The lamp was burning low as Mary Kathleen parted her curtain and stepped from her bed chamber. William sat still next to Laurie's bedside, a book closed in his hands.
Mary Kathleen looked at Laurie's pale face. She could see no life in the dim light.
"How is he?" she asked.
"He's still with us," William said, but that was all.
"And his fever?"
"It has not broken," William replied. He stood, placing the book on the table.
"I shall tend to him, then. You should take some sleep before the sun rises. There will be much work to do."
William looked ready to speak, but then he nodded. A couple of hours, and then he would need to rise, to do both he and Laurie's chores. And if he had to look at it honestly, it appeared he might be doing both he and Laurie's chores from now forward. He was surprised Laurie was still breathing when Mary Kathleen woke, to be perfectly truthful. Death was close by that cabin door, watching.
Mary Kathleen first poked at the fire and put on another couple of sticks. Then she changed the water in the bucket for fresh cold water from the spring, and returned, setting the lamp back on the table and turning the flame back.
She sat back beside Laurie and pressed the cold cloth against his forehead. He groaned and tried to turn his head.
"Whisht," she said, softly, speaking to him as if he were her young brother, Conchúir. "Lie still, á Stóirín. We must break this fever of yours, you must get well."
Laurie moaned again, loudly crying out.
"Hush!" Mary Kathleen said, glancing toward William's cot. "You must get well, Laurie." She once again draped the cold cloth over his brow. He stirred but only whimpered.
He was fitful for a while, and then fell back into unconsciousness, and Mary stood and gathered her senses around her. She took up her apron and put it on over her dress that she'd not taken off from the night before. There was fresh bread to set up, and eggs to fetch, and cows to milk. The farm needed to be tended. William needed to be fed. Whether Laurie lived or died, all of that needed to go on.
William woke just as dawn broke, still long before the sun appeared. He pulled his braces over his shoulders and left the glanced over at Laurie before leaving the cabin for the privy. He came back, washing his hands and face clean in the wash basin with the hot water Mary Kathleen had kept simmering.
"He's holding fast," Mary Kathleen said, setting a place at the table for William. "I've been out already for eggs and milked the cow. Fed the chickens and the cows. I left those large beasts to yourself, William." She moved fast, making up a breakfast that would fill William and give him energy for the day ahead of him.
Laurie moaned, and Mary Kathleen jumped up, motioning William to continue eating. She sat by Laurie's side, dabbing his brow with the cold cloth again. Laurie groaned and tried to pull away.
"Bí fós, mo dheartháir," she said softly. "Le do thoil, múscail. Tar ar ais chugainn."
She spoke to him in Irish, knowing it didn't matter what language she spoke, that he probably didn't hear her, or if he did, he wouldn't understand any language. It comforted her own nervous state. It would be lonely without Laurie. It would be quiet without him. It would not feel as comfortable. It would not feel like home without Laurie.
She took a cup of water to him and tried to pour a little onto his hot dry lips. He only shuddered and turned away, refusing her administrations, a low guttural sound coming from his throat. She put her palm against his forehead and turned to William, white-faced. "He's burning up. When will the doctor arrive?"
"He should be here shortly." William checked his pocket watch. "Aye, soon."
Mary Kathleen pressed the cold cloth against Laurie's cheek, gentle around the swollen lacerations. She cooled him along his neck and shoulders until he shivered, and then she covered him again, returning to the dishes.
When the doctor finally came, he was disheartened to find Laurie still in such a state. The wounds, even with the quick actions of Laurie's friends and the doctor, must have become infected, he stated. Once again, he cleaned Laurie's injuries with iodine tincture, checked his abdomen and ribs again with the best the situation afforded him, and then dressed the wounds with clean bandages. He gave Laurie a dose of morphine to calm him and stop his pain, hoping maybe that would help to bring the fever down.
"How long can his body survive a fever?" Mary Kathleen asked.
The doctor shook his head grimly. "He will not last long."
"He will not take water," Mary Kathleen said. "I have tried to wet his lips, to have him taste it."
"You must get water into him." The doctor smiled warmly, with care. "Do not drown him, though. A family in Pentigush did just that trying to give water to their unconscious grandmother. Poured a whole pitcher of water down her gullet, right into her lungs. Drowned her like she fell off a ship, right in the middle of her bed."
"Hell of a way to go," William muttered.
Doctor Taylor nodded. He turned once again to Laurie. "We must break this fever of yours, Mr. Williams. The longer it lasts, the more damage it will do."
"Damage?" asked Mary Kathleen.
The doctor once again looked grimly at her, and then to William. William nodded and bowed his head.
"He means Laurie could come out of this very badly, Mary. Maybe worse than if he didn't come out at all." He frowned. "It could boil his mind. Make him an imbecile. It could make him blind or a cripple. He might not come back to us the same at all, is that what you meant, Doctor?"
Doctor Taylor again nodded.
"This is why you must get this fever down, and get him to wake. Before it goes too far."
"Is there nothing else you can do?" Mary Kathleen begged. The reality of everything kept getting worse and worse. She'd left death behind to come to a land with life and hope.
"I'm afraid this is the best we can do here in new outposts like this. New frontiers come with few luxuries. I am trying to build up a small fund for a practice here as the town grows, to have better resources. But as far as they see me, I'm just a travelling doctor to call for the croup and earaches.
"But you know! You know more!"
"Bloodletting may work," started the doctor.
"Then let's do it!" Mary Kathleen cried out.
"But I have opinion to doubt that," Doctor Taylor cut her off. "I think his own body must fight off this infection. But you must keep the wounds clean. You must keep the fever down. You must get him to drink. I will give you this..." He gave Mary Kathleen the glass vial of iodine. "The deep wounds, the angry ones, apply this after you clean them. It has success. The rest, I'm afraid, Young Girl, is up to the lad. Do you think he is strong enough? Does he want to live?"
Mary Kathleen nodded, looking at Laurie, lying so still.
"Then you keep telling him so," said the Doctor. "I will check on him tomorrow morning, God willing." He gathered his things and put on his hat. "There are clean bandages there as well. If he is too restless, and you have whisky," he said to William. "Something to numb the pain. But water first," he said once more to Mary Kathleen.
He left on his horse and Mary Kathleen looked at William. "Is he a true doctor, William? He seems so different, so... full of different ideas."
"Aye, he's a doctor. He's better than the sawbones and the barbers you've seen. He has studied science of the body, science of earth and nature. He has more ken than you or I will ever understand. I trust him. Do as he says."
There was a shout from outside.
"Law is here. Work must be done. You all right, Mary Katie?"
She set her jaw and nodded. "I will do as he says. We will not lose our Laurie."
William turned to go, picking his hat from the nail by the door. He turned back. "You do love Laurie, is that true?"
"Love him?" She stopped. "I have not thought about it, William. I am here on your behalf. I am in your employ, not here for anything else. But I do care for him, I care for you both. How could I not, living here with you day upon day as the years pass?"
"But you've become very close with Laurie."
She shrugged. "Aye. I suppose I have, yes. He's... become like a brother."
"You love him as a brother?"
She looked at poor Laurie, so sick upon his deathbed.
"Yes... I suppose. Whatever do you mean?"
"I just want to know that you will do your best for him. He is a brother to me, too."
Mary Kathleen had not stopped to think about William's feelings. She knew it would be hard on him with all the extra work, but the friendship, the companionship between the two had been something rare. They both wanted to achieve their goals together, as a team. They wanted to have a partnership with someone they could trust, and someone that, when it came down to it, they could have a laugh with after a hard day's work. It was only the other night that William had said he had made the best deal ever when he'd shook hands with James Laurence Williams on that ship crossing the Atlantic.
"Of course, William. I'll watch over him, I'll have him drinking water just fine, no drowning. That fever will go. You'll come home and he'll be awake by then." She sighed, not believing herself.
William smiled weakly, tapped the brim of his hat, and left the cabin to meet Mr. Law.
The water did not go down at all for Mary Kathleen. Not until the sun was high in the sky, did Laurie stop fighting her. He let her cool his brow with the cold cloth, and he only whimpered softly as she dabbed it along his neck and shoulders. The water from the cup spilled down into his ears and hair and down his neck. Once, he flung out an arm and knocked it away. It clattered along the floor, and Mary Kathleen bent her head in her hand for a moment, feeling too overwhelmed with it all. Why was she always in charge of keeping everyone alive?
But when the sun was high, and Mary Kathleen had eaten some cheese and a few of the crackers in the packet that William had brought from King's Town last trip, and was relaxing with a cup of tea in the warm heat of the fire, she felt calm and determined. She had made butter that morning, between nursing Laurie and running for cold water. Mid-morning, Lavinia had brought over an armload of lavender she'd harvested from her back garden, and now the cabin smelled beautiful and sweet and natural and not of medicine and illness. She would be able to dry it and use it for sachets for the clothing and some for ingredients in baking. Maybe she would use it in bath water, if she was being really outrageous and indulgent, she thought with a smile.
She set down the teacup. She retrieved the tin cup from the table and filled it with water. Instead of talking to him, she started singing an old Irish song about a lad who went away and the lass who waited for him to come home, and whispered his name to the sea every night until he returned. She sat by Laurie's side, holding the cup, not making any further moves, just singing.
He didn't stir. His rough breath was slow and rasping. Mary Kathleen stopped singing, and spoke softly instead.
"You're so very thirsty, Laurie, you'll be wanting this cool water, so very good and clear. Fresh water is what you came here for, is it not? Not the city water of Manchester." She gathered Laurie's shoulders in her arms, cradling him, lifting his head. She was careful of his injuries. "This is good water, it will cure your ills. Dear Laurie, won't you drink it for me?"
She was able to pour some of the water onto his lips, and into his mouth. At first, it dribbled from the side, but after a moment, she saw his tongue taste the refreshing coolness of the water, and she watched as some of it went down.
"Oh, buíochas le Dia, Laurie, you shall get well, I know it." She continued coaxing him to drink, careful not to drown him, as the Doctor had described. "Good man. It tastes so good, does it not? That's it, have some more."
She sang a bit more, until Laurie turned away from the water, and it poured down his cheek and neck. Mary Kathleen put down the cup and settled him again, placing the back of her hand on his brow. It was still burning, but he looked less shadowed somehow. She put another cold compress over his forehead.
"We'll do that again," she told him with assurance.
Lavinia had sent the men with dinner, so William did not return until the darkness fell in the late afternoon. He came in quietly, his hat in his hand, ready to accept either way what news of Laurie.
He found Mary Kathleen sitting beside his wounded friend, cradling him in the crook of her arm, slowly and patiently dribbling water from the tin mug to his lips. William's heart skipped with hope. Laurie was still here with them, beyond the doctor's expectations, beyond William's own, and somehow, that girl was getting the life-saving fluid into him.
"You possess some good magick," said William.
"Are you accusing me of witchcraft, Mister MacGreggor?" she whispered indolently.
"Nae, nae. I'm only saying that you have done what it seems no-one else could do. I did not expect..." He glanced at Laurie and back at Mary Kathleen. "Thank you, Mary Katie. Where there's breath, there's hope."
Mary Kathleen nursed Laurie, tending his wounds and his fever. The doctor came, each time amazed that Laurie was still amongst the living. At long last, Laurie, in a fit of tossing and turning, crying out for his Mam, his fever broke. He still did not wake, though Mary Kathleen changed his bedclothes several times for his comfort, and continued to tend his wounds.
Soon after, his colouring grew less deathly and his breathing less rasping. He let Mary Kathleen give him water, and six days after his fall from the roof, he opened his eyes.
It was early morning, and William had just come back from chores. Mary Kathleen had set the breakfast upon the table and William washed up.
She turned and saw the light from the lamps sparkle a reflection in Laurie's eyes.
"Laurie?" She stepped closer. "Are you awake?"
William, who had been about to sit, also came closer.
"Wil—" Laurie gasped, his voice cracked and dry.
"Here, I'll fetch you some water," Mary Kathleen said, once again refilling the cup and sitting beside him, helping him put it to his lips. He drank it carefully, not too fast, trying not to choke as he took in the refreshment.
"Mary," he whispered. "The angels sent you."
She blushed. "No, Laurie, just a mortal, as are you. You've come close to proving it."
Laurie tried to sit, and Mary Kathleen pushed him back. "No, no, we're having none of that, you rest, you must save your strength to get well."
"The lamp. Bring it closer," he gasped.
"Mary... please... The light is so weak."
William picked up the lamp, moving it closer to Laurie's face. Laurie turned his eyes to it and sighed, blinking weakly. He tried to lift his arm to reach out but he did not have the strength.
"I cannot move," he said.
"You've had a terrible fall, Laurie," Mary Kathleen told him. "We were not sure you would come back to us at all."
Laurie tried to look around, but winced with pain. A tear fell from his eye. Mary Kathleen took the damp cloth from beside his head and dabbed at his cheek and eye.
"You will get well again," she told him. "The doctor will come back today and he'll be very glad to see you awake."
But Laurie had already fallen back into unconsciousness.
Mary Kathleen turned to William, who had set the lantern back and stood once more at the table without sitting down. She settled Laurie back into his pillow and stood to wash.
"He's better, William," she said to the quiet man to prompt him to sit. "It will take some time for him to gain strength. But he's turned a corner. William?"
William shook himself free of his thoughts. "Aye. Yes. Of course. We must hope for the best. The fever is broken, aye, that is the best news, and he is awake, and he knows us."
The doctor arrived as Mary Kathleen put the last dish in its place on the shelf, and she kept herself busy as he attended Laurie. She kept her ears intent on his words, however, and as soon as Laurie was decent, she was there at his bedside.
Laurie had woken at the doctor's prodding, and was able to respond to Doctor Taylor's inquiries about his health and pain.
"It's nice to finally meet you, Young Sir," said Doctor Taylor, smiling at Laurie. "Your friends here have been terribly worried about you."
It was discovered that sitting up made it easier for Laurie to draw breath and sustain it. Doctor Taylor suspected broken ribs were to blame for pressure on his lungs. However, sitting up tired him out quickly. Mary Kathleen propped him up as best she could, with quilts and pillows. The doctor tested his reflexes and found they were lacking. Laurie's limbs did not want to obey him, and he complained of them feeling numb. He could not move his own body weight, he was still much too weak. It might take months, the doctor told them, for him to gain enough strength back to walk.
When Laurie complained of the light being dim, once again, the doctor brought close a candle, to test Laurie's eyes.
With one eye, Laurie could see blurry shapes, the weaving globe of light from the candle. The other eye was better; he could see colours and fuzzy images and faces when they came close.
"It will get better," Laurie said, as if to reassure them, as if he knew himself. "I just need to clear my head... I'm just so tired." He tried to shift, but a pain shuddered through his body.
"Rest, Mr Williams," said the doctor. "You must sleep, you must take healthy food and water for strength. When the time is right you must take exercise and build your body back. I expect you have a long road of recovery ahead of you this winter, if you continue this progress."
"You mean if I live," Laurie groaned. "And what are my chances, Doc? How are the odds?" He opened his eyes again, and saw the doctor not moving, not shrugging, not speaking. "That bad, eh? Even I can tell I'm not in odds for favourite, am I, then?"
"Don't say that, Laurie, of course you'll live," Mary Kathleen said, glaring at William, who had not said a word.
"No," Laurie said with a small shake of his head. "I know when I've been beat. I won't lie here all winter and have you look after me and feed me when I haven't done one thing for us."
"This cabin!" cried Mary Kathleen. "The floor we stand upon! The grand house across the hill. The cheese and the maple sugar, So don't you tell me, James Laurence, that you've given us nothing. I'll have none of that, and I'll have none of this talk of odds. You'll do as the doctor prescribes to ye, and William and I will manage as best as we will, and we'll be fine. And so's what if we're a little later with the house? A year. One year, Laurie. You have the house. It's a proven lot. You did it. So now you rest, and you get better and you start thinking about all those little things, fancy things, you did be wanting to put in your house. Now you have time to plan them out in your head."
Laurie, still in pain, chewed on his lip, not willing to give that all up just yet. He turned toward Mary Kathleen, tears in his eyes. "I don't want to die yet, Mary," he sobbed.
"I know," she said, sinking to her knees so he could see her. She touched his cheek. "You won't. I promise you, William and I will help you to get well. You just have to promise to stay strong. Can you do that?"
He squeezed his eyes tight and clenched his jaw and he nodded.
The doctor turned to William. "I think his odds just went up," he said, cocking an eyebrow.