The Mountain Man by aka "Jake"

Chapter 11

 

Mulder stood in a space divided by light and dark. Not a room exactly, although the shadowed side resembled a ward in a military hospital. Dana Scully sat there in the gloom, her chair positioned beside a sickbed. Blood stained her sleeves, bodice, and skirt. Her hands lay loosely clasped in her lap. Her eyes were closed. Was she sleeping? Or praying?

“Doctor Scully?” Although he felt the words vibrate in his throat and slip past his tongue and lips, not a whisper carried on the murky air.

He called out again, more forcefully, but the result was the same. The ward remained as silent as a sealed coffin. No tick of a clock. No rustle of fabric. Not a snore from the man in the sickbed, the man who was...

Him! Wrapped in bandages. Skin deathly white.

Mulder tried to step closer, but an unseen force held him back. Annoyed more than frightened, he turned to see what anchored him in place.

A light more brilliant than any noonday sun momentarily blinded him. A gentle breeze tickled his face. The scent of prairie grass drew him away from the dark.

Squinting against the bright light, he walked out onto a broad, flat plain. Soothing sounds lured him onward: the sigh of a windswept meadow, the murmur of water over stone, the trill of a bird.

Orange and yellow clouds eddied in a strange, turquoise sky, creating patterns that resembled aw-tsi-sakan, the pictographs the Blackfoot painted on their buffalo robes, symbols of bravery, honor, pride, and victory. In the distance, thousands of bison grazed on an emerald field. They seemed to float across the prairie like sailboats on gentle seas.

Mulder glanced over his shoulder expecting to see Doctor Scully still sitting in her chair, but she and the hospital had vanished, replaced by grassland and a range of faraway hills. The mountains were copper in color, with unnaturally even peaks and valleys. Despite their peculiarity, their presence made him feel at home, at peace.

He wandered through tall grass, walking with arms outstretched, seed heads grazing his palms. His hands were curiously luminous, he noticed. He held one up to study it. Front and back, it shimmered and glowed, translucent, ethereal. He looked down at his body and found he was dressed in a resplendent tunic, breechclout, and leggings. A bone necklace gleamed against the radiant material of his shirt. When a gentle zephyr stirred his long hair, he saw that it was not its usual dark brown color, but appeared diaphanous and shot with gold sparks.

“Do not look for the familiar, Issohko.” The voice came from a distance behind him.

He spun to find Red Crow sitting cross-legged under a broad hackberry tree, which had not been there a moment ago. Sun and shade dappled the Indian’s lined features. His face was free of the smallpox lesions that had marked him at death. He puffed on a long pipe decorated with feathers and colorful beads.

“Come. Sit with me.” He beckoned Mulder with a wave. “It is pleasant beneath this tree.”

Shell and bone embellishments on Mulder’s clothes rattled as he scuffed through the grass.

“Few Tails and Brave Wolf buried you two days ago,” Mulder said when he stood directly in front of the Indian. “I helped them.”

“Yes. It was a fine funeral. Thank you.”

Mulder squatted. Red Crow’s skin did not glow like his; the old man’s body appeared solid and real.

“You don’t look dead.”

“How are the dead supposed to look?”

“Like this.” Mulder held out a shimmering hand.

Red Crow chuckled. “You are nagi, a spirit...not niya, a ghost. Your spirit is the mirror image of your living form, which is out of harmony.”

“That’s putting it mildly. I was attacked by three warriors from Cuts To Pieces’ tribe.”

“Yes. Your body is near death.”

“But I feel...good.”

“That is the way of things here.” Red Crow nodded. “You can stay a while.”

“How long?”

“That depends. A wakan is praying for your return.”

“Wakan -- I’m not familiar with the term.”

“A person of unusual power and wisdom. She can help you confront your shadow self, if you let her.”

“Who or what is my shadow self?”

“It is the discord you carry inside you. A bad experience perhaps. An event that happened long ago and changed the course of your life.”

“My sister’s disappearance.”

“Maybe.”

“This wakan can find Samantha?”

“She can help you live in balance and harmony. It is only then you will find your answers.” Red Crow leaned back against the tree’s grooved trunk and drew deeply on his pipe. He held the smoke in his lungs for what seemed an eternity, studying Mulder as he held his breath. Finally he released the smoke to the sky. “I believe your Earth Walk is not yet finished, Issohko. You are meant to join with another. The two of you will be as one mind, one prayer.”

“The wakan?”

“Possibly. Together you could discover wondrous things.”

“It looks like I’ve managed to do that on my own.” Mulder glanced up at the alien sky. Clouds coalesced and vanished, only to reform into new symbolic images, the meanings of which were lost on him.

“There are places and things more wondrous than this.” Red Crow held out his pipe.

Mulder waved it off and stood. He felt the tug of the unknown. “I think...I need to explore while I’m here.”

“Wander too far and even the wakan will not be able to find you and bring you home.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Mulder headed across the field, toward the mountains.

*     *     *

“I brought you a blanket,” Corporal Beckett said, interrupting Dana’s prayers. “I thought you might be feeling the chill.”

“Thank you.” She let him drape the blanket over her shoulders. “What time is it?”

“Half past two.”

“And you’re still here?”

“I cleaned the surgery. And wrote up a patient record for Mr. Mulder.” Beckett’s uniform was spattered with dried blood. He looked as tired as she felt.

“You performed admirably tonight, Corporal.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Glad I was here to help.” He peered down at their patient. “Any improvement?”

“Very little, I’m afraid.”

“Well, he is alive.”

“Yes.”

“I’ve seen men recover from worse.”

“Have you?”

“Indeed. The heaviest of our small arms ammunition, the minie ball-- Have you heard of it?”

“Yes, my brother Bill mentioned them in his letters.”

“A misnomer, wouldn’t you agree, considering the enormous hole they can tear into a man. They shatter any bone they encounter. A strike to the abdomen or head is nearly always fatal.”

“But some survive?”

“Miraculously, although seldom without permanent disfigurement or lingering pain.” Beckett stared at the floor. “Soldiers were wounded in every body part during the war. Eyes put out. Faces pulverized. Jaws fragmented beyond repair. Some had intestines protruding from their abdomens. Or pelvic wounds, where the bladder was hit and leaked urine constantly onto the skin...”

“My God, how did they manage?”

“Many didn’t. We sorted them by the severity of their injuries. The worst off -- the soldiers who had been hit in the head, gut, or chest -- were laid to one side to wait until the others were treated.”

“Laid aside... But why?”

“It sounds backward and cruel, doesn’t it? But they were likely to die in any case. Ignoring them allowed the surgeons time to treat those who could be saved.”

It was hard to imagine men would be purposely left to die like that. She rose to straighten the blanket covering Mr. Mulder, then removed the one from her shoulders and placed it over him, too, worried that he might be cold.

“I followed the war in Harper’s Weekly while I was studying in New York. I had no idea things were so bad.”

“No newspaper story could accurately express the carnage that occurred on the battlefield, and beneath our green flag.”

“The surgeons’ flag.”

“Yes. The wounded arrived like flotsam in a flood to our makeshift hospitals. We applied tourniquets, tied arteries, performed amputations. We worked as quickly as we could, all while cannon balls fell and explosions shook our operating tables.” He grimaced. “Whenever I close my eyes, I still see the piles of amputated limbs. Hear the screams of dying men. It’s why I drink, Doctor Scully.”

She nodded, acknowledging his admission and his reasons, although she could not endorse the practice. His drunkenness presented a danger to every patient under his care.

“Return to your quarters, Corporal. Get some rest.”

“Thank you. Will you be all right here on your own?”

“I am quite capable of watching over Mr. Mulder and Sergeant Phillips. Did I not prove myself in the operating room?”

“I didn’t mean to cast doubt on your skill as a physician. I was merely suggesting that, as an unmarried woman, you might need--”

“I’ll be fine, Corporal. Sergeant Phillips is here, should I need a man’s protection.”

The sick sergeant snored loudly in his bed, oblivious to their conversation.

“Ah, then you are set.” Beckett offered a tired smile. “I’ll return in a few hours to relieve you. Goodnight, Doctor Scully.” He touched the brim of his hat and left her alone with her two charges.

Even before the door clicked shut behind him, Dana was once again assessing Mr. Mulder’s condition, just as she had been doing every quarter hour since his surgery. She started by pressing her palm to his cheek.

His skin felt warmer this time, it seemed. She touched his brow, his neck. If he had a fever, it was only a mild one.

Or maybe she was imagining it altogether, seeing something that was not there, too tired to be objective after her long, eventful day.

Pushing through her fatigue, she ticked off the possible causes of fever. Pyemia, blood poisoning, had a mortality rate of over ninety percent. Tetanus was nearly as deadly. Then there was erysepilas, soft tissue infection, osteomyelitis, inflammation of the bone, and, of course, gangrene.

She turned up the flame of the lantern on the table beside the bed. Its flickering light revealed no sheen of sweat on Mulder’s bruised face. No flushing of the skin.

She drew the blankets down to his waist to examine his wounds for inflammation and pus. Gooseflesh sprouted across his bared chest and arms. His pale body appeared nearly luminescent in the lamplight. Not a healthy glow, but a ghostly pallor, so different from the way he had looked only a day ago when he stood outside his cabin without coat or shirt, sun-kissed and robust, his golden skin inviting her touch.

Focus, Doctor Scully, she reminded herself. He is your patient. Two days ago, she had accused him of removing her wet clothes for reasons more iniquitous than keeping her warm after her fall. She had bragged that, as a trained physician, she could maintain a manner of necessary detachment when treating patients. Now she must prove it. She needed to put aside her personal feelings and remain objective until he was fully recovered.

If he recovered.

“I won’t let you die, Mr. Mulder,” she murmured, inspecting the binding that wrapped his shoulder.

Only a little blood stained the bandage. She peeked beneath it, sniffing for the putrid odor of necrotizing flesh.

There was no stench. The wound remained free of pus. The sutured edges appeared pink from irritation, but not overly inflamed.

The dressing on his forearm was saturated with blood and lymphatic fluid. She quickly removed the outer gauze and inner lint batting. No malodor emanated from the stitched flesh. Both entry and exit wounds seeped, but showed no obvious signs of infection. She tugged on the ligature that Beckett had looped around a blood vessel and purposely left dangling from the wound. If it pulled free, it meant that infection had set in and disintegrated the arterial wall.

The ligature held. She wiped Mulder’s arm clean with a wet cloth, then applied a wad of fresh, damp lint and rebound the arm with gauze. The soiled dressings were set aside to be washed and reused. She repositioned the blankets over his upper body.

Moving to the foot of the bed, she reached beneath the covers to squeeze his toes. They felt cool, but not unnaturally so. His circulation had not been compromised by injury or surgery.

She flipped back the blanket to expose his lower left leg. The dressing on his calf needed changing, so she removed it. This wound, like the others, appeared clean and infection-free. The skin felt warm to the touch, however, and she worried that a fragment of arrowhead might still be lodged in the fibula. If so, inflammation would result, leading to diminished blood flow to the bone and death of the tissue.

She must keep careful watch for additional symptoms: excessive sweating, chills, swelling of the ankles, feet, and legs. If Mr. Mulder developed any of these, further surgery would be required to scrape out the destroyed bone. Or, if gangrene took hold, the leg would have to be amputated.

Sliding the blankets up to his groin, she bared his upper thigh. A quick examination showed the wound was clean. The bandage was not too sodden and could wait until later to be changed. She recovered him with the blankets.

It worried her that Mr. Mulder was still unconscious after so long a time. She suspected he had sustained a concussion, either during the Indian attack, or earlier at Nine Pipe Ridge at the hands of her brother. Bill had beaten him mercilessly, then pushed him hard into a ledge. She had heard his skull crack against the stone.

She slipped her hand beneath his head and gingerly probed for any swellings. There, just above the occipital bone, she found a sizable lump.

Symptoms of concussion could take hours or even days to show up. Sensitivity to light and noise, confusion, loss of balance, amnesia. Unfortunately, none of these could be diagnosed while the patient was unconscious.

A sal-ammoniac lotion applied directly to the scalp was the customary treatment for concussion and might bring him around. It would mean cutting off his hair to allow the medicine to be fully absorbed into the skin. But a haircut was a small price to pay if it helped rouse him from his coma.

She went to the medicine cabinet and pulled sal-ammoniac, vinegar, and whiskey from the shelves. She mixed these with a half-pint of water in a shallow bowl and stirred until the sal-ammoniac dissolved. The resultant lotion was thin and pungent. She grabbed a pair of scissors and returned to Mr. Mulder’s bedside.

Long locks dropped to the floor as she snipped away his hair. She rolled his head from side to side to clip the back. By the time she finished, he resembled a half-plucked chicken more than a gentleman, but her intent was to make him well, not handsome.

She poured a little of the medicine into her palm to let it warm for a few seconds before applying it to his tufted scalp. The lotion stained the bed linens as she massaged it into his skin. She repeated the process until she had used up all of the mixture.

Wiping her hands on her smock, she felt satisfied that she had done everything she could for Mr. Mulder for the time being. His recovery was now in God’s hands. She cleaned up the fallen hair, then carried her chair back to her office. She limped the entire way, her sprained ankle throbbing after her long day. It would feel good to sit while she added notes to Beckett’s entry in the patient logbook.

Beckett’s report impressed her. It was not like his former sloppy jottings, but was a detailed description of Mr. Mulder’s condition and the surgical procedures performed on him.

“Well done, Corporal.”

She picked up the quill, dipped it into the inkwell, and updated the entry.

“Post-surgery bleeding moderate. No sign of sepsis. Possible concussion. Treated with sal-ammoniac lotion as a precaution. Will administer calomel and antimonial powder mixed with a little bread-crumb when patient regains consciousness.”

She considered writing more, but in the end decided to leave out the worst of her fears. Conjecture was pointless. Only the facts mattered.

“Doctor Scully?”

She glanced up, expecting to see Beckett at the door, returning early, but it was not the Corporal who called out her name. Nor was it Sergeant Phillips.

The pen dropped from her hand and landed on the logbook, spattering the page with ink. She pushed back from the desk and stood.

“Mr. Mulder?”

The visitor strongly resembled the man she had left unconscious in his bed just minutes ago, except that his entire body was surrounded by an unearthly halo of light. He was dressed in Indian garb and his long hair sparkled with gold dust. Most shocking of all, however, was the fact that she could see right through his luminescent body into the room beyond!

He held out a glowing hand.

She took a step back. Stumbled and knocked into her chair. It clattered to the floor. She glanced over her shoulder at it. Just a quick look. A fraction of a second.

When she turned back, the mirage had vanished. She hurried into the ward, limping as she went.

She found Mr. Mulder exactly as she had left him. Still unconscious. And as solid and real as Sergeant Phillips in the next bed.

“I must be more tired than I thought,” she mumbled, dismissing her ghostly vision as mere delusion caused by lack of sleep.

Deciding to surrender to her fatigue, she crossed to one of the beds on the opposite side of the room and lay down to take a much needed nap.

*     *     *

At oh-eight-hundred sharp, Cap stood in his office with Lieutenant Skinner. The original subject of their conversation was to have been the lieutenant’s marriage proposal and Dana’s acceptance. However, the matter would have to wait until later. Cap was facing a more pressing problem at the moment.

“Word came from the goldfields not ten minutes ago that Kicking Horse and his band of cutthroats scalped and killed a prospector just south of Akópskaa Swamp last night.”

“You’re sure it was a Blackfoot ambush, sir?” Skinner asked.

“Who else, so close to the fort?”

“Could’ve been Cree.”

“Ridiculous. Cree don’t travel this far south.”

Skinner cleared his throat and looked as though he had more to say.

“Spit it out, soldier.”

“Fox Mulder was attacked by hostiles last night. Shot four times. The arrows were Cree.”

Cap wanted to laugh. Hell, he wanted to cheer! Crazy Fox had been assaulted by the very heathens to whom he had been offering aid for years. Served the traitor right for taking sides against the U.S. Army. “This is welcome news, Lieutenant. Most welcome! Is he dead?”

“No, sir, but his life hangs in the balance as we speak.”

“I see.” A shame the Cree had not finished off the turncoat. “Where is he now?”

“Infirmary, sir.”

“Here? At the fort?” Anger advanced upon Cap like Sherman’s army through Georgia. He began to pace. “I left strict orders he be kept out.”

“Yes, sir. I... I overrode those orders.”

“You did what?” Cap spun to face him. The next word ground from his throat. “Why?”

“He was dying, sir.”

“Which would have saved us the trouble of hanging him!” Cap balled his fists.

Skinner’s gaze shifted to the floor.

There was more to the story, Cap guessed, something the lieutenant was reluctant to admit.

“Dana was at the gate when Mulder arrived, wasn’t she?” Cap guessed. “She insisted the guards let him in. And you helped her.”

“Yes, sir. H-how did you know?”

“I’m her father. I know how persuasive she can be.” Cap collected his hat and gloves from his desk. He had hoped Skinner would be more strict with Dana, although he was the first to admit that controlling his willful daughter was not always an easy task. “Don’t assume that as my future son-in-law you can countermand my orders without consequences.”

“No, sir.”

“I’ll be back later to discuss your misconduct. But first, I must deal with my daughter.”

Cap left Skinner standing beside his desk, looking miserable.

The situation with Dana had gone too far, Cap fumed as he marched across the quad to the infirmary. And the fault was Fox Mulder’s. Although Dana insisted that nothing untoward had happened in that mountain hideaway of his, she was acting more obstinate than ever since her return. He had bewitched her. Or worse.

The thought of his nemesis taking advantage of his daughter made Cap angry enough to strangle the blackguard in his sickbed.

He barged through the infirmary’s front door and bellowed his daughter’s name.

Sergeant Phillips sat up in his bed and saluted. Fox Mulder slept soundly in the bed next to him. Cap itched to draw his saber and run it through the scoundrel’s black heart.

“Where is my daughter?” he demanded of Phillips.

The alarmed sergeant pointed a quaking finger at a cot on the opposite side of the room. Sure enough, Dana lay there asleep in full view of the men.

Cap thudded across the room and shook her shoulder. “Get up.”

She startled awake. Glancing at the sergeant, she scrambled from the bed and straightened her skirts.

Cap targeted Mulder with an outstretched arm. “I want that traitor out of here. Now.”

She blinked against sleep, clearly trying to rouse herself. “He’s in no condition to travel, Father.”

“He is an enemy of the U.S. Army.”

“Keep your voice down, please.” She limped away from him, leaving him no option but to follow her into the back office.

“He’ll die if we move him,” she said quietly, closing the door behind them.

“That doesn’t concern me.”

“Do you really hate him so much?”

“There’s a cemetery full of graves beyond the stockade. In those graves are soldiers who lost their lives fighting Indians -- Indians supplied with weapons by Fox Mulder.”

“Do you have proof of that?”

In fact, he did not. Nothing but hunches and rumors. But who else would be helping the hostiles? “He assists the red man at our expense. That makes him as much a murderer as they are.”

“He must have his reasons, Father.”

“I cannot think of a single good one. Can you?”

Her defiant gaze wavered. “No.”

“I thought not. Two men will be ’round shortly to carry Mr. Mulder out of the fort.”

“Where will they take him?”

“Beyond the gate.”

“You would leave him lying on the ground?”

“He’s lucky I don’t shoot him for treason.”

Her eyes sparked with anger. “If he goes, then I go with him.”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

“I mean what I say, Father.”

“You’re hysterical.”

“I am perfectly calm.”

She did seem in control of herself. Frustratingly so.

“Tell me, Dana, where will you take him? To his cabin?”

“No. That’s too far. I’ll take him into town.”

“Do you imagine there are fine, clean rooms to rent there?”

“There must be someplace.”

“There is a saloon. And a few private brothels. Nothing more.”

Tears sprang to her eyes and his heart ached at seeing her upset. Why couldn’t she understand the situation as he did? He was doing what was best for his men and for her.

“If the saloon is the only place with a bed, then that’s where we’ll go.”

“You’ll do no such thing.”

“I’m not a child, Father. Stop treating me like one.”

“Then stop acting like one!”

She crossed her arms and turned her back on him, proving his point.

“I take my profession seriously,” she said, her voice quavering, “even if you do not.”

“Your profession? Examining men’s bodies? Treating their diseases? It’s unseemly, Dana.” His patience was gone. He had half a mind to turn her over his knee and give her a sound spanking. “Get married. Have children. Forget this ridiculous doctor idea.”

She straightened her shoulders. Clenched her fists. Was she shaking?

“If I agree to consider what you are suggesting,” she said at last, “will you let Mr. Mulder stay until he recovers?”

Did she mean it? Would she really forget her silly notion of becoming a doctor if he granted her this one indulgence? He hoped with all his heart it was true. He loved his daughter, more than life itself. He wanted her to be happy. And marriage was the only reasonable path to a secure future and contented life for her.

“Yes,” Cap conceded, against his better judgment. “He can stay. But only until he can be transported elsewhere without risk to his life.”

She turned to face him. Her expression remained grim. She had gained no pleasure from his concession. “Thank you,” she said without emotion.

“Don’t thank me yet, Dana.” He placed his hands on her shoulders. “I’m willing to leave Mr. Mulder’s fate in God’s hands, and yours for the moment, but I won’t lie and say I hope he lives.” He lightly chucked her chin. “And, live or die, I expect you to follow through on your promise.”

“I’m sure you do.”

He noticed her dress was stained with dried blood and who knew what else.

“I’ll send Millie around with a set of fresh clothes,” he promised before taking his leave. “Everything will work out for the best, Magnet, you’ll see.”

*     *     *

Long after Cap left, Dana was still shaking. His lack of support was crushing. It was clear to her now that he had never intended for her to be a doctor at the fort. As far as he was concerned, Mr. Mulder was her last patient. Whether she married Walter Skinner or not.

She groped for the ring tucked inside her pocket. It was there in its wooden box.

Would she accept the lieutenant’s proposal? She had promised her father she would consider it. She had not promised to say yes, however.

But maybe it was the best course, given the circumstances, even if she did not love the lieutenant. He was a kind man. And willing to let her practice medicine. Marrying him would not be so awfully bad, would it?

As promised, Millie came by later with clean clothes. She also brought Dana’s copy of “The Pathfinder.”

“I saw it on your bureau, miss. Thought you might want somethin’ to read while you’re sittin’ here all day.”

“Thank you, Millie. That was thoughtful of you.”

In truth, the enjoyment she had formerly experienced while reading Cooper’s book was spoiled now by her row with Cap. Clearly, he no longer looked upon her as his Magnet, although he continued to use the name as a term of endearment. The change in their relationship hurt her keenly. She longed to regain what they had lost.

One way to do that was to marry Walter Skinner.

Dana changed out of her bloodstained clothes in the privacy of her office. She gave them to Millie to be soaked and scrubbed back at the house.

After Millie left, Dana checked on Mr. Mulder and fed Sergeant Phillips. As the sergeant ate his meal, she dragged her chair back out to the ward, where she could keep close watch on her two patients. She positioned the chair once again between their beds, then sat down with her book to read. A hair ribbon marked her place.

Chapter Nineteen had ended with Mabel -- Magnet -- agreeing to marry the man her father had chosen for her. Dana silently reread the chapter’s final passages: “Trained like a woman to subdue her most ardent feelings, her thoughts reverted to her father, and to the blessings that awaited the child who yielded to a parent's wishes.”

No wonder Cap liked this book so much.

As for Dana, she sympathized with Mabel’s plight. She read on. “I have no choice; that is, none have asked me to have a choice, but Pathfinder and Mr. Muir; and between *them*, neither of us would hesitate. No, father; I will marry whomever you may choose.”

The very words Cap longed to hear.

“Mind readin’ yer story out loud, Doc?” the sergeant interrupted her brooding. “It’s mighty borin’, layin’ here with nothin’ to do.”

“Yes, I imagine it is. I’d be happy to read to you, Sergeant. Would you like me to start back at the beginning?”

“Oh, no need fer that.”

“I’ve read the story several times already. I don’t mind starting again.”

“Nah, pick up wherever yer at. Makes no never mind to me.”

“All right then. Chapter Twenty: It was not only broad daylight when Mabel--”

“Who’s Mabel?”

“The heroine.”

“Right. Go on.”

“It was not only broad daylight when Mabel awoke, but the sun had actually been up some time. Her sleep had been tranquil, for she rested on an approving conscience, and fatigue contributed to render it sweet.”

Mabel had found comfort by surrendering to her father’s will. Dana doubted she would feel the same in her place.

On the other hand, was she willing to risk estrangement from her father and family for the sake of personal freedom?

A quarter hour later, the sergeant had become quite caught up in the story. “And how did Mr. Muir respond then?” he asked, eyes bright with anticipation.

Dana continued, pitching her voice low to replicate Muir’s masculine tenor. “‘Nay, nay, for heaven's sake, do not misunderstand me, Mabel!’ Muir interrupted, with some alarm of manner; ‘I am far from intimating that any but you females ought to take refuge in the boat. The duty of us men is sufficiently plain, no doubt, and my resolution has been formed from the first to stand or fall by the blockhouse.’”

“Good fer him!” Phillips raised his fist triumphantly. “What was our Mabel’s response?”

Dana used her natural voice for the part of Mabel. “‘And did you imagine, Mr. Muir, that two females could row that heavy boat in a way to escape the bark canoe of an Indian?’”

“I was wonderin’ the same, Doc. What does Mr. Muir say to that?”

“‘Ah! my pretty Mabel--’”

“Love is seldom logical, and its fears and misgivings are apt to warp the faculties.” A rasping voice at her back finished the sentence for her.

Dana twisted in her chair to face the source of the speaker.

Mr. Mulder opened his eyes and offered her a weary smile. “Hey,” he said.

Relief swept through her. Sergeant Phillips looked equally pleased. She stood and set her book down.

“Mr. Mulder, it is good to see you awake.”

“Where am I?” he croaked.

“Fort Culbertson. The infirmary.”

“You got shot by Injuns,” Phillips added. He pointed to his own swollen cheeks. “I got mumps.”

“I see.” Staring at Dana, Mulder dropped his voice to a whisper. “Does your father know I’m here?”

She ignored his question and held her index finger a few inches from his nose. “Follow my finger with your eyes.”

She moved her hand from left to right and back again. He tracked the motion without a problem.

“State your full name,” she said, testing him further.

“Fox William Mulder.”

“And today’s date?”

“August the twenty-- Wait...how long have I been here?”

“Came in last night,” Phillips said.

“Then it must be the twenty-eighth.”

“Who is our country’s current president?” Dana continued her assessment.

“Andrew Johnson. Did you know he was born in Raleigh, North Carolina?” Mulder asked tiredly. “1808. Apprenticed to a tailor as a boy, but ran away. As a Senator, he advocated a homestead bill to provide free farms to the poor. Need to know more?”

“No, that’s quite sufficient, thank you. Your mental faculties appear to be intact.” She slipped her hand beneath his fingers. “Squeeze.”

His grasp was steady and adequately firm, given his weakened condition.

His gaze drifted from his bandaged arm to the dressing on his chest.

“I feel like...a voodoo doll.”

“A what?”

He shook his head. “Never mind. What’s that smell?” He crinkled his nose.

“Vinegar.”

“Are you trying to pickle me?” He scratched his head. “What happened to my hair?”

“I had to cut it off. To treat your concussion. As you can see, it worked.”

“It don’t look so bad, mister,” Phillips assured him. “Kinda like a baby porkypine.”

“Wonderful.”

She placed her palm to his forehead. “You don’t feel feverish.” She touched his cheek and neck in turn, just to be certain.

He squirmed at her fussing. “Could I--” He cleared his throat. “Could I have a drink of water, please?”

“Of course.”

She filled a glass from the pitcher on the table beside his bed.

“You gonna check him fer orchids?” Sergeant Phillips asked.

“No.” She held the glass to Mulder’s lips.

“Yer missin’ out, mister. Believe me.” Phillips grinned.

Mulder drank every last drop without pause.

She set down the glass. “Do you think you could take some broth, Mr. Mulder?”

“No. Thank you.” His words were slurred with fatigue. He looked ready to fall asleep again. “Nitsiksíssta’poo’,” he mumbled.

“That some kind of food?” Phillips asked.

“No.” Mulder’s eyes fluttered shut. “Means...I was lost.”

“Indeed. You very nearly were.” Dana stroked his cheek, thankful he was still alive.

Her touch elicited a sigh. “You found me,” he said, drifting off. “Brought me back.”

She was about to correct him, tell him that it was Charlie who had found him and helped transport him to the fort, but he began to snore softly, so she adjusted his blankets and let him rest.

“Where were we, Sergeant?” she asked, picking up her book.

“Mr. Muir was sayin’ somethin’ about love.”

“Right.” She located the passage. “‘Love is seldom logical, and its fears and misgivings are apt to warp the faculties.’ Would you agree with that assessment, Sergeant Phillips?”

“If it means love can addle yer brain, then yep, I’d have to agree with it.”

 

Continued in Chapter 12

 

THE MOUNTAIN MAN
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