This story was written last summer (1997) between June and August when the series left us with a literal "cliffhanger" and my family and I were doing a lot of speculating on how Michaela and Sully were going to get out of this mess. I had some ideas and they became this story. I sent it, a few pages at a time, to my children who were spending most of the summer at the shore with their grandmother, then after they came home we read the completed story together right before the new season began.
by Rebecca Burkhart
High on the cliff, overlooking the river, O'Connor and Sully stood facing each other, breathing hard. Each was poised, waiting for the other's next move. O'Connor pulled a knife and lunged at Sully who deflected him with a kick that sent the knife flying. Then Sully began hitting O'Connor, letting loose all the rage he felt at this hateful man. He struck a blow for Cloud Dancing, for his Indian family, for his wife, his children, all of whom had fallen prey to this man's malice at one time or another. He had the Sergeant up against the canyon wall and was hitting him again and again when some inner sense pulled him back and he stood at the edge of the cliff trying to gain control of his breathing, to gain control of his rage.
O'Connor looked up from where he lay huddled against the wall and there was murder in his eyes. The hate built up in him until it was an almost tangible force, hate for this Indian-loving mountain man who cared more for the dirty savages than he did for his own kind. In O'Connor's mind that made him a dirty savage, too. With a cry that was more animal than human, he launched himself at Sully and his momentum carried them both over the cliff and they flew out into space, headed for the rocks and water far below.
Roberta Taylor stretched her long legs and tried to ease her body into a more comfortable position. Her doctor had been right - the hot springs were relaxing. But Philadelphia was a long way off and she missed Peter and the children. The last several months had been hard on all of them and only the grace of God and their strength as a family was pulling them through.
The Springs Chateau resort was certainly more luxury than that to which she was accustomed. Her room was comfortable, the meals and service quite lavish. Roberta grimaced. She couldn't say she cared too much for the proprietor nor for the timid little doctor who followed around on his heels like a well-trained puppy. Mother had always said one of her worst faults and best attributes was her ability to size people up at a glance. Her first glance at Preston Lodge had left her with the impression of too many teeth and a kind of false facade that did not at all reveal what went on beneath the ingratiating smile and polite talk. Her impression had been confirmed her first day at the resort when she'd overheard Mr. Lodge turn away a Mexican woman for medical treatment. Dr. Cook had treated her initially and asked her to return for a follow-up visit. Apparently she had lost everything in a fire and would be unable to pay. Mr. Lodge in his great wisdom suggested she go elsewhere for treatment. Dr. Cook's immediate compliance disgusted Roberta. Was it just the sense of injustice that made her feel so sympathetic to the woman, or was it also that the woman was being treated for burn injuries? Best not to think of that now.
As she exited the pool and headed back to her room to change, she encountered Mr. Lodge who gave her one of his million-dollar smiles. "Mrs. Taylor, I wonder if I might have a word with you at your convenience?"
"In regards to...?"
"Perhaps it would be best if we spoke in my office, say in one hour? Fine, then." Mr. Lodge tipped his hat and went on his way . Roberta had a sinking feeling she knew what their talk would be about.
Dr. Michaela Quinn, Colorado Springs' physician and one of its leading citizens, saw Mrs. Potter out the door of the clinic with a packet of herb tea and instructions for its use. She closed the door and took a deep breath. She had been holding herself tightly in control for the last several days by keeping busy, but that control was threatening to crack. As a doctor and a mother, she'd had plenty of practice at being strong. Was it only a short while ago that the worst problems facing her were Horace's melancholia and Brian's disobedience? These so-called "problems" paled in the light of her current situation.
The soldiers had escorted her back to town after the incident at the cliff. They brought her back along with Sergeant O'Connor's body and gave her orders to stay put. "We'll let you know when we find the body" had been Sgt. McKay's comment, delivered as gently as he could. "You just stay home and don't go traipsin' out lookin' for yourself."
One of the last things Sully had told her was to go back home and "act normal". As if such a thing were possible. Still, she did have the children to think about, Brian and Katie, and the homestead to take care of as well as her practice. She hoped she had her practice. She'd been busy enough these last few days, true, but the town was in an uproar and she'd seen the way some of the people looked at her and whispered among themselves. She knew they blamed Sully for what had happened and through him, blamed her.
Why, oh why hadn't he discussed his plans with her? That was what really hurt. He'd kept things from her, deceived her. He'd quit his job building Preston's homestead, lied about why he was keeping horses in their pasture and snuck off to the reservation, waiting for her to leave before moving in to help the Indians escape.
Had she been that unreasonable about his activities? She knew she tended to fly off the handle at first, especially now that they had Katie, but in the end they usually came to agreement on how to handle such matters. Many had been the times they had worked together to help their Indian friends. Perhaps the sight of Cloud Dancing so badly beaten had caused him to lose his mind temporarily. Michaela fought hard to force down the panic rising in her chest. At best, her husband was wanted for treason. And at worst..."No!" she didn't even realise she was speaking aloud. "No! He's alive." It was the litany she'd been repeating to herself ever since finding O'Connor's body alone at the bottom of the cliff. "I know he's alive."
Dorothy Jennings pushed a wisp of red hair out of her face and looked about the Gazette office distractedly. She really wasn't sure where to begin. With Preston calling in her loan she knew she'd have to vacate the old telegraph building. But what about her printing press and the other things she'd brought with her from Loren's store - things she'd owned before entering into partnership with Preston. Certainly her 51% entitled her to something. It was just so hard to think what with the town being in such an uproar -buildings burned, the jail wall blown out by the Indians. And poor Michaela...
Dorothy shook her head, thinking of that horrible ride out to warn Sully he'd been betrayed to O'Connor. Betrayed by the very Indians he'd tried to help. Sully always was too soft-hearted where the Indians were concerned. These weren't even Cheyenne. But Sully felt obligated to help them and instead of quietly escaping the brutal conditions of the reservation, they made war on the soldiers and war on the town and then betrayed their very helper. All Sully had really wanted to do was help his friend Cloud Dancing.
At the thought of Cloud Dancing she felt a knot in the pit of her stomach. Had he gotten away? Was he able to make his way North to the Cheyenne band that still roamed free, unfettered by government restraints? This past year, working on her book about him, she and Cloud Dancing had become closer than she ever would have imagined. She had come to a new understanding of him and his people and all they had been through - losing their land, their way of life, all in the name of progress. And now her book, recalling that lost way, was gone, too - burned to prevent its providing a clue to the soldiers as to the fugitives' whereabouts.
Dorothy was so lost in her reverie she did not hear nor see the figure at the door until he spoke.
"Hey, Miss Dorothy".
It was Michaela's 12 year old adopted son. "Oh, hello, Brian". She sighed. "I just don't know whether I'm comin' or goin' today." She pulled out a chair and sat down. Bless his heart, Brian had such a sweet look of concern on his face, despite all he had been going through lately.
"I just stopped in to see if you needed any help. Ma's at the Clinic and Katie's with Colleen an' I thought maybe you'd need...well, since you hafta move...I mean since Mr. Lodge..." Brian paused delicately, not wanting to give words to something that must be causing "Miss Dorothy" so much pain.
"Oh, go ahead and say it, Brian. Since Preston's kicking me out. And thank you for your offer. Why don't you help me pack up these old papers." She indicated piles of her old notes and files and back issues of the Gazette. Preston would certainly have no interest in those. As they worked, she studied Brian's pale face. She knew all this was hard on him, especially not knowing about Sully. She almost wished they'd find his body. She knew Michaela didn't believe he was dead. She wasn't sure if this was false hope or some kind of wifely instinct, but even if he had managed to survive such a ghastly fall, was it worth it only for his family to see him die by being hanged for treason? All this couldn't have happened at a worse time for Brian who, approaching manhood, needed a father's firm hand. Michaela had talked with her about how hard Sully was trying to be a "real Pa" to Brian and how close they were becoming. "How are you doin', Brian?" she asked.
"Okay, I guess," he replied with a small frown. "I really don't know much about what's goin' on. Ma's so upset I don't like to ask her much and Matthew's just mad since his homestead was burned. Colleen don't know any more than I do. I know Pa fought that mean old Sergeant that tore up the homestead and they went over a cliff and the Sergeant's dead.." Brian's voice broke a little. "Ma says she's sure Pa's still alive...Miss Dorothy, do you think he could be? You were there, you know where they fell. Do you really think he's okay?" His eyes begged her to reassure him and for the first time she saw fear in them.
Dorothy took his hand and sighed. "I don't know, Brian. I truly don't know."
Roberta tossed the last of her things into her bag and slammed it shut. As she turned to survey the room one more time to be sure she hadn't forgotten anything, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. Slowly she approached the dresser and forced herself to look, really look at herself. The burns had healed, all right, but had left the right side of her face horribly scarred, giving her a lopsided, grotesque look. Her right arm, under her blouse, was also scarred and permanently drawn up in a bent position. Both her hands also bore the scars of burning and looked wrinkled and useless, though she'd learned to manage quite well. Her little meeting with Mr. Lodge had not gone very well.
"You understand," he had said with his relentless little smirk, "it's not that I don't believe we can be of service to you and if it were purely up to me, I'd be glad to have you stay. But I do have to consider all my guests and their comfort and perhaps there is, somewhere, a place better suited to your needs!"
And I make your guests, not to mention you uncomfortable. Roberta did not say it aloud. She'd kept a perfectly straight face, looking right into the proprietor's eyes as he explained she was no longer welcome in his establishment. She should have seen it coming. The Springs Chateau's clientele weren't used to dealing with anything more disconcerting than indigestion. Just yesterday some old dowager had spotted her, gasped and swooned, or pretended to, in her husband's arms. The husband had promised to "see that something is done" and she should have known then that her days were numbered. She'd already received enough stares just for being a female travelling alone.
Well, she hadn't come all the way to Colorado Springs just to turn around and go back home again. She wanted to see the town. In the few days she'd been here she'd managed to hear a lot just by keeping her ears open and paying attention. Apparently the town had a lady doctor but it seemed she had gone missing and there was some story about how her husband had helped some renegade Indians raid the town and burn buildings there. Roberta figured this was 50% lies and 50% gossip and she intended to see for herself.
She arranged for her bag to be taken down to town on the wagon that took guests to and from the train station. She intended to walk down to town. Being out here in the country, away from the Philadelphia bustle reminded her of growing up on the central Pennsylvania farm and all the fun and adventure she used to have with her four brothers. A walk was just what she needed to clear her head of the hurt and anger that had resurfaced with this new humiliation.
The driver wasn't happy about her walking into town. "It's a mighty fer piece" he warned. But Roberta was used to walking miles -she'd done it on the farm growing up and even in the city with the children and pushing Laura's carriage...She took a deep breath and shoved that thought away and headed down the path toward the town.
Sully shifted cautiously and painfully, trying to find a comfortable position, his senses as on the alert as a wild animal's. There was little movement or sound that escaped his attention. He wondered how long it would take them to decide he was still alive. It was a miracle he was. When he'd gone over that cliff with O'Connor he'd been sure he was a goner. He'd brought all his physical skill to bear trying to position himself to take the least possible impact on vital areas. Still, it had been a long way down. Fortunately, the water was deeper than it had looked from above. As it was, he was pretty banged up and bruised and his left leg wasn't working too well yet. Somehow, Cloud Dancing had sensed his danger and had arrived in time to pull him out of the river and ride him to this place of hiding before continuing his journey North. Cloud Dancing had taken Wolf, who had found them there, with him. They figured it would be better for him to be on the move than to try to keep him hidden with Sully. Now he had risked building a small fire so he could use the herbs and bark Cloud Dancing had left him to brew a tea against infection. He could also cook any small game he trapped in the snares he'd set. Now that dark was coming on it was time to put the fire out and bury the ashes, scattering brush about so no sign of the fire remained.
He cast a practised eye over the surrounding trees, rocks and brush. He knew how to scuttle quickly and quietly into hiding even where there seemed nowhere to hide. He only hoped his injured body would obey him. Meanwhile, he knew he had to get some sleep. Rest and proper food were always two of the things Michaela prescribed to her patients to ensure a proper recovery. He stretched out quietly, covering himself with brush as camouflage. Michaela. What was she thinking right now? What had the soldiers told her? He turned on his back and looked up through the canopy of trees to the sky. Was she looking at these same stars right now? He had promised her he'd get back to her and he had every intention of keeping that promise. In the meantime, though, maybe it would be best if she thought him dead, if she and the children could get on with their lives. He closed his eyes and thought of his family. Since being married, he never could get used to sleeping alone...
He must have drifted off because when he sat up, suddenly alert, he wasn't sure what it was that had startled him. Slowly and carefully he uncovered himself and unsheathed his knife. There--someone or something was approaching from the right. Whoever or whatever it was very good, moving almost silently toward him. There was no time to hide so he'd have to meet the danger head on. He crouched at the ready as a human figure emerged from behind the trees.
Michaela cleaned and disinfected her instruments, grateful that she had made it through one more day. She couldn't go on like this, but she didn't know what to do. There were soldiers watching the clinic and she was sure that they were also keeping an eye on the homestead. If she were to try to search for Sully herself she would surely be followed. She knew dozens of places he might have gone to hide but she couldn't risk betraying him. And yet he could be horribly injured, in need of her medical expertise ... Tears came to her eyes as her fear and worry threatened to overwhelm her. She wondered if Wolf was with him. In those last dreadful, confusing moments in the river at the cliff bottom she'd had the presence of mind to shoo him off into the woods. She didn't want the soldiers to get the idea of using him to track Sully. Of course, the soldiers thought they were looking for a body ... She turned at the sound of a knock on the clinic door. No. She couldn't handle one more patient today.
"Michaela?" It was Dorothy.
"Oh, Dorothy, come in. I was just putting my things away..."
Dorothy walked over to Michaela and looked directly into her eyes. "Michaela, how are you?"
"Not well, Dorothy, not very well at all. I just feel so helpless-I hate just sitting still and waiting, when he's out there and is probably injured and needing my help".
"Michaela! You're not thinkin' that Sully is still alive are you? I mean, Brian said you did, but you saw what happened out there, you saw Sgt. O'Connor's body, you picked up Sully's ... his medicine bag or whatever it was from the rocks there. You're just foolin' yourself if you think he's still out there somewhere. Why even if he survived the fall he'd be..." Dorothy paused. "I'm sorry, Michaela. I didn't come here to upset you, but you're goin' to have to face facts sooner or later"
Michaela turned a surprisingly calm face to her friend. "Dorothy, do you remember when the Dog Soldiers carried me off and Sully came after me?"
"They dragged me from place to place, from camp to camp, covering their tracks and always moving on" her voice quivered, remembering that horrible time - how alone and afraid she had felt. "One night, we were sitting in camp and I was in despair, not knowing what was going to happen to me, how anyone would ever find me and then all of a sudden I knew!"
"I knew that he was close by. Sully. I could sense his presence as surely as if he were right there beside me. I didn't see him or hear him, but I knew he was there. Shortly after that, he rescued me."
Dorothy looked skeptical. "That's all very well, Michaela, but..."
"Dorothy, Sully and I have become ever so much closer since then. We're part of each other. Sometimes it feels as if we're one person. I'd know if he were dead. I know I would!"
After a moment's silence, Dorothy nodded. "All right, Michaela. We all have to hang onto some kind of hope. I have to hope Cloud Dancin' got away to his Northern Cheyenne and that I'll be able to start my own newspaper now that Preston's takin' over the Gazette."
"Oh Dorothy, I'm so sorry!" Michaela was repentant. "I've been so caught up in my own troubles I haven't even asked about you."
Michaela looked up with a sudden inspiration. "Dorothy, would you like to stay with us at the homestead for awhile? We could talk and be support for one another and maybe together we can come up with some plan for dealing with this awful mess."
Dorothy's smile was warm and happy. "Michaela, I would love to".
"Just let me finish clearing up here and I'll get the wagon."
As she tramped through the woods, Roberta reflected that, as so often happened, what she thought was a good idea turned out to be a bad one. The path to town had been dusty and hard with a surprising amount of people travelling by foot, wagon or horseback. She needed to be alone with her hurt and when she'd seen what looked like a footpath heading off into the woods, she'd taken it. She'd grown up in the woods near the farm back home and her brothers had taught her to track and camp and break trail. Even though these woods were unfamiliar, she was sure she could find her way down to town through them.
Several hours later, she had to admit she was wrong. She was hopelessly lost and dark was coming on. She looked up through the trees to see if she could get her bearings by the emerging stars, but she was so twisted around by now she had no sense of direction. She should have known better at her age. She'd been a city woman too long.
She tried to fight her rising panic by practising the quiet walk her brothers had taught her. To glide along silently so your prey, or whichever brother you happened to be stalking, couldn't hear you coming, was a skill she'd perfected as a girl. She wondered if she still had the knack. The moon had risen, turning the woods an eerie bright. The light played tricks with the shadows, but at least it helped her see her way. She tried to identify the animal and bird sounds that had steadily increased since dark had come on. Many were unfamiliar, but at least none sounded very near.
Suddenly with a low cry something emerged from the trees and landed in front of her. It was a wild-looking man brandishing a very dangerous-looking knife. He had long hair that hung in his face and wore a shirt and buckskin breeches that appeared to have seen better days. Some kind of Indian bead and feather necklace hung around his neck. He was breathing hard and as he stared at her his wild look changed to one of astonishment.
Roberta breathed deeply and said as calmly and slowly as she was able, "I think I'll just sit down" and she did, right there on the ground. It seemed the sensible thing to do at the moment.
They eyed each other warily, and finally the man spoke. "Anyone with you?"
Silently Roberta shook her head. He nodded, sheathed his knife, then sat on the ground opposite her. Roberta found his stare somewhat disconcerting, but she held her peace and stared directly back, waiting for him to break the silence. Finally, he did. "You're lost" It was not a question.
She nodded. He did not ask anything, but continued staring at her and she tried to decide how much explanation she owed this person for her presence in the woods in the middle of the night. She wondered if he lived here. She glanced about. The area looked something like a campsite, but cleverly hidden, as if made to be invisible at a moment's notice. She heard movement, turned back and saw he was offering her a canteen. "Filled it at the spring".
"Thank you." She drank deeply and gratefully. Strangely enough, she was not afraid. Her innate "people sense" told her this was not a dangerous man. Maybe he could help her. "Could you tell me how to get to town?"
This was not the reply she'd expected and she stared at him to see if he was kidding. He seemed perfectly serious.
"I was a guest at the Spring Chateau and I was asked to leave. The town seemed the logical place to go." She expected him to ask why she'd been asked to leave or why she'd chosen to walk through the woods.
Instead he replied, "Town's not such a good place to be right now".
Roberta thought of the gossip she'd heard. "Because of the Indian raids? Talk was that some white man led an Indian raid on the town then threw himself off a cliff but I didn't half believe it. Do you know anything about it?"
"No". Abruptly the man rose and limped over to some rocks from which he magically extracted blankets. "Rest now," he said, tossing her one. "Come first light I'll tell you how to get to town". Then wrapping up in his own blanket, he turned his back on her.
Sully huddled in his blanket and cursed this new complication. What in the world was this woman doing out in the woods in the night? The story of wanting to get to town from the resort was a little thin. Why hadn't she taken the carriage down? And why had she been asked to leave? He could see in the moonlight that her face was somewhat distorted and she had received the canteen with somewhat clumsy hands. He wouldn't put it past Preston to kick her out because she looked "different" but that still didn't explain her presence in the woods a day's walk from either the Chateau or the town.
His sense of caution and his sense of chivalry were doing fierce battle within him. He didn't believe she meant him any harm but if she got down to town and started talking about the "wild man" who had helped her, they would know he was alive and start combing the woods for him. He wasn't strong enough yet to be on the run. There were wounds that would start bleeding again if he moved about too much. On the other hand, he couldn't keep her here or do her any harm or send her off the wrong way hoping she'd stay lost. He could ask her not to mention him to anybody but he had no idea how she'd react to that. It just might make her more eager to say something when she got into town.
Maybe he should have asked more questions, found out more about her but, truth was, the less they knew about each other, the better he liked it.
He sighed and rolled over. Best get some rest now. He'd just have to pray that the Spirits would guide him in the morning.
Supper was a quiet affair, with each person lost in his or her own thoughts. Only Katie babbled happily and banged her spoon on her chair as she attempted to feed herself.
"Bine!" she cried as Brian got up to scrape his plate.
This caused them to smile, then Michaela said with concern, "Brian, you've hardly touched your supper!"
"I ain't hungry, Ma" Brian stacked his dishes, then picked up his schoolbooks. "I got homework to finish. Miss Theresa will be back tomorrow".
"Pa!" Katie squealed suddenly,"Pa!"
Tears sprang suddenly to Michaela's eyes and she rose abruptly and rushed out the front door. Colleen looked at Dorothy with worried eyes. Dorothy nodded to her and picking up Michaela's cloak as well as her own, followed Michaela outside.
Michaela was sitting on the steps, staring up at the bright moon and choking back sobs. Dorothy wrapped the cloak and her arms around her in one motion and pulled her close. "There, there, Michaela, it's gonna be all right".
Michaela leaned against her gratefully. "Oh Dorothy. It doesn't matter where I go or what I do, everything reminds me of him! How many times have we sat out here after supper, looking at the moon and talking over our hopes and dreams! And when I walk through town I see the places where we first met, where we talked together, walked together, where we had our first kiss ... when I pass our special places I feel I can hardly stand it, I don't want to believe it's all over!"
"Why, Michaela! You yourself said you knew that he's alive! Don't you believe that any more?"
"What if he is, Dorothy? What kind of life can we have with him on the run, a fugitive? I feel so guilty. If I hadn't pushed so hard for the railroad. If I had insisted he take that job in Wyoming. If..."
"Michaela, stop it. None of this is your fault. Sometimes things just happen we can't control. The railroad was sure to come sooner or later and all this business with the Indians was bound to happen sometime! You might as well blame me for all this. After all, it was because of my book that Cloud Dancin' was late gettin' back to the reservation that day."
Michaela pulled back and stared at Dorothy. "It's certainly not your fault!"
"That's just the point, Michaela. It's not anybody's fault! When folks care about people as much as you and Sully do, they often as not end up gettin' hurt. That doesn't mean you stop tryin' or carin'!"
Michaela took a deep breath. "Dorothy, I know you're right. I just miss him so much. It's the worst at night. During the day I keep busy and there are people around but at night when I'm alone and quiet..." she paused, remembering. "We always do our best talking at night and since our marriage, since our courtship, even, there doesn't seem to be anything we can't talk about. That's what hurts so much, Dorothy. Why didn't he tell me what he was doing? I could have helped him. We've handled such problems before. Doesn't he trust me anymore?"
"Of course he trusts you, Michaela" Dorothy reassured her. "He most likely didn't want you involved because of the children, because of Katie, most of all. He prob'ly figured the less you knew the better so you wouldn't get in a situation where you'd have to lie".
Michaela nodded, remembering another time when she'd refused to lie and the near tragic consequences. "I suppose that's it. But his deception still hurts." They sat in silence for a few minutes, then she continued in a small voice, "We'd hold each other close at night and I'd always feel as if together we could do anything"
"Michaela, you have a strength that's all your own" Dorothy assured her.
"I hope so." Michaela had a feeling she would need every bit of that strength in the days to come.
Michaela came downstairs after putting Katie to bed and getting Dorothy settled in the little room that would be Katie's someday. Brian appeared to be struggling with his homework, frowning and sighing over his books. She sat down next to him at the table. "Is the homework difficult, Brian?"
He glanced up at her briefly and shook his head, then turned back, propping his chin on his hand.
"I know it's been hard, Brian, having different substitutes until Miss Theresa can get back..."
"It ain't that" he said, almost impatiently. He was growing up so much, no longer the little boy she had adopted when Charlotte died. He liked to be off by himself or with his friends more and he didn't confide in her or Sully as much as he used to. She decided to leave him alone to work things out and went about tidying up for the night.
"Ma?" So Brian wanted to talk, after all. "Ma, I'm sorry".
"Sorry? Whatever for, Brian?"
"You know. That ... that day." He was having trouble getting the words out. "That day Sgt. O'Connor came here and started tearin' the place apart. I wanted to say somethin', I wanted to make him stop but I couldn't move, I couldn't say anything." His voice got smaller. "I was too scared".
Michaela sat down beside him. "Brian, no one expected you to ..."
"But I shoulda been able to!" By now he was crying tears of angry frustration. "I'm the man of the house when Sully ain't here an' I shoulda told him to go away. He was frightening Colleen and he made Katie cry an' I shoulda protected them!"
Here was another of those situations Michaela just didn't know how to handle. She sympathized with Brian and understood his frustration. She didn't want him to feel she was babying him, but no one could expect a twelve year old boy to stand up to the likes of O'Connor.
"What do you think Sully would have done, Brian?"
"He would've told him to get out. An' he woulda meant it. But he's big enough and strong enough to make him!"
"Exactly, Brian. You have to be aware of your own limitations. Keeping quiet was the best thing you could do for everyone. Sgt. O'Connor was an odious man. I never thought I would hear myself say this about anyone, but I'm glad he's dead!"
Brian was shocked. His Ma always found something good in everyone. For her to say something like that meant the person was very bad indeed.
"Do you think Sully did the right thing? Helping the Indians escape, I mean?"
This was one of those impossible questions, best turned back on the asker. It was something Michaela had been struggling with herself. "What do you think, Brian?"
Brian heaved a sigh. "I been thinkin' and thinkin' about it. Remember the time you warned the Cheyenne that the Buffalo soldiers were gonna attack them? They said it was treason and they put you in jail! An' the time that Pueblo Indian got caught by the soldiers 'cause he was lookin' for medicine for his son an' you and Sully helped him get back to New Mexico? You went to jail for that, too! But you said you felt you were doin' the right thing by disobeyin' the law. But if everyone decides for themselves what's right, what's the point of the laws?"
"Brian, people have struggled with that question for centuries. There's no easy answer. The law says the Indians are our 'enemies' but they've almost always been friends to us".
"They carried you off once, tried to hurt you..."
"That's true, Brian, and Sully even killed one of them to save my life. Brian, laws are mostly made to protect people and keep them safe. Like the law Matthew made when he became sheriff, forbidding people to carry guns in Colorado Springs. Sometimes people break those laws, such as when the saloon was robbed and Mr. Bray's store, or when those men held us hostage at the homestead ... they all did things that deliberately hurt people and they did it for their own gain.
"Sully feels the Indians have been treated very unfairly by our government, even though in most ways he respects our government and its laws. The Indians helped Sully at a very bad time in his life".
"When his wife and baby died".
"That's right. Cloud Dancing is his friend, his brother, and seeing him so badly beaten upset Sully very much. All he could think of was to get them away from an intolerable situation. He didn't know that they would do what they did. Sully would never deliberately create a situation where other people would get hurt".
"Sully's always helpin' people" Brian declared."He never likes to see anyone get pushed around!"
"That's right, Brian. He's kind and generous and whatever he did it was because he felt he would be helping, not hurting the people involved. He just didn't think the whole thing through, this time".
After a short silence, Brian spoke again. "Know what I wish sometimes?"
"I wish we all lived in Boston where we'd be safe".
"Oh, Brian, cities have their troubles, too!"
"Not like this, Ma! If we lived in Boston, none of this would've happened!"
Michaela sat quietly for a moment, formulating her reply. "I grew up in Boston, Brian, and I never wanted for anything. All my needs were attended to. We had servants to cook and clean and sew. We had plenty of money to buy the things we needed. We had horses and a carriage and people to drive them wherever we wanted to go. We had a lovely home with beautiful furniture. All our needs were taken care of as if by magic. The first time I was on my own was when I went away to medical college. Even then my father gave me enough money so I could live very comfortably. All I had to worry about were my studies. I never had to worry about being hungry or sick or homeless. I didn't have to worry about soldiers or Indian raids. The worst that happened was when the war came. That was a horrible time."
"An' you thought David died".
"That's right. When I thought I'd lost my fiance it felt as if the bottom had dropped out of my world. Then the war ended and I went into practice with my father and things began to look very good again".
"Then your Pa died" Brian said solemnly.
"Yes. And at the time, he was the only one who believed in me as a physician. The people who had allowed my to treat them out of respect for my father stopped coming to me. I lost my hospital privileges. At that point, I could have given up. I could have given in to my mother's wishes, given up being a doctor, joined the Boston social life, found a husband and stayed in nice, 'safe' Boston to raise a family".
"But instead, you came here".
"I came here. I moved into a home that was a 'shack' by Boston standards. But it was my home. I learned to clean and cook ... well, in a manner of speaking".
"You cook real good, now, Ma!" Brian assured her.
"Thank you, Brian. I had to deal with all sorts of challenges I'd never had before - hauling water, gathering eggs, riding a horse - even raising you children! And I still had to fight to gain respect as a doctor - and under the most appalling conditions - dirty and unsterile by any standards. Everything we needed had to be worked hard for - food, shelter, clothing..."
"Sully brought us food lots of times, and firewood and did repairs on the homestead, and he built this house!"
"That's right. And this house at which my sisters and my mother turn up their noses, is more beautiful to me than the biggest mansion in Boston because Sully built it out of love for us. None of my sisters' husbands could have built such a house. Being 'safe' and having all your needs provided doesn't tell you anything about yourself, Brian. It's in the day to day struggles and risks that we find out about ourselves, about what we're made of. When you risk your life for another person and they for you, you find out what love really is. When you live with danger day to day and you know you could lose someone you love at any time, it just makes the love that much more precious. Do you understand, Brian?"
"I think so, Ma. My first Ma got snakebit and my friend No Harm was killed by soldiers. That never would have happened in Boston. But I probably never would have known them in Boston!"
"As your mother, Brian, I always want to keep you safe. But something I've learned with both Matthew and Colleen as they've grown up is that I can't do that. I can only try to provide you with the tools you need to survive in the world. The rest is up to you".
Suddenly Brian threw his arms around her neck. "Thanks, Ma. I better turn in, now. School tomorrow!"
"Good night, Brian".
Sully awoke and stretched his sore limbs. As he cast a quick eye around the campsite, he remembered. The woman. She was awake already, the blanket he had lent her folded beside her. She was sitting quietly, almost as if she were meditating. She must have heard him stirring because she turned and smiled. "Good morning". In the light of day he saw that his moonlit impression of her face had not been exaggerated. She reminded him of John, the engineer who'd been horribly burned in an accident and whose face Michaela had literally rebuilt. She must have noticed his stare because her smile faded.
Sighing, he went behind the rocks to the spring where he had his morning wash. He picked some berries and carried them back to the campsite. As he offered her some he said, "I'm sorry if I was starin'".
She looked back at him with a pair of bright green eyes. "That's all right. I should be used to it by now. It's why I was asked to leave the Chateau." A look of pain that went deeper than physical hurt crossed her face. "It's why I walked into the woods. I needed to clear my head of the anger and hurt". He squinted at her, wishing he knew what to say.It angered him that Preston would do such a thing but it didn't surprise him at all. He really could not afford at this time to get involved in someone else's problems. He had enough of his own. She looked back, as if assessing his reaction. She had wavy black hair that she wore in a thick braid that hung halfway down her back. She twitched the braid over her right shoulder and began fooling with it. "There was a fire in our house in Philadelphia. It started in the nursery. My husband was taking the children out and I went for the baby. I..." her voice broke. "Her nightgown was on fire. I tried to beat it out as I carried her outside. She ... she never had a chance." Tears slipped from her eyes and she dashed them away quickly as if embarrassed by them. "You'd think after more than a year I'd be over it but..." she was unable to go on.
Sully stared into the distance remembering his first wife and the baby girl he'd never even gotten to know. "It's not somethin' you get over right away - maybe not ever" he said almost to himself. She gave him a quick, sharp glance and he almost wished he hadn't spoken. Yet he felt sorry for her. "The Philadelphia doctors - they couldn't help you?"
She gave a bitter laugh. "They were ... I wasn't..." she paused, seemingly searching for words. "My husband is a lawyer," she went on at last. "Awhile back he defended a man that people didn't want defended. The man was convicted, of course, but my husband had proven him innocent. Not only that, he had proved who was guilty - a very prominent and popular man. A powerful man. Even though he was never directly accused, he felt humiliated. A bottle filled with oil and burning rags was thrown into our home, through the nursery window. There was damage, but the home was saved. My son, my daughter, my husband, they were safe. I should be grateful. But our little girl, the most innocent of all..." she had to pause again. "No, the good city doctors are not anxious to treat me".
"So why'd you come all the way out here alone?"
"We'd heard the mountain air and the hot springs might have a healing effect. It seemed best that I get away for awhile. My husband..."
"He wanted to get rid of you?" Sully knew men who had left their wives for less. The first gray hair, the first signs of age and they were ready to put away the women who had taken care of them and borne their children. Any kind of trouble or disease or disfigurement and they sent them packing. It had happened to one of Michaela's sisters. Maybe this woman's husband was the same. To his surprise the woman was laughing.
"Peter? No, he lives up to his name. He's been my rock. He wanted to come, too, but he's working on getting a settlement for the damage to the house and for the death of ... our baby. You see, after Laura died some witnesses came forward. The man who set the fire was found and he'll take the blame for the man who was really behind it, but we may be able to recover enough to fix the house, or to go somewhere else, where they don't know us and ... fix my face. Peter tells me I'm still the beautiful woman he married but that's just Peter. I really believe he doesn't see the scars. He's so different from most of my friends' husbands who treat their wives as idiots and as objects. We talk, make decisions together, he consults me, values my opinion." she paused, apologetically. "I'm sorry. I'm rambling. I don't know why I told you all this. I haven't talked to anyone about it since it happened, leastwise a stranger. You're very easy to talk to".
Sully shifted uncomfortably. He figured it had somehow helped the woman to talk everything out and he wished he could help her more but at least he could tell her how to get to the town and let what happened happen. He knew well enough that life often just took its own course no matter what anyone said or did. "If I give you directions and tell you landmarks, do you think you can get back without a guide?"
The woman nodded. "Is there anything I can do for you once I'm in town?"
Sully eyed her. "Yes. You can forget you saw me."
"So that's how it is." She nodded, but looked concerned. "You're injured, though. Are you sure you don't want me to ask the doctor..."
"No!" Sully nearly overreacted to that suggestion. "No" he said more quietly. "Thanks. I'll be fine". Then he slowly and carefully gave her instructions for getting back to town and had her repeat them to be sure she understood. She asked intelligent questions that showed she was, at least in some ways, woods wise, then she was ready to go. She looked at him long and hard from those blazing green eyes.
"I guess you know I won't mention you. Thank you for everything." She offered her hand to shake, then turned to make her way into the trees. As she headed off into the woods, she turned and called "My name's Roberta - Roberta Taylor!"
He gave a small wave, wishing he could give his own name but knowing he dared not.
As Roberta made her way through the woods, stopping now and then to be sure of the landmarks, she reflected on her experience with the wild stranger. But he really wasn't as wild as she'd first thought. One thing she knew for certain; he had lost a child once. The conviction with which he had spoken about the difficulty of getting over it had convinced her of that. He hadn't wanted to talk, that was clear, and she hadn't wanted to press him. But there was a sadness about him as if something in his life had gone terribly wrong.
Roberta tried to give meaning to the strange sense of connectedness she had felt with the man. It wasn't just that they shared a similar loss, she'd had a feeling since she first saw him that their meeting wasn't just chance, that maybe she'd been sent to help him. She'd had similar experiences in the past. Despite his reticence, he'd been very easy to talk to and she'd had the feeling that if he weren't so caught up in his own troubles, he'd have helped her more and perhaps been friendlier.
She decided that when she got to town she would see if the town had a newspaper. The local paper might be a way she could find out what had really been going on in these parts for the last week or so, that is, if the editor were unbiased and in possession of the facts.
It was late afternoon when she found herself emerging from the woods on the edge of town. She made her way across a meadow, over a little bridge and into the town. She went directly to the train station to pick up her bag, passing various shops along the way. The many soldiers placed at strategic points throughout the town were evidence that things might not be as quiet and peaceful as they seemed. There were even several soldiers patrolling outside the medical clinic. This "Michaela Quinn, M.D." must be a desperate character, she thought. The soldier at the train station looked her over, eyes travelling insolently from her feet to her face. She stared right back and on seeing her face he averted his gaze, as usually happened when people looked at her.
She hefted her bag and headed down the main street looking for a newspaper office. When she found it she was pleasantly surprised by a sign proclaiming " COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE - Dorothy Jennings, Editor". A lady doctor and a lady editor! She was going to like Colorado Springs.
Preston A. Lodge III was having a busy, albeit somewhat frustrating day. He had left the running of his resort in the hands of his staff, leaving it to them to quell the last of the rumors of Indian raids and imminent danger. The last thing he needed was to lose clients due to this latest madness. But he had business to conduct in town.
His first stop was the telegraph office. "Horace!" he said in his commanding way, "I'd like you to send this telegram to Denver immediately".
Horace, the tall, gangling telegraph operator, looked up from what he was doing and took a moment to focus. Then he rose and took the paper on which Preston had printed his message. His eyes grew round as he read it. "You're sendin' for Doc Cassidy? But why?"
"I cannot afford to give Dr. Cook time away from my clinic to run the clinic here in town!" Preston said pompously.
Horace looked puzzled."Well, Dr. Mike seems to've been handlin' things just fine! I mean, considerin' ... " Horace paused, swallowed and pursed his lips, looking from under his eyebrows at Preston.
"I doubt very much that the people of this town will want for their doctor the widow of a man who was responsible for the town's near destruction" Preston replied sharply. "Now are you going to send that wire?"
Horace glanced slowly from the paper to Preston and back again. "I ... I dunno" he said at last. "Seems to me last time Doc Cassidy was here, folks was mighty glad when he left". In truth, Dr. Cassidy, who had filled in when Michaela was experiencing problems with her pregnancy, had been rude, abrupt, curt and sadly lacking in anything remotely resembling a bedside manner.
"In my dealings with Dr. Cassidy I found him to be quite agreeable" Preston declared. "He was one of the men I was considering for the position of doctor at my clinic at the resort. He is a highly competent physician." There was a slight emphasis on the word "competent".
Horace pursed his lips again. "I ... I dunno. I think maybe we oughta call a town meetin' on this. You can't just decide to replace Dr. Mike without at least a vote on it..."
"Fine!" snapped Preston, snatching the paper away from Horace. "I'll ask Jake to call a meeting. But you'll see, the town will be with me on this one". As he strode out of the telegraph office, he thought while we're at it we'll discuss a new telegraph operator as well. After all, Horace had been proven mentally unbalanced when he'd tried to kill himself. The job called for someone with more stability than the mercurial Horace.
From the telegraph office, Preston stormed into the barber shop and confronted Jake as he shaved a customer. "Jake! I'd like you to call a town meeting so we can decide what to do about a town doctor. I simply cannot accommodate people who are not guests of the chateau at my clinic"
Jake looked up slowly and raised his eyebrows. "You mean you can't accommodate people who can't pay" He still couldn't believe Preston had refused to allow Andrew to continue to treat Miss Theresa simply because she could not pay, even though she'd lost everything in the fire. "Besides, Dr. Mike is back at work, now" He turned back to his customer.
Preston was growing weary of being thwarted at every turn."I think we need to discuss whether Dr. Quinn is the person this town wants for the job. It should be obvious by now that her sympathies lie in a direction that is detrimental to this town and I doubt that even the death of her husband will change that".
"We don't know for sure Sully's dead" Jake said flatly.
"Of course he is, but that's not the point. I would like to wire Denver to ask Dr. Cassidy to come here to fill in until a more suitable physician can be found".
Jake looked up again. "Doc Cassidy? Ain't he the one that let his cowboy rider die rather than let Dr. Mike operate on him?"
"I wouldn't know about that" Preston retorted impatiently. "The point is ... "
"He treated my Barbara last year when he was here" piped up one of the waiting customers. "She was due for one o' them vaxy ... vaxy ... them shots. She come home in tears. Seems he screamed at her the whole time an' wouldn't even let little Colleen hold her hand when he done it" There were murmurs of assent all around as others shared similar experiences they'd had.
"I think you're all exaggerating. Dr. Cassidy strikes me as a fine man and a fine doctor. But he is not the one with whom we should be concerned. We should be dealing with the question of whether we want for our physician someone who cares more for the Indians and other riff raff than she does for the people of this town. It is because of people like her and the late Byron Sully that we've had all this trouble lately. All I'm asking if for you to call a meeting so we can get a consensus".
"Dr. Mike's on the council" Jake remarked dryly.
"So, we can ban her from participating in the proceedings - appoint an alternate. Will you call a meeting or not?"
Jake looked directly at Preston. "I'll think about it" he said. Then he turned his back.
Preston stood for a moment but when he realized Jake had nothing more to say, he turned on his heel and marched out of the barber shop. Not since his father used to force him and his brothers to box each other had he met with such resistance.
He decided to postpone, for the time being, a trip to the livery to speak to Robert E. about another wagon for his taxi service to the Chateau and to the cafe to get Grace to provide some pies for an upcoming social there. Instead, he headed over to the Gazette office. Dorothy could be difficult but there, at least, thanks to a little thing called a mortgage, he would have the upper hand.
Preston strode into the Gazette office, startling Dorothy out of a reverie.
"Oh!" she said, putting a hand to her heart. "Preston!" Pulling herself together she stood tall and straight, looking him in the eye. "What do you want?"
Preston grinned his cocky grin. "Nice to see you, too, Dorothy. I'm here to discuss our partnership and the mortgage on this business. In case you've forgotten, that mortgage is now due and payable in full."
"And as I told you, Preston, the Gazette is all yours. I'll be startin' my own paper!"
"I don't think so, Dorothy. I don't think people will want to read anything you write, unless ... "
"I have a plan, Dorothy. If you were to write an editorial in which you admitted the error of your ways, I think maybe that would appease my investors so that I wouldn't have to call the loan!"
Dorothy's face was turning dangerously pink and her voice shook a little as she raised her eyebrows and said "The error of my ways?"
"Why, yes. How you now realise that your ... er ... friendship with Cloud Dancing was a mistake. That the Indians are savages that must be restrained and if they cannot be restrained they must be eliminated for the good of this town and for the entire territory ... "
"I see," Dorothy nodded. "An' if I write that, then you won't call the loan and we remain partners."
A small smile played about Dorothy's lips. She nodded a couple of times then spoke sharply. "No!"
This was incomprehensible to Preston. "But you can't say no!"
"I just did!"
"Then either you must pay the mortgage off in full or you will lose your half of the Gazette! I'd hate to think of your being reduced to employee status after being editor all these years - having someone else telling you what you must write ... "
"But that's what you're doin' now!"
"Just in this one instance."
"Who said anything about me workin' for the paper as an employee, anyway?"
"Well, I just assumed ... I mean, writing is what you do and the paper will still need writers. I won't have the time to do it!"
"I told you, Preston, I'll start my own paper again, just as I did when I first came back to town. I won't be workin' for anybody but me. Not for you, or your bank or your paper or your precious investors!"
"You may start another paper, Dorothy, but I don't think anyone will want to read it. Not now. Not after all that's happened." Oh, she could be so stubborn! He needed her to write the paper. But he remained outwardly calm. "Think about it, Dorothy" he said. As he turned to leave, who should walk into the Gazette office but that hideous-looking woman he'd asked to leave the resort. Great. Was she here to try to get the paper to do a write-up about what had happened to her? That was all he needed. It was the kind of thing Dorothy would latch onto, too. He tipped his hat and spoke to her as he left the office. He really didn't need one more thing to worry about.
Roberta pushed open the door of the Gazette office and walked in. Then she almost turned and walked out. There, just taking his leave of a slender, red-haired woman, was Preston Lodge himself. "Think about it, Dorothy" he was saying, curling his lip slightly. He looked like a spoiled child who was not getting his way. On seeing her, he tipped his hat. "Mrs. Taylor" he said, showing his teeth, "no hard feelings, I presume?"
Roberta gave a barely perceptible nod and she and the red-haired woman turned and watched as he exited, not quite slamming the door behind him.
"Oh that man!" the woman cried, giving a shiver as if to shake off Preston's unpleasant aura. "But what can I do for ... Oh!" she cried as she finally got a good look at Roberta.
Roberta had learned in the past year that acting as normal as possible was the best way to set at ease anyone who was able to be. She smiled and extended her hand. "My name is Roberta Taylor."
"Oh! Yes." The woman glanced at her then quickly averted her eyes, looking left, right, up, down, anywhere but at her. Then she took a deep breath and seemed to pull herself together. "Where are my manners?" She shook Roberta's hand. "Dorothy Jennings." She allowed herself to look at Roberta. "I take it you've already met Preston?"
Roberta sighed. "To my regret. I was staying at the Springs Chateau and he asked me to leave. He felt it was not 'suited to my needs"
Comprehension dawned in Dorothy's eyes as she nodded. "In other words, you didn't suit him." Suddenly they were smiling at each other, friends. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"That would be lovely."
Dorothy poured tea from a pot that sat on the desk. "Grace sent this over from the cafe just before Preston dropped in. It ought to still be hot." She brought another chair over to the desk. "Please, sit down." She handed Roberta a cup. "You're not from around here, are you?"
"Thank you. No, I'm from Philadelphia. I ... we ... our home caught fire about a year ago. We lost our baby daughter and I ... well, you can see I was burned. We'd heard the mountain air and the hot springs had healing properties and it was felt I needed the rest after ... well, after everything."
Dorothy was listening, really listening, Roberta could tell. "So, what are your plans, now?" she asked.
"Well, I'd like to see something of your town. After all, Philadelphia's a long way off and I may never get out here again."
Dorothy made a rueful face. "I'm afraid you picked a bad time to see us at our best. There's been some trouble lately an' things just aren't the way they usually are."
"That's what the man who ..." Roberta bit her lip. "That's what I heard. It's why I stopped here at the newspaper office. Up at the resort I kept hearing gossip and rumors and I was hoping you had some papers from the last few weeks that might tell me what really happened."
"What sort of rumors did you hear?" Dorothy asked, frowning a little.
Roberta shook her head, shrugging. "Just what I picked up by keeping my ears open. No one was talking to me directly, you understand. Things like the whole town was in an uproar, overrun by soldiers, that there had been Indian raids, that some white man incited the riots, then jumped off a cliff."
"You have been hearin' rumors!" Dorothy told her. "Well, let me tell you, as best I can, what really happened." Then Dorothy related, as briefly as she could, how she had met with the Cheyenne Indian, Cloud Dancing, who had been released from the reservation on a day pass, to read him the book she'd written about him and his people. They had lost track of time and Cloud Dancing had returned to the reservation a few minutes late and been brutally beaten by one of the soldiers. "Dr. Mike, (that's Michaela Quinn) was called out to treat him. Her husband, Sully, and Cloud Dancin' are friends, more like brothers, really, and when he found out what happened, he just had to do something. This trouble between the Indians and the soldiers has been brewin' for the last few years. President Grant once appointed Sully the Indian agent for these parts, but because he really cared about the Indians, he made a lot of fuss when he thought they weren't treated right. Eventually he was fired and forbidden to set foot on the reservation."
"But he went there anyway to help his friend," Roberta guessed.
"He did. And when the other Indians begged for help, he couldn't say no. He got them horses and provided a distraction, thinking they would ride away to freedom. But instead they got hold of guns and shot some of the soldiers and burned the buildings before they got away. Later, when some of them were captured the others set fires to homesteads all around and blew up the jail and did all kinds of damage to free their friends. Sully was devastated because he never meant anyone to get hurt. He really just wanted to help a friend.
"Then the army sent Sgt. O'Connor, a despicable man, here to 'create order'. He'd been here before and Sully got the army to transfer him. Sully isn't the type to hate anyone, but if he ever did, Sgt. O'Connor would be it. And O'Connor certainly hated him."
"So what happened?"
"Well, Cloud Dancin' had started bleedin' again - he was beaten real bad - an' he got Dr. Mike to sew him up again before they headed North to try to get him to safety. Meanwhile O'Connor was goin' around threatenin' everyone including Dr. Mike and Sully's children out at their homestead. He threatened the captured renegades until they betrayed Sully and Cloud Dancin', then he shot them. One of the soldiers, Sgt. McKay, well, I guess he felt bad about everything that happened, and he rode out and warned Michaela that O'Connor was after Sully. He promised that if she told him where they'd gone he'd try to get Sully a life sentence rather than death for treason. She knew O'Connor would as soon shoot Sully as look at him so she told. Then she and I rode out after them, too."
Roberta listened, riveted, as Dorothy brought her narrative to a close by telling how they'd arrived on the scene to find Sully's Wolf peering over the cliff and whining, and riding to the creek bed below, they'd found O'Connor's body and evidence that Sully had gone over the cliff, as well.
"So you see," she concluded, "the town is in an uproar, afraid of the Indians, afraid of the soldiers, not knowing whom to trust. Michaela's a dear friend of mine and I just ache for her loss, which she can't yet bring herself to accept. And goodness knows what's happened to Cloud Dancin'. I don't know if he got away or if he fell, too, and since I burned my book ..."
"To keep the soldiers from readin' in it anything that might help them find him."
Roberta nodded. Pieces were falling into place almost faster than she could assemble them in her head. "Well, that certainly makes a lot more sense than the rumors. This Sully ... that's an odd name. Is it Indian?"
Dorothy chuckled. "No, Sully's his last name. His first name's Byron but he prefers just Sully." She paused, peering intently at Roberta. "I'd like to tell you about him and about Dr. Mike ... I just have this feelin' ... "
Impulsively Roberta reached out and clasped Dorothy's hand. "I have a feeling, too. Miss ... Mrs. Jennings ..."
"Please call me Dorothy"
"And I'm Roberta. Dorothy, have you ever had a time when you ended up somewhere you didn't expect to, but then you had a feeling that was where you were supposed to be?"
Dorothy nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. Yes I have. Tell you what, let's go over the Grace's. We can pick up a basket of supper and bring it back here or maybe go up to the meadow and I'll tell you the whole story."
Night was falling and clouds were scudding across the sky. Sully began to prepare his campsite for the evening as the waning moon began to rise. He wondered if that Roberta had made it to town all right and if she'd managed to keep quiet about him. What was it, two, three days ago she had stumbled upon him? He was beginning to feel so muddled. He was pretty sure he had a fever and one of his wounds was beginning to look red and inflamed. That meant infection, he knew. He wasn't eating right or getting enough rest but it was just impossible to do either out here. He had no more herbs and not much strength to go looking for the ones he needed. He didn't know what to do. He wasn't fit to travel and had nowhere to go if he was.
He wished he could risk a trip to the homestead. Michaela and the children would be sick with worry, with not knowing. He knew now he really didn't want them to think him dead. Michaela's first fiance had deceived her in that way and it had caused a lot of heartache all around.
He daren't risk it, though. If he knew the army, there were probably soldiers watching her every move. He probably couldn't make it that far, anyway. Ironic to survive such a fall and then die out here so far from everything.
He sat cross-legged on the ground and closed his eyes, trying to relax, to open himself to anything the Spirits might have to say to him. He imagined Michaela getting Katie ready for bed; bathing her, dressing her in her nightgown, tucking her into the crib he'd made her, singing to her. When she had Katie settled, she'd sit at her dressing table and brush her own beautiful long, brown hair. If he were there, he'd come up behind her, and take the brush from her hand and brush her hair in long, smooth strokes. In his longing his spirit reached out to her and he cried out (was it aloud?) the sound reverberating on the night air.
Michaela settled the freshly bathed Katie into her crib, humming to her and patting her all the while. Katie cooed and babbled, once in a while producing a word from her rapidly-expanding vocabulary. Michaela continued the humming and patting until Katie quieted and settled down under her coverlet.
Michaela then sat down at her dressing table and picked up her brush, feeling her eyes grow suddenly moist. Putting Katie to bed was a job Sully usually shared with her. He loved rocking and cuddling and playing with his little daughter. Michaela had been her own "Father's girl" and she knew Katie missed her Pa.
Moonlight filtered in through the window as she began to brush her hair. The spring nights were still chilly, but she hadn't bothered to light a fire. The usual night birds and insects were singing their evening choruses. She closed her eyes as she drew the brush through her hair in smooth, even strokes. Sully always knew when something was troubling her. He would come up behind her, so quietly, and smile and take the brush from her hand and ... "Sully ... !?!" With a clatter the brush dropped to the floor.
In the woods Sully lay down to a fitful slumber, resolving that he would find a way to get word to Michaela that he was alive.
In the bedroom Michaela picked up the brush. Gazing at her reflection she vowed with new determination. I must. I must look for him. He's out there somewhere and I've got to find him.