October 18, 1896
My father once asked me, “Besides God, what do you believe in?”
“Science.” I replied without thinking or understanding.
My father had chuckled at me and shook his head but he pressed the issue no further. The memory of the event had faded into obscurity almost immediately. The mere fact I did not understand his question had never even entered my conscious thoughts. If not for a Mr. William Howe, I would likely have never recalled the question nor understood its point nor have known my true answer.
I was sitting in Mr. Carrington’s study. Beside me was a young boy perhaps fourteen or fifteen years old. He was feverish with a broken arm and a broken leg. Mr. Carrington and our good Sheriff had found him in the nearby hills while looking for Miss Waters. The sheriff was supposed to fetch a doctor and in his absence Mrs. Carrington volunteered me to look after the boy.
Her selection of me came as a surprise. She has never been supportive of me in my educational goals. Then, there is her frequent contact with my mother who has never seen fit to allow me to watch over any of my siblings, even when they are healthy. One can only surmise her reaction to the thought of me caring for a sick or injured child.
No matter, I was pleased to be selected and happy to assist in whatever manner I could.
The boy’s broken limbs needed to be set. I realized the importance immediately upon seeing him. It would be best for a doctor to do the setting but the boys condition suggested it had already been several hours since the breaks occurred and time was becoming more and more relevant with a high fever setting in.
“I think we need to try to set the bones.” I said quietly to the sheriff.
“The boy is in enough pain as it is, you just keep him still until I can get the doctor back here.” He replied.
I nodded my head, unwilling to argue with an authority figure. I asked Mrs. Carrington to keep me supplied with some damp cloths. The sheriff left and I took care of the boy as best I could. He moaned from time to time and spouted unintelligible gibberish at me, but for the most part he remained in state of shock and barely clung to consciousness.
The night hours became early morning and then just morning. The house came alive again with girls getting ready for school and then settling down to breakfast. All the while I sat beside the boy and did my best to keep his fever at bay. He began fading in and out of sleep and I began to worry he might not wake up.
There was lots of commotion in the dining hall and I began to wonder what was going on, when finally the sheriff entered again. I looked beyond him and saw there was no one else with him. My fear for the boy doubled.
“How is he, ma’am?” The sheriff asked.
“Not good, his fever is getting worse, his body is shutting down. How long before the doctor gets here?”
“About that, we have a little problem.”
I took a deep breath and braced myself for what could only be bad news.
“The city is having a little worker problem and the doctor is not going to be able to get here until it is resolved.”
“Do you have any idea how long that will be?”
“It’s hard to say.”
“Are there a lot of injured? Is he treating them?”
“No, no, he just can’t get through to here.”
“I don’t understand. Why would a worker problem prevent him from getting here?”
“Because the workers are outside.”
“Blocking the city streets?”
“No, outside, here, in front of the manor.”
I felt the blood leave my face. I turned my attention back to the boy as he moaned to life once again.
“We can’t wait any longer then. I need to set his bones now, it may already be too late.” I said.
“I’m not sure that is a good idea.”
“Unless you suddenly became a doctor in the last few hours, I really don’t give a damn what you think is a good idea or not. This boy is going to die without treatment. Now you can either help me or get the hell out of my way.”
The sheriff blinked at me for a moment like I had lost my mind.
“Okay, what do you need?” He said, finally.
“Two straight pieces of wood, some short lengths of rope, plenty of damp cloths, and a desk ruler.”
He nodded and left. Five minutes later he was back with everything I requested. I laid the first piece of wood under the boys broken arm and took two pieces of rope to secure the board to the boy’s arm at the wrist and the shoulder. Then slowly I straightened the boys arm causing him to scream in agony. Carefully I pressed my fingers against the protruding bone. It didn’t move at first but as I slowly increased the pressure while keeping his elbow from bending the bone moved with a snap. The boy passed out with the whimper of a scream.
I turned my attention to the leg next. I tied the leg to the second board and tried to push the bone back into place with my fingers, but as I had suspected it wouldn’t budge for me. I took another piece of rope and tied it loosely near the protrusion. I then slipped the ruler into the rope and began turning it slowly so that the rope began to tighten against the protruding bone. It took a good number of twists but finally the bone snapped back into place.
Grabbing a damp cloth, I opened the boys mouth and squeezed drops of water from the cloth into his mouth. I knew he would be unconscious for some time but I also knew he needed hydration to help combat the fever. The sheriff watched but said nothing as I worked. The look on his face said enough, he was worried but I had also surprised him.
Right about then I heard to loud pops and Mrs. Carrington scream. The sheriff bolted from the room with his gun in his hand. Part of me realize the situation outside had probably just taken a turn for the worse but strangely I was more worried about the boy than I was about myself.
Not much later and a man burst into the study and slammed the door behind him and locked it. He spun toward me and the boy and pointed a smoking pistol at us. I was too startled to be afraid.
“Get the boy up, he’s coming with me.” The man ordered.
“Now!” He yelled.
“Yell all you like, he isn’t going anywhere.” I said.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“See for yourself.”
He took a closer look and by the look on his face he realized the boy was not going to be of any use to him.
“Fine. I guess you’ll be my guest then.” He said.
I shook my head.
“I’m not going anywhere.” I said.
He pulled the hammer back on his pistol and pointed it at my head.
“You are either walking or dying. Your choice.” He said.
As I contemplated death it was my father’s question that came to me, “Besides God, what do you believe in?”
The pistol was only inches from my face and I was not scared. The fact surprised me. In my hand was a damp cloth I had just been using to squeeze water into the boy’s mouth. I did not think, I reacted. I flung the cloth at the back of the pistol. The man pulled the trigger without even blinking. I had no regrets though.
The hammer slammed down on the wet cloth and the instead of propelling a bullet into my head, the pistol merely clicked. Then there was the loud sound of a gunshot and the study door flung open. The sheriff stepped through the door his own pistol now pointed at the head of the man in front of me.
“Drop the gun, Mr. Howe. You’re under arrest.” The sheriff said.
What do I believe in? I looked to the boy who was just then waking up and looking more alive than dead. I looked at the gun on the floor with a damp cloth stuck in it. I believe in the only thing that any of us can truly believe in, myself.