Joshua had learned over the years to assume a calm and reassuring manner, whatever the condition in which a patient presented himself. Such a demeanor calmed the patient in turn, giving confidence that the doctor could cope with whatever mishap, or even calamity, had occurred; and a calm and confident patient would be easier to deal with.
But it took a positive effort of will to avoid any sign of alarm when Hawkins, of all people, banged at the door of Joshua’s office, pushed it open, and entered with Clara Brook leaning on his arm, shivering and pale.
Even as Joshua stared, Clara straightened up and looked about her in evident dismay. She muttered something under her breath; Joshua could not catch the words, but it had the rhythm of a curse.
Hawkins led her to a chair and pressed her into it before addressing Joshua. “I was passing by the town square when I noticed Miss Brook sitting on a bench nearby. I tipped my hat and said good morning, but she didn’t say nothing back to me. Well, that wasn’t like her, seeing as we’re acquainted, so I looked closer, and I saw she looked poorly, as you’ll have noticed when we come in. Well, I may know a thing or two —” Hawkins paused and thrust his chin up and his shoulders back, then slumped down again. “But I don’t rightly know what to do when a young lady gets the vapors. So I thought, may as well bring her over here and see what you could do for her. But looks as if she’s going to be just fine, without no special treatment.”
Indeed, as much color as Clara usually possessed, if not more, had returned to her face. A moment more, and she stood up, her posture almost aggressively straight. She took the barber’s hand. “Thank you for assisting me. I am only sorry to have caused you concern.”
“Weren’t no trouble, miss. And I’m right glad to see you looking better. I’ll be on my way.” He smiled at her before releasing her hand, nodding stiffly at Joshua, and taking his leave.
Clara shook her head as if dislodging unpleasant images. “I hope you will believe that I am not often afflicted with what Mr. Hawkins calls ‘the vapors.’” She paused and went on more quietly. “Or at least, not for such causes as are traditionally attributed to delicate females.”
Joshua would have very much liked to inquire as to other likely causes for her symptoms, now or in the past, but her manner made all too clear that any such question would be unwelcome. He could not force his diagnostic efforts on her. “Are you feeling quite well again?”
Clara lifted her chin in a gesture echoing Hawkins’ defiant posture. “Perfectly. You’ll have no need to rummage for smelling salts or other such remedies.” She forced a smile, an expression that sat poorly on her face and troubled him more than a frown would have done. Then some thought evidently crossed her mind and gave rise to a look of more genuine amusement, or even mischief. “And I defy you to hold so firmly to your low opinion of Mr. Hawkins, after he has demonstrated such gallantry.”
As more than once before, she left him stammering for a reply. She awaited none, but turned and fairly marched out the door.
And of course, here's the preorder link. You can also see some early reviews (ten at last count) on the book's Goodreads page.