To nurses everywhere,
with appreciation for your
skills and commitment
NOBLE SPRINGS, MISSOURI
Rosemary Saxon startled awake. Downstairs, her dog sounded like he was attempting to burst through the front door. His bark was one continuous “rawr rawr rawr,” interspersed with deep growls.
A glance out the window told her daylight waited somewhere beyond the horizon. She flung her wrapper over her shoulders and tiptoed down to the entryway. Her heart thudded in her throat at skittering noises on the porch.
Crouching next to Bodie, she placed her hand on the raised fur along his back. “Shh. We’re fine.” She inched to the window and peered through a corner of the lace curtain. Blackness.
Bodie growled low in his chest. Her pulse gradually slowed as she stroked his velvety ears, reassured by his solid presence next to her. Anything that got through her locked door wouldn’t get past Bodie.
“I hope you didn’t wake me because you smelled a raccoon.”
The dog relaxed against her and licked her fingers. After a moment she turned and walked to the kitchen, her steps sure in the darkness.
She struck a match against the surface of the cookstove and lit a lamp, then returned to the sitting room to glance at the case clock atop a bookshelf.
“Oh, Bodie, why today? It’s five in the morning.” She massaged her temples. “I need to be alert when I call on the doctor.” A ripple of nervousness tingled across her chest. So much depended on Dr. Stewart’s response.
Resigned to wakefulness, Rosemary opened the firebox and tossed several chunks of wood over the banked coals. As soon as the sky lightened, she’d step out the front door to investigate the reason for Bodie’s excitement.
She considered the possibilities. This section of the state remained in some turmoil since the war, with refugees occasionally coming through town seeking assistance. Maybe someone had stopped to ask for help.
“At this hour? I doubt it.” She rubbed the dog’s ears. “Most likely one of those critters you like to tree.”
When dawn approached, she padded to the entryway, slid the bolt aside, and opened the door. She glanced up and down the deserted street. The houses across the way remained dark.
A scrap of paper protruded from beneath the rug she kept on the porch for Bodie. When she bent to retrieve it, she noticed footprints in the frost that bristled on the wooden porch. A trail led from the gate in her picket fence to the door and away. Someone had been outside. Those weren’t animal tracks.
Rosemary grabbed the paper and backed into the house, slamming and bolting the door. With shaking hands she unfolded the wrinkled brown page.
I no wat yore up to with yore witchs brew. Be warned
Shocked, she stared at the message. What witches’ brew? Someone went to a great deal of trouble to deliver a warning to the wrong person. She’d lived in Noble Springs for over a year and no one had gone this far to make her feel unwelcome.
She paced to the window and watched the day awaken. Thin sunshine touched the frosted landscape with tentative fingers, as though one willful storm cloud would be all the discouragement it needed to disappear. After a moment, Rosemary shrugged. She had more to do today than worry about a misdelivered, misspelled message. Later she’d go to Lindberg’s Mercantile and show the paper to her sister-in-law, Faith Saxon. Now she needed to prepare for her call on Dr. Stewart.
After letting Bodie back in the house following his morning romp, Rosemary climbed the steep staircase to the second floor, rehearsing what she’d say to the doctor. Everything depended on his opinion of women as nurses. Please, Lord, give him an open mind. She’d had enough disrespect from Dr. Greeley, the town’s elderly physician, to last her for eons.
She dressed carefully in a dove-gray watered silk dress with a high white collar. Seeking a practical look, she arranged her thick black hair in a bun at the back of her head, careful to pin loose strands in place, then settled her gray spoon bonnet over her coiffure.
After a final check in the mirror, she wrapped a green paisley shawl around her shoulders and descended the stairs. Bodie sat next to the door.
“Not now, boy. You wait here.”
Rosemary straightened her shoulders and stepped into the frosty morning. Despite shrugging off the message, she examined the area for strangers before leaving the security of her picket-fenced yard. A horse-drawn buggy clipped by on the frozen road. No threat there. She strode toward Second Street, chiding herself for being overcautious.
When she reached the corner, she turned south toward the railroad tracks, her destination a building that had been the quartermaster’s headquarters during the war. Now converted to business space, a new doctor had set up an office at the east end, facing the railroad tracks.
Elijah Stewart, Physician, Office hours 8:30 to 5:00, Monday through Friday was painted in black on the whitewashed wall next to his door. Rosemary paused and drew a deep breath before stepping inside.
On her right, a stove threw off waves of heat. A sofa upholstered in horsehair sat under a window at the rear of the room. Uncomfortable-looking wooden chairs shoved against the windowless left wall faced two closed doors. She supposed one led to the doctor’s private offi