My thanks to my freind Vicki, who did the betta reading for me.
The wind blew fiercely and the cold bit at the face of the lone rider. He pulled his hat down further and tightened his coat collar, securing it snuggly around his neck, an attempt to keep out the cold wind as he trudged toward home.
This would be his last mail run for a couple of days. When he handed over his mail pouch to the next rider at the way station, he was on vacation for two whole days and nights. He could hardly wait to get home, looking forward to sleeping away at least half of those days in his bunk. If it were not for this unruly weather he'd been able to start his vacation sooner. As it was, the wind and cold was making it difficult to keep up the steady speed he was accustomed to on his runs, forcing him to keep his animal at a brisk walk.
Suddenly the horse spooked, whinnying and throwing back its head as it tried to rear. Buck Cross, the half-Kiowa pony express rider, held the mount sternly, keeping it under control. Then he saw what had startled the animal.
A small body lay in the animal's path. Buck cautiously dismounted and looked around, keeping an ever-watchful eye out for danger. Neither seeing nor sensing any threatening signs, he moved closer to investigate. He crouched down next to the still form.
It was a girl, clad in a simple deer skin dress and moccasins. When he gently turned her over, he could see she looked to be about 18 or 19, and at least part Indian. Long black hair hung just past her shoulders, light copper skin, and high cheekbones. Her smooth face held the remnants of fading bruises, while her lower lip was scabbed by a barely healing cut. And he saw that one side of her dress was torn at the lacing on the shoulders.
Buck quickly listened for a heart beat, hearing a faint but steady beat as he did so. The shock of finding her subsided and he moved into action. Hurrying to his saddle and retrieving the blanket from his bedroll, he wrapped the girl in it then lifted her gently. Carefully he laid her over the saddle until he could mount; then, cradling her in his arms, he gave his horse the command to go.
Braving the wind and cold he urged the reluctant horse into a run. The nearest place to get the young girl help was exactly where he was heading, the Sweet Water Way Station. Once there, Emma would know what to do and they could send someone for the doctor he was sure would be necessary.
Teaspoon Hunter paced the floor nervously as Emma set plates on the table, getting things ready for the evening meal.
"Where is that boy?" Teaspoon grumbled, "He ain't never been this late before."
"Winds probably slowed him up," Lou, concealing her own concern, offered up as an explanation as she sat in her usual place at the table.
"Lou's right," Kid agreed as he took his place at the table across from Lou.
Teaspoon let out a defeated sigh. Though he didn't voice it, he had to admit that they were probably right. He finally sat down at the dinner table as Emma began to set down the food.
Ike McSwain had been standing at the window, his own worry showing in his eyes as he watched for his friend to ride in, when Cody nudged him and motioned for him to come and eat. Reluctantly Ike followed Cody to the table.
Emma was putting the biscuits on the table when Jimmy Hickock burst through the door.
"Rider coming in!" he shouted, "It's Buck and he's got an extra package."
Teaspoon and the others jumped to their feet, stumbling over each other as they ran through the door. Emma stood in the doorway looking out.
"Get her to Emma!" Buck yelled over the wind, as they all reached him, as he carefully lowered the girl in his arms to the closest rider, who happened to be Ike.
Ike reached up and took the girl from Buck, while Cody helped to steady her limp form in Ike's arms.
Buck jumped from his horse and with one tug, he released the mailbags from his saddle. He threw the bags to the waiting rider, who, as soon as he grabbed the bags, gave his mount a kick with his heal and was off.
Buck followed the others into the house.
"Bring her upstairs," Emma was ordering Ike as she led the way. "Louise, I'm gonna need your help."
Lou shoved her way through the others and followed Emma and Ike into the upstairs room, where Ike carefully laid the girl on the bed after Emma had thrown back the covers.
"Should we send for the doc?" Teaspoon asked from the doorway.
"Couldn't hurt," Emma sighed, noticing the fading bruises and split lip on the girl.
"Looks like someone's roughed her up some," Emma continued.
"I'll go," Kid volunteered and raced out to saddle his mount.
"Now the rest of you get on out of here," Emma ordered.
Motioning to the bureau beside the bed, she said, "Lou, there's a night dress in that top drawer."
Lou retrieved the garment and handed it to Emma.
"Now get me some hot water and antiseptic," Emma insisted, as she began to ease off the unconscious girls tattered clothing.
Lou hurried out the door to retrieve the items Emma needed.
Some time later, the group was gathered downstairs as they waited for Emma and the doctor to emerge from the upstairs room.
Buck sat on the lowest step leaning against the wall; the rest were either leaning up against a near-by wall or sitting at the table.
They all looked up as Emma and the doctor emerged from upstairs.
"Well?" Teaspoon urged as the silence from the doctor made his curiosity peek.
"She'll be fine in a few days. The bruises on her face and cut on her lip look to be about a week old. They're healing. I found some other scars on her arms and back. Looks like she's been beat before."
Teaspoon sighed disgustedly and shook his head. The others muttered outrages amongst themselves.
"That's not all," the doctor interrupted. "I think she's deaf."
All eyes turned to his in shock.
"Her right ear drum has been broken, since birth I would guess, and the left ear has a blockage. I'm not sure from what. If she hears anything at all I'm sure it's muffled."
He turned to Buck.
"You're sure you don't have any idea where she came from or who her family is?"
Buck shook his head.
"Like I told you, I found her on the road. She was unconscious," he answered the doctor. "She is gonna be all right?"
"As far as I can tell she should recover just fine. She needs to rest and get some food down her. I don't think she's eaten in days," he answered Buck
"Well I'll see she gets some good food into her," Emma assured him.
The doctor took his coat from its hanging place around the back of a chair.
"I'll be out tomorrow to check on her. She should sleep the rest of the night," he told them as he made his way to the door.
"Thanks for comin' out, Doc," Teaspoon said.
The doctor nodded his welcome and left.
Teaspoon looked at Buck.
"I think you could use some rest too, son. You've had a hard ride."
Buck's eyes were red and blood shot. His fatigue clearly showed.
"I think you're right," he agreed as he dragged himself off the stair he had been sitting on and walked toward the door.
"All right. The rest of you go get some sleep too. Cody, you're up first thing in the morning," Teaspoon told them.
Obligingly the other pony express riders followed Buck to the bunkhouse.
The next morning…..
The last thing she remembered was the biting cold and the blowing wind hammering in on her as she walked. She remembered feeling tired, so exhausted she could barely move, and all she had wanted was to sleep; sweet blissful slumber beckoned her with all its might. She was frightened and alone. She didn't know what to do or where to go. She had welcomed the unconsciousness when it had over taken her despite the burning cold and wind.
But she didn't feel the cold any more; she couldn't feel the hard damp ground beneath her any longer. She was warm now and where she lay was soft and smelled of fresh lilacs in the summer.
Involuntarily her eyes began to flutter open. Hazily they scanned the place she found herself in. Sunlight beamed through the shear curtains over the window casting glowing rays on the walls of the room.
Suddenly her heart began to pound harder. Panic rose in her.
*Where was she? Weakly she sat herself up and leaned back against the headboard of the bed. She recognized nothing in this room. Feeling the strange softness against her skin she looked down to see, not her normal clothing, but something else she could not identify and had never seen before. Was she dead?
The door of the room slowly began to open. Her eyes caught sight of it and stayed fixed on it. She froze with fear.
A woman walked through it, her read hair secured neatly in a bun at the back of her head. She wore a simple blue dress adorned with a cream colored apron. She carried a tray with her. The girl could smell the aroma of the food that must be on that tray, enticing her. She was starving.
The woman smiled. She could see her lips move but could not hear her words.
"Good morning," Emma greeted her guest. "I'm glad to see you're finally awake. I brought you some food."
The girl pressed her back closer to the headboard as if she were trying to get away, her eyes wide in fear as Emma leaned over to set the tray down across the girl's lap.
Seeing this and not wanting to add the young girls discomfort, Emma slowly placed the tray on the bed beside next to the young girl and backed away.
"It's all right." She spoke softly, trying to soothe the frightened girl. "I won't hurt you."
Then Emma breathed a heavy sigh as she remembered the doctor had told them that the girl more than likely couldn't hear. A sympathetic frown crossed her lips.
"You can't hear a word I'm saying, can you?"
The girl stared at Emma, confusion mingled with the apparent fear still written in her expression.
The smell of fresh cooked eggs and muffins were tantalizing her hunger. Sensing no immediate danger the girl gave into her pangs of hunger, snatched up one of the muffins, and began to devour it ravenously while still keeping a watchful eye on the woman standing only a few inches from the bed.
Not hearing the soft knock at the door, the girl was startled when the woman turned toward it and a man walked into the room. The girl scrambled from the bed toppling the tray of food to the floor. Her eyes darted back and fourth around the room searching for a way out and away from these strangers. They stood blocking her only exit so she huddled herself into a far corner of the room, trembling, and gazing wild, terror filled eyes back at them.
The man was older, perhaps in his early 50's with thin graying hair and one eye seeming to squint, as if the light hurt it more than it did the other one. Suspenders held up his pants and on his head was a derby hat.
The woman moved closer to her, lips moving as she tried to communicate.
"He won't hurt you," Emma was saying as she moved closer, wanting to comfort the frightened girl.
But her motions only heightened the girls anxiety and made her dash to another corner of the room in an attempt to escape.
Emma looked hopelessly at Teaspoon. "I don't know how to make her understand."
Teaspoon was looking at the girl, studying her more closely. She looked familiar somehow… as if he should know her. He could not put his finger on it but still there was something in her eyes that struck home with him. He had the strangest feeling he recognized her. Shaking the feeling aside something suddenly occurred to him. Apparently the girl was at least half Indian. Maybe, just maybe, she would know Indian sign. It was worth a shot.
"I got an idea," he told Emma, anxiously patting her comfortingly on the shoulder before he quickly left the room and hurried down the stairs.
The riders sat at the table finishing their breakfast when Teaspoon rushed down the stairs and stopped midway, bellowing.
"Ike, get up here! Jimmy, go wake Buck, we'll need him to interpret."
Ike jumped to his feet, confused at Teaspoons order, but he obeyed.
"Is she awake?" Lou asked inquisitively.
"Yup." Teaspoon answered. "Scared to death. I'm hopin' she'll understand some of that sign Ike and Buck do. We can't seem to communicate with her."
Curiosity overcame them. Cody, Lou and Kid moved to follow Teaspoon and Ike up the stairs as Jimmy quickly left to wake the still sleeping Buck.
"Now just hold on!" Teaspoon halted the trio. "She's as nervous as an old cat in a room full'a rockin' chairs right now. We don't need all a you up there gawkin' at her makin' her even more skittish. Just stay put and send Buck up when he gets in here."
The three frowned, disappointed that they could not satisfy their curiosity, but understood Teaspoons request and settled back to finish their breakfast.
The girl's fright intensified even more as Teaspoon reentered the room, followed closely by Ike.
Emma smiled at the two, understanding now what Teaspoons idea must have been. She nodded approvingly.
The girl, so frightened, continued to seek a way out. She spun around, pressing against the corner of the wall as if she expected to be able to push her way through an imaginary doorway.
Ike looked questioningly at Teaspoon and Emma.
"Go on," Emma urged "See if you can talk to her. Make her understand we won't harm her."
Ike looked hesitant.
"Go on boy," Teaspoon urged as well.
Ike took in a deep breath and began walking slowly up to the girl.
She jerked back around, facing him. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she stared wildly at the boy with the baldhead standing in front of her. Her hands clenched into fists in an attempt to keep her them from shaking.
Ike's heart went out to the girl. He had been where she was right now. Afraid, alone, unable to communicate with others. He wanted to help.
*Don't be afraid.* he signed. The girls breathing stayed heavy. But her eyes fell on Ikes hands as they moved in sign as if she recognized the movements.
*My name is Ike.* he signed. The girl still looked confused. *No one's going to hurt you.*
The fear still apparent in the girl's delicate features, she seemed to know what Ike was signing. Her muscles relaxed slightly and her fists started to unclench. Until the door opened again. Her hands clenched tighter and she pressed her back up against the wall once more.
Ike turned to Buck for help and signed to him. *I don't think she understands.*
Buck looked at the girl. A smile crossed his lips.
"Yes she does, Ike. She's watching every move your hands make."
Ike turned back to the girl and signed. *Do you understand?* Still the girl only looked at him.
Buck cautiously walked up next to Ike. The girl looked inquisitively at him. He was like her, his Indian heritage apparent.
*I am Running Buck,* he signed. *I'm the one who found you and brought you here.*
The girl watched his hand movements carefully.
*This is my friend Ike*, Buck continued. *The woman is Emma. This one,* he pointed at Teaspoon, *is Teaspoon. We want to help you, not hurt you.*
Will you trust us? Buck asked in sign as he spoke the words aloud so that the others would know what he was saying.
The girls breathing began to slow, her fists relaxed. Her eyes moved, looking at each of them, then back to Buck. Slowly she nodded.
Buck smiled at her. Ike looked back to Teaspoon and Emma and grinned as both of them stood looking on.
*What is your name?* he asked.
The girl looked hesitant. Her instincts told her she could trust these people. Still, never being around other people much made her afraid.
Emma and Teaspoon held their breath hoping the girl would answer Buck. A sigh of relief escaped them both when the girl slowly moved her hands and signed to him.
Buck smiled at her and cast a glance of achievement to Ike before he turned to Emma and Teaspoon.
"She says her name is Two Springs," he told them.
"Oh Thank Heavens!" Emma exclaimed, relief coming through in her tone. "We have a way to communicate with her."
"Ask her about her family. Someone we can contact for her," Teaspoon told Buck.
Buck signed Teaspoons questions. Two Springs looked at the ground, sadness seeming to hover over her as she signed shyly.
"I have no family," Buck interpreted.
"Well," Emma began as she moved to start cleaning up the overturned food tray and gather the spilled food. "These questions can wait. You tell her I'll bring her some more food in a jiffy. She needs to get back into bed and rest."
Buck signed what Emma had said. The girl still felt exhausted and fearful but the terror that had gripped her so forcefully was gone. Yet she was hesitant.
*It's all right,* he signed. *No ones going to hurt you. You must rest and eat.* He held out his hand to her.
Two Springs glanced at the people in the room. The boy with no hair seemed shy. His eyes held gentleness about him. The woman seemed sincere and friendly. The older man; he frightened her. His gruff looks gave her the feeling she should be cautious around him, even thought the others seemed to trust him without hesitation.
And the one called Running Buck. Two Springs felt an instant bond with him. She knew in her heart she could trust him. She saw it in his eyes; he would be her friend.
Slowly she lifted her hand, reaching out to take the one Buck held out to her, When suddenly she felt lightheaded and the room began to spin. She grabbed for the wall to steady herself when two strong hands took hold of her. Buck and Ike, seeing her pale and stumble, both grabbed hold of her and helped her to the bed. Emma covered her with blankets.
"You rest now, honey. I'll get you some food and we'll have your strength back in no time at all."
"C'mon boys," Teaspoon smiled. "Let's let the girl rest. I think Emma can take it from here. Ya done good boys, ya done good."
Ike and Buck followed Teaspoon out of the room.
Emma cast a smile to the girl and followed the men out of the room.
Two Springs stood looking out of the bedroom window. She watched curiously as a young man raced into the yard on horseback and threw a satchel to another man who waited astride his own mount. As soon as the second man had the pouch in hand, he spurred his animal and charged off.
Buck had told her on one of his recent visits about the Pony Express, how it carried the white mans words from town to town. Still Spring did not understand. She had never learned to read or write the white eyes words. It was all very strange to her.
She stood gazing out the window as she saw the other pony express riders going about their daily duties. She'd been standing at this window for hours now, wondering what it would be like to go out into the warm sunlight once again and feel the fresh clean air engulf her. But she felt safe here in this room away from the white eyes that had taken her in. Though she felt grateful for their generosity and care, she was still afraid. She had never been around many people before. The only white men she had encountered had been hard; cold hearted men who killed for animal skins or just for the sake of killing.
But the men she had met so far here at this place did not seem so horrible; Buck, the half Kiowa, the least threatening of all. He had come to visit her several times in the last two days since he had brought her here. He told her about the ones who lived here. He called them friend. She trusted this man. He was like her; a half-breed, but he had come to terms with his white half and learned to live among the whites. Yes there had been problems. But he had delt with them and continued to do so. He had urged her to give them a chance.
Then there was the other one. Buck's friend, Ike. She wondered why the boy had no hair. She had asked Buck. He'd told her Ike had been sick when he was a child; it had caused his baldness and his loss of speech. Unlike her. She had been born without the ability to hear or speak. Still, she felt she could trust Ike. His clear blue eyes held such a gentleness; his shy smile warmed her heart. She felt a kinship with him, both being unable to speak. It was a good feeling to find in this strange place, two such people she shared things in common with such as Ike and Buck. She felt safe with them.
She smiled to herself, remembering when Ike had come to see her yesterday. He had brought her a flower and told her, very shyly, that he hoped she was feeling better. Then he had left. She wished he had stayed longer.
A light tap on her shoulder startled her from her thoughts and she jerked around to see Emma standing behind her holding something over her arm and smiling pleasantly. Though the woman had shown her nothing but kindness, Two Springs eyed her cautiously.
"I thought you might like to join us downstairs for supper this evening instead of eating alone again." Emma held up a light tan skirt and a cream colored blouse. "I brought you some clean clothes."
Two Springs eyed the clothing, then looked at Emma, confused. Emma let out a sympathetic sigh as she spoke.
"I wish I could communicate with you."
She did her best to try and relay to the girl that she wanted her to put on the clean clothes she had brought. Finally, Two Springs understood when Emma pointed to her clothes and then the ones she held and then to Spring.
Two Springs carefully took the garments from the woman and Emma turned her back, giving her more privacy to change.
Spring slipped off the nightdress she had been wearing and let it slip to the floor, then replaced it with the skirt and blouse Emma had given her. She had no problem With the skirt but was confused as to how to fasten the blouse closed; there were no laces to tie? She tapped Emma on the back lightly.
Emma turned and smiled, somewhat amused by the girl's very unraveled expression as she continued to try to figure out how to fasten the blouse.
"Here," Emma said reaching over to help button the shirt for the girl. "Let me show you."
Two Springs watched as Emma buttoned the blouse and tucked the shirt in the waistband of the skirt for her. She felt strange in these clothes but made no fuss about wearing them.
"There," Emma said standing back to inspect her handy work. "Just one more thing." She walked over to the dressing table and retrieved a hairbrush, then returned to Two Springs. She made the motion with the brush over her own hair, then pointed it toward the girls.
Two Springs only looked at her.
Emma slowly took the brush and began to stroke the girls' hair with it. Spring flinched slightly, then stood still, enjoying the sensation of the brush as Emma gently feathered it through her long hair.
When Emma had finished, she turned the girl toward her and smiled. "You're a very pretty young lady, Miss Spring." Then her eyes fell on something she hadn't noticed before. Around Two Springs neck hung a very different sort of necklace. Funny she hadn't noticed it before now. It was a simple thin leather strip adorned with different colored beads, with a small cameo in the center.
Emma reached up to touch the cameo. "How beautiful," she remarked.
Two Springs clutched the object protectively and took a step back, glaring at Emma warningly.
Realizing she'd unintentionally caused the girl some mistrust, Emma tried to show her she'd meant no harm.
"Come on," she smiled and held out a friendly hand to the girl. "Let's go down for supper."
Carefully Emma took the shy young girl by the hand and led her out of the room.
Two Springs followed hesitantly as Emma led her out of the door. She very much wanted to get out of this room for a while. But was still frightened to leave the security it offered. She wished Buck were here. She would feel safer if he or Ike were with her.
As Emma and Two Springs came down the stairs, all eyes turned toward them. Two Springs stopped abruptly. Fear griped her. It was apparent as she pulled her hand free from Emma and stood cemented in her spot. Her eyes darted about the room, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone and trying to decide if she should sprint back to the security of her room.
"Gentlemen," Emma began with a wide smile. "This is Two springs. She'll be our guest for a while."
Instantly seeing the fear in Two Springs eyes, Buck immediately went to her side.
*They are friends,* he signed. *Don't be afraid.* He held out his arm in a gesture for her to take it. She looked at him as if she didn't understand what it was he wanted her to do. He took her hand and put it under his elbow, then led her the rest of the way down the steps until they were stopped at the bottom step as Teaspoon sauntered up to them. Grinning sheepishly, he held out his arm to the young girl.
"May I escort you to the table, miss?" he asked, joyfully holding out his arm.
Two Springs took a step behind Buck. Though Teaspoon seemed friendly enough, she was still afraid of him.
Lou, Emma and the rest of the boys suppressed chuckles at Teaspoons obvious disappointment. Except for Cody who confidently boasted, "I don't think she likes you Teaspoon." Then he strolled like a peacock past Teaspoon, who flashed the over confident young man an annoyed glance.
Cody held out his arm to the girl standing warily beside Buck and smiled widely. "Allow me, miss."
Two Springs took another step behind Buck and gripped his arm with her other hand.
Every one in the room nearly broke out in laughter.
"Looks like she don't like you either, Cody," Jimmy snickered.
Cody flashed him an unamused glare and returned to his seat at the table.
"Now, Now," Emma scolded as she made her way down the stairs and stood next to Two Springs and Buck.
"You boys just keep your distance. She's awful shy and she ain't use to us yet."
Her warning fell on deaf ears for Ike who had already stood and approached Two Springs and held out his arm to her, flashing her a shy smile. Two Springs looked at him, then to Buck as if asking his permission. Buck gave her an approving nod and she awkwardly took Ikes arm with her other hand.
Buck and Ike both sported a smug grin as they escorted Spring to the table.
Buck seated her at the end of the table next to where Emma would sit and took his place next to her, while Ike sat across from her.
Lou and Kid shared an amused grin and Kid couldn't resist the chance to throw out his own digs.
"Looks to me only ones she does like is Buck and Ike," Kid teased. Lou elbowed him as she hid a giggle.
"Now all of you just hush," Emma reprimanded. "Buck and Ike are the only ones that can communicate with her." She put a comforting hand on Two Springs shoulders, taking a motherly stance. She could sense the girl was uncomfortable and nervous.
"Now I want you all to be patient and very careful when you're around her. She's a might skittish. Just how would you feel if you couldn't hear anything that was being said around ya?"
The room fell silent.