Victoria and Doctor Hernandez's fears were soon realized as more and more people began pouring into the tavern in various stages of the influenza. The two families that had arrived earlier were moved to one section of the tavern as their condition seemed to be improving, while the more critical cases were placed in an easily accessible area.
As the patients increased, Doctor Hernandez began training many of the volunteers that had helped set up the tavern, on how to mix and administer the quinine and infusions that were given to every patient. Alejandro, Diego and Felipe became quite adept at helping the doctor prepare his medicines. Of course Diego having had more background in chemistry, was quick to memorize the exact portions to mix together and made sure the patients were getting the right amount. With that in mind, doctor Hernandez decided to put Diego in charge of preparing the medications and keeping a record of who got what how much and when.
To help Victoria out, Felipe volunteered his services in the kitchen preparing soups and broths for the patients and washing a few dishes on the side. Angelina, Roberto and their boys helped out as well in feeding the patients their broths and juice. Even Padre Benitez and the peons were busy helping to feed the patients and changing the beds when needed.
The tavern was definitely the center of clinical activity in the pueblo as the influenza continued to rage throughout the territory. Fortunately Sergeant Mendoza and his men managed to escape the cruel virus by steering clear of the tavern. They did however help out by bringing fresh water to the tavern and handing it to one of the many volunteers that stepped out from time to time to collect the water.
Occasionally Ignacio would grace the premises with his appearance to make sure Victoria was following his orders "to the letter." Diego would immediately come to her defense by inviting Ignacio to come inside the tavern and make a detailed inspection but that he would be taking the serious risk of contracting the virus and becoming sick. At that, Ignacio would immediately give an approving nod and say, "I am sure Seņorita Escalante is doing an excellent job of maintaining the tavern during this critical time. If there is anything you need, I will be more than happy to assist." Remarked Desoto earnestly.
"Thank you Alcalde..." began Victoria. "but I don't think we'll be needing any help from you!" she replied sternly.
Ignacio flashed an icy stare at Victoria and grumbled. "Very well seņorita, I will take that into consideration the next time you ask me for help!" he retorted.
Diego flashed DeSoto an unyielding look. "Alcalde, you'll have to excuse the seņorita! She has been under a great deal of pressure lately." Replied Diego putting a reassuring arm around Victoria.
DeSoto glanced at Victoria mildly and managed a smile. "My apologies seņorita!" he slightly bowed. "I'm sure this whole episode has been quite an ordeal for you! Please forgive my harsh tone! My offer for help still stands!" he replied briefly changing his demeanor.
Victoria's eyes slightly widened at this sudden change in DeSoto's attitude. "Gracias, Alcalde. In that case I will consider your offer." She replied resolutely.
DeSoto slightly bowed and then stood at a relaxed attention. "Gracias seņorita! Good day!" he finished. He turned and strolled back to his office.
As they watched him leave, Diego turned to Victoria and shook his head and sighed. "Victoria really! You're going to have to learn to control that temper of yours! Remember what you told me about DeSoto! Right now, he can be very helpful to us!" reminded Diego earnestly as he gazed warmly into her eyes and smiled.
Victoria sighed and looked at Diego somewhat perturbed. "I'm sorry Diego, but sometimes he can be so irritating! I just get so mad at him!" she responded inwardly fuming.
Diego put his hands around her shoulders and smiled. "Victoria, I think that's what I love most about you is your spirit and your passion. It's just that I don't want you to get into trouble with DeSoto." He responded sincerely as he gazed into her eyes. He bent down and brushed a light kiss upon her cheek.
Victoria slightly blushed and smiled. "Thank you Diego. That's very sweet of you be so concerned about me." She replied warmly as she gazed into his eyes.
As Diego gazed into her eyes he felt a slight smile creep across his lips. "Think nothing of it Victoria! After all, with this epidemic going on, we need all the help we can get and you'll have to admit, you wouldn't be much help if you were locked up in DeSoto's jail!" he slightly chuckled.
Victoria's eyes slightly narrowed and she flashed a stern look at Diego. "Diego de la Vega! Sometimes you can be so......" She was about to give her retort when Diego put his finger to her lips and shook his head.
"Ah ah Victoria! Remember your temper!" Diego replied flashing a captivating smile at Victoria as his deep blue eyes melted into hers.
Suddenly Victoria felt her heart slightly flutter and her face become flushed as Diego's eyes peered deep into hers. She slightly blinked and cast an amiable smile at Diego. "I...suppose we should get back to work." She replied casting an affectionate gaze at Diego.
As Victoria was about to walk away, Diego gently took her hand and pressed a tender kiss to the back and smiled. Victoria blushed and modestly smiled at Diego and walked away.
Diego's eyes held an affectionate gaze as he watched her collecting some of the cups from the bedside tables and taking them back to the kitchen. As she disappeared behind the curtain, his eyes momentarily stayed fixed upon that spot in anticipation of her reappearing. He sighed and inwardly shook himself from his romantic reverie and began administering to some of the patients.
There wasn't much time for romantic or social amenities as the influenza kept filling the tavern with its hapless victims. Doctor Hernandez and others were thankful that Padre Benitez was there to give spiritual guidance to not only the volunteers, but to some of the patients who were desperately clinging to life.
A wave of sadness spread throughout the tavern as the influenza claimed its victims. It seemed that Padre Benitez was spending more time giving last rites and quoting sermons from the bible as families buried their dead. Even doctor Hernandez was beginning to doubt himself as a healer as he struggled to bring back the ones that were at near death when they were brought in.
Doctor Hernandez sat on the bench outside the tavern and put his face in his hands and wept in frustration after a young child's life slipped through his fingers. He suddenly felt a kind hand upon his shoulder and looked up to see Padre Benitez sitting beside him. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and stared hard at the good padre and shook his head.
"Why couldn't I save her!!!" he said remorsefully as his voice slightly broke in sadness.
Padre Benitez cast a resolute look at doctor Hernandez and shook his head.
"It was not you my son! It was this horrible disease that claimed her life. You did everything you could!" Replied the kind padre as he placed a reassuring hand on doctor Hernandez's shoulder.
Doctor Hernandez shook his head and sighed and looked at the padre through weary eyes. "Sometimes I wonder! It just seems like such a waste padre! She had her whole life ahead of her and now she's dead! Why would God let something like this happen? It's not fair!" He said as he flashed an angry look at the padre.
Padre Benitez cast an attentive look at the troubled doctor. "It is not up to us to question the will of God my son. Certain things happen for a reason and sometimes we don't always understand why. All we can do is remind ourselves that the ones that pass on are in God's hands and that he is taking care of them. God will not forget what you tried to do for this child. He knows that you wanted her to live. Take solace in the knowledge that you were able to save many others. I know it will be hard to forget the ones that died, but do not let your grief overshadow the ones that are still alive. They need your help now more than ever." Replied Padre Benitez resolutely as he held a steady gaze on doctor Hernandez.
Doctor Hernandez took out his handkerchief and wiped his face and then cast an insightful look upon the wise padre.
"You are right padre, I do grieve for the ones that have died, but it does lighten my heart to know that many others are still alive. Thank God for that! Thank you padre! I'm glad you are here! As long as I have been a doctor, I still find that I have a lot to learn! Gracias padre!" he said sincerely as he placed a kind hand upon the padre's shoulder and smiled.
They rose from the bench and walked back into the tavern and continued their long arduous work.
As the epidemic continued to claim its victims, not only did Doctor Hernandez doubt his abilities, he was beginning to have doubts about having enough medicine to dispense to all the patients. His quinine supply was beginning to run low and he was having to rely on most of his herbal remedies. For some of the less serious cases, the herbs seem to lessen the fevers and headaches, but for the more advanced cases, the infusions were just not strong enough to have any effect on the ones that were seriously ill.
Doctor Hernandez found himself having to make decisions he never dreamed he would have to make. The very young and the ones that doctor Hernandez felt had a chance would be given the quinine and the others would receive the infusions.
As he finished examining the last of the patients in one section of the tavern, he glanced around and shook his head in disbelief. He knew it wasn't up to him to make such drastic decisions. He felt as if he were playing God, deciding who lived and who died. This feeling gripped his heart and soul as the idea of making such decisions preyed heavily upon his mind. He momentarily shook his head and sighed.
'I have to try to save these people! Too many have died already! I can't allow any more to die!' he thought to himself as gazed at the weary faces of his patients. Diego looked up and saw the troubled expression on the doctor and walked over to him.
"Doctor Hernandez, is there something wrong?" he inquired casting a concerned look at the worried doctor.
Doctor Hernandez slightly blinked and focused his eyes on Diego as he stood before him. "Diego, I have to talk to you in private." He responded with a guarded tone to his voice.
Diego's eyes slightly widened as he momentarily studied the doctor's face for the answer to his silent question.
"Yes of course doctor!" replied Diego as he eyed the doctor warily. They glanced around the tavern and finally stepped outside.
As they stood in front of the tavern Diego flashed an intense look at the doctor's anxious face.
"What is it Doctor Hernandez? What's wrong?" Diego inquired eyeing the doctor expectantly.
Doctor Hernandez eyed Diego attentively. "Diego, it's about the medicine. We're getting low on the quinine and I'm afraid we won't have enough for all the patients. We may have to start rationing the doses, which means that there will be some people who won't be getting it." Replied doctor Hernandez anxiously.
Diego peered steadily into the doctor's eyes as he cast a guarded look upon his face.
"Doctor Hernandez, you can't do that! These people need that medicine!" Diego replied anxiously as he flashed a determined look at the doctor.
Doctor Hernandez shook his head and sighed as he cast an earnest look at Diego. "I know I can't Diego, but I don't have any choice! I didn't make this decision lightly! There's no other way!" he replied vehemently.
Diego flashed his steel blue eyes at doctor Hernandez and shot a penetrating look at him.
"Everyone has choices doctor, even you!" he replied as he looked at him sternly.
Doctor Hernandez suddenly felt a cold chill inside him as he stared into Diego's eyes. It was as if Diego was looking into his very soul. He momentarily blinked and inwardly shook himself from Diego's intense stare.
"Diego that medicine came all the way from Spain! It would take too long to get anymore! Not only that, but the nearest town is fifty miles away. That would take days! Days that we just can't afford to loose!" doctor Hernandez replied resolutely. He shook his head and anxiously ran his fingers through his hair.
Diego's eyes softened as he gazed upon the worried features of the doctor's face.
"Forgive me Doctor Hernandez! I know this ordeal has been quite stressful for you! We've all been under a lot of pressure these past few days. I had no right to snap at you like that! I understand your decision to ration the medicine, but there must be another way!" Diego said resolutely as he placed a reassuring hand on the doctor's shoulder and cast a compassionate look at him.
Doctor Hernandez looked at Diego earnestly and nodded his head. "I'm sorry too, Diego! I too wish there was another way! I don't even think Zorro could help us now!" he said somewhat sadly, casting his eyes downward.
Diego's eyes somewhat widened and a slight smile crossed his lips. "Oh, I wouldn't give up just yet doctor!" Diego replied smugly.
Doctor Hernandez momentarily looked up. As he did Diego's smile quickly vanished as he looked at the doctor earnestly.
"How much medicine do we have?" inquired Diego casting a reflective gaze upon the doctor's face.
Doctor Hernandez looked at Diego somewhat strangely and shook his head. "I'm not sure Diego. Maybe enough for five days, maybe more or less. It definitely won't be enough for all these people!" Replied doctor Hernandez earnestly. He cast an attentive gaze upon Diego's face and looked into his eyes. He wondered if Diego could be thinking of a solution to their problem, if he were thinking about that at all.
"Diego, is there something wrong?" he asked looking concerned.
Diego looked at the doctor compassionately and smiled. "Oh no doctor, I'm fine! I think I may know someone who can help us!" Diego replied resolutely.
Doctor Hernandez's eyes slightly widened as he cast an attentive gaze at Diego. "Who did you have in mind Diego, aside from God himself, I don't think there is anyone who can help us now!" He replied somewhat disheartened.
Diego looked at doctor Hernandez earnestly and smiled as he put a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
"Don't worry doctor! You'll just have trust have to trust me on this one!" he said with a slight smile. "Well, I suppose we should get back inside." Replied Diego. As he and Doctor Hernandez were about to go back into the tavern, Diego turned and grabbed the doctor's arm. Doctor Hernandez turned and cast a surprised look at Diego.
"What is it Diego?" he said somewhat confused.
Diego eyed the doctor intently. "I think for all concerned, we should keep this conversation just between us doctor. I don't think you should tell anyone of your situation just yet! Just carry on as usual." Diego explained as he cast a determined look upon the anxious doctor's face.
Doctor Hernandez lightly stroked his chin and cast a thoughtful gaze at Diego and nodded. "Of course. I think you're right! There's no sense in stirring up a panic!" he replied insightfully.
Diego nodded and smiled as he patted the doctor on the shoulder. "Gracias doctor!" he replied warmly.
Doctor Hernandez smiled and nodded as they returned to administer aid to their numerous patients.