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The fire crackled brightly in the fireplace of the Morgan cabin. Nestled in a hollow of the mountains where it was sheltered from many a fierce winter wind, the large, two-story house had stood for years. It wasn’t really a cabin, but the Morgans loved to call it one since the outside was all logs. Inside was every modern convenience, including electricity. However, tonight only a few lamps burned in addition to the fire.
It was a pleasant group sitting about the rustic living room with its high vaulted ceiling and large picture windows. A walkway running from one side of the upstairs to the other looked down into the living room from either side of the large, stone chimney. Everywhere the house was dark save for the lamps and the fire in the living room where the family had gathered. Outside all was black, for the sun had long since set, and the air had an autumn chill to it. To those gathered about the cheerful blaze all was warm and peaceful, all thoughts of an earlier storm had vanished.
“Well, Justin, are you all settled in town?” Mr. Morgan, with his feet on a footstool, regarded his eldest son with a smile.
“I think so. Now that the water and electricity are hooked back up, the ‘hospital’ seems to be all set.” Justin laughed as he said the word hospital.
“Hospital, yeah, right,” eighteen-year-old Adam scoffed. “It was an old hotel and still looks like one. It even has the old name above the door.”
“On the outside maybe,” Justin countered good naturally, “but have you seen the inside?”
Adam shook his head.
“I haven’t seen it either, Just.” Sara settled herself more comfortably on the couch opposite her older brother. Her nut brown hair was loose about her shoulders and made her almost look her nineteen years. “But it will be nice to have one in town now, so we don’t have to go all the way to Jackson.”
“Since when have you ever been to a hospital?” Justin couldn’t resist a little teasing.
Sara tossed her head. “Never. And I don’t plan to go just because you are a doctor in this one.”
“Oh, come on, Sis!” Justin pleaded. “Wouldn’t you come visit me with a hot pie when I have been slaving away and am exhausted from all my multitude of patients?” He could be dramatic when he chose.
Pursing her lips, Sara pretended to give it some thought. “Maybe,” she finally agreed, adding, “but I’d have to think about it first.”
Justin threw a pillow at her which she promptly tossed back.
“But really, Son,” Mrs. Morgan spoke softly when the pillows had ceased to fly, “I’m glad we now have a medical facility even if it does look like a hotel. As long as the personnel know what they are doing, that is what we need.”
“Don’t worry about that, Mother. There may not be many of us, but I think we’re ready. At least we’ll do our best.”
“That’s all that needs done,” Mr. Morgan agreed and then stared into the fire, and all fell silent.
The loud barking of their collie, Captain, broke the silence outside.
“What is he barking about?” Justin turned to try to look out the window behind him but could see nothing but the reflection of the fire and lamps.
“It’s not his ‘wild animal’ bark nor is it his company coming bark—”
Adam stood up as Sara spoke and grabbed his shotgun from a rack nearby. “I’ll go check.”
“Be careful,” Mrs. Morgan called.
In silence the rest of the family waited, listening to the barking which seemed to have a different tone to it than usual. Suddenly they were startled by Adam’s cry, “Justin! Dad! Mother! Sara!”
The four sprang up and rushed for the door. There by the light of the front porch, which Mr. Morgan snapped on, they could see Adam supporting someone out in the yard. It was a young woman, and she was carrying something! In an instant the Morgan family were around them. The girl had two young children in her arms and was clearly exhausted.
“Here, Sara, take that one. Mother can you carry this one? Dad, steady her on this side. Get them inside while I grab my bag from the truck.” Justin threw his orders rapidly and the next moment was sprinting the short distance to his pickup.
Moments later, he was back in the house. Flipping the lights on in the living room he found the girl sitting in a chair by the fire. Her eyes held a glazed look, while dark circles under them gave added proof that she hadn’t slept for a while. She seemed on the verge of collapse.
Justin turned to find Sara holding a small child in her arms while tears trickled down her cheeks. She looked pleadingly at him. Motioning her to sit down, he jerked out his stethoscope. As he pulled back the tattered shirt the child was wrapped in, he noticed the bluish tint to its lips and the thin little arms. A quick check showed it was still alive.
Pulling a flannel throw off the back of a nearby rocking chair, he quickly wrapped it around the child. “Mother, I want some warm milk as quickly as possible.”
With a nod Mrs. Morgan placed the other child in Adam’s arms and hurried off.
This one, a child of about three years of age, began to cry, whether from cold, hunger or fright, no one knew.
“Danny,” a dry hoarse voice called, “it’s going to be okay.”
The girl in the chair seemed to have been roused from her stupor by the crying and now held out her arms. “I’ll take him.”
“Let me keep him a little longer,” Adam urged gently. “See, he has already quieted.” It was true; as soon as he had heard his name, Danny had quit crying and now lay motionless in the strong arms that held him.
Quickly Justin examined him, and when the warm milk arrived, he gently forced some between the blue lips of the child in Sara’s arms. Then turning to Danny, he offered him the cup. Eagerly the child drank it, holding it out for more when it was gone.
“You can have more later,” Justin assured him. “Mother, could you, Sara, and Adam give them baths and find clean clothes?”
Mrs. Morgan nodded.
“Then make sure they’re wrapped up warmly and bring them back.”
Again his mother nodded and said, “I’m sure some of the grandkids’ clothes will fit. It’s a good thing Heather keeps some extra things here. Come on Sara, Adam.”
Before they could leave the room, however, the girl in the chair began looking frantically around, calling in hoarse tones, “Danny! Jenny! . . . Have to find them.” Her restless hands tried to push off the blanket Mr. Morgan had tucked around her. “Jenny! Danny!” A violent fit of coughing put an end to her calls though she still struggled faintly to move from the chair.
“Easy there,” Justin coaxed, taking one of her cold, shaking hands in his and noting her pulse. “Everything is going to be all right. Just relax.” Gently he kept her from getting up, talking soothingly all the while. “Danny and Jenny are going to be all right. They are being taken care of, don’t worry about them.”
Mr. Morgan handed Justin a glass of warm milk. Adding a few drops from a bottle he pulled from his medical bag, Justin dropped down in front of the chair. “Here,” he said, holding it to the girl’s lips, “drink this.”
For a moment she sat limp and made no move to do as she was told. Her eyelids drooped.
“Come on,” Justin ordered softly, “drink it.”
Obediently her mouth opened and she took a swallow.
“What is your name?”
The words or the tone seemed to penetrate the fog that surrounded her mind for she sighed and straightened. “Who are you?” she asked in a bewildered way.
Justin had shifted to one knee before her where he could watch every expression of her face with his keen eyes. “I’m Doctor Justin Morgan. What is your name?”
“Amy.” The name was murmured, and she shivered, moaning as she did so while an expression of pain flitted over her pale face.
“Amy, can you tell me what hurts?”
No answer came.
A few more swallows from the cup revived her enough to mumble, “My leg,” before relapsing into the stupor from which it was so hard to pull her.
After handing Mr. Morgan the cup, Justin pulled back the blanket. A quick examination brought a frown to Justin’s face and he looked up at his dad. “I don’t like this,” he admitted frankly. “If it weren’t so dark and cold, I’d take all three down to the hospital at once. As it is,—” Breaking off abruptly, he again felt the girl’s pulse and laid his hand against her hot face. “I don’t want them exposed to any more of that cold air now.”
Mr. Morgan nodded. “Do you want her in the upstairs or downstairs bedroom?”
“Then I’ll go open the door and the vent so it will warm up.”
“Justin,” Sara spoke softly as she entered the living room a little while later.
Rising from the floor, Justin turned. “Hmm, what we need is a baby bottle. I don’t think that little one is going to drink much if we try a cup or spoon.” He was looking down into the small, pinched face of the tiny girl in his sister’s arms.
“I have a bottle somewhere. Do you want it?”
“You have one? Where?”
“In my room.”
“Get it,” Justin ordered, taking the child himself. “It will have to be sterilized.”
Sara nodded and disappeared.
Before she returned, Mrs. Morgan and Adam, with a sleepy, little Danny, came back. Danny, after Justin gave him a quick examination, was made happy by another cup of milk and then carried off to bed. Several minutes later, Sara carried Jenny and the bottle of milk up to her room, Justin promising to come up later.
Mrs. Morgan now laid a hand on her son’s arm. “What about her?” She nodded towards the chair near the fireplace.
Justin sighed. “I want to take her to the hospital, but not tonight in this weather. Dad is warming up a guest room down the hall.”
“Do you know her name?”
“That’s it. Frankly, Mother, all I know is her first name, that she has a badly injured and infected leg and a terrible cough, and is on the brink of total collapse. I’m guessing she’s about eighteen, but that’s just a guess.”
“The poor girl!” Together the two of them stood looking down on the white, pain-filled face of the stranger before them. The light of the flames danced across the thin hand and arm which hung limp and still over the arm of the chair.
“The room is ready.” The softly spoken words brought Justin into action. Together with his father, they lifted and carried the girl in and laid her on the bed. Once there, Justin made a more careful examination of her leg, forced a spoonful of medicine between her unwilling lips and, tucking a hot water bottle in beside her, drew the covers up. Leaving only a small lamp on, he slipped out into the hall.
It was a long night for the young doctor so recently out of medical school who, with keeping an eye on the two little ones upstairs and Amy downstairs, got very little sleep. Yet, the early light of the new dawn filtering in through the office windows found him on the phone with the newly formed hospital in town.
“Yes, . . . I want immediate x-rays of the leg . . . Dr. Stern should be alerted for consultation later . . . No—complete check on both little ones . . . Have no idea at present . . . Sounds good. Thanks.”
“Dr. Morgan, the x-rays are ready whenever you want them.”
Justin glanced up from a chart. “Thanks, Stacy. I’ll be right there.”
For a moment, Dr. Justin Morgan continued to study the chart in his hand, then, with a slight frown, he set it back down, glanced at his watch and left the office. Striding down the narrow hallway he soon reached another room where a young intern was adjusting an x-ray on a screen.
“Well, Philips, what does it look like?”
The young man turned. “Not bad, Dr. Morgan,” he replied. “A slight fracture right here.” He pointed to the screen before him.
For some time only the low murmur of their voices could be heard as together the young intern and the nearly as young doctor studied the pictures. At last, Justin turned away remarking, “I’ll be back later when Dr. Stern comes. I think you’re right about the bone having only a slight break, but I don’t like the look of the leg.”
Dr. Morgan started back down the hall stifling a yawn. He would go check on the babies and Amy and then perhaps he could catch a few winks of sleep. Dr. Stern would get here when he could, but it was a good two or three hour drive from Jackson to this small mountain town.
Justin took the stairs two at a time from the old hotel lobby to the second floor. Though the hotel had been changed into a hospital, the former lobby with all its gilt and trim had been kept much the same. It had always been a dream of Justin Morgan to start a hospital in his home town, and for this he had worked hard, gathering to his side as staff and hospital personnel, other doctors, interns and nurses. When no property could be had cheap enough to build a hospital, Mr. Morgan had suggested to his son the renovation of the old hotel which had been vacated only a few years before for a newer one closer to the highway. This had met with approval and the work had begun. When Dr. Stern, a successful doctor in the prime of life, heard of this new venture, he volunteered his services as consulting physician for anything Dr. Morgan and his staff couldn’t handle. This offer greatly boosted Justin’s idea from dream into reality.
Now, nearly six months from the start of the project, the hospital was complete and even had its first three patients.
As Dr. Morgan approached Room 207, he could hear laughing. Wondering, he opened the door to find little Danny flirting with two nurses.
“What is going on here?”
The nurses turned. “He won’t sleep, Doctor,” one of them offered.
“After a good nap earlier and a good meal, he seems ready to go,” the second nurse put in. “Neither of us can get the little tyke to stop playing.”
Dr. Morgan couldn’t help a slight smile at the little fellow who gazed up at him out of large blue eyes and then gave a crooked grin. “How old are you, Danny?” he asked, glancing at the chart by his bed.
With another impish grin at the two nurses, little Danny held up three fingers.
“Why, Dr. Morgan,” Nurse Franklin exclaimed, “how did you get him to tell? We’ve tried several times, and he never would tell us how old he is.”
“The child recognizes an authority figure when he sees one,” was the reply in pretended haughty tones, but with a pleased look at Danny.
Danny giggled as his temperature was taken and then snuggled down with a sleepy look. Dr. Morgan regarded him in silence until the blue eyes closed and he fell asleep. Then, turning to the nurses, he spoke softly.
“He still has a bit of a fever. One of you keep an eye on him and let me know when he wakes up.”
With that he left the room.
Across the hall, he entered a second room. There he found Jenny sleeping under the careful eye of Nurse Allen.
At his questioning she said, “Her fever is still high, but she seems to have perked up more after the last feeding.”
“Good. I wonder how old she is?” This last was almost to himself.
“I can’t say for sure, Doctor, but I’d guess she’s about ten months.”
With a nod and a promise to return later, he continued his rounds.
It was in Room 212 that he stopped next. The shades were drawn so as to let in only a little light which fell upon the still figure in the white bed.
“Any change?” this was asked of the older nurse sitting by the bed.
She shook her head. “None, sir. She just lies here without moving except for moaning and tossing her head.”
“Can you get any liquid down her?”
Again Nurse Jones shook her head. “Not much. Only a swallow now and then.”
“Well, keep trying. I think we’ll have to start an IV just to get liquid in her, if she doesn’t respond soon.” As he spoke, Dr. Morgan glanced at the bandage on her leg. He was trying to decide if he should look at it now or wait, when a soft knock was heard on the door.
Stepping across the room, Justin opened it.
“Dr. Stern just arrived, sir,” Intern Philips whispered.
“Thanks. I’ll be right down.” A few quiet instructions to the nurse and then Justin hurried down to the lobby.
“Dr. Stern, I’m glad you’re here. You certainly made good time.” The young doctor greeted the veteran with a hearty handshake. “I hope this call didn’t interrupt anything too important.”
With a smile Dr. Stern replied, “Only my morning nap.” Then looking keenly at Dr. Morgan, he added, “You look as though you missed yours.”
“Don’t remind me,” Justin begged. “But come,” he added, suddenly businesslike, “and I’ll fill you in.”
Leading the way to his own office, the two doctors remained closeted there for nearly half an hour.
“This is the X-ray of her leg. As you can see here,” and Dr. Morgan pointed, “there seems to be a slight fracture of the bone.”
Dr. Stern nodded. “Yes, I can see that, though it doesn’t look serious.”
“I agree,” Justin sighed. “But I’m quite concerned about the infection in her leg.”
“Suppose I take a look now.”
Soon the two doctors were walking along the hall. “This is quite a set-up you have here,” Dr. Stern remarked, admiring the gilt and trim in the lobby.
Justin gave a chuckle. “No one would guess this was a hospital from the outside or the lobby.”
“It’s not the looks that matter, it’s the work done inside that counts.”
“That’s what my mother says,” agreed Justin. “Here we are.” His voice hushed as he opened the door to the room where Amy lay.
Nurse Jones looked up. “No change,” she said softly.
Dr. Morgan nodded. Swiftly removing the bandage on the injured leg, he stepped back so that Dr. Stern might take a look.
“The other thing I’m concerned about, sir,” Justin continued, after the leg had been examined and suggestions offered by Dr. Stern, “is her condition otherwise.”
It was afternoon by the time Dr. Stern left the hotel turned hospital. Dr. Morgan followed him out to his car. “I think you’re on the right track with the girl’s treatment,” Dr. Stern remarked, opening his car door. “There’s not much a person can do except wait for them to wake up.”
“Thank you, sir, for coming out.” Dr. Justin held out his hand. “I feel more confident having talked things over with you.”
With a smile, Dr. Stern shook the offered hand. “Glad I could help out. And Justin,” he added, using for the first time the young doctor’s first name, “please don’t hesitate to call me any time day or night. Even if you just want a second opinion about something, give me a ring.”
“I will, sir. Thanks again.”
Dr. Stern gave a wave, backed out onto the road and headed out of town.
Turning back to the hospital, Justin suddenly felt exhausted. He had been up since six o’clock yesterday morning and it was now nearly two the following afternoon. “I’ll grab a bite to eat and then, . . . no.” He shook his head. “Philips,” he called to the young intern coming down the hall.
“I’m going to go take a nap in my office. Wake me up if there is any change in any of the patients or if I’m needed for anything.”
The intern nodded, and Justin turned to his office. There he had fixed a cot for just such a time, though he had wondered if he would ever need it. Now he was thankful it was there. Stumbling over to it, he sank down and was asleep before his head touched the pillow.
Justin heard his name called and felt someone shaking his shoulder. For a moment he couldn’t remember where he was.
“Dr. Morgan,” the voice persisted.
Suddenly it all came back to him. His eyes flew open and he sat up quickly. “I’m awake Philips. What is it?”
Andrew Philips stepped back from the cot now that Justin was awake. “It’s the girl in 212, sir. She’s delirious, and Nurse Jones sent me for you.”
“Thanks.” That was all Justin said, but as he sprang up, grabbed his jacket and headed for the door, he gave his young intern a quick hand clasp before rushing for the stairs.
Up in Room 212, Dr. Morgan discovered his patient muttering and talking, trying to feebly push back the covers, turning her head restlessly while the nurse stood beside the bed trying to soothe and calm her.
“There, there, Child,” Nurse Jones took one of the thin hands in her own. “Everything will be all right. Just go to sleep now.”
“No!” Amy exclaimed, her eyes bright with fever and her lips parched. “I can’t let them go! No, they are mine! Why are you here?” She demanded of Dr. Morgan when she caught sight of him. “You’re dead. No one lived. You’re an impostor!”
The doctor and nurse exchanged glances. What was she talking about? Would her wild talk tell them anything about who she was or who the children were? Was she their mother? She looked too young for that, yet . . .
“Amy,” Dr. Morgan spoke quietly, placing a hand on her burning face and then laying steady fingers on her wrist. “I’m Dr. Morgan. Everything is going to be all right now.”
For a moment the girl stared at him, then in pitiful, pleading tones she begged as she clutched his hand, “Oh, please, don’t let anyone take them from me. She was . . . the sister I never had,” and her lips trembled though her eyes remained dry.
“No one is going to take anything from you,” Justin assured, nodding to the nurse. “Now drink this for me, won’t you?” he coaxed, raising her head and holding a glass to her lips.
After a swallow or two, Amy turned her head away, saying in a complete change of tone, “Of course they’re only paper dolls. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters—any more.” Her eyes closed and she lay still. Her watchers scarcely dared to breathe, hoping she had fallen asleep. That hope was a vain one, for half a minute later a cough shook the thin form and the large, dark, fever filled eyes opened. “Matt,” she whispered between coughs, “don’t forget . . . the others.” She clutched Dr. Morgan’s hand, breathing rapidly. “You won’t . . . forget?”
“I won’t. Now go to sleep,” Justin replied quietly, remaining where he was while his keen eyes watched his patient.
This time the eyes did close in sleep. Not a refreshing, strength renewing sleep, only a sleep of exhaustion.
And thus began the long, tedious hours. Hours which turned into days and nights all running together. There were days when no one could calm the girl who had appeared so suddenly from the mountains, days when she clung to Dr. Morgan, calling him Matt and crying for Kathleen, days when the fever filled eyes swam with tears and she kept sobbing over and over, “No, no, no!”
Dr. Morgan fought the fever with all the knowledge and skill he possessed, seeking advice from Dr. Stern who came out every other day, and praying constantly. Never had he been faced with a situation quite like this before. He scarcely slept, except in snatches here and there. His eating was as irregular as his sleeping. How it would all end, he didn’t know.
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