"Please stand, Lieutenant," Dana urged, her voice muted in the vast space of the barn.
Skinner remained steady. "I shall not budge until I hear you say 'yes.'"
"Then you will be on your knee a long while, sir." She withdrew her hand from his. "I would prefer we become friends before we consider anything more intimate."
"Have we not already been intimate?" he blurted.
Their kiss on the dock. Heat crawled up her neck and into her cheeks. "That was a mistake."
His lips thinned and he held back further comment. Her zeal had matched his that night; they both knew it. Her boldness had clearly misled him and he had every right to feel deceived.
His sword clanked awkwardly against the floor as he rose to his feet. Sawdust clung to the dark fabric of his trousers. "I have mistimed my proposal. I am sorry."
Shame pricked her conscience; she should be apologizing to him, not the other way around. He had gone to considerable effort to please her -- the house, the phaeton, the handsome ring. Meanwhile she was toying with his emotions the way an angler plays a fish on a line. She had accepted her father’s invitation to travel to Montana to meet him, fully aware of his interest in marrying her. Her arrival had, no doubt, given him reason to believe she was equally interested. He addressed the subject at the first opportunity, during their walk on the pier the night he came to her parents’ house for dinner. And how had she responded? She had not discouraged his romantic notions one whit. To the contrary, she kissed him!
And now she was turning him away. The poor man must think her addled, or cruel, or something even worse.
Inwardly, she begged his forgiveness. Aloud, she said, "I need more time.”
“How much more?”
“A few months, perhaps.”
“Months?” His brows rose.
“Long enough to become friends."
“If you do not consider us friends already, then I am without hope. I fail to see what more I can do to elevate your opinion of me."
She looked around the barn. Its solid timbers and careful craftsmanship bore testament to his dreams for their future. At its heart, illuminated by a ray of setting sun, the buggy gleamed as brilliantly as the gemstones in the ring she held in her hand.
"My opinion of you is already quite high, Walter," she admitted.
"Then why refuse me?"
"I have not refused you, not outright."
He blinked, taking in her words. The brim of his hat folded beneath the squeeze of his fingers. He turned and paced to the open door. Staring out at the sunset, he stood rigid, backlit by a blood-red sky, sword tinted scarlet. "Are you saying I may continue to court you?"
"If it pleases you."
"Pleases *me*?" He spun to face her. "I must confess, I find myself in a state of complete confusion. I need to know, Dana, what pleases *you*?"
The question took her aback. What would please her? What did she really want? She had not asked herself these questions in a long while. Not since breaking off her involvement with Daniel. She effectively closed her heart after ending their short affair. Upon discovering he already had a wife, she promptly rejected him, then spent the next three years burying her hurt and loneliness in her studies.
She crossed to the lieutenant. Although she had left her gloves back at her parents’ house, she took hold of his hand. The gesture clearly surprised him, since he also wore no gloves.
His fingers felt rough against her smoother skin, his palm broad and warm. She sensed the power in his grip, though he held her as gently as one would hold a butterfly.
"Please, don’t think me ungrateful.” She looked into his eyes, trying to gauge the depth of his disappointment. “I appreciate all you’ve done, the trouble you’ve gone to."
"I enjoyed every minute I spent building this house. I thought of you with each nail I set and each plank I sanded. It was no effort. None at all." He stroked her fingers. "Dana, some men are happy being single, but I’m not one of them. I want to be married again. I want more children. I've been alone too long."
"I understand...and I sympathize." She did know what it was like to be lonely. She had kept to herself after Daniel, rebuffing all advances, afraid to chance another ill-fated liaison. "But I need to be certain before I commit to you or to anyone. It’s important I feel love for a man if I am to spend the rest of my life with him. Don't you want the woman you marry to love you, too?"
"Of course. It's just...I thought..." His jaw clamped shut.
“You thought I already loved you...because I kissed you.”
“No, I thought...I hoped...under my love and protection, as my wife, you would grow to love me.”
Her mother’s words came back to her: “You wouldn't be the first woman to marry a man she barely knows. Love will come.”
Dana tried to picture herself in this house several years from now, with Walter, with children. Could she be happy? Would affection blossom between them? Develop into true love?
She needed to talk to Charlie. He understood her better than anyone in the world. He could offer her honest counsel.
“Give me a few days,” she amended her earlier request.
“You’re welcome to take whatever time you need.”
“No, it is unfair to keep you waiting any longer. You’ll have my answer by week’s end.”
As the sun slipped behind the mountains, the twilight sky glowed burgundy and gold. He leaned closer. Only an inch or two separated them; the heat of his body pressed against her as solidly as bone and muscle. His head tilted and she was afraid he was going to kiss her again. She also feared she might let him. The desire in his eyes drew her up onto her toes. He was breathing hard and with each exhalation his breath warmed her cheeks, caressed her lips.
"I-it's late, Lieutenant."
He drew back. A chilling draft filled the void between them.
"Forgive me. Your family will be wondering where you are."
She held out the open box with its pearl and sapphire ring.
He waved it off. "Keep it."
"No, I cannot. Or the phaeton.” She glanced with longing at the buggy.
“I insist you keep them both.” He refused to take the box from her outstretched hand. “I’ll deliver the buggy to your father’s house tomorrow. It and the ring are yours, no matter what you ultimately decide about us.”
“Walter, when a woman accepts a man’s ring, it carries implications.”
“I refuse to argue the point further.” He put on his hat and crooked his elbow. “May I escort you back to the horses?”
She closed the box’s tiny lid, hiding the ring away. “I can’t wear it, you know.”
“You will, someday.”
She pocketed the box and slipped her hand through the crook of his arm. He gazed down at her with love evident in his eyes.
“I will win your heart, Dana. Mark my words. You will be my wife."
* * *
Mulder skirted the Akópskaa Swamp on his way south to Flatwillow. Brackish water reflected a crimson sky, making it appear as if the marsh oozed blood. Choke cherry and box elder clogged the lowland. Fermenting berries and leaf rot carried the smell of death.
Akópskaa meant “soup broth” in the Blackfoot language. It was a fitting name for the slough between Miin Creek and the Missouri River. The depth of the water varied from a few inches to several feet. Bullfrogs groaned in its marshy shadows. Bats sliced the mist-filled air.
“Easy, boy,” Mulder warned when Ponoká stumbled on a submerged tree root. He steered the horse upland to firmer ground.
Pockets of fog drifted like lost ghosts above the sodden earth. A chilling wind rattled the tree branches. August was only half gone, but winter came notoriously early in Montana. Pulling his coat more tightly across his chest, Mulder anticipated his evening in town.
The Flatwillow Saloon, primarily a drinking establishment, was the place where locals went to gamble, eat, bathe, and enjoy the company of whores. Whiskey was seventy-five cents a shot. Rye and bourbon a dollar. Dances with saloon girls cost one-fifty. Sexual favors could set a man back as much as five dollars, depending on the particulars of the act. Mulder’s bath and haircut would cost him two bits.
Worth ten-fold the amount, he thought, recalling the saloon’s small, back room with its cast-iron hog scalder substituting for a bathtub. Several large, copper pots heated water on a woodstove in one corner. Velvet drapes on the windows lent an air of elegance, rare so far west. A life-sized portrait of a nude woman adorned the wall beside the tub. Its gilt frame was badly chipped, but the painting itself glowed like a jewel.
Mulder remembered with photographic clarity the last time he had lowered himself, naked as a jaybird, into the tub’s steaming, lavender-scented water. His clothes had hung on a chair across the room. A buxom woman in ruffled, knee-length petticoats and scandalously tight bodice tended the stove.
“You ‘bout ready?” she asked.
“Any time, Etta.”
She carried a pitcher from stove to tub. “Lean forward,” she prompted before pouring warm water over his head. She shampooed his hair with perfumed soap, her painted nails digging delightfully into his scalp. She hummed while she scrubbed, a tune at odds with the one being played on the tinny piano in the dance hall beyond the closed door. A headboard banged rhythmically against the thin wall of the next room. The pounding was accompanied by the sound of flesh slapping flesh. A few noisy moments later, a man groaned, his pleasure muffled by his partner’s shoulder or breast.
“You gonna want some of that after we finish here?” Etta pinched his cheek and grinned. Her gold tooth flashed in the flickering lamplight. She dipped her pitcher between his raised knees to refill it, grazing his inner thigh as she lifted it up and out, full to the brim.
An arrow whistled past Mulder’s head, narrowly missing his left ear and abruptly ending his pleasant memory. It lodged in the trunk of a nearby tree.
The shaft was triple-feathered, the barbed point attached by sinew and wapikan. The design was distinctly Cree.
“Shit.” He spurred his horse.
A piercing war whoop sounded behind him. Another arrow sailed past his head.
Mulder veered down slope, into the swamp. With luck, the Indian would back off and leave him alone.
Two more arrows whizzed by, near misses. Ponoká skidded down the muddy incline. Yesterday’s storm had changed the landscape, flooding the basin more than usual. Mulder tried to gauge the depth of the water in the growing gloom.
A wallop to his right shoulder brought a sharp, burning pain. He looked down. A blood-slicked arrowhead protruded from the folds of his jacket below his armpit. Blood dribbled from the wound.
Ponoká splashed through the slough, hooves spraying mud. Mulder spotted his attacker off to the left, about ten yards out, bow raised and drawn. He yanked the reins, forcing Ponoká into a coppice of buckbrush. Briars tore at his clothes, raked his exposed skin. Somehow the Indian’s arrow threaded the net of branches. It punctured Mulder’s leather boot. Embedded deeply into the thick muscle of his calf. The point lodged against bone. He bit back a yelp. Changed direction with a flick of the reins. Headed into deeper water.
The Indian swerved after him. The crackle of twigs and tearing of leaves grew louder as the gulf between them narrowed.
Mulder veered around a gnarled cedar. He caught sight of a second Indian higher up the slope. Colorful geometric patterns decorated his face. Unlike his feathered companion, he wore a white man’s hat. Mulder recognized it: Frohike’s Stetson.
These Indians were not just Cree; they were from Cuts To Pieces’ band. And their war-paint indicated this was a planned attack.
The Stetson-wearing man raised his bow and nocked an arrow. Mulder fumbled for his rifle. His draw was slowed by the arrow in his chest. He pulled the Enfield clumsily from its carbine boot, lifted it to his shoulder. Stetson’s arrow tore through his left forearm. The rifle wheeled from his hands.
Stetson whooped in triumph. His accomplice responded in kind. Mulder pivoted in the saddle. Drew his pistol from the holster on his gun belt. Aimed. Fired. The bullet found its target. The blast knocked the feathered Indian off his horse. He landed with a splash in a puddle of inky water.
A third Indian took his place almost immediately. Bow raised, the Cree brave screeched and released an arrow.
Mulder ducked, but not before the barb grazed his temple. Blood sprayed his clothes, flooded his right eye.
“Geddyup!” he urged Ponoká.
The horse plowed through a puddle. Leapt over a fallen tree. Mid-air, a branch snagged the arrow sticking out of Mulder’s leg. The shaft snapped. Mulder screamed. Blood gushed from the hole in his boot.
The goldfields were at least a mile away. Flatwillow lay further south, beyond the claims. The Indians would not follow him into town. But could he make it that far?
There was another option. A dangerous one: a sump at Akópskaa’s center, a quagmire of silt and rotted vegetation, thick and deep enough to mire a horse up to its hocks. If he could lure the Indians in without getting himself stuck, he might have a chance of escaping.
The fading light made it almost impossible to see, but Mulder was familiar with every inch of the watershed. He had been trapping here for three seasons. The sump was just ahead. If he could only hang on until he got there...
Zigzagging around fallen trees, gray corpses in the gloom, he dodged what seemed a hailstorm of arrows. He rode a familiar tract of firm ground concealed just below the water’s surface.
A slight shift to the right and the water became suddenly deeper. Ponoká slowed when his foreleg sunk in the mud. They were at the sump, a quarter-mile-long death-trap hidden beneath a foot of black water. Mulder adjusted his course. The horse lurched on, sides heaving, coat slicked with foamy sweat. The ground grew more solid.
Mulder glanced over his shoulder. The Indians rode full speed, gaining ground as Ponoká found his footing. A few more strides and the forward man was almost within arm’s reach.
The Indian raised a tomahawk. Mulder swerved directly into his path, taking him by surprise, and driving him sideways into the quagmire. The Indian’s horse whinnied. It sank and stumbled, throwing the rider from its back.
Stetson moved to higher ground to shadow Mulder from a safer vantage. They rode parallel paths through a stand of spindly alders. The horses’ hooves thundered in unison. Stetson launched arrows as quickly as he could draw his bow.
Mulder crouched low and pushed Ponoká to run faster.
The trees thinned. They were nearly out of the swamp. Mulder straightened and took aim at his pursuer.
Before he could pull the trigger, an arrow struck his upper thigh near the groin, goring flesh and muscle as it drilled inward. The pain was ungodly.
Mulder roared. He jerked the reins. Turned to face his enemy head on. A spur to the ribs sent Ponoká charging up the slope. Mulder leveled his pistol.
Stetson’s eyes widened. Clearly, he had not anticipated this move. Too late, he tried to load another arrow.
Mulder fired. Bull’s-eye. The bullet penetrated Stetson’s brow, boring a three-cent-sized hole through his skull. The Indian toppled, unblinking, to the ground.
The chase was over, but Mulder’s heart continued to race. With each pounding beat, blood pumped from his wounds. He tugged the reins, slowing Ponoká, pointing him in the direction of Flatwillow. Pain sizzled up his left leg when he tried to nudge the horse with his heels. He closed his eyes and slumped forward. Light-headed, he clutched Ponoká’s mane to keep from falling.
“Geddyup,” he grunted through clenched teeth.
He wished he had enough strength to collect Frohike’s Stetson. But his limbs were growing numb, his head too heavy to lift. A thick, gray fog was forming in his brain.
“You're hurt.” A woman’s voice. Familiar.
“You need stitches.” She gently wiped blood from his lower lip with her thumb.
“Not real,” he muttered. It was a memory.
Or a premonition?
“I can help you,” she insisted and he lost consciousness.
* * *
“That was my last dollar, gentlemen.” Charlie folded his cards and pushed back his chair from the poker table. The loss meant little. He was enjoying his evening at the Flatwillow Saloon. The drinks were strong, the company interesting. And he had made fast friends with three fellow newspapermen.
“Lady Luck is a fickle mistress.” Frohike scooped up the pot and added it to his growing pile of cash. “I’ll float you an advance on that story you promised us, if you want to try to win some of this back.”
“No thank you, Mr. Frohike.” Charlie smiled as he stood. “I think it's best to quit while I still have a shirt on my back. Deal me out, please.”
“Don’t forget, deadline for the next issue is Tuesday,” Langly said, shuffling the deck.
“You’ll get your story on schedule, Mr. Langly.”
“Five hundred words,” Byers reminded him. “Your impressions of Flatwillow.”
“Won’t be easy to limit myself. I tend toward loquaciousness when writing about a subject that interests me.” Charlie eyed the scantily-clad saloon girls lined up by the door to the back rooms.
Frohike caught him looking. “Ah, a tale about our fallen frails. The readers will love that.”
“You mean you’ll love it.” Langly dealt the next hand.
Byers picked up his cards. “Like you won’t.”
“I’ll see you gentlemen later,” Charlie said, excusing himself.
Temporarily penniless, he headed for the door. Being without funds to pay for a fuck -- or even a little oral gratification -- did not mean he planned to go home unsatisfied. Charm sometimes went a lot further than cash, he had learned over the years.
Before attempting to solicit free favors from the ladies, he stepped outside to stretch his legs and enjoy a smoke. The saloon doors swung on squeaky hinges as he pushed through. He strolled to the edge of the boardwalk. The night air carried the scent of road dust and prairie grass, welcome after hours of smelling cheap perfume and men’s sweat.
A whore and her mark retreated to the shadows several doors down. Charlie leaned against the porch rail and rolled a cigarette.
Flatwillow was like most of the frontier towns he had visited over the years. One main street, this one optimistically dubbed Gold Dust Avenue, ran through its center. There were no churches, schools, or family-run mercantiles. The town was built for trappers and prospectors. Tough men in rough businesses.
An assayers’ office, hardware store, livery, and Gerrard’s Corral lined the opposite side of Flatwillow’s deeply rutted thoroughfare. An undertaker, cobbler, and Mrs. Lee’s Washing and Ironing abutted the saloon. Further down the street, tents served as temporary shelters for aspiring entrepreneurs, including a few independent madams who preferred running their own cribs to working in the saloon’s back rooms.
Charlie smiled. The west offered endless opportunities to a man with a passion for adventure. Survival governed one’s actions here, not a court of law or a set of rules intended for polite society. He found the atmosphere invigorating. The citizenry delightful. Particularly the women, who provided company and comfort on the darkest, coldest of days. “Sporting women” or “ladies of the line,” the prospectors called them, when they didn’t use other, more vulgar terms.
He patted his breast pocket in search of a match.
“Allow me.” A saloon girl joined him at the porch rail. She struck a match against the rough wood and held up the flame.
He leaned close, cigarette to his lips. A couple of puffs and the cigarette lit. He took a drag, then offered it to her. “Thank you, Miss...?”
“Name’s Jennie. Jennie Lincoln.” She accepted the smoke.
“Lincoln? You wouldn’t be related to the late president, would you?”
She laughed, a deep belly laugh that caused her plump breasts to jiggle delightfully above the plunging neckline of her crimson-colored corset. “Right. He’s my daddy.”
Lipstick and rouge did little to mask her exhausted features. Her short skirt sparkled with sequins. Gold tassels adorned her kid boots, diverting attention from the holes that marred once-pretty, silk, lace stockings.
“What’s your name, mister?” She handed back the cigarette, which was now stained crimson at the tip from her lipstick. “Your daddy an important man, too?”
“He likes to think so.” Charlie drew smoke into his lungs.
Jennie studied his face. “I take it you two don’t get along.”
“You’re very perceptive.”
“Dunno ’bout that, but I do know what it’s like to be the black sheep of the family.”
“I suppose you do.” He tipped his hat. “A pleasure to meet a fellow outcast. My name is Scully, by the way. Charles Scully.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Scully.” She twirled a lock of auburn hair around her finger. Her nails were chewed to the quick. “You kin to that Scully feller from the fort?”
“Possibly. My brother and father are both stationed at Culbertson,” Charlie said, somewhat surprised that she would be acquainted with either one of them.
“The feller that comes here is a lieutenant. Always on the shoot. Got hisself quite a temper.”
“That would be Bill, my older brother. He comes *here*?”
“Yep, he’s a regular.”
“At the bar.”
“And the card tables, the dance floor, the back rooms.”
“Bill Scully? Lieutenant Bill Scully?” His upright, holier-than-thou brother?
“Shows up at least once a week. Prefers big girls.”
“Really.” This was astounding news. Not that his brother preferred busty women –- Tara lacked nothing in that department, not since her first pregnancy. But the surprising thing was that Bill patronized a place like this at all. An immoral den, according to Saint Bill. How many lectures had Charlie endured about his own sinful behavior, the sanctity of marriage, eternal damnation, and the fires of Hell? “I wonder what Tara would think.”
“I imagine she’d think the same as yours. If you’s married, that is. Not that it matters to me if you is or you ain’t.”
A rare blush heated Charlie’s face. He was married, of course. Four years. And he hoped with all his heart that Elizabeth did not think at all about his countless indiscretions. She deserved better. “Crimen ut tutela.”
“What’s that mean?”
“‘Guilty as charged.’ Men are foul creatures, in any language.”
“That may be, but I’d be broke and starvin’ without ’em.” She stroked his sleeve and smiled sweetly. “Speakin’ of which, you buyin’ anything tonight?”
An unfamiliar pang of morality stopped him from carrying through with his original plans. He would not take advantage of Jennie Lincoln. Not tonight.
“I am without funds,” he admitted.
“Maybe we could work out a trade. That fob you’re wearin’, it’s attached to a watch, ain’t it?”
“A gift from my wife. I can’t part with it.” He had come close in the past, tempted by the promise of physical pleasure. But it was a line he would not cross, the only measure that he had not fallen into complete disgrace. “I’m sorry.”
“Me, too. Guess it’s goodnight then. I gotta get back inside with the paying customers.”
“I understand. It was nice talking with you, Miss Lincoln.”
“Same here. You come back when you got some cash. Ask fer me special. I’ll make it worth your while.” She retreated into the saloon.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” He tossed his cigarette into the street. Sparks danced and fizzled in the dust.
Further down the thoroughfare, a horse materialized seemingly out of nothingness. It plodded toward him in the dark, its rider slumped in the saddle. Charlie assumed the man was drunk, until light from the saloon revealed the truth. The horse was covered with foamy sweat. Blood slicked its neck and chest. The rider’s face was buried in the horse’s mane; his back and leg bristled with arrows.
The horse stopped in the middle of the street. It tossed its head. The rider slipped from the saddle and landed with a stomach-churning thud in the dust.
Curiosity drew the two lovers out of the shadows. Charlie jumped the rail and jogged toward the wounded man.
“You all right, mister? God damn...”
It was Fox Mulder.
Charlie knelt and tentatively put his hand to Mulder’s chest.
He was breathing. Barely.
“Get some help!” he shouted to the couple on the boardwalk.
The woman ducked into the bar.
“Mr. Mulder, can you hear me?” Charlie patted his cheek, not knowing what else to do.
Mulder remained as still as a corpse. He was in bad shape, worse than when Charlie last saw him up on Nine Pipe Ridge, beaten to a pulp by Bill.
A crowd quickly gathered around them. Frohike pushed through to the front.
“Jesus, it’s Mulder.”
“He needs a doctor,” Byers said, joining Frohike.
Langly followed on their heels. “Corporal Beckett’s likely to be passed out drunk by now.”
“My sister’s a doctor,” Charlie offered. “She works in the infirmary at the fort.”
“Get her!” Langly rocked from one foot to the other.
“Might be faster if we take him to her,” Frohike suggested.
“You got a wagon?” Charlie asked.
“I’ll bring it around.”
* * *
Angry shouts carried like gunshots through the windless night as Dana and Skinner approached the fort. Three men in a farm wagon and a lone rider on horseback argued with the guards at the front gate.
Skinner’s hand slid to his saber. He kicked his horse’s ribs and took the lead. Dana followed at a trot.
The man on horseback yelled, “Damn it, let us in!”
Dana recognized his voice.
“Charlie? Is that you?”
He turned in the saddle, looking her way. “Dana, thank God you’re here. You, too, Lieutenant. Maybe you can talk some sense into these men.”
Two guards stood with rifles drawn in front of the closed gate.
“What’s going on?” Skinner brought his horse alongside Charlie’s.
“Mr. Mulder’s been hurt,” Charlie said, “and we’re trying to get him to the infirmary, but the guards won’t let us in.”
“Hurt? How badly? What happened?” Dana dismounted and rushed to the wagon.
“Attacked by Indians,” said the wagon’s driver. His worried face looked familiar to Dana. The man who waved to her from the window of The Picayune, she remembered. His bearded associate sat beside him on the wagon’s bench. Their blond companion crouched behind them at the front of the box.
It was too dark to see more than an unconscious form laid out on his right side on the box’s floor. Feed sacks propped against his chest and behind his knees kept him from rolling onto his back.
“I need some light. You,” -- Dana targeted one of the guards with the point of a finger -- “bring a lantern.”
When the guard stayed his ground, she bellowed, “Do it!”
The startled man lowered his rifle and opened the gate wide enough to slip through. He disappeared inside.
Dana let down the tailgate and reached out to the blond man. “Your assistance, please, sir.”
He scrambled to the back of the wagon, grabbed her hand, and hauled her up.
“When did this happen?” she asked, settling on her knees beside Mulder.
“Not sure,” Charlie said, “but he showed up in town about thirty minutes ago. These men are his friends, by the way: Misters Frohike, Byers, and Langly.”
The three touched the brims of their hats and mumbled solemn greetings.
“Gentlemen.” She gave a quick nod before turning her complete attention to Mulder.
An arrow protruded prominently from his upper thigh. Another from his back. She felt blood on his sleeve. Lots of blood.
She pressed the back of her hand to his cheek. His skin was cold and clammy.
“Has he been unconscious the entire time?”
She slid two fingers beneath his collar. Locating an artery in his neck, she counted the beats of his heart.
“Pulse is rapid...weak.”
The guard arrived with the lantern. He passed it to Byers, who held it aloft. Light flooded the wagon box, exposing the severity of Mulder’s condition.
His face was as pale as his linen shirt. Shallow, rapid breaths huffed from blue-tinged lips. A clotted laceration on his forehead had bled profusely earlier, dripping into his left eye and down his cheek. Dana lifted the eyelid to examine the pupil.
“Move the light closer, please,” she asked.
The dilated pupil remained fixed.
“He’s in shock.” She straightened. “I need your coats, gentlemen.”
Everyone but the guards stripped off their overcoats and handed them to her. She spread Skinner’s wool frockcoat -- the warmest of the lot -- over Mulder’s upper body, then arranged Charlie’s suit jacket over his legs, taking care not to jostle the arrow embedded in his upper thigh. She tucked the three other coats beneath Mulder’s feet to elevate his legs and increase the flow of blood to his head.
“He needs surgery. We must get him into the infirmary.” Dana turned to the guards. “You have to let us through.”
“Can’t do that, miss.” The guard shook his head. “Cap’n’s orders.”
“Damn it, this man is dying!” Dana rose to her feet. Mulder had already reached the third and final stage of shock. Organs and tissues throughout his body were in jeopardy. His kidneys would begin to shut down soon. His heart to fail. “Every minute we waste puts his life at risk.”
“Cap’n Scully was real clear on the subject, miss. Gave strict orders to keep that feller out.”
“As the captain’s daughter, I’m ordering you to stand aside and let us in.”
The guards exchanged nervous glances. The braver of the two cleared his throat. “Beggin’ your pardon, Miss Scully, but bein’ the Cap’n’s daughter don’t grant you the authority to be givin’ us orders.”
Dana opened her mouth to object, but was cut short by Skinner. “*I* have the authority, Private Bryant. You will open that gate and allow this wagon and Mr. Mulder through.”
The guard shifted uneasily. “Meanin’ no disrespect, sir, but Cap’n said that man is an enemy of the United States Army.”
“Which is precisely why I’m taking him prisoner. Now stand down so that I may take him inside and proceed with his arrest.”
Dana tried to read Skinner’s expression in the dark, uncertain if he meant what he was saying or if he was lying to help his old friend. Or impress her. The answer would have to wait. For now, she was grateful for any excuse to get Mulder into the infirmary.
When the guards hesitated, Skinner snapped, “Disobey my orders, soldiers, and you’ll be facing arrest, too.”
The guards reluctantly lowered their weapons and swung the gate open.
“Mr. Frohike, take us in,” Dana said. “And please hurry.”
“H’yah!” he shouted and whipped the horses with the reins. The wagon lunged ahead.
Minutes later, they rolled up to the infirmary.
“Mr. Scully, I’ll need assistance carrying him.” Skinner dismounted his horse.
Charlie did the same. The two men climbed into the wagon. Langly shifted the sacks of grain out of their way.
“Be careful of the arrows,” Dana warned. “They are plugging the wounds. Knock them loose and he’ll begin to hemorrhage. He can ill afford the loss of more blood.”
Skinner gripped Mulder beneath the arms. Charlie took hold of his legs. Together they eased him from the wagon. Dana hurried ahead to open the door. Frohike, Byers, and Langly followed along like ducklings.
“This way,” Dana directed, leading the group across the ward.
“What’s goin’ on?” Sergeant Phillips sat up in bed and craned for a better view. “That feller got mumps?”
Dana ignored him and headed straight for the surgery.
“Put him on the table, please.”
Skinner and Charlie maneuvered Mulder onto the operating table, rolling him onto his right side so as not to knock or break off the arrow that protruded from his back.
Corporal Beckett staggered bleary-eyed from Dana’s tiny back office. “What is this?”
“Have you been asleep or drinking, Corporal Beckett?” Dana raised the flame in the room’s lantern.
“A little of both,” he admitted.
“Are you drunk now?”
“I’m sober enough to see this man will die if we don’t offer him immediate medical assistance.”
“Then you are sober enough. Lay out my surgical kit. And check that we have an adequate supply of bandages at the ready. Mr. Frohike, might I impose upon you and your friends to fetch some water. As much as you can carry.”
“On our way.” They filed quickly from the room.'
“What can I do to help?” Skinner asked.
“You can start by removing Mr. Mulder’s clothes.” She opened her kit and took out a bistoury, a straight slender knife, generally used to slice through flesh. “Cut away whatever you have to,” she said, handing it to Skinner. “Charlie, hold his leg steady while I cut away his boot.”
Charlie moved to the foot of the table and grasped Mulder’s left ankle firmly with both hands. Using a Catlin knife, Dana cut through the leather, slicing carefully around the broken arrow and continuing all the way down to the stitching on the vamp. She peeled back the upper. “Pull,” she urged Charlie.
The boot slid from Mulder’s bloody foot. Dana wasted no time. She slit his trousers from ankle to knee, exposing a deep puncture in his calf. Torn flesh and clotted blood surrounded a nub of broken shaft, which protruded several inches from the leg. The arrowhead lay buried somewhere in the muscle, having perforated the gastrocnemius and settled deep within the soleus.
“My God.” Charlie gaped at the wound.
“Help the lieutenant, Charlie.”
He dropped the boot. Gripped the table. His face turned ashen. Dana worried he might vomit or faint.
“Help the lieutenant!” she said more firmly, trying to focus his attention away from the damaged limb. “Or step outside. We don’t need you cracking your skull on the floor.”
Charlie nodded and moved up the table, where Skinner had already cut away Mulder’s coat and was working to remove his shirt.
“You won’t have to dig for this one.” Skinner indicated a barbed point sticking out of Mulder’s chest.
A quick examination showed the arrow had entered his back several inches to the right of the fifth lumbar vertebra. It emerged between the sixth and seventh ribs. She placed a stethoscope to his chest. Respiration was rapid, but she could clearly hear air going in and out of the lung. No crackles or wheezing. The organ was intact. A fraction of an inch to the left and the arrow would have nicked the pleura and collapsed the lung.
“There’s a lot of blood here,” Skinner announced, pulling Mulder’s sleeve free.
The sleeve took a large clot with it. Blood spurted from a dollar-sized wound in Mulder’s forearm.
Dana grabbed a tourniquet from her kit. She looped the strap around Mulder’s upper arm and threaded the buckle. Several twists of the screw tightened the strap. The stream of blood slowed, stopped.
“We must move quickly, gentlemen.” She reached for Mulder’s gun belt and unfastened the silver buckle.
Charlie untied the leather thong that held the holster to his thigh. Skinner pulled the belt free. Dana unbuttoned Mulder’s trousers, then used her blade to cut through the fabric to reveal the final arrow.
“That’ll be the worst to get out,” Beckett warned. He set the bandages he had collected from the ward onto a small table in the corner. “It’s close to the femoral artery. If he survives the hemorrhage--”
“I’m quite aware of the dangers, Corporal.”
She would begin surgery here. Beckett was right; this one would be the trickiest. If Mulder did not bleed out during its removal, she would move on to the arrow in his chest, then the one in his lower leg. If he were still alive after that, she would close the wounds in his arm and on his forehead.
First, however, she wanted to clear the room. Space was tight. She could do without being elbowed by onlookers or tripping over the men’s feet.
“Lieutenant, please take these clothes away, then make sure Sergeant Phillips has had his supper. Charlie, check on Mr. Frohike to see if the water is coming soon.”
They left the room without argument or delay. She turned to Beckett.
“Are you ready, Corporal?”
“Let’s get to it.”
“I’ll begin by dilating the wound...”
She looked down at her bare hands, dirty with road dust, horse sweat, blood, and other contaminants.
“What are you waiting for, Doctor Scully?”
She had read about a new theory--
“Do you want me to remove it?” he asked, apparently thinking she was incapable or had lost her nerve.
“No, I can do it. It’s just...”
“What? What’s the problem?”
“There’s a medical concept, posited by a French scientist named Louis Pasteur. It’s called the Germ Theory of Disease. Have you heard of it?”
“Pasteur hypothesizes that decay is caused by airborne living microorganisms. Dr. Joseph Lister, a highly regarded British surgeon, believes there is a connection between these microorganisms and the occurrence of wound sepsis. He claims that improved hospital hygiene could prevent infection and save lives.”
“Ridiculous. I see nothing malevolent in the air here.”
“Not in the air, Corporal. On our hands. And our instruments.”
“That’s hogwash. We’re wasting time.”
“We should do all we can to increase this man’s chances of survival.”
“Removing those arrows as soon as possible is the best way to achieve that goal. The longer they stay in the body, the greater the chance of abscess.”
“And suppuration will progress to pyemia, the patient will die, yes, I know all that. We shall remove the arrows directly. But first, we will clean our hands and our instruments.”
“With what? You want to wait for Mr. Frohike to bring the water?”
“No. That could take too long.” She turned to the medicine cabinet. “Where is the brandy, Corporal?”
He glanced at the office door.
“Bring it,” she demanded.
With a roll of his eyes and an exasperated sigh, he did as she asked.
“Now pour it over my hands.” She cupped her palms.
“This is a waste of perfectly good brandy--”
He tipped the bottle. Alcohol splashed onto her palms. She scrubbed her hands and shook them dry.
“You, too,” she insisted. “Then pour what’s left onto the instruments.”
While he rinsed his hands and the scalpels, she examined the arrow in Mr. Mulder’s thigh more closely. Generally when an arrow is deeply buried, the feathered shaft should be cut off, and the point pushed through the affected limb or body part. An arrow cannot be pulled out backward, but must be extracted through a counter opening, otherwise the barbs on its point will catch on tissue and vessels, and cause more serious damage.
This arrow was positioned dangerously close to the femoral artery. In addition, because Mr. Mulder was seated on his horse when he was struck, the arrow pointed upward toward his groin. An atypical approach was needed. She would divide the tissue down to the arrowhead, then extract it backward. Carefully.
“You’ll need something broader.”
“Don’t argue with me.”
He passed her the slender instrument. She inserted it into the wound beside the arrow and followed the shaft down, trying to disturb the vessels as little as possible while probing for the point.
“I’ve found it. Now is the time for those bullet forceps, Corporal.”
Together, they worked to expand the wound. Beckett kept the tissues drawn back, while Dana grabbed hold of the arrow.
“Steady,” Beckett advised. “The artery is just there to your left.”
“I see it.”
She slowly withdrew the shaft, turning the barbed tip away from the pulsing artery. It nudged the vessel, but did not catch.
“Well done,” Beckett said when the arrow was freed.
Bleeding was minimal. She had managed to avoid severing the artery, or gelding Mr. Mulder.
“Disinfect the track with carbolic acid and insert a drain before you close.” She set the arrow aside. “I’m going to start on the next one.”
She moved to the head of the table. Using bone forceps, she clipped off the feathered end of the arrow.
“Did you know the initial velocity of an arrow is so great that its force nearly equals that of a musket-ball?” Beckett asked as he sutured. His tone was calm, almost conversational, for which she was grateful. His brisk movements were precise. As soon as he finished closing the first wound, he moved on to Mulder’s forearm. Perhaps she had misjudged him upon their initial meeting. He seemed more skilled than she had first thought. “At a short distance, an arrow will perforate the larger bones without comminuting them.”
“You’ve seen evidence?” She gripped the arrowhead protruding from Mulder’s chest with her forceps. Carefully, she applied traction and drew the shaft straight out. This was likely to be the cleanest of Mulder’s wounds.
“I have indeed, Doctor.” Beckett deftly caught and tied off a broken vessel. “The arrow left only a slight fissure. It resembled a hole like a pistol-ball makes when fired through window glass from a few yards off.”
“Less talking, please.” She placed her stethoscope against Mulder’s chest once again. The lung was functioning. She had not nicked the pleura. “It appears luck is on our side.”
“Indeed. This man is very fortunate. He was not hit in the abdomen. Indians often aim for the umbilicus, you know. In which case, mortality is practically assured.”
“He is not out of the woods yet, Corporal. If you’re finished there, I could use your help with the last arrow.”
The injury to Mulder’s calf presented a unique problem. The broken shaft was too short to push through the leg. Without the feathered end, it was impossible to gauge how deeply the point was embedded.
“We’ll follow the same procedure as the first,” she said.
“It would seem our best course.”
They expanded the wound exactly as before, but when Dana tried to withdraw the arrow, it would not budge.
“The point is lodged in the bone.”
“Rock it gently from side to side to loosen it,” Beckett advised, “but take care not to break it.”
She did as he suggested. “It won’t come out. It’s stuck.”
“Use more force.”
“I don’t want to splinter the bone.”
“You don’t want to leave that tip in the leg.”
Sweat trickled from her hairline. Mr. Mulder’s breathing seemed more shallow, his pallor more gray.
“He’s going to be all right,” Beckett said, evidently sensing her unease.
She wiggled the point again. Harder. “Damn it.”
“Follow the grain of the bone.”
She did. The tip came loose. “I’ve got it.”
“Is it whole? Has a fragment been left behind?”
“I don't think so. It appears to be intact.”
She extracted the arrow. To her relief, the point was unbroken. She felt Mulder’s leg for fractures or breaks. Miraculously, both the tibia and fibula appeared whole.
Frohike poked his head in the door. “How’s he doing?”
“We’re nearly finished and he’s still alive,” she said.
“Good. We’ve brought the water you asked for.”
“Bring it in. As soon as we've sutured his forehead, we’ll clean him up.”
Now that the immediate danger of hemorrhage was past, infection was Mr. Mulder’s worst enemy. Dana hoped Louis Pasteur’s Germ Theory of Disease was correct, and that rinsing their hands with alcohol would help avoid sepsis. They could only wait and pray now. Mr. Mulder’s life lay in God’s hands.
When she and Beckett were finished treating and dressing the last of Mr. Mulder’s wounds, she called Skinner and Charlie back to the operating room to carry the still unconscious man into the ward. They placed him in a bed near Sergeant Phillips and covered him with blankets. Dana moved her desk chair to Mulder’s bedside. Sitting down, she prepared for a long vigil.
Continued in Chapter 11
THE MOUNTAIN MAN