Authors: Susan Leigh Carlton
Susan Leigh Hamilton
Copyright © 2014 by Susan Leigh Carlton.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.
Susan Leigh Carlton
Tomball, TX 77377
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
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Susan Leigh Carlton. -- 1st Ed.
This is a western romance short story. It is not a novel.
It is the story of a young frontier doctor, following in the footsteps of his father on the old western frontier town of, Helena, Montana.
It is a sequel to
The Montana Doctor’s Bride
and features the son of Doctor Carter Palmer. Sweethearts in high school, Patrick and Mary Louise Parsons lose contact when they attend colleges on opposite sides of the country. He returns to Helena, to join his father’s medical practice, and discovers she has married and has a daughter. He patiently works to reconnect with her.
After the death of her husband he waits for her to grieve, then he asks permission to call on her. Doubt and guilt assail her, but in the end, she decides it’s time for a new life.
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Doctor Carter Palmer had always wanted to be a doctor. His dream became a reality when he graduated from Georgetown Medical School in 1860, at the age of twenty-two, after receiving his degree; he spent an apprenticeship in the Washington Infirmary, one of the first hospitals in the nation’s capital. After war broke out in 1861, he was eager to serve. He thought it would be the best place in which to hone his craft. He was correct in his belief. There were stringent requirements to meet before one could become a doctor in the
The Army Medical Board required all surgeons to pass an oral and written test to determine their competence in the medical sciences as well as history, geography, literature, philosophy and languages. After a high rate of failure from these examinations, the Secretary of War lowered the requirements significantly. The difficult requirements caused the number of incompetent surgeons to rival the competent. Many of those that served had an alarmingly disparate base of knowledge to wit: There were Army surgeons who lacked the latest knowledge of medical theory and technology. Many of the civilian volunteers were lacking surgical experience.
Charges of needless operations performed solely to perfect surgical skills were made. If a patient’s wound proved uninteresting, he might be abandoned. There were charges of surgeons operating while intoxicated. Procedures put in place by the Surgeon General of the United States eliminated most of these situations eventually,
Dr. Carter Palmer, degree in hand, decided the Army Medical Corp was a place he would be able to gain experience unrivaled in any office, or civilian infirmary. He passed the requirements easily, and was admitted into the practice of military medicine. He was not one of those called “butcher”, a name commonly applied to Army doctors. He was a compassionate man, sickened by the carnage of war.
After the war ended, he returned to his Rockville, Maryland home to find his beloved wife Lucy had died. Lucy’s best friend, Elizabeth lived next door had lost her husband in the war. She was the one to give Carter the details of his wife’s death due to smallpox. He told her of his intention to sell the house with all of its memories and move to a boarding house. She offered to rent part of her home for him to use as office space, and provide him room and board, in order to supplement her widow’s income.
Carter accepted Elizabeth’s offer and moved in. Elizabeth acted as his nurse, and accompanied him on house calls. She also told him he needed to let go of his deceased wife and live for himself. Offended by the advice, he decided to close his practice and accept an offer from the Army to be a contract surgeon for the US Cavalry in Montana.
His last night in Rockville a desperate husband pleaded with him to help his wife, who was in labor and had begun bleeding profusely due to a ruptured placenta. Carter asked Elizabeth to help him. It was a bad night, in which they lost both the mother and the baby.
The loss traumatized Elizabeth. Carter tried to comfort her. In the process the comforting turned out to be mutual, and they ended in bed together. The next morning, he left for Helena, Montana.
After he served out his contract with the Army, he decided to set up a medical practice in Helena. Loneliness overwhelmed him and he began a correspondence with Elizabeth.
After exchanging several letters, he asked her to join him in Helena as his wife. She declined his offer, saying…
I have considered your request to join you in Montana and in marriage. I must decline your kind offer. My circumstances have changed since you were here, and my leaving Rockville is not practical. I have too many binding ties to consider it.
I hope my rejection of your offer does not prevent you from keeping our correspondence alive. It means a lot and a new letter is the highlight of my day.
The binding ties Elizabeth mentioned existed because their single night of intimacy caused her to give birth to Carter’s baby. She did not want her indiscretion to trouble him.
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Taken in part from The Montana Doctor’s Bride
Helena, Montana… 1868
He picked up the letter, and reread it. The wording had not changed. She would not be coming to Montana. She would not marry him.
Dejected, Carter walked down the street to the Christian Church and found the pastor, Jackson Owens wiping down the seats in the pews. “Jack, can we talk for a few minutes?” he asked.
“Sure,” Jack said. “What’s on your mind?”
“She turned me down,” Carter said. “After we talked, I wrote her and asked her to come to Helena and marry me. I got this today.” He handed Jack the letter.
After reading the letter, Jack looked at his friend.
“I wouldn’t give up if I were you. That doesn’t say she didn’t want to marry you. It says impractical. What does impractical mean?”
“I’ve learned in my ministry, problems perceived by folks often turn out not to be problems after all. Write her back. Ask her for more details. Ask why? If that doesn’t work, I suggest you go back and see for yourself. You have enough legitimate interests there to justify the trip.”
“Thanks, Jack. As usual, your advice is good.” He shook his friend’s hand and went home
After he saw his last patient of the day, he sat down to compose a letter.
My Dear Elizabeth,
I received your reply to my proposal with great disappointment. When you say circumstances have changed, are you addressing financial circumstances? It certainly is none of my business, but if I can help, I will.
Have you found someone you care for? If you are not promised to another, I believe we can resolve any problems you might have, other than a lack of interest in my proposal. If that is the case, please tell me and I shall not push myself on you anymore.
This letter is of necessity, short. You have indicated a wish to continue a correspondence, but topics are limited. I have no news worth relating at this point.
He put the letter in the mail the same day. It was ten days before he received another letter.
My Dear Carter,
I have your latest letter in hand. It pains me to have caused you distress. I assure you my intentions lay in the opposite direction.
I have no relationship with another, and my concerns are not financial, though my situation is tight; but for reasons I do not wish to discuss, I cannot accept your proposal.
After the services, Carter showed the latest letter to Jack’
Sitting with Jack, in the church after services, Carter showed him the latest letter, “Jack, I received this yesterday. What do you make of this? She has some problems, and for some reason, she does not want to tell me about them.
“Well,” Jack said. “It’s pretty clear she cares for you. I have no idea what the problem might be. If you care enough, you need to go find out.”
“I’m going to put the word out that I’m going to be away for two weeks. I have to get to the bottom of this.”
Eight days later, Rockville…
Carter rented a carriage and drove to Shady Grove Road. He glanced at his house; it was neat and appeared to be well cared for, so did Elizabeth’s.
He knocked on the door and heard a noise from inside. She was home. He heard the door lock click. Elizabeth opened the door.
“Yes?” she said. A shocked expression appeared on her face, before she fainted, dead away. It happened so fast, Carter barely managed to catch her before she crumpled to the floor. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her to the davenport, and went to the kitchen, where he dampened a towel. He wiped her forehead gently. He called her name as she began to stir.
“Carter, it’s you. What are you doing here?” she asked. “I didn’t know you were coming,” she stammered.
“I’m here because I thought you needed help. Your letters worried me, I had no choice but to come and make sure you were well.”
“I am well. Whatever gave you the idea I was not?”
“You gave no indication what was bothering you. I was afraid you had an illness and didn’t want to burden me. I had to know, Elizabeth. I care about you.”
She sat up. “Excuse me, I have to attend to something; I’ll be right back.” When she returned, she was carrying a little boy.
“Carter, this is the circumstance I did not want to drop on you. He is your son. I named him Carter Patrick. He recently had his second birthday.”
He stood. Stunned, he said. “You had my son, and didn’t want to tell me. Why, for goodness sakes?”
“You shouldn’t have to pay for an indiscretion on my part.”
“If I remember my medical training, it takes two to make a baby,” he said.
“I came to your bed, it was my fault,” she said.
“Fault? For God’s sake, Elizabeth, he’s a blessing. For two years, I’ve been a father and didn’t know. I wish you had told me.”
Carter extended his arms to take his son, but the boy turned away, and buried his head in the hollow of his mother’s neck and shoulder. Carter wrapped his arms around the two of them. His eyes were moist. “You shouldn’t have gone through this alone. I wouldn’t have let you, had I known.”
“I know that. You needed to put the shock of losing Lucy, and the nightmares of war behind you. You couldn’t do that here. When I realized I was with child, you had been gone two months. I couldn’t bring myself to tell you so I kept putting it off until it was too late. By then I was afraid to tell you.”
He released them, and motioned her to sit down. “We have a lot to talk about. We need to decide how we are going to go about this”
She sat beside him. “I don’t hold you responsible for this. He’s the joy of my life. I always wanted to be a mother and now I am. He’s a happy child, no bother at all.”
“Listen to you,” Carter said. “You’re talking about my son. I am responsible. I came back here wanting to marry you and take you to Montana. Now, there’s even more reason for us to get married. If you don’t want to move there, I’ll return here. I want to be part of your life, wherever it may be.
“Your letters made me realize how much I care for you,” he said. “Elizabeth, I love you, and I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?”
“Are you sure?”
He answered, “I have never more sure of anything in my life. I want to marry you. Today. Now. Will you?”
“Yes, I will be your wife. It’s been in my thoughts since you came home from the war, but I knew you had to grieve for Lucy. I wanted Carter to have a Papa, but it had to be you and you had to want it too.”
“How, when, and where would you like to get married?” he asked.
I don’t care how. As soon as possible. That means the where is here.”
“I’m reluctant to ask this question, because I’m afraid of what your answer might be. Would you have me move here, or will you come to Montana to live?”
“Here would be fine, but so would Montana. Wherever you are is where I want to be,” she said.
“Carter Patrick, this is your Papa. Can you give him a hug?” She held him out for his Papa.
With his son in his arms for the first time, Carter felt the joy of the short arms wrapped around his neck. “Will you give me a big hug, please?”
The little boy squeezed his arms around Carter’s neck and said, “Unnhh.”
“That was a good one. Do you want to go with Mama and Papa to get married?”
His son nodded emphatically.
“Can you say Papa?” he asked.
“Papa”, he echoed.
Elizabeth said, “You two talk and I’ll freshen up.”
“Wait, I’ve put this off long enough,” Carter said. He put his son down, and wrapped his arms around his soon-to-be wife, pulled her close and lowered his mouth to hers.
She pressed herself against him. “I’ve been waiting two long years for this,” she said. When his lips touched hers, a series of shocks raced through her body. She parted her lips allowing him entry. His tongue touched hers. She moaned, and tightened her arms about him. Pressing her hand against the back of his head, she deepened the kiss. When they broke apart, she said, “You may have to carry me to marry me. My knees are weak.”
“If that’s what it takes. I’ll carry Carter on one arm and you on the other. You go do what you need and us men will talk.”
She smiled and started to leave the room. She turned and looked back. Carter Patrick was sitting on his papa’s knee and holding his hands. His papa bounced him up and down.
Her heart filled with emotion and her eyes filled with tears. This was a sight she never thought she would see.