Every one in town wanted to celebrate the heroes that evening, the heroes who had rescued Owen Holder from certain death at the bottom of the Angelique mine. Or rather, it seemed to Helena that everyone wanted to celebrate Yuvon, while doing their best to ignore her. Nobody seemed to know what to do about her.
"Nobody, with the exception of Yuvon, of course," she muttered wryly to herself. She had to give him credit. Every time they gave him a chance, he made certain to point out that he really hadn't done anything. It had been Helena who had gone into the pit and come back out with the boy. Helena was bitterly amused by the fact that these attempts to point out her part, were simply taken as signs of his modesty.
Helena frowned. She knew that she really couldn't expect more than to be considered merely her man's trained animal, but it still hurt. It also hurt that Yuvon was condescending to uselessly try and explain, while everyone present was falling victim to his blatantly heroic demeanor. Of course, she smiled for a second, if he hadn't been trying to be honest, she would have made him regret that later. Perhaps it hurt because he felt like he ought to do this to help her out.
Helena was sitting alone in the crowded drawing room of the hotel. She had taken the opportunity presented to her, by virtute of her being ignored, to bathe and change into her yellow dress. The outfit was still dirty from her ride from Denver to Black Hawk, but they were still the cleanest clothes she possessed. Everything was she owned was either irretrievably muddy or torn to shreds.
She was going to have to convince Yuvon that she needed some more clothes, and the thought of that displeased her more than being overlooked and neglected. As much as she liked Yuvon, found him attractive, and, yes, was even growing to care for him, she had no intention of becoming his kept woman.
But, she thought as she picked up the cold cup of coffee, in this case, there really wasn't much she could do about it. She needed something new to wear.
The sound of someone clearing his throat yanked her from her thoughts. She turned and looked at Father Dunham standing next to her and looking down at her with his cold blue eyes.
"Would you mind if I were to join you, Doctor McCoy?" Something in his voice made the question not a question, while belittling the title she had worked so diligently to achieve.
"I don't suppose that I have much of a choice, now do I Father?"
"Of course you have a choice, Miss," he said as he sat down across the table from her.
"To what do I owe this honor then?" she asked as she tried to decided why this man made her feel terribly uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the knowledge that, like a parent, there was some sort of unspoken expectation of obedience to him and whatever moral code he chose to espouse.
"You were looking all alone over here. And by the looks of things, your 'friend' didn't need me to contribute my company. I felt that it was my christian duty, doctor, to come and rescue you from your solitude."
"Thank you, Father. It was getting a bit lonely at this table," she said through gritted teeth. She desperately wanted to shove his annoying attitude of patronizing solicitude back down his throat, but she was inhibited by his priestly collar. She remembered Ebin explaining to her that "One should grant a certain latitude to the Lord's ministers on Earth, for theirs is a hard lot and fraught with pitfalls."
Helena took a long moment to really look at the priest. He had a strong face, rough and creased as from long hours in the wind and sun. There were deeply cut laugh lines bracketing clear and steady light blue eyes. It was the face of a man who might be eminently likeable, someone she might enjoy knowing, if only he didn't intimidate her so.
"I should hope," he said, "That my minuscule addition shall help alleviate the loneliness of your atmosphere. I must say, my child, that your action this afternoon was entirely commendable. Your saving of that boy's life was worthy of merit."
"Why, thank you, father. I had begun to wonder if anyone had actually noticed my little part," she said bitterly.
"Of course they did, don't think for a moment that there was anyone out there who missed seeing what you did. But, of course, you realize that this sort of behavior ‑‑ from a woman, is, well, a bit out of the ordinary."
"Well," he spread the word to four syllables. "I'm quite sure that they're just a little unsure about how to thank you."
"I suppose so ...," she sounded doubtful.
"There's no supposing about it. Of course, that's the trouble." He paused for a moment to produce and light a cigar.
"Of course," he continued. "That you compounded the irregularity of the situation by you lewd conduct merely exacerbated the trouble."
"My lewd conduct?" She started to rise with her anger at this statement.
"Of course, now please sit down and lower your voice."
Helena slowly returned to her seat, glaring at the priest.
"I'm of a certainty that your intentions were of the best, but there is the question of what irreparable harm you may have brought unto that poor child's soul by not merely revealing your, er, unmentionables to him, let alone wrapping him up in them." The implication of whatever else she might have shown the boy hung thickly between them. "After all, young boy's oughtn't to know of such things."
"I suppose," Helena's voice was low and calm, her anger almost palpable. "I should be awash with guilt because I helped to save his life."
"Of course not, my dear, but after all, what is one to think?"
Helena stared at him hard, unable in her anger to think of how best to respond. Father Dunham was undaunted by Helena's reactions to what he was saying, and he continued,
"And, after all, your behavior earlier this after noon, in that incident in the tavern, has spread its way through the crowd. You publicly admitted to shooting a man. Is it any wonder that these good folks might be a bit shy of recognizing your gallantry."
"Father," she tried to keep her voice calm. "I must admit that I lied earlier. I haven't killed anyone in a gun battle. I was trying to keep that foolish young man from being killed by Yuvon, Dr. Arelssyn."
"Ah," he evidently didn't believe her. "If you say so, my dear. But, of course, how are we supposed to know about that? This is why you're not supposed to tell lies, young lady."
The fact that Father Dunham was entirely correct did nothing to endear him to her at this point. She nodded slowly, her lips a thin hard line.
"I am forced to wonder," he went on. "How you suspect that this behavior; frequenting dens of iniquity, and acting in otherwise unmaidenly fashions will solve your problem of finding yourself a husband. To say nothing of travelling about freely with a man not your husband."
"Off hand, I would say that acting unmaidenly might easily solve my troubles in finding a husband," she said snidly, and seeing the look of pained incredulity and outrage on the priest's face, immediately regretted the joke. "If I may be serious for a moment, Father, but I am not at all certain that I want to marry."
Father Dunham was obviously appalled.
"But my child, it is a woman's duty, her sole function to bear children. This selfish behavior goes directly against the Lord's divine ordinance. You must have a husband to guide you, that you may expiate the sins of Eve. And, needless to say, the children that you refuse to bear will be damned to eternal purgatory, unless you do your duty."
Helena rose from the table.
"I'm sorry Father, but I am suddenly very tired. I think that I shall retire. Your company has been most ‑‑ illuminating. Good night, sir."
Father Dunham rose.
"Please, my child, you must consider these things."
"Oh, I shall, Father. And once more, good night."
"Well, good night then, miss. I shall pray for you and your children. I shall pray that the Lord sends you guidance that you might see the true path ..."
Helena turned and strode from the room.
* * * * * *
A short while later, Helena lay in a hot tub, still shaking in her anger at what the priest had told her. She so badly wanted to believe that she was living a good life, behaving as God wanted. Surely being a physician, caring for the sick and needy was enough, but she didn't know.
She dried her hands carefully on a towel before rolling and lighting a cigarette.
Ebin had always hoped that she would marry, but she had never felt comfortable with the thought. It wasn't as if she were adverse to marriage, she told herself, or even men for that matter ...
She lay back thinking, and examining the problem, but she came to no conclusions. After the water began to turn cold, she tired of her brooding, and rose from her tub.
She dried herself, put on her dressing gown, then slipped out into the hall heading for her room. From below the stairs, she could still hear the sounds of the celebratory revelry blasting away, the noise of some chaotic human rivulet passing through rapids, while going nowhere in particular.
She closed the door to her room, and turned the key in the lock. She left the key in place more to keep anyone from peeking into her room, than from any fear that anyone might pick the lock.
She changed into her nightgown and slipped into bed, feeling the clean fresh sheets with her feet. Perhaps it would be for the best, she decided, as she stretched out languidly. She had been abusing her body rather shamefully of late, so calling it an early evening might be the best idea. She dimmed the lamp on the bedside table, stretched to fill the entire bed and closed her eyes.
She opened them a moment later with the knowledge that she really didn't want to sleep, even as tired as she was.
She sat up in bed, and turned the light back up. Wondering if some reading might help, she climbed out of bed and began to go through her luggage. Finding her copy of Poe, she crawled back into bed. She lit a cigarette, settled back against her pillows, and began to explore the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue.'
C. Auguste Dupin had done for the Orang‑Outang and was looking into the 'Mystery of Marie Roget' when a knocking at Helena's door brought her mind back to reality.
"Just a moment!" she called, wondering who on earth would be coming to her door. In the distance, she could still hear the party going on downstairs. She climbed back out of bed, set her cigarette on the edge of the table, and slipped on her dressing gown.
She opened the door. Outside stood a tired looking woman, plain of feature, plain of clothes. She had mouse‑brown stringy hair that had probably been lovely not too long in the past, and eyes of a fine china blue. She held a brown‑grey bundle clasped in her rough, slender hands.
"Yes?" Helena asked.
"I'm awful sorry, Doctor." The woman spoke with an English accent, quite different than Yuvon's. "I didn't know as you'd retired so early."
"That's quite alright, miss ‑‑, mrs.?"
"Holder, ma'am. Edith Holder. Owen'n'Hugh's my boys."
"I'm delighted to meet you, ma'am. Your sons are quite remarkable. What may I do for you?" Helena opened the door more fully.
"Thank you. And you've done so much already. I just wanted to thank you." Edith Holder looked very small, and shy and uncomfortable.
"Thank you. Would you like to come in?"
Edith Holder looked up and down the hallway quite nervously. "No, thank you, miss. I, ah, brought this back to you." She held out the bundle.
Helena took it and looked at it. It was her corset.
"I'm sorry," Mrs. Holder was saying. "Your, er, the other was torn to rags really. I didn't think that you'd be wanting it back like that." She paused, obviously embarrassed.
"Doc Walters says that if you hadn't done all you did, Owen would more than likely died in that old pit."
"I just did what I could do to help, ma'am."
"Well, thank you again. I'm sorry doctor, but I really ought to be going."
"Well, it was nice to meet you Mrs. Holder. I just hope that Owen will be all right."
"Yes, ma'am. Well good night."
Pursing her lips, Helena watched as Mrs. Holder fled down the hallway. The woman was obviously uncomfortable about the prospect of being seen talking to a "fallen woman." Shaking her head sadly, Helena shut the door and returned to bed.
She had just completed the 'Purloined letter' when she heard another, more robust knocking at her door. It opened and Yuvon entered before she could respond. He was carrying a large covered tray.
"I hope I'm not disturbing you."
"Well, if it isn't the omnipotent hero. Of course, you may come in. Even had you been disturbing be, what could I, a poor, useless woman, mere ornamentation that I am, what could I do to defend myself against any intrusion that the great and glorious Yuvon Arelssyn might care to make?"
"That's what I like to hear, proper respect for a change."
"Well then, Doctor, to what do I owe the honor of the magnificence of you presence?"
"Good genes and better technology. But be that as it may, let me tell you why I dropped by."
"Oh, would you? Oh please, do tell."
"My, aren't we testy tonight? Are we having our regular visit by the rag monster, or are we just feeling ignored?"
"Yuvon, you can be so vulgar."
"Thank you. I've always felt that you really don't have a proper grasp on a new language until you can be intentionally offensive in it."
"Charming. So why are you here?"
"I thought you might be a bit hungry. I noticed you storming out after speaking with le bon pere. I figured you might still be upset by him and the rest of those people."
"Yuvon. That was hours ago." She sat up, and crossed her legs under the blankets.
"Yes, well you do seem to enjoy having time to brood about things."
"And you didn't want to leave all that attention, now did you? Let's be honest."
"Helena, I've been in the lime light so often that's why my eyes are green."
"I don't think that's the sort of lime to which that particular phrase refers."
"Irregardless," he said, smiling. Helena twitched. "I came by to see how you were doing, and to see if you wanted some supper. Cold chicken, bread and what passes for beer in this place. It's all very yummy."
"Splendid," she said dryly. She was hungry, but she wasn't certain if she wanted him to know that. Yuvon set the tray down in front of her on the bed and uncovered it. She quickly moved the mug of beer over to the bed‑side table next to the lamp. Then she dove into the meal. Yuvon sat down on the bed across the tray from her. She could feel his presence like sunlight as she devoured her chicken.
"You know," he said. "Your Yahvist priest friend came and chatted me up after he spoke with you."
Helena swallowed carefully before responding. "He's not my friend, exactly. What did he say to you ‑‑ that I'm a wanton woman and that you should make an honest woman of me?"
"More or less." He picked up a piece of the bird from her plate and began to eat it as he spoke. "Of course, I tried to defend you. I told him that you weren't a tart, and after all, I should know. I've known some of the biggest and best in the business."
"That's very genteel. Was that socially or biblically?"
He ignored her, and continued."
"Besides, I told him, I never marry a woman unless I've slept with her, and you just won't come across with the goods."
"I'm certain he was impress with my virtue. Why thank you, Yuvon, for clearing up the whole situation."
"Don't mention it, c'est rien, it was nothing." He sounded magnanimous, then more soberly. "Helena, I really don't understand this. Yes, I devised the plan to rescue the boy, but it was the obvious method. Beyond that, I did nothing. You are the fool who risked life an limb to squirm though that hole. Why then are they fêting me?
"Because, Yuvon, I am a woman." Helena sounded tired.
"Please try and explain what that has to do with anything. Remember, baby, I ain't from the hood."
"I thought we'd discussed this already. In the general view of society women are inferior to men. No, that's not quite right. Women are helpless imbeciles who are little better than children, they need to be guarded and protected from all harm, and when they step out of line, they may even need a beating or two to correct that."
Helena noticed that Yuvon was shaking his head in what seemed to be disappointment.
"Is something wrong? Don't they do things way where you're from?"
He chuckled. "Heavens around. Where I come from, the natives had a male dominated society, it's true, but women had their own areas of domination, and in many areas they were completely equal. But since leaving there, I've spent the last," he paused, "large portion of my life among people for whom gender was important only in bed. And then not always."
"Oh? And where might this have been? What you've told me of your wife ‑‑ Callista? She didn't sound as though she was from an place where she was the equal to men."
"No, you have me there, Helena. But even Callista was never considered by anyone to have been a lesser being." He paused, searching for words. It was the first time she had really seen him at a loss for something to say. "I'm sorry. I just find this incomprehensible. Even the cultures where women are no more than property, slaves, they aren't ‑‑ no, wait, I'm wrong. I suppose they must consider them somehow inferior and in need of protection. I suppose my confusion must come from such a society that allows its women to mix freely in public."
"Relatively freely." Helena interjected softly. He nodded. She cautiously reached out and touched his sleeve. "Yuvon, this is something that I've had to live with for a number of years."
"I know. It's just a very different thing though to know a thing with one's mind, than it is to be slapped in the face with it."
Helena smiled. It was finally her turn to be amused by him. He looked like a confused and frustrated little boy. Although she had considerable difficulty envisioning a society wherein gender was not important, it went far to explain to explain much of his confusing behavior. Moreover, his confusion was something she could understand. Although she wanted to relieve his concerns, the fact that he was doing something she understood, pleased her immensely.
"Yuvon, please. Don't let it concern you. I'm tickled that you see what I've done."
She started to set the tray on the bed‑side table, but saw that it wouldn't fit. Yuvon took it from her and set it on the floor next to the bed. She pulled her knees up under her chin, and readjusted the sheets.
"By the bye, Yuvon. This reminds me of something I've been wanting to ask you."
Oh, what might that be?"
"Do you do this sort of thing all of the time? Can, you actually live like this?"
"What sort of thing? Do I live like what?"
"Oh, these little misadventures; gun fights, getting arrested, saving small children from abandoned mine shafts."
"You left out falling out of trees and into creeks."
"I had hoped to forget those."
"To be perfectly honest ‑‑ yes. They happen to me all the time. Why? Does it bother you?"
"It does disturb me a bit. These things don't happen to normal people."
"No. Normal people generally know where they are going. They don't get into gunfights, they run from them. Normal people don't go climbing down into death pits, dangling like a spider down a hole. They stand around outside and look helpless. Until I met you, I was one of those normal people."
"I doubt that."
"Why do you say that?"
"Normal people, particularly beautiful petite brunette women don't go around beating up on large, heavily muscled men. Which, as I recall, was what you were doing when we first met."
She frowned at him.
"I am really tired of your being continually right."
He smiled arrogantly, patted the side of her leg, and rose. "That, too, also happens to me all the time." The arrogance faded as he bent to pick up her tray. "Now, why don't you get some sleep. We are going to have an early day tomorrow."
"All right. Good night."
She waited until he left the room, then she got up and locked her door. She crawled back into bed, dimmed her light, and in a short time her exertions had caught up to her.
* * * * * *
It was dark, but for the light of the moon, when she was woken up by a soft moaning noise. She lay quietly for a few minutes as she tried to figure out what it was. Finally, she decided that it had been the wind, and closed her eyes. Then she heard it again, and it was not the wind. It struck her that the noise sounded like Yuvon. The wall next to her bed was shared by his room next door. She began to be concerned.
It occurred to her, as she slipped out of bed, and slipped on her dressing gown, that he might be having another nightmare. She remembered how badly disturbed he had been the other night. She unlocked her door quietly, and peeked cautiously into the hall. The last thing her tarnished reputation needed was for her to be seen prowling about the halls in her nightclothes. The hall was dark and empty.
She slipped into the passage and crept down to Yuvon's door. She pressed her ear to the door. She could barely make out the sounds of a man obviously pursued by demons. She considered knocking and trying to wake him, but she realized that the noise might also wake up the hotel's other guests.
She took a deep breath and tried the doorknob. It turned freely, but pushing gently she found that door was locked. Undaunted, she knelt and peered into the key hole. It was dark. She rested her head against the cool wood of the door, and thought for a moment. Yuvon had obviously left his key in his lock, or else she would be able to see some light through it.
Kneeling, she slipped the lower portion of her dressing gown under the door, under the key‑hole. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her key. She slipped it into the key hole. Her intention was to dislodge Yuvon's key and bring it back to her side of the door, but it wouldn't budge. It seemed to her to be likely that he had given his key a half turn when he left the key behind to prevent someone from doing exactly what she was trying to do.
She stood and quickly returned to her room and her medical bag. She quickly found the forceps she used to extract bullets, and went back to Yuvon's door.
She knelt once more, and slipped her dressing gown back under the door. She would need it in case she didn't do this correctly. With a surgical delicacy, she slipped the forceps into the key‑hole. It soon met resistance. She tightened the grips on the key as gently as she could. When it felt secured, she moved the key into position, and turned it. Her heart skipped a beat as she heard the muffled click. She withdrew the forceps, and opened the door. She entered the room, shut the door, and carefully locked it once more.
Then she took a moment to look around her.
Yuvon lay in bed, twisting, moaning and muttering. The blankets had been shoved off the bed entirely, and he was wound up in the untucked sheets. Helena realized, as she neared the bed, that he was nude. Her heart froze.
She rapidly considered going back into the hall and knocking on the door to wake him up. She rejected the idea, as she had come this far, and to fail now would make her feel very foolish. Moreover, she wasn't at all certain that she could actually relock the door from without.
She reached his bed. He was murmuring something about a 'train stopping at Tucumcari,' wherever that was. Whit a deep breath, she reached out her hand and touched his shoulder. Her hand tingled where it touched his firm smooth skin. She shook gently, and whispered, "Yuvon."
His eyes snapped open and he stiffened, a look of stark terror on his face. She heard a sound similar to the cocking of a gun's hammer, and froze with the feeling that she was in deadly danger.
"What?" he asked calmly.
She tried to be as calm. "Are you all right?"
"Why do you ask?" He sounded defensive and very tense.
"You were having a nightmare." She slowly drew her hand back from his shoulder. He relaxed slightly. There was another metallic clicking, and Helena tried to see where he might have a gun without looking at him.
"Sal Inana," he said softly. "Did I disturb anyone else?"
"I don't believe so."
He nodded and breathed deeply.
"Are you all right?" she repeated.
"I suppose so," he said. He reached out and touched her hand. "Thank you." Helena felt an intense tingling in her hand that shot up her arm, triggering a tightness deep in her abdomen that stretched up into her breasts. She suddenly felt very scared.
"Well, I suppose I'd better be getting back to bed."
"Helena," he said, his voice quavering slightly."
"Yes?" Her voice was not much more steady.
"Would you please stay for a little bit. Please, I don't mean ... I just don't want to be alone right now. You'll be perfectly safe."
Helena wanted desperately to say no, to return to the safety of her own bed, but she hear herself saying, "All right, I'll stay until you get back to sleep."
"Thank you." He slid over on the bed, to give her a place to sit next to him. She sat down, feeling the warmth he had left behind him. Images of the night before flooded through her, his arms around her, how comfortable and comforted she had felt. She pushed those thoughts out of her mind.
Her breathing felt tight, and she forced herself to settle down next to him, watching him as he stretched back out. She struggle to keep her eyes on his face, and not to examine the lines of his body beneath the sheets. She was painfully aware of exactly what little clothing they were both wearing.
She leaned her head back to stare at the ceiling, breathing deeply, trying to get her emotions and desires back in check. After a few minutes she found herself relaxing, as well, enjoying the warmth he was generating, taking a small pleasure out of simply knowing she was relatively safe next to another human
being. By the time his breathing indicated that he was asleep, she was asleep as well, once more overcome by her extreme fatigue.