Martha Tinker climbed out of the stagecoach in Hibbing, Minnesota. She looked
around, taking in the contents of Main Street. To her right the shingles hanging in front of the various buildings boasted
a mercantile, a dressmaker, a physician, and the post office. Glancing to the left she
saw a church and a hotel.
Not much of a place, she thought as she picked up her sole suitcase and headed for the hotel.
"I would like a room," she said to the man behind the desk.
"For how long?"
"Just overnight," she replied. "I'm leaving in the morning for Sawbill Landing."
The man's eyes lit up and he gave a full-hearted guffaw.
"What's so amusing?" Martha asked.
"You're going to Sawbill Landing?" His lips twitched as he struggled to contain
himself. "Just how are you planning to do that? And what do you intend to do once you get there?"
"I expect I'll hire a horse and wagon," she said briskly. "And I'm going to join my fiancÚ, Max Wilson. Not
that it's any of your concern." With a haughty jerk of her chin, Martha pointed her nose toward the kerosene chandelier.
"Ain't no wagons can make it over that trail," the desk clerk said. "And ain't likely nobody's gonna take
a little bitsy thing like you out to the likes of Sawbill Landing."
A cold shiver ran up and down Martha's spine. True, it was mid-November and there
was already more than a foot of snow on the ground, but this chill came from the inside out.
"Then I'll just have to walk there. Now, are you going to rent me a room for the night?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said, turning the guest ledger toward her and handing her a pen. He read what she wrote
and gave her a key. "Upstairs and third door to the right, Miss Tinker."
"And just so you'll know, I'm going to spend several hours in prayer to find a way to get to my destination."
She stomped up the steps, ignoring the chortles of the man behind her.
Before she reached the top of the stairs the bell on the door rang, signaling
that someone had come in.
Martha turned around just in time to see a tall man dressed in black, standing at the desk. She stopped and
listened, strangely drawn to the man.
"Do you have a room available for the night?" he asked, his voice deep and resonant.
"Yes, sir," the desk clerk answered. "How long will you be staying?"
"Just one night, sir. I'm heading for Sawbill Landing come the morning."
Martha nearly toppled down the steps at his response.
At the same time the color drained from the clerk's face. "This is most unusual. Two in one day. I never
bought into that prayer business myself," he mumbled, shaking his head.
"Beg your pardon?"
"How do you intend to get there?" the clerk asked the man in black.
"Got myself a horse. Man I got it from said it would make the trip easy. Said he'd done it himself a time
"If you say so." The clerk handed him a pen to sign the guest register.
The newcomer signed, glancing at the preceding entry. "And where is Miss Tinker?"
"Right here," Martha said, making her way back downstairs, her suitcase still clutched in her hand. She extended
her hand to shake his and felt a warm tingle as they touched. You're going to meet Max, her common sense scolded.
"Pleased to meet you. Dr. Byron Ferguson at your service, ma'am." He felt an immediate attraction to the
young lady, so prim and proper in contrast to the women he usually met here in the northern Minnesota woodlands. She didn't
look as though she belonged in these parts.
"If you don't mind, sir, I should like to accompany you to Sawbill Landing tomorrow."
"You want to go to Sawbill Landing?" he asked. "But why?"
"My fiancÚ, Max Wilson, is there. He wrote to me in Boston, asking me to come."
She set her suitcase down and took a letter, folded and well-worn, from her handbag and turned it over so only that line showed.
Byron laughed. "I can't believe he'd say that. Are you sure you read all of it?" he asked.
"Of course I did," Martha snapped. "I'm not illiterate! My father saw to it that I was properly educated
at the finest schools in Boston!" Her bosom, although not extremely large, seemed to swell to mammoth proportions as she boasted. "He is--was--a doctor."
"Well, it seems we have at least one thing in common," Byron said, not acknowledging
the change of tense Martha placed her father in. "As I told you when I introduced myself, I'm a doctor, too." He bent
over and picked up his black bag, which bore his initials, followed by "MD."
"And what takes you to Sawbill Landing, Doctor Ferguson?"
"This," he said, handing her a telegraph and allowing her to read it
in its entirety.
Need help immediately--
Men dying faster than flies--
Come or send someone--
Martha went weak in the knees, and her face cooled as the blood drained from it. What if it meant Max?
What would she do if he were among the fatalities? No! He had to be all right. Surely he
would have let her know if--but that was pure foolishness! How could he let her know if he had? No, she would not even entertain
"Are you okay?" Dr. Ferguson asked. "Here, let me help you over to the sofa so you can sit down."
Her purse, which she’d been clutching tightly, dropped to the floor with a loud thud.
And she landed right smack dab in his arms.
Byron carried her to the sofa, where he laid her down, and then raced back to get his medical bag. He pulled
out a vial of smelling salts and waved them under her nose until she responded.
"I'm sorry." Martha sat up, grabbing her head to stop the room from twirling around.
"I don't mean to be a bother."
"I don't think it's a good idea for you to go out to the logging camp," Byron
said. "There's no telling what I might find once I get there. If and when whatever it is that has hit the camp lets go of
the place I'll send for you." He paused. "Better yet, I'll come back and get you myself."
"No," Martha argued. "I have to go to Max. I have to see that he's alive and well." Her eyes filled with
tears. "If anything happened to him--he's all I have left."
"Your parents?" Byron asked.
"Dead." She lowered her head. "They died in a fire. I was away at finishing school or I'd have been with
them. So, don't you see? I have to get to Max. I don't have anybody else in the world. I have to go!"
"I still don't think it's a good idea," Byron said.
The desk clerk stood in the background nodding his head in agreement. "I promise I'll come back for you as
soon as it is safe."
Martha remained undaunted. "I can be of great use to you," she insisted. "I often
helped my father in his practice. I'm not a nurse, but I know as much as many of them. Perhaps more. If it is as bad as it
sounds, it will be too much for you to handle alone."
"I told you no," Byron said, sticking to his guns.
"Sounds to me like she could be real helpful."
He was surprised when the desk clerk stuck his two cents in.
"I guess a man can tell when he's licked," Byron said. "Okay, little lady. We'll leave as soon as it's daylight.
But if it gets too rough for you on the trip you have to agree that you'll let me bring you back here."
"That's fair," Martha said. She'd freeze to death before she'd give in. She had
to get to Sawbill Landing. She had to get to Max!
"You better go on up and get a good night's sleep," Byron suggested.
"You want something to eat first?" the desk clerk asked them both. "The Missus dishes up a mighty fine stew
for the evening meal. I can get her to serve you a little early, if you'd like."
"That would be fine," Byron said, picking up Martha's suitcase and starting up
the steps. "Which room?"
"Third one on the right," the desk clerk answered. "Right across the hall from yours."
Byron found relief in knowing she would be close to him. He wanted
to keep an eye on her, although he didn't have any idea why.
Martha, on the other hand, bristled at this arrangement. "I don't need a guard dog."
"Only two rooms I've got empty," the clerk said simply. "I didn't plan it that way. Just like nobody planned
two people showing up within minutes of each other, both headed for Sawbill Landing."
Martha shrugged her shoulders. "And I hadn't even prayed about it yet," she said. "An answer to prayer before
it was even uttered."
Byron laughed. "I've been called a lot of things in my life, but even as a doctor I don't know that anybody
has ever considered me an answer to a prayer. Yes, little lady, I have a feeling there might be
a whole lot of firsts where you're concerned."
* * *
The desk clerk had been right. Maybe it was because she was ravenous, but the venison stew his wife served
them was the best thing she had eaten in days. Maybe weeks. Probably since the last meal she had shared with
her mother and father before she left for finishing school. Byron also appeared to enjoy
it immensely. In fact, he ate with such gusto that he did not, much to Martha's relief, indulge in any conversation. Before
he could empty his mouth, Martha thanked the hotel owners, excused herself and went up to her room, where her suitcase--and
the most glorious feather bed she had ever seen--awaited her.
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