Debby K's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Fan Fiction

Hauntings


by Debby K


Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Hauntings
by Debby K

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Chapter 1
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Michaela lay in bed, exhausted from a day at the Clinic and an evening of entertaining her children. She was grateful to Matthew for staying at the homestead with them. Sully had requested that their eldest son do so before his departure for Kansas on the day after Christmas. That was four days ago, but to Michaela, it seemed more like four years.

"Sully," she sighed. "Fort Leavenworth is so far away."

Her husband had sent a telegram when he reached the location of the Nez Perce Indians. Michaela lowered her hand and stroked the slight mound of her belly. At four and a half months into her pregnancy, she had attempted to take frequent naps and work fewer hours at the Clinic, but things did not always work out as she intended. Her back ached, her feet ached and.... And she missed Sully terribly.

Closing her eyes, she began to reflect on their last night together, Christmas night. She was disappointed that her mother and Rebecca could not make the journey to Colorado Springs to join them, but Colleen and Andrew had spent a full week at the homestead. The excitement and antics of Katie and Josef had delighted their family during the holiday.

The natural let down which Michaela felt from the departure of her family was compounded by her fatigue. Again, she lovingly ran her hand across her abdomen, then reached for Sully's pillow. Turning on her side, she drew it to her chest.

As sleep claimed her, she began to dream, reliving her last night with him. It was Christmas evening. The children were tucked in, and the grown ones had retired for the night. It was just Sully and she, sitting on the rug by the Christmas tree watching the flickers from the fireplace fade.

"What ya thinkin'?" Sully asked as he ran his palm up and down her forearm.

Michaela spoke in a hushed tone, "I'm thinking about your leaving tomorrow and how very much I'll miss you."

He maneuvered her so that she was tucked between his legs with her back against his chest. Then he drew his arms around her and kissed the soft skin beneath her ear.

She felt a pang of guilt, "I'm sorry."

"Nothin' t' be sorry about," he spoke low. "I'd be upset if ya weren't gonna miss me."

She closed her eyes, savoring the feel of him, "I shall miss you terribly."

"I'll miss you, too," he rested his cheek next to her soft hair.

She felt him move, "What are you doing?"

He leaned over toward the tree, "I think Santa left somethin' else under here that the kids didn't find."

"What?" she found it hard to believe. "Josef crawled under the tree searching every square inch for gifts."

"Hmm," he drew a small package from between two branches. "He missed this."

"Sully," she doubted.

"Look," he held it before her. "It's got your name on it."

She held the small box before her, "Santa brought this for me?"

"Looks like it," he circled her waist with his arms. "Open it up."

She unwrapped the red paper and slowly lifted the lid, "Oh, Sully."

He smiled, "It ain't much, but I thought ya could use it for your readin'."

She held up the hand crafted wooden book mark, with its heart-shaped top. Inside were carved the initials, M and S.

"It's beautiful," she turned to face him. "Thank you."

"It's from Santa, remember?" he grinned.

She drew him closer for a kiss, "Pass that along to Santa for me?"

"Michaela," he feigned surprise. "How would it look if I did that with Santa?"

She reached into the pocket of her robe and pulled out a package, "I think this is for you."

"Me?" he pointed to himself. "From Santa, too?"

"Um hum," she brushed back a lock of his hair.

Sully ripped the wrapping from the box and opened it. Inside was a small, framed photograph of his family, taken at Thanksgiving.

"Thanks, Michaela" he leaned closer to kiss her. "I'll keep it next t' my heart while I'm away."

"Santa hoped you would," she stroked his cheek.

She leaned back against his chest again, engulfed by feelings of warmth and love. Then she felt a quickening sensation where the baby was.

"Sully!" she reached for his hand and placed it on her abdomen. "Do you feel it?"

"No," his brow wrinkled.

"It stopped," her voice did not conceal the disappointment.

"She'll be bigger when I get back," he stroked his wife's belly.

"We'll both be bigger," she lamented.

"This baby's a gift, Michaela," he expressed. "Katie an' Josef.... an' before them, Brian, Colleen an' Matthew, have brought so much joy int' our lives... made me love ya even more, if that's possible. But there's somethin' different about this one. I can't quite put my finger on what it is."

"Perhaps because of all that we've been through this year," she reflected. "Katie's kidnapping, when we thought she was... dead. The trauma and fright of our little girl. Josef's ordeal in being separated from us. And just last month, your illness. I believe that this baby is a reaffirmation in a sense, of what we've endured as a family. It's God's way of blessing us with another little one."

"Plus...." he hesitated.

"Yes?" she encouraged.

"After losin' the baby in March o' '76," he recalled. "Seems like we're bein' given another chance."

"Two babies," she felt her eyes moisten. "We've lost two. And before that, you suffered the deaths of Abigail and Hannah. You've been through so much....endured so much sadness."

"Hey," he squeezed her gently. "I also had more happiness than I ever imagined, Michaela." He noted her demeanor, "You're both doin' okay this time, ain't ya?"

"Yes," she acknowledged. "Everything appears to be normal with the baby. I feel better. No more nausea or fainting."

"Good," he brushed his lips across her ear.

"Perhaps also, we feel this way because it will, in all likelihood, be our last child," she found it difficult to say.

"Maybe," he agreed. "I reckon that means, she'll be the most pampered little girl in the world then."

She smiled, "Another little Sully daughter to charm her father."

"No one charms him like their Ma," his voice grew husky.

"You know, it could be a boy," she raised an eyebrow. "What would we do then?"

"Hmmm," he paused. "I guess we'd have t' keep him."

"That's what you said before Josef was born," she chuckled.

"An' I'm glad we kept him," Sully quipped.

"You'll telegraph and write me often?" she knew the hour was growing late.

"Soon as I get t' where they're keepin' the Nez Perce," he pledged. "An' you promise you'll take care t' rest an' let the boys help ya?"

"Agreed," she felt him lean back on the floor. "What are you doing?"

"Just thought I'd look at the ceilin' a while," he joked. "Wanna join me?"

"Only you could find amusement in such things, Mr. Sully," she leaned back and curled up to him.

"Gotta find amusement when ya can, Michaela," he teased as he slid his arm beneath her shoulders.

She ran her finger along his jawline, "When did I last tell you how much I adore you?"

He kissed the tip of her nose, "Ya tell me in everythin' ya do."

She had a sudden whimsy, "Sully, what do you think our children will be when they grow up?"

"Humm," he pondered. "I reckon, Matthew'll be a lawyer, Colleen a doctor...."

She tapped his side, "You know what I mean."

"Well," he thought about it. "We know Brian's leanin' toward bein' a writer. I'm thinkin' Katie will be a great artist one day."

"And Josef?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Joe," he chuckled. "Maybe he'll go t' work for F. & J. Heinz."

"What?" she wondered.

"Makin' pickles," he grinned.

Their laughter echoed through the room. Then they calmed, each one remembering that it was their last evening before his departure. She trembled slightly, a fact not lost on her husband.

"Cold?" he asked.

"No," she leaned her head toward his shoulder.

"Fire's dyin'," he noticed.

"What about this baby, Sully?" she returned to their previous topic. "What do you think she... or he.... will grow up to be?"

He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, "I was just thinkin' the other day, our kids are gonna come o' age in the twentieth century. Maybe anythin' will be possible then. There's places gettin' telephones now, an' all sorts o' changes are comin'."

"Something you have fought," she observed.

"I don't fight change if it brings about good," he noted. "I want our kids t' do good, Michaela. That's all. Just make the world a better place, even if it's only their own little corner o' the world."

"So she could be an inventor?" she speculated.

"Who?" he teased.

"Our little girl," she stroked her abdomen.

Sully placed his hand atop hers, "Sure, she could."

"I love you," she whispered.

"I love you, too," he rolled onto his side to face her. "I think I better get you up t' bed," he sat up. "You an' that little girl need your rest."

"Do you think we have time for one more thing before we go to bed?" she asked.

"Sure," he could never deny her. "What?"

"This," she pulled him back nearer, and framed his face between her hands.

His lips met hers, and Sully's pulse surged with the energy she infused in him.

"That an invitation?" he mused as he rolled her atop him.

"You're very perceptive," she rubbed her hands up and down his sides.

"Wanna come upstairs with me?" he raised his eyebrows.

"I rather like the atmosphere down here," she entwined her fingers in his hair. "The tree... (she kissed the left side of his mouth), the fireplace.... (she kissed the right)."

"The mistletoe," he pointed toward the door.

"And the man who will hold my heart forever," she became more passionate in her kiss.

Sully savored her attentiveness, then was moved to quote:

"A heart as soft, a heart as kind,
A heart as sound and free,
As in the whole world thou canst find,
That heart I'll give to thee!"

"Was that Lord Byron?" she adored the light in his eyes.

"Shelley," he specified. "I give thee my heart, Michaela."

"Sully," her voice was low. "Let's share our love right here."

His heart sped at the timber of her voice, "I wanna do just that, now that ya mention it."

He commenced a kiss, each moment of which grew deeper and more passionate. Michaela breathlessly pulled up slightly, then slipped her hand through the opening in his shirt to widen it. She planted light kisses to his chest and ran her hands across his perfect form.

"I'm so fortunate," she raised her eyes to gaze into his. "To have you."

"Just what I was thinkin'," he drew her up to be even with his face.

Then he gently rolled her onto her back, loosening her robe. His caresses fueled her appetite. Guiding his hands across her body, she amazed him with the comfort and ease of their movements. When they had first married, she was so shy and tentative in her initiatives, but with time and her husband's encouragement, Michaela's enthusiasm soon matched his.

Each finally discerned in the other's eyes a readiness for their union. Instinctively, they commenced the rhythmic maneuverings that heightened their desire. Closing their eyes, they felt the burning need intensify. Then it came. The overpowering achievement of oneness filled them with repeated warmth and pleasure. As the pace of their breathing began to return to normal, they shared tender caresses, communicating their bliss. It was Michaela who finally spoke.

"Shall we?" she glanced toward he steps.

"We shall," he drew her up and into his arms.

"By the way...." she invited him toward the front door. When they stood beneath the mistletoe, she lifted up on tiptoes and kissed him again. "Merry Christmas."

Sully lifted her into his arms and carried her toward the steps, "Merry Christmas t' you, too."

************

Michaela awoke, the vivid memories of their last night together having replayed in her dream. Then a sudden need to visit the privy hit. Frequent trips during her previous pregnancies prepared her for this, but made it no less pleasant.

She drew on her robe. Then she thought about what would await her family at the end of her physical challenges. A little miracle. It was all worth it. Making her way down the hallway, she wondered where Sully was, what he was thinking and doing at that moment.

************

Sully sat up in bed, unable to sleep because of the noises emanating from the boarding room beneath his. The sounds of a man and woman arguing echoed throughout his tiny room. He sighed and punched his pillow. Then he lit the lamp.

After running his fingers though his hair, he reached for his shirt and pulled out the photograph of his family. God, how he missed them.

He knew that Matthew and Brian would look after Michaela and the kids, but... still, he longed to hold them, listen to their tales, kiss them good night.

He touched Katie's image on the picture, smiling as he recalled her delight on Christmas morning when she opened her gifts. The little girl was particularly pleased with the necklace her parents had given her. At first, Sully thought it might be too extravagant, but when he saw the look on his daughter's face, he melted.

And Josef, he chuckled to himself. Sully reckoned that December would always be his son's favorite month, with a birthday and Christmas to enjoy. Three years old. It seemed like only yesterday, since his children were mere babies.

Then Sully touched Michaela's image. His beautiful Michaela. Her feet were probably aching, and her back, too, he thought. If he was home, he would massage them and kiss her. But.... she was hundreds of miles away. Her figure would be changing more, a fact that never failed to move him. He swallowed hard, trying to subdue the longings he felt for his wife.

Then he spotted the unfolded paper he had left on the small table beside his bed. It was a telegram from Carl Schurz, Secretary of the Interior. In the course of trying to implement changes and reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Secretary had fired the Indian Commissioner over a year earlier. Now, disgusted with the inefficiency, greed and dishonesty of the Indian agents, he was attempting to reorganize them, as well.

Sully's request to check on the Nez Perce had reached Washington at the right time. In the telegram, he was authorized to examine the treatment and care of the tribe.

It had been a challenge to find the Nez Perce to begin with. General Miles had promised after the surrender of Chief Joseph that they would be allowed to return to their homeland. However, the decision was overturned by General Sherman, and the 431 survivors of the battle at Bear Paw were escorted to the Tongue River Cantonment. From there, they were moved to Fort Abraham Lincoln, then Fort Leavenworth in Eastern Kansas. Each step had taken them further from their home.

Sully took a deep breath and exhaled through pursed lips. Government bureaucracy.... again. Civilians trying to tell the military what to do, and the military dragging its feet. Or was it the other way around?

Memories of his frustration as an Indian agent came flooding back, and with them, the all-too-familiar sense of helplessness. Even with a telegram of authority from the Interior Department, he felt helpless. The Indians were in the possession of the Army, and he feared, to move them would take authorization from the War Department.

With the fight below his room having subsided, he lowered the lamp and lay back again. He closed his eyes, willing sleep. If it came, he knew he would dream of Michaela. The solitude he felt at that moment, separated from her again, reminded him of his time as a fugitive.

He choked back his guilt over the ordeal of his family at that time. The cause for which he had fought was a just one, but every day, he lamented the desperate methods he had employed and the impact it had on his wife and kids. Katie was only a year old, and he had missed much of her formative months. Brian had needed him so much. And Michaela had lost a baby in his absence.

"Oh, God," he swallowed hard. "Please grandfathers, watch over her. Watch over my Michaela an' our children."

Sully rubbed his temples, hoping to ease the tension. This time will be different, he vowed. This time, he would find a way to operate within the law. He would find a way to make the bureaucracy work for the Indians. This time, he would make up for what he had put his family through. With these pledges in his mind, he finally drifted back to sleep. To dream of Michaela.

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Chapter 2
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Brian felt a bit tongue-tied as he noticed Esther Cox outside of the church. She was certainly the prettiest girl he thought he had ever seen. Her chestnut blonde hair and blue eyes had captivated him the moment he met her. And he specifically chose the seat next to hers in Logic class.

There were not many females in attendance at Colorado College, and he knew from the experiences of his mother and sister that girls were not easily accepted by traditionally male institutions.

As he strolled toward her, Brian smiled at Esther. He detected fatigue in her expression.

"How ya doin'?" he asked.

"I'm okay," she shrugged.

"Wanna go t' Miss Grace's for a cup o' coffee?" he hoped she would accept.

"That would be nice," she smiled politely.

"Ya seem kinda distracted," he observed. "Everythin' okay?"

"I had a sleepless night," she shook her head.

As they walked along, Esther began to confide in the sympathetic young man, "You know I have a big family.... my sister, her husband, their kids and our siblings all in one house."

"Yea," he nodded. "I met your sister Olive an' her husband Dan Tweed. Aren't ya gettin' along?"

"No," she explained. "It's nothing like that, though with my younger sister Jennie and brother Will, all crowded into that small house, it's a wonder we do. Plus, Dan's brother John lives with us."

"No wonder it's hard t' sleep," he smiled.

"Brian, do you know Bob MacNeal?" she suddenly inquired.

"Yea," he was puzzled at the change of subject. "He's a shoemaker."

"How well do you know him?" Esther suddenly seemed uncomfortable.

"Not very well," he answered. "Why?"

"He's been making inquiries about me," she stated.

"Inquiries?" the young man was clueless.

"Expressing interest in me," she revealed.

Brian concealed his disappointment, "Oh. Do ya like him?"

"I hardly know him," she noted. "But my sister thinks I should welcome his interest."

"Welcome it?" Brian stopped.

"Bob has been asking me to come to the New Year's dance at the Chateau," she confided.

"That's t'night," he realized. "Are ya goin'?"

"Olive tells me that I should," Esther sighed. "But... it's a Sunday night.... and, I'm really torn about this."

"What if ya told him you were goin' with someone else?" the idea occurred to him. "You could go with me."

"That's very thoughtful of you, Brian," she smiled. "But I don't want to deceive Bob. I guess I should just go and get it over with."

"I hate t' see ya unhappy, Esther," he sympathized. "But if ya change your mind, I don't have anythin' planned t'night."

"Thank you," she replied as they resumed their walk to the Cafe.

************

Sully stood before an Army sergeant, "Who do I gotta see about the Nez Perce?"

The gruff man responded, "Captain Johnson."

"Could ya tell him that Byron Sully's here," he opened his telegram. "I'm here on behalf o' the Department of Interior."

"I'll show him your paper," the sergeant stood and knocked on the door behind him.

A command to enter followed. As Sully waited for the sergeant to return, he glanced around the stark office. Within seconds, the sergeant returned.

"Captain Johnson says t' come in," he pointed.

Sully proceeded to enter the Captain's office.

"Mr. Sully," he extended his hand.

Alvin Johnson was a pleasant looking man of about forty. Graying at the temples, he had a mustache that drooped down over his mouth with an almost walrus appearance.

Returning the telegram to Sully, he inquired, "You're here to see the Nez Perce?"

"Yes," Sully simply stated.

"I'm sorry, but they are prisoners of war," he stated matter-of-factly. "It would be too dangerous for you to be in the presence of the enemy."

Sully controlled his temper, "Secretary Schurz has authorized me t' check on the condition o' the.... prisoners, Captain."

"I see that, Mr. Sully," he pointed to the paper. "But my instructions come from the Department of War."

"Seems like the person who's in charge o' the Bureau of Indian affairs would be the one t' have more say," Sully reasoned.

"If we hadn't just concluded a war that cost this country close to a million dollars, I might agree with you, sir," Johnson countered. "But these Indians are legally prisoners of war.

The mountain man controlled his voice, "Are they bein' given medical attention.... enough rations.... blankets?"

"They are prisoners," came the simple reply.

"Ya got a hospital in town... St. John's," Sully pointed out. "Maybe some o' the doctors there could...."

"It's not possible," he countered.

Sully sighed in frustration, "Thanks for your time."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Sully," Johnson sounded less than sincere.

"I'll be back," the mountain man paused at the door before exiting.

************

Sully waited until evening to make his move. If he could, under cover of darkness, scout out the area where the Nez Perce were encamped, perhaps he could find something to use as leverage to finagle a more official visit. He knew better than to do anything rash. Never again. But he did want to speak to some locals and maybe glean some information on what they had seen.

Another approach to the situation was also forming in his mind. Something he had learned from his association with Dorothy Jennings might prove useful in his quest to help the Nez Perce.

************

"Working on an assignment?" Michaela noticed Brian pouring over a book.

"Yea," he looked up. "I'm glad we got t'morrow off, though. I can help ya more around here with the kids."

"It's greatly appreciated," she placed her hand lovingly on his shoulder. "What are you reading?"

He responded, "Professor Kelly loaned it t' me. It's a diary from a woman durin' the Civil War."

"That does sound interesting," she was intrigued.

"Must be," Matthew glanced up from his law book. "He hasn't put it down all evenin'."

"She was a Confederate upper class lady who spied for the South," he detailed. "The diary was found in a train wreck near Denver a few years ago an' turned over t' Dr. Kelly's school."

"I'd like to read it when you finish," she wiped off the kitchen table.

"I'm almost done with it," he smiled. "You can start on it t'night."

"Mama!" Katie's voice called from the living room. "Joey's bein' bad."

"Josef Michael," she beckoned her son.

The little boy appeared beside the kitchen fireplace with his hands on his hips.

"What are you doing, young man?" she knelt down beside him.

"Playin'," he looked down.

She tenderly lifted his chin to look at him more directly, "Then why did your sister call me?"

"I...." he hesitated. "I hid somethin'."

"Something of Katie's?" she questioned.

"Uh huh," he nodded.

"Why?" the mother lifted him into her arms.

"Katie not play," he pointed.

"I have an idea," she brushed back a lock of his hair. "Why don't you give your sister back whatever it is that you hid, then you can play with me."

"We play?" his eyes widened.

"I'd love to play with you," she agreed. "Now, go do as I asked."

The little boy rushed into the living room.

Brian looked up from his book, "I remember ya playin' with me when I was little. I used t' really treasure those moments."

"I'm sorry, Brian," she interpreted his remark. "In retrospect, I spent more time at the Clinic than...."

"No, Ma," he stood and went to her. "That's not what I mean. I just mean, you're kinda serious, an' when ya let down your hair, it's really fun. That's all."

She admitted, "I know I'm serious. It's just the way I was raised and how I learned to behave, I suppose."

"I think Pa helped ya learn t' have more fun," he put his arm around her.

"And you boys," she leaned her head against his shoulder. "You've helped me, too."

"I back," Josef tugged at her skirt. "We play now."

She smiled, "What would you like to do?"

"Swed wide," he announced.

Matthew chuckled, "Only one problem with that."

"Sweetheart," Michaela leaned over. "We have no snow."

"Wanna swed wide," the little boy insisted.

"I guess the sled he got for Christmas makes him think he can use it anytime," Brian reasoned.

"Pwease, Mama," the child's blue eyes implored.

She took a deep breath and glanced at Brian.

The young man lifted his brother, "Why don't we play your favorite game?"

"Hide an' seek?" Josef smiled.

"Yep," Brian grinned.

"That's a game that I can play with you, Sweetheart," Michaela touched his nose. "You know, I won't be able to sled ride even when we have snow," she rubbed her belly.

"'Cause o' baby?" the child assumed.

"That's right," she said.

"Gotta take care o' baby," Josef stated. "I help ya."

Brian set his brother down, "Okay, go hide now."

"'Kay," Josef set out on his mission.

************

Sully shivered in the freezing night air. Not exactly how he liked spending New Year's Eve, he thought. But Michaela understood, even encouraged his mission.

As he walked along the outskirts of the fort, he thought about what he had read of its history earlier in the day when he visited the library.

Lewis and Clark had stopped at this arc in the Missouri River on their way to the Pacific in 1804. Twenty-three years later, Colonel Henry Leavenworth sailed upriver from St. Louis and began constructing an advance post of European settlement over the western half of North America. Ordered to build a fort on the eastern side of the river, he discovered that it was a flood bank. So he constructed it on the west bank instead, an area that was officially Indian Territory and not within the Union. By the time the Washington bureaucrats found out, the fort had already been completed.

Sully took a deep breath, "Another pack o' lies an' deception, all part o' Manifest Destiny."

He sped up the pace of his walking in the hopes of calming the anger he felt boiling inside. The words of the book echoed through his mind.

Leavenworth was the main base for exploration of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the Columbia River in Oregon, near the starting point for both the Oregon and Sante Fe Trails and a base camp for the transcontinental railroad. It was also from here that George Armstrong Custer ventured forth with the Seventh Cavalry to Little Big Horn and from here that the Buffalo Soldiers set out.

Sully completed his surveillance and began to head back to town. Before returning to his boarding room, he decided to stop and warm himself at a saloon. He stepped up to the bar.

"What'll it be?" the bartender leaned in.

"Coffee," Sully stated.

"Coffee?" he chuckled. "Look around, mister. It's New Year's Eve."

"I know what night it is," the mountain man was in no mood. "Just coffee, please."

"Okay," he set a tin cup in front of him and poured.

Sully noticed a couple of elderly men sitting at a table near the bar. He carried his cup over to them, "Mind if I join ya?"

"We don't mind," the clean shaven of the duo folded his arms. "What brings you out on a night like this if it ain't t' drink?"

"I'm tryin' t' find out some information," Sully warmed his hands against the cup.

"You a lawman?" the bearded one asked.

"No," he answered. "Just tryin' t' find out what goes on at the Fort."

"Why?" the clean shaven one challenged. "What d' you think goes on at a fort?"

"Truth is, it's more than a fort," Sully leaned closer. "They got Indians there."

"They got the Indians in the marshland," the bearded man revealed.

"Marshland?" Sully's brow wrinkled.

"'Tween the Missouri River an' a lagoon," he continued. "Mosquito infested in the warm months. I heard it from my niece. She's courtin' a soldier from Leavenworth."

"Think I could talk t' the fella?" Sully asked.

"Not now," the bearded man chuckled. "Might be able t' arrange it t'morrow. Why don't ya stop back in the afternoon?"

"Much obliged," Sully finished his coffee. "I'll see ya then."

Returning to the frigid air, Sully headed for the boarding house. He squinted in the low light at the pocket watch Michaela had given him, "Almost midnight."

************

With Brian's encouragement, Michaela had begun to read the Civil War diary of the Confederate female spy. Within an hour, she grew drowsy and tenderly placed the bookmark Sully had given her between the pages. The words of the woman swirled through her head as she drifted off to sleep.

She began to view the events described in the pages, but in place of the real persons, Michaela envisioned Sully and herself in the dream. She was the Confederate aristocrat, and he was the dashing Union officer upon whom she intended to spy:

The Spring Ball, thrown at the home of the wealthy Rockwells of Maryland, was the highlight of the season even with a war going on. Michaela Quinn, a wealthy Southern woman was in attendance, accompanied by her father, the noted physician Dr. Josef Quinn. With her provocative scoop-neck gown and dazzling jewelry, Michaela was the object of every man's attention. She flirted with several, danced with a few, and enjoyed the solicitous behavior of them all.

Michaela was particularly happy to be in attendance because she had heard from Mrs. Rockwell that a certain Union officer, a lieutenant under the command of General Hooker, would be there. She had hidden from her family and friends for nearly two years the fact that she was in actuality a spy for the Confederacy. She carefully guarded her loathing for the Union, a sentiment prompted by her mother's death at the hands of a Yankee sniper.

To date, her flirtations with officers had provided only minor information, enabling raids on Union supplies and occasional confirmation of troop movements. And she never permitted their attentions to go beyond mere flirtation. Tonight, she had her sights set on a new conquest. This lieutenant could prove most useful. But where was he? Tiring of the train of men who had attended her, she finally excused herself and retreated to the balcony.

On leave from his military obligations, First Lieutenant Byron Sully uncomfortably tugged at his collar. He was at the party only at the behest of Mrs. Rockwell. He felt obliged to her ever since her kind visits to him when he was in the hospital following the First Battle of Bull Run. Louisa Rockwell often volunteered her services at the hospitals and camps. Her acts of charity were very much appreciated my many a soldier.

In her debt, Sully never refused the older woman's requests, even though he knew full well her design was matchmaking. However, this evening, he was growing weary of the endless reception of eligible young women whom Mrs. Rockwell guided in his direction. Excusing himself, he stepped onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air.

"My God," Sully caught his breath when he saw her.

He could feel his heartbeat nearly jump through his chest at her beauty. He had never seen anyone more stunning in his life.

"My God," Michaela uttered to herself when she spotted the uniformed Union officer at the end of the veranda. She caught her breath when the dashingly handsome man approached. Reminding herself that he was a Yankee, and she would not permit herself to be charmed by him, she smiled demurely.

"Nice night," he spoke first.

"Yes," she looked up at the stars.

He followed her glance,

"Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art..."

She was surprised, "Poetry?"

"A little Keats," his eyes were drawn to her cleavage.

She felt her cheeks flush, "I don't believe we've met."

He offered his hand, "Lieutenant Byron Sully."

She placed her hand in his, "Michaela Quinn."

"A pleasure," he slowly drew her hand to his lips. "You're Southern."

"Yes," she nodded. "You're Northern."

"I am," he glanced at his uniform. "Hard t' hide, I guess."

"Should we be enemies?" she raised an eyebrow.

"I sure hope not," he grinned. "We're both on neutral ground now."

"How do you know the Rockwells, Byron?" she inquired.

"Please, call me Sully," he answered. "I met Louisa when I was recuperatin' in a hospital after Bull Run."

"You were injured?" she surprised herself for caring.

"Nothin' too bad," he pointed to a scar beneath his right eye. "A little bit t' the left, an' I could've lost my sight though."

"I'm glad that you didn't," she commented.

"Me, too," he inched closer. "Lets me see your beauty even better, Miss Quinn."

"Michaela," she quickly encouraged. Then she felt her cheeks flush, "Perhaps I should return. It's nearly midnight and I don't want to miss the champagne toast."

"Got anyone special t' toast with?" he inquired.

"My father," she looked toward the door.

"Oh," he sounded disappointed.

"Would you care to join us?" she invited.

"I... I'd like that a lot," he responded.

He held his arm for her and began to stroll into the house. The mere touch of him sent sensations through her that she had never before experienced. He's a Yankee, Michaela, she reminded herself.

"Somethin' wrong?" he sensed.

"No," she trembled slightly. "Just a little chilly."

He stopped just outside the door and turned to face her, "Michaela, I... I have t' leave day after t'morrow, but I was wonderin'...."

"Yes?" she found herself drawn to him even more by his shyness.

"I was hopin' maybe I could see ya again," he came out with it.

"I'd like that," she replied. "Very much."

************

It was past midnight, and those in attendance at Preston's party at the Chateau were beginning to depart.

"Bob," Esther Cox was uncomfortable at how he was squeezing her arm. "I think you've had too much to drink."

"I'll take ya home after one more," he insisted.

"No!" she was more demanding.

Other party goers in the lobby of the Chateau glanced in their direction.

Esther lowered her voice, "Please take me home now!"

"All right," he swayed slightly. "Come on."

He escorted her outside and helped her into the buggy he had rented for the evening. No more than a half mile from the Chateau, he drew the horses to a halt.

"What's wrong?" Esther became uncomfortable.

"I was just thinkin' we didn't kiss at the stroke o' midnight," his speech was slurred.

"I don't intend to kiss you, Bob MacNeal," she asserted.

"I spent a lot o' money on you t'night, Esther," a look of rage appeared on his face. "An' I got every right t' want a little kiss."

"And I have every right to refuse," she pushed him back. "You've had too much to drink, and you're certainly not behaving as a gentleman."

"You sound awful high an' mighty," his breath repulsed her. "Must be from that college education you're gettin'."

"If you don't take me home at this instant, I'm getting out and walking," she avowed.

Suddenly, in a rage, he grabbed her wrists, "You ain't goin' anywhere 'til I had my kiss. An' maybe I won't stop there!"

************
Chapter 3
************

"Mama," Katie knocked on her mother's bedroom door.

"Come in, Sweetheart," she rolled over slowly, determining that it was nearly dawn.

Katie climbed up and sat on the edge of the bed, "How ya feelin'?"

Michaela caressed her daughter's cheek, "I feel... a little tired."

Katie looked down, "Can I touch the baby?"

The mother smiled, "There's not a lot to touch yet, but yes, you may."

Katie held her hand to her mother's abdomen, attempting to discern any movement.

"Do you remember anything from when I was expecting Josef?" Michaela wondered.

"I remember ya got big!" Katie's eyes widened.

"Yes," she chuckled. "That will happen again, I'm afraid."

"Poppy says it's a good big," the little girl leaned closer to her mother. "He says it makes ya even more beautiful."

"He's a wonderful man, your Daddy," Michaela stroked her daughter's hair. "We're very lucky to have him."

"I know," Katie nodded. "I'm lucky t' have you, too, Mama."

"Thank you," she smiled. "That's how I feel about my little girl, as well."

"Everybody's still sleepin'," Katie folded her arms.

"And you're wide awake," Michaela had a hunch. "Would you like to lay down beside me for a little while?"

"Yep!" the little girl exclaimed. "Maybe if I hold my hand on ya long enough, I can feel the baby move or somethin'."

"You may hold it there as long as you like, my darling," the mother kissed her forehead.

"Go ahead back t' sleep, Mama," Katie entreated. "I'll keep holdin' ya."

Michaela smiled and closed her eyes, then soon began to dream of the diary again:

"Dr. Quinn," Sully removed his hat. "I'm here t' call on your daughter."

"Oh?" he looked up at the young man standing before him in his paneled study.

"We met last night," Sully felt awkward. "At the Rockwell party."

"Ah, yes," the older man stroked his beard. "I'm afraid I've forgotten your name."

"Lieutenant Byron Sully," he informed him.

"First Lieutenant," the physician noted his bars on his uniform.

"Sure got a lot o' books," he glanced around the room.

"Mostly medical texts," Quinn studied him. "Do you read much, young man?"

"Used to," Sully toyed with the rim of his hat. "Don't get much chance now with the war. Mostly, I like... poetry."

"Poetry?" he was taken aback. "That's interesting."

"Very," Michaela entered the room.

Sully caught his breath again at the sight of her. He had not slept all night thinking only of her, but in daylight, he was even more smitten.

"Lieutenant Sully?" Quinn's voice grew louder.

"Uh," he realized the man had been speaking. "Sorry, sir. I was just..."

"I know what you were doing," the father grinned. "Where will you and Michaela be going?"

Sully was again speechless as he glanced back at Michaela.

She stepped in, "Father, we're going to take a carriage ride."

"That will be nice," he smiled.

Kissing her father's cheek, she stepped closer to Sully and handed him her wrap. He drew it around her shoulders, pausing to permit his hands to linger close to her.

"Ready?" she raised her eyebrows.

"Yep," he held the door for her.

************

"Ma," Brian knocked on her bedroom door.

Michaela stirred, warmed by the dream she had experienced. It was so vivid, it took her a moment to acclimate to reality.

"Yes, Brian," she whispered, hoping to not wake her daughter.

He opened the door slightly, "Esther's here."

"What?" she sat up.

"Esther Cox," he clarified. "Somethin' bad happened t' her, an'... she wants t' see ya."

"Tell her I'll be right down," she reached for her robe.

************

Sully arrived at the saloon early, hoping the man he had met last night would not forget his efforts to locate the Leavenworth soldier. To his pleasant surprise, not long after he sat down, the older man showed up with a young private.

Sully stood, "Glad t' see ya."

"My name's Eb Galaton," the older man introduced. "This here's Private Dooley Foreman."

"My name's Sully," the mountain man nodded. "Have a seat. Would ya like some coffee?"

"Nothin'," Galaton shook his head. "You're lucky Dooley here's got a pass t'day."

"I appreciate you seein' me," Sully acknowledged.

"Eb said ya were askin' about the Indians... the Nez Perce," the young man began.

"Right," Sully hoped he would have information. "Anythin' you can tell me?"

"Not much," the private said. "Other than a bunch o' 'em are real sick. Pneumonia mostly. They don't got much resistance."

Sully felt his heart grow heavy, "Do they need more medicine?"

"They got their own medicine men," Foreman answered. "Don't wanna use the white man's."

Sully understood their mistrust, "Are they bein' fed?"

"Not the best rations," the private revealed. "That's about all I know, Mr. Sully."

"Thanks for what ya told me," he rubbed his upper lip.

"What ya gonna do now?" Eb tried to read his expression.

"Think," Sully stood. "Gotta think on this."

As the mountain man departed, Eb glanced toward the young man, "Care for somethin' stronger than coffee?"

"Thanks," he grinned.

************

"Dr. Mike," Esther's voice quivered.

"Brian, would you bring down a blanket please?" Michaela noted the young woman's shivering.

"Sure," he rushed up the steps.

"Esther," Michaela put her hand on her shoulder. "What's wrong?"

"I... I was almost raped last night," the young woman burst into tears.

Michaela drew her into her arms, "My God."

"Look," she pulled back to show the bruises on her arms. "I fought him off an' got away."

"Thank goodness," Michaela escorted her to a chair. "Who did this to you?"

Brian returned and draped the blanket across the frightened young woman.

"Bob MacNeal," her voice did not conceal her disdain.

"Ya went with him t' the party at Preston's?" Brian recalled.

"I never should have done it," Esther's jaw tensed.

"Brian," Michaela instructed. "Go wake Matthew. Tell him what has happened. Then you boys go into town and...."

"Please, Dr. Mike," the girl shuttered. "I don't want folks to know."

"Esther," she held her hands. "This man must be caught and punished."

"I know, but...." Esther looked away.

"You've done nothing wrong," Michaela regained her attention. "What he attempted is despicable. If he gets away with it, whom will he hurt next?"

"We won't do anythin' if ya don't want us to, Esther," Brian sympathized.

"No," she steeled herself. "Your Ma's right."

"I'll get Matthew," he bounded up the steps.

"I'm going to fix you a cup of tea," Michaela patted her hand. "Then I'll give you an examination. I want to be certain that you're all right."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," she began to relax.

************

"Back again, Mr. Sully?" Captain Johnson agreed to see him.

"Yep," Sully folded his arms. "Got more reason than ever t' wanna see the Nez Perce."

"Oh?" the officer leaned back in his chair.

"I got information that they ain't bein' fed right or receivin' proper medical treatment," he controlled his temper.

"What makes you think...." Johnson was interrupted.

"Way I see it," Sully jumped in. "You can either obey the instructions o' the Secretary o' Interior, or you can read about what's goin' on here in the front pages o' the newspapers. I reckon ya don't wanna see that happen, since they been lambastin' the Army pretty regularly since Chief Joseph led ya on that chase."

Johnson realized that he had underestimated the mountain man, "I... see your point. I'll do what I can, Mr. Sully. If you come back tomorrow...."

"I'll wait right here so ya can make them arrangements," Sully sat in the chair opposite him.

************

Jake called Hank aside at the bar of the Gold Nugget, "Need ya t' come with me out t' Bob MacNeal's."

"Need me t' come with ya t' get your shoes fixed?" the bartender quipped.

Jake rolled his eyes, "This is serious. Esther Cox claims he tried 't force himself on her last night. Matthew's comin' with us, too."

Hank pulled out his gun and checked to see that it was fully loaded.

"You think we're gonna need that?" the barber questioned.

"Why else would ya be askin' me t' come along?" Hank retorted. "Think you or Matthew could aim straight?"

"I aimed straight enough down in Mexico," Jake defended.

"You'd have needed a lot fewer bullets if I'd have been along," he countered.

"Come on, then," Jake directed. "Let's get goin'."

************

"Other than your bruises, everything appears to be normal, Esther," Michaela removed her stethoscope from her ears.

The girl suddenly found herself weepy, "I... I don't know what I'd do if...."

"Shh," Michaela put her arm around her. "Everything is going to be fine."

"I never wanna see his face again, Dr. Mike," she cried. "I.... I don't know how t' tell Olive."

"Would you like for me to speak to her?" Michaela offered.

"No, thanks," she wiped her eyes. "I best be gettin' home now."

"Why don't you stay here until Brian returns?" the doctor recommended. "He can take you home."

"I appreciate it," the young woman expressed her gratitude.

************

Sully was escorted to the encampment of the Nez Perce. He was horrified at the conditions... the squalor... women, children, elderly people coughing, kept in primitive and unsanitary conditions. He nearly wretched at the odor. It was a stark contrast to how the officers and troops at the fort lived. His heart grew heavy as he continued on, feeling the glare of hundreds of eyes following him.

"This here's the Chief," the escort pointed to a hovel.

Sully felt his stomach sicken at what he had observed thus far, "This how ya treat all prisoners o' war?"

The soldier shrugged, "I just do what I'm told." As he was about to enter, the escort stopped him, "Le' me see what's in your pouch."

"Just some papers," Sully said.

"Le' me see," the man was more demanding.

He opened the leaf and found several bottles of medicine, "Can't take this in."

Sully started to prevent him from taking the drugs from his pouch, but stopped, figuring he would be denied seeing Chief Joseph at all.

"You can go in now," the escort stated.

Sully knocked at the door, and heard a voice beckon from within. Steeling himself, he proceeded to enter the shack.

Inside, Chief Joseph stood and turned to face them. At over six feet tall, he was an impressive figure.

"You are new here," the leader looked at him with the eyes of kindness.

"My name's Sully," he was in awe of the Chief. "I was sent here t' check on you."

Chief Joseph gestured around the room, "This is how the Great Father in Washington wishes us to live."

"I recently met one o' your people, Yellow Wolf," Sully mentioned.

"Yellow Wolf!" the leader's eyes widened. "Is he well?"

"Yes," Sully nodded.

"That is good," Joseph's eyes glistened.

"I asked a helper o' the Great Father in Washington if I could come," the mountain man explained. "I'm t' report back t' him about your treatment."

"You can see," the leader lowered his voice. "We are prisoners, and we are dying."

"I'm sorry," Sully's eyes saddened. "This ain't how it oughta be."

"When I surrendered for my people, I took Miles at his word," Joseph noted the look of sympathy. "He said we would be taken to the Tongue River until the spring. We had nothing to say about it."

"How'd ya end up here?" Sully wondered.

"At the Tongue River, General Miles received orders to take us to Bismarck," he discussed. "The reason given was that subsistence would be cheaper there."

Sully lifted a writing tablet and pencil from his traveling pouch, then began to jot down his words.

The chief continued, "Miles told us he was opposed to this order and asked us not to blame him. He said the chief who is over him gave the order, and he must obey or resign. That would have done us no good, as another soldier would have carried it out."

The Nez Perce leader paused, then continued his explanation, "I believe he would have kept his word if he could have done so. I do not blame him for what we have suffered since the surrender. We gave up our horses and all of our saddles. We have not heard of them since. Somebody has got our horses."

"What happened in Bismarck?" Sully inquired.

Chief Joseph took a deep breath, then coughed, "Captain Johnson was given command over us, and he was told to bring us here to Fort Leavenworth."

"Seems like about the worst place they could've found," the mountain man observed.

The Nez Perce agreed, "It is an area low on the river. They give us no water to drink or cook with, other than what the river brings. We had always lived in a healthy country, where the mountains were high, and the water was cool and clear. Many of our people die in this strange land. I cannot tell how my heart suffers for my people here. The Great Spirit seems to be looking away from us."

Sully felt his eyes moisten, "Your words should be told t' the leaders back in Washington... t' the Great Father there."

"Do they not know?" Chief Joseph's voice quaked.

"I swear I'm gonna try t' help ya," Sully vowed.

"I believe your intentions," he smiled slightly. "But when the Great Spirit does not see, how can man?"

The military escort cleared his throat, cuing the mountain man that his time was up.

"I gotta be goin' now," Sully stood. "But I'll be back."

"Good bye," the leader nodded.

************

"Bob," Jake stood before the shoemaker. "We're takin' ya int' town t' jail. You're under arrest."

MacNeal wiped his hands on his apron, "What d' ya mean, Slicker? For what?"

Matthew stepped closer, "For tryin' t' rape Esther Cox."

The accused laughed, "Ya must be jokin'. I done no such thing."

"Ya gonna come peaceful?" Jake's voice was stern.

"Le' me get my horse," he rolled his eyes. "This is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of."

They watched him saddle and mount his horse. As Hank, Jake and Matthew prepared to escort him, MacNeal dug his heels into the sides of the animal, spurring him to a gallop.

"Come back here, MacNeal!" Hank was first to take off after him.

************
Chapter 4
************

In pursuit of the alleged rapist, Hank, Jake and Matthew rounded a turn in the road, one that came perilously close to an embankment sloping down toward a stream. They did not see the fugitive.

"Where'd he go?" Jake stopped.

"Look!" Matthew pointed down over the ledge.

"Will ya look at that?" Jake felt queasy.

There at the bottom crushed against the rocks lay Bob MacNeal and his horse. The animal was attempting to get up, but unable to.

Hank slid down to them to check on their condition, "MacNeal's dead."

Then the bartender determined that the horse could not be saved. Pulling his revolver from his holster, he fired a single shot to the animal's head.

Matthew felt ill. The sudden memory of not being able to fire the rifle to kill Brian's rabid Pup flashed through his mind. The blast of the shot echoed through the hillsides, just as it had so many years ago when Sully killed the poor creature.

"Ingrid," his eyes stung from the tears.

Jake noticed the young man's demeanor, "What's wrong with ya?"

"Let him be a minute," Hank pulled the barber aside.

"We best get the body back t' town," Jake spoke quietly. "Esther's never gonna have t' look at him again."

Matthew finally composed himself, "Know if MacNeal's got any next o' kin?"

"I'll go back an' look through his things," Hank stated. "You two think ya can get him int' town?"

"We'll do it," Jake put his hands on his hips.

************

In the living room, Katie approached her mother as she sat in a wing-back chair, lost in the Civil War diary.

"Mama," she tapped her knee.

"Yes?" she smiled.

"Joey's cryin'," the little girl pointed toward his hiding place under the steps.

"Josef," she set the dairy down and went to him.

Sitting beside the whimpering little boy, she touched his back. Wolf joined them.

"Joey," Katie encouraged. "Tell Mama what's botherin' ya."

He rolled over and wiped away the moisture from his cheek with his sleeve. Then he ran his hand across Wolf's fur.

"Sweetheart," Michaela was concerned. "Tell me what's wrong."

"I miss Papa," his lower lip trembled. "Is he far away?"

"Come here," she drew her son into her lap. "Yes, Josef, he is, but he'll come home to us as soon as he can."

"Why he go?" the child struggled to understand.

Michaela knew that the little boy had great difficulty handling separations since his trauma over Katie's kidnapping. As she held Josef on her lap, her daughter sat beside them and leaned against her mother's arm. Wolf positioned himself to look over his family.

She embraced her children, "Papa is doing something very important, Josef. He's trying to help people who are very far from their home, as well, and have no one to speak for them."

"He can help me," the child reasoned.

She smiled, "Do you remember when you found that bird with the cut on its wing a few weeks ago?"

"Uh-huh," he recalled.

"Do you remember what Papa did with it?" she guided him.

"Give t' you t' make better," he nodded.

"Then what did he do?" she held his hand.

"Put it back in woods," he noted.

"That's very important, Sweetheart," she told him. "Just as the bird belonged in its home and Papa belongs here with us, so do these people, the Nez Perce tribe, belong at their home."

"Can't they walk?" he wondered.

"There's a little more to it than that," she said. "Remember how we kept the bird in a cage while it was here? It couldn't go home."

"The Nezzy people in cage?" his eyes saddened.

"In a sense, they are," she hoped he understood.

"Then Papa can let 'em out," he figured.

"That's what he's trying to do, Josef," she rubbed his back.

"I know Poppy can help 'em," Katie asserted.

Michaela took a deep breath, "I know it, too."

************

Sully returned to his boarding room and began to write out more clearly the notes he had scribbled. He was convinced that the story of Chief Joseph, in his own words, needed to be told to the world. If he could set it all down, he could give it to Dorothy to print. Maybe other newspapers would pick up on it, as well. An appeal to public opinion might create pressure on the Army to permit the Nez Perce to go home.

He would return to the fort again tomorrow to gather more information from this astounding man. Sully had never met anyone quite like him, and even after their brief meeting today, he was certain that Chief Joseph himself was the best hope for his people. The leader had guided them this far, so maybe he would be the key to their salvation from the horrible conditions they now found themselves in.

************

Matthew burst into the homestead, out of breath. He spotted his mother feeding Katie and Josef in the kitchen. After greeting the little ones, he drew her aside.

"Bob MacNeal's dead," he revealed.

"What?" she was stunned. "What happened?"

"He an' his horse tumbled over an embankment," the young man said. "Where's Brian?"

"He went to check on Esther," she informed him.

"I'll go over an' tell them what happened," he said.

As he departed, Michaela sat down beside her children.

"Why's Mattew leavin', Mama?" Katie asked.

"He... went to see a friend," she was vague. "How about a nap, you two?"

"Know what?" Katie delayed.

"What?" Michaela straightened the little girl's hair.

"T'day's 1878," Katie announced.

"So, it is," the mother nodded. "I'd forgotten."

"Bran told me," Katie finished drinking her milk. "I know somethin' else."

"What?" Michaela was amused.

"Our baby's gonna be born this year," she slipped from her chair and stood beside her mother.

"That's true," Michaela smiled. "In the same month as your birthday."

"How can that be, Mama?" Katie's eyes widened. "Can ya have two children with a birthday the same month?"

"Yes, we can, Sweetheart," the mother caressed her abdomen. "This little one is due the same week as your birthday. Won't that be special?"

"I think so," Katie considered.

"Can I have 'nother birday?" Josef joined in.

"You just had yours, young man," she tickled his side.

************

"Bob MacNeal's dead?" Esther Cox was shocked at the news.

"Good thing, or I'd have killed him with my bare hands," her brother-in-law Dan Tweed vowed.

"You okay, Esther?" Brian noticed her expression.

"Yes," she struggled to comprehend. "It's just so hard t' believe."

"If you're all right, I'll be gettin' back home now," Brian touched her arm. "If ya need anythin', let me know."

"Thank you, Brian," the young woman smiled. "You've been a good friend."

"Anytime," he shrugged modestly.

After the two young men departed, Olive Tweed turned to her sister, "Esther, we'll have an early supper. Then I want you t' get t' bed. A good night's sleep is what you need."

"Thank you," Esther appreciated her concern.

************

Her family was asleep, and Michaela began to nod off, the Civil War diary still in her hands. Once more, she envisioned the tale with Sully and her living out the words:

Michaela found herself unable to take her eyes off of Lieutenant Sully all afternoon. His sense of self-depreciating humor was quite appealing, but it was more than that. He was the first man she had ever met who was a gentleman and truly genuine. He put on no airs, nor did he try to impress her. He was kind and sensitive, taking sincere interest in insuring that she was amused and entertained.

Sully could not take his eyes off of Michaela Quinn. Her physical beauty, from her distinctly different colored eyes to the way the side of her mouth would turn up slightly when she was amused, was immense. But he had met beautiful women before. This one was different. She was intelligent and strong willed, determined and opinionated, yet soft and vulnerable. And she freely laughed at his humor.

"Sully," the carriage stopped before her home. "I've had a marvelous afternoon. Do you suppose...."

He was caught up in her eyes. She forgot what she was going to say.

"Suppose what?" he finally asked.

She regained her composure, "Might you join us for dinner this evening?"

"I'd love to, if it's no trouble," he accepted.

His hand was close to hers. Sully looked down and slipped it atop her glove. She trembled slightly.

He suddenly pulled back, "I'm sorry."

"No," she put her hand on his this time. "I.... I've never met anyone like you."

"Me either," he felt his pulse racing.

"Seven," she said.

"Pardon me?" he had no idea what she meant.

"Dinner's at seven," she smiled.

Sully opened the carriage door and maneuvered in front of her to help her out. She tripped slightly as she climbed down, saved only by his strong arms. He held her close. Their eyes, their lips were only a hair apart.

He swallowed, "I... best be goin' now."

"Until seven," she did not want him to release her.

Michaela informed the cook that they would be joined by the lieutenant for dinner. Then she climbed the stairway to make an entry in her diary. Lost in the multitude of words she used to describe her feelings, she forgot the time.

"The Lieutenant's here, Ma'am," the housekeeper knocked.

"What?" she had not even changed clothing. "Tell him I'll be right down."

The more she thought about this man, the weaker her resolve to resist him became.

She told herself, "He's a Yankee. Think what you're doing. You cannot allow yourself to be swayed by his handsome looks and charming personality. Think of your mother."

Swiftly, she changed attire and made great effort to calmly approach Sully, "Father's still at the hospital. Won't you come in and sit down?"

"I'd rather stand, if ya don't mind," he caught his breath again when he beheld her.

"You... leave tomorrow?" she decided she must attempt to glean whatever information she could from him.

"Uh-huh," he detected something different in her demeanor.

"Where will you be going?" she probed further.

"Can't say," he closed the subject.

"When will you return?" she tried again.

"Don't know," he shrugged.

"Then, let us enjoy this evening," she smiled coyly at his evasiveness. "Shall we go to the dining room?"

They dined alone, her father having sent word that he must stay at the hospital through the night. Neither Michaela, nor Sully minded, nor could they take their eyes off of one another.

Michaela began to have feelings that she could not explain. She did not want to let this man go. She feared for his safety. She could not stand the thought of anything happening to him when he went into battle.

"Somethin' on your mind?" he wiped his mouth with the napkin.

"No," she hid her sentiments for the moment.

"Could I ask ya somethin'?" he leaned closer.

"Certainly," she warmed at his proximity.

"Do ya think that... I could..." he glanced down shyly.

"Could what?" she lifted his chin with her finger.

"Could I kiss ya?" he came out with it.

She nearly burst with anticipation, "I... I believe I would like that."

Slowly, he leaned closer and tenderly kissed her. It was sweet, inviting and the most incredible experience she had ever had. She parted her lips slightly to invite more. He was pleased at her overture. Finally, they drew apart, breathless from the encounter.

"I hope ya don't think I'm too forward," he reached for her hand.

"I... I don't think that," she assured him.

He clasped her hand, then pulled it to his lips. She tingled.

"Tell me about yourself, Michaela," he spoke low. "I wanna know all about ya."

"Why?" she tried to remain calm.

"'Cause I.... I'm interested," he whispered.

"What would you like to know?" she could hear her voice quiver.

"Where'd ya go t' school? What interests ya? What happened t' your Ma?" he thought.

"I'd rather not discuss Mother," she looked away.

This time, he raised his finger to her chin and invited her to look at him, "I lost my Ma, too."

"How?" she found it a coincidence.

"We moved t' Maryland from Vermont right before the war started," he swallowed hard. "After it began, I enlisted in the Vermont Second Regiment Infantry. Soon after that, Ma was killed by some Rebs lookin' for food."

"And your father?" she suddenly found herself concerned about the look of pain in his eyes.

"I never knew him," his voice was barely audible.

"I'm sorry," she caressed his cheek.

Sully rotated his face to kiss her palm, then returned to his question, "Tell me about your Ma, Michaela."

A million lies raced through her mind, but she was drawn inexplicably to tell him the truth, "She was shot.... by a Union sniper."

An expression of terror suddenly crossed his face, "When? Where?"

She was taken aback by his reaction, "July of 1861... at Manassas... Bull Run. She was tending to some wounded soldiers away from the battlefield."

Sully stood up silently and walked to the window, "I'm so sorry."

She went to him and placed her hand gently on his back, "It was terribly confusing.... civilians mingling with the retreating Union troops." Then it occurred to her, "You were there. That's where you received your injury."

"Yes," he drew away from her.

"There's something wrong," she felt him distancing himself.

"I... gotta tell ya somethin'," he took a deep breath.

"What?" her brow wrinkled.

"I'm a sharpshooter... a sniper," he confessed. "It could've been me.... who killed your Ma."

"No," her jaw tensed. "It wasn't you."

"How d' ya know, Michaela?" his brow wrinkled.

"You couldn't do that," she felt tears streaming down her cheeks. "You couldn't have been the one to kill my mother!"

"It wouldn't've been on purpose," he felt his heart break. "I wouldn't try t' shoot a civilian... It was all so confusin'... we were headin' back t' Washington an'...."

"Perhaps it would be best if you left," she cut him off.

He lifted his hat, then hesitated, "Good bye."

She did not respond.

************

In the tiny house which the Tweeds rented, the family had gone to sleep. Esther shared a bed with her younger sister, Jennie. Suddenly, they were both awakened by something moving under their blanket.

"Esther!" Jennie drew her legs higher. "What is it?"

"Maybe it's a mouse," the older sister speculated.

Rising from the bed, she drew back the covers, but there was nothing there.

"We couldn't have been dreamin'," Jennie was frightened.

"No," Esther assured. "I felt it, too."

"Whatever it is must be gone now," the younger sister reasoned.

"Then let's get back to sleep," Esther returned to the bed.

They pulled the covers higher and soon began a peaceful slumber. I would be the last peaceful slumber this house would ever have again.

************
Chapter 5
************

At first light, Sully headed for the telegraph office to send a message to Michaela that he was well and missed his family. Before their marriage and birth of the children, she might have accompanied him on this trip. But, he preferred to know that she and their young ones were safe and healthy, away from the disease of the Indian camp. After sending the telegram, he headed for Fort Leavenworth, anxious to speak to Chief Joseph again.

The Nez Perce leader greeted him, and bid him to sit by the small fire.

Noting the sadness in the man's eyes, Sully spoke, "Somethin' happen since I last saw ya?"

"One of our women died in childbirth," he informed the mountain man. "Both the mother and child are gone."

Sully swallowed hard, "It's a terrible loss."

"You speak from experience?" the leader sensed.

"My first wife died with our baby," Sully nodded.

"Your life has known great sadness then," Chief Joseph sympathized.

"Great joy now," Sully smiled. "I remarried. Now I've got five kids an' another on the way."

For the first time, a smile came to the Nez Perce's face, "That is good. I pray that your little one arrives safely. My wife gave birth to a baby daughter several moons ago, but..."

"Are they all right?" Sully swallowed hard.

"The little one is ill," Joseph could hardly say the words.

"I wish I could do somethin' t' help," Sully told him. "They wouldn't let me bring the medicine my wife sent."

"Your wife is a medicine woman?" he raised his eyebrows.

"Yes," Sully said. "I wish she could've been here."

"It is better that she stay at your home," the chief's eyes grew misty.

"Chief Joseph," Sully took a deep breath. "I got an idea about how you can help your people."

"What is this idea?" he was interested.

"What if I could arrange for ya t' go t' Washington t' speak with the Great Father there?" Sully suggested. "Your words are powerful. Let him an' the other politicians there see that you're a man o' peace an' principle."

"This means something to them?" he sounded skeptical.

"I gotta hope so," the mountain man sighed. "I'm writin' down as much as I can about what ya tell me an' the conditions here. I'm hopin' that the newspapers might pick up on it. But you goin' t' Washington yourself t' speak t' the President might hold some sway."

"I will think about this idea," Joseph consented. "But my faith in the words of the government of the Great Father is not great. Good words do not last until they amount to something. Words do not pay for my dead people. They do not pay for my country, now over-run white men. They do not protect my father's grave... they do not give me back my children."

Sully wrote feverishly as Joseph spoke.

"Good words do not make good on the promise of your War Chief, General Miles. Good words will not give my people good health and stop them from dying. Good words will not get my people a home where they can live in peace and take care of themselves."

"I'm gonna do everything I can t' see that YOUR good words bring results," Sully vowed.

"I wish that Yellow Wolf could be by my side," the Chief lamented.

"I'll see what I can do t' have him go with ya t' Washington," Sully pledged.

"I know that your intentions are good," the chief looked into his eyes.

"I don't blame ya for not trustin' or wantin' t' get your hopes up," the mountain man recognized. "An' I can't promise that any o' this will happen. All I can do is give ya my word that I'll try."

"It may be the only hope for my people," the Nez Perce stated.

************

Michaela continued to dream about the couple in the diary:

Sully was tormented by the thought that he might have killed Michaela's mother at Bull Run. How could he continue to fight, knowing that he had so affected this woman who haunted his soul? His orders were to return to Hooker's headquarters today. But he had to see her one last time.

Michaela had not slept, replaying over and over the words of the young Lieutenant. Could he have killed her mother? It gave her even greater reason to hate him, aside from his uniform. But... she could not hate him. She had fallen in love with him. She could not let him leave without telling him her feelings.

She dressed and ordered the carriage to take her to the Rockwell home. There, she would find out where he was staying and rush to confess her love.

Sully finished dressing and prepared to go to the Quinn home. He had only three hours before his train departed. If he hurried....

There was a knock at the door of his boarding room. Praying that it might be word from his command of a change in plans, he opened the door. There she stood.

He was stunned, "Michaela."

She could not reply at first, then abandoning all reserve, she threw her arms around him and kissed him. Sully lost himself in the feel of her lips on his, her breasts against his chest. His body was quickly losing control. Suddenly, he pulled back and attempted to steady his breathing.

Michaela's cheeks flushed, "I couldn't let you go like that. I... I have to tell you something."

"I gotta tell you, too," he drew her into his room and closed the door. "I only got a little while before my train leaves. Maybe ya better sit down."

There was only his bed and a sparse wooden chair. She chose the bed. Sully sat beside her and lifted her gloved hand to his cheek. Michaela tenderly caressed it, then ran her finger toward his lips.

"I had to see you, Sully," she boldly proclaimed.

"I had t' see you, too," his eyes seemed to penetrate to her soul.

"I can scarcely believe this is happening," Michaela turned away. "I've never felt like this before."

"Me either," he squeezed her hand slightly.

"There's something I must tell you before...." she struggled.

"I'm listenin'," he became troubled by her tone.

She took a deep breath, "I'm a spy."

"A spy?" he was surprised.

"For the Confederacy," she admitted. "Ever since my mother's death, I've been working to defeat the Yankees."

"I see," he spoke softly. "That why you warmed up t' me at the party?"

She quickly pivoted to face him, her eyes glistening from tears, "I knew a Union lieutenant was going to be there, and I had every intention of.... but... then I met you."

"An' things changed?" he smiled slightly.

"This wasn't supposed to happen," she stood and walked to the window.

"What wasn't, Michaela?" he followed and rested his hands on her shoulders.

"My... coming here like this," she hedged.

"Why did you come?" he guided her to look at him.

"Because..." she hesitated.

"Because why?" he persisted.

"Because I love you!" she exclaimed.

************

"Ma!" Brian knocked on the bedroom door.

She rolled over and attempted to focus on the clock. She had overslept.

"Come in, Brian," she felt warm from the dream.

"Horace brought a telegram from Pa," he handed her the folded paper.

She quickly opened the message from her husband.

"Everythin' okay?" the young man noted her expression.

"Yes," she nodded. "He met Chief Joseph. Wants his words to be published. He's going to try to arrange for him to go to Washington."

"Sounds like he's makin' some progress," Brian observed.

She touched the last line of the message, "He misses us and sends his love."

"Katie's up an' ready for school," he informed her. "Josef's still sleepin'. Want me t' take her t' school?"

"Thank you, Brian," she drew on her robe. "I'll fix your breakfast."

************

It was evening, and Sully sat alone in his boarding house, heartbroken over witnessing the squalor of the Indians and not being able to convince Captain Johnson to act. The bickering beneath his room resumed, in stark contrast to the warmth of the home he shared with Michaela and their children. Pulling the photograph of his family from his pocket, he studied each face intently.

"I miss ya, Michaela," he whispered to the picture.

He imagined what his family was doing at that moment. Brian would be sitting at the kitchen table doing his homework. Matthew would be studying one of his law books. Katie, he smiled, was most likely drawing a picture or teaching Josef something. His little boy would be impishly attempting to get attention.... or, maybe he was quietly wanting his Ma to hold him. Sully wished he could be there to tuck them into bed, kiss their foreheads and tell them a story.

Then his thoughts turned to how much he needed Michaela. To massage his temples. To run her fingers through his hair and kiss his eyelids. To help him escape from his cares. Her soft lips on his skin, soothing him, enticing him. God, how he missed her.

He closed his eyes and pictured her vividly. He wanted to stroke her abdomen and kiss their growing child. Then he thought about Chief Joseph's sick daughter. His heart saddened at the notion that the cries of such a man, such a people, might be ignored.

"As long as I have breath in me," Sully avowed. "Their cries WILL be heard."

************

Michaela felt the quickening sensation in her belly as she lay in bed reading the diary. Then she had an odd feeling, as if a palm was caressing her there. It was Sully, she thought, sending his love to them. She lowered her own hand and rested it on the baby. Closing her eyes, she perceived her husband's presence. It warmed her, and she slowly rolled over to fall asleep... to dream of her fantasy:

"You love me?" the lieutenant's heart leapt.

Michaela instantly regretted her confession, fearing that the sentiment was unrequited.

"Yes," her voice became a whisper as she folded her hands and feared his response.

"Michaela," he bid her to face him.

"What?" her cheeks were flushed.

"I love you, too," he uttered.

"You do?" her eyes suddenly sparkled.

"Mmm hum," he grinned.

"Even after my proclamation?" she wondered.

"About bein' a spy?" he touched her chin. "If you can love me for what I might have done, can't I love you for spyin' on me?"

"I suppose when you put it that way," she smiled.

Sully could not resist her at that moment. He found her so vulnerable, so desirable, he could barely control what his body ached to do.

"What do we do now?" she sat again on the bed.

He looked down, "I don't got much time, but... I know what I'd like us t' do."

"What?" she was curious.

He knelt before her and took her hands in his, "I want t' be with you. I need t' be with you. Will you marry me?"

"Yes," she spoke without hesitation.

"Right now?" he urged.

"Without my father and friends and..." she noted his expression. "Yes, right now."

He stood up quickly and lifted her into his arms, "Won't be much of a honeymoon 'til I get back from..."

He stopped, realizing that he was about to tell her where he was bound. She saw his reluctance to confide in her.

"You don't have to tell me," she framed his face in her hands.

"I have t' report t' Fightin' Joe Hooker's headquarters in Falmouth, Virginia," he cast aside all doubts. "I don't know when I'll be back, Michaela."

"I'll wait for you," she lay her head against his chest.

They excitedly headed for a justice of the peace. Sully pledged that they could have a proper church wedding upon his return. Michaela promised that it did not matter, as long as they could be together. Once in the office, there were forms to complete.

"When ya think about it," Sully glanced at the lines to be filled. "We don't really know much about each other, but all that don't seem important."

"Right now, all that matters, is what's in here," she touched the material of his uniform that covered his heart. "The rest will be a journey for us, discovering one another."

"You're so beautiful," he lay his hand atop hers, then glanced toward the clock. "Only a couple hours left."

"We'll have the rest of our lives together," she leaned her head against his.

"Lieutenant Sully? Miss Quinn?" the magistrate appeared from his office. "Won't you come in?"

He looked over their papers and smiled, "You got a ring?"

"I'm afraid we didn't have time to...." Michaela began.

"I got one," Sully unbuttoned the collar of his uniform and pulled from his neck a chain.

On it, was a simple wedding ring. He undid the chain's clasp and removed the ring, then handed it to the man.

"It was my Ma's," he whispered to Michaela.

The justice opened his desk drawer and withdrew a book. Then, clearing his throat, he began the ceremony.

Michaela and Sully could scarcely hear the words, so mesmerized were they by the thought of what they were doing. They did have the presence of mind to respond at the proper time with "I do's." Sully placed his mother's gold band on her finger, then tenderly raised it to his lips and kissed it.

Within a few moments, they were declared husband and wife. Sully was overwhelmed by joy as he kissed his bride. Michaela knew that what they had done was incredibly spontaneous, yet, she never felt more certain about anything in her life.

Paying the magistrate, Sully swiftly clasped Michaela's hand and led her out the door to their carriage.

"To the train station now?" she dreaded.

"No," he replied. "T' my boardin' room."

************

Michaela felt a tugging sensation on her hand. She opened her eyes and saw her little boy standing beside the bed.

"Josef?" she raised up slightly. "What's wrong, Sweetheart? Couldn't you sleep?"

"I did somethin', Mama," he clung to her hand.

Michaela raised the lamp to illuminate the room, "What did you do?"

"In my bed," he confessed.

She lifted him into her arms and felt his wet bottom, "That's all right. We'll take care of it."

"I sowwy, Mama," he leaned against her bosom.

"Let's get you cleaned up," she kissed his forehead. "Everything will be fine."

She lay the little boy across her bed, then poured some water into the basin. Tenderly, she removed his nightclothes and lathered a cloth to wash him. Josef was embarrassed for what had happened, and he quietly kept his finger in his mouth, unable to look at his mother.

"I'll be right back," Michaela whispered. "Don't go anywhere."

"'Kay," his expression melted her heart.

She returned with a fresh nightshirt for her son. After placing the clean clothing on him, she drew him into her arms and carried him to the rocking chair.

His spirits began to lift at his mother's ministrations. She rested her lips on his soft hair as she rocked him back and forth.

"Baby growin' in ya, Mama?" he looked up at her.

"Yes," she smiled.

"Can ya feel it?" he questioned.

"At times I feel something, but it's still too tiny to feel very much yet," she advised.

"I won't be baby no more," his little voice seemed sad.

"You'll be the big brother," she rubbed his back. "Just like Matthew and Brian."

"I will?" his eyes widened.

"Yes," she continued the back and forth movement.

She thought from his silence that the little boy had fallen asleep, but then he spoke again.

"Papa bring baby int' world like Katie an' me?" he rested his hand on hers.

She chuckled, "I've learned not to make predictions regarding where and under what circumstances my children will be born."

"That mean yes?" he inquired.

"That means... I don't know," she curled his fingers around her thumb. "We do know that Papa has experience though. Don't we?"

"Yep," he yawned. "Papa be home soon?"

"He'll be home as soon as he can, my darling," she affirmed. "Just know that he misses us and is thinking about us."

"Think about me?" he was so full of questions.

"All of the time," she knew.

"I think about Papa, too," he settled snugly against her.

This time, Michaela could feel from her son's steady breathing that he had fallen asleep.

************

"Jennie!" Esther Cox shook her sister. "Listen!"

Both girls bolted up from their bed and instantly became aware of strange noises emanating from beneath it.

"What is it?" Jennie trembled.

"Let's look," Esther leaned over the edge and glanced below the bed. "It's coming from the fabric box."

The sisters climbed down from their bed, lit the lamp and reached down to drag the box into the center of the room. Suddenly, it leapt into the air and onto its side. They screamed. Esther garnered the courage to set the box right side up, but again it jumped into the air and onto its side.

When Olive and Dan burst into the tiny room, they were horrified at what they saw.

Esther began screaming and tearing at her nightgown, "My God! What's happening to me? I'm dying!"

Jennie rushed to her side, "Esther!"

Before their eyes, the young woman's skin began to turn bright red and swell unnaturally. They attempted to get her back into the bed, but Esther fell to the floor, choking and struggling to breathe. Her skin was hot to touch, still swelling and red.

"I.... I feel like I'm gonna burst through my skin!" Esther shouted.

"Dan," Olive directed. "Go fetch Dr. Mike! Quick!"

************
Chapter 6
************

Just as Olive Tweed cried out for her husband to bring Dr. Quinn, a clap of thunder was emitted from beneath her sister's bed. It shook the entire room. Then, following three more low claps from the same point of origin, Esther's swelling began to subside. She fell into a deep sleep.

************

Michaela was in the midst of another dream about the couple in the diary, seeing only Sully and herself in the images:

Sully opened the door to his boarding room and swept Michaela into his arms. Carrying her across the threshold, he gently set her on his bed.

"Lieutenant Sully," she blushed. "Do we have time?"

"Mrs. Sully, we can take the time," his voice was husky.

"I.... I've never done this before," she glanced down at her shining wedding band.

"We'll take it nice an' easy," he started to unbutton his jacket.

She stood up and rested her palms on his chest, then began to help him with the buttons. As he pulled the sleeves from his arms, she commenced to work on his shirt. When several buttons had been undone, she exposed his chest and kissed it. He drew her closer.

Circling his arms to the back of her hair, he began to pull out the pins which held it in place. Then he loosened it to allow it to cascade down her back.

"God, you've got the most beautiful hair," he raised a tress to inhale her scent. "I wanna remember each second we're t'gether, Michaela."

"I do, too," she glanced up demurely, not quite sure when he would take them to the next step.... or if she was ready.

Sully slid his hands across her breasts, immediately stirring her. He could see through the material of her dress that he had elicited the desired reaction. Michaela moaned softly and placed her hands atop his. Then he slid his hands to her waist and kissed her again. Their lips parted slightly, and soon their intensifying hunger could no longer be resisted.

He turned her around to unbutton her dress, all the while kissing her neck and shoulders. When he guided her back around to face him, he slipped the sleeves of her camisole down her arms.

Michaela blushed, as her full figure was revealed to her husband. Here she was, standing before someone she hardly knew, and yet, she wanted nothing more than to give herself totally to him. He kicked off his boots and drew her hands closer to undo his pants. When at last they had slipped past his hips and down to the floor, he edged even closer to her.

Flesh against flesh, they felt the complete contours of one another's body. Sully lifted her into his arms and kissed her anew. Then with the greatest care, he set her upon the small bed. She raised her hands to the sides of his face, beckoning him to come nearer.

"I don't wanna hurt ya," he spoke low.

"You could never hurt me," she placed her index finger to his lips.

"I want ya so much," he began to gently rest his weight upon her. "But first I gotta be sure that this is what you want, too. If ya don't feel right, we can wait."

"No," she wrapped her arms around him. "I want you more than I ever imagined possible."

"You're givin' up somethin' special t' me, Michaela," he peered into her eyes. "I just want ya t' know how much it means t' me."

"I give myself very willingly," she invited. "I'm your wife now. You're my husband. We're meant to be together."

He ran his fingers sensuously along her form, heightening her eager anticipation. Then she felt the sensation of deeper contact with him. She was instantly awash with unimaginable desire. As his movements intensified, her body craved more. Sully was delighted by her enthusiasm, and after taking great care to please her, he released himself to her.

"I love you," he spoke low as his body began to calm.

"And I love you," she stroked his back.

"You okay?" he kissed her chin.

"Wonderful," she closed her eyes, still savoring the warmth of him. "What about you? Was I..."

"Incredible," he grinned.

"I... I've never felt so complete in my life," she sighed.

Sully drew the sheet protectively higher, and quoted:

"What thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed; we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself."

"Was that Shakespeare?" she loved his gesture of reciting poetry to her.

"Milton," he kissed her again.

Then he heard the church bell from across the street strike the hour. He closed his eyes, wishing this moment would never end.

"It's time?" she entwined his chest hair around her finger.

"I don't wanna go," he swallowed hard. "I can't tell ya when I'll be back."

"I'll wait, no matter how long it may be," she pledged.

She reached for her purse on the nightstand.

"What are ya doin'?" he wondered.

"Getting something for you," she opened the bag. "Since you gave me your mother's ring, I want you to have something from me to carry with you."

She pulled out a cameo, "This belonged to my mother."

"No, Michaela," he swallowed hard. "I can't...."

"Shhh..." she touched his lips. "You didn't do it, Sully. I know it."

"I could've," he was troubled about accepting her offering.

"Look at the cameo," she urged.

He did and was immediately struck by its resemblance to her, "It's beautiful."

"I want you to carry it as a symbol of my faith in you," she kissed him. "I will always believe in you, always love you."

He silently threaded it through the neck chain he wore and returned it to circle his neck, "Thank you."

************

"Ma!" Brian woke his mother.

She sat up quickly and ensured that Josef was still asleep beside her, "Shhh. Don't wake your brother."

"Sorry," he lamented. "Dan Tweed's here t' fetch ya. Somethin's wrong with Esther."

"Can you watch the children?" she requested.

"Sure. I don't have a class this mornin'," he nodded. "Josef have a bad night?"

"Poor darling," she rubbed the little boy's back. "He wet his bed."

"I remember when Katie did that," he recalled.

"We're not certain what causes it, but I suspect it may have something to do with being upset that your father's away," she stated.

"I know he's always askin' when Pa's comin' home," Brian headed for the door. "I'll let ya get changed. Dan sounded real scared, Ma."

"Don't worry, Brian," she assured him. "Esther is upset over all that's happened. She has a caring family and good friends like you to help her through this."

"I'll go saddle Flash for ya," he said.

"No," she stroked her abdomen. "No horseback riding."

"Right," he nodded. "I'll hitch up the wagon."

Michaela leaned over to kiss her young son, then began to dress.

************

As Sully neared the hovel of Chief Joseph, he could hear crying. He speeded up his pace, then stopped as he saw men removing the body of a woman from one of the huts. He felt his heart break anew at what was happening. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Chief Joseph.

"She was the sister of Yellow Wolf," he spoke quietly. "Come, we will talk before I must go."

"How's your daughter doin'?" Sully followed him into the meager shelter.

"She is very weak," he shook his head.

"I sent out some telegrams t' Washington t'day," the mountain man informed him.

Chief Joseph sat, "I only ask of the government to be treated as all other men are treated. If I cannot go to my own home, let me have a home in a country where my people do not die so fast. I would like to go to the Bitterroot Valley. There my people would be healthy."

"It's hard losin' everythin' ya had, everythin' ya are," Sully observed.

"I know that my race must change," Joseph confided. "We cannot hold our own with the white men as we are. We only ask an even chance to live as other men live. We ask that the same law shall work alike on all men. If the Indian breaks the law, punish him by the law. If the white man breaks the law, punish him also."

Sully wrote down as the Indian leader spoke.

"Let me be a free man," the Nez Perce implored. "Free to travel, free to stop, free to work, free to trade where I choose, free to choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers, free to think and talk and act for myself--and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty."

"I wish so much that you could live that way," Sully stated. "That there'd be no more wars."

"Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars," Joseph predicted. "We shall be alike, brothers of one father and mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land and send a rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers' hands from the face of the earth. I hope that no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above."

Sully felt a lump in his throat, "Chief Joseph, my time here is over. I will take your words an' do all I can t' see that you're heard. I return t' my family tomorrow, but I'll carry your people in my heart."

Joseph shook his hand, "Thank you for your efforts. You have a very big heart, Sully."

************

"What d' ya think is wrong with her?" Olive Tweed held her sister's hand.

"I'm afraid I have no explanation for which I can be certain," Michaela concluded her examination of Esther.

"I felt like someone was trying to choke me," Esther detailed.

"And ya should've seen her skin," Olive shuddered. "Swelling and red."

"It might have been a physical reaction to something," the physician stated. "Did you eat anything different for dinner or experience an insect bite?"

"No," the young woman shook her head.

"That don't explain the thunder underneath the bed, Dr. Mike," Olive reminded. "An' would her condition disappear so fast?"

"I... don't know," Michaela was puzzled. "But... I think that the most important thing you need right now is rest. I'll leave something to help with that. Send for me at once if you experience these symptoms again."

"Thanks for comin' out here," Esther attempted a smile.

"You're welcome," Michaela gathered her bag and coat.

************

"Have ya heard about the strange happenin's over at the Tweed's?" Loren sipped a cup of coffee at Grace's.

"What kinda strange happenings?" Jake pushed his hat back on his head.

"Brian told me that last night Esther Cox got real sick," the shopkeeper specified.

"What's so strange about that?" Hank shrugged. "A lot's happened t' her."

"Dan Tweed told him Esther swelled up like one o' them balloons an' darn near burst," Loren went on.

Jake and Hank broke into laughter.

"It ain't funny," Loren asserted. "He said there was even thunder underneath the bed."

"Sounds t' me more like Dan had one too many," Hank quipped.

"Sounds t' me like the place is haunted!" Loren came back.

"Haunted?" Preston joined them. "Where?"

"Dan Tweed's place," Jake answered.

"You mean MY place," Preston clarified. "I rent the house to him."

"Then ya better check on what's happenin' out there," Loren cautioned.

"If rumors such as this get around, it could depreciate the value of my real estate," the banker calculated.

"Maybe we could all check with ya," Jake offered. "Be good for a laugh."

"What would be good for a laugh?" Horace happened by.

"You lookin' in a mirror," Hank shot back.

"Ya ain't gettin' me t' go t' a haunted house," Loren raised his hands.

"Who's goin' t' a haunted house?" Horace was confused.

"I am," Preston pointed. "Ur... that is, I'm going to check on some of my tenants."

"Think I'll tag along," Hank sat up.

"Me, too," Jake nodded.

"I ain't got anythin' better t' do," Horace observed. "What time we goin'?"

************

Michaela glanced toward the clock after her last patient departed. Katie would be finished with school shortly, she thought. Then she strolled over to the anteroom, expecting to see her son playing with his toys. Instead, she noticed the toddler sitting pensively at the little table, staring into space.

"Josef?" she entered the room and crouched down. "What are you doing, Sweetheart?"

"Nothin'," his voice was lethargic.

Michaela felt a rush of anxiety, as his mood was so reminiscent of his emotional withdrawal from them when they went to Boston. She lifted him into her arms and stroked his long hair.

"Tell me what's bothering you, little one," she encouraged.

"What if Papa don' come home?" he expressed his fear.

"He will come home," she tried to soothe him.

"How ya know?" his lower lip curled under.

"Because he loves us," she sat in the rocking chair near his table.

"Don' want him t' be far away," his eyes reddened.

"He doesn't want to be far from us either," she kissed his cheek. "But sometimes we have to do things apart from those whom we love. One of the reasons I love your Daddy is because he's such a kind and considerate man. He cares very deeply about what he's doing, Sweetheart. And it's important to him that he try to create a better world for you, your brothers and sisters. Can you understand?"

"I jus' want Papa home," he began to cry.

She ran her hand up and down his warm back, "I know, my darling. I know."

With his mother's healing touch, the little boy began to calm.

Then he pulled back to look in her eyes, "You no leave me, Mama?"

"No, Josef," her own eyes began to water. "And please know that Papa has not left us. He's just spending some time with the Indians. Then he'll return as quickly as he can."

"Pwease don' go 'way," he seemed unaffected by her assurances.

************

Sully prepared to depart the Indian camp, having been profoundly affected by the words of Chief Joseph. As much as he missed his family, he was certain in the rightness of coming here and in what he must do next on behalf of this tribe.

As he was about to leave, a Nez Perce woman rushed into the hovel, screaming, "Come quickly."

Joseph hurried after her telling Sully, "It is my daughter."

The mountain man caught up to him, but when they reached the deathbed, he stood back respectfully. It was not even a bed upon which the child rested. It was some straw tossed about the floor. Chief Joseph lifted the lifeless little body into his arms, then burst into tears as he crouched over her.

The Chief began to chant, and was soon joined by several others in the camp in mourning the loss of another child.... another innocent in the politics and power struggles over land.

Sully's eyes watered as he looked on. At that moment, he thought of his own children and how he longed to hold them. He stepped back and retreated from the mourners.

Walking briskly, he soon reached the telegraph office in town. After dictating a message to be sent to his wife, he returned to his boarding room and found himself furiously transcribing all of the notes he had taken.

************

A clinging Josef did not leave his mother's side for the entire evening. Michaela was growing more concerned about his emotional state. Katie made every effort to entertain her little brother, playing his favorite games, doting on him and including him in all that she did. But it was to no avail. The child was retreating into the same state to which he had gone last spring.

"Joey," Katie took his hand and led him into the living room. "We gotta talk."

"Don' wanna leave Mama," he pointed toward the kitchen.

"She's not goin' anywhere," the little girl assured him.

Josef sat down beside the fireplace, leaned his head against Wolf and stared at the embers. As Katie positioned herself beside him, Michaela stepped to the edge of the dining room to eavesdrop on their discussion.

"I was thinkin' about Poppy t'day," she spoke softly.

"He go away," the little boy sounded sad.

"Me, too," she said.

"What?" he sat up quickly.

"Almost every day, I go away," she expanded.

"Ya go t' schule," he dismissed her comment.

"I know," Katie smiled. "But that's goin' away, too."

"Not same," Josef countered.

"Sure it is," his sister reasoned. "I go away, an' I come back. It don't take me very long, 'cause I don't have far t' go. But ya know I'll be home soon as I can, don't ya, Joey?"

"Yep," he agreed.

"See, I think Poppy's gotta take a lot more time t' get home 'cause he's beyond the school an' town an' lots o' other places," she tilted her head toward him. "But sure as anythin', he's comin' home."

"How ya know?" the little boy was not so certain.

"'Cause he's our Daddy," she folded her arms. "Joey, sometimes ya just gotta believe."

"You bleeve?" he wondered.

"I believe in Poppy," she nodded.

"Me, too," he smiled.

Michaela tiptoed quietly toward them, but they heard a floorboard creak and turned quickly to see her approach.

"May I join you?" she lowered herself to the floor.

Josef jumped up and embraced his mother, "Don' wowwy, Mama. Papa's comin' home."

Michaela hugged him, then turned to Katie, "You're an incredible young lady."

"Me?" Katie sounded surprised.

"Come here," Michaela extended her arm to embrace her daughter, as well.

Wolf rested his head on Josef's lap until there was a knock at the front door.

"I'll get it," Brian walked toward the entrance.

Horace tipped his hat, "Sorry t' bother ya, but I thought ya might like t' hear the news soon as I got it."

"What news?" Michaela stood.

Horace handed her the telegram, "Sully's comin' home."

Katie smiled at her brother, "Told ya so."

"Can you stay for a cup of coffee, Horace?" Michaela was beaming at the news.

"No, thanks, Dr. Mike," he gulped. "I'm headin' over t' a haunted house t'night."

"What's a haunted house?" Katie had heard.

"Never you mind," Brian tickled her side.

"Gotta go," Horace tipped his hat again.

************

"See anythin'?" Horace sat at the edge of the Tweed's yard with his compatriots.

"No," Jake shivered in the night air.

"Hear anythin'?" Horace asked.

"Just Jake's teeth clatterin'," Hank pointed.

"Well, it's cold!" the barber declared.

"Could be on account o' it bein' January," the bartender noted.

"What ya think they're doin' in there?" Jake squinted.

"My guess would be they are preparing for bed," Preston began to feel ridiculous. "Just what most sane people should do."

Suddenly, a blood curdling scream came from the house. It was followed by a thunderous clap that shattered the silence of the night.

************
Chapter 7
************

"What the hell was that?" Hank nearly choked on his cigar.

Horace trembled, "Sounded like somebody dyin'."

"Let's go see," the bartender started for the house.

"Let's go home," Horace turned the other way.

"Gentlemen!" Preston called. "We came to prove or disprove the presence of a poltergeist."

"I thought it was t' see if there's a ghost," the telegraph operator folded his arms.

"That's what a poltergeist is," Preston rolled his eyes.

Another scream from the Tweed house echoed through the valley.

************

Michaela's diary dreams continued:

Sully finished dressing, and stood before his wife, hoping to find the words to say goodbye.

"I'll write ya every day," he pledged.

She touched the gleaming buttons on his jacket, "This all seems like a dream."

He enfolded her in his arms, "It's very real."

"And you must leave," a single tear trickled down her cheek.

He touched the moisture, then kissed her with all of the passion he possessed, "I love you, Michaela."

"I love you, too," her tears flowed more freely.

With that, he was gone.

Weeks passed, and Michaela tried to concentrate on her volunteer work. But each day, she rushed home to see if a letter from her husband had arrived. He kept his pledge to write every day.

He detailed how he had been reassigned to an elite regiment known as Bergan's Sharpshooters. He described the Union defeat at Chancellorsville and the replacement of Hooker by General George Meade. But in the sweltering heat of early July 1863, his communication abruptly ended, his last note reaching her just after Gettysburg. Could he have been hurt? Or killed? Her inquiries went unanswered.

Josef Quinn had been stunned by the news of his daughter's elopement. He thought it foolhardy and unbecoming of someone of her breeding. He had nothing against the young lieutenant, but Michaela did not truly know him. Now, as an Army wife, living with her father, there was no hope for the kind of life he envisioned for his daughter.

One afternoon, she received a visit from a Confederate colonel, with whom she had been acquainted before her marriage. He wore civilian clothes to cloak his identity.

"Michaela," he bowed slightly when he saw her. "It's been a long time."

"Colonel Henry, you're taking a risk coming here," she pointed out. "The Yankees are all about."

"Yes, I know," he smiled. "I shant be long. I merely wanted to stop by and pay my respects. We... have not had news from you in some time."

She knew that he was referring to her espionage work.

"I've had a change of heart," she confessed.

"Oh?" Henry raised an eyebrow. "Are you a Yankee sympathizer now?"

She looked down at her wedding band, "I'm... better acquainted with one of them. He has shown me they are not all as I thought."

"Pity," his jaw clenched. "Maybe if you saw what they did at Vicksburg, you'd change your mind again."

"Vicksburg?" she wondered.

"Mississippi," Colonel Henry spoke bitterly. "The city was under siege by the Yankees for weeks. The residents are starving. They just surrendered."

"I'm sorry to hear that," she grew increasingly uncomfortable.

"I'll go now," he could see that he was not welcome. "Best wishes to you, Michaela."

"Thank you," she rushed into her father's study.

"Father," she urgently requested. "I need to know what's happened to Sully."

"I've made inquiries," he rose from his desk. "No one seems to know the extent of casualties at Gettysburg, Michaela. It's a carnage. Maybe thousands dead."

She closed her eyes and fought back tears, "I must go there then."

"What?" he would hear no such thing. "That's absurd."

"No, Father," she let loose her emotions. "It's absurd that the Army tells the wives nothing. I...."

Suddenly, she felt shortness of breath. Nearly fainting, she sat down. Josef Quinn brought his daughter a glass of water.

"Here," he offered. "You're getting yourself much too upset."

"Father...." she took a sip. "I have to tell you something...."

"What is it, my dear?" he rested his hand on her shoulder.

"I think.... I'm with child," she revealed.

************

Sully finished composing two letters providing greater detail than his wires could. There was one to President Hayes and one to Secretary of the Interior Schurz. He hoped that he had made a compelling argument on behalf of the Nez Perce. He was more certain, however, if they would agree to meet Chief Joseph, they could more fully comprehend the effects of holding the Indians at Leavenworth.

He sighed and rolled over to look at his watch. Six more hours, and he would be on the train home. He could not imagine a more pleasing sight than his family at that moment.

************

Hank knocked at the door of the Tweed home. Young Will opened it tentatively.

"We heard screamin'," he informed the boy. "Someone here need help?"

"Hank!" Dan rushed into the room.

"Dan," the bartender noted the expression on his face. "What's wrong?"

"It's Esther," his voice trembled. "Could one o' ya go get Dr. Mike?"

"I'll go," Horace preferred to not remain in the house.

Another blood curdling scream came from the room above them.

"What are you doing to that young woman?" Preston challenged.

"It's someone... or someTHING doin' it t' her," Dan gulped. "Come on. I'll show ya."

When they climbed the steps, they saw the trembling family cowering near a bedroom door. Hank stepped forward to look inside. What he saw would have made him question the sobriety of anyone who told him it could be happening.

Esther's pillow was moving beneath her head, untouched by human hands. The girl was paralyzed in fear. Her skin was again badly swollen and red in color. Beneath the bed, loud banging sounds were shaking the floor. Hank knelt down and looked. There was nothing under there to explain the sounds.

Then they heard a scratching sound, like metal scraping plaster. Above the bed, without explanation, letters were appearing on the wall. Carved into the plaster one by one, they spelled out: ESTHER COX YOU ARE MINE TO KILL.

Preston put his hands on his hips, "Someone is going to be held accountable for damages to this room."

"Good God," Jake swallowed hard. "Who's doin' that?"

Suddenly, a jagged clump of plaster tore off the wall and landed at Hank's feet. Then all fell quiet.

************

Matthew and Michaela pulled up to the Tweed place. Helping his mother down, the young man retrieved her medical bag.

Michaela rushed into the house. The family was gathered near the fireplace, expressions of sheer terror racking their faces. Hank, Jake and Preston were nearby conferring.

"Where's Esther?" she asked.

"Upstairs," Jennie rushed to her side. "Dr. Mike, I'm scared."

Michaela put her arm around the girl, "I'll do everything I can for her, Sweetheart."

Olive Tweed came down the steps, "She's finally sleepin', Dr. Mike."

Preston approached, "I'm certain that there is a perfectly natural explanation for all of this."

Jake's eyes widened, "Yea, plaster always carves out death threats on its own."

"What are you talking about?" Michaela removed her coat.

"Go on up," Jake responded. "See for yourself."

"Come on, Michaela," Hank led the way. "I'll go with ya."

"Me, too," Matthew wanted to protect his mother's safety.

Michaela found Esther in a deep sleep. She checked her vital signs and discovered no response to pain or light. It was as if she were in a coma.

"What's that smell?" Hank went to the corner of the room.

"Smells like somethin's on fire," Matthew joined him.

"It is!" Hank grabbed a blanket and threw it on the flames.

"How'd it start?" Matthew wondered.

"What's this?" Michaela pointed to the threatening words above the bed.

"Now, I wouldn't believe it 'less I saw it for myself," Hank explained. "That appeared outa nowhere while we was standin' in this room."

"That's ridiculous," Michaela held Esther's hand. "Letters just don't carve themselves into the wall."

At that moment, a ball of flame appeared from the ceiling and fell onto the bed. Michaela jumped. Matthew and Hank lunged for it and quickly put it out.

"Look," the bartender held up the source. "It's a pack o' matches."

"Just appearin' outa nowhere?" Matthew was growing more concerned.

"I seen matches like this at Bob MacNeal's place," Hank recalled.

Michaela stood up to examine them. Then they heard sounds as if human flesh were being slapped.

"Ma!" Matthew pointed to Esther. "Her face."

In a matter of seconds, red finger marks had appeared on the young woman's cheeks as if she had been hit. Michaela felt a rush of anxiety.

"Matthew," Hank noticed the subtle change in her. "Get your Ma home."

"No," she refused. "I want to find out why this is happening to Esther."

"Michaela," Hank insisted. "Ya gotta think about your safety here."

"I'm not the one in danger," she put her hands on her hips. "Why...."

Suddenly, thunderous claps erupted on the roof.

"What's going on up here?" Preston appeared at the door, out of breath.

"I'll go see," Hank bolted out the door.

"Ma, please," Matthew begged. "Let me take ya home."

"Matthew," she touched his arm. "I'm perfectly fine."

"What have you done to her?" Preston pointed to Esther.

"Nothing," Michaela stated.

"Why are their pins in her face?" the banker noticed.

"Pins!" Michaela quickly move to the bed.

Carefully, she removed the needles from the young woman's flesh.

"That's it," Matthew's voice was assertive. "We're gettin' outa here now."

Michaela began to disinfect the puncture marks on Esther, "We must find the cause of this."

Hank returned, "Nothin'. There's nothin' t' explain why any o' this is happenin'."

"There has to be a reason," Michaela doubted.

"Maybe we oughta get the Reverend out here," the bartender folded his arms.

"Why?" Matthew was curious.

"Have one o' them exorcisms," Hank answered.

"I've heard of them," Preston related.

"This is superstitious nonsense," Michaela wiped Esther's brow.

"She doin' okay now?" Hank gestured toward the young woman.

"Yes," Michaela felt her pulse.

"Then there ain't no more need for you t' be here," Hank asserted.

"Dr. Mike?" Olive Tweed peeked around the corner. "Is she...."

"She's calm now," Michaela spoke low.

"Olive," Hank turned to her. "If it's okay with you, I'll spend the night here. Maybe I can get t' the bottom o' what's happenin'."

"We'd appreciate it," she nervously glanced at her sister.

"Well, I'm going back to the Chateau," Preston stood taller. "There's no reason for all of us to lack a good night's sleep."

"I doubt if Jake will wanna stay either," Matthew ascertained.

Michaela continued to monitor Esther's condition. Then quietly, she rose from the bed and went to Olive.

"Dr. Mike," the young woman hesitated. "Is she gonna be okay?"

Michaela took a deep breath, "The only thing I can tell you is that at this moment, she is stable. This has been the most unpredictable.... illness I have ever seen."

"IF it's an illness," Hank retorted.

"Olive," Michaela clasped her hand. "If you would like for me to spend the evening here, I shall. I'm not certain...."

Suddenly the small table beside the bed began to move.

Hank stepped forward to get a closer look, "What the hell?"

"It's almost like whoever's doin' this don't want anyone in the room with Esther," Olive gulped.

Hank stood up straighter and spoke loudly, "Well, I ain't leavin'!"

The table ceased its movement.

"But we are," Matthew took his mother's elbow.

"Matthew!" she resisted.

He lowered his voice so that only she could hear, "Ma, this ain't good for you or the baby. I promised Sully that...."

"I would never do anything to jeopardize my baby," she was curt. "I want to get to the bottom of this."

"Ya seen what's happenin' here," he detailed. "It ain't safe. Unexplained fires, furniture movin', letters carved int' the wall.... An' look at Esther."

"That's precisely why I should stay," she insisted.

Hank could remain out of it no longer, "He's right, Michaela. I'll make sure Esther don't get hurt. But you gotta take care. Get rest an' all that mother stuff."

Deep in her heart, she knew they were right, "I hate to permit something so... intangible to guide my actions."

"You deal with intangibles all the time, Ma," her son replied.

Olive sensed the physician's dilemma, "Dr. Mike, go on home. We'll send for ya if we need ya."

Michaela finally acceded to their wishes, "All right. But please don't hesitate to seek my help if Esther's condition deteriorates."

"Get goin' now," Hank rubbed his beard.

************

When Michaela and Matthew returned home, they found Brian waiting up. The young man was mystified as his older brother recounted the events of the evening. Michaela left them, still discussing it, as she gathered several of her medical texts and retired to her bedroom.

Page after page blurred together, as she tried to determine the cause of Esther's malady. There had to be a logical, reasonable explanation for all that was happening in that house. She checked and cross-checked each reference book. She had found no evidence of spider or snake bites in this patient. Esther had eaten nothing unusual. What could it be?

WIth no feasible solution in sight, she set the medical book aside and lifted the Civil War diary. Soon she slumbered with the dreams of Sully and herself again:

"You're going to have a baby?" Joseph Quinn was flabbergasted. "Michaela, you were only married two hours before he left you."

"We... we were together in that time, Father," she confessed. "I need to find my husband. I'm going into Baltimore. Their hospitals might have the wounded from Gettysburg."

"I'll come with you, then," he sighed. "And while we're there, we'll have a colleague of mine make certain that you are indeed going to have a baby."

"I know that you don't approve of what I've done...." she choked back tears.

"There, there," he melted at his daughter's sadness. "I just want to see you happy. If this man fulfills that, then how can I not approve?"

Baltimore was only an hour's carriage drive from their home, and when they arrived, they promptly began to visit the hospitals. They scanned list after list of names, rosters of the wounded and dead. Soldiers were still being brought in as they investigated.

Michaela learned that the mention of Bergan's Sharpshooters drew particular interest among soldiers with whom she spoke. The distinctive green jackets of those soldiers helped them blend in with the landscape.

"He might have been at Little Round Top," Joseph Quinn informed his daughter after speaking with one of the male nurses.

"Little Round Top?" she was puzzled.

"Apparently, it was a point of the battle of particular ferocity," he told his daughter.

A young man, whose arm and head were bandaged approached them, "Someone said you was askin' 'bout Lieutenant Sully."

"Yes," Michaela's hopes were raised. "Do you know where he is? Is he injured?"

"I ain't certain, Ma'am," he said. "But I was with him right before him an' a couple o' our other sharpshooters got separated from us. It was on the road before Gettysburg. I... I think he was captured by the Rebs."

"Captured?" she worried.

"You'd have t' check with headquarters t' be sure, but I didn't see him after that," the young man walked away.

"Father, where do you think he would have been taken if he were captured?" Michaela queried.

"The Confederates have been holding prisoners of war at Libby Prison," he put his arm around her.

"In Richmond," she noted.

"Michaela, I'm going to get you out of here now," he stated. "We're going to have Dr. Holt examine you, then you're going home."

"I'll see Dr. Holt," her voice sounded stern. "Then, I'm leaving for Richmond."

************
Chapter 8
************

Michaela awoke in the middle of the night, requiring another visit to the privy. Caressing her abdomen as she walked, she chuckled to herself about her dreams. What would Sully say if he were here, she wondered. He would no doubt excuse them as part of his pregnant wife's whimsy. But in truth, she rather enjoyed them. It was as if Sully and she were acting out a play. And though she did not know if the woman in the diary would find her husband, Michaela warmed at the notion that her Sully would be home soon.

Having finished her business in the privy, she began to climb the steps. Thoughts of Esther Cox entered her mind again. She assumed that things at the Tweed house must have quieted since she had not been summoned again. Either that, or Hank was trying to prevent her from attending to the young woman under the mysterious circumstances at the house.

************

The rhythmic back and forth movement of the train, as it headed west, lulled Sully to sleep. He began to dream. He saw himself in the Indian encampment of Fort Leavenworth, but he was a prisoner along with the Nez Perce. And Cloud Dancing was with him. They were meeting just outside of a lodge when a woman's screams were heard.

He entered the dwelling and found Michaela lying on the floor, burning up with fever. She was in labor. Kneeling beside his wife, he held her hand and offered words of encouragement.

"The baby's coming too soon, Sully!" she shouted in panic.

Cloud Dancing attended to her, "You must remain calm."

"I can't!" she screamed. "I can't lose this child! Please someone, help me!"

Sully held her hand and stroked the damp hair from her forehead, "It's my fault, Michaela. I should never have brought us here t' live."

Chief Joseph stepped into the shelter, "This is what the Great Father in Washington has done. Your baby will die in this place."

With one last desperate push, Michaela delivered the infant. Out of breath and bleeding, she struggled to see her child.

Cloud Dancing held the infant above them and began to chant.

"Is the baby all right?" she extended her hand to it.

"She is dead," Cloud Dancing shook his head. "She goes to be with her Cheyenne grandfathers."

"No!" Sully awoke with a start.

"You okay, mister?" the man beside him looked up from his book.

Disoriented, Sully suddenly realized he had been dreaming, "Yea. I'm okay."

He trembled at the haunting nightmare. Assuring himself that it was only a dream, he took deep breaths to calm himself. Michaela was fine. The baby was fine. The vision was just a result of all that he had witnessed this week.

Sully glanced out the window at the passing countryside. Then he reached into his travel pouch to pull out his writing tablet. Attempting to concentrate on jotting down further impressions about the Indians and the words of Chief Joseph, his thoughts kept returning to the dream.

It was Chief Joseph's daughter in the dream, not mine, he reasoned. He tried to focus but could not see the baby clearly in his head. Oh, God. He was giving into his fears. What if Michaela lost their baby? How could they endure such grief? Please, Great Spirit, he prayed to himself. Please keep them safe.

Pulling the photograph of his family from his pocket, he took a deep breath. The previous feelings of comfort that he derived from looking at them had changed. Now, he could not shake a sense of foreboding when he beheld their images in his hand. Michaela.... she was in danger.

************

Michaela finished dressing and went into the children's room, "Katie, time to get up, Sweetheart."

"Okay," she rubbed her eyes and yawned. "Did it snow?"

"No," Michaela pulled back the window curtain.

"Ya gonna wake Joey, too?" the little girl sat up.

"Not yet," Michaela smiled.

After the mother washed up her daughter and helped her dress, she brushed her hair. Then she added two ribbons to the tresses.

"Are ya hungry?" Katie asked.

"Absolutely famished," Michaela touched her nose. "What about you?"

"What's famished?" the child wondered.

"It means very hungry," she replied.

"'Cause o' the baby?" Katie assumed.

"Yes," Michaela ran her hand across her waist.

"Does the baby eat some o' the food from ya, Mama?" the little girl asked.

"Yes," she smiled. "We share."

Katie glanced toward the corner of the room where her brother's new sled leaned, "I guess with no snow, Joey still can't go sled ridin'."

"We'll have to think of another way to occupy his time," Michaela helped Katie tie her shoes.

The little girl rolled her eyes, "I can only 'magine."

Michaela laughed softly at her expression, "Come now. Let's have breakfast."

As they exited the room, Josef sat up. He climbed down from his bed, then dragged his small step ladder to the window. Glancing out, he noted the lack of snow. Sighing in frustration, the little boy walked to his sled. An idea occurred to him. He righted it so that the runners were touching the floor, then dragged it out into the hallway.

************

Matthew looked up from his plate, "Sounds like Josef's up."

"I'll go get him," Brian stood as his mother continued to fix breakfast.

Suddenly a crashing sound emanated from the landing.

"Josef!" Michaela rushed toward the steps.

The little boy's screams terrified his mother. When she reached him, he was wailing and holding his arm.

"He must've tried t' ride it on the steps," Brian ascertained when he saw the broken sled.

"Is he okay?" Matthew lifted Katie.

As Brian worked to pull away the fragments of the wood from his little brother, Michaela felt her son's limbs.

"His wrist is sprained," she determined. "Brian, would you bring my bag?"

She continued to examine the child for further trauma. The little boy reached up to his mother for comfort. After she assessed his condition, she tenderly pulled him into her arms and kissed him. A whimpering, sympathetic Wolf approached them and licked the child's cheek, prompting a slight smile on Josef's face.

"I'm going to have to wrap his arm," Michaela explained. "Then you must take great care not to lift anything or twist it, Josef."

Katie tapped Matthew's shoulder to let her down. She climbed the first few steps to reach her mother and brother.

"Joey," she put her hands on her hips. "Ya feel better?"

"Uh-huh," he snuggled against his mother. Then he pointed to his shattered sled, "Bwoke it."

Michaela's voice became stern, "Josef, you could have been hurt much worse. What you did was very dangerous. The sled is for outside, not in the house."

"Poppy'll make ya a new one," Katie figured.

"Perhaps he's too young to have a sled," the mother rubbed her son's back. "I'll speak to your father about it, but meanwhile, let's finish breakfast."

"I best get the horses ready t' go int' town," Matthew volunteered.

As he reached the door, he met Hank ascending the front steps.

"Your Ma up?" the bartender asked.

"Yea," Matthew pointed. "She's fixin' Josef's wrist. He fell."

"Kids," Hank shook his head.

"Ma," Matthew called. "Hank's here."

"Come on in," she beckoned.

Hank closed the door behind him, "Look's like it's fixin' t' snow."

"See that, Joey?" Katie scolded. "Ya should've waited."

Hank noticed the little boy's wrapped wrist, "Have one too many pokles, kid?"

Michaela frowned, "It's not funny."

"Not much is with you, Michaela," he quipped.

"I'll feed him, Ma," Brian lifted his little brother. "Come on, Katie."

"Have you come from the Tweed house?" Michaela queried as the children went into the kitchen.

"Yea," he nodded. "I wanna talk t' ya about what's happenin' there."

************

"Esther," Olive sat with her sister at the dining table. "I've been thinking about what we should do."

"I can't put you through this anymore," the young woman bordered on tears. "I... I think I should leave."

"No," Olive's brow wrinkled. "We're your family. We love you."

"It's too dangerous for me to stay," Esther leaned her elbows on the table. "Who knows what will happen next?"

"I sent Dan t' fetch Reverend Johnson," Olive stated. "There's a presence here that can't be explained. Maybe he can help us get rid o' it."

"It's Bob MacNeal," Esther was certain. "He's out for revenge."

"I... I don't know who... or what it is," the older sister shook her head. "But I believe that some divine intervention wouldn't hurt."

"Whatever you think best," Esther agreed.

"Dan oughta be here with him any time now," Olive stood and went to the window.

Suddenly, Esther screamed in pain, "My God! My back! Olive, help me!"

The older sister rushed to her side, "Esther! It's... a knife stuck in ya. Where did it come from?"

The young woman began to feel faint, "Pull it out!"

"Jennie!" Olive called out to their sister. "Come quick."

The girl rushed into the room, "What happened?"

"Go get Dr. Mike," she cried. "Hurry!"

************

"Hank," Michaela asserted. "I intend to visit Esther this morning before I go to the Clinic."

"I don't think that's such a good idea," he folded his arms.

"Why not?" she asked. "She's my patient."

"It ain't that simple, an' ya know it," he shot back.

"If there is some unexplained phenomena at the house, I'll... I'll bring her to the Clinic."

"Good thinkin'," he became sarcastic. "Bring that ghost int' town."

"Do you believe in ghosts?" she raised her eyebrow.

"I seen some strange things," the bartender nodded. "But I never saw nothin' like what's happenin' t' that girl."

"I must confess, I'm a quite mystified myself," she sighed. "But I also believe there must be a rational explanation for this."

"When's Sully comin' home?" he wondered.

"Tomorrow night," she replied. "Why?"

"I was hopin' he might be able t' talk some sense int' ya," Hank retorted.

"Ma!" Matthew's voice could be heard from outside. "Jennie Cox is here!"

"Jennie?" she rose from the table and went to the door.

"Dr. Mike!" the girl caught her breath. "Olive sent me t' bring ya. Esther's been stabbed."

"What?" Michaela and Hank spoke simultaneously.

"I'll be right there," she touched the girl's arm.

Michaela then sprang into action, organizing her children. Brian was to take Katie to school, and Matthew would stay at the homestead to be with Josef. Hank offered to accompany her to the Tweed's, and off they went.

************

When Dan Tweed arrived home, he escorted the Reverend into the small abode. To his dismay, he found his wife hovering over her sister. Esther lay stomach down on the floor bleeding from the knife wound.

"What happened?" he knelt beside them.

"She was stabbed," Olive applied pressure to the injury.

"Stabbed?" the minister held his cane. "Dear Lord!"

"Jennie went t' get Dr. Mike," the frantic woman swallowed hard. "Dan, the knife flew outa nowhere!"

"Take me to Esther," the Reverend requested.

Dan guided him to the area on the floor where she lay. Johnson knelt down and began to pray for her. Suddenly, sounds of thunder from the roof shook the small structure. Timothy Johnson continued his prayers without fear or pause. Finally, the sounds abated, just as Michaela and Hank arrived.

Michaela determined that the wound to Esther's back was not serious and would only require a few stitches. As she worked to suture the cut, Esther attempted to look up.

"Lay still," Michaela encouraged the young woman when she tried to rise.

"Dr. Mike?" she rested her head on the hard wooden planks. "Will I be all right?"

"Yes," Michaela assured her as she bandaged the area.

"Esther," the Reverend spoke. "I want to take you to the church."

"What?" Hank was surprised.

"If she's well enough to travel, that is," he added.

"Ya know what's been goin' on here, padre?" Hank challenged.

"I told him," Dan mentioned.

"What can be done for her there?" Michaela glanced up.

"It's the house of the Lord," he rested his hand on Esther's head. "He will guide her through this."

"I don't want to bring any of this into the church," the young woman said. "I just want him to go away."

"Who?" Dan questioned.

"Bob MacNeal," she was convinced.

"Esther, he's dead," Michaela doubted.

"No," she answered. "He's following me." The girl then nodded slowly, "Yes, Reverend, I'll come with you."

************

By day's end, the situation at the Tweed house had settled. Without Esther's presence, there were no unexplained phenomena, no loud noises and no objects hurling through mid air untouched by human hands.

Young Jennie Cox stayed with her sister Esther at the church, where the Reverend had two cots set up for them. The minister, too, decided to stay with the girls to allay their fears.

Brian and Matthew helped their mother bathe their young siblings, and carried them up to bed. The older brothers kissed the two children good night, then retired for the evening themselves.

"Mama," Katie delayed going to sleep. "What's a ghost?"

"Sweetheart," Michaela sat on the edge of her bed. "It's.... nothing about which you need concern yourself."

"Why won't ya tell me?" the child wondered.

Michaela took her hand, "Because I want you to get a good night's sleep. Your Daddy's coming home tomorrow remember?"

"Yep," her eyes gleamed. "Then I'll ask him what a ghost is."

"You're a very persistent young lady, Katherine Sully," Michaela smiled.

"Is that good?" Katie raised her eyebrows.

"I'd say it's something you get from your parents," the mother whispered.

"Joey's bein' kinda quiet," the little girl cast a glance toward his bed. "He knows he's in trouble for breakin' the sled."

Michaela took a deep breath, "Would you excuse me while I speak to him?"

"Sure," Katie agreed.

Michaela kissed her daughter tenderly, then walked the few feet toward her son's bed, Josef looked up at her with his father's eyes.

"Is there something you need to tell me, young man?" Michaela opened.

"Papa make a new swed?" he broached the subject.

"Do you know how much time and effort and love your father put into making that one?" Michaela's tone was serious.

"Uh-huh," the little boy nodded.

"And what should we do when someone devotes so much time, effort and love to us?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Tank 'em," he immediately retorted.

"And...." she hesitated. "We should take care not to break the loving gift."

"I only wanna wide it, Mama," he did not fully grasp what she was telling him.

"Josef," she clasped his little hand. "You did something that was very dangerous and irresponsible. You not only broke the sled, you also endangered your safety."

"An' huwt my hand," he held it up.

She kissed his bandage, "Is it feeling better?"

"Huwts still," he frowned.

Michaela could not resist his sympathetic look, "We'll ask Papa about another sled after he comes home."

"Good," he smiled. "I take care o' lovin' gift."

"And be careful," she added.

"Yep," he consented.

After listening to their prayers, she lowered the lamp and went to her bedroom. Lifting the Civil War diary, she wondered what would happen to the couple in it.... to Sully and herself, she smiled. Soon, she was dreaming of them again:

"I'm here to see Miss Van Lew," Michaela requested of the servant who answered the door.

"Is she expectin' ya, Ma'am?" the servant questioned.

"No, but... I've come to see her on a matter of great urgency," she replied.

"It's all right, Bessie," a woman swept nervously into the opulent foyer.

The young maid exited, leaving Michaela face to face with the lady of the house. Elizabeth Van Lew was in her mid-forties. Prim and angular in movement, she had once been pretty but her beauty had faded with time. Tiny and blondish, with high cheekbones and a sharp nose, she had brilliant blue eyes.

In her genteel Southern accent, she invited, "Won't you come in, Miss...?"

"Mrs." Michaela amended. "Mrs. Michaela Sully."

Escorting her into a large and well furnished sitting room, Elizabeth turned to her, "Will you take tea?"

"No, thank you," she was in awe of the chandelier, silk wall covering and marble fireplace.

"What brings you to Church Hill?" Elizabeth sat.

"I'm here on a matter of a rather delicate nature," she responded.

"Oh?" the woman raised her eyebrow.

"I have reason to hope.... to believe that my husband, Lieutenant Byron Sully, is a prisoner in Libby Prison."

"And why would that be of interest to me?" Elizabeth eyed her suspiciously.

"Miss Van Lew," Michaela lowered her voice. "I know what you are."

"What do you mean, what I am?" the woman folded her hands nervously.

Michaela leaned closer, "I know that you're a spy."

Elizabeth quickly dismissed the comment, "Don't concern yourself with the idle gossip of my neighbors."

"I'll get to the point," Michaela looked her directly into her eyes. "My husband was captured just before the Battle of Gettysburg. He was a Union officer with Berdan's Sharpshooters. I do not know his condition or even his whereabouts for certain, but he was not listed among the killed or injured in the recent campaign."

"And you think he could be here in Richmond," Elizabeth's tone softened.

"Miss Van Lew," Michaela fought her tears. "We are newlyweds. I... I'm expecting his child, and I must find him. Can you understand?"

"Come," she took her hand. "I'll see what I can do."

************
Chapter 9
************

Amid her dream, Michaela thought she heard one of her children crying. Rising from her bed, she donned her robe. Quickly, she made her way to their room. Katie was sleeping peacefully, but Josef was tossing and turning. The concerned mother sat down on the edge of his bed, gently stroking his back. The little boy turned to see her. Reaching up, he craved her attention. Michaela lovingly enfolded him in her arms, kissing his temple and softly rocking him back and forth until he again slumbered. Then, silently, she returned to her bed.

She placed her hand on Sully's pillow. Tomorrow night at this time, her husband would be by her side. The anticipation of that fact would normally make sleep difficult. However, the morning activities at the Tweed home and the natural fatigue of pregnancy caused her to crave rest.

Drawing Sully's pillow to her breast, she closed her eyes and began to dream again about the Civil War diary:

That afternoon, Michaela accompanied Elizabeth Van Lew to the Libby Prison. She was amazed at the verve of the woman. Beneath the facade of innocuous idiosyncrasy, lay a shrewd and resourceful mind. Under the guise of bringing baskets of food, medicine and books to prisoners, she had ingratiated herself with the guards, clerks, and even the commandant, Lieutenant David H. Todd, half brother of President Lincoln's wife.

Libby Prison was comprised of three buildings, East, Middle and West, connected by inner doors. The prisoners were not kept on the ground floors. The cells for the more dangerous prisoners, spys and slaves under sentence of death were in the cellar. The number of prisoners far exceeded the 1200 capacity. Food rations were meager and sanitary conditions poor.

As they approached a clerk, Elizabeth spoke low, "Pray that your husband is here and not Belle Isle. You'll be shocked at the treatment of the men confined here, but it's far better than..."

"Miss Lizzie," the clerk spotted her. "What ya got in that basket?"

"Fresh baked cookies," she smiled. "An' there's a couple for you."

"Thanks," he tipped his hat and dug into the treats. "Ya here t' see anyone in particular?"

"Do you have a Lieutenant Byron Sully on the roster?" she touched Michaela's hand.

He ran his finger down a lengthy list, "Sully... uh, I don't.... Wait... here he is. West buildin'. Third floor."

"Thank you," she started down the corridor.

"Just a minute," he stopped her. "Who's the lady with ya?"

"Oh," she pretended to be embarrassed. "This is my cousin. She's visiting from Charlottesville. I hope you don't mind that I brought her along."

"Nah," he waved them on. "For another cookie, I'll let it go."

"Have two," Elizabeth offered, and the two women hurried on their way.

Walking along, Michaela was horrified at what she saw. Prisoners had no beds.

Elizabeth noted her expression, "They sleep on the floor, lined up on their sides like spoons to conserve heat and space. They elect a leader to command when they all should roll over in unison."

"How can we possibly get him out of here?" Michaela grew disheartened.

"Have faith, my dear," Elizabeth squeezed her hand.

Past cell after cell, an occasional voice of recognition called out to Elizabeth. Her acts of kindness to the prisoners were legend. Finally, they reached the last cell. There were at least a dozen men in it, most wearing shredded remnants of their uniforms. Michaela scanned the group for her husband.

"Sully?" she called.

One man slowly rose from the floor. It was all he could do to stand. His hair was disheveled and his beard scruffy. But she saw the glint of his blue eyes and knew.

"Sully!" she clung to the bars of the cell.

************

Sully rubbed his beard as he stared at the passing landscape and the occasional light of a town along. The train seemed to be standing still, but he knew it was still moving. Moving toward home. His mind was foggy from lack of sleep and anguish over what he had seen at Leavenworth. The added strain of his dream about Michaela contributed to his general feeling of malaise.

By the low light of the lantern in the cabin, he opened his notes again and began to reread and edit his transcription. His eyelids soon grew heavy, and he drifted off to sleep.

Another dream came to him. Again he was in the Nez Perce encampment. Michaela was beside him, tending to the sick. She was heavy with child, but still found the energy to move from one to the other, dispensing medicine and offering words of comfort.

Chief Joseph came to her, "Medicine Woman."

Sully helped her up.

"Yes?" she spoke softly.

"My people thank you for your kindness," he said. "But you must leave us now."

"I can't," she shook her head. "Not when there are so many ill."

His tone was serious, "You carry a child who will one day help all Indians. Take care of her."

"I shall," Michaela protectively rested her hand on her growing baby.

"How will she help the Indians?" Sully questioned.

"She will begin with the Cheyenne," he discussed. "They will treasure her acts of compassion. The men who advise the Great Father in Washington will listen to her words."

"Our little girl's gonna do that?" Sully beamed.

"Your little one will change the world," the chief informed him. "Change the world."

As Sully's dream continued, he next saw himself handing his infant daughter to Cloud Dancing. The medicine man lifted the child into the air and spoke the words of his grandfathers.

Then, he handed the baby to her father and said, "Name her in remembrance of my people, my brother. She will do honor to us."

"Is she gonna be okay?" Sully cradled her in his arms.

"She will grow strong and healthy," Cloud Dancing smiled.

************

"Esther!" Jennie Cox reached for her sister's arm. "I smell smoke."

"What?" The older sister sat up. Then she picked up on the scent, "You're right. Where's it coming from?"

In the dark, the girls could not make out the source of the smoke, but they quickly realized that it was becoming more difficult to breathe.

"I've got to find the Reverend," Esther held her sister's hands. "Run into town to sound the alarm."

The younger sister rushed from the structure and hurried as fast as her bare feet would allow. Reaching the great bell in town, she began to ring it.

Soon a crowd of men, donning their trousers and pulling up suspenders assembled.

"What's wrong?" Hank was the first to reach them.

"The church is on fire!" Jennie cried out. "Esther's still there tryin' t' find the Reverend."

"Come on!" Hank pointed to the creek. "Grab your buckets an' start the brigade."

Swiftly the men departed.

"Come with me," Grace gently guided Jennie into her house.

"Esther," the girl began to weep. "She's still inside."

"They'll find her," Grace assured. "Come on. You'll catch your death o' cold out here."

************

Michaela was lost in her diary dream:

"Michaela," Sully staggered forward.

She reached between the bars of the cell to stroke his face, "Are you all right?"

"How'd ya get in here?" he feared for her. "Ya gotta leave."

"No," she asserted. "I'm never letting you go again."

He swallowed hard, his parched lips cracking. Michaela was stunned at his emaciated condition.

Elizabeth reached into her basket and pulled out a canteen of water. Handing it to Michaela, she opened the lid and handed it to her husband. After several sips, he turned and offered some to his cell mates. The men drank as if they had never had water before.

"Thanks," he leaned his head weakly against the prison bars.

Michaela brushed back his filthy hair from his face, "Sully, I'm going to get you out of here."

"No, Michaela," he insisted. "It's too dangerous. The guards shoot at us if we even try t' look out a window."

Elizabeth stepped closer and spoke in a low voice, "Tonight, I want you to pretend to have an appendicitis attack. Hold your right side like you're dying."

"Who are you?" he became suspicious.

"She's a friend," Michaela covered his hands with hers. "Tonight, Sully. Please do as she says." She leaned forward and caressed her husband's face, "I love you."

"I love you, too," he stepped as close to her as he could and kissed her.

That night, Sully did as Elizabeth had instructed. The commotion caused by his fake attack prompted the guards to take him to the prison infirmary. Two of the attendants there then snuck him out of the building. Waiting for him was a man dressed in black. On horseback, he held an extra horse by its reigns.

"You able t' ride?" the man asked Sully.

"Yea," he mustered all of his strength to mount the animal.

"Let's go then," the man commanded.

"Where?" Sully followed.

"Miss Lizzie's," he replied as they broke into a gallop.

When they arrived at the opulent three and a half story mansion, Sully could not believe that this was where he had been guided. Was it a trap? By the back entrance, he was told to get off of the horse. There, waiting for him was Elizabeth Van Lew.

"Follow me," she instructed.

"Where ya takin' me?" he questioned.

"The attic," she walked briskly. "You'll be safe there for a few days until I can arrange for you to travel north."

"Michaela," he wondered. "Where is she?"

"Here," they reached the third floor of the house.

Touching a panel in the wall, Elizabeth opened it to reveal a narrow stairway.

"Go on," she encouraged him to enter. "I have to prepare for the arrival of the prison authorities."

"What?" he hesitated.

"Whenever there's an escape," she smiled. "They generally suspect my complicity. But don't worry. They've never found one of the Union boys here yet. Go on now."

Sully ascended the staircase, guided by a faint light at the top of the steps. When he finally reached the attic, he saw his wife.

"Michaela!" he rushed to her.

Closing her eyes to savor what she had dreamed of for so long, she silently embraced him.

"I don't know how ya managed all this, but God, it's so good t' see you," his eyes shown with love.

"I feared I'd never hold you again," she cupped his cheeks in her hands.

"I know I'm a mess," he glanced down at his ragged clothing. "An' I haven't had a bath in weeks."

"I don't care," she kissed him again.

"It was your image.... your face that kept me goin'," he wrapped his arms around her waist.

She drew one of his hands to her abdomen, "I have something to tell you, Sully."

"What?" he became lost in her eyes.

"We're going to have a baby," she revealed.

His eyes widened, "We are?"

"Our brief encounter was rather magical," she smiled.

His brow wrinkled, "Michaela, you shouldn't be here. It's too dangerous."

"I'm taking you home," she avowed.

At that moment, a small bell attached to the frame of the stairway moved.

The sound prompted Michaela to touch her husband's lips with her fingers, "They're here. We must be very quiet."

"Who?" he whispered.

"The prison authorities," she spoke quietly as she lowered the lamp.

************

It was sunup, and the smell of smoke filled the air around the church. The Reverend and Esther sat with blankets wrapped around them, as Hank came out of the structure.

"It's all out now," he wiped his brow.

"Good thing there wasn't much damage," Jake chimed in. "A few pews an' a new coat o' paint should fix it."

"It appeared to me that it was deliberately set," Preston stated.

"By who?" Loren asked.

"I can think of only one person who seems to cause disaster wherever she goes," the banker folded his arms and glared at Esther.

"I was asleep!" she defended.

"The only witness to that would be your sister," he countered. "Hardly proof of one's innocence."

"That's ridiculous," the Reverend contributed. "Esther Cox would never do such a thing."

"Well, I intend to see that it doesn't happen again," Preston told them. "I'm going to see that you are charged with arson."

"What?" Esther was horrified.

"I suggest, young lady, that if you do not wish to be incarcerated, you don't leave Colorado Springs," he turned and walked toward the bridge back to town.

"Jake," the minister spoke up. "You can't let him do this."

"It does look kinda suspicious," he agreed.

"You're going to put me in jail?" Esther was terrified.

Jennie and Grace neared them as she uttered the words.

"What kinda fool talk is that?" the Cafe owner put her hands on her hips.

"Preston talk," Hank said.

"He can't be serious," she put her arm around Esther.

"He'll get one o' his fancy Denver lawyers, an' next thing ya know...." Loren stopped when he saw Esther's expression.

"Well, then, we'll get Matthew," Grace raised her voice. "Meanwhile, I reckon there's some hungry men who might like a hot breakfast. I'll get things started."

"What about the Cox sisters?" the minister realized.

"They can stay with me," Grace affirmed. "Come on, girls."

************

Michaela rolled over, still enraptured by her dreams:

The bell rang again.

"They're gone," Michaela breathed a sigh of relief.

Raising the lamp again, she poured some water into a basin and began to lather a cloth.

"Take off those rags," she directed her husband.

Sully did as she requested, and stood before her, embarrassed by his condition.

"Sit here," she drew a chair near.

"I'm so sorry," he sat down.

She came to him quickly, "For what?"

"For all that ya been through," he rested his elbows on his knees.

He began to weep. Michaela knelt before him and lifted his face. After kissing him, she lovingly began to wipe away the weeks of dirt and grime. Continuing to refresh the water, she finally cleaned him to the point that his flesh was visible.... and so were the terrible bruises, all over him.

She tried to sound lighthearted, "Did they take the cameo?"

"They took the gold chain," he nodded. Then reaching for his boot, he worked off the heel. "I hid the cameo in here."

He placed it on the table and sighed, exhausted from the small exertion he had made. Michaela began to wash his hair. Each touch of her hands was healing salve to his soul. The water also cooled his body in the sweltering heat of the attic.

Then she offered him a razor, "I'm afraid I don't know how to do this."

He smiled, his spirits buoyed by her ministrations. Taking the blade to his face, he removed the shaggy last outward remnants of his captivity.

"That's more like it," she handed him a clean shirt and pair of trousers.

After he dressed, Michaela lifted a basket and placed it on the small table beside them.

"Elizabeth supplied us with a late supper," she drew back the napkin to reveal the contents.

Sully's eyes widened, "Soup."

"We thought your stomach could handle something simple at first," she ran a brush through his damp hair.

He drew his wife into his arms, "How can I ever thank you?"

"We'll think of something," she teased.

As they dined on the simple meal, Sully began to feel stronger. His broken spirit was reborn in the loving hands of his wife. Michaela watched him, searching his eyes for that same spark she fell in love with.

"Who is this Elizabeth?" he asked as he broke off a piece biscuit.

"She's a spy for the Union," she answered.

"Seems I manage t' find myself indebted t' spies," his sense of humor was returning.

Then he placed his hand on her tummy, "How ya feel, Michaela? Is everythin' okay with the baby?"

"We're both fine," she tingled at the touch of him.

"It's so hard t' believe," he took a deep breath. "Me, a father."

"You do want this child, don't you?" she searched his face.

He placed his hand atop hers, "Can't think o' anythin' I'd like better."

She noticed the fatigue in his eyes, "I want you to sleep now."

He gestured toward the small bed in the corner, "It's been so long since I saw one o' them."

"I've dreamed of sleeping beside you," she guided him to the bed.

"Michaela," he hesitated. "I... gotta tell ya somethin'."

"What?" she stopped.

"The Rebs.... tortured me," he swallowed hard. "I... don't know if I'll be able t' be a husband t' ya."

She trembled at the thought of what he had gone through, "Sully, I only want you to rest."

He sat on the edge of the bed and again felt overwhelmed with emotion. Tears began to stream down his cheeks. Michaela sat beside him and drew him down to rest his head on her lap. Then she leaned over and kissed him tenderly.

"Lay back," she directed him to stretch out more fully. "You're safe now. You'll never have to go through anything like this again."

"I'm not the same man I was before I left, Michaela," he sounded incredibly tired.

"Yes, you are," she was firm. "You're my husband. My life."

As he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, she lay down next to him. How she had dreamed of this moment.... to feel him safe beside her. They would pick up where they had left off. Of that she was certain.

************
Chapter 10
************

When Michaela pulled up to the Clinic with her family, Dorothy rushed from The Gazette office to meet them. Katie scooted off to school, Matthew to his office and Brian to class, leaving Michaela and Josef to chat with the newspaper woman.

"Ya missed all the excitement last night," her friend said.

Michaela removed her son's coat, "Oh?"

"There was a fire at the church," she informed her.

"A fire?" Michaela was shocked.

"They got it out pretty quick," the redhead clarified. "Sure shook up the Cox girls."

"Oh, my!" Michaela suddenly realized. "I'd forgotten they were spending the night there. I should ride out to check on them."

"They're with Grace," Dorothy told her. "What d' ya make o' all that's happened t' Esther, Michaela?"

She settled Josef into the anteroom, "It's quite mysterious. I witnessed some of the bizarre occurrences at the Tweed house and am at a loss to explain them."

"Folks are sayin' the place is haunted by Bob MacNeal's ghost," Dorothy stated.

"Do you believe in ghosts?" Michaela wondered.

"I believe that a troubled soul can remain on earth t' torment someone," she nodded.

"There is no evidence that such a thing occurs," the physician countered.

"Michaela, you an' me both know that there's things in life that can't be explained.... connections between people.... communication between the livin' an' dead through dreams," Dorothy observed. "Just 'cause we can't explain it, don't mean it ain't real." She studied her friend's expression, then changed the subject, "Any word from Sully?"

"Yes," she smiled. "He returns this evening. He was able to meet with Chief Joseph."

"That's wonderful," Dorothy's eyes lit up. "I'd like t' hear what he had t' say."

"Sully wants his words to be published," she recalled his message to her. "He said the conditions at the Nez Perce encampment are deplorable."

"It's so hard t' imagine people bein' treated like that," Dorothy empathized. "Well, I best be goin'. You got your work t' do."

"You said Esther and Jennie are with Grace?" Michaela recalled.

"Yea," Dorothy paused.

"Do you think you could ask them to stop by to see me?" she requested.

"Talk is, Preston blames Esther for the fire," the red head noted. "He's talkin' about charges of arson."

"That's absurd!" Michaela was surprised.

"Just the same," she paused. "She might be needin' a good attorney."

"I'm certain that Matthew would be willing to represent her in the event of such charges," Michaela commented.

Dorothy glanced out the window and saw Preston, folded paper in hand, marching toward the Cafe, "She might be needin' him sooner than ya think."

************

"Esther Cox," the banker set a paper in front of her. "This is a notification to appear at a trial charging you with arson. The circuit judge will hear the evidence against you tomorrow morning."

Jake approached them, "What's goin' on here?"

Esther was too stunned to speak.

"A trial," Preston turned to leave. "Oh, and by the way, you and your family are hereby evicted from my property."

"I'll go get Matthew," Robert E heard the exchange.

Grace gave Esther a reassuring hug, "Don't worry, child. No one thinks ya started the fire."

************

After speaking with Esther and Jennie, assuring them that all would be done to help defend her against the charges of arson, Michaela gathered her young children and headed home.

Katie and Josef could do nothing but talk about the impending arrival of their father. Michaela planned to fix his favorite meal and have the youngsters bathed before he got home. She knew that to him, the cleanliness of the house or even his children would not matter, but to her, it was important.

She was eager to hear about what he had done, his discussions with Chief Joseph and his plan of action. She also hoped to share with him the events at the Tweed house and the conclusion of the intriguing Civil War diary.

Michaela smiled to herself as she peeled the potatoes. Katie was reading a story to Josef. Granted, she was making up the entire thing since her reading skills were limited, but nonetheless, the little girl was holding his interest.

When Brian and Matthew arrived at the homestead, they filled her in on the situation with Esther. Matthew felt sure that the evidence against the young woman was circumstantial. He had brought several books to the house to prepare her defense. However, the swift timing of the trial disturbed him.

Finally, the house was ready. Dinner was ready. The children were clean. But there was no Sully yet.

"Train's prob'ly late," Matthew commented to his mother.

"I want you children to go ahead and eat," she determined. "It's already after seven."

"Aren't we gonna wait for Poppy?" Katie inquired.

"He'll be here as soon as he can, Sweetheart," she knew that her husband was often late. "It's past your dinner time."

"Okay," Katie sat at the table and delicately placed a napkin on her lap.

Josef made his usual mess of dispersing food everywhere but in his mouth, despite Michaela's best efforts to remind him of his manners.

"Young man," her voice was stern. "Do you see how your brothers are eating?"

The little boy looked at Matthew and Brian, then turned his attention back to his mother, "Yep."

Michaela reasoned, "Do they eat their food or wear it?"

"Eat," he observed.

"Then why can't you eat yours?" she implored.

"Not like it," he frowned.

"Josef Michael Sully," Michaela debated. "This food provides nourishment for your body so that you'll grow big and strong like your father and brothers. There are many children in this country who have no food, yet you let yours go to waste."

"Give chil'ren mine, Mama," he offered in all seriousness.

Matthew and Brian stifled their laughter.

At that moment, they heard footsteps on the front porch.

"Poppy's home!" Katie bolted for the door, Josef swiftly on her heels.

Sully opened the door, and was quickly greeted by the youngsters. Kneeling down, he enfolded them in his arms and gratefully accepted their hugs and kisses. Matthew and Brian patted him on the back as Michaela stood back to watch. Wolf neared his master, hoping for a warm pat on his head. Sully soon obliged.

Closing his eyes, he savored the sweet smell of his children. In stark contrast to the stench of the Indian encampment, his home was full of blissful aromas.

Then he noticed his son's bandaged wrist, "What happened, Joe?"

"Papa," Josef would not release his father. "My swed got bwoke."

"How?" his brow wrinkled.

"He rode it on the steps," Katie announced. "An' that's how his wrist got hurt."

Sully took a deep breath, "We'll have a talk about it. You okay?"

"Mama put this on," he held the bandage closer.

Sully smiled and kissed it.

Then he spoke low to his children, "Mind if I see your Ma now?"

"She missed ya," Katie whispered.

"I missed her, too," he winked. "I missed all o' ya."

Matthew clapped his hands, "Come on, you kids. Let's finish eatin'."

The children followed their older brother to the table, as Sully took Michaela by the hand and led her into the kitchen. The moment they were out of sight from the young ones, they embraced.

"It's good t' be home," he closed his eyes and buried his face in her neck.

She lovingly stroked the back of his head, "It's good to have you home."

He pulled back and admired her face, "I love you so much, Michaela."

She warmed at the passion of his proclamation, "And I love you."

They kissed more deeply, then drew back breathlessly.

He caressed her abdomen, "This little one behave herself?"

"Yes," Michaela smiled and placed her hand atop his.

Suddenly Sully felt a tugging at his leg.

It was Josef, "Papa, take my food t' chil'ren?"

"What?" Sully lifted him up.

"He doesn't like his dinner," Michaela explained. "When I told him that there are children without food, he offered his."

"Joe," Sully stroked his back. "Ya got no idea, son."

Michaela read his expression, "It must have been terrible, Sully."

"It was," his voice choked. "I'll tell ya about it later. Right now, let's eat."

************

"Tell us a story, Poppy," Katie implored as he and Michaela tucked in their children for the night.

Sully clasped her little hand, "Kates, I don't know if...."

"Pwease," Josef interjected.

Sully drew the little boy into his lap and kissed the top of his head, "How 'bout if I tell ya how happy I am t' be home?"

"We're happy, too, Poppy," Katie leaned her head against his arm.

He embraced her, "I saw a lot o' children who didn't have a Ma or Pa. They didn't have warm clothes or food either. An' it made me think about how lucky we are."

"Could ya help 'em?" Katie glanced up at him with her mother's eyes.

He was silent for a moment, then softly spoke, "I talked t' the people in charge of 'em. I wrote letters, but.... I didn't do enough."

"Are ya sad?" Katie perceived.

"Yep," he felt a lump in his throat.

Katie reached up to hug her father, "Ya did all ya could, Poppy. An' that's a lot."

Sully quickly wiped away the tear in his eye, "I love you, my sweet girl. You, too, big boy."

"Love ya, Papa," Josef spoke sincerely.

Michaela was overcome by the scene before her. She went to her husband and children. Sitting beside them, the family silently embraced for several minutes.

************

Sully removed his shirt and began to wash up before retiring to bed. Michaela watched him, hoping he would talk about the agony he had witnessed.

"Matthew mentioned somethin' about a trial t'morrow," he dried his face.

"Oh, Sully," she shook her head. "The most bizarre things have been happening at the Tweed house."

"Dan an' Olive's?" he climbed into bed beside her.

"Yes," she rested her hand just below her waist. "It all began after Olive's sister Esther attended a party with Bob MacNeal on New Year's eve. He tried to force himself on her. The next day, Hank and Jake rode out to arrest him, but he attempted to flee from them and was accidentally killed."

"What's that got t' do with the house?" he was puzzled.

"Strange things began to happen," she detailed. "Esther's skin mysteriously swelled up and turned red. Loud noises like thunder emanated from beneath her bed and on the roof. A death threat carved itself into the plaster above her bed. Furniture moved, and most recently, she was mysteriously stabbed in the back."

"Humm," he turned on his side to face her.

She went on, "Last night, the Reverend invited Esther and her sister Jennie to spend the night at the church, hoping all of this would end. But the church caught fire, and now she's being charged with arson."

"What d' ya make of it?" his brow wrinkled.

"People are saying that the ghost of Bob MacNeal is haunting her, but...." she hesitated.

"But ya don't believe in ghosts," he completed her thought.

"Do you, Sully?" she was curious.

"I believe not everythin' can be explained with science an' books," he answered.

"Matthew is going to represent Esther," she told him. "I'm certain that he'll do a good job."

"Doin' a good job don't always mean ya win," he kissed her shoulder.

She tingled, "Sully, I've been having the most incredible dreams lately."

"Oh," he smiled. "About us?"

"Yes, in a way" her cheeks flushed. "Brian received a diary from Professor Kelly. It was written by a woman who was a Confederate spy in the Civil War. I've been reading it each evening, and when I fall asleep, it's you and I living out her words."

"You the spy?" he grinned.

"Yes," she stroked his cheek. "And you're the dashing Union lieutenant with whom I fall madly in love."

"Sounds almost as good as the real thing," he teased.

"Nothing can compare to the real thing," she lifted up to kiss him.

"So, how'd they get together?" he slipped his arm beneath her shoulders to draw her closer.

"To be brief..." she was interrupted.

"Which ain't like ya," he quipped.

She tapped his side playfully, "They met and instantly fell in love at a party. Before he had to leave for battle, they were married. Then he was captured by the Confederates and imprisoned. I've reached the part where he has escaped with the assistance of a Union spy named Elizabeth Van Lew."

"Sounds excitin'," he ran his finger along her jaw.

"His wife is expecting a child," Michaela added. "Following his escape, as she helped to clean him up, she saw the bruises on his body from where they tortured him."

"Uh oh," he smiled.

"Why are you looking like that?" she raised an eyebrow.

"Like what?" he kissed her ear.

"Oh, Sully," her pulse instantly raced.

"Somethin' wrong?' he knew the effect he was having.

"I... I'd like to finish reading the diary with you," she attempted to maintain her focus.

"Right now?" he lowered his kisses to her neck.

"No," she gulped. "Not at this minute. But.... there are some other matters we need to discuss."

"Right now?" he slowly pulled the hem of her nightgown higher to caress her belly.

She lovingly clasped his head and ran her fingers through his hair, "No dream can compare to this, Mr. Sully."

"Sure hope not," he continued to work his magic across her body.

Michaela massaged his temples, then softly kissed his eyelids.

"I love when ya take care o' me like this," he spoke low.

"I love taking care of you," she smiled.

Finally, their senses heightened to a peak, they positioned themselves to share their love more fully. Wave after wave of ecstasy swept over them as they allowed their instincts to guide them. Finally, united in body and soul, they began to calm.

"Oh, Sully, how I've longed for you," she whispered breathlessly.

"Ya sure it's better than that dreamin'?" he kidded.

"Well..." she smiled.

He kissed her passionately.

"You've convinced me," she clasped his sides.

He brushed back a lock of her hair, peering deep within her eyes as he quoted:

"What thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed; we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself."

"Sully!" her eyes widened.

"Mmm?" he stroked her arm.

"That was in my dream!" she exclaimed. "It's what the lieutenant told his bride when they consummated their marriage."

"Michaela!" he pretended to be shocked. "What kinda dreams are ya havin'?"

Her cheeks blushed, "It was you and I, remember?"

"Well, I guess it's all right then," he rested his palm on her abdomen. "Tell me. Have ya been feelin' okay? Is the baby all right?"

She quivered slightly at his touch, "We're fine. Other than the usual fatigue, I've experienced no difficulty."

"I... had my own dreams while I was gone," he glanced down.

"Tell me about them," she encouraged. "Tell me what you saw at Fort Leavenworth."

************
Chapter 11
************

"Michaela," Sully closed his eyes. "I never witnessed anythin' so terrible. Not even at Washita."

She linked her fingers in his, silently conveying her support and love.

"It was a livin' hell," he detailed. "The most horrible conditions. No human bein's should ever live like that. They were dyin' from disease."

"What about the medicine?" she recalled sending it.

"The Army took it from me," he shook his head.

"Oh, no," she was disappointed.

"When I met Chief Joseph, I jotted down as much as I could of his words," he related. "He's real eloquent. If I can get Dorothy t' print an article...."

"Perhaps other newspapers would carry it, as well," she was of the same thought. "And I shall attempt to contact some physicians near Fort Leavenworth area. The Army uses contract doctors quite often. I might be able to locate someone who would be willing to help them."

"I'm also tryin' t' arrange for Chief Joseph t' go t' Washington t' meet the politicians," Sully revealed. "Maybe they'll listen t' him. His words are hard t' ignore."

Her heart filled, "I'm so proud of you, Sully."

"Nothin' t' be proud of," he could not view himself that way.

She squeezed his hand reassuringly, "Look at me."

His eyes met hers.

"You are without question, the most incredible man I've ever met," her eyes welled. "You have... and will make a difference in the lives of those poor people."

He swallowed hard, "Chief Joseph's baby daughter died when I was there."

"Oh, Sully," she cupped his cheek in her hand.

"Got me dreamin' about our baby," he looked down. "In one o' the dreams, we was livin' with the Indians an'.... our little girl didn't make it."

Michaela's eyes saddened, "There were other dreams?"

"Yep," he recalled. "In another, our baby was born nice an' healthy. Chief Joseph an' Cloud Dancin' were there. They said she'd grow up t' help the Indians. Chief Joseph told me she would change the world. Cloud Dancin' said t' name her in memory of the Cheyenne."

"Then we shall," she affirmed.

He sat up and hovered over her briefly. Then he lowered his head to tenderly kiss her abdomen.

Raising his vision to include his wife's face, he whispered, "I thought about doin' that when I was alone at night. All I could think about was holdin' you an' the children."

"I felt you," she said. "One night, I sensed your hand on me right there."

"That's what I meant about things that can't be explained by science or a book. We're so lucky, Michaela," he lay back down beside her. "I didn't think my heart could hold this much happiness in the midst of the same world that treats the Indians so terrible."

"We've been blessed," she gently caressed the hair at the base of his neck. "And we shall never, ever take what we have for granted."

"We got each other an' those terrific kids," he smiled. "I know Matthew's gonna have a challenge t'morrow."

"He'll do well," she expressed. "But speaking of challenges...."

"What'd Josef do?" he sensed.

"He nearly frightened us to death with his escapade of riding the sled down the steps," she shuddered. "He grew impatient waiting for a snowfall, and...."

"I'll fix it t'morrow," he nodded.

"Sully," she placed her hand on his. "Perhaps he isn't ready for it."

"He's ready," he responded. "We just need t' teach him t' be responsible with it."

"He had a very difficult time with your absence," she rested her hand on his chest. "He cried, wet the bed...."

"Poor little guy," he lamented. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," she assured. "You should have seen Katie with him, telling him that they have to believe in their Daddy. His entire demeanor changed after their talk."

"That's good," he half-smiled.

"You must be exhausted," she noted the darkness beneath his eyes. "It's time to go to sleep."

Suddenly, there was a light tap on their door. Michaela straightened her nightgown and slipped from the bed. Opening the door, she saw Josef standing before her.

She drew her son into her arms, "Did you need to visit the privy, Sweetheart?"

"No," he rubbed his eyes. "Wanna see Papa."

"I'm here, Joe," he extended his arms. "What's on your mind?"

The little boy climbed across the bed to his father, "Ya stay for 'while?"

"Yep," Sully rubbed his tummy. "But ya know I'll always come home when I go away, don't ya?"

"Uh-huh," he nodded. "Mama wowwy 'bout ya."

"What about you, Joe?" the father tilted his head. "You okay?"

"Uh-huh," he nodded again. "Jus' checkin' on ya."

"Thanks," Sully kissed his cheek. "I was thinkin' maybe t'morrow I'd fix that sled o' yours."

Josef's eyes widened, "Weally?"

"Yep," Sully smiled. Then pointing to his son's wrist, he said, "This here's a reminder that ya gotta be careful, big boy. Can't go worryin' your Ma like that. Where's the only place t' ride the sled?"

The little boy pointed, "Outside."

"An' what has t' be there when ya ride it?" Sully quizzed.

"Snow," his son replied.

"And?" Sully prompted.

"Gwownup," Josef acknowledged.

"That's right," the proud father embraced him. "Now, think ya can get back t' sleep?"

"Uh-huh," Josef conceded. "Mama take me?"

"I'll take you, my darling," she lifted him again.

"'Night, Joe," Sully tapped his behind.

A few minutes later, when she returned to their bed, Michaela found her husband sleeping. She spooned her form against his and soon joined him.

************

Michaela rolled onto her side, a chink of light having wakened her at sunrise. She focused on Sully, who was sitting beside her reading in bed.

"Good morning," she yawned.

"Mornin'," he rubbed her arm. "Sleep good?"

"Very well, thank you," she began to sit up. "You're reading the diary?"

"Yep," he smiled. "Wanted t' catch up t' where you were."

"Have you?" she yawned again.

"Just now," he answered. "Where'd ya say Brian got this, Michaela?"

"Professor Kelly," she specified.

"An' how'd he get it?" Sully wanted to know.

"I believe it was found at a train wreck near Denver a few years ago," she recalled. "Why?"

"The names o' this couple," he said. "Evelyn Stoddard an' Alex Canfield."

"What about them?" she was curious.

"Just sounds familiar," he could not identify.

She pulled herself up beside him, "Would you read aloud?"

"Sure," he grinned and slid his arm around her. "She stopped makin' day t' day entries after they returned t' Maryland from Richmond. Looks like it's just summaries from time t' time."

He read to her:

"As I nurse my beloved Alex back to health, his melancholy remains. I grow larger with the baby, an' Father supports us since Alex is unable t' do any line of work. He sits in front o' the window for hours on end, nothin' seemin' to interest him. I feel as though he is driftin' further and further from me.

Through the fall months, I have taken walks with my husband an' attempted t' interest him in the arrival of our child. At first, I thought there was a glimmer of progress. Then my brother Charles came home on leave from Sheridan's campaign. His talk o' the War effort has troubled Alex even further, and it appears he is withdrawin' again.

Alex has begun t' drink. He tries t' conceal it, but I can still smell the alcohol on his breath. His temperament is changin', too. Gone is the gleam in his eyes. I don't know what t' do, where to turn.

Father passed away this week. The doctor said it was a heart attack an' that he did not suffer. His funeral was today. I was alone. Charles is away. Alex is drunk, an' I am lost. There remains only a brief time before I deliver my baby. Into what kind of life am I bringin' this child?"

"Sully," Michaela placed her hand on his arm. "This isn't how things were supposed to turn out."

"It ain't like your dream," he kissed the top of her head. "Do ya want me t' stop?"

"No," she shook her head and wiped a tear. "I want to hear about her baby."

Sully returned to the contents:

"January 15, 1864. Today I experienced the most overwhelmin' joy. I gave birth to a little girl. Alex was with me afterwards. He made every effort t' stay sober an' be here t' offer support. We both wept when we held her. For this brief time, I saw the man I love again. We have named the baby Marjorie for his mother."

"Sully!" Michaela suddenly realized. "Could it be Marjorie? The little orphan we met in Denver. Remember? Her parents were killed in a train wreck."

"That's why the name was familiar," he realized. "Charles Stoddard, Marjorie's uncle, served under Sheridan. Remember when he brought her for a visit t' Colorado Springs?"

"What an incredible coincidence," she observed. "Though there is a discrepancy in the birthday. When I first met her, Marjorie told me that she was going to turn eleven. The year matches.... 1875... but we weren't there in January."

"She could've been confused," Sully figured. "She'd been without her Ma an' Pa for a year by then. So we been readin' about how her parents met."

"Marjorie said her father drank and would beat them," her brow wrinkled.

"I remember," his eyes saddened. "They must've lost their money, too. Didn't she tell ya that her Ma had t' take in laundry?"

"They began so in love," she reached up to close the book.

"Makes me appreciate what we got even more," he circled his arms around her.

"I was hoping their story would have a happy ending," she sighed.

"Marjorie's with her uncle now," Sully pointed out. "She's not alone anymore."

"Do you think we should send this diary to her?" Michaela wondered.

"Gotta talk t' Dr. Kelly first," he pointed out. "Seems like it should be sent t' her uncle. Let him decide if she's old enough t' handle it."

She turned her head toward the door, "I think I hear Matthew."

"We best get up then," he set the diary aside. "Wanna be there t' lend him our support."

************

After breakfast, Sully pulled Brian aside, "Can I talk t' ya, son?"

"Sure," Brian nodded.

"I was wonderin' if I could ask your help on somethin'," Sully broached the subject.

"Anythin', Pa," the young man raised his eyebrows.

"I'm tryin' t' write up the words o' Chief Joseph," the father began. "But you got a way o' doin' it real eloquent, Brian. I was hopin' maybe ya could help me with it."

"I'd be honored to," he agreed.

Sully reached into his travel pouch and withdrew a stack of papers, "This here's what I wrote already."

Brian accepted them, "I'll look it over."

"I'm hopin' Miss Dorothy might put it in The Gazette," he added.

"I'm sure she would," Brian smiled.

"I really appreciate it," Sully patted his back.

"I got some time t'day before Esther's trial t' read it over," the young man agreed.

"What d' you think o' all this business with Esther?" Sully sought his opinion.

"I been tryin' t' figure it out," Brian admitted. "She's a real nice girl, Pa. I know she wouldn't set fire t' the church."

"What about the things that happened t' her at home?" Sully probed.

"Ma saw it," he mentioned. "Hank, too. Even Preston an' Jake got a glimpse. It's beyond explanation."

************

The trial of Esther Cox was held at Grace's Cafe, owing to the smoke smell still permeating the Church. It was a cool, crisp January morning, but by the time the trial began, the sunlight provided tolerable temperatures.

Preston's prosecutor portrayed Esther as an unstable young woman, traumatized by the attempted rape, whose emotional imbalance had caused her to seek attention through acts of destructive behavior. He showed the jury of townsmen pieces of plaster from the wall of the house, the knife that had stabbed the young woman.... implying that from the angle of entry, it could have been self-inflicted.

Finally, Matthew had his turn. He called Jake, Hank and Michaela before the judge and jury as witnesses to the goings on at the house. Each agreed that it was impossible for Esther to have pulled off the actions of which she was accused while in her physical condition. Matthew even got Preston to admit that she seemed incapable of such things. He pointed out that the events at the house were irrelevant in considering the charge of arson at the church.

Michaela smiled with pride watching her son. Sully squeezed her hand as the jury began to deliberate. After an hour of discussion, they reached their verdict. They found the young woman guilty of arson. The judge sentenced her to a four-month term in a Denver prison along with payment for the damages to the church.

Esther's family began to cry. Matthew assured her that he would appeal the verdict and sentence. Michaela and Sully stepped forward to console the stunned young woman.

"Esther," Michaela offered. "I'm going to send your medical file to my daughter Colleen in Denver. She's a physician. I want her to continue to check on your condition."

"Thanks, Dr. Mike," she embraced her. "For all you tried to do for me."

Sully put his hand on Matthew's shoulder, "You okay?"

"Yea," his voice did not contain his disappointment. "I better get t' work on that appeal."

Hank reluctantly led Esther toward the jail, glaring at Preston, "You happy?"

"Delighted," Preston smiled.

************

As the crowd lingered at Grace's, Dorothy finished jotting down her notes of the event.

Brian approached her, "Miss Dorothy, I got Pa's writin' about Chief Joseph. Think we could put it in The Gazette?"

"Yes, Brian," she warmly responded. "It's important that people know what's happenin' t' the Nez Perce."

"Here's the article then," he handed over the papers.

"I think this deserves a special edition," she nodded. "Wanna help me get started?"

"Yes, Ma'am," he smiled.

************

"They're gonna transfer Esther t' Denver on Monday," Olive Tweed wiped the tears from her eyes.

"I'll go with her," Matthew volunteered.

"Prison," Olive shook her head. "She did nothin' wrong!"

"An' now we gotta leave the house, too," Dan shook his head.

The Reverend offered, "You're welcome to stay at the church until...."

"No thank you!" Dan was curt. "We're leavin' this town."

"Dan," Olive hoped to calm him.

"We'll go t' Denver, too," he stated. "I'll find work."

"Now Esther can't even finish her classes at the college," young Jennie pointed out.

"I wish there were something we could do," Michaela commented.

"We appreciate all ya did, Dr. Mike," Olive felt her tears welling again.

The family gathered its belongings and left the Cafe.

"Sully," Michaela glanced up at him.

"They'll be okay," he tried to assure her. "They got each other, an' Matthew's gonna help 'em."

She looked toward Grace, who had been watching her godchildren during the proceedings. Josef and Katie had their hands buried in a mass of ground meat and spices.

Sully smiled, "I reckon the meatloaf will have a different flavor t'day."

"Let's go home," she leaned her head against his shoulder.

"Sully!" Horace caught up to them.

"Hey, Horace," he turned to the telegraph operator.

"Telegraph come from Washington for ya," he handed him the paper. "How ya feelin', Dr. Mike?"

"I'm well, thank you," she smiled. Then she put her arm around Sully, "What does it say?"

He closed his eyes for a moment, then lifted his wife into his arms.

"Sully!" she knew Horace was watching them.

"The Interior Department's askin' the Department o' War t' turn the Nez Perce over t' their authority!" he proclaimed.

"That's wonderful news!" she kissed him.

"Michaela!" he glanced toward Horace.

"You did it!" she ignored the public locale. "You got them to listen!"

"It ain't over for 'em," he sighed. "But it's a step in the right direction."

************

Sully sat before the fire, his young children on his lap enjoying his warm embrace.

Brian joined them, "Miss Dorothy's gonna print a special edition with the Nez Perce story, Pa."

"That's good news, Brian," Sully smiled. "I appreciate your help."

"Poppy," Katie held her father's hand. "Why'd Mama go t' bed so early."

"She was tired, honey," he explained. "That's gonna happen with your Ma more an' more 'til the baby comes."

"Are we gonna have another little girl?" she wondered.

Brian chuckled, "We don't know in advance."

"A sturpwise," Josef nodded. "I like that."

Sully tickled the little boy's side, "What d' you want, Joe? A little brother or sister?"

"Don' know," he leaned back. "Jus' wanna play wiff it."

"Ya have t' be gentle with a baby, Joey," Katie advised.

"Your Ma an' me think it might be a little girl," Sully divulged.

Brian noted, "Hank's takin' odds at the Gold Nugget."

"What?" Sully was surprised. "They're bettin' on what your Ma's gonna have?"

"A boy's the odds on favorite so far," the young man grinned.

"Why d' they think our baby will be odd, Poppy?" Katie did not comprehend.

"Takin' odds means they're tryin' t' predict whether it'll be a boy or girl," Brian clarified.

"But I thought ya can't know in advance," the little girl recalled.

"Ya can't know for sure," Sully kissed the top of her head. "But ya can guess."

"I just wanna hold the baby," Katie smiled.

"Me, too," Josef agreed.

"That makes all of us," Sully winked. "Think I'll have room for all o' ya on my lap?"

"We'll make room" the little girl nodded.

************

Michaela heard the door to her bedroom, "Sully?"

He sat on the edge of the bed, "Sorry I woke ya. Ya feelin' okay?"

"Yes," she drew herself up. "What time is it?"

"After eleven," he whispered.

"The children..." she began to rise.

He guided her to lay back, "They're fine. Sleepin' like angels."

"I should..." she was interrupted.

"Take care o' yourself an' the baby," he completed the sentence. "I had a talk with the kids. They understand ya need lots o' rest."

She cupped her hand on her tummy, "They're such miracles."

"Yep," he lay his hand on hers. Then he chuckled, "Brian told us Hank's takin' odds on what we'll have."

"That's terrible," she sounded serious.

Then they both burst into laughter.

He continued to amuse her, "Katie wondered why folks would think our baby's gonna be odd."

She lightly touched the side of his face and leaned closer to kiss him, "I love you."

He drew her hand to his heart, "I love you, too. Have any more dreams?"

"Not about the duo in the diary," she slipped her had beneath the opening in his shirt.

"'Bout us?" he grinned.

"Well..." she smiled coyly.

"One o' THEM dreams?" he teased.

"I'm afraid I'm haunted by you, Mr. Sully," she spoke low.

He quoted:

"With thousand such enchanting dreams,
That meet to make sleep not so sound,
As sweet."

"Was that Browning?" she guessed.

"Herrick," he raised her fingers to his lips.

"Won't you join me in those dreams?" she invited.

"Love to," he slid into the bed and tucked his form to hers.

"I was thinking about all of those whose lives are in such turmoil," she warmed at his touch. "Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce.... Esther and her family."

"We'll keep on tryin' t' do what we can, Michaela," he kissed her temple. "Fightin' for what's right."

"Sometimes.... I feel guilty that we have so much, and others so little," she confessed.

"It's folks who have a lot that got a duty t' give," he reasoned. "We'll keep on givin' t' each other, an' sharin' what we have with others."

"And we'll never give up," she agreed.

He kissed her again, "Never."

************

THE END

EPILOGUE

The words spoken by Chief Joseph to Sully were taken directly from quotes of the Nez Perce leader. Indignation by some government officials at their treatment at Leavenworth (where malaria hit that spring) began to turn the humanitarian wheels slowly.

In the summer of 1878, the Interior Department requested that the War Department transfer the Indians to their jurisdiction. Later, they were loaded onto a train and taken to Baxter Springs, Kansas (near the Oklahoma border). Many more of the Native Americans died due to their treatment by Indian Agent Hirum Jones.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered that they be relocated to the Ponca Agency, but conditions did not improve. In time, men of conscience became aroused by the words of Chief Joseph. By 1884, the number of survivors had dwindled to 282 from the number of 431 who had surrendered with Joseph. In the spring of 1885, the survivors were returned to Idaho (those who accepted Christianity) and Washington (those who did not, including Chief Joseph).

He did travel to Washington, DC several times to plead on behalf of the Nez Perce. He was heard by President Hayes and Secretary Schurz. However, he was not allowed to return to his beloved home, remaining a prisoner of war. All nine of his children died before him, including a small daughter who passed away while they were held at Baxter Springs. He continued to struggle for justice for his people until his death in 1904. It is said that he died of a broken heart.

Elizabeth Van Lew ("Crazy Bet") was a spy for the Union in Richmond. Not only did she help prisoners escape from Libby Prison, she also gleaned valuable information from various sources inside the prison. She even managed to penetrate the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis by convincing one of her former servants (she had freed her slaves) to secure a position in the Davis household. A fascinating woman, she ultimately met President Grant and served as postmistress of Richmond from 1869-1877. It is believed that Elizabeth died around 1900. Much more information about her can be found in the book "Spies for the Blue and Gray" by Harnett T. Kane.

Finally, the story about Esther Cox is true, though the location of the actual events was Amherst, Nova Scotia. In his book, "The Great Amherst Mystery," Walter Hubbell describes what happened in 1877 when he was a boarder in the Tweed house. Following the terrifying ordeal at her home, the 19 year old was actually convicted of arson after a farm house to which she had moved caught fire. She served one month of her sentence, and from that time on, was never again troubled by the mysterious hauntings.

Esther twice married and died in 1912 at the age of 53. Walter Hubbell published his book after her death and included in it an affidavit signed by 16 witnesses to the horrific events at Amherst.

For any reader who has not read my past stories, the character of young Marjorie was introduced in "Compromises" and returned for a visit in "Goin' Courtin'."



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