This is the twenty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 819 words.
Susan came out of the house and ran past me, carrying a basket. She headed for the tree line in the distance, and disappeared into the woods. Walter fetched two pails of fresh water from the creek, saying he was going to set them to boil. I couldn’t hear anything from inside. If daddy was in pain, he was braving it well. I was dog-tired after the trip home, but couldn’t relax until I had some idea what was going to happen.
When Susan got back, her basket was filled with tree moss and bark, and mushrooms of some kind. She hesitated before going inside, and turned to me. “Stay strong, Phin. My ma will do her very best”. I was still sitting outside when Henry got back from town on Lizzie. I had to tell him the story of the hog, and how bad daddy was. He was sure that Mary would work miracles, and he went off to help Walter deal with the meat we had brought back.
Mary finally came out and waved me to come inside when the sun had almost set. Susan had food on the go, and the fire was roaring hot to keep daddy warm, Mary said. He was still on the table, his leg wrapped in a big bundle of clean cloths with Mary’s concoction against the wound. She had washed him as best she could, but he smelled bad still. Susan went to get Walter to carry daddy to his bed, and when he was laid in there under some warm skins and blankets, they scrubbed the table clean. Mary finally told me what she thought. “I have done my best with my sort of medicine, Phin. I got his fever down, and I reckon I might get him to take some soup tonight. But that wound is sure deep, right past the muscle, and a hog’s mouth is a dirty thing. He might need a doctor from town if he ain’t no better this time tomorrow”.
I took some hot water outside, and washed in private. Susan brought me clean clothes to change into before I went back in to eat. After dinner, Walter told me that Mary was going to sleep in my bed, to tend to daddy during the night, and I should make a bed on the floor in front of the fire. I was so bone-tired, I went to sleep before Susan and Walter left for their cabin.
Daddy was awake the next morning, but not making any sense when he was talking. Mary told me not to worry. “It’s the mushrooms, Phin. Make him forget the pain”. She had fixed a length of wood to the outside of his leg, to stop him trying to bend his knee. I had to hold a hand over my nose and mouth because of the smell in our bedroom. I don’t know how Mary stood it all night. Outside the bedroom, Mary put her arm around me. “Best send Henry into town. Tell him to get a good doctor, the young one I heard mention of”. Henry took my horse and set off. The mood around the homestead was bad, and only Walter was doing any work that day.
Henry came back with someone following him in a one-horse buggy. It was Doctor Frazer. He had a funny accent, because he was from Scotland. He didn’t like to be called British either. Told me he had made his way to Wichita from New York the previous summer, hearing that we needed more doctors once the town became a city. I had seen him once for a bad tooth, and he had pulled it for me real quick. One look at daddy’s conditon, and he shook his head. “This leg has to come off, or your father will surely die tonight. Ask your man to get my other bag from the buggy”. I told him I would get it, and I was trembling as I brought it back.
Henry and Walter came in to help, and Mary told Susan to take me outside until it was over. The doctor made daddy drink something from a glass bottle, and it sent him senseless. As I walked outside with Susan, I heard him telling Walter to get daddy out of bed, and back onto the table in the next room.
It wasn’t long at all before Walter came out, carrying something wrapped in a bloody cloth. I knew it was daddy’s leg, didn’t have to ask. He walked off somewheres, intending to bury it, I guessed. Mary came out, making an effort to smile. “That doctor’s good, Phin. He was real fast, and now he’s tidying things”. I felt cold inside, and couldn’t imagine how fixing the stump on daddy’s thigh could be called ‘tidying things’.
I knew the stuff from the bottle had worn off when I heard daddy yelling my name.