There is no pain like the loss of a child.
Monday, February 26th, 1872
There seemed to be something wrong from the moment Lou's third child was born. Charleen, 'Charlie' as her uncles would call her, was born on the coldest day of the year. The coldest day ever, or so Cody complained.
Labor was hard on mother and child both, dragging out for hours, turning into days. Kid was beside himself for the better part of the two days, nearly goin' out of his mind with worry. Through it all Jimmy and the other riders were there for both of his friends.
The doctor seemed to be in over his head, fretting over the length of her labor. Lou had had her first two children in less than ten hours of labor each. After two days, the doctor himself looked ill.
Rachel sat beside her, through nearly every contraction and pain and was the rock of Gibraltar for the boys waiting outside in the living room.
When Lou's cries abruptly ended, followed by silence, Kid nearly died of fright. He grabbed Jimmy's arm like a lifeline. When a thin wail filled the house he relaxed and stood, awaiting the news.
Rachel was the first person to emerge from the bedroom. "It's a girl."
Kid immediately pushed past Rachel in his eagerness to get to Lou and his daughter. She watched as Kid settled near his wife, holding her in his arms.
It was Jimmy who pulled her aside and noticed the dark, hopeless circles under her eyes. "Rachel? What is it you ain't tellin' us?"
She grabbed his shirt collar and nearly started weeping. "It's not my place-"
Jimmy pulled her into his embrace, "Rachel... if it's about Lou or the baby you gotta tell us."
She turned back to the room, her breath comin' in shallow gasps. "The doctor doesn't think the baby will make it past the next few hours."
Cody piped up, "That ain't fair!"
"Nobody said life was fair Cody-"
"Now ain't the time Teaspoon!" Rachel was immediately sorry for her sharp tone, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
Teaspoon was across the room in a moment, holdin' her to him, "Don't you worry 'bout it Rachel. They'll be fine."
"They have us." The last word came from Buck. He stood in the corner, arms thoughtfully crossed over his chest. He looked calm, but his voice crackled with strain. His voice always showed his feelings more than anything.
Inside the room, Louise sagged against her husband and listened to his reassuring words with a shadow hangin' over her heart.
Her baby, her little girl lay sleepin' against her chest. Each breath shallow and pained, her lips a light shade of blue.
The doctor cleared his throat and began again. His heart went out to the couple, but it was near hopeless. "She'll need a constant watch. There is a good chance that she will stop breathing at any time." Lou gathered her daughter closer, "it isn't likely that the child will live out the year."
Tears began to pore from her eyes, "No... please."
The doctor shifted from one foot to the other, "I know this is hard to hear-"
"Get out!" Her voice was weak, but filled with conviction. "I said get out!"
"Mrs. McCloud, I just want you to know how much this pains me, but you should know-"
"I thought you heard me Dr. Coster; I want you out of my house!"
Kid looked up at the doctor, an unreadable mix of emotions on his face, "Doc? Maybe it might be best-"
The doctor looked relieved, "I think it would be best. I'll return in the morning to check on the baby."
Lou didn't acknowledge the doctor when he left. In fact, she totally ignored Kid as well. Nothing could take her focus away from the baby.
Hours later she hadn't moved, "Lou? Lou honey?"
Softly, almost like a thought inside his head, he heard Lou begin to sing. There weren't any words, just softly murmured sounds, lush with pain.
The melody was sweet and tender, but the way she was crooning it to the child, it was down right haunting. "Lou? That's a real pretty song honey... what is it?"
She turned a deaf ear to him, holding the tiny girl to her chest, rocking back and forth against the headboard of the bed.
Frustration was building like a powder keg inside of him. "Lou!"
The door cracked open and Jimmy walked in. Quietly he pushed the door closed behind him, "Kid?"
Kid looked up at his friend, tears threatening in his eyes, "Yeah Jimmy?"
"Everything okay in here?"
Lou continued to rock, keepin' her body from touchin' Kid's. The melody of the song picked up its pace and Kid felt like he was fallin' apart.
Jimmy set a hand on his shoulder and Kid shook with sobs. "Why don't you let me talk to her?"
Kid nodded and left the room, sparin' one final glance at his wife and child.
The bed sagged a bit beneath him as he sat down. He set a hand gingerly down on her shoulder. She settled into his touch and he felt a shuddering breath pass between her lips.
He pulled her closer and leaned over her shoulder. With his other hand, he moved the edge of the blanket back and stared down at the tiny little baby. Eyes, half open, stared at him with crystal blue clarity. Near the iris, he could see a halo of brown, as if, "As if God didn't quite decided whose eyes he wanted to give her."
The singing stopped and she turned toward him, "God? It isn't like you to talk about God, Jimmy."
He nodded and pushed some of his hair back behind his ear. "I know, but sometimes I can't help it." He smoothed a finger down side of the baby's little face, marveling at the softness of her skin, "sometimes, I see somethin' as amazin' as your little girl, and I can't help but think there's somethin' out there that makes it all possible."
Louise looked back at her child, watchin' as her eye lids drifted closed at the soothin' sound of Jimmy's voice. She felt her own eyes begin to shut, it had been so long since she'd had any rest.
He settled Lou against his shoulder as he felt her fadin' away. "Lou? You goin' t' sleep?"
"Mmm hmmm," she murmured again, tucking the baby to her shoulder, "I need to stay awake - the baby-"
"I'll watch her 'til Kid comes back, you get some sleep." Moments later she was fast asleep against him. Jimmy brushed the damp hair back at the sides of her face and did the same for the downy hair on the little girl in Lou's arms.
"You're right pretty," the baby sighed as Jimmy touched the lite dusting of hair on her head. Her little head turned into his palm and he felt her little fingers wrap around his heart. "Yeah... you're right pretty, just like your mama."
Kid lay across the bed in the children's room. It was only just an hour after sunrise, and his two sons were still asleep in their bed. He watched the rise and fall of their bodies as strong breaths were drawn in again and again.
They had been blessed with two strong and healthy boys, so what happened with their little girl? Kid fought past the lump in his throat as he tried to remind himself about how lucky he was, how much they had. Still, it hurt that his youngest probably wouldn't live to see the dark of night.
Jonah shifted on the bed, "Daddy?"
Kid smiled at the soft voice that was drenched in sleep,"Yeah Jonah?"
"Do we got a sister or another brother?"
"You have," he corrected, "a little sister." He couldn't control the pain weighing on his voice, nor could he stop the tears.
"Daddy?" Jonah sat up quickly, sleep fallin' away from his eyes, "Daddy? Is mama okay?"
Kid's heart broke at the scared tone in his son's voice. He held out his arms and Jonah launched himself against his father. The two clung to each other and Kid began to sob again, shakin' the bed and wakin' the other boy.
"Jonah? Daddy? What's goin' on?"
Wipin' at his eyes, Kid reached out to his other child.
Issac was pulled into the embrace, "Daddy? What happened?"
Kid set both boys back a bit, "Your ma's okay, but the Doctor doesn't think that your little sister is gonna live too long."
Jonah hugged his daddy tight again, his little arms stretched as far as he could. Issac sat back, his face thoughtful, "But she's okay now?"
Kid nodded, "now- yes."
"Then why are you cryin' daddy? She and mama are okay."
Tears slowly dried and Kid stared at his younger son, so full of common sense and candid remarks. "Yes they are..." He gathered his boys in his arms again. "Thank God for that."
Louise awoke in the late afternoon and the first thing she realized was that her arms were empty, "The baby!" She sat bolt upright in alarm.
Rachel was there in an instant, her arms grasping at Louise, tryin' to still her frantic movements. "She's okay... Lou!" Sorrowful brown eyes looked up into Rachel's face, "She is still with us; Jimmy just took her out into the living room to show the others."
Lou sagged against the pillows with a relieved sigh. "Kid?"
"He's with the boys."
There was an ache in her heart, "Do they know?"
Rachel nodded, "Kid told them. They want to see you both. I think Kid is waiting until you are up for visitors."
"No need to wait, I'll go outside-" Lou threw back the covers before Rachel could protest. Shruggin' of Rachel's attempts to keep her in bed, Lou asked for her robe.
Knowin' Louise as well as she did, Rachel didn't argue. She picked the robe off of the back of a nearby chair and held it open as Louise put it on. Rachel stood by as Louise tied the robe shut and reached for her arm.
They emerged from the bedroom, creating a flurry of activity. "Mama!" The two boys were set to knock her over, but Kid held them back until she sat down on the chaise. Jimmy was already seated there, holdin' the baby in his lap.
She was still pale, her skin seemin' to glow with light even in the shadows of the room. There was a rapt expression on her little face as two grown men turned into monkeys, tryin' to get a smile.
"She sure does have the cutest smile Lou."
"I mean, of course she does, she's lookin' at me!"
"Cody!" Hickok groaned. "You keep makin' faces like that and you're gonna scare her."
"No more than your sorry face Hickok!"
"Boys!" Teaspoon chided, "Keep your voices down! Oops...sorry Louise."
Lou looked down at her daughter, starin' up at the two grown men makin' idiots of themselves, she couldn't help but smile. "It's alright Teaspoon. It's a blessin' she's even here."
Kid settled in next to her, Jonah in his lap, Issac standing next to Lou's leg. Buck sat on the floor next to her other leg, his hand on her knee. Jimmy placed the baby in her arms and she lifted her up to place a tender kiss on her daughter's head.
The boys leaned closer, "Is that what babies look like?" chimed in young Issac.
Lou nodded, "You both looked like this."
"Uh uh," started Jonah, "I had more hair."
Lou bit back a smile as she listened to her son. She looked down into her daughter's eyes and was drawn into their gaze. "Hello there," she crooned. The baby answered by wavin' her arms around in stilted circles, her legs kicked out.
Cody, fascinated by the sight before him, moved closer, "You and Kid got a name for her?"
Lou looked up, a question in her eyes. Kid shrugged his shoulders, "Whatever you want Lou."
Thoughtful eyes regarded her daughter, "What do you think precious one? What name do you want?" Lou leaned closer and tickled a kiss over the baby's nose. "What?" she asked. "You want us to call you what?"
She leaned in again and brushed her cheek against the baby's pale one. "Oh... okay, I'll tell them."
Lou sat back and tucked the baby into the crook or her arm, "Gentlemen," her tone was staid but still held a tinge of a smile, "I'd like for you to meet Charleen McCloud."
"I say we just call her Charlie."
Hickok punched Cody in the shoulder, "Cody! That ain't her name!"
Kid reached forward to cap her head with his hand, delighting in the feel of her silky hair under his hands, "I dunno Jimmy... I think it works real well, I mean we still call Lou.... well, Lou."
The baby cooed and Lou tucked her closer to her side, "Charlie...Charlie... I like it. Charlie it is."
Cody grinned back at Jimmy, beamin' with pride.
Late that evening a thin wail could be heard throughout the house. Kid shot upright in bed and reached for Louise. She was already gone. He blinked furiously into the darkness and focused on the tiny woman sitting beside the window.
Even over the plaintive wail, he could here Louise sobbin'. He crawled over the bed and set down on the edge next to her, "Lou? What's wrong?"
Lamplight flickered off her tears and she tore her gaze away from her baby, "She's not nursin'-"
"Maybe she ain't hungry-"
"She hasn't nursed once yet! With the boys it was always so easy... it's like she doesn't know what to do." Louise was gettin' frantic and Kid grabbed for his pants layin' across the back of a chair and shrugged them on in an instant, I'm goin' for Rachel... you gonna be okay?"
"Just hurry... please!" The baby's hand reached up and waved through the ends of her hair. Tiny delicate fingers struggled to grasp the sable strands, failin' each time. Louise leaned back in her chair, the chill air of the night harsh against her naked breast. Again, she tried to rub the tip against the baby's lips, hopin' she'd understand, "Please sweetie... you need to eat something."
It took less than a minute for the door to open under Rachel's hand, "Louise honey?"
Louise stared up in painful hope, "Rachel? How did Kid-"
"I was just comin' into the house when Kid threw open the door." Leavin' her robe on, Rachel came across the room and knelt beside Louise.
"I just don't know what to do, the boys-"
"Well, now I thought we talked about this years ago..." Rachel tried a bit of humor, "Boys just have a natural 'nursin'..." Rachel sighed, Louise just stared at her with haunted eyes. "How long have you been up?"
Louise blinked like an owl, "I don't know... probably all night."
Rachel smoothed a hand through Louise's hair, "Oh honey, this has you so turned around... I doubt you know what day it is."
Sad brown eyes turned to gaze at the sqawling infant. The cries were gettin' weaker and fear tore into Louise, "It's my baby's birthday-" Sobbing, Louise leaned into Rachel's embrace.
They held together for a moment before Rachel set Louise back against the chair, "I know sweetie... now let's see what we can do for her."
Kid stood in the doorway, grabbin' onto the wooden frame. He watched as Louise and Rachel coaxed his daughter into nursing. A deep seated fear settled into his stomach as he turned away. Time was precious and he knew that every moment he had with his baby girl may very well be the last.
He sat down on a chair in the kitchen and waited. Two cold and shiverin' shadows slid in through the door. "Sorry to wake you."
"No problem, we just heard the cryin'." Jimmy shivered and started the stove. Addin' wood to the fire he wordlessly started a pot of coffee, figurin' they'd all need it.
"Yeah, thought you might need family close by." Buck sat down next to Kid and waited for him to talk.
Jimmy wasn't that patient, "Lou and Charlie okay?"
Kid ran his hand through his hair and sighed, "Lou and Rachel are tryin' to get her to .. to .. you know."
Buck watched Kid flounder for a word, "You didn't have any problems with the boys did you?"
Shakin' his head, Kid stood and poured himself a cup out of the coffee pot. Jimmy tried to stop him, the water wasn't even warm yet. Kid sat back down at the table and took a long drink of cold murky water, "Nope, and what the doctor said hasn't been helpin' Lou. I doubt she's had a more than a half hour of sleep since the baby was born."
The three sat quietly around the table, listening to the fuss upstairs. The coffee pot sat untended on the stove while the three friends sat there stewin' in their own thoughts.
Rachel entered the kitchen quietly, the three riders were fast asleep at the table, the coffee pot bubblin' over.
Grabbin' a towel she picked the pot up and set it on the side. Quietly she shook Kid awake. "Kid?" she whispered into his ear.
For the second time that night Kid was shocked awake, "Rachel?" Instantly he was awake, "Lou?"
"Fine, the baby's sleepin'. I'm gonna go check on the boys, why don't you go back to the room?"
Kid nodded and took the stairs as fast as his tired legs would wobble underneath him. He looked back to see Rachel shakin' the other boys awake. All he wanted right now was to hold Lou in his arms and tell her it's gonna be okay.
Before he could even touch the door, he could hear Lou. She was faltering over a lullaby, her voice stilted and somber called to him.
The door swung open under his hand and yet again he found himself watchin' his wife as she cradled their baby in her arms. The tune was only familiar in that he had heard Lou humming it that same morning she gave birth to their daughter.
"Honey? What song is that?"
"Song?" She seemed disoriented and lost, "Oh...I've been tryin' to remember the words."
"I don't even remember the name of it."
"It sounds right pretty."
"I don't know where I heard it...or why it's even comin' to mind. I just wanna remember it. It seems real important."
Kid slid onto the bed next to her and took her hand in his, "Then I'm sure you'll remember it. You seem to have this way of doin' whatever you set your mind to."
Lou smiled up at him, "Really?"
Quiet laughter shook them both, "You sure do have an amazing way about you."
Charleen yawned in her arms and Lou leaned against her husband, "If it's that important, I'll remember. I know I will."
The next morning, Lou let the doctor back into the house. He listened real careful like to the baby's chest. His expression said it all.
Kid and Lou sat together and listened to what the doctor had to say; their family was gathered outside on the porch.
The doctor left with a tip of his hat and a farewell called to the riders. Kid and Lou came outside shortly after, the baby held in Kid's arms.
Jimmy stood up from where he was sittin' at the railin' and Buck joined him, lookin' down at the baby. Cody elbowed them both out of the way, "So? How's my beautiful niece?"
Lou looked at Kid, a quick and pained glance. Rachel stood and moved closer to Kid, Teaspoon grabbed Cody by one arm, "Come on Cody, I need your help out by the barn."
"You two don't have to talk about it if you don't want to." Rachel, she was always there for them. "You want me to hold her for a minute? You two could take a walk around the Station, take some time for yourselves."
It suddenly sounded like a real good idea and Lou headed down for the corral. Flash, Lightning's first foal and Lou's current mount, had been turned out for some exercise. Her beautiful black coat shone in the morning light and seein' Lou come close to the rail, Flash pranced over, showin' off for her rider and the others.
Smiles came easy, "Rachel always seems to know what we need." Kid leaned on his arms watching as Lou's horse danced around the ring. "The sun feels wonderful."
A pause sounded and Kid couldn't help but watch Lou out of the corner of his eye. Her face was drawn and her skin lacked its usual color, but Kid suspected he was much in the same shape.
"Do you believe what he said?" Lou was never one to mince words.
"He is the doctor-"
"Do you believe it?
Kid shoved his hands in his pockets, "I guess so... she doesn't look good Lou. It seems to hurt her to breathe, to move, and like last night, you know what it took to feed her."
"I know... I know. I kind of feel like we're almost keepin' her here, forcin' her-"
"She's our little gir-" Kid stopped mid word and stared at his feet. "We've had two healthy boys... but-"
Lou nodded, "We've been lucky... but I want this baby Kid!"
A soft kiss connected with her cheek as Kid rubbed her back gently. "We all want her Lou, but maybe it ain't-"
"Stop... just please don't say it. I can't hear it right now."
Kid looked down at her, shoulders set in a stubborn line. "I understand Lou, but this is about Charlie. We have to talk about it-"
Lou turned away from him, "Just not now... please Kid, I need a little time."
Kid shuffled his feet in the dirt, "One thing we don't have is time."
She heard him leave, but her attention had gone back to the horses.
Moments later she saw Jimmy by her side. She could feel herself relaxin' as he leaned closer to the corral. "She's dyin' Jimmy." That said, she sucked in a painful breath, the air searin' her lungs.
He silently bowed his head, takin' a moment. He didn't know what to say, "I believe in angels Lou."
"Huh?" It wasn't the type of thing you expected James Butler Hickok to say.
"I do... I mean, you almost have to."
Lou turned and leaned against the corral, her eyes watchin' Rachel as she set a slow rhythm on the porch swing, Charleen cupped in her embrace. "Sometimes its hard when...you're thinkin' you're gonna lose -"
"Lou - you ain't gonna lose her... not really. Sure, you ain't gonna be able to hold her, but you'll carry her with you."
A hand flew up to cover her mouth as a sob was swallowed hastily. As she considered his words, she felt the energy drain out of her, her teeth worryin' marks up and down her finger. Jimmy waved Kid over and Lou turned into his arms, weary beyond words. She was never one to let the others see her as weak, but she was beyond carin'. Kid took her hand and slipped an arm around her waist. "Why don't we take you inside for a little while."
Lou nodded and turned toward the house. They were half way there when Lou stopped and ran back to Jimmy. Throwin' her arms around his neck, "Thank you Jimmy... you always know what to say to me."
"I just want to help you."
"I know Jimmy, it's just that I wanna keep her here, with us." Tears flowed again, "I'm just feelin' kind of selfish. The longer she 'stays here' the longer she suffers. I don't know if I'm willin' to let her go."
He hated to see her feelin' like this. "Then don't think about it like you're lettin' her go, you ain't lettin' her fall, or get hurt. It's like something that happened to Celinda when we were kids. She found this little bird, sick as can be. Hell, it could barely lift it's head. Celinda, she picked that bird up and ran off with it.
Days and weeks later, we'd almost forgotten the whole thing. That was when she brought it out. She'd nursed it back to health with nothin' more than just her stubborn streak. The hardest thing she ever had to do, she said, was settin' it free when the time came. I don't think I ever saw her cry so much as that day. There was something so magical in her eyes. She watched that bird flap around like a kid in a puddle, we almost thought it forgot what to do.
Then... there was this sweet wind from heaven, or at least that what Celinda called it. And it lifted that bird right up off the ground and up into the air. We ain't never seen such a sight. That bird spread its wings and took to the sky, it was just amazin'. Later on, she said she knew she couldn't keep it any longer, not without hurtin' it... not without takin' the chance that it would forget how to fly." Lou's eyes flickered up to look into his, a light began to glow in her heart.
Jimmy set a hand on her shoulder, "You ain't doin' nothing wrong Lou, you love that baby. We all do."
She nodded and set her hand on his chest, "Thanks Jimmy...that helped, a lot."
Louise turned back to the house, takin' Kid's hand in her own. They walked into the house past Rachel and the baby on the swing. The two had a lot to talk about.
The afternoon was a flurry of non-activity. Lou and Kid had sat the whole 'family' down and explained the situation. Accordin' to the doctor, Charlie's condition wasn't good. She could last a few days, or even a few months if they got lucky. There was no medicine available to help, no treatments... this wasn't an illness, it was just nature.
"It ain't fair!" Cody quietly paced the room, ranting under his breath.
Rachel grabbed for Teaspoon's hand and the two quietly consoled each other.
"So every moment we have is precious."
Louise nodded at Kid's statement. The baby lay in her lap, the strained and stilted breathing seemed painful to watch. Lou set her hand lightly on the baby's chest and smoothed the soft cotton fabric. Eyes that were turning darker by the minute, glanced up. There was a silent plea in those tiny eyes. One Lou understood entirely too well. "Kid?"
"I don't think we'll have that long."
Kid moved closer as Rachel and Teaspoon ushered the others outside onto the porch. Issac and Jonah sat beside their parents watchin' with a mix of awe and confusion.
"I remember the song now."
Kid looked at Lou and saw the unshed tears in her eyes, "You do?"
"Yeah... when Jimmy told me that story about Celinda. It's what he said about watchin' that bird fly away." Lou gave a smile to each of her boys. "It helped me remeber the words."
Louise placed a light kiss on each of the baby's hands. Kid and the boys gave her kisses on her face and the tiny family sat back and listened as Lou sang this song for the first and last time.
"Fly, fly little wing
Fly beyond imagining
The softest cloud, the whitest dove
Upon the wind of heaven's love
Past the planets and the stars
Leave this lonely world of ours
Escape the sorrow and the pain
And fly again
Fly, fly precious one
Your endless journey has begun
Take your gentle happiness
Far too beautiful for this
Cross over to the other shore
There is peace forevermore
But hold this mem'ry bittersweet
Until we meet
Fly, fly do not fear
Don't waste a breath, don't shed a tear
Your heart is pure, your soul is free
Be on your way, don't wait for me
Above the universe you'll climb
On beyond the hands of time
The moon will rise, the sun will set
But I won't forget"
Little Charleen gasped in a little breath, her eyes flyin' open and gazin' at her family. Lou smoothed her hand down the side of her baby's face. She felt the little cheek go cold under her hand. With a strength she didn't know she had she finished the song as her daughter's spirit winged it's way to heaven.
"Fly, fly little wing
Fly where only angels sing
Fly away, the time is right
Go now, find the light"
Lou turned her face into Kid's shoulder and the sobs came freely. The boys ran outside into the waiting arms of Rachel and Teaspoon. Buck, Jimmy and Cody stood in the door way, offering silent comfort to each other.
The next day, when they all stood in the little cemetary outside of town, Lou remained behind the rest of the group. She stood, her eyes fixed on something in the distance. Jimmy moved closer and before he could ask raised a hand, "There. Do you see it?"
Jimmy squinted into the morning light.
A movement in a nearby tree caught his eye. A little bird, covered in delicate blue feathers left it's perch. The first few moments were noted by the struggle of the bird against the air. Then, in a breath of air, the bird found it's wing and swept right between them and up into the sky. A moment later.. and it was gone.
Years later... Louise would say that she felt the joy in that moment.
The moment she let go of her little angel.