So begins the last chapter of this book, and Marty is still in denial about the decision she has to make.
Clark would be in shortly from chores, and she planned to talk with him about moving the children’s beds to their new bedroom.
The bedroom she’s been sleeping in with both of the kids is getting crowded, see, and she’s tired of stubbing her toes. But this seems like the kind of conversation that isn’t that relevant if she and the children are about to leave. And it’s June now. Summer is starting. The deal was that she would get to leave with the kids come spring. If Marty is so determined to ignore this, is there a reason Clark isn’t bringing it up? I understand that he doesn’t want to rush her out the door, but this permanent waiting on a decision seems with no time scale like it’d be extremely painful.
But that’s not the important part. The important part is that, while Marty was doing some mending and Missie was practicing with a blunt needle, Missie spilled the buttons.
A loud crash made [Marty] jump and Missie exclaimed, “Dad-burn!” as she looked at the spilled button box.
“Missie, ya mustn’t say thet.”
Missie stared at her mama. “You did.”
“Well, I don’t say it anymore, an’ I don’t want ya sayin’ it, either. Now, let’s git down an’ pick up all them buttons on the floor ‘fore Clare its ’em in his mouth.”
That last bit is important. They clean up the buttons, and the Marty turns to the dinner preparations.
She almost had the meal on the table when Missie came flying through the door.
“Whatcha meanin’?” Marty spun around to look at her.
The child grabbed her hand, jerking her toward the sitting room.
“He sick!” she screamed.
Marty ran toward the raising, gurgling sound.
She snatched up the baby, who was struggling furiously, his little fists flailing in the air as he fought for breath.
“He’s chokin’!” Marty cried. She turned him upside down and smacked him on the back between his tiny shoulder blades.
Clare still struggled.
“Run fer yer pa,” Marty told the small child, trying to keep the panic out of her voice. Missie ran.
Clare, now four months old, put a button in his mouth. When my two were babies and toddlers, the idea of them choking on something absolutely terrified me. I knew how to do everything Marty does—turning Clare over and smacking his back between his shoulder blades—but the very idea of a small child choking was enough to make me freeze. Fortunately, a few short scares I’ve blocked from my memory aside, we were lucky.
This is terrifying. As Missie runs for Clark, Marty sticks her finger down Clare’s throat and just barely feels the top of something—it’s the button. Clare goes on gagging, but it doesn’t come up. It’s stuck, sideways, wedged in his throat. Clark comes in, and when Marty gives him a situation update, he declares he’ll go get the doctor. Marty says there’s no time for that, so they all hop in the wagon, which Clark hastily hitches to the horses, to ride into town and take Clare to the doctor.
I am not a medical professional. I don’t know whether it is realistic that a four-month-old baby can have a button wedged sideways in his throat during an hours-long wagon ride into town, and still shrive.
The baby was still breathing—strugling, gasping little breaths, but he was still breathing.
“Oh, God,” Marty prayed desperately. “Please help us. Please help us. Jest keep ‘im breathin’ til we reach the doc.”
How long is this wagon ride? It’s unclear.
The long trip to town was a nightmare. The ragged breathing of the baby was broken only chi his fits of coughing. The horses plunged on, harness creaking as sweat flecked their necks and haunches. Clark urged them on and on. Marty clung to Clare; the wagon jostled her bones, sweat from the horses dotting her arms and face.
The baby’s breathing was even more erratic as lights from the town finally came into view. Clark spoke again to the horses and they sped forward. How could they continue on at this pace? They must be ready to fall in the harness, but Clark’s coaxing voice seemed to strengthen them.
Okay, look. As far as I can see, this whole sequence is here for two main reasons. First, to justify Clark’s efforts to bring a doctor to town—and to allow him to redeem himself for his failure to save Ellen. Second, to create a crisis to draw Clark and Marty together and finally make them admit their feelings for each other, and love for their family. But I don’t particularly find this button storyline convincing. You know what would have been convincing? Measles. Baby Clare with measles. They could take him to the doctor when he worsens, it could be touch and go for a while, etc.
Anyway. We get a button. Clark keeps the horses galloping through the town to the doctor’s office, and pulls them up right out front. He jumps down, grabs Clare from Marty, and runs inside. When Marty makes it inside with Missie, the doctor has Clare on a table, under a light, examining him.
“He has a tiny object stuck in his throat,” he said matter-of-factly, just as thorough Marty’s whole world did not revolve around that very fact.
“I’m going to have to go after it. We’ll have to put him to sleep. Call my missus, will you? She helps with this—has special training.”
I looked this up, and they had invented this by the 1860s (which is my guess for when this book is set). Queen Victoria was administered chloroform during the birth of two of her children, in 1850 and 1853. I’m slightly less sure they’d have such cutting edge techniques on the frontier, however. And we don’t get to see the doctor administer whatever it is, either—once his wife comes in, the doctor sends Clark, Marty, and Missie from the room, declaring that “we work best alone.”
A long time passes. Missie falls asleep on a blanket in the corner. Finally, the doctor reappears.
Clark crossed to Marty, placing a hand on her shoulder as if to protect her from hearing the worst, but the doctor smiled at them.
“Well, Mr. Davis,” he said, looking at Clark, who was, after all, the one responsible for his coming to this town.
He’s also the male person in the room, so there’s that.
“Your boy is going to be just fine. Had this button lodged in his throat; luckily it was turned sideways or—”
“It weren’t luck,” Clark responded.
“Call it what you may”—the doctor shrugged—“it’s out now. You can see him if you wish.”
Seriously? Why did Clark work so very hard to bring this doctor to town if he’s going to attribute everything health-related to God anyway?
Marty just about collapses, and Clark gathers her in his arms to keep her from falling. There’s an awful lot of touchy feely going on in this section of the book—which, well, that’s the point. They’re on their way to something more, one gesture, pat, and embrace at a time.
“He’s been through a lot, poor little fellow,” the doctor said sympathetically, and Marty felt she would be forever beholden to this kindly man.
That makes one of them.
“He needs a long, restful sleep now,” the doctor said. “He’s still under the effect of the sleeping drought we gave him.”
I’m super curious what this was.
The doctor says little Clare will probably sleep the whole night through, and suggests that Clark and Marty go get a room at the hotel across the street. After having a look at Clare, Marty finally lets Clark draw her away and across the street. Clark made arrangements “at the desk” and then told Marty that the staff was pulling together supper for her.
“What ’bout you?”
“I’ll be needin’ to care fer the horses. They need a good rubdown an’ a bit of special care.”
Marty nodded. Right now she dearly loved old Dan and Charlie.
I’m not a horse person, but I’m pretty sure that what Clark did to those horses—whipping them along in a panicked gallop for hours before pulling them up suddenly at the doctor’s office in town and then abandoning them there—ran the risk of killing them. I feel like this might have completely ruined his wagon, too. I’m surprised they didn’t lose a wheel.
Marty tells Clark that she wants to wait to have supper until he’s back. She insists, and he gives in, heading out to care for the horses while she and Missie wait for him to return. Next week, we’ll finish this chapter out, and with it the book. What happens when Clark returns? Cue suspense!
Me, I’m still stuck on why it had to be a button, rather than the measles. I don’t write novels, but I do read a lot of them, and things usually connect to other things—that’s considered good writing. Missie’s measles served only as an excuse for Marty not having to make her big decision with the arrival of the first wagon trains. That’s something—Missie’s measles weren’t just some random thing thrown in for no reason. Still though, that thread could have continued, and there would have been no reason to introduce buttons.
But, okay, I guess.
In case you’re worried, we’re never told there’s anything wrong with Dan or Charlie, so they’re presumably fine.
Also, was this Marty’s first visit to town?
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