A Walk at Dusk, “Heartsick,” part 8

“Good job, Paul,” Ely said. “I’m going to stitch you up quickly, but because the wound was deep I’m going to have to stitch twice.” David held Paul’s head and shoulders as Ely worked, but most of the fight of the boy on the table seemed to be gone. Ely sewed under the skin with a short thread of catgut, then sewed up the skin with a more common thread. The whole thing went remarkably quick to David, as it is whenever one watches a man do whatever it is he is truly good at.

“Let’s get him up and out of here,” Ely said. David helped to stand the boy up, who was now weak and placid. The older man toweled him off (for he was still quite bloody), then they led him to another room and placed him on a couch. David followed Ely back to the kitchens, where they all began washing up using a tub, a large bucket of water, and a hefty slab of tallow soap. The older man soon joined him.

“Tell his father to let him rest for as long as is necessary,” Ely said. “No movement of the shoulder if possible, as that could tear the wound. Keep him eating and drinking.”

“Yes sir,” the older man said. He walked out after a hasty job cleaning what little blood he had on his hands off.

After he left, David said, “That wasn’t Paul’s father?”

Ely shook his head. “Uncle. Don’t blame the father for being squeamish about his son. So you know the boy?”

“A little,” David said. He swallowed. “How did he get shot?”

“A duel,” Ely said. “Foolish thing.” The doctor sighed. “I suppose you’re here because I’m needed elsewhere, yes?”

“Yes,” David said, but he felt, after watching the doctor remove a bullet, that Michael’s fever was probably not so bad after all.

“Well, what is it?” Ely said, shaking off his wet arms. Blood flecked his white shirt still, but he seemed unperturbed.

“A… A fever, sir,” David said hesitantly. “My brother Michael’s been bedridden and delirious.”

“What have you done to break it?” Ely said.

“I… don’t know.”

“Well, if it was bad enough to go through the trouble of tracking me down, I suppose it is bad. Let me fetch my coat and I’ll join you.”

David nodded and continued scrubbing his hands. They looked pale in the lamplight, but he kept finding spots of blood up near his elbows. When he left the kitchens he saw Paul lying now on two couches pushed together, sipping water. Ely was putting on his coat, and a large older man (this one David guessed correctly was Paul’s father), trying to shake the doctor’s hands as he did so. Finally the shake managed to happen, and the doctor was able to say a few humble words, pick up his big leather bag, and step out.

David followed the doctor outside to find Ezra already seated on his horse. She held her chin up at a proud angle as she looked to her father, and David thought the look did not become her gracile face.

“I thought I told you not to open the door for anyone,” Ely said as he pushed up into his saddle.

“I didn’t open the door for anyone, I opened it for David,” Ezra said.

Ely gave a false chuckle. “Your mother would find that more humorous, no doubt.”

Ezra pushed her chin even higher. David approached his horse and stopped at the stirrups. Seeing no objection, he pushed himself up and into the saddle in front of Ezra.

“This way,” Ezra said, pointing northward, where a thin road ran through some sparse pines out toward the main road.

“You must remember the speed of roads over brush,” Ely said. “No, I think this way will be quicker.” He urged his horse forward with some speed, disappearing into the shadows of the west. After a moment, David pushed in his spurs and his own horse reared into a long cantor.

“Will you always do as my father says?” Ezra said, grabbing David’s coat lapels to stabilize herself.

“He didn’t exactly say to do anything,” David said. “But I suppose I would do as he said, if he said something to do. He’s the doctor, after all.” He had to push his horse to keep the man in sight as they left the soft glow of the big farmhouse.

“This isn’t medicine,” Ezra said. “Why should you follow him?”

“Well, he is a man.”

“So are you.”

“Hardly!” David said with a laugh.

“Well, I want a man.”

David was caught, during the hectic ride in the dark, with a sudden realization of the reality of those words, and what they meant, somehow no longer just play. He took a hand off the reigns and gripped hers up by his lapel for a moment. She hugged him tight, and he could feel the tickle of her hair against his neck, and her warm breath, and her lips resting lightly on his cheek. David was glad of the darkness, feeling heat around his neck beating back the cold of the night air.

“Now if only you’d taken the path I had said to, you could kiss me properly,” she whispered.

“Perhaps I’ll kiss you anyway,” David said.

“Keep your eyes on the road.”

He did, but he knew that behind him, she was smiling.


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