A Sweet Governess for the Godless Doctor by Olivia Haywood

Prologue

Colorado Springs, 1891

 

“Is there nothing more that can be done?” Ruth pleaded as Dr. Thompson clipped his weathered brown surgical leather bag shut. “There must be something.”

 

“I am sorry, Ruth.” Dr. Thompson told at her gently. “We can only pray he survives the night. The rest is in the Lord’s hands.”

 

Ruth wiped tears from her eyes and turned toward her father lying helplessly in bed. She could not bear listening to his labored breathing anymoree, and willow bark tea no longer helped to reduce the fever. For days she had tried to get him to eat and drink, but he was too weak.

 

Dr. Thompson placed his black top hat firmly on his head, covering the gray hair that had thinned out over the years. He was a kind man who sometimes helped out at her father’s clinic and had become like an uncle to Ruth.

 

“All you can do is to try to keep him comfortable,” he said with a sympathetic smile, “It breaks my heart, Ruth, to see my dear friend like this. I will come by early tomorrow morning.” He tried to hide his melancholy, but nothing escaped Ruth. She saw the sadness in his eyes and knew the time she feared most had come; she was not ready to face the truth. She believed if she prayed hard enough, her father would be healed.

 

“Thank you,” Ruth said, “I know you have done all you can, and I shall pray hard.”

 

After bidding Dr. Thompson farewell, Ruth made her way back to her father’s bedside, a beautifully hand-crafted cherrywood four-poster bed with intricate carvings. The green and red tapestry drapes had been pushed back, and cushions were placed comfortably beneath her father’s head.

 

She found him shivering, but she could not put any more blankets over him. The floorboards creaked gently as she rinsed a cloth in cool water and placed it over his brow. Beads of sweat had gathered over his mustachioed lip as well and she dabbed it dry.

 

His strong masculine features and once rosy smiling cheeks were now thin and pallid, and his skin had a bluish tint. She missed his warm smile that brought her comfort during her darkest days. She sat down on the walnut armchair next to his bed, smoothing the bedclothes.

 

Oh, Lord Jesus, why? Ruth closed her eyes, repeating the question she’d asked at least a hundred times since her father fell ill.  Of all people, why her father? But even one of the greatest physicians she knew of, Dr. Francis McKinley, who tirelessly helped patients fight consumption, was now suffering from the same dreaded disease as her father, Dr. Spencer McKinley. Diphtheria is just not fair, Lord, Ruth argued, eyes closed, and tasting salt as tears slipped down her cheeks.

 

Her beloved father, mentor, and best friend; she could not lose him, she just could not. What would she do without him? Her mother died when she was a baby. There was no one else, and she felt so alone.

 

As she leaned forward to rest her head on the side of the bed, she felt her father move and he began to cough, heaving with the effort. She immediately stood and moved the cushions, lifting him gently to a more upright position.

 

“It is alright, Father,” Ruth murmured soothingly, “I am here, right beside you.” She grasped his hand and held it firmly.

 

Blinking against the dimly lit gas lamps, he slowly opened his eyes and glanced around the room.

 

“Ruth?” His usually deep gruff voice was now faint, like a whisper. He coughed again, taking heavy rapid breaths.

 

“No, Father, please don’t talk.” Ruth leaned closer and modeled deep slow breaths, hoping this would ease his discomfort.

 

“Ruth, you must listen,” he pressed, a frown sweeping over his face, his eyes watching her closely. “I can see in your eyes that you are scared. There is no reason to be scared. We all reach an end, and this is my time, my dear. But I am so very blessed, knowing that when I take my last breath, the last image I’ll take with me will be that of my beautiful daughter.”

 

“Father,” Ruth buried her face in her hands, “please don’t talk like that, you are going to get better. Tomorrow will be a better day…”

 

“Yes, Ruth,” he rasped. “Tomorrow is a new beginning for you. I want to tell you something.” He paused, gasping for air.

 

Ruth wondered why he was being so stubborn about recovering.

 

“Father, please stop talking and rest.” She felt her eyes sting as she began to realize that she would lose the person she loved and admired most in the world. Her only remaining family member who had taught her all she knew and helped her grow in her Christian path.

 

“Ruth, in the top drawer of my cabinet you will find a letter. I want you to get it for me.”

 

She didn’t want to leave his side but she retrieved it as he had asked, wondering what was so special about the letter that he wanted it now, at a time like this.

 

His voice came out in short gasps. “We both know I am dying my dear one, and I don’t want you living here on your own with no one to help or protect you.”

 

Ruth felt like she had fallen through the floor. No! “No, Father,” she protested, trying to be strong for her father. “The Lord will spare you.”

 

“Ruth,” her father stroked her hair and gave a weak smile. “A good friend of mine lives in Wyoming, Alexander Grant.” He paused, taking a deep breath, and continued. “He is a great doctor. I wrote to him and told him everything happening here.”

 

“Why did you write to him?” Ruth frowned, instinctively knowing she would not like what he was about to say.

 

“I want you to go to him …” He paused and began to cough heavily.

 

“No, Father, I can’t leave you!” Ruth said desperately and gripped his hand.

 

His chest rattled as he coughed, and in short raspy breaths he took in air.

 

“Ruth,” he implored as she began to cry, “I need to know that you’ll be safe. Take the letter with you; he will look after you.” He paused, gasping, “You can … help …”

 

“Oh, Father!” Ruth broke down, giving in to her grief. “I—I cannot lose you—I won’t know what to do.”

 

“Take courage,” he urged hoarsely as he struggled to take in air. “Remember Esther in the Bible, and your own namesake.” He paused and drew in a deep breath of air. “Ruth, so loyal; stay devoted to our Lord.” He was wheezing but tried to smile through a painful grimace.

 

Why was he talking like this? She had faith, didn’t she? She knew the Lord was in control of everything and she always put her faith in Him. Her footsteps were guided by His word.

 

Ruth tried to wipe her eyes, “I will, Father, I promise.” She dashed dampness from her face.

 

He closed his eyes and smiled. “Now I can die a happy man.  Soon I shall be with our Lord and Savior, and I shall see … your mother.”

 

“Father, be strong!” Ruth pleaded. “I know you can still fight this. It is not the end.”

 

“Please, Ruth, read to me,” he glanced around the room. “On the table …”

 

She nodded and released her grip on his father’s hand. She retrieved his Bible from the small table at the foot of the bed and returned to her seat. She opened the book and turned its pages until she found his favorite verse, Psalm 31:24.

 

Her voice was shaky as she read, “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord—”

 

She stopped reading as tears blurred her eyes and sobs overtook her again. Spencer McKinley lifted his hand and touched her face, smiling. “Your voice is like an angel’s …” he murmured, almost to himself. “I love you, Ruth. Please pray with me.”

 

She held his hands in her own as they prayed together, “I love you, too, Father.”

 

For some time, she rested her head on the bed, her hands still holding his. They remained that way in silence for some time, the only sound that of his irregular breathing. When his hold went slack and the room became silent, she knew he was gone.

 

“Father, no—” Ruth whispered, but stopped herself. Her entire family had been her mother and her father, and now both were gone, leaving her completely alone. She had imagined she would have her father for years to come and she was ill prepared for the stark reality that faced her now. As the new bleakness of her life suddenly dawned, she gave in to tears once again.