"Marta MacMahon! It had been said of her that she was the most beautiful girl in Virginia, the belle of Washington, of London, of Paris." . . .
BEAU L'AMOUR'S COMMENTS: Sadly, pages 1 & 2 of this document are missing
Bud made his own bed under the wagon and before he crawled into his blankets he checked the loads on both rifles and the shot-gun. They had a Sharps .50 buffalo gun and an old Deane-Adams rifle. The shot-gun was a good weapon, and she kept her husband's Navy Colt and the shot-gun in the wagon with her.
Captain Colden Smith halted the column. Sergeant," he spoke sharply, "I want silence! Absolute silence!"
In the stillness that followed they heard plainly the sound of an axe.
Captain Smith turned on the scout. "Blake, you told me there was nobody in the area!"
"I swear, Cap'n', I can't figure it. I'd have sworn there was nobody closer than Fort Bridger!"
The column moved forward again and as they emerged from the trees atop the ridge they saw before them and across the valley a trail of smoke from a fire. Beside it was a white-topped wagon, and they could see stock grazing. There were no other wagons ... only the one.
Irritably, he led the column down the slope and up to the bench. This valley was a high-road for drifting bands of Shoshones, Blackfeet and Sioux, and there were occasional raids into the area by Utes.
A woman and a boy stood waiting for them, and for a moment Captain Colden Smith almost forgot his anger in the realization that she was not only a young woman but an extremely pretty one. Moreover, and this startled him even more, she possessed that quality of distinction that goes with breeding.
"How do you do, Captain? I had no idea there were troops in this area."
Colden Smith removed his hat. "You were correct, Madam, there are no troops in this area and there is nothing else. There is no fort, no ranch, no stage station, and no other white man for at least a hundred miles in any direction."
"Of course, Captain. That is why we chose to stop."
"You chose to stop here?"
"We will make our home here. Can I offer you a cup of coffee, Captain? I am afraid I haven't enough for your troop, but the visit was unexpected."
He dismounted the troop, who were only too willing to relax, and after a minute he called the sergeant and instructed him they would make camp on the bench.
"Your husband is nearby?" he asked.
"I am a widow, Captain. My husband died at the crossing of the Platte."
He looked at her in astonishment. A young woman and a boy, and in the heart of Indian country alone. He accepted a cup of coffee, and glanced around. They had good stock, he noticed, a good wagon, and were obviously well-supplied. He looked enviously at the horses ... he had never seen better.
"Do you know how long you'll have those horses?" he asked. "Until the first Indian sees them."
We shall try to be friendly with the Indians, Captain."
He glanced at her over his cup. "You are just from the east, Madam. Indians do not have the same conception of friendship as you have ... to many tribes the words for stranger and enemy are synonymous."
"I have heard that. But what would you have me do? Go to the gold camps? There is nothing for me there, or return to the States? We left because we were alone there, and no chance to get ahead.
"We stopped here purposely, Captain. I believe some trading can be done here. There will be wagon trains passing, crops will grow. There is permanent water and good grass. It is a good country, Captain, for my son to know as he grows up."
"It cannot be permitted, Madam. I must ask you to put possessions together, and accept our escort back to Fort Laramie."
"I am sorry, Captain. I understand how you feel. In your position my husband or my father would have felt the same."
He glanced at her. "They were in the Army?"
"My father was Colonel Dan MacMahon. My husband was Major Rory Cormac. You may have heard of them."
Captain Colden Smith was astounded. This then was Marta MacMahon....Marta MacMahon! It had been said of her that she was the most beautiful girl in Virginia, the belle of Washington, of London, of Paris. And then she had married Major Cormac, a handsome young Irishman who had fought in British India, with the French forces in North Africa, then joined the American army. It was a romantic story, and he remembered hearing it discussed at Fort Atkinson, when he was just out of West Point.
There was a new respect in his voice when he replied. "Yes, I have heard of them. There was no more respected officer in our army than your father, and as for Major Cormac ... I think he was a hero to all of us."
"To me, too," she replied quietly. "I hope my son is like him."
Captain Smith glanced at the boy. "I am sure he will be," he said. He was a handsome boy, but there was a manliness about him that added to it. "But you must understand, Mrs. Cormac. I cannot allow you to remain here."
"You have orders respecting me?" she asked politely.
"No, but --"
"Do you have orders about moving civilians out of the area?"
"Actually, no. However, I'm sure --"
"Captain, you must remember that I am Army also. You are sure of nothing unless you have orders for it or you are in a combat situation and you are released to use your own initiative. I am sorry, Captain, but you must understand. We cannot go back ... there is nothing for us there." She lifted her chin slightly. "If we are to be poor, we would prefer it to be where we are not known. If we are to make a life for ourselves, it must be where we can make [sic]
They talked quietly then, talked of Washington and of the Point, of Richmond and Charleston, and then of the frontier.
Finally, she told him of her plans.
Later, laying in his own bedroll, he said, "Sergeant Sweeney?"
"The boy and his mother are going to start building a sod-house tomorrow. She is General MacMahon's daughter, Sergeant."
"She that married Major Cormac?"
"Thank you, sir."
Twenty men can build a sod house in little time, and ten men can cut a bit of wood when the will is on them, and scarcely a man there but remembered stories of General MacMahon, and more still could tell of Major Cormac ... Roaring Rory, they had called him, a man who would fight at the drop of a hat and drop it himself. A man who had become a legend in his own time, who had, when some foreign officers spoke slightingly of his service in the Army of the United States, challenged six of men to duels and fought four of them in rotation, with the others apologizing after seeing what happened to the first four.
It was the third day when Captain Colden Smith mounted his command. He stood hat in hand before Marta Cormac and he said, "Be careful of the Indians, Mrs. Cormac. Trust none of them. A few will be friendly ... the Shoshones are like that, but some will try to take advantage, or what we would consider so. They are a different culture and different people and that must be taken into consideration."
"Thank you, Captain. And my respects to your commanding officer."
The week was gone before Marta realized. There was work to do, moving their furniture, the little they possessed, into the sod house, gathering more fuel, and hunting. Only during that first week Bud Cormac was careful never to get out of hearing or sight of the cabin.
He killed a deer on the second day after the soldiers left, and a buffalo, one of a small herd drifting south, on the fifth day.
On the sixth day he had stopped jerking the meat long enough to ride up the ridge to see what lay beyond the trees. He was out of sight of the cabin for nearly an hour and when he started back down the slope under cover of the pines he saw two riders approaching.
He came down the slope and worked his way up through the trees, carrying his rifle ready for use. His mother came out of the cabin.
Both men were bearded. One was a short, square man and very powerfully built, the other was tall, wide-shouldered as his father had been, but he had a lean, wedge-shaped face marked with a scar on his cheekbone.
Marta Cormac held her hand by her side, the Navy pistol concealed in a fold of her dress. "How do you do?" she said, "I am Mrs. Cormac."
The tall man removed his hat. "This is Brian Duveen. I am Talahan."
It had a sound to it, the way he said it, and she nodded slightly.
"We were passing through, Mrs. Cormac, and noticed your place. Will you ask your son to come out from behind that tree? I don't like a man looking over my shoulder with a gun."
"Bud ... it's all right. They are gentlemen."
The tall man chuckled. "We're complimented, Brian. The lady says we are gentlemen." He got down from his horse as Bud walked sheepishly from behind the tree. Glancing at the boy, he said, "Next time come slower down the slope, and keep under cover, and when you look around the tree, look around the bottom of it."
"What is it you want, Mr. Talahan?" Marta asked coolly.
He laughed sardonically. "Not Mister ... just Talahan. Want? Why, we want nothing at all, unless you've a meal you could spare us, and we can pay for that. Not in cash, perhaps, but in service of some kind."
He was as tall as Rory had been, but without the laughter that always lurked near Rory's eyes. Talahan's eyes were cynical, wise, slightly taunting eyes ... but he was a handsome man, if one cared for those rakish, piratical types. That was it, she told herself, he was a man who belonged on the quarter-deck of a privateer.
He glanced at the cases not yet carried inside. "You've a stock of goods there," he said, "is it trade you're thinking of?"
"We'll pack them inside for you."
She drew aside, and in moving her dress stirred, revealing the pistol. He glanced at it and then at her and smiled, "Good!"
He picked up a box. "You're not too trusting. I like that."
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