Well, Hearties, we have arrived! This is the last post before our beloved show makes its mighty comeback. We’ve got 2 sleeps…okay, I have 3, but I’ll live. SO EXCITING!
I apologize for the late hour, but I hope it’s worth it. And now, the conclusion of Romance: Quarantined by Sarah Nitsch and Kami Clements
The late evening sun shone in through the windows of the Queen of Hearts saloon, a cheery contrast to the gloomy atmosphere inside. The light rested on Faith’s hands as she doused her rag in the bowl of water next to her, then wrung it out, and returned it to Mrs. McCormick’s forehead. She quickly took the bowl over to Cody’s cot, and did the same. But when she approached Emily, the young girl was sweating, so Faith sat down to bathe her face and arms. Faith rubbed her weary eyes on her right shoulder. With their supply of quinine used up, and no way to get more, she had to use every remedy she could think of to keep everyone’s fevers down.
She stood, and Florence was right there to take the bowl, and fetch some fresh water. Before she walked away, Florence nodded her head in Carson’s direction, thinking maybe nonverbal cues would be better received. Faith just sighed, and shook her head. Then she washed her hands, and went to the supply table in the middle of the room to crush more herbs.
Rosemary was already working on grinding up the chamomile, so Faith picked up the remaining pile, and made quick work of mashing it into a fine powder for Molly to brew a relaxing tea. Faith turned, and gratefully handed over the chamomile to Molly. When she turned back, a large stack of lavender had appeared, courtesy of Rosemary.
Faith actually had asked Rosemary to gather it since it helped reduce fevers, but the sudden sight of it made tears spring to her eyes. She thought of the beautiful lavender dress hanging abandoned in her closet. She thought of the bouquet of lavender Carson had presented to her so gallantly, the same one that still hung by her window at home to preserve the memory. Slowly, Faith slid her mortar and pestle across the table, and moved to the other side so she could look at Carson while she labored over shredding the herbs. How she wished she could spend all her time sitting by him, nursing him, holding his hand. How she longed to tell him that she…
Just then, the telephone rang. Faith was so thankful for the distraction from her thoughts, and she was even more thankful that Molly went to answer it so she could keep working…and watching.
“Oh, just a moment. She’s right here.” Molly put down the receiver, and walked over to Faith so as not to wake the patients. “It’s Dr. Burns. He’d like to speak to you.”
“Thank you,” Faith smiled gratefully to Molly as she handed her the pestle. She glanced back at Carson once more before walking around the bar, washing her hands, and going to pick up the receiver. Thank goodness Lucas Bouchard’s “deep pockets”, (as Henry Gowen had put it,) had prompted the purchase of the new-fangled machine in the saloon. Faith didn’t know what she would have done without it. “Dr. Burns?” she started.
“How are you holding up, Nurse Carter?” he asked with the perfect empathy of a fellow medical professional.
But Faith didn’t feel very professional when she answered. Her calm composure began to crack as her lip quivered, and her voice quavered. “Thank you so much for calling to ask. I’m just sorry it’s not better news. The truth is…uh…we’re not faring very well.”
Faith sniffled slightly. “We ran out of quinine.”
Dr. Burns jumped to a solution. “I’ll send you a replacement supply on the morning train. It’ll be there by…:
“The stages and trains have stopped coming since the nearby towns heard about the diphtheria.”
“Then I’ll bring it to you myself. My schedule has opened up now. I can leave just…”
Suddenly, the saloon doors burst open, and three men hurriedly stumbled in. Faith gasped, then interrupted Dr. Burns with a hasty, “Just a moment, Doctor.” She put the receiver down, then rushed back around the bar to see who would possibly come in here like that. Then her eyes filled with hope.
“We got it!” Bill announced.
TWO DAYS LATER
Faith finally leaned back to relax a moment in her chair, and wiped the sweat from her brow with the corner of her once-white apron. She’d just finished sterilizing the anti-toxin syringes…again. After making sure all thirteen patients got a big enough dose to kill the diphtheria, she’d injected a small dose into herself and anyone else who’d been exposed to the disease. People were still coming in every so often, and Faith felt very blessed indeed that there was enough for everyone. Because Bill, Henry, and Mike weren’t representatives of a provincial health department, Dr. FitzGerald had asked for a small fee for the anti-toxin, but then he’d handed over more than twice the amount they’d paid for. Faith closed her eyes, and said a silent prayer, filled with relief and gratitude.
She raised her eyelids slowly to take in her surroundings. Rosemary had gathered all the sheets and blankets into one large sheet, and was taking them out back to be burned; Florence sat between Cody and Robert, talking to them, and alternately spoon feeding them chicken broth; Mrs. McCormick was propped up with pillows, and Molly was visiting with the elderly woman while she tucked a clean blanket around her. Ned was actually sitting up on his cot, holding hands with his daughter Katie, reassuring her how much better he felt. He’d probably be going home tomorrow. Opal’s father had arrived to take her home, she was just saying goodbye to everyone; and Emily had already gone home with the other five. And Elizabeth! Bless her! Since everyone was no longer contagious, Elizabeth had left Baby Jack with Laura to come help. She had just finished giving Maggie a sponge bath, and was helping her into a fresh nightgown.
Faith felt like she could almost smile…until she looked at the window. There stood Dorothy’s mother, sorrowfully looking in at Dorothy’s empty cot, and shedding a few tears. Faith felt so guilty, asking Dorothy’s parents to keep their distance. But she’d done so because they had twin babies at home, and they never would have lived through exposure. Faith knew she’d made the right decision, but she still felt awful that she’d lost the little girl.
Those mournful thoughts caused her to remember the other sad case she was dealing with, and her eyes fell on Carson. He was just lying there, all alone, and still very ill. He wasn’t responding to the anti-toxin the way the others were, and she was worried. Why wasn’t he getting better?
Elizabeth finished with Maggie, and helped her lie back down. When she looked up to see what else needed to be done, she saw Faith looking more forlorn than she’d ever seen her. She followed Faith’s sightline to Carson, and immediately understood. She crossed the room, and stood beside the exhausted nurse. “You’re looking awfully glum for someone who just saved a town,” Elizabeth commented.
Faith heard something, but it was hazy. She looked up to see Elizabeth. When did she get there? “What? Oh…no, I’m not. I’m just trying to keep track of everything that needs to be done.” She slapped her thighs, and stood, fearing she’d been caught.
“How is Carson responding to the anti-toxin?”
Faith sighed, flustered. She had been caught. But she answered her as objectively as she could. “His breathing seems to have improved, but his fever is still pretty high. And he hasn’t regained full consciousness like the others.” Objectivity was going out the window.
Elizabeth put a hand on Faith’s arm. “That must be frustrating.” Nothing. “How are you?”
Faith firmly pressed her lips together a moment, as if to physically hold in her emotions. “There’s still so much to do. I need to get fresh water for drinking and bathing, I need to make sure we have clean bedding for those that aren’t ready to go home yet, oh the food! I need to check on the food before…”
“Faith!” Elizabeth interrupted as she grasped her by the shoulders.
“How are YOU?” Elizabeth emphasized.
Faith finally looked Elizabeth in the eye. Something about looking straight into the face of a woman who had also lost so much pushed everything forward, and she finally cracked. “I’ve been…better,” she whispered, as her eyes filled with distress and tears.
Elizabeth pulled Faith to her shoulder, and Faith finally let the floodgate open as she quietly heaved several sobs. Elizabeth caught her breath as memories suddenly overcame her. She knew that look in Faith’s eyes all too well, the look of utter despair and hopelessness. As a Mountie’s fiancée, wife, and now widow, Elizabeth had lived through more than her fair share of moments fearing for the man she loved. Her heart went out to Faith, knowing the agony she was experiencing, just waiting and watching, desperately hoping for any signs of improvement. Elizabeth decided to help Faith keep her mind occupied with her field of expertise.
“What do you think the difference is with Carson? Were his symptoms worse than the others? Was he sick longer before getting the anti-toxin? Why do you think everyone else has responded to the anti-toxin faster?
Faith analyzed the facts. “Many patients were children, so their symptoms seemed worse: more labored breathing, higher fevers, extreme dehydration. While Carson is older than most, the two others his age are fine, and have gone home now. Of the four patients who are much older, three have been showing tremendous improvement over the past thirty-six hours.” Faith’s face fell again. “But Dorothy…and Mr. Bartlett…”
“Dorothy was the smallest child here. You know better than I that her little body just couldn’t handle it. And I know for a fact that Mr. Bartlett has had weak lungs for several years now. You can’t blame yourself. For goodness sake, you didn’t even know what you were trying to treat until after he died.”
Faith stared at the empty cot that had once been Old Man Bartlett’s, then Dorothy’s. “He didn’t have anyone. Nobody to sit beside him and hold his hand, nobody to pray for him and tell him they care…and poor Dorothy! Her parents had no choice but to stay away because of the twin babies at home. They couldn’t be here to give her the strength to fight.”
Elizabeth slowly looked around the saloon, her gaze traveling from bed to bed, each patient having at least one family member or friend with them. “So, everyone here…has someone?”
They both raised their eyebrows.
“Oh, Elizabeth! Do you think…?”
Elizabeth turned Faith toward her, looked her square in the eye, and answered with firm resolve. “You know what I think? I think prayer and positive thoughts can work wonders, especially for the people holding them in their hearts. Now! I’m going to ask Clara to check on lunches, Florence and Molly can take care of the bedding, and Rosemary and I will get the fresh water, and make tea and compresses. You have done so much for everyone else, now you need to do it for Carson.” Faith still looked hesitant. “GO! Go hold his hand. Pray for him. Tell him you…care. Share your amazing strength with him. I promise to come get you if anyone needs anything we can’t handle.”
Faith almost tiptoed to Carson’s cot, a little unsure of what to do. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d just sat with someone, and not actively been a nurse. She took Carson’s hand into both of hers, and squeezed it tight.
“Carson, you have to come back. This town can’t do without you; I can’t do without you.” Faith raised her eyes to the ceiling a moment, and gave a deep, emotional exhale. “There’s so much I haven’t said to you…so many things I want to say to you…important things. So you need to hurry and come back to me…please,” she finished in a whisper. She bowed her head over their hands, and started to pray.
Carson’s eyelids felt like lead covered in sandpaper, but he was determined to get them open. He forced them up; everything was so blurry, but then he made out a figure sitting near him.
“No,” came Elizabeth’s cheerful voice, “but she’s close by. She’ll be so happy you’re awake!” Carson tried to sit up, but his head was swimming. “No you don’t,” Elizabeth instructed him like one of her students. “You’ve been very sick with diphtheria, and you need to get better.”
“Diphtheria???” Then he remembered. He’d figured it out right before everything went black. “How is everyone, Elizabeth?”
“Don’t worry, Carson, everyone here is out of danger. I’ll let Faith tell you the whole story, but I have to say: you would have been so pleased with the way she stepped up, and took care of everyone. She did you proud!”
Carson gave a weak smile. “I’d expect nothing less.”
“I’ll get her.” Elizabeth stood to go tell Faith the good news. Several people in the room noticed he was awake, but even Rosemary sensed the need for a private reunion.
Then suddenly, there she was; looking more beautiful and angelic than ever, even with the smudged uniform, mussed hair, and slightly crooked cap. “You’re awake!” she said breathlessly.
“So it would seem,” Carson chuckled feebly. He held out a hand to her. “And I’m told I have you to thank for that.”
“Faith sat, and took his hand, blushing the whole time. “Just doing my job.”
“No, it was more than that. You brought me back.” Faith looked slightly confused, so he tried to explain. “I was dreaming…I was surrounded by blackness; I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, I heard a voice, very far away with lots of echo. I couldn’t understand it, but I knew I had to go toward it. Then I felt you with me, and I knew it was your voice. Then I knew what I had to do.” Carson gazed adoringly at Faith, and squeezed her forearm with his free hand. “You were my guiding light. You told me I needed to hurry and come back to you.”
Faith gasped in disbelief. “Oh my goodness! I did say that! I can’t believe you heard me!”
“I did.” Your voice is what made me want to come back. There was something else…you said something about “important things you haven’t said’?” He looked at her inquisitively.
“Oh yes…that.” Faith was suddenly nervous. She cleared her throat, inched a little closer, and took a deep breath. “Normally, I wouldn’t be this bold, but after almost losing you, I can’t leave it unsaid. Carson…I…I love you.”
Carson’s smile broadened, and he took her other hand, lacing their fingers together. “Now, those are words worth waking up for.”
Faith gave a one-syllable laugh, both relieved and self-conscious. She was about to turn away when Carson gently touched her cheek with the back of his hand. “I love you, Faith. I love you more than life itself.”
That’s when the tears fell for both of them. Carson picked up her hand, and pressed a gentle kiss there. “Can’t have you getting sick now,” he said lightly, “but when I’m well…”
Faith smiled wistfully, the memory of his kiss still fresh in her mind, even after such a long time. “It’ll be worth the wait.”
Have the best weekend! Don’t forget to set your DVR, and also don’t forget to send Kavan Smith a birthday wish on Monday. I’ll be back on said Monday for #MondayMusings. This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom!