Smoke River Family(7)By: Lynna Banning
Winifred drank two glasses of excellent cold lemonade, then donned her hat and started up the other hill. Thank goodness she hadn’t laced her corset tight this morning. She didn’t fancy fainting twice in Dr. Dougherty’s entrance hall.
At the top of the rise she spied a neatly fenced area with leafy green trees and chiseled headstones. A spreading oak shaded the area, and she sank down on the thick grass beneath it to catch her breath.
At the sight of the mound of fresh dirt indicating a recent burial, she closed her eyes tight and began to cry. She thought she would be over these bouts of weeping she’d fought this past month; perhaps she would never get over Cissy’s death.
Maybe not, but now there was Rosemarie. And, she acknowledged, swiping tears off her cheeks, Rosemarie was the reason she had come.
A handful of yellow roses lay on top of Cissy’s grave. Winifred’s heart squeezed at the sight. Dr. Dougherty must have paid an early morning visit after delivering the sheriff’s twins. She swallowed a hiccupped sob. Even in death, her sister was fortunate.
She still resented Nathaniel Dougherty’s sweeping Cissy off to this rough, uncivilized place, but a small part of her ached at the man’s obvious sorrow. She knew how devastating it was to lose someone you loved; it must be doubly so if you had pledged to share your life with that person.
She sank down beside the grave site and struggled to compose her thoughts. You knew I would come, didn’t you, Cissy? Was your husband so crushed by your loss that he could not tell me of your death until after the funeral?
She yanked up shoots of the green grass poking up from the earth beside her and crushed them in her palm. I would have come, Cissy. You know I would.
She removed the straw hat and bowed her head. The angle of the sun shifted and she felt its rays warm her shoulders and then burn slowly through the light muslin shirtwaist she wore. She did not care. She rolled the sleeves up to her elbows and stayed where she was beside her sister’s grave.
She tried to stop feeling, stop thinking. Instead, she steadily shredded the grass under her hand and stared at those yellow roses. They were beginning to wilt in the sunshine.
Suddenly a chill swept through her. How strange loss could be. When Mama was killed, Papa straightened his shoulders and went back to his desk at the bank. He had provided for Cissy and herself, sent them to private schools and later to the music conservatory. They had maids and cooks and tutors, but the hole in their hearts yawned like a chasm. Papa bore it best. He never wept, as she and Cissy had.
Remembering those black days, she turned her face up to the sun and lost track of time.
* * *
“Ah, glad you back, missy. Doctor go see boy who have chicken spots.”
“You mean chicken pox?”
“Ah. ‘Pox,’” he pronounced carefully. “Learn new English word. Make stew for your supper. Tonight I play fan-tan with friend Ming Cha. You stay here with baby?”
“Me? But I know noth—”
“Not hard, missy. I show.”
Sam demonstrated how to heat the nippled bottle of milk and sprinkle some on her wrist to check the temperature, and then, with a wide grin that showed his elusive dimple, he was gone.
Oh, well. How hard could it be to feed a month-old baby?
Besides, she must learn these things if she wanted to bring her plan to fruition.
She dawdled over her stew and the fluffy dumpling Sam had added, listening for Rosemarie’s hungry cry from upstairs and praying desperately for the doctor’s return.
But Dr. Dougherty did not return. When Rosemarie’s faint wail rose, Winifred heated the milk as Sam had shown her and flew up the stairs to feed her precious niece. By the time she opened the door to the doctor’s bedroom where the baby lay in the ruffled wicker bassinet, Rosemarie had worked up to quite a lusty yell.
“There, there, little one,” Winifred crooned. She set the warmed milk on the book-cluttered nightstand and lifted the child into her arms. A sopping wet diaper plastered itself against the front of her shirtwaist and instantly she held the baby away from her. Oh, dear. She would have to exchange the wet garment for a dry one; but how, exactly, did one accomplish this? Sam had left no instructions concerning wet diapers.
She riffled through the handsome walnut chest of drawers until she found clean diapers, then laid Rosemarie on the doctor’s bed and studied how the safety pins were arranged. Rosemarie screamed and grew red in the face, and Winifred began to perspire.