by Susan Moore
The sun was golden on the mid afternoon sky and the landscape seemed endless as Moriah topped the crest of a low hill on the gravel road. She was house hunting, scouting, actually, looking at some available property to help narrow the choices so her husband would not be tortured with the viewing of properties that did not pass her own requirements. The view from the other side of the crest stopped her. Literally. Moriah took her foot from the gas pedal and slammed the brake on, causing the car to skid on the loose gravel. If someone had been in the car with her they probably would have sworn at her and asked if she had lost her mind. There was nothing in the roadway or in the scenery that warranted her sudden stop of movement. Yet she sat in the narrow roadway staring straight ahead as if suddenly a great wall had appeared to impede her progress. The only thing that lay ahead was a bridge, an old wooden bridge that spans an adequate stream that ran through the unpretentious valley. The homestead was visible on the left of the horizon. Moriah glanced around the car as if she had just misplaced something that should be close at hand. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She exhaled the breath slowly and deliberately, then opened her eyes. She felt a chill and the hairs rise on the back of her neck as her eyes again focused on the bridge.
Suddenly her mind flooded with memories from childhood, images that had confused her and had often left her feeling awkward and, well, odd. She remembered as a pre-school child asking her mother repeatedly about where the bridge had gone. “Bridge? Moriah, I don’t know what bridge your talking about,” and she would dismiss the child’s inquest.
Then shortly after starting first grade there was an incident that stayed clear in her mind involving the whole family. While returning from a visit to relatives that lived on a farm about an hour from their own home, Moriah innocently inquired when they might go to the house past the bridge.
“What bridge?” her father asked her with interest.
“The wooden one in the valley,” she had calmly replied.
Her mother turned to look at her sitting in the middle of the back seat, wedged between her older brother and sister. Moriah wiggled and jiggled her legs under her mother’s searching stare.
“Sit still you wiggle worm!” her older brother commanded. “You’re always asking about some stupid bridge, you’re such a twerp.”
Moriah squeezed the spotted stuffed horse she was clutching even harder and tried to quit squirming while peering out of the window. Her sister, ten years her senior, pulled her close giving her a maternal hug, “Must have been in your other life, Sugar.” Those words burned into her memory, tormenting her dreams and seeping into the idle moments of her days. Then slowly it had become less important and almost forgotten.
Slowly Moriah released her foot from the brake and let the car roll down the gentle hill until she was at the ramp to the bridge. There she again halted the auto, then put the vehicle in park. She rolled down the window and inhaled the crisp October air. Opening the door she hesitantly climbed out of the car. Without shutting the door and leaving the car idling, she cautiously but deliberately approached the narrow wooden bridge. She walked to the right side carefully walking on the car track and looking down through cracks between the slates that spanned crossways of the bridge into the slow moving water below. She reached forward to grab hold of the hand rail then peered over the side to see the stream unobstructed. Her eyes skimmed over the water, shimmering with the afternoon sun, the glint almost blinding. Then she continued on over the bridge, running her hand along the rail, engravings and scratchings craved there numbing the pads of her fingers. She stopped midway across the trestle to read a deeper carving, “Isabella loves” but the other name had been scratched out. Moriah fingered the carving for a couple of moments then with new determination walked to far end of the bridge fingering the rail as she walked. There half a foot from the end of the railing she halted, her eyes scanning the rail and finding an engraving, “KC + IF FOREVER” neatly encircled by a heart. She gingerly touched the inscription, tracing each letter with her fingertip then instinctively slid her hand to the right to locate another carving in elegant lettering, “Hannibal”.
Moriah’s heart jumped wildly in her chest and she felt as though she no longer knew how to breathe, the air surely had been sucked from her lungs. She gripped the railing with both hands and forced herself to inhale as a gentle breeze crossed the bridge to play in her long blond curls, first blowing the hair across her face and then just as easily pulling it away again. She closed her eyes against the sun and stood listening to the gurgling of the moving water while her hands held tightly to the railing, covering both engravings.
She returned to her car, nearly running across the span, threw the vehicle in gear and proceeded over the bridge with determination. She was going. . . HOME!
But how was that? She had never been here before, not even on vacation. She and her husband along with their two young children had just recently moved to Wyoming upon Michael’s company offering him a new position there. She was born and raised in Kansas. She had traveled through Wyoming once with her parents but she had never been north of Cheyenne until just the last couple of months. But rationality did not change the feeling, nor did it distract her from believing that she knew what lay at the end of the road. Dust twirled in her wake as she drove the car with new certainty.
She eased the Dodge to a stop in the center of the circle drive that enclosed the front yard. Her eyes wandered across the grounds as she emerged from the now dusty car. The house was nearly new, less than five years old, that was among the information she had gotten from the real estate agent that was to meet her here. It was impressive in its setting, a two story log home with windows filling the front of the home, which faced the warmer southwest, backed by a foothill and surrounded by sparse pines and oaks. Moriah slowly shut the car door and took in the home’s beauty, reminding herself as to why she was really at this point on earth. A large black dog came charging from behind the house barking warnings to Moriah not to proceed. Moriah answered the dog with soothing talk, calmness and patience as the dog sniffed at her ankles and hands. Soon the dog was wagging her tail and had relaxed the bristles along its back when her owner stepped from the house calling her away.
“I’m sorry!” the older lady ambled down the driveway. “Lucy was supposed to be secured in the backyard but I guess my husband set her free. The real estate agent just called and said she was running about half an hour to forty-five minutes late. She said that if you didn’t want to wait that long she would understand and will make another appointment.”
Moriah shook her head, then smiled at the woman. “Would you mind giving me the tour? I’d much rather have you show me anyway. I hate to think that I’ve driven out here for nothing. That is, if you don’t mind?”
The older woman hesitated, surely pondering the agents warning not to interfere, glanced at the wagging Lucy, then nodded her head, “Come on, what harm could it do?”
The two women walked through the house together, Mrs. Adams hesitantly describing the house at first but with Moriah’s easy manner and her obvious interest in the property, Mrs. Adams was soon chatting away about the 40 years she and her husband had lived on the homestead. The new home having been erected after an older farmhouse had perished in a fire. Moriah considered this information for a while but then while looking out one of the upstairs windows her eyes fell on the roof of one of the out buildings.
“What’s that building out there?” She politely asked of Mrs. Adams as she pointed through the lacy curtain to the older building.
“Oh, that’s the original log cabin built back in the early 1870’s. It’s been added to a few times over the many years and updated some but it is still very rustic and basically uninhabited since 1959. That’s when Izzy died.”
“You mean Isabella?” Moriah asked with certainty.
“Why, yes, her name was Isabella Frazier Hall. Did you know her?” Mrs. Adams asked with curiosity, remembering the younger woman saying her family was new to the area.
“Oh, no,” Moriah responded as if caught in a lie. “No, I didn’t know her. I saw the name 'Isabella' scratched into the rail on the bridge. I just thought . . .” she didn’t even bother to finish because she wasn’t certain what she thought.
“Why, yes, her name is there, isn’t it? I had forgotten. You read the names on the bridge?”
“Some of them, the bridge reminded me of something from my childhood.” Moriah moved through the rest of the rooms taking mental notes but anxiously hoping to tour the outlying grounds without delay and without the real estate agent tagging along. “Could we go see the cabin?” Moriah heard herself asking.
“Of course. There are some very interesting stories attached to the cabin and its original family.” Mrs. Adams headed for the back door, yelling at her husband to let the agent know where they were going. He nodded briefly from the living room without removing his eyes from the TV in front of him. “He’s not in good health, that’s why we are wanting to get settled in town before we get snowed in for the winter.”
“What kind of stories, Mrs. Adams?” Moriah prompted.
“Stories of famous, rather infamous, outlaws visiting or holding up here on occasion, and a . . .”
The front doorbell rang interrupting the woman’s introduction to what sounded like a worth while story.
“Must be the real estate agent,” she headed for the door, seemingly grateful for the arrival. Moriah endured the introduction, the apology and the explanation of the tour taken to this point.
“We were just headed out to see the out buildings,” Moriah informed the agent hoping the eagerness was not too evident in her voice.
“But you haven’t seen the rest of the house yet!” the agent admonished.
“I can see it when I come back through the house. I would like to stroll through it again after I’ve seen the other buildings,” her voice held a firmer edge with the agent than it had with Mrs. Adams. She smiled at Mrs. Adams, genuinely hoping she would continue the tour and the story. But she did not, choosing to stay in the house out of the way.
Moriah crossed the yard towards the cabin, feigning interest in flowers and different landscaping features that the agent pointed out. The cabin, I want to see the cabin, Moriah wanted to scream but managed to keep her composure as she followed the woman about the yard. Finally, she led Moriah up a small path to the door of the log cabin, as the door opened Moriah’s gray eyes grew wide, her spine tingled and she could swear she could smell apple pie baking, wood smoke, and cigar smoke. She pulled her jacket tighter around her as a chilled breeze followed her in the room. Once her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light she could see the cabin was still furnished as if someone had just stepped out and never returned. A fine layer of dust covered everything.
She glanced around the room, not knowing what she expected to find and knew it wouldn’t do to look too close at the personal items with the Realtor watching. “It’s like a museum,” she muttered.
“They used to bring school groups out here and do history classes,” the agent replied. “The Adams sort of inherited all of this from some relatives and they didn’t want to break up the collection. I guess they will either give it to a museum or auction it off.”
“No!” Moriah turned mortified at the thought, “I mean, that would be a terrible shame to auction it.” Moriah moved through the cabin looking at the construction, the furniture, noting that some items had been boxed at some earlier time and left stored in the cabin. She opened a wooden door that led to a bedroom, and froze with her hand on the knob. The bed was covered with a yellowed quilt made of a double wedding band pattern. Nothing too surprising about that, Moriah told herself. She crossed the threshold to examine the cover and the room closer. She walked around the room, lightly touching the bed frame, glancing out the lone window then turned to cross back to the door, when it struck her that it was some of the fabric of the quilt that impressed her. She gingerly fingered the faded dark brown material with small yellow roses scattered over it. She was not surprised to discover that it did not feel like a cotton that was common for quilts, but of a more expensive weave. “Would they consider selling the contents with the property? The collection could stay here and resume its educational occupation.”
“I don’t know,” was the Realtor’s honest reply.
Moriah closed the bedroom door then strolled back to the front door after glancing through to the rest of the cabin. She was reluctant to leave the structure and stood at the cabin’s door again assessing the visible contents. Somehow she was disappointed, but what did she expect? Was the house supposed to talk to her; were the walls to whisper her very name? She closed her eyes, willing something to happen before she left that would explain her earlier feelings of this being her home. She could hear the real estate agent walking towards the barn explaining that she would go turn on some lights, Moriah could take her time coming to the barn. Moriah sighed as she opened her eyes feeling the weight of her disappointment pressing against her. She glanced once more around the room, her quick search missing the family bible carefully tucked under the embroidered runner on a small table along with the sketched pictures and letters lovingly stowed inside its front cover. She turned and closed the door, now anxious to finish the tour so she could return home to her family.
It was a bitterly cold night that the spring snow brought with it. Spring had teased with balmy weather the week before which made the cold spell all the harder to handle. The two women had banked the fire for the evening after finishing the last of the kitchen chores. Phoebe grew increasingly nervous as the sun was lost first behind snow clouds, then the mountain and there still had been no sign of her husband returning from Cheyenne. And the snow increased intensity. Isabella was anxious as well for her uncle’s return, though only fifteen years old she was experienced in reading her aunt’s face and emotions. Maybe it was their closeness in age, Phoebe being just four years older than her niece, or perhaps just the fact that they had to rely on each other for so much. Phoebe was extremely grateful for the company of her elder sister’s daughter, though the circumstances of her being there were grim. They both settled by the fire for a long evening of waiting.
Not long after Phoebe had taken up some knitting, she heard a rustling from outside the cabin. Picking up a rifle from near the door, Phoebe cautiously approached the door listening to the noise. Isabella tensed and moved behind her aunt. Nevertheless the rap on the door startled both of the women and Phoebe said a small prayer before unbolting the door and allowing it to swing open on complaining hinges. Snow rode the frigid air into the cabin twirling about the figure before them. Phoebe did not recognize the ice blue eyes that faced her and she wondered if the man was already frozen when he began speaking in a halting voice.
“Ma’am, I’m ex-tre-me-ly sor-ry for im-posing on you, but could you help my fri-end?” The man turned slightly to point to a snow covered figure slumped over a snow white horse. “He’s ailin’ and I’m . . .”
Phoebe handed the rifle to Isabella as she grabbed the man by the arm and ushered him towards the figure which lost its balance and landed with a thud in the new snow. Isabella joined the two as they struggled to right the man and bring him into the shelter. “We’ll put him in my bed,” Phoebe instructed the blue eyed man as they drug the deathly still form into the cabin. “Izzy bring the lamp!”
Phoebe worked quickly to remove the wet outer clothing and boots, with the blue-eyed man’s help, then stripped the pants and shirt from the unconscious man before they wrapped him in the thick blankets on the feather bed. Isabella set about warming rocks to place under the blankets to help warm the nearly frozen being. Phoebe worked to dry the man’s damp dark brown hair. The blue-eyed man removed his own wet hat and ran his fingers through his curly blond hair in despair.
“You should put your horses in our barn, mister. I’ll help you.” Isabella started donning outerwear, prepared to plunge into the white night.
The young man knew he should protest but didn’t have the energy or the ability to care for the horses by himself. He hunched his shoulders against the cold as the two of them entered the darkness. The animals shook themselves once freed of their wet burdens and Isabella began rubbing them down as the man fed them the proffered supply of feed. Having the horses needs met and seeing the man’s stamina wane, Isabella grasped his gloved hand in hers to lead him back to the welcoming cabin.
Phoebe had been busy in their absence setting the left-over stew on to warm and preparing a bed pallet for the man near the fire. She knew her husband would be angry with her for allowing the stranger to bed down in the house but she also knew he was in no condition to go elsewhere, not even the barn. He claimed his friend was ill but his own condition was not much better. Relief swept over her when the door finally swung open and Isabella, followed wearily by the blue-eyed man, entered the warm cabin safely.
“There is some coffee ready and the stew is just about warmed through,” she informed the pair as she moved to help the stranger remove his wet outer wear. Phoebe gathered the discarded wet layers to hang so they would dry through. “My name is Phoebe Yates,” she supplied as she dealt with the wet items. “And in case she hasn’t told you, Isabella is my niece.” She glanced warily at the gun belt strapped low on the man’s hip and tied snugly to his thigh. They had removed a similarly worn gun belt from the dark-haired man before putting him to bed.
“My name is Jedediah Curry, ma’am,” the young man responded after carefully swallowing some coffee and allowing it to warm his throat. “The man in yonder is my cousin, Hannibal Heyes.” His hands were wrapped around the cup absorbing the warmth, the steam rising to thaw his icy stare. “I’m mighty beholdin’ to the both of you. Heyes took ill yesterday mornin’. I was hopin’ we could make it to Cheyenne but with the snow, Heyes was gettin’ worse.” The young man searched his coffee cup for more words but could not dispel the lump that had formed in his throat.
Phoebe placed a bowl of stew in front of the man then she quietly went to check on the other man lying lifeless in her bed. She noticed that his coloring had improved but still seemed ashen. She laid a cool hand on his cheek and found it was warming, perhaps too much so. She pulled the covers back slightly to feel his hand and found that it was amazingly toasty. She thought she detected a slight squeeze as she gently placed the hand back underneath the blankets. She surveyed the handsome facial features again, assessing that the man was possibly slightly older than herself but not as old as her own husband. “Mr. Heyes,” she asked tentatively, “can you hear me?” She was not surprised when her question did not rouse or warrant a response from the man. She stood watching the breath being drawn into the body and expelled again. She was only slightly aware of the voices conversing in the other room. What was she going to tell Matthew when he returned home to find these two staying in their home, his very bed even? She found herself hoping that her husband had stayed in Cheyenne for the night for more than one reason.
“How is he, ma’am?” asked the concerned voice from over her shoulder.
“I don’t honestly know. He has warmed up but I’m afraid it is a fever that has warmed him. Even since I came in his face has grown more flushed,” Phoebe gazed at the now rosy cheeks of the unresponsive man. Isabella walked around the bed to press her own hand against the cheek. Her eyes alerted Phoebe to the heat she felt there.
“I’ll go get a cool rag,” she announced as she quickly left the room.
Jedediah positioned himself near the head of the bed, “Heyes, can you hear me? It’s Jed. Heyes, you got to get better. I’m countin’ on you. We got things to do, Heyes. The Gang is countin’ on you.” The flushed face stirred ever so slightly while a low moan escaped the chapped lips. Isabella returned with the damp rag in a bowl of water. Phoebe wrung it out and began slowly bathing the feverish brow, the flushed cheeks, even the dry lips and worked down the man’s neck, the moisture cooling the parched skin. Feeling the gathering heat in the man’s body she removed the heavy quilt and laid it aside. Then she started the bathing routine over without receiving any reaction other than the turning of his head.
“What seemed to be his illness, Mr. Curry?” Phoebe asked as she ran the cool rag over the fevered skin.
“He was vomiting yesterday morning but by mid-morning that had pretty much stopped. He didn’t eat any lunch and just picked at supper last night. This morning he drank some coffee but couldn’t eat anything, just started retching again. Never complains about anything usually, but this morning he did curse the retching and the ache in his head. But he rode all day, never ate a thing though.”
“How about water? Has he had anything to drink, other than coffee this morning?” Phoebe searched the blue eyes.
“I don’t know, I don’t think so though.”
She handed the rag to Isabella and left the room hastily. Isabella took up the bathing in a slow methodical manner. Soon Phoebe had returned with a cup of water and another rag. “He needs to get some moisture into his body. Let’s see if we can get him to rouse enough to swallow some water.” Her hopes were set high but the man had twisted his head around again, so maybe there was a possibility to accomplish the task. Working together they propped the man up slightly while Isabella handled the cup of water on his lips.
“Heyes!” Curry demanded his cousin, “Heyes, take a drink.” But the man’s head just lolled at an unnatural tilt. They let the man back down to the bed. Phoebe took the new rag, dipped it in the cup and poked the dampened cloth into the man’s mouth allowing the small amount of liquid to run across his tongue and down his throat. Thankfully, she saw the man respond with a swallow. She repeated this process several times, carefully watching to see if the man swallowed what was given.
Long after Isabella slipped off to bed in the loft and Mr. Curry passed out on the pallet, Phoebe continued to keep watch over the feverish man through the night shifting between bathing and offering a drink until she fell asleep with her head resting on her folded arms on the edge of the bed. When she woke with the dawning day, she realized the man’s long slender fingers were encased in her own hand. The skin was warm and supple. When she raised her head and removed her hand, the man stirred with a murmur. Phoebe placed the backside of her hand against the still colorful cheek but was pleased to find the temperature much cooler than during the night. Then she noticed the warm dark brown eyes that were staring up from their sunken and dark sockets. It startled her at first and she pulled her hand away from the cheek.
“Good morning, Mr. Heyes,” she managed to say through her own thick morning tongue; it almost sounded like a husky whisper. She cleared her throat, “Are you feeling better this morning?”
The fevered eyes shut, not sure that the image in front of them was real or a result of delirium. But the figure was still there when Heyes opened his eyes again. “Where am I?” the raspy baritone asked.
“This is my home, Mr. Heyes, we’re just about 11 miles west of Cheyenne.” She picked up the rag from where it lay, discarded on the pillow. She plunged it into the bowl of water, wrung it out then applied it to the man’s forehead. “Could you drink some water, Mr. Heyes? I’m afraid you might be dehydrating.”
The man’s eyes rested on the young woman’s bright blue eyes that seemed to catch the early morning light and reflect it back to him. The pretty face was framed by long wavy auburn hair that fell carelessly to her shoulders and back. The cool rag felt good as she gently wiped it across his brow. He closed his eyes again feeling the heat of the fever behind his eyelids. “Some water might be good. Where’s Kid?”
“Who?” Phoebe was puzzled, thinking the man was talking out of his head.
“I’m right here,” responded the younger man who entered the room rubbing the back of his neck; his golden locks disheveled from the night’s sleep. He crossed the room to retrieve the offered glass of water then helped his cousin sit up enough to down the contents. “You look better Heyes, but you still got a ways to go.”
“You nearly froze me to death, Kid.”
“If you hadn’t been sick to begin with, everything would a been all right. And then the snow, I stopped at the first warm shelter.” The younger man’s eyes twinkled with delight that his cousin was able to do this small verbal assault.
Phoebe excused herself from the room to fix breakfast, leaving the two men alone. As soon as she was gone from the room Kid gazed at the darker man and asked, “What are we gonna do Heyes? You ain’t gonna be ready to ride in time to meet up with the gang.”
Lying back on the bed Heyes again closed his eyes. “Is it still snowing?”
“I don’t know,” Kid walked to the small window, scraped away the frost to look out onto the new day. “Looks like its quit.”
“Why don’t you ride on, meet up with gang, tell them to lay low for a couple of days until I can get there. Need to wait ‘til the snow is cleared some anyway.” Heyes’ voice trailed away, sounding exhausted.
Kid didn’t think a few days were going to be enough for Heyes to be ready to ride the way he would be required to, hard. “I’ll be back for you. Don’t go riding out of here alone.”
After a hearty breakfast Jedediah Curry was ready to leave his cousin in the care of the two women. Just girls really, he thought as he headed to the barn to saddle his horse. Isabella had accompanied him to the barn to complete her own morning chores. She was grateful for the company even for such a brief period of time, especially the company of such a handsome young man. “How old are you?” she innocently asked as Jed saddled his horse.
His blue eyes sparkled with her interest, and smiled teasingly, “Older than you.”
“Oh,” Isabella, suddenly embarrassed for asking such a question, blushed.
Jed laughed lightheartedly at her obvious disappointment, “Nineteen, almost twenty years old. And how old are you, Miss Isabella?”
“Younger than you,” she threw back at him, her own gray eyes smiling. “I’m fifteen.”
“Your aunt can’t be much older than you, how is it that you two are here alone?” He led his horse to the door of the barn.
“Phoebe is the same age as you, Mr. Curry. She got married last May to Matthew Yates and I came to live with them after my mother died in July. Matthew went to town yesterday to get some supplies, he said he would be right back, he doesn’t like leaving us alone even for just a day. Guess the snow must of kept him in town. I can tell Phoebe’s plenty worried, though she hasn’t said anything.”
Curry contemplated the information, wondering what kind of trouble he might be making by leaving Heyes behind. What would he think if he came home to find a stranger in his bride’s bed? It wouldn’t be good. Curry hoped the man was a God-fearin’, peaceable sort of fellow, not one who would shoot first and then ask questions. And he hoped Heyes didn’t talk much with that fever. Kid was going to have to make a quick trip of this and pray Heyes would be ready to ride when he returned.
Kid led the horse out into the bright, fresh sunlight and swung easily into the saddle, not at all looking like the weary traveler that arrived the night before. “Good-bye Isabella, I’ll be back soon. Thanks for all of your help and tell your aunt I’m beholdin’ to her.”
“Good-bye, Mr. Curry,” the gray eyes held tightly to the rider.
“Call me Jed or Kid, I ain’t use to Mr.,” the young man smiled down at the young woman beside him before kicking his horse into leaving.
Cold. Snow. An overwhelming feeling of loneliness and helplessness. Moriah fought with the blankets, trying to fend off the chilling feelings, her hands clammy with perspiration. She cuddled up next to Michael, embracing him, fearing the iciness of her dream. There she fell back into sleep, back to dream of things she did not understand, thoughts that intrigued her yet frightened her. Dreams abstract enough to not make sense yet disturbingly familiar. When the dawn finally came Moriah expectantly glanced out of the window to see how much snow lie on the ground. Surprisingly there was none.
She decided, as she finished her breakfast, that a trip to the local library was in order to help sort out some of her feelings. She planned to find out about as much as possible about Isabella Frazier Hall, the cabin and the interesting events that supposedly took place there.
Phoebe bustled about the cabin finishing her morning chores. Hannibal could hear the soft movements of her skirt as she entered the room. Soon he felt her soft hand touching his cheek. Opening his eyes he was rewarded with a smile from the heavenly figure, the first one she had offered him. Surely, she was his savior and her presence reassured him. He closed his eyes, the effort to keep them open being to much, and licked his parched lips. “I need to get up,” he whispered.
“Now, Mr. Heyes, I do not believe that to be a wise thing to request,” Phoebe answered sweetly, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“I’m not saying I want to get up,” he opened his eyes and looked into the kind blue eyes before him. “I need to get up,” and he smiled weakly.
“Oh,” she answered knowingly, her pale cheeks turning rosy with his meaning. She stood up and pulled the covers away from him. He sat up slowly, letting his legs swing off the edge of the bed, the change in position sent his head spinning. “Move slowly, Mr. Heyes, take your time,” she instructed the paling man. She squatted down in front of him, her hands on his shoulders preventing him from toppling over onto the floor.
Hannibal wasn’t sure which made him feel more light headed, the illness or the nearness of this angel. With elbows positioned on his knees, his head in his hands, his world slowly stopped whirling in circles. He sat still for a couple of more minutes, then slowly opened the heavy eyelids and raised his head to look straight ahead, into the face of the angel. She smiled again, stood before him and offered her hands, “Everything you need is right here, so you won’t have to walk much, but if you can stand. . .” She reached down and grabbed his arm gently guiding him to his feet. She moved next to him, letting him lean against her, like a crutch. Again he closed his eyes against the moving room but soon recovered enough to stand on his own.
“I’ll be right outside the door if you need me, Mr. Heyes” and she hurried from the room without glancing back. She stood with her back against the door, hoping not to hear any crashing sounds indicating that she shouldn’t have left his side.
Presently she heard the weak voice filter through the door. Shyly she cracked the door open and peeked in. “I’m through,” came a slightly amused voice, “it’s safe for you to come in.” Hannibal turned his back to her and grabbed at the bed post to steady himself. In an instant she was by his side, letting him settled his arm around her shoulder to help fight the unwillingness of his knees to hold him upright. He smelled of sweat and sickly sourness, but his touch was gentle even in his weighty need of her. And he climbed back onto the bed and collapsed into the warmth of the covers.
“Thanks,” he breathed heavily, laboring with the small exertion. “What’s your name, ma’am? I don’t even know who to thank.”
“I’m sorry,” she answered apologetically as she replaced the covers, “My name is Phoebe Yates. The other young woman is my niece, Isabella Frazier.” She paused looking down into the deepest brown eyes she had ever seen. Then she continued, “My husband, Matthew, is away but should be returning today.” She sighed, “Hopefully.”
He wasn’t sure but he thought he detected a look of tenseness in her clear blue eyes as she looked away. But of course, his mind caught up to her situation, her husband was overdue home after a bad storm and there was a strange man sleeping in her bed. Enough to make any woman anxious.
“I’ll get out of your way as soon as I can, Mrs. Yates.”
Her attention returned to the ill man, “Don’t you fret yourself, Mr. Heyes, you’re too sick to think of going anywhere for a little while.” Patting his hand she requested, “You may call me Phoebe.”
Heyes grasped her hand and held it gently, “Thank you, Phoebe. For everything.” Releasing her hand he added, “‘Mr. Heyes’ doesn’t suit me either, make it Hannibal or Heyes.”
It was nearly lunch time when Phoebe heard the wagon approach, she rushed to the window, wiping away the moisture that clung to the pane. Matthew drove the team straight to the barn as Phoebe assembled her wraps and hurried out the door, leaving Isabella staring after her from in front of the fire. Her quick pace and the cold air left her breathless as she entered the barn. Matthew, who was standing by the team, was surprised by her appearance, dropping the leather straps he held in his hands and he grasped Phoebe by the shoulders. “What’s wrong, Phoebe? What’s your rush?”
“I was so worried about you, Matthew, when you didn’t return last night! Are you okay? Did you stay in town last night because of the snow?” The young woman’s emotions flooded from her on the tip of her tongue as she pressed herself against her husband.
He casually wrapped his arms around her with annoyance from being delayed from the warmth of the hearth. “Can we do this latter, Hon? I’m kind of cold and would like to unhitch, unload and go inside for lunch.”
“I’m so relieved that you are okay,” she backed away from the man with less enthusiasm. “I’ll help you,” she said as she started unfastening harness straps. They worked in unison in the frosty barn warmed only by the animals that inhabited the interior. In the course of leading the horses to their stalls Matthew stopped and turned to Phoebe, “Whose horse is that?” his head nodded toward a sorrel in the corner of the barn. Phoebe turned to see the tale tell animal.
“It belongs to Mr. Heyes,” the answer was nonchalant as if Matthew would know the person she spoke of. “He and his cousin rode in last night during the storm. Mr. Heyes was terribly cold and sick when they arrived, in fact, I thought he was dead. He is still feverish and very weak.” Phoebe quit her explanation long enough to read her husband’s tensed body. Then she boldly added, “He’s asleep in our bed.”
“Where’s the other man’s horse?” Matthew probed.
“Mr. Curry traveled on this morning with business. He is to return in a few days for Mr. Heyes.” Phoebe finished her matter-of-fact presentation fiddling with a piece of hay which she twirled in her hands. She considered pleading it was the decent Christian thing to do, but hesitated feeling perhaps there was no need.
Matthew finished with the horses then began to unload sacks from the back of the wagon. Phoebe could see the jaw tighten and work as he hefted the parcels and moved them to their appropriate locations. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Phoebe politely offered. “If not, than I shall finish lunch.” There was no response from her husband so Phoebe quietly returned to the house disconcerted by her husband’s silent work.
Lunch was a quiet affair, Matthew sat looking toward the bedroom door that was open, but did not make an effort to enter the room. He seemed annoyed when Phoebe fixed a bowl of broth to take to the ailing man. “How long you figurin’ that stranger will be in my bed?” he growled as Phoebe headed for the bedroom. “I was lookin’ forward to using that bed tonight,” he flatly stated as he stopped Phoebe with his stare. Phoebe noticed his hazel eyes had taken on a jealous amber cast.
Walking back to her husband’s side Phoebe calmly asked, “Why don’t you step in and meet Mr. Heyes, Matthew? He’s not an ogre or monster, nor is he a god. He is a sick man in need of shelter and care.”
“What if you get sick caring for him, Phoebe?” his voice for once sounding concerned and his eyes meeting her own.
“I’m as healthy as a horse, you know that,” Phoebe dismissed the possibility mainly because she didn’t want to think about the man’s presence being an actual threat to anyone in her home.
Matthew returned to his silence, dropped his gaze to his own plate before adding, “I’ll be chopping wood this afternoon. I could use some help stacking the wood.”
Isabella came alive from her corner of the room where she had been reading. “I’ll help you,” she offered, anxious to get out into the fresh air and to get some exercise that didn’t involve housework. “That way Phoebe can stay in here and check on Mr. Heyes.”
“I have wash to do,” Phoebe quickly added to the excuse as she witnessed her husband’s jaw clench at the mention of the stranger’s name. Jealousy has an ugly face she thought. Maybe it would be better if Matthew didn’t take a notion to enter the bedroom and discover for himself that the stranger there was far from being a hideous or homely male figure.
After Matthew left the house, Phoebe sent Isabella out to the barn to search Mr. Heyes’ saddlebags for a clean pair of long underwear. Certain that a bath and clean clothes would encourage the man into feeling better or at least smelling so, she was concerned how to accomplish the delicate task without compromising herself. It wouldn’t be good for Matthew to choose that particular time to enter the house. She could ask him to aid the sick man but she did not think that arrangement would work either. She finally decided just to give Mr. Heyes a good wash down in the bed and hope he had enough strength to change on his own.
“Hannibal,” Phoebe called softly to the sleeping form in the bed. Eyes opening wide in response, she was immediately sorry for disturbing the ill man. “I thought you might enjoy a bit of a bath and some clean clothes. If you can get these long-johns off in a little bit I’ll wash them for you.”
“A bath?” Heyes looked more than a little concerned with this proposal.
“A spit bath, you might say, I thought if you could just take your underwear off to your waist I could wash your back, chest, and arms. Then if you can get up you can change into these clean ones Isabella got out of your saddlebag.” Phoebe pointed to a small pile of towels and the clean underwear resting on the chair Phoebe had used the night before as her bed. “We’ll have to work quickly though, I don’t want you to get chilled.”
“That might feel good,” Heyes admitted, “but what about your husband? He didn’t sound none to happy to have you caring for me. I don’t want to cause any problems for you, or should I say any more problems for you.”
“You are not a problem, Mr. Heyes. And I am sorry you heard Matthew. He’s a good man, but perhaps a bit too . . .” but she stopped without voicing her feelings to the handsome stranger. Instead she turned to the bowl of hot water she had set on the dry sink. Wringing the cloth she returned her attention to the man lying in her bed. His coloring was improving and his dark eyes followed her movements with a penetrating stare. He attempted to sit up in the bed and accomplished the task with some gentle help from her. He managed to unbutton the undershirt and slip it from his shoulders. Phoebe found herself staring at the muscular chest lightly covered with dark soft hair. Feeling his gaze on her she looked up to meet his eyes and immediately she became lost in the depth of the coffee colored eyes. She felt the heat rise in her cheeks at the realization she was again staring. “I best get busy for both of our sakes,” she said almost breathlessly. She worked quickly bathing the exposed skin and then draped a towel around the broad shoulders.
Done with all that she had planned, she helped Hannibal to his feet, steadying him as he clung to his meager clothing with one hand. “You’re a little sturdier this time, Hannibal,” she remarked as the man gently held onto her shoulder for support.
“I feel a little more steady, ma’am. The room is not spinning nearly as fast as it did before.” The smile that followed was priceless like that of an innocent toddler.
“I’ll be back in about ten minutes to get your dirty things. If you need me before that just let out a yell. You are well enough to holler, aren’t you, Hannibal?” she asked almost teasingly.
“I believe I can handle it Phoebe,” and he graced her with another smile.
The evening shadows gathered and worked from the corners of the cabin to fill in all the spaces not illuminated by the fireplace or the lamp in the bedroom. Phoebe enjoyed working in the fading light but the grayness brought with it a chill so she lit the lamp in the small kitchen area and banked the fire. Hearing a rustling in the bedroom she peered in to witness Mr. Heyes sitting on the edge of the bed wiggling his bare toes. “Is everything all right, Hannibal?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am,” the brown headed man answered in a light as air tone. “Just thought I should try to be upright a bit, Jed should be back to get me tomorrow or the next day. Besides I need to get out of your bed so you and your husband can have your room tonight.”
“Don’t be absurd, Hannibal, you’re not going to sleep anywhere but in that bed. Matthew and I can sleep in the loft with Isabella or down here by the fireplace.” She moved closer to the man gently placing her hand on his forehead as a thermometer. He looked up at his angel admiring her soft features. Feeling his stare she turned her attention to the brown eyes, “You aren’t nearly so feverish but you should crawl back under those covers so you don’t get chilled.”
“I feel plenty warm,” he heard himself reply in a flirting manner as the warm hand on his forehead gradually slid down the side of his face to rub the stubble along his jaw. The angel’s dolorous blue eyes seemed locked to his own and an anguish diffused from her fingertips. He gently grasped the stroking hand and carefully pressed its palm to his lips never losing contact with the misty blue eyes. To his amazement she did not pull away. “Thank you,” his whispered into the tender fingertips. Heyes saw the cloud lift from the cerulean eyes. And the angel’s hand slipped from his fragile grasp.
She turned and walked away from the stranger, but stopped, resting the blessed hand on the door frame. “Do you feel like joining us for supper?” She glanced back at the man who had again reclined against the pillows.
“I think I’ll pass on that, Phoebe, ‘fraid I’m not as strong as I thought,” hoping that his true reason was not obvious.
Phoebe had just served Hannibal his dinner to him in the bedroom as Matthew and Isabella entered the cabin. They came in tired but laughing, inviting the freshness of the outdoors inside with them. Phoebe smiled, hoping to join in the jovial mood and quickly served them up a hot meal. It was a more pleasant meal than the one earlier in the day. As the women finished the cleanup, Matthew slipped into the bedroom to meet the man who was resting in his bed. Phoebe kept a listening ear turned toward the room and whether from her own curiosity or her aunt’s intense concentration, Isabella worked quietly as well.
The dozing Heyes woke at once with the feeling of a presence in the room. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light afforded by the lamp close to his bed he could make out a figure of a man near the door.
“Hello, Mr. Heyes, I’m Phoebe’s husband, Matthew. Thought it was time to meet you. How are you feeling tonight?” The form talked as he moved closer to the bed and entering the lamp’s circle of light. The man was perhaps just a bit shorter than Hannibal and a couple of years his senior. His light brown hair had begun thinning out on the top but his hazel eyes were sharp and clear.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Yates.” Hannibal worked to sit up some in the bed. “I can not tell you how much I appreciate the hospitality extended to me by your wife, Isabella, and yourself. I don’t think I would have made it to Cheyenne.”
“Well, your partner picked the right place to get you good care. Phoebe is very compassionate. But you don’t have to thank me for anything, I ain’t done nothin’ for you.” Matthew pushed the chair back from the bed’s edge and rested on it.
“Oh, but you have, sir, by allowing me to stay here and to be cared for,” Heyes wanted to make the angel’s husband feel good about the arrangement.
“That’s my wife’s doing, not mine.” The man’s hazel eyes seemed to be taking inventory of Heyes, almost weighing and measuring him. “Are you in the area on business, Mr. Heyes? Or just traveling?”
Heyes answered his host with an amazingly truthful answer. “My cousin and I were to meet some friends about a business proposition in Cheyenne. That’s why Jed went on without me, he didn’t want them to think we weren’t interested.” Hopefully, Mr. Yates wouldn’t care what kind of business. Without a doubt he wouldn’t like his wife nursing a train and bank robber back to health. Heyes was looking forward to carrying out his first bank robbery without the aid of gang’s former leader. The presence of this annoying farmer reminded Heyes that he needed to recover fast so he would be able to lead the gang through this endeavor before the payroll was shipped on.
“What type of business would that be, Mr. Heyes? I’m familiar with most of the proprietors in Cheyenne,” the farmer probed further into the stranger’s propose.
Heyes hoped his poker face served him well so this wary man would not load him up and run him into the nearest sheriff. “The job is not in Cheyenne, we were just meeting there to get details of a possible security job in Fort Collins. Don’t know much about it yet but my partner and I prefer that type of work over being ranch hands. Ranching is awfully hard work and unreliable pay.”
Matthew shook his head in agreement, “You’re mighty right there, ranching is tough and you never know if your gonna make a living from it or not. I hope I can make this spread pay but,” Matthew leaned closer to the infirm man and lowering his voice continued, “I never planned on having a family so soon. Figured it would be at least nine months before there was three of us. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Isabella and Phoebe would be lost without her, plus she is a good strong worker, but she is an extra mouth to feed.”
Heyes could see the lines of hard work and the struggle of making a living for this small family etched on the farmer’s brow. Somehow the man seemed burdened with more than just normal daily living.
Just then Isabella swept into the room with a small stack of books in her hands. The teenager moved gracefully towards the bed and with a small restrained smile she offered to read to the fevered man. Perhaps Matthew recognized this as an opportunity for the teenager to impress a young man that might eventually free himself of her. Whatever his thoughts, he stood up from the chair and graciously offered it to his young charge. He bid his farewell and left the two alone in the room.
“I hope my uncle was not boring you, Mr. Heyes, he’s a might on the contrary side these days, like a bear just waking from the winter. We are so looking forward to the spring when he can get out and keep busy.” Isabella chattered as she made sure Mr. Heyes was comfortable and then settled herself in the chair. Heyes watched the young woman intently as she moved about the room and listened to her prattle. After Heyes chose a book for her to read from, she began reading the work aloud with a beautifully captivating voice. Heyes was enthralled with the entertainment up until the moment he fell asleep. Glancing up from the book, Isabella noted the resting form, closed the edition and produced a pencil and a piece of paper. Peering from the subject to the paper she deftly produced an eerily lifelike image of the sleeping stranger. When she finished the portrait, she tucked it into one of the books for safekeeping.
Moriah could not leave work fast enough. She was anxious to discover some information about the ranch she had visited the previous day. She had called the local historical society but without much success, the local historian was gone on vacation and the girl answering the phone was not familiar with the cabin or the names from bridge.
The library was more productive as she found Isabella’s obituary and discovered she died at the ripe old age of 96 years. She had been married but did not have any children, at least none surviving, and no grandchildren. According to the paper, the current owners of the ranch and a niece in California were the only remaining relatives. But that was in 1959. Moriah wrote down the name of the niece and the town she lived in. She doubted that she would find anything about her.
“That sure smells good, Mrs. Yates.” Phoebe jumped at the deep voice coming so close behind her as she stood at the cook stove fixing breakfast. “Sorry, ma’am, didn’t mean to startle you.” She turned to face the origin of the baritone and found him buttoning the last of his shirt buttons.
“Where do you think you are going, Mr. Heyes?” she asked wagging a spoon at the recovering man.
“I feeling much better this morning. Figure I will be moving out sometime during the day. Weather is holding, my partner should return for me and I really need to clear out of your way.” Phoebe couldn’t help but watch his dark eyes as he spoke and though he still looked pale there was a definite sparkle in the deep recesses.
“You’d do better if you would just rest awhile longer or you’re bound to have a relapse. I can’t promise I’ll be around to collect your body the next time,” she teased as she took him by the hand and lead him to the table. “You just sit yourself down here,” she pulled out a chair and placing her hands on the broad shoulders pressed the man into the chair. She turned to retrieve a cup and the coffee pot from the stove. “Here, you can start with this and a biscuit, the rest of breakfast will be ready soon.” She smiled, pleased with her command of things but the smile faded when she noticed Heyes’s serious look. “What’s wrong?”
“I was just wondering if you treat your husband this good?” he asked earnestly from behind the cup.
Phoebe seemed flustered by the question, she looked away briefly and idly wiped her hands on her apron.
“I would if he would let me,” was her muttered response.
Heyes’ eyes flashed like coal and Phoebe had looked up in time to see it. “He’s a fool then,” he replied back quietly over the cup.
“Damn, Woman!” Phoebe startled at the change in his voice. “Your coffee is too weak! This would never wake my partner up!” The smile that followed the remark warmed her through.
It was late morning when a rider came into the yard. Heyes paused the potato peeling he had taken on when he demanded that he help Phoebe with something, anything, he had said. Knowing he should not be up exerting himself, she again sat him at the table and supplied him a pan full of potatoes to peel for potato soup. He hoped the rider was Kid as he caught site of his holster and gun hanging on the bedpost in the other room.
Isabella dropped the laundry she was scrubbing and bolted for the door grabbing a wrap from a peg as she flew out the door.
“I hope it’s someone she knows,” Heyes glanced toward Phoebe who was doing some mending in a chair nearby.
“At least she must be hoping it’s someone she likes,” Phoebe grinned and ran a hand across his shoulders as she went to the door. Heyes slowly rose from the table ready to duck into the bedroom if the rider turned out to be anyone other than Kid.
“Looks like your partner,” Phoebe announced solemnly from the window.
“Whoa, there, Miss Izzy! Where’s the fire?” The girl was at his side by the time he dismounted. Suddenly he turned to look into the gray eyes fearing the girl had bad news but her eyes were shining with happiness.
“Your cousin is much better, Jed! He’s been up waiting for you today.” The girl’s enthusiasm was almost funny and Jed Curry was all smiles as he took the wrap she held in hand and actually wrapped it around her shoulders pulling her closer to him.
“Is that so? Well, I suppose we should be gettin’ on then!” He turned as if to ready his horse for the ride back.
“NO! I mean, no hurry, we will have lunch soon. You could surely stay for a meal?” Her gray eyes were pleading, worried that he ride off in the next instant.
“A meal, huh? Now, I’ve never been one to turn down food. Guess we could stay for a short while.”
Isabella let out an audible sigh and shuffled uneasily at the Kid’s back. “Let me put your horse in the barn.”
Jed turned and grasped the girl’s bare hand with his gloved one, “Well, ma’am, I reckon you could come with me, if you want, but I don’t need you doing it for me.” Over her shoulder he caught a glimpse of a man walking toward them, his brow furrowed and carrying an ax.
“Howdy, sir,” Kid nodded his head and let go Isabella’s hand. Izzy turned to catch the scowl on Matthew’s face.
“Uncle Matt, this is Jedediah Curry, Mr. Heyes’ cousin. He’s come to collect Mr. Heyes.”
A smile quickly crossed the older man’s face as he extended a hand toward Kid, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Curry.”
“Mr. Yates.” Kid shook the hand and nodded his head once more.
“Well, put your horse in the barn, Mr. Curry. I’m sure Mrs. Yates won’t let Mr. Heyes leave before he has some lunch so you best come in.” Matthew patted a shivering Izzy on the shoulder, “You best get in now, you’re not wrapped well enough to be standing around out here.”
“I’ll help Jed to the barn, Uncle Matthew, then we will be in,” Isabella pulled the shawl tighter around herself and willed herself to stop shivering at least until Matthew went into the house.
Kid waited until the big man had shut the door before placing his arm around Isabella’s shoulder, “He’s right, you should go in. I can manage well enough on my own.”
Izzy tilted her head to look up at young man, “I’m sure you can, but I want to go with you. Besides, I’m warming up.” Her gray eyes searched deep into his dazzling blue eyes, her loneliness as obvious as her coldness.
Jed loosened the bed roll from his saddle, shook the blanket out and again wrapped Isabella, embracing her once again, they walked to the barn, the horse obediently following.
“Well, Mr. Heyes, your cousin is here!” Matthew announced as he entered the cabin. He stopped mid-stride when he took in the picture before him. Hannibal had just finished peeling the last potato and cut it into bits then added them to the pot that Phoebe had set on the stove. Heyes snatched the corner of a towel that lay across Phoebe’s shoulder and wiped his hands. The scene, though innocent, looked a bit too cozy to Matthew’s notion. He sure would be glad to have this man out of his home. “Looks like you are feeling a might better, Mr. Heyes.”
“I’m feeling much better, Mr. Yates. Even though Phoebe insists on me taking it easy. She keeps making me sit down.” Heyes shot her a look and a smile, making his dimples deepen. The returned smile was not missed by the older man who felt as though someone had punched him in the stomach.
“Something wrong Mr. Yates?” Heyes asked the man as Phoebe’s husband turned away from them feigning the need to stoke the fire. “You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine, Mr. Heyes, but I think I will feel better tomorrow after you’re gone. Haven’t slept well the last couple of nights. I miss my bed.” Matthew gave a longing look at his young wife whose face flushed with embarrassment.
How dare he be so bold! Nearly telling Hannibal to get out of the house. What was his problem? Phoebe caught the jealous look in Matthew’s eyes again. Why was he so possessive? Phoebe glanced at Hannibal who had returned to the chair on his own, his face a bit peaked.
“You’ve over done things this morning. You shouldn’t be out of bed yet, Hannibal, and thinking of riding out in the cold air is more than what you are up to. Please reconsider. You and your partner could stay another night.” Phoebe was kneeling next to Heyes who was now resting his head on his crossed arms like a school child in trouble. Phoebe placed a concerned hand on his shoulder. Without even looking across the room she could feel Matthew’s seething glare.
“No, ma’am, I will not impose on you and your husband anymore,” he spoke with determination as he carefully lifted his light head. “We will be riding out after lunch. I will just have to manage.” His dark eyes watched the man across the room, trying to figure out what it was about him that did not set well with Heyes. “I’ll be okay,” he added softly speaking to the kind blue eyes and patting the hand that was still resting on his shoulder.
Kid and Isabella entered the cabin with a burst of energy, Isabella giggling about something. “Heyes!” Kid rushed to his cousin. “You still look awful!” he exclaimed as he affectionately slapped the man on the back nearly sending Heyes across the surface of the table.
“Thanks, Kid! That made me feel a whole lot better!” Heyes braced himself against the table. Then smiled up at his younger friend. “You don’t look any better, either!”
“There’s something that don’t seem right with the picture back there Heyes,” Kid spoke into the space between the two men.
“What do you mean Kid?” Heyes interested in any type of diversion that would take his mind off of the cold ride ahead of them.
“Mr. Yates came home about noon on the same day that I left. I followed Phoebe’s directions to town, good roads all the way. I never saw Mr. Yates and his wagon. Not even any tracks. How do you reckon that?” Kid’s puzzled look caught Heyes’ interest.
“What are you getting at, Kid?”
“Where was Yates? He didn’t come from town, least ways not by the road and he had a loaded wagon. How else would he go?”
“Perhaps there is another road.”
“Didn’t see none, except one that veers off to the north.” Kid eyed Heyes as he began working this puzzle out in his still hazy mind.
“Are you saying Mr. Yates was not where he claimed to be?” Heyes asked as he turned this thought over himself.
“Wonder what he was really doing?” Heyes speculated, sitting up straighter in the saddle and paying more attention to signs and sights along the road the two of them were traveling, the same road Kid covered in new snow just prior to Yates return to his family.
“Maybe his name ain’t really Matthew Yates,” Kid offered with a laugh.
Heyes threw him a quick look. “Why would a rancher need an alias?”
“Maybe ranching isn’t his only means of income.”
“Kid, not everyone lives on the wrong side of the law. I think he maybe hiding something, though. Something about the man didn’t set well with me either.” Heyes studied Kid for a moment, “You know, if we get good at this bank and train stuff, we may need aliases.”
“Heyes, you don’t even look like your going to make it to Cheyenne, I don’t know how you think you are going to be able to rob a bank,” Kid’s look was one of concern.
“I’ll be fine, Kid,” Heyes returned. “I’ve had some mighty fine care the last couple of days.”
“Yeah, I could tell. No wonder Mr. Yates wanted you gone. The way that woman looked at you when you mounted up! I thought she was going to grab hold of the saddle horn and swing up behind you.” Kid’s blue eyes twinkled while teasing his older cousin. “Did she kiss you and make everything better?”
The dark look he returned to Kid as a reply stopped Kid from saying anything more. “What about Isabella? Did she help with the horses out in the barn or did she just take care of you? And don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. That girl flew out of the house and practically into your arms. There was no denying that dreamy look in her eyes when you both came in.”
“So are you admitting Phoebe kissed you?” Kid flew caution to the wind with the question. “Or, did you kiss her?”
“Kid! I may be a thief but I do not steal other men’s wives!” Heyes grew stormy and the two rode in silence for awhile. “Not that I wouldn’t have liked to,” he finally admitted quietly.
Moriah sat quietly on the passenger side of the car carefully watching the scenery fly by her car door window. She had told her family about the homestead trying to make it sound enticing and just what they were looking for without giving any clue to her real interest in the place. She was convinced they wouldn’t understand any more than her parents had those many years ago. Moriah was anxious to return to the cabin again.
“You’re awfully quiet, Moriah. Is everything okay?” Michael inquired briefly glancing in her direction.
“Yes, everything is fine, Michael. Just doing some thinking. I think you will like this property. It has real character and the location is just perfect.”
“Are we almost there?” whined young Noel from the back seat as his even younger sister flogged him with a stuffed rabbit.
“Katherine!” Moriah managed to catch the rabbit mid-swing. “Yes, Noel, it won’t be long. It’s a big beautiful log house with plenty of room for dogs, cats, cockatiels and even kids!” Moriah said with exaggerated enthusiasm.
“And a barn?” Noel asked.
“Yes, a large old barn.”
“For horses!” Katherine chimed in.
“And don’t forget an old log cabin!” Michael added. “For….?”
“Ghosts!” Noel answered.
Moriah’s head jerked around to see if she could read Noel’s meaning on his face but he had turned and was contentedly looking out of his window.
Almost two months had past since the two strangers had found refuge at Phoebe’s cabin and still she found herself thinking of Heyes nearly daily, usually when the early morning sun came through her bedroom window. She would recall that first morning’s dawn and the gentle grasp he had on her hand. Then there was the following morning when he came up behind her. She wondered if he made it to town all right and if he got the job he so wanted. Yet she never expected to find out. Isabella spoke of the younger man occasionally but she didn’t divulged to Phoebe just what transpired between the two in the barn. She suspected Isabella may have received her first kiss. Just a few days after the men had left she found Izzy sketching an amazing likeness of Jedediah, but Isabella had a natural gift for drawing and a memory that enabled her to capture the most minute detail.
“Have you drawn one of Hannibal?” Phoebe asked while admiring the progress on Jed’s portrait.
Isabella shrugged her shoulders in answer, “Sort of.” She produced the sketch she did at the bedside.
The likeness nearly took Phoebe’s breathe away, “Izzy, this is astounding!” She stared at the image of the sleeping stranger, although she found herself wishing his eyes were open. She picked up the paper with Jed’s picture and was amazed that Isabella had recalled and captured the exciting twinkle in his eyes. They almost looked blue though the sketch was done in plain pencil. “These are precious, Izzy, but hide them away. Don’t let Matthew see them, I fear he would destroy them, he was so jealous of them.”
“No, he was jealous of Hannibal. I think he liked Jed, but I know what you mean and I won’t put them where he will find them.” Isabella tucked the drawings away in one of her books and smiled protectively at her aunt.
Phoebe thought of the sketches now as they bounced to town in the wagon. Isabella had mentioned to Phoebe she would like to get some plain paper while they were in town and maybe a new pencil too. These seemed like sensible items that Matthew could not quarrel about. He had gotten edgy about money matters and Phoebe had put up a hard argument to come to town with him. He said he just couldn’t afford any unneeded purchases but Phoebe explained it was the diversion that she and Isabella needed. They craved a change of scenery. Finally he gave in remembering what happened the last time he left them while on a trip to town.
Phoebe relished walking through the general store picking out the items that Matthew had agreed to. He promised them a nice hot lunch at a nearby restaurant and his spirits had actually lifted since arriving in town. He even surprised her with purchasing some calico for new dresses as well as a few pieces of hard candy, then he allowed Isabella to get not only the paper and pencil but a new book besides. While circulating through the store as Matthew paid for their purchases Phoebe overheard a couple of women speaking excitedly.
“Did you hear about yesterday’s train robbery?” a matron asked another women several years older than Phoebe. The younger responded with an affirmative nod. “I heard they think it maybe the same gang that cleared out that payroll down towards Fort Collins over a month ago,” the older lady continued.
Phoebe stopped at the mention of Fort Collins. She listened carefully, suddenly curious and not fully understanding why.
“Mellie said her cousin, Ann, was on the train and that she described the robbers as handsome and gentlemanly. Can you imagine? Handsome gentleman! Attractive thieves?!” the younger woman spoke with disgust. “Why they even introduced themselves -- Curry and Heyes!”
Phoebe’s head jerked up and she looked directly at the speaker with astonishment. Realizing how rude she must have appeared, she smiled weakly and walked toward the counter where Matthew was just finishing business.
“What’s a matter, Phoe, you look a bit peeked,” Matthew observed.
“Nothing, just getting a bit hungry,” Phoebe lied as she helped gather packages and headed for the door. Curry and Heyes. Handsome gentlemen. Thieves. It couldn’t be, no, not Jed Curry and Hannibal Heyes. She prayed Matthew didn’t catch word of the story.
But she would not be that lucky. The newspaper headlines shouted “TRAIN ROBBERY” followed by great details including the names Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes. Matthew dropped the paper on the restaurant table first looking at Phoebe’s colorless face and then Isabella who twisted the front page around to read the article for herself, eyes wide and unbelieving. Matthew leaned close to Phoebe, “I can’t believe you took in two train robbers!” Though his volume was low the statement screamed at Phoebe. “My, Lord!” he continued, “You even allowed Isabelle to carry on with that ‘Kid’!”
Phoebe averted her eyes for a second than looked up at her husband, “I didn’t know what they did for a living,” she answered calmly. “I only knew that Hannibal was nearly frozen to death and quite ill. The good Lord would not have turned him away from his doorstep and neither would I, not even if I had known they were thieves.”
Matthew looked into her cool blue eyes, “Don’t give me this holier than thou crap, Phoe!” His tone was cold and incensed.
Isabella just sat staring at the newspaper.
The real estate agent met them in the driveway, warmly greeting Moriah and listening politely as she introduced the rest of her family. Then they moved collectively to the front door of the main house. Moriah held her breath as the group walked through the door into the foyer and the feeling of home settled into her soul. She searched Michael’s face to see if he had a similar sense and the warm smile spoke volumes allowing her to relax and enjoy the pitch by the saleswoman. To her disappointment the elderly couple was not present, probably at the advice of the agent. She allowed herself to make a closer inspection of the premises, to the great pleasure of the agent. Michael followed, closely scrutinizing as the children roamed from one room to the next while Moriah warned them not to touch anything.
“I’m ready to see the out buildings,” Michael announced from the downstairs family room where the kids were fascinated by the 5 foot longhorns mounted above the fireplace.
“Oh, boy, the cabin!” Noel announced.
“And the barn!” Katherine shrieked.
They raced each other up the stairs stopping just outside the back door where the sprawling yard awed them into silence. It was like a park, a well manicured garden full of patience and hard work.
“I failed to notice the beauty of this the other evening,” Moriah whispered to Michael.
“How could you have missed such a treasure as this?” Michael asked as he wandered across the lawn taking in the fragrances the late fall air held. Even in the starkness of the coming winter, one could imagine what riches the yard held in the full bloom of spring and summer.
“I guess I was just anxious to see the rest of the property,” Moriah admitted as she stole a glance in the direction of the cabin which was visible across the yard.
“Is this it?” Michael looked down into Moriah’s cool yet anxious gray eyes.
“This is the cabin!” the agent announced as they mounted the steps then crossing the wide porch to the front door. With a flourish she flung open the door and the small group walked across the threshold as if entering another world. Moriah brought up the rear allowing the agent to enter ahead of her. She again felt a chill entering the cabin as the faint scent of roses crossed her senses. “I asked about the belongings and they are willing to leave them if the cabin is used for educational use. There may be just a few personal things that would not stay. Of course, the price of the property would reflect the inclusion of the contents.”
“Of course,” Michael sighed, resigning himself to the extra expense.
Phoebe carefully lifted the pie from the oven placing it on the table to cool. She straightened and stretched her back trying to gain more room for the child growing within her. She carefully wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead and pulled a chair out to rest for awhile. She wished she weren’t so tired, there was so much to be done with harvesting the garden and putting food up for the coming winter months, though it felt every bit of summer this August day. The sound of a couple of horses approaching floated through the open window stirring the curtains on the way through. Phoebe surprised by both the sound and the breeze pushed herself out of the chair to investigate. Peering through the open door she could hardly believe the sight her eyes brought to her. With an excited gait she stepped out onto the porch.
“Hannibal! And Kid! I…” she stammered embarrassed by the sudden emotions. “I never thought I would see either of you again!”
“And why is that, Mrs. Yates?” Hannibal smiled broadly, already dismounted he approached her and embraced her in a warm, grateful hug. He was surprised as she seemed to cling to him and he gently rocked her in his arms. “Where’s Mr. Yates?” he whispered in her hair.
“Gone,” was the soft reply, muffled against his chest.
“Gone?” Heyes questioned, his grip loosening.
Phoebe pulled away slightly, “Gone for a few days, took some cattle to market.”
“Oh, you had me worried.” His voiced didn’t quite convince her. He held her at arms length surveying her contours. “Looks like there’s about to be an addition to this family.”
“A few months yet,” Phoebe smoothed her apron over her abdomen then smiled up at Kid, reaching for him. “Kid.” He politely returned her hug.
“Ma’am.” He stepped back out of her embrace.
“Why, where’s my manners? Put your horses up and come on in! You’re just in time for pie.”
“Well, we can’t stay Phoebe, but we were riding through and just had to come by,” Heyes explained.
“Nonsense! You’re not in that big of a rush, are you?” as soon as the words left her mouth she was sorry of their utterance. “Please say you are not being chased,” she dared to add.
“You know?” Heyes asked calmly his dark eyes searching Phoebe’s worried blue eyes.
“Yes,” she answered simply holding on to the eye contact, “we read about the train robbery about a month and a half after you left here. And the bank job at Fort Collins that might be linked to you as well.” Heyes was speechless and for once was ashamed of his chosen way of life. He blinked unable to meet her forgiving gaze any longer. Suddenly he did not feel worthy of her unconditional acceptance.
“Well, ma’am, we don’t usually stop to check on lovely women in the heat of a pursuit,” Kid answered. “Is Isabella here?”
As if on cue Isabella rounded the corner of the barn running the back of her hand across her brow, she paused for a moment at the site of the two men with her aunt. Suddenly with recognition she hitched up her skirts and ran across the expanse that separated them. “Kid!” she yelled as she flung her arms around the stunned young man who had no choice but to return the embrace. “I can’t believe you’re here!” she exclaimed breathlessly, gently pushing away from him to stare up at the baby blue eyes, memorizing every sparkle, every line and every curl.
“Hannibal? Why don’t you take the horses down to the corral so they can at least get a drink then you two can come on in and sit down for awhile,” Phoebe invited again. “I’ll cut you each a piece of pie. I’d even let you stay for supper.”
The two men exchanged looks, with a grin Kid gathered the horses reins, “I’ll take care of them, Heyes,” and he led them toward the corral with Isabella smiling by his side.
“Do you think I could have a cup of that weak stuff you call coffee, too?” Heyes teased as they walked through the doorway. Phoebe laughed as she walked to the stove to heat the coffee. Heyes followed close behind her, “Does Matthew know?” he asked keeping his voice low.
“Yes, Matthew knows and I am very grateful he is not here, Hannibal. He would turn you in to the sheriff in an instant.” Turning to Heyes and looking deep into the dark eyes Phoebe continued as she placed a protective hand on his chest, “You must be careful about coming here ever again.” Her own blue eyes clouded with concern. Heyes nodded not liking the fearfulness in her face.
“We’ll leave right now if our being here puts you in harms way,” Heyes had pulled her closer, his hands on her arms. He did not miss her wince at his touch, then looking at the grasp he had on her he discovered the source of her discomfort. There under his thumb, just below the short sleeve of her dress, was a dark purplish discoloration. Searching her face for an explanation, he got one as she turned away, eyes down cast, tugging at her sleeve. “Phoebe, what happened?”
“It’s nothing,” she dodged. She twisted the hot pad she held in her hand.
Hannibal crossed the chasm that separated them, pushed the sleeve up to reveal the telltale mark, he could almost see a perfect hand grip, each fingertip imprinted in Phoebe’s soft flesh leaving a bruising print. The other arm had a matching set. “Nothing?” Hannibal asked in a controlled anger. “I don’t want to see the ones that are something. Did Matthew do this?” His intense stare bore through Phoebe and for a moment she thought she recognized hate in their blackness. She stared back not moving or speaking. “Why, Phoebe? Why would your husband bruise you? Has he hit you as well?”
On the verge of breaking, Phoebe looked away then stiffened her back and sighed before meeting the outlaw’s penetrating glare, “It’s not your concern, Hannibal. Don’t worry yourself with any of it. It was an accident.”
Hannibal noticed she dodged answering his questions therefore avoiding the need to lie to him. He did not truly believe she would lie, at least not face to face like this. But he could not accept the matter as she described it and wondered who she considered had the accident - herself for being within Matthew’s grasp or Matthew for loosing control. But she was right, it was not his concern. He was no more than a stranger to her and he wasn’t in much of a position to do anything about it. Yet, he felt obligated to her and the thought of her being hurt by her own husband turned his stomach. Perhaps it was best she didn’t tell him about the circumstances surrounding the bruises.
“So, how have things been ‘round here, Isabella?” Kid asked the young woman as she opened the gate allowing him to walk the horses through.
“Been busy, what with the baby coming in a few months and the garden ripe for harvest. Phoebe tires easily though she tries to keep up with everything. I’ve been trying to take over as much as possible but then she gets moody about me stepping in. I know she doesn’t mean to get snippy. And then there’s Matthew…,” Isabella didn’t complete her thoughts but fell silent.
Kid slipped the bridles from the horses then turned his attention to Isabella. “What about Matthew?” he asked cautiously.
Isabella stared into the blue eyes that seemed to match the sky that day, swallowed hard then continued to confide in the befriended outlaw. “He’s changed so in the last year, Jed He’s been so hateful to me lately…and Phoebe. He’s angry all the time or so it seems. And he leaves us alone more and more.”
“Maybe he is nervous about becoming a father and the new responsibilities that will bring,” Kid offered but remembered Heyes’ bad feeling about the man and his own thoughts about the absent wagon tracks that day in the snow.
“Maybe,” Isabella agreed not willing to say any more. But Kid could hear the doubt and concern in that one word. He reached out to her, placing his arm around her shoulder pulling her close to him. He was rather unsure how to truly treat this innocent girl; his experiences with “honest” women had been limited. She nestled up to him laying her head on his chest drawing in a deep breath before letting out an equally deep sigh. She tilted her head to look up at the outlaw and found him looking down into her sadden gray eyes. He leaned forward so slightly as his hands found the back of her head and gently lifted her until her lips met his.
Phoebe was thankful for the diversion the younger couple created when they entered the house. Their gaiety lifted the solemn mood that she and Heyes had been sharing. The four of them were soon sitting at the table drinking coffee while Phoebe handed out pieces of pie.
“Did you two really lead that train robbery a few months ago?” Isabella asked excitedly between bites of pie.
“Izzy!” Phoebe reprimanded glaring at the younger woman from the opposite side of the table.
“A few months ago?” Kid looked across the table at Heyes quizzically, pie paused in mid-air.
“Mmm,” Heyes wiped his mouth with a checkered napkin. “She’s thinking of the Union Pacific out by Laramie.” Heyes answered in mock business fashion.
“Oh,” Kid smiled with boyish glee. “Yeah, Izzy, Heyes planned that one and led the gang through the job. Sometimes his plans actually go as planned and that one worked real fine. He even got to open a safe. Or should I say he even got a safe open.”
“You mean there have been others?” Isabella ignored the intense look she was still receiving from her aunt.
“Oh, yeah,” Heyes nodded casually.
“We’ve been riding with Big Santana and the Devil’s Hole Gang for several years but Santana’s servin’ time now so Heyes is in charge of the Gang.” Kid seemed right proud of his cousin’s appointment.
Phoebe quietly ate her pie and looked at these men through new eyes. Still she could not picture them being thieves, wanted men by the law. Then she remembered the flash of hatred she had read in Heyes eyes earlier and she began to believe the possibilities of him being dangerous might exist. As much as she liked and wanted to trust them she should be more careful. She was beginning to truly doubt her ability to judge human character.
Moriah grabbed another box and headed for the hall closet. Actual moving day was still two weeks away but she intended to start moving the smaller items as soon as they got possession in three days. Michael had not been hard to convince to buy the property, in fact she found herself questioning him and his quick decision.
“I thought you liked this property!” Michael said in exasperation after a particular annoying grilling by her as they were getting ready for work in their bedroom on the day they were to sign the contract.
“I do, Michael,” she admitted as she wrapped her arms around his neck, threading her fingers through his dark curly hair. “It’s a dream come true. I just can’t believe you love it, too. I thought I would have to convince you of all of it’s charms.”
“The place has more than charm and I am tired of telling you all about it’s wonderful attributes,” his arms were around her waist sliding down the contours of her body pulling her into him. “Now will you shut up about it?” he asked softly as his lips covered her mouth forcing her into silence.
She smiled now at the memory as she carefully filled the box with the closet contents.
“Are you sure you can not stay for supper?” Phoebe asked trailing Hannibal as he and Kid with Isabella by his side walked out on the porch. Kid and Isabella paused long enough to hear Heyes’ answer before they strolled off the porch towards the corral.
“I’m sorry, Phoebe, but we should go so we can get to Cheyenne before nightfall.” Heyes gently pulled Phoebe by the hand towards the pair of rocking chairs stationed at the end of the porch. Her hand seemed small and frail in his. He stopped in front of the chairs, turning to face Phoebe, he looked deep into her sorrowful eyes, “I wish I could take you away from here. Away from whatever evil lives here with you.”
“There’s no evil here, Hannibal,” Phoebe whispered her eyes scanning the handsome features of the dark outlaw. “Don’t punish yourself with my affairs. I shall manage them.”
Suddenly he found his hands cradling her chin between their palms, his fingers feeling along her jaw line turning her face upward, then became entwined in the loose hair at the back of her neck. He leaned forward and brushed her lips with his, testing their feel. Receiving no objections from Phoebe, he moved against her feeling the rounded abdomen press into him, her firm breasts just touching him as he took her mouth with his own tasting the spices from the pie still lingering on her lips and on her tongue. Her hands worked their way along his spine pulling him tighter against her. Breaking away from her hungry exploring tongue, kissing his way to her ear he whispered, “He is a fool, Phoebe, to not appreciate what he has.” She bent her head down resting it against his chest, the rhythm of his heart echoing in her ear, her eyes closed, lashes thick with dampness, her hands digging into his shoulders, holding him against her.
They remained so for just a few seconds longer when the child within her moved with a roll causing Heyes to loosen his grip. His eyes held wide amazement as he looked into her own sparkling eyes causing her to break into a shy grin. “Was that the baby?” his astonishment apparent. She only nodded and while staring into the intelligent eyes she placed his hand on her full stomach rubbing his hand against the hard knot that was surely the child’s behind. This time it responded with a definite kick. Heyes eyes grew wider then he rubbed Phoebe’s abdomen again and under her guidance moved his hand more to the side and was rewarded with yet another turning by the child. Heyes looked up into Phoebe’s face to find her smiling contentedly at him, her own eyes full of wonder.
“Isn’t it simply amazing?” she asked with a genuine innocence.
“God, yes!” Heyes replied his hand still resting on her stomach, her fingers loosely entwined in his. His enthusiasm both warmed and disheartened her. This man who was relatively a stranger to her, with no more bond to her other than she cared for him during an illness was excited about the child growing within her. But her own husband, the father of the child, would do no better than show indifference. Perhaps the difference was the level of commitment that was expected from them, but somehow she didn’t believe that was it.
Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Heyes turned his head to see Kid and Isabella strolling towards them leading the horses and he involuntarily took a step back away from Phoebe but tightening the hold on her hand.
“Heyes, have you forgotten the reason we stopped by?” Kid asked with a smirk as he tied the horses to the post by the porch.
“You had a reason?” Phoebe asked worriedly. “I thought you just wanted food and good company.”
“Well, those are the real reasons but I manufactured one as well,” the deep brown eyes smiled and he gave her hand a squeeze before releasing it. Her heart sank as he stepped away leaving only the warm August air close to her. She curiously took a step or two in his direction but stopped on the top step of the porch. Hannibal had retrieved a package from his saddle bag as Kid handed him a similar parcel from his own bag. He turned them carefully in his hands then handed one of the brown bundles to Isabella then approached Phoebe with the other.
“It isn’t much, but I remember how much my mother and aunt loved getting new dresses and …” he awkwardly presented the other package to Phoebe. “It’s not a dress right now, Phoebe, but the colors made me think of you.”
“Hope one of you can sew cause Heyes din’t have time to stitch ‘em together,” Kid added.
Isabella tore open her package to reveal a beautiful piece of blue cloth with small white flowers on it, enough to produce a frock for her. Phoebe carefully unbound her bundle to find a bolt of brown fabric with tiny yellow roses. It was a more expensive fabric than what Phoebe was used to and it draped gracefully over her hand.
“Why?” she asked stunned.
“Because you were so kind. Both of you. You didn’t have to be and there are plenty who would tell you that you shouldn’t have been,” Kid’s blue eyes were sincere.
“Including your own husband,” Heyes voiced knowing that it was true.
Phoebe hugged the material to her breast in the hopes of holding back the tears that were begging to spill from her eyes. She dared not look up into the dark eyes before her. New clothes were a luxury and with her expanding girth it was something greatly needed.
“Thank you!” Isabella exclaim as she rushed to give Jedidiah a warm hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. Phoebe witnessed the act of affection than realized it was her turn to express her appreciation of the gift.
“I don’t know what to say,” she started, her brow furrowed with concentration, her fingers nervously working at the fabric. She felt Heyes move closer, his touch stopped her fingers.
“There’s no need for you to say anything; it’s me who is showing the gratitude. But if you feel compelled to say something ‘You’re welcome’ would be acceptable.”
His soft baritone brought her to look up and focus on his handsome face. She took notice of the angular jaw, the upturned nose and the dark penetrating eyes. A smile crept tentatively to her face, “You are most welcome, Hannibal Heyes.”
He grasped her hand and pressed its palm to his lips the same way he had done that day in the bedroom, his eyes again holding her captive with their enigmatic stare. Then he carefully and purposefully placed her hand upon the rolling form that was her child. Turning quickly he descended the stairs, checked his tack then gathered his horse’s reins and mounted.
Sensing the quick departure, Kid had pulled a willing Isabella to him and leaned into her giving her a respectable kiss. “Goodbye, Isabella,” he said softly before mounting and tipping his hat to her.
“Take good care of yourself, Mrs. Yates,” Heyes instructed the farmer’s wife wishing he knew if she would be taken good care of.
“So must you, Mr. Heyes,” she returned wondering how long until a posse or a bullet caught up with the young outlaw.
With a tip of their hats and a nudging to their horses they were gone from the yard taking the day’s hot summer sun with them, leaving the long shadows of early evening behind.
Moriah let out a deep sigh as she set the laden box down on the floor next to the bed. As she straightened she peered out of the lace covered window down to the log cabin. She pushed the curtain back and rested her head against the window frame thinking about the small building. It was what drew her to this land but in her busyness she had not even been out there since getting the keys to the place. What had they done with those keys anyway? She pulled her key ring from her pocket jingling the metal pieces against each other. She shuffled through them, mentally naming the locks they open until finally coming to one that appeared from another time. Surely there was a better lock on that cabin than what the key in her hand suggested. Deciding the box could wait a few minutes to be unpacked or another box was set beside it, she bound down the stairs and headed straight out the back door before anyone could send her off on a side track.
The air smelled of snow, though none had fallen yet that day, the sky was full of clouds expectantly heavy and dark. Winter lay in their moisture. Moriah fumbled with the keys, shivering against the wind. She should have grabbed her heavy coat. Finally the lock gave in to her intrusion, the door groaning at her entrance. She quickly shut the door behind her back, her eyes scanning the cluttered cabin that now belonged to her. The contract stipulated that the contents of the cabin could not be removed or sold without the approval of the former owners until the cabin inventory had been reviewed by both parties. Mrs. Adams had requested a spring date for this to take place, until then Phoebe had asked if she could explore. Mrs. Adams had agreed, her trust of the woman being unexplainable.
She didn’t know where to begin, so she started with the walls and the few pictures that were displayed there. There was a photo she guessed to be a wedding photo taken around the turn of the century. And a group photo from the 40’s. There were also some sketches, very fine and detailed drawings of horses, the cabin and a few of people. All were signed by Isabella or IFHall. Moriah studied the portraits, one was of a stunning young woman, another of young man with a soft smile then a small one of couple of children who were all smiles from laughter.
She took her time inspecting the sketches, especially the one of the woman as it seemed to be the one that had taken the artist the most time; the details were exquisite. Moriah touched the frame and found that it swung easily in its place on the wall. Gingerly she reached to remove it from its peg, turning the frame over in her hands to discover the name ‘Phoebe’ scrawled across one corner on the back of the frame. “Phoebe,” Moriah echoed aloud, the sound of the name raising the hairs along the back of her neck and sending a rapid electrical charge down her back. She turned the frame over again in her hands to stare into the obviously light colored eyes. Moriah would have to describe the subject as beautiful, delicate, angelic. A graceful easy smile adorned the soft features as if she knew the best secret. Her darker hair was pulled back and away from her face as stray hairs feathered across her youthful forehead the rest falling away in easy waves cascading down her back. Moriah touched her fingertip to the glass that covered the drawing.
“So, here you are!”
Moriah drew a quick breath and emitted a small startled gasp. She looked up to see Michael standing in the cabin doorway.
“Are you okay?” he asked concerned.
“I’m fine, you just startled me.” Moriah turned to hang the sketch back in its space on the wall. “I was just taking a short break and decided to come poke around.” She felt like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“Hmmm,” Michael hummed, “I was wondering how long you would be able to stay away from here.” He moved inside and shut the door. “You should at least start a fire if you are going to be in here. It’s too cold in here as it is.”
“I’ve got to get back to the house and work. There will be plenty of time to spend out here later.” Moriah walked towards Michael and the door carrying the details of the sketch with her. She grabbed Michael’s hand as she walked past him, pulled him back through the door, and locked it behind them.
“Good Lord, Doc! Can’t you give her something or do something to make her stop that insipid moaning?” Matthew’s own whining was punctuated by another of Phoebe’s gut wrenching torturous low moans.
“What did you think labor would involve, Matthew?” the well seasoned doctor asked the impatient and insensitive man.
“I don’t think I can listen to that much longer,” Matthew threw an impatient hand in the air in the direction of the bed where Phoebe lay. She turned restlessly, perspiration trickling from her forehead. Isabella glanced in Matthew’s direction while wiping the sweat from Phoebe’s face. Doctor Beck moved towards the man pushing him towards the bedroom door.
“Then I suggest you leave, Matthew, because this baby looks to be a long time in coming. And it’s only going to get worse. Maybe you best just go to the saloon in town or maybe even your ‘other home’,” the doctor’s tone was unforgiving and ended in a biting tone. Isabella ears strained to hear more of the exchange.
Matthew’s green eyes narrowed, glaring at the older and smaller man, “What are you accusing me of, Doc?”
“Not accusing you of anything. Just trying to look after my patient and you, sir, are an annoyance the three of us don’t need right now.” The doctor continued his mission of herding the self-centered man towards the cabin door. “Perhaps the barn would suit you then,” the doctor again offered. “Anywhere Phoebe can not hear your belly-achin’ would be fine with me.”
With a quieter but none less threatening voice Matthew tried again, “What do you mean ‘other home’?”
Dr. Beck looked the younger man in the eye with more confidence than Matthew had ever expected, “You know what I mean,” he answered calmly rather hoping Phoebe could hear the exchange. He felt she had a right to know where the father of her child headed once away from his homestead. “I’ve taken care of the matters there before, but I won’t do it ever again. You’ve no right to ruin these women’s lives like this.”
Isabella listened intently trying to make heads or tales of the conversation. Phoebe must be straining to hear as well as she seemed to be holding her breath and breathing heavier in an effort to thwart the moans.
Matthew looked back at the bedroom catching Isabella’s sober stare through the open doorway. “I’ll be in town,” he announced with decision. “Either send Issie or come get me yourself when it’s all done.” He snatched his heavy coat and shoved his hat on his head as he slammed the cabin door.
Returning to the bedroom and his patient the doctor heard Phoebe let out a deep sigh. She fingered a trailing tear then sniffled. “He didn’t even say good-bye,” she whispered without looking at either of the people in the room. “Maybe there was more evil here than I knew of.” With the beginnings of another contraction her attention was drawn away from the man that had left.
“Heyes!” Kid nudged his cousin in the back. Heyes slowly turned from the bar to look in the same direction as Kid. There half way across the crowded smoke filled saloon was Matthew Yates slinging whiskey carelessly about as he spoke loudly to the man across the table from him. At the same time he managed to keep a rather strong looking grip on the saloon girl who squirmed in his lap.
“Doesn’t look much like a lowly rancher awaiting the birth of his first child,” Kid observed.
“Nope. Looks more like the kind of man who might take to beating his pregnant wife,” Heyes replied coldly. His eyes narrowed as he watched the man. “Kid?”
“Why would a man who has such a good woman for a wife at home spend his time here with a whore?”
“Maybe his wife’s not affectionate or giving him what he wants,” Kid supplied as an answer.
Heyes shook his head slowly, “No, she’s affectionate and she has passion. He seems to reject her attentions.” Heyes dark eyes seemed glued to man flirting and caressing the overly plump saloon girl. His hand was traveling up the woman’s shortened red and black dress. The woman was doing some caressing of her own and planted a big sloppy kiss on Matthew. Heyes downed the rest of his drink, set the empty glass down on the bar and moved forward.
“Heyes,” Kid called calmly after him but his older cousin kept going.
“Good evening Mr. Yates,” Heyes greeted the man behind the woman offering a mock smile in the most congenial manner.
Yates broke off the long wet kiss and pushed the woman back so he could see who was addressing him. Through the haze of whiskey he recognized the man who had occupied his bed about seven months before sick with fever.
“Heyes, you’re looking well,” Yates slurred.
“Are you in town buying supplies for winter?” Heyes continued smiling.
“Naw!” Yates spat the word out. “I had to get out of the house, Phoebe was moaning and groaning so it was grating on my nerves and the Doc said it was going to be a long hard labor…,” he winked at the saloon girl who was tickling his neck.
Heyes’ eyes flashed a warning of danger at Matthew but the man was either too stupid or too drunk to heed the message.
“Izzy will come and get me when it’s over and the screaming stopped. Makes me angry to hear a woman scream.” With that he delivered a hard pinch to the backside of the girl in his lap. Hard enough she let out an Ow and shifted positions.
“Yeah,” Heyes acknowledged as he grasped the woman by the arm and pulled her up from Matthew’s lap leading her to stand away from the man. “I don’t like it when a woman is hurt either.” He reached down and pulled Matthew to his feet. The other man at the table pushed back but said nothing.
Heyes looked at the older sorry man, studied his blood shot bleary eyes, “Are you telling me, Mr. Yates, that Phoebe is home giving birth to your child while you are here getting drunk and buying another woman’s affections?” His tone was even and dead, the slightly inebriated man studied him for awhile trying to place some bit of information he had about this man.
“What’s it matter to you?” he answered flatly.
“It’s not enough that you ignore your wife, but you beat her, even when she is pregnant and then leave when she could really use your presence. What kind of man are you?” Heyes dark face was close to the man, speaking in a low stern voice his eyebrows knit together.
A shadow moved across Matthew’s face, “Beat? What do you know of how I treat my wife?” The red eyes turned green again as the thought of this man visiting his wife unbeknownst to him crossed his foggy mind and suddenly he raised his arm in an effort to teach this man a lesson. The hand swung at air but the punch that connected to his jaw pushed him back into the chair leaving him out cold. Heyes turned to look at the saloon girl who honored him with an ‘hrrmphf!’ and she disgustedly moved across the room.
“I didn’t know Matt is married and expecting a baby,” the other man at the table confessed. He looked up at Heyes with mild agreement at his action.
“Feel better?” Heyes heard Kid ask as he walked back towards the bar where he paid his bill before leaving the saloon. Heyes gave him a shrug of his shoulders as he headed down the boardwalk at a quick pace.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” Kid asked as he quicken his own pace to keep up with Heyes long strides.
“I don’t know but we’ve got to get out of here.”
“Huh? We just got here, Heyes!” Kid obviously wanted to appeal Heyes’s decision.
“He knows who we are and what we are, Kid, and when he comes to he’s going to be ready to pay me back. The first place he will go is to the sheriff. Then if he has anything good in him, he should go home.” Heyes seemed to be rethinking his action already, but it still couldn’t erase how good it felt hitting that man.
“What about the rest of the gang, Heyes? We just going to ride off and leave them?” Kid stuffed his belonging into his saddlebag in the dimly lit room.
“We will have to get word to them, Kid, to meet us back at the Hole. Just tell them we met an old foe and had to leave town.” Heyes slung his own belongings over his shoulder. “I’ll get the horses while you deliver the word.”
“What? Why me?” the Kid protested. “They will want to know who and why…”
“Okay, let’s flip a coin,” Heyes pulled out the decision maker from a pocket. “Call it Kid.” The coin went flying into the air.
“Heads!” Curry called only to see the coin land tales up on the rented room’s floor. “Pick me up at the saloon, Heyes. And do me a favor Heyes,”
“What’s that, Kid?”
“Don’t get involved with anyone again.” Kid stepped from the room, waiting for Heyes to join him.
Phoebe was weary from the relentless pains of labor. She silently prayed for an end, either delivery or death and for now she was hoping His answer would be death. She was so tired…
“Phoebe,” the doctor’s voice penetrated the darkness that Phoebe was retreating to. “Phoebe, come on, Phoebe. It’s almost over!” Her body responded to the doctor’s gentle urgings as she became aware of a different sensation, a pressing, lots of pressure; and she rallied from her nearly unconscious state to respond to it.
Isabella patiently wiped her brow, leaning in close to her ear whispered pleadingly, “Phoebe, you can do it, please! I need you Phoebe. Don’t let go, Phoebe.” The young woman grasped her aunt’s clammy limp hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. The return grip was one of pain.
Phoebe forced her eyes open and with a grunt reacted to the pushing contraction. “That’s it, Phoebe! Push!” the doctor encouraged her. She strained with the contraction pushing with every ounce of strength she had left. When the urge faded she frowned with disappointment and despair. “Rest for a minute, Phoebe,” Dr. Beck instructed. “It will be time to push again real soon.” She could only nod her head in understanding.
Where do souls come from? Moriah sat on the edge of the bed she shared with her sister to contemplate the mysteries of life. Why is a spoon called a spoon and not a fork? What would it be like to be a dog? And what about souls? The eight year old debated the cosmic chance of her own identity with herself. If her mother had married someone else or she had conceived in a different year, or month, day, hour or even minute - Moriah would not be and she would have another human existence. The possibility that Moriah existed and not another personality seemed as probable as finding a specific grain of sand on a beach. Yet there she was.
But what about the soul? Would she have the same soul no matter what body? Where does it reside before receiving a body of flesh? Where does it go afterward?
“Moriah?” There was a soft nudge of her shoulder.
“Umphf?” Moriah rolled over on the bed and shielded her eyes from the intruding bright overhead light. “Oh, Michael! I guess I feel asleep, I’m sorry!”
“That’s okay, Moriah, you must have been tired.” Michael sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you okay? You were doing a lot of mumbling.”
“I’m all right, just dreaming some.” Moriah rubbed the memory from her eyes and rose from the bed. “Guess I had better fix some supper, huh?” But as she left the room still hazy from the dream, she shivered wondering if her children ever considered such thoughts.
Kid pushed past the unsteady cowboy who was stumbling from the liveliness of the saloon. It appeared that Matthew was still out, his chair pushed closer to the table removing him slightly from the traffic that passed by the table; his friend had abandoned him but the saloon girl had returned to gently pat at his face. Looking past them, Kid made out the familiar figures of Wheat and Kyle at a back table trying their hands at some poker with a few of the other gang members and a couple of strangers.
“Hey, Kid!” Wheat greeted the younger man. “Where’s Heyes, how’s come he’s not back here winnin’ all the money?”
Kid grinned at the seasoned ‘second bandit’ as Kyle liked to refer to Wheat. “Well, you know Heyes. Seems he’s got himself in a bit of a confrontation a little earlier, so it looks like we’re going to be heading out earlier than planned.”
“I tole you it was Heyes that laid that man out, Wheat! You jest think I make this stuff up but I ain’t. He jest picked ‘em up outa that chair, that feller swung at ‘em and POW! Heyes put ‘em down! Ain’t that right, Kid?” Kyle looked to Curry for conformation.
“That’s right Kyle,” Kid answered the eager man quietly.
“So yer leavin’?” Wheat looked to Kid to see if there was something that Kyle didn’t or shouldn’t know.
Kid glanced around the table to see who was there that shouldn’t be hearing this conversation, but one of the strangers had left when he had arrived at the table and the other was busy entertaining a young woman who had just served him a drink. “Yeah, Wheat, we’ll meet up with you in a couple of days back at the Hole. How’s come you all are playing each other instead of spreading out and playing with strangers? You don’t win any new money this way.”
“True, Kid,” Wheat nodded his head with slow agreement, “But, we don’t lose none to strangers, either. So’s we figure we at least break even cause we can win it back from each other at a later date.”
Kid smiled at the group with mild amusement to their logic. Tapping on the table he dismissed himself, “See you all later.” And he turned to leave. He turned just in time to see Matthew rub his jaw tentatively as he scanned the room clearly searching the crowd for the source of his pain. Kid tried to move back toward the door without drawing the man’s attention, but…
“You there!” Matthew’s voice was unsteady but loud. “Kid!” the name was spit out like a plug of bad tobacco.
Kid’s attempt to leave unnoticed was halted by the booming voice. He thought of making a dash for the door, swinging on his horse and heading out of town as fast as the beast could carry him, but with his luck, Heyes wouldn’t be out there yet with the required transportation. Kid stopped his exodus to face the annoying man who was clumsily working his way toward Curry, knocking over a chair or two and making one man spill the contents of his glass on himself. Kid thought of slipping out during the ruckus that was sure to follow but Matthew just kept pushing on through the room, never taking his glazed eyes from the prize which was Curry.
“You and your cousin been visiting my women folk? And don’t go lyin’ to me, boy!” The man stopped about ten feet away from Kid leaving a table between them.
“I don’t intend to lie to you Mr. Yates but if we have something to discuss, let’s do so like gentleman.” The three men seated at the table between Yates and Curry took this as a cue for them to hastily go to the bar for refills.
“Now I don’t hardly think of you as no gentleman, Curry. And I intend to keep you from ever goin’ near my place again.” The farmer puffed up a might and jerked the loosely hung gun belt into an acceptable place.
Kid, who stood with arms folded across his chest his right gloved hand resting lightly on the opposite arm, took note of the motion. Several more nearby tables cleared and Kid responded by slowly removing his right hand glove, tugging gently at each fingertip until the leather relented and slid from the hand. He absently tucked the glove into his belt, never letting his eyes leave the farmer. “Mr. Yates, I’m sure we can talk about this…”
Sweat beaded on Matthew’s brow from the smoothness the Kid displayed; he swallowed hard and drew, aiming for the outlaw’s heart. The shot rang out, leaving a cloud of smoke, the stench of gunpowder and pain. Matthew’s face registered a look of disbelief and agony as his gaze traveled away from the cold steel blue eyes of the shootist to his own arm where his hand hung limp and bloodied.
“Better get that man a doctor,” Kid advised the bartender as he resumed his exit from the saloon. It wasn’t until he was through the doorway that the irony of the situation reached Kid, the doctor was at Matthew’s homestead attending his wife’s childbirth.
“What’s going on, Kid?” Heyes asked his solemn partner as he mounted his horse.
“’Fraid I just ruined my welcome at the Yates’ homestead, Heyes. But you won’t need to worry about Mr. Yates hurting Phoebe with his right hand for a while.”
“It’s a boy, Phoebe!” Isabella announced with weary enthusiasm, the long labor finally ending. Phoebe lay back in the bed silently crying hot tears of joy and exhaustion. She closed her eyes briefly then opened them immediately pushing herself up in the bed. Why was it so quiet?
“What’s wrong?” Phoebe mustered a whisper eyeing Dr. Beck and his feverish motions being expended on the small body in his hands. Phoebe’s eyes darted to Isabella who still clung to her hand, her mouth agape and eyes tearing. Phoebe shook the hand as vigorously as she could, “Izzy, what’s going on? What’s wrong with my baby?”
Isabella leaned down to speak softly to Phoebe, unable to take her eyes from the horror that was playing out before her. “I don’t know, Phoebe, but I don’t think the baby is breathing!”
Kid’s youthful bones and muscles complained about the cold hard ground that Heyes had finally relented to let them bed down on. He moaned as he rolled from his back to his side closest to the fire. The smell of Heyes’ strong coffee permeated the thick early morning air. Heyes was seated across the fire from him, feverishly writing on a small piece of paper with a scrap of a pencil. Stretching his arms with a yawn, Kid then wiped the sleep from his eyes, squinting at the engaged Heyes. “Heyes? What are you doing?”
“Planning our next move, Kid.”
Sitting up, Kid blinked, “Looks like you are writing a letter.”
“Uh-huh,” Heyes answered nonchalantly.
Kid reached for the coffee pot and poured the strong concoction into his cup. “You’re going to mail our next move to the gang? Isn’t that rather a waste of time? Who’s going to read it? Kyle?” Kid smiled to himself at the thought.
Heyes hesitated with his writing, gazed at Kid with a confounded look, “What?”
“What do you mean ‘What?’? You said you are planning our next move, then you said you are writing a letter. Who are you going to send our next move to?” Kid ‘pooed’ at the thick hot substance before he ventured to take a drink then shut his eyes tightly and curled his lips as the bitter liquid burned all the way to his stomach.
Heyes watched with consternation, “I’m not writing our next move,” he clarified. “I’m writing a letter. I’m planning our next move as I write the letter. Why would I…? Oh, never mind!” Heyes through with the conversation returned to the piece of paper and his letter writing.
Moriah stood with her back to the biting wind as she persuaded the ancient lock to grant her entrance into the cabin. Michael had taken the children into town to attend a child’s birthday party at a pizza parlor equipped with all of the token hungry games that could be squeezed in and still leave room to actually eat pizza. He was a honey to offer to accompany the children allowing Moriah to have several hours of uninterrupted exploring time. She nearly ran out the back door as soon as the kids were buckled in their seats and Michael pulled out of the garage. Moriah pushed the door shut making sure the old latch caught. Turning slowly to revel in the realization that this was indeed her place to come to whenever she wanted, she was awed by the simple sight of fine dust particles floating in the streaks of sun rays. The early afternoon sun filtered through the windows giving the interior a warm inviting glow. She leaned with her back against the door, closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to imagine the people who first called this building home. Why were they so important to her?
She had decided to start near the door and methodically work her way around the cabin, clockwise. The items closest to her were some wraps hanging on pegs by the door, a heavy gray winter coat, a sweater and a black shawl, all vintage and all in amazingly good condition. Next was a wooden rocking chair laden with a comforter and a small silk throw pillow with fringe. Beside the chair was a small square table covered with a tatted cloth held in place with an oil lamp with a tall, slender hurricane chimney. Between the chair and the table on the wall was the photograph of a young couple, the one that Moriah presumed to be a wedding photo. Moriah fingered the table cloth while she examined the photo again, then as though someone tapped her on the shoulder, she turned to look at the table with a new awareness, a familiarity. She bent down to take a closer look at the cloth with the intricate lacy sewing, then she gently lifted the cloth to look at the actual table. Her hand stopped in midair along with her breathing. There on a shelf under the cloth lay a large, well-worn leather covered family Bible.
Moriah felt as though she had uncovered a family heirloom, her family heirloom. Gingerly she picked up the volume brushing the thin layer of dust from its cover with her hand. The soft leather was cracked with age and the gilded pages were thin but supple. The book felt warm and comfortable in her hands. Carefully Moriah thumbed through the front pages reading the inscriptions and admiring the 19th century illustrations. The middle section contained the family pages with the recordings of marriages, births, and deaths but the thing that caught Moriah’s interest were the slips of paper carefully folded and tucked into the inside of the back cover. One fell from its protective tomb and swiftly drifted to the floor at Moriah’s feet. She bent to pick it up then pulled the rocker around towards the table and gently settled in its aged seat. Placing the Bible in her lap, she turned her attention to the fallen sheet, carefully unfolding the page. Moriah could not help but stare at the image before her and thinking that sometime, somewhere she had seen this drawing before. There in the center of the paper was a sketch, this one of a fair-haired man with laughing light colored eyes.
She studied the sketch carefully, drinking in the details of the handsome young man, the youthful features, the curly hair, and the light colored eyes, not much more than a teenager. Just a kid… Kid? Moriah’s heart raced at the thought and she turned the word over in her mind again as she transfixed on the smiling eyes. The she flipped the page over hoping for a clue. There on the back of the sketch was a single name - Jed. This name did nothing for her but left her pondering her first feeling of familiarity.
She laid the picture on the table and proceeded onto the next piece of paper discovering yet another sketch. “Oh, my God!” escaped Moriah’s lips and she was shocked to hear the words out loud. The dark eyes of the subject seemed to stare up through the paper and through time to look deep into Moriah’s soul. After staring at the eyes for what seemed like an eternity she finally expanded her view to take in the rest of the man’s features. His hair appeared fine and dark to match his eyes, his cheekbones high, nose upturned, and dimples adorned his cheeks. His eyes held a dangerous intelligent sparkle and his smile betrayed a self-assured recklessness. Without looking on the back of the fragile paper Moriah spoke in a breathy whisper, “Hannibal!” Trembling hands hesitantly turned the paper over to display the single name penned in an upper corner. Hannibal.
Phoebe swept the wide board floor with a lackadaisical ambition. Pausing at the bedroom door she absently wiped away the tears that streamed down her face. She had grown accustomed to their presence over the last month. The physical pain of childbirth had faded but the emotional scars from losing that child seemed to extend deep into her heart. Her sense of loss was compounded by Matthew’s decision to send Isabella to Cheyenne to work for a ‘fine family’ while attending a girl’s school. Indentured was the word that came to Phoebe’s mind and she voiced her concern, but to no avail. Matthew was adamant about Isabella ‘making something of herself’ but Phoebe knew it was just his excuse to be free of the girl. Phoebe didn’t even know for which of her loses she mourned more but she realized that Matthew’s attempt at patience would not last much longer, but she could not muster the notion to care.
The only thing that had managed to get her total attention since the birth of her son was a mysterious letter that Matthew had delivered to her after escorting Isabella to her new home in Cheyenne. Matthew just tossed the envelope at her upon entering the cabin and muttered something about “a letter from your cousin, Hannah”. The small envelope was addressed in neat tight handwriting; the flap wagged unsealed. The contents contained a letter composed by the same methodical hand. Phoebe noted the date, the day after the birth of her son, and read the contents with puzzlement.
“But..” she caught herself before saying more. She didn’t have a cousin Hannah. She reread the letter.
I realize that has been an eternity since our last meeting so I pray that you still recall my name. A long time ago we shared some afternoons together conversing, giggling, and sharing thoughts about romance. My mother always told me that kinship is the most important tie that binds and one never forgets those who are kin, so when I heard, through a recent acquaintance, that you had married and were expecting your first child I felt compelled to contact you. I pray that you are happy and safe. My desire is to visit with you and your new family but alas! I am traveling for a time with my own dear kin. Our travels will be taking us far from your area for a while with no place to collect mail so I’m afraid you will not be able to respond to this post. But be assured that you are in my heart.
Hannah B(elle) Day
P.S. The same acquaintance mentioned that your husband just recently had his hand injured. I hope it is not serious.
She folded the letter, returned it to its envelope and stuffed it in the pocket of her apron. She eyed Matthew who was favoring his injured hand while he stoked the fire. She still wondered what really happened to the hand, but not enough to start a conversation. She was sure that the story of a bar fight was not the complete truth but the bruise that had been along his jaw seemed to confirm it. Right now she was thankful he did not seem to care about the contents of the letter, which he obviously read since he knew it was from Cousin Hannah. Hannah Belle Day. Or… Hannibal Heyes.
She thought of the letter now and felt its envelope safely tucked in her pocket. She pulled it from the folds of material and touched the paper to her cheek smelling its fiber, imagining the hand that wrote the words stroking her cheek. The thought of Hannibal caring enough to pen a letter posing as her own cousin so as not to raise the suspicions of her abusive husband touched her deeply and motivated her through her day. Things were going to get better. The letter, though it did not promise anything, seemed to give her hope that her depression was only temporary and that indeed she would be happy and safe, someday.
“Are you cryin’ again?!”
Phoebe jumped at the agitated voice and instantly directed the envelope back into her pocket as she turned to face her husband. She sniffled slightly and again wiped at her face removing the last of the tears.
“I can’t help it, Matthew. I’m so lonely without Isabelle or the baby.” Her lip quivered slightly as she spoke.
“Well, I think it’s time you forgot ‘bout that baby. There will be others. And Isabelle needed to get away from here so she kin meet some nice young men and find herself a husband. She needs to stop pinin’ over that outlaw. An’ its time for you to stop cryin’.”
A soft sniffle answered him.
The hazel eyes snapped under Matthew’s tousled hair. “Didn’t you hear me, woman?!” The left hand popped up with the declaration and struck Phoebe across the right cheek. She backed away from the thunderous man, knowing that her mournful, yet peaceful time was over. And she was up against him on her own now.
“Heyes, you writin’ another letter?” Kid eyed his engrossed cousin with suspicion.
Heyes sat hunched over the table in the leader’s cabin at Devil’s Hole. He continued writing without even acknowledging Kid’s presence.
“Heyes, the gang is gettin’ restless; their ready to pull another job. Tell me you’re working on plans for our next robbery. Is it a bank with a safe to crack or a train that will require dynamite?” Kid worked his way around the room to position himself behind Heyes so he could carefully peer over his cousin’s shoulder hoping to make out the words he was producing in neat but cramped letters. Heyes normally wrote with neat penmanship but with a bit of a flourish. This was small, careful writing, it almost appeared feminine. Kid’s face scrunched up as he tried to make out the words when suddenly Heyes turned to face him.
“You got anything better to do than to read over my shoulder, Kid?” The dark eyes gave no clue to the man’s mood.
“Well, no, not really Heyes,” Kid lamented. “You got a list of supplies for me and the boys to get? How about we go scout some towns and check out the banks?” Kid tossed his gloves down on the table out of boredom, “Come on, Heyes, we ain’t done nothin’ but sit around this Hole for a couple of months now. We’re gettin’ stir crazy.”
“Kid, it’s winter! Hard to make plans for getaways an’ such when you never know when the next storm might blow through! I don’t have much of a hankerin’ to freeze to death; I nearly did that last year. I kind of like it here, thank you.” Heyes’ eyes gleamed with a fire now.
“You’re writtin’ her again, ain’t ya?” Kid’s tone soften and his blue eyes sparkled.
“Who?” Heyes hooted innocently.
“You know who. Phoebe. Mrs. Yates. Remember she’s married, Heyes,” Kid met Heyes’ set stare. “He may not be the nicest fella around but he is her husband.”
A half smile shot across Heyes’ face, the lopsided grin bringing light to the dark features. “I know that Kid.” He draped his hand over the back of his chair. “I’m just concerned about her, she seemed so…”
“What? Married?” Kid shot at his friend.
“No,” Heyes looked toward the floor, “lonely.”
“So, you’ve become pen pals?” Kid jested.
“No, I’ve become her cousin, Hannah,” Heyes smiled completely.
“What?! Her cousin? Hannah? Heyes, are you loco?” Kid glared at Heyes this time.
“See I don’t know if Matthew opens her mail, but I suspect he would, so I’ve become Phoebe’s long lost cousin, Hannah. I can write her all kinds of things under the guise of a related female and Matthew probably won’t care.” Heyes smiled completely satisfied with his deception.
“Do you think she knows who you really are? Or, is she back there wondering why this strange being keeps writing her letters claiming to be her cousin?” Kid was even more suspicious of his cousin’s thinking and well-being.
A clouded look quickly crossed Heyes brow. “She’s pretty bright, I think she will have it figured out.”
“Yeah, she’s bright all right. I haven’t seen any letters from her. Don’t that tell you somethin’, Heyes?” Kid looked his cousin in the eye.
Heyes answered with a seriousness, “She can’t write me back, Kid. I’ve never given her a clue as to where we are other than the letter’s post mark and that I try to change from one town to another. Just in case Matthew does figger it out.”
“So does this mean we’ll be travelin’ to a new town soon?” the Kid asked hoping to revert back to the original topic.
“Soon, Kid, there’s a bank just beggin’ to be robbed near Casper,” Heyes’ smile took over his whole face.
Kid was content to be on trail again with a plan that looked to net them a nice stake to finish out the late winter with. The weather was holding, in fact it was proving to be very spring like. Yet he could read in Heyes’ eyes the concern that it may turn on them as it had last year. “Relax, Heyes, things will go okay. You’ve gone through every detail dozens of times. The weather’s good and you’re healthy!”
Heyes turned to look at Kid with a crooked smile. “Kid, those are my words! Now I am worried!”
“You should trust yourself more, Heyes,” Kid offered with a confidence that alarmed Heyes.
The two of them rode in silence for a while. The other gang members had ridden ahead to straggle into town singularly or in pairs so as to not draw attention to a gang arriving. Kid and Heyes had slowed their pace. They were in no rush to get there until about dusk anyway. Kid noticed that Heyes patted his chest occasionally or would fish inside his coat for something.
“Is that the letter you keep checking on?” Kid inquired. “Guess we better get into town early enough for you to post that. Won’t have much time tomorrow.”
Heyes glared at Kid. But in his pocket he had his third letter to Phoebe ready to post. Heyes was already beginning to think of new topics to write to her about. It was a challenge to write a letter that made sense while staying in character of Phoebe’s cousin. He hoped the messages were getting through to Phoebe and that they made sense to her. He wished there was a way for her to respond so he would know if she and Isabella were okay. Taking a chance, he had included the name of a town that she could send a letter to, telling her that Hannah would be able to pick the letter up while on her travels through that area. The town was far to the south of the gang’s normal stomping ground, well over the border into Colorado. Heyes planned to be there in a month, then if she indicated a need he would stop by her ranch on the way back to Devil’s Hole, hopefully without a posse trailing him.
The dreams started again. She remembered them from childhood. At first they were just a hazy remembrances that she would vaguely recall in the morning. Then they started coming into focus, a few details becoming sharper each night she dreamed them until she just expected the dream, wondering what aspect her subconscious would define for her next. They always started the same way with the feeling of bright radiant sunshine, its yellow glow washing the hillside in its warmth and color. There was a feeling of wind, a light springtime breeze blowing through the trees, moving the young grass in waves over the valley. She could hear water trickling close by; its sound was soothing to her, a euphoric feeling would wash over her. Then panic would grip her as if all hell were breaking loose. This was the part she remembered with the most intensity from her childhood. It was the part that kept her from wanting to be alone at nights as a preschooler and well into her elementary years. She always got the feeling of being in a battle, a bloody, losing battle, but with what or whom she did not know as the dream would end with the crimson color of blood filling her thoughts and leaving her with the overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Her sister would complain to their mother that Moriah kicked and tossed and turned all night, often stealing all of the covers. Occasionally it would work out that Moriah would have a room to herself for a while but then she often cried out and woke the whole family. The restlessness finally seemed to subside when the family’s dog was allowed to spend the night cuddled next to the youngster.
She thought of that devoted little dog now, thankful for his companionship all of those years during which the dream paled. Now Michael had to contend with the restless movements the dream produced each night she had it. But she rarely woke him, instead she would nestle closer, crawling in the safe haven that consisted of placing her head on his strong broad chest, her body pressed against his while his arm securely wrapped around her. She felt protected there and found the courage to actually want to have the dream in hopes of discovering its meaning. Still the most important parts seemed to eluded her.
The gang rode into the small mountain town a few at a time over a day’s time. It was just as Heyes had described it, small, unassuming, and south of the Wyoming border. Heyes had instructed Kyle to pick up a letter as soon as he arrived in town and then to proceed to the saloon where he and Kid would meet them all upon arrival.
Kyle took his assignment as one of import, paramount to the operations of the robbery. So within minutes of tying his horse in front of the prearranged saloon, Kyle strolled down the street to the commerce that boasted being the Post Office.
“Ya got any letters for H. B. Day?” Kyle inquired at the counter. The clerk’s eyes narrowed as he tried to place the scruffy man with hair poking out from under his hat like a scarecrow’s.
“You be H.B.?” the clerk asked back as he turned to pull the letter from its pigeon hole.
“Naw, I’m H.B.’s brother, K.M.,” Kyle parroted what Heyes had instructed adding a smile of stained teeth.
The clerk glanced at the letter addressed to H.B. Day, % K.M. Day, Livermore, Colorado. Unwilling he handed the letter over to the dust covered cowboy who immediately tucked the envelope into his shirt pocket and nodded his head before walking out the door grinning like a cat that just swallowed the canary.
“Anyone following him Kid?” Heyes asked over the shoulder of his partner. Kid was peering through the curtain of their hotel room to the street below, keeping his eye tethered to Kyle but scanning the whole street for any evasive movement.
“Nope, Heyes, not a soul seems to be interested in our friend Kyle and that damned letter,” Kid didn’t even pretend to hide his dislike for this whole charade. Kid seemed to be right as the two pairs of eyes continued to watch the street for several more minutes.
“Uh-oh,” Heyes let escape as he witnessed Wheat emerge from the town bank then stomp up the street toward the saloon.
“What do you mean uh-oh? Heyes!” Kid swung around to see his cousin don his hat, already half way out the door.
“I’ll see you at the saloon, Kid.” And he was gone, leaving the door open behind him. Kid could hear him running down the stairs, jumping the last few. Kid grabbed his own hat, shoved it down hard on his head then reluctantly followed after him wondering what kind of trouble he was walking into.
Heyes slowed his pace once he neared the saloon and strolled in like it had been a leisurely walk there. He flashed a quick smile at the bartender as he produced the money for a beer and calmly surveyed the customers. The gathering was slim but there towards the back was the mangy group of the slowly gathering Devil’s Hole Gang. Heyes pushed his hat back off of his forehead and calmly strode towards the group that feigned playing cards. Wheat held a look of contempt on his face while Kyle chawed and watched Heyes like he was expecting fireworks to shoot out of Heyes’ hat. The rest of the men shuffled uneasily in their seats.
“Afternoon, boys,” Heyes greeted with a half smile. “Mind if I join you?” he asked cordially.
“Suit yerself,” Wheat hissed.
“Did you have any problems, Kyle?” Heyes asked the man who stared blankly at him.
The question animated the goofy man who smiled openly exposing his chaw and browned teeth. “Heck, no, Heyes!” he answered. “Got it right here,” he pulled the envelope from his well worn pocket and handed it to his leader. “Jest tol’ him I’m K.M. like you tol’ me and he gave it right over.”
“Thanks, Kyle,” Heyes smiled pleased at the puppet but his eyes surveyed the others with reserve. Wheat was openly glaring at him. “Something wrong, Wheat?” Heyes asked as Kid pulled up a nearby chair and joined them.
“Is this some kind of joke, Heyes?” Wheat leered keeping his stare steady on the younger man.
“No, no joke, Wheat. I didn’t hear no joke. Did you, Lobo?” The questioned man shook his head slowly back and forth.
Leaning across the table and keeping his volume low Wheat continued, “This is a dirt poor town, Heyes. I bet I have more money in my pocket than that bank has in its vault! They couldn’t hardly make change for me!”
“Well, now that is a bit of a problem, ain’t it, Heyes?” Kid joined the conversation enjoying the chance to make his elder cousin squirm for dragging the bunch of them around just to pick up a pen pale letter.
“Are you sure, Wheat? Maybe it just looks poor.” Heyes dodged Kid’s ‘now you’ve had it’ smile.
“Heyes, I would feel right bad about takin’ money from that bank. Looks to me like someone needs to break in an’ leave ‘em some money.” Several of the men chuckled at Wheat’s statement.
Heyes eyed the group and Wheat who had the taste of leadership in his mouth. Heyes lowered his gaze before letting out a sigh, “I was afraid this might happen,” he started his bluff. “Let me take a look at the bank and take a look around. I’ll meet with you all here in a couple of hours.”
“You gonna have us a new plan, Heyes?” Kyle asked with enthusiasm.
“Yeah, Heyes, a plan to make us some money instead of costin’ us?” Wheat smirked.
“Yeah, Heyes, this ain’t no charity, you know,” Kid added enjoying seeing Heyes in the hot seat.
Shooting Kid a quick questioning ‘whose side are you on’ look with a crook of his eye brow, Heyes then flashed everyone else a self assured smiled. “Do you really think I wouldn’t have a plan B?” he assured them. With that he rose from the table, finished off the remainder of his beer and exited the saloon.
Three days later a newly formed posse stormed out of Riverside, Wyoming with the hopes of successfully pursuing and capturing the gang that broke into and robbed their bank during the prior night. The take wasn’t extraordinary therefore the pursuit, although made with good intentions, lacked motivation. After a two days ride the posse tired and dispersed for home, leaving the Devil’s Hole Gang to divide the modest take and Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry headed in the direction of Cheyenne.
The early morning sun brightened the small bedroom with the promise of spring. Phoebe gently rolled from Matthew’s grasp to lie on her back and stare at the ceiling. The man rolled further away from her with a groan. Phoebe glanced at his back and found herself wondering what it would be like to share a bed with a man that really loved her. She had honestly thought she loved Matthew and in turn that he did, or would, love her. She was not sure which one of them had let her down but after almost two years of marriage it was obvious to her that she was not in love. And neither was Matthew. At least not with her. His leaving home had grown more frequent and his returning home had become less desirable as he usually returned drunk and willing to make Phoebe the target of his own unhappiness. Phoebe had grown wise to stay out of reach during the first few hours of his homecoming.
But last night he had caught her off guard.
Stumbling in after she had gone to bed, he cornered her in the bedroom. He told her what he wanted from her.
“You’re drunk Matthew, and I don’t want to be near you,” Phoebe retorted as she rolled from the bed. She was not fast enough. Matthew grasped her arm and yanked her back towards him across the mattress. Panic gripped Phoebe as strong as the hand that had her arm.
“But I do want you near me,” Matthew lowered his voice and softened his tone. The change stunned Phoebe and for a moment she felt herself relax in his grasp. For a moment she dared to believe he really loved and cared for her. But what ensued is not how she dreamed lovers would treat each other.
She slid cautiously from the bed, padded softly across the room to check her image in the free standing mirror. Her lip was bluish and familiar purple spots marked her arms. But at least she did not have any bruises that would show for long. Movement caught her attention and she watched Matthew’s image in the mirror roll to the other side of the bed. He was a handsome man, though drink was beginning to change his appearance. At one time in her life she believed him to be one of the nicest men she had ever met. What happened? What had she done wrong? She pondered this as she watched his sleeping form in the mirror. And who was his other love? And did she love him in return?
“You’re up early,” the sleepy man spoke with a soothing voice.
“Not really,” Phoebe answered back. “I haven’t even begun breakfast.” She picked up her hair brush and began stroking her long auburn hair. “You’re just sleeping late. After a late night out.” She replaced the hair brush and entwined herself in her wrapper before leaving the room.
“You jealous?” came an interested inquiry as Matthew rose from his side of the bed.
Phoebe stopped with the wood poised ready for the stove. “Jealous? Of what? Or whom?” Phoebe dared not to face the man, her heart pounding, fearing his answer to her simple questions.
“Umff,” he chortled through his nose. “Of me sleeping late.”
Phoebe closed her eyes and let out a silent sigh.
“Of me coming home late…,” he continued.
“Of me sleeping with another woman,” he cruelly jested as he shook the shirt he wore the night before Phoebe sending a wave of lilac scented air in her direction.
Phoebe looked up at her husband’s face unable to respond, wondering if she was expected to speak. ‘What did I do to merit this?’ she wondered. ‘What sin have I committed to live in this hell?’ “Are you going to leave me?” she heard her voice ask without much emotion.
“Naw. I don’t love any of them,” he answered offhanded. “Besides I wouldn’t leave my ranch.”
Her heart was frantic in her chest at this crazy conversation. She placed the kettle on the stove. “But you still love me?” her courage to ask the question amazed even herself.
Matthew fastened his trousers then slipped on his boots before answering. Walking up behind her he whispered in her ear, “I’m not sure I ever loved you.”
The words hit her harder than any of the blows he had wielded her by hand. And even though she had suspected it, she never anticipated what it would feel like to have the words spoken to her and in such an intimate manner with no emotion behind them. No love lost, no madness, no hurt, no contempt. Just spoken softly and directly.
“Do you want me to leave?” her voice was faint as she quivered with anticipation, her eyes blinking back tears as she stared at the floor.
“Now I guess that is plum up to you to decide,” he answered back gustily. “Just cause I said I don’t love you don’t mean you have to leave. Nothin’ changed for me. You’re still my wife. I like havin’ you here. And I take care of you. Besides, where would you go? Cheyenne?” he let out a throaty laugh. “You’d be an outcast in Cheyenne. You’d be best off stayin’ right here.”
Phoebe could not look at him and his cool, unemotional face. She turned to the cupboard to get a couple of cups for coffee. Unable to stop the hot tears she reached for her apron hoping to find a handkerchief in its pocket. There in the comfortable cotton womb her fingers fell upon an item giving her an ally and hope; she found the letters from Hannibal.
“Course,” Matthew’s voice grew grave, “you could always hunt down Hannibal Heyes, maybe he’d let you join their gang. They just robbed another bank last week.”
She nearly dropped the plates of food she was carrying when the two men strolled into the restaurant. Even though they were across the dining room from her she recognized them immediately.
“You okay, ma’am?” a nearby masculine voice asked of her startling her back to her duty.
“Yes, thank you,” realizing she must have audibly gasped at the site of the men just before she froze in place. Isabella placed the plates on the table before the inquiring man and then his company. “I hope you enjoy your meal,” she tipped them with a genuine smile.
She turned to make her way to the table the men had chosen only to see Mrs. Williams approach it. Biting her bottom lip in disappointment her attention was again called to another table with other patrons. Reluctantly she responded to the desires of a young couple in the back corner of the room.
“Isabella?” It was Mrs. Williams’s voice that called to her.
“Yes?” Izzy looked up at the graying middle aged woman standing beside her.
“Those gentlemen over there asked about you,” her voice showing obvious concern as she nodded in the direction of the two newcomers. “Do you know them, Isabella?”
The smile that stretched across Isabella’s face gave the woman all the answer she needed. Mrs. Williams returned Isabella’s smile as she touched the young woman on the arm. “Why don’t you go say hi, honey. I can handle things for a while. Just don’t be too long. And take them some coffee”
“Thank you, Mrs. Williams! I haven’t seen them for months!” Izzy was already on her way across the room.
Heyes nudged Kid with his foot just as Isabella approached with the two cups of steaming coffee. Kid’s eyes widened with recognition of the young woman approaching them.
“Izzy!” Kid gasped at the site of the grownup changes in the young lady. His azure eyes sparkled under the golden curls.
Hannibal let a lopsided smile escape, “We never dreamed it would be this easy to locate you, Miss Isabella! We expected we would have to pound the boards a little before finding you.”
“You’ve been looking for me?” her gray eyes taking on a worried look. “How’d you know I was in town? Have you been out to the ranch?” Izzy pulled out a chair and perched her slight frame on the edge of it, her hands braced against her knees.
“No, ma’am,” Kid couldn’t help but smile, “we haven’t been to the ranch, yet. But we intend to.” He had forgotten how the light glistened from Isabella’s honey colored hair.
Heyes pushed a small slip of paper towards Isabella with two names neatly printed on it. “Call us these names, please, Isabella,” he said under his breath. He added a wink when she looked up at him, changing her confusion to understanding.
“Of course, Mr. Tyler,” she smiled at Hannibal. “So how did you know I was in town, Je.., uh,” she quickly glanced at the paper, “Joseph?” A blush rushed over her cheeks at her blunder.
Kid tried to reassure her with a smile. “Is it okay if you talk with us for a while? I don’t want to get you in trouble with your employer.”
Isabella forced a weak grimace, “I can sit here with you for a little while. I could probably arrange to take some time off this afternoon. It gets pretty dead around here in the mid afternoon.”
“Could you get a few days off, Izzy?” Kid asked innocently between sips of coffee, the twinkle in his eye undeniable.
The surprised look returned to Kid was precious. The question poised on her lips.
“We were wondering if you would care to join us on our little trip to see Phoebe?” Heyes supplied as an answer to her yet unasked question.
“How soon?” was the young woman’s eager answer. “I haven’t seen Phoebe since October, since shortly after the baby was born…” suddenly Isabella seemed lost in thought. “Oh, you don’t know about the baby, do you?” She looked deep into Hannibal’s eyes.
“Yes, Miss Isabella, I do. You see, I have been writing to Phoebe and I just recently was able to receive a return one from her. That’s how we knew you were staying in town.” Heyes returned the deep stare.
“We just weren’t sure where in town,” added Kid.
“You’ve been writing to her?” Isabella asked incredulously. “I can’t seem to get anything to her! I think Matthew stops it from reaching her and he never brings her with him. He says she doesn’t want anything to do with anyone. I don’t believe him, though. I know she has saddened with the baby dying and then me being sent off.” Isabella had switched to stare at Kid’s cool blue eyes, two deep pools she found she wanted to immerse herself in. “I have so wanted to go to her, but I have had no way.” She looked away with tears forming in her eyes. “I am afraid.”
“Of Matthew,” Heyes supplied.
“Yes,” the concern and distrust obvious in her gray eyes. “He’s a mean man, Mr. Hey… Taylor.”
“Tyler,” Heyes corrected quickly.
With another blush, Isabella rose to return to her work. “I must get busy if I am to ask for a few days off. How soon do you want to travel?” she asked the known gang leader.
“Is tomorrow morning too soon?” he asked in reply.
“Not for me, Mr. Tyler. But what about Matthew? He may be gone to gather cattle but then again he may be out at the house, ready for anything to upset him.”
“Don’t you worry about him, Izzy, we’ll take care of him.” Kid’s face had grown icy cold and his words sent a shiver down her spine, as she realized whom she was putting her trust in. She had heard growing accounts of how Kid Curry was a fast draw, a gun not to go against.
“Izzy?” Kid spoke in a wanting tone. Isabella hesitated; her proximity to him made her tremble.
“Could I have a piece of pie?”
The fire snapped its flames, crackling with joyous warmth, the ocherous fingers curling hungrily around each log, first blackening it with its touch then changing it to soft dove gray ash. Michael was mesmerized by the small blaze letting the ever-changing display play with his consciencenous. It seemed so right to be sitting there before the small fireplace in the aged rocking chair that moaned its complaints with each to and fro motion. He was so emersed in thought that he didn’t even hear the three women enter the old cabin. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder, startling from his dream world.
“Michael, are you okay?” Moriah searched her husband’s upturned face for a clue to his far away look.
“Hmm?” Michael turned in the chair to face the women, Moriah, Mrs. Adams, and a young woman whose fine soft brown hair and darker brown eyes gave her familiar look, though Michael couldn’t recall meeting her before.
“Michael, I want you to meet Karen Heyes,” Moriah’s voice was soft almost reverent and she wore a most pleased smile. “Karen is Hannibal Heyes’ great granddaughter.”
Michael’s eyes grew wide and his feet scrambled to support his now upright body. “Hannibal Heyes? The gentleman in the sketch?”
The woman let go of an amused, gentle laugh, “Gentleman? That’s not what some would call him, though I believe he was.” She looked around the room hungrily as one looks at a buffet table after not eating for days. “This is amazing! Look at all of these wonderful artifacts!” Turning to Mrs. Adams, “Thanks for inviting me. I had forgotten how magical this place is!” Looking at the sketches on the wall she explained, “I came here a few times as a child for school field trips. They would explain the furnishings to us and how they were used and what life may have been like back in the late 1800’s. The teachers didn’t tell us the tale that belong to the cabin, the real history that played out here. But I had heard that my great grandpa had visited here. My grandpa had told me some stories. How I wanted to look through the trunks, the cupboards, any little nook that might hold something to do with my great grandfather.”
“You…Your great grandfather lived here?” Michael managed to ask. He was as captivated by the woman’s voice as he had been by the fire earlier and he felt as if he was being sucked into some great giant void by it, a black hole preparing to collapse around him.
“No, he did not live here, that I’m aware of, but he had a connection here.” The woman moved around the cabin absorbing everything there. She lovingly fingered the comforter that padded the back of the rocker that Michael so recently vacated. Her enthusiasm equaled Moriah’s and Mrs. Adams stood with a pleased smile pasted on her face.
“I hope the two of you do not mind me coming today,” Karen stopped in the middle of the room to face them.
Mrs. Adams stepped up to explain Karen’s presence, “I asked her to come with me. I remembered how much you were interested in hearing stories about the cabin that first day you came to see the property.” She addressed Moriah. “I wanted to tell you what I knew, but I was reluctant. Sometimes stories about a place’s history can make or break a sale. I didn’t want to scare you away because, well, there was just something about you. You seemed to belong here.” Mrs. Adams took a small pause to study Moriah’s very quiet person. “I remembered seeing Karen once at the Fair where she was doing a story telling. Karen is an excellent story teller! But her stories were of great interest to me. They were about her great grandfather and his partner. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Now she has another story that she tells and it is this story I wanted to tell you but I figured it would sound better coming from her.”
“I’m fascinated already, Mrs. Adams!” Moriah finally found her tongue. She was both apprehensive and excited about having the descendent of Mr. Heyes in their presence. She couldn’t wait to hear the story but could not help wonder what it would cost her to hear it. Was Karen interested in something at the cabin that may have been her great-grandfather’s? Immediately Moriah thought of the sketch of the sleeping man and a couple of other sketches she had found of the him. They would rightfully belong to this woman and should not mean anything to Moriah, but… But, they did mean something to her, although she could not explain what and she could not bear thinking of losing them. Mustering a smile Moriah asked, “Where shall we start?”
It was with great reserve that Kid and Heyes stepped into the saloon where they had last seen Matthew. Neither of them wanted to meet with the bitter man again but Heyes was curious about the man’s whereabouts and they needed information. Phoebe’s letter indicated that Matthew was gone often though she seemed unsure as to his business that called him away. Remembering the last time he had seen Matthew, Hannibal was fairly certain where Matthew was going when he left the ranch. Hannibal’s jaw set hard thinking about Phoebe alone with her maligning husband even on a limited basis. He kept reminding himself it was none of his business. They were husband and wife. But it didn’t matter, he kept thinking about the bruises on the arms of his angel and the pleading look in her eyes. So here he was ready to take a chance to face the man again, knowing that Matthew would be willing to do anything to be rid of him and the Kid on a permanent basis.
The afternoon sun filtered through the windows and the door of the saloon to illuminate the front of the building well enough. There were several patrons in the saloon. And it looked like a serious card game was already underway in the back. Kid watched for unwanted movements while Heyes checked for recognizable faces.
“Hello, sweetie,” the words dripped like sorghum from the saloon girl’s red lips as she slid her hand up Kid’s left arm. Her approach stiffened his back and he assessed her quickly before giving her a quick smile. “Your friend lookin’ for someone?” she nodded at Heyes who barely gave her a glance.
“Ah, yeah,” Kid was guarded with his answer waiting for Heyes to take the lead. He did not disappoint the Kid as he turned to face the woman.
“As a matter of fact, ma’am, we were kinda lookin’ for a gentleman we saw in here the last time we were in town. That’s been awhile back, so I don’t know if we will have any luck.” He smiled warmly at the woman and she eagerly switched her attentions from blue eyes to brown.
“Whadda he look like, cowboy?” her hand followed her words and trailed down Heyes’ shirt front.
With a warning smile, Heyes gently grasped her hand. “He was an older, grizzly fellow, yellow beard, yellow teeth. Spent his evening with one of the other girls, a full figured lady with dark hair, and an another gentleman by the name of Matthew Yates.”
“Yates I know,” the woman confessed as she looked up into the intensely dark eyes. “I like to shy away from him.”
“Why?” Kid pushed.
She continued to stare at Heyes who purposely released her hand as she answered Kid, “He’s a rough man, he likes to beat women.”
“Does he come here often?” Kid continued.
She couldn’t maintain Heyes stare any longer and looked for escape in the direction of Kid. “Often enough! Several nights a week, stays all night most nights. Believe he was here last night, with Luanne but I ain’t seen her yet today.”
“What about the other man?” Heyes was hoping to find someone that may know where Yates was today.
“The scruffy guy is probably Mack. You’ll find him over there.” She pointed to dark figure slumped over in even a darker corner.
“Thanks, ma’am,” Kid tipped his hat as Heyes nodded to the woman before moving towards the dormant lump.
Heyes gently nudged the form of a man, “Sir? Uh, Mack?”
“Wha..?!” The form came to life, kind of. His red rimmed eyes squinted and blinked but failed to focus until a rub with the back of his hand cleared them. “Oh,” Mack let out a grunt as he straightened up in the hard chair. “Whatcha fellers need? Do I know you?” Mack’s owlish tufts of eyebrows pulled together.
“No, Mack, you don’t, but I believe you know one of our friends. Matthew Yates. Do you know where I might find him today?” Heyes didn’t want to waste time, afraid that the man might lose consciousness.
Mack’s face contorted with thought. “Yeah, I know Yates, bastard. He’s drivin’ cattle or sumthin’, probably rustlin’ ‘em. Won’t be back in town until tomorrow night.”
“Is he out at his ranch?” Kid wondered.
“Naw, he went to Laramie for some reason. Jest don’t ‘member why. Business of some sort. Or so he said.” The man rubbed the back of his head with his fingertips. “He probably won’t be back to the ranch until day after ‘morrow. Generally always spends the night in town on Wednesday.”
“Well, thanks, Mack. Guess we will just catch him the next time we’re through town.” Heyes nodded to the man before excusing himself and Kid to the bar to get a badly needed drink.
Isabella entered the livery nearly out of breath, the early morning sun outlining her slim figure in the doorway. The two men saddling their horses turned simultaneously to see who the newcomer was. Kid nearly laughed out loud as he recognized the figure now straightening her riding skirt and stuffing hair up under her hat as if going to a dance rather than readying for a long horseback ride.
“Are you ready, Isabella?” Kid questioned the panting young woman. “You didn’t hurry, did you?”
“Um, I’m very excited about going home. Of course I hurried!” She smiled coyly at the gunslinger. “Besides I thought I was late,” she added honestly with dip of her head.
“You are late,” Heyes admonished with a stern look embedded on his face.
“Yeah, a whole two minutes,” Kid added.
“But we would never leave without you,” Heyes finished with a smile.
Izzy’s distraught look turned to one of shy girlish pleasure. This is going to be a great day! She could feel it all the way to her toes. Kid handed her the reins to the rented horse and helped her mount up. The three of them rode quietly down the near deserted street. They were focused on the trip ahead and the anticipated reunion so none of them noticed the man as he stepped out of the building at the end of the street. He stood in the yet dark shadows of the building watching the small procession make their exit from the town. Nor did the three riders see the figure stealthily cross the street far behind them and proceed in haste to the sheriff’s office.
“Did you have problems convincing Mr. and Mrs. Williams into letting you go for a few days?” Kid asked after they had left the last of the town’s buildings behind.
“No, they didn’t disagree with me about taking time to see Phoebe but Mr. Williams was very distrustful of me traveling with the two of you.” Isabella tentatively nudged her mount and clicked to him to match strides with the two men. “But between myself and Mrs. Williams we convinced him that it would work out.” Her smile had a nervous sweetness like she was really still trying to convince herself that her travel arrangements were all right.
“Hmphf! You must have as silver a tongue as Heyes, Izzy!” Kid shook his head with disbelief. “I can’t imagine what two women would say to a man to convince him that it is okay for a sixteen year old girl to travel alone with two strange men. Men who just happen to be wanted for train and bank robberies.”
“Well, first off, I didn’t tell them that part. And I expounded upon how you are not strangers to me or Phoebe. Also, it didn’t hurt that Mrs. Williams reminded him that I am really free to go and do as I see fit; they really do not have any legal claim to me, which I did not know.”
All rode silently for awhile when Isabella broke the silence, “What do you plan to do if Matthew is at the ranch? Surely you are aware that he would be very excited about alerting the sheriff to your identities.”
“Oh, yes, Miss Isabella, we know too well that Mr. Yates has no tolerance for us,” Heyes wore a very serious look.
“Did Matthew come home the night that Phoebe was in labor?” Kid asked.
Isabella glanced at Kid with curiosity, why could that be important to him? She searched her memory of that exhausting and disappointing night before answering. “Yes, well, actually very early in the morning. Why do you ask? How did you know he wasn’t home?”
“Cause we saw him in town that night, might say it was an unpleasant meeting,” Kid answered solemnly.
“He has a lot more to hold against us than just being friendly with ‘his women’ since that evening,” Heyes watched Isabella to see if she realized what he was speaking of. She rode with knitted brows trying to unravel what was being said.
“It was you!” she turned to face Kid with the accusation. “You shot Matthew in the hand!”
“I didn’t want to, Izzy,” Kid’s face expressed great regret.
“Were you the one that hit him, too?” Izzy was beginning to remember the described events.
“No, that was me, Miss Isabella,” Heyes dark eyes grew darker like mountains suddenly shadowed by stormy clouds.
“He said that he was in a bar fight defending Phoebe’s honor as someone had heard that we had gentlemen callers on several occasions while he was away on business.” Isabella looked to Heyes, “I didn’t believe him. It sounded like he was trying to make Phoebe hurt even more than she was already, but I don’t think she could hurt any more at that time. I don’t even think the comment hit home with her, or she just didn’t care.”
Heyes looked away as he could not watch the tears well up behind the young woman’s eyes. Why didn’t he just kill the man that night? Why hadn’t Kid just shot him dead? What were they going to do if he was indeed at his own home? Would being wanted for murder be much different than being chased for robbery? Why did he hate this man so? It really wasn’t any no never mind to him how one man treats his wife and niece. He had enough problems of his own; he didn’t need this one too. And how many times had he told himself that line over the last few months?
“That ain’t quite the way it went, Izzy,” Kid supplied. “Heyes laid him out cold for being in the company of another lady while his wife was giving birth. But that was after Matthew had swung at him. And I shot him in the hand rather than in the heart and only after he moved to draw on me. Now you can believe me or not, but that is the truth.”
Isabella sniffled as a few of the tears managed to tumble and roll down her cheeks, “I have no reason not to believe that as the truth.”
Phoebe bustled around the cabin gathering things she wanted to take with her. She had thought long and hard but had decided she could not live alone with just Matthew as company any longer. She was going to head for Laramie then she would contact Isabella from there. Or, should she go straight to Cheyenne to collect Izzy first? They could catch a train and be gone before Matthew got back to Cheyenne, he probably wouldn’t even know they were gone until he made it all the way back to the ranch. Even though he had told her he didn’t care whether she stayed or not, she was almost certain he would look for her. And if he found her, he might tell her kind and wondrous things to get her back home, but talk would not change anything, things at home would never be any better. She was sure of that. Unless…She couldn’t think of all the unlesses or ifs. She just needed to act. Anything she would do was risky because she couldn’t trust anything he told her anymore. He could be riding in today. Just to check on her. He may not have ever left the ranch in the first place. Her mind raced with different scenarios, none of them good.
Her eyes welled with tears as she shut the door to the cabin. Her home. No matter how Matthew treated her, or didn’t treat her, this was home. And she loved it. She slumped to the floor of the porch, overcome by the mixed emotions and wept, letting the tears run freely down her cheek as the tumultuous waves of emotions washed over and out of her. The moments seemed like hours until the sobbing finally subsided leaving Phoebe exhausted and curled up on the porch.
What? Who? Phoebe tried to open her eyes that seemed to have been pasted shut with salty tears. She blinked several times as she pushed herself upright. A gentle but strong hand helped steady her.
“Hannibal?” Oh, dear! Did she say that out loud? She would pay dearly for that slip of the tongue and she braced herself for the impending repercussion, instinctively throwing a hand up to block the forthcoming blow.
“Are you okay, Phoebe?”
That velvety voice did not belong to Matthew. She forced her eyes to open.
“Phoebe!” Another voice screeched with anxiety. “What’s wrong, Phoebe? What happened?”
That was Isabella, she was here, with Phoebe, her face suddenly leaning close. Phoebe could feel her. But that was not Izzy’s hand on her shoulder. Finally Phoebe’s eyes and mind cleared enough to recognize the other person before her. “Hannibal,” she breathed again as she fell into his welcoming arms.
“It’s okay, angel.” He pulled her up to him and stroked her hair as she snuggled against him as a small child would a protective adult. He thought back to the last time he had held her so, remembering the lost child that had squirmed against him. He gently rocked her in his strong arms and instinctively kissed the soft hair on the top of her head. He whispered in her ear. “I’ll take care of you.”
She gently pushed back from him and moved to hug Isabella. And then acknowledged Kid who appeared distant and stiff.
What did I say? Heyes pushed his hat back and then off as he nervously ran his fingers through his dark thick hair. Why did I say it? He watched the homecoming in a daze when Phoebe turned to him and took his hand in her small one.
“Why are your things on the porch, Phoebe? And the wagon? Were you going somewhere?” Isabella questioned her aunt.
“I was on my way to get you, Izzy. I was…am…,” Phoebe looked around at the items she had placed on the porch to load in the still waiting wagon and then at the people gathered around her. “I’m leaving here. Leaving Matthew.” There she said it! The speaking out loud of ideas has a way of breathing life and truth into those thoughts.
“Good. Let’s get going.” It was the Kid’s words that seemed to bring things back to the here and now.
“Isabella? Is there anything else here that you want to take with you?” Phoebe suddenly remembered that Matthew had made her leave most of her belongings behind.
Isabella was through the door and up the steps to the loft before Phoebe could draw another breath.
“I’ll see if I can help her, might hurry things along some,” Kid pushed past Heyes.
“Where are you planning on going, Phoebe? Do you have someone you can stay with?” Heyes ran his thumb over the back of her fragile, small hand, surprised that it was still in his grasp. Or was it she holding his hand?
“No, I don’t have any one place in mind,” she ventured a glance at the enigmatic eyes. “Anyplace where Matthew won’t or can’t find me would suit me.” She added a weak smile hoping to induce one from Heyes.
“I know such a place, Phoebe but I think it should be used as only a last resort. How about Casper? Or maybe Denver?” He released her hand and began gathering the waiting items.
“I was just planning on taking the first train or stage out of Cheyenne. I don’t really care which way it’s going.” She bent to right a box that had toppled spilling its precious cargo onto the wooden floor.
“Do you have money?” Heyes squatted next to her and picked up a hair barrette placing it in her waiting hand.
“Some. Well, a little. Most likely not enough to go very far for very long.” Her eyes took on a hopeless look, “I guess I didn’t think this out too well.”
“Maybe it’s best that way, Phoebe.” He held out his hand and helped her up from the floor of the porch. “Don’t worry about the money. I’ve got enough for you. And if not then I’ll get more.” Then he smiled the smile she had been waiting for. It started at the corners slowly then grew drawing the fine mouth out until those beautiful teeth were visible and the whole smile was punctuated by a deep dimple.
She couldn’t help but return the smile and with a playful shake of her head she laughed, “I guess you probably could at that!” She titled her face to look squarely into the mahogany eyes her blue eyes suddenly serious again. “But, I can’t take your money.”
“Not a problem, it ain’t really mine.” And he grinned again.
Isabella and Kid stepped out of the house once again closing the door. Both were carrying belongings quickly bundled in blankets and quilts.
“We’re ready,” Kid declared.
“I just have one request,” Isabella spoke as she hefted her bundles into the back of the buckboard.
“What’s that, Miss Isabella?” Heyes inquired as he helped Phoebe aboard, then led his horse to the rear of the wagon where he secured him.
“I want to stop at the bridge before we leave.”
“You see the bridge was a favorite spot of Isabella’s. She would go there and watch the water flow by, dropping blades of grass in the stream and watching them float away. Sometimes she would sketch. Sometimes she would write. Sometimes I think she would just think, or daydream.”
“More tea, dear?” Mrs. Anderson lifted the squealing kettle from the wood stove. The room was brought back to the present by Mrs. Anderson’s simple question.
“Oh, yes, thank you, very much, Mrs. Anderson.” Karen held her plain china cup up for a refill, its insides permanently stained after decades of use.
“So, your great grandfather was a knight in shining armor, so to speak,” Moriah was enraptured with the younger woman’s tale.
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, Moriah. Remember, Phoebe was ready and willing to take action on her own. If Heyes and party had been just an hour or so later they might have missed Phoebe all together. And this story could have a real different ending.” Karen’s mouth was smiling but her eyes were all too serious.
Moriah felt her heart flutter as she glanced at Michael who had remained very quiet and reflective during the whole morning. “Michael?” she tested. “Are you feeling okay? You have been so quiet and seem so far away.”
“Mmmm, I am far away, somewhere in the 1870’s, I believe. And I do feel a little funny, but I’m okay.” He looked up into Moriah’s eyes. His own crystal blue eyes seemed to be filled with a deep emotion, almost an agony. He rocked nervously in the old rocker.
Moriah placed a comforting hand on his broad shoulder, hoping to understand his uneasiness. She herself greatly anticipating the continuation of Karen’s tale, all of which seeming terribly familiar, but the ending eluded her. She rubbed Michael’s tense shoulders as she contemplated the events described to them.
Karen and Mrs. Anderson were inspecting the contents of a wooden box filled with unfinished quilt pieces.
“What happened next?” Moriah asked staring at the wall ahead of her, focused on the sketch of the woman named Phoebe, still gently massaging her husband’s shoulders. “What happened at the bridge?”
Kid was helping Isabella dismount when Heyes pulled the wagon to a halt at the near end of the bridge. Heyes offered his hand to Phoebe as she climbed from the wagon then asked her softly, “Why does Isabella want to stop here?”
“It’s always been a special place to her. She would come down here whenever she had some free time. I think she came here to dream.” Phoebe looked up into the dark probing eyes. Oh, how she wished she had joined Isabella more often in her dream world! Then perhaps she would have a clue as to what to expect in this journey she was embarking on. She felt a quiver run through her, whether is was fear or nervous anticipation of the new life she was headed for she was not sure. Perhaps is was just the nearness of the outlaw.
Heyes must have felt it, too. “Are you okay, Phoebe?” Again his eyes pried at Phoebe’s heart.
“I’m not sure, Hannibal. I’m scared.”
“Understandably so, Phoebe,” he wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders as they walked toward the bridge and the couple already standing on the expanse. “I wish I could tell you that I will always be close by for you but we both know that’s not possible. Besides I think you are a very strong and capable woman. You’re going to do just fine. And remember you are doing the right thing.” Stepping in front of Phoebe, Heyes took her by both shoulders and positioned his face close to hers, “Whatever you do, don’t return here. Don’t return to him.”
“Look, Phoebe and Mr. Heyes. I carved this just a few weeks after you were here that first time,” Isabella’s voice broke the intense moment. She was pointing to a rough carving scratched into the stubborn native wood. Isabella loves … the last word was viciously scratched through. “It used to say Jed,” she supplied in a sorrowful tone. “Matthew must have marked it out.”
Kid moved down the railing just to the right of Isabella’s declaration. Pulling a knife from his pocket he began digging at the hardened wood. Hannibal retrieved his own knife and followed his cousin’s idea. Phoebe watched with amusement.
Kid’s knife dug out KC + IF Forever. “What do you think?” his blue eyes sparkled; his smile was one of childish delight.
“I think it needs something else,” Isabella answered as she playfully reached for Kid’s knife.
“What could you possibly want to add to this master piece?” Kid asked in a mocked pain.
“A heart,” Isabella smiled as her hand grasped his, “It should be surrounded by a heart.”
“That’s them!” Matthew’s whispered exclamation made the sheriff’s heart pound harder in his chest. Both men lay on their stomachs. They were positioned under a tree along the ridge above the far side of the bridge. “You should have brought a posse, Sheriff,” Matthew growled his disapproval of the sheriff’s skepticism.
“Those two are Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?” the sheriff questioned while staring at the small group on the bridge. “They look more like men come a courtin’.”
Matthew’s angered look sent chills down Sheriff Burton’s spine. “One of those ladies bein’ courted is MY wife!” He quickly turned to observe the foursome again. He watched as Isabella and Kid Curry strolled back towards their horses and the wagon leaving Phoebe and Heyes on the bridge. He did not fail to notice that Curry held Isabella’s hand. But he was more interested in whatever maybe taking place between the couple still on the bridge. He fingered the rifle at his side.
“Well, that still don’t make ‘em Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, Yates.”
“But I know they are! I told you Phoebe took care of Heyes last spring, just before that bank was robbed down by Fort Collins. They told us their names. Heyes even told me he was meeting some men then going to Fort Collins for a ‘security job’.” Matthew glared again at the sheriff. “And I got a good enough look at them leaving town this morning to know that they ARE Curry and Heyes.”
The sheriff scooted back away from the ridge then carefully rose to return to his horse. Maybe he should have brought some others with him. He wasn’t sure which posed the bigger challenge, facing Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry or doing it with the angered Matthew Yates. He was going to get his binoculars to get a better look at this pair of men. And what did they have in the wagon?
“I think we should be going,” Phoebe touched Heyes elbow as he finished his elaborate craving of his name.
“Don’t you want me to add your name?” he asked with a smile.
Tracing the carving with her finger she answered, “There’s no need. I doubt that it will amuse Matthew and even though I love it here I don’t intend to ever see it again.” Phoebe searched Heye’s face with panic in her eyes.
“You’re right. We’ve prolonged your leaving long enough,” Heyes pocketed the knife then leaned over the rail to address the Kid and Isabella who had traveled to the banks of the stream below the bridge. “Phoebe says we best be going!” He was acknowledged by both heads looking up to him and Kid waved a hand.
“I’m sorry for being so edgy,” Phoebe visibly wrung her hands.
“You’ve a right to be. Let’s get you to a safer place.”
Phoebe took a couple of steps towards the wagon then turned to wait for Heyes. A glint from the hill caught her eye and for a moment she pondered its meaning.
“Let’s go Phoebe,” Heyes pushed his hat on tight and took a step toward her when she took an awkward step or two backward. The crack of a rifle fired echoed lightly. Phoebe’s crazed blue eyes searched Heyes’ dark features intensely hoping to find comfort. Heyes reached Phoebe in a single stride grasping her by her thin shoulders.
Phoebe arched a questioning eyebrow as she stumbled forward into Hannibal’s arms.
“Damn!” Heyes muttered as his mind tried processing the quick turn of events.
“What the Hell, Heyes?” Kid shouted from behind the wagon where he had pushed Isabella to the ground. She trembled and sobbed beneath his body.
“Phoebe?” Heyes tensed as her full weight fell against him.
“I didn’t make it, Hannibal. He lied to me. Again. And he stopped me,” there was a hint of anger laced in her words. “Now I will never leave here,” Phoebe’s words slurred as she looked up to her rescuer.
“Sure you will, Angel. We’ll get you out of here.” He eyed the crimson stain glistening at her breast.
Heyes instinctively jerked as a second shot resounded. Carefully he lowered Phoebe to the waiting bridge deck. He quickly glanced around and found Isabella crouching behind the wagon, Kid by her side, or rather on top of her.
The second shot evoked a scream from the terrified Isabella. Kid whispered in her ear as he rose off of her, “Stay down, Izzy.” He pulled his gun and peered around the wagon to the bridge where he could see Heyes bent over.
Hannibal returned his attention to the woman lying in his arms. She smiled up at him weakly then grimaced as she coughed hoarsely. A gentle breeze blew a wisp of auburn hair across her face. Heyes carefully whisked it away, his hand damp with Phoebe’s blood.
“Is this better, Phoebe?” Heyes tongue seemed to fumble with the words. Kid came up behind him placing a supportive hand on his shoulder as he knelt beside him. The two men exchanged pained knowing looks.
“It hurts,” Phoebe stated woefully. “I think the shot came from the hill. I saw the sun reflect from something up on the ridge,” she offered. “Must be Matthew. Be careful. Don’t let him stop you, too.”
“We’ll be careful, Phoebe,” Kid answered. With that he patted Heyes on the shoulder. Glancing to the facing hill he rocked back on his heels and rose. Cautiously he returned to the back of the wagon to again check on Isabella.
Heyes swallowed hard as he searched Phoebe’s face, wishing his tongue had not suddenly dried up and stuck to the roof of his mouth.
“Hannibal?” Phoebe’s voice was not much more than a whisper.
“Yes, Phoebe,” Heyes managed to croak back to her, swallowing hard again.
She could hear the water gurgling its way downstream as her eyes tried desperately to focus on the handsome face positioned so close to hers. “I think I could have loved you, Hannibal.” The corners of Phoebe’s mouth turned up ever so slightly. “Perhaps if we had met at another time…”
Gently lifting Phoebe’s wan hand to his lips he softly kissed her fingertips. “Yes, another time would have been good, Phoebe. I think I could have lov…..,” Heyes faltered as he watched the pale blue eyes dim and let go of life, “…ed you too, Phoebe.” He pulled her close to him burying his face in her soft bountiful hair not willing to acknowledge the pain that coursed through his veins.
Horse hooves thundered past him clattering over the boards of the bridge. Heyes glanced up to see Kid ride out towards a rider approaching with arms upraised. From the corner of his eye he saw Isabella rise from her position behind the wagon and then gingerly began making her way around the wagon grasping the sideboard for support. Heyes gathered Phoebe’s petite body into his arms, her dead weight pressing hard against his chest, yet his body never faltered as he carried his burden to the waiting wagon.
Isabella, with shocked realization, gasped, then covered her mouth with a trembling hand. She followed Heyes to the back of the wagon where he gently placed Phoebe’s body. He turned to face Isabella and immediately gathered her into his arms wishing there was somehow a way to shield her from yet another loss in her young life. It just wasn’t right to make a young person face so much alone. He should know, he had been there himself. But at least he had the Kid.
“And that’s the way Kid found them when he returned to the bridge with the sheriff.” Karen sighed. “The sheriff had shot and killed Matthew on the ridge when Matthew turned towards the sheriff with the rifle cocked and leveled. Kid and Heyes attended the double funeral alongside Isabella and the sheriff. He never asked them their names. Not that they would have told him the right ones anyway.” Karen straightened in the hard-backed chair.
“Isabella married a nice young man the following spring and the two of them made their home here in the cabin. Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry stopped by occasionally to check on Izzy.”
Moriah stood motionless as Karen somewhat abruptly ended her tale. In her stillness she digested its content. It’s ending had numbed her. “Your Grandfather told you this?” she asked. It seemed unlikely that a man would tell this sort of story to his son.
Karen sent a crooked smile towards Moriah, “I have copies of the letters. And an apology with condolences to Isabella from the sheriff. And a newspaper clipping about the shooting. Although it was not a story Great Grandpa shared, Isabella did. When Mrs. Adams found me doing story telling about my great-grandfather she mailed these items to me along with Isabella’s own recounting of the day which she had written down and tucked in the family bible.”
“I was told that Isabella recounted the story often and I even remember hearing her talk of it a few times,” Mrs. Adams shared with a far off look of her own. “She often wondered if Phoebe and Heyes were in love but she said she never worked up the courage to actually ask him. She seemed to speculate about how things might of been if only they had met a year earlier before Phoebe married Matthew and before Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry became dedicated outlaws.”
Michael rose from the complaining rocker to have it grunt with gratitude of his leaving. “Excuse me, please,” he politely begged of the women who were now excavating the contents of yet another box, this one containing books. He left the cabin with Moriah watching his every move, her concern for his uncharacteristic silence growing. As he closed the door behind him, she felt an object thrust into her empty hand.
“Look, Moriah! Wasn’t he a handsome man?” Karen smiled at the preoccupied Moriah then nodded to the object in Moriah’s possession. It was yet another pencil sketch. This one in an old gilded frame. It was of both men, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, Heyes’s arm was carelessly slung over the Kid’s shoulder in a playful manner yet both held sober looks on their faces. They were handsome men, both of them. They looked older in this sketch. Moriah fixated on the one that was Karen’s great-grandfather. Hannibal. His was a look of weariness, possibly worn there by years of running, but there was still something about the eyes…
Moriah handed the picture back to Karen. “Excuse me,” Moriah bounded for the door. Her step slowed after she crossed the threshold and she quietly pulled the door to behind her.
Michael stood on the far end of the porch staring across the carefully groomed yard towards the newer house and in the direction of the bridge. Moriah stepped up behind him and slipped her hand into the crook of his arm.
“It was a sad story, huh?” she started, letting her own gaze follow his.
“Yeah,” was his simple answer.
“I couldn’t remember the ending. But somehow I knew the rest of it. I have dreamed of it -- often.” Moriah halted, expecting a questioning look, or something, but Michael did not waver. Moriah shuffled some and tightened her grip until he took her hand in his own. “But, now I know what all the red was in my dream… Now I know why I felt like I was losing control of things.”
Still Michael did not comment or change his gaze.
A minute passed with him staring towards the bridge and Moriah nervously contemplated what to say next. “I don’t know if I can explain it … It’s as if..,” she started feebly. “It’s as if it were me…”
Finally, Michael looked down at her standing by his right side. She gently stroked his hand with her free right hand. “That’s okay,” he broke his silence. “You don’t have to explain anything. I knew the ending but had forgotten the beginning.”
It was she who looked up at him with confusion and questions. There was that look! A look she had seen hundreds of times in her husband before but had failed to recognize. The same reckless self-assured one from the first sketch! Her heart thumped wildly in her chest.
He decisively drew her to him, pressing her hard against him in an embrace that suggested they had been separated for a long time, holding her there while he bent to taste, then devour her questioning, waiting lips. They were just as he remembered them, then and now. He relished in that remembrance for just a while longer before relaxing his grip on her. His blue eyes met her gray ones with a new familiarity.
He took her hand in his again and lifted it; then proceeded to gently pressed her fingertips to his wanting lips, a slow crooked smile spread across them. He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “Looks like we got to meet in another time.”
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