Louise McCloud set the skinny golden key into the lock of the general store. She turned it until she heard the lock click closed. Her shoulders sagged. It had been a long day...hardly a sale... and hardly a customer. With this awful war so close on the horizon, there wasn't a person in two towns that had money to spare on anything but the essentials.
Their store had been a favorite of the townspeople since her grandfather built it thirty years ago, but now she had to face the facts that they may have to close it. A voice in the back of her head nagged, 'and what would you do for money then?'
She picked up her basket and turned down the lane towards her house. She hummed as she walked along the tree shaded lane...her booted feet tracing lazy patterns through the softly packed dirt.
She was lost in her thoughts and didn't hear the sound of powerful hoofbeats coming up behind her, "Whoa there Katie!" The beautiful paint horse reined to a stop next to her. Lou was clearly unafraid as the young rider slid of the horse's back.
"Hello Louise." He walked beside her, a wide grin on his face.
She blushed as he continued to stare at her.
"I've been waitin' all day for a chance to come and see you."
They walked for a few minutes in silence, "Well?"
He stopped and looked at her, "Well what?"
She didn't even stop or turn around, "Now you've 'seen' me, is there anything else you wanted to do?"
He laughed and caught up with her, "Now that you mention it, there is that dance after church on Sunday."
"Oh?" She looked up at him, enjoying his discomfort.
"Louise!" He bit out her name, an embarassed smile on his face, "Are you coming to the dance with me or not!?"
By now they had reached Louise's house. She stopped at the door, her hand touching the frame, "You want me to go to the dance with you?" she could barely hide her smile.
"Yeah," he shrugged, his cheeks turning pink, "I mean, I've been courtin' you for a while now, and I think it's time we..." he looked at her, worried what she'd say, "...we let everyone know how we feel."
She was still facing the door and Kid felt his heart fall into his stomach. He felt Katie nudge his shoulder as he dropped his head to stare at the ground.
"Kid?" her voice was soft and unsure. He couldn't bring himself to look up. He saw her feet before his in the dirt.
She reached out her hand to touch his arm. He looked up at her, a tear in her eye. "Ah, Lou - I didn't mean to make you cry-"
She leaned forward and kissed him, her lips pressing against his. He was shocked and stood there rooted to the ground. When he regained his thoughts he reached out to hold her, but she was gone.
His eyes flew open and he saw her closing the front door. His feet seemed planted in place, so he called out to her just before the door clicked, "Is that a yes?"
Louise stood just inside the door her hand pressed to her heart. She could feel it beating wildly against her chest. She couldn't stop smiling. The long day at the store was forgotten and she was bursting to tell her
mother what Kid had asked her.
She softly knocked on the door and heard her mothers soft contralto voice, "Come in honey."
The door creaked open and Louise quickly walked in and closed it behind her. She sat next her mother on the bed and smoothed the covers around her. Mary's once beautiful features were marred by over two years of declining health and now as her daughter sat beside her some of her youthful beauty returned if only for a few moments.
Louise took a cloth from the side table and wiped the sheen from her mother's skin. She was encouraged by the smile she received for the simple task. "How was your day mother?"
"Fine, fine, I have exciting news."
Louise barely heard her, "Oh mother, the most wonderful thing happened! Kid asked me to the dance Sunday."
Mary found herself laughing at her daughter's interruption. Louise had been much too serious of late, having to spend her days in the store instead of school with the other girls. "You've danced with him before, dear."
"This is different. He wants to take me there, not just meet there. He wants everyone to know..." she blushed as she recalled what he had said to her outside the front door. "...how we feel."
A cold hand covered Louise's as she absently played with the tattered edge of the bed cover. "How do you feel Louise?"
"Like I could fly around the world, like I could swing from the trees, like...." she closed her eyes and pictured him standing outside with Katie, "I'm in love."
"He's a fine young man, dear. I couldn't be happier," she paused and looked at her daughter.
"Oh, I'm sorry - you wanted to say something, didn't you?"
"Yes... and this should make you just as happy. I've sent a letter to your father."
Louise sobered in an instant, "You sent him a letter?"
"Just last month and an answer came today in the post. He's coming to see us."
Louise looked down at her feet. "Why?"
"I know things have been so very hard on you-" a series of coughs wracked her small form. She snatched the hankerchief off the table and covered her mouth. Louise moved to hold her mother as the coughing grew worse. Mary looked into the hankerchief and quickly hid it under her blanket afraid what Louise would say. "You've been working so hard and you should be able to enjoy things like dances and tea socials..."
"Mother, you know I've never wanted any of that-"
"Besides, you've always told me that my father was a man to stay clear of." Louise was confused and afraid, what had made her mother contact him after 16 years.
"He's changed," Mary tried to keep a look of certainty in her eyes, "I've heard wonderful things about him and he has amassed quite a fortune since I knew him... he'll be able to help us."
Louise bit her tongue. Her mother hadn't had that light in her eyes in months. She couldn't see anything good coming from his visit, but if that is what her mother wanted...then she would make the best of it.
Dinner that evening was unusually quiet. Louise barely looked up from her plate. Ms. Emma sat beside her, worried, "Louise? Would you care to talk?"
A shake of her head was the only answer.
"Mary has told me quite a bit about your father and I can understand why you'd be so...worried about his visit. I voiced many of the same concerns when she had me send the letter." She gathered a sobbing Louise in her arms, "She's not well and she spends most of her days fretting that you've had to take too much on your shoulders because of her. This is something she can do for you now... perhaps one of the the last things she can." She lifted the girl's chin so that she met her eyes, "The best thing we can do is try to make her happy, huh?"
Louise silently nodded and excused herself from the table. She cleared her dishes and went to sit with her mother. She read to her another chapter in a book about the Wild West. Mary loved to hear her daughter read about the exciting exploits of shootists and saloon girls... it all seemed so fantastic that it could hardly be real.
It was late in the evening, and the candles at Mary's bedside were burning low, the flames dancing on the edge of a pool of liquid wax. They both startled when they heard a carriage pull up in front of the house. Mary's eyes shone with hope and she busied herself smoothing out her hair. Louise had to smile, her mother was never one to preen but here she was looking like a young woman ready to receive a gentleman caller.
Louise stayed by her side as Ms. Emma went to open the door. A soft knock came at the bedroom door, "Come in Ms. Emma,"
She opened the door slowly and looked in, "There's a Mr. Donald Boggs to see you both."
Mary gasped and grabbed her daughter's hand, her own was shaking. "It's him, your father. I never expected him so soon."
Lou turned to look at the man who entered into the room. He was tall, with broad shoulders and nearly filled the doorway as he walked through. He wore a fine waistcoat and was very fashionably dressed. He handed his hat and cane to Ms. Emma and she backed away to stand near the wall.
Donald looked around the little room, making note of what sparse furnishings decorated the room. His eyes travelled over the frail woman in the bed and finally to the young girl sitting next to her.
He inclined his head toward Louise, "That her Mary?"
Mary's eyes shone with fresh tears... she was hoping this would be a happy occasion for all. "Yes Donald, this is our daughter, Louise."
He nodded, "Well girl? Stand up so I can take a good look at you."
Louise was surprised by his harsh tone, but she dutifully stood up and after patting her mother's hand she moved to stand closer to her father.
He looked her over, front and back. He grabbed her chin and lifted it, examining her face, "Hmm, pretty little thing," Mary who was watching from the bed smiled. He put his hands on her hips pushing on the layers of petticoats under her skirts, "boyish hips though, not much of a figure."
Louise looked up at him, confusion awash in her large brown eyes, "but Father, -"
He ignored her, "You've done well Mary, I'll take care of her." He turned, wrapping his hand around her arm, he headed for the door.
Emma moved forward to block the door, "Sir?"
He took his hat and cane from her hands, "Thank you, good day ma'am."
"Donald?" Cried Louise's mother, "Where are you going?"
He turned, agitated at her cries, "You wrote me and asked me to care of your girl, I'm taking her with me. What seems to be the problem?"
Louise had regained her wits and started to struggle against his grip. "I'm not going anywhere with you. I'm staying with my mother."
"Yes, please Donald, I need her now."
"Sir, Mary needs Louise... she's her comfort." Emma had added her own plea.
"Well I'm only in town today and Louise is coming with me now." He turned back to the door.
Louise tried to pull away from her father... terror and disbelief were drawn across her face. Tears coursing down her cheeks and she grabbed onto the wooden footboard of the bed. Her knuckles turned white and red as she desperately tried to hold on. "Mama... ..MAMAA!! Help me.. please mama I want to stay...oh mama. I love you, please!"
"Louise! Louise.... my baby... oh dear God, Donald! Please let her stay! Please Donald! Please!!"
They disappeared from the room and Donald pushed her into the darkness of the midnight black carriage. The windows were blocked and even the driver was shrouded in shadows. Louise could still be heard crying out for her mother and Mary's heart broke at the sound. She had failed her daughter and she was sure she'd never be able to make ammends.
Emma sat next to her friend, holding her in a tight hug. Both women cried together as they heard the sound of the horses and Louise's cries disappear into the distance.
Kid took the lane past Louise's on his way home from working at his father's stables... He saw Ms. Emma walking the road crying,
"Miss Emma, you alright?"
Emma cries out, her hands flying to her face, "He took her Kid! He took Louise!"
Kid reined Katie up short, the horse called out a protest, Kid had never used such a heavy hand. "Who took Louise?"
"Her father! Mary sent word that she was sick, but instead of coming to help them, he came and took Louise away. Oh Kid, you should have seen her fight him somethin' fierce. She wanted to be by her mother's side. I'm afraid Mary won't last much longer without her."
Kid thanked her and rode off toward Lou's house. He left Katie outside and a woman from the church let him in. He made his way to Mary's room.
Mary roused herself from a fitful sleep and answered the frantic knock at her door, "Louise? Oh Louise is that you?"
Kid opened the door and leaned in. He didn't miss the disappointed look on her face, "Ms. Mary?"
She sank back into the pillows piled on her bed, "Come in Kid."
He had his hat in his hands and slowly walked to the side of her bed, "Ms. Mary, I just talked to Emma, and-" Mary dissolved into tears and Kid sat on the edge of the bed, "please, I need to know what happened.
Mary furiously weeped into her hankerchief, one hand holding onto his arm, "Oh my baby! What have I done?"
"Ma'am?" Kid grew more and more alarmed with every shaking breath.
"How can I tell you... she's gone! He took her away!"
He held his tongue... he wanted to shout at her to tell him what happened.
"Her father, he just drove up in his carriage and took her away." Her tears began again..., "She wanted to stay with me, but he said-" she paused as she gasped for air, "he just took her. I know I'll never see her again." Her breathing was more labored, her face was ashen and her eyes were deeply set in dark circles. He realized just how sick she was.
"Don't you worry Miss Mary, I'll bring her home."
The last half of what he said was lost as Mary was lost in a fit of coughing. He was scared and called out for Mrs. Granger to get the doctor. He looked back as she drew back her hankerchief from her mouth. The white cloth was stained with blood.
He stood up as if something bit him. This time he bellowed at Mrs. Granger to hurry.
She peeked in to the room and moved to his side... she handed her another hankerchief and leaned close to him, "The doctor hasn't been here in days... there hasn't been enough money."
"There's nothing more to do...but wait."
Mary fell into a deep sleep and Kid paced the room, he needed to know who this man was and where he had taken Lou. It had been almost a day since she'd been taken and there'd be no way to track them. He needed more information.
He searched the desk. There were quite a few papers on the counter. Mostly letters from creditors and bankers, he didn't realize that Louise's family was in trouble.
Then, under the pile of papers, a thick white envelope addressed to Mary McCloud. He took out the letter and read it through quickly. He dropped the letter on the desk and turned the envelope over and looked at the return address. There was no street name or number, but it did say Arlington, Virginia. That was almost 100 miles away.
He resisted the urge to run out of the house and head out after Louise. He had to keep his wits about him, but most importantly he had to stay and be there for her mother. He knew with a certain saddness that this would be her last day on this earth and he would do everything he could to make her comfortable.
Louise cowered in the carriage. Her fears and grief getting the better of her. She had been dragged away from her mother and her life. She knew nothing but fear for the man who sat beside her in the darkened carriage.
She hadn't taken anything but the clothes she was wearing and she was worried... what was happening to her? The whole day seemed like a phantasm. There were so many unanswered questions... and Kid! Oh dear Lord, what would happen when he found out? Her tears began again as she pictured him standing outside under the willow tree.
Her shoulders shook and she gasped for air as she felt sorrow wash over her again. Soon she couldn't control the sobs as they took over.
She felt a hand grip her arm. He squeezed it hard enough to make her wince, "I've had just about enough cryin'!" He bit out his words, his voice put a stop to her tears. She froze as she felt true danger at his hands. "Enough!"
She stared into the darkness, feeling his eyes glaring at her. Louise nodded, "yes sir."
He shoved her back against the wall of the carriage. She fought to keep her breath as her shoulders hit the hard metal frame behind her. Louise wanted to cry out but desperately held her tongue in fear.
A little over an hour later, Louise had drifted into a restless sleep.
Donald Boggs cursed under his breath, "Damn fool girl! What did I do to deserve this little chit." He shook his head as he settled back against the padded backing, "I'll find some way to make this worth my trouble."
During the day Mary's health had rallied several times. Kid offered to pay for the doctor to come, but Mary wouldn't hear of it, "I've suffered with this long enough to know that I'm too tired to fight it anymore. I tried to for Louise," she couldn't stop the tears, "but now, I just want to rest."
Kid picked up the book on the table beside the bed, "Stories of the Wild West?"
Mary smiled a far-away smile, "Louise liked to read me stories from that book." She turned to look at the handsome young man standing before her, "Do you know how to read Kid?"
"Would you read to me.... Louise was just in the middle of a story about these young boys..."
Kid opened the book to the page that was marked by a single blue ribbon, "The Pony Express?"
Mary lay back into the pillows, "Yes, that's the story."
Kid began where Mary instructed and found himself drawn into the story as he read it. Young men riding across the territories delivering mail. Through rivers, over mountains, and they've been attacked by indians!
When he finished the second chapter he looked up. The question on his lips faded as he saw Mary's frail face turned to the pillow, her face showed none of the pain that had been heaped upon her in the last year. She lay there in peace, her breath gone from her body.
Kid was humbled as he lay down the book in his hands. He leaned forward and closed her eyes. He took one of her hands in his and touched it to his cheek. He silently said a prayer for her soul as he knew Louise would have. Thoughts of her brought tears to his eyes. She should be here. He felt the warm tears of his grief wet her hand and he laid it down on the bed.
A scant moment later, Kid was on his feet. He paused at the door looking back at Mary. He moved back to the table and picked up the book.
It belonged to Louise and he'd see that she got it back.
They rode through day and night, stopping to change horses and take a few moments to walk about. Douglas Boggs kept a close eye on her at all times. She wasn't allowed to step further than a few feet away from him or the carriage.
The sights and sounds of the towns they past through were lost on her. Her mind and heart lay farther away with each day they travelled. Tomorrow night would be the dance... she covered her face with her hands, hot tears wet her cheeks as she thought of Kid. Her heart was breaking more with each mile.
She hadn't asked any questions of her father since the first night. The memory of his anger was still fresh with her. She moved her arm and felt the dull ache of her bruises. No one had ever touched her in anger before.
She lost track of time.... she had drifted in and out of sleep for what seemed like months.
Several days later, Louise felt the carriage slow as it began to bounce and rattle.. the wheels were rolling over stones or bricks... she sat up a bit and peaked through a hole she had opened in the carriage covering. It was dark... night or early morning. They had turned into the long driveway of a house. There were several small buildings that you could see through the trees and Louise could almost feel hundreds of eyes peering out at her.. she saw no bodies, but the feel of those eyes was unmistakable and weighed heavy on her heart. She felt much like they did...trapped in a nightmare.
Voices,... hushed and scared reached her ears.... No words could be heard and Louise suddenly became very cold. She wrapped her arms around herself and hugged tight. She would give anything to be back home.... please let it be home....
There were lanterns blazing on both side of a massive double wooden door.. Servants stood at attention, hands tucked behind them and faces staring straight ahead. No discernable emotion on their faces. Men and women rushed out of the darkness to stand eagerly before the carriage door. Louise tried to count them all, but she was lost in the growing throng.
"You see? This is home. They've all come to see you...like eager puppies, aren't they?" she heard the chuckle in his voice and she cringed. He unlocked the carriage door and someone on the otherside of the door held it open... Louise sat back as Donald leaned over her to step out. She pushed herself back against the seat as the end of a black leather whip passed her nose. This man obviously cared a great deal for this 'ornament' he had strapped at his waist. The handle was decorated with silver filigree.
Louise sat back in the carriage and held her breath. Where was she? How long had they been traveling... what day was it? A voice cut through her haze.
"LOUISA! Everyone is waiting... for YOU!"
Her face appeared at the opening of the carriage and all the bodies before her pushed forward... all wanting to get a better look at Boggs' daughter... all wanting to measure her character against her father's.
Her hands shook as they gripped the sides of the carriage doorway. She pulled herself up on her feet. Sometime, since the last time she was concious, her legs had fallen asleep.
Boggs looked at her with irritation, his jaw was tightly set and his eyes were piercing.
"Yes sir?" he stepped forward immediately and looked at the man who called his name.
Louisa was drawn to the proud set of his chin as he avoided eye contact with her father.
"Help her down... she is most likely exhausted from the ride. Women are always so very weak and timid at the worst possible moments.
He moved forward and held out his arm. Louise reached forward and took his arm... feeling was returning slowly and pins and needles seemed to fill her skin. His other hand reached out to steady her and Douglas Boggs tapped his shoulder with the handle of his whip. "Watch your hands boy, that's my daughter your touchin', not some little black harlot."
Louise saw the look of disgust that swept past Noah's eyes. She was ashamed that she was related to this man.
Kid paced the length of the livery. He had spent the last two hours practicing the speech he would give his father. He had to go after Louise... he loved her. And now he was all she had. He didn't believe for a minute that this Donald Boggs was really Lou's father.
He was going to get her back...he turned to Katie and stroked her neck, "You'll go with me, won't you girl?"
Sam Cain walked out of the shadows laughing, "Kid, that horse is so in love with you, she follow you to the ends of the earth. She's more of a pet than a horse..."
Kid stared at his father, levity was in short supply these days. "I've been waiting for you."
Sam moved closer to his son. He looked at the handsome young man before him. His eyes held a saddness that scared him. What in God's name had happened today.
"I've got to leave."
"Louise was taken away! They say it was her father, but she didn't want to go... I-" he roughly wiped at his eyes, "I didn't want her to go."
Sam put a strong hand on Kid's shoulder. "That doesn't mean you can just run off to find her. Do you know where to look?"
"I know the city, I'll find her."
Sam was confused, Kid was never this evasive, "Which City?"
Kid looked at the ground, "Arlington."
"Arlington? My Goodness Kid! What could you be thinking? Do you have any idea how far away that is?"
Sam turned away, he had hardly ever denied his son anything that had been important.
"If it was Ma? Would you go?"
Sam's eyes softened. Kid's mother had died years ago...but her memory was always with him... if someone had taken her away...
"Oh, I'm sorry... I didn't-"
Sam gathered his son in his arms, hugging him tightly. "No Kid, there's nothing wrong with what you said. I just remembered how we were at your age. If she had been taken away.. I would have levelled whole cities to be by her side."
Kid smiled at the sound of love in his voice, "So it's okay?"
Sam smiled, "If you didn't go... I'd wonder how you felt about her."
The carriages had been arriving non-stop since five and Louise stared out her window into the dying light of sundown. She sat on a chaise lounge in her dressing room, feeling trapped in the gilded cage of her corset and underpinnings. Her gown lay across her bed, the layers of fabric looked like the layers of a cake. She ignored the soft rapping on the door. She knew her maid was pacing outside the door.
"Miss Louisa?" her call became frantic, "Miss LOUISA!" The master said you should be downstairs to greet the people!" A pause, "Please oh please miss!"
Louise unlocked the door for the young girl who rushed in, sheer panic on her face. She hated being called LOUISA. Her father was calling her that because it sounded a bit more cultured and genteel.
Louise allowed the maid to hold the dress for her as she stepped into it. She was amazed that this dress was now hers. She had seen ones like it in the magazines their store carried, but never had she ever thought she'd wear one.
The dressmaker and three seamstresses had arrived at first light. They set up shop in the corner of the room. They had cut, pinned and draped fabric for nearly the entire day.
Donald Boggs had shown himself only once. Shortly after the women had arrived with ready made dresses to fit on her, he stormed into the room, "I ordered for a dress to be 'made' for my daughter. Take these things away!"
He cornered the dressmaker and let loose some heated words, Louise heard little of what he said...but the look on the woman's face was unmistakable, Fear.
After he had left, Louise was measured by the woman's assistant. She listened in as the women discussed the event tonight.
"We've been working day and night for weeks to finish all the dresses...and now he drags us out here for one more!"
"Hush, it's His daughter, and you better not let him catch you sayin' that!"
"The whole of Arlington society will be there!"
"They're liable to be a fight... Mister Boggs has invited even those Yankee Soldiers to attend!"
Louise had listened to half of what they said... some of her thoughts still remained with a handsome young southern gentleman.
"Miss LOUISA!" Louise was startled from her daydream as her maid called loudly into her ear.
"We needs to gets you ready now... Mr. Boggs has been mighty angry... he's says you better get yourself downstairs yesterday!"
She felt like some prize in a contest. She had spent the evening bein' tossed from one young man to the next. All paid their respects to her 'father' before venturing out on the floor.
She did her best to smile and make pleasant conversation as she had been told to do. Donald had pulled her aside as soon as she came down the wide sweeping staircase. He had grabbed her by the arm and pulled her behind an immense vase, "You will do as I say tonight. You will not cry or weep. I'm having this party for... you, we left your old life back in Richmond."
Now as she danced with another officer, she felt like crying. Her heart belonged miles away at a church social. Right now, she should be arriving at the dance with Kid. She looked at the young man who held her in his arms- he didn' t care about her... he just wanted to make an impression on her father.
With one final thought, she left him in mid-dance and fled into the night.
He had tired of the tedious conversation and shallow flirtations in the ballroom. He was not one for games of the heart.
The evening was warm and he ventured out into the night looking for...
Under the willows, by the pond, couldn't he be alone anywhere?
A light moving through the trees caught his eye. A tiny bobbing light laced through the darkness.
He followed it, drawn by the pinpoint of light. It slowed as it joined the others. A score of lights danced at the waters edge swaying in the soft breeze and in their midst, a woman. She looked like a statue in a garden, frozen in time.
His steps had slowed but he continued forward, being careful not to disturb her.
Tears, like crystal raindrops, slid down her cheeks. "I wish I was home."
"and where is that?"
He had startled her, she turned to run. "Stay right where you are sir, not a step closer."
He almost laughed at the bravado in her voice. The little porcelain doll had spunk. "I'm not goin' to hurt you ma'am, I was just walkin' around the pond."
"Well, now you can walk back inside and leave me alone."
He shrugged his shoulders and turned back toward the music.
He had nearly reached the outer rim of lantern light when he heard something moving quickly through the bushes. He instinctively reached for his Colt... but though better of it and dropped his hand to his side.
A hand touched his arm, "Excuse me... I-"
He looked down into the eyes of the most capitvating woman he had ever seen. At the water's edge.. the moonlight had not afforded him a real look at her, but now, as they stood in the soft light of the lanterns he knew he was lost.
Kid had ridden Katie almost the whole distance in two days ... he rarely stopped to eat, pausing only to ask directions. He had never been this far from home. One thought drove him, Louise. He couldn't close his eyes in the darkest moments of the night... instead of rest, Louise filled his dreams.
One the eve of his second day of travelling, Kid stopped to rest in a wooded area. He tethered Katie to a tree. He had reached Arlington that morning. He was quickly finding out that outsiders were not welcome.
Everyone he stopped on the street did their best to either ignore him entirely or rudely dismiss him before he had finished his questions. Kid was soon very tired and discouraged. He'd have to find another way to get some information. The food he had left in his pack was hard and stale, but there was nothing else available. Katie was perfectly happy with the soft pillows of grass that grew under the trees. Kid pushed his hat forward and leaned back against a tree. It was too dark to look around anymore... he'd....just... ...have... to.. ... wait..
He fell asleep in the middle of his thought. It was the first real chance he had to close his eyes in two days and with all the worry that had dogged him.. he was bone tired.
Too tired to hear the footsteps moving through the grass behind him. A single man hidden in the dark by his own skin, snuck up on the young man asleep in the woods. One look at his clothes and you knew that he wasn't from around here.
A beautiful paint mare padded around munching on tasty bits of clover and grass. He moved closer to get a good look. She was very healthy... well groomed even after the hard ride she'd had. Her constant movement gave evidence that she'd been ridden hard, but still with care.
A look of respect went to his sleeping friend, he cared for his animal... but he would regret fallin' asleep on this fine evening.
The master and his guests were all up at the house, drinkin' wine and eattin' a fine meal... this was his chance to leave.
He moved slowly over to the horse... softly whispering to her. Katie looked up from her meal, one ear turning to this man. The danger assessed, she turned back to the meal at hand.
One hand on the saddle, and the horse showed no signs of trouble. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was so close to freedom, he'd heard of people willing to hide him if he could only get to Maryland. He couldn't take one of the Master's horses... they'd be missed too quickly... and walking was not an option.
Too many of the others were content to continue bein' slaves. There was so much to do in the world.
With one movement, he mounted the horse and gathered the reins in his hands. He turned her toward the road. Katie took one look at the sleeping Kid and threw her head back in confusion.
She balked as her rider tried to gain control. Warm puffs of breath appeared in the night. He pulled her to the side and managed to start her into a gallop. Katie quickly fought back and danced in place..
Her frantic cry split the night and Kid jumped to his feet. One glance through the trees and Kid was spittin' mad. You don't mess with Katie. He took a deep breath and let out a shrill whistle through his teeth. Katie's ears turned toward him and she reared.
Rider and horse held their ground. Kid could see that this theif was a good rider.. but not good enough. A second whistle and Katie began to buck and kick out, flailing at the air with her hooves. The rider struggled with control.
With each kick...Katie moved closer... she was bringing him back. When she was close enough... Katie rose up on her hind legs and nearly threw herself backwards.
Sure enough, her unwanted rider landed at Kid's feet. Kid reached down and picked the man up by the collars of his shirt. "Hello there," intoned Kid.
"Hello yourself." Worry passed across his features, "you gonna turn me in?"
Kid smiled and leaned closer to his captive, "Why, you in a rush to get somewhere?"
"Not like I'd tell you,"
Kid laughed and shook his head, "No... I guess you wouldn't, but it seems like I have the upper hand for the moment."
His captive calmed..."What do you want?"
"Will you stop interrupting me?" Kid laughed, this man reminded him of Louise. "If I let go, are you goin' to run?"
Cool eyes looked at him, "For the moment? No."
Kid let go of his shirt and held out his hand, "I'm Kid."
After a moment, the gesture was returned, "Noah."
"Well Noah, I need your help."
Back at the house, Louise had caught up to the young officer, "I'm so sorry."
She looked down, she still had her arm on his. She pulled it back to her side and felt her cheeks heat with shame. "For being so rude to you. It's really not your fault."
"You just miss home?"
Louise nodded. Her hair had fallen to her shoulders, now free of the tiny pearl pins that Tessie had placed in her curls. He resisted the urge to brush her hair from her face.
She looked at him and he averted his eyes, "and you?"
"Yes," she smiled at how confused he was, "do you miss home?"
His eyes grew somber for a moment, "Yes, I miss my sister mostly...she's expecting and I'm hundreds of miles away."
"Oh, I see."
He looked up at her again, "Where do you come from?"
"Richmond, my moth-" Louise stopped, her thoughts flew back to her mother... how worried she must be. She wiped at her eyes.. tears burning on her cheeks.
He held out his hankerchief and she took it gratefully. "Miss-"
She looked up at him, she needed to get back before her father missed her.
"Hey Hickok? You out here?"
Captain James Butler Hickok looked down at the ground, shaking his head, "Damn you Cody," his whispered. "Over here!" he called and then turned back to the young lady, "I'm sorry I-"
She was gone.
Cody broke through the trees, dusting off his coat, "Hickok? What the hell are you doin' out here? The party and the girls are inside!" He pointed back over his shoulder. A sly smile spread over his beaming young face, "Unless you had your own party right here." He cuffed his friend on the shoulder. "You dog... does she have a sister?"
Hickok shoved him hard, "NO... I don't know... you have the lousiest timing!"
He headed back into the ballroom. Cody shrugged and followed him in.
Louise found her way up the back stairs... Tessie was sleeping on her bed waiting to help Louise out of her dress. Louise shook her awake, "Tessie?"
She sat bolt-upright, "Oh Miss Louisa! Is the party over?"
"No no..." Louise sat before the mirror, "help me fix my hair please... I need to go back downstairs before my father wants me to dance with some other young man. I'll never understand what he's doing..."
Tessie found all the pins that were hanging in his hair and reused them to redesign Louise's coiffure. With a quick look in the mirror Louise left the room and headed back to the ballroom.
She saw her father stalking around the room. She knew he was looking for her. Louise went up to the first officer she found and asked him to dance. He looked shocked for a moment and then swept her out onto the dance floor. When Louise caught Donald's eye a moment later she smiled at him over her partner's shoulder. He seemed satisfied and turned away to speak with another business man.
Cody followed his friend back into the warm ballroom. "Hickok? Hey... slow down!" James came to an abrupt stop and Cody who was now focused on a pretty young woman plowed right into his back.
"What now Cody?"
Cody straightened his jacket and nodded to some passin' women, "You disappear into the night and when I come lookin' for you... you have this look in your eye...like-"
Captain Hickok pulled himself up to his full height and stared down his friend. "Like- what?"
Cody's reply was lost as James saw her again. She was dancing in the arms of a young lieutenant. She still looked on the verge of tears, but had a pleasant smile stretched across her face.
James left Cody talking to the air... He shouldered his way through the dancing couples, he eyes never left her.
She caught sight of him walking her way... right through the dance floor! How strange he was. Tall.. taller than most... a serious gaze. He cut a handsome figure in this officer's uniform, but his long hair seemed out of place. He stopped next to her and with one look her partner excused himself.
Louise was left standing in the middle of the floor, couples happily waltzing around them... the music all but disappeared in her mind. His eyes never leaving hers, he bowed his head and held out a hand, "Dance?"
There was a rakish gleam in his eyes, it was quite irresistible. She found herself in his arms before the next stanza. Her head came up to his shoulder and the ends of his hair brushed against her cheek and she found herself enjoying the moment for the first time in days.
"Excuse me Mr. Hickok I believe?"
The two stopped dancing. The other couples continued to spin around the floor. Whirling color surrounded them...sealing them in.
Louise looked down at the floor and moved away from her partner. Captain Hickok looked at her questioningly.
"Yes, I'm James B Hickok, Captain Hickok. You sir?"
He beamed, this young man was a very important army officer, "Well young man, this is my house and you are dancing with my daughter. I'm Douglas Boggs. Welcome to my humble home."
Douglas moved closer to the Captain and set a hand on his shoulder, "Mr. Hickok, would you care to join me for a brandy?"
James stood his ground, looking at Boggs with a discerning eye, "Actually sir, I was in the middle of a dance with -" James realized he hadn't even asked her name.
Douglas laughed, "Oh Louisa won't mind..." he half turned to her, "why don't you just run along and find another partner. The McNally boy's been askin' where you were." He took James's arm and steered him to a side door.
The door opened and James looked around the dark room. A fire burned in the hearth and richly appointed leather chairs sat before it. A tray on a nearby table boasted two delicate glasses and a large decanter of brandy. Douglas motioned to one of the chairs and poured the richly colored liquid into the glasses.
Captain Hickok paused by the chair, unsure of what it would mean if he sat down with Boggs.
Douglas noticed the apprehension in the young man's stance and laughed, "If you're worried I'll drag you down to hell, don't. This is just a friendly talk between two gentlemen."
Wary of his true intentions, but unwilling to alienate 'Louisa's' father, James sat down in the chair and accepted the glass Bogg's offered him.
Louise left the ballroom and headed up to her bedroom. Tessie was asleep and Louise didn't want to wake her... she sat in the chair by the window. This wasn't what she wanted her life to be like. Fancy balls and gentlemen suitors seemed like a nightmare.
Miles away, Kid was at the church social...probably dancing with Samantha or Doritha. Both girls had been after him for months...
Louise threw down her fan and paced around the room. She had to stop torturing herself... If only she could find a way to go home.
Kid sat around the fire with Noah and some of the other house slaves. The more he heard of Douglas Boggs the more he worried about Louise. The others didn't trust Kid, but they kept their tone civil for Noah. Most of the slaves didn't know what to think of Louise either.
Noah poured out another cup of coffee, "The first time we all met her, we expected... well I don't know what we all expected. We were told the master's daughter was comin' and that was something we'd never heard about. Master Boggs had no children we knew of."
"She's nothin' like we thought his daughter would be like." Cassie, a young maid from the house came to stand behind Noah. "She's more sad than anythin' else. She sits by the window all day long..." Noah reached up and took her hand, Kid looked away from the display of affection..his own heart heavy, "It's like she left something behind. I'd say it's breakin' her heart... and she's got no one to talk to-"
Noah's grip on her hand grew hard, the muscle in his jaw flexed. "That's still -"
Cassie knelt by him, "Noah- you control that temper of yours ...it ain't gonna do us no good for you to be gettin' angry..."
Kid looked back at Noah.. Cassie was tryin' hard to calm his anger. He almost didn't want to ask, "What happened?"
Noah's eyes shut on unshed tears and he held Cassie tight around her waist. Cassie spoke for him, "I was takin' Miss Louisa lunch and she started cryin' when I asked about her mother..."
Kid nodded, "when Louise left, she was very sick."
Cassie's eyes closed in silent prayer, "she is very worried... and I held her for awhile-"
Noah looked up at Kid, "that is until the Master walked past the room."
"I should have shut the door when I walked in."
"It's not your fault he beat you-"
"He beat you?"
"For daring to touch his daughter," Noah bit out his reply.
Cassie stroked his arm, "Louise was terrible upset.. she tried to stop him...even put herself between us," she had a bittersweet smile on her face, "she was so brave... she tried to help me."
Kid shook his head... Cassie seemed so awed by the action, but Kid would have expected no less, "and Louise...what happened?"
Cassie hugged Noah close and he rocked her. "Master Boggs was 'most displeased'...that's how he put it.. He shoved her away... she tripped over the end of her skirt and fell against the bed post... she woke up with just enough time to get ready for his party tonight."
"What did he say to the doctor about her fall?"
"Doctor? No sir, no doctor... Master Boggs said she'd be fine."
Kid threw his hat down and paced the length of the firelight, "I've got to get her out of there!"
Louise sought out Noah the next morning... Douglas Boggs was still asleep. She found him in the dining room setting up the breakfast dishes, "Noah?"
He turned and smiled- then quickly looked behind her. "Where's Master Boggs?"
She sighed at his strained voice, "Sleeping. Noah, I'm sorry about Cassie..."
"You were very brave Miss Louisa-"
"Lou-" she smiled at his confused expression, "my friends call me Lou."
"Please...if only when others aren't around.. it would help me. I just wanted to know if there was a church nearby.
"I -ah- missed church yesterday morning." They both knew that she had missed it because she had been unconcious, "I do want to pray for my mother's health."
It hurt that he couldn't tell her... Kid had made him promise not to... that her mother was dead. "I know there's a little chapel in the woods, not a mile or two away... but Master Boggs would never let you go by yourself."
The front door opened, "Good Mornin' Sir, may I help you?"
Louise and Noah froze in the dining room, "Captain Hickok to see Mr. Douglas Boggs."
Louise's hand moved to her throat.. what was he doing here?
Noah noticed her reaction but kept silent.
"Mr. Boggs is still asleep sir, would you care to come back-"
"What about Miss Louisa? Is she awake?"
Louise started to the door but Noah reached out and held her arm, "What are you doin' Lou?"
"I know my father would let me go with him."
Noah let go of her arm and leaned against the table... he prayed that she was not making a mistake.
Noah saddled her horse and brought her around to the front of the house... Louise fell in love with the dapple grey mare at first sight. The horse felt the same for the young woman lifted onto her back, Noah almost laughed as the horse tossed her head back in almost the human expression of pride.
Noah regarded the Army Captain with distrust. He had seen to many blue coats robbin' the folks around these parts... and there were too many stories about the soldiers raping women.
The captain was little concerned with the hard look from the young man holding Louisa's horse. He was quite pleased to have been asked to accompany her to the church.
He quietly admitted to the woman at the door, "I don't usually attend church, ...around here... could you direct me?"
The older woman laughed quietly at his admission, "I believe Miss Louise is wantin' the SweetWater Church, it's down by the river. You'll find the preacher is a wonderful man..."
Captain Hickok tipped his hat and moved down the stairs to his horse. Louise smiled at him, "Thank you Captain."
He nodded, "My pleasure ma'am."
The ride to the church was quite staid, Louise had never been alone with anyone but Kid and she was glad for the excuse of watching the scenery pass by.
They found it easy enough... the roads weren't marked but there had been enough foot and wagon traffic that the way was etched into the ground. Just past a bend in the path they saw it.
Nestled into the trees a small white church with a modest steeple. It fit into its surroundings as if God had placed it there when he planted the trees.
The left their horses at the rail outside - Captain Hickok followed close behind as she opened the wooden door at the front and stepped inside. Much of the interior was white washed with chairs lining the entrance way. The air smelled sweet, like fresh picked flower and the ground was made of large sheets of rock that must have taken a miracle to put in place.
"Hello?" called Louise - there was no answer.
James, never one to be at home inside the walls of a church, looked around with curiosity. At the end of the entry were two large wooden doors. Louise tried to open them but they were too heavy. James reached around her - placing his hands above and below here - together they pulled- as the door slid open, Louise fell back against him - his hand moved around to steady her and she blushed as they leaned against each other. She blushed, not even Kid had held her like this.
The two stood in the doorway for a moment - looking at each other. They didn't notice the preacher standing in the corner. "Ahem!" The two jumped apart and turned to stare at the most unusual preacher either had ever seen.
Long stringy salt-n-pepper hair grew to just below his shoulders, an unkept band of whiskers grew from his chin. He had suspenders in what at one time would have been white duck cloth. His trousers were well made and well worn....and his shirt looked like it hadn't seen soap in quite some time, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He held a hammer in one hand, a board in the other and two nails stickin' out between his teeth. "Can I help you two?"
"Excuse me, I was told there was to be a service this morning?"
"Well miss, since you're here, I guess so! Why don't you have a seat."
Louise found a seat in one of the pews and the man turned to James. He eyed the rank on the young man's sleeve. One eyebrow arched as he regarded him. "Don't spend much time in church...do ya boy?"
James shook his head, "No Sir."
The man set the nails into the captain's hand. "'s a shame really....but you'll get used to it. The line of work you're in...it's helpful to have God sittin' in your pocket."
He looked over at Louise starin' at the stained glass images in the windows, "You're here for her?" He didn' wait for the nod, "Yessir, a woman like that could drag anyone into church... if only for one reason, eh?" He handed James the hammer and board, "Do me a favor and shore up the window over there, then we'll see about gettin' the two of you hitched."
James nearly fell over from shock. Louise, from where she sat, started to laugh quietly..."I'm sorry Mr. -"
"Teaspoon, just call me Teaspoon."
"Mr. Teaspoon, we're not here to ... ah- well that is to say... I missed church yesterday and I wanted to come and pray for my mother."
"Oh?" he looked between the two young people, "Too bad, I was in the mood for a weddin' today." He looked back at James who was frozen in place, "I still need you to fix that window there young man. I'll call you if I need anything else."
James nodded through the haze of his mind and turned to the window.
Louise had a hand on the side of her face, this man was so funny. "You really shouldn't tease him like that, he's been so kind to bring me here."
Teaspoon sat on the pew in front of her. He turned to the back and leaned an elbow on the back of the wooden chair. "So what can I do for you?"
Louise introduced herself as "Louise McCloud, Mr. Teaspoon. I just arrived from Richmond." She looked into his face and was taken by the sympathy she found. She didn't know why.. but she trusted him, completely. "I was taken from my mother and she's sick - I've got to find a way home to her.... please help me!"
Louise spent a good hour talking with Teaspoon and he was thoroughly taken with the young woman. He kept a constant eye on the Army Captain. He had finished the window and was sitting rather uncomfortably in one of the pews. This legs were a little longer than the benches had room for, and he had to continually adjust the way he was sitting.
Teaspoon laid on hand on Louise's shoulder, "You tell him any of this..."
"Not yet... I don't know if he'd tell my father."
"But he brought you here."
Louise looked over at James, "yes, but my father seems to like him-"
"What does y'r gut tell ya?"
"My 'gut'?" She smiled at him and Teaspoon pitied the young captain... she had a way of mesmerizing a man with those eyes. "I know I can trust him too."
"Then I suggest you tell him what's happened. He'd be in a position to help you... more than I could! Who'd listen to an old coot like me?"
Louise stood and touched his hand, "I would. Thank you." She bent and kissed him on his cheek. As she stood she could swear he smelled faintly of 'onions'?
James quickly gained his feet and followed her to the door, "Captain?"
he stopped to look back. "I'll be lookin' for you at services Sunday mornin'... bring Miss Louise too!"
James nodded back and followed Louise outside.
Noah entered the stables to feed the horses and found himself pulled back against the wall. Fear subsided in an instant, "Noah it's me, Kid!"
"What the hell are you doin' here?"
"I've got to see Louise!"
"Not unless you want to see her with wings on y'r back!"
Kid let go of Noah like a hot coal, "What are you talkin' about?"
"You think he's gonna let you walk right up to the door and see her? Boy, they must grow 'em big and stupid in Richmond."
Kid kicked up a cloud of dust and hay. "Noah, I can't help it ... I'm goin' crazy! I need to tell her about her mother... and I need to bring her home."
Noah went back to feedin' the horses, "Master Boggs considers her just another one of his possessions so I'd put any thoughts of takin' her back ...right outta y'r mind for now. We need a plan or you'll never make it out of the county."
Kid kicked the wall and then yelped in pain. Noah threw him a pitchfork, "Well, if y've got that much energy... help me out."
Kid nodded and started to clean out the stalls.
Noah stopped after moment, "There is someone who could help you. Louise is there right now..."
Kid looked over hopefully, "She went to see our reverend this mornin' I can probably get her there tomorrow... 'bout this time."
Kid listened intently to the directions... he wasn't too happy about hidin' out for another night, but tomorrow.. he'd hold her in his arms and it would all be worth it.
James walked with her to their horses. She was quiet and deep in thought. He untied the horses from the rail and turned to her. She had an odd smile on her face, "Care to share the secret Louisa?"
She looked up quickly, "Please don't call me that."
"My mother named me Louise. My 'father' likes to call me Louisa...and I would rather not be reminded of him."
He let go of the reins and moved closer, "I've been wondering why the two of you don't seem to ...ah..."
"Care for each other?" He nodded, "Until a few days ago I didn't know who he was." She told him the whole story in a rush... starting with the day Kid asked her to the dance. By the end of the story tears dotted her cheeks. He handed her his hankerchief. She laughed as she accepted it, "Oh dear... it looks like this is becoming a habit with us."
He leaned against his Palomino..."I'd like to make a habit of spending time with you."
She looked up into his eyes, her own wide with shock. "But-"
"I know... your 'friend' in Richmond?" She nodded, "I understand, but I can do my best to change your mind."
"I can't promise anything, I've asked Mr. Teaspoon to help me find a way home."
"Can I help?"
"If you'd like, Mr Teaspoon thought you'd be in a position to help me."
"Really? Well, my unit will be marching that way in a few days..." He wiped a fresh tear from her cheek with his finger, "I want to help."
She looked down at his hand, feeling a bit embarassed that she felt so comfortable with him.
"Oh, your hankerchief! The first one-" she reached into the folds of her dress and produced the small cloth square, holding it up to him. She laughed as she remembered her manners, "I had Cassie wash it for me.. I'm sure you have no use for a woman's tears."
He reached out and grasped her hand is his. He folded her fingers over the hankerchief and leaned closer, until his lips touched her wrist. She gasped and tried to pull away. His eyes held her in place, "Keep it Louise."
Kid found the church... it was right where Noah had sent him. He left Katie at the rail and stood pacing outside the front door. The grass beneath his feet was in danger of bein' ground into the dirt.
The front doors opened and closed behind Teaspoon. He stood and watched for a few moments before he spoke, "Your girl late?"
Kid froze in mid pace...he turned to look at the strange man standing on the steps. He nodded quickly, "Yes sir... nearly an hour now.. how did you know I was waitin' for a girl?"
The older man laughed and stepped off onto the grass, "Son, I've been married six times... I know what 'waitin' looks like! Your girl knows what your horse looks like?" He didn't wait for an answer, "Why don't you come on inside. When she comes she'll know where you are."
Louise was up early that morning... she had come to realize that Douglas treasured his sleep and rarely woke before noon if there was no pressing business. She enjoyed her time in the mornings...she could speak with the servants without the worry that her father would punish them for it. Cassie had become her close friend and the two would walk in the gardens together.
This morning Cassie seemed nervous, "My man, Noah, asked me to give you a message."
"Noah? Is there something wrong?"
"No- he says that there's someone who wants to speak with you."
"Cassie, the suspense is killin' me... spit it out!"
Cassie stopped by the rosebushes and clipped another flower for the house, "He said today, if you can get away there's a special man waitin' at the church-"
"Oh Cassie!" She threw her arms around her friend, kissing her cheek,"I'll leave right after I change!" As she turned to go back to the house, "James must've found a way for me to go home!"
Cassie considered goin' after her and tellin' her the truth, "She'll find out soon enough."
Louise packed small carpet bag with a change of clothes and little else...she wanted nothing from Donald Boggs.
She took another look at her room and closed the door quietly. She turned toward the staircase and her heart sunk, "Louisa?"
She hadn't heard him come up behind her. "Yes, father?"
She felt his hand on the bag. She gave it up without a fight. "What's this Louisa?"
"I'm going to see mother."
"She needs me." Louise decided she didn't need the bag.. she moved to the stairs.
She didn't like the way he said it, "She's better?" She knew deep down it wasn't the case.
Douglas walked right up to her, "She doesn't need anything anymore," he grabbed her arm, "she's dead."
There was nothing in his voice, no sympathy, no sadness. Louise was repulsed, how could her mother have fallen in love with a man like this?
"You're lyin'!" Unwanted tears mixed with anger, "You lyin' - let me go!" She struggled against him.
He dropped her bag and grabbed her other arm.. "You're mine girl, and you ain't goin' nowhere."
"Yes...I ....am!" She pulled one arm away and turned. She tripped on his foot and before he was caught up with her... he let go of her other arm.
He watched as she fell down the stairs, her eyes never leaving his... a look of utter disbelief on her face... she came to rest on the first landing.
One of the house slaves had come out of the kitchen when a vase fell over. She took one look at the Master's daughter and started screaming. Douglas silenced her, "Get back in the kitchen and SHUT UP!"
"I'll send Noah for the doctor!"
"You'll do no such thing!"
"But Master Boggs!"
"Get in the kitchen!"
She took one more look at Louise and slammed the door to the kitchen behind her.
Douglas moved down the steps and lifted Louise in his arms. He carried her back to her room and shut the door behind him.