The Long Road – Part 5
Two months had passed; Kid's arm and head had healed completely. The group had gotten into a routine. Heyes continued to teach Margaret to cook and she was actually getting good. Kid would teach the children card games; even teaching them how to play blackjack and poker using dried beans as chips. They did think of using the payroll but decided it was better not to. Margaret wasn't thrilled about the last two games, but deciding they really didn't have anything else to do and it kept them happy. She and Heyes would even join in the game after they had finished cooking. Rachael was becoming rather good, often ending up with all of Kid's beans which would frustrate Kid and give Heyes ammunition to tease Kid with until she beat him.
Each time a sack from the storeroom was emptied, Heyes and Kid worked on the outfits for the children to wear in the snow. And every night Heyes read ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' as they all sat by the fire before bedtime.
"'Goodness gracious, is dat you, Huck? En you ain' dead -- you ain' drownded -- you's back agin? It's too good for true, honey, it's too good for true. Lemme look at you chile, lemme feel o' you. No, you ain' dead! you's back agin, 'live en soun', jis de same ole Huck -- de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness!'" Heyes read and then closed the book.
"Don't stop here!" Rachael exclaimed.
Heyes chuckled, "I've already gone past ten pages tonight."
"But," Rachael pleaded.
"It's time for bed Rachael," Margaret said as she stood up from the chair. "Now say good night, it's time for prayers and then bed."
"But mama," Rachael said, all of a sudden sounding the four-year-old child she was and not the grown up she wanted to be. "It's Christmas Eve, can't we stay up a little while longer? Can't we hear a few more pages of the story?"
Tears welled up in Margaret's eyes as she smiled tightly at her daughter.
Catching Margaret's reaction Kid quickly said, "Rachael, I bet that if you promised your mother you would go to bed without any more begging," Kid paused and looked at the little girl. "Maybe she would let Uncle Joshua tell the story, ‘The Night Before Christmas'."
The children had started calling Heyes and Kid, Uncle about two weeks after they were stranded in the cabin. They had decided that they were becoming more of an extended family and Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were just too formal. Rachael tried just using Joshua and Thaddeus but Margaret stopped that immediately.
Rachael's eyes grew wide as she turned her eyes towards her mother. "Please," she pleaded. "I promise to say my prayers and go right to sleep. Please, let Uncle Joshua tell us the story."
"Pleeeezzzz," Daniel chimed in too.
"Children, Uncle Joshua has been reading for a long time already. He doesn't even have the book," Margaret said and then stopped as she looked at the pleading faces that now included Kid. She turned to Heyes, "Do you know the story?"
Heyes chuckled, "Yes I know the story and would be happy to tell it." Margaret shrugged in defeat and Heyes began. "Twas the Night before Christmas...."
The children, Margaret and Kid sat enthralled by Heyes' story telling. He recited the entire story from memory. When he finished, "And to all Good Night," they all applauded.
"Okay, children, say goodnight," Margaret said as she once again stood up.
Rachael went over and hugged and kissed Kid and then did the same to Heyes. "Uncle Joshua," she asked as she looked into his eyes. "Do you think Santa will know where to find us tonight? Do you think he will bring us presents?"
Heyes reached over and swept Rachael up onto his lap. He looked into her eyes and quietly he said, "I think Santa knows where we are but I don't think he will bring any presents tonight."
Rachael's lip began to tremble.
"Sshh, it's okay, he won't forget you. He just knows that we have no way of bringing presents down the mountain when we leave. He also knows your father wants to spend Christmas with you. I'm sure he will wait until you get home and then he will bring all your presents to your house."
"Okay," she said and then gave him an extra kiss and hug before bouncing off behind the curtain.
Margaret looked at Heyes and mouthed ‘thank you'.
As Margaret put the children to bed Heyes carefully put the book away. He made sure to wrap it in the brown paper every night and place it in his saddlebag under his cot. He put on his coat and without saying a word to anyone walked quietly out on the porch.
Ten minutes passed as Heyes stood quietly on the porch staring at the stars. The door opened and closed behind him but he didn't turn and look, he knew who it was.
"You okay Heyes?" Kid asked as he walked up and stood next to his partner.
"I'm fine Kid," Heyes said trying to regain the voice that had betrayed his true feelings.
Kid placed his hand on Heyes' shoulder, "She loves you. She'll be waiting for you."
"I know Kid," Heyes said solemnly. "It's just last year was her first real Christmas since she was eight. She's back to being all alone."
"I'm sure she's with Walter and Doris," Kid said trying to comfort Heyes.
Heyes chuckled softly. "No, she's at the house," he replied. Still looking off into the darkness he said, "You know her. Do you really think she would leave our house?"
"No," Kid replied. "But I'm sure they're still there for her."
"I know Kid, I know." Heyes continued to look forward as it began to ever so lightly snow. "Hey Kid," Heyes smiled. "Snow for Christmas. Don't you remember how we used to love a Christmas snowfall?"
"Sure do Heyes," Kid replied. "I'm so glad you decided when we finished last week to wait till Christmas to give the children the snow outfits. I know it's not much, but at least they will have something special to open."
"And," Heyes said with the glint of a child in his eyes, "We can go play in the snow!"
"We certainly can," Kid laughed. "Now if Santa could just drop off a turkey, things would almost be perfect." They stood on the porch in silence for a few more minutes. Kid turned to Heyes, "Come on Heyes, it's cold, let's go inside."
Laurie sat propped up in bed looking through her most prized possession, "The Night Before Christmas". It had always been her favorite book and she would make her father read it to her over and over again, even in July. The book and the locket were the only two things she had left to remember him by. She closed her eyes and the tears ran down her face. Last Christmas had been so wonderful. It was her first real Christmas since she was eight and her father had passed away. Heyes, Kid, Walter and Doris had all gone out of their way to make it special. The Hotel was decorated beautifully and Heyes even put a small tree in their room so they could have their own special Christmas morning. One year later and she was all alone again. She missed Heyes so much, but even more so on this day. She held the book tight to her chest and silently cried.
A knock on the door brought her back to reality. Quickly wiping the tears from her face she said, "Come in."
Sarah walked in carrying a tray with Laurie's breakfast on it. She placed it on the table next to the bed and poured Laurie a cup of tea then handed it to her. "Here's you tea."
Laurie looked at the cup but didn't reach for it. "Take your tea," Sarah said in a motherly fashion.
Laurie looked at Sarah and Sarah returned it with a stare. Finally, Laurie slowly reached out and took the cup, holding it in front of her. Her face had taken on the expression of a young child being told to drink their horrible medicine. She held the cup firmly in both hands, her lips were pursed and she scowled.
Sarah looked at Laurie and smiled as she sat down on the bed next to her. She placed her hand on her friend's, "Laurie, you know you have to drink the tea."
Laurie's looked at Sarah through the corners of her eyes but didn't change her expression. Then she abruptly sat up and turned to Sarah offering her the cup.
Sarah giggled, "No, you have to drink the tea."
"I know you don't want to drink it, but I have to make it. It's much quicker to drink it than to make it."
"Wanna change places?" Laurie said quickly and playfully without thinking. As soon as the words left her lips she regretted it. "No, Sarah I didn't mean it."
Sarah nodded her head and placed her hand on Laurie's arm, "I know. It's okay don't get upset. I know you don't like the tea but the doctor said to drink it and it is helping."
"I know I'm just tired of it. I really didn't mean it." Laurie said and then closed her eyes and took a swig of the tea. She shuddered as the warm liquid entered her mouth and she swallowed it. "I will never miss drinking this," she blurted out.
"Laurie," Sarah exclaimed, "Don't say that."
"Oh, I mean when I don't have to any more," Laurie said. "It is horrible but I know I have to have it. I won't stop drinking it until the doctor tells me I can, okay."
Sarah looked at her and smiled. "Good," she said as she stood up and then turned added, "You only have to drink it, I have to make it. You should smell the kitchen while it's cooking. You can drink the whole cup in a few minutes, I have to smell it for hours!"
She walked over and opened the curtains a little more. "Too much light?" she asked.
"No, thank you, that's perfect."
"Well you should wait for the tea to settle for a little bit and then eat something. Father John will probably be here this morning and I believe Walter and Doris told me they would be out later this afternoon."
Laurie sighed, "Sarah, when Father John goes to leave, I would like you to go back to town with him." Sarah opened her mouth to protest but Laurie continued. "Sarah, you have a family. You should spend Christmas with your family."
"But who will be here to take care of you?"
"I'll be fine. You can bring the pot of tea up here and I'll promise to drink it."
"No, I ..." Sarah started to object when Laurie cut her off.
"I can't bear for you to miss spending this time with your family," Laurie said as tears welled in her eyes. "I need for you to be there with them. Please. I promise I will be fine. It's only for a day and a half. I will stay in bed and drink my tea and eat what ever you leave me."
Sarah looked at Laurie and knew she couldn't change her mind.
"Please do this for me. I don't want to be the cause of you missing your Christmas."
Sarah finally nodded.
"I also want you to tell Walter and Doris to stay home."
Sarah rolled her eyes at her, "Oh, that's going to go over well."
Laurie smiled at Sarah, "But you'll do it and you'll make sure they stay at the hotel."
"Good, now go get your things together, Father John should be here soon. He told me yesterday he would be early because of services tonight."
Hannibal Heyes rolled over in his cot. He picked up his pocket watch and checked the time, six in the morning. He looked at the heart charm on the chain and rubbed it between his fingers. Merry Christmas Sweetheart he thought as he closed his eyes, still rubbing the heart. He sighed, he hoped she was alright and that she was with Doris and Walter but he knew better. They had a home and she would be there. She would be stubborn about it and dig in her heels not allowing anyone to talk her out of it. He smiled and chuckled quietly as he placed the watch back on the post of the cot and sat up.
"Merry Christmas Heyes," Kid whispered as he too sat up on his cot.
"Merry Christmas Kid," Heyes replied sadly.
"We'll have Christmas for Laurie when we get home. Just like you told Rachael would happen."
Heyes smiled slightly.
"She knows you would be there if you could."
"I know," Heyes replied. "I just get this feeling about her. Can't explain it, but it's this feeling and I can't shake it."
"I know, I think you're just worried about her and feeling bad that you're not there. She'll understand."
"Well how ‘bout if I take care of the horses this morning and you stoke the fire and put the packages out for Rachael and Daniel to find."
Heyes nodded and moved to the storeroom to get the two packages, one each for Rachael and Daniel. It wasn't much, but it was a surprise. He placed them on the floor by the fire where the children sat when they get out of bed. As he was bending over to put a log on the fire he heard a shot ring out. Startled he dropped the log, grabbed his gun and ran out the cabin door. He stopped on the porch and quickly scanned the area looking for his partner. He was about to run towards the stable when he saw him walking back. "Kid, you all right? I heard a shot," he yelled out.
Kid smiled ear to ear and held something high in the air for Heyes to see as he continued to walk towards the porch. Heyes looked from Kid's face to, whatever he was trying to show him, to Kid's gun belt. He snickered as he put his gun in his waistband, "You wore your gun to go out and check the horses."
Kid's smile drooped a little as his arm sagged, "You know I feel nekkid without out it, Heyes."
"There's no one up here but us," Heyes sneered.
"Well, it's a good thing I did," Kid said, sounding annoyed at Heyes. "I just shot us Christmas dinner." He lifted his hand high in the air and showed Heyes his catch.
Heyes smiled at Kid.
Kid's smile grew again, "It was the darnedest thing. I was checking the horses and out of nowhere this turkey just appeared." Kid laughed, "Guess Santa heard me asking for a turkey last night!"
"Kind of scrawny isn't it?"
Kid stopped on front of the porch and glared at Heyes, "You know you can just eat...." He started and then stopped as he saw the smile creep across Heyes' face.
"Sure easy to rile you up, Kid," Heyes chuckled. "Where'd that sense of humor of yours go?"
Kid shook his head at Heyes and laughed.
"Merry Christmas Kid," Heyes said and patted his partner on his back.
"Merry Christmas, Heyes," Kid replied and then added, "Next time you run out onto a snow covered porch you might want to put boots on."
Heyes frowned, "Sure, next time I hear a shot and you aren't around I'll take my time putting my boots on."
Kid chuckled, "Now who's lost their sense of humor?"
Heyes smirked at Kid and they walked back into the cabin.
Margaret and the children were huddled in the corner. When she saw the two of them walk in she let out the breath she had been holding and loosened her grip on the children. "We heard a shot," she said meekly.
"Thaddeus shot us Christmas dinner," Heyes said proudly as he pointed to the turkey in Kid's hand.
Margaret put her hand to her face, "A turkey! Where on earth did you find a turkey up here?" She got up and walked over to the men.
"It just appeared out of nowhere," Kid stated.
"A turkey. I can't believe it," Margaret said and then stopped abruptly. "Do either of you know what to do with a turkey?"
Kid chuckled, "Sure do, we'll clean it up after breakfast..."
"Mama," Daniel yelled interrupting Kid. "Look!" he exclaimed holding up a package. "Santa was here!"
Rachael ran to her brother and grabbed the other package. The two children jumped up and down screaming for joy. Margaret walked over to the children, "Let me see," she said as she reached them. She looked at the packages wrapped in old flour sacks and then at Heyes and Kid and smiled. They returned the smile and lightly nodded their heads at her. "Well, go ahead and open them," she said as the children grabbed and pulled at the sack. They both pulled out the outfits at the same time and became real quiet as they stared at them.
Heyes looked at Kid and he shrugged his shoulders at him. "They're to wear outside so you can play in the snow," Heyes said.
The children started to jump up and down, screaming again.
"Can we play in the snow mama? Can we?" Rachael and Daniel yelled. "Please."
"Okay, okay," Margaret yelled over the children's voices. "If you calm down now, after breakfast, you can go play for a little while in the snow."
They made breakfast and the children ate it in lightning fashion. Heyes, Kid and Margaret watch in amusement, all wondering if the children even tasted the food, they ate it so quickly. When they were done, they pushed themselves away from the table. "We're done, can we go play in the snow?"
Margaret turned to Kid and Heyes, "Are you sure those outfits will keep them warm and dry?"
"They did when we were kids," Kid stated.
"They shouldn't be out real long but I think for short periods, it should do the trick," Heyes stated.
Margaret nodded. Turning to the children she said, "I can't come out with you so you will have to stay right off the porch."
"Oh, we plan on going with them," Kid stated.
"Yippee, Uncle Thaddeus and Uncle Joshua are coming with us!" Daniel cheered.
"Well, I think it will have to be just Uncle Thaddeus this time," Heyes said looking sad. "I have to get the turkey ready so we can have it for dinner."
"Joshua, you've been doing most of the cookin’. Why don't you go with the children and I'll take care of the turkey?" Kid said.
Heyes' eyes lit up like a child's, "Really?"
Smiling, Kid nodded.
Clapping his hands together as he beamed at the children he said, "Anyone want to make a snowman?"
The children cheered and jumped up and down with joy. "Well let's get those outfits on you and go make one!"
Margaret, Kid and Heyes helped the children into their makeshift snow outfits. When they were done the three stood back and smiled, trying their best to suppress laughter. Standing before them covered head to toe were two of the oddest-looking creatures they had ever seen. Their legs were shoulder width apart and were shoved into sacks that had been tied off at the ankles. The sacks had been stuffed with other sacks so the legs looked like tied off sausages. Their arms stuck out almost straight from their shoulders, as the padding on the torso and arms was really thick. Their arms were lightly tied at the wrist to make a sort of a mitten on each hand. On top of their heads was a hat made out of a couple of cut off sacks and then tied to make it snug and not fall off. Leaning over they helped the children put their shoes on and then slipped on the makeshift boots to complete the outfit.
The three stood looking at the children who smiled back at them.
"That really took us two months to make," Kid said under his breath.
"We had to wait for the sacks to be empty," Heyes replied just as quietly.
"Yeah, and we really didn't have anything to sew it with," Kid said defensively.
"Right," Heyes nodded.
"I don't know if I can move," Rachael squeaked out.
"Oh," Heyes said polishing up his silver tongue. "It's a little stiff now. But I'm sure as soon as you get out in the snow, it will loosen up. Just needs a little time. Just like new shoes, you need to break them in. Well, this," he paused and wondered what to call the outfit and decided just to gloss over it. "Well, this will have to be broken in a little too. You'll be real happy it is so..." he paused again as he looked for a word to describe it and only came up with, "Big. Once you're outside and in the snow, it will keep you warm and dry." He continued to talk as he buttoned his coat and placed his hat on his head. "Ready?" he said and opened the door. The two children struggled, waddling towards the door. Heyes kept his eyes on them as he caught Margaret and Kid out of the corner of his eye trying desperately not to burst into laughter. As he closed the door behind them, he heard a roar from inside the cabin. Not to be discouraged, he continued talking to the children. "Here, let me help you off the porch," he said as he picked Daniel up, placing him down in the snow. Daniel immediately toppled over. Heyes had turned his back to help Rachael off the porch. Turning back around he saw Daniel flailing in the snow trying to get up. "Oh here, let me help," Heyes said as he put Rachael down. She wobbled but was able to keep her balance. Heyes picked Daniel up, "Are you alright?"
"Yippee!" Daniel yelled out! "We're playing in the snow!"
"Let's build a snowman Uncle Joshua."
Heyes nodded and carefully placed the boy down. He wobbled but was able to stay standing this time. As the children moved, slowly at first, the outfits did loosen up and they were able to move around quite freely.
Margaret and Kid went about cleaning and preparing the turkey to be cooked as Heyes played with the children. They could hear the laughter from outside. Finishing the preparations, Kid went to put the turkey on the fire. Margaret began to clean up the table area. Noticing something on the floor she bent over and picked it up. She looked at it and walked over to Kid who had just swung the pot with the turkey over the fire. Standing up and turning around he almost ran into her.
"Mr. Curry," she said quietly as she looked up at him. "I'm sorry, I don't know what your friends call you."
Looking at her, he searched her face, looking for a meaning of the question and the name he responded, "My friends that know call me Kid."
"And your mother?"
"When she was alive, Jed."
"I'm sorry she's not with you any more."
"It was a long time ago," he said quietly. "Margaret, what's the matter?"
"I don't understand," she said as she looked at him.
Kid stood there looking confused.
"I mean," she turned and started to pace. "You and Hannibal Heyes are outlaws. Some of the best outlaws ever."
Kid smiled and puffed out his chest slightly.
"I was always taught how horrible the two of you were. Mean, nasty," she turned and looked in Kid's bright blue eyes, "and you're not. I don't understand. First you risk your necks to come save my children and me. You get hurt almost falling to your death. The way he took care of you. You have taken care of us. You have been nothing but gentlemen, kind and wonderful. You made snow outfits for my children and Hannibal Heyes is outside playing with them. I haven't heard them laugh like that in a long time and now I find this," she held up an old telegram. "Obviously the same person that gave him the charm on his watch wrote this," she paused and quietly added, "I don't understand."
Kid looked at telegram and read it. It was the telegram Heyes received telling them to go find the hostages. "You should really put that back where you found it. Heyes would be upset if he knew you read it." He paused, "Margaret, there are a lot of things you don't know about us."
Margaret walked over and placed the paper under Heyes' cot where she found it. She stood up and turned around, "Please tell me then."
Kid looked at her and then at the door to the cabin wondering what Heyes would say. He knew Heyes kept things close to heart, but after all the time they had been together, he thought she deserved an answer. He motioned to the chairs by the fire and sat down. "You see Margaret, Heyes and I don't rob banks and trains anymore. We haven't broken the law in over three years."
"But why? You're still wanted. You're both still worth ten thousand dollars each."
"Yeah, I know," Kid sighed. "See what you don't know is that we made a deal a long time ago with the Governor that if we stayed out of trouble he would give us amnesty."
"You, amnesty?" Margaret laughed and then saw the expression on Kid's face and stopped.
"Yes, us, amnesty. We had to prove we could stay out of trouble. That was with Governor Warren, and as you know he's been replaced."
"But he's Governor again."
"Yeah, and we have hope. That's one of the reasons we took the job to guard the payroll. Lom Trevors the Sheriff in Porterville is an old friend and asked for our help. He knows who we are and is actually trying to help get us the amnesty. Anyway, he thought if we helped keep the payroll safe, the Governor might decide it was time. Thing is, he has to convince some other people."
"Like my father."
"Like your father and all the others that have the reward on us."
Margaret sat and thought for a few minutes. "Does she know who you are?"
"She must really be special. I see him when he doesn't think anyone is around. He plays with the charm. Sometimes he has the saddest look and other times a smile that I have never seen or couldn't imagine anyone giving to me."
"She is very special and Heyes will do everything to protect her and me for that matter. That's why he won't talk about her to you. He doesn't want her to be used to get to him or me. We are his family and he will do anything for us even if he has to sacrifice himself. That's the way it is with him. Right now I think you and the children fall into that category too."
Margaret opened her mouth to say something, when the cabin door burst open. Heyes peered in and looked around. Spotting the two sitting by the fire he called out sounding like a young schoolboy, "Come over to the door. You have to see the snowman we built!" He left the door open and ran back to the children.
Kid and Margaret walked over to the door and laughed. The three were standing next to a very large and lopsided snowman and had almost as much snow on them as the snowman did. "Ta-da," they yelled in unison and put out their arms to show their accomplishment.
"Wonderful!" Margaret clapped as she laughed at the site. "Bravo!" She laughed.
Kid stood looking at Heyes and the smile on his face; it reached all the way to his eyes. It had been months since he had seen it. He smiled back and clapped.
"Now I think you should shake off some of that snow and come in to warm up. You have been out there for a while."
"But mama," the children cried out.
Heyes held up his hands, "Hey, hey, your mother is right. We have been out for a long time and the suits kept you dry! Just cause we have to go in now doesn't mean we can't play in the snow again."
"Really?" they asked wide-eyed
"Really," Heyes chuckled. "Now let's shake off and go get some sassafras tea!" The three ran stumbling to the cabin door.
"Whoa," Kid said holding up his hands. "Shake off before you come on the porch or you might bury us in, there is so much snow on you." They all stopped and started to brush off. Kid looked at Heyes, "You know Joshua, if you just rolled down the mountain, you might collect enough snow to clear a path for us," Kid chuckled.
Heyes looked up at Kid and glared then as he was brushing off the snow he gathered a handful. His glare turned into a devilish grin and Kid stopped laughing. "Nooo," he yelled before the snowball hit him directly in the chest.
Heyes' grin became wider and the children laughed.
Kid looked at the snow on his chest and slowly lifted his head to look at Heyes. Suddenly, he burst into the snow grabbing a handful and throwing it at Heyes. In no time, a full fledge snowball fight erupted with the four throwing snow at each other.
Margaret stood on the porch and laughed. About fifteen minutes later as they all appeared to be exhausted she called out, "Tea and coffee are done! Time to come in."
They all stopped throwing the snow and slowly trudged towards the door, making sure to shake of the snow before going into the cabin. As they walked in Heyes looked at Kid, "You know Thaddeus, the next time you get into a snowball fight, might be smart to have a coat on!" Kid chuckled and shook his head at Heyes.
Later that day, they all sat down to a turkey dinner eating so much they felt like they would burst. After that they sat by the fire and Heyes read ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' until the exhausted little eyes could no longer stay open. After putting the children to bed, Margaret peered out from the curtain. Sitting in the chair as he did every night was Heyes, once again rubbing the heart charm between his fingers. She watched for a moment as she could see the dimple on his face appear. She knew he must be thinking of a good memory. She smiled and went to sleep.
Laurie swung her legs over the edge of the bed. She reached for Heyes' dark blue shirt that she had hanging on the bedpost. She held it to her face and smelled it; his scent was fading. She closed her eyes and gently rubbed it on her cheek and smiled. She stood up slowly and put his shirt on. Then, having been cleared by the doctor to move around a little each day, Laurie carefully walked downstairs to the den. She smiled when she saw the fireplace all set and ready to be lit along with the pot of tea and biscuits Sarah must have left her. Guess Sarah knew where she would be spending her alone time. Laurie lit the fire and walked over to Heyes' favorite chair. Standing there smiling, Laurie ran her hand along the back and the arms of the chair before settling in. She curled up and spent Christmas watching the flames dance as she absently played with the heart on the necklace Heyes had given to her.
The next two and a half months flew by amazingly fast. The children loved playing in the snow and to the amazement of all, the suits actually kept them warm and dry. Margaret practiced cooking and was getting quite good at it. She even branched off on her own, trying to create something, anything different than the same old boring food every night. Of course, every night they sat by the fire and Heyes would read them ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'". Even Kid had to admit he was enjoying it.
"But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before. The end." Heyes said, as he closed the book.
"That's the end?" Rachael said sounding very sad. "What is Uncle Joshua going to read tomorrow night?"
"Don't worry," Kid said, "I'm sure Uncle Joshua has a few stories in his head he can tell us."
"It's time for bed now children, we'll worry about tomorrow night, tomorrow night," Margaret stated as she stood up. "Say good-night and I'll tuck you in."
Margaret tucked the children in as Heyes and Kid sat quietly by the fire. "So how much longer do you think it will be until we can get through the Needle?" Kid asked keeping his voice quiet.
Heyes shook his head, "Don't know. It's getting warmer but I don't know how long it will take."
Kid turned to look at his partner, "You know Heyes you get on my nerves sometimes."
He turned to look at Kid.
"You have been out ‘exercising' the horses the past three mornings. You aren't gonna sit there and tell me you haven't been down the mountain to take a look."
Brown eyes stared back at blue eyes and tried to conceal a smile, "Me?"
Kid glared at him.
"If we want the horses to get us off the mountain, they need some exercise. They've been cooped up all winter."
Kid didn't blink.
"Okay," Heyes said holding his hands up in front of him. "I've been down the mountain and the pass is still snowed in. I can't tell how much snow is on the ledge."
Blue eyes continued to stare at him.
"I didn't say anything, cause I didn't want anyone to get their hopes up."
Kid kept staring at him.
"Okay, if it continues to get warmer, a couple of weeks."
"Didn't want to get our hopes up?" Kid said looking at Heyes. "Or didn't want to get your hopes up?"
"I'm going to bed," Heyes said avoiding the question as he stood up.
Kid looked at Heyes, sighed and then followed him to bed.
Kid rolled over to see Heyes carrying his boots across the dimly lit cabin. "Heyes," he whispered loudly.
He turned to look at him.
"You can wait until the sun comes up to exercise the horses."
"Can't sleep," Heyes said. "No reason to wait. No reason for you to be awake either. Go back to sleep," he said as he quietly left the cabin stopping on the porch to put his boots on before heading to the stable area. He saddled the horse and headed down the same path he had taken the last three days. Today he hoped would be luckier.
Laurie walked out the kitchen door to the porch. She stood there for a moment and breathed in the chilly air and then looked at the mountains. They were still covered in snow. The last of the snow in Small Falls had melted a few weeks ago but she knew where Heyes and Kid were, there was still snow.
Sarah pulled the wagon up along the porch and stopped. "You shouldn't be out here, it's still cold," she said to Laurie as she got down.
"I just came out. I heard you coming as I was heading back upstairs," Laurie smiled slightly at her friend. She was so grateful Sarah had stayed with her all these months. Besides taking care of her, her company was much appreciated. "It's not cold, it's just chilly and it gets the blood moving."
"I'm glad your blood is moving," Sarah said as she began to unload the supplies from the wagon. "But you look really tired. I think you should lie down and get some rest."
"I will," Laurie replied. "Did you send Lom the telegram?"
"Did he respond?" Laurie said holding her breath as she realized if it was good news it would have been the first thing out of Sarah's mouth.
"Lom responded," she replied as she handed the telegram to Laurie. "He said there was still a lot of snow in that area of the mountain but he hadn't lost hope. He would continue to check and let you know when he heads out to find them."
Laurie looked at the telegram as Sarah told her what was written. She nodded her head, "I think I'll go rest in the den."
Sarah turned to Laurie and put her hands on her arms, "I really think you should go up to bed and rest."
Laurie shook her head as tears filled her eyes, "No, I need to be near Joshua and the closest thing is his chair." She blinked back the tears. "His shirt doesn't even smell like him anymore." She turned, walking back through the kitchen and into the den. She paused as she did every time she entered the room and imagined Heyes sitting in his chair. She touched the heart on her necklace and smiled before walking to the over stuffed chair and curling up in it. Sam, who had not left her side since the initial telegram, came over and sat on the floor in front of her. Laurie reached down to pet his head, "He'll be home soon Sam. I know no one else believes it but I know it. They'll be home as soon as they can." Sam licked her hand and she smiled at him.
Kid stayed in bed until he heard Heyes' horse leave. He then quietly got up and after leaving a note for Margaret telling her they would be back, he followed Heyes down the mountain. As he approached the passage to the Needle, Kid saw Heyes' horse tied off to the side and snow flying from the passage. He maneuvered his horse to the entrance of the five-foot narrow passage and was greeted with a shovel full of snow to the face. "Heyes!" Kid yelled out.
Startled, Heyes turned around to see Kid wiping the snow off his face.
Holding in a chuckle he asked, "Sorry, I didn't hear you. What are you doing here?"
"What am I doin’ here?" Kid yelled back. "What do you think I'm doin’ here? I'm your partner. I came to back you up."
"Oh," Heyes said and turned back around, continuing to dig and clear the passage.
Kid dismounted and tied his horse next to Heyes' and then walked back to the passageway entrance. He stopped before walking into it as snow was still flying in the air. "Heyes!" he yelled, "Can you stop so I can get to you?" Snow continued to fly. "Heyes!" Kid yelled louder.
The snow stopped flying and Heyes popped up in front of Kid. Kid jumped back being startled. "You say something Kid?" Heyes asked innocently.
Kid rolled his eyes, "Yeah I said," he began loudly and then in a normal tone continued, "I asked if you could stop so I could get in there."
"Oh," Heyes said. "Well come on in."
Kid looked around, he figured over three feet of the passageway had been dug out. He looked in front and saw a wall almost five feet high of snow in front of him. "This what you've been doing the past few mornings?"
"Why didn't you say anythin’?"
"Didn't want to get anyone's hopes up," Heyes said. "See, I got to thinking, the passage gets snowed in because the rock goes straight up so all the snow just slides down to this one place. The rest of the mountain is melting. Up by the cabin there is still a good two maybe even three feet to go; but down here, ‘bout a foot. Now, if I can break through the passage the ledge might not have so much. You know, nothing to hold it where it is, could just slide off down into the gorge. So, I figured I got nothing better to do, might as well see what's on the other side of the wall."
Kid smiled, "I like it when you're thinkin' Heyes! So how do we clear the area?"
"I've been digging with this little shovel I found in the corral and then when I get a pile built up by where you were, I scoop that out over by the horses. That's what's taking so long. It's like digging out twice but the passage is too narrow to pack it on the sides. I figured a little more and I can start throwing it forward towards the gorge."
Kid looked at him and nodded. "Well now that there are two of us, it should take half the time. Let's get diggin'. Got another shovel?"
"Over by my horse. Handle broke on it, but it's better than using your hands."
Kid nodded and walked over to retrieve it and then they both started digging.
The two worked for hours digging the heavy ice and snow from the passage. Finally Heyes stood up and just pushed on the top of the wall. It fell forward and they could see the gorge.
"You did it Heyes!" Kid yelled out in excitement. "We're through!"
"Just the top Kid," Heyes cautioned as he looked into the gorge. "But look, there's not a lot of snow on the ledge."
Kid's eyes grew wide, "Let's dig!" He yelled out as he bent down to scoop up the snow throwing it forward towards the gorge.
With renewed enthusiasm the two went back to work. About an hour later, they stood with the passage open, surveying the gorge.
Breathing hard, Heyes looked on. "Looks to be about a foot on the ledge."
"How long before it melts?" Kid asked out of breath.
"Not sure, not much sun gets to the ledge," Heyes replied. Still studying the ledge, he took a couple of steps towards the rock wall that went around the gorge. "You know Kid, if it was just you and me, we would be careful enough we could leave." He turned to look at Kid, "Do we take the chance with Margaret and the children?"
Kid looked at Heyes and then the ledge. "What if we walked the horses and stayed close to the wall; like you are?"
Heyes tilted his head slightly at Kid.
"Daniel will have to be carried, I think Rachael could walk, but if we stay close."
"You know Kid, I thought we had an agreement about you thinking," Heyes smiled and his eyes sparkled. "Sounds like a plan to me. I'll go first. I'll either carry Rachael or hold her hand. Then my horse, then Margaret followed by her horse, then can you carry Daniel."
"Heyes, I'd carry you through here to get off the mountain!"
"Let's go get the Brewster Family!" Heyes exclaimed.
Rachael woke up and ran out of the curtained area followed closely by Daniel and stopped abruptly. No Uncle Joshua or Thaddeus by the fire. She looked at their cots and they weren't there. She twisted her face as she thought and looked around the room. She spotted the storeroom door and walked over to it. She quietly knocked on the door, "Uncle Joshua, Uncle Thaddeus, are you in there?" When she got no response, she knocked again and then opened the door. Sighing she closed the door and walked over to the cabin door, opening it. She took a step out onto the porch and looked around.
"Rachael, Daniel," Margaret called. "What are you doing?"
"Looking for Uncle Joshua and Uncle Thaddeus," she replied.
Margaret peered out from the curtain as she smoothed her hair, "What?"
"Uncle Joshua and Uncle Thaddeus are gone," Daniel told his mother.
"Gone?" Margaret repeat sounding somewhat panicked.
"They aren't here," Rachael whined. "Mama, where did they go?"
"Are you sure?" she asked as she looked around the cabin and then spotted the note on the table. She quickly walked over to the table, and picked it up, "They'll be back in a little while."
"Where'd they go?" Daniel asked.
"I don't know Daniel but the note says they will be back in a little while. Why don't you and Rachael sit by the fire and I'll make you some tea and biscuits," Margaret said.
"Mama, I'm so tired of tea and biscuits," Rachael said quietly.
"I know dear," Margaret said hugging her daughter. "Hopefully we won't have to have them much longer." She paused and sighed to herself. She hoped it wouldn't be much longer. The storeroom was almost empty. Patting Rachael's back she said, "Run along and play with Daniel while I make breakfast."
The three stayed in the cabin, taking turns peering out the front door and down the mountain. Margaret tried everything to keep the children's minds off the fact that Joshua and Thaddeus weren't there. As the day went by, Margaret began to fear they had left them in the cabin. She tried not to show how worried she was to the children, but in the back of her mind she was panicking. By four o'clock she sighed and resigned herself to the fact that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were the outlaws she had been taught about. She walked into the storeroom and saw the two small sacks of flour left along the wall. As she was turning to close the door she saw the payroll sacks. She stared at them for a minute, if they had left her, would they have left a note saying they would be back soon? Would they have left the money? Maybe something had happened to them. Maybe they were no longer alone on the mountain. As she was about to start a full-fledged panic Rachael called out.
"They're back, mama, Joshua and Thaddeus are back!" Rachael screamed as she stood at the door of the cabin looking down the mountain.
Margaret ran to the door and looked down. In the distance she could see the partners riding up the mountain. She brought her hands up to her face to wipe the tears away and then hugged both children.
Heyes and Kid rode up to the cabin and dismounted quietly. Looking at Margaret's red eyes Heyes said, "I'm sorry we were gone so long."
Margaret forced a tight smile and then looked down at the ground.
"It's just we were busy," he said stringing them along. When Margaret looked back up he said very calmly, "We were clearing the passage. We're going home."
Margaret stared at Heyes and then looked at Kid with a completely blank expression on her face. The words Heyes had just told her didn't register. Finally she whispered, "What?"
"Were goin’ home!" Kid yelled and a huge smile appeared on both Kid's and Heyes' face.
Margaret looked at Kid and then at Heyes who nodded.
Putting her hands to her face, she began to sob and then her legs buckled. If Kid hadn't been quick grabbing her, she would have collapsed on the porch. "We're going home?" she cried out. She regained her balance and knelt down next to the children drawing them into a hug. "We're going home to your papa," she said as she held them tightly.
"Now?" Rachael cried out.
Margaret looked up at Heyes for the answer.
"Tomorrow. It's too late to make it down the mountain tonight. We'll leave first thing in the morning."
Margaret nodded and for the first time noticed how wet both Heyes and Kid looked. "Oh my," she said standing up. "Your look soaked to the bones. Let's get you in the cabin and by the fire. I'll make coffee and something to eat. You can tell us all about your day."
They sat and talked by the fire until it was time to go to bed. As Margaret got up to put the children to bed Heyes looked up at her from the chair he was sitting in. "Margaret, can we have a few words with you after you put the children to bed?"
She nodded and went to put the children to bed.
"Heyes, do you really think it's necessary?" Kid asked quietly.
"I still think it's better to be safe than sorry. I don't want to take any chances. I just want to get home." Heyes paused. "It's one thing to be up here with only the five of us. It's a whole other thing to be back in town with her family, with her father. Even if they're not in town, they're still around. We're worth twenty thousand dollars Kid and a lot of that reward is from her father."
"You worry about that but not about the payroll," Kid said.
"Well Kid, like you said. We've been getting along real good with Margaret and the children. I can't see her keeping the money, that would be stealing and we know what she thinks about outlaws. I don't think she's the type that would blame something on us that we didn't do. I just don't want to take the chance that her family loyalty will win out when we're there."
Kid nodded as Margaret came out from behind the curtain. "I'm not sure how much sleep they are going to get. They're both rather excited. So," she said sitting down, "What did you want to talk to me about?"
They sat in silence for a moment and then Heyes leaned forward towards Margaret and spoke quietly, "Margaret, do you know a family outside of town that we can drop you off at tomorrow?"
She looked curiously at Heyes, "I don't know. Why?"
"It's just that we've been gone a long time. We know you know who we are," Kid began.
"I wouldn't say anything," Margaret gasped as she sat up straight in her chair.
Heyes placed his hand on hers. "It's not that," he said sounding convincing, "It's we don't know if they've figured out who we are."
"Oh," Margaret said leaning back. "I hadn't thought of that."
"It's not something most folks have to think about, but unfortunately for us, we do," Kid explained.
"So do you know a family that we can take you to that will get you into town safe?" Heyes asked again.
Margaret sat for a moment and thought. "The Johnsons live on the far side of town. I know Martha and Thomas would get us to town."
"Good," Heyes said. "Now the next question might be a little more difficult."
Margaret looked at him.
"Can you get the payroll to the Sheriff's office?"
Margaret stared at him, taking in what he was asking.
"We wouldn't ask if it wasn't really important."
Margaret sat quietly.
"You see," Kid added, "It wouldn't look too good if Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry dropped you off at a farm and rode away with the payroll, even if they intended to turn it in, in the next town."
"He's right," Heyes said. "We would be hunted down and probably shot before we made it to the next town." Heyes paused and then continued, "I was hoping that we've become friends enough that you wouldn't want that to happen."
"Of course I don't want either of you to be hurt," she said sounding very defensive and a little hurt. She sat and thought a little while longer then turned and looked at Kid, "You're right, it wouldn't be a good idea for you to leave with the money. I'll make sure it gets to the sheriff."
"Thank you, we appreciate it," Heyes said. "It's going to be a long journey tomorrow, you should try to get some sleep."
"I will," she said standing up and turning towards the curtained area. Turning back around she walked over to Heyes and gave him a kiss on the cheek and then did the same to Kid. "Thank you, thank you both for saving me and my children. We would never have made it without you. I will never forget either of you. Good-night Joshua, Thaddeus," she said and disappeared behind the curtain.
The entire cabin was awake at first light as the excitement of leaving and going home had gotten to all of them. Heyes and Kid went to saddle the horses while Margaret got the children ready. She tried desperately to put on their snow outfits for the journey as they continually tried to run out the door. She wrapped herself in blankets as Heyes doused the fire. Turning to look around the cabin before they left she giggled.
Heyes tilted his head at her.
She saw him looking at her and smiled. "I just usually have to go searching the room before we leave any place to see what the children have left behind." She paused and giggled again. "They're dressed, so nothing could be left behind."
Heyes smiled, "I saw Rachael with Penelope in her arms so you're safe there."
Margaret rolled her eyes and sighed, "We would have had to come back here if she had left Penelope. I don't know if I ever thanked you for finding her."
"Oh," Margaret remembered suddenly, "Your book, do you have your book?"
"Yes, I have my book. Ready to go?"
Tears filled her eyes as she nodded her head. "I'll never be able to thank you enough, both of you. No one else would have..." she started as tears fell down her face she reached out and hugged Heyes.
"Just keep being a good mother," Heyes said as he hugged her back. "We didn't do anything anybody else wouldn't have done."
Kid appeared in the door, "Horses are set and the children are waiting. Ready?"
Heyes tilted his head and looked at Margaret, she nodded. "Let's move out," he said.
The ride down the mountain was slow. Rachael rode with Heyes and Daniel rode with Kid. It was early in the afternoon when they finally reached the area before the Needle. Heyes pulled his horse to a stop.
Margaret looked around and saw the piles of snow they had made by digging out the passage. "You really worked hard," she said looked at the amount of snow that had been moved and then added, "Thank you."
"We're going to walk through the Needle," Heyes said as he dismounted and then helped Rachael down.
Kid dismounted, got Daniel down and then went to help Margaret.
"There's still about a foot of snow on the ledge. We'll stay as close to the wall as we can. I'll go first." Bending down to Rachael he asked, "Can you walk or do you need to be carried?"
"I can walk," she replied meekly trying to be as brave as she could.
"I can walk," Daniel shouted.
"No Daniel, the snow is a little too deep for you and it's slippery," Kid said. "And I need you to help me hold the reins of my horse, okay." Daniel nodded.
"Margaret, you're in the middle," Heyes said. "Any sign of the horse being in trouble drop the reins. There's not a lot of room in there for error. There's nothing any of us can do if the horse starts to go over the side and we don't want to go over with them." Heyes held his breath for a second and then added, "Let's go."
Heyes led the way, holding Rachael's right hand behind him and leading his horse. He stayed along the right wall followed by Margaret, her horse, Kid holding Daniel and finally Kid's horse. They inched their way on the ledge around the Needle as tension filled the air. Rachael squeezed Heyes' hand tight. "Don't look over the side, just watch where your feet are going."
After what seemed to be hours but in reality wasn't that long, Heyes emerged from the Needle followed by Margaret and then Kid. As they all reached the woods on the outside there was a huge sigh of relief. Margaret began to sob as she placed her had over her mouth. "We're really going home aren't we?" The tears streamed down her face.
"We're really going home," Heyes said as he walked over and touched her arm. Daniel and Rachael ran to their mother, hugging her. "There's still some snow but I think this might be a good place to take a few minutes before we go on."
"Sounds like a plan," Kid stated. "Been sitting on the horse for a long time, still have half a days ride. Might be a good time for some of those biscuits we brought."
Heyes looked at Kid and rolled his eyes.
Kid shrugged his shoulders.
"Sounds good to me," Margaret said composing herself. "I don't know if I'll ever eat another biscuit again but right now it sounds pretty good."
"Now Margaret," Kid said, "Won't you make your biscuits for your husband when you get home?"
"I will if I'm allowed," Margaret said sheepishly. She straightened herself up and added, "I will. I believe I have earned the right to make biscuits and anything else in my kitchen."
"You certainly have," Kid stated. "And don't forget about your coffee!" Kid looked at Heyes who sneered back at him. "Joshua, I hope you learned a few things about making coffee from Margaret."
Heyes' sneer turned into a glare. "We should get moving soon," he huffed.
Kid chuckled, pleased with himself for getting under Heyes' skin.
It had been dark for almost two hours when they arrived about a mile out of town. Heyes pulled up his horse and turned to Margaret. "Over there," she said pointing to the left. "You can just make out the lights."
"Are you sure the Johnson's will get you to town tonight?" Kid asked.
"I'm sure," Margaret said. "I've known them for a long time. They're good people."
"Aren't you coming to town with us?" Rachael asked.
"No dear," her mother replied. "Uncle Joshua and Uncle Thaddeus need to get home to their families."
"Don't leave us," Rachael said as she turned in the saddle and clung to Heyes as she began to cry.
"Hey, don't cry," Heyes said. "You're going to see your pa. He needs to spend time with you. You're not even going to know we're gone."
"Yes I will," she cried. Daniel grabbed Kid and started to cry too.
"It doesn't mean we will never see you again," he said as he rubbed her back. He looked at Margaret hoping she wouldn't mind a little white lie under the circumstance.
She smiled and nodded. "Of course it doesn't. We'll give your father time to be with you and Uncle Joshua's and Thaddeus' family time and then maybe they'll be able to visit."
"Really?" Rachael said sounding hopeful as she looked up into Heyes' eyes.
Heyes smiled at the little girl. "If you're ma and pa invite us, we'll find a way to get to you. Okay."
She smiled and shook her head yes.
"Now, I need you to be strong and a big girl. You have to help your ma out alright?"
She nodded her head.
"Me too," Daniel yelled out.
"You too," Kid replied and hugged the boy. "Well, let's get you home."
At the edge of the path to the house Heyes and Kid dismounted and helped the children and then Margaret down. They hugged and said their good byes.
"I will never forget you Joshua, Thaddeus," she said emphasizing the names. "If it weren't for the two of you, I don't even want to think of what those horrible men would have done."
"It's over," Heyes said. "None of those things happened."
"Now are you sure you don't mind taking the payroll to the sheriff tonight? If you think it will be a problem, we'll hold onto it."
"No, I can handle it. I'm not even going to tell the Johnson's what's in the bags. Just that I need to get to town."
"Okay, we'll wait to leave until we know everything is alright," Kid said. They gave each other one last hug and kiss. Margaret held the children's hands as they walked up to the porch. Kid and Heyes moved back from the property but were still able to see the door.
Margaret knocked on the door and they saw the light move to the door. When it opened they heard screams of joy and could see the Johnson's hugging them. With one final wave to the darkness from Margaret, they entered the house and the door closed. A minute later, they saw a man emerge and watched as he began hitching the horses to the wagon.
"Well," Heyes said, "Guess we better get moving."
"We did good Heyes, real good," Kid stated as they turned their horses around.
"That we did Kid, now let's get home," Heyes said.
"Which way?" Kid asked.
"I know it's going to put extra time on the trip, but you're right, we have to go see Lom. I figured following the rail around the gorge and then cutting through the hills is the shortest way back to Porterville. We can send a telegram to Laurie and then head home."
Kid smacked the back of Heyes before he kicked his horse and said, "Sounds like a plan!"