Read The Peacemaker Online

Authors: Chelley Kitzmiller

Tags: #romance, #historical, #paranormal, #Western, #the, #fiction, #Grant, #West, #Tuscon, #Indian, #Southwest, #Arizona, #Massacre, #Cochise, #supernatural, #Warriors, #Apache, #territory, #Camp, #American, #Wild, #Wind, #Old, #of, #Native

The Peacemaker (33 page)

BOOK: The Peacemaker
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The longer the foursome discussed the idea, the more they knew it was the only answer. Later, after General Stoneman was brought back to Bowie, the situation could be resolved legally.

It was decided to enlist the aid of Sergeant Moseley, who could ride to Tucson carrying the commissioner's letter and bring back General Stoneman as soon as possible. For all intents and purposes his unauthorized departure would look like a desertion, which was nothing out of the ordinary, and wasn't likely to arouse the colonel's suspicions.

Doc Valentine suggested that the commissioner's recovery be kept a secret. "The colonel's already broken military law. There's no turning back for him now. No absolution for his crimes. If he were to learn of your recuperation, he might decide to—"

The commissioner held up his hand. "I get your meaning, Doc. As far as the colonel is concerned, let's continue to let him think I'm dying."

"So who's going to let them out of the guardhouse?" Prudence inquired, looking at each of them.

"I am," Indy replied.

Doc shook his head. "Oh, no, you aren't, young lady. You aren't strong enough to be out of my care yet."

"I'm sorry, Doc, but nothing is going to stop me from helping Jim. Nothing."

As soon as the bugler blew taps, Sergeant Moseley headed for the horse he'd hidden behind the storehouse and rode out for Tucson. Doc, in spite of a chorus of grumbles and complaints from his patients, turned down the lanterns and declared an early bedtime in the hopes it would discourage a visit from the colonel if he decided to inquire about the commissioner's condition. Prudence rummaged through an old trunk and dragged out a scarlet satin dress—a remnant from her saloon days. She combed her hair and doused herself with enough lilac water to make a skunk turn tail and run the other way.

And Indy waited.

She had returned to her quarters that afternoon and was appalled to see that it looked much the same as the first time she'd seen it. Only now the table, instead of being covered with dirty dishes, was strewn with papers containing myriad notes and hand-drawn maps— all of them focusing on the Apache chief Cochise.

Toward evening, she heard her father come into the parlor and sit down at the table. She wondered if he even knew if she had returned. She wanted nothing more than to confront him with all her grievances, but realized it would serve no purpose and could end up with him hurting her the way he had after the last confrontation.

Indy waited patiently and near midnight he retired to his room. She waited an hour before turning off her light—the signal she and Pru had agreed upon. Then, bracing herself, she carefully lifted one leg over the window ledge, then the other, and lowered herself to the ground. She took a moment to steady herself and regain the strength she had used getting herself out the window before going on. The guardhouse was across the parade ground, on the opposite side of Bowie. The only way to get there from where she was without being seen, was to take the long way around, walking behind the buildings.

Because of her injury, which was beginning to cause her some pain, she had to stop often to catch her breath. Nearly fifteen minutes later, she peeked around the corner of the quartermaster's store and saw Prudence dressed in her ruby-red satin gown, drunkenly angling her way across to the two guards. She had a bottle and a tin cup in her hand.

One of the guards stepped forward as she approached. "Sorry, ma'am, but I'll have to ask you to stay away. Our orders are not to let anyone near the prisoners."

"I don't want near your prisoners, Private. I was just passing by, on my way home from visiting a sick friend."

The young private glanced down at the bottle in her hand. "He must not have been too sick because he didn't take all his medicine."

Indy made a face at Prudence's tinkling laughter.

"Well, I'll be. He sure didn't, did he? What a pity. This San Francisco blend is the best medicine I know. Pure and smooth. Aged to perfection."

"San Francisco blend?"

Prudence uncorked the bottle and put it up to the private's nose for him to smell. He inhaled deeply and sighed.

"That sure do smell good. Bet that would fix my gout up real good."

"Oh, yes. It would," Prudence assured him. "Would you like to try just a little bit? I bet it would take the pain away just like that," she said, snapping her fingers.

"Riley!" the other guard warned. "If the colonel catches you, he'll have you hung up by your thumbs."

"He ain't gonna catch me. Besides I'm jes' gonna have me a little sip or two. To relieve the pain, you understand."

Prudence poured in two finger's worth and handed it to him. "Slow down, honey. That's expensive stuff. Not so much at one time."

"That sure is a pretty dress you're wearing," said the private, boldly looking Prudence over.

"Why, that's real nice of you to mention it. I thought it was kinda pretty myself."

Indy was just wondering how Pru was going to entice the other guard when he stepped forward and asked for a drink, claiming he'd been suffering from a stomach ailment. Half the bottle later, Pru sat down on a long bench in front of the guardhouse. Her two companions joined her momentarily and a short while later were slumped down and fast asleep.

Indy left her hiding place and headed toward Pru, who was obviously very pleased with herself.

"How did I do?"

"You should be on the stage," Indy whispered.

Pru took Indy's hand and halted her before she could enter the guardhouse. "Maybe you should let me go in. I'm not sure what condition they're in."

"No. You stand guard at the door as we agreed," Indy insisted, her determined expression brooking no argument.

The instant Indy stepped inside, Jim called to her in a low whisper.

"Indy! My God. What are you doing here?"

A low-burning lantern revealed that both Jim and Aubrey looked haggard, but she couldn't stop and worry about that now. They were strong. They would recuperate.

"Breaking the two of you out of here, that's what."

She spied the keys lying on the table beside the lantern and went for them, then hurried over to the cells, ignoring the burning pain in her side.

"Doc saddled your horses and packed your saddlebags with ammunition and a week's supply of rations. They're behind the hospital. We've sent Sergeant Moseley to Tucson to fetch General Stoneman. The commissioner says the general will make everything right."

She opened Aubrey's cell door first because it was the closest, then Jim's. As soon as he was free, he took her into his arms and held her tight.

"I've been so worried about you," he whispered, nuzzling his lips into her hair. "The men were ordered not to speak to us, so I didn't know if you were dead or alive. It was hell."

"For me too," she murmured, savoring the sweet seconds in his arms. "Jim," she said, sudden intense emotion bringing tears to her eyes. "I love you. If anything happens ... to either of us, I want you to remember that."

"I love you too, Indy. But nothing is going to happen to us. We've both been through enough. Everything is going to be all right now. I'm sure of it. It will just take a little time."

Captain Aubrey Nolan walked over to the door and asked Prudence to step inside a moment. "When I get back," he told her, "We're going to get to know each other a little better."

Prudence looked up at him and smiled. "I'd like that, Captain."

"Good," he said, smiling down at her. "But just so you don't forget me . . ." He pulled her into his arms and kissed her long and hard. When he was through, Indy thought Prudence looked positively stunned and delighted.

Reluctantly, Indy pushed herself out of Jim's arms and hurried the men on their way. "Go on now, both of you. We don't have any more time to waste."

Jim made for the door, Aubrey in front of him. He stopped and looked back, his gaze full of emotion. Then he was gone.

The two women hurried out after them. Prudence insisted she help Indy to her quarters and Indy let her, knowing she was fading fast and might have trouble getting back into her room. They made it, however, without incident but Indy was in so much pain, she could hardly breathe.

Prudence searched Indy's face. "I should get Doc. You look terrible."

"No," Indy protested vehemently. "I'll be all right. You can do as much as he can. Besides, we don't want to cause any kind of disturbance. They need time to get away. How long do you think the guards will sleep?"

"A long time. Doc put an awful lot of laudanum in that bottle."

Chapter 18

 

 

From her bedroom window, Indy watched her father march determinedly across the parade ground toward the guardhouse. Clearly, he had been informed of the prisoners' escape and was going to investigate.

She wondered what action he would take and worried that the two guards would be severely punished for their drunkenness.

In all her life Indy had never seen her father appear in public or private looking anything but immaculately groomed and clothed. This morning, however, his uniform was rumpled and dirty, obviously slept in. His boots were dull and dusty, and his hat askew on top of his head. There was nothing about him that in any way resembled the Colonel Charles Taylor she had known in St. Louis. There was nothing about him that resembled the father she had once loved.

He was a stranger to her now, a cold, hard, stranger.

She had meant to question Doc about why Jim had accused her father of having had smallpox, but had forgotten. How could Jim have discovered such a thing? she wondered. If there were scars, yes, but there were no scars. Had her father said something to Jim, or had he just guessed it? Something must have happened; Jim wasn't the kind of man to make unwarranted accusations. If he had accused her father of having smallpox, then he had.

In which case, that meant . . .

She gasped. Shock grabbed her and held her rigid. No! No! He wouldn't, couldn't, she thought, vehemently denying the most probable explanation. He was her father! Surely to God he wouldn't have blamed her for something
he
had done. Would he?

He would.

He had.

She could see that now. All these years he had let her believe she had been the one to bring the smallpox home. And maybe she had, but he had brought it home first. She remembered now that he had been away for several days. Army business. On his way home, he had stopped by the orphanage to ask her to be sure to come home for supper. He had good news.

She had been late. Supper was over and her father had already retired to his room, complaining of fatigue. The next day Justice came home and the next thing she knew the doctor was at the door.

Indy closed her eyes, trying to remember. 

"Smallpox," he had said.

It wasn't until after the funerals that her father accused her of being the one to bring the dreaded disease upon them. And every day after that—in one way or another—he accused, blamed, condemned.

Indy bowed her head and prayed. "Dear Lord. Forgive him."

 

General George Stoneman arrived at Camp Bowie three days later. He found the colonel absent, on patrol somewhere in the mountains. With Sergeant Moseley assisting him, he was quickly introduced to Commissioner Moorland, Doc Valentine, Indy, and Prudence, who filled him in on why he had been summoned.

Indy found it painful to hear her father maligned in front of the general, but it was all too true. He was all the things they said about him and more. She had talked to Doc and learned about the scars on the palms of her father’s hands— testimony to him having had smallpox.

After that first interview, the general approached her and offered her compassion.

"Miss Taylor," he said, his expression compassionate, "I first met your father many years ago and I remember him as a fine, upstanding officer. I remember your brother, Justice, as well. He was a cadet at the Point—a very promising young man. As I recall, your father had great ambitions for him, but he and your mother were lost in a smallpox epidemic. A terrible tragedy," he said, sighing.

The patrol, or what was left of them, returned at dusk. At the head of the column, was Major Jim  Garrity.  Beside him rode Captain Aubrey Nolan. Of the forty men the colonel had taken out, twenty-two, not including Jim and Aubrey, were returning alive.

With her hand covering her mouth, Indy slowly walked to the center of the parade ground. She scanned the faces of the returning men but didn't see her father among them. Wearily, Jim dismounted and came over to her, and put a comforting arm around her shoulders.

"You don't need to see this, Indy."

"See what? Where's Father? Tell me what's going on here!"

"Aubrey and I found the patrol after Cochise attacked them in the pass. Your father is dead, Indy. We brought his body back for burial. We brought all of them back."

"Take me to him."

"No, Indy. Trust me. You don't want to see him."

She twisted against him. "I have to see him, Jim. I have to. I need to tell him I forgive him!" She looked up at him, beseeching him to let her go.

"We'll tell him together."

General George Stoneman listened attentively to Captain Nolan, several of the enlisted men and officers, and finally to Major Garrity. He asked detailed questions and occasionally instructed the thin-faced, bespectacled man beside him to make a note.

When he had heard all there was to hear, he officially addressed the group. "As far as the charges the colonel imposed on Major Garrity and Captain Nolan . . . they no longer exist. I find you both innocent on all counts." He paused. "But as to your past charges, Major Garrity, I'm a little at a loss as to what to do in spite of Commissioner Moorland's testimony that he knows you to be innocent. Though I have no reason to doubt him, I can't simply take his word for it and acquit you. He claims there's proof of your innocence and says he knows exactly where it's located. So, what would you say to surrendering yourself to my custody, coming back with me to Tucson, and waiting until the proof is located and brought forward? Then I will personally present you with your pardon."

BOOK: The Peacemaker
13.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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