Like a River Glorious Page 23

I grab his bloody, scraped-up hand and squeeze tight. “Go get Jasper,” I order Jefferson. “As fast as you can.”

Jefferson takes off at a sprint.

“Lee . . .” Martin actually smiles, and my heart hurts so bad I think it might burst. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“What happened?” He’s not breathing enough. Just short, shallow gasps every few seconds. His hand in mine is limp and cold, like it’s already dead.

“Don’t know. Heard something. Mucking around in the grass. Went to check.” His eyes flutter closed.

“Martin!”

He startles awake. “Something hit my head. I fell. Think my leg’s broke, but I’m not sure. Can’t feel it. Can’t feel anything.”

“Your leg’s fine. Nothing Jasper can’t fix.”

“Liar. You got any water? Throat hurts . . .”

“No, I . . . Wait.” I get to my feet. “I’ll be right back.”

I dash toward the creek, sliding across gravelly shale. The water runs fast and clear up here above the pond. Tiny trout dart to safety as I lean over the edge. I rip off my neckerchief and soak it, but the water that drips from it is black with soot. I wring it out, rinse again, and repeat the process two more times until the water runs clear. One last time, I dip the neckerchief and let it absorb all the water it can hold.

With it cupped in my hands, I race back to where Martin lies and crouch beside him. “Open your mouth,” I command.

He does, and I let water drip from the kerchief between his cracked lips. He chokes a little but manages to swallow, so I squeeze the fabric to give him a steady stream, which he gulps eagerly.

“Want some more? I can get—”

“You think I’ll see her soon?”

“Who?”

“My sister.”

“Therese?”

He sighs. “Ja. Therese.” His voice is getting fainter. “I hated her. She was so bossy. So good. Vater loved her best. But then she died, and I realized it wasn’t true. . . . I didn’t hate her at all.”

His blue eyes have taken on a glazed look, like he’s only half in his head anymore.

I say, “I’m sure it will be a long time before you see Therese.”

“Liar. Leah the liar. Lying Lee.”

I’m about to protest, but running footsteps come up behind me. It’s Jefferson and Jasper, with Becky, Olive, and Henry on their heels.

Jasper drops his medicine chest on the ground beside me and grabs Martin’s hand to feel the pulse in his wrist. “What happened?”

“Something hit him on the head. He fell.”

“Hey, Doc,” Martin says with forced cheer.

“How’s that head feel?” Jasper asks. Carefully, he reaches behind Martin’s head with both hands and gently palpates with his fingertips.

“Hurts.”

“Sorry about this, Martin, but I have to see if your skull is intact.”

“Is it?”

A pause. “No.”

“Didn’t think so.”

Olive creeps forward and slips her hand into mine.

“Mrs. Joyner,” Jasper says. “While I examine Martin, will you give him the laudanum?”

Becky wipes her hands on her soot-filthy skirt and reaches into the chest for the glass bottle. “How much?”

“All of it.”

“But won’t that—”

“All of it.”

Becky straightens. “I see.”

“We should have gotten here earlier,” I say. “Instead of worrying about that fire. We should have—”

“Wouldn’t have made a difference,” Jasper whispers, for my ears only.

He doesn’t even bother to examine Martin’s broken leg. Instead he unbuttons the boy’s shirt and taps various places on his abdomen, occasionally pausing to put his ear to Martin’s chest and listen. Meanwhile, Becky tips the bottle to Martin’s lips. His face wrinkles at the taste, but he swallows.

Olive’s hand slips out of mine. She takes some clean cloth from Jasper’s chest, pours water from a canteen over it, and begins to bathe Martin’s face.

“Jeff,” Martin says, and Jefferson is beside him in an instant. “Send all my gold to Mutter, yes? And tell her I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jefferson says. “You’ll be back to hunting rabbits with me in no time.”

“Please, Jeff.”

A muscle in Jefferson’s jaw twitches. “All right.”

“That laudanum,” Martin says dreamily, eyelids fluttering. “No wonder Mr. Joyner liked it so much.”

“Olive,” Jasper says in a tight voice. “Bend over Martin’s mouth and listen carefully to his breathing for a moment.”

Her eyes are huge and bright in her face as she follows his instructions.

“You hear that?” Jasper says. “The wheeze? Can you hear how moist it is?”

Olive nods, blinking hard to keep tears back.

“Remember that,” Jasper says. “We’re going to talk about it later.”

“Okay, Jasper.”

Martin’s eyes don’t close, but the light leaves them. He’s still breathing, though. Just a little. He’s not dead.

Henry’s singing voice suddenly fills the air, a high, clear tenor that echoes through the hills.

Hidden in the hollow, of His blessed hand

Never foe can follow, never traitor stand

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care—

Martin gasps once, loud and strong, and then . . . nothing.

We all stay a moment, just staring down at him. From behind me comes the hiccupping sound of Becky Joyner’s sobbing. Olive crawls into my lap and buries her face in my chest. I wrap my arms around her.

Jefferson swears softly, using a word I’ve never heard from his mouth before. He turns away so we can’t see his face.

“Let’s get him back to camp,” Jasper says, his voice so tight and controlled it makes my chest ache. “Find a place to bury him.”

“But what happened?” Becky practically shrieks. “I don’t understand! Hampton was hit on the head and he’s going to be fine. What’s a little broken leg to you? You’re a doctor! You could have fixed—”

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