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Heart and Home

By:Cassandra Austin

Heart and Home
Cassandra Austin

       Chapter One


Kansas, autumn, 1879





Dr. Adam Hart leaned against the unyielding back of the train seat. He  had almost reached his destination; his chance to practice medicine in  the Wild West was a few short miles away.

Only one thing kept him from feeling completely elated. He reached into  the inside pocket of his suit coat and withdrew the letter Doreena  Fitzgibbon had given him just before he boarded the train. "Don't open  it until you're underway," she had whispered. He had hugged her and  kissed her and promised yet again to send for her once he was settled.

He didn't read the letter now, but tapped a corner of it thoughtfully  against his chin. She wasn't coming west. "I'm confident," she'd  written, "that once you have served the year you must in that backward  town, you will come home and we can be married."

Hadn't she listened to his descriptions of this land? Didn't she  recognize the wonderful opportunities that were here? Wasn't she as  eager as he to live surrounded by the unspoiled prairie?

Evidently not. Perhaps he had made the whole adventure sound a little  too exciting. And the gunfights. He should never have mentioned the  gunfights.

At least, he thought with a sigh, she had given him a year. The glowing  reports he'd send home were bound to win her over, then she would  consent to move here and become his bride.

The train slowed for the Clyde, Kansas, station, and Adam strained to  see out the dirty window. A crowd had gathered on the platform under a  banner that read Welcome Dr. Heart.

Adam grinned. He could ignore the misspelling with a greeting like this.  As the train pulled to a stop, a brass band started playing … something.  It was hard to tell what since the musicians were hardly together.  Still, Adam was warmed by the sentiment. He gathered the two bags he had  with him, stepped into the warm autumn air and received a rousing cheer  from the crowd.

A rather stout man who couldn't have been much more than five feet tall  stepped away from the others, motioning them to silence. "George Pinter,  at your service," he said as the band tapered off. "Mayor of this fair  city."

"Mr. Pinter," Adam said, "this is indeed a warm welcome."

Pinter beamed. "My buggy is waiting to take you on into town," he said,  directing Adam along. "Your trunks will be delivered straight away."

Adam climbed in beside the little man and they started toward the main  part of town, a few blocks away. The band struck up again and the crowd  followed.

"We have a house for you to live in that should serve well as an office  besides," Pinter shouted over the noise. "I'd suggest you eat next door  at the Almost Home Boarding House. Miss Sparks sets a fine table."

Somehow the particulars of living and eating had not occurred to Adam.  He had always pictured Doreena keeping house. "Until my fiancee arrives,  I might do that," he shouted back.

The buggy stopped in front of a tidy little twostory frame house with a  narrow porch nestled between currant bushes. As Adam stepped out of the  buggy, he noticed the house next door, a much larger affair with a porch  that wrapped around two sides. A few late flowers bloomed in the  flowerbeds beside the steps. That house, he realized, would suit Doreena  much better than his tiny one.

He shook off the thought. When Doreena came west, it would be because she loved him. Where they lived was immaterial.

Pinter had opened the front door and was waiting for Adam to join him.  The house had obviously been scrubbed clean. Adam walked across the  front room, furnished with a desk and a few mismatched chairs, and  peeked into what looked like a well-appointed kitchen.

Turning back into the room, he discovered that

several of the townspeople had followed them in. More crowded the porch and street outside. The band began another tune.

"There's a bedroom here you could use for examinations," Pinter shouted,  indicating a door. "Upstairs is another. Don't worry about dinner  tonight. I'll be over to get you."

Adam thanked him, setting the two bags on the desk.

"Well, come along, folks. Let's let him get settled. Your trunks'll be along."                       
       
           



       

Pinter shooed everyone out. Adam followed, closing the door behind them.  He then turned and leaned against it, closing his eyes. His dream of  practicing medicine on the frontier was about to come true. The  perfection of the moment was marred by a touch of melancholia. It might  have been homesickness, but he was inclined to think Doreena's letter  was the cause.

He was reminding himself that Doreena would come around when suddenly  the door behind him shook with someone's forceful knocking. He swallowed  a groan at the abuse to his shoulder blades and flung open the door.  He. wasn't sure what he had expected. The mayor again, perhaps, or the  men who had promised to bring his trunks.

What he found was a tall young woman who seemed as surprised to see him  as he was to see her. She was covered from neck to toe in a simple dress  of blue calico dotted with brown flowers. Her dark brown hair was  pulled savagely back from her face and bound at the nape of her neck. A  few wisps of hair had escaped their confinement and curled around her  face, softening the effect quite charmingly. Dark circles around her  brown eyes made them seem too large for the pale face.

"I'm sorry to bother you," she said. "I was looking for Dr. Hart."

"You've found him," he said, stepping aside and opening the door wider. She remained standing on the porch.

"You're … younger than I expected." She waved a hand as if deciding that  was unimportant. "Grams is quite ill," she said. "Can you come see her?"

"Your grandmother?" Were they both ill, or was this exhaustion he saw in  the young woman's face? Adam moved quickly to the desk and grabbed the  smaller of the two bags. He joined her on the porch and closed the door.

"I'm Jane Sparks," she said, leading the way. "I run the boardinghouse next door."

In a moment they were inside the large house. She led him past a tidy  parlor, through a dining room and into the kitchen. The smells that  greeted him told him her dinner preparations were well underway.

She led him into a tiny room just off the kitchen. A narrow bed took up  most of the available space. A woman Adam guessed to be in her sixties  lay covered to her neck with a white sheet. As they entered, her body  was racked with an agonizing cough. The granddaughter hurried to her  side, supported her shoulders and held a handkerchief until the spell  passed.

"Pneumonia," Adam whispered. He didn't need to see the pale skin and  overbright eyes, or touch the hot dry brow. He could hear it in the  sound of her breathing and the dreadful cough.

"Yes, I thought so," Miss Sparks said. She showed him the blood on the  handkerchief before she tossed it aside. She dipped a clean cloth in a  basin of water, wrung it out and smoothed it carefully on the fevered  brow. She must have left this task only a few minutes before. "Is there  anything you can do for the pain?"

Adam set his bag on the edge of the bed across from Miss Sparks and  found his stethoscope. He needed to know how far the infection had  developed. He listened to the rattle in the woman's lungs while the  granddaughter made soothing sounds.

"When she's awake, she's in such pain it breaks my heart. I just want her to sleep."

The last was spoken just above a whisper. The emotional and physical strain the young woman was under was clearly visible.

"I could give you something to help you rest,"

he suggested gently. "You could find someone else

to care for her."

She didn't look up from her task. "I can't," she said. "I have to be here."

Adam slipped the stethoscope back into his bag. "Her lungs are full of fluid," he said. "My recommendation is to drain them."

"Drain them?" The dark brown eyes turned in his direction and he was struck again by how large they were.

"With a tube, uh, into the chest cavity." Adam touched his own side. He  knew it sounded pretty awful. Well, it was pretty awful. But he had seen  it done successfully, and he knew he could do it. "She's drowning,  actually, in the infection."

"This would … hurt her?"

"There would be some pain, yes, but she's in pain now, and it could save her life."                       
       
           



       

The young woman shook her head and turned her gaze back to her grandmother. "I can't let you hurt her."

"I don't mean to hurt her," he said. "I want to save her. If I don't do it, she will die. It's her one chance."

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