Fer the first time in my life, I truly had to battle depression.
You’d have thought one of the others would’ve been hit hardest by Daniel Morgan’s death. His son Slim, granddaughter Hattie, or Tam, who at age thirteen had studied pistol handling with the man.
You’d have thought. But you’d have been wrong.
I didn’t realize it was sneaking up on me till after Cougar and I’d captured the black widow woman who’d poisoned Morgan to death. Considerably after. We’d finished bringing all the herds down to winter calving meadows, a job Bodeen and the rest of the hands had halfway done by the time we–Coug and I–got back from South Dakota with Mrs. Clarisse Moore Morgan trussed up like a hog fer market.
We’d even finished with the evil woman’s trial, which had ended with her death by her own hand before she could be hung by the State. And we’d purty well come to know what the other damages were. Tam had even made a list.
1. R.I.P.: Daniel Morgan.
2. Tam Tamson: Convalescing. Doc warns don’t push it; all seems okay, but some weakened. Go slow.
My partner was having more’n a bit of trouble following that bit of advice, naturally. With the single exception of requiring shoulder surgery as a teenager, Crazy Rifle had always been able to count on his body handling whatever he threw at it. Plus, he felt fully recovered now–but thank the good Lord and all his Angels, he had enough faith in Doctor Georges Chouteau to listen to the old man, chafing as his instructions might be.
Doc estimated Tam would be back up to full speed by the first of the year if he didn’t push himself. We were all crossing our fingers on that one.
3. Slim Morgan: Heart murmer he never had before. Damage, says Doc, from the digitalis overdose (foxglove).
4. Hattie Morgan Prosser: Initial arrythmia (skippy heartbeat), seeming full recovery. Prognosis solid, but open question for the future. Should not push herself too hard on housework and/or mothering baby Jack Daniel Prosser. Was pregnant (early) with 2nd child. Lost it.
5. Jack Prosser: The only one of us Doc has released back to full duty without conditions. Thank the good Lord for very large favors.
6. Elly Franzen: Severely disturbed. Only Doug’s suicide attempt pulled her out of it (see #7).
7. Doug Franzen: Guilt the size of Mount Everest for having brought Clarisse to Flywheel in the first place. Tried hanging himself in his workshop. Laughing Brook found him in time. Doug must be watched.
There should be at least one more on Tam’s list.
8. Dawson Trask. Lower than a snake’s belly. Tougher getting out of bed in the mornings than it’s ever been. Prognosis unclear.
Until this hit me, I’d always thought I could simply…handle stuff…better than other men. I’d handled losing my parents by drowning when I was still in my teens. I’d handled the horrors of the War Between the States, right down to the absolute low point of lying down to sleep among the bodies at Gettysburg. Always, I’d been the rock, the anchor point, the indestructible rallying point.
Until we’d lost an equally strong rock in Daniel Morgan to a few sips of poison tea poured by a spiteful woman. Somehow, though it had taken me months after the fact to fully realize it, losing Daniel like that had cracked me open like a raw egg dropped on a hot rock.
My wife and babies were holding me together…barely.
“Marie”, I thought silently to her in the middle of the night, listening to her breathing in her sleep, “if anybody can put Humpty Dumpty together again, it’s you and little Sadie and David T. But I don’t envy you the task. You saw your own family gunned down by the Army in front of your very eyes; how are you still in one piece?”
Quietly, I slipped from the bed, picked up my clothes from the chair, and padded out to the kitchen to stoke up the fire and put on a pot of coffee.
She found me there, jist about the time gray light begun to make objects in the ranch yard somewhat visible. Without a word, she poured herself a cup and pulled up a chair beside me. We sat with our thighs touching, watching the dawn bring Flywheel Ranch into another day.
My Cheyenne bride sat on a chair at one side of the room, stitching a new pair of moccasins as she talked. “Marie fears for her man,” she explained.
Yep. Should have seen it. Nope. Hadn’t. Brook went on to fill me in, how Dawson’s mind hadn’t been completely right fer weeks now. He hadn’t been physically harmed by the black widow’s attack, but her poison had damaged his spirit.
I felt like a fool. And an asshole. A fool asshole.
How the Hell could I have been so blind? The man had been holding us all together from the beginning–the very beginning, if you count that as the day in Waco when he saved Cougar’s life. He’d saved Henry’s life twice that I knew of. Saved mine more times than I could count.
Of course, there’d been times I’d saved his life, too, but we’re not talking ’bout that right now. Right now, I’m busy cussing myself. Leave me to it; I’ll git done in a bit and tend to business.
All right. I’m back. “So, beloved, did we do the wrong thing jist now? Sending him off without me and/or without his wife?”
She shrugged. “Who can know? We can only wait and see.”
Wait and see. “Yeah,” I said slowly. “I can see that. I waited twenty-one years to see how it was gonna work out with you and me; I guess I can wait one month to see how it’s gonna work out fer Dawson. Tell you one thing, though, honey: Waiting sucks.”
“Yes, my warrior,” she nodded, holding up the newly finished moccasin to study her handiwork. “Waiting definitely sucks.”