Be Careful What You Wish For–Part 5

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Tuesday, September 1
Day 6

 

The next morning after breakfast, Josie offered to sing the children to sleep once again, and once again Tim had found himself nearly falling asleep himself. He was nodding in his none-too-comfortable chair when Josie’s voice whispered in his ear, “Tim? Everybody’s asleep already. Why don’t you go lie down in Sandy’s room, get some rest as well.” Her voice was sympathetic.

“What of you?” he’d asked, even as he struggled to his feet.

She’d shrugged and taken her own chair, picking up her knitting as she did. “Since you’ve taken all the night watches, I’ve been getting a fair amount of sleep. Go ahead—we’ll be fine here.”

He’d thanked her profusely and wandered across the hall to collapse on Sandy’s bed. It was nice to lie there and know he did not have to worry that his patients needed him. Strangely though, he couldn’t fall asleep. Idiot, he told himself. Sleep now while you have the chance.

But he didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to talk to Josie some more.

He lay there a while longer before giving up the struggle and making his way back to the sickroom. All was quiet there except the rhythmic clicking of Josie’s knitting needles. She looked up with a small smile at his entrance.

“Couldn’t sleep in the middle of the day?”

“Something like that.” He cleared his throat nervously. “So what is it that you’ve been working on so diligently?”

“Socks,” she said, her smile becoming wry. “I volunteered to help Mama because she hates knitting, and Will supposedly needs a dozen pairs a semester. I’m not sure if he’s wearing them or eating them.”

He snickered at her comment before seating himself and asking hesitantly, “Can you do that and talk at the same time?”

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I wondered if you would mind talking to me?” He felt unusually shy asking such a thing of her.

“Me? Why do you want to talk to me?”

Because I’m discovering there’s a lot more depth to your character than I originally believed, and I’d like to learn more about you, was what he thought. But he couldn’t very well tell her that.

“Because I’m bored?” he lied blithely. “I can’t bring any books in here for fear of contamination. I have no hand-work as you do to keep my mind busy with. My patients are all asleep. But I’m sitting here with a woman who has a reputation for being an excellent conversationalist, and I had hoped she wouldn’t mind alleviating my boredom for a time.”

She laughed, a delightfully musical sound. “That’s probably the easiest thing you’ve requested of me since this whole mess began.” Her beautiful smile reappeared. “So what would you like to talk about?”

“Lady’s choice.”

 

Lady’s choice. Mercy, what would be a safe subject to discuss? was Josie’s hazy thought. Though she’d insisted she’d gotten enough sleep, she was exhausted, and as yesterday had shown, she truly was too tired to watch what she said as carefully as she usually did. On the other hand, she was beginning to realize that she wanted to get to know Tim Scott better. I’ve known you my entire life, yet I barely know you at all.

So keep the conversation focused on him, and you should be safe, she told herself.

Cocking her head to one side, she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you speak of what inspired you to become a doctor. Why don’t you tell me about that.”

He leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him. “It wasn’t so much a what as a who,” he told her with a smile. “Your mother inspired me.”

“Mama? How so?”

His shirtsleeves were rolled up over unexpectedly muscular forearms and he fingered a jagged scar that ran along the inside of his right arm. “Shortly before I turned five, I fell and broke my arm, rather badly[1]. Both bones broken. Compound fracture. You can see here where the radius broke through. According to Mother, had the doctor been available, he would have amputated it. But instead your mother came and cared for me.

“She was at our house, nearly every day. Not only did she manage to save my arm, she also spent a lot of time answering my unending stream of questions. Every little thing she did, I wanted to know the hows and whys of. She eventually explained that she was a Healer, so she could do some things that doctors could not. That depressed me, until she said, “Some of the best doctors are not Healers. You’re a smart young man, Timothy Scott, and if you study hard and learn as much as you can, you won’t need a Healing Gift to be just as good as me.’ And I believed her.

“I had always had an interest in medical matters, but after that I was determined to become a doctor. Providence seemed to agree with my plans when my sister married poor Dr. Phelps. I started accompanying him on rounds when I was twelve. I worked with him for over seven years before going to medical school in Boston. That was in ’78.”

“I remember that,” she said slowly. “Mama insisted we come up here for your going-away party. And then there was another party, a couple years later, wasn’t there? It was late spring. Was that for your graduation?” Josie had a vivid memory of that last celebration. She’d turned thirteen that February, and Papa had allowed her to stay up dancing for a good portion of the night. I danced with you that night as well, she thought at the man sitting across from her. I wore a pale pink dress, with cream trim and silver embroidery. You told me I danced like a cherry blossom on the wind. Do you remember that? It was still one of her favorite compliments ever.

“Graduation, and a bon voyage get-together before I left to study in Europe.”

She unconsciously leaned forward in her chair. “Europe? You studied in Europe?” How did I not know that? “Where?”

“I started out in London, just to get accustomed to the Old World in a country where I at least spoke the language, but I spent the rest of my time in Paris. Oh, except those four months I was in Vienna.”

She couldn’t keep the enthusiasm from her voice. “You’ve been to London? And Paris? And Vienna? Oh, you lucky, lucky man! Did you . . . did you ever go to any balls?” Immediately she felt herself flush warm. He was a doctor—what would he be doing at parties and galas?

He didn’t scoff at her though, and that familiar teasing twinkle had finally made it reappearance. “I’ve been to more than a few,” he told her, a smile lurking about his lips. “I didn’t spend all my time in dark lecture halls and cold dissection rooms, you know.” Then, echoing her words to him a few days ago, he added, “Just because I seem serious and quiet most of the time doesn’t mean I am incapable of laughing and having fun.”

She felt her face grow warm. And once again I have misjudged you.

She hurried to pick up the thread of conversation once more, giving him an encouraging little smile as she begged, “Oh, do tell me a story, then. An amusing anecdote of your adventures in the parlors and ballrooms of Europe.”

He proceeded to spin a tale that involved an elderly duchess, her equally elderly and overly affectionate dog, and dancing lessons. He was an excellent storyteller, with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor very like her papa’s. Josie found herself giggling throughout his tale, and twice she had to hold in a laugh that might have awoken the sleeping children.

Wiping a stray tear, she informed him wistfully, “Oh, it must have been truly amazing over there.”

“There is indeed much to see and do in Europe, even things that do not involve waltzing with spaniels. However I was very glad to return to America, and even happier to come back home.”

“Why? Why in the world would you want to come back to someplace as dull as Gettysburg?” she asked, frowning slightly. It made no sense to her way of thinking. “Mama’s said more than once that with all the training you have, you could have gotten a position in any number of big cities, made a lot of money.”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t looking to become a wealthy man, and Father made sure I didn’t need to chase after money to live comfortably. What I wanted was to serve the people I knew and cared about, not spend my life as a nursemaid for neurotic dowagers and spoiled misses.” He stood up abruptly. “And speaking of serving, I should look in on my current crop of patients.”

A contented little glow had formed inside her during their conversation, but it faded abruptly at his words. Back to reality, Josie thought wearily, laying her knitting aside and pushing herself to her feet to follow him. Tim turned about at the sound and waved a hand in her direction. “No need for you to get up. This won’t take long.”

He was back in the time it took to knit four more rows on Will’s sock. He settled himself into his chair with a sigh. “Pulses steady, breathing unchanged, and all still sleeping more or less peacefully. Thanks to you. You know, the more I think on it, the more I believe that Leaning Talent of yours is actually incredibly useful.”

Her needles stopped in shock at his words. Useful? Leaning? From the very first time she’d manifested her ability to Lean on others, Josie had been taught to keep her Talent under tight rein, to only use it in the most extreme of emergencies. No one had ever suggested it might be of use in any somewhat normal situations.

But at the moment she didn’t have the time to ponder over the possible implications of his statement. Instead she asked, “Tim? How familiar are you with diphtheria? Have you had it yourself?”

“Trust me, I’m very familiar with this particular demon,” was his flat reply.

“So how are they truly doing? And please don’t try to shelter me from the truth.”

“Sandy, the twins, and Maggie truly are doing well. They’re strong and seem to be fighting it off. The toxin’s progress seems to be halted for the moment.” There was a slight hesitation in his voice as he said it and he shifted uneasily in his chair.

“But not Ellis?”

He sighed. “But not Ellis. I don’t know why it has struck him harder than the others. I suspect it’s because he’s of different genetic stock than the rest of the family. The problem is, while we now know about the toxin that causes this blasted disease, there’s still not a darn thing we can do for its victims except treat their symptoms, and Ellis is just not responding to any of my treatments.” Whereas Mama would have sounded angry as she said it, Tim sounded ashamed, as if it were his fault that her cousin was dying.

Dying. Oh mercy, she’d actually put her fear into words. Ellis was dying, and there seemed to be nothing that could save him.

Oh Mama, hurry home!

 

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[1] An Uncivilized Yankee, Chapter 15. “In For a Penny…”