Western Short Story
When Purvis Drummond robbed the bank at Chase Hill, Kansas in 1870, and was nabbed by the sheriff on the outskirts of town, within an hour of the robbery, he told the sheriff he had to get some money, and quick, for his mother. “She’s all alone now, Sheriff, and I was the only one she could turn to, so I went and robbed the bank. Looks like I messed things up for good for her, unless you take some of that there money and give it to her. Hell, they won’t miss a couple of hundred dollars at the bank. It’d be like they chipped in for charity, and Mom’ll be a sight off better than she is right now. Yes, sir, a might better off for a good deed like you could do.”
Tarmy Thomas, Chase Hill sheriff, knew the boy had been in Abe Lincoln’s army for three years, his mother a widow and one of her boys dead in battle, as well as her husband, Chase Hill’s first volunteer. Needless to spout off about, the sheriff had already developed a deep spot for the kid, robbery or no robbery.
“Don’t she own that little cabin she lived in, where you grew up, that ain’t in the next county yet?” the sheriff said, already softened down to his boot tops by the kid’s story, the sad look in his eyes, the sorry way his mouth hung open, like waiting for the next bite of a turkey leg or a hunk of rabbit, whatever came free and easy from a welcome hand.
“Naw,” Purvis replied, “she gets the loan of it from the rancher Schmidt who’s still after her since my pa died too in the war, me and Grub following him into the army. She owes only God or the county, or even the rancher for her status.
The sheriff liked the blond curls hanging on the back of Purvis’s head, the “outlook and search” in his green-blue eyes, the ready smile at his mouth, and the feeling he sent about himself to close onlookers. For goodness sakes, his own daughter Pamela had dated him, even her who was not quick to do the housework around the home when she didn’t have to. She’d learn in her own time, he surmised; they all did, or most of them. There was often more than the kitchen and cooking, and food preservation and clothing duties, and every family had at least one horse and that called for barns or pens or coverage for those that carried or lugged people places, did work for their owners, made do in the west.
But he had a prisoner who was a pleasant sort; probably a generally good young man who got caught up in deep needs. He’d treat him fair, that he promised himself, when he remembered how he had treated a few tough ones, rough as wild runaways at times, his own temperament running free and loose when ticked off by the slightest bad word in response to an order. The little complications that officials run into.
If Pamela and Purvis ever teamed up, she’d have to change her ways, for sure.
As it was in those days at Chase Hills, his office and attached jail were not selective or tight as drums, but came as a “this’ll do for now” kind.
And so, it had, until Purvis Drummond decided he was going to break out of jail, rob the bank again, and get his mother squared away; maybe even buying the cabin for her or getting one built
on their own sparse property.
His avenue of escape proved simple, successful, and was followed by a ride on a stolen horse, the sheriff’s horse, no sense leaving a gift horse alone in the darkness. When he tied the horse off in some brush at the edge of town, he snuck back into town, cracked a door ajar at the bank, slipped inside and took all the loose bills from the casher’s till. It was a cake-walk for him and he slipped out of the bank richer than when he had slipped in there: his pockets were stuffed with paper currency, ones, fives, tens and twenties, no explanation necessary when trade came along. Without counting, he figured he had come away from the bank with at least $300, payday for the escapee.
On the way out of the bank, all things dark and quiet, the whole town at sleep. his mind twisted into the power of a suggestion. An idea hit him with its simplicity, and his sense of derring-do; he’d hide out in the sheriff’s barn, and he could have the best of two worlds at one time, enjoy the sheriff’s hospitality and the sheriff’s daughter, and both under one roof, and that would tick off the sheriff once he found out the escapee was still a tenant of sorts. It brought serious good feelings. The horse, of course. would be found soon enough, and his mother could wait a little while longer for her eventual rescue from poverty: hadn’t she accomplished miracles so far in this poor life she was stuck in.?
He shivered with joy and expectation and could already hear the stories the boys at the saloon would soon be spilling, and all of the stories leaving town via coach, carriage and lone riders spreading the tale of the young bank robber, twice a tenant of the sheriff, which were sure to multiply atop each other, like conceit builds drama, changes history on the view of a dinky little town being shaped up by a not-so serious bandit, bank robber, escapee, daughter ravager with glee, a one-time night sleeper who became a full daytime sleeper in the high parts of a custodian’s barn as he occupied the custodian’s daughter, her learning love s quick as it made itself available.
For a while, after his horse was found tied off outside town, the sheriff saw his lazy but lovely looking Pamela had instituted some changes and some duties on her daily schedule of things to do and get done. It was a pleasant change for him, and the new days passed in some pleasant observation, realizing she had learned so much in such a little time, conquered her laziness, found things to do ahead of their time, almost click her heels when a task was finished ahead of schedule,
He admired, in a hurry, her work in the kitchen as well as the odd jobs a woman sometimes has to do around horses, in the barn, doing her bit for the black, a pony, and her father’s horse found out in the brush. Also, she had become the charming woman her dead mother had been. A neat comparison developed about the two women in his life, one gene beyond, one at her chores
There were mornings when Tarmy Thomas, Chase Hill sheriff, rising from sleep, found his breakfast, still plumb hot, on the table in the small kitchen, his horse saddled and at the rail outside his morning window, ready for whatever and wherever he’d be taken. Life hadn’t been better for him in aa long time.
Days, he realized, had become celebrations by the score.
Who knows how long that engagement might have lasted after the errand boy for the Chase Hill General Store had not stopped by to make a delivery to the barn, and couldn’t wait to get back to town to tell what he had seen, his side of things, a legend in action?