Vin looked up as JD entered the jail to take his turn as guard on their few prisoners. Mostly just drunks sleeping off last night’s brawl. Since Nathan was at the Indian village visiting Rain for a few days it was a good thing that none of them needed stitching up. The regulators had let the brawl go until the first weapon was pulled. At that point it had gone beyond just blowing off a little steam into potentially dangerous.
Both men tried, and failed, not to grin as they winced in anticipation as a well, if not fancy, dressed woman followed the young man in.
“I’ve come to collect Angus,” she informed them.
“I’ll get him for you, ma’am,” JD offered, taking the keys from their hook on the wall.
A tall mountain of a man followed JD out of the jail.
“Hello, dear,” he meekly addressed his diminutive wife.
“Hello! Hello! I’ll hello you Angus Finster! Plowing to be done, the well to be dug; all the chores that need doing and you have to go and get in drunken bawl like a common lout…” She started in on him and was still going strong as they left. She was doing everything short of leading him by the ear.
It took a stronger man than Angus to take on Gertrude Finster and live to tell about it. Even Chris avoided her when at all possible.
Actually, now that Vin thought about it, Chris hadn’t been in town at all for the last few days. He would frequently head out to his shack if things in town were quiet. He loved his peace, quiet, and privacy, all of which he could get there.
Instead of heading for the saloon and a beer with lunch, Vin headed to the stable and saddled up Peso. Pony wasn’t around so Chris wasn’t in town. A quick scan showed that the bay mare they had picked up was also gone. She was due to foal any time so he had likely taken her out to his place for the big event. Chris had talked off and on about maybe doing some breeding again and when she had come up for sale already bred to a good stallion, Chris, Vin, Buck and JD and combined their money to get her. It was a small start, but it was a start.
A little less than an hour later, the Texan arrived at Chris’s cabin or shack, depending on who you asked. Peso called out a greeting to Pony who returned it. Sassy, the mare, was in the small paddock grazing with a fuzzy red shadow looking cautiously out from behind her. Vin turned Peso out with Pony, and went to look at the baby. Smiling, he saw that it was a colt. They had hoped that it would be. With his bloodlines, they would likely have a good stud with him. He blinked when he saw that her water was empty. There was a pond that the horses in the main pasture drank from, but the paddock had to be watered by the well. Vin made quick work of it, wondering even more what was up with Chris.
“Chris!” he called out, surprised that his appearance alone had not brought his friend out to greet him. With no response, he knocked on the door and then went in, announcing himself just in case. Surprising Chris was a really good way to shorten your life.
Vin took a deep breath, there was Chris still on the narrow cot he bedded down on here. He was tangled up in the light blankets and from the looks of things had had a restless night. From the slight damp patches it appeared that he was sweating as well.
He took two steps and was at his friend’s side. Chris moaned slightly in his sleep and rolled over, or tried to, but was too tangled. The Texan reached over and straightened things enough to let the blond shift to the desired position. In doing so, he brushed up against Vin’s hand. Chris was hot, and not in the way the women in town meant.
This was bad. Chris was not an early riser; he was a pre-dawn raiser that woke up the roosters that started everyone else’s day. He never slept past noon. Then there was the fact that none of the animals had been tended, something Chris would never put off. Lastly, Chris was a notoriously light sleeper and yet Vin had not only entered his home without rousing him, he had come right up and touched him. That should have gotten Vin a gun in his face, not Chris barely roused enough to roll over.
Vin sighed. He had seen influenza too often not to recognize it. Considering how contagious it could be, it was just as well that Chris had not been in town sharing this.
“Stupid, supid, stupid,” Vin grumbled. Obviously Chris had been fighting this before he had headed out here. How had Vin missed that his best friend was sick? Why hadn’t Chris mentioned that he was feeling under the weather? And why, oh why, hadn’t he come out here before now to check on him?
“Don’t reckon beatin’ myself up is gonna help any,” he told himself sternly. Nathan always said that all you do with influenza was to treat the symptoms and try to prevent it from spreading. Praying that Chris had one of the milder strains instead of the kind that would wipe out whole towns, Vin began making a mental list of what he might need.
Gritting his teeth, he realized that he had no way of getting anything without leaving Chris alone and riding into town or over to Nettie’s. Not a good thing; especially if Chris had one of the bad strains in which case Vin could now have picked it up.
The horses started up the welcoming committee act. Heading to the door, he looked out. He had never been happier to see Buck. Stepping outside he flagged the large man before he could dismount.
“Best stay back; Chris’s down ‘n it’s lookin’ like influenza. Best not get anyone else too close,” Vin warned him off.
“You want me to go for Nathan?” Buck asked, after swallowing hard.
“He’s gonna be back in a couple of days and treatin’ symptoms is all that can be done. Reckon chicken ‘n vegetable for soup and some of those teas Nathan’s got for fevers and for stomachs would be a good idea.” Vin shuddered as he asked for the teas.
“I know the ones,” Buck sped off kicking his gray into a gallop.
Turning, Vin picked up the bucket next to the door. Pumping the well handle, he filled up the pail and headed back inside. Checking on his friend, he found that he was shivering, had opened his eyes.
“Vin,” the blond croaked.
“Welcome back among the living.” Vin handed him a mug of water.
Chris took it and slowly sipped.
“Got Buck going for Chicken soup fixin’s and some of Nathan’s teas. Thought I’d get a fire going here to heat up some water. Anything you want me ta send for?” Vin asked.
“Go home,” Chris ordered.
“Can’t. You’re sick, figure it’s a kind of flu, and since I came in I might’ve gotten infected, too, so I can’t risk goin’ back to town. You’re stuck with me for awhile, Cowboy.”
Vin snorted, walked over and placed one finger in the middle of Chris’s chest. “Make you a bet; I’ll use one finger and if you can get up I’ll go, if not then you’re gonna let me help you till you’re feeling better.”
Chris took as deep a breath as he could, pushed with all his might, and was unable to get off the bed.
“Guess I’m stayin,” Vin told him.
Chris was too spent to respond. He watched as Vin got a fire going in the potbelly stove.
“Can you drink any more? Here, this will help put in what you’re sweating out,” Vin offered him another mug of water.
With assistance, his friend raised himself up just enough to drink and downed half of it before collapsing back on the bed.
“Sore throat?” Vin took the cup back before it fell.
Chris nodded weakly.
Vin emptied the mug and half filled it with warm water and added some salt he had found.
“Gargle with this.”
By rolling on his side Chris was able to do as instructed.
“Vin, I need to get up.”
“Chris, you ain’t up to doing anything ‘cept getting better,” Vin informed him. He was starting to get a new respect for Nathan.
“If I don’t get up I’m going to wet the bed.” Chris tried once more to rise.
Vin got under Chris’s arm and hefted him up, and half helped half carried him to the outhouse. The ease with which he was able to do to this told him just how much weight his already thin friend had lost.
Chris’s paleness when he emerged frightened the Texan enough for him to decide it was best to get the special pail and pan from Nathan’s. The patient was not going to be up for this trip for a few days, at least.
“Sorry, just need you to give me a minute here,” Vin eased him into a chair once they were in the cabin.
Chris raised an eyebrow while his friend quickly changed the bedding and the light blanket on the bed.
“All I gotta’ to go on here is what I’ve seen done when other folks had this and what Nathan did when I had a touch of it last year. Don’t know why but they were changing the bed every day.”
The lean blond had no energy to even comment on it, but was relieved to be returned to his freshened bed. He was asleep almost before he lay down.
Seeing his patient settled, Vin took advantage of the momentary quiet to step out and finish some chores quick. Just as he finished setting the last load of wood by the door, he had used what little was there to heat the water earlier, and refilling the mare’s water trough, Vin look up at the sound of a wagon. Buck or any of the others would have ridden, not driven here.
He smiled as Nettie brought her sorrel to stop. Apparently she had talked to Buck since she didn’t approach the house.
“Buck said Chris was ailing. Got a pot of chicken soup here; might be best to keep him on broth only for a day or two,” She advised.
“Thanks, we’ll replace the chicken,” he assured her and went around to the back of the wagon where she indicated that it was. God bless her! He was not a great cook and had been trying to figure out how he was going to make soup and care for Chris. He blushed slightly when he saw that there was also a fresh pie, biscuits and butter, jars of honey and of her home-made cider.
She waved off the offer, “I’m not hurting so much I can’t help out a sick friend and neighbor with a pot of soup. It won’t help to have you ailing as well, so I put in a little something extra. I’ve heard tales about Nathan’s teas; a little warm honey will help them go down easier.”
Vin was ready to kiss her. He had done a lot of traveling and had to eat and drink some nasty things, but nothing had ever been as bad as Nathan’s teas.
His mouth was already watering in anticipation of his meal. She sure did know how to spoil a man. He was glad that he wasn’t going to be stuck eating broth.
“You send someone to let me know if you two need anything more,” She instructed, as he returned from taking the things inside.
“I will,” Vin promised, his slow, slightly shy smile giving her all the thanks she needed. She knew that she reminded him of his mother, but she wondered if he knew how much he reminded her of her youngest son?
Seeing her off, Vin went inside. Chris was sweating and turning restless again.
Hearing a whistle and his name called, Vin responded. “Hang on a minute.”
Setting the pot on the stove to heat up; he turned to his friend. Grabbing a cloth and a pan of water, he soaked the cloth in the water and placed it on Chris’s forehead. Great, his fever seemed to be worse.
With the blond quieted again, for now at least, Vin stepped out on the porch. Buck waved in greeting and held up a sack.
“You sure there’s nothing I can do?” Buck almost pleaded, hanging the sack off the corral fence.
“Just take care of things in town. Send Nathan over when he gets back.’
The large man nodded, “We’ll be checking on you when we leave on our patrols. Let us know if that changes or if things get worse.”
“I will, you’ve got my word,” Vin didn’t want to think what he’d do without the large man’s willingness to get them what was needed.
“Good luck,” Buck sighed. He hated leaving Chris like this, even knowing he was in good hands.
Vin retrieved the sack and returned to Chris.
Swearing as he remembered that he had forgotten to ask for Nathan’s bathroom pans, he smiled as they fell out of the burlap sack. Hopefully they wouldn’t be needed, but if things got bad, they were available.
He moved the soup over a bit and heated up some water for tea. They would both be needed.
Chris grunted slightly as the only form of complaint left to him, when he awoke and was helped to the outhouse, fed as much broth as he could take, and handed some of Nathan’s tea after gargling with salt water for his throat. He hated being helpless.
“No tea,” Chris whispered.
Vin cocked an eyebrow.
Glaring, Chris took the cup being held in front of him. Looked quizzically at his companion he downed most of it.
“Nettie’s idea. Added a little honey to it,” Vin grinned.
“Sarah used to do that,” He said, remembering her laughing about Adam’s sugar and Chris’s honey.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
Chris shrugged. “Didn’t remember it; I’ve never been sick much so she didn’t have to do it more than once or twice.”
The blond once more drifted off, and Vin settled in to keep watch. Munching his buttered biscuit while enjoying his chicken soup, he pulled a piece of chalk and slate out of his saddle bags by the door. Mary had gotten them for him after he had learned to write his letters. He was working on putting them together now. Keeping the fire just hot enough so that there was warm broth and tea when his friend woke, he kept his vigil while practicing writing.
+ + + + + + +
For almost the first time in his life, Vin was not ready for the morning when it came. He was an early riser and tended to greet the coming day with open arms, but not today. He could have used another six hours of slumber. Any sleep would have been good since he hadn’t had any that night. Chris’s fever had worsened in the night and sapped what little energy the man had had.
Nathan always said that a fever was the body’s way of burning off all the bad stuff and not to worry until it got really high. But what was really high? He had managed to get some of the healing tea down Chris every time he woke, but if it was working, it wasn’t working very fast. He knew that sometimes you had to lower someone in a tub of cold water. The healer had done it and Vin had even helped him a few times with heavy or awkward patients. The thing with that was that if you did it too soon then the person could actually get worse.
After mopping his friend’s brow with the cool cloth until he quieted down, Vin took advantage of the brief respite to go for some water and wood. If this kept up he wouldn’t get a chance to later. He smiled at seeing that both were right outside the door. The horses had been tended to as well. God bless Buck. A quick trip to the outhouse and Vin was back to tending his patient.
The Texan bit his lip, as Chris woke slightly. The blonde tried to co-operate, but it was a struggle to get broth and teas down. With the bowl and cup each half finished, Chris shook his heavy head, he couldn’t swallow anymore. Vin situated him as comfortably as possible in the bed.
Maybe he should have sent for the healer right away? He would have already been on his way back. Treating symptoms was all that could be done for the flu, the healer had mentioned that often enough, but Vin would have felt better knowing there was nothing more he could be doing.
Seeing that his sleeping friend had gone from sweating to shivering, Vin pulled up the blanket and tucked it around him. He shuddered slightly, remembering how as a child he had tried to take care of his mother before a neighbor had come over. Thankfully, Chris didn’t have anything like Putrid Fever.
Vin tried to rouse Chris enough to get a little broth and tea in him at noon. The way he was sweating, it was imperative for him to have liquids. He was hotter than ever and couldn’t seem to stir even to the half conscious, not really awake state that he had been at that morning.
The next time one of the guys came by Vin would ask them to get Nathan. If Chris’s temperature got any higher he would need to do something more than cooling cloths and teas.
Hearing someone approach, Vin headed for the door.
“How is the invalid faring?” Ezra asked.
“Fever ain’t breaking and nothing seems to be helping. Best get Nathan.”
Ezra said nothing, but gave a two fingered salute and took off at a gallop.
Even for the verbose southerner, action was needed far more than any words.
Heading back in, Vin was able to change the bedding by rolling the man on one side and changing the clear side and then rolling him over on the dry side and changing the side he had been on. That at least had to be more comfortable.
Early in the afternoon he was able to get a little broth and some tea down his friend’s throat. Refreshing the water in the pail, he once more began applying the cool, wet cloth to the hot skin, careful of having it too cold. The last thing Chris would need would be to get a chill from over eager help.
He tried not to cheer at the sound of the familiar voice just as he had mopped sweat off the blond.
Getting up, he rushed to the door.
“Nathan! glad to see you.” Vin met the man before he had a chance to dismount.
“Ezra mentioned that Chris was in a bad way. I was almost in town when he found me. Let’s see just what we got here.” Nathan was all business getting down and heading into the shack, after hitching Buster to the fence.
“Nathan, if he’s got it bad and you get it…” For the first time in his adult life, Vin didn’t know what to do. He had desperately wanted the doctor’s help, but if Nathan got sick the town would lose the closest thing it had to a doctor
“I take care of people; this is a risk that I take.”
Vin nodded, every job had it’s dangers and this was one of the ones healers took.
“Has he been keeping things down?” Nathan pulled a chair up along side the bed and examining Chris.
“Yeah he had been; main things seem to be the fever. Had a real sore throat too,” Vin related Chris’s symptoms and what he’d been doing.
“You did real good; it’s about all I could’ve done. I think you got him through the worst of it. We’ll give him a little time and see if the fever gets any higher. If it does we’ll have to get a tub of cold water.”
The younger man nodded, relieved to know that he had been doing things right. He had been pretty sure he was, but it was good to have it confirmed.
With the patient in far more experienced hands than his own, Vin stepped out and tended to Nathan’s horse.
Half an hour later he had entered the shack with two squirrels.
“I reckoned we could do with something more than chicken soup.” Vin grabbed the salt and headed out to fry the meat outside. Some people had trouble with the smell of meat cooking while they were sick and Chris might be one of them.
Nathan smiled. Vin had needed the break. He was already looking more relaxed. The good hot meal would be good for them, and through them, Chris as well.
Three quarters of an hour later, Vin came back in with dinner.
“Looks like his fever broke, He’ll be a couple of days at least recovering, but he should be fine,”
Nathan smiled as Vin visibly relaxed at the news.
“Reckon we should eat this here pie and some of Nettie’s cider in celebration,” Vin grinned. It would taste good with the meat and wild greens he’d made.
“Think I can have some, I’m the one that’s sick?” Chris looked at them from the bed.
“You say yer fine, right up ‘til there's pie and cider, then you’re sick,” Vin snorted.
“We can try giving you some chicken with your broth.” Nathan began filling a bowl. “I’ll have some nice tea ready for you by then.”
“Honey,” Chris demanded.
Nathan looked from one man to the other.
“Honey is the only way to get those teas down,” Vin explained, handing him the jar.
“Never thought of that, man I learned from always said you drank them plain.”
The three men had their celebration, such as it was, by the bed since Chris wasn’t able to get up. He was only able to take half the soup and tea, but he slept quietly when he nodded off. Later, Nathan and Vin slept as well, able to rest easy in the knowledge that their friend was on the mend.
Besides, they would need that rest tomorrow when he was feeling well enough to turn difficult.
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