Pale: . . . I'm real scared here.
Anna: I don't want this . . . Oh, Lord, I didn't want this . . .
Pale: I know. I don't want it either. . . . I didn't expect nothin' like this.
Lanford Wilson, Burn This
When I first heard that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had gotten their amnesty from the Governor of Wyoming, I was plenty happy for them, but after a bit, I was a little annoyed, too. It wasn't like I was expecting Hannibal Heyes to come riding into Blue Sky on a white charger and sweep me off -- not only would it have been completely out of character for the man, but if you must know the unromantic truth, I would have objected to any such operation, myself -- but it would have been nice to have gotten a telegram or something. Especially because they knew where to reach me, but, as usual, I had no way of knowing how to get in touch with them, other than forwarding a message through Lom Trevors, in Porterville, Wyoming, and I'd always felt awkward about that. It was frustrating, because I would have at least liked to offer my congratulations.
And, all right, maybe I would have liked to be the first person he told.
So when the figurative white charger came riding up to my office door a month or so later, I was caught completely unawares. I don't actually know what color horse he was riding, because I was in a meeting in the back office. The first thing I knew about it, I heard a commotion in the front office, and Caroline's voice saying, "You can't just go back there, Miss Hart is . . . ." The next thing I knew, the door had burst open, and there was Hannibal Heyes, a bit travel worn but otherwise looking every inch the handsome outlaw, from the dusty black hat that was pushed back over his brown hair, right down to his boots.
I'd stepped to the door to see what was going on, and when he caught sight of me, he threw his arms around me and gave me a long, deep kiss, the kind that would have taken my breath away if I hadn't already been breathless and speechless. When I'd collected myself enough to sort of tap on his shoulder, he pulled away, but immediately started in. "Did you hear? We've got it! The Kid and I got our amnesty! We're not wanted men, anymore."
His eyes were locked on mine, but he finally looked up as a tall figure approached him from over my shoulder.
"Mr. Smith?" It was my partner, Jeremy Chadwick, speaking in a soft but agitated voice.
"Chadwick," he said, and put out his hand. "Good to see you . . . I'm sorry, I didn't even notice you were there. Did you hear what I was telling Ella? We got the amnesty."
"Amnesty? I knew it! You were wanted!" came an exclamation from across the room. "I knew you were Hannibal Heyes, all along." Rick Johnson had jumped from his seat, his broad face even redder than usual. The question of identity had arisen before -- in fact, you could say it was how Heyes and I met. Rick had been representing a bounty hunter who had brought in a pair of men who were calling themselves Joshua Smith and Thaddeus Jones, and was claiming the $10,000 reward apiece on Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Smith and Jones got second choice, so they got me. Fortunately for my clients, Sheriff Lom Trevors back in Wyoming had been willing to vouch for their identity as honest citizens, so they'd gone free.
It was an easy day's work for me, so easy that I didn't even feel right about accepting my usual fee, and I'd let Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones take me out to dinner instead. Later that evening, I'd gotten to know Joshua Smith better. A whole lot better, as it turned out. But the bounty hunter -- and no doubt my old friend and rival Rick -- had lost out on a lot of money that day, and money was something that Rick didn't let go of very easily. The only grudges he ever held were financially oriented. But he'd never held one against me before, certainly not over cases won or lost. Whether money was involved or not, it was all part of the game. He'd always just moved on to the next opportunity, figuring that if he lost this one, he'd demolish me the next time. There was something about his vehemence that seemed unlike blustery old Rick, even when his avarice had been thwarted.
I looked at Jeremy and then at Heyes, and said helplessly, "I'd like you to meet the Blue Sky Bar Association. I think you know all the members -- Mister Richard Johnson, Judge Harold Clayton, and of course you know Jeremy Chadwick."
"Did you know this all the time, Ella?" Rick was as agitated as I'd ever seen him, his normally red face a frightening shade of scarlet. "We had Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry in jail right here and you got them OUT? Do you have any idea what those two have been responsible for? It's a miscarriage of justice! Not to mention that my client was cheated of his reward money." He loved to scream in court, but then there was always a twinkle of humor in his eyes when he did it. I scanned him anxiously, but I couldn't detect that twinkle.
"I didn't know it until afterwards, Rick," I protested, "and then it was protected by attorney-client privilege."
"He and his partner were worth $20,000, and notorious outlaws besides. We could have turned them in ourselves!" Rick had lost his temper entirely, now, something I'd never seen before, and it was catching.
"Rick, that was privileged information. I could have been disbarred for even thinking that! Besides, they'd gone straight for almost a year before they crossed our paths. And now they're not even wanted anymore." I was beginning to shout back, and Heyes, who was standing behind me, put his hand on my shoulder to quiet me down.
It was a well-intentioned gesture, but somehow seeing Heyes touching me set Rick off even worse. "Look at him, laying his dirty outlaw hands on you! And the way he just walked in and kissed you, without so much as a by-your-leave. Like he knew he'd be welcome."
"Calm down, Rick," said Jeremy. Our eyes met for a moment and I could see he was as shocked by Rick's outburst as I was.
"I will not! You really had us fooled, Ella Hart, pretending to be all pure and proper. And here this . . . this criminal just walks in and kisses you like he's done it before. No man in these parts is good enough for you, but here she is, the Widow of Windsor and her outlaw fancy-man."
Jeremy took him by the arm and tried to propel him towards the door. "Rick, I think you should take a minute to think about what you just said. You know Ella as well as I do, and you know she's a lady and would never do anything improper. Why don't you leave now, and come back when you've calmed down? Just think about it for awhile, and you'll realize that you're misinterpreting what you saw." But of course, he knew that Rick wasn't misinterpreting anything, that was the worst of it. I'd been doing exactly what Rick was suggesting, and possibly worse. I was breaking the rules, and I'd just been found out -- or suspected, which was almost as bad, since the suspicious mind would be able to piece the evidence together and discover the scandalous truth. There was enough of it, if you knew where to look. And Rick was a master of evidence.
"I am not," he spat out in response. "I know exactly what I just saw. And I remember when she came to my office to tell me you two were going to go out of town to help Mister Smith and Mister Jones out of a jam they'd gotten into over in Greenville. How long have you known about this, Jeremy? Huh? He's not just a grateful client, is he? He's an outlaw, and he's her lover."
Heyes spoke up, now. "I'm sorry if you feel took this the wrong way, Mr. Johnson. I've been kissing a lot of ladies to celebrate getting my amnesty. I didn't mean nothing by it. Miss Ella's just been a good friend to me and the Kid, that's all."
"And if you expect me to believe that, there's this bridge they just built back east over in Brooklyn. I expect you want to sell me that, too. We're out here in the middle of nowhere, and you show up just by chance. If you're about to tell me you’re visiting every lawyer who's ever helped you out, well . . . there's one born every minute, but I'm not one of 'em." He turned to me with cold, hard fury in his eyes. "My wife will certainly have a story to tell her sewing circle this afternoon, I can promise you that." He stormed out of the room, leaving me torn between laughing at the absurd picture of Rick as an enraged bull, and trembling about what might happen.
Not only did Rick seem like he was in the mood to do me some damage, but Cora Johnson was more than likely to be willing to aid and abet. She had never liked me -- it was almost as if she was jealous, for some absurd reason, of the professional interests that I shared with her husband -- and she was a well-connected woman, with a very sharp tongue. Usually Rick put out the fires she started, but when he chose not to, life could be pretty uncomfortable for her targets. Ella Hart associating with a notorious outlaw and letting him kiss her, maybe worse . . . well, that was going to be the best piece of news she'd had to share in a very long time.
But that wasn't the worst of it. While Heyes kept watching in the direction in which Rick had stormed away, Jeremy and I turned back towards the conference table, where a single, elderly figure sat.
It was Judge Clayton's expression, as he sat there silently, that was the most painful thing to see. It looked like his own heart was breaking. You see, he'd been Billy's uncle -- Billy, my long-lost fiance. In fact, when Billy came to Blue Sky to clerk for my father, it was because Judge Clayton had arranged for it. And when Billy and I fell in love, there was nobody happier about it. When Billy died, the Judge was with me. My subsequent period of extended mourning, my decision to clerk for my father in Billy's place, and my whole existence thereafter as a single lady and lady lawyer were Judge Clayton's one and only romantic tale.
And now it was shattered for him. Even if it had only been that single kiss he'd witnessed, the idea of another man looking at me, touching me at all . . . well, the pedestal that the Judge had put me on was a high one, and a hard one to balance on. The idea that just maybe my entire life didn't revolve around Billy's memory anymore was bad enough. I don't suppose he believed the rest of what Rick had suggested, but that didn't matter. Either way, I had just fallen off that pedestal real hard.
The judge had always seemed much younger than his years. Right now he looked every minute of them. Jeremy had to assist him out of the room.
A moment later Jeremy returned, accompanied by Kid Curry, who must have been waiting outside to give his partner a little privacy. I appreciated his consideration. He couldn't have known that half of town was going to be in the room already.
He looked puzzled. "What's going on in here, anyway? That Rick whathisname looked pretty mad, and the old man looked ill."
Heyes turned to him. "What's going on is that I was so happy to see Ella, here, that I didn't bother to look around the room before I gave her the good news. Apparently I just surprised a lot of people."
Curry frowned. "You never walk into a room without checking it out first. What were you think . . . oh. You weren't thinking, were you?" He smiled an odd little smile.
I took up the thread. "There was a meeting in progress of the Blue Sky Bar Association. You've met them all in a professional capacity before. I'm not sure if they were more angry to find out you two really were you two, or offended by the rather familiar manner which Heyes took in informing me about the amnesty."
The Kid started to laugh, but he stilled himself when he realized that nobody was laughing along with him.
I continued. "I, for one, would like a change of scenery. If you gentlemen wouldn't mind retiring upstairs to the parlor? Caroline, honey," I called in a louder tone, "come and help me with the tea things."
Caroline was Sandy's successor as my pupil/housekeeper/ward, a fourteen-year-old orphan girl. She was about as different from Sandy as you could get, though. A plain, small, thin girl with lank light-brown hair and washed-out blue eyes, she was never going to be much better at cooking or housekeeping than I was, but she was clever with her books, and the boldest, brashest little piece of baggage it had ever been my qualified pleasure to meet. I'd already asked her if she wanted to be a lawyer when she grew up, and she'd thought about it and said that she might, but right now she had her heart set on moving East and teaching French or German or something. Since she didn't know any French or German when I met her, and had never been any further east than perhaps an hour from Blue Sky, I thought this was an interesting choice. Interesting, and brave. The house was full of French and German grammars now, and my uncomfortably frank French novels by Flaubert and Gauthier were hidden away under lock and key. I tried to get her to take an interest in learning Spanish, thinking that it might come in some practical use, but she studied it only dutifully, without the passion that she brought to her other work.
There were some times, though, when her boldness was not so welcome. Now, for example. "So, has that man kissed you before, like old Rick said? He sure is handsome."
"Caroline, that is none of your business. But if I catch you kissing any man before you're married to him at least five years, you're going to be sorry you were ever born."
"Don't be silly, Ella. Married people don't kiss each other."
"You don't think Jeremy and Melanie kiss?"
"Well . . . maybe Jeremy and Melanie do. But not most of 'em. People kiss people they're not married to."
Where had the child gotten those notions? I thought for a moment. "Did you find those old books, Caroline?"
"The French ones? That you had locked up in that trunk? I figured you just forgot about 'em. You would have given 'em to me otherwise, wouldn't you?"
"Not Les Liaisons Dangereuses?" I shuddered, both horrified at the notion of de Laclos' decadent aristcrats forming any part of Caroline's store of knowledge, and at the same time thinking about how I'd been involved in a very dangerous liaison, indeed.
"Wasn't that so sad at the end, when Valmont realized he really did love Madame de Tourvel and it was too late, so he went and got himself killed in that duel with Danceny?"
"Caroline, I'm going to 'prentice you off to Bannerman's to be a detective if you keep it up like this."
"They don't take girls. I already asked."
Sometimes I really wished I hadn't encouraged Sandy to get married and leave me.
Caroline and I brought the tea things up into the parlor, and I told her to go back down to the kitchen and work on her German grammar. She pouted as she left. She hated to miss anything interesting, but I was determined she was going to keep whatever shreds of innocence remained to her.
Curry and Jeremy were sitting in my two armchairs, and Heyes was on the settee, which left me no other real option than to join him, unless I wanted to ostentatiously drag over a side chair from the dining table. As I poured from the silver pot into the delicate china cups, I began, trying to keep my tone light. "Heyes, we've really got to talk about your timing. You had the amnesty for a whole month, and you're going to have it for the rest of your life. You couldn't even send a telegram, but you just burst into my office without so much as a by-your-leave right in the middle of my monthly Bar Association meeting."
The usually silver tongue was subdued. "I'm sorry. I figured you'd have heard the news, anyway, and I wanted to wait and tell you all about it in person." Our eyes met and I could tell he was remembering the last time we had sat on this couch together, back on that first night we'd spent together. Could it really have been a year and a half ago? It felt like I'd just met him, and like I'd known him for a very, very long time.
He took a cup from me, a little awkwardly, and our fingers brushed. The sensation seemed to travel all through my body. There was no doubt how I felt about this man. It was just that feeling that much for anyone frightened me. I'd loved Billy and that had seemed safe and then he died. Loving Hannibal Heyes was in no way safe.
Fortunately, Kid Curry broke the silence. "It was my fault. He couldn't wait to tell you because he'd been planning to come and tell you a lot sooner. But when the amnesty came through we got to celebrating. I got a little out of hand, and Heyes had to back me up."
"And Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, no longer wanted men, spent fifteen days in a local jail for disturbing the peace," finished Heyes, wryly.
Jeremy laughed. "You sure you two are going to be any good at this law-abiding stuff? Get your pardon and spend half of the first month locked up?" He turned serious. "Look, we don't know that this is going to turn into anything. Rick gets mad, and he gets over it. Probably by the time he sees his wife, he'll have thought better about spreading gossip."
Heyes stared at him, and then at me. "What does it matter what folks say? I didn't think you cared about what other people thought of you, anyway, Ella. You don't exactly live like everyone else, living all by yourself, doing a man's work. You do what's right for you, not for some pattern young lady. That's one of the things I like about you."
"Don't you remember lying to a bunch of people back in Colorado a while ago?" I asked him. "Telling Meriwether Abel that when he saw us kissing in the moonlight, it was because you got carried away, and I was some innocent, injured party?"
"Well, yeah, but you'd gotten things so tangled up, pretending you didn't know me in the first place. I just didn't want things to look any more suspicious than they did already."
"And what about those telegrams you used to send signed by Chester Brubaker, Esq., asking me to meet him on urgent business regarding his client J. Smith?"
"I kind of thought someone in the telegraph office might pick up on it if I gave my real name. There was a pretty big price on my head at the time, if you recall."
"I meant the urgent business part. Jeremy figured it out before I did, the first time."
Heyes gave me a winning grin. "You caught on quick, as I recall."
But before he could take the reminiscences any further, Jeremy interrupted, his young face grave. "You really don't get it, do you, Heyes? She's a lady, a respectable lady, and one of the leaders of this community. She isn't supposed to do some of the things she's done." He turned to me. "The worst of it is that the judge is taking it pretty badly."
"Why?" asked Heyes. "What does the judge have to do with this?"
In answer I reached towards the gold locket I always wore. "You've never seen this open, have you?" I took it off, and touched the secret clasp that opened it. Inside were three things: a lock of light brown hair, a thin gold ring, and a photograph. The ring fell to the floor, and Heyes reflexively picked it up and handed it to me. Only as he was putting it in my open palm, did he see what it was. My wedding ring, the one that Billy had brought back from his final, fatal trip to the capital. It had only sat on my finger once, when I tried it on for Billy, as he lay on his deathbed. When I told him I would never love anyone else but him, not for the rest of my days. "Look at the picture," I said. "The family resemblance is really astonishing, isn't it?" The young man pictured had the same long nose, the same high forehead, the same piercing, deep-set eyes as the old man who had so recently left my offices.
Heyes looked, and Curry walked around behind us, so he could see, too. After a moment Heyes looked back at me. "Not his father? Billy's name wasn't Clayton, was it?"
"Judge Clayton was Billy's uncle. And the chief keeper of the flame of the Legend of Ella and Billy. The idea of another man so much as looking at me, much less kissing me right there in front of him -- well, you might say the judge has his little oddities, and the idea of my eternal devotion to his late nephew was quite a fixed idea with him."
He handed me the locket back wordlessly. I closed it and put it back around my neck. It felt awkward, somehow, now that Heyes had seen what was inside it, but it wouldn't do for me to suddenly be seen without my portable shrine. Not now, of all times.
Curry spoke up again. "I don't understand why this is so earthshaking, anyway. So he kissed you? So what? No disrespect meant, Ella, but he's kissed lots of girls. We both have. Some of them were 'ladies,' and some of them I guess you wouldn't call that. Nobody's life has come to a screeching halt."
I opened my mouth to reply, but Jeremy leapt in. "Were any of them like she is? Women who've earned the right to live alone and move through a man's world because no breath of scandal has ever touched them?"
"Let's put all our cards on the table. What we're all talking around is the point that Rick has made some assumptions based on that kiss. He said as much. He's jumping to conclusions, and he doesn't have any proof, but we all know that the conclusions are the correct ones." I reddened. It might be that they all knew that Heyes had been my lover, but it was hard to say it in a room filled with three men.
I spoke quickly, trying to cover my embarrassment. "Rick's heard enough fragments of stories from Jeremy, and me, and his daughter-in-law -- you two remember my ward Sandy, don't you? And that she was going to marry Rick's son? -- that he may piece some things together and conclude that his guesses were right. Look, this is a small town, and I've broken some very hard and fast rules. I'm not sure what the consequences will be. I know this will probably sound ridiculous to the two of you, but it's not impossible that if this story makes the rounds, and folks decide that I've lost my honor, a good portion of Blue Sky won't want to have anything more to do with me."
It occurred to me, and not for the first time, that Heyes had never seemed to be fully aware of the kind of risks I had run for him. Everyone expected a man like him to have lovers, mistresses, or whatever you might call them, but for a woman like me to have slept with a man I wasn't married to was far outside of the realm of expected, "decent" behavior that I was expected to adhere to. If he'd have recognized it, maybe it would have told him some of the things I would never say in words.
The former outlaws looked at each other, and back at me. "Why do you care about them, if you think they might treat you that bad?" asked Curry, genuinely curious.
I laughed. "In purely economic terms, where do you think my work comes from? You know what an oddity I am, even if I don't like to think of it that way. If you think I can just set myself down in some town where nobody knows me and or knew my family, and say 'Hello, I'm a lawyer,' and not starve . . ."
"Well," Jeremy broke the tension. "I think we need to come up with a plan."
I noticed that the Kid immediately looked at his partner, but Heyes deferred to mine, tentatively. I knew he must still think of Jeremy as the young man who'd tagged along with him and his partner, wide-eyed and impressed, not quite a year ago. But Jeremy was on his home ground now. "Sounds like you have something in mind, Chadwick?"
"I'm sure this will all come to nothing, but I think there are a couple of things we can do that would counteract a lot of the gossip. For one thing, we're going to finish tea, and then I'm going to accompany you two to the saloon, and you're going to stay there until you're ready to go back to the hotel for the night."
"We didn't come all this way to sit in a saloon," protested Heyes. "We came to see Ella."
"There's plenty of saloons between here and where we came from we could be sitting in right now," added Curry. "It's been an awful long ride just to sit in some saloon."
I jumped in. "Jeremy's right. You two need to be seen in public. That makes it look more like you came to town for other reasons, too, not just to see me."
"And then tomorrow morning, say around eleven, you'll just happen to be in the Main Street when I take my wife out for a stroll. I'll introduce you, and she'll invite you home for dinner. That way it'll be clear that I consider you fit to meet a respectable woman." Jeremy probably didn't know how pretentious that sounded, but considering he was doing it for me, I didn't exactly want to laugh at him.
"Well . . . " I could tell Heyes was hesitating.
"Just as a precaution. Just for," I lowered my eyes, "the sake of my reputation? Please? I know I'm a hypocrite, but it's a hypocritical world we live in." I thought about my favorite novel, Middlemarch, and how a whole town can turn against a person, like Middlemarch did against Doctor Lydgate, or the banker Bulstrode. I thought about the author herself who, despite her immense literary success, couldn't be received in polite society because she had lived with a man who had been unable to divorce his faithless wife and marry her.
Marriage was one thing I didn't expect from Hannibal Heyes, and one thing I didn't want from him. Why would I have picked him, otherwise, when I'd been warding off the occasional respectable suitors for over a decade now? Never mind that he was significantly more intelligent, not to mention more attractive, than any of those suitors. Never mind that he had made me feel things I never thought I would feel again, after Billy was gone. Never mind that he had made me feel much more than I had intended to feel. I never should have gotten involved with him, of course, but at least he'd never threatened my independence.
Or my personhood. You see, a married woman isn't legally a person. Of course, no women can vote, or do a lot of other things -- including practice law in a lot of jurisdictions, like Illinois and Virginia -- but single women and widows can own property and enter contracts in their own right, and testify about anything in court. Married women can't. The legal term that Blackstone uses is feme covert, which is an antiquated form of law-French for "covered woman." Covered by her husband. Stifled, so she can barely breathe, like the late, lamented Greta Stevens. I'd read that the New York legislature was looking into changing some of those things about contracts and property, but that didn't mean they'd do it, or that Montana would be following, anytime soon.
I was just getting ready to retire that night when Caroline, who was sitting and reading in the parlor, asked me if I heard anything.
I stood there and listened, and there was a distinct sound coming from the direction of the back door. He wouldn't have, I thought, with mixed emotions. We rushed down the stairs, and opened the door, and I hurried him inside.
He had. He'd been drinking, of course. After all, it was the saloon to which Jeremy had sent him and his partner, with a certain innocence about what that might lead to. He was just drunk enough to make him reckless, no more. I'd seen him really drunk once, and it wasn't a pretty picture. But this time he seemed to be in control of himself, and the picture was certainly an attractive one. Too attractive. His dark hair had been combed back, but it was starting to fall forward around his face, and his intense expression gave his handsome, unusual features a particular charm. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just couldn't stand it, anymore, me bein' there and you bein' here."
"Did anyone see you on the way over?"
"I don't think so."
"You don't think so?" My voice rose despite my best efforts.
"Not that I could see. I tried to be careful. Aren't you being a little ridiculous about all this?"
I sighed. He was here now, and it would just draw more attention if I sent him away. I only hoped Caroline wouldn't be ruined for life by all this. I'd have to have one of those long "do as I say, not as I do" talks with her later. Tomorrow. The honest truth was that I didn't want to send him away.
"Okay, Caroline," I said. "You're going to sleep down here, tonight, all right? Just in case anyone else tries to come visit us in the middle of the night." Caroline had a bed in the maid's room, off the kitchen, but she usually slept in the spare room upstairs, next to mine.
"All right," she said, far too affably. The child frightened me sometimes. "Bonne nuit."
We made our way upstairs. I could feel his breathing close behind me. The air was practically crackling with the electricity of his presence. He wasn't making things easy, that was for sure.
I closed the door to my flat behind us. "You shouldn't have come."
"Are you really going to tell me you don't want me here?"
"No, just that you may have made things a lot worse, if anyone saw you coming here." I looked at him, at those deep brown eyes, at his sensual mouth, at his lean form. I couldn't pretend I didn't want him, and want him badly. My breathing came shallow and heavy as I felt his nearness in the air all around me, the whiskey scent of his breath. "Of course I want you here. Just tell me -- why am I such a hypocrite?"
His look was frankly sensual, as he ran his hand down the side of my face. "Ella, you're human. The only thing that's hypocritical about you is this idea you have that you ought to live like a nun forever." He lowered his hand to my breast and cupped it in his hand, through the thin fabric of my nightdress. I moaned a little, in spite of myself. "You want me just as much as I want you. You've always been so honest about that. It's one of the reasons I --" he stopped himself short.
And with that he kissed me, hard and deep. The feel of him was intoxicating and soon I was lost in the sensations of touching and kissing and . . . In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that I was forgetting something, but I couldn't hold onto a coherent thought long enough to remember what it could be. He was passionate, urgent, different somehow than he'd ever been before, and some part of me knew that this was, had to be, the last time.
I'm not sure where the night went, but the clock on my mantel was warning me that it was quarter to five and that I'd better get him out of there before it got light.
Kid Curry, still half-asleep, rolled over and looked at his fully-dressed partner, sitting on the other side of the bed. "Well, that was a pretty stupid move, Heyes. I turned my back for a minute, and you disappeared on me. I don't think I need to ask where you went."
"The desk clerk was asleep when I came in. Probably had been for hours. Nobody saw me."
"Heyes, we're talking about a lady's reputation here. A lady you claim to care about."
"Kid, I do care about her. More than I ever thought I'd care about any woman." He paused. "Why is it anybody's business but hers and mine? Yesterday you were more certain of that even than I was."
"Yesterday I hadn't heard the talk. These townfolk are pretty vicious, if you ask me."
"Some fellow came into the saloon after you'd left. Apparently his wife is in a sewing circle with that Rick Johnson's wife. He had some pretty harsh things to say about Ella, and the story was spreading like wildfire. When he figured out who I was, he turned on me, and I had to show him a thing or two." Curry blew on his knuckles as though they were still sore.
Heyes looked away suddenly, unable to meet his friend's eyes.
"And then it got worse. One of the saloon girls remembered you from the last time we were here. She recalled seeing you kissing Ella outside her door, and then following her inside. She said she watched for awhile and you didn't come out again."
"How'd she know it was me? That was well over a year ago, and it was dark. For all she knew it could've been some other man, just talking and then stepping into her office for something. You know, legal papers or something like that."
Curry had the good grace to look embarrassed. "She knew it was you, all right. That is, she knew it was my partner. See, I spent the night with that girl and apparently she remembered me real well. And she distinctly remembered feeling pleased to know -- what was it she said? 'That high and mighty Miss Ella Hart wasn't no better than she was.'"
Heyes shook his head. "Guess there are no secrets in a little town like this."
"Heyes, Ella's a respectable woman. She's not like a lot of the women that we know. You knew that, from the beginning. And since Colorado, this latest thing of yours of sending her telegrams calling her out of town on business. How many times have you done that? Two times, three? Every couple of months? Heyes, even I would get suspicious about that. She's lived in this town her whole life. I don't think she knows anyone who'd call her out of town on business except you." Curry sighed. "I knew it'd lead to trouble if you kept on this way." He hesitated, but the word that neither of them wanted to say hung there in the air. "Unless you're prepared to marry her, maybe you'd better leave her alone from now on."
"I never meant to hurt her, Kid, and I never made her do anything she didn't want to do. I never told you this, but that first night, I was just giving her a goodnight kiss. Like you and me both do with the girls we know we can't touch. She was the one who invited me in."
"I don't want to know any more about it. I know you mean well, and you'd never do her harm on purpose. But she's not like us, and I don't think we can really understand what's going on here. Just that this whole 'respectable' thing means a whole lot to a lot of folks, and she's stuck living with 'em."
"What do you think I ought to do, Kid? You're the one that usually attracts all the respectable girls. What do you do about them?"
"Well, that's the thing. You kiss them and you tell them 'if only I were in a position to give you what you deserve' and you send them back on home where they belong. It's hard, but it's the ways things are. You can't let it carry on like this any longer."
"It's a little too late for that, ain't it? It always seemed so natural with her, you know? No guessing games, no flirtation. If she was mad at me, I knew it, and if she wanted me, I knew it. And when I didn't, it was because she was confused herself, not because she was playing some kind of woman game. I guess I should have known it couldn't be that simple."
Curry looked at his partner sympathetically. "Get some sleep, Heyes. From now on, we follow Chadwick's plan, okay?"
"Mmmm," muttered Heyes. He pulled off his boots and lay down on top of the covers, but he didn't sleep at all. He knew he wouldn't. All he kept thinking about was how Ella had looked when he left her earlier that morning, before it was even light, her normally keen eyes all soft and sleepy, and her fair hair spread on the pillow. He thought about how nice it would be to wake up with her like that, every morning. But as soon as he thought that, he felt a stifling sensation, as though iron bands were closing across his chest. Living in one place like that would be almost as bad as going to prison. A sense of panic overwhelmed him. Living with a woman like that, 'til death do you part . . . that would be the death of his freedom, the thing he cared about most. He'd have to leave town, even if it meant never seeing her again. And yet, the thought of that left him feeling devastatingly lonely, a loneliness that only went away when he thought about kissing her, waking up with her, and the whole cycle began all over again.
Later that morning, they met Jeremy Chadwick and his wife Melanie, accidentally by appointment, and duly received the dinner invitation. Melanie, a very pretty young woman of about Jeremy's age, had a great deal of curly pale brown hair, a button nose and huge eyes. She was clearly far along in her pregnancy, and Heyes recalled Ella telling him that Chadwick's promotion to full partnership had been in honor of the upcoming event. Jeremy's wife clung to his arm as she shyly gave her invitation, her expression sweet but tentative as she looked at the strangers, and adoring and trusting as she looked at her young husband.
Heyes couldn't help pondering the fact that this man, who spent most of his waking hours with Ella, had fallen in love with a woman who couldn't be more different. He probably needed her peacefulness and tranquillity after a long day at the office with his often demanding and all too quick-witted partner.
After they'd gone, he turned to the Kid. "Well, I guess we should go face the worst of it."
"You really want to hear what the talk is in the saloon?" his partner returned.
"I think we better. Don't you?" He needed to know what Ella was up against, if it was as bad as the Kid had suggested.
"Just warnin' you. It ain't gonna be pretty."
They walked between those swinging doors, and a profound silence fell almost as soon as they did.
"You got some nerve, showin' up here," muttered a short, heavy man. "After what you did to poor Ella."
"We just came in to get us a drink," said Heyes placatingly, but he was ignored.
"Poor Ella?" spat another man. "That whore? This was just the first time she got caught. She's probably been up to stuff like this all along, with lots of men. This poor fellow is probably just another one of the black widow's victims."
"Yeah, and she ain't even any good at trappin' 'em," said a third man. "Or keepin' 'em, anyway."
From the continued conversation, it was apparent that there were two camps: one, the smaller, blamed Heyes entirely, and felt that Ella was innocent womanhood injured. The other, the vast majority of the men there, seemed to glory in the way she had fallen off her pedestal. They ranged between commiserating with Heyes for getting caught up in her vicious web, and leeringly asking him "what she was like, if ya know what I mean."
This last was too much for Curry, who dropped his hand to his gun. "I'm getting a little bit tired of hearing the lady's name treated like that, mister," he snarled.
"Oh yeah, drawing on us like the big gunslinger you are, Mister Kid Curry," said the object of his anger, scornfully. "You one of her men, too? Well, go ahead, and see how long that famous amnesty of yours lasts. Trash like you . . . ." he spat.
Curry's eyes burned cold blue. "Why you . . . ."
Heyes put up his arm, to stop his partner. "Listen, Mister, we don't want to fight you. We just want to clear up a little misunderstanding. What you heard about me and Miss Hart, it ain't true. She's helped us out, as a lawyer, a couple of times, and everyone who's met her knows she's a very pretty lady. It's true I kissed her once, but I can tell you it came as a big surprise to her, and she wasn't very pleased by it, either. Do you really think a lady like that would even look at a man like me?"
"Way we heard it is she did a lot more than look," leered another man. "Way we heard is you were seen leavin' her place early this morning."
Heyes turned to the Kid and shrugged. "Guess there's no use in talking, huh, Kid?"
"Guess not," his partner responded, and in a moment his fist had connected with the last speaker's face, while Heyes had thrown a punch at the other man. A few minutes later, Curry's opponent was flat on his back on the floor, while Heyes' was draped oddly over a nearby chair. Heyes himself was rubbing his arm, and two new opponents were coming forward.
These new opponents were just about to engage with them when a sudden hush came over the crowd. A tall, burly man was heading towards them, brushing people aside as he went. "What's goin' on here?" he demanded. "What you boys think you're doin'? We'll have none of that in here. The Blue Sky Saloon is a peaceable place, unless it's me throwin' the punches in order to keep folks in line."
"They insulted a friend of ours," said Heyes. "Me and my friend didn't much appreciate some of the things that were bein' said."
"Well, you can cut it out now, Mister Hannibal Heyes. And your friend Kid Curry, too. We know all about who you are now, even if you were callin' yourselves something different last time you passed by this way," said the man. "Miss Hart was always actin' like she was better'n us, just 'cause her daddy was some big important man around here and she inherited his business. Couldn't stay in a woman's place, like she ought to, but always had to be messin' around with men's work. And now we know she was no better'n anyone. And you," he turned to Curry, "breakin' poor little Lorna's heart by not recognizin' her last night. She ain't changed so much since then. She's as pretty as ever."
Heyes hesitated for just a moment, knowing that a man the size of this one could flatten them both, but not wanting the insult to Ella to go unavenged. His partner, normally the quicker-tempered of the two, looked troubled, probably at hearing about the hurt he'd inadvertently caused the saloon girl. There was a movement behind him, and Heyes turned around, to see a vaguely remembered figure coming in through the saloon's doors. He touched the Kid's arm, indicating that he should look, too.
"What's going on here, Sam?" asked the man, a blond giant wearing a tin star on his vest. His bass voice had an odd singsong accent. If the man who was speaking to them was six foot four, this new arrival easily had to be six-eight.
"Why, Deputy Rasmussen, nothing at all. Just a little friendly discussion," said the bouncer.
Heyes had some half-remembered notion that Deputy Rasmussen was a particular friend of Ella Hart's, in addition to being one of the biggest men he'd ever met. "We were defending the honor of a mutual friend."
Sven Rasmussen frowned. "Seems to me you had something to do with getting that honor smirched. Seems to me you need to do a bit more for her than get into some childish barroom brawl."
"Yeah, Depity Sven, just 'cause everyone knows she turned you down when you went a-courtin' a couple of years after your wife died," sneered a man. "Don't know what you did wrong, since she seems to give it away to any man comes along, even lowdown outlaws."
Rasmussen turned to the man. "I never even thought of courting Miss Ella. She's way too good for a man like me . . . or for a man like Heyes, here, either. But I think that there is one thing that Mister Heyes would agree with me on, and that's that folk like you shouldn't be allowed to talk about a lady like that." He unpinned his tin star, and dropped it ostentatiously on the nearest table. "So happens I'm off duty right now, and if anybody wants to talk about my good friend Miss Ella, they might as well say it to me."
There was a hushed silence. Pretty much all of Blue Sky was afraid of Sven Rasmussen. He calmly removed his gunbelt, and then his vest, and rolled up his sleeves. "Anybody? Anyone at all?" He walked toward the man who'd spoken last, picked him up with one hand, and flung him across the room. "Next?" asked the giant, but there were no takers. So, he grabbed Sam by the collar and pulled him close to his own face, practically lifting the burly man off the floor. "I don't want to hear about nothing like this again, Sam. Anything you say against Miss Ella, remember, I'll take it personal." Then he ostentatiously replaced his vest and his belt, and finally his star, and escorted Heyes and Curry out of the saloon.
"Think about what I said," were his parting words to Heyes. "You owe her something."
The two former outlaws returned to their hotel room, where Heyes paced like a caged animal. His partner lay on the bed, watching him, but inside he didn't feel much better.
"Kid, how'd this get so complicated? I can't believe someone saw me leavin' her place this morning. I thought I was so careful."
"Guess it was bound to happen, sooner or later, that one of us would do something stupid over a woman. I just always figured it would be me." Curry smiled.
"Me, too, Kid. I wouldn't have given you any odds on this happening."
"Heyes . . . if you decide to . . . I mean, if you feel like you have to . . . want to . . . you know . . . marry her." He paused and took a deep breath. "It won't make any difference between us, will it? We'll always be partners, won't we?"
"Did you even need to ask that? There's no woman alive that could split us up." Heyes was thoughtful. "Ella knows we're a team. She never asks me about my plans, she always asks me about our plans, yours and mine."
The Kid nodded. "Yeah. That's the feeling I've always got from her. I guess I just wanted to make sure."
"Kid, what do you think I oughta do? There's a part of me that thinks we should just get the hell outta here, that we're just makin' it worse for her hangin' around. But maybe I'm wrong about that. All I know is I don't want to see her get hurt any worse than she's already been hurt."
"Heyes, I can't make this decision for you," said the Kid, flatly. "You're the one with all the ideas, remember?"
"Except I'm flat out of ideas. I just plain don't know what to do. Even if I did ask her to marry me, doesn't that just prove the talk is right? Wouldn't it be better to explain everything away, prove that she's innocent? But how? Because we both know it all happened just the way they're sayin'."
They didn't speak again, but tried to somehow pass the time in their hotel room until it was time to head to the Chadwicks' and limp through the motions of Jeremy's plan. Heyes dealt and redealt hands of solitaire with a compulsive motion, and Curry cleaned his gun a couple of times, and then cleaned his partner's, for good measure. Each of them looked at the other when he thought his partner wasn't looking, trying to gauge what each other was thinking. Neither of them had ever found the other so difficult to read, before.
Finally, Heyes broke the silence. "Maybe we should go over and talk to Chadwick now. I know we're not expected for another couple of hours, but I just can't sit around here like this anymore without goin' stir crazy."
Shortly afterwards, they arrived at the Chadwicks' house. Jeremy opened the door, and there was no sign of Melanie. "Come into the library," he said. His curly dark hair was nearly standing on end, and the reason why was apparent as he ran his fingers through it even as he led them to the rather pretentiously named room, which was actually quite small and contained a desk, a few straight chairs, and a couple of bookcases.
Jeremy turned to face them, and for the first time, Heyes noticed just how pale he was. His light green eyes glittered with a strange light, and his tall, thin form seemed tense, like a bow, strung and ready. His twenty-three year old face looked preternaturally old and young all at once. "What the hell is going on?" he said softly.
Heyes opened his mouth to reply, but Jeremy went on. "I've had three very interesting conversations, today. One was with Sven Rasmussen and another was with young Caroline. The third was with a man who saw you leaving Ella's place early this morning and couldn't wait to share the news with anybody who'd listen. What the hell are you trying to do? Ruin her life permanently? And why the hell did you go back there last night? Are you really that stupid?"
"No," protested Heyes, while his partner remained silent. "I care about her. What do you know about it, anyway? Just because you jumped from being a schoolboy one day, right into being a husband and householder and pillar of the community, the next. . . . Other people's lives are more complicated than yours."
"Complicated? Is that what you call it? Irresponsible is more like it. Ella isn't some plaything for you to amuse yourself with when you feel like it. She has a life here, and you can just ruin it and ride away like it was nothing."
"I never thought of her as a plaything. I never felt that way about a woman before. Anyway, how do you know what I intend to do? And how do you know what she intends to do? I'm not the only one in this."
"I'm telling you, Heyes: either get the hell out of town, or do the right thing by her. It's your choice. The fact that you're even hesitating tells me something about you that I don't think I want to know." He sat down at the desk, never taking his eyes off Heyes. "I really liked you two. I even looked up to you. Just goes to show what a poor judge of character I am."
"What's that supposed to mean? Who are you to --" Heyes stopped short, in surprise, as Jeremy jumped up and his fist connected with Heyes' jaw. Instead of responding with a blow of his own, though, he stood silently, rubbing the place where the younger man had struck him.
"I'm her best friend. She hasn't got anybody else to look out for her. And I don't care who you are, because if she gets hurt, and it's your fault, I will kill you." That strange light in his green eyes glittered more intensely for a moment, and then he pushed his way past them, out of the room.
After a moment or two of silence, the visitors found their own way out.
Heyes rubbed his jaw again, and looked troubled as he faced his partner, outside the door. "Well . . . he's loyal. I just couldn't bring myself to hit him back, not when I knew why he did it."
"Yeah, guess he is loyal, at that. But she calls him her partner, kinda like you and me. So I guess he would be," said Curry. "So what are you gonna do? Are you gonna ask her?"
"Kid, don't you get it? I don't think she wants me to. I don't think she's ever wanted me to. She's said it in a thousand different ways, for as long as I've known her. Even that very first morning when I left her, I said something sentimental, and you know what she did? She made a joke of it."
"Well, that's real lucky then, since you don't want to, either."
"Kid, it's not just that. It's complicated, more complicated than you and Chadwick and the Deputy think it is. Ella understands that. She's part of what makes it that way."
"What do you mean by that, Heyes?"
"She's made it perfectly clear to me that she has no intention of changing anything in her life, ever, Kid. Not for me, and not for anyone else. And what about you and me? We just got the amnesty. I don't think either one of us has even begun to figure out what that means or what we do next. This isn't exactly the right time for me to be thinking about marrying anyone, is it?"
The Kid looked at him. "Maybe not, but . . . you're probably right about Ella, Heyes. She don't seem like she'd change anything, not if she had a choice about it. I'm just not so sure she has any say in the matter, anymore. Folks sure seem to have changed their tune about her, and awful quickly, too."
Heyes nodded. "I know. Listen, Kid," he said, "I need you to do something for me."
"What is it?"
"I'm riding out of here as soon as I can get my horse out of the stables. But I don't want you to come. I've got some thinking to do, and I need to be alone. And I don't want Ella to think I've just run off on her, in the middle of all this. I need you to stay here and wait for me to come back -- I won't be gone more than a day or two. And I need you to go to Ella and tell her that I'll be coming to see her as soon as I've worked it out. Will you do that for me, Kid?"
Curry looked at him. "Sure. I just hope you know what you're doing."
Heyes seemed less certain than his partner had ever seen him. "I don't have the slightest idea."
Hannibal Heyes had been riding since the middle of that afternoon, well into the evening, and thinking as he rode, but he still had no idea what was the right thing to do. He'd tied up his horse in front of the first saloon he'd come to, in the town he'd reached about the time that darkness fell. He'd ordered a bottle of whiskey and sat there, lost in thought, remembering to pour himself a glass and drink it every so often, but then drifting off into his thoughts again. Of all the women he'd ever been entangled with in any way, he had to admit, this one had probably touched him the most. He had real feelings for her. But . . . so what? He'd never intended to settle down with her. Now that he had his amnesty, he had to admit that he'd never really intended to settle down at all. That was all just a fantasy bred of too much time on the dodge.
And just because some folks had a problem with the way they'd gone about doing things,
was that any reason for him to change his whole life? Ella came from one world, and he came from another, and he couldn't see how those two worlds could ever fit together. It was all well and good to convince himself that a woman he had seen maybe half a dozen times over the last two years was special to him, but what did it have to do with his real life? There were other women in his life, women like Clementine Hale, with whom he had much more of a history than he had with Ella, and he had no illusions about them. Why was Ella any different? Was she any different, or was that all a big fantasy?
Anyway, even if he was ready to settle down, would Ella be an appropriate woman to do it with? What if he chose to buy a ranch, which seemed like his most likely option? What kind of a helpmate would Ella be in a life like that, anyway? She kept bringing home all those young orphans -- first Sandy, now Caroline -- partly out of a desire to help them, but partly because she couldn't keep house if her life depended on it. She could barely cook, she was a hopeless seamstress, and she had practically no idea of what it took to run a household. Or so she said. In any case, those orphans had better know about cooking and sewing before she took them in, because she didn't teach them anything like that. Instead, she taught them French and similar useful stuff, and would probably have tried to turn them into lady lawyers, too, if they'd showed any signs of wanting it. Ella had chosen to develop other aspects of her abilities to the exclusion of the more usual feminine accomplishments. All well and good for her, but what use would a woman like that be as a wife to any man? Except maybe another lawyer, as her long-dead fiance had been, or one who could afford servants. Neither of those categories included him.
But at the same time, he knew he had a responsibility for what was happening to her now. When he thought about the cruel jeers in the saloon that afternoon, he was upset and angry. She'd worked so hard to be accepted for who she was, and the townspeople were so quick to revert to stereotype and mockery. The same townspeople who probably a week before had been bragging in letters to their relatives back East about what an up-to-date town they lived in, what with having a lady lawyer and all. The thought of it made him so furious that he found himself wishing he could have pounded a few more heads before the deputy intervened. It made him want to hurt all those people who were hurting her, except for one . . . except for himself.
And he thought about the moments he'd caught her looking scared and vulnerable. She was so appealing then, the kind of woman a man could protect and cherish. For crying out loud, he sounded like the Kid. Did he ever fall for women like that? No, the few women Hannibal Heyes could claim to having been sincerely partial to had all been well able to take care of themselves. Of course, most of the time they'd been out for themselves, and themselves alone. Maybe that was why he kept coming back to Ella. She'd always been able to take care of herself, but she also cared about other people. She kept surprising him, because she never had a hidden agenda, and never seemed to be out for anything. When she was with him, it was because she wanted to be with him, not with someone who could get her something. But that didn't mean he owed her anything, did it? They'd both been very clear from the beginning that the only future they had together was the occasional meeting. And much as they had both cherished those meetings, it looked like the time for that was over.
After all, it was Ella herself who had indicated that she had no intention of getting married, to anyone, ever. And certainly not to Hannibal Heyes. She'd made that clear all along. She liked her life just fine, and she'd never give anyone a chance to do to her what her Billy had done, by dying on her.
Anyway, it was him that was the problem, wasn't it? If he stuck around and married her, folks would always remember how and why it had happened. If he went away, wouldn't her life go back to normal? Wouldn't that put him in the wrong and her in the right, and wouldn't that go a long way towards setting things back in order for her?
As he was thinking this, the level in his bottle was getting lower and lower. There was a saloon girl sitting at the table next to his, and she kept smiling encouragement at him. Finally he smiled back, and she approached him. "Care to buy a girl a drink?"
"Not one bit," she said, and gulped down the first glass she poured him. She looked at the level of the bottle. "Judging by this, I've got some catching up to do."
He grinned at her, as he refilled her glass. "There's more where this came from."
"You smile nice," she said. "I was afraid, watching you sit over here by yourself, that you were just some gloomy Gus. And I thought that would be a real waste. Don't get 'em in here as handsome as you too often."
Heyes ignored the compliment, but not the girl. "Just thinkin' about some things. But now I'm with you, I'll cheer up real fast. Promise." They clinked glasses over it.
He looked at her. She was very pretty, with rich brown ringlets spilling down her back, her hair a few shades lighter than his own, and hazel eyes, that looked green one minute, brown the next, depending on what she was looking at. Her figure was like ripe fruit, bursting forth round and ample above and below her tiny corseted waist, and the low cut, clingy dress she wore made the most of her assets. Ella's slender, graceful figure in her usual prim shirtwaist and skirt rose unbidden to his mind, but Ella looked positively boyish compared to this glorious example of womanhood.
Her name was Maggie, she told him, but she didn't seem very interested in talking about herself. Instead, she laughed delightedly at everything he said that was amusing, she was suitably impressed by everything else, and she drank freely. He'd made some reference to poker, and she'd immediately said, "I bet you're really good, aren't you? I bet you have some good stories, don't you?"
Not only did she launch him down the path of retelling some of his triumphs at the poker table, but it was clear she knew the game. Her eyes were shining with admiration as he told her the stories. He couldn't help but contrast that with the blank look in the blue eyes of a certain other woman, as he and the Kid had tried to share some of their gambling exploits with her, and the constant, puzzled questions. Not to mention the complete lack of comprehension of his gambler's spirit. Well, he wasn't going to think about . . . her . . . anymore. He poured himself and his companion another round.
This was his kind of woman, he thought, as she let him kiss her, and giggled. Easy to be with, and without those complicated twists and turns and prickles that made some women such a challenge. She wouldn't judge him, wouldn't suggest that maybe he'd had enough to drink or point out what was wrong with one of his plans. She would never deflate him with some clever remark. All right, she wasn't particularly bright, but she didn't need to be. He had brains enough for both of them. Hell, he thought, if I was really thinking about marrying, settling down on a ranch or something, a girl like this would be the right kind. She'd always be grateful for being taken away from the saloon, and she could never hold his past against him, when she had a past of her own. She'd probably be a real hard worker, too. By the time the bottle was empty, he was half-convinced that he was in love with her, or anyway, that he ought to be. "Can we go upstairs?" he asked.
"I was hoping you'd ask that," she said, and smiled seductively.
When they got to her room, he set about things with a will, and they were soon in the midst of it. He was losing himself in her arms, her kisses, her bed, when suddenly he began feeling that something was wrong. The ample breasts he was caressing weren't the right shape or size, and the thick hair he was stroking was too curly, not straight and silky. She wasn't the woman he . . . . He quickly derailed that train of thought.
He'd made love to other women during the year and a half since he'd first met Ella -- in the beginning he hadn't known she would become such a big part of his life -- but he'd always been able to separate the two things before. If he thought about it, he supposed there had been fewer in the last year or two, but he'd put that down to the pressures of going straight, the lack of money, the fact that he'd hit the ripe old age of thirty. But when there had been women, mostly saloon girls, nothing had changed. The one time he hadn't been able to go through with it, and Ella was the cause, was the time that he'd accidentally run right into her in the street in Colorado Springs six months ago when he was stumbling drunkenly down the street with his arm around a girl. But that night he'd put it down to the surprise he'd felt, and to the sudden longing that seeing Ella had created in him. He just hadn't wanted that girl anymore. He'd wanted Ella, but she'd stormed off in a cloud of anger and confusion and embarrassment. If he was being completely honest with himself, there hadn't been another woman since then, only her. But he wasn't going to let himself think about that or about what it meant.
As he touched Maggie, he kept thinking about the way Ella felt, the way she moved, and kissed, and the little noises that she made when he caressed her, and suddenly, he couldn't continue. He sat up abruptly.
"What's the matter with you?" the girl asked.
"I'm sorry," he said, and he was surprised to discover that he really was.
"I know what's the matter," she said. "You closed your eyes and pretended I was someone else. And you opened them again, and I wasn't."
"That's about the size of it," he admitted.
"Happens sometimes. I'm used to it." She began dressing. "Don't worry. Your money's still good."
"I really am sorry."
She sat down on the bed next to him, still only half dressed. "My advice to you is to go find that girl, and stick with her. Make it easier on us working girls, huh?" She smiled, and ran a hand through his rumpled dark hair. "You really are a handsome one. If you change your mind, you know where to find me. Remember, ask for Maggie." She kissed him softly on the cheek, and then rose and began to hand him his clothes.
He took a room at the hotel, but he didn't sleep at all that night. He knew that he had to make his decision, and make it soon. But the incident with Maggie made him think that things had gone way beyond his control. Ella had gotten into his system to an extent he hadn't even realized, or at least, been willing to realize. He still felt that sense of imprisonment when he thought about what he was going to do, but that couldn't be helped. As he tossed and turned, all he could see was the smile that sometimes crossed Ella's delicate features, and the times when her clever, brittle wit was replaced by a real sense of joy, and she broke forth into genuine, wholehearted laughter. Heyes knew that he was one of the few people who could make her laugh and forget about her various preoccupations for a moment. There were worse ways to spend a life.
And she couldn't turn him down, could she? Not with the way things were now. That's what everybody had been trying to tell him, wasn't it? Chadwick, and the deputy, and even Maggie, in her way. Even the Kid. Even the Kid would back him up on this one.
What he couldn't get out of his mind was the sense he got from all of them that the whole thing was his responsibility, really. That Ella was an injured, innocent party. That ladies needed to be protected and cherished, and treated differently, and that what he needed to do now was to restore the honor he had taken from her. And he knew they were right. Even though Ella's independence had drawn him to her, she was still a member of the weaker sex. He knew that his own conscience agreed with them.
If he was honest with himself, he didn't want to get married, not even to a woman he had strong feelings for. But Ella Hart had always behaved to him in an honorable manner, and he was going to do the same towards her. And he did feel about her like he had felt about no other woman. That had to count for something. That had to count for a lot.
As soon as it was light, he began the trip back to Blue Sky.
I knew that things were bad early that day, when old Jake, the man from the general store who delivered the groceries, didn't stop to chat when I paid him. And I knew they were worse pretty soon after, when Caroline and I ventured out on some errands and were roundly snubbed by just about everyone we passed on the street. Except for Sandy Johnson, of course, who rushed up to me and took my arm at once, forcing me to take a longer walk than I'd originally intended. When her husband caught sight of us, he looked pretty angry, but Sandy ignored his glares and tightened her grip on me.
Caroline and I soon retreated back to the safety of my flat and of our books, and I caught her lip trembling on several occasions as she looked at me. Caroline had never been affectionate, like Sandy was, but today she kept hovering about me until I wanted to ask her to go away. I didn't, though. I had a feeling I was going to appreciate her loyalty more and more. I think she was afraid that I was going to waste away like Madame de Tourvel did after Valmont seduced and abandoned her. I just wished she hadn't realized what had happened between Heyes and me last night.
Around about dinner time, Kid Curry came calling without his partner. He looked thoroughly uncomfortable as Caroline led him, rather ostentatiously, into my sitting room.
"Evening, Miss Ella," he said, awkwardly. "I know you're probably surprised to see me here without Heyes, but --"
"Not particularly," I interrupted. "He sent you with a message, didn't he?"
He frowned. "Well, yeah, but . . . "
"And I'm guessing the message is something inconclusive, because if I know him, he'd make himself come and face me if he'd figured things out."
"He rode out just an hour or so ago. Said he had some thinking to do, but not for you to think he'd just run off and abandoned you."
"As soon as I saw you, I knew that. One thing he'd never do is just run off and abandon you."
He returned my smile. I could tell he was relieved that I understood that. He told me how Heyes had promised he'd be back to call on me in a day or two. It was obvious that he had his ideas about what Heyes was going to come and say, but that he didn't want to speak on his partner's behalf, because he wasn't quite certain. And then gently, awkwardly, he told me about what had been happening in the saloon. Things were worse than I expected, but nothing the cuts on the street hadn't prepared me for. Well, mentally, at least.
Living through it was going to be the hard part.
He told me about the saloon girl who'd remembered seeing me kissing "Joshua Smith" that night a year and a half ago and then leading him inside, and about the man who'd seen Heyes leaving my place early this morning. Apparently Ray Johnson had added some weight to his father's tale, too. The story that was going around was that he and Sandy had been disagreeing about something and she'd cited me as an authority to prove her point. He'd dismissed my opinion by calling me a "dried up old spinster." Sandy, instead of pointing out the irrelevance of my marital status to the subject of the discussion, had angrily jumped to my defense by mentioning that when we'd been traveling in Colorado, there had been two men who were sweet on me. I couldn't figure out who she meant by the second, perhaps Meriwether Abel. But the one that concerned Ray was, as he said, "some rough fellow named Smith, who Ella'd known from before. I think we can all guess who that was, and what she was doing in Colorado." He had then gone on to say how I'd dragged his poor innocent Sandy into the middle of all my shameless behavior.
As Curry told me this, I smiled in spite of myself. I had distinct memories of that week and of my attempts to shelter Sandy not only from any knowledge of what was going on between Heyes and me, but from drunken men, saloon girls, and most particularly from an innocent flirtation with Kid Curry. Thinking about Ray Johnson, and looking at Curry now, I'd wished I'd encouraged her to run off with him then, outlaw or no.
His blue eyes were troubled, as he tried to reassure me. "I know Heyes, and he's never backed out on a friend in a rough situation before."
I hardly wanted to point out that on the other hand, I didn't suppose Heyes was particularly known for sticking around where the ladies were concerned. Were a lady and a friend the same thing, as far as he was concerned? I suspected not, most of the time. And just exactly what did I count as?
The man in front of me was a different case. I could feel his desire to be the knight in shining armor, his sense of helplessness that it wasn't his role. I was sure he didn't really want me in Heyes' life in any significant way, didn't want me to come between himself and his partner, but at the same time, if it had been him, he wouldn't have hesitated. He wouldn't have needed to go off and think it through. Heyes was a peculiar one. He was so guarded in strange places, so likely to complicate matters with his clever plans. But Kid Curry was the most honest outlaw I could imagine encountering. It wasn't just with a gun that he shot straight, but with his feelings, his loyalties. When--if --he finally gave his heart, it would be to a very lucky woman. I appreciated that for the first time, at that moment. Funny how he'd never held the slightest attraction for me.
He and Heyes had told me that time and again they'd met women who couldn't choose between the two of them, who threw up their hands and said, "If I had only met one of you!" It made me laugh. They were so different. I couldn't imagine not knowing which one of them I wanted. And I couldn't help thinking that I wanted the wrong one.
I found myself reassuring him with a confidence I didn't actually feel, just to get him out the door.
Jeremy came to see me later in the evening, and to my surprise, he'd been drinking. "Don't you take up those bad habits, too," I admonished him, trying to make a joke of it. He didn't laugh. He told me about his various conversations with Sven Rasmussen and with Heyes and Curry, and he seemed awfully proud of having punched Heyes. I knew he'd been pretty good at fistfights from his stories of boarding school, back East, but he'd never hit anyone in the entire time I'd known him. When I told him about Curry's visit he got all upset, and I ended up having to reassure him, too.
If I'd have thought any of it was deliberate, I'd have had to laugh at how all my friends were clearly trying to distract me from my own worries.
The next morning was Sunday, and I dressed and went to church, the same as usual. I noticed a certain coldness in people's greetings, the few who would actually speak to me. Most people cut me altogether, as I made my way to my pew. Caroline took my hand and squeezed it.
I heard whispering around me. "Some nerve to show up here . . . everybody knows . . . that outlaw . . . no better than she should be . . . hypocrite . . . . " They went on.
I made my way through the service until the sermon. Reverend Bliss decided that this was the Sunday to preach on the woman taken in adultery, and he didn't quite seem to get around to Jesus' message of forgiveness. Instead he started going on about scarlet women, and all kinds of unpleasant things from Paul's Epistles and from the Old Testament. All eyes were on me and the whispering was pretty loud. Just when he'd gotten to Jezebel, I heard a loud bass thundering from the choir.
"You've forgotten the rest of the story, Reverend. Don't you remember? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!" And my old friend Deputy Sven Rasmussen was making his way down the aisle towards me. He offered one arm to me, and the other to Caroline, and escorted us out the back.
Et tu, Reverend, I thought to myself. This was going to be even harder than I thought. Sven and Caroline led me back to my house, and to my living room, where I made my way to the settee. I sat there, contemplating the ruin of the edifice I'd so carefully begun constructing all those years ago when Billy died. What I'd thought was built of solid masonry turned out to be just a house of cards, scattered in the wind.
Sandy and Jeremy made their way to my house that afternoon. Jeremy made his apologies for Melanie, but she was so close to her time that he wanted to keep her away from any more upset. Apparently he'd distressed her quite a lot last night, after he'd left my place. The same reason kept him from staying long. Sandy just sat next to me, silently, her head resting on my shoulder. I stroked her thick, black hair mechanically, and I think it gave her more comfort than it did me. I could imagine what it had cost her to get away from the sacred Johnson Sunday Dinner, which took the place of church as the central observance in that family.
I overheard Caroline asking Sven in a whisper if he didn't think Sandy was a little touched in the head.
He smiled and said in his deep voice, "Just loyal. People show their love in different ways. You show Ella you love her by making her proud of you with your lessons. Sandy's way is different."
"What about Mr. Heyes' way?"
"Well, now, people ought to save that way for when they're married. But sometimes people make mistakes. Ella has lived a good life, as far as I can see, but she's made one big mistake, and people are punishing her for it much more than she deserves."
Caroline hesitated for a moment. She didn't really know what to say, I could tell. So finally, she chimed in with something that I knew had been a subject of great curiosity for her for some time. "Is Swedish anything like German?" she asked.
He laughed. "Not really. But maybe. Let's go down to the kitchen and you can show me your German books. I'll see if I can read them. And we can get something for Miss Ella to eat."
I suppose it was later in the afternoon when Heyes arrived, looking as though he hadn't slept in a day or two, although time didn't mean much to me at that point. Caroline showed him upstairs. He sat down and looked at me and at Sandy, who was still sitting slumped against my side. I had to ask her twice to leave, and even then, she looked doubtfully at me, unsure whether she should leave me alone with the author of all my disaster. Sandy always did have an uncomplicated view of things.
"That girl sure is fond of you, " he observed.
"More than I deserve, sometimes," I said, flatly.
"I've been hearing the talk, or hearing about it, anyway. I'm sorry." He paused for a moment, took courage and continued. "It's all my fault. I should have understood your position. I should have realized you weren't just some girl who could be dallied with."
I looked him straight in the eye. "Dallied with? I wanted you." Where had this come from, I wondered. He'd been getting lectured, and he'd bought it. His next words confirmed that.
"I should have controlled myself. It wasn't right, what I did. Not with a woman like you."
"A woman like me? Would you like to explain exactly what a woman like me is? Because you're sure confusing me. A woman like me is capable of making her own decisions -- and her own mistakes. I seem to recall I was there at the time, and I had something to do with what happened."
"But you're, you know, respectable."
I threw up my hands. "This respectable thing which everyone is so fixated on. Well, apparently I'm not so respectable. At least that's what I hear. Look, it doesn't seem fair to me that this should have consequences like this for me, and be just another romance along the way for you. It doesn't seem fair at all. But I knew the rules when I broke them. This isn't something you did to me."
"Ella, I've been doing a lot of thinking." He crossed over and sat down next to me. "It's time for you to let go of the past, and start thinking about the future." I felt him slipping his arms behind my neck, unfastening the chain on my gold locket. I let him take it and put it on a nearby table. "I guess the same is true of me, too. For so long I've been on the run, and I haven't had anything to offer a woman. But my record is clean now, and . . . well, if you'll have me, I'd like to marry you."
I didn't say anything.
I hadn't known what I was going to say until I said it. From the first night we'd spent together, I'd wondered what would happen when he wasn't on the run anymore. And when I first found out just how bad the folks of Blue Sky were going to treat me, I guess I'd known that he'd struggle with himself, and then he'd ask. I think a big part of me had planned on accepting him. But now that the offer was in my hand, I found myself casting it away. Because it still made me feel like I was suffocating, even when it was him. Because I knew that in the long run it would suffocate him, too.
"That's like asking me if I want to take a mountain lion and keep it for a housecat. Do you really want to curl up and lie purring by my fireside for the rest of your life? Because I don't think you have it in you. There are some folks who aren't meant to be married and I think you're one of them."
"What if I think different?"
"Then I'd say you don't know yourself as well as you think you do. You're feeling responsible for what's happening to me. And I will not accept an offer of marriage made under those circumstances. I am an adult and I am responsible for my own behavior. I invited you in that first night, and I could have sent you away loudly, that last night, proclaiming my injured innocence at this presumptuous man. I didn't do any of those things."
"Ella, folks around here are not being very nice to you. I could take you anywhere you wanted to go, to start over. I need to start over, myself. I'd like it to be with you. Say yes, Ella."
I looked him straight in the eyes, those beautiful deep brown eyes, and I said what I had to say. "The answer is no. It wouldn't be fair to you, and in time you'd come to see that, and to feel like I was your jailer. And I don't think it would take very much time, either. I think it would be soon." I took a deep breath, and hoped he wouldn't see my eyes filling with tears. "And it wouldn't be fair to me. I don't expect you to stop being who you are, and you can't expect me to stop being who I am. I can't just run away from that. I know that right now most of the so-called "decent" folks of Blue Sky are cutting me on the street, but all my history is here. This is my home, and in time . . . " I trailed off, unable to speak anymore.
He looked at me for a moment, and I think he could see that there was no point in asking me to change my mind. He'd clearly struggled to get to the point where he could ask me, I knew him that well, and here his great and noble sacrifice was being thrown back in his face. I don't suppose it had ever occurred to him I might turn him down, not under the circumstances, but I was really surprised at the degree of hurt I saw in him. I wanted to reach out and reassure him of my feelings for him, and of my sense that what I was doing was right for both of us, and I couldn't.
"If that's your final decision," he said bitterly, "then there's no point in my hanging around here anymore. Goodbye, Ella. And this time it really is goodbye."
When I heard the door slam shut downstairs, I ran to the window, and watched as he disappeared down the street and out of sight. I knew I'd never see him again, and I could feel my heart breaking as I stood there, clutching the window frame.
Kid Curry was sitting on the bed in his hotel room, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He was idly pretending to read a newspaper, but he was really counting the cracks in the ceiling and pretending he wasn't waiting every minute for the door to the room to open. If she accepted him, it might be some time, he thought. In fact, Heyes might forget that his partner was sitting there wondering about the outcome. The outcome that would make as much difference in his own life as in Heyes', he thought, and then felt selfish and miserable.
When he heard the door handle turn, sooner even than he'd expected, he figured that it meant either good news or bad. The thing was, in this situation it wasn't clear which was good and which was bad.
From his partner's expression as he walked in the door, he could guess what happened, and now that he could, he had to admit he was surprised. But he wasn't going to let on. "What happened, Heyes?" he asked.
"Let's go," Heyes replied. His dark eyes were unreadable to anyone but his longtime partner, but Kid Curry could see that all the joy had been extinguished right out of them. From the way he tightened his fingers on the doorframe, it almost seemed like he was angry. "No point in staying around here anymore."
"She turned you down?"
"Yeah, Kid, she did. Like I should have known she would." He gave a wry smile, but he almost spat out the words. "You know, it wasn't like I wanted to get married. So why am I feeling so . . . " he trailed off.
Rejected, filled in the Kid mentally. Surprised? Unhappy? Disappointed? "Never mind, Heyes. It's better this way. At least you offered to do right by her. You can't blame yourself about anything, now. So let's get out of here and go someplace where we can have us a real good time and you can forget all about Miss Ella Hart."
"Maybe later. Right now all I want to do is get on out of here and keep riding." He went to the wardrobe and flung his few things into his saddlebags with quick, decisive movements. "Come on, Kid. I mean right now."
Curry stood up and hefted his own saddlebags. He'd packed already, just in case. "We're gone."
It was days before Heyes got over his fit of silence. Then, one evening, as he and Curry were sitting down to play cards at some saloon in a town in Wyoming they'd never been to before, something seemed to shift in him. He was lively, that night, and very amusing, almost unnaturally so. He lost at cards, for once, because he wasn't paying much attention, and he spent the evening flirting with two saloon girls simultaneously. They willingly allowed him kisses and other small liberties, but he didn't take either of them upstairs. In the end, he got so drunk that Curry had to assist him home, and he sang loudly and tunelessly almost the whole way.
The next morning, he woke up complaining of his throbbing head, but after that he seemed to return to normal. Well, normal except for his determined silence about Montana and some of its inhabitants. Curry tried to shrug it off as natural, but he kept wondering how badly his partner had been hurt by everything that had happened.
Things didn't get better, not for a long time. It hurt to be betrayed by a friend, but I knew Rick had felt betrayed by me, as well, and I could understand his reasons a little, if not fully. But there had been another voice in all the scandal that I couldn't understand, the saloon girl who said she'd known about "Joshua Smith" and me since that first night well over a year ago. I was surprised she'd remember something like that after all this time, but even if she did, I couldn't understand why she wanted to hurt me that way. Not when she, out of anyone, must have known what scandal was like.
I asked Sven Rasmussen to bring her to see me, since he was about the only person I knew who ever frequented the saloon. Well, other than Rick, who I clearly couldn't ask to help me out. Jeremy would pop in now and again for a whiskey, just to keep up his membership in the unofficial fraternity that sprung up in such places, but he didn't talk to the girls. And they certainly didn't waste their time on someone who, though young and handsome, was hopelessly in love with his own wife. But Sven talked to everyone, or rather, since he was a quiet sort, everyone talked to Sven. Politely. That was just the effect he had on folks. He reported back that he'd spoken to the girl and that she said she'd only come if she was paid for her time, since it was time she'd have to take away from her business. I inquired after her usual rates, and told him to tell her I'd pay triple.
So one day, not too long after it all happened, Sven arrived at my flat with a blonde woman in tow. In fact, the first thing that struck me was the superficial resemblance between us, though she was shorter than me and her hair was wavier and more luxuriant than mine. Her green eyes, tip-tilted nose and generous mouth suggested Irish ancestry. She was pretty, but worn-looking, and I supposed she was about my age, in her early thirties, but that she'd just lived harder than me. Later I was told she wasn't yet twenty-two at the time we met.
Caroline was hovering at the doorway, but she darted to my side and whispered, "Une courtisane?"
"Caroline, honey," I said, "Why don't you go down to the kitchen and start supper? Or do your German or something."
"Not suitable company for the girl?" spat out the woman. "She lives with you, don't she?"
I took a deep breath and held back my rising anger, just as I'd learned to do when Rick baited me in the courtroom. "It's not the company, but the proposed topic of conversation, that I consider unsuitable for the girl. Sven, would you take Caroline downstairs?"
He looked doubtful, as though he ought to stay. I wondered if he was afraid if we were going to claw at each other's eyes, as jealous saloon girls are rumored to do. After a moment he sighed. "All right, Miss Ella. Miss Ella Hart, this is Lorna. She works at the saloon."
"Lorna . . . ?" I asked, waiting for more. I gestured to a seat, which she took.
Sven was already escorting Caroline down the stairs. I had the distinct feeling he was anticipating fireworks.
"Does it matter?" she asked, bitterly.
"I'd like to be able to address you properly, Miss . . . "
"So now I'm a lady to be addressed properly, am I? But whenever I pass you on the street, you look right through me."
"I'm . . . I'm sorry." I might have passed her dozens of times or even hundreds, but I'd never seen her -- all I would have seen is one of those women. And a lady like me didn't speak to those women. It was the way people looked through me on the street now, and I found myself feeling sympathy for the fallen sisterhood, for the first time. Many a formerly "respectable" woman in my situation, without the security of the annuity my father had left me or the too-generous insistence of Jeremy in adhering to the letter of our partnership and continuing to split our fees, now almost exclusively his fees, would have ended up as one of them. "I'm certain it was wrong of me. Have you . . . have you lived in Blue Sky long?" A fatuous question -- she must have lived here for at least as long as I'd known Hannibal Heyes.
"Quite a while, thank you," she said, sarcastically. "Long enough."
I examined her pretty, worn face, pale and tired-looking beneath the rouge she wore. Her jaw was clenched and her eyes were filled with anger. "Why do you hate me?" I asked.
"Because he came back for you. Joshua Smith, Hannibal Heyes, whatever his name is. He came back. That night he spent with you must have meant something to him. I had left the saloon to go for a breath of fresh air that evening, and I saw the two of you in your doorway, kissing. I saw him follow you into your office, and I knew you lived above. Everyone knows that." The very room we were speaking in now. "And that's what I told when I first heard the rumors."
"Why did you keep quiet for so long? And why did you speak up when you did?"
"Because I liked knowing you were no better'n me, Miss Pillar-of-the-Community Hart. I liked you for it, and I liked knowing that it was a little secret that only you and me knew, even though you didn't notice me any more than you notice the dirt under your feet. And I felt sorry for you. You see, that night I went back to the saloon and I met up with his friend, Thaddeus Jones, that they're now calling Kid Curry. He spent that same night with me that Smith -- Heyes -- spent with you. And it was . . . he was like no man I've ever been with, and I've been with plenty. I've never been able to get him off my mind, since. I figured it was probably the same for you." She seemed to have forgotten her anger in her sadness but it flared up again in a moment.
"And what happens but this Hannibal Heyes comes back to town to throw himself at your feet, you, Miss Ella Hart, the ice princess, the one they call the Widow of Windsor because you're s'posed to have made your whole life around the boy that you loved who died. And instead we find out you and this outlaw have been carrying on all this time, Miss Respectable Hart.
Her eyes were filling and her nose was turning red. "And I've seen Thaddeus Jones in the saloon and on the street since they came back, and he hasn't even noticed me." She sobbed a little. "I knew he wouldn't. I knew he'd have forgotten that night a long time ago, even if I can't, but . . . why is it different for you? Just 'cause I'm the kind of woman I am, and you're the kind of woman you are. Life just ain't fair."
"I'm not sure I'm the kind of woman I am anymore, either. At least, most folks around here don't seem to think I am." I paused. "Well, you've got your revenge now, haven't you? You and Rick Johnson. You know Rick?"
She laughed through her tears. "'Course I know Rick. All the girls do. He . . . well, you know his wife, don't you? What I hear, she'd drive any man to seek some comfort with us. But Rick likes me special. He told me once, when he was a little drunk, that I looked a bit like some girl he was in love with."
I tried to hide my shock, probably unsuccessfully. I'd never heard of Rick being in love with anyone. But then, I'd always assumed he was faithful to Cora, and I never thought he'd do anything to hurt me, either, so what did I really know about him? Just that he was a hypocrite, running around with saloon girls and then blaming me for having taken a lover. At least I hadn't deceived anyone with Heyes, even if they were saying I'd deceived everyone. I'd thought it didn't matter to Rick that I was a woman. I thought I was his friend. I guessed I'd thought wrong.
"Did you try to talk to him -- Kid Curry, I mean? He's a good man. Of course, he would have been bound to be a little bit angry at you now, for his partner's sake, maybe for my sake. But -- " I stopped short, thinking of what Curry had said to me, about Heyes, in Colorado that time. "Look, Ella, men and women are just different about things like that. Don't mean he thinks about some saloon girl the way he thinks about you." Maybe it wouldn't have been such a good idea. Anyway, he was long gone, and I didn't expect to see him again. Like I didn't expect to see Hannibal Heyes again.
"Are you crazy? What would I have said to him? 'Excuse me, but you were one of my customers once a few years ago and even though there've been hundreds since I still remember you?' He'd just have thought I was loco or somethin'."
"I'm sorry." I didn't have anything more to say, so I rang the bell to the kitchen for Sven to come and escort her out. I walked over to my secretaire and counted out her money.
"Yeah, me too," she said, taking it without looking at it. "Sorry I ever met Thaddeus Jones. Sorry I have to be reminded I'm a whore like this, in case there's any danger of my ever forgettin' it for a moment or two." She smiled at me, quickly, almost sympathetically. "Sorry yours ran out on you in the end, too."
"No," I said. "He didn't. I sent him away. He asked me to marry him, but . . . I sent him away."
She looked at me like she was looking at a certifiable lunatic. "You . . . you what? Most women would give anything for a chance like that, especially one that's just lost her reputation. You . . . turned him down? Not good enough for you or something?"
"Nothing like that. But I don't think you'd understand," I said, simply, "and I don't think you're alone in that." We fell silent until there was a knocking on the door and it was Sven, come to see her out.
I wasn't sure I understood, either, all the time, but I knew I had acted for the best.
I never saw Lorna again, and when I inquired after her, months later, I learned she'd left Blue Sky for good, shortly after our meeting. I hope she found what she was looking for, but I've always been afraid of what the answer might be.
I hope the reader will pardon an intrusion from an unexpected source, but the truth is, Ella wasn't herself for some time after Hannibal Heyes left town. I think that she always knew that she and Heyes were bound to part someday. She said to me once, "It wasn't like we were ever really together, Jeremy. It was more like this sort of bubble in time that would spring up whenever he crossed my path. Like one of those fairy-places they talk about in the Irish legends, where time passes differently, and you watch things happening to yourself that don't seem to have any basis in your everyday existence. . . . " she trailed off. "You know, I think the men in town will forgive me first. How many of them haven't sowed a few wild oats? And they half think of me as one of them already, even though they'd never admit it. But the women, they're the ones who won't let it go."
Sandy Johnson and my wife Melanie were the only "decent" women in Blue Sky who would associate with Ella for a long while. Sandy and her husband Ray barely spoke anymore, although she continued to cook his meals and care for the house. She'd come over to see to Ella as much as she could. I noticed that sometimes she seemed to move a little stiffly, or rub herself as though she had aches and pains, despite her youth, but I didn't think much of it at the time. Sandy had always been delicate, despite her love of the outdoors, and the demands of an entire home seemed to be too much for her. Once when she raised her arm to get something off a high shelf, and her sleeve fell back, I noticed some odd bruising on her forearm. She told me she'd been clumsy.
And Melanie, my darling girl. She'd always been a little uncomfortable with my partner, who seemed to her the living embodiment of that admirable yet terrifying creature of whom she'd read, the New Woman. But uncomfortable or no, she figured that if Ella was my best friend, why then, Ella was her best friend, too. And at this complicated joyous time when our daughter was born, Melanie turned her back on the gossipy, spiteful women of her sewing circle, who tried to gather around her, and stood by Ella just as firmly as I did. A few times when Ella was awkwardly trying to hold our baby, I caught Melanie looking at her strangely, but I never really asked her why. Everyone knew that Ella Hart was hopeless with the things that were supposed to come naturally to all women. She no more had the instincts of a domestic angel than she did of an Apache tracker.
That first month, she never left the flat above the office unless she was accompanied by Sandy or Caroline. Some officious busybody tried to get young Caroline to move in with a more respectable family, but she let the lady know just where she stood in no uncertain terms. I overhead the conversation, and I began to think we might have another lady lawyer on our hands in a few years. But other than that, Blue Sky was united against Ella. Even her sister Rosa broke with her. Rosa was a few years older, and very conventional, and she had never quite understood her sister. I'd always gotten the feeling she resented the fact that Ella was her daddy's favorite, though of course the Benjamin Hart was dead before I came to clerk for his daughter. Anyway, I was more like family to Ella than her sister was.
In keeping with everything else, the larger number of our regular clients indicated that although they would not withdraw their business from the firm, they preferred that I represent them from now on. So, while I handled all our ordinary work, Ella interested herself in the plight of a tribe of Indians who'd been forcibly resettled by the Federal government a few hours outside of Blue Sky. She became obsessed with their claims against the government, to the point where she rarely slept. Caroline used to tell me that she'd wake up any time of the day or night and find a light burning, or hear Ella's footsteps pacing above or below stairs. Her clients used to see her in the back kitchen, sitting at the old wooden table, since mine objected to sharing a consultation room with "dirty Injuns" . . . or with my senior partner, although that went unspoken.
It was about three months after Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry left town, when it happened. It was very late one evening, and Melanie had already gone to bed, while I was going over some documents, and planning to follow her shortly. There was a knocking on the door. I went to the drawer where I kept my gun, pulled it out, and went cautiously to the door. Nobody in Blue Sky was likely to call on us at that hour unless it was an emergency, or something worse.
It was Caroline, her lank brown hair streaming around her face, and her eyes wide with terror. "It's Ella. I don't know what's wrong with her, but she's breathing funny and she won't wake up or move."
I put down the gun. "Have you called the doctor?"
"Doc was there this afternoon. She got a funny look in her eyes when he left, but she seemed okay until I went in to check on her just now, before I went to bed."
"I'll be right there," I said, "and you go wake up the Doc."
She nodded, a little hesitantly, almost as though she blamed the doctor for bringing on Ella's trouble in the first place. But at my prompting, she went.
When I arrived at the rooms above our offices, I found that Caroline had not exaggerated her condition. Ella was flushed and breathing with difficulty, and nothing I could say or do roused her to consciousness. My first thought was that she'd poisoned herself, but that didn't seem like her. She saw things through, you always had to give her that. If she hadn't wanted to face things as they were, she could have been someplace warm with Heyes right now. And then I remembered something from one of her books. This was one she'd gotten me to read, The Woman in White by some fellow called Will Collins or something like that. There was a woman in it called Marian, and she was a strong, brave woman, the kind Ella liked to read about, but under an excessive strain she'd collapsed and fallen into something called "brain fever."
The doctor arrived shortly afterwards, and found me cradling Ella's head in my lap. I asked him about "brain fever," and after examining her, he agreed that he couldn't see any other possible cause. Meanwhile, we'd set Caroline to searching the house for any sources of poisons, but nothing turned up.
"I need to speak to you alone, Chadwick," he said, and left Caroline tending Ella, while we went downstairs to the office.
"Okay, Doc. I know you were here earlier today, and Caroline doesn't know why. She thought the attack might have been connected."
Doc Adams bowed his head. "I'm afraid so, too. Chadwick, Miss Ella Hart is expecting a child."
I gasped. "No! My God, Doc, you must understand what that will mean for her." All the slow forgetting that Ella had been counting on would never happen if she were to bear a child out of wedlock. "How long have you known? How long has she known?"
The doctor smiled in spite of himself. "For such an intelligent woman, she doesn't know very much about certain aspects of a woman's life. She had no idea until I told her, this afternoon. I suspect the surprise was part of what brought on the attack. But all Ella knew until I explained it to her was that she was ill every morning, and she wasn't feeling like herself. Oh, and she had missed a couple of her monthlies, but she thought that was due to the stress she's been under. I have a suspicion that she might have had some idea deep down and she just didn't want to know. It's amazing what the human mind can choose not to know." He hesitated. "The father . . . ?"
I wondered briefly if he suspected me, but I think he knew the answer as well as I did, as well as everyone in town did. "It must have been that outlaw fellow, Heyes. There hasn't been anyone else." I looked quickly away. I hated making that admission -- that there had been anyone at all -- that any of this was even possible. If Heyes had been there at that moment, I probably would have made good on my threat to kill him. But how could I blame the man when he'd offered to marry her? Ella had admitted as much to me. Her predicament now was her own fault, in good measure.
"So all the gossip is true? Well, I'm sorry to hear that, but I don't think my judgment is what my patient needs right now." He turned to me, shaking his head. "The story goes no further, of course. It just shows that when a woman steps out of her proper sphere, she's liable to the same temptations as a man. I think it's safe to move her, and I think you and Melanie are the people to take care of her right now. It's not contagious, so you don't have to worry about your baby."
Caroline and I spent the rest of the night keeping watch, and at first light, we carried Ella back to my house, with the doctor's assistance. Later that morning, after we'd settled her in, an unexpected trio arrived on our doorstep. Melanie had sent for Sandy Johnson, of course. But behind her, each looking about as emotionally strained as I can imagine a human looking without actually exploding, were her husband Ray, and old Rick Johnson himself.
Sandy ran right to Ella's bedside, and Ray, as might have been expected, began thundering in his not-so-deep voice about infamous women and his wife being exposed to this scandalous behavior and its just rewards. But the surprise was Rick, who was on Sandy's heels the whole way. I heard the sound of masculine sobbing, and I looked into the room to find old Rick, who I'd lately been thinking of as the devil himself, red-eyed and miserable and kneeling at Ella's bedside.
He saw me there, and rose and came out into the hallway. "I'm so sorry, Jeremy. This is all my fault," he said. "If only I had just kept my mouth shut about those suspicions I had, and let things be. But I just blew up at the thought that Ella had lied to me about something like this."
"Like what, Rick?" I asked, not ready to forgive him just because he was repentant. "The fact that she did her job and represented her clients the best that she could? The fact that she had some life outside of this little world and it didn't include you and me? The fact that she turned out to be a human being, and after all these years of being alone she made a bad mistake because she found a man who made her feel a little alive?"
From Rick's expression, I wondered if I'd made a hit with that last one. I wondered why he was so invested in Ella staying on her pedestal anyway. Everybody knew that Rick was unfaithful to Cora with just about every saloon girl in town. Everybody except Cora and, until recently, Ella, that is. I couldn't understand it, myself. I'd only been unfaithful to Melanie once. It was before we were married, but it was an experience I didn't like to remember. I could understand what Ella had done a lot better than I could about Rick and his saloon girls. At least I knew she'd really had feelings for Heyes.
"Maybe all of those things," he said, honestly. "All I can tell you is when that outlaw walked in there bold as brass and kissed her like that and then he let on who he really was, well . . . I felt like she'd been putting one over on me the whole time, and it wasn't a fair fight between us, like it always has been. She'd broken the rules -- our rules. I was mad and I wanted to get her back."
"You wanted to get her back because she fell in love?" I asked.
He started. He almost looked hurt by what I'd said, which I found peculiar, since the idea of Ella being in love was just about the only thing that explained or excused her behavior, to my mind.
"You think she's in love with this fellow? I thought I'd heard he offered to do the right thing by her and she sent him away."
I looked at him. "Guess you heard that back when your son and his wife were still speaking. Do you really think Ella would know her own mind about something like being in love? She's been all mixed up ever since she met Heyes, and I think she's probably more afraid of caring about him than of losing him. I mean, look at who she chose."
Rick frowned. "Well, he's a good looking man, and he certainly has a way about him. He seemed to be brighter than average, and women do seem to be partial to men with something dangerous about them."
"Rick, would you have picked him for your daughter?"
"If he'd have looked twice at Lisette, I'd have locked her up until he'd been gone for a week, just so there was no chance of her tracking him down."
"Exactly. Look, Rick, it's like this. Ella waits for years after losing Billy, turning down men who want her for her position or her money or because she's pretty and bright, even if she is a little unusual. There aren't so many unattached women around these parts, and Ella's been one of the prime catches for years. Only she's refused to be caught. And then she falls for a man who never stays in one place more than a week at a time, who can't even go by his real name, who pops up unexpectedly. Rick, if he'd have been interested in Lisette, you'd have seen him as a great big threat. Ella saw things just the opposite. Hannibal Heyes is the one man she could have found who could have really cared for her, and still not posed one iota of threat to her independence. Not until you opened your big mouth, anyway."
He shook his head. "No wonder she keeps you around. I've been trying to figure it out for months now, and I haven't been able to make any sense of it at all. But what you say makes sense. It sounds like her, anyway."
"I never should have gotten my wife involved," he continued. "Once she had the story, it was bound to spread all over. She doesn't like Ella -- she doesn't understand how things are. She just thinks that you and Ella are out to do me and my poor clients dirt any way you can. And when Lorna, over at the saloon, got wind of it, well -- I'm a good customer of hers, so when she heard that the stories were coming from me, I guess she figured she'd be doing me a good turn to chime in." He paused. "But why was Ella so stupid as to let him spend the night at her house again after she must have known I was out there spreading stories about her? Didn't she know that you can't so much as sneeze in Blue Sky without half-a-dozen people witnessing it firsthand?"
I shrugged. "Like I said, she's in love. And love is not the wisest of masters."
Rick went on, his confession not done yet. "I've made no bones about being a greedy man, all my life, but I never let my greed get in the way of a friendship. But that bounty hunter that brought in Heyes and Curry was going to give me a third of the reward on contingency. That's almost as much money as I see in a year. What's it the preacher says about the love of money?"
"It's the root of all evil," I confirmed. "Rick, I think there's something else you should know. Something far worse."
He started. "Worse? How can anything be worse?
"Ella's expecting a child. That's what brought on the attack. Doc Adams told her yesterday afternoon, and she collapsed last night."
"And this Heyes is the father, of course?"
"It's the only possibility. You know better than to believe the saloon talk." I didn't bother to mention that he'd started it.
"And he was willing to do the right thing by her, before?"
And then Rick Johnson surprised me. "Well, then let's get after him. Do you know where he is?"
"I think the idea when she refused him that last time was that they were never going to see each other again. I don't have the slightest clue where he might be. Probably west of the Mississippi, but that's about all I know."
"What was the name of that sheriff in Wyoming, the one who lied for them? You were with Ella then, weren't you?"
"I remember wiring him. I'd been her clerk for maybe a year and I remember I was angry that I was being treated as an errand boy even after all that time. Travis? Trevors! Lon or Len or . . . Lom Trevors, in Porterville, Wyoming."
"Maybe he'd know?"
"But they've got their pardon now. Why'd they bother to keep in touch with him?"
"Habit," said Rick. "When you've been a lawyer as long as me, Jeremy, you'll know all about folks and their habits. They want someone to know where they are, you know, in case anything happens. And they're used to Trevors being that someone. I'll get to the telegraph office right now, and we'll go after Heyes as soon as we hear back."
"He'll still be an ex-outlaw. And people will know the baby started to happen before the wedding, even if we can get him to come back with us."
Rick shot me the funniest look. "Do you have any idea how many babies around these parts are born six or seven months after the wedding? Including my own high and mighty Raymond, a fact of which I'm about to remind him. You and Melanie are the exception, and I'll tell you, folks were really wondering when the baby didn't come 'til just over a year after you were married."
"But the outlaw part?"
"Folks'll get over that. For one thing, it's pretty romantic, and they'll need a new romantic tale to get over the loss of the old one, about Ella making her life a monument to Billy. And for another, don't you know by now that what I say in this town goes? People around here either agree with me, or they need Ella, because she's the only one brave enough to say "Rick Johnson's got it wrong!" If I say it's okay, folks will accept it. It may take some time, but they will." He turned down the passage, to where his son was standing.
I heard Ray's voice raised as his father passed by him without a word. "What are you thinkin', Pa? Are you crazy?"
Rick's voice was hard. "Get out of my way, boy. I'm beginning to wonder if you even really are my son, you disgrace to the name of Johnson!"
Two days later we were on our way to Denver. It had taken a couple of telegrams before we'd convinced Sheriff Trevors we were on the level, and even then he hadn't been able to give us an address, only a city. Rick acted peculiar the whole way, keeping very quiet, which wasn't like him in the least. I brought that book, The Woman in White, to read. I wanted to remember what had happened to that Marian, the one with the brain fever. I needed to know that she came out all right. Neither of us brought any work with us -- travelling with the person who was your opponent on ninety-five percent of your caseload made that a bit uncomfortable. I read listlessly, while Rick mostly stared out of the window.
Once, though, he started to ask me about Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. I was surprised at the sorts of questions he asked. Did I know anything about how they'd crossed that line over to the other side of the law? Did I know what motivated them to try to cross back? How long had they tried, and how hard had it been? Had either of them ever killed anyone, and had they done a lot of killing?
They were questions I mostly couldn't answer. I did tell him what I knew of Curry and of Heyes from the time I'd spent with him when Ella and I went over to Greenville to help them out. I told him that, considering who they were and what they'd done, I still believed they were essentially decent men. What I said seemed to satisfy him, because he nodded and fell silent again.
A great deal of track and several rail lines later, we arrived in Denver. But knowing that Hannibal Heyes was in Denver was a whole different story than knowing where to find him. I figured the best bet was to find out every place in town where high stakes poker was being played, and as it turns out, I figured right. Johnson and I must have been in half a dozen of Denver's finest hotels, saloons and bawdyhouses, and we were resigned to visiting a couple of dozen more before we found the right one. But on the lucky seventh we walked in to find Hannibal Heyes sitting at a large table, surrounded by cards and chips and a half-dozen men, ranging from a city slicker-looking fellow in a suit so well-tailored I found myself reflexively straightening my lapels, to a mean-looking man who looked like he was a drover and probably hadn't bothered to clean up from his last drive before coming on in to gamble away whatever it was he'd just earned.
I cleared my throat, not sure whether Heyes would be playing poker under his own name. "Excuse me . . . "
He looked up, clearly resentful that his concentration had been broken. "Yes? . . . Well, if it isn't young Jeremy Chadwick himself." He looked behind me. "And Rick Johnson. Now if that ain't like seeing Lucifer and Saint Peter sittin' down for a friendly drink together, I don't know what is. What'd you folks want that involved you coming all the way to Denver? And quickly, because I'm winning big."
"We want to talk to you. Alone."
I heard Kid Curry's voice, cold and hard behind me. "You heard the man. He's winning big. State your mind and move on."
"Well, speakin' as the Devil himself, " said Rick, "I think you may want to hear what my friend has to say." I was sure I was crazy, but I thought I heard a hint of an Irish brogue, something I'd never detected in his voice before. I looked at him, and he looked hard as flint. I've seen Rick mean, and I've seen him angry, but I never saw his eyes that dead-grey color. It looked as though old jovial red-faced Rick had gone for a walk, and left some stranger in possession of his corporeal self, like in one of those ghost stories Hawthorne or Poe or somebody would tell.
"There's only one thing Mr. Chadwick and I have a common interest in, and the lady has already made her position perfectly clear," said Heyes distinctly, before returning his attention to his cards.
"You want to hear what he has to say," repeated Rick, in a voice so hard it barely seemed human. The brogue was more pronounced this time.
Heyes scrutinized his face for a moment, and then he looked at me. "All right," he said. "Cash me in, then." He swept his chips forward, and began to pull the pot towards himself.
"Hold on, just a minute," said one of the other players, a heavy man with a mean look, the one who looked like a trailworn drover. "You gotta give us a chance to win some of that back." Kid Curry might have been fast, but in a moment there were a couple of guns on Heyes and only his one on the man who'd been threatening his partner.
But as fast as Curry could draw even, there was a knife at that heavy man's throat. "I'd drop the gun if I were you," said Rick, who to my amazement was holding it. "I haven't used this on a man in twenty-five years, but I haven't forgotten how. And I'm going to hell already, so I've got no reason not to do it."
Curry already had his gun out, and I was able to grab one from the suddenly nerveless fingers of the man whom Rick was threatening. In a matter of moments, the four of us, and a big portion of Heyes' winnings, were out the door.
"Whoowee!" exclaimed Curry. "Are you sure that was legal? I ain't had that much fun since we been honest!"
"Well, nobody got hurt, and the winnings were Heyes' by right. The only one of us who actually stole anything was Chadwick. That gun's not yours, is it, Jeremy?" Rick grinned, looking a lot more like himself. "But I think we'd still better be on the next train out of town. The sheriff won't be after us, but some of those poker players may want to get the drop on us. We left our luggage at the depot, and I assume you boys have a hotel." Rick's brogue had subsided, and he was speaking in his natural voice. Or was he?
"That was our hotel," said Heyes. "But I've got my favorite hat, and the Kid's got his gun. Everything else can be replaced, especially after a big win like that. Now why the hell did you two come all the way to Denver to find me? Did something happen to Ella? 'Cause I still don't know what else we have to talk about."
"And who are you, really, Johnson?" asked Curry. "Not too many small town lawyers can handle a knife like that, or face down a man like that Sid Buford, there."
"Well, I'll tell you but . . . we'd better keep moving." Rick hurried us along towards the station. It wasn't until we were aboard a train a short time later that there were any explanations given. Heyes and Curry didn't question our choice of a northbound train, but I noticed they consulted privately with each other and purchased tickets that would take them to a point halfway up the line, not all the way to Ogden, where Rick and I would change trains for Montana.
Heyes and I sat down, but I noticed Kid Curry waved Rick to a different seat, not right near ours. Perceptive of him, I thought.
"What's the matter with Ella?" Heyes asked, again. "You didn't come all the way to Denver just to pass the time of day."
"Ella's had an attack. She's got brain fever real bad," I said. I could feel him tensing, and saw his sorrowful expression. "She was just starting to regain consciousness when we left, but she was still delirious mostly. Doc Adams thinks she's gonna pull through. But the shock that sent her into it . . . well, she's still going to have to deal with that."
Heyes looked at me, hard. "And that is?"
"She's expecting a child."
"My child." It was a statement, not a question. He put his head in his hands. "Then why did she send me away? I offered to do right by her."
"She didn't know about it when she sent you away -- that was just a few days after it must have happened. She only found out the other day. Ella's book-smart, and she can handle herself in the courtroom, but there are certain things she's not real aware of. Woman things. Melanie tells me now that she'd guessed, but she was afraid to say anything."
He nodded. He was paler than I think I've ever seen anyone, and his dark brown eyes were haunted. "A child. A . . . baby? How . . . ?"
"I expect you'd know more about that than I would," I pointed out. "Although if you need a description of the mechanics, I'd be happy to oblige."
He ignored my sarcasm. "I can figure out when it happened, but it still comes as a surprise. I never thought about being a father. I don't know if I'm cut out for it."
"I can't even pretend to begin to understand that. My daughter was born just after you left town, and I couldn't be happier. We're already talking about how nice it would be to have a boy, next time."
The brown eyes widened. "Next time? You're already thinking about next time? Nothing personal, Chadwick, but you and me are two different kinds of people. Come to think of it, you and Ella are two different kinds of people, as far as that goes. How does she feel about this?"
"I don't think she's taking it too well, considering. She hasn't exactly been in a position to tell anyone. But I'd suggest you think about what you're intending to do. We change trains at Ogden, and you can either come with us, back to Montana, or you can get off the train somewhere between here and there and we'll pretend we never found you. Of course, I can't vouch for Rick, but then, I've never seen him the way he was back in that hotel before, either."
"That a threat?"
I shook my head. "I don't want you doing anything because somebody made you. I want you to do it, if you do it, because you know it's the right thing, and because you want to stand by her."
"I tried that once already. Didn't get me far." He sounded bitter.
"Heyes, she turned you down for your own sake, you do know that? At least partly. I was pretty angry at her when she told me. But what she said made sense, when I calmed down." "I know. The more I thought about it, the more I knew she was right." He looked at me, frowning, a crease appearing between his heavy dark brows. "She said that getting married wasn't something you did just to change the way folks think about you. And Ella didn't want to get married any more than I did. She was just more honest with herself about it." He paused, and I could see him struggling with himself almost visibly. "But this changes everything. I can't let her face this alone. I only hope that she won't be stubborn."
I looked back at him, at the man who had brought so much misery and so much happiness to my dearest friend. In his troubled eyes, I saw something that I could respect. For the first time since all this began, I liked him, the way I had in the beginning. "I think even Ella realizes that a baby changes things." I smiled, ruefully. "You should see her with our little Victoria. Of course, she can't figure out how to hold her right, or anything else much, but she is trying."
Heyes laughed now. "Somehow I think that having a baby with Ella is going to be quite an adventure. But now you, Rick," he raised his voice, directing his attention to our companions, who were seated across the aisle and up a row. "Seems to me you've got some real explaining to do."
But Johnson deferred any discussion for the present, and a few minutes later, when the conductor came through, he reached our companions first. Curry shot a glance back at Heyes, who nodded, and I heard him say to the conductor that he'd been needing a through ticket to Ogden, after all, and how much additional would it cost?
We'd agreed not to break our journey, and when we changed trains at Ogden, Rick made some inquiries and discovered we could get a private first-class compartment. When we'd settled in, I looked around at my companions and thought about how much more comfortable everything seemed.
But Heyes wasn't satisfied for long. "Okay, Johnson, I think you owe us a story, don't you? What the hell was that back in Denver? You were like . . . "
"Like a different person," his partner finished. I wondered if they did that to each other a lot.
Johnson took a deep breath, and let it out, before he even opened his mouth to speak. "There's a big part of me that wants to make up some story, but the truth is that it'll be a relief to tell someone, after all these years. And if anyone can understand, I guess it's you two." He looked at the ex-outlaws seated across from us. "You feel like taking a walk to the dining car, Jeremy?"
I gave him a look that let him know I wasn't going anywhere, so he sighed, and after a moment he continued. "It's like this, boys. You're not the only ones with a past. You're not the only ones who've ever called yourselves by a different name from the one you were born with, either. My real name is Richard O'Shaughnessy, and I'm still wanted in New York. The statute doesn't ever run out on what I did." It was still Rick sitting there, red faced, heavyset, fifty-year-old Rick, but it was somebody else looking out from his eyes. He was somebody we'd met back at that hotel, and he was a lot more dangerous than my blustery courtroom opponent.
I took a sudden breath, and those strange eyes met mine. "So that's why you wouldn't leave your hotel room in New York." I turned to the others. "Their ship was delayed for a day by weather at New York Harbor when he took his family to Europe. Ray complained he couldn't get his father to go sightseeing," I explained.
"It's been twenty five years, and the law wouldn't recognize me, but the b'hoys would. And the penalty for skipping out on the Dead Rabbits is death."
"The buhoys?" asked Heyes, while Curry's question was "The Dead Rabbits?"
"A funny name, huh? But nobody laughed at it in New York when I was young, I can tell you. We ruled the waterfront. I was second lieutenant, even though I was barely older than Jeremy here when I left. I was known for my way with a blade. Only it's a close-up, nasty way to kill, and after awhile I couldn't take it anymore. So I ran west until I hit what's now Montana, and almost soon as I hit the territory, Dick O'Shaughnessy became Rick Johnson. Found me a lawyer with an eligible daughter, not too pretty, and room for an apprentice. A few years later, it was Rick Johnson, attorney at law."
I began to laugh, and Rick turned to me. "You ever tell my wife anything about this, I swear I'll use that knife on one last throat." But he was smiling.
"Ella always said you had the soul of a brigand."
"If only I could tell Ella," said Rick, still smiling, "that might do me some good. It might keep her in line when she gets to threatening me in court if somebody told her that Rick Johnson's more dangerous than she thinks." He sobered. "It was twenty-five years ago, but it still weighs heavy on my conscience. In the space of less than three years, I killed over thirty men for the gang."
I heard a sharp intake of breath, and turned to look at Kid Curry. "Thirty?" he asked. His blue eyes were steely, unreadable.
Rick was suddenly serious. "Well, you must know what it's like, being a well-known gunslinger and all. I know I'll probably go to hell for it, and there isn't a night I don't wake up thinking about one or another of them. But at least I stopped, and that's my only hope of salvation." He looked at Curry, and his expression was almost pleading. "Well, you must know what it's like."
Curry spoke softly. "Rick, I've killed three men, but only in self-defense. I can usually shoot their guns out of their hands, or wound them in the shoulder."
He looked at Heyes.
"I've never killed anyone, Rick."
"My God," Johnson said, "I knew I was bad, but I guess I kept telling myself that there were outlaws all over the West as bad as me." He smiled hopefully. "Of course, that might well be why the governor gave you the amnesty, and not a lot of those other boys."
None of us said anything.
"Who am I trying to fool? I've been living with this for a long time, and it never gets any better. But there's one thing I can try to make amends for, and that's what I did to Ella. I was just so angry when I started the whole town talking against her. I guess I haven't changed as much as I'd like to think I have -- just my methods."
"You came all this way to find me," said Heyes, kindly. "That's something. So why don't you tell us about these dead rabbits and buhoys now? We don't know much about the gangs and outlaws back East." And it would be something we can all talk about that has nothing to do with Ella, I heard as clearly as if he'd said it.
"B'hoys," Johnson corrected. It was like a curtain had dropped, and there he was, the Rick Johnson I knew, sitting there in front of me, cheerful and contentious as ever. It just went to show that you never knew what was going on inside a person. "Bowery b'hoys, actually. You see, my parents and I were immigrants and . . . "
When we arrived at the house, days later, Ella had regained consciousness. She was sitting up in bed, being read to by Caroline, while Melanie and Sandy were fussing over our little Victoria.
Melanie flew into my arms, and led me to the bed, while Sandy's eyes widened as she saw who was bringing up the rear.
"Ella, honey, you've got some visitors," Sandy pointed out.
Ella was obviously not entirely recovered yet, and she stared blankly for a moment, her blue eyes not really focused. "Who is it, Sandy? Jeremy's not a visitor, he lives here." Her voice was weak and the rest of her seemed to match. But then she looked up, past my shoulder, and for once in her life, Ella Hart was speechless. Heyes walked towards her, while Sandy shooed the rest of us out into the hallway, following us out herself and shutting the door.
After a moment, we all looked at each other. "Here we are, six grown people, not to mention a baby, crowded into a very small hallway where two can barely pass," I observed.
"Well, are you planning to move?" asked Curry. "He's my partner, and I have no intention of going anywhere until I know what's happened."
"And she's mine," I said.
Rick and the women just looked at us. Apparently nobody was moving.
We waited at the door for quite some time, but after awhile it opened, and Heyes popped out his head. "The answer is yes, and will you all please go away now?"
So, we did.
When I regained consciousness, the first thing I did was ask after Jeremy. I had this peculiar sense that business must be going unattended-to, and that if something wasn't done about it, and soon, something really bad was going to happen. When Melanie told me that he and Rick Johnson had gone off somewhere together, my first thought was that at least then Rick couldn't put anything over on us while Jeremy was away and I was so very ill.
I couldn't figure out why I was at Jeremy's house, except that my illness must be worse even than I could tell, or why Melanie, Sandy and Caroline seemed to be in constant attendance every waking hour. I wanted to scream at them to go away, but I didn't have the energy to scream, and anyway, I was so helpless that I needed them there, at least one at a time.
Judge Clayton came by once, with flowers. He kissed me on the forehead, in a real grandfatherly way, but his eyes were sad when he looked at me.
I kept hearing a loud crying noise, and then I remembered that little Victoria had been born a few months before I'd gotten so sick. Babies, I thought. I wasn't so sure I was fond of babies. But then I remembered what I didn't want to know, that I was going to have one, and I began crying myself, weakly. Sandy sat beside me and held me while I cried, a brave smile on her face. "Jeremy and Rick went to find him," she whispered. "He'll come back and marry you and then everything will be all right."
"But I didn't want to marry him. I made him go away," I said foggily. "Don't you remember? He won't come back."
"That was before you knew about the baby," came her soft voice. "That was before he knew. They'll tell him and he'll come back, you'll see."
But I knew better. He wouldn't come. Even if they found him. And I didn't want him to come back just because I was going to have a baby. I wanted him to come back because I missed him. I wanted him to come back because I loved him. What a hard thing to admit to myself.
What was even harder to admit was that I'd loved him for a long time, and I'd never intended for him to know it, never intended for it to make one bit of difference in my life. All those risks I took to be with him, they were all some kind of a game I was playing. Some kind of game that wasn't real, that couldn't be real, because if it wasn't real then nothing could hurt me like losing Billy had. And now I'd never see Heyes again, and it was my own doing. And now I was going to have a child, all by myself. There were things I had imagined doing by myself, like growing old, but having a baby wasn't one of them.
So a few days later, when he was there, I had to acknowledge that I was wrong. As soon as Sandy had cleared the room, he sat down next to me on the bed. I could tell from his expression that I must look worse than I thought. I hadn't exactly been encouraged to look in any mirrors lately.
I tried to prop myself up so that I could look at him, but he had to help me. I couldn't stand the look of concern on his face. I didn't want him to see me this way, and I'd half made up my mind to ask him to leave, when he spoke.
"I hear you've been having a rough time, lately."
"Nothing I can't handle," I began, but he interrupted me by laughing.
"Ella, you don't need to pretend that everything's okay. I know what's happened."
"Yes, I do," I whispered. "I do need to pretend. Because if I stop pretending then I have to admit that I'm scared, Heyes. I'm more scared than I've ever been of anything in my life."
He looked at me, and I'd never seen his face like that. He was pale, and his dark eyes, in stark contrast, were large and luminous. "Me, too. Look, last time I asked you to marry me, I had myself all convinced I was doing some noble thing and that everything would work out just fine for us. This time, all I can say is that I'm scared, and that I think it's gonna be hard for both of us. I don't think either of us is what you'd call the marrying kind. You might have been when you were young, but you're not, now. And me . . . you know what I am. But I don't want you to go through this alone. I want to be with you when you have that baby. What do you say, Ella? Are we gonna get married?"
"It wasn't supposed to turn out like this."
"You kiddin'? Back when I was robbing banks if you'd have told me I was gonna be asking some lawyer to marry me, I would've told you that you were crazy. 'Course, I didn't know they made lawyers like you." He stroked my hair. "Pretty ones, I mean."
"I'm not very pretty right now," I said. I knew that even without a mirror. "Are you sure about this? Because I'm likely to say yes, under the circumstances. How does your partner feel about all this?"
"He's for it. I mean because of the baby and all. And he likes you. But he's scared that this will come between us."
I shrugged. It hurt. "Jeremy got married and he's my partner. It never got between us."
"You and Jeremy are lawyers. Not outlaws, not drifters. It's not the same as the Kid and me."
"He's my best friend," I said patiently. "We spend most all our time together, we work together, and whatever we earn, we share it. Sound familiar? And, you might have noticed, he will do almost anything to defend me."
"Yeah, I noticed." Heyes rubbed his jaw reflexively, in the place where I knew Jeremy had hit him. "He's got a mean right for a lawyer. There's only one thing, Ella."
"Well, we haven't had the amnesty very long. And we haven't quite figured out what we're going to do. I mean, I guess we'll settle down here, now, if that's what you want, but I'm still not sure what we're going to do for jobs."
"What's wrong with what you were doing? Traveling around, trying out different things. I thought you liked it. I thought you got itchy if you stayed in one place too long."
"But don't you want me to . . . I mean, shouldn't we . . . "
"Well, this will be your home, of course. I mean, not those rooms above the office, we'll need a bigger place for you and the Kid and the baby and all. But I don't expect you to stay here all the time. You'd get bored, and then where would we be?"
He laughed. "You're making this too easy."
"You kidding? It'd make me crazy, having you around all the time." I didn't want to tell him about the suffocation part. Not now. Because I was afraid he would feel it, too. Did feel it, too. And I was scared of losing him again and about the baby coming. I didn't want him to change his mind. "But I could stand to see a good deal more of you than I have been."
"Oh, you will," he said, and kissed me. "I think we can manage that."
"All right, then. The answer is yes." And then I pointed to the door. "You know they're all right out there, don't you? You might as well tell them "
In reply, he walked over to the door, flung it open, and said something. Then he slammed it shut again and returned to the bed. "Okay, no more of this lazing around," he said, and tore the covers off. "We've got this getting married thing to get through. You almost did it once before. How does it work?"
The shock of his quick movement had led me to sit upright. "I don't know," I said. "The last time I was planning to get married was about a thousand years ago. I was nineteen. I picked the man and the dress. Everything else was my mother's job. And when Sandy got married, I just tried to stay out of the way as much as I could, and no matter what she said, I agreed with it."
He grinned at me, and I realized what he'd just done. "Well, your sarcasm reflex seems to be intact."
I frowned. "I'm kind of hungry too. But don't think . . . "
"I don't." He leaned down and kissed me on the forehead. "Guess in this case, I was just what the doctor ordered." His brown eyes were serious, as he looked at me. "It isn't just because of the baby. Ella, I really do . . . " he broke off. "That is, I think we . . . Oh, hell. I care about you. I've been off in Denver playing poker and having a fine old time, and all I could think about was you, and what you must be going through, and how much I missed you."
"I love you, too," I said, ignoring the fact that he hadn't said it. Couldn't say it. And in all likelihood, never would say it. "I must be crazy."
"Well, then we're a matched set. 'Cause I'm sure I am." He smiled again, and I didn't respond, just grabbed his hand and squeezed it. After all, Heyes always did have to get the last word in.
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