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 office and the other to an examining room. A murmur of voices seeped from behind one of the doors.
Rosemary settled on the sofa, pushing her toes against the floorboards to keep from sliding forward on the slippery covering. Her hands perspired inside her tight gloves. To calm herself, she closed her eyes and rehearsed what she’d say when her turn came.
After several minutes, the door closest to the entry opened and a youth limped into the waiting room.
A burly man wearing a black waistcoat over rolled-up shirtsleeves followed him. “Keep a fresh bandage on that cut, and stay off your feet as much as possible.”
“Thanks, Doc.” The young man tipped his hat at Rosemary as he left.
“I’m Dr. Stewart. Sorry to keep you waiting, miss.” The doctor gestured toward the open door. “If you will step inside, we can discuss your complaint.”
A shock of recognition rippled through her. Dr. Stewart had been a surgeon at Jefferson Barracks during her first weeks as a nurse. He’d been there only a short time before being called to the front lines, but she remembered his distinctive height, his mop of curly hair, and his eyes, so dark they were almost black.
She rose and extended her hand. “My name is Rosemary Saxon, and I didn’t come with a medical complaint.”
He took her hand and bowed. “Miss Saxon. Then how may I assist you?”
“I’m here to offer you my assistance.” She held her voice steady. “I spent the war years as a nurse, and now I’m seeking employment as such.” She pasted a determined expression on her face.
He crossed to the second door and swung it open. “Come into my office and tell me why you think I should employ a nurse in my practice.” One wall of the room was lined with glass-fronted bookcases. A skeleton hanging from a hook on the wall took up space between the window and what had to be the interior door to the examination room. Dr. Stewart flung himself into an oak armchair on casters and pointed to a straight-back chair facing his desk.
Rosemary settled herself, folding her hands in her lap and willing them not to tremble. “As I said, I have several years of hospital experience in tending to wounds, administering medicines, and assisting doctors. I do not faint at the sight of blood.”
“Neither do I, Miss Saxon.”
“I believe there’s a need for a woman’s presence when doctors have female patients, and that’s where I’d be most valuable. Of course, I’d be prepared for any other duties as necessary.”
“You must know this is irregular.” He rocked back in his chair with his arms folded across his broad chest. “I called on Dr. Greeley when I first contemplated Noble Springs for my practice. He doesn’t employ a nurse, neither male nor female.”
“If I may be blunt, Dr. Greeley is an old man who’s been a physician practically since the turn of the century.” She sat straighter. “The war has changed many things, but Dr. Greeley isn’t one of them. He believes women have no place in medicine. I disagree.”
His lips twitched. “Miss Saxon, although you present a good appearance, I don’t know you. You could be seeking access to my laudanum supply.”
“Dr. Stewart! I assure you—I have no need of laudanum.”
He waved a hand at her, chuckling. “Please excuse my humor. With your permission, I’d like to speak to someone who could vouch for you, then we’ll talk again.”
“I have a brother here, and the pastor of our church knows me.” Her confidence wavered when she realized how weak that sounded. Of course her brother and her pastor would speak well of her. She dropped her gaze to her lap. “If you’re seeking a professional recommendation, I could write to my supervisor from the Barracks. She remained in St. Louis after the war.” Mentally, she berated herself for not thinking of this long ago. She should have had the information ready for him.
She knew why she hadn’t. That part of her life had ended.
Or so she’d believed.