Heyes and Curry had been in Pleasanton, Utah for a few days, playing poker, winning enough but not too much. The local sheriff ignored them, which was great. The weather had been getting colder, and it was only a matter of time before they would have to head south or find a safe spot to hunker down for the winter.
“What do you say, Heyes? You ready to move on to someplace warmer ?” the Kid asked while they were having a beer in the saloon.
“I don’t know. The poker players in this town don’t seem to mind me winning, so we could stay here a bit longer.”
“Well, I think it’s time we head south. I just have a feelin’, Heyes. It’s time for us to move on.”
As much as Heyes wanted to argue, he knew better than to question the Kid’s “feelings.” He knew the Kid had a sixth sense about certain things and he’d learned to trust it. It had kept them alive all these years.
“Okay Kid, we’ll head out tomorrow morning.”
“You mean after breakfast, right? I’m not leaving town on an empty stomach.”
Heyes just rolled his eyes, took a drink of beer and headed for the poker tables.
The next day, after a Kid-approved breakfast, they were on the road out of town, heading south.
It was a real fall day – brisk, sunny and a little windy. They’d passed a few homesteads and were talking about the pleasures of a certain bawdy house in Denver when the Kid’s horse reared and went wild. The Kid fought to control his horse as it kicked and bucked.
While he struggled not to end up on the ground, he could hear children yelling. As he got the horse calmed down, he saw what had caused it to go crazy.
Lying on the ground was a wood rim, the kind that children roll with a stick as they run alongside. Joe reared one more time, and his hoof came straight down on the edge of the rim which shattered into pieces.
“Whoa, calm down Joe. You’re okay.”
As the cowboys settled their respective horses, Kid glanced in the direction from which the rolling rim had come. He saw children and a young woman staring at him. The woman held onto the shoulders of a young boy who looked terrified and on the verge of tears.
The partners exchanged a look before the Kid dismounted and handed the reins to Heyes. He walked towards the group and the young woman holding the boy’s shoulders pushed the child behind her.
“I’m sorry.” The petite woman brushed back a strand of shiny brown hair. “The children were playing and the rolling rim just got away. Are you all right? You aren’t hurt? Your horse isn’t hurt, is it?”
The Kid smiled as his sparkling blue eyes took in her curvaceous loveliness. He took his time responding to her; he was so busy enjoying the view in front of him.
He realized he was being remiss and tipped his hat. “No ma’am, we’re both fine. Joe could’ve been injured though, and I’d hate to see that happen because he’s a real good horse.”
“Please forgive this. It’s been a long week and the children are boisterous, knowing they have two days without school coming. This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have allowed the children to play near the road.”
The boy stepped forward from behind the woman. “It wasn’t Miss Riley’s fault. It was my fault, mister. The rolling rim got away from me and I couldn’t catch it. I’m real sorry it spooked your horse.” The boy’s eyes were like saucers.
The Kid could see the child was truly sorry and afraid that he’d be punished.
He walked over to the young boy and crouched down in front of him so they were eye to eye.
“What’s your name son?”
“Well, Tommy, you need to let Joe here know that you didn’t mean to scare him. Do you think you can do that?”
Tommy looked at the stranger, at the horse, and then back to his teacher. She smiled at him and nodded her head, encouraging him on.
“How do I tell Joe that I didn’t mean to scare him?” Tommy asked hesitantly.
“Well, if we walk over to him and you tell him you’re sorry, I think he’ll forgive you.”
“Yep. Of course, if you had an apple to give him that would probably cinch the deal because Joe loves apples.”
Tommy’s eyes lit up. “I can get an apple.” He ran to a nearby tree and picked a big red apple, then ran back to the stranger.
“Will Joe like this, Mister?”
“My name is Mr. Jones and yep Tommy, Joe will like that just fine.”
Heyes sat, approval evident on his face as he watched the interaction between the Kid and the boy.
The Kid and Tommy approached Joe, and the Kid showed Tommy how to hold the apple to feed Joe so that his fingers didn’t get bit. “Just give him the apple and tell him you’re sorry you scared him. He’ll forgive you.”
Tommy was serious when he spoke to Joe. “I’m real sorry Joe, I didn’t mean to scare you. You’re a good horse and I’m glad you didn’t get hurt.” The horse munched on the apple and Tommy stroked Joe’s neck. “Do you think he forgives me for scarin’ him?”
The Kid smiled. “He forgives you. I think you’ve made a friend, Tommy.”
Tommy’s grin was huge. “Thank you Mr. Jones.”
The teacher had stayed quietly in the background, watching the interaction of the stranger and Tommy. She was impressed at how thoughtfully the man dealt with the situation. Most men she knew would have been furious if they had almost been thrown from a horse, especially in front of a group of children and a woman.
“Children, school is dismissed for the day. I’ll see you again on Monday morning. Remember to do your homework assignments.”
The children quickly made their way out of the school yard in various directions to home.
Soon, it quieted, as only the adults remained.
Heyes dismounted and joined the others. “How do you do, ma’am? My name’s Joshua Smith and this is my partner Thaddeus Jones.”
“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance gentlemen, although under such unusual circumstances! I’m Miss Adeline Riley. May I invite you to have a cup of coffee so I can express my apologies and thank you for the way you handled the situation?”
“Well, Miss Adeline Riley, I think we could be persuaded to join you for a cup of coffee to settle our nerves. What do you think, Thaddeus?”
The Kid looked at Adeline and saw her looking back at him. “I think a cup of coffee is just what we need.”
Adeline blushed but managed to break eye contact with Mr. Jones and invited the men into the schoolhouse.
While Adeline busied herself with coffee and some cookies, the boys strolled through the small schoolhouse looking around.
“Heyes, do you ever remember having a schoolmarm that looked like her?” Kid whispered.
“Kid, if I’d ever had a teacher as pretty as her, I’d have paid a lot more attention in school.”
The Kid looked around the schoolroom. He noticed the neatly printed alphabet on the blackboard, and the primers and slates on the desks, waiting for the children to return.
The smell of the room brought back memories of childhood when he sat in a room like this. He stuffed those memories back down and out of sight, so they wouldn’t mess with his head. Heyes would say he was being too sentimental.
“Gentlemen, the coffee is ready. Please come in and have a seat. Help yourselves to some cookies.”
“This is good coffee Miss Riley. A lot better than Joshua here makes.”
At the insult to his coffee, Heyes threw him a dirty look.
Adeline smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Jones.”
“Please call me Thaddeus, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Thaddeus. I have to say, I’m impressed by how you handled the situation. Your behavior with Tommy was very thoughtful.”
The Kid just nodded his head to acknowledge the compliment.
“I don’t recall seeing either of you around town. Do you live in Pleasanton?” she asked.
“No, we’re just passing through. We’ve been looking for work but didn’t find anything so we’re headin’ out to try our luck elsewhere.”
“You’re looking for work? Did you speak to Mr. Johnston? I believe he’s looking for help on his ranch. You’re heading in that direction.”
Heyes thought for a moment. “Johnston? I don’t believe anyone mentioned him. Do you know anything about the kind of work?”
“Just general ranch work is all I know. The Johnston’s have a good-sized spread not far from here. I got this position when the Johnston’s daughter married and gave up teaching here. They are a good family.”
“Thank you for the information, ma’am. We’ll head to the Johnston place when we leave here.”
“But not before I have another cookie, Joshua. These are very tasty, ma’am,” the Kid said, as he smiled at her.
She blushed again, whether from the compliment to her cooking or because she couldn’t tear her gaze away from those bright blue eyes. She didn’t think she’d ever seen a man with such beautiful eyes.
“Are you from hereabouts, ma’am?” asked Heyes. He could see that the Kid was working his magic with the pretty schoolmarm. What was it about his curly-haired cousin that drew women to him like bees to honey?
She turned her attention to Joshua. “No. I came here for the teaching job two years ago. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
Joshua put down his empty cup. “Thaddeus, we ought to get moving if we’re going to find the Johnston place before dark. Thank you for your hospitality, Miss Riley. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
“Good luck to you. Head down the road about eight miles, and when the road forks, take the left. I hope you get the jobs.”
“Thank you. If we do get the jobs, we’ll be back to let you know,” said Thaddeus.
“I’d like that. To hear that you got the jobs, I mean.” She tried not to blush as she looked at him, but wasn’t very successful.
She led them out to their horses.
They both mounted and turned to say goodbye before heading out.
Neither spoke for about a mile.
“Heyes, I think we should check out the jobs she mentioned. It would be good to stay in this area for a while.”
“Really Kid? What happened to ‘it’s time to move on’? What happened to ‘your feeling’?
The Kid grinned at Heyes. “I think my feeling was right. I think I was meant to meet, I mean we, we were meant to meet, Miss Adeline.”
“Kid! You know better than to get involved with a law-abiding citizen like a schoolmarm, even if she has a pretty smile and great figure.” Heyes’ smile turned smug. “Besides, what makes you think it wouldn’t be me that she’d fall for? She’s educated, probably well-read. I’m more her type I think.”
The Kid stared at Heyes for a minute then bust out laughing. “Ha! Not this time. I could feel the attraction between us. And it was me who impressed her with my thoughtful behavior to Tommy. Yep, this one is mine.”
“We’ll toss a coin to see who courts her, if we get the jobs.”
“Nope, no coin. I’m staking my claim. If we get those jobs I plan to get to know Miss Adeline a whole lot better.” Curry’s determined look was enough to make Heyes back down.
“Well, unless we get those jobs, no one is doing any courting, so I suggest we get to the Johnston ranch,” said Heyes, and the partners urged their horses faster down the road.