Hannibal Heyes and Jedidiah Curry walked into the Home for Waywards. Both walked along with their heads down, as if they didn’t have the strength to ever lift them again. Their families had been butchered by Quantrill’s raiders less than a week before. Things had moved quickly after that day. Their families had been buried, no other family was known, so the boys were quickly packed off to Valparaiso.
Hannibal had tried to be brave for his young cousin, but he wasn’t sure he could keep it up. The gravity of the whole situation was finally caving in on him, and he didn’t think he could bare it. He’d always been the leader of kids in town, and he had wanted to be old enough to make his own decisions. Now the people that had always made the decisions for him were gone, and he wanted them to tell him what to do so badly. Now he had to take care of his cousin and he didn’t want to.
“Come on Jed, stop dragging your feet. You’re going to get us in trouble.” Hannibal didn’t seem to care how sharp his words were.
“Sorry Han.” The younger boy’s voice was so small, his eyes were puffy and no one had bothered to comb the curly blonde hair. He looked so desperately sad and small, but then so did Hannibal. Neither had had a really good meal in several days and neither was sure they really wanted to eat anyway.
“Step lively boys. You are very fortunate to have a place to live, and Mrs. Thrush should not be kept waiting.” Mr. Cooper was an agent for the orphan system. He was a tall thin man wearing a dark suit, ribbon tie and small rimmed glasses, who had escorted them to the home and was eager to be rid of his charges. He was no friend to Jayhawkers, and didn’t really like children all that much. He kept peering at them through his spectacles with too much distaste. As if this whole trip were thru some fault of their own. They were equally ready to be rid of him.
The two boys entered the three story brownstone building and made their way into the Home’s office. It was dark inside with very little decoration. There were a few pictures on the wall of President Lincoln and of various founders. Old men with money, religious convictions and a full stomach. They waited in front while Mr. Cooper went into Mrs. Thrush’s office. Jed stood quietly studying his shoes while Hannibal looked around at the small waiting area, and noticed a dark-haired woman sitting at a desk off to the left. In a few minutes both adults returned and approached the boys.
“Mrs. Thrush, this is Hannibal Heyes and Jedidiah Curry from Lawrence, Kansas.” Mr. Cooper spat the words out with a great deal of disgust.
“Thank you Mr. Cooper. Terrible tragedy, that. Hello Hannibal, Jedidiah.” Mrs. Thrush was a woman of about 50 with a shrill voice and little sense of humor. Her hair was greying, she had a sagging face and a rather large nose.
The boys continued to look down at the ground, and said nothing.
Mr. Cooper’s face became red and yelled, “Answer Mrs. Thrush you impertinent . . .”
Calmly, but with an air of righteousness Mrs. Thrush intervened, “That’s all right Mr. Cooper. They will learn our rules soon enough, or they will face the consequences.” Mrs. Thrush’s tone left little doubt that life would be difficult here. “Mary, take these boys up to the dormitory and find them a bed. I need to sign some papers for Mr. Cooper.” The woman Hannibal had noticed moments before approached the two youngsters and led them off to a stairwell. Mary was younger than Mrs. Thrush, but looked just as unhappy. She wore her hair up except for a few strands that loosely brushed a simple white blouse tucked into a dark burgundy dress that she lifted as she climbed.
Hannibal took this opportunity to look around to get an idea where they were. The inside was just as brown as the outside, it was unadorned, unwelcoming, and he doubted it would be very warm come winter. Both boys felt lost in these cold sterile surroundings. If they weren’t feeling alone before, they were now.
The trio entered a large room with rows upon rows of cots set up for a large number of boys. There were two empty cots in the corner of the room where Hannibal and Jed were led. The two would soon learn that only the toughest boys got beds by the windows, and there weren’t many windows.
Mary stopped in front of the two last cots, told them to put their stuff away quickly and she would show them to the dining hall in time for lunch. “Meals are served promptly, you are to eat quietly and you’re not to ask for seconds. There are plenty of hungry children here. You will go to classes in shifts, and when you’re not in class you will have plenty of work around here to earn your keep.”
Mary showed them where to place their meager belongings, and they were instructed on the importance of tidiness. All clothes should be put away, and all beds should be made every morning.
They made their way down to the dining hall on the first floor. They opened the door and entered to nearly 100 eyes staring at them. Mary directed them to the line to get their food, and showed them where they could sit. There were rows upon rows of tables all neatly lined, and almost every table was filled with children.
“All you boys turn around. It’s time for prayer, not time to gawk.” Mrs. Thrush was seated at a table at the head of the room with various teachers and Mr. Cooper. Mary had sat down with a plate very quickly. A prayer was given followed by permission to begin eating. The clinking of flatware on plates could be heard as well as the setting of glasses on the tables. Only the occasional whisper could be heard and that was quickly silenced.
The rest of the evening was a rush of instructions and chores, and by nightfall both boys crawled into bed exhausted. The lights were extinguished, and that’s when it started.
“Oh look what we have here. A couple of new babies.” The voice came from near one of the windows. Hannibal looked up to see a fairly large silhouette heading his direction. “This is my territory, and you are going to have to ask permission to stay here.”
“Your what?” Hannibal couldn’t believe his ears.
“You heard me, this is my territory. Now ask for my permission to stay.” The bully was getting ever closer.
“Look we didn’t want to come here, but we certainly don’t have to ask your permission to stay.” Hannibal was in no mood to sweet talk anyone right now. Jed was unsuccessfully trying to hide under his covers.
“Fine. You don’t want to ask my permission, then you get what’s coming to you.” In a flash two boys grabbed each new boy and held them. The bigger boy was a head taller than Hannibal with bright red slicked down hair. He hit each boy twice, and signaled for them to be let go. “Each night you don’t ask for permission, you get pummeled. Night boys.”
“I’m going to tell that lady.” Jed had found his voice before Hannibal could shush him.
“You go right ahead stupid. She won’t believe you, she like me, and I’ll just beat you twice a night.”
Hannibal and Jed were released and allowed to go to bed. Jed began to whimper in his bed. “Shutup Jed. You want more trouble? Don’t be such a baby!” Hannibal was instantly sorry for the anger in his voice. Jed was still little, and he was scared.
“I’m not a baby, Han, but I don’t want to be here.” Jed’s voice seemed so tiny and fragile.
“Aw, I’m sorry Jed. Course you don’t. Neither do I, but we’re kind of stuck for now.” Hannibal tried to keep the tears from his voice.
“Shutup new kids!”
Jed whispered even softer, “You’ll think of something Han, you always do.”
“Sure Jed, I’ll think of something. Now go to sleep.” Hannibal tried to convince himself he would do just that. He heard his cousin whimper a few more times, and then he was peacefully silent.
The next night Heyes had decided he better ask for permission to stay for his cousin’s sake. It helped Jed, but the bully, Nick, decided Hannibal was too smart for his own good, and he had it out for Hannibal Heyes.
Hannibal Heyes didn’t want to be grownup. His parents were supposed to fill that role. He was utterly lost. He didn’t want to be anything. He didn’t want to feel anything. He just seemed to give up. Jed seemed to sense that. He tried not to cry at night anymore, and he tried to take care of himself. Han on the other hand wasn’t. He had a hard time doing what he was supposed to, and he was having a hard time taking care of himself.
There were a lot of rules in the home, and there were a lot of punishments for failing to follow those rules. One of the rules was to make your bed every morning. Han started to forget this rule. Actually he just didn’t care. The second time he failed to make his bed, he was assigned extra work to do and he had to miss breakfast. He tried to tell himself he didn’t need to eat, but missing what little he did eat made him really hungry. When he had finished his assigned work, Hannibal went back to get ready for class. The others had eaten and already left. What he saw when he got to his bed made him very angry. He noticed a lump under his covers, and he knew Nick was trying to get him into more trouble. Well, he wasn’t going to let Nick get him. He threw the covers back and was stunned by what he saw. It was a biscuit, and he knew just how it had gotten there. They didn’t get much for breakfast, and he knew his little cousin needed to eat whatever he got to stay healthy. Staring at this gift, he refused to let a tear spill down his cheek, and he quickly ate the biscuit. He wasn’t sure how to thank Jed, but he promised himself he would.
The next morning both boys barely had time to dress before they had to be in line. Hannibal quickly got into place and waited. The dorm proctor stopped in front of Hannibal. “Let’s just see if you get to have breakfast this morning Hannibal Heyes. Did you make your bed today?”
Heyes said nothing, but his heart sank. He knew he forgot. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Jed slip into line. He had thought the boy had been right behind him, but he should have made sure. He knew he and Jed would share the same fate this morning.
“Hey kid, you gonna be late - you can skip breakfast this morning. Now Hannibal, let’s check out the bed.” Han followed the proctor back to his bed and was shocked to find it had been made. He was filled with shame. He was supposed to watch over his cousin, but his cousin was watching over him.
That night Han couldn’t look at Jed. “Han, I’m sorry. I know I should stay outta your business, but I just couldn’t sit by and . . .”
“What? You think I’m mad at you? Of all the stupid . . .” Heyes finally looked at his cousin. Jed’s bottom lip was trembling. Heyes looked down again. “I tried to bring a biscuit back to you, and I couldn’t. I tried to put it in my pocket, but I got caught.”
Jed reached over and grabbed Hannibal’s hand. Hannibal tried to pull it back, but Jed was stronger than he had remembered. There were two angry red lines on his hand where the ruler had been applied. Jed looked at Hannibal’s face and waited. “Han, I’m sorry, I got you into this mess. I was only trying to . . . ”
Hannibal finally looked up at Jed with a grin on his face and finished his sentence. “Help? You did, more than you know.” Both boys looked away not quite knowing what to say. Hannibal finally spoke up, “About that biscuit. You’d have to have some mighty fast hands to get that hidden before you got caught.”
Jed just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
At that moment Hannibal Heyes understood what he had to do. Jed was his last link to his family. He owed Jed, and if that meant he had to be more grown-up, then he would.
once he relaxed a little bit, things got a little easier. He was working on
improving his silver tongue, and was actually getting very popular with most of
the other boys. He just seemed to have a plan for everything, and some of the
boys came to him for advice.
Nick on the other hand began to hate Hannibal Heyes. He started doing little things to get him trouble. If Hannibal finished raking the leaves, Nick would wait until a proctor was near and scatter them about. He would pour ink in Hannibal’s seat, and would erase Hannibal’s slate just before he had to show his work. Fortunately Hannibal was able to talk his way out of just about any predicament, and usually he turned it around so that Nick was the one that got into trouble. This made him no friend to Nick, and Nick decided he would go after him in bigger ways.
Fall had set, and things were getting colder and harder. Jed’s temper was starting to flare, and he was getting into fights. Hannibal saw one starting, and he couldn’t believe the kid Jed was fighting was much littler than he was. That wasn’t like Jed. He made his way quickly to the fight before any of the proctors saw it. Han pulled Jed off the other child and threw him to the ground, but he popped right back up ready to fight some more. “Jed, knock it off. You want to get a whipping?”
“It’d be worth it. He made fun of Rachel.” Hannibal was still holding his cousin back, and staring at the little boy that had made a huge mistake. The little boy was trying to get up while wiping away tears from his eyes and blood from his nose.
“You think that’s smart to make fun of someone’s sister? ‘Specially one that ain’t around no more?” Han looked at Jed. It was the first time they had spoken of their families. Jed worked very hard not to let a tear fall.
“I d-d-didn’t mean t-t-t-o.” The boy was very upset. Hannibal immediately softened.
“Jed, what’d he do?” Hannibal put a hand on both boys shoulders.
“He wanted to know if I had any brothers or sisters, and I told him. Then he starts making fun of her name.”
“I w-w-w-ould never. I just said R-R-R-Rachel.”
“There he goes again, I’m gonna slug him.” Hannibal had to hold his cousin back yet again.
“Stop Jed.” Turning to the other boy, “You’re Joey Simms aren’t you? I’ve heard about you.” Heyes gave the boy a gentle smile. Joey immediately brightened and straightened up. “Jed, he has trouble saying words. He’s not making fun. In fact I’ve heard the other boys pick on him for the way he talks. That right, Joey?” Joey nodded sadly, and seemed if he were about to cry again.
“Don’t worry about it Joey. Everybody’s got something they ain’t proud of. They just pick on you cause yours is easier to spot, and they don’t want anybody spotting theirs. From now on you can just send them to me if they have a problem with the way you speak, okay?” Hannibal gave Joey a bright grin.
“Sorry I bloodied your nose, Joey.” Jed felt badly about fighting the boy.
“He’s not doing it now.” Jed looked like he was being tricked.
“Don’t all the time. W-w-when I get nervous, or use big w-w-words.” Joey was busy studying his shoes.
“My name is Hannibal Heyes, and this is my cousin Jed Curry.” Hannibal smiled at the boy again, hoping to get a reaction. It worked. Joey looked up and scrunched up his face trying to say Hannibal. Jed started to laugh when Han elbowed him in the ribs.
Joey finally gave up, “Can’t say that. I can say Heyes though.”
Hannibal smiled wider, “Well, then call me Heyes.” Hannibal Heyes was rewarded with a huge grin. Jed was even smiling.
Soon word got around, and the other boys were calling Hannibal, Heyes. Unfortunately Nick heard about it, and tried to make fun of it. He would always say it with the utmost contempt.
Heyes laid back on his bed looking very sour. “What’s the matter Heyes?” Jed looked over at his cousin.
Hannibal Heyes glared very hard at the boy. “Since when do you call me Heyes?”
Jed was putting away his clothes, and didn’t bother to look up “Since it reminded me of your family.”
Heyes sat up in bed and stared at Jed. “It what?”
Jed stopped and sat down on his own bed. He took a long time to think about what he was going to say. He took a deep breath, “A first name belongs to one person at a time in a family. A family name is just that. Family. I see faces of everyone that used it.”
Heyes said nothing. Just stared. It took him several minutes to find his voice, “You know you’re pretty smart for a kid. You want me to start calling you Curry?” Heyes had a warm smile on his face.
“Nah. Somehow it don’t work the same.” Jed finally got up and finished putting his clothes away. Heyes leaned back in his bed with his hands behind his head and smiled. Suddenly rather proud of his new name.
Jed’s temper was showing no signs of improving. He was really getting into trouble for fighting, and that meant whippings, time in the closet, and missing a lot of meals. Heyes had learned how to sweet talk some food for his cousin, and had gotten quite good at picking the lock to check on Jed. The younger boy seemed to get sick a lot, and Heyes kept his word to himself that he would take care of Jed. He tried to tell him to stay calm, not lose his temper quite so quickly, but maybe that was something that would come in time.
Mrs. Thrush wouldn’t wait for him to grow out of it. She had finally had enough. She learned long ago that punishing someone who didn’t want to learn did no good, so the next time Jedidiah Curry got into a fight, she pulled both cousins into her office. “Jedidiah, since you don’t seem to care if you get punished. I’m not going to punish you anymore for fighting.”
A smug smile slowly spread across Jed’s face. It was stopped before it got very far. “I will instead punish Hannibal every time you get into a fight. You will stay and watch, and you will understand what the consequences will be for your actions.”
She pulled out a switch and had Heyes grab the desk. Jed didn’t believe she would do it. His mouth opened at the first strike. Nothing came out. Heyes jumped with the first contact, closed his eyes and grimaced. Heyes didn’t cry, but Jed did. Soon the punishment was over and Jed helped Heyes back to his bed. Neither boy spoke, but Jed swore he would do everything in his power to make sure the last member of his family would not get hurt again. At least not because of him. He wanted to promise he wouldn’t rush into a fight, but he wasn’t sure it was a promise he could keep.
Jed decided if he couldn’t keep his promise, then he had to make sure he didn’t get caught. Whenever he had free time, Jed sat alone throwing pebbles. Heyes would see him sitting and became even more worried about him. He would line some up, and knock them down. Heyes even saw him throw some up in the air, and hit them with another rock. There were times he just seemed to be picking up rocks over and over. Heyes was afraid his friend was losing it.
All the boys were assigned chores in the yard. One late fall day a group of boys including Nick, Heyes and Jed were busy raking leaves. Mrs. Thrush had stepped outside to make her prescience felt, and to oversee the progress. She looked away from Heyes’s group to check on another group. At that moment Jed saw Nick throw a rock at a window and break it. Nick, who had been standing a few feet from Heyes, moved next to him. He quickly reached over to put a rock in Heyes’s pocket and smiled a most vicious smile. Both boys turned to watch as Mrs. Thrush headed their way. Heyes realized it was too late to ditch the rock without getting caught.
Looking both boys up and down Mrs. Thrush fumed, “Let me see your hands.” Nick and Heyes dropped their rakes and turned up their palms. “Turnout your pockets.”
Heyes closed his eyes and reached into his pockets. There was nothing there. Stunned he flashed open his eyes, flipped out his pocket, and turned to look at Nick who had gone quit pale. Nick pulled out his pockets and a rock dropped to the ground.
“I didn’t do it Mrs. Thrush! He put it in my pocket.” Nick was yelling as Mrs. Thrush grabbed Nick by the ear.
“I watched him the whole time, and he did nothing of the sort.” Nick was still protesting as he was dragged inside.
Heyes couldn’t figure it out. He had felt Nick put the rock in his pocket. How did it get into Nick’s pocket? Heyes looked around as if looking for the answer. He stared at his cousin. Almost everyone had stopped working to watch except Jed. He kept raking fairly close by, and Heyes could swear he had a small smile on his face.
It took Nick a week to recover from his whipping and to serve out his punishment. He vowed revenge. Although he didn’t know how Heyes had done it, he was certain he would find out.
Several weeks had passed. The older boys were at the edge of the yard cutting the tall grass back, and the younger boys were again raking. Nick and Heyes were 20 yards apart, and when Nick was certain no proctors were watching he picked up a fist-sized rock and drew back his hand to throw. Just before he threw it, Nick felt a sharp pain in his hand and dropped the rock on his own head. He yelped, alternating between grabbing his head and his hand. Both were bleeding. All activity ceased and boys began to whisper and point. It didn’t take whispers long to reach Heyes that Nick had tried to hit him, but no one knew what had happened to stop Nick’s throw. All the boys were talking as Heyes looked around. All that is but his cousin. Jed continued to rake as before, and if Heyes looked hard enough he could see the slightest grin on his face.
That night Heyes sat on the edge of his bed waiting for Jed to come back from the necessary. Jed finally returned and got into bed. Heyes had his chin in his hand, and stared at Jed for several minutes. Jed could feel the eyes on him, and finally gave in, “What Heyes?”
“You gonna tell me how you did that?” Heyes unknowingly folded his arms the way his pa had done when he wanted some answers.
“Did what?” Jed rolled over away from his cousin.
“Hit Nick with that rock.”
“Heyes, you’re imagining things. Go to sleep will ya.” Jed repositioned himself a little better to show he was trying to get some rest.
“You know, Jed, I’ve been thinking about this. I’m not sure how you did it, but I’m pretty sure you did.” Heyes moved back on his bed so he was leaning against the wall.
“Heyes, I’m sleepy, can’t this wait?” Jed let out a yawn to press his point.
“Yeah, sure kid, just one more thing.”
“What Heyes? And I’m not a kid.” Jed tried to keep the rising irritation to a whisper.
“Sure you are, but I’m pretty sure you pulled the rock out of my pocket and put it into Nick’s.” Heyes had a big grin on his face. Pleased with himself for the jab, and pleased that his cousin could do something so amazing.
“So, what if I did?” Jed was trying to sound bored, but his eyes were wide open. Afraid of what his cousin might think.
“Thank you.” He said it simply, but it implied a lot.
“If I did anything, which I didn’t, you’re welcome. Now can I go to sleep?” Jed couldn’t remember the last time he was so proud.
“Yeah, sure kid. Night.” Heyes looked over at his little cousin. Funny, but he didn’t seem so little anymore. He suddenly felt a little easier knowing Jed was watching his back. Maybe things would be okay. Heyes was still smiling as he rolled over and went to sleep.
Many weeks passed and the weather was getting colder. Nick’s hand and head had healed, but his desire for revenge continued to fester.
Jed and Heyes settled into an uneasy acceptance of their situation. Neither wanted to be there, but they tried to make the best of things for the moment. Heyes promised he would get them out one day, and he would do it too, even if it took him several years. He examined every part of the school he could, and he read. He read every kind of book he could get his hands on. He was certain a plan could be found in one of them. Until he found it, he tried to keep his and Jed’s spirits up.
“Jed, why are you sitting out here by yourself? This is the one time of day you could be playing.” Heyes sat down next to the younger man on a rock at the corner of the school.
“Just thinking.” Jed never looked up.
“Now Jed, you did that a few times at home, and it got us into trouble more than once.” Heyes was smiling, but the younger boy said nothing. “What is it?”
“I was just wondering about some of the little boys. People came to see them, and took them home with them.” Jed was scratching in the dirt with a stick, but still never looked up.
“Oh.” The smile left Heyes’s face and he sat thinking for a while. He finally decided what he was going to say and decided saying it all in one rush was the best thing to do. “Is that what you’d like, ‘cause I’ve been thinking, and I think getting you a family would be the best thing. I don’t think this place will ever feed you enough, and I think a family could do wonders for you, and maybe you could have brothers and sisters, and I’m just plum tuckered from watching over you, and it would be nice . . .”
He never saw the fist that hit him. “I hate you Hannibal Heyes!” Jed stormed off to the edge of the yard rubbing his fist.
Heyes went after him. “What was that for?”
“Don’t ever try to sell me to some family again.” Jed stood with his fists clenched waiting for another reason to throw a punch.
“Sell you? Are you kidding? Sell you.” Heyes was chuckling.
“I don’t see what’s so dang funny!” Jed’s fists unclenched. “I don’t want another family, and I don’t need someone else’s brothers and sisters. If you don’t want to be my cousin anymore, fine, but don’t try to pack me off like some cow.”
“Jed you’re getting a little weird, you know that? I wasn’t trying to pack you off anywhere. I just thought you wanted to find a family that’s all.” Heyes was still working his jaw.
“You get all that out of a few words?” Jed’s anger was abating.
“Actually it was twenty one, and why did you bring it up if that wasn’t what you wanted?” Heyes was genuinely curious.
“I don’t know, I just wondered how someone could go calling themselves family when they never met before? I’ve had a family, and I just couldn’t replace them. I mean, now I just got you, at least I think I got you, thinkin’ of trading you for a dog, but I couldn’t ever think of replacing what I had. I do know I don’t want to stay here, but I wouldn’t just pack up with the first folks that . . . Why’re you grinning at me like that?” Jed was getting irritated again.
“You know Jed, you talk too much. May have to break up this partnership yet.” Heyes chuckled glad to know his cousin didn’t want to leave him.
“Aw shut up Heyes.” Kid laughed right along with his cousin. “Partners, huh?” Jed and Heyes gave each other a quick smile, “It’s about time to eat, and I’m starved. You coming?”
“Sure Jed. Is there ever a time you’re not hungry?” Heyes had noticed the young man had become very skinny. Well, they both were, but Jed he could look at. Now he just looked sickly. He had to get them out of here.
The snow brought a change of scenery at the home, but Heyes had been right. The building got terribly cold. Some boys had to do without coats. Boys either wore what they brought, or they had to rely on donations. Those were not plentiful, so many did without.
Heyes and Jed had brought coats, but they were getting worn in places, and the boys seemed to be growing out of them. Their arms were about an inch or two longer than the sleeves. They were hardly ever out of them, and even slept in them to try to keep warm.
Nighttime was the worst at the home. Trees got so cold they would explode. Limbs could get so loaded with ice they would make a loud crack, and limbs of all sizes would fall to the ground. Most of the boys had been exposed to the war, and in their dreams they heard guns and canons going off again. This also meant trees could be dangerous things to be around during the day. Nick knew this and had a plan. Fortunately the majority of the trees were well away from the home, but everyone had seen and heard more than one tree lose a limb. No one had been hurt, but that didn’t mean someone couldn’t get hurt.
Nick now knew Jed was the reason he had been caught, and he knew Jed was the reason the rock had fallen on his head. One of his last few friends had overheard them the night he dropped the rock on his head. He would get that little squirt out of the way, and then take care of Hannibal Heyes.
Nick was one of the first boys out that next day. Nobody bothered to ask why, but he walked far out into the field next to a grove of trees. After listening several minutes he walked back to where the others were working or playing, and spoke separately to two of the small boys in a group. Two boys that Jed and Heyes would believe. The first boy, Richard, ran toward the building. The other boy, Ephram, looked at him strangely and shrugged his shoulders. Ephram then looked around and ran toward the person he wanted. Nick went back out into the woods.
“Jed, come quick, Heyes is hurt and needs your help.” Ephram was almost as good as any actor. Nick had given him the incentive. He would lie to avoid a beating.
“No he’s not, he’s standing right over . . .” Jed looked where he last saw his friend, but hadn’t seen the other boy lure him out of sight. “Well, he’s around here somewhere, and he’s not hurt.”
“No Jed, I saw him go out to the field, and I saw Nick hit him with a rock.” Ephram sounded desperate, and that’s what he was.
“Which way?” Jed didn’t try to stop the rising fear inside.
“Out near that grove of trees. He’ll be hard to see with the tall grass and snow, but if you climb up that big tree with the long branch you should spot him easy. I’ll go get one of the proctors.” Ephram didn’t know what Nick had in mind, but he was too scared to care.
Jed ran out through the grass, plowing through snow until he finally reached the trees. It was a long way out. A small wooded area lined an open field. A few trees dotted the field, and one of the trees near the wooded area was a monster. It had to be well over 70 feet tall, and was distinctive due to a long finger-like branch that shot out parallel to the ground. The branch was about 12 feet up, appeared to be about eight inches thick, and about nine feet long. A few smaller branches hung almost straight down toward the ground. The whole branch seemed to hang a little lower than usual due to all the snow and ice on it. He was so far out, he could barely make out the boys that were working around the home. He made it to the large tree, and found a way to climb up to reach the really long branch. He was certain he’d be able to spot Heyes from this height. He shimmied out further and further, and he heard a crack. He knew this branch could go, but it was his one chance to save his cousin. He shimmied further and heard another crack. He couldn’t stop now, he had to find Heyes. Just as he was out as far as he could safely go, he heard Nick’s voice from down below.
“You hit me with a rock, you brat!” Nick’s voice was dripping with venom.
“Nick, where is Heyes?” Jed’s voice suddenly sounded older.
Something in the younger man’s voice gave Nick pause. “Get me into trouble, huh? I don’t think you’ll get me into anymore trouble. You’re gonna remember this every time you even think of interfering.”
“I’m warning you Nick, tell me where Heyes is . . .” There was the sound of danger in that voice. One that would be groomed in years to come.
“Or what? What do you think you’re going to do? All I have to do is pull on this low twig and you’re coming down. The hard way. This is a warning, kid. Don’t mess with me again.” Nick looked more triumphant than he felt as he walked away. Jed didn’t whimper, or cry and Nick hadn’t counted on that. Nick was beginning to worry that he’d underestimated what these two were capable of.
“Where’s Heyes?” Jed yelled out to the departing boy, as the branch cracked again.
“He’s inside.” Nick laughed.
The branch finally gave way.
“Mr. Haynes didn’t want to see me, Richard. What’s going on?” Heyes stood in front of the younger boy with his arms crossed, and leaned against the wall.
“I don’t know Heyes, Nick just said Mr. Haynes wanted to see you.” Heyes stood straight at the mention of Nick’s name.
“Why did Nick tell you to say that?” Heyes’s voice became tight, and he grabbed the boy by the arm. He suddenly knew Nick had done something to get even. “Where’s Jed?”
“I don’t know Heyes, but Nick sent Ephram to go talk to him. Ouch, that hurts Heyes!” Heyes quickly dropped his hand.
“Sorry Richard. Look, go find Ephram for me will ya?” As Richard left, Heyes scanned the entire yard. He didn’t see Jed, but he did see Nick. Nick was standing with a group of four boys having too good of a laugh.
Heyes made it to Nick before Nick even saw him coming. Heyes threw him to the ground. “Where’s Jed?” Heyes glared at the other four boys warning them back.
Nick sneered at the question. Heyes punched Nick in the face. “I asked you a question, where’s Jed?” Heyes hit him again and again.
Nick was gasping from pain, “You’ll just have to look, I’m not helping you.”
Heyes hit him two more times. “I’ll finish you here and now if you don’t tell me.” Heyes was shaking the boy by the collar, and punched him once more. “Where is he?” Heyes shouted.
Richard ran up with Ephram. “Heyes, Ephram thinks he knows where Jed is.”
It took a full thirty seconds for Richard’s voice to register in Heyes’s brain. He punched Nick one last time and stood up. Ephram broke out in tears. Richard looked at Heyes and explained. “He thinks you’re going to start hitting him too.”
Heyes tried to calm down, but wasn’t having much luck. He was too scared. “Ephram, I’m not going to hit you. Tell me where he is.” The anger in his voice only made Ephram cry harder.
“He threatened to beat me up,” the younger boy sobbed.
Heyes softened his voice, “Ephram, now I mean it, I’m not going to hit you. It’s very important that you tell me where Jed is.” Heyes was clenching and unclenching his fists.
Ephram took a minute to calm down. Nick looked up from the ground. “Ephram, you say anything and you’ll live to regret it.”
Heyes kicked Nick in the side. The red-headed boy rolled back and forth spouting epithets at Heyes.
“I don’t want Jed to be hurt. I didn’t think Nick would do anything to him, nothing serious anyway.”
“I know that Ephram, but we’re wasting time.” Heyes pleaded with the boy.
“Nick said to send him out looking for you way out in the field near the really tall tree with the long branch on it.” Ephram sniffed as he finished.
Heyes looked out into the field where the big tree was, but there was no branch to be seen. Heyes thought he would be very sick at that moment, but his stomach would have to catch up to the rest of him.
He didn’t stop running until he got to the fallen branch. His heart raced as he imagined his cousin crushed underneath.
Jed was not there. Heyes stood up. When he did, he saw Jed’s leg on the other side of the branch. He climbed over it to find his cousin lying to the side of the branch. His leg was lying at an unnatural angle, broken. Jed wasn’t moving. Heyes sank to the ground, and gently picked up Jed’s head and placed it in his lap.
“Please, don’t let him be dead. He’s my cousin, and I need him. I don’t know what I’d do if he weren’t here.” Tears began to stream down his cheeks. Some of the first since his family died. Jed opened his eyes, “Han?”
Heyes smiled with relief, “Yeah, Jed, I’m here.”
“Han, I’m cold.” Jed became unconscious again.
Heyes smoothed his hair over his forehead. “We’ll get you warm real soon. You just hang on.”
Richard led several proctors and children to where Heyes was sitting. The grown men laid out a tarp and gently placed the boy on it. They, along with several of the older boys carried Jed back to the home. Heyes walked along side and held his cousin’s hand.
They brought Jed into the infirmary, and gently laid him on a bed. He was very pale and the only movement was in his face. It was contorted with pain.
The infirmary was much like the dormitory, only on a smaller scale. There were ten beds that lined two walls in a large open room, and a chair on either side of the room that could be moved from bed to bed. There were two large windows to give the staff better light to work in, and next to every other bed was a small night stand with a basin for water, and an oil lamp. There was a desk against a third wall for a nurse or doctor to sit and observe or do work.
Heyes barely noticed that Nick was several beds away with Mrs. Thrush standing over him. He had blood all over his face. There was a cut over his eye, at least one missing tooth and his nose was clearly broken. Both eyes were already starting to blacken.
“Hannibal Heyes, we will have to find a new punishment for what you have done.” Mrs. Thrush was livid and making her way toward Heyes. “I don’t know what madness this is but I won’t . . .” the sight of Jed stopped her dead. She looked at Heyes and saw utter despair.
Her voice and her demeanor softened. “Hannibal, I want to see you and Nick in my office tomorrow morning after breakfast. You, of course, may stay here while the doctor tends to Jedidiah.”
Their eyes locked, and she closed her eyes and nodded her hopes that Jed would be fine.
The doctor was not long in coming. Heyes never left Jed’s side, not even when the doctor had to manipulate Jed’s leg. Beads of sweat broke out all over Jed’s face. The sound of the bones scrapping together made Heyes nauseous, but he just held his cousin’s hand tighter.
The doctor checked Jed over thoroughly, and located a knot on the back of his head, but no other injuries were to be found.
The doctor finally spoke to Heyes, “Your friend is going to be all right. He’s going to be in some pain for a while, but he’ll live. I’ve given him some medicine to help with the worst of it, but it will keep him asleep for most of the day.”
Heyes thanked the doctor, and watched as he headed to take care of Nick. He delivered one of the angriest, deadliest looks he’d ever given, but Nick saw none of it. His eyes had all but swollen shut.
Heyes stayed with Jed the rest of the day. The nurse had felt so badly for the boy that she snuck a small dinner in for him to eat while he waited. Heyes never touched it. He was later ordered to return to the dormitory for the night. Heyes slowly made his way toward his bed, and sat on the edge. Every eye in the room was on him, and hushed whispers related the days events to any boy who hadn’t already heard what had happened.
Heyes mechanically got ready for bed, and crawled under the covers in time for lights out. It took everything he had not to jump out of the bed. He waited a good hour before doing that.
An hour before sunrise, the nurse woke Heyes and told him to get back to the dormitory before he could get caught. He was grateful that she hadn’t shooed him away when she had found him several hours earlier sitting in the chair next to the bed.
Heyes let go of Jed’s hand, and stood up. Jed groaned and painstakingly opened his eyes.
“Jed, are you okay?” Heyes sat down with a thud.
“My head and leg hurts.”
“Don’t talk, I’m just glad you’re awake. You want some water?” Heyes wanted to do something to make him feel better. Even if it was a glass of water.
“Just a little.” Jed had only a small sip when his eyes grew wider. “Nick.”
“He did this to you?” Heyes was getting angry again.
Jed tried to nod, but it hurt too much. “Yep. Watch your back.”
“Don’t have to. I put him in the bed down from yours.” Heyes said matter-of-factly.
A tiny smile played across Jed’s face. “You did?”
“Yeah, so don’t you worry about him. I was pretty sure he caused all this, but I’m glad you could tell me.” Heyes smiled, but it quickly disappeared. Jed was looking very white, and his face was creased with pain.
The nurse approached smiling. “I’m glad you’re up.”
“He’s hurting real bad.” Heyes was getting more worried.
“I can see he is. Now you get back to the dorm, and I’ll give him some more medicine to help the pain. Git.” She gave Heyes a small shove toward the door. He looked back over his shoulder, and she added, “I’ll take care of him. Stay out of trouble.”
Nick was waiting in Mrs. Thrush’s office when Heyes entered. He at least had the common decency to look scared. His eyes were still swollen, and he was definitely missing a front tooth.
“Don’t worry, Nick. I’m not going to do anything to you here.” The danger was back in his voice. “No. I’m going to wait until just the right moment. It’s like what that guys says in that story we read in class. ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold.’ I really didn’t understand what that meant, until now. It’s going to be my pleasure making sure you understand it too.” He gave Nick a smile that did nothing to hide the menace in his eyes.
“I ain’t afraid of you.” Nick slowly sat a little straighter in his chair. “I didn’t do anything. You can’t prove I did anything. You and your cousin have had it out for me, and Mrs. Thrush knows that. She won’t believe you. I told you she likes me. I’ve been getting her on my side for years. She thinks I’m a little angel. So forget it. You aren’t tricking me into saying anything. Like I said, she won’t believe you.”
While Nick was busy getting red-faced and spouting his defense, Heyes heard a slight sound behind him. It was what he’d been waiting for.
“Oh yes she will, because it’s the truth. And before you start telling me how that isn’t enough, I have something better. All the kids you’ve bullied and beaten are willing to talk. They’re willing to spill everything you’ve done to them, and they’re willing to tell her what you did to Jed.”
“Those babies wouldn’t say a word. They know better.” He smashed his fist into his hand for effect. Nick was certain no one would dare talk.
“Oh they do know better, Nick. They know you can’t touch them.” It was all Heyes could do to sit back in his seat. He wanted to lean forward, to pull the last part out of Nick, but he had to look calm. He needed the fish to bite.
“I’m too smart for you, and I’m definitely too smart for them. Jed was easy, and these nothing boys will be even easier. So will old Thrush.” Nick chuckled in triumph.
“You’ll have a hard time doing that from where I’m sending you.” Mrs. Thrush’s face was crimson. Nick didn’t bother to look around. He swallowed hard and tried his best to look invisible. “That will be all Hannibal.” The look she gave Heyes made certain any further discussion was ended.
Heyes quickly got up, smiled widely at Nick and left.
Jed was beaming with pride by the time Heyes finished telling him how he got Nick. No one ever found out exactly what had happened to him. Some speculated that he went to prison, some thought he might be an indentured servant somewhere, and others hoped he had been sent to fight with the army.
Jed was laid up for quite some time, and Heyes would sit with him whenever he could get away. He would sneak out every night to sleep in the bed next to Jed, and the same sympathetic nurse would shoo him back to the dormitory before he could get caught. Life got a little easier at the school, but not by much. Neither boy wanted to remain there a minute longer than they had to. Heyes realized they both needed to be a little older before they faced the world, so he would read to Jed, and both boys would plan their escape from the home and plan their futures.
“Whaddaya wanna be when you grow up, Heyes?” Jed was sitting on the edge of the bed.
“I don’t know, Jed, haven’t given it much thought. Maybe a Pinkerton detective or something. Might like to solve crime.” Heyes kind of chuckled. “What about you?”
“I want to be a lawman maybe. I want to be the kind of person that doesn’t get picked on. Someone who can stop mean folks from picking on other people. I want to be someone that doesn’t have to do what other people tell them to do, and I want a lot of money, so I can get whatever I want. Especially a new warm coat.” Jed’s eyes had gotten wide and eager.
“That’s a lot for a little kid like you.” Heyes stopped smiling.
“Well, it was either that, or I want to be an outlaw.” Jed smiled at his friend and cousin.
“An outlaw? Well, you’re gonna need a name.” Heyes looked hard at his cousin. “Guess we’d have to call you something like Kid Curry.” The smile on Heyes’s face grew until he started laughing.
“Aw, cut it out, Heyes!” Jed looked hurt, but then he started to laugh.
The last snow of the season fell softly as the two boys shared a laugh on what seemed like the most unlikely of prospects.