LIVINGSTON, Montana in the summer was hot and windy and green, nestled against a big bend in the Yellowstone River and bustling with the engine of progress. It was altogether a great place to visit, and Gideon Makepeace had been happy to do so. But he’d heard from the local folk about just how hard Montana winters were—harder than any he’d ever suffered through in Texas or Florida or Louisiana—so he was just as happy to be headed out today, in plenty of time to avoid one.
Mister Landon had been a fair boss, paying him well for his horse skills and treating him with less awe or envy and more respect than most respectable men would treat a fella from a traveling show, but after three months here, butting heads with Landon’s regular help, and seeing the futility of doing work that those horses’ asses would as likely undo in weeks, Gideon was happy to be moving on, too.
“Gonna miss you, Gideon,” Tommy, one of the youngest of Landon’s hands, said as he came to stand next to Gideon. “Wish you didn’t have to go.”
Gideon smiled at him, slapping him on the back. At sixteen, Tommy was four years Gideon’s junior and one of the best hands Landon had. Gideon felt a score of years older than the boy, most days, because he’d known so much more about horses and life by the time he’d reached sixteen. “Miss you, too, Tommy. If you decide to leave Livingston, look up the show—we can always use a good horse hand, and I’ll be glad to put in a word for you with Bill and with my dad.” Gideon’s daddy ran the horses for Bill Tourney’s Wild West Show and had since before Gideon had been born, back when Bill still rode broncs and the show numbered no more than two dozen rowdy men and women. Before Gideon was even old enough to reach a horse’s withers without a stepstool, he had learned the trade from his pa.
Tommy nodded, flushing a little with the compliment. “Thanks, but don’t expect to see me anytime soon. Mister Landon wants me taking up your work with Boxer—he says he thinks I’ve learned better than anyone else. That’s a damned fine horse, Gideon. Always was, but now that we can handle him good….”
Gideon smiled, feeling something in him ease a little. Landon clearly wanted the best out of his stock—just not enough to spend his days at the barn himself and keep an eye on the rougher men responsible for keeping his breeding farm running. Landon liked his wealth and his travel, and had only got back from another trip just five days past. The pair of them had spent the last three days talking about two studs Gideon had put most of his time into. Tall roans both of them, the studs were four and five years old, respectively, and while they’d never be anything like his Star, they weren’t bad animals at all. Boxer was the five-year-old, and while he was a little bit lazy, he listened to Tommy.
Gideon watched the roans now, standing quiet in halter with their ears swiveled toward the noise of people on the street or the steam and clang of the smithy, back behind this livery. Three months ago they’d have been bucking and rearing, panicked. Gideon cast a measuring eye to their stance and bit his lip as Landon walked toward them, calling out to the horses as if they were people.
“Good to know you,” Tommy said, shaking Gideon’s hand quickly then moving away. “I’ll remember everything you said.”
As he left, Landon walked over, his eyes still on his horses. “They’re my best studs,” he said, like that was news after all this time. “They’ve thrown over a dozen healthy foals off my own mares, but better yet, they’re gonna fetch higher stud fees now when folks cotton to how smart they are.”
The old man was probably right about that, Gideon thought with a smile.
“I appreciate your work with ’em, Gideon,” Landon said, and clearly the man did.
“I did my best, sir, but still—don’t expect ’em to be like Star, all right? Worse, you let your boys get impatient with ’em, and they’ll likely unlearn everything you and me have taught ’em so far.”
Landon laughed and shook his head. “You’re as sentimental about horseflesh as most men are about their wives,” he said, and Gideon shrugged. The man was right, after all; a great horse could be ruined by a bad trainer, while a mediocre horse with a skilled trainer could surprise the hell out of a man. Gideon secretly thought Landon had the latter in most of his animals, but these two studs were all right. Good lines, good conformation, good lineage—tempers as hot and hard as their pricks, too, he thought with a frown.
In the calm, low voice Gideon had taught him to use, Landon spoke to his horses. “Boxer. Square up.” Boxer’s ears flicked forward, and he lifted his right forefoot, then set it down pretty much where he’d had it before. “Square up,” Landon repeated. Boxer did a little better, shifting his weight and bringing his right foot into line with his left. “No anger in him either,” Landon said approvingly. “Don’t know how you schooled that out of him.”
“Like I told you, sir, you can cow a horse, or you can respect it.” More quietly, “And I still think your whole investment’ll be better off if you send Johnson packing.” The man who ran the barn drank too much to make animals trust him. People, too, probably, but then folks could be a lot more gullible than horses.
“I’m thinking on it. Already talked to Tommy about taking over Boxer’s handling—but I reckon you know that.” There was a smile in the man’s voice.
Gideon tilted his head to look sidelong at his companion. George Landon saw an investment on the hoof in horses, like cattle or hogs. Gideon couldn’t even say the man was wrong. Landon was the man with the land and the money and the fine studs, after all.
Landon had been down in Casper in May, to sell some yearlings and to catch Bill Tourney’s Traveling Wild West Show. Landon had introduced himself to Robert Makepeace, Gideon’s pa, with the idea of offering a yearling to the show and increasing his breeding farm’s reputation. After the trick riding events, though, the breeder had changed his mind.
“Robert,” he’d said, “I’d like to hire you to teach my studs some schooling. They’re already in high demand, but if I can show off how smart they are, too, I’ll have folks coming from New York and California to get their mares covered.”
His daddy had been no more willing to leave the show than Landon would have been to travel with it, but Gideon had loved the idea. “Setting up in somebody’s nice guest house, sleeping late and bedding down early? Interfering with a local gal for longer than a few days’ time?” He still remembered the look the elder Makepeace had given him for that one.
“You’d best remember what interfering with local gals can cost you,” his daddy had chastised him. “And more important, what it can cost them. You find better things to do with your time, son.”
Gideon had shared the thoughtful silence, certain that his pa wasn’t hinting at how he himself had been made, but equally sure the man was right. Eventually, he’d nodded his head. “Yessir. Still, you’ll put in a word for me, won’t you? Make sure he knows I’ve got the grit to tackle the job?”
His daddy had grinned. “Yessir. Hell, that kind of money, I almost wish I’d be willing to part from my horses or my woman and do it myself.”
So Gideon had found himself here, enjoying easy work, fresh air, and the tourists who poured through on their way to Yellowstone National Park. He’d spent his fair share of time trying to charm the birds out of the trees in this bustling city, and mostly avoiding the daddies who’d want to geld him if they caught him too close to their daughters. Wives were safer. Men could be safer still, at least on the road. Gideon hadn’t even found a feller really worth looking twice at around here, much less worth the risk of approaching, not when he couldn’t move on right quick if things fell out wrong. It weren’t no trouble to take matters in hand, so to speak, not with the private room Landon had given him. And when the need drove him too hard to ignore it, he’d visited a very nice prostitute on B Street. Thin and boyish, she’d been worth every dollar he had paid her, for the more worldly company as much as for the fucks.
“You all right with how we settled out, Gideon?” Landon asked, bringing Gideon out of his musings.
“About my pay? Yessir.” Landon had an account at the Wells Fargo Bank and had had a letter sent to the branch in San Francisco, opening an account for Gideon into which Landon had deposited nearly all of the $400 Gideon had earned for his summer’s work. The show would land in San Francisco sometime in September, and Gideon planned to meet it there. “You were right, sir, the best way to lose that money would’ve been to carry it on me the whole trip.”
“Especially since you’re so determined to hop off and sightsee,” Landon agreed, nodding. One thing Gideon liked about the old man was that as a traveler himself, he seemed to understand the need to see new pieces of the world. Gideon had near five weeks, maybe more if the pickings in California were good for Bill, to get to San Francisco to meet up with Bill Tourney’s Wild West Show, and he’d already talked with a Northern Pacific ticket clerk and at length with Doctor MacCray, who had traveled across most of the Rockies in both America and Canada.
In his wallet, folded flat and tucked carefully into the breast pocket of his traveling coat, he had the forty dollars he’d accepted in cash and his train tickets—the one for himself and the one for his horse. Forty dollars was plenty to get him west in comfort. “Yessir,” he said again, and checked his pocket watch. “I’ve got four more hours, sir. You want help taking these boys back to your spread?”
Landon chuckled. “No, no. Boxer here’s going to the Lazy R, fifteen miles downriver. I want to show him there while he’s at his best—before my men ruin him again,” he said. Gideon was just glad that humor infused the man’s voice.
“Sorry, don’t mean to talk so much or so bad about your employees.”
Landon waved it away. “You probably aren’t wrong, Gideon. I never thought much about it before, but to see how well you manage animals that Johnson swears shouldn’t be handled without a gun and a bullwhip… well, let’s just say you’re making me see things a little more clearly.”
Gideon brought up his ‘aww shucks’ smile, one he’d practiced for audiences and pretty women alike. “Right kind of you to say, sir.”
Landon turned to him and extended a hand to shake. “I’m letting Bill and Tommy take Boxer downriver on the flatboat, not Johnson,” he said with a smile. “Reckon even an old dog can learn a few new tricks, eh?”
Gideon felt his smile widen, a real one this time, and shook hands firmly with the old man. He’d already said his goodbyes on Landon’s stud farm, shaken hands with the other men who he’d tried to teach the finer points of horse training, pretty sure that most of them wouldn’t do any damage, but equally sure that few of them boys had the patience or the skill to work a horse past the basics of bending to halter, or cutting and roping. It was what they knew. “Tommy will do you well—and Boxer, too. You take care of yourself, sir,” he said sincerely.
“You, too, Gideon.”
Gideon stepped back into the shade of a tree and leaned against it, hiding his bare head from the noonday sun, and stuck his hands deep in his pockets as he watched Landon wave Tommy over.
He waved again when Landon did and glanced over to the livery corral where Star dozed in the shade of the building. He and his horse were both at a loose end now.
He’d said his goodbyes to Lila at the whorehouse, to Doctor MacCray, to everybody who’d come to mean anything to him in his long summer here. His bags were packed and held at the train depot, and only his tack, his hat and his horse still wanted collecting. He didn’t have nothing to do now but get himself a drink, maybe saddle up Star and walk her along the banks of the Yellowstone River before he had to load her onto the train.
He didn’t know how long he’d lingered, trying to decide how to kill the last of his time here, before a commotion on the other side of the livery caught his attention. Angry voices and a body hitting a wall, it sounded like, got him pushing off the trunk of the tree and moving fast. A couple of months back he might not have gotten involved—these folks didn’t take kindly to their Chinese or to their whores showing up in the wrong parts of town, and they didn’t take kindly to interference either—but he was leaving today, so he could make the effort without much risk.
He jogged around the corner of the big livery stable in time to see an Indian try to lever himself up off the ground, and to see a boy who worked at the stable put his foot to the man’s chest and shove him back down. “Hey!” he yelled. He knew that kid and had thought he was a decent fellow. “What the hell are you doing?”
It was clear even from here that the Indian had a problem with his leg; it was bound up and swollen, and when he’d fallen back down and landed some weight on it, he’d groaned and curled in on himself. Gideon didn’t cotton to folks treating animals badly. He sure as hell wasn’t going to stand by and let them do that to a man who hadn’t done nothing to them.
“We don’t allow no Injuns in Livingston,” the boy, Jacob, said.
Gideon was frankly shocked. He hadn’t heard Jacob talk this bad even about the China men. “Who made you the boss around here, boy?” he snapped, stepping up and putting himself between Jacob and the man on the ground. He was a little worried about Tom the blacksmith. Tom was a big man, tall and burly and heavily muscled from his work, but Tom looked to be torn between Jacob’s affront and his own decency. “You two,” he said, pointing to the other two men who’d joined in the fray. Or started it, maybe. “I’ve seen you both go into that church right on Callendar Street. That the way God tells you to treat the sick?”
“God tells us how to treat heathens,” the bigger of the two, Bart Elston, said, and he spat on the ground near where the Indian lay. “These heathens drink and steal and kill honest, hard-working people.”
Gideon resisted the urge to shift his weight to the balls of his feet and narrowed his eyes. He’d met Bart in a saloon, known the man well enough to say howdy to him on the street, and Bart wasn’t a man who went out of his way to work hard at anything. “Bart, you don’t want to waste your energy on foolery like this,” he said with a frown.
“You’re leaving today, ain’t you, Gideon?” Tom asked, but his tone wasn’t as hard as Bart’s. “Why don’t you just go on along and let us handle this?” He met Gideon’s eyes, and even though he wasn’t carrying the hatred Bart seemed to, Gideon saw the set of his shoulders and his jaw.
Gideon couldn’t take them on. Four of them, and at least three of them angry—that was a loser for sure.
But he couldn’t leave the Indian alone either; he had too many Indian friends to walk away from this stranger now. There was no denying that there was anger and even hate between many whites and redskins, but most of the Indians he knew were as good and decent as the best white man.
His back was to the man on the ground, but he’d gotten a good look before he’d stepped past him: he was a small man, slender, with long black hair hanging loose around his face, and eyes that weren’t the color a full-blooded Indian should have.
Gideon relaxed his stance a little and stuck his hands into his pants pockets. “He ain’t all Indian,” he said. “Maybe the white half of his soul ain’t worth beating on just for the Indian half.”
Bart Elston and his friend stiffened further, and Gideon felt his jaw tighten. No doubt they were thinking the worst on how a half-breed might have got made. But Tom looked hesitant about the idea of white blood on his hands, so Gideon figured he had a winning argument here.
“I will go,” a faint voice called from behind him, the words almost too soft to hear.
Elston took a step forward. “Get on out of here, Injun—before we take you out of town ourselves.”
Gideon heard movement behind him, the rustle of hide clothes, the scraping of sand and rock as the Indian moved, trying to get to his feet. He was breathing hard, too hard. He needed a doctor bad enough that he’d come into Livingston alone to look for one. “I’ll help him,” Gideon said, taking a step back but still facing Tom. Tom was the closest he had to an ally here. He’d cowed Jacob, but Elston and his friend could stir the kid up again, quick. “I’m leaving anyway—may as well let him go with me.”
“Could just string him up,” Elston said, smiling in a way that made Gideon’s blood run hot with anger. Without thinking, his hand drifted toward his revolver, but before it made contact, Tom spoke up.
“For what, Bart? Falling down?”
“He might have been eying the horses,” Elston said, his suspicion exactly the kind that someone who wanted to would believe.
Tom turned sideways now, standing between Gideon and Elston. “He wasn’t,” he said, a hard edge to his voice that relieved Gideon greatly and restored his faith in the man. More quietly Tom said, “No need in wasting good rope or good time,” and maybe he was glad of any excuse to avoid a hanging.
Tom glanced back at Gideon. “Get him out of town.” His words weren’t hate-filled, but his tone left no room for argument—either from Gideon or from the other men around them. He was the man in charge here, and when he turned around and walked back into the livery, Gideon felt the tension ease.
He took another step back toward the Indian, glancing over his shoulder to find the man leaning heavily against the wall of the stable. He was trying to put weight on the leg that was injured, and Gideon saw the sheen of sweat on his skin and the lines of pain cut deep into his strong features.
“Hey,” he said, pitching his voice low and slowly turning to where he could see the other man. “Let me give you a hand.” He reached out, intending to catch the Indian by the upper arm. But the man jerked back and away, stumbling and almost falling before he caught his balance.
“No, thank you,” the Indian said stiffly, even though it was clear that he needed the help. Fever, Gideon could tell from the sweat and the brightness of his eyes.
“What happened?” he asked, waving toward the man’s leg even as he glanced back to find Elston and Jacob staring at them, waiting. Elston’s friend had already faded away, probably to the sheriff’s office to find some legal backing for his hate.
But the Indian either didn’t hear him or ignored him, his attention on trying to stand up well enough to walk away. He was still using the barn for balance but moving slowly toward the road. He had bandaged the wound, but Gideon could see blood and pus staining the cloth.
“Hey,” he said, moving closer without trying to touch him this time, “I’m trying to help you.”
It was about then that the Indian ran out of barn wall to lean on and started hobbling. On the third step, his bad leg gave way, and it was only Gideon’s quick save that kept him from landing in the dirt again.
“Come on,” he said, catching the man by the waist and taking his weight. It wasn’t much, compared to many; he was slimmer than he looked, the buckskin clothes disguising his slightness, and Gideon had no trouble pulling the man upright and hauling him out of the livery yard and away.
Definitely a fever, the Indian’s body was hot where it touched Gideon’s, and this close, Gideon could smell the infection. He led him down the road, ignoring the looks that strangers threw in their direction. The Indian didn’t put up a fight, and Gideon could feel the man’s will giving way. When they reached the alley between the general store and the hardware store, he guided the Indian into it, looking back to make sure they weren’t being followed.
“You came to town for the doctor?” he asked, pushing the guy back toward a bunch of empty wooden crates that were stacked against the hardware store’s wall.
“It does not matter,” the Indian panted. “It was a mistake—”
“You need to see one,” Gideon said, putting a hand on a thin shoulder and pressing. “Sit down—dammit, sit down.”
The Indian sat with a grunt of pain, and Gideon dropped down onto one knee beside him, trying to get a better look at the wound. “What happened?” he asked again, carefully touching the bandaging on the man’s leg. It was clearly swollen, and heat fairly radiated off it.
The man jerked and hissed, but he didn’t pull free of Gideon’s touch. When he spoke, his voice was low and flat. “Wild pigs,” he said. “They came in the night, a family of them. I woke to find them near my camp, and when I tried to leave, the boar attacked.”
Gideon winced, recalling tales he’d heard about the dangers of wild pigs. If you came upon one without a gun, the best you could do was get out of the way or get stuck like this man had. “Lucky to be alive,” he said. “But you won’t be much longer if you don’t get a doctor to look at it, maybe drain it.”
“I must leave,” the Indian said, “or those men will kill me faster than the wound will.” He pushed up, trying to stand. “Thank you for your help.”
Gideon just stood and waited for him to fall back down, which didn’t take but a second. “Just hold on a minute,” he urged and settled the man back on the crate. “Let me think about this.”
The Indian bent over, his hands around his waist and his hair hanging forward to cover his face. He was sick, truly sick, and he knew it.
“Did you know what kind of welcome you were likely to get here?” he asked.
That got the man’s head up, and a faint, faint smile touched his mouth. “You did not?”
Gideon scowled. So the guy wouldn’t have come into this city if he thought he had any other choice. Plenty didn’t mind the natives anymore, but plenty more did. Gideon hadn’t never been to Montana before this trip, but he knew there were reservations out here. Maybe the natives were just too close.
Gideon had more than a passing acquaintance with Doctor Holt MacCray. He was a fine doctor, a good businessman, and a lousy gambler. Gideon knew that for the right price, the man would treat anyone.
“You got any money?” he asked the Indian.
The man raised his head, and for the first time, he looked Gideon square in the face. His eyes were blue all right, not dark as the night at the witching hour, but the deep blue of a clear mountain lake on a cloudy day. He had white blood in him, near.
“If you plan to steal from me, then just kill me now.” The words were flat, but there was weariness in them that made Gideon’s belly knot up.
He shook his head, protective of this defeated stranger and amused by his own soft heart. “It ain’t for me,” he said kindly. “There’s a doctor in town who will see you, long as you can pay.”
The Indian held his gaze for several long seconds, and Gideon had the sense that he was being measured. Then, with a sigh, the man reached into his shirt and drew out a small leather bag held by a braided leather cord. He pulled it over his head and opened it with shaking hands, emptying the contents into one palm.
Four dollars or more in mixed coins, Gideon saw. Not much, but plenty to get Doctor MacCray’s attention.
The Indian stared at the coins as if they were treasure—and maybe they were. But he said nothing as he held them out to Gideon. “I will repay you for your help,” he said softly. “But if you plan to take this and leave me, please, kill me. Do not leave me to suffer here.”
Gideon took his hand, fine-boned and strong, holding it even after he had taken the coins. “I’m taking you with me,” he said. “You can see where the money’s going.”
The Indian stared at him, frowning. “They said I must leave town,” he said, and Gideon realized that the man was only now beginning to accept that Gideon had no plans to rob him. “They said—”
“Folks say a lotta things I don’t pay any mind. You let me worry about them,” he said with more confidence than he felt. “Right now, we need to get you to a doctor, get that leg taken care of.” He waited until the dark blue eyes met his again, then, when the Indian gave a slight nod, he used the hand he was still holding to help the man back to his feet. “That way,” he said, pointing with this chin to the back of the alleyway. No use inviting trouble. “We can cut across to Second Street with no one the wiser.”
The Indian had grit, Gideon had to give him that; even though he was weak and couldn’t put much weight on his hurt leg at all, he kept his mouth shut and his head down, and held on tight round Gideon’s shoulder. Maybe they’d just look like a couple of drunks to the people they passed. “What’s your name, anyway?” he asked as they crossed Callendar Street.
“Jedediah….” The Indian took a harsh breath. “Jedediah.”
“Well, Jedediah Jedediah,” he smiled, “we’re almost there. Doctor MacCray is a good friend of mine, and I’m sure he’s gonna fix you up, right as rain.”
The Indian—Jedediah, now that he had a name, and one Gideon found he liked—let out a harsh, if quiet laugh. “You are… very optimistic.”
Gideon felt his smile broaden, as much at the compliment as at the words the man was using. “Well, yes, you might say I am.”
As they neared MacCray’s office on Main Street, Gideon stayed to the shadows, sheltering the Indian as much as he could. MacCray kept his clinic rooms on the street level of a two-story building, and he lived in the rooms above. The clinic held regular hours, but that didn’t always mean that the doctor was in. He had an assistant who stayed most days, handling the things he could, fetching and carrying and learning the trade, and allowing MacCray to come and go as he pleased.
Gideon looked around as they drew near. A narrow stretch of dirt sat between Doctor MacCray’s building and the next closest one on the right, and in that space, someone had a garden growing—mostly wildflowers and an apple tree, things that could grow untended. There were also some benches in the shade, near a water stand that the birds liked to play in, and it was to one of these that he led Jedediah.
“Best let me see if the Doc’s alone—no sense causing us trouble if he’s got a room full of people waiting.”
Jedediah didn’t argue, settling with a low hiss onto one of the benches. Gideon had picked it intentionally. It was against the building and sheltered by a range of plants and tall flowers, so that the Indian would be mostly hidden from view.
But before he turned to go inside, Gideon took Jed’s hand and pressed the bag of coins into it. “You hold on to this until I get back,” he said, pleased when Jedediah blinked in surprise.
As it happened there was only one woman in the receiving room when Gideon walked in, and she was leaving. He took off his hat and waited patiently as she finished up with Elmer, MacCray’s young apprentice, and he even smiled and nodded to her, opening the door for her to pass through so that he was alone with Elmer.
“Gideon,” Elmer said with the friendly smile he used on everybody who passed through that door. “I thought you were leaving town.”
“Well, I ran into someone who needs some help,” he said, smiling at the man. “Doc MacCray around?”
Before Elmer could answer, a door from the back of the building opened, and the man in question appeared, pulling on his coat, his hat already on his head. “Gideon!” he called out as he drew near. Doctor Holt MacCray couldn’t be a day under sixty, but he still had a spring in his step and plenty of strength in that thick body. “Thought you’d be on your way west by now, son.”
“Not just yet,” Gideon answered. “I ran into a friend who needs a little help—can I bother you for a minute or two?”
MacCray frowned, his gray eyes sweeping around the receiving room. “Your friend invisible?”
Gideon chuckled, more to show his good nature and humor the man. “Nah, he’s just waiting outside.”
Gideon chatted idly about a poker game they’d been involved in three nights ago as they left the building. MacCray was jovial enough, but he looked at his watch enough times in their short walk to tell Gideon he was distracted. That might be good.
As they rounded the corner of the building and moved into the garden area, MacCray slowed and frowned. When he saw Jedediah, he stopped. “This is your friend?” he asked, interrupting Gideon in mid-sentence.
Gideon glanced to Jedediah who was hunched over but had his head tilted sideways, looking up at them with his hair pulled to one side to show his face. In the shade of the plants, his eyes were dark, still not the color you’d expect to see on an Indian, but closer. He watched the doctor, but he didn’t move, and Gideon guessed that it was taking a lot of courage on his part to stay still and exposed this way. Or a lot of desperation.
“Wild boar got him,” he said over his shoulder to MacCray. “In the leg.”
MacCray didn’t move, but Gideon looked back to see his eyes looking down to the bandage around Jed’s left leg.
“I think it’s pretty bad,” Gideon went on, keeping his voice even. “He can’t hardly put weight on it, and I don’t reckon he’d have come into town if it weren’t. Bart Elston tried to run him off, and him with only one good leg to run with.”
MacCray looked back up at Jed’s face and his frown grew. He glanced around them and took a step back, as if expecting trouble.
Gideon straightened and turned to face the man. He pitched his words low, just for MacCray. “We’ll pay you, whatever it takes. It’s bad, and it ain’t gonna get better without help.”
MacCray’s face tightened, but Gideon saw the flicker of uncertainty. He was, at heart, a good man. Gideon had seen the little signs: the way he went into the poorer parts of town from time to time, to visit the homes of people who wouldn’t come to see him and couldn’t afford him, the way he visited the working girls during the day—not to sample their wares, even though some would have let him, but to help them with the kinds of problems they couldn’t very well come to see him about.
“Just take a look, Doc,” Gideon said, reaching into the pocket of his work pants. He pulled out a Liberty half-eagle that he’d had every intention of saving in case of emergency, and held it out. “You can tell people he paid you in gold.”
MacCray took the coin, shaking his head but the corners of his lips turned up. “This looks familiar—didn’t I see this just the other night?” He tossed it up in the air and caught it before slipping it into the pocket of his vest, where it had been three nights past before he’d lost a big pot to Gideon. This had been the first real money Gideon had won here in Livingston, as he played more for company than for the sport of it. Accordingly, he was no more than passing decent at the cards.
Gideon flashed a smile, as amused as he was relieved.
MacCray was still wary, though. Before he’d look at Jed, he moved them further into the garden, toward the back of the building. “More private,” he said, and it was.
They seated Jed on another bench, this one lower so that it was easier for him to stretch out his leg. He’d already carefully cut the stitching up the leg of his pants all the way to the knee, so MacCray had easy access to the bandage. As he unwound it, the smell of infection grew stronger and Jedediah’s fingers tightened their grip on the edge of the bench, making the tendons in his hands stand out.
The inner layers of the bandage were stuck together and to the leg itself, the cloth discolored and thick with blood and yellow pus. Gideon had seen enough injuries on horses and men to know what it meant. Even if MacCray could treat it, it was still going to be rough. It was a damned wonder the Indian had been able to stand, much less walk.
“Gideon, go and tell Elmer I need a pan of clean water. And have him unlock the back door.”
“Yessir.” Gideon took off at a jog, and waited impatiently as Elmer took down an enamel bowl and filled it from a cistern in the corner.
“What’s it for, Gideon?” Elmer asked, genial enough, but Gideon could almost see his ears swiveling, looking for gossip.
“Reckon the Doc’ll tell you as soon as he’s ready for you to know,” Gideon replied, took the pan, and eased back outside. He held it while the doctor used a cleaner piece of the bandage to soak those parts stuck to Jedediah, who hissed as MacCray carefully worked the last layers of bandage away from the flesh.
“Pretty bad,” MacCray said, more to himself than to them. He turned Jedediah’s leg so he could see the wound from different angles, then he used the balled-up bandage to swipe at places. Jedediah caught his breath, and his eyes closed tightly. Gideon saw the beads of sweat pop out on his forehead and upper lip as MacCray continued to probe the wounds. “Bad infection,” he said, more loudly. “Best thing to do is stop if before it spreads—cut it off. Could do it today—”
But as he drew the tip of one finger across Jed’s leg, above the wound but below the knee, Jed jerked back and twisted away, practically throwing himself to the ground and away from MacCray. “No,” he said as he scrabbled away from them, “no cutting. No cutting!”
“Hey, now,” Gideon called, moving around MacCray without drawing too close to Jedediah, “hold on now, let’s talk about this for a—”
“No cutting,” the Indian repeated firmly. “It would be better to die quickly, less pain—”
“Calm down,” Gideon said, holding out both hands as he dropped into a crouch close to the Indian. “Nobody’s talking about dying. Nothing’s been decided. Take a breath.” He nodded, trying to be reassuring. “It’ll be all right.”
“No, it won’t,” MacCray said, his voice grim. He had risen to his feet, shaking his legs as if his knees were hurting him. “It’s a serious situation you’ve got there, and there are only so many ways for it to go. An infection that bad, well, it’s rare to live through it if it spreads through your whole body.”
Jedediah shook his head and pulled further away, getting his good leg up under him. “I’ll die for sure if I lose it,” he said, glaring at MacCray. “It’s hard enough to survive with two good legs around your kind.”
“Slow down,” Gideon said, annoyed now, but with MacCray more than with the Indian. He’d thought the man had some sympathy in him. “Let’s talk about this—”
“You speak pretty well,” MacCray said, talking over Gideon. “You grow up living with ‘our kind’?” He was standing still now, his head tilted to one side as he watched Jedediah. The brim of his hat cast a shadow over his eyes, but Gideon knew his expressions well enough to see that he wasn’t hostile or angry—if anything, he was curious.
Jedediah looked at him, his eyes flashing. He was shaking, holding himself up but just barely, and Gideon had to stop himself from reaching out to help. But the Indian’s voice was ice cold as he replied, “Not by my choice or the choice of my people.”
MacCray stared for another few seconds, watching as Jedediah finally rolled to one side, breathing heavily as he rested on his hip and arms, half-sitting, his bad leg resting on his good one. When Jedediah drew a deep breath, as if to get up, MacCray said, “There’s another way. With infection like that, I can’t promise it’ll work at all, but if gangrene hasn’t set in….” He sighed. “It’ll take time and a lot more work, too.” He turned to Gideon. “He’ll have to stay somewhere where I can see him two or three times a day—but not here, not at my place.”
Gideon turned on him. “What the hell kind of doctor are you?” he started, but MacCray waved a hand in his direction.
“Oh, shut up, Gideon. I’m saying, he stays here and folks’ll hear about it. They’ll hold it against him. I could give two hoots about what they want to think of me, and you know it.” Here he smiled, shrewd, and his eyes moved briefly back to Jedediah. “When they’re sick enough, they’ll come running my way. But somebody like Bart Elston’ll want to cause an Indian trouble just because he presumed. So check around, see if we can find him a room down on South B. All right?”
Gideon blinked, looked from him back to Jedediah. Darned if MacCray wasn’t right about that. “I could ask Lila. Lila Dumont,” he explained, as much for Jedediah as for MacCray. “I’ve stayed over there a time or two. They’ve got a room in back for a Mexican boy who took care of three of the whorehouses, ran errands and the like. They lost him two weeks back, haven’t replaced him yet.”
“Even better,” MacCray agreed. “I’ve got reasons to go there, reasons nobody has the balls to question.” Almost to himself he added, “Josephine’s big heart will be her undoing one day. But not today.” Louder he said, “Help me get him inside—through the back. I’ve got to clean that leg up.” When Jedediah started shaking his head, he laughed, low. “It might hurt like I’ve cut it off, but I won’t. I want to see how this works.”
Jed rolled over to sit on his butt, pulling his bad leg up. “Why?” he asked. “Why would you do this?”
MacCray frowned at him, bushy eyebrows drawing together. “Son, why the hell wouldn’t I?”
Jedediah blinked at that and looked toward Gideon, and Gideon had to admit, he liked already that this familiar fellow trusted him. But he had to shrug in reply, because Holt MacCray liked being an enigma—fancy dressed and schooled in the east, associates he corresponded with all the way over in Europe, and as like to swear and spit in public as he was to help a whore or an old crone cross a muddy street. “Don’t ask me,” he said with a shrug.
Jedediah frowned. “You are the one who brought me here. Who else should I ask?”
That got MacCray’s thick eyebrows rising and forced a bark of a laugh from the old man. “I think he’s got you there, Gideon,” he chuckled. “You told Elmer to unlock the back?”
“Yessir, I did,” Gideon said, grateful—for the help and for the distraction, because how was he supposed to answer a question like that?
MacCray frowned toward the side of his building. “Elmer’s probably trying to peek out the windows right now and catch a glimpse of something. I’ll send him off to tell my two o’clock that I’ve had to reschedule. You get this man inside.”
MacCray emptied the pan of water on the wildflowers, gathered up the dirty bandages, and headed back to the front of his office.
“Come on, Jedediah.” Gideon moved closer, intending to help the Indian rise, but Jedediah drew more closely in on himself.
“The money I gave you, it is all I have,” he said, looking up at Gideon. “I cannot pay for a room here. I left my pack out of town—I will go there—”
“Hush, now,” Gideon said. “We’ll figure something out. You let me worry on that for now, and you worry on getting better.”
“Why are you helping me?” Jedediah asked. “Your doctor wants money—and I will pay him.” ‘If I live’ hung in the air between them. “What will I have to do to repay you?”
Gideon shrugged. “I got Indian friends, real good people,” he said honestly, “and I don’t have any trouble with them. Most of them are more decent than plenty of white folks I’ve come up against. They’d help a stranger out if he needed helping and didn’t have a kind soul about to lend ’em a hand. No more fussing, now. Let’s get you inside.”
This time, Jedediah didn’t argue when Gideon moved to help him to his feet. It didn’t take as much effort as Gideon had expected to get him standing, now that he was cooperating nicely, and by the time they got to the back door, MacCray was standing there with it open, looking impatient.
“Best get this done,” he said, stepping aside for them to enter his private office. “Through the doors and into the side room,” he said, pointing. He’d already taken his jacket off and rolled up his sleeves, and he was carrying an armful of bottles and tools that Gideon didn’t want to think on overmuch. He’d broken his leg when he was a kid, and that had hurt plenty. This… he knew just by looking how much worse this was.
Jedediah sidled into the examining room, using the wall for support, and went where MacCray directed him, finally hopping across the floor and parking his narrow butt up on the end of the metal bed.
“Help him get those pants off, Gideon,” MacCray ordered, and Gideon swallowed before stepping forward.
“I can do it,” Jedediah started, so Gideon shrugged and watched him try, watched him work the leather laces on his buckskin pants, watched him stand on his good leg to ease them over his hips. The skin under the leather was almost as dark as the skin of his hands, all smooth and supple-looking, and his parts were covered by a leather undergarment Gideon had seen on plenty of Indians in Bill Tourney’s show. The garment was spare, a triangle of a pouch that narrowed to a strap between his legs, and Gideon grit his teeth as he knelt down on one knee, trying to keep his hands from interfering with Jedediah’s as he helped the man tug the pants on down. He hadn’t seen this much bare skin since before he’d left the show.
He was as careful as he could be, working the loosened leg over the injury, but Jedediah still hissed in pain and hopped back on the table so Gideon could get the one leather boot and trousers off Jedediah’s good leg.
He stepped back fast, placing the pile of buckskin near the head of the bed, and retreated to the wall by the door, covertly watching the Indian. Jedediah looked wary, he looked brave, and he looked good, slim, and strong… and Gideon turned his eyes away, looking for something else to stare at that might be even half as interesting. He might have unnatural interests, but he wasn’t so low as to ogle a man who was sick and helpless.
“Now here’s what I’m gonna do,” MacCray said, just like he always did. The man was a great doctor for that, in Gideon’s opinion, never trying to hide nothing from his patient or gloss over the rough spots. “I’m gonna clean out that wound, first with carbolic and then with a cloth and brush, maybe with a tool or two if there’s something that can clearly be helped by scraping. Then I’m gonna clean it again, kill all the infection we can see. After, we’ll put a poultice on it to help drain the mess up inside the meat, and I’ll wrap it back up in clean bandages. Then we’ll see.” He paused and looked around, then headed purposely toward the cabinets along one wall. “I’ve got some laudanum for you.”
“I do not—” Jedediah started.
MacCray cut him off with the same annoyed wave he’d used on Gideon—that he used on most people. “Yes, you do.” He administered a tiny draught of the laudanum and sat back for a minute, watching. Gideon folded his arms across his chest and did the same, wondering what they were watching for. Well, he knew why he was watching, and the knowledge made him feel more than a little guilty. The Indian was unquestionably in pain and just as clearly in need of a friend. Gideon would have been that just because of the trouble Bart Elston had made. The fact that Jedediah was strong and fine-boned, with all that pretty hair and sober countenance, just made the doing easier, was all.
“Good,” MacCray said after a couple of minutes. Gideon blinked; nothing had happened, as far as he could see. But MacCray knew more than Gideon did, because he stepped up and poured more laudanum into a spoon, and bade Jedediah take it, too. “All right.” He pulled a tray forward and started organizing bottles and jars, clean cloths, and fresh water. “Gideon, why don’t you go on down and see if you can arrange a room for him? There’s nothing here you’ll want to see.”
Gideon wasn’t squeamish. He’d helped deliver foals and tended sick horses, cattle, dogs, and people for most of his life with the traveling show. But he figured Jedediah wouldn’t want a witness, because there was no way this wouldn’t hurt him like hell, laudanum or no laudanum. “All right.”
Jedediah’s eyes tracked him to the door, which gave Gideon pause. “I’ll be back. One way or the other, I’ll be back in under an hour, and let you know what I’ve fixed up for you.”
Jedediah said nothing, but something in his face eased. MacCray pretty much ignored him, already focused on his operation.
Gideon let himself out the door.