Summary: A wanted poster prompts Ben and Adam to re-examine a moment from their journey West.
Rated: K+ 600
This story was originally written as a response to a Pinecone-Challenge. The first sentence was given: “I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story”
(from Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton). It´s a lightly extended version.
Thank you, Sklamb, for your help in many ways.
The Wanted Poster
Today was a hot day, maybe the hottest day of the year. When I came back from the bank I wasn’t surprised when the storekeeper told me Adam had gone on to the saloon. But he wasn´t there. When he hadn’t shown up by the time I finished my beer, I went looking for him and finally found him in front of the sheriff´s office staring at the wanted posters. He didn’t respond to my voice, so I looked over his shoulder to see what had him engrossed.
“Caleb Maier, wanted dead or alive for murder,” under a picture of a young man with a ugly scar on his forehead.
I remembered the sturdy fair-haired boy who was at least twelve years old when Adam was eight. We met him in a fast growing town on the edge of the wilderness, where we spent a few weeks while I worked in a sawmill. The millowner’s wife looked after Hoss and Adam went to the so-called school, a small room behind the general store.
I was unloading a delivery of boards with the man who had ordered them when I saw his wife signal to her husband. Then both scrutinized me uncomfortably. Eventually he came back to me. “That Adam is your boy, isn’t he?”
His wife had joined him and, with shrill satisfaction, staggered me with her news: “Your boy, that brute, hurt poor Caleb so bad he might die!”
With a loud crash, the board I’d held dropped as I started for the store where I guessed I would find my son. There he sat alone, pale, silent.
I heard plenty about an argument and a stone that hit Caleb on the forehead–mostly, and most harshly, from Caleb’s father, who told me very clearly what he would do if one of his own boys had thrown that stone. I gave Mr. Maier a week’s pay for medicine for his son and we left town once Caleb’s fever dropped and he was out of danger.
Adam and I never spoke about it again until today.
I touched him on the shoulder and as he turned I glimpsed something puzzling. Then it hit me: “You didn’t throw that stone?”
“No, Pa, I didn’t.”
“But why didn’t you say anything when you were blamed, when I punished you?”
“Being the new boy in town wasn’t so easy, Pa,” Adam smiled wryly. “In every town there’s a boy you have to fight with and in some towns he’s a bully. Caleb was one of the meanest bullies I ever met. That day, he threatened to beat me up so I ran. He trapped me in a dead-end alley and when I turned to face my doom, the stone hit him and he fell.”
“So who threw the stone?”
“The only defender this new boy ever found in a town. What he did wasn’t fair, I know and I knew back then. But, Pa, he – he did it for me.”
“Who was he?”
“Caleb’s younger brother Abe, Pa. The man Roy just told me Caleb murdered.”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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