Authors: Lorna Seilstad
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #Romance, #General, #FIC042040, #FIC042030, #FIC027050, #Sisters—Fiction
Hannah chuckled. “You’re excited and you should be. And if you find it’s not what you want, you can always return to looking for a placement with a chef.”
That was true, but didn’t Hannah understand how hard she’d already looked? Besides, working in a restaurant kitchen wasn’t her only dream.
She could sit still no longer. She walked to the porch rail and looped her arm around a column. “Do you know one of the best parts? I can visit the hospitals in the various cities and speak to the staff about better nutrition for the patients.”
“You’ll be a regular crusader like Aunt Sam.” Hannah picked up her glass of milk. “You’re frowning. What’s wrong?”
“I was simply thinking I hope I can get them to understand the importance of this matter better than I did Dr. Brooks.”
“I told him he should listen to you.”
She smiled. “I know you did. He came to the contest’s final round to see if I was any good.”
“And what did he say after you won?”
“Congratulations.” She returned to her seat. It was true he’d congratulated her, but it was the sincere way he’d said it that touched her so.
“Maybe if some of the other hospitals in the area implement your ideas, he’ll be more open to hearing what you have to say.” Hannah returned her empty milk glass to the tray.
“Motherhood has made you optimistic.” If only what Hannah said was true, but Charlotte had the distinct feeling Dr. Brooks was a long way from truly considering anything she had to offer.
“Tessa stopped by this morning. She calls him Dr. Handsome, and I’d have to agree. Wouldn’t you?”
Charlotte’s cheeks warmed as his face came to mind—the alarming smile and bottle-green eyes that could take anyone’s breath away. And he carried himself in such a self-confident way. His hands had been a strange combination of strong and gentle as he’d assisted her back to the vehicle. She absentmindedly touched her elbow.
“Charlotte? Wouldn’t you agree?”
She shook the image of Dr. Brooks from her thoughts. “Agree with what?”
“That Dr. Brooks is quite striking.”
“I guess some might think so.” Charlotte took a bite of her
sandwich. “But I think he’s quite stuck in his ways too. He thinks he knows everything, and he’s quite willing to tell anyone who’ll listen what to do and how to do it. You and I both know that after what I’ve been through, that’s the last thing I want.”
Hannah smiled. “You’ve been thinking about him romantically?”
“No! It’s just that Tessa brought it up.” She tugged her gloves back on. “I only wish things had gone better for the hospital’s sake. He came over to Aunt Sam’s Friday night and things didn’t end well.”
“You’ll figure out how to get through to him, and if not him, then someone else at the hospital.”
“I certainly hope so.”
“How’s Tessa adjusting to living with Aunt Sam?” Hannah shifted the blanket on her lap. “I hope it wasn’t a mistake to accept Aunt Sam’s offer for Tessa to stay for the summer. While it’s nice not to have to worry about anyone but Ellie, I do miss Tessa.”
“I don’t think she’s suffering a bit. Aunt Sam spoils her, and she encourages Tessa’s flair for the dramatic.”
“Like Tessa needs any more encouragement in that arena. Next thing we know, she’ll want to join a circus.”
“Truthfully, her newest pursuit is the theater. She wants to capture the hearts of audiences across the globe as an actress.”
“An actress? What happened to being a reporter, a photographer, and a librarian?”
“Well, you didn’t think that last one was going to work, did you?”
Hannah laughed. “No, I guess not.”
“Yesterday she told me if Lincoln won’t teach her to drive his automobile, she wants to try her hand at acting.”
Hannah’s eyebrows rose. “Well, I certainly don’t think Lincoln’s planning on giving her any driving lessons, so I guess you’d better tell our little sister to start brushing up on her Shakespeare.” She pointed to Charlotte. “And you’d better be brushing up on your speaking skills, Miss Gregory.”
Her speaking skills. Not her cooking skills. Maybe Charlotte had made a mistake in saying yes to this position.
Hannah was the speaker, the attorney, and Tessa certainly knew how to use her mouth as well, but Charlotte had always planned to serve people. Would she be happy outside a kitchen?
“‘O, look! Methinks I see my cousin’s ghost seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body upon a rapier’s point.’” Tessa held up her hand. “‘Stay, Tybalt, stay!’”
“Tessa, what are you doing?” Charlotte looked up from her papers and cookbooks strewn across the desk in Aunt Sam’s parlor.
Tessa clutched a perfume bottle to her chest. “‘Romeo, I come! This do I drink to thee.’” She pretended to drink from the vial and collapsed backwards onto the sofa.
She waited. Where was the applause? Didn’t her sister recognize the talent before her?
“Tessa, are you quite finished?”
Tessa sat up. “I have to practice. I start next week.”
“You start working as a clerk in the theater’s office.” Charlotte wrote something on her paper. “Aunt Sam made it clear you would not be acting.”
“She said ‘yet’ and you know it.” Tessa clutched her book of Shakespearean works. Even the thought of stepping on the stage of Saint Paul’s Metropolitan Opera House made every inch of her body tingle. “Once the director sees my natural talent, I’m sure he’ll find a part for me.”
“You’ll be assisting the theater’s manager, Mr. Jurgenson, in any way he asks. I doubt you’ll even go backstage, let alone meet the director.” Charlotte set her pen in the holder. “And Tessa,
don’t become a pest. It was very kind of Aunt Sam to arrange this opportunity. Mr. Jurgenson is an important man and her friend. Whatever you do at his theater will reflect on her, so I hope you won’t do anything that might embarrass her.”
“Me?” Tessa scowled. Why didn’t her sisters trust her? They didn’t understand this was important to her. Acting in the theater had consumed her every thought for at least ten days now. “I thought we promised to support one another’s dreams.”
“But you have a different dream every other week.”
Tessa sat up straight, looking directly at Charlotte. “It’s not my fault I have so many talents. It’s impossible to pick only one thing to pursue.”
“I imagine you have quite a dilemma.” Charlotte chuckled and shook her head. She gathered up her papers and headed for the door.
“Where are you going? I wanted to show you my version of the balcony scene from
“You were going to do both parts?”
“I am unless you can breathe life into one of those gingerbread men you made.”
“Sorry, Tess, I won’t be able to witness your little dramatic foray. I need to go prepare these recipes that I plan to teach the ladies to make next week when I start my lectures. I have a real job to do.”
Tessa glared at her. She’d show Charlotte, Hannah, and everyone else how serious she was. She’d get the director’s attention, and she’d prove herself. When she took her place on the stage, they’d have to eat their words. Sooner or later, they’d realize Tessa Gregory could do anything she put her mind to.
Rubbing his eyes, Joel sat back in his chair. He’d spent an hour hovering over this antiquated microscope. His shoulder muscles bunched beneath his coat, and he fought the urge to toss the device and its scratched lens into the garbage.
He eased the slide he’d been examining from the stage and re
turned it to the box. Without better magnification, he’d never be able to determine if the cells from Mrs. Willadson’s biopsy were normal or cancerous. A mistake in their identification could cost the forty-eight-year-old woman her life. What a way to begin the week.
That was ridiculous. Things might be tight at the hospital, but they shouldn’t be so bad that a piece of equipment could cost a patient his or her life. He’d worked hard to keep his area within its budget, so Dr. Arthur Ancker was going to have to find pennies somewhere for a new microscope.
Recalling an earlier conversation with the hospital superintendent, Joel smiled. Arthur had promised Joel a share of the funds from the next Ladies’ Guild fund-raiser. He remembered reading about the success of their event, which had brought in more than enough to make the microscope purchase.
After covering the brass microscope, he shoved his notes in a folder and marched out of the closet-size laboratory. He hurried down the stairs to the hospital superintendent’s office, his heavy footfalls echoing in the tiled hallway. As he reached Dr. Ancker’s office, Terrence Ruckman met him in the hallway.
“What brings you down here, Dr. Brooks?”
Joel eyed the hospital’s officious bookkeeper. With his pristine suits and slicked-back hair, he always seemed as if he’d be more comfortable in a bank than a hospital. Joel disliked the way he acted like he owned the hospital when he actually held little power other than to pay the bills and keep the books.
“I’ve come to speak to Dr. Ancker about a new microscope for my ward.” There was no need to keep that information to himself. This was an administrative decision, and Terrence would know all about it when he wrote the check.
“I’m afraid you missed him by about an hour.” He exhaled through disapproving lips. “But I can already tell you there’s no money for microscopes for you or anyone else.”
“Thanks for the information, but I’ll take this up with Arthur, if you don’t mind.”
Terrence shrugged. “Suit yourself, but the money isn’t there.”
“What do you mean? I know the Ladies’ Guild raised three hundred dollars a couple of weeks ago, and it was earmarked for new equipment. Did he spend it already?”
Terrence coughed into his fist. “Trust me. That coffer is empty, Dr. Brooks. Maybe you should do some fund-raising yourself. With all the wealthy women who seem to patronize your women’s ward, I’m sure you could charm a few dollars out of them.”
“Fund-raising isn’t my job.” And neither was charming his patients. While some doctors gave the city’s wealthy women extra attention, he had never been one of them and he never would be.
“But taking care of your patients is your job. If they need a microscope . . .” He let his words fall away. Then, with a brief nod of dismissal, the bookkeeper walked away.
Joel stared after him, trying to squelch the irritation the man inspired. Was he telling the truth about the money? Arthur had promised it to Joel, and it wasn’t like him to go back on his word, but maybe something more urgent had come up. With a six-hundred-bed hospital, something was always coming up. He’d ask Arthur about it later. In the meantime, he’d better find a microscope in this hospital that worked better than his before he ended up performing an unnecessary surgery on poor Mrs. Willadson.
Black trim accentuated the long lines of Charlotte’s copper-colored travel suit. Even though she’d been given appreciative nods from a few waiting passengers in the train depot, she still felt uneasy in the new clothes. She smoothed her narrow mohair skirt and glanced around the large space. The spiky pheasant feathers on her hat bobbed as she turned to take in the passengers at the ticket counter, those buzzing about, and those seated at the high-backed benches. How would she ever recognize the woman the gas company had hired to accompany her? She had hoped to meet her
before boarding her train, but so far, no one seemed to meet Mr. Johnson’s scant description of Mrs. Larkin.
She shivered against the cool of the morning and glanced out the window at the men loading a baggage car. Wasn’t that her small trunk containing her new frocks? On Saturday’s shopping trip, Aunt Sam had insisted Charlotte needed at least four new outfits for her lectures, including a duster. After the clerk pointed out that the sleeves on her current coat did not come to the fingertips as they should, Aunt Sam had added the coat to their order. Her new masculine-styled coat boasted a cape collar and a leather belt. Given the chill in the air and the steam rising from the locomotive’s bowels, perhaps she should have worn the coat.
“All aboard the 310 from Saint Paul to White Bear Lake!” the conductor called from the doorway.
Charlotte drew in a deep breath and followed him out the door and onto the platform. She presented her ticket, boarded the train, and found a seat by the window. Peering out the pane, she searched for Mrs. Larkin.
“Is this seat taken, sugar?”
“No, ma’am.” Charlotte turned to take in the older woman with the thick Southern accent. “I mean, not really. I was hoping to save it for my traveling companion, Mrs. Larkin.”
The woman plunked down in the seat, and Charlotte stared at her wide-eyed. Perhaps the woman was hard of hearing and hadn’t understood she wanted to save the seat.
“So, you must be our chef—Miss Charlotte Gregory?”
“You’re Mrs. Larkin?”
“Yes indeed. The very same.” She settled a large bag in front of her wide midriff. “But I declare, you need to call me Molly.”
Could Charlotte allow herself to speak to an elder in such a familiar manner? As if the lady sensed her misgivings, she patted Charlotte’s arm, a smile reaching her pale blue eyes. “We’ll be together a great deal, you know.”
“Yes, of course—Miss Molly.” That seemed more appropriate. “Please call me Charlotte.”
The whistle blew, and with a mighty whoosh the train pulled away from the station. Molly patted her gleaming white hair and checked the position of her hat. “Well, sugar, it looks like we’re starting down a new track in life. It’s as exciting as a cow in a cabbage patch.”
Charlotte grinned. “I’m taking a guess, but I’d say you’re not native to Minnesota.”
“And whatever gave you that idea?” Laughter shook Molly’s shoulders. “When my Oscar went on to his great reward, I moved in with my sister in Saint Paul.” Molly shook her head. “My stubborn sister refused to move to the South, where it was warm, so I joined her up here in the land of blizzards.”
Molly shared a bowlful of information with Charlotte. She’d never been blessed with children, so she’d helped her husband in his pharmacy for many years. She’d lived in Minnesota for three years now. “Living with Levinia isn’t the easiest thing for a body to do. She’s as tight as a corset on a fat lady and just as persnickety. I reckon my traveling will be good for both of us.”
The elderly woman’s ease in sharing opened the door for Charlotte to do likewise. She explained how her parents had died and how Hannah had left law school to take care of her and her younger sister, Tessa. “Hannah isn’t a rule keeper, so working at the switchboard wasn’t easy for her.”