“Pap, who owns that Circle H brand?”
“Where’d you see it?”
“On some Morgans.”
Ethan quickly realized that in this time the breed hadn’t been named yet. He said, “You know, those big red horses.”
Billy’s father scowled, then spit at the spittoon, but missed. The evidence of numerous other misses had darkened a wide swath of the store’s pine floorboards. “George Hawley. You stay away from him.”
“I don’t like ’im. Hires riffraff. And a crookeder bastard you’ll never see.” Billy’s father turned his head away and glared into the gloom at the back of the store.
Ethan pushed. “Never see his men in the store.”
“Hawley don’t buy supplies from me and I don’t buy horses from him. Works out jes fine.”
“What’s the grudge?”
“Why you askin’ me, boy? You know what happened.” Calvin Anspach turned away and began stacking blankets.
Ethan stepped out the front door and shuffled up the street to the millinery shop. He had met the owner, the smiling Mrs. Nichols, several times. She had an arrangement with Billy’s father to get her supplies when the General Store made a pick-up from . As Ethan entered, a tiny bell above the door pealed. Mrs. Nichols looked up from the counter where she was serving a customer.
“Hello, Billy. Do you have something for me? Just a minute.”
Ethan approached the counter. “No, Mrs. Nichols. I just wanted to ask you where George Hawley lives.”
Her thin face jerked down and her brown eyes peered over the tops of the rectangular spectacles that perched on her long nose. “What you want with that man?”
“Just curious, is all.”
Mrs. Nichols squinted. “You know his daughter. You know where they live. What’s wrong with you, Billy? Stop sportin’ with me. I’m sure your dad has something for you to do ‘cept pesterin’ me.” She turned back to her customer. Ethan made a hasty retreat.
The day turned warmer than it had been for months. Without his usual two coats on, Ethan felt almost light-footed. His pains had marginally reduced and he had become adamant about exercising his body every day. He made slow progress down as his mind wandered. Hawley had a daughter? Something sounded familiar about that, but how was that possible? Were some of Billy’s memories somehow sifting into him? He mulled this information, but he couldn’t quite connect to the memory that hovered at the edges of his consciousness. His months under the influence of laudanum had pushed so many memories out of reach.
Though the town appeared remarkably similar to his own time, he saw many unfamiliar shanties whose poor construction would not carry them much further into the future. Today he headed east, a direction he had studiously avoided. He had not felt up to seeing the battlefields or the place where he, as Cole, had been shot.
He passed the church where the tide of battle had turned. Cannonballs had imbedded in its walls and shattered the steeple. Some debris had been cleared, but no concerted effort had yet been made to repair the damage. Ethan remembered a wedding he and Beth had attended there in his own time. The memory sent a searing flash through him. For a few seconds he stared at the church and imagined it was that spring day so long ago in the future.
When Ethan began walking again, some vague sense pulled him. Too many times in his life, Ethan had suppressed these feelings, but not now. He tried not to think as some inner compass led him.
He limped for ten minutes until he came to a street at the edge of town. Not many houses existed here and long stretches of brush filled unused fields. As Ethan followed the dirt track and rounded a bend, he saw a sprawling white house on a rise with horse fencing surrounding it. As he approached the front of the property, Ethan saw a name emblazoned across the sign that hung above the gate leading to the corrals: HAWLEY.
Mesmerized at sight of the house Ethan realized how much damage the cloud of laudanum had done, how much he had forgotten. Yes, during the battle Ethan remembered being shot as Cole nearby, but a memory from the old man, Charles Watson, came to the fore of his thoughts. He remembered the bedside conversation of the old man’s nurse and maid. “The Hawley girl’s in a bad way,” one of them had said. He groped in his memory. Katherine was her first name. Ethan thought his mind would melt as he remembered sending Katherine Hawley a note. Now he knew why Mrs. Nichols’s comments about Hawley had seemed familiar. Beth had to be close.
But he thought of a serious problem. He was sure the man he had seen at the had gunned down Billy. He rode a Hawley Morgan. If that man worked for Elizabeth Hawley’s father, approaching her directly presented all sorts of dangers.
At first, he thought the wind was keening, but the sound he heard emanated from inside his head, a thin reedy squeal that grew in volume until it consumed him.
Suddenly, he didn’t see the house. He saw the cosmos as it had been when he was on a Memnon-induced exploration. He felt the undercurrents of space and time and he rode them back to that moment that he knew better than all others. He saw Beth bathed in blue flame, saw her flicker in and out of existence for a microsecond. He felt himself moving toward her, taking the brunt of the force. He touched her and she knew him. And he thought of something, someplace. Not knowing what he was capable of at the time, he had blinked in his mind. And something changed. Beth disappeared, but something had changed. Ethan did not see it then, but he saw it now.
The energy. He had used it. He had deflected its purpose.
Ethan realized he was standing in the pale sun of a winter afternoon in 1863 and that a quarter mile away his wife lived in the Hawley house. She was exactly where his mind had put her, waiting for this moment. How? He could not fathom.
His feet moved toward the house. He forced them to stop. He couldn’t walk up to the front door, not in this shape with the likelihood that someone on this spread wanted Billy dead.
Ethan heard hoofbeats and instinctively he scrambled into the brush to hide behind a stand of pine trees. Three riders approached from town on red Morgans. One of them caught Ethan’s attention. White hair, pink skin. The albino cowboy. Hulse, the man who had killed Cole. The scowl on the man’s face made Ethan pull farther out of sight. The last time Ethan had seen the albino, his face was laughing.
After the riders passed, Ethan sat on the pine needles and stared at the house in the distance. He saw it as the intersection of two powerful forces: one that could save him and one that could destroy him.