The Historians. October 2012
Doc Adams left the small ranch house behind. He had been there for three days, trying to save two-year-old boy that had eventually succumbed to a high fever that he could not bring down. He had felt tired and almost fevered himself as he climbed up into the old buggy and headed back towards Dodge. He knew in his heart that someday there would be cures for many of these diseases that he could only sit and watch as they ran their course. Sometimes he felt like a fraud because all he could do was sit there and run through the motions of doing something but knowing, deep down, that there was nothing to be done except wait for the inevitable. It did not help that his patients, or in this case the parents, seemed so grateful to him for being there, even though he knew that his presence served little purpose.
Deep in these thoughts he headed into town. Stopping outside the livery he was greeted by Hank.
"You look all wore out Doc," the man had told him.
Wearily he looked at the stable man as he lifted his black bag from under the seat of the buggy.
"Yes I had a rough few days," he acknowledged.
He headed along towards his office, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand. His head was aching and he wanted to get a few hours sleep before anyone came knocking on his door.
Kitty Russell was standing outside the swing doors of the Long Branch Saloon thinking that any minute now the morning drinkers would be headed her way. She had spent the last hour helping Sam and Clem clean up from last night's revelers, now she watched as the elderly physician made his way from the Livery to his office. Poor old Doc looks exhausted, she thought to herself. He had headed out to the Johnson place four days ago and it looked like he hadn't got much sleep since. She was glad to see him back and would go check on him later, maybe take him a few sandwiches for lunch.
As it turned out things got busy and it was well into the afternoon before Kitty remembered she had planned to take Doc some lunch. She went out to the small kitchen and prepared some ham and cheese, and placed it on a plate with some bread. Covering the food with a second plate she told Sam she was heading up to check on Doc, and left the Long Branch to walk the short distance to Doc's office. Gathering her skirt in one hand whilst holding the food in the other she hurried up the steps to see about her friend.
Surprisingly there was no light on inside when she opened the door. Presumably the man had been so tired that he was still asleep. She placed the plate on top of the old roll top desk and quietly opened the door to the back room. There he lay, still fully dressed even down to his boots, on top of the old quilt, which covered the bed. She smiled to herself and returned to the office to light a lamp. Now that she could see a little better she noticed the beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. Carefully she touched his face with the back of her hand. His skin felt hot and dry with fever.
"Doc," she called trying to rouse him, "Doc are you all right?"
He stirred and opened his eyes, even the dim light from the lamp seemed to hurt him.
"Are you sick?" She asks him quietly.
"I think I must have a touch of the ague," he said noting his fever and general aches and pains. "I just need to rest for a while and I'll be better."
"Can I get you something?"
"Maybe a little quinine, its over there in the medicine cabinet," he told her weakly.
She found the bottle and a small shot glass into which she poured out the amount she remembered as a dose. She put a small amount of water in a cup from the water bucket and added the medicine to it, then headed back to the bedroom and lifted the man's head so he could drink it. He made a face at the bitter taste but thanked her as she laid him down again.
She looked around for a cloth to wipe his face, then carefully undid his tie, loosened his shirt and removed his boots. Pulling a chair up next to the bed she gently sponged his face and upper chest.
"You just rest quiet now Doc, I have to go let Sam know I won't be there this evening so he can get Clem or Freddie to help out. I'll be back soon."
She hated to leave him alone, but did not intend to be long.
It was dark before she returned. The lamp she had left burning cast a soft yellow glow throughout the front part of the office, but it was almost impossible to see much more than dark outlines in the back bedroom. She could here him mumbling incoherently and so carried the small lamp with her to see how he was. The man was sweating profusely, talking but not making any sense. She knew she needed to get the fever down so unbuttoned the rest of the buttons on his shirt and loosened his pants. Then she got the cloth again and bathed his upper body with some cool water. She noted that he laid very still trying, even in his fevered state, not to move.
"Doc," she was almost crying, "please tell me what to do to help you."
Somehow he focused long enough to look at her as she leaned over him.
"Not much to do," he took a rasping breath "brain fever."
The effort of his words exhausted him and he relapsed back into a mumbling state of semi consciousness.
"No," she said in fear, "no its just the ague, Doc, I'll stay with you, you'll be better when the fever breaks.
For the next several days Kitty stayed there by the elderly physician's side, hardly eating or getting any rest. She did not allow herself to accept his own diagnosis. She had watched several people die from that illness. Doc was not going to die, he was too important to this town, to her and to Matt. This was not happening. Chester came and spelled her some each day so that she could check on the Long Branch and get something to eat. Ma Smalley even stayed with him one night so she could go home to sleep, but sleep did not come to her, she was too scared as to what was going to happen. Where was Matt? He had been gone for several weeks. Surely he would be back any day now. He would know what to do.
Matt Dillon was returning to Dodge. He had been gone for about three weeks on a trip that had taken him all the way to Tascosa. He had finally caught up with the man he was after, but even though he had intended to bring him back to Dodge for trial, a gunfight had ensued and he finished up having to kill the man.
His buckskin horse was as dirty and sweaty as he was when they made their way along Front Street. He left the animal at the livery, asking Hank to take care of him. He removed his Winchester, canteen and bedroll from the saddle and hurried along the boardwalk to the jail. He knew he had to sit down and write a report on the trip and document how he had had to kill Dan Wilson, while all those details were fresh in his mind. He hated killing, but when someone drew a gun on him he had no choice. The man had nothing to lose after all, having killed a bank clerk in a botched robbery his most likely future would lay at the end of a rope.
The Marshal barely had time to return the rifle to the rack on the wall when Kitty Russell appeared at the door.
"Matt, I am so glad you are back," she said frantically.
He turned and looked enquiringly at her. He hardly had time to speak before she went on
"It's Doc, he's bad sick Matt. He told me he thought it was Brain Fever. He's been sick for about a week now and he's getting worse."
"Where is he?"
"He's up in his office. I've got him in the bed in his back room there. Matt, I don't think he's going to make it." He could see she was about to burst into tears, and knew she had been taking care of their old friend, probably staying with him day and night. She looked totally drained.
"I'll be right there Kitty, let me wash some of this trail dirt off, and change into clean clothes."
"All right Matt, please don't be long."
She left the Marshal's office to return to Doc. Just like Matt had thought, she had been with the physician day and night for the last five days. He seemed to be getting progressively worse and for the last 24 hours had barely responded to her at all.
It was less than thirty minutes before Matt showed up at Doc's. He was horrified to see the man who had saved his life so many times. Doc was lying in the bed, his face was pale and sunken and he could see beads of sweat on his face and neck. The man did not respond as Kitty dabbed him with a cloth she had dampened with cool water.
He went over to the bed.
"Doc?' He touched the old man's hand only to find it limp and unmoving.
He felt for a pulse, not knowing exactly what he should find but knew that the feeble irregular beat that he detected was not good. He turned to look at Kitty.
"I tried to ask him what to do or who I should get in touch with, but he got sick so fast that he never was able to tell me. Matt I am scared, supposing.. well what if he doesn't get better. We can't just let him lie there and.." She left the last words unspoken, unable to say them out loud.
Matt approached her and placed his arm around her shoulders.
"You look exhausted Kitty. I'll sit with him while you get some sleep."
He settled her into the one comfortable looking chair that occupied Doc's office and found a blanket for her. Then he settled himself in one of the straight back wooden chairs which he had pulled up to Doc's bedside. He picked up the cloth that Kitty was using and sponged the frail looking man off with it.
He was dead tired from his five day ride back from Tascosa during which he had hardly slept and felt himself nodding off several times. Doc never even moved. In his half sleep Matt thought about wiring Edgar Wilkins, the Doctor he knew from Wichita, maybe he could come and would know what to do for Doc.