Chapter 4

About 20 minutes later Curt ushered Olivia and John out of John-Boy's bedroom. Mary Ellen too had stayed for a while, muttering intermittently to her husband in quiet discourse as the two of them discussed her eldest brother's condition, but after a while Elizabeth had started to call from the bottom of the stairs – upset by the evening's events, fear in her voice, and the tears already staining her pale, freckled cheeks – and, as Olivia had wanted to stay with John-Boy at least until Curt had completed his examination of her son Mary Ellen – being the second eldest child in the family – had offered to settle and comfort her sister in her mother's place – a suggestion to which Olivia had most gratefully agreed.

Curt's expression was grave, and his forehead puckered in deep thought – his initial examination hadn't turned up anything too serious, but then again his observation of his young brother-in-laws condition and subsequent diagnosis wasn't exactly good news either. Now that he'd found himself in his own bed, curled up beneath the warm sheets and the eiderdown his mother had made him – just as she and his grandmother had made one for all of his siblings – John-Boy did at least now appear to be significantly more settled, and much more relaxed than he had initially seemed to be downstairs. He had however spiked a high fever, his body continued to shiver and shake as his own depleted immune system continued to trick it into believing that he was in actual fact freezing cold as it cooked his flesh and boiled his blood from the inside, and as he'd listened carefully to John-Boy's chest with the use of his stethoscope Curt had discovered that the young man's lungs were indeed seriously congested. As he lay down upon the soft, warm mattress it had become even more clear to the young doctor the difficulty John-Boy had been having with his breathing – his chest rising and falling in rapid succession as he'd fought to take short, shallow breaths, and eventually Curt had asked Olivia to help him raise her son's head off the mattress by just a few inches to try and relieve some of the pressure currently being placed on his lungs, and to help ease his laboured breathing.

It had been sheer luck, being the mountain's only local doctor and nurse, and therefore the many residents only port of call for emergency medical treatment, that Curt and Mary Ellen rarely ever left home without Curt's van, which could also double up as a pretty crude makeshift ambulance if such a need ever presented itself, and so always carried a range of emergency medical equipment around with them, stashed away in the back. By chance the young doctor also never left home without his black leather case – even when visiting his in-laws. Past experience as a travelling physician, which had led to him some of the farthest reaching and inhospitable corners of the USA, had taught him to always leave home prepared.

Following his examination however he had done his best to make sure that John-Boy was as comfortable as possible, which was all any of them could do for now, before leaving his patient to get some much needed rest. Both Olivia and John's anxious expressions were saturated with their concern, their brows creased and deeply furrowed, eyes dark and slightly sunken with worry as they both waited to hear what the doctor had to say about their son.

Curt sighed gravely, rubbing the back of his neck in thought as he quietly ushered the two of them out in front of him and clicked the bedroom door closed behind them. He then turned to face his in-laws, a serious look upon his face.

"I don't think it's anything too serious John and Olivia." He finally explained to them both in a hushed whisper, watching as he said this as their concerned expressions immediately melted away with relief, but John-Boy's condition was by no means a stable one. The young man was, based upon Curt's initial observations of his condition, in no immediate danger of succumbing to any serious complications, but up here on the mountain away from quick and immediate access to the hospital and the advancement in modern medical technology enjoyed by most of the local towns and cities in the immediate area a mild chest infection or even the common cold had the potential to turn very serious very quickly if due care wasn't taken, and they were all going to have to keep a very close eye on John-Boy for at least the next few days.

"I will admit that I was worried when I first saw him." He confessed. "I still am, but, it's nowhere near as serious as I first suspected. Fortunately it's not pneumonia… not yet anyway." He explained – realising that this must have been John and Olivia's main concern for their son – but the young doctor still felt compelled to emphasise the 'yet' as he spoke. He didn't want to get their hopes up too soon – there was still the potential for John-Boy's condition to take a serious turn if any of them took the eye off the ball and failed to notice if his condition began to deteriorate. His condition was in fact a very delicate and precarious one, and the proper precautions would need to exercised and due care and attention paid if John-Boy was going to avoid a complete breakdown in health over the following few days.

"I'm afraid John-Boy has gone and got himself a pretty nasty chest infection." He explained. "His lungs are seriously congested and he's already having some difficulty breathing. He's going to need a lot of rest and one to one care for the next few days, otherwise there is always the potential for his condition to turn into pneumonia."

Both Olivia and John looked at their son in law gravely as he said this, and Curt forced a smile, squeezing Olivia's pale arm gently and looking from her to her husband in an attempt to appear reassuring, before continuing.

"The next forty-eight hours are crucial. Now I know this won't be easy but he mustn't be left alone in that time, unless he's sleeping." He sighed. He now turned to direct his instructions almost entirely towards Olivia, whom he realised as the young man's mother would probably be almost entirely responsible for her son's care over the following few days. Although he also realised that this would in all likelihood prove to be no easy asking, trying to persuade the young man to take things easy, even for the sake of his own health, when they all realised that he still had so much more work left to do on the paper. Curt had known John-Boy long enough now to know just how much his newspaper 'The Bluerigde Chronicle' meant to him, and that he'd do almost anything to ensure that it's next issue went out on time.

"Try and get him to stay in bed." He advised her. "He needs to rest, that's very important. Make sure that he gets plenty of fluids, but don't give him too much to eat, and don't worry if he doesn't feel like eating anything at all for the next couple of days, it might take a while for his appetite to return… but you must let me know if he still doesn't feel like eating anything in a few day's time."

Olivia nodded.

"I'll drop by on my rounds again tomorrow to check on him." Curt explained. "And I'll ask Mary Ellen to bring by some medicine before morning surgery for that cough and to try and ease some of the congestion on his lungs. If his temperature is still high in the morning he might also need something to try and help break his fever."

Just as the young doctor said this however the discussion was temporarily disrupted as small group heard footsteps coming up the stairs and all three turned as Mary Ellen emerged onto the landing, a meek smile bleeding across her gentle face as she locked eyes with her parents and husband, and immediately began to make her way over.

"She's calmer now." She explained – referring to the Elizabeth, the youngest of all her siblings, and therefore the most cossetted and protected by the family, as she wrapped her slender arm gently around Curt's waist, and he in turn draped his own arm affectionately over his wife's shoulders. "I think she's cried herself out, but Erin's reading to her now." She explained. "I've told her I'll come and kiss her goodnight before Curt and I leave tonight… that seemed to pacify her a little for now."

"I should go to her." Olivia sighed, smoothing down the front of her floral printed dress as she looked to her husband and he nodded to her in understanding before she turned to go, but Mary Ellen immediately reached out a gentle palm to stop her, and smiled as Olivia took a few steps towards the stairs and then paused.

"She's fine momma." The young woman did her best to reassure her restless mother. "Erin can handle her for now."

Olivia looked to her and after a moment quietly nodded. Mary Ellen turned to her husband as she said this, and addressed her next few words directly to him. "She was asking after John-Boy…" She sighed heavily. "How's he doing?"

"Not good…" Curt shook his head, and pecked his wife delicately on the corner of her soft, warm lips as her face immediately fell, and he pulled her closer towards his own warm body protectively as he gazed wordlessly into her dark, chocolate eyes.

Both parents inwardly smiled for their daughter's happiness, she had obviously found a good man in Curt, a man who despite his abrupt and straight to the point nature loved her very much. His bedside manner had on occasion left a lot to be desired, he didn't sugar coat the truth and wasn't afraid to provide his patients with the cold, hard facts, sharing with them the details which some other doctors might have otherwise seen fit to paint over – but in many ways he'd been like a breath of fresh air to the small mountain community. He'd come at a point when his services had been greatly needed, and since his marriage to the Walton's eldest daughter still less than a year ago, having him as part of their family had enriched all of their lives.

Despite their shared happiness for Mary Ellen however neither John nor Olivia could conceal their concern for John-Boy – the young woman's naturally pale blue eyes remained distracted, engaged deep in melancholy thought and worry, and seemed to gaze somewhere distant and far away, and John's worn expression, tired and weary was now puckered by dark frown lines, etching deep crevices into his already wrinkled brow.

"What about the other children?" Olivia suddenly asked anxiously, wringing her clammy palms together as though the thought had only just suddenly struck further anxiety into her heart. "Should we be concerned that they might catch something too?"

But Curt shook his head.

"I don't think so." He reassured her softly. "It's highly doubtful that the cause is infectious, if it had of been I'd have expected to have seen other cases by now… no," He pondered thoughtfully, "it's more likely that John-Boy contracted the infection whilst working all hours of the day and night out in that shed of his. There's no adequate heating in there, which might be fine in the summer, but if he's also sleeping out there, well it wouldn't take much this time of year for a slight chest cold to turn into pneumonia."

"I'd keep the rest of the children away from him for the next couple of days or so anyway," He advised, "just to be on the safe side, and at the very least it should allow John-Boy a little more time to rest and recuperate."

With this the sound of a strangled cough immediately proceeded by a muffled groan drifted out onto the landing through the closed door of John-Boy's bedroom, and John and Olivia immediately made towards their ailing son's room. Mary Ellen however held out a hand to stop them.

"No, Curt and I will go." She explained. "You'll have enough to deal with over the next few days. Go and get some rest." she advised her mother softly.

Both parent's looked to each other and then back to their daughter with this, reluctant to submit on their daughter's request, before they both finally nodded.

Olivia's stomach lurched painfully as she watched her daughter and son in law both make their way quietly back into John-Boy's room however. She couldn't escape the sinking feeling which plagued her that things were going to get a whole lot worse for her son before they were going to get any better. It was a mother's instinct, and she could feel it in every fibre of her body, from her aching heart, right through to the soft marrow of her bones.