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|Publisher:||Baker Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
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To the Farthest Shores
By Elizabeth Camden
Baker Publishing GroupCopyright © 2017 Dorothy Mays
All rights reserved.
Six Years Later
Jenny stepped outside the hospital, gazing at the sunrise just beginning to light the horizon. While sunrise signaled the beginning of the day for most people, for Jenny it meant bedtime.
Civilian nurses had been reassigned to overnight work after the war ended, and returning soldiers took the desirable day shifts. Working through the night was a struggle, but it was her only option if she wanted to continue working at the Presidio's hospital.
It was still chilly, and she drew her heavy woolen cloak tighter. Normally at this time she returned to her quarters, drew the shades, and slept until noon.
Not today. Her stomach clenched as she anticipated her meeting with Captain Soames, the medical director for the hospital at the Presidio. Once a battlefield doctor, Captain Soames had been working at a desk since the Spanish-American War ended only eight months after it began. He was a humorless, hard-bitten man who had little patience for the civilian employees at the base, but he was the only person who could grant the favor Jenny so desperately needed.
He wouldn't be in his office yet, so she made a quick trip to the barracks where civilian nurses lodged on the top floor. Her room was compact, tidy, and spotless. It ought to be, given that she swept it daily and wiped the windows, the mirror, and the hardware with a mild vinegar solution twice a week.
After scrubbing her face and hands, she changed her collar for a fresh one. All the nurses wore blue cotton dresses beneath a white apron and topped with a starched collar the army supplied to them each week. Jenny paid extra to have a freshly starched collar daily. Cleanliness was important to her, and any time she locked horns with Captain Soames, she wanted to look flawless. She shook her ebony hair free of its pins, brushed it to a high shine, and then coiled it back into an elegant twist. Pinning the folded nurse's cap into place was the last detail before heading to the captain's office.
He didn't seemed pleased to see her, even less so when she explained what she wanted, but she pressed on without letting him shake her composure.
"Skeeter Jones is a bright boy, but unless he has surgery on his eyes, he will be practically blind within a few years," she explained.
"And you want the army to pay for it."
Skeeter was a twelve-year-old orphan who earned less than a dollar a day selling newspapers, so yes, Jenny needed to find someone willing to pay for it.
"Dr. Samuelson tells me that symblepharon surgery is a routine procedure that requires less than an hour in the operating room. I'd be willing to pay any costs associated with medication. ..."
She let the sentence dangle. Her finances were already stretched dangerously thin since what happened last month, but Skeeter needed this operation. A defect in his system was causing the folds of his eyelids to become anchored to his eyeball, making it hard to see. A simple incision done by a skilled surgeon would change the entire course of Skeeter's life, but it had to be done now, before he grew much older. Operating rooms at the hospital sat vacant most of the day, and it would cost the army very little to perform this operation.
"Find some other benefactor to pay for it," Captain Soames said. "If it becomes known that the army is treating charity cases, we'll have lines stretching to the Embarcadero and complaints about favoritism."
"Or it might improve our reputation with the city."
"Find a way to pay for it, Nurse Bennett. Then maybe I'll hear your request."
"How am I to pay for it when you pay me scarcely half what you pay the male attendants?"
The captain heard the veiled accusation in her tone. "The night nurses get paid less because you do little more than babysit sleeping patients. Of course we aren't going to pay you the same salary as the staff during the day. If you don't like your job here, then quit. Ifyou aren't earning what you need, then quit. Ifyou don't like the way I run the hospital, then quit. Is that clear, Nurse Bennett ?"
She met Captain Soames's glower with her chin held high. "Quite clear. The army must be proud their officers can express themselves so forcefully and without resorting to bothersome courtesy."
Captain Soames let out a bark of gruff laughter. He'd had a grudging respect for her since the time he saw her tackle a soldier trying to steal morphine from a supply cabinet. While most nurses hailed from respectable families, Jenny grew up along San Francisco's waterfront and wasn't intimidated by unruly soldiers. Although she liked to pretend it didn't exist, a streetwise toughness from her youth still lurked just beneath her prim, starched uniform.
Captain Soames threw down his pencil and looked at her in frustration. "Why don't you just get married like a normal woman? Then you won't have to work six days a week and still scrounge for money to do a kid a favor."
Jenny tried not to blanch even though she'd heard the question plenty of times over the years. She'd fallen in love once, and it had been a disaster. The most humiliating thing was that even after receiving Ryan Gallagher's terse letter, she couldn't shake free of his memory. Something about it didn't seem right. Maybe it was just her reluctance to face the truth, but she feared something very bad had happened to Ryan and he was trying to shield her from it.
She had clung to that foolish hope for years, even pressuring her friend at the payroll office for information on his whereabouts. All Vivian had been able to tell her was that Ryan's address had been kept confidential for his entire career in the military, but she later learned he had resigned from the navy early last year. His official forwarding address was now in a tiny fishing village near San Diego.
Jenny could no longer delude herself. As a civilian, Ryan was completely free to contact her if he wished. San Diego was only a day's travel by train, and still she heard nothing from him.
"I have no plans for marriage at this time," she told Captain Soames. There had been no one else for her since Ryan, and too many men had let her down over the years.
Only Simon was different. She and Simon both knew what it was to be homeless and hungry. Since the day he took her under his wing when she was a nine-year-old street urchin, they had always looked out for each other.
The gritty world of San Francisco looked askance at a middle-aged man befriending a pretty young girl, so she'd taken to referring to Simon as her father from the very beginning. For all intents and purposes, Simon Bennett was her father, the only father she'd ever known. She even took his last name because "Bennett" sounded solid and respectable. He fed her when she was hungry, made sure she went to school every day, and consoled her when kids in the neighborhood taunted her because they knew where she came from. During the boom years, it was Simon who paid for her to attend nursing school.
The boom years were long over, and now Simon needed help. Last month his jewelry shop had been robbed. Thieves kicked in the plate glass window at the front of his shop and walked away with all the jewelry, including Simon's beloved assortment of pearls.
Simon had been collecting and selling pearls his entire life, but the theft left him broke. He didn't even have the money to replace the window and had to nail boards over the opening. Simon's landlord had warned he would be evicted if he couldn't replace the window within the week.
With no other options, Jenny had sold the watch Ryan gave her to buy the plate glass window. Guilt had tugged at her conscience when she laid the watch on the pawn shop counter. It had belonged to Ryan's father, a man who worked as a missionary in the Far East. Both of Ryan's parents had died before she met him, and she felt disloyal selling one of the few keepsakes he had from them.
She hardened her heart. If Ryan cared about his father's watch, he could have asked her for it. She owed Ryan Gallagher nothing and Simon everything.
The sale of Ryan's watch brought enough to install a new window, but it wasn't going to save Simon's shop. Jenny had been funneling all her spare money to help him restock the store, and it meant she had nothing left to help a boy who was quickly going blind.
She needed to play her ace card. When Captain Soames was first appointed to the Presidio, she'd read everything she could find about him. The details of their childhoods were different, but she and Captain Soames both shared the same hardscrabble core, and she knew exactly what it would take to persuade him.
"Your family emigrated from Ireland when you were a baby" she said. "You were one of nine children who grew up in the toughest ghetto of New York City. You didn't have a pair of shoes until you were eight years old. No one ever handed you anything. You joined the army at sixteen and your life got even tougher, but the army gave you the only thing you ever asked for. A chance. You labored, sweat, fought, and bled to get where you are ... but you weren't blind, Captain Soames. You never would have had a fighting chance in this world if you had been blind."
Captain Soames glared at her, and she glared right back. This fight was too important to lose. She waited, counting her heartbeats while he shifted in his chair.
"Go tell Dr. Samuelson to put the boy's surgery on the schedule."
It felt like the sun rose inside her, radiant with light, heat, and hope. She didn't let a trace of it show on her face as she nodded.
"Thank you, sir."
* * *
Jenny usually met Vivian Perez for lunch at one o'clock each afternoon. There weren't many female employees at the Presidio, and Jenny and Vivian quickly bonded amidst the thousands of male soldiers stationed at the West Coast's foremost military base.
Instead of eating at the noisy mess hall, they took their lunch to a table outside on the quadrangle.
Jenny twirled a tin drinking cup between her palms. "The surgery for Skeeter's eyes will be in two weeks," she told Vivian. "I'm going to ask Simon to let the boy move in with him after the surgery, because the orphanage won't have the staffing to tend to him. Of course, I can only hope Simon won't be evicted before then."
She sighed as she unwrapped her chicken sandwich on a flaky croissant roll. She didn't have much appetite but needed her strength. Opening her sandwich, she ate the chicken from the middle and left the croissant untouched.
"What about Simon finding some kind of paid work?" Vivian asked as she tucked into her own sandwich.
It would be the easiest solution to their problem. Getting Simon a respectable job somewhere would be practical, efficient, and logical.
Sadly, none of those adjectives could be applied to Simon Bennett.
"I would have better luck rerouting the path of the sun than getting Simon to behave logically," she said, unable to keep the trace of fondness from her voice. It was the erratic income Simon earned during her childhood that inspired Jenny to go into nursing. Nursing was a practical skill that would always be needed. People got sick in times of plenty and when the bottom dropped out of the economy. Hospitals could be depended on to pay their wages on time, and she appreciated the steady income.
She leaned her elbows on the table and let the breeze caress her face. She liked this spot because it carried the scent from a nearby patch of eucalyptus shrubs. It was a clean smell. Fresh and crisp. Sometimes she snipped a few twigs to take to her room.
"I wonder what that girl is doing?" Vivian asked, and Jenny followed her friend's gaze.
A few yards away, a little girl in a white smock tugged at a heavy stone bordering the rose garden. She couldn't have been more than three or four years old, and the rock was almost as big as she was. This didn't stop the girl from giving it her all, tugging with her weight.
The child seemed to be alone. Jenny doubted the girl could budge that rock, but it was best to be safe. She rose and approached the child, whose straight black hair had slipped free of its hair clips to obscure her face.
"Are you all alone out here ?" Jenny asked.
The girl straightened. She was a beautiful child with distinctively Asian features. There were plenty of Chinese people in San Francisco, but Jenny rarely saw them at the Presidio.
"Papa told me to play here," the girl said in a lightly accented voice. Jenny wondered if Papa knew his daughter was wallowing in garden mulch while wearing a clean white frock.
"Come join us at the table until your father gets back," Jenny prompted, and the girl obediently followed the few steps to the table beneath the cottonwood tree. "Are you hungry? Would you like a bit of croissant ?"
The girl looked confused as she studied the croissant. "Bread?" she asked.
"Yes, it's bread."
"Yes please, ma'am." The child swiped at her hair, and a barrette slipped even further, barely hanging on to her silky black strands.
"Come, let me fix your hair," Jenny said. "Your papa won't like it if you lose those pretty seed pearl barrettes."
There was quite an industry in mechanically grinding oyster shells to make seed pearls, so they weren't terribly expensive, but Simon would have a heart attack if he saw a child carelessly lose a pair of seed pearl hairpins while playing in the dirt. The child let Jenny finger-comb her hair, but it was a challenge to get the clips securely anchored in the slippery strands.
Her name was Lily, and once she began chattering, it was impossible to stop her. Lily told them she had two pet cats at home, one of which killed a jellyfish and brought it into their house, which made her papa laugh so hard he had tears on his face. Her papa owned an entire beach, and he had a fancy uniform that sometimes he wore and sometimes he didn't.
"Lily ?" A man's voice called from base headquarters on the other side of the quad.
"Papa!" Lily hopped off the bench and went tearing across the quadrangle toward a tall man in a crisp, white naval uniform.
Jenny stared, not trusting her eyes. "Ryan?" she whispered.
He was too far away to tell, but the man reminded her of Ryan Gallagher. Maybe it was just the navy uniform, when almost everyone else at the Presidio was in the army, but he looked so similar to Ryan it awakened a rush of bittersweet longing.
Without conscious thought she stood and started walking toward him. She'd only gone a few steps when the child reached him. The naval officer squatted down to scoop her up, tossing the girl into the air with a hearty laugh.
She knew that laugh, a golden tenor that came straight from the heart. It was him. It had to be. While she stood mute and motionless, the little girl looked over her father's shoulder and waved good-bye. The man followed his daughter's gaze and glanced back at Jenny.
He froze as if spellbound. There was no doubt.
Ryan Gallagher was back.
Before she could take another step, Ryan hoisted Lily higher into his arms, turned the other way, and set off toward the officers' quarters without a backward glance.
"Jenny?" Vivian asked. "What's going on?"
It took a while to find her breath. "That man reminds me of someone I once knew."
"Ryan Gallagher?" During her briefcourtship, Jenny had breathlessly relayed all the details of her whirlwind romance to her friend. It had been painful and embarrassing when she had to tell Vivian that Ryan changed his mind and they wouldn't be getting married after all.
She didn't want to reopen that painful chapter and shook her head.
"He's nobody," she said simply.
Excerpted from To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden. Copyright © 2017 Dorothy Mays. Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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