Note from Mrs M: This story is based on the character of Macy Walker, Andi’s friend from Thick as Thieves. She gave Macy one of Taffy’s foals at the end of the story, for saving her life.
“I’m adopted,” Macy squealed as she walked out of the Fayetteville courthouse beside her Aunt Hester and Uncle John. “Now I’ll never have to leave you.”
“That’s right.” Aunt Hester smiled and embraced her niece. Uncle John helped Macy and her aunt into the buggy. As they drove, Macy thought over the events of the past few months.
That winter, when her brothers Ty, Jase, and Rudy had captured her friend Andi Carter, Andi’s family had rescued her and let Macy come live with them. Macy had begun to see what it was like to live in a real, loving family. When she thought the possibility of having lived on stolen money with her brothers in alleys and saloons for the rest of her life, she felt sick to her stomach.
“The paper arrived,” Uncle John pointed out as he helped his wife and niece out of the buggy. “Maybe we’ll learn when that auction is going to be.”
Macy picked up the paper and flipped through it. What was that? Why were her brothers’ pictures in the paper? Her mouth fell open as she scanned the page.
“Escaped- three convicted horse thieves: Ty, Jase, and Rudy Walker. $3000 reward for information leading to arrest.” She stared at it, then held the page up to her uncle.
His eyes opened wide. He began to speak, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Aunt Hester led in a dirty little boy dressed in rags.
“I’ve got a letter for Macy Walker.”
“Who is it from?”
“I don’t know.” The boy handed Macy’s aunt the letter.
“Thank you.” She closed the door and Macy took the letter from her, broke the seal, and pulled out a dirty piece of paper. She read it quickly and fought to keep her tears from spilling over. The lump in her throat made it impossible to speak as she handed the note to her uncle.
“What does it say?” Aunt Hester wrapped an arm around her trembling niece.
“Hope to see you soon. Sincerely, your brothers,” Uncle John read aloud. He looked around the table at his small family. “We’re leaving tonight.”
“Why?” Macy asked.
Uncle John stared at her. “It’s not safe here for you.”
“They’re my brothers. They’re not going to hurt me.”
“Macy, think about it. They’re going to be angry that you helped Andrea Carter escape. They’re going to want revenge.”
“Uncle John, they’re my family. Family’s important.”
“You’ve told us how they treated you, Macy.”
“Do you not even care?” Macy’s voice rose. “I can’t just turn my back on them!”
“That’s what they did to you, Macy! They neglected you and abused you!”
“I want to see them.”
“You’re not going to.” Her uncle shook his head resolutely.
“You’re not even my real family!”
“Macy,” Aunt Hester reproved.
“Are you siding with him, too?” Macy turned to look at her aunt. “You’re related to my brothers. Why don’t you care?”
Tears filled Aunt Hester’s eyes. “They’ve made their decisions, and I don’t want their decisions to hurt you. I care about you, Macy. I don’t want them to hurt you again.”
“I have a friend,” Uncle John announced, “in California. He owns a ranch and won’t mind if we show up unexpectedly. I’m sure he’d allow Sunny to come, too. We’re going to be on the next train.”
Macy looked away. “Maybe you shouldn’t have adopted me if that’s how you feel about family.”
“Macy!” Hester Trent hurried towards the train’s livestock car, where Macy had ridden with her horse, Sunny. “How did it go?”
“Fine.” Macy ignored the hurt look on her aunt’s face. She was still upset. It wasn’t as much that she was angry with her aunt and uncle as that she wasn’t sure what she thought about family.
Were her brothers her family, or her aunt and uncle? Did she have to choose sides, to be loyal to one or the other? She turned as her uncle walked over with a man she didn’t recognize.
“Hester, this is my friend Jem Coulter. He graciously agreed to take us in until Macy’s brothers are recaptured. Jem, may I introduce my wife, Hester.”
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am.” Mr. Coulter took off his broad-brimmed hat, revealing his straight dark hair.
Aunt Hester appeared close to tears. “Thank you, Mr. Coulter, for taking us in on such short notice. You have no idea what it means to us.”
“I’m just thinking of how I would feel if it were my own daughter, Ellianna, in danger.”
“Ellianna?” John Trent raised his eyebrows. Macy remembered her uncle speaking of Mr. Coulter’s having a sister named Ellianna, but she’d never heard of the daughter.
“She prefers to be called Ellie,” Mr. Coulter explained, “just like my sister, her namesake, did.”
Uncle John laid a hand on Macy’s shoulder. “Jem, this is my niece Macy.”
Macy smiled at the man. “Hello, Mr. Coulter. Uncle John said you would probably allow my horse to come with us to your ranch. Would that be alright? I couldn’t bear it if we were separated.”
It wasn’t polite to skip all the formalities of introduction, but Macy had to know if Sunny would be with her.
Jem Coulter laughed heartily. “There’s plenty of room for Sunny. I believe you and Ellie will be good friends. She loves horses, as well.”
“So, how’s the mine?” Uncle John asked.
Mr. Coulter sighed. “The mine’s doing well, but that’s the problem.”
“The gold’s been disappearing. I don’t know how I’m going to pay my worker’s wages without it.”
Uncle John nodded. “You have any ideas as to who’s the culprit?”
“Not really. All my employees seem trustworthy.” He turned to Aunt Hester. “You must be tired after traveling all night. Shall we head to the ranch?”
“That sounds wonderful,” Aunt Hester agreed.
Mr. Coulter began to lead the way to his buggy, but Macy stood still, riveted on the figure at the other side of the platform. Could that be Ty? No, her brothers didn’t know she was in Goldtown. She brushed the thought away and hurried to catch up with the rest.
“Ellie! Father wants you!”
Ellie didn’t look up at her brother. The frog was so close. If it just hopped, she’d have it. “What for, Will? I did my chores already.”
The frog hopped, and Ellie pounced. As she grabbed the frog, she slipped and the icy creek water soaked her. She held the frog fast and sat up, gasping and spluttering. “Got him!” She brandished the huge, green amphibian, stood up, and stepped out of the creek.
“He’s got guests, and there’s a girl he wants you to entertain,” Will continued.
Ellie smiled grimly at that. “She’d better like frogs.” The frog she was holding croaked as if in agreement. “Last time Father wanted me to entertain someone…” Ellie trailed off, giggling in remembrance.
“Don’t scare this girl too bad. Last time you got into a heap of trouble.”
“Oh, if she can’t handle a frog, she’d best get where she came from mighty quick.” Ellie followed her twin brother up from the creek towards the house, slipping the frog into her pocket.
Oh, drat! The snake was in that pocket! Which one did she want to keep more? She pulled out the snake and dropped it onto the ground before it had a chance to swallow her prize frog.
“I don’t think Father would be too happy about you greeting a guest dressed like that.” Ellie grimaced as Will looked her up and down, but sighed and nodded.
“I’m cold, anyway. I’ll head into the house to change, if you’ll tell Father I’m coming. Hold him for me, will you?” Ellie thrust the frog at her brother and ran into the house.
Once she had changed, Ellie walked outside to meet her father’s guests. “Hello, Ellie,” Mr. Coulter greeted his daughter. “This is Macy. She’s going to be staying with us for a while.”
Ellie looked the girl over. She didn’t look too stuck up. “Hi, Macy. I have a present for you.” Ellie pulled her frog from Will’s pocket and held it out to the girl. “Do you like frogs?”
To her delight, Macy nodded and took the frog, admiring its size. “Thanks. Want to see my horse?” Macy asked, pocketing the frog.
Ellie nodded enthusiastically. She liked this girl. “Father, I’ll show her around the ranch, alright?”
He and the couple standing by Macy nodded in agreement.
“So, why are you here?” Ellie asked.
Macy was glad Ellie got directly to the point. It made things much easier. “Well, my parents died and my outlaw brothers took me in. They started stealing cattle and horses, and I helped a family called the Carters capture them. My brothers got off with jail instead of hanging, but they threatened to break out and get revenge on the Carters and I. We just received word that they escaped from jail.”
“I’m sorry.” Ellie patted Macy’s hand.
Macy nodded, grateful for her new friend’s compassion. “So, how---” Macy was cut off as a rough hand was clapped over her mouth.
She looked over, and saw Ty holding Ellie. Despite Ellie’s struggling, Macy could tell they were both overpowered. So it had been Ty she had seen at the train station! If only she’d said something.
“We’ve got you, sis. First promise I’ve kept in a long time!” Her brother laughed. “Did you get my note?”
Macy felt herself falling as her world slowly faded into darkness.
Macy woke from her faint in the back of a moving wagon. It was just as black with her eyes open as with them shut. She tried to move her hands, but could not. Her fingers were numb, and ropes were tightly bound around her ankles and wrists. She shifted and felt Ellie beside her. Where was she?
“HELP,” Macy hollered. “Help me!”
“Shut up, girl. Nobody’s goin’ to hear you, anyway. We’re out in the middle of nowhere.” Jase’s voice cut through the darkness, sending the events of that morning tumbling back into Macy’s brain. She whimpered softly.
“Where are we going, Jase?” Macy couldn’t steady her voice.
Ty cursed. “You’re not half-brained enough to tell ‘er, are you, Jase?”
“She’d figure out, anyway,” Jase protested. Ty swung a fist at his brother, who ducked.
Macy swallowed, trying to reassure herself. “You know Aunt and Uncle are going to search until they find me.”
Ty laughed harshly. “You gettin’ all mushy over your auntie, are ya?”
Macy clamped her mouth shut. Why did she even bother talking to Ty? She wasn’t going to get anything but harm out of it.
“Macy-girl, you’re gonna help us with somethin’. It’s the least you can do for rattin’ on your own kin.” Ty pulled on the reins. “Whoa.”
“I’m not doing anything for you!” Macy protested.
The wagon slowed to a stop, and Macy squinted through the darkness, trying to get some idea of where she was. “We’ll get away, like last time.”
Ty growled low in his throat and grabbed Ellie’s arm. She cried out in pain. “Do you happen to want to see your little friend here again?” he asked menacingly.
Macy stared at her brother’s form, just visible as the sun began to peek through the darkness. Ellie’s hand brushed Macy’s.
“Well,” Ty continued, “if you run, we’ll find you, and you won’t have another chance.” He chuckled. “Ever.”
“Oh, Ty!” Macy choked.
He let go off Ellie’s arm, and Ellie dropped to the floor of the wagon. Was it wrong to dislike her brothers so much when they were her family? They didn’t feel like her family. Aunt Hester and Uncle John did. They loved her. Her brothers-they didn’t seem to care at all.
Morning dragged into afternoon. Jase and Rudy argued and Ty drank whiskey.
Ellie recognized the place Macy’s brothers had taken them. They were camped on a cliff she and Will had explored. It wasn’t too far from her father’s mine. She didn’t understand why the Walker brothers hadn’t taken her and Macy further. It would only take a day or two for the search partied to find them here.
“Macy,” Ellie whispered, “why aren’t they taking us further?”
“I don’t know,” Macy whispered back.
“Quiet,” Rudy barked.
Ellie fell silent and began to study the man’s features. Suddenly, she gasped and jerked herself up into a sitting position. Could it be?
“What is it?” Macy asked, not bothering to keep her voice to a whisper.
“You!” Ellie pointed an accusing finger at Rudy. “You worked for my father! In his mines!”
Rudy looked startled for a minute, then twisted his face into a grin. “Yep, I did. It was profitable, too.” He patted a bulging knapsack hung from his belt.
What was he saying? Had he really stolen from Ellie’s father? He’d mentioned something about some workers he’d laid off, but Ellie hadn’t considered that they might have actually stolen from him.
Rudy’s face fell back into a scowl. “That Jem Coulter sure deserves what he’s gettin’.”
Ty nodded. “They all do. Every last one of them.”
“What do you mean?” Macy asked.
Ty reached back and slapped Macy. “Don’t be forgettin’ that you’re not some fancy city girl anymore. You just stay quiet, y’ hear?”
Macy nodded mutely.
Ellie cringed as Macy’s cheek turned red where Ty had struck her.
“We’d best get goin’,” Jase said as the last orange glow of the sunset disappeared.
Ty nodded and pulled Macy to her feet. “Come on.” He pulled her up and gave her a push. Macy stumbled on the rocky ground. “Hurry up,” Ty growled, shoving her along the rocky path. Macy looked back over her shoulder. Yes, Ellie was still with them.
Macy walked in silence for a while. She wasn’t sure how long. She couldn’t tell time by the position of the sun when it was night. “Where are we going, Ty?” she asked.
“Shh.” Ty clamped a hand over her mouth.
Macy almost fell over in shock as she recognized where they were. Her brothers had brought the girls back to Jem Coulter’s place.
Ty held the lantern a little bit higher. “Rudy, give me the rope,” he whispered. Rudy handed him the rope, and Ty roughly bound Macy’s hands.
“You stay right here.” Rudy pushed Ellie onto the ground beside Macy, and Ty wrapped the rope around a nearby tree. Macy opened her mouth to scream for help, but Ty stuffed a dirty rag into it before she could make any sound. Macy tried to wiggle away, but she was firmly bound to the tree.
Ty laughed. “You’ve got front-row seats to some of the best entertainment in town tonight.” He raised his arm and pitched the lantern toward the Coulters’ house. It broke through the window with a crash and almost immediately, flames began to lick at the walls.
Macy clawed at the ropes binding her. Her aunt and uncle were in that house. She wanted to see them, to say she was sorry for what she had said to them when they tried to get her to safety, away from her brothers. She didn’t want them to die before she could apologize.
The fire spread around the house, and Macy could just barely hear the commotion inside the house through the crackling of the flames. Her brothers had disappeared back the way they had come.
Macy slumped in relief as her Aunt Hester and Uncle John ran out of the house, coughing from the smoke. Mr. Coulter followed, pulling along his wife and children. Macy wiggled around her tongue, trying to push the gag out of her mouth. She tipped her head forwards, and the rag fell onto her lap.
“Help!” she screamed.
Mr. Coulter turned around.
“We’re over here,” Macy called.
Mr. Coulter ran toward them. “Are you alright?” He pulled at the ropes binding the girls. Soon he had them free.
Ellie collapsed, sobbing, into her father’s arms.
“What happened?” Uncle John barked as he joined them.
“My brothers,” Macy cried.
“Which way did they go?” her uncle asked.
“Will, ride for the sheriff,” Mr. Coulter yelled.
“The house,” Ellie choked through her sobs. “You should be trying to save the house.”
Mr. Coulter shook his head. “There’s nothing more we can do. It’s too late, and there’s too few of us. We’ll have to wait until help comes.”
“Is everyone---” Macy stopped, unable to finish her question.
“Everybody’s safe,” her uncle assured her.
A horse galloped up, and a man dismounted. “We saw the smoke. Is everybody alright?”
“We’re all out of the house, but we need to stop it from spreading.”
“And catch the men who set it,” Uncle John added grimly.
More men rode up, and Mr. Coulter yelled out directions. Faster than Macy could have imagined, the fire was out, and the house was a smoldering pile of wood on the ground.
“What’s the matter, Jem? How did this happen?” a man wearing a sheriff’s badge asked.
“My brothers,” Macy answered. “They set this fire, and they’ve got some of your gold, Mr. Coulter.”
“Your brothers?” The sheriff looked closely at Macy. “Who are they?”
“They escaped from jail,” Uncle John answered for her. “Ty, Jase, and Rudy Walker.”
“I’ve heard.” The sheriff mounted his horse. “We’ll find them. We’ve lived here all our lives, haven’t we, Jem?”
“Yep.” Mr. Coulter mounted a horse Will had led out for him. “They won’t escape this time,” he vowed.
“Why don’t you girls come with me,” a kindly, plump woman suggested. “You and your mothers will stay at the boarding house until the men get back. Catching criminals is such nasty work. I’m sorry about your house, Ellie.” She embraced the girl.
“Yes,” Mr. Coulter said. “You girls go with Mrs. Silverson.”
A few hours later, a knock came on the door of the boarding house. Macy sat up straight on the settee.
Mrs. Silverson led Uncle John and Mr. Coulter into the room.
“Did you find them, then?” Mrs. Coulter asked.
“The Walker brothers are safe in the town jail.” Uncle John frowned. “For good this time, I hope.”
Macy hesitated, then spoke. “Is it wrong to feel like my brothers aren’t really my family?”
Aunt Hester shook her head. “They’re family by blood, but real family are the people who love you.”
Macy hugged her aunt, and then her uncle. “I’m sorry about what I said about you not caring. I love you. You’re my family. I was so scared when you were in the burning house.”
Aunt Hester stroked Macy’s hair, waiting.
“I guess--- I want my brothers to realize their mistakes, to have a better life, but I understand I don’t have to choose sides because I care about my brothers.”
Aunt Hester nodded. “We love you too, Macy.”
Macy had stayed in Goldtown for the house-raising for the Coulters and her brothers’ trial, where she watched in relief as the sentence was announced. Ty, Jase, and Rudy were going to New York, where a ship would carry them off to Australia. The Walker brothers could never enter the United States again.
Now, she stood by Ellie with their families at the train station.
“Goodbye, Ellie.” Macy embraced her friend. “Don’t forget to write, now!”
She waved over her shoulder as she, her Aunt Hester, and her Uncle John boarded the train. She would always be grateful for the gift of friends- and family.