I was inspired by the all the awesome stories!
This story is set a few months after the girls have arrived at the farm, but before Spring. One shot Ephraim/Liza.
Milly was beating eggs in the kitchen, while the other girls were helping in the house with laundry and other chores. It was about midday, and Milly knew that the boys were out hunting today, so she didn't expect to see them before nightfall.
So she was surprised to hear a rap at the door at this hour. She opened the door to find Gideon and Ephraim standing on the porch. Gideon started speaking, although he was slightly out of breath and in a rush to talk, so most of what was coming out of his mouth was garbled. "Wolf… Ephraim… Benjamin said to come back".
Milly turned to Ephraim instead. His normally cheerful face looked tight and drawn and when she looked down, she saw he his right shoulder and arm was covered with blood to the elbow.
"Ephraim! What on earth?!" Milly exclaimed, and waved the two boys inside. She motioned for them to sit down.
"A wolf" winced Ephraim as he took a seat. "Don't know where he came from, wasn't with the rest of the pack."
"Well, let's have a look at it." she said. He nodded, and started unbuttoning his shirt with his left hand, though with some difficulty. "Where are the rest of the boys?" Milly asked Gideon.
"They asked me to come back with him." he replied, gesturing at Ephraim. "They had to bring the deer carcasses back. At least we got good meat for a while."
Ephraim pulled off the right shoulder of his shirt to show them the wound.
"Quite a nasty bite there" said Milly, taking a good look at it. "But I reckon that we can get it fixed up. You hold this towel over your shoulder to stop the bleeding."
While she had outwardly not expressed too much concern about the wound, Milly was a bit worried. True, it wasn't bleeding much anymore, and it wasn't particularly large wound. But if it happened to get septic, that could be dangerous.
She called for Liza, who was still in the kitchen. Milly knew that Liza's mother had been a midwife and nurse at one time and had passed on much of her medical knowledge to Liza. Milly had also considered that Liza might still have a soft spot for Ephraim, despite the kidnapping, and might be a good person to look after him.
Liza entered the room, a bit surprised to see Gideon and Ephraim in the living room. When she noticed that Ephraim was covered in blood, she looked downright shocked. She looked to Milly for explanation.
"Yes, I'm afraid Ephraim's been hurt," explained Milly, seeing her confusion. "I thought you might have a good idea of what should be done."
Liza nodded, collected herself, and went to examine the wound. "Well, I reckon it'll need to be stitched up." she said. "I can do it, Ma showed me how. But first it'll need to be cleaned. Ma said you always have to wash out a wound before stitching. I don't know if it's true, but she always said that cleaning it stopped it getting sep-" she stopped herself. Ephraim was turning a bit white; better not to talk about the worst case scenario.
Milly nodded. "Good thinking. You get some supplies from the sewing cupboard, and Gideon, you draw a bath and help Ephraim. Liza, do you think you'll need help with the stitches?" Liza shook her head.
"I reckon I can manage, you're probably more needed in the kitchen, to make sure they don't burn dinner. Again. " Liza replied, grinning.
" You're right, Alice is a dear, but she can't be trusted with the gravy." chuckled Millie, and bustled through to the kitchen.
Gideon, being the youngest, had always been the one to need help from his older brothers. But today he helped his older brother bathe,for the first time in their lives. He left soon after, to give his other brothers the news that Ephraim had gotten back to the house safely.
Liza, having found a suitable needle and thread, went back to the living room to find her patient. Ephraim sat on the bench, his fresh shirt only covering his left side. Liza felt somewhat nervous, not accustomed to seeing a man in such a state of undress, nor having had dealt with a wound by herself.
"What happened to you?" she asked, while threading the needle.
"A whole pack of wolves" he replied, but the smile on his face gave him away.
"Liar! You'd be in pieces if that were true." She chided, playfully.
"Well, could've been just the one. " he admitted, catching her eyes and smiling.
She scooted her chair closer to him, and reached out for his shoulder, but he instinctively jerked away. "Sorry" she said. "This might hurt"
She reached again for his shoulder with her one hand, grasping the skin on the sides of the gouge together. She slid the needle in, and though she could tell from the tension in his muscles that he wanted to flinch, he stayed completely still. Slowly she continued to sew the wound closed, concentrating on stitching evenly. She had been concentrating so intently, that she was about halfway through when she realised how close she was to him, and that she had her hand on his bare skin. His face was mere inches from hers and she could feel his breath on the side of her face. Perhaps she was imagining it, but it seemed that he was watching her. He smelled chiefly of soap, but also faintly of pine-sap, a slight sweet woody smell. Liza smiled at the thought, and then suddenly snapped back to reality as she realised she was neglecting her stitching. She finished up, and then stood back to admire her handiwork. "Looks pretty good, if I do say so myself" she said, proudly.
"A Doctor couldn't have done a better job" Ephraim agreed. She bent down to help him button up his shirt. "Thank you, Liza." He said, catching her eye shyly.
She flushed in wave of heat that she felt from her toes to her head.
The girls had set up a bed in the living room, and Ephraim collapsed gratefully. His state of shock had started to wear off, and he was obviously exhausted. He fell asleep almost immediately.
There was again a knock at the door. This time it was the brothers, back from their hunt and wanting to know how Ephraim was doing. Milly gave them an update in hushed tones, but they all decided it was better not to wake him. They all ate dinner, and then Milly woke Ephraim up to see if he was hungry, which he wasn't. Liza decided not to read too much into it. She was sure he would be feeling better by the next morning.
But he wasn't feeling better. The next morning, Milly and Liza went to check on him. He was still lying in bed, his eyes half open. He was sweaty; his was hair wet, and the sheets were damp from it. "How're you feeling ?" asked Milly.
"Not the best I ever felt" he replied, wrly.
"How 'bout we have a look at your shoulder?" she asked.
He sat up in bed gingerly, winced, and unbuttoned his shirt with his right hand.
Milly took a look at the shoulder, beckoning Liza to come closer to have a look. "What do you think?" she asked.
There were red streaks running from the wound, a clear sign to Liza that it was septic. She had seen worse cases, but often those cases had required an amputation.
"Well, there are some signs that it's gone bad" she said. Though Ephraim nodded stoically, Liza could see the fear in his eyes, and she didn't blame him.
"I'm going to do my best to look after you." she said, forcing a smile and trying to sound reassuring. He smiled back, a real smile, and Liza felt a little warm inside. She was going to do everything she could to keep Ephraim alive and well.
They bandaged his wound up again with fresh bandages, and helped him back into his shirt. "That wound must've been hurting something fierce, I bet it woke you up" Liza said to Ephraim.
"Yeah" he admitted. "And then when I did sleep, I dreamed I was in hell. Would serve me right for kidnapping you" He grimaced at the memory.
The thought of Ephraim in so much pain nearly broke Liza's heart. "I have just the thing for you." She replied, bustling to the cupboard, and taking out a small glass bottle. "Laudanum. Should do you some good." And before he could argue she'd poured him a capful and set it in front of him. Too weak for protest, he swallowed it in one gulp. "Breakfast?" she asked.
He shook his head. Liza brought him some dry biscuits anyway, since she figured that would be the easiest for him to get down. "You can't get better on an empty stomach" she said. He gave her a slightly dirty look, but obliged her with eating a few bites.
Then he collapsed back on his bed, seemingly exhausted, the laudanum now taking effect. "Thank you" he slurred as he closed his eyes. Liza just smiled and reached out and put her hand over his.
Liza went back to her chores. Today was laundry day, and the sheer amount of laundry that could be produced by 13 people was staggering. She spent the next few hours scrubbing and wringing. Feeling like a break from the monotony, she went back to check on Ephraim.
He woke as she walked up to his bed, his eyes still a bit unfocused. "Are you feeling any better?" she asked. He nodded his head, and lay back, closing his eyes again. "You're looking very pale" she noted, and put a hand to his forehead.
"Oh honey! You're still burning up" she sighed. Ephraim's eyes flew open at her use of the endearment. She blushed fiercely, regretting it immediately. Luckily for her, he only looked slightly bemused for a moment, and then lay back and closed his eyes. "How about you have another bath to get your fever down?" she suggested. He shook his head vehemently. "How about you sponge your face and neck down with cool water, at least?" He shook his head again. "I could do it for you?" she offered. This time he cracked an eye open, but shook his head once more.
Liza was feeling rather impatient at this point. "For goodness sake, Ephraim!" and she stomped off, and came back with a basin of water and a sponge. "Now lie still" she warned. He nodded his head, and allowed her to sponge the cool water on his face and neck. By the time she was finished, he was snoring gently. She smiled, and left him once more.
The other girls were curious about Ephraim and his injury, but Liza felt an odd sense of possessiveness in looking after him. Whenever one of the other girls would look in on him, Liza would be there to make sure they didn't disturb him, and would sometimes chase them away if necessary.
Liza brought Ephraim some lunch, but he was still asleep when she walked in. She went to feel his forehead, and was relieved to feel it was cooler. Perhaps the fever had broken? She was cautious about being too hopeful. She reached up to touch his hair. His hair was beautiful, thick and auburn colored. The roots were slightly damp from his sweat, but the ends felt silky. She ran her fingers lightly through, just for the feel of it. At that very moment, Alice walked in. She looked rather puzzled at the sight of what Liza was doing. "Liza? Why are you doing that?"
Liza guiltily withdrew her hand at record speed. "Uuuuuuuh" her mind went blank. "I… I was checking Ephraim for lice - you know they've been sleeping in the barn, it's probably crawling with all kinds of things." she improvised. Phew. Alice was lovely, but not the sharpest knife in the drawer; she was likely to be satisfied by that response. Liza was correct - Alice looked a bit confused, but didn't question her further. Liza looked down at Ephraim. Luckily he seemed to have slept through the exchange.
Alice asked for help fetching some wood, and Liza agreed, especially happy to change the subject.
"Do you ever think of what will happen once the pass is open again?" Alice asked, as they trudged back to the house with the wood.
"I don't wanna go back to town. I think I'm in love." she whispered, conspiratorially. "with Gideon" she added, as if it weren't completely obvious.
"So you've forgiven him?" asked Liza, although she knew the answer to the question. All the girls, whether or not they had planned to, had forgiven the boys. Or to be more specific, each girl had forgiven their boy.
Alice nodded. " I know he's truly sorry."
"You think your Pa'll let you marry him?" Liza asked. It was something she had thought about a lot, regarding her own situation, although she wasn't about to admit it.
" I….I hope so" Alice was starting to look a bit teary eyed.
"Don't worry, everything will be alright" said Liza, mostly to comfort the younger girl, though she wasn't so sure herself.
A few hours later, Liza checked on Ephraim again. He was sitting, propped up with pillows, and enthusiastically munching on his lunch that Liza had left for him earlier. "Feeling better, are you?" she asked him, but it was unnecessary question. She could see the improvement with her own eyes, and her heart nearly burst out of her chest with relief.
"All thanks to the best nurse I could wish for" he said with a cheeky smile. Liza could have cried she was so happy to see his cocky grin again. "Feels like my fever's lifted"
"Well I'm glad to see your appetite is back" she replied. "But I have to do a proper check." She leaned over and felt his forehead, which was cool to the touch. She then helped awkwardly to peel back his shirt, and she had a good look at the wound. It was notably less red and inflamed than it had been last time she had checked. "You'll be as good as new in a few days", she said, smiling and catching his eye.
Ephraim continued to improve, and soon he was out of danger, as the wound started to heal. Milly was happy to have him in the house, but the next day he told Milly that he was going to go back to the barn. "I don't want the boys to think I'm gettin' special treatment ", he explained. Milly understood. He clearly didn't want the dynamic between him and his brothers to be shifted.
"As you like", she replied, "but I want you to take care of yourself these next few days. No hard labor. I don't want that wound opening up again."
"Yes, Milly" he agreed.
Next he found Liza alone in the kitchen, busy rolling dough for pies.
"I'm going to be moving back into the barn" He told her.
"Already?" she asked, a bit surprised.
He nodded, looking a bit nervous. " I just wanted to say… how grateful I am that you looked after me. I was worried when the fever started, but you took good care of me." Then he grinned " I reckon it was worth getting attacked by a wolf, with that kind of treatment."
"Oh really?!" laughed Liza, rolling her eyes at him. " Well, maybe I won't help you next time!"
"That's too bad" he said, with a wicked grin on his face. " I liked being looked after by you. And I sure liked it when you called me 'honey'." He smirked playfully.
Liza's mouth fell open. "I never!" she lied. "That must have been the fever making you hear things!"
"I guess it was the fever that made me imagine you pettin' my head, too?" he chuckled.
"I thought you were asleep!" she countered, and then realising her admission, she continued, "Well, like I told Alice, I was checking you for lice. Goodness knows what you might've brought into the house!" she finished, keeping as straight a face as she could manage
He laughed; unlike Alice, he was not falling for her story for an instant. Then he met her gaze, and his face grew more serious. "To be honest, I count myself fortunate. To have you treat me that way, after all I've done… well, I don't deserve it. But if you would let me, I would spend the rest of my life makin' it up to you." Liza's eyes widened, and just as she was about to speak, he stepped forward and leaned in and lowered his face to hers, and kissed her softly. And then, to her disappointment, he drew back. "You just think about it?" he asked, and Liza, speechless, just nodded, and watched as he turned and walked away.