The hospital was in the heart of Lone Creek. Once used to house the Pioneer garrison during the War of Nations, it was turned to serve the sick. An old, tan structure, the oldest in the city, with many levels and rooms, and more windows than Old Willie Aimswell had guns in his gun shop. But not by much, which said enough about Old Willie.
"How much longer?" Boone mumbled and winced
He rested on a bed in a dreary room, with little light, and red and silver wallpaper. Beside him, the doctor moved hand over hand, slinging a bandage around his arm while the wooden shards sat in two pieces in the trash. Boone grunted. The pain was near unbearable; a throbbing, sharp-shooting pain that ran from his wrist to his elbow. He kept stone faced trying to conceal his discomfort.
"That about does it," said Doc Davison, though everybody in town called him Doctor "loose tongue" Davison. Boone didn't understand why. His tongue seemed very much intact to him. He was a young man, cleanly shaved, glistening as his sterile tools. And was kind eyed and sure lipped. With short, thick black hair and chin-length sideburns, dressed in a black-tailed coat and black trousers. He tied the bandages down. "You're one tough, Kid."
"Indeed." Ma Jean said with a twinkle in her eye. Her smile was warm as fresh honey and Boone gave her a faint smile in return. He didn't want her to worry nor think less of him. She was the kindest person he knew. A little person with a big heart. Old as the willow behind their cottage though appeared nothing of the sort. No wrinkles but skin smooth, pale, and glowy as cream. There was not a cruel bone in her brittle body. Only kindness and love that emanated off of her like a lavish fragrance. She wore a flowing white ruffled dress that matched her white ruffled bonnet, tied to her chin, partially allowing her gray curls to hang freely.
"The Rigger's are born hard as bricks," Jerocobosh spoke, swaying beside her in an oak rocking chair, puffing on his pipe, filling the room with the smell of sweet cherry tobacco.
"So I've heard," Doc replied lightly, hearing it from Boone's mouth more than once on this day, "and I believe it."
Boone let out a pathetic laugh as he fought back tears. Uncertain if they were tears of joy or pain. Likely pain. He winced again and closed his eyes, the hurt will pass soon, he told himself, unconvinced.
The Doc must've seen his discomfort. "Thankfully it went clean through with minimal damage."
Minimal? Boone thought. He'd wondered what severe damage would've looked like. His arm severed off, maybe.
"No broken bones and light bleeding. You were lucky this time," He laughed absurdly, "Any higher and your veins would've bled dry. " Boone felt his stomach turn and a sudden urge to vomit through that didn't stop Doctor "loose tongue's" loose tongue. His tone grew serious, "Can't say the same for Mr. O'hare...Heard the tower stuck his legs and chopped them clean off. A cripple he'll become."
Ma Jean climbed to her feet and rescued the boy, "That's about enough of that. Thank you, Doctor. Is he cleared to go home?"
"I believe so," The doctor replied, turning flush when noticing the boys troubled expression. "My apologies, Mam." He scratched his head and fought for redemption. "Boone, your teacher will be just fine." There was little conviction in his words. He tugged on his bowtie nervously. "But I can't say the same for poor man, Richie Taylor. Stuck squarely in the head with a projectile. Be a blessin if he remembers his horses name, let alone his own."
Ma Jean waved a gloved hand. "Good day, Doctor!" She took Boone by the hand and spoke softly. "We'll be on our way."
Jerocobish chuckled and puffed his pipe as he stood, bones creaking. He was as old as Ma Jean, but more closely resembled the oaks wrinkled bark; his skin wavy and tough, dark as dried leaves, toned by his extensive time working in the sun. He had a stern face with Boone's bright eyes, gray, shaggy hair, and a beard just as gray and tangled, draping down below his chest. He wore a grayish-green hooded robe, as he always did, full of patches and stitching.
"You have a good afternoon, folks." The doctor said chasing them out the door. "And if the boy grows a fever you send a horse, ya hear? I'll ride by haste." He hung in the doorway. "One time I saw a boy catch a fever mid afternoon and by supper he was riding to the prairie."
Jerocobish coughed, smoking pouring out his lips and nose as he squealed in laughter. "I quite like him," he teared.
Ma Jean looked to him and scowled. Boone looked to him sickly.
They drove their wagon up into the hills for several hours, where the wood was thick, the sun was lost, and the light was dim even at midday. Jerocobish pulled the reins and yanked a long wooden lever attached near the wheels. It shifted, popped, and locked, securing the wagon from rolling "Everybody out," he said, still puffing on his pipe. Boone never saw him without his long, wooden smoker; in the loo, at the table, in church...He even took it to bed. "I am going to run back into town," he said. There was a bother in his eyes that made Boone's neck hairs stand.
"Now?" Ma Jean asked, stepping down from the seat. Boone followed. "Them horses need rest and to quench their thirst. You can't run them any longer...They're not haul mules." Boone looked at the four horses, each one bigger than the last, with butter-brown hair, milk-white manes, and thickly-stranded dock tails. They stood staring, their mouths frothing, waiting to rest their weary legs. Ma Jean gave a good pat. "That's my boys."
"You treat them like children. Besides, they're more than haul mules, they're Rockidales. Finest steeds south of primepin mountains...Mountain bred and weather broken. They can run all night if they haveta." All Ma Jean had to do was point and she did just that. Jerocobish sighed, "I'll string em up and take Jasper." He was their youngest horse, a Huskland mount, his legs and back in need to be worn in. Jerocobish had made the effort though Husklands were known to be stubborn, and Jasper was no different. He'll be yours one day, his pappy told him, likely trying to rid himself the burden.
Ma Jean spoke, "You're darn right you will!"
"Four horses would slow me down, nohow."
Boone normally accompanied his Grandpappy to the barn but today he didn't feel much up to it. He had a guilt burning inside him. His grandparents insisted it was an accident. That Richie and Cohan would soon recover, but he knew better, that they'd be nothing more than a battered version of their former selves. He walked up the trail, hands in his trouser pockets, kicking rocks to beat away his guilt. It didn't help. He looked forward, up ahead the cottage sat in a grove of pine trees, resting where the sun warmed the wooden roof and cedar door while the shadows crept along the stone structure. It was a small home. Hardly suitable for three people, yet quiet and cozy, surrounded by a vast forest that Boone spent years exploring with Rynan, his best mate. He'd yearned for his company now. It'd been over a year since he'd seen him last; moved south to Sundown City just after their ranch was lost in a fire.
Only a few days more and we'll be reunited.
Boone followed Ma Jean inside. "Have a seat and I'll whip you up some porridge."
The boy did as he was told, planting himself at the oiled cedar table that had been chopped from the exact tree that provided their door and chairs. Meanwhile, Ma Jean filled the cauldron, built a fire, diced meat and vegetables, sprinkled seasoning, and let the brew simmer. Boone was hardly in the mood for hot porridge, or in the mood for hot anything for that matter, not after what happened, though he knew better than to complain. He'd learned that from his Grandpappy. Always be respectful, he said, even to those who don't deserve your respect.
Boone glanced around the open room. Near the door a hollow space in the eastern wall held the fire while a mantle filled with pictures and candles sat above it. Pans hung on nails on either side while the black iron cauldron bubbled over an obedient flame. There was a white sheepskin rug in the middle of the room, and three rocking chairs, also oiled and carved from cedar, resting empty near the western side. Mounted on the wall was a large elk head that watched quietly, staring through soulless black eyes. Boone looked into those eyes, usually frightened, but on this day he felt nothing but sorrow.
Ma Jean set a bowl down and it waffed of fine summer herbs and spices that made his nose tingle and his mouth dribble, though it did nothing to entice his fancy. His belly churned uneasy still sick from the afternoon. "I hurt them, Ma Jean...Nearly killed em. It was my fault." He felt safe allowing a tear to roll down his cheek. He glanced at his hands that returned their paley color. "These wretched mitts," he griped.
Ma Jean sat down beside him twinkling as she always did. She placed a hand upon his shoulder and her warmth was felt through his clothes. "A life's brew is always churning. Never perfectly seasoned and simple to boil over." She smiled. "You must never fault oneself when our cauldrons are filled with uncertainties."
Boone sighed, "It should've been my brew that boiled over..."
She leaned close. "But it wasn't. And do you know why?" Boone had an idea of what came next. "Because the prairie God is simmering inside you."
"Ya, well, I don't feel him. Maybe the Lone God should've taken me away instead."
"We will not have any blasphemy in this house, young man."
Boone lowered his head, "my apologies, Ma Jean." She was not there to scold him. Instead she squeezed tighter and smiled deeper. "It's just these hands," he said. "The pairs been hexed. Always swollen, always trembling, and always in pain...Best be without em."
"And you'd be worse off than you are now." She shook her head somberly. "You should count your blessings, Boone. You'll find strength when you do."
Boone looks into her kind eyes and found beauty reflecting back. He smiled gratefully. "Your right, Ma Jean. Thank you."
Ma Jean leaned over and squeezed, filling him with her spirit. She then pulled away, sat back in her chair, gave a hushed sigh, and wiped her face. "Oh, dear," she said.
"Are you all right?" Boone asked.
"Fine," she said, patting her forehead. "The day has made me a weary woman." She stood up weakly, her legs trembling.
Boone placed his hand upon hers. "Go have a lie down. I'll tend the fire and wash the dishes."
She pinched his chin. "Thank you, dear. And don't forget to eat your soup."
Boone nodded and did as he said he would.