The tiger lay licking his paw. The stinging hurt adding to his hatred of humans and the animals they used. More wary than ever, he lay in the sun against a sheltering bank, sleeping and licking his wound. He watched the humans that had given him pain, leave the area and he yawned a huge mouth opening yawn. Thick sharp long teeth were licked and cleaned with his tongue and good paw.
He was still hungry and he got up and limped over to where the dead horses lay. He ate his fill, feeling more sleepy than ever. The horses didn't taste as good as a fresh kill, warm blood was more satisfying, but hurt as he was, he made do.
Sniffing the ground, he decided to follow the humans that had gone in the other direction. He was looking for the man that fed him, also his hated enemy the lion. They both represented something he needed to kill, now that he was free.
Mark set a rapid pace. Every bump caused Bruce to scream until he passed out. Seamus was driving the wagon with Bruce in the back, and he was praying aloud and beseeching God to save the doctor.
The young boys went to ride with Toby in the front wagon, Bruce's inhumane pain and screaming bothered them greatly, so they wanted to get as far away as possible. Seamus was the last wagon, lagging back to give the other clan members room to not hear Bruce.
Clora got to Trisha's wagon. "Trish, they are coming and aren't to far out. We need to get a surgery ready."
"Oh Clora, this is just the most impossible idea. I can't do surgery out here, there's nothing to work with, no sterile conditions and we have no supplies and no antiseptic. Besides, I'm not sure I could cut on Bruce. Who will I get to help me?" Tricia's plaintive wail sounded pathetic, but true.
"He's going to die if you don't try for the cancer, so if he dies in surgery, you have done everything possible." Clora was harsh, hoping to shock the good doctor into action, Bruce needed immediate help, and his wife was the only qualified person. "Phoebe is coming, she can help you."
"Phoebe is coming?" Tricia said weakly, "but I thought....."
"They will be here in a couple of hours. Tricia, this will be dangerous, I don't want to sugar coat the condition Bruce is in, but the cancer is on his pancreas again. It's either operate with a slim hope of success, or watch him die. I'm going to start water boiling. We can remove the supplies from one of the smaller wagons, scrub the bed,, and flush it with boiling water. The best we can do for cloths and bandages is to boil sheets,..... I hope we have enough," Clora turned to get to work as she muttered her intentions.
Tricia went to the hospital wagon, staring with unseeing eyes at the meager supplies, she felt dread in her heart at the impossibleness of what she was going to have to do. Bruce, her Bruce... was so close to her heart, how could she operate on him with certain death as the outcome.
Milo, Abby and Honey removed the supplies from the cleanest wagon and started scrubbing the wagon bed with brushes, lye soap and the hottest water they could stand.
"I have some material," Abby offered hesitantly, "whatever it is needed for, I'm pleased to have it used."
"I'm sure it can be used," Honey accepted with a sad smile. "I don't see how he will have a chance, but we have to try."
"Yeah," was all Milo would allow himself to say. This was everyone's greatest fear; the necessity of a surgery out in the wilderness. Milo felt the tightening in his throat as emotion overcame him.
Honey looked at her man, correctly seeing the anguish in his face. "What had you planned for the material?" she asked Abby, as a way to deflect attention away from Milo and his hopelessness.
"Oh, a wedding dress," Abby replied, off hand calm and collected. "That kinda went by the wayside." she spoke depreciably. "A problem I don't have to worry about."
Milo didn't say anything, and Honey sure wasn't going to put her foot in her mouth over Abby's bitterness; so she let the conversation die.
Everyone had a job, hauling water, gathering firewood, hanging heavy wet sheets to dry in the mid July heat, and Rennie and Millie cooked for the camp and the expected extra's.
Tess patrolled camp with her boys in tow, and supervised Rennie's kids doing reading schoolwork. Tess felt the closeness of the approaching wagons, long before she could spot them, and she went to tell her mother.
They could hear Bruce long before the wagons reached the camp. His anguish and screams gave everyone listening the shivers. Children were crying, holding their hands over their ears. Calvin, Punky and Max had tear stains on their cheeks, tender young hearts grieving with Bruce and his pain.
Tricia felt weak in the knees as she listened to her beloved. Phoebe had hustled over to pat Tricia on the shoulder. "I'll be right with ya, Doc Tricia. I gotta get one of the ladies to watch the children and then scrub. Pray Honey, this ain't gonna be fun."
Tricia nodded. If she was aware of anything, it was clear that Bruce was close to dying with the pain.
Her hands were trembling as she motioned the men to lay Bruce on his back and pack blankets down each side to keep the man immobile.
Tricia sent Andy and Donny to scout out willow trees, the natural source of the pain killer aspirin.
"We are going to need a whole tree of bark. It's the inner white layer under the bark that we need. Jerry, would you look for moss to use as a blood stopper and absorbent."
The men nodded soberly, and scattered to do as she asked. "Abby, would you scrub, go watch Phoebe as how to do that properly. I'm going to need you as a second assistant. Clora would you and Tess pray. I'm so nervous and upset, my hands are shaking so badly I'm afraid of dropping something."
"You will do well," Clora said calmly, infusing Tricia with hope and confidence.
Ready, the makeshift surgical team watched as Tricia's trembling hands wet the well boiled handkerchief and placed it over Bruce's nose. "I need a stick to put in his mouth, so he doesn't break his teeth." The good doctor sounded panicky, but Andy was there with a slender piece of willow. Nodding her thanks, Tricia said a prayer.
Clora started praying aloud as Tricia prepared to make her first cut; following the road map of scars from Bruce's first pancreas surgery. Strips of well boiled leather shoelace tied off the bleeders, and Abby had to stand close and hold some of the veins up and pinch them together with her fingers.
Tricia almost nicked the cancerous mass hosting itself on what was left of the scarred pancreas. Dark red and full of fine thread like feelers, Tricia patiently detached and pulled away the tendrils of evil growth. Intent on her work, she made no note of the time or place, working the cancer free from her husband's body. Finally she had it all loose but where it had attached to the pancreas.
"It's gonna spurt blood when I cut it loose, so be ready. Phoebe, I need you to be quick and pinch the pancreas together. So much blood, she whispered to herself. "Help me Lord," she said low and aloud. Under the mass when she lifted it up, was a thick rope of cancerous feeders that wound itself around the tubes to the bladder and a matchstick sized feeder that had punctured the colon. Patiently and with great care, Tricia removed the feeders and freed Bruce from his pain causing evil.
Tricia threw the mass on the wagon bed floor and bent over to wipe her forehead on her upper sleeve. Then came the unhurried but tedious task of sewing everything back together.
Evening came creeping in, and all the lamps in camp were lit and surrounded Bruce.
"Doc Tricia, you'd better hurry. We're almost out chloroform, maybe one more application," Phoebe muttered, not knowing if Tricia heard. If she did or didn't hear, Tricia worked steadily and methodically to put Bruce back together.
To the watchers, it seemed to take forever, and they drifted in and out of the area as they finished other chores and stopped to see how the operation was progressing.
"God Bless ya Doc Tricia," Phoebe said loudly, "you done the impossible. Ole doctor Bruce is gonna be rightly proud of you, just as we all are."
There was a round of applause for the super human effort put forward by the diminutive woman. Tricia sighed hard and asked in a small voice if she could have a chair, her knees were about to give out.
Abby went to straighten up, and found her muscles frozen in place. Phoebe came around the wagon and patted Abby on the back, thumping the muscles into moving.
"Thank you,.. I think," Abby coughed and went to sit down by the fire. Suddenly a hand offered a cup of coffee, and Jerry sat close enough to talk, but not close enough that Abby would get up and flee.
Bruce lived through the night with Tricia's good care and Clora's prayers.
Mark and Clora had a frank talk in the semi-privacy of their wagon.
"We need to move Clora. I don't know how long it will be before Bruce can travel, but if we don't get a move on, there will be consequences this winter. I've talked to Seamus and he and Phoebe are willing to stay, also Chuck and Jerry. They have given me substantial down payments to secure land where we intend to settle. I hate to even suggest leaving, but the welfare of all of us is at stake."
Clora nodded, "Bruce will recover, but not quickly. And, you are correct, we need to move. When, tomorrow morning?"
"Yes, and I'll alert everyone to be ready," Mark went to leave and then turned and gave Clora a quick kiss. "I needed that," he teased, "keeps me going."
Clora smiled for her handsome husband and teased back. "I bet you say that to all your girls."
"You bet I do," Mark purred back, "and don't you forget it."
Clora laughed out loud and made a shooing motion with her hand. "Git," she ordered, as he went down the back stairs.
There was a camp meeting that night, all members present, and hiding the fact that they all were anxious to be on the move toward their goal. Nobody wanted to leave Bruce, they had always operated on the 'no man left behind' theory; and it was upsetting to the close knit group.
The debate was long and loud as all that wanted to speak, were heard. Jerry and Chuck were the last to speak, explaining that they were staying to provide security as Bruce recovered. That seemed to calm the anxiety, but it took a long time for everyone to come to agreement.
Wagons were re-figured and the hospital wagon was restocked as well as supplies could be spared. "Jerry, Chuck, you men are going to have to do a lot of hunting. If you find a better place to stay, then move. Our tracks should be easy to follow. Go North as soon as you can to find us." Mark was running information in his mind. His check list was long and he was frustrated at splitting the group.
Early the next morning, the dawn of another hot July day, fires started, breakfast cooked and wagons hitched to teams. The advance wagons started out, eager to be on their way, but heading out with heavy hearts.
Seamus went to the hospital wagon, "aye lassie, go get sleep. I'll be staying with yer man."
Tricia nodded slowly, Bruce was breathing, lying still as death, and it was a waiting game to see if he would live.
Between them, Jerry decided to do the hunting for the day. They needed fresh meat for broth to feed Bruce and food for the rest of them. They discussed ways to keep the meat in the hot July weather.
"Jerky is the only was I can think to keep the meat. Maybe that's the best way for us to earn our keep, drying enough jerky to hold the group through the winter." Jerry suggested.
Seamus and Chuck agreed, and Jerry left to go hunting.
"Don't forget to look for willow trees." Phoebe called as Jerry rode out. He lifted his hat as acknowledgement that he heard and sat easy in the saddle. To the East side of the fire line, tall grass dipped and waved in the beginning of a hot day.
Gathering landmarks so he could return to the camp, Jerry rode into uninhabited land. About a mile from the present camp, Jerry found an ideal camp. A hollow that was backed up with a bank that was protection. Two small creeks junctioned together, the apex was filled with willow trees.
Jerry surveyed the scene intently. There had been a previous camp, the blacked fire ring of stones gave evidence to that fact. It was a good spot, shade, shelter and water. Tall grass for the stock, and the willow needed for Bruce. Jerry made the decision to take the information back to camp, and he turned back toward the barely visible smoke curling on the horizon.
Mark set a rapid pace, his impatience was almost boiling over in his hurry to get where they were going. So many interruptions, had him scanning the northern horizon, as if the sky meeting the land held the answer.
Pushing hard, they made six miles before noon; stopping by a creek for water and a brief rest.
The horizon showed a rise of hills, and Mark told Toby he was going to range ahead to see if they need a pass, or if he could find a trail.
Toby nodded, "I'll head for that dip in the hills, the one on the left."
"Fair enough," Mark grabbed two pancakes held out by Clora and gave her a snappy salute. "Set a good pace, tired people don't grumble and complain as much."
Mark made her chuckle, and she waved him away. Kids were down out of the wagons, running around with the dogs and yelling off energy.
"Twenty minutes, we head up in twenty minutes," Toby called out loudly. There were good natured groans up and down the line. Mama's called out to their kids, to load up and get ready to move. Little boys lined up on the outside of the wagons and took care of business.
The ladies discreetly used the shadows of the last wagon. "Com'on folks, times up," Toby was yelling, pointing at Clora to start her wagons.
Giving a churrip to her teams, Clora started the creaking lumbering wagons and they headed north.
Mark ranged ahead and was surprised to see a collection of buildings nestled in the foothills.
The sign said Kirksville, and he walked his horse through the street to check it out.
Kirksville was a small collection of honest to goodness frame built houses and stores. Well kept and busy, it looked like a good place to restock the wagon train. Flipping the reins over the hitching post, Mark walked in the grocery/general store combination to have a look around.
His attention was immediately snagged by the jar on the counter with bright red liquid. In that liquid, white blobs floated in fiery hot splendor. As in a trance, Mark couldn't take his gaze from the jar. "Are those?" he questioned in a worshipful whisper.
"They are," the man behind the counter. "Cost ya a dollar each and three bucks for the glass of milk you're gonna need."
"Ok, here's five. Two eggs and a glass of milk please." Junk food kid Mark almost wiggled in excitement, this was the greatest find he had seen in many years. Sliding the five on the counter, Mark took the eggs in a tin plate, and accepted the tin cup of luke warm milk.
"We require that you eat them outside," the man added as Mark prepared to take a bite.
Mark nodded, stepping outside, he bit into the hottest piece of food he had tasted in 20 years. First his tongue registered pain far above the Scoville range, chewing rapidly to get rid of the flames dancing in his mouth, he swallowed. Big mistake.
Burning embers of egg traveled down his throat to land in his stomach, exploding into firecrackers of burning misery.
The man behind the counter was yelling, "drink the milk pilgrim, use yer brains afore they go up in smoke." That's what he said, but he was laughing so hard it was difficult to distinguish his words.
The words finally registered with Mark and he gulped the cup of milk. Looking at the second egg on the plate, he shook his head no. He just couldn't do it.
There were good natured guffaws from inside the store, and the sounds of laughter made Mark smile. "Good one," he acknowledged to the store keeper; "you got me with that one."
"I've got a group of wagons coming, we'd like to restock here if your willing."
"Sure, where'ya headed?"
"Iowa? what the devil ya doin goin north? That's plumb crazy, goin up there?"
"Why? good soil, good four seasons and besides I've got a hankering to live there." Mark replied, trying to ignore the burning of his tongue and belly. "I'm gonna need more milk," he confessed. "I evidently am not the man I used to be. I used to eat those by the handfuls, sadly, not any more."
"Yer not the first man through here to be beguiled by the pearly whites and red sauce; most of'em can't do what you did."
"We'll be through here tomorrow late. See ya then," Mark bid his goodbyes and headed back to the wagons.
Thanks for the new chapters, Pac! Loving this story! But I have a couple of questions.
I have no clue what those eggs were in except that it was hot. What was the liquid?
Maybe the family will like this area and decide to stay here? It would give them more time to get crops in, get houses made, and get ready for winter. Closer to get Bruce there, too. What state or area are they in now? I'm so lost.......
Ahh, the red hot liquid. To tell the truth I don't know precisely what is in the liquid. Obviously vinegar, and most likely liquified hot peppers, seasonings, salt and some sort of preservative.
Usually available in ethnic markets and big box warehouse stores. This is the stuff that if you take a whiff of the open jar, you will have pain in your nose and throat. I'm told they go very well with beer, but I had a small piece of one, and that was more than enough for me.
I have however watched cowboys eat two or three and have the tears run down their face. Mr. KC and I were just talking about these eggs the other day, …. and that's where I got the idea. Like Mark, Mr. KC had to try one more time and discovered his constitution just wasn't up to the challenge.
When Mark finally made it back to the wagons, he was doubled over with belly pain. Clora took one look at him, walked close to sniff delicately and burst out laughing.
Walking over to Tess's wagon, she took a quart of the night's milking from the bucket and headed back to Mark.
"By heaven you are a mean and ill-tempered woman," he growled, but eagerly reached for the jar of milk.
"Me?" Clora feigned total innocence and then ruined it by laughing again. "I have special powers remember, I know what you have been up to." she finished with chuckling.
"Evil woman," Mark growled again with a dark look. "But it was tasty, and I sure don't remember those eggs being that hot." he took a long drink of the warm milk. Looking at the almost empty jar of milk, he looked at smiling Clora and growled again. That milk tastes as evil and nasty as your amusement."
"Just for being so mean, I may,...or may not tell you the important news I learned in the next town." he taunted. "We are only 40 miles or so from the Iowa border," he finished smugly.
"Clora nodded happily; "then it's another 40 or so before we reach the Des Moines river. " she spoke softly, smiling at her handsome husband. "You have done a fantastic job getting us this far on the journey. I have good feelings about our decision to locate in this area, it may not be exactly where Tess wants to be; and have you given thought to what might happen if she is compelled to travel further than you want?"
Mark had such an astonished look on his face; it was plainly apparent that he had never considered Tess to vary from the route he had planned. "She wouldn't," he was back to growling.
"She's not a child Mark; but a grown woman with insight to where either she, or God, wants her to be. Tess has told me she doesn't know exactly where her plans are taking her, only that she will know when she gets close to the place."
The white maned patriarch of the Linderman clan sat back on his heels and stared moodily into the small cooking fire, contemplating his newest problem.
Clora offered him the last of the milk in the jar, and Mark took it in a preoccupied manner. Clora wisely let him be, tending to the last of the supper chores and saving back a bowl of stew for his supper.
Jerry got back to the hospital camp with the news of a better camp site about a mile away. "It has water, willows, some wood and best of all, there is a honey tree up the largest creek. Miss Doc Tricia, when do you think Bruce might be moved?"
"Not anytime soon," Tricia replied, glancing over at the still body of Bruce. I've wondered about making something like a hammock, that we could suspend from both ends to soften the jolting. If we can figure out something like that, we could go ahead and catch up with the rest of the train."
"The willows," Jerry said as he was busy thinking of a design. "A boat shaped hammock fashioned from willows. There is water there to soak the branches to make them pliable, plenty of material to use and then there's the honey to use as an antiseptic. A win-win for all of us."
The idea tore through the small camp like wildfire. Every member had an idea on how to take the solution and bring it to use.
"But firrrst, we need to get the boyo there," Seamus said practically. "Tis much to big a job to bring that many branches here. Could we pad the wagon bed enough to take him the short ways?"
"He appears in a coma, easier now than if we wait until he is conscious," Phoebe peeked at her next to favorite doctor lying so deathly still.
Thanks, Pac, for the newest chapter and for the info on the fire-hot eggs. Yikes! I don't think I'd even want to sniff them!! But good for Clora for getting the milk for Mark and for "trying" not to laugh too hard!! Men will be boys! LOL!
Seamus had been sitting with Bruce, his beefy hand on the equally as large doctor's, shoulder. His prayers went straight to his God, asking for healing and a restoration to health. His prayers were heard and there was a conference between the Almighty and his warriors tasked to do his work on earth.
"It seems like every time I turn around, Seamus is asking for favors." Archangel Gabriel, observed.
"He does have a large portion of people to care for, and he is, obeying instructions."
"True," Archangel Michael agreed, "but is there ever one as mush brained as that Scot? He just falls from one crisis to another. However he did use his bag pipe to lure the weird ones away from the road so the clan could pass through. That is a mark in his favor."
"But, what about.....?" and the debate went back and forth.
Seamus couldn't hear what was being said, but he had the definite feeling that he was the topic of discussion.
"Well Miss Doctor Tricia, what are your thoughts about moving?" Seamus tried to speak quietly, but as usual, it came out as a roar.
The sound startled Tricia awake, as she had been so tired that her eyes closed against her will.
"I need to have a conference with Phoebe and get her ideas about the move. It's not the smartest thing to do, to move Bruce. Too much jolting will tear the stitching loose, and I'm desperately short of suture material. That's why I need to talk to her," Tricia felt exhausted and mentally drained. She could see that she had operated on Bruce, and it felt like such an overwhelming task to have accomplished, it felt unreal.
"I can't believe I did that," Tricia said softly. "Out here, with nothing; God was with me in all ways.
Seamus was nodding, "aye lass, He certainly was.
Phoebe walked over with all the kids in tow. Eddie, Tony needed to see their mother and father.
"Is he dead?" Eddie asked in fascinated astonishment as he looked in the wagon bed at Bruce.
"Yes and no," Phoebe said with a slow drawl. "He is alive, see his chest go up and down as he breathes. And no, he is in what is called a coma. Do you know what unconsciousness is?"
"Of course," Eddie replied, "I'm a doctor's son and I know about that kind of stuff."
Phoebe coughed hard and recovered her composure. "You do have a working knowledge," she complimented. "Do you have any questions Tony?"
"Nah, I pay better attention than Eddie does, about this kind of stuff."
Phoebe coughed harder. "Guys, I need to talk with your mother about important medical issues, will you please go back and sit with Calvin, Punky and Max. Jerry is making some popcorn for you guys, so please move over there."
When the boys were seated around the fire stuffing themselves with the treat, Seamus, Phoebe and Tricia had a low voiced conference.
"I don't have enough suture material to do more than a small reconstruction. The chloroform is 99% empty, the rest of our medical supplies are used up. I don't have any pain reliever, or antiseptic. The bandages are boiling, but I'm not sure we can get them clean enough to be reused." Tricia sounded weak and used up, a helplessness that she rarely displayed.
Phoebe and Seamus exchanged glances, worried as much for Tricia as Bruce. "I say we move slowly over to the new campsite. Honey is a great antiseptic, and the idea of crafting a sling for Bruce to travel in, is a great thought. It's a solution, one that we really need to consider. As for tearing his stitches open, as long as he is in the coma, it would be easier for him." Phoebe tried to urge Tricia to agree, her deep down feeling was that Bruce was one tough guy and would make it through.
Seamus felt that Phoebe was trying to rush Tricia into a decision, but there again, Phoebe must have a reason.
"How long do you think we would have to travel to go the mile?" Tricia practically whispered.
"More than an hour or so." Phoebe looked at Seamus for agreement, and got his nod. "We'll go as easy as we can, no sense in causing more problems than we have to."
It was decided to move after lunch, and the wagon pulling Bruce went as slow as possible.
The new site was just what the doctors needed, and camp was set up and Jerry and Chuck started cutting willow. Seamus went to inspect the bee tree and came back with a few stings.
"Umm, Chuck; look at that and tell me that's not what I think it is." Jerry pointed his foot at a pie of scat near the tree they were harvesting branches from.
"Yeah well, then you tell me that's not blood." The older man used a willow switch to point to dried black dribbles of substance." There was a considerable puddle of the dried blood.
"Can't do it, I'm positive that's blood. The big question is.....is that the tiger's or something he was eating?" Jerry looked around as if the tiger might be near.
"Well, I don't see any spare parts of an animal. No skull, no bones, no hide. I'm guessing that it's the tiger's blood, so he has been hurt somehow or by someone. Not a good situtation. I believe we had better go back to camp and alert the folks; and we need to get Bruce out of that open wagon and protected." Chuck looked at the material lying around the willow grove.
"Let's cut a couple of those fairly straight limbs, I'm thinking about a carry litter, I can't think of another way to move him. You got any ideas?" Chuck took the ax and started chopping on a arm sized limb. "This is fairly long, perhaps we can get two poles from it."
The men worked together. Jerry kept guard while Chuck chopped. They took the long limb and armfuls of willow branches back to camp.
"Folks, we have a problem. We found tiger spore; it looks like he has been wounded and has stayed around here. We need to get the horses into the circle of wagons, and I don't know how we are going to protect the kids without keeping them in the wagon. Let's shelter them tonight and get the sling made to move Bruce and get our tail feathers out of here before something bad happens." Chuck was on the move to do what he suggested.
Phoebe walked over to the hospital wagon holding a rifle. "Seamus is out gathering honey. Jerry, would you keep watch for him, and I'll be here guarding Bruce. Boy's," she called to Andy and Donny. "I need you two to measure the pole and cut it equally in half and lets figure out how to weave willow branches together to make a hammock or sling. Chuck is right, we need to make tracks and find the main group."
Phoebe didn't want to emphasize the danger, any more than necessary, but it was on everyone's mind. An wounded tiger was twice as dangerous.
If the tiger was unable to hunt, it would certainly choose weak prey when it got hungry. Like humans.
Everyone intently went to their work, hoping to get the group up and traveling in the quickest way possible.
Tricia was heartsick, it was so dangerous to move Bruce; and now it was more dangerous to leave him where he was.. Either way, the prognoses wasn't good, but the move was necessary.
Working feverishly, Andy and Donny figured they needed to use ropes to stabilize a framework and then weave the willows in. "He sure is a big guy, I wonder what his parents fed him to grow him that large." Andy had no idea of Bruce's background, and there was no time to enlighten him.
The camp was a beehive of activity with people moving; horses disturbed and milling around, and loud voices. The people in camp never knew the excess activity prevented the tiger from selecting one of them or the horses for a meal.
It was finally Chuck that put two and two together. "Good grief, I don't know why it didn't dawn on me. The horses are so jumpy because they can smell the tiger."
People in the camp got deathly quiet; that's when they could hear the growls coming in from the dark. As rifles rushed to the source of the sound, the tiger moved and growled in a different location.
"He's taunting us," Andy had one hand on the halter of a nervous, agitated horse to keep from being run over. "Here now, stop that." he ordered the horse. "I need to pay attention."
It became clear that the tiger was circling the camp on purpose, and the dark kept the watchers from seeing his moving form.
"I'm going to shoot out into the darkness the next time he growls. see if I can scare him off. He's walking the circle, so he should be over there the next time he sounds off." Chuck and Jerry were stationed opposite the other in the circle. Chuck motioned for Jerry to shoot as soon as he heard the tiger. It was flat out 10 seconds before the roar started and Jerry shot. The sound echoing in the night; and there was no other sound from the tiger. No grass swishing, no sticks breaking under paw, nothing but silence and the night wind.
Tense minutes passed, as they waited for another roar to happen. On high alert, the three older men patrolled the interior camp, while Andy and Donny worked with trembling fingers as rapidly as possible to create the willow framed hammock for Bruce.
Seamus stood guard over the boys and Bruce, the wall of night six feet beyond the edge of the wagon bed. "Boyos, we need to bring the Doc closer to the fire. Tis no good to have him so close to the empty night. Ms. Doc Tricia, we either need to move him into the security of one of the covered wagons, or find a way to secure him in the middle." Seamus was standing to the outside of the wagon, guarding the comatose Bruce.
"If you and Phoebe could take the boys in your wagon, we can put Bruce in our wagon. I've got to think on this, the door is so narrow, I don't think we could carry him in." Tricia fretted.
"We've got enough of the frame work made, I think we could put Doc in it and slide him through the door," Andy offered. "Just a few more lines and I think we could do it."
The Scot looked at Tricia, calmly waiting for the doctor in charge to accept or decline.
"Ok," Tricia said softly, "that will be the best plan we can do, and the quickest."
It took two hours to secure the framework, use a set of sheets under Bruce to lift him into the hammock and slide him into the wooden house on the wagon. There was a lot of fresh blood, and one long agonized cry from Bruce as they jostled him. Blessedly, he did not come out of his coma, and subsided back into unnatural stillness.
Chuck and Jerry worried all the time they had to put their rifles down as they handled Bruce into the more secure wagon. Phoebe had her shotgun, and kept up a running diatribe on how to move Bruce, the men let her talk as a cover for her nervousness.
The rest of the night was spent in high alert and uneasy actions. Gallons of coffee were drank, the men taking turns in short naps, startling awake at every sound.
It was close to breaking dawn, when the tiger's roar was heard very far off. The wind bringing the sound to them. "He's between us and the rest of the group." Chuck said sourly. "He's certainly evil and it sure makes me wonder what he has been trained to do."
"I don't think we really want to know," Jerry replied as he looked northward. He couldn't help worry about Abby if the tiger joined up with the main group. He hoped they had guards posted and that Abby had her pistol with her.
"You worried about someone up there?" Chuck looked at Jerry and the man grimaced and shook his head.
"No, the worry is all mine and unwanted."
"Oh, well don't let me step on your toes here. If I say something I shouldn't, don't let me flounder around and look stupid, Ok?" Chuck requested with a dry chuckle. "I'm really good at that sort of thing."
"I'm an idiot, I had a good thing and threw it away." Jerry said shortly and let the subject drop.