Andrew turns back to the barnyard and gets a quizzical look on his face. Bartholomew is meandering across yard seeming kind of give-out. As he comes up the porch steps he stumbles. "You alright, Bart?" Andrew inquires.
"Sure." Bartholomew doesn't sound so sure, but he squares his shoulders as he walks into the house.
Later, at the dinner table, George notices that Bartholomew isn't eating much. He leans forward and looks into the boy's face as he pushes the food around on his plate.
“Son, are you alright?”
Bartholomew looks up and tires to grin, “Yes, sir. I’m just not very hungry and I’m very tired.”
George gives him another good hard look, but then shrugs, “You and Benjamin put in a hard day today, I guess.”
“Didn’t seem too hard,” Bartholomew blows.
He gets up and weaves slightly as he goes to put his plate on the side board next to the dishwashing pail.
Andrew's eyelids flicker. Then his eyes open up. Now fully awake, he tucks his hands behind his head and smiles to himself as though he shared a humorous secret with the dark.
Suddenly, he hears a little moan. He sits up to listen. Another moan. Suddenly, Rodger bolts upright in his bunk above Bartholomew. He leans over and whispers, “Andy? What’s wrong with Bart?”
Andrew swings his feet over the edge of his bed and walks across to Bartholomew's bunk. He reaches down and puts his hand on his brother’s forehead. He gets a concerned look on his face as he runs his hand along his brother's cheek. He yanks back the sheets, “He’s soaked! I’m going to go get Pa.”
As Andrew leaves the room, Rodger climbs down and looks at his distressed older brother.
Moments later, Andrew returns with his father. George takes a look at his son and then orders, “Andrew, go for the doctor.”
Andrew thunders down the street and jumps off in front of Dr. Harris’. He pounds on the door. Mrs. Harris opens it.
Mrs. Harris asks, “What is it, Andrew?”
“It’s Bartholomew—he’s mighty sick.”
Mrs. Harris shakes her head, “John is out…Mr. James called. Apparently Benjamin is sick too.”
Andrew's worried expression deepens, “Thank-you, ma’am. Maybe I’ll catch him on my way home—if not, I’ll stop by the James’.”
He turns and throws himself back on his horse and gallops off down the street.
Andrew springs off his horse and bounds up the steps at the James' house. He knocks loudly and urgently. Carrie, dressed in her night gown with a shawl thrown over it, opens the door. She seems startled to see the Burke lad standing on the porch, his pants tucked into his boots, his hatless hair in a thousand directions, and susupenders over his long-john shirt.
“Andrew! What on earth are you doing here this time of night?”
Andrew blurts, “I heard Dr. Harris was here. Bartholomew’s awful sick!”
Dr. Harris gets up from the table where he was drinking a cup of coffee, “Another one? What are his symptoms?”
Andrew explained, “At supper he wasn’t hungry and he was strangely tired. When I left he was moaning and had soaked his bed.”
Dr. Harris nods knowingly, “Same with Benjamin. I can tell you already—your brother was poisoned.”
Andrew staggers against the door frame, stunned.
George Burke stands next to his eldest son's horse. Looking up at Aaron, he speaks, “They were working out in the south pasture land…there was a pond out there with bad-water in it I remember—but I marked it!”
Aaron reaches down and grabs his father's shoulder firmly, “I’ll check anyway—it’s possible someone tampered with the sign.”
Reluctantly, George nods, musing, “You’d think Bartholomew would’ve remembered where it was though.”
Aaron agrees, “I would—but Benjamin wouldn’t know about it. Perhaps Bartholomew sent him to fetch water and Benjamin got if from there.”
George steps back, “Find out whatever you can.”
Aaron replies, “Yes, Pa," as he wheels his horse and takes off at a quick lope.
Dr. Harris is feeling Benjamin’s pulse while Loretta hovers in the background. Benjamin is soaked from head to toe with sweat, shaking from the fever.
Dr. Harris tells Mrs. James, “George Burke suspects the boys drank the water out of the tainted pond in his south pasture.”
“Why?” Loretta leans closer.
Dr. Harris explains “Well, it's the only place, that we can think of, that they could have gotten into poisoned water. I've seen cases where people have gotten into tainted water, and the boy's symptoms match. George says Bartholomew would’ve known the difference, but that perhaps he sent Benjamin to get the water and not-knowing he got it from the tainted pond rather than the fresh one. That is, if the sign he put up had been tampered with. If that’s not the case, then maybe the other pond has been infected too.”
After a moment, Loretta asks, “Doctor, how serious is it?”
Dr. Harris looks at the boy for a moment before answering, “Depending on how bad it takes him or how much he drank...it could kill him.”
Loretta gasps and sitting by the bed takes Benjamin’s hand in both of hers.
Dr. Harris is quick to say, “I will do everything in my power, but I can’t promise anything. It is still kind of early to tell.”
Philip sits with head in his hands—alone in the room. He hears footsteps on the porch. He springs up and opens the door.
“I’m so glad you are here, Dr. Harris! He’s worse.”
Dr. Harris remarks rather glumly, “So is Bartholomew. Let’s see him."
Benjamin is soaked and thrashing some as the doctor steps into the bedroom. Loretta is sitting by his side, her face strained.
Dr. Harris leans over in time to hear Benjamining muttersing something about horses, cattle, thirst, and oddly, Rodger. The doctor's face is concerned. Turning to the boy's father he states, “He’s burning up...Philip, fill up a tub with water. Is your well-water quite cold?”
“Cold enough to cool him off? Yes, I think so.”
Loretta almost whispers, “Caleb and Beatrice had blue lips by the time they got out.”
Startled, the doctor looks at her sharply…he hadn’t heard that story yet.
Soon, Benjamin is propped in the tub of cold water. Dr. Harris stands at the door, hat in hand, “Change the water when it warms up. If the fever breaks—get him back in bed and cover him. I’ll be back soon.”
Over at the Burke homestead, Bartholomew is also soaked and thrashing, yet more strongly than his younger counterpart at the James house. He is shouting at the top of his lungs.
"Dash it all! Bring that cow in you dolt!”
His wide flung arm catches the doctor full across the chest, sending him staggering back.
Once he recovered his wind, Dr. Harris gasps, “George, that boy of yours is strong!”
George's concerned face almost creases into a smile, “I know.”
The doctor continues, “I don’t know how we’re going to get him that tub…and make him stay there.”
Phineas suggests from his bunk, “Lower him into the well?”
Dr. Harris' mouth twitches into the briefest of smiles.
Aaron shakes his head, the humor of his younger brother's idea not completely lost on him, “I have a better idea…let’s put him in the water trough and Pa and I can hold him in if he tries to get out.”
“You surely are innovative…I’m glad most of my patients aren’t as hearty in their illnesses as this one,” remarks the harried doctor as he supervises the filling of the galvanized tub the Burkes generally used for bathing.
Carrie lets Dr. Harris in the kitchen where Benjamin is still soaking in a tub of cold water. As the doctor enters his father pours another bucket of water on him.
Loretta goes to him to take his hat, “Doctor, you look exhausted!”
He slumps into a chair. He is wet and disheveled, and his coat is ripped.
“I am. You have no idea how strong Bartholomew Burke is. I would hate to have him hit me on purpose." He pauses, then asks, "How is he?" motioning to Benjamin.
Philip responds, “I think he’s calmer than he was…is that good or bad?”
Dr. Harris grunts, “It depends.”
He heaves himself up and walks over, kneeling on one knee by the tub. He feels Benjamin’s pulse absent mindedly. Then he checks his eyes and feels the boy's forehead. With a sudden return of energy, he reaches down and lifts him bodily from the water…
“Quick! A blanket!”
Loretta snatches the nearest blanket and hands it to Philip and the men wrap him up. Dr. Harris lays him out on the floor and, while the family stands around in a circle, kneels there constantly measuring the boy’s pulse.
“It’s weak…very weak.” He mutters below his breath.
Suddenly, Benjamin starts gasping for air.
Solomnly, the doctor looks up at the parents, “It’s now or never…he’ll either lose or win the fight for life
Loretta turns to her husband and he takes her into his arms, comforting her and being comforted by her trusting grip. Carrie collapses into a chair and stares at the scene before her. The younger children stare with silent, stunned eyes as Benjamin continues to fight for life.
Dr. Harris checks the boy's pulse again.
Relief and joy fill his face as he smiles.
“His pulse is getting stronger!”
The James family gets more alert and they all move closer. The doctor picks the thin boy up.
Dr. Harris states firmly, “I think he’s won.”
Philip breathes what everyone was thinking, “Thank-you, Lord!”
Dr. Harris wearily mounts his horse. He warmly clasps George's hand. That father is smiling even while tears build in his eyes.
“Thank-you. Thank-you, John.”
Dr. Harris smiles, “Don’t thank me…Thank Him.”
He points to upward and his eyes follow his own finger.
George smiles, “I do. John, believe me, I do. But thank-you for holding out…without
you we wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Dr. Harris nods absently, “It was close for both boys…for a minute there I thought Benjamin was going to die right under my hands. I was more afraid that Bartholomew was going to harm himself the way he thrashed about.”
George laughs suddenly, “That’s Bartholomew alright—he never gives into anything without a fight!”
The very weary doctor joins in the laugh heartily. He turns his horse toward the drive and raises
a hand in farewell.
Aaron muses, watching him ride away, “I hope he makes it into town without falling asleep on his horse!”