Here's another excerpt from the draft of my first-ever, untitled Western historical romance. My POV character, Dr. Joshua Gibbs, has just returned from the long, exhausting job of treating a farmer's leg injury, relieved that he wasn't called upon to amputate. Freida Blum, an elderly Jewish widow new to town, arrives at his door shortly after he gets home.
Major is Joshua's Irish Setter.
Joshua closed the door behind the farmer’s boy, holding the empty coffee cup, and leaned against the door. He’d made enough coffee for both of them, but hadn’t ended up drinking any. Bone-tired as he was, he didn’t have the strength to deal with coffee jitters.
He stumbled over to the dresser where he kept his nightshirt, pulled off his soaked frock coat and shirt and trousers, let them fall in a sodden heap on the floor, and pulled the nightshirt on. He’d take the wet, wrinkled clothes to Li Chang in the morning. Times like this, he was sorely grateful to his sisters back in Pennsylvania who’d pooled their efforts to send him a second set of doctor’s duds. He used almost his last strength to dig the bone saw in its case out of his bag and shove it out of sight on the shelf where he kept it.
Scratching at the door heralded Major’s return. Joshua grabbed a towel from the hook near the door and let the dog in. Rubbing the dog down warmed him up a little, but the sooner he was in bed with every quilt and comforter he owned on top of him, the happier he’d be.
And then, the door again, but this time a knock, or maybe a kick, a dull thud, once and then repeated.
If he’d had the energy, he would have cussed a blue streak. Not now. Oh, God, not now. A knock this late meant an emergency. He would have to somehow find the wit and the strength to save someone, and he had none of either left.
“Dr. Gibbs!” (“Doh-ktor Kibbs.”) A woman. He knew he should, but didn't, recognize the voice.
She didn’t sound sick. Could it be the neighbor, or worse, one of the neighbor’s children? But if it were childhood disease, he might be able to treat the fever, at least, or do something for vomiting. He could handle that. He opened the door.
There stood Mrs. Blum, her fur coat making her look like a friendly mama bear, holding a covered pot in her hands.
“I saw you come in, looking so wet and tired. I brought enough for the boy who was with you, but I see he’s gone. May I come in? You won’t leave an old woman standing in the street, will you?”
He stumbled back dumbly and let her pass, shoving the door shut with a weak thrust as she barreled toward the kitchen table. She put the pot down, dropped her coat in a corner, and pulled out his chair. “Sit, sit!”
He collapsed into the chair while she rummaged around, seemingly quite at home, finding a bowl and a spoon. She opened her coat and produced a ladle, then whisked the cover off the pot. Fragrant steam rose up out of it. He leaned forward, sniffing, and smiled weakly to see Major coming toward them to do the same. “What is it?”
“What is it? Chicken soup is what it is! What else, for warming you up and keeping you from catching your death?” She paused, almost coy. “Oh, here I am telling you your business. But if you don’t already know about chicken soup, it’s time you did, no?”
She dipped the ladle in once, twice, three times, and then stopped and frowned at the bowl in frustration, looking ready to scold it for not having more room before pushing it toward him. “You start with that. I’ll light the stove to keep this warm.”
The soup had hunks of carrot and big chunks of chicken, and some sort of strange, light dumplings. He barely made himself use the spoon instead of picking up the bowl and pouring it into his mouth. As it was, his hand shook so that he spilled some of the soup on the table. Without missing a beat, Mrs. Blum tossed a dish towel his way before dragging a stool over to the table and perching on it, overflowing it on every side. When he managed to look up from his miraculous meal, he saw her beaming at him, clearly delighted at the way he was slurping the soup down with no sign of table manners. The moment the spoon clinked the bottom of the bowl, she grabbed the bowl and filled it to the brim again. “Eat, eat!”
He was filling up, but he thought it likely that if he dared to stop before the bowl was empty again, she would seize the spoon and feed him like an infant. He made his way manfully through.
Finally he was able to push the bowl away and sit back. She gave the pot one longing look before shrugging and turning off the stove.
He would have liked to let Major lick the bowl, but was not sure whether Mrs. Blum would be offended. Major weighed in by nudging Joshua’s knee with his muzzle and whining. Joshua looked up at his benefactor. “I am sure my dog would appreciate the remaining traces of your excellent soup.”
He was relieved at Mrs. Blum’s low chuckle. “Why not? My chicken soup should be good for dogs, even.”
Joshua put the bowl in the floor; Major looked up at him as if for permission and then set to licking it out. When Major finished, inspected the bowl in case he had missed a drop, and trotted away, Joshua picked up the bowl and contemplated the effort of cleaning it. Mrs. Blum, apparently reading his mind, grabbed the bowl, opened the door, and let the rain rinse it before setting it on the drainboard. She leaned against [the stove] and looked down at him, shaking her head. “Out in all hours and all weather, and he comes home to nothing!” (“Nutt-ink.”)
Joshua shrugged. He had a good idea where this was going.
“So where’s Mrs. Doctor? You need to get married!”
Just as he’d thought. He’d fended off similar comments from a few ladies at church when he first arrived in town. He’d ignored them with as much dignity as he could muster, and after a while, they’d given up. But looking at the massive and motherly figure looming in his kitchen, Joshua felt suddenly uneasy. Something in her tone and expression showed considerable determination. Even zeal.