The Night of the Gunman
"...to the last I grapple with thee;
from hell's heart I stab at thee;
for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
"See?" the man pointed to the figure escorting a group of people, "Think you can hit him?"
"Absolutely," the other figure replied, "now?"
"Wait until the people have gone. I want no one to be around to help Señor Gordon when he is incapacitated. We wait."
Finally the last of the convoy disappeared behind the ridge and Gordon rode back across the prairie, "Now?" the sniper asked.
"Now." The other man confirmed.
The rifle spoke once and the rider swayed in the saddle, it spoke again and the man fell. The horse halted and bent its head to nuzzle the fallen rider but when another rifle shot echoed in the canyon it turned and sped away into the distance.
"Fool!" the man in black swore, "I wanted that horse dead!"
"Sorry sir," one of the men behind them stuttered, "I thought I could hit it!"
"Let's get down there," the man in black muttered, "I want that man dead and I don't want any evidence."
When they reached the unconscious figure other men had already tied it up. Mr O'Keefe the head of the band of misbegotten ruffians tipped his hat to them, "I'm afraid that he's not dead."
"Never mind, it adds a certain frisson to the whole affair. Take him out, strip him thoroughly – even his boots and stake him out. I want him to be food for the buzzards."
O'Keefe nodded, and tipping his hat to the two men, he turned to his group, "All right! You heard the man, let's load him up and get him out of here!"
The man in black watched as the horses disappeared over the ridge. He turned back to the marksman. "Well. That concludes our business. I will take the rifle but here is my payment, $10,000."
"You must really have hated this man."
The man in black nodded, Yes. Oh yes.
The sniper pocketed the cash and then said, "I hope that your scheme works."
"I learnt from the mistakes of others," the man said, "They always captured him, left his devices on him and told him what they were going to do to him. Not me – I decided that I would shoot first. There would be no capturing and telling. Just death for him."
The marksman nodded, "Thanks for the use of the gun, a fine model. Maybe I'll see you another day." "Maybe. Anything is possible, Señor. Vaya con Dios."
"Vaya con Dios." The marksman mounted his own horse and then rode away. The man in black stood looking out across the wild landscape and then removed the black scarf that covered its face to reveal the face of a startlingly beautiful young woman with lips of carmine red. She pulled the scarf back up so that it disguised her features once again and then mounted her own horse. She rode away leaving the prairie deserted.
Gordon regained consciousness slowly. The sun was a pulsing yellow disk in the sky, he squinted up at it painfully. Through his still hazy vision he could see that his arms and legs were staked down. Even his boots were missing – all he was wearing were his trousers.
How long had he been lying there? He flexed his arm and groaned as a streak of pain shot through him. Then he noticed the bullet hole in his shoulder. His head still throbbing, he sank back onto the earth. Periodically throughout the day he tried his bonds but they refused to give. Eventually comma here exhausted comma here he lay back down on the ground and tried to think through the throbbing in his head. Someone had planned this, and planned it meticulously. He flexed his good arm to try and ease the stake from the ground but again it refused to budge. Panting he rested for a few moments and then tried again. Nothing. Beads of perspiration were standing out on his forehead as he frantically tried to think about what to do next. Eventually, exhausted he fell into a light doze.
He was woken by the howl of a coyote and realised it was night. Peering up at the stars he shivered in the cold night air. How long would it take for him to die out here? Had they commandeered Mesa? Artie hoped that the horse would find a good home.
The second day he had passed into a fevered delirium. His dreams were haunted by fire and memories of women he'd known and finally before unconsciousness claimed him for the final time he thought saw the face of his partner bending over him.
"Christ Almighty!" Jim thundered, "we've searched everywhere. How can someone as well-known as Artemus Gordon go missing?"
"We recovered Mesa," Colonel Richmond said quietly.
"Yes well that was thanks to some detective work by Agent Pike," Jim retorted "and even then we had to pay $500 for him. Something's happened to him."
"I think we must be prepared to face the worst," Colonel Richmond replied, "I suggest that you take a week's furlough, Agent West, and then when you return we may have more news."
"A week's furlough? Are you insane?" West gaped at his superior.
"Yes," Colonel Richmond replied, "Gordon knew the risks. We all do." He leant forward and said quietly, "and if I were you, Mr West I'd use your week to look for your friend."
West nodded, "All right, sir. I accept."
Meanwhile a young man and woman were riding through the scrub at the eastern end of the prairie. The woman's brown hair shone in the sunlight and her hazel eyes were scanning everything. The Native American man regarded his companion curiously, she'd insisted on being called 'Harry', which he knew was a man's name but this was a woman.
"Harry, why do you want to sketch pictures of this territory?" the Native American leant from his horse to eye the sketchbook the woman was carrying.
"I think this country is beautiful, Night Wolf." Harry smiled, "and I want others to see the same."
As they rounded the slight ridge both of them saw the unconscious figure at the same time, "Christ Almighty!" the woman swore and then she was on the ground and running across to the figure spread-eagled on the ground. She cut the ropes and then turned to the man, "We need to get him out of here," she said quietly, "He's been shot and he's suffering from dehydration and exposure."
Night Wolf dismounted and walking across, knelt down by the still figure. "I will go and fetch help – we will take him to the settlement."
The woman nodded, Night Wolf handed her his canteen, "If he regains consciousness try to get him to drink."
Harry nodded and patting her on the shoulder, Night Wolf remounted his horse and galloped away.
Harry carefully examined the supine figure, she wanted to sweep the hair out of his eyes but she knew that to touch him would probably cause intense pain. A whisper of wind caught a few stray hairs not adhering to his forehead and he suddenly moaned. She was so shocked she rocketed backwards, landing on her behind in the dust.
He moved his head again. She scurried across to him and with trembling hands she opened the canteen, she knelt over his body wondering what to do, he muttered something and she thought she heard the words "Jim….sorry" before his voice faded away.
Slipping a gloved hand underneath his neck she tipped the water canteen and nearly drowned her patient. He coughed and spluttered and she was instantly contrite, swearing to herself under her breath she lifted his head again and positioning the canteen closer to the man's mouth she carefully managed to ease a little of the water down his throat.
After a few moments it became apparent that he'd lost consciousness again and she gently laid his head back down on the earth. She recapped the water bottle and still shaky, sat back on her haunches to wait for Night Wolf.
He returned with some of the young men from the camp, one of them swore beneath his breath when he saw the figure, "Night Wolf," he said tersely, "can you save this man?"
"This is Agent Gordon. I know him and his partner well. Can you save him?"
"We can try, American Knife," Harry stood up, "is he this important?"
"I believe so, Netis." American Knife's use of her Indian name made her start.
"Then we must endeavour to do better than our best." Harry replied, "I'll give him something to keep him unconscious while we move him."
Searching for a vein proved problematic, finally she gently pulled down the waistband of his trousers and gently wiping the area with an alcohol swab injected the contents of the syringe into his bloodstream. Rising from the ground she nodded to the men, "All right. You can move him now."
Once at the camp, Gordon's trousers were cut from his unresisting body and then he was carried into the wigwam and laid on one of the furs. Lamps were lit and then Harry was bending over his unconscious body carefully lifting an eyelid and feeling for a pulse. She opened her bag and took out some thin metal objects, "Will you boil these in water for twenty minutes," she looked up at Night Wolf. "And bring the pan in to me without taking them out.
Night Wolf nodded and she began to take out dressings and lay them on the furs next to Gordon's unconscious body. When Night Wolf returned with the small pan, she smiled up at him and gestured for Night Wolf to set it down. Then she began to fish out the instruments. Once she was ready she bent over Gordon's unconscious form and began to work.
"I'm going need something to treat the sunburn," she said, looking up at American Knife, when she'd dressed the bullet wound.
"I will have Little Willow bring in some unguent," American Knife promised. "You will stay Netis?"
She nodded, "He will need painkillers," she said quietly, "I do not want to use ours, they are addictive."
He nodded, "I will brew something up for you. He must rest and get well. He has a partner, a Mr James West, he will be concerned about him."
"Then you must go and look for him, perhaps if he is here he will be able to rest."
American Knife nodded, "I think so. I will leave you now."
He exited the tent and five minutes after he had gone a young Indian woman entered the tent and knelt on the other side of the Gordon's body. Dipping her hand into the clay pot she carried it emerged with a large amount of pale ointment coating the fingers. Slowly she began to apply it to the sunburn covering Gordon's chest and arms until he was coated in a thick layer. She looked up and handed the pot across to Harry and she did the same thing on his other side until his arms, chest and neck were covered. Harry looked up at Little Willow, "Will you cover his face. I'll do his feet."
"Will he be all right?" Little Willow asked.
"I hope so," Harry replied, wiping her hands, "I want to get some fluids into him. I may have to set a line up
Gordon regained consciousness slowly, he could feel the softness of fur beneath him but he couldn't move. For a couple of moments he panicked, thinking he was still tied up in the desert and then he felt a cool hand on his leg. "Mr Gordon. Artemus? It's all right, you're safe. You're at American Knife's camp and we're treating that sunburn. Now I want you to lie quiet while Little Willow and I discuss what to do next."
He tried to open his eyes but it was like looking through the bottom of a glass and after about thirty seconds he gave up and closed them again.
"I'd better go and talk with American Knife," Harry said quietly.
To Gordon's surprise he felt a hand on his thigh again and swallowed, no woman had ever touched him there unless he wanted it, her voice was gentle, "Mr Gordon, it's all right."
It wasn't all right, Artemus thought haziliy, it was anything but all right. He was completely helpless and at the mercy of these two women. Harry looked down and to her shock saw what looked like tears sliding down his cheeks. Carefully she laid a hand on his head and bent down so that her lips were very close to his ear, "Artemus, please don't cry. Everything will be all right, we promise."
The flap of the tent opened and American Knife stepped in carrying a small cup in his hands, "How is he?" he asked looking down at the half naked man. Little Willow took the cup and kneeling beside Gordon's supine body gently slid a hand beneath his neck and held the cup to his lips.
American Knife dropped to his knees and bent over his friend, "Artemus, you are safe." He said quietly, "We have put some salve on the exposed skin and I have prepared something that will ease the pain and help you sleep."
Gordon drank thirstily and then he was lowered back onto the furs, he could hear Little Willow's voice above him as she started to sing softly. Her hand touched his thigh and he would have jerked with surprise but whatever he'd been given was making him feel relaxed and drowsy, "I know you are afraid, Mr Gordon, but there is nothing to fear. Sleep now." And with her voice and touch whatever he'd been given took possession of him and blackness closed over him.
American Knife watched as Gordon dropped into slumber and then said, "Come Netis, I wish you to accompany me. We must find Mr West."
She nodded and then getting to her feet she wiped her hands and followed American Knife. "I would like you to come with me," he said.
"I do not think I would be of much use," she replied looking up at him.
"I disagree," American Knife replied, "I believe that you could be instrumental in convincing Mr West to come with us."
Harry sighed and then went to mount her own horse, American Knife smiled at her as they rode out of camp, "So, I believe that you are a member of this group of young women who pass information back to Washington DC. What do you call yourselves?"
"Richmond's Girls," Harry's mouth quirked in a fair imitation of a smile, "It was my superior who coined the name, Phoebe, Phoebe Howard. Technically I won't be part of that group until I go to Washington next week. I've been working in New York."
"How did you all become agents of the United States?" American Knife asked.
"A long, long story," Harry replied.
"Then tell me," American Knife said, "I should like to know how you became involved."
Harry sighed, "It's partly because of the war between the states. Most of us became nurses, one or two were spies, a couple of others dressed up like men and fought. Me for example."
American Knife eyed her thoughtfully, "And when hostilities were over?"
"None of us wanted to return to everyday life, I decided to return home by way of Manafee, and encountered Little Willow-"
American Knife nodded, "A brave thing to stand up for the rights of the American Indian."
"No," Harry shook her head, "A necessary one. We are all members of the human race, what diminishes you, diminishes me. A paraphrasing of Donne's, 'No man is an island' I believe."
American Knife smiled, the movement accentuating his strong cheekbones, "Ah yes, but still brave. And then you came to us and stayed with us for a time and we discovered that you were not a man as you pretended to be."
Harry blushed, "I was less well balanced then, I felt marginalized by my gender."
"And I have helped?" American Knife smiled, "then I am glad."
"You gave me breathing space," Harry replied. She remembered the angry, broken young woman who'd limped into the Indian camp and who had stayed and in staying had found herself again. With American Knife's support she'd even written to her family back in Boston who'd sent her the train ticket back home. The time she'd spent with the Indians had made her realise who she was and what she wanted so it was a strong, confident young woman who returned to her family and decided that she wanted to become a surgeon.
"So why return to us every year?" American Knife enquired as they rode into town. "I did not expect it."
"I could relax – and be me," Harry replied, "and that is priceless."
"Ah yes," American Knife smiled, "I understand."
The Wanderer was standing on the siding when they rode up. "She looks as though she is ready to depart." Harry said quietly, "Shall I go and see if I can find Agent West?"
"Please," American Knife smiled and then Harry was dismounting from the horse and walking towards the train, to her surprise a man stepped from the cab and marched towards her, "There's no-one here," he said sharply.
"I'm looking for Mr West," she explained.
"He's not here." The man turned away
Harry cleared her throat and tried again, "Can you tell me where I might find him?"
"No," the man replied and strode away.
American Knife laid a hand on her shoulder, "I will make some inquiries in town. Come, Netis."
Harry nodded and biting her lip, followed American Knife away from the train.
"Wait here," he ordered as they hitched their horses outside the saloon, "I shall not be long."
Fifteen minutes later he returned with a grim smile on his face, "Morning Star says that Mr West came here less than two hours ago. She doesn't know which way he went but I have an idea about that."
"Which way do we go?" Harry asked.
"Towards Copper Canyon," American Knife replied, "I met some travellers in the saloon. They spoke of being escorted from Copper Canyon by a tall, dark man. I think Mr West will try there first."
"Then we must do that," Harry replied, mounting her gelding.
American Knife nodded, "I hope that we are in time."
Harry turned in her saddle to look at him, "What do you mean?"
"If I wished to remove Grant's two best secret agents, and I had already taken steps to remove one, I might wait around to see if the other would appear and try to kill two birds with one stone."
Harry grimaced, "You think that someone hates Mr West and Mr Gordon that much?"
"They have certainly made their fair share of enemies, Dr Loveless for one."
"This isn't his style," Harry replied, "he wouldn't injure them from a distance. He'd want them to know that he had them at his mercy."
"Perhaps you're right," American Knife remarked thoughtfully, "Perhaps it was just revenge on Mr Gordon."
"But you would prefer not to risk it?" Harry smiled. "I can understand that."
As they left the town's outskirts they saw the blue clad figure astride the jet black stallion. "Ah, he's not too far ahead of us," American Knife remarked. "We'll soon catch up to him."
They were less than a hundred feet away when they heard the crack of the bullet, Jim swayed in the saddle, there was another crack and he slid from the back of the horse. Neither American Knife nor Harry had seen any sign of the gunman.
"Hellfire!" American Knife swore and then he was kicking his horse's flanks and galloping up to West's motionless body. Harry looked around to see if she could spot anyone, she thought she caught the flash of what could have been a gun barrel, but she wasn't sure. Biting her lip she dug her heels into her own mount and galloped across to where American Knife was bending over the body of his friend.
She slid from the saddle and knelt next to the supine body, "I don't want to worry you, but this may not be a good place to remain. I thought I spotted our sniper."
"Where?" he murmured.
"Rocky outcrop behind you," she muttered.
"We'll get Mr West back to camp, think your sniper will follow us?"
"I don't know," she replied, "Let me see about dressing those bullet wounds and then we'll get him out of here."
American Knife nodded, "Do you trust me, Netis."
Harry nodded. He smiled quickly and then he was up on his horse and galloping away. Harry got to her feet and walked across to her saddlebags. Slinging them over her shoulder she returned to the supine man and knelt next to him. The stallion was nuzzling West's cheek and she reached out to pat his nose absently. Working quickly she examined the unconscious figure and then sighed with relief, the bullet wounds weren't serious. Both had missed major organs for which she was grateful, the first one had merely creased the side of his head, and the second had wounded him in the shoulder but the bullet had gone through. Dressing the wounds she then sat back and wiped the back of her hand across her forehead. Now all she had to do was wait for American Knife to return. Twenty minutes later American Knife returned, pushing a young woman in front of him. Her hands were bound and there was a large bruise on her alabaster cheek.
"I would not have hit her," American Knife said, his hand holding fast to the ropes binding her wrists, "but she would have killed me."
Harry stood up and regarded the woman thoughtfully, "Who are you?" she asked, "Why do this?"
"They destroyed the one man I loved," the woman replied, "and for that I had to destroy them. Don't you see? Now that Mr Gordon is dead you cannot save Mr West. I have won!" She crowed.
Harry sighed, "There's no reasoning with her, American Knife, if you'll help me get Mr West onto his horse I'll take her into town."
"Are you sure that's wise?" American Knife asked.
"I can handle her," Harry replied, "I may look peculiar but at least I've got my credentials and will be taken seriously."
"Good point," American Knife nodded. "I'll get Jim back to camp. Let me just cut her bonds and get her on the horse."
American Knife drew a large blade from the sheath at his waist and sliced through the bonds holding her. What happened next Harry wasn't sure, the woman moved like lightning. She spun away from American Knife and was mounting Blackjack, one foot in the stirrup, her hand on the pommel. Harry just had time to yell, "No!" before there was an explosion.
The woman croaked and then fell backwards off the charger, both Harry and American Knife ran across to her, Harry reaching her first and dropping to her knees beside her. Gently she lifted the woman's jacket, wincing at the sight. She looked up at American Knife and they eyes met. He looked at her, and she shook her head slowly. Quietly she drew the jacket back over the terrible wound and then bent over the woman, "It doesn't matter why you did it," she said urgently, "just tell us your name."
The woman looked up into her eyes, "Benita, he called me Benita." And then she was gone her sightless eyes staring up at the sky.
"Damn," Harry said as she sat back on heels. "Now we'll never know who she was."
"Does it truly matter?" American Knife asked looking down at the limp form, "I will take care of the body and the rifle."
Harry nodded, she gently closed the still staring eyes and began to speak, "The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore. Amen."
"That is a very sympathetic reaction to one who wanted to destroy President Grant's best Secret Service Agents," American Knife said quietly.
"Perhaps if we had got to her in time she might not have felt that this was her only option." Harry replied, she managed a shaky smile at American Knife, "Go on. See to her."
American Knife nodded, he took the blanket from his own mount, wrapped the slender figure in it and then with one fluid movement lifted the corpse over his shoulder, "I believe that we walk our own path Netis. You cannot be responsible for this – she chose her own way."
Harry wasn't sure she believed him but nodded anyway. She was kneeling beside West's unconscious figure when American Knife returned. She looked up at him and smiled, "All right?" she asked.
He nodded and then knelt beside his friend, "Have you given him anything?"
"Not yet," Harry replied, "Shall we get moving?"
"Back to camp," American Knife confirmed. He stood up again and walked across to black charger. He murmured something under his breath and the stallion's ears pricked forward, it took a couple of paces forward and then American Knife was leading it across to the unconscious man. Meanwhile, Harry had checked the bullet wounds and after a quick nod to American Knife the man gently lifted West and draped him over the saddle.
Harry was about to hand the reins to American Knife when he shook his head, "You ride, I shall lead the horses."
"Will we have to go through town?" Harry asked uneasily.
"No, I know a shorter route." American Knife smiled and then he was leading the jet black horse across the prairie. Harry found herself looking for a grave and then realised that American Knife would have found somewhere inconspicuous to lay the body. Eventually she turned her attention to the land in front of them and the man lying limp and quiet over the horse next to her.
"Telegrams will need to be sent to Washington," Harry said, "and I need your help American Knife."
"You have the skills to treat him, Netis," American Knife replied.
"But your medicines are sometimes more effective," Harry replied, "Your recipe for Mr Gordon's sunburn was amazing."
"You flatter me," American Knife replied, a grim smile on his face.
"No, I praise you." Harry replied. American Knife half-turned a smile lighting up the dark eyes.
When they arrived at the camp, American Knife easily lifted the still unconscious West from his horse and carried him into the tipi. Artemus was awake, propped up on a number of furs. Harry smiled when she saw him, "You look better."
"I am, I think." He stopped when he saw West's form being carried by American Knife.
"I'm just about to examine him," Harry replied. She turned to American Knife, "I'll come and get everything ready." She followed him out of the tipi. She returned about ten minutes later with a set of instruments. Laying them down she unrolled the cloth and took a pair of forceps from the collection of instruments. Taking one last look at the unconscious man she began to probe.
Thankfully he remained unconscious throughout the procedure, as she carefully extracted blood-soaked material from the wound it started to bleed again. Carefully she packed the wound and then turned her attention to the head wound. That had already stopped bleeding so all she did was gently clean the caked blood away from the dark hair, leaving the wound open to the air.
Eventually West lay beneath a native blanket, furs tucked neatly beneath his head. Harry cleared away her paraphernalia and then turned back to Artemus, "I'll just see to your shoulder and then I'd better see about getting us some supper," she said.
She opened the flap and slipped out, returning about ten minutes later with two bowls. Carefully she handed one to Artemus and then eased herself down next to him, "Eat," she urged, "you've been subsisting on water and clear soup for the last eighteen hours."
Artemus nodded and turned his attention back to his supper. When they had finished and the bowls had been collected, he turned back to Jim. "How is he?"
Harry smiled, "He should be all right. His pulse is steady, he should be coming out of it soon." As if on cue, West's head turned uneasily on the furs and his eyes half opened. Harry moved to kneel next to him and took his hand, "Easy, easy," she said softly, "just relax, you're safe. You're safe."
Jim felt as though he was trying to fight his way up through treacle. He tried to lift his arms to rub the sleep from his eyes but a streak of pain shot through it leaving him feeling nauseous. A hand was holding his own and he thought he could hear a voice but the words seemed slow, distorted, "Relax. Re-laaax. It's alllll riiiight." He clutched at the hand, trying to find a centre in the midst of his chaos, trying to quell the swirling vortex in his brain.
"Can't you do anything?" a familiar voice asked.
"Not really," the second one was female, "a bullet graze like that's probably caused a concussion. There's no quick way of bringing him out of it except to let nature take its course."
Using every bit of strength he finally managed to screw his eyes open and stare up into a pair of hazel eyes that were like deep mountain pools. Exhaustion finally overcame him at this point and he closed his eyes again. "Take deep breaths," the voice said gently. "This will pass."
When Jim was settled, Harry moved to stand up but Artie's hand on her arm stopped her, "We owe you our lives," he said quietly.
"Not really," she smiled, "I could have done nothing else."
Artemus frowned, Someone else said that, he thought quietly.
"Now, I shall send Little Willow in to apply some more emollient and then you can rest for the night. Will you need something to help you sleep?"
Artemus shook his head and smiled, "Will I see you tomorrow?"
"Very probably," Harry smiled and then he and Jim were alone.
American Knife looked up as she left the tent, "Come Netis," he said, "I wish to know how Mr West and Mr Gordon are faring."
Harry smiled, "Mr Gordon is recovering. He is concerned about Mr West but I think they will both recover. You sent the telegrams?"
"I did," American Knife smiled, "The look on the telegraph officer's face was – to coin one of your phrases – priceless."
"I can imagine," Harry replied laughing. "Shall I fetch your supper?"
"My thanks," American Knife replied. Harry brought a bowl across and then settled herself in the other chair. "Do you know what you'll do in Washington?"
"Not yet," Harry replied.
American Knife nodded and said, "I am sure that you will continue to serve with distinction."
"Flatterer," she laughed and then she stood up, "I'll be with those two young gentlemen."
American Knife took her hand as she walked past, "I never thought you'd be anywhere else."
She turned up the lamp and then kneeling on the furs next to the sleeping figures of West and Gordon opened the pocket bible she carried.
Jim opened his eyes slowly, the incessant pounding in his head seemed to have eased. He blinked up into the dim light of the tipi wondering where he was, slowly he turned his head and saw the young woman, her head bent over the book. She looked up and a smile lit the hazel eyes, "Thirsty?" she asked softly.
He nodded and she set the book down and picked up the cup of water, gently slipping her hand beneath his neck she held it to his lips, he drank and then she lowered it back to the fur pillow. "How's the head and the shoulder?"
He looked down at the bandage wrapped around his left shoulder and managed a weary smile, "Shoulder throbs a bit, and my head. But I'll live."
"I'm Harry," she smiled, "short for Angharad."
"Artemus?" he asked quickly, the eyes suddenly full of fear.
Harry gestured to the figure on his right and Jim turned his head to stare at his sleeping friend. He swallowed and asked, "Is he all right?"
"Yes," Harry assured him, "the ointment is just to treat the sunburn."
Jim nodded and closed his eyes. Harry watched as he dropped into slumber again and then standing up she quietly left the tent. Little Willow was curled up asleep in a corner of her tipi. Harry smiled and then wrapping herself in her blanket fell asleep. She awoke early, the sound of one of the camp dogs barking at something. Getting up she folded her blanket and went outside. A thin stream of smoke floated upwards from the fire's embers. Sighing to herself Harry went back inside the tipi, gathered her toilet things and went down to the river. She scrubbed her teeth and washed her face and arms and then returned to the camp.
American Knife was returning to his tent when she emerged again from hers, "Good morning, Netis." He smiled. "I understand that Mr West and Mr Gordon had a restful night?"
"I don't know about that," Harry replied, "I haven't been in to see them yet."
"They are both up and eating breakfast, Netis," another woman approached them with two bowls in her hands.
Harry smiled down at the young woman, "You've been in to see them, Alaqua?"
"They have both eaten breakfast, and I have sent Little Willow in with some more of the ointment," Alaqua confirmed.
"Good, then I can have my breakfast," Harry smiled.
She ate her porridge by the fire, watching the flames dance, her mind far away.
"As you people would say, 'A penny for your thoughts,'," American Knife laid his hand on her shoulder.
"Lots of things," Harry half-turned to smile up at him, "Was I right to take up this position in Washington. Wouldn't I have done better to stay in New York – I might be helping more people."
"Perhaps. But were you glad when you were offered this chance – to make a difference to your country?"
"Oh yes!" Harry smiled, "I was thrilled."
American Knife held her gaze for a long moment and then said, "As I told you before, Netis, we choose our own path. Do you need me to tell you you were right?"
"No," Harry shook her head, "I need me to tell me I was right. We choose our own path."
He squeezed her shoulder and then he was gone. One of the other women came to collect her bowl and then getting to her feet, Harry opened the flap of the tipi and slipped in.
Both of them looked up at her as she entered and broad smiles lit their faces, "Good morning," Artemus said. He'd scrounged a pair of trousers from somewhere although his feet were still bare.
"Good morning, where did you get your trousers from?" Harry replied, "I'm glad to see you both awake at long last."
"Little Willow," Artemus replied. She nodded and then kneeling beside him checked the bullet wounds, "Well the dressings are holding."
The tent flap opened again and American Knife walked in, Artemus smiled up at him as the man knelt beside him, "I understand you are feeling better, Mr Gordon."
Artemus smiled, "Jim and I owe you our lives."
"My thanks," American Knife replied, "although you owe as much to Netis here."
"Netis?" Artemus stared at her and to her chagrin, Harry felt a blush creep up her face. "My Native American name." She explained.
"'One who can be trusted'," Artemus said softly, she lifted her head and stared at him in surprise. "And 'Harry'?"
"Angharad," she replied sketching a small bow, "Angharad O'Neill. Harry for short."
"Harry O'Neill," he murmured, "I knew a Lieutenant O'Neill at Chickasaw Bayou. Smart-" he stopped and stared at her face, "Oh my God."
"Pleased to see you again, Captain Gordon." She grinned, "I was rather hoping that you wouldn't remember me."
"I would be hard-pressed not to remember you," Gordon said slowly, his eyes fixed on her face. "You held the Confederate Forces back so we could make a strategic withdrawal."
"More of a rout if you ask me," Angharad insisted, "And it wasn't just me, there were the other skirmishers too. I have to say though that on the scale of things, being bayoneted to make sure that you're dead wasn't the most fun I've ever had."
"How?" he gaped.
"Did I survive? Well the bayonet went through my bible and just scraped my side. When everything was quiet I stuffed a handkerchief down the front of my tunic and then limped back to camp. I snaffled some bandages from one of the nurses – they were horrendously overworked, then I went and bandaged myself up. It wasn't so hard." She sighed, "never got wounded as badly again."
"And then what?" Gordon asked, American Knife handed him a cup of something and he sniffed it suspiciously.
"It is coffee," American Knife said quietly, "Netis." He handed her another mug and then another to Jim and said, "I will leave you if you wish."
"You know my story, American Knife," Harry replied, "I ask you to stay."
Artemus reached out his hand and gripped her wrist, "Then as one old soldier to another, I thank you. What happened to you?"
"Well as a skirmisher of General Kirby's brigade we moved on," she replied, "It felt sometimes like I was wandering round in circles but when you're a soldier you do what you're told, and I was a soldier."
"I never doubted that," Artemus replied.
West put up his hand to touch the bullet graze on the side of his head, "Who shot me?"
Harry half-smiled although Artemus noticed that it didn't quite reach her eyes, "That doesn't matter. They're dead."
"What about the rifle?" West murmured, "it must have been specially made, you can't let that fall into-" he tried to sit up but flopped back down again as his shoulder protested.
"The rifle and the sniper have been disposed of," American Knife said quietly, "you have my word on this. No-one will know where they are."
"I have sent telegrams to Washington," Harry explained, "and I presume that the Colonel will be here as soon as he can."
"You were a soldier," Jim remarked, "and now?"
"A doctor," Harry replied, "I studied in New York at Elizabeth Blackwell's college. I've specialised in general practice, although a good friend of mine thinks that I would make an excellent surgeon."
"I doubt you'd know her," Harry replied, "her name's Elizabeth, Elizabeth MacKenzie. Now she has talent."
"That I would agree with," Artemus replied.
Harry's face lit up, "You've met her?"
"A couple of years ago," Jim admitted. "She is most definitely one of the most intelligent ladies I've ever encountered."
Harry smiled, "I'm glad. I like Beth, she's good fun – and she needs allies."
"Everyone needs allies," Artemus replied. "Now, what's your plan?"
"I don't know," Harry smiled, "I have a couple more days of my furlough left and then I'm heading up to the capital. New job, new people."
There was a sudden flurry of movement from outside, and then the tent flap was opened again and Little Willow's head appeared, "There's a man outside, Netis, says that he wants to speak with Mr West and Mr Gordon."
"Did he give you a name?" she asked.
"Colonel Richmond," Little Willow replied and watched as both agents faces brightened again.
"Let him in," Harry replied and smiled as she saw the man step reluctantly into the tent, standing up she held out her hand, "Good day, Colonel."
"Hello, Angharad," he smiled, shaking her hand. "Lucky you were taking your furlough here."
"Actually I think they were the lucky ones," she smiled down at the two men.
Richmond surveyed the two agents and raised an eyebrow, "Can either of you gentlemen tell me who did this?"
Harry looked at American Knife and then she sighed, "They couldn't, Sir, but I could. It was a lone sniper who blamed them both for taking the man she loved away from her. She's dead. I don't know who she was working with or for, she died before she could tell us. Sorry, Sir."
Richmond nodded sombrely, "I see. Some good news Angharad, I met Beth in Washington, when she heard she decided to come with me. Thought you might like some company on the way back." He paused and looked across at Angharad and American Knife, "I thank you for all your help, but I would like to arrange to have these men moved to more civilized surroundings. I have rented a house on the outskirts of town."
"Beth's coming here?" Artie's face lit up.
"Yes, Mr Gordon, she's at the house I've rented." He smiled, "I will arrange transport if that is acceptable, American Knife."
"As you wish, Colonel." American Knife nodded, and then he turned to Harry, "will you stay, Netis, or do you think your medical skill will be needed?"
"I would like to go with them, just to be sure," Harry replied. "I'd like to see Beth."
"Then go." American Knife responded, a smile lighting the dark eyes, "but know that you are always welcome here when you choose to return."
"Thank you." Harry replied.
Colonel Richmond arranged for a covered wagon to transport both agents to the house. When both men were settled into their beds, Artemus leant back against his pillows with a sigh. "You all right, Jim?" he asked, looking across at his partner.
Jim managed a weary smile, "I will be."
The door opened and two servants entered, each bearing a tray. They helped both men to sit up and then smiling, left the room. The food was fairly bland, but filling. "The Colonel must have hired an excellent cook," Artemus remarked.
Jim smiled, Artemus always did like his food. They ate companionably although Artie bemoaned the absence of wine. Jim laughed, "I would imagine that's Dr O'Neill's department."
When the trays were removed, a tall, male orderly entered the room, "I'm here to check those dressings and then put some more of that ointment on your skin, Mr Gordon, and to help both of you with your toilet."
The orderly settled them back into their beds and both men managed a weary smile at each other, "I think I'm going to try and get some sleep," Jim said slowly.
Artie nodded, smiling at his friend. Jim's eyes fluttered and then closed. Artie watched him for a couple of moments and then settled himself back against the pillows closing his own eyes. Both men slept for the remainder of the day, waking in early evening. Artie opened his eyes slowly, the lamps had been lit and the room shone with a yellow glow. He looked up and saw Beth sitting on his bed, "Good evening," she said gently. Artemus smiled, "Good to see you, Elizabeth." She wore a yellow cotton dress and her black hair was pinned up on her head.
"How's the arm?" Beth enquired softly.
"Still sore," Artie grimaced.
Jim stirred and opened his eyes, Harry was sitting on his bed, she smiled and looked down at him, "How are you feeling?" she enquired, "and don't say, 'Fine,' I've heard it all before."
"My arm's throbbing a bit," Jim finally admitted, "and my head's still a bit sore."
"No double vision, no nausea?" Harry asked.
"No," Jim replied. "Why the change?"
"A respectable young woman does not go round in men's clothes," Harry smiled and then her eyes flicked across to Artie's, "at least not unless she's enlisting as a soldier." He grinned back and then she said, "Do you think you'll be well enough to come down for dinner, or do you want to eat here?"
"We'll come down," Artie said, "I can give Jim a hand."
Jim managed a rueful smile, "I'm sorry we won't be able to dress."
"I would not say that we are properly attired," Harry smiled, "I was planning a fourteen day furlough in American Knife's settlement and then a leisurely return to civilization. This," she looked down at her pale blue day dress, "is not what a well-brought up young woman wears to dinner."
"You both look lovely," Jim insisted.
Beth stood up smiling, "We'll see you downstairs."
James and Artemus came downstairs and were directed to the study by the butler. Richmond was sitting at his desk but he got to his feet as they entered, "Mr West, Mr Gordon, good to see you up and about. How's the arm, Jim?"
"Throbs a bit, sir." Jim smiled.
"And your shoulder wound and sunburn, Mr Gordon?"
"Much better, Sir," Artemus smiled, "thanks to Dr O'Neill and American Knife."
Richmond nodded, he poured three snifters of brandy and handed them round, "Please sit down, Gentlemen."
They were sitting sipping their brandy when there was another soft tap on the door, the butler opened it and Elizabeth and Angharad entered smiling.
"You both look lovely," Colonel Richmond said.
"May I escort you into dinner?" Artemus turned to Beth.
"And I you?" Jim turned to Harry.
"We'd be most pleased," Beth replied, answering for them both.
Gingerly Harry slid her hand into Jim's elbow and looked up into his sea-green eyes, "I'm not hurting you am I?" she asked.
"No," Jim assured her.
Dinner was a pleasant affair, Colonel Richmond was pleased to see that both agents had regained their appetites although both found eating with one hand somewhat trying. When the main course had been served, Jim turned to Harry and said, "Do you know what you'll be doing in Washington?"
"Well it's a new position," Harry replied, "much like Elizabeth's. We may have to have some extra training which I'm not looking forward to. Still, I may need to brush up on some of my skills and maybe Beth and I can do a small amount of teaching."
Colonel Richmond cleared his throat, "Perhaps I can fill Mr West and Mr Gordon in," he interrupted, "Dr MacKenzie and Dr O'Neill are coming to work for me. They have talents which I think would be wasted in New York."
"As what, sir?" Artemus enquired.
Harry looked at him, "I think that you are going to have to tell him, Sir. They will find out sooner or later and I'd prefer that they hear officially."
Colonel Richmond nodded, "All right. Mr West, Mr Gordon I'd like you to meet the two newest members of Richmond's Girls."
"Who are the others?" Artemus asked.
"I believe that you've met two of them already," the Colonel smiled, "my niece, Eleanor and of course Teresa."
"Yes," Jim said, "but they never publicised their involvement with you or your office."
"That isn't their role, Jim," Richmond replied, "they are sent out when we hear strange reports from various towns. They collect information and send it back to Washington. Then we act on it by sending in our agents."
"Like James and I?" Artemus asked.
"Yes," Richmond replied, "usually the ladies have left town by then. We ask them to return to Washington to write up their reports and then we send them out again. We've had some success. You see they have an advantage that many of our male agents don't."
"Which is?" Jim asked.
"We're invisible," Beth explained, "think about it. You two are famous, we're just simple women."
Artemus raised an eyebrow and Harry had to suppress a laugh, "Simple?" he said, "I don't think so."
"We must appear to be so," Beth said.
Jim smiled and then said, "Then I predict that if we meet again, it will be a pleasure to work with you."
After dinner, Beth poured coffee for them and then Artemus said, "Surely there can't just be four of you?"
"No," Colonel Richmond replied, "there are ten at the moment. Hopefully they will do their jobs quietly. That is the reason they were founded, to collect information and send it back. Then move on."
Jim wanted to ask who the others were but he sensed that the Colonel wouldn't answer him, the ladies finished their coffee and then stood up. "If you will excuse us," Elizabeth said, "Angharad and I have a long journey tomorrow so I think we'll call it a night."
All three men stood up and Jim said quietly, "It's been a delight, Elizabeth, Angharad. I hope that we meet again someday."
"A pleasure to meet you," Artemus smiled. "Goodnight, Lieutenant O'Neill."
She caught the look in his eye and smiled, "Goodnight, Captain Gordon."
When they were alone Jim reseated himself and looked across at his friend, "Lieutenant O'Neill, Artie?"
"You heard her story, Jim. She served as a soldier. And I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of her."
"I don't doubt that," Colonel Richmond replied, "Gentlemen, can I interest you in a nightcap?"