Her Hesitant Heart - By Carla Kelly Page 0,1
She became serious quickly. “I appreciate this, Major,” she told him. “If you can take her in the ambulance, so much the better. She does not have much money.” She thought a moment, then whispered, “Susanna is divorced.”
“That is not my business,” Joe said.
“You’re a surgeon,” she countered. “Anything I tell you is confidential.”
He sighed, wondering how Emily Reese’s husband managed to keep from drinking himself to death. Some men must prefer stupid wives. Come to think of it, Captain Daniel Reese wasn’t the brightest company commander in the army. “Emily, I’m not a priest. I keep medical matters confidential.”
She couldn’t seem to stop. “She abandoned her son. I can’t imagine that, but she is a relative, and my parents had to help her.”
“I’m certain she had her reasons,” Joe replied. Good God, what kind of relative would blab such a scandal? he asked himself. They sound as horrible as mine. “I hope you won’t reveal this to anyone else,” he said, not sure how much force to apply to a scold. “You know what gossips army people are.”
“Should I make up a story?”
“Say nothing. All anyone wants is a teacher.”
“I know! I will say she is a war widow!”
Joe sighed. “Emily, don’t. Can’t you imagine how distressed the veterans would feel about such a lie? We saw our friends die from Bull Run to Appomattox Court House! Please, please don’t.”
Joe hadn’t minded the diversion of looking for a lady on the train. General court-martial duty in Cheyenne right before Christmas was never pleasant, unless those presiding thought to catch the eastbound Overland Express for home. He probably wouldn’t have been involved in this unshirkable army duty, except that one of the defendants was a major, and there must be majors and above weighing him in the balance.
Joe had no plans. His former home was a plantation west of Richmond and his two widowed sisters residing there had long ago turned his portrait to the wall, and returned his letters, except the one containing a bank draft for taxes on the place. No wonder I am a cynic, Joe told himself on more than one occasion.
Unexpectedly, the court-martial had dragged on much longer than anticipated, and the officer board watched its holiday plans turn to gall and wormwood. The defendants—officers who should have been cashiered years ago—had argued long and eloquently to avoid removal from the army.
The matter had ground on, each officer on the board growing surly as the likelihood of Christmas at home vanished. To no one’s surprise, revenge came as both defendants were cashiered.
Major Walters, a single fellow like himself, was in no hurry to return to dreary Fort Fetterman. The officers’ mess at Fort Russell, near Cheyenne, was better and Joe had time to meet the westbound train in Cheyenne that afternoon.
But there was no Susanna Hopkins. He rode the three miles back to Russell, arriving in time to watch Walters dress in his better uniform for the evening’s New Year’s festivities.
Immune to parties, Joe walked to the post hospital. It wasn’t his hospital, but he knew the surgeon well. Sitting close to the heating stove, they toasted the season and swapped gory stories from the late war until the hospital steward came on duty in the morning.
As a consequence, Joe was late to the depot; the train had already departed. Joe directed the ambulance driver to the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage depot, a noisome place with sawdust on the floor to absorb tobacco juice and spittle.
The major went inside, and there was Susanna Hopkins at the ticket window. He had no doubt it was her: medium height, blond hair. He couldn’t discern her figure because of her overcoat, but she looked surprisingly tidy, considering her days on the train from Pennsylvania.
Interested, he watched her. The stationmaster pointed to the fare chart. Joe watched as she took another look into her wallet. The stationmaster shrugged his shoulders, then gestured for her to move aside. She sat on the bench by the potbellied stove.
Joe saw her face when she turned around, and it was a sweet face, heart-shaped. Her blond hair had a dark blaze by her temple. Gold-rimmed spectacles perched on her nose, but they could not hide the bleakness in her eyes. He knew he was looking at a fearful woman.
Joseph Randolph’s heart went out to the woman who sat, terrified, on a bench in the dirty stage depot. She may be divorced, but what drives a woman to this? he wondered, even as he loosened the