Heyes waited until the children were in bed and he could speak to Mehitabel privately. "Miz Parmenter, I've got a passel of money in my saddlebag, more than enough to pay your mortgage."
She shook her head. "That's stolen money. I couldn't touch a penny of that."
"From what you told me, Lynd's been cheating you; probably cheating other people, too. Stealing stolen money, well, that's…"
"Still a sin," she interrupted him.
"You could have turned us in to that posse. The reward money on our heads would've paid off the mortgage, and left you enough after that to live comfortably the rest of your life."
"Couldn't have done that." Offended dark eyes gazed up at him. "I'd never turn a runaway over to the law. Happened to too many of my kinfolk."
Heyes jutted his chin in the direction of the bedroom. "He's the only family I have left. All the rest were killed in the war. He'd have died without your hospitality, and his life is worth more than a thousand dollars to me."
She pursed her lips, thinking it over. Then she shook her head again. "Stolen money is stolen money."
Heyes nodded. "Then I'll say good night, ma'am."
"G'night, Mr. Heyes."
"Kid, you awake?" Heyes called out softly.
Heyes came in with two mugs. "Drink some water." Before Curry could argue that he wasn't thirsty, Heyes set the mugs down on the floor. He helped his cousin sit up in bed, then reached down for one mug and held it to the Kid's lips. "Drink," he urged.
Curry managed to get some down, although as much wound up on his chin as in his mouth.
Heyes set Curry's mug down. He wiped the sweat off his brow, then picked up his own mug, draining it in three quick gulps. "How you feeling?"
"Tired. Think you're more tired, though," Curry teased.
Heyes nodded. "The past two days have been some of the hardest that I can ever remember in my entire life."
"Outlawing is a lot easier than honest work, ain't it?" the Kid asked.
Heyes agreed. His back ached. His hands were sore and calloused. "Up at cock-crow every morning. Go to bed exhausted, and wake up still tired the next morning. Haven't worked this hard since I did that cattle drive, the year after I ran away from the orphanage. Given my druthers, I prefer working with my brain to my muscles. Farming is just too hard on the back." Only two days as a field hand, and Heyes was already tired of being tired and sore. The scant rations didn't help, but he could hardly complain, since Mehitabel was sharing all she had. Heyes couldn't wait to go back to the Devil's Hole and his own bed. A bed that no one expected him to get out of until he was good and ready.
But Kid Curry was his only family. He couldn't ride on without him.
"Think you can take a little more water? And if you can keep that down, I'll get you something solid to eat," Heyes offered.
"No." Curry used some words he wouldn't have dared use if Mehitabel or the children had been in the house. "I ain't drinking no more willow-bark tea."
"Drink it," Heyes ordered.
Blue eyes glared up at him defiantly.
"You like being in pain?"
"You weren't like this when Dutch got shot and you dug the bullet out of him," Curry pointed out.
"Kid, you lost a lot of blood. Dutch didn't ride for miles, bleeding his life out like you did. You need to drink lots of liquids. Now take this; it'll do you good." Heyes held the cup to his lips.
Reluctantly, Curry drank the foul-tasting brew. "I don't think you're coming back to the house three-four times a day to check on me and force willow-bark tea and broth down my throat. I think you're coming to escape the fieldwork."
Heyes grinned. "Ah, you discovered my secret." He reached down and tousled his cousin's curly hair.
"Do you remember what that letter is?" Heyes asked. Every evening he read a bit of the Good Book to the Parmenter family, and taught the children their ABCs.
"I!" Thessy, Ruth, and Jeremiah raced to see who could name it first.
"What sound does it make?" Heyes asked.
"So see if you can sound out that bit there," the outlaw challenged.
"Eh-en, in, the, buh, uh, guh…" Thessy looked up. "It's too long.
"You were doing all right," Heyes assured him. "'In the beginning.'"
"In the beginning," they repeated.
"'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,'" Heyes read aloud.
The children recited the line after him, and Mehitabel chuckled.
"Miz Parmenter?" Heyes asked.
"Never thought I'd see the day when a bank robber played Sunday school teacher," she said.
Every day, Kid Curry was a little stronger. He fussed about being confined to bed, but when he collapsed on the floor, he was forced to admit that he wasn't quite ready to ride off to the outlaws' lair yet.
The fifth day, as they were working in the fields, they heard hoof beats. Heyes hid, as Mehitabel and the children went to see who was coming.
"Howdy, there, Mehitabel."
"Good morning, Sheriff," she replied in a slightly too-loud voice.
"Just came to tell you to pack," the lawman said.
"Pack? What you mean?"
"Mr. Lynd's coming to collect the mortgage this afternoon. You'll need to pay up or get off. Thought I'd give you enough warning so you could pack your things and be ready to go," he explained.
"But Mr. Lynd said we could wait until the harvest was in and sold before we paid," Mehitabel protested.
"Johannson's got his harvest in, so Mr. Lynd is collecting now."
"Karl Johannson has six strapping sons to help him with his harvest. I just got myself and these little ones," she pointed out.
Ignoring her complaint, the sheriff said, "We'll be back this afternoon, Mr. Lynd and I. You best be ready, woman."
She watched downhearted as he rode off. Heyes waited until the sheriff was well out of sight before he dared to come out.
"Miz Parmenter, please, let me help you," the outlaw asked.
"Ain't right, Mama," Thessy complained. "Ain't fair. Youngest of the Johannson boys is sixteen, and every one is taller than Papa was. We can't work as fast as they can."
Mehitabel took a deep breath. "No, it ain't right," she said after a moment. She looked up at Heyes. "Lynd's a cheat, a low-down dirty dog of a cheat. You said— You said it wasn't a sin, stealing stolen money."
"Not a sin I'd feel guilty about," Heyes told her, although admittedly his conscience was not so strict as hers.
"Doesn't the Good Book say somethin' about reapin' what you sow?"
"Yes, ma'am, it does," Heyes replied.
She thought a minute. Neither Mr. Lynd nor the sheriff had ever called her ma'am, or Mrs. Parmenter. Heyes had always treated her like a lady, and any bandit who read the Bible and taught the children their letters from it couldn't be all bad. Whereas Lynd made a weasel look like a gentleman. She sighed. "Heaven forgive me. I ain't got no choice."
Heyes nodded, relieved. His conscience was far from clean, but he would have felt terribly guilty letting her home be foreclosed on because of her scruples.
"And that snake Lynd has it comin'," she muttered.
Leaving Thessy in charge of the harvesting, Mehitabel and Heyes went back to the house. They found Kid Curry sitting in the rocking chair when they got there.
"Good to see you out of bed, Mr. Curry."
"Good to be out of bed, ma'am," the young gunslinger replied.
"Think you're well enough to ride, Kid?" Heyes asked.
"Couldn't win any races, but I could probably manage to stay in the saddle," Curry allowed. "Why, we moving on?"
"The sheriff is coming, and it'd be a real good idea for us to be gone when he gets here," Heyes said. He turned to Mehitabel. "Given what you've said about Lynd, I don't know that I'd trust a receipt he wrote; might be a good idea to have a receipt ready, so you just need him to sign it and the sheriff to witness it."
Heyes bit his lip. He knew from trying to teach the Parmenter children to read that there was neither paper nor ink in the house. "Let me see if I can find anything to write the receipt down on."
Heyes checked his belongings and Curry's. He found a pencil in the bottom of his saddlebag, but no paper. He had a plan percolating in the back of his mind, but for it to work, Mehitabel had to get a receipt.
"There's some blank pages in the back of the Bible," Heyes remembered. "If we tear one out, that'll work."
"Tear a page out of the Bible?" Mehitabel was shocked.
"Just a blank one, not one with scripture on it," Heyes told her.
"That book is holy, sacred. You don't tear it up," she protested.
"But we don't have anything else. You've got to get a receipt, or Lynd is likely to take the money and then foreclose anyhow," Heyes warned.
"I'd sooner you put a knife to my throat then tore up the Good Book."
"What if you didn't tear the page out?" Curry asked quietly.
"They've got those blank pages in the Bible so folks can write down family stuff: births and marriages and deaths and so forth," Curry pointed out. "Isn't paying off a mortgage as important as that? If you write the receipt in the Bible, then you can't lose it."
Mehitabel and Heyes just stared at Curry for a moment. Then they looked at each other. Mehitabel nodded.
"Kid, I thought I was supposed to be the smart one in the family."
Curry grinned. "I guess you must be rubbing off on me."
Heyes took the Bible down from the hearth and carefully wrote down the date, the amount, and the fact that the mortgage was paid in full, that the farm was the property, now and forever, of Mehitabel Parmenter. "There. You get Lynd to sign that, and the sheriff to witness it."
"I will," she pledged.
Heyes and Curry went through their saddlebags, carefully counting out a thousand dollars in used bills. They ignored any crisp, new-looking bills or any large denominations. Those would be too suspicious for an impoverished widow to have on hand. "There you are, ma'am. And if you'll excuse us, we'd best be on our way. We don't wanna risk being here when the sheriff arrives."
"Wouldn't be healthy for you," Mehitabel agreed. "Outlaw or not, I'm gonna miss you, Mr. Heyes. You, too, Mr. Curry."
"Kind of you to say so, Miz Parmenter. You ready, Kid?"
"Ready as I'm gonna be." Curry nodded politely to Mehitabel. "Thank you for your hospitality, ma'am. Wish you all the luck in the world."
They stopped in a shady grove a few miles down the trail from the Parmenter farm to rest the horses.
"I told you, Heyes, I'm fine," Curry protested. "The boys'll be worried about us. We need to get back to Devil's Hole."
"We ain't waiting for you, Kid. We're waiting to get our money back."
"Huh?" Kid Curry wasn't sure if he'd heard his cousin correctly, or if he was still too weak to understand him properly.
"Lynd is going to come this way. When he does…" Heyes touched his gun. "We get back the money we lent Miz Parmenter."
Curry grinned. "You always were the smart one in the family."
The two outlaws waited for what seemed like hours, but eventually they heard horses coming down the trail. Heyes and Curry pulled their bandannas up over their faces. Pistols drawn, they rode out, blocking the trail.
"Stand and deliver," Heyes ordered.
The sheriff reached for his gun. Curry fired. The bullet grazed the sheriff's hat, but it didn't touch a hair of his head.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Curry admonished.
"Do you know who I am?" the sheriff sputtered.
"No, but maybe you know who we are. Hannibal Heyes," he nodded, then pointed at his cousin, "and Kid Curry. You might recollect us: we robbed your bank last week."
"Understand you've been out collecting mortgages. Rather than robbing the same bank twice, we thought we'd just relieve you of the money here," Heyes explained.
"I'm the sheriff of Rock Springs. You can't rob me!"
"Actually, Sheriff, we're more interested in robbing him." Heyes pointed at Lynd with his gun. "But you go ahead and empty your pockets. We wouldn't want you to feel left out."
"Toss your guns down," Curry ordered.
The sheriff hesitated.
"The bullet in your hat was a warning shot," Curry told him. "I only give one warning."
Swearing under his breath, the sheriff threw his gun down. A moment later, Lynd did likewise.
"Keep 'em covered, Kid." Heyes dismounted and collected the guns. Then he took the money from Lynd, as well as his pocket watch, and the sheriff's wallet. "Thank you, gentlemen. Pleasure doing business with you."
Then Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode off into the sunset.
"Then Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode off into the sunset," the schoolmaster concluded. He glanced out the window. "The rain's let up. You best get along home before your folks worry about you," he admonished. "Go on, shoo."
Reluctantly, they gathered their books and put on jackets. They had hoped for a second story.
"How'd a teacher get to know so much about outlaws and adventures?" asked Andy Cowan.
Joshua Smith, who'd once been known as Hannibal Heyes, just smiled. "Oh, I read a lot of dime novels when I was younger." Once the kids were out of the building, he grinned and added, "If only to make sure my name was spelled right."
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Author's Apology for Political Incorrectness: If this story took place in the 21st century, she would of course be African-American. But this is the 1870s. I'm trying to be true to that era. My apologies if anyone is offended, especially by Lobo's language.