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Authors: Lauraine Snelling

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Pearl (35 page)

BOOK: Pearl
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The young man knelt beside the white-faced figure on the ground, taking both her hands in his. ‘‘Come on, Milly, honey, wake up. Please, you got to wake up.’’

Two other men spread a canvas next to Milly, and gently they transferred her to the sling. They spread another canvas over her, shoved two poles through the deep hems in the side, and mounted back up. ‘‘We’ll take her directly to Dove House. Ride ahead and tell them to heat some rocks and blankets. Got to get her warmed up again.’’

Opal stood back out of the way, her hands locked around her shivering shoulders. If she was cold, how much worse off was Milly?

‘‘You okay, Opal?’’ Rand put an arm around her shoulders.

‘‘I-I will b-be.’’

Rand resaddled Buck, boosted Opal up on Bay, and they headed back to town, passing the patrol with a wave.

Charlie met them at the hitching post, since he was watching from the porch.

‘‘How bad?’’

‘‘Don’t know. They’re bringing her in.’’ Rand flipped his reins over the bar.

‘‘I’ll take care of the horses, and—’’ Charlie caught Opal as she tried to slide off and her legs buckled.

Rand picked her up and carried her into Dove House.

‘‘Is she. . . ?’’ Ruby could say no more.

‘‘She’s fine, just cold and wet. The army is bringing Milly in.

She’s unconscious. Get blankets and heat rocks. Need plenty of coffee.’’ He set Opal in the chair that Daisy moved over by the stove. ‘‘Get her undressed and wrapped in a blanket, then get hot liquid in her. Lace the coffee with cream and lots of sugar.’’ He turned his back so they could strip Opal of her wet things and wrap her up.

‘‘I’m sorry. We should have started home earlier.’’ Opal sobbed into Ruby’s sheltering arms.

Cimarron squeezed the water out of Opal’s braids and unplaited them to dry. ‘‘You did good, honeybun.’’

Daisy and Pearl got the supplies that Rand had ordered. They hung the blankets on chairs around the stove and put the rocks in the oven.

‘‘How is Milly?’’ Belle asked Rand as she handed him one of Charlie’s dry shirts.

‘‘Wish I knew. She was breathing fine but might have got water down her lungs. Looked mighty blue, but in that light, who could tell.’’

‘‘You got any whiskey?’’ he asked Belle.

‘‘A flask.’’

‘‘Go get it. Might help both of them. Let’s cover the table with a blanket and lay her here by the stove when they come.’’

‘‘Company halt!’’

Belle returned with her flask as Private Stone and one other man carried the sling into the kitchen.

‘‘Over here.’’ Rand indicated the table.

‘‘Is she a-alive?’’ Opal, now cuddled on Ruby’s lap, quavered.

‘‘Yes.’’ They transferred her from the sling to the table, then the men stepped outside on the porch while Cimarron and Daisy undressed Milly and wrapped her in warm, dry blankets, setting the stones along beside her.

‘‘Is she able to swallow?’’ Belle stopped at the end of the table.

‘‘Don’t know. Her teeth are chattering so hard . . .’’

‘‘That’s a good sign.’’ Rand turned to the sergeant. ‘‘Anyone down there with medical training?’’

‘‘I have the most, and far as I can see, you’ve done all the best things. Lace some coffee with honey, cream, and that what Belle has there, and spoon just a mite in. Rubbing her will help the circulation too.’’

‘‘Got to get her warmed up.’’ Cimarron rubbed Milly’s legs and Daisy her arms while Rand fixed the drinks, handing one to Opal. ‘‘Just sip it. Yes, it’s going to burn going down, but that’s good. The first swallow will be the worst.’’

‘‘Oh, ugh.’’ Opal shuddered as the drink went down.

‘‘Take a deep breath and drink more.’’ Ruby held the cup. ‘‘Never thought I’d be pushing booze on my baby sister, but if this helps . . .’’

Rand looked across at her and smiled. Never had she looked more beautiful. Seeing her out in the rain had made his heart nearly stop in fear, although he was pretty sure it was not Opal who was injured.

Belle brought a spoon and tried to get some into Milly, but it only drained out the side of her mouth.

‘‘Can’t get the spoon between her teeth.’’ Belle looked up. ‘‘Any suggestions?’’

‘‘Just keep trying. You got any more blankets?’’

‘‘Go get a down quilt out of the linen closet and a feather bed.’’ Ruby rested her cheek on Opal’s towel-wrapped head. ‘‘Pearl, would you please wrap a hot dry towel around Milly’s head?’’

‘‘Of course.’’

Hours passed. Finally Milly quit shivering and lay still. They fixed a pallet on the floor by the back of the stove so they could prepare supper for the guests.

Adam Stone sat next to the pallet, never taking his eyes off Milly’s pale face. Her lips were no longer blue, and she wasn’t running a temperature. At times he stroked her hand. He was finally able to get some of the coffee past her teeth, and she swallowed without difficulty.

Opal, who sat on the other side, still blanket draped, cheered. ‘‘Come on, Milly, you got to wake up.’’

With people fed and the kitchen cleaned up again, Opal curled up like a kitten behind the stove, and with Cat and her kittens curled beside her, all went to sleep.

‘‘Son, you have to go back to the cantonment.’’ Charlie took the cup and spoon from Stone. ‘‘You don’t want to get in trouble with your officer.’’

‘‘Yes, sir.’’ Adam laid a hand against Milly’s cheek. ‘‘You rest now, honey. I’ll be back in the morning.’’ He stood. ‘‘You come get me if there is a change?’’

‘‘We will.’’ Ruby patted his arm. ‘‘Thank you for being such a good friend.’’

‘‘Ma’am, I’m not just her friend. I’m going to marry her as soon as I get a promotion.’’

‘‘Oh. Does she know that?’’

‘‘No, but she will soon as she wakes up.’’ He stuttered and blinked several times. ‘‘You take good care of her now, you hear—I mean, please?’’

‘‘I know what you mean.’’ Ruby stared out the door after him. Rain was still coming down in sheets, and earlier they’d been working hard and having a good time too. Laughing and complaining about the canning. And Opal wanting to learn to shoot. Would they have heard two rifle shots in the rain? With as much noise as the storm was making, most likely not. She glanced over at Rand, who’d not taken his attention off Opal, and her, all evening. What was he thinking?

Rand leaned down and felt Opal’s forehead and shook his head when he caught Ruby’s questioning gaze. He felt Milly’s with another headshake.

‘‘She seems to be sleeping peacefully. I’ve seen men wake up a day or so later after a crack on the head and be just fine. Just have a headache for a while.’’

Ruby nodded. ‘‘Thank you.’’

But I’ve also seen men never wake up
. He’d seen a lot more during his brief time in the war than he ever wanted to remember.
Lord, this is in your hands. We’ve done what we can
. Interesting how, when the chips were really down, he always turned to his heavenly Father. So why did he rely on himself when things were going well?

Ruby handed him a fresh cup of coffee. ‘‘Thank you for coming so quickly.’’

‘‘’Bout ran Buck’s legs off. When I saw Baldy come galloping up, stirrups banging his sides, I knew someone was in trouble.’’
And I thought it could have been you. That it’s Milly is terrible, but had
it been you, I’d never have forgiven myself
. ‘‘You have no idea how glad I was to see you in the rain.’’

Ruby gave him a questioning look.

‘‘It could have been you lying on that ground.’’

Ruby stared into his eyes. She swallowed, the sound loud in her ears.
What are you saying, Rand? What is that I see in your eyes?
She looked down, could hardly bear his gaze.
So this is what it
feels like. Captain McHenry is a good man, a good friend, but this is
what I have been waiting for
.

His hand crossed the narrow divide and took hers, his thumb rubbing the back, one finger on her wrist.

Do you know what I feel? This is not a good time to say anything,
but listen to my heart
. Gathering her into his arms would be so easy. Her head would fit right under his chin. He could kiss her forehead with hardly a motion.

Instead he stepped back just enough that he could no longer feel her body heat drawing him closer.

‘‘Shall I carry Opal upstairs for you?’’

‘‘If you like.’’

She led the way, holding a lamp high to light the steps for him, then turning back the bedcovers so he could lay his burden in bed. She spread the covers over Opal.

‘‘Thank you.’’

‘‘You are most welcome. I better go.’’

‘‘Ride home tonight?’’

‘‘Yes.’’

‘‘No. We will make up a pallet for you, since there isn’t an empty bed in the house.’’

‘‘Then I will trade off with Charlie on caring for Milly.’’

‘‘You don’t need to do that.’’ Tearing her gaze from his, she led the way back downstairs again. She stopped at the linen closet to remove bedding and returned to the kitchen.

‘‘I let Buck out in the pasture with Bay,’’ Charlie was saying to Rand. ‘‘Your saddle is on the back porch.’’

‘‘Good. Thank you.’’

‘‘Still raining.’’

‘‘I know. That river is going to be raging in the morning.’’

Ruby finished making up the pallet in the storeroom. ‘‘Good night, gentlemen. Please call me if there is any change.’’

‘‘We will.’’ Charlie nodded.

Milly woke when the rooster crowed.

‘‘Hey, young’un.’’ Charlie smiled down at her.

‘‘Wh-who are you?’’ She stared around the still dim kitchen. ‘‘Where am I?’’

‘‘Oh, Lord, have mercy,’’ he muttered. ‘‘I’m Charlie Higgins, and you are Milly. We are in the kitchen of Dove House, where you have worked for three years.’’

Rand watched and listened.
Lord, thank you she’s alive and seems
all right in body. Now, please bring back her mind
.

‘‘W-who am I?’’

CHAPTER THIRTY

‘‘Ruby, do you have any laudanum? That will ease the headache.’’ Pearl stroked Milly’s forehead.

‘‘Good thing I had Charlie get some one time.’’ Ruby checked the back of the cupboard in the pantry. From now on she’d be keeping a flask of whiskey or brandy on hand also. It worked well to kill infection, if nothing else. She mixed two spoonfuls of the medicine with a glass of water and held it out to Milly. ‘‘Drink this. It will help.’’

Milly nodded and made a face after the first sip, then drank it at Ruby’s nod. ‘‘I’m tired.’’

‘‘I’m sure you are. You may go back up to bed if you like. Can you find your way?’’

At her nod, Ruby and Pearl watched Milly start up the steps, slowly, as if each tread took great effort.

‘‘You think her memory will come back?’’ Pearl tied a clean apron around her gingham dress on her way out to cut corn for canning.

‘‘I am trusting God for this one. I don’t know of anything else to do. Keep her comfortable, yes, but she is restless. What if she wanders away some night?’’

‘‘Why would she do that? This has been her home for so long, I’ve never heard her even mention her former life.’’ Cimarron turned from scrubbing new red potatoes.

‘‘I know. She’s a private little person. I hope she remembers she loves Adam Stone. He’s like a lost orphan.’’ Ruby gave the cake batter a couple more good beats and poured it in the greased and floured cake pans.

Opal pushed through the back door and stacked her empty tray on the shelf. Daisy was right behind her, wiping her forehead with the corner of her apron.

‘‘Someone complained because we ran out of sandwiches.’’ Opal handed Ruby the money from her apron pocket. ‘‘I said I was sorry but he was welcome to come here for dinner any time. He didn’t think I was funny.’’ Opal snagged a cookie off the plate on the table. ‘‘How’s Milly?’’

‘‘She went back up to bed. You can tell she has a bad headache just by looking at her eyes.’’

‘‘I should have—’’

‘‘Opal Marie Torvald, you did your best. You can’t go around feeling guilty for something that wasn’t your fault.’’ Cimarron set a pot of potatoes down on the stove with a clang. ‘‘Someone I know told me that more than once.’’ She glanced at Ruby, who nodded back.

‘‘After all, did you invite the lightning to strike, the storm to come?’’

BOOK: Pearl
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