I apologize for my delay in writing you and wish to congratulate you and Travis. What wonderful news—expecting a baby. I hope to visit after the child is born. Sometimes I cannot believe the many changes which occurred in my life these past two years. I still find it incredible that Doctor Campbell allowed me to stay on as his assistant after I recovered from the injuries Red inflicted on me.
I look back in disbelief; I cannot fathom how I believed Red was a decent man and not a murdering criminal. If you had not passed yourself off as Fury, the bounty hunter, I would have never discovered his true self and would more than likely be dead.
I can never thank you enough for your monetary gift, and I have been very frugal. You rescued me, Belle. I was doomed to be Stormy, the saloon girl, but your generosity changed my future. I hope someday I may do the same for someone in need.
You said there were good people who would help me find a better life. I did not believe you, but now with your and Dr. Campbell’s aid, I have hope.
Dr. Campbell is a great man. His tutoring helped me improve my reading and writing skills. If you recall, I used part of the money you gifted me to hire the schoolteacher for extra lessons, and Mr. Hayes suggested I improve my diction. He said how well you speak may influence how others see you. Although, he warned me not to come across as arrogant. I laugh thinking back to our first visit after I started working on my diction. Recall how we spent an hour trying to decide if Mr. Hayes was correct in saying ‘ain’t’ was not a word.
It thrilled me when both men stated I was a quick and eager student. I can never thank Dr. Campbell enough for training me to assist him. He gave me skills for a dignified kind of work. I wrote you about the good doctor lending me medical books to read. I can remember how frightened and intimidated I felt when he handed me the first massive book. They were difficult, but as my reading improved, I found them less intimidating and more fascinating.
Now I will get to the recent change in my life. I was happy, as you know, to stay in Haven and work. At the beginning, it proved troublesome, as the townspeople did not want to go to a doctor who employed a former whore. Please forgive my language, but it is their words. I thought I would leave, but then the wonderful Reverend Evans preached a sermon on love of neighbor and forgiveness and casting the first stone. Many townspeople repented, and the trouble faded.
But the situation changed since my last visit with you. Alberta Finnegan moved back to town. Alberta is a very wealthy woman with influence over many of the townspeople. My job with the doctor outraged her due to the fact that I was a favorite of her husband Randell. Her money and power ignited the anger of the townspeople against me, and the doctor’s practice suffered. Even the good reverend could not help me.
I told Dr. Campbell I must move away for his sake. I considered moving to your hometown, but Faulkner is close enough to Haven that I would worry someone from my past might visit there and expose my shame, so I sadly decided not to go there. Dr. Campbell fought against me leaving, but I convinced him. He finally agreed but requested I remain long enough for him to telegraph doctors he knew and inquire if they needed an assistant.
He received one response from Doctor Tucker Anderson in the town of Solley’s Springs.
Doc Campbell was both thrilled and wary of the response. He informed me Doctor Anderson was one of the best doctors he knew but warned he was a stern, unfriendly, gruff man due to a tragedy in his own life, but if I can overlook his behavior, I could have a position with him.
I told Dr. Campbell I would accept. What other choice did I have? Besides, I have dealt with unfriendly, gruff, demanding men my entire life.
So, Belle, this is how I came to be on a train bound for Tanner. There I will meet Doctor Anderson and he will escort me to Solley’s Springs.
Send your correspondence to their post office. Keep me informed of your condition and I will write as soon as I am settled.
Stormy did not realize the train had slowed until the conductor announced their arrival at Tanner. She folded her letter and placed it in an envelope.
Steam rolled from the engine as she and a group of passengers disembarked the train. The crowd dispersed, leaving Stormy standing alone clutching a bag in one hand and her letter in the other.
“Please, sir,” she asked the stationmaster.
“Yes, ma’am, how may I help you?”
“Has a Doctor Anderson been here?”
“No, I don’t recollect anyone by that name. Was he supposed to meet you?”
“Yes,” Stormy muttered.
“Well, I wouldn’t worry, ma’am. I don’t think any man would forget a pretty little thing like you. He’ll be along.”
Disappointment washed over Stormy. “Oh… thank you.”
“Wait a minute, ma’am, where do you need to go?”
“Solley’s Springs, that’s only a thirty-minute carriage ride. You can rent a carriage at the livery and pay someone to drive it back.”
“Thank you, sir.” Stormy knew full well she would not take his advice. Although she had some money, she needed to be frugal or her money would soon run out.
“Oh, sir, one last question.”
“Please, which direction is Solley’s Springs?”
“East. Why you ask’n? You ain’t planning to walk, er you?”
“No, sir, but I need to know which way to go once I rent a carriage,” Stormy lied.
“Darn, no canteen. How could I forget to bring water? Because you don’t think of things like that,” Stormy berated herself as she walked down the dusty road. “Stormy, you’re just plain addle headed just like Pa always said. I don’t know how long I’ve been walking or how far I need to go. Well, at least I have a dammed hat on. Maybe what brains I have left won’t get burned up.”
Stormy sat on a large rock by the side of the road. She needed a break to rest her body and think about her circumstances. Sweat trickled down her back as she wiped her forehead with the back of her gritty hand. Her parched throat burned with desire for a cool drink of water. She brushed her finger over her nose. “It’s burning; I know it is. My skin always burns when I’m out in the sun too long,” Stormy sighed, “the curse of a pale-faced redhead, I suppose.”
Stormy gazed down the road, wondering how far she had traveled. She turned and squinted, barely making out a dark figure coming up the road toward her. Stormy rubbed her eyes, trying to clear her vision. As the object approached, she heard the rattling of a wagon and made out the form of a team of horses.
Fright danced in her stomach, but she shoved it down. The wagon stopped, stirring up a large dust cloud.
Stormy coughed as she breathed in the gritty air.
“Howdy, ma’am,” said the gangly youth sitting on the wagon. “Whatcha doin’ out here?”
“W-walking to Solley’s Springs,” Stormy mumbled.
The young blond-haired boy chuckled.
“Ma’am, it’s a fer piece to Solley’s. Why didn’t you take a wagon?”
“Because I couldn’t afford to rent one.”
“Oh, well, ma’am, my name’s Joe Sommers. I’m heading to Solley’s, got a delivery for the general store. You can ride with me if’n you like. I-I promise,” the boy placed his hand over his heart, “I’m a gentleman. I’m from Solley’s. My pa owns the store.” Joe’s bright blue eyes twinkled as he smiled and held out his hand to help her up.
“A-all right.” Stormy hesitated, then clasped his hand and climbed onto the wagon. Joe clucked at the team and the wagon creaked its way down the road. “Thank you, Joe,” Stormy muttered.
“Glad to help, Miss…”
“Cooper, Stormy Cooper.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Cooper.” Joe placed both reins in one hand and used his free hand to tip his hat. “There’s water in the canteen under the seat; help yourself.”
“Thank you.” Stormy reached under the seat and found the canteen. She guzzled the fresh liquid, causing some water to dribble down her chin. She coughed.
“Slow down, Miss Cooper, ya gonna drown yourself.”
“I guess I was thirstier than I thought.” She smiled.
“So, ma’am, why you goin’ to Solley’s Springs?”
“I have a position there.”
“Oh. That’s great. Whatcha gonna do?”
“I’m to be an assistant for Doctor Anderson.”
“Doc Anderson? You gonna work for Anderson?”
Stormy noted the element of surprise and warning in his voice. “Yes, is there something wrong?”
Joe huffed. “Well, he ain’t known to be the friendliest man around, but I gotta admit he is a fine doc.”
“Well, Joe,” Stormy gave a weak smile, “I’m not working for him cause he’s friendly. I’m working for him because I need a job.”
“I understand, ma’am, but you’re brave if’n you can stay with him. If ya need anything, come to my pa’s store, Sommer’s General Store, and Ma and Pa will help you.”
“Thank you, Joe, I will remember that if I need anything,” Stormy mumbled.
She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. What have I gotten myself into?