Lou, do you mind taking my run for me?” asked Jimmy. “There’s a sharp-shooting contest in town and I want to try my luck.”
“I suppose I can,” Lou answered. “When are you up?”
“In an hour. It’s only to Blue Creek. You’ll be home by supper.”
“Alright, but you owe me,” she grinned.
“I’ll buy you something real nice if I win the prize money,” Jimmy winked. “Think I might have a good chance with Cody being on a run today.”
“Well, good luck then,” Lou waved with a smile as Jimmy rode off on his horse. An hour later Lou was regretting her decision. The sun had disappeared and it was raining heavily with no let up in sight.
“You’d better give me all your prize money, Jimmy Hickok,” she mumbled under her breath as she mounted her horse. She had just put her right foot in the stirrup when a burst of thunder and lightning spooked the horse and sent Lou falling to the ground with a sickening thud.
Fortunately Buck and Noah had witnessed the whole scene from the bunkhouse and ran to Lou’s rescue when they saw she wasn’t moving. Lou lay so still that they were a little apprehensive to get much closer for fear of what they might find.
Noah was the first one to get close enough to see that Lou was breathing. “She’s alive,” he sighed in relief. “But we should move her real gently. I saw how she landed and it didn’t look good.”
“Let’s get her to Emma’s,”
Emma’s heart started to race when she heard the commotion at her door. She could tell from the concerned voices that something was wrong. No one was usually brought to her door unless it was an emergency. Her heart began to pound even harder when she saw Noah carry in Lou’s limp body and place her on the sofa.
“Horse threw her when he spooked,” answered Noah. “I’m going for Doc Barnes.”
“Thank you,” she said absently, stroking Lou’s hair back from her face. “Lou, can you hear me, honey?”
Emma had hoped for a moan or the flicker of an eye but the girl did not stir.
After what seemed like hours, Noah was back with the doctor in tow.
“Cody’s due back soon. Why don’t you two wait on the porch for him?” asked Emma. Reluctantly, they agreed. Noah didn’t even bother to change his wet clothes first. He knew Cody would need a friend when he heard the news about Lou.
Emma tried to resist hovering over Dr. Barnes as he examined Lou. She couldn’t help but notice the grave look on his face. Finally, he closed his bag and turned around to look at Emma.
“Well, Emma, as far as that bump on the head goes, Lou should wake up in an hour or two. There’s something I’m more concerned about now.” He placed his finger on the bottom of Lou’s foot and scratched the length of it with his nail. There was no response, no movement. Emma knew this was not a good sign.
“Doc, is Lou-?” Emma couldn’t bring herself to finish the sentence.
“My guess is that she’ll be fine. Probably just some fluid on her spine that will go away within a week. But I have to be honest with you, Emma. There is a very small chance that Lou has lost the use of her legs permanently.”
Emma closed her eyes and choked back the tears that threatened to spill over.
Doc Barnes put his arm around her, “Now don’t you go thinking the worst. Remember, I said a small chance. A very small chance. You’ll need to be strong for everyone now, Emma.”
“I know,” Emma sniffed. “I just got to get it out of my system before I can face the others. Hey, wait a minute. You called Lou “she”. How did you know?”
The doctor smiled in spite of himself, “Well, I did study the human body, you know. You can’t fool an old doc like me too easily. I haven’t told anyone so far and don’t plan to. I’ll be back tomorrow to check on her. Send someone if you need me sooner.”
Doc Barnes was well aware of
two anxious men waiting on the porch. Before leaving he told them the
Shortly after Dr. Barnes left Cody came riding in, cold from the rain and tired from his ride. Happy to be home, though, he whistled as he slid off his horse. Buck and Noah did not want to kill his cheerful mood but knew they must tell their friend the truth.
“I’ll take your horse,” offered Noah. He would leave Buck the job of telling Cody about Lou.
Cody was not the most perceptive of people, but he became aware that the look on his two friend’s faces was much more serious than usual.
“Buck, is something wrong?” he asked.
“There’s been an accident,” Buck said slowly. He placed a hand on Cody’s shoulder. “It’s Lou.” Buck saw the blood drain from Cody’s face and hastened to add, “She’s alive. Her horse spooked and she fell. She has a concussion but doc thinks she’ll wake up soon.”
Cody was about to breathe a sigh of relief when Buck continued, “That’s not all. Doc says she doesn’t have any feeling in her feet. It’s probably-“
Buck didn’t get a chance to
his sentence. Cody flew right past him and into Emma’s house. He spied
Lou on the sofa, knelt down beside her and took her hand in his, trying
to let those unmanly tears show.
Emma approached Cody and gently put her arm around him. He leaned his head against her shoulder as if trying to draw comfort from her.
“Why, Emma?” he whispered. “Why Lou?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “The paralysis is probably temporary, we have that to be thankful for. We’ve got to think positive Cody and be strong for Lou right now.”
Cody nodded. “I’m gonna clean up but then I wan to sit with her again.”
“Sure thing,” Emma said kindly.
The first thing Lou was aware of was that her head hurt like hell. She felt like she must have been run over by a stampede. Next she realized how strangely quiet it was and the softness underneath her certainly wasn’t her usual bunk. She became a bit frightened then and called out for Emma.
“I’m right here, sweetheart,” she answered.
Lou opened her eyes and saw that she was at Emma’s house, “What happened?”
“Dumb ol’ horse was scared of some thunder and threw you. You’ve been out cold for a while now. I was getting’ worried about you. How do you feel?”
“I’ve got a pretty bad headache,” Lou admitted.
“You should feel better in a day or so. You can rest up here,” Emma tried to say cheerily. Even through her haze, Lou could see that the cheeriness was forced. She suspected there was something Emma wasn’t telling her.
“Emma, there’s something else,” Lou said in her usual direct manner.“What is it?”
The housemother took Lou’s hand, “When you fell you landed on your back. Sometimes that does funny things to the spine. Doc says it’s likely not permanent but right now it’s affecting your legs.”
At first Lou was puzzled. There was no pain in her legs. Then she tried to will her foot to move and realized that it couldn’t. The full impact of this knowledge hit Lou hard and she clung to Emma, scared and shaking but no tears came yet.
“We’ll get through this, Louise,” Emma promised her. “You’re gonna be just fine. You’ve got people here who love you. Cody should be back in a minute. He- “
“No,” Lou shook her head. “I’m not ready to see him yet, not like this.”
“You sure?” asked Emma, surprised at Lou’s strong response.
Lou nodded her head. Emma knew that when Lou set her jaw like that, she was determined to have her way.
“I’ll let him know then. He was planning on sitting with you,” Emma said pointedly but not unkindly.
As much as Lou loved Emma, she felt a bit relieved when the station mistress stepped out of the room for a few minutes. Lou needed some time alone to mentally adjust to her new situation. Again she tried to force her leg to move but sheer willpower did not work. Lou hated the lack of control she had over her body and the dependency that was bound to come with it. She already felt like a burden. She hoped with all her might that the paralysis was temporary because she couldn’t imagine a lifetime of this agony. All her musings put Lou in a sour mood by the time Emma returned.
“I told Cody you were awake,” she told Lou. “He understands you need some time before you see him.”
“I don’t want him to see me at all, Emma. Not like-not like this!” Lou cried out in disgust, throwing off the blanket to expose her motionless legs.
“I thought you knew him better than that Louise,” Emma chided her. “Cody loves you no matter what. He’s hurting too, not being able to see you.”
Lou became angry. Hot tears of anger and frustration stung her eyes. “You don’t understand, Emma! He’d hurt worse to see me like this. I’m trying to protect him!”
“No, Louise, you’re trying to protect yourself. You’re building up a wall around you again, like the one you had when you first came here. You’re trying to protect your image. Tough little Louise that doesn’t need anyone’s help. Well I got news for you, Louise McCloud; everyone needs help now and then. There’s no shame in it.”
Emma had to pause for a breath after this unusually long-winded lecture. She hated to be so harsh with Lou right after the accident but she also knew Lou’s current attitude was not going to be helpful to the healing process.
Lou was a bit taken aback at Emma’s vehemence. No one but her mother had ever spoken to her like that. A sob shook Lou’s body as she realized how much she missed and wanted her mother just then.
“Oh Loulabelle, I didn’t mean to make you cry, honey,” soothed Emma, misreading her tears.
“That’s not it, Emma,” she cried. “You’re right. It’s just that-just that you sounded so much like my mama and I miss her now.”
Emma hugged the girl to her, “I’ll take that as a compliment. You’re mama raised a strong, courageous girl. It’ sonly natural to be scared and upset. But it won’t do you any good if you cut yourself off from those who love you, understand?”
Lou nodded her head yes even though she wasn’t sure she really did understand. Still, Emma was almost always right
“You rest a while now,” Emma instructed. “I need to get supper on the stove. I’ll bring you a plate if you feel up to eating.” She placed a motherly kiss on Lou’s cheek before leaving to tend to her kitchen.
Supper that night was a somber affair. Emma explained to all the boys and Teaspoon the kind of care Lou would need until she regained the use of her legs.
“There’s one problem, Emma. She doesn’t seem to want our help,” sighed Cody, his voice understandably sad.
“Louise and I had a long talk about that before supper. Actually, I guess I did most of the talking,” Emma amended herself. “And I think she’ll be able to accept some help now.”
“That’s good to hear, Emma,” said Noah. All the riders were glad to know the situation seemed more hopeful than it had been a few hours ago.
Just as soon as everyone seemed to be feeling a bit more chipper, Jimmy burst through the door, a panicked look in his eyes.
“Where is she?” he demanded. “I saw Doc in town. He told me about the accident. It’s my fault; I asked her to take my ride.”
To everyone’s astonishment, Jimmy sat down heavily in on the bench and buried his face in his hands, not wanting to show his weakness.
Slowly Cody rose from his seat. Noah, unsure of how Cody would react to Jimmy’s news, also stood in case he needed to serve as an intermediary. The tension in the room was very thick as all eyes focused on Cody.
To everyone’s surprise and relief, Cody put a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, “It ain’t your fault. Hell, we trade rides around here all the time. I don’t blame you, Jimmy.”
“I just want you to know that I’m really sorry, Cody,” Jimmy said softly.
“Lou’s doing better,” Buck assured the troubled rider. “She woke up a while ago.”
“As a matter of fact I told Lou I’d bring her a plate,” said Emma. “Cody, why don’t you go with me while the rest of you finish?” She hadn’t failed to notice that the food on Cody’s plate had been left untouched. She knew that he needed to see Louise before he would be able to eat or sleep.
Lou was dozing when Emma and Cody entered her room. Unable to resist, Cody placed a light kiss on her forehead, waking her unintentionally.
“Cody?” she murmured, blinking her eyes.
“Oh Lou, it’s good to hear your voice and see those pretty brown eyes, sweetheart. How do you feel?”
“My head’s better but I’m havin’ a hard time adjusting to these legs not working. I’m also getting hungry. Emma, is that food you brought me?” Lou sniffed appreciatevely.
“Sure is,” she replied, happy to see Lou getting her spunk as well as her appetite back.
Emma set the tray of food on the bed next to the girl, “You know, Louise, I’ve been thinking. You’re going to need to keep your muscles limber. I’m gonna talk to Doc Barnes about you doing some exercises.”
“But Emma, how can I do exercises when I my legs don’t work?”
“Well, me or one of the boys would do the moving part, but your muscles would at least get some use. Don’t want to lose any muscle strength.”
“Anything so that I can walk soon,” sighed Lou.
“You will,” Cody assured her. “I’ve also heard that hot springs are good for your muscles and we’ve got some just outside of town.”
“That’s a great idea, Cody,” beamed Emma. “We’ll have Louise back on her feet in no time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a stack of dirty dishes to do. Cody, will you stay with her until I get back?”
“Sure,” he nodded, wondering why Emma had even bothered to ask. Truth be told, she’d probably have to pry him away when the time came.
After Emma left Cody felt as if he could speak more freely. “Oh Lord, Lou, when Buck first told me about you I was so worried you’d never wake up again. And then seeing you lie so still…I’m-I’m just so glad you’re alive.”
“Me too,” Lou smiled crookedly. “Cody, would you mind reading out loud to me for a while? I need something to take my mind off the accident.”
“No, I don’t mind at all,” he replied. “I’ll go find something from Emma’s bookshelf.”
When Cody exited the room Lou
a small sigh of relief. At least now she and Cody would have something
occupy themselves with. She didn’t feel like talking much. She didn’t
to hear about how worried Cody had been. She could barely deal with her
own emotions right now, let alone his. When he returned with a book she
settled herself as comfortably as he could and rested her eyes.
“How is she?” asked Emma in a whisper as she entered her spare room. Louise was obviously asleep and Cody was holding her hand tenderly. The look on his face was so intense, as if he was willing her to walk again.
“Sad,” he answered simply. He knew his not so much by Lou’s few words, but by the look in her eyes.
Emma reached out and squeezed his shoulder, “That’s normal. She has every right to be sad. We just don’t want her to feel sorry for herself. There’s a difference. Why don’t you go on back to the bunkhouse and rest? I’ll let you know if I need you.”
Reluctantly he released Lou’s hand, “I’ll be over in the morning.”
Emma took Cody’s seat so she
try and sleep for a while. She had a nagging feeling Lou was going to
in for a rough night.
Later that night Lou awoke with the urge to use the outhouse. In a way she was glad because it meant she still had control over some functions below her waist. She did not want to wake Emma with this somewhat embarrassing situation so she devised a plan to at least get to the chamber pot Emma had left on the other side of the room. Lou had good upper body strength and even stronger determination.
Sitting up in bed, she lifted her legs with her hands and one at a time, hung them over the mattress. Lou hated to have to see, rather than feel that her feet touched the floor. Hey, I can do this! She thought happily to herself. Slowly she lowered herself to the floor, hardly making a sound. Then she managed to get herself across the room by crawling with only her arms, dragging her legs awkwardly behind her. Finally, she got to her destination, did what she needed to do, and crawled back to the bed, all without waking Emma
The triumphant smile on Lou’s face faded as she approached the bed. Getting down from it was one thing; getting back up on it was quite another. With all her might Lou grabbed hold of the mattress and tried to hoist herself back on the bed. The first try was unsuccessful, although she did raise her body a little higher on the second try. “Third time’s the charm” she whispered to herself as she yanked on the mattress again. This time, though, she accidentally caught hold of the blankets, too, which caused her to tumble backwards, landing with a very loud “thud.” As if adding insult to injury, all the blankets came tumbling down around her.
Part 4"Good Lord almighty!" gasped Emma, who woke upon hearing the crash. Instinctively she glanced at the bed. "Lou, honey, did you fall out of bed?"
"Not-not exactly," came the woeful reply.
Curious as to why Lou was on the floor, Emma joined her there so the girl would have to look her in the eyes. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Lou didn't particularly want to tell Emma, but knew she owed her an explanation. By the time Lou finished talking she could taste the salty tears on her lips.
After Emma heard about Lou's little adventure she remained quiet for some time. On the one hand, she was proud of the girl for having so much spunk and independence. At the same time, Emma couldn't help but feel a bit frustrated with Lou. Hadn't any of her previous lectures about asking for help sunk in yet? Obviously the girl was not ready to hear them at this point.
Wisely, the only thing Emma said was "Let's get you back in bed. Get some sleep, Louise and remember, I'm here for you."
Lou was surprised Emma did not want to talk more. Tiredly, she shrugged her shoulders and allowed Emma to help her into bed. At this point she did not even have the energy to try to hoist herself up as she had before. Lou was asleep before Emma tucked the blanket in around her.
Lou awoke slowly the next morning. Before opening her eyes, she stretched her hands into the air as usual, working out the kinks in her shoulder. She hadn't noticed before that she was also sore and bruised from the fall. She usually stretched out her legs too, but that wasn't going to happen today, she thought ruefully. Knowing that she did eventually have to face the day, she blinked open her eyes. To her surprise, it was Jimmy who occupied the chair next to her bed.
"Did you lose a bet?" she asked Jimmy with a wink to let him know she was teasing.
"Cody had an early ride and Emma's cooking breakfast," he explained. "Can I get you anything?"
Lou indicated a pitcher and glass on the dresser, "Just some water for now."
"Well, aren't you a demanding patient?" teased Jimmy in turn. He poured the drink and handed it to her, "I'm sure glad to know you're better. I felt so bad that I asked you to take that ride for me after I saw Doc in town and-"
"Jimmy, please," she interrupted him. "I don't think I can take any more 'I was so worried' speeches. I got the same one from Cody yesterday."
"Well, dammit, Lou, we were all worried about you," he said with a edge to his voice. Then more gently he added, "But I won't speak of it any more if it bothers you that much."
"Sorry, Jimmy, it's just that when Cody was telling me the same thing I felt like I should have been comforting him and listening to him, but I couldn't I guess-I guess I'm just still too angry it even happened."
"Cody has enough people around here to talk to if he needs someone to listen," Jimmy stated a bit more forcefully than he intended. "You just concentrate on getting yourself better."
Before Lou could respond Buck walked in the room carrying a familiar looking tray.
"Breakfast is served, Madam," he said, placing the tray in Lou's lap and lifting the napkin with a flourish.
"Thanks, Buck," she giggled, appreciating his light-heartedness, as well as his bringing the food.
As soon as Lou started to dig into her breakfast, two more visitors appeared in her room. Seeing not only Emma but the doctor, too, Lou pulled the blanket tighter around her, lest she reveal her true identity.
"Don't worry, Lou, he knows," said Emma. "Why, he's known as long as me."
Lou wasn't sure how to respond so she was glad when Doc Barnes said, "Good to see you awake, young lady. I'll let you finish your breakfast before I have a look at you."
"Can I get you some coffee, Doc?" Emma offered.
"I'd like that, thanks," he replied, rising to his feet to follow her so Lou could have a few minutes to down her meal.
"Well, we got chores, Buck," Jimmy reminded his friend. "Take care, Lou. We'll stop in to see you later."
By the time Emma and Doc Barnes returned Lou was eating the last of her delicious biscuit.
"Great breakfast as usual, Emma," she said cheerily. "Doc, do you mind if she stays for the exam?"
"Not at all," he answered. "In fact Emma and I talked about some rehabilitation exercises for you and she needs to stay to see me demonstrate them."
Lou was glad Emma could stay. Her mind was still a bit cloudy and she was content to let someone else deal with the lion's share of listening to medical jargon.
Doc Barnes prescribed Lou an interesting therapy of four exercises twice a day, plus a "brushing" of her legs with a soft hairbrush in order to keep her muscles used to movement as well as encourage circulation in her limbs. Even thought she couldn't feel her legs while the doctor or Emma manipulated them, at least Lou felt like she was finally doing something to improve her condition.
As the doctor rose to leave, he tipped his hat to Lou, "Keep your chin up and do your exercises, Lou. And I won't tell anyone your secret."
"I'll try," she promised. "And thanks."
Lou felt bored and restless. Although Emma, Teaspoon and the other
riders checked on her periodically, they had all been quick visits.
This made her feel like a burden, and also envious that the others had
to do while she was stuck in a bed.
Cody agreed to help Lou with the exercises as long as they were both in the bunkhouse and Emma could assist if needed. The exercises did not go well. Lou was quiet, almost aloof. Cody didn't quite know what to make of Lou's mood, so he tried to be extra talkative and chipper. Jimmy and Noah could hardly stand to watch the scene before them. They were grateful when Emma suggested they repair the railing on her front porch.
"I think that's enough for now, Cody," Emma said gently. She felt sympathy for the boy who was trying so hard to show his love, and not getting much in return.
"I, uh, I guess I'll get to my chores then," said Cody quietly. He gave Lou a quick kiss on her forehead before leaving.
"Why don't you close your eyes and get some rest?" Emma encouraged Lou as she got her settled more comfortably on the bunk. As soon as she was sure the girl was asleep, she slipped out and went to find the stationmaster.
"I just don't know how to get through to her," sighed Emma in frustration after she'd poured out all the details to Teaspoon. "And Cody is so hurt. It seems like the more he tried to help, the harder she pushes him away."
"I'll go talk to the boy," Teaspoon said thoughtfully. "As for that girl of ours...I'm gonna have to think on that one."
"Any help you can give is appreciated,"
she said."I think Cody's in the barn."
Teaspoon approached the barn door cautiously. He had dispensed advice on matters of the heart before, but nothing had ever prepared him for this talk with Cody. He opened the door just in time to see Cody wipe his face with his shirtsleeve. Teaspoon wondered if it really was sweat he was wiping away, or something saltier.
"Son, can I speak with you a minute?" he asked.
"I'm kind of busy, Teaspoon," Cody made excuse as he continued to rake.
"I think mucking the stalls can wait," said the older man, gently prying the rake out of the boy's hand. "Let's sit down. Emma filled me in on what's been goin' on. She told me 'bout how you've been thoughtful and carin' to Louise, and that she's been pushing you away. That must hurt right bad."
"I don't know what to do, or even how to be around her anymore," Cody admitted in a defeated tone. "The more I try-"
"I think "try" is the key word here, Cody," Teaspoon interrupted. "Maybe that's it. Maybe you're just trying too hard instead of just actin' natural." The stationmaster's eyes lit up with the brilliance of his own idea.
Yeah, I still got the knack for givin' some good advice, he thought. "And remember that Lou's going through a real rough time right now. But I know that she still loves you and needs you now more than she'll ever let you know."
Cody grinned lopsidedly, "I guess you're probably right as usual, Teaspoon."
"We'll get through this, son," he replied, enveloping Cody in a bear hug. Cody at first was surprised by this gesture, but willingly let himself be hugged for a moment. For the first time in years, he felt like he had a father again.
In the bunkhouse, Emma's cheeks were crimson not only from the heat of the stove, but also from her anger at a certan young lady. She couldn't believe how horribly the girl was treating Cody. When Lou moaned in discomfort, though, Emma could not remain hard-hearted. Instead, she rushed over to the girl, "Louise, what's wrong?"
"My head is starting to ache again," she mumbled sleepily.
"I'll see if we have any more of those tablets the doctor left," said Emma sympathetically. If there were any left to be had, they would be in her house. On her way to retrieve them she saw Cody coming out of the barn.
"Cody, will you see if there are any more of Lou's pain pills left?
They're in a bottle on the
At Cody's nod she said "Thanks-I don't want to let supper burn."
"Sure thing, Emma," he replied.
The truth was nothing on the bunkhouse stove was in danger of burning, but Emma didn't leave it so Lou would be forced to accept Cody's care.
"Here, sweetheart, swallow these," said Cody softly as he handed Lou the tablets and a glass of water. She swallowed gratefully. "That's it. Your head should stop hurting pretty soon. Can I do anything else?"
"Just stay with me a while,"
girl as she sank back into her pillow. She wanted to apologize to Cody
but the pain in her head made it
impossible to think, let alone speak, clearly. She reached for Cody's
hand and prayed for the medication to take effect.
After Lou had been sleeping soundly for a while, Cody joined the others at the supper table.
"I kept your plate warm," Emma smiled at him as she rose to retrieve his plate from the stove.
"Thanks Emma," he said appreciatively. "I think the medicine will keep her out for the rest of the night,"
"Seems to me she could use a good, long rest," said Teaspoon. "The maybe she'll make more progress tomorrow."
shrugged and concentrated on his
plate. He didn't want to think about what might happen if Lou didn't
make progress, emotionally or physically.
Later that night Cody carried Lou's sleeping form back to Emma's house.
Earlier in the day he'd had
wheeling her in the new chair to
Emma's for the night, but after Lou's reaction today he wasn't sure
she'd ever agree to use the thing. He kissed her tenderly on the cheek
and bid Emma goodnight.
Jimmy was glad to leave for a half day ride the next morning. He still felt a pang of guilt every time he saw Lou, and he hated seeing this new tension between her and Cody. Jimmy's destination was Three Crossings, and when he reached the station a rider approached him, "Cup of coffee?"
"Sure," he accepted. He was certainly in no hurry to get home.
"Name's Tom," said the rider.
"Come on in the bunkhouse."
As soon as Tom and Jimmy entered, they could hear a bunch of wild yapping coming from a box in the corner.
"The dog we keep here must have found herself a beau," explained Tom. "The pups are eight weeks old. Wanna see?"
"Yeah, sure," he replied. Who
enough to resist puppies?
Tom lead him to a corner and lifted up a wriggly yellow ball of fur, with a shiny black nose and droopy ears that just ached to be petted. Tom handed it to Jimmy so he could prepare the coffee.
"Cute, huh?" he asked.
"Yeah, they are cute little guys," agreed Jimmy.
"Take one if you like. Can't keep all these dogs around here, though I'd like to."
"I don't know," Jimmy began, but then he paused. Maybe a puppy is just what Lou needs!, he thought. She could use the companionship and have a reason to be outside and be more active. Plus, he'd love to see the look of joy on her face again. "You know, I will. A friend of mine is laid up pretty bad. Maybe one of these little curs is just what he needs."
One cup of coffee and twenty minutes later, Jimmy was beginning to regret his impulsive decision to take the puppy home. The puppy was not easy to carry on horseback. Jimmy tried holding him in one hand and the reins in the other, but the pup wiggled and whined much to his consternation. When Jimmy reached a grassy area he let the dog run around for a while with hopes of tiring him out. The planned worked. After a good run Jimmy tucked the little guy into his jacket where he promptly settled down and went to sleep.
Back at the Sweetwater station Lou was having a better day. She had even laughed at a few of Noah’s jokes. She tested the wheelchair and allowed Cody to take her for a walk in the sunny weather. She and Cody were sitting on the front porch in companionable silence when Doc Barnes rode up on his horse.
“I’m glad to see you out of bed, young lady. Has she been behaving herself, Mr. Cody?”
“As best as can be expected, sir,” he winked back.
“Well Lou, I hate to interrupt your pleasant afternoon, but I would like to examine you. It won’t take long.”
Doc Barnes wheeled Lou inside and helped her onto a bunk, “Any difference in how your legs feel today?” He ran his thumbnail down the length of her arch and bent her knee.
“No, not really,” she replied glumly.
“Well, it’s only been a couple of days. Not time to worry yet. Just keep doing your exercises and keep your chin up.” Lou wasn’t very encouraged by the doctor’s report. She was hoping that maybe he could see some sign of improvement. She didn’t have time to dwell on Doc’s words though, because Cody bounded in saying, “Jimmy’s riding up. Shouted to me he want to see you out here.”
“I wonder why,” she said as Cody placed her in her chair and helped her outside.
“Hey, Lou, I picked up a little something for you on my run,” beamed Jimmy as he started unbuttoning his coat.
Both Lou and Cody stared at Jimmy, wondering why on earth he was starting to undress. Their questions were answered when he revealed the surprise hidden in his coat.
“A puppy!” squealed Lou
“Yep, the station at Three Crossings was giving them away. Thought this little guy was the pick of the litter,” Jimmy explained, handing the ball of fur to Lou. The puppy kissed her nose and ears, wriggled out of her arms and promptly relieved himself on Jimmy’s boot. This sent Cody and Lou into fits of laughter, which brought out several other curious riders.
From her house Emma heard the happy commotion and delighted in it. She liked to hear laughter around the station and missed it the last couple days. Briefly she wondered if Lou had regained the use of her legs but quickly dismissed the thought as not to get her hopes up. She put down her feather duster and went to investigate.
Emma was surprised to find the riders absorbed in the antics of a small puppy. “Where’d this little guy come from?” she asked, scooping him off the ground.
“Jimmy got him for me,” giggled Lou, unable to contain her joy. At the sound of Lou’s laughter all thoughts about a lecture on puppy care vanished from Emma’s mind.
“What are you gonna name him?” she asked instead.
“I’ll have to think about that,” said Lou thoughtfully.
“How about Jimmy and I make this pup a little bed to sleep in?” suggested Cody. He was trying not to have mixed feelings about the situation. He was glad that Lou was so happy, but a bit jealous that he couldn’t have given it to her.
Jimmy was a little confused at Cody’s request for his help, but went amiably to the woodpile behind the barn.
“I want to thank you for the present,” said Cody. “The puppy really cheered her up.”
“Glad to do it,” Jimmy shrugged as they looked for pieces of scrap wood to make a box. Inwardly, Jimmy still felt some guilt for his part in Lou’s accident.
“And Jimmy,” began Cody, his voice serious, “No more presents for Lou, understand?”
Jimmy stood up to his full height, “No, Cody, I’m afraid I don’t understand.” Everything about Jimmy fairly bristled with resentment. Who the hell did Cody think he was, telling him what he could and couldn’t do?
The argument that Jimmy was expecting never came. Instead, Cody’s shoulder ’s sagged in defeat.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy. I-I just wish I could have made her laugh and smile like you did. Remember how she reacted to my present?”
Jimmy suppressed the urge to chuckle, “Well, Lou isn’t exactly what one could call- predictable.”
The two men both laughed at that. Then Jimmy turned sober, “Cody, whatever Lou is going through right now, she loves you as much as she always has. Maybe I’m a little jealous of that. You have someone to love you.”
“Between you and me, Jimmy, for the last few days I haven’t been too sure of that,” confided Cody.
“Just give her time,” encouraged Jimmy. “Once she gets the use of her legs back she’ll be her old self again.”
“Yeah, but I’ve got to face facts. What if Lou never gets better?”
The dark haired rider didn’t know what to say. He reached a hand to pat Cody on the back in understanding. Jimmy was wise enough to know he didn’t have the words to comfort his friend.
The puppy was named Rascal at the suggestion of Teaspoon. His arrival had definitely put Lou in better spirits. Emma even relented against her staunch rule of “no animals in the house” and smiled at the sight of Rascal sleeping at the foot of Lou’s bed. Rascal was by Lou’s side when she did her exercises and Lou rewarded this loyalty by taking him for walks around the station in her chair and playing fetch with him. It seemed as though Lou was becoming more tolerant of others taking care of her now that she was responsible for the care of another.
Doc Barnes had not stopped for a couple days due to an outbreak among the schoolchildren. When he finally did arrive he was happy to see Lou is such high spirits.
“I hate to tear you away from your furry little friend there, Miss Lou, but it’s time to examine you again.”
As Ike carried Lou into Emma’s house, Rascal followed them. The doctor had to smile at the dog’s loyalty.
“Never thought I’d see the day when a dog was let in your parlor, Emma,” he teased the redheaded woman who was folding laundry.
“That pup sure grows on a body,” she shrugged. “Mind if I sit in on your exam, Lou?”
The doctor’s jovialness decreased as he checked over Lou. Though her mood had improved, her body had not. He looked for the smallest, most insignificant sign of motion in her legs and found none. Lou and Emma could sense the change in his mood.
“Louise, I-I am not good at saying these things, but it’s been almost a week since the accident and if there’s no improvement by tomorrow I don’t think there’s much of a chance that you’ll regain the use of your legs. The nerves are very badly damaged. I’m sorry, Lou, truly sorry.”
For a moment Lou’s face showed no emotion, but soon the tears started to flow. Emma, who had been standing by, now rushed to gather the girl in her arms. The doctor left quietly, leaving the two women to grieve.
“Oh Emma, I thought there was still a chance. I’ve been doing my exercises and now-“ the sound of Lou’s weeping drowned out the rest of her words.
“We still can’t give up hope. There’s always a chance, Lou. Hang on to that. And if, well, if things don’t turn out how we want, you’ll still be loved. You’ll still be Louise.”
Lou nodded that she had heard the words but was not ready yet to accept them.
“Emma, will you tell Cody for me?” she asked, not wanting to tell him or deal with his sympathetic response.
“No, you have to do that yourself,” said Emma, kindly but firmly. “He’s due back from his ride soon. Do you need some time to yourself?”
Lou’s hold on Emma tightened, “No, please stay. I don’t want to be alone. I know it’s strange but in a way this brings back those memories. I didn’t want to be alone then, either.”
Emma simply held Lou and stroked her hair, knowing that no words were needed now. Even though Lou was not her own flesh and blood, Emma still considered Lou “her girl”. Her heart ached for Lou as if she were her own daughter.
Lou felt nothing but despair. She clung to Emma as if her life depended on it. She had been through some terrible times in her life, but nothing that would effect her so permanently. She would be an invalid-a burden-for the rest of her life. She hated the thought of not doing for herself. Hopeless, she felt hopeless, like God had deserted her. She cried until she was spent and there were simply no more tears. At long last her hiccupy sobs subsided. A few minutes later they heard a horse ride into the yard and Cody’s voice hollering if anyone was home.
“I’ll go find a chore or two for him before he comes to see you,” Emma promised, knowing Lou needed this time. As an afterthought, she lifted Rascal from his bed on the floor and placed him in Lou’s arms. He immediately started licking the tears off her face and Lou responded by scratching his ears, “You’ll always love me, won’t you boy?”
back against the pillows,
wanting to just stay in that bed away
from everyone for the rest of her life. Emma was wrong, she thought,
was no reason to think there was still a chance she would recover. She
would only be a helpless cripple the rest of her life. No one would
love her now, only pity her, especially Cody. He would want to take
her, yes, but not out of real love or desire for her, but because it
duty. Well, she did not want to be anyone’s “duty”. She would rather be
alone the rest of her life. Besides, it wouldn’t be fair to Cody to tie
down and saddle him with the responsibility of taking care of her. She
going to have to tell him they couldn’t be together anymore. He
better than her.
All too soon, it seemed to Lou, Cody stood outside her bedroom and asked permission to enter. As he walked in the door Cody was shocked to see how different looked from earlier in that day. Her wan face wore an enigmatic expression and her eyes were dull and cloudy.
“Are you feelin’ alright, Lou? You look a little peaked,” he was concerned.
“The doctor was here today,” she began in a tremulous voice. “He-he said if there wasn’t any improvement by tomorrow then I’ll probably never…”
Lou couldn’t finish her sentence, nor did she need to. Cody understood the full impact of her words. He wrapped his arms around her, expecting her to fall into them as he comforted her. However, she was stiff and unresponsive. Sorrowfully Cody backed away, but kept a hold of her hand. He knew Lou well enough not to push her.
“I’m truly sorry, Lou. I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. Please remember that I love you and I’m here for you no matter what.”
“Cody, I know things have changed now. And if you want to back out of our understanding, I don’t blame you.”
“Lou, ain’t you been listenin’ to anything I just said?” Cody sprang up off the bed in frustration. “I love you, legs or no legs. I don’t want out of our agreement. In fact, I was thinkin’ just the opposite. I was thinkin’ maybe we should make things official.”
“What do you mean?”
“I was considerein’ asking you to marry me.”
Lou’s temper, which had remained dormant for some weeks, erupted from somewhere deep inside her.
“How could you?” she demanded. Red-hot anger brought a crimson streak to her pale cheeks and a flash to her eyes. She could not believe Cody had the nerve to ask her to marry him out of pure pity.
“Because I love you, that’s why!” he replied, trying to keep his tone calm. This was not even remotely close to how he had envisioned a marriage proposal. “I love you and want to be with you.” But you’re making it so hard he thought but did not say.
“Well, I don’t want your pity proposal, William F. Cody! And I don’t want you! Just-just leave me alone!” Hot tears of anger burned in her eyes but she would not release them.
Cody had reached his breaking point. He had been patient with her moods, but this total rejection he could not handle very well. To keep from saying anything he might later regret, Cody fled blindly from the room, never even seeing Noah and Jimmy in the hallway. They had come to announce that supper was ready and had stayed to eavesdrop.
Noah went to alert Emma and Teaspoon to the situation and Jimmy, going where angels feared to tread, went straight to Lou’s room.
“How could you?” shouted Jimmy, giving the bed’s footboard a rough shake. He wished to do the same to its occupant. “After all the two of you have been through together, how could you treat him like that?”
“Go away, Jimmy!” she sobbed. Didn’t anyone understand? She wasn’t good enough now. She couldn’t be the kind of wife-or mother-or woman-she wanted to be without the use of her legs.
Seeing Lou looks so small and miserable in that bed, Jimmy let go of some of the anger he felt towards her. He looked her straight in the eye and said in a quiet, controlled voice, “Louise McCloud, you are a damned fool.”
One, two, three,four? Were there really four empty whiskey glasses in front of his friend? Noah squinted his eyes to make sure they weren’t playing tricks on him in the dimly lit saloon.
“Cody!” he called to his friend. “I’ve been looking for you.” Noah sat down on a stool by the bar next to Cody. He had been looking for Cody for over an hour and was glad for a chance to rest. Noah wasn’t sure exactly what had happened between Lou and Cody but he had never seen Cody as upset as this before. He knew something must have happened, but was not about to pry.
“Well, you found me,” he replied, not even turning around to look at Noah. “Now go on home. I’ll be there when I’m good and done here.”
“Hey, mister,” the bartender said to Noah. “Tell your friend here it’s gonna take him a long time to get drunk off of sarsaparilla.”
Noah failed to smother a smile. He was glad to see Cody was not drowning his sorrows in anything stronger than soda. “Come on, Cody, let’s go home.”
“As long as I don’t have to face her,” he conceded.
“I doubt she’ll be setting foot in the bunkhouse for a while,” Noah remarked under his breath.
Cody took one more gulp of his
threw a few coins on the counter
before leaving with his fellow rider.
Meanwhile, back at the express station, Teaspoon had been elected the person to talk to Lou. The boys weren’t sure how to approach her after hearing the news about her legs, and after her run-in with Cody, were a bit apprehensive to being sympathetic. Ike might have been able to talk to her about having a handicap, but was concerned he wouldn’t be able to express his thoughts to her in the right way. Even Emma, her champion and confidante, didn’t think she could talk to Lou without also giving her a lecture. So with a little trepidation, Teaspoon peaked through the open door to Emma’s guestroom. He saw her there lying quietly on the bed with her eyes closed but guessed that she was not asleep. Seeing her there triggered something in his memory.
“It looks like history repeats itself,” he said as he entered the room. Lou opened her eyes and looked at him quizzically.
“The first time I laid eyes on you was here in this room. You were so sick and small…O’course, I still thought you were a boy back then. But as sick as you were, you were still determined to be a rider.”
Lou said nothing, so Teaspoon continued, “There was more than one time I was tempted to send you right back where you came from. But time proved me wrong. You turned out to be as capable a rider as any of the boys.”
“And look at me now,” Lou sniffed gloomily “I’m sure not very ‘capable’ anymore, am I?”
“Lou, being capable doesn’t just mean being able to ride a horse. It means having good judgement, finding a way to get things done in tough times and having compassion. I suspect you haven’t lost all that too. All those things are also what made you such a darn fine rider.”
Lou thawed a bit, “Thanks, Teaspoon.” Somehow Teaspoon’s voice almost always managed to subdue her temper. Teaspoon took Lou’s words as a positive sign and decided to bring up the subject of Cody sooner than he had intended to. “We all see those things in you, Louise, especially Cody. I think he’s hurting pretty badly right now. Maybe even as bad as you. You have maybe-and I say “maybe” because I’m still not giving up hope-lost your legs, but Cody is sure he’s lost you.”
“I-I just need some more time,” she made an excuse, “Please, Teaspoon, I’m tired now. I don’t want to talk any more.”
“Alright, sweetheart, you get your rest,” he said as he bent over to kiss her pale cheek. “Just think about what I said.”
The next few days around the station were tense. Cody picked up every extra run he possibly could just to avoid being home for any length of time. The more he was away from Lou, the better, he reasoned. She, in turn, refused to eat in the bunkhouse if Cody happened to be there for a meal. The whole situation was nearly driving Emma to distraction and all the other riders couldn’t help but be effected by the tension as well. Lou and Cody were not exactly angry with each other. They simply wanted to avoid any contact with one another so they would not have to deal with awkward silences or worse, make small talk. The others at the station were torn between their sympathy for Lou concerning the bad news about her legs, yet fairly disgusted with her at her treatment of Cody. Everyone, it seemed, walked on eggshells when they were around either Cody or Lou. Several of the riders thought Cody was being rather presumptuous in proposing, but felt that Lou could have given him a more genteel rejection.
Cody and Lou could not live on the same property without running into each other eventually. It happened when Lou was in the barn brushing her horse. She could still do that task and it made her feel useful. Cody had just come home from a long ride and was returning his horse to its still when he caught sight of Lou.
“I didn’t realize you were here. I’ll be right out of your way,” he said indifferently. The indifferent tone in his voice was forced. He still longed to take her in his arms and kiss her, despite all that had happened.
Unintentionally, Lou’s eyes met his. She noticed how different they looked. The blue eyes that once sparkled now bore the look of someone who hadn’t slept in many nights. His whole demeanor was different; he walked as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. And in that one brief glance she noticed he looked gaunt and about ten years older.
Cody left as quietly as he had
Lou felt as if she’d been kicked
in the stomach. She had been told that Cody was hurting but she hadn’t
realized it until just this moment. Had she really caused him this much
pain? For the first time Lou began to feel pangs of regret about the
she had acted with Cody. Oh lord, she thought to herself, what have I
While Lou was busy with her own thoughts, Cody thought it best to avoid the station for the evening. He went into town to play cards at the saloon and took Kid along with him for company.
“So how long do you think you’ll be able to keep this up?” asked Kid directly as they rode into town.
“Keep what up?”
“Cody, you know perfectly well what I mean.”
“I don’t know,” he said, a note of defeatism in his voice. “To tell you the truth I was thinkin’ on asking Teaspoon if there is another station that might need me.”
Kid was incredulous, “You mean leave us? Leave Sweetwater?”
“Lou doesn’t really have any place else to go. She needs Emma right now,” he explained. “But I could make a fresh start.”
Kid noticed that Cody looked wistful, “Cody, I’m gonna stick my nose in where it doesn’t belong and ask you something: do you still love Lou?”
“Yeah,” he replied, his voice
“And that’s why I have to leave.”
the surprise of the others at
the stations, Lou decided to spend the evening in the bunkhouse. The
reason she told everyone was boredom, but the real reason was to
see and talk to Cody when he arrived. She was in her bunk,
several pillows propping her up so she could see her surroundings. She
found herself enjoying just watching and listening to the boys as they
prepared for bed. She had missed this time of realizing and
talking with her fellow riders.
Louise awoke the next morning feeling deliriously happy. Just upon waking her foggy mind couldn't remember the reason for this happiness, but when she stretched and felt her legs move, it all came back to her. She threw back the covers and for a few minutes watched in awe as she pointed and flexed her toes.
A knock at the door startled her, "Louise, honey, you awake?"
"Uh, yeah, Emma," Lou stammered. She flushed slightly, feeling a little silly for being so engrossed in watching her feet. "Come on in."
Entering, Emma smiled at the sight of Lou's bare legs peeking out from her nightshirt. She knew the girl had been watching the miracle of her lower limbs working again.
"I thought maybe you'd like to do a few exercises to limber you up before breakfast."
"Maybe that would help," said Lou. "My legs still feel so stiff and awkward."
Emma shook her head at the impatient young girl, "It takes time to heal, Louise. Why heck, look how far you've come since just yesterday! There's no need to rush." Lou blushed, acknowledging her impatience.
"Where's Cody?" she wondered aloud as Emma bent one knee at a time.
"Still out cold on the sofa last I saw him. Poor thing couldn't even stay awake for hot cocoa and cookies. He was exhausted from worrying over you."
Just then the blonde rider poked his disheveled head through the doorway, "Did I hear my name mentioned?" He crossed over to Lou and kissed her on the cheek. "Good morning, beautiful."
"Mornin' yourself, Cody," laughed Emma.
"Oh, sorry, Emma. Good morning to you, too. I just wanted to check on Lou here before chores. I'll see you at breakfast."
When Cody left Lou and Emma smiled at each other. It was good to have their old Cody back.
"Hey Cody," called Buck as Cody entered the bunkhouse. "We couldn't help but notice your bunk wasn't slept in last night."
"When Lou and Cody make up, they really make up," Noah chimed in suggestively.
"Knock it off, fellas," said Cody defensively. "I helped Lou back to Emma's then I fell asleep on the parlor sofa, if you must know. And don't you dare tease Lou, she's been through enough already."
The other boys quieted at Cody's request. Although they were only teasing in good humor, they realized Cody was not yet ready to joke about his relationship with Lou.
"Sorry, Cody," Kid apologized for the group. "For what it's worth, we're glad Lou's better and the two of you can, well, pick up where you left off."
"I'm sure gonna try," Cody sighed.
The news of Lou's recovery spread rapidly throughout the town. Doc Barnes was quick to make an unexpected trip out to the way station. He found Lou tottering around the yard, leaning on Cody's arm for support.
"You're ruining my reputation as a doctor, Miss McCloud," he teased with a wink. "Going and getting well on me!"
The wide smile Lou gave him was the best payment for his services he had received in a long time.
"It's a miracle, ain't it, Doc?" Cody stated, more than asked.
"Yes indeed, and if you don't mind, I'd like to have a look at my miracle patient."
In the bunkhouse, Dr. Barnes examined Lou's reflexes and put her through a series of physical tests. He was amazed and confounded as a result. He guessed that in two weeks time she would be strong enough to ride again. "But then I said you'd never walk again either, so take what this old country doctor has to say with a grain of salt," he chuckled. "Now tell me, how did this happen?"
As Lou and Cody related last night's event to the doctor, he shook his head in wonder.
"Is it really because of the dream, Doc?"
"The human brain is still very much a mystery," he shrugged. "We may never know. But it is certainly a good possibility."
Snug in her bunk, Lou began to feel a bit drowsy again. All this moving around was new again to her body, and it reacted by tiring faster than usual. Both Cody and the doctor noticed her trying to stifle a yawn.
"You make sure she still gets plenty of rest, young man."
"I'll do my best, sir.
Lou became stronger every day. By the end of the week she was walking without assistance and insisting on doing some of the lighter chores. She fell into her bunk exhausted and sore at the end of each day, but with a feeling of pride and thankfulness that she was able to be independent once again.
One quiet afternoon Lou sat at the bunkhouse table penning a letter to her siblings. She wanted to fill them in on the events of the past weeks without worrying them needlessly. Several times her eyes became misty as she recalled her struggle and the support of her friends. She had not been a good patient-she could admit that now. She had gone back to her old habit of shutting the people closest to her out when life got hard.
Louise was so deep in thought that she nearly jumped out of her chair when she heard the door open and saw Cody walk inside.
"Didn't mean to scare you," he said when he saw the startled look on her face.
"Just busy thinkin', I guess," she admitted, flushing at her own foolishness.
Cody took a seat opposite of her and looked her in the eyes. She knew he had something on his mind.
"You gonna sit there and stare at me or are you gonna say what you have to say?"
"Well, it's just-I really don't know how to say this without sounding like a total jackass," he said quietly.
Lou felt herself inwardly shrinking back, wondering if Cody had done something foolish-or thought she had. With a growing fear in her eyes, she nodded for him to continue.
"Lou, I-I wanted to apologize for, well, for askin' you to marry me like I did," Cody said earnestly, even though he cringed at the words. There was just no way to make it sound good. He reached across the table for her hand. "I realize now that my timing wasn't very good."
A small sigh of relief escaped Lou's lips, "That's sweet of you, Cody. I know that you were trying to prove how much you love me. And next time, if you ask me again, the answer will be different, I promise," she vowed, and leaned across the table to seal that promise with a kiss. She knew now how much Cody loved her, how deeply he cared and that his love would be steadfast, no matter what the circumstances.
Cody grinned boyishly. He knew he would ask again, and he knew the young woman whose hand he held, would some day be his.