5. Smoke Signals

by Calico
September 1856  [Not part of the original Heyes & Curry stories – a ‘DVD Extra’]




“Whattchya doin’, Pa?”


Nathanial Curry started.  The descending hammer missed its original target by a hairsbreadth.


“@**@!”   Sucking his injured thumb, he wheeled around and looked up.


Inquisitive green eyes, set in a grubby face, met his.   A flame-coloured plait, liberally dusted with – well, mostly dust, swung like a pendulum over the edge of the barn roof.


“Whattchya doin’, Mister Curry?” An equally inquisitive set of dark eyes, set in an equally grubby face appeared.  “What’s @**@ mean?”


“How did you…? What the Sam Hill are you two doing up on the roof of the barn?”


“Hidin’,” said Esther.  “What’s @**@ mean?”


“Hiding from who?”


“From Jed.  Pa, what’s @**@ mean?”


“Esther Curry!   Hasn’t your Ma told you, often an’ often, you and Hannibal are to let your little brother play!”


“We are lettin’ him play, Mister Curry.  We’re lettin’ him play hide’n’seek.   What’s @**@ mean?”


“He’s gotta count to a nundred, then come find us,” explained Esther.  “What’s @**@ mean?”


“Sure and Jed’s not long turned three, he can’t count to a hundred!”


A too-clever-by-half elder sister gave a dismissive shrug.  The annoyance constantly foisted on her whenever she went out to play had fingers didn’t he?  He could try!  She shuffled back onto the roof and two seconds later clattering boots descended.    She scampered over to supervise the hammering, Hannibal hard on her heels.


“Whattchya doin’, Pa?  I wanna hammer too!”

“Whattchya doin’, Mister Curry?  Can I have a turn?  What’s @**@ mean?”

“Me first!  What’s @**@ mean?”


“It means, ‘Isn’t me divil of a daughter after having made me hit me thumb, so?’”


Two youthful heads stored this eminently satisfactory-sounding – but apparently highly occasion-specific – addition to their vocabulary for future use.


“Don’t be after repeating it!” warned Mister Curry, picking up a fresh nail.  “Now, run along.  I want to get on.”


“Is @**@ a bad word?” deduced Hannibal, committing it even more securely to memory.

“No!  Just don’t be after repeating it. ‘Specially in front of your mothers.”


“Ma don’t letcha say bad words in front of us!” triumphed Esther.


“Sure and how was I supposed to know you were roosting up there like a brace of birds?  Didn’t I tell you to run along?”


“Ma don’t letcha say bad words,” repeated Esther, single-mindedly.


Nathanial, once again hammering, suspected the ‘didn’t-know-anyone-was-within-earshot’ defence might not be accepted in the court of spousal justice.


“Esther, Hannibal, you know what happens to tell tale tits, don’t you?”


“Uh huh,” nodded Esther.


“Nope,” said Hannibal. “What?”


Esther’s voice moved into chant mode, “Tell tale tit. Your tongue’ll be slit.  An’ all the dog sin town’ll hava liddle bit!”


“Sure and you wouldn’t want that would you?” intoned Nathanial, impressively.  “Not when you both enjoy the sound of your own voices so, huh?”


A mute conversation between the potential snitches.  Esther gave a shrug expressive of deep scepticism. Hannibal agreed.  It didn’t sound any too likely.  Most folk told tales sometimes and he’d never seen a single one with a slit tongue.  Besides, how many dogs lived in Larson Creek?  Not many, that was for sure.


Green and brown eyes blinked back at Nathanial, seemingly unworried by the threat.


“IF it’s not a bad word,” said Hannibal, “…How come it’d be telling tales to say it to Mrs. Curry?”


Nathanial opened his mouth, decided not to dig himself any further in, shut it again.


“Can we have a turn hamm’rin’?” pursued Esther, never slow to capitalise on an advantage.


“Tell you what,” capitulated Nathanial, “…You can hammer in a couple of nails each, if you’re after being real careful.”


Two satisfied beams.   Esther reached for the hammer.


“Let me start it off, me darling.  You can take over once it’s firm.  Then you won’t have to hold it, d’ye see?  Can’t have YOU be after hitting your thumb like your poor old Pa, so.”


After a few smart blows a hammer was handed over to a very self-satisfied five-year-old.  Hannibal pursed his lips, critically.  Esther scored ten out of ten for enthusiasm and pace, but the accuracy left much to be desired.


“Mister Curry, why’s we hamm’rin’ nails into this?”


Mister Curry had apparently cut down an old hollow tree and dragged six feet of the trunk back to his yard.


In unison:  “Why?”  “Why?”


“Sure and you remember last week I took the nets and went fishing…”


This resurrected a sore point.  As Mister Curry started off Hannibal’s nail and Esther reluctantly handed over the hammer, this grievance came out for another airing.


“You went fishin’ an’ you wouldn’ let us come…”  Hammer.  Hammer.  Ah – good rhythm!


“You took Nate an’ Zach…”


“Sure and they’re big enough to help with the nets.  Now the fish has been salted since…”


“You said we’d be in the way.  Why?”  Hammer.  Hammer.  Hannibal hoped Esther was watching.  THIS was the way to do it.


“S’not fair!  Why?”


“We wouldn’ ta been in the way!”  Hammer.  Hammer.  See!  Accuracy not speed was what you needed with nails!  Maybe Esther sucked ‘cos she was only a girl.


“S’not fair, Pa!  For Pete’s sake, Hannibal!  It’s a nail not a soft-boiled egg!  HIT it, don’t tap it!”


HEY! What the Sam Hill did SHE know?!  Hannibal opened his mouth to defend Heyesian superiority…


“Sure and Esther’s in the right of it, Hannibal.   Try and get more of a swing, the way she did.”


Sheesh!  Still, Mister Curry was probably succumbing to family bias, huh?


“And, will the pair of you EVER be after stopping with the whining about that dang fishing trip?”


Before either could protest they were NOT whining, they were only SAYING, a blue-eyed interruption scampered up.


“Foun’ ya!”  Panting.  “Foun’ ya, Han’bul!  Foun’ ya, Esther!” Huge beam.  “You wassen din rood cellar!  You was sere!”


“We wasn’ hidin’, Jed,” protested Esther.  “Who’d be dumb enough to hide right in the middle of the yard?”


“You was!  I foun’ ya!”  A tug on paternal pants, “Foun’ dem, Pa!”


Blond curls were ruffled.  “Well done, Jed.  Mind the hammer, son.”


“Foun’ ya!”


“You win, Jed!” Hannibal patted the small shoulder.  “Now you hide and me an’ Esther have to find ya.”


“We’ll count to ten nundred to make it fair,” offered Esther.  “Off you go.”


“No!” Nathanial frowned at the Machiavellian pair.  “Chores before games!  Jed can stay and all three of you can help get this smoke-house ready.”


Ah! A smoke-house!


Jed beamed, happily.  He did not mind helping instead of playing hide and seek.  In fact, he did not much like hide and seek when he was the one hiding.  There was such a thing as being just TOO good at a game.  Esther and Hannibal always took SO long to find him.  Sometimes, he tried to give them a clue by standing up, waving and making loud noises and they STILL didn’t find him!  It got kinda dull.  Helping Pa was much better.  Maybe getting to touch those real shiny, sharp looking…


Just in time, Nathanial scooped the nails out of reach of that quick little hand.


“Now,” he mused, resignedly “…With three fine helpers, sure and I’ll have this finished in no time, huh?”


“Why’s this smoke-house diff’rent from last year?” asked Hannibal.  “You’se s’posed to dig a smoke-house.  Why…?”


“Fate threw this trunk in me path, Hannibal.   Sure, I thought I’d give this way a try.”


“Why?” Esther’s turn.  “You says diggin’ is how it used’a be done in dear ol’ Ireland.  You says…”


“So ‘tis, me darling.  But this way’ll let the smoke rise better…”




“Why?” piped up Jed, keen to join in.  “Why?”








“Right!” exploded Nathanial.  “We’re playing a new game now, so.  The game is, the next person asks ‘why’ gets their pants dusted!”


Two offended blinks.  (Plus one simply surprised blue-eyed blink.)  They were only ASKING!  Sheesh!


“Why?” (Hannibal.)


“Because y’see that, Hannibal?”


Hannibal followed the pointing finger.  Huh?  There was nothing there.


“That’s the end of my tether, so it is!  You’ve driven me past it!  No more why, why, why!  Pass me another nail.  Esther, pass the hammer.”




“NO!  The next ‘why’ – pant dusting!  I mean it!”




“S’pose it’s Esther.  She isn’ wearin’ pants.”


“If it’s Esther, you have to lend her your pants!  So you’d better be after hoping she keeps her mouth shut, huh?”  Another pause.    More calmly, “Esther, me darling, fetch me spade, please.”


“W…”   Hannibal bit off the forbidden word.  But, he had to know!  Thinking.  Idea!  “Mister Curry, wherefore d’you need a spade?”




“What?  I didden say – y’know – it!”


Deep breathing.  “Hannibal, next time I see your Pa, remind me to flatten him!”


“Wh – er – Wherefore?”


“’Cos he reads to you too dang much!”




Hannibal’s chest swelled with pride as he watched Mister Curry hang strings of gutted, salted fish inside the smoke-house Hannibal had made with his own two hands.  Throughout the winter the Heyes family and the Curry clan would have fish to eat and it was all thanks to Hannibal’s workmansh…


Okay, okay!  They were hanging fish inside the smoke-house Mister Curry had made with HIS own two hands.  But Hannibal had helped!   He had hammered two of the nails on which the fish hung.  And him and Esther and Jed had passed dozens of other nails.  And they had taken turns to hand the hammer.  And Hannibal had been real useful when, after setting the trunk on its end and digging earth around it, Mister Curry fixed planks to make a pitched roof.  Hannibal had stood back and called‘left, no the other way left, up, down, down…’ until it was nearly, nearly straight.  Hannibal would have carried on until the roof was perfectly straight, but Mister Curry had said dead fish shouldn’t be so fussy over where they lived.  He and Esther had watched real close while Mister Curry cut out a square at the base of the trunk to make a door.  And Jed had tried to wriggle, squirming between them, so he could watch too.  And Mister Curry had said if they did not move back, he would be sawing off a couple of noses.  THEN, he said, he always wanted to try smoked kid noses – and they’d all shuffled back, smartly.  Hannibal had NOT helped with the hinges to fasten the square of wood back as a door.  Mister Curry said the helper with the smallest hands could hold the leather strips while he tacked them into place.  Hannibal suspected Mister Curry only said that to give Jed a job all of his own.  But, hey, that was okay.  When he was not being a pain in the butt and spoiling his and Esther’s plans, Jed was not SO bad.  He couldn’t help being only three.


“Sure and now I need all me fine helpers to fetch me moss and bark for kindling and clean chips from the wood pile.  Green wood’d be best.   Nothing too dry, so.”


They had stood well back – Mister Curry was properly strict about nobody ever touching his flint without leave – to watch him kindle a fire at the base of the trunk and, carefully, lay clean chips  on top.


“We want it to smoulder, not burn up, so,” he explained, fastening the door with a peg.

“That trunk’ll be after filling up with smoke.   NOW,” Mister Curry squatted on his haunches, “… You are NOT to be after opening that door.”


“S’pose we sees…?”


“NO!  Whatever you see, hear or think, you are NOT to open the door.”






“No ifs.  No buts.  And definitely NO whys!  D’you want your pants dusted, Jed?”


A small hand clamped over the mouth that had let slip the forbidden word.  Blond curls shook.


“None of you – not for any reason at all – opens the door.  That door is after keeping the smoke inside.  If the door opens, isn’t the smoke going to waste, so?  AND,” serious look, “…That may be a damped fire inside, but it’s still a fire.  Do I want any of you toasted along with the fish?  Indeed and I do not!”




“Why?  Ooops.”  Jed put his hand back as a safety measure.


“Do NOT open the door.  Esther Curry, what are you not to do?”


“Open the door, Pa.”


“Hannibal Heyes, what are you not to do?”


“Open the door, sir.  Lessen…”


“Lessen nothing.  What are you NOT to do, even if the sky falls?”


“Open the door, Mister Curry.”


“Jedediah Curry, what are you not to do?”


Wide eyes.  Again, corn-coloured curls shook.


“Take your hand down and answer me, Jed.  What are you not to do?”


“Ask…” Silent mouthing.  “…Why?”


“What else are you NOT to do?”


“Oper der door.”


“Good boy.  Now, be off with you.”


Nathanial waited until three helpers had, very reluctantly, trooped off.  He waited an extra minute or two to be on the safe side.  A final scan to ensure no children lingered near the smoke-house.  Satisfied, he strode off towards the fields.


Silence.  Stillness.  Then…


Green eyes rose above a water butt.  Brown eyes peered around piled hay bales.  Two small figures slinked towards the smoke-house.  An even smaller figure scampered up.


“Es’der, what’s we doin’?”




Compliant whispering, “Han’bul, what’s we doin’?”


“We’re not doin’ nuffin’.” Hannibal plumped down, cross-legged, in front of the smoke-house.  Esther, in a flump of dusty pinafore, sat beside him.  “We’re only lookin’.”


Jed joined the cross-legged sitting and staring.  “What’s we lookin’ at?”




Jed followed his sister and Hannibal’s intent gazes. “Is we lookin’ at der door?”


“We’re only lookin’, Jed,” repeated Hannibal.  “Your pa didn’ say we couldn’ look.”


Jed mentally replayed his instructions.  Nope.  There had been no rule against looking.


Esther shuffled forward reached out a tentative finger, a moment’s hesitation, then…


“Es’der!” reproved Jed.  “You touched id!”


“Pa never said no touchin’!”  To Hannibal, “Dares ya!”


“Han’bul!” Jed protested.  A second finger had tapped the tempting peg holding shut the door.


Tap.  Giggle.

Tap.  Snigger.

Tap.  Giggle. Giggle.

Tap.  Snicker.


Jed’s eyes widened as Esther and Hannibal, bottoms shuffling closer every time, took turns to swiftly touch the peg.  Okay, Pa had not said ‘no tapping ’.  All the same…


Tap.  Giggle. Snort.

Tap.  Snigger.





Indrawn breaths. Exchange of half-guilty, half-excited glances.


Jed injected a wealth of accusation into his, “Awwww!” A small finger pointed at the peg now swinging loose on its twine.


“Still haven’ opened the door,” justified Hannibal, an edge of regret in his voice.

Indeed, the door remained – disappointingly – shut.


“Han’bul,” worried Jed.  “Pud id back!”


“You put it back!”


Jed shuffled away.  “No!”


“Go on, Jed.  You’re a big boy, huh?  You wants to take turns an’ play with us prop’ly, huh?”


“Dares ya,” chipped in his sister.


A gathering of himself.  Jed scrambled to his feet and holding the door shut as if it were about to play a trick on him, put the peg back.  Hasty retreat.


A pause, then… Mute exchange of dares.





“Stoppid, Es’der!  Stoppid, Han’bul!”


“We’re not doin’ nuffin’!”







Both staring hard at the wooden square on its leather hinges.  Hannibal had no idea why he wanted so, SO badly for it to open.  What made a closed door he was forbidden to open utterly irresistible?  Why it was SO important just to take one little – harmless – innocent – peek at the strung fish amidst the curling smoke inside.  Thinking hard.  Mental tweaking of motives.  Conscience-soothing excuse preparation.  A plump little bottom wriggled preparatory to the next move.


“Esther, you knows what I reckons? I reckons that door isn’ shut prop’ly.  I reckon Jed knocked it when he put the peg back!”


“Didn’!  Didn’, Han’bul!”


“Whaddja knock it for, Jed?”


“Didn’, Es’der!”


Hannibal turned to Esther, “Your pa wouldn’ like us to leave it not shut prop’ly, huh?  We oughta shut it prop’ly.”


A complicit – and completely comprehending – nod from his freckled partner in altruistic good deeds.  “Go on, Hannibal.  Shut it prop’ly.”


Hannibal reached up, twitched out the peg, opened the door.  A dark head peered inside and came out coughing.


“Han’bul!  Pa said!  He SAID!”  Jed worked up for a climax, “I’ll tell!”


“Jed!” His sister moved to take her turn peering into the forbidden cavity, “You knows what happens to tell tale tits!”  Female coughing and spluttering.  A sneezing giggle as she emerged.  “I can see a tiny, tiny bit of sky through the roof.”  She shut the door and replaced the peg.


“Pa SAID!” whined Jed.  He did not like this one little bit.


“If you’re a tell tale tit, your tongue’ll be slit, an’ all the dogs in town’ll have a liddle bit!”


“Won’ slid tongue!” inarticulated Jed, covering his mouth protectively.


“Hannibal,” grinned Esther, eyes sliding sideways to meet his, “you know what I reckons?  I reckons I didn’ shut that door proper.”


“Can’ leave it like that,” agreed the conscientious one.


Hannibal took a deep gulp of fresh air, removed the peg and plunged his head back into the pungent darkness.


“Han’bul, DON’!” Jed’s head was now swivelling from side to side as he kept watch for any sign of approaching paternal retribution.


Hannibal, dimples firmly in place despite the coughing and a pair of streaming eyes, re-emerged.  “I can see sky too!  An’ – an’ FISH!  Ow!”  He sucked a finger which had touched something hot.  Hey!  It tasted of smoke!


“They WILL slit your tongue,” Esther threatened Jed.  “If’n you tell!  It’s – it’s the LAW.  It gets sliced out and the dogs ead it!”  A grubby hand and a tawny head disappeared, briefly, into the trunk.  Triumphant call, “I touched a fish!!  Ow!”


“Dogs won’ ead id!” Behind a defensive hand, a lip wobbled.


“Don’ worry, Jed, your tongue won’ get slit ‘cos you won’ be a tell tale, will ya?” reasoned Hannibal.  “You isn’t a snitch, huh?”


Esther, spluttering as she once again fastened the peg, gave Hannibal a sceptical look.  Did he think he knew better than her how to keep annoying little brothers quiet?  Still, it might work.  No harm in using parallel safety measures, huh?


“’Sides,” Hannibal was still smiling, comfortingly, at Jed, “…Isn’ nothin’ to tell.  Me an’ Esther won’ tell how YOU knocked the door so it wasn’ shut properly…”


“Didn’!” protested Jed.


“We won’ tell on ya,” repeated Hannibal.  “An’ me an’ Esther aren’ openin’ the door.  We’re CLOSIN’ it!  So, that’s okay, huh?  We’re s’posed to make sure the door’s closed – an’ that’s what we’re doin’.  Your pa never said don’ CLOSE the door.”


Jed’s brow crinkled.  Huh?  When Hannibal said it all, it sounded sort of okay, but – HUH?


“So,” Esther summed up, “you’re to say nuffin’ OR…”  She stuck out her tongue, very pink in the dirty face, and made a slicing gesture accompanied by gruesomely effective sound effects.


Pause.  A return to sitting, staring at the door.  A Heyesian bottom wriggled.  A Curryesque rear end (feminine version) shuffled closer.


“You knows what?” serious considering tone from Hannibal.  “I reckon that door STILL isn’ tight shut.”








“Oh!” A finger pointed.  “You’se b’oken id!”


Three sets of eyes widened, staring at the edge of the leather hinge no longer attached to the door.


Hannibal scrabbled in the dirt and found the dislodged tack.  Gripping his lower lip between his teeth with the effort, he pushed it back into the leather.  For a second, it seemed to work, then it fell to the ground.  The wooden door slipped and hung crookedly out of its hole on its remaining sound hinge.


Three small throats gulped.


“You’se b’oken id!” repeated Jed.


Hannibal and Esther exchanged a glance and turned to the Jeremiah next to them.  Esther contented herself with a repeat of the tongue slitting mime and sound effect.


Hannibal shook his head, sadly, at the solitary observer of all their well-meaning door closing.  “Oh, Jed, you should never a’ knocked that door like that.  You loosened it!”




“All gone?”  A very damp Esther Curry presented her face for inspection.


“You still got smuts on ya ears,” warned Hannibal, pumping hard.  “What’s she look like round the back, Jed?”


“Dirdy,” Jed observed, swiping hard at the plait.


“Ow! ‘S’pullin’!”


“He’s only brushin’ ashes off,” defended Hannibal.  “Swap places again.”


Esther took over on the pump (it was too heavy for Jed) as Hannibal scrubbed hard at the back of his neck and swilled water well up his arms.   “Right under ya hair,” she instructed, indicating the dirty spot.


Another swap.  More pumping.  More washing.


“What ‘bout the smuts on our clothes?  An’ this scorchin’?”


Thinking.  Dirt was mixed with pump water.  Mud was smeared over any tell tale signs.  Hmm?  Not bad.  Fresh hand washing.


Jed’s brow wrinkled over the obvious flaw in all this activity. “Door still b’oken,” he pointed out.


“Might not a been us – I mean you,” explained Hannibal, rebuttoning his shirt after a neck cleansing so thorough it would, in other circumstances, warm a mother’s heart.


“Wasn’ me!”


“Mighta been anyone!” Hannibal wrung a little water from his soaked cuffs.


“Mighta been – Injuns!” suggested Esther.  “Mighta been Injuns after the fish!”


A glance was exchanged.  Yeah, well.  Worth a try.






A wrathful voice boomed from the house. “Esther Curry!  Hannibal Heyes!  Get in here!”  Pause.  “Sure and I know you can hear me!  Don’t be after making me come find you!”


Very reluctantly, two figures slunk out of the barn.  Feet dragging, they approached Esther’s father, who stood, hands on hips, in the doorway.   Two small faces looked up.  Both radiated utter innocence.  Wide eyes.  A dimpled, quizzical smile mutely asked, ‘Problem?’


“Sure and take that smirk off your face, Hannibal.  Get inside, both of you!”


At the table, his nose buried in a mug of milk, sat Jed.  He had trotted away on an outhouse visit and not returned.  Okay, Hannibal and Esther might have shifted their positions while he was gone, but, if he’d wanted to find them, he had eyes, didn’t he?



As she passed their father, Esther glowered at her small brother.  Silently, but perfectly clearly, she mouthed, “You better not a’ said nuffin’!”


Jed, too young to have mastered all aspects of discretion, withdrew a milky moustached face and assured her, “Didn’ tell!” Then, at her scowl, clamped his hand over his mouth and shook his head.


“Sure and why would I be after needing Jed to tell me anything, Esther Curry?  Do you and this young rogue not reek of smoke like a pair o’ Kilkenny kippers, so?  Indeed and you do!  Can I not smell you across the yard?  Indeed and I can!”


Dang!  Hannibal mentally snapped his fingers in frustration.  They’d gotten rid of the visual tells and forgotten the odour-based clues. Next time, they would roll around in the herb patch for a while!  Not that, from the look on Mister Curry’s face, Hannibal would feel inclined for there to BE a repeat offence any time soon.


“Esther Curry, Hannibal Heyes, what is it you were told clear as clear NOT to do?!”

Hanging heads.  Legs twisting around each other.   Shuffling boots.


“Answer me, so!”


Hannibal looked up, “We wasn’ to tell Mrs. Curry you taught us how to say @**@, sir!”


“Nathanial!” exclaimed Mrs. Curry, to her stunned husband.






“I’m gonna tell my father!  I’m gonna tell him what you both did!”


“Do,” urged Mister Curry, cheerfully helping himself to more mashed potatoes. “Just make sure I’m there when you do, so.”


“I’m gonna tell him you whupped me!”


“Suits me fine, Hannibal. I enjoy a story with a happy ending.”


Mister Curry had not really whipped him.  He had only spanked Hannibal and Esther.  And, if he was honest, Hannibal knew it had not been all that hard.  He had made a big fuss how sore he was when they’d made him come to the table, but, really, he couldn’t feel nothing now.  Still wasn’t FAIR though!  Hannibal Heyes ought never, NEVER to be scooped up, turned over anyone’s knee, to stare, helpless, at the rag-rug while someone’s hand… Wasn’t FAIR!  Mister Curry hadn’t listened to a single word Hannibal had said about only making sure the door was properly shut!   Not one word!


Across the table, Mrs. Curry passed the dish of greens to Nate as if she didn’t CARE that Hannibal had refused to touch a mouthful of supper.  Probably she wouldn’t worry even if he starved to death!


“I’m gonna tell him what YOU did too!” Accusing glower.  Mrs. Curry looked back.


Hannibal dropped his eyes, hastily.  He might have right on his side, but he still didn’t want to tangle with Mrs. Curry again this side of Christmas.


“Careful what words you use when you do,” she warned, “I’ve plenty of soap left!”


Mrs. Curry had washed his mouth out.  It had been HORRIBLE!  And, it was SO not fair Hannibal could hardly believe it.  He had only been saying what Mister Curry had said!  Sheesh!  The only tiny consolation was he heard Mrs. Curry tell Mister Curry she’d have something to say to him later.  Hah!  Bet he didn’t get HIS mouth washed out though!  Not FAIR!


Hannibal scowled at his empty plate.  The chatter of the Curry family went on as if nothing terrible had happened.  As if nothing terrible WAS happening.  Didn’t they realise?


“I’m gonna tell my father you didn’ give me nuffin’ to eat!”


“Hannibal, supper is on the table.  YOU said you weren’t hungry.  If you’ve changed your mind, all you have to do is pass your plate and say.”


“I’m gonna tell him you let me starve to death!”


“If’n you starve to death,” put in Zach, “you won’t be able to tell him nothin’.  You’ll be dead.”


“And,” this was Nate, “…If you stick your bottom lip out any further, pigeons’ll roost on it.”


Next to him, Esther, who had taken the spanking in her stride and had not joined his principled hunger strike, reached for a hunk of bread to mop up her gravy.  A small tummy rumbled.  They’d left the pie near him on purpose so he could smell it.  Wasn’t FAIR!


“None of you cares,” he whined.


“Sure don’t,” agreed Zach.  “With you not eatin’ there’s more for us, huh?”


“That’ll do, Zach,” reproved Mrs. Curry, softly.


“An’hows,” piped up Jed.  “I cares.  An’ – an’ – ya can’ tell, Han’bul.”


“For Pete’s sake, don’t encourage him,” said Zach.  “Ignore him.”


“You can’ tell ‘cos…” Jed swallowed a little more masticated pie to make room for the words to come out.  “’Cos – ‘cos if’n you’se a tell tale tid, dogs ead ya tongue!”


“Can too tell! I’ll tell my father an’ – an’…”


What was a bad enough threat?  Nothing sprang to mind.  Sometimes being a kid really sucked!  The real problem was Mister and Mrs. Curry knew perfectly well if he told his father, his father would only side with them.  Grown-ups always stuck together.  Probably Hannibal would be in yet more trouble for being a bothersome guest.  Hannibal’s young shoulders sagged under the cumulative weight of the gross injustices he had to bear.


Another tummy rumble.

What if…?  Suppose…?

Nope.  Nothing.


After all, there’s nothing wrong with a strategic retreat, huh?


He had to keep his strength up for the next plan.


“Mrs. Curry,” Hannibal passed his plate, “please may I have some pie?”










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