Robert Copeland stumbled bleary eyed into the kitchen at five in the morning. He hadn’t slept well. The neighbors had company. Their grown sons were outside in the garden most of the night. They had been a touch loud. Yet, Robert wouldn’t complain. They were close friends, to the point that the two boys called him Uncle Bob. Besides, one of the boys rarely got to see his brother and parents due to work commitments.
The scent of fresh brewed coffee was in the air. Frowning, there shouldn’t be a pot on yet. He had just woken up and his wife was away for the next five days. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw what was placed on top of his favored mug. It was a note from his daughter.
Just me Mum and Dad. Out in the garden.
Walking outside with his mug, Robert went looking for his daughter. Under the cover of darkness, she sat at a table watching a storm roll in with the rising sun.
“What are you doing here at this hour Alexandria?”
“I needed to get away.”
“Myself?” She sighed. “I got called in last night. Nasty case. Lost the guy on the table.”
Robert understood her feelings all too well. He was a surgeon too. “How do you feel about it?”
“Patient dying? It was a Hail Mary attempt, Dad. Oh and I am going to become a nun. That is my next goal.” Alexandria shrugged her shoulders.
“How did the date go with the gentleman Tim set you up with?”
“It didn’t, Dad. “ Alex grimaced. “I need to beat some sense into that man.”
“The date or Tim?”
“Mostly Tim, possibly both.”
“I wouldn’t bother with Tim, he would probably enjoy it too much.” Robert laughed.
“Not the visual I ever needed Dad!” Alex laughed with him. Tim was her godparent’s son and a very close friend. The mere thought of him in such a situation was far too close to being incestuous for her.
“How are you, Phillipe and Xavier doing?”
“Good. Everything is up and running at full capacity. X has an excellent head for business. I can’t believe it all finally came together.”
With some of the patents that Alex held on pharmaceuticals, she had gone in business when two close friends bought out a company nearing bankruptcy. With a lot of time and effort they had rebranded a new line of prescription drugs to be sold across the world. It had taken a decade to get everything fully functional.
“Is he ever going to marry that beau of his?”
“Phillipe keeps threatening to make an honest man out of X but it hasn’t happened yet.” She chuckled. “Those two are just meant for each other. I swear. I am not sure who is more adorable.” Alex dropped her head down on to arms bridged across the peaks of her knees. “Dad? I think I am jealous of them, not to mention you and Mum.”
“I wish I could tell you something that would help, but there isn’t.”
“Perhaps I was just born in the wrong time Dad.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I would have been much better married off in one of mom’s classics than trying to forge this on my own. It’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t have to worry about men, marriage, and work. I want a time where there were good men, chivalry wasn’t dead, nor was honesty. Life could have just fallen into place, I would be told and done.” She paused, looking up for a moment. “Speaking of, where is mum?”
“Ah. It is that time of year isn’t it? All the literature professors have to sow their wild oats.”
“I think you would have hated the lack of choice far more than you would having many choices, my girl.” He smiled.
“It doesn’t feel like it Dad, but who knows. Perhaps I am just wishing for a taste of fantasy than the reality that is modern times.”
“I believe you suffer from the same ailment that most surgeons do, sweetheart.”
“We don’t see patients like doctors with a practice. We are in the trenches. We patch them up and ship them out for others to take care of. You don’t find much personal attachment or warmth with people that way. I think, for you, it has been even harder.”
Nodding, Alex thought over her father’s words. “Possibly.”
“No possibly about it. You graduated at 18 from medical school. Most graduates are closer to 26 to 30. While you handle yourself better because of it, it makes attachments more difficult Alex. You don’t treat a person, you treat their bodies. Perhaps you need to get to know people a bit better? Personally or professionally it may be time for a change.”
Sighing, she nodded. “You aren’t wrong Dad.” The storm was getting closer Alex noticed. “We best go in, this is going to get ugly it looks like.”
Father and daughter both stood. Out of seemingly nowhere a bolt of lightning hit the large tree close to the house. One of the branches swung low. “DAD! LOOK OUT!” Alex pushed her father out of the way and then everything went dark.
Alexandria woke up with a fierce pain in her head. The bright light of morning only made things worse. Tentatively touching around her scalp, she came away with blood on her fingertips.
“Miss? Oh Miss! Are you okay?”
Moving to sit up, she looked towards the voice. A woman with an old fashioned bonnet on her head was bending over her.
Alex nodded. “I believe so.”
“Are you Dr. Copeland’s wife Miss? Or perhaps his nurse?”
“What? No. I’m Dr. Alex Copeland.”
“Oh dear.” The large woman stood straight up and wore quite the perplexed expression on her face. “Dr. Alex Copeland from London?”
“Yes. Alexandria Copeland MD. Uhm. Who are you?”
“Dixon ma’am.” She did a little curtsey. “Master Thornton sent me over to get the new doctor situated.”
Alex took the time to truly look around finally. Crates upon crates of medical text were stacked up along the walls. There was one on the floor with its contents spilled. Looking down, Alex noticed that she was not wearing the scrubs and trainers from the night before but a heavy dress that was reminiscent of the early 1860s.
Rising to her feet, Alex put a hand on one of the crates to steady herself. Looking out the window to the street, she shook her head. Concussion, she wondered. Perhaps an accident. Wait.
WAIT! Her mind screamed.
“Miss Dixon? Are you referring to Mr. John Thornton of Marlborough Mills?”
“Yes ma’am, I am.” Miss Dixon peered at Alex and gently pushed back the hair at her temple. “There is some blood right there, let me fetch you something to clean it up.”
“Of course Miss Dixon. Thank you that would be most kind.”
What else could I say, Alex thought. Seeing that I am either in a coma or crazy. Whichever it is I might as well play along for now. So brain, well done. You are playing games and right now that is not what I need Goddamnit. This is all my mother’s fault, damned North and South indeed. Sheesh.
Alex was sure whatever happened sitting outside with her father all she needed was time to heal. She would be back to her own world shortly.
Miss Dixon returned with a bowl of warm water and two cloths. Wetting one, she started to dab carefully at the blood on Alex’s temple. Once the blood was gone Dixon carefully dried the skin.
“If you’ll forgive me for being so bold Miss. You may not wish to get too settled in just yet. I don’t believe Master Thornton realizes that you are a lady and he may not take too kindly to you.”
Alex snorted at being called a lady. She had never ever considered herself that.
She stroked her fingers gingerly over her temple. There was a lump like a goose egg but the wound was merely a scratch. She wasn’t certain what caused the injury, falling books perhaps?
“Miss Dixon, perhaps I should go introduce myself to this Mr. Thornton of yours.”
While she was speaking, Alex heard a shrill whistle sounding loud and clear on the evening air. It was time for the workers to leave the factories.
“The workday just ended Miss. That was the last whistle, Master Thornton should be around shortly if you would like to wait.” Dixon wrung her hands together. She was not at all certain how Thornton would take the news. If Miss Margaret was still alive, it would be different Dixon thought.
Alex picked up a carpet bag, going through the paperwork inside. The exchange between what was apparently her employers and Thornton, it did not give Alex’s gender. She smiled wryly. Smart move of them. By the looks of things, Alex had been trained in the US through her father’s practice. He was a former Army doctor. Which was partially true in her own world, Robert Copeland was an Army surgeon that had met and married a British woman. The 21st century Alexandria Copeland had gone to Oxford. Apparently an Adam Bell had recommended Alex for the position in Milton prior to his death several years ago.
Was that Margaret Hale’s godfather? Alex was fairly certain that it was. So what happened to the doctor from the book? Dr. Donaldson? Was that it?
The sharp knock on the door pulled Alex away from her thoughts. Looking up, she went to the door.
“Good afternoon, miss. Are you perhaps Dr. Copeland’s wife?”
“You must be Mr. Thornton of Marlborough Mills?”
“Indeed, I am.”
“Please, come in Mr. Thornton. I apologize for the mess. And there is no Mrs. Copeland other than my own mother. I am, however, Dr. Alex Copeland. Alex is short for Alexandria.”
“Pardon me?” Thornton thought he must have misheard the woman.
“I am Dr. Alexandria ‘Alex’ Copeland Sir.”
“There must be a mistake……”
“No Sir. There is no mistake.” She smiled gently.
“My apologies Miss Copeland, this will not do.”
“It’s Dr. Copeland. Why is that Mr. Thornton?”
“Nobody will wish to see a woman doctor. If you are indeed a doctor.”
“I am indeed what I say I am Sir.” She studied him with an arched brow. Tall, thickly muscular, a head full of black hair and icy blue eyes. He would be a handsome man if it weren’t for that scowl and the anger in his eyes, Alex mused. The scowl and the look seemed more permanent. She was certain it just wasn’t directed at her.
“There is a train leaving the station at a quarter past, I will get you there and we can have your items returned to you.”
“Yes?” The words were like ice.
“You brought me here. There was a need for a doctor in Milton, correct?”
John Thornton stared at the woman but didn’t answer her question. She was tall, stately. Too tall, alas. Perhaps that is why she became a doctor? What man would want a woman that towered over him? She was just an inch shorter than his own massive height.
“I will assume with you not answering that the answer is indeed a yes there is a need for a doctor here in Milton. As I am already here, why don’t you permit me to try? If it doesn’t work out, then no harm is done and you may find a replacement with someone already here. This way you are not without a doctor on hand.”
Thornton’s expression did not change. She had the same lofty way of speaking that Margaret once had. Margaret! He felt the pain of losing her still. It had been over three years since she passed in childbirth. Thankfully, his mother was able to help with his young son.
“Very well. I suppose there is no choice in the matter. Someone needs to be here to take care of the workers and their families, at least until I can find a replacement for you. The town of Milton needs a real doctor.”
“Oh believe me Mr. Thornton, I am quite real and quite good.” Challenge accepted, she thought.