tagNovels and NovellasIn My Life Ch. 05

In My Life Ch. 05


Maria was stunned. It was obviously not a joke on Emerson's part. He was unconscious! How was that possible? She had seen him fight Hogan and shake off tremendous blows. His shoulder was well on its way to being healed. How could she have done this?

Billy was out of his chair instantly and kneeling over Emerson. Slowly, he pulled Emerson's vest from his shoulder. Blood seeped through his shirt. Billy ripped the material away with little effort and exposed blood-soaked bandages. Carefully he removed them to inspect the knife wound. It was red and swollen, with a constant flow of crimson.

Maria was horrified. She dropped to her knees beside Emerson and began to make his shirt into strips of cloth for bandages. How could that old wound be bleeding like this?

"Billy, I don't know what happened! I couldn't have done this. That wound was smaller and almost healed. Now it looks like he may bleed to death. What have I done?" Maria eyes filled with tears as she spoke.

"Maria, you didn't do this," Billy stated. "This was picked up last night. Emerson didn't want anyone to know about it. It isn't as bad as it seems. He'll be fine."

"How did he get this wound? Why shouldn't anyone know about it? Is it something awful?" Maria was getting over her guilt and becoming suspicious.

Emerson groaned and opened his eyes. Looking around he saw the crowd gathered around him. He searched until his eyes met Maria's.

"Maria, you pack more of a punch than I guessed. I sure had that coming."

"Emerson, I should have never done that! You don't deserve to be treated like this. Can we still be friends?"

Emerson smiled weakly as he answered, "If you can get these vultures to help me off the floor and back to my room, I'll be your friend for life."

With that Billy helped Emerson to his feet. "I'll help you back to your room, but I think Maria and your mother had better take over your doctoring. I think you'll heal faster."

"Of course we'll take care of him, won't we Maria?" Molly was relieved to see Emerson was conscious and alert.

"I think he may prefer that Ellen help you, Molly," Maria hesitated. Ellen had been watching the entire scene from the edge of the crowd. "Ellen, I was rude to you and I apologize."

Ellen watched Maria and smiled. "Maria, I think I can see what was bothering you and I don't blame you a bit. Go and help Emerson. My fiancé is arriving in Santa Fe before noon and I have to get ready to meet him. No one could take Emerson from you! I only ask that we have a late lunch at my hotel, my treat, with your group of ladies. I think you will find it interesting."

Cathy spoke for Maria. "You can bet we'll be there! Let's say 2:00 at your hotel. Maria, Ellen has to meet her fiancé. You see to Emerson."

Maria was totally confused. How could Ellen have a fiancé and be so friendly with Emerson? What was the connection? She had no time to ask more questions as she followed Molly to Emerson's room.

Ellen was waiting in the dinning room when Molly, Carmella, Cathy, and Maria arrived to join her for a lunch. The ladies of Morgantown felt honored to dine with one of the loveliest and most wealthy women of the West. Ellen's gracious reception helped them relax.

As they were seated, Ellen asked about Emerson. "He's doing well, thanks. We stopped the bleeding quite quickly, got him to eat some stew, and he fell asleep," Molly answered. "Maria seems to be an old hand at it. I don't know if Emerson would have survived the trail drive if she hadn't been there to care for him."

"Molly, he probably would never have been hurt if it weren't for me. I almost cost him his life. Don't make me sound like a saint. Look what I did to him this morning!"

Cathy joined in. "Maria, you had reason to be upset. I was with you when we saw Ellen kissing Emerson in our hotel lobby. He did admit breaking Michael's arm, and we find out he has a new and serious wound. You were justified in being upset."

"I saw that Emerson and Ellen were not having a romance this morning before Maria made her entrance. I couldn't get her attention to tell her. She was not in a rational mood," Carmella stated. "I was stunned when Emerson went down. Maria's mood certainly changed in a hurry after that."

"None of the boys will tell me what all happened last night, and I'm sorry, but I don't trust Michael's story." Cathy was speaking again. "I don't think Emerson would do anything that would hurt Maria, even indirectly."

"Ladies, I can clear that situation up right now," Ellen announced. "Maria, this may hurt a little, but it should also make you very happy." Ellen gave Maria's hand a squeeze as she spoke.

"I heard the story from a very trusted friend who was in the cantina last night and witnessed the entire thing. Billy and Bob stopped in earlier in the evening, drank a beer and left in a rush after listening to Michael talk to his companions in Spanish."

"Half an hour later they returned with Tom and Emerson. They took a table near Michael's. The place was quite crowded and Michael was drinking heavily. He called Emerson all sorts of names in Spanish, which Emerson ignored. As you may, or may not know, Emerson is fluent in Spanish."

"I guess Maria can vouch for that! It came as some surprise to her, I'd say." Cathy was laughing as she recalled the evening Maria learned that Emerson spoke the language of her mother's people.

"It seems that Emerson was extremely forgiving until Michael mentioned your name, Maria. He told everyone that was able to hear that he was your lover."

Maria felt her face turn red. "He said that! How could he! We hardly even held hands. I wonder if everyone believed him. My reputation has been ruined by that liar!"

Carmella was less concerned. "Maria, the truth will always be stronger than the lies of a scoundrel. Ellen has not finished her story."

"Maria, make no mistake. No one will ever defame you with Emerson around. He called Estrada a liar, in Spanish. Estrada pulled a knife on Emerson, who was unarmed, and managed to stab him in the shoulder. Emerson grabbed Estrada's knife hand and pulled it around hard and broke his arm. Then Emerson made him admit he lied about you. He told Michael he would cut his heart out if he ever maligned you again, and left with his friends. The front of Emerson's shirt was soaked with blood by the time he made the door."

Maria was looking down at the table in front of her. Tears were trickling down her cheeks. "The things I said to him! I actually hit him in a knife wound he received defending my honor. Why does he even bother with me?"

Molly and Carmella looked at each other and smiled. Cathy couldn't let an opening like that go. "Could it be that he's head-over-heels in love with you, Maria? Would that have anything to do with it?"

Maria blushed again and faced the others at the table. "Molly, Mother, I am afraid Cathy is a romantic and tries to inflict it on everyone else. I'm certain she overstates Emerson's feelings."

Molly surprised the rest when she took Maria's hand and told her, "I don't think she does, dear. He adores you. I think it is safe to say he worships you. Nancy and I would certainly like to have you in our family, if that should ever come to pass."

"Molly, you know I think the world of you, and Nancy is like a little sister, but it doesn't seem likely that Emerson and I will ever- be together like that. I have destroyed any chance of it."

"I hate to interrupt, but I will tell you a few things to help show that Emerson is yours, any time or way you want him, Maria. That man is hooked! He has been for years. Now listen to my story," Ellen insisted.

"Just to keep a promise to Major Reynolds, I won't name any countries. My family has mineral holdings around the world, including South America. My father, my brother, Dan, and I have been traveling to them for years. Since my mother died, actually."

"We were in a border town that had a United States military presence, with Major Reynolds in command. The neighboring country was in a state of upheaval, with each area under the control of a different outlaw gang. Dan always had an eye for the girls. He fell for one that eventually lured him across the border and he was taken captive by an outlaw gang. They thought my father would pay a huge ransom for his only son."

"Reynolds was on very strict orders to stay out of local politics and to never cross into the neighboring state. He was very concerned, but his hands were tied. We could expect no help from our government."

"If those thugs had known my father better, they would never have tried their scheme." Ellen paused to see if she had everyone's attention. Satisfied, she continued. "He stalled them as long as possible, trying to find some way of freeing Dan. Finally, we received word he would be executed if the monies weren't forthcoming. Dad would never pay ransom. He feels that encourages more kidnapping and terrorism."

"Early on the morning of Christmas Eve, Major Reynolds sent word he wanted us to meet someone immediately." Carmella and Maria exchanged glances.

"This was Christmas Eve?" Carmella asked. She and Maria were thinking back to a story they heard about Christmas Eve-- and a scar.

"Correct. Those blackhearts were going to kill Dan on Christmas Day!" Ellen's voice was strong with emotion. "Reynolds brought a tall, rugged young man to our home. He asked us to listen to the handsome stranger and excused himself."

"Without any preamble, the young man asked my father for permission to attempt freeing Dan! He told us the odds weren't that good and my brother may be killed in the attempt. He wanted Dad and me to understand the situation."

"Dad asked his name and how much he wanted if he should succeed. This part I'll never forget!" Ellen's eyes were misty as she told her story.

"He said his name was unimportant, and he wanted nothing in return. Of course, we never expected that! I told him I had to know why he would attempt something so dangerous, if he wasn't going to profit from it."

"He told us about a young man, a teen really, that had humiliated his mother and betrayed a girl he loved. He had been sent away in shame years before and felt unworthy to return. As he sat at our table, I fell in love with him, his story, his courage. It may not make any sense, he said, but this would be an act of penance. He had heard the story of my brother and felt that if he could help make that right, he would have the nerve to attempt to straighten out his own life."

"It all made perfect sense to me! It seemed so romantic and tragic! I asked what he could have done to betray the girl and if she were worthy of this risk. I listened as he described her beauty, both inner and outer, and the ache in his heart. I wished for someone to feel like that about me! Finishing, he laughed and said it was probably too late. Maria would likely be married by now."

The others looked at Maria when her name was mentioned. Cathy couldn't stay quiet. "Maria? Her name was Maria! I guess we know who this stranger was!"

Maria could not speak. She simply looked down, unable to face the others.

Mercifully, Ellen returned to her tale. Her audience was hanging on every word. "The man told us that Christmas Eve would be a big fiesta day for the outlaws and it would be his best chance to save Dan. He asked us to wait on the hill overlooking the town of San Cristol, where Dan was being held. He suggested Reynolds and some of his men be there, in the event the outlaws followed them over the border."

"Dad shook his hand and wished him luck. He told the man we would always have a place for him even it wasn't able to bring Dan back. Dad had been touched! I gave him a hug and asked him to be careful. He looked at me and promised he would return with Dan, or not at all. Can you imagine how this tore at me? I felt like he loved my brother more than I did."

"Of course, we had no trouble getting Reynolds and a dozen of his best men to give up their holiday and wait with us on that hill. Dan was very personable and the soldiers were fond of him. Naturally, they were susceptible to my charms as well. We waited forever, it seemed."

"Shortly before dusk, we heard shots from the far end of town. Soon, we could make out two horsemen riding hard through the town. A couple hundred yards behind them were five riders giving chase, and shooting rifles at the first two."

"I knew it had to be them! My heart soared as I prayed those bullets would miss their targets. Then at the base of the hill, a horse went down. By now we could recognize my brother on that horse. My world ended for a second as the stranger raced by Dan. Then he swung back as Dan kicked free of the stirrups and stood up. Then Dan fell as a bullet hit his left leg."

Ellen once again checked her audience. All were on the edge of their seats. She had rehearsed, and practiced the telling of that day's events, for a long time. Ellen wanted everyone to feel as she did that Christmas Eve.

"The stranger lifted Dan and put him on his own mount. I thought they would ride double, but the sergeant near me quickly burst that bubble. He said they would be ridden down trying to climb that hill. Apparently our hero was of the same mind. He slapped the horse on the flank and watched Dan start up the hill. Then he drew his pistols, and turned to face outlaws!"

Molly was growing pale as she listened to Ellen. Carmella was breathing fast, while Cathy let out a gasp. Maria sat very still with her eyes closed.

"The sergeant next to me made the same sound Cathy just did. He looked at me and said the stranger was going to make sure Dan got away, even if it cost him his life. I was horrified and grateful at the same time! Dan was working his way up the hill as the outlaws rode down on that lone gunman."

"I couldn't look away, even while I couldn't watch. Those bandits had no idea what they were riding into! Even the veteran soldiers on the hill with me were stunned at the savagery of the battle. Saddles emptied and horses screamed. The shooting was unbelievable! Then I saw the stranger clutch his chest and go down. Everything went quiet, except for the moans that reached all the way up to us."

Maria was remembering a bullet scar she had seen more than a few times the past several weeks. Now she knew it wasn't from a cantina fight or anything so trivial. How could she have suggested that?

"Then Dan rode into our group. We had practically forgotten about him as we watched the drama unfold down below. We helped Dan down. He was very thin and feverish, with blood spurting from his leg. The army doctor was right there and went to work on Dan. Several of the men checked the scene below. It was almost full dark and no one could identify the figures strewn around on the ground. Then more riders came racing in and we couldn't see any more in the dark, so we took Dan home."

"Imagine our emotions. Dan was back, but gravely ill. The tall stranger was apparently down in the road, shot to death. He gave his life to save Dan, whom he had never met! I was miserable. Then, later that evening, that same sergeant came to us and reported there seemed to be a search in progress at the recent battle scene. That gave us hope. On Christmas Day, word reached us that The Molly Hernandez mysteriously sailed out of the harbor in the small hours of the morning. The sailors had originally told the locals they were spending the holiday week in port. I knew that Dan's savior had to be on that ship, if he were still living."

"The ship was named after you Molly?" asked Carmella. "You never mentioned that. It is really quite an honor!"

"I didn't even know it until the last letter came, which was after Emerson was home. My brother said Emerson suggested it, and he thought it was a great idea."

Ellen smiled at the information and then continued. "That was the only time I had ever seen that handsome stranger, until the other day. I heard the name Molly Hernandez, then saw this most beautiful young woman! When you said your name was Maria I knew I had to be close to finding Emerson, as I now know him. That is if he was still alive."

Cathy let out a breath. "That sure was a great story! It sure seems like Emerson isn't one to brag. I wonder what other adventures he has experienced over the years?"

"You can see why I was so delighted to see Emerson and the warm reception I gave him. It wasn't intended to cause any friction between the two of you, Maria. Can you forgive me and be friends?" Ellen held her hand out as she spoke.

Maria took the proffered hand in hers. "Ellen, I have been such a fool. You just told me something I already knew. Emerson is quite wonderful, and I have lacked faith. I may have gone too far. I have constantly doubted him. I'm afraid I don't deserve to be happy."

Carmella faced her daughter. "What is it you are saying? Are you finally prepared to admit that you care as much for Emerson as he obviously feels toward you?"

"Mother, this is not the place!"

"I think it is, Maria. Tonight is the Ball and Emerson should be able to go, at least for awhile. I have been watching you two skirt your feelings long enough. Everyone else can see you are in love. Why is it so hard for you to admit it?"

Maria blushed a bright crimson and looked away from the group.

"Your mom is right, Maria. You were getting so daring when we were on the trail. Why are you so afraid now? Everyone we have run into thinks you two are involved, from your cousins, to the major, even to a couple of saddle bums. If you two don't get together, people will think you've broken up. You know I'm your friend, Maria. I wouldn't say anything to hurt you, but that guy is crazy about you, and you know it," concluded Cathy.

Maria had no response to Cathy's statement. She simply remained silent, looking down at the table.

"I think we've given enough advice for one lunch," Molly suggested. "What we need now is less talk and more food!" With that the group concentrated on the meal.

Maria was sitting on her bed, when Cathy came into her room. "Maria, I want to talk to you. You are making yourself miserable. Don't do this. We all love you." Cathy sat down next to Maria and hugged her.

Maria sobbed as Cathy went on, "You are afraid of how you feel for Emerson. You search for reasons to be angry. You look for proof that he will fail you. He hurt you years ago and the scars are still there. Maria, everyone knows Emerson worships you. He wouldn't discuss Michael in front of everyone because it would have been insulting to you. They'd rather die than lie to you. If you ask the right question, you get the truth or no answer at all. Emerson couldn't lie to you and he didn't want to tell the truth, not in front of everyone. He just took his lumps. Everyone respected him for it." Cathy smiled.

"Maria, the ball is tonight and we are going to put Santa Fe on its heels! You should be happy. You've got the best man in the country in love with you. What more could you ask? Make up with him tonight. That could be a great time! That is the end of my lecture." Cathy was smiling as she finished.

"I have been looking for a reason to dislike Emerson, Cathy. You are right. It scares me to care so much for someone. I feel like I am giving up control." Maria whispered.

"Well, I've got the same problem with Tom, except he has never hurt me and I know he never would deliberately. He's got my heart and I have to trust him to be careful with it. Besides, I know I have his, so he has to be!" Cathy said.

Maria laughed. "You are always so honest about everything. I am glad that you and Tom have gotten together. He adores you."

The two spent the rest of the afternoon together as they planned for the big night. Carmella checked on them later and was delighted to find Maria laughing and joking with Cathy.

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byHarddaysknight© 111 comments/ 97729 views/ 80 favorites

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