So quiet, he almost wondered if they'd abandoned the place.
She was still beautiful. So pale, blood so close to her skin, her breathing labored, he knew she would be gone soon.
"Ben Wade." She tried to push herself up, but lacked the strength. He brought himself to her side, gently lifted her up and put pillows behind her so she could rest against them.
"Alice." He bent over her and raised her wasted hand to his lips. Then he drew the chair over from the corner, took up his vigil beside her. "What happened? Why are you here alone?"
"William wasn't the same when he came home. He was so angry, he didn't want to be here. I didn't fight to keep him. I let him go."
"And the little one?"
Her body jerked and then she was still, but for her trembling hand in his. "He got worse and worse. Came a time when he refused to eat. He would cry when I tried to force him, so I stopped forcing him. The doctor said there was nothing more he could do. Emmy used to come out here every other day to help us. When it was time, she brought the preacher twice. Once to bless him and again to bury him beside his father."
"Does William know?"
"Does he know about you?"
"He might have guessed. I was coughing before he left." Her hand clutched his. "Come here," she asked, "come closer."
He moved to the edge of the bed. So many times he'd been the death of someone. This one wasn't his doing, and it hurt him more than he could bear. "You're going to be alright," he said. "Once you get a little bit stronger, I'm going to take you down to Mexico. There's a town I know down there where they're building a cathedral. It'll be so beautiful when it's done. I'll take you there."
"Only place I'm going is beside my husband and my son. I had them place Mark far away enough that there's space for me between them." His hand stroked her hair and she turned into the touch. "Will you find him, Ben? Will you find my William and make sure he keeps on the right path?"
"A life like his father's, not like mine. That what you mean?"
"How can I?"
"I trust you. Find a way."