36 The White Sheep

The White Sheep
Part 36 of the Ranch Days series
By Maz McCoy

“Heyes, look.” Jed tugged his friend’s sleeve and pointed to the riders heading down the Main Street of Claremont. A tall, black man rode in front. The stock of a rifle rested on his thigh. Two despondent white men rode on the horses he led. Their faces were bloodied and bruised, their shirts torn, their hands tied behind their backs. At the rear rode a broad shouldered white man in a buffalo skin coat; a black hat pulled low over his eyes. The rifle he carried was aimed at the men’s backs.
“Who do you think they are?” Jed asked as they stood on the boardwalk watching.
“Outlaws, maybe?” Heyes mused.
“What about the other two? Bounty hunters?”
“Could be.”
“Must be hard to ride like that; with your hands tied behind your back.”
“I guess.” Heyes hadn’t taken his eyes from the captured men. They couldn’t be more than a couple of years older than he was. They didn’t look very dangerous either. What had they done to deserve such treatment?
The boys watched them ride by and pull to a halt in front of the sheriff’s office. The black man got down from his horse, said something to the others, and then went into the jail.
“Come on,” Heyes beckoned his friend and set off along the boardwalk.
“Heyes! We can’t just…” But apparently they could. He followed his friend towards the jail.

***

Heyes pushed through the batwing doors and led the way into the Claremont saloon. Jed made a bee line for a crowded table that sat below a painting of a scantily clad woman. He paused for a moment to admire the art work, no doubt impressed by the artist’s brush strokes and the way he had denoted the shadows on her ample cleavage. Yes, the cleavage was definitely a work of art.
“You want something, kid?”
“Huh?” Jed pulled his eyes away from all that flesh. “They robbed a stagecoach,” Jed informed the men of the Bar T. The chair scraped on the floorboards as he found a place to sit.
“Who did?” Nathan asked absently as his eyes fell on a newspaper lying on the chair beside him.
“The men the bounty hunters brought in. They had them tied up on their horses.”
“Oh, right.” Nathan picked up the newspaper and looked at the date. It was a week old but out here that was as up to date as it got.
“What bounty hunters?” Marty enquired.
“The ones that brought in the robbers.” Sheesh, was he talking to himself?
“Why’d they rob the stage?” Louisiana wanted to know.
“I don’t know.”
“Not much of a story,” Marty stated.
“It’s not a story; I’m just telling you the facts.” Jed looked from one man to the other.
“Jed, when you come back with news of a stagecoach robbery and bounty hunters you gotta have more than that,” Louisiana informed him.
“Well, I’m sorry I’m not much of a story teller. Maybe you’d better ask Heyes.”
“Ask me what?” As if on cue Hannibal Heyes approached the table carrying four beers. He placed one in front of each man receiving a nod and a grunt or mutter of thanks in turn. Heyes pulled out a chair and sat down, pulling his beer towards him.
“Where’s mine?” Jed asked.
“You’re too young.”
“No, I’m not!”
“You’ll just get drunk.”
“I won’t!”
“You always get drunk.”
“Do not!”
“Boys! Enough.” Marty shot a look at Heyes. “Go get him a drink.”
Heyes mumbled something and headed to the bar.
“Make sure it’s a beer!” Jed called after him.
Watching them over the top of the newspaper, Nathan smiled, picked up the glass took a swig of his beer before settling back in his chair to read. Marty dealt out a game of solitaire on the table.
“So…?” Louisiana prompted as Heyes approached with Jed’s beer.
“What?”
“The robbers? The stagecoach. What did y’all find out?”
“Oh, right.” Heyes placed the drink in front of Jed, pulled out his chair and sat down. “The men are brothers.”
Nathan looked up from the paper.
A card hovered in Marty’s hand. “Go on,” he prompted.
“Willard and Henry Parnell. They robbed a stage, about a year ago, between Cheyenne and the Grey Mountains. I don’t know where that is.”
“Cheyenne?” Louisiana asked.
“No, the mountains.”
“North of Cheyenne. Go on.” Marty placed the two of clubs on the three of diamonds.
“The sheriff told me…”
“Wait a minute,” Louisiana interrupted. “Y’all spoke to the sheriff?”
“Sure. Only way to find out what happened.” Heyes looked surprised he even had to ask. “Shall I go on?” A hand gesture indicated that he should. “Okay. They stopped the coach pretending one of ‘em was hurt. Seems like a pretty good tactic to me. I mean most people would stop if they thought someone was injured wouldn’t they?”
“Heyes.” Louisiana looked at him.
“What?”
“The robbery.”
“Oh, right. Anyway, the driver got down to help them and…they knocked him out. Gave him a pretty big thump too by all accounts. The sheriff said they hit him with the butt of their gun. Said he’d been caught that way himself and he could vouch for the fact that it sure did hurt.” Marty shoved Heyes’ glass of beer. “Hey!”
“Stick to the story.”
“I’m just giving you all the details. Give you a flavour of what it was like.”
“I reckon we know what flavour it is, just tell us what happened.”
“You’ll miss a lot of the details if I do.”
“I reckon we’ll live without ‘em,” Louisiana assured him.
“The coach was carrying money in a strong box. The pay for a ranch or something. They got that money and robbed the passengers too.”
“How much’d they get?” Louisiana asked before downing a swallow of beer.
“$15,000.”
Marty whistled and placed the ten of spades on the Jack of Hearts. “I wouldn’t mind half of that.”
“What did they do with it?” Jed asked taking a swallow of beer to match Louisiana’s.
“Spent it I guess. You were with me. The sheriff didn’t say.”
“What happened next?” Marty asked placing the six of diamonds on the seven of spades.
“They got away. A posse was sent out after ‘em but they lost their trail. The two men who rode in with them today are bounty hunters. Black Jackson and Langley Weekes.”
“I heard of Jackson,” Nathan stated, not looking up from the paper.
“The sheriff said they’d been on their trail for months. Reckons the black man, I guess that’s Black Jackson, reckons he’s like a dog with a bone once he sets his sights on a man.”
“Did the sheriff tell y’all what’’ll happen to ‘em now?” Louisiana picked up a card and placed the seven of hearts on the eight of spades. He received a glare form Marty in turn. The men realised Louisiana’s question had not been answered. “Heyes?”
“The sheriff said they’ll do time. How long would they get?” the young man asked.
A thought struck Jed. “It ain’t a hangin’ crime, is it? Robbin’ a stage?”
The newspaper lowered. “They hang a man for horse theft. I reckon $15,000 should account for the same but it don’t.”
“Will they try ‘em here?” Jed asked.
“Nah. They’ll probably ship ‘em back to Cheyenne.” Nathan returned to his newspaper. Jed and Heyes exchanged a glance. They’d never seen a trial before, let alone a hanging.

***

Louisiana closed his pocket watch and slid it back into his vest pocket. “Okay fellas we’d better move out.” He pushed back his chair. The others did the same and Marty downed the last of his beer before standing. Nathan remained where he was apparently still reading the newspaper. “Nathan.”
No reply. Instead their friend stared down at the floor, a grim expression on his face.
“Nathan?” Marty tried. No response.
“Hey!” Louisiana kicked their friend’s chair.
“WHAT?” Nathan’s gruff response startled them.
“We’re moving out.”
“I’ll be along later.”
“We’re moving out now.”
“So go.”
“You’re coming with us,” Marty reminded him.
“No, I’m not.”
Marty gave a sigh. “Nathan get your backside off the chair.”
“Or what?”
The men fell silent. The atmosphere had clearly changed except no one had any idea why. Nathan sent invisible sparks at anyone who looked at him. What the heck was wrong with him? He hadn’t drunk that much beer had he?
Marty placed both palms flat on the table and leaned towards Nathan keeping his voice low so only he could hear. “If something’s buggin’ you let’s sort it out, but don’t give me attitude. You got a problem, let’s hear it.”
Nathan sat forward. “I told you I’ll come when I’m ready so leave me alone.”
“We’ll ride out without you.”
“Reckon I can find my way back.”
Marty stood up and gave Nathan one last glance before turning to the others. “All right boys, let’s go.”
“He staying?” Jed asked.
“Seems so.” Louisiana placed his hat on his head.
“Why?”
“Anyone ever tell you, you ask too many questions?” Louisiana placed a hand square in Jed’s back and pushed him toward the bat wing doors.
“No.”
“Well, ya do.”
Jed looked at Heyes.
“Too many beers,” Heyes suggested and cast a glance over his shoulder at Nathan in time to see his friend tear something out of the newspaper and shove the scrap into his vest pocket. Heyes’ brow furrowed.

***

“Nathan?” Annabelle sat up when the door to the bedroom opened.
“Yeah.” His boots scuffed on the floorboards as he made his way towards the bed.
“Is everything all right? Marty said you were delayed in town.”
The mattress sank as he sat down on the edge. “I had some things to do.”
“You sound tired.” She placed a hand on his shoulder.
He moved forward to pull off his boots and her hand slid from his shoulder. “Go back to sleep, Annabelle.”
“Nathan, what…?”
“Just let me get some rest.”
Something was wrong but Annabelle knew him well enough to let it lie…for now.

***

“Have you seen Nathan?” Heyes asked Jed.
“Nope.” The blond boy carried a saddle across the barn and rested it on a stand. Heyes looked out of the barn door. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. Nathan’s been acting weird since he got back from town. Jeff’s looking for him.”
“What makes you think he’s acting weird?”
Heyes sat down on a bale of hay. “He just grunts if you ask him anything. That’s not like Nathan.”
“Maybe he just wants to be left alone.”
“I don’t think so.”
“So what d’you think’s wrong?” Jed loosened the cinch on the saddle.
“Wish I knew.” He concentrated real hard. “I wonder if it had anything to do with those outlaws. He started acting odd after we told him about them.”
“Why would it bother Nathan?”
“I don’t know but…”
Jed looked up at his friend. “What?”
Heyes stood up. “I wonder?”
“What?”
“I’ll see you later.” Heyes left the barn.
“Heyes? Heyes!” Jed called but his friend didn’t turn round. Jed muttered as he returned to the saddle. “If anyone around here’s actin’ odd it’s you.”

***

Nathan placed a half empty bottle of whiskey to his lips and tipped it back. The amber liquid trickled into his mouth and he took a long swallow before resting the bottle on his knee. A second, unopened, bottle stood next to his jacket which lay on the ground a few feet away from the tree he sat leaning against. He scratched at the stubble on his chin. The sky was cloudless, the sun warm and he watched an ant make its way along a fallen log. The bottle slipped from his grasp, slid to one side and the precious liquid soaked slowly into the dust. He swore as he scrambled to save it.
“I hope that ain’t the good stuff you’re wastin’.”
Nathan’s head shot round to see the ranch foreman, sitting on his horse not ten feet from the tree. Jeff’s arms rested on the saddle horn. Nathan hadn’t even heard him approach.
“Cheapest they had.” Nathan raised the bottle salute and downed the remainder in one go.
As Jeff dismounted Nathan reached forward, picked up a piece of newspaper from the ground and tucked it into his vest pocket.
Jeff stood before him, eyes narrowed as his shadow fell on his friend. “If you’re still celebrating becoming a daddy, I think Annabelle prefers you sober.”
Nathan laughed. “She might not prefer me at all.” He reached for the other bottle but Jeff was faster, reaching down he picked it up. “Hey! I paid for that!”
“And I reckon you’ve had enough.”
“You don’t tell me when I…”
“You’ve had enough.”
Nathan scrambled to his feet, swaying as he did so. “Give me the bottle.”
“No.”
“Jeff, I’m warning you!”
“Sit down before you fall down.”
“Give me the bottle.”
“Sit down, Nathan!” Nathan’s hand hung beside his gun. Jeff made it obvious he knew. “You plannin’ on shootin’ me?” he scoffed.
“What?” Nathan’s gaze dropped to his side suddenly realising what he’d been doing. Sheesh, he didn’t mean to… His shoulders drooped. “Just give me back my whiskey.”
“I’m keeping it safe for you.”
“Jus’ wanna drink it yerself?” Nathan shook his head in disgust then realised that wasn’t such a good idea as the world began to spin.
“What’s got into you?” Jeff sat down on the log. “Apart from a bottle of whiskey?”
“Nothin’.”
“Looks like it.”
“Just leave me alone.”
“Can’t do that.”
Nathan looked up. “Annabelle send you?”
“Lord, no! If she knew the state you were in she’d be here herself and you’d be in a darn sight more trouble too.”
“Then leave her outta this and go back to your ranch.”
“My ranch? I reckon Mister Culver might have something to say about that, but seeing as how you mentioned the ranch this might be a good time to remind you that you do actually work here.”
“You’re a real clever with words but I ain’t impressed, Jeff. Jus’ leave me alone.”
“Boy, you sure are grouchy. I thought it was women that got all moody when they were pregnant, not the men.”
“Ha, ha. You’re a real funny guy.” Nathan sank back down and leaned back against the tree looking at anything but his friend.
“Nathan, what is it? Annabelle tells me you didn’t get back from town until the early hours, then you’re gone before sun up.”
“Nothin’ to do with you…”
“You’re my friend so…”
“Still got nothin’ to do with you.”
“All right. Let’s try it a different way. You work for me. You wanna get paid? Get off your butt and get back to work.”
“Get lost.”
Jeff stood up. “Get up! Now! And get back to the ranch.”
“Or what?”
“Or I’ll tell Annabelle that you’re too drunk to do your job?”
Nathan got to his feet. “Don’t push me, Jeff.”
“Pushin’ you? Is that what I’m doin’? I thought I was being a friend. Trying to stop you drinkin’ yourself out of a job.”
“I don’t need…”
“Yes, you do! You’re drunk! You’re a liability to me right now and you’re this close to gettin’ fired!” Jeff used his finger and thumb to indicate a really small size. “And I will fire you. If you were any other hand I’d have fired you already. Oh, I’d get no end of trouble from Rosa about it and I’m sure your wife would bend my ear for a day or two but if you can’t do your job you’re no use to me.”
“So fire me.”
Jeff shook his head in disgust. “I’m gonna ride back and tell your wife exactly what’s going on.”
“No, you’re not!”
“You gonna stop me?”
“If I hafta.”
“The state you’re in, I’d like to see you try.” He turned away, heading for his horse.
“Jeff.”
The ranch foreman turned and…Nathan’s fist caught him square in the jaw. Jeff went down hard. He took a moment to catch his breath before looking up at his friend Nathan stood over him, both fists still clenched and anger emanating from every pore. He expected Jeff to leap to his feet, to fight back but he didn’t. “That make you feel better?”
“A little.”
Jeff got to his feet feeling his jaw as he did so. “Glad to be of help.” His expression grew serious as he met Nathan’s gaze. “You’re lucky you’re my friend or I’d fire you on the spot then yank your sorry ass off to jail for assault. You’d better be working when I get back to the ranch or I’ll tell Annabelle her baby’s father’s a drunk. And if he don’t get his act together he’s gonna be an out-of-work drunk too. That clear enough for ya?”
Without waiting for an answer Jeff strode toward his horse and Nathan watched him go.

***

“Do you have the newspaper you were reading yesterday?” Heyes asked Henry.
“Nope, I used it in the stove,” the cook replied as he pounded a lump of meat with the back of a cleaver. “Why?”
“There’s something I want to see.”
“Not the mail order bride adverts again?”
“No.” Heyes picked an apple from a bowl and…WHACK! “OW!” The apple went back in the bowl and brown eyes glared at Henry.
“They’re for my apple pie!”
“You only had to say.” Heyes rubbed the back of his hand. “I think you broke a bone.”
“Serve you right if I had.”
“Any idea who might have a newspaper?”
“Try up at the house but wash the dirt off your face and hands first.” Heyes studied his hands as he headed for the door. They weren’t that dirty. “And talk polite too!”

***

Standing in front of the main door to the Culver’s ranch house Heyes wiped the toes of his boots on the back of his pants, removed his hat and smoothed down his hair and then pulled the bell cord. He waited. The sound of approaching footsteps was followed by a shadow on the other side of the glass panel and then the door opened.
“What can I do for you?” Judith, the housekeeper asked.
“I’m sorry to disturb you, ma’am, but would you happen to have any old newspapers?
“What?”
“Do you happen to have any old newspapers?”
“Yes, I think I do, but…”
“Would you mind if I looked through them? There might be something real important in one of them.”
She studied the young man. “All right. Come to the side door, like you should have done in the first place.” She closed the door. Heyes stood there for a moment then replaced his hat and headed round the side of the house.

***

“What you looking for?” Judith asked.
“I’m not sure.” Heyes sat at the kitchen table working his way through a pile of newspapers. He looked at the front page. Was this the one he wanted? Nope, too far back in time and the wrong headline. He picked up the next. Nope. The next…
“If you don’t know what you’re looking for…” Turning away from the sink, Judith wiped her hands on a towel. “…How will you know when you’ve found it?”
“Well, I know what newspaper I’m looking for but, I don’t know why I want it. Least ways not yet. When I find it I’ll know.”
“Hmmm. I’m assuming that makes sense to you?”
“Yes, ma’am, it does.” He picked up the next newspaper. His brow furrowed. The headline looked familiar. He began to read.

***

“What d’you think’s wrong with Nathan? I mean why d’you think he’s acting so weird? Think it’s ‘cos of the baby?” Jed picked up a bale of hay and loaded it onto the cart ready to take outside to the corral.
“I don’t know. It sure ain’t like him.” Marty sat on a saw horse whittling.
“Maybe he’s scared of being a father.” Jed lifted another bale.
“Could be.” Scrape, scrape.
“I reckon if anyone should be scared it’s Annabelle. I mean she’s the one’s gotta have the baby.” Another bale was added to the cart.
“Yep.” Whittle, whittle.
“I’ve seen cows give birth and they moo a lot but that ain’t nothin’ to the sound a woman makes when she’s birthin’.”
Marty looked up. “What do you know about birthin’?”
“My Ma had babies. I heard the noise she made. Sure didn’t sound like she was enjoyin’ it.”
Marty smiled. “I think she’d agree with you.”
“You ever been there? At a birth?”
“Of a baby?” Jed nodded. “Well, erm, there was this one time.”
Jed’s eyes opened wide with fascination. “What was it like? Was it like a cow? Does the baby come out feet first? What if it gets stuck? Can it get stuck? Does the doctor tie a rope around the legs like we do with the calves? Or does he have to…Oh.”
“What?”
“I just thought of somethin’.”
Marty’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
“Well, sometimes when a calf gets stuck…”
“Go on.” Marty suppressed a smile. He had an idea where this was going.
“Well, you hafta turn calves sometimes, right?”
“You do.”
“And to do that you hafta…” Jed made a motion with his hand and arm.
“You do.”
“Well, the doctor can’t do that!” Jed thought hard. “Can he?”
Marty chuckled. “I guess you’ll have that to find out when you have children of your own.”
“Aww come on Marty, if you know you gotta tell me!”
“No, I don’t.”
“But…”
“You got bales to shift.”
With a disgruntled look at the older man, Jed returned to his task. After several minutes a youthful forehead dripped with sweat, a Henley was plastered to a teenage back and the final bale joined the pile on the cart.
“Just wish we could help Nathan,” Jed stated as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Don’t reckon there’s anything we can do, Jed. Some things a man hasta figure out for himself.” Marty looked up from his whittling and scrutinized the cart. “We done here?”
Jed shot him a look. “Yeah, I reckon we are.”
Marty smiled. “Good. Let’s get these out to the horses.”

***

“What is wrong with you?” Annabelle cried. “You’ve been rude and downright miserable ever since you came back from town. Did something happen there?” Nathan didn’t reply. There was only so much grumpy-male a wife could take. She followed Nathan out onto the porch. “Or this is about the baby? Because I thought you were happy about it.”
“I am.” He didn’t face her.
“Then why don’t you show it?”
“I don’t hafta go around smilin’ all the time just to prove it.”
“So what’s got into you?”
“Just leave it.”
“No, Nathan, I won’t. We’re a family now and…”
Nathan spun around, his face close to hers. “I SAID, LEAVE IT!” He stormed down the steps and headed toward the barn leaving a stunned Annabelle on the porch. Over by the corral Bobby Calendar and Jed Curry looked up from their work, their attention caught by the raised voices. Annabelle was not about to let her husband get away. She followed him, matching his pace.
“Oh, no you don’t! You’re not walking off again! I want this out now! Nathan, stop walking! NATHAN, stop or I swear I’m leaving!”
He stopped. All eyes were now on the couple. What the heck was going on?
“You’re what?”
“You heard me.”
“Just ‘cos I won’t talk to you, that’s it? You run off! To where? Where you gonna go?”
Hands on her hips, Annabelle stood defiantly before him. Bobby put down the rope he held and ambled slowly towards them.
“Bobby, I don’t think…” But the bull rider ignored Jed’s words.
Heyes leaned against a post on the bunkhouse porch watching the drama unfold.
“Where?” Nathan repeated. “Where will you go?”
“I’ll stay with Rosalind.”
“Then go! See if I care!”
“Nathan!” Annabelle’s eyes misted over as she stood in shock.
“You don’t like it around here? You don’t like the way I behave? You’re free to go!” She didn’t move. “You heard what I said. Go. Go on. Go! You’re probably better off without me anyway.” It was clear to everyone but her husband that Annabelle was now scared. Surely he didn’t mean it? “Go on! You heard me. Get outta here!”
Bobby raced across the yard to stand in front of the man. “That’s enough, Nathan!”
“Get outta my way, Bobby, this is none of your business.”
“Then show your wife some respect.”
“What’s it got to do with you?”
“I don’t like what’s goin’ on here. Talk to Annabelle. Don’t shout at her.”
“Why bother? You heard her, she’s leavin’ me.” He waved a hand in Annabelle’s general direction.
“That’s not what she said.”
“Yes, it is! Taking my baby too, not that she could leave it behind. Of course that assumes it is mine.” He shot a glare in his wife’s direction.
Annabelle’s face paled in shock and Bobby said, “I’m gonna forget you just said that.”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed. “Why? Wait a minute. How come you’re so concerned about my wife? Huh?” His eyes narrowed moving between the man and woman. An idea formed. His nostrils flared. “Wait a minute. Is that it? Is the baby yours?”
“You sorry, son of…” Bobby swung a punch and Nathan went down hard landing with a thump on his butt. Bobby shook his fist and grimaced at the pain in his knuckles and the ricochet it sent through his injured shoulder. Nathan stayed down, blood dripping from his nose onto the dirt.
Annabelle stepped closer, tears streaming down her face. “Nathan?”
Heyes appeared beside her and whispered something. She listened, although her eyes never left her husband. Then she nodded and Heyes ran to the bunkhouse. Nathan wiped the blood from his nose with the back of his hand, managing to smear it across his face as he did so.
“Apologise to her,” Bobby encouraged.
“Get lost.”
Bobby turned to the woman. “Annabelle, I’m sorry for what he said.”
“You don’t hafta apologise for me!” Nathan spat a mouthful of blood into the dirt.
“Well, somebody has to.”
Heyes returned carrying a piece of newspaper. Nathan’s eyes opened wide with fear when he saw what the young man held.
“Heyes.”
“He was reading this in town,” Heyes announced.
“Heyes, so help me, if you read that I’ll…” Heyes didn’t know what to do but Annabelle took the paper from him. “Annabelle! Don’t! DON’T! PLEASE.”
She opened it up and read. Halfway through she looked up at her husband, surprised by what she had read. Nathan dropped his gaze to the ground, all the fight gone out of him.
Annabelle read out loud. “It says Mission Creek and it’s dated two weeks ago. ‘A vicious murderer who escaped from jail was caught last week by bounty hunters after two months on the run. Roy Tyler…” She looked up at Nathan. Hers were not the only eyes on the man kneeling in the dust. Not the only ones to recognise the surname. Nathan made no move to acknowledge them. Annabelle cleared her throat. “’Roy Tyler, was found guilty of the murder of two women during the bank robbery in Drayton Falls in October last year. Tyler was a member of the notorious Drayton Gang, responsible for numerous robberies, rapes and murders throughout the territory. Tyler was…” She cast another glance at her husband. Nathan’s eyes were closed. He knew what was coming next. Annabelle continued. “Tyler was hanged on Tuesday morning. As he swung from the rope the crowd cheered and…” She stopped reading and looked at Nathan.
Not taking his eyes from the ground, Nathan wiped his still bleeding nose with the back of his hand. “He was my little brother.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what you were marrying into? A family of murdering thieves?”
She took a step closer. “I married you not your family.”
“My family has blood on its hands. My father, brothers; it’s in me too.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“My older brother ran with the Drayton Gang. He was killed in a bank robbery. Shot by the town sheriff. Two bullets in the chest. I saw it happen. Nice family huh?”
“I’m sorry but that was your brother, not you.”
“My father was shot for cheatin’ at cards.”
“You don’t play well enough to be accused of cheating!”

Nathan ignored her attempt at humour. “Before she died my Ma begged me to look after my little brother, Roy. I ran away instead. That make you proud?”
“I’m sure you had your reasons.”
“Yeah, I was a coward.”
“No, Nathan, you’re not.”
“I’d had enough of the beatings I took ‘cos of who my Pa was. Roy got ‘em too.”
“That wasn’t your fault.”
He looked at his wife. “I just couldn’t stay. But if I had maybe Roy wouldn’t…” He closed his eyes.
Annabelle dropped to her knees beside him. “Nathan, it’s not your fault.”
“They cheered. My kid brother’s hanging from a rope and they cheered.” Finally he met her gaze. “I was younger than Jed, when I left home.”
“Then how can you possibly hold yourself to blame?”
“Because she made me promise!”
“Nathan, you were just a child.”
“I was old enough.” His haunted eyes held hers. “I’m sorry, Annabelle. Sorry I hurt you and sorry that I’m not the man you hoped I was. If I couldn’t protect my brother how am I gonna look after you and our baby?”
She smiled. “Well, admitting it is yours is a start.”

***

“What do you think, Heyes?” Jed asked in a whisper that night. He peered over the side of his bunk at his friend below.
“About what?”
“Nathan’s brother.”
“Not much to think about.”
“Must take somethin’ to hang a man.”
“He killed someone.”
“I wouldn’t cheer to see a man die.”
“Me either.”
“D’you reckon they’ll hang those boys we saw in town?”
“No, but then they shoulda been smarter, shoulda found themselves a decent place to hide out.”
“I guess.”
“Makes you think though.”
“About what?”
“How easy it is for some people to make money.”
“You mean take money.”
“Yeah. We’ll work all year for less than what they made in one day.”
“Made and then lost.”
“There are men out there with more money than they know what to do with. They made it ‘cos of working folk like us. Mister Culver doesn’t do all the work, we do but he’s the one with the big house. Sure does make you think.” Hannibal Heyes put his hands behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. Sure did make you think.

End of part 36

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3 thoughts on “36 The White Sheep

  1. The people at this ranch really watch out for each other, but in the little instances, you show the clear demarcation between the hired help and the boss. Heyes has to enter at the side door; he’s not good enough to go in the front? It’s the little things that rankle. A seed of resentment has been planted.

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