As the first light of dawn came through the window, the old man rolled over, opened his blue-grey eyes a crack, squinted at the brightness, and softly groaned. Bone tired, but he knew he had to get up and start on his rounds. Today would be a particularly busy day with many patients waiting for him, spread out over many miles of rough going.
Slowly getting up, he dressed in his "uniform" of a rather shabby, much worn suit coat with matching baggy pants, an even shabbier thread bare black vest, white shirt, black string tie, black shoe boots, and his always-present ancient black hat with the faded, fraying hat band. After filling his vest pockets with the usual items-spectacles case, thermometer, a few coins, and his trusty and much used silver pocket watch with the heavy chain-he checked his battered black doctor's bag and added a few more bandage rolls before snapping it shut. Looking upward, he said his usual short, silent prayer to do no harm, and left his office, carefully going down the fourteen wooden steps to the street.
After getting his horse and buggy at the stables, the doctor climbed in, leather seat creaking, took a deep breath, and set out, the sun still low in the sky. By noon, Doc Adams had set three bones, delivered two babies-one a difficult breech birth with the mother barely surviving-tended to four wounds, one of which was badly infected due to a mud poultice the wife had applied it her husband's grievous ax wound, and treated a boy's painful stomach ache from too many green apples.
Late in the afternoon, after several more visits including a dog bite, sprained ankle, and an early pregnancy check, Doc's last visit was to an old friend dying from a cancerous tumor in his abdominal wall. The man was sixty five years old, looking much older from a life of hard work. Calvin and Doc had known each other for thirty five years, and had often gone fishing together at their special spot at a nearby creek.
"Hi there, Doc!" Calvin grinned and then grimaced from the sudden movement he had made to stick out his right hand in Doc's direction. "You look like a bear who just had his honey stole!"
Calvin's wife of forty years rose from her bedside chair and gave a moist-eyed half smile. "Here, Doc, you sit here. I'll make some coffee!" she said in a bright, brittle voice.
"That's just fine, Mary." Doc gave her arm a gentle squeeze as she left, closing the door.
As soon as his wife was out of the room, Calvin's face grew solemn. "Galen, God knows there is nothing more to be done for me, but I want you to know how much I appreciate these visits. You have been a wonderful friend-but a lousy fisher!"
He grinned as Doc huffed and snorted, pretending to be offended. "All I care about is Mary, now, and I know you will make this as easy as you can, and will see that she sells this sorry place and heads for our son Tyler over Colorado way."
Doc cleared his throat, wiped a hand over his eyes and mustache, and nodded his head.
On the way back to Dodge, Doc pulled his rig off the road to rest under the shade of a massive oak tree. Getting out of the rig, the slight, rumpled man walked over to the nearby creek, the clear water making a gentle babble as it flowed over a bed of smooth stones. Sitting on the grassy bank, he closed his eyes, remembering past days with Calvin, and was soothed by the peaceful sounds.
Back in town, after leaving his horse and buggy at the stables, Doc checked his watch and then shuffled along the wooden walkway back towards his office home. He laboriously climbed halfway up the stairs, paused, and then turned his head in the direction of the clamor of the nearby Long Branch saloon.
Retracing his steps, he turned and headed for the light coming from the saloon's twin swinging doors. At the doors, he stopped and peered over the top of them, being just tall enough to do so. As a wave of weary sadness hit him, Doc was just about to go back home when his tired faded eyes met the large, bright blue welcoming eyes of the young woman he loved as dearly as a daughter.
"Hi, Doc! Come on in!" Kitty beckoned with a hand as she tried to make herself heard above the din.
Doc shuffled in, head down, and slowly reached her table, scraped back a chair, and painfully eased into the hard, wooden seat. Kitty lifted his old hat from his head and was about to make a teasing remark, but stopped as she surveyed the face of the man she loved so deeply.
"Oh, Doc…" The lovely red-haired young woman gently put her left arm around Doc's thin shoulders, squeezed, and softly kissed his cheek.
They sat that way for some time amidst the clamor, quietly sharing a friendship and love that needed no words.