by Sally Wheaton
Hannibal pressed his back close against the side of the barn and cautiously peered around the edge. Checking that the coast was clear, he turned and beckoned to Jed, who darted across from his position crouched low behind the fence. He was gasping for air after the run as he stood next to his friend, his own back also close against the wall of the barn.
“Shh,” Hannibal instructed him as Jed tried to capture his breath. “Cover me,” he instructed as he once again checked around the edge of the barn. Seeing no one, Hannibal made a dash across the yard, Jed “covering” him with the “pistol”, and ended with a spectacular dive behind the feeding trough.
Slowly he lifted his head above the trough. He looked over at Jed and put his finger to his lips, signalling for his friend to remain quiet. Looking around he was satisfied that no one had seen him and beckoned once again for Jed to join him.
Jed bent forward slightly, ready for the off, and looked around the edge of the barn towards the house, then back across the yard. Then he nodded at Hannibal and made his own run towards the feeding trough, sliding dramatically into position next to Hannibal, who signalled for him to keep low.
Jed raised his “pistol” in both hands but kept his head below the line of the trough so as not to be seen, and waited for the next signal. The two boys looked at each other with wide eyes, knowing they were getting close, knowing it was important to keep still as well as silent.
The voice behind them made both boys jump three inches in the air. Hannibal banged his head on the side of the trough and Jed banged his against Hannibal’s elbow.
“Ow!” both cried in unison.
“Han’bul,” the voice repeated. “Wachyadoin?”
Hannibal frowned up at the three year old Samuel standing over him. “Hidin’! What’s it look like we’re doing?” he said, his voice a little exasperated, wasn’t it obvious for goodness sake? Sometimes little brothers could be most annoying.
Samuel looked around him and, seeing nothing, asked “Who fom?”
“From the enemy,” Jed told him. “You’d better hide too Samuel, quickly, or you’ll be caught.”
Hannibal rolled his eyes. Trust Jed to bring Samuel into the game. How were they going to complete their mission with a three year old in tow?
“If you’re gonna hide Samuel, you’ll have to be quiet,” he told the youngster sternly as he toddled over to join them.
“And fast,” he added.
Samuel nodded his head so vigorously that his whole body bobbed up and down.
“And still,” Hannibal added.
“Sam’ul do,” Samuel told him loudly.
“I said quietly!” hissed Hannibal.
“Sam’ul do,” Samuel whispered in reply, nodding vigorously again.
Hannibal gave Jed a threatening look and Jed gave him a big smile in reply.
“Sergeant Curry, I trust you can keep the men in order,” he told him.
“Yessir, Cap’n Heyes,” Jed replied eagerly.
“Samuel, get in close behind me and stay low and quiet.”
“Kay Jed” Samuel replied with a smile.
“You say, Yessir,” Jed told him.
“Yessher” replied Samuel, again smiling broadly, delighted to be allowed to play with his big brother and Jed. He always loved Hannibal’s games and stories. He didn’t understand most of them, but Hannibal made everything fun and exciting.
“You’re not supposed to smile,” Jed told him gently. “Say it like it’s serious.”
“Why?” asked Samuel.
Hannibal rolled his eyes again. “Why” was fast becoming Samuel’s favourite word and was by far the one word he said most often. The trouble was, whatever answer you gave him always elicited a one word reply – why? It was never ending. “We don’t have time for whys now Samuel, just do as the Sergeant tells you and we’ll explain later.”
Samuel filed away the promise of the explanation for easy retrieval later and looked at Jed questioningly.
“Say yessir again, look serious like soldiers do and keep low and quiet,” Jed told him gently.
Finally understanding how to play, Samuel complied and squeezed himself in between the two older boys, being real careful to keep his face serious, like a proper soljer.
Carefully, Hannibal raised his head and looked all around, including behind them this time. Certain there was no one else to interrupt them, he crawled on his belly all the way across to the house as quickly as he could and then crouched low beneath the window.
“Jed,” he called in a whisper.
Jed then did the same, checking around him before keeping low and crawling across to the house on his belly.
“Samuel, come on,” Jed called out.
Samuel jumped up from behind the trough, a big grin on his face, jiggled up and down as he looked all around him and then called out loudly “Sam’ul come on”.
He bent down so that his hands were on the ground and with his feet still flat to the ground and his rear end high in the air, he scooted his way across to the other two at high speed. As he arrived at the wall, he squeezed in between the two, suddenly remembered he was a proper soljer, removed the smile from his face, looked at Jed and said “Yessher”.
Hannibal rolled his eyes again and Jed patted Samuel’s arm and smiled at him.
The window above them was slightly ajar and very cautiously, Hannibal stood up beside the window and peeked gently around into it. He could see his father and Mr Curry sitting with their newspapers, smoking cigars. Their backs were to the window and so they couldn’t see him. As he silently pulled the window further open, their conversation drifted across to him.
“… The vigilante raids last week,” said Alex.
“They’re getting worryingly close too.” Nathanial replied.
“Mostly property damage this time, they’ve set barns on fire and several fields of crops have been trampled, but after those two men were killed last week, everyone’s just waiting for the next killing.”
“Did you hear the Myers’ barn was set on fire two nights ago?”
“Set on fire?”
“Maybe the barn just caught fire, who knows? All this trouble around, makes a man suspicious and that’s enough …”
From the way they continued their conversation, Hannibal was satisfied that they hadn’t heard him and bent back down to speak to his men.
“Below the window,” he whispered his instructions to them, “is a small table and on it is the book we need. Sergeant Curry, I want you to lean in through the window and get the book.”
Jed nodded. That sounded easy enough. Quietly he stood up and waited next to the open window. He leaned around and looked in. He could see and hear his father talking with Mr Heyes.
“… Having Charles McKenna around is enough to make me suspicious.”
“He’s sure to be involved somehow.”
“Is Myers in his debt?”
“Maybe. Probably. Or perhaps …”
Jed looked down and could see the book on the table. He stood up high on his toes, reached down towards it and stretched his arm as far as he could. His fingers though were nowhere near it. He pushed up a little higher on his toes, stretched his arm a little more and then stretched and stretched his fingers … It was no good.
He flopped back down onto the ground and looked at Hannibal dejectedly. “I can’t reach it,” he said. “I stretched as far as I could, but my fingers weren’t even close enough to touch it, yet alone grab it.”
Hannibal nodded. He was quite a bit taller than Jed. He would just have to do it himself. He stood up as quietly as he could and leaned around the window. The two men were still deep in conversation.
“… Last week in the store, when the conversation turned to McKenna, he seemed nervous, quiet. Didn’t get involved.”
“You noticed how many people are doing that these days? Mention the name McKenna and no one will talk. Just how many people in this town do you think he has a hold over?”
“Times aren’t easy, what with the war and everything. There’s a lot of debt around. I heard Bauer sold his surplus grain last week, must have been for a tidy sum, but he was at the store last week asking Josef for credit.”
“Even Josef has gone quiet on the subject of McKenna. He seemed very wary when I mentioned the name and he ….”
Hannibal stood up as straight as he could, though without getting onto his toes – he was a lot taller than Jed of course so wouldn’t need to. He reached his hand down, expecting to reach the book easily, but he didn’t. He stretched his arm out, but still no luck. He stretched his fingers just as hard as he possibly could, not wanting to suffer the indignity of having to get up on his toes with Jed and Samuel sitting on the ground right next to his toes. If he could just stretch his fingers a little more, just a little, more, he might, just, manage, to – but no. He still couldn’t reach it. Resolutely he pushed up onto his toes and then reached down, confident that he’d reach the book easily this time. But he didn’t. His fingers were tantalisingly close. He stretched his fingers a little further and this time managed to touch the book. Unfortunately though, as he touched it, it moved across the table just a fraction of an inch, just enough to put it completely out of his reach. He stretched out one more time, lengthening his legs, arms and fingers as far as possible, but still he couldn’t reach the book.
He too flopped back down onto the ground. Jed looked at his empty hands dismayed. “You couldn’t reach either?” he asked. Hannibal shook his head.
“Sam’ul do,” the small voice told them.
Hannibal looked at him in astonishment and disbelief. He was sitting on the ground and Samuel was standing next to him. Their heads were currently at about the same height.
“Samuel, how are you possibly going to reach inside the window?” Hannibal asked.
“Up,” Samuel told him.
Hannibal grinned. Of course!
He stood up, lifting Samuel up onto his shoulders and leaned around the window. The two men were still talking, still with their backs to the window.
“… Is just a bully, thinks he owns the town”
“He may be right on that Nathanial, certainly seems that everyone in this town is afraid of him. Who knows how many people are in debt to him?”
“Alex, we need to do something about it. We just can’t stand by and …”
Samuel leaned into the window and Hannibal took a firm hold of his legs, then leaned down, holding Samuel upside down through the window until he could easily get hold of the book. As soon as Samuel’s hands had a hold of the book, Hannibal pulled him back up and then collapsed the two of them back down onto the ground.
“Sam’ul do, Sam’ul do!” Samuel was jumping up and down in excitement and leaned forward head first towards the ground to show Jed what he had done. Jed grinned and congratulated him.
As the excitement died down, the book was placed carefully on the ground and Captain Heyes drew his men’s attention to the next task.
“The next part of the mission is far more dangerous,” he told them seriously. “It requires a man with courage and daring, a man with bravery and guts, a man with spirit and nerve.”
“I’m the man for the job, Cap’n Heyes, Sir,” Jed told him. “Send me.”
“Sam’ul, Sam’ul,” Samuel told him excitedly, pointing to himself.
Hannibal drew the two boys in closer and looked around before telling them in a low voice “The next book we need is inside the room.”
Gasps were heard from his men. This was indeed a dangerous mission.
“Someone must climb inside the room, then silently cross the room and get the book before climbing back out of the window to safety.”
“I can do that Cap’n Heyes, Sir,” Jed grinned. “I’ll go.”
“Sam’ul do, Sam’ul do,” Samuel danced around in excitement, pointing at himself, sure he could manage this too. He could do anything.
Hannibal looked at the two sets of excited blue eyes, earnestly looking up to him, waiting for his decision. He paused. It was fairly obvious to him that Jed was the man for the job, but darn him, Samuel just had this way of looking at you. His father said Samuel was far too charming, he said he was just like Hannibal himself, irresistible he said.
Hannibal sighed. If his father admitted to finding Samuel hard to resist, then how could he, Hannibal, be expected to? He sighed again and looked back up at the two sets of eyes, still staring at him intently.
“I think this is a job for two men,” he said, nodding seriously. “I think it will need a team to make an escape. Are you two men volunteering?”
Two heads nodded. Two faces beamed. Two sets of blue eyes danced in anticipation.
Once again Hannibal stood up and leaned around the window. The two men were still in the same place, still talking. He gave Jed a leg up to climb through the window and then passed Samuel through to him. As he did, he saw Alex stretch his arms out. He motioned quickly to Jed to get low and pulled back against the wall outside the window.
After a few moments he peeked back around the window. Jed and Samuel had made it halfway across the room and were now almost level with his father and Mr Curry, almost between them and the door. A few more feet and Jed would be able to reach the book which was sitting on the shelf. He watched as they inched towards it, the sounds of the men’s voices reassuring him that they hadn’t seen the two.
“… But it may not be wise.”
“I have no tolerance for bullies Alex, you know that. I have stood up to a good many in my lifetime – and I’m still here to tell the tale.”
“That you are, Nathanial. Tell you what, let me speak to Josef, see what I can find out. He hears a lot of talk, I’ll wager he knows ….”
Jed and Samuel were now crouched low behind Nathanial’s chair. Jed was motioning to Samuel to get the book and to do it quietly. Samuel beamed at him and nodded and then tiptoed his way across towards the shelf. As he did, his foot caught in the edge of a rug and he went flying forwards towards the door, landing unceremoniously on the floor in front of Alex.
Immediately Jed crouched back down behind the chair and looked wide-eyed towards Hannibal in the window.
“Samuel!” Alex exclaimed. “I didn’t see you there. Where did you come from?”
“Shhh,” Samuel told him urgently as he scrambled back to his feet. “Soljer. Sam’ul soljer. Sam’ul do,” he explained to his father earnestly, pointing at himself and then at the book on the shelf.
“Samuel’s a soldier?” asked Nathanial. “Well to be sure you are Samuel, anyone can see that,” he smiled at the youngster.
Alex looked around. “Are you playing soldiers on your own Samuel?”
Jed curled up even tighter behind his chair, trying not to be seen.
“No, Han’bul,” Samuel told him.
“You’re playing with Hannibal?” Alex asked, somewhat confused as Hannibal wasn’t there.
“Sure was,” came Hannibal’s voice in the doorway.
“Shorwaz,” nodded Samuel, beaming at him.
As he came right into the room, he saw Jed creep out from behind Mr Curry’s chair and head for the shelf. Hannibal knew he needed to keep the men’s attention on Samuel for a few moments. He smiled briefly to himself. If there was one thing you could rely on Samuel for, it was keeping an adult’s attention. Hannibal made a show of stopping in his tracks in the doorway and looked at Samuel sternly. “Private Heyes,” he began in his best Captain’s voice. “You don’t sound like a proper soldier to me.”
Samuel jumped up and down in excitement as the forgotten rules of the game came back to him. “Yessher!” he said loudly, just about managing to keep his face serious although failing completely to stand still and be quiet – much to Hannibal’s delight.
“That’s better,” Hannibal replied, noting that the two men’s attention was fixed entirely on Samuel and also that Jed had made it safely back behind the chair with the book. “Come on then Private Heyes, we’ve got a mission to complete.” With that he took Samuel’s hand and led him out of the door.
Alex and Nathanial watched them leave, amused smiles on their faces.
“Nice to see them playing together,” commented Nathanial.
Back at the window, Hannibal leaned around gently and peered into the room. Jed was carefully making his way back across the room and as he approached the window, Hannibal reached in to help pull him up and out of the window.
As Jed jumped down to the ground still holding the book, Captain Heyes called out “Run men! Run!”
Hannibal and Jed took off towards the barn at full speed with an excited Samuel toddling after them shouting “Wait Sam’ul!” By the time he made it into the barn the two older boys were already squatted down by the back wall. Samuel wriggled his way in between them.
“Congratulations men,” smiled Captain Heyes.
“We did a good job Samuel,” Jed added.
Samuel beamed with pride at the compliments as the three fell silent for a few moments.
“Han’bul?” Samuel asked suddenly, looking up at his adored older brother. “Why can’t soljers smile?”
Hannibal rolled his eyes at the question, but decided he had nothing better to do right at this moment. “Because,” he began.
Inside the room, Alex rolled his eyes at Nathanial’s comment. “Wish they didn’t have to make so much noise though!”
“Noise!” grumbled Nathanial. “You have no idea what noise is Alexander Heyes. You wait until you have seven, then you’ll know what noise is.”
Their banter was interrupted by a loud banging at the door. They heard Louisa open the door and then Mr Bauer’s urgent voice.
“Have you heard? Have you heard the news?” he asked, the alarm clear in his voice.
“No,” replied Louisa, worriedly. “What is it? What’s happened?”
“It’s Myers” he replied. “He’s been killed.”
Alex and Nathanial looked at each other, the horror evident on their faces. Charles Myers had been a close neighbour and good friend for many years.
“I meant what I said,” Nathanial stated darkly. “I can’t stand by and watch this. I know what McKenna is like, I know what he’s doing and I know why.”
“Won’t be easy. People are afraid, they won’t talk, won’t be much help,” cautioned Alex.
“Yes, I know. It’s because people are afraid that I can’t stand back and do nothing. I have to do something.”
Alex nodded slowly. “And I’m sure you already know that it could be dangerous?”
Nathanial nodded. “I’m not going to ask you to help Alex, but I have to do this.”
“Nathanial, I’m not waiting for you to ask me to help. I’m in this too. I’m with you.”
Nathanial nodded, grateful for his friend’s support.
“We’ll find a way to stop him, but without taking the law into our own hands. We’ll keep the law on our side, maybe even use the law to bring him down. I have a feeling we might find out a lot about our friend McKenna if we just look hard enough.”