY looking at his hand. As if she wanted to remember it there, when he had gone. And – he could tell she was listening.

 

The Doctor opened the door.  “Sorry to break it up,” he smiled. “I have to be going. If Hannibal wants that lift – he has to come now.”

 

“Say good-bye, son,” said his father. “I’ll try and fetch you for another visit, real soon.”

 

Hannibal flashed a look of appeal. But, he knew he would not be allowed to stay.

 

“Good-bye, mother,” he said. Her eyes travelled slowly from his hand to his face. Her lips moved – just a twitch – but nothing.

 

“Are you going to give your mother a kiss?” asked his father.

 

Hannibal leaned over and kissed the thin cheek. He stared hard at her mouth – hoping, hoping. Nothing.

 

“Good boy,” said his father. He ruffled the dark hair.

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

“Doctor Wallace?”

 

“Yes, Hannibal?”

 

“You know my mother can’t talk?”

 

“Uh huh?”

 

“That girl – the one who the injuns didn’t slice – she can’t talk neither!”

 

“So I’ve heard,” temporised the Doctor.

 

“An’ – an’ it ‘cause of what they did to her?”

 

“Maybe. If something very bad happens to you – or you see something very bad – you SO don’t want to talk about it, you can’t talk at all. For a while. The lady out at Endeavour needs to get to her kin – and have folk be real kind to her. Eventually she’ll want to speak again.”

 

“Did somethin’ real bad happen to my mother? Did someone do bad stuff?”

 

“Not really. Your mother is very, very sad about something …”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m not going to discuss ‘what’, Hannibal…”

 

“Why? What was it?”

 

“No!” said the Doctor, firmly. “Be told! Your mother is too sad to talk just now. BUT, she will remember all the things that make her happy. You and your father. Kind neighbours like Mr. and Mrs. Curry. It will all help her get better.”

 

“Will she – get better?”

 

“I think so, son. It’ll take a while – but I think so.” The Doctor smiled down at the anxious boy. “You helped today, Hannibal. Talking to her – being cheerful. It DID help. It just takes time.”

 

A beat. The Doctor felt the small body leaning against him gradually relax a little.

 

“Doctor Wallace?”

 

“Yes, Hannibal?”

 

“You don’t think the injuns’ll come to Larson Creek, huh?”

 

“Not really. Like you keep saying, I can’t KNOW – but, I reckon not.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because,” said the Doctor, “…We’re a lot closer to the Fort than Endeavour. And – I reckon the Cheyenne will head away from the fort. Just my opinion.”

 

Hannibal mused on that. It sounded like a proper answer. Not just a – ‘Don’t frighten the children’ – answer.

 

“Doctor Wallace?”

 

“Yes, Hannibal?”

 

“Would you like me to hold your bag? Safe like?” came the generous offer.

 

“I think it’s safe enough here, between my feet, thank you, Hannibal. Again – just my opinion!”

 

A sigh.

 

“Doctor Wallace?”

 

“Yes, Hannibal?”

 

“My father said this – Lar’my Treaty – was signed,” Hannibal swelled with importance, “…On seventeenth September 1851!”

 

“Uh huh?” grunted the Doctor.

 

“My birthday!” Hannibal reminded him. In case this important fact had slipped his mind.

 

“Uh huh?”

 

“The day I was born!”

 

“Is there a point here, son?” prompted the Doctor.

 

“Mr. Myers, he said…” Hannibal drew breath, “…it’d been signed not three months past…”

 

“Sheesh, Hannibal!” exclaimed the Doctor. “Are you some kind of human sponge? Don’t you ever forget anything you hear?”

 

“Why should I?” asked a confused Hannibal. “Anyhow,” he pressed on, “…Why’d Mr. Myers get all mixed up?”

 

“He didn’t,” said the Doctor. “He was talking about the treaty being reaffirmed… that kind of means, signed all over again…”

 

“‘Cause – both sides hadn’t been stickin’ to it? But they thought – we’ve killed Con’krin Bear an’ – an’ they’ve killed Grattan – so it’s kinda evens?” guessed Hannibal, “So, they thought – call it quits an’ start again?”

 

“Not quite,” sighed the Doctor. “Grown ups are never very good at calling quits, Hannibal. A lot of people – most people – wanted the Indians punished for killing Grattan and his men. About a year ago the army sent General William S Harney to lead a punishment expedition…”

 

“An’ – Mr. Wyatt would like to shake his hand?” remembered Hannibal.

 

“That’s the one!” confirmed Doctor Wallace. “The General caught up with an Indian encampment on the Platte River. A place known as Ash Hollow. He ordered the chief – Little Thunder – to hand over the men responsible for the Grattan attack. Little Thunder refused. He said that’d been a fair fight…”

 

“It had been – kinda!” interrupted Hannibal, “…Leastways…” he frowned, “…Was it? A fair fight?”

 

The Doctor shrugged.

 

“Let’s say – you can understand Little Thunder thinking so. Anyhow, Harney attacked the Indians. Close on a hundred were killed. When the Indians tried to hide in the caves – Harney had his soldiers fire inside.”

 

“‘Cause – he wanted to shoot the braves in the caves?” clarified Hannibal.

 

“Not many braves. Some maybe. Mostly, women, children … just, ordinary Indians.”

 

“Oh!”

 

“I doubt any of them had much to do with the Grattan incident,” opined the Doctor. “Anyhow, a month later General Harney negotiated a peace treaty – and, earlier THIS year he had the tribes reaffirm the Fort Laramie Treaty… ”

 

“Did we mean it this time? Did they?” Hannibal frowned again. “They can’t have meant it – or they wouldn’t a done what they did at Endeavour!”

 

“I guess the Indians didn’t feel they had a lot of choice about signing this time, Hannibal. Besides – it was different Indians at Endeavour. Though, the Cheyenne were one of the nations who signed – and Grattan and Ash Hollow will have given them a lot to think about.”

 

“But – Endeavour was wrong! The folks there – they’d nothing to do with Ash Hollow – or Grattan – or nothin’!”

 

“That’s absolutely true, Hannibal,” agreed the Doctor, firmly. “It was utterly wrong – utterly unfair. Those poor people had nothing to do with – with anything!”

 

“An’ – an’ when the ladies said the army should ride out…that’d be right? Those injuns, they should be punished?”

 

“I wouldn’t argue the Indians who committed cold-blooded murder in Endeavour, shouldn’t be caught and punished. That’s the law. Not just our law – natural law,” said Doctor Wallace.

 

“An’ – an’ that’s what’ll happen? Those injuns’ll be punished?”

 

“I suppose either the army – or other folks – will punish the Cheyenne,” said the Doctor.

 

Hannibal wondered why he sounded so miserable about it. Then, he saw the distinction Doctor Wallace was making.

 

“Oh! You reckon – they’ll get the wrong ones again?” The Doctor gave him a sad look. He said nothing. “An’ – an’ then other injuns will feel all…kinda like the ladies in the mercantile did? But – ‘bout us? An’ they won’t be able to get the right white folks neither… They’ll just pick anyone?”

 

“Just my opinion, Hannibal,” repeated the Doctor. “But, I think you summed it up.”

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

“Youse makin’ my birfday cake?” asked Jed. An exploring finger was tapped away from the bowl. “‘Tis, ‘Tisn’t it, Ma? My cake?”

 

“Wait and see!” smiled his mother.

 

“Beff!” Jed switched his appeals to the sous-chef. “‘S’my cake? Letme…” Again the podgy hand was pushed back.

 

“No!” scolded Beth. “Ma! Tell him!”

 

“Leave it, Jed!” instructed Mrs. Curry.

 

“I’ll – I’ll help!” offered Jed, climbing onto a chair and knocking a big spoon flying.

 

“Tell him, Ma!”

 

“Beth and I can manage, Jed! Like your wise old grandfather used to say – ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’…”

 

“‘T’isn’t broff! Cake!” protested Jed.

 

“Never mind what it is,” dismissed his mother, “Go play!”

 

At that moment Hannibal and Esther scampered in from the yard. Esther ran first to pick up her doll, then over to the kitchen cupboard.

 

“What are doing, Esther?” asked Mrs. Curry.

 

“Nothin’!” exclaimed the flame-haired youngster, turning eyes wide with assumed innocence on her mother.

 

“Hmmm?”

 

“Han’bul an’ me – we’s just gonna play upstairs!”

 

“Have you fed the chickens, like I told you?” checked Mrs. Curry.

 

“Uh huh!”

 

“Did you rinse out the bucket and put it away?”

 

“Yes ma-am!”

 

“Alright! Take Jed up with you,” Mrs. Curry gave permission.

 

“Oh!! Nooooo!!!”

 

“Maaaaa!! Whyyyyyy?” came two ‘nearly-five’ year old whines in unison.

 

“Yes!” said Mrs. Curry, firmly. “Let Jed play!”

 

“Awwww!! He’s sucha baby!”

 

“Ain’t a baby. I’se nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly…” began Jed, running over to the stairs.

 

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” moaned Esther. “Ma!!!”

 

“…nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly…”

 

“Mrs. Curry … he ruins…” whined Hannibal.

 

“…nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly…”

 

“Esther Curry, Hannibal Heyes. If I hear another word out of either of you, I shall…” Esther’s mother left the threat unfinished.

 

“…nearly, nearly, nearly, nearly – FREE!…” triumphed Jed, boots now clattering up the top steps. “What we playin’?”

 

“You’re playin’ – sittin’ over there, bein’ quiet!” fumed Esther, as she entered the boys‘ room.

 

Jed tried again,  “What we playin’, Han’bul?”

 

“We’re playin’ Injuns!” said Hannibal. He picked up Esther’s doll – christened Griselda by Mr. Heyes to reflect the long suffering life he anticipated for her – from where she had been tossed aside by her unmaternal parent.

 

“You ain’t playin’ wiv dolls, Han’bul?” wavered Jed. That was sissy.

 

“She’s not a DOLL!” scoffed Hannibal. “Griselda’s gonna be a – a victim! And, me -” he swelled impressively, tapping an imperious forefinger on his chest, “…I’m Chief Con’krin Bear!!”

 

“I wanna be Con’krin Bear!” protested Esther.

 

“Can’t! He’s a boy!” objected Hannibal.

 

“Who can I be?”

 

“You can be…” Hannibal looked at his friend, “…Carroty She-Bear! Ow! OW!!” He dodged as Esther forcefully – and physically – expressed her opinion of this suggestion. “Stoppid! Stoppid Esther! You can be – the wicked Injun princess – ‘Flamin’ Wildcat! Alright?”

 

Esther considered this for a moment. ‘Flaming Wildcat’? Yup. That had possibilities.

“I’m…” she swept her fingers… or rather her razor sharp, wicked, talons through the air, “…Flamin’ Wil’cat!”

 

“Who’m I?” asked Jed. “Han’bul – who’m I? Huh?”

 

“Painin’ Butt!” sniggered Esther.

 

“I’m – Chief Painin’ Butt!” agreed Jed, cheerfully.

 

“Didya get ‘em?” Hannibal asked Esther. She nodded and produced a knife and fork from her deep pinafore pocket.

 

“Flamin’ Wil’cat needs a sharp knife too!” she declared. “Nate’s got a knife,” she added, “But…” a look of frustration settled on her face, “…he hides it!”

 

Hannibal trotted over to the drawer where Nate kept his things. Without hesitation he lifted the shirts and reached for a pair of thick grey socks tucked far back under them. Unballing the socks he reached inside one and pulled out Nate’s penknife. He met the gaze of two impressed faces.

 

“I’m – nat’rally obs’vant! That’s what my father says!” he explained. A qualm shook him. “We shouldn’t take Nate’s stuff! He’ll be…”

 

“We’re not takin’ it!” soothed Esther. “Not even outta the room!” Relieving Hannibal of the guilt of holding the penknife, ‘Flaming Wildcat’ shot a threatening look at her younger brother. “You’re not to say nothin’, Jed!” she warned.

 

Jed shook his head, unconvincingly.

 

“Alright…” planned Hannibal. “Set Griselda in her farmhouse. She don’t suspect nothin’…but outside…” he squatted low, “…Con’krin Bear an’ his party are slippin’ – quiet as mice…”

 

“…cougars…” corrected ‘Flaming Wildcat’.

 

“…Quiet as cougars…” accepted Chief Conquering Bear, “… through the trees…”

 

“…Beaudiful – but wicked – Flamin’ Wil’cat raises her knife…she creeps closer…”

 

“What’s I’se doin’?” bleated Jed. “I’se – I’se cweepin’ too…” He crept.

 

“…Then…” came Conquering Bear’s ominous whisper, “…All of a sudden – we pounce!”

 

“Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” whooped Esther, pouncing on the already battered Griselda.

 

“Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” echoed Hannibal, circling in a war-dance.

 

“Whoop! Whoop!” mimicked Jed, happily.

 

“First – her froat is cut!” gloated the wicked princess, miming a wide slash with the knife. “Then… we chop her head off!” In her ordinary tones, Esther added, “It comes off anyhow, with a bit of a tug. I used to axe her – when she married King Henry.” She handed the head to the leader of the raiding party.

 

“Chief Con’krin Bear holds the head aloft!” revelled the dark-haired warrior. “He lets the bloo….oood and the goo…ooore … spurt all over the floor!”

 

Jed shuffled back.

 

“Then – bein’ savage – Flamin’ Wil’cat tosses the body aside!” declared Esther, throwing a tangle of limbs and grubby dolls clothes to the floorboards. “But, the head…” her eyes glistened, “…she has – nevil – plans for the head!”

 

Hannibal set the head on the mule chest at the bottom of his and Jed’s bed, in lieu of a kitchen table. With a fiendish cackle, Esther set to work with the knife and fork.

 

“They won’t go in, Han’bul – I mean Con’krin Bear!”

 

“Sorta – tie it in her hair. An’ – an’ we could have the knife stuck in that hole in her neck!”

 

“Alright,” accepted his bloodthirsty helpmeet. “It’ll be kinda – in the tubes that dangle out spurtin’ – when your head’s axed off!”

 

Jed shuffled further back.   “Injuns don’ – don’ do dat?” he asked, apprehensively.

 

“They do!” triumphed Hannibal. “If’n they catch you! An’ – an’ they like little ‘uns. Little ‘uns just about to turn three!”

 

“No! Dey don’!”

 

“I wants a scalp!” decided ‘Flaming Wildcat’. “This ‘uns no good! Gotta fork tied in it! I wants a – a blond scalp!” She advanced on her retreating brother. “Blond an’ curly!”

 

“Nice splash of colour!” approved Conquering Bear. “Look good dangling from your belt, huh?”

 

“Once I’ve washed off the bloo—ooood!”

 

“An’ the goo- ooore! An’ the – the br-r-r-rains!” agreed the Indian Chief.

 

“No!” protested Jed, as Esther reached for his hair. “Don’ wanna!”

 

“Better hide then!” grinned Hannibal. “Find you an Injun Hole!”

 

“Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!” came Esther’s voice. She war danced in Jed’s direction.

 

“Hide Jed! Hide!” urged Hannibal. “Or she’ll have your scalp!”

 

“No!” Jed wriggled under the bed.

 

“Where’s my scalp?” hollered the Indian Princess. “I wants – to dangle it!” She draped herself over the bed and, upside down, her own plait on the floor, she reached for Jed’s curls. He shuffled back.

 

“Can’t escape this way!” warned Conquering Bear. “If you comes out this way – reckon Con’krin Bear’ll…” he sniggered, “…take a slice off your…” snigger, snigger, “…boddom…” snigger, “…make a nice change from buff’lo meat!” Hannibal made a chopping motion at the emerging buttocks. Jed hastily wriggled forward. Esther managed to grasp one of the nodding curls. The penknife appeared in front of a pair of scared blue eyes.

 

“Shall I slit him? Have his en’tails too, Con’krin Bear? As well as a scalp?”

 

“If’n you slit him – his en’tails’ll slither out like – like snakes!”

 

“Ma! MA!! MA!!!” howled the put upon blond brave. “MAA!!!!”

 

The war party scrambled to replace their scalping kit in Nate’s socks, as swift stepping retribution was heard on the stairs.

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

Sunday 22nd June 1856

 

As the townsfolk made their way into church, Jed was tugging any sleeves within reach.

 

“Mr. Ward! Mr. Ward! I’se free! Today! Free!”

 

“Congratulations, Jed.”

 

“Mrs. Godfrey! I’se free. Today!”

 

“Happy Birthday, Jed,” smiled Mrs. Godfrey.

 

“Rev’rend Thomas! Rev’rend! I’se free!” A kindly pat was delivered to the well combed Sunday curls. “We’se havin’ cake! When we gets home! ‘Course…” demurred Jed, “…We hasta lissen to you goin’ on, first!”

 

“We all have our crosses to bear, Jed,” sympathised Reverend Thomas.

 

“Shush, Jed!” admonished his mother, as she settled her family into the accustomed pew. “Stop wriggling, Hannibal”

 

“Friends …” began Reverend Thomas, “…As we think on the news of our neighbours in Endeavour, today is a sad day…”

 

“T’isn’t!” came a certain sure treble from the midst of the congregation. “It’s a Nappy Birfday!”

 

—oooOOOooo—

 

 

 

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