KIT AND HENRY returned to camp twenty-four hours later. She sat in her saddle in a catatonic stupor. We need to search the other side of the river, she had begged Henry, but he had said it was pointless. How could searching for Cullen ever be pointless?
Sarah offered her food. Knowing she needed nourishment, Kit grudgingly accepted child-sized portions. Her hands trembled so badly she couldn’t hold a fork so she ate with her fingers, one small bite at a time. Cullen probably wasn’t eating, so why should she? Food made her sick anyway.
Another flutter. Too early in her pregnancy to feel the baby, the women said, but she knew Cullen’s son was also grieving. He wanted to hear his father’s laughter. He wanted to feel the tickle of his kisses on her belly. He wanted to hear the roar of his huge heart beating with love.
Sounds she would never hear again and neither would their child.
Physical torture could hurt no worse than the pain of losing her life’s breath. Please take me instead. Give me back my husband, and I will take his place. But as she begged for release from the agony of living, she realized her child’s life depended on her own. How could she surrender when someone so small, so fragile depended on her?
Tears clogged her throat, choking her. She grew weaker in her despair. Sleep was her enemy, or maybe the enemy was sleep’s companion—waking up. That was the true enemy, wasn’t it? The moment of full consciousness held the weight of a crushing stone placed on her chest to torture her with life’s reality—Cullen was gone. Knowing that God-awful pain would assault her, Kit feared sleep, avoiding it until she dropped from exhaustion.
Come back to me.
If she had not traveled back in time for her own selfish needs, Cullen would still be alive. If not for her, he wouldn’t have gone to the top of the cliff to see the view.
A day passed, then another, and another. And although the wagon train had traveled sixty or more miles from where she had seen him last, she wandered off into the woods, searching the ground for his footsteps or a piece of his plaid shirt. Cullen’s vine had so intricately intertwined with hers. Severed, they shriveled and died.
Henry found her curled under a tree a mile from camp, sobbing in a bed of pine needles. He picked her up, brushed the needles from her hair. “You can’t wander off, missy. You’ll get hurt.”
“Cullen’s hurt. Doesn’t matter what happens to me.” Grief gripped with such tenacity she could barely speak.
Tenderly, he carried her back to her camp, crooning, “Come back to us, little missy, come back to us.” He sat her in her rocker and patiently watched over her.
Mr. Cameron’s fiddle came alive, and she squeezed her hands against her ears. “Make him turn it off.”
“What?” Henry asked.
She wagged a pointed finger toward the music. “Make him turn it off.”
He lowered his head, and his eyes lifted over the rim of the wire glasses riding low on his nose, but he said nothing.
“Don’t you hear it?” She slammed her palms on the rocker’s arms and jumped up. “Don’t you hear it?” If Henry wouldn’t end it, she would. She stormed into her tent, grabbed her guitar, and ran out swinging the instrument by the neck. “I want the music to stop now.” Henry moved faster than a gun fighter on a draw, catching her arm mid-swing before she bashed the guitar against a tree.
He rescued the instrument and held it over his head. Kit danced around, trying to take it back, but he held the guitar much too high for her to reach. “Don’t destroy the music.”
“Music died when Cullen fell off that cliff. I never want to listen to it again. Give it to me.” She pounded her fists against his barrel chest, her voice a dark keening wail. “Bring him back, Henry. Bring him back.”
“Shh…” He put the guitar in his chair and cuddled her, his body shaking.
She laid her cheek against his chest, and her tears soaked his shirt. “Why did God take him too? Weren’t my parents and Scott enough? Why Cullen? Why?” Her loss and failure and heartache were eating her alive. She would not survive the cannibalism this time. “Nothing is left for me.” She slid out of his arms and fell to her knees, into an abyss of abandoned hope. “Nothing. No husband, no family, no name, nothing.”
Henry knelt beside her, tears streaming down his cheeks. “John, Sarah, the children, me. We’re your family now.”
“Don’t you understand?” She shoved him away. “Everybody who loves me dies. I don’t want anybody to love me ever again.”
“I’m not afraid to love you.”
“But, I don’t deserve—”
“Your pa wouldn’t abandon you now and neither will this old soldier.”
SEVERAL HOURS LATER, she woke, confused. Then she shuddered as memory and consciousness collided. She buried her face in her pillow. Her tears mingled with Cullen’s scent, and she cried harder knowing she was washing away his musky smell. The scent, once gone, would never come again.
She didn’t even remember how she got to her bed. Did Henry carry her?
Thank goodness, the music had stopped. The only sound now was her breathing, irregular, agitated. She rolled out of bed, feeling a sharp cramp in her abdomen and muscle spasms in her calves. Cramps and spasms? A result of the fight? She’d probably be sore for a few days.
She took tentative steps over to Cullen’s desk and lit the lamp. Her sketchpad lay open next to the book of poems by his favorite poet Robert Burns—The Parting Kiss: Sorrowing joy, Adieu’s last action, Lingering lips must now disjoin.
She swallowed a throat full of tears, and noticed the sketch she’d drawn of him only a few hours before he disappeared. Every now and again, as an unknown poet had written, God makes a giant of a man, and he had made Cullen Montgomery an irreplaceable giant.
How would she ever live without him?
In deep despair, she sat in his chair. Her father’s chair had never fit her, but Cullen’s embraced her just as she was. With a heavy heart, she crossed her arms on the desk and lowered her head. She’d never again allow the joy of music to filter into her soul, but she would draw the ugliness, the evil that invaded her life and destroyed the best part of her.
I’ll draw pictures of hell and the devils who live there.
By the time the sun peeked above the horizon, dozens of sketches littered the floor, some ripped in half, a few crushed into wads and thrown across the tent, several folded into airplanes and intentionally crashed into the ground. Her emotions were still ripe and the cramps were worse. What was going on with her stomach? Sarah had made sure she drank plenty of water so she wasn’t dehydrated. She’d eaten most of her dinner the night before only because Henry stood guard, treating her like a child who couldn’t leave the table until her plate was cleaned. She was probably still hungry. Sarah should be awake, and she’d fix something light that wouldn’t make the cramps worse.
She pushed the chair away from the desk and stood, but immediately doubled over, letting out a sharp scream.
Adam ducked his head inside the tent. “What’s wrong?”
Kit dropped to the floor, her hands clutching her belly. “Get your ma.”
A few minutes later, Sarah wrapped her arms around Kit’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
Sarah’s sharp intake of breath added shudders of fear to Kit’s growing anxiety. “Let’s get you to bed.”
“I haven’t taken care of my body, and now I’m bleeding?”
“That doesn’t mean you’ll lose the baby.”
“I can’t let that happen. I’ve lost Cullen. I can’t lose his baby too.”
They walked to the bed, and Kit sat. “Lie down and rest. Stay off your feet. I’ll fix some tea.”
“I don’t want tea. I want my doctor.”
“We don’t have a doctor,” Sarah said.
I have a doctor. A solution unfolded in her mind. “I’m going home.”
Sarah fluffed her pillow and smoothed the sheets, ignoring Kit’s pronouncement. “The baby will be fine, but you have to eat more and sleep.”
“I won’t risk anything else. This entire trip has been nothing but risks, and I’m through. I’m going home.”
Sarah stopped what she was doing. “When?”
“I’ll take Stormy, Tate, and Tabor.”
“Don’t do this.”
Kit’s heart rate accelerated.
Sarah sat beside her with white-knuckled hands clasped in her lap. “Will you come back?”
The brooch is probably not a revolving door. Maybe she couldn’t even go home, but her dad had a round-trip ticket, surely she did too. She shuddered and a fresh trickle of blood seeped from her body. The clock was ticking. She turned to Sarah and said, “You’ve been my source of strength since the day we met. I won’t be able to leave if you don’t help me.”
Sarah bowed her head and closed her eyes. After a minute, she opened them and said calmly with conviction, “As sure as you leave, you’ll return.” She then placed warm hands on Kit’s belly. “You’re doing what you’re meant to do.”
You’ll return. No. This time, her friend was wrong.
Sarah called to her son, “Adam.”
He opened the flaps and peeked inside, his face white with concern.
“Get the girls, Pa, and Henry.”
Kit stood, and although she continued to cramp, a calmness that hadn’t existed before washed over her. She noticed the mess on the floor. “Will you help me gather my sketches? Even the crumpled ones. I need my journal and camera, too, I guess.”
Henry barged in. “What happened?” His voice was rough with restrained emotion.
Fear of losing her baby and leaving her friends crawled through Kit’s stomach piggybacking on her cramps. “I’m going home.” God, this hurts. She bit her lip in an unsuccessful attempt to keep from crying. She loved these people. They were truly her family. A family she thought she’d never have again, and now she had to say goodbye.
She took a steadying breath and pointed at her trunk. “I’m leaving everything behind. There’s no time to pack or worry with the wagon. Henry, there’s gold in there for you and John to set up your homesteads. There’s also plenty for the children’s education.”
Kit ignored their simultaneous refusals. She didn’t have time to listen to what they didn’t want. “Remove the gold and take the trunk to San Francisco,” she said to Henry. “Explain to Braham what happened and ask him to take care of the contents. He’ll know what to do.”
Adam returned with the girls. “What’s wrong, Mama?” Elizabeth asked.
Sarah dabbed at her eyes. “Miss Kit is going away, and she wanted to tell you goodbye.”
Kit massaged her belly as another cramp gripped her abdomen. Not much time.
“Where?” Frances asked.
“Home.” Kit bit her lip harder. “To see my doctor.” She pulled the girls into her arms.
“Does this mean the angel was wrong?” Frances asked.
“About what?” Kit asked.
“When I got the cholera, the angel told me to go back and help care for Baby Thomas.”
“Who’s baby Thomas?”
Frances gave a palms-up, dramatic shrug. “He’s your boy.”
“Even if you take him away,” Frances continued, “I’ll still be his big sister.”
“You’ll always be his big sister, and he’ll grow up loving you just as I do. Be sweet to each other.” Kit kissed the tops of their heads, and their baby fine hair tickled her lips.
“Do we have to be sweet to the boys, too?” Elizabeth asked.
“What do you think?” Kit tensed, preparing to watch the children walk out of her life.
Both girls gave exaggerated sighs.
“Run along now. I need to talk to your ma.”
Tate entered the tent and sat, guarding the entrance.
“I have to go.” Another cramp, harder this time. “Adam, will you get Stormy and Tabor?”
Kit and Sarah walked outside together. How many times over the past months had they looped arms and giggled like schoolgirls? How many times had they shared sweet moments that made their hearts blossom like lilac bushes in the spring? How many?
Whatever the count, it wasn’t high enough.
Adam handed her Stormy’s reins.
“Will you get leashes for Tate and Tabor?” Kit asked.
“You said the trip to our time made you sick,” Sarah said.
A wave of nausea hit her, remembering the rollercoaster ride. “I’ll get through it.”
Another cramp. “Give me a hug.” She and Sarah embraced one last time. A friendship born of necessity had grown into something so much more. Sisters, friends, life-long confidants.
“You’ll always be a member of my family,” John said.
Henry gave her a rib-breaking hug. “I love you, missy.” He walked away, head down, shoulders bowed and shaking.
“Good bye, Miss Kit.” Adam removed his hat and resettled it on his head, exactly the way Cullen had done.
A thin streak of light danced across the twilight sky. A shooting star. “I’m leaving money for you to go to a university. My wish is that I read about you in the history books. I don’t care where you make your mark, as long as you contribute in an honorable way. Make me proud.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He handed over the leashes and without another word, Kit walked away into the woods, leading her animals, her granny’s prophetic words on her mind:
The day will come, Kitherina, when you believe everything is lost, but in fact, it will be a new beginning.
With tears in her eyes, Kit opened the brooch, and repeated the magical words.
The date was August 10, 1852, and she was ten weeks pregnant.