Blood began to mix with the dust to smart his eyes and he had to slow his pace as the brush thickened. Soon both his sleeves were bloody from wiping at his eyes. The ache in his head became far more present than in the moments after crawling free of the tunnel, but despite this he smiled as he saw clear blue sky emerge overhead once again. He reached the main road and pushed his horse into a gallop for long stretch, then let the beast slow to its own pace as other parts of his body began to ache.
The town crept into sight. He passed a loaded wagon and somebody called out to him as he passed. David had neither the presence to return the greeting nor the energy to care who it was, and so he kept riding down the lane. He turned right at the general store, passed the post office on his left, then turned down the oak-lined path that he knew lead to the residence of Doctor Corning.
He slowed as he passed through the open gate that hemmed in the yard.
“David!” He recognized the voice of Ezra and saw her rise from her seat on the porch. She rushed down the steps as he struggled with one of his stirrups. He felt her hands on his hip as he swung his right leg over the horse and dropped heavily down, feeling his head swim again. He let her guide him toward the front door.
“Egad, man, what happened to you?” Eli Corning said, stepping into view from somewhere in the side yard.
David shook his head and thought for a moment, then said, “Horse threw me.”
“And you rode it back?” The doctor said, pushing up David’s eyebrows to look into his eyes.
“Not entirely his fault,” David said. “He stopped short at a bog I should have seen, and I wasn’t paying enough attention. Flew right over. Hit my head on something.”
“I’ll say,” the doctor said. “That’s a nasty gash, and I’ll bet there’s a concussion to boot.”
David felt the doctor’s fingers on his scalp, and a flash of hot pain from up near his hair-line.
“Oh, David,” Ezra said, half-angry and half sighing. “You must be more careful”
“I think a stitch or two would do you good,” Eli said. “Come on and let me see if I can get that cleaned up for you.”
“Thanks, doc,” David said. He followed the doctor around the porch to another door, this one facing west. The doctor pushed him down in a chair and disappeared inside, reappearing with a bowl of water and a rag. He wet the rack and cleaned David’s forehead and face. David thought the water, cold as it ran down to his chin, to be marvelously refreshing. The feeling was soon dispelled by the doctor’s touch to the wound, which bit as Eli pushed the flesh around subtly.
“Actually looks better than I thought, but I can see your dermis in a spot. Will you let me give you a stitch or two?”
“Sure thing,” David said. “Just try not to make it smart too much.”
“I’ll do my best,” Eli said. “Let me fetch some things.” He disappeared behind David, leaving him to stare up at the edge of the roof and the gently swaying trees above.
“Did your horse really throw you?” Ezra said. David turned his head slightly to see her standing to his left. “My father is inside.”
“No,” David said. “Those men dug holes under the witch rock.”
“Did they catch you snooping?”
“In a way. I don’t think they saw me.”
“Tell me the rest later.”
David nodded, as Eli stepped back to him. He set down a small metal tray on a table. “I think I can do this in two stitches, maybe three, but because you have a concussion I think it’s best I don’t give you anything for the pain at the moment.”
“Rats,” David said. Eli wasted no time, and David gasped as a needle pierced the skin of his scalp. He gripped the sides of the chair, looked about to see Ezra, but could only see the skin of Eli’s hairy arms in front of his eyes. He resigned himself to counting the times the needle went through his skin.
One – in one side and out the other. He grit his teeth and forced his breath out slowly. Two. Three. He let out his breath and relaxed, only to find himself cursing as the needle went through again. Then the whole thing hurt again as Eli pulled on his gut thread, closing the wound.
“Christ, Doc,” David said. “That was more than three.”
“Watch your mouth,” was all the doctor said before running a rag over the wound again. “There. You’ll have a small, dignified scar as you bald, but one that will easily lie hid under your hair while you have it.”
David rocked forward on the chair as the doctor moved away, putting his needle into a nearby tray.
“Those stitches will run you five dollars,” Eli said. “When you can get around bringing it by.”
“Five dollars?” David said. “You fixed up Tiny’s leg for three.”
“Your worth isn’t measured against a doctor’s bill, is it?” Eli said. He moved to a nearby water bowl, resting on a long table, and began washing his hands. “I know you’re good for it. Ezra?”
“Yes?” Ezra said, standing tall and moving away from where David sat.
“Why don’t you go inside and fix up some tea?” He gave his daughter a warm smile.