Love’s Eternal Breath
Coming January 2017
Once upon a time, Lindy Marsden dreamed of having the same things every young girl wants—a husband, a house, some children, maybe even a sewing machine. But since she got sick five years ago, those things have become too much to hope for. Now she just wants to provide for herself without relying on charity from others … and avoid doctors for the rest of her life. Their medicine never leads to any good, and she has the scars to prove it.
Seth Harrington loves being a doctor, but treating people in the small town of Eagle Harbor is nothing like working at a prestigious Boston hospital. To make matters worse, the other doctor in town seems resolved to steal Seth’s patients. When he’s called to treat a reluctant patient, Seth finds Miss Marsden’s fiery dislike for him rather insulting. He has the ability to help her, after all, but she wants nothing to do with him. Until she shows up on his doorstep one night…
When the plight of a young boy brings Seth and Lindy irrevocably together, Seth finds himself in the most difficult situation of his career. His expertise can help him heal the sick, but will his love be enough to soothe Lindy’s wounded soul?
Eagle Harbor, Michigan; August, 1883
“I told you not to come back.”
Lindy Marsden looked into Jenny O’Byrne’s angry brown eyes and attempted to scowl as fiercely as the irate woman in front of her—if Jenny could even be called a woman. Given her youthful face and unblemished skin, Jenny wasn’t more than sixteen or seventeen.
“I brought you bread and flour, even some sourdough starter from the bakery so you can make your own bread.” Lindy would have made the words louder, her voice firmer, had she the breath to do so. But after walking two miles uphill to reach the cabin, her lungs were wound tighter than a jack-in-the-box and nearly ready to burst. She sucked in a small breath. The burning sensation would abate. Eventually. If she rested long enough.
She set the sack with the dough and flour on the rickety table, then straightened and held out the loaf of bread to Jenny, drawing in another small breath before she spoke. “Don’t be upset with me.”
Even with the door open, the cabin was so dim it should’ve been impossible to see Jenny’s anger. But the woman’s fiery eyes burned through the shadows nonetheless. “What part of ‘don’t come back again’ is so hard for you to understand?”
The part that entails leaving children to starve in the woods. But if she ever hoped to return, she dare not speak the words. She made a show of glancing around the windowless cabin instead.
The squat little building was only about fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet long. Nestled into a grove of pine trees, she would have missed it entirely two weeks ago when she’d been searching for the hidden meadow where she’d played with her sister when they were girls. The sound of a child crying that day had caused her to look more closely at the thatch of trees.
Lindy glanced at the corner of the shack where a pile of freshly picked thimble berries lay on an old apron. Outside of those and the rabbit that had been strung up outside, there wasn’t any other food.
“So you don’t need the bread?” Maybe if Jenny admitted her predicament aloud, she’d find some sense and take help—and maybe the harbor would freeze in August too. “I don’t see any more food than I did last week. Or perhaps you found a job?”
Jenny crossed her arms over her boney chest. “I told you before. I don’t need a job, I don’t need your help, and I certainly don’t need your charity. What I need is for you to leave us alone.”
Jenny spun on her heel, though where she planned to storm off to in the tiny cabin, Lindy didn’t know. There was barely room to sleep the four O’Byrne children on the floor. The cabin’s only amenity was a potbelly stove, one so old it was starting to rust. The building was probably used as a trapping cabin in the winter, and as soon as the weather turned cold, some backwoodsman would find the O’Byrnes and kick them out.
“Caught another rabbit, Jenny. It’s hanging outside.” Jack O’Byrne stomped into the cabin and blinked, likely letting his eyes adjust to the dimness. He paused when his gaze landed on Lindy, and then he smiled. “Miss Lindy, you’re back!”
He didn’t quite run to her and offer a hug, not like the two younger ones had done last week, but the look on his face was still worth the two mile hike from Eagle Harbor.
“I brought bread.” She raised the sack Jenny didn’t want, then nodded toward the second sack on the table. “And ingredients to make more once it’s gone.”
“Did you hear that, Jenny? We can have bread now.” He took the sack from her hand and patted his stomach, the grin on his face growing wider. “Don’t suppose you brought jam? Or maybe some butter?”
“Jack O’Byrne!” Jenny spun around. “How dare you? You know what Pa would say.”
“He’s not here, is he? And unlike you, not all of us enjoy eating broth with nothing but leeks and fiddlehead ferns for three meals a day.”
Jenny planted her hands on hips so slender they nearly disappeared in the folds of her faded gown. “We have thimbleberries too.”
“Right. Can’t forget those. They go so well with the handful of leeks and ferns in our water.” Jack turned back to Lindy, his brow furrowed. “What about salt? Can you bring salt next week? Reckon the broth would taste better with some salt.”
“She most certainly cannot, because she’s not coming back next week, or ever again.” Jenny stomped her foot on the floor. Except her foot didn’t quite stop at the floor. It went clear through the old board, causing the wood to splinter and crack. Jenny jabbed a finger at her brother. “Look what you’ve done. And don’t think this isn’t your fault. If you would mind me like Pa said, none of this would have happened.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Sure, Jenny. My fault.”
“What’s Jenny yelling about?” Alice poked her head into the cabin. “Did you tell her about the rabbit that got away?” The girl blinked much as her brother had as she stepped inside. “Oh, Miss Lindy is here!”
She ran across the cabin and threw her little body against Lindy’s legs.
“Alice, don’t tell me you left Oliver outside, again.” Jenny flew toward the door, shouting something about the young girl needing to do a better job of watching her brother as she raced outside.
Alice only clung tighter to Lindy’s legs.
“There, there.” Lindy patted the top of the child’s dark head. “If I were you, I’d have trouble watching Oliver too. Boys like to run around so much it’s hard to keep track of them.”
Alice turned her watery eyes up toward Lindy, her lip protruding in a darling little pout. “He doesn’t listen.”
What toddler did? Especially to a sister only a couple years older than him? “I’m sure you do your best.”
“If only that were good enough for Jenny.” Jack took the bread out of the sack, set it on the table, and removed the knife from the sheath on his belt before cutting himself a slice.
Jack and Jenny’s dark hair and eyes might have made them siblings, but the two couldn’t act more differently. Jenny was always nervous and stomping about, while Jack was calm and comfortable, his eyes dancing and his lips inching up into a smile of one sort or another. If the boy attended school, he’d probably be everyone’s first choice to play with at recess—even the girls’.
“Do you have time to play?” Alice tugged her toward a ragdoll lying on the pile of blankets in the corner.
“Of course.” She couldn’t think of a better way to spend her afternoon, plus sitting would give her lungs more chance to rest before she returned home. “What’s your doll’s name?”
“It’s Molly.” Alice plopped onto the blanket and picked up the doll. “One day Jenny will make me another dolly so Molly has a friend, but she’s too busy now.”
“She’s always too busy.” Jack spoke around a mouth filled with bread.
Stomping sounded on the path outside, then Jenny rushed back into the cabin, a toddler clamped to her slender hip. “He was trying to eat a rock. How many times have I told you to keep him away from rocks, Alice!”
Jenny was nearly screeching now, her voice so shrill Lindy half expected the beams above them to give way and the roof to crash down on their heads.
“She’s five.” Jack dropped his knife back into its sheath. “You couldn’t keep me out of trouble when I was little, and you were six years older than me.”
“Don’t you sass me, Jack Andrew. Things are different now than they were when Ma was alive.”
Lindy looked between the brother and sister, then sighed. Was Jenny always this agitated, or was it worse because she was here? She truly did want to play with Alice, talk to Jack for a while, and give her lungs more of a rest. But maybe she should do as Jenny said and leave.
“I’ll sass you if I wanna sass you.” Jack glowered at his sister. “You ain’t Ma, Jenny.”
“If you think for one moment that—”
“I need to get going,” Lindy shouted over Jenny. “Want to be home before dark.” And she’d spend the entire walk home praying Jenny would calm down and start thinking reasonably.
“Don’t go.” Alice jumped up from the blanket and hugged her arm, but at least Jack and Jenny had stopped arguing. “You said you were going to play with Molly and me.”
“Can’t she stay for dinner, Jenny? We’ve got two rabbits plus bread. There should be enough for her.” Jack gestured toward the door where the rabbits hung outside.
Under normal circumstances, that would have been perfect. If she rested until after dinner, she’d be able to get down the hill without a breathing attack—not something she could guarantee if she left now.
“I’ve got dinner waiting for me back home.” It was a lie, but she’d tell it again rather than ask the children to share their tiny portions of meat with her. Her pa had been able to eat a whole rabbit by himself when he was alive.
Jack shoved a thatch of dark hair off his forehead and turned to her. “At least promise you’ll be back next week.”
Lindy opened her mouth to answer, but Jenny was quicker.
“No. So say goodbye now and be done with it.” Jenny picked up a rusted knife hanging on a peg and tromped outside with Oliver still on her hip.
Jack scowled after his sister before picking up another slice of bread and turning back to her. “Can we walk with you for a while? Must be boring going all that way by yourself.”
“I want to go for a walk!” Alice tugged on her skirt.
Lindy rested her hand on the girl’s head. “As long as it’s all right with your sister.”
Jack grabbed another piece of bread off the table. “Better not to ask. She’ll say no to anything fun.”
“Come on.” Alice tugged on her hand, and she followed the girl outside, where the shaded path seemed overly bright after standing in the cabin.
“Where are you going?” Jenny scowled at them from where she sat on a stump skinning one of the rabbits. Oliver kneeled on the ground a few feet away, playing with animals that had been whittled from wood.
“We’re walking to the meadow with Lindy. We’re allowed to go that far, remember?” Jack turned his back on his older sister and stuffed half his piece of bread in his mouth as he tromped down the rocky path ahead of them.
“Don’t go into the meadow!” Jenny called.
“We used to be able to play in the meadow.” Alice repositioned her sweaty little fingers around Lindy’s hand and pulled her down the hill.
She let the girl set the pace, even though her lungs were burning once more. She could always stop and rest on the other side of the meadow before continuing home by herself.
“But Jenny won’t let us play there no more, cuz somebody might see.” Alice looked up at her with her pouty lip poking out again.
“Nobody’s gonna see nothing.” Jack held a sapling branch out of the way. “Jenny’s just being obstinate.”
Yes, obstinate was a good word for Jenny, but why couldn’t the O’Byrne children be seen by anyone? And why was Jenny so adamant she not return?
She didn’t need to be a Pinkerton agent to know O’Byrne wasn’t their real last name. That much had been apparent only a few minutes after she’d stumbled upon Alice crying over her skinned knee two weeks ago and heard the Cornish accent in the girl’s words. Plus half the Cornish that came to America were named either Jack or Jenny.
But if the Irish-sounding O’Byrne wasn’t their surname, what was? Why did that and their heritage need to be hidden? And perhaps the most pressing question of all, where was the father they talked about?
If people in Eagle Harbor knew how the O’Byrnes were living, they’d help. Women in town could make meals, and she’d guarantee Elijah and Victoria Cummings would open their home to the children.
But she could only imagine what would happen if she returned next week with Elijah and Victoria. Jenny would still refuse help, then as soon as they were gone, she’d pack up her siblings and their few belongings and leave without a word to anyone. At least with how things were now, she could help a little.
But could she help enough?
“Here we are.” Jack slung his hands on his hips and surveyed the meadow as keenly as a fifty-year-old backwoodsman. “I wish we could go with you. I’d be bored hiking all the way to town by myself.”
“Actually, I find the walks rather pleasant.” It was the tightening in her lungs and the short breaths that she minded. Oh, to be young again and race through these trees, to draw in a lungful of clean air and laugh without being short on wind. She closed her eyes and tilted her face up toward the sky, sighing as the warm rays of late summer touched her skin.
“You’re going to come back, aren’t you?” Alice pulled on her dress.
“Please come back, Miss Lindy.” Jack scuffed a bare toe into the dirt beneath him. “Jenny, well, she don’t know what she’s saying all the way. She thinks we can handle everything on our own, but it’s not wrong to want some salt, is it?”
Her throat grew as tight as her lungs. She’d been living in her own dilapidated shack with little food not all that long ago. “It’s not wrong, Jack. I promise it’s not. I’m honored to help you.”
And she was. People had helped her leave that shack in Chicago behind. It only seemed right that she repay the debt by aiding others in need.
She might have little to look forward to in her own life, but Jack O’Byrne wanted jam, butter, and salt. She’d buy those things and bring them back next week, even if doing so meant she ended up eating leek broth for a week herself.
And she’d do the same thing the week after that, and the one after that, and after that, and after that. Until their father came back and the children were better cared for.
She sucked a small breath into her tight lungs.
Now if only her health would last until Mr. O’Byrne returned.
How she wished her lungs were stronger.
Lindy plucked a box of salt off the shelf of the mercantile and surveyed the sacks of flour on the shelf below. If Jenny had made bread every day, then the flour she’d taken to the O’Byrnes last week would be about gone. But with rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, butter, jam, and a ragdoll at home waiting to be taken to the cabin, plus the salt in her hand, her lungs would be struggling for breath before she even reached the halfway point of the hike, and that was on a good day.
Her breaths were already short today, her lungs tight against the air she tried to draw in, never mind she’d done nothing more than walk from her room above the bakery to the mercantile. If her lungs gave her the same trouble tomorrow, she’d be lucky to get to the O’Byrne’s without collapsing.
She pursed her lips and fiddled with the rolled top on the smallest package of flour available. She should buy it. What did it matter if it took her half a day to walk to the cabin? There were four people up there who needed food, and her lungs were going to protest no matter what she carried.
Why me, God? Maybe Aileen should have found the O’Byrnes, or Victoria. They can walk to the cabin without trouble.
But for some reason, God had given this task to her. Besides, it wouldn’t last forever, just until the O’Byrne’s father returned.
And how long would that be? It hadn’t sounded like Jenny and Jack expected him soon.
“Lindy, I’m so glad I caught you.”
Lindy left the flour in its place and turned to find the town seamstress coming down the aisle, the basket on her arm already laden with foodstuffs.
“I’m sorry I missed you when you dropped off the mending this morning. I’d promised to take the girls for a walk.”
“It was fun.” The blonde girl clinging to Jessalyn Dowrick’s skirt gave a firm nod of her head, then stuck her thumb in her mouth and sucked.
Lindy grinned down at the youngest of Jessalyn’s three girls. What was her name? Claire? Or was it Megan? Maybe Olivia? Since they all had their mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes, it was impossible to keep them straight. “I’m glad you had fun.”
The thumb came out for a moment. “Mama says we can go again tomorrow.” The thumb went right back between her rosy little lips.
“I have more mending, if you’re able to take it. Do you think you could have three shirts finished by tomorrow?” Jessalyn smiled apologetically and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “If you don’t mind the rush, that is.”
Mind the rush? She wasn’t going to complain about work that would give her money to buy things for the O’Byrnes. “I should be able to finish three shirts tonight, yes.”
“Excuse me. I need to get to the flour.”
Lindy turned to find three sailors standing behind her and stepped to the other side of the aisle. “I’m sorry for blocking your way.”
“No worries, miss.” The sailors each hefted a fifty pound sack over their shoulders and carried them toward the counter at the back of the mercantile.
“You’re an absolute angel, Lindy.” Jessalyn rested a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know what I’d do without your help.”
“Mama, I want candy.” A towheaded little girl who looked to be about Alice’s age came up and tugged on Jessalyn’s skirt.
Jessalyn didn’t even glance at her daughter. “Can you walk back to the shop with me? Just let me pay for my things. Oh, and this.” She plucked the salt from Lindy’s hand. “Consider it a bonus for getting the clothes you dropped off this morning done in only two days’ time.”
“Not now, Claire.” Jessalyn still didn’t look at her daughter. “Remember how you’re working on not interrupting Mama while she’s talking?”
“I want candy!” The smile left the girl’s face, and her sweet little features contorted with temper. “The pink ones at the top.” She jabbed a finger toward the top shelf along the side of the mercantile, where Mr. Foley apparently kept the extra stores of candy that weren’t displayed by the counter.
“That may be, but that still doesn’t excuse your behavior.”
Claire stomped off, her hands clenched into fists and her jaw set.
Jessalyn blew out a breath. “I’m sorry. She’s been going through a spell lately, and I’ve been so busy with the shop that I haven’t done a good job of addressing it.” Her shoulders sagged. “I try to keep reminding myself that they’ll be grown, and I’ll miss all this one day.”
Yes, one day the girls would be grown, and who knew where they’d be or what they’d be doing. She’d had dreams of her own when she’d been a little older than Claire, her list of things that were supposed to happen.
One day I’ll be a midwife like my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother.
One day I’ll have a husband to love me.
One day I’ll have children.
Instead that list had changed into one day I’ll have a job and rent my own room, and if I’m lucky, my lungs might last long enough that I’ll live to watch someone else’s children grow up.
Jessalyn snatched a jar of beets off the shelf. “It will only take a minute to pay for my things. Then we’ll head back to my shop.”
Lindy shoved away the dark thoughts, then grabbed the package of flour she’d fiddled with earlier.
Instead of thinking about all the things she would or wouldn’t do in the future, she’d concentrate on one day at a time. Today was about the O’Byrnes, and tomorrow would be about getting to their cabin. After that, well…
God, please let their father return home soon. Please let my health last until I see those children cared for.
“Let me get that too.” Jessalyn took the flour from her hands and added it to her basket. “You deserve something extra for all the work you’ve done.”
“No, I can…”
Without waiting to listen, Jessalyn spun on her heel and made a beeline toward the counter at the back of the mercantile.
“Ma!” Another towheaded girl, this one with a bandage covering her ear, ran up the aisle while pointing toward the side wall. “Claire’s climbing the shelf!”
Lindy turned to see Claire standing on the second shelf from the top and straining toward the jar of pink candy.
“Claire, no!” She raced toward the child and stood on her tiptoes, arms extended to reach her, but she fell about three feet short. Pulling her skirt back, she tested her weight on the first shelf.
“Claire! What are you doing?” Jessalyn’s panicked voice rose over the thudding of numerous footsteps rushing toward the shelf.
She stepped onto the second shelf, which didn’t wobble even slightly beneath her weight, but she still had one more shelf to climb if she was going to get the scamp.
“Do you have her?” a male voice asked from behind.
“Want me to do that?” said another man.
“I’ll get her.” It was kind of the men to offer help, but why leave the girl on the shelf a moment longer than necessary? She drew in a small breath against her protesting lungs, then stepped onto the third shelf. Finding a good grip on one of the higher shelves with her left hand, she reached for the child with her right.
“All right, Claire. Down you go.” She hooked her arm around the girl’s waist and pulled her from her perch.
Claire let out an ear-piercing scream and kicked. “I want my candy! I want my candy!”
“Claire, hush!” Jessalyn’s sharp voice silenced the child, and Lindy looked down to find Jessalyn reaching for her daughter while a dozen or so shoppers formed a crowd around her.
Lindy leaned down to hand Claire over, but Claire arched her back and let out another wail.
Her foot slipped, so she pushed the girl toward her mother, but didn’t have time to catch a shelf before careening downward. She shoved her hands out to brace for the worst of the fall.
“Ahhhhh!” She rolled onto her back and clutched her hand to her chest. Pain seared through her pinky and radiated up her arm.
“Quick, send for the doctor.”
“I saw Dr. Harrington on the street just a few minutes ago.”
“Lindy, oh, Lindy! I’m so sorry.” Jessalyn knelt beside her, the other woman’s voice more full of panic.
She glanced down at her hand, which was streaked with blood, but that wasn’t nearly as appalling as the way her pinky was bent at a grotesque angle—and the white spike of bone protruding from the wound.
She attempted to draw another breath, but her lungs refused. Not now! Oh, why must her lungs constantly fail her?
“Mama, what’s wrong with her hand?”
“Get the girls away.” Lindy barely recognized the sound of her wheezy, panicked voice.
“I’m not leaving, not when this is all my fault.” Jessalyn’s pale face was stretched tight with worry.
“Lindy’s right, dear.” Mrs. Foley, the proprietress of the Foley-Smith General Store, knelt beside them and rested a hand on Jessalyn’s arm. “You take the girls away, and I’ll stay with Lindy here.”
Jessalyn glanced between the two of them. “But…”
“Go.” Lindy forced a strength she didn’t feel into the word.
“Mama!” A young voice cried, probably Jessalyn’s smallest daughter.
“Ah, Mrs. Dowrick?” a man spoke. “One of your daughters just ran out of the store, crying.”
Jessalyn stiffened at that, then shoved to her feet. “I’m sorry I can’t stay, Lindy.” And then she was gone.
Lindy turned her head to the side and let out a whimper.
“There, there.” Mrs. Foley patted her shoulder. “Mr. Foley left for the doctor as soon as you fell. He’ll be here any moment.”
“No.” She clutched her hand to her chest, causing another bout of pain to course up her arm. “No doctor.”
The bell at the front of the store jingled, and she drew herself up against the shelf of canned goods.
“Is that Dr. Harrington? Let him through.” Mrs. Foley made a shooing motion with her hands, and the crowd shuffled into a different position around her.
“Heard somebody needed a doctor.”
Lindy’s lungs grew even tighter. It had been five years since she’d heard that voice, yet she’d never forget it, nor would she forget the hundreds of dollars her father had paid that man for medicine to heal her mother—medicine that never worked.
“No doctor,” she said again, louder this time.
“Now, now, there’s no reason to be afraid.” Mrs. Foley patted her shoulder a second time, as though the simple action would help. “That finger needs to be tended.”
Tears blurred her vision, and she struggled for a breath that her lungs refused to draw. “You’re not listening to me. I said no doctor.”
Dirty brown shoes appeared at her side, then Dr. Greely squatted beside her, his position itself a near miracle considering the large girth he carried about his midsection. He surveyed her hand for only a moment.
“No point setting that.” His knees popped as he rose to his feet. “Needs to be amputated. You men there, carry her to my office.”
“No!” She squealed as people shifted around her and two men from the group of onlookers stepped forward.
The bell on the door clamored wildly.
“I heard Lindy fell?” Victoria Cummings’s voice echoed through the store. “Is it true? Is Lindy hurt?”
Footsteps scurried across the floor, only to stop when Victoria reached her side. “Lindy! Oh my dear. Just w-wait a moment, and we’ll g-get you some help.”
A flurry of pearl earbobs and necklace blurred with the yellow silk of Victoria’s elegant gown above Lindy’s head. But the woman didn’t think anything of kneeling on the floor in the place Mrs. Foley had just vacated, never mind how soiled her dress would get.
“Don’t want help.” At least not the type Dr. Greely would give. “Just want to go home.” She winced as another bout of pain flashed up her arm, and tried to suck in another pitifully small breath. “Make it stop hurting.”
“I’ll make it stop hurting soon enough,” Dr. Greely boomed. “Now move aside, Mrs. Cummings, so these men can carry her to my office.”
“Don’t let him touch me.” She met Victoria’s gaze, or tried to. But things were starting to blur and her lungs still struggled for air. “He wants to cut it…” And then she started coughing, great noisy coughs that wracked her body and caused more pain to shoot from her pinky.
A hand stroked hair back from her face. “Calm down, Lindy. It will be all right.”
But it wouldn’t be all right. Because she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs, and she couldn’t stop coughing. And as much as she never wanted to see a doctor again, her finger really did need medical care, which meant she was going to have to let a doctor examine her, and she’d be lucky if she came out of it with only an amputated finger.
Tears swam before her eyes, blurring her vision even more than the pain.
“Has anyone sent for D-Dr. Harrington?” Victoria asked, though Lindy struggled to hear her voice through her coughing. “He’s quite proficient at setting bones.”
“It’s folly trying to set something like that.” Dr. Greely’s filthy shoes appeared at her side once more. “Infection will set in and she’ll end up losing her whole hand.”
“No!” Lindy pressed her injured hand harder against her chest, covering it with her good one as more coughing shook her. Then her world went dark.
He walked in on chaos. Utter and complete chaos.
“That’s where she fell.” Mr. Foley pointed to a crowded side aisle where two people shouted at each other. “I knew we were in trouble when I heard her scream, but when I saw the bone sticking out of her finger, I went running for you. You healed up a break like that for Victoria Cummings’s father, didn’t you?”
Dr. Seth Harrington gave a quick nod. He had indeed set a compound fracture for Edward Donnelly earlier that spring, though that had been a break to the tibia rather than a phalanx.
Leaving Mr. Foley at the back of the crowd, he edged his way through the group of people that had closed in around a woman lying on the floor, apparently unconscious from the pain of a break to her pinky. Dr. Greely and Victoria Cummings stood above her, shouting at each other.
Another time, another place, and he would give half an ear to the argument while he worked, but not if the break was as bad as Mr. Foley claimed. As to Dr. Greely arriving first but arguing rather than trying to get a splint around the broken finger, well, the onlookers could draw their own conclusions about the other man’s doctoring.
Opening his medical bag, Seth dropped to his knees beside the woman—Miss Lindy Marsden, if he was remembering correctly. He gently lifted a blood-covered hand from her chest, then winced when he saw what lay underneath. Mr. Foley hadn’t been lying about the severe break that left the phalanx protruding from the wound and her pinky bent at cruel angle.
Images flooded his mind, bloody limbs and stumps, men moaning in pain, blood soaking their uniforms until he didn’t know whether the color was blue or gray, Union or Confederate. As a ten-year-old boy watching the injured who’d been brought to his family’s farm after the Battle of Antietam, he’d been helpless to stop the suffering.
He blinked the memories away and took her injured hand in his, but she didn’t so much as whimper. Hopefully she’d stay unconscious for another minute or two.
He probed the break until he knew exactly how he needed to pull the bone—something he wasn’t helpless to fix these days.
He took a flask from his pocket and gripped her hand firmly before he poured the whiskey onto her finger. He half expected her eyes to spring open and a scream to loose from her throat. Then he’d need to go through the hassle of either having men hold her or giving her something to dull the pain before he set her finger. But she merely whimpered and coughed, her eyes staying shut.
He probed the injury once more. The voices around him faded, as did the people surrounding them and the shelf behind her, until he saw nothing but Miss Marsden’s smallest finger.
He sucked in a breath.
Then he yanked.
Miss Marsden’s eyes sprang open and she loosed a scream similar to those he’d heard after Antietam.
She tried to pull her hand away, but he kept his grip firm. “Be still now, lest you bump your finger and I need to reset it.”
“I said no doctors,” she heaved through what had to be excruciating pain, but though her chest rose as if she gulped air, she only inhaled small breaths.
He reached into his bag for a bandage and the splint he’d brought when Mr. Foley had burst into his office and explained the injury. “Think of me as a peddler then, one good at setting bones.”
She didn’t smile or even attempt a laugh.
He wrapped the injury to keep it clean until he could stitch it. He then lay the slim wooden splint against the underside of her pinky.
“C-can I do anything to help?”
He sensed Victoria’s presence beside him, but he kept his gaze focused on Miss Marsden’s finger as he tied thin strips of leather around the splint. “You’ll find laudanum in the second pocket of my bag. She needs a few drops on her tongue.”
“No, just bandage it and…” Miss Marsden started coughing, her hand shaking with the coughs.
Drat! He gripped the flat of her hand so tightly she might find bruises come morning. At least he’d gotten the splint on before she started coughing, but he didn’t care for how much the coughs caused her hand to jerk.
As quickly as the coughing started, it stopped, leaving the lady unconscious once more. He frowned. Unconsciousness after a coughing spell? He’d need to take a closer look at her lungs once he got her to his office. The woman might have tuberculosis.
“I suppose we d-don’t need the laudanum now?” Victoria asked.
“Best give it to her anyway. I don’t want her waking up and jarring the set.”
Victoria did just as he instructed, dabbing the laudanum onto Miss Marsden’s tongue as though she were an experienced nurse—one he was in desperate need of hiring.
He ran his gaze briefly down Miss Marsden, looking for anything that might be amiss before he moved her. She wasn’t coughing anymore, but her breathing was far too rapid. Did he have any Dover’s Powder in his bag?
No, he’d given the last of it to Mrs. Ranulfson this morning and needed to go back to his office for more, which was just as well, because he still needed to stitch her wound and then bandage her pinky to her fourth finger.
“Can you carry my bag?” he asked Victoria.
He stood and scooped Miss Marsden up in his arms, then stilled. Since when had the crowd become so quiet? Since when had Dr. Greely and Victoria stopped arguing? Since when had others come into the store so that the path to the door was completely filled with people?
Heat crept up the back of his neck as he glanced around at the onlookers, every one of which seemed to be staring at him and Miss Marsden.
“Now just a minute.” Greely stepped in front of him, his breath laced with liquor even though he wasn’t necessarily drunk. Given the amount of spirits the man regularly consumed, his breath always reeked. “Where are you taking her?”
“To my office. I need to stitch her wound and give her something to ease her breathing.”
“I arrived on site first, which means she’s my patient, not yours. If you stitch her yourself rather than take her to my office, you’ll get no payment for the work you’ve done.”
When Seth had first started practicing in Eagle Harbor, he’d have laughed at the ridiculousness of Dr. Greely’s claim. But now he knew all too well that Dr. Greely was serious. Never mind that he’d argued rather than helped Miss Marsden.
“He wanted to amputate her p-p-pinky!” Victoria raised her chin and glared at Dr. Greely, her dark eyes flashing. “He said the break was too bad to fix and that infection would set in if you tried resetting the bone.”
Was that what they’d been arguing about when he arrived?
“And it will!” Greely’s flabby face turned red, his jowls jiggling with indignation. “I don’t want to hear any wailing when I have to amputate her entire hand next week.”
A hush fell over the crowd, expectant gazes blinking as people looked between the two of them. He could almost hear their thoughts.
Didn’t Dr. Harrington fix a bad break for Victoria’s father earlier this year?
Maybe, but Greely’s been doctoring in Eagle Harbor ever since the town was founded.
Do you really trust the word of an outsider more than Dr. Greely’s?
Might depend on how drunk Doc Greely is.
And on the debate would go. He’d grown entirely too familiar with the argument over the past two years.
“You won’t need to amputate anything.” He spoke loudly enough for the crowd to hear, then met Dr. Greely’s bloodshot eyes. “As long as she keeps the wound clean, it won’t become infected, just like Victoria’s father’s leg never became infected after I set his compound fracture. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a patient to tend.”
The other doctor planted himself more firmly in the middle of the aisle, his wide midsection making it impossible to move around him without jostling Miss Marsden.
Seth could bark at him to move or launch a string of insults. Indeed, part of him wanted to—a part his genteel Southern mother would be horrified to know existed. Instead he turned, walking to the back of the store and around the aisle before heading back to the door. Victoria trailed behind him while Dr. Greely sputtered a string of insults about young know-nothing doctors stealing his patients.
He stepped out into the afternoon sun, still hot with the warmth of summer and headed down the street. To his left, the harbor glistened in the afternoon sun, and a warm breeze wafted across Lake Superior lying to their north. Another day, and he’d stop and take in the scene, so very different from the rolling fields he’d left behind at his family home in Maryland, and the salty air and tempestuous ocean he’d seen so often while working as a doctor in Massachusetts. But today he quickened his pace, drawing Miss Marsden closer to his chest lest he jostle her more than necessary.
With her delicate face and golden lashes she looked almost like one of the Bisque dolls from Germany sitting in his mother’s cabinet—and felt as light as one.
“Miss Marsden lives with you, does she not?” He asked Victoria as they moved aside so a wagon laden with produce for the summer market could pass.
“She did, up until a few d-days ago. Lindy and Aileen Brogan are renting rooms above the bakery now.” Victoria bustled along beside him, her silky skirt and pearl earbobs something he’d be much more apt to see in Boston than the rugged town of Eagle Harbor.
“Does she eat well?”
Victoria stumbled over her skirts, causing him to pause for a moment. When she looked up at him, her brow was furrowed and her eyes upset. “Elijah and I f-f-fed her very well while she was staying with us, if th-that’s what you’re asking.”
Oh, drat. He’d become a doctor and not an orator for a reason. “I didn’t mean to imply you were doing anything wrong, but she should weigh more.”
Maybe she did have tuberculosis. It was known as the wasting disease for a reason.
Victoria resumed her walking, pulling her skirt up just a bit. “When Rebekah brought Lindy and Aileen to us from Chicago a month ago, she’d mentioned Lindy had recently recovered from being quite sick. I really don’t know more than that, but if anything, she’s filled out since she’s been staying with us.”
Ah, yes. Rebekah Cummings had mentioned something about him needing to examine one of her friends with a cough when he’d courted her. He’d tried to check on Miss Marsden, but she had always seemed to disappear whenever he’d called on Rebekah. Then after Rebekah left to marry Gilbert Sinclair, he’d forgotten all about Miss Marsden. He couldn’t quite blame his forgetfulness on a broken heart—hadn’t cultivated that depth of feeling for Rebekah quite yet—but something still felt broken inside him, even if he couldn’t quite name what it was.
He headed up the log steps to his office and glanced down at the limp woman in his arms once more. If this was what she weighed after putting on a few pounds, he shouldn’t have allowed himself to forget about her.