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"Oh, Emma, what shall I do?" Priscilla Pickering lifted her tear-rimmed blue eyes. Sniffling, she raised her white lace handkerchief and dabbed at her cheek.
Emma sighed inwardly as she looked at her sister. "You will do as you've always done, Cissy. You will put on your brightest smile and bid him farewell as if he didn't mean a thing in the world to you." Stepping back from the open trunk, Emma tossed a pink ostrich-plumed hat onto the bed. "This will have to do, Cissy. We haven't time to look for the white one. Father is already waiting on deck."
"But, Emma, you don't understand. Dirk is different. I do love him—truly."
Emma buckled the trunk and picked up her own lavender hat. How many times had she helped her sister recover from a broken heart? She pursed her lips for a moment. "I know you love him. But, Cissy, honestly—you've loved them all. You insisted you loved that awful what's-his-name who tried to take you off to Sussex. And you loved that banker chap who was going to carry you to France if Father hadn't ordered him away and locked you in your room."
"Emma, Dirk isn't like those other men." Cissy sniffled again and ran her delicate fingers through the ostrich plumes. "Dirk is good and kind. He loves me, Emma. We want to be married."
Stifling another sigh, Emma crossed the floor of the steamship cabin and knelt before her sister. "Cissy, dear, you must try to accept the truth. Dirk Bauer is a soldier. He has no money at all. He's leaving the ship in less than an hour for his post along the border. And Cissy—he's not evenEnglish."
At this Cissy burst into renewed sobbing. "Oh, Emma, I know it's hopeless! We'll leave this ship so Father can survey his silly railway—and I'll never see Dirk again."
Emma took her sister into her arms. "There, there. It's not so bad."
She reflected for a moment upon that morning—was it only three weeks ago?—when she and Cissy had been promenading on the deck. They had rounded a corner and come upon a cluster of young German soldiers. She smiled, remembering the awkward introductions, the men gazing in awe of Cissy, as men always did, and Cissy's hat blowing, as if on cue, into the arms of the handsomest of them all.
Emma had gone off on her own then—preferring the ocean breeze and the rolling waves to flirtatious chatter. She recalled climbing to the top deck and standing alone beneath a brilliant azure sky. She had stared out across the endless ocean as if she might catch a glimpse of her future.
Subsequent meetings between Dirk and Cissy had been a great secret, although of course Emma had known. It was her responsibility to keep Cissy in hand. As the practical sister, Emma had attempted to dissuade her sibling from the fruitless course. But perhaps it had been the sea air, or the glorious sunshine. At any rate, Emma filled most of her hours with contemplation and study of the land to which God had led her.
The British Protectorate of East Africa.
Books, geographical society pamphlets, maps—as she devoured them, Emma shivered at the wonders in store. But the land held more than beauty. It was a place of hidden promises. God had laid out His plan for Emma's life nearly two years before. While making her debut into society at St. James's Court, she had heard someone coughing as she stepped down from the carriage. Wearing nothing but rags, a little girl huddled alone against the cold iron fence that surrounded the palace.
Despite longing to help the child, Emma had heeded her father's command to stop dawdling. When she emerged several hours later, she saw two men lifting the girl's lifeless body into a cart. That moment had propelled Emma on a journey that led her to Africa and the hope of finding a hospital where she could practice her hard-won skill as a nurse.
"It's lovely for you, Emma!" Cissy pouted, breaking into her sister's thoughts. "This is just your sort of thing—savages and wild animals. But where does it leave me? You'll never get married—and Father won't let me marry until you do."
Emma wished for the thousandth time that her sister would follow the example she set and take hold of her emotions. At age twenty, Cissy should not be weeping and flailing about all the time. Common sense kept trouble at bay. Emma had learned that lesson the hard way.
"Cissy, you know Father dotes on you," she said. "He'll let you marry soon enough, I'm sure he will."
"But I won't have Dirk!"
"But you will have someone. Someone who will take care of you. You'll have children and a happy home and everything you've dreamed of."
"I want to marry Dirk." Cissy wadded her handkerchief into a ball and set her jaw.
It was a look Emma knew well enough. With a grin, she gave her sister a hug and set the pink hat on Cissy's head. "There now. Dry your eyes and put on your smile. We must leave the cabin soon. Father will be growing impatient."
Rising, Emma shook out the folds of her lavender silk skirt and stepped to the mirror on the bulkhead beside the door. Cissy joined her, and together they adjusted and pinned their hats to the rolls of hair coiled on their heads. Emma watched Cissy dab at her soft blue eyes—twin sapphires set in the palest porcelain—and pinch her cheeks to bring out the roses. It was easy to see why men went mad for Cissy, Emma thought. Her sister's hair shone like the sun and she had curves in all the right places.
Cissy smiled at her reflection, a flash of pearl-white teeth between pink lips. "When I have my inheritance," she declared, "I shall hire servants to tend me wherever I go. Then I shall never be without the proper hat for each dress."
Emma watched her sister fussing with the plumes. Did Dirk know Cissy would inherit half of their father's money? She would have half, too—if she married a man of her father's choosing. The very thought threw cold water on the embers of hope burning in her heart.
For a moment Emma gazed frankly at her own reflection, then she turned from the mirror to pull on her gloves. Her olive-green eyes were an advantage, but her hair waved so wildly and it was that awful wheat color. Her legs were simply too long, her neck too thin and her back too straight for popular fashion.
But what did she care for hats and gowns? Emma would much prefer diving into a pond, perching atop a hay cart or riding a horse, given a choice. But then, she never had been given a choice.
Picking up a lavender parasol from beside the trunk, Emma wandered from the mirror toward the other side of the cabin to wait for Cissy to finish her primping. From the porthole above her bed she had gazed out at the turquoise Indian Ocean, longing for a sight of the protectorate.
Finally, just that morning, they had made port. This raw, untamed territory on the east coast of Africa held her destiny on its burning plains. And she was determined to answer the call of God that flamed in her heart.
"Emma, do you think this pink gown is suitable today?" Cissy asked. "Perhaps Dirk will think it too bright. Perhaps he won't believe how sad I am to lose him."
"You look lovely," Emma said absently as she lifted her skirts and placed one knee across her bed to move closer to the porthole. Pushing back the curtain with one hand, she leaned up to the round window.
Through the film of salt on the glass, she gazed at the busy harbor of Mombasa. An array of small wooden craft bustling with Arab traders surrounded the steamship. From one of its upper decks, a long gangway stretched to the pier. Down it, crewmen carried bale after bale, crate after crate of goods brought up from the hold of the ship. Other laborers scurried about on the wharf, rolling and muscling the cargo into place.
Mangy dogs and scrawny children chased one another through the throng of sailors and dockworkers. Stray chickens, blind in their quest for spilled grain or seed, bobbed across the footpaths and were kicked aside to flutter and squawk in the dust. Groups of men Emma recognized from the ship had just set foot on the soil of British East Africa— a land they had come to colonize. The Englishmen stood stiffly among scampering natives who wore little more than a cloth tied about the waist.
Just then Emma's eyes were drawn to a frenzied movement near the cargo plank. A large wooden crate had broken loose from its ropes and was careening down the long ramp toward the pier. Gasping, she watched helplessly as dockworkers attempted to slow the runaway box. Gaining momentum, it threatened to tip and fall into the sea. But it righted again and continued its downward plunge. Shouts echoed across the harbor as men fled before the hurtling crate.
"Oh!" Emma cried out just as the box collided with two men, knocking them into the water. On impact, the crate began to break apart—jagged, splintered boards seesawing this way and that. As it tumbled the final few feet toward the pier, Emma spotted a child—oblivious to the commotion around him—spinning a tin hoop directly into the crate's path.
"No, stop!" Horrified, she pressed her palms on the glass.
The ragged boy's brown eyes darted up and his face transformed to terror. His brown sparrow legs froze, rooted to the dusty pier. Just as the splintered box slid off the gangway, a black horse thundered through the crowd of petrified onlookers. A dark figure swept the child into the air. The crate slammed onto the wharf and split into a hundred fragments. Boxes of tea, chairs, iron barrels spilled out. Emma glimpsed a man in a black hat cradling the frightened boy in his arms, and then the crowd swarmed them.
Bolting from the window, she ran for the cabin door. Her heart in her throat, she could barely choke out the words. "Cissy, come quickly! An accident. People are hurt."
"Emma, what do you think you're doing? We're not to go ashore yet!" Cissy grabbed her parasol and rushed into the hallway after her sister. "What has happened?"
"A crate broke loose. There was a child. Hurry, Cissy!"
Emma lifted her skirts and sprinted up the stairs from the first-class cabins onto the deck. As she emerged, bright sunshine broke over her and she sucked in a great gulp of fresh sea air. The certain knowledge that she was needed propelled her toward the gangway. Racing past the row of Englishmen lining the ship's guardrail, she started down the sodden wood ramp.
Nearing the bottom, she assessed the situation. One of the African laborers knocked into the water had been rescued. He lay motionless on the pier. Pushing through a circle of agitated onlookers, Emma knelt beside the unconscious man. Her mind hastily reviewed the nursing instructions she had learned under the tutelage of Miss Florence Nightingale and Mrs. Sarah Wardroper, matron of St. Thomas's Hospital.
Sound and ready observation, Emma recalled Miss Nightingale repeating. Sound and ready observation. The first and most important tool for a good nurse.
Stripping off her lavender kid gloves, Emma laid a hand on the man's chest. He was breathing.
"Thank God," she whispered.
Never let a patient be waked out of his first sleep, Miss Nightingale had instructed. But this man was not asleep. He had collapsed and was utterly insensible. What to do in such an emergency?
And now Emma realized she had left her instruction manual in the cabin. Without Miss Nightingale's Notes on Nursing to guide her, would she pass this first true test of her skills?
Emma was no doctor and such a dire situation called for a physician. Aware of the crowd pressing around her, she ran her hands along the African's limbs to check for distortion. He was dripping wet but not bleeding, insensible but whole. Yet, how to rouse him? How to restore him to consciousness?
Miss Nightingale's words flickered through her mind. Accurate observation. A certainty of perception.
Emma's fingers traveled swiftly across his skull and she noted a swelling near his ear. Yes, he had taken a blow—a serious one. As she watched the man breathe, her fear turned to resolve. At the least, she would do something to ease his suffering.
She mentally cataloged the essentials for a patient's comfort and healing. Pure water. Cleanliness. Light. Warmth. Effects of the loss of vital heat must be guarded against— especially in cases of collapse such as this.
First and foremost, he needed fresh air.
"Stand back," Emma ordered the crowd jostling around them. "Please, someone fetch a pail of clean water. Cissy?"
Before she could speak again, a pair of well-muscled arms slid beneath the man and lifted him from the ground.
"Let's get him out of the sun," a deep voice rumbled.
Emma glanced up in surprise to find the injured dock-worker supported against the broad expanse of a leather-vested chest. Eyes the color of a rain-washed sky looked down at her from a face that might have been carved from oak. Although young, it had been worn into striking planes and hollows. The sun had burned it to a buckskin brown. A shock of black hair fell across the forehead and brushed the dark brows.
Recognizing him as the man she had seen on the horse, Emma nodded. "He should be in the shade. But he needs fresh air, and we must keep him warm."
"Yes, ma'am." The tall man turned from her, and the crowd parted as he strode toward a grove of palm trees.
Her patient momentarily out of her care, Emma stared after the stranger. Clad as no man she had ever known, he wore trousers of a blue that might have been indigo once but had long since faded into a soft, light shade. They molded to his long legs as if almost a part of him. His thick brown leather boots were nothing like the soft leather spats and buttoned footgear her father sported. These had odd chunky heels, squared-off toes and silver spurs that spun when he walked.
Her petticoats causing some difficulty, Emma stood from the wharf. As she started toward the palm grove, she noted that the stranger's shirt was clean and white—brilliant in the afternoon sun—but it didn't do the things a shirt was meant to do. It had somehow lost its stiffness, the collar hanging loose at his neck and the sleeves rolled to his elbows.
Posted November 25, 2012
On my Nook only the first 22 pages show up (free sample) The entire book is in my computer but I read on my Nook not my computer so this doesn't help me.
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