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Authors: Angela Elwell Hunt

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BOOK: The Velvet Shadow
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“Flanna, dearest,” Roger continued, turning back to the only woman who mattered, “why should we wait to be married? The Confederate States have committed this rebellious action without your participation or your knowledge. You have spent most of the last two years in Boston. Surely you belong to Massachusetts as much as to South Carolina.”

She looked up at him, her eyes large and liquid and as distant as the stars.

“Marry me, Flanna.” He reached out to take her hand. Mrs. Davis cackled and coughed, but Roger ignored her, pressing forward with his suit. “Forget the past and become my wife as soon as you graduate. No one will think ill of you, but they will say I am the luckiest, most fortunate man in all creation.”

“Roger, I can’t marry you!” Her words flew from her like breathless birds released from a cage, and her expression darkened with unreadable emotions. “I won’t be married in Massachusetts! I’ll only be married at home, in Charleston, with my brother nearby and Father standing at my side. Forget the past, my family? How could I? They’re my home, my heritage, and I have promised to make them part of my future!”

“Flanna.” Roger squeezed her hand, his determination like a rock inside him. “Charleston, U.S.A., is gone forever. The city you knew is no more. That place is now a foreign country, populated by Rebels with whom you have nothing in common. They have chosen to leave us, they have stolen American properties and lands, they have scoffed at our liberties and forfeited their claims upon our hearts! I hear the Rebels are even planning to adopt our American constitution, excepting any clauses banning slavery!”

She jerked her hand from his and swallowed hard as tears began to slip down her cheeks. “Roger, don’t talk like that about my family! My father, my brother, and my cousins are not traitors. They have stolen nothing—they are only struggling to keep the things they’ve worked for!”

“Flanna, I—” Roger stopped, swallowing the harsh words that sprang to his tongue. He had to remember that Flanna was living under intense pressure. His news had surprised her. She needed time to think, to reorient herself to a world that had drastically changed over the past month.

“My dear girl,” he said, standing. “I am terribly sorry for any pain my news has brought. I know it was a shock, and I have probably been unwise to spring this news on you without warning. Promise me that we shall meet this Friday night, as always. We will talk again then.”

She had lowered her head to hide her tears, but he saw her nod.

“Till Friday then.” He walked toward her, stooping to pick up his hat, then resisted the urge to run his hand over her silky hair. He nodded briefly at the old woman near the fire.

“Ladies, I wish you a good day,” he said, then left the room.

Roger let himself out, then paused at the steps of the boardinghouse and glanced back toward the lace curtains, half-hoping to see Flanna’s face at the window. He should have predicted her response; he should have known her better. He had suspected she would be upset about the fledgling Confederate States of America, but he had not expected her dismay to spill out on his marriage proposal.

He had been too hasty, but the sands of time would cover his blunder. And as he waited for time to do its assuaging work, he would encourage Flanna to keep up her studies and earn that blasted medical degree, since it seemed important to her. And after she had accepted that diploma of medicine, he’d propose marriage again. She would be caught up in the rapture of the moment, and she’d agree to marry him. Perhaps they could have a summer wedding, as early as June.

As he sauntered down the street, he reminded himself to write Alden and suggest that he plan ahead and request a weekend pass for the month of June.

Roger wanted his brother home for the wedding.


April 12, 1861

Friday night, and I did not allow Roger to visit. My thoughts are far from him, far from Charity, far from everything but my studies and the exam that looms like a steep mountain before me tomorrow. I have never felt lonelier, yet this a self-imposed loneliness, a situation I must endure until my examinations are done.

Will I remember all that I know is true? And will the things I have learned from my father conflict with the things I have been taught here?

My father’s favorite verses come to mind: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto-thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” I know what Papa would say were he here now—“Flanna, me girl, just because you’re not to lean on your understanding doesn’t mean you’re not to use your God-given brain. Use it, darlini’, and work hard. Work like everything depends on you, then pray like everything depends on God.”

I can only pray that God will bless his truth and my efforts. I have worked so hard to please him.

The Boston winter melted into spring, and the day of Flanna’s final examination arrived. On Saturday morning, April 13, she stepped outside the boardinghouse and stared wordlessly at the changed aspect of the street. Trees that had been bare and leafless when she last noticed them had begun to frill themselves like glorious gold-green parasols. The air carried hints of warmer days to come, and brilliant sunlight washed the sidewalk under a clean blue sky.

Flanna glanced at Charity, then laughed softly. “I knew we were working hard,” she said, lifting her skirts as she descended the stairs, “but I had no idea how hard.”

“It will all be over soon,” Charity promised, following with Flanna’s notebooks and medical bag. “Just a few more hours, Miss Flanna, and we’ll be making ready to go home.”

“Right you are,” Flanna answered, moving briskly toward the street. In honor of this auspicious occasion, Roger had arranged for his mother’s closed carriage to drive Flanna and Charity to the college. The driver waited on the street, his eyes lighting in a look of admiration as Flanna approached.

She allowed him to help her into the carriage, then slid to the end of the bench and waited for Charity. She took a deep breath and counted to five, her father’s old trick to calm an unsettled stomach. She would soon stand before a committee of five doctors, all men, and all determined to expose her every weakness.

Charity climbed in, and the door closed. “You ready, Miss Flanna?”


“You want me to pray for you?”

Flanna reached out and squeezed her maid’s hand. “Please.”

Charity closed her eyes and moved her lips in a soundless prayer. One of the horses whickered as the carriage lurched forward, and the jangling sounds of horse and harness rattled Flanna’s nerves.

She looked down and stared at her hands. For two years she had given her attention to the study of medicine. For the past four months she had invested nearly every waking moment in preparation for this examination council. While the world outside her window raged with
news of secession and strife, she had concentrated on anatomy, chemistry, toxicology, physiology, obstetrics, gynecology, and surgery. While the other girls had spent their leisure hours gossiping about “that Carolina girl,” Flanna had given particular attention to the study of hygiene—a discipline not endorsed by current medical experts, but one her father supported and Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell routinely practiced. Clean patients, Flanna believed, were healthier patients.

At last the carriage pulled up outside the college. After asking Charity to wait in the vestibule, Flanna walked immediately to the large lecture hall. The five doctors were already present, and they peered at her curiously as she opened the door and thrust her head into the room.

Dr. John Gulick, chairman of her examination committee, looked up with an unwelcoming, cold, and piercing eye. “Come in, Miss O’Connor, we are nearly ready. It is good of you to appear promptly.”

Flanna took a deep, unsteady breath, then moved toward the empty table in the center of the room. She waited beside it, her hands clasped, as the doctors shuffled papers and skimmed various documents, ignoring her.

She eyed the empty table at her right hand. One solitary chair sat behind it, and once she had assumed that examination seat she would not rise until she had either proved herself capable or failed completely.

The thought of failure was anathema. How could she go home if she failed her exams? She knew her father regularly boasted of her progress to his patients, and all of Charleston expected her to follow in Elizabeth Blackwell’s hallowed footsteps. That bright daughter of the South had established herself in no less intimidating a place than New York City. The folks at home expected something equally spectacular from Flanna O’Connor.

She shifted from foot to foot, then looked down at the floor and forced her mind to run in mundane, less worrisome channels. Despite the political unrest, mail was flowing between the two nations. Since the news of Texas’s secession and Jefferson Davis’s election as president of the Confederate States of America, Flanna had received one
letter from her father. In it, he encouraged her to concentrate on her studies and keep her mind fixed to her task, but he also bragged that South Carolina had seized the former Federal properties of Fort Moultrie, Castle Pickney, and the arsenal at Charleston. “Our eyes turn now to Fort Sumter,” he had written, “which sits off our shore like a beacon in the night. Federal soldiers still guard the garrison, but it will soon be ours. Why should we tolerate the presence of foreign soldiers on South Carolina’s shores?”

“We are ready, Miss O’Connor.” Flanna flinched at the sound of Dr. Gulick’s raspy voice. “Please relax and be seated. You may take your time as you answer these questions.”

Flanna smiled to cover her embarrassment and moved to the chair. Graceflxlly maneuvering her expansive skirts around the legs of the table, she took her seat, then folded her hands atop the table.

A balding man she did not recognize lifted a bushy brow. “I hope you did not misunderstand, Miss O’Connor. You are allowed to use notes. Have you forgotten to bring them?”

“No sir.” Her voice, like her nerves, was in tatters, and she took a deep breath to strengthen it. “No sir, I did not forget. But I believe I can best prove my abilities and readiness without notes. After all, not every doctor has access to his notes and journals when he or she encounters an emergency situation.”

Dr. Gulick’s full mouth dipped into a deeper frown. “Perhaps you are unaware that the purpose of this college is to
women. It is our belief that no woman can pass this examination without notes.” He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands across the paunch at his belly. “We would be pleased to recess for the space of a few moments if you wish to fetch yours.”

For a moment Flanna was tempted to ask Charity to bring her notebook, but the look of malign satisfaction on Dr. John Gulick’s face quelled that urge. She had never liked him as a teacher, for when he wasn’t half-drunk he patronized his students, talking to them as if they were children. Her father had treated her with more dignity when she was ten years old.

She would not reinforce Dr. Gulick’s prejudices.

“With all due respect, gentlemen,” she said, keeping all expression from her voice, “I am ready to proceed without notes. I would not want to waste your time fetching props I do not need.”

A thunderous scowl darkened Dr. Gulick’s brow; another doctor laughed. “All right then.” Gulick spat out the words as he lifted a sheet of questions. “Shall we begin?” He hesitated, seeming to measure her for a moment. “Tell me, Miss O’Connor, in full detail, what implements you will carry in your medical bag if this committee is inclined to award you a degree.”

Flanna mentally listed the items in her father’s medical bag, then took a deep breath and began to recite them: “Castor oil, calomel, jalap, Peruvian bark or cinchona, nux vomica, splints, forceps, and my stethoscope. I, sir, would also carry a scalpel, with an adult dose of either chloroform or ether, in case I had to perform a surgical procedure.”

“On what occasions would you use jalap as treatment?” the bald doctor asked.

“Whenever a powerful cathartic is needed.” She returned his gaze. “What else may I answer for you, gentlemen?”

“I have read your paper on aseptic techniques.” Dr. Gulick’s eyes darkened and shone with an unpleasant light. “Why would you waste time with such foolishness? Why would you splash your patients with cold water and insist that physicians wash their hands before surgery?” He held up his burly hand, displaying veins that squirmed across the skin like fat blue worms. “Is there something on my hand that will harm a patient? Do you believe in hexes and superstitions, Miss O’Connor? If not, why would you resort to all this foolish hocus-pocus?”

Flanna’s pulse began to beat erratically at the threatening tone in his deep voice, but she inhaled deeply and counted to five. She had been expecting this attack. Her views on cleanliness were unconventional, but her father had practiced hygiene for years with great success. One of his medical professors had been a devout Jew, and that
doctor insisted that his students follow the ritual cleansing practices outlined in the Old Testament.

BOOK: The Velvet Shadow
10.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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