~~~Roku had taken Elizabeth to the Number 10 to dry her out by the stove. By the time Dio had run down there to the No. 10, with Carrie Anne close at her heels, something of a small crowd had formed there, including JF and his wife Lola, Miss Sal from the Bella, They had Elizabeth wrapped in a blanket, laying across some benches that had been pushed together right by the little iron stove. Someone had stoked up the stove to the point that it was making the air around it shimmer with the heat.
Roku was standing behind the bar in a sizable puddle of water that was still growin’ from the water that continued to drip from her sodden dress. She had appropriated the only bottle of hard liquor that was to be found at the No. 10, a bottle of cheap red mule that Dio kept under the bar with her medical supplies for washing wounds and cleaning suture needles and such. At that moment, Roku was not employing the whisky for medicinal purposes in the strictest sense of the term. But I imagine that in a way, you could argue that the liberal dose of the stuff she had poured into a beer mug--and which she was working on applying internally--probably was having a useful therapeutic effect.
Elizabeth’s eyes were closed. Her breathin’ was shallow, and her usual pallid complexion was distinctly predominatin’ to a kinda inerestin' shade o’ pale blue.
Lola looked up as Dio came in.
“Dio, she’s like a block of ice. Her clothes are wet through--have you got anything dry we can put on her?”
Dio knelt by the benches that Elizabeth was laying across, and took one of her small, damp hands in hers. It felt lifeless, like a fish you’d caught earlier in the day, and which had long since ceased flippin’ about. She turned to Carrie Anne.
“Hon, would ye be so kind as to go look through yer things in the trunk under the bed--get out a full set o' duds fer Elizabeth as well as some clean things fer yerself.”
Sal had just filled up a kettle of water to heat on the stove. It made a sizzling nose as soon as she set it upon the well-warmed metal. “I think that child will need some hot tea in her as soon as possible, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” agreed JF. “I believe she’s chilled inside ‘n out.”
I tried to reach for her when I saw her jump in,” said Carrie Anne, who was just then emerging from the back room with a armful of dry clothing. “But she... she was being swept and tumbled along. Then I saw Miss Roku comin’ from the Church and I hollered for her an’ she jumped right in to get Elizabeth....” Carrie Anne’s face had been very serious...almost expressionless, but now it sort of crumpled up a little bit and her voice got very small. “I...I tried to reach her...really I did...”
Sherrif JF Kanto looked down at Carrie Anne and smiled in a gentle sort o’ way. “It’s all right Carrie Anne,” he said. “ You did well. You are a good friend to Elizabeth. And you are to be commended for thinkin’ quick and actin’ just as fast, grabbing that rope and throwin’ it to Roku so she could get back out with your friend...”
“I was awful afraid it was going to work,” said Carrie Anne. I was sure if I tried to just hold on to the rope I was just gonna get pulled in too, so I wrapped the end of it around the tongue of that wagon that is sittin’ back there by the creek.
“Ah’m mighty glad ya did that.” Roku did not look at Carrie Anne as she spoke. She was focussed on pouring herself another liberal dose of amber-colored “medicine” from the bottle of red mule. “Ah was beginnin’ to have m’ doubts as to the wisdom o’ not jus’ lettin’ Elizabeth float away.”
JF put one o’ those massive hands o’ his on her shoulder in a way that was remarkably tender for such a big man, and one who...well...some other time, I probably should tell you about JF’s history before he came to Deadwood, but that will have to wait for now. Suffice to say, his history was not one that would incline you to believe him to be a man given to tender sentiments and consideration. “You did real well,” he repeated in a reassuring tone.
Lola was working on peeling off Elizabeth’s wet clothing, while Dio chafed her skin with a big towel and worked the girl’s arms and legs to get her circulation going. Elizabeth’s teeth chattered slightly, and she shook a bit, but her eyes remained closed. Carrie Anne sighed and bit her lower lip to keep from crying.
As they got more of the child’s clothing off, JF discreetly turned while they changed her into the dry things. His eyes met Roku’s for a moment. “Roku...you allright?”
Roku’s habitually hard expression softened briefly...and then returned almost as quickly to its normal state.
“Aw fuck it, JF...course ah’m allright. When am ah evah not allright?”
“Hey Roku,” Dio called out as she continued working on drying off Elizabeth and helping with getting her re-dressed. “If’n ye want, yer more’n welcome to look through my stuff an’ find some dry duds. O’ course none of it is likely to fit ye worth a tinker’s dam. Lanky, big-titted critter like you would most likely look mighty silly wearin’ an outfit sized fer a mite like m’self.
The mental image conjured up by Dio’s offer of clothing caused most of those present to smile in spite of the seriousness of the situation. Sal in particular got the giggles as she pictured Roku tryin’ to fit into one of the smaller woman’s shirts and a skirt.
They had finished changing Elizabeth and wrapped her in a big trade blanket, with another folded up and placed under her head as a pillow. Carrie Anne went into the back room to change out of her muddy, wet dress and stockings. Meanwhile, the water in the kettle was starting to boil. Sal grabbed the hot handle with a rag and took it off to make up some willow bark ea.
As Dio stroked Elizabeth’s still damp hair, she muttered, “Oh Lizabeth, chile, what was ye thinkin?”
“It’s my fault.” the sheriff stated flatly.
“No it ain't, JF,” answered Dio “Don't talk like that.”
“I shouldn’t have been so hard on her about Alonzo.”
*Dio shrugged. It ain't like you were one who tossed her tossed her in the crik, JF.”
The big man just shook his head. The he turned, so that no one could see the tear that that was running down his cheek. Lola watched him and sighed, “Oh, JF, it ain't your fault.”
Dio gently lifted Elizabeth’s head. “Ok gals, lets see if'n she kin have a sip or two o’ that hot tea.”
The girl’s eyes fluttered open...she was starting to respond to the warmth of the stove and the dry clothing and was coming around.
“Am I dead yet?” she asked in a very small voice.
Sal was puzzled by Elizabeth’s question. “What did she say?”
Elizabeth opened her eyes wider and looked around. Upon seeing Dio, Lola and JF, she appeared to be very disappointed. “Oh.. nooooooooooooooo, “ she moaned and pushed the cut of tea away.
“Are you all dead too?” she inquired plaintively.
Lola sighed. “Nobody's dead, ‘Lizabeth. Not you nor us, nor Roku, nor even Alonzo.”
Elizabeth sniffled a bit. “We nearly killed him...”
“Naw Hon,” Dio smiled. “That boy is fine as kin be--I am told he has been wanderin’ around, bein’ the usual goddam pest he always is.”
Elizabeth’s expression evidenced a certain degree of doubt. “We nearly drowned him for certain. He must be at death’s door...”
Dio shook her head. “Nope, no worse fer wear...”
“Everything is just fine now, little one,” said JF.
Elizabeth suddenly looked around in alarm. “Where is Carrie Anne? Did Carrie Anne have to go to jail?!” She started to cry.
“NO, o’ course she ain’t in jail.” replied Dio, a reassuring smile plastered on her face, though a hint of irritation had crept into her voice. “And I ain’t turned her out...she’s in the back room puttin’ on some clean clothes....an’ I want you ‘n Carrie Anne to keep bein’ friends.”
A voice from direction of the bar chimed in at this point. “Evahbody needs ta have a goddamn frend.”
They all turned to look at Roku, surprised by her sudden contribution to the conversation. The all waited for a moment to see if she was going to elaborate further on her statement about friendship. Instead. she looked back at them in a curious way, then shrugged and took another big sip of red mule. JF noticed at that point that well more than two-thirds of the bottle’s contents seemed to have evaporated.
“So we didn’t hurt Alonzo any?” asked Elizabeth uncertainly.
JF shook his head. “Not a whit.” agreed Dio. “ You din't do the lil’ peckerhead no harm in the least! Now do I gotta go find the silly lil turd to show ye? Please say no, as I'd druther not...that boy gets on my last goddam nerve.”
Just then Carrie Anne emerged from the backroom wearing the other set of clothing that she owned, and some clean, if slightly shabby-looking stockings. The mud had been wiped off her bootees, and she had retied the ribbon in her hair which was now properly combed.
Elizabeth saw her friend come out and a huge smile erupted across her pale features. “Carrie Anne! We dint hurt Alonzo any, an we’re not goin’ to jail... and Miss Dio wants you to stay with her ‘n we can still be friends! Even Miss Roku says so...um..I think!”
Carrie Anne knelt by the benches and took Elizabeth’s small hand in hers. She was squeezing it so hard that after a moment she wondered if she was hurting Elizabeth any, but her friend didn’t seem to mind.
Dio looked very happy, perhaps out of relief that she did not have to go find Alonzo to convince Elizabeth that he was allright. It was in fact, a dismal truth that few creatures dwelling within the realm of God’s green earth irritated the livin’ piss outta Dio as much as that boy did.
But something else was on her mind as well.
“Say gals, I gotta tell you somthin’....earlier when you all fessed up...I noted that the both o’ ye tried to take the blame, din't ye?”
The girls both nodded. “Yes ma'am.” said Elizabeth meekly.
“Ye din't want the other to be punished, did ye?”
“NO ma'am,” Elizabeth said fiercely. “I started it, I pushed him first!”
Carrie Anne glaredat her friend. “No! It was my fault!”
Lola shook her head and looked at JF, who was grinning. Dio held up a hand for silence.
“Well let’s leave off that argument about fault...it ain't no matter...ain’t of any importance at’all right now. What is important is that ye showed me you two is true pards...ye know what that means?”
Elizabeth looked uncertain and pulled the blanket tighter around herself. She looked at Miss Dio, and then to Carrie Anne, and then back at Miss Dio.
“You know what it means fer you ‘n Carrie to be pards?” asked Dio again.
“uh-uh,” responded Elizabeth quietly. “I don’t think I never had one of those before...”
Dio smiled. “Well, Hon, ye goddam well got one now. And it means you two are the best kind o' friends..the kind who got one another's back, who ain't afeared o’ sufferin’ an' sacrificin’ on behalf o’ the other
JF reached out and softly stroked Elizabeth's head and Carrie Anne squeezed her hand even more tightly. Elizabeth blinked away some tears, and relished the warmth of Carrie Anne’s hand on her cold, cold fingers. Sal was still kind of gobsmacked by the realization that this child had wanted to harm herself. But Dio was a roll, God bless ‘er. and she went on with her discussion of what it meant to be someone’s “pard.”
I want you two gals to understand that the kind o' friends that you are to each other--it’s a kind o’ friend is real goddam hard to find...an’ I was so dammed proud o' you two..fessin’ up, an each tryin’ to take the blame. Elizabeth...yer real lucky to have a pard like Carrie Anne...an’ she's real fortunate to have one like you. You understand that Hon?”
Elizabeth looked downcast still. “I think so...but I...I am a bad influence on her, everybody knows it...and...”
Elizabeth’s voice became very faint. “And people....the people I care ‘bout...they all die. I don’t want Carrie Anne to die. I would rather die myself than that happen...”
Carrie Anne leaned in closer to Elizabeth and whispered. "Ya can't die. I told the undertaker 'bout you, he says you can work for 'im when yer bigger"
Dio came over and sat on the bench next to Elizabeth. “Now Hon...I don't know all the details about why ye's wishin’ yerself dead...but I got a big favor to ask ye...”
Elizabeth looked at Miss Dio curiously. No one had asked a ‘favor” of her before. No adult anyway. She had always been told what to do and when and where to do it. In a tiny voice she answered, "Yes ma'am?"
“Lizzie..I need ye to keep on a stayin’ with us in this goddam vale o’ tears fer a spell...an’ it's real selfish o’ me that I do so, but I am gonna ask you anyhow...”
“What's a vale of tears?” interrupted Elizabeth. She looked over at Carrie Anne to see if she knew what the hell Miss Dio was talking about.
Dio sighed. “Hon...I am referrin’ to this world.,,the world o’ the livin’ as opposed to the next...to the Happy Huntin’ Ground, or what some o’ the tribes call the Other Side Camps. I kin understand ye wantin’ to go to the Happy Huntin’ Ground..they's probly folks ye love a-waitin’ there for ye...like I got m' Papaw an m' husban’ Jack there, waitin’ fer me.
Elizabeth thought she had a pretty good idea what Dio was talking about. She decided the woman must mean heaven, but she just didn’t know enough about religion to call it that. She then started to wonder if there was a thing such as the Unhappy Hunting Ground, where bad people would go. She tried to shake off that thought, so she could keep concentrating on what Dio was asking her.
“So you don’t want me to die and go to heaven?” she asked.
Once again, Dio found herself sighing. “Well...just not right now Hon. I have every confidence yer gonna get there some day. And we do all have to die sooner or later. I am just askin’ ye that if ye kin help it, try to make it later. Look...you know how much I love Carrie Anne don't ye?
Elizabeth nodded. “I think so...‘cause you gave her a horse.”
“Well, they's some things I cain't give Carrie. I kin give her a home, a pony, an shootin’ lessons an grub an all that...an’ I kin love her...but I cain't really be her pard. She needs you fer that.”
“I could try that...” Elizabeth looked at Carrie Anne. “You just gotta be careful around me 'cause... people tend to die around me.”
Carrie Anne shrugged "I'll risk it."
“Aw hell,” Dio laughed, “folks here in Deadwood, we don't die easy...right Carrie Anne?
“Goddamn right.” answered Roku, who was staring at a now empty whiskey bottle in a rather morose and slightly puzzled fashion. “Hey Dio, ya need to get another bottle of hootch for yer medical supplies. This’n seems about out.”
She then carefully placed the empty bottle on the back bar and headed for the door, betraying no indication of the unsteadiness most folks usually display after having finished off the better part of a pint of coffin varnish. At the door, she turned and fixed her stare on Carrie Anne.
Carrie Anne looked up, her face impassive.
“Ya know how ah said ya was gonna hav’ta earn m’ friendship back?”
Carrie Anne nodded.
“Well, ah figured ya were gonna be able to do it...I jus’ didin’t ‘spect ya was gonna be able to do it so goddamn quick. Thanks fer the rope.”
Without another word, Roku stalked out of the Number 10, hopefully off to find some dry garments.
Dio watched her go and then turned back to Elizabeth.
“Now Lizzie I know ye want to be gettin' on t' the Happy Huntin’ Ground so as to be with yer loved ones who are awaitin’ ye there...but best way to get there is to live well ‘n die well...and as fer livin’ well..one thing ye could do that would count nicely fer that is stayin’ here to be Carrie Anne’s pard. Please don’t don’t try to harm yerself again, Hon.”
Elizabeth smiled at Carrie Anne. “If she'll take the chance that I might accidentally cause her to die, then I will be her pard.” She thought for a moment. “And I won't try to hurt myself. Also, I won't ever try to drown Alonzo again...but I still don't like him.”
Dio handed Elizabeth her cup of tea. “That's ok I don' care fer the dirt eatin’ lump of a chile neither...an’ hell, yer allowed t’ not like folks. It's like Jesus tol’ his holy apostles, ‘Boys, remember that ye gotta love thy neighbor...but it don't mean ye gotta like the sonofabitch’...them are good words to live by.”
The two girls both seemed to drinking in this wisdom. “You know, I did go to church, like Miss Roku told me to,” said Elizabeth. “But God weren't there...” her voice trailed off.
Dio nodded, seemingly unsurprised by this news. Then she gently laid her hand on Elizabeth and Carrie Anne’s tightly clasped hands.
Elizabeth looks surprised at this. “For what?” she asked.
“Fer stickin' around to be Carrie Anne's pard...it means the world to me...an’ I reckon it does to Carrie Anne as well."
Elizabeth blinked, and smiled an odd little smile. “Um... thank you ma'am for not shouting at me and looking after me just now...”
She looked shyly around the room at JF and Lola and Sal. “And thank you all too.”
Dio chuckled slightly. “Beelzebub's bunghole, Hon! Why in the name o’ Saint Pete's outhouse door would I yell at ye? I'm findin’ m'self right fond o’ ye.”