Wednesday, January 18, 2012

High Country: Bugherd

by Walt Staples -

The ancient woman moved her stethoscope to the lower right of Silas’ chest. She sat back with a grunt and a thoughtful look.

Silas coughed and asked, “So?”

Granny Gillman turned and stirred the scrubby brush fire under the pot. “Two lobes fully involved. Spot on a third.”

The old bugherd began to pull on his shirt. “When?”

She looked at him. “Candlemas, maybe Feast of Notker. I’m sorry, Silas.”

He smiled at her. “You’re doing what you can.”

“You could try the medicos at First Port.”

He shook his head. They had been through this before. “No, too expensive. Besides, what could they do that you can’t? I mean, Ash Lung? They can’t even save the rich people with that.”

She lifted the pot and poured reddish-brown liquid into a chipped cup. She held it out to him. “Here.”

He looked at it. “Medicine?”

The granny lady smiled. “Tea.”

As they sipped the tea, he considered. “Let’s see…tomorrow is Holy Innocents. All the eggs are laid. So I guess we can drive to market. Martha’s brother, Japheth, can take over with the grubs when they hatch.” He coughed some more. When he got his breath again, he continued, “The boy’s taken care of. Don’t know what to do about Martha, though.”

Granny Gillman brightened. “Oh, that reminds me. About Martha. Father was asking after her. See, my Beatrice is a good child and a hard worker, but truth to tell, she couldn’t cook her way out of a chrysalis to save her life. Anyway, Father was asking me to ask you, next time I saw you, if you thought Martha might be willing to cook at the Rectory.”

Silas’ forehead furrowed. “Don’t see why she shouldn’t be. She loves to cook and she likes Father Mack.” He shot the healer a look. “What about Beatrice?”

Granny Gillman laughed. “The child is always going on about how it keeps her hopping just trying to keep up with the ash in the church and rectory. ‘Sides, I ‘spect she’d like to eat something edible herself once in a while. And, she’s the one who carried word to me from Father.”

The bugherd smiled. “Yep, that would likely do for Martha.” He took another sip of his tea.

The granny lady poured herself another cup. “By the way, how’s Ruben doing?”

Silas broke into a wide grin. “He doing tolerable. We just got back from his Publication on Sheba. You know, they take a new name when they enter holy orders. His is 'Bede,' after Saint Bede the Venerable.”

The other raised her eyebrows. “Which one was he?”

“Oh, he was a writer or something.” Silas’ brows knitted. “History? Well, some such anyway. Way back before settlement sometime.” He launched into a coughing fit. He wiped his eyes with a piece of rag after it ended and drained his cup. “Well, I guess I’d better be getting down the road. I’ll ask Japheth to have one of his youngins bring you over a nice dermestid. One of the gentle ones.” He rose to his feet and, before putting his mask in place, smiled. “You know, it makes a body feel good when things are lined up straight.”

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