come on Murdoch. Why me?” Johnny complained, irritably slapping his hat
against his leg to reinforce his grievance.
hotel room was small and far too cramped for the three of them to sit
comfortably. Johnny sank onto the bed in disgust while his father and brother
looked on from the other side of the room.
a good day and a half ride from here,” Johnny continued petulantly.
Johnny,” Murdoch told him. “And if you leave now, Scott and I will be
finished here by the time you get back.”
sense, brother,” Scott pointed out, folding his arms and leaning back against
the wall. “We’ll save three whole days and be back at Lancer in plenty of
time for Teresa’s birthday.”
got plenty of time to get back. Don’t see what the rush is,” Johnny
continued to grumble. “We can all go if you just get Conroy to sign that bit
the sense in that Johnny?” Murdoch demanded. “There’s no point in all of
us wasting three days, when you can have it done and be back by the time Scott
and I have finished up here.”
I know,” he admitted, dropping his eyes to the hat he was absently twirling in
need Scott to stay here to help close this deal with Jeff Conroy,” Murdoch
continued. He too folded his arms determinedly across his chest and Johnny
looked up at them both and felt cornered. He turned his head back to stare at
the hat in his hands with disgust.
grinned at the dejected expression on his brother’s face. “Come on, Johnny.
You can’t tell me you’re enjoying yourself here.”
didn’t answer. He knew his brother was right about that – he sure didn’t
like it here. He must have shown his feelings because Scott pressed his point.
“You don’t even like Conroy.”
looked up at last, a flash of anger in his eyes. “No I don’t. He’s a
welcher, Scott,” he said coolly. “I ain’t got no time for welchers.
Don’t even know why you two are being so all fired patient with the man. He
signed a contract – an’ he oughta live up to it.”
didn’t like the man. He didn’t like his way of doing business, and he
didn’t like having to sit around here for days arguing with a man who already
had a contract with them and only had to keep his word. While Murdoch and Scott
seemed to be prepared to sit and talk with him, Johnny felt otherwise.
that’s exactly why you should go up to Toby Roberts’ place instead of Scott.
I can trust Scott to keep his temper in check,” Murdoch growled.
threw his father a disappointed glower and shook his head a little. Once again
he wondered if Murdoch would ever learn how to handle Johnny. Some days he only
had to open his mouth and the wrong words just spilled out.
glared silently at Murdoch and Scott could almost feel the storm that was about
to break. The air was heavy with tension for a minute, and he could just about
see lightning flashing in his brother’s eyes.
admit it, you’re bored here,” Scott told him calmly throwing him a
distraction. “A couple of days away will do you good.”
breathed a silent sigh of relief when Johnny turned back to face him and he saw
that the lightning had faded.
he said with a lopsided smile, and a hope that maybe he could convince Scott to
join him. “Sounds to me like you’d like to come too.”
smiled back mischievously. “Afraid to go all that way on your own, little
slowly stood up and set his hat purposefully on his head, tilting it low over
his eyes. “Nope,” he replied. “But it seems like a long ride just to
deliver a check.”
relaxed. It looked like Johnny had given up the argument. “The old coot
doesn’t trust the mail,” he told him with a grin.
it is a pretty hefty check,” Scott added.
right, all right,” Johnny finally relented. “I’ll head out first thing in
the morning. I’ll meet you back here in three, four days.” He eyed his
father and brother testily. “Just don’t go letting that Conroy get away with
don’t aim to Johnny,” Scott smiled.
A loaded shotgun aimed at your midsection will stop most men in their tracks,
and Johnny Lancer was no exception. A man would have to be a fool not to take
notice of two barrels pointing in his direction, and that was something that he
had never been accused of being.
So he pulled the palomino to a halt, showed both hands openly to prove he was no
threat, and looked hard at the old man standing on the step in front of him.
made quite a picture – short, bow-legged and what little hair he had left on
his head was grayed. He was dressed only in heavy blue jeans and his undershirt
and stood outside the open door of the ranch house, but he had a damned good
grip on that gun, and his eyes bored into Johnny with enough grit to make his
hadn’t the slightest doubt that he would let go both barrels if he felt the
house itself was a sturdy, well-tended building. It was an austere structure –
no paint or gardens to break the dreariness. It was built for practicality and
not for comfort, but the old man looked ready to defend it as though it was his
your business!” the old man demanded tersely of Johnny in a voice that rang
clear and explicit.
kept his horse still between his knees and made no moves at all himself, just in
case the man should take it as a threat. He kept his hands up visibly and well
away from his gun.
for Toby Roberts,” Johnny answered equably. “You him?”
old man stared hard at him out of the corner of his eye. “Who’s askin’?”
he asked rudely.
Lancer,” Johnny told him without hesitation.
lowered the shotgun a little and gave Johnny the once over. “You Murdoch’s
smiled at him. “One of ‘em.”
don’t favor your Pa much, do ya boy?” the old man remarked suspiciously,
tilting his head and squinting to get a good look at him.
observation was met with a grin from Johnny. “Nope, guess I don’t,” he
answered cheerfully. “Ain’t it a mercy though?”
laughed explosively and lowered the shotgun. He waved his hand invitingly.
“Danged if it ain’t,” he replied. “Well, get on down boy. Come on inside
an’ take a load off.”
sighed quietly and lowered his hands very carefully. He got down from Barranca
with pleasure, leading the palomino to the hitching rail in front of the house.
Seeing that shotgun lowered sure was a huge relief.
he heard the old man yell over his shoulder, and an equally grayed and shabby
old gent emerged from the barn. “Look after the young fella’s horse,” he
ordered him curtly and then turned to go inside.
limped slowly over to Johnny and took the reins from him.
lookin’ animal,” he said admiringly to Johnny, having looked Barranca over
from head to tail. “I’ll tend to him like he was my own.”
Johnny told him and watched the old man lead Barranca over towards the barn.
took off his hat and dusted the trail dust of two days off his clothes as best
made a quick survey of his surroundings. The ranch looked like it was well run
and, if the size of the check he had tucked in his pocket was any indication,
Toby Roberts didn’t want for money. But he sure didn’t spend much on himself
or the upkeep of the place. The fences were patched and the house needed
whitewashing badly, but it was far from run-down. Everything obviously worked,
even if it looked untidy.
Toby Roberts had to be one of the most untrustingest men Johnny had ever met.
sighed deeply and mounted the steps heading for the front door behind Roberts.
Out of habit, he peered briefly inside before he stepped in, quickly taking
stock of the interior and anyone in the room.
was alone in a surprisingly tidy drawing room. It was just as sober inside as
out – no trimmings at all – but not a piece of furniture was out of place
and there wasn’t a speck of dust to be seen anywhere.
Roberts yelled unexpectedly, taking Johnny by surprise. Outside the house, that
booming voice of his was loud, but here in the house, it just about shook the
glass right out of the windows. “Bring some o’ that lemonade. We got
smiled. The old man sure did make a lot of noise, but he was taking a liking to
Toby turned to Johnny. “Thought your Pa was comin’ hisself.”
nodded and shifted his feet a little uneasily. “Yeah, well, he an’ my
brother got caught up in Petersen so he sent me,” he explained briefly. He
reached into the pocket inside his coat and took out the check his father had
entrusted to him.
unfolded it and passed it to Toby, who studied it for a moment before saying
gruffly, “In my day, money was money. Not a bit o’ paper with some scribblin’
smiled. “I know, but I wouldn’t like to carry that kind o’ money
laughed. “Open invitation to a bushwhackin’ party I reckon.”
Johnny agreed and looked around at the sound of a footstep behind him.
woman in her thirties came into the room with a jug of lemonade and three
glasses on a tray. She looked a little like Toby, which was unfortunate, and she
was dressed plainly but neatly with her mousy brown hair pulled back into a
gal Ruby,” Toby introduced her. “Ruby, this here’s Murdoch Lancer’s boy
Johnny. Reckon you oughta see to the spare room an’ set another place for
got a nod from her as she poured the lemonade into the glasses and handed one
first to Johnny and then to her father. She finally poured one for herself and
took a seat in a chair facing the two men, making herself comfortable.
done it Pa,” she said with an easy smile.
old man nodded and smiled approvingly before turning back to Johnny. “You
won’t say no to supper an’ a bed I reckon boy?”
sir,” Johnny grinned emphatically. “I’d be real obliged.”
he answered, taking a good swig from the glass in his hand. Johnny did the same,
and found its slightly bitter tang a refreshing change from trail dust and tepid
water from his canteen.
be well fed too boy,” he told Johnny proudly. “Ruby here is the best cook in
three counties, son. An’ damned if she don’t darn so good an eagle
couldn’t find the stitches.”
wasn’t sure what to say to that little tidbit of information, but he began to
feel just a little bit trapped. He looked quickly at the woman who was the
object of so much appreciation, and, while she might be all he said, she
didn’t exactly appeal to Johnny. And she gave him a good few years head-start
saw his discomfort and laughed out loud. “An’ what is the poor man supposed
to say to that Pa?” she grinned at last. “You sound like one o’ them
looked over at Johnny and smiled a surprisingly charming and reassuring smile at
him. “Don’t worry. I’m not in the market for a husband, Mr. Lancer.”
smiled back, liking her candor. “Johnny,” he corrected her.
Roberts grunted disparagingly. “Maybe ya should be,” he told her.
stood up and went past first her father and then Johnny, and then she looked
back over her shoulder and smiled as she replied, “I’m doing just fine Pa.
You’d be lost without me.”
left the room with a dignified exit and her father grinned as she left.
“She’s right there I reckon,” he told Johnny.
a widow, son,” Roberts continued as he sat down in one of the easy chairs.
Johnny sat down in another and looked uncomfortably at his host. “Got a boy
o’ six to look after too. Good kid, but he needs a Pa, an’ I’m gettin’
put down the empty lemonade glass and found his hands were sweating. He rubbed
them on the legs of his pants and then rubbed them together, all the time
considering how to answer the man. He had no desire to offend his host, but he
had a point to get across – real fast.
really is a good cook, son,” the old man reiterated, a hopeful tone in his
finally looked up and bit the bullet – hard! He looked the man in the eyes,
smiled and said, “I’m not in the market for a wife, Mr. Roberts.”
man looked hard at him, and then he laughed loudly. “Well, I reckon we got
that outa the way then,” he said candidly. “How’s your Pa?”
laughed with him, relieved not to have offended him, but glad he had dropped
that particular subject. “Is that how you greet all your guests, Mr.
me Toby,” the old man insisted. “An’ why not? One o’ these days one of
‘em just might take her off my hands.”
grinned mischievously at him. “You’d lose the best cook in three counties,
guess I’d hafta stitch my own britches too,” Toby laughed. “So what’s
your Pa up to in Petersen?”
on a deal with a rancher up there. They got tied up in comin’ to an agreement
over the contract.”
ranch up that way that would interest Murdoch Lancer would have to be the Box
C,” Toby mused aloud. “That fella Conroy’s a slippery sort o’ coot.”
an’ Scott are trying to hold Jeff Conroy to a contract,” Johnny explained.
Roberts nodded his head in understanding. “That oughta keep ‘em tied up for
a while then. Heard he’s uppin’ the price on them Herefords of his these
days, now that they’ve proved ‘emselves.”
well he signed for a price,” Johnny told him curtly, “an’ that’s all
there is to it.”
He’s a stubborn man is Jeff Conroy.”
smiled. “So’s my ol’ man.”
the other man grinned, “I’ve heard that too. Be an interestin’ meetin’
with them two.”
think that’s why he wants Scott there with him. Scott has more patience than I
old man laughed. “Reckon you’d end up comin’ to violence, do ya?”
was Johnny’s turn to laugh. “Probably.”
supper’ll be ready soon, so we won’t go tryin’ that patience o’ yours.
You will be stayin’ the night won’t you?”
an’ thanks - a bed’ll be welcome. Slept out on the trail last night,”
Johnny told him and then grinned. “Must be I’m gettin’ soft, or there’s
more rocks on the ground than there used to be.”
so’s I’ve noticed boy,” the old man laughed. “Guess you must be gettin’
Toby Roberts had been right. His daughter Ruby probably was the best cook in
three counties. He’d eaten the finest meal he’d had since leaving Lancer,
enjoyed the company of some real fine people and slept in a comfortable bed for
Ruby had forced some fresh made biscuits on him when he left in the morning,
although there hadn’t been much ‘forcing’ needed.
in all, it made sleeping out on the trail again next night, after a supper of
beans and coffee, just a little less pleasant than usual.
living at Lancer was turning him soft. The thought had come to him as he drifted
off to sleep under the stars, and it had persisted when he woke feeling stiff
and sore next morning.
couple of nights sleeping out and he was stretching out muscles that pulled
uncomfortably. Yep, he thought, you’re gettin’ soft, Johnny
Lancer. Ain’t no two ways about it. Been livin’ the good life way too much
stood up and stretched himself out properly, bending his spine backwards against
the niggling pain in the small of his back. He felt like he’d slept on a rock
or something. Every muscle ached.
it would soon pass once he was back in the saddle and on his way. He’d made
good time yesterday and Petersen was only a day’s ride from here. Once he was
back there, he could have the pleasure of one of those nice lumpy beds in the
hotel tonight instead of the cold hard ground.
to look forward to,
he smiled to himself.
got the fire going and made some coffee before starting out. He still had some
of the biscuits that Ruby had provided him with yesterday leftover, and while
they weren’t as fresh as they had been, they sure went down well.
cleared everything away and rolled his bedroll up before saddling Barranca and
starting out again.
figured that the stiffness would wear off quickly, and for a while it seemed
like he was right. But as the morning wore on, and the sun got hotter, the
aching in his muscles began to come back and nag at him. He began to figure that
either he was getting old all of a sudden, or something just wasn’t right.
lunchtime, there was a dull throb in his temple. He found a shady spot and
stopped early, but mostly just to rest up since the idea of the jerky in his
saddlebags really didn’t appeal to him. He didn’t feel all that hungry
had spent years traveling alone and looking after himself. It had been rare for
him to get sick, but he’d had colds before and that’s what this was
beginning to feel like. He hated admitting to the idea. He knew that eventually
he was going to feel washed out and lethargic, and he hated the vulnerability of
not being at his best. He cursed his luck as he mounted Barranca and headed down
the trail towards Petersen.
least, when he reached there, he could rest up for a while. He wondered if Scott
and Murdoch had gotten that old grafter to come to terms with them. Scott might
have enough patience to have worked on him for this long, but Murdoch didn’t.
He might hold back for a lot longer than Johnny, but it would have ended in a
temper tantrum by now if Conroy was still holding out.
Lancer rode slowly into the dusty little town of Thompson’s Strike. He still
had a couple of hours of daylight left and he knew that, if he pushed himself
and Barranca a little harder, he could be in Peterson today and be there ahead
of the schedule he had set himself to meet up with Murdoch and Scott.
right now, that really didn’t matter much to him. They weren’t going to be
expecting him there until tomorrow anyway and he was just too tired to press on
not tired exactly, that wasn’t really how he felt. What he actually felt was
just plain awful. Every muscle in his body seemed to ache and was screaming out
to him to find a place to rest up for a while. He just couldn’t see himself
going any further.
head hurt like hell too. His head throbbed with every step Barranca took. It was
like his brain was being shaken with each little jolt. He stretched his neck and
back over and over, but it did nothing to relieve the knots in his muscles.
had a real foreboding that he was in for a cold or something even worse.
didn’t usually get sick and he hated the very idea of it. Sure, he’d been
laid up with fevers before, but those had been the result of bullet wounds or
knives – part of the game, and something he had had to accept. But he hated
the feeling of defenselessness that was the inevitable result.
least, since he had gone home to Lancer, he had not had to worry about that as
much. With his brother beside him, he did feel less vulnerable. Throughout all
those early years, riding through life on his own, vulnerability equaled
life-threatening danger to him. He had had no one to rely on but himself and it
had entrenched a fear of illness and weakness within him that he had never yet
been able to let go of, even with the sustaining arms of his family around him.
he told himself now that a good night’s rest would undoubtedly see him okay to
travel again in the morning, at least the rest of the short way he had left to
meet his father and his brother, without having to push himself. Even if he
didn’t feel one hundred percent when he got up tomorrow, Petersen was close
enough that he could make it.
had seemed to sense Johnny’s discomfort some way back along the trail and he
had slowed to a steady even gait, treading carefully. Johnny had been wholly
appreciative of his horse’s sixth sense, particularly because once or twice he
had found himself ‘drifting’ - not really paying attention to what was going
on around him. It had startled him when he had come to his senses and realized
what was happening, and he made up his mind to stop at the next town.
didn’t really pay much attention to the dowdy little town as he rode in
either. His mind was focused on finding a hotel or saloon with a bed for the
night, so he didn’t take in much of the run-down buildings that lined the
street. Most of them were in dire need of paint, and there were quite a few that
looked neglected enough to make one assume they were abandoned.
Strike’ had flourished years ago, right after Thompson had found gold and
spread the word. There had followed a ‘rush’ that had the little town
bursting at the seams within weeks and it had stayed that way for a bustling,
exciting two years before the gold had played out.
miners had moved on. The rush had died out, and the only people who stayed were
those who turned their hands to ranching or who still had small but viable
businesses in town. It wasn’t exactly a ghost town, but neither was it a
flourishing little metropolis.
was a town that was just barely getting by.
himself was long gone. He’d followed another rainbow in search of another pot
of gold and the few miners who had stayed on in the hills around the town found
only enough these days to keep themselves in supplies for the winter.
Strike was all but dead as a town these days, but it was on the road to
Petersen, a thriving little town by comparison, and it picked up passing trade
from travelers like Johnny. The result was that it provided only the bare
necessities of life to its inhabitants. There was no school, no telegraph office
and no doctor. There wasn’t even a sheriff to keep the townspeople in check.
was, however, a hotel in town. It seemed incongruous with the rest of the place,
and it didn’t exactly do the business that it had done in the ‘boom’ days,
but it picked up enough trade from people passing through to keep the doors
found the livery stable and made the acquaintance of the burly man who owned and
ran it. He made sure that Barranca was lodged comfortably and being looked after
before he threw his saddlebags over his shoulder and headed back for the hotel
– and the alluring thought of a bed for the night.
usual self-confident stride was missing as he made his way up the street to the
hotel. His legs ached and his back and shoulders complained at every step. The
headache continued to pound behind his eyes and he felt a little nauseous too.
Johnny didn’t feel sorry for himself. Instead he got angry.
cursed silently. ‘Why couldn’t it have just hung off a bit longer? I
could’ve made it back to Petersen.’
casual observer would never have noticed, but anyone who knew Johnny Lancer well
would probably have picked up right off that something wasn’t right. His
shoulders sagged just a little, and his brilliant disarming smile was missing.
So was the wicked twinkle that sparkled so often in his deep blue eyes.
his eyelids drooped tiredly, his head hung down, and his step was a little
forced as he crossed the street and walked up towards the hotel.
did his best to ignore how he was feeling, and he hoped it didn’t show. There
weren’t many people around anyway, but he did not like the idea of anyone
suspecting that he wasn’t at his best. Years of living on his reputation had
instilled a need to bluff his way through tough situations. There had been too
many young guns out there who were only too ready to take advantage of Johnny
Madrid in a moment of weakness.
Madrid might be Johnny Lancer now, and he might not be living on his wits alone
any longer, but the seeds of Madrid remained with him. His lifestyle may have
changed, but the habits of a lifetime were a different matter, and the thinking
of a man who had lived by his nerves for most of his life would stay with him
found the hotel and walked straight to the desk, pushing his hat back off his
head to hang carelessly around his neck. He left his saddlebags over his
shoulder and placed his rifle on the desk beside him.
it unattended, he banged sharply on the bell for service. The ping of the bell
sent a shockwave through his head that brought a moment of instant regret. He
closed his eyes for a minute to let the moment pass, and then waited, leaning
against the desk and looking around him.
lobby was certainly presentable – particularly in light of the rest of the
town. It was hardly the classiest establishment that either Johnny Lancer or
Johnny Madrid had ever put up in, but it offered some comfort for the night,
and, for once, that was what Johnny was looking for.
didn’t have long to wait. The clerk appeared from a small room behind the
counter almost immediately and scurried over to the desk, eager to help a paying
any rooms?” Johnny looked up and asked him quietly.
clerk was a weedy little man in his thirties, with wire rimmed spectacles and a
suit of clothes that looked more appropriate to Johnny for Sundays going to
was also the owner of the little enterprise, and he smiled cheerfully.
sir,” he told his guest quickly as he turned the registration book around for
Johnny to sign.
took the pen that the man offered him and signed the book quickly, putting the
pen back down with a negligent thud when he had finished.
a pleasure to have you stay with us, Mr. Lancer,” the man said, reading the
name from the book as he turned it back around to face him. He turned around and
took a key off the rack behind him and handed it over to Johnny.
room is number six, Mr. Lancer,” the clerk continued, taking Johnny’s money
with a smile. “It’s on the right at the top of the stairs. I hope you find
it to your liking.”
fact, room six was one of only two rooms that Oscar Lang kept made up and ready
for guests. Even the locals didn’t know that. Keeping fresh sheets on a bed
and dust off the furniture was a big job if he had to do all the rooms.
with the small amount of trade he did these days, there was no point in making
extra work for himself, and a maid was an extravagance he could not afford. So
the other rooms were quietly locked up and ignored, but he kept up the
maintenance on them so that they were ready to be made up if ever the need
continued to live in hope, but facts had to be faced, and it seemed unlikely to
him that they ever would be needed all at once again.
Lang surreptitiously studied the man in front of him. He had his saddlebags
thrown lazily over his shoulder, and that gun of his was tied down low. He
looked like he had Mexican blood in him too. He was covered in trail dust and
looked like he had been on the road for days. If a man ever looked exhausted, it
was this one and Oscar looked down his long nose at him.
we be having your company for long?”
for the night,” Johnny answered briefly. “I’m just passing through.”
the hotel owner was disappointed, he made sure that it didn’t register on his
face. He was a consummate businessman and knew how to ingratiate himself with a
well, sir. My name is Oscar Lang, and if there is anything I can do to make your
stay a pleasant one, please just ask,” he told him officiously.
hadn’t been like this in the old days of ‘The Strike’, when he had had men
literally fighting over rooms and offering him bribes to get one to themselves.
There had been that one occasion when Bill Andrews had come to town with some
nuggets in his pocket and wanted a bed for the night. There hadn’t been one to
spare and the big bear of a man had gone upstairs and picked up one of the
sleeping guests by the scruff of his neck and tossed him out, calling out
‘There is now!”
A bed had come at premium prices then. He could have asked
whatever he wanted, and they would have paid it. Miners who had just made a new
claim were always ready to spend big, tinhorn gamblers liked to show they had
money, and there’d always been a need for a quiet room for the girls.
tried to discourage that of course, but if they had the money for the night,
what did he care?
had already made up his mind about the stranger. He’d have had second thoughts
about letting a saddle tramp like this one spend the night back when ‘The
Strike’ was flourishing.
those days were long gone. They hadn’t even lasted long enough for him to have
made his fortune and escaped from this god-forsaken part of the world. He’d
dreamed of making enough money out of this place to sell up and buy himself a
nice little establishment in San Francisco. He would have been made.
there anything else I can do for you sir?” he asked as Johnny picked up his
rifle and turned away.
was about to say ‘no’ when an appealing thought occurred to him.
suppose you’ve got a bath here, have ya?” he asked. He wondered if his
aching muscles just might ease up some in a tub of hot water, and there was
enough dust on him to fill a desert anyway.
can certainly heat one up for you Mr. Lancer,” the clerk told him eagerly.
“The wash room is just out back, through that door there. It will cost you
fifty cents extra, but I provide a clean towel with it.” He pointed out the
door in question, and then continued. “I can have it ready for you in half an
Johnny answered quickly. “Real hot would be nice,” he added and, taking the
key to his room, he turned and headed for the stairs.
watched him go. Oh well, the gold rush here at Thompson’s Strike had been a
bust. It had run its course too quickly for anyone to have struck it lucky. He
was stuck here now, just like the others. There was no one who would buy him
out. So he took what he could and made the best of it, even if it meant
pretending that saddle tramps were respectable customers. If they paid, that was
all that mattered.
can get a meal at the saloon next door if you want it sir. The food there is
surprisingly good in fact,” Lang called to Johnny as he set his foot on the
Johnny told him carelessly, without turning around. He appreciated the thought,
but somehow the idea of food just didn’t sit well with him right now.
trudged up the stairs and unlocked the door to his room. In another mood, he
might have surveyed the furnishings more circumspectly, but at this point, the
only thing that mattered at all was the bed.
sat down on the closest edge and sighed heavily. It was comfortable enough for
his needs and he tossed the saddlebags and his hat onto the end of the bed. He
put the rifle down on the table beside it a little more carefully and suddenly,
the world seemed to be just too much for him to handle.
at last, just how exhausted he was, he leaned back and flopped flat on his back
across the bed. He closed his eyes and soon realized that sleep would soon
overwhelm him if he stayed where he was.
suspected again that he was losing his edge. He’d gotten too used to that big
comfortable bed in his room at Lancer. That was the trouble. He had real home
cooked meals on the table regularly, evenings relaxing with Teresa and Scott,
and even Murdoch if he was in a good mood. He was living the easy life – not
having to fend for himself – and it was turning him soft.
couple of nights on the trail and he was a mess. Lancer was making things just
too easy for him. That was the real problem, wasn’t it?
A little bit of a cold shouldn’t leave him feeling like this.
thought passed out of his head just as quickly as it had come. He still had to
convince himself sometimes that Lancer was the best thing that had ever happened
to him and that he needed it. No, it was more than that – he wanted it. He
wanted the life that Murdoch Lancer had offered him.
wanted the security it offered. He wanted the family he had there now – Scott,
Teresa and Murdoch, even Jelly. He considered Jelly just as much ‘family’ as
this wasn’t getting him anywhere. He had to get up and get going, before that
bathwater got cold waiting for him.
getting back up sounded a whole lot easier than it proved to be. Every muscle
protested as he sat back up. He silently cursed himself for arranging that bath.
It just didn’t seem worth the effort of getting up again.
idea of going downstairs and then having to climb those stairs again to come
back to his room seemed like a lousy plan now.
he told himself that it might help. If it put off that stupid cold for just a
little longer – maybe even long enough for the trip back to Lancer – then it
will have been worth it after all.
was annoying that he and his father and brother had had to go separate ways from
Petersen. Sure, he could see the sense in Murdoch’s argument, but it grated on
Johnny’s nerves now that, if he was still at Petersen with them, he wouldn’t
be having to ride out tomorrow morning on his own, and, in all likelihood,
feeling really rotten.
feeling sorry for himself wasn’t going to get him anywhere. His head throbbed
terribly with every thought that went through his mind, and sitting here
complaining wasn’t getting him into that hot bath that was waiting for him
the man had said he could heat up the water for Johnny’s bath, he had really
meant it. There was steam rising from it and the room itself seemed to have
warmed up when Johnny walked in and stripped off. He shook the dust from his
clothes first and laid them out. It hardly seemed worth the trouble of putting
on a clean shirt just to ride off into the dust again in the morning.
put one foot gingerly into the water. It was hot all right, but he found it
bearable, and climbed in. The tub was small and cramped. He felt like he’d
been squished into a tin can with his knees sticking up out of the water in
front of him, but it didn’t matter. He leaned back to let the heat seep into
his aching body and he could feel the relief almost immediately.
had been worth the fifty cents he’d paid for the privilege.
relaxed and let himself just soak it up for a while, before lathering up with
the soap and clearing away a few days worth of trail dust. He washed himself off
and leaned back again, enjoying the soothing heat.
found he had to shake himself awake. He’d drifted off and the hot water had
gone tepid and lost all value to him. He ducked his head in the water to wake up
properly, then shook the water from his head and ran his hands through his hair
to get rid of some of the excess.
himself up by holding the sides of the tub, he eased out of the water. He was
surprised that he hadn’t cramped up in that small space, and he was sure that
he would have if he had stayed any longer. As it was, he felt better. All the
soreness that had plagued him for the whole day seemed to have faded away.
dried himself off and dressed quickly, and then headed back to his room.
he passed through the lobby of the hotel, he stopped for a moment to consider
getting a meal at the saloon. He was vaguely aware that he was hungry now, but
the thought of eating revolted him enough to dismiss the idea and continue up
the stairs to his room.
opened the door and flopped down to stretch out on the bed. After climbing the
stairs, he’d realized that the relief from the bath had been all too
temporary. He’d gone to all that trouble, only to return an hour later feeling
cleaner, less stiff and twice as tired.
hot bath had eased his aching muscles all right, but not for long. He also
suspected that his temperature was up a little, but, what with the hot water he
had been soaking in, he couldn’t be sure.
the time he got back to his room, his body was starting to seize up on him
again. It was still light outside, and, if he had any sense, he ought to be
going down to that saloon and getting himself a decent meal, but he had already
cast that idea aside and he couldn’t face those stairs again.
his other option seemed like the best one. He gave up and went to bed.
Any hopes that he had nurtured last night of feeling a lot better in the morning
quickly dissipated with the break of day. The stream of sunlight through the
window woke him and he rolled over to avoid the light in his eyes.
sleep had been fitful as he had tossed and turned restlessly, trying to force
his mind to ignore the pain in his body. There’d been no way to get
comfortable, even though there was nothing wrong with the bed. No, he was the
problem, or at least his aching body was.
make matters worse, there was no longer a doubt in his mind at all that he had a
fever. He had felt it escalating through the night, and he was pretty sure by
now that he was in for more than just a cold. There was no sniffle, no cough and
he didn’t feel all stuffed up in the head. No – his head just damned well
hurt. He had no idea what it was.
wondered if there was a doctor here in town, but it seemed unlikely. He hadn’t
noticed much about Thompson’s Strike when he rode in, but the shabby, run down
atmosphere had been too obvious to miss. It was just one small step away from
being a ghost town, and the likelihood of a doctor being here was zero.
toyed with the thought of just staying where he was. He was tired and felt
downright awful, and the very idea of getting up – let alone saddling Barranca
and riding out to Petersen – was just a little too much to think about right
now. Murdoch and Scott would probably come looking for him, though they’d go
to Toby’s first, and that meant it would be days before they got here anyway.
- he couldn’t stay here. He hadn’t made any plans to stay overnight here in
Thompson’s Strike, and Murdoch would be annoyed if he was late.
wouldn’t normally have worried him much. Murdoch was annoyed with him so often
that he had come to expect it anyway. It didn’t bother him much if they bumped
heads now and then. It was those really noisy arguments that Johnny hated. And
with the way his head felt right now, that sort of a welcome from Murdoch would
just about kill him.
he forced himself to get up and get going. The sooner it was done the better. He
could hole up in Petersen when he got there, and Murdoch and Scott could make
whatever plans they wanted without disturbing him.
dressed and collected his saddlebags and rifle, then headed for the stairs. The
first step down sent a shaft of pain through his whole body that ended up
burning into his brain. He stopped, long enough to catch his breath and to let
the fire subside, before he continued more carefully down the staircase.
was a fair indication of his condition that he didn’t even think of breakfast.
Instead he took the key over to the clerk at the desk.
wouldn’t happen to have a doctor in this town, would you?” he asked the man
clerk studied him curiously before answering. “I’m afraid not Mr. Lancer,”
he told him suspiciously. “Are you unwell, sir? Alby Harris is the closest
thing we have to a doctor here. Would you like me to fetch him for you?”
Johnny replied casually. “Nothin’ that can’t wait. Gracias.”
well, sir,” the man answered haughtily. “Come again Mr. Lancer.”
grinned. The man knew how to be obliging all right, but he had no desire to
spend another night here.
checking out, he walked out of the doors into the sunlight and stopped dead. The
light was so bright that he shaded his eyes for a moment and then tugged his hat
lower over his eyes. The sun was further overhead than he had expected. He must
have slept longer than he had planned and it was already hotter than he would
wanted to get a nice early start, before the heat of the day set in, and he
silently swore when he realized that he had wasted a good couple of hours.
He’d hoped to not have to travel in too much sun. It was going to make the
trip that much more uncomfortable.
made his way over to the livery to get Barranca. He passed the owner with only a
quick ‘Gracias’ and went to the stall where his horse was waiting for him.
His mind was focused only on getting to Petersen to join Murdoch and Scott.
hadn’t even occurred to him how big a change of outlook that was for him.
the past, he would simply have holed up somewhere quiet and well hidden until it
either passed or he died. It would have been as simple as that. He’d never had
any expectations of a long and fruitful life anyway, and, back then, death would
have only been meeting up with ‘the inevitable’.
now – now he wanted to get to his family. He knew he could count on them, and
‘the inevitable’ was something he could fight with their help. He would
fight it with their help – fight it with all his might. His instincts had
subtly changed without his ever realizing it.
the big palomino sapped more of his energy than he had expected it to. Unlike
himself, Barranca was fresh and eager for a new day, and he fidgeted and
playfully tried to nip Johnny more than once.
saddle itself felt like it was unaccountably heavier all of a sudden. He swung
it over Barranca’s back and had to stop to steady himself. He leaned heavily
against the big palomino and caught his breath again. He frowned angrily.
Frustration was setting in and his temper frayed with it.
was no way that he was going to let this beat him.
hurt all over and he had to stop more than once as he was struck by waves of
dizziness. But he had no intention of stopping completely. He knew he could make
the ride to Petersen, and he knew he could handle Barranca no matter what.
all, it wasn’t very far, only a few hours down the road at a good pace, and it
was a good road. He had no doubt that he could do that, no matter how bad he
felt right now.
finally led Barranca out of the livery and into the sunlight. He squinted
against the sudden bright light and pulled his hat down over his eyes once more.
He heaved himself up into the saddle, settling himself comfortably. The leather
creaked beneath his weight and the sound irritated his aching head, but not for
shifted in the saddle and urged Barranca to an easy walk towards the gate of the
a wave of dizziness struck him unexpectedly and, to his infinite surprise and
his considerable disappointment, a deep dark chasm opened in front of him, and
he fell forward into it.
felt his head strike the warm, muscular shoulder of his horse as he sagged
forward, but it was the last thought that registered in his mind.
He didn’t feel the ground when he hit it.
if your Pa sees us, we’re in for it!” Tom Carson told his friend. They were
the same age, all of eleven years old, and they knew very well that they had
chores that needed doing.
the woods had called them away and, being healthy young boys, there was more
adventure there than in feeding the hens and swinging hay in a barn. There was
just no denying the urge to escape.
course, they’d had to bring along Tom’s annoying little brother Robbie.
He’d spotted them running off and would have told on them if they’d left him
behind. He was only nine, and too young to be trusted to keep his mouth shut, so
they took him with them.
he won’t see us,” Pete assured him. “He’s too busy in the livery.”
kinda close though,” Robbie pointed out uneasily. “He might come out.”
Pete,” Tom added. “an’ your Pa’s got one heck of a temper.”
he’d tell Ma too,” Robbie told them both, fearfully.
don’t be a baby,” Pete told him harshly, and then stopped as he turned his
head towards the livery stable his father owned.
look at that horse!” he exclaimed excitedly.
all their born days, they had never seen a horse that color before and they sat
watching the sun gleam and bounce off that beautiful golden back of his.
he beautiful?” Tom answered, sitting down on the crumbling log at the edge of
the woods to get a better look at the animal.
glistened in the sunshine and tossed his head, throwing his white blond mane in
the air. He looked just like something out of a storybook.
sure envied the man who led him out of the barn. Owning a horse like that would
be something special!
he runs like the wind, Tom,” Robbie whispered in awe, joining his brother on
watched the man tighten the cinch and then lean heavily against the horse, and
they idly wondered why, but then he climbed smoothly into the saddle and made
looked on jealously as Johnny settled himself in the saddle. He’d never ridden
an animal of that caliber before, and he wondered if he ever would.
would I love the chance to ride him. I could handle him,” he told them with
the confidence of youth.
ya couldn’t,” Tom teased him with a huge grin.
I…” Pete began, but stopped mid-sentence and gaped in amazement, as the man
seemed to just fall forward over the horse, and then drop heavily to the ground.
three of them jumped instantly to their feet.
ya see that Tom?” Pete, cried out, stunned.
fell right off!” the boy answered disbelieving.
horse didn’t throw him,” Pete continued. “He just fell off all by
ain’t moved neither,” Robbie added. “Do ya think he’s dead?”
be. Let’s go see,” Pete suggested excitedly and the three of them made a
beeline for the corral.
you think he got shot or somethin’?” Tom asked as they ran together towards
climbed through the fence and ran over to where Johnny lay. The golden horse
that had first caught their attention was standing close by and shied back a
little when the noisy trio arrived, but he was the last thing on their minds
we’d have heard it,” Pete explained dismissively.
ran over and knelt beside the stranger, while the other two boys stood back,
unsure what they should do now that they were here.
he dead?” Robbie asked nervously.
looked first at Johnny and then over his shoulder at his friends. “Don’t
think so,” the boy told them. He put his hand warily on Johnny’s hand and
found it was hot to the touch. “I think maybe he’s sick or somethin’.”
pulled Johnny over onto his back and looked at him. His eyes were closed and he
didn’t make a sound when Pete moved him. The stranger was out cold all right,
but there was no blood on him that the boy could see.
don’t look like he’s hurt much, but he sure is sick,” Pete told them
we should…” Tom began, but he stopped when he heard the gruff voice of
goin’ on out here?” he growled at them as he emerged from inside the barn.
looked over at his father, but stayed where he was beside Johnny. The other two
boys took a step back out of the way of the big angry man.
are you kids doin’ here? What are ya up to?” he snapped, and then noticed
the man on the ground. “What’s the matter with him?”
fell off his horse, Pa,” Pete answered innocently. “Looks to me like he’s
Scrivens strode quickly over to his son and, grabbing his arm, he pulled him
roughly away from the man on the ground.
what the hell do you think you’re doin’ touchin’ him? You wanta get sick
boy stood back and looked at his father, and then looked down at his feet
dejectedly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think of that, Pa,” he said
well, stay back away from him,” the man told him crossly. “Tom, you go get
Alby Harris an’ bring him here, an’ you Robbie, you stay away too.”
sir,” the boys answered in unison, hanging back as ordered and watching
Pete’s father look the man over, carefully avoiding touching him, while Tom
ran off to get the closest thing to what the town could call a doctor.
going on here?” the woman asked loudly, pushing her way through the small
crowd of on-lookers who had congregated around the corral outside the livery
traveled fast here at ‘The Strike’ since there never was any anyway. People
had gathered around the corral quickly when they saw the young boy running down
the street, eager to find out what was going on. And when Charity Blaine had
seen them, she too had hurried to find out what was the cause. She had seen
where the boy had run to and she knew right away that someone must be hurt.
manhandled them out of her way and finally found the cause of all the commotion
– a young man lying unconscious on the ground, while his horse, a beautiful
golden palomino, stood quietly by his side.
animal seemed to be more concerned about him than anyone else was. They huddled
close together, but no one had gone to the man’s side to help him. He lay
silently in the dust with everyone whispering around him. But he was oblivious
to it all.
she stepped forward, a voice from behind her warned, “Don’t you go gettin’
too close, Miss Charity,” but she only clucked impatiently and went straight
over to the young man’s side.
was obvious that the boy was in trouble. She couldn’t tell immediately whether
he was hurt or sick, but he was out cold and lying in the dirt while they stood
by and did nothing to help.
didn’t appear to have even stopped to find out if he was bleeding!
turned furiously on the group of people around her, thrusting her hands on her
hips and glaring at them.
happened to him?” she asked angrily.
says he just fell off of his horse,” Scrivens told her. “Seems like he
fainted or somethin’.”
you check if he was hurt?”
ain’t hurt, Miss Charity,” Ben replied edgily. “He’s sick. It’s easy
to see that.”
Blaine lost what little patience she had left. “What’s the matter with you
people?” she demanded. “This boy needs help.”
Charity, you oughta get back away from him,” Ben Scrivens told her from his
place a few feet away, in the front of the crowd. “That fella’s sick with
woman looked down at the boy at her feet. At least, he didn’t appear to be
more than a boy. She knelt by his side and put her hand to his forehead. Ben was
right – he most certainly did have a fever and he shouldn’t be left here on
the ground. He should be in a bed being kept warm and with someone tending him.
checked him over quickly and the only injury that she found was a lump the size
of a goose egg on the side of his head. A soft moan escaped him as she prodded
gently around the swollen area. It was still soft – a new injury and probably
from his fall. The fever had nothing to do with it. And he was certainly sick.
Even that bump on his head probably wasn’t the reason he was still
unconscious. It had been the result of the fall, not the cause.
Blaine looked at the little group of people gathered around the livery. She was
dismayed to see so many of the town’s fine ‘upstanding citizens’ among
them. She had thought that most of them knew better, but it seemed that fear
crosses all barriers.
was, herself, a down to earth woman, nearing forty years of age and wearing it
well. There was only a little gray showing through her plain brown hair, but it
was pulled back into a severe roll at the back of her head and matched the
simple style of her brown skirt and checked shirt.
was usually an easy-going woman, but she did not suffer fools well, and the
people milling around in front of her fit that description to a tee – fools
– every one of them.
got to her feet and turned on them angrily. “This boy needs help – now,”
she insisted, standing up to face them with grim determination.
sent young Tom Carson to fetch Alby Harris. He should be here soon,” the
livery owner told her.
should keep your distance till Alby gets here, Miss Charity,” the man beside
him reminded her, and he was joined by a general murmur of assent.
lost her temper right then and there. “And just what do you think Alby Harris
will be able to do?” she blasted them. “He’s not a doctor. He’s not even
as may be, Miss Charity,” Ben answered defensively. “But he’s the closest
thing we have to one. Can’t be too careful. Fella rides into town and drops
with a fever – could be anything.”
of course it could be anything,” she insisted in angry exasperation.
“That’s why we need to get him somewhere that he can be looked after.”
behind them, a voice called “Let me through!” and the crowd parted to let
Alby pass. He stopped just in front of them and came face to face with Charity
Blaine, standing over the man with her most stubborn expression on her face.
looked from her down to the man lying at her feet.
was young, maybe in his early twenties, Alby figured, and good looking too. He
wore his gun low and he probably had some Mexican blood in him by the look of
him, but none of those things meant anything to Alby. What did matter was that
the man was obviously flushed with a high fever.
oughtn’t ta get too close, Charity,” the man told her. “Could be he’s
got somethin’ catchin’. You don’t wanta get sick too.”
this poor boy needs is a bed and some decent nursing,” she answered adamantly.
moved a little closer to the prone man and leaned over him, but being careful
not to touch him.
noticed the flushed face, and the gleam of perspiration shining on his forehead.
“Burnin’ with a fever,” he noted, ignoring her completely. He looked the
man over more closely and stopped at the young man’s hands. There was a barely
discernable rash of red spots on the upturned wrist of his right hand, and Alby
stood up and stepped back from him.
Alby said, as though that meant some sort of judgment.
on earth are you talking about?” Charity asked in exasperation.
for yourself,” he replied confidently. “On his hand there –spots!”
bent down and confirmed the rash that seemed to have Alby in such a fuss.
what?” she demanded.
looked back at the woman impatiently. The conflict between them was of long
standing. For years, the people of the town had gone to Alby and, before him, to
his late mother, for advice when they were sick or hurt. Alby’s mother had
been a fount of ‘wives’ tales’ and home remedies that really had worked
for the most part, and Alby lived off her reputation. He enjoyed the position
and respect it gave him.
least, that had been the way things were until Charity Blaine had come to live
here a few years ago. She too knew a lot about herbs and remedies, but she had
also done some nursing during the war between the states and she tempered her
medical knowledge against the fables of people like Alby Harris.
had been constantly questioning his work ever since, and Alby didn’t like it
at all. There were more and more of the townsfolk who looked to her for advice
when they were sick or hurt.
sighed, giving her a patronizing look, as though he were dealing with an
amateur. “If there’s spots, it’s catchin’. That’s what my Ma used to
say,” he told her, and the assembled crowd.
d’ya think it is then Alby?” Ben Scrivens asked him anxiously.
frowned and rubbed his chin, considering. “Well, I ain’t sure,” he
admitted slowly. “Could be a lot of things really, but I heard tell that ya
get spots with Typhoid fever.”
crowd murmured nervously and stepped back as one body.
a ridiculous assumption, Alby Harris!” Charity exclaimed. “You have no right
to go frightening these people with that sort of a statement. You’re no more a
doctor than your mother was. You don’t know any such thing.”
Ma knew what she knew!” he threw back at her angrily. “An’ spots is
that doesn’t make it Typhoid!”
get spots with Typhoid – I remember my Ma tellin’ me.”
for heaven’s sake! You get spots with measles as well,” she answered him
furiously. “And any number of illnesses. You can get spots from allergies! It
might not even have anything to do with his being sick. Could be anything.”
an’ things is catchin’ too though, Miss Charity,” Ben called out, stepping
back further away. “Can you tell us for sure that he ain’t got Typhoid, or
one o’ them other catchin’ sicknesses?”
need a real doctor to tell us for sure,” she explained. “Until Dr. Rawlins
gets here from Petersen, we need to get this boy inside.”
the time he gets here, we could all be infected,” Alby told her.
it really doesn’t change anything. We can’t just leave him here. He needs a
bed and some careful nursing.”
how’re you thinkin’ you’ll get him to that bed, Miss Charity? I sure
ain’t touchin’ him,” Scrivens told her bluntly. “An’ I don’t reckon
anyone else will either.”
only need a couple of you men to give me a hand, and we’ll get him back to his
room at the hotel.”
the back of the crowd a voice called out urgently. “Oh no, you won’t!
That’s out of the question. He’s already checked out.”
Charity looked at him questioningly. “You have all those rooms sitting
in front turned around to see the speaker. Oscar Lang, the proprietor of the
hotel across the street, shook his head resolutely.
he can’t stay in my hotel. I’ll already have to clean out that room he
stayed in last night as it is and I will probably have to burn the mattress too.
I can’t afford to have him die in my hotel.”
for business, hey Oscar?” an anonymous voice quipped from behind him, and was
rewarded with a few snickers from the crowd.
turned angrily on the man. “Well, I don’t hear you offering a room at your
house! Why should I be any different? And yes, I do have a business to run, and
I’m not putting my livelihood at risk for his sake.”
flew into a rage. “What’s wrong with you people?” she demanded. “In
common decency we have an obligation to look after this boy.”
obligation I’ve got is to my wife and kids,” Ralph Turner told her
emphatically. “Ain’t no drifter gonna come into town and make them sick.”
crowd agreed with him, and started to get vocal.
right, Miss Charity,” called out another voice from the back. “It’s all
very well for you - you ain’t got family to think of. We gotta take care of
help me get him to my place and I’ll tend to him myself,” she suggested
don’t know, Miss Charity,” Ralph Turner answered loudly. “I don’t think
he should be in town at all. I mean, if you got sick, and then someone else got
sick from you. Where would it end? We’ll be no better off.”
say that Typhoid spreads awful fast,” Ben Scrivens added morosely.
it could wipe out the whole town!” Oscar Lang called out angrily from behind
got women and kids to think about,” yelled another anonymous voice from the
indifference towards the man enraged Charity beyond measure, but she began to
see that she wouldn’t get through to them. They were frightened – panicking
- and frightened men turned on whoever was handy. It was their own good luck
that the sick man was an outsider, and not one of their own.
made their decision easier to make. He was a stranger, and a threat.
don’t even know that he has Typhoid in the first place,” she persisted.
“It could be anything.”
maybe what he’s got is worse,” Oscar shouted. “Can you tell us that he
hasn’t got some disease that could spread through this town and kill everyone?
Can you tell us that Charity?”
shook her head sadly. She was completely disillusioned by the people she had
considered her friends, and good Christian folks.
young man sighed and moved his head a little to one side, and the gathered crowd
stepped back a little further.
you know I can’t. No more than Alby here can tell you that the boy has
Typhoid. We don’t know what’s wrong with him.” She looked around at them
disapprovingly. “Don’t you see? He needs a doctor, and he needs tending. If
you leave him like this – it’s as good as murder.”
not fair, Charity,” Alby answered coldly. “An’ you know it. These folks do
have their families to think of. You don’t wanta see little kids sick with
this do you?”
just ain’t worth the risk,” came a voice of finality from the crowd, and she
knew she wasn’t going to convince them. In their warped way, they were right.
She couldn’t put the children at risk either.
young man on the ground, unconsciously causing all the fuss, began to stir. He
moved his head again and frowned, and then he tried to roll onto his side.
knelt by his side, took his hand in hers to soothe him and he relaxed again. She
looked from the young man to Alby Harris, who was still standing over him.
was steel in her voice when she spoke.
don’t care what they say, Alby,” she told him firmly. “We can’t just let
have to think of the town first, Charity,” he answered, pleading with her.
“You must see that it ain’t fair to take chances with the folks in town –
not for an outsider we don’t even know. He’s just a drifter.”
he doesn’t matter?” she cried out. “Alby Harris, he’s a human being. We
can’t just leave him to die without trying to help.”
I don’t see what we can do!”
your mother would be so proud of you Alby,” she hissed at him.
looked furiously at her, but said nothing.
Alby’s right, Miss Charity,” Ben told her. “We can’t have him near our
looked down sadly at the sick man lying beside her. She ran her fingers gently
through his hair and put her hand to his forehead. He was burning up, and he
needed help quickly if he was going to survive.
she wasn’t going to let him down.
Harris watched her and came to a decision. Her words rang in his ears. What
would his mother have done?
a wagon harnessed Ben,” Alby ordered finally.
for?” the man asked.
got me an idea,” he told the man. “Just get the wagon. Oscar, you go get a
mattress and pillows an’ blankets from the hotel. An’ anything else you can
think of to last a few days.”
turned back to the crowd and spotted Ralph Turner. “Ralph, you go get some
supplies from the store. Charity will tell you what she’ll need.”
have you got in mind?” Charity asked him coldly.
can’t have him in town, Charity,” he told her. “You gotta see that. But if
you’re so all fired sure you wanta do this, then we can move him out to the
old Andrews place. It’s far enough from town that we ain’t puttin’ no one
at risk, an’ you can nurse him best as you can.”
mean ‘quarantine’ him?” she answered. “Alby, that’s all very well, but
that Andrews place was abandoned years ago. It’s filthy, and it’s falling
apart. The draughts in that place would kill him in no time. Surely, you can’t
it or leave it, Miss Charity,” Ben Scrivens insisted boldly.
woman sighed heavily. She couldn’t let the boy down, and she didn’t appear
to have much choice. It was better than nothing.
right then,” she relented at last. “But you have to send to Petersen for Dr.
Rawlins. This boy needs a doctor, and if he is contagious, we might all need him
before this is over.”
get him, Miss Charity,” Ben replied determinedly. “An’ we’ll get
whatever supplies you want.”
it then,” she told them coldly, and then turned her attention to the crowd.
“And may God have mercy on you all.”
the resultant whispering, Ben Scrivens came forward and passed by her without
another word. He went into the barn to get the wagon harnessed for her. All the
while, the image of his eleven year old son holding the arm of the stricken
stranger played over and over in his mind. He hadn’t told anyone that his son
had been that close to him.
boy Pete was as healthy as a horse. He wasn’t going to get sick. He was sure
of it, but a twinge of fear that it could happen lay in the depths of his brain.
He’d sent all three of the boys home, out of the way. They shouldn’t be
exposed to the stranger any more than they had been already, but he’d have to
tell their parents about it. They had to be awake to any signs of sickness in
turned back to have another look at the woman kneeling on the ground beside the
sick man, and he cursed the luck that had brought the man to their town.
she called out to the hotel proprietor as he slowly turned away to get the
things she would need from the hotel. He begrudged them to her because he knew
that he would never get them back. They would have to be burned when the man
died. That was certain, so he was throwing away good money in doing this.
frowned morosely as he heard his name called. “Yes,” he answered coolly.
was signed into the hotel last night, wasn’t he?” she asked.
he was,” Oscar replied curiously.
is his name then?”
looked uncomfortable for a moment and lingered, looking down at the man who had
been his only paying customer in weeks, before answering.
name is Lancer, Johnny Lancer,” he told her at last, turning his back on the
stranger who suddenly seemed more human now that he had a name.
looked back down at Johnny. He looked so young – so helpless. His head was
moving restlessly from side to side and a frown creased his brow. He was still
unconscious, but he was all too obviously in pain.
Johnny Lancer,” she whispered to him softly. “I guess it’s just you and me
felt his forehead once more, and she was sure that the fever had gained ground
even in the short time since she had last done it. A silent tear for him escaped
and rolled down her cheek. It was a pure shame to be so alone while he was
fighting to stay in this world. It wasn’t fair.
do what I can for you,” she said quietly. “I just hope I’m good enough.”
will you look at that?” Charity Blaine said to herself in frustration. She
hadn’t really expected much more but had hoped for a miracle.
hadn’t gotten one.
drew the wagon to a halt outside Bill Andrews’ abandoned cabin. She eyed it
critically and found it distinctly wanting.
had picked up and walked out two years ago and no one had lived there since. The
house was all that remained of one man’s dreams of striking it rich. He’d
built his cabin and staked his claim, and then he had tried for two whole years
to find himself a treasure in the stream that ran by the house.
after finding only those few early traces of ‘color’ that had set him to
thinking of great riches and a life of ease, there had been nothing but
disappointment. He hadn’t even found enough to live on, and eventually he had
packed up and left without a word to anyone, following his dreams somewhere
place was a mess.
It was overgrown with weeds and long grass, and the shutters were hanging
off the windows, although at least there was still glass in those filthy windows
and the front door was still in place.
was no way of telling if the roof was intact yet. It looked all right from the
ground, but she hoped that the weather would hold and she wouldn’t have to
find out if it leaked.
sighed heavily and dreaded what she’d find inside. If the outside was any
indication, and she figured pessimistically that it was, then the inside was
going to be daunting.
Charity, you better take a look and see how bad it is in there! Sitting here
looking at it isn’t doing you any good,” she said to herself. “There’s
work to be done and it won’t do itself.”
pulled hard on the brake and tied off the reins, and then she clambered down to
the ground, resolutely hitching her skirt up out of the way and disregarding the
presence of the two men riding behind. Her days of caring what folks thought of
her were long past.
looked into the back of the wagon where Johnny laid, wrapped in a blanket now
and wedged in with the supplies she had brought with her from town. Once she had
rolled him onto the blanket, Alby and Ben had been prepared to help lift him
into the wagon, all the while being very careful not to touch him.
known these people for years, but fear had turned them into strangers. She felt
like she had never really known them at all. It grieved her that people who had
been good kind neighbors were turning their backs, not only on the young
stranger who lay sick in her wagon, but on her as well. By helping him, she had
found that they were prepared to cast her out and force her to fend for herself,
and for him.
hadn’t come round at all during her battle to get him into the wagon.
There’d been some times when she had thought he might. His eyelids had
fluttered briefly on occasion, and an intermittent groan had escaped him, but
that crack on the head had knocked him out cold and he had remained unconscious
throughout the ordeal of the journey.
had stopped and picked up supplies from home on her way out of town – her
herbs and remedies - as well as accepting the things that the hotel and the
store had handed over to her, albeit grudgingly.
was a clean mattress rolled up with some pillows and some spare blankets,
‘courtesy’ of Oscar Lang, along with a couple of lamps and some linen to
spare. They had provided plenty of supplies from the general store, and Charity
had the feeling that they were assuaging their guilt by being so ‘generous’
meant very little in the end. She would have preferred their help instead.
checked that Johnny was still unconscious in the back of the wagon before
turning to go take a look at the inside of the cabin. She studiously ignored the
two mounted men behind the wagon who had provided an escort for her.
sure you wanna do this, Miss Charity?” Ben asked her as she turned away.
know we can’t let you back in town while you’re around him,” Alby added.
spun around to face them, her eyes blazing angrily. “I know what I’m
doing,” she told them.
ain’t so sure, Charity,” Alby said gruffly. “What’re ya gonna do if you
catch what he’s got?”
temper snapped and she put her hands on her hips and glared at him.
if I get sick too, at least you won’t have to go to the trouble of bringing me
out here to die, will you?”
come on Miss Charity,” Ben whined. “That ain’t fair.”
stared at them in disgust. “Don’t you talk to me about fair, Ben Scrivens,”
she said coldly.
gotta think of our families. We told you that.”
I’ve heard it all, Ben.” She glowered at him. “Now, if you aren’t going
to help me, then get yourselves out of my sight.”
silence, and the fact that they made no move to dismount, made it obvious that
they had no intention of helping her. So she added, before turning away again,
“And you get that doctor from Petersen. Lord knows this boy is sick enough,
but we might all need the doctor before this is over.”
Miss Charity,” Ben assured her. “We’ll get him.”
what if I need anything? How can I get word to you if you won’t let me in
looked uneasily at Ben and then looked back to her. “We’re plannin’ on
putting a man out here to watch things Miss Charity. You just give him the
that right, Alby?” she asked him sarcastically. “You mean to make sure we
don’t go sneaking off and spreading your precious ‘epidemic’ don’t
to be done, Charity,” he told her sheepishly.
gave them both a black look and told them, “There’s nothing in this that
‘has to be done’ Alby. You have no idea what’s wrong with that young man,
and you have these people frightened half to death. I hope the good Lord finds
forgiveness for you Alby.”
two men looked at each other, unsure of themselves, but then they turned their
horses around and headed back to town, leaving her alone with her charge.
looked him over one last time and then headed for the house. As she put her foot
on the raised board that represented a step and then onto the little porch, she
was grateful that she didn’t fall through the boards. Maybe Bill Andrews had
been a better builder than he had been a miner.
pushed the door open carefully and it creaked an eerie protest as it moved. The
sound must have frightened something in there, because she heard the patter of
sharp claws as something skittered across the room.
inside quickly, she sighed again. It was just as bad as she had expected. There
was a thick layer of dust on everything, even on the cobwebs, thick and aged,
that decorated the furniture and the corners of the room.
that vermin were using the place as their own was everywhere. Tiny pellets of
faeces littered the floor and made it difficult to find a place to set her foot.
The cockroaches were bolder than the creature that had dashed into hiding on her
approach. They didn’t even try to hide from her.
was a stench in the room that turned her stomach over and the leg of one of the
stools in the room had been savagely gnawed by something, reinforcing the idea
that there must be rats in residence. Well, they were going to have to pack up
and move out!
his disgust, Andrews had left just about everything behind him. There was a
rough-hewn table and two chairs with a couple of stools. If he had expected to
have company, living out here, he had put the cabin in the wrong place, but he
had obviously been prepared just the same. He had left a pot bellied stove in
the middle of the room. There was a bench in the kitchen and a small larder.
hoped he had at least emptied that before walking out, but probably not and that
would be what had first attracted the vermin.
built a small room off to the side where he had put his cot. It was still there,
and so was the mattress he had used. The dust of two years had settled on it and
on everything else.
was no way she could bring Johnny in here yet.
going back outside, she went back to the kitchen and looked around. Finally, she
found what she wanted. She picked up the broom and headed back to the doorway,
looking out to see that Johnny was still safely unconscious in the back of the
she turned back and took a deep breath. “No use putting it off, Charity,”
she said aloud. There was no one to hear her, and, she hoped, no thing either.
She knew there were rats in here. Lord only knew what else as well.
first priority was that bedroom. She hoisted the filthy mattress over her
shoulder and took it out to the porch. She’d have to give it a good switching
later, and then she could use it herself. She’d replace it with that clean one
in the wagon for Johnny.
took a good hour to clean out that room, and she had stopped intermittently to
check on her charge outside. He’d been restless the last time she had looked
at him, about ten minutes ago, and she had stepped up the pace so that she could
bring him inside before finishing up the rest of the place.
got back to the wagon just in time. A groan, louder than before, greeted her as
she got to the doorway and she hurried back and climbed up beside him, just in
time to come face to face with a pair of dark and, surprisingly, blue eyes.
those eyes registered confusion on a vast level.
am I?” he asked shakily. “Who are you?”
smiled gently at him. “My name is Charity Blaine,” she told him. “Just
take it easy. You’re not very well, and you took a fall. You just rest for
brought you somewhere so that I can look after you,” she explained to him
briefly. “ Your name - it’s Johnny isn’t it?”
nodded and the small action brought on a shaft of pain that hit him like a
bullet to the brain. He closed his eyes and put his hand up to his head as if
holding it would make it go away.
listen to me,” she urged him softly. “I have to finish straightening up
inside before I get you to bed. Are you all right here until I come back for
turned his head to face her, but he frowned in confusion before he answered.
“Guess so,” was all he eventually said.
boy,” she said with a smile to reassure him. “You take it nice and easy here
boy, and I’ll be right back.”
wasn’t sure he understood what she had said, or even if he had heard her as he
closed his eyes and sighed softly. He had lost consciousness again.
dragged out the mattress and hefted it over her shoulder, and then picked up one
of the pillows and edged out of the back of the wagon.
“Johnny, can you hear me?” he heard a gentle voice saying from somewhere, a
long way off.
forced his eyes open and the glare of the sunlight above him hit him hard. He
squinted against it and his head roared with that small movement.
moaned softly and turned his head in the direction that he thought the voice was
the voice repeated. It was a woman’s voice – but that was all he knew. He
didn’t recognize it. It sure wasn’t Teresa and she didn’t have Maria’s
heavy Mexican accent.
struggled through the thick fog in his head and blinked to clear his sight.
you hear me Johnny?” she asked again. It was a pleasant voice, and she sounded
concerned about him.
he finally managed to answer. His eyesight was clearing a little and her face
began to take form in front of him. Even blurred, he was sure he didn’t know
boy Johnny,” the woman said with a smile. She had a nice smile. It was about
all he noticed at the moment. He couldn’t make out her features yet and he
concentrated on what she was saying. Her voice seemed to fade every now and
then. “I need you to help me to get you into the house.”
Johnny asked. It didn’t make sense. Was he at Lancer? If he was, he sure
didn’t remember getting there and who the hell was she?
right Johnny,” she told him firmly. “It’s time to go inside. Can you stand
if I help you?”
laughed at the idea and then stopped. It had sounded a lot like hysteria and it
worried him. Stand? How did she think he was going to be able to do that when
there wasn’t a nerve in his body that would obey his commands right now?
he could answer though, he felt her arm slide under his back and heave him
forward. As he came up, she wrapped her other arm around his chest so that he
wouldn’t fall forward. He was grateful to her for that. It would have been
on, boy,” the woman urged him, her voice echoing the strain of supporting his
weight. “You’re going to have to help me a little bit.”
Johnny threw his right hand out and grabbed the closest thing he could reach to
keep himself upright. It happened to be the side of the wagon, though he
hadn’t realized that he was even in one. He gripped it hard, as though his
life depended on it.
good, Johnny,” she said encouragingly and she stopped to give him a moment to
catch his breath. “You’re doing just fine.”
was just as well that she did because Johnny’s world was spinning crazily. He
clamped his hand on the side of that wagon so hard that his knuckles turned
white and he held on until the dizziness gradually came to a stop. His head felt
heavy on his shoulders, but his mind was floating in some sort of light-headed
haze that bewildered him.
could feel the woman’s arms holding him steady and he wondered what would
happen if she let go.
had no idea what was wrong with him, but he sure felt lousy.
His body ached all over, and he was hot and shaky. He recognized the
signs of a fever, and wondered where it had come from.
head hurt like hell, and his left shoulder screamed when he moved it. Had he
been shot? Damn, he didn’t know! He just couldn’t remember anything.
you ready to try standing up, Johnny?” the woman asked him softly.
smiled and slowly turned to face her. “Lady, I ain’t sure of anything right
now,” he told her sardonically. “An’ you can count standin’ right at the
top o’ the list!”
smiled in return and released him from her support. He managed to stay upright,
much to his surprise and her satisfaction.
edged out of the wagon and climbed down to the ground to stand in front of him.
was pleased that he didn’t fall on his face without her arms to hold him up.
That would have been awkward to say the least. But getting out of the wagon bed,
now that was another thing altogether.
Johnny boy, you’re not gettin’ nowhere just sitting here,’
he told himself and eased himself forward to the edge. The movement brought a
lance of pain to his shoulder and he wondered again what he had done to it.
took a breath and fought back the pain. Then he lowered his feet to the ground,
and stood up, swayed, and grasped the hand that Charity offered him quickly.
put her arm around his waist to steady him further and waited for him to find
you are, Johnny,” she said soothingly and not without a little pride in her
voice. “I knew you could do it.”
looked at him and didn’t like what she saw. He was white as a sheet and
covered in perspiration. He shouldn’t be on his feet, but she had no choice.
She had to get him inside before he collapsed, and she had a feeling he was
close to it already.
with me,” she urged him calmly. “It’s not far.”
watched him make the effort to move his feet and he started to walk, with her
support, unsteadily towards the house. She directed him gently towards the door
and stopped him as they reached the step.
a step here,” she warned him, and he looked down and focused on putting his
foot on it firmly and stepping up.
took more out of him than she would have liked, and he stood on the little
porch, swaying terribly, but staying on his feet. The boy had guts - that was
gripped him tighter and wrapped her other arm around his chest until he regained
there, Johnny,” she assured him, though she wasn’t sure how much further he
turned a pair of confused eyes on her, and she smiled again at him. “You’re
doing great. Do you think you can make it the rest of the way?”
c’n make it,” he told her firmly, and with a slight edge to his voice. She
had the feeling that he hated relying on her for help. Most men just naturally
did, in her experience, but this young man’s face told her that he truly
to hear it,” she replied, ignoring the tone of his answer as she released her
arm from his chest. “Come on then, let’s get you inside and off your
the time she got him into the bedroom and sitting on the side of the bed, he was
panting and sweating profusely. She let him sit there for a while to get his
bearings. She understood how bewildered he must be.
sat on the edge of the cot, holding his head in his hands, for some time. When
he looked up at her at last, he had regained some of his color, but his
confusion was obvious.
are you lady?” he asked her at last. “Where the devil am I an’ what am I
thing at a time, boy,” she answered him calmly. “Like I said, my name is
Charity – Charity Blaine. You’re sick and I intend to get you well, even if
you’re not inclined to help me.”
laughed a little. “Lady, you don’t need to tell me I ain’t well!” he
told her coldly. “What happened? My head feels like hell.”
that’s what happens when you fall on it.” She grinned at him. “It
doesn’t pay to try mounting your horse when you’re not up to it.”
looked up at her in surprise. “You sayin’ I fell off my horse?”
does that embarrass you?” she asked him ironically. “I’m sure you sit a
horse very well, young man, but not when you’re running a fever. Now, I think
you should get out of those heavy clothes and into bed. Do you need a hand?”
he snapped back at her.
caught a touch of anger in his reaction and laughed. “So you have a temper, do
you?” she teased him. “And I’ll wager you’re a dangerous man to cross
too. Well, you don’t frighten me one bit right now, young man. So just you get
those clothes off and get into that bed, or I’ll strip you myself.”
Madrid Lancer was not accustomed to being spoken to in that way by unknown
females. Forgetting his condition for a moment, he jumped to his feet, and
immediately found himself paying the penalty.
threw his hand out to grab hold of something – anything – to keep from
falling flat on his face. The fact of the matter was that the room was
practically bare and the only thing to keep him from crashing to the floor was
Charity herself. She caught him quickly as he started to sag at the knees.
him back onto the bed, Charity steadied him and then let him go.
glad to see that you have some fight in you,” she told him seriously. “But
save it for the fever instead of me. I’m here to help.”
waited for the room to stop spinning before he answered her. He didn’t look up
at her, looking instead at his hands – they were shaking.
sorry, ma’am,” he said awkwardly. “I guess you mean well, but I can’t
stay here. I have to get to Petersen. I’ll rest up a little and then be on my
she answered kindly, and with no smile this time. “You’re in no condition to
get to Petersen even in the back of that wagon. If you had been, I would have
taken you there instead of here.”
c’n make it. Just need to rest up a bit first.”
sat down on the bed beside him and put her hand to his forehead. The fever had
risen a little. His cheeks were flushed with color and his eyes were gleaming,
and there was a sheen of sweat on his skin that didn’t leave any doubt in her
listen to me. Whatever the reason you have to be in Petersen, it will have to
wait. You’re sick, boy, and you’re stuck here for now. I’ve sent for the
doctor there and he’ll probably be here by tonight. Then we can get you well
and you can be on your way again.”
shook his head slowly. “No. I’m already late. Can’t afford to wait.”
words seemed to be starting to slur and she knew that he was in desperate need
of some rest.
sighed. “Then rest for a while,” she suggested, knowing full well that he
wouldn’t be likely to be able to get up again for some time. “Then we’ll
looked over at her, and that confusion was back in his eyes. “I don’t even
know where I am,” he told her and there was unexpected anguish in his words
that went straight to her heart.
in a house on the outskirts of Thompson’s Strike. The good people there
thought it best that whatever you’re suffering from was kept away from their
women and children. I’m here because you need someone to look after you for a
frowned at him and asked, “Why what?”
are you here? I don’t know you an’ you don’t owe me nothin’.”
I suppose I just had nothing better to do,” she replied with a smile. “Now
you get yourself into that bed while I get this place tidied up some. Do you
sighed heavily and didn’t look up when he answered her. “Yes ma’am.”
I’ll be back in a few minutes, or you can yell if you need a hand,” she told
him and stood up. She headed for the door and looked back for an instant to find
that he was undoing the buttons on his shirt, though slowly and unwillingly.
was a fine, strong looking young man and he looked fit enough to fight off
whatever was laying him low, but she wondered at his question.
– that was what he had wanted to know above all the other questions he might
have asked. Charity had the impression that he was unused to people putting
themselves out for him. What kind of a life had the boy lived that he had no
faith in strangers like that?
turned back and went out of the room and began the horrendous task of cleaning
the cabin, but all the while, one thought kept coming to her and she felt a
throb of sadness.
had asked her “Why?”
you seen my son Johnny come in yet, Fred?” Murdoch asked the hotel clerk,
hesitating as he put his foot on the staircase on his way up to his room. Scott
was just ahead of him and stopped to hear the answer.
Mr. Lancer, I haven’t seen him,” the man answered. “Of course, he could
have gone straight up without my seeing him, Sir. I haven’t been at the desk
glanced back to see how his father reacted to the news. They had been expecting
Johnny for most of the day, but he hadn’t shown up yet, and Murdoch was a
stickler for punctuality.
temper had been getting shorter by the day since Johnny had left. His patience
had been sorely tried by his dealings with Jeff Conroy. The man had stretched
even Scott’s renowned patience almost beyond breaking point, so it was just as
well that Johnny had not been there. But it had paid off in the end. They had
finally forced Conroy to recognize and stand by his original agreement.
now they were ready, and eager, to go home, and waiting for Johnny was
least it had been this morning, and even this afternoon. But now there was a
niggling fear beginning to creep into Scott’s mind. He hadn’t voiced his
unease to Murdoch yet, so he wanted to see how Murdoch reacted to the news that
his younger son had still not arrived.
thanks anyway, Fred,” Murdoch answered the clerk dispassionately. “If you
see him come in, you can tell him we’ll be in the diner in an hour or so.”
was disappointed. Murdoch Lancer was a hard man to read sometimes and his face
remained passive as he heard the clerk’s answer.
turned and continued up the staircase. He heard Murdoch’s heavy tread close
behind him, so he didn’t have to look around to know he was there.
rooms in the hotel were comfortable enough for their needs, but they were small,
so they had a room each. As he passed Johnny’s room, still being held for him,
Scott stopped to try the door. Perhaps Johnny had slipped by unnoticed and was
lying on his bed asleep right now.
the door was still locked. Scott sighed. Johnny was obviously still not back
heard Murdoch open the door to his own room across the hall and turned back to
meet you in the diner for supper,” Murdoch told him calmly as he stood at the
sir,” Scott replied, moving past Johnny’s room to his own and unlocking it.
He hesitated before going in. Without turning back to face his father, but
knowing that he was still there and listening, Scott broached the subject with
should have been back by now,” Scott said anxiously.
not that late, Scott,” Murdoch answered gruffly. “Don’t make an issue out
of it yet.”
turned around to face him. “It’s been four days now, and you know as well as
I do that it was only supposed to be a three day trip.”
know, but he might have stayed with Toby longer than he planned. Toby’s an
ornery old cuss, but he’s a hospitable one. He might have pressed Johnny to
visit for a while.”
glimmer of hope dawned on Scott. “Maybe the old man has a daughter,” he said
with a wry smile.
smiled back. “As a matter of fact he does,” he told him. “But she’d be
close to ten years older than Johnny and I seriously doubt that she’s your
sighed heavily, his hopes dashed. “I don’t like the alternative, Murdoch.”
could be any number of reasons for his being late. Barranca could have thrown a
shoe. It might be as simple as that. Trouble doesn’t have to be the
you have been considering the possibility,” Scott surmised.
was Murdoch’s turn to sigh. “Of course I’ve considered the possibility,”
he said uneasily. “This is Johnny we’re talking about here.”
Lancer was well aware that where his younger son went, trouble usually followed.
It wasn’t even always his past catching up with him either. If he were the
fishing type, Johnny would just naturally find the only snag in the creek. It
was the way the cards seemed to fall for him.
shook his head in exasperation and then added, “No, it’s too soon to
icy gleam appeared in Scott’s eyes. “Well, just how long should we wait
before we do start to worry? Is there some sort of regulation time allotted?”
was a little surprised by the attack. “Scott, it’s an easy trip and he’s
probably just enjoying being on his own for a while. You know he was feeling
cramped sitting around here. Now, cool off and I’ll meet you downstairs in an
ended the conversation, turned and went into his hotel room, closing the door
behind him and leaving Scott out in the hallway with an angry scowl on his face.
Murdoch had a habit of just ending conversations that way, and sometimes, like
now, Scott was aggravated by it. He had more to say on the matter, but Murdoch
had cut him off cold.
were times when Scott would have liked to take Murdoch Lancer by the collar and
shake some sense into him.
went into his room feeling frustrated and more that a little bit worried,
despite his father’s reassurances. His younger brother had a way of getting
into trouble so easily that even though he was overdue by less than a day, Scott
had to be concerned.
were men out there who had grudges against Johnny Madrid, if not Johnny Lancer,
and even without that possibility, there was a host of things that could have
by the time he met his father for supper, he’d made up his mind on a plan of
no sooner sat down than he told Murdoch his plans for finding his brother.
heading off to Toby Roberts’ place at first light,” he told him firmly,
expecting an immediate argument from his father.
Murdoch didn’t seem to have heard him. He casually called over a waiter and
ordered steaks for the both of them without so much as a glance in Scott’s
you hear what I said?” Scott asked him irritably.
ordered their meals, Murdoch turned back and eyed his son stonily before finally
Scott, I heard you.”
patience was at an end and his temper flared. “I’m not asking for your
good, because I won’t give it. Johnny will probably ride into town just as you
ride out,” his father told him bluntly. “And where will that get you?”
I’ll pass him on the way. Problem solved.”
shook his head in aggravation. “We don’t even know that there is a
problem,” he insisted.
how long do you want to sit around waiting before we decide there is one?”
Scott, when I hear back from Toby…”
Scott exclaimed. “What do you mean?”
wired him this afternoon, but…”
what?” Scott cast him a furious look. “I thought you weren’t worried about
Johnny. Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?”
pity’s sake Scott. I never once said that I wasn’t worried about him,”
Murdoch fired back angrily. “I know Johnny just as well as you do, and I know
that he can find trouble in the unlikeliest places. But I do not want to have to
worry about you too. I want you to stay right here with me until your brother
turns up. Is that clear?”
dug his heels in stubbornly. “Not if it means sitting around here while Johnny
could be in who knows what kind of trouble.”
have no intention of ‘sitting around’ doing nothing, but I’m not heading
off on some wild goose chase,” Murdoch insisted. “Toby’s a long way from
the nearest town and they’ll have to get that wire to him and then get his
reply. So it might be tomorrow before we hear back from him. But I want to know
that your brother got there safely and when he left If he did, then that’s a
lot of territory we won’t have to cover.”
didn’t you say anything about this wire earlier?”
didn’t see any reason to.”
didn’t…?” Scott gasped in exasperation.
like I have said repeatedly, we really don’t know if Johnny’s in trouble,
Scott. And if he is hurt, then he might even be laid up at Toby’s place for
all we know.”
he could just be having some fun somewhere. Maybe found himself a pretty girl or
a poker game. That’s what you’re thinking isn’t it? You just don’t trust
him to do the right thing.”
Scott!” Murdoch shouted, thumping the small table loudly. He suddenly realized
that he was not at Lancer and was attracting embarrassing attention, so he
hurriedly lowered his voice, leaning closer across the table to Scott.
not what I’m thinking at all. I just want to wait until we hear from Toby
before we go riding off looking for him. If we have to ride all the way up
there, we might be wasting valuable time.”
leaned his elbows on the table and ran his hands over his face and through his
hair as he considered everything his father had said. He knew that he was right
about a lot of it, and he had even made an attempt to locate Johnny already. But
he couldn’t shake that niggling fear.
he looked over at Murdoch. “I know what you’re saying makes sense, Murdoch,
but I can’t help thinking that something is wrong. I’ve got a bad feeling
had been busy about the cabin. She spent an hour cleaning, scrubbing and
dusting. She’d spent some time forcing the heavily resistant windows open to
let some air into the room. She fought those windows gamely, cursing them under
her breath in language that would have made her poor father’s eyes roll back
in his head, but she’d been determined to be rid of some of that fetid stench
that she found so nauseating.
nauseating had not even begun to describe the ordeal of cleaning out the remains
of food that she had found in the larder. She’d had to force herself to clean
that out. Even her strong stomach had revolted at the mess she had found.
wonder the vermin had found the cabin so comfortable. A warm place to nest, with
an adequate supply of food as well – it was the perfect place to settle in
without fear of being disturbed.
found mouse nests on the bottom shelf, thankfully vacant, and had gotten rid of
them quickly and efficiently. She had swept the floor diligently, getting rid of
the dust, dirt and excrement that littered the place.
she had fetched water from the stream and scrubbed the top of the table and the
benches and set the fire in the stove to heat water so that she could clean that
given Johnny plenty of time to undress and climb into bed. He hadn’t wanted
her help, though he had probably needed it. But she had the feeling that that
young man wanted his privacy.
washed up a little and then poked her head around the doorway to find that
Johnny was apparently asleep under a blanket on the cot. She tiptoed in and
picked up his discarded shirt and pants and put them on the end of the bed.
glance back at him showed her that she had been wrong in assuming that he was
sleeping. He turned his head towards her as he heard her moving around the room.
Those dark blue eyes of his shone with fever and his hair was damp and appeared
glued around his face.
down gently on the side of the bed, she put her hand lightly on his forehead.
The fever was still rising. It’s going to be a long night, she told
herself as she pushed the hair away from his eyes.
moved a little, trying to get comfortable in a bed that was hopelessly
uncomfortable, and he winced sharply.
let me look at you,” Charity told him and pulled the blanket down a little. He
didn’t try to stop her. His left shoulder was a mass of blackening bruises.
She carefully prodded and poked around until she was sure there was nothing
broken. It was a relief to find that his collarbone was not broken and that
there was no dislocation of the bone at the shoulder. He was lucky to have
gotten away with the severe bruising.
felt the lump on the left side of his head and found that it had stopped growing
bigger and had hardened. She satisfied herself that it too concealed nothing
more serious than a possible concussion.
nothing seems to be broken,” she told him seriously. “But that shoulder is
black and blue, son. You probably got that and the lump on your skull when you
fell off that horse of yours.”
had stoically bitten his lower lip and held back from groaning throughout her
examination. He knew that she was trying to help, but she’d found some tender
spots to jab before she’d finished.
said nothing, watching her face as she pulled the blanket down further past his
chest and arms and checked his breathing and his pulse.
studied her face. She wasn’t a young woman. He guessed maybe about forty, but
her skin was still soft and supple, with only a few lines at the corners of her
eyes and mouth that hinted at a happy outlook on life. Her brown eyes were large
and round and expressive. He figured she might be a handsome woman if she let
that tied up hair of hers loose.
exuded confidence and assurance so that he felt comfortable with her despite
knowing nothing about her.
still couldn’t quite grasp how she came to be here with him. He was sure
he’d never run into her before. Yet, here she was, fussing over him and
determined to see him through whatever was ailing him – and on her own
apparently. He didn’t understand why they were in this cabin and all alone.
did remember that he’d been in town when he passed out. He could remember
saddling Barranca at the livery, but things got blurry after that. But he had
been in town then, and he didn’t seem to be now.
where are we?” he asked her at last.
cabin just outside town,” she explained very briefly, hoping he wouldn’t ask
looked at the bare essentials in the room and came to an easy conclusion. “It
ain’t your cabin. Whose is it?”
used to belong to a prospector,” she told him. “He walked off the claim a
couple of years ago.”
why’re we here then?”
sighed heavily. She had hoped not to have to answer that question.
you have a fever, and you’re a stranger in town. The townsfolk were worried
you might have something contagious, so we brought you out here.”
he got it. He’d seen that sort of panic in towns over the years. He didn’t
really blame them. There were probably women and children to think of.
fair,” he said quietly. “Wouldn’t want anyone else catching this.”
own thoughts on that subject she kept strictly to herself, but she admired the
way that he accepted their behavior. In fact, it put him a class above them in
come you’re here?” he asked her.
we couldn’t leave you here on your own, could we? Someone has to look after
you got elected huh?”
held his wrist gently and counted off the beats to check his pulse.
done this before,” he said quietly to her, watching her expertly check him
lots of times,” she answered him with a smile.
stood up and Johnny’s eyes followed her out of the room. She returned a minute
later with a canteen, a bowl and towel, and a chair. She put the chair down by
the bed, but she didn’t sit on it. Instead she set the bowl and towel on it
and then unscrewed the lid of the canteen and offered it to him.
eased himself up onto one elbow and accepted the canteen eagerly. He took a
couple of quick swallows that eased his parched throat considerably before she
put her hand on it and gently eased it back from him.
too much or too quickly,” she advised him and he nodded silently, and then
took another swallow before handing it back to her.
he said quietly and laid back down in exhaustion, a frown on his face all he
allowed to show the pain he concealed. Not only his shoulder hurt. He hurt all
over, worse than he had when he got up this morning.
His muscles seemed to protest even the slightest movement he made. The
simple act of moving his leg resulted in screaming pain.
watched her pour some of the water into the bowl and dip the towel into it, then
closed his eyes as the cool damp towel touched his forehead and brought a
measure of relief from the searing heat.
dipped the towel in the water again and wrung it out, and then he felt the
soothingly cool touch as she began wiping down his shoulders, chest and arms.
immense lethargy that he just couldn’t fight left him comfortable with
accepting her ministrations without argument.
stopped for a moment when she reached his hands and she turned them over in
hers, looking at them closely. There were definitely spots there, faint but
distinct. They were on both of his wrists and she was sure that they had spread
infinitesimally since she had first seen them some hours ago at the corral.
presence was the main reason for the reactions of Alby Harris and the rest of
the townspeople. It was fear of the unknown, fed by the reckless diagnosis of a
man who had no more idea of what was wrong with Johnny than she did.
had no idea what those spots meant, and, while she abhorred the town’s
treatment of her young man, she had to wonder if Alby wasn’t right about that.
Whatever the boy was suffering from, it might indeed be contagious.
had no argument with Alby Harris’ plan to quarantine the young man, but to
leave them out here in the middle of nowhere, with nothing and no one to help
her, was just plain wrong.
got any idea what’s wrong with me?” he asked her unexpectedly.
sighed. “Johnny, I’m not a doctor. I can’t say what’s wrong, but the
doctor will be here before you know it, and then you can ask him. Does that
shoulder hurt much?”
first instinct was to deny it, but he figured that that was a waste of time. She
had already seen the damage and wouldn’t believe him anyway.
he found himself telling her bluntly. “My whole body hurts.”
shook his head. “No.”
you were hurting before you passed out?”
did it start, Johnny?”
he answered and heard the quiver in his own voice. He felt his body start to
tremble and he started to feel cold suddenly. Shivering hurt his already
saw it too and she pulled the blanket back over him. He was burning with fever,
but it appeared he was starting to suffer chills with it. She didn’t like
where this was going.
me what you can remember. Did it start with the aches and pains?”
shivered and she tucked the blanket around him tightly. She’d have to get
another blanket to keep him warm through those chills. But first, she had to get
the answers to her questions.
so cold,” he whispered.
feared she was losing his attention. He wasn’t focusing and she wanted to be
able to tell the doctor all she could, just in case he was in no condition to
tell him himself.
know, Johnny,” she whispered back and stroked his forehead soothingly. “I
know this is hard. Try to concentrate and tell me what you can.”
did it start, Johnny?” she persisted.
he whispered wearily. “I remember a headache. The sun… made it worse…
hurt… hurt my eyes…tried to mount Barranca… don’t… don’t remember
Johnny,” she told him encouragingly and patted his undamaged shoulder lightly.
“It’s all right. You’ve told me enough now. I want you to just rest easy.
Do you want some more water?”
shook his head, just a little. The movement still hurt his head. “What’s
wrong with me?”
don’t know, Johnny,” she told him again, quite honestly. “Don’t worry
about what it is. You just concentrate on fighting it. We can beat it without
giving it a name.”
looked into her eyes and smiled weakly. “Boy, I’m glad you’re on my side,
ma’am,” he told her tremulously.
smile and his words went right to her heart. She smiled back at him. “You can
bet on it, boy,” she declared. “Now, when did you last eat? Are you
don’t remember…not hungry…”
a little light broth. You need to keep your strength up.”
don’t think I could keep it down.”
sighed and picked up the canteen. “All right, have some more of this water for
now and I’ll get you something more substantial later. Then we’ll see if you
can keep it down. But you need to try.”
looked away tiredly and she opened the canteen and lifted his head enough to
allow him to drink a little more. Experience told her that it was important to
get as much fluid into him while she could, or risk dehydration from the fever.
accepted the water, but closed his eyes and leaned back tiredly when he had
swallowed only a little. “Just wanna get some sleep for a while. Then I’ll
head off to Petersen when I’ve rested up some.”
lowered his head back onto the pillow and concentrated on putting the lid back
on the canteen.
some rest then,” she told him gently. “But I don’t think you’ll be
riding off to Petersen or anywhere else any time soon.”
to,” he told her determinedly.
Johnny? What’s in Petersen that’s so important?”
Murdoch…” he sighed, finally losing his battle with sleep. He let go and
drifted off into an exhausted slumber.
pulled the blanket tighter around his neck and shoulders, wondering who they
were and why they were so important to him that he would risk his life to get to
put the thought out of her mind and then left him to go and prepare for the
ordeal ahead. It was going to be a difficult night tonight, and she had a lot to
do before it got dark.
brought in another blanket and spread it over him, tucking it tightly around
him, but he didn’t waken. He was sleeping heavily for now, and shivered under
the warmth of the two blankets, while his fever continued to rise.
wondered just how bad this was going to get, as she left him again and set
herself to cleaning up and getting the supplies in out of the wagon.
is going to be a long night!” she told herself again and set about getting
ready for it.
Ben Scrivens and Alby Harris rode back into town that afternoon and found
themselves the center of attention from a large and rowdy crowd of townspeople
that had gathered on the outskirts of town.
the general hubbub of shouting, Alby could scarcely hear their questions and he
certainly couldn’t answer them all at once. From the confusion, he picked out
the most popular question and answered that one.
we left ‘em there. He’s alive but real sick with fever,” he told them
if they try to leave and come back here?” one of the crowd called out, concern
echoing in his voice.
gotta make sure they stay put,” another yelled at them. “We can’t let
‘em come back here till we know it’s safe.”
watched the rising tide of hysteria with dismay. Fear did frightful things to
the good sense of otherwise good people. “They’re not goin’ anywhere,”
he told them firmly. “He’s too sick.”
what about if he dies, Alby? Is Charity Blaine gonna just walk back into town
an’ spread it around?”
not sick,” he answered the voice from the mob.
yet, she ain’t. But she’s just as like to catch it bein’ around him like
that,” someone called out angrily.
she wouldn’t put all of you at risk by comin’ back if she does get sick.”
can’t rely on that, Alby. We gotta make sure of it.”
puttin’ someone out there to make sure they stay put,” he assured them. He
didn’t like where this was going. “There’s nothin’ to worry about.”
give us that Alby!” a voice shouted at him.
time he shook his head angrily. It was all getting out of hand. “What are you
planning to do? Shoot her if she leaves? Don’t be fools! Go home to your
families and let us worry about it. I have everything under control and we’ll
have the doctor here soon to tell us more.”
say we make sure they stay put till it’s safe, no matter how we have to stop
‘em!” the voice shouted again, ignoring everything Alby had said. This time
a swirl of agreement went up around him.
was no arguing with them in their present mood. Alby could see that. Fear was
driving them and reason had flown out the window. The best he could hope for now
was to keep a lid on the situation and hope that they could be swayed when they
came to their senses.
in to their loudest demands now might allow him to influence them in the right
direction later when they calmed down.
the moment, they were thinking like a mob – and they were out of control.
Eventually, two men were sent out to the Andrews place to ‘stand guard’.
They were armed, much to Alby’s and Ben’s horror, but Harris had admonished
them to stay right away from the house. He wasn’t worried that they would go
anywhere near it anyway. Fear would see that they kept their distance. What did
worry him was how they might react if they were confronted. Panic did terrible
things to a man’s common sense.
He had told them firmly to keep their minds on the job, and not to shoot at the
first thing that moved, so he had to leave it at that for now.
that taken care of, and the crowd dispersed and about their business again, Ben
turned to Alby. “You know it’s too late to head for Petersen today, don’t
nodded. He didn’t like it, but he knew that Ben was right. “Be dark by the
time ya got there, Ben. Better to leave in the morning and bring the Doc back
rode slowly beside Harris until they reached the corral outside his livery
stable. As they dismounted, the question that kept burning in his own mind
forced its way out
you got any real idea of how catchin’ this sickness is?” he asked as he
watched Harris get down from his horse.
shook his head dejectedly. “Nope. Dunno for sure. Charity’s right about that
– I ain’t no doctor,” he admitted to the man. “Why?”
did not want anyone to know just how close his own son had gotten to the sick
stranger. The way this town was acting right now, he didn’t know how they
would treat his boy. If they found out that he had actually touched the man,
they might want to quarantine him out there with him even before he showed any
signs of being sick.
didn’t trust even Alby Harris with that information, but he was frantically
worried that his boy would catch it. Lord knows, it could kill a small lad like
Pete in no time, judging by how sick that stranger looked.
just wonderin’,” he answered Harris non-commit tally.
guess we gotta hope that no one got close enough to catch it, Ben. I guess poor
ol’ Oscar must be kinda worried.”
if to reiterate the thought, Oscar Lang approached the corral and called out to
been waiting for you two to come back,” he told them nervously, as though it
was somehow their fault. “Alby, I need to talk to you.”
hurried to their side and stopped breathlessly. “I need to know if I’ve done
all I can with that room he slept in last night. I already burned the mattress
and pillow and all the linen and blankets. Do I need to do more?”
man sounded frightened, which didn’t really surprise Harris or Scrivens. He
was a finicky man at the best of times, and under this sort of strain he was
bound to panic.
to say for sure, Oscar,” Alby told him seriously and calmly. “Why don’t
you just close up the room for now?”
I could I suppose,” the nervous little man admitted reluctantly. “I don’t
want people thinking they’ll get sick if they stay at the hotel. Business is
bad enough as it is.”
doctor will be able to tell you more when he gets here,” Ben suggested
Lang asked blankly. “You’re sending for the doctor?”
of course we are,” Ben answered in some surprise.
face took on a horrified expression. “Alby, I don’t know that that’s such
a good idea.”
and Ben were both stunned by his reaction. “We have to get a doctor in,
we don’t want people thinking we have some sort of epidemic here. Why, it’ll
be all over Petersen before you can say Jack Robinson!”
you suggestin’ that we just let him die?” Ben asked in disgust.
hotel owner stopped and looked hurt. “Why of course not, Ben!” he told him,
sounding shocked to the bones. “I’m sure that Charity Blaine is as good as
any doctor in this situation. There’s no cure for Typhoid fever anyway, is
don’t know for sure,” Alby replied.
what good would the doctor be anyway? It will only give the town a bad
reputation and that would be disastrous for business. Why, it’s bad enough as
it’s likely to get worse, Oscar,” Ben said angrily. With thoughts of his own
son uppermost in his mind, he added, “What if someone from town catches it?
You could catch it yourself. Should we call the doctor then?”
the little man exclaimed in horror. “I never touched him. Why should I catch
touched the mattress an’ stuff, didn’t you?” Ben told him, ramming home
the point and watching the man squirm.
might be enough.”
hotel owner looked aghast and turned to Alby Harris for support, but he only
shrugged his shoulders and nodded. “It could be, Oscar.”
Lang shook his head furiously. “I knew that man was trouble the minute I laid
eyes on him. I should never have given him a room.”
“Well, you can’t blame yourself for renting him a room. You weren’t
to know he was sick.”
but he sure looked like trouble,” the man growled unreasonably. “All this
fuss over one gunslinger anyway. I don’t know why we couldn’t just send him
on his way.”
makes you think he’s a gunslinger?” Alby asked him, astounded by the man’s
lack of common sense, let alone compassion for a fellow human being.
looked at him impatiently. “A drifter wearing his gun low like that Alby? What
else could he be?”
that’s not for me to say. An’ I don’t think it’s your place either.
I’m not gonna be a party to lettin’ the fella die, Oscar,” Alby told him
determinedly. “I don’t care what he is!”
gave the man a warning look. “An’ if you go stirrin’ up more trouble,
Oscar, I’ll close that business of yours up so fast, you won’t know what hit
Johnny opened his eyes to a dimly lit room. His mind seemed to be muddled
and it took him a while to work out where he was and why his head was clouded.
was so hot that he tried to push the blankets off him, but something – or
someone – was stopping him. He frowned and looked over to see who it was.
woman was leaning over him, holding the blankets on top of him. He was surprised
that she was able to stop him. She didn’t look strong enough.
looked familiar to him, but he couldn’t quite place her to start with.
he told her, annoyed by her restraining him. He tried again to toss them aside,
but again she held them fast. “Too hot…” he complained.
she whispered softly. “Leave the blankets alone.”
frowned and tried to focus his eyes on her face. “Charity?” he asked, as he
suddenly realized who she was.
smiled at him kindly. “So, you really are awake this time,” she said
time?” he asked in a weary tone.
thought you were awake about an hour or so ago, but you weren’t really lucid
that time, just dreaming.”
closed his eyes for a moment and tried to get a grip on the situation. His
memory was clearing, but his throat was so dry that he couldn’t concentrate.
“I’m kinda thirsty,” he told her eventually.
got something right here for you. Let me help you up a little.”
felt her arm slip under his shoulders and lift him. He was grateful for the
help, even though it brought a jab of pain to his bruised left shoulder. He
hated the reality of his position, but he knew that he couldn’t have gotten
himself up without her help. It rankled on him, but there was nothing he could
do but accept it, and he knew it.
listlessness he was feeling was just too overwhelming to fight.
held a cup to his lips and cool refreshing water spilled into his mouth, but
when he tasted it, he pulled back sharply. It wasn’t plain water, but sweet to
the taste and his suspicions were quickly aroused.
is it?” he asked her distrustfully.
smiled again and reassured him calmly. “It’s just Sage tea - sage, lemon and
sugar. It works wonders. Go ahead – try it.”
put the cup back to his lips and he swallowed a little more. He had to admit
that it tasted good as well as bringing some relief to his parched throat.
lowered his head back onto the pillow and then put the cup down on the chair
that she had taken to using as a table. Purposefully, she wrung out the
cloth she had sitting in the bowl of water.
watched the muscles of his face relax as she wiped the cool towel across his
face. There was an unnatural glow to his skin that indicated to Charity that the
fever was getting worse. He had been restless in his sleep in the last hour or
so as well, rolling first on to one side and then the other, but not able to get
comfortable at all.
hot…” he whispered lazily to her. His breathing was becoming more labored
and heavy as the fever sapped his strength.
closed his eyes again for a while and then opened them decisively and turned
them on her. They were bright with fever, but the deep sapphire blue of them
struck her again and his words tore at her heart.
wrong with me?”
his face again, she answered honestly. “I wish I knew Johnny, but I
eyes gleamed and they caught hers. “It’s dark, isn’t it? Night?”
was a moment of obvious confusion in his eyes. “What day?”
ran her fingers through his hair to comfort him and brushed the bangs aside from
his eyes. “It’s still Wednesday, dear,” she told him reassuringly.
sounded crestfallen by the thought of being late. “To meet your friends in
Petersen, you mean? I’m sure they won’t mind.”
concentrated on gathering his thoughts together, the effort obvious in his face
and the breathlessness of his speech. “Scott – he’s my brother. He
smiled at him gently. “So, you have a brother do you? And who is Murdoch?”
here I was thinking that you were alone in the world.”
shook his head slowly. “No… not any more.”
frowned, wondering what he meant by that. She wiped his face and neck again as
she talked to him.
do you mean – ‘not any more’?”
to be alone…went home…met Scott. Didn’t know I had a brother…”
disjointed words were taking on an urgent tone and she tried to hush him, but he
was determined to continue.
get a message to them…” he asked her desperately. “Tell ‘em… what’s
course I will, Johnny. When the doctor gets here, we’ll get one of the men
from town to go into Petersen with a message for them,” she assured him.
“But for now, you need to rest.”
fell back in exhaustion and seemed to calm down. “Thanks,” was all he said
and relaxed back into the pillow.
had no idea how long it would take to get that message through to his family in
Petersen. She hated the idea that they were sitting waiting for him, and
probably worrying just like he said. But she was more concerned that there was
no sign of the doctor yet.
they hadn’t put off sending for him. She knew the man pretty well and knew
full well that he would willingly make the journey at night if he felt the
urgency of the situation warranted it. She had fully expected him to be here by
course, he might not have been available when the message reached him. He was
the only doctor for miles around and his rounds covered a wide area. If he was
out of town, they were going to have to wait longer as there was no one else to
she couldn’t let those doubts get through to the boy. He had enough to worry
continued to bathe his face and arms, reassuring him until she noticed, rather
thankfully, that he was drifting off to sleep again. She made sure that she got
him to swallow a little more tea before he did go to sleep. The more she could
get him to take, the better.
he finally slipped into unconsciousness, she was almost grateful that he was
able to rest peacefully for a while.
looked at him as he slept and sighed. She knew very little about him, but he
seemed like a good man. He never complained, but his face sometimes gave away to
her that he was in pain. He was young and strong, used to hard work by the look
he needed that strength now - that was certain.
stood up and took the mug outside into the kitchen to wash it out, but as she
turned to go back to him, something outside in the darkness caught her eye.
was a light, flickering brightly some distance from the house. She went to the
window and peered through the night. The light didn’t move except to leap a
little bit higher occasionally. It was a fire – a campfire.
and more that a little alarmed, she picked up the rifle by the bedroom door and
walked cautiously out into the yard, heading in the direction of the campfire.
made her way towards it as quietly as she could, but in the stillness of the
night every leaf and twig that cracked or snapped under her foot sounded loud
enough to wake the dead.
she certainly had no expectation of being able to sneak up and catch them
unawares, but in the end, that was just what she did.
weren’t expecting company. There were two of them, talking animatedly and
laughing at each other’s jokes. They had made themselves comfortable and sat
leaning up against tree trunks, swilling coffee merrily. Her arrival, with her
rifle pointed squarely at them, took them completely off guard.
recognized them both. “And just what are you two doing out here?” she
growled at them and was surprised at how loud her own voice sounded in the
jumped to their feet, staring down the barrel of her rifle nervously.
Charity!” one of them gasped loudly. “Ma’am, you don’t need that!” he
added anxiously indicating the gun in her hands.
don’t know that now do I?” she asked him angrily. “Bob Foster, just what
are you doing out here – scaring me half to death?”
didn’t answer immediately, but looked to his partner for support.
you, Charlie?” she asked the other man.
two of them looked at each other sheepishly.
ain’t no call for gunplay, Miss Charity,” Bob Foster told her firmly. “You
just put that thing down afore it goes off.”
it goes off, it will be because I pulled the trigger, Bob,” she fumed at him.
“Now explain yourselves, both of you.”
just here to watch the place, Miss Charity,” Charlie began to explain. That
rifle was sure making him uncomfortable. “Just makin’ sure no one comes or
goes – ya know?”
decided to take Charity Blaine head on. “An’ you shouldn’t be out here,
Miss Charity,” he told her aggressively. “We sure don’t want to get
for heaven’s sake! Whose idea was this?” Charity demanded furiously.
men looked at each other but didn’t answer her. The truth was that neither of
them really could remember whose plan it had been in the first place. Everything
had been so confused and they had gone along with the majority.
had been decided. That was all there was to it.
suppose it really matters, Miss Charity,” Bob told her defensively. “We’re
just here to do a job an’ protect the town is all.”
the town,” she scoffed. “From a man who’s too sick to stand on his feet,
let alone walk all the way into town.”
glared at the two of them. “Or is it me you’re afraid of?” she persisted.
“Planning to shoot me if I try to leave?”
Ma’am, you know we wouldn’t do anythin’ like that to you,” Charlie
assured her, but not very convincingly.
while I’m looking you right in the eye anyway, right?”
we just don’t want you or that fella wanderin’ into town and spreadin’
that sickness around our women and children. You gotta understand that.”
it you plan to shoot anyone, you’d better pay a lot more attention next
time,” she pointed out, waving the barrel of the rifle just enough to point
out how easily she had gotten the drop on them.
had the good grace to look embarrassed, but neither of them said anything.
anyone gone for the doctor yet?” she asked angrily.
and Charlie looked at each other, unsure of the answer. “Don’t know, Miss
Charity,” Bob finally admitted.
sighed heavily and her frustration with them and their friends was all too
obvious. “You people really amaze me. Do you even care if that boy dies?”
have our families to think of…” Charlie began, but even to him it sounded
lame all of a sudden.
if anyone else were to get sick, the doctor would be kind of handy to have
around – don’t you think?”
one else is sick, ma’am,” Charlie pointed out and Charity finally lost what
little was left of her temper.
exactly – no one else is sick. So instead of spending all this time and energy
on making sure that the poor man is kept away from the town, maybe you should
look at getting the doctor here and finding out what’s wrong with him in the
first place!” She felt as though
she was talking to morons. They just could not see the idiocy of the behavior of
you ever think that maybe that was the best way to protect your families?” she
Doyle shook his head firmly. He wasn’t going to let Charity Blaine double talk
him. “No ma’am, Alby said it was typhoid an’ we can’t go takin’
chances with somethin’ like that.”
is not a doctor Charlie. He has no more idea of what’s wrong with that man
than I do. What we need is a doctor, who does know and can get him better so
that we can all go back to living normal lives!” she shouted at them.
one of you two go tell Alby Harris that we need a doctor here – fast. And you
can pass a message on to that boy’s father and brother that he’s sick while
you’re in Petersen.”
and Bob glanced at each other nervously. “Father?” Bob asked her.
heard me. His father is waiting for him in Petersen. His name is Murdoch Lancer,
and I’m betting he’s wondering what’s happened to his boy.”
Miss Charity,” Charlie answered her. “We’ll see that he gets the
that you do, Charlie. And you get that doctor here quickly,” she insisted.
“I don’t know if it has occurred to any of you lame-brains, but if this
thing turns out to be contagious, the doctor is likely to come in mighty
ma’am,” Charlie answered quickly and she shook her head in fury with the
pair of them.
turned away from them and walked back to the house with the rifle by her side
and her head hung low in disgust.
heard the banging on his door even in his sleep. He rolled over, half awake, and
hoped it would go away. It had been a long day.
didn’t stop though. Instead it grew louder and more insistent, so he threw off
the blankets and got out of bed.
was still dark, but there was a dim glow through the window that cast an eerie
shadow over the room as the first rays of the sun began to peep over the
couldn’t see anything in the room except shadows and he stumbled across the
room and out the door, only to stub his toe on the leg of a chair and curse
savagely under his breath as the pain hit his brain. He hopped and then hobbled
to the front door.
had better be good,” he grumbled to himself as he turned the doorknob and
opened the door.
Carson was standing on the step outside, his hand clenched into a fist as he
lifted it to bang on the door again.
man looked desperate.
what is it?”
was written all over the man’s face before he answered, panic that had reached
so close to terror that he blurted out the answer immediately and without
you gotta come with me. It’s my boy, he’s sick!”
Sage Tea or infusion of Sage is a valuable agent in the delirium of fevers, and has considerable reputation as a remedy, given in small and oft-repeated doses. It is considered a useful medicine in typhoid fever, for colds in the head as well as sore throat and quinsy and measles, for pains in the joints, lethargy and pals
The infusion when made for
internal use is termed Sage Tea, and can be made simply by pouring 1 pint
of boiling water on to 1 OZ. of the dried herb, the dose being from a
wineglassful to half a teacupful, as often as required, but the old-fashioned
way of making it is more elaborate and the result is a pleasant drink, cooling
in fevers, and also a cleanser and purifier of the blood. Half an ounce of fresh
Sage leaves, 1 OZ. of sugar, the juice of 1 lemon, or 1/4 OZ. of grated rind,
are infused in a quart of boiling water and strained off after half an hour. (In
Jamaica the negroes sweeten Sage Tea with lime-juice instead of lemon.)
Alby Harris quickly threw on some clothes, Tom Carson talked away to him
young Robbie,” he told Harris, tension obvious in his voice and his manner. He
wrung his hands nervously and scowled as he spoke. “He told us yesterday that
his head hurt an’ then he came over all achin’ last night. Martha’s been
holdin’ him most of the night while he cried with the achin’. Then an hour
or so back, he started a fever.”
about the other kids, Tom? Are they sick?”
it don’t look like it. I kept ‘em with me all night. They ain’t showed no
sign of it – only Robbie.”
rejoined him, dressed and in a hurry. Carson kept up with him as he brushed past
him and the two men ran out of the door into the darkness, heading straight for
the Carson house.
he anywhere near that stranger, Tom?” Alby asked as they went up the street.
don’t know for sure Alby,” Tom Carson answered worriedly. “I didn’t
think so, but Tommy says they didn’t touch him, or even get close. He says
that Robbie was standin’ way back from him, further than either him or
stopped suddenly. “Why Alby? Why my little Robbie?”
stopped only long enough to shake his head in confusion and then to take hold of
Caron by the shoulder and push him on his way. “I don’t know, Tom. It’s
happened a whole lot quicker than I thought it would. Might mean that it’s
even more catchin’ than I figured. Or it could be just that Robbie is only a
little kid an’ maybe it’s workin’ faster on him. Let’s get to your place
and have a look at the boy.”
we’re wrong,” Carson suggested in hopeful desperation. “Maybe it ain’t
even the same sickness.”
they reached the gate to the house, Harris turned sympathetically to the
distraught father. “You might be right, Tom. It might not be the same. But I
ain’t gonna find out standin’ out here jawin’.” He took the man by the
shoulder and gently pushed him through the gate. “Come on, let’s go see your
rumbling noise of wagon wheels outside woke Charity.
put the second mattress on the floor in the same room where her patient was
finally sleeping. After giving it a sound beating outside on the porch to make
it a little more appealing, she had curled up and tried to make herself as
comfortable as she could.
knew that she had to get sleep whenever she could take it so that she would be
able to sit up with Johnny if or when his condition deteriorated.
she was very much afraid that it was going to be ‘when’. He was no better
yet and he was likely to get worse from what she had seen of it so far. She’d
watched over him through the night until she was sure he was sleeping reasonably
soundly, and then had turned in herself to get what sleep she could.
she awoke to the noise, she opened her eyes and blinked against the light. It
was morning already!
first move was to get up and check on Johnny. She found his fever still high,
but not much more so than when she had last checked him. Throughout the night,
he had shown no more signs of the restlessness of earlier in the evening. She
suspected that exhaustion has a lot to do with it.
went to the window and looked out to see what was going on outside. She was
surprised to see Alby Harris pulling a wagon to a halt outside her doorstep.
He’d made it perfectly clear yesterday that he had no intention of coming to
help in any way. So what did he want now?
first making sure that Johnny hadn’t been woken up by the racket, she hurried
to the front door, opened it and stepped out into the daylight, ready for
anything that Harris had to offer.
least, she thought she was.
Harris, what’s going on here?” she asked, but suddenly realized that he was
not alone. A head popped up above the side of the wagon behind him. She
recognized the face immediately, since she knew Martha Carson well. The young
mother of two young sons and a daughter, she often came to Charity for advice
and remedies of one sort or another. Those boys, especially, were always in
looked harassed, tired and distressed, so Charity ran to the wagon and looked
over the side fearfully. She dreaded what she would find, but could think of
only one thing that would pry Martha Carson away from her brood to come out
Carson, nine years old and usually healthy and energetic, lay wrapped in a
blanket in his mother’s arms. He was flushed with fever and looked desperately
turned back to Harris. “You can’t be serious, Alby!” she exploded.
“You’re not really leaving a child out here, surely?”
was pleased to see that the man had the grace to look embarrassed. “Charity,
we don’t have any choice here. It’s the same sickness as the stranger’s
got. He’s got the same spots an’ all.”
and your damned spots! It’s a disgrace to have left Johnny out here,” she
yelled at him. “But this? This is unforgivable, Alby. This boy should be at
home – in his own bed. And he needs the doctor. Have you even sent for him?”
Carson’s on his way to Peterson…”
should have been done yesterday! Not now that it’s spreading.”
couldn’t be helped, Charity. We ran out of daylight yesterday. But Doc Rawlins
will be here by this afternoon.”
if he’s in when Tom gets there. You are a fool, Alby,” she told him
furiously. “I always thought you were pretty harmless, but you’re not –
enough!” he shouted back angrily. “I don’t like this any more’n you do,
but we can’t have the sickness in town.”
you walk into that house and tell me where I can put this poor little child,”
she demanded, knowing full well that he wouldn’t do it. “There’s one cot,
that’s all. And the man in that is so sick that he’s like to die there.
I’ve cleaned the place up as best I could, but it’s still just a run-down
old miner’s shack, and that’s not the place to house sick people.”
I figured you wouldn’t have much here, so I’ve got Ben Scrivens bringin’
out another cot for the boy, an’ some more supplies for ya. It’s the best we
looked back at Martha and her heart broke at the sight of the tears in the poor
mother’s eyes. Arguing was pointless, and was only upsetting her more than was
then, Martha,” she said compassionately. “Let’s get little Robbie inside
out of the sun.”
not leaving him, Miss Charity,” the woman stated with a fierce determination,
clutching her sick son frantically to her breast.
course not, Martha,” Charity replied calmly. “No one is asking you to.
We’ll look after him together and when the doctor gets here, I’m sure
he’ll be able to help your boy.”
watched the young mother wipe the tears angrily from her eyes with the sleeve of
her dress. She calmed down enough for Charity to try to get her to hand the boy
him to me, Martha,” she coaxed her sympathetically. “We’ll take him inside
and make him as comfortable as we can until Ben gets here with a bed for him.”
Carson nodded, sniffing back her tears and releasing the grip she had on her son
so that Charity could take him from her. She climbed down to the ground herself
and stood protectively by Charity’s side, her eyes never leaving the child.
glared up at Harris. “You get that doctor here this afternoon, Alby. I don’t
care what you have to do to do it.”
get out of here,” she told him furiously. “And don’t go thinking that you
can bring the whole town out here if they get sick. Try for some sense, Alby.
And a little human consideration might help too.”
watched him silently as he turned the wagon around and started out of the yard,
a dejected expression on his face. But it did nothing to relieve the rage she
felt boiling inside her. They were so isolated out here that they had no one to
go to for help, or for supplies – nothing. And Harris and company seemed to
think they were doing the right thing.
there was nothing she could do about it. She’d had her say. They all knew how
she felt, but her arguments continued to fall on deaf ears, so it was time to
get back to what had to be done.
turned her attention back to the pair in her charge now. She sighed and looked
down at the flushed little face of the boy in her arms.
get Robbie inside and have a good look at him, Martha,” she told the woman, as
kindly as she could. She led the way up onto the porch and into the house.
Martha the way and carrying the small boy in her arms, she took them into the
room where Johnny still lay asleep. She put the child down onto the mattress she
had been using and sat down on the floor beside him.
was asleep as well, deeply asleep. Charity pulled aside the blanket and checked
him all over. His temperature was very high and his breathing was labored, but
more telling than anything else, there were faint rose-colored spots on the
little boy’s hands. She found some on his ankles as well – something that
worried and confused her. She hadn’t found any on Johnny’s feet.
tucked the blanket back snugly around the boy. She looked over again to see that
Johnny had not woken and gestured silently for Martha Carson to follow her out
of the room so that they could talk.
They no sooner got out of the door than Martha lost control. “It’s
the same, isn’t it Charity?” she asked, tears in her eyes and a desperate
fear in her voice, “He’s got the same sickness as the stranger has.”
it certainly looks like it, Martha. Has he complained of a headache?”
woman nodded quietly, holding the tears back bravely. “Yes. He’s been in
terrible pain too. He cried all night and says he’s sore all over.”
frowned. “Yes, that’s what Johnny told me too. So it’s the same thing all
right. He has spots on his arms like Robbie has.”
going to die, isn’t he?” the mother asked, her eyes glittering.
wrapped the woman in her arms and held her close. “No one is going to die if I
can stop it,” she told her gamely. “Let’s just wait and see what the
doctor has to say before we start to panic. I don’t know what it is, and I
sure don’t know if anyone is going to die from it.”
could hold back the tears no longer and Charity held her soothingly, patting her
back and letting her cry it out while she took stock of the situation. She might
have Martha Carson here with her to help and to share the burden, but she also
knew that she would want to stay by her son’s side and would probably not be
of any help with Johnny.
was as it should be anyway and she didn’t begrudge the woman her maternal
instincts. But she knew Martha Carson well. What did worry her was that Martha
was not a terribly strong woman, even under normal circumstances. And these were
as far from normal as you could get. Charity found herself hoping that she
wasn’t going to find herself having to spend all of her time reassuring the
woman and supporting her.
two patients on her hands now, she was going to need Martha Carson to stand up
and be counted. That little boy was going to need far more than his mother’s
you have to be strong for your son,” she told her firmly, but compassionately.
“You won’t get much sleep and there’s going to be hard work looking after
him. Do you understand?”
know, Charity,” the young woman answered, wiping her eyes with the back of her
hand and sniffing back the tears. “I’ll be fine with you here.”
going to be busy too, remember,” Charity reminded her. “Johnny is terribly
ill. We’re going to both have our hands full.”
frowned. “You mean the stranger? You’d put him above my Robbie? If it
wasn’t for him, Robbie wouldn’t even be sick in the first place,” she
sighed. “I’m not putting him above Robbie, but he’s sick too and I’m not
letting either of them die. Do you understand me?”
woman continued to frown, obviously not happy with the answer, but, eventually,
right,” Charity continued. “Now you go in and sit with your son. Make him as
comfortable as you can while I get some things together and then come in to join
you. You call me if either of them wakes up.”
not touching that man,” Martha told her angrily.
haven’t asked you to. Just call me if he or Robbie wakes up. Is that clear?”
now get in there and watch them. I’ll be with you shortly.”
Johnny stirred. He hurt all over. Moving his head hurt his neck. Moving his arm
or his leg hurt just as much. In his whole life, he couldn’t ever remember
ever feeling this bad, even with bullet or knife wounds. And when that happened,
he knew what was wrong with him. A bullet in the back was nothing to laugh
about, but at least he knew what it was.
Right now, he had no idea what was wrong with him, and that uncertainty made it
worse. He was miserably sick, and every muscle in his body hurt. Why, even
breathing was beginning to hurt his chest.
he was cold. He tugged at the blankets that were covering him and tried once
more to get comfortable, but it was no better. He just aggravated the aching in
heard a voice and struggled to recognize it, but it was no good. He didn’t
know it. He could hear someone moving in the room and tried to open his eyes.
This wasn’t good. He had never felt more vulnerable. He reached under his
pillow quickly, but found nothing there.
always kept his gun there. So where was it? He feigned sleep for a while and
tried to get a grip on where he was and what was going on.
things started to come back to him. He remembered a woman. Charity, that was her
name – a good woman who had been looking after him. But he was sure that that
wasn’t the voice he could hear in the room.
judged it time now to try again to open his eyes and check things out, but the
first glimpse of light, as he forced his eyes open, tore through his brain and
stung painfully. He closed them again instantly and threw his hand up to keep
the light away, gasping in pain.
strange woman in the room called out Charity’s name quickly and loudly – too
loudly for Johnny to take any comfort from it. The sound slammed into him and
fractured what little was left of his head. At least, that was how it felt.
heard, rather than saw, Charity’s arrival moments later, but her touch was
reassuring. He’d kept his eyes closed tightly against the light, and he
squinted as he opened them again, slowly.
her voice softly said as she slid her arm under his shoulders and lifted his
head to the cup in her hand. “Drink for me, dear,” she added encouragingly.
swallowed what he could and it felt good – cool and sweet. He was thirstier
than he could ever remember being before. It felt like he’d been stranded in a
desert for a month.
she laid him back, he forced his eyes open properly and was surprised at the
relief he felt at seeing her kind smile there. If he couldn’t get to his
brother, or his father, then he felt he could trust her, but years of surviving
on his own had ground certain rules into him and he had to follow them.
gun,” he whispered, and was amazed at how the words came out as little more
than a croak. “Where’s my gun?”
frowned. “It’s safely put away. You don’t need it.”
tried to shake his head at her. “No, bring it here.”
believe me – you’re perfectly safe here.”
was surprised at how determined he became. He shook his head again and repeated
his demand. “Need it … close
could see that he was getting frustrated at her refusal, and wondered briefly
why he had such a strange need for the weapon. Nevertheless, she got up and
retrieved the gun belt and brought it back to the bedside.
her amazement, Johnny look the revolver in his shaking hands and reached behind
him, slipping it under the pillow. She shook her head sadly and rested her hand
on his forehead. The fever had risen a little more and she wondered if perhaps
he wasn’t as awake as she had thought.
she could remove it later, while he slept. If it calmed him to have it there
now, then so be it.
was breathing hard already from the small amount of energy he had expended.
she asked him with a soothing smile.
let’s have a look at you. How’s that shoulder? Still sore?”
of me’s sore,” he told her and tried for a smile himself. It only barely
worked, but the half smile that he did manage was disarming. The thought went
through her head that if she was only a few years younger…
this wasn’t the time for that now. She pulled the blanket down a little and
looked at the bruising. It was black and blue, but hadn’t spread any further,
so she tucked the blanket back around him.
took his wrist and quietly counted off the pulse. His heart was racing.
looked at the rash on his wrist. It had spread halfway to his elbow, but that
wasn’t what had her frowning. The older spots had changed color. They had
deepened almost to black.
tucked his hand under the blanket, but Johnny’s curiosity had been aroused. He
pulled his right hand free and brought it up close to his face so that he could
see what she found so interesting.
is this?” he demanded, weakly, but resolutely.
the first time, his eyes betrayed fear and that worried her. “I don’t know,
Johnny. I’ve never seen anything like it before,” she admitted frankly.
could see that her words had not gone a long way towards reassuring him. She
took his hand in hers comfortingly. “Listen to me. The doctor will be here
soon. Let’s not worry about it before he takes a look at you. I’m sure
he’ll be able to answer your questions.”
seemed to stare into her eyes for a minute before relaxing. He nodded.
“Okay,” he conceded calmly. So calmly that she was surprised at the quick
change of character. He seemed to harden somehow and he asked her quietly,
“There’s someone here isn’t there?”
Martha Carson and her son are here too. Robbie’s not feeling well either.”
rolled his head slowly to the side so that he could look past her and see for
himself. There was a woman sitting on the floor. She had dark hair, straying
untidily from the roll that she had coiled it into. She was thin, almost what
you’d call scrawny, and she was dressed in a plain brown dress that he knew
was home made, but neat and clean just the same. She answered his gaze with a
glare and then looked away – back to the child beside her.
turned back to Charity. “Same as me?” he asked Charity quietly. His heart
was beating wildly. He didn’t like what he was thinking.
nodded. “It looks like it.”
felt like he’d been floored. He closed his eyes and threw his head back into
the pillow, slamming his fist into the mattress beside him. Charity was
surprised at the show of temper. She hadn’t thought he had enough strength
left to do it a few minutes ago.
just a kid,” Johnny said quietly. “How old is he?”
could see he was becoming distraught and she had a fairly good idea what he was
she answered soothingly. “It has nothing to do with you. Don’t do this to
old?” he repeated.
nine. But his being sick may have nothing to do with you.”
opened his eyes and glared at her. “Sure, it’s just coincidence. If I
hadn’t come here…”
you can hardly blame yourself for being sick.”
him clear of me so’s he don’t get worse, Charity,” he snapped at her.
“And his mother too – and yourself. I don’t want anyone dyin’ on my
not leaving you,” she told him firmly.
stared at her coldly. “Then you don’t know who I am.”
know you’re a good man and that you don’t want me or anyone else to get sick
helping you. That’s good enough for me.”
good man’,” he scoffed sarcastically. “You don’t know the things I’ve
done. I’ve tried to change, even thought maybe I had, but I guess the devil
wants his due.”
was taken aback by the haunted look in those dark blue eyes of his. She wondered
what stories they hid, but they didn’t matter to her. “He’s not getting
half smiled at her suddenly. “He’ll get it all right. But he’s not takin’
no kid or you with me.” He was losing the strength he had found. “I want you
one’s dying,” she told him determinedly. “And there’s nowhere to move
him to anyway. Besides, moving him won’t make any difference if he already has
just a little kid,” Johnny repeated sadly, as he tired and weakened. “That
about this is fair, dear,” she replied. “Now, since you’re awake, I want
you to have some more water. Or are you hungry? I have some broth if you think
you can handle it.”
I couldn’t,” he answered her wearily and closed his eyes.
lifted his head so that he could swallow some more water, and had to satisfy
herself with that.
you still cold?” she asked, noticing that he was shivering, despite the high
nodded without answering and she pulled the blankets tighter around him.
after the kid,” he whispered as the last of his strength faded away. “I’m
watched him drift off to sleep and took the cloth from the basin and wrung it
out thoroughly. She wiped his face, neck and arms with it. That fever had to be
no longer really mattered what he or the boy had. The fever was rising again and
his strength to fight it was going to be tested. He was steadily becoming weaker
as she watched.
turned her attention to Martha and the boy. The child was still sleeping and his
mother was bathing his forehead lovingly, trying to bring his fever down.
Charity sighed. If it could do this to a strong young man like Johnny, what
would it do to Robbie?
soon as Robbie wakes, give him some water,” she advised the woman. “Get him
to drink as much as he can.”
Carson nodded silently. She had heard the stranger talking quietly to Charity,
but she had paid no attention to it. She hadn’t heard anything except her own
son’s breathing and sighs, and she didn’t care to hear anything the stranger
had to say anyway.
it Typhoid – like Alby said?” she asked Charity.
don’t know Martha,” she told her in all honesty. “But I don’t think so.
I’ve never seen a rash like that before.”
so little, Charity,” she sighed, and Charity Blaine’s heart went out to her.
Robbie was her youngest child, her baby, and he had never been a strong child.
He was always the first with a cold, first with the measles, and anything else
that was going around.
he always fought back and recovered. He might not be strong, but he wasn’t the
frail child that his mother and father thought he was. He was a fighter, and
beating this was going to take all of that – and more.
Carson made it to Peterson by ten in the morning. He’d left at sun up after
talking with Alby Harris and he had ridden hard all the way. His horse was near
exhaustion, covered in lather and barely up to a trot when he finally got to the
outskirts of the town.
felt bad for the animal. He never treated animals that way as a rule, but his
fear for his son was far and away more important right now. He pushed the horse
harder, through the street to the building where he knew Dr. Rawlins had his
office. It was well marked as a doctor’s office, with writing all over the big
front glass window and a plaque by the door with Jacob Rawlins MD engraved
neatly on it.
Tom didn’t need any of it. He knew the place well and made straight for it.
leapt down from the horse and quickly tossed the reins over the hitch rail. A
jab of guilt distracted him for only a moment as he left the animal, and then he
ran to the door and burst in.
doctor was talking to a gray-haired matron of indeterminate years and they both
looked over in his direction with questioning eyes.
didn’t wait for them to ask those questions. He didn’t care if he was
interrupting them either. There was no time for polite manners now.
stepped inside the door and blurted out quickly, “Need you in the Strike, Doc,
real bad. You’ve gotta come quick.”
elderly woman gave him a haughty look, obviously meant to put him in ‘his
place’. “You will have to wait your turn, young man,” she said
importantly. “The doctor and I are talking thank you.”
had been a lot of years since anyone had called Tom Carson a ‘young man’. At
forty-five he was a good few years senior to his young wife and so he was hardly
a boy. But the old lady certainly made him feel like a child again – a naughty
child facing a stern schoolmarm.
swallowed hard and forced himself to look her right in the eyes. “I’m real
sorry ma’am, but this is urgent.”
with such audacity, she could only gasp, “Well!” for a moment before puffing
up and snapping back at him. “And what makes you think that this is not?”
turned to the doctor for support. He, at least, knew that she was an important
person in this town, and not accustomed to letting scruffy, ill-mannered
nobodies walk all over her.
Rawlins lifted his hand soothingly to pacify the lady. “Why don’t we just
hear what Tom has to say, Mrs. Winters. He’s ridden a long way – and ridden
hard by the looks of him.”
woman ‘harrumphed’ loudly and disdainfully, and she crossed her arms over
her ample bosom with decidedly bad grace, but she held her piece for now.
happened Tom?” Rawlins asked his visitor. He’d been to the Carson home often
enough to know the man reasonably well.
let the story spill out for too quickly to be understood. Without stopping for a
breath, he told them about a sick stranger and the town’s efforts to keep the
sickness away from their families and his own son’s illness.
from that whole drawn out story, Rawlins only got two obvious facts – that
Tom’s son was ill, and the word ‘typhoid’.
Winters heard the word too and stepped back a pace from the man, horror on her
face on hearing ‘typhoid’. But before she could say anything, the doctor
spoke up calmly.
right, Tom,” he said, walking over to the distraught father and taking him by
the shoulder. He led him to a chair and then went to his cabinet and took out a
clean glass and a bottle of brandy.
He poured a liberal amount into the glass and handed it to Tom Carson,
saying “Drink that down and then start over again – slowly. All I got from
that was a lot of nonsense.”
Tom gulped it down and waited while it burned down his throat, clearing away the
dust from the trail and calming him more than he would have thought possible.
Still, it didn’t completely dispel the panic he was feeling.
He took a breath and tried again.
“My boy’s sick, Doc. You gotta help him,” he pleaded.
“Of course I will,” the doctor assured him. “Now tell me everything again,
from the beginning.”
The man swallowed hard and was about to speak when the elderly lady interrupted.
“Jacob,” she said cuttingly. “He said ‘typhoid’. I distinctly heard
him say it.”
The doctor could see the fear in her eyes and answered her without fuss.
“I know he did, Mrs. Winters. But Tom Carson is not the doctor here – I am.
I’ll decide if there’s typhoid or not.”
The woman remained wary, but calmed down considerably. After all, the dirty,
uncouth person in front of her was hardly likely to know what he was talking
“Now, Tom, which of your boys is sick?” Jacob asked him.
“Robbie – my youngest boy,” Tom replied anxiously. “He got it from that
damned stranger who rode in the other day.”
“Settle down a bit, Tom,” the doctor insisted. “How many are sick up
“Two so far – the stranger and my boy. But who knows…”
“Yes, all right,” he stopped him firmly. “Now what gave you the idea that
it was typhoid?”
The doctor rolled his eyes impatiently. “I might have known Alby Harris would
fit into this somewhere. That man is a nuisance.”
“He knows what he’s talkin’ about, Doc. He said it was catchin’.
‘Anything with spots is catchin’” – that’s what he said. An’ he was
right. My boy came down with the fever real bad. Alby says it’s typhoid.”
“Yes, well, I’d like to see his medical degree, Tom. Alby Harris probably
has no idea at all. What did Charity say?”
“She wasn’t sure,” he admitted. “But you know Miss Charity. She’s too
soft hearted by half sometimes. Ain’t usually any harm in it, but off she went
with that stranger to tend to him – right when the town needed her.”
Dr. Rawlins was beginning to get some idea of what was happening up there. He
shook his head knowingly. There was a lot more to this story that he hadn’t
gotten to yet, especially if Charity was looking after this ‘stranger’.
“Start at the beginning. Tell me about this stranger and what happened to
The longer he sat here, the more tired and impatient Tom was getting. All he
wanted was for Dr. Rawlins to come back with him to see to his son.
“He took a deep breath to clear his head. “A couple of days ago, some
drifter rode in and took a room at the hotel for the night. Next mornin’,
that’s yesterday mornin’, he walks over to the livery stable, gets up on his
horse and falls right back off – out cold he was.”
He stopped and looked up to make sure that the doctor was paying attention.
“Go on,” Rawlins encouraged him.
“Well, Pete Scrivens an’ my boys saw what happened and ran over to see.
Tommy – my eldest boy – he ran off to get Alby while Pete and Robbie watched
“Did they touch him?”
He shook his head. “Tommy swears that only Pete Scrivens touched him. My boys
strayed back away from him.”
“And Alby said it was typhoid?”
“Yeah, Miss Charity argued with him, right there in the corral. Got all fired
up ‘cos she wanted to take the fella in and tend to him, but Alby said only if
he was outa town away from the kids. So they took him out to the old Andrews
place, right away from the Strike, but it was too late. My boy Robbie already
The man looked desperately at the doctor. “You’ve gotta come and help my boy
Dr. Rawlins patted him comfortingly on the shoulder. “Of course I’ll come to
see him. Give me a minute to get a few things together.”
He stood up and, almost as an afterthought, he added, “Tom, you have got him
separated from the other children haven’t you?”
Tears filled the man’s eyes as he nodded. “They took him out to the
Andrews’ place too. Martha went with him. Said she wasn’t leavin’ him.”
Dr. Rawlins was annoyed but he said nothing to add to the man’s misery. He
definitely had to get up to the Strike right away and find out what was going
on. It sounded like the town was in a panic, and he knew who was behind it. Damn
The two men rode silently out of town. Dr.
Rawlins had arranged for a fresh horse for him and had Tom’s stabled and seen
to. The animal was played out. It was a miracle that it had lasted as long as it
There was a lesson to be learned from it too. Jacob Rawlins had no intention of
risking killing either his own or Tom’s on their way to Thompson’s Strike,
thus ending up on foot and making the trip even longer.
So, despite the urgency of the situation, he kept a steady pace and was trying
to keep Tom Carson in check at the same time. A little moderation was needed
here and Jacob was renowned for keeping a cool head in any emergency. It was a
large part of why he was liked and respected throughout the area.
He had his work cut out for him this time though. Tom was desperate, and not
surprisingly so. It sounded like the boy was very ill. For the first hour of the
journey Dr. Rawlins had had to keep pulling Carson back. His fears for his son
were clouding his judgment.
It was perfectly understandable, but haste right now was not going to get them
there any faster.
He did wonder why no one had come for him sooner though, if there was another
patient who had been ill since yesterday morning. Charity would have sent for
him straight away, particularly if she had no idea what was wrong herself. She
wasn’t one for letting things get worse before they got better.
He had a lot of respect for Charity Blaine – about as much respect for her as
he had contempt for Alby Harris.
Charity was a clear thinking woman who took no chances. She knew more than a
little about caring for the sick and injured from her nursing days, and if she
knew the answer and what to do, she would treat it, but if she didn’t? Then
she would call on him.
She certainly wouldn’t have any part in the kind of panic that Tom was
describing in that town. No – the mere mention of the word Typhoid had been
known to spread fear and hysteria through even the largest of cities. He had
seen that happen before.
But even though the symptoms that Tom had told him might sound remotely like it,
he was far from convinced that that was the problem yet. He’d have to see for
Charity heard the unmistakable rumbling of wagon wheels outside the cabin again
and a chill ran down her spine.
The prospect of yet another patient was almost overwhelming. There was no space
here and the conditions would get worse with every new victim.
And another patient also meant that they really were facing an epidemic, and a
rampant one at that. She didn’t know of many diseases that could spread at
this rate, and those that did were all too frightening to consider. She
couldn’t handle it on her own.
For a moment, she hung her head and wondered just what she had gotten herself
into, but the dejection didn’t last long. She was made of stronger stuff than
that, and she lifted her head determinedly, stood up and went outside to face
whatever fate was going to throw at them this time.
But this time, fate was on her side. Ben Scrivens had already halted the wagon
and dropped to the ground beside it.
“Brought out a cot for the Carson boy, Miss Charity,” he explained, as she
appeared in the doorway. “Didn’t like the idea of the little tyke layin’
on the floor for too long.”
“As opposed to abandoning him out here?” she bit back at him sarcastically.
The expression on Ben’s face gave her a twinge of regret for having said it.
She remembered then that his son had been playing with Robbie when they had come
in contact with Johnny.
“Could just as easy have been my boy, ma’am,” he said sadly. “Could be
yet, I guess.”
Charity stepped down off the porch and walked over to him. “We can’t be
certain of anything until Dr. Rawlins gets here, Ben. I keep telling all of you,
but no one listens. Alby doesn’t know what this is any more than I do.”
Ben nodded his head in agreement. “Alby told me that himself, Miss Charity,”
he admitted. “But we know that it’s catchin’ now that poor little Robbie
Carson has it. That’s about all we need to know right now. We’ve gotta keep
it out of town.”
“Well, I’m not sick,” she told him firmly. “And neither is Martha. What
about her other kids? Are they still okay?”
“Yeah. There’s no one else yet. Looks like we got it in time.”
“And Pete? Is he okay then?”
Scrivens eyed her suspiciously at the mention of his son’s name. “He’s
“I just wondered, since he was with Tommy and Robbie when they found
Johnny,” she explained to him.
“Well, he ain’t sick,” Scrivens told her, bristling up defensively.
“An’ you better get Martha out here to help you with this here cot. I
ain’t takin’ it into that house an’ riskin’ catchin’ that sickness
an’ takin’ it home for my boy to get after all.”
Charity was disheartened by the change in his attitude. She understood that he
was afraid for his own son, but for a minute she had thought that he was
beginning to relent a little.
She nodded and then turned and went back into the cabin to get Martha Carson.
She found her right where she had left her, where she had been all day – right
by her son’s side.
Johnny was still sleeping quietly and the little boy seemed to be the same, so
she whispered to Martha that she needed her help outside with a cot for her son.
The woman was hesitant about leaving him, but some gentle urging from Charity
got her to do it eventually. Robbie would be more comfortable in a bed, and that
was enough for Martha.
Scott stood on the sidewalk in Peterson, leaning against a post with his arms
folded in front of him. He tapped his hand against his arm nervously and he
watched the end of the street in the forlorn hope that he would spot Johnny
riding down it at any moment.
He knew now that it was just that - a forlorn hope. Johnny was yet another day
overdue, and he’d been just as anxious as they were to get back to Lancer.
Something had happened, and he shifted position yet again in frustration.
He looked up as Murdoch came out of the telegraph office at last, folding a
piece of paper that obviously held no good news, judging by the worried
expression on his face.
“Well?” Scott demanded.
“I got the wire from Toby. Johnny arrived there all right, and he was on time.
He stayed the night and left at sunup the next morning,” he told Scott.
“How long ago was that then? Three days?”
Murdoch nodded, frowning. “He should have been here days ago.”
“Something’s happened, Murdoch,” Scott said angrily, an ‘I told you
so’ note in his voice that just had to be said.
“I know. Get some things together and we’ll get started right away. We’ll
back track up to Toby’s place.”
Scott scowled at him. “I’ve been packed since yesterday, Murdoch.”
If he expected some sort of angry retort from his father, then he was due for
disappointment. “Good,” Murdoch told him as he stepped off the sidewalk
beside his son and headed back to the hotel. “So have I.”
Johnny woke to a sound he didn’t recognize. At first he thought it sounded
like the whimpering of a puppy, but that made no sense at all.
Then, listening closer, he thought it sounded like the crying of a small child,
but that made even less sense.
Or did it?
There was something about a child trapped in his mind somewhere, but he
couldn’t bring it to the surface. What was it? Someone had said something
about a kid.
He forced his eyes open to see what it was, but the light bit harshly and he
shut them again quickly. He felt like he’d been punched in the face!
But the sound was still there – quiet and constant – and he forced them open
This time, he was forewarned about the light and he squinted against it and
focused on the roof above him. There was no ceiling, just beams and shingles,
and it was rough at that. As he looked up at it, his mind wandered away from the
noise and he tried to remember where he was and why. He hurt all over, and he
felt lousy, so he soon recalled that he was sick.
Then the whimpering sound drew his attention again. He turned his head carefully
towards it, trying to ignore the pain in his neck that the movement brought on.
And there, on a mattress on the floor on the opposite side of the small room,
was a small boy, swathed in blankets, and crying pitifully.
Now Johnny remembered. The boy was sick with the same thing that he had. He’d
most likely caught it from him too, and he was overcome with guilt. If he
hadn’t ridden into that town and stayed, that boy would be out playing with
his friends, like a kid his age should be doing.
Instead, the boy was here, alone and in a strange place with no one to tend him.
Johnny suddenly realized that they were indeed alone in the room. That didn’t
seem right to him. Where was Charity? And he was sure that he recalled seeing
the boy’s mother by his side earlier. Where was she?
No wonder the kid was crying! Left all alone in the room. Hell, if the boy felt
anywhere near as bad as he did, then he had good reason to be crying a whole lot
louder than he was!
The boy had not noticed that Johnny was awake, but Johnny had no desire to
frighten him any more than he probably was already.
“Hey kid,” he said, as quietly and as calmly as he could. He found that his
throat was so dry that he couldn’t have spoken any louder anyway.
The boy stopped at the sound of another voice in the room, and looked over
towards Johnny, but he didn’t say anything.
“What’s up?’ Johnny asked him needlessly, but hoping to distract him.
The little boy sniffed loudly, but still remained silent, staring at Johnny.
“Not feelin’ too good huh?’ Johnny asked sympathetically.
“No,” the boy finally whined. “I want my mama.”
Johnny frowned seriously. “Well, I ain’t surprised. That’s what mama’s
are for. Bein’ with ya when you’re sick.”
The boy looked like the dam was about to burst again, so Johnny hurried to
reassure him. “She won’t be far away. Probably be right back,” he told
him. “So what’s your name anyway, kid?”
“Robbie,” the boy answered shyly.
“Nice to meet you, Robbie. I’m Johnny.” He smiled a weak, reassuring
smile. “I ain’t feelin’ great myself.”
He had the boy’s attention now. Robbie sniffled again, and then answered him.
“You’re the man who fell off the horse.”
“Oh great, so you saw that huh?”
Johnny smiled again. “Well, I don’t usually fall off him.”
“It was a real pretty horse – all gold like a statue. Bet he’s fast.”
“Barranca? Sure, an’ he’s smart too,” Johnny told him proudly. “You
got a horse of your own?”
“No,” the boy answered, a little sadly. “Pa says maybe when me and Tommy
are older we can have one.”
“Tommy? That your brother?”
“Uh-huh. My big brother,” he told him, but his eyes began to well up again.
“I want my mama,” he cried again, and Johnny’s heart melted.
Where was his mother anyway? Surely she wouldn’t leave the boy alone for long?
And what about Charity – where was she?
He pushed himself up onto his elbow and took a deep breath. Then he took a deep
breath, leaned his weight on his hands and hauled himself up until he was
sitting, and stopped. The room spun nauseatingly and his bruised shoulder
protested angrily. He frowned and sat still, letting the dizziness pass.
It didn’t completely, so he went on anyway and tried to stand up. It came as
no real surprise to him that he couldn’t do it. His legs were like jelly –
no substance to them at all – and they gave way the instant he put his weight
on them. He found himself in an untidy heap on the floor, but at least he
hadn’t landed flat on his face.
He shivered with cold. His long johns were a long way from keeping him warm, so
he pulled one of the blankets down over him and hugged it tight around his naked
Pulling himself up to sit beside the boy, he leaned back against the wall,
breathing heavily and waiting for a moment to catch his breath.
The boy looked up at him curiously, but the distraction had certainly worked. He
stopped crying and waited for Johnny to speak again.
“I’ve got a big brother too. His name is Scott,” he told the boy.
“Does he boss you around too?”
Johnny grinned. “Yeah, he tries to. I let him think he can – you know –
makes him feel good.”
“Tommy sure does. He kinda picks on me too sometimes. But I wish he was here
“Yeah, I wish Scott was too. But I guess it’s better they’re not here. I
sure wouldn’t want Scott gettin’ sick, an’ I’m bettin’ you wouldn’t
like Tom to catch it.”
“No, I wouldn’t want Tommy to get sick either. An’ he’d just boss me
around anyway. My sister April is worse though. She’s real bossy.”
“My sister is the same,” Johnny told him, thinking of Teresa and missing
her, but he was glad she wasn’t here. The risk of catching whatever he had was
too great, and he would never forgive himself if that happened.
He stopped for a moment, getting more tired and weaker than he had expected.
“Johnny?” he heard the boy call. “That horse of yours – I ain’t never
seen one that color.”
“He’s a palomino,” Johnny answered wearily. ‘We’ve got lots of ‘em
at the ranch.”
“You got a ranch?” Robbie sounded impressed and Johnny smiled at the thought
“Sure do. The prettiest place you ever saw. A great big house, an’ cattle
an’ horses, an’ a big ol’ river runnin’ right through the valley,” he
told him proudly. He found himself wishing he were there now. The now familiar
images of the hacienda, the river, the green fields and rolling hills were all
so easy to conjure up. Homesickness was new to him. Home was still pretty new to
him for that matter.
The thought that he might never see it again came rushing in on him, and he
couldn’t bear it.
He closed his eyes against the overwhelming pain. This time, however, it was not
the physical pain of his body, but the ache in his heart for his family and
home. How did people live with it?
The little boy sniffled again and Johnny opened his eyes and looked over at him.
He was so small to be facing something like this. It was one thing for himself,
an otherwise healthy man in his prime to be up against this sickness, but Robbie
was just a kid.
“Tell me something kid,” Johnny asked him encouragingly. “Just how tough
The boy thought for a moment. “Tommy broke my arm once an’ I didn’t hardly
cry at all,” he told Johnny proudly.
Johnny grinned. “Glad to hear it. So, if you stay tough an’ get well for
your mama – I’ll give you Barranca’s first colt. How would that be?”
Robbie stared at him incredulously. “Really?”
“Sure,” Johnny answered gravely. “But Barranca’s a real strong horse.
His colt will need someone strong enough to handle him. Think you can?”
“You bet,” the boy exclaimed.
“Shake on it then,” Johnny grinned, holding his hand out to the boy.
Robbie stuck his hand out from under the blanket and shook Johnny’s hand
seriously, the way he had watched his father seal a pact so many times.
It was an end to their conversation though. Martha Carson came around the corner
and saw him on the floor near her son and screamed.
Martha Carson was horrified to find Johnny sitting next to her son. She screamed
so loud that Johnny thought his head would burst from the noise.
In a whirlwind of maternal fury, she ran to her son and quickly pulled him close
to her, yelling at Johnny to keep away from him. She held the boy protectively,
hushing him and ignoring his pleas to leave his new friend alone.
Charity came in to a flurry of screams and protests from the woman, none of
which she understood. The boy was trying to get his mother to listen, and,
failing there, calling to Charity to help him.
From Johnny there was only silence. Despite his raging fever, he was white as a
ghost. He looked exhausted, but was ignoring Martha completely. Charity was sure
that, had he been able to move himself, he would have just stood up and left the
It would have been funny had it not been for the fact that Johnny was so sick.
“That’s enough, Martha,” she fumed. “You’re upsetting Robbie.”
The little boy had started to cry again and his mother held him close. “It’s
him, not me,” she accused. “He’s the one who upset Robbie.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake Martha,” Charity exclaimed. “Calm down and listen
to your boy. He’s not upset by Johnny at all.”
“I don’t want him anywhere near Robbie. He’s sick enough, without that man
making him worse.” She got rolling now. Her
voice rose to a hysterical pitch. “I want him out of here, now.”
Charity shook her head. “That’s nonsense, Martha. How can the boy catch what
he’s already got?”
“And he got it from that man! I want him out of here – right away from my
“No mama,” the little boy cried. “Johnny’s my friend. He was telling me
about his ranch and his brother, and…”
“Hush Robbie,” his mother told him, holding him to her breast and running
her hand over his head caressingly. “I don’t want that man near you. Mama
“No,” he insisted, getting frustrated now, and more upset. “Johnny says if
I’m tough, he’ll give me a golden horse, just like his.”
“There, you see?” Charity pointed out. “He was only trying to help.”
Charity went over to kneel beside Johnny, who was leaning back against the wall
with his eyes closed. She had to wonder how he had gotten there. She wouldn’t
have thought he had the strength to get out of the bed when she had last checked
boy’s mother calmed a little, finally hearing some of what her son was saying,
but her anger wouldn’t go away easily. She glared at Johnny, who had opened
his eyes as he heard Charity come across the room to his side.
don’t need his help,” she said, glaring furiously at him.
turned to her. His eyes turned to ice. Charity had seen that change once before
and she wondered what was going on in his mind that caused it.
you I was tryin’ to help, ma’am,” he told her. There was a sharp edge to
his voice that unnerved both Charity and Martha. “It was the boy.”
stepped in before the sparks flew again. “I’m amazed you managed to get down
here in the first place.”
almost managed to laugh at her. “No, gettin’ down was easy.”
well now we have to get you back into that bed. Can you stand?”
that already – didn’t work.”
smiled at him. “I’m not surprised.” She turned back to Martha. “I’ll
need a hand to get him up Martha.”
Johnny said, surprisingly firmly, but quietly. He was worn out now and his
breaths came in short sharp pants.
turned back to him. “And why not?”
quietly, Johnny told her. “The boy should have the bed. It ain’t right for
him to be on the floor like that.”
realized that he wanted only her to hear him. “Don’t worry about it. We have
a bed outside for him now. That’s where we’ve been. And the sooner you’re
up off the floor and back in your own bed, the sooner we can bring it in and
make Robbie more comfortable.”
nodded slowly, and tried to push himself up. It didn’t work. He just didn’t
have the strength to help himself, and he was frustrated by it. He was just
about to try again when he felt a restraining hand on his shoulder.
us give you a hand,” she told him sternly. She looked back at Martha for help,
but got only glaring resistance instead.
sighed. “Martha, give me a hand please,” she asked again. “We can’t
leave him here.”
was obvious that if she thought she could have left him there, Martha Carson
would do just that. She wanted nothing to do with him. But she wanted to see her
son settled into a bed too and that meant getting the stranger out of the way.
laid her son back on the mattress and tucked the blankets back around him
carefully. Then, without a word, she stood up and walked over towards Johnny.
She stepped over his legs to his other side and took hold of his arm roughly.
careful of that shoulder, Martha. It’s badly bruised,” Charity told the
woman as she saw the grimace of pain on Johnny’s face.
was pleased to see that the woman did take notice and eased her grip on his arm.
they lifted him enough to support what little strength he found for himself and
then turned him and sat him on the edge of the bed.
drew a few deep breaths and then lay down. He was shaking uncontrollably and
Charity guessed it was from a combination of the exhaustion and the chills. She
pushed and shoved him into a more comfortable position and then pulled the
blankets over him and tucked them tightly around him.
was past caring. He was asleep already.
looked up. There was someone outside, but this time it wasn’t a wagon, it was
wasn’t happy about leaving Johnny. In the hours since they had gotten him back
into bed, his fever had risen sharply again and taken a severe turn for the
was now comfortably ensconced in his cot and his mother was tending him
carefully, with only a quiet word of advice from Charity now and then. The boy
was still awake and his fever had continued to rise, just as Johnny’s had, but
he had not yet complained of chills.
the other hand, Johnny’s temperature was raging. Sweat poured off him and yet
his teeth chattered with cold. Charity had tried every trick she could think of
to try to control it, but nothing worked. It was still climbing. She knew that
if it kept up this way, she was going to lose him.
hadn’t woken since they had gotten him back to bed, but he hadn’t been
restless yet either, and that was something. He was already completely
resignedly, she stood up and replaced the wet cloth she was using to wash him
down into the basin on the chair. She looked him over once more and then glanced
over at Martha and the child to see that they were all right for now. Then she
went outside to find out who was here now.
heart leapt when she found Tom Carson there with Dr. Rawlins. They were just
dismounting as she reached the little porch.
how’s my boy?” Tom asked before she got a chance to say anything herself.
as well as can be expected, Tom. He’s got a fever and he’s pretty sick, but
he’s a brave little boy,” she told him sympathetically. “Martha’s
looking after him just fine, and now that Dr. Rawlins is here, I’m sure
everything will be all right.”
want to see him,” he demanded, distraught.
shook her head sadly. “I wish I could say yes Tom,” she answered. “But if
anyone in town was to find out that you’ve been in the cabin, they’d make
you stay out here too, and you have Tommy and April to think about.”
ain’t fair!” he exploded.
of this is fair, Tom,” she replied, just as angrily and she turned to the
doctor. “Has he told you everything?”
think so, Charity. Let’s have a look at these two before anything else.” He
stopped and looked hard at her. “It is still only the two of them isn’t
nodded. “Yes, as far as I know. And I’m sure that if there were others,
they’d have brought them here right away. There’s real hysteria in town at
I gather. I met your two ‘friends’ out there,” he told her ironically,
indicating the direction in which their ‘guards’ were keeping watch on the
went into the cabin, leaving Tom Carson standing dejected and angry outside with
why don’t you go and wait out there with our ‘guards’. We’ll come and
give you what news we have when Jacob has looked at them both.”
man nodded. He knew he had no choice. Charity was right. The word would soon get
to town and he wouldn’t be able to stay with his two healthy children either.
turned and led his horse in the direction of the two men whose turn it was to
watch the cabin, thinking ‘Damn them all to hell!”
Rawlins looked at the little boy first. The child wasn’t likely to be as
strong as an adult patient, and this little boy he knew well. He’d known him
since he had brought him into the world just over nine years ago. It seemed like
yesterday, but he had watched as he was the first in the family to catch cold,
or the measles or anything else that happened to be going around.
the idea that the boy was frail because of it was not one that he happened to
share with Robbie’s mother and father. He knew the child was stronger than he
looked. He’d beaten everything that had been thrown at him so far.
he didn’t like the look of this.
checked him over thoroughly, looking carefully at the darkening spots on his
wrists and ankles. He said nothing though and the suspense was finally too much
for Martha Carson.
is it, Doctor?” she asked him anxiously. “Is it typhoid?”
it’s definitely not typhoid,” he told her soothingly.
you sure? Alby said…”
not a doctor – I am!” he snapped back, and then instantly regretted it. The
faith these people held in that man irritated him no end.
stood up and went to take a look at Johnny. The little boy had been awake and
able to answer his questions, but this young man was much further along. He was
unconscious, not just sleeping and he was beginning to show signs of
restlessness, tossing his head sideways and then back again.
checked his heart rate and found it much too fast. His breathing was labored,
and his temperature was about as high as any human could stand. There were spots
on his arms, more than the boy had and darker – almost black, though there
were none on his ankles like the boy had.
what can you tell me about him?” he asked non-committedly.
told me it started with a headache, and then he began to hurt all over.”
or muscles?” he asked her, and she considered what Johnny had told her about
I guess. Moving his head hurts his neck and he did say all over.”
right, go on.”
he passed out on back of his horse. That’s what the bump on his head and the
bruising on his shoulder is from – falling off.”
had the fever almost from the start I think, but it’s been getting higher all
the time. He’s been getting bad chills, and those spots began like a rash on
his wrist - just little pink spots. But it’s been spreading on both arms and
looked over to Martha. “Is that how it all happened with Robbie?”
she answered quietly.
did Robbie fall ill?”
night. At supper he said his head hurt and he wasn’t hungry. Then he
complained of feeling sore all over and the fever started right after that.”
doctor frowned. “When did your friend here arrive in town Charity?”
days ago. He stayed at the hotel because he wasn’t feeling well. I got that
much from him.”
how long is it since he came in contact with Robbie?”
was in the corral yesterday, just before noon I guess.”
did he touch him?”
sir,” Robbie answered for her. “Mr. Scrivens told us to stay back and we
did. Only Pete touched him.”
doctor smiled at the little boy. “Thank you Robbie,” he said kindly, and
turned back to Charity.
are you feeling okay?” he asked her suddenly.
fine. So is Martha, aren’t you dear?”
Carson nodded her agreement.
frowned again. “And Pete Scrivens hasn’t shown any sign of getting sick?”
don’t think so,” Charity answered. “What are you thinking? Do you know
what it is?”
shook his head. “I can’t figure it out yet. It doesn’t make any sense.”
do you mean?”
Robbie to have caught it from him without even touching him, it would have to be
incredibly contagious. And the incubation period would have to be less than a
day. Yet no one else is sick. You and Martha have been in constant contact with
them both and haven’t come down with it. And Pete Scrivens touched him and
still isn’t sick.”
you saying that my Robbie didn’t get it from that man? That’s crazy!”
Martha told him angrily. “You can see that they’ve got the same thing.”
know that Martha, and it’s got me stumped. I’ve never seen anything like it
you can’t cure it?” she cried out, terrified.
didn’t say that, Martha. I have a few things I can do, so don’t panic.”
turned to Charity. “We’d better go and tell Tom what we can, and I want to
get some things from my saddle bags too. Can you come out with me, Charity?”
course,” she answered with a quick glance at Johnny. She followed him out,
stopping only to pat Martha Carson on the shoulder reassuringly.
met Scott in the lobby of the hotel. Scott had been true to his word and had
only taken minutes to get his things from his room.
going to leave a message for Johnny with the clerk, Scott,” he told his son.
“Just in case.”
didn’t hold out much hope that Johnny would be back here before them, but a
part of him was holding out for any hope at all. The thought that he could lose
his son was eating at him. After all the years they had spent apart, and the
tempestuous first year of trying to build a relationship with him, they had
finally settled into a kind of routine.
they ‘bumped heads’ regularly, but that was because they were both as
stubborn as mules. They both knew that. They probably always would, but it
didn’t lessen the love they had for each other – unspoken though it usually
followed him to the desk and waited beside him impatiently.
we’re checking out for now. We’re going looking for my son Johnny. He should
have been here by now,” Murdoch explained. “In case we miss him and he turns
up here before we get back, can you just tell him I said to stay put and wait
course, Mr. Lancer. I hope you find him. I know you and Mr. Scott are
Murdoch answered briefly. He wasn’t inclined to go into any more detail.
“I’m sure he’s just been held up somewhere.”
clerk nodded understanding, putting his own meaning to the man’s words and
holding back a knowing grin and refraining from winking at him.
turned back to Scott, ready to go, but the man behind the desk suddenly
remembered something and called him back.
Mr. Lancer, if you’re heading in the direction of Thompson’s Strike, you
should give it a wide berth,” he called to him.
Lancers stopped quickly and turned back to him.
that?” Scott asked him.
it’s all over town. There’s typhoid up there. You don’t want to go
anywhere near it.”
right. They sent for our doctor this morning. Half the town has it apparently.
Some drifter rode into town a couple of days ago and brought it with him.”
looked at his father with a question in his eyes that Murdoch understood.
“Thanks for the warning, Fred,” Murdoch answered, and took Scott by the arm
and hurried him outside.
don’t think…?” Scott started to ask as they got out the door.
shook his head, praying that the thought that was plaguing them both was just a
wasn’t sick, Scott. He would have said something.”
wasn’t sick when he left us anyway,” Scott agreed, refining his statement a
little. “But he could have gotten sick later.”
said he was fine when he left there too,” Murdoch reminded him.
Scott shook his head. He knew his brother well. “I can just see Johnny telling
Toby Roberts that he doesn’t feel well, can’t you?” he asked
breathed out heavily. “No, you’re right. He’d keep that to himself.”
not even sure he would have told us,” Scott pointed out angrily.
you, if the town has an epidemic raging, they’ve probably been quarantined.
Johnny might have gone into town and not been allowed to leave,” Murdoch
was something to cling to for both of them. Scott hoped that was all it was. The
idea of his brother sick with typhoid while they had been sitting here twiddling
their thumbs enraged him. Johnny could be dead by now, and they wouldn’t have
he might not be there at all,” Scott agreed. “What do you think? Make it our
nodded. “It’s a risk. They might not let us out of town, once we’re
might not let us into it if it’s quarantined,” Scott pointed out.
any luck, if he is there, someone might know his name.”
turned impatiently towards the stables. “We’re not going to find out
standing here thinking about it,” he said coldly. “Let’s get going.”
threw his saddlebags over his shoulder and stepped into the street with his son.
If Johnny was in that town, they were going to find him.
Martha sat by her son's side and watched him drop off to sleep. She sighed deeply, glad that with sleep he would have some relief from the aches and pains that were causing him so much grief.
was special to her. She loved all three of her children dearly and would do
anything for them, but Robbie was more to her than just her
youngest. He was her joy in the present and her hope for the future.
been only a girl of sixteen when she had married a man much older than herself.
Tom Carson was a farmer and a good man. He struggled to keep his farm going
while he took on fixit jobs around town to try to bring in a little more for his
most men, Tom had wanted a son to run the farm with him, so when their first had
been a girl, he had tried to hide his disappointment from her, but
he hadn't fooled her. A year later she had given him that son. Tom had been
delighted and would have been happy with just the two children to feed and
then two years later, a second son - Robbie - had come along. Martha had had a
difficult pregnancy, and it was a difficult birth, so there would be no more
children after him. But Robbie was her little miracle.
was pleased, but Martha felt that this son was for her. The farm would be far
too small to divide between two boys one day, so Martha started planning for
soon found out that he wasn't as sturdy as his brother and sister, but that made
him all the more dear to her. And she quickly realized that he was smart. Since
then she'd been saving every penny she could lay her
hands on for his education and she dreamed that one day he could go to a real
school and get some decent book-learning.
smiled sadly as she stroked his face and ran her fingers through his white blond
hair and thought of her plans to see Robbie as an educated man one day, with a
bright future. Who knew what he could do?
all her plans for him lay in shreds at the moment. Tears ran silently down her
cheeks as the doctor's words echoed in her mind. He didn't
know what was wrong with him. How could he save her son when he didn't know what
the problem was?
words rang in her head like a death knell - ringing loud and foreboding.
her, she could hear the tossing and turning of the man who had brought this
sickness into town. She kept her back to him, not wanting
to even lay eyes on him. She felt nothing for him but contempt.
would be responsible for her son's death - no one else.
brushed the fine silken hair from Robbie's flushed face with a delicate touch
and pressed her lips to his forehead softly. He was so hot.
little boy was dying, and she felt so utterly helpless. All
her hopes had rested on the doctor, and he had dashed them completely with his
listened to every rasping breath her son took; terrified that it might be his
last. It was just so unfair – his father couldn’t even be here with her to
share the burden and perhaps kiss his boy goodbye.
she listened carefully to her son, the stranger’s tossing continued to
distract her. He murmured something unintelligible and it infuriated her.
had just gotten to sleep. If that man woke him now, she’d kill him!
son liked him, and that was maddening. He had told her of the crazy promise the
man had made of a colt. It was wrong to lead the little boy on like that with a
promise he would never fulfill. She’d seen enough of his kind to know what he
ridden into town with his gun tied low on his thigh and that cold expression in
his eyes. It was all around town that he was probably a pistolero – a man who
didn’t mind killing if there was money in it. How was he going to keep his
promise of a colt for a little boy? Why should he even remember it?
Robbie would remember it. And he’d wait. He was a trusting boy. He’d
remember that promise for as long as he lived.
closed her eyes in despair. ‘For as long as he lived!” How long would that
be? How long before this fever broke him and took him from her? She shook her
head and tried to blot out the mutterings of the man behind her as he started to
sighed and frowned and his mother feared he was waking up.
the man would just be quiet! Robbie needed some rest. He needed it desperately.
turned around furiously and glared at Johnny as he rambled over and over – and
then, suddenly, something snapped.
was killing her son! He brought this cursed fever from God only knew where, and
it was killing her boy.
up slowly, Martha Carson was in a daze. Her eyes were glazed and her body stiff
with rage. She had to stop his ramblings before he woke Robbie.
walked over to the bed where Johnny tossed and murmured in a fevered delirium.
She reached slowly and purposely for the pillow under his head and carefully
pulled it out.
didn’t wake. He wasn’t aware of her.
wouldn’t fight her.
mind was oblivious to everything but the need to get him to be quiet – the
need to make him pay for what he had done.
took the pillow in both hands and held it over Johnny’s face, bearing it down
– No!” Charity yelled as she came through the doorway and saw what she was
ran across the room and wrenched the woman away from Johnny, but Martha just
fought her off.
she cried out. “No, get away from me. Let me go!”
woman writhed and screamed like a maniac, kicking and lashing out with her hands
at Charity as she struggled to hold her back. In her fury, Martha was stronger
than Charity would have ever thought her capable of being, and she wasn’t sure
she’d be able to restrain her for much longer. She took hold of her hands and
held them tight, while Martha balled them into fists and tried to hit her.
then, suddenly, Jacob was there. He took Martha in a crushing embrace with her
arms caught so that she couldn’t do any more damage.
kicked and screamed madly, but the doctor ignored her and ordered Charity to
check on Johnny.
had already moved towards the bed. She grabbed the pillow off his face and
prayed that he was still breathing The world seemed to stop for a moment as she
waited for him to take a breath.
breathing,” she said with a sigh of relief.
with him,” the doctor told her and turned around, spinning Martha with him and
forcing her ahead of him.
out of the room, he held her close and waited for the fight to go out of her.
stopped screaming, and then she stopped kicking and squirming, all under the
pressure of the bear hug he had on her. And then, finally, she broke down into
sobbing hysteria. She leaned against his shoulder and cried it out.
did you think you were doing?” he demanded furiously as she began to calm
shook her head desperately. “He’s killing my son,” she cried.
not dying yet, Martha. He hasn’t given up. Are you so ready to give up on
killing him,” she mumbled hysterically, her face pressed against Rawlins’
chest. “He’s killing my boy. He should pay for that!”
doctor wrenched her back and shook her hard. So hard that her head shook and her
hair came loose from its bonds and fell untidily over her face and down her
back. “Come with me,” he ordered her and dragged her harshly by the wrist to
he told her ruthlessly, and when she only looked down at the floor he repeated
his order cruelly. “I said look!”
glanced up and watched Charity tending to Johnny. She had replaced the pillow
under his head and was bathing his face and crooning soft assurances to him, but
he still tossed his head back and forth in what appeared to be delirium.
at him, Martha, and tell me how much he should pay. He’s sick! He’s more
likely to die than Robbie is at the moment. Are you seriously saying that he’s
done this on purpose?”
turned away. She wanted to look anywhere but at the sick man in that room.
Suddenly, that’s what she saw – a sick man, racked with fever and pain.
sorry, Doctor,” she whimpered. “I’m so sorry. All I could think of was
all you were thinking of was yourself! If you were thinking of your son, you’d
still be in there looking after him!”
harsh words stung. Martha knew he was right. She hung her head sadly. “I want
to go to my son.”
he told her firmly. “Not yet. You have to realize what you did.”
turned away from him, pulling her hand back out of his grip. “I know. God help
me, Doctor, I nearly killed him.”
have to be able to trust you. Otherwise you can sit outside with your
turned back to him in horror. “No, please Dr. Rawlins. Please don’t do that
to me. I know you have no reason to believe me, but I’m sorry. I wish…I wish
I could undo it all.”
Rawlins looked critically at her and believed her. Her face was wet all over and
her eyes puffed with crying, but she looked genuinely remorseful.
right,” he said quietly. “Go ahead then.”
looked at him with an odd mixture of guilt and thanks and walked slowly back
into the room.
glanced down to make sure that Robbie was still sleeping, and, remarkably, he
was. Then she continued over to stand beside the bed and watch Charity trying to
sooth Johnny through his ramblings.
was younger than she had thought. He was good looking too, but he didn’t see
her. He would probably never know how close she had come to killing him, unless
someone told him. He was too sick to be aware of anything or anyone.
stood up and moved aside for her. Somehow, she knew that Martha had finally
vanquished her demon.
sat down on the edge of the bed and took Johnny’s hand in hers. It was hot to
the touch, but she held it gently, ignoring the awful spots that marked his arm.
Something suddenly occurred to her.
guess he’s somebody’s son too, Charity.”
sighed deeply. “Yes, he has a father and a brother waiting for him in
Peterson. He’s been upset about being late getting there.”
looked up at her in surprise. “They must be worried about him then.”
tried to send a message to them, but, seeing as how they didn’t come with
Jacob, I guess they didn’t get it.”
woman looked back down at Johnny and whispered, “I’m sorry Johnny. I’m so
lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it gently, then patted it reassuringly
and put it down on the bed. As she moved to get up and let Charity take back her
place, she was amazed to see him open his eyes and turn a pair of startlingly
blue eyes on her.
was no sign of condemnation in them. In fact, there was nothing but confusion.
She smiled at him and let Charity sit down again. Then she went back to her own
sight of two strangers riding into Thompson’s Strike wouldn’t usually have
drawn much attention, but recent events had changed all that. Most people were
keeping to their houses, for fear of coming into contact with someone who was
sick with the fever.
when Murdoch and Scott Lancer rode in, the place looked like a ghost town. There
was no one in the street, and every now and then they noticed a curtain drawn
aside and a face watching them ride by. It was eerie.
doors were closed on most of the businesses in the town. Even the saloon was
locked up, and Scott couldn’t remember seeing that in any town he had passed
through since coming out here. Something sure had them scared. It looked like
there really was something to the typhoid story.
like there’s someone at the livery stable,” Murdoch pointed out, obviously
picking up the same line of thinking as his son.
I was beginning to feel like a goldfish in a bowl. There’s people staring at
us from just about every window in town.”
noticed,” was all Murdoch replied. He turned his horse towards the livery as
they approached it and dismounted, while Scott did the same.
two of them stood beside their horses, holding the reins and looking around
them. The doors were wide open, so there was likely to be someone about.
got tired of waiting, walked over to the corral and called out loudly, “Anyone
the darkness inside the building came an answer. “Yeah, keep your britches on
- be right with ya.”
a minute, a big burly man in his thirties came out into the light and looked
them both over. “Can I help you fellas?”
hope so,” Murdoch replied. “We heard you were having some trouble here, and
we’re looking for my son.”
man eyed him suspiciously. “What d’ya mean, you heard we have trouble?”
in Peterson they told us that you have some people sick here, that’s all,”
Scott explained, being very careful to leave out the word ‘typhoid’. The
mere mention of the word panicked people, and he wanted some answers before the
man took fright as well and disappeared.
well, it ain’t as bad as all that. Bad enough though. You might wanta think
twice about stayin’.”
half the town isn’t sick?” Murdoch asked him with a wave of relief washing
over him. They might have been wrong after all and Johnny wasn’t here sick
with typhoid. The thought of it had played on his mind all the way from
Peterson. Typhoid was deadly serious, and the idea of Johnny having it was too
awful to think about.
just two so far,” the man told them. “But one of ‘em is a little kid.
We’re hopin’ the doctor can pull him through once he gets here.”
didn’t want to ask the question that was burning in his mind, but he had to
know. One way or the other, he had to know. “So, one is a child,” he asked
slowly. “What about the other?”
drifter,” he told them emotionlessly. “He rode in a few days back and
brought it with him.”
drifter?” Murdoch asked cautiously. “What does he look like? Do you know his
Scrivens looked the two men over and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “You say
you’re looking for your son?”
right,” Murdoch answered.
shook his head. “Nah, this fella’s dark, looks Mex to me. Can’t be no kin
o’ your’s, ‘less your name’s Lancer.”
dropped his head and sighed, but Murdoch looked straight at Scrivens and said
“I’m Murdoch Lancer. This is my son, Scott. The man we’re looking for is
my other son, Johnny Lancer.”
Scrivens gulped. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lancer.”
it is Johnny?”
the name he registered at the hotel under.”
bad is he?” Scott asked quietly.
“He’s real sick. I guess maybe you should talk to Alby.”
just who is Alby?” Scott demanded. “I want to see my brother. Where is
a minute, Scott,” Murdoch told him calmly, more calmly than he felt. There was
a worried frown on his face as he looked at Scrivens. “We heard it was
typhoid. Is that right?”
we don’t know exactly yet. Alby’s the closest thing we have to a doctor in
this town, Mr. Lancer, and he ain’t real sure.” He looked at the two men in
front of him, both with anxious expressions, and with good reason if they were
family to the stranger. “I think you should talk to Alby. Come with me. I’ll
show ya where he lives.”
“If he’s ‘the closest thing you have to a doctor’,
then I take it he’s looking after Johnny and the boy?” Murdoch asked him.
who is? Where is Johnny?” Scott asked, becoming frustrated with the delays.
now, he’s bein’ looked after all right. I just reckon the best man to answer
your questions is Alby Harris.”
stepped up close to the man. Ben looked up at him. Ben Scrivens hadn’t met
many men bigger than himself, but Murdoch Lancer topped him by an inch or more,
and he was angry now.
only question we want answered is ‘where is my son?’” Murdoch growled at
him, and Ben gulped nervously.
I don’t blame you at all, Mr. Lancer. Alby will…”
you say ‘Alby’ one more time, I’ll break your neck,” Murdoch snapped
back. “I want to see my son – right now.”
there ain’t no call for violence,” came a voice behind them. Scott and
Murdoch turned around to see who it was, while Ben Scrivens heaved a sigh of
found a short man around Murdoch’s age, but unshaven and wearing just his
undershirt with his pants and suspenders. He was holding one of the suspenders
with his left hand, and had a self-important air to him, despite the untidy
portrait he posed.
goin’ on here, Ben?” Alby Harris asked, looking the two strangers up and
these here are Murdoch Lancer an’ his son,” Ben told him hurriedly.
scratched at the three-day-old beard on his chin. “Lancer hey? That sick fella
must be your boy then.”
is my son?” Murdoch demanded angrily.
we couldn’t have him here in town with women an’ kids likely to catch it off
o’ him, so we set him up outa town. I’ll take ya there, but you gotta know
that if you go into that cabin, you ain’t gonna be allowed to come back here
Scott asked angrily.
sighed. “Look here son, your brother had a fever an’ we didn’t know what
it was. We couldn’t have him here where it would spread.”
heard in Peterson that it’s typhoid. Are you saying now that it’s not?”
don’t know. But the boy had spots on him that coulda been typhoid. That’s
all I said. But whatever they were, they were catchin’. The Carson boy came
down with it the same night,” Harris explained.
“Where is this cabin? I want to see my son – now!”
I’ll take you right away,” the little man assured them. “I’ll just get
my horse.” He went into the livery with Ben beside him, talking quietly
looked uncertainly at his father. “I don’t like this, Murdoch.”
do I. I’m wondering just what sort of care he’s been getting here,” he
answered. “If I find out they’ve put Johnny at risk, then someone is going
to pay for it.”
the day wore on, Charity was having more and more trouble calming Johnny, while
Martha had had to get another blanket for her son as he began to show signs of
Rawlins watched the progress of the fever in both of his patients and still
could not figure out what was causing it. It was obvious to everyone that they
both had the same disease, but why no one else had come down with symptoms,
particularly Charity who had been with them both for an extended period of time,
was a mystery.
were no more cases in town, or they would have heard by now.
simply made no sense. If it was so contagious that Johnny had passed it on to
Robbie with hardly any contact at all, then it should have been raging through
the town by now.
mentally went through every contagious disease he could name, and some he could
not, and none of them fit what was happening here. It was frustrating, but more
than that, it was heart-breaking. He could do little more than treat the
symptoms as they appeared, and Charity had already been doing that with her
I think I’ll try to get Johnny to take some more Sage tea. It might ease the
delirium a little,” she suggested, wandering into the kitchen where he sat
mulling over the books he had brought with him.
it certainly can’t hurt, Charity,” he told her dejectedly.
you found anything?”
shook his head. “No, nothing that fits this. I can tell you fifty things that
it isn’t though.”
you watch him for me while I make up the tea? Martha has her hands full with
“I’ll be doing more good there than I am here,” he told her, angrily closing the book he had been studying.
put her hand on his shoulder reassuringly. “You just keep trying. It has to be
there somewhere. We know you’re doing your best.”
best is just not good enough, Charity. All the years I spent studying, you’d
think I could recall something that fits these symptoms.”
it’s something new.” she suggested.
possible that it’s some sort of new variation. But I don’t know anything
that matches those marks they both have.”
sighed sadly. She had been counting on him to know what they were facing and she
didn’t want him to know how disappointed she was that he didn’t. It was
enough that he was trying so hard to find the answer.
must be in there somewhere,” she told him.
you make up some more of that sage tea. It might help. I’ll go in and look
after him,” Rawlins answered despondently.
getting more and more restless. Calling out and hallucinating.” She stopped
for a moment, as she balked at asking the question uppermost in her mind, but
she needed to know. “How much longer do you think he can go on like this?”
sighed. “Even without knowing what it actually is, we can still beat it if we
can break that fever. But he’s getting weaker, Charity. I think we can both
nodded. “Yes, I know. I don’t know where the strength to thrash around is
went to the stove to boil some water for her sage tea, while Rawlins left her
and went into the sickroom.
got there just in time to find Martha trying to hold Johnny down as he tossed
violently from side to side. He ran across the room to help her.
Johnny called out desperately and flung himself forward into Martha’s arms.
She didn’t look like she would be able to hold him, but the doctor reached her
in time to grab him and push him back onto the pillow.
face was a visage of distress. “No… let me go… it’s Scott – have to
help him…” he cried out again.
moved aside to let the doctor take over. He put his hands on Johnny’s
shoulders and pushed hard against him to hold him down, but Johnny’s head
tossed back and forth, and his agonized cries for his brother broke Martha’s
heart. She knew that it was some sort of hallucination, but Johnny’s distress
was no less piteous.
go tell Charity to hurry with that tea she’s making up,” Jacob Rawlins
ordered her quickly, not daring to take his eyes off the sick man for a moment.
He might be terribly sick, but the strength he was finding in his delirium was
woman nodded and hurried out of the room to pass on the message, leaving the
doctor to try to soothe his patient.
weren’t going to be enough. That was obvious. The man was fighting him
‘tooth and nail’.
frowned and panted breathlessly, relaxing for just a moment, but it was only to
catch his breath and he started again, even stronger than before.
pushed the doctor away roughly as he threw his whole bodyweight against the
strong hands that were holding him down. He struggled to get away, and, for a
moment, the doctor wasn’t sure he could stop him.
Johnny called frantically. “No… no… I have to get to him… let me get to
finally began to get the upper hand as Johnny tried to fight him off. He got
hold of him again and forced him down, holding him firmly as he battled with
whatever demon was possessing him.
it easy, boy,” the doctor said calmly. “We’ll look after Scott for you.
You have to rest.”
Johnny wouldn’t be appeased and the battle raged for what seemed like hours.
In fact, it was only minutes and finally Charity arrived at his side with the
doctor had a lot of faith in her herbs. Charity was the one woman he knew who
knew what she was doing when she used them.
her hands she carried a mug of warm sweet liquid. She put it down on the chair
by the bed while she settled herself in position to help the doctor. She’d
been able to hear Johnny’s cries from the other room.
ran her hand through his hair gently while the doctor forcibly held him down.
Cooing softly, she reassured him. “It’s all right, Johnny. Scott is just
fine. He’s waiting for you in Peterson, remember?”
continued to wrestle with the arms that were holding him down and called again
for his brother.
him a little Jacob,” she told the doctor quietly. “Try to hold him while I
see if I can get him to swallow some of this.”
sounded easy enough, but the battle went on for some time, and Johnny turned
away from the mug time and time again. Eventually though, they were able to get
him to take some, drop by drop, forcing his mouth open to force him to drink it.
the time the mug was empty, they had gotten him to take about half of it. The
rest was on him, and on her from spills and coughs that had spat it back out at
her. But she was satisfied that he had drunk enough to allow it to have some
effect on him.
better keep holding him for a while yet,” she advised the doctor, and wiped
the spills from Johnny’s face. “It’ll take a minute or two to calm him.”
the fight went out of him. The wild look in his eyes faded away, and the doctor
felt confident that he could ease up on the pressure on the man’s shoulders.
Johnny’s eyes didn’t seem able to focus on anything much, but they were
resting vacantly on Charity.
all right Johnny,” she reassured him and wiped his face and neck with the damp
cloth that was always at hand. “Your brother’s just fine. He’s in
Peterson, waiting for you.”
panted in exhaustion and finally closed his eyes as the calming effect of the
sedative tea took effect. The deep frown on his face told her that he wasn’t
don’t worry about Scott. He’s just fine. But you need to rest, dear. Just
rest for now,” she reassured him.
her dismay, he began to shiver again. She pulled the blankets over him, right up
to his neck, and tucked them tightly around him. He didn’t fight her this
time, and he seemed to be drifting off to sleep at last.
he had quieted, Charity stepped aside so that Dr. Rawlins could check him over
again. The frown on his face as he checked his pulse
is it, Jacob?"
shook his head. "His heart is racing. It's far too fast. If this keeps up,
we'll lose him." His frown deepened. "I wish I knew what it is we're
fighting. I'm missing something."
do you mean?"
mean, none of it makes sense. If it's contagious enough to affect Robbie that
quickly and easily, then Pete Scrivens should be sick by now.
So should you and Martha and anyone else who has been in contact with him. I'm
beginning to think that it's not contagious at all. It could be just an awful
if it is?"
I've been looking in all the wrong places. It could be a lot of things, but I've
never seen that rash before." He was silent for a moment, thinking.
it's not contagious," he began, thinking out loud. "Then it could be a
reaction to something they've both come in contact with recently."
mean, like an allergy?"
be, but it's one hell of an allergic reaction if that's what it
the reaction would have died down by now though."
He nodded agreement. "Unless..." He looked at her with a startled expression. “Unless they are still in contact with it.”
never seen an allergy produce that sort of a fever though Jacob,” she argued.
“Maybe some sort of bite that’s infected? Perhaps we’ve missed it.”
“Or a poison of some sort.” He sighed heavily. We’re right where we started Charity. It could be just about anything.”