Joel’s Trouble; Jason’s Worry

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Joel sat at the bar drinking his sarsaparilla and watching the men at the poker table. Toby, the undertaker, sat next to him.

“Ain’t seen you around much lately.” Toby sipped his beer.

“Nope. Been busy visiting a young lady.”

“Yep. I heered ‘bout that. It’s that copper-headed girl that thinks she’s Injun, right?” He elbowed Joel in the rib.

“Don’t know anything about that, but if you’re referring to the young woman that lives up in the holler near the Bluestone River, that’d be her.”

“Whatcha want with a white girl that ain’t right in the head?”

Joel came off his stool and pulled Toby off of his. “I’ll hear no more of that talk from you or anyone else.” He looked around the room and was met with laughter.

“You’re crazy.” Toby paid his tab and left.

Joel walked to the poker area and stood between the tables. “I’ll brook no slander against the lady. Anybody here got a problem with that?”

Most of the men ignored him, everyone but Kyle Gordon. Kyle stood at six feet, three inches tall, wore bib overalls, a plaid shirt, two weeks of beard growth, and a dusty slouch hat. If he had stood up Joel would have had to strain his neck to look up at the man.

Kyle looked at Joel, nodded toward him, then looked at his cards. He had three aces and two kings, a full house. He studied his opponents briefly. Two of the others had folded. Only T.J. and David were still in the game besides him. T.J. was good at bluffing; David wasn’t. David had raised T.J.’s bet by ten dollars. Kyle called the bet and finished out the hand before he acknowledged Joel.

“Way I hear it,” Kyle began, took a drink of whatever he had on the table, and resumed, “she’s just a decoy. Way I hear it, the senator’s girl is the one you’re really after. So why are you so fired up about that Jackson girl?”

Joel’s eyes narrowed. “Who have you been talking to?”

“Don’t matter who I been talkin’ to. Fact is you’re lyin’ to one of ‘em.” Kyle turned back to the table. David was dealing.

Joel pointed his finger at Kyle’s face. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” Kyle took another swallow of his drink. “You come home a few nights ago strapped to your horse’s back. Saw someone carry you into the roomin’ house, then put your horse in the barn out back.”

Joel backed up two steps, thought better of it, and stepped right next to Kyle’s chair. His face had turned crimson, then paled to ash gray. “What else have you heard?” His voice was barely a whisper.

Kyle turned directly toward Joel. “I hear lots of things. Then I ponder on ‘em and decide if they’re any of my business. So far I ain’t heard nothin’ that affects me, but if I do, you’ll be the first to know.”

Joel could feel the blood pounding in his head, his heart hammering in his chest. Obviously he had not been as careful and discreet as he had thought. How close were things to unraveling? How could he protect himself from whatever was coming?

#

Jason rode his paint gelding first to the Jackson place, thinking Fawn may have gone back to her barn, a place of familiarity. He dismounted, dropped the reins so Nomad could graze, and opened the barn door. It was dark inside. There was no smell of manure or fresh hay so she obviously had not been there in a while. Midnight Sun came from behind the barn where he had been grazing. He nickered as he approached Nomad and rubbed noses with him.

Jason came out of the barn and rubbed Sun’s neck. He was dirty and had leaves and twigs stuck in his mane. So, if Sun was home, where was Fawn? And why was the halter still hanging from Sun’s neck? It wasn’t like Fawn to leave her horse unattended. His pulse quickened. His heart disquieted.

He walked to the creek to see if there were any fresh hoof prints or footprints. There were none. He scratched his head, perplexed. Where could she be?

The house was nearly finished. All that was needed was the inside walls, doors, windows, and furnishings. Jason smiled as he considered how all of the neighbors were working hard on making new furniture. A couple of the men were even buying paint to make the place homey and appealing once it was done. He and his father were making the kitchen table and chairs.

He reeled his thoughts back to finding Fawn. Where could she be? He prayed. “Lord, You know where she is. Please help me find her,and please let her be okay. Most of all, please show her that You are the answer she’s been looking for all of her life. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

He mucked out Sun’s stall, removed the horse’s halter and hung it on its peg. Then he went back outside and swung his leg up and over the saddle and turned his horse toward the river. “Lord, I’m depending on you to guide me.”

Frienemies: Fawn Sleeps While the Battle Starts

This is just the second half of the chapter.

Fawn had been gone for three days. She had fasted, drank little water, and was getting feverish, delirious, and weak. Wrapped in a blanket she had taken with her, she sat on the ground, propped against a tree trunk. Black carpenter ants crawled under the blanket, into her clothing, and began biting her. She jumped up, sweeping at them, stripping her clothing off. She stumbled into the icy river, which had not warmed up much as it was still early May, until the only thing above water was her head.

Time seemed to fade away. She had no idea how long she had been in the water, but her fever grew weaker. She became aware that her body needed nourishment and water. The river was a clear stream and she scooped some of the cool liquid in her hands. She choked on the first gulp and reminded herself to slurp instead of gulp.

Still standing the river, her gaze traveled the shoreline. There was no sign of anyone near. Energized by the cold water and her shivering body, she bolted back to where she had dropped her clothing, made sure everything was free of ants, dressed, and went searching for food.

There were places along the river where cattails grew in the shallows. They were about six to eight inches tall she guessed. She picked three of them, peeled the bulbs and ate them. Perhaps she would save the heads and take them back to the Gardner place to be roasted and eaten later, like corn on the cob.

It was not the best thing she had ever eaten but it would do. After the third bite her stomach rebelled at the raw roughage. She gagged and retched.

Defeat and discouragement bowed her back, causing her head and shoulders to stoop as she trudged back to her horse. Her feet dragged and stumbled as she led Midnight Sun away from the river and into the woods. She found a spot that still had a layer of pine needles and leaves from the winter. After checking the area for any kind of ants and seeing none, she removed the blanket from the horse and laid it on the ground.

As she drifted into a troubled sleep her only thought was I’ve been abandoned and I’m all alone.

The angel bent low and gently brushed her brow. “Sleep little one,” he whispered. Fawn heard nothing but the screaming in her head.

“Is it time yet, Lord?” the gleaming white being asked. There was no time for an answer.

A sulfurous black shape drew its machete-like sword. “You will die now,” the shape hissed at Tal.

Tal waited for the command, then shifted his position as he drew his gleaming sword. “On the contrary, fowl spirit; it is you who will die this day.”

The dark shape raised himself up at the same moment Tal struck. The loathsome demon ducked and tumbled through the air, positioning himself for a rebound.

Tal changed his stance and awaited his chance. “What is your name, foul spirit?”

The demon smirked and stuck out its tongue, licking its lips as if in anticipation of a good meal, or a good fight. “Slither” was his answer.

Tal laughed. “Yes, I can see why. Slither toward me if you dare.”

Slither jumped forward,lurching at the same time, arm outstretched, slicing the air with the machete. He missed. Tal did not. With a screech and an ebbing wail, Slither tumble away in a fog of sulfuric vapor.

Tal knew others would come. He stood guard and waited for reinforcements.

Frienemies: Chapter Thirty-Nine

“This has got to stop,” Nana shouted. “She can’t keep running off like this.”

Ellen hugged her friend. “I know you’re worried, but she probably just needs some peace and quiet. Fawn isn’t used to all of this commotion. Give her some time.”

Nana wasn’t convinced. “Maybe, but Ellen, this is the second time she’s taken off and disappeared, not tellin’ anybody where she was goin’. I’ve a mind to take her over my knee; I don’t care how old she is.”

“Come on outside to the garden with me,” Ellen said. “You can sit on the bench and tell me where the weeds are. It will do you some good to get outside in the sunshine. We can pray out there where no one but the birds and squirrels will hear us. God knows exactly where Fawn is. She’ll be alright.” Her voice was gentle as her lips parted in a half smile. Then she took Nana’s left elbow and helped her toward the back door. Nana held her cane in her right hand.

Nana’s expression warred between anger and worry. I know worry is a sin, Lord. I know I can trust You, but I don’t know what you’re gonna haveta do to get Fawn’s attention. I don’t wanna see her hurt anymore. Her chest heaved a heavy sigh as pain stabbed her back in her effort to straighten her spine. She quickly remembered her arthritis and gave up standing straight.

#

Joel awakened disoriented with his head splitting and his eyes aching. Where was he? He tried to sit up by using his left elbow to prop him up. He seemed to be in his own bed. As soon as he was halfway to being in an upright position his stomach lurched and he fell back into a prone position. He rolled over toward the side of the bed and retched. When his stomach was emptied he wiped his mouth with the blanket, laid back, and covered his head with his pillow to block out the light.

Two hours later he awoke again, thirsty and anxious. He tried to recall the events of the previous day. How did he get home? The last thing he remembered was arguing with Angel in the barn when someone hit him from behind. If he didn’t know how he got home then he obviously didn’t know how he got in bed either. What day was it? Was he supposed to be at work or was it a weekend? His head pounded with each unanswered question. He needed to find Angel. She surely knew what had happened. He sat up slowly and put his feet on the floor while he continued to sit on the bed. Pushing himself gently to a standing position with his hands, he found his feet would not support him. He slumped back onto the bed.

I can’t even get myself a drink of water was his last thought before drifting back to a troubled sleep. His dreams were filled with vague scenes of fire, property destruction, and being pulled in opposite directions by faceless people. He awakened some time later to find himself tangled in his sheet with his head at the foot of the bed and his feet at the top.

The thunderous rapping at the door sobered his mind somewhat. He fumbled to put on his pants while mumbling for the caller to wait a minute. Yelling was out of the question. It would have produced a whopping headache.

He opened the door to a retreating back. “May I help you?” he croaked.

His employer turned and came back. “Been drinking have you?”

Joel’s right hand attempted to comb his hair as he spoke. “No, sir.”

“Looks like it to me. If it’s not the drink then what is it?” He was a short man with thin brown hair, a graying mustache, and a paunch that mocked his otherwise reedy frame.

“I got attacked from behind while at a meeting. Got knocked out and somehow ended up here and in bed. What day is it?”

“Two days since you last graced the office with your presence. You were not scheduled for any meetings since then. What have you been up to?”

Joel realized they were still standing at the door. He opened it and waved his employer into the room. He motioned to a chair against the wall while he himself sat back on the bed in his boardinghouse room. With his head held in his hands, elbows on his knees he tried to think of a reply.

“It was an unscheduled meeting, sir. A lady in distress wished to speak with me privately. Apparently it turned out to be an ambush.”

His employer tapped his left foot on the floor. He was not a man who liked to raise his voice. It mattered not. His tone was full of ice, his words like shards of broken glass. “This is your last chance, young man. You either come to work as scheduled or you seek other employment. If you do not show up tomorrow, do not come back at all. You will not get a recommendation from me. Good day.”

Frienemies: Chapter Thirty-Seven

Fawn took Arctic Sun out for a ride. It had been three days, or had it been longer? She had lost track of time. They both needed exercise. Melanie and Sarah Beth had wanted to join her but she really needed to be alone. Two weeks crowded in a house with five other people plus her grandmother while waiting for their house to get finished. Sure they were friends, and they were kind, but the close proximity put her in a position to hear conversations that were none of her business. She felt like an interloper and an eavesdropper. She was a burden, an intruder upon the lives of her friends. The thoughts crowded her mind, pushing against each other, then seemed to race around each other. She leaned forward, clinging to Sun’s neck as he galloped, his mane and forelock flying in the wind.

The late morning air was crisp. The scents of pine, lavender, and wild hyacinths wafted on the breeze. Sun slowed to a canter, then a trot, and finally a walk. Now and again he would stop and munch on the grass and bushes that lined the path between the Gardner place and Pine Trail Road. They rode down Pine Trail Road and turned down River Trail Road toward the Bluestone River.

Once on the River Trail they stopped and Fawn dismounted. She had ridden bareback with not so much as a halter. Now she walked beside him, patting his neck and combing his mane as she talked to him.

“You’re lucky, Sun. Your routine doesn’t change much and you don’t have to feel like you are a burden to other people.”

The horse nickered and bobbed his head.

“You don’t have turmoil around you. No one treats you like a charity case. You are accepted for who and what you are.”

He munched more shrubbery. Nothing seemed to daunt him or give him any cause for concern. Envy filled Fawn.

“I know the Gardners don’t think of us a burden. Neither does Mr. Browning, but that doesn’t change the way I feel. Now we’re getting a new house built that we cannot pay for. And I contribute zero to this world.” She hugged Sun’s neck and jumped back on. With no one around to see her skirts fly up in the air as she straddled his back, there were no opinions to worry about. They took the rest of the trail to the river where Sun could get a fresh drink of water and Fawn could find a rock to sit on and muse.

 

DSC00051

Bluestone River, Mercer County, WV

Photo by Thomas E. Dye

#

Angel sat on a bale of hay in the barn. Joel stood across from her,his blood pressure rising.

“I don’t know what you expect. I’ve done all of your dirty work and nothing is going right. You have the deed, which you already knew about. I am done. I will not forge a legal document. You are not worth my career.”

Her chocolate eyes bored into his blue ones. She leaned back with a beckoning look and reached out her hand. “I told you, Joel. I own you. I know things and I can ruin your career. There is nothing you can do about it.”

He reached out to strike her but drew his arm back. She would relish it. The vixen thrived on conflict and being in control. Yet she was not willing to risk her own pretty neck.

“It is true, you can ruin my career, but not without Daddy Dear finding out what you have been up to. You are as much at risk as I am. If I go down, you go down.” He snapped a twig he had picked up. He wished it was her neck.

Angel smiled as the door opened and Hank came in. “You silly boy. Did you think you were only working for me?”

Joel didn’t get a chance to see who hit him from behind before he was knocked to the ground, dragged out of the barn and tied across his horse. The animal’s reins were loose enough to let him move his head. With a thump on the rear Joel was on his way home.

Dear Reader, tell me what you think. What can make this section better? 

Frienemies: Chapter Thirty-Six

A Gloom Reflected

Rain had stopped progress on the Jackson house for three days. The relentless deluge took its toll in a landslide that blocked Route 20 between Lerona and Pipestem. Work on the railroad between Athens and Hinton had come to a screeching halt. Tempers flared and fists flew at the tavern. Joel wasn’t hurt badly. He gave worse than he got, and it had been worth it to get away from Angel. There was nothing in life more irritating than a bored woman. And Angel was bored. She was the reason he went to the tavern in the first place. Well, that, and he was in the mood for some arm wrestling and dart throwing.

Angel paced her room, wearing a track in the braided rug her grandmother had made. Frayed threads poked up between the once neat rows of coiled scrap material. She looked around her room, stopping in mid stride.

The heavy brocade drapes did nothing to elevate her mood. Gloomy clouds and gloomy surroundings created a morose atmosphere. She walked to the window and yanked the drapes open. As the rain pounded the roof and pelted the window bolts of lightning split the sky and stabbed the ground. Two bolts collided and struck the Virginia pine that stood in the center of the six-tree border twenty feet from her window.

The tree split as it smoldered but did not catch fire. She jumped back in shock and stared as the electricity from the strike tingled through her body and made her raven black hair stand straight out. Yet she could not make herself move. Never had she seen a storm like this one.

Conscience pricked her. I deserve to die. God is giving me a warning because I killed my little brother. But I didn’t mean to, God. You know I didn’t.

Yes you did, her soul answered back. You hated him because your mother loved him more than you. Admit it.

Laughter bubbled from somewhere deep within, but it wasn’t funny. Was she a monster? Was God really giving her a warning? She had heard people say that God punishes the wicked, and she knew in her heart the adjective applied to her.

But if my parents loved me I wouldn’t be wicked. I would be sweet and nice. I would not have to find ways to punish myself and hurt others in the process. But I have a right to happiness. I have a right to be loved. But no one has ever loved me. I am too evil to love. So I will do my worst.

She reached up to close the drapes again. A figure stood outside, its back to her, looking up at the sky. The person wore no protective coat or hat; he seemed to be welcoming the storm. Then the figure disappeared. Was it real or was she losing her mind?

She closed the drapes and lit the lantern beside her cherry four-poster canopied bed. She took off her dress and put on her night clothes, then burrowed under the covers and hoped morning would bring sunshine. Another day of this rain may prove to bring huge problems for someone.

Picture 415

Photo by Thomas E. Dye

Chapter Thirty-Two

Dewey arrived back at the sheriff’s office, jerked on the reins to bring the horse to an abrupt halt. He jumped from the wagon and ran into the office. The sheriff wasn’t there. Great. What was he supposed to do with the body? He took off his hat and scratched his head as he looked around. No solution came to mind. Molly was expecting him within the hour. This just could not be happening again.

He stepped outside and stood on the boardwalk. The undertaker’s shop was four blocks down the street. Would it be quicker to walk or unhitch the horse and ride? Walking, he decided, a brisk walk.

Where in the world was everybody today? Toby wasn’t there. He walked around back. “Toby, you here? Come on; I need to talk to you.”

“Hang on, I’m comin’.”

Dewey paced. “I got a date, Toby, and a dead body. Don’t know who it is and don’t know what to do with it.”

Toby came around the corner of the building, wiping his hands on a rag that looked as if it needed cleaning before his hands ever got to it.

“Where’s the body?”

“In the wagon in front of the office.” Dewey started to walk off, expecting Toby to follow.

“Hold on a minute,” Toby said, still rooted to the spot. “How big is it?”

“How big is what? Oh, the body. Well, come on and look at it. I didn’t measure it.”

Toby sprinted to catch up, wheezing and sneezing as he came. “Give an old man a break, will ya?”

Dewey looked at him. “You ain’t that old; ye’re what? Forty?”

Toby nodded his head, his short but pointy gray beard touching his shirt front. “Pert near.”

They arrived at the wagon and Dewey unhooked the gate.

Toby peered in. “How’m I s’posed ta see if’n it’s all wrapped in burlap?”

Dewey reached in, grabbed the burlap and yanked the bundle until its end hung over the edge of the wagon. Both men started gagging and coughing. Dewey backed up.

“Good night. What’d you do? Dig it up out of a swamp or somethin’?”

Dewey grunted. “What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Drive it on down to my place. Can’t bury it ‘til we identify it, though. Reckon somebody be lookin’ for ‘im.”

“Hop on. I’ll give you a ride back.” Dewey shoved the bundle back in, hooked the gate back and jumped into the driver seat. Molly was not going to be happy.

Dewey leapt off the driver seat, ran to the back of the wagon and pulled on the body until it was in a position to be picked up and carried. He put the kerchief over his nose and mouth, then slung the body over his shoulder and deposited it behind Toby’s shop. He ran back to the wagon.

Toby was sauntering back to his shop. Dewey passed him like a rabbit passing a snail.

“You cain’t leave yet,” Toby hollered as Dewey passed. “There’s papers ta be filled out. I need. . .”

“No time, Toby. You’ll get it later.”

There was no time for him to go home and clean up, but he had expected this to happen. It always did. He had his change of clothes in the sheriff’s office. The bath house was next door.

A group of young boys was hanging around the livery.

“You there,” Dewey called.

The boys looked at him but didn’t move.

“Who wants to earn a dollar?”

They all came running.

“I can only pay one of you,” he said.

Six boys at once clamored, “I do.” They all stuck their hands out, eagerly awaiting such a large sum. One boy stepped forward and looked up at the deputy. He was the only one who did not have his hand out.

“What’s your name, son?”

“Joey.”

Dewey pulled a dollar out of his pocket and held it in his fist. “How fast are you at running?”

Joey wasn’t one to brag so he hesitated. The other boys answered at the same time. “He’s the fastest boy in school.”

“Yeah,” another boy said. “Nobody can catch him when we play tag.”

Dewey laughed. “Well, that settles it, then. Joey, I need you to go down to the mercantile. Do you know where that is?”

“Sure. That’s where we go to buy candy and stuff.”

“Good. There’s a lady that works there named Molly.”

Joey nodded his head. “I know Miss Molly. She always gives us an extra piece of licorice.”

“I will give you this dollar if you go as quick as you can and tell her I am going to be a few minutes late, but I am coming to pick her up. Will you do that?”

“You bet I will.” Joey held out his hand, received the dollar and stuck it in his pocket. Wow. A whole dollar. He would buy each of his friends one piece of candy. The rest would go in his piggy bank towards a new yo-yo or a bag of marbles.

#

Dewey drank in Molly’s appearance as if the rest of the world paled in comparison. Her blue dress seemed to shimmer a little as she moved toward him, its full skirt swaying with each step. Her silky dark blond hair was curled and hung in a cascade from a shiny clasp on the back of her head. He stood mesmerized for a few moments before he approached her.

He hadn’t worn his hat tonight since there was no good place to put it when he wasn’t dancing. He held out his hand and she lightly placed her left hand on top of his right.

“May I have the honor of this dance?” he said after swallowing the lump in his throat.

Molly curtsied slightly and lifted her eyes to his. “You may,” she said.

Dewey led her to the dance floor as the fiddlers began to play a lively tune.

After three dances the couple was a little breathless. Dewey led her to the refreshment table where they each got a cup of cider and stepped outside.

Molly led Dewey to an area where they could be seen but not overheard. They found a bale of hay to sit on.

“I heard some people talking in the store, Dewey. I don’t know if any of it is true, but thought it might bear investigating.”

“What did you hear?” He couldn’t stop smiling as he looked at her.

“Dewey, this is serious. It was two men and….”

A hard hand clapped Dewey on the shoulder. “How ya doin’?” Seth Raines bellowed.

Dewey turned to look at his friend. He stood and the two shook hands.

“Doin’ just fine, ‘til you showed up,” he laughed. “What’re you up to?”

“Aww, nothin’ much. Hangin’ around town, pokin’ my nose in other people’s business. You know me.”

“Seth, this here’s Molly Brandt. Molly, this is a good buddy of mine, Seth Adams.”

Seth walked to Molly and offered a handshake. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am.”

Molly smiled politely and said it was nice to meet him, too.

“Well, Seth, it’s good to see you, but I really want to spend some time with Molly here. My job seems to keep getting in the way.”

“Sure, no problem. See you around.”

Seth left and Dewey sat down next to Molly again. “Where were we?” He reached for her hand. She didn’t pull it away.

Her green eyes were soft as she looked at him. “There were two men. They come in probably a couple times a month.” She took a sip of her cider.

“One of them said something about a house burning down. The other fellow told him to be quiet. It made me nervous. I turned away so they wouldn’t know I heard.”

Dewey’s eyes registered shock, then turned hard. “Did you tell anyone else?”

“No. I only heard it day before yesterday. I haven’t had an opportunity to tell anyone until now.”

“I’d sure like to know who those two fellas were. I need to tell Clyde.”

Molly’s eyes opened wider. “Of course,” she said, excitement bubbling in her voice. “I don’t know his name, but he was tall, wore pointed toed boots, and smoked a pipe. He comes in fairly often. Oh, I wish I could remember his name.”

“It’s okay, Molly,” Dewey said. “I’ll find out. Thank you for telling me.”

“Well,” she smiled demurely. “I couldn’t let somebody get by with a crime, could I?”

He was tempted to kiss her right there, then thought better of it. It would not be appropriate.

He stood up and took her hand in his. “Shall we go back to the dance?”

Frienemies Chapter Thirty

Dewey climbed down from the wagon and pulled the needed tools from its bed. He swiped his forehead with his shirt sleeve and looked up at the sun. It was nearing one-o’-clock he figured. By the time this job was over he might need two baths: one to get the grit and grime off, the other to refresh him. Blast. Every time he’d tried to set up a date with Molly something came up. If he didn’t make it this time, she might give up on him altogether. Well, he’d better hurry up if he had any chance of making this one.

It had taken him two hours of driving to find the old well. There was a spring up the hill and an abandoned shed with the roof falling in. The door on the shed hung lopsided from the hinges. There were no houses nearby, only a square perimeter of rotting logs where a house or cabin had been.

The burial site was easy to find. The grass was too short to have been there very long, and it was sparse. The mound was only about eight inches high, Dewey guessed. He put his shovel at the edge of the mound, placed his foot on its rim next to the handle, and pushed. It sunk into the clay earth about four inches and hit rock.

Dewey swiped his brow with his shirt sleeve and moved the shovel another two inches inward and pushed again. The shovel sunk deeper this time without hitting rock. Now he was digging in earnest. The fourth plunge of the shovel snagged a piece of burlap. The deputy moved the shovel over, moving all the way around the mound.

#

Doc Henry took Fawn’s pulse and temperature. Then he listened to her heart and lungs. His smile was weak as he looked at Nana, Ellen, and Jason.

“She’ll be fine. She’s exhausted, dehydrated, and probably very hungry. When she comes to she’ll no doubt want to eat everything in sight. Let her rest until she wakes up on her own. When she does waken, give her plenty of water. She needs broth and liquids for one full day, then gradually let her eat soft foods like boiled potatoes and pudding, nothing too sweet. She may be nauseated for a day or two. If it lasts longer than that or if she throws up blood, send for me. I think she’s going to fine, though.”

He placed his instruments back in his bag and rose to leave. Ellen and Jason followed him down the hallway, Jason out of propriety, Ellen to pay for his services.

Nana stayed by Fawn’s side.

Joel arrived as the doctor was leaving. Jason walked with Doc Henry to his horse. “You’re sure she’s going to be alright?”

An understanding smile spread across the doctor’s unlined sixty-year-old face. His brown eyes twinkled, showing the only creases at their corners.

“Yes, Jason. I will be very surprised if she doesn’t make a full recovery within forty-eight hours.”

Jason shook the doctor’s hand. “Thanks, doc. I really appreciate. . .” He stopped when he saw Joel.

“What are you doing here?” Jason demanded.

Joel smirked, tilted his head to one side and said, “I should think that would be obvious. I came to see Fawn.”

“Well you can. . .”

Doc Henry interrupted. “I’m afraid that’s impossible. She needs complete bed rest for the next two days. No excitement.”

“Why? What’s wrong?” Joel’s stance turned rigid. He looked at the doctor and glared at Jason.

“Nothing you need to know about.” Jason’s tone was even. His lips barely moved.

Joel ignored Jason and continued to look at the doctor.

“Miss Jackson has been malnourished and dehydrated. The best thing you can do for her is let her rest.” He hung his doctor bag on the saddle horn and prepared to mount.

Joel turned on Jason. “Why is she malnourished and dehydrated?” His voice was tense.