Ian has won Angelique - but at what cost?
The first thing Ian noticed as he entered MacGwire’s house was the neat job the old man had done on the walls surrounding Angelique. They were well-built and sturdy, the edges flush and the corners filled, though obviously temporary and easily removed. One more area of failure that he could tally. How was he supposed care for this girl when he could do nothing himself?
The doctor approached the inert form. Her skin was white, her cheeks sunken, her breathing shallow and labored. “When did this happen?” he asked.
“Yesterday morning, sir,” answered Ian. “She fell from the cliff into the water, about a hundred feet up.”
“Yesterday morning!” exclaimed the doctor. “Has anyone given her anything to drink since then?”
Red-faced, Ian turned to MacGwire, who gave a small shake of his head and looked down. The father had not thought of it either, so Ian did not feel quite so bad. He turned back to the doctor, now bending over the girl. “She did not move or respond, sir. We did not know if she could drink.”
“She may not be able to,” the man replied. As he spoke, he pressed her ribs gently, felt her neck and skull, and ever so slightly moved her head. “If she can’t, you will have to pour it down her throat for her. She won’t last another day without water.” He touched each of her closed eyelids, then straightened up. “Did anyone see her fall?”
“I did,” said Dennis.
“How did she hit the water?”
“Kind of bottom first, and a little bit on her right side. Me and my partner were right nearby, and fished her out immediately.”
“It might have been kinder had you left her. But here she is, so let’s see what we can do.” He opened his bag and took out a strange tube. He put one end on Angelique’s chest, and the other end to his ear. “While I finish my examination, fetch me a glass of water and a few tender young water reeds.”
No one moved at first. Then Ian said, “Dennis, would you get the reeds, please? Mister MacGwire can get the water.”
“And what of you?”
“As you said, Dennis, my responsibility is here with Angelique.”
Dennis spun on his heel, his fury flaming in his eyes, and stalked out of the house. MacGwire shuffled off to the pump.
The doctor gazed at the empty doorway, ten back at Ian. “I know not what is going on, but no one seems to like you very much.”
Ian bristled. “And is that your concern, sir?”
“Only so far as it affects the girl.” The doctor stared hard at Ian. “If you are to care for her, you will need help. If no one likes you enough to help you, she will die.”
Ian blew a large, deep sigh. “Aye, sir, you speak true. I’ve not spent much time worrying if anyone liked me. I never thought I might need another’s help. Not like this.”
The doctor put his tube away and closed his bag. “Then you both need a miracle, son — she to get well and you to be a different man.”
Noises from both ends of the house signaled the coming of both the reeds and the water. With thanks, the doctor accepted both, then turned to Ian. “Pay close attention, son. On this, her life depends.
“She is very much alive, and may well recover in time. I found no broken bones, though there may be other internal problems we cannot see or know about. At the moment, though, she is not responding to anything around her. She did not flinch when I felt her bones, nor when I touched her eyes. I do assume her stomach will work, since it is obvious,” here he gave a big sniff, “that other bodily functions are still working.”
He paused for a small sip of the water, then continued. “Three things will be very important, son.” He held up three fingers and ticked them off. “First, she can’t lay in only one position. Her skin will rub through and get infected. I understand that she was not moved because no one was sure it would not hurt her worse, and that was good of you. Now that we know it is not a problem, I would suggest something better than a blanket on the floor. Put her in a soft bed and roll her from front to back and side to side every few hours.
“Second, she must be diapered, changed, cleaned, and bathed as you would a baby. Again, there are infections that will attack her if this is not done, not to mention having to breathe unclean air. In her present condition, she is not strong enough to fight off any other types of sickness.”
He stopped, noticing the brilliant red that crept up Ian’s neck to consume his cheeks. A glance at MacGwire told him the old man was not comfortable with the thought, and Dennis had a very hard look on him.
“All right!” he thundered. “I know not where the undertow is here, but if the three of you are to help her get well, then I must know that there will be cooperation. If not, then I will not waste my time!”
“It’s a ... a long story, sir,” Ian began to stammer.
Dennis cut him off with a snort. “It’s short enough! This man stole the right to her hand, and she jumped from the cliff rather than wed him! Now there can be no wedding, but he must care for her as only a husband should do?”
“Well, now, that does not present a problem. Find her a nurse. Your obligation then will simply be to pay her.”
“Aye, if he can get the money.”
“I have the money!” Ian stuck his finger in Dennis’ chest. “And I can earn more! You’ll see!”
‘I certainly hope so, though I don’t know who that lives here will buy a single fish from you!” He skewered Ian with a glare and left the house.
The air was thick with tension: Dennis’ hostility still lingered, Ian’s anger burned hot, and now MacGwire’s uncertainty crept like a chilling fog. The father turned to the young man and quietly asked, “Ian, how will you get the money?”
Faced with the blunt reality of his dwindling finances and the poor relationship he had with the village people, Ian’s bluster broke down. Rather than thunder empty hopes as he had to Dennis, he hung his head and mumbled to MacGwire, “I do not know, sir. I will have to find a way.”
“But if you don’t have the money for a nurse, then who will ... how ... Angelique?” The horror of the thought was too much for MacGwire, and he began coughing, stumbling to the back door and falling on all fours as spasms racked his frame.
The doctor followed after him, waiting until the spell was over to speak. “How long?” he asked quietly.
“Since summer,” gasped MacGwire. “But I dinna think I will need to suffer much longer.”
“I’m afraid you’re right,” said the doctor. Then he knelt beside the old man. “Are you ready to go?”
“You just finished my last bit of business. My daughter is now another’s responsibility, though I had not meant it like this.” A few gasps and he nodded. “Yes, all is ready.”
“And your soul?” was the quiet question.
Angered, MacGwire pulled himself up and locked eyes with the doctor. “I have been a hard worker and a good father. I lost my home and my wife, and never gave up trying. Now I’ve all but lost my daughter, all I had left to my name. I’m sick unto death, and have failed to fulfill my last responsibility to my only child, consigning her instead to weasel of a man no one would cut up for bait! If God in Heaven has no care for all that I have suffered and lived through down here, then I dinna know as I want to live next to Him up there!” He shoved past Ian, who had followed to the back door, and went into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
Sighing, the doctor went back to the front room where Ian waited for him. “Let’s get on to the third item.” He picked up the reeds where Dennis had laid them and chose one. “You must get a reed soft and tender.” With a slender knife, he cut each end at a slant, leaving the reed about as long as his forearm. Then he dug out the inner pulp, leaving a hollow tube.
“There,” he said, inspecting his handiwork. “The edges are soft and will neither poke nor cut. It is supple and will go down easily.”
“Go down where, sir?”
To answer, the doctor took Angelique’s shoulders and pulled her up, pushing a pillow under her shoulders until her head drooped over. He grasped her cheeks and forced her jaw open. Holding her like this with one hand, he slowly inserted the reed with the other. Gently, he then poured the water into the end of the tube. “Give her a half-handful to drink three times a day for three days. If all goes well, a handful for the rest of the week, then a double handful after that. Starting tomorrow, give her a small cup of broth once a day as well.” The reed slid out.
Ian felt his stomach heave, but steeled himself to hold still. This was worse than gutting a fish, and he hired others to do that! But it was his to do, and he needed to be able to get through it.
The doctor understood the greenish look of pain on Ian’s face and allowed himself a small wry grin. “You’ll get used to it, son.” He held up the reed. “It must be soft and supple, a new shoot. If you have to, plant some in the house this winter to keep them warm and growing.”
“Will ...” Ian gulped hard, “will this be her condition forever, sir?”
“You mean will you have to shove a tube down her throat until she’s an old woman? No, I don’t think so. She should either improve slowly, or die of injuries we can’t see. You’ll know when to stop, son. Her body will begin to fight it.”
He clapped a fatherly hand to Ian’s shoulder. “You’ll do all right, son. I’ll be back in two weeks at my regular time. Keep at it, and don’t forget to pray for those miracles.”
“Pray? I don’t know how. Nor any God to pray to.”
“Then it’s a good time to start with that. Now, I must find a boat back to Hampton’s Cove.”
His footsteps receded, the crunch of shell and gravel fading with each step. Ian was suddenly alone with Angelique, a hollow reed, and solid dread. Fear of the future left both his stomach and his heart tied in knots.