Chapter 16

The story so far: Katka rushes into town for the midwife.

 

Later, Katka told Lily the baby had been born dead, but that was a lie.

While the doctor worked on Lily, Adeline Sherek, the midwife, quickly handed the silent, blood-soaked child to Katka, who washed it and swaddled it in white linen. In her arms, Katka was certain she saw the chest of the tiny infant rise and fall. She saw the baby’s miniature mouth pucker up, as if ready cry out. Then she watched the tiny blue lips go slack. Dead.

Sedated with ether, Lily slept until the next day. When she awoke early in the morning, the doctor was gone. Mrs. Sherek was gone. Katka was serving breakfast at the big table. She left, momentarily, to deliver tea to Lily.

Anton was at Lily’s bedside. “Hey,” he said, softly to his wife. “You had everyone worried. But not me. I told ’em all, my Lily — she a feisty one.” He told her what Dr. Payne had said. “Up and about in a couple of days. Almost bled to death, you did, but he said womenfolk recover from these things real good. Back to normal by the end of the week. That’s what you’ll be, I tell you.”

“Anton?”

“Yes, my precious flower?”

“Where is our baby?”

Katka quietly slipped out of the room and returned to the big table, to continue serving the men.

They all heard Lily’s scream. It was a monstrous, guttural wail, more intimate than a whisper, more powerful than a dynamite blast. Katka dropped the plate of bacon she was distributing. It broke and she clumsily picked it up, stuffing shards of porcelain and strips of pork fat into her apron pockets. All the miners put their utensils down. They waited until the screaming broke. Old Joe said, “Let us bow our heads and pray to the Virgin to take care of that baby. Just this once, let that baby girl into heaven, even without the baptism.”

“What kind of God don’t let a baby into heaven?” Milo asked, quietly. He was seated opposite Old Joe. “That little thing ain’t done no wrongs in the world. No wrongs! A God that cruel ain’t worth praying to.”

“Milo,” Old Joe said, his face reddening with anger. “I suggest you take that back.”

“I won’t. It ain’t never wrong to speak the truth.”

“No blasphemy at this table. No blasphemy! Now take it back.”

“Sorry, Joe.” Milo stood up. He left the table, walked into the tavern, put on his work boots and left for the mine. Katka cleared the dishes while the men prayed to the Virgin.

 

Chapter 17

 

Lily was not recovered by the end of the week, but she pretended to be. There were chores to do, and Lily was convinced that working would be better for her than lying in bed. As she put on her shawl to gather the wood one morning, Katka stopped her. “Why don’t you write a bit? We have a deadline coming up. I cannot do it myself and we can’t miss an edition or we’ll lose our readership. You write, and I’ll get the wood. It will get your mind off things.”

“I suppose I could take my pen and paper upstairs to the bedroom.”

“Why don’t you write about the need for a baby doctor up here?” Katka asked tenderly. Dr. Payne was a good man. He knew how to set a broken leg, prepare ointment for a burn, stop a chopped off finger from bleeding. But when it came to obstetrics, he was powerless. After Anton sent for him, the night the baby died, the doctor told Katka, “With woman problems, I’m mostly an observer. You were right to call Mrs. Sherek. Even a woman from the locations would be better than me.” When his own wife, Agnes, was pregnant, he sent her to Duluth to pass her time. When she delivered, Dr. Payne was partridge hunting.

“I will try,” Lily said. Each day, for the next two weeks, she worked upstairs, writing in longhand. She read the articles she composed to Katka, who offered suggestions and eventually typed them up in the cellar. Katka wrote too, first in Slovenian, then with Lily’s help she would translate each article into English. It was difficult, but she loved it. With Lily partially bedridden, Katka began to conduct interviews and write about things of her own choosing. “What do you say, Teta,” she asked one day, “if I write about the lady doctor Mrs. Sherek told me about?”

“Write whatever you like,” Lily said. “You don’t have to ask me for permission for everything you do. This is America.”

Katka took the streetcar to Virginia, where she interviewed Dr. Andrea Hall. Dr. Hall was legendary on the Range. She graduated from medical school in Minneapolis, but no one would hire a woman doctor there, so she traveled to find work in the boomtowns on the Range. She had very few patients in the beginning, mostly women and children. However, when the typhoid epidemic erupted, the hospitals overflowed. Dr. Hall opened up her own house and took in as many patients as she could. Unlike the hospitals, she quarantined her house, allowing no visitors. She worked with a few nurses and saved every last one of her patients. After that, Dr. Hall had a steady clientele. People repaid her in whatever ways they could.

Katka’s article about Dr. Hall was published in the next edition of the Journal. The magazine’s readership doubled. Lily was so excited that she vowed to stop taking naps. Although still struck with melancholy, she returned to the cellar and to her usual workload. Women, after all, lost babies every day. She was lucky she had not lost her life.

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 18 begins.