The End of a Road
Posted on Thu Jul 20th, 2017 @ 10:57pm by Adalwin Stahl
Edited on on Thu Jul 20th, 2017 @ 10:58pm
The Long Road Home
Location: Road to Missoula
Timeline: July 1875
Marian Miller died at the crossroads. Stahl had feared for days it might come to that, though her injury had been less severe than that of the two others who were packed on that old peddler’s cart. He had feared it would when the fever prevailed, and her lungs would not clear. He had tried all he knew, including something he’d not have tried outside a real hospital, had they not been desperate either way. Last night he had hoped her lung might clear, though the fever remained high. She died quietly around noon, while Stahl was still busy with the bandages that kept William Butte’s ribs stable, after changing the little girl’s bandages. Marian had stirred if only shortly, the last rattling breath… and then she had stilled, fallen silent. There had been nothing there for Stahl to diagnose the death of a woman he had fought to keep alive for three long, arduous weeks.
It had all begun miles and miles south of here, in a place called Anaconda. Why the rough mountain region had been named after a snake was something that Stahl had never quite found out when he had arrived there the preceding autumn. He had not meant to stay but ended up with a place to work and stay over the snowy months and then some. He might not have left if not… if not for Mr. Bernhard Butte and his people coming to that remote place in search for someone. Stahl had only met them briefly, that first time. Mr. Butte was a polite man, a quaker, Stahl deduced from a few details and an educated man as well. He had asked politely about one Mr. Darvy Johnsen aged about 42 and… Stahl had waved it off at that point, telling Mr. Butte that he had met that man after Darvy had collapsed while cutting a tree at the end of winter. He had been coughing hard and drunk as a skunk on top of it. Stahl had told him, that if he did not lay off the moonshine, he would not live much longer. A prediction that came true two weeks later, as Johnsen had been too drunk and slept in the cold.
That should have been it. Others had answered all remaining questions and finally pointed Mr. Bernhard Butte to Marian Miller and her little girl Tess. Only that something, something about Marian Miller, her girl, one Darvy Johnsen and one Mr. William Butte had been more complex than it seemed, or maybe simply more enraging. Enraging enough for Mr. Edwin Talbot and his cronies to take exception. Stahl had heard the shouting, the voices and finally the gunfire. He ought to know to stay clear of other people’s troubles, or of the rather wild and uncivilised way that people settled there disputes here. You are in the new world now, Georg, barbaric is the standard procedure.he had told himself time and again. And like so often it had been in vain.
He had hurried over there, and he had prevented Talbot from killing the little girl outright. That knife in those parts of Talbot’s anatomy might come back to haunt him one day, but on that day his worry had been for the little girl - three bullets, one close to the lung - Mrs. Marian Miller - one bullet, right shoulder - and Mr. William Butte - four bullets, shoulder, side, and leg. Stahl had acted, on habit, instinct, and simply on the fact that help was needed, and needed fast. The treatment had taken place in the backroom of the Doctor’s house- the old man had only been partially drunk and helpful as far as possible. Maybe the cynical old man was what Stahl would be twenty years from now when disillusionment and alcohol had eroded him enough. Stahl could not say, but he would say that Doc Meringer had helped, allowed him to use the house and given up any supplies he had.
Mr. Bernhard Butte had looked rather dubious when Stahl - occupied cleaning his precious set of knives in boiling water - had asked him to hunt down the peddler, the storekeeper and anyone who had vinegar, vinegar, salt, and chamomile if there was any to be had. Yet he had done so and procured the asked for items. His dubious mien had faded when he smelled the concoction Stahl had swiftly assembled. The smell was characteristic for hospitals in other places, the harsh stench that got into your nose and that you did not forget. But it was a good solution to keep things and wounds clean. And clean he had needed for those surgeries, or as clean as a man could make it in the field, far from any real hospital.
Stahl closed Marian’s eyes, there was nothing to do but acknowledge her passing. Der Herr hats gegeben der Herr hats genommen, gesegnet der Name des Herrn. (The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.) The words only came in his native tongue, along with a lower, only whispered: Requiseat in pacem, rest in peace.
Mr. Bernhard Butte had heard the words, maybe even understood them. “What about William and little Tess?” he asked softly.
Stahl looked up, meeting the man’s eyes. He was a Quaker, a pacifist, travelling all this long way to solve whatever family tragedy had occurred here. He came from Philadelphia, and in a metaphorical sense, he was further from home and much more out of his waters than Stahl himself was or felt at times. “Tess is stable,” he replied. “The fever has receded, and she is healing, if slowly. I have done what I can for her shoulder, if she sees a good surgeon when you bring her home, the damage to her arm should not be too bad. As for Wiliam…” his eyes went to the wounded man, sleeping, pulled under by a dose of poppy syrup. Stahl wished he had some Valerian root instead, it was harder to make out the right dosage but less dangerous in other terms. “... he will need to lie still for another 8 weeks until his ribs are fully healed. If he moves too much, there still is a danger of internal damage. He will keep damage from the bullet that his his knee - but he will live.”
There was a small, tired nod from Butte. Luckily Dawson, Butte’s companion, protector and hired guard approached. “We will need to bury Marian. It is another two days to Missoula and…”
Stahl could not agree more. It was rough to bury someone, somwhere in the middle of nowhere. The first time had been forced to do that was three years ago and thousands of miles further east. Realizing that there was no option to simply bring the body to the next village where a church and a vicar would take care of the rest, had driven the lesson home. He was far from all that he knew. On that day he had felt it.
“Let’s see to it before dark,” he said. “There’s water here, we may as well camp here and bury her decently.”
The grave was done by sunset, it was simply a hole in the ground, deep enough for the body to be safe from carrion eaters, a few stones on top and a rough cross made from some wood. Mr. Butte said a prayer, it was in English and registered only partially with Stahl’s own mind. He had returned to his two patients as was his duty. Marian was with God, and He would set right for her, what could not be set right down here any more. The other two were still Stahl’s task to care for.
It took them three days instead of two to reach Missoula. Stahl had no real connection to the place, only a vague notion where they might be on a map. Vague was the important word in that sentence. At home, in that place on the other side of the world, he had always had a keen sense of where he was, the surrounding villages, towns, roads, and how they interlinked with the greater picture of geography. Here that sense was dulled, cut down to a vague concept of where he was and what the surrounding territory might be, things he had learned from talking to people, from listening mostly.
Mr. Bernhard Butte had claimed that three more men and a doctor were awaiting them in Missoula to help bring William and Tess home. Stahl had spent the last two evenings penning down the state of both patients, and all that he felt a colleague ought to know. He was writing on the back of two Wanted posters. Dawson had eyed him strangely as he had taken them down from that board in… he had forgotten the name of the place, but he had kept his words to himself.
Stahl had no idea who those men were or what they were wanted for. In some part of the world, he too would be wanted for the dead of a man, so he reserved judgement. What was more important: he needed the paper, and it was doubtful either way that two vanished Wanted posters would do any difference either way. He had written all there was to write in English, forcing himself to write latin letters instead of cursive, for easier reading. Expressing it all in English had been complicated, wording it in a language that still felt strange. In the end, he had repeated it all in Latin, a decent doctor would read that as well, and he was much more confident expressing all there was to say in the ancient educated words. He gave the notes to Dawson on the morning of the last leg of their journey. “Make sure the Doctor gets them.” there was no answer, Dawson spoke rarely, but he would do as he was asked.
The station of Missoula reminded Stahl that for all the wilds out there, there was a link to the rest of the world right here. He was relieved when they finally were there, and Mr. Butte’s promised men were awaiting them along with an old, grey doctor. While the doctor and the men began preparing to move the patients to bring them to the train, Bernhard Butte turned to Stahl. “You could come with us. I still feel it was a miracle that we met you down in Anaconda.”
Stahl shook his head. Ever since he had left the eastern cities something had woken in him. Call it curiosity, call it dreams of a boy… but he was not yet done with being curious about this wide, wild continent. He was not yet sure why, but somehow he had no wish to return East. “Thank you, Mr. Butte, I do appreciate your offer but I cannot,” he replied, in a tone that made clear it was the end of the discussion.
Butte sighed. “I feared as much. You are a strange man, Mr. Stahl. But you do have my gratitude for all you did.” He had insisted on paying Stahl, and Stahl had taken it. While he still felt it had been his duty to help, he could not afford to refuse payment, and he’d need it to fill up his supplies eventually, though Mr. Butte had been generous in doing that once they had arrived in Missoula. They parted ways at the station, the train would take the two injured people and Mr. Butte’s company a good part of the way.
Returning to Wilhelm, who stood deceptively calm at the watering trough, Stahl reattached his supply bag and bedroll to the back of the saddle. “What do you think, your Majesty?” he said to the horse, gently rubbing the neck. “Will we find a company headed North?”