Happy Friday, #Hearties! How are you? I know this ordeal seems to drag on forever, and it’s hard to keep spirits up sometimes. Well, I have a little something for you that might help.
I wish I could say this is a brand new story, but I think this might be even better. As you can tell from the title, this story is very appropriate for our current time. But this story was written a year ago. It’s a tale my friend Sarah Nitsch and I spun during the Season 6 hiatus to stay positive and keep our hopes high. Who would have thought we’d need it now even more. So for your reading pleasure and time passage 😉 , I present Romance Quarantined. Then after that, you can listen or watch the episode recap for “Into the Woods”.
Carson peered into the dark abyss that was Old Man Bartlett’s mouth, trying to deduce the reason for his ailing throat and fevered brow. It was definitely enflamed. And what was that right…
A cough erupted out of nowhere from the older gentleman’s throat. Carson squinted his eyes shut, and snapped his head back, but too late. Well, it wasn’t the first time he’d been coughed on; it certainly wouldn’t be the last. He made a mental note to give his face a thorough washing later.
“Sorry, Doc. Didn’t feel that one coming.”
“That’s quite alright, Mr. Bartlett. Just part of the job.” Carson reached for his clipboard, and started making notes in the old man’s already-full file. “Well, you certainly have a sore throat,” Carson observed lightly. “When did this start?”
“ ‘Bout two days ago,” was the answer.
Too early for any diagnosis, Carson thought, but he nodded. “We’ll give you something to help bring that fever down, and some tablets to ease your throat. Nurse Carter, would you bundle those up please?”
Faith immediately scooted her chair back from her paperwork, and cheerfully began collecting the medication. Carson smiled, and stopped to watch her a moment, then shook himself back to the present with Mr. Bartlett. “Careful not to take more than one tablet a day for your throat,” he warned, “or you might start to crave it. I also saw some phlegm. With your history of weak lungs, we’ll want to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t build up, and obstruct your breathing.”
Faith appeared beside him with the package, and held them out with her signature smile. “That will be $0.45 for both. And that includes the visit too,” she said as she handed it over.
Old Man Bartlett’s face became drawn with worry. He dug through his pockets, and studied its contents. “Would it be alright for me to give you $0.20 now, and the rest later?”
Carson gave an understanding smile, and held out his hand for the coins. “Of course.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Mr. Bartlett said, and dropped the money into Carson’s waiting hand. With that, he got to his feet, a little unsteady, and made his way out the door. “See ya soon,” he called, without turning his head.
Faith closed the door behind him, then turned with an admiring smile. “Well done,” she complimented as she coyly approached Carson.
“Well, I do have a way with the elderly,” he playfully responded. Faith reached up on tiptoe to kiss him. He gently pushed her shoulder back down, but his eyes glowed with her attempt. “You may not want to. Old Man Bartlett just coughed all over my face. I need to wash up.”
“Oh. Well, we can’t be responsible for starting an epidemic now, can we?” she smoothed the arms of his white coat. “It’ll be worth the wait.” She smiled again, and went back to her paperwork, her eyes not leaving his until the last possible moment.
Carson sighed happily, and went to clean his face. Life couldn’t get any better!
FIVE DAYS LATER
Could things be any worse?! Carson and Faith scurried from patient to patient, administering quinine to keep their fevers down, and trying to make everyone comfortable. Carson rubbed at the soreness in his throat, and wiped the sweat from his brow as he knelt and tried to look down Maggie Lawson’s throat, despite her feverish tossing and turning. “I’m fine,” he insisted to himself. He sorrowfully looked at Maggie’s pained face. He’d saved this little angel from being trampled by a runaway wagon when he’d first come to town. He couldn’t let her die now!
What was this illness? Carson tried to concentrate, but his head ached, and his brain felt addled. In the last five days, fourteen people had been reported sick. The school had been closed, and Lucas Bouchard had generously offered the saloon as a makeshift hospital with the number of invalids continuing to rise. Carson accepted instantly, and quarantined the place, hoping to stop it spreading.
He looked around to see Opal, Emily, Cody, Robert, Ned Yost, Mr. Bartlett, and Mrs. McCormick among so many others. Opal had come two days ago with an enflamed throat. Mrs. McCormick had been here four; she had the same gray spot he’d seen in Mr. Bartlett before he…Carson’s eyes grew wide as he slowly stood up. Before he’d coughed on him! Now there was a gray film coating his entire mouth. And most of the ill were either children, or getting on in years.
He knew! He knew what it was! He also knew how to cure it. They had to act fast! Carson almost turned to go tell Faith what was plaguing everyone, but stopped cold. His hand went to his throat as the pain flared. The room swam before his eyes, his breath was short, and he tasted filmy residue in his mouth. Faith’s voice echoed in his ears, asking if he was alright. He took a shallow breath to answer her, then collapsed.
Faith hastily exchanged little Dorothy’s old blanket for a fresh one, then dropped it in the large laundry hamper on her way to grab the quinine from the bar. It was time to administer another dose to everyone. Rosemary grabbed the other bottle to help out. Faith saw that that bottle was already half empty, and the bottle she herself held was past that. She was worried. She tried to think as she started giving everyone the quinine. If I don’t figure out what this disease is, and fast, I’m going to run out of medication. Fiona had informed her that some of the surrounding towns had gotten wind of some kind of epidemic in Hope Valley. They’d stopped all trains and stagecoaches, so Faith couldn’t order more medicine and expect delivery. What do I do?!
Breathe, she ordered herself, as she gave Carson his portion of quinine. He took it, but by reflex only. He’d gone in and out of a fevered sleep since he’d collapsed that morning, and he’d been unresponsive to anything Faith said. She lingered just a moment longer to dab his sweaty brow with a cool cloth. “I will figure this out!” she whispered determinedly as she tenderly traced his cheek with her finger. “I’ll make you and everyone else here well. I promise!”
His only reply was a shallow inhale and exhale. Faith blinked several times to keep from crying, then tore herself away from his side. Florence was there. She looked very sympathetic for her situation. “Why don’t you sit with him for a few minutes. We can handle things.”
Faith gazed longingly at the face of the man she cared for so deeply, but stubbornly shook her head, and insisted, “My patients need me.”
She stood in the center of the room where she could have a good view of all said patients, and concentrated on each in turn. She wasn’t a doctor, but she’d certainly been studying. Surely she could discern what sickness this was if she just stopped moving for a few moments and focused. Alright, her mind told her as she threw herself into the thought process, everyone has a high fever. Everyone has a sore throat, but not the same kind. Opal’s and Dorothy’s are red and enflamed; Maggie, Emily, and Mrs. McCormick have gray spots in their throats; Ned has gray spots, and gray film is starting to form; Cody’s and Robert’s film is starting to coat their throats…so is Carson’s. And Mr. Bartlett is the worst: his entire throat is so coated, he can hardly breathe. Everyone else is either at these stages, or somewhere in between.
Faith put her fist to her mouth, thinking hard. “Sore throat, high fever, gray film, shallow breath…” Faith’s hands flew up, and her eyes bulged with sudden enlightenment. That had to be it! She frantically scanned the room, and found Rosemary giving quinine to Benjamin Davis. “Rosemary! Can you ladies handle things here for just a moment? Mr. Bartlett and Robert are my only two left who need quinine.”
Yes, of course…” Rosemary assured her, but Faith was already racing out the door.
“Don’t forget to scrub your hands well if one of you does laundry!” she called over her shoulder.
Faith was running to the infirmary as fast as her legs would carry her when she heard Elizabeth calling to her. “Faith!” They were both gasping for breath as Elizabeth approached. “How is everyone in there? It breaks my heart that so many of my students are ill! Is there anything I can do to…?”
“Don’t come any closer, Elizabeth!” Faith warned. “I know you want to help, and I’m truly grateful; but we can’t risk you getting exposed, and taking this home to Jack Jr. I don’t know that he’d live through it, and I can’t bear the thought of you losing him too. Please, go home. I’ll let you know if you can help in any way.” Then she kept running.
“But what…” Elizabeth started to yell, but Faith had disappeared inside, “…is it?” she finished to herself. Well, she’d find out soon enough. Right now, Elizabeth gave into the sudden urge to go home, and hold her son close.
Faith closed the door to the infirmary, reached for the medical encyclopedia, and tore through the pages until she found what she was looking for. “I was right!” She slammed the book down, and reached for the telephone, frantically jiggling the switch hook, and hoping Fiona wasn’t taking a break.
“Hope Valley Central. Number, please?” came the voice. Faith had never been so happy to hear someone speak.
“Fiona! This is Faith Carter. Please connect me to Dr. Burns at the Union City Hospital.”
“Of course, Faith. Did you figure it out?”
“Feel free to listen in, and find out.”
“Alright. Trying that number now.”
The line seemed to ring endlessly, but someone finally picked up on the 5th ring. “Dr. Burns’s office, this is Nurse Everston. May I help you?”
“I have a call for Dr. Burns from Hope Valley.”
“Oh, please put it through.”
“Melinda? Is that you?” Faith asked.
“Faith! Hello! I certainly do miss you here! How are things in Hope Valley?”
“Not so good at the moment, Melinda,” Faith answered impatiently. “I need to speak to Dr. Burns right away.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Faith, but he’s making his rounds right now.”
“Right now?” Tears sprang to Faith’s eyes, and panic seized her heart. “But this is an emergency! Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“I’m sorry, but you know there’s no way I can reach him when he’s on rounds.”
“Oh!” Faith whimpered. The walls of her composure were cracking. Every moment ticking away was precious time wasted. What could she do?
“Oh, wait a moment, Faith! He just arrived back.” Faith wanted to sob with relief, but she held her ground, and strained to hear the exchange in the background. “For you, Doctor. It’s Nurse Carter.” Then some noisy feedback as he picked up the receiver.
“Nurse Carter! Faith! How are you faring with Doctor Shepherd?”
“You know, we had a new arrival from your dear little town not too long ago: Mrs. Ramsey and her lovely dress shop. My wife frequents it quite often.”
“Dr. Burns! I’m in a huge predicament, and I need your help.”
Dr. Burns’s tone immediately sobered. “What’s the matter, Faith?”
Her lip quivered, knowing she was about to admit it out loud. “We have an epidemic…of diphtheria.”
Faith heard a female gasp on the line. She’d almost forgotten that Fiona was listening. She would talk to her later. Right now, she had work to do. “Doctor, I need to know what the latest and most effective treatment is, because it’s been around too long already. I don’t know how much longer my patients can last.”
“What do you mean, ‘your’ patients? What’s happened to Dr. Shepherd?”
“He caught it as well. One of the patients coughed directly in his face then his resistance was low when he was trying to care for everyone.” Faith bit her lip to control her tears before she added, “He’s quite ill, actually.”
“Oh, Faith, I’m so sorry! If I could, I would come help, but I’m afraid I just can’t get away right…”
“No, Doctor, I wouldn’t dream of asking. The town is pulling together. I just need to know the treatment. Has something new been found in the last three years or so?” Faith rolled her eyes at the insanity of her question. That was highly unlikely.
“ Actually, there is,” he revealed, and Faith wanted to scream in delight. She allowed herself a little silent hop instead.
“As you know, there’s been an anti-toxin since the 1890’s using the blood of horses, but it’s always been so expensive to get into Canada.”
“Of course, I remember! We couldn’t even keep it stocked in Hamilton.”
“Well in May of 1914, a Dr. John Fitzgerald created a kind of ‘Anti-toxin Laboratory’ at the University of Toronto, in a stable of all places! Can you send someone to Toronto to retrieve some for you?”
“I will find someone. Thank you, Dr. Burns. Oh, and the next time you see Dottie, please tell her not to come home for a visit until this is all over.”
“I will. Good luck, Nurse Carter. Faith…you’re very good at what you do. You’ll get through this.”
“Thank you, Doctor. That means more than I can say. Goodbye. “
He hung up after giving her one more well wish. “Fiona?” Faith asked. “Are you still there?”
“I’m here,” Fiona’s voice was shaking. “Diphtheria?”
“It’s alright, we’re going to make it through. Will you please call Sheriff Avery and tell him to meet me in front of the saloon?”
“Of course! Anything else I can do?”
“Stay by the telephone. We need to make sure we don’t miss any calls, and we need you to stay healthy. And Fiona? Pray!”
Fiona was quiet a moment, as if considering the concept for the first time. “Sure thing.”
Faith hung up, and scurried back to the saloon. She found Rosemary bathing Mr. Bartlett’s face. “Rosemary, where’s Lee?”
Rosemary looked a little confused. “He’s on a traveling business trip for the mill. He’s been gone for a week.”
“I won’t know where he is until he calls to check in. I told you all this four days ago. Remember?”
Faith dug her knuckles into her forehead. She did now. One more thing in the way. “I need someone with an automobile,” she muttered.
“Did you say ‘automobile’, Faith? Henry Gowen has one. What do you need it for?”
Faith opened her mouth to explain, but saw Bill through the window. “I’ll explain later,” she said, and headed out the door.
“Sheriff! Thank you for coming so quickly. Don’t come any closer. We don’t want you exposed.”
Bill stopped just short of the steps, and put his hands on his hips. “Did you figure out what it is?”
“Yes, it’s diphtheria; which is why I need your help. Do you think Mr. Gowen is willing to drive you somewhere?”
“And where might that be, young lady?” Henry Gowen appeared only a few yards to her right. She hadn’t heard him approach.
“Oh! Mr. Gowen! Stay back please. Thank you. There’s an anti-toxin for diphtheria at the University of Toronto that we need right away. There are no trains or stages coming or going from Hope Valley, and I thought the safest way to pick it up would be with a law enforcement officer. And neither of you have been exposed. You could drive to Hamilton, then take a train to Toronto, maybe?”
“I can drive myself. I’m not going on a road trip with Henry,” Bill insisted.
“If my automobile is involved, Sheriff, there’s no way I’m staying behind,” Henry fired back.
Faith watched the interchange, wondering if maybe she made a mistake. Fortunately, at that moment, Rosemary opened the door, and stood beside her. “I couldn’t help but overhear. I telephoned Hickam, and he should be right over.”
“What for?” But just then, the door to Lee’s office opened, and Mike made his way across the street.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “How is everyone in there?”
“Everyone is very ill, actually,” Faith answered. “But that’s going to change very soon. Sheriff Avery has kindly agreed to go get a diphtheria anti-toxin from the University of Toronto, and Mr. Gowen has graciously offered to drive him.” She was careful to not have her tone turn too skeptical. She needed them to do this, and as quickly as possible. “And Mike, you’re going to…?” Faith didn’t know that part, so she looked at Rosemary.
“You’re going to make sure these two don’t kill each other,” Rosemary finished. Both men turned to her in protest. “Oh, don’t look at me like that! You know perfectly well you two need a chaperone, and who better?”
That’s when Mike inquired, “How much do we need to get?”
Faith thought a moment, then said, “Better get enough for twenty-five. We have fifteen sick now, and it might go up. I can see how much money is in the infirmary…”
“We can settle that when we get back,” Bill grumbled, still not excited to travel with Henry.
Mike looked very hesitant, but dutifully said, “Well, alright! When should we go?” He clapped his hands together, trying to look certain.
“The sooner, the better,” Faith said. Rosemary took it a step further, and actually shooed them away, flicking her hand at them. “Go on now, get going.” The men dispersed to get ready to leave.
Then Florence opened the door, and shot her head out. “Faith,” she urgently beckoned, “we need you in here.”
Florence led them back inside, and over to Old Man Bartlett’s cot. He was lying still…deathly still. Florence began to stammer nervously. “I…I….I…I don’t understand. I was giving him a sip of water, and he started choking. That’s when I came to get you.”
Faith felt his neck for a pulse. She closed her eyes, and shook her head. “He’s gone,” she whispered. “I lost him.” A wave of fear overcame her. Now what would she do?
“Are you trying to hit every hole in the road? I think my backside has bounced into my throat by now!” Bill complained.
“Well, you and your backside had better become accustomed to a few bumps, Bill, because there is no way I’m letting you get behind this wheel,” Henry grumbled.
Bill still wasn’t the least bit pleased with the prospect of countless hours in the same vehicle as Henry Gowen. It had already been eight, and he was exhausted! He didn’t like the feeling of not being in control of a dire situation, so to cover, he had to think of a way to fire back. “You let Rosemary Coulter in that driver’s seat at Christmas.”
Henry grimaced, and inwardly cursed himself. He knew that decision would come back to bite him. He’d had his reasons, but they weren’t for Bill’s ears. He had to retaliate, but he crafted his words carefully. “Would you have had me deny a pregnant woman a pram, and the whole town their Christmas dinner entrée?”
Mike sat in the back seat shaking his head and sighing. He rubbed a hand over his worn out face, then switched to massage his sore neck. He’d tried to refrain from looking back and forth between the two bulls locking horns, but to no avail; and it was beginning to take its toll. After the first two hours, he’d tried breaking things up by talking about how great the weather was for the drive, and that they hadn’t gotten stuck in any mud, not even once. That had been fruitless; Bill had just waved a lazy hand in his general direction, and plunged right back into whatever they’d been arguing about. Maybe he should try again. Well, no time like the present!
Mike put a smile on his face, and scooted up in his seat, trying to put some distance between the two, hoping to get a word in edgewise. “Bill!” he began cheerfully, clapping him on the shoulder.
Bill turned his glare to Mike, then Mike’s hand on his shoulder, then Mike’s face again. Mike timidly cleared his throat, and slid his fingers down the back of the seat until they met with his other hand, and clutched both together for dear life. He continued, but in a much more subdued tone. “Um…did you hear about…the new head saw Mr. Coulter ordered? It came in just before we left.”
“Is that a fact?” Bill asked unenthusiastically.
“Yes, it did,” Henry proclaimed. “I installed it with a team myself, and it runs twice as fast. We’ll be able to double our production,”
“It’s a miracle the engine didn’t burn out before we left!” Bill quipped snidely.
“And you think the town won’t burn down with a brand new Mountie left in charge?” Henry retorted.
Mike blew his breath out his silent lips, realizing how futile his attempts were. He sat back in the seat, trying to get comfortable, resigned to tuning out the two carrying on. His head rested on his hand, and he groaned softly as he watched the scenery passing. “I should have brought a book!”
Faith sat beside Dorothy’s cot, holding her little hand in her left, and wiping at tears with the back of her right. Gently and reverently, she let go of Dorothy’s tiny fingers, laid them at her side, then covered her face with the sheet. The back of her hand returned to her face, this time to muffle the sound of her crying. She was careful not to let her fingers touch her skin and spread germs, but felt she would explode if some of this emotion wasn’t released!
Faith felt another hand ease onto her shoulder and instinctively grasped it tightly. “She’s gone,” she said, more clarifying it out loud for herself. She couldn’t believe it! A soft whimper escaped with the declaration.
“You did everything you could,” came Molly’s soothing reply.
But Faith wasn’t soothed. “And yet, I still lost her!” Her voice was tinged with anger. In her entire career, she had only lost a handful of patients; certainly none of them were as young as four years old! Her hands balled into fists, and smacked her thighs. “If only I had figured it out sooner!”
“Faith, calm down,” Florence advised somewhat sternly. She and Rosemary had joined them. “You won’t do your other patients any good by making yourself upset.”
Rosemary piped up, but a little softer. “Faith, you can’t do that to yourself. You’ll go crazy, and you know it.” She knelt to be closer to eye level with Faith, so she could make sure she was heard. “You are a smart, capable, wonderful nurse, and you are doing an incredible job of caring for everyone, especially with Carson sick too.”
Faith emitted a small moan at the mention of Carson’s name, and let her eyes wander to his still and weakened form. All three women followed her gaze.
“Faith, go!” Molly urged. Faith looked up at her. “Really, it’s alright. We know you want to so badly. Go sit with him, even just for a little while.” Molly looked to Rosemary and Florence to make sure that was agreeable with them, and both nodded eagerly.
Faith looked longingly at Carson, and even took a step in his direction. But she shook her head, shaking herself from that dream. “I’ll give him his medication, but then I need to get back to work. We all should do the same.”
A brief look of concern passed between the other three. They recognized the signs of a woman staying busy to keep herself from worrying. At this point, however, it was better not to stop her.
“I’ll have Jesse and Constable Grant take care of little Dorothy,” Rosemary volunteered.
“I’ll go inform her parents…poor things,” Florence chimed in.
“And I’ll help you administer the medication to everyone,” Molly said on her way to the bar. She came back with the two bottles of quinine, and Faith was shocked to see how little was left. “It’s almost gone,” Molly noted nervously.
“I know,” Faith said with just as much concern. “We’ll be lucky if we make it two more days.” As long as no one else gets sick, her mind added.
Everyone dispersed, leaving her standing there, anxiously rubbing the bottle in her hands. She only hoped the men would come back soon…before she lost anyone else.
“Are you sure we’re going the right way?” Henry asked skeptically. He, Bill, and Mike dodged their way in and out of people’s paths as they made their way down the streets of Toronto.
“Of course I am,” Bill said indignantly. “The grocer said it was a right turn at the church, then straight down the street a ways. WE just needs to keep walking.” The three men were exhausted from the long train ride, but the adrenaline of being so close to the cure kept their feet moving.
Still, Henry continued his interrogation. “I just think we should be able to see it by now.”
Bill’s blood was starting to boil. He was just about to take a swing at Henry on a public street when Mike said from behind them, “Well, what man hasn’t gotten lost in a big city a time…” Bill and Henry stared him into submissive silence, but not before he finished with, “or two”.
They forged ahead about twenty more minutes before arriving at a large stone marquee that read “University of Toronto”.
“Aha!” Bill gloated. “I knew we’d find it. Now all we need is to find the stables.” He started charging at the first person he saw, which happened to be a young female student.
Henry caught him by the arm, and smiled smugly. “You’ll frighten the poor girl off. Allow me.” Henry made his way over to the young woman.
Bill and Mike watched Henry tip his hat politely, and engage her in conversation. Bill huffed. “We don’t have time for niceties.” He watched Henry a moment longer, then scoffed. “He thinks he’s such a charmer.”
“Well…” Mike began, but Bill gave him the look that could freeze fire. “Never mind.”
Henry tipped his hat to the young lady again, then rejoined the other two. “It’s just around this way,” he pointed with a smug smile.
They walked around the campus until they came to a large, weather-beaten, two-door barn. Bill heaved one of the doors open, and stepped inside to find several people in aprons and lab coats, as well as many horses. Henry and Mike entered behind him.
“Excuse me!” Bill called out, and everyone looked up. “We’re looking for Dr. John FitzGerald.”
A man came out of a stall in the middle of the barn, wiping his hands on a yellowed cloth. “I’m Dr. FitzGerald. How may I help you?”
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 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 multiple exposures. 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. Then she realized something. “Wait, you heard that too?”
“Mm hmm,” Carson murmured with a gleam in his eye. Then he waited expectantly.
Faith looked away, cleared her throat, inched a little closer, and took a deep breath. “Normally, I wouldn’t be this bold, but…” she looked into his now lively eyes, and all her qualms drained away. “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.”
And now, enjoy Kaycee’s and my very boisterous opinions on “Into the Woods”. I even sing a little for you. This is Hooked Heartie, signing off! May your heart let your hope blossom…especially now!