Respite in the Storm
The Long Road Home
Location: Sacramento, CA
Timeline: Early July 1875
The ride from Crippled Horse Pass to Eagle Rock had been uneventful. However, despite Jess's best efforts at first aid, the wound in Cantrell's arm worsened. By the time they reached Eagle Rock, he was running a low-grade fever, and Jess was getting really worried. Complicating matters was the fact that Eagle Rock was even less savory than it had been the last time Jess was there. Tent cities to house the migrant railroad workers had sprung up around the area, virtually surrounding the town. A sober, reliable and trustworthy doctor was not one of the things the town boasted.
Parking Quentin in a room at the cleanest of the dubious hotels, Jess prowled Eagle Rock until he found, surprisingly, a train depot. The service was sketchy, and nothing went exactly where he needed it to go. He finally settled on booking passage to Sacramento. It wasn't the best choice, but beat trying to ride for days hoping to find a doctor. The tracks were rough, and the train itself consisted of livestock cars that had been converted for passengers with hard seats and little protection from the elements. In Jess's opinion, the accommodations for their horses were better. In the end, that was where they wound up. Jess spread fresh straw on the side of the rail car opposite their horses, covered it with blankets and placed their saddles upside down to act as backrests. The advantage of the arrangement was that he could look after the horses which had never traveled by train.
Upon reaching Sacramento, Jess found a livery stable that included a blacksmith where he could stow their tack and have their horses taken care of. With Quentin in tow, he headed for one of the better hotels so they could clean up and he could find the city's best doctor. He also wanted to check timetables for trains north to Missoula. He knew there was a railhead there, but he had no idea how often trains ran these days. After settling them into their room at the Misión St. Eligius Hotel, Jess took advantage of their bath and barber. By the time he returned from the train depot, Quentin had also gotten a bath, a shave, and a haircut, but to the younger man's eyes, he looked quite peaked. Jess left him to rest and headed to the hotel lobby to inquire for a doctor. To his surprise, the hotel had one they used on a regular basis.
Jess flopped onto the bed closest to the door. He was tired and still felt as if he were being shaken to death by the train ride. He frowned as he stared at Quentin where he relaxed on the other bed. "Hotel is sending their doctor up. Should be here soon. Train for Missoula leaves mid-morning the day after tomorrow. I drew a bit for expenses from the Harper coffers. We have first-class accommodations for us and the horses. I booked a private coach. That way we won't have to stay awake all day and all night. Easy to guard and we'll know who's coming in and out. Even with the delays, we'll make it before the injunction expires." He regarded Cantrell seriously, "How're you feelin'?" His question was punctuated by a crash of thunder.
Cantrell lay stretched out on his bed, head propped on both pillows and a glass of water held in his good hand. "Better...arm hurts less..." He took a long drink of the water. "...head still feels fuzzy but not like back on the train." Cantrell lifted the glass he was holding. "Once the doc gets done we should get some dinner. I am starving."
"I could go for a good rare steak myself," Jess answered with a grin. "Of course anything not cooked by me over an open fire would be welcome." The sudden sound of someone knocking on the hotel room door startled Jess. His gun appeared in his hand as if mentally summoned and he rolled to his feet, approaching the door with caution. "Who is it?" Jess's hand was on the knob, his entire body tense as a cat's about to pounce, his gun held at the ready.
"Doctor Samuel Frasier. The concierge sent me up." The voice was devoid of a regional accent and sounded older. Jess holstered the gun and unlocked the door, but he was still cautious as he opened it. The man on the other side appeared to be in his mid-fifties. He had thick gray hair, round eyeglasses and kind brown eyes that held a humorous sparkle. "Bit nervous aren't you, young man?"
"Sorry, sir. Come in," Jess moved back to let the man in, noting that instead of the usual medical bag, he carried a larger case.
Cantrell moves to sit up and winced, then finished the motion much more slowly. "Good afternoon, Doctor. I am very happy to see you." Quentin shifted again as the doctor helped him out of his shirt. "Jess there did the initial care for the wound. I probably could not have made it here without whatever he did."
"Hmm," the doctor murmured as he gently moved Quentin's arm to examine the injury. After a moment, he looked up at Jess, "You did this? What is the salve?" He peered over the rims of his spectacles at Jess.
"Garlic crushed into a paste and blended with wild honey," Jess answered, showing a marked discomfort at being the focus of the doctor's scrutiny, not to mention Quentin's praise. "I can't take the credit. The wife of the rancher I used to work for used it for cuts and scrapes."
Doctor Frasier chuckled quietly, "Relax, son. I was merely surprised that you'd thought to apply something that would help retard infection. Unfortunately, if the bullet was handled by someone with a pronounced lack of hygiene, external measures do not always do the trick. Still, had you not added the ointment, this gentleman would likely be very sick. Still unpleasant, heh?" He murmured to Quentin kindly.
Cantrell nodded. "I've been pretty lucky and have only been hit by a bullet a few times in my life. I never felt thankful for any of them, but I have had a lot worse..."
The doctor had Jess go downstairs to get a pot of boiling water. Once he had it to hand, he emptied in a basin, added a bit of cooler water to it as well as splashing in a generous amount of alcohol. He then dropped several strips of cloth in to soak. "I need to soak the ointment to loosen it so I can clean the injury thoroughly which will be quite unpleasant," Frasier said. "Then, I need to clean away any dead tissue which will allow the wound to open back up so it can be stitched. For that, I have some topical ointment that will deaden the skin a bit. If you're very squeamish, I can offer laudanum?"
Cantrell shook his head and held up his good hand. "No thanks, I prefer to keep clear unless I get hurt a lot worse. I am sure you will do an excellent job without any excess pain."
The doctor instructed Jess to fix another basin of hot water. While he did that, the doctor laid folded out the case on the bed. Inside was a neat array of apothecary jars and bottles. The top folded down to become an instrument tray. The doctor's implements were already sterilized and wrapped safely in clean strips of cloth. When Jess came back, the Fraiser informed him that he would be acting as his assistant and instructed him to wash his hands thoroughly and then to pour a liberal amount of alcohol on them, then to dry them with a clean cloth. The doctor followed the instructions he gave to Jess, being careful to touch other surfaces.
"Now, Mr. Harper, if you accidentally touch any surface that has not been cleaned, rewash your hands and use a clean cloth to dry them."
The doctor hummed as he worked. After each step, he once again cleaned his hands thoroughly. The most difficult part of the procedure was the soaking off of the salve Jess had applied, debriding any damaged tissues, and cleaning the wound as well as several inches above and below it. When his patient winced or sucked in his breath, Fraiser would pause the humming, make sure Quentin was doing alright and then resume his work. When he finally had the wound cleaned to his satisfaction, he looked up at Jess who had been handing him instruments as he asked for them, "Tell your friend a story, Mr. Harper."
Jess looked confused for a moment and then grinned. It was the same thing that Marianne did with the boys when she doctored their hurts. In fact, it was the same thing he'd done with Quentin, only in reverse. "I'll tell you about when I spotted Lakota the first time..." He launched into the tale, using the storytelling techniques he'd learned from one of the consummate masters, Marianne. He tossed in a little of the sing-song style he'd learned at the knee of his maternal grandfather, an old Blackfeet clan elder that could entertain young warriors for hours with his tales.
The doctor laid out a slightly curved needle and several lengths of catgut sutures. Surprisingly, the ordeal for Quentin did not seem as bad as Jess feared. The doctor was very quick and efficient. He finished his work and tied off the sutures just as Jess finished up his story of capturing Lakota. The doctor applied a clean bandage and set out a jar and a small stoppered bottle. He quickly put away his implements and closed the case.
"The most important thing is to keep the wound clean and dry. Anything else is simply an added bonus. That bag," he indicated a tightly woven gauze bag he'd laid on the bedside table, "contains clean cloths, some are strips for bandaging, some are for drying your hands after thoroughly washing them. Do not change bandages without washing your hands!" The doctor leveled a stern look at both men. "If you do, your arm will rot off."
Pleased with the pair of concerned looks he got in response, Frasier smiled and continued, "When you change the bandage, check for abnormal redness around the wound and seepage. There should be neither. Put on dry, clean bandages only." He tapped one of the jars, "See if an apothecary can provide more of this. It is a highly concentrated batch of willow-bark tea, almost a syrup actually. Add a tablespoon to a cup of hot water and mix, drink it as needed to alleviate pain, swelling and to help stop infection. If you cannot find the willow-bark syrup or concentrate, tea will do. The other bottle is laudanum for severe pain, no more than a teaspoon at bedtime if needed to help you sleep."
Frasier finished packing his case, "The stitches can come out in a week. It would be best if you had a suitably enlightened physician remove them. Failing that, follow what I've shown you. Sterilize any implements with boiling water or extreme heat and alcohol. In the meantime, try to drink a suitable citrus juice daily, have a glass of red wine with your dinner, and consume as much meat and eggs as you can stand. Avoid anything I would disapprove of."
Cantrell smiled. "Doc, you just told me to have a glass of wine along with a meal of steak and eggs. I can't argue with whatever else may happen while I heal..." He poked a thumb at Jess. "...and you can trust Jess to follow your orders. His medicine may be a bit natural, but he knows when something works." Cantrell then extended his hand to shake the doctor's. "I'm obliged to you for what you've done."
Frasier smiled and shook the offered hand, "Let's see if you're still thankful when you see my fee tacked onto your bill." He nodded pleasantly and then said, "As for Mr. Harper's medical skills, there is a place and need for trail medicine. Without it, more people would die of their injuries. And yours was better than most, young man."
Jess gave the older a smile and thanked him quietly as he showed him out. He returned and dropped down to sit on the edge of his bed, head tilted as he studied Cantrell, "Last one down the stairs pays for the meal. Giving you a fair start by sittin' here." As Quentin moved to stand up, Jess did the same, a lopsided grin on his face as he paced the other man to the door, not turning it into a real contest until they were in the hall.
*footnote: The Misión St. Eligius Hotel was created for game use. It is a renovated and remodeled Spanish nobleman's villa and a former mission.