Seasons; Four Victorian Romances – Laura Landon

LYDİA MCDOWELL PULLED THE HOOD of her cloak lower over her face. Sleet mixed with wet snow pummeled her eyes and stung her cheeks. She could no longer see where she was going. Maybe she could use the storm as an excuse to return home and tell her brother that the snow prevented her from finding her way to the doctor’s surgery, but she knew deep in her chilled bones that returning without a doctor wasn’t an option. James was injured too badly. He needed a doctor’s attention. And he needed it immediately. Her fear was that Doctor Joshua Jarvis wasn’t the doctor she should be going for. She should instead be going to Doctor Elias Weatherby. But her brother had insisted he wanted Doctor Jarvis to tend to him. Lydia stepped into a vacated shop doorway to gain her bearings and buried her face in the wet folds of her worn cloak. She wasn’t sure where she was. She wasn’t that familiar with the village yet. She’d only come to stay with James a few weeks ago—just long enough to hear the horrors of what Doctor Jarvis had committed. The deaths he’d caused.

Why on earth had her brother insisted that she fetch this man? He knew the rumors circulating around Jarvis as well as she did. Surely James knew the doctor was incompetent. Everyone in Middleton believed he was. Lydia looked through the frosty glass panes in front of her and recognized some of the items inside. She was in front of Russell’s Bakery. Lydia shivered, angry at the cold, angry at the wasted steps, and angry at having to seek out the last man on earth she wanted tending her brother. She’d gone right past his door and didn’t even know it. Lydia stepped back into the raging snowstorm and retraced her steps. In a moment she stood shivering beneath the doctor’s shingle that swung overhead, crusted with freezing snow that obliterated his name. The windows were dark, but Lydia pounded on the door.

Then again. “Doctor Jarvis,” Lydia implored as she pounded on the door one more time. She was relieved when a light finally glowed inside. The door swung open and Lydia lifted her gaze to look at the tall, broad-shouldered doctor. She struggled to make out his features because the melted snow ran from her forehead and into her eyes, making it impossible to see him clearly. “Come inside,” a deep voice demanded. “What are you doing out in this weather? You’re nearly frozen.” The doctor clamped his fingers around her arms and pulled her inside. The second he released her to close the door, Lydia nearly fell to the floor. He clasped his strong, sure arms around her again, then kicked the door shut before leading her to a chair by the fire and helping her to sit.

Lydia tried to speak, but her teeth chattered so violently she couldn’t form any words. All around her were the trappings of a well-ordered clinic—instruments neatly aligned on a tray, shelves stocked with bandages and medicinals, and a desk lined with neatly scribed notes. It was not what she’d expected from a man who was so careless with his patients. The doctor hovered over her as he placed a thick woolen blanket around her shoulders, then disappeared into the kitchen. He returned a moment later with a cup of warm tea. “I’m sorry the tea isn’t hot. Nor is it fresh. It’s left over from my lunch.” “Thank you,” Lydia stuttered. With trembling hands she lifted the cup, but the tea sloshed wildly before she got it to her mouth.

Doctor Jarvis knelt beside her and wrapped his fingers around hers to steady her trembling hands. He brought the cup to her mouth and Lydia took a sip of the welcome warmth. She lifted her head after she’d taken a swallow and stared at the doctor’s handsome face. When she realized she had watched him far too long, she lowered her gaze to where his hands still touched hers. An unexpected heat radiated from his touch and caused her frozen fingers to warm. She allowed him to keep his hands wrapped around hers for several moments before slowly pulling away from him. She didn’t know what had caused such a wanton reaction to the man. Perhaps the cold that lingered in her bones had overtaken her good sense. Lydia straightened her back, refusing to believe there was any significance to the response his mere touch had roused. “What’s your name?” the doctor asked, interrupting her wayward thoughts.

“Lydia McDowell,” Lydia answered through her chattering teeth. “My brother is James McDowell, at Cottage Hill. He’s been gored by a bull. You must come quickly!” Lydia lifted her head until her gaze locked with the doctor’s. “There’s no time to waste,” she said as forcefully as she could. The doctor sucked in a harsh breath then stood upright. His movement brought him to a towering threat. “Then you will want to see Doctor Weatherby. I’ll take you to him.” “No.

My brother wants you.” Lydia noticed the look of surprise and shock on the doctor’s face. “Well, I can’t help you. I no longer practice medicine.” “You’re a doctor, aren’t you?” “What I once was makes no difference. I no long practice medicine, so I’ll take you to Doctor Weatherby.” Lydia threw off the woolen blanket and bolted to her feet. “I wish you would, sir. I certainly do wish you would! But the fact of the matter is that you will not take me to Doctor Weatherby. My brother does not want Doctor Weatherby.

Why, I don’t know. You’re the last doctor in the world I would choose to treat him, but my brother doesn’t feel that way. For some reason, you’re the doctor he sent me for. So, whether you want to or not, you will accompany me if I have to drag you. Now, get your coat and your bag and come with me.” A shocked expression that covered the doctor’s face lifted, then the corners of his mouth rose to form a smile. “Are you always this demanding?” “When my brother’s life is in danger, yes. Now please, hurry. Get your coat and your bag and come with me.” Lydia waited the few moments it took for the doctor to consider his actions before tipping his head.

“As the lady demands,” he said, then left the room. Lydia released a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and sank back into the chair. What had come over her? She’d never behaved so rudely in all her life. She’d never stood up to a man like she’d stood up to Doctor Jarvis. When Lydia heard his footsteps coming toward her, she rose from the chair and stepped to the door. She’d left James alone too long already and was desperate to get back to him. Thankfully, when the doctor returned he had his greatcoat and medical bag with him. He fastened the coat, then faced her. “Stay in here while I hitch the carriage. I’ll pull around front when I’m finished.

” Lydia nodded, then watched Doctor Jarvis leave through a back door. When the door closed behind him, she walked closer to the fire to take in all the heat she could before she had to go back into the freezing weather. Too soon she heard his carriage stop in front of the surgery. Quickly she slipped on her wet gloves, then walked over to the lamp that was burning and extinguished it. The door opened and he entered, stamping his feet and brushing snow from his lapel. “Wear this,” he said as he wrapped a heavy lap-robe around her shoulders. “The carriage is only partially enclosed, and it’s getting colder by the minute out there.” The second his fingers brushed her arm a burning heat traveled through her body. Lydia tried to ignore it, but it refused to lessen. She thought he would pull away from her.

Instead, he pulled the edges of the blanket tighter around her and kept his fingers locked beneath her chin. “We need to be on our way,” he whispered. “Yes, James needs you.” Lydia looped her arm through his and together they walked through the snow. When they reached the carriage, Doctor Jarvis helped her inside. She sat as near to the enclosing canopy as she could while he hurried around to the other side and climbed up beside her. He secured the low doors that swung shut just in front of their knees, then pulled the brow of the canopy as low as possible to break the bitter wind. Satisfied, he hoisted the reins and tapped the single horse. The carriage lurched forward and he turned it toward the edge of town. “Cottage Hill, you said?” “Yes, on Littlegate Lane.

” “You walked all the way into town?” “I had no choice. I’ve never hitched a horse to a carriage.” “No wonder you were nearly frozen,” he said, then tapped the reins on the horse’s rump again to encourage the mare to move faster. “Pull the lap-robe up around you, then lean behind me if you can.” Lydia did what he suggested but before she pulled the heavy blanket up, she did her best to place as much of it as possible over the doctor’s legs. From everything she’d heard he certainly didn’t deserve her thoughtfulness, but she would do whatever it took to keep the man in tiptop shape to treat her brother. When she finished, she leaned her head into the back of his shoulder. “Why did your brother send you for me?” the doctor asked when they were on their way. “Doesn’t he know everyone in town believes I murdered the last two patients I treated?” “He’s heard the rumors,” Lydia answered. “Obviously he doesn’t believe them.

” “Rumors?” “That’s what James says they are.” “What about you?” Lydia was silent for a moment. “An entire village can’t be wrong. But anyway, it doesn’t matter what I believe. What matters is that my brother doesn’t believe that you killed Mrs. Smithers or Ivan Crumbly. He said Mrs. Smithers was nearing ninety years. James believes she wasn’t strong enough to survive her illness. And, Ivan Crumbly has done nothing but drink for more than twenty years.

Everyone knew it was only a matter of time until his body couldn’t take any more.” “So you came obediently to get the disreputable Doctor Jarvis, without arguing?” Lydia lifted her head to see the teasing expression on the man’s face and felt herself blush in response. She was surprised by the gratitude that engulfed her. His playful tone seemed to calm her fear, even though she knew she had best not trust him. Somehow he had lulled her into a level of comfort that she knew she could never allow. “No. I argued with him. But it did no good. His mind was made up.” “Are you saying he’s as determined as you are?” “He’s definitely a great deal more obstinate.

He said the people of Middleton are a close-minded lot and he refuses to listen to their nattering on about your unsuitability for the practice of medicine.” Doctor Jarvis looked at her sharply. “Hmph. Your brother is probably the only one in Middleton who hasn’t already sentenced me to the public pillory.” Lydia studied the tight clenching of Doctor Jarvis’ jaw. He’d endured a great deal at the hands of the people of Middleton, yet he hadn’t packed his bags and moved to a different area where he could practice medicine as he’d been trained to do. Now who was being obstinate? “We’re nearly there,” Lydia said, struggling to see through the snow that came down even harder. She squinted her eyes so she wouldn’t miss the corner where they needed to turn. “Turn here,” she said, and a few moments later they reached her brother’s cottage. Doctor Jarvis saw her to the front door, then took his horse and carriage to the cowshed.

Lydia rushed inside the cottage, then raced to the room where her brother lay on the bed. He was paler than he’d been when she’d left a short while earlier. “James?” she asked, lifting his head for him to take a drink of water. “Did Jarvis come with you?” “Yes. He took his horse and carriage around to the byre. He’ll be right here.” “Good.” “You can’t leave me, you know, James,” Lydia said as tears formed in her eyes. “You’re all I have left. I won’t allow you to abandon me.

” “I won’t leave you Liddy. Unless God needs me more than you do.” “He doesn’t, James. I need you more. Just remember that.” “I’ll try,” her brother said, then closed his eyes, leaving Lydia to ponder a future without this good man in it.

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