This is a sort of what happens next story, occurring right after 'The Night of the Fever Ridden Cowboy'. The whole series of stories forms part of a large (ish) story arc. As usual I don't own James West/Artemus Gordon/Lily Fortune so please don't sue, I don't have any money. I'm currently working on another few stories which will involve other characters who form part of this group I have affectionately named Richmond's Girls.
The Night of the Fond Farewell
"I want what I love to continue to live,
and you whom I love and sang above everything else,
to continue to flourish, full-flowered.
So that you can reach everything my love directs you to.
So that my shadow can travel along in your hair,
so that everything can learn the reason for my song."
― Pablo Neruda LXXIX
The two women entered the varnish car of the wanderer talking excitedly. Both were carrying bags full of what appeared to be clothes, a fine coating of snow was on their jackets and bonnets and their cheeks were pink with exertion.
Artemus looked up and smiled, "Did you two have fun?"
Lily smiled at her fiancé, "I think so, if you count shopping for clothes as 'fun'. Yes."
"Beth?" Artemus asked, his brown eyes twinkling.
"I did," Beth replied, "although you probably don't want to see everything I've got."
"Not the underclothes, no," Artie replied, "but I'd like to see what else you bought."
"The dresses are pretty utilitarian," Lily explained, "mostly winter clothes and of course some stationery."
"What about the books you'll need?"
"I got the list from the college," Beth replied, "but they all seemed rather expensive. I haven't bought any yet."
"Then tomorrow we will go and pick out some books for you." Artemus responded, "Did you pick out any nice dresses, Lil?"
"Two," Lily replied, removing her bonnet and gloves, "She tried them on and I wanted her to wear one back, but you know Beth."
"Perhaps you could persuade her to wear one for supper," Artemus rose to his feet and Elizabeth could see that he was dressed for the occasion, "Oh my," She murmured.
"Come along, Beth," Lily smiled, taking the younger girl's arm, "I'll help you change."
"Is Jim coming?" Beth asked.
Something flickered across his face, and she noticed how his mouth tensed, "He might join us after dinner," he said reluctantly.
Beth surveyed him thoughtfully, she opened her mouth but decided against it, "Then hopefully we'll see him later."
She nodded and then Lily was escorting her down to her room. Artemus heard the giggles floating up the corridor and smiled to himself. Twenty minutes later they emerged, Lily had exchanged her coat for a shawl and had slipped on a pair of gloves. Beth was wearing a yellow and black silk evening gown and a pair of matching black gloves. "You look lovely," Artemus said.
Beth blushed and managed a half-smile, "This outfit is far too expensive, but Miss Fortune insisted on purchasing it."
Artemus smiled at Lily, "Then I am very glad she did. Now, supper I think." He stood up and offered both ladies his arms, "Shall we?"
True to his word, Artemus escorted them to one of his favourite restaurants in New York, Le Poisson D'Or. He helped both ladies out of the carriage and Elizabeth stopped as she stared at the sign, "Mr Gordon, I'm not dressed properly."
"Of course you are," Artemus replied.
"It is very good of you to treat us to dinner, Sweetheart," Lily said as she sat down.
"It is a positive pleasure," Artemus replied.
Dinner had finished and they were sipping their coffee when Lily said, "Shall I go and fetch Jim, Artemus?" Lily asked gently.
Artemus nodded, "Please, Lil. You know where he'll be?"
Lily nodded. She turned to Beth and said, "It's been a joy, Beth. I hope we'll see a great deal more of you in the future."
"So do I, Miss Fortune," Elizabeth replied.
"Lily please," Lily replied, "Goodnight, Beth."
"Goodnight, Lily." Beth replied. Lily smiled at Artemus and then she was gone.
Beth looked down at her coffee cup, swallowing she asked slowly, "Who was Cecily, Mr Gordon?"
"Artemus," he said quietly.
"Are you all right?" she asked solicitously.
Artemus blinked and nodded, he looked down at her face, "I'm sorry, I was miles away. What did you say?"
"I asked who Cecily was."
"Where did you hear that name?" Artie's voice had become quite sharp.
"Jim spoke it when he was ill," Beth said quietly, "do you believe in ghosts, Artemus?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Do you?"
"I've had a close encounter with one," she replied guardedly.
"Oh, when?" Artemus asked casually, and nearly dropped his snifter when she replied in a low voice, "I saw something – no someone – when Jim was ill. He called her Cecily."
"Dark hair, grey eyes?" Artemus asked
"Yes," Beth replied, "Who was she Artemus?"
He sighed, "She was Jim's first love, perhaps his only love. After the war between the states Major General Grant wanted Jim to join the Secret Service and of course Jim was thrilled. I'd met him in the last two years of the conflict and we enrolled together. We spent three months working like dogs. Jim was quick, smart and brilliant at the hand to hand fighting, although he couldn't disguise himself for toffee. I, on the other hand was never very good at fighting, I'd much rather put my opponents to sleep than beat them into submission. We passed our courses and were given fourteen days furlough. I had a friend in New York so I suggested that we both go and see him at his estate." He stopped and said, "Would you like to walk, Elizabeth, I'm finding the atmosphere somewhat stifling."
"Of course, Artemus," Beth stood up as he did and slipped her arm into his, he patted it absentmindedly, "When we boarded the train there was a young woman also travelling to New York and Jim was instantly besotted. When he introduced us, she introduced herself as Cecily Cavendish, Major Cavendish's daughter, and Jim was thrilled. What we didn't know then was that the reason Cecily had been in Washington was to see an eminent cancer specialist. The cancer she'd been suffering from had metastasised so she was coming home to die." He paused again, "of course neither Jim nor I knew that then. So, we escorted her home. The Major of course was so pleased to see her that I think he couldn't bring himself to tell Jim about his daughter's true condition. Cecily being a young, well-brought up young lady didn't mention it either. However, Jim was an astute young man even in those days and he soon realised that something was wrong, her paleness for one thing and her tiredness. She would lie on her daybed in the afternoon and Jim used to brush her hair for her."
"Was he already in love with her?" Beth asked, a wave of sorrow threatening to overwhelm her.
"I think he'd fallen in love with her the moment he laid eyes on her," Artemus replied, "even when she told him that she didn't have long to live he offered to marry her. Said that he would leave the Service and take care of her. Both Cecily and her father refused saying that he had too much talent to waste his life. Then things took a turn for the worse-"
"Cecily got worse?"
"No, no, in fact since meeting Jim she seemed to have improved slightly. No, there was a man called Martin Creane who had been bribing the Governor of New York to bring in substandard cement for the Public Schools." He sighed, "Jim had been doing some investigations into his actions and the allegations while in Washington. Creane was in New York to take delivery of the substandard concrete and he saw Jim and Cecily walking together. I guess he figured that he would kidnap Cecily and keep Jim quiet."
"Oh dear," Beth said softly, biting her lip.
"Oh dear indeed," Artemus managed a smile, "he and his men grabbed them off the street. Cecily was whisked away to an upstairs room and Jim was tied to a chair while Creane and his boys worked on him. They told him that if he signed the documents then Cecily would be released, knowing her condition Jim relented and signed the papers. Their plan was to hold them until the concrete arrived in his warehouse. He figured that once it had arrived and he had transported it there would be no proof of his involvement."
"I'm assuming that it didn't quite work out like that," Beth said slowly.
"Well you know Jim's reputation," Artemus managed a wry smile, "even then he carried gadgets on him, so when they untied him and flung him into a cell downstairs, he simply took the heels off his boots and blew his way out." He stopped suddenly.
"What happened to Cecily?" Beth asked gently.
"She was lying on the bed upstairs," Artemus said, "unconscious. Jim picked her up and carried her back to her home. They put her to bed and Jim sat with her, holding her hand. She never woke up." Artemus ran a hand across his face, "and afterwards Jim was just-"
"Like a man who'd swallowed acid," Beth murmured. "Did he go after Creane?"
A sound emerged from his throat that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a choked sob, "I'll be honest with you, Beth, I don't know how he didn't throttle the man. He arrested him and then turned him over to the sheriff. He was so angry."
"White cold angry?" Beth enquired.
"Something like that, more like white cold fury. He blamed himself for Cecily's death. We attended the funeral and then returned to Washington. Jim finished the year and then resigned."
"Resigned?" Beth turned to him in shock. "And then what?"
"He went back to college," Artemus replied, "Decided that he was going to study archaeology, apparently he was very good at it." He sighed, "I think that he also was seeking an escape, and anything that didn't involve girls or guns. I believe he went on two digs with Professor Robey, one in Persia and the other in Mesopotamia."
"We're going to the cemetery aren't we?"
"That's where Jim and Lily are," Artemus replied, "Tell me, Beth, what did you see?"
"He started talking to Cecily in his delirium," Beth spoke slowly, "So I held his hand, hoping that it would calm him. Then I stood up to wipe my face and when I turned around she was there." Beth's forehead creased as she thought back, "She said that she was glad I was there and that this was the last time she'd be able to see him, that she was moving on." Beth swallowed, "she said that it was time Mr West moved on and that there was someone waiting for him. Oh, not me." She smiled at Artemus, "she also said – let me think – 'he already has his soul in his partner, for which I have thanked the Creator with all my Being, now he just needs Her to restore his heart'. I didn't ask who this person was. Then Cecily bent over Jim and I could have wept because he opened his eyes and recognised her." She dug in her reticule for a handkerchief and was both embarrassed and relieved when Artemus handed her his. Drying her eyes she continued, "They loved one another very much didn't they?"
"I believe so, yes," Artemus replied. "Come on, we'll go and find Jim and Lily."
They saw the couple sitting side by side on one of the benches, Lily's gloved hand was lying on Jim's and for a moment she stole a quick look at Artie wondering if he would be jealous. But Artie had dropped her arm and was walking across the grass, his eyes on no-one but Jim. "He has his soul in his partner," Beth murmured to herself as she watched Artie lay a hand on Jim's shoulder and suddenly felt profoundly honoured and grateful.