PART FOUR (of 4)
Shouting...running...gunshots...cannon fire...smoke...pain...can't see...can't run...can't move! Oh, God no...more cannon fire...no, wait! It's not real...it can't be real...
Crack! The heavens exploded.
It's only thunder...Artie tossed and turned in bed; he clutched the coverlet as his mind fought to return to the present. Which way do I go? Smoke! Can't see! Jim should be here! I can't find him! Oh, God...what if I never find him? I feel so sick...dizzy...can't walk anymore...collapse...fighting panic...Something is next to me! Can barely lift my head...nausea. It's an arm! Who's there? Too much smoke...can't see! Crawl closer...a face...handsome...soft brown hair...eyes open...green...daggers piercing my heart...retching my soul in grief...staring cold eyes watch me...he's dead...Oh, God...My Jim is dead!
"No! Oh, NO!" screamed Artie, bolting from his bed in a maddening attempt to escape the horror behind his eyes. "No, Jim...NO!" he continued, flailing his arms wildly about and sobbing in profound grief until he felt strong arms about him, pulling him close. Artie collapsed to the floor on his knees; and the embrace followed him.
"Artie?" whispered Jim softly, still shaking from the rude awakening and violent nature of his friend's nightmare. "Look at me, buddy, please." He held Artie's head in his hands. His partner's skin was warm...too warm. The dim lantern light in the room cast a ghostly pallor to Artie's skin. "Artie, hear me!" he said, lightly slapping his partner's face to bring him around.
Slowly, Artemus opened his eyes and looked at Jim like he was seeing a ghost. With a trembling hand he reached out to his friend, brushing the back of his fingers across Jim's jaw. "You're okay," he whispered, relieved and slowly regaining composure. The nightmare was etched in his mind; the dizziness and the nausea were etched in reality. Artie rubbed his forehead gingerly, then pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. Nothing alleviated the unpleasant feelings.
"What is it? Talk to me!" said Jim, voice full of concern.
"Jim," replied Artie breathlessly. "I've had better days, my friend. I'm so dizzy and nauseous; my whole body aches." He hung onto Jim for support. "God, that dream nearly killed me! I was out on the battlefield; and I thought the thunder was cannon fire, Jim!" Artie shivered as his thoughts turned within. "I was unable to see...I collapsed...I found you dead..." Tears formed in his eyes and he blinked them away.
"Alright, that's enough! I think we've been reminiscing a bit too much tonight," said Jim with gentle authority. "There's no battlefield here - just you and me. I want to get you back into bed. You have a slight fever, pal; and I don't want to see it get any worse. Can you get up?"
"I don't know...I'll try." Artie hung onto Jim and nearly regained a standing position until a wave of dizziness passed over him. He sank back to the floor on his knees, nausea rising into his throat. "Jim, I think I'm gonna be sick..."
With lightning speed, Jim got up and grabbed the closest receptacle he could find: the wash basin on the dresser, and made it back to his partner just in time. Artie, shaking profusely, vomited several times as he clasped Jim's arm for support. Jim kneeled next to Artie and placed a hand on the other's back. He moved the hand in slow circles across Artie's shoulder blades; and the spasms soon eased.
"I'm sorry, Jim. Didn't mean to get so unpleasant here." The voice was quiet with embarrassment. "Thank goodness you grabbed that basin in time."
Jim smiled understandingly. "Don't worry about it, partner. It happens to the best of us." He assessed the situation. "Artie, can I let you go for just a second? I want to grab that towel over there."
Artie nodded. "Just make it quick," he replied weakly.
Jim retrieved the towel and some water and returned to his friend's side. "Let me help you," he whispered as he soaked the cloth in cool water and applied the compress to Artie's forehead.
"How's that, buddy?"
"Nice..." Artie sighed and slumped against Jim's shoulder.
Jim held him close.
Minutes passed; all was quiet.
"Oh, no...not again," groaned Artie, fighting to keep himself under control. The room was swirling around as fast as the snowflakes outside. "Jim!"
"Don't fight it! Just go with it, partner. You need to relax." Jim was concerned for his friend's injuries. The leg and abdominal wounds Artie had sustained in the gunfight with Winslow had begun to heal nicely. Violent spasms, however, were not conducive to that healing process. What more does he have to go through? thought Jim, as spasms overtook his friend's body. He held Artie close. When the retching eased, Jim placed a cool compress on his partner's forehead. "Easy, buddy," he whispered.
Exhausted and shaken not only from illness but also from his nightmare, Artie slumped against his friend. I am so glad you're here, Jim. For the moment, his voice eluded him; so he pressed closer to his partner. Jim tightened the embrace. Crack! More thunder crashed overhead, shaking the train and the mountain beneath it. This is not good, James, he thought. Not good at all. Chills swept through Artie; and he shuddered violently. Thunder and high wind vied for dominance outside; and both did their best to batter the private train. The agents kneeled on the floor next to each other and listened to nature's fury several feet away. Artie held onto Jim tightly as the car walls vibrated around them. The sound was unnerving. There's so little separating us from the elements, mused Artie. What if...
Whoo! It was the train's whistle.
For a moment, the agents froze.
Whoo...! The whistle sounded again.
They fought chills at the ghostly sound.
Both spoke in unison.
"What on earth...?" whispered Artie.
"I don't know...but I'm sure gonna do three things right now," replied Jim, shrugging off feelings of uneasiness. "One, I'm gonna help you get back into bed - you got a fever, Artie. Two, I'm gonna get rid of the offending wash basin over there," he continued, pointing to the receptacle in which his partner had been sick; "and three, I'm gonna call Alex and see what the heck is going on up there," he said, pointing toward the Wanderer's engine. Jim turned his attention back toward his partner. "Can you move, pal?"
Artie nodded. "I think so. If you'll help me up."
"Of course." Jim helped his friend and within minutes Artie was back in bed, reclined against two pillows and buried under the coverlet and additional blankets.
Whoo! The whistle sounded again and Jim said, "Stay put! I'll be right back. Try to get some sleep, Artie, if you can. Be the best thing for you right now."
Artie felt the drowsiness take over. He was half asleep before Jim left the room. Whoo! The Wanderer's whistle was an eerie sound on a night when the train was still and silent. The silence stood out in Artie's feverish mind. Strange to be on board and not hear the clanking of the wheels against the track or feel the vibration of the rails, he thought sleepily. Whoo! Artie tried to prevent his imagination from getting too carried away. It was not easy. "See what's going on, Jim. I'll be fine." Whoo! The Wanderer cried again. That whistle, thought Artie, is the mournful cry of a ghost train. "Be careful, Jim."
"I'll be back as soon as I can." Jim left the room.
Half an hour later, Jim returned to Artie's suite. Chief Engineer Alex had informed the agent of several problems the crew had encountered throughout the evening, one of which involved a build-up of pressure in the engine. "She's ahead of her time," Alex had said in reference to the train's sophisticated heating system, "but the collision may have caused some damage to the boiler. The whistle was a way to let off steam. I wanted to warn you; but there was no time." Jim recalled the engineer's words. "There may have been an explosion."
Jim sat down next to Artie and slumped in the chair. Alex's words rang in his head. There may have been an explosion. He shuddered and watched his partner sleep. Jim looked around the room, at the walls and at the ceiling, grateful for their shelter. The wind howled outside and Jim looked at Artie once again. We wouldn't stand a chance to survive out there. "Thanks, Alex," he whispered, before finally falling asleep.
It's only 3 a.m.? What does it take to get more than an hour of sleep? Jim couldn't say what had awakened him. He stared at the clock on the nightstand and listened carefully to the sounds in and around the train. It would be several hours until daylight; so the single lantern he'd lit earlier would have to suffice. The atmosphere was eerie. Jim got up from the chair and moved closer to his partner.
Artie tossed and turned on the bed, fever raging through his body. Grabbing the cloth he'd used earlier, Jim sat by his friend's side and rubbed him down with cool water. Artie grabbed the coverlet, twisting it in a knot as he fought the demons that danced in his feverish mind. "Jim," he sputtered weakly. "Where are you?"
"Here buddy. I'm right here." Jim touched Artie's hands and freed them from the coverlet. His best friend's eyes shot open at the touch, though Artie saw nothing before him. The vacant stare stabbed Jim's soul.
"Where are you, Jim?" Artie twisted his head from side to side, but saw nothing. "Help me...please? Jim, why have you gone away? Don't leave me...where did you go?" Sweat dripped from Artie's brow as he lived in the hell of his mind's eye.
Jim held his friend's hands. "I'm here, buddy. I'll always be here. I'm not gonna leave you, pal...I promise."
"Where are you, Jim?" Artie looked directly into his partner's eyes. "Please help me, Jim...where are you?"
Jim swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. Artie's delirium shook Jim to the core. He's gotta know I'd never abandon him...or does he? Jim pondered the disturbing thought. Only in recent months, since the shooting, did he and Artemus become more vocal in their feelings for each other. The fever is bringing out old nightmares, thought Jim as he clasped Artie's hands in his own. I need to reassure him somehow. He spoke to the vacant eyes in hopes of reaching a tortured soul. "Artie, I'd never leave you...you know that. I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere." He paused. "You hear me, brother?"
Artie stared unseeing for a moment, then turned his head away from Jim. His eyes fastened on the ceiling. "Where did everybody go?" he cried, then closed his eyes. "Scared..." he whispered, then fell asleep.
Oh, Artie. Jim, deeply stunned, stared at his best friend. He still held his partner's hands and squeezed them tightly. Jim bowed his head, closed his eyes, and whispered a silent prayer. Scared. In all their years of partnership he'd never before heard Artie say that word. Was it the fever talking...or was it the soul? Jim sat quietly for a moment and found the answer within. Artie is scared...because I am too.
Twelve hours later, an exhausted James West sat down at this partner's desk and stared blankly at Artie's journal. The open book beckoned him; but Jim refused to touch it. We spent half the night reading journal passages, he thought. He'd want this documented, too. Uncomfortable with the idea of writing his own thoughts down on paper, Jim, nonetheless, retrieved blank paper from a desk drawer and began to write: "3 p.m., December 26, 1872. I'm not good at this, Artie. Not like you are," he wrote. "For the past twelve hours you've been deathly ill. Your fever raged for several hours; but now you're sleeping peacefully. There is no sign yet of rescue; but the snow has finally stopped falling. Perhaps the wind of this winter's night will subside soon; and when it does, my friend, I know that the night of the storm will be over."
Jim put the pen down and reread the passage he'd just written. So much more I want to say, he thought. But remembering the night of the storm says it all.
The afternoon and evening passed quietly. Around 8 p.m., Artie stirred and gazed at his partner through bleary, feverish eyes. "Jim?" he whispered.
"Here." Jim was at his side in an instant and placed a hand on Artie's forehead. "Sleep now."
Artie nodded slightly and his eyelids drifted shut at his friend's reassuring words.
Jim studied his partner closely. Though fever was still present, Artie now seemed more relaxed and lucid. The lost, far-away expression had vanished, much to Jim's relief. The agent closed his eyes and bowed his head. And you recognized me, buddy. There are no words to describe how I feel about that.
Morning. James West peered intently from the single window in the Wanderer's galley. White was the only color the world could claim as her own. Snow was piled high in drifts around the train. Must be ten feet deep in places, he thought. At least there's one clear window on the world.
Jim turned his attention back to breakfast. He placed several items on a serving tray and carefully made his way back to his partner's room.
"'Bout time you get back here, James!" said Artie. The voice was weak but the spirit was strong. "I thought maybe you had to shovel us out to get some firewood or something! I am hungry here, you know!"
Jim smiled exuberantly. "Complaints, complaints," he said, trying to keep the sheer joy out of his voice. "Next time, stay at another hotel."
"Hmm..." Artie pretended to consider this. "Not a bad idea - preferably one situated in a warmer climate." He turned his attention to the tray Jim had brought into the room. "Anything good in the galley that I may be able to keep down?"
Jim placed the tray on the desk. "As a matter of fact, yes." He pointed to each item as he spoke. "Here we have the a la carte selections: warm broth accompanied by the best burnt toast this establishment has to offer."
"Jim, you shouldn't have..."
"True. But I figured if my breakfast was burnt toast; my best friend should get nothing less." Though his expression belied nothing, Jim's emerald eyes danced with laughter. "Now, Mr. Gordon, breakfast is served."
Artie sat up in bed, leaning comfortably against the pillows. "I have a feeling I'm going to feel a whole lot better after I eat that, burnt or not." Jim placed the toast plate on the bed and opted to hold the soup bowl for his partner. "James-my-boy, you are NOT gonna spoon-feed that soup to me."
"Nope. This hotel doesn't supply that service. Blame the management." Jim gave Artie a spoon. "Management will provide for the holding of said bowl, however - unless the customer seriously wants to take a chance at not spilling hot broth over his person."
Artie took the spoon. "Said customer admits to not being strong enough to hold that bowl...and is extremely grateful for the management's assistance." The latter half of the sentence was spoken quietly; and Artie's eyes met Jim's. They looked at each other for a moment. Artie was thankful for far more than the help with breakfast; and he allowed that gratitude to shine in his eyes. He'd been able to get up for a short while prior to the meal and found his journal on his desk. Jim's entry touched him deeply; he knew his partner suffered all night, right along with him.
"Artie?" whispered Jim, still looking directly at his friend.
"What?" he replied softly.
"Soup's getting cold." Jim's eyes sparkled with affection. "Management isn't pleased unless customer eats and gets his strength back."
"Oh." Artie smiled warmly, dipped the spoon into the warm liquid, and tasted the broth. "Delicious," he said.
Jim returned the grin. The management was pleased.
"Well, Artie, I think that just about does it. I'm through playing cards with you," said Jim, resigned to the fact that his partner won yet another hand. "Must be that charm and charisma you mentioned before." Jim tossed the cards down on the table where he and his friend sat in Artie's room.
"And the good looks, Jim. Can't forget the good looks." Artie smiled at the memory of their previous conversation. "What can I say, James. When you've got it, you've got it."
Jim rolled his eyes in exasperation, though secretly their banter warmed his heart. My Artie is back, he thought. "And up here I can't compete with it; but you just wait, partner. When we get back to civilization, we'll just see who the card shark really is..."
Artie held up a hand for quiet. "Do you hear that?" he interrupted.
Jim stopped mid-sentence and listened. There was a calm wind outside and the snow had finally stopped falling. Whoo! "Yes, I hear it." Whoo! "Artie, that's another train!"
"Another train?" he asked incredulously. "How can that be? How could they arrive so quickly?"
Jim looked at his partner. "You mean you'd like to stay here longer?" he asked teasingly. Whoo! "Sounds like they're getting closer. You can hear the engine, too."
A different whistle sounded in the suite then. It was Alex calling on the speaking tube. "Mr. West, take a look outside," said the engineer excitedly. "I've never seen anything like it!"
"Thanks, Alex. Will do." Jim turned to his partner. "Artie, you feel up to a walk to the galley? The only clear window is over there and Alex said to take a look."
Feeling much stronger after the breakfast Jim had prepared, Artie agreed. "Sure, James. Let's take a look."
Jim and Artie peered out from the galley window. "Will you look at that," said Artie. "That train is literally plowing a path through the drifts!" Totally mesmerized by the enormous machine heading their way, the inventor in one Artemus Gordon was fascinated. "Look, Jim, it's an engine pushing a train car up the mountain. Look at those circular blades on the front of the car! They're just slicing through the snow like it's soft butter!"
Jim grinned at his partner's enthusiasm. "That they are, buddy," he replied quietly.
The agents watched the scene before them in silence for a moment. Whoo! The whistle and engine of the unusual train grew louder as each minute passed. "Jim?" Artie wasn't sure what was wrong, but he found himself suddenly overcome by emotion. He swayed slightly on his feet and Jim steadied him.
"Easy," said James. "We're getting out of this mess, buddy. I think it's just a little overwhelming." He held Artie by the arm and began to lead him away from the window. "It'll be a little while yet before they get to us. Why don't we go back to your room and pack a few things? We'll need to get dressed to go outside, too."
Artie agreed and walked to his suite with his partner. Neither man spoke much. Finally, Jim said, "Just wait here and relax. I'll go meet the guys on the train and help them to clear a path for us to walk over. I'll see to the horses, too. I'll come get you when we're ready to leave, okay?"
Artie looked at his best friend and said, "Yes, that's fine." His voice was very soft.
Jim returned the gaze for a moment, leaving many words unsaid. He left Artie's room and closed the door behind him. He paused for another moment, leaning against the door in quiet contemplation. He folded his arms across his chest and looked up at the ceiling. Whoo! Sounds of the plow train cut through the air and the ten-foot drifts outside; and Jim found himself overwhelmed. He bowed his head, and with one hand pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut at the same time. The plow cut through the snow as powerful emotions cut through Jim's soul. He managed to hold back the tears, and turned to face the closed door. He placed a hand, palm flat on the wood, and once again closed his eyes. We made it, partner. Thank God we made it together. He had no way of knowing that on the other side of the door, his partner's hand was opposite his own...and that Artie was thankful for the very same thing.
"This is absolutely amazing," said Artie after touring their rescue train. Secret Service Agent Jeremy Pike welcomed Agents West and Gordon, Alex and crew, and Blackjack and Mesa, aboard the special train. Colonel Richmond had summoned Agent Pike via wire and informed him of the Wanderer's plight. Agent Pike wasted no time in securing the services of the plow train when he learned that Jim and Artie's lives were at stake.
"Glad you like it, Artemus," replied Pike. "This Rotary Snowplow is a prototype they just finished building down in San Francisco. It seems to have handled its assignment very well."
"I'll say," said Artie, sitting next to Jim in the train's travel compartment. "The inventor is surely an amazing man. I'd love to meet him."
Pike nodded. "So would I, but he's working overseas, from what I've heard." The agent paused a moment as the Rotary Plow Train started her journey back to the city. Artie looked at Jim briefly and adjusted himself on the seat to lean slightly on his partner. Pike continued, "He was an unusual man - silver-haired, glasses, genius intelligence, and barely four feet tall..."
"Sounds almost like Dr. Loveless," replied Jim, glancing at Artie to catch his partner's reaction.
"Sure does, Jim," said Artie. "Except Loveless is a young man...at least he wasn't silver-haired when we encountered him. Didn't have glasses, either."
"True," said Jim. "Jeremy, what was the inventor's name? Do you remember?"
"Dr. Leibknicht," replied Pike. "Dr. Leibknicht was his name."
Jim and Artie looked at each other. "Well, I hope we meet him someday," said Artie with a smile.
The ride back to San Francisco was smooth and steady. The Rotary Plow Train glided her way down the mountain, and Jim and Artie settled back to enjoy the ride. Agent Pike sat with them as they traveled.
"Jeremy," said Jim, "what about the Wanderer? Any chance of freeing her from the snow before a thaw?"
"I spoke to the Rotary Train Crew, Jim," replied Agent Pike. "They're going to attempt to dig her out as soon as there's a break in the weather that'll last longer than two days." Pike smiled. "Hopefully, you'll have her back by Easter."
"Oh, swell," said Artie as he noticed engineer Alex walking up behind Pike. "Hey, Alex," he said, "did you hear that? Your charge may be snowbound 'til spring."
"Yes, Mr. Gordon, I heard. I'm gonna hope for a January thaw." Alex directed his attention to Agent Pike and said, "Sir, there's a wire coming in for you now. It's from the city and your contact there needs to speak with you."
"Yes, thank you, Alex." Pike turned toward the agents. "Please excuse me, gentlemen. Duty calls."
"Of course," chorused Jim and Artie. Agent Pike and Alex turned to leave.
Jim looked at Artie. "Well, here we are."
"Yes, here we are," echoed Artemus.
"How you doin'?" asked Jim quietly. "Another few hours and it's back to civilization."
Artie turned away from his partner and looked out the window. The train had made its way down the mountain and the snow had turned to a light rain. It's so nice to see colors other than white again, he thought.
"Hmm? Oh, I'm sorry, James. I was just looking out at everything that's NOT covered in snow. A joyous sight it is."
Jim leaned over to glance outside. Clouds coming in from the west were breaking apart to reveal blue sky underneath. Sunlight rays extended through the clouds - golden fingers of light pointing toward the city and safety. Birds flew overhead, the first creatures the agents had seen in over three days. "Wow," whispered Jim. It was all he could say.
Artie sat close to Jim as he and his friend gazed out the window. The sky began to change as the train moved steadily toward a warm, friendly environment. Colors of red, orange, and yellow filled the sunlit sky. "Will you look at that," he said breathlessly. Caroline, he thought. "When Spring returns to a wintry land; the sunlight shines from above; find in this warmth, dear husband; thy wife's eternal love."
Jim glanced at his partner. "She was watching over you, buddy," he said quietly.
The agents couldn't take their eyes from the colorful sky. Artie clasped Jim's hand. "Us. She was watching over us, James." Artie gave the hand a gentle squeeze and said, "I'm fine...I'm just fine."
Jim returned the handclasp. "Good. Can I buy you a hot dog for dinner?"
Artie turned to his best friend. His sincerity and warmth belied the devilish gleam in his eyes. "Not on your life, James. Not on your life."
"Gentlemen," said Agent Pike, "we'll be arriving in about ten minutes."
"Artie? Wake up, we're almost there." Jim shook his partner gently on the shoulder. Slowly, Artemus came around.
"Hmm? Oh, okay," he replied, smothering a huge yawn. "Hey, Jim, you never mentioned this, but where exactly do they have us staying tonight? You didn't ask them did you?" Artie sat up next to his friend.
"No, I didn't, actually. That's 'cause we're heading to the hospital first..."
"Don't 'Aw, Jim' me, pal. We're going there for at least tonight. After that, I don't know...a hotel, I guess."
"Guess again," said Pike. "Sorry to overhear, Jim, but arrangements for the two of you have been made. It took some doing, but it was insisted upon."
"What was?" asked Artie.
"You'll be staying with Mrs. Grainger."
Artie stared and watched his partner turn ashen. Jim seemed to forget how to breathe. "Jim?" Artie turned to Pike. "What's going on? Who's Mrs. Grainger?"
Jim looked deeply into Artie's eyes, conveying much more than his next words would express. "She's Laura, Artie...my sister."
"Why didn't you tell me, Jeremy?" Jim was still reeling from the surprise. "Is it safe for us to stay with her?"
Pike held up his hands in reassurance. "Relax, Jim, we didn't want to tell you 'til we were certain you'd go there...and until we were certain it was safe for all of you involved." The agent sat across from Jim. "It was Mr. Grainger who intercepted the problem with the wireless."
"What was the problem with the wireless?" asked Artie.
"You sent at least two messages from the Wanderer, correct?" asked Pike.
Jim nodded. "We sent more; but only two were confirmed - one from Denver; the other from San Francisco."
"Yes. Well, it seems your San Francisco message was accidentally put aside and not discovered until yesterday morning. Seems the young lad in charge was in a rush Christmas Eve and neglected to follow through with his duties. I can assure you that he's been properly disciplined. Anyway," Pike continued, "Mr. Grainger found the Wanderer's wireless message early on the 26th, after he'd returned to duty. By that time, of course, we'd already heard of your plight from Colonel Richmond in Denver."
Jim and Artie listened with rapt attention; Jim could not believe the turn of events. We reminisced about family while snowbound; and here they are rescuing us. He thought of seeing Laura and felt butterflies in his stomach. "When will we meet the Graingers?" he asked.
"Tomorrow morning - after a doctor checks you out at the hospital," replied Pike. "Now, there are some things I must do before we pull into the station." The agent excused himself and left.
"Well, James-my-boy, my wish came true - I'm gonna get to meet your family." Artie studied Jim's features and looked at the far-away look in his friend's eyes. "What's wrong, buddy?" he asked quietly.
"I was just thinking," replied Jim. "Caroline and Laura were with us on the train...while we reminisced about our lives with them. First we see Caroline's sunlit sky..."
"...and your family finds our message and takes us in," said Artie, finishing the sentence.
"Caroline and Laura guided us out of the mountains twice, buddy."
"Thank goodness for family and friends," said Artie quietly. He grabbed Jim's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"Yes," replied Jim, clasping his best friend's hand in his own. He looked directly into Artie's eyes. "Thank goodness for family," he whispered.
At 8 p.m., the Rotary Plow Train pulled into Union Station in San Francisco. Agent Pike escorted Jim and Artie, along with Alex and the Wanderer's crew, to the nearest hospital. Alex and the crew were treated and released, their major complaint being exhaustion. Before Agent Pike escorted the crew to a hotel, he told Jim that he'd be back early in the morning prior to the Graingers' arrival.
Doctors evaluated Agents West and Gordon as well. Much to Artie's dismay, the doctors on duty recommended a two-night hospital stay. Jim intervened on his partner's behalf by reassuring the doctors that he and Artie would be staying with family, and that no mountain excursions were on the agenda. The doctors also examined Jim's wrist, injured during the collision. The avalanche had taken its toll, but everyone would recover in time.
"So what do you think?" asked Jim some time later. "This room isn't so bad," he commented while looking around at the four walls.
Artie sighed. "James, a hospital room is hardly the same as a room at the Hotel San Francisco." He relaxed on the pillows. "Still, I must thank you for helping to make this a one-night stay."
"You're welcome." Jim turned down the lights.
"Are you excited at the thought of seeing Laura?"
"Yes...and nervous, too. It's been a long time." Jim relaxed on the cot in Artie's room. He looked at the time. "We'd better get some sleep, pal."
"Right." He paused a moment. "I can't wait to meet her, James."
"Neither can I," he whispered.
Both fell asleep.
Agents James West and Jeremy Pike stood outside Artie's room the next morning. Agent Pike would be escorting the Graingers home with their houseguests, after which time he would bid his farewell. Colonel Richmond had given a new assignment; and Agent Pike had been the fortunate recipient.
"So, you've no idea what it involves?" asked Jim.
"No. Top secret as usual," replied Pike. He glanced over Jim's shoulder to see a beautiful young woman approaching. Her long green dress complemented the vibrant green in her eyes. Her flawless complexion resembled that of a fine porcelain doll; and her long chestnut-brown hair framed her face beautifully. Without even asking, Agent Pike knew who this woman was. Those same green eyes, those of James West, were studying him closely. He looked at the woman and said, "Mrs. Grainger, I presume?"
Jim turned abruptly to find himself face to face with a sister he hadn't seen in many years. "Laura," he whispered.
"Hello, Jimmy...it's been a long time."
"That it has," replied Jim, moving forward to embrace his sister in a bear hug. "You look wonderful."
"So do you, considering what you've been through these past months." Laura glanced toward the door to Artie's room. "How is he, Jim?" she asked quietly. Though Laura had never met Artie, concern was etched in her voice as if she'd known him all her life.
"He's going to be fine," replied Jim with a smile. "Made me promise to keep him from any mountain travel for a little while, though." He looked at Laura. "He's very anxious to meet you."
"Ah...ahem." Agent Pike still stood nearby watching Jim and Laura, the siblings totally oblivious to his presence. "Jim," said Pike, "we really should be going."
"Oh, sure, Jeremy." He turned to include Laura. "Just give me a second and I'll see if Artie's ready," he said, and walked into his partner's room.
From out in the hallway, Agent Pike and Laura could hear Artie exclaim, "She's here? Well, don't just stand there, James! Bring her in, bring her in!"
Jim went to the doorway. "Laura, you'd better come in now before my partner gets really excited."
Laura laughed and followed her brother into Artie's room. "Artemus Gordon, please meet my sister, Laura Elizabeth West Grainger." He turned to the young woman. "Laura, please meet my invincible partner and best friend - a man who doesn't let a little inclement weather get him down, even on Donner Pass - Mr. Artemus Gordon."
Artie stood to greet Laura. Always the gentleman, he took her offered hand and kissed it. He could not believe how much she and Jim looked alike. The family resemblance was remarkable. And those eyes...
For several seconds, Laura could not speak. There was something about this man - his demeanor, his voice, his soft brown eyes - which held her spellbound. I know you. The thought was fleeting; and she found her voice before her awkward silence was noticed.
"Pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Gordon."
Artie released her hand. "Pleasure's all mine...and call me Artemus." He looked at Jim for a second; then moved his gaze back to Laura. "I can't tell you how nice it is to meet you, Mrs. Grainger."
"Call me Laura, please. So you're the one who's been taking care of this guy, huh?" She smiled and pointed to Jim. "I'm glad to know little Jimmy has a friend like you." Jim squirmed uncomfortably at the nickname and Laura's eyes glistened with a mischievous light that instantly reminded Artie of his partner.
Artie couldn't help but smile widely. Laura's words and Jim's reaction were priceless. He cleared his throat and said, "Little Jimmy and I do a pretty good job of looking out for each other." He shot Jim a devilish expression. "Isn't that right, Little Jimmy?" Artie's grin was ear to ear. Teasing his partner was still one of his favorite pastimes.
Jim continued to squirm. Somewhat embarrassed, he replied to his sister, "Laura, you've just created a monster here, you know that, don't you? 'Little Jimmy' will never hear the end of it."
"I know, but somehow I have a feeling you can handle it, brother."
Suddenly, a knock came at the door and in the doorway stood a handsome man with dark hair and light blue eyes. "Hello everyone! Got room for one more in here?" The man's voice was friendly and bubbled with enthusiasm. Laura, Jim, and Artie looked at the newcomer.
"Matthew," said Laura. "Come in!" She walked over to her husband and led him into the room.
"Matthew, so good to see you!" said Jim, shaking hands with his brother-in-law.
"Good to see you, too, James," replied Matthew.
Introductions were made all around and finally Matthew said, "Agent Pike informed me we should be going." He turned to Artie. "Artemus, are you all set?"
"Me? Oh, I've been ready to leave this hospital before we even got here," he joked. "If you could give us a second though, I'd really appreciate it."
"Sure. We'll wait for you outside," said Matthew as he and Laura left the room.
Jim and Artie found themselves alone. "How you doin'?" they asked in unison.
Laughing, Artie replied, "You first."
Laughing, Jim replied, "No, you first."
The room became quiet. "I'm fine. A little weak, but fine," whispered Artie. "And you?"
"I haven't felt this good in a very long time, partner." He moved forward to embrace Artie. "Let's get out of here."
"Fine with me...Little Jimmy."
Jim playfully cuffed Artie's hair; then rested his hand on his friend's shoulder.
The two left the room.
"Hey, Jim, what are you doin' out here? Laura just announced dinner." Artie walked up behind his partner as the two stood on the veranda overlooking the Grainger Ranch. The weather was sunny and mild; horses grazed in the field and the grass and trees were green with life. The colors stood out in sharp contrast to the world of white the agents left behind. The sun was just beginning to set over a low hill. Shadows cast by the dimming light were long and comforting; the sky was a bright orange and yellow around the sun, and the colors warmed everything around the ranch. I'm home, thought Jim.
"Isn't it beautiful, Artie?"
Artie looked out at the view. "It most certainly is, James. It must be wonderful for you to return here...especially after everything that's happened."
"There are no words, Artie, other than to say that I'm glad you're here with me."
Artie placed a hand on Jim's shoulder and let the touch speak for him. "Your sister called us to dinner. If you want to keep on staying with her, I suggest we not keep our hostess waiting." Artie smiled mischievously. "Besides, she said she has something for us after dinner...something she wants us to see. I've no idea what it is."
Jim looked at Artie and once again found himself lost in thought. That feeling again! The feeling I kept having on the train! Something to remember...
"Huh?" Jim recovered and looked at his friend. "Sorry, pal. It's just that feeling again...you know, like I'm trying to remember something and can't."
"Well, perhaps it'll come to you on a full stomach." Artie gestured to the door. "Shall we?"
"We shall...oh, and I've got something for you, buddy; but not 'til after dinner."
Artie shook his head. "I have a feeling that tonight's dessert will be one surprise after another."
Dinner was over and Jim and Artie joined the Grainger Family - Matt, Laura, ten-year-old Angela, and eight-year-old Julie - in the comfortable front parlor. The room was warm and pleasant; the fire in the fireplace added a cozy glow to the room.
"Jim, you and Artemus sit over there on the sofa," said Laura. "I have something here to show you." Laura handed the agents an old photograph, one of the first group portraits ever taken. Jim and Artie studied the aged image. "Can you recognize anyone?"
"It's so faded, Laura. Who are we supposed to recognize?" said Jim. And what is it that I can't remember? That feeling...again! "Am I supposed to know someone here?"
Laura held up a hand to slow the questions. "Jim, what do you remember about our travels with the Donner Party? Anything?"
"Not too much," he replied, glancing at Artie. "Why?"
"Do you remember this?" Laura began to sing 'Tis Home Where're The Heart Is and Jim found himself leaning on Artie for support as a shiver ran down his spine.
The song concluded and Laura asked, "Remember?"
Jim swallowed the lump in his throat. "Yes," he whispered.
"I'm glad...'cause it was Mr. Gordon who taught it to me."
Silence screamed in the room.
Jim and Artie sat open-mouthed and speechless; neither knew what to say.
Laura took the photograph and pointed out very familiar faces. "Jim, that's you; this," she moved her finger across the photo, "is me." She moved her finger again to point out a handsome dark haired man around twenty years of age. The man was very thin, as if he'd suffered a terrible illness. "That's you, Mr. Gordon...and as far as I'm concerned, you and your song saved my life."
"Our lives," Jim whispered, stunned by the revelation.
"This photo," explained Laura, "is of the second and third relief contingent. The survivors at Johnson's Ranch."
"Laura," said Artie, finally recovering enough to speak. "Did you recognize me in the hospital? I mean, so many years have gone by."
"I had a feeling, you know," replied Laura. "A feeling we'd previously met; but I couldn't recall all the details. It was like a memory I just couldn't grasp - you know what I mean?"
So very well," replied Jim. Artie was with me...he has always been with me. "You sang that song, Laura, on the cold night during the blizzard after we'd left the lake." It was all coming back now.
"That's right, Jimmy." Laura sat down next to her brother; Artie was on the other side of Jim. "We made camp and ate what little there was to eat," explained Laura. "Shortly thereafter, Mr. Gordon trudged through the snow and came upon us. We were miserable to say the least; and he came over to help us. He sang that song to remind us of home." She turned to Artemus. "I recall you saying it was your wife's favorite."
"That it was, Laura...and she'd just passed away several hours before. I guess it was my way of keeping her alive." Artie's voice was soft. "If only I could remember all this! I fell ill with pneumonia afterward and couldn't recall any fine details after Caroline's passing." Artie pointed to his head. "It was all just a blur."
Laura squeezed his hand. "I understand...and I'm so sorry about your wife, Artemus. That I did not know."
Artie smiled warmly. "Thank you. You know, after all this, it's almost like she's still with us."
"She is, partner. She really is," replied Jim, looking at Artie. "I didn't thank you when I was four. How could I thank you now?" His mind was still reeling from the discovery; and it would take much time to process fully.
"No thanks necessary, Jim." He looked into his best friend's eyes and said quietly, "I was just watching out for my partner." He grabbed Jim then and strangled him in a bear hug.
Laura watched the exchange with tears in her eyes. Thank you, Artemus Gordon, for watching out for my little brother.
"Mama," chorused Angela and Julie, "what about the box on the table?" The girls and their father had been silently watching the exchange; and the anticipation was now becoming too much to bear.
"Girls! Let them be!" Matt admonished them; and Laura giggled at her daughters' enthusiasm.
"Uncle Jim," said Angela, "you said there was a surprise in the box! What is it? Please tell us!"
Jim and Artie broke their embrace and looked at the long box before them on the coffee table. "Yeah, Jim," said Artie, "what's in the box?" The agent sounded just as excited as the little girl did.
Jim picked up the box and handed it to his partner. "Well, you'll just have to open it and find out."
Artie eyed Jim suspiciously and tore into the wrapping with gusto. "Aw, Jim...you didn't."
"I did. Enough said." Jim smiled ear to ear.
"A violin," replied Artie, voice choked with emotion. Tears filled his eyes. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Okay, any requests?" Artie was truly in his element now, standing before an adoring audience.
A flurry of requests filled the room and Laura and Jim could not stop laughing. Artie held up his hands to halt the barrage of requests. "I will perform all of your selections in due time, ladies and gentlemen." He eyed Jim with a devilish gleam in his gaze. "Right now, I have a special request meant for my partner alone." Artie tuned up and launched into a song. "Everyone sing!" he shouted exuberantly. "Get out the way of ol' Dan Tucker, he's too late to get his supper..."
The song droned on and everyone joined in the singing. Angela and Julie danced to the bouncing tune; Laura and Matt laughed and sang along.
Jim laughed hysterically and joined in the singing. You're one in a million, Artemus Gordon. Thank God the night of the storm is over.
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