By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber
Chapter 1, Part 2
Humphreys led Mrs. Fanning to the upper floor. The Judge rapped urgently on the O'Toole's apartment door and it opened a moment later.
“Land sakes! Judge!” said Molly O'Toole. “What a surprise!”
“Parnassus,” muttered Shamus, her husband, as he stepped out from the bedroom. He was a tall, sturdy red-haired man in his early forties, sporting a trimmed mustache. “Ye’re always welcome, yuir Honor, but m'Irish instincts tell me that this must be a wee bit more than a social call.”
“Indeed it is, and we must settle the issue swiftly. A life is at stake. This lady and I should speak to you in confidence, Shamus. Perhaps, if Molly doesn't mind...”
Shamus grinned. “We can be starting out in secret, but I can't promise that such a stubborn woman as me Molly won't have it wheedled out of me before ye can find yuir way back to the street.”
“Oh!” said Molly in exasperation, “How you go on, Shamus! Find out what the Judge wants. Didn't ye hear someone is dying? Let me tend to the crowd while ye're busy.”
Shamus nodded. With a few quick steps, Mrs. O'Toole was out the door.
“Who's life is at stake, if ye don't mind me asking?” the Irishman inquired.
“Have you heard the name Thorn Caldwell?”
Shamus grimaced. “The young hellion who was always in trouble -- the horse thief? Is he back?”
“He robbed a stage along the canyon road.”
Shamus made a hmmm sound. “‘Tis sorry I am to hear that. But ain’t that a job for the Sheriff?”
Humphrey sighed. “It's damnably complex. From what Dan and this lady have told me, her nephew, Caldwell, is with Doc Upshaw. He's been shot and isn't expected to make it.”
Shamus regarded Mrs. Fanning with a nod of sympathy. “I'm grieved to be hearing that, Ma'am.” Then he regarded the jurist. “Are ye hoping I can save the pup?” he asked with a suspicious lilt.
“It seems that it's the boy's only chance. Do you have any of the... medicine prepared?”
Shamus pursed his lips. “I've been keeping a small supply on hand, ready to go, ever since Elmer O'Hanlan had his accident.”
Humphreys cocked his head. “What do you think about that? Was it something that you regret?”
The barkeeper shrugged. “I don't regret saving a kid's life. But I ain’t happy ‘bout his father swallowing the stuff by accident.”
“Thorn is with the doc. There may not be much time.”
“Is the boy worth saving?” O'Toole stopped abruptly when he saw the awful look on Mrs. Fannings' face.
The jurist sighed. “Do you regret how the Hanks gang turned out? It seems to me that you treat them as if they were your own daughters. Is there any one of God's creatures who is absolutely not worth saving?”
Their host looked away thoughtfully. “I figure I've met a few of that kind, mostly in San Francisco.” He then shifted toward Mrs. Fanning. “Are ye sure about this?”
“Are the... potion girls miserable?” she asked.
The Irishman shrugged. “They have thuir good days and thuir bad, like everyone else.”
“Then the potion doesn't make all that much difference?” Irene asked hopefully.
Shamus' look became grave. “It makes a wee bit of difference in the sort of life they're living now. Do ye realize how hard this is going to be for Thorn, even if he heals up fit as a fiddle?”
“Horse thieves hang, stage robbers go to prison. There are no good choices left. I owe it to my sister -- his mother -- to save him if I can.”
“Just don't be blaming me if what happens gives the pair of ye a hard row to hoe.”
“I won't, I promise.”
The taverner crossed to the wall rack and drew down a woolen coat of red and black plaid.
“Another thing, Shamus, my friend,” added the Judge. “I'd like you to get Molly or R.J. to spread the word that Dan needs to have a posse put together for tomorrow morning. Is Paul Grant here?”
O'Toole squinted thoughtfully. “He'll probably be down on the floor listening to Jessie sing.”
“Good. Pass on Dan's instructions to go ring the fire bell and form up the volunteers. They'll have to be ready before sunup.”
“A posse? For who?”
“Caldwell wasn't alone. There are still three desperadoes on the dodge,” Humphreys replied.
“I hear what ye’re saying,” Shamus said.
“Doctor, how is he?!” Irene Fanning asked urgently from the waiting room.
Upshaw looked up. “He spoke a few words, but he's senseless again. I doubt he knows where he is.” To the men with Irene, he asked, “What all have you decided?” Shamus and the Judge looked at one another, but let the lady give the answer.
“Can you wake him?” Irene asked. “Then I can ask him what he wants.”
The physician exhaled with a whistling sound. “I'm afraid that no talking is going to be possible. What do you want to do, Mrs. Fanning?”
Now that Irene actually had the means to save her nephew, the faithful words seemed to catch in her throat.
“Under the law,” began Judge Humphreys, “Thorn is a minor, and you are his legal guardian, Madam. The course of his care in such an emergency is legally yours to decide. Our Dr. Upshaw will be able to use his own discretion about what happens in his office, if you happen to ask Shamus to use... a controversial treatment.”
The widow stared at the ashen-faced boy. “He'll hate me. But if an outlaw dies unrepentant, he'll goes to Hell, doesn't he?”
“Here's what _I_ know,” suggested the physician. “Potion or no potion, he won't last more than a few hours if I don't take out that bullet. But abdominal surgery may actually shorten his time. If he doesn't live through the extraction that I have to do immediately, you won't have any decision to make.”
Irene nodded. “While you take out the bullet, I...I have to pray.” She hurried away to the doctor's waiting room, where she sank to her knees and cupped her hands.
Upshaw now faced the two men whom he knew so well. “I need to do this in my operating room. Help me carry the lad there.”
Under the lamps of his surgery room, Upshaw operated on Myron Thornton Caldwell for about a half hour. While the others continued to wait, he stitched the incision. When the physician called Shamus and Humphreys back into the room, his expression told them just how bad the situation was.
“Well?” the latter finally asked.
“I have to have the lady's final consent, or else there is nothing more anyone can do. Anyone except the Lord, that is.”
“I'll go get her,” volunteered the jurist. He hurried from the surgery. When the barkeeper turned to follow him, the doctor whispered, "I need to talk to you."
Shamus stepped closer. “What is it?” he inquired in a low tone.
“If the lad wasn't a minor, I'd prefer to let the Lord's will be done. I vowed not to do any patient harm, but is saving a life by changing a patient's sex doing harm? My medical ethics books have no answer for that one. My best course is to respect what the boy's next of kin decides.”
“It's all ye can do,” nodded Shamus.
“How many souls have received the potion so far?” Upshaw suddenly asked.
The barkeeper's expression pinched. “Eight, here in Eerie, I mean.”
Doc frowned. “Yes, I recall that there was also a Cheyenne warrior.”
Shamus squirmed slightly. “Ay, I told ye about him… her last summer.”
“How did that one turn out, in the long run, I mean?”
The Irishman shuffled uneasily. “About as good as a person who drank two doses could have. She made a life for herself working in a cat house. Then, the last I heard, she married one o’her customers and made a _better_ kind o'life with him.”
The surgeon sighed. “As a man of medicine, I've learned to accept death as part of the natural order. Sometimes I still wonder whether we have any right to preserve a life without a patient's 'by your leave'. I've gone along with saving soldiers whom I knew would be legless, blind, disfigured, paralyzed...”
Shamus smiled wanly. “When I have me doubts, I always think about Laura with Arsenio, and Paul with Jessie. Without me potion, thuir lives’d be a whole lot different from what they are today. I think taking a drink o’me potion’s like having surgery. It hurts like hell for a while, but healing makes things better, and life can be good after that.”
Upshaw glanced away, his expression uncertain. Just then, there came footfalls from without. Shamus peered toward the adjacent room and saw the Judge and the farm widow at the door.
The surgeon came to meet them. “What will it be, Mrs. Fanning?” he asked. “I don't think we have a second to waste.”
“Doctor,” she began, “I think He has heard my prayers. It was like I was hearing His voice.” The surgeon searched her face; it looked somehow inspired. “I wept and I prayed; then suddenly His purpose came to me.”
“What purpose?” the doctor asked.
“'He wants to save Myron. He said, ''male and female he created them,'” she quoted.
“And so you believe that we should use the potion to save his life?” Upshaw inquired carefully.
“Yes. Words can mislead, but what He has put into my heart tells me that there is no doubt about His intentions.”
“Are you sure?” the physician pressed.
“Lord help me, Doctor. Whatever happens tonight shall be God's will. Please save my nephew's life. He will watch out for Myron in his time of trial; that He has promised.”
The surgeon resignedly nodded and shifted toward the Irishman. “If this is God's will, let Him bring the boy around long enough to be able to swallow the draft. I'd appreciate it if someone other than myself holds the glass.”
Shamus muttered an agreement and reached into his coat pocket, to draw out a vial containing a couple ounces of greenish-colored liquid. “I have it, Doc. I'll need a cup or glass with a little water in it.”
Upshaw glanced toward the others. “Judge, would you take Mrs. Fanning to the other room? What happens next might be too upsetting for her.”
Without a word, Humphrey escorted the young woman away.
“I'm first going to try to bring him around with smelling salts,” explained Hiram Upshaw. He uncorked a small brown bottle. Shamus took a place next to him, holding a tin cup of water liberally laced with potion. He had deliberately made the dosage strong, on the chance that the lad was too weak to take in very much of it.
Upshaw was passing the ammonia fumes of the salts under Thorn Caldwell's nose. Nothing. It began to seem that he would never again awaken in this lifetime, when, of a sudden, the lad's shoulders lurched and his eyes popped open.
“Boy,” said the doctor, “do you know where you are?”
Thorn just stared at the physician for a moment, before going into a fit of coughing. Upshaw, believing that the outlaw didn't have much time left, stepped aside for Shamus. Shamus drew in a deep breath and eased the cup toward Thorn's lips. “This here is medicine, me bucko,” he said. “Drink what you can; it will make you feel a lot better.”
Thorn still didn't seem to understand, but closed his lips around the rim of the cup when he felt it. Shamus now tried to push the mug between the boy's teeth, but Thorn turned his face away.
"Maybe I should try," said Irene Fanning. "He knows my voice."
Shamus glanced up. The widow had returned and was standing at the threashold. "I thought I should be here for him."
"Aye," replied the Irishman. "It'd be better if ye was.” He passed the glass to Irene when she approached within reach.
"Myron? Do you understand me? I'm your Aunt Irene."
The boy gave no reaction. When she repeated her words, his head slightly stirred.
“Myron. Those outlaws shot you. But you'll be all right if you take this medicine.”
Her nephew blinked; his glance glassy and unfocused. Irene kept coaxing. “I'll hold the cup up to your mouth, darling, and I want you to sip as much of the medicine as you possibly can. It'll be good for you.”
The men watched intently. Doc still wished that he was certain about the ethics of what they were doing. But he had seen too much death from sickness and war. He had played host to Mr. Death many times, but never learned to like his company. If this happened, though, would he ever see the same sort of smiles on Myron's face that he had already seen on the lips of Laura, Jessie, Bridget, and Maggie? At the moment, he was only an observer, and that was all he cared to be.
Shamus, beside him, gave a relieved sigh to see that Thorn was able to drink. In fact, the boy seemed extremely thirsty. Just then, the Judge touched Shamus' arm. “If it works, who’s going to be giving her… orders?”
“I don't know,” the barkeeper admitted. “But I don’t think it should be meself.”
Humphreys frowned thoughtfully. “He's gotten into a hell of a pickle not listening to his aunt. You can fix that.”
“Aye. But shouldn’t there be somebody else besides the lady?”
The jurist shrugged.
“I suggest ye, Judge. Ye’re used to deciding important things for people. It might be that the widow can't always be available.”
Humphreys sighed. “Very well.”
The Irishman looked like he had another idea. “I'd also suggest that me Molly be party to it, too.”
“Molly, but not yourself?”
Shamus shook his head. “The lady will be needing advice... on some very ‘girlie’ matters. Molly knows better than I do what t’be expecting from a potion gal.”
“You make sense. Would Molly want to get involved?”
“She's a hard one t’be guessing about.”
“Then I'll tell Molly that it was my idea,” Humphreys offered.
The taverner seemed satisfied.
The doctor called, “Shamus!”
The two men saw Caldwell's body shuddering. The Irishman came up quickly. Thorn's sandy brown hair was growing out at a miraculous rate and getting a little darker. His strong arms were looking willowy. In moments, the figure on the operating table had become lightly-built and lithe. The bandages over his wound loosened and shifted as he transformed. The alarming convulsions lasted only seconds longer. When they passed, the patient was left flat on his – on her – back, gasping for breath.
Doc reached over and removed the loosened bandaging from what was now blood-smeared white skin. “Well, I’ll be,” he muttered. “There’s no sign of the wounds. I'll take those stitches out after she's rested a bit.” In the interest of modesty, he threw a sheet over Myron’s chest. Just then, her gasping stopped and she settled into a trance-like slumber.
Shamus realized, somberly, that this was the moment to act. He leaned in and shook the girl's shoulder with two fingers. She responded with a bleary stare.
“’Tis another part of the magic,” he said to Irene. “Ye need t’be telling him – her – who she’ll obey from now on.”
“Obey? I-I don’t understand.”
“The potion’ll make her obey whoever ye tell her to obey. Doing what she's told’ll help her t’adjust to being a gal. Just say yuir name and the Judge’s, oh, and me wife's, too. Molly O’Toole. Just tell her, and it’ll stick.”
The young widow blinked. “Amazing.”
“Doc, give him – her -- another whiff of those smelling salts.”
The physician complied. The girl reacted with a cry; her eyes widely opened in alarm.
“Myron, listen to me,” the woman said. “From now on, you will obey any order I give you. And you’ll obey any order from a Mrs. Molly O’Toole or from Judge Humphreys. Tell me if you understand what I've just told you.”
“I-I understand,” the new girl muttered, her voice a tight whisper.
Shamus came to stand beside the woman. “Yuir new niece is going t’be needing a name, too. Do ye have one, Mrs. Fanning?”
The woman seemed overwhelmed. “I-I…” A thought came to her, like a whisper from an angel. “My sister dreamed she was going to have a little girl when she was carrying Myron. She'd picked out a name, Myra, after our mother. But when she got a boy instead, she baptized him Myron.”
“A workable plan,” adjudged Humphreys. “She'll be Miss Myra Caldwell.”
Mrs. Fanning's pondered that. “No, she can't be a Caldwell. But... but wait a minute; maybe I can say that she's the daughter of my late brother, Amos. The real girl is living back East with her mother and grandparents. But we can give out that she's alone in the world, and that I'm her only living relative. That would make her Myra Olcott. Better still, Abigail Myra Olcott. Amos' girl is named Abigail.”
Shamus nodded in approval. “Ye’d best be telling her then, and be quick about it. The magic won’t be lasting much longer.”
“Very well,’ Irene replied. “Myron – or Thornton – is not your name any more. From now on, your name is Abigail Myra Olcott, but you’ll answer mostly to Myra. Do you understand me?”
There was a look of bemusement on Myra’s face as she whispered, “Y-Yes, Aunt Irene.” She seemed to relax after that and snuggled down on the operating table, closing her eyes. In moments, the girl was asleep, exhausted from all that she had gone through that day.
Shamus nodded. “All right, Myra it is. But whatever name, yuir... niece... uses, she's going to need some rest.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Doc, shouldn't ye make ready your infirmary?”
Upshaw answered with a throaty “Yes.”
“Mrs. Fanning,” he continued, “do you still want the girl's identity to be kept secret for now?”
Irene nodded. “I do. Myron can't stand to be laughed at. When angry, he does things that he shouldn't.”
“Well,” replied the doctor, “we'll all do the best we can. She... Myra... can rest in one of my infirmary beds until she's fit to go home. She'll need girl's clothes, so no one sees her dressed like a boy. A little thing like that in a town like Eerie can let the cat out of the bag.”
“What will we say about Thorn disappearing?” asked the doctor.
“It's for the best that no one be told that Thorn ever came back after the robbery at all,” said Humphreys. He glanced to Irene. “A boy who's unaccounted for and a new girl showing up in his home at the same time could make people wonder. Let's hope that the story about her being your niece keeps people who are too smart for their own good from making any easy guesses.”
Humphreys rubbed his chin. “And, Shamus, if Molly has any ideas how to help Mrs. Fanning, it would be a good thing for them to chat.”
The barkeeper scratched his head. “I'm thinking that Molly should be getting Myra some clothes over at the Silverman’s right promptly in the morning.”
“Fine,” replied the Judge. “Fortunately, the girl is too old for school, so she won't need to be enrolled. It's for the best that she gets settled down away from view before having much to do with people.”
Shamus stepped closer to Irene. “I think the best thing’d be for ye to go easy on her at first. Let the filly have her head out at the farm as long as she don't behave badly. It is hard to be telling ye more. We won't really know what to expect.”
“How do you mean?"
“How do you mean?"
The Irishman was remembering the amount of strongly-mixed potion that the boy had gulped down. “I've seen a few potion girls in me time. As the weeks pass, she'll start t’be acting differently, more like a girl. Me wife can explain it a whole lot better than I could.”
Irene shook her head. “The Lord has given me a bewildering task. But He answered my prayers, so I will not let myself fail.”
“It won't be easy for you or for... Myra,” said the Judge. “But, don't coddle her. She brought these troubles down on her own head, and we're only trying to do right by her.”
Then he added, “I'll be sending Deputy Grant out to your place. He'll have some serious questions for Myra, such as who exactly helped her with the robbery, and where they've hidden the gold.”
To be continued in Chapter 2