Mail Order Doctor, page 6
The woman in the letters was wonderful, but the Julia he’d come to know here was better. She was kind, smart and beautiful. She could cook, deliver babies, sew up cuts and help in surgery. Even soothe a frightened five-year-old and her thirty-year-old mother. Julia was a spectacular woman and he knew he was lucky to have her.
But he was digging in his heels, refusing what was offered to him. Why? Stubbornness. Bull-headedness. Whatever you call it, he was being obstinate because she had been foisted on him.
Or was the real reason that he was afraid? Afraid to admit he might be wrong.
* * *
Frantic knocking on the front door of the house woke Julia from her sleep. She lit the lamp on the nightstand and glanced at the clock on the bureau. Eleven o’clock. Had Matthew come home yet? She threw on her robe and slippers.
“Help me, please,” pleaded a man on the other side of the door. “Help me.”
Julia opened the door. How was Matthew supposed to keep office hours if people came whenever? Oh well, there were emergencies that couldn’t be helped.
A man in his late twenties stood there, his hand raised to knock again.
“How can I help you, sir?”
“I want the doctor. My wife is trying to birth our babe but I think she’s dying. You’ve got to get the doc.”
Julia relaxed her stance. “Dr. Reynolds is not here. I’m a midwife and I can try to help your wife with the birth.”
“All right, come on.”
“Let me get dressed and I’ll be right with you. In the mean-time, please save me some time by taking this note to Mr. Ben King up at the hotel. By the time you get back, I’ll be ready. Tell me your name and address.”
“Blaine Carstairs, 243 Yucca Road.”
Julia penned a short missive to Ben King.
I’m going with this man, Blaine Carstairs to his home at 243 Yucca Road to deliver a baby. Matthew is not home. Need your help. Please meet me there.
She folded the note, put it in an envelope and handed it to Carstairs. “Can we walk, do you have a buggy?”
“I got my horse. You’ll have to ride with me.”
“All right. Thank you for telling me.” I have a pair of denim pants for just such occasions.
Blaine took off to the hotel, and Julia ran to her room, taking off her robe and nightgown on the way. She reached her room and grabbed her pants and a chambray shirt from the closet. Thank goodness Lizzie Brandon had made her get a pair of the pants. She’d said they would come in handy in this country.
After Julia dressed, she went to the office and got her medical bag, opened it and made sure it had everything she might need was inside.
Most fathers are nervous, but Mr. Carstairs was frantic. She was afraid something might be wrong with the birth. She went back to the parlor and waited for Mr. Carstairs.
She didn’t have to wait long. There was pounding on the front door. “Mrs. Reynolds!”
“Julia,” called Ben King.
Surprised to hear his deep voice, she opened the door. “Ben I hadn’t expected to see you here. I was just hoping you’d get my note and meet me.”
“Blaine is a customer of mine, and saw me when he came into the hotel. He handed me the note directly. I brought a buggy” he waved his hand toward the street. “You can ride with me and we’ll follow Blaine.”
“Very well. Let’s go Mr. Carstairs. I’ve got everything I need.” Except Matthew. Where are you?
The ride to the Carstairs’ shanty was only ten minutes long. Julia glanced around. She hadn’t been to this part of town before. This was where the miners lived in houses that were little more than shacks. Many of the mining families still survived in tents, until a house became available.
The three of them hurried up the walk to the two room cabin. The front room with a fireplace served as parlor, kitchen and dining room. The bedroom was in the rear.
Julia flung her coat onto one of the straight-backed wooden chairs around the square wooden table and hurried after Blaine. On the bed was a small blonde obviously wracked with pain, her clothes drenched.
Julia went to her immediately.
“Mrs. Carstairs, I’m Julia Reynolds, and I’m here to help you. How long have you been in labor?”
The woman didn’t answer, just squirmed on the bed.
Julia looked up at Blaine. “Does she understand English?”
“Yes ma’am, she’s just in too much pain to speak. She’s been like this for nigh on thirty-six hours.”
My God, the poor woman. “Why wasn’t the doctor called for sooner?”
“We ain’t got no money.”
“That doesn’t matter. Dr. Reynolds never turns away anyone. You must have known that. It’s common knowledge.” This was a reminder why doctors like Matthew were so needed. Money wasn’t everything. She needed to remember that.
“Yes, ma’am.” He looked at his feet. “I was too ashamed to ask for a handout.”
“It’s not a handout when you need help.” She faced this same ridiculous mindset in New York. “Nevermind. I’ll examine your wife now. What is her name?”
“All right, Norma, let’s take a look and see what’s happening with your baby. Can I do that?”
The woman nodded, but still said nothing.
“Norma, it’s all right to scream. It’s normal.”
The young woman’s eyes widened, and she opened her mouth and let loose a scream to shatter glass.
“There, doesn’t that feel better?”
“Yes, ma’am, it does.”
“Good. Now,” Julia looked around at the men. “You may not want to be here for the birth, gentlemen. It’s not pleasant.”
“I’m staying,” said Blaine and moved in to stand by the headboard.
“I’ll wait in the other room. Julia, call me if you need me.”
“I will. Norma, raise your knees and open them wide for me.”
Norma did as requested
Julia bit back a gasp. She saw not the head but a foot showing out of the vagina.
“This baby is breech. I have to turn it so it can be born. Blaine, hold down your wife’s shoulders.”
Blaine held his wife while Julia pushed and prodded the baby back up out of the birth canal and into the uterus. She turned the baby so its head was in the right place.
“Now Norma, I want you to push. Push very hard.”
For the next hour, Norma pushed and rested over and over again.
Finally the baby, a precious little girl, came out into the world.
She was a little blue until Julia cleaned out her mouth and gave her a swat on the butt. Once the baby cried and got air into her lungs, she turned a nice pink color.
“Blaine, I need water and towels. Do you have a baby blanket?”
“Yes.” He left the room and came back with the necessary items. Julia cleaned the infant and wrapped her in the baby blanket that had obviously been made by Norma. She laid the baby on her mother’s chest.
Tears streamed down Norma’s face as she held her daughter.
Blaine came to his wife’s side and stared down at his baby girl.
“What are you naming her?” asked Julia.
“Hope,” said Norma. “We’re naming her Hope. Oh, I don’t feel well. I need you to take Hope, please.”
Julia took the baby and handed her to Blaine. She checked Norma and saw that she was hemorrhaging badly. She pulled extra toweling from her bag, stuffed it in vagina and applied pressure.
“Blaine, I need more towels please. Lay the baby here on the bed. Quickly.”
The knot in Julia’s stomach and the tension in her muscles grew as she changed the towels and continued to apply pressure.
She went back to her bag and got the tincture of shepherd’s purse herb. The remedy was used to stop bleeding after childbirth. She put ten drops under Norma’s tongue. But there was so much blood. The baby had been breech too long and turning he
“I’m sorry,” said Julia. “There is nothing more I can do.”
Blaine looked down at his baby and then at his wife. His eyes were wide and he blinked fast. He picked the baby up off the bed and handed her to Julia. Then he took Norma in his arms. “I’d like to be alone with my wife.”
“I understand.” Julia took the baby and went out into the parlor.
About twenty minutes later, Blaine came out.
“She’s gone. My Norma is gone.” He shouted the last word.
“I’m so sorry.” She wished she’d never have a birth go badly, but breech births were a real problem. She glanced down at the baby, “You still have Hope.”
“You.” He pointed at Julia. “You and that brat killed my Norma. I…” He clenched his fist and moved toward Julia.
Ben stepped in front of her. “Blaine, I think it’s time you left for a while. Cool off. We’ll take the baby and care for her. You come get her when you’re ready to be a father. I’ll let the undertaker know about Norma and see that she gets taken care of.”
Blaine stomped out of the house and slammed the door in his wake.
“Will you cover Norma with the sheet, please?” Julia asked Ben.
She looked around for baby supplies to take along, but didn’t find anything but a couple of little dresses and two shirts, much too big for the baby to wear now.
He was back in a few minutes carrying her medical bag. “Let’s go Julia. There’s nothing more to be done here.”
Hope cried and cried. She was hungry and Julia had nothing to give her.
“What are you doing with the baby?” asked Ben.
“I’m keeping her until Blaine comes to his senses and comes back for her. It’s what we said we’d do.” Julia looked down at the crying baby.
“I made that promise not you,” said Ben.
“If you think I’m giving this baby to anyone but her father, you’re out of your mind.”
“All right. Let’s go. I’ll drop you at home.”
Hope cried until she wore herself out, and then fell into a fitful sleep.
“Do you need me to come in with you?” asked Ben as he helped Julia out of the buggy and up the walk to the door.
“No, I’m fine now.” She turned to him and smiled. “Thank you so much for coming with me tonight. Otherwise, I’m afraid Blaine might have done me harm in his grief.”
“I believe you’re right. I’m glad you called on me. I’m at your service anytime, Julia.”
“Thank you, Ben.”
“Anytime.” He repeated and lowered his head and gave her a kiss that she felt all the way to her toes. Then he walked back to the buggy and drove away.
She should be shocked, outraged even, that he would kiss a married woman, but the whole town knew Matthew was trying to get an annulment. He’d made her a laughing stock. But she would endure. She would outlast Matthew and she would become his wife in fact, not just on paper.
Julia went into the house and shut the door behind her. Careful not to disturb the baby. She set her bag on the floor and turned her back to the room to lock the door.
“About time you got home.” Matthew’s voice came from one of the chairs in the parlor
But he had no lamp lit so she couldn’t see him only shadows from the light shining from the kitchen.
“I had to—”
“Had to what?” he spat. “Meet with Ben King for a liaison?”
Julia said nothing. Guilt passed through her replaced by anger. He brought this situation on, not her.
“Well, are you seeing Ben King or not?”
She bit back a retort and kept her voice low. “Are you through?”
“Then please light a lamp and you’ll see what I’ve been doing all night while you were drinking with your brothers. I can smell you from here.”
Matthew lit the lamp from the end table by his chair and turned to Julia.
“Now—” he stopped. “What have you got in your arms? Is that a baby?”
Hope woke at the loud voices and started to cry.
“Yes. Her name is Hope and she was born tonight. Unfortunately, her mother didn’t live. I couldn’t stop her bleeding.”
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry.” Matthew rose and took her in his arms, careful of the baby.
Julia let the tears flow. Tears for Norma, and Hope, and for herself as well.
She pulled back and sniffled. “I need to heat some milk for her to fill her up and keep her happy.”
“Do you have a bottle?”
“In my bag.” She nodded over her shoulder to the medical bag on the floor behind her. “It’s an older design. I have it for mothers who can’t breastfeed. I never thought I’d have to use it myself, and I wish I didn’t.” She swayed back and forth to soothe the baby. “I hope we can find a wet nurse. Do you think that’s possible?”
“We can put out the word that we’re looking and willing to pay. Some women need the money and will do it. Perhaps several women for different feedings. Then we’d only have to use the bottle at night.”
“We?” She studied his expression. “Are you planning to help me with her?”
“Of course. I can’t let you do everything yourself. It’s been pointed out to me that I treat you like a slave.”
“Your brothers have informed you of this I take it?”
“Yes, they did, in no uncertain terms. Come now, let me have the baby while you fix her bottle. Maybe make her a sugar teat for between feedings. She looks awfully small.”
Julia handed Hope to Matthew.
“Her mother and father are not large people. Her father was only a little taller than I am. Ben saved me from a beating tonight. You should be glad I took him with me.”
“When he watched his wife die, Blaine Carstairs blamed me and this child. The baby was breech and I had to turn her. The procedure, and the fact that she’d been trying to birth a breech baby for thirty-six hours before he came to me, proved too much for her. She hemorrhaged badly and I wasn’t able to stop the bleeding. If Ben hadn’t been there, I think, in his grief over his wife, Mr. Carstairs might have done me harm.”
She worked to control her breathing. This had been too much like the last baby she delivered in New York. That mother had died as well, but that man had other children and took the baby. He didn’t blame Julia, but she, to a certain extent, blamed herself. Looking back to then and to tonight, she realized she had done all she could in both cases. Sometimes all you can do is simply not enough.
“It’s my fault. I should have been here.” Matthew slowly shook his head. “I am so sorry you had to go through that.”
Julia held up her hand. “It’s over now. Let’s just move forward and get her some food.”
They went to the kitchen, Julia carrying the lamp and her doctor bag, and Matthew carrying a crying Hope.
She set the lamp on the table and got the milk from the icebox. After the milk warmed on the stove, she filled the bottle and took Hope from Matthew.
The baby greedily sucked on the nipple and emptied the bottle in no time.
Julia put the baby on her shoulder and burped her.
“Would you get me a wash cloth, please?” she asked Matthew. “She needs diapers.”
“Sure.” He got several of the cloths and some safety pins. “Here you go.”
With practiced moves she put the diapers on the baby and wrapped her back up in the blanket. “I’ll have to go tomorrow and get her more bottles and more milk. As well as flannel for diapers. Do you know of a dress maker that would make her some clothes. I found two dresses and two shirts at the Carstairs that Norma must have made.”
“I’ll go with you.”
She looked at him with an arched eyebrow. “What about your patients?”
“We’ll go first thing. I’ll leave a sign on the door that we’ll back sh
“That’s nice of you, but not necessary.”
“Somebody has to carry all the stuff back. I’ll do that, and you take care of Hope. How long do you think we’ll have her?”
“I don’t know. I’m not giving her to anyone but her father and I don’t know how long he’ll grieve before he realizes Hope is part of his Norma.” She held the baby so she and Matthew could both see her. “That was his wife’s name. Norma.”
“We’ll attach to her, if we haven’t already.” He tickled the little one’s tummy.
Julia nodded and started walking the floor with Hope. She held her and swayed back and forth trying to get her to go to sleep. “Will you empty one of the drawers in my bureau and put a pillow in it. She can sleep in the drawer next to me in my bed. I want to be able to hear her when she wakes.”
“All right. Come show me which drawer.”
They went to Julia’s room. She had him empty the drawer with her under garments in it. He put those on the top of the bureau and took one of her pillows from the bed to pad the drawer. Then Julia put Hope on her back in the makeshift crib set in the middle of the mattress.
“That should do nicely.” Julia turned and headed out of the room toward the kitchen. “I’m making some tea and boiling the bottle for the next feeding which should be in just a couple of hours. Do you want some tea, or perhaps coffee, before bed?”
Matthew followed her. “We need to talk.”
“About what?” Did he see Ben kiss me? What if he did? I didn’t do anything wrong.
“Why you called on Ben King tonight?”
She stopped in the hall outside her bedroom and turned to face him. “What was I supposed to do? You weren’t home, and Ben told me I could contact him anytime if I needed help. Well, I needed help, and I’m very glad he was there.”
“So am I.” He took her by the shoulders, pulled her close. Then he raised her chin with his finger. “So am I.” He lowered his lips to hers.
His lips claimed hers with a ferocity she couldn’t, wouldn’t deny. She’d longed for this. Her body melted against his and she wrapped her arms around his neck. She pressed her tongue against his lips and he opened, his tongue meeting hers, circling, dueling, loving.
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