Alias Smith and Jones
Based on characters and situations created by Roy Huggins and Glen Larson. I don't own the rights to the characters, and this story is an amateur work of fiction, done purely for my own amusement. No profit was made, nor will be made. Originally published in Ouch! #20, a hurt/comfort 'zine from Neon RainBow Press. Many thanks to Jeannie Graham of Peacock Press for beta-reading. If this story took place in the 21st century, Mrs. Parmenter and her family would of course be African-American. But this is set in the 1870s. I'm trying to be true to that era. My apologies if anyone is offended, especially by Lobo's language.
The Schoolmaster's Tale
by Susan M. M.
The schoolmaster didn't need to look out the window to see the rain. He didn't need to hear the thunder. He could feel the wet weather. Years ago, a Comanche arrow had left him with a gimpy leg that ached every time there was a change in the weather. Walking stick in hand, the middle-aged teacher limped around the classroom. He looked over shoulders, checking his students' work, quietly offering corrections.
The youngest children were copying spelling words from the chalkboard: bed, hen, get, men, red, wet. They wrote the words with laborious care on their slates. The seven and eight year olds were reading quietly, their lips moving as they sounded out the words. The ten year old Thompson twins were attempting to master the mysteries of long division on their slates (and failing miserably). The three oldest students were writing essays. They alone had been trusted with paper, pen, and ink, rather than slates and chalk.
The schoolmaster was a fine figure of a man, despite his years. His brown hair was liberally tinged with gray. The gray, he claimed, was more from his students than being in spitting distance of the half-century mark.
He glanced up at the clock. "Quarter to three," he announced. "You've got ten minutes to finish up what you're doing. Then you can clean up."
The sixth graders hurried to finish their essays. The first graders, having finished their words, were whispering amongst themselves. The schoolmaster shushed them. Emma and Ellen Thompson showed him their problems. He took the chalk and wrote the correct answers. There wasn't time left today to show them where they'd gone wrong; he'd have to devote some extra time to them tomorrow to explain it again. The low murmur of whispers rose, becoming chatter, as the students completed their work and began gathering their belongings.
"Three o'clock!" Aaron McAllister announced.
"It's not three o'clock until I say it's three o'clock," the schoolmaster corrected him. He paused a second. "It's three o'clock."
The students smiled; a few of them giggled. One of the boys ran to open the door. The wind blew in, and a quart or more of rain with it.
"Mighty damp," the schoolmaster observed. "If you want to stay here until it lets up and get a start on your homework, you can."
"Homework's for at home," Billy Graiman protested. "Can't you tell us a story?"
"Please?" Sarah Fleming begged. "You tell such good stories."
"You have homework to do," he said sternly, but the twinkle in his brown eyes told the children he was likely to oblige them. "Wouldn't your parents be pleased if you got home with your studying already done?"
"They wouldn't be pleased. They'd be shocked," announced Ann Pym.
Everyone laughed; Ann was the worst student in the school.
"Please, Mr. Smith, please," several children begged.
"All right." The schoolmaster sat on his desk. "What sort of story do you want to hear? A Bible story, like Joshua or Samson? A ghost story?"
Lightning flashed and a moment later the thunder roared.
"Good weather for a ghost story. Or maybe one of Aesop's fables?"
"Your ghost stories are too scary," Peggy McAllister protested. Just the memory of the stories he'd told at Halloween made her shiver.
"Bible stories are for Sunday school," Tommy Atkins said disdainfully.
"We want to hear about the old days," Andy Cowan demanded. "Cavalry and Indians, outlaws and rustlers."
"Yeah," several of the boys agreed.
"Hmm." Mr. Smith thought a moment. "You ever hear of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the bandits who led the Devil's Hole Gang?"
Most of the class nodded.
"Well, did you ever hear of the time they stole the same money twice?" As the children gazed up at him in wonder, he began to tell the tale.
The Devil's Hole Gang had just robbed the Rock Springs bank, and they were running from a posse. Their horses were tired, and so were they.
Hannibal Heyes pointed to a farmhouse. "Let's stop over there," he yelled, raising his voice to be heard over the wind and the hoof beats. "Hide there and let the posse go past us."
The others shouted their agreement.
"Think you can make it, Kid?" Heyes asked.
"I can make it," Kid Curry replied, but his weak tone and pale skin gave the lie to his words.
They reined their horses to a stop in front of the farmhouse, kicking up a cloud of dust. "Hello, the house," Heyes called out.
There was no answer.
"Out in the fields, I reckon," Wheat Carlson guessed. He was a little older than the other outlaws, having reached the ripe age of thirty without being hung or jailed.
"Likely so," Heyes agreed. "Dismount, boys. There's the well. Let's get some water for the horses and for ourselves. Then we can hide the horses in the barn until the posse's had a chance to go on without us."
Wheat, Kyle Murtry, Lobo Briggs, Johnny Harper, and Dutch Schmidt were quick to obey. Curry remained in the saddle. Heyes started to talk to his cousin.
"What you white men doin'?"
Heyes turned around. There was a colored woman standing there, a scythe in her hand. By the look on her face, she'd rather use it on them than the wheat. Five children crowded around her, the oldest no more than ten or twelve, the youngest looking about three or four.
"Just getting some water from your well, ma'am," Heyes said.
"Ya don't gotta call her ma'am. She's just a darky," Lobo said.
"Didn't your mother teach you no manners?" Heyes retorted. "Don't mean you or yours no harm, ma'am, just wanted to rest our horses a minute and get a drink."
"You from the bank?" she asked suspiciously.
Kyle and Wheat traded amused glances.
"What's wrong with him?" She gestured at Curry with the scythe.
"Nothing," Heyes lied.
Curry fell off his horse.
"Think you're mistook, mister."
Heyes rushed to his cousin's side. "Kid, you all right?"
The colored woman shook her head. "Judgin' by that blood, I doubt it. Here, Thessy, take this." She handed the scythe to the oldest boy, who looked about twelve, and walked over to Curry.
Heyes knelt beside Curry and tried to help him up. The best he could manage was to get him into a sitting position.
Wheat looked at the Kid, then at the rest of the gang. He fingered his mustache. "I know he's yer kinfolk and all, Heyes, but the shape he's in, he's just gonna slow us down."
"That's a bullet wound." The Negress looked from Curry's shoulder to the tired, lathered horses. She glanced at the strangers standing beside her well. All of them were armed, and Kyle and Lobo looked (and smelled) like they hadn't had a bath since the last good rain. "Y'all been runnin' hard," she thought out loud. "Either chasin' or bein' chased. Heyes." She looked the outlaw in the eye. "You'd be Hannibal Heyes?"
"Yes, ma'am," he admitted.
Wheat laid his hand on his gun. "And we're the Devil's Hole Gang, the most dangerous desperadoes you're ever likely to meet."
"Like I said, we don't mean any harm to you or your family," Heyes tried to reassure her. He pulled his bandanna from his neck as he spoke.
She harrumphed. "Ain't got nothin' worth robbin', no how." She tilted her head, peering at him speculatively. "Don't s'pose you robbed the bank that no-account lower-than-a-snake's-belly skunk Lynd runs, did you?"
Heyes pressed his bandanna against Curry's shoulder, trying to staunch the wound. " 'Fraid we didn't stop for introductions, ma'am."
"Ain't but one bank in town. C'mon and bring him up to the house; I'll help you tend his wound. Least I can do for anybody who spit in the eye of that lowdown devil Lynd." She started to lead the way to the house. She called over her shoulder, "Ain't got much, but I reckon we could spare you a bite to eat."
"'Preciate that." Heyes helped Curry to his feet. He ordered his men, "Ride about a mile that way, so our tracks don't stop here. Then muddle the trail up good and proper. After that, double back here."
"Right, Heyes." Kyle started to remount his horse.
"Hold on a minute, Heyes," Wheat said. "While we's risking our lives laying a false trail fer the posse, you're gonna be here sipping lemonade on the porch… with all the money."
Kyle set both boots on the ground. "He's right."
Lobo and Johnny nodded.
"If you want to dig the bullet out of the Kid, I'll be able to get back on my horse and start riding," Heyes pointed out.
Dutch turned pale. After a second's hesitation, he asked, "'Bout a mile, you said?"
Heyes nodded. "A mile or two oughta do it."
"Thessy, Jeremiah, help 'em water the horses. Then take Mr. Heyes' and Mr. Curry's animals in the barn. Ruth, go set some water to boilin'," the woman ordered briskly.
"What about the money?" Wheat persisted.
"We'll split it when you get back," Heyes told him.
"What if we get back and the money ain't here?" Wheat asked. "Or you neither?"
"Dang it, Wheat, you know I ain't gonna ride off and leave the Kid. He's my cousin. And I wouldn't steal your share of the loot." Heyes' brown eyes glared angrily at the implication.
"But what if when you're playing doctor, the posse catches up to you? I know you wouldn't steal our money out of pure meanness," Wheat allowed, "but if you was to get caught whiles you're holding the loot, then we'd've gone to all that work of robbing the bank and nothing to show fer our efforts."
Kid Curry moaned softly.
"I don't have time to argue with you. Go lay that false trail so the posse won't find us." Heyes turned his back on him, making it clear that as far as he was concerned, the argument was over. He helped Curry up to the house and inside.
"You got any alcohol in the house, ma'am?" Heyes settled his cousin into a wooden rocking chair.
She shook her head. "No drop of spirits has ever come across that door. And you don't gotta keep ma'amin' me. My name's Mehitabel. Mehitabel Parmenter," she added the last name with a touch of pride.
"Wasn't planning to drink it, Miz Parmenter, wanted to clean my knife before I dug the bullet out." Although a slug of whisky to deaden the pain wouldn't have done his cousin any harm, Heyes thought. "Okay, Kid, let's have a look-see at that." He unbuttoned his cousin's shirt and examined the wound. If there hadn't been children present, he would have sworn. "You lost a lot of blood. I'm surprised you didn't fall off your horse a couple of miles back."
"Couldn't," Curry murmured. "If I had, you'd have gone back for me and then we'd both have gotten caught."
The weakness of his voice worried Heyes nearly as much as his wan complexion. But he kept his voice light, not wanting Curry to know how concerned he was about his condition. "So you hung on through sheer stubborn, huh? I swear, Kid, you're almost as bad as I am when it comes to the stubbornness department."
"Grandpa Curry was worse," Kid Curry retorted, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Guess it runs in the family," Heyes acknowledged. "I won't be able to dig the bullet out with him in a rocking chair. Ma'am, I'm gonna need to move him over to your kitchen table and use it for an operating table."
"Doubt that rickety old table'll support his weight, Mr. Heyes."
"Then we'll have to lay him down on the floor; can't do this in a chair that keeps moving. Ruth, could I trouble you for that hot water now? Miz Parmenter, I'm gonna need some cloth for bandages and a needle and thread from your sewing basket," Heyes told her.
Mehitabel shooed the children to fetch the necessary items. She went into the next room and returned a minute later with a leather belt. "Might help if he bites down on this."
"It surely will; thank you, Miz Parmenter." He folded the belt over double and gently inserted it in his cousin's mouth. "Bite down on this, Kid. It'll help." Heyes didn't mention that it would help more to keep him from screaming and being heard by the posse than it would in controlling the pain.
Mehitabel handed him a dish-drying towel. Heyes dipped it into the hot water and wiped his knife clean. Then he cleaned Curry's shoulder as best he could. Kid Curry flinched, but the belt kept him from crying out.
"Gotta clean this up; we don't know where that bullet's been," Heyes tried to inject a note of humor into the proceedings. He reassured his partner. "Don't you worry. I've done this before, and I've never lost a patient yet."
"Naomi, grab your dolly. Go outside and play. Sound out if you see anyone coming," Mehitabel ordered.
"Yes, Mama." The littlest girl grabbed a cornhusk doll and rushed outside. It wasn't often during harvest time that she was given permission to go play.
Heyes set his knife tip to the wound and pierced the skin. Curry's blue eyes watered with the pain. Working as quickly as he could, he cut into the muscle, enlarging the wound. He pried out the bullet with his knife. Wishing once again he had alcohol to clean the wound, he washed the cut with warm water. "I know it hurts, Kid. Wish I had something for the pain." He turned to Mehitabel. "Needle, please?"
She'd had the foresight to thread a needle. She handed it to him.
"Hold as still as you can, Kid." Heyes sewed the wound shut. Then he bandaged it. He took a deep breath.
"Lost a lot of blood. Gonna need to rest. Take him back there, lay him on the bed," Mehitabel invited.
"Thank you, ma'am." Heyes helped Curry up. Half-supporting his cousin as he limped, half-carrying him, Heyes led him into the bedroom and settled him on the bed.
"Mama, men are coming," Naomi called from outside.
"Go hide in the bedroom with him," Mehitabel instructed.
"Yes, ma'am, and thank you." Heyes nodded his gratitude and turned to go. Then he turned back and drew his gun.
"What's that for?" she demanded. "You fool enough to fight a whole posse?"
"No, but if they find us, you can tell them truthfully I held a gun on you to force you to help us." Heyes holstered the gun and hurried to join his cousin.
"Thessy, Ruth, clean up this mess." Mehitabel grabbed a broom and went outside. When the posse arrived, she was calmly sweeping the porch.
"Hey, there, Auntie, you seen a gang of men ride past?" one of the riders called out.
"Yes, sir, I sure did. Rode faster than racehorses."
"Which way did they go?"
She pointed with the broom in the direction the Devil's Hole Gang had ridden off.
"Thanks." The posse continued on without another word.
Mehitabel waited until they were well out of sight before going back into the house. "They's gone."
"Thank you, Miz Parmenter. You saved our lives," Heyes told her. "And you didn't even need to fib."
"I try to be an honest, Christian woman," she replied.
"There's a difference between not lying and telling folks things they don't honestly need to know."
"Harvest ain't gonna gather itself. Me and mine gotta get back to work." Mehitabel looked up at Heyes. "Ain't got nothin' worth robbin'. Guess it'll be all right for you to stay here and watch over him.
"Ma'am, I wouldn't rob you or yours if I were down to my last cent," Heyes reassured her with heartfelt sincerity.
"Be back in an hour or two. I hope the family silver is still here when I get back," she added dryly.
Heyes just smiled.