Sweetwater, 1860

Chapter One

“Please,” Cody beseeched Jimmy, “you owe me,” he added as he followed his friend to the bunkhouse table. No one else was around; thus Cody had taken this opportunity to ask his friend for a favor. One little favor and Jimmy was balking.

“I owe you?” Jimmy exclaimed loudly. “Who covers for you each time you need to get rid of a run? Who lent you the money you needed last week? Who -”

“You,” Cody interrupted. “But this is different.”

Jimmy made a rude noise.

“I’m in love,” Cody continued.

Jimmy laughed out loud. “Yeah, just like you were in love with Beth Morgan last month.”

He rose from his seat at the table and Cody leapt to his feet blocking the bunkhouse door. “I’ll pay you,” he added quickly.

“You ain’t got any money,” Jimmy retorted.

“First thing I’ll do when I get my wages is pay you,” Cody told him.

When Jimmy remained silent, Cody took that as a good sign. “You’ll see, ‘Cilla ain’t that bad.” When Jimmy’s narrowed his eyes at him, Cody realized he had just made a critical error. He hadn’t understood that Jimmy’s hesitation had nothing to do with Pricilla Washington’s reputation as the town terror but it was just a general reluctance in going out and socializing with a new girl.

But he was desperate. Mr. Washington had caught him with Pricilla’s younger sister, Lorna, in the barn and had forbidden him from ever seeing her again. However, Mr. Washington had softened considerably when faced with Lorna’s tears. Cody was now permitted to see Lorna as long as they were not alone.

“I can’t go to the dance with Lorna if you don’t take Cilla,” Cody wailed.

“Fine,” Jimmy grumbled. “Just see that you don’t forget about that money.”

Cody beamed at him.

“What did you mean about Cilla not being so bad?” Jimmy asked hesitantly.

“Well,” Cody began cautiously. He now regretted regaling the other riders with his tales of the Washington family earlier. The stories were true, but he did not want Jimmy to be scared off by what he has said. So he decided to be play up Priscilla’s good points and be truthful. “She ain’t as pretty as Lorna, but who is?” he said cheerfully.

Jimmy frowned.

“But when she walks away,” Cody let out a low whistle, “it’s as good as some other women walking in.

“You are a true friend,” Cody said, clapping Jimmy on the back. Now all he had to do was make the arrangements with Lorna. It would be Lorna’s job to get Priscilla to agree.

“And you are a true pain in the - ”

Cody hurried out of the bunkhouse, slamming the door behind him. Maybe Jimmy deserved whatever Priscilla would dish out.

Chapter Two

Jimmy frowned as he moved to a corner of the Washington home. It was a small home, cram packed with things - tables, chairs, boxes, books, oh so many books and children. He had no idea how many were actually running around because they were moving so fast. He wasn’t sure if he was seeing the same ones over and over or if they were different ones.

A few moments later, a tall thin man with spectacles perched on the end of his nose walked into the room and took a seat in a rocking chair. He waved his hand at the children, much to Jimmy’s shock; they paid no heed to him. Bedlam still reigned.

The gray-haired man sighed, his shoulders drooped visibly as he seemed to be resigned to his fate. “Priscilla,” he said loudly. Silence.

“Priscilla,” he called out once more.

Jimmy smiled as he saw Priscilla Washington appear. She had light brown hair pulled back into a knot and the prettiest blue eyes he had ever seen. She walked into the room, not even glancing in Jimmy and Cody’s direction and Jimmy could not help but grin broader. Something about that girl always brought a smile to his face.

Cody thought he had to pay Jimmy for escorting Priscilla, but Cody did not know everything. He had chosen to make Cody squirm when the truth was he knew exactly who Priscilla Washington was and he was looking forward to this dance. Cody’s stories had not scared him in the slightest. They had intrigued him.

But it seemed as if Priscilla was not looking forward to anything. She sure wasn’t dressed for a dance, he decided, as she was wearing a housecoat. As Jimmy’s eyes ran down the length of her slim form, he noted that she was wearing boots, poking out from underneath her robe. Boots which could be considered dressy.

“Yes?” Priscilla said crossly.

The older man, who Jimmy recognized as the father of the Washington brood, waved a hand helplessly in the air. “Please.”

Priscilla glared at her father for a brief instant before clapping her hands. The sound was greeting by a chorus of aww’s.

“Now,” Priscilla commanded.

Jimmy could count the children now, now that they were still. There were three girls and a small boy, all shuffling towards Priscilla. “Grace, you see that John gets into bed,” she continued in a stern voice.

The tallest girl nodded. But before they all left the room, Priscilla dropped a quick kiss on each head that passed by her. “Sleep tight,” Jimmy heard her whisper. As the children filed out of the room, Lorna Washington pushed her way through the same narrow doorway.

“Good night,” Lorna whispered to each child. Jimmy laughed to himself as one of them told Lorna, “No kissing this time.”

Lorna, who was now a very pretty shade of pink, pushed the child out the door as she stepped into the room. She bestowed a magnificent smile on Cody before turning her smile to her father.

“Father,” Lorna said formally, “you know William.”

Mr. Washington nodded gravely at Cody. “Yes, I remember.” He eyed Cody sternly. “And I can see from his friend’s presence that he remembers me.”

Cody’s head bobbed up and down vigorously. “Yes, sir.” He motioned Jimmy closer. “This is James Hickok. He will be taking Priscilla to the dance.”

“I see,” Mr. Washington began.

“Father,” Priscilla said shrilly, “I told you he would just find some guttersnipe to escort me.”

“Guttersnipe,” Jimmy sputtered.

Priscilla glared at him. “He is a gunfighter,” she announced dramatically. “Being with him would not be safe.”

Jimmy’s mouth fell open. Judgmental and vindictive were never words that he associated with her. Spirited and feisty yes but he certainly never expected this kind of vehement reaction.

“Now hold up,” Cody interjected.

“Father.” Priscilla ran to her father’s side and knelt beside his chair. “You can’t do this, can you?” she asked softly.

Lorna hurried to the other side of her father’s rocking chair. “Oh Daddy,” she wailed, her eyes filling with tears. “She is being difficult again. She hates the fact that I can go out and enjoy myself and she wants to punish me. I did everything she asked of me today. And I did as you said. I told Cody I can’t go out alone with him and he found Cilla an escort, but now she wants to spoil it all.”

“But Lorna,” Mr. Washington began again.

Lorna glanced quickly at Jimmy. “She is being hateful, judging this young man and she knows nothing about him,” she countered, obviously knowing her tears were having no effect.

“Hickok,” he mused aloud. Mr. Washington turned his head and looked at Jimmy. “They are just dime store novels,” he said slowly.

Lorna nodded furiously. “And you always say no one should read such trash.”

“That is true, Priscilla,” Mr. Washington said.

“But -” Priscilla began.

“We should make our own judgments,” Lorna interrupted. “Isn’t that right?”

“You are a Pony Express rider, correct?” Mr. Washington asked Jimmy. “You work with William?”

Jimmy nodded.

“And Mrs. Shannon knows both boys,” Mr. Washington said, glancing at Priscilla. “She wouldn’t keep them on if they were troublemakers.”

“But look at him!” Priscilla exclaimed.

“Judge not ye be not judged,” Mr. Washington said firmly and Priscilla sighed loudly, knowing she had lost.

“Fine,” she snapped, whipping off her robe and dropping it to the floor. She stood before her father, glaring at everyone in the room. Underneath the robe, as Jimmy had suspected, was a dress, a dark red dress with white piping around the collar. She grabbed her hat. “Let’s get this evening over with.”

Chapter Three

“Listen,” Priscilla told Jimmy once they had reached the dance. She reached up and grasped his shirtsleeve, pulling him short before they could enter the hall. Cody and Lorna went inside without so much as a backward glance, both of them eager to spend time in each other’s company.

“Let’s just make the best of this situation,” she said curtly. She ignored Jimmy’s frown. Why didn’t he get the message? She had refused to engage in the bit of small talk that he had attempted to bring up and she brought up no subjects of conversation herself. So why did he look at her like that? Like he was disappointed or something.

Deciding to make it a bit easier on him, she continued, “You go your way, dance with all the girls you see fit and I’ll go my way. Okay?”

“Priscilla,” Jimmy called out as she turned away from him, hurrying toward the hall.

But she ignored him, rushing into the building and running straight into Mike Phelps. Mike was an acquaintance from way back. His ranch was north of the Washington home.

“’Cilla,” Mike said, “I was wondering how Lorna got here without her shadow.”

Priscilla groaned inwardly. Yes, that was the only way she would be out anywhere, so Lorna could be there and everyone could enjoy her company. “Get out of my way, you oaf,” she snapped, marching away.

Mike scowled at her back. “Too good for us, as always,” he muttered to himself. A slow smile crossed his face and he stepped toward the punch bowl.

“What are you doing,” Mike’s friend, Ned, said, moving to his side.

“Adding some life to this stupid dance,” Mike replied. He removed a whiskey bottle from his coat and emptied the contents into a cup.

He grinned at Ned as he ladled out some punch into the cup. “Watch and see,” he said. He walked to where Priscilla was standing in a corner, scowling at everyone.

“Here,” Mike said generously, “a peace offering.”

Priscilla eyed him suspiciously. Her hands were still at her sides.

“I’m sorry,” Mike told her. “I was just trying to be funny.” He shrugged. “I guess it came out wrong. I should have said howdy Cill, how are you first.”

She took the cup from his hand and took a deep drink “Thanks.” It was hard fighting with everyone all the time. But she did it. Boy, did she do it.

*~*~*

Jimmy watched as Priscilla let out a loud guffaw. For someone who just wanted to be left alone, she sure was attracting a lot of attention with her loud behavior. But the strangest thing was seeing Priscilla surrounded by a bevy of suitors. Jimmy had never seen her with another man before, just her family and maybe once or twice a woman friend.

She was certainly making the most of the attention. One of the young men seemed to be bragging about something and Priscilla poked him in the arm.

“Hush up, Warren,” she said loudly. “You aren’t any good with a gun and you know it.” She pointed at Jimmy. “If you were, you would have taken him on long ago.”

She laughed again as Jimmy narrowed his eyes at her. She had better not go there again. Once again he felt a flash of bewilderment. He never would have thought Priscilla the type to shoot needless digs about his reputation at him. And he hated knowing that her obvious contempt of him cut through him like a knife.

He hated being judged and Priscilla Washington knew nothing about his life, absolutely nothing. But here she was, going on and on about who and what he was. Like she actually knew, he thought contemptuously.

Warren shrank visibly as he caught sight of who Priscilla was pointing to. He mumbled something and removed himself from the circle of men around Priscilla.

“He is the man who killed Gabe Caulder,” she cackled gleefully.

That was it, Jimmy fumed. He went to Priscilla’s side and grasped her by the arm, dragging her outside. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about,” he said between gritted teeth.

“Let go of me, you fool,” Priscilla snapped, trying to jerk her arm free. She finally broke loose and stumbled, almost falling into a water trough behind her.

Jimmy caught her before she fell. It was then he smelled the liquor on her breath. She was drunk!

Chapter Four

“What have you been drinking?” Jimmy sputtered.

“Punch, you nit,” she snapped. She wished he would let go of her but he held her firmly in place. She pushed at his chest and he reluctantly dropped his hands from her arms.

She felt the world start to turn faster than normal and she placed her hands on her knees, leaning forward a bit, ignoring the curious glances of the people going in and out of the hall. She certainly hoped everyone would just go inside, because she was going to be sick.

“Are you okay?” Jimmy asked and Priscilla hated hearing the concern in his voice.

“I’m fine, just go,” she retorted.

Instead of going, Jimmy put an arm around her waist and led her to the side of the building. Leaning heavily against it, Priscilla took a deep breath while a black and white dog eyed them warily.

It felt good to be outside in the night air, away from all those people, away from the stale smell of cheroots filling the air. Priscilla inhaled deeply once more; relieved that her head had decided to stop spinning for the moment and her stomach slowed it’s violent churning.

“I’m fine,” she repeated. “You can go now.”

“Thanks,” Jimmy replied dryly. “But maybe I’ll stick around to make sure you don’t fall over again.”

“I didn’t fall,” Priscilla grumbled under her breath.

Jimmy laughed softly.

Priscilla raised her head, her eyes flashing. “And I do not need your help,” she said stiffly. “So why are you sticking around here?” She paused, studying him for a moment before she answered her own question. “Waiting for a chance to laugh at me?”

“No,” Jimmy answered, instantly becoming serious.

“You did you duty, you brought me here, so William could bring Lorna,” Priscilla continued. “Your job is done.” She regarded him closely. “How did William persuade you, blackmail?” No one willingly chose to be in her company anymore.

Jimmy arched a brow upward.

“You owe him a favor?” she asked, still fishing. Once again she was met by silence.

“He paid you?” Priscilla continued her query.

“He offered to pay me,” Jimmy admitted.

Priscilla felt her mouth drop open and her stomach lurch once more. She suspected something but she didn’t expect Jimmy to be so blunt about it.

“I see,” she said, turning her head to the right slightly so he wouldn’t see her eyes well up. “I hope it was a lot.”

“So far it’s been nothing,” Jimmy answered, his voice light.

Priscilla pushed herself off the wall, deciding to leave then and there. She stumbled but quickly righted herself. She would not lose her dignity or whatever was left of it. But Jimmy caught her arms once more.

“What is wrong with you?” Priscilla half shouted. “Why do you insist on pawing me all the time?”

“Listen,” Jimmy said loudly, pushing her back against the wall. He put both hands on either side of her head, so she had no choice but to stay in place and she had no choice but to look at him.

“How well do you know Cody?” he asked sternly.

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“If you knew Cody, you’d know he has no money, ever.”

“So what? Now he will be indebted to you forever.”

Jimmy laughed softly. “Yeah, like he doesn’t already owe me.”

Priscilla balled up her fist and struck Jimmy on the chest. But he did not so much as flinch. He merely glanced at her hand and continued speaking. “I wanted to come to this dance. With you.”

Priscilla stared at him, thunderstruck. She could not have heard right. “Just because I look like Lorna doesn’t mean I act like her,” she managed. It had happened before; a man rejected by Lorna had turned to her because they shared many of the same features. But where Lorna was sweet, she was tart, where Lorna was demure and thoughtful, she was brash and rarely did she think before speaking.

“I saw you at the pond a few weeks ago,” Jimmy told her.

Priscilla swallowed hard. The way he was looking at her made her weak all over. And what he was saying . . . He knew about the pond incident? And he was still here? With her?

“One of the older girls pushed your little brother in the pond,” Jimmy said with a smile.

“Emily pushed John in,” Priscilla said, supplying the names, as she did not know how else to respond. She knew the story. Her father had been quite cross with her. So why was Jimmy smiling?

“Yeah,” Jimmy said, nodding. “I was coming back from a run and I saw it. I was wondering if he needed any help then I saw you march over and push Emily in.”

“I shouldn’t have done it,” Priscilla mumbled. She had been so angry with Emily that she acted without a single thought. ‘How do you like the water?’ she had shouted at her younger sister.

“But then you jumped in and fished them both out,” Jimmy laughed.

“I had to,” Priscilla muttered. She could not just leave Emily in the water like that. She glanced up quickly and saw, much to her surprise, that Jimmy was still grinning.

“Emily looked so mad and John was ready to cry and you were laughing.” Jimmy shook his head. “Then you all started laughing and started walking away together. I never saw anyone handle a problem the way you do.”

Priscilla lowered her head, feeling utterly confused. He liked that about her? He liked her rash behavior? It made no sense, yet it sent tingles up and down her spine, all the way down to her stomach.

“Is that a good thing?” Priscilla asked softly, still staring at the ground, the blood pounding between her ears. She wanted to hear the words, out loud.

“Very good,” Jimmy whispered, leaning in.

“Oh Lord,” she whispered. She clutched her abdomen, leaned over and threw up, right on Jimmy’s boots.

Chapter Five

Jimmy stared at his boots. That was not the reaction he had been expecting. He jumped backward as Priscilla made another gagging sound.

“Oh Lord,” she said again, covering her mouth. She ran toward the back of the hall and threw up once again.

Jimmy watched for a moment then went to her side, pulling her long brown hair back from her face as she retched again.

“I’m so sorry,” Priscilla said, finally recovering her equilibrium as she sat heavily on the ground.

“It’s okay,” Jimmy told her, taking a hanky from his pocket and handing it to her. Once she had wiped her face, he took it back and cleaned off the tip of his boots, tossing the hanky into the alley once he was done.

“I don’t think I want that back,” he grinned.

Priscilla drew her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, resting her chin on her knees.

“You coming back in?” Jimmy asked cautiously.

“No,” Priscilla answered. “I think I’d rather stay out here.” She looked glumly at the ground. “I have made a big enough fool of myself for one evening. You don’t have to stay out here with me,” she added softly.

Jimmy watched her defeated posture for a moment, then walked back to the hall. He snagged a cup and went back out, filling the cup with water from the trough before he approached Priscilla’s side. He waved the cup in front of her. “Here.”

Priscilla’s head snapped up as she accepted the water. “I thought you were gone.”

“I told you I wanted to be here with you,” Jimmy replied.

“Even now? After that display?” she asked, incredulous.

“Even now,” Jimmy answered. “To quote Teaspoon, he who hesitates is a damned fool,” he grinned.

“What?” Priscilla exclaimed.

“I don’t want to keep putting off getting to know you,” Jimmy explained. “I’ve seen you at your worst, so how ‘bout you get yourself cleaned up and we go inside and you can show me a different side of you.”

Priscilla smiled and Jimmy was struck by how pretty she was once more. But everyone knew she was pretty. Jimmy was just sure there was something more to it. Every time he saw her, he felt it. She was living a life she didn’t choose for herself.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I didn’t feel like I was coming down with something,” Priscilla said.

“I think you had too much to drink.”

“I don’t drink,” Priscilla announced primly.

“You did tonight,” Jimmy told her.

Priscilla scowled fiercely.

“Maybe someone spiked the punch,” Jimmy offered. He was glad to see his words had some effect as Priscilla stopped scowling at him.

“Maybe,” Priscilla agreed reluctantly.

“So you wanna go back in and see who did it?” Jimmy asked, his eyes dancing.

Priscilla laughed, as he had hoped. “Are you always like this?” she asked, a quizzical smile on her face.

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Priscilla answered. “So able to take life as it comes.”

It was Jimmy’s turn to laugh then. “No, almost never.” He sat on his haunches beside her. “But we could go back inside and try to get to know each other a little more.”

Priscilla watched him closely for a long time and Jimmy could not help but reach out and brush a smudge of dirt from her cheek.

“Okay,” Priscilla said finally. “Just give me some privacy to clean up.”

Jimmy smiled as he straightened up and walked toward the door. Maybe the night had just begun. He had just placed his hand on the doorjamb when he heard his name being called out.

“Hickok,” a tall black-haired man was saying. “Heard tell that you are the man who killed Gabe Caulder.”

“Gabe Caulder ain’t dead and if he is, I’m not responsible,” Jimmy replied as the knot that had developed in his stomach at the sound of his name grew larger.

“That’s not what they are saying inside,” the man said slowly.

“That ain’t my doing,” Jimmy said with a scowl.

“I think it is,” the man told him. He took a step into the street. “Let’s go.”

Jimmy shook his head. “I didn’t kill Caulder. He was alive last time I saw him.”

“I ain’t arguing the matter,” the man said coolly as he moved into the road. He stood, one hand resting on the butt of his gun, his eyes trained on Jimmy’s right hand.

“What’s going on?” Kid shouted, Lou hot on his heels as they rushed out of the hall. A few moments later, Priscilla joined them. She looked at Jimmy and even from a distance, he could see the confusion on her face.

“What’s going on?” she whispered, echoing Kid’s earlier question. But like Kid, no one answered her.

“Jimmy,” Kid said loudly, “get inside.”

“He can’t,” the man informed him, “he’s got business to attend to.”

“I’m gonna get Sam,” Lou told Kid, moving toward the door.

“Now!” the man commanded Jimmy, firing once. The bullet hit the wall just above Lou’s head. Kid’s grabbed Lou with both hands and pulled her close.

Jimmy turned away from his friends and stepped into the road. The last thing he saw before he focused on the man in front of him was Priscilla’s face. She looked horrified.

Chapter Six

Jimmy focused on the man in front of him. The man’s right hand was twitching. That told Jimmy two things. The man was right-handed and he was apprehensive.

The man licked his lips. “Draw,” he commanded, his voice harsh. But Jimmy had seen him lick his lips. He was either very nervous or inexperienced, maybe a combination of both.

It surprised him that he could shut out the noises from the dance, the actions of his friends and the bewilderment that filled Priscilla’s face. But he did so. He gave the man a faint smile. “In a hurry to die?” he drawled.

“Shut up.”

Jimmy shrugged. “Suit -”. He felt a pair of hands on him, dragging him away. “What the hell?” he sputtered. Once he managed to turn his head, he saw Teaspoon and Kid; both of them forcing him down the street. “What about -”

“One more word out of you and I’ll take a strap to you,” Teaspoon hissed in his ear.

“We’re trying to help you.” Kid declared.

“Not that you seem to appreciate it,” Teaspoon muttered.

Jimmy felt himself being shoved into a wagon. He lay there, wondering. Should he return, would that man continue to look for him, how would Priscilla get home, what must she think of him? Each of these thoughts ran through his head, growing stronger and more anguished with each squeaky turn of the right wagon wheel.

*~*~*

“Get the hell out of my town,” Sam bellowed, his hand resting on the butt of his firearm. He narrowed his eyes at the shootist in front of him. “Are you deaf? No? Then do you want to see the inside of my jail? Is that why you are still here?”

“I’m here for-” the man began.

“Arrest him, Ephram,” Sam shouted at his deputy.

The man held up his hands. “I must have made a mistake. I got that fella mixed up with someone else.” He moved toward the livery.

“Thought so,” Sam said, scowling hard. He watched as the man walked to the livery and continued to watch as he rode slowly out of town.

*~*~*

Priscilla sat on the steps. Everyone who attended the dance was now out of the building. It stood silent and dark, she thought and here she sat, alone and forgotten.

“Stop that,” she chided herself softly. She needed to get home. She rose to her feet, taking a deep breath, hoping that the fuzziness that filled her brain would dissipate. She glanced around. Maybe Lorna and William were still near. Her own sister would not simply forget her, would she?

But as her eyes continued to scan the area, she did not see any sign of either Lorna or William. Come to think of it, she had not seen them for quite a while. “They probably left before the fireworks,” she muttered. Lorna was going to get an earful once she finally found her, Priscilla decided.

“Fine, I’ll just walk,” she huffed to herself. She had walked from town to home at least a thousand times. One more time would not hurt her. She began moving slowly in what she hoped was the right direction, her head still full of wool. Never, she vowed silently, never would she drink again. How could people go night after night to the saloon and drink themselves silly? She still felt so strange, like she was not in her own body.

And yet another part of her felt very squeamish. She prayed she would not vomit again. She took a few more steps. “That’s the way,” she said encouragingly. “Keep your feet moving, you’ll be home in no time.”

Priscilla was so intent on moving one foot in front of the other she did not see him or even hear him. All she felt was a pair of arms around her and when she opened her mouth to scream, a hand covered her mouth.

Chapter Seven

Emma hurried down the stairs of her home. Who could be here so early, she wondered? She yanked the door open and gave the man in front of her a warm smile. “Morning, Michael,” she said warmly. “Come in, have a cup of coffee.”

Michael Washington held his hat in his hand. “I’m sorry to trouble you so early,” he said apologetically. “It’s just.” He stopped, twisting the brim of his hat.

“Is something wrong?” Emma asked, her eyes filling with concern. Jimmy had been drug home, literally, last night. Maybe Priscilla had been upset by the evening’s events. Or, she thought, maybe it was Lorna. Cody had not come home with the rest of them. She frowned, chiding herself for not asking the rest of her brood where Cody was, and with whom. Sitting with Sam as he watched the black-haired fella who had called Jimmy out last night had occupied her evening.

“Is Priscilla here?” Michael whispered.

“Here?” Emma raised her brows, her eyes wide with surprise. What was Michael implying?

“She is a mite headstrong. I apologize -”

“Michael,” Emma interrupted. Did he think Priscilla was here? With Jimmy? Priscilla Washington?

As far as she knew, Priscilla led a fairly sheltered life. There had been some talk about a year back about Priscilla and one of the O’Brian boys. But she always heard about the O’Brian boys. If it wasn’t one, then the other was up to something. Emma had not thought much of it. It did not seem terribly scandalous as she recalled. But she had been busy then. That talk had occurred when Sam first came to town and was trying to romance her. “Jimmy came home early last -”

“Then I should apologize. Priscilla had no cause to treat -”

“Jimmy was called out,” Emma cut Michael off again. “Teaspoon and Kid brought him home and Sam made sure that the fella who called him out left town. I stayed with Sam.” She shook her head. “I’m the one who should apologize to you. None of us thought about how Priscilla would get home.”

“I’m sure you thought she would come with her sister,” Michael said tiredly. Emma saw the strain in his eyes. Raising six children alone would be a daunting task for anyone, she thought, her heart filling with sympathy for the man in front of her. “Lorna and William went off on their own. Against my expressed wishes,” he added defeatedly. “And now I don’t know where Priscilla is. If she isn’t here…” His words trailed off.

“Don’t you fret.” Emma patted Michael on the arm. “You come in, have some coffee and I’ll send the boys out. She’s probably just walking home. Maybe she stopped to see a friend,” she added hopefully.

“Maybe,” Michael said but it was plain to see that he was not reassured by Emma’s words.

Chapter Eight

“Jimmy,” Teaspoon was barking orders at the riders, “you and Ike go back to town, look around. Maybe she stayed there. Kid and Lou, you look around the Washington place. Buck and Cody will search the ways Priscilla could have walked home.” He glared at Cody.

“I didn’t know Jimmy was called out. No one told me,” Cody said mournfully.

“No one would have had to tell you if you would have stayed at the dance,” Teaspoon seethed.

Jimmy walked away from the exchange he was sure would be forthcoming - Cody whining and Teaspoon chastising him. He did not need to hear it. He knew exactly whose fault this whole mess was. He saddled his horse and began galloping toward town. He knew Ike was right behind him. He heard the hoof beats. But he did not bother to let his friend catch up. He did not want to be lectured. There was so much frustration inside him right now that any conversation he had with anyone, even someone as mild as Ike, would cause him to lash out in anger.

He soon reached town and flung the reins of his horse around a nearby post then marched to the building the dance had been held. Now what?

He felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned his head and as expected there was Ike, shooting daggers at him with his eyes. Ike began moving his hands quickly.

Jimmy raised his own hand in supplication. “I’m sorry. I should have waited.” As he had hoped, the ride at top speed had cleared his head. Probably one of the reasons he was a successful Pony Express rider, he mused to himself. Riding like that kept him level headed.

Ike gestured some more. /We should split up./

“Yeah, I’ll look ‘round here,” Jimmy replied. He pointed south. “If she walked home, Cilla would have gone that way.”

Ike nodded.

Jimmy watched Ike walk away and then turned to the task at hand, searching for clues, anything that might tell him where Priscilla was. But what should he look for? There would footprints everywhere. How could he distinguish Priscilla’s from anyone else’s?

He moved closer to the building. He had seen her here, leaning against the wall. He placed a hand there, his heart filling with sorrow. It could have been a nice evening, he thought sadly. It seemed as if Priscilla was warming to him.

“Are you Wild Bill?” a small boy asked, tugging on Jimmy’s shirtsleeve.

Jimmy scowled, hating hearing the name.

“Are you?” the boy persisted. “Here.” He handed Jimmy a note.

As Jimmy looked at the letter he frowned, reading was not something he was very good at. “Ike,” he shouted, hoping that his friend had not gotten too far. “Ike!” Jimmy continued to yell, running through the still empty streets of Sweetwater, in the direction that he had shown Ike earlier. This letter had to be about Priscilla, he was sure of it. And his heart filled with dread knowing that somehow Wild Bill was involved.

/What?/ Ike pantomimed.

“Some boy gave me this note,” Jimmy told him impatiently. “Read it!” he exclaimed, shoving the paper into Ike’s hands. Before even three seconds had lapsed, Jimmy asked, “So what’s it say?”

Ike held up one hand, telling Jimmy to wait, while his eyes continued to scan the note. /I’m sorry,/ he gestured.

Jimmy’s heart contracted sharply.

/I’m sorry,/ Ike began.

Jimmy shook his head. “Just read,” he growled.

/Tyson Drake,/ Ike looked at Jimmy expectantly. But Jimmy could only shrug. He did not know the name. He did however have a good idea who this Drake fella was.

/That’s who this note is from,/ Ike explained. /He wants you to meet him at noon today/ Ike glanced at the sky.

Jimmy knew he had about two hours before that time. “Where?” he asked, his eyes hard.

Ike shook his head. /First I tell Sam and Teaspoon./

“Like hell you will,” Jimmy half shouted. “Gimme that note.” He reached for the paper but Ike deftly leapt out of reach. He was certain Ike had left out some key details, like come alone.

Ike began hurrying toward Sam’s office. But Jimmy grabbed his arm, dragging him behind the nearest building. “Sorry, Ike,” he whispered before landing a punch to Ike’s head. “I had to,” he added quietly, grabbing the note from Ike’s closed fist. “I don’t need the damn cavalry riding in, getting Cill killed.”

Jimmy searched the note. He saw the number, 12, and after it a name. Lucky for him it was a name he knew well, Emma’s Place, in Rolling Meadows. He had stopped there on his last run, drawn to the restaurant by its name. Emma’s place was nothing like his Emma’s place. It was a ratty saloon. But at least he knew where it was.

Jimmy dragged Ike to the livery, pushed him in a soft pile of hay and ran to his horse. Rolling Meadows was at least an hour and a half away.

Chapter Nine

Jimmy rode hard. He switched horses even though he did not have a mailbag with him at a station in between Sweetwater and Rolling Meadows. One of Teaspoon’s errands, he had offered as an explanation. He was lucky, no one questioned him and his luck continued to hold as he galloped into Rolling Meadows with more than forty-five minutes to spare. He saw Emma’s Place and no one saw him. Rolling Meadows seemed to be a very desolate town. Only one woman had crossed the street since he had arrived. There were six buildings in the town, none of them teeming with activity. The whole scenario reeked up set up, he thought grimly.

Now what? Tyson Drake or whoever he was was not in Emma’s Place. It was then Jimmy heard a loud crash behind him and a chorus of raucous laughter. Seemed like the only people in town were in the other saloon.

Jimmy watched the building carefully, trying to envision Drake’s scenario of choice. Drake would force him into a gunfight; someone else would have Priscilla. So that meant Priscilla had to be nearby. He realized that this was the best case scenario. Another possibility was that someone would give him another note and that would lead him elsewhere. Priscilla could easily be miles away.

Jimmy sighed, walking to the back of the saloon. He could do nothing if the second scenario occurred. But he could explore the possibility of Priscilla being held nearby. The saloon looked like a good choice.

Gingerly he approached a man heading back into the building, obviously returning from a quick stop at the outhouse.

“Any new girls?” Jimmy asked, hoping he sounded casual. The man gave him a befuddled look.

“I was here last week, and the week before,” Jimmy continued. He shrugged; hoping that he conveyed some sort of message, that they were compatriots, being slighted by a saloon that had so little to offer. He knew this was a risky gambit; he had not even entered this saloon once so for all he knew new girls could come in every week.

The man guffawed at him. “What? Your wild oats can’t be sowed just anywhere?” He pointed at the outhouse. “Blast that Bradley,” he muttered. His eyes brightened at Jimmy. “But maybe you’ll appreciate it. They got themselves a new girl in there. Stupid bitch won’t come out so Bradley locked her in and now anyone who needs the damned outhouse can’t get in either.”

He left Jimmy, still muttering about the lack of facilities. And as soon as he was out of earshot Jimmy hurried to the outhouse, his eyes lighting up upon spying a heavy chain wrapped around the small ramshackle building. It had to be her. What other reason would there be to put a chain around an outhouse?

He banged on the door.

“You get away; you low down, two bit -”

“Cill?” Jimmy asked hopefully.

Silence.

“Cill, it’s me, Jimmy.”

Jimmy was greeted with silence once again.

“Come on, we can get out of here.”

“How’d you find me?”

Jimmy groaned. Now was not the time for small talk. “I’ll tell you later, okay?”

“I’m locked in here.”

“Yeah, I know.” Jimmy yanked on the door. It had no give. He was going to have to shoot the lock that held the chain going round the building. “Get ready to run.”

“Run? Wait a -”

Jimmy shot the lock and all hell broke loose. Men came from the saloon, a few shouting once they realized what he had done. He cursed himself for leaving his horse out of reach. Stealing horses was not part of the plan; not that he had a well thought out plan to begin with.

He unraveled the chain enough to pull the door slightly ajar and Priscilla squeezed through. She looked disheveled but not harmed, he thought with no small amount of relief.

He grabbed her hand. “Run!” he commanded her. And run she did. They both ran and Jimmy soon spotted a horse. He shoved the rider off, ignoring the man’s epithets and swung up, holding a hand out to Priscilla. Once she was behind him, he dug his heels into the animal and galloped away. Jimmy did not even care what direction he was going in. He just needed to get somewhere where there was cover.

Chapter Ten

Jimmy galloped for about a mile before he slowed down. Priscilla was too unstable behind him. There was no way he could keep any kind of pace up with her dangling off the end of the horse. God, what were they going to do? He knew a large group was not too far behind them. He slid off the animal, pulling Priscilla off too. Then he gave the animal a good swat, hoping that the just a few hoof prints going elsewhere would buy them some time.

“What?” Priscilla asked him, her breath coming quickly. When she looked at Jimmy, he was mildly surprised to see that her eyes were not full of fear as he had expected. They were simply overly bright.

“Are you okay?” he asked cautiously.

Priscilla nodded. She looked at her feet, shifting her weight between them. “Thanks,” she said quietly.

“It was my fault they took you,” Jimmy told her, his voice full of regret.

“They obviously made a lot of assumptions,” Priscilla snapped. “Sorry,” she continued, her voice dropping. “I – um – I mean - ”

“Tell it to me later,” Jimmy said quickly. “I hear them. Run!”

He pulled her hand and together they ran into thicket. Together they crouched, watching, waiting, and worrying. It was not a good hiding place, Jimmy realized. Anyone looking hard enough could spot them easily. He pulled out his gun and peeked out of the thicket. He expected to see men on horseback. What he saw was one man on a horse and another on a wagon which was being pulled by a team of two horses. A supply wagon! He had forgotten - Rolling Meadows was a mining town. It was populated primarily by miners and the men who supplied the mine. No wonder it had been so empty earlier. All the men were working.

“Let’s go,” he whispered, pulling on Priscilla’s hand once more.

She looked at him, her eyes full of questions. But Jimmy knew he did not have time to answer them, nor could he. He did not know where they were going. He only knew that they needed to go. Now! He tugged on her hand once more and she followed him. They hurried to the wagon and he gave her a boost and she slipped under the white tarp covering the moving flatbed. Holding the tarp firmly, Jimmy swung his legs inside and slid inside the wagon. He crept forward and lifted the edge of the tarp so he could see outside. Priscilla soon slid next to him. And when he glanced at her he found her eyes riveted to him.

“If you hadn’t of come …” She stopped, her eyes filled with tears.

Jimmy put his hand over hers and held her fingers tightly.

“Thank you,” Priscilla said simply.

Jimmy turned her hand and kissed her palm gently. He felt Priscilla rest her head against his. He lifted his head and smoothed her hair from her face, his eyes locked with hers.

“You are welcome,” he replied, slowly lowering his lips toward hers. But a bump in the road stopped his movement.

Jimmy trained his eyes back on the road. He needed to keep focused on what was going on around him. He could now see where they had been. Where they were going was a whole different question.

Chapter Eleven

Jimmy waited until it until it was almost dark. The wagon had not returned to Rolling Meadows, as he had initially feared. It was going elsewhere, picking up supplies perhaps. The wagon bed was empty so they were apparently not delivering anything. He also knew that the wagon would stop soon; it was getting too dark to continue traveling safely.

He shook Priscilla’s shoulder gently. She appeared to have dozed off. “We gotta get off this wagon,” he whispered.

Priscilla gave him a worried look but she did not object. When Jimmy jumped out, he held his arms open and Priscilla leapt into them.

“Run?” Priscilla asked, almost sorrowfully.

“Yep,” Jimmy replied.

*~*~*

Priscilla untied the laces of her boots. These boots were not made for running around the countryside. They were her best boots and were for special occasions, like the dance. As she slipped one shoe off, she thought about that dance. It seems like years ago, not just a day ago.

“Ouch,” she said involuntarily. Her feet were rubbed raw. She slid the stocking off her foot as best she could. She winced in pain, as she had to pull harder. Some parts of her stocking were stuck to her bloodied foot. She then did the same to her other foot and fell backward against the grass. Her feet were killing her, she was hungry and she was exhausted. She had not eaten or really slept in over twenty-four hours. And she still was so far away from home.

She turned her head and watched Jimmy. He was starting a fire. While she lolled about, Priscilla thought feeling guilty.

Once the fire was going, Jimmy turned to her. “I’ll see if I can get a hare or a partridge,” he said. “Can you keep an eye on this?”

“Yeah.” She could not do anything else. She rose to her feet and limped closer to the fire.

“Your feet hurt?” Jimmy asked, watching her walk awkwardly toward him.

“A little.”

“Can I see?”

“It’s nothing,” Priscilla began. But Jimmy had already grabbed her foot so she sat down to avoid falling.

Jimmy gave her a look of dismay.

“I was wearing my Sunday shoes,” Priscilla offered by way of explanation.

“Gimme a petticoat.”

Priscilla slipped one of her many underskirts off and handed it to Jimmy. He tore it into strips. Some he used to wipe off her feet and the rest were used as bandages.

“I don’t have any water. Once we do, I’ll clean ‘em better,” Jimmy told her. He studied her face. “You aren’t gonna be able to walk.”

“I know,” Priscilla sighed.

“Stay here,” Jimmy commanded. He soon vanished. When he returned, he was carrying a small rabbit. All Priscilla could do was watch as Jimmy cleaned it, put it on a spit and then roasted it. He handed her a piece, which she happily devoured.

“We should get some rest,” Jimmy said finally. “I’m gonna have to put the fire out. I don’t want anyone to see it.”

Priscilla nodded and soon it was so dark she could barely see her hand in front of her face.

“Night,” Jimmy called out.

“Night,” Priscilla responded softly. She lay down. The ground was so uncomfortable. Her stomach still felt so empty, her throat parched and worst of all every time she closed her eyes, her body drifting off to sleep, she awoke with a start, imagining that man grabbing her again.

“Jimmy,” she said.

“Yeah.”

“They won’t find us, right?” Maybe if he said the words, she would believe it and be able to sleep.

“I don’t think so.”

Priscilla closed her eyes once more, but she jerked into a wakeful state all too quickly, letting out a small gasp as she kicked away an imaginary pair of hands.

“You okay?” Jimmy asked. It was strange to hear his voice, Priscilla thought, especially since she could not see him.

“No.” She did not know how to answer otherwise. It was the truth. “I’m scared,” she whispered.

She heard a rustling sound and soon Jimmy was beside her. He patted the ground beside her. “Can I?”

Oh God, yes, Priscilla thought. Stay close. Stay very close. But all she could say was “Thank you.”

Jimmy soon lay down beside her and wrapped his arms around her. “I won’t let them hurt you.”

“I believe you,” Priscilla said. She took one of his hands in hers, lacing their fingers together, holding on for dear life. She felt some of her fears begin to melt away; her body began to relax and soon she drifted off the sleep.

Chapter Twelve

Jimmy woke up when he felt the sun hit his face. He quickly disentangled himself from Priscilla’s body, but not before dropping a quick kiss on her forehead. He grabbed his gunbelt and he hurried away, searching for some kind of water, cold water.

He was supposed to have gone to a dance with a girl who had peaked his attention. But he was out here, alone, sleeping with her, holding her tight. He was not supposed to rush headlong into an intimate relationship again. He had done that with Sarah Downs and ended up almost dangling from a noose. He was going to go slow, with a girl he could bring home to his family.

Mercifully, he found a pond and waded right in, tossing his gunbelt on the shore. The water was not cold but it helped; well it helped a little bit. He at least was able to think a bit more coherently. He realized he was not taking things slow. He was falling hard and falling fast. What was he thinking? He wanted nothing better last night than to undo the buttons of Priscilla’s dress, unhook all of her underpinnings, and touch her bare skin – Jimmy suddenly ducked his head underwater. Stop!

He wanted all these things so badly. But he could not have them. He could not sleep with Priscilla. She was not that kind of girl. Jimmy rose from the water and shook his head. What were Emma’s words doing in his head? He had slept with her, literally. Of course it was not enough. It had taken every bit of self-control he had not to sleep with her the way he wanted to sleep with her.

No! he told himself sternly. He would get Priscilla home in one piece and then he would try to court her properly. He would not make the same mistakes he had with Sarah Downs. He had learned his lesson.

*~*~*

Priscilla waited, rubbing one of her feet, hoping Jimmy came back soon. She smiled to herself. It had felt good lying in his arms last night. He felt so warm and solid. She had been a bit surprised when he behaved so dispassionately when taking off her shoes and wrapping her feet. He did not even once let his fingers brush against her calf or any part higher. She was not expecting a perfect gentleman. But then he had held her when she could not sleep. She was not sure if he was even aware of it, but he was not the perfect gentleman then. His hands had wandered. She had hoped he was interested when the dance was initially mentioned to her. But then the evening had gone so badly. At the tiniest glimmer of some fun that man had appeared and all hell had broke loose. But then Jimmy came for her. She wrapped her arms around herself. He came for her!

But the tingle of pleasure soon disappeared. Where was he? She was feeling skittish again. But much to her relief, Jimmy soon appeared.

“I found water,” he said. He studied her carefully. “Can you walk?”

Priscilla smiled. “Of course.” She rose to her feet and took a few steps and much to her surprise found herself swept into Jimmy’s arms.

“No,” he told her firmly, “you can’t.” He began moving quickly. “There’s a pond nearby,” he added.

“So I see,” Priscilla said, pulling on a lock of his wet hair, happy to have him hold her close again.

They soon reached the pond and Priscilla removed all her clothes save her shift. She suppressed the urge to laugh when she saw Jimmy look away. Good Lord, was he really that innocent? But as she eased her way into the water, she realized he thought she was.

She split the water cleanly, enjoying the sensation of having the grime that covered her simply dissolved away. As she made her way to the water's edge, she cupped her hands and drank deeply.

“Here,” Jimmy said, holding out her dress as she stepped out of the pond. Priscilla noted that with some amusement that he was still averting his eyes. He really did want to cover her up, she decided, suppressing her laughter.

“Thanks,” Priscilla replied, her eyes dancing. She chose not to make him even more uncomfortable. He had been too good to her for that. She quickly and silently dressed. Once her dress was on, Jimmy took another petticoat and tore it up.

Priscilla bit the inside of her cheek to keep her smile hidden. He looked miserable wrapping her feet. But he did it.

Once she was dressed and her feet in some sort of repair, she stood up. “So now what?”

Jimmy pointed. “Sweetwater is that way, so I guess we walk and hope to find some kinda help.”

“Hope?”

“I don’t know what else to do,” Jimmy told her, his eyes filled with regret.

“No, its fine,” Priscilla said. “We’ll find something.”

Together they began walking slowly, exchanging bits of conversation about members of their respective families, how they arrived in Sweetwater. Jimmy told her that he had two older sisters and that his parents had died; thus he joined the Express. He had also told her about his father and the anger he felt toward him for hurting his mother. He then moved on to his Express family, Teaspoon, Emma and each of the riders. She still could not believe that they had thought Lou was a boy. ‘Look at her neck, no Adam’s apple,’ Priscilla had told him. ‘And her hands, they are so small.’

She in turn told him about her parents. That they had moved here after an aunt was killed back east. Her father was not a farmer or rancher, but he wanted to be away from the big city and the growing crime rate. So they moved way out west and her father used his bookkeeping skills to assist the various shopkeepers, save Tompkins who was too cheap to hire him. They raised a few crops, sold some eggs and somehow made do. It became more difficult when her mother had died giving birth to John. She then regaled with him tales about her sisters and brother. There was Grace, who was a busybody, Jane the shy one, Emily, the tomboy, and John, everyone’s baby. Nothing too meaningful, Priscilla thought. But it was nice first outing material.

Chapter Thirteen

Jimmy turned around; Priscilla had once again fallen too far back. He had tried carrying her for a while but he did not have the energy to do that for long. He was tired and hungry. The sun was beating down upon them and they had no water. The best solution they could come up with was having Jimmy lead the way, tramping down a path so Priscilla could walk in relative comfort as her shoes had been left behind. They were not suitable for such a trek.

“You sure know how to show a girl a good time,” Priscilla told him with a rueful smile as she finally caught up to him.

She took a step and Jimmy saw her start to wobble. He could tell from her unsteady gait that she was getting lightheaded. Jimmy slipped an arm around her waist, helping her walk for a while.

He was used to these kinds of conditions. His life before the judge had taught him how to deal with having nothing and Pony Express riders spent most of their lives outside, in all types of weather. Priscilla was clearly not used to this kind of life.

“You should go ahead,” Priscilla said. “I’m just slowing you down.”

Jimmy shook his head. “I am not leaving you behind. How will I find you again?”

“The way I’m going, I’ll still be here. You can find me.” Priscilla gave him a wan smile. “Go. Get help.”

“No,” Jimmy told her firmly. He picked her up and began walking.

“You can’t keep this up for long.”

“I can keep it up until we find water.”

“Then you’ll go?”

“No.”

Priscilla let out a loud sigh.

Jimmy ignored her and continued to walk. He could feel his legs getting heavier, his head beginning to pound. He could not keep this up much longer. Much as he hated to admit it, Priscilla was right. He was going to have to leave her behind. But as he looked into her face, which was growing alarmingly pale, he was not sure he could make himself do it.

“Water,” Priscilla croaked.

“We’ll find some,” Jimmy said, trying to sound reassuring.

“No.” She pointed. “See? Water!”

“Cill,” Jimmy said sadly as he looked to where she indicated. He was losing her. “There is no water.”

“No, there is. Look!”

Jimmy sat down and held her close. He worried even more when he felt her shiver.

“I’m just seeing things?” she asked quietly, a shadow of fear crossed her face as she realized what was happening to her.

Jimmy nodded, pressing his face against her neck. She was getting cold now. He had at least had breakfast yesterday. Who knew when was the last time Priscilla ate a decent meal?

“You have to go. Now!” she commanded him. “Please,” she added, beseeching him when he began to shake his head.

Jimmy looked around, realizing she was right. They could not continue on this way. As he continued to search, he scowled. There was not even a single tree to leave her under. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised.

“I know you will.” Priscilla smiled at him.

He removed his gun and handed it to her.

“No,” Priscilla began to protest.

“I ain’t going otherwise,” Jimmy said, narrowing his eyes at her.

Priscilla held the gun gingerly in both hands, and then set it beside her, her disgust with the weapon obvious. “I hate these things.”

“Use it if you have to,” Jimmy said briskly. He leaned down and kissed her quickly. Priscilla put her arms around his neck, resting her forehead against his. Jimmy was content to stay there, in her arms. He really did not know Priscilla very well, but once again he found himself longing for things he really should not be longing for.

She was the first one to break away. “Hurry back,” she said with a sad smile.

“Count on it,” Jimmy told her resolutely.

Chapter Fourteen

Jimmy walked. And he walked. And then he walked some more. He did not know how long he had been going. He was pretty sure he left Priscilla around noon. The sun had been high up in the sky. It was now much lower. Was it around five?

He still could not spot anyone or anything that could help them. Despair began to fill him. In a few hours it would be dark and he would have to stop. He was sure Priscilla would not last a whole day without water. God knows if he could either.

He forced himself to move his feet. One step at a time he told himself. He continued moving until he saw something. A house! It had to be. He prayed it was not just his eyes playing tricks on him. It had to be real. It just had to be.

He began to run. An elderly man caught Jimmy in his arms as he starting falling forward, his knees buckling in relief.

“Whoa there, son.”

“Help, I need help.” Jimmy forced the sound from his lips. It was hard to get the words out, but he had to. He was so tired; his throat was so dry.

The man handed Jimmy a canteen and Jimmy began to gulp the water.

The man soon snatched the canteen away. “Slow down, you’ll make yourself sick.” He waited, watching as Jimmy nodded, wiping his mouth. He then handed the canteen back, smiling in approval as Jimmy sipped the water this time.

“I need help. Please,” Jimmy was pleading now. “She’s out there. She’s gotta be so scared.” He knew he was not making much sense. But he could not seem to make his brain say exactly what he wanted to say. He just needed to get the words out.

“We’ll help you, son,” the man assured him. “Someone is out there. Your wife?”

Jimmy began to shake his head but the man had already turned his head. “Esther, hitch up the wagon. We have a young man here who needs our help.”

The rest of the events became one big blur for Jimmy. The elderly man and a woman, Jimmy assumed was his wife, got on a wagon. Jimmy got on board and directed them to what he hoped was the right spot.

After about a couple of hours Jimmy thought they were close to where he had left Priscilla. But the first place they looked at wasn’t right. Jimmy cursed to himself. Had he gotten things turned around in his mind? His heart contracted, had Priscilla moved herself or did someone else move her?

The elderly man, Martin, patted his shoulder reassuringly. “We’ll find her, don’t you fret.”

Jimmy nodded. They would find her. They had to find her, he thought grimly. He looked around, searching for a landmark. He then saw a hill he had avoided going over. The hill had been to his right. “There,” he told the couple, pointing left.

Martin clucked and snapped the reins. The wagon began moving slowly once more. And this time they found Priscilla, lying in the grass, her eyes closed.

Jimmy leapt off the wagon and cradled Priscilla in his arms. Together he and Martin got Priscilla in the wagon. The wagon ride seemed to last forever. Eventually they got back to the small farmhouse and Martin took Priscilla in his arms. “I’ll take her inside. Let Ester tend to her. You stay here,” he said in a voice that would broker no argument.

All Jimmy could do was nod; he was too filled with relief to do anything else. When Martin returned, he meekly followed him to a horse trough and got in when Martin motioned him to do so. He sat in there, letting his body cool off. He drank the water Martin brought him, ate the bread given to him and removed every stitch of clothing he had when Martin told him to. Jimmy sat there soaking for quite some time, feeling his body return to normal.

“Here.” Martin handed him a long nightshirt when he returned. Jimmy had not even been aware that Martin had gone. He stole a quick glance around. His own clothes had vanished. “Put this on.”

Once again, Jimmy could do nothing but what the man told him. He dressed, feeling a bit like his own grandfather. And when Martin motioned him to follow once more, he did just that.

He led Jimmy inside the house and opened a door. “Your wife is already in there.” He handed Jimmy a tray. “I expect you’ll be hungry in an hour or two. But Ester and I will be asleep, so this should hold you till morning.”

“Thank you,” Jimmy began. “Thank you so much. I don’t -”

“It wouldn’t be decent to let you die,” Martin said, his eyes dancing with mirth. “We didn’t do anything special,” he added in a more serious voice.

“You did,” Jimmy whispered, his eyes filled with gratitude. This man had saved them. “Thank you. If there is anything I can ever do,” he added.

“You can do some chores ‘round here when you are up to it,” Martin said with a small chuckle. “I don’t get around like I used to.”

Jimmy nodded his head vigorously. “Anything.”

“Then get some sleep. The way you look, I wouldn’t even expect to see you tomorrow.”

Jimmy smiled. He felt like he could sleep for a week. He walked into the room and heard the door click shut behind him. He set the tray on a small table and crawled into the bed. Priscilla was already there, her eyes still closed. But as Jimmy pulled her close, he noted that her body temperature was back to normal and her breathing was deep and steady. In a few minutes Jimmy was fast asleep as well.

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