Chapter One:

"Youíre riding a little high in the saddle there, Lou," teased Cody as they made their way to Fort Laramie.

Lou smiled at his observation, "Well, this is an unusually long ride Teaspoon is sending us on. Seems like we get more of these special military dispatches every day."

"A war between the states is coming," said Cody solemnly. He had mixed feelings what he should do if-no, when-war came. More cheerfully he added, "Do you want to stop and rest for a while?"

Lou nodded her answer, relief showing in her face. She had been completely recovered from her paralysis for almost a month now, but was still given to fatigue at times. In the past she would have bristled at Codyís suggestion to rest, but now is was grateful for it. I must be getting soft, she thought to herself.

Lou and Cody led their horses to a grassy spot where the animals could graze and they could stretch their legs a bit. They walked for a few minutes until they stopped to admire the gold leaves on an aspen tree.

Cody spotted something out of the corner of his eye and Lou noticed how tense he suddenly became. "What is it?" she whispered.

"We got company," he replied.

Lou took heed of the warning in Codyís voice. Slowly she reached for her gun as she turned to face whoever was there. Unfortunately the ruffian had seen Lou go for her gun and shot first. Acting quickly, Cody shielded Lou and took a bullet in the left shoulder.

"Cody!" Lou screamed in alarm. In the commotion, the thief was able to grab Codyís mochilla, climb on his horse, and escape. Lou fired a couple bullets at him, but to no avail.

"Mustíve been after that document," Cody said as he struggled to sit up. "Good thing it was in your pouch."

"Donít worry about that now," Lou hushed him. "We need to get you to a doctor. Thebulletís still in there."

"Thereís no doc around for miles and itís getting late," Cody pointed out, indicating the sun sinking into the west. "We best wait until morning. Iíll be fine." The truth was Codyís shoulder burned with incredible pain but he didnít want Lou to worry.

"Iíll make a fire then," she consented, starting to bandage Codyís wound and make a sling out of the few materials she had.†

"No, weíll have to move from here. Who knows if our visitor will come back."

"Can you ride?"

"I think so."

"You ride and Iíll walk then."

"We could always ride double," Cody grinned in spite of his wound. He loved any excuse to be close to Louise. She nodded shyly in agreement.

A few miles later they were fortunate enough to come across an abandoned barn. Lou was glad they had found shelter. Although Cody put up a brave front she could see that his face looked pale and drawn. Quickly she set about making him comfortable, creating a bed of sorts out of straw and some old horse blankets. She managed to get a small fire started as well.

"Weíre gonna need more water to get us through the night," she thought aloud as she noticed his almost empty canteen. "Will you be okay by yourself if I look for some?"

"Sure, Lou. You donít need to fuss over me. Iíll be fine," Cody assured her.

Lou had found a lantern in the barn and used it to guide her in the darkness as she looked for a water source. To her delight she found a useable well nearby and filled both canteens as well as a bucket she had found.

Cody smiled as she re-entered the bran but she did not miss the fact that his smile was forced.

"Let me see about getting some supper, then Iíll look at that wound again and clean it some," she said, hoping the thought of food would keep his mind off the pain.

They shared a simple meal of beans and hard tack, eating the beans right out of the can since they were not equipped for†camping out.

"Let me have a look at that shoulder now," Lou insisted. She noticed Cody struggling with the buttons on his shirt with one hand and gently moved his hand away so she could undo them. She blushed hotly and could not bring herself to meet his eyes. Lou kept her own eyes focused on his chest, which, she realized, was not such a bad view. His torso was broad and muscular, the perfect place to lay her head.

Cody, however, entertained no such romantic notions due to the misery in his shoulder† One glance and Lou understood why. His wound was red and angry looking and Lou knew infection would most likely set in soon.

"Youíll be fine, Cody," she assured him, not wanting to cause further concern. "All you need tonight is some rest and then weíll get you to a doc first thing tomorrow." Gently Lou buttoned up his shirt and urged him to lie down on the makeshift bed.

"Yeah, I think Iíll sleep for a while," Cody yawned. "Thanks Lou"

Lou was relieved when Cody went to sleep so easily. She had been concerned that the discomfort might keep him awake. It was too early for her to turn in, so with nothing else to do, she dug her Bible out of the saddlebag and began to flip through the pages. When Lou finally began to feel drowsy she set aside the book, checked on Cody and put out the fire. The night air was chilly but not too cold yet. She snuggled up beside Cody and pulled her own horse blanket on top of her in hopes of staying warm.

Several hours later Lou realized she was far too warm. She had pressed herself up against Cody, and could tell the warmth was definitely emanating from him. In the dark Lou felt his forehead and knew that infection had set in. Since he was sleeping soundly Lou decided to leave him be and tend to him in the morning.

Chapter Two:

"Lou? Lou?"

She blinked a few times and scrambled to a sitting position, "Iím here, Cody," she mumbled sleepily.

Cody was relieved to feel her hand on his arm. The pain had worsened in the night and he felt hot and thirsty now.† He knew then as well as she did that his wound was infected.

"Could I get some water?"

"Of course," she answered as she reached for the canteen. Lou helped lift Codyís head and put the canteen to his lips. "Can I get you anything else? I know youíre uncomfortable."

"Not for now," he yawned. "We both best get back to sleep."

Cody fell back into a feverish sleep quite easily but Lou remained awake for some time. Partly she wanted to make sure Cody was comfortable and partly to ponder over how they would get to a doctor tomorrow. She was sure Cody would be in no condition to ride and perhaps in no condition to be left alone. Lou finally dropped off only to be awakened all too soon. She could not figure out what woke her until she noticed Cody† had a bad case of the chills along with his fever.† She could feel him shaking against her.†† Immediately she stoked the fire and added her only blanket to his stack.

"You need that," protested Cody, handing it back to her , both his voice and his hands shaking† "You gotta stay warm too."

"The fire will keep me warm as soon as it gets going a little better," she shrugged, refusing to take the blanket. "Cody, Iíve got to go out for a minute. We need more water and kindling. Thereís no telling when-" Lou let her sentence hang. She did not want to worry Cody about getting help. "Iíll be back as soon as I can."

"At least take my jacket," insisted Cody. Lou threw it over her shoulders and nearly smiled at the thought of herself in beaded fringed buckskins.

Lou returned from her errands to find Cody dozing again. She set about cleaning his wound with the fresh water as well as† bathing† his face. Not wanting to use icy water for her tasks, she held the canteen above the fire for a few minutes, as a method of heating it.

Gingerly Lou partially slid off Codyís shirt to expose his shoulder, then removed the sling and bandages. Codyís wound looked worse but at least there was no sign of fresh blood. Cody had stirred a bit when Lou took off the bandages but as soon as the wet cloth touched his skin he flinched and woke fully.

"Iím sorry it hurts," Lou soothed "But Iíve got to keep it clean."

Cody nodded knowing she was right. In spite of being bleary-eyed, Cody did not miss the fact that dark circles were forming under Louís eyes and he knew she wouldnít rest properly until they were home. He didnít like that she looked so exhausted already.

"Did you get any sleep last night?" he asked as she re-bandaged his shoulder.

"Iím fine," she evaded his question, knowing Cody was worried. "Hate to tell you this but itís hard tack and coffee for breakfast. You gotta eat to keep up your strength."

"A stack of Emmaís hotcakes sure sounds good about now," joked Cody. He wanted to show Lou that he could still crack a joke.

"Well, I hope you have a real vivid imagination," she teased back, glad to see his smile.

After eating their simple breakfast Cody insisted on stretching his legs for a few minutes. He claimed he was stiff after lying in the same position for so long. Hesitantly she let him go, hoping it wouldnít be too much of a strain for him. Then Lou decided that if Cody could go out for a bit he could probably stay by himself while she went in search of help. She began packing her belongings when she heard the door creak open.

"Lou."

She turned around just in time to see Cody stumble through the doorway. The blood seemed to have drained out of his face; the energy from his body. Quickly she rose to her feet, just before he fell into her arms.

"What happened?" she asked, leading him to his bed.

"Weaker than I thought," he panted. "And my shoulder started bleeding again."

Lou swore under her breath and began to change his bandage. She held it down firmly to try and stop the bleeding.

"Youíll be fine, Cody," she assured him. "As soon as I get this bleeding stopped Iím going for help."

When Cody did not respond Lou looked up at him to see that his eyes were closed. Unsure of whether he had fallen asleep or into unconsciousness she called his name several times. Still no response. As a last resort she peeled back one eyelid. When he didnít even more she knew she had her answer.

After a while she finally managed to get the bleeding under control.† With a weary sigh she re-did Codyís sling and shirt, then sat with her back against the wall. Before she even realized it hot tears were running down her cheeks. She had never felt so torn before. Lou knew Cody was in no condition to be left alone but if he didnít receive a doctorís care soonÖLou didnít even want to think about that. She had already almost lost him once. She didnít think she was strong enough to face that again.

Chapter 3

For what seemed like a long time Louise just sat there, her face buried in her hands. When a wave of sleepiness came over her she realized she must move from her position. She could not under any circumstances fall back asleep WHY NOT?. Dizziness threatened to overtake Lou as she rose to her feet. Between being exhausted, hungry and worried she was beginning to feel weak. She fought the dizziness and made her way out the door, thinking some fresh air might help. After a few deep breaths Lou felt more clear-headed. She decided to hike up to the main road and hopefully spot someone passing by with whom she could relay a message to get help. For the better part of an hour Lou watched the empty road, scanning for any sign of life. With a sigh of resignation she headed back for the barn to check on Cody.

"Iím tryiní to get help for you," she said as she got Cody to swallow a bit of water. She was disappointed there was no response to his words. Reluctantly she walked back up to the main road again.

Lou could not believe that such a lonely road existed. She felt totally defeated as she made her way back to the barn for the third time in as many hours. A lump formed in Louís throat and she tried desperately to choke back the sobs. Crying would only further decrease her energy.

She stopped abruptly in her tracks, nearly certain it was the sound of wagon wheels. She surveyed the road and saw nothing, thinking her imagination must be playing tricks on her.

"Lou!"

The voice belonged to Buck. I must really be losing my mind, she thought, and didnít even bother to look behind her.

"Lou, itís us-Buck and Kid."

She turned around to see them approaching her. All she could do was stand there speechless until they were within reach. Weeping, she fell into Buckís arms.

"What is it, Lou?" asked Kid, reaching to pat her back. Too overwhelmed to speak, all she could do was shake her head.

Even though he was concerned for Lou, Buck could feel hot anger rise in him. Where the hell was Cody, anyway? He had only seen Lou so distraught one previous time before, when they were not sure Cody would survive the scarlet fever. Lou was obviously suffering, both physically and emotionally. Cody was supposed to take care of her and now he was nowhere to be found. BRAT, LOL

"Whereís Cody?" Buck tried to ask evenly, hoping to get an answer out of her.

"He-he took a bullet in the shoulder for me," she hiccuped, motioning for the boys to follow her. "It got infected. Heís been out cold since early this morning. I knew I had to go for help but I just couldnít leave-"

Buck could feel shame staining his cheeks. "Of course you couldnít leave him. Teaspoon suspected something happened when those papers didnít get delivered so he sent us to track you."

"I donít know when Iíve been so happy to see anyone in my life," she freely admitted.

When they entered the barn Buck and Kid took one glance at Cody and knew there was no time to lose.

"Iíll get him in the buckboard," said Kid. Thinking quickly he also grabbed a pile of blankets to try to make Cody as comfortable as possible.

In less than ten minutes they were all in the wagon. Buck insisted that Lou lie down in the back and try to rest. She honestly did try but every time she came close to dozing off the wagon would hit a pothole. Finally she gave up on resting altogether and concentrated on comforting Cody instead. She brushed his hair back from his forehead and for the first time was glad he hadnít regained consciousness. If heíd been awake he might have been thrashing around and losing more blood. It the wound started bleeding again it would surely finish him.

"Everything alright?" Kid called to her.

"Heís holding his own," she replied. His pulse was still strong and his breathing regular. The fever-flush to his face concerned Lou the most. She wanted to ask how much longer until they came to a town but thought it would sound childish.

As if reading her mind, Buck turned around and said "Just a few more miles Ďtil Blue Creek."

"Is there a doctor there?" Lou asked.

"I donít rightly know. Even if there isnít we can find a place for you two to stay while we search for one."

Lou nodded back. It sounded like a reasonable plan. Still, she prayed fervently that the town did have a physician.

Chapter 4

In a short time they pulled into the main street of Blue Creek.

"We got a hurt man here!" shouted Kid to no one in particular. "We need a doctor!"

An older man came up to the wagon, "Sorry son, we ainít had a doctor in this town for five years."

"But we do have Ma Irby," an equally old lady said as she joined him. "Sheís a midwife and practical nurse. Takes bullets outta folks, too."

"Can you take us to her? Please?" Lou nearly begged.

"Her house is at the end of the street," replied the lady. "But let me go with and introduce you-like. She donít get too many strangers." So saying, she hoisted herself into the buckboard. The boys stared at her in surprise until she asked "Well, watcha waitiní for?"

The sprightly old woman practically jumped out of the wagon before it stopped. She ran up to the door of the house and rapped on in as the three riders followed behind her.

"Ma, we need your services here!" she yelled. vThe riders have expected to see an older, gray-haired lady so it was a surprise when a younger, well-dressed woman appeared at the door. Even more surprising was the fact that she was colored.

"What can I do for you?" she asked pleasantly.

"My-our friend," Lou piped up, gesturing to the buckboard with her thumb "He has a bad wound in his shoulder and itís infected."

"Bring him inside," she instructed Kid and Buck. "I have a small surgery in the back."

The boys went immediately to do her bidding. Ma Irby turned to Lou, "You been cariní for him, honey?"

Lou only nodded, stunned that her disguise was found out so quickly.

"He your man?" Ma asked her directly.

"Yes, maíam," she whispered, too shocked to even try and deny the truth. "How did you know?"

Ma Irby didnít have a chance to answer. Being careful of his shoulder, Kid and Buck managed to get Cody in the house.

"Follow me," directed Ma, leading the way to a small back room with a cot in the middle of it. "Lay him on the bed, there. Now, you two boys can wait out in the parlor. Missy, I want you to go straight to bed Ďfore I have to care for you, too."

"Promise youíll tell me when thereís any news or when he wakes up?" Lou struck a deal.

"Spare roomís right through here," Ma indicated. With a simple nod, the riders were dismissed.

"Sheís right, Lou. You look dead on your feet. Weíll wake you when thereís anything to know." Kid promised.

Too tired to argue, Lou turned the knob and entered the small bedroom. She found the wash basin and washed some of the grime off her face. Feeling somewhat cleaner, she stripped down to her long johns and collapsed into the bed. She tried to say a quick prayer for Cody but was asleep before she could say "amen".

"Iím surprised Lou went to bed without a fuss," commented Buck as he and Kid waited in the parlor.

"I get the feeling not too many people go against Maís Irbyís wishes," Kid remarked with a wry smile. Kind of like Emma in that way. Which reminds me, I should get word back to Sweetwater that we found them."

"We best wait until we know more before sending a message home," Buck cautioned, hoping they wouldnít have to send home bad news. He was more worried about Cody than he cared to admit. Thinking back, he realized the past year for Cody had been a difficult one. Nearly frostbitten last Christmas Eve, a life-threatening case of scarlet fever and the emotional toll of Louís recent trauma; all that had happened in the last ten months. Buck was glad, if not a little envious, that Cody had earned Louís love and support.

"Do you think Codyís gonna make it?" asked Kid directly, breaking INTO Buckís thoughts.

"Codyís strong," said Buck. "And he seems to have a knack for recovering. I imagine heíll pull through." He hoped his words sounded more convincing to Kid than they did to him.

Chapter 5

Ma Irby untied her bloodstained apron and cast it aside with a deep sigh. She had removed the bullet and cleaned the infected area on the young man, but his face was still too pale for her liking and his fever too high. But She had done all she could for how; the rest was up to him. Ma covered Cody with a warm blanket before stepping out into the parlor.

Kid and Buck rose to their feet as Ma entered the room. She waved her hand at them, "Please sit down. I got the bullet out of your friend and cleaned up the infection as best I could, but heís got a long way to go to get better."

"Thank you, maíam," said Buck. "Weíre certainly glad you were here. Well, Iíd better tell Lou the news like I promised."

"Iíll tell her if you want to get word home about your friend."

The boys agreed to the plan and went in search of the nearest way station so they could send word home that they had found Lou and Cody.

Ma had to choke back a giggle at the sight that met her when she entered the spare room. Instead of being quietly curled up on her side, Lou lay spread eagle on the bed, snoring, noted Ma, like a drunken lumberjack. Ma eased herself onto the bed and gently shook the girlís shoulder, "Louise?"

"SnnyyxxÖhuh? Cody?" Lou sat up in alarm, desperately trying to remember where she was and how sheíd gotten there.

"Take it easy now, sugar," Ma soothed her. "Youíre here in Blue Creek. Your friends went to get word back to Sweetwater about Cody."

"Is Cody-?"

"I got the bullet out," Ma was quick to assure her. "Heís still fighting the infection but he should make it with prayer and care, as I call it."

Lou smiled in relief, "Thank you so much-" she would have continued if a yawn hadnít stopped her mid-sentence.

"Seems like you could do with a few more hours of sleep," Ma said kindly. "After you rest Iíll set you up with a hot bath and a hot meal."

"Iíd like to see Cody first," Lou replied She simply needed to see that he was alive and breathing before she could rest again.

"Sure, honey, follow me."

They entered the dimly lit surgery that still smelled vaguely of ether. Lou rushed to Codyís side and stroked his brow, glad to find it not as hot as it had been a few hours ago.

"He looks better," Lou said in appreciation. "íCourse, I donít suppose he couldíve looked much worse when we brought him in." She gave him a quick kiss on the forehead. The midwife allowed herself a small smile. She was getting the impression that the rider she had just removed a bullet from and this girl dressed in boys clothing were more than just friends.

As Lou and Ma Irby were leaving they were surprised when they heard Cody stir and mumble something unintelligible. Lou was back at his side almost immediately. "ShhhÖIím here, Cody. Youíre alright now."

"Lou," he slurred, not opening his eyes. The fact that she was there holding his hand seemed to give him comfort and he settled back into a restful sleep.

Chapter 6

Cody heard the sounds of muffled activity around him, like someone was trying to keep quiet while doing tasks, that much Cody could comprehend. The last person he recalled seeing was Lou. Cody moved his lips to form her name but couldnít make out the sound. Instead he let out a soft groan.

" Easy , son, Iím just checking your bandages. Youíre safe here."

"Lou? ,"he finally managed when he realized the voice did not belong to her.

"Sheís right here, sleeping like a log," Ma Irby replied.

"Good," Cody said in a stronger voice. He forced himself to open his eyes then. He saw Louís sleeping form on the bed and felt relief. If she was here, then this woman hovering over him must be a friend.

Ma took this opportunity to give Cody some information while he was a little more alert, "Iím Ma Irby. I took that bullet out of your shoulder earlier today. Youíre at my place."

"She okay?" he asked, nodding towards Lou. It was coming back to him now, how she had taken care of him earlier, and how tired he remembered her looking before he passed out.

"She will be," answered Ma. "Just exhausted is all. You want me to wake her?"

"No, let her sleep," Cody mumbled, closing his eyes again.

"The boy has some sense," Ma whispered to herself.

~*~*~

Ma checked on Cody several more times during the night. Each time he seemed a bit more alert and each time refused to let her wake Lou.

"She must be right special to you," Ma commented towards dawn as she sponged Codyís still feverish brow.

"About the most special girl there is," he replied, his eyes brightening a bit. "I think sheís why I fought so hard to stay alive."

"Love is a powerful healer," agreed Ma. "Listen now, you get some rest and Iíll make you breakfast in a couple hours if youíre up to eating."

"Oh, Iím up to eating alright," he smiled sleepily. "But Iíll wait."

The first of Louís senses to awaken was that of sound, laughter specifically. Two people laughing, that much she could make out. One voice was higher pitched and hearty, the other voice lower but weak. It was a struggle for Lou to open her eyes due to her lids being so heavy from sleep. She was surprised to see Cody awake and sharing a chuckle with Ma Irby.

"Well now, look whoís awake," said Ma when she noticed Louís eyes on them. "If you take it nice and slow you can come over here and give this handsome young man a hug."

Lou wanted to rush to Cody but took Maís advice and rose slowly. "Iím glad to see you awake," she told Cody, giving him a bashful kiss on the cheek.

Ma noticed Louís reluctance to show much affection with Cody while she was in the room. She excused herself to go make breakfast.

"Thank you for caring for me-again," Cody smiled wryly. "I donít know what Iíd do without you. Thatís twice you saved my life."

"I had to leave you and I hated every minute of it," admitted Lou, who still felt somewhat guilty for having left Cody alone so she could seek help.

"Donít go beating yourself up," admonished Cody, sensing her feelings. "You did what you had to do and everything turned out just fine. Iím going to be alright now, Lou, really."

"You had me so worried," she said, feeling freer to talk now that they were alone. "Cody, God forbid anything should happen to you-I donít know if I can take it."

Cody saw the anguish in Louís eyes and wished he knew the right thing to say. Afraid of saying the wrong thing, he simply took her hand and pulled her into an embrace with his good arm.

"Letís not go borrowing trouble now," he whispered. "I love you, Louise McCloud."

Those were the only words Lou needed to hear. She lay her cheek on his chest and was content just to listen to his steady heartbeat. Codyís hand found itís way to Louís hair. He stroked it gently, admiring the silky feel of the brown strands.

Ma Irby witnessed this tender moment from the doorway and didnít want to interrupt. Quietly she walked back to the kitchen to see if there were any small chores to do so the couple could have a few more minutes alone together. She made sure to make more noise than usual while dishing up breakfast so the two guests would have play of warning. When Ma appeared at the doorway again Lou was sitting on the edge of Codyís bed, demurely holding his hand.

"Donít push yourself, just eat what you can," warned Ma as she set a tray of oatmeal and scrambled eggs in front of Cody.

"Codyís never had trouble when it comes to eating," giggled Lou.

"Yeah, but he probably never lost that much blood before, either," Ma reminded them as she set a second tray before Lou.

As they ate together, Lou and Ma Irby noticed that while Codyís appetite did not fail him, his physical strength did. Codyís could feel his eyelids and fork growing heavier by the minute.

"Think Iím gonna take a little snooze here if you ladies donít mind," he yawned, handing the breakfast tray back to Ma.

"You rest as long as you need to," Lou told him gently as she helped him to lie back down and brought the blanket up to his chest.

Chapter 7

"Can I do anything to help?" Lou asked her hostess. "Iím not real domestic but as long as weíre staying here Iíd like to earn my keep."

Ma admired her frankness, "In that case, you can help me with the dishes. And please feel free to stay as long as you need to. Itís nice to have the company."

"I think you would have a lot of company, beiní the town midwife and all," Lou mused as she dried the dishes.

"Lots of patients is different from lots of company," Ma corrected her gently. "You have to remember that most white folks arenít as open-minded as you and your friends are. To most people in town Iím someone who provides a service, not someone to visit with." I WAS WONDERING ABOUT THAT

"Thatís a shame," declared Lou. "I like visiting with you."

Ma was bursting with curiosity on a certain delicate point, "So how come youíre comfortable talking with me and staying in my house?"

"Guess thatís mostly due to our friend Noah," Lou answered. "Heís colored, too. You should hear the story of how we met."

"So tell me," urged the midwife, her curiosity piqued even more. Lou told her of how Noah had come to her aid during the scarlet fever crisis and ended up as a rider.

"This Noah fellow-whatís he like?" she asked candidly. Even though Ma had every intention of staying single, it couldnít hurt to ask. There were not too many men with the same color as her in this part of the country.

It dawned on Lou that Ma Irby might be asking that question for a specific reason. She decided to give her a list of Noahís best attributes, "Well, letís see, heís smart, caring, funny-"

Lou could have gone on further if it wasnít for a knock at the door. Standing there was Buck and Kid, who had come to say goodbye before heading home.

"Emma sent a letter, a rider just brought it to us ," Kid said as they entered the home.

"Whatís it say?" asked Lou

"It was addressed to you," Buck told her. "Here, you read it."

Anxiously Lou took the slip of paper and scanned its contents. "Dear Louise, I'm glad to hear you and Cody are both alright. I will be arrving as soon as I can. God be with you. Love, Emma."

Lou was pleasantly surprised that Emma would soon be joining them. She knew that Emma, maternal as always, would not be at peace until she saw that Cody was healing for herself.

Lou filled her friends in on Codyís condition before they departed and Ma Irby handed them a sack to "tide them over" on their journey home. Buck and Kid hugged Lou goodbye mentioned again how glad they were that Cody seemed to be on the mend.

"I think Iíll check on Cody," said Lou after her friends had left. She headed for the room but was stopped short when a few drops of blood began to trickle from her nose. Quickly she grabbed her bandana from her pocket and held it up to her face. "Youíd better sit down until that stops," warned Ma Irby.

For a moment Lou considered not taking her advice but then realized it was in her best interest to rest for a few minutes.

"Itíll go away soon," Lou assured her. "Iíve had these lots of times, especially on hot dusty trails. Ma responded by tilting Louís head slightly forward and gently pinching the bridge of her nose. Twenty minutes and four bandanas later, the bleeding finally stopped. Louís face was a shade paler than usual when the whole thing was over. "I have to admit, thatís the worst one Iíve ever had."

"You need to rest for a while," stated Ma.

"But-"

"No buts. I at least want you to lie down for a spell."

Lou knew she stood no chance of winning this argument. Unless she was ill or had just completed a hard ride she never took a nap during the day-and here it was not even noon yet!

"Just fifteen minutes," Lou bargained as she grudgingly headed toward the bedroom. She checked on Cody who was still out, his breathing deep and regular. Lou didnít crawl under the covers, refusing to actually get in the bed. After only a few minutes, however, she began to feel drowsy and surprised herself with a yawn. Maybe Iíll just close my eyes for a few minutesÖ

Chapter 8

"Well, youíre still running a fever but the infection looks like itís clearing up," Ma Irby said to Cody after cleaning the wound. ""Still, I want you to stay in bed for a couple more days just to be safe."

Cody gestured towards Lou, "Did you tell her the same thing?" he half-joked.

"She had a bad nosebleed and I told her to rest. She said sheíd lie down for 15 minutes and that was over an hour ago. I realize I havenít known you for very long, but it seems to me Louís a bit run down."

"Yeah, she usually bounces back pretty quickly. Even missing a few nights of sleep has never tired her out this much before."

"Iíll keep an eye on her," promised Ma. "In the meantime, how would you like to step out of bed for a minute to wake her? Then I can fix us some lunch."

"Sure," grinned Cody, happy for the chance to stretch. When Ma returned to the kitchen he gingerly made his way to Louís bed and kissed her on the cheek. "Louise? Time to wake up, honey, itís almost lunch time."

"Lunch?" she echoed back, rubbing her eyes. "I only closed my eyes for a few minutes."

Cody chuckled softly, "That was over an hour ago. Listen, you sure youíre feeling okay?"

"Just sleepy, I guess," she said, stretching her arms above her head. "How are you feeling? Are you supposed to be out of bed?"

"Just long enough to wake you," he grinned.

"Thatís right and time is up now," announced Ma Irby from the doorway. "Glad to see you looking a little better, too, young lady. That rest seemed to have put some roses back in those cheeks." She placed plates of roast beef sandwiches in front of them, THE SIGHT MADE making Louís mouth water. Cold roast beef was not usually her favorite food but today it appealed to her. Even Cody was surprised by her appetite but wisely did not make any comment.

"Do you have any plans for the afternoon, Louise?" Ma Irby asked her.

"No," she almost giggled wondering what "plans" she could possibly have.

"How would you like to go with me on my rounds for a couple hours? I have a few patients I need to see," she explained.

"Iíd like that only-" Lou let her eyes fall to the boysí clothing she was wearing. She did not feel like she could go calling dressed as she was.

The midwife immediately understood her reason for being so hesitant, "Donít worry, I can loan you something. I keep a few spare dresses in different sizes here and then some have just been left by women who forgot them."

"In that case, Iíd be delighted," agreed Lou.

"And just what am I supposed to do for the afternoon without Lou her to entertain me?" asked Cody in a joking tone.

"Stay in bed and make do," was Ma Irbyís answer. "Can we trust you to do that?"

"Only if Lou lets me see her all prettied up," he winked.

"Itís a deal," replied Ma, extending her hand for Codyís shake.

The dress Lou chose was simple green calico. Even though it was a bit long for her she was glad because it hid her mannish boots. Lou tied her hair back with a piece of twine in order to appear more feminine.

Cody smiled appreciatively when Lou entered the bedroom. "You look real pretty, Lou,"

"Thanks, itíll be nice to look like a girl for a change,"

Ma Irby lent Cody a book to help him pass the time while they were gone and to ensure that he stayed in bed. Soon she and Lou were in the wagon heading west of town.

"Where are we going first?" Lou was curious.

"Mrs.. Isaac Hayes. Her time is coming soon and I need to make sure sheís getting some rest. Her lazy husband wonít lift a finger to help her. Heíll get a good talkiní to if heís home."

Ma was quite accurate in her assessment. As they pulled into the Hayesí farm they spotted Amanda Hayes hanging up a load of wash to dry on the clothesline. The young woman was panting and perspiring from the all the exertion.

"Mrs.. Hayes, what did I tell you about over-doiní?" scolded the midwife as she alit from the wagon.

"Thereís no one but me to do it, Ma," protested the lady with a single brown braid down her back. "Isaacís away hunting and-" Tears welled up in her eyes due to exhaustion and frustration.

"Cone inside so I can examine you and you can rest for a while."

"But-" she began.

"Iíll finish the laundry for you," Lou found herself offering. Mrs.. Hayes nodded her consent and followed Ma Irby into the small house. Louise quickly finished the laundry and then headed inside to see what she could do to help. Lou washed up the few dishes that were in the sink and swept the floor. She felt a measure of satisfaction at being able to help in some small way.

A few minutes later Ma Irby and Mrs.. Hayes emerged from the bedroom.

"Iíll be back to talk to that husband of yours later," Ma assured the young woman. "In the meantime, you stay off your feet as much as possible."

"Thank you, Ma, and thank you, Miss-"

"McCloud," Lou supplied her name, a bit startled. No one had called her "miss" in a long time.

Lou was able to assist at the next house as well. This time she took five children out of the house to play ball so Ma Irby could examine the mother in private.

"Well, thatís everyone for today," she sighed. "Time to go home and see if Codyís behaving himself."

"Iím sure he is," yawned Lou. Maís sharp eyes didnít miss the yawn or the dark circles that were starting to form under the girlís eyes.

Chapter 9

Ma Irby and Lou arrived back at the house to find Cody still engrossed in his book, although admittedly he had taken some breaks to "rest his eyes" in between chapters.

"I wouldnít mind reading a bit myself. Do you have any other books?" Lou asked.

"A few," she replied. "Mostly on child birthiní but Iíll see if I can find something more interesting for you.

Soon Lou was reading ] "Pride and Prejudice" on her bed, the book propped up on her knees. Lou had only read a few chapters when the book slipped from her hands and landed on the floor with a muted thud. Startled, Cody looked up to find that Lou had dozed off, thus causing the book to fall. He shook his head slightly, puzzled and concerned at Louís recent loss of energy.

Ma Irby was in her surgery checking her supplies when she heard a knock on the door. She didnít bother to remove her apron because it was likely someone ill, injured or whose wife was having those first labor pains. It was a surprise then, when she opened the door to see a handsome young colored man standing on her front porch. For a moment that seemed like eternity, she stood speechless.

"Are you Miss Irby?" asked the man.

"Y-ye-yes," she finally recovered. "Anna Mae Irby". For some reason she didnít want this man to think she was anyoneís ma and then left off her nickname. LOL

"Iím Noah Dixon," he introduced himself.

"Oh, Lou and Codyís friend!" Ma exclaimed. "Please come in."

"Thank you. Emma is waiting in the wagon. She wanted me to make sure this was the right place."

As if on cue Emma appeared at Noahís side. "Well, Noah, are we at the right place?"

The two women were introduced to one another and Ma invited the pair into her house.

"Iím pleased to meet you, Anna Mae," nodded Emma. "We sure appreciate you taking care of Cody and putting him and Lou up for a few days."

"Itís been my pleasure," Ma said sincerely.

"Would you mind if I saw them right away?" Emma asked, slightly apologetic. "I think of them as my own."

"Of course!" exclaimed Anna Mae. "Forgive me for not offering sooner. "Iíll show you where theyíve been staying."

"Donít trouble yourself. Just point the way." Emma could not keep the twinkle from her eyes. "You just stay here and get acquainted with Noah."

A few moments later Emma knocked gently on the door of the room Anna Mae had indicated, even though it was ajar.

"Come in," called Cody in a soft voice. Emma entered the room and rushed to his side.

"Cody, thank God youíre alright. I was so worried."

"Iím on the mend now," he assured her. "Lou and Ma Irby have taken right good care of me. Itís Lou Iím worried about now."

At Emmaís puzzled expression Cody nodded towards Louís sleeping form on the other bed. "Sheís been so tired," he went on to explain. "Just real run down and having nosebleeds too. Not our spunky Lou at all. Ma Irby said sheíd keep an eye on her."

Emma crossed the room to Louís bed, her eyes filled with concern. She tapped the girlís shoulder lightly, "Louise, Iím here now, sweetheart."

Lou was a little slow to wake up but when she did she threw her arms around Emmaís neck and held on tight.

"Iím happy to see you, too," she chuckled. "Sounds like youíve been through a lot these last few days."

"Well, Cody has anyway," said Lou, deflecting the attention from her. "Itís just a miracle everything worked out the way it did, with Buck and Kid finding us."

"And Anna Mae seems like a kind woman," added Emma. When both Lou and Cody raised their eyebrows in question she explained. "Miss Irby. She told us her given name."

"Us?" echoed Lou. "Who else is here?"

"Noah was kind enough to accompany me," she replied.

"Emma, did Buck and Kid give you a pretty good description of Ma Irby when they returned?" asked Cody.

The reddening of Emmaís cheeks betrayed her, "They might have mentioned her a couple times."

"And Noah just happened to be available to come along?" questioned Lou with a smirk. Sheíd had the same thoughts of matchmaking herself. Leave it to Emma to put a plan into action!

"You two better rest some more before supper," she said with as much dignity as she could muster, and retreated out the door. When Emma was safely out of the room, Cody and Lou could not but help but laugh.

To be Continued...

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