The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #39746   Message #570164
Posted By: Peter T.
11-Oct-01 - 08:14 PM
Thread Name: Story: The Drinking Gourd I
Subject: RE: Story: The Drinking Gourd
She had moved but a few feet towards the house, when Tom overtook her.

"I must speak with you, ma'am."

"Please," she said, "over here, out of the light. There are other people in the house, people I trust, but even so." They moved into the stall section of the barn, warm and full of pungent odors.

"I am disappointed," she turned to him, and said playfully, "The animals are so quiet, they are supposed to be chattering away to us on Christmas night."

Tom replied: "I believe that Solomon was the last man that the animals felt was worthy of their conversation."

She shook her head: "The Queen of Sheba, more likely."

He laughed in agreement, and smiled awkwardly. He had a leathern belt with horse pistols draped over his shoulder, as if he were about to saddle up.

"I wanted to clarify for you, ma'am, that we will be staying only as long as it takes to revive Hezekiah. The struggle that we were engaged in cost the lives of three men, but two of them went free. They are bounty hunters, but there is no reason why they shouldn't raise the hue and cry. We have doubled and tripled back for our own protection, and the snow thankfully came up again a few hours past, but not enough to cover our tracks sufficiently, and we had no idea that we were heading into a homestead, we were tired, we simply followed Theo at the last. A determined adversary will have no trouble in tracking us. We cannot endanger you more than we have."

Elizabeth frowned, and said, "It is true, it was careless" -- at the word 'careless' he visibly winced ? and she went on, "but you paint an unlikely prospect, given the nature of the men you speak of. They must themselves be outlaws."

Tom replied firmly: "I am unwilling to take that chance with your safety. We must ride on."

She considered, and then said: "And your Hezekiah, you cannot think --"

He interrupted: "Be sure, madam, that he is not "my Hezekiah". He is a colleague in arms."

"You are extraordinarily quick to take offence, sir. I meant it in the best possible way."

Tom blushed awkwardly, "I apologise, ma'am, it is my fault, I am out of my element here. I am conscious of being far too far South for our safety, and now am urgently concerned for yours."

She looked at him and said: "You cannot take him, he might die."

"Madam," he said, "I must. We will take him to the Doctor you spoke of. He has rested some. He is strong. We will say that it was a terrible accident."

She shook her head. "I will take responsibility for him, you must leave him."

"He is not your responsibility, ma'am, I cannot have you threatened."

She bristled: "What do you know of what threatens me, sir? Do you think I am some sort of child, not knowing what I am about? I don't know if you think you are being gallant, or some other nonsense, but I am not your responsibility, sir. I ought to be able to appraise the risks I take myself."

He looked fiercely at her. "I cannot have you threatened by our actions any more than they are with each passing moment we stand here and argue. We have appreciated your kindness, madam, and your hospitality, and, may I say, your courage, but the decision is mine. If you would be good enough to give me directions to your Doctor, we will trouble you no more. It was six miles, you said."

"Northnortheast, past the ridge, you stubborn ass. If he dies, his blood is on your head."

"It is already, ma'am, it is already. You have no idea." And he strode out of the room.

She held her hand out for a moment, as if to stop him, and then thought better of it. She thought of getting her gun and threatening him, and then saw that it was ridiculous. She moved back towards the house, on an impulse perhaps to enlist Adam and Samuel's aid, and then she stopped. She heard the men moving about, saddling their horses, and after a few moments she moved onto her porch. The night was beginning to turn towards the dawn. She shivered, standing there, wrapping her cloak about her ever more tightly. They were leading out the horses, and Theo and the other young Northerner held them, while Tom half-walked, half carried Hezekiah to his mount, and gently propped him up in his saddle, and he then proceeded to take the other horse's reins, and began to walk out of the barnyard into the night. As they passed, they nodded their heads towards her, but she did not move a muscle. They slowly moved away into the darkness, and she stood there for a long time, not moving, and then she turned and went inside.

Neither the next morning, nor on any of the following days, was anything heard or seen of any bounty hunters.