I made my way through town to the church, determined that nothing would stop me. No one strolled the street; no horses were waiting at the hitching posts; no wagons lumbered down the rutted road; no children played.
The church doors opened and Reverend Wilson stepped out. He stared at me for a moment, his expression blank, and his face gray and sunken. He sank to the stairs and stretched his spine.
“You sick, too?” His voice sounded like wood being rubbed on a rasp.
“No, I heard the Doc is sick. You need my help.” I took a step towards him.
The reverend looked up at the gathering clouds. A storm was about to let loose. “Only the sick can come in, Doc’s orders.”
“I know that’s not true. Mrs. Merryweather is in there with her husband, and Mrs. Hogan. Pete Yarrow is in there too.” I gathered my skirts to walk up the church steps.
He smiled, but it was a sad, helpless smile. I knew he was going to refuse me. “They all have a spouse or child in there. Or both.”
“You mean I have to be married to a sick person to help? That’s ridiculous. My father and brothers are all doctors in Boston. I’ve grown up helping them and I’ve survived smallpox.” I pushed past him and marched up the steps.
Jack burst through the doors; his black curls tousled and dark circles under his eyes. “Reverend Hank, Pa needs you. I think his fever is worse. “ We both turned to him and saw it at the same time. The wind lifted one of the curls from his forehead and revealed a pox.
The Reverend gazed at me bleakly for a moment. Then something changed. A light flickered in his dead eyes. Hope sparked, then I saw determination set in.
“Uh-oh.” I clamped a hand over my mouth when I realized my thought had slipped through my lips.
Jack raised an eyebrow, questioning.
“You two are getting married. Jack’s got the pox and you’ll be able to help as his wife.” A grin spread across his face, pushing back the deep lines that had shadowed his countenance.
Jack reeled and grabbed the railing. I saw the sickness in his eyes now. Caring for his ill father had been his undoing. He was tired and weak already and he would likely die.
I nodded. “I’ll do it, but be quick. He’ll be keeling over soon enough.”
Jack stared at us like he thought he was imagining things. Understandable.
The Parson married us and we both put a shoulder under Jack’s arms to get him inside and on a mat.
Then I got to work.
Three weeks later the last were buried and there had been no new cases for a week.
Jack was still alive.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed about that. In fact, I was changing my viewpoint on being a spinster.
Jack was sweeping the church when I went in to collect my bonnet. He leaned the broom against a pew and picked up a bunch of wildflowers. “I reckon you didn’t get much of a birthday last week.” Then he handed me a brown paper wrapped package.
I stood with the flowers in one hand and the gift in the other. A blush crept up his neck and across his cheeks as he shuffled his feet. I struggled to think of something to say.
“I’ll hold these while you open it.” He snatched the flowers back and I looked down at the package. I carefully opened it and looked down at a beautifully illustrated bird book.
“You know I love birds?”
“Course. I bought it for you when you first moved here from Boston, but then you made it known to the whole town that you were a spinster and planned to stay one.”
“Oh.” Now I felt the heat touch my own cheeks. “Well, I don’t feel that way now.”
He chuckled. “Good thing, since we’re hitched.”
The awkwardness of the quick wedding melted away. The birthday gifts had been an amazing bridge to talk about the subject we had been avoiding.
Then he kissed me. I couldn’t remember a single reason I had for wanting to be a spinster.
Jack helped me into his wagon and handed me the flowers and book. I knew I had to tell him the truth. “Jack, My birthday isn’t for six months.”
He grinned at me. “I know.” Then he winked.
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