Dark clouds hung heavy in the western sky and the wind shifted, carrying with it snow from the Canadian north.
“We’re not gonna make it back to the Hole, Heyes. We need to find a place to sit this one out.”
After a recent train robbery, the Devil’s Hole Gang had split up, riding three different directions, frustrating the posse. Heyes’ plan of escape had worked, just like he said it would. Meeting back at Devil’s Hole would prove more difficult.
Large flakes were falling, swirling in whirlwind fashion before collecting on the ground. A biting wind howled and visibility was quickly becoming a problem. Hannibal Heyes knew his partner was right. Late April snowstorms in Wyoming were not uncommon, but could easily become deadly.
“I think I see something up there.” Heyes pointed, then realized Kid Curry probably couldn’t see his outstretched arm through the squall. He nudged his horse forward, leading the way toward a small log cabin.
As the two outlaws drew close, the scent of wood smoke in the air assured them the cabin wasn’t empty. Hopefully its occupant wouldn’t mind some company for a day or two, or maybe more depending on the storm’s severity.
Heyes led both horses to shelter in a lean-to alongside the cabin, while Curry knocked at the door. No response. He knocked again. This time, shuffling could be heard from inside.
A young woman, wrapped in a blanket opened the door, collapsing with the effort. Kid caught her before she hit the floor, and carried her to the only bed in the one room cabin. The chill inside told him the fire was burning low. He tucked the shivering woman beneath her blanket and pulled an extra quilt over her before he moved to place more wood in the cook stove.
Heyes entered, shaking snow from his coat.
“She’s sick, Heyes.” Kid removed one glove and pressed his cold palm to her forehead. “Feels pretty hot to me, but then again, my hands are near froze.”
Heyes lay his hand against her flushed cheek, nodding his agreement with the Kid’s assessment. “We need to bring her fever down.”
He grabbed a bucket, hanging on a peg near the door and went back out into the cold. The snow was falling even heavier now. Heyes strained his eyes, searching for a well. It would be useless to attempt to find one in this blizzard. He settled for filling the bucket with snow.
Meanwhile, Kid had made a quick search of the cabin and was pleased with his findings. Food and provisions, more than the three of them would need for a month, were stacked neatly on cupboard shelves. He selected several small towels from a drawer and carried them to the table along with a box of medical supplies. He carefully read the label on each item, hoping one would say, ‘Use for fever’.
Heyes put the snow in a pot on the stove, then rummaged through the cupboard himself, finding everything he needed to prepare a warming meal for himself and the Kid. He didn’t think the woman would feel like eating anything tonight. He remembered his mother’s words, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” He hoped it was good advice.
Kid dipped a towel into the pot of water, testing its temperature. Not too hot, not too cold. He moved to the woman’s side, then hesitated.
“Somethin’ don’t feel right, Heyes. You wanna do this part and I’ll cook?”
It wasn’t as if removing a woman’s shirt was new to the Kid. He had done it before, a time or two, but that was different. On those occasions, the woman had assisted in the removing, or at least had been a willing participant.
Heyes shook his head. “You can handle it, Kid. I got faith in ya.” He winked and returned to his food preparation.
Kid shot his partner a look of irritation and pulled a chair near the bed. He began, lightly wiping the woman’s cheeks and forehead, smoothing wayward hair from her face. He placed a few drops of water on her dry lips and was pleased when she swallowed, so repeated the action. After he’d bathed her neck, he pulled back the quilt and blanket, revealing her left hand, and the gold band she wore. He sighed. Not only was he planning to undress an unresponsive woman, this one had to be married! Taking a deep breath, he self-consciously removed her blouse, leaving her clad in a cotton camisole. “Purple ribbon,” he noticed, unable to help himself when an appreciative grin tugged at one corner of his mouth. A pang of guilt quickly followed.
“I can’t do this, Heyes. S’pose she wakes up and wonders what I’m doin’? S’pose her husband walks through that door right now?”
“If she wakes up, it’ll mean her fever’s broke, so that’d be good news. And, if her husband walks in, it’ll mean the blizzard’s over, also good news – which I’ll remind him, soon as he’s done beating his fists bloody on your face.”
With another scowl in his partner’s direction, Kid continued.
“Ned,” the woman mumbled and opened two glazed eyes. Her hand moved to Kid’s face. “Ned, you’re back.”
Curry’s eyes silently questioned Heyes, “What do I do?”
Heyes shrugged his response.
What else could he do? Kid stroked her long, blonde hair and spoke in a soothing voice, “Right, I’m back, honey. You’re gonna be fine, just fine. You just rest easy.” He felt bad at first, misleading the woman, but when she visibly relaxed, he felt glad to be able to offer her comfort.
Her eyes closed again and this time she fell into what appeared to be a more restful sleep.
While the two of them sat at the table eating supper, Kid studied the woman on the bed nearby. She was young, probably a little younger than he was. When she’d opened her eyes, they were striking. It had been difficult to determine their color in the semi-darkness of the cabin, maybe green or a brownish-green. Did they call that hazel? Whatever the color, they were intense. Beautiful. Kid had never seen eyes like hers. Who was she? Ned must be her husband, but if so, where was he?
“You wonder how come she’s here all by herself, Heyes?”
“My guess is, she took sick and her husband left to find a doctor. He must’ve got held up by the storm.”
Kid thought about it. Heyes was probably right. Her husband left, looking for help, got caught unaware by the storm. The guy would probably be mighty grateful to them for tending to his wife, wouldn’t he? Except for the part where he’d undressed her, but that had been necessary, couldn’t be helped. But then again, if she was his wife and some drifter had been looking at her the way he’d been looking at… What was her name anyway?
Curry’s inner discussion was cut short by Heyes. “Found this book on the shelf, Kid. It’s gonna be a long night. Ya want I should read some of it out loud?”
Kid took the book from Heyes, reading the inside cover. “To Lana, With Love, Ned. Heyes, this ain’t just a book, it’s her journal!” So her name was Lana!
“It’s not like she’s gonna know. She’ll be sleepin’ for hours.”
Whether it was simply boredom or curiosity about the woman – Lana, he mentally corrected – Kid found himself nodding his agreement.
We set sail, leaving England behind, free at last, heading west, away from the rising sun. Just the two of us, Ned and me. Together. A big new land and a whole new life, just waiting for us to claim it!
‘Free, whole new life, just the two of us.’ Kid’s mind repeated the words. Would he ever be that lucky? Would he ever know the pleasure, the privilege of building a life, together, with a woman? A longing stirred inside him, a desire for something more, a discontent with his current life.
Robbing banks and trains was getting old – fast. The need to defend his reputation as ‘fastest gun in the west’ was becoming tiresome, but since the alternative meant death, Curry continued to choose option number one. He was tired of running. Tired of scoping out banks. Tired of checking railroad schedules. Tired of sharing a bed with Heyes.
“…Or sleep first?”
Kid had missed whatever Heyes said, thanks to his wandering mind. “Huh?”
“Ya want to watch her first, or sleep first? One of us needs to keep an eye on her.”
“Oh, uh, I’m not tired yet. I’ll take the first watch,” Kid offered.
Heyes spread out his bedroll on the floor and climbed in for some much needed rest. “G’night, Kid.”
Kid crossed to the stove and added another log. He poured himself a cup of coffee before he sat back down at the table and lifted the journal. The wind outside still howled, but it seemed the snow was letting up, just a little. Heyes had read aloud for a long time, but Kid hadn’t heard anything, lost in his own thoughts. He opened the book now, thumbing through its pages.
The book was almost full. She’d obviously been writing in it for a while. Right, he remembered, the first entry was May of 1880, almost two years earlier. That’s when Lana and her husband left England for their new start. There were sketches in the book too. Kid looked at those first.
One drawing showed an open prairie, buffalo dotting the distant hills, tall grasses waving in a gentle breeze, sun beating down, drawing him in, until he could feel its warmth on his shoulders.
In another, the front of a ship was depicted in the foreground, with a dark, menacing sky behind it. Wild waves crashed over the ship’s bow, with a wicked bolt of lightning nearly striking the main-mast.
Lana’s drawings were as intense as her eyes. Kid had never traveled by ship. How long would it take to sail from England? And what had Lana meant, ‘free at last’? Were she and her husband running, just like he and Heyes were? Maybe the answers were in her journal.
Kid began reading, getting to know the woman whose cabin he shared, understanding her better, as he learned her story. He read of the trials she’d come through, her joys, her sorrows, shared adventures, and the journal’s resounding theme–her deep love for Ned.
Lana had looked at Kid only once, not really seeing him. She had spoken to him, believing he was her husband. As the night and the journal progressed, Kid found himself wishing he were. He finished the book and closed it.
After feeling her forehead, Kid prepared lukewarm water to lower Lana’s body temperature again. This time, he determined to carry out the task in a mature and responsible manner, refusing to allow any impure thought to enter his mind. He was successful. Fairly successful.
He pulled each of Lana’s arms back into her blouse, fastening each button securely. He pulled the covers back around her, tucking her in.
“Ned,” she mumbled again.
Kid leaned close, his fingers gently brushing her face. He whispered near her ear, “I’m here.” He touched his lips softly to her cheek in a tender kiss. “G’night, Lana. Sleep well.”
Kid woke to sunlight, brighter than usual as it glistened off the newly fallen snow. The wind and snow had ceased. The storm had passed. Heyes sat at the table, closing the book. Apparently, he’d just finished reading Lana’s journal himself. Had her words had the same effect on Heyes as they did on him? Had her pictures burned themselves into Heyes’ mind too?
Kid placed a hand on Lana’s face. She felt cooler this morning.
Not long after they’d finished breakfast, two riders approached through the snow. Ned and the doctor stomped snowy boots on the cabin’s front porch. Heyes met them at the door, with a greeting and an explanation.
Ned nodded his thanks, hurrying across the room to Lana, kneeling at her side. “I’m back, Lana, with the doctor. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Lana opened her eyes, smiling at her husband, looking into the deep, dark eyes she loved so much. “I could feel you here with me all the time, Ned. Like you were by my side, caring for me every minute.”
Travel was slow, through the drifts of snow as Heyes and Curry made their way back to Devil’s Hole.
“Ya know, Heyes, I been thinkin’.”
Heyes was quiet, not wanting to break the silence of the morning, and knowing his partner would continue when he was ready.
“We ought’a find us a way outta this business.”
Heyes still said nothing.
“I been thinkin’ it might be nice to have an honest job. And a home, a real home, one with a wife and maybe a couple kids.”
Heyes just smiled. He knew the Kid like no one else, maybe better than the Kid knew himself at times.
“Ya think we got a chance at a life like that, Heyes? A life like Ned’s got?”
Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, honest jobs? A home and a family? Heyes doubted it. In fact, he could almost guarantee it would never happen.
“Sure, Kid. Why not? Anything’s possible!”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.