On a fine spring morning, Heath and Nick were the first to rise at cockcrow to ready themselves for a full day’s work.
Heath was standing by his bedroom window, casting an eye out at the barnyard while buttoning up his shirt. He was puzzled to see Ciego frantically hailing three ranch hands to hasten into the stables.
He heard a rap on the door. “Come in!” Heath invited without unfastening his eyes from the scene playing down below.
Nick stomped in. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah,” Heath replied abstractedly, prompting Nick to raise an eyebrow in suspicion.
“Something wrong?” Nick asked as he edged up to his brother, his eyes still riveted on the barn doors. One hand was seen dashing out.
“Something’s happening in the barn.”
Nick cast an eye out the window. “Like what?”
“I’m not sure but we’d best check it out.”
As the brothers headed down the stairs, Silas opened the door to the hand Heath saw running out of the stables.
“Heath, Nick, you’d better come, quick!” he panted frantically, trying to catch his breath.
Nick gripped the man’s shoulders to steady him. “Take it easy, John. What’s wrong?”
“It’s Cocoa. We can’t get him up on his legs.”
Nick threw a horrified glance at Heath before he whisked out of the house to the stables with an equally concerned little brother on his heels.
Ciego and two hands were kneeling down in the stall, stroking the snorting animal lying on his side. Nick dove to his knees and began patting Cocoa’s neck. “How long has he been like this?”
“Don’t know Senor. When arrive here a few minutes ago, he was like this, huffing and puffing real hard,” Ciego explained to the flustered master.
“John, ride out to the Anderson place and get Andy. Quick!” Heath instructed.
“Right away, Heath.”
“Andy?” Nick exclaimed. “We need to get Doctor Moran. He’s a vet.”
“He’s out of town for a month, remember? Andy’s our only alternative. He’s studying to be a vet. He’ll know what to do.”
“I hope so.”
When Nick’s brows furrowed deeply and his bottom lip started to twitch, Heath squatted down beside his distressed brother and placed a consoling hand on his shoulder. “He’s gonna be awright.”
“I don’t wanna lose him, Heath,” Nick quavered while stroking Cocoa’s neck.
“I knew I shouldn’t have ridden him in the race yesterday. He felt so sluggish and I pushed him too hard,” Nick confided with tear-glistened eyes.
Barely an hour later, Andy Anderson arrived to examine the sick horse. He diagnosed a twisted bowel and recommended to put the animal out of his misery.
“No!” Nick shouted angrily. “There’s gotta be sumthin’ ya can do?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Barkley,” Andy replied with genuine sympathy in his voice. He turned to Heath. “Do you want me to do it?”
Dismayed by the news, Heath nodded dejectedly. “No. We’ll handle it ourselves. Thanks Andy.”
Nick stormed out of the barn and went to the horse paddock where he crossed his arms over the fence and pillowed his head on them.
Heath walked over to Nick from behind and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Nick.”
“The kid’s wrong,” Nick mumbled under his arms. “There has to be sumthin’ we can do.”
“Not if it’s twisted bowel.”
Nick’s head shot up and jerked towards Heath. “IF?” He gripped Heath’s shoulders. “You’re willing to admit he might be wrong?”
“Heath, please!” Nick beseeched. “If there’s the slightest chance we can save him…tell me what to do?”
The desperation in his brother’s eyes chilled Heath to the marrow. He owed to Nick to explore the possibility of a wrong diagnosis. “Awright, Nick. I’ll need water, a rubber tube, funnel and plenty of oil. Corn, olive…any kind you can find in the kitchen.”
“Awright.” Nick dashed to the house without a hint of hesitation as to the reason why Heath would require cooking oil.
Heath ran back to the stables and instructed Ciego and the two hands to get Cocoa back on his legs. All four applied their body weight forward to push the animal up.
“What are ya gonna do, Heath?” asked one of the hands.
“I’m gonna to flush out his bowel with oil, hoping whatever stuck will come out. He might just be constipated”
“Oh dear God, I hope you’re right for Nick’s sake.”
“Yeah, so I am,” Heath sighed. “Get me a bucket of water, will ya?”
The hand hastily jumped out of the way to avoid bumping into Nick rushing in with a bottle of corn oil and the funnel. “Silas is gathering more. Will this do?”
“For now. You got the funnel?”
“Ciego, will ya get me a rubber tube from the tack room?” Heath asked.
“Heath, what are you planning to do?”`
“Like I told Henry, here, I’m gonna try to flush out his bowel, then we’ll keep him moving hoping to remove whatever’s stuck.”
Nick gripped Heath’s shoulder and squeezed it in sincere gratitude. “Thanks, Heath.”
“Don’t thank me too soon. We might already be too late.”
Both Ciego and John returned with the tube and water. Heath instructed the two hands to hold Cocoa still while he inserted one tip of the tube into the horse’s nostril. Then he placed the funnel over the other end. He beckoned Nick to bring him a cupful of water that he poured into the funnel, which he held above his head to allow the liquid to flow freely down the tube.
“What’s the water for?”
“To test if it’ll go down into his stomach and not his lungs.” Heath emptied the cup and waited a few seconds for the horse’s reaction. “ Good, he’s not coughing. That means we missed his lungs. Awright Nick, get me that oil.”
Nick uncorked the bottle and handed over to his brother who repeated the process. Once he emptied the content, he instructed Nick to take Cocoa out for a walk.
“Don’t let him lie down, Nick. Keep him on the move.”
“Awright.” With a click of the tongue, Nick steered his beloved companion out of the stables.
As he was walking him around the yard, Victoria and Audra came out of the house with additional bottles of corn oil that Silas gave them to bring to Heath.
“Nick, Silas told us what happened. Is there anything we can do?” Victoria asked.
“You’d better asked Doc Barkley in there,” Nick motioned towards the stables with his head. “He seems to have the situation pretty much under control.”
Victoria and Audra hurried to the stables where Heath was busy rinsing out the tube for the next dose of medicine. Both women praised his efforts to save Nick’s horse, but Heath remained skeptical about Cocoa’s chances.
An hour later, Heath administered another bottle of oil to the exhausted animal. Nick was agonizing along with Cocoa. He patted him gently and whispered words of encouragement, all the while wishing for his little brother’s treatment to work miracles.
In early evening, when all seemed to have failed, Cocoa sprung to his hooves and nudged his master asleep in a corner of the stall. Nick startled awake and focused on the sniffling mussel and huge dark eyes staring him in the face.
“Cocoa? You awright, boy?” He excitedly bounced to his feet and stroked the animal’s head. “Heath?” he shouted, scaring Cocoa who snorted in protest.
Heath, Victoria and Audra rushed over to the stall to witness the miracle.
Nick flew into Heath’s arms and clenched him into a brotherly hug. “Thank you,” he quavered with tears rushing to his eyes. “Thank you for not giving up.”
“Thanks for believing’, Nick.”
Nick pulled back. “Well, Doctor Barkley, ready for you next patient?” Nick teased while wiping up his tears.
“Not now. I’ve had enough cold sweats for one day, thanks!”
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