Chapter 1: Orphans from the East
“What the hell is this?”
Arthur Morgan had found himself in many sticky situations in his short life, but standing with his revolver pointed at a pair of kids was definitely a new one.
Well, they were pointing their own guns right back at him, so it wasn’t exactly a situation that required basic manners.
“Looks like they got to our take first,” Dutch replied in disbelief from his spot between the two parties. Their agitated mounts continuously shuffled on their hooves, neighing restlessly as each rider did their best to focus on the newest threat before them. “Hold on a minute there, son—”
“Who are you lot?” the young boy demanded, with his revolver currently pointed directly at Dutch. Behind him, a girl had just finished shoving the much sought after contents of the stagecoach lockbox into a large bag. In her other hand was a gun pointed directly between Arthur’s eyes.
“You best drop that gun, you little shit!” a very wound up John Marston ordered. “Before I put a bullet in your head!”
The girl swiftly pointed her gun towards John, the threat apparently cutting deep. Despite her slight frame and obvious youth, her voice sounded confident from beneath her bandana. “Try it, greasy! I’ll take great pleasure in riddlin’ your fuck-ugly face!”
Of course, John was never one for staying calm. “You ain’t in charge here, little missy!”
“Marston!” Arthur cut in, seeing things spiralling quickly if they didn’t do something. His furrowed brow was already covered in sweat beneath his hat. “Shut your damn mouth and take it easy!”
“No one needs to die here,” Hosea added, his voice surprisingly calm despite their current predicament. “We all need to relax.”
Dutch agreed and tried to take control of the situation as he always did. “My good friend here is right. How about lowerin’ your guns, fellers, and we can talk this out.”
The boy’s eyes flared on his mostly hidden face. “How about you get your monkeys to lower theirs first!”
While the insult barely fazed Arthur, John was a little more sensitive. “Shut your damn mouth!”
Well Jesus, this couldn’t possibly end well…
* * *
8th June, 1890, outside Waukesha, Wisconsin
Today is the day. Dutch wants me and Marston to scout out the road before the stagecoach comes through later this evening. It’ll be the kid’s first real try at a robbery like this, so Dutch thinks getting familiar with the area might help settle his nerves a little… I was against it at first, but he said we need the extra man if we’re going to deal with the Pinkerton escort afterwards.
As long as he keeps a cool head he should be fine, but he’s still not one for taking orders very well, even if he’s been with us for five years. Still young, dumb as shit, and eager to prove himself. I’m hoping he learns to listen though — Lord knows I’d hate to see anything happen to him.
* * *
“Grub’s up, folks! Grub’s up!”
Arthur closed over his journal at Pearson’s call. Glancing up to see the cook placing a steaming pot of stew over the fire, he returned the book to its spot on his bedside table. Morning had swiftly arrived at the camp, and most of the inhabitants were up and about already, attending to the many chores that needed doing. It was a clear and sunny day, with only a few fluffy white clouds littering the blue sky. The heat was somewhat intense despite the early hour and brought a light sheen of sweat to his forehead. This camp had been their home for some weeks now, and Arthur really didn’t mind. He quite liked it out here — he always preferred the open plains to dense cities. The cosy field where they now resided was situated on the bank of a river outside a small city called Waukesha. The surrounding lowlands were flat, open, and easy to traverse, but the gang was safely hidden from the nearest trail by a thick group of green trees. Though the region was home to some of Wisconsin’s largest cities, most of it was made up of farmland, so it was relatively easy for them to remain here without being noticed. He really hoped they could stay in these vast fields for some time. He could get used to travelling across the stretching green pastures atop Boadicea, and the first breath of fresh air he inhaled every morning bought a genuine smile to his face.
Arthur’s eyes flitted over the lightly dancing trees on the camp’s outskirts before looking to what had originally grabbed his attention. Though Pearson’s food was in dire need of some seasoning, his stomach rumbled at the prospects of a hot meal. He got to his feet, wiping some of his unruly hair out of his eyes, and went to get his share.
“Mornin’, Mr Morgan,” Susan greeted him as she grabbed a cup of coffee.
“Miss Grimshaw,” he replied with a nod, helping himself to a large bowl of stew. “Mornin’.”
She took a seat on one of the nearby tables and urged him to join her.
With a shrug, he took a seat and set his bowl down. “Coffee good?”
“As always,” she said. “As long as it calms my nerves it’ll do.”
“What do you have to be nervous about?” he asked before taking a mouthful of stew and ignoring the mild bland taste.
“I seem to be more concerned with this stagecoach than you are!”
“You concerned about the coach, or the fact Marston will be near the coach?”
“He can be a headstrong little brat at times, but I’d rather not see him with a hole in his head.”
Miss Grimshaw shook her head in exasperation, but the gesture only brought a smirk to Arthur’s lips. She could be quite a harsh woman, especially when people lounged around and didn’t do their part in keeping everything running smoothly. Despite being the current flame of the ever flirtatious Dutch van der Linde, Susan Grimshaw refused to sit idly by and act like the lady of the manor. She was very much involved in ensuring that the camp remained a functioning unit. She was perfect for the role, probably because she could be positively terrifying if you didn’t help out.
“I’ll admit,” Arthur began, swallowing some food. “I wasn’t exactly happy ’bout the idea at first, but Dutch has faith in the little brat. And besides, he’s got me, Dutch, and Hosea lookin’ out for him. He’ll be fine as long as he does what we say.”
Susan eyed him carefully, but nodded, seemingly happy with his words. “As long as you do look out for him, Mr Morgan. You know how he can be — he reminds me a lot of you at that age.”
“Hey now! Don’t go comparin’ me to that fool—”
Miss Grimshaw cut across him with ease. “It is the reason you two get on so well, what with bein’ such like-minded individuals…”
Arthur finished his breakfast while she reeled off the many reasons why he and John were one and the same. Sometimes it as best just to keep his mouth shut, and this seemed like one such moment. His saving grace came when Dutch called him over to his tent.
“And a fine morning it is, son,” he replied with gusto and set down the book he had been reading. He offered Arthur a cigarette before taking one for himself. He lit the two, then continued on. “Hosea and Bessie took young John into town to get some supplies for tonight.”
“How’s he seem?” Arthur asked and took a drag.
“John? Seems fine to me. Maybe a little… let’s say, eager, to get goin’.”
“Still got faith in him?”
“O’course,” Dutch said, his voice firm. “We all gotta start somewhere, Arthur, you know that. He’s seventeen now, so it ain’t a bad age to get goin’. Heck, you did it even younger.”
He knew Dutch was right — there was no point letting John fester around camp doing nothing. They definitely didn’t need a second Uncle around the place, and Marston seemed keen to please… Or maybe he was just passionate about shooting something, who knew? It seemed that Dutch did though, and if there was someone whose opinion mattered, it was Dutch.
Arthur kept busy around the camp doing numerous chores while he waited for the trio to return. Chopping firewood and helping Pearson prepare their dinner for later at least meant that time flew by for him. He was playing fetch with Copper when John finally returned with Hosea and Bessie in tow. While the older couple went to check in with Dutch, Arthur and John mounted their horses and, with Copper running along side them, headed out down the road to the spot where they intended to rob the stagecoach.
“Why are we robbin’ it at this spot exactly?” Marston asked, scanning his eyes over the strip of dirt road.
“It’s the best distance outside town where a robbery won’t attract any attention,” Arthur explained, gently patting Boadicea. “The stagecoach is carryin’ bank transfers into Milwaukee, so you can bet that robbin’ it close to town would bring a whole heap of law on us. See that turn there?” He pointed off in the distance, tipping the brim of his hat to keep the shimmering sunlight out of his eyes. “It’s gonna come down that road there and loop this way. We’ll be waitin’ on this here ridge and hidden in some of the trees so that they don’t spot us.”
“What about them?” the younger boy asked. “They got any guns?”
“Four in total, if Hosea’s intel is right. So we should be able to take ’em out with the four of us. They’ll have a backup escort comin’ in from there, though.” He pointed up the road in the opposite direction. “’The bank in Milwaukee will be sendin’ out some of their own guns to meet the stagecoach just a little ways up the road, considerin’ this lil strip is so deserted. So we’re expectin’ maybe four more guns to show, which is why Dutch wants you involved. Once we rob the coach and the extra men arrive, there’ll be enough of us to take ’em out if needs be.”
“Sounds dangerous,” John mused, hanging on his every word.
Arthur let out a chuckle and proceeded to light himself a cigarette. “What, you scared, boy?”
“No! I ain’t scared, just bein’ honest about things.”
“You’ll do just fine,” the older man reassured him and offered him a cigarette. “You just need’a keep a cool head, and do as Dutch says. That’s how we make sure things go smoothly.” He paused to take a drag. “You ain’t got nothin’ to worry about if you do that.”
John nodded and puffed away to calm his nerves. “Thanks. I’m just glad that you’ll have my back, brother.”
“That’s what family is for,” Arthur responded with a small grin. He watched Copper as the dog sniffed along the roadside. “You’ll be fine.”
The two of them remained there for a few moments more as Arthur went over their plan of action in more detail. Though he knew how John could be, he was glad to see that he was eager to get to work. He hoped this wouldn’t make him over excited when the time came, but he thought back on what Dutch had said — he needed to put faith in his brother to do the job right. Thankfully, Marston had yet to give him a reason to doubt him so aggressively.
They returned to camp and waited out the rest of the day going over their plan with Hosea and Dutch. They had everything planned perfectly — it had to be, otherwise they could find themselves in a sticky situation once the Pinkerton escort arrived. Regardless, spirits were high at dinner time when Arthur, Dutch, Hosea, and young John mounted up and headed out to rob the stagecoach. They road through the fields in the late evening sun, avoiding the main road so that they wouldn’t be spotted ahead of time. The familiar buzz that came with performing robberies and the like was already stirring within Arthur’s chest. It was always risky business, but a part of him loved the thrill and feeling of power that came with these takes. Knowing that the money would be given to those who needed it most also gave him a nice sense of self-worth — it was one of the only things in his life that made him feel that way. He wasn’t a good man by any means, but he still tried to do some small bit of good where he could.
“And here we are,” Dutch announced from atop his horse as the group arrived at the waiting spot. He glanced at his pocket watch and nodded. “Right on time. Does everyone remember the plan?”
“O’course,” Arthur confirmed.
“Good. Now, cover your faces; we won’t be waitin’ too long for the stage to swing by.”
Arthur quickly pulled his bandana up to cover his mouth and nose and double-checked that his guns were fully loaded and ready to be used if things took a turn.
“Remember, gentlemen,” Dutch continued on. “No killing unless absolutely necessary.”
“Best of luck, everyone,” Hosea added.
Then the group descended into silence and waited.
Arthur’s fingers flexed on his reigns. He could see John beginning to get anxious. Something definitely wasn’t right.
The only noise they could hear was the light breeze on the leaves above their heads, and the persistent ticking of Dutch’s pocket watch as he checked the time again.
“Somethin’ ain’t right,” Hosea whispered, mimicking Arthur’s own concerns. “They should have come through here by now.”
“Maybe you got the times wrong?” John suggested. “Or the place?”
Arthur shook his head. “That ain’t it. We heard from multiple people and all of them said it would come through this road at this time.”
“So what do we do then?”
“Well,” Dutch sighed, somewhat vexed with the development. He pulled down his bandana and turned to the rest of them. “We can’t stay here and wait for it to possibly arrive. I suggest we head up road and see do we come across it. But we stay out of sight and appear as inconspicuous as we can until I say otherwise.”
Hosea nodded and uncovered his face. “I agree. It’s definitely a better idea than waitin’ here and hopin’ for the best.”
“In that case, follow me, gentlemen.”
Arthur followed as the group made their way through the fields adjacent to the strip of road. They kept an eye out, but met no one along the way, and their anxiety only grew with each passing second. This was some take according to the locals, so missing it would be a great loss to the gang.
“Up ahead!” Dutch suddenly announced in a hushed tone.
Arthur looked up to see a stagecoach in the distance, stationary on the road. “Why’s it stopped?”
“Because,” Dutch growled out. “It’s bein’ robbed.”
“Somebody beat us to it! C’mon!”
Right well, this certainly wasn’t an outcome for which the gang was prepared. Arthur hastily followed Dutch’s lead as their horses galloped up to the precious stage. He strained his eyes to get a look at who had intercepted the take before they even had a chance. The closer he got, the more information became apparent to him — two figures crowded the rear of the coach, one of whom was emptying its contents into a bag. The other stood by guarding her every move. The drivers and guards were nowhere to be found. At first, Arthur just assumed that the figures were small because of their position in the distance, but the closer he got, the more he realised that this was no normal robbery.
“It’s a pair of kids!” John exclaimed, disgust evident in his tone. “We got beaten to it by some damn kids!”
“Kids?” Arthur repeated in disbelief.
With the noise of their arrival, the pair of young thieves looked up from their prize to see four men thundering towards them on horseback. They were clothed in dirty outfits with bandanas hiding their identities. A quick once over told Arthur that it was boy and a girl who had managed to rob an obscene amount of money from the stage. How in the hell had two kids manage that?
Perhaps riding directly to them hadn’t been the best idea, as the pair were quick to point their guns at the gang.
“Hold on there!” Dutch called, grinding his mount to a halt and holding up his hands. The trio behind him followed suit, but Arthur and John instead chose to aim a weapon at each of them just in case.
“What the hell is this?” Arthur asked, completely dumbfounded with the situation they found themselves in.
“Cé hiad na leaids sin? ” the girl asked her companion.
“The fuck you say?” John demanded, already losing his temper.
“Who are you lot?” the boy demanded, his eyes very skeptical already and completely unfazed by this strange man’s apparent aggression.
And now here they were — facing off against a pair of kids on a quiet dirt road. Sometimes Arthur really got tired of this shit.
“How about you get your monkeys to lower theirs first!”
“Take it easy, son,” Dutch answered calmly with his hands still raised. “We mean you no harm.”
“Your friends with the guns there don’t give us much comfort,” the girl replied in a thick Irish accent. “Now do as he said and get them to lower their weapons!”
“If you give me your word that you won’t shoot ’em, I will.”
“Is that a good idea?” Arthur asked, not exactly enjoying pointing his gun at a kid, but also not liking the idea of being defenceless.
“Trust me, Arthur. You and John, put the guns away.”
Arthur released a heavy sigh, but listened to his mentor and returned his gun to its holster. “Goddammit…”
John obliged, though he was far more hesitant to listen. A stern look from Hosea got the point across.
“Now,” Dutch announced. “We did as you asked. How about you meet us halfway and lower yours?”
The pair exchanged a knowing look before slowly lowering their revolvers, but not putting them away. The boy called out to them again. “Now, as I was sayin’, who are you lot and what do you want?”
“No harm in bein’ honest. We were the ones plannin’ on gettin’ that coach, but it seems like you beat us to it.”
“Not our problem,” the girl replied. “We got to it first, so you’s aren’t gettin’ any of it.”
Dutch shook his head. “We ain’t gonna steal it from you. You two earned it, fair and square. I don’t quite know how you managed it, but I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t impressed.”
“We’re used to bumping into rival gangs every now and then,” Hosea added with a goodnatured chuckle. “But not so used to seein’ kids out on jobs.”
“Yeah, well,” the girl grumbled. “You gotta get by somehow when you’ve nothin’ else.”
“Of course!” Dutch agreed. “We ain’t here to judge.”
As they spoke, Arthur briefly turned his head as the sound of horses grabbed his attention. He looked back down the road from where they came, and suddenly remembered an important detail of the plan. “Awh, shit. We got company!”
“Wait, what?” the boy asked, looking baffled. “What’s goin’ on?”
“The Pinkertons!” Hosea confirmed just as the escort appeared at the end of the trail. “How many we got, Arthur?”
“I see six comin’ in!” he confirmed, looking through his binoculars at the patrol heading down the road.
“That’s more than expected!” John commented in dismay.
“Pinkertons?” the young girl repeated. “What Pinkertons?”
“An escort sent to meet the stagecoach,” Dutch elaborated. “I assume by your confused expressions that you two didn’t know about that part.”
“Jaysus Christ,” the boy muttered and drew a carbine from his back. “No, we didn’t.”
“Well then I think your best odds are to come with us, or you can stay here and try to fight off six guns.”
The kids shared a look again before the girl spoke first in a language that Arthur didn’t understand. “Cad a dhéanfaimid anois?”
The boy shook his and gave her hand a squeeze. “Níl an dara rogha againn. Let’s get outta here.”
“You got horses?”
“No,” the girl explained. “We came on foot.”
“Well then, you hop up here with me, son, and your partner can jump on with my friend, Mr Morgan, there.”
The boy took Dutch’s outstretched hand and hauled himself on to the back of the horse, while Arthur offered the girl a hand and helped to pull her up behind him. “Hold on tight now, you hear?”
“I’ll be grand,” she replied, though he could hear the hint of fear in her voice. “Just move.”
Just as shouts and some shots rang out from the arriving escort, the gang sped off and through a nearby bunch of trees in an effort to lose their pursuers. Arthur felt the young girl hold on to his shoulders tightly as he pushed Boadicea as hard as she could go. The noise of the horses thundering along and jumping over bushes and fences was one that he knew well, and one that was always accompanied by a small amount of worry and excitement. He could hear John and Hosea urging their mounts forwards, realising how risky it was being out in the open like this. The head start thankfully gave them a decent advantage over the Pinkertons as they spend through the Wisconsin fields. Unfortunately, despite the distance between them and the men chasing them, the Pinkertons persisted and were hard to lose.
“They’re still on us,” the girl shouted from behind him. “You’s need to do somethin’!”
“I know,” Arthur answered, breathing in deep. “Just lemme think.”
“What about those trees?” William called, pointing to the outskirts of a bunch of greenery just in front of them.
Right on queue, bullets whizzed over their heads, some a mile off and others unnervingly close.
Arthur let out a huff and ducked his head down as one very nearly got him. “Keep your head down, girl! We’re sittin’ ducks out in the open like this!”
“We can lose them in there!” Dutch confirmed. “We just need to make it past the tree line.”
Behind them, the rate of gunfire began to increase the closer they got to the safety of the trees. The escort clearly knew that they’d lose them amidst the thick foliage. Thankfully, the trees drew closer and closer and their bullets managed to miss their targets as they shifted side to side to throw them off. Arthur breathed a sigh of relief as they breached the tree line and slowed to navigate between the brush. He felt the girl’s grip on his frame ease up a little with their new cover and he gave her a swift glance to see how she was holding up.
Dutch called out orders to once more grab their attention. “Everyone, veer left and follow me!”
They manoeuvred carefully between the tall trees and bushes, keeping a careful eye out behind them incase the escort appeared on their tail once more. Thankfully, as they weaved to and fro between the shrubbery, the Pinkertons weren’t seen again. When they finally broke through the edge of the forest and reappeared in an open field, the sun had just about set on the distance and the threat seemed to have been lost.
The horses were eased to a halt and Arthur placed a loving pat on trusty Boadicea’s neck. “You did good, girl.”
“Everyone alright?” Hosea asked the group. The responses he received were unanimously positive though out of breath.
“That certainly could’ve gone worse,” the boy mused as he jumped from The Count. Seeing no danger around, he pulled his bandana back down to reveal his youthful face. Arthur was surprised to see just how young he was — he looked to be about the same age as he was when he first joined the gang. Despite this, he looked like he was sleeping rough, with a dirty face and a fresh red scar that ran over his right brow and down his cheek. “But at least nobody got shot.”
Arthur noticed the girl dismounting to join her companion and she too pulled off her mask. She seemed just as young as him and showed signs of dirt and older scars. Immediately she went to the boy’s side and gave him a once over. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” he said with a small smile and let out a huff as he got his breath back. “I’m grand. Are you?”
“Yeah. Thankfully these lads are good riders.”
She wiped her brow and reached back to tie her messy brown hair out of her face as Dutch addressed them. “I thought you two did pretty good out there, considerin’ you managed that stage all on your own.”
“Yeah, bar the squad that we weren’t even remotely prepared for showin’ up,” the girl replied with a pained smile. She looked up at Dutch and gave him a thankful nod. “We definitely would’a been captured or worse if it wasn’t for you lot.”
“Outlaws gotta stick together in times like these,” he said calmly. “We’re livin’ in different times, and we’re just tryin’ to survive.”
The boy nodded in agreement and then shared a look with the girl. “We appreciate the help Mister, uh…”
“Van der Linde,” Dutch replied and reached out to shake their hands. “Dutch van der Linde. These are my friends, Hosea Matthews, Arthur Morgan, and young John Marston.”
“I’m Maebh Hennigan,” the girl replied. “And this is my brother, William.”
“A pleasure. Can I ask, is it just the two of you? No parents or family around?”
Maebh flinched slightly at the question. “Uh, yeah. Our parents died a while back and the rest of our family is back in Ireland. We have nothin’, so we have to rob sometimes to get by. But that doesn’t matter, we owe you’s a lot for this. I suppose it's only fair that we give you’s a bit of the money from the stage.”
Dutch grinned at her suggestion and Arthur recognised that look almost immediately. He could already see his leader’s mind coming up with his next plan of action. Based on everything that happened today, he thought he had an idea of what it might be. “That’s a very kind offer, Miss Hennigan, but I actually have an offer for you.”
Maebh and William met each others gaze before the latter sceptically asked. “You have an offer for us?”
“As I already said, outlaws have to stick together if we want to get by out here. It’s the best way to ensure that we survive, that we live.”
Dutch was descending into a classic rousing speech with which Arthur and the group were quite familiar. He had heard it many times himself when he needed a bit of self belief in what they were doing. The most notable time he heard it was when he first met Dutch and Hosea as an unruly fifteen year old with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Yes, this was certainly an encounter with which he had some personal experience.
Atop The Count, Dutch stretched out his arms in a welcoming gesture and grinned from ear to ear. “If we want to live like Americans, then we got to have each others backs, no matter how tough or worrisome things may be. You need a family, you need stability, you need to know that you are safe. But I think that today is a sign of what you both could have.” He paused and Maebh and William hung on every word. “My offer to you two, is how’d you like to join my gang?”
Chapter 2: Enter, Pursued by Pháistí
Maebh and William make a decision with regards Dutch's offer to have them join his gang, while the latter makes his anti-government ideologies clear.
Here's chapter two, hitting your screens with a solid 6,000 words... I got a bit carried away, oopsie. Thank you to those who bookmarked/subbed for updates! The nice reception to the first chapter has been great to see :) Hopefully you's enjoy the second instalment! Feel free to throw in any feedback or comments because they make me feel all warm and fuzzy. That, and I'm curious to hear any thoughts, no matter how chill/rambling they might be!
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Wisconsin” — Bon Iver, “Wandering” — Gustavo Santaolalla, “It Will Come Back” — Hozier
This was not the expected outcome that Maebh had prepared herself for when planning the robbery. To her, there were only two outcomes really — get away with the money or die trying. The secret third option to join a stranger’s gang was a surprise, but perhaps a welcome one. How she found herself and her brother standing in a field with four other outlaws was beyond her…
“You want two kids to join your gang?” she asked Dutch van der Linde with her brow raised.
The well-dressed man let out a chuckle. “Why, Arthur here joined when he was a teenager, and John joined when he was only twelve years old. Regardless of your age, you both know how to handle yourselves, and you can only learn and improve as you get older. These boys are a testament to that fact.”
Maebh gave said men a once over. Arthur, clearly the older of the pair, definitely gave the impression of a brooding tough guy. He didn’t seem like someone with whom you’d want to get into a bar fight. His large hands presumably packed a punch, and judging by the scars on his chin and nose and the glint in his eye, he had no problem putting himself in the thick of it if needs be. That being said, she couldn’t get a really good look at him with that hat on his head. And yet, there was something oddly tranquil and thoughtful about him, much like the calm before a storm.
John, by his appearance, general mannerisms, and inability to enter a stressful situation without shouting or cursing, was clearly younger. She pegged that he was closer in age to her and William than Arthur, but he was no less moody. Their original interaction was enough to know that he was a hotheaded youngster with something to prove to his gang members. When it came to his physical appearance, his youthful face was somewhat hidden behind greasy black locks of hair but he seemed to wear none of the battle wounds that Arthur did with his years of experience.
“My dear,” Dutch continued on. “This offer is not only beneficial for us, but by the sounds of things, you and your brother don’t have many places to go or many options to choose from. Now, what we are offerin’ is not only a home and a team to look out for you, but a chance to live free from the influence of civilisation. An opportunity to improve your body and mind, and help those less fortunate while you’re at it. All you gotta do is earn your keep — do chores, help out at camp, and partake in the odd robbery or con.”
There was a brief silence that hung on the air, each cowboy awaiting some sort of response. She could feel William’s eyes on her, and she wanted a chance to hear what he thought before making any promises.
“If it’s alright with you,” she began, looking at the leader. “I think we want to chat about it first before makin’ any decisions.”
He nodded, though not unkindly. He slowly dismounted from his horse and signalled for his gang members to follow suit. “O’course! Take a moment if you need it, and I’ll chat with my friends while you do.”
She thanked him before turning to her brother, who gave her a nod off to the side and muttered. “Tar anseo.”
She followed him happily, sticking close as he strode away from the gang, leaving the two groups a respectful distance apart. Thinking it would be wise to do so, the pair of them spoke in their native tongue while standing closely together.
“Cad a cheapann tú foai seo?” she asked without hesitation. What’re you thinkin’?
He shrugged, responding in Irish. “I think we’re in a similar situation to the stagecoach from earlier. Either we go it alone at a big disadvantage or we try to team up with them lot, I guess.”
“They are offerin’ hot food and beds,” she added. “And I’d kill for somethin’ like that.”
“Not to mention safety.” He paused uncertainly and threw the men a glance. “After what we did, this might be a good idea. We’re still wanted ’round here so I’m thinkin’ safety in numbers might be our best bet.”
“You’re right about that anyway. But what about them; how do you feel ’bout them?”
“I think they’re grand for the most part. The young fella seems a bit thick but he could be worse. Your man Dutch seems like the good sort — he had an opportunity to rob us and didn’t. He could’ve left us on the roadside but he didn’t. He’s got some… interestin’ ideologies, but I can’t say I don’t agree with them. The government’s done us no favours.” He lowered his voice and leaned in closer, his eyes looking a little worrisome in the dimming light. “They’re gonna catch us eventually if it’s just me and you, Maebh. This might be our chance to get away from it all.”
“I think you’re right,” she agreed. “I suppose as Dutch said, it’s better if outlaws stick together. Plus, if we aren’t feelin’ them, we can always leave.”
“Good point.” William let out a sigh, clapped his hands together, and returned to speaking in English. “Right, sure fuck it. We’d like to take you up on that offer, Mr Van der Linde.”
Dutch let out a laugh and gave Hosea a look. “Now what I tell ya? These are some smart kids we have found, gentlemen. They will make fine additions! It is good to have you onboard.”
“Thanks for havin’ us, Mister,” Maebh replied gratefully. “Now, where to exactly?”
“Back to your new camp, o’course. John, Arthur, would you be so kind as to offer these two a spot on your horses.” As John let out a grumble, Dutch gave him a look. “Hey now, son, make friends. They’re certainly closer in age to you than we are.”
“How old are you two, actually?” Arthur asked as he once more offered Maebh a hand on to the back of his horse.
“I’m sixteen,” she replied, sat herself behind him, and hung on to his broad shoulders. She threw a nod in her brother’s direction as John hoisted him up. “And he’s fifteen.”
“You really do pick ’em up young, Dutch,” Hosea chuckled as the four of them set off in a canter. “But you’re right — they can certainly handle themselves.”
“That they can, and I’m sure they too wish to live free in this here fine land, away from all that civilisation. Young or old, their ideals are in the right place.”
“How old were you when you joined?” Maebh asked Arthur as the others settled into some conversation about where the camp was located.
He hesitated, probably realising she was addressing him, and cleared his throat. “Fifteen or fourteen, there abouts anyways…”
“So basically our age, then.”
“I guess so.”
The group descended into casual conversation as they rode to the Van der Linde gang campsite. Along the journey, the sun had set on the horizon and plunged the land into darkness save for the light of the full moon. Maebh watched intently as the horses were steered on to a small dirt path and through a group of dense trees. As they breached the other side, she first set eyes on the camp. Their new home.
It looked quite small, but she didn’t mind that. If anything, she preferred it to something larger or overcrowded. The camp was illuminated in the darkness by some lamps and a campfire where a few people sat with drinks in their hands. A number of tents stood grouped together, some larger and more ostentatious that others, in the centre of which stood a larger wagon that contained a number of provisions and food. Under one of its canopies she spotted a large man chopping away at cuts of meat. A few other wagons were set up not far away — one joined to a bed and canopy seemed to contain ammunition, while another standing on its own housed a few medical supplies. Off to the side in a patch of grass, horses stood grazing in the warm night air. At the sight of the group’s return, the gang members stood up from the fire and came to greet them. Maebh spotted two women and another older man, excluding the one who remained by the food wagon.
“Hey! Welcome back, fellers!” the older man announced, waving a bottle of beer in his hand as he jaunted over to them. “Did you get the money?”
“More importantly,” one of the women began, throwing the man a frown. “Is everyone alright?”
“To answer your question, my dear, Bessie,” Hosea began as he dismounted his horse. “Everyone is fine. And to answer your question, Uncle, no we did not.”
The trio looked stumped. “You didn’t?”
“No.” Hosea pointed to William and Maebh. “They did.”
For the first time that night, the other members of the Van der Linde gang laid eyes on the siblings, having not even noticed their presence. Maebh chose to give them a simple nod without speaking a word. She got off the horse as Arthur did and stood by her younger brother’s side. Arthur and John lead the four horses to the rest of their animals before rejoining the group.
Trying to show William some reassurance, she gently bumped her shoulder against his as Dutch made the grand introduction. “My friends, I’m pleased to introduce you to the newest and currently the youngest members of the Van der Linde gang. Meet Maebh and William Hennigan, Ireland’s finest thieves.”
“You two robbed the stagecoach?” the other unnamed woman asked, her lips parted with curiosity.
“You four were beaten to the take by two kids?” the older man — Uncle — asked before bursting out into a fit of semi-drunken laughter. “You gotta be kiddin’ me! Fearsome outlaws from the West, beaten to the gold by kids from the East!”
“Yes, Uncle,” Dutch agreed. “We were beaten to it by some ‘kids’, but these kids managed to rob a guarded stagecoach without any assistance, so I wouldn’t go makin’ assumptions about their abilities.”
“Oh, trust me, I ain’t. I just get a good ol’ chuckle knowin’ what you stumbled across when you expected a box of money. I wish I could see the look on your faces.”
“I’m sure, I’m sure. Now, kids, introductions for you two. These two fine ladies are Susan Grimshaw and Bessie Matthews, and as you heard this… gentleman is Uncle.”
“Is he your uncle?” William asked, eying these new people up and down.
“Ah, no. He ain’t no one’s uncle here, but we call him that regardless.”
“How many feral children do you plan on bringin’ home, Mr Van der Linde?” the woman Dutch introduced as Susan Grimshaw asked, her hands propped on her hips. While the others seems amused with their arrival, she appeared more skeptical, much like Maebh and William were themselves.
“Only the ones that can handle themselves,” Dutch replied deviously before leaning down and kissing her cheek. “And I promise you, these two can.”
“But can they cook? Clean? Help run things ’round here? They look like can barely keep themselves clean.”
“They’ve been livin’ rough lately, as far as I know.”
“We’ve no problem with chores, miss,” Maebh replied surely. “Cookin’ and cleanin’ aren’t a problem.”
“Good. Well the first thing you can do is clean yourselves up. I’ll fetch you some soap and clean towels, and then you can head on down stream a bit.”
As Miss Grimshaw left to get supplies, Dutch placed a hand on both of their shoulders. “While you two wash up, I’ll have a tent and fresh bedding set up for you. Mr Pearson should have some leftovers from dinner as well.”
Maebh and her brother expressed genuine thanks to the lot of them as Miss Grimshaw returned with their bathing supplies. She asked as to whether they had any clean clothes, but Maebh assured her that they had some spare ones in their bags. The gang left them to it, so the pair walked down the river until they were mostly out of sight. They took turns washing the grime and sweat of the day off their bodies, one in the river while the other stood on the bank and kept watch. After all, they still didn’t entirely trust these new people they just met today.
“What d’you think we’ll have to do ’bout the money?” William asked from his spot on the bank, his back to her while he fiddled with his hunting knife.
Maebh threw a glance at him as she scrubbed her hair. “From the stage?”
“Yeah. D’ya think we should give them some of it? We’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for them lads.”
“I mean you’re not wrong. We should probably give them some of it. Half, maybe? And then you and me split the other half?”
“That sounds like a good idea,” he agreed. “Are you done yet? I’m starvin’ after all that carry on.”
“Yeah, just gis a sec.”
Once she finished up, William threw her a towel and waited for her to dry herself and get changed into fresh clothes. They washed the dirty ones on the river’s edge together before returning to camp feeling a bit better after the messy day they’d had. They could feel some eyes on them as they returned, Maebh linking her arm into the crook of his while he carried their belongings. Upon seeing them approach, Miss Grimshaw called them over. She brought them to a decent tent set up not too far from what she assumed was Dutch’s. Inside, two bedrolls lay on the ground, with an oil lamp plopped nearby to give them some light. She was also surprised to see they had been gifted a little wooden chest to share.
“We set you two up here beside Mr Morgan and Mr Marston,” Miss Grimshaw explained. “I figured you might prefer to bunk together for the moment. You also have a chest for any belongin’s you might need to store.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Maebh said with a polite smile. “We appreciate this, honestly.”
“Well you can repay us by earnin’ your keep. Be up at dawn to help with the chores — there’s washin’ to be done, and Mr Pearson could do with some fresh meats brought to his wagon — if either of you are good with horses, they could do with some groomin’ and feedin’.”
William nodded, noting her very serious tone. Her eyes, decorated with dark makeup, were full of fury hidden underneath an authoritative demeanour. Her messy bun only added to her confident appearance as the apparent arbiter. He got the feeling that she kept this place alive and she knew she did. She definitely wasn’t one for messing around, clearly. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Any questions, just shout.” Without saying much else, Miss Grimshaw left them to their new lodgings.
“Well,” William began, giving his sister’s arm a squeeze. “Which side do you want, right or left?”
“Oh shut it,” Maebh laughed and gave him a soft shove. “It’s all the same to me.”
“Just makin’ sure,” he said with a grin and stowed their belongings in the chest as she hung their washed clothes above the tent to dry out. William took a seat on one of the bedrolls and gently ran his hand over the material. “I have’ta say, these feel much comfier than our ones.”
“At least that’s one plus to this new arrangement.” She took a seat next to him and sat akimbo. She let her gaze wander over the camp, feeling surprisingly comfortable in this new environment.
“What’re you thinkin’?” William asked, eying her curiously. “I can tell your mind is goin’ a mile a minute.”
“Just thinkin’ that I’m actually alright with all this,” she answered honestly. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m still wary of these people ’cause we don’t know ’em, but they don’t give me any bad vibes. They seem grand.”
“I understand, but always be on your toes, yeah?”
With a nod she let her head rest on his shoulder. “Of course. We’re in this together as always.”
While sitting in their new living space, Maebh glanced over to see a figure approaching them. She recognised it to be Mr Morgan, who carefully carried three bowls of food in his arms. He greeted them with a nod. “Thought you two could do with some food. It ain’t much — Pearson really don’t got the hang of usin’ seasonin’, but it’s better than nothin’.”
“Thanks, Mr Morgan,” she replied and took one of the bowls and spoons he offered. Inside was steaming hot beef stew. “That’s kind of you.”
“Call me Arthur,” he replied. “Ain’t no need for formalities with me. Mind if I join you?”
They signalled for him to take a seat on the ground, which he happily accepted. Considering he had appeared so gruff before, Maebh was somewhat surprised to see him making an effort to give them some company. Perhaps he knew the feeling from his own experiences as a kid and wished to ease their transition a little. Though she knew little of him, he seemed like a useful man to have on your side.
“You likin’ the new set up?” he asked, as he swallowed some stew.
“It’s grand yeah,” she replied as she too munched away. “And we appreciate the new belongin’s and all that.”
“We look out for each other in this gang,” he explained. “So don’t mention it. A word of advice though — do whatever Miss Grimshaw asks of you. You don’t wanna see her mean side.”
“We got that impression,” William added, enjoying his hot meal. “And I don’t fancy her givin’ me a smack. She looks like she packs a punch.”
“Oh, she definitely does, take my word for it.”
Seeing this as a chance to get some more information about their new gang mates, Maebh chose to see what Arthur could offer. “Is she Dutch’s wife?”
He shook his head. “Naw, but they’ve been together a while. He’s in charge of things for sure, but she likes to help organise and keep everyone in check.”
She glanced at the campfire where she spotted Hosea and Bessie sitting with John and Uncle. Only now had she gotten a chance to really study her. She could tell that they were together, just by their mannerisms alone, and had been so for a long time. Her shoulder-length hair was beginning to grey, and her face held the telltale signs of age with slight crinkles in the corners of her eyes. She had to admit, they made a good looking couple. “What about Bessie?”
“She’s Hosea’s wife,” Arthur explained. “They’ve been together a while and she’s a good woman. She wasn’t raised an outlaw like most of us, but she goes where Hosea goes. She helps out ’round camp too, mostly with the cleanin’ and breakin’ up fights. She’s clever, with an equally intelligent husband. Hosea is Dutch’s righthand man. Been runnin’ with him since the mid 70s. That man can talk his way into, or out of, just about anythin’. They’re quite a pair.” Arthur eat another spoonful of somewhat bland stew before continuing on his explanation of the group. “And John is still a kid. He’s only seventeen, but he thinks he knows everythin’. He’s an orphan too, but he’s been runnin’ with us for five years and he’s already the golden boy. Dutch taught him a lot of what he knows, so I guess he’s like a father to him. He’s a good kid though and some shot with a pistol.
“Pearson, the guy over by the food wagon, he’s the camp cook. Used to be a sailor so get ready to hear all about his adventures at sea… Shame they couldn’t teach him about herbs while on deck. And Uncle, well… Uncle is Uncle.”
Maebh blinked at him. “He’s what now?”
“Honestly?” Arthur asked, briefly meeting her eyes. “He barely does shit ’round here bar drinkin’ and laughin’. He’s good for findin’ leads sometimes, I guess. Only reason Dutch ain’t kicked him out yet is ’cause he finds him so entertainin’.”
“What a colourful bunch,” William added as he quickly finished his meal.
“You two’ll fit right in,” Arthur offered. “Trust in Dutch and do what he wants. His word is usually the best one to go by.”
Mr Morgan remained with them for a little while longer before they decided to turn in for the night. He bid them a goodnight and headed back to his own tent. Maebh watched him sit on his bed and write into some sort of book for the rest of the evening before she felt exhaustion overcome her and the need for sleep was too much. She and William fell asleep to the crackling of a fire and the hushed laughter of their new apparent family.
* * *
9th June, 1890, outside Waukesha, Wisconsin
We picked up some new members after the stagecoach robbery. Two kids beat us to the take, and Dutch saw fit to bring them into the fold. Can’t say that I blame him for it, as they certainly seem like they can hold themselves no problem. A brother and sister, two apparent orphans from Ireland... Attached at the hip by the looks of things. Maebh is the eldest and William the youngest, though they seem fairly confident despite their youth. I’m sure John is just glad he’s no longer the youngest around.
It is a little unusual to have new recruits, but I trust Dutch with his decision to take them in. They could certainly be valuable to us all, and I can’t argue with that. Regardless, he hopes that the take will be split in half. One half goes to the gang, while the other goes to the kids to do with what they will. Dutch plans on showing them exactly what we do with a take this big and has asked me to join him for the long ride. Hopefully I can get a better idea of these two along the way, and hopefully it’ll settle whatever uncertainties they surely have about us.
* * *
The following morning, Maebh awoke at dawn. A gentle shake on the shoulder pulled her from sleep, and she opened her eyes to find William sitting up next to her.
“It’s dawn,” he explained with a yawn. “We should get up and movin’ before that Grimshaw woman skins us both.”
“Right,” she grumbled. “Okay, I’m up.”
It took her a couple of minutes to get moving and comfortable in her new surroundings. Once they were dressed, they looked around camp to see a that Miss Grimshaw was also getting up, as well as Hosea and Bessie.
“What jobs were there again?” she asked her brother. “Cleanin’? Feedin’ the horses?”
“And getting fresh food for Pearson too,” William added. “I can tend to the horses and get them fed and watered.”
She nodded and ran her eyes over the nearby Fox River. “Probably a good idea considerin’ how much you like horses. I’ll go with the fishin’ then. Pretty sure I can get some smallmouth or walleye outta there.”
“After that we should have a word with Dutch ’bout the money too.”
“Grand, yeah. I’ll see you in a bit. Shout if you need me.”
While William went off to attend to the gang’s horses, Maebh grabbed her fishing rod and some bait out of the chest and went a short distance downstream. Finding a quiet spot overlooking the river that was still within the camp’s line of vision, she cast her rod into the water and waited. There was a light rain coming down that morning, which thankfully helped with her chances of catching some fish. As time slowly passed, she managed to catch a number of smallmouth bass to give to the camp cook. They put up a fight as always but she had years of experience to help with reeling them in. Once she managed to pull six decently sized bass from the water, she packed up and returned to camp. On her way, she passed by Susan Grimshaw as she grabbed some morning coffee, the older woman eying her curiously — she couldn’t tell whether it was with approval or uncertainty. Pressing onwards, Maebh carried her fresh catches over to Pearson’s wagon.
“Heard you needed some fresh food,” she announced as she reached him.
The man was hunched over a large pot with a thoughtful look on his chubby face. He looked confused for a moment before noticing the fish she was carrying, upon which, a grin formed beneath his thick moustache. “Ah, you must be the other new recruit I haven’t met! I already met your brother over there.” He offered her his hand. “Simon Pearson, camp cook.”
She accepted and shook it vigorously. “Maebh Hennigan, supplier of fish.”
“I can see that! Bring ’em here.”
She set them down on his table as he began to check them over. “Hopefully this is enough.”
“It’s more than enough. These are some decent smallmouth. You must be a fan of fishin’ by the looks of things.”
“It was one of my hobbies growin’ up. Need help skinnin’ and guttin’ ’em?”
He shrugged. “Sure, kid. Why not? Two pair o’hands is better than one.”
As Maebh attended to helping Pearson with prepping the fish, the rest of the gang continued about its business around her. Mr Morgan walked by her and gave her a tip of his hat in greeting. She sent him a wave and watched as he began cutting some firewood. She noticed Uncle dozing in the sun while Miss Grimshaw cleaned some of the camp’s bedclothes. Bessie and Hosea were repairing the side of one of the wagons, hammering wooden planks into position with each others help. William seemed to be in his element with the horses, grooming the mane of Arthur’s mount, Boadicea. She also spotted a dog roaming about the camp, staying close to Pearson’s wagon as they prepared the food. As she gutted her third fish and cooed at the dog, she noticed John and Dutch talking quietly nearby. Though focusing on her work, she carefully watched them every now and then. Dutch handed the younger man a cup of coffee before pushing him in her direction.
“Uh, hey,” Marston announced himself awkwardly as he reached her.
“Mornin’,” she replied and cut off the tail of the bass with a whack. “Marston, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, John actually. You, uh, want some coffee?”
She eyed the steaming cup he offered her. Choosing to humour him, she quickly finished with the fish and washed her hands in a nearby bucket. “Sure, I’ll take that off you. Thanks.”
He handed her the cup and then took a step back. “No problem.” He paused and threw a glance at Dutch who stood nearby smoking a thick cigar. “Sorry if I seemed kinda… rude yesterday. I didn’t mean nothin’ by it, just watchin’ my back.”
“It’s no bother,” she assured him and took a sip of her drink. Without missing a beat, she shrugged. “Sorry for callin’ you fuck-ugly.”
He scoffed at her reply, but couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped his lips. “Not gonna apologise for threatenin’ to shoot me in my fuck-ugly face?”
“I’m not sure. You were bein’ kinda rude, Mr Marston.”
John shook his head, but seemed to take her teasing lightly. As he began to walk away, he added. “Dutch wants you and William at his tent when you get your chores done. Enjoy the coffee, Miss Hennigan.”
Left to it, Maebh continued on with her work until Pearson said she could finish up. By that point, William had finished up with the horses and had carried sacks of flour to the wagon and refilled its a pails of water. Together, they took a short lunch break and then proceeded towards Dutch’s tent together. He was inside with Susan, reading a novel while she worked on some stitching.
“Mr Van der Linde,” Maebh greeted him. “Miss Grimshaw.”
“Ah,” Dutch cheered, looking up from his book. “Well if it isn’t the new recruits. Good work this mornin’, kids. Looks like you two did some decent work.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“If you don’t me bein’ so nosey, but what did your parents do?”
“They were farmers, so we’re used to gettin’ up at the crack of dawn.”
“I thought it might’a been somethin’ like that. They taught you most everythin’ you know?”
“Pretty much all of it, yeah.”
“Then I would say they did a fine job lookin’ at you two. Now, I wanted to speak to you about that the money from the stagecoach, if you wouldn’t mind. What exactly are your plans with it?”
Maebh looked to her brother who tilted his head and answered. “Actually, we wanted t’have a chat with you before we didn’t anythin’ with it. Considerin’ we probably wouldn’t’ve made it outta there alive without you’s, we wanted to offer you half the take.”
A smile slowly stretched across Dutch’s lips. “My, my. That is a generous offer from you two; one that I was hopin’ you would make.”
William narrowed his eyes. “You were?”
“Why yes, son. Ya see, the gang uses a similar method with our on robberies — one half goes directly into the gang fund, while the other is split between those who did the job. But we don’t just hoard all of the gang funds to ourselves, and I want to show you what we’ll do with half the stagecoach money. Would you both accompany myself and Mr Morgan on a ride?”
“Where to exactly?”
The older man got to his feet and stepped out from his tent. “To a town north-west of here called Black River Falls; well known for its mining and lumber industries. It’ll take the day to get there, so its best we head out before noon. Arthur!” Maebh looked over to the nearby tent where Arthur resided, scribbling in that book again.
Once he heard his name being called, he came to meet them. “We headin’ out?”
“That we are, do me a favour and fetch the kids two of the spare horses.”
“Sure.” Without argument, Arthur did as his boss asked.
“Well,” Dutch placed his hands on his hips and grinned at the two orphans. “I’m assumin’ you two know how to ride?”
* * *
Though she’d had been living in Wisconsin for years, Maebh had never been to Black River Falls. It was some distance from camp, so they packed an overnight bag at Dutch’s suggestion. They rode out and took breaks for food and sleep that night, considering they and the horses needed a good rest. Their time around the campfire was usually spent with Dutch retelling old stories about his gang. Taking Arthur’s presence into account, he told Maebh and William about how he stumbled across the former as an unruly teenager and quickly recruited him. She was relieved that neither of them pressed her about where she came from. It was easier to not have to reject their curiosity. Whenever she and William decided to divulge about their past would only happen when they felt comfortable and ready to trust these strangers from the West. The one thing Dutch didn’t talk about was the reason why they were heading to this small Midwestern town. Apparently, all would be explained once they got there. Arthur was no more helpful than his mentor.
When they awoke the next morning, they continued on their journey and arrived at Black River Falls in the middle of the afternoon. From what she had heard of the town, it had been a thriving and homely settlement, but there was something strangely eery about the place now that she was there. As they trotted through its muddy streets, she noticed that the residents seemed somewhat dreary and bleak rather than appearing like a flourishing community. They safely hitched their horses outside a saloon and slowly headed indoors.
“Are you seein’ this?” William asked her in a hushed tone, slyly nodding to the people she had been intrigued by outside.
“Yeah,” she replied. “Doesn’t seem like a flourishin’ town to me.”
Before they could exchange any further words, Dutch told them to get a table off to the corner of the room. As the older cowboys went to the bar and made orders for the group, Maebh and William sat down and got a good look at the patrons in the saloon. It was surprising to see quite a fair amount of people in a saloon at this time of day.
“Right,” William sighed. “This is a bit weird now.”
“Agreed. Shouldn’t all these people be at work, or somethin’? They can’t all be outlaws or just passin’ through.”
Under the dim lighting of the saloon, Williams features were sharper than usual. “Why would Dutch ask us to come here of all places? It’s bloody depressin’.”
Dutch and Arthur soon returned with food and drinks in hand. Not exactly expecting much, Maebh wasn’t surprised to see a bowl of oatmeal was the only thing on the menu at the moment. She was somewhat amazed that they were allowed on the premises given their age, but the patrons seemed to care very little. She supposed at least they weren’t drinking any beer, so nothing overtly illegal was going down.
“So,” Maebh began slowly, having eaten half of her meal. “What exactly is the deal with this place? It’s kinda…”
“Miserable?” William finished for her, uncaring of how blunt he sounded.
Arthur snorted at that. “Well, you ain’t wrong, kid.”
Dutch set down his whiskey and answered calmly. “I wanted you two to see this place with your own eyes before I told you what we were doin' here. This town was a thrivin’ place not that long ago, but since then the lumber industries and the mines have shut down and shipped out. For most of the people livin’ here, that was their only source of employment. So now, they ain’t got no jobs and, with no one earnin’ any money, the banks are beginnin’ to fail too, and it won’t be long before they do. The people are positively petrified of the impendin’ winter later this year and there’s talks of starvation if they can’t afford food. They’re stuck out here with no help from any government or Pinkertons — they don’t give a shit about these poor unfortunates, but we do.” He proceeded to sneakily point at the saloon’s patrons. “This is where most of the gang’s half of the stagecoach money will go. These people are in for it for years to come, and we ain’t gonna sit back and watch as the government don’t do nothin’ for ’em. If we did nothin’, then we might as well bury ’em ourselves. Now that you’re in the gang, this is the kinda good you can help bring to the people who need it.”
Without another word, Dutch got to his feet with a bag over his shoulder, inside which was most of the gang’s share of the robbery. He quickly passed off half to Arthur and the pair of them went around the room, handing wads of cash to the stupefied customers. Maebh looked on in hidden admiration as Dutch conversed with the townsfolk, seemingly enjoying their thanks and words of delight. Arthur, though more reserved and polite, waved off their gratitude with a simple nod and urged them to spend the funds on food for their families. Maebh looked to her brother, who usually showed little emotion on his face for others to see, but even he was taken aback by this move.
As Dutch and Arthur moved outside to meet more of the locals, the siblings followed, eager to see the reactions that were sure to come. She observed carefully as Dutch began to address the small crowd that had gathered with words of a lawless America and ‘the ill that civilisation has brought unto the hard-working people that keeps this nation alive’. It was a sight to see, and although he clearly relished the attention, his actions were good and selfless. It was a large sum of money, one that the gang could have used to its advantage, but they would rather give it to those who lost their jobs and feared for their survival.
“The only way we can live in these United States, my friends,” Dutch continued, passing money into the sooty hands of Black River Falls grateful locals. “Is by supportin’ each other. Civilisation would rather have us as dogs lickin’ are their shitty boots. Ain’t no man I’m gonna worship, save for God.”
“Did you think this was goin’ to happen?” she asked her brother from their spot outside the crowd.
“No,” he admitted. “But I have to admit, it’s a noble move.”
“And I think it gives us a better idea of who the Van der Linde Boys are.”
“It surely does.” William smirked before turning his attention from Dutch to her. “I think we might’ve made a good decision for once, Maebh.”
Giving him a curious look, she eyed their new leader who had the crowd in the palm of his hand while Arthur continued to hand out money.
The grand speech continued, spoken now with even more vigour. “So we are returnin’ this money to the pockets of those who need it. Consider it a generous donation from the government of this land, taken without their permission by outlaws who have already experienced hardships at their hands.” At that, Dutch met her gaze and gave her a nod. “This is how you live in America. We are livin’ and we are survivin’, because it’s the only thing we can do while they threaten our very existence. This is how we will live, or we are gonna die tryin’.”
“Yeah,” Maebh said, agreeing with William’s point. “I think we’ll be alright with these lads.”
Chapter 3: Full of Sound and Fury
Three years pass since Maebh and William join the Van der Linde Gang, and Dutch and co plan to hit the local bank in Winterset, Iowa.
Sorry for the slight delay. Myself and my friend knocked our heads together to solidify the plot a little more and we're pretty happy with where it's going. Honestly, a lot of it is jokes at John's expense... We love him really. Hopefully you guys enjoy it too!
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Too Old to Die Young” — Brother Dege, “We” — Bon Iver, “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” — Dropkick Murphys, “Inverness” — Jed Kurzel
23rd August, 1893, outside Winterset, Iowa
Another city, another bank to hit. Dutch is happy with our plan to take the bank in Winterset and chose a good team to work with. As well as the boss himself, he wants all experienced hands on deck, so John, Maebh, William, Hosea, and I will be attending. He asked that Karen come too so she can act as a distraction before we make our entrance. She proved she can handle herself in the last town, so we’re happy to have her along. Considering the Callander brothers are newer to how things work around here, he wants them to guard the camp.
With the plan to plant some of us in the bank beforehand, things seem good to go. As long as we get in and out with the money and keep casualties to a minimum — or preferably none at all — then we can call it a job well done.
* * *
“Marston, I’ve a question for ye.”
“What is it, Hennigan?”
Maebh looked up from reading her book beside the campfire. She raised a brow at William and John who sat beside her, the latter whittling away at a piece of wood while the former stared at him curiously.
“What happened to your voice to make it permanently raspy?” William enquired, scratching his beard thoughtfully. “Did Arthur punch you mad hard in the throat or somethin’ and you’ve sounded like this ever since?”
John frowned, his hands halting their movements. “I’ll have you know it’s hereditary.”
“Yeah? Who was your da? A furnace?”
Maebh casually added. “A Scottish furnace, actually.”
“My voice ain’t that raspy.”
William let out a snort. “Ah, c’mon now! You’re only twenty and you sound like you’re pushin’ on fifty.”
“No, I don’t.” Maebh tried to keep her mouth shut, but the look of amusement on her face caught the older man’s attention. “What the hell you smirkin’ at?”
She scoffed “Nothin’! Don’t bring me into your little tiff.”
John threw his hands up in the air and let out a huff. “Then maybe get your brother to stop botherin’ me.”
With a shake of her head, she shut her book and got to her feet. “He’s his own man and I’m not gonna tell him what to do.”
She left them to it, just about managing to hide her laughter as William continued to do Marston’s head in.
It had been three years since she and her brother found themselves in a spot while robbing a stagecoach, and thankfully being saved by Dutch van der Linde and his gang. Though they had both been skeptical of the group at first, seeing Dutch and Hosea focusing on helping those forgotten and in need across the country had helped to ease their worries. Now, they were well settled into their rolls and formed bonds with their fellow outlaws. Dutch had been the supportive leader they pegged him for — encouraging them to keep reading and ‘broadening their minds’, thus ensuring that they were made aware of what was happening in the country as governments, cities, and civilisation took over. While it was a nomadic life, it was better than what they had before. Together, they robbed multiple banks across the country, and gave vast amounts of wealth to the forgotten people who needed it.
The gang itself had acquired new tag-alongs and members since they first joined. Another pair of siblings, Mac and Davey Callander, had recently been recruited by Dutch after he encountered them partaking in a massive street brawl. They were a proper vicious pair of bastards by the sounds of the stories they told, but they bothered Maebh very little. Though they were particularly violent, they seemed to be able to control these tendencies towards their fellow gang members. Another newer member was a woman named Karen Jones. Bursting with confidence and personality, Arthur and Maebh were the ones to encounter the proficient scam artist in a local saloon. She did an impressive job of drinking the pair of them under the table that day and stealing their money when they blacked out. When they later tracked her down, they came with an offer rather than a loaded firearm. Last but not least, the ever flamboyant and mischievous Josiah Trewlany appeared randomly at camp a few weeks after Maebh and William originally joined. Apparently, he had been a member of the gang for a while, but rarely stayed at camp. He was constantly going to and fro, but always seemed to have a lead; the very reason Dutch still welcomed him upon each return.
Returning to her tent, Maebh set herself down on her bedding and continued reading. It was one of William’s plays — Othello — he finished it himself a few days ago and asked if she would read it so that he could hear what she thought. He was always one for long discussions about stories whenever they were travelling long distances for work, or while sitting in their tent at night. Having been familiar with Shakespeare’s work already because of his mild obsession with the bard, she was happy enough to read another of his tales. Frankly, she read any book that William hopefully plopped into her lap.
Engrossed in the story, she hadn’t noticed someone approaching. Tearing her eyes away from Iago’s monologue, she was met with Arthur standing in front of her. “More Shakespeare.”
“You really like his work, huh?” he asked, taking the book as she offered it to him.
“He’s more William’s favourite than mine, but I gotta give him credit where it’s due, it’s a good read.”
He flicked through the pages carefully. “Sure. Hope I ain’t disturbin’ your good readin’?”
She waved him off. “Nah. I’ve been at it for most of the mornin’ anyway so I should probably call it a day.”
He nodded and handed her back the play, resting his hands on his belt buckle. “If you ain’t up to much, I was gonna go do some huntin’ if you wanna join? You can ask your brother too if he ain’t busy.”
“Yeah.” She offered him a small smile. “That sounds fun actually. I could do with gettin’ outta camp for a bit.”
“Good, good. Grab your bow and I’ll fetch William before he makes Marston’s head explode.”
“Might want’a move quick, then.”
With a smile, Arthur left to do just that and Maebh gathered her hunting supplies in a bag. She hurried over to the hitching post where William’s mount, Dantès, was currently stationed and waited for the others. She offered him a sugar cube from her pocket and stroked his mane, admiring the animal with genuine fondness. She was surprised to see not only Arthur and William approaching, but also John following closely behind them.
“Marston wanted to join us,” Arthur explained as he readied Boadicea. “So don’t be surprised if him and your brother decide to turn a huntin’ trip into a competition.”
“No thanks,” William countered, patting his horse’s neck. “I’m just here to help get supplies. I’d rather beat him at a good aul fist fight anyway.”
“We can make that happen!” John assured him as he got on top of his own horse.
William shook his head and hoisted himself atop Dantès before he offered his sister a hand on to the back of the Dutch Warmblood. “You ever goin’ t’get yourself a new horse?”
“I will eventually,” she replied and hung on to his slim waist. “It’s not an easy thing to do, y’know, gettin’ over a horse.”
“You’ll know when the time is right,” Arthur added, taking his hat from his saddlebag and putting it on his head. “We ready to go, fellers?”
Soon, the four of them were heading out. They galloped through the rolling hills of Madison County, basking in the heat of the early afternoon sun. They reached a spot not far from camp that was known for having a decent amount of activity amongst the local wildlife. One of the many smaller ponds in the area, deer and other herbivores were common enough around those parts, especially on a hot day like this. They left their horses hitched to some trees and went about planning how to take down a few deer if they could. Splitting into two teams, the Hennigans went to one end while Morgan and Marston went to the other. Not far from where Dantès was hitched, Maebh spotted a rabbit slowly scurrying amongst the brush. Crouched low behind a tree, she notched an arrow and steadied herself when William encouraged her to kill it. It was released with a thwack, and flew through the air before successfully piercing the animal, killing it instantly. Its carcass was swiftly clipped to his saddle before the pair slowly crept to a spot near the lake. From here, hidden within some bushes and the shade of an overhanging tree, they could get a good view of the surrounding area and the deer that currently stood drinking water on its bank. Arthur and John could be seen on the other side, thankfully far enough away that their hunting wouldn’t disturb the Hennigans’ targets.
“Right,” William began in a whisper. “We’ve got three horses, which means three deer max. D’you want to get this one?”
She shook her head. “Nah. I got the rabbit — you can hardly go through a huntin’ trip without catchin’ somethin’.”
“If you insist, sis. You’ll grab its attention?”
Maebh watched as her brother carefully notched an arrow and steadied his aim with an unbreakable focus. They had hunted together on too many occasions to count throughout their lives together, so the process was familiar at this stage. When he gave her the signal, she whistled and caused a nearby buck to raise his head in response. Lacking any hesitation, he let the arrow fly and struck it in its neck. With a mewl, the buck fell to the ground and died as the other deer scattered in fright.
“Nice shot,” she commented, glad that the animal didn’t suffer needlessly. “Need a hand carryin’ it back?”
William grinned widely and stood up straight once more. “Ah, thanks, but I’m grand. I don’t want to give Marston an excuse to claim I wasn’t the one who caught it.”
“Don’t mind him,” she insisted, though her tone was moderately amused with the jesting. “He’ll probably pass comment regardless of who carries it back to the horses.”
“Probably,” he replied, and hoisted the carcass over his shoulder. “But no need to give him a bit of ammo.”
She shook her head as they strolled back to the horses, taking in the sight of the peaceful little lake, now practically devoid of animals thanks to their intrusion. On the other side, she could just about see Arthur and John carrying their own kills in the same direction. “I swear, you’s two would make a competition out of breathin’ if you could.”
“That’s actually not a bad idea… We’ll see who can hold their breath underwater the longest!”
“You know he can’t swim…”
“… Who can hold their breath the longest in general then! First to pass out loses.”
Dantés waited patiently as the pair of them return to his side. While Maeve petted his mane, William loaded the buck on to his rear and secured it with some rope. Not long after that, their companions appeared through the brush, each carrying their own deer.
Maebh offered them a friendly ‘Howdy, gentlemen’, though Dantés still held most of her attention.
“Only one buck?” Marston observed, voice slightly out of breath as he carried the hefty animal. “You two are losin’ your edge.”
“Excuse me,” she interjected. “I’ll have you know, Mr Marston, that I caught that succulent lookin’ rabbit too.”
“And a fine rabbit it is,” Arthur chuckled good-naturedly. “He’ll taste good in a stew, although probably not if Pearson’s makin’ it.”
“Marston,” William announced and approached said man as he placed his catch on his horse. “Got a challenge for ya.”
John smirked. “You lookin’ to get beat, boy?”
“I’m only two years younger than ya, pal, calm down.”
“Alright, what you have in mind?”
“We both get thrown into the lake and the first to drown loses.”
Arthur burst out into a hefty laugh while Maebh found herself guffawing at the bitter look of displeasure on Marston’s face. She interjected before a full on fight could break out. “C’mon, let’s get these back to camp before you two have another one of your marital spats.”
Thankfully, everyone agreed to mount up and head back. The success of the trip had the group in good spirits and they took their time heading home, choosing to let the horses roam on an easy trot. As they made their way along the trail, William spotted a small band of wild horses grazing on a rolling hillside. A particularly beautiful chestnut stallion had the young man whipping out his binoculars to get a better look.
William let out a whistle before passing the device to his sister. “That’s some horse.”
“This might be a good opportunity for you to get a new mount,” John suggested. “Considerin’ it’s ’bout time you got one.”
“I’m not the best at breakin’ in horses,” Maebh admitted as she studied the animal from a safe distance atop Dantés. “I’ve much more experience with breakin’ in fellas.”
John spluttered at the retort while Arthur hid an amused grin. “We’ve got your back if’n you wanna try. Gotta try breakin’ in wild horses sometime.”
Knowing that her companions were right, and with a reassuring promise from William to step in if needed, Maebh hopped on to the ground and slowly approached the grazing horse. She planted her feet carefully as she waded through the grass, trying to keep herself — and the animal — calm. Upon noticing her approach, the stallion raised its head and whinnied. The rest of the herd, alerted to the disturbance, began to scatter in the opposite directing, their hooves thundering into the distance.
“Hey there, big fella,” Maebh called out to the stallion, feeling a little stupid for doing so while her friends were nearby.
The horse stomped a hoof in reply, heavy breaths being snuffed from his nostrils. Despite his visible discomfort, he didn’t run as she continued to slowly make her way to him.
“My brother said you were some horse,” she continued. “And now that I’m up close to ya, I can see he wasn’t full of it.”
The animal began to make small jumps on to his back hooves, neighing as she closed the gap.
“Easy boy, easy… You’re alright. Look at you.”
Eventually she reached the stallion’s side with sure and careful strides. The animal, though somewhat calmer than before, was still visibly uncertain with her presence. She reassured him by carefully patting his neck, though always on edge in case he lashed out — the last thing she wanted was a horse shoe to the face. The thoughts had her heart thumping rapidly.
Thinking that the interaction was progressing well, she saw an opportunity and quickly hoisted herself on to the horse’s back.
It didn’t end well for Maebh.
She managed to hang on to the now panicking horse’s golden mane for some time, trying to desperately balance herself as it leapt around the pasture and tried to buck her off. The rapid spinning of the world around her and the deafening neighing quickly became too much. Suddenly, her balance was lost and she was falling through the air. The landing stung but she didn’t have much time to think about it; the stallion’s legs were kicking wildly and she could only assume she was in its path. Despite the wind being knocked out of her, she rolled her body in a direction she hoped was away from the angered animal. She rolled and rolled and, as she sensed a distance being put between them, raised her head.
William stood beside the horse, lasso already wrapped around its neck and ensuring that the animal calmed down. Hands grasped her shoulders, and she looked up to see the worried expression on Arthur’s face. “You okay?”
“I’ve been better,” she admitted and winced as he helped her sit up. “I think I made a balls of that.”
“You nearly had it,” he replied and gave her a once over. “But I think it's in better hands now.”
Now that the horse had calmed down, William thrust the lasso into the stunned John’s hands before flying over to his sister’s side. “Are you alright? He didn’t kick you, did he?”
Seeing the panic in his green eyes, she tried to reassure him. “Nah, I’m grand.”
“You got bucked off a fuckin’ horse and you expect me to think you’re grand.”
“I am grand.”
“We’ll have Miss Grimshaw take a look at her back at camp,” Arthur added, presumably trying to calm the situation. “The main thing is she didn’t get kicked. Looks like she got away with only some bruises.”
She pouted at her sibling while he gently brushed some dirt off her tinted cheeks. “I’m sorry I gave you a fright, William.”
“You can repay me by lettin’ me help you back to camp.”
William and Arthur carefully hauled her to her feet, and she was relieved that she could stand without their assistance.
“She okay?” John called while he remained with the wild stallion a few feet away.
“She’ll be fine,” Arthur answered as he fetched their horses. “Doesn’t look like she got any broken bones.”
She allowed William to help ease her atop Dantés and carefully wrapped her arms around his waist as he sat in front of her. “Well, that was embarrassin’…”
“At least you got a new horse outta it,” he offered, taking the lasso as John passed it to him. “And you didn’t die either.”
“I think that horse is yours. You calmed him after all, and I don’t think he likes me much.”
William didn’t even glance at the animal as it followed them back to camp. “We’ll discuss that after we make sure you’re okay.”
Knowing that there was no arguing with him, Maebh simply let her cheek rest against his back and enjoyed the smooth ride home, nursing the ache in her hip and her somewhat fractured ego.
* * *
Arthur had thankfully been right — Maebh managed to escape the incident with no broken bones and only received a bit of hefty bruising on her hip and shoulder from the fall. It was nothing too serious, bar some cuts and grazes. She was mostly just relieved that none of her injuries kept her from the bank robbery that they had scheduled to do a few days afterwards. William didn’t leave her side for days, despite the fact she could walk and talk with no issue. She was however prevented from doing other jobs and leaving camp; Dutch said he wanted her in tip top shape for the robbery, so aggravating her injuries wasn’t an option. She did manage to convince her brother to keep the damn horse though, and now the stallion — formally named Banquo — stood grazing with the others at camp. Arthur checked up on her too, bringing hot food and coffee with him. His presence was appreciated, especially when she started getting anxious about being stuck in camp. At night time, Karen came to her with some beers and the two usually ended up drinking themselves to sleep after a sing-song with Uncle and Miss Grimshaw.
Maebh was relieved when the days passed by and the morning of the robbery arrived. She felt fit and ready for the occasion thanks to her few days of rest. Soon, she and William were riding into Winterset with Dantés and one of the spare mounts from camp.
The plan was simple enough. In order to avoid suspicions with a large group riding into town, she and William would go into the bank alone with concealed guns and inquire about making an account as a newlywed couple. Hosea would also go to the bank on his own, and the three of them would wait on opposite ends of the room for the others’ arrival. Karen was the signal that things would begin — she would come in, cause a distraction to grab everyones attention, and Dutch, Arthur, and John would storm the bank through the front door. Once they arrived, it was masks on and all hands on deck. Arthur was to intimidate the manager into opening the lock boxes as quietly and as quickly as possible. The others would keep the tellers quiet. The plan was that there would be no casualties.
They rode into town, dressed to impress in a suit and frock respectively. Having hitched their horses on the edge of town and entering the bank, Maebh and William played their part well, and the latter got into a casual conversation with one of the tellers under his alias.
“I think I should discuss it with my new wife before making a decision; she’d murder me if I did it without her. Y’know how women can be, huh, pal?”
They retired to a pair of seats on the right and pretended to be in deep conversation about their finances. Across the room, Hosea sat and made as though he was perusing through some bank statements.
“We’re lucky it’s not very busy today,” Maebh said to her brother in a hushed whisper. “Less people in the crossfire.”
He glanced around the room quickly before meeting her gaze. “Hopefully that’ll play in our favour. In and out in no time.”
It wasn’t long before wails could be heard outside and a figure came crashing through the front door. Karen stood there, dressed in her fanciest outfit with tears streaming down her plump cheeks. She heaved out complaints about an apparent man who had wronged her as one of the bank’s staff came to her side. Whatever attempts he had at hushing her were drowned out by her howling. She expertly drew him in, only to suddenly unveil a gun and push it into his gut.
Her voice shed its previous woes, now laced with stinging vinegar. “Get your goddamn hands up! This is a goddamn robbery!”
At her signal, Dutch, Arthur, and John burst through the doors, bandanas covering half their faces and guns raised.
“Anyone moves and we shoot!”
John was on the teller with the keys in an instant, and William and Maebh moved into position. They tugged their bandanas on and William and Hosea quickly shut the front doors while Maebh waited by the teller’s door.
“Unlock the door,” John ordered and swiftly tossed her the keys. “Quick!”
Maebh did as asked, trying to ignore some of the pleads from the bank’s workers.
“This is a robbery, gentlemen,” Dutch announced, addressing the whole room. “And we don’t want to shoot any of you kind folk. So do as we say and no one gets hurt, is that clear?”
As soon as she unlocked the door, she called out to Arthur. “We’re in! Come help sort the vault out.”
While the others attended to those in the main room, Maebh, William, and Arthur stormed through the door to the vault. Arthur grabbed the manager by his collar and switched his demeanour like the flip of a coin.
“Open the goddamn vault!” he screamed, revolver pointed to his head. “Open it!”
“Okay, okay,” the manager said, voice quivering in terror considering he had three guns pointed at his head. “Just don’t hurt me, p-please. I’ve got a family—”
“Open the fuckin’ vault if you want’a see them again!” William growled, getting the man to move. “C’mon the fuck!”
He got to opening the vault, moving too slowly for their liking. With a swift whack of Arthur’s cattleman, he worked faster. “Sonofabitch, c’mon! Hurry up!”
The door opened with a heavy creak, and William pushed the suit into the vault with them. Inside were four lock boxes that were sure to hold ample amounts of money they could use. Though things were going well, Maebh could feel sweat building on the back of her neck.
“We’re in!” she called out to the others. “How you’s holdin’ up out there?”
“We’re fine,” Dutch called back. “Just make sure he opens those lock boxes up without causin’ any trouble!”
Arthur grasped the manager once more and threw him towards the lock boxes. “You best get them open before I put a goddamn hole in your head, boy!”
There was no arguing to be had, and the manager did as he was asked. They quickly shoved the contents of the lock boxes into four bags Arthur had brought along.
Once they were in the clear, William gave the manager a box and knocked him out cold. “That should give us a bit more time to get away.”
Before either of them could make a comment about how smoothly things had gone, a commotion stirred up in the other room. A single shot rang out. Glass smashed and screams erupted. Hosea’s voice could be heard amongst the rabble. “What the hell are you doin’?”
The trio emerged from the teller’s door to see Dutch stood by the front door, one of the window panes smashed through and glass littered on the ground. Maebh glanced out one of the other windows and saw a dead lawman on the street, blood pouring from a bullet hole in his chest. The weight of the money bag on her back felt all the more heavier now.
“What in the hell happened?” Arthur demanded.
“Lawman was investigatin’,” Dutch explained hastily. “He saw what was goin’ on — I had to shoot him.”
“We don’t kill people on these jobs!” Hosea argued, disgusted by the turn of events.
Dutch refused to back down. “We do when our lives are at stake!”
“Well now you’ve put all of us at risk! We could’ve done somethin’ else!”
Karen quickly joined Maebh at the window just as more lawmen appeared outside. “Awh, shit… We got more law outside, boys!”
“They sure as shit know we’re here now,” Maebh added and turned to face her friends. “What do we do?”
“We fight our way out,” Dutch answered, drawing his pistols in each hand. “And get back to camp alive and with the money. We’ve been plannin’ this for too long to give up now. We gotta leave this town as quick as we can. Arthur and I will open fire and force them to stay in cover while the rest of you get to the horses. Head down the alley and loop around; Hosea will lead the way. Shoot anyone in your way, you hear me?”
“Lead the way, Dutch,” John said and took the spare money bag from Arthur. “We’re right behind you.”
A swift glance amongst the group to ensure that everyone was ready, and Dutch was kicking the door open. He was the first to open fire on the waiting lawmen, who ducked behind shop fronts and buildings to steer clear of the bullets. Arthur followed, wielding a repeater and forcing their adversaries to hide if they wanted to avoid being shot. One by one they emerged from the bank, cash in hand and guns ready to take out anyone who threatened their escape. As always, Maebh planted herself ahead of William, staying low as they hurriedly turned and snuck down the side alley and through the back gardens of several shops and a hotel. The thundering clamour of guns firing and bullets flying through wood and clashing with brick could be heard as Hosea, Karen, Maebh, William, and John skirted around corners and hopped over short fences.
As the horses appeared up ahead, visibly skittering at the sound of shots firing, Maebh threw a glance over her shoulder to see if Dutch and Arthur were nearby. She let John and William pass her as she peered around one of the alleys.
“What are you at?” William asked, hesitating to continue.
“We can’t leave without them,” she insisted, wiping her brow and getting her breath back. “Two men against a whole load of law won’t end well.”
“It’s Morgan and Dutch; they’ll be grand. We need to stay with the others.”
Though the commotion continued to rage, she was relieved to see Arthur come barrelling around one of the corners, skidding on the dirt ground as he went.
Upon seeing the siblings, he sprinted to their side. “Y’all okay?”
Maebh shook her head. “I feel like we should be askin’ you that. Where’s Dutch?”
“Comin’ ’round now. He told me to go ahead, so let’s move.”
With his confirmation that their leader was alright, the pair followed the older man as they continued in their escape. As they reached the horses — the others already mounted up and ready to leave — Maebh saw Dutch appear from the corner where Arthur had come running. He was unscathed and thankfully outrunning and law that was following him. She would have grinned at the sight, had he been alone.
Before she could cry out in warning, an armed lawman leapt from around a fence behind Dutch. With a whack, he clocked him in the jaw with the butt of his carbine. Dutch was sent sprawling to the dirt.
Maebh grabbed Arthur’s arm in a knee jerk reaction and her breath caught in her throat.
As the lawman stood over their floundering companion and aimed his gun at Dutch’s head, she heard Arthur desperately calling out his name.
A single gunshot cracked through the air.
With a clatter, the carbine felt limply out of the lawman’s hands. His body went next, landing in a lump on the ground, and blood spurting from the wound in the back of his head. Dutch was stunned, as they all were.
“Who the fuck is that guy?” William asked.
Behind the lawman stood a reverend, decked out in a classic black coat and white neckerchief. Underneath his large brimmed hat was thick, wild ginger hair and a weary but anxious expression. In his hand he held a revolver, smoke steaming from its barrel — the weapon that had saved Dutch’s life.
“Thank you, Reverend,” Dutch said, voice cracking beneath his bandana as he let out a sigh of relief. “I think you just saved my life.”
“I think you were in trouble and I helped you,” the stranger replied, frowning beneath his moustache. “Doing nothin’ would’ve been wrong.”
Arthur quickly turned to the others atop their horses. “You three get outta here! We’ll make sure he’s alright.”
Needing no further encouragement, Hosea quickly guided John and Karen out of town at breakneck speeds. Maebh and Arthur sprinted to Dutch and his new friend while William quickly gathered the horses and prepared them for departure.
“Well, I doubt the law will see it that way,” Dutch said as she and Arthur quickly helped him to his feet. “If you wanna live, I recommend comin’ with us.”
“I don’t even know your name,” he replied, but followed uncertainly as they approached their horses. “And by the sounds of things, you just robbed the bank.”
Dutch was quick to mount up and offered the man his hand. “I ain’t gonna lie to you — we did just rob that bank. There will be time for introductions later though. You saved my life, and I owe you a debt, Reverend.”
Though he hesitated for the briefest of seconds, the reverend took the offered hand and hopped on to the Count. Each of them mounted up, just as more law arrived in town, this time riding on horseback. Maebh grabbed her reigns and quickly pushed her horse to follow her companions’ tail. Last to leave, she tried to stay close behind her friends as they galloped out past the town’s limits.
Up ahead, Arthur called out. “More comin’ in!”
She looked up and, atop a small hill, three more riders appeared, coming towards them with guns drawn. Dutch was on them first, taking one man down while Arthur got another in a flurry of bullets. One remained, but she steered her heavily breathing horse in an attempt to dodge the oncoming attack. Her companions sped off up ahead, the continued strain of jerky movement causing her horse to tire and slow.
They were far off when her horse cried out in pain and several bullets struck the animal. For the second time in a few days, Maebh was flung from a stallion and sent crashing into the dusty road below with some force. Her head spun and her shoulder throbbed. She breathed deep, lungs working overtime to get whatever air she could down her burning throat. Quite suddenly, her scalp stung as a vicious hand grabbed her hair and pulled her head up.
She cried out as tears built in the corners of her eyes. Through blurred vision she saw the lawman who shot her mount. Now he stood before her, his gun stuck in her face. “I got you now, you little—”
A deafening blast cracked through the ringing in her ears, and the man’s chest quite literally exploded. Blood and bits of flesh and bone struck her face, and suddenly, the pressure on her skull relaxed. With a wobble, he crashed to the ground, revealing a fuming William behind him. He sat atop his horse, shotgun in hand with a look that could kill. His piercing eyes fell on her — his only visible feature thanks to his bandana — brow furrowed so deep into his brow that it cast a shadow over his youthful face and emphasised the scar marred into his skin. He barely even flinched as he holstered his weapon once more.
“Get on his horse!” he ordered through gritted teeth by the sounds of it. “We need’ta leave now!”
Though dizzy and trying to get her breath back, Maebh listened to her brother, and quickly hauled herself on to the abandoned animal. There was simply no time to think about what had occurred — if she thought about her close encounter at that very moment, it would surely cost her her life this time around. With a glance at the dead horse and body in the middle of the road, she lurched and kicked the animal into a gallop, following her brother over a hill and out of sight as cries from the evaded lawmen disappeared on the wind.
Chapter 4: Conversing, for Beginners
The gang return to camp after the robbery in Winterset, and Maebh asks Arthur what the hell he's always writing in that 'lil book of his'.
Thank you to Spikely for leaving a comment on the previous chapter! I appreciate it a lot. She's got her own Arthur/OFC fic in the works, so check it out if ya fancy it ;) And thank you to those who left kudos too. Glad you guys are enjoying the story. Here's the next instalment.
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Further Away” — Ben Howard, “Morning” — Gustavo Santaolalla, “The Fine Art of Conversation” — Woody Jackson
Arthur had thought the bank robbery would go smoothly, so the drastic turn of events that occurred was an unwelcome one. They adapted — as they always did — but two close calls with Dutch and Maebh were not something he would ever feel ready to comprehend if the worst comes to worst. The former had merely been lucky in his escape with the arrival of a random passerby and he dreaded to think what might have taken place had the Reverend not been present. And Maebh, well… The second she fell behind and her horse lost its life, William had turned his own mount right around. It was only by the young man’s insistence that Arthur and Dutch didn’t try to assist. Instead, they waited until the siblings reappeared over the hill from a short distance away — only then did they lose the lawmen and make the journey back to camp.
Maebh looked shaken up, and Arthur couldn’t blame her. By the looks of the blood covering her fancy clothes, it had been an eventful rescue. Upon returning to camp, William was quick to help her off the horse she’d escaped on. Dutch had already called for Mrs Matthews and Miss Grimshaw to come and see that the girl was alright, but her brother looked like he would just about murder anyone who put a hand on her. It was only when he and Arthur had carried her to their tent that the latter felt the need to step in.
“You need to take a minute,” Arthur instructed him, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. He eased the younger man back a bit, closer to Hosea and John who looked on from a polite distance. “Grab a beer or somethin’.”
William stared at her while she sat on her bedroll with some effort and the two ladies began to look her over for any injuries. “How the hell can I have a beer when there might be somethin’ wrong with her?”
“What happened back there?” Hosea asked in concern. Even John looked a bit worried.
“The law nearly caught her but I shot the fucker before he could take her in. Shot her damn horse though, so she went flyin’.”
Hosea nodded, some of the worry in his expression fading away. “I know it might sound insensitive, but that’s good in the grand scheme of things. Better to fall off a horse than be shot.”
“You saved her, kid,” Arthur added. “Give yourself a bit of credit.”
“And a break.” Hosea turned and took a seat at one of the camp tables. “John, would’ja fetch us some beers? I think the kid needs it. If she needs you, William, she’ll call.”
John went to fetch some drinks, albeit it with a slightly disgruntled expression, and Arthur and William took a seat around the table. Arthur watched curiously as the kid practically refused to take his eyes off his sister in the caring hands of the camp’s two finest matriarchs. He only looked away when Bessie fetched a hot bucket of water and closed the tent off to the outside world. Soon after, John returned and handed each man their own bottle. Arthur cracked his open immediately, enjoying the taste as the cool liquid slid down his throat. After reassuring William that his sister would be alright, they descended into casual conversation, Hosea smartly steering it so that William had to speak and take his mind off things. They discussed the successful aspects of the bank robbery, including the size of the take and what they planned to do with their individual shares. Not only that, but they pondered what would be done with regards funds and the locals who might need it.
In the midst of all this, Dutch came over and briefly joined in the chatter, his jaw now swollen on one side and throbbing red. “A job well done, gentlemen. A damn fine job. It was a tough one, but we adapted just fine as always. Seems like we’re just too slippery for the lawmen in this state.”
“We certainly did alright given the circumstances,” Hosea agreed, and offered Dutch a match as he whipped out a fat cigar. “How’s that bump?”
“Could’a done without it but I’ll live.” He took a drag before turning his attention to young William. “More importantly, how’s your sister doin’, son?”
William shrugged and scratched at the short hair on the back of his neck. “She wasn’t shot at least. Mrs Matthews and Miss Grimshaw are with her now.”
“Well then she’s in the best hands we got. I’ll go pay her a visit and have any formal celebrations rescheduled to suit with whatever recovery time she needs. In the meantime, I’m proud of how strong you’ve been, William — she’s lucky to have a strong lad like you for a brother. God knows where she’s be now if you it wasn’t for your protection.”
William gave the man a nod in thanks as he left them to it, approaching the tent not far across camp. Hosea and John also headed off a little while after that, joining the others around the campfire. Arthur remained, noting how William made no move to go elsewhere.
“She’ll be fine,” he said, glancing at him from beneath the brim of his hat. “She already survived gettin’ thrown off a horse once.”
William shook his head bitterly. “I know. I know it could’ve been a lot worse like Hosea was sayin’, but it…” He hesitated before meeting the older man’s gaze. “It was a close one. It wasn’t the horse that had me worried.”
Arthur nodded in reply. “I understand. Well, I ain’t got a brother or sister myself, but I guess that that bond is pretty strong. Heck, the Callander boys are lunatics but even they got each other’s backs through the thick of it.”
“She’s all I got…” He paused, finally letting his eyes rest on his companion with a sense of finality. “I know this gang has been good to us, and we do see you lot as family to a degree, but she’s…”
When the two siblings first joined that gang, William was definitely the more standoffish and reserved of the two. It took a long time before he opened up to any degree — he was always distant, always stiff in his stance with his arms folded across his broad chest. Arthur always thought that his eyes focused not only on you, but through you, picking away at every little detail and ill thought you held in your heart. He was like a wild dog, always ready to savagely sink his teeth into your hand if you got too close. His trust had to be earned, and it had taken Mr Morgan a long time to get what little he had. But, once you had it, it was a valued asset; something to be cherished like a priceless gem. His loyalty seemed unbreakable, and just looking at the way he and Maebh were together was evidence enough of that.
“She’s important to you,” Arthur finished, then took a swig of his drink. “I get it, kid. Y’know, I’ve been in this gang for most of my life. It’s the only family I got and I’ve always seen little Johnny Marston as my brother. We might not be blood, but it still counts for somethin’.”
William nodded in agreement. “You can see that this gang is a family for those who’ve been in it for a while.”
“You’ll get there too someday; just takes time. But she’s your sister. That kinda bond is special, so you hold on to it.”
“I’m tryin’ my best to do just that.”
Arthur huffed out a snort at that. “You guard that girl with an intensity I rarely see. I fear for the man she marries.”
“Jaysus,” William sighed with an amused expression. “As long as she doesn’t marry one like Marston I won’t have’ta kill him.”
He chuckled at the notion. “Naw, Maebh ain’t dumb enough to end up with someone like him.”
As the pair shared a laugh at John’s expense, Uncle came trotting over, a beer firmly held in his grasp. “Are you two anti-socialites gonna join us ’round the fire, or what? We’re tryin’ to learn more ’bout this reverend feller.”
Arthur played dumb. “What for, old man?”
“I am tryin’ to be kind here, Arthur,” Uncle scolded him in offence. “And acknowledge a job well done on the bank! No need for your usual sour sarcasm.”
Arthur looked to William before replying, but decided to oblige after seeing no negativity in his demeanour. Though the young lad did throw a glance at his tent before following them and joining the others for a somewhat civilised drink. It was awhile later when Miss Grimshaw and Mrs Matthews reappeared with Maebh in tow. Though she was walking with a visible limp, the ladies had helped her wash all the blood and dirt off her face and got her into a fresh set of clothes. Upon seeing his sister gingerly making an entrance, William sprang up despite having consumed a few bottles in the time he’d spent with the others.
“An bhfuil tú ceart go leor?” he immediately asked in their native language — of which Arthur had yet to understand a damn word. But, judging by the kid’s gentle placement of his hands on her shoulders and the look of concern in his eyes, he could gather what he was asking.
Maebh hushed him, insistence evident in her tone, though she was smiling up at him regardless. “Tá, fan bog!”
“You nearly gave the boy a heart attack,” Hosea jested from his seat. “Perhaps you ladies should check him over now, just to be safe.”
Dutch raised his drink to her. “We’re glad you made it outta there with barely a scratch, Miss Hennigan! A true testament to your abilities.”
“Or my luck,” she replied with a shrug. “I don’t think I can take all the credit for this one.”
“Beat me to the punch,” John muttered before handing her a bottle of whiskey. “You gotta play catch up now.”
“It would be wise to take your time,” Miss Grimshaw cut in, giving Marston a look that could kill. “Don’t drink at the pace those morons already set.”
“I won’t, Miss Grimshaw. I’m still a bit sore though, so drinkin’ at a reasonable pace is the plan.”
The group cheered to that one, raising their bottles to a job well done and safe return home.
* * *
26th August, 1893, outside Winterset, Iowa
Despite the fact we had two close calls at the bank, our luck held out and everyone made it out alive. While Dutch ended up with a swollen jaw, Maebh was the one who was ordered to have some bed rest. Thankfully she seems well enough now. She was nearly captured during the escape, but William insisted on going back to save her. The passion with which he protects his sister will always astound me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really grow up with a sibling, but I’m a little jealous of their strong bond… Regardless, I can look at my own relationships within the gang to try and understand, especially my one with John. He was always like a little brother to me, even if he can grate me sometimes… Alright, maybe more than ‘ sometimes ’.
The pair of Irish orphans are something else though. I can only assume that they’ve been through quite a lot together. I’m only now suddenly realising that I don’t know much of their time before the gang. Maybe I’m overthinking things — maybe it is just because all they’ve had for so long was each other. I have to wonder whether I’ll ever know—
“Whatcha writin’ there?”
Arthur looked up from his journal to see Maebh standing at the threshold of his tent, two steaming cups of coffee in her hands. He shut the book before placing it down on his cot. “Nothin’ interestin’, I can promise you that.”
At the foot of his Arthur’s cot, Copper raised his head at the newcomer. His tail began to wag as Maebh offered the dog his own greeting.
“Whatever you say,” she replied and offered him one of the cups. As he thanked her, she took a seat on the ground. As soon as she was sat down comfortably, Copper was on his feet and plodding over to join her. She cooed at his dog and happily scratched behind his ears before once more meeting Arthur’s gaze. “All these years, Mr Morgan, and I still have no idea what in the hell you write in that little book of yours.”
He smirked at her comment. “Tell you what; maybe you finally tell me somethin’ ’bout yourself, and I can write it down in this little book of mine.”
“What you mean ‘what I mean’?”
“Are you, the mysterious Arthur Morgan, insinuatin’ that I’m the mysterious one?”
He shook his head and aimlessly scratched the stubble on his chin. “All I know is I know very little ’bout ya. I think I’ve gotten a bit more outta your brother than you actually.”
“Well,” she sighed, gently cupping her coffee in her hands while Copper laid down on the grass beside her, his furry back resting against her leg. “I don’t exactly know loads ’bout you either. So to me, it sounds like we’re mysterious peas in an incomprehensible pod.”
Arthur assessed her from his spot. She was still decorated in a few bruises and cuts from her second fall off a horse, but seemed far less stiff and sore than she had previously been. Perhaps that was something to open with, and hopefully lead into other conversation. “How’re you feelin’ after Winterset?”
She shrugged. “Yeah, grand. Could’a been a lot worse, and while I hate being segregated to takin’ it easy, I know it had to be done.”
“I don’t like havin’ to rest much either,” he agreed sympathetically. “But it’ll help you in the long run, which is important.”
“I don’t even mind havin’ to loiter ’round camp if I’m doin’ jobs and the like, but sittin’ and doin’ nothin’ drives me up the wall.”
“You seem to spendin’ most of it lookin’ after that new horse o’yours.” He nodded towards where said horse was grazing on the other side of camp. After riding it out of Winterset during the robbery, Arthur had noticed how Maebh had tentatively approached the animal the next day, probably half expecting to receive a hefty kick or bite. But the tall horse seemed surprisingly docile, instead happily accepting the attention with curious ears titled towards the new stranger. She returned again later with pats and a peach, which seemed to go down well, so Arthur saw an opportunity to quickly sketch the pair in his journal, something he never intended on letting her see.
Maebh threw a curious glance over her shoulder at the relaxed animal. “She’s a nice horse. Seems to like me a lot more than Banquo ever did. William did advise me on how to approach her though, just to make sure I couldn’t add ‘kicked in the head by a horse’ to my long list of embarrassin’ injuries…”
“She’s a beautiful animal. You gonna keep her?”
“Yeah,” she said slowly, clearly thinking it over. “I think it’s ’bout time I got a new mount. I suppose I wouldn’t be much of an outlaw without one. Maybe me and my horse can be as compatible as you and Boadicea someday.”
“If you look after her just right then it can happen. As I always say, if you look after a horse, it’ll look after you just as good.” He took a sip of his coffee before noticing that her eyes were subtly fixed on his journal, and found himself smirking at her inquisitiveness. “Still curious then?”
“Always,” she admitted and leaned forwards slightly. “I always see you scribblin’ away in that thing. I’m startin’ to think you’re writin’ the world’s longest novel.”
“I sure as hell ain’t no novel writer,” he replied, embarrassed by the insinuation. “That’s for sure.”
Her brow piqued slightly. “So if you’re not a novelist, you a playwright?”
That one made him laugh aloud. “Say that louder so Dutch and Hosea can get a kick out of it too.”
She held a hand up in mock defence. “I’m just tryin’ to cover all the options here!”
“Well there ain’t no stories, plays, or poems to be readin’ in here,” he said before gesturing to the apparently mysterious book. “Just… my thoughts really.”
The young woman let out a prolonged ‘ah’ and met his gaze. “So it’s like a journal?”
“I guess so.” He lowered his head at the admission, his rough fingers tapping on the edge on the warm cup. He cleared his throat and tried to appear casual about it all. “It ain’t nothin’ really. Just helps me keep track o’things.”
“You don’t need’ta explain yourself to me,” was her response, her tone having shifted from mild jesting to a gentle understanding. “Journals are personal things — maybe even more so than writin’ stories. So don’t worry; I’m not goin’ t’ask you to let me read it.”
The fact she didn’t tease him for keeping a journal was a small relief for Arthur. He’d previously been consumed with the worry about her thinking it was pointless or excessive, but now he merely wondered from where this empathetic awareness came. “You speakin’ from experience?”
She paused and suddenly she was the one finding the grass beneath her quite interesting. “Kinda. I used to write stories as a kid.”
Well, there was something he didn’t know about her.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by that,” he mused. “You fancied yourself a writer?”
The subject was a curious one. Her entire demeanour shifted with the mention of her old hobby. He noticed her hands relentlessly tapping on the cup, causing it to ring out in a repeated rhythmic beat. “Maybe when I was younger, not so much now.”
Over the years, they had talked of the past surprisingly little in the time they’d known each other. They knew the basics sure, but personal details in the realm of secret pastimes were few and far between. He was quite intrigued with the new information, so curiosity got the better of him. “What made you wanna be a writer?”
“I like stories,” she replied with a small smirk. “Thought you could’ve guessed that from all the readin’ I do.”
“Suppose I should’a guessed that much.”
“I’ve just... always been into readin’ stories and tryin’ to create my own when I was younger. I had an active imagination.”
Arthur thought of the times he rarely saw a book out of her hand if she wasn’t otherwise occupied with chores or drinking. “You must’ve been read to a lot as a kid then.”
The ghost of a smile passed over her lips. The movement was one he rarely saw — it was genuine, entirely so, not the same type of smile she plastered on in most group situations. Her eyes appeared glazed, as though she was somewhere far away at that very moment. “My ma and da were big into storytellin’ — my ma in particular. She used to insist that it was important we were familiar with stories of where we came from, both real and fictional. So it was normal for us to be told a story before bed each night. Somewhere along the line, I think I began tellin’ my own ones. Or trying to at least. Sometimes I just repeated her ones over and over again.”
Arthur rarely heard Maebh talk about her parents. He still didn’t know much about what happened to them or who they were. Their existence remained a mystery to him, much like their children still did to a degree. Of what little he knew, her memories of them seemed mostly fond at least. She was lucky to have folks like that, lest he thought of his own bastard of a daddy.
He sipped at his coffee, trying to waste the bitter taste off his tongue. “They sound like educated people. Your folks, I mean.”
“Not so much actually. They were just brought up in the same way and I think they wanted us to be aware of what was goin’ on ’round us.”
“Were they from Dublin too?”
As she spoke, a tentative hand ran over the back of her neck, skimming the chain of her necklace back and forth. “My ma yeah, but my da was from Connemara which is in the west of Ireland.”
He sensed that he was veering into uncertain and unstable territory. Though he was curious about her upbringing, he got the feeling that she would close off if he pushed the talk of her parents, so with a casual nod, he railed her back in. “So, you got parents who love to read and tell stories, and then you start writin’ your own... Why’d you stop?”
Her answer was dismissive, and her fidgeting hands didn’t relent with his new question. “I don’t really have time for all that anymore. Kinda busy doin’... outlaw stuff.”
He thought about her reply for a moment, then let out a sigh and tapped the leather cover of his journal. “I’ve had this here journal for just over a year now. And I had one before that, and one before that. I’ve been writin’ in ‘em since Hosea got me my very first one a couple years after I joined this gang. You just gotta make time if it makes you happy. Dutch keeps up with his readin’, John whittles in his free time, Susan always tries to have a game of poker when things get stressful, Hosea and Bessie go out on huntin’ trips to get away sometimes. Hell, I’ve seen you and William goin’ on fishin’ trips sometimes. If you like it, you gotta make time.”
She seemed to ponder his words, the tapping of her fingers slowing until they stopped. When he met her gaze, he found her watching him intently with curiously glint in her eye. She nodded slowly and then said. “I suppose you’re right. I might look into it at some point if I have the time.”
“Good. And then maybe sometime you’ll let me read the stories you write.”
She actually grinned at the suggestion and let out a laugh. “The day that happens is the day you let me look in that lil journal.” She got to her feet, coffee in hand. “I’ll leave you to your writin’, Arthur. I don’t want’a take up much more of your time.”
“Alright, well, thanks for your company, Maebh.”
“The pleasure was mine.” She reached down to pet Copper’s head. “See you in a bit, boy.”
Arthur gave her a small wave as she wandered off to the other side of camp. He watched as she was set upon by Karen and the two got into a casual conversation. Copper eyed her too, before letting his head rest one of his paws again and catching up on some shut eye.
Without much thought, Arthur grabbed his journal again and opened it on the page he had been writing before her arrival. With a slightly dull pencil, he picked up where he left off:
So, seems that Maebh used to be a storyteller. Why does that come as no surprise to me? Hosea and Dutch always encouraged that I kept up with reading and writing, though I suspect she will not need to be encouraged to stick with reading. Regardless, maybe I can help ease her back into writing if that’s what she’s passionate about. I tried to explain how important it is to have hobbies outside of the gang, but I’m not sure if my words failed me or not. I’m not the best at passionate speeches — that’s more Dutch’s job than mine. Hopefully I didn’t discourage her, at least.
Still, it was nice to discuss trivial things for once. It seems that I’ve gotten my share of personal conversations with the Hennigan siblings in the last few days. Hopefully we do it more in the future and I can learn more about these two orphans and where they came from.
Chapter 5: To Go for a Drink is One Thing
The gang head into a local town to celebrate the bank heist, but also manage to attract some unwanted attention.
Howdy! I think the story is progressing along nicely at the moment... I'm genuinely happy with the plans that are to come in the future. Anyway, hopefully you guys enjoy chapter five -- it contains some drunken cowpokes, so that's a bonus, right? Any thoughts at all, let me know. Enjoy!
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “The Railroad” — Goodnight, Texas, “Randy Dandy-Oh” — The Dreadnoughts, “Little Sadie” — Crooked Still, “Devil Do” — Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs
Evening descended upon Madison County. With the dwindling sun setting the clear sky alight with vibrant yellows and oranges, the Van der Linde gang were already cracking open some beers and celebrating their successful venture in Winterset. After her earlier conversation with Arthur, Maebh had managed to convince Dutch to let her take her new horse out for a short trot outside camp. He seemed a little hesitant, but willingly relented when she insisted she felt much better after resting for so long. His one condition was that William go with her, and for some reason she got the feeling that her brother would have insisted anyway had Dutch not suggested it.
“I’m pretty sure she’s a Thoroughbred,” William announced as he made sure her saddle was securely strapped to the animal’s back. “If I was to take a guess anyway.”
Maebh was busy brushing the horse’s dark mane and raised a brow at her brother. “How can ye tell? Cause she’s mad tall?”
“That and the distinctive brindle coat. Plus, look at her — she’s all lean muscle for racin’. You picked yourself up a beaut.”
She grinned at the prospect of owning such a lovely animal. “Guess I finally had some luck with horses for once.”
“I guess you did.” He took a step back and pulled himself up on to Banquo. “Alright, up ye get. Let’s stretch their legs a bit.”
With slightly stiff arms, Maebh managed to climb atop the mare. Once seated comfortably, she let out a breath and rubbed the side of her neck. “Maith an cailín. Let’s get you movin’.”
As they lead their horses out of camp, William called to her over his shoulder. “You got a name for her yet?”
“Well, I was thinkin’ ’bout it, and then I realised I can’t give her a simple name like Bonnie or Biscuit because she’ll be surrounded by horses called Banquo and Dantés, so that wouldn’t fly.”
“Is that a sly dig at me?”
“It’s not sly if it’s true.”
Once they reached the outskirts of camp, they lead the horses around the outer perimeter at a slow trot. Her new mare seemed easy enough to direct and tolerated her more than Banquo ever had.
“Alright,” William admitted. “I’ll give you that. What names did you have in mind for her then?”
“I’d been thinkin’,” she began. “’Bout one of my favourite stories that ma used to tell during Samhain. You remember the Dullahan, yeah?”
William eased his horse so that he was trotting alongside his sister. He seemed amused by the suggestion. “The headless horsemen? Very clever.”
“I think it suits her. And this way, she’ll be on the same level as your two.”
“I’m kinda jealous I didn’t come up with that myself...”
Maebh chuckled and looked down at her mount. “You hear that, Dullahan? I think William wants to steal you off me. Not that I can blame him.”
After a short silence, William spoke up again. “What d’you think they’d think of us now?”
Maebh turned her head to find him watching her with a serious expression. “Who?”
“Ma and Da.”
She gripped the reigns firmly in her hands as they turned over a slight bend in the road. “I think they’d be proud of us.”
“Yeah,” she answered with certainty. “I do. Think about it — did you think we’d get this far after what happened to ’em? I don’t think most kids would’ve. We were lucky enough that we found the gang when we did.”
“What ’bout all the robbin’?” he asked thoughtfully. “I like to think that they don’t mind it.”
“I’d say as long as we don’t rob the innocent, then they’re all for it. Robbin’ the rich to give back to the poor? That’s basically like all those Robin Hood stories they used to tell us.”
“You’re in my boat so.” He smiled at the fond memories, seemingly miles away in his head. “Yeah, I think we’re right; they’d be proud of us.”
“Once we don’t lose ourselves in any of this or literally lose track of how we’re survivin’, they’ll stay proud of our choices.”
They didn’t stay out riding for long. Once they had done a few laps around the outer perimeter, the horses were lead back the way they came. They returned just before nightfall, as Dutch had asked, and went to his tent to announce her return.
“How was the ride?” Dutch asked upon their return, casually smoking a cigar with a glass of whiskey in his free hand. “Any trouble?”
“Us? Trouble?” Maebh asked, feigning innocence. “No such thing.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” He stood up and pulled two beer bottles from a nearby crate and passed them on to the siblings. “How’s that new mount comin’ along?”
“She’s doin’ great,” Maebh replied, glancing over to where the horse was hitched beside their tent. “Really nice horse to ride too. I think I might actually have a name for her now.”
“Is it also somethin’ Shakespearean?”
“Nah, but it’s somethin’ Irish.”
Dutch let out a small laugh. “Well, why ain’t I surprised?”
“I’m goin’ t’call her Dullahan.”
Dutch appeared thoughtful before repeating the name himself. “Sounds like a good choice to me. Now I ain’t got a clue what it means, but I like it.”
“The Dullahan were famous horsemen from Irish mythology,” William explained between sips of beer. “Usually known for bein’ headless and ghostly. I think it suits her.”
“That it does, son. A fine choice for a fine stead. Just make sure you don’t lose your head anytime soon, Miss Maebh.”
At that moment, Mac Callander came strolling over to Dutch’s tent. He had already had a few judging by his slightly slurred speech. “We headin’ into town or what, Dutch?”
“O’course,” Dutch replied while getting to his feet. “I was waitin’ for these two to come back first.”
Maebh’s eyes lit up at the prospect. “Wait, are we finally celebratin’ the take from the bank?”
“Damn right,” Mac replied. “I’ll let the others know we’re headin’ out.”
As their companion walked away, William asked curiously. “We aren’t headin’ into Winterset itself, are we?”
“Indeed we ain’t. We’re headin’ north to De Soto instead. They got a decent enough saloon up there for such an occasion.” Dutch grinned at the siblings. “Y’all best get those horses ready again.”
De Soto, over an hour’s ride from their camp outside Winterset, was a small enough town. Only a few of them had been in and out of it in comparison to some of the other bigger places around the county. It was certainly a more practical idea to drink there instead of going back into a town they robbed mere days ago. As they arrived at the local saloon, Maebh looked on at the gang in amusement. Most of them were already half cut and singing songs as she hitched her horse next to William’s. Inside, the place was already hopping. A musician played away at the saloon piano, managing to rouse some of the more inebriated patrons into song and dance. Noisy chatter filled the room and barely any notice was taken of them as they arrived. Some of the gang including Mr Pearson, Hosea, Miss Grimshaw, and Uncle commandeered the Black Jack table while others surrounded the bar. Before Maebh could make a decision about where to go, a hand on her arm pulled her towards the bar. A slightly tipsy John Marston guided her to a small opening amongst the crowd and helped ease her to the front of the bar before standing beside her.
“It’s a tight squeeze in here,” she commented, pressed between her friend on her right and a stranger on her left. “Gettin’ drinks is gonna be a pain.”
“Whatchu drinkin’?” John asked her as he tried to count the coins in his hand with one eye closed and his tongue sticking out between his lips. “First round’s on me.”
Maebh gave him an incredulous look. “What, you dyin’ or somethin’, Marston? What’s with the generosity?”
“Guess I’m just feelin’ generous for once. That, and you nearly died a few days ago.”
“I’m only messin’,” she assured him with a gentle half hug around the shoulders even though they were already packed together like sardines as it was. “Thanks. Next one is on me.”
“I ain’t gonna refuse that.” Just then, the barman had a spare minute to take their orders. John took it upon himself to order four beers — two each — given the slightly longer wait.
She had been about to go join her brother when John struck up a conversation. “How you feelin’?”
“Much better than how I felt a few days ago,” she admitted after having a sip of her drink. “The rest did a lot for me.”
John’s brown eyes appeared focused despite the fact he was usually a massive lightweight. “I know the feelin’. I’ve gotten in and outta plenty of scraps with my fair share of knocks. Sometimes rest will do ya a world of good, even if ya hate doin’ it.”
She chuckled slightly. “I definitely hated it. So I plan on gettin’ excessively drunk tonight to make up for lost time.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” He clinked his bottle against hers and had another sup. “I intend on joinin’ you.”
“How much’ve you had to drink already?”
He shrugged. “A couple beers back at camp. Why?”
“I’m just surprised you’re not on the ground already.”
John rolled his eyes, though the small smirk on his face told her he didn’t take it to heart. Slagging him for being a lightweight was a common occurrence at that point. “You best be careful, Miss Hennigan, or I’ll drag you down there with me.”
“Always one for the dramatics—”
The arrival of William cut the conversation off. He had a whiskey in hand and a slightly sour expression as he addressed his sister. “Are you goin’ t’stay at the bar all night or come join the rest of us?”
Maebh looked at John and nodded her head towards the rest of the gang. “You comin’ to rejoin civilisation?”
“I’ll catch up. You two go ahead.”
Once more thanking him for the drinks, Maebh grabbed her beers and allowed William to usher her to a nearby table where Dutch, Arthur, and Bessie were sitting. Upon seeing the siblings, Dutch enthusiastically requested a song. The demand left no room for refusal, and when Hosea and Uncle encouraged it from their Black Jack game, William shrugged and slung an arm around Maebh’s shoulders.
He started them off with a classic their father had taught them as children. “Now we are ready to sail for the horn!”
Maebh let out a hearty laugh and joined in at the chorus lines. “Weigh hey, roll and go!”
As William took the lead, he gestured for the others to join in with whatever words they knew. It certainly wasn’t the first time they had sung this song. “Our boots and our clothes, boys, are all in the pawn!”
Bessie’s voice joined Maebh at the chorus again. “To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!”
Soon, other members of the gang were joining in, mostly with each second line, and a sing-song had well and truly started.
“Heave a pawl, o heave away
Weigh hey, roll and go!
The anchor's on board and the cable's all stored
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!
Mac appeared at the table with more rounds of beers, passing pint glasses around the group.
Man the stout caps'n and heave with a will,
Weigh hey, roll an' go!
For soon we'll be drivin' her 'way up the hill.
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!
Heave a pawl, oh, heave away,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
The anchor's on board an' the cable's all stored,
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!
Soon, the glasses Mac had provided were being used to bash the table top, keeping a steady beat as William lead them in enthusiastic song.
Heave away, bullies, ye parish-rigged bums,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
Take yer hands from yer pockets and don't suck yer thumbs.
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!
Heave a pawl, oh, heave away,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
The anchor's on board an' the cable's all stored,
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!
John appeared at the tables, rousing more welcoming cheers from them. Now with everyone joining in, the chorus reached an impressive volume, flourished with intermittent cheers and whistles between lines.
We're outward bound for Vallipo Bay,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
Get crackin', me lads, it's a hell of a way.
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!
Heave a pawl, oh, heave away,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
The anchor's on board an' the cable's all stored,
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!
Heave a pawl, oh, heave away,
Weigh hey, roll and go!
The anchor's on board an' the cable's all stored,
To be rollicking Randy Dandy-O!”
The gang cheered in delight as the song came to an end. Applause were shared as people settled into conversation once more.
“You’re quite the showman, son,” Dutch complimented young William as he downed the end of his drink. “For such a reserved and hardened criminal.”
“It takes one to know one, right?” William shot back in jest, offering his bottle up in a gesture of cheers.
Arthur chuckled. “He’s got ya there, Dutch.”
Their leader found the response amusing. “That he does! C’mon, lemme buy you another drink.”
As the pair left for more alcohol, Hosea joined Maebh, Arthur, and Bessie at the table.
“It’s far too easy to lose money on that game,” he announced as he took a seat beside his wife. “Far too easy.”
“Don’t tell me you bust out already, old man?” Arthur asked incredulously.
“No, I just have enough sense to know when to call it a day.”
“That’s certainly debatable,” Bessie argues with a wry grin. “I can remember you emptying your wallet on more than one occasion.”
“My beautiful wife defendin’ my honour as always!”
“At least we’ve got some extra cash to spend on drinks and games this time,” Maebh added with a shrug and raised her glass. “To us, for actually gettin’ away with it despite a bit of a mess.”
The four of them clinked their drinks together, a small chorus of positive responses raising above the noise. As she took a sip of her drink, she noticed Arthur sitting with a slightly sour expression at the mention of the robbery. He cleared his throat suddenly. “I gotta ask, Hosea, what happened back in the bank?”
Hosea’s brow raised slightly. “What d’you mean?”
“While we was grabbin’ the money,” he elaborated. “We come back and suddenly a lawman is dead. That ain’t exactly like us.”
“I thought Dutch said he had to do it?” Maebh said. “That our cover would’ve been blown otherwise?”
“That’s what he says.” Though Hosea was merely repeating her words, there was something in his tone that left her unsettled. “I thought there might have been another way to go about things, that killin’ should’ve been a last resort. And maybe he panicked when he saw that man sniffin’ about. He says he saw us and was runnin’ for backup. Hell, I didn’t see any of it until I heard Dutch smashin’ the window and unloading a bullet into him. Regardless of whether he shot him or not, we were in trouble the second that lawman saw what was goin’ on. About the only good thing was that he couldn’t tell his friends how many of us were involved, which helped us escape afterwards.”
Bessie chose that moment to add her own thoughts. “If he was goin’ for backup, then surely it was a case of bein’ either you or him?”
“I don’t ever agree with it unless it’s either you or the guy pointin’ the gun in your face, but trust in Dutch. I mean hell, he got us outta there alive.”
Maebh nodded her head towards Reverend Swanson, who sat nearby gulping down a whiskey. “With a little help from God.”
“I guess we also had some luck too.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to worry ’bout,” Arthur said rather dismissively. “It was a once off.”
“He ain’t steered us wrong yet,” Bessie added. “As long as we don’t start killin’ willy-nilly, we’ll be fine.”
“As long as that’s how things remain then I’m fine with it,” Hosea agreed. “No unnecessary killin’ or robbin’; we ain’t petty criminals. D’you remember what Dutch said to you when you were younger, Arthur? When you stole from that poor man’s house?”
Arthur nodded, lit himself a cigarette and then offered the box to his friends. “If we go ’round robbin’ and killin’ aimlessly, then we’re no better than the government that’s corruptin’ this land. We help people.”
“What does he say?” Maebh asked with a small laugh as she accepted a cigarette for herself. “We gotta have faith, right?”
Hosea nodded. “Exactly. Keep the faith in him and you’ll be fine. He’s a great man; one I’m proud to stand alongside.”
“You’s don’t fancy tryin’ to get out of it all again, then? I remember you told me that you tried before.”
“Ain’t no gettin’ out,” Bessie answered and placed her hand on her husband’s. “But I go where he goes. I agreed to a lot of things when I married him, and stickin’ by him through thick and thin is part of it.”
Her words had Maebh feeling curious. Her thoughts wandered to her parents and their attempted escape from a similar lifestyle. “You really think there’s no gettin’ out?”
“When you’ve been in it as long as we have, no. These old men don’t know any better. Can you see Dutch becomin’ a farmer one day? Maybe a ranch worker? Ain’t no chance.”
The notion was amusing to her, and she certainly agreed that it wasn’t a very likely future for the gang. She threw a glance in Dutch’s direction, seeing him speaking intently with William at the bar. His hand lay reassuringly on the younger man’s shoulder. Whatever they were talking about, it seemed intense.
The next time Maebh drunkenly waddled her way to the bar, she saw Marston and Davey talking to some working women. John, ever the prolific ladies man, already had his arm wrapped around one of them. Originally she had gone in search of him to pay him back with a drink, but decided to leave them to their escapades. She chuckled at the sight while asking the barman for some more beers.
“I know an Irish accent when I hear one,” a voice called from her right and she turned her head to see a man standing next to her. He nodded to her from beneath his worn flat cap. “Howiya, Miss.”
“Do I know you?” she asked as she handed the barman his money.
“No, but hopefully I’ll get to know you.” Though she didn’t know him, the stranger spoke in a distinctive Northern Irish accent.
“Oh! You’re a Paddy too.”
“Ah, see? Ye do know me, Miss…?”
“I don’t give my name out to strangers, Mister,” she replied with a wary smile. “Even if they come from Éire too.”
The man grinned at her. “Well how ’bout you let me get to know you better so I’m not considered a stranger. My name’s Pádraig.”
At that moment, the barman set down her order on the counter and Maebh noticed Arthur take up a spot on her left at the bar. She knew what he was doing — usually if she or any of the other ladies were being bothered by pushy lads, Mr Morgan was more than happy to stand somewhere nearby just in case they fancied a hand in telling them to clear off. She heard him make an order, but pretended that she didn’t know him.
She instead replied to the Irishman. “Well, aren’t you forward, Pádraig.”
“I am when I know what I want, Miss, so how much will it cost me to get yer name?”
Her brow piqued, and she could feel Arthur tense slightly behind her. “Cost?”
“Yeah. I don’t mind spendin’ a pretty penny on you. I’d say you’re up for anythin’ by the look of ye.”
A smile slowly tugged at Maebh’s lips. The man clearly mistook that for a good sign. He should have known better.
In as sultry a movement she could muster, Maebh slid up the side of the bar to stand a little closer to the clueless chap.
“Well, Pádraig,” she began, and lightly traced his clean-shaven jawline. “You really know how to make a lady blush.”
“You aren’t no lady,” he replied with a smirk, probably thinking he was about to get lucky. “I can spot women whorin’ a mile off. Told you I knew ye.”
“I uh, think you might be right. I certainly amen’t no lady.”
In an instant, her demeanour changed. Pádraig hardly had time to react before she grabbed him round the back of the head and slammed him face-first into the countertop. The crunch and cry that came from him grabbed the attention of those nearby, while some were distracted by the booming music and rabble filling the bar. The barman let out a shocked profanity as Maebh stood over the whimpering stranger. “How ’bout you clear out of here before you insult someone else with your rude assumptions, ye bleedin’ gobshite.”
Pádraig, clutching his blood-stained nose, glared up at her in anger. “You mad bitch—!”
“You heard the lady, boy!” Arthur growled, choosing that moment to take his place by her side and send the man a look that could kill. “Get the hell outta here!”
Now everyone in the saloon had noticed the ruckus, setting down their drinks to see what might happen next. Dutch got up from his seat at the table, silently backing up his gang by placing a hand on his holstered pistol. William stood too, entirely ready to defend them if needs be. A man she presumed to be a friend of Pádraig hurried to his side and helped to haul him to his unsteady feet.
“Hey!” the barman exclaimed as he pointed a finger at the pair. “I thought I told you lot to stay outta my establishment!”
“Leave it, right,” Pádraig’s companion urged him. “Let’s go!”
“I’ll get you back for that,” the injured man sneered as he allowed himself to be dragged out of the saloon. “Mark my words!”
“Proddy bastard!” Maebh called after him with a glare.
As the two men left the building, slowly but surely the music began to play again and people returned to their earlier conversations. It was right back to business.
“You okay?” Arthur asked her with a small smile on his.
“I’m fine,” she replied before looking back at him. “What’re you smilin’ at?”
“Just replayin’ how you broke that bastard’s nose in my head. I found it quite amusin’.”
Knowing he was getting a kick out of the confrontation, Maebh couldn’t help but smile too. “He definitely deserved it, right?”
“O’course. He needs to learn when to shut his damn mouth.”
“Right then, I don’t feel as bad about it now.”
“But I gotta ask… What the hell is a proddy?”
From his spot behind the counter, the barman cleared his throat to gain their attention. “No more fights in my saloon, please. I don’t want no more trouble in here effecting my business.”
“I can assure you, Mister,” Arthur began, holding up his hands. “We won’t bring no more trouble ’round. That feller was insinuatin’ some nasty things to the lady.”
“It won’t happen again,” she added, seeing the man frowning at them from beneath his bushy beard. “We can promise you that.”
“Good, I appreciate that. Now go make sure your friends behave.”
On that note, Marston and Davey appeared before her. They wore visible frowns, and the former was the first to express his displeasure. “Our company up and left thanks to your brawlin’.”
Arthur rolled his eyes and clasped his belt buckle in his hands. “You mean your expensive company? I doubt you’re missin’ much.”
“They was company no less, Morgan.”
“That they was,” John grumbled, looking rather unamused. “Thanks for the damn help, Hennigan. It’s not like I was tryin’ to get my frustrations out or anythin’.”
“A few more nights of your hand won’t kill ye,” she replied dismissively. “And knowin’ you, you’ll find more willing women in the next town over.”
Despite his threats, Padraig and his friend didn’t return to the saloon that night. With a brawl avoided, Dutch’s boys continued their celebrations and drank into the early hours of the morning. When they were finally forced to leave, they slowly stumbled out into De Soto’s streets and regrouped. Somehow, Maebh and John ended up in a harmless scuffle, which is turn led to William giving her a jockeyback, while Arthur did the same with John. They ended up drunkenly wrestling in these positions, with the loser being the first one to fall from their partner’s back. The whole thing had been hilarious in their drunken stupor, and it was only broken up when Hosea reluctantly got involved and said they needed to return to camp. While John tried to get down without falling flat on his face, William let Maebh stay where she was, and opted to carry her to her horse. In the haze of clambering on to Dullahan’s saddle, she caught a glance of Dutch speaking to a woman she didn’t recognise. She wasn’t entirely surprised to see him placing a kiss on her knuckles — he and Miss Grimshaw had called it quits last year, and though they had remained on good terms, Dutch’s didn’t stop his womanising ways. Though it was difficult for her eyes to focus, she seemed to be a pretty blonde, closer in age to Arthur than herself. She watched as Dutch saw her off and she rejoined the small group with whom she had come. Though unusual to see women in saloons at that time of night, she wasn’t surprised that Dutch had seen an opportunity to talk to a beautiful lady and subsequently taken it.
The ride back to camp was filled with singing and people nearly falling off their horses on to the dusty road below. Thankfully there were no injuries and everyone made it back in mostly one piece. On the outskirts of camp, people were either rearing for more alcohol, or already half passed out and ready for bed. Maebh, however, was dying for the loo.
“Anyone else need to take a leak?” she asked the group as she brought Dullahan to a stop. “I’m burstin’.”
“I do,” Karen replied in a slur and nearly stumbled off her horse. “Gotta make room for more beers.”
John’s face wore a drunken smirk. “I think I’ll join you ladies in the bushes.”
The statement earned him a smack around the back of the head from William, who glared at him from atop Banquo. “Ye will in your hole. Get t’fuck into camp, you.”
“Little Johnny Marston!” Karen teased him as he rubbed the back of his sore head. “Ever the ladies man!”
Maebh handed William her horse’s reigns while Mac grabbed Karen’s and the two stumbled off into the nearby bushes. Together they squatted amongst the shrubbery, and Maebh began to regret her decision to wear trousers instead of a skirt.
Around them, the small thicket was alive with whatever nocturnal animals made this spot their home. Above them, owls hooted and crickets sang their own tunes in response. The wind had died down, causing the leaves to lightly rustle every now and then. In the moonlight, it was difficult for either of them to see very far ahead. Even still, the night was calm and the atmosphere relaxing.
“I think John might’ve been comin’ on to us,” Karen pondered casually as they were left alone. “That boy is one messy drunk.”
Maebh shrugged as she finally relieved some pressure on her bladder. “He doesn’t mean anythin’ by it. I’m pretty sure he’s just desperate for his hole after I ruined his chances with yer wan.”
“I saw that! Jeesh, how’re you after breakin’ that fellers nose?”
“I’m grand. He was bein’ a right prick, if I’m honest.”
“I heard. Arthur told me he deserved it for bein’ a little shit. You know we always have each other’s backs in those nasty situations.”
“Thankin’ you. And if Arthur says that, then you know it’s bad—”
Maebh’s reply was cut short. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” she asked as she pulled her trousers back up. “All I can hear is you pissin’.”
“I thought I heard a twig snappin’,” Karen replied as she too stood up. “I’m sorry — the beers are gettin’ to me. I had way too many…”
“I’m sure it was just a racoon or somethin’.”
“Or maybe it was John comin’ back to try his luck?”
Maebh let out a barking laugh at the suggestion and slowly began to make her way back to camp in Karen’s company. “If that’s the case then I’m makin’ a run for it now!”
“Ugh, I ain’t able to run,” the blonde grumbled and linked her arm around her friend’s. “You can’t leave me out here while I’m drunk and sleepy.”
“I think we best get ourselves to our bedrolls.”
The women went back to camp with empty bladders and full intentions on going to sleep. But, Karen’s resilience broke as soon as Uncle offered her another beer, and suddenly Maebh was being dragged back into the throng, a whiskey finding its way into her hand. Yes, she had definitely planned on retiring to her tent and trying to sleep off the copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed, but her gang mates were bursting into song and dance yet again, and as Mac Callander pulled her into a jig around the campfire, suddenly rest was the last thing on her mind. She was more than happy to stay up with her friends and see the sun rise to begin a new day.
Chapter 6: Violent Delights
A valued possession goes missing from camp, and Arthur involves Maebh in a robbery he and Hosea have planned.
Hullo, another chapter coming at y'all. It's a long boah, so hopefully you's enjoy my seriously excessive chapters. Thanks to Kimberley for leaving her thoughts on the last chapter, and to those who subscribed and left kudos! I appreciate it a whole bunch.
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Tyrants” — Catfish and the Bottlemen, “Too Dry to Cry” — Willis Earl Beal, “First Apparition” — Jed Kurzel
30th August, 1893, outside Winterset, Iowa
It’s been a few days since our night in the De Soto saloon, and I think everyone has finally recovered from their hangovers. Surprisingly so, our new friend, Reverend Swanson seemed to have it worse than all of us. I suppose I shouldn’t make assumptions based on his profession, but I was still surprised to see him struggling for a few days…
Today, Hosea and I plan on robbing that homestead in Norwalk, just outside Des Moines. It’s a big house on the northern side of town that’s apparently used by rich folk who holiday there. They’re usually rich folks who own tonnes of livestock that are getting transported across counties for selling and such. Karen heard that the current residents have been there a while because they’ve been selling and buying livestock around the area, so they’re sure to have cash on them. Hosea thinks it’s a good opportunity to make some money, and I’m more than happy to help him out. He thinks we might need another set of hands for the job just to be safe, and I think I’ll suggest we take Miss Hennigan along. She hasn’t been on any jobs since her accident at the bank, so maybe this will help her get back on her feet.
* * *
“Marston! Did you take my pocket watch?”
At the sound of William shouting across camp, Arthur looked up and shut his journal.
John sat by the campfire eatting a bowl of stew for lunch. “What?”
William stood over him, hands on his hips and his expression beyond frustrated. “My pocket watch — did you take it?”
“No, why would I do that?”
“If you’re lyin’, this isn’t funny.”
“I didn’t take your damn watch, Hennigan!”
Sensing that a brawl was possibly imminent, Arthur strolled over to the pair. “What are you two yellin’ about?”
“I can’t find my pocket watch,” William explained with visible irritation. “I tore my tent apart lookin’ for it all mornin’.”
Arthur frowned and scratched at his bearded chin. “The silver one?”
He nodded. “I can’t find it anywhere. I thought Marston might’ve taken it.”
“Why the hell would I do that?” John asked defensively.
“’Cause you love to do my head in.”
“Well, I didn’t take it. Just buy yourself a new one in town.”
“It’s my da’s,” William said through gritted teeth. “I can’t just replace it.”
At that revelation, John shut his mouth and said no more. This was clearly something dear that the kid held close to his heart, and Arthur wasn’t about to let him get upset and anxious with its absence. Though he knew next to nothing about their parents, he gathered that this wasn’t something William could forget about. “This watch… It must mean a lot to you then, kid.”
“When do you last remember havin’ it?”
“I definitely had it when we went to town yesterday… I can’t remember if I had it on me last night.”
John quickly finished his stew and then got to his feet. “C’mon then. We can go into town and see can we find it. You comin’, Morgan?”
“I would, but I’ve got some work to do with Hosea.”
“I guess it’s just me and the kid then—”
“Again,” William cut in. “I’m only two years younger than you. If I wasn’t grateful for your help, I’d eat the head off you for that comment.”
“Let’s just get goin’.”
“See,” Arthur said with a small smirk. “You two can be nice to each other!”
He watched the two young men mount up and head on out of camp to go in search of William’s most prized possession. He shook his head in mild amusement as they continued to bicker as they rode away, and headed over to one of the camp tables where Hosea was sat with a number of plans laid out before him. They greeted each other as Arthur ran his eyes over the paper sheets.
“You ready for tonight?” Hosea asked.
“Ain’t I always? It’s been a while since we robbed a homestead.”
“That it has. It’ll be a refreshin’ change. Any ideas for who you want to bring along?”
Arthur hummed as he pulled out a cigarette. “I’ve been thinkin’ maybe Maebh would be a good addition. I know she’s been lookin’ for work since recoverin’ from the bank.”
Hosea grinned at the suggestion. “Good idea, Arthur. Why don’tcha ask her to join us?”
Taking a drag off his cigarette, he looked over to the food wagon and saw said addition chopping vegetables and plopping them into the stew pot. “Maebh! You free?”
She looked up at his call and gave him a thumbs up. “Fan nóiméad!”
Having been around the Irish siblings for a few years, he was able to understand some of the phrases used in their native language, so he waited patiently while she washed her hands and joined them at the table.
“How’re you feelin’, Miss Maebh?” Hosea asked and looked at her from beneath the brim of his stalker.
Maebh brushed her brown hair out of her face and replied. “With regards the hangover or the fact I love fallin’ off horses?”
“The horses mostly… You feelin’ fully recovered?”
“Yeah.” She paused and then nodded at the older man. “I think I’m finally feelin’ like my old self now.”
“In that case, fancy robbin’ a homestead with us?”
Her eyes darted between them, and Arthur couldn’t help but grin at her enthusiasm. “Uh, yes please! You sure you’s want me in on this?”
“Of course we are,” Hosea answered without hesitation. “You gotta get back into earnin’ your keep and you’re exactly the woman we need on this job.”
His admission actually had her smiling ear to ear, a rare sight that Arthur hardly witnessed. Full toothed grins were usually reserved for William, but he was quite happy that he could be part of bringing such an expression to her youthful face. “Count me in then.”
Hosea gestured for her to take a seat, ensuring that the three of them were huddled together at the table, peering over some of the plans and maps Hosea had laid out. Right away, he got to filling her in about the job. He pointed to a photo Arthur had snapped of the residence. “We’re robbin’ a house up on the northern side of Norwalk. It’s used by rich folk for holidayin’ and as somewhere to stay when sellin’ livestock across counties. The railroad that swings through town brings the livestock to various markets and farms. Karen did some investigatin’, and heard that its current guests have been there a while. They’re also attendin’ a party in Des Moines tonight, so the house will be empty.”
“Damn,” Maebh sighed. “That’s perfect. How long have you’s been scoutin’ this place?”
“’Bout a week or so. We’re takin’ our time and tryin’ to play our cards right. We’re just lucky that they happen to be headin’ out of town for a bit.”
“Right. So what exactly is the plan of action?”
Hosea pulled a small map of Norwalk closer and pointed to the location where the house resided. “What we’re thinkin’ is, the folks will be gone at around eight o’clock or so. I say, we hide in the bushes here next to the house, and then, once they’ve gone, break in through the side door. I stay on lookout while you and Arthur scour the house for any valuables. It’s a big enough place, so two pairs of hands will get us in and out faster.”
“Sounds good to me, fellas. What time do we ride out?”
“It’s roughly a three hour ride, so Arthur suggested we head out at four and then grab somethin’ to eat in Norwalk. That gives you plenty of time to get yourself organised.”
“Great,” she said and got to her feet. “I’ll go get myself sorted then. Thanks for askin’ me along for the fun, lads.”
“Our pleasure, Miss Hennigan,” Arthur replied and tipped his hat as she walked away. He turned to see Hosea smirking at him. He took another puff off his cigarette and raised his brow. “What’s that look for?”
“It was nice of you to ask her along. Some people would be hesitant involvin’ her when it’s her first job since the bank. I get the impression she was a little worried ’bout not bein’ included or lettin’ people down. I think your offer just boosted her confidence.”
Arthur cleared his throat, feeling his cheeks warm at the compliment. “It ain’t nothin’, Hosea. The kid needs to get back on her feet and it’s our job to look out for each other — you know that.”
“Oh, I do.” He began to fold up his plans and stood as he continued. “You like to play the part of the brooding gunslinger, Arthur, but you like to help people where you can.”
The man’s accusations had Arthur staring at his feet with surprising concentration. “I think you’re gettin’ a little delusional in your old age, Hosea.”
“And I think you act dumber than you really are.” Without another word, Hosea left Arthur to his discomfort and made his way to join Bessie by the fire. Arthur watched the couple for a moment, a tiny part of him envious of their connection. His mind wandered to thoughts of Mary, of Eliza and Isaac.
He had never taken compliments well — nor did he ever expect to in the future. As far as he was concerned, they were all carefully woven lies, holding no truth or accuracy to his true character. He was an outlaw, a gunslinger, a bad man by all accounts who robbed and fought to stay alive. Dutch would always insist that they were the ones truly living, but he feared society would never see him as anything else other than a criminal. Regardless of that, the gang’s code always justified his actions with the end goal being to help those who truly needed it. He gazed once more at Maebh in her tent as she went through her belongings.
Huh, maybe Hosea wasn’t too far off the mark…
* * *
Later that afternoon, John and William returned from town. Arthur knew immediately by the look of displeasure on the latter’s face that they had not managed to find his pocket watch. He was brushing Boadicea when John approached him. “Can I ask a favour, Morgan?”
“That depends on what the favour is,” he replied and looked at him suspiciously. “Whatchu want?”
“Got a piece of paper I could use?” he asked. “And a pencil? I figured you would be the right man to go to.”
“Sure I do. But you gotta tell me why you need ’em first.”
John sighed in defeat and shrugged. “I just wanna write Maebh a note.”
Arthur immediately let out a howling laugh. “Oh, I didn’t peg you for the sort to write love letters, Marston!”
“It ain’t no love letter!” he replied defensively, looking around camp to see if anyone had heard the outburst. “Look, I just picked up somethin’ for her in town and wanted to leave it in her tent with a note. I owed her a favour. That’s all.”
“Right, right,” he hushed him and reached into his satchel for his journal. He carefully tore out a page and handed it to his friend, along with a pencil. “Calm down, I’m only needlin’ ya.”
“Some pack is shy a damn joker,” John muttered and squatted by a nearby crate to write his note. Arthur returned his attention to his horse, though he noted that the familiar noisy scribbles of lead on paper hadn’t yet begun. He glanced at the younger man, seeing him staring at the piece of paper in confusion.
Arthur let out a sigh. “You don’t know how to spell her name, do ya?”
“It’s an odd name, okay,” John replied, though his face blatantly showed his embarrassment as he looked up. “I ain’t never met someone called Maebh before and it’s not like I can speak Irish… D’you know how to spell it?’
“Sure.” Forcing himself not to smirk, Arthur nodded and gestured for him to write as he spelled it for him aloud. “It’s M-A-Y-U-V.”
John wrote it down and then looked at the page for a moment. “You sure that’s right?”
“Yeah, Marston. The U is silent.”
“It looks sorta… weird.”
“Well the Irish are a weird bunch.”
“Right,” he mumbled and quickly continued the rest of the note while Arthur turned back to Boadicea and tried not to laugh. “Thanks, Morgan.”
Arthur dismissed his thanks as the younger man headed back into camp after returning the pencil to its rightful owner. Not long after he’d left, Maebh and Hosea appeared, all geared up and ready to go.
The trio set off, horses moving at a comfortable trot in the humid afternoon. While the weather slowly became wetter and windier the further they travelled, they were wrapped up well for the journey. Upon arriving in Norwalk, Arthur gazed around the new town. It was small, with a population of only a couple hundred, but a homely looking saloon on its main street grabbed their attention. After braving the rotten weather, a hot meal helped to lift their spirits and the heat of the saloon’s fire assisted in drying their clothes. With eight o’clock getting closer, they mounted up once more and travelled to the outskirts of their target. Hitching the horses a safe distance away, they snuck up to a group of bushes located beside the house. The gang mates weren’t hiding for long when the couple residing within came outside, dressed to the nines and ready for an evening of excessive wealth and glamour. Arthur frowned as they climbed into a waiting coach and left.
“Did you see the size of that fella’s top hat?” Maebh whispered, eyes wide. “I’ve never seen somethin’ so excessive in my life!”
“We did tell you they was wealthy,” Arthur replied, watching until the coach disappeared around a bend in the road. “What did you expect?”
“Well I certainly didn’t expect that.”
“Right, they’re gone,” Hosea announced and lead the way as the three of them approached the building’s side door. “You know the drill — I’ll keep watch and you two grab what you can. Remember, no killin’ unless you’ve no choice.”
Arthur pulled out a pair of heavy duty pliers and quickly snapped the door’s lock. “Got it.”
Maebh nodded as she gripped the hilt of her hunting knife. “Any other residents we should look out for?”
Hosea shook his head. “Just a cat as far as our information says.”
“Grand. After you, Mr Morgan.”
Arthur led the way as requested, keeping low and entering the fancy house as quiet as he could. Hosea remained in the doorway while they found themselves in a large washroom of sorts. They moved stealthily through another door and into a long hallway.
“Okay,” Arthur said in a hushed voice. “You search down here while I look upstairs. Come up when you’re finished.”
“Yes, sir.” With a nod, she slunk off into the nearby sitting area and he scaled the excessively extravagant staircase to the landing. At the top, he noted five doors to choose from and, knowing that there wasn’t much time to consider his options, got to searching through them as quickly and quietly as possible. He grabbed whatever he could — trinkets on shelves, bottles of unopened bourbon and rum, loose change, money clips, jewellery — and stuffed it into the bag he carried over his shoulder. In a room he assumed to be an office, he searched through the desk drawers and found some more money, along with bonds in relation to livestock and a couple of business related letters. He noted details they could use for possible future robbers if needs be, and found himself grinning at the possibilities. They had really struck gold with this lead.
After going through a study, a fancy bathroom, and a bedroom, he eventually arrived at the master bedroom. Upon opening the door, he was greeted with the sight of a ginger cat sitting atop a large bed. They stared each other down for moment, before the cat eventually looked away and returned to licking its paw.
“Hey there, kitty,” Arthur greeted the animal quietly. “Don’t mind me — just stealin’ from your owners… Not like you give a shit.”
He worked his way through the cosy room, going through drawers, wardrobes, and cupboards in search of anything useful. An extensive jewellery collection had him grinning like a moron, as well as a number of Cuban cigars. As he reached one of the bedside tables, the cat seemed to take a curious interest in him. It proceed to rub its head along his outstretched arm, purring contentedly. Seeing no harm, he gently scratched its head.
“Arthur?” he heard a low voice call from the hallway and answered to let Maebh know where he was. Upon entering the bedroom, she smiled at the sight before her. “Hadn’t pegged you for a cat person.”
“Ah, I don’t mind cats or dogs,” he admitted before returning his attention to the drawer’s contents and pointing to the right side of the room. “Help me take a look ’round. I ain’t checked that side yet.”
She got to work, rooting through a large chest of drawers for anything they could sell.
He noted the size of her own bag and asked. “You look like you found enough.”
“Oh definitely,” she replied. “These people have way too many things. There was a whole cabinet of fancy alcohol down there.”
“Well, don’t tell Karen or the Callander boys that,” he joked. “Or we’ll never get to taste it ourselves.”
“Better safe than sorry.” There was a short silence between them before she continued speaking, though her tone had shifted slightly from its previously jesting manner. “I, eh… meant t’say to you. Thanks for askin’ me to come along on this job.”
He turned his attention away from the chest he was ransacking to look at her. She had her eyes fixed on a fancy hat before she met his gaze.
“Don’t mention it,” he replied. “I knew you’d be a helpful set of hands for it.”
“Well, thank you. It’s just…” She sighed and shoved the hat into her bag. “When you’ve been out of action for a bit, people can be hesitant ’bout involvin’ you in important work. I’m just relieved you don’t think I’m a liability, or somethin’.”
“O’course I don’t think that,” he reassured her, shutting the chest and moving to the other bedside table. “No one at camp thinks that neither.”
Her tone was enough for him to understand that she was indeed a bit worried that her fellow gang members were worried about her abilities. He had to remind himself that she was still young and learning and — though he knew little of her upbringing — hadn’t been living this life anywhere near as long as he had.
“I’m sure.” He looked at her earnestly. “Look, Maebh, we all mess up sometimes. It’s part of the job. All you can do is learn from it and try not to do it again. I think you’re bein’ too harsh on yourself anyway. Keep workin’ hard and you’ll be fine.”
She restlessly picked at her palm and offered him a genuine smile, much like the one he had witnessed that morning. “Right, well, thanks for the reassurance, Arthur.”
He gave her his best attempt at a smile and went back to searching in the other bedside table he had yet to empty. Though he felt her eyes on him, he kept busy, cursing himself for being so awkward when it came to conversing with women in most regards. He hoped he at least hadn’t made himself look like a fool. Really he just hoped that she did feel a bit better about her capabilities…
He aimlessly picked up a letter within the top drawer just so he had something to stop himself from acting like an ass. He read its contents before realising that this actually was something that could be exceedingly useful.
“I think I found somethin’,” he announced. “C’mere.”
Maebh approached him quickly, looking over his shoulder at the letter in his hand. “What ya got?”
“A letter,” he explained, then finished reading it, and handed it to her. “Addressed to the husband’s brother. Says somethin’ ’bout a train full of rich folk comin’ through here in September.”
She studied the parchment and her eyes narrowed in thought. “That’s about two weeks from now. Sounds like a lot of money travellin’ on one train.”
“And that railroad runs right through some mighty quiet country…”
She grinned mischievously at the suggestion. “Arthur Morgan, I think you might’ve struck gold.”
“Maebh Hennigan, I think we may have. Let’s get outta here.”
Having cleared the room, they quickly headed down the stairs with their bags weighing heavily on their shoulders. The ginger cat watched them leave before returning to its relaxing slumber.
They rounded the stairs and reached the hall just as Hosea’s hushed voice warned them from his spot by the side door. “Take cover! The husband is back!”
“Wait, what?” Maebh said, looking at the door as Hosea closed it and hid from view.
“Awh shit—!” Before Arthur could comprehend any plan of action, the front door rattled as a key announced the return of the house’s occupants.
They were currently standing in the centre of the front hall, completely out in the open and resembling sitting ducks.
Without warning he grabbed Maebh by the arm and pulled her into the darkened corner beneath the staircase. He found himself shielding her frame as she was pressed into the wall, and look of surprise covering her face. At that moment, the door opened with a ominous creak. She looked up at him with wide eyes, but he merely placed a finger on his own lips. Choosing not to risk having a peak just yet in case it compromised them, Arthur placed his hands on the wall either side of her as they squeezed themselves into the safety of the darkness.
His heart pounded in his chest as he heard the husband mutter under his breath. “That woman and her damn shawl…”
Footsteps sounded on the wooden flooring and Arthur used them to judge just how near or far the man was. He could feel anxious energy seeping from Maebh and noticed how she was cautiously gripping the hilt of her sheathed knife. Ever so carefully, he peered slightly around the stairs and saw the man impatiently grabbing a scarf from the coat rack next to the door.
“I have it, darling!” he called to his wife before rolling his eyes, muttering something about her constant forgetfulness, and storming out the door. He slammed it shut, once more leaving them alone in the large house. Arthur took a step back from her and heaved out a relieved sigh, just as she did the same. He attempted to clear a lump that had formed in his throat, hyper aware that he just all but shoved a young lady — his friend no less — into a dark corner in an unfamiliar house and forced his way into her personal space. He probably made her severely uncomfortable in the brief moment that the husband had returned.
You goddamned idiot, Morgan, he thought, rightly scolding himself for being such a damn lout. She ain’t no delicate flower, but why do you insist on bein’ such a heavy-handed fool? Thank God you had a damn bath yesterday, lest you make the girl suffer even more.
“That was close,” she mused. “We would’ve been done for if you hadn’t’ve pulled us under here.”
He was quick to wave off her thanks. “I think we’re in the clear now at least. Sorry for uh, manhandlin’ you.”
She let out an amused chuckle at his apology, causing him to frown. “You’re grand. If you hadn’t manhandled me, we’d probably be fleein’ from the law right now. I’d rather you did it again instead of leavin’ me to get caught.”
“Okay. Just wanted to make sure.”
She placed a gentle hand on his bicep and gave it a reassuring squeeze before releasing him again. “For future reference, I’d much rather you reef me under a staircase than leave me to fend off some rich bloke who has an unhealthy obsession with overpriced gin.”
He chuckled awkwardly and fixed his eyes on his boots. “Duly noted, Maebh.”
Before she could offer a response, the side door swung open, revealing a worried-looking Hosea. “You two alright?”
Arthur nodded and the two quickly walked to the washroom to join him. “We’re fine, but it was damn close.”
“Sorry for not givin’ you much of a warning. I didn’t hear them comin’ back until he was walkin’ up the path.”
“It’s fine, Hosea,” Arthur reassured him. “He didn’t see nothin’ and I think we might’a gotten ourselves another job outta this too.”
“Well good work then, you two. C’mon,” Hosea urged, ushering them out the door and into the night once more. “Let’s get outta here before someone sees us.”
Arthur breathed in deep as they left the uneasy atmosphere in the house behind. The cool air filled his lungs, relaxing his heart that was still beating irregularly after their close encounter.
Close in every sense of the word.
He slung his bag full of valuables over Boadicea and hoisted himself into his saddle just as Hosea offered them both a compliment for a job well done and a confrontation thankfully avoided. He tried to banish any worries from his mind that he may have made his friend uncomfortable with his recklessness as they began the long ride home. He guessed he would simply have to take her word for it and ignore the nagging thoughts in his tired head.
* * *
It was late at night when Maebh arrived back at camp. John welcomed them as he stood guard, and Arthur and Hosea lead the way up the dirt path to the tranquil little encampment. The latter offered her some small words of encouragement as they hitched their horses and left them to enjoy a well-deserved rest. She thanked him for bringing her along before then thanking Arthur for having her back as always. He left her with a tip of his hat and a wish that she slept well.
Her legs stung and ached from the lengthly ride home as she quietly entered her tent, seeing William already passed out on his bedroll. She had fully intended on following his lead when something on her pillow caught her attention. She gently placed her loot bag on the ground, stooped down, and picked up a small object wrapped in a piece of paper. She slowly unwrapped it, careful not to make too much noise, and discovered a chocolate bar. The gift was a thoughtful one and she originally assumed that William had left it for her until she read the piece of paper it had been wrapped inside:
I heard you
complaining saying to William about how you would ‘murder some chocolate’ this morning. Figured I would pick this up for you while I was in town today. Consider it a thank you for the bottle of bourbon you got me.
The gesture, though small, warmed her heart a little — more than she would probably admit to John’s face. He was right though, as she had been doing William’s head in about craving chocolate that morning before he realised his pocket watch had gone on the hop. It was commonplace within the gang to leave people gifts as favours and the action never failed to bring her a little bit of joy. It was the simple things in life, she supposed. She was even willing to overlook the complete bastardisation of her name because well, no one here spoke Irish other than her and her brother. At least he tried.
Grabbing the chocolate and a bottle of bourbon nicked from the house in Norwalk, she exited the tent in search of John. Though the entirety of camp had gone to bed, his tent was empty when she checked.
He’s probably still on guard duty, she mused and proceeded to head down the path to the outskirts of camp. She spotted John sitting against a tree in the darkness, smoking a cigarette and looking rather bored. Though he clearly didn’t hold much interest with guarding camp, the carbine in his hand was still ready should anything occur.
“Mr Marston,” she greeted him, her feet crunching on the leaf-covered ground already announcing her arrival.
He gave her a nod before tossing his cigarette on the ground and snuffing it out with his foot. “Miss Hennigan. What you still doin’ up?”
She took a seat next to him. “I got your gift and wanted to say thank you.”
He shrugged it off. “I owed you for that bourbon you got me anyhow.”
“And I got you that ’cause I owed you for those drinks in De Soto.”
“I guess we’re just gonna keep owin’ each other shit then.”
She popped open the bottle of whiskey before agreeing. “I guess you’re right. Drink?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, taking a large swig from the bottle before handing it back to her. “That’s the stuff.”
She followed his lead and drank, enjoying how the liquid warmed her up and burned her throat in the most pleasurably of ways. “We nicked this from the homestead in Norwalk. Place was swimmin’ in drink.”
“So it went well, I’m assumin’?”
“Very.” She unwrapped her chocolate bar and plopped a square into her mouth before offering him one too. “We have lots to sell and lots to give away. Arthur found some info ’bout a train too that looks promisin’.”
He took the square and gave her a curious look. “A train?”
“Yeah, full of rich fellas passin’ through some quiet country. It’s askin’ to be robbed really.”
“Can I have in on that?” he asked, eyes wide at the prospects.
“I’m sure Dutch’ll want you in on it anyway, Marston, but I’ll put in a word anyway.”
“Consider it a thank you for the chocolate,” he joked and took the whiskey to drink some more. “You owe me now.”
“Ah, while we’re on the subject of that.” She lowered her voice and leaned in as if she had a precious secret to share with him. John took the bait and met her halfway. “M-A-E-B-H.”
He blinked in confusion. “What’s that?”
“How you spell my name. I’ll give you credit for tryin’ anyway.”
“For Christ sakes...” John frowned and wiped a hand over his flushing face. “I’m gonna kill Morgan.”
Putting the two together, Maebh started to laugh. “I should’ve known he was involved in this. That makes it even funnier.”
“You said B-H?” he grumbled, looking baffled. “How does that even work?”
“It makes a V sound in Irish,” she explained, unable to stop smirking at his amusing confusion. “If you think that’s difficult, you’re in for a shock with some of the other words. I feel like you should understand this as a Scot.”
He looked back at her with an equally sour and embarrassed expression before suddenly his eyes drifted over her head. They settled on something that caused him to start. He immediately heaved himself upwards, pulling her up too, and shoved her behind him.
“Who’s there?” he called out into the darkness, the repeater now aimed at something unseen in the distance.
Baffled, Maebh followed his line of sight and finally laid eyes on that which had startled him.
“You see him?” he questioned her under his breath. “Up on the ridge?”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah, I see him.”
Up on the small ridge that circled around part of the camp’s outskirts stood a lone figure. It stood motionless, standing over them without offering a name or an explanation of why the hell it was watching them. The light of the moon shone over the tall shape, who she assumed to be a man based on its stature, but the darkness made it impossible to accurately identify it beyond being human. It was rare that she felt intimidated by others, but a cool shiver ran up her spine at the sight of this stranger. Her hand shook as it hovered over her pistol’s grip.
As the silence between them stretched out, John’s husky voice broke it once more. “Identify yourself, mister, or I’ll shoot!”
She could feel him staring at them, apparently unfazed by the threats.
“Go wake Dutch,” John ordered her, not taking his eyes off the apparition. “Tell him we got some son-of-a-bitch who thinks he’s funny.”
“Will you be alright?” she asked, already backing away down the path.
“Yeah, just go!”
Without another word, she sprinted back to camp. Her heavy footfalls pounding on the grass while she hoped Marston could handle the mysterious man alone. She called out Dutch’s name, rousing half the camp from their slumber with her unconventional arrival.
Outside of said man’s tent, she caught her breath. “Dutch, we’ve got a situation.”
Suddenly, the tent’s flap pulled back and a half asleep Dutch appeared before her, wearing a pair of pants over his union suit. “What is it?”
“There’s some fella wanderin’ ’round outside camp,” she quickly elaborated as Hosea and Miss Grimshaw appeared with their guns in-hand. “Marston has a gun on him, but he won’t leave or announce himself. He told me to come get you.”
The more she spoke, the firmer Dutch’s expression became. He quickly wrapped a large arm around her shoulder and offered some comforting words. “Alright, Miss Hennigan. You did right to come wake me up.”
At that, Arthur, William, and Davey joined them and the former asked with a tired voice. “What’s all the hollerin’?”
“We got someone snootin’ ’round outside camp,” Dutch said before addressing Maebh once more. “Did you get a look at him?”
“I didn’t ’cause he was standin’ on the ridge and hidden in the low light. Ah Jesus, Dutch, it’s really bleedin’ odd. He was just standin’ there. Didn’t say anythin’ or do anythin’. He was like a damn ghost.”
Dutch’s brow furrowed deeper. “If this son-of-a-bitch thinks he’s bein’ funny, he’s in for a rude awakenin’. I ain’t got no time for jokers who wanna intimidate my family. Hosea, Arthur, you come with me while we confront this visiter. William, Maebh, and Davey, you three guard camp and wait for us to come back. We clear?”
With unanimous agreement, Dutch quickly shoved on his boots, grabbed his pistol from his bedside table, and stooped back out into the night air. Before he got very far — barely even passed his tent in all honesty — the usual crunch as his boots met grass was interrupted with an odd metal clank. He halted in his steps, the others pausing with him. Maebh eyed him, fully expecting for him to simply ignore what he had stood on and continue with the pressing task at hand.
“Dutch?” Hosea urged him gently, but the man didn’t budge from staring at his feet. He bent down slowly and picked up what which he found in the grass. His silence was deafening, but enough for Maebh to know that whatever he found had left him somewhat troubled.
“This wasn’t here when I went to sleep,” he muttered, staring at the object shielded within his large palm. “I would’ve seen it.” He looked at William and quietly asked. “Did you put this here, son?”
“Put what, Dutch?” William asked, visibly perplexed. “Why would I leave somethin’ outside your tent in the middle of the night?”
“Did one o’you leave this here?”
“No one left anythin’ there.”
His reply was met with silence and Maebh gave Arthur a skeptical look before the man repeated his name, just as a silver chain fell from Dutch’s hand, dangling and shimmering in the dim moonlight.
William gave a start, already knowing what he had found before Dutch held up his hand, revealing a much-sought after missing pocket watch.
Chapter 7: The Luck of the Rebels
Arthur and co begin to plan the train heist, and the Hennigans bump into a familiar face from their past.
Howiyas! I wanted to say massive thank you to the influx of comments received on the last chapter. It is much appreciated and it was a pleasure to read your thoughts with regards all the dramatic goings on in the Van der Linde gang. I hope you's enjoy this next chapter, which also contains some more of the Irish language as a thank you to fellow Irish-pal hiberniaa. I hope you enjoy more of our lovely siblings ag caint as Gaeilge, agus go raibh míle maith agat, mo chara! ;)
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Let Me In, Heathcliff” — Ruth Barrett, “Mo Ghile Mear (with Sting)” — The Chieftains, “The Rebel Soldier” — Craig Duncan, “We Hear Them Talking” — General Vibe
Maebh found herself waiting uneasily with William and Davey in camp, eyes focused on the trail down which their companions had disappeared. While Davey asked her questions about what the hell her and John had seen, William remained eerily quiet, attention seemingly drifting between the visitor and the pocket watch in his hand.
She eyed him up and down, already knowing that his mind was going a mile a minute. “When did you lose the watch again?”
“Yesterday or last night,” he murmured, studying his possession carefully. “I’m not sure which.”
“Dutch didn’t break it, did he?”
He shook his head. “Nah, I think he just caught the edge of it with his foot, but it’s still tickin’ away.” He paused and then shoved it into the pocket of his jacket. When he spoke again, his voice was accompanied by a slight growl, unnerved with the unusual developments. “I definitely would’ve noticed had it been dropped outside his tent.”
“And if not you,” Davey began, eying the tree line. “One of us would’a noticed if it’s been missin’ that long.”
Though they were each clearly coming to the same conclusion, none of them seemingly wanted to say it aloud. Maebh sighed and quickly lit a cigarette, opting for any sort of distraction from the uneasy truth — someone had most certainly placed William’s watch outside Dutch’s tent. They wanted it to be found. And, lo and behold, on the same night when John spots a ropey figure sneaking around outside camp.
Hearing footsteps coming down the path, Maebh raised her head to see Dutch and Hosea returning. If their scowls were anything to go by, the probably didn’t find the person who was messing with them.
“You catch that fucker?” Davey asked, ever the optimist.
“No,” Dutch answered. “He was gone before we even arrived, but John was pretty insistent ’bout what he and Maebh saw. Arthur is gonna stay with him for the rest of the night, as am I, just in case that fool comes back.” His eyes drifted to William, who still wore a frown, deeply accentuating the scar running through his brow. “I believe you when you say you didn’t leave your watch there, William. It ain’t like you.”
“One of us would’ve noticed the watch sittin’ there for an entire day,” Maebh added, standing close to her sibling. “Especially if we’re always walkin’ in and out.”
“Right you are, Miss Hennigan. It doesn’t add up.”
Miss Grimshaw, who took it upon herself to explain to the other confused gang members what exactly was going on and why their sleep had been interrupted, returned with a double barrel shotgun in hand. “What’s the plan, Dutch?”
“Arthur, John, and myself are gonna stay on watch for the night while the rest of you get some sleep. It’s been a long evenin’.”
“You need an extra gun?”
“Sure, if you’re willin’. Ain’t no harm in it, I guess. But four is enough. Off to bed with the rest of ya.”
Had the events of that night not transpired, Maebh would have been excited to finally rest her eyes after a long and tasking day. And yet, when she went to her tent, she found it difficult to drift into sleep with the knowledge that someone had somehow invaded the only place in America where she and her brother felt safe. At least she could have some solace with him by her side.
* * *
3rd September, 1893, outside Winterset, Iowa
We haven’t seen hide nor tail of our camp intruder since Maebh and John’s run in outside camp. Though four of us remained on guard duty that night, he never came back, nor did he come back any night after that. There’s a tense atmosphere around camp, and while he is usually resilient, young William seems angry that someone could invade his personal space and steal something he held so dear. He is more inclined to go on guard duty now, and volunteers for anything that involves keeping an eye on camp. Probably wants to murder the bastard himself before anyone gets a hand in...
The train heist couldn’t be coming at a better time. Dutch seemed excited at the prospect of another good take and, after selling off some of the stolen goods from that homestead to a poor community outside Des Moines, more money couldn’t come at a better time. We could do with some new supplies, and god knows Pearson could do with some fresh meat or herbs or something . He wants me and Maebh to lead with this one considering Hosea is taking another lead and Bessie has come down with something. We’ve also brought in William and Marston for the job, with Karen on standby incase we need an extra gun to be on the safe side. It seems promising, and we could use some good news.
While John does some investigating about a plan of action and the local law, I’ll be heading over to Saint Charles to have a word with a friend of Trelawny’s about that train. After that, we need to discuss how we plan and stopping the thing without hurting any innocent folks…
* * *
Shutting his journal, Arthur yawned and got to his feet. As he put his hat on and strolled out into camp, Dutch approached. “Good mornin’, Arthur.”
“Mornin’, Dutch,” he replied with a little nod. “You seem in a good mood this mornin’.”
“That’s because it is a fine mornin’, son.” He waved a long arm around camp, the gang working away in the bright and warm day. “A fine mornin’!”
“Should be nice to ride to Saint Charles in this,” Arthur added, taking an apple out of his satchel. “After the weather we’ve had lately.”
Dutch began to walk with him over to the stew pot where Susan and Karen were already standing drinking their morning coffee. The two men poured their own cups as Dutch continued on. “I actually wanted to talk to you ’bout that. I’d like you to bring the two Hennigans along with you.”
“I think the young feller needs to get out for a bit,” Dutch elaborated. “He’s been on edge ever since his pocket watch was found — we all have. He needs a good distraction. And Miss Maebh, well, you know they’re attached at the hip.”
Arthur nodded his head in agreement, munching away on the fruit. “Sure, Dutch. What about Marston?”
“Everyone else is workin’, so I’ll go over any information he gathers. I got the Callander boys out on a lead with Karen, and Hosea is lookin’ into the next place we can move to if we need it. He’d rather stay here with Bessie on account’a her bein’ a lil sick.”
Arthur had a sup of his coffee and asked. “You got any plans today?”
“Bar helpin’ John, I’ve a woman I need to visit.”
Arthur couldn’t help but smirk at his mentor. “That girl from the saloon? You don’t waste time.”
“You gotta live life to the fullest, Mr Morgan. That and considerin’ we haven’t seen nothin’ ’bout that stranger since the other night, I don’t mind leavin’ camp for a few hours. Miss Grimshaw said she’d rather stay here to keep an eye out too, which gives me a chance to woo the lovely Annabelle.”
“Then you might as well live life to the fullest,” Arthur chortled, mirroring his previous words. The pair chatted casually over their coffee for a while more before Arthur went off to find the Hennigans. At Swanson’s suggestion, he found them a little while down stream, fishing together in an attempt to replenish food supplies. They sent him some enthusiastic greetings as he approached.
“Are you finally takin’ me up on my fishin’ offer, Arthur?” Maebh asked. “Or you here for somethin’ else?”
“Here for work,” he explained, noticing how they already had a few fish caught in a bag sitting on the shoreline. “If you two wanna get outta camp for the day.”
William’s brow piqued. “I think you know the answer to that.”
“Is this ’bout the train?” Maebh replied.
“Oh, then we’re definitely comin’ with you!”
Arthur waved them after him. “Well c’mon then. Drop those fish off at Pearson’s wagon but bring one or two along — we can eat ’em on the way to Saint Charles. We mount up in ten.”
The siblings obliged and William slung the bag over his wide shoulders. With the fish delivered to a satisfied cook, the siblings soon met Arthur by the horses with some supplies for the day packed and ready for the short trip. It was thankfully quicker than the previous one Arthur and Maebh had ventured on with Hosea. They took a break on the outskirts of town to cook up some of their earlier catch. As they always were when in the other’s company, the siblings seemed in high spirits, joking and telling Arthur a story about learning how to fish as children.
“Da was adamant that we learn how to fish,” Maebh continued on as she ate the last bite of crispy fish meat. “Says we need’ta learn how to fend for ourselves and all that, right? So usually William takes to this stuff like a fish outta water — always got on with horses, always did great breakin’ ’em, was a natural at huntin’ and skinnin’ — but for some reason, this was another story. Da is teachin’ us how to cast and I do okay — it lands in the water as far as my little arms can send it. But William wants to cast his even further. So he whips it back as hard as he can, and flings it forward. We look up, only to see Da’s hat that he left sitting with our gear caught on the end of the line and goin’ flyin’ into the lake. Every time we went fishin’ after that, he would clutch his hat on top of his head and stand as far away from William as possible.”
The story gave Arthur a good-natured chuckle. “Well now I know where you two get your sense of humour from.”
“Our parents were both pretty sarcastic,”William agreed. “As is most of Ireland, I’d say.”
“How did you end up in America?” he asked with curiosity. “From how y’all talk about Ireland, it’s obvious you miss it.”
William threw his sister a glance before she answered. “The British didn’t exactly make it an easy place to live. There was fightin’ left and right so our parents thought it’d be easier to raise us here.”
“I ain’t gonna pretend like I know a lot ’bout Irish history, but I get the impression y’all ain’t fond of the English.”
“We don’t dislike all of ’em,” William added, though his tone was severe. “But their soldiers have been killin’ our people for centuries. There were people campaignin’ for home rule before we left, and when the bill didn’t pass, our parents left with us on a boat bound for New York.”
Arthur nodded along, eager to hear more of their time back home. Bar the usual exclamations about ‘the feckin’ Brits’, he rarely managed to get any information involving their mother and father. He knew nothing of Home Rule, he knew nothing of the British, but why would he? The only bit of education he received from the Hennigans was the fact the Potato Famine wasn’t technically a famine…
“So what, the Irish was tryin’ to rule themselves instead of havin’ the British rule them?” Arthur scratched at his chin in thought. “Seems like a good thing to fight for.”
“Course it was,” William agreed. “You lot had your own war with them too, sure.”
“I gather from your passion that your folks were patriots too?”
There was a short silence around the campfire and for a moment Arthur was worried he had overstepped with an apparently simple question. While Maebh remained silent on the subject, William replied carefully. “Yeah, they were a pretty patriotic pair if I’m honest.”
At that, the conversation dwindled and Arthur seized the moment to get to his feet. “We should, uh, pack up and head into town.”
The brother and sister followed his lead, quickly helping him put everything away and the trio were soon making their way into Saint Charles.
Leaving their horses hitched outside the local post office, Arthur addressed them both. “Okay, so from what Trelawny told us, the clerk who works behind the desk in there is crooked for the right price. We’ll go in and have a chat with him but you two leave the talkin’ to me.”
“You gonna charm him, Morgan?” William asked as they strolled towards the building.
“I ain’t no charmer, but I sure as hell know how to be a scary son-of-a-bitch.”
As they scaled the wooden steps up to the post office’s front door, Arthur spotted a man sitting on a bench outside with his eyes trained on them. At first, this older man made him wary, but as the stranger folded up the newspaper he had been reading, a wide smile covered his plump face.
“William Hennigan?” the man said, his eyes wide in astonishment. “Tusa atá ann nó a bhfuil mé ag taibhreamh? ”
Arthur was dumbfounded and, before he could offer to cover up their identities, William stopped in his tracks and asked his own question. “An tUasal Ó Murchú?”
“Bhí a fhios agam gur tusa a bhí ann!” he said delightedly as William approached him for a friendly handshake. Only then did he notice the woman in their company. “Agus tá Iníon Maebh anseo freisin!”
“Buíochas le Dia,” Maebh exclaimed and offered the old man a warm hug. “Shíl mé nach bhfeicfinn tú arís. Conas atá tú?”
“Táim ar fónamh, táim ar fónamh!”
Arthur stood awkwardly on the sidelines as an apparent reunion took place with an old Irish friend. He watched his gang-mates, unsure as to whether he should introduce himself or leave them to a private exchange. While he bided his time, he looked this new man up and down. By his clothing, Arthur assumed he was a trader or farmer of sorts. He looked old enough — perhaps older that Dutch — with his greying hair and beard, and a heavyset frame. He was a big man in both weight and height; the kind of person William usually would have called a ‘big, mean-lookin’ bollocks’. Despite the fact he looked as though he could squash a man by sitting on him, the smile he wore seemed to never fade as he greeted the siblings and rambled on excitedly in their native tongue.
As Arthur looked around helplessly, Maebh suddenly remembered his existence and placed a hand on his arm. “Ah, Jesus, tá brón orm, an tUasal Ó Murchú. This is our friend, Arthur Morgan. Arthur this is an old friend of ours from Wisconsin, Mícheál Ó Murchú.”
Using what little Irish he had managed to remember, Arthur shook Mícheál's hand and offered him an unsteady greeting. “Dia duit, Mícheál.”
Maebh appeared somewhat surprised while Mícheál let out a laugh. “Dia is Muire dhuit, Arthur. An bhfuil Gaeilge agat?”
Arthur paused for a second before shaking his head with a laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid that’s all the Irish I got.”
“When did ye learn that?” Maebh asked, smiling broadly.
“Picked it up from listenin’ to you two. It’s ’bout all I could manage.”
“Sure it’s better than nothin’!” Mícheál replied in an accent almost as thick as his frame. “Sure look, a friend of the Hennigan kids is a friend of mine.”
“Mícheál was our old neighbour back in Wisconsin,” Maebh elaborated, smiling at the memory. “We met him on the boat over here. Owned a ranch up the way with his wife and son.”
“Ah,” Arthur drawled. “So you were tryin’ to get away from the English too?”
“Too fuckin’ right I was! That shower o’bastards took my land and didn’t they only go and reject another Home Rule bill yesterday.”
“I saw,” William grumbled with his arms folded across his chest. “All those governments are the same. Too busy steppin’ all over common folk to sort out any messes.”
“Usually the government are the ones causing ’em,” Arthur offered. “Though I can only speak for the American government in that regard.”
Mícheál gave him a friendly but hefty clap on the shoulder. “Here, I’m sure these youngins have eat your ear off enough that you know all ’bout na Sasanaigh back in Éire.”
“They may’ve mentioned it once or twice,” Arthur joked. “It’s been an educational experience.”
“Those kinda people have a lot to answer for” he growled before his expression turned solemn. The air shifted and Arthur had been confused with the sudden tension as Mícheál placed a hand on William’s shoulder. “I thought you too had been killed after I heard what happened to your dad. It was only when I saw the wanted posters did I know you’s had survived.”
Arthur shifted on his feet, unable to contain his interest in the change of conversation as the old friends caught up. Maebh glanced at him uneasily and he took that as a queue to take a few steps back. Though he gave them a little bit of privacy, he still heard the conversation as it continued on in their native tongue.
“Níor thug siad rogha dúinn, Mícheál,” Maebh was saying in a hushed whisper. “Fágadh amhail marbh muid.”
“Tá a fhios 'am,” Mícheál replied, sounding like he was trying to calm her. “Ní raibh mé ag súil le haon rud níos fearr . A leithéid de sprionlóir!”
“Ní féidir le duine ar bith a fháil amach cá bhfuilimid,” William chimed in. “Táimid ceart go leor, ach má fhaigheann an rialtas amach cá bhfuilimid, déanfar muid a mharú.”
Arthur looked at them over his shoulder as Mícheál nodded firmly. “Is binn béal ina thost!”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Arthur cut in before pointing to the post office. “I’ll head inside and get that letter sorted while you three catch up, alright?”
“Sure thing, Arthur,” Maebh replied with a grateful smile. “Take your time.”
And take his time he did.
The clerk was, as Trelawny promised, more than happy to provide some information in exchange for a few dollars. He casually scribbled down the trains exact course and its scheduled times between stops. Thankfully, the lead became more and more promising with each new piece of information gathered. Sometimes these things turned out to be dead ends and he had certainly experienced his fair share of those. With a nod to the clerk, Arthur headed back into the cool morning air and saw that his companions still stood talking with the old man. Hugs were shared, by the looks of things they were parting ways. He met Maebh’s gaze and gave her a shrug, hoping that she understood his hesitance to interrupt. While her green eyes studied him intently, she held out delicate a hand to him, a gesture he took as a signal to return to the group. He awkwardly held her small hand in his and allowed her to gently pull him back into the fold. Despite the initial contact, he hadn’t been prepared for her to loop her arm around his in an affectionate manner.
“Thanks for that, Mícheál,” she said, switching back to a language he could understand. “You always were a good man.”
The old Irish man grinned beneath his thick white beard as he fitted a flat cap on to his head. “You’s two know more than anyone that this world can be a cruel one. We have to stick together if you want to make it outta here alive, isn’t that right, Mr. Morgan?”
“It sure is, Mr. Ó Murchú,” he replied, hoping that he hadn’t butchered the man’s last name with his inexperienced tongue. “You gotta be loyal to what matters.”
“You’s found yourselves a fine friend here, pháistí. A feckin’ fine friend indeed. Take care of each other and you know where I am if you’s need me.”
They exchanged their goodbyes, and soon Mícheál was ascending his wagon and rolling away with a casual wave. Arthur watched him go, noting the slightly despondent look on the siblings’ faces. “Y’all alright?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Maebh answered, still hanging on to his arm. “We’re good.”
“Guess we weren’t expectin’ to see him ’round here,” William offered measuredly, eyes fixed on the now distant figure. “It’s been four years since the last time.”
Unwilling to push them to talk about it if they weren’t comfortable, Arthur gave Maebh’s arm a gentle tug. “How ’bout we head back to camp then? I got all the information we need for the train.”
The siblings readily agreed, though their demeanours were far more reserved than they had previously been on arrival. He walked to their horses, half expecting for Maebh to release her hold on his arm, but instead she casually strolled arm in arm with him. The intimate gesture made his cheeks flush but he kept his mouth shut, sure that if she was uncomfortable she would have no problem with telling him to go away. As they reached her mount, Arthur released her arm and offered her a helping hand up on to Dullahan’s back. He knew she could get up on her own — this wasn’t something he doubted — but after escorting her along, it seemed like the polite thing to do. As she took the hand he offered in hers, he swallowed thickly and helped to hoist her upwards. Once she was safely seated, he hurried himself to his own saddle and kept his gaze on anything but her. Thankfully, it seemed like her thoughts were focused on other things. Unfortunately, he couldn’t help but focus his on the words Mícheál had uttered that he did manage to understand. He had, not by their choice, discovered some small things about Maebh and William’s upbringing that they clearly didn’t want anyone at camp knowing. At first he was uncertain as to whether he should be suspicious or worried. He had his own secrets for his own reasons, so maybe he shouldn’t be surprised that they too held untold stories close to their young hearts.
Mícheál had been correct about one thing — the world was a cruel, cruel place, one in which everyone seemed to have pasts that haunted them or hidden skeletons they could never forget.
They rode back to camp in a mostly silent and somber atmosphere, unsaid words and admissions held on tied tongues. In saying so little, they had said a lot. Arthur could only hope that some day they would trust him enough to share their undeserved burdens through honest conversation. Then, perhaps, he too could share his own.
* * *
Back at camp, Maebh was leading Dullahan along to graze with the other horses. Their trip to Saint Charles had gone well with regards the intention of gathering information. The run in with a ghost from their past, however, was unexpected. Still, she didn’t have much time to ponder the encounter before Dutch had called the three of them over to talk details.
Inside Dutch’s tent, John Marston sat over a bunch of papers, clearly in deep thought.
“Don’t think too hard there, Marston,” William said as he arrived. “Your brain ain’t used to that shite. It’ll explode if you push it too hard.”
“Fuck off, Hennigan,” John replied gruffly, clearly unamused. “Do you ever shut up?”
William paused, letting the silence hang. “Are you flirtin’ with me?”
Arthur let out a laugh while John nearly snapped the pencil he was clutching tightly. Dutch, sensing the ensuing argument, interrupted. “John, why don’t you update them on our plan before a fight breaks out in my tent?”
“Right.” He cleared his throat and began to address the group. “We’ve been thinkin’ ’bout how we’re gonna actually go about robbin’ this train. We was throwin’ some ideas together when I suggested the best way to go ’bout it would be to get ourselves on that train.”
“Whatchu mean ‘on it’?” Arthur asked with a thoughtful expression.
“We goin’ t’jump it?” Maebh added.
John shook his head. “We’re goin’ as passengers.”
“Hold on. You want us—” She quickly gestured between the four of them. “—to go as passengers on a train full of rich lads? Us?”
“We don’t exactly look like high caliber posh people, now do we?”
William scoffed. “Speak for yourself.”
“All we need to do is get cleaned up and buy some fancy clothes,” John insisted. “With Trelawny’s help we can tickets off that crooked clerk you met today and hop on the train before it heads through the quiet spot. Then, once it passes through there, we’ll start the robbery. We’ll have two in the first carriage and one at the back. One of us is goin’ to go dressed as a worker so they can get to the driver and force him to stop the train. This way, we got everythin’ covered. Get in, stop the train, rob ’em, and get out.”
“So what you’re sayin’,” William began slowly. “Is that we’re goin’ in undercover and we have’ta pretend to be snooty rich pricks? Like actors?”
In a rare show of enthusiasm, the young Irishman clapped his hands. “Right, I’m in.”
“That’s actually not a half bad idea, Marston,” Arthur admitted, looking happy with the day’s work. “You’re gonna need a serious bath though.”
“You’ll all need serious baths if you’re gonna pass for those kinda rich bastards,” Dutch cut in, giving John a supportive squeeze of the shoulder. “You all did great work today — really great work — but we’ll get into specifics later. Go get somethin’ to eat and rest your feet awhile; you all earned it.”
Maebh was soon sitting at the campfire with William, forcing herself to eat Pearson’s leftover fish stew. They had been visibly uneasy since their encounter with Mícheál. He was the first person they had seen from their old life in Wisconsin and they were hardly expecting to see him in a different state altogether. He was nice enough to let them know where his new homestead resided outside Saint Charles and, while she was uncertain about visiting, William seemed fond of the idea. Perhaps at some point they would pay him a call for old time sake. He had always been a good man. Even their father used to trust him enough to take care of her and William when he wasn’t around.
Still, Arthur being there was an unfortunate circumstance she wished could have been avoided. What she and her brother had done was something she hoped he would never discover. Yes, they were outlaws and yes, they had probably done bad things themselves, but this was something that could bring more trouble on to the gang than necessary. As long as they never returned to Wisconsin, perhaps the confession could be avoided. The pressure that remained on her shoulders was constricting and weighed heavier today once Arthur had heard things she wished he hadn’t. She could only assume that William felt the same way.
Noting that the Reverend was sitting nearby, flicking through his bible, Maebh muttered to her brother in their native tongue. “Are you alright after earlier?”
He looked at her and replied in an even tone. “I suppose. It’s a bit of a weird one. It was nice to see Mr Ó Murchú, but I’m worried Arthur might be suspicious ’bout what he heard.”
“Me too,” she admitted. “It definitely would’ve sounded ropey to him.” She paused, finishing the last mouthful of her meal and placing the bowl and spoon on the ground. “I know it’s probably a stupid idea, bu I wish we could just, I dunno, talk to someone ’bout it.”
“That’s not stupid. It’d be nice if we could considerin’ it’s a weight that’s constantly there whenever Dutch talks ’bout loyalty…”
“If you had to tell one of ’em, who would it be?”
William’s brow furrowed, his deep scar highlighted in the light of the fire. “Hosea, Dutch, or Arthur if I’m honest. You?”
“I’d be happy to talk to Hosea or Dutch ’bout it, but not Arthur.” When he gave her a look of scepticism, she shook her head. “It’s not that I don’t trust him, but I’d be more worried ’bout him not trustin’ us as far as he could throw us afterwards. Whereas Dutch or Hosea might give us the benefit of the doubt.”
“Right, right,” William mumbled in understanding before releasing a sigh. “I get that. He’s been very good to us. I’d hate to see him put off by all those goings on.”
“Arthur is a good man to have on your side, so I aim to do very little in life to upset him. Y’know who might be good to talk to as well? Mrs Matthews.”
The idea grabbed William’s full attention. He wiped his beard and mouth with the back of his hand and dumped his bowl inside hers. “That’s actually a good shout.”
Mrs Matthews and Miss Grimshaw were definitely the matriarchs of the camp. They were always there to help if someone came back from a job injured, and always there to scold someone for not pulling their weight. While Miss Grimshaw was the type of person to blow off the kneecaps of someone who threatened you, Mrs Matthews was the type to embrace you afterwards and say you’ll be alright. They had both taken care of Maebh after the robbery in Winterset and while William was always there to help, sometimes friends with a more feminine touch were greatly needed. If there was someone she felt wouldn’t judge them, it was Bessie Matthews.
“Might be worth chattin’ to her and Hosea,” she suggested, nodding to the pair sitting off in their tent. “We don’t even have to get into specifics if we don’t want’a.”
After a moment’s contemplation, William clasped his hands together. “Suppose it’s worth a shot.”
He got to his feet and offered her a hand up. After leaving their bowls by the wagon, the pair strolled over to the tent where the older couple sat together, Hosea grounding up some herbs in a mortar while his wife read a book. She had a thick woven blanket wrapped around her shoulders, so Maebh assumed she was still feeling a tad under the weather.
“Knock, knock,” she said casually and waited outside. “Evenin’.”
Hosea looked up as they announced themselves and offered them a warm smile. “Ah, my favourite Fenian rebels.”
“Mind if we come in? Hopefully we’re not disturbin’ you’s.”
“Not at all! C’mon, take a seat.”
Maebh and William took him up on his offer, sitting themselves beside the laid out bedrolls. William eyed the older woman with concern. “How’re you feelin’, Mrs Matthews?”
“Not so bad,” she replied, sitting up sightly so that she could properly chat. “Feeling a little better than I did this mornin’.”
“Nothin’ a little ginseng can’t fix,” Hosea added, gesturing to the leaves he was grinding up. “This stuff is great when you’re under the weather. If you two ever happen upon some of it in your travels, bring it to me and I’ll show you how to make some health cures.”
“Cheers, Hosea,” William replied gratefully, looking at the mixture. “I’ll be sure to pass it on if I find some.”
“How did you two get on in Saint Charles today?”
William remained silent and allowed Maebh to take the lead with this one. “Good. We got all the information we needed from the clerk and it looks like Marston came up with some decent ideas for the heist while we were gone.”
“So it was a productive day all around then,” Bessie said with an encouraging smile. “I’m sure it’ll go off without a hitch.”
“What brings you two to our tent, then?”
Keeping a close eye on her brother, Maebh answered. “We were actually wonderin’ if we could talk to you’s a’bout somethin’ more personal...”
Though the statement would probably bring a small sense of anxiety to most people, Mrs Matthews only offered an encouraging smile. “Of course. You know that you two can always come to us about anythin’, m’dear.”
“I dunno,” Maebh muttered. “We weren’t sure if we could come to any of you’s ’bout this.”
“It can’t be that bad,” Hosea said assuredly. “You two are in a gang fulla outlaws and orphans and folk who ain’t known nothin’ other than how to load a gun.”
“We understand that everyone probably has their own skeletons in their closet,” William said, adding his own two cents. “But ours won’t do us any favours.”
Bessie placed her hand over his in a comforting manner. “If it’s somethin’ weighin’ down on you both this much, then I’d rather you let it out. A guarantee you’ll feel better for it.”
“And we won’t see you as any different,” Hosea agreed, encouraging the discussion. “We’ll listen and help however we can. “Don’t you remember how Dutch and I met in the first place? A pair of hucksters tryin’ to rob each other, caught red handed, and y’know what we did? We laughed and shook hands.”
“And are you forgettin’ how they found Arthur and John?” Bessie said. “John about to be hanged for robbin’ a homestead and Arthur a petty criminal who would have no problem cavin’ your head in. Both only kids, but we took ’em in and tried to help. John had already murdered a man when he was only eleven years old. Do you really think we’re gonna look at you two any different?”
“All I know is,” Hosea began, mirroring his wife’s positivity. “That in the three years since you’ve joined this gang, you’ve both pulled your weight and done whatever you could to help the cause. You’ve no problem volunteerin’ for jobs or huntin’ to keep supplies up, and the bond you two share has only strengthened as time passed. You’ve both gelled right into the group and made friends that you trust to have your back. Regardless of what you tell us, we ain’t gonna suddenly turn ’round and erase the good years we’ve had.”
“He really has a way with words, don’t he?” Bessie chuckled and looked fondly at her husband.
Maebh looked to William, whose eyes conveyed the comfort he felt with regards telling the couple what they had done to wind up in such an unfavourable situation. With his permission, she took a deep breath and began telling their story.
Together, under the watchful gaze of two helpful elders, the Hennigans told all about their past discretions and how they came to be found robbing a risky stage in the middle of Wisconsin. Across camp, another pair of eyes were studying the youths carefully. Arthur sat atop his bunk, journal in hand and pencil scribbling away in an attempt to capture the scene. Ever the artist, he studied their expressions so that he could try to recreate the different emotions crossing their faces with lead on paper. He was unsure as to what the conversation had been about, but he could tell from the outside that it was something rousing a level of seriousness between the siblings. If he was to take a guess, it might have been about the unexpected encounter earlier that day.
Unable to do much else about it, Arthur sat and he drew, spending more time on capturing Maebh than the others. With careful strokes, he placed her profile on the page. Her eyes came next, then her thin nose, and rapidly moving lips. He didn’t notice how much time he’d spent on her before moving on to the others, but it seemed necessary. He felt that words weren’t enough to capture the range of emotions being expressed within the tent and the apparent story he couldn’t hear being shared. The beauty of the moment was something he wished to see and relive whenever he flicked through the pages of his journal. Whatever they had been through, he dearly wished to capture it.
Arthur took care in recreating her, more than he ever realised in the moment.
Chapter 8: A Blight for the Ages
Josiah Trelawny returns to the Van der Linde gang with supplies for the train heist, and Maebh quietly contemplates where Arthur goes on his lengthly trips away from camp.
Another chapter for y'all to (hopefully) enjoy. It is a little bit lacking in Arthur but he'll be back in the next one, I promise! Also, oh my, we made it to 500 hits! That is a number I never thought we'd get to, considering I'm just shook people are reading this at all haha As always, thank you to the readers/kudos givers/commenters/etc. You's make my day, fellers.
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Little Lies” — Fleetwood Mac, “My Sweet Love Ain’t Around”— Hank Williams, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” — Nirvana
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
5th September, 1893, outside Winterset, Iowa
A couple of days have passed since Maebh, William, and I headed into Saint Charles to get information for the train, and a couple days since they bumped into an old friend. I enquired after Mícheál (and how to spell his name) this morning over coffee. According to Maebh, they met him on the ship that brought them to America. His land was bought out by the British and he was given the choice to either leave or be shot dead. It’s not like he had much of an option. After meeting on the ship, he bought a new farm not far from their own, meaning that they saw him regularly growing up. Now he owns a farm a couple miles outside town and invited them over for tea whenever they wanted to see a familiar face and catch up. It would probably be good for them to do just that — maybe speaking their own language and reliving fond memories with an old friend would be a welcome break from stealing and shooting.
Today, we got plans. Trelawny is due to swing by after being away for a while. Apparently he was contacted once Marston and Dutch has settled on a plan of action for the heist. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how that goes. I also have to leave tomorrow to pay Eliza and Isaac a visit before we take on the train. It’s going to be a busy few days…
* * *
Josiah Trelawny’s arrival was always something that brought with it a flamboyant and grandiose flair. He could disappear for months on end and still somehow have everyone happy to see him upon his return. He was also the only one in camp who got away with this manner of living. Arthur supposed it was because he always brought useful leads and ideas with him. That, and he was a great connection for them to have. They wouldn’t have been able to do many of their heists without his intel and input.
So, when the luxurious man rode into camp, Arthur shouldn’t have been surprised to see him carrying a large sack of what he presumed to be helpful contents.
“Good to see you, Arthur!” Trelawny greeted him as he strolled up to Dutch’s tent. “And you as well, Dutch.”
“Josiah,” Arthur nodded in return. “It’s been a while.”
“I suppose it has.”
“A while or not,” Dutch began, offering the newcomer a cigar. “You’re always welcome, my friend.”
Trelawny accepted the cigar with a grin and proceeded to light it. “Such hospitality from a band of filthy degenerates!”
Dutch chuckled. “We may be filthy, but we ain’t degenerates.” He was quick to call John, Maebh, and William over to join them.
When the trio approached, Trelawny greeted them with enthusiasm. “My, you three have gotten so big since I last saw you.”
John was quick to defend them. “We ain’t kids.”
Josiah only offered sarcasm in return. “A pleasure as always, Mr Marston. I am merely stating that you were all smaller the last time I saw you.”
“It’s only been a few months,” William responded, though he greeted the man with a firm handshake. “Relax yourself.”
“Young William! Good to see you!”
“Took your time gettin’ back to us,” Maebh teased him. “Welcome back.”
“And Miss Maebh,” he said, taking her hand. “It is good to see you, dear.”
When he placed a kiss on her knuckles, the young woman only laughed. “Relax with the charm for a sec — you only just got back.”
“Why’d you call us over here anyhow?” John asked with a frown. “To flirt?”
William gestured to his shirt collar. “If you’re dyin’ for Trelawny's attention, you’ll have to undo some of those buttons first.”
“For clothes, son,” Dutch replied. “New clothes for the four a’you.”
“Wait,” William cut in, smiling slightly. “Are they new clothes for the heist?”
“As sharp as a nail, my good man,” Trelawny said before shrugging the large sack off his shoulder. “Dutch sent for me in Des Moines a few days ago once he and John had agreed on a rough plan for your upcoming heist. Knowing you would be going in disguises, I picked up outfits for you all.”
Arthur couldn’t help but smirk as William stood up straight, visibly excitable at the concept. Within the sack was four smaller bags. Trelawny had a peak inside each before he handed them out. “That is for… Arthur. And this is young William… Miss Maebh… And Mr Marston.”
Arthur peered into his bag and looked through the contents. It appeared to contain a simple but expensive looking outfit. He noted black pants, a grey shotgun coat, a waistcoat that matched, a white dress shirt, and a black dress tie. He noticed that it was expensive, but nothing too ostentatious that would draw unwanted attention or make them stick out in a crowd of wealthy travellers.
“What the hell is this?” John asked, pulling out a worn-looking black vest and white shirt.
“You’re going as an employee, of course,” Trelawny replied, smoking his cigar casually. “Dutch told me you would need one, so I contacted a friend who owed me a favour.”
Arthur noticed Maebh trying to hide an amused smirk before he too was pursing his lips together.
“Well, yeah,” John stuttered before shoving the clothes back into the bag. “But I thought you’d give ’em to Hennigan, or somethin’…”
“William? Preposterous! We thought it would suit you better.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, you know…” Trelawny waved a hand up and down John’s frame dismissively before quickly continuing on. “Now, I also have covers for you to use if you find yourselves in conversation that requires it. John will simply be one of the train workers. William, you will be a young salesman travelling alone across states for business, and Maebh and Arthur shall be a newlywed couple looking to buy livestock in the next state over.”
The revelation had Arthur grinning. It was always good to know that he would have someone he could trust watching his back on such an important heist. He looked at Maebh to see her already smiling at him. “Lookin’ forward to it, husband.”
“I ain’t husband material,” he admitted with a laugh. “But I’ll try my best.”
“‘Ain’t husband material’,” she repeated with a look of disbelief. “Don’t make me laugh.”
“I do love a good backstory,” William said as he studied a grey crusher hat he pulled from his bag. “It gives me somethin’ to work with so I can get into character.”
“You and Arthur will also need to trim those beards,” Josiah added, gesturing to their furry chins. “But we can wait until the day to have that done.”
Arthur let out a grumble, but said nothing when Dutch gave him a disapproving look. “It’ll grow back, Arthur.”
“Never come between a fella and his facial hair, Dutch,” Maebh joked, noting Arthur’s sour expression. “Especially not these two.”
“Here are their tickets,” Josiah announced and handed them on to Dutch for safe keeping. “You will all be seated in the carriage closest to the front of the train, and John should have the ability to move freely between most areas. That should be everything you’ll need.”
“Thank you, Josiah,” Dutch said earnestly as he placed the tickets beside his cot. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without ya and I’ll have you reimbursed for the clothes.”
“Are you goin’ t’stay for a bit?” Maebh asked curiously.
“But of course, my dear!” Trelawny replied with gusto and offered her his arm. “I have much to tell you and your brother about my travels.”
“I was hopin’ you learned more magic tricks while you were away.”
“Trust me, this magician has much to show.”
William was quick to take his sisters bag as she accepted Josiah’s arm. Arthur simply chuckled and shook his head as his old friend began a rambling tale of his apparent adventures. Once he had dropped off his own clothes in his tent, he joined the rest of them by the campfire where he continued to recount embellished stories that were probably mostly waffle. Regardless, the gang spent most of the evening around the fire, drinking and allowing Trelawny most of the floor in-between bouts of singing and music led by a happy and drunk Uncle.
Arthur was merely cheerful knowing that their plans for the train were thankfully moving swiftly and positively. The confidence within the gang was growing with each successful move — this take was going to be big.
* * *
Maebh sat on her bedroll, unable to keep her eyes from leaving her book and focusing on a busy figure not far away — Arthur.
The older man was packing a small bag with clothes and food, much like he did every few months before he dipped out for weeks on end. In that time, she had no idea where he went or what he was doing, but she couldn’t help but be inquisitive.
“Good book?” her brother asked, announcing himself as he returned from a hunting trip. He plopped himself down on the bedroll beside her. “You still on Othello? How long does it take you to bleedin’ read?”
“You ever wonder where Arthur goes on his trips?” she asked, completely ignoring his question.
William followed her stare before he offered a reply. “Uh, not particularly? I never put much thought into it.”
“I have,” she admitted, watching intently as Dutch came to offer Arthur some form of a goodbye. She got the feeling that most people in camp knew where he went on these trips. “I’m kinda curious ’bout it.”
“I mean, why not? What does he do in the time he’s away from camp? Is he visitin’ someone? Doin’ jobs on the side? Bounty hunter work? Oh! Or maybe he’s secretly a stage performer?”
He blinked, eyes narrowing slightly at the thought. “Okay, so maybe the possibilities are a little interestin’...”
“See? Now you’re speakin’ my language.”
As she shut her book and got to her feet, her younger brother frowned. “You goin’ to harass him?”
“Jesus, I’m only goin’ to say bye, alright? You comin’?”
He shook his head. “I already had a chat with him earlier and I promised to help Pearson with the deer I brought in. I’ll leave you to it.”
Maebh was quick to exit the tent, stretching as she stood. She ventured over to where Arthur was attaching his bag to Boadicea’s saddle. Copper the dog sniffed around nearby, circling his owner inquisitively. She grinned as Arthur gently patted the mare’s neck, cooing kind words that made the horse bob her head in delight. “You off again, Mr Morgan?”
He offered her a polite smile. “I am indeed, Miss Hennigan.”
“Will you be back in time for the train?” she asked, gently rubbing Boadicea’s muzzle.
“O’course. I’m only goin’ for a couple days this time so I’ll be back beforehand.”
She nodded before pointing to the dog. “Is he goin’ too?”
“He usually would be, but considerin’ I’m goin’ for a shorter trip, ain’t much point in bringin’ him along before leavin’ again.”
“Myself and William can keep an eye on him if you want?”
“You sure?” he asked as Maebh called the dog over. “I don’t want him to be a bother.”
“He’s no bother at all,” she assured him, reaching down to scratch Copper’s floppy ears. “I know we’re not as good company, but you’ll be alright with us, won’t ya, boy?”
She could see Arthur’s eyes flitting between them both, a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “Thank you. At least now I know he’ll be in good hands:”
Maebh watched as Arthur reached into his satchel and pulled out a small piece of dried meat. Copper’s ears perked up at this development and he immediately sat down obediently.
“This’ll keep you busy, boy,” Arthur cooed, handing the treat to his pet. Copper took it gently between his teeth and quickly trotted off to enjoy his gift. “He won’t bother ya much, I promise.”
“Again, he’s no bother, Arthur,” she replied with a scoff. “He’s a lovely dog so I don’t mind it.”
Even still, Arthur expressed gratitude again before mounting up and grasping the reigns in his large hands. He carefully placed his gambler hat on his head and then sighed. “I think I’m good to go...”
“Got everythin’ you need?” she asked, blocking the sunshine with her hand as she looked up at him.
“Sure do. I’ll see you in ’bout a week, Miss Hennigan. You take care o’that brother o’yours.”
“I’ll try my best.”
She stood back and gave him a wave as Arthur lead Boadicea out of camp and out of her company for a week’s time. Even still, she couldn’t ease the curiosity welling in her gut. She never asked where he was off to, mostly because she knew he wouldn’t tell her regardless. She was certain that anyone who was part of the gang before her arrival knew, but anyone after definitely did not. They all just eventually gave up asking when they never got an answer. Either way, she wondered where Arthur was going for months at a time and whether she would ever find out.
In the days after their first trip to Saint Charles, both Maebh and William had been back on a few occasions, most of which involved scouting the area down south where the robbery would be taking place. There were still details they had to sort here and there, but Dutch seemed quite happy with how things had been so far. They had time yet to get a handle on the finishing details, like more details around who they would be on the train. Or in William’s words, ‘what parts we’re playin’’. It seemed that Trelawny’s original proposals had sent William off on a tangent.
Deciding that it was best to be productive that morning despite Arthur’s absence, Maebh approached Mr Pearson as he stood over the massive stew pot. William stood nearby, skinning a deer. “Mornin’, Mr Pearson.”
“Good mornin’ to you, Miss Hennigan,” he offered in return. “What can I do you for?”
“I’m just wonderin’ if you’ve any jobs that need doin’.”
Pearson paused at his work before clicking his fingers and grabbing a small piece of paper on his table. “I have a list of supplies that need buyin’ if you’d like to take that on?”
“Might as well,” she replied and took the list he offered with a smile. “Cheers. I’ll head over to Winterset and pick them up now.”
“I’d take the wagon with ya — it’s a fair amount.”
As she strolled towards the gang’s supply wagon, she called for her sibling. “William! Tar anseo, le do thoil!”
He was quick to approach once the deer was taken care of, and asked curiously. “Where you off to?”
“Town. Pearson needs some more supplies from the general shop. You want’a come?”
“Yeah, gewon. I’ll join you. Just let me wash my hands.”
“Best bring Copper too actually. I told Arthur we’d keep an eye out for him.”
At that, William quickly cleaned his hands in a bucket of water and then whistled for the dog, who came running over. He was rewarded with scratches behind the ear and pats on the head from the young man. It didn’t take much for his tail to begin wagging enthusiastically.
Maebh was just about to climb into the front seat of the wagon when Bessie approached. “Where are you two off to?”
“A supply run for Pearson,” she replied. “We’re headin’ into Winterset to grab what he needs.”
“Mind if I join you? I have to pick up some things myself.”
“Sure!” Maebh offered her a smile before adding. “You feelin’ up for it?”
“I’m certainly feelin’ better than what I was,” Bessie explained. “I may be old, Miss Hennigan, but I ain’t dead yet.”
“It takes a lot to knock you down, Mrs Matthews. Hop on.”
“You take the front seat with Maebh,” William insisted as he offered Bessie a hand up. “I’ll hop in the back with Copper.”
“Such a polite young man,” the older woman teased as she climbed into the seat with his assistance. “When you ain’t holdin’ up a bank.”
He shrugged at the joke and cracked a small smile. “What can I say? I’m a man of many talents.”
“And endless charm to boot.”
“Ya see? This is why you're one of my favourite people.”
At that moment, Uncle came towards the wagon and directed a question to her brother. “Did I hear y’all say you’re goin’ into town?”
“Sure did, old man,” William replied, patting Copper’s head. “Why?”
“Think you could pick me up some booze?”
Maebh rolled her eyes while William shrugged. “Sure, if you gimme the money.”
“I’ll give it to ya when you get back.”
“Ye will in your hole,” William scoffed. “I’m not buyin’ you drink with my own money, Uncle.”
“You ever hear of respectin’ your elders, kid?” Uncle retorted in an offended tone.
“You ever hear of not bein’ a scab?”
There was brief stare down before Uncle grumbled and reached into his pocket. He tossed the younger man a couple of coins before speaking again. “I think Arthur is havin’ a bad influence on you, Willy.”
“You’re lucky I’m even pickin’ this up for you at all,” the blonde replied before waving Uncle off. “Now geway before I change my mind ’bout doin’ you a favour.”
Once William was sitting on the back of the wagon with Copper safely beside him, Maebh slowly lead them out of camp. Upon reaching the main road, she urged the shire horses into a steady trot. The rolling hills of Madison county were some of Maebh’s favourite landscapes to travel through. She found something oddly relaxing about the gentle undulations of the land and the cool morning breeze. The wagon’s wheels cut through the soggy ground, moistened by a rainy night, so she was careful to take bends in the road with ease.
“What’re you pickin’ up then?” Maebh asked after a few moments of silence.
“Nosey girl,” Bessie replied with a smirk. “Some provisions mostly, and bait that Hosea needs for one of his huntin’ trips.”
“He plannin’ to go off for a few days?”
“Mm hmm. Said there’s a big buck been spotted a few counties over, so we plan on investigatin’ once the train job is outta the way.”
Maebh nodded in understanding and quickly cracked the reigns in her hands. “That’s good. We’ll be missin’ Arthur ’round camp so we could do without you and Hosea goin’ now too.”
“Arthur is always missed,” Bessie agreed a shake of her head. “I know everyone pulls their weight, but I feel like he sometimes carries the load of two men.”
Letting out a small huff, Maebh couldn’t help but agree. “He does an awful lot, I’ll give him that. He deserves the break, in all honesty.” She paused momentarily before pressing on. “At least, I think he’s takin’ a break. What’s he doin’ anywho? Huntin’? Fishin’?”
She hoped her attempt to learn some more about Arthur hadn’t come off as pushy or nosey. If she was, Bessie certainly wouldn’t have an issue warning her of the fact.
“He runs some errands,” she replied, not giving much away. “Pays some visits — the usual.”
Bessie didn’t leave much room for asking more questions about it, something Maebh figured to be intentional. Unwilling to push her luck, she simply nodded her head slightly and focused on the road ahead.
Despite the silence, Bessie continued. “What Arthur does is Arthur’s business.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“I didn’t mean that you should apologise,” she hushed her gently. “All I’m sayin’ is that Arthur’s errands are personal and if and when he’s ready to tell you ’bout them, that’s his place, not mine. Much like how you two came to Hosea and I the other night. We weren’t gonna force you to say anythin’, even if we had suspicions.”
Her words were, as always, laced with a kindness and wisdom that only she and Hosea seemed to embody. Maebh appreciated the non-answer because it was certainly better than a lie or a scolding. “Noted, keep my mouth shut. Got it.”
“It ain’t that, not exactly. I’m sure when he’s ready to tell you he will.”
“I just hope it’s not ’cause he doesn’t trust me,” she explained, releasing a sigh. “He’s a good man, y’know? So I can’t help but value his opinion.”
“I do know. How ’bout you tell him that he’s a good man and maybe he’ll start believin’ it himself.”
“It’s not for lack of tryin’, I promise.”
Bessie was quick to place a comforting hand on her arm. “I know, I know. It ain’t a trust issue. You can tell Arthur is fond of the two of you.”
“For the record,” William called from his seat at the back of the wagon. “I love that big grumpy bastard too.”
“Oh I know, Mr Hennigan,” Bessie answered, brushing some greying hair out of her eyes. “There ain’t no doubt in my mind about that. You can see the mutual respect between the three of you. But don’t be puttin’ any pressure on him to talk, alright?”
“We won’t,” Maebh assured her. “The last thing I’d want to do is make him feel under pressure.”
William spoke up again. “You have our word on that, Mrs Matthews.”
Their short trip continued with some casual conversation on lighter subjects before they eventually arrived in Winterset. At the general store, they put the owner to good use, giving him the list and waiting outside as he brought everything to them one by one (including bourbon for Uncle). Together, Maebh and William loaded it all into the supply wagon while Copper watched on inquisitively, quickly sniffing the boxes and bags if he got the chance.
“Is that everythin’ I can help y’all with today?” the shop owner asked, slightly out of breath from all the heavy lifting.
“I’ve a list of my own,” Bessie said before quickly adding. “But don’t worry, it ain’t that long.”
“Well ain’t that a relief!”
Maebh quickly handed him over the pay before he and Bessie headed back inside to pick up what she needed. While they waited, she took a seat on the shop steps with William, who tossed a stick for a happy and playful Copper.
“He seems okay even though Arthur isn’t ’round,” he noted, accepting the stick once the dog returned it to him. “I thought he’d be a bit more down considerin’ he usually goes with him.”
She watched as he threw the stick again and the dog went running. “Guess it helps that he’s got good company.”
“That must be it.”
“You seem in better form lately,” she noted, turning to look at him. “Less... on edge, or somethin’.”
“The lack of events at camp have helped with that.”
“Ah. You talkin’ ’bout your watch?”
He nodded slowly with his lips pursed. “There’s been no sign of whoever that fucker was, so hopefully he stays away from us unless he fancies me stranglin’ him…”
“Hopefully it was just some idiot playin’ a dumb joke.”
“It’s an awful lot of trouble to go to just for a joke.”
“Yeah well, some people are stupid, William…”
“Whether it’s some idiot or not, as long as he stays away from camp I’ll be happy out.”
They weren’t waiting too long for Bessie to return with her goods and soon the four of them were once more riding the wagon back to camp. The journey was a pleasant one as Bessie requested they sing a song of Irish heritage, and a happy singsong ensued with everyone becoming involved. The process of unloading all the supplies was completed swiftly with Pearson’s help and the siblings were happy to help him pack it all away for future use. With little else to do, they helped him prepare lunch by chopping some vegetables and cleaning cutlery and bowls in the late morning sun. With their assistance, Mr Pearson fixed the gang some venison chilli con carne that seemed to go down quite well. After her surprisingly pleasant meal, Maebh sat by the campfire making split point bullets, meticulously carving x’s into her ammo over and over with a hunting knife. Copper lay next to her on the ground, his attention focused on a bone she’d given him earlier. She had gotten through a fair number of bullets when she heard her name being called. Looking up, she saw Dutch standing over her.
“Any chance you’d join me for a walk, Miss Maebh?” he asked, offering her his hand.
Quickly shoving the bullets into her satchel, she accepted his hand and got to her feet. “Sure. Where you off to?”
“I’m gonna go collect some ginseng for Hosea,” he explained. “Cedar Lake ain’t too far away and we should be able to find some up there. I already promised I’d help him find some, considerin’ he’s still worried ’bout Mrs Matthews. Figured you could bring Copper along.”
Upon hearing his name, the dogs ears perked up curiously.
Maebh offered Dutch a smile. “Sure, we’ll come along. You fancy a walk, boy?”
Copper’s affirmative bark was enough to go by, and the pair strolled out of camp arm in arm, the dog running alongside them with a perpetually wagging tail. It had been a while since Maebh had spent any time one-on-one with Dutch, so his characteristic advice and theoretical ramblings about the work of Evelyn Miller were a welcome change of pace. The walk was a pleasant one, and it was nice to get out of camp on foot instead of riding horseback for once. Upon arriving at the lake, they passed by the odd fisherman here and there who offered them polite hellos from a distance. One of them even pointed in the direction of a spot where ginseng usually grew. They both found what they were looking for with relative ease, as the plant was quite common to the area.
After collecting any American Ginseng they could find, they carried it all in a small bag and then headed back towards camp.
“How’s your brother been lately?” the older man asked. “I’ve noticed how he’s been somewhat on edge since the whole escapade with his pocket watch, not that I blame him.”
“He’s a bit better,” she confirmed with confidence. “I mean, he hopes he gets to squeeze the life out of whoever caused all that mischief, but I think he’s calmed down a bit since there’s been no more sightings.”
“Honestly I’d fear for anyone who suffers his wrath,” he admitted with a slight laugh. “That boy can be so eerily calm one minute before he loses all reason and sees red.”
“He can be ruthless alright. Arthur said a similar thing to me before.”
“I know that Arthur thinks quite highly of William. I would say that so do I, as do the rest of the gang, but I know that perhaps we know him a little better havin’ known him for longer. And you two grew up together, so o’course you would know him inside out.”
“I understand.” Maebh frowned and watched Copper as he happily trotted along the dirt path. “I think sometimes people can be a little afraid of William when they don’t know him. He can be very standoffish with people he doesn’t know, and has no qualms with fighting his way out of something if he’s no choice, but he would also lay down his life for those he holds closest to his heart.”
“I see what you mean,” Dutch agreed. “I think that’s why Arthur is also so fond of the boy. He sees a lot of himself in ’im, and I feel that Arthur could’ve been a lot different had Hosea and I not taken him in. The same could be said for John… I think that you two were in a similar place when we first met you in Wisconsin. Ain’t somethin’ that’s a certainty, but I like to think that we’ve been a good influence on you two.”
Maebh contemplated his words for a moment. While she had discussed ‘what could have been’ with her brother many times, openly admitting their possible downfall to the gang leader was something yet to be done. He knew a bit more about their past than Arthur did, but since meeting with Hosea and Bessie a few nights ago, they were the only ones to know of their skeletons in the closet. There were plenty of occasions where she found her thoughts drifting when lying on her bedroll at night, conjuring up vivid images of where she and William could have been had things not played out as they did. The thoughts of what they would have done to survive had the Van der Linde Boys not also tried to rob that stage caused her stomach to twist. Dutch was, by all accounts, an intelligent and honourable man. He held contempt for the rich who refused to help those suffering, and decided that someone had to bloody well do it. He invited lost souls into the fold; into his family. If he openly expressed worry for what William might have become had things been different, there was probably some truth to it. If she was honest with herself, her brother was one of the only things in this life she worried about. He was all she had left of her old life and the urge to protect him from any outside threats had only grown over the years. She was foolish to think that them growing into young adults would make her feel less determined about keeping him safe. Now, it seemed perpetual. Even still, she refused to have William be anything other than his best, which was something she took great pleasure in witnessing.
As long as he was happy in life, she would find her own joy in seeing him so content.
“Dutch, I really don’t know where William and I would be if it wasn’t for this gang. God knows how things would’ve turned out.”
“I wouldn’t worry yourself with those thoughts, my dear,” he reassured her in his usual assertive manner. “Ain’t no point in spendin’ time worryin’ ’bout what can’t be no more. No matter what might’ve happened to you and William back then don’t matter, because you’re with us now. Loyalty, Maebh. It’s what keeps us together, keeps us strong. We’re a family, and family will always have your back. I know I always say it, but the reason why we are strong is because we have faith. Faith in each other, faith in this land, faith in this life — not the one these Pinkertons say we gotta live. Ain’t nothin’ quite like a close gang like ours with unshakeable faith and the urge to do what’s right. Whatever might have been for you and for William — or even Arthur and John — don’t matter no more. What matters is that while we walk through this land of degenerates and government pets and immoral men, we walk together. Each step takes us further away from the other lives we might’a lived had we not been so lucky… It won’t be easier neither, but if we stick together, why we can create our own paradise in this land on our own terms. We do what’s right, and we do it together. Remember that, my friend. You have a good head on your shoulders, and this life can be whatever you want if you keep it that way. Don’t let the past spoil what you have now.
“I don’t want you worryin’ unnecessarily. If you ever feel your concerns with anythin’ gettin’ the better of ya, you can always come and talk to me or Hosea ’bout it. Understand?”
She had to be honest, she really did appreciate these talks with Dutch. He had a habit of always managing to get rid of any doubts she had tucked away in her mind.
“I understand, Dutch,” she replied firmly. “I have to keep my head up and my eyes forward.”
“That’s what I like to hear.” He gave her arm a squeeze. “You ain’t got nothin’ to worry about, Miss Hennigan. Not when we’re here to look out for each other.”
The comforting silence of their walk was cut short at those words. From behind a tree a large figure came barrelling from the woods, wrapped in a large, brown leather coat and hiding the lower half his face behind a bandana. Maebh’s eyes fixed on the rifle he carried, now pointed directly at them. As soon as he appeared, Dutch brought her to a steady halt.
“Right, you know how this plays out,” he grumbled with a slight slur. “Gimme your money!”
His tone was not lost of Copper who began to growl deep from his furry chest. Maebh was quick to release Dutch to grab at the hound’s scruff, uncertain whether this man would hesitate in shooting the animal. His morals seemed as far receded as his hairline. The last thing she needed was to tell Arthur she got his dog shot the very day he left her alone with him.
“You shut that dumb animal up ’fore I put a bullet in ’im!” the robber snarled, visibly losing patience. “Empty your damn pockets!”
Maebh’s revolver lay holstered on her hip. Had she not been holding Copper, she might have been quick enough to draw on this unsteady man without losing any valuables, but it was becoming apparent to her that this wasn’t an option — she was completely reliant on Dutch, who hadn’t yet said a word.
The barrel of the rifle was set on them both, moving back and forth between its two targets. The thief’s brow shone with a thin layer of perspiration from either the heat of the afternoon sun, or stress of the situation.
Maebh looked to Dutch, a man who always had a plan.
She had not been expecting, however, the only response he offered their masked attacker.
Bonus points to whoever can guess who the thief is from the obvious hint/insult about his appearance...
Chapter 9: Once More into the Fray...
Dutch deals with his and Maebh's attacker in a unique way, and the day of the train heist finally arrives.
This is one hefty chapter - we're just shy of 7,000 words, oh BOAH - so I apologise for the slight delay between updating. How and ever, this chapter was a lot of fun to write and I hope you enjoy it. There's a severe amount of Johnbashing in this but I love him really, I promise. Credit to those who correctly guessed the identity of the highwayman!
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Minnesota, WI” — Bon Iver, “In God’s Country” — U2, “God Slap” — The Scratch, “Future Glory” — Jed Kurzel
“Now son, why do you got that gun pointed at me and my friend here?”
Had Maebh been expecting Dutch’s tactics for dealing with a drunken highwayman to be laughter and sympathy? Not even remotely, but it wasn’t like she had any option other than to trust him. She had seen him talk his way out of many a situation in the last three years, so had no reason not to have faith that he could do it again. She kept her mouth shut, holding and pacifying an on-edge Copper, his hackles raised in defiance.
“’Cause I want your money, mister,” the robber replied. When Dutch laughed again, his cheeks went red. “You shut your damn mouth laughin’ at me!”
Dutch’s tone revealed just how unfazed he was by the situation. “Well what has you all the way out here tryin’ to rob some good folk such as ourselves?”
“Ain’t none of your business. I’m not lookin’ to talk.”
“I very much doubt that, my friend,” Dutch replied steadily. “You look to me like a feller who could do with some talkin’. I’m Dutch, this fine young lady is Maebh, and that’s Copper.”
The larger man grumbled. “I don’t give a shit.”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“None o’your business! My only concern here is money.” Dutch chuckled again at that, prompting an aggressive response. “I told you to shut up laughin’!”
“How can I not laugh, my friend, when you insist on pretendin’ like you don’t need some help. You can’t tell me that you planned on spendin’ your life on the highway robbin’ any folks that wander by. Don’t you want some purpose?”
“How I spend my life ain’t no concern o’yours.”
“Well if you’re strugglin’ it is.” Dutch took a step towards the attacker, small enough that it wasn’t intimidating, but sure enough that he appeared confident in the move. “I have a gang, ya see — a family of misguided souls who were hard done by this country’s leaders. If I see someone I think needs help and has somethin’ to offer, I’ve no problem extendin’ a hand. Now, we got food, shelter, and booze, and you look like you can handle a gun. Why don’t you put it to better use makin’ a difference with some likeminded folks?”
The man hesitated, his rifle still aimed steadily, but his tone shifting into something more inquisitive. “And why don’t I just shoot you two down now, take your money, and be on my way?”
Dutch hummed with an amused grin. “Well, there’s two outcomes for that Mister…?”
A pause, then a gruff answer. “Bill.”
“Mister Bill, then. Either you shoot me, Maebh, and Copper there before lootin’ our corpses and wanderin’ off before you either die alone by the bullet or the bottle. Or outcome number two; I draw my pistol so quickly you can barely make a noise before I blow your brains out. Now, I would much rather it didn’t come to either of these, but it ain’t gonna end well for anyone who threatens my family.”
Maebh opted to keep quiet, knowing Dutch was far better with persuading crazy criminals than she was. She focused her attention on keeping Copper calm. Thankfully, the dog had stopped growling, but he was still very much wary of the stranger. She patted his side gently, reassuring him that he was alright and that he was, of course, a good boy.
“Tell me, Bill,” Dutch began again. “You ever heard of the Van der Linde gang?”
Bill released a huff. “Heard of ’em? They’re famous for robbin’ banks all over the damn place. Are you tellin’ me you’re Dutch Van der Linde?”
“Well I certainly ain’t talkin’ through my ass, son. Either you can join one of the most famous band of outlaws in the country, or you can go ’bout your business on your lonesome. It’s your choice, and I implore you to make the right one. It would be good to have ya onboard. You don’t gotta be alone anymore.”
There was a tense silence. If Bill was expecting Dutch to further try convince him to join, he was met with merely a stare down. The older man had already laid out his cards on the table and waited for the reveal of Bill’s hand. Maebh fixed her gaze on him, ready and willing to have Dutch’s back if it came to it. The barrel of the rifle rattled in Bill’s shaking hands before it abruptly lowered to the ground.
He quickly pulled down his bandana to reveal the rest of his pudgy face. “Suppose I would be dumb not to take it.”
Dutch smiled widely and quickly grasped his hand to shake. “Right you are, Bill. A wise choice indeed.”
At Dutch’s insistence, Maebh stepped up and accepted Bill’s handshake. “As long as you never point a rifle in Copper’s direction again, we’re good.”
He nodded, looking down at the young woman. “I ain’t gonna argue with that.”
“Just a warnin’, ’cause his owner would have no problem stranglin’ you for it.”
“You’ll meet him at another time,” Dutch began. “For now, you can come to camp and meet the rest of the gang. We can have some drinks and you can tell us about yourself. How’s that sound?”
“Good,” Bill replied, standing with his shoulders slightly more relaxed that before. “I guess.”
Even still, Maebh was wary. This wasn’t like when they had previously recruited Reverend Swanson. He had joined after saving Dutch’s life, whereas Bill had just threatened to shoot them both. Even still, she had to place faith in her leader and assume there was logic to his offer. While this newcomer certainly appeared lost and directionless, he also seemed ruthless if he was willing to rob and shoot innocent people along the highway. Perhaps that could be knocked out of him. She knew from her experience with Arthur that a hard and threatening front used to get your own way could always be just an act.
So, she listened carefully as they walked back to camp and made idle conversation. Bill was an army veteran, having been assigned to the 15th infantry that fought against Native Americans. When asked about why he left, he admitted to being dishonourably discharged for deviancy and attempted murder the year before.
Jaysus, not off to a great start, she thought to herself. Although I guess I can hardly judge…
He admitted to sleeping rough for the last year, just about surviving off robbing people along various highways while drinking to pass the time. Not exactly a pleasant life or ideal situation for anyone to be in. She could at least understand why he had been so inclined to accept Dutch’s offer when he had little else to live for.
Back at camp, her friends were surprised to see them returning with not just the ginseng.
“Everyone!” Dutch announced, standing outside his tent. “Everyone! Gather round!”
At his words, the ever loyal gang members who were present stood together before him. William found a spot beside Maebh while Karen appeared nearby too.
She gave Maebh a nudge with her elbow before nodding to the newcomer who stood awkwardly next to Dutch. “Who’s that?”
“New recruit,” Maebh whispered. “Met him when he tried to rob us on the highway.”
“Rob you?” Karen repeated in disbelief. “And he took him in?”
“Guess he figured he was another lost soul. I think he sees some potential... He looks like a big gruff bastard, but I trust Dutch on this. He did threaten him for tryin’ it on us, to be fair.”
“O’course. Trustin’ Dutch ain’t my problem, but threatenin’ to shoot and rob y’all don’t sit well with me.”
“As much as I appreciate you defendin’ me, let’s just see what happens.”
Maebh quickly finished the conversation just as Dutch began to address the group. “Now, friends, I wanted to introduce you all to a new recruit for our family. This is Mr Bill...?”
He threw a glance at Bill, who cleared his throat. “Williamson.”
Maebh heard the small snort that William let out under his breath as Dutch continued on. “... Mr Bill Williamson, and Maebh and I met him out on the highway. He’s another man lookin’ for purpose, just like all a’you. And just like all a’you, he has somethin’ to offer. So for tonight, everyone who is here is gonna sit ’round the fire and celebrate a new member on our mission to find paradise. What do you think?”
“We’re always with you for a party, Dutch!” Davey cheered, already going to grab a bottle of beer.
“Boss’s orders!” Mac agreed, following his brother’s lead.
There were unanimous cheers from the gang, during which Maebh met the eyes of a very happy looking Karen. “Right, I ain’t happy he threatened you two, but I ain’t never gonna turn down an opportunity to drink.”
As Dutch asked for Mr Pearson to grab the boxes of beer he had stashed, the group began to disperse and William turned to the two women. “Is no one gonna talk about how that fella’s name is William Williamson? Even better, William Son of William? I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s hilarious.”
Maebh linked her arm into his before replying. “As long as you wait a few months to say that to his face, it’s grand.”
“Are you three gonna catch up or keep whisperin’ to each other?” asked a already half-cut John Marston. He wobbled up to them with beers in hand, fully intending on getting them locked.
Maebh took the beverage he offered with thanks. “But we’re goin’ t’have’ta drink two whole beers before we catch up with you.”
“You sayin’ I’m a lightweight?”
“Yeah,” Karen agreed, though not unkindly. “Because ya are. We say it all the time.”
John let out a raspy wheeze. “Well at least drink with me after insultin’ me.”
Happy to oblige, the group all sat around the campfire and began to work their way through multiple beers. As Dutch had requested, it became an evening of everyone introducing themselves to Mr Williamson, and the latter sharing what he could about himself. Even though she was surrounded by her family and friends, Maebh couldn’t help but feel the loss of Arthur’s presence on such a celebratory occasion.
* * *
Just over a week later, Arthur was happy to see those familiar tents and wagons as he steered Boadicea down the little pathway that led to camp. He had enjoyed him time away even if it was only a short trip, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn't missing the gang. It was late at night again he returned, choosing to spend as much time as he could with Eliza and Isaac. The first one he met was Marston, who sat at a table on the edge of camp cleaning a repeater with a cloth. He looked up as he heard the hooves on the dirt path.
“Welcome back, Morgan!”
“Good to see you, Marston.” He carefully eased his faithful steed to a hitching post and allowed her to get her breath back as he dismounted. Offering her an oatcake, he continued talking to his brother. “How’re things?”
“Good,” the younger man replied. “We’re all ready to go tomorrow. You made it back just in time.”
“Yeah well, figured I should get the most outta my trip.”
John got to his feet, gun cleaned and ready to head off to guard duty. “How’s the boy doin’?”
“He’s doin’ good. Gettin’ big!” Arthur smiled at the memory. “He seemed happy to see me.”
“I’m sure he was. And how’s Eliza?”
“She’s good too. I brought them some supplies and money to keep their stocks up, but she said they were managin’ just fine. She took it after some insistence.”
“She sounds almost as stubborn as you.”
The sound of his name being called grabbed Arthur’s attention. William offered a small wave as he made his way over to the pair. “It’s good to see you again, pal.”
“You too, kid,” Arthur replied and gave the younger man a firm handshake. “How’ve you been gettin’ on?”
“Just preparin’ for the train really,” he replied. “Dutch wants us to try keep our heads down beforehand so we don’t make too much noise. How was your trip?”
“Good,” Arthur affirmed. “It was nice to have a little break from bein’ an outlaw. What are you still doin’ up anyhow?”
“I’ve got guard duty with Marston,” William explained, gesturing to the carbine slung over his shoulder. “We make a good team, don’t we, John?”
“Sure,” John mumbled with a raised brow. “I guess so.”
“Why are you pullin’ that face when I just gave you a compliment?”
“That’s the exact reason why I’m makin’ this face, Hennigan.”
“Look,” Arthur cut in quickly. “I’m gonna get some sleep before the heist tomorrow. You two try not to shoot each other, alright?”
At his insistence, the pair swiftly left to take up their spot amongst the surrounding trees. With the rest of camp either sleeping in their tents or passed out drunk, he was relieved he could sneak off to his tent and grab some much needed shut eye before tomorrow. Now that he was away from his son, it was back to the reality of the Van der Linde gang.
* * *
“What d’you think?”
Maebh looked up from her book to see William standing over her, one hand gesturing to his face. She blinked twice upon realising that his beard had been replaced with a dark blonde moustache on his upper lip.
“Had you told me you were goin’ t’do that,” she began, shutting her book after marking the page. “I would’ve said you’re mental, but you actually pull it off.”
William smiled at her compliment and turned to look at his handy work in the small mirror beside his shaving utensils. “Cheers. I figured I should go all out if I’m to look like a fancy salesman on a trip for business.”
“You definitely look the part,” she agreed and got to her feet. “Mrs Matthews and Miss Grimshaw said they would do my make-up for it.”
“Make sure Susan doesn’t go too dark on your eye shadow.”
“I’m pretty sure she knows that’s a look only she can pull off.”
Maebh stretched slightly, looking out at the rest of camp from their tent. It was mid afternoon in Iowa, the entire gang having just finished their lunch for the day. Trelawny was still at camp, agreeing to stay up until after they rob the train, considering he was due a cut for his services. Said train was due to pass through Saint Charles that evening, with a change of guard coming at the state line. While running her eyes over each member of camp, she spotted a familiar face coming towards her.
“Hey, Arthur!” she greeted the visitor.
Arthur had returned last night while she had slept, and he had been asleep all morning. Unwilling to disturb his much needed rest, she waited patiently to welcome him back home.
“Miss Maebh,” he offered in return, tipping his hat. “Mr Hennigan. How’re y’all doin’?” At that, William turned around and Arthur saw his new look on full display. “Damn, kid. How the hell do you manage to pull that ’stache off?”
“It must be my youthful good looks,” William replied. “Who fuckin’ knows.”
Arthur chuckled before idly stroking his thick beard. “I actually gotta shave myself, now that I think of it.”
“How was your trip?” Maebh asked, recalling her previous conversation with Bessie about his privacy.
“Good, good,” he replied with a small smile. “Always nice to get away for a little while.”
“Well you’re gettin’ thrown into the thick of it again now.”
“You’re tellin’ me. By the way, who’s the big bastard I’ve seen drinkin’ with Mac and Davey?”
“Awh Jesus, let me tell ye…”
With their departure time getting ever closer, the trio only spoke for a short while before Maebh went off to see Bessie and Susan. Though Bessie’s health had still been on the up and down, she was happy to help Susan do her make-up so that that she looked the part for the heist. With her makeup resembling something simple yet elegant, they helped her get into the outfit Trelawny had brought as part of her wealthy facade. The grey shirtwaist, decorated with white floral patterns and white lace, also included long sleeves that ruffled at the shoulders and a high neckline, beneath which she had stuffed a bandana for later use. Her skirts, matching in colour, were long and reached down to her black boots. Her footwear thankfully sported a small, chunky heel so that she wouldn’t fall on her face mid-robbery. A white brimmed hat covered her hair, that Miss Grimshaw tied up into a neat bun. On top of this, she wore a matching linen suit jacket and black leather gloves to complete the look.
“You look stunnin’ and pompous,” William later noted as she emerged from the tent. “It’s perfect!”
Maebh shook her head. “Thank you. I’m just happy that Josiah picked up something I can still move in. Plus, there’s plenty of room under my skirt for a revolver.”
“It’s also a good thing that crooked clerk will be able to get us on without bein’ checked for weapons,” he added before shrugging on his own dark grey suit jacket. He seemed happy and confident in his attire — a striped waistcoat, a white dress shirt, a purple tie, dark grey pants, and black shoes. “How do I look?”
“Great,” she complimented, surprised by how much older the attire made him look. “You’re the perfect amount of pretentious. I know I was originally worried ’bout how we were gonna pass for rich people, but we actually look really good…”
“You two ready to go?” John asked, walking up to them briskly in his worker uniform. His eyes darted between them, awkwardly flitting up and down Maebh’s ensemble. “You two look, eh… good.”
“So do you,” she offered in reply. “I have to give you credit, you do look like a convincin’ worker.”
Finishing up the group, Arthur made his entrance. Maebh couldn’t help but give him a once over, noting the well-fitted suit that seemed to create a whole new Arthur Morgan. She tried not to stare — she really did, especially considering he could be so damn self-conscious for some reason — but her eyes took him in with genuine appreciation. He carefully smoothed the front of his grey coat as he joined them. Smartly dressed and beard neatly trimmed, he was ready to go.
“Y’all ready?” he asked before making eye contact with Maebh.
The intense gaze of his blue eyes caused her to blink and look away quickly, realising that he most certainly caught her staring, a gesture she hoped hadn’t made him uncomfortable.
“I think we’re set,” William answered, straightening his tie. “Where’s Trelawny?”
“Right on time,” John announced pointing to the tree line behind them. “And he’s got a friend.”
Maebh, relieved to have a chance to tear her gaze from Arthur, turned to see a coach commandeered by two men coming down the pathway. Trelawny waved from the driver’s seat. “Afternoon, gentlemen, madame!”
The coach came to a halt by the patch of grass where their horses were grazing. Trelawny joined them while the driver waited in his seat.
“You all look wonderful,” Josiah noted before glancing back at the driver. “Don’t mind Andrew — he’s a friend. Are we ready to go?”
“Indeed we are,” Dutch called as he briskly walked to join them. “Are we all clear with the plan?
Arthur nodded firmly. “You’re gonna take John up to the station on Norwalk where he can sneak onboard, the coach will take myself and Maebh to Saint Charles where we’ll board, and Josiah will drop William on the outskirts of town so it don’t look like we’ve arrived together, before he leaves our horses at the quiet spot where we’ll start the robbery.”
“That clear with the rest of you?” With unanimous positive answers received, Dutch clapped his hands. “Then get your guns and let’s rob ourselves a train!”
They each hurried excitedly to their tents, grabbing revolvers, pistols, and sawn-off shotguns that they could sneak onboard. Once they were armed, they set out on their mission. John and Dutch were the first to leave, quickly mounting The Count before galloping out of camp. William climbed atop Dantès while Trelawny grabbed himself one of the spare mounts. Together, they gathered the horses belonging to Maebh, Arthur, and John, then quickly led the animals out on to the main road.
All that remained were Arthur and Maebh. Still feeling a bit awkward having been caught staring, she accepted the hand he offered to help her into the coach. Sitting together in the back seat, the driver carefully steered them out of camp and onwards to Saint Charles.
“Well,” she sighed, looking out at the open country. “This is a bit weird.”
“How you mean?” Arthur asked curiously.
“I’m not used to takin’ a coach to a heist, especially in such fancy clothes.”
He hummed at her admission. “I know how you feel. I don’t mind wearin’ a suit, but the coach and driver is a new one.”
“I think you look really nice in the suit,” she blurted before realising what she had said. “Eh, y’know, you pull it off really well.”
He seemed to take her compliment well, but she wasn’t quite sure if she had made him uncomfortable or not. He scratched at the hair on the back of his neck and offered a humble response. “Thank you. It’s uh, always nice to get a compliment off a good-lookin’ woman.”
Her hands clasped each other in her lap, tapping rhythmically with the movement of the coach. “You sound like you’re bein’ overly generous, Arthur.”
“Trust me, I ain’t.” He paused, gesturing a hand up and down her form. “I meant to say, you look lovely in the outfit Trelawny picked out. Not that you don’t usually look good, I just ain’t used to seein’ ya this dressed up.” He cleared his throat before mumbling something self-deprecating under his breath. “Apparently I ain’t good at givin’ compliments.”
“Thank you.” She noted the slightly awkward air, and placed a reassuring hand on his forearm, which had unexpectedly given her a small sense of ease and comfort at the touch. They could both probably do with a change of subject, and she was more than happy to oblige. “At least we know we both look the part together. Speakin’ of, I guess we should come up with some names if they ask, right?”
“I suppose it ain’t a bad idea.” He pondered it for a moment before throwing out a suggestion. “How about Mr and Mrs Barnes? It’s a common enough name.”
“Sounds believable. I think, if I’m honest, you could pull off the name Henry.”
Arthur let out a bark at that. “Henry Barnes? If that’s the case, then you’re gonna be called Margaret.”
“I know you’re jokin’, but I think it works.”
“Then that’s what we’ll go with, my dear Maggie.”
The journey was thankfully not as awkward as Maebh thought it would be. Arthur was very much happy to fill the silence with just the right amount of conversation. Most of it involved their plan for the train or the last time he was required to dress up for a heist.
Upon arriving in town, the driver left them to their own devices and they strolled into the train station arm in arm. Inside, Arthur handed their tickets to the clerk, who quickly patted them down before allowing them through the doors on to the platform. As planned, he completely ignored their weaponry. She quickly spotted William sitting alone, barely acknowledging them as they walked through the doors. Technically speaking, they didn’t know each other in their current getups, so it was better to act as though they had never met. There were another three people on the platform, presumably boarding the same train as them. Arthur kept a close eye on his pocket watch (another part of Trelawny’s costume apparently) and the familiar chugging of the train could be heard in the distance as it approached the station only fifteen minutes after their arrival.
“Right on time,” he noted as it slowly came to a screeching halt on the tracks. “You ready, Maggie?”
“Of course, my darlin’ husband,” she answered in her best southern accent and kept a firm hold on his arm. “Let’s hope Marston got on alright.”
She felt his gaze burning into her, and looked up to see his blue eyes shimmering with amusement. “Since when can you pull that off?”
“I guess I’m full’a surprises.”
“I guess so, my darlin’ wife.”
The train was, as planned, brought to a stop in Saint Charles station. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed William getting to his feet and waiting for the vehicle to stop. Once safely parked on the tracks, a steward appeared from inside to usher them on, calling out their destination to alert passengers waiting on the platform. He threw a glance at the tickets Arthur offered, before replying. “You’re to be seated in the front carriage, sir. Have a pleasant journey.”
Arthur thanked him and began to lead them through the carriage passageways to the front of the train. Inside, several couples and travellers where already taking up numerous spots. All dressed to the nines, Maebh suppressed the urge to stare and quickly sat where her partner had ushered them. Across the aisle, William took his own seat on a lone bench and focused his attention on the view out the window. Arthur completed the trio, taking the outside seat once Maebh had settled herself down.
“All good?” he asked under his breath, his low timbre a surprisingly calming sound in its own right.
Appreciating the concern and eager to keep up appearances, she patted the hand he kept rested on his thigh. “Dandy.”
He returned the gesture by flipping his hand over and interlocking their fingers in a careful hold. “Did you spot Marston?”
Right on queue, the door at the front of the carriage opened and John appeared in full worker’s attire. As he walked down the aisle and passed their seats, she made brief eye contact with him. “Well, seems he made it on. Everythin’ is goin’ well so far.”
“Let’s make sure it stays that way, alright?”
She had very little time to contemplate that her friend, Arthur Morgan, was currently holding her hand with a tenderness that was new and unfamiliar and a tad daunting. She had assured him that such contact for the sake of the heist was entirely okay, but she was surprised to feel a little nervous at his touch. The rational part of her mind was frowning at her blatant display of overthinking, but dare she say she enjoyed feeling his fingers intertwined with her own? She had seen Arthur beat men nearly twice his size into submission, seen him unload shotguns like he barely felt the power behind the gun’s blow, and seen him break in the wildest of horses along their travels. And yet it was the timidness and the gentleness he offered when carefully wrapping his rough hand over hers that sent her unexpectedly reeling.
Her gaze wandered out the window as the train began its journey along the steel tracks below them, the countryside passing slowly by as they neared the quiet strip of land where the robbery would take place. The familiar hint of anxiety was hopping around her stomach as she realised the robbery was imminent. Despite the awkwardness, and despite her own confusion around the subject, she clung to his hand and clung to the small sense of comfort it brought amidst pre-job nerves.
“You doin’ alright?” she heard him ask. Turning her eyes from the outside world to the man sitting next to her, she was met only with concern.
“Just standard jitters before we y’know, eh, do the job.”
“We’ll be alright,” he assured her. “We got a great team at work here. Ain’t nothin’ to worry ’bout. You just gotta keep her head and you’ll be fine.”
She felt her lips pulling into a smile, his firm yet soothing words seemingly always there to help her doubt her own doubts.
“Would you go over the plan again with me?” she asked in a hushed tone, aware of nearby passengers.
He leaned into her slightly, ensuring that anyone who was curious enough to nose would merely see a couple having a private conversation. “Right well, once we start approachin’ the quieter land, John will give William a nod to cause a distraction. Once that’s goin’ on, he’s gonna get himself to the driver and force him to stop the train before subduin’ him. He’s gonna hop off the train and head to the back to the baggage car. Then once we stop, you and I kick off the heist while William heads to the last carriage without givin’ anythin’ away. He robs from the back, us from the front. We then meet in the middle, get off the train, call for the horses, and bolt back to camp. Just remember, these are innocent folks, so we don’t want any of ’em gettin’ seriously hurt, or worse.”
“Got it, got it.”
With the plan clear in her mind once more, they sat calmly for another twenty minutes, knowing that the time for action was surely upon them. John made himself known in the cabin, passing through once more and giving the trio a very subtle nod to let them know that he needed the distraction now.
“What was William’s plan again?” Maebh asked Arthur under her breath, readying herself for action.
“He never said,” Arthur replied, eying her sibling curiously. “But he better do it now.”
As if hearing his queue with Arthur’s words, William let out an exaggerated gasp and spoke out in the most ridiculously posh British accent she had ever heard. “You! Worker!”
Maebh looked over at her brother in surprise, as did the rest of the passengers.
His finger was pointing squarely at John, who stood there like a deer in headlights. “Uh, yeah?”
“You got grease on my suit!”
The passengers looked to John for a response, but all he could muster was a stuttering apology. “Uh, I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t see how I could’a—”
“You don’t see how you could have?” William repeated, punctuating every word with utter distain. “Are you inept, man? You are covered in grease from head to toe and you don’t see how you could have stained my suit? You brushed past me and left an entire oil slick in your wake!”
Maebh stared between the pair, mouth agape and not even remotely faking any of her shocked reaction for the sake of their innocence. She genuinely thought this whole thing was hilarious. Her brother was full on shouting now, on his feet and making intense demands.
“Do you have any idea how much this cost me?” he screamed, voice cracking as he got more agitated. Suddenly, he addressed the crowd. “Fear not, fellow passengers! I shall see to it that the expense of cleaning my suit will be taken from this greasy raccoon’s measly wages!”
“Sir,” John began, visibly frowning. “If you could just calm down—”
“I will not calm down, you miserable wretch! I will have you removed from your post for this heresy!”
“You show him, mister,” Arthur mumbled, mostly to himself, very much getting a kick out of this interaction. “Make a big scene.”
As William’s shouting grew louder, the passengers’ mumbles grew more confused, and John grew more embarrassed, another member of staff came hurrying into the carriage. Judging by his dress, Maebh assumed he was someone of higher position than John at least.
“What seems to be the problem here, sir?” he asked, trying his best to remain civil despite the mayhem that was occurring in front of a live audience.
William whipped around with the elegance of a panther and pointed a shaking finger at John again. “This man is leaving a trail. I demand you find a new worker immediately. I came all the way from North New York and I demand better, sirs! Since when do Cornwall Kerosene and Tar employ slugs upon their trains?”
The steward looked stunned. “A trail?”
“Of grease and filth and poverty!”
Visibly confused by the altercation, he turned to John with a tired expression. “Son, did you not bathe before your shift?”
“Uh, it’s just train oil, I swear.”
“Train oil?” William screeched and threw his arms up in the air. “Train oil? Are you calling me a liar, man? I have never in my life dealt with such hypocrisy and disrespect, not in any of my journeys across the settlements in this country! I swear on my dearest mother’s grave — God rest her soul — that this man is the most petulant pustule I have ever had the displeasure of meeting! And now my suit is ruined when I have to do business in the next state over! What am I to do, sirs? What am I to do?” The steward had no time to respond before William visibly wobbled on his feet, breathing deeply with wide eyes. “My God, I think I am about to faint. All because of this greasy, husky, mongrel hick of yours! Oh my—”
As quick as a light, he was out. William went tumbling to the ground, feigning unconsciousness and rousing screams from some of the other passengers. Chaos ensued. The steward tried to shake him awake, but he remained on the ground, mumbling incoherently about ‘suing the raccoon for damages’. The steward panicked, stumped for what to do before he asked if anyone onboard was a doctor. As one man answered his call, Maebh watched John quickly slip out of the room.
“And there’s our distraction,” Maebh announced, nudging Arthur with her shoulder. “You ready?”
“After a performance like that?” Arthur laughed. “I feel like I could take on a damn army.”
“Inspirin’ as always.”
Seconds later, the train suddenly jerked, sending some of the standing passengers tumbling to the floor. Maebh clung to the seat in front of her and the train screeched in exertion as it forced to stop, the metal-on-metal ringing out and piercing her ears. The crew and passengers looked dumbfounded, some peering out the window to see where they were. With the sun setting in the distance, the world outside looked dark and empty.
“Ready?” she heard Arthur whisper as he pulled his bandana on over his face.
“Ready,” she confirmed, and quickly covered hers as well. “Let’s do this.”
With the experience that came with multiple hold ups and years of gunslinging, the pair got to work. On his feet in an instant with his hidden pistol revealed, Arthur yelled at the top of his voice. “Everybody stay calm, and nobody’s gettin’ shot!”
“This is a robbery, fellas!” Maebh added before whacking the stunned steward out cold with her sawn-off shotgun. “Everythin’ you got goes into the bag! Anythin’ worth a cent, is that clear?”
In the midst of the confusion, William was up in an instant and sprinting into the next carriage over to head to the back of the train.
The passengers cowered in their seats, visibly taken aback by the strange turn of events that sent their normal day spiralling downwards. They begged and pleaded to be left alone, that they weren’t bad people, they didn’t deserve this, but Maebh paid them no mind, walking down the aisle and shoving the bag into their laps until they threw whatever they had inside. Some hurled abuse, but it fell on deaf ears that had heard far worse. Arthur stood over her the whole time, ever the imposing figure sporting a pair of fiery eyes to scare anyone who refused into submission.
“Let’s make this quick, people,” he snarled over her shoulder and at a man whose stubbornness nearly got the better of him. “We ain’t got all day and we don’t wanna hurt none a’ya!”
With the front carriage quickly cleared, they hurried into the next one down and repeated the process over again. She waved her gun in the air, instantly having their full attention. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a robbery! Everythin’ on y’all — money, valuables, that nice lookin’ necklace — into the bag, or you’ll get a bullet in the brain!”
“Do as the lady says! We ain’t here to play goddamn games!”
“The sooner you hand it over, the sooner we’re outta here!”
Their threats worked like a charm for the most part, bar one obstinate husband who received a broken noise for his unyielding attitude. Just as they finished the second carriage, William came through the door, face covered with a bandana and his own bag filled with the results of an apparent successful hold up. John appeared behind him was his own take slung over his shoulder.
“We all good to go?” William asked, voice muffled from the mask.
Maebh quickly tied the bag shut. “All done on our end.”
“We ain’t nothin’ short of efficient, fellers,” John noted, slightly out of breath. “So let’s get.”
“Thanks for your cooperation today, folks!” Arthur called over his shoulder as the four of them hopped off the train, three heavy bags of money and valuables coming with them. As they each released a loud whistle, their horses came galloping from a short distance away, safely hidden where Trelawny had left them.
“Good job today,” Arthur praised them, hurriedly climbing atop Boadicea and patting her neck. “Real good job.”
“A fine job, my husband,” Maebh chuckled happily. “Very fine.”
“You are one mighty supportive wife, Mrs Barnes!”
As she was briskly strapping her bag to Dullahan’s saddle, a bullet suddenly whizzed overhead, cutting through the air with a howl. For a split second, the air escaped her lungs in a heaving gasp. It had narrowly avoided her and her horse, causing her to yell out in surprise. “What the hell was that?”
“Is that the law already?” she heard Marston shout back.
“They don’t look like no law to me,” Arthur replied before grabbing his repeater and firing at the attackers. Maebh looked to the distant tree-line, seeing five riders coming from the brush armed to the teeth and faces covered with green scarves and hoods. Their harsh shouts and cries could be heard clearly on the wind, but they had little time to contemplate these new arrivals. Arthur downed one with ease, the bullet tearing through his chest and seemingly ending his life. “I think we just stole some other gang’s take, boys!”
“You recognise ’em?”
“Don’t think I’ve ever seen these idiots before!”
William was quick to draw too and managed to shoot another rider off his horse. “These shots are goin’ t’bring a whole load’a unwanted attention!”
John quickly agreed. “Then let’s get the hell outta here!”
“We split up then meet back at camp,” Arthur decided as he let off a final shot that hit its target. “Marston, with me! Hennigans, you two stick together, you hear me?”
“Yes, sir,” William replied hastily. “Fágfaimid, Maebh!”
Maebh asked no questions, choosing to grasp her horse’s reigns tightly in her hand and urge her into a gallop. “Maith an cailín, let’s go back home now, alright? Fágfaimid!”
As the number of their pursuers dwindled down to two, the four outlaws didn’t hesitate to ride as fast as possible. Maebh pushed Dullahan to the limit, the animal breathing and voicing the effort as she and William tore through a tree line and out into an open field. Arthur and John had already disappeared in another direction, but she couldn’t afford to check for them with a curious glance over the shoulder now. Guns, though less so than before, were still heard going off behind them. All she could do was focus on her horse, focus on her brother, and focus on making it back home safely.
It didn’t take long for the shots to stop. Racing and winding through forest and field alike was something with which she was familiar. As the crack of bullets died away, the thundering beating of hooves on earth slowed its rhythm. The horses’ breathing slowed with relief, as did the wind whipping through her hair. They eased the animals into a trot, noting the stillness of the night around them. There were no lawmen, no gangs, no one following them. With calming words, they assured the other that they were alright.
They were safe, and they made it out with the money. The relief in her heart was a welcome feeling of which she would never tire. When these jobs went well, they were considered a great success, but while she felt pride and joy knowing they made it out, she knew they could be snuffed out with simply one well-timed bullet.
The thought made her think of Arthur and John riding back to camp.
The siblings soon found themselves tired and alone in Madison County’s endless plains, slowly making their way home, and hoping that their friends had made it too.
Chapter 10: Fair is Foul
Maebh and William return to camp after the train heist and the former spends some more quality time with Arthur.
Apologies for the delay in getting this bad boy out. Christmas was a busy time (Hopefully you all enjoyed the holidays) and I needed to write the second half of the chapter with my co-writer. The majority of the dialogue towards the end was written by him! Things are really about to hit the fan, you could say... Hope y'all enjoy this one! We're really happy with how it turned out.
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “Flesh and Blood” — Half Moon Run, “Tabula Rasa” — Calum Graham, “Blood” — Jed Kurzel
A fiery early-morning sun rose over the rolling hills outside Winterset, Iowa. Reddish hues and wisps of orange clouds danced through the sky as dawn neared by the hour. The air was cool, the sunrise having not yet had a chance to warm the land below. As Maebh and William steered their horses down the path to camp, the sight of the familiar tents in the distance allowed her to release a breath she had not realised she was holding. Despite the unplanned detour after the heist, they had made it home. She had her brother and she had the money. More importantly, they were safe.
“It feels good to be back,” William said, the relief evident in his tone. His shoulders relaxed as he settled into the saddle and threw a glance his sister’s way. “We made it back together and unharmed as always.”
The smile she offered him was one for his eyes only. “We make quite a team. Hopefully Arthur and Marston made it back too.”
“I’m sure they did. There’s no way a couple’a little random outlaws stopped them from gettin’ home.”
As they veered the animals towards the hitching posts, they heard Dutch’s voice welcome them back. “Hennigans! There you are!”
They hopped off their horses, not before giving them both a carrot for a job well done, then turned to face Dutch, who was already by their side.
“You found your way home,” he noted proudly before announcing their return to the whole camp, uncaring of those who may have been resting. “Everyone! Maebh and William are back!”
“Arthur and John—?”
“Are fine, Miss Maebh. They’re safe and sound in their tents. Just got in a little bit before ya.”
From around the campfire, Hosea and Karen approached to offer them a warm welcome back, and from out of their respective tents came their partners from the robbery. When Maebh saw her friends coming towards her without visible ailments, a warm sense of happiness washed over her. Arthur pushed through first, grinning at the sight of them. “Are you two alright?”
“We’re fine,” she assured him before turning the question around. “Are you?”
He waved an arm about as if he was unsure as to how he could greet her. She related to his uncertainty, pushing away the urge to embrace him and make sure he was indeed well. “Yeah, o’course. We weren’t in long ahead of y’all.”
“Well I’m glad you’re alright.”
Just then, John made his arrival known. Managing to slink his way through the crowd, he grinned at the sight of the siblings. “You took your time.”
William gave him a clap on the shoulder. “It’s good to see you too, Marston. Hope we didn’t worry you’s too much.”
Dutch shook his head. “We didn’t have any doubts about you makin’ it back to us.”
“We’ve got the money too!” Maebh proudly took the money from her saddle and offered it to Dutch. “We didn’t forget that.”
“While I appreciate the honesty,” Dutch began, laying a large hand on her shoulder. “My concerns are with you instead of the money. How ’bout you leave those bags in your tent and we’ll worry ’bout splittin’ it all in the afternoon. For now, you four should get somethin’ to eat and some sleep. Someone grab these folks some leftovers!”
More than willing to take Dutch’s advice, she and William were happy to be given some soup and bread to fill their empty stomachs after a long ride. Arthur and John stayed by their side as they grabbed a meal, already laughing over William’s choice of distraction for the heist. Despite it being at John’s expense and surprise, he seemed to find it somewhat amusing, but perhaps his willingness to laugh at himself was heightened by his joy in the entire event going to plan. All Maebh knew for sure was that she had found her way back to her friends and was safe once more.
* * *
16th of September, 1893, outside Winterset, Iowa.
The train heist went mostly as planned last night, bar the fact we ran into another group of robbers after the fact. I didn’t recognise them — although I didn’t get a good look at them neither — but it seems we weren’t the only ones eying up that take. Regardless, I am merely glad that we all made it out in one piece and with the money on our backs. The more I see of the Hennigans in action, the more faith I put in them. They may be young, but they work hard and seem eager to do what they can to help out the gang. I hope that we can someday share these memories around a campfire and reminisce about their early days in our company. I really think they’re gonna make a name for themselves in years to come.
While I was away, another lost soul joined our gang. A big gruff feller by the name of Bill Williamson. I have only spoken to him sparingly, but he seems eager to impress Dutch and show his usefulness. I have, however, seen him in a stake of drunkenness more frequently than being sober. Dutch says he was dishonourably discharged from the army and had been sleeping rough the last while, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. According to Maebh, he threatened to shoot Copper when they met… He’s gonna have to work hard to gain my trust now.
* * *
William and John were arguing with each other, as per usual. Arthur looked up from his journal to see the young men talking animatedly, though it didn’t look like it was about to break out into a fight. He stretched his arms with a groan and tried to wake himself up properly after his short nap. Admittedly curious as to what they were at each other’s throats for this time, he shut his journal and approached the pair.
“Do you two have to yell at each other every damn day?”
William and John looked up at his accusation while the former addressed him first. “When Marston here insists on makin’ dumb accusations, yes.”
John rolled his eyes. “Dumb? You’re so full’a shit.”
“What accusations?” Arthur pressed, unwilling to let them descend into arguing again.
William crossed his arms over his broad chest. “He thinks he can beat me in a race.”
“Maybe because I can?”
“The word you’re lookin’ for is ‘can’t’. Can’t.”
“You two interrupted my peaceful afternoon ’cause you’re arguin’ over who is the better rider?”
The energetic reply came from both men this time. “Yes!”
At that moment, Maebh came over, rubbing her tired eyes and glaring at her friends. “Would you’s ever give it a bloody rest, I swear to God… I was sleepin’. Yis are worse than women.”
“These two are arguin’ over which of ’em can beat the other in a race,” Arthur clarified, clasping his hands around his belt buckle. “Apparently it’s very important.”
“It is very important,” William insisted. “I’ll be dead in the ground before anyone claims Marston is a better rider than me.”
John folded his arms across his chest. “If you’re so damn sure’a yourself, let’s have ourselves a race.”
Arthur’s brow piqued as he glance at the Hennigan brother, his green eyes narrowing at the suggestion. “A race, is it? Right now?”
“Right now, Willie. Unless you’re afraid I’m gonna beat ya.”
“Afraid? Nah, I’d just hate to embarrass ye, Johnny. How ’bout we make it more interestin’?”
The Irish man fiddled with his moustache, appearing more devious than usual thanks to this new facial feature. “If I win, I get to cut your hair.”
John frowned immediately. “I ain’t lettin’ you anywhere near my hair.”
“What’s the problem? It shouldn’t make a difference to you if you know you can win.”
“He’s got you there, John,” Arthur added, tactically poking the fire. “I thought you was confident?”
John, sensing that there were no arguments to be had, conceded. “Fine. If you win, you get to cut my hair, but if I win, I get that nice Litchfield you got in your tent.”
“You got yourself a deal, greasy. Let’s do it.”
Arthur noticed Maebh rolling her eyes as some of the others approached. Mac and Davey walked up to them to ask what exactly all the fuss was about.
“These two are gonna race each other,” Arthur explained casually. “They’ve been arguin’ all mornin’ ’bout it.”
“Yeah, I heard some’a that argument,” Davey answered with a wry grin. “They gonna race now?”
“We gotta take bets,” Mac insisted with enthusiasm. “So we can finally benefit from all their fightin’.”
“Bets?” Arthur repeated, liking the sound of the idea. He gave Maebh a gentle nudge with his shoulder. “What you think?”
Maebh met his gaze and flashed him a small but mischievous smile. “Make a little bit of money off their constant bickerin’ while watchin’ Marston get beat? Sounds good to me.”
Her dig grabbed John’s attention. “You’re a cruel one, Maebh. Mighty cruel.”
“She may be cruel, John, but she’s right,” Hosea declared. The older man sat nearby at a table, casually reading a newspaper while keeping tabs on the development. “William is most definitely the better rider.”
“Right,” William began before digging into his pocket and pulling out three dollars. He set it down on the table and turned to the group. “I’m startin’ this off by bettin’ on myself. Who wants in?”
“You heard the boy,” Hosea replied, nodding to the money. Ever the conman and ever the seeker of opportunity. “Time to place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Who wants to earn some cash?”
“Me,” Maebh joined in, tossing another three dollars on the table. “On William to win, Mister Matthews.”
By now, Bill and Karen had also inserted themselves into the interaction. The sight of cash being thrown on the table and Hosea taking down names was enough to pique their interest. Apparently Williamson had other loves bar alcohol…
As everyone went up one by one and placed money on either John or William, Arthur joined in and bet some of his own cash, but chose to keep his bet to himself. The group walked out to the main road outside of camp, eager to get the race underway. While William and John lead Dantès and Applejack along with them, Hosea explained the rules of the race and which route they would take with gusto. “We’re going to go for one lap, boys, and only one. You’re followin’ the road north, then comin’ on to the first bend towards the right that loops around the hill. Follow the tree line back down south, then skip through that field to come back on to the road you started on. This tree here will act as our startin’ and finishin’ line, alright?” As the two racers confirmed that they followed, Hosea continued on. “Now I want you two to start back here from these rocks, and bring your horses up towards the starting line in a canter. Then, when I give the signal, you can push them into a gallop.”
Following their instructions obediently, William and John lead their horses a few yards down the road to the rocks Hosea had pointed out. The small crowd of outlaws gathered beside the starting line, eagerly waiting for the race to begin. Arthur watched Maebh closely, for she seemed a little more reserved than the others. Perhaps it was an expression of quiet confidence in her brother rather than one of worry.
The men, having been given Hosea’s signal, trotted up towards the group, determined expressions covering their youthful faces. With a wave of his hand and a cry from the older man, the boys kicked their horses into a thundering gallop. Arthur cheered them on as they sped up the road, kicking up dirt and dust in their wake. His eyes followed them as they looped around the hill, pushing their horses as hard as they could go. It was a close one — very close. The closer they got to the finish line, the louder the group of friends cheered and clapped, urging the racer on whom they had placed money. John seemed to have the edge by only a couple feet, and yet William seemed unfazed by his position. As the horses raced back to the road on which they began, Dantès seemed to get a second wind. William pushed the horse onwards and slightly ahead of his rival with a flurry of precise kicks with his heels and cries urging him to overtake the other animal. The rhythmic thumping of their hooves grew closer and closer, until they once more crossed the tree line. William cleared it by about three feet ahead of John, and one half of the group erupted into cheers.
Arthur couldn’t help but smile as William and John brought their horses to a skidding halt.
“Good race, Marston,” the former said, patting Dantès neck affectionately. “It was a close one.”
John grumbled, visibly frustrated with the loss. “I almost had it, goddamnit...”
“I did warn you.”
Hosea approaches the pair with a wide smile. “Good job, boys, and well done to William, our winner! Everyone who bet money on Hennigan, come get your winnin’s.”
Maebh immediately approached once she flashed William a proud smile and gave his outstretched hand a squeeze. Karen claimed her cash with a word of thanks thrown in the young man’s direction. Hosea happily took his own share before he threw Arthur a look. With an awakened shrug of his shoulders, Arthur accepted the money he had won, sensing Maebh’s eyes on him.
“I thought you would’ve bet on Marston,” she admitted, pleasantly surprised with the surprise. “You bet on William to win?”
Before Arthur could even answer her, John yelled defiantly from his saddle. “What the hell, Morgan?”
“Oh, pipe down, Marston,” he grunted dismissively. “It ain’t nothin’ personal — the kid is a better rider!”
“Jaysus,” William exclaimed. “Your own brother bet against you. That’s harsh... Cheers, Arthur!”
“Don’t make it worse, kid!”
“Nah, I’ll only be doin’ that when I get to cut his hair.”
John released a groan, hanging his head in defeat, hair masking his face from the outside world. “You gotta be kiddin’ me.”
“A bet’s a bet.”
As William contemplated as to what style he would like John’s hair to be in, Maebh approached Arthur and murmured. “I really thought you’d bet on Marston.”
Arthur looked down at her in amusement. “How come?”
“Well, out of a sense of loyalty, I guess.”
He threw the younger men a cautious glance to make sure they weren’t listening. “Look, I’ll support John in whatever he wants to do, but I ain’t about to lose money on him.”
She seemed to find his answer humorous. “Dutch wouldn’t be amused with your lack of loyalty, Arthur.”
“What Dutch don’t know can’t hurt him.”
“That’s true, I suppose. What do you plan on spendin’ your slightly tainted winnin’s on?”
“Huh.” He pondered the query, realising he hadn’t actually thought too far ahead with this outcome. “I ain’t sure. I might just head into Winterset and have a look ’round the general store.”
“D’you mind if I come with?” she asked, a glint in her eye. “I think I’d like to do the same thing.”
How could he even attempt to refuse her company? Not that he even wanted to.
They had asked William, Hosea, and Karen if they wanted to join them considering they had also won big thanks to the young man, but their offer was politely declined. With no one else in the right form to be spending more money, Arthur and Maebh mounted their horses and made for the town. It was a short ride, one filled with idle conversation about the race and what was to become of John’s beloved hair. She said something about how a wash and a cut would do him some good, which may have been a low blow, but it certainly wasn’t a lie.
In town, they hitched their horse outside the general store and walked inside. The owner stood by a shelf, counting his stock and writing down figures into a notebook. Upon hearing them enter, he offered them a polite smile. “It is good to see you again, Miss. And you, Mister.”
“I hope business is good?” Arthur offered politely, nodding his head in greeting.
“Stable at the moment, so I’m happy. What can I do for y’all?”
“Just havin’ a browse,” Maebh replied. “We’ve money to spend, but we’re not sure on what.”
“Well, if y’all need a hand, just holler.”
Arthur noticed Maebh veering off to look over each shelf in the shop. He scratched his stubbly chin while studying a bottle of bourbon on the shelf. He contemplated buying it for a brief moment before seeing his friend studying a display of secondhand books. He recalled the conversation they had had weeks ago in which she expressed her love for stories and writing her own tales. It was a pastime that made her happy, and one she had yet to explore again as far as he knew. His eyes darted between the bourbon on the shelf and her back as she brought a book up to the counter.
Paying for it quickly, she stuffed it into her bag and joined him. “Thinkin’ of spoilin’ yourself?”
“Uh, maybe,” he answered before nodding at the door. “I ain’t decided yet. I can meet you outside once I make up my mind.”
He was relieved when she didn’t argue and left him to mull over his choice alone. Once out of sight, he wandered over to the shelf she had been pursuing and found what he was looking for. On the middle shelf was a bunch of leather-bound blank journals, thick with good quality paper and numerous pages. He flickered through the book, testing the paper between his thumb and forefinger before shutting it again. From a cup on the lower shelf he grabbed two pencils and, happy with his choice, went to the counter. As he handed over the money needed, the owner grinned at him beneath his facial hair and wished him a good day.
Outside, Maebh sat on a bench and casually munched on some biscuits she had brought along. She greeted him by offering the packet. “You were quicker than I thought you’d be.”
He waved away her gesture. “Yeah well, I realised what I needed quicker than I thought I would.”
“C’mon, Arthur. You have me waitin’ with bated breath!”
He paused and awkwardly cleared his throat. He had planned on doing this later, but found himself crumbling at her curiosity. He reached into his satchel and pulled out his purchases. “I, uh, got you these.”
He held the journal and pencils out to her, but she visibly hesitated. “You what?”
“Well, when I was in there, I remembered what you said ’bout how you used to write stories as a kid. I figured this might set you off on the right foot. Go on, take ’em. They’re yours.”
There was a short silence between them, in which it seemed like Maebh was trying to figure out what to say. At his encouragement, she carefully took the journal and pencils in her hands. Her eyes gazed at the new book in wonder. “Arthur, this is... This is really thoughtful of you. Thank you.”
“Don’t worry ’bout it. It’s just somethin’ small.” He shrugged off her appreciation. Even still, the sight of her so truly enraptured by his gift made him feel surprisingly joyful. Inside his chest, which had been previously tight with worry before his reveal, was now warm and relaxed having thankfully received only appreciation.
“No really,” she insisted, flicking through its pages. “This was very kind of you. Although now this is a little awkward...”
He blinked, feeling his stomach about to drop in his now tensing gut. “What?”
“I uh…” She let out a huffed chuckled and reached into her satchel. “I got these for you too.”
In her hands was another leather-bound journal accompanied by some pencils. She held it out to him and he blinked at her in surprise.
“Why do you look like a deer that caught sight of a cougar?” she asked, trying to hide the small smile on her lips.
“You do, actually.”
“You…” He stood up straighter before gently taking the gifts. His fingers gently caressed the book’s spine. “Got these for me?”
“Yeah. I guess we need to hang out less. I know you told me you like keepin’ a journal, but I also noticed you sketchin’ some of the horses the other day.” Arthur quickly looked up from the journal to see her shrug. “I wasn’t watchin’ you or anythin’ like that! I just noticed as I was brushin’ Dullahan. I definitely didn’t want to disturb you while you were drawin’, so I kept it to myself. You told me before how important it is to keep up those hobbies, so I figured you could do with some extra pencils and paper. Maybe someday you can show me some of your sketches, and I can show you some of my stories, right?”
Though slightly miffed with having had her figure out his mostly secret pastime, he couldn’t help but be grateful for her thoughtful present. “Now I understand why you said it was awkward.”
“At least no one else was here to witness the awkwardness.”
“Right you are.” He offered her a bashful smile before placing his new items in his bag. “Thank you, Maebh. This was mighty kind of you.”
“I could say the same thing ’bout you,” she laughed and tipped her hat. “I’ll be sure to make good use of it.”
“Me too. Now let’s head back to camp before we make things more awkward.”
* * *
The whistling was what woke Maebh up that night. Whistling and footsteps.
The eery noise carried through the cool night air and into her tent, tearing her and William from a restless sleep. Rubbing the grime from her eyes in irritation, she had half a mind to tell whoever was awake at this hour to shut up and leave them to their rest. However, it seemed like William was going to beat her to it.
“I’ll sock whoever that is,” he grumbled and pulled back the tent’s flap. “The neck of them.”
“What’s the bets it’s Uncle with a bottle of bourbon in hand?” she pondered groggily. When her brother didn’t reply, she sat up on her bedroll to see him still standing and peering out into camp. “Who is it?”
He hesitated, his shoulders tense under his union suit, and answered lowly. “I’m not sure.”
The whistling and walking halted before a calm and surprisingly soft voice sounded from outside. The accent was distinctly recognisable to them as Welsh. “Rise and shine gentlemen!”
Sensing in her gut that something was direly wrong, Maebh quickly went to her brother’s side. She squinted and looked through the darkness to find a man stood in the centre of camp. He was well dressed and oddly calm for someone trespassing in a camp full of outlaws, but that wasn’t even the most worrying part.
“What the hell is he doin’ with that fella?” Maebh asked, her eyes trailing to the weeping man by the stranger’s side. A noose hung around his neck, his hands were tied, and his feet were bare and bloody.
“Nothin’ good,” was all William could manage as others started to ventured out from their tents. He quickly grabbed their pistols and ushered her out. “Come on.”
All of the gang came armed and wary. Dutch was at the forefront, with an angry Arthur and skeptical Hosea either side. One glance around camp confirmed that everyone was there except for Mac, who was supposed to be on guard duty that night.
At first, she was fearful that those who would see her dead from Wisconsin had finally found them, but this man was not one she recognised. He looked older than Arthur, perhaps around Dutch’s age, lines framing the skin around his intense blue eyes. He had a strong jaw, dimpled chin, thick eyebrows, and a dark moustache to match. His smiling and handsome features left Maebh feeling a sense of unease she rarely experienced when meeting another person. He dressed well with a clean bowler hat and a dark suit. His attire displayed his wealth without seeming too ostentatious, but his posture was oozing with self-assuredness. He was outnumbered and he didn’t care. The newcomer stood proudly, smiling as the crowd gathered, grasping a lapel of his suit jacket in one hand and the hair of the tied-up man with the other. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that the stranger had beaten his companion about the face, cuts bleeding and features swelling as bruises slowly formed. His nose was visibly broken but already bruised an ageing yellowish-brown. Only then did she realise who he was.
“William,” she whispered lowly. “That’s the lad from the saloon that came on to me. Pádraig wasn’t it? I broke his nose, remember?”
His reply was gruff, his glaring eyes focused directly on who he considered a threat. “Hard to forget him.”
“You chaps have been very naughty,” the stranger announced in a relaxed tone. “Very naughty indeed. That business with the train?” He tutted and turned his focused eyes on Maebh. “And you, Miss Hennigan? Assaulting our poor friend here? Well that’s a particular brand of naughtiness that I take very personally.”
As soon as he addressed her by name, a shiver ran up her spine and she grasped the handle of her gun even tighter. William wasted no time in placing his body a little more in front of hers once the stranger had addressed her directly.
“Who are you, stranger?” Dutch addressed him evenly. “And what business do you have sneakin’ ’round our camp?”
The stranger appeared amused by his comment. “Sneaking? I merely walked down the trail, Mr Van der Linde. I walked by that poor Callander fellow who was merely doing his job. He should wake up soon, but he will find himself with a fine knock on his blonde head.”
Bill, having apparently heard enough, let out a roar and suddenly charged the newcomer. Without an ounce of effort, the man quickly side stepped out of the way and his attacker went half-tumbling into the dirt.
“Mind your temper, Marion. That might get you in even more trouble someday.”
At that admission, Dutch addressed the other Callander brother. “Davey, Reverend Swanson, go get Mac and make sure he’s still alive.”
“Of course he’s alive,” the stranger said with a small chuckle as the two men quickly headed down the trail to check up on the apparently unconscious Mac. “Killing him was of no interest to me.”
“Strangers who attack my family are a helluva interest to me, Mister,” Dutch answered. “What the hell do you want?”
“We’ve been keeping a close eye on you lot since you arrived,” the man explained, tone never once shifting into something that showed concern. “And I have to admit I’m somewhat impressed by the amount of ruckus you’ve managed to cause in such a short time. It is truly spectacular. Were my employer not furious with you, I might even applaud. What an admirable little bit of chaos you’ve wrought.”
“Who the fuck is your ‘employer’?” William asked.
“My employer is none of your concern right now. All you lot need to worry about is the fact that you currently stand on O’Driscoll land.”
“What the hell is an O’Driscoll?” said John, grasping a shotgun wearily. As he spoke, Davey and the reverend came back up the trail, carrying Mac with them. He was out cold but seemingly alive despite the panic. They placed him on his bedroll and quickly began to check him over.
“You should know,” the stranger replied in a clipped voice. “You’ve been meddling in our affairs for the last few weeks and done a number of jobs in our territory. Being a right thorn in our sides, you are. But this will continue no longer. Leave. Now.” He addressed the whole gang, dragging his eyes over each individual so that his words were registered. “You will suffer no consequences if you do, but keep causing us problems, and you’ll lose a lot more than just a watch, Mr Hennigan.”
Maebh’s stomach twisted with the discovery — this was the man who had stolen her brother’s pocket watch from right under their noses. Somehow, he had snuck into camp, stolen it, only to return in the dead of night and leave it for them to rediscover. He had been here before while they all slept, he had laid hands on their personal belongings — who the hell was this guy?
“How did you manage to get in and outta this camp undetected?” Hosea asked. “Someone must’a seen you.”
The stranger shrugged. “Perhaps if Miss Hennigan and Mr Marston took their guard duties a little more seriously you wouldn’t have been left so vulnerable.”
John snarled and quickly raised the shotgun. “One more word outta you and I’ll blow a damn hole in your head!”
Dutch was quick to intervene. “John, you put that damn gun down. Ain’t no one gettin’ shot tonight just yet.” Though it took a few moments, the younger man slowly lowered his weapon with a look of vivid displeasure. Dutch looked at him sternly before continuing. “So you were the one they saw outside camp.”
The Welshman grinned. “Indeed I was, so kind of you to notice. And here I was thinking that you had forgotten all about me.”
The group began to grow more tense each passing minute. The more information that was revealed, the more they realised how heavily their privacy had been invaded without their knowledge. He had gotten their names, snuck into their home, taken their possessions… And now, he was kicking them off this apparent ‘O’Driscoll land’. What else had he done? What else could he do? Maebh had never seen a smile that set her so on edge.
“I don’t see why we can’t come to some sort of agreement,” Hosea cut in, unwilling to play any games or let the situation spiral further. “Work this out like gentlemen.”
The stranger’s eyes gleamed in the moonlight, a sharp edge of bitterness washing over his structured face in a fraction of a second. “I think you should be more concerned with your wife’s wellbeing, Mr Matthews. And besides, we’ve already come to an agreement. You’re leaving.”
At the mention of his wife’s illness, Hosea visibly tensed, as did Arthur and many of the other gang members. Maebh could feel the rage seething off William next to her, let alone the furious hammering of her own heart.
Dutch spoke again with much less patience. “This is a free country, Mister.”
“Not for you it’s not. Would you call this being free?” He waved a free hand around camp, eyes wide and wild. “You operate under the guise of helping people but you leave disaster in your wake everywhere you go. You donate half of your take to the poor, but that money is already stolen from those who earned it. I’m sure it makes you feel so high and mighty! Who are you really helping? Yourself? At least I have the decency to admit it. Apparently you even needlessly kill now, Mr Van der Linde; what a development.”
“What’s to stop us from shootin’ you?” their leader replied, shrugging his shoulders. “Puttin’ an end to this right here, right now?
A silence hung in the air while everyone waited for the stranger’s answer. He merely chuckled to himself and responded with confidence. “That would be very unwise. We have enough blood on our hands for today; we’d hate to have to add more.”
Suddenly, the man released his accomplice’s hair and drew a schofield revolver from his hip holster. Almost instantly, everyone in the gang aimed their own weapons at them, no one even hesitating once he had done so. The Welshman seemed amused by the display, holding up his free hand and keeping the gun aimed at the ground. “Oh, Dutch’s Boys do move quickly. Do you all plan on riddling me with a bullet each? This ought to make a great entry in your little diary, Mr. Morgan.” He cleared his throat and spoke in a gruff, southern accent. “Last night, Dutch had us murder this stupid feller who sneaked into camp. Damn bastard never saw it comin’ but we showed him, yeehaw.”
“Just what do you think you’re gonna accomplish here, with all these guns aimed on ya?” Arthur asked, eyes narrowed and calculating. “Gonna try take one’a us out? We’d gun you down before you could even try, damn the consequences.”
Another pause passed through the nighttime conversation. The stranger, still smiling despite staring down numerous gun barrels, replied. “That’s not what I’m here for.”
The bang of his gun cut through the tense silence in camp.
Smoke rose from the stranger’s gun, but no one in the gang fired their own weapon — the scream that rang out didn’t belong to any of them.
At the newcomer’s side, Pádraig, the man whom had been viciously beaten already, howled in pain as the bullet tore through his shoulder. Uncaring and not even looking at the wailing man, his attacker holstered his weapon once more.
“Pádraig here was a disappointment to my employer after returning empty handed from that train you so rudely intercepted,” he explained without much emotion. “And he does not suffer disappointment lightly. Do with this wretch what you will, it is of no concern to us, and remember Mr. Van der Linde, do not disappoint. I’d say ‘see you around’, but for your sakes, I hope not.”
As the screams continued to tear from Pádraig’s throat, the stranger stepped over his fallen body and began to slowly walk back down the trail. When he passed by in front of Dutch, he paused as if remembered something. “And to answer your earlier question, you can call me Matthew. Considering I know so much about you, it is only fair to give you something, yes? Good day, gentlemen, ladies.”
With that, Matthew continued on his way down the trail and disappeared into the darkness. Even as she lost sight of him, his whistles carried on through the night air until they too faded into the distance.
Once he was gone, everyone breathed a small sigh of relief until they remembered the fallen man still whimpering in pain.
“What do you we do, Dutch?” Arthur asked with a grave expression.
“About everythin’?” Dutch asked before nodded to Pádraig. “Or about him?”
Arthur looked somewhat shaken and replied. “About all of it, I guess. But what about him? Do we kill him?”
At the sound of that proposition, Pádraig began to plead. “Please don’t kill me! Please, Mister, have a heart!”
“Why shouldn’t we kill ya, you lil O’Driscoll boy?”
“I’ll tell you anythin’ you want’a know about ’em!” he insisted desperately. “Anythin’! Just please don’t kill me!”
Dutch stared at Pádraig in silence for a few moments, many thoughts probably flying around his head. “Arthur, Miss Grimshaw, help this feller to a spare bedroll, will ya? Do what you can for him. If Mac is doin’ alright, get the reverend to help. I need you both to keep him alive.”
Arthur shrugged before roughly grabbing the man by the shirt and tossing him over his shoulder. “You’re one lucky son-of-a-bitch.”
Maebh watched as he and Susan quickly brought the man to the reverend’s tent and set him down on the ground. They didn’t even hesitate and began to get to work and follow Dutch’s orders. No one dared to question his choice except for young John, who let out an audible scoff. “How can we keep him? We got enough mouths to feed as it is, let alone this clown.”
“What do we always say, John? We save fellers as need savin’.” Dutch then turned to the assembled crowd and addressed them all. “The rest’a you, go get some sleep — I need you all up bright and early in the mornin’.”
Dutch focused his eyes at the trail down which Matthew had left. With a bite to his tone, he placed his hands on his hips and answered. “Tomorrow we’re movin’ on.”
Chapter 11: Fire Burn
The gang starts packing up so that they can move on to a new spot, and Arthur and Maebh learn more about each other over an impromptu meal.
Howdy! Here is another chapter for y'all to feast your eyes upon. Arthur and Maebh's interaction in this chapter wasn't meant to be anywhere near as long as it ended up being, so enjoy some unplanned fluff after all the creepy vibes from the last chapter. Thanks as always to the new subs, commenters, and shneaky ghost readers! I appreciate you's sticking around and I hope you're enjoying this lil mess of mine so far.
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “20 Years” — The Civil Wars, “Marion” — Bon Iver, “Oh My Lovely” — Daniel Lanois, “The Cruel Wars” — The Dreadnoughts
Arthur was powering through a cigarette when Dutch approached him that morning.
“I want you to come into De Soto with Maebh and I,” the latter explained. “While this lot are packin’ up everythin’.”
Arthur ran his eyes over camp, within which Miss Grimshaw and Mr Pearson were rallying the troops. Now that everyone was finally waking up with the rising sun, they had to get everything packed away so they could move onwards to their next destination. Most people were on edge, snapping with less-than-usually-needed prompting or flat out keeping to themselves. Swanson’s tent that housed the O’Driscoll was being avoided by most of them. It wasn’t an easy morning in camp, but after a night like that, who could blame them? The day ahead was sure to be a busy one.
“Whatchu wanna do in De Soto?” Arthur asked as he inhaled roughly.
“I want to have a chat with the saloon owner in town. Maebh said that he seemed to know our new friend after she broke his nose. He might be able to give us some information on these O’Driscolls. That and I wanna pay Annabelle a visit before we go. Don’t want her thinkin’ I’d run off without a word.”
“What about the O’Driscoll we got here? He ain’t talkin’?”
“Right now, he’s restin’ and I don’t think he’ll be doin’ much else for a while considerin’ his injuries. Plus, if we already know more than he realises, we can compare what he tells us with what the saloon owner says. You in?”
Though Arthur partly wished he could avoid the O’Driscolls altogether, he agreed to accompany them into town to gather whatever information they could. “Sure. You wanna leave now?”
“The sooner the better,” Dutch said, going off to fetch his horse. “I asked the others to pack up the rest of our things while we’re gone, so don’t worry about ’em.”
“You got it, Dutch.”
As Arthur went to mount up, he spotted Maebh doing the same thing. Noticing the slight furrow in her brow, he lead Boadicea along and slowly approached his friend. “How’re you doin’ this mornin’?”
She offered him a half smile and shrugged as she secured the saddle to her mare’s back. “Just as you would expect after a night like that. How ’bout yourself?”
“A lil shaken, I guess. It’s not everyday some nutcase comes into camp like… that.”
Maebh frowned at his words. “I was goin’ t’ask if that sorta thing was a regular occurrence, but I guess not. It takes a lot to shake you.”
It was easy enough to see — or perhaps it was easy for him — that she was just as perturbed by said recent events, and Arthur had no interest in making her feel worse. If anything, he felt the need to make it better. A little bit of reassurance would hopefully improve her mood. “Unfortunately it ain’t. Sorry to break it to ya. But that don’t matter — once we move, we should be fine.”
“The sooner the better. Where are we headed anyway?”
“South Dakota,” a reply sounded from behind them. Right on time, Dutch appeared with the Count not far behind. “A small town called Fulton, to be exact. Far enough, but not too far. Headin’ west is usually a safe bet.”
“How long’ll that take?” Maebh queried as she pulled herself up on to her saddle.
“A few days with rests here and there. Myself and Hosea are familiar enough with that country. The others will meet us in town once they’re packed up and ready to go. Now, let’s get this over with, shall we?”
The ride into De Soto was shorter than usual. With little time to spare, the trio galloped as quickly as they could into town and arrived at the saloon. Considering it was so early in the day, it was mostly quiet, bar a couple of patrons who were grabbing food or a questionably early drink.
As Dutch greeted the owner, he clearly recognised them given the slight scepticism in his face. “It’s good to see you again, friends. What’ll it be?”
“Three beers, Mister,” Dutch said and placed some coins on the counter. “But we ain’t here just for drinks.”
Once the drinks were set down, Arthur took a swig and the barman looked at them with hesitation. “Well, I hope you’re not here to cause more trouble.”
“Of course not, friend,” Dutch insisted, laying on all the charm he had. “Now to be fair, I think that guy deserved a knock or two after what he said to young Maebh here.”
“Probably, but I still don’t like when it happens in my establishment.” His eyes wandered to the young woman before adding. “I hope you were alright afterwards, miss, but you looked like you could handle yourself alright.”
Maebh nodded. “I like to think I can.”
“We just wanted to ask you some questions about the men from that night,” Dutch continued. “If that’s alright with you. I promise we won’t be startin’ nothin’ in your saloon, just wanna look out for ourselves, if’n you understand me.”
The barman idly cleaned a glass as he gave them a nod to go on. “Ask away.”
“What can you tell us ’bout the O’Driscolls?”
“I thought you might have known ’em already, considerin’ you were so quick to fight back.”
“That’s just a habit of ours,” Dutch explained with a slight smirk. “We only heard of ’em last night, so we’re lookin’ to get whatever information we can.”
“Well they’re not good news, I can certainly tell you that much.” The saloon owner glanced around the room before continuing on in a lower voice. “They’re a gang that says they run Madison County and a lot of these parts of Iowa. I haven’t got a good word to say about ’em — always robbin’ and killin’ when they get a chance. Get away with a lot of it ’cause they’ve got corrupt men workin’ in different towns; doctors, inn-keepers, store owners, gunsmiths, you name it. They’ve got a couple here and there. They’re made up of mostly Irish, but they’ve got plenty of Americans and Scots in their ranks too — seem to have a helluva lot of numbers. They claim to be workin’ against ‘order’ and all that, but I think they just wanna cause trouble wherever they can. I usually don’t like ’em comin’ in here ’cause they either scare away my other customers or cause fights to break out.”
“Any idea who leads the gang?” Arthur asked after another swig.
The man shrugged. “I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know many of ’em bar the ones who come in here. I wouldn’t even know their boss if I saw him in my saloon. Sorry, misters, ma’am.”
“No problem, partner. Any information is better than nothin’.”
As Dutch finished most of his beer, the owner replied. “Glad I could help. I do hope that whatever problems you got with those boys don’t last long.”
They let the man get back to business while they contemplated what he had to share. Arthur was the first to clear his throat. “Well, that was better than nothin’, I guess.”
“At least we know more ’bout what we’re dealin’ with,” Dutch reassured them. “I think we’re makin’ the right decision in movin’ elsewhere. If their numbers and reach are as that man describes ’em, then we ain’t got much chance and I ain’t willin’ to risk lives for the sake of pride.”
“We’ll follow you wherever needs be, Dutch,” Maebh added. “We trust you.”
“And it feels good to have such reliable friends by my side,” he admitted. “Now, I need to go and attend to the rest of my business, so I suppose you two might as well wait here. Grab another drink if y’all want, and I’ll meet you back here.”
The older man quickly exited the saloon, leaving Arthur in Maebh’s company. He turned to offer her a smile while she shrugged and asked. “Want’a grab a table?”
“Sure. I could do with some food actually.”
“Me too, now that you mention it. How ’bout I get us a seat while you order the food?”
He nodded before reluctantly accepting the coins she pulled from her pocket. “What you want?”
“Whatever you’re havin’ is fine by me.”
He chuckled at her carefree attitude and approached the owner, asking what meals they had available. After some brief contemplation, he ordered two servings of roast beef and potatoes and, once they were ready, brought them to the nearby table Maebh had commandeered. An empty chair lay by the window, dappled in the early morning sunlight that poured in through the glass panels. His friend sat opposite him, eyes focused on the world outside as people opened their businesses and readied themselves for the day ahead. He studied her carefully as he set her food down in front of her. She was absentmindedly fiddling with a simple silver necklace that hung around her neck. The gesture made him curious, having seen her do this on numerous occasions, either when she was thinking or anxious.
“I thought I’d play it safe with the roast beef,” he announced, pulling her from her thoughts. “I know you like it, after all.”
“Thanks, Arthur,” she said as she took the cutlery he offered. “Smells good.”
“I’ve definitely had worse,” he admitted and sat down with a slight groan. “And at least it smells better than Pearson’s stew.”
“At first I didn’t understand why you’s all gave him such a hard time about his stew, and then I tried somethin’ of his that I didn’t help cook.” She pulled a face at the memory. “I’m now convinced most of the gang fund goes on salt.”
Having taken a bite of the beef, he reaffirmed her thoughts. “It ain’t competin’ with much, but it definitely ain’t got too much salt.”
“It’s good,” she agreed after her first mouthful. “And thankfully the seasonin’ isn’t giving me traumatic flashbacks.”
They eat together in silence for a few moments, Arthur feeling quite comfortable in her company. Outside, the residents of De Soto got to work. Slowly but surely, wagons and riders began to make their way up and down the muddy streets. A paper boy stood on the corner and read allowed the latest headlines for interested customers. Inside the saloon, a man sat nearby, strumming away on a guitar to entertain customers. It created a surprisingly calm atmosphere in such uncertain times for them. He hadn’t considered the idea that perhaps a normal activity such as grabbing a meal with a friend could help ease his mind. The only response he had prepared for was to get moving and ask questions later. He wondered how Maebh felt about all this, considering she had never been in a situation that involved moving camp so abruptly since she joined.
He bit the bullet and, once he finished the side of potatoes that came with his beef, spoke up. “So, I didn’t get a chance to pick your brain much earlier.”
She blinked at him curiously. “About what?”
“Last night, really. And everything that comes with it. I’m very much used to this life, but you haven’t been in it all that long.”
She took a small sup of beer before answering. “I don’t think anyone would be used to an encounter like that.”
“Well, ya ain’t wrong ’bout that.”
“That Matthew fella gives me the heebie-jeebies. He knew way too much about us. He managed to uncover so much information in such a short amount of time… I mean, I didn’t even know that Bill’s name is feckin’ Marion!” She sighed heavily and ran a hand over her brow in contemplation. “He snuck into camp and stole William’s watch, before sneakin’ back that night me and Marston saw him and put it in front of Dutch’s tent. Then he drags his own man into camp and shoots him after tellin’ us to leave. Even if you’ve been in this way longer than me, I doubt you’ve encountered someone like that.”
He couldn’t lie to her, not even if he wanted to. “I’ve seen my fair share a’characters, but I ain’t met none like him…”
“Exactly. What else does he know ’bout us? What if he knows more than he’s lettin’ on?”
“It might sound harsh, Maebh, but we don’t have no way’a knowin’ that unless he approaches us again. Ain’t no point worryin’ ’bout somethin’ that might not happen. You sound like you got somethin’ to hide.”
Though he had been teasing her with his words, the young woman frowned. “Me and William don’t exactly have the cleanest past.”
Arthur huffed. “And you think any of us do? We’ve all done things to survive or made mistakes that we might not be proud of. What makes you and your brother any different?”
As she mulled over his words, he thought back to when he had first encountered them in Wisconsin — sleeping rough and stealing to feed themselves. He still knew little of her past, bar some details about her parents and her relationship with them. Meeting their old family friend Mícheál had only increased his curiosity in their upbringing and whatever things they may have been hiding. While he still held small suspicions, they had given him no reason to suspect any sort of treachery.
“I dunno,” she admitted, slicing through the beef with her knife. “I guess I’m worried what you might think of some’a the stuff we’ve done.”
“It don’t matter,” he reassured her, the urge to pacify any worrisome thoughts she may have consuming him. “What matters is your loyalty to us now. Y’know, we ain’t exactly good in the eyes of most people, but we’re just tryin’ to survive. Sometimes we do dumb shit we regret later on, but you can learn from it. We all got our own secrets. As Dutch always says, it’s the here and now you gotta focus on, and right now, we’re all in this together. Stick with us and you’ll be alright. This life ain’t easy sometimes, but it’s the best we’re gonna get and better than what we had. Whatever secrets you got, it’s your own choice to share ’em if and when you’re ready.”
The small smile she gave him was a reassuring one. At this point, he had begun to recognise when she would be forcing a smile rather than actually expressing genuine happiness. Those gestures seemed to seldom appear and usually they were only ever shown to William when the two would spend time together. The one reason why seeing that expression made him happy was because he knew now that his words had managed to calm her racing mind, even just a little bit.
“You’re right,” she said as she tossed one of her last cuts of beef into her mouth. “Life isn’t easy, but it’s sure as hell easier with you lot around.”
“That’s the attitude I was lookin’ for, girl. At least good food and beer can make it easier too. Speakin’ of, you want another bottle?”
“What about Dutch?”
Arthur was already standing and waving away her concern. “He’ll probably be a little while, trust me. I’ll get us another round.”
He hurriedly bought two more beers, brushing off the money she had attempted to give him. He set them down on the table and took his seat again, deciding to try his luck with another round of questioning. “How ’bout this. What exactly can you tell me ’bout where you came from? Only the stuff you’re comfortable with.”
She raised a brow. “You’re gonna have’ta meet me halfway if you want that kinda information.”
Though he knew she was messing around, he went along with it. “Well Jesus, I bought you a drink, didn’t I? Ain’t that enough?”
“Are you jokin’? And waste an opportunity to learn more ’bout the elusive Arthur Morgan? I’d be daft to miss that chance!”
Knowing that she definitely wouldn’t tell him anything without receiving something in return, he conceded. “Alright. If you’re gonna twist my arm about it, I guess I’ll agree.”
“Grand so.” She grinned, happy with the arrangement. Leaning back in her seat, she continued. “What’s the play here? Anythin’ we shouldn’t ask?”
“How ’bout,” Arthur began. “If either of us ain’t comfortable with somethin’, we just say so and don’t answer. Sound fair?”
“I think so, but I get to go first.”
“Should’a seen that one comin’. Ask away.”
She didn’t even seem to think before asking her question. “What did you want’a be when you were a kid?”
“Uh, I ain’t too sure. I always liked horses as a very young kid. Used to think I’d like to work as a stableboy on a ranch somewhere if it meant I could groom and feed horses.”
“Why is that not at all surprising?” She smiled at his honestly before asking. “Did your da work on a ranch?”
He let out a bitter chuckle. “Naw, my daddy was… an outlaw. A known one too. I didn’t know much about him when I was younger, but I figured it out when I was around ten. He was arrested for robbin’ and thievin’. Not really a good man by any means.”
Maebh seemed the slightest bit surprised though she didn’t show it much. “Oh, right. So… why is it different with you, then?”
“You said your da was no good as an outlaw, but aren’t we all outlaws too? Does that mean we’re not good either?”
“I never said we was good,” he replied with shrug. “I mean, we ain’t like my daddy though. He wasn’t a very nice man — I suppose that’s a better way to say it. He didn’t hit me or nothin’, but we never really got on. He was killed when I was a teenager over somethin’ illegal. I ain’t really sure how he treated my mama neither, but I don’t remember too much about her. She died when I was very young so he tried to take care of me, but it wasn’t easy and he didn’t always do his best.”
He paused, allowing himself to think of what few details he could remember about his mother. Maebh sat across from him in silence for a brief moment, allowing him to reminisce in peace. “Your mam… Is she in one of the pictures you keep in your tent? The one of the woman with her hair tied back in the white blouse?”
“You got a good eye, Miss Maebh.”
“I mean, William would just say I’m nosy, but I copped it ’cause you two have similar features. What happened to her?”
“I ain’t rightly sure,” he admitted. “She might’a been sick. I was only a kid at the time, and my daddy didn’t talk much of her after she passed. It seemed to eat him alive though. I ain’t rightly sure if he cared about me, but he seemed to care about my mama.”
“I’m sorry. It’s… really tough losin’ a parent.”
“I suppose you’re speakin’ from experience?”
“What happened to your folks, then? I know you told Dutch when we first met that they died a while back. Is that true?”
“Unfortunately,” she admitted, keeping her tone even. “Our ma died before we left Ireland, and then our da passed nearly a year before we met you’s.”
He noted that she had originally told him that both of her parents had taken them to America, but maybe she said that because she would rather avoid getting into details. It wasn’t a very big thing to lie about given the circumstances, he supposed. “I’m sorry for your loss too. I can tell by the way you tell stories that you were close.”
“Very.” Her lips formed a half smile as she presumably pondered her own fond memories. “Me and William were home-schooled on our farm and taught how to keep the place runnin’. Huntin’, farmin’, fishin’, cookin’, cleanin’, shootin’, lookin’ after the cows and horses. They taught us how to read and write, and how to speak Irish and English. They taught me everythin’ I know so I could get by if anythin’ happened to them.”
“You had smart folks. I know you told me before that you came to America ’cause they wanted to avoid all that business with the English. Is that true?”
She sighed and began to run a finger around the edge of her nearly empty plate of food. The rhythmic movement continued as she replied with her answer. “Yeah, mostly. They didn’t like the way they had rejected the Home Rule bill, but my parents also had their own personal qualms with the Brits.”
“Big ‘oh’. They were Fenians.”
Arthur repeated the unfamiliar word. He recalled them both saying it sometimes, but he didn’t have a clue what it really meant. He had even heard it sometime before he met the siblings if his memories were right. He was fairly sure that Hosea knew more about it than him, though. “Fenians?”
“Members of Bráithreachas Phoblacht na hÉireann, or Irish Republican Brotherhood in English. It was an organisation dedicated to formin’ an independent democratic republic in Ireland and gettin’ the Brits out. Our ma and da were members, so we grew up hearin’ our fair share of patriotic stories. They kinda had a similar thought process to Dutch because they never trusted those who ruled over Ireland As far as I know, they met each other at different meetin’s when they were young and fell in love.”
He couldn’t help but let out a long drawn ‘ah’. “Now I understand where you two get it from! I should’ve guessed your damn passion and resilience came from rebel parents.”
“So it’s not at all surprisin’ then?”
“Once I got it all laid out for me, no. I’m sure they had some fine stories too tell.”
“That they did,” she replied fondly. “Which probably has a lot to do with why I loved writin’ stories so much.”
“You’ll have to tell me some of those one day,” he began and then quickly reiterated another point. “If you’re comfortable, that is.”
“Maybe we can do it again over a few drinks. If you’re comfortable hearin’ their patriotic ramblin’s. But that round will be on me this time.”
“O’course. I ain’t gonna say no to a free drink.”
“Grand.” She glanced out the window briefly, then added. “I’m not goin’ t’ask you much more, but could you answer one more question for me, Arthur?”
“To the best of my ability,” he said. “Yes.”
“What were your parents’ names?”
He didn’t know why the question made him smile a little, but it did. It was a simple thing to ask, not something that required a lot of thought or depth in response — they were just names, after all. But, for some reason, it was a query he was happy she had asked. It wasn’t something that would give her much information, but it was still a personal detail about his life that she wished to know. It would offer her nothing to gain, no knowledge to hang over his head — only a small personal detail about his past.
“I’ll tell you mine,” he began. “If you tell me yours.”
His response seemed to rouse some amusement from her. “Alright, cowboy. That seems fair.”
There was a few beats of silence between them in which neither broke eye contact. Eventually, he cleared his throat. “Beatrice and Lyle.”
She nodded slowly, tapping on her plate again. “Aoife and Séamus.”
Again, a silence before the two of them started to laugh at the ridiculous arrangement. Feeling quite relaxed for the first time since the invasion at camp, he raised his bottle to her. Without a word, she raised hers and tipped the glass rims together with a clink.
Arthur had been wise in his estimation, because Dutch ended up taking longer than even he had anticipated. He and Maebh had moved on to other subject matter and were sharing a laugh when he reappeared, but they were moreso surprised to see him with a woman on his arm.
He greeted them by name before introducing his companion. “This is Annabelle.”
He immediately recognised her from the night at this very saloon. Her long, blonde hair and red lips were defining features that he hadn’t forgotten. She was stunning, something that didn’t surprise him considering Dutch always seemed to be able to snag good-looking women with his charm and experience. By her fair but aged features, he assumed that she was perhaps only a few years older than Arthur was himself. Over her shoulder was a small travel bag that looked to be full — of what, he had no idea.
Dutch decided to make the introductions. “Dear, this is Arthur Morgan and Maebh Hennigan.”
“I could have guessed,” Annabelle replied and politely shook their hands. There was something oddly confident yet welcoming about her. “A pleasure. I’ve heard a lot about you two.”
“Well in that case I apologise for what you’ve heard,” Arthur joked. “Nice to meet ya.”
Maebh offered her another friendly greeting before Dutch finally explained what she was doing there. “Before that Matthew feller came to camp, Annabelle and I had been talkin’ ’bout her joinin’ the gang. With the sudden change of plan, I wanted to talk to her ’bout whether she still wanted to. Turns out, she ain’t got no problem comin’ along to South Dakota.”
“Really?” Arthur asked with a little surprise.
“Sure,” Annabelle answered casually. “I’d be a fool to let a catch like him run off now wouldn’t I? That and I could do with a little adventure in my life. I haven’t a problem with cookin’ and cleanin’ either, considerin’ it’s all I do right now.”
“What do you do?” Maebh questioned her. “You mustn’t be too fond of it if you’re up for runnin’ off with a bunch of outlaws.”
“I used to have a business before my husband decided to up and leave me one day. He sold it without my knowledge and took all the money with him. I woke up to find him gone and our general store sold to the highest bidder. I haven’t seen him in months, and hopefully I never see him again. I’ve been doin’ some house keepin’ jobs a few towns over.”
The young woman frowned at her story, visibly appalled. “What a prick.”
Annabelle seemed to find her reaction entertaining, but sighed in agreement. “You’re tellin’ me. Our home was above the store and got sold as well, so I had to start livin’ in the local hotel. Luckily I knew the owner so he didn’t charge me as much as I should have been payin’. After all that, I could do with somethin’ new and a little joy.”
“Well, you’ll certainly find both’a those things with us,” Dutch added. “And a better life than the one that was stolen from you. Now—” He addressed Arthur and Maebh. “—if you too are all finished up here, we ran into the rest of the gang on our way back over. It’s time for us to move on.”
His urgency was enough to get them up and out of their seats. Arthur watched as Maebh tossed a small tip the owner’s way before following them outside. Beside the very hotel Annabelle had mentioned earlier, he could see the wagons and various horses that belonged to him and his family. He grinned at the sight of Copper sitting between Bessie and Hosea atop one of the gang’s wagons. A sleeping Pádraig was kept in the back of one, wrapped up in varies blankets and bandages. Having been handed their mounts’ reins — Annabelle using her own that had been hitched outside the hotel itself — the group of outlaws set off on their journey, heading north-east to their destination of Fulton, South Dakota, now with yet another member to strengthen their ranks.
A few hours into their journey and spirits were high but still somewhat reserved. The weather had remained thankfully clear, but guaranteed to be colder once the sun had set. Pearson took to tossing the odd piece of fruit to any gang member riding a horse who complained about being hungry. He was unwilling, however, to toss beer when Uncle requested it from his seat on the back of one of the wagons.
“Y’all don’t treat me right,” the old man declared in disgust. “I ain’t never met folk who acted so unkindly to the elderly. Never mind that I’m sick too.”
“You ain’t sick,” John snapped from his saddle. “But you’re sure as hell annoyin’, that’s what you are.”
Arthur laughed at the exchange, but Uncle didn’t let up. “Of course I’m sick! Y’know, I used to do more work than anyone before I threw my back out and—”
“Not this shit again…”
“Lumbago ain’t no joke, John! It can affect anyone’a us. You’re lucky it ain’t got you yet!”
“It ain’t gonna get me ’cause it ain’t real!”
“Oh, you lot really are goin’ sour lately. I’m just lookin’ for a damn pick me up. If ya ain’t gonna entertain me with some alcohol, you might as well give me a song, or somethin’. Where’s William when you need him?”
At the sound of his name, Maebh’s brother appeared atop Banquo and asked. “Did I hear my name comin’ from your lips, Old Man, or is my luck improvin’?”
“Sing us a song, would’ja, kid? We could do with some entertainment on this never-endin’ trip.”
“Humour him, William,” Dutch called from the other wagon ahead of them. “God knows I don’t wanna listenin’ to his complainin’ the whole way to Fulton!”
William shrugged, but couldn’t exactly pass up an opportunity for some fun. “You have one in mind?”
“Can I make a request?” Bessie called from her seat beside her husband and the dog.
“How about the where the young man is goin’ off to war? I do like that one.”
“For you, Mrs Matthews, of course I can. But you’ll have to sing along.”
“I ain’t gonna deny you that, Mr Hennigan.”
“What about you, Arthur? You have’ta join in as well.”
Unwilling to tell him otherwise, Arthur replied. “Sure, kid. You get us started.”
It was something Arthur always found amusing about the young man. He was so very standoffish to those he didn’t know, and mostly distant to a degree with anyone who wasn’t his sister. And yet, despite the obvious fact that he was quite a difficult man to read, he loved to perform. Any time he was called upon to deliver a tune, he would do so if he felt like it. Arthur often saw him singing to himself while cleaning his saddle at camp. He was so incredibly analytical and would watch people like a hawk if they peaked his curiosity, and yet he would happily express himself in an oddly personal way. He hoped that someday he would get the chance to talk to to William like he did with Maebh today. Perhaps he too grew up with dreams of something bigger. In the grand scheme of how ruthless life could be, he was happy to see someone so young embracing something that brought them joy.
With a deep breath, William began the tune on his own.
“A recruiting sergeant came our way
From an inn near town at the close of day
He said my Johnny you're a fine young man
Would you like to march along behind a military band?
With a scarlet coat and a fine cocked hat
And a musket at your shoulder
The shilling he took and he kissed the book
Oh poor Johnny what'll happen to ya?
The recruiting sergeant marched away
From the inn near town at the break of day
Johnny came too with half a ring
He was off to be a soldier to go fighting for the King
In a far off war in a far off land
To face the foreign soldier
But how will you fare when there's lead in the air?
Oh poor Johnny what'll happen to ya?
Well the sun rose high on a barren land
Where the thin red line made a military stand
There was sling shot, chain shot, grape shot too
Swords and bayonets thrusting through
Poor Johnny fell but the day was won
And the King is grateful to ya
But your soldiering's done and they're sending you home
Oh poor Johnny what'll happen to ya?
They said he was a hero and not to grieve
For the two ruined legs and the empty sleeve
They took him home and they set him down
With a military pension and a medal from the crown
But you haven't an arm, you haven't a leg
The enemy nearly slew ya
You'll have to go out on the streets to beg
Oh poor Johnny what'll happen to ya?”
The song continued on, as did their journey northwards. Uncle, Pearson, and a few others joined in as it progressed, as was usually the way when a singalong began. It would take a few days of course, but Arthur didn’t mind all that much when he had such good company around him. It seemed, despite the intensity with which their day began, that the gang had high hopes with what was ahead. Saying goodbye to the nice spot they had called home was disappointing sure, but nothing Arthur wasn’t used to. They made their home wherever they went, so onwards they would push, shanties and all.
Chapter 12: Who the Hell is Colm O'Driscoll?
The gang settle in a new spot in South Dakota, and Maebh and William are tasked with getting whatever information they can from the injured O'Driscoll boy.
Hey there, fellers! Hope you enjoy the new chapter. I seem to be incapable of writing anything that isn't in and around six thousand words, my bad. You's will just have to go with it like I am. Feel free to leave any and all thoughts or criticisms and all that, if you so please. I love hearing what you guys think about this lil ol' story!
Sidenote, have any Irish readers been following our elections results? I get the feeling Maebh and William would appreciate them haha Yup the Left!
Playlist (https://urlzs.com/NSvkT): “In Dreams” — Ben Howard, “Ebb and Flow” — The Dead Tongues, “Way Down We Go” — KALEO, “Supernatural Soliciting” — Jed Kurzel
20th September, 1893, outside Fulton, South Dakota
I figured I might as well give this journalling thing a go, considering Arthur was so kind as to buy me a notebook to work with. This is sure to be one hell of a first entry, let me tell you…
Do I address this to myself? Or do I even need to introduce it because I’m writing it for my own sake? Right, I’ve already made a mess of this! Jesus
Right, so, let’s try that again.
We had to leave Iowa, and by ‘we’ I mean the whole gang. This guy showed up at camp, and believe me when I tell you that I’ve never met a creepier person in my short life. He went by Matthew, but I’m not even entirely sure that is his real name. He had been watching us for a while and also turned out to be the person who had stolen William’s pocket watch. Apparently, we had caused a lot of problems for another local gang that he runs with called the O’Driscolls. Their leader wasn’t impressed with us, so he gave us an ultimatum — move on, or die. A simple choice, and Dutch made the right one; he said he would never put our lives so needlessly at risk and I’m not exactly surprised, but I’m still grateful. At first I thought it was someone from Wisconsin who had finally found William and I, but I suppose that might be my paranoia and egotism breaking through.
Not only had this Matthew guy shown up and seemingly known lots of details about our lives, but he dragged a familiar face along with him. It turns out that the Proddy lad whose nose I broke in the saloon in De Soto — “Pádraig” — is an O’Driscoll, and their leader wasn’t chuffed with his inability to rob a train… Maybe because we robbed it first! Either way, Matthew shot him and left immediately afterwards so that we could do whatever we wanted with him. Though some people — like Marston — protested the idea of seeing Pádraig being kept alive, Dutch managed to save him with help from Miss Grimshaw and the Reverend. He seems stable now, but we’ll see what happens. Do I trust this guy at all? Absolutely not.
Since then, we’ve moved on to a new camping spot. We travelled up to South Dakota, which took a few days. The weather had been pretty rough on the second which slowed us down somewhat, but thankfully we reached our destination in fairly good time. We’re now camped outside of a small town near Fulton, with a population of about 100 residents. It’s a nice spot, sheltered by trees and right beside Fulton Lake. North-east is Fulton town, not at all a far distance on horseback, and to the west is the city of Mitchell which is far bigger than our other neighbouring settlement. I’ve heard it has about two and a half thousand inhabitants, but it might come in handy for certain things down the line, who knows. Either way, our new camping spot is nice and gives me the opportunity to admire the smooth green landscape of Davison and Hanson county. It’s all rolling hills and fertile soil around here, quite similar to parts of Iowa… Not that I’m complaining. We arrived quite late last night and I’m writing this the following morning, so it’s nice to get a look at our new surroundings in some early morning light. It’s incredible how the difference between night and day can colour a landscape. While I’m used to having to move around and stay on my toes, I think — or at least, I hope — I will like it here.
Speaking of new things, we’ve also acquired a new gang member. No, not that Proddy bastard, but Dutch’s new mot, Annabelle. He had been courting this woman for a while back in Iowa, and upon telling her that he had to move on, she asked to join. She has an infuriating backstory that I heard some of back when our journey began, but I have to admit, I’ve taken a liking to her. Being honest, it’s hard to not like her. Despite being a fish out of water, she seems really eager to settle into this new lifestyle. At first, I assumed she was moving purely to stay with Dutch, but it seems that she was eager for a new life with new surroundings. I guess the Van der Linde Gang handed her such an opportunity on a platter. We’ve chatted a bit on the way over here, and I can see why Dutch has a thing for her. She seems to be able to match him in any conversation as if they have been together for years. It’s refreshing to see him content in a woman’s company. William seems to have taken a liking to her as well, and I would trust his intuition above anyone’s. He’s also happier since we left Iowa and Matthew behind. He hasn’t been himself since Da’s pocket watch went missing in the first place, so I think new surroundings have done him a world of good.
Before we left our last camp, I got to have a chat with Arthur over some food. We spoke of our parents — a personal subject of course and I certainly spared particular details on my end. It was quite insightful and interesting to hear more about his upbringing. He’s quite strange, that man. I value his friendship highly, and he has been a constant source of advice and easing words since we joined the gang. But still, his rough exterior is one that he seems to think encapsulates his entire being. Parts of him are still a mystery to me, and I’m a little surprised by how much I yearn to hear more about why he is the way he is. He shies away from compliments and will sometimes deny them to the ground. I often think that perhaps he had a bad experience to make him believe he is unworthy of the good things people see in him. While I don’t like to admit my nosiness, he keeps a photo of a young woman in his tent. I’ve never heard him talk about her, or any women romantically for that matter, but I wonder if she has anything to do with those trips he takes every few months… I feel that I could spend an age contemplating Arthur Morgan’s character, so perhaps it’s best to just let sleeping dogs lie as Bessie advised. Still, maybe there’s no harm in more conversations over dinner. That was certainly fun.
Either way, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude with this new chapter in our lives. What else can one do with it but keep moving forward?
* * *
Maebh shut her new journal and looked up from its place in her lap. She was sitting on her bedroll, looking out into the new camp. It was early morning, the day after they first arrived. The weather was still warm, but grew cooler each night, hinting at a colder Autumn’s imminent arrival. Even still, the sun managed to peak through the clouds and bounce off the shimmering lake’s water. Everyone’s tents were set up and the group seemed mostly settled at this point. A spare tent was set up beside the Reverend that was currently housing a sleeping and recovering Pádraig. She couldn’t help but feel a bit anxious at the sight of him. Dutch had given her ample warning before what she would be assisting with today.
Upon hearing her name being called, she looked up to find Dutch and William waiting for her just outside their tent. “You ready to give us a hand here?”
She had to talk to that Pádraig fella… Or at least try to. He was still recuperating from a severe beating and a gunshot wound. She was half convinced he wouldn’t survive the journey between states, and maybe part of her had hoped he wouldn’t, but here he was at camp, slowly healing from an injury at the hands of his own comrade… It was a sick twist she hadn’t predicted, nor one she wanted to witness.
“I guess,” she sighed, not doing much to hide her displeasure. Standing with her hands on her hips, she peered at the sleeping figure. “You want me to do it now?”
William frowned before adding. “Remind me again why you want her to talk to him?”
Dutch replied. “It ain’t nothin’ personal, son, but you two have more in common with him than I might, and Maebh has spoken with him already, so at least she is a familiar face.”
“It’s not like they got along when they did.”
“O’course,” Dutch agreed. “And I knew you would be protective over her as per usual, which is why I asked you to stay with her while they talk. He ain’t gonna be able to do nothin’ with you around, let alone with his current injuries anyway. And you know as well as I do that she can hold her own.”
“Trust me, I know she can. But that isn’t goin’ t’stop me from smashin’ that lad’s teeth in if he puts a hand on her.”
With a smirk, the older man pulled a cigar from his pocket. “And that attitude is exactly why you’re gonna stay with her. Ain’t no better pair in this camp.” He paused to light his cigar, took a puff, then continued. “Now, Miss Maebh, you know what to talk to him about — you gotta confirm all the information the saloon owner shared to make sure he checks out. I ain’t got no problem savin’ folk — you two know that well — but if he’s to be trusted, he needs to tell the truth. He said he would tell us anythin’, so hold him to his word. If he’s bullshittin’, you sniff it out. And if he’s lyin’ then you can break his nose again and you—” He nodded to William. “—can smash his teeth in. That sound good?”
She brushed some hair out of her eyes and shrugged. “Delightful.”
“Good. I’ll be in my tent if ya need me.”
With that, Dutch left them to it. Maebh shared a look with her brother, who still seemed unamused with the task ahead. Though his face appeared hardened, she knew he was quite bothered with the arrangement. “Are you sure you want’a do this?”
Maebh reached out to give his hand a squeeze. “We all have’ta do our bit, right?”
“Let’s just do it quickly.”
She agreed, eager enough to get the interaction out of the way. They approached his tent together and upon closer inspection, she could see that Pádraig was definitely sleeping. He lay on the bedroll, his head and injured shoulder propped up on a large pillow. His shoulder was bandaged with care and placed in a sling though his face was littered with swelling and bruises, darkening as time progressed. Since she had seen him in the saloon, his clean-shaven jaw was now covered with a thick layer of dark stubble, matching the thick brown mop of hair on his head. She wasn’t entirely sure whether he was frowning in his sleep, or the dark colour of his bruises were painting an illusion of discontent. Deciding to play it safe, she chose to squat down next to the injured man — close but not too close — while William remained standing over him, resting on arm on one of the wooden beams that kept the lean-to upright. She called his name, but he remained unmoved. Throwing a glance at William, who shrugged in response and then lightly kicked Pádraig’s feet. He woke with a start, dark blue eyes wild with confusion.
When his gaze landed on Maebh, she offered him a slight inclination of the head. “Dia dhuit ar maidin.”
She felt somewhat amused as he tried to steady his breathing, but he replied in kind. His voice held a groggy and hesitant edge. “Dia dhuit.”
“Do you remember me?”
He huffed, wincing as he adjusted himself on the bedroll. “It’s hard to forget someone who broke your nose.”
“I’m sure. At least I made a lastin’ impression on you.”
“If you wanna call it that.”
She studied him carefully as he began to relax a little again. She was surprised that he seemed to trust her not to attack him again, although she supposed she had little reason to do anything to him now. “Considerin’ you didn’t get my name before, I’m Maebh and that’s my brother, William.”
Pádraig gave the other man tiny wave while William merely eyed him curiously. “Howiya.”
“How’s the shoulder?” Maebh asked and then pointed to his numerous bruises and cuts. “And the, eh, face?”
“Sore,” he admitted. “But I suppose that’s what happens when you get bloody shot and battered ’round, right?”
“What did you do to earn such a hefty beatin’? Was it really over a train robbery?”
He hummed positively. “You don’t go back to the O’Driscoll Boys empty handed. I’m lucky I didn’t lose my bleedin’ hands altogether.”
“He did leave you here with us hopin’ that we’d kill you though.”
He paused and then quickly replied. “That’s true and I’m really grateful that you lot have kept me alive. I know that other fella, I think I heard you call him John, sayin’ he didn’t want me ’round, and I don’t entirely blame him. But I owe Mr Van der Linde with my life.”
“That’s the kinda person Dutch is. He saves the ones who deserve it, so you best show him that you deserved savin’.”
“Is that why you’re both here to talk to me?” When she narrowed her eyes at him, he continued. “Well I hardly expected you were here to strike up a friendship.”
“I’m not goin’ t’lie to you, so yeah, we’re here to ask you about your former gang.”
Pádraig let his head rest back on the pillow and stared up at the sky only partially visible from his bedroll. “I’m not exactly in a position to lie.”
“Too right,” William echoed with a blank expression. The implication of his words was definitely not lost on Maebh. “So talk.”
“What do you’s want to know?”
“You’re awful eager to start talkin’,” William noted. “Aren’t you worried ’bout bein’ a rat?”
The Northern Irish man clicked his tongue. “Look, I wasn’t exactly very high up in the rankings within the gang, so I can’t tell you many intimate details, but I’ll tell you what I do know. Sure, I know where the gang’s hideouts are back in Iowa, but you lot have moved on. You don’t exactly need those kinda details, right? Now, if I did help you’s to lead some sort of assault on their camps and they found me, then I’d be royally fucked.”
“Tell us about the gang in general,” Maebh elaborated, ignoring his rant and moving to take a more comfortable seat on the ground below. “We’ve got nothin’ to go off so give us a startin’ point. Just the ins and outs of how many men there are, where you’s work, who for, and all that.”
William added his own query. “And who that Matthew fella is too.”
Pádraig cleared his throat and began to tell them what he could. “When it comes to how many men, I’d say they’ve got too many, and they’re all mostly expendable. Some of them have businesses as doctors or gunsmiths, which helped a lot in terms of keepin’ an army of men healthy and armed. It’s kinda on the nose, but they wear shit tonnes of green and black, so that’s a good way to spot them when you’re out and about. They’re ruthless and couldn’t give a shit who they need to kill to get what they want. It’s all in the name of fightin’ order and the government and all that bollocks, so they can get really high and mighty ’bout it all. They kill to survive, but some of them damn well enjoy doin’ it. They’ve got strongholds in most of Iowa bar some of the more northwestern counties passed Waterloo. I heard talk that they had recently expanded down into Missouri, but never saw those camps myself. I pretty much stayed in Iowa the entire time I was a member. When it comes to who we worked for, we really just took orders from those above us, like Matthew, who you had the pleasure of meetin’ already.”
What Pádraig was saying had checked out so far. Though the saloon owner had little information to offer them, it matched up with this new declaration. She didn’t trust the former O’Driscoll, but she was at least mildly relieved that he wasn’t trying his luck yet. If complications could be avoided, she would much rather avoid them.
With the mention of Matthew, it seemed like an opportune moment for her to find out more about the mysterious harbinger. “What exactly is his role?”
“I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but he sort of came back and forth between camps and the boss with messages and jobs. He would come with orders from up above and we would follow. He oversaw a lot of the work too to make sure that it was gettin’ done properly.”
Maebh listened intently, insides twisting as she pictured Matthew’s unsettling grin that night at camp. “He sounds like a herald or somethin’.”
“That would be accurate,” Pádraig agreed. “He definitely considers himself to be one.”
“And who’s the ‘boss’ you all work for?”
The brunette frowned, his eyes showing thoughts that seemed a world away. “That would be Colm.”
“Who?” William asked after a few beats of silence. His face contorted into an expression of pure confusion.
“Colm O’Driscoll,” Pádraig repeated, baffled by his reaction. “The boss?”
Maebh was equally confused by the name he was saying. She had honestly never heard of it before in her life. “Coalm?”
“Look, his name is Colm,” Pádraig sighed, saying the name in its correct Irish pronunciation before reverting back to the previous one. “But he’s Irish-American so he says it the way it’s spelled, like Coalm.”
“Hold on,” she began, mildly irked by the bastardisation of the Irish name. “What kinda twat says it like that? It’s pronounced Collum.”
“Don’t give out to me ’bout it — it’s already bothered me for months.”
Maebh looked to her brother, who seemed equally insulted my the mispronunciation of the name Colm. Regardless, she continued with her questioning and stuck to the Irish way for saying the name. “So, who is this Colm O’Driscoll fella?”
“Some aul fella who decided to start up a gang,” Pádraig explained, expression visibly souring. She noticed his knuckles growing white as he grasped at the blanket covering his frame. “He’s an exceptionally cruel outlaw who has travelled all over the West with his brother, Eóghan.”
At least they pronounce Eóghan correctly, she momentarily thought to herself and then listened as he continued on.
“They clash apparently, but Colm is definitely the one in charge. He’s a mean bastard I’ve only met a few times, but he can be awful cynical. If you’re on his good side then you best keep it that way. Piss him off, and it’s like talkin’ to a damn devil. He’s no problem makin’ an example out of men, just look at me. I’ve seen him kill men for less. But that’s honestly all I know about him — we weren’t exactly havin’ lunch together every Sunday.”
“It’s a shame you couldn’t have been a higher up with more information,” William pondered from his spot. “Then keepin’ you alive would’ve been worthwhile.”
At that moment, Pádraig looked William in the eye, a small smile forming at the corner of his mouth. “If I had more to tell you, Matthew would’ve definitely killed me. As I told you — we’re expendable in every sense of the word.”
“Is there anythin’ else you can tell us?”
“I’d like to say I’m sorry ’bout the saloon,” he replied unexpectedly. “And for thinkin’ you were, eh, on the job, so to speak. Uh, and for callin’ you a bitch…”
“I know what you meant but I still wanted to say it,” he explained, expression softening slightly despite his marred appearance. “If I’m goin’ to stay here for the time bein’, I might as well try make amends.”
“Look, I couldn’t give a fiddler’s flute whether you thought I was a prostitute or not; I don’t think of it as an insult. But what I did find insultin’ was how you decided to speak to me because you thought I was one. And if I hear you talkin’ to any of the ladies ’round here like that, I’ll have no problem defendin’ them.”
“Consider me warned,” he said, deep lines forming in his forehead as he frowned. “It won’t happen again.”
“Good, ’cause we don’t have time for arseholes in this gang. I know you say things were pretty ruthless with the O’Driscoll Boys, but that’s not how we do things ’round here” She gave her brother a nod as she got to her feet. “Anyway, we’ll let you get some rest for the moment. I’m sure we’ll be talkin’ again soon.”
William offered him no temporary farewell and simply took his place beside his sister and followed her lead. Despite their desire to leave the conversation, Pádraig’s voice called after them.
“I know you don’t like me,” he exclaimed just as they began to walk away. Maebh halted and then turned back to see him watching them. “I know you don’t like me, and I don’t exactly blame ye for it. But after what happened in Iowa, those O’Driscoll Boys don’t like me either. I don’t have things to tell you that could be used to your advantage, but if I did, they would’ve killed me. They’ll always hate me more than you do so I’m willin’ to take my chances with you lot instead. If stayin’ with this group keeps me away from Colm, Eóghan, and Matthew, then I’ll do what I can to make sure of that.”
Without saying another word, the siblings left the O’Driscoll alone in his tent and approached Dutch’s tent on the opposite side of camp. They repeated everything that they were told, agreeing that it all checked out and seemed legitimate. They couldn’t exactly compare the other information he had shared, but why would he lie about those details after already being truthful? Dutch seemed satisfied at least, which was the desired outcome.
“Do you trust him?” William had asked her when they were eating their lunch afterwards. “That O’Driscoll fella?”
Her reply was fairly straightforward and not at all surprising. “No.”
Later on that night when Maebh was alone with her thoughts, she couldn’t help but reminisce on their conversation. Something that bothered her was how uneasy Pádraig seemed when discussing Matthew and the two brothers at the helm of the O’Driscoll gang. She couldn’t imagine ever speaking about Dutch in the same manner. How lucky it was that she and William had crossed paths with him instead of someone like Colm O’Driscoll.
* * *
24th October, 1893, outside Fulton, South Dakota
It’s been over a month since we arrived at our new campsite and spirits seem high.
The O’Driscoll has managed to survive his injuries but is still healing. He avoided infection and is resting up until his strength comes back but is still confined to that sling and a lot of bed rest. At least his face doesn’t look as beat up no more. He seems uncertain of most of the gang, but a little more relaxed around the Hennigans, which might be because of their shared nationality, I don’t know…
While we’ve been keeping on top of the camp funds with jobs here and there, I can’t help but be distracted by Bessie’s ongoing illness. She’s sick; real sick, and has been since before we left Winterset. She’s been gradually getting sicker as time passed and it’s gotten so bad that she and Hosea went into Mitchell to see a doctor. Apparently, he thinks it’s some sort of influenza and a combination of old age… It ain’t looking so good, and we’re not entirely sure what will come of it, or when exactly she’ll lose the strength to go on. Bessie seems to have already accepted her fate, but refuses to lay down and die. But that’s the kind of woman she always was — if she’s going to die, she’s going to be fighting until her last breath. I regret to think how Hosea will deal with the inevitable and I’d rather not think about it myself. She has been such an important part of this gang, and I doubt we would be where we are without her motherly influence and her articulate and astute advice.
I will try to spend what time I can with her though, while I still have the chance.
* * *
At the sound of his name being called, Arthur put his journal away and looked up to see William standing outside of his tent. “Whatcha need, William?”
The younger man stroked his newly-bearded chin. “I need’ta have a word with Marston and was wonderin’ if you’d join me?”
“Why would you need me for that?”
“’Cause he’s goin’ t’have a go at me and I need you to back me up.”
Arthur blinked and then got to his feet. “Yeah, that sounds ’bout right. Lead the way.”
John sat whittling away by the fire as the pair approached, and he immediately grew suspicious as he spotted them. “Fellers.”
“Have you forgotten ’bout our agreement, Marston?” William asked, standing with his hands on his hips.
John appeared baffled. “Agreement?”
While Arthur tried to recall what said agreement could have been, William continued. “Don’t tell me that you’ve forgot about the race we had and the fact I won.”
John remained silent, then his eyes grew wide. “You ain’t cuttin’ my hair, Hennigan!”
William rolled his eyes at Arthur, proving his earlier point. “Eh, yeah, I am. We agreed.”
“The hell we did!”
“You made a bet, Marston,” Arthur added, clasping his belt buckle in his hands. “It’s only your damn hair. It’ll grow back.”
“But I like my damn hair.”
“Really?” William asked, feigning concern. “Look, you tellin’ me that you wouldn’t’ve demanded my Litchfield if you’d won instead?”
If the look John gave his friend could kill, the whole camp would be dead.
Arthur said his name in a long drawl. He wouldn’t admit it aloud, but he was getting quite a kick out of this. “A bet is a bet.”
John signed heavily. “Christ, fine. But if we’re doin’ this, we’re goin’ to a barber. I ain’t lettin’ you near my hair.”
William was apparently chuffed with himself, and offered Arthur a genuine thank you as he and Marston mounted their horses and headed into Fulton to take care of the latter’s greasy locks. He watched them leave in amusement before he heard Pearson’s call that it was feeding time. One by one, each of the gang grabbed their own serving and took a seat somewhere to fill their stomachs. As he approached the stew pot, he noticed Maebh grabbing two bowls and heading towards Hosea and Bessie’s shared tent. Inside, the woman was resting on her bedroll, propped up so that she could read despite her illness. She appeared both surprised and appreciative as Maebh handed her one of the bowls before taking a seat on the ground. Arthur pondered his options for a moment, but there was something so calming and warm about the scene in front of him that he couldn’t help but feel a slight pull in urgency to join them. Perhaps it was due to Bessie’s deteriorating health, or his genuine fondness for them both… Either way, he found himself grabbing some food and approaching the tent. He tapped his knuckles on one of its wooden support beams and greeted them. “Knock, knock. Mind if I join ya?”
“You don’t have to ask, Mr Morgan,” Bessie answered happily and gestured to the free spot next to Maebh. “Have a seat.”
He took her advice and noticed the younger woman smiling knowingly as he sat. “Has my brother successfully dragged Marston into town?”
He let out a snort. “That he has. For the long awaited hair cut.”
Bessie seemed intrigued as she eat her stew. “John is gettin’ a hair cut?”
“Only ’cause he lost a bet with William, but yeah.”
She rolled her eyes and spoke in an exasperated tone. “Well it’s about damn time he did somethin’ with his hair! I love that boy, but by God, does he ever wash his hair?”
While Maebh burst out into laughter, Arthur replied. “I can’t answer that with certainty, Mrs Matthews.”
“Just don’t tell him I said that,” she added. “I don’t want to deal with the backlash.”
“Our lips are sealed. More importantly, how are you feelin’?”
Bessie let out a huff. “Oh, the usual. Tired and sore and tired of being so tired and sore. The doctor said that rest and stayin’ hydrated will help, but I still don’t feel like myself. I would much rather be able to go for a walk along the lake or go on a hunting trip with Hosea. I do miss those…”
The urge to insist that she could go on one of those trips once she was better sat on the tip of Arthur’s tongue, but he bit his lip to prevent the slip up. As the days passed, it was becoming more evident to everyone that this was probably something from which there was no coming back. Even still, most of them seemed to know but hated the fact that they knew. They had yet to lose a member of the gang, so the feeling was unfamiliar and upsetting.
“What one was your favourite?” Maebh asked, a query that had Arthur smiling.
“Oh, that would have to be when Hosea and I briefly left the gang,” the older woman replied, idly stirring her spoon around her stew. “We spent some time in and around New Hanover and Ambarino. There’s a spot called O’Creagh’s Run where we settled for a bit, mostly for fishin’ and huntin’. We were out together one morning to find some deer, but weren’t expecting to have a run in with this massive grizzly bear. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life — he was a big bastard. Very big — he must have been nearly a thousand pounds, Hosea guessed! He managed to snag the buck we were stalking right before we could shoot it ourselves. I’ve never seen an animal like him since.”
“Please tell me you didn’t stay in the area after seein’ that?” Maebh asked, looking mildly horrified.
“Of course we not, we left as soon as we could.”
“Ugh, good. At least I know to never go near that part of Ambarino if we ever find ourselves over there.”
Arthur threw her a wry look. “You scared o’bears or somethin’?”
The young woman frowned. “Who isn’t scared of bears? They’re terrifying!”
“Half of the time they run when they see you. Bears don’t want no trouble neither.”
“Alright Mister ‘I’m Terrified of Alligators’.”
“You’re gonna judge me for that? You ever seen the size of a gator’s mouth?”
“Bessie just told us that a thousand pound bear exists and you’re talkin’ ’bout the size of an alligator’s mouth?”
He shook his head, turning his attention back to his food. “I bet there’s a massive sonuvabitch gator out there somewhere, considerin’ nature is so goddamn scary.”
“Well hopefully you never meet him.”
“I bet I will now, just ’cause you said that.”
“You ever seen a big alligator on your travels, Bessie?” Maebh asked curiously.
“Thankfully no. You might see some down in Lemoyne, but we was never fond of spending too much time down there. Gators are okay to hunt once you’re at a safe distance because they’re a lot faster than they look.”
“Noted,” Maebh mused. “Stay away from O’Creagh’s Run and all of Lemoyne.”
“Maybe yourself and Arthur and William could go on a huntin’ trip up that way yourselves,” Bessie suggested with a smile. “Try to tackle that bear together.”
“Maybe someday if we have a death wish!”
The conversation flowed easily as they finished their meals, after which they were joined by Hosea who had been conversing with Dutch over the new information gathered from Pádraig. He seemed haggard, but always calm in his wife’s presence. He knew what was coming, but Arthur doubted he would ever be ready for it. How could anyone really be ready to lose a loved one? Despite the air of uncertainty, the four of them had a pleasant evening in each other’s company, musing on old stories that Hosea could tell in his usual vivid and engrossing manner. It was sometime later under a setting sun when William and John returned from their brief but important trip. Together, Arthur and Maebh exited the tent so that they could get a good look at a short-haired Marston. It had been years since he had seen him without greasy dark locks, but the look of displeasure on the young man’s face was what sent Arthur reeling with laughter.
“Well, lookatchu!” he managed to say between cackles.
“Knock it off, Morgan,” John snapped, folding his arms across his chest. “I don’t wanna hear it.”
“Awh, why not? You clean up real good, Mr Marston,” Maebh teased him, reaching up to brush her fingers through the side of his head. “Oh! Is that a fade? With pomade?”
Her comment made him smirk, but he still gently slapped her hand away. “Hey! Quit it.”
“For once I give you a compliment and you tell me to stop. There’s no pleasin’ you lot.”
Arthur shook his head at the exchange. “Good God, and you say you’re popular with the ladies? I think William did you a favour with the haircut — this way, all you need to do is hide your personality before gettin’ them into bed.”
“I’ve given you a gift,” William agreed and gave John a clap on the back. “They’ll be so distracted with your lovely hair that you’ve got some time before they realise what a dumbass you are.”
“Was I the only one actually givin’ him a genuine compliment?” Maebh asked. “’Cause all you two have done is slag him off.”
“He would do the same to me,” Arthur argued confidently. “And he knows it.”
John ran a hand through the uncharacteristically short hair on the back of his neck. “I ain’t sure I can trust your compliments, Miss Maebh. You tease me almost as much as your damn brother.”
William grinned and ruffled his friend’s new haircut in that annoying but affectionate way that an older brother could pull off. “But you love when I tease you, Lil Johnny.”
Arthur could imagine that John wished something would interrupt the fun being had at his expense; he could see it in his frustrated expression. But he very much doubted that he would be happy with the intrusion that was about to take place.
From across camp, Bill let out an urgent shout. “Dutch! We got company!”
Along with the call, but nowhere near as loud, was the distinct sound of casual whistling.
When their group turned to see what all the fuss was about, Arthur spotted Bill — who had been on guard duty that evening — repeater in hand and trudging through the tree line in the company of another man.
Dutch was out of his tent in a hurry, joining his friend’s side to see what all the fuss was about. He looked on, squinting in the darkness, before going visibly rigid. “This sonuvabitch…”
As Arthur rested a hand on his holster, he settled his eyes on the visitor. He was distantly aware of Maebh muttering an expletive under her breath and instinctively took a step ahead of her. He barely heard what she had said, or what John was saying to him — all he could focus on was the familiar noise that had woken him with a start a few days previous. Dressed in the same dark suit and bowler hat as before, the visitor raised his head and met Arthur’s eyes almost instantly. He smiled eerily, an image Arthur had hoped he would never see again. And yet somehow they had been found yet again.
“Mr Morgan,” Matthew greeted him cheerily. “Ladies and gentlemen! So wonderful to see you again.”