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Prairie's Children, Chapter 17
Submitted by Starla Anne on Sun, 08/03/2008 - 17:36
By Starla Anne Lowry
Whether God sent or not was a matter of opinion, but the rain came – heavy rain with wind and lightning. The family had just finished dinner (lunch) when the storm arrived in all its fury. The family had been discussing the wisdom of Ruth riding with the posse in search of the bank robbers since evidence indicated that she was probably pregnant.
The sheriff had insisted on her participation because of her tracking ability, but the rain took care of that. The heavy rain had washed away any tracks that could be followed and the wind had the force to bend bushes and break tree limbs, so tracking became impossible. The sheriff also realized the folly of trying to track someone after such a display of nature so the search was called off. He decided to wire the information to other towns that the robbers might reach within a couple of days. Finding men with the description he had sent, along with the money, would be evidence enough for an arrest.
The family discussion turned to Ruth’s pregnancy. “What will you name the baby?” asked Lolus.
“Well, if it is a girl, I think I will name her Maudie Mae,” answered Ruth. “If it is a boy – well, I don’t know yet.”
Josh was beaming with pride. He was going to be a father. Hopefully, it would be a boy, but if it were a girl like Ruth wanted, that would be okay, too. It was a very happy father-to-be that strolled to the barn looking for eggs, which was a favorite spot for the hens to make their nests.
Whistling a happy tune, he did not notice two men slowly descending from the loft. It was not until he heard a strange sound that he turned around and saw two six-shooters pointed at him. Something inside his spirit told him that this was the bank robbers.
“So, the sheriff has given up on finding us, huh?” asked one of the men. “I have news for him. He ain’t gonna get us. That’s for sure.” Motioning his gun toward the house, the man said, “Let’s go visit the family.”
One can imagine the surprise on everyone’s face as Josh marched in, followed by the two men. Ruth’s first thought was to do something, but she quickly noticed the hammer pulled back on each six shooter, so it was clear that they were from the west and any sudden move could be dangerous to her aunt and uncle. -- and Josh -- the love of her life. Also, any shot to certain parts of her body would damage the baby.
But, this wasn’t the west – was it? This was Alabama – in the southeast. It was at that time that she realized that these were outlaws from somewhere west of the Mississippi robbing a bank in Oneonta, Alabama, with plans to return to the western frontier. But, what did they have in mind – using Josh as a hostage and hiding somewhere on Uncle Grant’s property?
“Ma’am”, said one of the men addressing Ruth, “We know of your reputation, so we know that you will find some way of catching us, so we are taking your Aunt Lolus as a hostage. If you behave, she will be sent back to you alive. If not, she will be sent back – in a box.”
“Where are you taking her?” question Ruth in a sharp tone.
“We are going back to Oneonta and catch a train. The sheriff will not think to look for us in the same town we robbed.” The man smiled, “Smart, ain’t it?” Continuing he said, “We will change our transportation along the way so you cannot follow us until we reach where we are going. At that time, we will turn your Aunt Lolus loose.”
“How do I know you won’t harm her?”
“You have my word,” The man smiled again – a wicked smile.” Of course, you don’t know how good my word is, do you? That is for you to find out.”
Looking at Grant, he said, “Get a wagon ready. You are going to drive us into town as if nothing is going on. We won’t worry about you telling anyone about us because we will have your precious wife.”
Ruth said, “Uncle Grant. Do what he says. All he had to do is let go of the hammer of his gun and it will fire.”
“Smart girl,” said the man. “And my thumb is getting awful tired.”
Grant hitched two horses to the wagon and drove around to the back of the house. Still holding a gun on Lolus, the two men climbed aboard. Josh and Ruth watched them leave.
“You didn’t do anything!” declared Josh.
“No yet, but I will,” said Ruth. “Get me a horse ready.”
“Whatcha gonna do?”
“I am going to follow them until I can find out what I can do.”
“Well, I am going with you.”
“No, you are not!” declared Ruth. “I need to go alone. Not as easily seen that way.”
“But…” Ruth cut the rest of Josh’s sentence off. “I mean now!”
Knowing not to argue, he saddled a horse for Ruth. “I still think I ought to go,” he said.
“Not on your life,” Ruth said as she rode away.
“That is what you think,” thought Josh. “I will not be too far behind.”
Thinking the wagon would be casually traveling the road, Ruth decided to follow the same road, but stay out of sight. If anything developed to indicate she was getting closer, she planned to go into the woods and travel through the territory secretly. She did not have any idea what she would do, but she knew she had to do something.
The trail was easily followed. The rain had caused distinctive wagon wheel tracks in the soft earth and since the rain had just recently fallen, they were the only tracks on the road. What Ruth did not realize was that the bank robbers also knew how easily they would be to track so they stopped ahead and one of the men got out with his rifle, made his way back through the brush to an area where he could see the road clearly.
It wasn’t long until he was able to spot Ruth as she slowly rode into his sights. He raised his rifle and fired. Ruth instantly fell to the ground. Her horse, startled by the noise, ran away. The man smiled. He assured himself –now, there isn’t anything to worry about.
Ahead, Lolus was in near panic. She had heard the shot. “You have shot Ruth, haven’t you? Why you no-good…”
"That won’t do you a bit of good now, will it? The best thing for you is to think about saving your own hide.” The man grinned as he said, “Heroes always get what is coming to them.”
The other man soon joined them. “Well, that’s done. We won’t be bothered by her anymore.”
Lolus sat in silence. Could she have done anything to prevent the murder of her only niece? Thoughts ran through her mind – what could she have done? She knew the answer – nothing! Nothing at all. Oh, why didn’t she let them kill her first?
Passing by the sheriff’s office on the way to the railroad depot, Lolus thought about screaming, but she knew that if she did, a very tired thumb on the hammer of a six-shooter could choose to relax.
Tickets had been purchased in advance for four. Not expecting an escape by train, the sheriff had not considered checking the depot. If he had, tickets for four people would not have raised suspicion since there were only two bank robbers. There were only three boarding the train, so the number ‘four’ did not have any meaning. Seemed like the outlaws had thought of everything.
Upon boarding the train, Lolus discovered that the tickets were for a private compartment. Very convenient. No chance at all for her escape.
“Worried?” asked one of the men. “That is part of the fun. Worrying. Not knowing if we are going to let you go or shoot you.” He laughed.
Josh found his wife in the middle of the road. As he dismounted, his first thought was, “She is dead!” Nervously, he placed his head on her chest and – yes! There was a heartbeat!
He shook her. No response. He rubbed her face and arms. No response. Examining her, he found a wound on the backside of her head. A bullet must have grazed her, but was she able to regain consciousness?
Looking around, he saw a creek. He wet his kerchief and began to wash her face. She groaned. That was the best thing he had ever heard. Maybe she was coming to. Slowly her eyes began to open. At first, she squinted, not being able to see clearly because of the afternoon sun.
“Josh?” she asked.
“Here I am, hon,” Josh answered.
“I think you were shot. The man aimed for the head, but he was off a little bit.”
“What…? Oh, I remember. I was following the bank robbers to see if I could rescue Aunt Lolus.” Ruth began to cry. “I am a failure. The first time in my life, I have failed. Failed! Do you hear me? I failed!!”
Josh sat down on the ground beside her. She buried her face in his chest and sobbed her heart out. She kept saying, “Failed! Failed! I failed!”
Josh pushed her chin up to meet his face. “Hon, things will work out. You have never failed and you will not fail this time.”
“You are right. I must go after them. They plan to kill Aunt Lolus when they get to where they are going. I know they will. I know that kind of scum!”
--To be continued
Copyright 2008 by Starla Anne Lowry