Friday, July 27, 2012

You Were Always There, Chapter 18 & Epilogue


Chapter 18
Ike laughed at Lou’s joke, looking around at the animals milling about.  *I don’t know,* he signed.  *Seems kind of appropriate to have Samson here with us, even if he isn’t the original.*
Lou joined his laughter as she pushed herself to her feet.  She sobered when she saw him staying down on the ground.  Tilting her head to one side she questioned him without words.
*I think I need some help getting up,* he signed, smiling at her.  *I may have overdone things a bit.*
“Oh!” she gasped, rushing to his side and pulling him to his feet, putting her shoulder under one arm to help him walk back to the house.  “You shouldn’t be out of bed!”
Ike looked down at her, eyebrow raised in disbelief as she started to scold him, and she had the grace to blush prettily and shut-up. 
“Sorry,” she muttered.
Soon, she was tucking him back into bed.  He sighed with relief, his eyes starting to drift closed.  Lou reached out to gently run one hand down the side of his beloved face.  He reached up to grab her hand and kiss it, before jerking heartily on it so she tumbled into the bed next to him.
*Much better,* he signed with a smile, his eyes still closed.  Lou laughed, laying her head down on the pillow next to his, enjoying listening to the sound of his quiet breathing as it slowed into sleep, one hand pressed gently to his chest, carefully held clear of his injury.
**********
“Does this mean Ike’s gonna be alright?”
“’Going to’ not ‘gonna’.”
Lou surfaced from her exhausted slumber slowly, opening her eyes to see Jeremiah and Teresa peering down at her and Ike in the bed.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” Resi smiled.
“Please tell me this doesn’t mean more mushy stuff,” Jeremiah begged, not even trying to hide the broad grin plastered across his face. 
Lou blushed.  Scrambling out of bed she hurried over to check on a still sleeping JK.  Assured he was alright, she grabbed her apron and headed toward the door without looking back.  “I need to get supper going.”
**********
For the first time in a week, Ike got out of bed, despite Lou’s protests, and joined the family at the dinner table.  He didn’t eat much, but it felt good to have him back.
“Now, don’t overtire yourself,” Lou said for the dozenth time, hovering over him worriedly.
*I’m fine,* Ike said, smiling at Lou’s antics.  *Stop worrying,  Sit down and eat this delicious meal you’ve provided.*
“That just goes to show how far from fine you are,” Lou harrumphed as she took her seat at his side.  “Talking about my ‘delicious’ cookin’.”
“It’s gotten a lot better,” Jeremiah encouraged.
“Yeah, you barely burn anything anymore, Lou,” Teresa added helpfully.
“Oh, you two are a laugh a minute,” Lou smiled, balling her napkin up and tossing it at her brother and sister across the table.
Dinner proceeded in the same lighthearted vein, everyone happy to see things getting back to normal.  But Lou kept a close eye on Ike the entire time and could see he was rapidly flagging.
“Alright,” she finally said, “back to bed with you, before you collapse.”
*Wait,* Ike smiled tiredly.  *One more thing, then I’ll go like a good little boy.*
“I’d like to see that,” Lou snorted.
Ike mock glared at her.
“Fine, fine,” she held up her hands in surrender.  “What is it?”
Ike turned to Jeremiah.  *Jeremiah, can you go get my saddlebags?*
“Sure, Ike,” the earliteen said, jumping up eagerly from the table.  He returned a moment later with Ike’s saddlebags draped across his shoulder.  Handing them over he said, “Here you go, Ike.”
Lou watched curiously as Ike opened one compartment and began to dig through it, eventually pulling out a small blue bag.  Her eyes widened as Ike turned back to her.
*You agreed to marry me, for real, today,* he began, then paused as Teresa squealed in joy and even Jeremiah let out a shout of excitement at the news.  *I remember a conversation we had once, and a ring you gave me.  Both our thoughts were on other people then.  Things have changed.*
Lou blushed and looked away.  That had been a long time ago, what seemed like another lifetime.  Ike waited patiently until she turned back to him.  Reaching out, he captured her left hand in his.  Pulling it up to his mouth he kissed it gently before placing the small, silky bag in her palm.
*This ring is mine, and mine alone.  Meant for you only.  I hope you’ll wear it to remember the promises we’ve made.*
Lou sat staring down at the bag, afraid to open it, tears coursing down her face.  Its very existence was proof of the hopes and dreams Ike had held.  The most recent time he could have gotten it was at Fort Bridger, before JK was born.  But she hadn’t seen anything like it the last time she’d been there.  It looked suspiciously like the packaging from a popular jewelry store in St. Joe that she and Kid had looked at once while window shopping.
“Go on, Lou, open it!” Teresa encouraged.
“Let me savor the moment, will you, Resi” Lou smiled over at her little sister, then at Ike.  “This is a moment that doesn’t exactly come more than once or twice in a girl’s life.”
“I don’t get it,” Jeremiah complained.  “You’re already married, what’s the big deal?”
*You’ll understand someday,* Ike said.  *When you find the right woman for you.*
While they were talking, Lou slowly opened the drawstring on the pouch and upended it, dumping the ring out onto her opened palm.
“Oh, Ike,” she exclaimed.  “It’s beautiful!”
Ike reached out to take her left hand in his and, confiscating the gold filigreed band topped with four rubies in a diamond shape surrounded by several smaller emeralds, he slowly slipped the ring onto her third finger.  Smiling down at her, he leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips.
**********
The next week passed quickly as they all worked to help Ike recover from his wound.  Soon, though he still tired easily, he was back in the barn doing daily chores with Lou and the children.  It was a quiet, peaceful time for them.
At night, after the children had gone to bed, Lou would cuddle up to Ike’s side, held tightly to him by the arm he’d wrapped around her, his other kept free to move, her head resting on his shoulder, and they’d talk, about anything and everything.
But Ike would never touch her more than that daily embrace or a simple kiss here or there.  He was openly affectionate with her, but never let things develop into more.  Lou was starting to get frustrated and decided to take things into her own hands.
One morning, after chores were done and the children off to school, she followed Ike back to the house.  Closing the door gently behind her, she walked up to Ike and began to cuddle him from behind, running her hands across his shoulders, kissing his neck.
Ike stepped away from her and turned around.  With a soft smile, he signed a simple *No.*
Lou looked at him, mouth agape.  “What?!”
*No.*
Lou clenched her fist, using the feel of Ike’s ring to keep her from losing control, and asked, “Why the hell not?  If you can muck out stalls, why can’t we… well… you know?”
*Because I love you.*
“Oh, now that makes a whole lot of sense,” she muttered sarcastically.  At her raised voice, JK began to whimper, quickly turning into a full blown cry.  “Now look what you’ve done.”
She marched over to his cradle and picked the baby up. 
“Don’t mind your mommy and daddy little one.  We’re just a little crazy.”  She emphasized the word ‘crazy’ as she glared over her shoulder at Ike.  Unfortunately, the tension in her body only upset the child more and he began to cry in earnest.
*Let me,* Ike said, walking toward her, stretching his arms out to take the infant.
“Fine!” she snapped, handing over the infant.  “I’ll be in the kitchen.”  And she stomped out of the room, leaving Ike with her quickly quieting son.
**********
Lou stiffened as she heard the door to the kitchen open and then close behind her.
“Is he calm now?” she asked, without turning around, continuing to chop viciously at the potatoes on the cutting board in front of her.  A slapping sound reminded her that she needed to look at Ike, not something she often forgot.  Dipping her hands in the basin of water sitting in the sink, she grabbed a towel to dry her hands and turned to face him.
*He’s sleeping,* Ike said.
“Then would you care to explain yourself?” she hissed at him, obviously still angry with him.  “You say you love me, want to marry for real, then you won’t touch me?”  Frustrated beyond measure she pounded on the counter next to her, trying to keep from crying.
*I do love you,* Ike signed.  *That’s why I won’t touch you.  Not until our wedding night.*
Lou looked at him, more confused than ever.  Ike continued.
*I heard what you said to Emily.  You’re not a whore, Lou.  No matter what might have happened.  I won’t have you believing that.  And since this marriage has never been real in your mind, we’ll just wait until it is.  I won’t have you feel like you’re buying my presence, or my love, with your body.*
Lou looked at him standing there, so tall and strong, so smart.  Tears gathered in her eyes. 
“How’d I get so lucky?” she whispered.
Ike shrugged and walked up to her, pulling her into his embrace.  Framing her face with his hands, he leaned down and kissed her with all the passion in his soul.  When they were both struggling to breath, he pulled back.
*I want you, Lou.  Don’t ever doubt that.  I just need you to know I respect you, too.  For that, we wait.*
Then he turned around, heading for the door.
“Where are you going?” Lou called after him.
*The creek.*
**********
After much discussion, they decided to set the date for their second wedding for the first weekend in June.  They hoped that meant Buck and Noah would be there in time to celebrate with them.  And their Arapaho friends would still be around, not having left yet for the summer hunts.
In late April, the passes were finally clear and Ike and the other men made another supply run to Fort Bridger.  Ike took with him several letters to be mailed and came back loaded down with gifts, as well as supplies.
Dismounting in front of their cabin after a weeklong absence, Ike smiled as his family poured out into the yard.  This was the way things were supposed to be, he thought, as he swung Teresa up into a bear hug, then pulled Lou close to his side for an intoxicating kiss, accompanied by Jeremiah’s hoots and hollers.
“We missed you,” Lou whispered, when he finally released her mouth.
Setting Teresa down, Ike answered, *I missed you, too.  How’s JK?*
“Growing like a weed!  He rolled over for the first time on Wednesday, and I swear he’s already trying to crawl.”
*Impatient, just like his momma,* Ike smiled, reaching out to tweak her nose.  Lou dodged his efforts, punching him lightly in the arm in retaliation.
Turning, Ike began to pull packages off his horse.  Most he handed to Teresa and Jeremiah to carry into the cabin.  But one special one he left for last.  Finally, he untied it and handed it reverently over to Lou.
Lou looked at the brownpaper-wrapped package in her hands and asked, “What’s this?”
Ike smiled at her. *Open it.*
Peeking up at him through her eyelashes, Lou proceeded to rip through the packaging to reveal a length of creamy white satin, accompanied by several yards of gold ribbon.
“Oh, Ike, it’s beautiful!” Lou exclaimed, running one hand over the soft cloth reverently.
*I saw this at Carter’s and thought of you,* Ike said, reaching out to tilt her face up to his.  “I know our first wedding wasn’t exactly what a girl hopes and dreams of.  Let’s make this one special, alright?*
**********
After consulting with Mrs. Heath, Amy, and even Emily, on the pattern, Lou finally took scissors to the beautiful fabric, cutting out her wedding dress.  There was even enough of a white netting to make a veil.  She spent every spare moment hunched over the fabric, stitching it together.  But she was careful to never let Ike see it.  As he’d said, this time they were going to do things ‘right’ and that meant following all the traditions. 
Finally, the big day arrived.  Lou’s dress was finished and carefully laid out at the Heaths’, just waiting for her.  Amy had agreed to make and decorate the chocolate groom’s cake while Emily had surprised Lou by offering to make a beautiful white frosted bride’s cake.  Everyone was rushing around making last minute preparations, getting washed up, shaved, hair combed and in place.  Tall Elk, Panther’s Tracks, Pretty Flower, Blue Sky and several other members of the neighboring Arapaho band were milling around, watching all the commotion curiously.
“White men silly,” Pretty Flower was overheard telling Emily at one point.  “Why marry woman who already wife?  Not understand.  Supposed to marry another woman.  Silly!”
The only disappointment for Ike and Lou that beautiful day was that Noah and Buck hadn’t arrived yet.  Lou had just gotten to the Heaths, with Teresa in tow, and was starting to strip off her trousers and shirt to put on her wedding gown when the unexpected sound of a wagon pulling up penetrated the cabin walls.  Buttoning her shirt back up as she went, Lou flew out the door.
“Buck!  Noah!” she called in excitement when she saw their familiar forms standing by the wagon.
“What about me?” a familiar feminine voice asked, a head capped with a full fringe of frizzy red hair poked around the end of the wagon.
“Emma?!” Lou stopped in her tracks, then began rushing forward again to embrace the woman she thought of as her mother.  “Oh, Emma!  I can’t believe you’re here!”
“Lulabelle,” Emma scolded lightly, even as she held Lou tightly to her.  “You didn’t think I’d miss your wedding day, now did you?  A pack of ravening wolves couldn’t have kept me away!”
Pulling back, Lou asked, “Where’s Sam?”
Emma waved the question away. 
“Probably off dining with the Territorial Governor, or chasing bank robbers, or something, having a grand old time.  He’ll be happy to see me when I get back though, if you know what  I mean,” she added, a wicked twinkle in her eye.  Lou laughed in appreciation.
“Sorry we’re late, Lou,” Noah said, coming around from the other side of the wagon.  “We had to wait for Emma to get to Rock Creek before we could leave.”
A slight, pretty woman with chocolate skin and a cap of dark curls that matched Noah’s accompanied him, holding lightly to his arm.
“Cassie!” Lou exclaimed, holding out her hand to the other woman.  “I take it, this means you finally put Noah out of his misery.”
Cassie just shrugged as she smiled happily up into Noah’s face.
“And then we had another surprise addition to the party,” Buck added, a wide grin splitting his features.
“Where’s my pretty girl?  I’ve got to kiss the bride!”
“Teaspoon!?”  Lou wasn’t sure if she could handle any more shocks, as her Express family passed her from person to person, hugging her tightly in greeting, pressing kisses to her cheeks.
“Gotta say, Lou, that’s a new look for you,” Buck teased, reaching up to flick at the cloth rollers tied into her hair to curl it.  “Is that how you managed to finally corner Ike?”
Lou reached up bashfully to touch her hair, having completely forgotten its condition.  Then, as Buck was moving past her to grab something out of the wagon, she stretched out her leg, tripping him in retaliation.
“I can’t believe it,” Lou smiled, tears starting to leak from the corners of her eyes.  “I can’t believe you all made it.”
“So, where’s this baby boy of yours?” Emma asked, hooking her arm through Lou’s and starting her back toward the cabin.  “Boys, why don’t you go find Ike.  I’m sure he would appreciate a little support about now!”
**********
“Gettin’ impatient, Ike?” Teaspoon asked.
Ike nodded.  At the sight of Emma walking out of the cabin, little JK in her arms, he straightened, wiping his palms down the sides of his dark dress pants, before reaching up to straighten his string tie.  He nodded. 
*It’s time to get married,* he signed.
“Mr. Spoon,” Emma called.  “Lou’s got a favor to ask of you.”
“Well, boys, seems like I’m needed elsewhere ‘bout now,” Teaspoon harrumphed.  “Try to stay out of trouble while I’m gone.”
*Is she alright?* Ike asked Emma nervously.
Emma smiled serenely, a glint of mischief dancing in her eyes.  “Wait ‘til you see.”
Still bouncing the infant in her arms, cooing to him as she went, Emma glided between the two rows of roughly hewn log benches the pioneers had set out to form an outdoor chapel for the wedding ceremony.  Taking a seat, she looked around, admiring how they’d decorated the entire area with fresh picked spring wildflowers, even forming an arch of flowers at the front of the aisle, where the bride and groom would stand.  Preacher Heath stood on the other side of the arch, Ike in front of him, his brothers Noah, Buck and Jeremiah at his side.  Emma took a seat in the front row, next to Cassie, baby JK smiling in her arms.
Tim Nolan and Carl Metcalfe started playing an unusual version of the wedding march on violin and harmonica.  At the creaking noise of a door opening, Ike turned to behold the vision that was his bride.
Lou, clinging tightly to Teaspoon’s arm, walked slowly toward him.  She’d turned the material he’d brought her into a beautiful white gown with large puffy sleeves that ended at the elbow.  Flat pleated ruffles decorated the entire circumference of the neckline, edged with the gold ribbon Ike had brought her.  More gold ribbon formed a leaf pattern circling the skirt about a foot up from the hem.  But Ike never noticed her dress.  His eyes never left Lou’s as she made her way slowly toward him, a gamine smile struggling to take over her face, shouting her happiness to the world.
When Lou and Teaspoon reached the front of the aisle, she and Ike just stood there, staring at each other, until Teaspoon cleared his throat and reached out to grab Lou’s hand and place it in Ike’s, manually maneuvering them into the proper position in front of Preacher Heath, accompanied by titters from their gathered friends and family.
Lou ducked her head, blushing.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today, in this company, to witness the marriage of these two young people.  Again.  And forever,” Preacher began with a smile for the young couple.  “It took them a lot of hard work to get to this point, but if there’s one couple that belongs together, it’s these two.  If anyone disagrees, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”
An expectant hush covered the crowd for a moment and when no one spoke, Preacher smiled and said, “I didn’t think so!” rather emphatically, before adding, “Who gives this bride to be wed?”
“We do,” Teaspoon grumped, hiding a smile as he indicated the rest of their Express family.  Turning around, he took a seat next to Emma and grinned, relieved to have his part of the ceremony completed.
“Marriage is the most serious commitment one can make.  But these two have already shown they have made that commitment, to each other and to the children in their care.  Today, they come to pledge a deeper troth, to each other and before God.  To that end, they have written their own vows.  Ike?”
Letting go of Lou’s hand, Ike began to speak, Jeremiah translating for those who couldn’t see.
*I loved you once in silence.  I’ve loved you since that first time I saw you in that pretty pink dress, peaking around the corner of Emma’s stairs, threatening to punch the first one of us to laugh.  We all fell in love with you, at least a little bit, that day,” Ike shrugged.  “But I knew then you’re heart was already taken.  I was willing to let you go, if that made you happy.  I could have lived my life happily married to someone else, but you would always have held at least a small corner of my heart.  But then… suddenly… you weren’t happy anymore.  Life changed.  You were in pain and I couldn’t just let you walk off thinking you were alone in this world.  You’re the love of my life.  And I want to spend a lifetime showing you, Louise McCloud McSwain, just what you mean to me.  I promise to love you forever, until the day I die.*
Lou reached up one hand to caress his cheek, before beginning her own vows.
“You’re the love of my life, too, Ike.  I don’t think either of us ever imagined me saying that, but it’s true.  You sort of snuck up on me with your kindness, gentleness and wisdom.  Even before, you were always there when I needed someone to talk to, or just a shoulder to lean on.  And when the darkness came and I was lost so deep inside myself, ruining everything with my own fears and selfishness... there you were, reaching out to catch me and pull me back into the light.  You put up with my foolishness and waited patiently for me to come to my senses.  I’ve never known a love like this, a love that is patient and kind and forgiving, a love that is laughter and light and friendship.  You’re in my heart and soul.  You’re all the joy and tears that I cry, now.  And you don’t ever have to say a word, Isaac Matthew McSwain.  I can see your love in your eyes.  I promise to love you forever, until the day I die.”
Teaspoon reached up to surreptitiously wipe away a tear from the corner of one eye.  Noah found his eyes searching out Cassie’s gaze.  Tim Nolan reached over and captured his wife’s hand in his, squeezing it tightly.
Preacher Heath cleared his throat and asked, “Do you have the rings?”
Lou nodded and pulled a large ring off her pinkie finger, where she’d been holding it.  Pressing the ring to her lips, she kept her eyes on Ike’s as they listened to the preacher.
“Repeat after me, with this ring, I thee wed.”
Reaching out, she slowly slid the ring onto Ike’s finger, grimacing slightly as it caught on his knuckle.  He reached down with his free hand to help wiggle the simple gold band into place.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” she whispered, glancing up at Ike, almost shyly, through her eyelashes.
Ike pulled her ring out of his pocket and repeated the motions, slipping the band into place next to her engagement ring.  Finished, he signed, *With this ring, I thee wed.  With all my wordly goods I thee endow.*
Ike and Lou stood staring at each other, awed by this powerful moment that had joined them together for life. 
Finally, breaking the moment, Preacher Heath intoned, “By the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife.  Ike, you may kiss your bride.”
Ike needed no encouragement, leaning down to capture Lou’s mouth with his in a kiss full of all the love he felt for her, all his hopes and desires, dreams and plans for their future together, a kiss that seemed to last forever, a kiss designed to carry them through all the storms life would throw at them.
**Wedding vows heaviliy influenced by Sammy Kershaw’s Love of My Life

Epilogue
June 8th, 2012
McSwain Valley, Wyoming
“I can’t believe we’re finally here,” CK said excitedly as she crawled out of the car.
“Don’t know why not,” her smiling husband of less than a week answered, walking around the front to meet her.  “You’ve only been planning this trip for, what?  Six years, now?”
Laughing, he pulled her in close to lean down and press a kiss to her lips.  Swatting at his shoulder playfully, she smiled back up at him.
“Come on, let’s get the bags and get checked in.”
Moments later she was walking down a long paved sidewalk, a hefty backpack slung over one shoulder, a stuffed suitcase bumping and rolling along behind her.  The walk wound its way through a lovely rose garden and past a little stream before stopping at the base of a wide veranda that surrounded the lovely, Victorian style house, mansion really.  Three stories tall, it’s peaked rooftop and gabled windows provided a stunning contrast against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains around them.  CK paused at the end of the walk to take a deep breath, soaking in the moment.
The sign at the top of the steps read, McSwain Homestead Bed and Breakfast.  CK shook her head as she read it, then started up the steps to the front door.
**********
“Can I help you?” the young lady sitting behind a desk just inside the door asked, setting aside the magazine she’d been reading.
“Yes, we have a reservation for the McSwain Suite,” CK said, locking her wheeled suitcase into an upright position.
“Oh!” exclaimed the receptionist, suddenly snapping into an alert position, her dark eyes widening in recognition even as her two long, dark-haired braids, proclaiming her heritage as loudly as her dusky skin, went flying behind her.  “You would be Mr. and Mrs.--“
“Just call me CK,” CK said, holding out her hand to greet the girl.  “I figure since we’re going to be here awhile we ought to be on a first name basis… ah…” she paused to read the girl’s name tag, “Rose.  This is my husband, Chris.”
“Nice to meet you, Rose,” he smiled in greeting, both hands occupied with two more suitcases.
“Wow!  Nice to meet you, CK, Chris,” Rose said, rapidly shuffling through a pile of paperwork in front of her.  “Ah, here it is,” she announced, finally pulling out one particular sheet.  Turning it toward CK, she pointed at the blank line at the bottom of the page.  “Just sign here.”
While CK bent forward to sign in, Rose reached back to a row of hooks on the wall behind her and grabbed a set of keys.  Turning back, she traded the keys for the signed paper.
“Thank you,” CK said, moving to grab her suitcase.
“The room’s upstairs, at the end of the hall,” Rose said, smiling.  “Um, if you don’t mind my asking, what are you planning on doing here?  We’ve never had someone book a room for three whole months before!”
CK laughed.  “I’m a history professor at Iowa State University.  I’m here working on my doctoral thesis, Women and Minorities on the American Frontier.”
“That is sooo cool,” Rose gushed.  “And you definitely came to the right place.  You know McSwain Valley is the home of the first Woman and first Deaf Sheriff, first Native and first African American Mayor?  This is about the most evenly split, racially, not to mention completely integrated town in the entire country!”
“I did indeed.  That’s why I’m here.”
“The McSwains over there, they started it all.  It’s such a romantic story,” Rose continued, pointing to a large painting hanging over a fireplace at the other end of the foyer.  CK gasped as she moved slowly toward the family portrait, listening with half an ear as Rose continued to chatter.  “Ike McSwain?  He found this valley just for his wife, Lou, ‘cause she was tired of traveling the Oregon Trail.  Isn’t that sweet?  They had eight kids, five girls and three boys.”
CK stared up at the portrait with a tall, bald man standing behind an old fashioned horsehair sofa, one hand resting on the shoulder of the petite brunette seated on the sofa.  Four boys stood next to Ike.  Four girls were seated, two on each side of the woman CK assumed was Lou, Ike’s wife.  Two smaller girls, obviously still infants, were seated on Lou’s lap and the lap of the eldest girl sitting next to her.
CK pointed at the painting.  “I thought you said they had eight children?  Who are the other two?”
“Oh, the oldest girl and boy are Lou McSwain’s brother and sister, Jeremiah and Teresa.  They were orphans and Ike and Lou raised them as their own.  In fact, Jeremiah started using the McSwain last name when he became an adult.”
“What’s this picture?” CK asked, already digging into her backpack for a notepad.
“I’ll meet you upstairs when you’re done down here,” Chris whispered in CK’s ear, even as he handed her a pen.  She smiled gratefully at him, already starting to scribble down details.
“That one?” Rose grinned as she moved out from behind her desk to come stand next to CK in front of the collection of painted family portraits and old time photographs and tintypes.  “That’s from before they moved out here.  Ike and Lou, well Louise was her real name, but everyone called her Lou, anyway, they met riding for the Pony Express.  Some say they even worked with some gunslinger who was famous for a short time back then, a Wild Bill Hickok, not to mention the great Buffalo Bill Cody!  In fact, Cody, Wyoming?  He’s supposed to have gotten the idea for the place from McSwain Valley.  This photo was taken by a traveling Englishman back in 1860, at the Sweetwater station, where they worked.  See, there’s Running Buck Cross, too.  He was Ike’s blood brother.  The Crosses are another of the founding families around here.”
“He was the first Native American Mayor, right?”
Rose nodded. 
“Yep!  He married Emily Metcalfe, another of the Valley’s founders.  They had five kids, four boys and a girl, the youngest.”  She pointed to another photo, a couple dressed in their wedding clothes, smiling happily at each other, an unusual pose in such an old picture.  CK wondered about that.  “He was instrumental in getting the Army to agree to allow the Arapaho that lived in this area to settle in the valley, part of their traditional hunting grounds, rather than shipping them off to a reservation.  He even brought some of his Kiowa family here, later on, his brother Red Bear, a few others.”
CK’s eyes kept moving across the trio of paintings.  The second was a family portrait of Emily and Buck with their five children, all seated outside a tipi.  Then she stopped at the third portrait.  “Would those be the Dixon’s?”
“Noah Dixon brought his bride, Cassie, with him when he moved to the Valley with Buck, at Ike and Lou’s invitation.  Her younger brother is the one who painted all these portraits.  He was a great artist.  You’ll find his work scattered all over town.”
“Tell me about Noah?  Did he ride with the Pony Express, too?  He’s not in that photo.”
“He hadn’t joined the Express yet when that photo was taken.  But he did ride with them, that’s how he met the others.  Noah was an unusual man for the times.  Born free, he used to go to slave auctions and buy slaves just to free them.  Nearly got him killed more than once.  He and Cassie moved here when the U.S. Army wouldn’t let him join up during the Civil War.  After they settled here, he headed East, collected a group of runaway slaves and led them West on a wagon train.  After the war, he just kept it up.  This town is almost precisely one third white, one third Native and one third African American,” Rose said proudly.  “Eventually Cassie convinced Noah to retire and stick around here when she was pregnant with their third child.  Said she was tired of being a single mom!  And either he stuck around or she was going to find another man to be a father to her children.  He stuck around after that.”
The two women laughed, imagining the dressing down the slender lady in the portrait must have given her tall, handsome husband.
CK kept examining the collection before her, this time concentrating on the photos and tintypes lined up on the mantel.  There was another one of three young men holding their weapons in front of them.  Noah was in that picture with a distinctive looking whip in his hands.  Next to Emily and Buck’s wedding photo was one of Noah and Cassie at their wedding, then two different photos showing Ike and Lou, one where they were dressed in formal clothes, but Lou had unusually short hair and was dressed as a boy, another where Lou had long hair, and Ike and Lou were dressed formally, Lou obviously in a wedding gown, an infant cradled in her arms.  CK pointed to it.
“Why does it look like this picture was taken after the other one?” she asked curiously.  “It would’ve been a huge scandal if that baby was born before they got married!  And I’ve never found anything about such a scandal in my research.”
“No doubt!  That’s JK, their eldest.  Sort of.  He wasn’t actually Ike’s son.  His father was one of the other riders, Lou’d been engaged to.  But, he got killed.  This photo was taken after Lou and Ike’s second wedding, though.  They got married before they left on the Oregon Trail, so they could adopt Lou’s brother and sister.  That’s the first photo.  All of them dressed up just before leaving on the wagon train.  It’s a fascinating story.”
“How do you know so much about them?”
“Oh, I’ve read the McSwain Journals hundreds of times,” Rose smiled.  “It’s so romantic, how he loved her before she ever thought of him as anything more than a brother.  How he brought her West and got her to fall in love with him.”
“There are journals?”  CK asked, her excitement growing.  “I didn’t know about any journals!”
“Oh, yes!  Come back to the library and I’ll show you,” Rose said, already heading through an open doorway to her left.  “We don’t exactly advertise their existence, but Ike McSwain was an incredible journaler.  He wrote nearly everyday, liked to draw pictures, too.”
CK followed Rose into a large room filled with floor to ceiling built-in bookcases.  A large fireplace dominated one wall with a painting of an elderly Ike and Lou McSwain hanging over it.  Rose moved to an area where the bookcases had been encased in glass.
“We’ve put in special climate controls,” she explained, “to protect the journals.  They’re so detailed they’ve become one of the most sought after items of Old West memorabilia, despite the fact we’ve tried to keep knowledge of them limited.  You have to put on a pair of gloves if you want to handle them,” she added, pointing to a box of latex gloves sitting on the next shelf over.  “But otherwise, they’re made available to anyone who wants to read them.”
CK ran a hand reverently across the glass, imagining spending the next several weeks wading through the journals, gleaning all the bits of history from them.  Turning back to Rose, she asked the question that had been nagging at her since they’d left the foyer.
“So, who was JK’s father?”
“Oh, he was named for him, and another rider who died about the same time.  James Kidd McSwain.  They never really knew his father’s name.  He just went by a nickname, The Kid.  Folks could do that back then.”
CK smiled in agreement.  Times had been different.  But Rose barely stopped for breath now that she had a captive audience with whom to share her favorite stories.
“He named his eldest son Kidd Isaac after his birth father and the man who’d raised him.  Kidd and Lou’s maiden name, McCloud, or Cloud, became real common around here.  Why, I remember back when I was in school I had three Cloud’s, two McClouds and five Kidd’s in my grade alone!”  Rose laughed at the memory.
“Rose Cross are you back here?  You better not be shanghaiing guests again to tell all your stories!  Mom’ll kill you!”
A smaller, younger version of Rose, her hair flying loose around her shoulders, came running into the library, only to skid to a halt at the sight of CK.
“Oooh, you are so in trouble when I tell Mom!”
“It’s alright Lily,” Rose laughed.  “I’m just answering her questions.  She’s a historian.  She wants to hear my stories.”
“Hi, I’m Lily Cross,” the little girl said, stepping forward to hold out her hand toward Ck.  “Who are you?”
“Lily, it’s very nice to meet you,” CK answered, coming to her knees so she could look Lily in the eyes as she introduced herself.  “I’m Cloud Kiddette McSwain Wright.  And it’s very nice to meet you, too.”
The End
Author's Note:  This was not a story I particularly wanted to write.  I'm a die hard Kid/Lou fan so the idea of pairing Lou up with any of the other riders was anathema.  Unfortunately, I'm constitutionally incapable of walking away from a challenge.  And, in this case, that was the challenge, to write about a pairing you hadn't written about before.  So, I began to ask myself 'What if?'.   Even then, I don't know if I would have even begun this story without the encouragement of the ladies on Google Plus.  So, if you liked it, thank them.  They got me started and gave me lots of great advice and ideas.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This is the first time I read this story. I didn't even know it existed.

    I love it, Pilar.

    As always, beautifully written. I just couldn't stop reading it for a minute. Really neglected my kids today 😉

    You managed to catch both Lou's and Ike's characters so brilliantly. Really amazing work.

    Thank you for this story

    ReplyDelete