Elijah lets Oma, his horse, trot on. Depending on who you talk to, the old Cumberland Road or National Road, is an easy way. It is a thoroughfare he means to travel into Illinois where he plans to jog around to pick up a route west. He has Arizona or New Mexico in mind, but doesn't care if it is Colorado or Wyoming, or somewhere of the like.
There are cornfields and other crops out here and he judges himself to be somewhere around the town they call Terre Haute, Indiana and about ready to cross over into Illinois where this National Road runs out and the wilderness trek begins. From that point he is to make his way to St. Louis where he will meet his childhood friend Salathial Fields and they will continue their journey together. Both young men seek a new life on the emerging frontier, a life of freedom. For Elijah, freedom from a life of tyranny at the hands of a step-father. For Salathial, freedom from the tyranny of judgement for skin color. To Elijah, National Road travel is a necessary step along the way. He will enjoy its ease, knowing he will not see its like again on the western frontier.
It is early and the morning mist hangs over the fields and woods as Oma carries him onward. He has seen no one since last night and knows this heavily traveled thoroughfare will liven up as the sun progresses on its path.
Elijah sees the men off the side of the road and up ahead. The big one looks down the road at him, stands up and looks at the other one, then dusts his pants and picks something from the ground. Trees and brush block Elijah's sight for a moment as he moves forward. When he gets closer to the men, he can see that they have camped. One is older and well worn, of his late 40s, the other much younger and sort of dumb looking.
The older one now leans against a tree with a rifle propped next to him. Elijah recognizes it for a Maynard .50 caliber and thinks of the recently defeated Confederacy. The younger, dumb looking man has a massive stick of ironwood in his beefy right paw and taps it on the ground. Elijah smiles his best 18-year-old boyish smile but his alarms are sounded. He must be wary, which he realizes may be all that these gentlemen are doing.
"Greetings young fella. Spare a minute for a chat? We ain't seen anyone since yesterday," the older man speaks and drops his hand to the barrel of the Maynard.
"Gentlemen," Elijah decides to not run for it as the Maynard is a formidable weapon in the right hands. He reins Oma to a stop. There is a fleeting, stealthy movement from the big one to position himself behind Oma but at a safe distance.
With polished practice the older man flips the Maynard upward and to his waiting hands, he points it at Elijah, cocking the trigger in one continuous fluid motion. "My name is Parson Taylor and that's my little brother Dan and I'll be thanking you to get down off of the horse," he says.
Elijah judges his chances for successful pulling of the Henry repeater from its saddle holster and decides against it. He glances back at Dan who is still in place but with the ironwood club in both hands now. He looks at the older man. "Mr. Parson Taylor and Dan," he says after a moment "we are not enemies. I do not know you."
"No sir, you don't. But I mean to take your horse, that nice Henry rifle you got there and whatever else I may want," Parson Taylor says. "You're decision is clear headed to leave your rifle holstered; there is no opportunity for you there."
"I see." Elijah judges that Mr. Taylor would and could shoot him should he spur Oma and try to run for it. He pushes his Stetson back on his head and smiles at the older man again. "Sir, could we not discuss it? I will share my provisions and be on my way with no harm done save perhaps a misunderstanding, as it were." He sees one course of action and stirs Oma to the position he desires.
"Sonny, you can stop moving the horse. You can't outrun a bullet and I am a crack shot, I admit," Taylor continues. "No, I must insist that you dismount."
Elijah spreads his hands and entreats, he moves Oma the slightest bit more, "Mr. Parson Taylor, you seem like a reasonable man. And an honorable veteran of the Great War." Oma is in place.
"Shoot him from the saddle," Dan adds from behind in a thick and clumsy voice.
"That is a thought, brother Dan," Mr. Taylor says "and maybe I shall if he does not dismount soon. My arms weary holding this rifle at aim."
"What do you with me, Mr. Taylor? You and your brother Dan?" Elijah takes his feet from the stirrups and checks on Dan again.
"I'm sorry to say that we cannot let you go. You see the Sheriff in the county knows us; it might never do for you to report to him," Taylor explains.
"You mean to shoot me anyway? I wish that you wouldn't," Elijah says. He is ready now.
"No, I shall shoot if needed. The noise of the rifle may draw an attention I do not crave. I mean for brother Dan to kill you with his club. Now please, for the last time will you dismount?" Taylor insists.
"I am to die either way?" Elijah smiles.
"My brother Dan is what some call retarded, meaning not swift of wit and as you can see he is big of body and slower on foot than you," Parson Taylor explains. "Look at it this way; you have at least a chance to escape Dan but none to escape my bullet while mounted."
"You afford me my chances with brother Dan unfettered?" Elijah asks and looks at Dan behind him who is not keeping with the conversation.
Parson Taylor lowers the Maynard rifle to a hip position and motions with his head for the boy to dismount.
"You make a point, Parson Taylor. It seems my options are indeed limited." Elijah spreads his hands in a surrender gesture and places the right hand on the horn of the saddle. "Will you allow me a moment of prayer to God?" Parson Taylor nods, Elijah checks on Dan again and lowers his head but does not close his eyes. He prays for half a minute and announces, "I will dismount."
In one motion he puts his left foot in the stirrup, swings his right leg over the horse and dips his body to dismount. Simultaneous he slides his left hand inside his jacket to the holstered Colt pocket revolver. He is hidden from Parson Taylor's view by his previous positioning of Oma and brother Dan can't see what he is doing from his angle. As soon as he has both feet on the ground he draws the Colt, ducks low and aims the pistol from under Oma's neck where he fires twice, hitting Parson Taylor in the middle with both shots. Well trained, Oma does not move. Elijah wheels and shoots the advancing Dan in the center of his chest. Dan drops forward to the waiting ground without ceremony, hands above his head and still gripping the club. Years of practice with Salathiel Fields makes all of this second nature.
Elijah turns to Parson Taylor who is slouched to a sitting position against a tree and reaching for the Maynard. He steps to the rifle and kicks it away. Taylor drops his hand to his wound and looks up.
"I am twice gutted. You have killed me boy," Taylor says with a gasp.
"You meant to kill me," Elijah responds.
Mr. Taylor looks at the blood oozing from under his clenched hands. "I have seen this on the battlefield. No doctor can save me now even if one were at hand. My brother is dead?"
"I am sorry to report, he is. I feel no guilt. You and Dan should not have made on me this way," Elijah steps back to leave then stops.
"Dan is not responsible. He was a half-wit, doing what I tell him," Taylor shrugs "I meant for him to kill you. I didn't care to use a bullet as they're hard to come by for that rifle and it is such a loud instrument," Parson Taylor explains.
"I don't regret what I did," Elijah continues "I regret the necessity of it."
"It is to be expected." Taylor nods his head.
The boy nods also, "it is unfortunate." In all of his studies of the west and all of his reading of the Beadle's Dime Novels the bad guy was never thus. The bad man, the highwayman, was a rough and tumble no-good with coarse language and foul disposition; dangerous and devious until the end. Mr. Taylor is a small, worn out, old rebel and Dan an imbecile. Taylor, without his rifle, is no threat. Intended robber or not, Elijah is anxious for him.
"We have never robbed before. It was ill advised from the start." Mr. Taylor closes his eyes and is silent and bleeding for a long moment, "We went to church Sunday last. Mount Carmel Primitive Baptist. The man preached hellfire. There was a chicken dinner after." He looks at the boy and lets a small smile creep forth, "you are practiced, yet too young for the war."
"I mean to live in the Wild West," Elijah explains. "I am prepared and educated in all things of the west." He stares at the Maynard, satisfied that it is far enough out of reach, then he holsters his pistol. "I have never killed before. God gave me leave, but I still do not relish it."
"What do they call you?" Parson Taylor asks with closed eyes.
"Elijah Brandt, sir."
Taylor smiles but does not open his eyes. "You have read the periodicals, I see," he says. "Sorry we met under these conditions. You seem a good sort."
Elijah looks at the ground, "I would like to pray for you, sir."
Parson Taylor looks up at the overhead canopy of trees then down at his bloody hands. He looks at last at the boy and wets his parched lips, "I should be playing Whist," he gasps.
"Mr. Taylor?" Elijah asks.
"I should be at my sister's house in Corydon, Indiana, playing Whist in her parlor," he explains. "She begged us not to leave, but somehow we are here," he sighs.
The older man shakes his head again and the boy can see color draining from his face. He does not fancy watching Parson Taylor die, but considers it indecent to leave a man to utter his dying words to the empty wind. "I urge you to not report this to the county Sheriff," Taylor continues. "He is an unpredictable sort and may welcome your news by placing you in jail for future hanging." Taylor begins to gasp at the end of sentences and the boy figures it can't be long at any rate.
"Would you like for me to contact friends or kin?" Elijah offers.
Taylor looks at him, "no. That is as bad for you as the Sheriff, or worse. Leave us here, we will be found. You should ride before another traveler comes and complicates the issue."
Elijah looks up and down the road for as far as he can see. No one presents themselves but Parson Taylor's words are true. He looks back at the old man who has closed his eyes again. "If you are sure then," Elijah says.
The boy mounts Oma. He looks at Dan who has not moved and then at the old man who still breathes with eyes closed. He checks the location of the Maynard. He prays God's mercy for these highwaymen he has killed.
He expects action and possible gun play in the Wild West. He is prepared by years of study and reading and years of practice on the horse, with the rope, knife, and firearms. He never expected adventure to begin before leaving Indiana.
He spurs Oma to an even and quick trot and rides on in profound sadness.