Helena woke that morning, Friday she thought, in the same bed she had the day before. This time she wasn't as surprised, just a bit startled at the strange sounds and smells. Yuvon was still asleep in his chair. The room was still dim and silent. She lay still for a few minutes watching him, and thinking.
She was still having trouble understanding why he was doing all of this. But then he seemed to be a man who enjoyed confusing people, she thought. Most confusing of all to her was why she was going along with him. It wasn't like her to follow meekly behind someone. Perhaps he was right, perhaps she needed his help. After all, she had certainly needed Ebin's when he had taken her in. She sighed pessimistically, and rose, moving as quietly as possible. She slid in to the washroom and began to organize her clothes. As she was examining her corset, she caught sight of the tub out of the corner of her eye. She smiled at herself. She saw it had running water, somehow she'd missed that last night. The last place that she'd been to that had possessed indoor plumbing was the Women's Infirmary in New York where she'd interned. And the hospital hadn't had a bathtub like this, royal blue and gold laquered with a tight fitting cover. She paused, thinking. She didn't want to wake Yuvon with the noise of the water, but she didn't know when she might have another chance. She finally latched the door, and began to run the water into the tub.
After a long, hot bath she dressed in the nicest clothing that she had brought along; a mustard yellow skirt and jacket with a matching reticule, over a more business‑like white linen blouse. Yuvon was up and about when she left the washroom. Helena froze in the doorway. He was standing shirtless, in his stocking feet, sorting through his medical bag.
His broad shoulders and firm, clearly defined musculature captured her attention. He seemed to have no modesty, and definately had no regard for the modesty Helena hadn't realized that she posessed. She felt the burning of a flush spread from her cheeks to her breasts.
Forcing herself to move, she sat down on the edge of the bed, and pulled up her skirts slightly. She stopped, looked at Yuvon, then turned so that he couldn't watch her as she buttoned her shoes. When she had finished, she had regained a certain control over her reactions, and she turned back to look at him. Helena watched in amazement as he performed the most peculiar contortions.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Good morning. Just stretching out the kinks." He stood up straight and stretched out his arms until his shoulder and arm joints popped. "You ought to try it sometime."
"No thank you, I like having my limbs functioning."
"And such nice limbs they are also." He picked up a small pile of clothes. "Well now that you are out of there, I believe that I shall finish my getting dressed."
When he returned, he was dressed in a neat black suit, cut for riding.
"So, fraulein Doktor, what say you to a bite of breakfast?" he asked cheerfully.
"Are you always this full of cheer in the morning?"
"I find that every morning I wake up alive, I have plenty to be chipper about."
"Oh?" She paused, then proceeded cautiously. "So you enjoy waking up?"
"Why? Don't you like to sleep?"
"Not particularly." He began sweeping various things into a bag.
"Oh? You don't suffer from nightmares, do you?" She wasn't certain how much he remembered of his nightmare or her part in quieting it.
"No," he said, as if he believed it. He chuckled. "I just figure that I'll get all the sleep I'll need after I'm dead. Should that unlikely event occur. Why do you ask?"
"No real reason," she lied. "It's just that I find sleeping to be one of the few pleasures that my life affords."
"Ah. All right." He looked confused for a moment. "Well then, shall we?" He gestured toward the door. He led her out the door and locked it behind them.
They dined once more in the hotel's restaurant, and once more Helena felt underdressed. As she walked to the table, she caught a glimpse of herself in one of the mirrors. She decided that she didn't appear so much underdressed as overly cheap. After a moment's consideration, she shrugged, and walked to a table.
After they ordered, she turned to face him.
"I must admit, Doctor, that while I am not entirely convinced of your plans to cure me, I must admit that I feel considerably better."
"Your mood certainly has improved. And that's not unexpected. The stress of your day to day existence has been removed, at least temporarily. This is, of course, nothing but the first stage of your recovery."
The waiter returned and poured their coffee. As he poured, the waiter gave Yuvon a knowing little smile Helena supposed she was not intended to see. Because Yuvon didn't even seem to notice, Helena ignored the waiter. After he had left, she asked,
"What, then, is the next stage in this healing process?"
"That is still my little secret. I'm not going to tell you until the time comes, so stop your prying."
"But Yuvon, won't this wondering also cause me stress?"
"Of course it will. That's all part of the plan. You know, counter‑stress and all that? Like setting a back fire to contain a larger blaze."
Helena smiled. "Yuvon, I believe that may be the stupidest thing that I've ever heard. Did you learn that bit of medicine in 'far off lands?'"
"As a matter of fact, I did not." He took a long drink of his coffee. "I wouldn't worry about it, though, if I were you. I'm certain that you will hear many things that are considerably more stupid than that the longer we know one another.
Helena raised her eyebrows, but let the statement lie. A man denigrating himself before a woman was unheard of. After a few moment's of relative silence, she responded on another track.
"Well then, Yuvon, what's a nice man like yourself doing in the wild west?"
"Staring at one of the most beautiful women that it's ever been my misfortune to meet."
"Misfortune? I must tell you that I am not certain I understand. I believe that I should be offended, and I may well be so."
"Good heavens, don't be offended. It's just been my observation that wherever beautiful women are, trouble invariably follows."
"Oh? And have you been in the vicinity of many beautiful women?"
"Not nearly enough."
"That is unfortunate. Particularly as I must dispute you regarding this particular case. I do not consider myself to be beautiful."
"She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies/And all that's best of dark and bright/Meet in her aspect and her eyes/Thus mellow'd to that tender light/Which Heaven to gaudy day derives."
Helena flushed slightly, unsure of how to respond. She was inexperienced with men, particularly those who quoted poetry at the breakfast table. "Do you make it a practice to make improper conversation, sir? Especially with ladies whom you hardly know?"
"Now it is my turn to differ, Helena. Byron is not improper conversation, nor is admiration of one of Nature's most gracious works of art. Improper conversation is making illicit suggestions, for which I most humbly apologize."
"I am afraid that I don't recall you making any such suggestions."
"Good." He smiled most charmingly. "Now, in answer to your question, as I believe I mentioned yesterday, I am on my way to San Francisco to meet an old friend."
They were interrupted by the arrival of the waiter carrying their meal. Soon they each had heaping trays of food before them. Helena was ravenous. As she was lifting her first fork‑full of syrup laden sourdough pancakes, she asked, "Is this 'old friend' one of those freebooters that you mentioned last night?"
Yuvon laughed. "No, Alex is ... Well I suppose a 'man of the cloth' might best describe him."
"You sound doubtful about that."
"I'm not doubtful at all, he and I just don't see eye to eye on the matter of religion. Come to think about it, there isn't much that we actually do agree on." Yuvon began tackling his food.
"If I may ask, is there some difficulty between you two? You sound a little angry, that's why I ask."
"You may ask anything that you like. You just may not get an answer. In this case, though ... Hmmm. Alexander Duquesne often seems to come across as though he were the god's gift to reality, while I know that I am. Obviously, we are in competition." He chuckled.
As they ate they chatted, and Helena relearned that she could enjoy friendly banter and discussion of inconsequentials; the food, the decor, the clothing styles exhibited at the nearby tables. Finally Helena put her fork down, feeling like she'd just eaten every meal she had missed over the last week, all at once.
Yuvon put his fork down shortly after she did, and only then sprang his plan on her.
"I thought that we would just head up into the mountains and look about for a bit. After all, the mountain air will do you good. Give you a chance to get away from it all."
There was something in his manner that was so persuasive that she didn't give it a moment's thought, and agreed.
"Fine," he said. "In that case, why don't you sit here and digest for a while, and I shall go and take care of a few details."
"I suppose that would be acceptable." She didn't care. All she wanted was for the pain in her belly to go away. She was convinced that she now knew why pregnant women always looked so unhappy. It was obvious that they felt continually as though they had overeaten.
"Splendid. I will meet you out front of the hotel in, say twenty minutes?"
She nodded and checked the time on her lapel watch. He departed, taking the bill with him. Helena just leaned back in her chair and felt bloated. After a short while, though, the pain had eased, and she had begun trying to figure out some way to have a quick cigarette without being noticed when her reverie was interrupted.
"My, My. Miss McCoy. I would never have expected to meet you here." It was Ed Chase. "May I join you for a moment?"
"Certainly." She waved a hand towards the chair that Yuvon had vacated. As he seated himself, she asked, "Why wouldn't you have expected to see me in here. Is it so above my social class?"
"I was thinking more about your economic status. But then, you didn't pay for your own meal, did you?"
Helena glared at him. His dancing blue eyes expressed his meaning all too clearly.
"Not in the manner that you are implying!"
"It doesn't matter." He dismissed the topic. "My wife told me of how you slandered me before the servants. I would caution against making other attacks of a similar nature in the future. They are actionable offences, you see."
"Are you threatening me, Mr. Chase?"
"By no means, I merely offer a bit of advice." He nodded his head toward her.
"Then, sir, I appreciate the consideration. If I may, I would like to return the favor."
He nodded. "In what way miss?"
She leaned forward toward him slightly, lowering her voice. "I realize that it would be pointless and indelicate for me to suggest that you learn to keep your plow within the confines of your own fields. So may I merely suggest that if you must plow ground not your own while you have it under lien, you exhibit some discrimination? Jennie Rogers may well offer you a better price, but she does so only at the expense of her employees. THere ar eother, ah, land holders, Mattie Silks, for example, who do not abandon the, ah, 'matrons of circumstance' in her care as though they were a busted flush."
"While it is not my habit to discuss my personal business with young ladies in public places, I must concur with you. I had been presented with that understanding as well, but regrettably the information came far too late. While I make no admittances, it is not impossible that you may have been somewhat justified in your anger, Miss McCoy. I can offer no excuse, though I will offer no apology. Now if you will pardon me, I must return to my party." He rose from the table.
"One more thing, Mr. Chase."
"Yes, Miss McCoy?" He turned back to her.
"The correct honorific is 'Doctor.'"
He looked startled. "Of course. I shall endeavour to remember. Good day, then, Doctor McCoy." He left her to return to his party across the room. Helena stared at his back for a few moments, then shook her head in disbelief.
* * * * * *
Helena was, once more, shaking her head in disbelief, as well as tapping her foot. "Yuvon," she said patiently. "When you said that we were going up into the mountains, I had assumed that you meant to use a buggy, or a coach, or even, foolishly, to ride the train. I feel it necessary to inform you that riding a horse is not one of my basic skills." They were on the front steps of the hotel, and the objects of their discussion stood by the curb below them. Yuvon was tying up several bags on one of the horses. Her carpet bag and medical valise sat on the sidewalk next to him.
"No?" He sounded genuinely surprised.
"No. While I can drive a buggy quite well, and can purchase a train ticket with the best of them, I have never in my life found it necessary to actually climb up on top of one of those things." She pointed at the animals.
Yuvon strode up the steps toward her. "Well then, young woman, it is time that you learned."
He led her down the steps to the horses. There were two of them, a huge black mare, and a smaller grey gelding, fully saddled and rigged for travel. As she looked at them, she wondered where on earth he'd found them.
"Don't worry about it, Helena." He took her arm and dragged her over to one of the animals. Although she knew that the grey gelding in front of her was much smaller than its partner, she had never been comfortable around horses. They were big, and could crush you without a thought.
"This old fellow is Nigel." He patted the gelding on the neck. "Nigel's a good boy. He'll take care of you. Won't you boy?"
Nigel turned his big, shaggy head to look at Yuvon and Helena with big soulful eyes. The horse then turned its left side to her. Helena looked at the saddle resting at her eye level.
"Yuvon, this is a very nice saddle, but don't ladies use side saddles in the part of England that you come from?
"I don't know. Why? Do you feel like you need one?"
"Let us just say that this type of saddle would be indiscrete for a lady to ride on."
"Indiscrete? Bloody hell, if that's all that's troubling you, then put it out of your mind. I wouldn't force one of my horses to carry one of those ridiculous things. Everything off balance and all. It must be bad for the animal."
Helena shook her head. She wasn't even going to be allowed the dignity of a side saddle. She considered for a moment collecting her things and leaving, but, she realized that she would just be returning to thoughts of suicide. She growled as she gave up resistance.
With some minor initial help, she climbed into the saddle. She shifted her skirts around for a few minutes. For once she thanked God that she didn't have any money, and so couldn't afford to wear the masses of petticoats that style required. She looked around at the people who had stopped to stare at her.
"What are you staring at?" she asked indignantly. "Have you never seen a woman on a horse before?"
"We sure have, lady," one of the bystanders, a neatly dressed businessman, answered. "And the show gets more funnier every time we see it." The audience all laughed.
Helena was working on a reply, when Nigel moved. He was only shifting his weight, but to Helena it felt as if he were rearing up and trying to dislodge her. She panicked and pulled hard at the horse's mane.
Yuvon looked up at her, smiling.
"You're right. You don't know how to ride." He took her purse and stuffed it into one of the saddle bags behind her. Then he strapped her medical bag to her bedroll. As he adjusted the stirrups for her, he explained the techniques of staying on, and controlling the animal.
"Most of all," he continued. "Don't worry. Nigel will teach you all you need to learn. If you listen to him, maybe you'll want to try out Erishkigal over there."
"What the hell kind of a name is that?" she asked as he lifted himself into the black's saddle. "Where did you get these horses anyway?"
"It's a perfectly descriptive name for this monster. Erishkigal is the name of an ancient goddess of death. As for the other, I brought them with me," he said with a smile.
"I assumed that you had come by train."
"I did." He pulled Erishkigal into the street. Nigel followed slowly. Helena gripped harder onto the reins in terror. Nigel stopped. Yuvon continued.
"One of the primary differences between your practice and mine, Helena, is that I have more money than I know what to do with. Now loosen up on the reins. They aren't a handle, and you'll just confuse him with conflicting instructions. Just relax and let us do our respective jobs."
After they had been on the road for sometime, Helena began to realize that Yuvon was right. Nigel was a good boy, and a good teacher. It wasn't that the horse was docile, he simply seemed to understand what was happening, and was being helpful. Nigel seemed to be as interested in keeping Helena on his back as she was in staying there. Erishkigal, on the other hand, seemed to be a high spririted creature, mandating a firm hand to keep her in line. Yuvon seemed to have been born to the saddle, and he and his horse moved together with a joyful ease that really annoyed Helena.
Yuvon became an entirely different person once the two had left the city. He shed his reserved attitude, and he became as a small boy, full of life and wonder at the world.
After they had been on the road a while, the craving that had been with Helena all morning had finally expanded, and Helena felt a fluttering inside her, a fluttering with which she was quite familiar. After a time the craving had begun to make her a little tense.
Yuvon pulled his horse up alongside of Helena's as they rode. Erishkigal snorted like an impatient bull.
Is something the matter?" he asked. Yuvon's mere proximity was making Helena's skin itch annoyingly.
"No, not really. Thank you very much for asking though." Helena suspected that she knew how hollow her voice sounded. She could hear the edginess growing in her voice.
"Try again," he said. "Hold your voice steadier and try at least glancing at my eyes. Then perhaps I will believe you."
She sat silent for a long moment. She knew if she were to tell him the truth, he would have every reason to be repulsed. Of course, he didn't seem to be repulsed by anything, so she told him.
"Yuvon, to be perfectly honest, I am dying for a cigarette."
"Then why don't you have one? Do you need a match?" He didn't even sound surprised.
"I haven't had one because ladies aren't supposed to smoke."
"Why not?" Now he sounded surprised.
Helena stared at him for a moment, blinking in amazement at his question. Then she reminded herself that he was foreign.
"That's just the way things are done here. Or at the least, the way that they are supposed to be done."
"What an asinine more."
"Moray?" she asked. "Isn't that some sort of eel?"
"Yes it is, but this is a different term." He sounded distracted. "It means 'cultural norm.'" He cleared his throat in irritation at her blank stare. Now he didn't seem distracted. "You know, those patterns and assumptions that govern an individual's behavior and attitudes in the context of specific cultural mileux."
"Oh." She shook her head at him slowly. This sounded somewhat interesting, but she was going to have to get him to better translate his terminology. And if she didn't start rolling a cigarette soon, she wasn't going to be able to pay much more attention to him. "I've never heard that word before. More, I mean."
"Irregardless." He began. Helena interrupted him.
"Pardon me, Yuvon, but that's another word I've not heard before now. Unless, of course you mean, 'regardless.'"
He stared at her for a full minute. Then, "Cigarette is your prefered form of tobacco?"
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Here." He handed her a black pasteboard box. She found twenty machine rolled cigarettes wrapped in black paper inside.
"Why doctor, this is very gracious, but I am not at all certain that I can accept this token." She gazed hungrily at the cylinder, breathing deeply, seeking the aroma of the tobacco.
"Why not?" His voice was a dull monotone.
"Ladies shouldn't accept expensive gifts from gentlemen." Her mouth watered in expectation.
"They're just cigarettes."
"I know that, but look ... they're machine‑rolled. These are very rare and costly items."
He looked at her steadily for a moment. Then, with an eyebrow raised threateningly, "Either smoke the damned things, or else I'll see that you eat them."
Helena laughed at his threat. She gratefully took one of the cylinders and placed it between her lips. The taste of the paper and leaf brought its own pleasure, and suggested even greater things. She was starting to look for a match when Yuvon leaned over with one already lit. He shielded it from the breeze as Helena quickly lit the tobacco.
She took a deep, lung filling pull from it. The smoke was harsh and bitter, but only for a moment, as it caressed her, spreading its tendrils of relaxing pleasure throughout her body. She began to be more relaxed.
"Feeling better?" He didn't seem to be angry any longer.
"Yes, thank you." She looked at him quizzically. "So you really aren't offended by my vile habit?"
"Helena, you could look long and hard, and still not find anything that would offend me. Besides, what people choose to do to themselves is their own affair."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that smoking is bad for you."
It was the first that she'd heard of it, and told him so. "And besides, you smoke a pipe."
"That is true, and I also smoke cigars, but then I have remarkable recuperative powers." As if to prove his statement, he pulled a most foul smelling, thin black cigar from within his coat and lit it.
"My, that must be nice."
"It is," he said in a very neutral tone. He changed tone very suddenly. "So then, Helena, why don't you tell me about yourself?"
"Why should I?" She felt suddenly suspicious, as if she were being watched.
"How am I to plan for your healing unless you tell me who you are?"
"You seem to have done just fine without that information up to now."
"Ah, but without some assistance on your part, I might just make some horrible error in judgment that could adversely affect your mind."
"Well we can't have that now, can we? It might reflect poorly on you, mightn't it, Yuvon?"
"Well, Dr. Arelssyn, it is my opinion that my life is really none of your business. I hope that my saying so doesn't offend you."
"Not in the slightest, Helena. However, neither does it deter me one iota."
That's terribly unfortunate." Helena stubbornly puffed on her cigarette.
They rode along in silence for a very long time. Finally Yuvon turned and looked at Helena.
"What are you afraid of?"
"I am not afraid. I just don't like discussing the past."
"Because it is dead and gone."
"Helena, without the foundation of the past, the construct that is our life wouldn't be the shape that it is. For as a building's foundation governs its shape, the past govern's our being."
"My goodness, but that is profound. Did you think of that by yourself?"
"No, I found it in a fortune cookie somewhere."
"What's a fortune cookie?" She thought for an instant. "Never mind, it's unimportant. All right Dr. Yuvon Arelssyn, you want to know my past. That's just fine." She paused as if building up a head of steam, then angrily let loose.
"I am from Georgia. I have neither been engaged nor married. I attended the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia. I started smoking while I was an intern at the Women's Infirmary, an hospital in the city of New York. I was orphaned in the late War. A kindly doctor took me into his home and raised me as his daughter. Is that what you were wanting?"
He nodded silently, as if assessing everything that she had said. "You realize that in the pain of your past there may well be a key to some of the stress of your present."
"What pain? I didn't mention any pain in my past."
"Helena, you told me of pain in everything you said, and all that you inferred. Please talk to me. Let me in to help you."
She stared at him for a long while. He seemed so damned sincere, and she was totally unprepared for this sort of consideration and compassion from a man. The only men whom she had ever seen who cared about how women felt, were those henpecked creatures who tended to hang about with the suffragettes she had known. Or else they were men who were so unsure about themselves that they felt they had to grovel to keep someone around to care for them. But Yuvon wasn't any of these things. He didn't seem to be henpecked, and rather than unsure, he was often far too sure of himself. To have a man of that nature, strong and capable, and still concerned about her pain, this confused and frightened her.
She reminded herself that she had committed herself to him, to his being able to help her. She thought back, examining her past, digging through the painful memories. After a long while she began to relate the bits and pieces to Yuvon.
* * * * * *
The first memories were the hardest: A tall man with black moustachios in a gray uniform and a bright yellow sash, and a beautifully dressed woman named Mama in a carriage. A little girl is being carried in Mama's lap, looking at the blue sky, and the sun through the trees overhanging the road. Also present, but behind them, a boy is playing at some absorbing and noisy game. The little girl might be three years old.
Some time passes, then the smell of smoke is everywhere, and the continual sound of thunder can be heard, even over the tumult made by the vast herd of panicking, Hell‑terrified people fleeing in every direction. Mama is trying to carry the small child along, but she is knocked down by some big man trying to get past them. She accidentally lets go of the little girl and they are swept apart by the tides of people hurrying nowhere. Mama screams "Helena" and then nothing else. Only later, when the little girl, Helena, can totter to a place of relative peace and safety inside a broken barrel lying in an alley, she begins to realize her loss. She screams herself hoarse in terror. Only after a long while does the child sleep, collapsing into total exhaustion.
Sometime later, upon awakening, she feels hungry, and so leaves the safety of the alley in search of Mama and food. Instead of crowds, the streets are empty. The sky above her is glowing a bright bloody orange. The frightened little girl knows that if she can find Mama that she will be safe. She searches all night long, crying and afraid.
The soldiers come with the morning. They are giants to the child, in their blue uniforms. They are searching the buildings, and when they find people, those people are dragged away. Helena remembers that Mama was very afraid of the coming of the blue soldiers. The soldiers see the child and try to capture her, and she runs away from them.
She tries to find 'nice people' who will protect her until Mama comes back, but all she can find in the city are the blue soldiers. She believes that, like in the stories Mama told her, they are ogres who will eat her if they can catch her.
She watches the soldiers digging up the cemetery. They pull the large boxes from the ground and dump the contents out over the ground and search through them, stealing whatever they can from the bodies, and even going so far as to rip the brass plating from the coffins.
In the city, beneath the cloud of carrion birds, all of the cats and dogs have run wild, abandoned by their owners. She sees a pack of dogs kill a pair of cats and devour them. Helena is starving and terrified. When the dogs finally leave, she sneaks out from her hiding place and finds that they have left some of the bloody flesh behind. The child feeds for the first time in days.
She spends the next little while avoiding the soldiers and the packs of dogs as she explores the nearly empty city. Finally she finds that the soldiers have gone to the railyard. There they are setting fire to huge piles of junk; mattresses, furniture, anything that they can get hold of. She watches in fascination as the fires grow, then spread beyond control. The soldiers run before the flames, and so does she. After trying to find any place that might be safe, she is forced to hide in the cemetery. She cowers in one of the holes that the soldiers had dug. Beyond the earthen confines of that grave, the very air burns as the flames engulf the city. After surviving that glimpse into Hell, it would be a long time before the child would even begin to overcome her terror of fire.
The next morning, the city is gone. All that remains beneath the smokey sky is a wasteland of mud and ash, rubble and the skeletons of burnt‑out buildings. Only the carrion birds return, the soldiers have gone.
A full turn of seasons pass. The wasteland has sprouted cloth buildings with mean people in them. They begin to slowly put up new buildings. Helena has also found other people who live as she does, alone and homeless. These people, both light and dark, aren't inclined to help the small girl more than absolutely necessary, as they must see to themselves first, but they are sometimes willing to talk to her. One day, Helena is crawling through piles of junk and broken glass looking for food. It is raining an icy cold rain. Under a large pile of blood soaked rags, crusted with something greenish, she finds a treasure, a rat eaten husk of bread and a drying, moldy apple core. As she feasts, she sees something else. A bit of white amidst the dark of the alley and the rain. She crawls over toward it. At the end of the trash pile she finds a broken china doll. The doll's dress is stained and torn, but it still shows some signs of its past beauty. Helena picks up the doll. Naming the doll Mama, she hides it under her dress so no one can ever take Mama away again.
As the years proceed, Helena finds a living however she can. She discovers theft, and steals whatever she needs to get by. She has no illusions about herself, and no dreams. She has few acquaintances, and no friends, nor does she need any. By the time she meets Ebin McCoy, she is a creature of the streets, often barely human.
* * * * * *
It had been a fine cool day in May of 1872. While it was to be a hot, humid summer, that heat was still far away. It had only been a few weeks since the last signs of winter's slush and rains had cleared.
The sun had descended almost completely, and the western sky was a glorious cascade of reds and golds over the mountains, when a steamy plume was sighted off in the darkening distance to the east. The train from Augusta was pulling into Atlanta's stone depot. The train was already several hours late. It had been slowed due to some track reconstruction northwest of Athens. Because of the train's lateness, there were very few people present at the station. Only a couple of diehards waiting for passengers or packages, as well as the ever‑present vagrants, had remained this far into the evening.
The filth and stink of the homeless and idlers contrasted sharply with the clean new boards and freshly laid stones. Not even the continued rebuilding and the fervent new building in the city was able to give work to all the people ruined by General Sherman's brief visit.
Helena, sitting huddled against the brickwork of one of the arches near the platform, was one of these vagrants. She might have been almost eleven or twelve years old, but if so, she was small for her age. She seemed filthy beyond any hope of cleaning. Every few minutes she would cough or shiver as she watched the well‑dressed people waiting for the train.
One of these, a young man in his twenties, turned and looked at her. Their eyes met momentarily, and he looked away immediately in disgust, obviously having no place in his soul for the flotsam and scavengers of the city. The young girl glowered at the man's back, then broke off in a fit of shivering. She quietly whimpered at the aching in her bones had begun to surpass the painful void in her gut.
The young man became excited as the train pulled up to the platform. He produced a scrap of paper from his pocket and scrutinized both it and the passengers disembarking from the steam and smoke puffing behemoth. Finally he saw something that seemed to match what was on his paper, and trotted over to one of the arrivals, a well dressed man with graying Burnside whiskers. Upon reaching the older man, the younger straightened his back, and presented his right hand.
"Doctor McCoy? Doctor Ebin McCoy?" the young man asked eagerly.
The elder gentleman shook his head in the negative, emitted a stern "Harrumph," and strode off. The younger man slumped his shoulders and slapped himself lightly on the forehead. He began to look at the passengers again, totally missing the shorter, middle aged man standing next to him, puffing on a cigar. After a moment the shorter gentleman tapped the young man on the shoulder. The young man brushed at the annoyance.
"Please stop, I'm looking for someone."
"Hey Boy!" the shorter gentleman roared. The younger man turned quickly to face the other.
"Good God boy, I was wondering if you were deaf," he continued in a more normal tone of voice. "Did I hear you ask that fellow if he were Ebin McCoy?"
"Why yes, sir, I did." The young man was slightly confused.
"`Why yes, sir,'" the gentleman repeated. "I like that. Shows proper respect. That man ain't Ebin McCoy, cause I am." He stuck out his hand. The young man looked even more confused as he took the offered hand.
"Um, er, yes. Pleased to meet you, Doctor. I am Elton, your brother's eldest son."
"Where is Franklin? I was expecting him to be here." Ebin looked around.
"Father had some urgent business this afternoon at the hospital. He was hoping to be home in time for supper. Here let me take your bags." As he bent down, Elton McCoy took a long hard look at his cigar smoking uncle.
Elton's mother, Melissa, had described her brother‑in‑law as a "tall, handsome, dashing figure of a man." While Ebin was indeed taller than Elton's mother, the older man couldn't have been more that five foot five. And far from being dashing, from his thinning, grey and brown hair and glittering brown eyes to his well used brown shoes, Ebin McCoy leaned more toward the rough and scruffy.
Unfortunately, he did resemble some of Elton's notions of how a copperhead, a friend of scalawags and carpetbaggers might look.
As they walked across the platform, Ebin looked around, taking in the landscape beyond the platform and the tracks.
"Last time I was home, in Atlanta was in the fifties, you know. There wasn't none of this around here. Now they tell me it's the state capitol."
"Well sir, as you know, they only allowed us back into the union last year. We aren't much yet in the way of a state capitol, but we are working to deserve that honor."
Ebin puffed on his cigar for a minute, then looked at it, grimacing, and tossed it carefully onto the pavement to one side. A derelict scrambled to claim the mostly unsmoked tobacco. The pair began to pass by the great stone arches to the side of the depot. The street beyond was filled with people, horses and wagons.
"I never could understand, boy, why it took the legislature this long to vote for readmission."
"Well sir, it was that amendment that gave the darkies the vote ... My Lord!" From the darkness came a bedraggled urchin, a raven haired girl with a long, jagged and rusty knife. Elton thought that she looked vaguely familiar.
"Hand over your money, now." She stood shivering and desperate; her voice was hoarse and weak, but it carried her meaning clearly. Elton looked around, anxiously seeking help, but they were alone. Then his eyes fell upon his uncle; Ebin was speaking to the girl.
"Now, now girl. Why don't you give me the knife?" Ebin's voice was soft and calm, as if he were attempting to gentle a wild animal. He moved slowly toward the girl. She lunged at him. He stepped aside, and her lunge became a forward fall. Ebin caught her gently, squeezing her wrist to make her drop the knife. Suddenly, she fainted, overwhelmed by her ill health and the strain of exertion. The last thing she heard was Ebin McCoy's voice.
"Good God boy, she's burning up."
Helena woke from her fever to find the short man that she had tried to kill wiping her forehead with a wet rag. He wore no coat, only a vest, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up. In his mouth was the ever present cigar.
"Ah, good," he said softly. Then he became more gruff. "You're awake. 'Bout time, little lady. You've been asleep a real long time, almost a week. I was beginning to wonder if I'd lost my touch."
"Why?" her voice croaked.
"Why, what?" he asked, rinsing the rag out in the porcelain basin on the washstand. She looked around the room. To her eyes, accustomed only to the poverty of the streets, the room was the pinnacle of wealth.
"Why ... you ... here?" Helena wasn't sure exactly which one of the hundreds of questions flooding her mind she was asking.
"You mean why did I save your life? Why did I bring a scrofulous guttersnipe out of the cold and heal her? Hell, kid, I don't know. It seemed to be the thing to do, what with you passing out in my arms and such."
"Why didn't you just leave me to die?"
"Because, youngster, I'm a doctor," he said, as if that explained everything. "Right now, you are going to stay in that bed and rest. When you're better, then we'll discuss your future."
It took Helena three days to rebuild her strength enough to make an attempted escape. When Ebin caught her, she hadn't even gotten out of the yard. After threatening her with a good solid spanking, he sent her back to bed.
Helena couldn't understand this man. She knew that his relatives didn't want her in their house. Not even his brother, another "doctor," was eager to open his doors to what he considered filthy white trash from the wrong part of town. Helena didn't know how often she had heard Franklin say, "Ebin, there are other people who exist to take care of this sort of child." Only Ebin's force of will, and the awe that Melissa McCoy held for her brother‑in‑law kept Helena in the house.
Melissa McCoy had been a quiet, romantically idealistic young girl when she had met her fiance's brother twenty years before. Ebin was heading off for the army, to visit distant places. He struck such a dashing figure for her that she had never recovered. She had even explained away even his refusal to return home during the late war and fight for the cause, to his honorable desire to protect both the South and North from the western savages. Melissa felt that his desire to take in a poor helpless waif was perfectly in keeping with her gallant image of him.
Helena tried to escape twice after that. The first of these attempts was simply a repeat of the earlier attempt. After her last try, Ebin sat her down and calmly told her, "Youngster, I am not going to hold you against your will. You are healthy enough now to be on your own again." She stood and started to leave. Ebin pushed her back into the chair. "I ain't finished. What exactly are you going out to? Hunger and a hard bed, am I right? Let me make you a proposition. You stay around, and do what I tell you to do, and you'll eat regularly. You won't have to live off the streets ever again. Do you understand?"
She stared at him blankly. Helena couldn't imagine what it was that he wanted. There had been plenty of opportunities when he could have taken advantage of since her arrival, had he simply wanted sex. She knew she had nothing else he could have possible wanted.
"What do you get out of it?" the confused young girl asked warily.
"I'm not going to tell you ... What is your name anyway?"
"Helena," she said sullenly.
"Helena, then. If I did tell you, you wouldn't believe me, if you even understood. But I give you my word that if you should ever figure it out, and ask me, I'll answer you honestly."
* * * * * *
"So, I went with Ebin. For a few days I stayed simply to take advantage of the free food. Finally, I decided that I'd accept his offer. There wasn't anything for me out on the street. And, to be honest, I really hadn't had much of an opportunity to learn much about pride."
"Ebin had been in the army in the west for many years, and now that he had retired, he just wanted to do what he loved to do, practice medicine. We mostly travelled as gypsies, throughout the backwoods, hills and mountains."
"That must have been interesting."
"It was educational. The mountain people wouldn't accepting us at the first. We were outsiders and worse. They saw Ebin as arrogant and patronizing, trying to supplant the healers that were already practicing there. Perhaps he was. Eventually though, they came to see us as sort of distant cousins. We couldn't participate directly in the life of the communities that we passed through, because we were constantly moving, but we did what we could. Word got around, and people came to at least tolerate us.
"But every winter, we would return home to Atlanta. It was during the winter that Ebin turned me over to his sister‑in‑law. It was from Aunt Melissa that I learned what little that I know of how women are supposed to behave." Helena paused and looked off into the distance. "She was such a wonderful woman to me. For such a long time, I so wanted to be like her, I tried to learn everything that she tried to teach me."
"What happened?" Yuvon prodded gently.
"I began to notice the realities of her existence. Not that her existence was all bad. But behind her attacks of 'vapors' and her dread of anything 'common' was the shadow of the person that she could have been. Of course she was the spiritual center of her household, as was proper for a Catholic matron. That's getting to be different now since the Holy Father died."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Well, it's been my impression that the Pope, infact all the Church in Rome seems to be trying to place the role of the Mother of the Lord, further into the background, and with her, the role of mothers throughout the Church. Aunt Melissa was the spiritual center of the home, as I said, but it was Uncle Franklin who ruled the house. Lincoln's Proclamation freed the coloreds, but it hasn't done anything for women. Perhaps it was living all of those years alone, supporting myself, but I couldn't enslave myself to someone else like that."
"What about Ebin?"
"I don't believe that I enslaved myself to him." Helena looked thoughtful. "During our time together, he tried to teach me everything that a father would want to teach his daughter. He taught me to read, and it was under him that I first read medicine as well as literature"
"During you time together? Did something happen?"
"I found him one November morning. He'd died in his sleep. We had just returned to Atlanta for the winter. I hadn't even known that he was ill." She paused for a long while.
"While I was going through his papers, trying to get his affairs into some order, much against Uncle Franklin's wishes, I might add, I found some papers that Ebin had purchased from some backwoods judge, adopting me. I thought about it for some time after that," Helena said softly.
Helena and Yuvon were now well west of Denver, riding into the low hills and small ravines that began the foothills to the Rockies. After a brief pause, Yuvon spoke.
"Perhaps he knew that he wouldn't have been able to adopt you properly. The authorities would never have considered him a proper father."
She thought for a few minutes.
"What really troubles me though is why he never told me."
"Why do you think he didn't?"
"I don't know." She thought about it for quite a while. "I suppose that when he'd done it, I wouldn't have understood, or appreciated it. Later on, he didn't tell me, I think, because it didn't matter."
"It didn't matter?" His tone was curious and gentle.
"No, it didn't. He was my father regardless. Much more so than the black moustachioed stranger from my memories."
The two rode in silence for some time thereafter. The road that they were on was relatively well travelled. They had seen numerous freighter wagons, laden with canvas tarpaulin covered crates, as well as a few carriages and buggies. After entering the hills, they quickly passed the prosperous town of Golden, and went through a large canyon into the low mountains. They left the road proper and began to follow a trail that wandered up a ravine whose sides were fresh with new growth. Once there, they saw few other travellers.
It seemed to Helena that Yuvon was allowing her the time to think, without disturbing her. His sensitivity towards her feelings on this subject added to her growing list of confusions about him. Helena had learned in her life to expect that men considered women to be a separate and lesser species. Even Ebin had never totally disassociated himself from the idea that Helena was a child in need of protection, or worse, that her past had somehow tainted her, and made her different from `normal' women. Helena had learned to accept this attitude, and although she didn't like it, she had become comfortable with that attitude's stability. Yuvon, however, didn't seem to share this point of view. He seemed to accept her history without judgement. It was almost as if it hadn't occurred to him that she might be tainted by the streets of Atlanta. He treated her as an equal both as a physician and as a person. Helena couldn't decide if he was simply stupid, or if he wanted something.
They rode along the north side of a mountain for a few miles, just enjoying the cool afternoon, the smell of pine and flowers and fresh, wet dirt. The trail passed along numerous switchback curves over ever deepening ravines filled with trees and sharp rocks, eventually passing over a rise and into the valley beyond. Helena heard and smelled the town long before she actually saw it. There was a dull thumping that went on without break, and the sharp stench of burning metal and stale wood smoke.
The pair passed a sign that said Black Hawk. The word 'Point' had been white‑washed over, sometime in the past, though now the white paint had faded to nearly the color of the graying weathered wood. The town beyond was at the juncture of two valleys and therefore lay in a 'Y' shape. Large streams ran though both valleys and were crossed by numerous sturdy looking wooden bridges. The town's main street began in the lower valley to their left and stretched up that valley and the farther ravine, expanding on either bare dirt hillside in terraced levels. Railroad tracks ran down from the farther ravine and then into the main valley. Telephone poles dotted the entire landscape. It looked muddy and cluttered. Helena could see from her vantage point on the hillside the brewery and cracker factory that supported the town's many saloons sitting only a few feet down the central hill from the town's largest church.
"I wonder what that noise is?" Yuvon asked as they rode down the dirt road into the town.
"It's coming from those stamp mills," Helena said, pointing out several large buildings billowing smoke that were aligned along an adjacent ravine to their right.
"Stamp mills?" he asked, full of curiosity.
"Yes." Helena could see that Yuvon had never been in a mining town before. She remembered how confusing things had been for her during her first time up in the towns and camps. "You see, the miners bring their ore here to be processed. The stamp mills crush the rock to extricate the ores held within. Then the ore is converted into ingots and sent elsewhere."
"That's very interesting," he said. He looked at the mills, thinking. After a few minutes he asked "Could you suggest a good hotel?"
"No, I've never been to Black Hawk before. I've never been in this part of the mountains, although I understand that Central City should lie only a few more miles up the canyon. That's alleged to be the real center of culture in this region."
"Then by all means, we must not go there. What about that hotel over there then?" He pointed to a three story building in the distance that bore a red and white sign that read 'Colorado House.' Helena shrugged her indifference. The two rode down the short hill onto the street and over to the hotel.
Helena wasn't certain, but as they rode down the mud and dirt street, she thought that she could see from out of the corner of her eye people turning to one another and whispering about the woman riding astride before them. They stopped in front of the building. Yuvon dismounted easily, while Helena discovered a whole new variety of pain as she tried to move. She carefully resettled herself in the saddle.
"Oh, Doctor," she said in a falsely cheerful tone, masking her irritation; her best `southern belle' tone.
"Yes, Doctor?" he responded cautiously, looking up at her from where he was tying their horses. Helena continued.
"I am afraid that this little adventure of yours has caused me a slight problem."
"Well, I can't say for certain, and ladies don't generally discuss these things, but I do believe that sitting this horse all day has made me a bit sore. No, I correct myself. I am currently in considerable pain."
He walked over and looked up at her.
"Do you think that you have damaged yourself, or are you simply in pain?" He sounded concerned.
Helena's tone sharpened. "Well, I do not believe that I am adhered to the saddle, but moving does seem to be a bit of a chore."
He smiled an evil smile.
"So, what seems to be the problem?"
"Please, won't someone give me a gun?" she asked softly, to no one in particular. Then to him, she angrily asked, "Do you enjoy making fun at my expense?"
"Immensely." Smiling, he reached out, and with his hands on her hips, easily plucked her from the saddle and set her on her feet. Helena stood there a moment, just feeling the pain flow through her. Her legs were so much dead meat, her knees felt like gelatin. She tried to assume a more dignified posture, although deep in her heart she knew that she was destined to never move correctly again. She thought that she now understood why cowboys were so often depicted as bowlegged. After a moment's consideration, she looked up at Yuvon. When she spoke, her voice held a note of controlled anger.
"Are you planning for us to be out for several days?"
"Yes I was. Why?"
"How many days?" She was more insistent.
"I wasn't sure. Why?"
She smiled up at him.
"Oh, no reason," she said innocently and patted his arm. "Now why don't you be a nice boy, and get us some rooms. I have some business to transact." He had turned to leave when a thought struck her.
"Oh, and Yuvon?" He turned back to her.
"I want a large, hot bath when I get back. Please see to it."
"With gratitude," he said sarcastically with a hint of a bow. "Will there be anything else?"
"I'll let you know."
Yuvon turned back to enter the hotel. Helena looked into her saddle bags, and found her purse. She straightened her hat and stepped onto the wooden sidewalk. Walking was a problem at first, but gradually became easier, if still painful. She walked to the nearest of the numerous general stores, and entered.
A small bell on a string rang. In the neat wooden room, with its shelves well stocked with things, she saw other women clustered in pairs and trios like small groups of protective chickens. Helena sneered inwardly at the giggling cliques, gossiping and plotting. If there was anything that she disliked worse than the paternalism of men, it was the woman's subculture. Helena believed that you couldn't trust women. Men, at least, were honest in their dominateering ways, while women were just sneaky and vicious, particularly where men were concerned.
"May I help you, Ma'am?" asked the shopkeeper, a thin bald man with a high squeaking voice. Helena knew that she would have trouble making the purchases she needed if she were honest with this man. She assumed a mask of absolute propriety.
"Yes," she said cheerfully. "My husband and I are returning to the high country tomorrow, and I only just remembered that I had promised to get our son a new set of clothes in Denver. He seems to think that store bought clothes are somehow better for boys than those made by mother." She added the last conspiratorially.
The man laughed. "I understand completely. It's the same with my boy. How old is your son?"
"Peter will be twelve next week." Helena was trying to remember how real mothers acted. Then she was reminded.
"Spare the rod, and spoil the child." One of the other women came over exuding an aura of arrogance. "My William wears what I make him and likes it. No store bought things for him."
Helena looked at the other woman and frowned. She didn't want to cause any trouble, but her fatigue wasn't going to let her bend to this local mavin of dignity.
"I don't recall asking you. So why don't you just keep your nose out of my business?" Helena's tone was a bit more threatening than it needed to be.
"Well I never." The other woman was flustered by Helena's rudeness. She turned and left. The shop bell rang as the woman left the store, followed by her flock.
Helena looked back at the shopkeeper. "I apologize for that."
The man shook his head. "No, Mrs. Briggs shouldn't have bothered you. So, what do you think your son will need?"
"Riding boots, wool socks, longhandles, some of those denim work pants, a blue shirt, a vest and a hat."
The shopkeeper nodded and went over to the stock shelves. Helena drifted over to the glass topped counter, and began to look at the revolvers on display.
The shopkeeper called out to Helena. "What size does he wear?"
Helena gave him her sizes, and he began to pile the items on a nearby wooden counter. When he finished, he turned back to her.
"Will there be anything else, Ma'am?"
Helena thought for a moment.
"Yes, I'll need some neetsfoot oil to soften the boots up, some cigarette tobacco, papers, and matches for my husband." The man eyed her suspiciously. "And as long as I am in here . . ." she pointed out a new dark blue dress and a chemise for herself.
The man nodded and began to collect the items. When she had finished, and began to count them up, she asked, "Excuse me, how much is that gun there?" She pointed to a rebuilt .44 Navy Colt.
"Fifteen dollars, Ma'am."
"That, then. Also a holster and a box of ammunition." She tried to sound as nonchalant as possible. She looked at the shopkeeper with wide eyes.
He shook his head, pulled out the items and added them to the pile. After a few moments, he looked back at her.
"That will be thirty‑three dollars and ninety‑three cents," he said, and began to wrap the pile in brown paper.
Helena looked into her purse, and began to shovel through a small pile of indescribables. She finally looked up.
"Oh My," she said, embarrassed. "Would you please hold these things for me? I must go and get the money from my husband. He's just over at the Colorado House."
"Don't you worry about a thing, Ma'am. In fact, why don't you just give me his name and I'll have it added to his hotel bill."
"Could you do that?" Helena acted surprised. "My husband is Dr. Yuvon Arelssyn." The man wrote down the name as Helena collected her bundle.
She walked quickly back to the hotel. She knew that she was running several risks by doing this, the foremost being that Yuvon might have registered them as separate individuals. Of course, if he had she would have to take him to task for making her look even more like a doxie than he had already. Checking at the desk, she found that Yuvon had indeed registered for two rooms under his name with no mention of her status. She smiled to herself.