"Cause you can never
Wants something you want, too."
David Bowie, "Stay"
It was supposed to be an easy job, they'd agreed on that. All they had to do was to haul some old furniture from a New Mexico ranch that was still a three-hour ride from the nearest railway spur that would take them to Albuquerque, load it onto the train, and ride with it, changing trains several time in Colorado and Utah. The final leg of the trip ran from Salt Lake City, Utah to Townsend, Montana, in the general direction of Billings. Then they had to buy themselves another horse cart, load the furniture on it again, and take it to a small town called Greenville about four hours away, that the railroad hadn't been built out to yet. A line was supposed to be making its way towards Greenville from the nearest town in the other direction, and a telegraph line had already been laid, but for purposes of the current delivery, Greenville might as well be a wilderness. Still, what could be easier than delivering a wagonload of what amounted to fancy household goods?
"Heyes, I'm beginning to think that nothing we do is ever gonna be easy." Kid Curry couldn't quite repress a sigh. "First we lose the shipping papers, and the railroad doesn't want to give us the furniture. Then, we telegraph down to New Mexico, clear things up, and it's a whole two days before we can find a cart to hire. And now we're driving through country that looks just like outlaw country to me. The only bright side I can see is that nobody's gonna want a bunch of old furniture, and we don't have any money left for anyone *to* steal."
"But when we make the delivery, we'll be paid a thousand dollars each plus expenses," Hannibal Heyes reminded him, his wide grin lighting up his face. "And they call them antiques." He quickly returned his gaze to the road in front of them, as he tightened the reins on the team of horses.
"The old furniture. Mr. Roberts that hired us told us some of these pieces of furniture are older than the United States itself, remember? Apparently it has some considerable value -- he said that when Mr. Fitzgerald was down there in New Mexico last winter, he made him an offer that was too good to pass up. "
The two men rode in silence for awhile, along the plain that was shadowed by mountain ranges on either side.
"You're right about one thing, though," Heyes said, suddenly. "This sure looks like outlaw country. Were we ever here when we were outlawing?"
"Nah," said the Kid. "I think I'd remember mountains like these." He turned his gaze on the towering bare peaks that surrounded them, squinting a little against the brightness of the day. And those were only the foothills -- the mountains themselves were blue in the distance, on both sides. "When was the last time we were in Montana anyway? Must've been eight, nine months ago. Remember? That bounty hunter tried to turn us in, and that lady lawyer got us off. She sure was a nice lady, wasn't she?"
Heyes was silent, and when Curry turned to look at him, his dark eyes were fixed on the horizon.
"Heyes? Didn't you think so?"
"Oh . . . yeah . . . real nice. Good at her job, too." He fell silent again, tugging the reins slightly.
The Kid waited for a moment, and began again. "You know, Heyes, you never did tell me if anything happened between you and her that night. I left you to walk her home, and you never showed up at the saloon. And I got back pretty late from playing poker, and you still weren't there. But when I woke up that morning, there you were, all tucked in and sound asleep." Seeing there was still no response, he tried again, in his best wheedling tone. "Come on, you always tell me about that stuff."
"Yeah, Kid, but you don't always tell me."
"Not about the ones that are special . . . " Curry broke off. "You really liked her, didn't you? That doesn't have anything to do with us accepting this job, does it?"
Heyes laughed. "Maybe just a little. Then again, the fact that it pays pretty good for honest work had something to do with it, too. I don't recall you raising any objections to a couple of thousand dollars between us. Anyway, this is a completely different part of the territory. Let's make the delivery first, and we can think about where we head next afterwards."
"I don't want to stand in your way or anything, Heyes, but I don't know if showing up in Blue Sky would be the smartest thing. I don't think that other lawyer really believed we weren't us."
"Maybe not, Kid, but the judge was willing to believe we were Smith and Jones, and what he says goes. Right now, let's worry about getting out of these mountains before sundown. It looks like it's going to be pretty close." They both reflexively looked at the sun, which was closer to the horizon than either of them was comfortable with. Despite the sky's current brightness, the mountains were close enough on either side of the valley that it would get dark early.
They drove on, Curry mounting guard with a shotgun and Heyes pushing the team of horses as much as he dared, and the wagon with its heavy load trundled on. It looked like they just might make it into town on time, when suddenly they heard the sounds of hoofs in the near distance. Heyes began to pull on the team harder, to try to get the wagon to outrun them, but the horses were tired and the load was heavy, and the pursuing horsemen gained on them every moment. With rapid and steady progress, a gang of nine men was heading towards them, and then surrounding them.
"I sure liked it better when we were on the pursuing end of this deal," Curry muttered, his blue eyes narrowed.
"Hold up there!" called the leader of the mounted outlaws, a large man with grizzled hair under his brown hat, and a bandanna covering the lower half of his face. "Whatcha got in that wagon, boys?"
Curry looked at Heyes, hoping his silver tongue wouldn't fail him this time.
Heyes shifted the reins to one hand, and tipped his hat back in a casual, almost arrogant, manner. "Just a bunch of old furniture. Nothing of interest to you."
"Oh, but it *is*," said the leader. "We hear there's a real market for old furniture hereabouts."
"Antiques, they call'em, boss," said a redheaded outlaw with a weak chin.
"I don't care what they call them. I know that this is the load we want. Now there's nine of us with rifles, and only two of you, and one of you's got his gun hand occupied with driving the cart. So I suggest you give us what we want."
"And if we don't?" asked Curry.
"Now that'd be downright stupid."
"Hey, Boss," said a weathered-looking outlaw, "I think I know these two." He rode up closer to them. "Well, tie me down to a cactus, if it ain't . . . Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes. What are you two doing delivering furniture? Or have you beaten us to it, and stolen it already?"
Heyes tried his most charming smile on the man. "Hello, Dusty. Different bunch than you used to ride with." He surveyed the group, just the slightest expression of disdain crossing his features. "No, we're currently in retirement. Giving honest work a try for a change."
"Honest work? You two?" Dusty guffawed, and several of the other outlaws joined him.
Curry bristled with indignation. "Well, it's different for a guy like you, Dusty. Guys like us, who have major reward money on them --" he stopped, suddenly, and turned to meet Heyes' glare.
The redhead spoke up, his voice breaking high with excitement. "Reward money? I bet there's a lot on Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes! Why don't we just turn them in, and forget the antiques?"
The grizzled leader gave him a silencing look. "Cause that ain't what the job is. The furniture's what we're after, and the furniture's what we're taking. 'Sides, there's enough of a reward out on a couple of you that I think you'd have a little more sympathy for these boys."
Heyes turned his smile on the leader. "Well, since there are nine of you, and two of us, as you point out, I don't see that there's any use in our starting a disagreement over this. But maybe as a sort of professional courtesy, you'd let us have a couple of horses, seein' as we were so recently in the same line of work and all. We were kind of counting on making it into town tonight, and we're not really prepared for camping out."
"Sorry, Heyes, no can do," said the Boss. "How'd we know you wouldn't ride right into town and get a posse after us first thing? It's not real likely the sheriff'd recognize you as quick as Dusty here did. If you have to camp out tonight that gives us enough of a head start to get away with this load. But, as a professional courtesy and all, we will let you keep those saddlebags I see tossed back there, if it's only your own stuff in 'em, and we'll leave you some water and supplies. You'll have to give us your guns, though."
Heyes and Curry looked at one another, and then Heyes spoke. "Well, I guess it's better than nothing." They unholstered their six guns, and placed them on the floor of the cart. Curry set down his rifle, and they jumped down off the wagon's front seat, while an outlaw on horseback reached down their saddlebags and tossed them after them. The redheaded outlaw took Heyes' place at the reins, and his horse was tied to another outlaw's saddle, and then they rode off, back in the direction from which the wagon had come.
Heyes and Curry watched them disappear. "Damn!" exclaimed Curry, as soon as the party was out of sight. "Now we're out of luck."
"I was hoping we wouldn't have to spend the night out here. Let's get going -- the closer to town we are when we bunk down tonight, the happier I'll be. It's too bad we don't know the country around here. I'm afraid we'll have to stop when it gets dark." Heyes tossed his saddlebags over his shoulder and began trudging forward, and in a moment the Kid had joined him.
Shortly after dark they realized that they couldn't see the path anymore, and that they'd just get lost if they kept going, so they broke to set up camp. Once they'd lit the fire and set out their bedrolls, Heyes looked into the sack of provisions the gang had left them with. "Beans and jerky? Well, what did I expect?" he asked. "Tomorrow night a big steak dinner, if I have to play poker all day to earn it." He didn't bother to mention where he was planning on getting a stake to get into the game with, and Curry didn't ask. He always trusted his partner to come up with something.
"Poker. Sounds rough. And a nice long bath at the hotel?"
"And real beds -- nice soft ones."
"We should've stayed at the better hotel in Townsend."
"If I'd have known the wagon was going to get stolen from us I'd have suggested it."
"Watch it, Kid, you're getting sarcastic in your old age."
"Long as I reach my old age, I'm happy."
And with visions of small luxuries in their heads, they drifted off to sleep.
It was midmorning when Heyes and Curry reached town, the sun not yet near the meridian, and they agreed that a bath and a meal were in order, first thing.
"Only thing is, how we gonna pay for it?" asked Curry.
"Well, I'd think Mr. Fitzgerald's got to pay us something for all our trouble, seeing as how we laid out some of our own money for the train fare and the cart hire and all. At least we should break even," Heyes reasoned. He knew his chances of paying a call in Blue Sky were down to next to nothing, with the way things had turned out, but maybe that was just as well. He was probably crazy to think that Ella Hart would want someone like Hannibal Heyes complicating her life, anyway. Best to leave things alone.
They swung open the door of the hotel, only to find a choleric-looking man, short, stout and white-haired, awaiting them in the lobby. "Mr. Smith? Mr. Jones? Where's my delivery? I got your wire about the earlier delay, which was bad enough. You should have been here yesterday!"
"Mr. Fitzgerald?" asked Heyes, extending his hand. "I'm Joshua Smith, and this is my partner Thaddeus Jones, and I'm afraid we have some bad news for you."
Fitzgerald ignored the proffered hand. "Bad news? You weren't hired to bring me bad news! Where's my furniture?"
"Well, sir, the honest truth is . . . we don't know. There was a band of outlaws who were real interested in your antiques -- nine of them, actually. They surrounded us, and they took your furniture, cart and all. We had to spend last night out in the pass, and we walked all the way into town this morning to tell you."
"Mr. Smith, this is unacceptable! It was a simple delivery, and you couldn't even manage that."
Heyes patiently assumed his best conciliatory tone. "Mr. Fitzgerald, my partner and I are truly sorry. We're not any happier than you are about what happened, and we'd be glad to lead a search party out to see if there's anything we can do. But the men who stopped us were heavily armed, and there were *nine* of them, and even though my partner here's a crack shot, we didn't have a chance. So if you'll just pay us our expenses, we'll call it even."
"Even? Even!! What do you mean, even? You owe me for those antiques, and you're going to pay every penny of it!" The old man was red-faced and shouting by now, completely unaware of -- or indifferent to -- the disturbance he was causing.
The outer door opened, and a tall, mustached man, wearing a star on his vest, crossed the threshold into the lobby. "What's going on here?"
"Well, you see, sheriff --" Heyes began, relieved to see that the long arm of the law in Greenville, Montana was personified by a complete stranger.
"Arrest these men, Sheriff Marley," said Fitzgerald. "They stole my antiques."
"We were delivering his antiques. They were stolen from us. We're victims in this, too," protested Heyes.
The sheriff looked at Fitzgerald, and then at the two tired-looking strangers. He sighed, as if to say that when Fitzgerald got this way, he didn't stop until he got what he wanted, so there was no point in arguing about it. Not even if you were the sheriff. "I'll have to ask you men to come with me," he said, and ushered them out through the lobby.
"Well, at least we'll have a place to sleep tonight that won't cost us anything," said Heyes, flashing a wry smile in the Kid's direction.
"That's what I like about you, Joshua. Always looking on the bright side." Curry rolled his eyes in response.
"So, you see," Sheriff Marley explained, as he returned back to the lockup where Heyes was pacing and the Kid was sitting on his bunk. "Fitzgerald will be satisfied with a civil trial. He just wants the value of the shipment back."
"But isn't that the business of Mr. Roberts down in New Mexico?" asked Heyes.
"Well, I just heard over the telegraph about that. You see, he's already been paid. He says that he was just the agent in arranging a delivery agreement on Fitzgerald's behalf. He won't return the money unless he gets the furniture back. Fitzgerald, on the other hand, wants the money back if he doesn't have the furniture. And as he sees it, you two are the ones that lost it."
"So, how much money?" asked Heyes. "Maybe we can borrow it from somewhere."
"Fitzgerald says all that old stuff is worth about $25,000, if you can believe it."
"I can't," said Curry, shaking his head.
"Neither can I," said Heyes. "It sounds suspicious. Don't it, sheriff?"
"Maybe so, boys, but apparently there were some papers tucked into a desk that more than double the value of the shipment. Fitzgerald wants to sue you for restitution. He'll most likely drop the criminal charges, but he doesn't want you two skipping town on him."
"How can we be responsible for those papers if we didn't know about them?" asked Heyes.
"I think you'd want to talk to a lawyer about that. Only problem is, we only got one around here, and that's Ebenezer Hicks, and he's in Sam Fitzgerald's hip pocket. Could probably get you one down in Townsend, but I don't know much about 'em."
"Can I talk to my friend privately?" asked Heyes.
"Sure thing," said Sheriff Marley, affably. "I'll send a deputy in to check on you in, say, twenty minutes."
When he'd gone, Heyes turned to Curry, a worried expression in his dark eyes. "So if we lose this lawsuit, we may have to pay this Fitzgerald $25,000. How can we possibly raise that much money?"
"You know how, Heyes. We'd have to pull a job -- a big one."
"And lose our chance at the amnesty? No way, Kid. But we can't stand trial, either. We can't take the stand and swear that we're Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones, let alone take the chance that we might be recognized." He paused for a moment. "Of course, if we turned ourselves in, we'd only be $5,000 short." He looked at Curry's horrified expression and said, "Take it easy, Kid, I'm only joking."
Kid Curry shook his head. "Figures we'd end up in another one-lawyer town. Remember what Miss Hart said to us? No sense in only one lawyer in a town, because who do they fight with? Two lawyers make work for each other."
"Miss Hart . . . you're a genius, Kid! She'd help us out. And we know she's good at court stuff, because she does have that other lawyer to spar with on a regular basis. Plus, remember all those courtroom stories she told us?"
"Heyes, you said yourself it was a completely different part of the territory. I'm sure she can't just drop everything and come running to our rescue. And anyway, that doesn't solve our problem of taking the stand."
"She'd find a way around it."
"Why'd she do that?"
Heyes gave him a look. "Because she knows who we are."
"She guessed. And I wasn't exactly in a situation where I would have felt right about lying to her."
"Guess that answers my question. About you and her, I mean." Trust Heyes to pick 'em. The Kid couldn't keep from grinning despite the grimness of their situation. "You don't make a habit of telling every girl that you . . . ?"
"Shut up, Kid. We got a telegram to write."
When the deputy entered the room, Heyes asked him if they could trouble him to send a telegram to their attorney, and handed him a scrap of paper directed to E. Hart, Esq., Blue Sky, Montana.
When the stage from Townsend arrived several days later, the deputy was there to meet it. Two passengers got out. One was a very tall, very lanky young man, with an aquiline nose, pale green eyes, and curly dark hair. The other was a woman, several years older, quietly dressed. Her light blonde hair was swept into a neat knot at the nape of her neck. They appeared to be traveling together.
"Mr. Hart? I'm Deputy Sheriff Dickens." The deputy looked at the man, and thought he was a little young to be an experienced lawyer. He couldn't be too far into his twenties. The woman could be his sister, or even conceivably his wife -- she didn't appear to be that much older, and despite her rather serious expression, she was quite attractive, with small, regular features and large blue eyes. The firm, square set of her jaw line detracted from the commonly accepted oval-faced ideal of beauty, but had a certain charm of its own.
The couple gave a polite, awkward laugh, and the young man said, "My name is Jeremy Chadwick." He extended his hand to the deputy, who shook it, and then continued, "This is Ella Hart."
"Where you want this?" the driver interrupted them, pointing to a large steamer trunk. It was the woman who turned to respond.
"Have it sent to the hotel," she said in a surprisingly authoritative manner, and turned to face the deputy. "Hello, Mr. Dickens. Any relation?" As he shook his head she smiled. "I expect you get asked that all the time. Well, then, you can imagine the things I get asked all the time, but yes, I am an attorney. I take it Mr. Smith didn't bother to tell you my first name? You were expecting an Edward or an Ezekiel, I suppose."
"Yes'm, I expect I was," admitted Dickens.
" Well, I'm at an equal disadvantage, because Mr. Smith didn't give me many details on exactly why we're here. That trunk is filled with law books, so we can prepare our case, once we know what it is."
The deputy took another moment to swallow his surprise, and held out his arm gallantly to the lady. "Well, Miss Hart, Mr. Chadwick, if you'll accompany me to the sheriff's office, you'll find Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones waiting for you."
When the telegram arrived, I was more than a little surprised. When Hannibal Heyes left me that morning back in Blue Sky, eight months back, I didn't think I'd ever see him again. That kind of thing only happens to a woman like me once in her life . . . well, strictly speaking, that kind of thing never happens to a woman like me at all. I'd led the life of a proper maiden lady since the death of my fiancé, when I was nineteen, and by the time I met Heyes, I was a year or two into my third decade. A night spent in passionate lovemaking with a stranger, a client, and an outlaw, no matter how handsome and charming, simply wasn't a possibility, especially not for a woman as notorious for her propriety and rectitude as Ella Hart, Esq.
But it had happened. Something about Hannibal Heyes, or Joshua Smith, as I'd thought him then, touched me in a place I had thought couldn't be reached anymore. Of course, I had a secret of my own, which is that I wasn't quite a maiden lady. I'd given myself to Billy a couple of months before the wedding was to have been. We were so much in love, and we were only waiting for him to be sworn into the Bar, and made my daddy's law partner, and it didn't seem like we were doing any wrong. The one thing we hadn't counted on was that Billy would get pneumonia on his trip back from the capital, where he'd been sworn in, and that he'd die two weeks before the day of our wedding.
Nobody in Blue Sky thought it was that peculiar when I took Billy's place as daddy's law clerk, and later as his partner. They thought it was positively romantic, like a story in a book, that Ella was going to sacrifice her chances for marriage and happiness with one of the several young men who would have gladly stepped in and taken Billy's place, and instead turned her life into a monument to her lost love. And so, Blue Sky, Montana accepted its lady lawyer. What they'd never known is that daddy and Billy and I had been planning all along that I was going to join them in the firm, one day. And none of those other young men would have understood that, so my genuine devotion to Billy's memory had the additional welcome effect of keeping me right where I wanted to be.
But I did get lonely sometimes. Billy had been the love of my life, but it had been a long time since he'd been gone. For the last couple of years at least, my pain about his loss had taken second place to my appreciation of its usefulness in strengthening my unusual position. And there was something about the way Joshua Smith looked at me, when I first showed up at the prison to offer my services in a case of false arrest by a bounty hunter, that made me feel the same way I had when Billy's first shy smiles had turned to whispered words and meaningful glances. Heyes and I only had one night together between the time he was released and the time he and his partner were to leave town. I still recalled his kisses, and the way it felt when he touched me, as I drifted off to sleep, nearly every night since. But I never expected to see him again. I wasn't even sure I wanted him to be real, since real things have a way of disappointing, and outlaws and lawyers didn't mix too well even under the best of circumstances. Leave that one perfect experience as a memory, and go on with life as it is.
And here was a wire, addressed to "E. Hart, Esq." and signed "Joshua Smith". It read, "In a one-lawyer town, and need your services. Come to Greenville Montana soonest. Inquire with sheriff. Reply."
After my hand stopped shaking, I penned a response. "Need to wind up business here. Arrive Thursday afternoon. E. Hart, Esq." No need to provide any more information than necessary. But it would have been nice of Heyes to have told me what was the matter, so my clerk and I could have begun plotting our legal strategy beforehand. Instead, I had Jeremy pack up an old steamer trunk of my mother's with as many law books as it held. I didn't want to count on the professional courtesy of our opposing counsel to have access to a law library, and I didn't want to be planning my case in his office, at any rate.
Then I called on my esteemed and eternal opponent, Rick Johnson, the only other lawyer in town, and we agreed that the people of Blue Sky could live without their disputes being resolved for a week or so. I think he was a little relieved, since both our respective practices had been booming lately, between a couple of serious land disputes and that business with the railroad. He could take the time I was out of town to catch up on his paperwork and relax a little, with the added extra advantage of knowing I'd arrive back from my journey tired from traveling. He'd try to press a few points through on me those first days back in court, things I'd ordinarily catch him on. Trust Rick to see opportunity everywhere, the old brigand.
"Well, Ella," he said, a smile creasing his broad, red face, "you're going to appear before a judge who's not Clayton, and against opposing counsel who's not me. You know they may give you a hard time about being a woman. Are you sure you wouldn't rather just hand this case over to me, instead?"
I batted my eyelashes and said, mock-flirtatiously, "Why, Mister Johnson, I am sure that my esteem for you will only grow when I have another worthy opponent with whom to compare you. And besides," I said in my normal tone, "I'm bringing Jeremy with me. It seems to me that it might help for them to see I have a man doing his training under me."
"Won't you need a chaperone, then?" His eyes were sparkling, mischievous.
"To protect me from a man I already spend ten or twelve hours a day with? You might as well suggest I have my office chaperoned."
"Well, now that you mention it, folks have been talking . . . " Rick grinned at me, and then ducked as I crumpled a piece of paper from the top of his desk and threw it at him. "Hey, that was a page of the Chambers will. I'm going to have to have it recopied now."
"Serves you right," I said, but I was blushing my apology at the same time. I knew how long it took the rather elderly man who did Rick's copying for him to get through a page.
And soon I'd taken my leave of both Rick and of Blue Sky, and Jeremy and I were on our way to Greenville. It was an eight-hour train ride, and then another four by stage from the depot, so we'd have to spend the night in Townsend, in between. That night in the hotel, I could barely sleep. Between my worries about whether I'd be taken seriously in a place where nobody knew me, and my apprehensions about what it would be like to see Hannibal Heyes again, I spent most of the night tossing and turning in the uncomfortable hotel bed. We'd treat ourselves to the town's fancier hotel on the way home, I decided. On the way home -- I hadn't even seen Heyes yet, and already I was thinking about how it would be afterwards. The one thing I couldn't allow myself to think about was during. I kept telling myself that he'd only wired me because he needed a lawyer.
It was a good thing that Daddy had trained me to present a calm exterior in all situations. It had often served me well in the past, and this time it was going to keep me from making a lovesick fool of myself.
Of course the deputy sheriff thought that Jeremy was Attorney Hart. I have no idea what, if anything, he thought of me. Maybe he thought I was just another passenger traveling on the same stage. I'd worn a dark, plain coat and skirt, and a neat white shirtwaist, and done up my hair in the most serious fashion I could think of. I probably looked like a Quaker. I hoped Heyes wouldn't be too disappointed when he caught sight of me, and then I remembered I'd probably been dressed like that when I'd met him the first time. In any case, what was more important was that the sheriff and my new esteemed opponent saw that I meant business.
But of course, that wasn't what I was thinking of when the deputy took my arm to escort me to the sheriff's office. Since Heyes hadn't been at the stage to meet me himself, I thought it was a pretty safe assumption that he was in custody. I hoped this wasn't going to be another one of those cases of "mistaken identity." It would be a little trickier to handle one of those now that I knew who he and his partner really were.
When we entered the sheriff's office, and I was led to the back where the cells were, I knew I'd been right. I wondered, for the seven hundredth time or so since I'd received the wire, what kind of trouble Heyes and Curry had managed to get themselves into this time. My heart was pounding and my throat was dry. The first time I'd ever seen Hannibal Heyes I'd been dressed like a Quaker, all right, but the last time, I'd been wearing my dressing gown, and my hair had been tumbled down my back, and I'd been kissing him goodbye. If I could keep myself from blushing and stammering when I saw him, it would be a miracle.
We entered the room, to find the sheriff sitting at a table, and my two friends Mr. Heyes and Mr. Curry, or rather, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, standing behind bars, looking a little worse for wear. In fact, they looked as though they'd spent a night or two sleeping rough and then had ended up in jail before they'd had a chance to really clean up which, as I subsequently learned, is exactly what had happened. They were still two of the most beautiful men I'd ever seen, the Kid with his even features and crisp blond hair, and Heyes . . . well, he was just the way I remembered him, lean and comfortable in his own skin, with his expressive features and those happy/sad brown eyes.
"Well, gentlemen," I said in my most formal manner, and not meeting their eyes. "I believe you've requested my presence." I turned to the sheriff, who looked from me to Jeremy and back again. "If my clerk and I could have a few moments with our clients?"
Heyes and Curry were clearly enjoying the sheriff's confusion, and as for Jeremy, if his smile got any broader, I was afraid he'd damage himself. "I beg your pardon, sheriff. I'm Ella Hart. I'm Mr. Smith's and Mr. Jones' attorney." I waited for Heyes and the Kid to nod their assent. "This is Jeremy Chadwick. He's clerking under me. He should be sworn into the Bar in about six months." Make it perfectly clear to all involved that I was the attorney, and they'd have to deal with me. A couple of those railroad officials had tried to transact all their business with Jeremy. Fortunately, he hadn't been very cooperative. Loyalty was one of his many fine characteristics.
The sheriff finally closed his hanging jaw, and offered me his hand. "Sheriff Robert Marley, ma'am, and pardon me for my . . . " he clearly didn't know how to end his sentence. Pardon him for his surprise?
I turned to the matter at hand. "Now, what are these men being held for?"
The sheriff looked at me uncomfortably, so uncomfortably that I knew whatever he was about to say was not the whole truth. "Suspicion of robbery."
"What are they supposed to have stolen?"
"Well, they were delivering a load of furniture, ma'am, and they ended up in town without it. Sam Fitzgerald insists they have to pay him the value of the furniture, and they claim he's got to pay their expenses."
"Doesn't sound much like robbery to me," I said. "Now does it, Jeremy?"
"Not one bit, Miss Ella."
"So exactly why are you holding these men, Sheriff Marley?"
He sighed, and his moustache seemed to droop. "Sam was afraid they might skip town. Now that you're here, it looks like they're planning to stay. I think it'd be all right if we released them."
"Well, that all sounds more than a little questionable, sheriff," I said. "Cooking up a charge just to detain them?" I knew it was common practice, but it was still on the edges of the law. Actually, it was downright illegal, but it was done quite often and in any case, I couldn't exactly ask Sheriff Marley to arrest himself for doing it.
He motioned to the deputy, who unlocked their cage. Curry stretched and picked up his bag, and Heyes followed, passing close by me and flashing me one of his smiles. I thought I might melt into a puddle on the floor right there and then, but instead I said, somewhat stiffly, "I'll need a place where I can meet with my clients. Does the hotel have a sitting room we can hire?" I didn't particularly want to meet with them at the sheriff's office, but it wouldn't be proper to receive them in my hotel room, either.
Sheriff Marley offered to escort Jeremy and me back to the hotel, and to fill us in on the rest of Sam Fitzgerald's charges. I suggested to Heyes and Curry they get themselves some lunch or a drink or something, and meet us there in an hour.
They just looked at each other and away, and then they stood there for a minute, not moving and neither of them quite meeting my eyes.
"Um . . . " Heyes began. I'd never imagined him at a loss for words.
"We . . . uh . . . " Curry continued.
"Don't have any . . . " Heyes went on. "That is, we were expecting to get paid when we got here and . . . "
I grabbed a small embroidered purse and pulled out a couple of bills, which I placed in their outstretched hands. They still couldn't quite meet my eyes. "Jeremy," I said, "make a note that we've just advanced our clients twenty dollars. And gentlemen," I added, as they turned to go, "this is going on your bill." I didn't actually expect to get paid for this case, but I wasn't going to let Jeremy know that. I didn't want to set a bad example, after all.
The hotel had just the thing -- a small, private sitting room on the ground floor that they were willing to let us have exclusive use of for quite a low fee. I think they were so relieved not to have to haul our steamer trunk up a flight of stairs that they would have let us have it for free. Jeremy went up to see to his room, but I didn't want to lose any of our limited time. I settled myself in at a small writing table, with a pen and ink and that most useful of all legal treatises, an American annotation of Blackstone's *Commentaries*. I got so absorbed in what I was reading, that when I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders, I started, and the person behind me stepped back quickly.
I turned around in my chair and saw that it was Hannibal Heyes, unaccompanied and all cleaned up. Clearly he'd spent his time productively. I couldn't help noticing the way his dark hair fell softly around his face, until he shook it back, or the way his clean trousers clung close to his thighs, above where he'd tucked them into his boots.
"Oh, Mr. Smith," I said, "you frightened me," I stood up and faced him, allowing myself to look into his brown eyes for the first time. My expression was carefully neutral, but my heart was pounding so hard I was sure he must have heard it. It was pounding so hard that Jeremy, two flights away, must have heard it.
"You don't have to call me that when we're alone," he said, taking a step closer to me.
"I'm afraid I do," I said. Suddenly the whole world had shrunk to this man standing before me, and I found it hard to speak, to say anything. "Otherwise I'll get to concentrating on some point of the case, and someone will distract me, and next thing you know, I'll refer to you as Mr. Heyes right in the middle of court." I took a step or two backwards, and resumed my seat, even though it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. "But right now we need to focus on the matter at hand. Exactly what did happen?"
He sat down on a settee across the small room from me and began to tell me about Mr. Roberts, and the agreement made in New Mexico. I wondered if I was just imagining it, or if he looked a little wounded. "You understand that we can't testify?"
"Absolutely. We'll do everything we can to work around it. And if it does become unavoidable, I'll have Jeremy do the questioning, under my close supervision, of course."
"He doesn't know who you are, and I don't intend for him to find out. I know it's a fine point, but . . . "
He nodded. "I understand. So what was it you needed to know?"
I asked him questions, taking careful notes on his responses, for some time, until the door opened, and Jeremy entered, followed by Kid Curry. The Kid sat down on the settee next to his partner, while Jeremy crossed the room to stand near me. "All right. Mr. Smith was telling me about the agreement, and I think we may have a problem. You two never got anything in writing, right?"
The outlaws looked at each other. "Should we have?" asked Heyes.
"Well, it would be a lot easier to prove a breach of contract if there was an actual document. A lot of courts don't like to enforce verbal agreements. Did you wire Fitzgerald at all?"
"Roberts did that. Sheriff Marley said that he claimed he was only an agent in making the arrangements between Fitzgerald and us, if that means anything."
"Oh, it does," I said. "It means he's not willing to take any responsibility in the matter. And it means you're dealing with as slippery a pair as you could have found. Well, we may not be able to get you two paid, but we should be able to keep you out of jail and free from any liability. Now, Mr. Smith, you were saying that Fitzgerald's trying to hold you liable for the value of some papers that you didn't know about?"
And so it went.
The judge didn't exactly have a crowded trial calendar, and he set the date for as quickly as I was willing to allow. We had exactly three days to prepare for the trial, and Jeremy and I put the time to use, questioning Heyes and Curry . . . er, Smith and Jones . . . over and over again about the events of that day, their understanding with the man who had hired them back in New Mexico, and their understanding of what Fitzgerald was expecting from them. When we didn't need them, when we were busy researching the case law or working out our strategies, they wandered about the town. I think they played a lot of poker at the saloon. I know they did, actually, because they had to borrow their first stake from me, and I know they won, because Heyes paid me back for both of them the next day and they kept playing. They certainly saw a lot more of the town than we did, even if it was mostly the inside of the saloon. We had meals delivered to us in the sitting room that had become our office, in order to save the time that it would have taken us to go to the dining room. I never saw Heyes alone again, after that first afternoon. There was an awkwardness between us and I think each of us was waiting for the other to make the next approach. I simply threw myself into trial preparations. I was there to do a job, and I was going to do it right, without letting myself get distracted. Anything else we had to say to each other could wait until afterwards.
The day before the trial, my worthy opponent called on us at the hotel for one final conference. Ebenezer Hicks was a tall, heavy-set man with dark whiskers, and throughout our discussion of the preliminaries of the case, he treated me in a matter-of-fact way, as though I were just any attorney of the more usual gender, as he had at our previous meetings. We discussed a few issues relating to the case, and when he turned to go, he stopped and dropped the bombshell.
"I think you should know that most of the town is going to be there."
"Trials a great entertainment in this town?" I asked, knowing what was coming.
"Well, we don't get many of them, seeing as how I don't have a regular sparring partner like yourself, Miss Hart. There's that. But it's more . . . you." He looked right at me.
"Ah. They want to see the circus act."
"Excuse me, Miss Hart?"
"That saying of Doctor Johnson's about women preaching and dogs walking on their hind legs -- it isn't so much that it's done well, what's remarkable is that it's done at all. They want to see it done at all."
I doubt Hicks had the vaguest idea who Samuel Johnson was, but he understood what I was saying, all right. "I'm afraid that's about the size of it, Miss Hart. If I might make a suggestion, it might be easier all around if you were comfortable permitting Mr. Chadwick . . . "
Jeremy looked flushed and angry as he opened his mouth to speak, but I intervened. "Mister Chadwick is not a member of the Bar of the Territory of Montana. I am. I'll thank you to remember that, Mr. Hicks. Good day." And I turned my back on him.
After he'd gone, I lost my temper entirely. "Jeremy, you're a bright young man, and you're going to be a distinguished lawyer one of these days, but you're twenty-two years old and you barely look it. I'm ten years older than you, and just once in my life I'd like someone who doesn't already know us to make an initial presumption that I might just be a better, more experienced lawyer than you are!"
Jeremy sighed in that endearing kid brother way of his, and sat down right in front of me, taking my hands in his big ones. "Now, Ella, you knew it'd probably be like this. And you know that you can beat this man six ways to Sunday, even if the case isn't as strong as you might like it to be. You're smarter than he is, besides which, you go to court regularly, and he doesn't. You'll have him all figured out before he's even got it straight whether it's Smith or Jones who's named Thaddeus."
I laughed a little at that. It was funnier than Jeremy knew. "Jeremy, how was I ever so lucky to get you working with me?"
"'Cause my parents knew your daddy and it was set I was going to clerk there long before you or I had any choice in the matter. Not that I'd change a thing if I could."
During that last, the door had opened quickly, and shut again. I caught a quick flash of dark hair and dark eyes. Hannibal Heyes had seen Jeremy holding my hands in his, and our heads bent close together, and I knew just what he was thinking. Knew, and didn't know what I could do about it. I didn't know how I could bring the subject up, and I didn't even know if he'd believe me. Still, I needed to try.
By the time I'd made up my mind what to do, and made my excuses to Jeremy, Heyes was already gone. I stepped off the hotel's front porch and saw his black hat and brown jacket disappearing down the street. I didn't want to call out his name and make a public spectacle, especially with the trial coming up and folks having heard both our names. It was pretty easy to guess where he was headed, and when he turned in there, I bit my lip. Being a lady lawyer took me places a lot of ladies didn't ordinarily go, but I'd still never set foot inside a saloon in my entire life, and I was frankly a little scared. I debated with myself every step of the way, and if I'd hesitated at the door any longer, I probably would have gotten arrested for loitering and vagrancy. Finally, I made up my mind to take the plunge through those swinging doors. It was pretty dark inside, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. There were smells of beer and whiskey, and some unwashed cowboys, mixed with the scent of cheap perfume. I spotted Heyes sitting with Curry and a bunch of other men at a card table. A pretty girl with a feather in her hair was taking what I assumed must be his drink order. She was wearing something not so different from my camisole and petticoat, but it was red satin, and there wasn't anything on over it.
Just then I heard the bartender calling to me. "Ma'am? Excuse me, ma'am? You want a drink, or are you looking for someone?" He had my number, all right.
"Oh," I began to say, but I lost my nerve and fled.
I looked into the courtroom, and it was as packed as Ebenezer Hicks had said it would be. Every seat on the benches was taken, and people had brought their own chairs, besides. Folks were standing at the back and along the side walls, and there were even a few people sitting on blankets at odd places on the floor. There were ranchers, and cowboys, and most of the townspeople must have shut their businesses for the afternoon. Entire families had picnic baskets with them. It was a little frightening to understand that I was the main attraction. All I could hope was that a little girl or two might get some ideas in her head. Oh, and that we'd win the case, of course.
And then I had my horrible thought. My clients and Jeremy were waiting for me in a little back room, behind the place where the judge sat. Heyes and Curry were all spit-polished clean and tidy for the occasion, Heyes in a brown suit and Curry in a regrettable medium blue one with a sort of pale blue ribbon trim around the lapels. I made a mental note to take him to a tailor at the next possible opportunity. Jeremy was in impeccable black, but I'd gone with my instincts and set aside my black coat and skirt for a quiet but feminine Sunday go-to-meeting dress in a deep blue-green.
"You look pretty, " said Heyes.
"She sure does," said Jeremy in his proud kid brother kind of way, but I was still certain Heyes didn't quite hear it that way. I made some excuse why Jeremy needed to go and check with the judge on something right that minute. As soon as the door shut behind him, I turned back to Heyes and Curry.
"I am so sorry," I said. "I should have realized this was going to happen, but as you know, I don't stray from home very often, and I'm old news there. Everybody in three counties has come to see the Amazing Amazonian Lady Lawyer, and I may have put you both in danger. What do you think the chances are of folks around here recognizing you?"
"We never rode in this area," said Heyes, his expression thoughtful, "so it's not that likely. Of course, the gang that actually stole the stuff knew -- one of them used to know us -- but they're not likely to show up today. I guess it's a risk we'll have to take."
I sat down and put my head in my hands. "How could I have been so stupid, not to know this would happen? I should have sent Rick Johnson."
"Rick Johnson?" asked Curry, suspiciously. "Isn't he the one who'd turn us in for the reward money as soon as look at us?"
"Guess that's why I didn't." I smiled at him.
Heyes walked over to me and put a hand on my shoulder, "Ella, you know I'm a gambler, and I play the odds. And these odds look pretty good to me. This place is out of the way enough, and we've spent so little time in these parts, that the chances against us being spotted are about as good as we'd have anyplace. And at least we know we have a good lawyer on our side." I reached up and squeezed his hand, but the door opened and he pulled away quickly. Wonderful. He didn't want Jeremy catching him. Well, there were other things to think about now.
"We're ready to begin."
Despite the circus atmosphere (with me the star acrobat), the judge maintained a firm grip on the courtroom. Hicks made his opening arguments: namely, that there was no contract, that his client was under no obligation to pay for services rendered since the valuable antiques were not delivered, and that Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were fully liable for the value of the missing property, in the amount of $25,000.
"That's an awful lot of money for some old furniture, Mr. Hicks," I suggested. They were the first words of my opening statement, and they caused enough of a sensation that I was worried about the rest of the trial. Maybe the crowd thought this was some kind of ventriloquist act and they'd been expecting to hear Jeremy's voice coming out of my throat. Well, wait 'til they heard what I really had to say.
"In fact, Your Honor, ladies and gentleman, I am going to prove today that the only reason that Mr. Fitzgerald values these old pieces of furniture so highly is that one of them contained something that Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones had no idea they were transporting, something that would have caused them to have conducted the transportation in a much different fashion, or possibly to have declined it altogether. I am further going to prove that because of this deception, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones are not only entitled to payment in the full amount of the agreement, but it is this Court's duty to award them damages in the amount of a reasonable fee for transporting a valuable article of this nature." Well, no court had actually gone this far yet, but it was worth a try. Ask for the moon, get a reasonable settlement. It's the way of the world.
Having concluded my opening arguments, I returned to the table where I was seated with Jeremy and my clients. Ebenezer Hicks returned to the front of the courtroom.
"Your honor, this young lady's unreasonable demands --"
I was on my feet, "Objection. The fact that I'm a young lady has nothing to do with the case." It was the moment of truth.
"Sustained. Mr. Hicks, you will refer to your learned opposing counsel as such, or else the young lady has my permission to refer to you as the `fat, pompous old windbag.'"
Hicks sputtered for a moment. "It was a term of deference to the young lady's . . . that is, to my learned opponent's status as a member of the gentler sex."
"I know just what it was, Hicks, and you're not to try it again."
The laughter of the assembled crowd spread throughout the courtroom. The crowd was mine to win now, if I could. Bless the judge's irascible old heart. He had a weakness for the underdog.
Hicks continued with his arguments, but, even though he had the majority of the case law on his side for several of the counts, his performance was uninspired. His logic was not precisely crystalline, and he made each point as though he were lecturing a particularly dull group of schoolboys. Clearly he was not a local favorite. Of course, the popular perception that he was in Sam Fitzgerald's . . . what was it the sheriff had told Heyes? . . . hip pocket, might have contributed to that, but if this man had ever seen an itinerant troupe doing Shakespeare, he should have learned a little something about presentation. He called Sam Fitzgerald to the stand, and essentially let him sputter on in the same fashion. They lost his property and they were going to recompense him for it, regardless of their ability to pay.
And then it was my turn to cross-examine. I rose and approached the bench, and then turned and looked at my clerk and my clients. Jeremy's curly head was bent over his notepad, already, but Heyes and Curry were leaning back in their chairs, looking like they were about to enjoy the show. Don't get too relaxed, I wanted to tell them. But I couldn't help but find their confidence encouraging. I took a deep breath, and began. A woman's voice doesn't project as easily as a man's, but I'd learned how to compensate for that from Sven Rasmussen, a deputy sheriff in Blue Sky who doubled as a singing teacher to some of the other ladies in town.
"Mister Fitzgerald," I began, "I'm still trying to determine upon what basis you are making this outrageous claim for recompense."
"Objection," came Hicks' monotone.
"Sustained. You will keep the questions factual, counselor." But he didn't look harsh, just businesslike. I looked over at my clients again. Kid Curry looked a little nervous, but Heyes gave me a broad smile. He'd noticed not only my discomfiture, but the speed with which I'd recovered from it.
"My apologies, Your Honor, Mr. Fitzgerald. However, I am curious on what basis you are valuing the goods transported by my clients. I've done some checking, by telegraph, with some of the auction houses in New York and San Francisco, and they estimate a shipment of this sort to be worth a good deal less than what you claim." I raised my hand to forestall the inevitable objection. "Your honor, I will introduce this testimony at the appropriate time. Right now I am simply trying to establish the basis of Mr. Fitzgerald's valuation."
The judge nodded. "Answer the question, Mr. Fitzgerald."
"Well," he said nervously, "the value isn't just contained in the antique furniture. There were some documents concealed in the desk which were also of some significant value."
"Were my clients made aware that they were transporting goods other than the furniture which they had contracted to transport?"
"Umm . . . I'm not aware of what Mr. Roberts might have told them."
"And yet you claim that the agreement was made by Mr. Roberts as your agent? Who, then, was responsible for informing my clients?"
"Well, I guess I was . . . "
"I've finished with the witness, Your Honor. I simply wish to present my own case."
"Very well, counselor."
My clients looked pleased. If I'd kept my cross-examination that short, it would look less peculiar when I didn't call them. Jeremy made a hand signal which was our private victory sign. I felt rather less satisfied than any of them.
However, I turned and addressed the court. "Your Honor, my clients are not sophisticated businessmen, like Mister Samuel Fitzgerald, nor wealthy ranchers like Mister Arthur Roberts. No, your honor, they are sons of the West, who love this fair land of ours, and who have chosen a way of life that some of us may not understand, and others among us may find enviable. They travel around, doing odd jobs, and exploring our frontier. It may be fair to refer to Mister Joshua Smith and Mister Thaddeus Jones as jacks of all trades, and masters of none," I saw Heyes wince at this, "but in their world, a man's word is still his bond, and written agreements are not necessary. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones have traveled a long way in pursuit of this commission, and they should not be penalized because of an unfortunate mishap."
Well, it went on like that, and I went on to discuss the mysterious hidden document at more length, and most of Hicks' objections were overruled, except quite fairly, the one to my speculation on the nature of the document. I knew I'd gone too far there, but I'd been making such a dramatic statement. I brought Jeremy up, briefly, to introduce the subject of the valuations of the antiques in question. At the most extravagant estimate, they were worth short of ten thousand dollars. Less than the price on either of my clients' heads.
And then it was over, and I'd managed to get through it smoothly without the omission of my clients taking the stand being too glaringly obvious, or so I hoped. In a strange way, the focus on my performance as a woman lawyer had shifted the spotlight from anything I actually did up there. I just hoped it would be enough.
From the murmurs that I could hear, I knew the crowd, at least, was with me. The judge made his way back to his chambers for deliberation. I sunk into my chair at the defendant's table, while Jeremy poured me water. Heyes leaned past him to whisper, "Worth every penny we're paying you."
"You're paying me? With what?" I asked. "Your luck at the poker table had better have been pretty good."
Very shortly, the judge had returned to his bench, and was ready to make his pronouncement. Jeremy reached over and gripped my wrist convulsively, to the point where it hurt. I was going to have to train him not to do that in court.
"Learned counsel," he began, "Mister Fitzgerald, Mister Smith, Mister Jones, I find myself at an impasse."
"A what?" I heard Curry whisper to Heyes.
"Why didn't he just say so?"
"That's not how judges talk. Now be quiet and listen."
"While the common law supports Mr. Fitzgerald's contentions, equity would have me favor the claims of Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones. Therefore, I am reserving my decision pending a suggestion."
"Your honor?" asked Hicks. "What kind of a suggestion?"
"That Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, in the company of Deputy Sheriff Dickens and Deputy Sheriff Lodge, be sent to try to recover the stolen property."
Heyes jumped to his feet. "Your honor, that's what we were trying to do when Sheriff Marley put us in jail in the first place. He's cost us days. It may be impossible to track the gang now."
Now Fitzgerald was on his feet as well. "How could I trust them not to just flee the jurisdiction?"
The judge banged his gavel several times. "Order in the court. Order! Now, Mr. Fitzgerald, your fears were understandable at the time, but as Mr. Smith points out, the delay that your actions have caused may have made the recovery of your property impossible. However, I order that Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones be permitted to make a good faith effort to provide restitution of the actual stolen goods. They are bound over to this court, and if they do not reappear with either the property or an account of said good faith effort within a reasonable time, they will be liable to arrest. If they do make said effort, it will stand in place of the restitution you request, Mr. Fitzgerald."
Fitzgerald submitted, with less than good grace, while Heyes and Curry were so anxious to go that I think they would have left the courtroom and hit the trail that moment, if they'd had horses and guns. But it was already late afternoon, and the rest of the day would have to be spent in provisioning them.
Then Sheriff Marley offered an objection of his own. "I can't let both of my deputies go off for a week or more at a time."
There was a stirring at my side. "Can I go?" asked a timid voice. "You could make me a deputy, temporarily, couldn't you?"
Heyes looked closely at the eager young man by my side. "Well, Chadwick, we'd be glad to have you, except for one thing. How are you at riding and tracking?"
"I'm a pretty good rider," he said hopefully. "I won the local steeplechase last year."
I think Heyes and I saw it at the same time. Jeremy had spent most of his young life in schools and in offices. This was his chance to have an adventure, to be a man. Heyes caught my eye, and I nodded. "It's acceptable to us, Your Honor," he said.
"It's acceptable to me," said the sheriff.
"It sounds like I don't have much of a choice," grumbled Fitzgerald. "All right by me. But are we certain that these men are coming back, with or without my property?"
There was mischief in Heyes' brown eyes when he spoke. "Why of course we'll come back. After all, we couldn't possibly run off on such a lovely young la . . . excuse me, such a lovely learned counsel as Miss Hart, now could we?" His dimple deepened as he smiled at me.
I took a deep breath. The judge was bending the law in our favor as far as he could go, and not one person had stood up in court and identified my clients as Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. No whispers, even, as far as I could tell. Assaulting my client in open court, no matter how exasperating he was being, was not the way to get this streak of good luck to continue.
Just after sunrise the morning after the trial, a party of four horsemen left Greenville, heading back into the mountains. They rode in silence until they reached the edge of the pass that lead through the mountains to Townsend.
"The trail is going to be cold," commented Heyes. "Our best bet is probably the size of the gang."
"How do you mean?" asked Jim Dickens, the deputy. He was a strongly-built man of medium height, with a closely-trimmed black beard, grey eyes and a straight nose.
"Well, if there was a gang of nine men riding those hills all the time, it's a fair bet you would have known about it, right?"
"Sure. But there's nobody regularly in the mountains. We'd be in a real fix around here, if there were, with the nearest train station on the other side, wouldn't we?"
Heyes continued. "So it's a reasonable assumption that the group of men was assembled for one purpose -- to hijack that load we were hauling. The boss of the gang even said as much, remember, Thaddeus?"
Curry frowned. "Oh, yeah. We asked him what he'd want with a bunch of old furniture, and he kinda said it was the old furniture he'd been employed to get."
"So if they were hired for a particular job, and they're not all a regular gang, they might have split up by now. And they wouldn't have the same kind of loyalty to each other that a real gang would have."
"Makes sense." The Kid nodded.
"How do you know so much about how a gang of outlaws would think?" Jeremy Chadwick asked. He had a bewildered look on his young face -- he was a good horseman, but he seemed to regard the whole tracking process as a mystery too complex for his comprehension.
"Oh, Joshua is just real smart," Curry quickly replied.
"Yeah, that's what Ella said."
"Did she?" Heyes looked interested.
"She said you were one of the smartest men she'd ever met. I probably shouldn't tell you this, but she was pretty nervous coming here. She said you were so smart she probably wouldn't be able to impress you in the courtroom, like she can with most clients. She said you'd probably have her strategy all figured out as soon as she opened her mouth, and she'd have to stand there and look at you looking back at her and thinking about how she could have done it better." Jeremy smiled sheepishly. "But you won't tell her I told you?"
"No, I won't," Heyes reassured him. So he made her nervous, did he? Well, she sure hadn't showed it. He wondered what else she didn't show. Jeremy seemed a lot younger and more vulnerable outside his own element, and he wondered if he'd been right in his assumptions about Ella and the boy. They'd seemed so close, though. But that was for thinking about later. "So, they were headed over the hills to the west, not back towards Townsend at all. We had plenty of time to watch them disappear. Jim, what's the nearest town in that direction?"
"Oh, Ford's Landing, over by the river. But that's a good three days' ride ahead."
"Three days on horseback, or three days with a heavy wagon and tired horses?" asked Heyes, frowning thoughtfully.
"Three days on horseback. From the way you described that load, I'd say it'd take them closer to four."
"Well, it doesn't make up for the week we lost waiting around Greenville, but it's better than nothing. At least we ought to get word of whether they were there, and where they might have been going."
And they rode on in silence.
Near nightfall they stopped and made camp. Heyes and the deputy lit the fire and began to make dinner, while Curry made a reconnaissance of the area. Jeremy was at Heyes' elbow, as he'd been ever since they set out.
"Is there anything else I can do?" he asked in a helpless helpful sort of way.
Didn't lawyers learn anything about *anything* important, even how to make a fire? But Jeremy had consistently brought the wrong kind of wood, spilled the container of beans he was trying to open into the flames, and cut his thumb on his utility knife. Dickens helped him bind it up, while Heyes restrained himself to a single suggestion. "Why don't you go see what Thaddeus is doing?" Let the Kid handle the kid for awhile.
Jeremy saw the lean figure of Jones in the distance, and started off. He moved quietly, as he'd been taught by one of his favorite clients, an Indian tribal leader whose land claims Ella had become interested in. It was the only wilderness skill he had, other than a fairly good seat on a horse, and he wanted to impress Jones after making such a fool of himself in front of Smith and the deputy. When he'd gotten within a few yards, he stepped on a piece of underbrush, and found himself face to face with a gun. Jones was the quickest draw he'd ever seen.
The gun was lowered. "Don't ever do that again, Chadwick! Sneak up on me like that and I could have had a bullet through you before I even knew it was you."
Jeremy sighed loudly. "I thought that was the one thing I could do right. I've made a complete idiot of myself trying to help out back at the campfire. I'm afraid your friend thinks I'm the next best thing to useless."
Curry couldn't help but smile at that. "Joshua gets a little impatient sometimes. But I can tell you that he didn't think you were useless at all back when you and Miss Ella were planning for that trial."
"Well, yeah, I can do that. But it's about all I can do. Sometimes I think I should've stayed back East when I got out of school, instead of coming back out here where I don't fit in anymore."
"You went to school back east?"
"Pennsylvania. From the time I was fourteen until I started working for Ella. I could have gone to a law school out there, but my father thought training in an office would be better experience for me. And Ella's father had been one of his oldest friends. They came out to Montana territory from Boston together, back before it even *was* Montana territory."
"Pennsylvania, that's something. I was in Philadelphia, once. Were you near there?"
"Actually, I was. Just outside."
Curry smiled, conspiratorially. "Joshua has never been east of the Mississippi. So, you've been all over."
Jeremy shrugged. "Anyone can get on a train and ride."
The Kid was about to contradict him, thinking of all the trains he and Heyes had stopped when they were still riding with the Devil's Hole Gang, but he thought better of it. "You know, that sneaking up might have its uses when we catch up with them. Just don't try it with me again. I'm kind of quick on the draw."
"I noticed. Could you . . . could you teach me? I mean, not how to draw as fast as you, but give me a few tips on how to improve my shooting? I . . . I've really only done a little target practice, and I don't get to use it much in my line of work."
"No, I imagine not. Words are your weapons. Joshua's that way, too, when he has his preference. I like action, myself. But sure, I'll give you a few pointers. We've got plenty of ammunition, and we're so many days behind the men we're chasing that they're not going to hear us." Curry unholstered his gun, and demonstrated a few shots. "You, see, if you hold the gun like this, you get a clearer aim." He handed the gun to Jeremy. "Why don't you try?"
Jeremy took aim at the mark his instructor indicated. He did a lot better than the Kid would have expected. But before he could take a second shot, there was a sound of running, and then Heyes' voice crying out "What the hell was that?"
"Just showing Jeremy a few pointers."
"Well, next time can you do it silently? We thought you'd been ambushed." Heyes and the deputy turned around and trudged back towards the fire.
Jeremy turned to follow them, but turned back and looked at Curry. "That was some impressive shooting. You don't see a man who can handle a gun like that every day." He had a peculiar expression.
"Yeah, well, you're not so bad yourself, for a lawyer," Curry smiled after him. When he'd gone, the blond outlaw smacked his own forehead. Idiot, he thought. Chadwick may be naive, but he's smart, and he's got to realize that nobody who can shoot like I do is any mere drifter. It might not be a complete disaster if he found out, but keeping it from Dickens was another, more vital, manner entirely.
The path over the mountains was a difficult one, but Dickens was sure it was the way they must have gone, and in fact, there was evidence of a cart having passed that way, in the form of tracks, and dislodged stones along the path. "Well," he said thoughtfully, "they certainly have gone out of their way to make things easy for us. They must have lost a lot of time bringing the load this way."
"Must have figured it was too dangerous to bring it back through Townsend," contributed Curry.
"It makes me wonder if it was really the furniture the bandits were after, or the mysterious contents of that drawer," said Heyes. "Chances of banging it up this way are pretty good, and that's not going to increase its value any."
"What if you were right and it was a commission job?" asked Dickens.
"So the outlaws were only doing what they'd been asked to do, whether it was the easiest way or the best way, or not."
"Then all we'd need to figure out is . . . "
"Who made the commission. Well, Dickens, you're the only one of us who knows the folk hereabouts. Can you think of anything?"
"No . . . unless . . . "
"Well, does Fitzgerald have any enemies? He sure don't seem to be all that popular for a man who owns as much as he does."
"No one much likes him. But there was the land dispute a ways back. He used to have a partner, a Dan Thomas, and he done him pretty dirty on a big deal. Thomas disappeared a while ago, though. Last anyone around these parts heard, he was out in Nevada."
Heyes looked thoughtful. "So there's the chance that he found out about the shipment from New Mexico, hired these outlaws, and had them steal the furniture."
"But why?" asked Dickens.
"Well, it could have to do with the documents that we know are concealed in the desk."
"Then why steal all the furniture?"
"He may not know which piece of the furniture the documents are hidden in. He may not know exactly what is hidden. And he may not even know about any documents, and just wants to keep Fitzgerald from having his heart's desire."
"Like Big Mac McCreedy and Senor Armendariz?" Curry interjected.
"Exactly, Thaddeus." Heyes turned to the others. "We have a friend, a big landowner down on the Texas border, who has an ongoing feud with his counterpart on the other side of the Rio Grande. Big Mac brought this bust of Caesar back from Europe with him, and that thing's been back and forth between them more times than you can count. And they seem to care more about it than about the land or anything, anymore."
"And it's not like it's even pretty, or anything," said his partner. "If it was one of them nude Venuses or something, you could see it, but it's just the head of this old Roman guy."
Chadwick piped up for the first time. "So, there's a sort of symbolic value to the Caesar, or to the antiques. Keep your rival from having it, and it's kinda like you're stealing his manhood."
Curry frowned. "What do they teach you in those schools back East, anyway?"
"Chadwick's got a point," said Heyes. "But in any case, it's doubtful Thomas, if it is Thomas, would have told the outlaws exactly why he wants the furniture. So the shipment should stay intact. We're still two days out from Ford's Landing, right?"
"Afraid so," said Dickens. "Time to stop talking and start riding."
The mountain trails were difficult, and more than once, their horses balked. Jeremy Chadwick, who was the least used to this type of riding, showed remarkable determination. There hadn't been time to outfit him in the proper trail clothes, and since he was so extremely tall,
he hadn't been able to borrow much from anyone, and so he cut an interesting figure on horseback, in the jacket and trousers from his second-best suit, his once-shiny shoes, a hat the sheriff had lent him and a bandanna belonging to Heyes. He was a handsome young man, which compensated some, if not quite enough, for the incongruity of his appearance. The mountain nights were cold, and he wasn't dressed warmly enough, but he stoically refused to complain.
Heyes, particularly, had gotten over his earlier annoyance, and seemed rather protective of the younger man. "We don't want to bring him back damaged any more than the furniture. Wouldn't do to annoy our lawyer," he mumbled to Curry.
"He's tryin'. He's asked me for some more shooting pointers."
"Well, I hope you're being a little more careful about showing him what you can do."
"I ain't stupid, Heyes. I just wasn't thinking, that first time. Speaking of stupid, though, how we gonna get around the fact that the outlaws know who we are?"
"I have no idea, Kid, and it's been worrying me plenty. Maybe we're best off if we search and search and don't find them."
"Are you sure we wouldn't still be liable for the money, then?"
"The judge said we had to make the effort. I had the feeling he knew there was no way we could come up with the money. Shame if we don't get paid, but, right now I'd settle for getting out of Montana free and in one piece."
"Sounds good to me."
The afternoon sun was low in the sky of the third day, when they saw the river in the distance, and the little town of Ford's Landing nestled on its banks. Heyes and Curry looked at each other with mixed emotions. Dickens and Chadwick seemed excited, the latter in particular. Their adventure was about to begin. Heyes just hoped his and his partner's wasn't about to end.
They arrived in town before dark, and fastened their horses to a rail on the main street. Dickens and Chadwick went to check in the sheriff's office, while Heyes and Curry headed into the saloon.
They'd barely ordered their drinks when they heard from behind them, "Well, if it ain't Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry! You boys do know how to come lookin' for trouble, don't you?"
"Hello, Dusty," said Heyes, turning around calmly. "I hope that's not a threat. 'Cause the Kid's pretty tired, and you know he don't react well to threats when he's tired."
"Why'd I threaten you? We got what we want, and me and my friends got paid." The outlaw gestured to a table behind him, where three of the other men who'd ambushed them that day were sitting, in various states of drunkenness. Dusty, who was weaving slightly, was the soberest of them all. "Paid real good, for the amount of work. 'Course, getting that stuff over the mountains was tough, but we managed okay."
Heyes smiled his most charming smile. "Well, that's good, because you got us into real bad trouble. We need to get that furniture back in the worst way."
"I'm sorry, Heyes. If I'd'a known it was you, I never would have taken the job. We were told some fellas named Smith and Jones would be transporting the load. . . . Oh. I get it. Smith and Jones, huh?"
"You don't think we can do honest work under our real names, do you, Dusty?"
"Guess not, but you coulda done better'n Smith and Jones, couldn't you? Well, listen, I done my job and got paid and all, but it's not like I got any loyalty to the fellows that hired me. And you was always good to me, in the old days, when you rode with Jim Plummer's gang and I was with the Westons. Tell ya what. I know them other five boys were headed down the river, towards a big spread a couple days' ride south of here. They were shippin' the anti . . . the old furniture on a barge down the river, to a place owned by a feller called Thomas."
"Well, thanks Dusty, you've been a big help," said Heyes, quickly, turning towards the saloon door, which had just opened.
"We'd buy you a drink, but we don't got any money, thanks to you," said Curry, following him.
And Dusty's eyes widened, to see the two outlaws intercepting a lawman with a star on his vest, and a tall young slicker in a weather-beaten dress suit. Maybe they really had reformed. He shrugged. What he needed was another drink.
"There's a trail along the river we can ride. The man we met tells us Thomas's place is downriver a couple of days."
"How you get that much information that fast?" asked Dickens. "Sheriff barely remembers someone transferring a load of old furniture onto a barge. Can't even recall what day it was."
Heyes grinned. "Saloon's always a better source of information than the sheriff's office, don't you agree, Thaddeus?"
"Oh, absolutely, Joshua." Curry looked at his partner, with relief visible in his frank blue eyes. The die was cast and they'd have to pursue the matter to its end, but their quick encounter with Dusty guaranteed them a few more days without their cover blown. Who knew between now and then what might not happen? Heyes had figured their way out of tighter spots.
"Aren't we going to sleep in town tonight?" asked Jeremy, hopefully.
"Well, we really should push on," said Heyes quickly. It would be difficult to avoid running into Dusty and his boys again, in a town so small. He didn't relish the idea of doing any more explaining than was absolutely necessary. "Looks like the path is pretty clearly marked. We could ride for several hours of darkness, before we had to make camp."
"Agreed," said the deputy. "We don't want to lose any more time than we have to."
Curry nodded his agreement, so Jeremy was overruled.
Jeremy awoke at first light, and pushed himself up from the hard ground. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but this outdoor living had certain disadvantages. An unfamiliar blanket was covering him and his bedroll, and as he looked around to see how it had gotten there, he caught sight of Thaddeus Jones putting a coffeepot on the fire.
"This yours?" he asked Jones, gesturing to the blanket.
"Yeah. I got up in the middle of the night, and I saw you there, shivering in your sleep. Your clothes aren't as warm as the rest of ours, so I figured you could use the blanket more than me."
"Well, thanks. If I'd have known about this little expedition in advance, maybe I'd have brought warmer clothing, but . . . " Jeremy smiled and shrugged. "Who knew? Sure is the most adventure I've had on a law case."
"Wait'll we actually get down to Thomas' place before you decide whether you're enjoying your adventure or not."
Jeremy looked around. The deputy was still asleep by the fire. "Where's Smith?"
"I think he's taking a bath down in the river."
"Sounds like a good idea."
"I wouldn't recommend it. Water's mighty cold until the sun's been on it for awhile, and you don't want to take a chill, since--"
Jeremy finished his sentence for him. "--my clothes aren't warm enough." He looked around him and spotted something that gave him an odd feeling. "Hey, Jones, what's that curled up by the deputy's side?"
Before he'd blinked, Jones had drawn his gun and shot the rattlesnake. Dickens sat up bolt upright.
"You had a visitor while you were sleeping."
"What's going on here?" It was Smith, wet and wrapped in a drab-colored blanket, his clothes bundled underneath the arm that wasn't clutching the blanket closed. His eyes went to the gun in Jones' hand. "Didn't I tell you not to --?" He stopped at the sight of the still-twitching rattlesnake. "Oh."
"Weren't you taking an awful chance?" asked Jeremy. "That snake was only inches from his side."
"He wouldn't have made the shot if he hadn't have known he would hit that rattler and not me," said Dickens firmly. He looked Jones right in the eyes. "I'm sure of that."
It was early morning of the next day that they came upon the first signs of habitation.
"Think this is it?" Dickens asked Heyes.
"Got to be. Wonder how far we are from the main house?"
"You know what *I'm* worryin' about," Curry muttered under his breath to Heyes. If only Dusty had kept their true identities to himself in the first place, they wouldn't be approaching their goal with such mixed feelings. That look Dickens had given him the other morning when he'd shot the rattlesnake made him wonder if he hadn't figured it out, anyway -- maybe not that he was Kid Curry, but that he was a well-known gun. Not many would have even risked the shot, but Curry had panicked when he saw the danger that the deputy was in. All he could hope was that the deputy's gratitude outweighed his sense of duty to his job.
They rode on, through much of the morning, across the vast land holdings that they were all assuming belonged to Dan Thomas.
The sun was still a bit short of its high noon position when they saw horsemen heading their way. There were six of them.
"Looks like we've found who we're looking for," Heyes said, giving the Kid a particular look, as if to say, well, freedom's been nice. "The one on the good horse must be Thomas." And they continued to ride towards them, until both groups pulled up, within speaking distance.
The man on the grey dapple pulled out in front of the rest of the party. Heyes and Curry recognized the grizzled outlaw known as "the Boss" and the redheaded one among the party. The man who spoke was in his late 40s, his hat tipped back to reveal a balding forehead. "Hello, gentlemen. I was hoping it wouldn't come to this, but I can't say I'm surprised. Dan Thomas, at your service. . . . Oh, and, by the way, my men are armed and all very good shots."
"We've just come for what you took from us," said Heyes.
"Well, isn't that a coincidence? Because I was just taking back what Sam Fitzgerald stole from me -- the deed to 20,000 acres just around Greenville, Montana."
"We don't know about that. We know about some old furniture, and that we were supposed to deliver it to Mr. Fitzgerald, and that he's mighty displeased we didn't make the delivery. And we've been specifically instructed to bring it back."
"Don't it make some strange bedfellows? What do we have here, but Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, accompanied by a man wearing a star, and . . . who's the young guy? Your accountant or something?"
Heyes didn't bother to deny his identity, since Thomas' companions were all part of the gang that had been riding with Dusty that day, but he threw a quick glance over his shoulder to see how Dickens and Chadwick were taking the information. Somehow neither of them was showing any reaction at all. Dickens was staring straight ahead, apparently gauging the strength of the opposition. Jeremy had a cold fire in his eyes that Heyes hadn't expected to see there.
"Look, Mr. Thomas, we don't know anything about a deed. All we want is the stuff we were supposed to deliver. We're willing to search through the drawers with you. And we got the law with us, so you might want to think twice before you refuse to cooperate." Should be easy enough to "miss" the secret drawer.
"Well, as it happens, I'm glad you came calling. You see, my men and I have searched and come up with nothing. But Hannibal Heyes, now . . . I hear tell he might just be able to find what we're looking for."
"And then you'll let us have the furniture?"
"I don't think so. You're trespassing on private property, and if that deputy don't have something better to do with two notorious outlaws than help 'em chase after some old junk, maybe our local sheriff ought to hear about it."
Heyes opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, the sound of a shot had rung out from the other side.
Jeremy Chadwick followed the next several minutes in a bewildered haze of adrenaline, fear and another emotion he had never experienced before and was puzzled by, since it left him feeling cold, clear and eager. One of Thomas' men, a small redheaded fellow, had apparently fired the first shot by mistake. He was holding his rifle cocked, when his horse stumbled. However, Thomas' men took this as a signal and began firing on the quartet that faced them.
Quick as lightning, the man Jeremy had known as Thaddeus Jones had drawn and returned fire on the redhead, shooting him square in the shoulder. Nobody could shoot that accurately from that distance, Jeremy thought to himself. Nobody but . . . his eyes widened as he realized that the man he had been trailing around the mountains really was Kid Curry, as Dan Thomas had claimed. As Rick Johnson and the bounty hunter had claimed. And that meant that the other man must indeed be . . .
Jeremy turned his head quickly to watch Hannibal Heyes aimed directly at Dan Thomas. No, not at Thomas but at his . . .
And then he felt a searing pain in his arm as the impact of a bullet threw him backwards on his horse, and he managed to keep from falling only by the sheerest exertion of will and physical force.
Meanwhile, Kid Curry had taken aim again, firing towards Dan Thomas and the outlaw leader, firing to frighten them, this time, not to hit them. He saw that the redheaded outlaw was down off his horse, and then that Thomas's grey horse had shot out from under him, probably by Heyes. Jeremy had been wounded, too, and Curry was aiming again at the outlaw known as the Boss, when the man began to shout, "Hold off, men. Hold off!"
Curry, Heyes, and Dickens held back, and Jeremy's gun had been knocked from his hand by the impact of the shot that grazed his arm. The Boss' men quickly held up, too.
"Now, then," said the Boss. "I didn't sign onto this job for any killing. There's plenty worth killing over, but old furniture ain't it, and neither is grudges I don't know anything about. Red started it first, so I can't lay the blame on our visitors, here. But it looks like we got a couple men need medical attention, Mister Thomas, and I aim to see they get it."
Thomas looked up from where his horse was pinning him to the ground by the leg, and said, "For chrissakes, get this thing off of me . . . "
Without his men backing him, Thomas was powerless to prevent Dickens from claiming the powers of the law to reclaim stolen property. Besides, he was somewhat preoccupied with the agony from his shattered leg. The local doctor had dosed him with laudanum for the pain, and he was unconscious a great deal, and incoherent much of the time he was awake.
The furniture was discovered in an outbuilding. Jeremy, his arm in a sling, was examining it with amazement. "He was just gonna leave this stuff out here? You can't leave stuff like this in a barn -- the wood'll get ruined!"
"You're lucky you didn't get ruined, Chadwick," said Curry. "That bullet just grazed your arm. Heyes was pretty scared, there. He wasn't exactly looking forward to going back and telling Miss Hart we'd lost her sidekick."
"I'm going to pretend like I didn't hear that," Jeremy said. "You mean, Smith was pretty scared."
Curry smiled and his blue eyes twinkled. "That's what I said, isn't it? Any luck finding the documents?" If only the deputy were this easy to convince.
"Nothing in here but some old papers in Spanish that I found fastened to the underside of a drawer. My Spanish isn't very good, but I know enough that I can tell you it's a land deed, for sure. But it's a land deed for south of the Rio Grande. It's got nothing at all to do with Dan Thomas."
"All that trouble, men wounded and that horse killed -- not to mention me and my partner in jail for days -- for something that had nothing to do with him?"
"It's worse than that. This deed is a hundred years old. That land's probably belonged to someone else for nearly a century."
They loaded the furniture onto the old cart, still sound although somewhat the worse for wear after its trip through the mountains. Deputy Sheriff Dickens rather ceremoniously paid the Boss, as representative for the still mostly-unconscious Thomas, for the purchase of several fresh cart horses, to add to the original team. Jeremy insisted on writing out a little transfer document, although he had to do it with his left hand, and it looked like it had been executed by a small child. But, as he pointed out, Fitzgerald was going to be paying for this.
When they'd gotten off of Thomas' land, Heyes called for the cart to pull up. He jumped up onto the back, and lifted the canvas coverings. Searching the desk, he soon found what he was looking for -- the secret drawer. "Don't feel bad, Chadwick, it was well hid." Jeremy's documents weren't the only secret contents, after all. Inside was an oblong black box, which he lifted out.
Curry looked at him, with his raised eyebrows, and asked, "What is it?"
Heyes whistled in response. "What's in here is no land deed. And it's not worth $25,000, either. It's worth a whole lot more." He held out a box containing a large cache of jewelry: a magnificent diamond necklace in an old-fashioned setting, and a number of unset rubies and emeralds. He and the Kid looked at each other, and then somewhat regretfully at the deputy. "I assume this is what we were really transporting?"
"Unless it really was those Mexican deeds, and Fitzgerald don't know about the jewels."
"Well, Kid, we'll never know that, will we?" Heyes turned to the deputy. "I suppose you'll be notifying the sheriff when we get back to Greenville, now that you know who we really are."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Smith."
"Sure you do."
"I'm sure I don't, do you, Chadwick?"
"Why, no, I have no idea what he's talking about."
"You're not going to turn us in for the reward? The $10,000 reward on each of us?"
"When I look at you, what I see is two men who saved my life. And just like those jewels, I think that's worth a little bit more than $20,000 or so."
Heyes and Curry broke into huge grins. "You're a good man, Jim Dickens," said Heyes.
"The best," said Curry. "Now, if I'm not mistaken, we've got a load of high-priced old furniture to deliver . . . Joshua."
"Antiques, Thaddeus. Antiques."
As the other two drove the cart along, Heyes and the Kid rode ahead a ways. They were bringing the load around by way of Townsend, retracing their earlier route and avoiding the strenuous mountain paths.
The Kid turned to Heyes with a wicked smile. "So, we're heading back to Greenville and that pretty lady lawyer. Time for a coin toss?"
"That's not even funny, Kid."
"Why not, Heyes? It's what we always do when there's two of us and one pretty woman." But as Curry caught sight of his partner's expression, he burst into laughter. "You should see yourself, Heyes. Look, Ella's plenty nice to look at, but she's not exactly my type. Too many long words. Besides, I like a woman that needs a little rescuing now and then. Ella's too independent for me. She can talk her way out of anything . . . kinda like you."
Heyes smiled. "We haven't met too many women who are that smart and that independent who haven't been out entirely for their own advantage. It's a nice change. Anyway, you aren't the rival I'm worried about." He glanced involuntarily backwards towards the cart.
The Kid just shook his head. From what he could see, Ella treated Jeremy the same way Heyes treated him -- like a kid brother. But Heyes would have to figure that out for himself. Funny how someone so smart could be so stupid sometimes.
I was sitting on the verandah of the hotel, pretending to read *Middlemarch*, all that afternoon. If I had to pretend to read my favorite book, that told you how nervous I was getting.
They'd been gone for well over a week, and not a word. I knew that Heyes and Curry could take care of themselves, but I was worried about them, anyway. Maybe they'd been through a lot, but not with me sitting and waiting for them to finish it and get on back home. As for Jeremy, I'd already come up with about a dozen different ways of explaining to his parents how he had died in the noble cause of duty, and had a very distinct mental picture of them telling me that the reason they'd sent him to become a lawyer in the first place was because lawyers don't die in the noble cause of duty. This was generally followed by them telling me I was a thorough disgrace both to womanhood and lawyerhood, not to mention to the memory and honor of my late father, and concluded with me falling at their feet in a sobbing heap of disgraced Ellahood.
Finally, when I'd gotten absorbed in the part of the story where Dorothea goes to see Rosamund Vincy, only to discover her in a tête-à-tête with Will Ladislaw, I heard the rattle of cart wheels, and looked up. Jeremy and the deputy were driving a wagon, which looked like it was loaded with old furniture. Heyes and the Kid were following them on horseback. I threw down the book, and ran after them, catching them because they'd pulled to a stop in front of the sheriff's office.
Without thinking, I found myself running right past Jeremy, whose arm was in a sling, past Curry and the deputy, and right to Heyes, who had just tied up his horse. As he turned to face me, I ran to him and flung my arms around his neck, crying, "You're back. I was so worried about you all!"
He put his arms around me, and hugged me, a surprised look on his face. "We're just fine. We got everything back. We're good at this." He paused, pulled away, and looked at me, his arms still around me. "Ella, are *you* all right?"
"Well, I am now," I said, and stopped to collect myself. "After all, I would have had a hard time collecting my fees if my clients never came back to town . . . and how would I have gotten all those law books back to Blue Sky without Jeremy?"
He laughed and released me. I went to check on Jeremy, but I saw from looking around that my actions had not gone unnoticed. Curry was grinning and the deputy seemed amused by my sudden, obvious preference for Mr. Smith, who I had earlier treated in the most distant and professional of manners. Jeremy, however, remained oblivious, since he had climbed into the back of the wagon, and was fumbling with the canvas coverings and ropes that covered the furniture. "Ella!" he called, finally. "Come look." He waited patiently, until I reached his side, when he rather perfunctorily showed me some old Mexican legal documents and a flat, black box, which he opened and closed again rather quickly. I saw the flash of jewels, and if that brief glance was any indication, I knew I'd never doubt my clients' good faith again. They could have fled to South America with what was in that box, and lived happily for the rest of their lives. But Jeremy had already lost interest in that, and lowered his sling so I could fuss over his injuries. Sometimes he was more like a little brother than anyone not born a Hart had any right to be.
Sam Fitzgerald was satisfied by the return of his furniture, and particularly of the desk, the contents of its secret drawer still intact. He even paid them what they claimed he owed them, with no more discussion of implied contracts or reliance.
As Heyes carefully tucked away his banknotes, I turned to scold him. "Now, you two be more careful about making agreements from now on. You get a signed piece of paper." Of course, any contracts they made under an alias would be void anyway. In that sense, the whole thing had been pointless. And Heyes knew it, too.
"Yeah?" asked Curry, who'd walked up while I was speaking. "You think we should hire you and Jeremy to ride around with us as our own personal lawyers? He's pretty good with a horse, too, and he wasn't half bad with a gun for someone who'd had so little practice."
"What do you think, Jeremy? We get that cart back, we could load it up with our law books and follow them all around the West, making sure they get their agreements notarized and negotiating escape clauses?"
Jeremy laughed. "And how many states and territories would we have to get called to the bar in, in order to keep up with them?"
"A few too many for my comfort," I acknowledged. "And some of them won't take women, either. Besides," I turned to Curry, "I think there's a pair of bright eyes at home, impatiently waiting for Mister Chadwick's return. Not to mention a pair of beady eyes waiting for mine. Jeremy, I think Rick Johnson's going to press ahead with the Dowling matter as soon as we return. I got a real impatient-sounding telegram a few days back."
"Well," said Heyes, "we've got about two hours until the next stage leaves for Townsend, and then we've all got trains to catch there the next day. We found a telegram waiting for us from Lom Trevors, back in Wyoming, and it looks like the Governor has a favor he needs done."
Curry and Jeremy walked on ahead to the hotel, but Heyes detained me with a hand on my shoulder. I turned to face him. I was very aware of just how close he was standing. He spoke. "So I guess I was wrong when I thought maybe you and Jeremy . . ."
"Jeremy?" I exclaimed. "He's practically a *child* . . . why, he's young enough to be my much younger brother! Which, by the way, is exactly how I think of him."
"I thought . . . he's about the same age that Billy was when he died. I thought maybe you were trying to recapture that."
I laughed. "Me and Jeremy Chadwick . . . my word! I've never heard such a silly thing. He's engaged to Melanie Norton, the prettiest girl in Blue Sky. A lot of boys in town were all broken up when she picked Jeremy."
Heyes gave me one of those brilliant smiles of his. "I thought *you* were the prettiest girl in Blue Sky."
I smiled ruefully. "I'm more like the statue in front of the courthouse. You should hear what some folk have taken to calling me . . . "
But apparently that wasn't what Heyes wanted to hear about, because he pressed his lips to mine and then whispered in my ear, "I didn't know what to think when you pushed me away like that, the first day. I began to think maybe you were only here to do your job. Just think of all this time we've been wasting. We've only got this evening and . . . tonight."
Our eyes met and he found the confirmation he was looking for. Tonight. I remembered that night back in Blue Sky, the one we'd had together. That there might be another was more than I'd ever let myself hope. Maybe that was why I had backed away from Heyes that first day in Greenville -- sheer disbelief that our first meeting hadn't all been a dream. I took his hand in mine, and held it tight for a moment. "I'd better go see to my bags," I said, because there were no words for what I really wanted to say. "I'll see you on the stage."
Townsend was a much bigger place than Greenville had been. Heyes and Curry went in to help with the room reservations while Jeremy and I saw to the baggage -- we, of course, had the steamer trunk and a couple of valises, as compared to the saddlebags they so casually slung over their shoulders. I went right up to my room to have a nice long bath, and then I dressed up in a new dress I had brought along with me, thinking . . . thinking what? Hoping, rather, that I'd have occasion to wear it, and to look pretty for Hannibal Heyes.
There was a good restaurant in town, and the four of us had an excellent dinner. I was just beginning to feel that time was passing too quickly, and more particularly, to feel the constraints forced on me by Jeremy's presence, when Curry spoke up, bless his heart.
"Well, this has been a fine meal, but I would really like to go celebrate in the way I'm used to celebratin', begging your pardon, Miss Hart. I'd like to go to the saloon and throw back a few drinks, play some cards, maybe. You comin', Smith? Chadwick?" From the glance the two outlaws gave each other, I could tell this had been prearranged.
"Drinks sound real good," said Heyes, and from the sparkle in his eyes I knew he was doing it to torment me. "Chadwick here has been working real hard on our behalf, and I think we should show him the kind of time he don't get at home, under the watchful eye of Miss Ella, here. But I don't like the idea of making her spend the evening in her hotel room with a good book, even that Middle-whatever it is she likes so much, when she's got a winning case to celebrate, too. Tell you what, Thaddeus, why don't you take Chadwick with you? Have a wild time. I'll stay here and keep Ella company. Maybe I'll catch up with you later." He said it with just enough of an air of martyrdom that I half-believed him myself, even though he had taken hold of my hand under the table almost as soon as he opened his mouth, and pressed it tightly at those final words.
And so it was arranged, Jeremy looking at me dubiously as though to say he'd stay if I wanted him to. Needless to say, I encouraged him to go and have a good time.
As soon as they were gone, Heyes ordered himself a brandy, and me a sherry, and settled into a position where we could look more directly into each other's eyes. "I've been wishing I could get up to Blue Sky and see you again, and something always seems to get in the way."
"And I told myself that I was never going to see you again, and that it was best that way."
"And what do you think now?"
I smiled. "Do you need to ask? I'm glad we're here."
"You know, there's too much table between us. It's a little too early to go back to the hotel, yet, and there's a dance hall down the street. Why don't we spend some time twirling around the floor?"
"Oh my. I've never been to a dance hall. Is it," I paused, knowing how silly what I was about to say sounded, "respectable for a lady?
"For a lady who's accompanied by a gentleman," he said.
"But *will* I be accompanied by a gentleman?" I asked pointedly, and instantly regretted my inability to let the obvious witticism slip by. Heyes actually looked a little upset, so I took one of his hands firmly in both mine and said, "You've got the silver tongue, but I've got the tongue of a litigator, I'm afraid. I'm so used to verbal fencing matches that I speak without thinking. I would love, more than anything in the world, to visit the dance hall in the company of the particular gentleman I'm talking to right now."
He raised an eyebrow. "More than *anything* in the world?"
I blushed. "Except for the part that comes after."
I'd let him get me back. I was as red as the strawberries on the table. And that was just fine, because I was about to glide around a dance floor in the arms of Hannibal Heyes, and at that moment, I don't think I could have been any happier.
There did seem to be a fair number of couples on the dance floor, who gave the appearance of courting, or even being married. There were an even larger number of cowboys and ranchers with their hired dancehall girls, most of whom could be hired for other things, as well. The music wasn't bad for a town that size, and although neither Heyes nor I were particularly good dancers, we didn't notice much outside our immediate range, anyway. Finally, he kissed me, right in the middle of all those dancers. Surely no one would notice.
Instantly, we heard applause from the side of the floor and someone crying "Woo! Woo!" We broke apart, and saw Kid Curry and Jeremy, the latter red-faced and a little unsteady, and with a dancehall girl on his good arm. "Well, who'd'a thunk it, " said Jeremy, slurring his words just the tiniest bit. "The Widow of Windsor herself, kissin' a man, and in public, too!"
We made our way over to the side of the floor where they were standing. There was no way out of this one except to fight blackmail with blackmail. I assumed a position of as much authority as I could, considering that Heyes' arm remained around my waist, and said in a pointed tone, "I think that my late fiancé would understand, since it's been fourteen years and all, that I might get a little lonely sometimes. I do not think, however, that Melanie would be quite as understanding about your little friend there," I nodded to indicate the scantily-clad girl hanging onto his shoulder.
"Why, Evelyn and I are just friends," he said, with as much dignity as he could muster, never mind the lip rouge marks on his cheek and collar. "Friends. That's all."
"I think you and the lady are even," said Curry, who was a good deal more sober. The expression in his blue eyes showed just how much he was enjoying giving my clerk an education in areas I was unqualified to advise him about.
Jeremy nodded. "Even. I won't tell if you don't tell. Deal?" he asked me. We shook on it, rather emphatically on his part, and he wobbled off with his friend Evelyn draped all over him.
Curry turned to me. "I guess you don't let him out much, huh? He's got no head for liquor at all. And why'd he call you the Widow of Windsor? I thought you and the late lamented Billy-boy were only engaged to be married when he died."
"First of all, I'm not in charge of his off hours. Of course, we don't have too many of those, but Miss Melanie is the one to ask about them, not me. Second, the Widow of Windsor is a nickname for the Queen of England," I explained. "She's still in mourning for her late husband, Prince Albert, who died in 1861, same as I'm supposed to be still in mourning for Billy."
"I thought Queens were married to Kings, not Princes," Curry pondered.
I tried to explain the concept of a Queen regnant, but I could see it wasn't getting through. Even Heyes' vocabulary didn't extend to that. Finally I explained that the Queen was really the King, because she was the heir to the throne, so the person she married had to be called something else, and Queen Albert would sound funny, so they called him Prince. The Kid thought he understood that, but as he wandered away, he was still puzzling it out to himself. I felt bad -- I wanted Curry to enjoy himself, especially since I was depriving him of his partner's company, and I think Jeremy probably found him just a little bit in the way too, at that moment.
As soon as they'd gone, Heyes had a question of his own. "What did you mean, *supposed to be* in mourning for Billy?"
"Why, I told you that that night in Blue Sky. I loved him very much, but I only knew him for three years, and he's been gone for fourteen. I do still miss him, but my extended period of mourning is also a way to get people to let me alone, to accept me for what I am, and not to try to marry me off. But it's a romantic enough tale that they don't just write me off as some dried-up old spinster, either."
Heyes looked at me. "I thought all respectable women like you wanted to get married. I thought you were all just born that way or something."
"I like it on my own," I said. "I thought you knew that. I've been using my poor lamented Billy to dodge marriage proposals for years."
He smiled and shook his head. "Lucky for me."
"Well, I'm not expecting any forthcoming from your direction," I looked him right in the eyes.
"Good thing, 'cause that way you won't be disappointed." He gave me a smile that was part an apology, part a declaration, part something else, and I leaned in to kiss him to let him know I understood. At that moment I wouldn't have cared if Jeremy saw us, or if he'd sold tickets to all of Blue Sky besides. And with that, Heyes led me back onto the dance floor.
In another half hour we'd judged it safe to return to the hotel. On the way out of the dancehall, though, we noticed Kid Curry leaning against a wall, ignoring the come hither glances directed at him by more than a few young ladies. His brows were drawn together, his forehead slightly wrinkled, and he was muttering to himself. I could have sworn I saw his lips form the words "King, Queen, Prince," over and over again.
When we entered the hotel lobby, I was met with a surprise, because the desk clerk referred to us as Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Heyes led me up to my room . . . our room . . . and when he unlocked the door, I saw his saddlebags were there along with my valise. "Surprise," he said. "I figured it would be safer this way."
"Safer except that the clerk might have noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Smith aren't wearing wedding rings," I pointed out. "I'm assuming you and the Kid stayed at the other hotel in town on your way to Greenville."
"The bigger gamble was whether you and Jeremy did."
"With clients dragging me halfway across the territory, who I didn't expect would be able to pay?"
"That's what I figured," he grinned. "You must have been pretty surprised when we actually did pay you, huh?"
"You have no idea," I said. I noticed there was a vase of flowers by the bed, and a bottle of . . . could it be champagne in a place like this? It popped as he uncorked it . . . it was! He poured two glasses, and handed me one. It wasn't very good champagne, of course, but still . . .
"We only have this one night, so I wanted it to be special." His deep voice was husky. He took a sip from his glass and put it down, moving towards me.
"What is it with us?" I asked. "We always only have just this one night."
That smile again. The one so bright you could practically read by it, even as he turned down the gaslight real low. "I think it's that you're you, and I'm me, and that's just the way things are." And then he took me in his arms and kissed me and we didn't talk again for a long while.
"Secrets" is written to stand alone, but it's a sequel to "Untouched Heart." That, however, is an adult story.
The famous case of Bradwell v. the State of Illinois (U.S. Supreme Court 1872) concerns the right of a woman to practice law. The Supreme Court agreed that Illinois had every right to refuse a woman admission to the bar, since women had their own separate domestic sphere. Never mind the fact that Myra Bradwell's husband, also an attorney, was the one sponsoring her admission. However, by the time of In re. Lockwood (U.S. Supreme Court 1894), Mrs. Belva Lockwood had "been for many years a member of the bar of this court and of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, and also, she avers, of the bars of several States of the Union." The Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, still held that the state of Virginia had every right to refuse her admission on the grounds of her sex. But Mrs. Lockwood had been a practicing attorney for "many years." Hence, Ella.
Despite "The Day They Hanged Kid Curry," Montana was a territory until 1889. Thanks to Deborah Menikoff and Ann Wortham for their editorial and historical suggestions, and their constant reassurance that Ella is not a Mary Sue. Without them, this would probably still be sitting half-written on my hard drive.
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