I thought being a thief would be exhilarating.
I am with my brother and mother in the breezy, dark night waiting for the town to still. We stay just outside of town watching but not daring to make ourselves seen by anyone in town. We barely even speak to one another. The plan is to wait until it seems most everyone has went to bed and sneak in and break out our horses. Seems super easy, but something feels off. After all, the two men who stole our horses to begin with were up late, so how can we really know when it is safe to get our horses?
I chock my fears up to the quietness between me and my family. It gives my mind a lot of time to contemplate, and I am just nervous. After all, Mary is right. These horses belong to us. After what seems like a lifetime, the hum of people disappears. My mother, insisting on being the lead, goes first to make sure the street is void of people. She signals Harry and I to follow her to the tavern. Staying in the shadows, we sneak our way to the barn. My mother signals that she will open the gate and keep watch while Harry and I retrieve our horses.
As Harry and I tiptoe quietly into the pen, we locate our horses and begin to put their bridles over their heads. Suddenly my fears become a reality, as we come face to face with the same man who had taken our horses the night before.
Clearly not prepared to give away his realization of who I was, the thief said to us, “What do you think you are doing trying to steal my horses?”
But I am not ready to give up and lose our only way to make it to Chicago. I reply, “Your horses? These horses belong to us! You stole them last night from our camp. I even rode after you into this town. I remember you. I will tell the sheriff if I have to.”
Visibly unshaken, the man took a step towards me and responded. “I am sorry little lady, but these horses are mine. I brought them back from an auction late last night. I even have the sale papers to prove it. As for the sheriff, well you’re looking at him.”
Letting that piece of information soak in for a moment, the silence that lingered between the three of us was loaded with unspoken threats. Just then he fell limp to the ground with an umpf. Confused, I looked up from the man laying quietly and see my mother standing over him with a shovel. Just like that, the moment was over and my mother, Harry and I were left running on foot out of town to our camp as fast as we could. Not once stopping until we were there.
Even in the pitch black, we managed to locate our camp rather quickly. Only once we were there did we stop to look behind us. No one was following us, but we knew it was only a matter of time.
“Mary! Grace!” my mother yelled though visibly winded and sucking in breathes. “Grab Hazel and whatever else we can carry. You too Anna. Harry. We must get out of here and fast. Load whatever you can with our last horse. We will have to walk until the next town, and figure out what to do then.”
No one questioned my mother’s authority, and Mary and Grace asked us no questions about our misadventure. Quickly we gathered as much of the necessities we could carry out of the loaded wagons, and prepared to make a hasty escape. The only problem was, gathering six people and supplies was not a quick activity. It was not long before the thieving sheriff caught up to us, and this time he brought his whole band of friends. And whether his friends were thieves like him or just good citizens helping the sheriff, there was no way any of them would choose us over him.
As I looked up into the sheriff’s face, I could have sworn I saw a bit of smugness in his eyes, and the corner of his mouth twitched as if he wanted to smile. How I wish I could wipe that look right off his face. Then I thought how my mother had hit him with a shovel, and I couldn’t help it, a big, satisfied smile crossed my face.
“How’s that head of yours Sheriff?” Yeah that did it. The smugness was gone, but then so was my smile. His friends had my family bound, and as he dismounted, he came over to do the same to me.
“The bump will heal,” he whispered in my ear. “But you and your band of miscreants are in a lot of trouble that you will not be so quick to get out of.”
Ah damn, the smugness was back. And so was the pit of fear in my stomach.
To Be Continued…