by Sally Wheaton
Early Summer 1860
Jedediah Curry darted out of the schoolhouse so fast that he almost knocked over his sisters Beth and Esther as they waited outside the door for him.
“What’s with him? He’s in a big hurry!” Esther moaned as she straightened her dress after nearly being knocked flying.
Beth stared after him as he sprinted down the road towards home. She shook her head and rolled her eyes. It had been exactly the same thing yesterday.
“Jed!” Esther called after him then, receiving no reply, she yelled more loudly “JED! Wait for us!”
In the distance, Jed turned his head slightly without slowing down and shouted a reply.
“What’s he say?” asked Esther, straining to hear.
“Something about chores.” Beth replied. “Though why he’s so all fired up about doing chores, I can’t figure.”
Esther peered back into the schoolhouse. “I bet Hannibal knows,” she muttered. She strongly suspected that something was afoot and she was more than a little peeved that she didn’t know what. She was sure she could get Hannibal to tell her, he was usually more than happy to let her know when he knew something she didn’t, which she had to admit was far more often than she’d like. Trouble was, he was likely to let her know that he knew something, without actually telling her what and that would never do. Maybe if she let him think she knew, then he’d let her in on it?
The schoolhouse door flew open once more and again Esther was nearly knocked to the floor as the object of her thoughts raced out.
“Hannibal!” she called after him annoyed, yet again straightening her dress.
“Sorry Esther!” he called back, without even turning, as he ran at full pace in the same direction as Jed.
“Boys.” Beth shook her head after them. “Come on Esther, let’s go home.”
Elizabeth Curry glanced up as her youngest son rushed into the kitchen like a tornado. He’d done the same thing yesterday and she’d smiled affectionately at him and let him “steal” one of the cookies she’d just taken out of the oven.
She paused in her work, smiling to herself and waiting for him to ask where the cookies were, but today he didn’t ask. Instead, he kissed her on the cheek in greeting, smiled a happy “Good” in reply to her question about his day at school and then disappeared straight back out of the door.
Puzzled, Elizabeth got up and followed him to the door and was surprised to see him already busy with his chores. Again, exactly as he’d done yesterday. Her brows knitted together as she watched him skipping happily around, cheerily feeding the chickens. It wasn’t that he didn’t usually get on with his chores when he came home from school, nor that he didn’t usually do everything with a cheerful disposition, but this, this enthusiasm was a mite suspicious and Elizabeth knew he was up to something.
As he rounded the last bend before home, Hannibal skidded to a halt and scanned the fields carefully, hoping to see his Pa busy in the field. Spotting him off to the west, he called out to him and waved. Alex stood up straight, stretching his back, then smiled his big wide grin and waved enthusiastically back to him.
Trying his very best to look as if he really wasn’t up to anything, Hannibal swung his school things under his arm and continued towards the house with a casual swagger. After a moment, he turned round and checked that his father had returned to his work and was no longer watching him. Satisfied that he had, Hannibal took off once more at a pace, eager to get home as fast as he could.
He slowed again just before the house and decided that the casual approach would be least suspicious – not that she’d notice anyway of course, she was far too distracted by her children. He pushed the kitchen door open and strolled in nonchalantly. He loved that word. He knew it meant confidently trying not to look suspicious and it suited him to a tee.
He was right. She wasn’t in the kitchen. He could hear her cooing away to the baby in her bedroom. He rolled his eyes. He wished the little ones would hurry up and grow up and get a bit more interesting. Nate had promised him it would be fun teaching younger brothers everything he knew and he could see Nate’s point. He did have a lot to teach them. Things he’d had to discover for himself of course, but Nate had said it was hardest being the oldest. The younger ones just got to know everything you’d had to work so hard for. Still Nate seemed to like being the oldest so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. He just wished they’d hurry up and get big enough for him to teach them cos if they didn’t hurry, there’d never be enough time, he had so much to tell them.
Today though, he was glad they weren’t bigger, because he didn’t want anyone to disturb him in his chores. He carefully placed his school things on the dresser in the place always reserved for them, taking a moment to make sure they were stacked up straight and wouldn’t fall onto the floor. Then he raced back outside to start with his chores.
“It’s this way, Han,” called Jed as he skipped towards the riverbank an hour later.
“You sure?” Hannibal replied from several feet behind him, not convinced.
“Yep! Sure!” called back Jed as he disappeared over the edge of a small crevice.
Hannibal frowned and looked around the small hollow he was standing in. The riverbank here was a series of small, uneven crevices and hollows as a number of small tributaries flowed into the river. He’d been sure this was the one, but he had to admit there was no sign of it here.
“Here!” called Jed’s voice from ahead of him.
Hannibal hopped up out of the hollow, but still couldn’t see Jed. “Where are you?” he called.
“Here!” Jed called again.
Hannibal followed his voice and jumped down into the small crevice where Jed was already on his hands and knees, pulling at the branches and twigs he’d used the previous day to cover up their treasure.
“Wow Jed, you hid it good.”
“Didn’t want nobody stealing it, Han.”
“Stealing it? Who would steal an abandoned raft?” Hannibal asked.
Jed stopped what he was doing and turned to look at him. Hannibal frowned slightly when he saw the look of hurt on his face. He looked back at the way that Jed had so carefully covered every inch of the raft so that it couldn’t be seen. He smiled at him.
“Well you did a real good job, Jed. Won’t nobody be stealing our raft with you taking such good care of it.”
Jed’s face lit up and he beamed with pride at Hannibal’s words. “You think so, really Han?”
“Sure do,” replied Hannibal nodding. “The best laid plans Jed can go wrong if there aint no-one taking care of the details. Details are important.”
Jed liked the sound of that, liked that Hannibal thought what he’d done was important. He knew that Hannibal knew all about important things, very nearly all of them, so if Hannibal thought it was important then that was good enough for Jed. He happily returned to his job of removing the twigs and branches.
That done, the two of them worked together to drag the raft towards the water. They’d found the abandoned log raft several days ago. It wasn’t in bad condition but they’d salvaged some rope from the Heyes barn for the running repairs, at least enough to make it “seaworthy”. They were especially proud of the extra log they’d added themselves, the one they’d discovered two days ago, in the river, floating slowly downstream. The rescue operation had been hard work, they’d had to wade out into the water and had used rope to pull the log into the bank. Then they had used the rope to bind the new log to the raft as tightly as they could.
“You think this will work, Han? Will it float?” Jed asked.
“Of course it will float,” Hannibal replied confidently, somewhat surprised that Jed would doubt it. “But first, we’ve got to get it to the water.”
The two of them pushed and pulled at the raft as hard as they could, but it was much heavier than they’d accounted for and after a few moments they slumped to the ground, exhausted.
“It’s too heavy for us,” declared Jed, disappointment in his voice.
“Hmm,” replied Hannibal. Jed was right, it was too heavy for them to pull to the water, but Hannibal was never one to give up easily. If the first idea didn’t work, then he’d just have to come up with another one. There surely must be a way to get the raft onto the river he figured, he just had to think of it. He stared at the logs, wondering what to do, when suddenly he noticed the smaller branches which they’d pulled off their extra log and left strewn around the ground.
“Wait!” he proclaimed eagerly. Jed watched him as he gathered up the branches, stripped off the leaves and started laying them next to each other in a line, a few inches apart, in front of the raft. Jed wasn’t sure what he was doing but at Hannibal’s request they worked together as a team to heave the front of the raft up on top of the first branch. With a great effort, they managed to get the raft up on top of the line of branches.
Suddenly Jed understood. When they pushed the raft now, it rolled over the top of the branches, making it much easier to move. As the back of the raft moved beyond the first branch, Jed picked up the branch and then jumping to the front of the raft, he placed that at the front of the line so that when they pushed the raft further forward, it started to roll over the top of that branch. The raft was easier to push now, but it was slow going because they had to keep moving the branches and it took several minutes to move the raft the short distance to the water. The river was shallow at the edge here and so they continued pushing the raft into the water until suddenly, it floated of its own accord.
“It floats!” Jed cried, thrilled to see it in the water. Hannibal just frowned at him. “Of course it floats,” he stated matter of factly.
In a moment, Jed’s attention had left the feat of engineering which had got the raft into the water and floating and had begun to concentrate on the job of turning it into a pirate ship.
“Did you bring one of your Pa’s bandanas?” Hannibal asked.
Jed nodded. It had taken him what seemed like hours to pluck up the courage to go into his parents’ room and take it, but he’d got it. Proudly, he showed it to Hannibal. His friend took it from him and placed the red bandana around his head, tying it at the back of his neck.
“Now I’m a real pirate” said Jed excitedly.
Hannibal nodded, grinning, and did the same with the blue bandana he’d taken from his father’s room that afternoon. It had been easier than he’d thought. He’d spotted it on the dresser and he’d just wandered into the room while Louisa was settling the baby and picked it up. He couldn’t believe that it could be so easy to take something he shouldn’t have.
Hannibal reached into his pocket and took out his father’s pen-knife. It had been sitting underneath the bandana when he’d picked it up and it had been just too tempting to resist and so he’d slipped that into his pocket as well. He looked at it now in his hand. It was a beautiful knife and something his father treasured. He’d have to be careful to return it to the same place on the dresser later on before his father missed it. He hunted around on the ground until he found two longish twigs and then taking the knife he carefully fashioned a point on the end of each one. He sat back and surveyed his work carefully. They would have to do as their swords.
It was a pity his father had said no yesterday when he’d asked if he could borrow the scythe. That would have made a brilliant sword, far more exciting than the twigs. But his father had insisted he was too young. Hannibal glanced up at Jed. His father must have realised he was going to play with Jed, that must have been what he meant when he’d said he was too young. He couldn’t have been referring to him – he was nearly 9 years old after all, next year he’d be 10, nearly full grown.
Hannibal supposed Jed was a little young to be playing with a scythe though of course he’d never have let Jed play with it alone, surely his father should have realised that? He’d have to remember to remind him of that when he got back.
He looked back up at Jed. Jed was a good friend, always willing to go along with whatever game he suggested, but sometimes, just sometimes, he thought it would be better if Jed were a bit older. It wasn’t that he was a baby or anything, he really wasn’t, just that, well, he was only six. Course he didn’t cry much, not like some of the other six year olds at school, especially the girls. They were always crying! Course to be fair, even full grown girls bawled a lot. He paused, gazing across the water. No, that wasn’t true. Only some full grown girls bawled all the time. His mother had never done that. Mrs Curry didn’t either. Nor did Miss Field. Maybe it was just her then.
A tug on his sleeve roused him from his thoughts. “What’s that Han?”
Hannibal stood up and solemnly handed one of the twig swords to Jed. Jed turned it over in his hands, looking at it in awe. “That’s a great sword, Han” he said, making a few practice lunges before carefully tucking it into his belt.
Hannibal pulled out the small, neat ladies’ handkerchief he had in his pocket. He’d taken that off her dresser too, after he’d taken the bandana and the knife. Now he dipped it in the water, then rolled it in the dirt at the edge of the water until it was covered with the dark coloured mud. Then he took a twig and wedged it in between two of the logs on the raft and tied the handkerchief to the top of it. It fluttered in the breeze just like the Jolly Roger as they launched their pirate ship into the open seas and climbed aboard, ready to go in search of other ships to pillage and plunder.
The captain searched the horizon with his telescope.
“Forward ahoy,” he called to his First Mate. “Load the cannons.”
“Aye, aye captain!”
In a flurry of activity the pirates prepared to board the sailing ship and as they drew close, shouts of “Fire the cannons!” were heard. The Captain led the way aboard and was soon embroiled in a sword fight to the death with the other ship’s captain. All around him the First Mate was fighting his own battles, his mighty sword throwing man after man overboard. Finally the pirate captain overpowered his enemy, holding his sword to his chest. “Let him walk the plank!” came the cries from the First Mate. Trembling and afraid, the sailing ship’s captain was lead to the plank and amid cheers and cries of triumph he was forced to walk. The sailing ship and all its bounty were finally theirs! They had won! “Hoist the Jolly Roger!” called the Captain amidst much whooping and hollering.
Once more the Captain raised his telescope and scanned the horizon for the next ship.
Jed flopped down to sit on the raft. He was exhausted. Being a pirate sure wasn’t easy. “I’m tired Han,” he said.
“Look! There!” Hannibal pointed excitedly into the distance.
“Han, can we go home now?”
“But Jed, we only got three …. “ His voice tailed off as he looked at Jed. He was slumped on the raft and he did look kinda worn out. In fact, he looked like he might even fall asleep right there, Well, he was only small he supposed. He smiled at him. “Yeah, we’ve had plenty of adventures for today, let’s go home.”
He turned back towards the riverbank, ready to jump into the shallow water and pull the raft back to bank – but where was it? The riverbank had gone! He frowned and checked on the other side of the raft. He could see the bank, but it looked an awful long way off. He peered down into the water trying to see the bottom as he’d been able to at the edge, but this time he couldn’t even see it. The water was too deep.
He looked back up to the riverbank and beyond and drew in a deep breath. Where were they? That didn’t look like where they’d pushed the raft into the water. In fact, he didn’t recognise anything on the riverbank at all. It all looked different. He looked back down at the water and as he watched it for a few moments, he realised it was moving. His eyes widened as he looked back up at the bank. He spotted a large rock and watched it carefully.
He took a brief glance at Jed, still sitting on the raft, his eyes closed. How was he going to tell him? Their raft was moving. It was moving downstream, just like the log had done yesterday. Worse still, he had no idea where they were. And the very worst, he had no idea how they were going to get back to the riverbank. How was he going to tell Jed?
“Jed,” he began in a small voice.
Ten minutes later, they were both sitting slumped together, watching the landscape drift by as the raft made its way slowly downstream.
“Han, where does the river go?” Jed asked.
“Into the Missouri.”
Jed digested that for a moment. “Into another river? Doesn’t it ever end?”
“It doesn’t end until it gets to the ocean.”
Jed looked at him wide-eyed. “It goes all the way to the ocean?”
“Sure, all rivers do, eventually,” nodded Hannibal, hoping he was right on that. The rivers he’d heard about went to the ocean – did that mean all of them did? He wasn’t sure, and he hoped Jed didn’t ask anything else. One thing he did know, it was a long way away, a very long way. “Just imagine Jed, we could be pirates for real, on the real open seas.”
Jed wasn’t so sure that was such an exciting prospect as Hannibal seemed to think. It sounded a bit scary to him.
“Can we go home though first, Han?”
Hannibal sighed gently. It sounded like a very good idea to him too, but how were they going to get home? The enormity of the situation suddenly hit him and he was frightened. He looked at Jed, who was watching him confidently with those big, blue eyes, waiting for Hannibal to tell him if they could go home now. He trusted him to be able to get him home. Somehow he had to get Jed home.
Sometimes it was very hard to be the older one he thought.
He peered over the edge of the raft into the water. Maybe it wasn’t as deep as it looked. Maybe he could climb into the water and drag the raft back to the side. He jumped up and grabbed the flagpole twig, removing the Jolly Roger from the top. Then kneeling on the raft, he leaned over the side and held the twig down into the water, hoping to hit the bottom. It didn’t. He pulled the twig back out of the water. It wasn’t nearly as tall as he was so it still didn’t mean that the water was too deep for him to stand. Quickly he rolled up his sleeve to his elbow, then tried again, this time extending his reach by putting his arm into the water too as far as his elbow. Still the twig didn’t find the bottom.
He sat up and rolled his sleeve right up as far as he could, then he lay down on the raft. If he leant over the side of the raft and stretched his whole arm right down into the water as far as he could, maybe he’d find the bottom.
“Hold on to my legs, Jed,” he instructed.
He leaned over a little and started to lower the twig into the water, then stopped suddenly, surprised, when it hit the bottom. His arm was hardly in the water at all. It was almost as if the bottom was closer that it had been last time. He lifted the twig and waited a few moments, then tried again. The same thing happened. The water seemed to be getting shallower. But was it yet shallow enough for him to walk in it?
He sat up and looking in front of him, he saw that they were approaching a mud bar to their right. It was sticking up out of the river and though it got narrower and narrower, it did go all the way to the riverbank. If they could get onto it, they’d be able to walk to the edge. The raft though, was currently on a course to miss it, off to the right.
“Jed!” Hannibal called. “Quick, we need to paddle, as hard as we can, over there.” The two of them lay on the raft and leaned a little way over the edge with both hands in the water and paddled furiously. Slowly, the raft starting to turn towards the right.
“Come on Jed, faster, paddle faster!”
They worked as hard as they could, trying to steer the raft through the water. After a few moments it started to drift towards the mud bar and once it was moving in that direction it became easier to keep it on course.
A few minutes later, the edge of the raft bumped solidly into the mud bar, grounding itself. Hannibal jumped off onto the mud – and promptly sank about six inches into it. He tried to lift his foot, but it was deeper than he thought and he tripped right over on to his back. He began to sink again and had to roll over on to his front before he could stand up.
Jed, who was still on the raft, found the scene hilarious and was laughing right out loud. Hannibal gave him a withering look and pulled him off the raft. Jed, taken by surprise, didn’t have his balance and he toppled straight over into the mud as well, pulling Hannibal back down on top of him. He tried to push Hannibal off, but Hannibal was having none of it and pinned Jed down, laughing. With a huge effort, Jed managed to roll to his side, unbalancing Hannibal who tumbled into the edge of the water. The impromptu wrestling match lasted for a few minutes longer, both boys laughing and having fun, before Hannibal finally got the upper hand and managed to sit on Jed and pin his arms, effectively keeping him from moving and declaring himself the winner.
They clambered to their feet and under Hannibal’s direction, they tugged the raft up into the mud as far as they could so that it didn’t float away and then trudged through the deepening mud until they finally reached the riverbank.
Spotting his friend’s face covered in mud Hannibal laughed. “You look like a real pirate now, Jed.”
Hannibal’s face had somehow avoided most of the mud. That didn’t seem fair to Jed and so he muddied up his hands on his clothes and then grinning at his friend, he dived forward and ran his muddy hands all over Hannibal’s face and hair.
“So do you Han! So do you!” he squealed in fun, ducking quickly and making a run for it as Hannibal threatened him back. They chased each other around, ducking and diving, until eventually, exhausted once more, they collapsed together onto the grass, laughing.
Jed lay on the grass, trying to catch his breath. He really was tired now. It was time to go home.
“Han?” he asked, sitting up and looking around him. “Which way is home?”
Hannibal was still lying on the grass as he pointed in the direction they’d originally come from. “Over there,” he replied.
“Over there?” questioned Jed, sounding nervous once more.
“Yep, that’s where we came from,” Hannibal replied, sitting up. His eyes followed his pointing finger and he realised why Jed sounded worried. Between where they were sitting and home – was the river! They had made it safely to the riverbank, but they were on the wrong side.
Half an hour later, Hannibal decided that if he heard one more whine about being tired, hungry, cold and scared or having aching feet, he’d…he’d … he’d push Jed right back into that river, that’s what.
He was a little scared himself. It was starting to grow dark and still they hadn’t come to the bridge. He was certain it was this way, absolutely certain. Well, fairly certain in any case. That is, he was as certain as he could be. Which was in truth a … a bit certain. He peered into the distance, but he couldn’t see it. He really thought it was this way, he really did. At least – he thought he really did think that.
What if he was wrong? He pushed the thought straight from his mind. He knew it was this way. He was not even going to think that he might be wrong. Of course he wasn’t wrong. He was never wrong. He just wasn’t, that’s all.
And to top it all off, he was tired, hungry and cold as well. And his feet hurt.
“Han, I’m scared,” came the small voice beside him. “We’re lost.”
Hannibal took a deep breath and set about the task of reassuring his younger friend.
“Now Jed, how can we be lost? You’re only lost if you don’t know where you are, and we know where we are.”
“Yes, of course we do.”
“Where are we?”
Jed had the uncanny habit of always asking the question Hannibal didn’t want to be asked just at the moment he didn’t want to be asked it. Where were they exactly?
“Well, …” he paused.
“Yes?” Jed looked up at him expectantly, with those darn trusting eyes again.
Hannibal plonked himself down on the grass and took off one of his shoes.
“What are you doing?” asked Jed.
“I’m getting the stone out of my shoe and then,” he smiled at him, trying to appear as confident as Jed wanted him to be, “then I’m going to tell you where we are.”
Jed smiled back happily, trusting Hannibal completely.
Having made every possible adjustment to not just one shoe, but both, and having been unable to think of any further reason for staying on the ground, Hannibal had got up and begun to stride purposefully forward. Jed, who had also parked himself on the ground, had to jump up and run the first few steps to catch up.
“So where are we?” he insisted. Didn’t he ever forget anything grumbled Hannibal to himself.
“We’re heading towards the bridge, then we’re gonna cross it and then it won’t be far home after that.”
“You sure the bridge is this way?” asked Jed.
“Yes, of course it’s this way.”
Jed seemed satisfied by that. Hannibal only wished he could convince himself so easily. ‘The bridge is this way. The bridge is this way,’ he repeated silently to himself, over and over again. It was this way. It was, it was, it was.
They continued on, mostly in silence, which was broken every now and then by a complaint of “I’m cold Han,” or “My feet hurt, Han.”
Hannibal had long since stopped listening to the words. He was aware of Jed’s voice every few minutes, but he was concentrating hard on not saying those same things out loud. As the darkness descended it became more difficult to pick out the path and several times they stumbled over the uneven ground. They had to walk more slowly and they had long ago taken hold of each other’s hands. Hannibal was trying very, very hard not to be scared.
And so they continued, every few steps interspersed with Jed’s voice.
“I’m cold, Han.”
“I’m scared, Han.”
“My feet hurt Han.”
“I’m scared, Han.”
“I’m hungry, Han.”
“There it is Han.”
“I said there it is Han.”
Hannibal jolted out of the reverie which had been keeping him going. Those last words were different somehow.
“What did you say?” he asked.
“I said, there it is. The bridge. Up there, look.”
Hannibal squinted into the darkness and sure enough, in the little moonlight there was, he could just make out the shadow of the bridge.
“There it is!” he cried triumphantly. “I knew it was here!”
“I knew you knew Han,” smiled Jed. “I knew you’d find it.”
“But Pa, I don’t understand why I can’t come too?” complained Zach. “Surely, the more people looking, the better?”
“Zach, son, I don’t have time to go into this now,” Nathanial explained patiently, his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “But someone has to stay here and man the fort. Someone has to take care of the womenfolk, someone has to be here in case there are any messages. You understand? This is an important job I’m trusting you with here. I wouldn’t trust just anyone with it.”
Zach nodded, reluctantly. He never was quite old enough for anything.
“Zach, would you fetch us the lanterns from the barn please?” asked Alex in an attempt to give the boy something useful, important, to do. “Check them and make sure they have enough oil in them.”
“Sure, Mr Heyes,” he replied, running off eagerly.
Nathanial gave Alex a worried look. Alex had arrived a few minutes ago, worried that Hannibal hadn’t returned home yet, only to find that both he and Jed were still missing from the Curry farm. The adults were more concerned than they were trying to let on to the younger Curry children, especially Elizabeth who was keeping herself busy bustling around the kitchen, helping the men and her eldest son, Nate, prepare to leave in search of the two missing boys. Mostly she was trying hard to keep her mind off what could have happened, trying to remember that imagination was usually worse than reality. She certainly hoped so. No matter how hard she tried though, she just couldn’t keep her mind off those two poor boys, out there on their own, in the dark, goodness knows where.
The men were busy organising the search, deciding who would search where, when Zach returned with the lanterns. The mood was subdued as they took them and prepared to leave.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can,” Nathanial told Elizabeth. She nodded in reply, and watched them go, offering up a silent prayer for them and the boys.
A moment later, she rushed to the door.
“Nathanial!” she called after her husband. He turned to look back at her. “Bring them home safely,” she said very quietly, her voice almost cracking. Nathanial nodded sombrely.
It seemed liked ages since they’d stumbled their way across the bridge. Finding their way to the bridge, Hannibal thought, had been easier than finding their way since crossing it. All they’d had to do before was follow the river. Now they, he, had to keep making decisions on which way to go. The trouble was, everywhere looked the same in the darkness. Every now and then he’d see somewhere which he thought he knew, but then he wouldn’t be able to recognise anything around it and so he’d think maybe he was wrong. The moonlit shadows were playing tricks too and shapes were hard to make out. He thought maybe it had got darker since they’d crossed the bridge, though he was fairly certain it couldn’t have. It had been completely dark by the time they’d found the bridge. He hated to admit it, but he, they, really were well and truly lost this time. He had no idea where they were.
Even Jed had gone quiet and that wasn’t a good sign. What he’d give now for the regular whines about his feet and being tired. But he wasn’t saying a thing. He was just walking alongside him, going wherever he went. He thought he was probably real scared this time.
He felt a tug on his elbow and looked round at Jed.
“I’m not going any further Hannibal.”
Hannibal looked at him, worried. What was he going to do? They didn’t have much choice but to keep going, did they?
Jed sat down.
“Jed? We have to keep going.”
Jed looked up at him, his face determined. “It’s dark Han, we’re lost and we can’t see where we going. Let’s wait here until it gets light and then we’ll be able to see.”
Hannibal just stared at him in amazement. Why hadn’t he thought of that? Instead of wandering around getting more and more lost, just wait where they were until it got light. He sat down next to Jed.
“Jed, I thought I was the one who did the thinking?”
“You are,” Jed replied.
“I didn’t think of that one though, and it’s a good plan.”
“It is?” Jed’s face lit up, despite his exhaustion. If Hannibal thought it was a good plan then it must be.
“Sure. I wish I’d thought of it myself.”
“Well you would have Han, you were just too tired.”
Hannibal smiled as Jed shuffled along to sit a little closer to him. Jed may be young but he sure had a way of coming up with something just when it was needed.
“Han, how long do you think it will be before it gets light?”
Hannibal considered that. They’d been walking for a long time. It must be, oh nearly midnight, he figured.
“About an hour,” he answered.
Alex had started to the north of the Curry farm, whilst Nathanial and Nate had gone to the south. It was a more difficult search area to the south and the two of them together could cover it more quickly than Alex could have done on his own. In places, father and son would have to split up to search more thoroughly.
In the distance they heard Alex’s voice booming across the fields. “Hannibal! Jed!”
Nathanial called out their names too, though he acknowledged to himself that he wasn’t really expecting to hear a reply. Deep inside, he had the most horrible fear that he knew what might have happened.
They reached the south boundary of the farm and looked up and down the track. Which way to go first? Nathanial called out their names once more. He held up the lantern, peering through the darkness, trying to decide where to start.
Suddenly he spotted a movement to his right, a few yards off. He swung around, holding the lantern up. It was probably an animal, he thought.
He could just make out a shadowy form in the long grass.
“Anyone there?” he called.
“Hello? Is there someone there?” he tried again.
“PA!” came a very familiar voice. “Pa! It is you!”
“Jed?” he called loudly. “Is that you? Where are you?”
A second later, he knew exactly where Jed was – in his arms, clinging to him. He had raced across the grass and flung himself at him. Nathanial squeezed him tight, but quickly adjusted his hold so that he could look him in the face.
“Jed, do you know where Hannibal is?” he asked urgently.
Jed jumped down out of his father’s arms and took his hand, leading him across the grass.
“Ssh,” Jed commanded, his finger over his lips as he pointed to a figure a little way off, lying on the ground. “He’s there.”
“Hannibal!” Nathanial called anxiously, starting to run towards him. “Is he hurt?”
“Sshh,” Jed frowned, pulling hard at his arm to stop him from running towards Hannibal. Nathanial looked at him, concerned.
“He’s asleep,” Jed told him. “Don’t wake him, he’s tired.”
Elizabeth jumped up as she saw them come through the door.
“Oh my boys,” she cried. “Are you hurt? Are you OK?” She bent down and held her arms open wide. Jed ran across the room straight into her arms and she hugged him closely to her, kissing his head.
Hannibal had started across the floor towards Elizabeth but had held back as she embraced Jed. Leaving one arm tightly around Jed, she held her other arm wide open.
“Hannibal,” she said gently. “Come here, I’ve been so worried about you, about you both.”
He closed the gap between them in a second and fell into her arms. She smoothed back his hair and kissed his forehead, ignoring the mud, at least for now. He knew he should have been embarrassed at the show of affection, especially with the room full, but the truth was, he was just too plain exhausted and relieved to bother.
“They don’t seem to be hurt, Elizabeth,” answered Nathanial. “Just tired.”
“And a little grubby,” added Alex.
Elizabeth raised her head and looked from one face to the other. “I daren’t even think about what you might have been up to,” she said. “We do need to do some cleaning up though.”
Neither of the boys objected as she set about doing her best to clean them up as well as she could. With most of the mud removed from their faces and their wet, muddy clothes replaced, they both looked a lot better. She settled them at the table and served up the muffins she’d been preparing for tomorrow and hot coffee.
As they finished the food, Nathanial looked at Alex, who gave him a slight nod. “Boys,” he began. “I think it’s time you told us where you’ve been and what you’ve been up to. You’ve had everyone worried and out searching for you.”
Elizabeth looked up at the boys and then up at her husband. She agreed there would need to be repercussions once they found out what had happened, but she wasn’t sure now was the right time for that. Both of the boys were struggling to keep their eyes open and she wasn’t sure they’d even be able to give them an accurate account tonight.
“They’re just so tired Nathanial, can’t it wait until tomorrow?” she begged.
The men both followed her gaze to the two youngsters and figured she was probably right. Tomorrow though, they wanted some answers to their questions.
“I guess bed is probably the best place for them right now. Let them sleep now and then we’ll deal with the rest tomorrow,” he answered, raising a questioning eyebrow at Alex who nodded back at him in agreement. It would wait until tomorrow.
Alex picked up the blanket he’d brought with him and started to wrap Hannibal up in it ready for the journey home. As he picked him up, Hannibal’s head dropped onto his shoulder, his eyes closed, already fast asleep.
Elizabeth put her hand on Alex’s arm. “Let him stay the night?” she asked gently.
He paused. He’d been so worried and now that he’d found his son, the thought of returning home and leaving him here wasn’t very appealing. On the other hand, he had to acknowledge, albeit reluctantly, that it was probably for the best. He gave Elizabeth a grateful smile and a nod.
She smiled back at him warmly, understanding. “He’ll be fine here.”
“I know that Elizabeth. Never had any doubt on that. I’ll be over early in the morning.”
“Come breakfast with us Alex,” said Nathanial. “Then we’ll talk to them.”
The fathers each lifted a son and carried them up to bed. They were both already fast asleep.
Alex paused to look down at his son before he left. There was going to be some trouble tomorrow, but for right now, Alex couldn’t help a small smile crossing his face. I hope it was a good adventure son, he thought, as he watched him sleep and remembered back to some of the adventures he’d had himself as a child. Wild adventures which the adults had completely misunderstood and had called mischief. And here he was, about to call his son’s adventures the very same thing. He pushed a stray strand of hair back off Hannibal’s face as he bent down to kiss his temple.