A Bride in the Bargain Part 44

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"Do you ever sweat at night while you sleep?"

"No."

"Ever experience any fever?"

"No."

"Any blood when you cough?"

"No."

He continued to write, never once looking up. "And did the symptoms you mentioned earlier ever lapse?"

She c.o.c.ked her head. "Not until last week, no."

His scribbling stopped. "What happened last week?"

Joe proposed to me. But she knew that wasn't what he was asking. "The breathing episodes stopped altogether, and the coughing and headaches practically went away. At least until a few moments ago."

He looked at her over his gla.s.ses. "A few moments ago?"

"Yes. Almost as soon as I entered the exam room, my head began to pound and I experienced shortness of breath."

Returning his pen to its holder, he leaned back. "How did you occupy your time while you were in Seattle?"

"I was an a.s.sistant to the local doctor there."

He raised his brows. "You're a nurse?"

She shook her head. "No, no. I just cleaned his utensils, soothed patients, administered the chloroform. That kind of thing."

"You went on his calls with him?"

"Only at the very beginning, and then only for about a week. After that, I helped with his scheduled surgeries."

"In his exam room."

"Yes."

"Like mine?"

"One very much like yours."

"How often?"

"Whenever he had a surgery scheduled." Anna shrugged. "Several days throughout each week, I guess."

"And you administered chloroform during most of those?"

"During all of them."

"And when did you quit working for this doctor?"

"A week ago."

"And during that week, your symptoms steadily decreased?"

"They did."

Removing his gla.s.ses, he tapped them against his lips. "I think I can say with complete confidence, Mrs. Denton, that you do not have tuberculosis."

Her lips parted. Surely he was mistaken. A clock on the mantel chimed three times.

Joe slid into the chair beside her. "How can that be? I've heard her coughs. Witnessed her breathing difficulties."

"I've seen tuberculosis in every stage of the illness and in patients of all ages and sizes. Many times over. Your wife doesn't have it."

"But Doc Maynard is very good. Well respected."

"Many doctors employ the 'better safe than sorry' philosophy. Tuberculosis is dangerous, and the earlier it's caught, the better the chances the patient has. I think he did the right thing by recommending you take Mrs. Denton to drier climes."

"But not anymore?"

"No. Drier climes won't help cure your wife."

"What will?"

"Staying away from chloroform."

Joe frowned. "What?"

"For whatever reason, your wife's body has a strong aversion to it."

Anna shook her head in confusion. "What are you saying, Dr. Shepard?"

"Think back, Mrs. Denton. Were your symptoms worse while you administered the chloroform, or perhaps right after?"

She searched her mind, then turned to Joe in wonder. "Why, yes. They were."

"And they began to improve that week you quit a.s.sisting with surgeries, correct?"

"Yes."

"At least, they did until you entered my exam room, where I performed a surgery requiring chloroform not thirty minutes before you arrived."

Hope began to wiggle inside her. Joe reached for her hand.

She looked at him and smiled. "That's right."

Dr. Shepard tossed his gla.s.ses on the desk. "Well, Mrs. Denton, I'm afraid you will have to give up any aspirations you have of becoming a doctor's a.s.sistant. But as for your illness, so long as you stay away from chloroform, I think you will find your coughs, headaches, and breathing difficulties will all but disappear."

Moisture rushed to her eyes. "You're sure?"

He smiled. "Quite sure."

Joe squeezed her hand so hard her fingers overlapped each other. The relief and joy he felt was apparent in his eyes.

"My illness has nothing to do with the climate in Seattle?" she asked the doctor.

"Not a single thing."

"We . . . we can go back?" she whispered.

"You most certainly can."

Unable to hold her euphoria at bay, she turned to Joe, then sucked in her breath.

Silent tears trickled down his face. "You're going to be all right." Taking a wobbly breath, he tugged her toward him. "You're going to be all right."

Smiling, she moved to his lap and let him hold her, right there in front of Dr. Shepard.

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT.

Seattle, W.T.

One week later Red met them at the dock, a.s.sisting Anna onto the pier. "Welcome back, Miss Iv-Mrs. Denton."

"It's wonderful to be home, Red." She smiled. "And please, call me Anna."

"Thank you. I'll do that." He turned and clasped Joe's hand for a hearty shake. "The boys and I sure were glad to get your telegram."

"They were able to come back to work, then?"

"Every one of them. And I canceled that newspaper ad."

They grinned at each other, then pitched together in a brief and ebullient bear hug.

The three of them traversed Occidental Avenue, Joe helping Anna dodge the logs and drift from Yesler's Mill. She noted that Mount Rainier had come out from behind the clouds to welcome her home. She gave it a private greeting, thrilled that she would have the pleasure of being its neighbor for the rest of her life.

"I didn't hire back Ollie," Red continued. "Wasn't sure what you wanted to do about the cooking."

"Oh, I'd like to cook." She looked up at Joe. "Can I? Do you mind?"

"That's a lot of work, Anna. I'm not sure I want you doing all that."

"Oh, please, Joe. I love it."

He hesitated, then slipped his arm about her waist. "For now, then. But when the little ones start coming, we're making other arrangements."

Blus.h.i.+ng, she glanced at Red, but the men were already on to other topics. It was a bit early to be thinking about little ones. For now, having the house in the woods to themselves sounded like a slice of heaven.

"Asa Mercer's back," Red said. "He's reopened the university and everything."

Joe pulled up short, causing Anna to stop, too.

"He's back? He had the nerve to show himself around here?"

Red shrugged. "Everybody's married up to their Mercer girls, so I guess he figured all's well that ends well."

"What about all the men who paid for brides and didn't receive them?"

Red scratched his chin. "That money's long gone, but the boys will have a reckoning, I'm sure."

Anna gasped. "They won't hang him or anything, will they?"

Red shook his head. "We aren't in California, Miss-Anna. Things are a bit more civilized here in the Territory."

For Mr. Mercer's sake, she certainly hoped so.

"What about you?" Red asked, eyeing Joe. "You plan on saying something to him?"

"You're dead right I do. The blighter owes me four hundred dollars."

Red looked from Joe to Anna and back to Joe. "I think you might have a hard time collecting. I mean, after all, you married the gal he brought you."

Joe scowled. "That has nothing to do with it."

"It has everything to do with it. Besides, there isn't a person in town who doesn't know you'd put up all you had in the world for her, 'cause you already did."

After a slight hesitation, Joe shook his head. "Well, there's no arguing with that, I suppose."

"You leave Mercer to the others who never got anything for their troubles. They'll take care of him." Red slapped him on the back. "Now, go on before you run out of daylight. I've got Shakespeare all harnessed up and ready."

The rain started less than an hour after they'd left Seattle. The wagon's canopy offered little protection from the moisture blowing in from the sides. It didn't take long to penetrate Anna's clothing, and try as she might, she couldn't keep her s.h.i.+vers at bay.

Joe glanced at her. "Don't you think you should put on your coat?"

She huddled inside her new wool cape. "I don't have one."

"I thought I gave you fabric for one."

A Bride in the Bargain Part 44

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A Bride in the Bargain Part 44 summary

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