Episode 25: Powerful Stuff | Scryer's Gulch
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When John returned to his own back parlor, Rabbit was gone, off to make a final round before bed; Mrs Smith dozed in her chair, her darning still in her lap; and Jamie fidgeted anxiously on the hearth rug with his soldiers. John woke Mrs Smith with a gentle, "Now, Minnie, it's past your bedtime, go on up, I'm home now."
Once alone, Jamie and his father avoided looking at one another, John preferring the flicker of the lamp flame, Jamie the pile of deceased tin men he stirred with one finger. "I hear," John began, "that you picked up something maybe you shouldn't have, son."
"Like what?" said Jamie, giving him a brief sideways glance.
"Like a nugget of hermetauxite."
Jamie drew his eyebrows down in a way that reminded John of the boy's mother. "I ain't picked up any nugget, Pa." John said nothing in response. He kept a steady gaze on the boy, waiting him out; Jamie was an honest kid. Sure enough, when he couldn't stand it any more, he burst out, "Aw, Aloysius peached on me!"
"He did no such thing. Silent as the grave, or silent as the grave should be for once. Jamie, where did you get it? You're not in trouble, now, tell me the truth."
"I found it in the street by the ethergraph office," he mumbled. "Can I have it back? It don't belong to anyone, it was just lyin there in the street, so now it's mine."
"How long ago?"
"I dunno. Just before school started, I guess. Can I have it back?"
John leaned over and put a hand on his son's shoulder. "James, this is important." The boy blinked, somber and troubled at the sound of his full name. "I want you to think. Do you...have you fallen asleep and woken up some place else, ever?"
Jamie looked at the little soldier in his hand. "Maybe."
"Tell me, son."
"I was...I fell asleep in the hayloft down to Mr Parson's..."
"I woke up in my room."
John nodded, and let out a breath; it was just as Annabelle Duniway had said. "This was the day of the schoolhouse vandalism, wasn't it?"
"Did Georgie Prake say I done it? Because I didn't, Pa! I swear I didn't!"
"No, Georgie hasn't said a word. You know that hermetauxite is powerful stuff in some hands, don't you?"
"You sound like Miss Duniway," glowered Jamie.
"You'd do yourself a good turn to listen to her," said his father. "She knows a thing or two, I do believe. It's powerful stuff, hermetauxite. I think that nugget..." He trailed off, unsure how to explain it to the boy. "Let me just say this, Jamie. That nugget is not a toy. It's not even a proper nugget of hermetauxite."
"It looked like one."
"Well, it isn't." John took the soldier out of the boy's hand, gaining his complete attention. "Listen, son. You can't have that nugget ever again. No one can. It's dangerous. You can't tell anyone about it, or whether you had it or not, or what it might have made you do. Not even Aloysius. The only person you can talk to about it is me, and Miss Duniway, and then only in private. You hear?"
"Yes, sir," said Jamie, eyes wide. "You...you think it made me do that to the schoolhouse?"
"I don't know. Perhaps. If you did, we'll deal with it later. Now you go on up to bed. Skedaddle."
John watched his son climb the stairs and returned to his pondering. Annabelle was on to something, and he was on to her. He'd said more than he probably should have said to Anatole Prake; he'd certainly gone beyond the bounds of what he'd promised Annabelle. What would John tell Prake in the morning?
John decided to tell the Mayor nothing more, and sent Jamie to the Prakes with his excuse. On the way to the Prakes' front door, the boy met Amelia and Georgie, heading off to his first day of school since his disgrace. "Hey, Georgie--" Jamie began, but the other boy turned his stolid back and stomped off to school without a word; Amelia shrugged apologetically and trailed after her twin. Jamie sighed, knocked on the Prakes' door, and delivered the message to their housekeeper, Mrs Jenkins. He continued on to the schoolhouse.
After his conversation with his pa, Jamie didn't know what to think. Had he vandalized the school? How could he have done it and not remember? And here Georgie hadn't said a word against him, and had gotten the punishment to boot--if you could call being kept out of school "punishment."
"I'd surely like that for a punishment," he muttered to himself as he entered the schoolhouse just in time for class. He sat down on his usual bench next to Georgie, who again pointedly turned away. "Aw, come on, Georgie!" he whispered.
Miss Duniway cut him off; the school day began.
Annabelle decided not to mention Georgie's return to class, a decision that seemed to relieve him. She'd expected that he might be belligerent or intimidated, but to her own relief, Georgie quickly reverted to winking and making faces at Lily Bonham. He completely ignored his bench mate.
The real change had come over Jamie Runnels. He sat beside Georgie, subdued but not surly, sending both her and Georgie anxious, guilty looks. John must have told him, she thought, but how much? Another visit to the jail was in order. When the school day ended and Lily Bonham finished cleaning the erasers, that's just where Annabelle headed.
Through the window she could see Simon Prake in earnest conversation with an angry Sheriff. The bell over the door jangled sharply as she entered, but didn't drown out Simon's final remark: "--continue giving you her ethergrams in good conscience!"
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