Short Story #1–Historical Fiction
Do you know what a lithophane is? This fictional, historical short story will enlighten you. Find a warm hearth if possible, then pour yourself a hot cup of tea and enjoy!
A Lady for Doctor Chadwick
by Michele Wilder
Entering the cottage, Colin stomped snow from his boots and tossed his bag onto a small table. He handed Mrs. Wallace his hat as he worked down the buttons of his coat.
“Long day, Dr. Chadwick?” she asked, catching the hat on a peg.
He draped his coat over a rack. “Incredibly so, Mrs. Wallace.”
“I saw the Thorne boy in town.” Expectation dripped from her words.
“I didn’t think Mrs. Thorne would deliver this child either, but—“ He beamed. “—a girl they named Colina joined the family a few hours ago.”
Her bottom lip quivered. “And named in your honor,” she breathed before biting her lip into submission and hastening to the hearth to stab the coals with a poker. Straightening, she dabbed her apron against the corner of her eye. “There’s venison on the table and bread and apple pie. The water is hot for tea, but I’ll throw another stick on.”
Colin watched her hitch then grab her rheumatic shoulder before tossing a log onto the flame. More like a grandmother than hired help, compassion filled him. “Thank you. That will be all for tonight, Mrs. Wallace. It’s terribly late.” He glanced about his clean, cozy cottage. “How satisfying it is to come home at any time of day or night to a kind face, a blazing fire, and a delicious meal.”
“You deserve more than an old woman meeting you at the door, sir. You need the tender embrace of a wife, the laughter of children of your own.”
Colin scowled. “But, who would put up with my being gone all hours of the day and night?” He gestured toward a door beside him. “Not to mention the illnesses and injuries that cross that threshold. You’ve had to assist with more unexpected and gruesome situations than any other servant in all of Sheffield. Besides, few would even consider marrying a physician just starting his practice. ” His voice quieted. “And few, I’ve discovered, are fond of cinnabar-colored hair.”
“Oh, sir, red hair or not, the good Lord has someone for you. You just have to look for her.”
Colin rubbed his three-day growth of beard. Consumed with studying and caring for the infirmed, he spent little time reflecting upon his own needs…let alone desires.
“I’ll be going, sir.” She depressed the latch of the narrow door leading to her room but stopped and nodded toward the sideboard. “Oh, yes. A letter and package arrived today.”
After she left, Colin broke the seal of an invitation to a Christmas ball at Brambly Manor. Of course he couldn’t decline a request from Lord and Lady Loxley. He set it aside and unwrapped the package, devoid of a note, to reveal a parcel of tea and a teacup and saucer. “Ah, Lady Loxley!” A few weeks ago he had stayed with their youngest son, gravely ill with influenza, through two harrowing days and nights. He examined the salmon swimming across the teacup and said aloud, “Oh, to idle away an afternoon fishing!”
After rinsing the new cup with hot water, he prepared tea, filled his plate, and sat stretching his legs toward the snapping fire. He offered a prayer of thanksgiving before devouring his venison and a huge slice of pie.
Sipping the tea, he stared into the flames and contemplated Mrs. Wallace’s words. Truth be known, whenever he did think of having a wife to hold and love, loneliness gnawed within him. The wee girl born today only reminded him further of the emptiness in his life. At thirty-four with a new, yes, but growing practice and a cottage of his own, it wasn’t that he couldn’t afford a family. He swirled the remaining brew in his cup. “You’re right, Mrs. Wallace,” he whispered. It would not be an easy task, but he determined to search in earnest for a wife.
After tipping the teacup for the last swallow and withdrawing it from his lips, his focus fell to the bottom of the cup. The lukewarm liquid caught in his throat, and he forced the gulp. Narrowing his eyes, he lifted the base to the fire.
The flames danced behind a dimensional portrait of a beautiful young woman, its existence unnoticeable until illuminated from behind. A lithophane! He studied the picture. Curly hair caught in a bun topped a rounded face set with wide, kindhearted eyes above a gentle but perhaps playful smile. What a lovely creature!
Perhaps Lady Loxley thought he should find a wife as well and had sent him a subtle message that this woman will be at the ball.
The day of the ball, excitement had driven Colin to complete his rounds despite the relentless snowfall, and that night he entered Brambly Manor not as a physician but as an eligible man in search of a lady.
“Good evening, Dr. Chadwick,” Lady Loxley greeted him.
“Lady Loxley.” Colin kissed her hand. “Thank you for your kind invitation and generous gift.”
She blinked several times.
“My wife is always generous—too generous,” Lord Loxley interjected.
Colin turned toward him. “Indeed she is. You both are.”
“Ah! Enough about generosity.” His eyes twinkled as he nodded toward his eldest son. “Peter has been waiting for you, and it looks as if he is in the company of some agreeable young ladies.”
Colin’s eyes shifted briefly from Lord and Lady Loxley to Peter and the ladies. “And is there anyone I should pay particular attention to?”
Lady Loxley raised an eyebrow and cocked her head. “Only you can determine that, Dr. Chadwick.”
After bowing, Colin walked toward Peter, a friend and fellow bachelor, and the four ladies who accompanied him. “Chadwick!” Peter called.
Peter introduced Colin to each lady. The first acknowledged him with a nod then stared at his hair while tapping her fan against a mocking smile. The next, who had a pointed nose and giddy laugh, did not know what a physician was, and Colin doubted she still understood despite Peter’s explanation. The third lady, a beauty for sure, shifted her attention from Peter to Colin only long enough to greet him, and the final and prettiest one lifted her chin before saying, “My father thinks physicians are quacks.”
As they made small talk, a lady in a blue velvet dress walked behind Peter. She fluttered her fan before resting it just below her eyes, her coy gaze captivating Colin’s attention even after she looked away. With hair piled in a similar fashion to the lady in the lithophane, his heart leapt. It’s her! He watched her until she melted into the crowd.
Civility tethered him to his present company, but once the opportunity arose, he excused himself to search for the lady in the blue velvet. At last he saw her in front of him walking toward the punch bowl. He hurried to approach her, but fingertips drummed his shoulder. “Dr. Chadwick.”
Colin pivoted toward the voice.
“Sir,” a man said, “you are needed most urgently.” Colin looked back at the lady. A man handed her a punch glass, and she strolled away with him by her side. “Please, sir, you must come.”
Colin sighed and followed the man to a waiting servant. “It’s Squire Fisher, sir. He’s asked that I fetch you at once.” The squire? He had fully recovered from the influenza. Surely it hadn’t returned.
Colin excused himself to Lord and Lady Loxley and followed the servant into the night. His mood mirrored the sky as his horse galloped through the heavy snowfall and biting wind to Blackwood Hall. Of all nights, why tonight?
When he arrived, the squire, wringing his hands, greeted him and ushered him through the hall and up the stairs. “I’m so sorry to call you, but—but it’s Bertie. Bertie, my brother’s only child, came recently to visit and has taken terribly sick. After my dear Annie—well, I couldn’t bear it if—if…”
Colin admonished himself for being so heartless. Though the squire had survived the influenza last month, his wife had not. “Now, now, Squire. When did this start?”
“After the noon meal. I feel fine, well, everyone feels fine, but—“
“Sir, you know me well enough. Just short, precise answers.”
Squire Fisher nodded.
”What are the symptoms?”
“Flashes of light. Dreadful, intense pain right here.” He pointed to the side of his head. His eyes puddled with tears. “Then vomiting. So much vomiting! I…I…”
By this time they had arrived at a closed door. Mollie, a young maid, stood before it. “Squire, I suggest you rest downstairs by the fire until I assess the situation,” Colin said.
“Yes, yes, of course. Mollie, do whatever Dr. Chadwick tells you.”
As the squire lumbered toward the stairs, Colin and Mollie entered the room. They gagged on the stench of vomit hanging in the cold air. “Why is there no candle? Why is the fire so low?”
“The light caused pain, sir.”
“Quickly, Mollie, empty this basin. I’ll stoke the fire. Bertie may succumb to influenza if it’s not warm enough.” A shiver scuttled up his spine. “Also, bring me some tea lest I fall ill as well. Make haste!” She dashed from the room.
Colin cast a glimpse at the undulating lump in the bed before flinging open the windows and sucking fresh air into his lungs. He threw logs into the fireplace and prodded the embers until flames lashed above them. After closing the windows and clicking the latches, he lit a candle as Mollie returned with a clean basin and tray holding a steaming cup of tea.
Colin stared at the teacup.
He lifted it, discarded the liquid into the basin, and tilted the base toward the candlelight. “Where did this come from?”
She pointed to the form in the bed. “Miss Bertie, sir.”
“Miss Alberta Fisher, sir. In Stoke-on-Trent, she was the only person willing to nurse a potter’s wife and children sick with cholera back to health. The potter made these teacups with the fish on them in her honor. Didn’t you get the one the squire sent you? The picture of Miss Bertie in the bottom sure is pretty.”
“The portrait is…” He walked to the head of the bed where the rhythmic breaths of one in a deep sleep emanated and pulled the quilt down below a mass of tangled red curls.
Mollie crinkled her brows. “She’ll be most distressed to meet you this way, sir. She saw you ride past in town and, if I may say, took a fancy to you. She wished to be introduced but shied away ‘cause not many gentlemen, said she, are fond of red hair.”
(The above short story, A Lady for Doctor Chadwick, is written and copyrighted by Michele Wilder. Please to do not copy in any way without the express permission of the author.)
Short Story #2–Christian Fiction
“The Visit” is a fictional short story I wrote for a contest. It is based on Psalm 34:1-6.
Olivia gripped the steering wheel. A slow, steady cloud of moisture swirled from between her lips as she watched the snow sifting like powdered sugar from the sky. It would be the first time she drove since the accident…but she had to go.
Thankful her dad always backed in, she shifted the car into drive and inched out the garage. At the end of the driveway she skidded to a stop and hit the button to close the door before swishing onto the road, thick with untrodden snow. What would her parents say if they knew?
Mrs. Pepperdine lived a few miles outside of town not far from her friend’s house. Olivia crept through the quiet streets then tensed as she passed the town line where the landscape opened to fields and scattered farms. The wind’s heavy hand rocked her car while shrouding it in an icy veil of white.
After crawling for what seemed like an eternity, she bit her bottom lip as she approached the turn—and the turnoff to Mrs. Pepperdine’s house.
I can’t do this without You, Lord.
Though she slowed, the back of her car fishtailed as she steered around the sharp corner. Her heart pounded against her chest. Whumping into a snowdrift in the road, the car halted. She breathed a shivery sigh of relief before backing up and maneuvering around the drift to complete the turn.
She crept along the road then down Mrs. Pepperdine’s long driveway before stopping. She pressed on the bulge in her coat pocket before getting out and trudging to the front door. Snow kissed her cheeks as she knocked and waited.
The door opened. Mrs. Pepperdine poked her head through the gap. “Well, hello. It’s Olivia, right?”
“Yes, I’m Olivia Larsen.”
The middle-aged woman creased her brows before glancing over Olivia’s shoulder. “Are you alone?”
“Come.” She opened the door wider. “Come inside.” The smell of cinnamon and coffee stirred a rumble in Olivia’s stomach as Mrs. Pepperdine ushered her into the warm entryway. “Whatever made you come out in this weather? I can’t believe your parents would let you.”
“They don’t know. They fly back from California tomorrow. ”
“I see. Well, let me take your coat.”
“Oh, I’m only here for a minute.” Olivia tugged at her gloves one finger at a time before pulling them off and stuffing them into her pockets. With shaking hands she pulled an envelope from her pocket and handed it to Mrs. Pepperdine. “I came to bring you this.”
Mrs. Pepperdine opened the envelope and thumbed through the cash. “What’s this about?”
“It’s my own money, and it’s for a new watch. There should be enough to get one similar to what you had.”
She refolded the envelope before crossing her arms. “Please explain, Olivia.” The sternness in her voice reverberated in the small room.
Olivia wrung her hands. You promised you’d deliver me, Lord! “During lunch Thursday, I went back to the chemistry lab for my calculator. I saw your watch on the counter and picked it up to admire it. I started to put it back but was distracted by people in the hallway and dropped it into your coffee mug. Then when I went to fish it out, the mug tipped over and ruined the lab reports. I’m sorry.”
“Why didn’t you speak up when I confronted the class yesterday?”
“I…” Olivia swallowed the lump in her throat. “I was afraid to.”
“Besides ruining your watch and the reports, I…” She licked her lips. “… well, before you took the class over for Mr. Sorensen last Monday there were a lot of rumors about you being…um…kind of tough, and—and I was afraid of what you would do.”
In the silence that ensued, a clock beside them sounded like a hammer pummeling the wall. Olivia hung her head as she waited for the outpouring of Mrs. Pepperdine’s wrath.
“I’m disappointed, yes,” she said at last, “but I appreciate the effort you’ve made to settle this.” Her voice gentled. “Have you driven much since the accident?”
“This is the first time.”
“What changed your mind about being afraid and compelled you to come out in this weather? You could have given me this Monday morning.”
“In my Bible reading last night, I read God would deliver me from my fears, if I asked Him, and would lighten my guilt if I’m humble.” She lifted her eyes. “I just couldn’t wait until Monday to set things right.”
Mrs. Pepperdine’s eyes fixed on her. The envelope crinkled in her hand.
Olivia shrugged. “God even helped me brave driving again—and in the snow too.”
Her teacher smiled before handing the envelope back to her. “Let’s consign this matter to the past, shall we?”
Olivia widened her eyes and took back the envelope.
Mrs. Pepperdine gazed out the window. “If you’d like to stay a little longer, we can get to know each other better over a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll. Perhaps by then the snow will let up and the snowplow will come by again.”
Olivia’s stomach rumbled again. “Do we have to talk about chemistry?”
“I won’t bring it up if you don’t.”
“It’s a deal.”
(The above short story, The Visit, is written and copyrighted by Michele Wilder. Please to do not copy in any way without the express permission of the author.)