Helena woke the next morning to the first rays of light streaming through the curtains. It took her only a moment to realize that she was curled up between the sheets with a naked man. Panic flowed through her. Fortunately, Yuvon still seemed to be asleep.
As she looked at him, she was torn between two seriously mixed desires. The first was a strong desire to flee back to her room, while the other, just as strong as the first, was to touch him, to explore his body. As a physician, she knew well all that she needed to know about the male form, but this was an aching need to touch, to run her hands over him, his shoulders, his chest .... She trembled, more afraid of her own feelings than she was of him.
She carefully slid out from between the sheets, adjusting her night dress and dressing gown. She was desperately trying not to wake him, but he refused to cooperate. He jerked awake as her bare feet touched the cold wooden floor.
Good morning, Doctor McCoy," he said cheerfully. "I really must compliment you on your bedside manner, but I am forced to wonder, what are you still doing here? I could have sworn that you told me you were going to stay only until I went to sleep. For which I thank you."
She looked over her shoulder at him. He was eyeing her curiously. He sat up, the sheets piled around his waist. She turned her head away, and took a deep breath. She reminded herself that she was a doctor, a professional. She had seen unclothed men before, and they hadn't frightened her like this. And here she was acting like a schoolgirl with a crush. This was intolerable. She turned back to him, her voice steady, with an acid threat to it.
"I fell asleep, I hope you don't mind."
"Not in the slightest."
"That's marvelous, because it was entirely an accident."
"I believe you."
Helena could see the amusement in his eyes. She resisted the urge to strike him.
"Yuvon, this is very serious. I don't want you to feel that you are under any obligations because of this."
The amusement in his eyes changed to total bewilderment.
"I beg your pardon? Why should I feel under any obligation?"
"Well, Yuvon," Helena blushed. "When a man and a woman spend the night together, men often consider themselves obligated to marry the woman, or in some other fashion take care of them. I just want you to know that such is unnecessary ... What are you laughing at?"
Yuvon was rolling about, making the oddest sounds as he tried to keep from laughing out loud. Helena's fear and embarrassment made the quick transformation into anger and humiliation.
She stood up, whirled and brought her fist down on his sternum, knocking the wind out of him.
"What are you laughing at?" her voice was low and venomous.
His laughter had turned into a wheezing cough as he fought for air. She was angry enough that she really didn't care that he had slid away from his sheets.
He lay back and gasped, "Pardon me while I fibrillate."
"Answer my question, or else I will aim somewhere a bit more painful."
"All right," he said, chuckling as he sat back up. "Nice motion. You might want to investigate learning some martial arts form. Anyway, I was laughing at your seriousness, wanting to protect yourself from the possibility of my wanting to trap you."
"And you find that amusing?"
"Yes, I do." He stood, and stretched. "Do you mind if I dress?"
"No, please do. But don't stop explaining."
He gathered his clothes from where they had been hung the night before.
"All right then, Helena. Here's the picture. The society you described to me last night where women are held in need of protection, it makes a warped form of sense that to compromise a woman's market value, i.e. her virtue or reputation, would force a man to become obligated for reparations, 'to make an honest woman of her' in Father Dunham's terms, though why covering up a behavior makes that behavior honest is beyond me." He slipped on his trousers.
"I've lost you. What's so funny?"
"Don't you see? Watching you squirm as hard as any man might in this similar position. After all, it was you who stealthed in here last night to save me, albeit from myself. And here you are this morning, seeing the potential threat to your freedom, and fighting to maintain that freedom and your dignity."
"Is that all?" Helena could see, barely, what he meant, although she didn't find it nearly as amusing as he did. She still felt insulted by his laughter, particularly regarding such a serious topic.
"Not really, no. I also find it intensely amusing that you thought this morning was the appropriate time to mention this. After all, this is not the first time we have shared Morpheus' company."
"I had hoped that you would be gentleman enough to allow me to forget about that, but I see ..."
He interrupted her, angrily buttoning his shirt. "Well, if it will make you feel better, I don't feel obligated, and to be perfectly honest, I doubt I would unless we were to perform some demonstrable act of parenthood together." Helena flushed as he continued, "So why don't you go get dressed and packed, and then we can go get some breakfast."
* * * * * *
A short while later, Helena appeared in the hotel's dining room in her road‑dusty mustard yellow best, and carrying her bags. Yuvon was sitting at a table near a window, reading a newspaper. He rose as Helena approached the table and held out a chair for her. She set down her luggage and sat down. He reseated himself.
"Good morning, Doctor McCoy. We are looking rather spiffy this morning. Although I'm not at all certain this outfit is wise for riding in. Coffee?" He held a carafe out near her cup.
"Please. There is a reason for this outfit, my dear doctor. Two reasons actually." She picked up her menu and glanced at it. Yuvon motioned at a waitress. "Well, first of all, attrition is taking its toll on my wardrobe. This is the last thing I have with me that is in the least presentable. And of secondary importance, I have no intention whatsoever of riding anywhere with you."
"Oh, why not?" He sounded surprised. The waitress arrived and they took a few moments to order. When they were alone again, Helena continued.
"I believe that it is simply time I returned to my practice. I appreciate all you have done for me, but I am fit as a fiddle."
"Except for the black eye," he joked. Seeing no response, he tried again, more seriously. "Is there some problem of which I am unaware?'"
"No, there isn't."
"I wonder if you do."
"Then may I remind you doctor that you agreed to spend two weeks with me. This is only Monday. You still owe me eleven days."
"That is inconsequential. I really must return, I am sorry."
"I'm sorry too. If I may ask, did you have some plan about how to get back?"
"I've given that a bit of thought. I can take the stage back to Black Hawk, then the train back to Denver."
"Sounds good. How are you planning on paying for it? You don't have any money."
"Oh, I expect that I'll come up with something. After all, I am a doctor. Surely someone around here needs my services."
"You are, of course, correct. I have every confidence in your ability to survive. I'm even certain that you have a thought up some means of paying for your breakfast, not to mention your bill's to the hotel as well as to me."
"My ‑‑ Bill?" There had never been any discussion of a charge for his service, but, of course, she frowned cynically, she had been a fool not to think about it before now.
"All right, Yuvon, what do you want?"
He looked deep in thought for a long time before speaking.
"I suspect that my time is worth fair professional wages. Let us say ten dollars a day, plus all expenses that have been incurred. I suspect that our reciprocal care for injuries, real or potential, should cancel each other out. So three days at ten, plus the thirty‑four ninety‑three from the store in Black Hawk; rooms two dollars a night ‑‑ call it seventy dollars and we'll be even. I'll even toss in breakfast here as a gift."
The waitress stepped up to the table with their food and began to lay it out before them. Helena stared hard at Yuvon. She was stunned and very angry. More so, because he sounded so fair. She swallowed hard as the waitress asked Yuvon "if there was anything else she could get for them."
Yuvon thanked her and she left. Helena cleared her throat gently, then spoke, "I can't pay you."
"I'm very sorry," he said very calmly, watching her intently. "But Business is business."
They looked at each other, trying to read anything in the other's face and eyes. Helena saw nothing but a stony sincerity. Something told her that he was very angry, and would be perfectly happy to see her flounder and drown in the waters she had just thrown herself into. She had no idea why he was angry, she only knew he was.
"Is there something I can suggest, that we might come to terms?" she ventured finally.
"You could tell my why you have chosen to change plans like this."
She knew she couldn't do that. He would get the wrong idea, if she were to tell him that he was distracting her, making it hard for her to think.
"I suppose that to tell you I'm suffering from woman's complaints wouldn't satisfy you."
"Not without an examination, no."
The thought of him examining her in that way made her nauseous.
"Well, then Yuvon. In all honesty, I am not pleased with the direction that this journey is taking."
"In what way?"
"Well, Yuvon, I do enjoy your company, and while I think we could be friends, I do not find you at all attractive. And if we are going to be continually thrown together, as we have been by circumstance ‑‑ well, I don't think that it would be fair to either of us to remain in such proximity."
He sat and looked at her for a long moment, slowly raising his left eyebrow. Then suddenly, the feeling that he was angry evaporated.
"Hm hmm," he said. "In that case, you are most certainly correct. You must please excuse my boorish behavior. There must be some way that we can resolve these difficulties."
"I certainly hope so." Helena felt a tentative relief. He suddenly seemed to be taking things so reasonably, she felt a little guilty. "I can't afford to pay your bill. Would you consider a plan to pay you over time?"
"I won't hear of it. Long term debts are such a nuisance, for each party." A light flashed in his eyes. "However, I have an idea that might be mutually beneficial."
"What might that be?"
"Now, I recognize that without my intervention, you wouldn't be stranded here today. I also recognize that your pride would interfere with my just giving you outright the money for you to get home. Am I right?"
She carefully nodded her assent.
"So what would you say to saddling up and heading straight down to the nearest place you can get a train. For the pleasure of your company, I will pay you one hundred dollars a day."
"Are you suggesting that I hire myself out as a gentleman's companion?"
"I can see where you might get the idea that's what I am saying, but it wasn't quite how I meant it."
"How did you mean it?"
He sat silently, thinking for a while. Finally, he said, "That's the offer, take it or leave it. There are no strings, no covert intentions. You want to go back to Denver, I want to be fair."
"I only owe you seventy dollars."
"You'll need train fair, as well as some new clothes." I take at least partial responsibility for your wardrobe."
She thought about it for a long while before she agreed to it.
They returned to their breakfast. Helena was confused. She had gotten her way, and, in fact, had come out ahead on the deal, but she really didn't feel as though she'd won anything.
After they finished eating, Yuvon pulled his wallet from inside his jacket. He set seven five dollar gold coins on the table.
"If you would be so kind as to take care of the bill, the rest is yours. I will take your luggage and collect the horses. How long do you think it will take you to shop?"
"Well if I put my mind to it, four to five hours."
"And if you don't?"
"About forty-five minutes."
"In that case, why don't we meet out front of the hotel in an hour?"
"That sounds reasonable."
He nodded, drained his coffee and stood. He easily hefted her bags and departed.
* * * * * *
At nine o'clock, Helena stood on the porch in front of the Mountain House. She had a paper bundle under her arm, and two more sat next to her feet. She was wearing new riding clothes.
It was a lovely day, warm, with cool piney breezes, but she really wasn't in the mood to enjoy it. She really didn't enjoy putting Yuvon off like that, but it was really his own fault. It was true that he hadn't done anything to upset her, but then again, he hadn't done anything not to, either. He had become overly familiar in his guise of physician, and she really didn't need that additional stress in her life.
A hand grabbed her shoulder, whirling her about. She dropped her package, trying to keep her balance. It was Kyle Cousins.
"Where at's your boy friend?"
"I don't know." She looked down at her parcel. She looked back up at him, tired and angry. She pointed to the paper bundle. "Pick that up!"
"I told you to pick up my bag, you squirrly little toad. It's the gentlemanly thing to do, you know."
"Hell with you woman. I'm busy."
"You going to call him out?"
"He'll shoot you deader than Moses."
"The hell he will."
Helena shrugged. It really wasn't her problem. Maybe Yuvon was right. Maybe there were some people who were just begging to get killed. She crouched down to pick up her package, and paused. She really couldn't allow this to go ahead, but what else could she do?
She looked back up at the man. He was peering up and down the street, looking for his victim. With a philosophical shrug, she braced herself against the porch and straight armed the heel of her palm through his kneecap. As she expected, his leg bent backwards, and he fell to the ground screaming in pain. People on the street stopped to watch.
"You god damned little bitch!" he bellowed. "You busted my leg!"
Helena stood up. "You really ought to learn to be more of a gentleman."
"I'll kill you for that!" The man scrambled and drew one of his pistols. She calmly looked down at him, afraid that he might try to actually shooter her, but really to angry to care.
"No, you won't." She balanced on her heal, preparing to kick the kick the gun away. A cracking noise came from down the street, and the gun flew from his hand. Cousins looked horrified.
Helena looked down the street to where the shot had originated. It was Yuvon, astride Erishkigal half a block away.
She turned back to the man on the ground.
"Do you understand me now, Mr. Cousins. If you can be brought down by a mere woman, how can you hope to compete against a man who can shoot like that?"
He glared at her hatefully, trying to clutch at both his knee and his gun hand. Yuvon rode calmly up to the front of the hotel.
"May I be of some assistance?"
Helena shrugged. "Not really, no."
It took her a few minutes to get her new clothes packed away. Yuvon took the time to explain to the local constabulary what had transpired. Because not one had been killed, and because of their services the day before, the pair were merely encouraged to leave.
* * * * * *
They crossed the bridge, heading back to the south. Helena asked Yuvon, "Why head back the way we came? Why not take the road down the creek?"
"I'm told that when the canyon narrows further on down the creek, the road heads further up into the mountains. This way loops around that mountain over there and rejoins with the creek near the canyon's mouth. Don't worry, we can get you to civilization by twilight.
"Oh, very well." He allowed Nigel to fall back, following Erishkigal at a slight distance. Even though she had been employed for her sparkling personality, she had no real desire to chat with Yuvon. And, for his part, he was seeming more distant than usual, it that were possible. She rolled a cigarette, and felt a deeply satisfying relaxation as she lit it.
Yuvon slowed Erishkigal to Nigel's pace and leaned his head toward Helena.
"You know, I saw that little play with the kid's leg."
"His name is Cousins, Kyle Cousins, not 'the kid'." Helena replied, annoyed by something inexplicable in his attitude. Yuvon raised an eyebrow at her tone.
"You are, of course, aware that you most likely saved his life. But I am forced to wonder,though. Do you really think that breaking his knee was an appropriate procedure for a physician?"
"I can't see why not. I took a page from your book."
"In what way?"
"A little radical surgery to prevent malignancy."
"And to think, before you met me, you'd wait until a limb was rotting away before you'd amputate," he said coldly.
Helena dug her heels into Nigel's side. The grey horse darted forward, away from Yuvon.
The ride up the hill was silent as Helena tried to sort out her feelings. All of this confused her. She was neither used to, nor comfortable with the emotions and the thoughts she was having. They frightened her and she didn't know why. She didn't know why she had to get away from him, but it both made her feel better and worse to have him angry with her.
He was physically attractive, but that wasn't enough to frighten her. He certainly wasn't a romantic sort of man, so it couldn't be love. He was impressive as a physician, but he was arrogant and unfeeling as well. He was obviously hounded by something she couldn't understand. But he was still a gentleman, albeit not in the traditional sense of the word. He neither asked for, nor seemed to expect more than she was able or willing to give. He gave her someone to talk to who seemed to accept her for who she was. He seemed to understand her, so why was she threatened by him?
They turned off the main road at the road to Magnolia and began to follow the ridge of the mountain. The road wound through vast stands of pine, and, then the hillside dropped off to the right into a vast panorama of beauty. Purple anemones, aster, daisies, wild roses, bluebells, and indian paintbrush dominated the cast hillside meadow that stretched below her. Helena inhaled the scented breeze.
Such a floral array was unheard of this late in the spring. Helena suspected that only the lateness of the thaw had allowed her the opportunity to appreciate the beauty before her. The wildflowers contrasting with the piney forested hillside recalled at her the time she had spent travelling with Ebin. She smiled as she recalled those warm summer days when the world was a wonderland populated only by herself and her foster father.
Her smile vanished as the similarity between those travels and her present journey became clear. It was only a short mental step to a comparison between Ebin and Yuvon, the two physicians with whom she had travelled.
Helena would have liked to believe that the two men were as dissimilar in personality as they were physically, but she suspected that she was going to be disappointed. Both men were gruff, but friendly, capable physicians, and both of them had unshakable beliefs that they knew what was best for her. Perhaps the were right, she mused. It was certainly tempting to believe so, and in doing so, to relinquish that God-given free will she so desperately believed in. She had fought with Ebin in the beginning, but had been forced to capitulate in the face of the benefits he could give her. In Yuvon's case though, she could see no such benefits.
* * * * * *
The sun had passed its zenith when the road began to slowly drift back down toward the canyon, a low mountain looming heavily on their right. Helena was feeling hungry and really wanted a rest.
"Yuvon ..." she began.
The popping sounds of not too distant gunfire tore through the silence of the day. Helena thought that it was probably hunters, but Yuvon wheeled Erishkigal about, looking around them, his pistol already in his hand. Helena was slightly amused at his unthinking reaction.
"It came from over there," she pointed down the road.
Man and horse, as a unit, sprinted down the road. Helena sighed and gripped her knees to Nigel's sides. She almost fell out of the saddle when he jerked forward, following Erishkigal like a tiger after its dinner.
They ran along a straight stretch of road, then wheeled about a sharp bend and into a clearing. The road stretched down onto an open ridge, at the far end of which buildings clustered. Beyond that, the road vanished once more into the trees.
On the near side of the town stood a crowd of people, a few mounted, mostly not. They were shouting and blocking the road. A small black carriage was being held off with the threat of firearms.
Yuvon and Helena continued to gallop toward the scene. As they grew nearer, she could begin to understand the crowd's shouts.
"Turn away!", "We don't want your kind in our town," and "Unclean!" were among the most pleasant of the things she heard.
Helena questioned whether or not they should get involved in what was going on, but Yuvon rode up, in between the carriage and the crowd, his LeMat pointed up at the sky. Helena pulled up alongside the carriage. A neatly dressed, elderly woman sat inside.
"What's going on here?" Yuvon asked in a loud voice that demanded instant attention.
A dapper looking fellow in a gray suit, astride a matching gray horse replied, "That old woman's a menace, you'd best steer clear of her."
Helena leaned over and asked in a low voice, "What did you do?"
"Oh!" The woman jumped and looked at Helena. "Oh, my goodness, you startled me miss." She had a Yankee accent, though with German undertones, and a friendly voice. "I am not at all convinced that you should be getting involved in all of this. It really doesn't concern you, and you might get hurt. Those men are not very nice."
"Ma'am, that gentleman over there will get involved in this no matter what I say. And by sheer association with him, I'll be dragged on in with him, no matter what I do. So, if I may repeat myself without being rude. What did you do to get this hornet's nest all stirred up?"
"These good folk have objection to some, ah, people to whom I have extended my hospitality."
"Oh? And what did they do?"
"They did nothing. They came to me for help, and now these people won't even allow me to go find a doctor to look at my guests."
"That's horrible. However, the good Lord seemed to have smiled on you today. Although, not on me."
"Why might that be?"
"Although you may doubt it due to appearances, both I and my, well, him over there, we are both Doctors of Medicine."
"The both of you?"
"I'm afraid so. Now may we be of some service?"
"Oh yes, Praise the Lord! Of course, oh please, bless you."
Helena smiled at the lady and looked back at Yuvon. He had reholstered his pistol and was engaged in an animated discussion with the townsfolk. The crowd was looking ugly.
"Doctor Arelssyn," she called over to him. "May I please have a moment of your time."
Yuvon immediately excused himself and rode over to Helena and the carriage. Helena rapidly repeated what the woman had said, and concluded, "I believe that we might want to look in on this. Perhaps we might be able to help this poor woman out."
Yuvon considered her face very seriously before answering. "Are you absolutely certain. It will almost certainly delay your return to Denver."
"If this poor woman truly needs medical help, then we are duty bound to assist her."
"Only if you say so." He sat up straight. "Well then, I believe that this is settled, Mrs. ...?" He turned to the woman in the carriage.
"Jenkins, Mrs. Henrietta Jenkins." The woman looked greatly relieved.
"What's going on over there?" the fancy dressed man asked.
"I believe that we've decided to help Mrs. Jenkins."
"You can't throw in with her."
"And whyever not?" Helena asked.
"Maybe she ain't told you," came a voice from the crowd. "But them chinamens of hers got the cholera."
"The cholera!" came another voice.
Helena's blood chilled, but she kept her face calm as Yuvon answered, "So?"
"So? You stupid or somethin' mister? You'll catch it and die."
"And before that, you'll spread it and we'll all die."
"And we don't aim to see that happen."
"I've seen it happen in other places," came the gravelly voice of a cadaverous mountain man.
"Somehow I doubt that," Yuvon replied dryly.
"Ooh, you doubt it? You doubt that you goin' to die?"
Yuvon laughed loudly. then, "No, of that, I have no doubts whatsoever."
The gentleman in gray was obviously disturbed by Yuvon's somewhat cavalier attitude. The crowd milled and moaned like a cattle herd threatening to stampede.
"I won't be able keep this crowd back, if you try to go."
"Think of the ladies, mister."
"Think of the ladies? You were planning on shooting this nice old lady here. God only knows what you'd come up with, if we didn't leave with her."
"Weel, then. If you go with her, we're just goin' to have to shoot you down when we come out there to burn out the disease."
"If you insist. Shall we go, ladies?