From her pocket, she withdrew the note he’d left for her with Doctor Bliss. Mrs. McBride had been scrawled across the front. Was this a farewell? He’d kissed her twice and held her while she cried. Did he care for her the way Major Carlton did? Were his parting words a declaration of his affections?
Turning the letter over, she ran her finger across the bumps and ridges of the blue wax seal. The letters C-P framed a larger letter E. She slid her finger under the edge of the paper careful not to break the wax. Drawing a breath, she unfolded the note. A few, nearly illegible lines had been scribbled across the center of the page.
My grandfather is sending a box from his hotel. When it arrives could you care for the contents? I will write again when I better know my situation.
In disbelief she stared at the note. She read it again, just to see if she’d misunderstood the inked lines, curls, and bumps. Did he mean more than he was saying?
No. There was no other way to interpret the handwriting. After working closely for a month, after life and death, tears and kisses, he wanted her to keep a box?
Her fingers tightened, crinkling the sides of the paper. No goodbye, just a box. She lifted her gaze to the river. A breeze carried in the salty scent of the distant ocean over the river where it blended with the smell of muck and dead fish.
She sighed. A box. At least he hadn’t declared any amorous affections. She certainly did not want that, but a goodbye would have been nice.
For a moment she wondered what kind of note Charles Ellard would pen if he ever fell in love. Would it be as blunt and socially inept? Did he even know the niceties of courtship?
He removed a blank sheet of paper from his stationery box, picked up his pen and held it poised over the paper.
Taking a deep breath, he wrote—
Dear Gracie McBride,
Frowning, he slashed a line straight through the center of the salutation.
My dearest Grace,
No. Another line.
Dear Mrs. Grace McBride,
My dear Mrs. William McBride,
My dear friend Gracie…
Dear Mrs. McBride,
I trust you received the box from my grandfather. Thank you for keeping it.
Charles P. Ellard, Capt.
69th Pennsylvania, Second Division
Gracie turned the paper over. Blank. Then again, why was she surprised? This brief note, obviously written when he was busy, was just like him—quick, to the point, and dismissive. At least now she knew where to write, to reassure him his box of childhood toys was indeed in her possession. And if she included a few anecdotes about life here at Armory Square, that only meant she was being friendly.
Charles pulled a twig from the bundle of fagots, lit the end, then used it to light the candle which stood in its own wax in the center of the hardtack box they used as a table.
He pulled off his muddy boots and stripped down to his shirt and drawers. After a quick wash, he climbed into bed. Using his haversack as his lap desk, he withdrew paper, pen, and ink. He opened the ink, filled his pen, and set the bottle on the hardtack box between the beds. He wanted to write to Gracie but had no idea what to include in the letter. She’d yet to respond to his last missive. Perhaps she was so busy she thought of him only in passing. Perhaps he thought about her more than she thought about him.
He reached behind him to adjust his pillow. The thin straw mattress crunched beneath his shifting weight. Mail was notoriously slow, he reminded himself. Until he knew for certain that she wasn’t receptive to further communication, she might find news of the President’s review of the army exciting. Except Charles hadn’t gone. After all, what was there to see among a hundred and thirty thousand men?
Women enjoyed talk of fashion, but he had no idea what sort of dress Mrs. Lincoln wore or even what kind of pony their little boy rode.
Weather was generally considered an appropriate topic for conversation with a lady, and it had rained today. Rather a lot lately. However, the weather patterns here no doubt encompassed Washington, which was only fifty miles away. Most likely, Gracie was also being rained upon.
She might find it interesting that he and the rest of the medical department had been busy moving the division hospitals to Potomac Creek near the railroad line. However, by the time she received his letter, she would have more than likely receive at Armory Square, many of the sick and disabled of the division.
He pressed the tip of his pen against the blank sheet of paper. So what should he write? That the regimental surgeon and the whole medical department hated him? That he was lonely? That he was terrified he’d suffer another of his spells? Perhaps he should try harder to focus on other things.
Monday past, thirteen thousand cavalry had moved out, off on some sort of mission. Would she worry if he wrote that now they were all under orders to pack their haversacks with eight days’ rations and leave out their clothes?
No, it would be best not to include maudlin sentiments. After all she was mere woman. Talk of impeding battle might tax her emotions. He would keep the tone of his missive bright and happy.
Dear Mrs. McBride,
“A physican, having written out a prescription, enjoined his patient to swallow the whole of it in the morning. The patient understood him literally, swallowed the written prescription, and got well.”
I understand some people might find the patient’s literal interpretation of the physician’s less than specific instruction to be humorous. That the patient also became well, subsequently made the need for the actual medication moot.
I hope you found the brief anecdote to be amusing.
Surg. Chas. P. Ellard, Captain
A smile tugged at the corners of Gracie’s mouth. While the joke was mildly amusing, it was the endearing awkwardness of his explanation and his strange need to share it with her that warmed her heart.
She gave her head a shake then refolded the letter and tucked it carefully into one of the inside pockets of her carpet bag.
A Place In Your Heart:
Gracie McBride isn’t looking for love; she’s looking for respect. But in this man’s world of Civil War medicine, Gracie is expected to maintain her place changing beds and writing letters. Her biggest nemesis is the ward surgeon, Doctor Charles Ellard, who seems determined to woo her with arrogant kisses and terrible jokes.
Charles is an excellent surgeon. He assumed he would be well received by an army at war. He was not. Friendless and alone, he struggles to hide the panic attacks that plague him while the only person who understands him is a feisty Irish nurse clearly resolved to keep him at a distance.
But, Charles is sent to the battlefield, and Gracie is left with a wounded soldier, a box of toys, and a mystery which can only be solved by the one man she wishes could love her, both as a woman and a nurse.
Excerpt, rated G
“No. I want you to go home before the death of that ten-year-old boy becomes so ordinary that one day you wake up and realize you no longer have the ability to feel.”
She squared her shoulders and stepped toward him. “Me own husband was a doctor, sir. I’ve birthed babies and stitched wounds. I stood by William’s side during surgeries and passed him instruments. I helped him clean the intestines of a man gored by a bull, before putting it all back inside that man’s belly. Me delicate sensibilities did not send me into a swoon then nor will they here. I thank ye for yer concern, Doctor Ellard, but ’tis who I am. And by the saints, as long as I have breath in me body, I will feel, and I will care.”
Their gazes locked in that moment and something flickered in his icy depths, overshadowing his usual cynicism with what she suspected might be admiration. The harsh lines of his face softened.
“Saint Jude must indeed be watching over you, Mrs. McBride.”
“That he is, Doctor Ellard, that he is.”
He gave her a brisk nod and opened the door. “You’re not going home then, are you?”
She turned. “Ye know us Irish, Doctor Ellard. We don’t know what we want, but we’ll fight to the death to get it.”
A Place In Your Heart is available at Amazon
Meet Kathy Otten:
Kathy Otten is the published author of multiple historical romance novels, novellas, and short stories. She is also published in contemporary romance and historical fiction. She is a Northwest Houston RWA Lone Star winner and Utah/Salt Lake RWA Hearts of the West finalist. A Place In Your Heart is her fourth full-length novel. Currently, she is putting the finishing touches on a contemporary young adult novel.
She teaches fiction writing online and at a local adult education center, and is a regular presenter at area events. Kathy also does manuscript assessments and editing. She lives in the rolling farmland of western New York where she can often be found walking her dog through the woods and fields. She has been married for thirty-four years and is the mother of three grown children and one grandson.
Kathy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site https://www.kathyottenauthor.com
Face Book www.facebook.com/kathyottenauthor.com