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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by lindaclarke on 21 February 2007 - 4:36pm.

The following day, Melinda sat at the table enjoying lunch and a pleasant conversation with her aunt and uncle. As she took a bite of overdone, dried roast beef, she asked, “Why is it so hard to cook roast beef and make it have a moist and tasty flavor? I have never in my life tasted a well-seasoned roast.”

Aunt Martha laughed softly, “Don’t worry, my dear. You’ll catch on to it some day. Some people just have a knack for cooking. It’s the same with me. Some days it’s moist and other days it’s dry, and I can never figure out the secret.”

Melinda turned to her uncle and asked, “Uncle William, may I please take the carriage into Montpelier? I have some errands to run. School starts in a couple of weeks and I need to order some supplies and open my own account at the bank. I want to save enough money to get my own place in the future.”

Aunt Martha smiled. “It sounds like you plan to stay here for a while. I’m so glad because I miss having family around.”

Melinda stood and as she walked toward the kitchen door, she looked over her shoulder and said, “I haven’t made up my mind yet, Aunt Martha. But one needs to save for the future, no matter what.”

Melinda put on a lovely white muslin dress that was fitted snugly to the bodice and gathered at the waist. It had puffed sleeves at the elbow and hung smoothly and gracefully, hugging her hips. She placed a white flower on the side of her dark tresses that were loosely pulled into an attractive bun with a few loose curls at the nape of her neck. Smiling at herself in the mirror, she pinched her cheeks for color. Grabbing her handbag, she gracefully glided down the stairs.

Melinda climbed carefully into the carriage, holding her skirts up. After she settled down, Uncle William handed her the reins to the horse. “He’s gentle. You won’t have any problem. Just remember to hold on tight so you have control at all times.”

“All right, Uncle William. Thank you.”

Realizing the time, Melinda whipped the reins and sped down the road toward Montpelier. When she arrived in town, she placed her order for school supplies and then headed toward the bank to deposit the last of her money. It was August thirteenth; school would begin in only two weeks and she had a long list of chores to accomplish before then.

Approaching the bank, she noticed a sign next to the door that said “The Bank of Montpelier, Established in 1891.” Looking at her watch, Melinda realized she had arrived just in time, before the bank closed.

The bank president and his friend were visiting on the steps of the bank. When Melinda approached, they cordially greeted her as“Good day, ma’am.”

Melinda smiled back as she opened the door of the bank. Inside, she asked the teller for papers to open an account. As she was filling out the papers, she heard the door slowly squeak open and shut. Melinda glanced up and saw four men enter the bank with very sober faces: the two gentlemen who were on the steps and two other men who were dressed like cowhands or cowboys. As they entered, she noticed that one of the cowboys mumbled something to the men in front of him who quickly stiffened with fear in their eyes. Melinda looked questioningly at them, wondering what was wrong. Then one of the cowboys closed the door, and as they backed away from the gentlemen, she realized they had guns in their hands.

Melinda gasped, dropping her pen to the floor. Her heart began to throb and her face paled as she realized she was witnessing, firsthand, the reason this place was called the “Wild West.” As she watched, her eious tears and her chest tightened.

“Up against the wall,” the outlaw demanded. Melinda looked around and the only other people in the bank were a woman stenographer and a male teller by the name of Mackintosh.

Melinda was so frightened that her breathing became short and irregular. Her eyes widened with the terror of not knowing what would happen next. She had read stories about Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch and she remembered an outlaw by the name of Kid Curry who was known as the most feared killer in the West, and the memory of it sent chills down her spine. Kid Curry was one of the Wild Bunch.

“Well, well, Cassidy,” the outlaw drawled. “Look what we have here. Two women, and one purtier than I’ve ever seen before.”

The outlaw’s eyes boldly swept over Melinda’s body, from her hair down to her shoes with a look that sent a chill up her spine. His look greatly offended her and she knew the fear she felt was obvious to everyone. Cassidy saw the troubled look on Melinda’s face and he quickly intervened.

“Elza, don’t frighten her. She’s a lady. Look at her dress and the way she holds herself. I saw ladies like her when I went back East last year.”

Cassidy took off his hat and flashed her a gentle smile. It seemed to her that he had great respect for women. Aunt Martha had told her that most cowboys did. If any cowboy or outlaw showed disrespect to a woman, or treated her inappropriately, his peers soon corrected him for his behavior. Melinda noticed that even though Cassidy did not respect the law, he deeply respected a lady.

Cassidy gave her a charming smile and said softly, “Ma’am, don’t be frightened. I can see you are, but we won’t hurt you. I promise.”

Melinda stared at him for the longest time. His voice was kind and his eyes were soft; his manner seemed to contradict everything he represented. He was a handsome man with a boyish look in his face. His hair was short with bangs parted to the side. Butch Cassidy was known for his charm and quick wit, not to mention his fearlessness and bravery. He had an air of authority about him and no one could mistake that he was the leader of his gang.

Mr. Gray, the bank president, exclaimed with surprise, “Did you say Cassidy? As in Butch Cassidy, the outlaw?”

Cassidy grinned and nodded with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes as he put his hat back on. “Heard of me?”

Gray tried not to stammer, but it was impossible. “Uh...y-yes, I have. D-don’t they call your gang the Wild Bunch?”

“They sure do,” he said with pride in his voice. With a command of authority, he looked at everyone. “Now all of you, against the wall so we can do our job.”

Melinda was standing at the teller’s window, and as Cassidy momentarily turned his attention to the two gentlemen in the corner, Mackintosh leaned over and whispered, “I heard that Cassidy was born in Utah, and was raised by kind and religious parents. When he was a teenager, he fell under the influence of an old rustler and soon left home to ride the outlaw trail, taking on the name of his mentor.”

Upon hearing this, Melinda realized that others had influenced Cassidy, encouraging him to disregard his parents’ teachings. He could have been an asset to the community but had chosen another direction. How many other children had gone astray simply because of being swayed by friends?

Elza Lay was a part of Cassidy’s gang, as well as his best friend. Lay was a tall, slender, handsome man known for being a top bronco rider and ranch hand. He was a flirtatious sort of fellow and seemed to have a way with women and horses.

Elza could not take his eyes off Melinda as he boldly scanned every inch of her. His penetrating glare unnerved her and she quickly averted her eyes. As his eyes studied her, he commanded, “Give me your purse.”

Melinda clutched her purse tightly with both hands. It was the last of her money. The protest inside her wedged in her throat and she could not speak. Her chest tightened until she could scarcely breathe.

Seeing her panic, Cassidy intervened once again. “Leave her alone, Elza. We have all we need here at the bank.” Turning to the hostages, he demanded, “Now the rest of you, turn around with your faces toward the wall.”

Elza Lay leaned casually against the writing desk with his revolver pointed at his hostages while Cassidy quickly scooped up the money into a gunnysack.

Lay’s eyes were steady upon Melinda and she became very uncomfortable. “Hurry, Cassidy. Meeks is holding the horses. You know how nervous he gets.”

Melinda looked out the window and noticed the third man standing by the horses across the street. She made a mental note of the man’s features just before Lay struck Mackintosh across the face.

“Where’s the rest of the money?” Lay demanded.

Losing his balance, Mackintosh bumped into Melinda. She took his arm to steady him and asked in a quiet tone, “Are you all right?”

He nodded somewhat unconvincingly, his eyes wide with fear.

“Well, where is the rest of it?” Lay demanded as he stared at Mackintosh.

“Uh...th-that’s all. Th-there’s no more. We only took in about $7,000.”

Cassidy shoved the last of the money in the sack. “You know, Elza, I figur’d the best way to hurt ’em is through their pocketbook. I can assure you they will holler louder than if you cut off both legs. In fact, I like to steal their money just to hear ’em holler. Then, just like Robin Hood, I pass it out among those who really need it, taking from the rich and giving to the poor.”

Melinda remembered hearing how he proclaimed that he was fighting for the settlers’ rights against the rich cattle baron. To some he was a hero but to Melinda and other law-abiding citizens, he was a bandit.

Cassidy walked to the door and stopped. Looking at Melinda, he gave her a charming smile and nodded. “Ma’am, I’m sorry if we frightened you.”

Cassidy held the gunnysack in a casual manner and slowly left the bank. He walked nonchalantly across the street as if he did not have a care in the world. He fastened the gunnysack to his saddlebags and then swung himself upon his horse and rode slowly away. No one seemed to take notice of this stranger or suspect anything was wrong as he rode down the street, passing people on his way.

Melinda noticed that everything was planned down to the last moment. Cassidy apparently never acted without a well-staked-out plan. Watching from the window, she noticed that after Cassidy was out of town, Meeks moved across the street toward the bank with the remaining horses and left Lay’s horse standing in front of the bank. Meeks hopped upon his horse and slowly rode away. Again, no one took notice of the second stranger, riding off down the road.

Through the bank window, Lay watched Meeks ride out of town. Before he left, he softly stroked Melinda’s cheek with his fingers and gave her a smile that shook her nerves.

“Bye, purty lady.”

Melinda’s stomach was all in knots. She wanted to cry out of relief that they were gone, and yet she wanted to give that outlaw a piece of her mind for the way he had frightened everyone and for the way he had looked at her. So this was the Wild West that she had been reading about. Melinda found out how wild the West really was, and it was only her second day in town!

As soon as Elza Lay left the bank and headed down the street on his horse, it seemed as if all pandemonium erupted as Gray ran outside and alerted everyone, including the sheriff and deputy. Melinda watched from the window as Deputy Fred Cruikshank took off on his bicycle for home so he could saddle up his horse. Attorney Bagley followed after him so they could immediately take off together, while Sheriff Jefferson Davis called for a posse, which only took minutes to do.

Melinda walked outside to watch all the commotion. As they sped down the street, Melinda watched in awe as each man passed her on his horse with a revolver buckled at his hip.

Mackintosh walked up to her and looked her in the face. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

She nodded and swallowed a lump in her throat before answering, “I’m the new schoolteacher in Paris.”

“Well, this sure is a way to welcome a new school teacher. Are you all right? You look a bit shaken.”

She nodded again as she wiped her hands nervously against her skirt. It was hard to speak. Her mouth was dry, her hands were damp, her face was ashen, and her mind was in a whirl.

“You know, ma’am, the thirteenth was the cause of it all.”

Melinda stared at Macintosh and looked puzzled.

“Yes, the thirteenth. You see, today is the thirteenth day of the month; it took place after the thirteenth deposit had been made today in the amount of thirteen dollars; and the robbery transpired at thirteen minutes after three o’clock.”

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