It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny.
No ropin' and ridin' anywhere
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No ropin' and ridin' anywhere
Part #6 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met
and how they became so loyal to each other.
and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers
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Twice. Stabbed in the back twice. Honestly a man got no thanks for being a doctor in this place.
Dare stood in the doorway of the infirmary, looking out over the men, sleeping on the ground, some with blankets formed into tents. Pondering his choice of professions.
As if he'd been given a choice.
The prison yard was a wretched sight. A sound weighed on the air, a low moan that was constant, day and night. The sound of sickness and misery. Starvation and death. It was so much a part of this place Dare hardly noticed it anymore but it left a dark stain on a man’s mind to live in the midst of such steady suffering.
Dare was a doctor but he could do nothing about most of it. The moans came from the camp but also from behind him. There were men in the small infirmary. Almost certainly each was dying. With good food and clean conditions and medical care they might all survive. They had none of those things.
Instead, each of them lay in squalor, starved until they were skeletal. Plagued by dysentery and too sick to even get to a chamber pot. The stench was sickening.
Where he stood, in that doorway, he knew a roof over his head, no matter the vile filth inside the infirmary, was a luxury he’d been granted because being a Regulator was a good way to get killed.
He stood there and tried to count his blessings. As the days in this house of misery stretched to months he could hardly remember life outside the walls. He could hardly remember what a blessing was.
A high keening cry cut through the night. It sent a chill up Dare's back. The cry was quickly muffled.
`”What was that?” Dare muttered the words aloud, testing his own sanity.
His mind went to ghosts and banshees…magical things because it was no sound Dare could imagine.
No man nor animal made such a sound and, when the possible wasn’t possible a man’s mind went to the impossible. It almost sounded like…like a woman.
A woman suffering.
Everything in Dare’s muddled doctor training woke up and drove him to see what it was.
To step out on the grounds alone was to ask for death. Many prisoners thought him a traitor for rounding up Yankee soldiers, no matter they were vermin. Other prisoners were part of the Raiders and still hated the Regulators who had killed their leaders.
Dare had already taken a knife in the back. Twice.
He knew better than to go out there, but that cry sounded again and no power on earth could stop him from rushing out to see what it was. He reached a rigged tent, two blankets propped up with sticks in a triangle that, at the peak, reached Dare’s waist.
A man crouched, covering a second man’s mouth. The second man lay on his back, his spine arched in agony. When Dare dropped to his knees the crouching man whirled to face him, in the shadowed night Dare knew he faced death. With his mouth uncovered the man cried out again.
A high pitched cry that had Dare shaking his head and speaking words that could not be. “I’m a doctor. I’m not going to hurt her.”
Her. It was a woman. It wasn’t possible but the person lying there in such agony was definitely a woman. “Keep her quiet. We can’t let anyone know there’s a woman in here.”
Dare knew the depths of the brutality in this place. Many men were reduced to near animals. What this hoard of savages might do to a woman in their midst was horrifying.
“She’s my wife. My name is Hunt.” Hunt looked torn near in two, ready to fight Dare, wanting to silence his wife.
It was more than Dare could do to believe a woman was here in this madhouse, this desolation.
When Hunt’s wife cried louder, he quit glaring at Dare to cover her mouth. Dare crawled in the tent, which was only a foot or so longer than Mrs. Hunt’s body.
After tense moments the woman slowly relaxed. Her body, arched off the ground in pain, settled back to the ground and the man released her.
“What’s the matter? Is she sick?”
Hunt gave Dare a wild look and ran both hands through his long, filthy, dark hair. “She’s having a baby.”
Dare nearly fell backward. “What?” His shout echoed out of the tent.
“Quiet!” Hunt snarled. “You’ll draw attention just as surely as she will.”
Clamping his jaws shut, Dare tried to think. His brain was still reeling from finding a woman in here, but a baby?
It was like rats scurrying and clawing in his head, the frantic thoughts, the desperate wish to deny this. But then the wonder of it struck Dare hard.
So many had died, but new life was here, too.
The sense of awe was overwhelming. It made something tight and grieving in Dare’s chest unwind and for the first time in a long time he could feel something joyful.
Terrifying but joyful.
Mrs. Hunt cut through his thoughts. “Thank the Good Lord you’re a doctor. You can deliver my baby.”
Dare looked at her with dawning horror. He had absolutely no idea how to deliver a baby, for heaven’s sakes!
He thought of the infirmary and knew he couldn’t take Mrs. Hunt into such filth, she was better on the ground, and it was plenty bad out here.
“God has sent an angel in our hour of need.” The painfully thin woman, who showed almost no sign of a rounded belly and was dressed in britches and a ragged shirt like any man.
Dare had only a normal man’s knowledge of birth. His dad was a wheelwright, and Dare had helped in the shop most of his life. But they’d had a few milk cows who’d given birth time to time and he’d seen a barn cat deliver six kittens. Swallowing hard, Dare tried to remember all the doctor had told him in his training about keeping men calm and sounding confident to encourage the sick.
That advice probably applied here.
It was little enough to give this woman, but he could give it.
Imagining what lay ahead, Dare looked the women in the eye, then turned to her husband. “You know we’ll have to…to…she’ll need…” Confidence. Dare squared his shoulders to the extent a man could in this tent. “We’ll need to get her trousers off.”
Hunt bulled up over that, and Dare didn’t blame the man. But then any man who’d let his pregnant wife stay with him in this slice of Purgatory was none too bright.
Dare took charge. “It’s a mighty private thing, Mr. Hunt. If you’d like, I’ll go. Most babies are delivered without a fuss and your wife and child will most likely be fine without me. I understand if that’s your wish.”
Mrs. Hunt’s hand grabbed her husband’s forearm. “It’s all right, he’s a doctor.”
Dare didn't open his mouth to tell them that honestly, he was no such thing.
Hunt hesitated a long time. His eyes burned in the darkness as he took Dare’s measure. Dare sure hoped Hunt wasn’t a good judge of a man’s measure or he’d throw Dare out for sure. Of course, maybe that would be a good thing.
And then Mrs. Hunt let her husband go. “It’s coming!” She arched her back and started clawing at the buttons on the front of her britches.
Dare was too busy to think of modesty again for a long time. So were the Hunts come to that.
And then, with scrambling and prayers and panic in about equal parts, Dare found himself holding a squirming, soaking wet mess of a baby in his hands.
He thought he’d heard a baby was supposed to be smacked on the backside when it was born, though he wasn’t sure where he’d heard it or why he’d do such a thing. He wasn’t about to whack away on such a tiny infant.
The baby, a boy, started in hollering. They’d been able to silence Mrs. Hunt but something wild and defiant erupted in Dare along with the cries.
“You cry little one.” He balanced the wriggling little guy in one hand and tore the tattered shirt off his back. He’d go bare-chested if he had to so the baby wouldn’t get cold—although in Georgia as always, the night was warm. He did a mighty poor job of wrapping the child as the Hunts looked on. Then he handed the wee one to his father, who looked down with shining love in his eyes while Mrs. Hunt wept and rested her hand on her baby’s head.
It took a few minutes, but thundering footsteps were inevitable and here they came. “Give her the baby, Hunt. Trouble’s coming.”
Hunt jerked his chin and looked to the tent opening with the fire of a papa grizzly in his eyes. Dare made quick work of getting Mrs. Hunt’s clothes restored to order.
Dare didn’t care what he had to do. The need to protect this child gave him the determination and, he hoped, the strength of an angel straight from God.
Then a men came into view, rifle in hand. Dare braced himself as the man slowly knelt to look in the tent. Dare recognized one of the guards that stood on the fence, ready to shoot anyone who stepped over the Dead Line. The man’s face bore no look of cruelty only wonder.
“Is that a baby?” The man stared past Dare and Hunt to the squalling child.
The tone gave Dare hope. “It sure is.”
There was a stunned silence then the guard spoke so fast his word tumbled over each other “Let’s get you all out of here. Fast.” The guard stood.
“Hand me the baby, Hunt. You carry your wife.” Dare, figuring he didn’t have much choice, crawled out of the tent.
“W-wife?” The guard stepped back almost as if he was afraid, as Dare lifted the baby into view. Much as the guardian angel had been awakened in Dare, he hoped it had come alive in this guard. The man seemed ready to fight for the baby, too.
Mr. Hunt came next and Mrs. Hunt right behind him. He tried to pick her up but she slapped his hands away.
“I can walk perfectly fine. Let’s go.” Mrs. Hunt was proving to be a mighty sturdy woman. She caught up to Dare and fussed with the shirt wrapped around her baby son as if was the finest knit wool rather than a dirty, ragged shirt that had been hanging, unwashed, on Dare’s back for months.
They quickly followed the guard. The baby kept up his crying. Dare felt strongly that he shouldn’t be carrying the baby. Mrs. Hunt should. Then she reached a hand out to rest on her child and he saw the fine trembling of her hand and knew she was standing upright mainly through pride. It was important to her to appear strong. But she wasn’t sure that strength was enough to carry her child. Dare was glad because he thought it was more than he could bear to let the precious little boy go to someone else.
The new father stayed on Dare’s right while the mama was on his left like a pair of armed sentries. Men raised their heads as they passed with the squalling child.
And Dare felt something change in the ugly prison yard.
The moaning from the sick men faded as a hush came over everyone. They stood, many of them coming close, straining to see a miracle.
New life in the midst of death.
Something inside Dare woke up. A spark deep inside, like a kernel of fire as hot as a drop of pure sunlight came alive in his heart and glowed and grew and spread.
Dare knew right then that there was more to being a doctor than throwing a blanket over a man’s head when he died. There was more than hacking off limbs.
There was glory. There was letting his hands do the work of God.
There was a chance to be part of a miracle, because right now that’s what this moment was.
And it suited him all the way to his soul.
If he survived this place, he was going to see about saving lives or bringing new life into the world. He was going to be God’s hands here on Earth. Heal the sick. It was in the Bible, a calling that Dare was hearing as if God spoke the words aloud.
There was no doubt in his mind that God was guiding him to this choice.
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