This is the twenty-seventh part of a fiction serial, in 895 words.
Daddy was lying on his bed. They had dressed him in a nightshirt that was one of Walter’s so it was way too big. He looked a lot better, and though he was still talking too fast, he was at least making sense. “You saved my life boy, have no doubt about that. He had to take my leg, or I would have died for sure. So don’t you go worrying none. You did the right thing, I promise you. Now you pay the doctor before he leaves, I don’t want us to be owing no money”. He pointed at his coat, which was on the floor. “There’s money in there, Yankee dollars”.
I took the money and went back to where the doctor had finished washing his hands in a bowl. I held all the money out to him and he took three bills. “That’s enough, Phin. I will come back tomorrow and check on your father. Make sure he gets plenty to eat, and stays warm. I reckon he can have some of this for the pain, but make sure he doesn’t drink it all”. He handed me the small glass bottle, smiling as he said that. With that, he put his coat on and walked out to his buggy carrying his bags in each hand. I heard daddy call me again, and went back in. “Tell Mary she done real good, and Walter too. And Phin, you oughta think serious about their Susan. That girl is a jewel Phin, she really is”.
Leaving him to rest, I nodded and walked outside. I was already thinking very seriously about Susan.
Over the next few days, I took over daddy’s jobs, and me and Henry left every morning for work. With the railroad arriving the following spring, lots of new businesses and storage areas needed building, and there was suddenly more work than we could handle. I was accepted as a man now by most everyone, and many people would come up to ask how daddy was doing. News travelled fast around Wichita.
After a couple more visits from the doctor, and the careful care and attention from Mary, daddy was looking more or less recovered, and eating well too. I was sure the wound must be terrible painful, but if it was, he didn’t let on none. I made him some crutches, so he could get into the main room without being carried. Susan took them off me and sewed some soft leather cushions for them, stuffed with rabbit fur. I fixed them to the crutches with some small tacks, and daddy got up real easy using his good left leg.
I told him that when he was ready to tolerate it, I would make him a dandy false leg, one that he could put a shoe on. He stopped drinking his coffee, and smiled. “Ain’t no good, Phin. Doctor had to take my leg off real high, so there’s hardly anything to fit into a wooden leg. I’m gonna have to learn to get around as best I can on these here crutches. You did a great job on them, by the way. And tell Susan the cushions are real comfy”. It hadn’t occured to me that daddy couldn’t have a false leg, and I started to think about all the things he wouldn’t be able to do any longer.
Longer winter nights were good for courting. I would sit quiet with Susan once Walter and Mary left and daddy and Henry had gone into their rooms. As far as things went, I was supposed to be improving her reading, which had come on real fast. She had read Moby Dick twice now, and though some words and names gave her trouble, she could make sense of it. She was going to read the other book to Walter and Mary first, keeping note of any words she didn’t comprehend.
I would walk her back to their cabin carrying a lamp, and one night I stopped short. “Tell me, Susan. Do you ever give any thought to getting wed?” In the lamplight, I could see she was blushing, and she shrugged rather than reply. I carried on. “Only I don’t reckon I could ever find a better young woman than you to marry, but before I ask your ma, I should make sure you think the same as me”. She allowed herself a wide grin. “You should ask them both, Walter too. He may not be my natural pa, but he’s as good as any I ever wanted”. Taking that as a yes, I leaned over and kissed her awkwardly on the cheek, and she ran off giggling.
After dinner the next night, I waited until Walter and Mary were back in the cabin with Susan, and I walked over and knocked politely on the door. I stood with my hat in my hand, real respectful like. Walter was grinning as he opened up, and I knew right off he was wise to why I was there. Susan was out of sight behind the curtain as I stumbled over my prepared words. When I had said my piece, Mary walked forward and kissed me, then Walter grabbed my hand and shook it so hard I thought it would fall off.
When Susan ran around the curtain and threw her arms around my neck, I had never felt happier.