This new pioneer story drew me in from the beginning, I love old west stories and this one was no different. When Hannah’s husband is ostracized in the town where he is a doctor, he makes the decision to go west, in spite of his wife’s protests. The trials of the trail as they head to Arizona Territory have her frightened and she wonders if they will make it.
Will Colter has buried his father, but he is also forced to leave everything near and dear to him, including his sister, because of people who have evil in mind.
I had to think when reading this book, how many times people because of selfishness, and just evil hearts, can do things that have consequences that effect our lives, even when it is not our fault. I am excited to read the rest of this series by this author! -Martha
Will Colter, after burying his father, is forced to leave the ranch he has called home for nearly thirty years. The journey is dangerous, challenging him and his men. Will he find the new life he was hoping for?
July 15, 1863
Hannah sighed at the tense sound of her husband’s voice filtering down the hall from the parlor to the kitchen. Though she clearly heard the urgency in Drew’s tone, she took a moment to remove the half-baked biscuits from the heavy iron stove, lest they burn before she returned. This would be the third batch of baked goods she would toss this week so she could assist Drew in his surgery with one medical emergency or another.
Biting back a second frustrated sigh, she removed her cooking apron to don a fresh one. Tying the apron strings around her back, she entered the chaos of Drew’s surgery room. The heavy shuffling of feet echoed in the small room as four men grunted under the weight of the injured man. The acrid smell of blood hit Hannah full force. She recalled the days when the odor and sight of blood caused her stomach to roil. Nearly two years working by Drew’s side cured her of some of that sensitivity. Heart pounding rapidly, she prepared the ether cone, anticipating the forthcoming request.
“Get him on the table.” Drew instructed the men carrying the wounded bank manager, Mr. Davis, in a calm voice. As he turned to face her, his tone remained steady, “Hannah, I need the ether now.”
Hannah’s breath caught in her throat as she looked into Mr. Davis’s panicked eyes—her earlier frustration vanished. Whispering words of comfort, she placed the cone over his nose and mouth, silently counting out the seconds. Around the third second, his thrashing stopped and his body relaxed into an unconscious state. She let out a shaky breath, relieved by the sight.
Drew’s lanky form bent over Mr. Davis’s left leg as he intently studied the blood soaked trousers. Hannah offered Drew scissors and he cut the pant leg to better see the wound. The bullet was lodged in Mr. Davis’s thigh. He placed a tourniquet above the gaping hole to stop the flow of blood. Hannah mopped up what she could with rags silently praying for their patient and for her husband’s skill. As he requested the small forceps, she handed them over. Watching, she could not help but admire his steady hand and careful movements as he grasped the bullet with the forceps. Gently he removed the bullet.
As she administered another dose of ether, Drew threaded a needle with his long slender fingers, seemingly unaffected by the gravity of his task. He doused the wound to clean it before starting slow deliberate strokes with the needle to stitch the hole shut. When sweat beaded on his forehead, he barely noticed her swift action to dab it dry, his concentration so intense. Once he finished with the stitches, he wrapped the leg in bandages before checking for other signs of injury.
“I don’t see any other wounds,” Drew said meeting her gaze as he washed the blood from his hands. His expression remained unreadable. “Please sit with him for a minute while I speak with the men who brought him in.”
As Hannah pulled up a chair next to Mr. Davis’s still form, she caught most of the conversation playing out in the parlor, though slightly muffled from the distance.
“Bank robbery,” one of the men replied in response to Drew’s query.
Gasps echoed in the small parlor that served as a waiting area for patients, followed by the hiss of rapid whispering. Hannah, knowing who was scheduled for appointments, imagined their shocked faces at the unexpected announcement.
“Will you let Mr. Davis’s wife know he is here and resting comfortably?” Drew requested.
The men replied affirmatively before the sound of their feet faded behind the closed front door.
“Bank robbery,” Hannah muttered, surprised someone attempted such in the middle of the day in their peaceful town. She chided herself for thinking of Cincinnati as a town. With the large number of German immigrants arriving daily to work in the meat packing factories, her childhood home was quickly becoming a large city.
She checked Mr. Davis’s pulse again which returned to normal. The faint smell of ether hung in the air, intermingled with blood, causing her to take shallow breaths. Drew returned to the room with a deep frown on his face, obviously concerned with the news. As he listened to Mr. Davis’s breathing, Hannah went about cleaning and sanitizing the room and instruments, trying to hold her emotions at bay just a little longer.
As soon as she finished mopping up the trail of blood from the parlor to the surgery room, she jumped at the sound of the front door bursting open again.
“Phillip!” called out Mrs. Davis as she ran into the room. “Oh, Phillip!”
The frail woman gasped at the sight of her pale husband sleeping. Hannah breathed a sigh of relief that she completed the cleaning before Mrs. Davis arrived, fearful for the woman’s constitution. Glancing down at her blood splattered apron, she hoped to go unnoticed, certain the sight would send Mrs. Davis into a fit of apoplexy.
“Mrs. Davis,” Drew said, speaking in calm soft tones as he clapped his hand over the older woman’s, “he will be just fine. He is resting now, but should be awake later this evening. I would like to keep him here for a few days to make sure he is doing well, and then I’ll send him home to your capable care.”
“Thank you, Dr. Anderson,” Mrs. Davis replied, blotting her tears with a handkerchief before taking a seat next to her husband.
Quietly exiting the room, Hannah paused inside the doorway of the kitchen. The intensity of the preceding hours drained her energy as the emotions rushed forward. Leaning her head back against the wall, she let the tears roll down her face. Please let the image of Mr. Davis’s fear-stricken face fade from my mind quickly. The look had been so intense that she felt his fear as if it were her own—not in the moment she looked at him, but now as she returned to the calmness of her kitchen.
Wiping the tears from her face with the back of her hand, she removed the stained apron and threw it into a bucket to soak. Picking up a clean apron, she returned to the now half crunchy half soggy biscuits next to the oven trying to push the morning from her mind. Knowing there was no way to salvage the biscuits; she threw them into the waste and started on a fresh batch.
Carefully, she measured out the flour and buttermilk. The familiar actions of baking soothed her edgy nerves. Using the technique her aunt taught her, Hannah rolled out the biscuit dough and cut round forms, repeating the steps until all the dough formed raw biscuits. Numbly she continued through the motions until lovely golden brown biscuits emerged from the oven.
As Drew saw his last scheduled patient for the day, Hannah started her afternoon routine of tidying the clinic. Starting in the parlor at the front of the house, she straightened chairs and dusted the furniture. From the parlor, she turned left into Drew’s office since both surgery rooms on the right were occupied, one by Mr. Davis and the other by Drew and his patient. Hannah dusted her husband’s desk and stowed the patient charts in the largest drawer at the bottom of the oak desk. Taking a seat, Hannah flipped through the stack of bills. There never seemed to be enough time to see to everything. She needed to spend some time updating the ledgers soon.
Hannah stood listening as Drew escorted the last patient to the parlor. She entered the now vacant surgery room, wiping down all the surfaces. Once the room was cleaned, Hannah checked on Mr. Davis again. He was still resting peacefully, his wife clutching his hand as she sat in the chair, her chin resting against her chest either in prayer or in sleep.
Walking down the hall to the kitchen at the back of the house, Hannah began supper preparations. She felt most at peace in her kitchen—her domain. Perhaps it was from the few years she spent by her loving aunt’s side learning how to bake and cook, those domestic skills her mother had not instilled before her passing.
Shaking off the mounting melancholy, she shifted her thoughts back to Mr. Davis’s care. Following the meal, she would send Drew upstairs to their bedroom to get some rest. She would take the first shift watching Mr. Davis and then, sometime in the middle of the night she would wake Drew to take over.
At times like these, she wished Drew would hire a nurse. Hannah barely kept up with the laundry, cleaning, and meal preparations without overnight patients. Whenever a patient required round the clock care, she fell woefully behind in other chores. What would she do when she had children to care for?
“Barnes,” Drew greeted, with some hesitation, as one of the city’s policemen entered the clinic alone. Being one of two doctors in town, Drew often patched up robbers or drunken brawlers before Barnes hauled them off to jail. Occasionally he even visited the jail when Barnes deemed it too dangerous to bring the criminal to the clinic.
“What brings you here?” Drew asked, still unable to shake his concern that Barnes accompanied no one.
Barnes, his voice low and serious, asked, “May I have a word with you and Mrs. Anderson?”
Drew showed him to his office where their conversation could remain private. Once the bulky man took a seat, Drew quickly fetched Hannah. The lack of sleep from the night before did not help his increasing nervousness about the policeman’s unusual behavior.
As Hannah took a seat, Barnes started, “We have your brother, Thomas, in custody down at the jailhouse. He was identified as one of the men in yesterday’s failed attempt to rob the bank.”
Drew felt his throat constrict and his heart started beating rapidly, distressed over his brother’s increasingly wild behavior.
Sinking into the remaining chair, he asked tensely, “What happened?”
“From what we pieced together,” Barnes’ deep voice added to his air of authority, “it looks like Thomas, along with Sam Rogers and Ed Rogers, stormed the bank yesterday afternoon as one of the patrons was leaving. They pulled their guns on Mr. Davis and forced him to open the safe in the back room. Mr. Davis kept a loaded revolver in the safe, so once he opened it, he turned the gun on Sam and shot him in the foot. Then Ed fired on Mr. Davis.”
Still stunned, Drew merely nodded. He did not want to believe his brother was party to this crazy affair, crossing the line from rebellion to crime.
“After Mr. Davis was shot,” Barnes continued, “all three men took off, leaving the money behind. A few pedestrians noted the direction. We followed the trail and it led us to the Rogers’ house. We arrested all three men. Like I said, they are in jail and will remain there until a judge decides what is to be done.”
Drew looked over at Hannah. Her eyes widened with concern. Thomas rebelled for years, though never so boldly. Disappointment washed over Drew, quickly follow by guilt. If only he had been able to get through to Thomas. Maybe this would not have happened.
Ever since their father died, Drew’s brother could not contain his restless spirit. Thomas started hanging out with the Rogers brothers and things went downhill from there. The Rogers brothers bullied classmates during their school days and as they aged, they got worse: petty theft from the mercantile, vandalizing businesses, and picking fights with anyone who would pay them mind. When Thomas started staying out late and carousing with Sam and Ed Rogers, Drew did not hesitate to warn Thomas of the dangers of his actions. Closing his eyes, Drew clearly remembered the day he confronted his brother.
Drew woke to a thudding sound on the stairs. Sitting upright, he remained completely still, trying to determine if what he heard was real or imagined as his heart pounded against his chest. Thud. There is it was again.
Slipping from the bed, Drew carefully crept to the closed bedroom door. Slowly he cracked it open, just as a muffled curse reached his ears. Thomas!
Stepping from the room, Drew pulled the bedroom door closed behind him, so as not to wake Hannah. At the top of the stairs he made out Thomas’s limp form lying prostrate across several of the stairs. The stale cigar smoke and sickening sweet smell of whiskey clung to his brother’s clothing. As Drew approached, Thomas looked up and cursed again.
At first, Drew thought Thomas was merely drunk again—a frequent occurrence. But when he tried to help him up, Thomas recoiled and moaned in pain. Drew led him down the stairs and into the surgery room for a quick examination. Lighting the oil lamp, Drew saw the extent of his brother’s injuries. Besides the swollen black eye, his face and knuckles were covered with numerous cuts and scrapes. His ribs were also bruised. This must have been his worst fight to date.
“You must stop this Thomas,” he warned his brother, keeping his voice low. “The drinking, the gambling—it is only going to lead to trouble.”
“What do you care?” Thomas roared.
He grew weary of the familiar accusation. Thomas always thought Drew did not care—Drew always tried to show his concern. He was letting him live here. Wasn’t that proof enough that he cared? As his anger rose, so did his voice. “Look at yourself. Night after night you come home drunk or—”
“You have no right to lecture me! I’m old enough to take care of myself and do as I please. Mind your own business!”
“It is my business, as long as you are living in this house!” Drew volleyed back. Taking his brother in had been a mistake. He thought providing a home and some structure would help Thomas give up his wild ways. Instead, no matter what Drew did, Thomas threw it in his face.
“Don’t act like you are doing me a favor, Drew,” the hatred poured from his brother’s lips. “I know what you are doing. You just don’t want to feel guilty for leaving me here while you went to medical school. But you should! Living with Uncle Peter was awful!”
“Uncle Peter did his best to help you grow up with some discipline,” Drew countered.
“Don’t defend that selfish old man!”
The argument escalated until Hannah appeared in the doorway. When she looked from Drew to Thomas and back again, Drew shut his mouth mid-sentence. Thomas frowned, cursed, then turned and stormed out into the night.
He never saw his brother again, except once in passing on the street.
Hannah’s dainty cough brought Drew’s attention back to the discussion with Barnes.
“Dr. Anderson,” Barnes continued as he stood and walked to the front door, “I suggest you consider getting legal representation for your brother.”
Closing the door behind Barnes, Drew snorted. He refused to bail Thomas out of trouble again. Aware of the waiting patients, Drew ushered Hannah back to his office and closed the door, wondering just how much they overheard.
“What are you going to do?” Hannah asked, her anxiety evident.
“What can I do?” Drew replied, acknowledging his own helplessness in this situation. “He is a grown man and he is not my responsibility any longer.”
“Will you get an attorney as Mr. Barnes suggested?” she asked, her voice full of compassion.
“No,” he answered angrily. Seeing the shock on Hannah’s face, he quickly explained, “At some point Thomas must choose his own way. Well…he already has. He made that clear more than a year ago. There is nothing I can do or say that will change anything.”
Drew ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. His heart broke again as he thought of how disappointed his father would be. Perhaps his father passing on was a good thing. At least he would not witness his youngest son’s destructive behavior.
Sunday morning, Hannah put the finishing touches on the roast and slid it into the oven. Bounding up the stairs she quickly untied the apron from her waist. Standing before the mirror she brushed out her long strawberry blonde hair then twisted it into a chignon at the base of her neck inside the decorative black netted hair piece. She smiled, pleased with her appearance.
“You look lovely,” Drew commented as his pale blue eyes surveyed the light blue calico dress before resting on her eyes. Color flushed her face with the intensity of his appraisal.
“Come here,” he added, pulling her close. “Your eyes look bluer than the sky in that dress.” He brushed lips lightly across hers in a brief kiss.
Releasing her, he asked, “Looking forward to Emily’s visit?”
“I can hardly wait,” Hannah answered giddily.
As Hannah preceded Drew down the stairs, she could not contain her excitement over the planned Sunday dinner guests—Levi and Emily Werner. It had been two months since Hannah had seen Emily. Earlier this week, Levi stopped by the clinic to let Hannah know Emily would be back to church this week, having sufficiently recovered from her morning sickness. Hannah quickly extended an invitation for dinner, missing her best friend dearly.
Emily and Hannah grew up on adjoining farms several miles outside of Cincinnati. Hannah could not remember a time when she and Emily weren’t friends, despite being such opposites in looks and personality. With her dark curls and flashing nutmeg brown eyes, Emily charmed everyone, from the most reserved students to the toughest bullies in their school. As she grew older and began filling out her dress, boys noticed her long before noticing Hannah—not that any had noticed Hannah in school. Walking to and from school together, Hannah often found herself in the role of quiet listener to Emily’s constant chattering about what Amanda Taylor wore that day, or how the pigs on the farm gave birth to a large litter, or who danced with who at the last barn dance. Perhaps if Emily had set her mind on memorizing her lessons at school and not on such things, she would have made higher marks and Hannah would have spent less time trying to help her catch up.
Besides helping Emily with her school work, Hannah found in her a friend with whom she could confide her deepest sorrows, especially following her mother’s death. Even when her father sent her away to live with her aunt, she wrote letters to Emily almost weekly. When Hannah moved back to the farm with her father, years later, she easily picked up her friendship with Emily. Sadly, she was the only constant person in her life.
As Drew pulled the phaeton carriage to a stop down the street from the large whitewashed church building, Hannah scanned the crowd for her tall friend. Spotting her, she threw her arm up for a quick wave after Drew helped her to the ground. Emily turned without acknowledging Hannah and entered through the large dark wood doors. Perhaps she just didn’t see me.
Placing her hand in the crook of Drew’s arm, Hannah smiled, confident nothing could ruin her good mood in anticipation of a wonderful afternoon.
Once inside the church, Hannah watched as Emily and Levi took their seats in their normal pew. Drew led Hannah to the same pew. As soon as Drew and Hannah sat, she leaned forward to greet Emily, who immediately, without word, stood and followed her husband out of the pew.
“We’ll talk later,” Emily hissed, glancing back over her shoulder with a frown.
When Levi and Emily took a seat on the other side of the sanctuary, Hannah couldn’t help but feel hurt by her friend’s angry response. Had she unknowingly done something to offend Emily?
Feeling Drew’s body stiffen, Hannah peeked his direction. The couple on the other side of Drew stood and moved elsewhere. Soon, the pew in front of them emptied, as long time friends scattered to the edges of the room like marbles spilled on the floor.
Looking up at Drew she saw the stoic expression etched on his face.
“What’s going on?” she whispered, still trying to determine in what way she or Drew might have offended so many people.
Drew shook his head curtly.
When the music started, she shifted her gaze to the words in the hymnal, not needing to read them, but needing to hide her growing sadness over the rejection of her friends. Her voice sounded forced as she tried to sing praises to her God. Inside, she felt anything but gratitude.
Hannah shifted in her seat as the service dragged on. Her attention waned, not really hearing the words of the pastor.
As the last strains of the final hymn echoed in the wooden room, the pastor stood and gave a blessing. The sound of booted feet heightened as the crowd exited the church. Not waiting for Drew, Hannah hurried to catch up with Emily outside.
“Emily, we’ve been sitting together for years. Why did you move this morning?” Hannah asked as her friend tried to dodge her for a second time. “Aren’t you coming to dinner?”
“No, we are not,” Emily replied emphasizing each word, not looking Hannah in the eye.
“Are you not feeling well?”
“I am feeling fine,” Emily said, glaring at Drew as he came to stand next to his wife.
Hannah held her breath, hoping Emily might elaborate on her strange behavior.
“If you’ll excuse us,” Emily snapped as Levi started leading her around Hannah again.
Confused and hurt by Emily’s behavior, she reached out, placing her hand on Emily’s arm. “Please tell me, what have I done that offends you?”
Emily’s dark eyes flashed with anger as she turned to face Hannah. Brushing Hannah’s hand from her arm, she said, “It was our money, Hannah. We sacrificed and saved for years for that money. Levi took on that second shift at the meat factory so we would have enough for a home of our own to get out of that horrible squalor.”
“I don’t understand—”
“No, you don’t understand. And neither did Thomas. He just thought he could walk right into that bank and take what we worked so hard for,” Emily wagged her finger in Hannah’s face, causing Hannah to involuntarily take a step backwards. “And him, a worthless, gambling scoundrel! Never worked an honest day’s labor in his life. But, he thought he could just take what wasn’t his.”
“I understand your anger with Thomas, but—”
Levi, who stood with arms folded across his barrel chest, finally spoke, directing his comments to Drew, “A doctor is nothing without his reputation and yours is tainted by your brother’s wild ways. Tell me, Drew, did he try to hide out at your clinic when his plan failed?” Anger shrouded his words.
Drew dropped his arms to his side, stepping closer to Levi. “How could you think such a thing?”
Hannah bit her lower lip, hoping Drew and Levi would not come to blows. She was certain Drew would not win against the much larger man.
“Everyone knows you’ve been bailing him out of trouble for years. Well, this time the people of this city are not going to stand for it,” Levi responded through clenched teeth.
By now, several other couples gathered around listening to the heated conversation. Friends, who greeted her with a hug and warm smile last week, looked on with hatred carved on their faces. Tears threatened at the corners of Hannah’s eyes as the pain of betrayal heightened.
“There is nothing to get upset about,” Drew pleaded, looking around the crowd. “I have not seen Thomas in over a year.”
“That’s not what Mrs. Pierce said!” one woman from the crowd shouted. “She said she saw a man who looked like your brother going into the clinic late that night.”
Hannah frowned, balling her fist at her side. How can they believe that busybody over my husband?
“If anyone did enter the clinic that night,” Drew’s voice boomed, “it was without an invitation.”
“So you don’t deny what Mrs. Pierce said?” Levi pulled Drew’s attention his way.
Running his hand through his short sandy hair, Drew said, “I’m saying that it is possible someone could have entered uninvited without our knowledge.”
Emily raised her voice above the growing murmurs, “It doesn’t matter to me if Thomas entered your house with your blessing or not. I for one,” she said, resting her hand on her protruding belly, “will not be birthing my child at your clinic or with your assistance.”
Hannah’s tears streamed down her heated face as Emily’s words pierced her heart. How could Emily say such a thing? She talked for months about how wonderful it would be to have her best friend by her side as she labored to bring her first child into this world. Now, the friend who stood by her in a school yard full of bullies was acting the part of instigator. Did their friendship mean so little?
“And I won’t be stopping at your clinic for Franklin’s medications!” another older married woman shouted.
“When my niece has her child, I’m telling her to go to Doc Henderson!” A typically quiet man shouted.
As others added in vehement voices their promise to no longer visit Drew’s clinic, Hannah watched his face harden. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head.
Don’t give up, Drew! Her heart shouted.
When he lifted his head again, he held out his elbow for Hannah wordlessly. With a firm nod to her, she read the silent message: it was time to go. In the midst of angry murmurs circling about them, Hannah followed her husband to their carriage. As he took the seat next to her, his eyes faced forward. His jaw set in a hard line. His shoulders slumped in defeat.