27. January 2007 · Comments Off on Literary Distraction · Categories: Domestic, General, Literary Good Stuff, Old West

As promised, a snipped from my current obsession, which is growing by leaps and bounds. As reader Andrew Brooks suggested “Rather then bemoan two novels of the Germans in the Texas hill country, let them rip and just think of it as TheChronicles of Barsetshire, but with cypress trees!”

From the epic tenatively known as “Adelsverein”, this is Chapter 8, “The Home Place”

A dazzle in his eyes and a roar of noise in his ears: Carl Becker swam up to consciousness and a rough hand shaking his shoulder – the uninjured one. Even at that, pain stabbed up unto his skull, harsh as the Mexican lancer’s blade striking him down in a cavalry skirmish outside of Monterray – how many days ago?
“Rudi” is it the soldiers coming for us?” he mumbled in German, and the hand shook him again, commanding
“Speak English, you blockheaded Dutchman – Are you fit enough to walk out of here?”
Carl squinted against the light of a lantern held above his head, and focused against a blur on the face of the man holding it. Ford – Jack’s adjutant.
“I feel like dogshit, Rip.” He mumbled in reply, and coughed painfully. Rip Ford set down the lantern carefully, and checked the blood-caked bandages on Carl’s left shoulder.
“There ain’t no bubbling coming out of the deepest cut,” he remarked, with professional assurance, and Carl remembered how was said around the campfire that Rip Ford had once trained as a doctor, long before coming to Texas. “So that bastard of a lancer missed your lung by a squeak, but I think you got the lung-fever or the ague sure enough, and a busted collar-bone to boot. You ain’t gonna get any better in this-here cesspit. We got some of the boys heading home, now that their enlistments are up, and a courier going with them. There’s a place in an empty supply wagon for you, if you can walk to it. You got a home, they can take you to?”
“My sisters’,” Carl gathered his thoughts, and his strength. “They can take me to my sister in Austin. Mrs. Margaret Vining. She keeps a boarding house; there’s a big oak tree in the front yard – Anyone there will give directions.”
“Well, then, that’s the best place for you.” Rip Ford assisted him to sit up, and steadied him while his head swam. “Tell you what, boy, we sure as hell gonna miss you. There’s some as is a good a shot, but not above two or three keep a head as cool as yours in a pickle. Talk about a rumpus when we reach Mexico City – I think Gen’ral Scott, he’s gonna keep all the fun and glory for hisself and his blue-coat boys.”
“He’s afraid we won’t leave anything but picked-over trash,” Carl forced his eyes to focus. “M-mm saddle. I’ll take my saddle, and things – if you can carry it, Rip.”
“Pity about your horse – that big ol’ grey of yours, he was something prime. Here, boy – Let me strap up your arm, so the bones don’t grind together … how’s that?”
“Fine.” Carl gritted his teeth until the agony in his shoulder stopped sending shooting stars in front of his eyes. “My coat …it’s c-c-cold.”
“Jes’ slip your good arm into the sleeve …” Rip draped the rest of his coat over his bandaged shoulder. “I’m gonna take your traps out to that Dearborn, make sure there’s a place in back for you to lie down. You just wait here, half a tick.” He hoisted up Carl’s old worn saddle and the belt with his Colt revolvers, while Carl leaned his good elbow on his knees and thought very hard about standing up. He tried to keep his teeth from chattering together; oh, he had the ague and shivers right enough.
Poor old Rogue, thrashing on the ground with two broken legs, after the lancers charged them. In the thick of it, Carl had wrenched Rogue around, crashing into the Mexican’s lighter beast, but the bastard had a lance and would have speared Carl square in the chest with it, but for Carl catching him at point blank range with his Colt. The Mexican had his lance in a death-grip, though, and it went into Carl, high in the hollow of his left shoulder, glancing off bone, slicing through flesh and sinew, throwing him down, as Rogue fell.
Try as he could, Carl could not bring to mind anything happening after that, save a flash recollection of Rip Ford handing him a bottle and saying,
“Half of this in you, and half on you, if you please, so’s I can get to work. And make it snappy, I don’t have all day.” And then looking over his shoulder to someone in the shadows, “…and bring me some of that damnable moldy bread – yes, yes, we can’t eat it, so may as well get some good out of it.”
Oh, yes, long ago -in that time before, Ma used to use moldy bread to stop up blood. The moldier the better…
“You ready, boy?” Rip Ford’s scuffed and dusty boots appeared in the range of his sight. “I had the boys put down some nice fresh hay in the back of that there Dearborn, and a couple of blankets. You’ll ride as comfortable as if you were a babby in your mothers� arms. Now, then – one, two three – hupp!”
A mighty effort got Carl to his feet, and the room spun around him. He thought he might have fallen, but for Rip, hauling on his good arm. One, two three steps across the dusty floor; they stumbled like a pair of drunks. The light stabbed his eyes again, when he opened them, even though it was barely dawn. Oh, the dusty farmyard outside Monterray. They had been quartered in the wrecked and looted stables there, off and on for weeks.
A nightmare stagger across the farmyard, to the Army Dearborn, the team of horses hitched to it shifting impatiently. Voices and other willing but clumsy hands helped him up and into the back.
“Up you go…” urged Rip Ford, “Here -goddamn Daniels! easy on his arm! Break it open again, I’ll hunt you down personal and give your lazy ass three weeks of drill, I don’t care if you are time-expired – look here, if you can, give him some of this quinine bark tincture .. should keep the ague down to a dull roar, ’til you get him to his sister’s house. Right you are, boy – they’ll look after you.”

Mercifully, Carl could lie down, lie down and hug the blanket around him, with his head pillowed on his saddle. He could let the world go whirling away for the pain went away with it. Cushioned on a deep bed of straw in the Dearborn against the jolting of the ruts in the road to the north, he was heading towards home, or at least as close enough as he could get.

An interminable time later, that roaring world of pain and wracking fever finished with him, and spat him out, limp and weak as a half-drowned rat. He lay with his eyes closed at first, sorting out where he was, obscurely fearing that he might open them to someplace unpleasant, dirty and dangerous. No, that was not straw that he lay on, but cool linen sheets. A wooden, regular creaking sound, from close at hand; not the Dearborn’s incessant swaying .. no, he was somewhere else. The creaking sound ceased, replaced by the rustle of fabric; a woman�s skirts, and a cool hand on his forehead.
“Open your eyes, little brother – I know you’re awake.” Margaret’s voice, calm and fondly stern. He obeyed, profoundly grateful to find himself in a bedroom he didn’t recognize, but in what must be the old Becker home place. It would be Margaret’s house now; a whitewashed room and plainly furnished, but neat as a pin. Mid-morning sunshine spilled into it through the French doors leading out to a veranda, and moving leaf-shadows speckling the scrubbed oak floor.
“How did you know I was awake?” he asked. His voice sounded to his own ears like something rusty, disused, and Margaret smiled.
“I’ve been watching, and I know you very well, little brother.” His sister had the same calm, observant blue eyes as he did, and hair of the same color, woven in a neat coronet of braids around the top of her head. She had a vast apron tied over her morning dress.
“How long…” he coughed, and Margaret brought him a cup of bitter-tasting liquid, and deftly helped him to drink. “Have I been here for very long?”
“Your friends dropped you on my doorstep like a load of dirty laundry two weeks since. They said you took that wound in the fighting before Monterray. This is the first time you have been sensible. Doctor Williamson has been attending you every morning and evening.”
“Very dedicated of him,” His voice sounded less rusty. Margaret smiled,
“He’s one of my boarders. Nothing is too good for our heroes of Monterray, although I suppose I shall have to discount his rent in courtesy. Shall I help you to sit up? You should, if you feel strong enough.”
“I’ve enough of looking at the ceiling, Margaret.”
“Very well, then. ” She lifted his head and back and capably slid a couple of pillows underneath, before letting him sink down again. Margaret had cared for an invalid husband for several years before he was finally taken by consumption. “Let me know when you’ve had enough. ” Now that he was propped up, he could see more of the room. Definitely not familiar; he didn’t even recognize the furniture. “This is new … you have built on another wing?”
“Yes – six rooms downstairs, three up. They had just begun building it, when you were here last. I had meant to rent these three, but they have such a pleasant aspect, I have kept them for the family. You should come home more often.”
“Home.” He smiled very wryly, “It’s that place, that when they dump you on the doorstep like dirty laundry, they have to take you in.”
“So true,” Margaret agreed sweetly. She seated herself in her rocking chair again, and took up her mending from the sewing table beside it. “As it is, you turn up every couple of months with your clothing in rags, and a beard like a wild man, saying very little of where you have been and what you have been doing, save that it was at Jack Hays’ bidding. This last time, I thought you were working for that Prince Fancy-Trousers – oh, my, the stories that went around about him … at least the ones the boarders would tell me.” She shot a very shrewd look at Carl, and added, “At least this time, you found someone to mend your clothes for you. You should tell me about her, little brother.”
“Her? Why would you think that, Margaret?” She couldn’t read much of his expression, but his voice sounded very bland.
“I unpacked your saddlebags, and for a marvel, found a shirt in it, which wasn’t in rags. In fact, it was mended very neatly, and folded up with great care. I have met men who can tell one end of the needle from the other, and even make stitches with it, under extreme duress – but never as neatly or as small as a woman does. I was not born last night. You either have a pet mouse whom you have taught to sew, or you have met a woman in the last year who thinks well enough of you to do your mending. Who is she, Carl?”
“She thinks well of me, because I pulled her niece out of the river,” Carl answered, morosely. “It’s a long story.”

“You should tell it to me, then,” Margaret set aside her mending. “You sound as if you hoped for more. I have an idea, then. You shall tell me about her, as I shave off those dreadful whiskers of yours – really, you look so much a stranger with them, and I can’t bear it. Don�t laugh, little brother, I used to barber Mr. Vining all the time, when he was too weakened. We used to have some of our nicest talks, then.”
“Well of course – since you were the one holding the razor,” Carl pointed out.
“Don’t be provoking,” Margaret answered briskly, “You’ll feel much better without all that awful bristle. It makes you look too much like Pa, anyway.” As she bustled out of the room, to fetch a bowl of warm water, and the other necessities, she thought she heard Carl murmur,
“…hell with my back broke, than go ’round looking like him…” Margaret felt her throat tighten. Oh, Pa, she said to herself, you never had the slightest idea of what you did to Carl, did you?
She took her time, settling the kettle over the fire, and trying to remember where she had put away Horace Vining’s strop and razor, before calmly appropriating her oldest son’s shaving soap and brush; he was at least two years from having a serious need of them anyway, and wouldn’t mind his uncle having some little use, so she reasoned. The kettle barely stirred over the fire; Margaret had long since bought a patent iron stove, but the kitchen was in the oldest part of the house, that part of it built by their father, Alois Becker, with his own hands, back in that time before. That part left standing, when Alois, and Margaret and her husband and her oldest children had returned after the terrifying scramble of the runaway scrape.

Margaret still shuddered, thinking on the nightmarish terror of those days. Santa Anna and his terrible army, on their way to wreak bloody vengeance on the Texas settlements; Pa and Mr. Vining answering the call to Sam Houston’s ragged little army, her brothers already gone south with Colonel Fannin’s militia. She and Ma had to load the children into a wagon, with what little they could carry, and flee with the other refugees.
They had come home in dribs and drabs, Margaret and her husband finding their own house burnt to the ground, her husband already sickening with the illness that would kill him within a few years. Ma had died of the bloody flux in a ragged camp near Harrisburg; they already knew then of how Colonel Fannin’s men had been massacred at the Goliad. When they all returned, there was no place to go but the Becker homestead. In a way, Margaret thought, it was as bad after the San Jacinto victory as it had been before: her brothers assumed dead with Fannin�s garrison, a sick husband to care for, and a father half-mad with grief.

Too late in the year to put in a crop; everything that Alois Becker and his family had built, or planted, or stocked was wrecked, looted or trampled into the ground. A week after their return, before they had even managed to patch the room over this very room, Margaret heard a scratching at the door, a scratching almost like what a dog would make, begging to be let in. Margaret unbolted the door, and opened it to her youngest brother; gaunt and half-starving, a raggedy scarecrow. He had made his way home on foot, hiding during the day like an animal. She had thrown her arms around him, crying his name joyfully, crying, “Pa, Pa – its Carl, come and see, he’s alive!”
But when Alois Becker came to her side, he looked past his younger son, looking out into the darkness behind him, as if he looked for someone else, asking only, “But where is Rudi, then? Carl, where did you leave your brother?”
Margaret still remembered how her brother had flinched, and the terrible look in his eyes; as if he were looking into hell. All but skin and bones, he pulled away as if he had been struck, tearing himself out of her embrace. He ran away, ran away from the doorway and their father. She called after him, and finally took a lantern and went out to search. Alois Becker had only said impatiently, “That young blockhead – he’ll be back when he’s hungry enough. Leave him sulk, Margaret.”
But Margaret went out anyway, and eventually thought to look in one of those places she knew that her brothers had loved best: a place on the riverbank some distance from the farmstead, a sheltered hollow between the knees of a great sycamore. He had been curled into a tight ball, knees to forehead, arms wrapped around his knees, not making a sound.
“Come back to the house, Carl,” she had begged, setting down the lantern. “You know Pa doesn’t mean anything – Rudi is just his favorite, that’s all.”
“Rudi is dead.” His voice was muffled, he was speaking to his knees. “They killed us all, but Rudi told me to run away. I think some others ran. There was a pretty woman and an officer, they tried to make me leave Rudi but I wouldn’t go. I hid in the bushes across the river and watched their women washing the clothes they took from them until the water ran red. It won’t matter to Pa, will it?:

Boiling water purred in the kettle. Startled back to the present, Margaret took a cloth and carried it, together with a large basin and a number of clean towels into the sickroom. She was calmer now. This had been a comforting ritual with her husband, a ritual remembered with great affection; Laying out the towels, mixing a lather of soap, deftly stropping the razor, all to the tune of fond and intimate conversation.
“So,” Margaret sat on the edge of the bed. “I think I will clip off the worst of it first – tell me about this girl. You rescued a child? Of course� all the sentimental novels have something like this. What is she like?”
“A very spirited filly,” Carl answered. “Long-limbed, with fine lines, and totally fearless; It’s like looking at a whole corral of horses, and seeing just that one and knowing that is the one to buy, no matter the asking price.”
“Oh, dear,” said Margaret, busy with the scissors. “Never tell her that, little brother. A horse, indeed; not the most romantic thought. You should think of something – more – I don’t know – more gallant?”
“I can’t,” replied Carl, grumpily. “She’s like a fine thoroughbred horse that I want for my own, and that’s all. Pa always did say I was a dullard compared to Rudi.”
“Oh?” said Margaret, with some asperity, �”o he did. And did you take it so to yourself, thinking it was true? Pa loved Rudi, over and above you and I; live with that, little brother. Should what Pa thought and said should stab you so to the heart?”
“We loved him too, Margaret – he was the best of brothers.”
“And afterwards, Pa made Rudi into a perfect plaster saint,” thought Margaret. “Being dead and perfect is not easy to match. Easy enough for Rudi, being one of the noble martyrs of Goliad! Not so for Carl, having escaped by chance and Rudi’s last gesture. Perhaps Ma might have made Pa see that, made him soften the things that he said all unthinkingly to my imperfect but very much alive little brother.”

Aloud, Margaret said,
“He was that – you know, what I have always remembered most was how he loved pranks and practical jokes, and making people laugh. There wasn’t a shred of malice in him, either. Even the people he pranked were always laughing, afterwards … hot towel, little brother. Hold still, and think about what you are going to tell me about this girl of yours. Who is her family, and where did you meet them?”
“One of Prince Fancy-Trousers’ settler families, come from the Old Country to take up a fine land grant they know nothing of,” answered Carl, indistinctly from behind a hot, damp towel swathing the lower half of his face. “There was a train of wagons nooning by the river, off coast road. Just short of Victoria, when Jack and the rest of us met them this spring, it was – could have knocked me down with a feather when we heard who they were.”
“Mmmm,” said Margaret encouragingly. The soap lathered up nicely. His eyes were closed, with shadows like bruises under them. He was tiring; she would have to hurry this along. “I had heard that your Prince Fancy-Trousers had to skip the country, shortly ahead of a pack of creditors. His replacement needed first thing to bail him out – Now, I have heard that he is a more sensible man; Sensible enough not to play the nobleman around here, but at his wits’ end, nonetheless.”
“Meusebach – that’s his name, by the way – right now I’ll bet he don’t know whether to piss himself or go blind.” Carl muttered. Margaret took the towel away, and began swabbing lather on his jaw, while he continued, “He was frantic with trying to secure the grants, extend credit in this country, and see that thousands of greenhorns move safely from the coast to their holdings, all on a shoestring. Jack and I, we both agreed afterwards, we’re damned glad we don’t have his job.”
“Hold still or you’ll get a mouthful of soap,” she commanded, as she deftly scraped away with the straight razor. “Perhaps I should tell you some of my own thoughts now – listen and hold still, you need not talk, during this next part.”
“You have a very sharp razor within an inch of my throat. That ensures my complete attention, Margaret,” Her brother said only, but his eyes looked amused. Margaret settled herself more comfortably on the bed.
“Well, I am considering marriage again, actually, to Doctor Williamson. He has asked me so, several times, and I am inclined to accept. I do not need to marry, but I enjoy his company and think I would relish more of it. And also the boys like him … really, little brother, I should cut your hair, as well. Remind me on this. Anyway, I am considering his proposal with all care. Do not think I would neglect securing my own interests and those of the boys. I have not rented rooms to lawyers and legislators for nothing! I think if I appealed to certain of my boarders, I could get a bill passed for my exclusive benefit!” As she talked, Margaret worked away with the razor, turning his face this way or that with her other hand. Carl listened with his usual quiet attention, irregardless of the razor.

“It is not as if the boys need a fatherly example� as you would be if you visited more often. But I like him, and relish his presence without being particularly set upon it … so, tell me now. What do you think?”
“I should have to meet him – while in my right mind, of course,” Carl answered, as she rinsed the razor, “Other than that – just be certain of your own interests, in letting him control your property.”
“I have already seen to that,” Margaret answered serenely, “Half of this is entailed in your name. It is only right, even though I know you want no part of it, but I have named you as guardian for the boys, in any case. I am well protected against any fortune-hunters. Now, hold still, this is the tricky part – there. Now this is finished. You can talk to me and tell me true� you met this party of folk from the Old Country – who are they, and how did her niece get into the river?”
“Steinmetz – Christian Friedrich Steinmetz,” Carl answered. “He makes clocks, but he farms a little on the side – he knows a little something about everything imaginable. Cheery as a cricket, he and his son-in-law had a thousand questions – most of them sensible. He had a wife but she died on the boat coming over; he now has two sons, a son-in-law, and three pretty daughters.”
“Sounds like one of Ma’s old fairy tales,” Margaret dabbled away a bit of foam with a towel, and surveyed her work so far, “I suppose it is the youngest and prettiest that you have charmed – ” And Carl let out a great laugh that turned into a coughing fit,

“The youngest and prettiest is all of two years old,” He gasped, “Oh, damn, it hurts when I do that! And the middle daughter is the married one – she has a little girl. She�s the one I pulled out of the river. The boys are twins about eight years old. Everyone says they are identical, but they looked different enough to me. They were playing around on the river and made a raft for the little girl and before they knew it, the current had carried her out into deep water.”
“So, you have set your heart on the oldest daughter – hold still again.” Margaret made neat work of last bit of stubble on his cheek, “Lift up your chin, now, I am nearly finished – how does she regard you, little brother?”
“I don’t know.” He sank back onto the pillow. With the beard gone, he looked very wan. “They were very kindly folk – they made much ado about loaning clothes until my own dried – she brought my own back to me when they were dry, and we talked for a little.”
“Is that when you began to like her?” Margaret asked, and he answered,
“No -I think that was when she was heading into deep water and a strong current after the little girl, even though it looked like she couldn�t swim a lick. She hadn’t a chance in hell, but she tried, anyway. Cold nerve. That’s what I liked. I talked later with old Steinmetz, and Hans – that’s the brother-in-law. It was … very agreeable, passing the time with them.” He added wistfully, “Almost as I remember it being before, when Ma and Rudi were alive…”
Ah, thought Margaret, in a flash of illumination. It’s not only the girl he desires, but the company of her family as well; her sisters and brothers, and the clever, kindly father – whom I do not think plays favorites with his sons. “What were you planning to do, then?” Margaret asked, “I think I should take away the extra pillows and let you lie down again to rest, again.”
“I wasn’t thinking so far ahead,” He answered, “And I’m too tired to think about it now.”
“I shouldn’t have had you sit up for so long,” Margaret said, remorsefully as she tidied up the towels, and the bowl of water, “Now that you are home, perhaps you can send a message to them. No doubt they think of you fondly,” but even as she spoke, her brother had drifted into sleep again; not the restless and fevered slumber of before, but a healing, quiet sleep.

Margaret resettled the quilt around him, thinking that he appeared just now as she had always thought of him, as a boy hardly older than her oldest son. In her mind, Carl was always about sixteen, gawky and not quite filled out, the way he had been when he left for good.
Another sorrowful memory for Margaret; the summer day that the man from back East came to the Becker home place, just after the war for independence. He was, he told them, writing an account for an eastern newspaper regarding the heroic death of Colonel Fannin. He had heard, he explained politely, that Alois Becker�s younger son had been at Goliad, been one of the survivors. Might he speak with Carl?
Margaret had herself gone and found him cutting summer hay, swinging a scythe in the lower hay-meadow, the field that was now sold off and built over. He came willingly enough, albeit not enthusiastically. Carl had his full share of questions when he returned, had answered most of them briefly or not at all. Other people had suffered appalling tragedies during the war; it seemed to Margaret they were inclined to be understanding of his reluctance to speak of his particular part in one.
Margaret listened to them from the kitchen, as they talked in the parlor; Pa’s gruff voice interjecting once or twice, the newspaperman’s occasional deft questions, but mostly Carl’s light, uninflected tones, recounting the whole dreadful story dispassionately, as if it had all happened to someone else; occupying the Presidio, of Fannin’s indecision, of Coleto, and the aftermath, his escape to the river and his torturous journey on foot.

And at the very end of it, as Pa was showing the newspaper writer out of the parlor, he shook the man’s hand and said, in Carl’s hearing,
“Oh, but you should have known Rudolph, my oldest son. He was such a promising boy, worth three of this one any day of the week.”Margaret always thought the newspaper writer may have been at least a little taken back. She herself was so horrified at her father�s words that she could hardly bring herself to look at Carl who stood in the middle of the parlor. He looked blank, just as if he had been struck so hard that he couldn’t feel any pain at all. He walked calmly out of the parlor, and went back to scything hay, without a word to Pa, or to Margaret.
And in the morning, he was gone, taking only an ancient shotgun, and borrowing a horse and saddle from a neighbor. They heard sometime later, from the neighbor who had gotten his horse returned, that he had joined Colonel Smith’s Ranger troop and was off on a long scout to the borderlands. Margaret occasionally got word of him, through friends, but he did not return for nearly two years. When she finally saw him again, he had filled out, grown tall and hard-muscled, no longer a boy, but still silent. He stayed a day or so at the homestead with them, saying nothing much to Pa but the bare courtesies, and then went off again.
Sometimes, Margaret heard talk or read in the newspapers of the exploits of a company she knew her brother was riding with, and she felt a cold chill, wondering if his most recent visit would turn out to be the very last time she would ever see her little brother. The only thing that changed during that time had been after Pa died. Carl’s infrequent visits became a little longer in duration, then.
Margaret emptied the basin into the slops jar and gathered up the damp towels. She looked down at her brother and thought,

He is too shy to tell me your name, clockmaker�s daughter from the Old Country. But treat him with kindness – that is all I ask of you. Just because my little brother will not show his hurts – that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel them.

Autumn days waned and shortened into winter, and a bitter wind banished the leaf shadows dancing on the scrubbed pine floor. Carl slept and woke, and slept again, sometimes to see Margaret keeping vigil in her rocking chair, other times to hear her footsteps in the next room or in the hallway. There were other voices in the house, other footsteps, but with the lassitude of illness he could not bring himself to care very much. Margaret brought him cups of strong beef tea, and delicate little messes carefully arranged on a china dish to tempt an appetite and cut up so as to be easy managed with one hand. He ate obediently; it would take too much energy to refuse.

Doctor Williamson proved to be a burly, strong-featured man of middle age, carelessly dressed but possessing astonishingly gentle hands. He probed the discolored tangle of scars and half-healed flesh and bone that was Carl’s upper chest and shoulder, and said thoughtfully,
“About the best I can say for whoever patched you up is that there’s no mortification – he certainly has no calling as a surgeon.”
“Our adjutant,” Carl felt obscurely moved to defend Rip Ford. “Using good whiskey and bad bread. He did read medicine, once. He didn’t do too bad, considering that I’m still alive.”
“Tell him in future when you see him again, to stick to doctoring his horses,” answered Doctor Williamson. “The breaks – here, and here, are knitting well – at least he knew his trade in setting bones.”
�”t aches like hell, still.”
“Permanent condition, I’m afraid. But you’ll be able to predict chances in the weather, now. Let me listen to your lungs, now. Mrs. Vining thinks you are coughing too much.” Doctor Williamson frowned thoughtfully, as he listened to Carl breath in and out. “You are at a risk for lung fever, I fear, especially with this harsh weather and following on this kind of injury. I would advise remaining convalescent for a while longer.”
“Since I can’t take two steps on my own without falling flat, I might as well.”
“Good,” Doctor Williamson said, kindly. “Really, you are coming along remarkably well, considering – I shall tell your sister – Mrs. Vining so.” He looked almost shy when he said Margaret’s name. “She has been much concerned, these last few weeks – I would so much like to relieve her mind. Such a fine woman� I have the deepest respect for her, of course.” Now he looked even a little flustered, and looked around the room in vague confusion. “I seem to have misplaced my coat…”
“Hanging on the hook, on the back of the door,” Carl said, with dry amusement.
“Oh – so it is.” The doctor gathered up his bag, and his coat, and went to give the good news to Margaret, although he did have to come back later for his spectacles, left on Margaret’s sewing table.

“And so what is your opinion of my suitor?” Margaret asked, that evening, when she brought in another of her dainty little invalid meals, “Now that you have made his acquaintance in your right mind, of course.”
“He seems well-intentioned – but passing absent-minded.”
“Oh, he has no mind for anything but medicine,” Margaret answered, fondly. “He comes to dinner, reading some foreign medical journal, and props it against the cruets. We are all quite used to him returning from a day of house-calls and forgetting where he has left his coat … or his hat, or his horse.”
“Then you should accept his suit, if you wish it and if it would make you happy,” Carl set down his fork. “He’s too absent-minded to even remember that you have property, let alone where he left his own coat – might I have a little more, Margaret?”
“You are hungry?” Margaret sprang up from her chair, “That is a good sign, indeed. Yes, of course.” She took the plate from the tray on his knees, and as she did, he said,
“Her name is Margaretha.”

“Oh,” said Margaret thoughtfully. She stood for a minute, in the pool of lamplight. “If you please, I shall talk to some of my friends, and see how we might find out where to find her family. But only if you would like.”
“Yes – if you can. Thank you, Margaret.” She bent down on impulse and kissed his forehead, as if he were one of her own children, and replied.
“Don’t mention it, little brother.”

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